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I have entirely too much stuff- seven closets spread through two homes, packed full of... Stuff. Some of it is not my fault, as I am given many charming bits and pieces with genuine kindness and goodwill intended, thoughtful and precious every one. I can't get rid of anything; they all have a special place in my heart. I shop compulsively, too- a bargain is a victory, and I treasure them.
But my home and my head are full. I tried to put up my laundry, and there just was no more, NO MORE space. It was claustrophobic. I felt the weight of the fabric of every piece of clothing I own, every pair of shoes, the new pretties I'd just bought, all of it smothering me. I couldn't breathe. I couldn't see for all the Stuff- nowhere to put any more Stuff...
That moment broke me down, made me think about why I have so many Things and the attachment I have to them. Every layer and texture felt comforting, like a blanket protecting me, some sort of memory defining who I am, pure armor against the world...

...and an anchor. I've been carrying skirts and jackets and boots worn through the soles for years, across the country, through all these stages of life, and I needed them, felt like I'd miss them someday...

But I never did.
They were friends I never really knew.

I thrashed around the closet, stuffing beautiful Things into trash bags headed to Goodwill, to people who really need them...and I cried. I didn't fold them properly, I couldn't bear memorializing every little bit. I just had to have them gone and for the ghosts they represented to disappear...

I'm still crying, and it's just Stuff I never needed in the first place. I ought to feel magnanimous, proud of the nice Things I'm giving away, free of the clutter surrounding me. I should feel like a snake shedding its skin, just letting go...but it's really hard. It should just be Things...
Fret kikuyu
And it's just one closet...


Mobile Serv-A-Tron 5000

On paper, I'm not really worth much. I graduated high school with all manner of honors, and then proceeded to become a three time college dropout from the University of Tennessee system. Oh yeah, I'm sure I've left a trail of squandered potential across the state and points westward. In fact, completing a reflexology seminar recently is the first thing I've accomplished (with a certificate and everything!) in seventeen years. My parents both have doctorates, and I'm fairly sure they thought I'd follow in their academic footsteps. Alas, life and my own personal hardwiring kept from doing so, and though I feel that I've disappointed them in that pursuit, I think I've done a fair job of getting my education in more informal ways. To be more specific, I became a restaurant lifer. Most students and young people do a tour or so in the industry at some point- summer jobs, supplemental income, etc.- but some of us find our niche in the manic world of food. I started out as a summer girl, fully intending to get my brilliant little ass right back to university, but, again, life and my tormented psyche had other plans. Once I found myself in Colorado and decided to see what madness I could create for myself, I fell quickly and deeply into The Lifestyle. After a couple of inglorious stints as a hostess and smokehouse slave, I tied The Apron around my waist and never looked back.

My first real gig was at Gunther Toody's, a CO chain of Fifties diners. They weren't half assed about the throwback diner thing to be sure- I spent the last years of my teens clad in a mint green polyester nightmare, covered in flair (bless my little heart), and known alternately as 'Pinkie' and 'Pixie'. It was reasonably profitable during my ill fated and ill advised run in Colorado Springs (shudder), but it proved to be a disaster once I made the move to Denver. Note to young, fresh faced newcomers to ANY city- try to get a handle on the lay of the land and especially the public transportation system, if any, and I pray that there is on some level. On a complete tangent, I must say that I judge a metropolis on the accessibility of buses, trains, shuttles and the like. Denver has a fantastic system, and I'm a proud RTD supporter. Hell yeah, light rail!

