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Neighbor State

On Friday night, Bob and I went to Neighbor State, to celebrate his birthday, which is a bigger deal than it sounds.  Consider:

1. We tried to visit Neighbor State in 2009, and failed.  The mounting costs of dismantling our house, coupled with the mounting costs of keeping our Jeep running, changed all vacations to staycations for the foreseeable future.

2. We tried to visit Neighbor State in 2010 for Bob’s 43rd birthday, but failed again, because we’d forgotten we were still broke.

3. Bob was in the hospital two weeks back, with chest pains.  (?!)  He turned out to be fine, but since he has a family history of heart disease, we were worried it would turn out to be something serious.  After that, we’ve both been very grateful just to be around each other.

All this should give you some idea why this simple trip across the lake on a car-ferry was more than just an outing, and why I was convinced for much of the drive that something would go horribly wrong.

Like when we passed through Delburgh, and the tarmac got a bit rougher. “Bob, do you hear that?  Do you think it’s the tires?”

“NO!”

My freaking was well-intentioned.  I just wanted to get us to the hotel for his birthday, like I promised.  I explained this to Bob.

“I know you do,” he said. “And I also know that you will do whatever you can to subconsciously ensure we don’t.”

“But I know that too!”

* * *

Miraculously, we got across the water, and drove the twenty minutes to the crackpot college town where we would be staying while we visited.

We walked through the center square to find jugglers in the streets, a guitar chick singing “Fidelity” outside a used bookstore, and gaggles of young hippies with cardboard signs, looking for spare change.  Crowded bars, horn-rimmed glasses and beards everywhere.  You get the picture.

The Neighbor State is like that.  A kind of green liberal utopia.  People like Bob and I can even marry there–it’s been legal for a while, no big woop.  Meanwhile, in my home state, such rights have remained a point of contention for years.  Even as Bob and I snuck past the Greenpeace advocates on Main Street that night, the matter was being voted on in our senate, and we were pretty sure it would be shot down.

Naturally people have often asked me, why not just relocate?  Isn’t Neighbor State just like Lonesome Valley, when you get down to it?  A bunch of green hills, barns and bleeding hearts?

Actually, there are ways that Neighbor State is better than Lonesome Valley.  Lots of them, and not just the matrimony.  For instance, it’s a fact that there’s more money to be made over there, and lots of it.  There’s more doctors, too.  (It’s a sure sign that you’ve got something serious if my office sends you to Neighbor State for treatment, no joke.)

There’s also wine in supermarkets, something my home state has yet to trust itself with.  And Neighbor State is prettier all around–not the environment per say, which is similar to ours, but the buildings, professional and otherwise.  People over there just know how to make things look appealing and welcoming, whereas the Lonesome Valley folks expect you to take in the natural beauty and ignore the rest.  Sure this restaurant is in some dude’s living room, but get a look at those mountains!

Trouble is, the people who live in Neighbor State drive Bob and I nuts.  We can’t even put our fingers on why. Maybe, as liberal as we are, these folks outliberal us.  There’s certainly something doe-eyed and idealistic about them, and it alienates us on a central level.  Or could it be the simple fact that their state doesn’t suck enough?  That they haven’t earned the right to be so cuddly?  It’s true that there’s something hard-won about learning to love The City, and there’s something similarly hard-won about learning the ropes of Lonesome Valley.  “If you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere…” as the song says.

Neighbor State doesn’t feel like that.  It’s not antagonistic.  It doesn’t bite you back.  How can you trust a place like that?

* * *

Bob and I puzzled over this on our drive home, trying out theories.  And when we were done talking about that, we started talking about the plans for our upcoming wedding.

Because on the eve before Bob’s birthday, shortly after we ducked into a Neighbor State Denny’s to hide from the hipsters, my phone started lighting up with texts.  The senate passed it: Our home state had made it legal for us to get married.

And we didn’t even have to defect!

