Tuesday, October 30, 2012

survivor's guilt and Tom Sawyer's funeral

On Sunday I had a wonderful day, a fabulous day of sneaking (pre-authorizedly, of course) away from my family for a day of fun, but I returned at night to discover, via Facebook, that someone I knew had killed himself the night before by throwing himself in front of a BART train.

After shock, my next reaction was being pissed off at the people who were piously mourning the deceased, most of whom I knew very well wouldn't have given the deceased the time of day if they'd run into him.  It seemed like they were being vultures, grabbing for attention and for emotional thrills.  But of course the suicide had worn through almost everyone's love and esteem.  He was an unmedicated sufferer of bipolar disorder, a grandiose and annoying person, and the worst part, I think, about mental illness is that it makes everyone stop loving you long before you die.

I myself had a complicated relationship with the deceased.  I got a job he wanted, back when he was stable and ambitious, and to add insult to injury, afterwards I wouldn't bring him on to work with me.  Of course I was right in that decision; back then, it wasn't common knowledge that he had bipolar disorder, but I did think he was too intense and unreliable to be a good attorney, and in retrospect, I was righter than right.  I know he held a grudge against me for years, and he was also right.  If it weren't for me, his life would have taken a different direction.  I didn't have any hard feelings against him; it wasn't personal from my point of view, but what could be more personal from his?

It wasn't until today that my feelings reared up and hit me.  I feel absolutely terrible that this man is dead, that he killed himself, that the BART operator and everyone who had to clean up after him had to deal with the horrors of it all.

On top of that, the situation makes me think of how carrion-feeding and attention-seeking most people are.  People (including me due to my writing here; believe me, there are no good feelings for me about myself in this) are mourning publicly, when we avoided the deceased in the last part of his life.  Lots of people less connected to the man are attention-seeking, name-checking the glamorous corpse.

As a lot of people know, the suicidal urge is strong with me.  And seeing someone who was my age roughly, who was in my profession, who was in my social group, who did give in to that dark urge, gives me an experience like Tom Sawyer had going to his own funeral.  And I don't like it.  It makes me think of how many of the friends who knew how rough a time I had last year in particular were more concerned about themselves than me, how they felt bad for themselves that they had a close friend who was on the edge.  The biggest example of that was someone who told me that if there was anything I needed, to please call, that it was so upsetting that I was in crisis and that if anything would help, I only had to say the word... and then when I did call and ask for a minor favor, the person said, "Sorry, that would involve moving my car, and it might take me up to forty minutes to find a parking space."   It was all I could do not to say, "You know, my funeral might have been today.  Would you have given up your parking space for THAT?"

It's a horrible, cruel, awful world we live in, a world with so little love and joy in it.  People will feel sorry for themselves and seek out all kinds of attention as the bereaved survivors if you die, but if you live, they don't want to spend forty minutes looking for a parking space.  And I'm not claiming any moral high ground here, either.  It's a bleak, bleak world.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

crazy and crazy-making

I spent a rare, relaxing day with a friend today, away from the domestic madness of children, cats, parrots, and my intense husband.  "It's like a mini-vacation," I said to my friend.  When I came home, after greeting everyone, catching up on the news, and cleaning up after some tiny foster kittens, I logged on to Facebook for the first time that day... just as a lot statuses were exploding with teasers about a suicide in our social circle.  That put a close to my vacation-ish feeling.

As anyone who knows me well should realize, I have a complex relationship with suicide, and it is maddening to me when people are acting like vultures around it, acting like there's some personal tragedy unique to them when someone they wouldn't give the time of day to has passed on in this dark way.

This was not my tragedy.  I knew this man, I spent time with him, I joked with him, I flirted with him, I pissed him off thoroughly by refusing to hire him at one point (and I don't think he ever forgave me for that).  But it's not my tragedy.  It's the tragedy of my friend, who was engaged to him for a while back in the nineties.  It's the tragedy of another friend, an old drinking buddy of mine, whom he was actually staying with just before his death.  It's the tragedy of his mother, who survives him, and who he left his suicide note for.

