Checking into the Roach Motel

Last week it rained, not heavily but relentlessly, for three solid days.  On the third morning of the deluge, the biggest cockroach I’ve ever seen crawled up out of my shower drain.  A He-Man among his kind, he was actually hefty enough to push under the stainless steel drain cover and skate up into the stall — an act of desperation to escape the unexpected stream of hot soapy water filling his new home.   I’m told by the locals that this happens whenever the ground becomes saturated — vermin, normally content to burrow in the warm soil, obey their primal urge to seek higher ground, as their ancestors did long ago, fleeing the Ogygian flood.  They enter houses through open drains, dryer vents, attic eaves and the like.

After being told this, I immediately closed all the sink and tub drains in my condo, even while doing so realizing it was already too late.  They’d been open for days of rain and I was already effectively living in the Roach Motel.  So, now I’ve got that going for me too.  I feel an uneasy shame. Even though I realize there’s a possibility it’s only one bug, but I can’t shake the new vision of my home as one opossum short of a run down shack on the outskirts of a New Orleans swamp; a ramshackle hovel filled to rafters critters and varmints.  It just feels dirty to me now.

It makes me think of the first — and only — time I made the eighteen hour drive to visit my parents in Maine.  Strapped for cash, I broke up the trip by spending the night in a $38 motel room in Allentown, Pennsylvania; effectively the halfway point between Charlotte and their farm in northern Maine.  That’s right; $38 for the night, breakfast buffet included.  You are most likely cringing as you read that.  And you are right to do so.  The room was everything you’re imaging and worse — a pillow moist with Brylcreem, a duvet scented of farts.  Even taking into consideration the kicking woman’s leg of the neon sign advertising the strip joint directly across the street, the pièce de résistancewas indisputably the four inch long cockroach I found relaxing in the sink, antenna gently waving as if in an unseen breeze.  Not running or scuttling, just laid back and chilling.  Unlike me, he knew he belonged there.  “C’mon.”  He seemed to say.  “Pull up a piece of that dry rot and have brew.”

Despite the shower invasion, it turns out that I got off light.  My coworker, whom I’ll call Helena, was literally crying in the office — there was a snake in her basement, also fleeing the damp.  She had turned on the lights, looked down the basement stairs and there it was; all coiled up, thin shiny and black in the middle of the cement floor.  Since she has a puppy, she at first thought it was a dog leash, somehow discarded and wondered how it got there as she walked down the steps to pick it up.  As she leaned over, hand outstretched, inches from touching it, the snake lifted up it’s head and hissed at her.  She screamed, ran up the staircase and out onto the street, unfortunately leaving the basement door open.

It’s at this point that those I tell the story to divide into two distinct camps.  Camp One: “Well of course she did.”  Camp Two: “Why didn’t she just shut the basement door as she ran out?”

Helena spent a few minutes out on the street calming herself down and finally called her father.  When he arrived and looked, the snake was gone.  He spent hours walking through the house with her trailing timidly behind, once again a little girl begging him to check in the closets and under the bed for the scary monster to no avail.

Needless to say, she spent a nerve wracking night, waffling between “It went back out the way it came in,” and “It came up the stairs and hid somewhere…” Invariably, her vision of somewhere being wherever she was inserting a part of her body into at that moment.  “…Like in my slippers!  …Or under my pillow!  …Or under my comforter!”

She was a wreck when she got into work the next day; jittery and nervous even miles away from her house.   We tried explaining that the snake was unlikely to take the trolley, but like a babysitter in a horror film, who just knows the masked killer is coming to get her despite the ostensible safety of the police station, Helena remained on edge.  She spent the morning calling pest controls companies, getting more hysterical with each telling of the story, literally sobbing by the end.

The two camps make themselves evident here as well.  Camp One: “Well of course she was upset.”  And Camp Two: “Why didn’t she just make the phone calls in private?”  It’s at this point I’ll own up to being a firm member of Camp Two.

