An Email from My Sister

My sister and her husband recently relocated to Las Vegas to spend their retirement basking in the hot desert sun.

They Had a Dream

Leaving Ohio for better climes. To find that pot of gold at the end of their personal rainbow, one full of perpetual sunshine, the temperature dipping below 60 degrees only now and then. If they by chance missed Ohio winters, mountains near their new abode would provide the snow and cold they wanted only for as long as they wanted to relive the sometimes dubious joys of the winter experience.

Las Vegas, or someplace like it, in the southwest. Lynda, wanting to raise their children in Ohio instead of New York City, promised Ron she’d go wherever he wanted when their children took up their own lives. They spent 20 years almost to the day in Cuyahoga Falls – now it was Ron’s turn.

But nothing is ever easy. Amid the turmoil of selling their house, and packing, selling, or giving away nearly everything, they took up temporary residence in an apartment until January 15. Their interim landlord had other plans, though, so Lynda and Ron left early.

The Drama

“Oh my, I don’t really know where to begin,” Lynda writes. “Our trip was a combination of Planes, Trains and Automobiles and National Lampoon’s Vacation. Its auspicious beginning went like this…

“We pick up and load the truck with what few things we’re keeping the day before departure. It’s pouring rain all that day. Our pilgrimage begins on New Years Day. We make it as far as Toledo and have to call roadside assist. ‘Just a computer problem causing the warning lights to come on,’ we’re told. We press on {to visit their son and daughter in Iowa}. Arriving 10 ½ hours later, we end up staying an extra day due to an ice storm in Oklahoma. An omen of things to come?

“Nine and a half hours after leaving, the truck struggles to reach 60 miles per hour, coasting to a complete stop. As luck would have it, we’d landed in front of a truck stop in some town we’d never heard of 1 ½ hours south of Wichita, KS.” Kansas: where grandiose expanses of flat land are occasionally punctuated by a silo, the occasional truck stop, and tornadoes. Luckily for them, none this trip.

“We again call roadside assist. A mechanic would come – in 2 hours or so.  Mind you, we’re at a Love’s Truck stop which exudes anything but Love – there’s a Subway, a Truckers Showering area, and a Condom and Male Enhancement Rack at the Checkout!  The cat was ‘over it’ by this time, and so was I.  The Mechanic’s arrival heralded the formal announcement of the untimely demise of the truck. We need a tow, and 2 more hours for the wrecker to get there. Two – not our lucky number.

“Two hours come, and go – Still no wrecker. I will only say that a Subway sandwich makes no inroads whatsoever on a steak. Calling again, I discover the wrecker isn’t coming at all. Why? Who knows. What I do know is that Ron is way beyond mad now. I weep, briefly, demanding they send someone else.

You guessed it, it’ll be another 2 hours for wrecker #2 to arrive. And here’s the bonus: they’ll be towing us BACK to Wichita where we’ll have to find a room for the night – a situation complicated by basketball playoffs. In other words, there’s no room at the proverbial inn.

“An exhaustive search turns up one room in a non-pet-friendly motel. We smuggle in our contraband cat through the lobby. His servile treatment to affect this does not endear us to him, but I dare say he would have been less pleased with Option 2 – having to spend the night in the car. After sleeping only 4 ½ hours, we drive 45 minutes to the Penske place, expecting more bad news. Instead, a miracle has occurred: a loading team is standing by to re-load our belongings onto a new truck. Two hours after that we’re back on the road, exhausted and with a bitter taste in our mouths.  The cat was a real trouper, the hero here, I must say.

“We made it to Albuquerque, NM and stopped for the night.  My knee, the one that I had to have drained right before we left, had by this time swollen so much I could hardly walk.  I am assuming that when I twisted it loading the truck on the rain-laden ramp in Ohio, something not so good happened.

“Another no-pets-allowed hotel. Adopting an appearance of complete innocence, naiveté even, we sneak the cat, now familiar with the drill, up the elevator and into our room. No complaints, not even a muted meow. In fact, he is quite nonchalant, behaving as if the criminals with whom he is traveling are entirely adept at moving contraband of one kind or another every day. Ron and I leave the cat to treat ourselves to dinner next door – smoked brisket at 11PM which, by the way, was the best I ever had! On our way out, we buy Route 66 magnets and call it a day.

“We’re in Kingman, AZ after 10 hours on the road the following day, With the end finally in sight, we eat Mexican food – and drink heavily at the hotel. Can you blame us? The downside to the booze, however, is that it fuels a minor emotional meltdown. I come unglued at the seams (cliché noted). If that isn’t enough, the cat gets stuck under the bed as we were ready to leave. We have so much trouble freeing him that Ron threatens to leave him there. Suddenly, he frees himself. Another miracle.

“The final 5 hours of our trek finds us standing in front of our new abode, the one we’ve only seen in photos sent by our agent. It, and the setting, are really quite breathtaking. We want to stand there taking it all in, but unloading the truck is our first priority. So we start carrying things up a flight of stairs, though doing so with my knee wrapped in an ace bandage is not the smartest thing I’ve ever done. I’m basically crawling up and down by the end those steps by the end of the day.

