Goodbyes and Hellos

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On the patio, Hemington, England, 9am, 22 May

There’s a young lamb in the neighbor’s yard, bleating and prancing about, welcoming the day. Her name is Charlotte, a tribute to the recent addition to the royal lineage, courtesy of Prince William and Duchess Catherine. Apparently this is a very British thing to do, naming things after the First Family, even if the process involves the christening of farm animals. Regardless of how her moniker may have come about, Charlotte is very happy, darting hither and yon, her fancy collar winking in the sunlight, letting loose with those joyful bleats in anticipation of what the day may bring.

I feel a bit like Charlotte at the moment.

Granted, I’m not doing much bleating and prancing, as my participation in such activities could quickly lead to restraining orders and probable physical therapy. I’m behaving in a more sedate manner, sipping a fine English tea and waiting for the gentle caffeine to awaken the parts of me that slumber harder than others. (The body is no longer a unified contingent at my age. Instead, it’s a loose confederation of bones and organs that only grumpily get along when it is absolutely required. Gone are the days of youth, when you could leap out of bed and conquer the entire world before noon.) Now I awake in stages, with naps in between to reconsider the benefits of arising.

But Charlotte and I do share one thing, the excitement over what the day is going to bring. Charlotte, naturally, has simpler expectations. Perhaps there will be any interesting change in the type of kibble in her food bowl, or maybe she will run across something fascinating in the deeper grass near the apple tree. If she’s feeling a bit more philosophical, Charlotte can gaze over the wooden fence at the cows lolling around on the nearby hill, reflecting on what they might have done with their lives that resulted in them having a much bigger playground than she has.

As far as my own reflections, I’ve been doing quite a bit of that lately. This entire journey that Terry and I are currently on, two weeks of running about in a mad frenzy of doing as much as possible, is a celebration of sorts, a recognition of several achievements happening to coincide in a relatively short time period. Our home base during all this cross-country gallivanting is the Aten-Shearwood Manor (named such by me, and not the result of any pretentions of the part of the owners) wherein reside the lovely couple, Raz and Rosanna. The four of us, collectively, are all turning 50 in roughly the space of a year.

I was the first to stumble across the mid-century mark, a development that took place this past January, despite my best efforts to prevent such from happening, uttering Wiccan-style incantations in midnight cemeteries and urging my elected representatives to pass legislation that will allow me to remain in my Forties forever and ever, amen. (These desperate measures failed, of course, because I’ve never looked good in hats, especially pointed ones, and Texas congressmen are hell bent on never doing anything that actually benefits the constituents in the lower tax brackets.)

Raz is the next one scheduled to cross the 50-yard line, followed by Rosanna, with Terry bringing up the rear, because he has made some sort of pact with the devil that he will always be the youngest person in the room, whenever possible. This quadruple cracking of The Big 50 is cause enough to embark on a multi-nation tromp, wherein we are spending astonishing amounts of money just to over-sample locally-produced ales whilst sitting in darkened pubs, with exuberant conversations occurring in several languages simultaneously. But we have additional logs to throw on the celebration fire.

Terry and I will have been together for 15 years this coming Tuesday. (This is both mind-boggling and satisfying; I would not be where I am in my life right now without him.) Raz and Rosanna have been married for five years this very day. The four of us first realized this Great Convergence was impending whilst standing on the patio of a bar in the Oaklawn section of Dallas last year, whilst watching some drag queens flamboyantly navigate Cedar Springs Road in what may have been a gay-pride parade but was most likely just another Tuesday evening. And thusly the idea was born, that Terry and I would join Raz and Rosanna at their home in England and then travel about, a lark that we un-creatively dubbed “The 50/50/50/50/15/5 World Tour”.