If I had pest control problems, as apparently I now do, I wouldn’t broadcast it to my coworkers, for fear that they would judge me as harshly as I were judging them.  “Oh, sure… you have snakes because your house is so clean.  It’s just the rain.”  And if I were fleeing the basement, as I did when I fled the shower that morning, I would take a moment to firmly shut the door.  I would then perhaps pause to install a deadbolt for good measure.

Once out on the street, I would likely further halt, calmly weighing he pros and cons of a tactical nuclear strike.

Red Letter Days

Though the date had of course slipped my mind, I first met Edward exactly four weeks ago on August 18th, and we’ve either seen each other or spoken on the phone every day since.   When I called him this evening, he jokingly answered “Happy Anniversary.”  And somewhat crestfallen, he actually had to explain what he had meant.  I can tell already that the poor lad is in for years and years of disappointment.

Before you judge Edward to harshly for rushing things, I should tender a confession of my own.  It’s not that I mind him thinking of us as a couple, even though we’ve only been dating a month.  Let me assure you, I’m oddly thrilled.  It’s true the timing is off for me, but not in the way you’re probably thinking.  The truth is, I go to epic lengths to align anniversaries to red letter calendar days so I don’t forget them.

When my last boyfriend, John, asked me about being exclusive shortly after Christmas, I told that I’d like to think about it a few days.  He spent the time in agony, thinking I was working up the courage to reject him.  In reality, I was merely waiting for New Year’s Eve to say “yes,” so I could more easily recall the day we’d first become a couple.  When my tipsy friend Carol clued John into my reasoning at a party later that evening, he got a calculating look in his eye which conveyed more clearly than words ever could that he was weighing the pros and cons of stabbing me then and there.  Pro: He’ll be dead.  Cons: I’ll need to transport the body and there are police roadblocks everywhere tonight.

I try not to be so calculating, but I have the memory of a gold fish swimming in bong water.  The cumulative weight of dozens of romantic disappointments have led me to strategize the logistical aspects of my relationships with an eye for detail that some would reserve for tasks such as preparing for a Himalayan ascent.  Easter, St. Patrick’s, Groundhog’s Day.  I’ve got an ex from each.

When my partner Lewis finally left me, he waited until February 14th to do so.  I never asked, but it had to have been intentional — a final, bittersweet shot across the bow in what was a long and bittersweet relationship.  I can tell you without even struggling that it was four years, seven months and three days ago exactly he handed back his commitment band.   I had given it to him years earlier on a warm clear night while fireworks exploded around us  — a night which, until the moment he left me, had been the happiest Fourth of July of my entire life.

It’s generally not as hard as it sounds to line these things up.  People are naturally inclined to think of holidays to be special, so once you’ve got that going for you it’s just a matter of making it special enough that you drive out the original date they have associated with your relationship.  The real trick is planning ahead; too soon and you’re rushing in without being sure, too late and you’ve missed the true moment and the new date won’t stick.

I’m thinking with Edward, this Christmas perhaps.  That’s three months from now, and I’m sure we’ll both know for certain then, but neither one of us should have caved.  Edward enjoys cruises and I’m thinking about booking us one as a holiday gift.  On Christmas eve, we’ll stand together against the boat rail staring out to sea, silhouettes against the starlight, caressed by the warm Caribbean  Breeze.  And then I’ll turn, look deep into his eyes and tell him it was this moment I realized that I loved him.  We’ll kiss and he’ll forget all about August 19th.

Because I sure as Hell know I will.

Concerning Hobbits (or “The Nose Knows”)

Though I’ve never really had issues in this vein, I’m not feeling entirely comfortable in my body right now.  That is to say, after two weeks of corporate travel, I’m not feeling entirely comfortable in my pants right now.  However much pain the life of the road warrior may inflict, it appears to be a well nourished ache.