“Returning the truck released all my pent-up frustration. It came pouring out like a break in the Hoover Dam. I demanded, not asked, that they reimburse us for the hotel rooms, the food, in addition to $1000 for the time we lost. And after I regaled them with every unpleasant detail of the trip, they did. I’m beginning to believe in miracles!

Fast forward:

We eventually received all of the furniture we’d pre-ordered. Except the bed. We’re currently sleeping on a mattress on the floor. Because of my knee, I literally have to roll onto all fours to stand up in the morning. Though it’s slightly improved but thoroughly black and blue, it renders the unpacking process challenging at best. On the plus side, I found expired opioids in my bathroom supplies – and I’m taking like candy.

So far, I’ve made eleven calls to Ashley Furniture – STILL NO BED.


“The one bright spot in all this? Ron. He’s positively thrilled, giddy even, that it’s 60 degrees and the skies are blue. That we’ve left the world of snow and ice and bitter temperatures behind.

“Despite all the drama we’ve encountered, Ron is quite content. Happy. He’s been looking forward to this for the last twenty years. He’s like a kid in a candy store, eager to explore the trails around the desert mountains, and the sundry cacti available at every turn. The desert sand itself makes him smile.

“The problem now is his omnipresence. It’s a bit of an issue for me,” she says.

I can relate to that. Once Bill retired, he unconsciously attempted to live vicariously through me. Once men stop working, they have identity issues, particularly if they have no hobbies. Their jobs defined them for decades. When they don’t have them any longer, like Ron, like Bill, they turn to their wives. They ask them what they’re doing, where they’re going, who they’re going with, or the exact time they’ll be back. For Lynda, Ron’s initial questions concern what she’s doing, unpacking, or sorting. When she’ll be ready to go exploring with him. “At least I have the good sense to have unlimited minutes on my cell plan” she says laughing.

My sister says we’ll talk soon and tells me to pray she’ll be able to walk better soon as Ron “is insisting I walk around the mountain trail with him. “It’s 2 ½ miles long – right now, I can’t even make it down the steps!”


Toilet Tales: Part 9 of 9: A Key to Nowhere

Coming to the end of our journey through the “water closets” of the world that I have, so far, been privileged to explore, we found ourselves in a roadside stopover somewhere in Israel.

This was one of our longest shore excursions, somewhere between 9 ½ and 12 hours – mine and Bill’s memories differ on just where we were on that given day, and my notes aren’t crystal clear on that point either – the downside of seeing so much in such a short span of time on each of our first two days docked in Haifa and our third docked in Ashdod. We covered a tremendous amount of territory those few days – from the Sea of Galilee at our most northern point to Masada on the Dead Sea at our most southern point, and everything between.

Arriving at our roadside stop, my friends and I cued up in two long lines for the women’s restroom while the men’s restroom was virtually empty. The men were able to get in and out in no time at all, but it’s not as easy or as fast for women. Most of the women I know agree that women everywhere should have two full-size restrooms at their disposal for every one the men have, not only lessening the time we must wait but that which men must spend waiting for us, as well. This should be the case in all public spaces where there are lots of people: airport concourses in particular, along with concert venues.

On this day, we were lined up discussing the odds on our tour leaving without us when one of our guides, a male, told the back half of the women’s line, which we were in, that we could use the men’s room and he would stand guard for us. Two at a time in, two out. As long as no men needed to go.

This place was the equivalent of a Stuckey’s-like operation one finds on that interminably long stretch of highway I-70 that runs across Kansas where there is absolutely nothing else to look at for the entire 8 hours it takes to cross the state by car. Unless there’s a tornado. A view of Stuckey’s (though they may have changed hands since last I traveled through Kansas) is preferable to a tornado on the horizon, though it can be pretty boring when that’s all there is to look at. I think anyone who’s had to drive across Kansas would agree.

Anyway, our guide kept watch and sent in a couple of women a little ahead of me as there were no men waiting at that moment. Our line, at last, was beginning to move a bit. I was getting close when another man came up and offered us the use of the separate, and singular, handicapped restroom.

As most of us were leery about going in the men’s room, there were a few also a bit leery of doing this, as well. Doing something we’re not accustomed to doing. Could it be more egregious than using the men’s restroom? So I offered to go first, opening the wide door to the extra space allotted for wheelchairs, crutches, and the like. It was a one-person at a time venue, an entity unto itself, and I was immediately overcome with an impending sense of doom. I considered the possibility this might have been a mistake but managed to push that aside as I’d come this far already, so I locked the door with the key that was already in the lock for just that purpose – to keep others out. I reasoned that, with my usual luck, someone would likely walk in on me if I didn’t, though with Suzanne’s experience on our last trip on my mind, I tried to convince myself everything would be okay.

Her experience would not repeat itself by casting me in the starring role on this occasion. It would be fine. I knew this.

