Thursday, May 31, 2018

The Fugitives: An Extreme Dog Rescue Story










The Fugitives


We are full time RV dwellers, and we love it. We live in a safe, well maintained Kountry Kampground north of San Francisco. Rent is cheap. A small community of “monthlies”, as we’re called, live year round in our big coaches, trailers and fifth wheels. There’s an unwritten social contract here. We leave one another alone. We want space, peace, we want to keep a low profile.

When we first arrived we didn’t know how to conduct our lives in a campground. We hadn’t learned how to choose a strategic site for our RV. We took what was available, a site that was at the center of the northern campground. We had people coming and going on both sides, as well as fore and aft. We had a continual round of new neighbors.

At first this was somewhat unnerving. Soon enough we discovered that if we wanted to schmooze, we could say hello, and if we didn’t, we could keep to ourselves and be left alone.

The only problem that wouldn’t go away was the strange couple living in a tiny trailer in the row immediately behind us.

When I say tiny, I’m talking about an RV model called “The Casita”. It is nothing more than a sleeping bag with walls. It’s interior is about the size of a Japanese capsule hotel room. A person can just about sit upright without banging the head. It has a little sink and a hot plate.

There were two people and a full grown Dalmatian dog living in this wheeled packing crate. It was hard to imagine how they could survive under these conditions, yet they were there, coming and going. Unfortunately, the dog didn’t get to come and go. He stayed locked in this dreadfully tiny space. He howled his loneliness and claustrophobic misery in a way that turned our lives into hell. This was our first month at the campground.

These were our neighbors .

Fox and I we went helplessly berserk over this dog. We tried to hatch schemes to liberate him from his plight.
There was something dreadfully “off” about the couple who owned the dog. If I make the statement, “I couldn’t look at them”, I want you to take me literally.

I…could…not….look…at…..them.

Every time I tried, my eyes seemed to meet a force field that deflected vision. My sight could get to within a foot or so of Ms.X or Mr. Y and then my eyeballs would physically bounce a few feet farther along, repelled by a barrier occupying the space at which I was attempting to look. This was one of the strangest things I have ever experienced.

I asked one of my neighbors to look at the couple next time the opportunity arose. I asked for a brief description of the people who were living within eight yards of our coach. The dog was no problem. I could see the dog when he was let out on a chain. I couldn’t see the people. I could hear them, I could make out their voices if not their words, I knew when their pickup truck pulled into and out of the parking space. Fox and I said hello a few times and were completely ignored. That’s weird, to greet a person who responds by behaving as if you don’t exist.

The next day my other neighbor came over and said, “I’ll be damned if I can figure out what they look like. I can’t really see them. Maybe they just move so fast I can’t draw a bead.”

The human eye moves extremely quickly. It wanders, far more than we consciously know. Eye movement is the fastest muscular action in the human body. These lightning quick movements are called saccades. I read a science fiction novel recently in which alien creatures knew how to scan human eye saccades and move only during those micro-seconds when human beings were looking away. This created a ‘just-at-the- edge-of- -vision’ effect, and gave the aliens a tactical advantage in outmaneuvering their enemies.

Whatever the cause, I could not look at, I could not see these people. They must have wanted so badly to be invisible that they had created a psychological force field. This mysterious couple evaded eye contact, they moved in such a manner as to attract minimum attention. They did not engage in conversation. They had taken the adjective “furtive” to a new level. Somehow, they had established an invisibility matrix, they had tuned in to the collective saccade. Fox couldn’t see them. My neighbors saw them more than we did, but not much. My neighbors could detect a few details of clothing or hair color. He couldn’t describe their height, weight, features, ethnicity. Nothing.

Only the dog provided a common ground of agreement that they were there at all. Otherwise, they would have been “the people who weren’t there.”
When they were home, the dog came out on a chain. He looked at us sadly, wagged his tail and sat quietly, licking his paws. If one of us said, “Hi buddy,” he would come to the limit of his chain, hoping for friendly contact.