The full extent of my physical activity over the past two weeks has been to sit in an underground conference room for twelve hour stretches and eat food being brought in by facility caterers.  It was a lot like I imagine the life of a hobbit to be; only plus some facility caterers here and minus some orcs there…  And here’s breakfast.  And here’s second breakfast.  And here’s an elevensie snack of fruit and cheese.  And here’s a nice hot lunch.  And here’s…

Now that I’ve resumed my ambulatory ways I expect my tummy to trend back to its standard issue 32″ of it’s own accord, but the temporarily tight suits have gotten me unusually focused on my physical appearance and that’s not good.  Because, while sorting pictures from my recent trip to Scotland, I’ve noticed my nose is getting huge.

I mean, “fear my nose” huge.  You can check the photo to the right for yourself.  As in, there will be entire civilizations in the far distant future desperately seeking time travel so they can voyage backward through the fifth dimension and stop the monster my nose will some day become.  I’m considering pitching a Series 8 script to the Doctor Who writing team about it.

The increase was so incremental I didn’t realize it until just now.  It snuck up on me, a few angstroms up to a few nanometers, then on to Gandalf the Grey.    One of my sisters frequently claims a similar creeping up regarding her weight.  I just don’t see it though.  Separated by geography and the cultural schism of the Deep South versus Acadia, we once went six months without seeing one another in person.  Every time we spoke on the phone during that period she claimed she had put on still more weight.  The next time I saw her, I expected her to look like the Musuko-Godzilla suit — all neck and paunch, with stubby little arms.  But really, she looked the same to me.

I on the other hand have tangible proof.  When I lay out a series photos of myself in sequence over the last twenty years, you can actually see the progression.  Like glacial movements speeded up from a time lapse sequence of still frames on the National Geographic Channel.  As I look over the photos, I imagine this as a documentary, narrated by Carol Meier.

What’s particularly distressing is that I’ve being told your nose never actually stops growing and the idea of thirty-years down the road is giving me shivers.   It’s a tough one to work through; this vision of me as Cyrano de Bergerac without the rapier.

I’ve high hopes I’ll adapt through.  Though I had a good long run at “cute,” I missed the turn to handsome by a block or two.   I can say with certainty, and with no feeling of ill will, that in my youth I was always the least attractive member of my family — lucky me, the smart one — so I’ve been there before.

What’s actually more distressing is the ears don’t seem to be growing to match; I feel like they aren’t carrying their weight.  I’m worried that my center of gravity will slowly shift to the front, and over I’ll fall, a new career as a truffle hunter.   The hobbits would have some use for me then, I’ll bet.

Dodging the DNC (or “Those Capybaras Will Cut a Bitch”)

As most of you undoubtedly know, the Democratic National Convention has been going on in my home city of Charlotte for much of the past week.  President Obama was in fact staying at a resort right down the street from me.  Roads would shut down without provocation as he and other political dignitaries moved about; police cruisers and security cars were everywhere.  Without warning, we’d be trapped in our homes for hours on end.

Having been given sufficient heads up, the neighborhood took this in stride; treating it not unlike a hurricane advisory.  They laid in bread, liquor and milk, and taped up the windows.  I honestly think the leader of my HOA wept at how good our lawns all looked, thanks to her enforcement efforts, knowing that the President and his family might, just might, catch a glance at them rolling by.

With such a landmark national event going on in such close proximity — dozens of swanky delegate parties, black tie fund raisers and glittering media meet and greets — it was virtually impossible not to become involved.  You won’t be surprised to learn that I managed to avoid the entire thing.  I was traveling for work.

And what I have to blog about is this — the hotel I stayed at and the scratches on the toilet seat covers.  As if some huge rabid rodent had mauled them furiously, savagely, for hours on end.  Feathery clouds of deep grooved scratches.  Just the tops though, as if the lids were all down when the rodents attacked.  Or perhaps the rodents feared water.  And it was a nice hotel too… Very modern. Very CB2.  And the scratches were in all the rooms.  I know this because I made all of the colleagues traveling with me show me the tops of their toilet lids too.