And it's a tragedy similar to ones so many other people share.  This smart, talented and handsome man had bipolar disorder, which he did not medicate because, as his former fiancee and I discussed just a week before he died, he loved the highs of mania.  Bipolar disorder is linked to suicide; the NIH says 25-50% of people with bipolar disorder attempt suicide at least once.

What is the right way to honor the memory of someone who lost his life to bipolar disorder?  I'd like to do something nice for the BART driver who had no choice but to run my acquaintance over (that poor bastard must be having nightmares); I'd like to do something for a random suicidal person with bipolar disorder.  Donating to a foundation working on treatment for bipolar disorder is something else which seems appropriate.  But don't feel sorry for me; it wasn't my tragedy.   I'm lucky to be on the far periphery of this one, and I'm not a vulture who'll circle over the corpse, looking for pity.

I'm reminded of how not that long I nearly died myself, and how strange and alienating the reactions were to that, people making it about themselves that I had a close call with mortality.  When I go, people, for the love of all that is both holy and unholy, don't post a Facebook status namechecking me as a glamorous corpse.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

your reading list

I've had some luck with my reading choices lately, books so good that reading alone makes living worthwhile.   In case any of you are bookless at the moment and needing direction, here you are!

"Joseph Anton" by Salman Rushdie:  Rushdie writes about his life after the fatwa, and as a memoir, it's deeply satisfying.  Who knew that the worst part of being in hiding wasn't the loneliness; it was the lack of solitude?  With police officers always lumbering around and frying sausages, Rushdie couldn't get any peace and quiet to write.  

Beyond an account of the thorough strangeness of being anointed Islam's top enemy, this book is a lyrical and profound examination of what it means to write, what a book is (was "The Satanic Verses" a novel or an insult? ), and the value of dissent and expression.  Bonus: lots of literary gossip!  The PEN meetings will never be the same again now the dirt is out.  

"Out of the Ordinary:  True Tales of Everyday Craziness" and "What I Do:  More Tales of Everyday Craziness" by Jon Ronson:  I've been reading Jon Ronson since before "Men Who Stare At Goats" was made into a movie.  He is amazingly witty, and he's not afraid to skewer himself (such as his piece about a new neighbor he meets, who won't ask Ronson what he does for a living, no matter what tempting little conversational morsels Ronson lays out for him).  These books are worth the price alone for the accounts of his marital spats alone, never mind the chapter on the strange cult which pressures its members into donating kidneys to strangers.  

"The Vanishers" by Heidi Julavits:  I thought Julavits' prior novel, "The Uses of Enchantment", was hugely overrated, and so I was skeptical.  But "The Vanishers" lured me in, and I will say without reservations that it is one of the best books I have ever read.  A washed up, physically ill psychic is hired to use her now pathetic powers to sense the truth about a bizarre feminist film maker.  The characters and plot are original and thought-provoking, but more than that, the prose is so luscious, so crisp.  Reading these gorgeous sentences is like receiving an almost endless series of odd little surprises.  

"The Collective" by Don Lee:  Three disaffected, unhappy Asian American college students form a lifelong friendship and devote their lives to art.  The most successful of them commits suicide, leaving his friends to try to make sense out of their lives, as well as the tragedy.  A dense and engaging novel with very real characters, whose flaws and gifts are carefully mapped out.  

"Some Kind of Fairy Tale" by Graham Joyce:  I've been hugely taken with Graham Joyce lately, and "Some Kind of Fairy Tale" was a joy.  He takes an ancient, hackneyed premise (a woman is taken away to live with the fairies and returns, thinking only a few months have passed, to discover that decades have gone by) and does something deeply moving and thought-provoking with it.  

"True Believers" by Kurt Andersen:  A law school dean decides to write a memoir about her long-covered up past as a college radical.  I love how Andersen conveys the passion of political thought and  the carelessness and purity of youth.  However, there were some bits which I found hard to swallow that broke up the mood for me (for example, his protagonist during her first year of law school has a memorable encounter with a charming third year student, President Clinton in a cute cameo, during a class they are taking together, never mind that a third year student would NOT be taking one of the basic, introductory classes everyone else takes during first year.  I cannot tell you how much this bothered me).  

