Thursday, December 29, 2016

Reports of My Death Wish Were Greatly Exaggerated

The holidays are tough.

They're tough for us all in one way or another.  That idyllic picture of the loving family gathered around a cozy fire without a care in the world, other than for each other, isn't true and never has been.  Not that I've ever observed.  And I'm an observer.  I see shit.  I know stuff.  It's just not true.

Most of us celebrate with some sort of amalgam of tradition and insanity that somehow or another generally works.  Good on ya, however you do it.

I sort of expected to be stuck with some variation of holiday blues this year.  It's supposed to be a thing for the relatively recently divorced, they tell me.  Thankfully, that wasn't the case. Certainly things are not perfect, i.e. no cozy fire or idyllic family, but still.  Not so bad.

Christmas started with a spur of the moment field trip to the city to look at Christmas lights and hang out with a friend.  I took my dogs with me, for the first time.  She lives in an a small bungalow.  With the addition of my two monsters, there were six dogs and three cats spending the night in that space.  The real miracle of Christmas this year was the fact that there were no fights, canine nor feline.  Nor did Jay and I come to blows, if we're going to be precise.

On Christmas Eve I went to church where, for the first time, I was the acolyte all by my grown up self without benefit of the Jedi Master.  It didn't go perfectly, but there weren't any flubs that couldn't be easily covered by the priest.  And most importantly, I didn't spill anything.

The best part of the service was that my father, as well as my ex-husband's brother and his family were able to be there.  The bell tolled while the priest and I waited at the rear (or is that the front?) of the church to begin the two person procession. I explained who this group was that had effectively doubled the size of the congregation.  I could see she hadn't quite wrapped her head around my ex's family showing up to spend Christmas Eve with me.  "They got custody of me in the divorce," I explained.  

After the service I went home with the ex-in-laws for food and presents.  We had fun, we ate well, and we all agreed that the life-sized singing Santa my sister-in-law got on sale at the last minute was the creepiest thing we'd seen since her Halloween haunted house extravaganza.

Christmas day was spent at home with my family.  I don't cook, so we ate tamales and nachos.  Traditional Christmas fare, for sure.  The only grandchild kicked my butt in a game of dominoes.   She is a quirky young woman whose company and fashion sense I enjoy.  She seems to enjoy my quikiness, too.  I hope that lasts, because she may get stuck picking my nursing home and I'd like to stay on her good side.

My step-daughter came by for a while Christmas night, then we met for breakfast the next morning before she returned to the Big-Ass Cities.  We don't have a whole lot to talk about these days, what with the two of us being terribly polite to each other and all.  But we'll keep at it.  Maybe she'll help my niece with the nursing home selection.

Christmas was good.  Last year wasn't too bad, either, except for my almost, accidental, suicide.

By the time Christmas Eve arrived last year I was completely done with the holidays.  My family wasn't getting together until New Year's.  That's how we'd done it for years, but the waiting is like those days between a death and a funeral.  You're at loose ends until it's all over and done with.  This time, I was done on the 24th.

I wanted my tree gone and I wanted the space back that it was occupying in my den.  I was in a re-arranging mood and wanted to put furniture there.  So, I took that sucker the hell down.

The tree spends eleven months of the year in a wooden coffin, in my garage.  Because, well, because it fits and what else would you put in the coffin, really?  I don't think I will ever embrace the high church idea of leaving the decorations up until Epiphany.  I can't stomach the sight of them by the morning of the 26th on a normal year.  And this was not a normal year.

On the night of December 24th, after a few months of separation and exactly seven days before my divorce would be final, I opened the kitchen door leading to the garage and went out to open the coffin. While I was at it, I decided I should really start my motorcycle and let it run a bit.  I'd not winterized it, but was starting it every few weeks and keeping the gas moving through the fuel lines and such.  Being a good bike, it roared into life at the first touch of the starter.

The coffin was ready to receive it's yearly cargo, and I went back inside to start packing ornaments and such.  Then I remembered something I needed in one of the back rooms of the house. I can't remember what it was that I wanted so suddenly, but I spent several long minutes looking for it.

I'd left the kitchen door open.  I did not, however, remember to open the garage door.

When I returned to that end of the house, I choked. The exhaust fumes were already thick in my kitchen and den and were collecting in the living room before moving down the hall towards the bedrooms.   It was bad.

I ran out to the garage and shut off the bike.

Even though by this time it was almost midnight and baby it is/was cold outside, I threw open every door and window in the house.  The ceiling fans did pretty much nothing to move the fumes out and would you believe that this was one of the few times that the wind wasn't really blowing in West Texas?  I grabbed a blanket and sat out on the patio for a bit until the air cleared.  As I shivered under the cotton cover and the questioning eyes of two nasally affronted dogs, I had to laugh at myself.  And at everyone I've ever known.

Had I, through some sort of epic fit of ineptitude, managed to succumb to the fumes no one - NO ONE - would believe that I hadn't committed suicide, at home, alone, on Christmas Eve, amidst the detritus of an unappreciated holiday tree and a life that had recently twisted off onto a new path that I hadn't even remotely anticipated.  Given the circumstances, even those who know me best would believe I'd offed myself.  You would have been shocked and surprised, but you would have believed it.  My co-workers admitted that they would've stood in quiet clusters in various offices, wiping away surreptitious tears and commenting on how they had no idea things were that bad; that I'd hidden my true feelings well.  I might've even believed if of myself at that point!

So this is your warning: if I ever turn up dead seemingly by my own hand, don't buy it for a second.  Nothing is that bad.  In fact, things are pretty good.  If I'm dead it's because somebody did me in and I will expect you put your collective smarts to the task of determining whodunit.

This year I have mothballed the bike for the winter.  It sits silently in the garage, hooked to a battery tender, with fuel stabilizer floating in the tank.  I've no need to start it.

And I didn't put the tree up at all.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

At Least the Robe was Warm.

Several years ago, when I lived in the big city, I went to the YMCA every morning at 6:00 a.m. to swim.  It was always just me and six really old guys.  Every morning, five days a week, for a couple of years.  We were all great buds, except for one almost insurmountable drawback.  Any time I saw any one of them anywhere other than the pool, they all said the exact same thing.

"I didn't recognize you with your clothes on!"

There is nothing, just nothing, - sexist overtones aside - that is more irritating that an old and moldy joke, oft repeated.  (I should probably point out that I think this is not the first time I've told you that story, making this entire post extremely meta.  You. are. welcome.)

And in the interest of not perpetuating the moldy oldies, I'm not going to tell you that the only thing separating Amarillo from the North Pole is a barbed wire fence.  Why?  Because EVERYONE that crosses my path today is going to mention that the fence is down.  Everyone.

I am so tired of that joke.

However, not too tired to whine about the cold!  Lucky you!

Yesterday I awoke to the warm embrace of pillows and memory foam.  I was cocooned quite nicely and marveled at my totally toasty state.  Surely the weatherman had been wrong.  Evidently I needn't have bothered letting my faucets drip all night.  It wasn't nearly as cold as predicted. 

The dogs were grumbling about the crate, so I got up to let them out.


As soon as I'd scooted them out the door, I dived for the bedclothes.  Within minutes the dog door clattered followed by additional bed diving and two cold, wet noses snarfling in my face.  The dogs complained vociferously about the state of the outdoors before burrowing alongside me in the mass of blankets.  They were followed minutes later by the sane cat and we melded into one big, breathy pile of mutually warming flesh and fur. 

The insane cat sneezed under the bed. 

I checked my phone. 

It was one degree outside.


How insulting is that?  One degree.  I didn't bother to check the wind chill.  It would have been offensive.  The wind always blows here and that's why the fence joke.  It makes the cold exponentially colder.

When I was a wee young thing I lived in Montana for about three years.  I can still remember stories on the news - multiple stories, every year - about people who'd been stranded due to car trouble or what have you.  They would either strike out in search of help or stay sheltered where they were, and slowly, unknowingly freeze to death.  They weren't dressed for the extreme temperature because without wind, it just didn't feel that horrible.

That was just plain weird to my little Texas brain. Cold in Montana was bitter and dangerous.  But it wasn't wind driven.  And so you didn't notice that it was killing you.  Not s'much.

Cold is always wind driven here.  That's how the cold temps get here.  It can be barely below freezing yet feel like the deepest void of space and you just know you're going to die of exposure right that very minute if you don't get the hell in the house.  The wind drives the cold right through you, laughing at each of the layers it peels away while doing it.

So, I stayed in my bed.  I watched some British home buying shows and marveled at how less spoiled the English buyers are than their HGTV counterparts.   After an hour or so I checked my phone again. 

Two degrees. 

At that point I knew this was essentially the end of the world.  In that event, I needed karma points, so I got up and went to church.

The end. 

(Oh my god, it was cold.)

Monday, December 12, 2016

Not Holding My Breath

As I write this, I am supposed to be meeting with a thug.  However, since we mutually decided to forego that appointment, I'm using the time to work on this blog post.  I justify this by pointing out that I don't have time to accomplish another task before my next appointment so I'm writing instead; once again proving my mastery of rationalization.