This begs the question “Why?”  I spent the entire trip obsessing about it and polling others for their theories.  I did everything but actually ask the hotel staff.  The exhaustive effort has led me to three possible theories:

Theory 1: Thrift.  Having splurged the entire amenities budget on bold pop art wall prints and art deco light fixtures, Rudy, the lead designer for the Junior Executive suites, realized he’d have to cut corners somewhere. Perhaps by skimping on new toilet seat covers and acquiring “vintage” (or up-cycled or whatever the Hell word we’re using to describe junk these days) from another hotel that had recently been torn down.

Theory 2: Ghosts. My co-project lead, Mike, said he heard something scratching at the door of the room above him most of the first two nights. He thinks it was a very small breed of dog shut inside the room.  But, the hotel is not pet friendly, and this, paired with the mysterious scratches, leads me to theory two… The vengeful ghost of a former guest’s deceased pet.

Imagine, if you will, a capybara named Clementine, left alone and crated, hidden away by her owner due to the no pets policy.  All is well, until the terrible, tragic fire.  Overlooked by the rescue crew, Clementine perishes in the flames.  Perishes… only to return a dozen years later on the anniversary of her death, and gain revenge against hotel management by clawing up the toilet seats.

Mike thought this was utter nonsense when I shared it during the brainstorming session I led on the toilet seat scratch topic the next morning.  He apparently believes in neither ghosts nor capybaras.  His theory, which we’ll label Theory 3: Abrasive Cleaning Agent, is that someone on the cleaning crew ordered the wrong kind of scouring pads one week, and only realized their mistake the following day when they saw the plastic in all the rooms was marked up.

I include Theory Three here only to keep Mike’s spirits bolstered.   I like my theory better… The revenant of an enraged rodent of unusual size roaming the hallways at night… Tormented, alone and seeking vindication for some horrible wrong done in the past…

Clementine, oh, Clementine.

Aaargh Matey (or “Dialing it Down”)

As people look back over their lives and think about the events that made them who they are today, it’s the bigger things they tend focus on. The grown-up job that started their careers, the time they got to second base in the back seat of dad’s Toyota with the cheerleader captain, the time they decided on gut instinct to move out of the apartment owned by the town maniac ten years before the first body was found in the boiler room.

A lot of firsts and misses; these are the things that flicker most prominently in personal highlights reels.   When I think through my own, it seems it’s always been the smaller, more insignificant events that stand out as the things I obsess over and redirect my life around.  Tiny, but pivotal instances, and the stomach churning clarity with which they snap into view the lenses through which other people see me.   I hit one of mine the week I showed up to work wearing an eye patch.

This story happens in two stages. The first was essentially this. An acquaintance of mine, Lyric, belonged to a flag football league.  Over lunch one day, I mentioned that I wasn’t familiar with the sport — had never even watched a game. She was a bit thrown by the idea that I’d been so isolated from what she saw as the most American of sports and invited me down to the park to play that Sunday. I’m generally up for anything new, and I liked the way it sounded in my head  when I played it back (What did you do this weekend? Oh, the usual. Brunch, played some touch football, scrubbed projectile cat diarrhea off the staircase paint), so I showed up at the appointed time and place.

The weather was perfect; the rare Charlotte day that’s both clear and cool.  But other things were off from the get go. Firstly, the crowd was too competitive. Secondly, no one could really effectively explain the sport. It was like asking someone who suggests the flavor of a particular type of animal is “gamey” to describe what game means. After some hand fluttering and frustration, they invariably end at “You just have to taste it.” Those explaining football lamely ended with a similar aphorism – “You’ll understand it once you play it.”

I still have no idea how the game actually works. The gist of it is this – and feel free to skip if you’re already familiar with the sport — two teams of people, apparently perceiving themselves to be of vehemently opposing although unarticulated ideologies, start on either sides of a white line in the center of a grassy field. For reasons surpassing understanding, one of the teams, we’ll call them Team A, is attempting to drive toward the field end which they are facing.