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Spy In The House of Ice

The first hint of Bob’s betrayal came when he put off insulating the trailer not one, not two, but three months.  This despite my numerous attempts to raise the issue in conversation, and at least three passive-aggressive emails.

I’ll admit that this delay may not seem like much to get worked up about.  Especially to folks in relatively warmer climates, where the winter temperatures only set in around December.  But Lonesome Valley often gets snow in September, and has been known to go subzero in October.   Add to that the fact that Bob and I live in a three-season trailer (which may as well be a two-season trailer in Lonesome Valley), and you can see why waiting past Halloween to insulate is like flipping Mother Nature the bird.

So naturally when the temperature plummeted last week, our pipes froze, and we were back to bathing out of buckets in a matter of hours.  Still I heard no talk of insulating–instead, Bob wanted to figure out a way to make our bucket-baths more efficient.  Use a garbage can as a cistern, fill it every morning, etc.  We initiated microwaveable meals as an alternative to cooking, to save us having to do dishes.  And when I kept bringing-up the idea of my taking a day off work to help him handle the insulation, Bob kept brushing it away.  Too busy, he said.

Then, three days into the buckets, our thermostat broke.  We fiddled with the slider, we tapped the device–either it wouldn’t keep the furnace on, or it wouldn’t shut the furnace off once it was on, so we decided to turn it off for the night and use a space heater in the living room.

Only later that night, at around three in the morning, I heard Bob get up, walk into the living room, and mess with it.  I assumed he was turning it up, but I woke up to a freezing trailer.  That’s when I realized he had turned it down.

“Why did you turn the heat down last night?” I asked him.

“I didn’t even get up last night.”

“You did,” I insisted.  “I heard you do it.”

“I don’t remember,” he said.

Then he smiled.

* * *

During this time of year, the war with the elements is a constant one in Lonesome Valley, and the cold takes no prisoners.  Pipes burst, thermostats break.  All that hovering trouble results in a real feeling of Us vs. Winter among the locals, and our recent incidents at the trailer were beginning to suggest that Bob had defected to the other team.  But to be fair, there are a number of other explanations for his seeming attempts to further the cause of frost.

One of them is that Bob really is very busy, with holiday concerts, and an endless amount of music to learn for advent.  He’s also taking a pill for insomnia, which he’s had since he quit smoking, and this particular pill has been known to make people do weird things in their sleep.  Like cut their bangs off, or cook themselves breakfast.  Now, we can add self-refrigeration to that list.

Which brings me to the evidence for the other side, for all you conspiracy theorists, and fans of more shall we say esoteric explanations for Bob’s behavior.  Earlier this month, he changed his Facebook profile pic to this:

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Oh, Industry!

One thing I love about Bob is how his high tolerance for weirdness gradually seeps into you.

Alas for him, sometimes this can mutate a person into someone who is even more tolerant of weirdness than he is.

Case and point, our recent cooler conversation:

As you know, when our fridge went kaput, Bob and I started using a beer cooler in its place.  With weather like this, we merely needed to put the thing outside our trailer.

But you might not know that my friends at The Practice quickly came up with a great idea for rejiggering this rejigger: Instead of merely leaving the cooler out in the cold (amateurs!) they suggested that I line it with the freezie-blocks packing our office’s endless vaccine shipments.  (This is just the sort of thing the people of Lonesome Valley would suggest–they have a talent for making it work, no matter how improvisational “it” may be.)

As expected, the “freezie block” method worked like a charm, making it possible for Bob and I to store anything we liked during the winter.  But now that the cold is on the wane, it’s getting harder to keep the freezie blocks chilled.

So I mentioned this to my work friends, and one of them just shrugged and suggested keeping two sets of freezie blocks.  One would be left in the fridge at work, and another set would be left at the trailer.  I could rotate them, and thereby ensure that our “cooler” continues to live up to its name.

Seized by the sheer two-tin-cans-and-a-stringdom of this idea, I offered it to Bob as a brilliant solution to the electricity drain of an actual fridge.  “Just think of it!” I said.  “We don’t need a fridge at all!  We can just keep rotating freezie blocks all summer long!”