Burglary is a problem in this town.  It's not really much of a problem for the burglars, since most of us don't lock our doors, but many of the rest of us have problems with it from time to time.  If you're observant, you'll notice more and more little orange yard signs cropping up, proclaiming a specific site is being monitored by a faceless entity in a large city somewhere, primed to contact local law enforcement the moment sensors indicate a broach of your proclaimed perimeters.

That's all well and good, but out here in west Texas, the counties are large and the law enforcement agencies are small.  It takes a while to drive from one side of the county to the other if you are one of the couple of deputies on patrol.

Get a dog instead.  It will probably cost less and the side perks are great.

We all know who commits most of the break-ins.  It's proving it that's the hard part.  More often than not, Marco is behind the thefts.

When I first started working in Barber County, about four years ago, my secretary warned me to make sure my office is locked if I leave it unattended for any length of time.  Our office suite is right across the hall from the men's room.

In days of old, when nights were...dark, courthouses always had exterior entrances to the public restrooms.  This was to accommodate all the ranchers and farmers who came to town on Saturday afternoon and needed a place, other than the back wall of the lumber yard, to answer the call of nature.

Our courthouse still has those outside restroom doors, but now they're only opened during office hours.  That means that anyone, and more specifically, Marco, can enter the men's room from outside, dart across the hall into the probation office, snatch a laptop or two and dash out again in a matter of seconds.

My first purchase as director was a new laptop to replace the one that Marco had pilfered a month or two before I got here.  No one could prove it was him, but it was him.

Marco's name crops up either in the DA's office, or conversations with the sheriff or some of my people on at least a weekly basis.  He's constantly under suspicion.  Occasionally he gets caught in some small indiscretion and spends a week or two in jail.  A few months back, he finally got caught on something big(ish).  Now he's on probation.

The first time I met with him, he told me he wanted to go to treatment.

Sure ya do, Marco.  Sure ya do.

He assured me he was serious.  Said he was tired of what he was doing and how he was living.  He knows that there is no way he can do probation without help.  He has to stay clean and sober to stay out of jail.  And he needs a job to make the payments.  No one in the county is going to hire him - not for anything more than the most basic day labor, and even then they'd need to count the hoes and shovels before he left.  If someone was actually dumb enough to hire him, I'd be obligated to call any prospective employer and make sure they knew he was a thief and a thug and to ascertain if they'd lost their ever-loving mind.  

Marco said he's tired of living like this.  He needs drug treatment and he needs to get the hell out of Dodge, so to speak.

I decided to call his bluff.  I set him up for an evaluation with a drug/alcohol counselor, certain he'd fail to keep the appointment.

He showed up.

The counselor told me afterwards that he asked her for a referral to treatment.  He really wants to get help, she said.  "You think he's being honest or just blowing smoke?" I asked.  She shrugged.

Marco kept his next appointment with me, a few days later.  I decided to push his bluff a little farther.  "The counselor has recommended you for treatment," I told him.  "Let me explain what I've got in mind."  I proceeded to tell him about what we are calling, this week, Community Corrections Centers.  (Next week we'll probably call them something else.  Nothing justifies the existence of a state oversight agency more than changing the names of all the programs it oversees on a fairly regular basis.)  ((That's why my official title is Community Supervision and Corrections Department Director, rather than Chief Probation Officer.))

CCCs are good programs.  They are lock-down institutions where defendants are housed for intensive drug and alcohol treatment for anywhere from one month to two years.  The average defendant completes the program in nine months.  You have to be a royal screw up to stay there for two years.  The first five-six months the defendant is an inmate, basically, and works a treatment program.  Then, for the last two or three months, the Center functions as a half-way house.  The defendant works at job out in the community and stays at the Center when not a work, continuing the treatment.

Like any other program, it works for the motivated.  If you don't want to change, you're going to spend a miserable few months of your life being bombarded by correctional philosophies and you'll learn the words to say that will get you released as soon as possible so you can go back to what you were doing before.  But, as Ghandi said*, at least a seed has been planted.

Marco, to my immense surprise, was all in favor of going.  His only concern was that the facility I normally use, which is in the oh-so-aptly named town of Brownfield, is much too close to home.  He knows people there and he knows he would just get involved in all sorts of sketchy junk there.  "Don't you have someplace else I can go?" he asked.

For reals?  I told him about another facility which is about three hundred miles away.  He thought that would be good enough.  I iterated and reiterated the fact that if I sent him to this facility, he'd have to go to jail and sit there for a month or longer until bed space opened up, knowing full well he would balk at that bit of injustice.

He asked how soon he could turn himself in.

Color me annoyed.  I knew this meant I would have to do a ton of paperwork to get all this arranged, and then when he failed to follow through, I'd have to do yet more paperwork to get him arrested for that violation.

I got to work, somewhat slowly, on the paperwork.  There were delays, including a couple of heart attacks (a few figurative, one literal).  On Friday, while I was out of the office, the orders were finally signed.  Marco called first thing this morning to see if I had any news for him.  I told him I'd given the orders to the sheriff and when Marco came in for his appointment right after lunch, I'd walk him over to the sheriff's office so he could surrender himself.

Marco asked for more time.

Of course he did.

I rolled my eyes and tried not to sigh audibly.   I knew this whole thing had been a sham, right from the beginning.  And now my predictions of even more paperwork loomed large.

I asked why he needed more time.  Marco said he figured he'd be turning himself in today, so he arranged to be the one to pick up his kids from school, in order to say goodbye.  He plans to do that at 3:30 and asked if he could turn himself in at 5:00 p.m.

Well, hell.

I agreed.

I won't know until tomorrow morning whether or not he surrendered.  But so far he's been unwavering in his intent.  I'm glad I didn't wager anything on the odds of this happening.  Marco is about to make me eat some words and I'd hate to lose a bet on top of that.

Even if nothing else happens, burglaries should be curtailed for the next 10 months or so.  After that, who knows?

I'm pretty sure it's a good thing that people can still surprise me.

*"It's the action, not the fruit of the action, that's important. You have to do the right thing.  It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there will be any fruit.  But that doesn't mean you stop doing the right thing.  You may never know what results come from your action.  But if you do nothing, there will be no result." - Mahatma Gandhi  (Hat tip to Mindy who brought this quote to my attention, lo these many years ago.  It's basically the definition of probation officer.)

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Sleeping With One Eye Open Is Going To Be Tiring

Three cats, two dogs and a fish.  That's just too many pets for one person.  So, when we were splitting the sheets, I made the spousal forfeiture take his damn fish with him.  Good riddance. 

Last week I had to have Fred put to sleep.  He was an old cat - all of mine are.  But he was a tough old bird.  So tough, in fact, that the vet prepared a second injection because his little shoe leather heart just wouldn't stop beating.  In the end, he didn't have to administer it. 

That left me with one cat and two dogs. 

The math seem a little off to you?  You'd be right.  The remaining cat is He With No Name, a Maine Coon tuxedo cat who is very easy to live with.  The other minus? 

Evil Steve. 

If you have a very good memory, you will know that she is a vengeful and cunning creature whose name didn't originally have it's modifier.  She earned that "Evil" bit, fair and square.  We didn't see it coming when a friend first brought her to us, tiny and half-starved.  Her mother, a stray, had been killed by a car and the friend thought the spouse needed a cat to keep him company while going through chemotherapy.  Granted, we already had a couple of cats, but what's one more, right? 

Over the years, Evil Steve has taken the occasional sabbatical.   We've never known where she has gone, but every year or two she will disappear for a couple of weeks.  Once or twice, since we moved to "the 'burbs" she's been gone for as much as a month.  She always returns, just when we've written her off, looking fresh, clean and obviously well fed. 

I haven't seen her since June.  That was over four months ago.  Obviously, she's coyote fodder. 

So, I buried Fred. 

Over the past few days I marveled at how little Fred must have been eating, as He With No Name is still plowing right through the crunchy chunks pretty much as heavily as ever. 

This morning, after being awoken at an ungodly hour by bored dogs wanting out of their crate, I crawled back into bed where I bemoaned being awake while watching an episode of Midsomer Murders.  Then I stumbled into the kitchen and fed the foul beasties.  I perused the insides of the refrigerator, then cursed myself for not buying groceries yesterday afternoon as I'd intended. 

No food means venturing out for a breakfast burrito.  I tried calling the local joint, but I couldn't find their number.  I had no plans to become socially presentable enough to go inside and wait while they cooked the food, so I called the next closest place, a little drive-through in the County Seat, about 10 miles away.  All the while, the dogs munched and snarfled in their little metal pans.  He With No Name was still sipping from the bathroom faucet on the other end of the house. 

Just as I opened the dishwasher to try to do something productive before making the breakfast run, I heard a plaintive yowl.  It came from right behind me. 

I whirled.  Nothing there.  The dogs never batted an eyelash, just kept licking their empty bowls. 

Admittedly my first thought, one of those things that pop out of the primordial ooze of the deeper brain, was a flash back to that second, unused injection the vet held in his hand while listening to Fred's diminishing heartbeat.  The second thought was a laughing realization that there was a cat in heat outside my kitchen window, probably sitting on the ledge, just out of sight.  I went outside to shoo her away. 