Meanwhile Lola enjoyed "The One And Only Ivan" by Katherine Applegate, a lonely gorilla's account of his captivity at a peculiar shopping mall attraction, and Iris is reading "Murder On The Orient Express" by Agatha Christie.  The Sober Husband, upon my recommendation, is reading "Joseph Anton", but he's being driven crazy by wondering whether he should put it aside and read "The Satanic Verses" first.  "I feel like I'm missing so much," he frets.  

Friday, October 26, 2012

I get no buy-in

The other night I saw "7 Psychopaths" with the Sober Husband, a movie I thoroughly enjoyed, and the desert scenes left me feeling nostalgic for the days when I went camping in the desert.  (Burning Man doesn't really count as "desert camping", as it is its own peculiar thing).

Before I procreated, I used to love to go on road trips to the desert and camp far from anyone else.  My ex-husband and I developed a Thanksgiving tradition of driving down to Death Valley and exploring that wonderful, strange, huge desert.

I dragged along husband 2.0, the Sober Husband, on just one such trip, to the wilds of Utah, when we were first dating.  We'd only known each other a few months, and we drove until we found majestic places with amazing views, where we didn't see anyone else for days.  One day it snowed, and we holed up in our tent with a bottle of wine.  On other days the weather was more typical for a desert camping trip, where it's hot enough that, if one chose to do so, one could comfortably hike naked but for sensible socks and boots, but at night, you want to huddle around a fire and snuggle up to a companion.

Coincidentally the children in Lola's class are studying California's ecosystems, and Lola has been assigned to study and report upon California's deserts, much to her dismay.  She had wanted either the coast or the mountains, and she was disgusted to get stuck with the desert.  Lola, an urban child, doesn't even like to look at pictures of deserts.  "I like cityscapes," she says firmly.

As we walked out of "7 Psychopaths",  filled with love and longing for the desert I proposed to the Sober Husband that we take the children camping in the desert for spring break.  He gave me a look.  "That sounds like a great idea, forcing something on them that you love and you know they are going to hate.  That's going to lead to some therapy."

"Hey!  I just went to Disneyland for them, and I didn't want to do that!"

He had to note that I had a point.  It is payback time.

Today I raised the idea to the children, who were aghast.  Lola pointed out that she barely escaped Hollywood with her life, as it was far too hot and the tap water was undrinkable, and cannot be expected to survive a night in a desert.

"And would you expect us to camp?" Iris said with disgust.

"Why can't you have open minds and a sense of adventure?"

Lola buried her head in her hands.  "I expect to be unhappy."

Thursday, October 25, 2012

no exit strategy

Like an army that has invaded Afghanistan, I find myself in a difficult situation with no good exit strategy.

Several months ago I returned my foster cats, ready to go up for adoption, and the head of my rescue asked me, as a favor, to take a cat home for a weekend.  "He just needs a little work."  The cat in question was gorgeous, a large kitten, but not friendly.  It was very difficult to get him into a carrier, but since he'd already been in foster care and had been returned as being deemed ready for adoption, I assumed he just needed a few days.

The days, weeks, and months have gone on, and the cat still isn't ready to go up for adoption.  When he arrived, he was never seen by anyone, spending all his energy on avoiding any encounters with people.  But "Coconut", as the children re-named him (he was previously referred to as "Bandit"), has slowly adapted to life in our house and has become very happy.  He loves our other kitten, Zorro, and he enjoys watching the parrots.  He even loves our company, following us from room to room.  He'll sleep at the foot of our bed or with Lola; he'll follow me into the bathroom and watch me put on my make-up.  He has absolutely no interest in going outdoors and is a happy, playful indoor cat.

So what's the problem?  You can't handle him.  He'll happily sit or lie near you, but if you reach out and touch him, no matter how stealthily or gently you do, he'll tear off.  Recently, after he asked me for food, seeking me out, making eye contact with me, meowing, and leading me to the dish,  I looked down at him as he trustingly ate from a freshly-opened can.  "Our relationship has come so far," I thought to myself.  "It's time to pick him up."   I bent down and grabbed him.  Coconut struggled.  I held on.  He whipped his head around and sank his fangs deep into my right hand.  I let go.  Coconut was not seen for most of the rest of the day, and my hand hurt like hell.

After that, I gave in and confessed to the rescue that I have failed with this cat.