Terry later realized that this coming May would also mark the 30-year notch of his best-friendship with Raz, a meeting of like souls that blossomed in 1985 Odessa, TX, with Yaz playing in the background and parachute pants billowing in the sandy, gritty winds of scorched-earth nowhere. When Terry brought this additional figure to the table, I initially wanted to point out to him that one shouldn’t try to change the name of the tour after the brochures had been printed. But I relented in my well-established anal-obsessiveness, and our adventure is now known as “The 50/50/50/50/30/15/5 World Tour”, an appellation that is annoyingly cumbersome and has no actual meaning to anyone except the five of us.

Ah, yes, the five of us. The population of our entourage is about to increase by one. As I type and Charlotte bleats and Rosanna is in the kitchen, laboring over the creation of homemade pasta and meatballs, Raz and Terry have been dispatched to Heathrow Airport a few hours south of here. They have the responsibility of retrieving my best friend, Tiffany, star of stage and screen (at least in my own reality-stretched world of writing). Chances are that Tiffany will be a bit snappish at first, after having endured a bitter flight path that included a 6-hour layover and a 9-hour final leg. Hopefully the drive back will soften her, marinating as she will in the stunningly-beautiful greenery of the pastoral English fields and the promise of an eventual adult beverage.

A news flash of sorts, as I just received this text from Terry: “The package has arrived. We are proceeding back to the country.” And so it continues, this milestone day amid days of milestones. Tiffany will soon be a part of the mayhem as we acknowledge the various things we have managed to accomplish in our lives, despite our sometimes questionable efforts and decisions, including yet another reason for this day to be worthy of a meandering blog post:

After nearly thirty years, this is my last day of employment with Verizon.

Interestingly enough, my eyes got a bit wet as I watched those words appear on my laptop just now. The mistiness is not because of sadness over my departure from the company (although I will greatly miss some of my co-workers, even though they may not realize it; I’ve never been the best at sharing my emotions). But rather, this brimming emotion is coming from a solidifying realization: I am free.

Free, finally, after years of yearning, to write full time. All the time, every day, whenever I want (even if I don’t do so in complete, grammatically-correct sentences). It’s overwhelming, this feeling.

As is the concept of retirement. I’ve already joined AARP, mainly to make them stop sending me a reminder brochure every two weeks concerning my age-defined level of decay. (I don’t want to be responsible for the death of so many trees just so you can print pictures of happy people using walkers to get to bingo at the VFW.) And recently, as we’ve flown to and from Belfast and Amsterdam and what have you, I’ve being scribbling “Retired” in the occupation box of all those Declaration Forms you have to fill out when you cross borders. The word stares up at me, foreign and strange. Retired. I’m not used to it yet, especially since the final click of the closing door didn’t happen until today.

But I’m getting there, the acceptance. Just this past week, I had a rather nice experience in Belfast. (It thrills me to write a sentence like that, by the way.) We had finished up our visit to the Titanic Museum earlier in the day, and we were in a bit of a somber mood. (Just as we would be after touring the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam a few days later. There have definitely been some emotional arcs on this journey, as there should be.) We needed something more light-hearted, so we headed for The Crown, a pub in downtown Belfast that has been there forever and has quite the reputation.

Once inside the walls of this famed establishment, we were presented with a tableau that I don’t remember having encountered before in a bar. (To be fair, since we’re talking about bars and therefore alcohol, it’s entirely possible that I had been in similarly-arranged situations and my lack of recall is the price you pay for guzzling octane cocktails.) In any case, there was your standard bar counter on the left side, with patrons milling about in the middle section, clamoring to get the attention of the bartenders before they absolutely died of alcohol deprivation.

On the right-hand side, there were these clever wooden booths, with actual doors which controlled access. The booths had ornately-carved walls, but no actual roofs, so, technically, taller patrons (Terry and I) could peer over the wall-tops and review the inner goings on (which mostly consisted of startled people glaring at us until we went away). In essence, though, the booths were relatively private, creating a row of little atmospheres. I was fascinated, even more so when I learned, later that evening from a well-lubricated lass that, back in the day, wealthier patrons would use the booths for sexual conquest. From within, they could push a button, which rang a bell or some such, and in a minute or two a prostitute would appear bearing a pint of ale and presumably no panties.