But when I turned the lock back to open the door, it wouldn’t go. My gut reaction was panic. Claustrophobic panic. The door, as many are there, including those on our ship, was floor to ceiling. I wouldn’t even be able to crawl under it. Nope, not even in the realm of the possible. There was no way out, and this room, now quite unexpectedly, did not seem nearly as big as it had when I first walked into it. I pounded on the door and, managing to maintain control of my voice as if nothing at all were troubling me, asked for help. I didn’t even know if anyone was still in line out there.

I couldn’t hear any voices, and my panic began to rise. I pounded again and someone said to do this, or try that – all of which I did. Until, that is, the key broke in my hand. Yes, the metal key, probably as ancient as the country I was in, broke in my hand, my half falling on the floor.

Now I was reaching the point where I couldn’t breathe and wanted desperately to scream, to break down and cry, to get out of this box I was in. They would all be finished by now, grabbing drinks or souvenirs and getting back on the bus. It felt like an hour, maybe even two, had already gone by. I closed my eyes and tried to maintain some modicum of self-control. I could not let this get to me.

Had I been caught on a Candid Camera clip? What a ridiculous scenario to be starring in. I should have been laughing, bowing to the audience. I might have been laughing had I been able to breathe.

Fortunately, someone got an employee to come to the door, and he told me to slide the key under it so he could get it. What? He had to be kidding. I couldn’t even see light under there. Another question crossed my mind – Was this the only key there was?

I was never so glad to hear the sound of someone’s voice, though he was a bit difficult to understand, his heavy accent muffled as it was by the thick door between us. I wasn’t at all sure the key would go under there, there was so little space I couldn’t even see light, but I managed to force it through. Which only meant, of course, that if he failed me, I was without a single sheet of a toilet paper’s shred of hope and on my own, stuck inside.

I wondered how much air was left in here.

Honestly, I am seriously claustrophobic and had to force myself to control the panic that threatened to take over. To inhale deeply, and slowly, to regulate my breathing so as not to hyperventilate. What good would I be to my own rescue if I fell apart now?

The man attempting to help me tried working with what was left of the key I’d slipped under the door. Several long minutes later, the male voice on the other side, assuring me he’d be right back, left to get more help. I never felt so alone in my life. Did they have a crowbar? Would they have to break down the door? Remove its hinges? How long would he be? How long would the others wait for me?

At last my temporary knight in shining armor returned with another key – a whole one that didn’t break when he used it from the outside – freeing me from my restroom prison. I felt a little like Sleeping Beauty whose curse ended with a kiss by a prince. Or Snow White who awakened from her poisoned state when kissed by her prince. But it was my prince who held the key to my kingdom!

I tried to walk out calmly, like a normal person, rather than screaming like a banshee or running toward the light (not that light, though). All I could think was: Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, I’m free at last.

Toilet Tales, Pt. 7 & 8 of 9: Never Count on Something Not Happening

Toilet Tales, Pts. 7: Avignon When Nothing Works

We were in Avignon when my friend, Sue, got locked in the handicapped stall in the Pope’s Palace. I’d been waiting for her in an alcove where everyone was taking photos before ascending the stairs to the upper level where Van Gogh had roomed for a time and where he immortalized his stay in his paintings. The room and everything in it had been recaptured down to the smallest detail, and adjacent rooms held a collection of his paintings.

The tour director wanted to move on and told me where to find them when Sue returned. I continued to wait, eagerly listening to the Quiet-Vox with an earpiece that connected me to the group and the guide’s running commentary, hoping they didn’t get too far away to maintain the connection. But Sue failed to reappear – and no one else came out either which seemed odd. The sound on the Quiet-Vox began cutting in and out, and I began losing contact with the group so I went to see if she was okay.

But there was no one there. I called out to her and heard her voice as if emanating from an echo chamber: “I can’t get out. I’m locked In here.” I tried the door from the outside. Nothing. She tried yet again. Still wouldn’t budge. The door is floor to ceiling making it impossible to crawl out from underneath – not that one would want to anyway. But, hey, you do what you have to if there’s no other choice. In this case, there was none, so I said I’d go for help (hoping I’d be able to find someone) when a man walked in.

“Is there a problem?”

“Well, yes.” I said, my friend is locked in there – she can’t get the door to open.”

“Turn it to the right,” he told her. She did again several times but still, nothing. He turned his back to the stall door and faced me, motioning with his right arm and hand, saying “turn it to the right” and looked at me and asked, “this is the right, yes?” His English was passable – better than my French.

“Yes,” I said, though Sue couldn’t have possibly witnessed his demonstration, “that’s her right.” – She’d been turning in both directions unsuccessfully long before he arrived on the scene. She knew full well her left from her right. It seemed so ridiculous and I would have laughed myself sick had there been time for it just then. Finally, he pulled a heavy metal ring with numerous keys from his belt. Next to the keys hung several tools, one of which worked by loosening the lock somehow as one would use a screwdriver. I thought he must have to do this all the time, simultaneously wondering why he didn’t just open it the first time instead of making Sue keep trying when she’d already said, and I confirmed, that she tried those things already.