The head of the cat rescue found a solution of sorts:  the woman who owns the yard in which Coconut was trapped is willing to have Coconut put back in her yard.  He'd be fed then and expected to become a feral cat again.

I can't bear to do that.  Coconut has no interest in going back outdoors.  He is truly happy and healthy as a pet, so long as no one touches him.  And he is a very attractive, decorative cat.

The Sober Husband is bitterly opposed to Coconut remaining on the premises.  "That would make two cats adopted this year.  If you kept rescuing cats for ten years, then we'd have twenty cats!"

I easily countered that argument.  "I HAVE been doing this for ten years, and we don't have twenty cats!  We just have three, and one visiting cat."

"Visiting cat with no plans to leave!"  The Sober Husband returned to his prior point, even after I'd debunked it.  "Imagine a house with ten cats in it," he said sarcastically.

"It would be like heaven," I said sincerely.  "Cats everywhere!  All the cats you'd want."

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

wastewater.... and a treatment plant!!! (Guest post by Lola)

These are Lola's complaints about the wastewater treatment plant she visited. It sucked.

Hi narrator dude.

The script, Lola...

Oh. Today, my class went on a field trip to the nearest wastewater treatment plant. You had to cover your wrists, so I had to wear my jacket the whole time. I got very hot. When we got there, we went to this room and sat down. They ranted and showed us a video, none of which stood out except for a small rant about how quote and quote "Flushable" wipes were often flushed down the toilet while, when you can physically flush it, it does not break up and cause a problem at the wastewater treatment plant. We were told to put on a hard hat liner and a hard hat (blah blah blah Federal law) and these gloves, so we wouldn't get as many germs. Oh, those gloves sucked. They were the plastic-ey latex kind, and in the beginning they were uncomfortable and through the tour it started to get sweaty, crumpled, and yeah. We were not allowed to take it off until we finished the tour. I will always remember the purple of those gloves.

We then we walked to the place where they drag a metal.... thingy through the water to get the big things out. It smelled absolutely horrible, and one girl got nauseous. After that was dealt with, we went into the next part, where they...... do something. All I remember is complaining to my friend about the gloves and smell. Then they have this whole mess of tubes called the tube gallery, and then....... well, at some point they let the water sit there for a few hours so the organisms eat up the leftover solids, and also at some point it gets so smelly they have to clean the air to breathe. They have a few tubes labeled"CONTAMINATED AIR". After that, the water is clean and it goes 4,000 feet (1,219.2 meters, and I also found 2.54 centimeters makes exactly one inch) into the bay. Also by then, my gloves were sweaty and wrinkled, and my hard hat was falling off (not really, they have a nifty thing on the hard helmets to make it the right size). When I finally took my gloves off, the inside of it was literally covered with a thin layer of sweat, and my hair was tangled from the hard hat.

So yes, it sucked. Bye. May kittens make you happy.

Monday, October 22, 2012

the cursed pencil

Little Lola loves pencils.  Once she cried for ages after one of the parrots chewed up a pencil... which Lola herself had given the parrot.  "Lola," I said exasperatedly, "why did you give the pencil to the bird if you didn't want the bird to chew it up?"

Sobbing, she said, "I didn't realize how much I would love him."  The pencil was mourned for days.

Each pencil lost at school is like a little death.  Days when no pencils are lost, we celebrate.

So naturally when I noticed a pencil rolling around in the driver's footwell of the Prius, I offered it to Lola.  It seemed a handsome pencil, with hearts on it.

"Lola, would you like this pencil?" I asked, extending it.

Lola drew herself back.  "Why, NO NO NO NO NO NO NO!"

"What? Is it a cursed pencil?  Is it the pencil of the devil?"

Lola recoiled.

"Does it have bad mojo?  I thought you loved pencils!"

Lola shuddered.  "Not THAT pencil."

Sunday, October 21, 2012

am I proposing a dinner date or the Bataan death march?

A male friend of mind suggested that he and his wife have dinner with the Sober Husband and me.  I've met his wife, but the Sober Husband remains a figure of mystery and legend to them.  It sounded fine to me, but the Sober Husband is warier than I am.  He took a jaundiced view when I raised the subject.

"Sure, you love him, he loves you..."

I cut him off.  "I don't 'love' him!"