Naturally, everyone in the crowd around us was lusting mightily to gain access to one of the booths, both for the privacy and the opportunity to push that special button to see what happened these days when you did so. (For the record, a bell still rings, but absolutely nothing transpires after that. Unless you keep pushing the button, and then the doorman will track you down and firmly push you out the front door.) So our chances of getting beyond the proverbial velvet rope were on the negligible side. But at least we could drink, to ease our anguish and pain.

Before we finished our first pint, one of the doors flew open, and a group of men rushed out to parts unknown. (They didn’t share details, we didn’t ask.) Our four heads peeked in the opening, seeking to confirm availability, only to discover three young women perched in one corner. (The booths were surprisingly large inside, or at least this one was, comfortably seating 8 or 10 people.) We started to back out, apologizing, but they quickly shooed us in. “Join us!”

We hesitated. Typically, in my past life, I would never have agreed to such a freefall. Even Terry, who has the gift of being able to talk to anyone, anywhere, gave pause. Two seconds later, a “what the hell” sensation gripped us and we piled through the little door, slamming it shut in the faces of other hungry patrons trolling about, poised to leap into action should the timid Americans fail to seize the moment.

This proved to be a mighty fine decision on our part.

Our impromptu hosts were quite accommodating. Turns out they had been in our shoes just a bit ago, hovering about and waiting for privy chamber access, when this same door had been thrust open by the now-departed quartet of men, beckoning them inward. The girls were now paying it forward, torch-bearers of camaraderie. At some future time, as is the case with most of our travels, I will delve deeper into what transpired during the next few hours, for the experience was a fascinating mix of awkwardness and cultural variances and revelations and brief, tentative bonding. It’s a story that could stretch across multiple chapters in one of my typically rambling travel tales, possibly become a standalone novella. But we don’t have time for that right now.

Suffice it to say that the women were from Australia, late twenties, good friends for years, navigating the world via intriguing jobs in far-flung places and reacting to whatever circumstances cropped up wherever they were at the time. They hadn’t been following the same path for some time, each of them currently residing in different countries, but they made sure to cross paths as often as possible, even if it was one night in a Belfast bar where hookers once strutted about as ribald Avon ladies come a calling.

For me, the highlight of the night came down to a single  bit of the conversation. One of the girls, whose name escapes me at the moment (I vaguely recall that one of them went by “Sam” but this was not her), focused in on me because proper etiquette requires that you engage everyone at one moment or another, whether or not the target wishes to be a focus. She chose to re-discuss my impending retirement, a topic that had surfaced earlier in the evening when we were struggling to come up with interesting introductory comments. And in the midst of this uncomfortable one-on-one (I don’t do well with polite patter, I’m much better with written rather than spoken words), Unnamed Girl simply said this: “You can do anything now. Anything.”

And although I had been quietly envisioning this moment of release for years, it seriously did not hit me until that moment. Anything. I was at the precipice of anything, and there were so many ways to go from here. Act III. Infinity and beyond.

But that was days ago, and I’ve been processing since then, changing subtly, letting the immenseness become something familiar, and now the elusive, shimmering day is here. Raz and Terry have returned from Heathrow, with Tiffany spilling out of the car with them, and we are making preparations to walk to the local pub, a very English excursion. Who knows what might happen next, and that, whether or not I’m ready for it, is now my new navigation, my North Star.

Signing of now. It’s time to get started on my anythings…

Cheers.

 

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Intermission #1: Time Off for Good Behavior

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Just a quick note to fill you in on my current lack of obsessive blogging: Contrary to what some of you might think, I have not gone over the edge and finally lost my mind, resulting in an enforced stay at the Beaver Valley Home for the Emotionally Turbulent. Rather, I am in the midst of a much-anticipated vacation abroad. At the moment, we are running amuck in the United Kingdom, doing our best to determine exactly how far one can go before we irritate the locals enough that they throw us on a boat and shove it back toward The States.