But Sue was “free at last!” And that’s all that mattered. We rushed up the stairs and found our group In one of the galleries, but could hardly explain what happened, we were laughing so hard. It’s easy to see the humor in something, after the fact, though at the time, our husbands funny bones weren’t working.

I’ve considered getting her one of those mini-tool kits she could carry everywhere she might conceivably go in the world in case another extraction should she find herself in this position again. As long as I’m travelling with her, she can rely on me to be right there with her – just in case.

Toilet Tales, Pt. 8: Vienne Conditions Aren’t Always One’s First Priority

The Mistral is a cold, northerly wind that blows across the Mediterranean coast of France some 200 or so days each year. It is, quite literally, “the dominant wind.” Because it generally blows from North to South, many houses are built with the Mistral in mind, and plants are placed in protective areas for the same reason.

It was blowing cold and wicked when we left the ship and took a brief walk to the bus. Two older women were nearly blown off the pier into the river. That Mistral was brutal. It was only marginally better in the town of Vienne, protected to some degree by the city walls, so when we had to stand in one place for a few minutes, we did our best to position ourselves in pockets providing buffers to the wind. The wind, coupled with the cold, served to excite our bladders as we walked from one point of interest to the next. We had all pretty much reached our thresholds for endurance against the wind and our growing discomfort, when we were given ½ hour of free time before a small train, like one you’d might find at a carnival, arrived to take us to the chapel at the top of a steep hill. So we all headed to the town wall wherein, we were told, there were restrooms we could use with a small café nearby that served hot chocolate.

A nasty stench assailed my nose when I opened the door. The stone floor was littered with debris and toilet paper, both used and unused (disgusting, I know), and a toilet with its seat in the up position even though this was a women’s restroom. The seat, too, was considerably less than spotless. A tiny sink stuffed into a darkened corner offered no soap of any kind. And, you guessed it, no paper towels either. With time at a premium, I had no choice but to disregard the urge to look for someplace else to go.

I could hear Bill and Joe just the other side of the paper-thin wall, complaining about the urinals being stopped up and full of all kinds of garbage – nope, didn’t ask and didn’t want to know. They’d also found that infamous and all too familiar ceramic square in the floor that they would now have to use. By this time I was frantically trying to manage, with fingers essentially beet red and frozen stiff, my jeans, my coat, my sweater, belt, zipper, and the Quiet-Vox audio equipment each of us had dangling around our necks – making sure none of my clothes touched anything in that trash bin of a restroom.

The situation took on the surreal quality of a Saturday Night Live skit, and I started laughing out loud. Sue was standing outside waiting and when she heard me, she started laughing, too. We laughed our way down the block and across he street to the square where we ordered some hot chocolate, sitting close to the radiator to warm up, waiting for our Disneyland-like train to arrive to take us to the chapel at the top of the hill.

If we had to use the restroom before we left the Chapel, it couldn’t be any worse than what we’d just been through. It couldn’t, could it?

Toilet Tales, 4-6 of 9: Expect the Unexpected

Toilet Tales, Pt. 4: Slovenia, Border Checkpoint   Do My Eyes Deceive Me?

Climbing the mountain via steep, tight switchbacks in a Passat we’d rented in Munich, we crossed the border from Austria to Slovenia and stopped for border control at the top where passports and visas would be checked. While we were there, we took advantage of their on-site restrooms as we didn’t know how long it would take us to get to Lake Bled where we had reservations at the Hotel Toplice.

I was told to go to the end of the room and turn left down a hallway where I’d find the ladies room at the end. As I reached the turn I was facing an open door where I noticed a man standing in profile emptying his bladder into a urinal. He looked at me in the same instant I saw him, but nonchalantly continued his business as if this kind of thing happened every day. The door had been left open and I wondered why. Was that conventional here?

Bill assured me that was likely the case. It’s an accepted practice in many places. Compared to many peoples in other parts of the world, Americans are prudish and uptight about everything, but here, and in most parts of Europe, this is a “so what’s all the fuss about” kind of thing. Why not leave the door open in plain view of the office area where what few people, who seemed to cross the border at this junction, came? Everyone does this, and to most, it’s as natural as breathing – and we don’t hyperventilate over breathing in other people’s presence, do we?

Granted, this was quasi-public, sort of, but in Amsterdam they have “pissoirs” on sidewalks in the cities and they come in different forms, the most common is made of metal. If a towel is wrapped around a man’s waist when he goes in there – a towel made of metal, sometimes with cutout designs, sometimes not – anyone walking down the street will see everything but the toweled area. And some pissoirs are wide open and circular. Four individuals, all standing in a circle can take advantage of it at the same time – a public urinal that’s public in every sense of the word. I never saw one of those for women, but I’d have to be absolutely dying before I’d do that on a public street. And the likelihood of my being able to be successful, even if I tried, would be zero, just like at the castle at Heidelberg.

“Checkpoint Charlie” was totally unfazed. I was, well, just beginning to see that things were going to be different from here on out.