"Just because you guys 'love' each other doesn't mean I have to like him and his wife."  He sighed.  According to the Sober Husband, going out to dinner with my friend and his wife was one of the most daunting yet boring prospects imaginable.

"Maybe we could go to the theatre instead and get a drink afterwards," I said.  "Then we wouldn't have to talk so much, and we could talk about the play."

The S.H.'s response was visceral.  "No no no, that would ruin the performance!"  Evidently the dread of having to later discuss a show with these friends of mine would completely suck any pleasure from it.

"I could invite them over for dinner," I said.

That prospect was also horrifying.  "Please, for the love of God, make it short.  Make it in a public place, so we can leave if we need to."

I'm used to getting this reaction from the children when I'm scheduling them to have their teeth cleaned or to get shots, but from my husband over dining out with other middle-aged people?  It's no wonder my social life is often conducted in a different zipcode from him.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

conversations with children

"I know what I'm going to do when I grow up.  I'm going to be like Mitt Romney!  I'm going to make a lot of money, and then go into politics," one of my children said to me.

"Don't talk like that," I said.

"Yes!  I'm going to be just like Mitt Romney," the child continued.

Covering my ears with my hands, I said, "LA LA LA I CAN'T HEAR YOU."

The child went on, ignoring me, sensibly enough.  "Once I have a lot of money, I'll run for senator.  Or governor."

"That didn't work out so well for Meg Whitman," I said.

"I'll be a better politician than that."

Talking to the other child is a bit cheerier, but also can be draining.  This second child ran up the stairs and burst into the room. "I just realized what I just said, and it was weird," the child marveled, a propos of nothing.

Friday, October 19, 2012

out and about with the better half, Gangnam style

For a longish time the Sober Husband and I didn't have a date night, as I enrolled Lola in a writing class which met on the night our babysitter had given us (technically we shouldn't be needing babysitting now that Iris is thirteen, and our lives should be one big date night,  but we have made a parenting decision not to leave Lolz under her big sister's supervision for extended periods of time.  The babysitter is in charge of Lola only, and Iris is free to do as she wishes without real supervision).    

Last night we went out together for the first time in recent memory.  We were a little rusty at it.  The Sober Husband wanted us to walk to the restaurant; I wanted to wear my new Fluevog high heels, which are not meant for walking down steep hills.  Our conversation faltered.  We seemed rife with misinterpretations and misunderstandings.  Over at Bar Agricole we failed to get cocktails at the bar from the slow moving bartenders while we waited for our reserved table, and when the table was produced, it was a wretched little table inside.  I wanted to sit outside in the herb garden; it was one of the few warm evenings of the year in San Francisco, and this table was truly depressing, hot, stuffy.

I was disappointed, but given how long it had taken for us to get a table (despite having a reservation) and our failure at getting a drink, I didn't want to wait for an outside table.  The Sober Husband, though, took command, whizzing off and imperiously directing that we be reseated outside.   Once ensconced in my outdoors table, so airy and with a view of the herb garden, I was happy.

"Now we'll be eating in style," said the S.H. admiring our new, superior table.

"Gangnam style!"  I agreed.

He furrowed his brow.  "What is 'Gangnam style?'"

I was appalled.  We really hadn't been spending much time together.  How could he have missed my fascination for the K-pop sensation, not to mention Iris über Alles's much-vaunted superiority?Having been a fan of Korean pop music for over a year before PSY had a break-out hit with "Gangnam Style", Iris can be quite vocal and quite condescending on the topic.  The K-pop scene is an oddly ubiquitous subject in our home, but evidently only when the Sober Husband is at work.

Could these misfits get along?  By the time we'd shared a bowl of white onion soup with barhi dates,  shallots, chives, and vadouvan oil, as well as a glass of vinho verde, the conversation began to flow.  By the end of our roasted jimmy nardello peppers with corno di toro, nepitella, and tonnato sauce, we were cozying up to one another.  We shared a Eureka lemon and ricotta tart with a lavender meringue, and we got a delightful Armagnac cocktail made with absinthe and hibiscus bitters as a gesture from the management to make up for the delays in getting our table and our drinks.  Far from my prior feeling, while we were waiting for a table and giving up on getting a cocktail, that I was over Bar Agricole, the magnificence of the soup and the Armagnac cocktail left me wanting to eat there every day of my life.  The Sober Husband was admiring the results of my fitness regime; my new Fluevogs were delighting me.  We were on to the Cat Club, where we danced and drank far later than we normally ever stay out on a weeknight.  It was an epic date night, positively Gangnam style.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

space exploration news

Teenaged Iris über Alles has an eccentric teacher.  Today's update:  "He doesn't believe in the moon landing!"