Anyhow, after a disastrous transfer to the Gunther Toody's located at the furthest point from my apartment reachable by bus and a spectacular exiting 'fuck you!' ( I believe I took off my uniform in the middle of the dining room and stalked out in hot pants and a camisole, then waited for my bus at the stop across the street for half an hour. My indignation kept me from feeling any shame or self concern then, but I doubt I'll pull that one again.), I moved on. First up- a soulless try at the even more soulless Rainforest Cafe. A word of advice: never wait tables at a mall restaurant. If the job requires one to wear a fanny pack ( a FANNY PACK?!!), run like hell. Next- a Cajun joint downtown. I willingly admit that I was a pretty awful waitress at that point. I was even more high strung and emotional then than now, and I blush at memories of the straight up dumbass I used to pull.
From crawfish and boudin I went to the DelMar Crab house, and there I was introduced to crustaceans. We had a weekly $35 all you can eat live Maine lobster debacle, and, having had never before encountered, much less eaten, one of those armored horrors, I spent years of Wednesdays dreading the inevitable foul evidence of guests gorging on lobsters. Shudder...
It was there, though, that I finally got it- not just server skills and the magical ability to hold three glasses and two plates in one hand- I found my place in the Industry Family. I was part of the DelMar opening crew, and a small, strong core of us stayed on for many years, through the lean times and the asinine gimmicks and the usual sexual entanglements, and we all became incredibly close. To a very young girl a thousand miles from home, the restaurant was the entire world, and the people working there were brothers and sisters. I love my family dearly, but at the time, we weren't at all close, separated by physical and emotional distance. For years I spent every holiday with the crew, eventually even hosting an annual 'Orphans' Thanksgiving'. We all worked together, drank together, slept together, bickered and bitched and truly loved each other. The dysfunctional bond lasted for years, but it is important to remember that the Industry is a transient existence. People quit, management comes and goes, restaurants fold, and eventually I moved on. I was really, really good at my job by that point, and a skilled career server can always find a new gig at a moment's notice.
Around that time I became a Mobile Serv-A-Tron 5000, meaning one of a nomadic tribe of culinary journeymen following the hottest chef, the most innovative menu, the sexiest dining room, the money, the money, the money. It's an intoxicating feeling to know that with minimal effort one can walk home with mad cash in hand every night, and that if your ship begins to sink, it's just effortless to jump on board the next good thing and start over. After a while of the circuit, you get the point when you know at least half the staff any given restaurant or bar, having had, again, worked with/ partied with/ slept with any or all of them.
It really is a great life for a young gypsy growing into herself. I had plenty of money and easy freedom- a shattered ankle and two months out of work barely phased me. Health insurance? Oh, please- I was invincible; I could always make it happen.

The very best days were at the Brasserie Rouge- oh, I loved it there! It was a beautiful space, had amazing food, the best wine list, some of the most talented staff, and I made some true friends, especially Little Jesse. I'd worked with him at Opal, a flash in the pan French/ sushi bar/ night club that won all kinds of awards its first year, then collapsed in upon itself under the weight of mismanagement and some amazingly crazy staff antics. I won't elaborate. Anyhow, Jess and I became fast friends and have stayed that way for years now. He actually got me the job at the Brasserie, and I am forever grateful...we had some good times there. I was at the top of my game, so much so that other restaurants called me in to help out on busy nights, even getting recognized as the best fine dining server by the most notoriously bitchy food critic in Denver.

Alas, as these things happen all too frequently, the joint folded ingloriously due to a nasty divorce and, again, mismanagement. I showed up for work on a Monday afternoon only to find the doors locked, foreclosure notices pasted on the windows. It felt like the biggest betrayal imaginable- I sobbed on the doorstep, mourning the loss of the best job I'd ever had and my disbanded family...

Jesse and I found each other again, and we started over at another French bistro. We did well, but I began to lose my mind around that time, and within months I faded away, moved back to TN, and never picked up a tray again. I'm happier today than I could ever imagine back then, but sometimes I miss it, the Life...


Florida's got the Flava...

...and by flava I mean, 'oh Lord, there's some crazy shit happening down here'.

This story begins at the end of another story...C3 and I disembarked from my very first cruise- a New Year's jaunt with the parents (as I said, different story)- in Ft. Lauderdale. We got off the boat, into a cab, and straight to a UPS store in order to ship our extraneous goods back home. After all, we were scheduled for an afternoon flight to ATL, followed by a flight home, and in '07, airports, especially those in major ports, were subject to nit picky scrutiny. Thus, the UPS store- might as well ship anything we didn't need right on home. We accomplished this in a sweltering parking lot, out of the back of a cab, ticker running, just trying to get to the airport. We arrived fifteen minutes later, still panting from exertion, and were told that we needed to wait. Not just wait- we needed to find somewhere to sit- with our remaining suitcases- for 4- 6 hours before we were even allowed to join the 2- 4 hour ticketing line. Please join me in an 'you've GOT to be fucking joking' moment.
Anyhow, in the face of bullshit, we put our feverish heads together and decided to drive it. A quick stop at the rental car stand, a little loading, and on our way.