No cat. 

Inside the dogs were still completely unperturbed, other than to be a bit miffed at the limited portion size provided their indiscriminate palates.  I started to wonder about auditory hallucinations, as one does.  I'd had a visual hallucination once, due to medication, and maybe...

The yowl.  A second time. 

The dogs did not react. 

I slammed the dishwasher shut and started throwing open doors on the lower cabinets.  I pulled cleaning supplies, various seldom-used gadgets (Why do I own both a food steamer and a rice pot?  And isn't that a huge wok!) and some pots and pans out onto the kitchen floor.  And then I saw her. 

Evil Steve is back. 

Steve had gone crazy before she left.  I'd attributed it to kitty Alzheimer's since she's older than she should be.  Evidently her vacation hasn't cured her because now she won't come out of the cabinet.  She seems to be in fine condition, once again.  Her fur is soft, at least in that one little spot my fingers brushed before she skittered out of reach.  Her eyes are bright, as least when they are staring malevolently at me from Hades' Window Sill.  Her voice is in FINE form, obviously.  And I think maybe, just maybe, she's got on a new flea collar. 

And she's still in the cabinet. 

The dogs now care about this.  They care a lot.  So much caring.  So much. 

Everything is now back in the cabinets.  (What am I going to do with that wok?)  I guess Steve's going to stay put.  At least she's stopped with the vocal lament bit. 

I'd been considering getting some chickens.  Maybe I'll wait on that.

Monday, November 07, 2016

I Didn't Chose His Name

I killed my cat today.

I wasn't going to mention it, but, like so much of my life, it was too good of a story to pass up.

Fred has been living at my house for the last five years.  Before that he lived at the school.  When they built the new school, after the students burned down the old one, they didn't install cat doors, so Fred was homeless.  For about 10 minutes.  Then he came home to my house.

Fred had enormous fangs and lengthy claws.  His fangs were too long to fit in his mouth, so he looked like a vampire with his two white teeth resting on the black fur of his chin.  When we got him, he was solid black.  Now he'd developed a white spot on his chest and white hairs sprinkled through the rest of his coat.  He'd also lost every tooth in his head, except for those two over-sized fangs.

And his had respiratory issues.  That's what finally did him in.  He sneezed blood all over my house, all weekend long.  At 8:01 this morning, I was on the phone to the vet.  Again.

The doctor was in and they told me to bring Fred in.  The vet, a gentle, no nonsense guy, did the injection.

When I got back home with his body, I realized that, given my back trouble, there was no way I could dig the hole for Fred.  I had to ask for help. Within moments of sending out a plea, my ex-sister-in-law volunteered my ex-brother-in-law for the job.  She said she owed me for bringing her booze.  Rick, the husband, would get to square the debt after he got finished at the school about eight o'clock tonight.  (He's a football coach.  They never go home.)

Today being the day after the end of daylight savings time, it was pitch black outside at eight o'clock.  So he and I stood out under a pecan tree in the front yard and I held the cell phone flashlight while he manned the shovel.

Within moments, a patrol car (well, a patrol SUV) was pulling into my driveway.  Mindy's son Matt was the driver.  He's a brand new sheriff's deputy out here in the sticks.  He and another new officer were out on the prowl for evil-doers. 

Rick and I looked pretty much like evil-doers. 

The deputies tried to convince us they'd had a call about suspicious characters. As if.  They were just bored.  Matt did point out that this was the first time he'd seen me, since starting with the department, that he didn't have a subpoena for me.  I thanked him for that all snarky-like.  Cause he's an ass.  Cute as all git-out, but an ass nonetheless. 

We tried to convince them to help Rick dig.  They declined, citing the fact that they might look more than a little suspicious, digging a grave and burying a body.  We couldn't really argue with that, but I insisted that they at least turn the spot light on and shine it in my yard so I wouldn't have to use the cell phone to illuminate the necropolyptic scene. 

They turned on the lights and the three of us stood around, watching Rick dig. 

A couple of minutes later, the neighbors' grandson came running out their front door.  He stopped dead when he saw the lights, then turned and ran full speed back into the house yelling at the top of his lungs "The cops are at Rachel's house!  The cops are at Rachel's house!"

It was at that point that Floyd County's Finest decided to flee the scene.  I told Rick it was probably a good thing I'd not mentioned that I'd spent the whole evening cleaning up the crime scene in my house.  There was blood everywhere.  Little cat-sneezed drops of it.  Everywhere.

A few minutes later, my neighbor arrived, at the urging of his grandson.  "Is everything ok?" he asked.

I explained what we were up to.  He laughed when I told him the cops wouldn't help us bury the body.  The neighbor hung out for a few minutes until the grandson got bored and decided it was time to go.

All the while, Rick dug.

When the hole was big enough we added the towel-wrapped body.  Covered it over, and added a stone cairn.  I owe Rick a six pack. 

Hopefully Fred will rest in peace beneath the pecan tree.  But, given how things go at my house, that's not a sure thing.

I'll miss ya, buddy.

Monday, October 17, 2016

No One Mentioned the Gargoyles

Small town living means that when you dial 911 you get the volunteer ambulance crew. It's just five guys. Five guys who can leave work when the pager goes off.

As you may know, I am an intensely private person in real life. It may not seem like it to read some of the stuff I post here or on other social media, but it's true. I don't let people into my home all willy-nilly. I really have to want you there to invite you in. If one's home is one's castle, then mine has a sizeable moat around it. A moat full of crocodiles. And the drawbridge is always up.

On one recent occasion, however, I had to make an exception.

Thanks to a herniated disk or two (or three), I've had some pretty significant back trouble recently. Normally I don't wear much to sleep in (Wait, what did I just say about my love of privacy?!) and I'm immensely, humbly grateful that on the particularly painful morning in question I managed to get out of bed and get dressed. I accomplished this by doing something, then lying flat on the bed to let my back realign before accomplishing another task or two and repeating the process.

Once I got my clothes on, I laid down again before tackling my shoes, and that's when it happened - a serious spasm that left me unable to sit up. After the requisite gnashing of teeth, I realized I had no choice but to call for help.

That sort of pissed me off, but what must be done, must be done.

The ambulance was quick to arrive. The crew dragged a stretcher in through my unlocked front door and down the hall, struggling to manipulate it through the narrow space and into my bedroom. Once inside they surrounded the bed and stared down at me.

It was a most welcome invasion of privacy.

They discussed my situation amongst themselves, briefly, before deciding the solution was to lift me by the bed sheet and transfer me to the stretcher.

I was not going to be able to lie flat because they had to raise the head of the gurney to get it out my bedroom door and into the hallway. I was not looking forward to that ten foot bit of the trip, so I took deep breaths and tried to psych myself up for this tiny trauma. Just before lifting me, the man positioned at my left shoulder leaned down and looked into my face. I didn't really focus on him. Not until he said "I wondered why you weren't in your office yesterday when I went to see you."

Suddenly I recognized the face I'd paid scant attention to. A face attached to a man, in my bedroom, who was preparing to move the top of my fragile spine and the bits of me attached to it.

Have I mentioned that I'm a probation officer?

He didn't drop me. He didn't jerk the sheet. He didn't even whack my head against the headboard. I should probably give him community service credit for that.

Monday, October 03, 2016

Because It's Fun To Do This To Monica.

This morning I met with a woman who'd arrived in town only moments earlier, after spending almost a year in a treatment center.

We had a lot to talk about.

In the past 18 months she has lost custody of her children and now there is a restraining order in place, preventing her from attempting any contact with them.

Her father died.

Her mother, who was coddled and cosseted by her husband for the majority of her life, has collapsed into deep and abiding depression and the accompanying ill health.  She will not survive for long.

She has committed a felony offense that will forever prevent her from working in any field associated with her four-year college degree.

Her husband continues to use any and every illegal substance he can get his hands on.  When he picked her up from the 30-day program she tried prior to being sent to long-term treatment, he had a car full of his latest score and a motel room rented just minutes from the treatment center so they could use uninterrupted until it was gone.

This woman is a little younger than me, but not much, which means she's old enough to know better.  Her bachelor's degree is in psychology.  She has been through almost a year of the best treatment the court system can provide.  It may not be Betty Ford, but it's still pretty damn good.  Her family is desperately supportive of her.  She has friends from a Christian community group that have provided her local housing with a couple who run the only 12 step group in the county.  They have a car for her so she can drive to the neighboring county for work and recovery meetings.  She will be receiving one-on-one counseling through a program my office provides.  She'll be seeing me at least twice a month. She has already paid an attorney who will handle her attempt to regain custody of, or at least access to, her children.

All of that.  She has all of that.  And she chose to have her (ex)husband to pick her up from the treatment center and drive her 400 miles to see me.

I stood with her next to the window of my office on the first-and-a-half floor.  We looked down at the truck parked below, with the twitchy guy sitting at the wheel.  And we talked about choices.  And how she was choosing prison if she chose to get into that truck with him.

At that moment, in a truly inspired bit of timing, the man who is offering her a place to live, food to eat and a car to drive, showed up at the office door.  He knew she had to see me as soon as she got into town.  He was there to offer her a ride 'home'.