I had originally planned to do a “live” journal of our adventures, annoying everyone on WordPress and Facebook and Twitter with daily tidbits of this and that (rhapsodies about regional cuisine, snapshots of buildings older than dirt, mug shots that may or may not arise as the combined result of stout adult beverages and a lack of quality decision-making). But in the planning of this grand travelogue, I failed to consider one thing: Timely, award-winning reportage from the field requires a somewhat decent connection to the real world.

We have not had that for several days now.

Firstly, I would like to congratulate the folks at T-Mobile for successfully instilling in us a belief that all was right with the world and that we would have crystal-clear service throughout our travels, that our reception in Ireland would be magically delicious, and that the power of our coverage in Amsterdam would outshine the Red Light District. We quickly learned that this assurance was nothing more than the hissing of a punctured tire. (To be fair, we haven’t yet made it to Amsterdam, but based on the experience in Hemington and Belfast so far, the light at the end of that particular tunnel has most likely been extinguished as well.)

Secondly, thanks to our lovely hosts, the Lady and Lady of Aten-Shearwood Manor, we have managed to have brief moments of connectivity, the result of high-jacking their wi-fi here at the estate and not due to any weak surge of a signal from T-Mobile somehow managing to get through the apparent Denial of Service Dome that shields this part of the world from the Modern Age. However, as is the case with domestic wi-fi, it only works whilst in the domicile. When we journey beyond the ancestral gates of the manor, the Aten-Shearwood Telecom must release us from her tender bosom.

Thirdly, when we are out and about, there are brief moments when I am taunted with signals from a far galaxy. Apparently my phone, unimpressed as it is with my inability to rectify this situation, has taken it upon itself to search diligently for a reliable portal, and it takes unsupervised action when it finds one. For instance, I was innocently strolling about the Titanic Museum in Belfast, reading a placard about how poor people once again gave their lives so rich people could continue living in comfort (sound familiar?) when my phone went into convulsions, lurching about in my pocket. I wrenched the savage beast into the chill Irish air and watched in amazement as hundreds of decaying text messages (“Why aren’t you answering me, you horrid man.” and notifications (“16 people have left comments on your latest blog post. You haven’t answered any of them. They are now trashing you on Twitter. Have a good day.”) went flying up my screen.

Then there was another convulsion, the signal bars vanished, and darkness ruled the land once more.

Fourthly, I realize that unsatisfying reception should be of little importance on a vacation, unless I happen to trip over nothing and fall off the ramparts of a fourteenth-century castle and suddenly require at least a modicum of medical attention. Ideally, the concept of vacation means getting away from it all, including the blogs and social media accounts I pretend to professionally run when not attending to my “day” job. And the vast majority of time, we’ve been too busy doing whatever, dashing down cobbled streets or reviewing the actual site where William the Strange did something very important with a sewing bobbin during the Battle of Foggy Bend, for me to care very much about it at all. But when I want to share a snapshot of the rusty bobbin and make a clever comment about it, and I can’t, that’s when I use adult language and order another pint of Scrumbucket Thistle Blend.

Fifthly, and finally, I get to the actual purpose of this entry, which was not meant to be about my rude placement in Telecom Time-Out but, as is well documented, my tendency to ramble had us visiting all points of the alphabet instead of the simple navigation of Point A to Point B. Let’s summarize:

I am currently out of pocket, in a land where phone sex is not as easy as it should be.

The folks following the Crusty Pie blog will be happy to know (and hopefully have noticed) that I pre-scheduled posts to regularly appear on that blog for the duration. They may be unhappy to know that I most likely will not see their likes or comments until some future date. This does not mean that the likes and comments should cease. In fact, please continue to make them. When my phone does manage to succeed in its renegade mission to achieve greater heights than me, it makes me happy when the notifications hit me in a deluge. Consider your acts of kindness to be charitable contributions toward the therapy that I most likely need.