At some point in this hustle, we realized that a) Florida is huge, and b) we needed a seafood lunch. As we trolled for a bite we happened upon a biker rally. Nice folks, really, and we decided that, if anything, we should have a trike- room for C3 to drive and me to ride along with puppies (Woo and Fozzie hadn't joined the band yet). Anyhow, we discussed this as we searched for the aforementioned lunch- we found it on the deck of a waterside joint. He had conch fritters, for me, fried grouper. Over our delectables and while avoiding ass splinters from the rough hewn benches, we decided, 'why NOT just tool down to South Beach?'. Why not, indeed...and off we went.
We landed a tiny room in an Art Noveau hotel under construction and proceeded to walk the beach front..lord, is it busy on the strip. We were assaulted by gangs of pitiful lobsters and suffocated by paella just looking for a bite. At last, we found vittles (paella, after all) at some randomn cafe, we observed a sidewalk fashion shoot, paid respects at Gianni Versace's favorite coffee stop- style is immortal, lovies- and headed off again.
C3 read that the NCAA championship (Florida vs. Ohio State) was going to play out within the next day and a half, so we began racing to Gainesville. Along the way, C3 was able to realize his dream of touring the swamps on an air boat- he loved it, I hated it and everything that MUST BE SO UNBEARABLY LOUD. Also, I'm terrified of snakes and all other reptiles, so I try to avoid places where the scaly live. Anyway, C got to see his alligator, and I still possess my cochlea.

Back on land, praise Jesus, we kept on to Gainesville, where we managed to land a room in a hotel across the street from campus. Back then, the Razorback hadn't taken hold, I was still a Tennessee fan, I will never handle crowds well, and Florida was scary. Anyway Florida kicked the shit out of Ohio State and Gainesville exploded...Clay danced in the in the streets with the students; I took a bath and went to bed. Hooray.

We needed a break then, and we holed up in the HIE like gangsters. Once we recovered, we were on the road again, bound for ATL...


My heart is in Maine

I have an overwhelming urge to find the ends of the earth, especially those ends we can drive to. Thus my fascination with Portland- ME or OR, I don't mind. C3 and I made our way to Maine a few years back, and I dream of it still. We found a rental cottage on Lake Maranacook at the end of the vacation season, mid October, an early 20th century encampment. One thing to know about Maine- rustic really means rustic. Our cabin's walls were nothing more than antiquated plywood separating us from the elements by a slim quarter inch. The roof over the bed had a 'skylight'- a gap between ceiling and wall that one could spit a watermelon seed through, and a bathroom outfitted with a hose spigot threaded through the wall and into a cheap fiberglass stall. The toilet seat was so cold I took to peeing outdoors. In the South, October is the tail end of summer- C3 & I married on 10.25.08, and I couldn't have dreamed a more beautiful and temperate day. In Maine, however, October means impending cold, cold, cold. In the cabin, with our paper-thin walls, we quickly abandoned the upstairs bedroom and made a nest by the fire on the first floor.
It seems the Kennedy style Down East closes shop after Columbus Day (I find this ironic and hilarious), and soon after checking in, a local stopped by to shut off the water. Clutching quilts around ourselves, we wheedled access to the plumbing for another couple of weeks, and we got down to the business of becoming Maine- ers.
This is what we learned- folks aren't so friendly up north. C3 and I are both very open, expressive people, colorful, if you must, and this doesn't go over so well. Down South, my singing impromptu musical numbers in the produce aisle and Clay's ability to strike up a conversation with anything holding still are treasured attributes; up North, we're considered weirdos. The first day in the cabin we woke to a knock on the door; we then met Norman (pronounced 'Naaah- Mann'), a local mushroom gatherer, and once he'd told us all about Maine mushrooms and we attempted a real conversation, he looked at us like we'd offered him a basket of wolverines. He didn't come back.
Anyhow, the point of all this backstory is this: we discovered kayaking, 'The Year of the Cat', and really good sandwich rolls. Working backward, Mister realized his dream of eating lobster rolls every day- we found a little fish market (on the Maine coast? No!) and bought two pounds of lobster salad and fantastic little mini baguettes. I'm not so crazy about lobster- it's just brine-y styrofoam to my palette, and they really are the cockroaches of the sea- but, Lord above, the bread is marvelous. Sweetie blissfully noshed on lobster, I snuck rolls and butter.
'The Year of the Cat' was a surprise. The cabin had a radio in the kitchen, and we stumbled across a wonderfully weird local station that played obscure tunes interspersed with farm reports. C3 had mentioned that particular song a few times on our drive to the end of the world; I'd never heard it before, but there, in the middle of nowhere, it became a daily delight. I haven't heard it since- further proof that Maine is magical.
Last and best of all- the floating. The cabin had a little dock and two kayaks for our use. I took a nap one afternoon, woke up a little befuddled, and looked out the window. There in the lake was my darling husband, clad in his pajamas and a raincoat, paddling away on the glassy surface of Lake Maranacook. I fell in love with him again that moment, and he easily charmed into joining him.
Throughout the rest of our stay, we went out in the kayaks every day. We made great friends with the loons and learned a lot about Maine duck hunting. One afternoon while paddling, I spotted a group a ducks in an inlet and immediately started rowing towards them. A voice boomed from the shore, 'Aaaay! We 'ah duck huntin' he-ahh!'. Point taken.
All in all, after all this rambling, I realize how much I miss Maine. The gruff, wind blasted people are honest and driven- polar opposites of my flighty, silly self, but somehow comforting. I love the cold, I love the isolation, I love the sense of living in a different country within my homeland. We'll be back, and perhaps we'll just stay this time.