How much more of a godsend could there be? The woman, who is overly emotional on even her most sober days, rhapsodized over her good fortune.

He and I double-teamed her on the importance of "be still and know".  (He started it, but I've been to lots of southern revival meetings and I could play right along.  I've always thought that verse was God calling humanity to aspire to the deity and perfection of introversion, but I digress.) Promises were made by one and all.  Expectations were tendered and checked.  Small steps were plotted along a slow and steady path.

Then they left.

I shuffled papers.  Read an email.  Got up to stretch my back.  It's been giving me trouble and sitting too long is a problem.  I stepped over to the window and looked down.

I watched her get into the truck with the (ex)husband.  And then they drove away.


I told my secretary I needed to move around and I was going to pace the hall for a bit.

Walking past the County Clerk's office, I recognized one of my guys, leaning over the counter to study a form, along with his girlfriend.  He saw me too and on my return trip he came out into the hall to talk.

He's not a smart man.  He doesn't have mental retardation, but he's not far from it.  He's not had an easy life and drugs and alcohol were his only escape for a long time.  Now he has his own struggling auto body repair garage. And a woman to care for, which makes him feel like a man.

He peered up at me, his eyes huge behind the thick lenses and thicker frames of his charity eye glasses.  "We had a miscarriage," he said.  "We're here to get permission to bury the baby on the farm."

I offered what few sincere condolences I could.

"I've forgotten when my next appointment is," he said.  "Can you tell me when it is?"

I told him not to worry about it.  We would send him a reminder.  At his last appointment he'd made a special effort to get there.  They were driving in from the doctor's office, 50 miles away.  They'd had an ultrasound that day and he had pictures he wanted to show me.

Side by side, we leaned against the cold marble wall, pretending to read the posted foreclosure notices.  We stood together, dry-eyed and silent.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

LizWatch 2016

Just thought you'd like to know.  Liz came to see me this afternoon.  She called this morning and said it had been a rough morning.  She was going to be late, but she was going to be here.  I told her that was ok, I'd see her when she arrived.

She arrived with cash.

She paid off everything she owes me.  It took a trip to the convenience store to cash a small check, plus a couple of handfuls of quarters, but she paid all the money she owes.  In full.

Her probation will end successfully.  Provided she doesn't do anything crazy between now and Christmas Eve.  (Really.  Christmas Eve.  The sentence ends on freakin' Christmas Eve.  HA!)

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

"The code is really more what you'd call guidelines than actual rules..."

Liz drives about 50 miles to come and see me.  Today she almost made it on time, which is an improvement for her.   She lives on the farthest edge of the farthest county in my jurisdiction.  Soon she will move across the line back into another jurisdiction, but even then she will travel to see me.

I've transferred her case to that jurisdiction once before and it did not end well.  The poor guy working those counties is also a one man dog and pony show, just like me.  However, he has to do both adult and juvenile probation.  There is not enough tea in China to pay me to do that.  No ma'am!  Therefore, I try to be a little more understanding of him than I might otherwise be.

The problem is his method of coping is to be a sticker for detail and a fanatic devotee of rules.  All rules.  Any rules.  Liz doesn't work well inside strict parameters.  Her existence is more lateral than logical.

To be perfectly honest, I didn't get along with the guy any better than Liz did.  I'd rather keep her case and not be paid for it than to have to deal with him again.  But that's not the story I'm gonna tell you.

Last time I saw Liz, we finally got busy and completed the state's newest, shiniest assessment tool for her case.  I was months late doing it, but we'd had other more pressing concerns on her previous visits.  The state won't like this, but that's ok.  It'll give them something to pad their reports with and we'll all go home feeling fulfilled.  (Perhaps you can see why Mr. Rule Book and I didn't get along so well?)

The assessment tool is as fabulously un-useful as any such mandated instrument, but it is a great interview starter.  It helps to aggregate information into a single interview that might take me months to cover without it's guided questioning.

We spent a lot of the interview talking about the depression that Liz suffers from to a debilitating degree.  Today she looked better than she has in a long time.  Her hair and her clothes were clean.  Her eyes had not a spark, but at least a dull gleam.  And she sort of ghosted a smile as she came in the door.  It was a good day to talk about why she's depressed.

Liz is an educated woman.  Not liberal arts, but she's had a Certified Nurse's Aide license and completed a 2-year associate's degree in office management, with a minor in accounting.  She's worked in several offices as well as a lengthy stint doing purchasing for a state prison.

Despite her education, Liz is desperately poor.  And she married a poor man, in pretty much every sense of the word.  She knows he's worthless, but they stick it out.  They've been together a long time.

Their first child was a son.  He was born without any major incident and pronounced acceptably viable before being sent home for cuddling and coddling.

Once safely ensconced, he promptly stopped breathing.  Luckily Liz's mom was there and knew just what to do.  She remembered Liz had done the same thing as a baby.  It was sleep apnea.  The doctor confirmed Grandma's diagnosis and told Liz all her children would need to be monitored for it when born.  She was never to have a baby sent home from the hospital without a breathing monitor.

Liz had a second child, also born healthy and normal.  The breathing monitor showed no signs of apnea and all was well.

Liz had third child, a daughter.

You know where this is going.

Liz did all the right things, the things that my chronically poor people are seldom able to do.  She got prenatal care.  She kept the same doctor who'd treated her other two babies.  She was ready to have this baby.

The baby was ready, too.  Her daughter was born while the doctor was away on vacation.  A teenager in scrubs delivered her, according to Liz.

All went well and they were both released from the hospital at the earliest possible opportunity.  Except there was no breathing monitor.  Liz told the teenager the baby was supposed to have the monitor - just in case.

Dr. Howser assured Liz that she was just being an over-protective, overly-worried new mother.  God had given her the gift of a perfectly healthy baby girl and she needed to take the baby home and enjoy her.  He wouldn't listen to Liz's protestations, probably dubious of what a Medicaid mother could possibly have to tell him about medical care.

When Liz got home she still tried to do the right things.  She called her doctor's office and made an appointment for as soon as he got back into town.

Things went well and there were no problems with the baby.  On the morning of the appointment, Liz went into the bedroom to awaken her daughter and get her dressed for the trip to the doctor.

You know what happened.

All the doctor could do for Liz at that point was to help dull the pain.  "The drugs turned me into a potato," she said.  Her emotions were so flattened she couldn't even cry at her daughter's funeral.  She tried to read a poem during the service but could only stand and stare bleakly out over the audience until someone helped her down off the stage.

Liz stayed medicated for months, but could never function on the meds.  She wasn't interested in the "vegetable lifestyle". She had two other children who needed a mother, not a potato.  So she stopped taking the drugs.

The legal ones, anyway.

Now Liz cycles back and forth from deep depression to exhausting mania.  She has waking nightmares of finding that bloated purple face staring up a her from the crib.

Her living situation has not improved.  She's been practically homeless twice in the short time I've known her.  She can't find a job - there are none to be had in the community of 150 people where she lives.  She has no transportation of her own, so she can't get a job out of town.  The minor support she receives from family members would evaporate if she moved somewhere else.  She at least has a roof over her head where she is.  Her husband just got felony probation in another county due to a dumb mistake.  She owes me all kinds of money.  

Liz recognizes that she probably needs treatment for bipolar disorder, at the very least, but her husband's aunt was diagnosed with that disorder after the aunt tried to kill their grandmother while searching for some sort of imaginary treasure she was sure the grandmother had hidden from her.  Liz thinks she cannot afford to get the same diagnosis, given the complicated family dynamics and the fact that she is dependent on that family for food and shelter.

And there I sit, behind my desk, staring at the next question on the assessment form.

"Do you belong to any groups or clubs?"

She just snorted.

Next question:  "Do you belong to a church?"

My face probably betrayed my skepticism about that question because Liz laughed.  "No," she said.  "I didn't think it would really help me to have a bunch of people telling me that this was God's will and part of his plan.  I always assumed God wasn't that much of a shit."

It was my turn to laugh.  "Ohh, you are so smart," I said.  "Yeah, God is not a dick."


I don't like to follow rules, just for the sake of following rules.  I need reasons for rules.  Otherwise, I tend to ignore them.  Sometimes that gets me in trouble.  Sometimes it doesn't.  When I was young I was quite complaint and conscientious but the older I got, the more I realized that everyone else is making it up as they go along, just like me.  Experience has taught me a lot and I do have some hard and fast rules that I've set for myself.

I never ride a motorcycle without a helmet.
I turn my socks right side out before putting them in the hamper.
I don't complain about paying my taxes.
I don't wear anything pink.
I vote.
And I never start discussions of religion or spiritual beliefs in my official capacity.

Despite my adherence to that last rule, there is seldom a work day that doesn't involve some sort of spiritual discussion with one or more of my people.  They bring it up, not me. There were many times, when I worked in a larger department, that I and the other officers would marvel at the frequency and occasional depth of these discussions.

Some people who want to talk 'bout Jeezus do it in a smarmy attempt at manipulation.  'Look - I go to church.  We cool.  I'm a good person, so you can't treat me like all those other people.'