When the Xys left for the day, which was most days, the dog got stuck inside the little house on wheels. He keened piteously. We were going insane.

Other neighbors began to feel the hurt that lived so pitifully in our midst. There was no question that this was animal abuse. Solving the problem was not simple. We could call the Humane Society, but that was tantamount to a death sentence for the dog. We didn’t know what the dog’s owners would do. If they were criminals, we could find ourselves targets for retaliation. It wasn’t our style to call the authorities. Other and more imaginative solutions had to be found.

The first thing, the simplest thing, was to leave a note.

“Hi neighbors,” the note said, “if you would like help with your dog, we would be glad to take him for a walk. Just leave a note on our car (the white Jeep) if this sounds like a good idea. signed, your neighbors in site 45.”
I crossed the lane and taped this note to the door.

The next day there was a response, in the form of another note, on bright yellow paper, attached to THEIR door. It seemed reasonable to assume that this paper was their response to our request.

I went across the lane. The note was terse. “Buster’s fine,” it said. “He gets exercise.”

Buster wasn’t fine. His howls changed to a continuous scratching sound. He was tearing up the inside of the tiny RV. We began hearing a low haunting wail, followed by frantic scraping sounds.
One day the Xys came home, and I heard the woman shouting at Buster. Thwop Thwop Thwop!, she was beating him with a magazine.

We couldn’t stand much more of Buster’s agony.

Help came in the form of Roscoe and Lulu Martin. They came to the campground with their dog Barkley. They were regulars. They came almost every weekend. Roscoe was an Aussie merchant seaman with arms full of crude tattoos. He looked the part of the classic rough n’ tumble Australian. He was tall and fair, windburned. Lulu was a petite Jewish woman from Long Island, with a great cascade of red-brown hair. She had endured twenty years of an ugly marriage, then more years of frustrating single-ness. Then she met and fell in love with Roscoe.

They spent their weekends around the campfire, drinking beer and laughing at Barkley. Roscoe played wonderfully delicate songs on his guitar. Lulu sighed with adoration. They were an eccentric couple, a love story of people from opposite ends of the earth who might not meet in a million years. Yet they met, clicked and had been married more than a decade.

Barkley was a Retriever-sized mutt who was obsessed with the hammock. He would jump into the hammock as Roscoe snoozed with a half empty can of Foster’s perched on his belly. Together they would tumble to the ground in a tangle of arms, legs and tail. Lulu would emerge from the Winnie to untangle them, and the process would start again. No one begrudged Barkley his love of the hammock. He just didn’t understand the concept of sharing.

“He needs a playmate”, Lulu said. “We’re looking for another dog.”

We knew about a dog that needed another family. All that was required was for the Xys to relinquish Buster.
We described Buster’s plight to the Martins. “Alrighty,” Roscoe said, “on the morrow we shall pay a visit to these blokes and straighten things out. Eh Barkley? You want a friend?” Barkley jumped up into the now-empty hammock, his tongue hanging out, his eyes saying “I love everything about you and everything you do.”

The Xys seemed to spend most of the afternoon and evening away from the campground. They left at about eleven, returning at nine or ten o’clock.

Roscoe was going to be the point man. He would knock on the door of the tiny trailer. He would make his offer: we’ll take your dog off your hands and give him a good home.

Roscoe had balls of brass and could talk anyone into anything.

At about ten in the morning, Lulu, Fox and I took positions at our picnic table. Roscoe, leading Barkley on a leash, went across the way and knocked firmly at the door of the tiny RV.

We knew the Xys were home. Their pickup was parked in front. When Roscoe knocked, Buster began shrill barking from inside the RV. The door did not open. Roscoe knocked again. Barkley sat back on his haunches and uttered a low “Ooooo” in response to the frenzied hacks of Buster.

The Xys did’t open the door. I saw the curtain move at the tiny window. A frightened eye briefly peered out, then vanished. Buster’s shrill alarms must have been deafening from inside the tiny trailer. The Xys couldn’t hold out very long.