As a “play” begins, Team A runs toward their end of the field and both teams come crashing together and stop. At the place they halted, they once again divide into ideologically opposed teams, and repeat.   And then, for reasons known only to the gods of chance, everyone comes crashing together again. There is a lot of “smack talk” involved between the teams, having to do with, on supposes, the disparate ideologies.  Also, a medium sized prolate spheroid is involved.

I have to say, I enjoyed playing. There was a topsy-turvy element of “I-have-no-idea-what-this-means-or-what-happens-next” that one generally only experiences from an afternoon spent consuming psychotropic fungus. The running bit was a lot of fun, though several times I admit I was actually running toward the wrong end of the field, as our objective end seemed to switch without provocation.

We were playing a variation of the game known as “flag football,” which barred physical contact and instead involved grabbing a short streamer from the belt of opposing players to tag them out. This meant it was two long plays before I was tackled by one of the more enthusiastic players, and ended up getting smashed in the face with an elbow.

I have had black eyes before, but never a black face. Within three hours, my cheek, temple and eye area were so swollen I looked like I had survived a fight scene in a John Wu film. Not as a hero, mind, but as a vanquished underling. One of those revenge flavored one-to-one pummelings in which the protagonist does a very thorough job. Heading to work the next day, I realized I had three choices: 1) ignore it unless asked and then tell the truth, 2) proactively explain what had actually happened, 3) make something up whenever I noticed someone looking at me.

Option three seemed the soundest course, and the most fun, so I prepared to spend the next three days saying something vague like “My boss and I disagreed about the Fall marketing strategy…” and then trailing off uncomfortably. (My boss, to his credit, thought that this was hilarious when I gave him the heads up). But here’s the thing… No one asked. No one stared. No one in any way indicated that it seemed as if I had used the left side of my face to stop a charging rhinoceros.

I figured out the actual reason for this that Spring, when replanting the sad, sad flower beds in my front yard; a vain attempt to stay on the good side of my HOA. As a hangover from a youth spent interred on my parent’s farm, I was using organic fertilizer (translation: manure) to supplement the red clay pit my condo sits on. And unfortunately, an over-enthusiastic flip of the spade, got a fleck in my right eye. Given my allergies, and my location in Charlotte, North Carolina, the runner up pollen capital of North America, I was on substantial amounts of immune suppressants at the time. I ended up with a very nasty pseudomonas infection, one symptom of which is severe sensitivity to light.

While the antibiotics were doing their work, my doctor prescribed an eye patch. A big, black surgical eye patch clapped over my face. As obnoxious as it was, I have to say, I secretly liked the way it looked as I headed out to work that Monday. Firstly, it matched my black sport coat perfectly. Secondly, I thought it added an air of mystery I’d previously lacked. As if I was a European jewel thief. Again, the point here, it was not a subtle change.

And as with the black eye, for two days, no one at the office said a word. In meetings. In the hallway. At the water cooler. Here I was, a parrot short of Captain Avery, and not a single query. I recall my thinking was optimistic, as it was with the black eye. Something along the lines of “Well, it’s the South. They are being polite and well-mannered. People are concerned something is seriously wrong, and they don’t want to point it out or seem insensitive.”

Then came Wednesday. The antibiotics had worked their magic and the eye was fast on its way to healing. Far enough along that it was no longer light sensitive. It was still obvious that something had been wrong, but I was able to function sans patch. It was at work that day that the questions came pouring in.  “What happened to your eye? Is it going to be OK? Bless your heart, that looks terrible! I didn’t realize something was wrong with it.”

It was at that point I asked, because I had to, “Why did you think I’d been wearing an eye patch for three days?”

The replies I got remain as absolutely ego deflating now as they were then. “You’re just so… quirky. I thought it was something you were doing now.” As if I’d worn an ascot or a jaunty scarf.

Since then, I work very hard to “dial it down” in front of others.  Quirky and creative is good.  An eye patch as a fashion statement?  Not so much.