Recent Splats according to Miz Yank

Going nuts: Part III of the Icelandic Adventure

[The tale of my and nephew Casey’s Icelandic adventure ends here…finally!]

I mentioned in an earlier post that someone’s reference to “rural Iceland” amused me, because it took me and Casey no time at all to realize most of Iceland is rural.

This truth asserted itself in most unamusing fashion on the fourth day of our trip, which found us in the southeast part of Iceland. The day’s highlights were to include light hiking near and in Skaftafell National Park, followed by a trip to Jökulsarlon, a famous glacial lagoon. Before starting our hike at Skaftafell to, what else, a waterfall, Casey and I fortified ourselves with granola bars we’d bought at a market the day before.

The hike involved a gradual climb next to grassy hills dotted with wildflowers. The whole thing had such an alpine summer feel that the theme song to “The Sound of Music” popped right into my head. I was nanoseconds away from belting out, “The hills are alive…” when Casey said, “I feel off.”

The soundtrack in my head screeched to a halt. My nephew has a peanut allergy –one he’s navigated relatively uneventfully for the past few years –and he’d had stomach issues before we left for Iceland, so I said, “Should we stop?”

“No, I’m okay.” He sounded nonplussed and looked fine, so I put it down to vestiges of the stomach thing and we kept going. We made the 30-minute trek to the falls at Svartifoss, impressive for IMG_5079.HEICthe black basalt columns over which the water flows, and started to make our way back.

We were ten minutes from the car when Casey said, “I feel like crap.” Uh-oh. I bought him ginger ale at the park cafe and got us back on the road. The park had almost no services, and I sensed that we might want to make our way towards civilization. We hadn’t gone far when Casey started to break out in hives, which could only mean one thing: peanuts. It had to have been the granola bar, whose ingredients I thought we’d scrutinized. We had an EpiPen — I wouldn’t have taken Casey out of the U.S. without one –and I pulled over so we could deploy it, but an EpiPen does not provide a fix: it buys you roughly twenty minutes so you can get proper medical attention.

“Don’t worry, Casey, I won’t let anything happen to you,” I said, my confidence forced.

I hoped Casey didn’t see that my hand was shaking as I used our burner phone to call Iceland’s 911 (112, in case you’re wondering). They understood the urgency and asked me to pinpoint our location so they could steer us to a suitable facility. The stress inherent in this exercise was compounded by my inability to pronounce or understand Icelandic place names. The 112 operator might as well have been the Swedish Chef. As best I could tell, she wanted me to drive to a place about 5 miles away that had a clinic and whose name began with a K.

We got there and found a small cluster of houses and a school, but no sign of a clinic. I had misunderstood. I sped away while re-dialing 112. Turns out the correct K-town was at least 25 miles south, back in the direction of Skaftafell, and the nearest “major” clinic was at least 30 miles north.

Reading my mind, Casey said, “That’s longer than twenty minutes, Aunt Wheat.” In response to his rising panic, I projected calm, because that’s what the adult in such situations is supposed to do.

“Don’t worry, I’m going to get you help. I promise.” But I was worried. Really worried. The operator told us to head north and said she’d call us back. We sped off in that direction, only to have her call us five minutes later and tell us to reverse course. Casey did not take this well.

“Don’t worry, they know what they’re doing,” I said, while thinking, I hope to Hell they know what they’re doing. 

Five minutes later, 112 called again and told us to turn around and head south. Again. A first responder south of us apparently had offered to drive towards us while an ambulance was dispatched from a facility thirty miles north. Whoever reached us first would be able to help us, 112 said, telling me to turn on my flashers so we could be spotted easily. Casey’s symptoms were worsening, but his breathing was still okay, a fact I pointed to as I told him to stay calm. He leaned back in the seat and closed his eyes, resigned.

I turned us around and floored it, ignoring the whiny protests of our four-cylinder engine and the loose rocks that pelted the car in mockery of my decision not to purchase gravel coverage. Fifteen agonizing, white-knuckled minutes later, we spotted a car heading north with a flashing blue light on top: the first responder. The car pulled over and so did we.