The majority though, are seeking. They want comfort and answers.  And they want to talk.  Sadly, many of these conversations end up being an attempt on my part to push back against the prosperity gospel bullshit.

The poor and the magical thinkers among us are prime targets for that type of teaching.  The rich person is not only going to stay out of needle eyes and other places, they're not going to 'buy' into the practice of 'blessing' the pastor/prophet/teacher, either directly or indirectly, with money and expensive gifts as a means to securing a financial blessing of their own.

The poor person is going to think it's worth a shot and they will give all they've got left to the church.  All they've got left after picking up a few scratch-offs, that is.

Liz is not a victim of the prosperity gospel.  Neither does she have patience for the sort of theology that tries to force encouragement by assuring her that tragedy is God's horrible, horrible will. Unfortunately, her experience has been that those are her only two choices when it comes to religion. Given where she lives, there aren't any other options, really.

And yet, even with all the stuff she deals with, she could still make jokes about how thoroughly unhelpful sanitized, white-bread religion is to her down and dirty daily life.

And that's the point.  (You knew there had to be one somewhere, didn't you?)  Despite the cesspool of her existence, she can still make a joke.  She can still smile.  Liz is not some Norman Vincent Peale success story.  She's just human.  And humans are fantastically resilient.  That's why we have to take an interest in one another.  That's why we have to listen to one another.  It doesn't take much to make someone's life a little better.

Will Liz find a job?  Get her mental illness under control?  Pay the water bill and the electric bill both in the same month?  Nope, not anytime soon.  Possibly not ever.  She's not going to join a church or the PTA or the athletic booster club.

But she will survive.  And she'll keep a roof over her family's heads.  And she won't join those groups or churches, but she also won't join the KKK or whatever passes for a gang in these parts.  And maybe her kids will get an education and have a better life.  I'll do whatever I can to keep her out of jail.  That's about it.

Too bad there is not a cool punchline here.  The truth is life is pretty precarious for a lot of people.  Do whatever you can to help them move away from the precipice.  Sometimes there's not much you can do.

Sometimes, it doesn't take much.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

100 Things Divorce Taught Me: 7th Heavenish

52.  I am occasionally 'entertaining' again, to borrow a wretched phrase from HGTV.  I did it all the time when I was single.  When I was married, we intended to do it. We talked about doing it. We never did it. There is that pressure to be good hosts, to have the perfect party, to invite the right mix of people.  We always talked about doing it, but never did, knowing it wouldn't be perfect.
How lame.

Now I'm back to hosting people like I did, lo, these many years ago.  I vacuum and try to get the worst of the dog hair off the seldom used furniture.  And that's it.  People know to come bearing food or prepared to go hungry.  I don't cook or try to have the perfect setting or guest list or anything else.  I just open the door and enjoy the laughter.

One thing has improved, though.  I used to call these BYOC parties.  Bring your own chair.  Because I had no real furniture in those post-college, single days.  Now, at least, I do provide you a place to sit.

53. I think I might have found a way to watch college football games without use of satellite service.  We don't even HAVE cable service available out here in the sticks.  If this works, I'm canceling satellite.  This whole thing of not watching TV unless you actually want to WATCH TV is really a life-changer.

55.  I think maybe I like baseball.  I have hated watching baseball my entire life.  Loathed it actually.  I don't mind softball, as it is a much faster paced game.  Learned that from being married.  But since being divorced, I've missed football -  season's end grief is a normal yearly experience, regardless of marital status - and I wanted something to just listen to while drawing.  There is only so much of the ungratefully pretentious white people you can stomach on HGTV, so I fell into baseball by default.  I may be a convert.

56.  How do you divorce a woman who loves football and fishing?  What were you thinking? Mindy declares me a closeted lesbian.  That made me smile, but alas, no.  I am, however, really good girlfriend material.

57.  It takes me a really long time to get to the point of asking for help.  Personally, professionally, metaphorically, any other "ly"s I can think of.  Lots of different reasons for that, I guess.  Most of the time I can fake my way through just about anything.  I'm a pretty capable person. But here and there life would be much easier if I would just say "Hey!  I could use a hand here."  This is not some sort of vague facebook-esque post where I'm hoping you will all jump up with your hands out and offer to pull me from the depths of my as yet undeclared despair.  Not at all - I truly (see what I did there?) do not need help at the moment.  It's just something I'm becoming aware of - a character flaw, a flake in my personality.  Something to work on.

58.  It's been almost exactly one year since my marriage ended with a single ten-minute conversation.  When I think about it, it feels like it's only been a matter of weeks.  Most of the time, I don't think about it.  (Contrary to what you might think from reading these lists.  ha!) I've got better things to do and lots more books to read.

59.  I am going to have to give in and pay someone to give me a back rub.  

60.  I don't know what this has to do with divorce, but I need to buy a new pair of cowboy boots.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Jeezus Weejus

A few months ago I told you about Jimmy the Lions Club Prayer Guy.  Jimmy was a true patriarch of the community and deaf as a post.  He was a master of the institutional prayer.  He couldn't hear a single word I said for the entirety of my tenure as Lions Club president.  But he knew when I gestured at him, he was supposed to do his thing.  "MAY WE PRAY?"

Jimmy died.

My year as the grand poo-bah of the local Lions Club is thankfully also at an end.  I am ever so happy about that. Ever bloody so.

The new Lion Boss has declared pay back upon me for the many times I asked him to do bits of the weekly program.  So far that payback has included making me lead the pledges to the American and Texas flags each week.  This week he upped his game.

I was in the middle of stuffing fajita chicken into a warm tortilla when he knelt next to me at the table, pen and agenda in hand, and asked if I would do the prayer.

I looked a little stricken, fajita filled fist frozen halfway to my open mouth.

"That's ok, right?" he asked, halfway serious.  "I mean, you're right with the Lord and stuff, aren't you?"

"We talk," I admitted.  "Are you sure you're not worried about lightening strikes though?"

"It's not like I'm gonna be standing next to you or anything," he admitted.  "I'm just hoping the whole building doesn't cave in around us.  You're not going to call down snakes or our heads or anything like that, are you?  I mean, I've seen Carrie.  That sort of stuff doesn't end well."

I assured him I would leave off the incantations and praise of the dark side.

His request was unusual.  Singular, even.  I wondered if perhaps he asked me to do the prayer because of my outfit.  Mindy describes this particular ensemble as my Anton LeVey garb.  It's a black priest-looking shirt and a necklace of black crosses.  I did soften things a bit with a pair of blue jeans instead of the  black pants I normally wear with it.  But I still wore black boots with silver studs.  

(Lord, I've owned at least one pair of black boots with silver studs at all times since the late 1980's.  And how many years have I worn this shirt?  Maybe I should get a new one.  Wonder where Anton LeVey shops?  Demon Marcus?)

While I finished my meal - including almost all of my vegetables - I tried to think of something to pray.  It has been years since I've been asked to do an extemporaneous prayer.  Long, long years. For starters, I am a woman.  That precludes me from these duties in most social and civic circles here.  And forget being asked to do it in a Baptist church.  Or most of the other denominations we have here.  Besides, the weekly club meeting is really the only gathering I attend that requests extemporaneous prayer these days.  I'm not saying that's a bad thing.  Not at all.

A well-written prayer trumps pretty much all extemporaneous attempts when it comes to public performance.  Admittedly, I do love to count the repetitions and churchy phrases that most of us don't realize we've fallen victim to when put on the spot.  One of my favorites from childhood was the church treasurer who could never pray without requesting to be delivered from the lust after filthy lucre.

I've been enchanted by all the good stuff in the Book of Common Prayer since becoming an Episcopalian.  In years past I've been the designated pray-er more often than not at any sort of institutional gathering that I was a part of, outside of church.  It's a dubious perk of being the preacher's kid.  I have prayed at every single graduation ceremony I've ever been in. I've prayed Catholic prayers, poetic prayers and my favorite was a particularly beautiful Baha'i prayer.

After my college graduation my grandmother admitted to having 'peeked' during the prayer.  "I wasn't sure that was really you.  You sounded so...different!"  That may well have been when the probation voice was born.

The probation voice doesn't get as much use these days.  It's my own attempt at the voice of God.  Or at least Morgan Freeman.  It's all about gravitas and authority.  The older I get, the less I use both those qualities.  Now maybe I'm more about consensus.  And really listening.  And finding a solution rather than demanding one.

And then, if all that doesn't work, it's time to use the probation voice.  That normally doesn't work either, but it's at least kind of fun.

Today was not a probation voice day.  I managed to quietly say a few words of thanks for the meal and request that we'd all be blessed as we returned to our lives and work in the community.  Blah, blah, blah.

I don't know if Jimmy would have been proud or not.  But I do know what he would've said.


Thursday, August 11, 2016

Downward Headed Dog

When I retire, I might want to live in a city.  Big towns fascinate me.  I love to visit.  Lots of times I wish I lived in one.  Lots of times I'm glad I don't.  My only plans for retirement so far are to live somewhere with trees and rain.  That's it.  Although I'm considering adding one other requirement to the list:  a yoga studio.  I cannot imagine living in the vicinity of an actual yoga studio.  That is just the height of  decadent existence as far as I'm concerned.