Toilet Tales, Pt. 5: Slovenia, Erasmus’ Castle   Balance is Everything

First encounter with a Turkish Toilet…

A couple of days later, we hiked up to the site of Erasmus’ castle, aka Predjama Castle (Predjamski Grad), carved partly out of a high cliff on a mountain of stone in the 12th century. Most of what can be seen today was built outwardly from the stone in the 16th century. On the way up, one finds concessions. They are common here, like they are in the states, but unlike in the states, seem so out of place in this setting.

People selling things to make money off tourists – people are the same everywhere you go. The first person to confront me was a man holding a plate upon which sat a pig’s head. A small one. A piglet. Eyes and all. It was staring at me with its mouth open, its teeth stuck in an apple. A kind of taxidermy at its best. I declined, heading for a restroom I was told I’d find in a little shack – “over there.”

It reminded me of the outhouse of my childhood, but opening the door, I found a ceramic square on the floor and a chain hanging from the ceiling. I presumed, for flushing. No toilet, no seat. It took a bit of figuring out how to approach this task but I managed, albeit with some degree of difficulty. I’ll spare you the details here, but suffice it to say, I don’t know how people manage this without getting into some amount of trouble. You know, with clothes and all. And water gushes out from holes in the porcelain square on the floor when the chain is pulled. The first time you’re caught off guard because you’re not expecting a geyser to erupt, but it does and your gut reaction is to jump up and out of the way. Your second reaction is to catch yourself, somehow, so you don’t slip and, uh, fall onto the square itself.

I never thought I’d be thanking the powers that be for the “normal” toilets we have at home.

Toilet Tales, Pt. 6 Albertville:  All One Can Do is Laugh

Second Encounter with a Turkish Toilet…

Travels, especially those in another country, are replete with strange things you don’t find here. Travel also, I believe, carries with it the responsibility to learn, and with two ceramic squares now to my credit, I have learned some interesting things. The Turkish toilet goes by several names, one of which is the “squat toilet.” I’ll spare you the other names used. You can find them on the internet if you really want to know what they are. And there are several different kinds; the ones I’ve encountered are the “older models,” meaning they are flush (no pun intended) with the floor – they don’t have a raised seat like the toilets we have in the states, and this one didn’t have a “hood” as you will see in pictures. You do not sit; you squat – hence, the name squat toilet.

Laura and I have traveled together in Europe a number of times. One of those being to Albertville in the French Alps, south of Geneva. We took a bus from Lake Annecy, near the small village of Faverges where she lived for a time, and stopped at different towns before arriving there. Albertville is picturesque, quaint, and was the setting for the Winter Olympic games in 1992. We walked through the streets taking everything in, but finding a bathroom became urgent, and Laura suggested we use one in a bar. People do that all the time, she said, and they’re not required to buy anything, either. I was hesitant, but when ya gotta go…so in we went.

We found it, and she went in first. I waited by the sink. Behind the curtain that separated the sink from the room’s reason for being, I found – yes – that infamous ceramic square, aka “The Turkish Toilet” inside what looked like a small, and confining, shower stall with a chain hanging from the ceiling. This little dandy was new to her but not to me. Both were the “older models,” maybe circa 17th century (a wild guess), and this one looked like it hadn’t been cleaned since then either. She’d have to place her feet on the ceramic “pads” on either side and squat, then pull the cord to “flush.” Only the flushing part was like a tidal wave of rushing water when it came. Worse than my geyser had been. That’s when she yelled. It sounded like she’d fallen – and that would have been disastrous indeed.

“What Happened?”

“I slipped,” she said, “and all I could think was, I’m goin’ down!” In an automatic response to impending disaster, she slammed her hands against the walls on either side to keep herself on her feet – testimony to how small an area we’re talking about here. It wasn’t easy, and I grabbed her hand to pull her back up because the entire floor was wet and slippery.

It only took a minute for one of us to break down, and we were soon laughing so hard I could hardly make out what she was saying. “I slipped and almost went down completely,” she said, whereupon we broke out in another round of uncontrollable laughing. She had managed to stay on her feet, thank goodness, but tears of hilarity were streaming down our cheeks.

We knew those walls were paper thin and that those old men sitting on the other side of it could surely hear us and were wondering what we were doing in there – and that seemed even funnier. What if she had fallen? We didn’t have extra clothing she could have changed into. And if she’d fallen at the wrong moment, the water she’d have been soaked with would, well, not have been clean. Would they have even let us back on the bus? This incident, so incongruous, so ridiculous, so incredibly funny when you could stand back and separate it from all its possible consequences, was an absolutely hysterical event.

But only one of so many we have had over the years. Life with Laura – one hysterical event after the other.

We were still trying to get ourselves under control as we walked out of the restroom and, as fast as we could, made our way outside – with every single of those men watching, their eyes trained on us as we walked past them and out the door.

What else can one do in a situation like this, but laugh? Without a sense of humor, we’d all be doomed.