I thought that Bob would love this idea.  We are, after all, the men who were only recently taking “showers” by scooping well-water out of an Ace Hardware bucket with a used tub of Country Crock.

But he just shook his head.  “At this point, I think I’d rather get a fridge…”

I was reminded of the moment in Tim Burton’s “Batman” when the thugs render the caped crusader briefly unconscious, and discover that he’s just a dude covered in body armor.

“He’s human after all,” they say.

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Shine On, You Crazy Header

The significance of the header I’ve just retired should be obvious to anyone who’s read this blog long enough, and/or has any love for King-a-la-Kubrick:

Suffice to say that writing a book in the oversnown wilderness while trying your best to avoid partnercide is not just for fictional protags anymore.

Though these days, with Bob trying to quit smoking by way of Chantix, he’s the more Torrancely resident of the trailer by far…

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Jars’ Revenge

Last week, my officemates threw me a going-away party in a conference room. The celebration was “trailer trash” themed, and featured all the junk staples you could hope for, including that old standby: Microwaveable pigs in blankets. Keeping watch over all of the goodies were three unopened jars of Reese’s peanut butter, which were included in the spread as a kind of sight gag: There has always been a lone jar of peanut butter on my stationery shelf, waiting to be unscrewed during weeks when I was either too cheap or too lazy to submit to the price scale of The City. In the past it was a source of friendly teasing among my co-workers, who marveled at how unhealthy my eating habits were. Now, the sugar-and-nut goop made for a sentimental, albeit remarkably inorganic, tableau.

The three jars came down to my cubicle after the party, and when it came time to leave for good two days later, they came with me, loaded down as I was with bags full of puppets and posters. I just balanced all three in my hands and made my way to the trains, where the other passengers stared at me the whole way home, wondering if I was going to break into a promotional juggling act for The Hershey Company.

When I got back to the apartment, Bob was overjoyed. “And here I was wondering what I’d have for dinner…”

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Signs Point To Yes

The manager of the doctor’s office I’ve been interviewing with called me back today, and told me that they’re offering me the job.  This is great news, in case that fact isn’t implied.  For one, the team members I’ve met so far are all cool people, the kind of folks I could easily picture myself working alongside.  For another…it’s a fricking job, people.  Lest we forget, those are as rare as foil-edged Yu-Gi-Oh cards these days.

I’ll get the employment package early next week, and if all goes well, I should arrive in Lonesome Valley with a full-time occupation.  My friend Dana says this will do wonders for my public image among close friends and relatives: Instead of admitting that I’m the kind of person who’s bonkers enough to quit a perfectly-good job without first scoring myself a new one, I can pretend that I’m moving because of my new job.  “You can tell them about everything now,” she explained.  “The trailer, the camp toilet, whatever.  The moment they hear ‘new job’ they’ll just accept it.”

Bob and I celebrated with dinner at a favorite fast-food joint, then took a stroll through a mega toystore, at which point he talked about his childhood, which is always a big deal for me; I often joke that there are characters on “Lost ” about whom I have more backstory.

This time, he told me about a toy that he used to have.  It was called the Creepy Crawlers Bugmaker–a kind of heatable die-cast mold that made plastic centipedes and cockroaches out of polymer goop and, as a sideline, burned your hands.  “I left it plugged-in under my bed for a whole night once,” Bob said.

His mother eventually took it away from him, and then, later that same year, gave his sister an EZ Bake Oven.  Bob cried inequity, so she explained her logic:  “She is baking cookies with a lightbulb,” Bob’s mother said.  “You were going to burn down the house.”

The funny thing is, I knew this toy well as a kid.  I knew that it made rubbery bugs.  I knew it burned your hands.  And I still wanted it terribly, but never got it.

So now, my inner kid-version is extremely jealous of his kid-version.

It’s all so meta…

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