For the Bonnywood Manor blog as well as the Twitter feed, things are a bit more sketchy. This is where I had intended to do the daily travel updates, a vision which was quickly scuttled when things hit a brick wall once I realized “hey, I wonder why my phone hasn’t been dinging since we landed?” If the signal situation suddenly improves, I may be able to get a few things out, possibly cross-posting some snippets from Crusty to help fill the void. Otherwise, the posts might be a little sparse until our meandering journey is over or we get detained for one of those poor entertainment decisions. (Do prisons have w-fi? Hmm. I might have to make arrangements.)

Until then, raise a pint and carry on.

Cheers

P.S. Oh, right, about that picture at the beginning of this post: This is a snap of the lone pub in the hamlet of Hemington, where the Aten-Shearwood Manor is located. Since there are only a few hundred citizens to begin with, and only a certain percentage of them drink, it’s a high probability that the Ladies Aten-Shearwood will know everyone who stumbles into the pub courtyard, seeking refreshment. It’s a hoot to just sit there, sipping, watching the intricate social dance that results from the pub being the only game in town…

 

Great Balls of Fire: 10 Things I Learned About Wearing Contacts for the First Time

10 Things Contact Lens

 

  Note: Okay, fessing a little, I DID try wearing contacts way back in the day, like 1983, when they were these hard, inflexible buttons that you basically had to glue to your eyeball and you couldn’t really close your eyelids comfortably when they hit that damn speed bump. Did NOT have a good experience, and quickly abandoned them. But this last eye doctor visit, I thought, what the hell, let’s try them again. And here we go…

  1. The eye-dilation thing.

Okay, I know they need to do this, so they can peer in there and see what might have ruptured or is possibly missing, but since this part is optional and I hate it, I usually decline. However, this time around the doctor made a slightly smart-ass comment that the last time my eyes looked like Little Orphan Annie was roughly the same time as the Mayflower ran aground in Plymouth. Fine. Go ahead and do it.

This process takes two sets of drops, apparently. The first round preps your eyes for the dilation drops. And it hurt like a mother. To be fair, she did warn me just before the hellacious burning began, standing there and fingering a garlic glove around her neck in case I should completely lose my mind from the pain. Then plink, plink, sweet Baby JESUS my eyes are exploding in my head, and I think I wet myself a little.

Once I could remember my name, she moved in for the second round, and I briefly considered taking her life. But I was a little disoriented and she had me wet before I fully realized what was going on. And she was right, that second set was NOTHING after the sensation of thousands of miniature people stabbing my eyes with pointy sticks, making me feel like Karen Black at the end of her episode of “Trilogy of Terror”, the one where she pissed off the little grunting African doll with the spear, then pissed him off even more by throwing him in the oven and trying to make a casserole out of him.

Anyway, Doctor Lady then sends me back out to the waiting room, so I can relax while my eyes try to do the same. No problem. I’m happy to be anywhere that doesn’t have shelves filled with chemicals that one can pluck up at random and try to blister my eyeballs. I trotted quickly down the hallway, the torturous memories already fading as I got further from that place that shall now be known as The Chamber of Liquid Pain, Wherein Dwells the She-Beast with Squirting Devices.

I wander into the waiting area and plop down next to my bestie, Tiffany. She and I have journeyed on this adventure together, both of us having been a bit lackadaisical with not having our eyes checked for several decades. There have been many consecutive instances of us drinking adult beverages together and reaching that “Norma Rae” moment of imbibing, where we swear to do everything we can to change the world, including get our eyes checked, but we never do. There’s always something on TV to distract us.

But we finally got our act together and made dual appointments. Well, she made the appointments. If it had been left up to me, it never would have happened, because I just don’t care enough. Anyway, she thankfully did, and we both traipsed in here as one, and therefore I assumed that she would want to know all about how I had been savaged in an ocular manner in a room where there were no witnesses.