And now, for something completely different...

I've decided to take a break from Paris- believe it or not, the story continues and worsens- and take us all on a little vacation right here in the Ozarks. Earlier this year, C3, the pups, and I all loaded up the Shmoo and headed north to the Buffalo River. Arkansas is absolutely beautiful once you get away from the Arkansans, and fortunately, this is pretty easy to do. Coming from East Tennessee, where natural wonder is bought up and 'civilized' at a terrifying rate, I longed for the great open horizons out West. Once I got there, I couldn't help but notice that, again, the expanse was being quickly gobbled up, paved, and dotted with 'developments'. When I first arrived, the drive from Denver to Boulder traversed a no man's land; within ten years the corridor was home to two new planned communities sprawling across the distance. It's sort of depressing, really- there's few places to feel happily solitary left anymore.

Enter Arkansas, or rather, I discovered the Natural State. C3 was born and raised in the timberlands of the southwest, descended from generations of proud Ark- La- Texans. Note: there is no love lost between AR and Texas. My sweet, passive father in law has been known to throw out of his house any visitors who dared wear Longhorn gear. Fortunately, he's got no beef with TN, but I'm careful about what shade of orange I sport.
Anyhow, Arkansas is fabulous, and please don't tell anyone. Historically, the state has been a gateway to the Wild West, and due to its relative inaccessibility, a sense of frontier spirit remains. Some call it hillbilly, I call it home. Once you cross the Delta Plain in the east and head toward the mountains northwest, the land becomes dramatically less populated and increasingly untamed and beautiful. As C3 and I cherish isolation, the Ozarks and the Ouachitas are perfect for our impromptu getaways. Thus, the Buffalo River (I promise I'll get to the story now).
This particular adventure began in Jasper, a cute little town on the river. We rented a cabin for a couple of nights at the Cliff House Inn, and should you ever find yourself there, please eat a cheeseburger there for me. We enjoyed taking aimless driving trips through the national park and exploring Jasper, which has a hippy bent much like most mountain towns. It was there we encountered one of the strangest restaurant/ shops in all of our journeys. This joint specialized in local wild game and other exotic meats- elk, buffalo, quail, etc.- and quite the collection of texts and artworks puporting that Jesus Christ was an alien. I'm not kidding. But the crowning glory was the wild caught Razorback (mountain boar) burger. Proud Hog that he is, C3 had to try it. I swear to you, that thing was the worst thing I've ever put in my mouth. It was so virulently pungent we had to air out the van for a while, and in my worst dreams, I can still taste it. Shudder...
After a few days around town, we ventured off to one of many campgrounds on the river with a swimming hole- Ozark Camp. We arrived Thursday before Memorial Day, and we couldn't believe our luck- we found a secluded and shaded campsite near the river trail. The only other people within hollering distance were a family- mom, dad, kids and dogs- and they seemed content to keep to themselves.
Once we arrived, C3 and I unloaded our gear, and then, while he ran a few errands, I struck camp. I may be sort of a fancy pants, but by God, I can put up a tent right quick...usually. I hadn't encountered anything like this shelter, a four sided, screen walled canopy that looked oh so simple to erect. I staked down the base tarp and went to work. And I worked. And worked. The design was simple enough, like a big square umbrella, but after wrestling with the damn thing for an hour in 90 degree heat, I realized that I had a two person job on my hands. Thankfully, just as I was ready to throw my hands up in despair, Mom, youngest son, and Chihuahua from the next camp came to my rescue. The kid and dog were friendly, but Mom seemed very fearful and cautious of me. I don't think I helped my case when, after she helped me get the tent supports up, I hugged her and said, "Oh my God, I love you!!!". She practically ran back to her campsite, looking over her shoulder all the while. I'm very imposing, I suppose, all of 5'2", skinny, and bikini clad. Terrifying, surely.