Some day maybe I will live near a yoga studio.  And maybe even a Whataburger.  

But today is not that day.  

Today I am grateful to live in a small town because things happen in small towns that are precluded, by the laws of physics, as well as probably those of the University Interscholastic League, from happening anywhere else.  

It was a little after 7:30 this morning when I finished getting dressed for work.  As I was about to leave the bedroom, I noticed Parish.  He's a dog.  He was sitting in the doorway I needed to pass through, which made him hard to miss.  And he was doing some odd licking and shaking.  

One quick glance showed that his groin was hugely swollen.  I prodded the large knot, which was behind and to the side of his boy bits and discovered the area was unnaturally hard and unyielding.

The veterinarian's office opens at 8:00 a.m.  At 8:01 I was on the phone with the secretary/assistant, who told me the doctor was "in" and would be willing to examine my dog.  

I put Chapel, Parish's brother, out in the back yard alone, something he decried at ear-splitting levels, and bundled Parish into the truck. 

The vet watched us get out of the truck from  one of his waiting room chairs, legs stretched out in front of him, nursing a cup of coffee.  We took Parish into the back and put him on an exam table while I explained the problem.  Then I helped the vet turn him over onto his side so he could examine the groin.  

The growth was gone.  

No knot, no tumor, no nothing.  

The kindly old veterinarian looked at me with warm brown eyes and, without laughing, told me that sometimes when a boy dog really, really likes a girl dog...  Well, no he didn't.  But he did say that when a dog is ready to mate, there is a gland that can become very swollen and that this can happen even with a neutered dog, like Parish the Mortified. 

Imagine my chagrin.  

Thankfully, the vet didn't even charge me for the 2 minute consultation.  (He's also about to retire.  Anyone know of any good veterinarians that want to move to a small town?)  I got Parish back in the truck, not taking nearly as much care about it as I had initially.  

On the way home we had "the talk".  The talk about how 'they ain't nobody in this house gettin' any.'  Not me, not the cats and certainly not him.  Especially not when he doesn't even have all his parts!  Parish just hung his head and muttered "yes ma'am" at the appropriate points.  

Before I'd left for the vet's office, I texted my secretary to tell her that I would be late.  She reminded me that we were having court.  I'd completely forgotten.  Thankfully it was here and not in one of the out-lying counties.  When I got home, I put Parish out back with a delighted Chapel, then went inside and changed into more court-appropriate, less dog-hair covered clothing.  

I jumped back in the truck and headed to my office, ten miles away.  I walked in the door at 8:39 a.m. - only nine minutes late.  

Maybe I'll never be able to do a decent warrior pose or sun salutation here, but living in a tiny town does have its benefits!

Monday, August 08, 2016

A Priest Without a Corkscrew Is Like...

I love to camp.

Sitting by a fire and staring at the stars while listening to the coyotes kinda camping.  It's good to be still and quiet and know. It's even better with a good friend who knows good stories.

It's also good to hike and kayak and play in the water.

It hit 112 degrees in the state park the day before our camping trip, and we are in Texas, in August, which by anyone's standards is a dumb-ass time to go camping, so we went with more of the relaxing recitals and the contemplation of flames than the more active and participatory camping occupations.

The "we" being the priest with the pot in her car and myself.

I've been camping in this park since I was in college.  It's less than an hour from my house.  It used to be visited by me and about six other people, but since they reintroduced bison to the habitat, and then let them roam the park freely, it's popularity has sky-rocketed.  You've actually got to make an advanced reservation to get a campsite.

The bison are fabulous.

But, I get ahead of myself.  Before you can commune with the canyon and the buffalo spirits, you gotta get there.

To get there from my house, you have to drive down forty-four minutes of flat, straight, rural, West Texas road.  One mile of that length is spent on FM 207.  Perhaps you remember that I've mentioned recently that this road is my nemesis?

This time it was really out to get me.  Even though I only had to drive on it for a single mile, that mile was hideous.  We sat at a stop sign for a long time, waiting to turn onto the road.  A farmer pulling a load of liquid fertilizer sat in front of us.  We waited and waited and waited.  We couldn't proceed because of the second sign.  That sign said "Wait Here for Pilot Car".  The only driveable part of the road was a single skinny caliche lane, so traffic had to drive from first one direction, then the other, taking turns.  You couldn't see any movement of any kind for miles in either direction.  The farmer was getting antsy.  He got out of the truck, leaned on the bed and stared accusingly first in one direction, then the other.

At long last, a glint on the southern horizon.

It move closer, incrementally, at an excruciating pace.

The glint became an dusty red pickup. None of the banners or flashing lights that identify a pilot car were visible.  As it got closer, you could see the driver, hunched over the wheel, barely able to see over the top of the dash.   He was wearing a greasy straw cowboy hat and thick glasses.   He looked like a turtle, driving a truck.  He was about 113 years old

Obviously, he was not the pilot car, but he'd either (a.) not been able to see/read the warning signs about not venturing out into the road construction zone without a proper guide or (b.) he didn't give a shit.

The farmer in front of us got back in his truck, turned on the ignition and shrugged his shoulders.  As soon as the turtle-looking guy passed us, at a stately 17 miles an hour, the farmer pulled out behind him. I followed suit.  I figure the farmer and I were thinking the same thing.  The red truck turtle man had obviously lived a long, and hopefully happy, life and if he got creamed by on-coming traffic or construction trucks, he'd serve as a warning and the rest of us would have time to swerve out of the way.

We drove our mile and turned off on yet another road, headed for the canyon.

Almost immediately, my tire pressure warning light came on.  That was followed quickly by smoke and a thud.  I had a blow-out.

It was noon.  In August.  On the asphalt.

And I'd never changed a tire before in my entire life.

I'd never even bothered to find out if there was a jack in my truck.  Thankfully there was.  So, with Jay holding the dogs and occasionally the owner's manual, I changed the damn tire.

I felt completely bad ass.

But of course the spare tire was flat.

Once again however, bad-assery prevailed because, even though I'd never learned to change a tire, I had purchased one of those electric tire pumps at the Ye Olde Auto Parts Store.  Best twenty bucks I ever spent.  10 minutes of airing and the wimpy donut was more or less ready to go.  We got back on the road.

We managed to drive all the way to Quitaque without any further incident.  Upon arrival I pulled into the same garage that my friend Cyn went to for help the last time I took someone(s) to the canyon with me.  A flying rock from a lawnmower shattered her driver's side window.  While she was driving.  Not fun.  Maybe it's bad luck to hang out with me at the canyon?

The old guy manning the garage, looking lonely and doing nothing but fly swatting, was more than happy to air up my spare.  He gave me a lecture about not driving over 45 miles an hour or for more than 35 miles on the tiny tire.  And then he lectured both of us about hiking in the heat and how much water to carry and when to turn back.  He was nice enough about it, but did grumble about how he'd rather lecture us than go hunt for our bodies.

I suspect he wouldn't really mind either option.  It would be something to do, and it's not like he'd have to be the one to drag our bloated carcasses out of the canyon.

When we got to the ranger station, we took turns going inside to purchase our passes and staying outside with the dogs.  Jay left and returned in about five minutes.

It took me nearer fifteen.

I got stuck with the shiny new park ranger who very much reminded me of a young Miss Ballbricker.  She gave me a lengthy lecture, elucidating ALL the rules.  I guess I appeared not to be taking it seriously enough because about halfway through she stood up to try and stare me down. 

It didn't work.  I am taller and I've been staring for way longer.  But I tried to smile and even paid attention.

Perhaps we should take it as a compliment that either of us looked capable and even willing enough to engage in mid-afternoon hiking in August in Texas.  In reality, I am much, much lazier than that.

We found our site and went about setting up the camp.  I discovered I forgot the tent stakes, but that was not a big deal as we are weighty enough to hold the tent to the ground without them.  Luckily, it wasn't windy.

Note to self:  buy tent stakes.

I learned some things on this camping trip.  I learned my dogs are not good campers.  I have faith that they will improve, but so far they are real bad at it.  I learned that the traveling communion kit does not contain a corkscrew.  Sure, the holy water comes in handy for keeping the vampires at bay and all, but sometimes you just need a damn corkscrew.  Wouldn't you think there would be one in the kit?  How else are you gonna open the communion wine?  I learned that buffalo footprints are very deep in lake mud.  Sink right up to your knees before you even know you stepped in one.  I learned that it's a good idea to leave the top off of the tent, not only for viewing the 'stars at night' that are 'big and bright'...(You fill in the rest, native Texans, and don't forget to do the clapping.) but also because Jay didn't want to sleep in a "big old Ziploc bag". She made an excellent point.

And I learned that the raccoons are still bastards.

I've had a few run-ins with the sneaky little thumb-havers before.  I thought I knew how to deal with them and their little switchblade-fueled thievery.  I was wrong.

Deep in the night, I awoke to a sound that I immediately recognized.  Raccoons scavenging across the top of the picnic table.  My valiant four-footed protectors never even stirred. I listen for a moment, then shined a light out in their direction.  I heard them scurry off, taking the Styrofoam cooler with them.  They headed for the non-existent hills, their ill-gotten gain in tow.