Roscoe circled the little vehicle, stepping over the hitch, going to the other side and around, back to the door. He knocked hard. “Come on, mates, you’re in there,” he shouted over the sound of barking dogs. “I don’t mean ya harm. I just want to make you an offer.”

Four or five minutes passed. It really seemed as if the Xys intended to just wait us out. We were prepared to wait longer.

At last the door opened, the little screen flew against the trailer’s flank and Ms. X, came outside.
Roscoe stepped backward in sudden revulsion. Even where we sat, the stench was palpable. “Bloody hell,” he muttered. Ms. X carefully closed the screen door behind her. I tried to look at her. I could see lanky brown hair, long and dirty. That’s all my eyes were permitted to register.

“What do you want?” she asked, flatly.

“This heah’s Bahhkley”, Roscoe said in his rounded Aussie vowels. “He’s lonesome and we heah you have a dog that might want a friend that…..”

“Fuck off,” Ms X interrupted Roscoe. “I love Buster. He’s my dog.”
She did a one eighty and went back inside the tiny rig, closing the door. The stink filled the air. How could people live inside that cloud of dog shit smell?

“Fuck off to you too,” finished Roscoe. He stood there for a moment. Barkley rubbed his face against Roscoe’s leg. Together they walked across the roadway.

“Unbelievable,” exclaimed Roscoe. “You would not believe what that place looks like inside. There’s stuff everywhere, and most of it’s stuck together with dog shit. Ucccchh!”
Thwop thwop thwop, we heard Buster yelp as he was hit with Ms. X’s instrument of discipline. The poor animal stopped barking.

“I think, “ I said, loudly enough to be heard all up and down the row,
”that we need to talk to the management about these people.”

Quietly, Roscoe said, “they’re up to here with the dog. I sort of saw the guy, or at least I saw something like a man, well, I saw a baseball cap, that’s all I saw. Bloody ‘ell, they’re hard to see, those people. Anyway, he was saying, Let em have the fuckin dog.’ He imitated a redneck American accent perfectly. It was funny but our hearts were breaking. “I think something will break loose in the next little bit. No worries, we’ll get poor Buster.”

I wish I’d had his confidence. We could report the Xys, we could get them thrown out of the campground, but that wouldn’t help Buster.

We went down to Roscoe and Lulu’s campsite. We wanted to put some distance between us and the Xys. It was Saturday and the campground was full. The weekly mediocre blues band was warming up on the slab surrounding the pool. Soon they would be belting out “Mustang Sally”, and we would go inside, close the windows and read until evening fell.

Barkley jumped into the hammock. Lulu spoke firmly. “Get down, Barkley, down!” Reluctantly, the dog vacated the swinging net. Roscoe popped a Foster’s and lay down in the hammock with a sigh. Barkley pushed off with his rear legs and landed atop Roscoe, and the two of them fell to the ground, foam lager slopping from the can and wetting man and dog.

“You bugger, Bahkley,” Roscoe laughed. “Got to put him on his lead or he’ll never quit.” He took the dog and fastened him to twenty five feet of nylon. It put the dog just out of range of the hammock. Barkley lay with his head on his paws. Roscoe picked up the Foster’s, brushed some leaves away and returned to the hammock.

“We’ll see mates, something will come up. Old Buster’s a nice looking dog. He doesn’t deserve that treatment.” Roscoe took a sip, closed his eyes and drifted with the breeze. Lulu was inside the camper preparing bangers and English muffins. The day went by the way so many spring Saturdays do in the campground. Fires were lit as night fell. Beer and wine were consumed, kids raced around on skateboards, people laughed. The Crazed Laugher cackled her resonant campground-filling laugh, which made everyone within hearing laugh all the harder.

We returned to our coach. Across the way, silence emanated from the tiny trailer. It was hard to keep despair from our hearts.

I experience more pain when I see animals abused than when I see pain inflicted on human beings. Maybe that makes me weird, I don’t know. It’s just the way it is. Animals can’t effectively defend themselves when humans are bent on causing them pain. They’re caged, restrained, and otherwise helpless. They have no words to express their grief. They have only cries, yelps, whines, screams. They probably don’t understand why they’re being hurt, why a man or woman is beating or tormenting them. I get very upset when I see an animal treated badly. Buster’s plight was like an ice pick in my heart.