“So, how’d it go?” she asks, nonchalantly flipping the pages of an outdated magazine. (Why do doctors always have old magazines in their offices? They make enough money to keep up the subscription payments. It just seems shady to me. Anyone?)

“Well,” I say, stupidly assuming that anyone in this world actually cares about the viciousness in my life during the last thirty minutes, “they dilated me. I’m dilated now. Ready to spit out a kid at any moment.” I beam and wait for hearty praise over my determined jocularity in this dark time.

“That’s nice,” says Tiffany, in a tone that I instantly recognize as meaning “I’m right in the middle of a story about John Travolta and I really don’t care”.

Oh. Okay, Plan B. “Your blouse is really pretty.”

She already knows this, having obviously made the wardrobe selection herself and not needing any pointless self-esteem boosts. She chooses instead to weakly smile, not respond verbally, and turn yet another page with her exquisitely-manicured index finger, a digit featuring a dainty flower carefully applied by some overworked minion in a nail salon where at least three different languages are spoken by the staff, none of them English.

Fine. I am not going to be validated. I sigh and turn to a small coffee table where various brochures have been placed, just in case anyone gets bored enough to actually read them. I spy one featuring colored contact lenses, and this titillates me enough that I snatch it up. I work my way through a few pages in the pamphlet, and then I come across an inspiration that is so soul-confirming that I nearly wet myself again.

It’s a model, and her name is Anna, along the lines of “This is Anna sporting another color in our deluxe line of products” kind of Anna. The model herself is not my focal point, she has all the wrong body parts, but her eyes are sheathed in a lens color known as “Gemstone Green”.

I want that color for my own eyes. I want that color NOW. I’ve never wanted anything more in my life, at least not in the last five minutes.

I try to get Tiffany’s attention again, and after several attempts of doing so, she finally turns to me with an expression that clearly implies “I am only going to talk to you because they made me turn off my cell phone in this office and my need to communicate with the world is being annoyingly tested.” You have two seconds before I lose interest.

I proffer Anna, she of the fake green eyes that have inspired me so.

Tiffany glances briefly, the picks up her magazine again, not impressed. “That’s nice,” she mutters.

I decide that I hate Tiffany. At least a little bit.

Then I become aware that the dilation of my pupils is now a real and solid thing. There are three Annas staring up at me from the brochure, and this is not a calming thing to experience. I don’t want three models with fake eyes to be peering at me at the same time. It’s unsettling. Actually, more than that. It’s like a scene in “Rosemary’s Baby” before Mia Farrow realizes that she should just rip that stupid necklace off and throw it in the gutter.

Just then, Doctor Lady comes prancing down the hallway and calls out my name. I try to smile at the one of the three that I think is actually the real one, and I lurch out of my seat. (Tiffany makes a hissing noise as my actions make her have to start over on another paragraph about John Travolta.) I stumble toward the beckoning doctors.

And, of course, the doctors lead me back to the Chamber of Liquid Pain. I’m really not comfortable with this, but it must be done and I persevere. One of the doctors slams the door shut, and I contemplate the fact that I may never be seen again. I hope someone remembers to feed the cat.

“So,” says another one of the doctors, “it appears that you are dilated now.” (Are you basing this assessment on the fact that I am drooling and crying and trying to figure out which of the three chairs I should sit in? If so, yes.) I finally trip over something solid, assume it’s a chair, and shove my ass into it. I turn to face the six-eyed Yeti whose facial expression indicates that she just lost a furry child in the blizzard and she is out for revenge.

She closes in while I whimper. To up the intimidation, she slaps on a miner’s helmet with a big-ass spotlight on the front of it. “This will help me look into your eyeball.” Really? How can anyone feel comfortable hearing a statement like that? Then she’s on point, craning her neck about and barking out orders that I should look at the one hand she’s holding up beside her head, wiggling her fingers like deadly strands of seaweed that only want to drag me to the depths of the ocean and bash my skull in with the body of a dead stingray.