As I finished camp and waited for C3 and the boys to come back, though, I started putting the pieces together- this crew had three sturdy teenage boys and a grown man with them, all of whom pointedly avoided looking my way as I wrestled with the tent from hell, leaving any help- thy- neighbor stuff to the woman and child. The kid had told me about their dogs, named Victory and Rebel, and once I noticed the Stars and Bars flying from their tent, it became clear - we had struck camp next to a family of white supremacists. Thankfully, they started packing up soon after, and I heard the patriarch encouraging the boys to hurry up and get loaded 'before more of THEM' showed up, with a nod in my direction. Wow, maybe I am threatening.
C3 returned then, and we had a glorious afternoon with the swimming hole and campground to ourselves. We had purchased some cheap sheets (peacock print, naturally) from the Dollar Store earlier, and after a swim, I set to making up the air mattress for the night. We built a fire, burned some hot dogs (any kind of tubular meat is necessary for camping, but hot dogs are the best by far), and turned in for the night.
The next morning, we woke up early and set out for forgotten provisions. I realized at some point on the journey that I was blue- literally. The dye from the cheap peacock sheets had rubbed off onto my skin, and I looked for all the world like a corpse. This would, and did, only happen to me- C3 and the boys were all normal colored; this little treat was mine alone. We picked up some plain white sheets while we were out, and once we returned to camp, I grabbed a bar of soap and ran to the river.
A note on bathing in nature- do it. I'm extremely neurotic when it comes to hygiene; I use six different cleansers on my face alone, and I refuse to wash with anything non- antibacterial. However, a bar of Ivory and river water makes me feel completely fresh and new, utterly purified. One of my many, many quirks, I guess.
Anyhow, by Friday afternoon the campground was filling up quickly, and eventually two women, one very young, one older, settled into the site next to ours. At some point the younger one came over and somehow managed to spill out the fact that she was with her aunt who was on the run from an abusive husband. Rule number one of being on the lam- don't tell randomn strangers you're on the lam. But okay, whatever. Do your thing, freak.
This chick kept coming back to our camp, though, trying to get us to give her a beer, some pot, some anything, and after us telling her to go away several times, the aunt got freaked out. They loaded up their stuff and were gone within the hour. Rule number two of being on the lam- don't bring your blabber mouth relative along.
With their departure, we had a very nice set up for the holiday weekend. Even though the campground was full, we had privacy all tucked up under the trees, our own little tent city. It was sublime. We took Woo Bear and Fozzie down to swimming hole, and we all played in the cool, clean water for hours at a time. Then we'd come back to camp, burn something for dinner, and collapse happily exhausted onto our non- blue leaching sheets.
Sadly, paradise is finite. Tuesday morning I woke up and took the puppies out, and as we walked around, I noticed that all the sites that held the holiday campers until the night before were empty- but for a reservation ticket on each of the site poles. It seemed a church group had staked claim to the campground for the next few days. We were disappointed lose our little haven, but by then we were ready to go on home. As we broke camp, the church group started to arrive- they were Mennonite. Now, I don't judge anyone's belief system, but I couldn't get over the women lugging gear in the blazing sun wearing ankle length dresses and bonnets. Honestly, why? Of course, I was running around in a bikini again- the best apparel for physical labor, I think- just sweating in sympathy for my Little House on the Prarie neighbors. If I had scandalized the white supremacists before, I stunned the Mennonites into silence. It was time to go...our neighbors were erecting a revival tent, and getting struck down by lightning seemed like a bad way to end a vacation. We'll be back, Ozark Camp...

Next installment: Atchafalaya- gators or cops?

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