Fox was beyond words. Her inchoate stifling made me burn with helpless anger. She could see Buster’s thoughts, read his images. It was terrible.

We went to bed that night without hope. It seemed as though we must report the doings of the Xys to Woodson, the campground owner. Woodson set a standard, and when his customers violated his rules, they were out of the campground with no warning and no second chance.

We had trouble getting to sleep that night. Buster’s pain and the ugliness of the Xys were making our first month of campground life a misery. What if it was always this way? What if there was always some horrible person to make life an ugly ordeal in campgrounds?

About one thirty, we drifted off to sleep. Both of us had bad dreams. My nocturnal visions were a chaos, a commotion of dogs howling, hands beating, pickup trucks spewing pebbles.

I always wake before Fox. I start a pot of coffee, check my email. When the coffee’s ready I take a book and go outside, to sit in one of our folding chairs.

I did the usual things. There was something odd about the world, but I couldn’t figure out what it was. Something out of place, something missing. For thirty seconds I looked around. I was half asleep, not really connecting the dots. Then I realized that the tiny Casita trailer was gone. The Xys had hooked the thing to their ratty old F-150 and vanished in the night.

They had left Buster, chained to a tree.

I crossed the lane, squatted in front of Buster and said hello, giving him a sniff of my hand. He was sweet and friendly, delighted to see me. I unhooked his chain and walked with my hand through his collar over to our coach. I dragged the chain behind, and hooked Buster up to a D-ring on our awning. Then I went inside and woke Fox.
































Tuesday, May 8, 2018

A Cat Heals An Autistic Man

     
This is Cookie
    

          One day we found out that an autistic man was going to move in next door.  I should remind you that we live in an RV.  We rent a site with power and plumbing, but sometimes we have to compromise on privacy.  Our south side, our lounge-and-relax area under the awning, is the side we would be sharing with the new neighbor.  
          I was concerned.  How autistic is he? I asked the manager.  "It'll be fine, he's very quiet," the manager responded.  The manager often tells people what he thinks they want to hear, so I discounted this bit of information.   Autism can be a vague diagnosis.  It contains so many degrees of malfunction that it has stretched beyond its original meaning of a soul completely lost to human interaction.  "A little autistic" could mean almost anything.
          When Henry moved in he took a look at me and The Fox and literally said"whew" as if he were relieved at what he saw.
          "Whew."  Where did he live before he came here?  His former neighbors, we later learned, were motorcycle people and meth freaks.  Whew, indeed.
          Henry divulged little about himself.  He said he liked cats.  That was fortunate, because our site is something like Cat Central at Vine Haven RV Campground.  We have two indoor cats and two outdoor cats, plus a wide variety of feral visitors and neighborhood pets.  There's something about this space that draws cats.  It might be the plum trees and their abundant population of wrens and robins.  We do our best to discourage bird hunting.
          There are people who claim their pets have super powers.  When I first heard this I was disdainful, but my thinking has changed.  Our cat Obsidian is a big brown tabby with green eyes.  I've seen him tame people in that Little Prince way, literally capture their unruly spirits and put them back in a more harmonious order.  That's Obsidian's super power, the power to restore tranquility.
          He's getting old, and so are we.  He doesn't jump the fence and climb around with the younger cats any more.  He has more important work to do.
          Our new neighbor Henry is middle-aged.  He is a fearful, cranky and withdrawn man, but we barely know he's here.  His social interactions are limited but acceptable.  He can be easily upset by minor disturbances.  He is so averse to noise that he can be pushed into a ferocious sulk by the mere revving of a motorcycle.