"Well, you must have so much in common, then."  I remembered all the debates we'd had in this home and on this blog over whether the moon landing was a hoax.

Iris was dismissive.  "Oh, I believe in the moon landing now.  I've believed in it for years."

This was news to me.

She went on.  "He believes in the Mars landing, he thinks the robots went to Mars, but he thinks the moon landing was a fake."  She shook her head in disbelief over this obstinacy, this tinfoil hat thinking.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

the legend was unveiled

This blog has made me some enemies, but it's made me some great friends as well.  I tend to value the friends more highly, because they really understand me, and also it's likely that the people who learned to hate me through this blog would have gotten around to hating me eventually.  The blog just speeded things up.

Whenever I've had the chance to meet a commenter, someone who has commented here more than a few times but instead has commented enough to let their personality shine, it's always been a rollicking good time.  Today I finally got to meet the esteemed Hughman, who has always been the alpha commenter here, and my fellow judge in the photo contest (which we should do again one of these days; your DH is lazy and disorganized as ever).   Hugh has always been a large figure here; one of my real life friends once asked me, "Who is this Hugh?"

Our planned meeting was a bit in jeopardy when I found myself derailed by an AIDS march.  In San Francisco, whenever anyone marches anywhere for any reason, the police allow cross traffic to go through from time to time.  West Hollywood, though, is a different story, and I had committed the fatal tourist error of not allocating enough driving time.  (This reminded me of how often I've scoffed at people visiting me who make the classic San Francisco tourist error of underdressing for the weather.  Poor commenter 2AMsomewhere showed up in a Hawaiian shirt and shorts on a summer evening when it was only about 45 degrees outside, and he was a good sport about both the cold and the ridicule).  I bailed out of the rental car and called Hugh as I clipped along.  Of course I was dressed like a prostitute from the fifties, complete with retro-looking high heels, and I cursed my decision to wear cute shoes, opposed to the Tevas I'd sported at Disneyland.  "You're a long way away," said Hugh sadly after I was finally able to accurately describe my location.   But I hung up, hung on, and power-walked a mile up La Cienaga in my shaky heels, with only a little abrasion from an ankle strap to show for this silliness.  Someone asked me directions as I raced up the street, and I looked at her as though she were crazy.  Wasn't it obvious that I was a moronic tourist?

Finally I got there, and we had a delightful time.  At the end, Hugh also got to meet the Sober Husband, Iris über Alles, and an uncharacteristically subdued Lola, who was greatly affected by the SoCal heat.  (Earlier Lola had confided in me, "I liked L.A. until I drank the tapwater."  She shuddered dramatically).   After all these years of reading about them, suddenly they had come to life and were walking about, talking, complaining of the heat, and petting Polly.  And for me, I got to see Polly disregarding her owner to scrounge about outside a dumpster (Polly's attitude was clear: if only her owner were to become enlightened, he'd understand how important and enjoyable a bit of dumpster diving can be) and to enjoy sitting outside at Hugh's favorite restaurant, where the handsome waiter treated me like royalty after learning I was Hugh's friend.  The internet comes alive at times, and it's delightful.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

automotive hell

A couple of months ago I was driving my Volvo merrily down O'Shaughnessy, just about to turn onto the freeway, when suddenly the car lost power, including its power steering.  I maneuvered it across a lane of heavy traffic, wrestling with the wheel, and let it drift to a halt.  After a short moment of contemplation, I cancelled the appointment I was headed to down the peninsula, as my car did not feel highway-ready.  I gingerly turned the car back on.  Surprisingly, it drove me back home without doing anything else amiss, and there were no error codes.