Toilet Tales: Never Count on Something Not Happening

Toilet Tales, Training – Pt. 1 – 3 of 9: Accustomed Usage

I’ve encountered some strange things in my time, but few have made impressions as indelible as those I shall recount here. “Toilet Tales” will be meted out in four parts over the next few weeks, beginning here with “Accustomed Usage.”

The varied world of restroom experiences I’ve encountered begins in the mid-seventies. My comfort zone was rattled, bound as it was by a myopic view of facility-sharing as something only families did, and of public facilities that always entailed being separated by gender.

Call me naïve if you want, but I grew up poor and had never gotten out much before, and on those one or two occasions when my parents took us to visit family in Kentucky or Miami, we slept in the car and “went in the woods” or in tall grass on the side of the road.

In 1975 Dick and I and our children were in one of California’s national parks where, for the comfort of its visitors, the park service provided “port-a-potties,” as they were then known, for use as “comfort facilities.” Glorified outhouses is all they really were, but far better than the kind I’d been accustomed to as a child. But instead of being labeled separately for “Men” and “Women,” they sported the label of “Unisex,” indicating one size now fitting all.

What took some getting used to was standing in a line with men and women waiting to use the same one. It felt like a forbidden zone. Like a misunderstanding of the protocol involved here. And I’ve simply never become fully acclimated to that – my traveling on planes, notwithstanding.

And with regard to plane “facilities,” I am reminded of an interview with Matt Lauer I saw a few years ago where he recounted an incident he’d recently experienced on a plane. The person who’d used the toilet before he did (and Lauer said he did not know who that had been or he would have confronted that person directly) had left urine splashed all over but failed to clean up after him/herself. He didn’t know which, but we all know it could have been either. That’s an experience I’m sure every one of us has had, and probably more than once in all kinds of public restrooms. The interviewer asked Lauer, “What did you do?” “Well,” Lauer admitted, “What could I do?” He cleaned up the mess not just so he could use it, but so whoever came in after him “wouldn’t think I was the one who’d left it that way.”

Been there. Done that.

Toilet Tales, Pt. 2: Tijuana: Hiding In Plain Sight

Bill and I passed through customs and approached the cement walkway, a pedestrian bridge, leading to the town of Tijuana. This bridge was peopled with women sitting cross-legged on the cement. Some had small children; others were leaning against the cement wall in some world of their own. A few had placed colorful blankets in front of them where bits of change had been tossed by tourists. A few men coming from, and others headed toward, the town were urinating along the edges of the walkway in plain view of any and all passersby. It was so commonplace, no one paid them any mind or even seemed to care.

It was much the same when we reached the town itself but more concentrated in the alleys and behind some of the small stores and cafes. The odor that prevailed, however, was unmistakable. If Tijuana (at least at that time) could be described by its smell, it was not the smell of food people were eating at outdoor cafes. It was urine, making it impossible to enjoy eating a nice lunch.

Some years ago, Laura and I spent a week in Playa del Carmen – some 40 miles from Cancun. Playa del Carmen was just getting started in the tourist industry and had only one Hacienda-style hotel – actually, one hotel, period, but it was magnificent. It’s bathroom had a walk-in, sit down, and take a load off your feet kind of shower that was beautiful. And clean. Normal. But the area surrounding the hotel was depressed and reminiscent of Tijuana. We were cautioned not to venture more than two blocks in either direction from the hotel as safety was an issue at this time. The other issue was suspect, involving the quaint souvenir-oriented establishments and “cafes” that elicited the memory, and almost the scent, of urine. The only restroom we used that trip was the one  in our hotel room.

Hence, our initiation to the larger world of restrooms and the habits of those who use them. That initiation reached greater heights – or lows, given your point of view – once we began traveling in Europe.

Toilet Tales, Pt. 3: Heidelberg    There Must Be Some Mistake

It was a bit of a trek getting to the castle on top of the steep hill that overlooked the Neckar River Valley in Germany. Ancient castle, fabulous view. The tour would be a long one, so before we began, we made a pit stop at the restrooms.

The restroom was quite large and modernized enough to make it more acceptable to visitors. It was one of the few places that took the enormity of the visiting crowds into consideration. Walking in through an ancient set of immense wooden doors, I entered this bare-bones room with numerous individual stalls lined up along the walls on either side and was heading for one when I heard a voice yell “Kommt Sie hier!” (Come here!) The voice was quite gruff, almost scary in a way, and turning in its direction, I saw a small booth with a glass window, like that you’d find at the movie theater. Behind the glass was a man, sitting there, pointing at me. With his arm extended, he motioned toward the booth.

I was stunned. Hadn’t the sign said “Damen”? Now I wasn’t sure. What was a man doing sitting in the middle of the restroom? I must have walked into the one marked “Herren” by mistake! I uttered an embarrassed “Entschuldigen Sie, Bitte!” (I’m sorry) and turned to get out the door as fast as I could, but he yelled after me, “Nein! Kommt Sie zuruck!” (No, Come back here) so bruskly, I wondered what German handcuffs were going to feel like on my wrists. He was sitting where, were I in the right place, I’d expect a woman to hand me a hot towel. But this man wanted money – in return for which he would unlock a stall door of his choosing for me to use.