This is Obsidian

          He has been adopted by our two outdoor cats, wise old Obsidian and his sidekick, the comical black and white Cookie.  These cats have given structure to Henry's otherwise bleak world.  By loving Henry they have tricked him into loving.            I looked out the window one day to see the elusive and feral Cookie sitting calmly on Henry's lap.  I had never seen her behave this way.  It was strangely impressive.  Henry is a cat savant, he has some magical affinity that he didn't know he possessed until he moved close to Obsidian and Cookie.   
          I assume that you, my readers, understand how easily a friendly animal, a pet (if you will) can become a tyrant who turns your life upside down.  Henry is such an innocent that he immediately began flirting with disaster.  We had to set him straight without setting him off.  If he let Obsidian into his home even once, he would become nothing but a door man, opening and closing all day, all night, at the tabby cat's demand.  I caught him just on the verge of doing this very thing and rushed to halt the action.
          "Don't let him in, Henry!  Close your door, quick!"  He was frightened and cut Obsidian off  just as he was about to slip between his feet.
          I explained what had almost happened.  I spoke towards Henry's averted eyes and raised defensive shoulders.  I spoke to him as I would speak to any intelligent adult.  In Henry's heart, the need to trust someone was rising like a powerful burst of magma from a volcano deep beneath the sea.  His need to share the cats' companionship was forcing him to emerge from his shell and talk to us.  The cats pushed Henry past his fears.  I doubt he's had this much social interaction in a long time.
          In the next few weeks we learned more about Henry.  It wasn't easy but we supported his struggle to communicate. Then something unexpected happened.  Henry and Obsidian fell in love.  I'm not being flippant.  I'm not suggesting an improper liaison.  It's just that simple.  When Henry left to visit his mother, Obisidian sat on his front step, waiting for his return.  He would emit an occasional sob.  There's no mistaking Obsidian's sob.  He has an amazing gamut of vocalizations, including a perfectly robin-like cheep that must have been useful during his hunting years.
          I can't put it any other way.  They were in love with a pure emotional connection.  Henry's autism perhaps short-circuited his intellectual activity and left his feelings to flourish without interference from the busy mind.  I don't really know.  I watched this fountain of feeling take shape between Henry and the cats.  I could feel its authenticity in my guts.
          Henry leaves the campground for treatment four days a week.  When he first went away, Obsidian was inconsolable.  He went into a paroxysm of grief.  He stared into space for long periods.  He moped and cried.  But Obsidian gradually learned that Henry ALWAYS comes home.  Thus our cat friend's tranquility was restored.  He knows Henry will be back and that's enough to comfort him.  It took him a few weeks to get this; I watched him unwind and relax.  I watched his attention return to his world: the falling leaves and the showoff Cookie with her bounding up and down fences and trees.  Obsidian resumed his lordship of his domain.  The lost baby possum was under his protection.  The upstart kitten Stinker was not welcome and he meant business, even if he had to hire Cookie to teach Stinker a lesson.
          Now Henry has left for two weeks.  He has gone to Connecticut to visit his sister.  Three thousand miles! cried Henry in terror before he was picked up by his ride.  The enormity of this journey, its scale and distance, were almost paralyzing.  I shared with Henry my own fears about travel: the feeling that I'll never get home, I'll be trapped in some alien environment without the solace of my place and my people and animals and the routines that keep me from flying apart.  Henry and I aren't so different.  This bit of one on one engagement gave Henry something to take with him on this unprecedented trip.  He had shared an emotional link with another human being.  And he had given his heart to a big brown cat with green eyes.
          How different is Henry's world today?  That's not for me to say, but I suspect that it's just different enough...enough to make a difference.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Car Disasters of 2017 or Bad Fortune Cookies




                  