Then she’s done. “No tumors!” she exclaims, and I’m so discombobulated that I don’t know if this is a good or a bad thing. She hops off of me (wait, when did she get ON me?) and pulls off some rubber gloves that I never noticed in the first place. (What exactly was she touching that she needed gloves?) “Everything looks good. No rips, no tears. And no tumors!”

Why does she keep saying that, the “no tumors” thing? I’d never even thought about tumors in my eye. Thanks for the new nightmares, Hagatha.

She throws open the door, letting artificial light sear my dilated and horror-filled eyes. She yanks me out of the chair, or maybe I fell out, things were blurry and random, and next thing I know we are somehow in that hallway leading back to the reception area. I have no coordination whatsoever, so I’m just following anything that moves.

We get to the desk, where fake attendants are offering fake smiles, and the doctors make their pronouncements. I’m all good for the glasses part of the exam. But I’ll have to come back for the contact lens bit, because it’s pointless to fit me for contacts when I can’t tell my toes from my ass. Somebody shoves an appointment card at me, which I grasp lovingly, because it might somehow help me make it through the next part of my life.

There’s more shoving of various kinds, and then I realize that I am standing in front of Tiffany. At least I hope it’s Tiffany. The blouse appears to have the right blurry colors, so that’s encouraging. She hops out of her chair with effortless coordination, since the Yeti didn’t dilate her, and she scurries out of the office. I lurch along behind her, not really sure that I like her at all, but she at least knows some of the same people that I do, and maybe a mutual companion will take pity on me at some point.

We make our way into the mall proper. (Oh wait, I probably didn’t mention that we were at a shopping mall. Yep, Tiffany insists on combining eye care with potential exposure to outfits that will make her look even more fabulous. It’s part of the deal with her.) Once firmly ensconced in the pathways of ancient mall-walkers who will knock you down in their quest for consistent blood-flow, Tiffany turns to me. “Okay, what do you want to do now?

I pause. This could be a trap. She’s making it sound like I have free will in the matter, but it’s entirely possible that we fully discussed what we would do next and this is a test to see if I remember the details. I don’t, not right at the moment, with pain taking a good 97% of my attention, so I word my response carefully. “Well, before we take off, I think I just need to get some fresh air for a minute. Then we can do that thing.”

Tiffany nods. “Okay, we have some time to kill before we meet the Garzas at Ojeda’s. Follow me.” Then she’s off and running, on a mission, the multiple images of her darting about like a cheesy LSD trip in a late 60s movie about hitchhikers and songwriters. I’m fully expecting Joan Baez to start warbling on the soundtrack.

I’m not as quick out of the chute, still digesting the intel. Oh, right. We’re doing the margarita happy-hour thing. I’m not sure I can get the salted glass anywhere near my lips right now, but I sure could use an adult beverage, even if I have to lay on the ground and let people pour it into my mouth.

“Are you coming or not?” sing-queries Joan, with a possible Bob Dylan providing backing vocals. (What the hell was in those drops? Is this really a shadowy government experiment of some kind? Anybody have any Funyuns? I’m suddenly really hungry.)

The Tiffanys lead me into Dillard’s, one of those anchor stores that actually have portals to the mammoth parking lot outside, a concrete boa constrictor that encircles the mall. (I really tried to behave as we tromped through the store, but I must admit it was very difficult considering I faced three times the normal amount of clothes mannequins, all of them intent on killing me with their bald heads and unnatural poses.)

Finally, we slam through the outer doors, into a promised land where the sun still shines and the birds still sing. I take two steps into said sunlight, and then fall to my knees in agony and pain as the light enters my eyes with blinding intensity, writhing about in unregulated and unattractive spasms.

“Really?” asks Tiffany, already whipping out her phone to make a Twitter update that will destroy me socially. “Does it always have to be about you?”

 

To Be Continued. Eventually…

(Originally published in “The Sound and the Fury” on 02/28/11. Revised and updated with extra flair for this post.)