I wondered if the men’s room had a woman performing that same function, but Bill said no,  which made the whole thing even worse in some perverted kind of way.

The Problem? In this instance the doors did not go from ceiling to floor. He could see my feet; he could watch me. I was so unmoored by then, I couldn’t even go.

Productive Duct Cleaning

Several years ago a horrific smell came up from the basement and seeped into the garage. After an extensive search, we discovered a dead mouse. Who knows how he’d gotten down there, but he’d been separated from his kin, that was certain, and couldn’t find his way out. He could have been female – which I mention here as a nod to political correctness.

Once you’ve smelled something that’s been dead a while, you never forget it. It’s the worst thing ever, except for possibly the temporarily permanent (oxymoron, I know) residence that that distinctive odor takes up in your nose.

Dead Thing Duty is Bill’s job. No, he wasn’t elected in any democratic way, nor did we draw straws to see who would get stuck with cleanup duty. It was a dead thing – and I do the laundry –so that particular task was delegated to him.

A couple of years after this necrophobic incident, I started hearing noises in the wall behind the bed at night. It was intermittent, and at first I couldn’t be sure I wasn’t suffering from auditory hallucinations. This went on for a few days and then all was silent again. I thought nothing more of it until some weeks later when I began to smell another something I didn’t like all that much once again.

The air contained a slight tinge of a disagreeable odor I couldn’t quite identify because it seemed to come and go. I couldn’t get a solid whiff of it until one day it took up permanent residence in the bedroom.

I duct-taped the vents and moved to the sofa in the family room. At least I could breathe there. It was summertime, so I left the door to the porch open at night. Bill, of course, was not happy about this, given the nature of his “This-is-a-security-issue” complex. If you’re married to anyone in law enforcement, leaving first floor doors or windows open and unlocked any time of day or night is a huge deal. The bigger deal in my mind was the odor I could not abide. The car in the garage was starting to look like a good place to prop up a pillow and spread some blankets.

If that didn’t work, the Sheraton Suites would do nicely.

The odor deepened, and the air was so thick with it, I thought I’d puke. I was worried about it getting into the fibers of the bedding or the clothes in the closet. Would I have to burn all our clothes? Purchase a new wardrobe? (This last option, not a problem at all.)

It morphed into other areas, soaked into crevices, spilled over behind the furniture, and spread across the carpet like a morning fog. I knew what it was now – a dead thing – like the mouse in the basement. And I remembered the sound in the wall and thought it must have been an animal that got trapped in the wall’s duct-work.

I sprayed the rooms. It didn’t help. Bill said it wasn’t that bad and would dissipate soon anyway. He couldn’t smell anything downstairs, but his nose has always been, shall we say, insensitive. It didn’t matter, though, because I could smell it– and I was not happy.

Bill could hardly smell it at all after a while. Defective olfactory equipment. No more, no less. I considered moving from the family room sofa to sleeping on the back porch. I would have done so had I not been worried about spiders. If it’s not one thing it’s another.

I called a duct cleaning company.

Here’s what I learned –

The “Why” of residual smells after duct cleaning: Sometimes the rodent will be sucked out by the company’s vacuum “but occasionally pieces of the animal, due to the bodily fluids, will be left, (not to gross you out) stuck to the duct-work.” No odor will dissipate until its time has come.

Containment Strategies: “The cold air return will suck the smell back through the furnace and filter it through the rest of the house. That’s why there are pockets of odor in different places in the house.” I sealed off the cold air return with duct tape.

Why weather matters: “With a small animal, heat and air will dry the dead thing out faster, so the smell dissipates sooner, especially if it’s in the ducts. But if it’s in the wall, it reeks for the duration.” Which seems like years.

They looked everywhere – even in the attic – sometimes the smaller animals get in the walls, get trapped, and die up there – and then there’s really nothing you can do but wait it out.

Isn’t that good news?

I toyed with the idea of burning the house down, but that was an action I’m certain the insurance company would likely not have condoned. Nor subsidized.

The duct company’s total “catch” can be summed up this way – one small skeletal remains of “something” that once upon a time might have been a mouse. No meat on them there bones. How could it have devolved to this extent in only three months? The smell was so vile, you’d have thought an entire cow had died on the upstairs landing and been left there to decompose.

Mr. Duct Cleaner continued: “Six or seven times a year, we have ‘vermin’ issues: mice, rats, snakes…” I made him stop there. I already had enough nightmares to last a lifetime.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. Neither Gone Nor Forgotten.

Mom at 22.

My mother died in the early morning hours of May 6, 2017 after a long, hard-fought battle will illness, injury, and a life that, beginning in reduced circumstances, was filled with hardship and pain. She never had it easy. Never got a break. Not even for one day.

Today’s post is one I posted some time ago and feel is particularly fitting now.