            I was driving sixty miles an hour on Southbound 101 when the car abruptly died.  It was my nightmare fantasy come true.  My  trusty '98 Jeep just  stopped.  The radio went off, all the gauges slid to zero and I was coasting to a halt in a busy freeway lane.  I tried to restart the car.  I had no lights, no nothing. Not even the emergency blinkers. 
            I was terrified.  Vehicles were hurtling towards me at seventy miles per hour and they had no clue that I was dead in the right lane.  Should I get out and run for it?  Should I wait here?  I didn't know.  It seemed more honorable to stay with the car, to go down with the ship.
            A Highway Patrol car materialized behind me, its lights flashing.  Forr the first time in my life I was pleased to see Law Enforcement flashing its lights at me. The officer walked briskly to my front window.  He gestured to me to roll down the window. 
            Problem is, I can't roll down the window.  Nothing works. 
            "Put it in Neutral, sir.  I'm going to push you to the shoulder."
            Thank god thank god the gear shift works.  The CHP officer squares off behind me and bumps my fender with his big front pusher bar.  The car moves!  Oh! 
            There's another CHP car about two hundred yards upstream from us, slowing traffic by weaving across the freeway.  I get to the shoulder and the officer appears again.  He shouts at the closed widow.  He thinks I'm a moron. "Have you got Triple A, sir?"
            "I do.  I do. I do." I feel like I'm getting married.  "I do I do", I stutter, my nerves shattered, my forehead bathed in perspiration. 
            "Call 'em right now.  What's wrong with your vehicle, sir?"
            "I don't know, it's been running fine and then, suddenly, whammo! Dead.  D-
A-I-D...dead!"
           " Do NOT exit the vehicle unless supervised by your tow driver.  Stay in your vehicle!  .  If this was tomorrow I'd write you up but I'm feeling generous today" .  I'm praying the policeman doesn't notice the passenger side front mirror, because it's taped on with duct tape and is not glass but a piece of reflective plastic whose images are distorted  beyond recognition.
            I call Triple A and wait for the tow truck.  I get texts every few minutes relaying the progress of my rescuer.   When the tow truck arrives it conveys me to Bowens Automotive Repair, a garage that I picked at random off the internet.  The mechanic does his tests and I absorb the diagnosis: My alternator is shot.  The car needs a new alternator.  Price tag: Five Hundred Dollars.
            I have no choice.  I call my partner to pick me up and drive me home in the other car.
            The Other Car.  The '96 White Chevy Blazer.  It was once a luxury car.  Leather seats.  Key fob operated remote lock/unlock.  We haven't driven it in four years because it doesn't start.  I would presume its got a dead battery but I swapped another battery into the car and it still didn't start.  So, maybe a blown starter motor?  Bad solenoid, frayed ground wire?
            The Jeep has always been our go-to car.  I haven't had the money to repair the Blazer. But now I must buy a new battery.  If there's something else wrong with the Blazer  I'm wasting my money but I follow this handy rule:  If the car doesn't start, and the battery doesn't charge, replace the battery.  Maybe the swapped battery was dead, too. 
            The moment of battery replacement is fraught with tension.  Will it, won't it...start?  I connect the new battery, turn the key in the ignition and....hallelujah!  It starts right away.  Oh, what a relief.
            I drive the Blazer to work the next day.  We've been using the Blazer as a storage bin.  Its rear is filled with linens, dishes, books, tools, all kinds of stuff  loaded up to the line of sight in the rear view mirror.  If we put any more stuff in there, I won't be able to see what's behind me.
            I drive to work.  I work.  I prepare to drive home.
            The driver's side tire is flat.
            Shit!  Where's the spare?  Is it underneath all that storage?
            No.  It's under the chassis, riding beneath the rear wheels.  The problem is that the tools for jacking and removing lug nuts is underneath the dishes, the linens, the books.
            And there's a trick to getting the spare to come free, a trick that I don't know. I've been using a sledge hammer to whack at the wing nut that constrains the spare.  I whack it and the nut turns but it's not coming free.
            I begin to unload the stored goods in the cargo compartment.  Maybe there's a special tool, something to help me understand the spare tire conundrum.
            A motorist rolls up beside me in the parking lot.  He's driving a Blazer.
            "Are you stumped by the spare tire riddle?" he asks.
            "Totally stumped." I admit, raising my shoulders.  The back of my t-shirt and pants are black with asphalt and tar.  I don't know this, yet.  I can't see it.
            The Good Samaritan emerges, opens his rear hatch and pulls a variety of jack stuff from a compartment.
            "If you take this to a pro tire shop they won't know what to do either.  It's the great Blazer Spare Tire Riddle."  It turns out there's a hidden slot next to the license plate.  When my new friend inserts a blade-style tool into the magic slot it turns a cog and the spare tire DESCENDS on a cable until it hits the ground and I slip it off the wing nut.  There is no thread.  There is just this clever but now-obscure arrangement.
            Flat tire off; spare tire on.  Drive to the tire place.  Spend $120 to replace the spare.  Okay, the car runs.  As I drive, I see the one thing THAT I MOST DO NOT WANT TO SEE.   The dreaded SERVICE ENGINE SOON light comes on.
            I hate those lights!  Hate em!  They utterly destroy my peace of mind.  They are the manifestation of worry on the Material Plane.  As we all know, The Material Plane is dominated by concerns for automotive hygiene.  If you don't got transpo,  you don't got shit.
            I try driving the Jeep.  I'm too scared by the friggin' SERVICE ENGINE SOON light on the Blazer.
            The Jeep takes me to work the following day.  I detour through Novato and prepare to drive to Petaluma.  I'm going "the back way" because north-bound 101 is a parking lot.  It's always a parking lot from 3 to 7 P.M. five days a week.  What is this insane life we live?  Why do we spend four hours a day sitting in automobiles?
I'm heading for South Novato Boulevard when a giant cloud of steam erupts from under the hood.  GIANT CLOUD OF STEAM!  NOT GOOD.  NOT GOOD.