I scoffed at them, knowing the cooler, which had recently housed some bad-ass smoked ribs, was now totally empty.  It might smell fantastic, but that Styrofoam was gonna taste like nothing.  With a sneer at their ignoble retreat, I turned over and went back to sleep.

At some point, I was awakened a second time.  I could have sworn I heard the lid to the second cooler  - the big plastic one - close.  I flashed the light towards it, quick as a thief myself.  Nothing there.   Nothing about.  No noises.

I went back to sleep.

The next morning, we perused our campsite, but nothing was amiss.  Jay saw the empty cooler lying abandoned a few feet into the brush.  We laughed at having outsmarted the little demons.  Then we started searching for the tea.

I gotta have tea.  And my preference is the aforementioned loose leaf Earl Grey.  I was desperate.  Almost as desperate as Jay who is sadly addicted to coffee, a beverage I refuse to even entertain the thought of. She was steeling herself to survive the impending daylight with just tea.  Only now we didn't have any tea.  We couldn't find it.

That pissed me right off.  It was a brand new tin and it was the good stuff, which doesn't come cheap.  I was working on all sorts of creative epithets to hurl at the wildlife, while stomping around the picnic table.  But just as I was getting really wound up, Jay yelled triumphantly from  the depths of the provisions bin.  She'd found the tea, right where I'd hid it the night before so as to thwart any five-furry-fingered skulduggery.

We were saved. 

I was saved, that is.  She was still going to have to make do with a different type of warm caffeine than what she really wanted.

Jay made a fire.  I made the tea.  We kicked back in our chairs and watched the sun creep higher into the sky.  Until we got hungry.

We had a choice between cinnamon rolls to be cooked on a skewer like an over-sized marshmallow or bacon, egg, cheese and potato burritos, already made and just waiting to be warmed on the fire. We decided on burritos, but knew eventually we'd eat the cinnamon rolls too. 'Cause camping is hard work, right?

I opened the cooler and stared down at the busted can of cinnamon rolls.

Those greasy little pilfering pelt monkeys!  They had gotten into the cooler and whacked the rolls, leaving them lying ruined in the icy water.  They did it on purpose, just to get back at us for messing them up with the Styrofoam decoy cooler.  We grumbled and cursed a bit, but our hearts weren't really in it because: breakfast burritos.  Yay!

Jay sloshed through the murky melty ice to retrieve the package of burritos and salsa.

And sloshed some more.  And began to look concerned.

The raccoons took them.  Took the whole damn bag.  Left no sign of it behind.  It was G-O-N-gone!  And then they shut the cooler behind them.

We were bereft.  And more than a little chagrined at being so handily outsmarted.

In the end we survived on a few pieces of watermelon, some kick ass tea and the knowledge that if we could limp along for an hour of driving at a slow enough speed for the donut tire to survive, we'd be in a town where Kay at the Something Special Restaurant makes a damn fine breakfast and some absolutely stellar fried pies.

We packed up our camp and hit the road at a grandmotherly pace. 

Just as we rolled into Ore City, my tire pressure gauge came on.  Again.

I sighed.

But first, breakfast, which was well worth the wait.

When we left the restaurant, each of us clutching a white paper sack with a fried pie inside, I told Jay I was going back to the tire shop we passed on the way into town.  It was one of the very few viable businesses in this very small town and they'd been open when we passed by.  

She got lost while trying to follow me.

(Those of you that have been to Ore City can keep on laughing.  The rest of you might want to watch this documentary about the town.  It includes footage of our breakfast spot and the tire shop.)  ((Those pies, y'all...oh my gawd!))

Of course, in this town, getting lost was something easily remedied and we ended up standing on the periphery of the tire shop property with the dogs who wanted to sniff and pee with impunity.   From there we had a nice view of the guy who was crawling in and out from under my truck putting on the new tire.  He had really

They got me fixed up with a fresh rubber in under fifteen minutes, on a Saturday morning, for an excellent price.  Problem completely solved.  Jay pointed her car in the direction of a distant interstate and headed off to buy green chilies and write a sermon.  I took the back roads for home, glad to be able to drive the speed limit.

One and one half blocks from home Parish (the dog, brother to Chapel) expressed his opinion of the whole trip by throwing up all over passenger seat.

The whole thing was really a bit of a mess.  But it was so much fun we've agreed to do it again in November.  Just as soon as it gets good and cold!

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Smokin' in the Courtroom

James Johnson was in court today.
James is a familiar character:  The Old Hippie who decided to try to change the system from the inside, so he went to law school.
Most of his dirty blond hair has deserted the top of his head, but that hasn't deterred the rest of the long locks from hooking up for the perennial ponytail.
The poor man has lots of allergies to lots of things, evidently.  He no longer seems to be aware of the volume of his snorting and harking.  In between said same snorts and harks, he blinks violently as if trying to hold back a tide of water from his leaky, rheumy eyes.
James is a mess, but he's a good guy.  Except maybe for that bit about the girlfriend.  He manages to work the fact that he has a girlfriend into each and every conversation. I understand that he wants us to know he has someone to love, but Lord!  It's been years!  We are no longer impressed that he has a girlfriend(s).  Mere existence of a relationship has been satisfactorily established.  Time to move on!
Today he was in court to try to have his client's $1 million dollar bond reduced.
Granted, that's a pretty high bail bond amount, especially for our small county.  But James' guy has a pending court case for bail jumping.  And he's currently in jail for trying to murder a cop.
Prior to the hearing, James flopped down onto one of the spectator pews just behind the bar.  We were going to have a probation revocation hearing before hearing his case.  The defendant's family hadn't come, so James was the only body in the cheap seats.
Julie, the District Attorney, and I sat at the counsel table while she signed some last minute paperwork.  The Judge was perusing the court files on the bench and the Court Reporter and I sat quietly, for once, waiting for the action to start. The defendant and his attorney held a whispered conversation at the other counsel table.
James gave a particularly loud and prolonged snort.
Having already broken the silence, he decided to throw out a conversational gambit.
"Julie - you and I were in law school together.  How is it you're able to retire this year and I've got to keep working?"
Julie finished her signature with a flourish then walked to the bench to hand the Judge the paperwork before turning to James.  "I can retire because I'm the DA, not a defense lawyer."  She said 'defense lawyer' much like one might say 'sewer dweller' or 'child molester'.
Then she grinned.  James smiled.  And blinked.
Then he snorted the snot back up into his head.
"Judge," he said musingly. "Did you know Julie and I once tried a murder case right here in this very courtroom?"
"Did you now?" The Judge tried to sound interested.
"Yessir.  First murder case y'all'd tried in 24 years!"
It was Julie's turn to snort.  "What have you been smoking, James?  That wasn't even close to our first murder in 24 years!"
"Really?"  James was nonplussed.
"Yes, really."
"Huh."  James appeared to ponder this.
"Well, did you win, James?" the Judge drawled.
"No sir.  Well, sort of.  My client didn't get life."
"He got sixty-six years!" Julie said, aggrieved.
"Well, yeah," James agreed.  He grinned up at the Judge.  "When it came out in testimony that my client went home to reload it sort of threw my self-defense strategy out the window!"
James' current client's bond still stands at $1 million.
Nobody beats Julie.
I'm gonna miss her.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Mondays Hate Us and Want to See Us Dead

Mondays hate us and want to see us dead so they can have the rest of the week to themselves.

I did not check my calendar last Friday for the upcoming week because I was on vacation.  So, I went to work in Barberburg as usual Monday morning.  When I got there I discovered I was supposed to be in Ore City and Toreador instead.

After gulping down the rest of my breakfast burrito, I grabbed my laptop, strapped it to the back of the motorcycle and headed up Farm to Market road 207 to Ore City.

I knew that was a bad idea.

FM 207 has been under construction for well over a year  and by construction, I mean dive-bombed into oblivion so as to make it a lunar landscape obstacle course that it is navigable only by the gravel and transport trucks of the wind energy construction crews.  Bad as it is, it's also at least 20 miles shorter than the alternative route.

I started off at a good pace and made it almost two whole miles before coming up behind a water truck.

I don't know why the water truck was spraying the pavement, but it was.

This is not really an issue in a car.  On a motorcycle it's a problem.  Although I stayed far enough behind him not to get sprayed directly, my front tire kicked up the water pooled on the road, soaking my boots and jeans.

If I tried to pass the truck the water would spray all down my right side.  Finally, though, that seemed the lesser evil, so I sped up and went around.

I got a little wet.

And then I saw a stoplight.

This isn't too unusual for most people, I know, but it is for me.  My job covers four counties.  In those four counties there is only one stoplight.

Not one per county.  Just one.  Period.

This stoplight was of the supposedly temporary, road construction variety.  The road is so torn up that they are down to one lane of traffic.  You have to wait at the stoplight for the pilot car to come and guide you through.

I stopped behind a pickup - of course - and turned off the engine.  The lumbering whine of the wind turbines and the sound of the idling truck mingled in the wind.  We didn't have to wait too long for the pilot car. Normally that's a good thing.