We took the car to the Sober Husband's chosen mechanic, who did a variety of things, charging a variety of amounts, and who ominously told us to replace the transmission.  "They tell you," he intoned, "that transmissions last a long time, but that's not for San Francisco. That's for ideal driving conditions, you know, freeways."  He positively spat with contempt for the lazy driving ways of the non-San Franciscan.  "Here in San Francisco, you're driving up hills.  You're in traffic.  You're stopping and going.  You can't have a transmission last like that."

The Sober Husband and I paid him a large amount of money but weren't ready to fund a new transmission.  "I'd rather get a new car," I said bitterly.  I kept driving the Volvo.  

On one day I had some time to spare, while I waited for Iris über Alles and some privileged friends of hers to take a sewing class in scenic Hillsborough, and I found a pleasant garage in Burlingame where I had my oil changed.  I asked the mechanic to change the air filter as well, but he refused.  "This one's still good!" he said.  I found this refreshing, as at my last oil change, a less honest mechanic had tried to bully me into getting a new air filter, and this one was that same, unchanged one.  "You could make a passenger sick with this filter," lectured the sleazy mechanic at me, but this good one held it up and said, "I'm putting it back in."  

This pleasant fellow replaced my serpentine belt for me and changed out my transmission fluid, after I saw for myself how murky it was.  He shook his head when I told him that the car had just been at another mechanic's a week or two before, who hadn't noticed that the serpentine belt was about to break (I verified this with my own eyes) or changed the transmission fluid.  

The Volvo drove me to Burning Man and drove my friend N. back (I felt like a heel giving it to her, but she had to leave early for reasons of child custody, and I wasn't going to be able to cram all of our camp into the Volvo, so she left me her spacious minivan).  But then I was rushing down O'Shaughnessy yet again, with the intentions of speeding merrily all the way to Iris's school for an important meeting, and the car died yet again.  Once again I managed to get across a couple of lanes of busy traffic, and I was shaken.  If that had happened just a few minutes later, I would have been driving 70 or 75 miles per hour in heavy traffic on 280, and it could have caused a horrific accident.  

I had the car towed to my favorite mechanic, the mechanic of my heart, who spent some serious time with it.  "My advice to you," he said, looking me in the eye more seriously than anyone has who wasn't proposing marriage, "is to sell this car immediately.  And I'm not charging you for today."  According to this mechanic, the car hadn't thrown an error code in months, and he could not find anything to cause this intermittent failure.  I got him to tell the Sober Husband all this on the phone.

Gingerly I drove home.  The Sober Husband and I began a debate which has raged on through today, the debate about whether I should get a replacement car and if so, what the hell should it be.  I refuse to drive the Volvo, no matter what pressure I may get from the S.H., who complains that "I spend ten more dollars a day on gas now that you're driving my Prius."  "Well then," I retort, "get me that Mini Cooper I want."  

"Why don't you drive the Volvo?"

"That car is dead to me."  

"Lots of people drive unreliable cars.  Poor people do every day.  I did when I had the Monte Carlo."

It took me a while to develop a proper retort for that argument, but my psychiatrist handed it to me on a plate.  Now I can hiss superiorly, "My psychiatrist thinks you do not value my life highly enough!"  This tends to lead to a silence, a satisfying one on my end.

While all this has been raging on, I've been driving the Prius.  Today the Prius failed as I was attempting to drive to the gym from Lola's school.  It turns out that the dealership had found a problem with the accessory battery, and the skeptical Sober Husband, thinking he was being ripped off, felt that he would prefer to wait until it actually failed before replacing it.  

"I hate this car now, too," I said.  The poor Sober Husband was apologetic over the phone.  "You can take a cab to a dealership and buy a new car," he cajoled me, but I wasn't falling for that.  "I'm not buying any car unless you're right there to agree it's acceptable," I said.  After all, our marriage, unlike the typical one, is largely based upon an unending competition for the moral upper hand.  The failure to replace the accessory battery had put me in a powerful position, and I was not about to throw that advantage away.  But these cars, yes.  I am prepared to throw them away.

Sunday, October 07, 2012


A troubled Lola: "I saw something about 'meningitis epidemic' on the TV screen at the gas station, and I asked Iris, 'What is meningitis?' And she said, 'It's a deadly disease that runs in the family that you're most likely going to get in this epidemic.'"