She was weak before the accident and more severely weakened after it. The orthopedic surgeon said her arm was shattered and because she was high risk for surgery, he chose Option #2 – putting her under for the 10 minutes it would take to reshape her arm and hold it in place while they cast it. It would not afford her the mobility she would otherwise have had, but she would have some use of it even if it didn’t work quite as it once did.

There was a time when her hands did what she wanted them to do. When we were kids, Mom didn’t have a lot of free time, but on Sundays she played games with us. Our favorites were Sorry, which we played over and over again, and Monopoly, one game sometimes taking an entire afternoon, and a card game called War – so fast-paced we played it even more times than Sorry. Sometimes Mom made popcorn on the stove, put it in a big bowl, and we’d eat it as we sat around the game board on the floor in our tiny living room. When she was able to set aside a few extra dollars, she would walk us downtown to the Park or Lake theaters to see a movie and by us milkshakes at Isaly’s across the street. Sometimes we’d go to Edgewood Park to play and swim.

She was always busy: cooking, cleaning, making our clothes, washing and ironing, keeping the shack we lived in as clean as possible. She made curtains to cover the scarred window panes so it looked more like a real home.

When my sister came home from school with lice in her hair, Sunday game time was put on hold, and Mom spent the entire afternoon and evening going through my sister’s long, thick, black hair, one strand at a time, picking out the nits. It was a painstaking process, but her fingers were deft then. They could do anything.

But those same fingers that once pushed our clothes through a hand-wringer washing machine, now struggled to push the buttons through the buttonholes on her blouse.

Her hands ironed my father’s work shirts for his shift at B&W, and later, after he left us with nothing, they ironed a bushel basket full of white dress shirts each week for the men of other wives with easier lives. Each bushel basket contained 20 damp shirts rolled up like newspapers. Twenty white dress shirts had to be starched and wrinkle-free. A pristine job earned her $5 for the basketful. If the owner was dissatisfied with even one shirt, no remuneration was forthcoming for Mom’s efforts.

Those same hands that made most of our clothes using material selected from the pile of remnants on the bargain basement table at Marshall’s in Barberton, now have difficulty pushing a button on the tv’s remote control because the arthritis in them is so painful.

Mom’s hands have wallpapered, cooked, sewn, crocheted, and knitted for far more years than they haven’t. There is a picture of a flower-patterned, intricately crocheted tablecloth on top of a drop-leaf table in front of which my sister and I are sitting when we were about 4 and 6 years old. Mom had placed a small Christmas tree on top of it, and Christmas icicles were dangling from its branches creating a prism of sparkles behind our heads as the photo is taken. Mom made that decorative piece the year before I was born. Now it graces my own dining-room table.

Those hands that took care of us and once did so many things with such ease falter now trying to push the nurse call button. They can no long push her up from her chair or pull a blanket over her in bed. She’s a little better after all the physical therapy, but not enough.

She tries to lift her left arm so she can use her fingers to utilize the utensils she needs to cut and pick up her food, but it proves difficult. She tries again and it’s hard to watch her struggle and not jump in to help, but we are told not to. It is something she must do herself. The fiberglass cast stretching from her shoulder to just below the first knuckles of her fingers is too heavy to lift with her good arm, which isn’t strong either. The fingers on her good hand shake as she attempts to grab those on her other hand, semi-contained by her cast. I want to cry.

Her entire life has always been a struggle.

For a long while Mom worked hard to get strong enough to go home, and she finally made it. But she threw some clots a few months later and suffered several TIAs. She spends her final five months in Hospice.

I feed her dinner. She cries because her hands and feet ache so badly; most of the time she can’t hold a spoon in her hand. All she wants to do is go home, unable to accept the fact that she isn’t going to make it back.

She doesn’t always recall who I am and sometimes refers to me as “the nice lady who comes to see me every day.” One day she says she hasn’t seen that lady in awhile and wonders where she is, what’s happened to her. She cries because she likes her so much and says “that lady was so nice to me.” She couldn’t make the connection between me and “that lady” and it made me so sad. For her and for me.

But during those five months together, we carved out a mother-daughter relationship I will treasure the rest of my life. I love my mother and have a deeper understanding of her and all she’d been through. I know she had to die; we all do. But I didn’t want her to die alone and spent the last week of her life sleeping beside her – she in her bed, I in the recliner pushed up against it.

I will miss our talks, Mom. Our playful banter, even the tears we shared. I know you’ll miss my dancing (a private joke between us). I hope I brought you a measure of happiness and helped you make the peaceful transition to a better life with Grandma and Aunt Toni who have been waiting for you for so long. And I hope you know, now, how much I have always loved you.

Now I know, for certain, that she loved me, too.

She had to do the dying herself, but I wasn’t going to let her be by herself when she did it. I was there. I kissed her, telling her it was okay to let go. She would be all right, and we would all be okay. She chose to leave this earthy plane later that night as I slept by her side.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. You will always be in my heart.

Your loving daughter, Linda.

“If you can remember me, I will be with you always.” – Isabel Allende