            I pull into the parking lot of the last shopping center before I embark on twenty miles of rural winding roads.  I buy a jug of coolant and I fill the Jeep's reservoir with the gooey green stuff.  I wait twenty minutes and I attempt the drive home.  The Jeep runs, somewhat jerkily, and I spend the next forty minutes of back-road driving in a state of profound alarm. 
            I make it.  I'm home. 
            I know a little bit about cars.  That kind of volcanic eruption of steam can indicate a water pump has gone bad, or the thermostat has failed, or the radiator is toast.  Or all of the above.
            My neighbor, Mike, knows about cars.  "I'll change your thermostat," he says cheerfully.  Mike is attending AA meetings and has just got his thirty day chip.  That's not an issue for me.  It just adds to the air of tension: Mike struggling to stay away from drink.  His wife has quit smoking and is on Day 27.  My neighbors are deeper in poverty than we are.  No wonder Mike eagerly volunteers to change my thermostat.  Mike is all over the place helping people. 
            I purchase a thermostat.  Mike replaces the old one in about ninety minutes.  He doesn't want to charge me.  I give him fifty dollars.  The new thermostat works, the Jeep stays cool.
            I didn't want to mention this before but it just happens that the Blazer's registration is due in a week and I know, for a fact, that SERVICE ENGINE SOON means that it will not pass the smog check.
            Fuck.
            Nonetheless, I feel safer driving the Blazer and I take it to work the next day.
As I'm coming home on North Petaluma Boulevard I hear a sound like a very large motorcycle cruising up on my driver's side.  Wow!  That's loud!  I look to my left and I see no motorcycle.  There's no traffic at all.  But the Blazer is crunching and flubbling.  It sounds like a propellor blade being demolished by a potato masher.  The Blazer is behaving as if it has the hiccups.  No question: another tire is flat.
            I get over on the shoulder to inspect the damage.  Holy Shit!  The tire is literally shredded, it's nothing but four inch strips of rubber hanging from a punctured black matrix of nameless stuff.
            Call Triple A.  Second time in three days.  An hour later the big yellow truck pulls up.   A toothless rail-thin old guy gets out, grinning happily, and tells me that my tires are sun-damaged.  They've been sitting for too long and the heat has soaked the oils out of the rubber. They're all about to blow at any second. I need to instruct the tow truck man how to get the tricky spare out from under the Blazer.  Once the tire is changed I drive straight to the tire place and get four more new tires.  That's "OW!" four times.
            There are days when nothing goes right.  When to touch a machine is to wreck it.  Or when one makes an error due to a lapse of attention that causes a ten foot fall off someone's deck into a bed of blackberry bushes.  I'm having one of those days.  I put on the coffee.  It's a stove-top espresso maker.  I wait for the boil, wait and wait.  I smell something burning.  Uh oh!  I take a pot holder and lift the coffee maker.  Oh man!  Oh man oh man! I forgot to put water in the bottom part of the Vigano stove top coffee maker.  Now the rubber gasket has melted and scorched the threads and the coffee maker is a casualty of Morning Mind Mush.  In spite of the damage, my partner is greatly reassured.  My error is comforting to her.  She thinks she's "losing it".  Now she knows she's not the only one who's "losing it".