Today the short wait was not a good thing because my feet and shins were still wet.  And on the road in front of us the asphalt had all been peeled away, leaving only dusty white caliche underneath.

Seven miles later, I was covered from the knees down in sloppy white clay.

Eventually I made it back onto pavement, divorced from the pilot car, speeding north to the courthouse and nursing a vain hope of making it on time.

I did not make it on time.

Instead, I ran out of gas.

Thankfully, due to prior experience, I knew that the bike has a reserve tank good for about 50 miles.

Before I left home, I checked my mileage and made sure I had enough gas to get to work.  I did.  But that was when I thought I was supposed to be working in Barberburg.  So, when the engine died, I coasted to a stop on the side of the road and switched over to the reserve tank.

I made it to the courthouse 11 minutes late.  No time for hallway coffee with the seats of the county government, I dragged my weighty accouterments up the stairs to the Judge's Chambers.  The District Judge lets me use his office when I am in this courthouse.  It's the only courthouse that does not have a dedicated office for me.  Since I'm only here once a month, that's not a big deal.

What is sort of a big deal is that there is no electricity in that office.

That's not entirely true.  There is a single bare bulb at the very tip top of the high, high ceiling.  Two eight foot tall windows directly behind the desk make the bulb unnecessary.  I don't need artificial light, but I do need electricity.

Unfortunately, the closest outlet is a single plug in the jury room down the hall.  Once I unpacked my laptop and printer, I pulled a 50 foot extension cord and surge protector from the desk drawer where it rests atop a slew of expired urine collection cups and strung it down the hall.  I unplugged the coffee maker in the jury room, prayed no one on the second floor was jonesing for a refill, and plugged in the cord.

Ten minutes later, I'd connected to the world and was ready to start in on the folks lined up on the pew outside my door. The rest of the morning went pretty smoothly.

None of the local restaurants are open on Monday, so once I'd seen my last person I rode 30 miles to Turkey, Texas, home of Bob Wills. I had my once a month lunch at the Tex-Mex joint on the highway.  Then back on the bike for another 30 miles or so to Toreador.

Toreador is an interesting place, worthy of it's own story at a later date.

I have my own office in Toreador.  It's in a far back corner of the courthouse, right above the sheriff's office and right next to the employees' bathroom.  It had just been repainted and had all of the peeling wall plaster repaired.

It also has an electrical outlet.  I am in high cotton there!

My second appointment of the afternoon was a woman who's really not much older than me, buy you'd think she was in her early 70's.  She's had a hard, hard life.

She's in trouble for identity theft, which she is inadvertently guilty of as a result of committing a small scale theft.  Unfortunately, ID theft is a felony, so she's going to be seeing me for quite a few years.

That's ok with me.  I wish all my people were as cooperative as Marge.  She has, almost literally, nothing.  Yet she makes her monthly payments without fail.  Except for those six months when she was out for cancer treatment.  She missed a few payments then, but she's working to get caught back up.  She never misses an appointment, not even during chemo.

She's just skin and bones.  Partly because of stress, partly because of health and partly because she probably has never really had enough to eat.  Also partly due to drug and alcohol abuse, I suspect.  I'd drink too, if I was her.

She doesn't have any teeth, and her sunken cheeks make her wrinkled, leathery skin look decades older than it is.  Her mousy hair lies on her shoulders in lank, listless wisps.  Her glasses don't fit well and constantly slide down to the end of her pointy nose.

When she sat down across the desk from me, I slid a report form over for her to fill out.  It has contact information for her to verify, as well as a few standard questions to answer.  One of those is "Are you taking any medication?"

As she took a pen and bowed her head over the paperwork, I stared out the window next to my desk and contemplated the small figure on a riding mower who was circling the abandoned stone jail a block down the street.

Her cracking, high pitched voice pulled me out of my reverie.

"I'm supposed to take medicine, but I haven't had it for almost a month!"

"Why not?" I asked.

"Because someone STOLE it right out of my bathroom!"

I opened my mouth to inquire if she'd reported the theft to the sheriff, but she cut me off.

"And they stole my PRESCRIPTION DILDO!"

I totally forgot what I was going to say.  And forgot to close my mouth.

Finally I stammered "You....  Your...  Pardon me?!"

"They stole my prescription dildo," she repeated.  "It was for MEDICAL PURPOSES ONLY!"  She pounded a palm on the desk to emphasize the words.

I stared at her, slack-jawed with stupidity.  Finally I managed to ask what had been stolen, pretty sure I'd misheard her.

I had not.

Marge went to the doctor because she thought she had a bladder infection of some sort.  She was experiencing burning and pain.  She fully expected to come home with a fistful of antibiotics.  Instead, she came home with a dildo.

And a recommendation from her doctor to purchase a bottle of Wesson Oil.  Not sure why he had a brand preference.

It turns out that Marge is suffering from a collapsing vagina and she is supposed to use the medical device to help improve muscle tone in that area.

"It's for medical purposes only.  Not pleasure!" she reiterated for at least the fifth time.

She thinks either her brother's girlfriend or her son's girlfriend is the thief.  She made the very good point of asking why someone was want to take a used dildo.  "I confronted them about it," she said.  "They didn't admit to anything and I told them I don't want it back, now."

Again she slapped the top of the desk.  "Medical purposes only!"

I couldn't help it.  I lost it.  "I'm so sorry," I managed, trying to stifle my laughter. "I'm sorry someone stole from you, but it's really, really funny."

She started to smile with just a corner of her mouth, then broke into a grin.  "Well, at least they left the Wesson Oil.  I guess I can fry up some chicken!"

Is it any wonder that after a Monday like this that my ride home was not uneventful?  This was my Facebook status posted later that evening:

"It has been a Monday.

I did something today that I've evidently never done before. I chewed gum while riding my motorcycle.

After a while I was lost in thought and zoned out and without thinking about it, I blew a bubble.

Bad, bad idea.

I had to stop on the side of the road and clean all the gum out off of my face.

It was a beautiful afternoon and the clouds made the ride much more pleasant. In a few miles I was lost in thought again.

I blew another bubble.

As God is my witness, I will never chew gum on the motorcycle again."

Happy Monday, y'all.  It can only get better from here.  

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

100 Things Divorce Taught Me - Six, Six, Six

42.  I missed the ribs.  So I learned how to make them myself.  And I excel at it, she said feministly.
43.  Being single means not finding the last elusive EKG lead until days after the surgery.
44.  Occasionally, not having someone to whine to sort of sucks.
45.  One learns not to whine so much.  Hopefully.
46.  The creativity thing is improving.  For instance, I'm back to blogging.  You might have noticed?  I am doing more art.  Not a lot more, but some.  And tonight I plan to put the finishing touches on a new video.  I haven't done one of those since my photo assistant/best buddy died two years ago.  I'm excited to have gotten back on that horse.  I painted a mural/cartoon on one of the doors going into my house.  Next project is to finally repaint my "The Jacksons, Est. 1999" sign with something about "Bistro Raquel" so I can rehang it on the patio.
47.  Car repairs are now the bane of my existence.  There is no greater suckage than trying to arrange to get the vehicle in the shop and myself to work in another town/another county all at the same time.  Once that is accomplished, I've got to get the oil changed on my motorcycle.  Again I'm reminded of how must worse this would be if I was also trying to wrangle children at the same time.  Single parents are strong, strong people.
48.  I read an article today about how "Managing Your Feelings Is Not My Job".
  • "One of the almost unconscious (and completely unpaid) jobs that women are doing all the damn time is managing their own behavior in order to manage men’s emotions.  We do it so much that we’re often not even aware that we’re doing it.  While the Jungian projection is that women are “too emotional” and “let their emotions run away with them,” the fact is that, of course, it’s most men who really can’t manage their own emotions."   
Holy hell.  I have done that for much longer than I'd care to admit.  Or even think about.  I excel at this, too.  And I'm slowly but surely getting really pissed off about it.  Nevermore, she said ravenously.  (And please don't feel the need to point out to me that not all men have trouble managing their emotions.  I am well aware of that and I will assume you are an idiot if you try to mansplain this to me, she said judgingly.)
49.  If I ever do date again, it will be because I met someone who is an emotional grown up.  And maybe they will even be smarter than me, she said challengingly.
50.  I cracked myself up when I realized that, as per number 42, I considered learning to cook something to be a feminist triumph.  In my case, it's valid, she said reverse role reversally.
51.  Now that I have the whole bed to myself, I awake each morning to find myself virtually cocooned in a seriously decadent number of pillows.  Not prissy little decorator pillows, but substantial, softly-cased, and seriously smushed sleeping pillows.  A few years back we splurged on a memory foam mattresses.  It's too dang hot, but I can't give it up - it's way too comfortable.  Between the mattress and now all the pillows, I really hate getting out of bed in the mornings.  Having to exert some sort of muscle power in order to hold my body in whatever upright position I'm aiming for seems like far too much to expect from someone who just spent eight hours in a trough of libertinely luxurious, cottony, bliss, she said hedonistically.
                         51a.  I like adverbs, she said grammatically.