            I must locate a smog shop, a Star Certified Service Center, one of those in cahoots with the smog-fighting money-sucking bureaucracy of the DMV.  I pay for the smog test.  The Blazer fails.  How much, I ask, will it cost to fix it so that it passes the rigorous standards of our state's air-quality guardians?
            The Blazer needs a tune-up, a forward oxygen sensor, a rearward oxygen sensor and a catalytic converter."That would be about nine hundred and fifty dollars," answers the mechanic, whose name, Kelvin, is stitched onto his dark blue jump suit.  Kelvin's wife/receptionist is named Tran.  They're Vietnamese.  
            How many times have I said "shit" or "fuck" in the last three days?
            "Kelvin," I ask, "is there some kind of discount for the poor and the elderly?"  I have been poor my whole life.  The 'elderly' part occurred while I wasn't watching, about three years ago, when my left hip began to feel as if a strong man was applying pressure to it with a vice grip.
            There is, in fact, a program for the poor and the elderly to pay $500 towards smog repair.  I get the papers downloaded and send in the application.  A week later the grant arrives.  Five hundred of that nine hundred fifty dollars will be paid for.  Hell yeah!
            The smog repair takes two days.  I wait eagerly for Kelvin's call.  At last the phone rings.  "You passed your smog test," says Kelvin.  I'm so happy!  I'm thrilled.
I had needed a victory, any victory, a small victory, whatever, I'll take it.
            "But there is a problem, I'm afraid," says Kelvin, and my heart takes up residence at the ends of my toes.  I can feel my pulse down there, bumpity bump, pulsing up through my toenails.
            "A...uh...problem?"  Fuck!  Shit!
            "I think your water pump is about gone."
            "You think, you THINK.  Is it gone or isn't it?"
            "I don't know.  There was a pool of coolant under your car when I came in this morning."
            How much does he want to repair the water pump?  Well, you see, one should also replace the thermostat when one replaces the water pump.
            HOW MUCH?
            Four hundred seventy eight dollars.
            Stop everything!  HOLD THE PRESSES!
            I'm not stupid.  I check online and a water pump plus a thermostat costs about sixty bucks.  My neighbor, my pal my buddy Mike will do any automotive task for fifty dollars, gladly.  The work boosts his self esteem and it keeps him out of his RV and away from his jonesing wife.
            The Material World is a challenging place.  Our current model, this 21st century science fiction hip-hop deodorant-peddling appearance-worshiping stage set is peculiarly complex, is like a cross-word puzzle without a solution.  No one wins in the Material World.  All endings are bad endings.  If I'm lucky I will die quickly and without indignity.  If I'm lucky.  Meanwhile, as I wait for the denouement of my life, I must endure and meet the challenges thrust into my face by the invisible spirits of Destiny.
            Is the cup half full, partially full, partially empty, or totally empty?  The Highway Patrol Cop did not write me up.  The guy in the Blazer showed up as if dropped from Heaven.  I got a five hundred dollar grant from the DMV. The battery in the Blazer started the car.  The Jeep still runs.
            The cup is the cup.  Whatever's in it is what I've got.  I may as well accept that fact.  It's all those things, partially full, partially empty.  Life is blessed and sublime and life can be unspeakably vile.
            While I'm at it, I should check my credit rating.  I might want to purchase a recent model used car.

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