A stout brunette emerged and took charge. Though she drove a nondescript sedan rather than an ambulance, she had a medical arsenal at her disposal, and she was all business. In less than two minutes, she’d given my nephew a massive dose of steroids and me a massive dose of relief. She had also locked her keys in her car, which made me wonder if we were related.

Just as we were preparing to leave her behind and head north to meet the ambulance (Casey still needed to get to a clinic), she dredged up a spare set of keys from the depths of her medical bag. Like a police escort, she drove in front of us and led us to a gas station, where the ambulance appeared moments later. They loaded Casey up and told me to follow behind, which I did, bracing myself for another rock shower.

Alone with my thoughts, the enormity of what could have happened hit me and I started to lose it, so I called Dude and told him what happened.

After asking if Casey was okay, and he said, “Are you okay?” Nothing shatters a fragile composure faster than genuine concern.

“I’m a little rattled.” As if he didn’t hear the quake in my voice.

I would later learn that, while I was busy offloading my stress to Dude, Casey was living it up in the ambulance. The young and pretty attendant who sat with him in the back was also a tour guide, so she entertained him with stories and excursion ideas. Nearly an hour later, and five miles north of where we were supposed to end up for the night, we pulled up in front of an eldercare facility attached to a clinic that had closed for the day. Casey’s arrival in the facility lowered the median age by at least thirty years. A doctor observed him for an hour before sending us to the hotel with medicine in case of an overnight episode and instructions to return the next day.

Casey slept like a log that night and I slept like a rotisserie chicken, turning over constantly to make sure my nephew was breathing.

We got the all-clear the next morning and backtracked to Jökulsarlon, which the ambulance tour guide told Casey we could not miss. She was right. We basked in the warmth of the sun and the magnificence of the glacial lagoon, perhaps appreciating it all the more because of the prior day’s close call.IMG_5095.HEIC

That sense of basic gratitude stayed with us for the rest of the trip as we traveled to the smelly fumaroles near Lake Myvatn, mighty Detifoss near Akureyri, and then returned to Reykjavik. It minimized any lows (like the thirty-minute crawl over the deeply rutted, pothole-ridden road less taken, just so we could get the best possible view of Dettifoss) and enhanced the many highlights (like our stay at at the idyllic Silfurberg Country Resort, which Casey declared his favorite due in part to the sweeping vistas you can enjoy from a swing set).

IMG_5167.HEICWe closed out our adventure with a trip to the geothermally heated Blue Lagoon. I collected a glass of prosecco from the swim-up bar and then we floated over to the mask bar, where I slathered my face first in silica and then algae. The whole peanut episode aged me ten years in ten hours, so I needed all the help I could get.

As we flew back to D.C. the next day, my mind replayed our adventure. I thought about how the extended road trip, including our experience with Iceland’s excellent rural medical services, cemented my bond with Casey.

And though it gave us memories no amount of therapy will erase, I couldn’t help but smile as Iceland’s unofficial motto — “it’ll all work out okay” — sprang to mind. Petta reddast, indeed.

IMG_5302.HEICIMG_5192.HEIC

 

 

Not quite firing on all cylinders: Part II of the Icelandic adventure

[We pick up where Part I of our Iceland chronicles left off…]

My nephew Casey and I picked up the rental car early on our second day in Iceland. While at the counter, the agent noted that our car ran on diesel and stressed that we’d need to pay close attention to the gas pump labels when it came time to refuel.

“Yes, of course,” I said, because he seemed to expect acknowledgement. He walked us out to the car –a nondescript, white Hyundai sedan that was already running –showed us how to work the Wifi hotspot, and set us free. The car bucked a bit as we pulled out of the parking lot, which I found odd for an automatic. Casey shot me a quizzical look.

“Maybe diesel runs rougher,” I said.

Like my father, I am prone to generating benign, but uninformed, theories to explain away potentially significant mechanical issues. As Casey and I got on the highway, the engine smoothed out and our focus shifted to the day’s itinerary: Thingvellir National Park, Geysir geothermal area, and Gulfoss waterfall, collectively known as the Golden Circle.

Thingvellir

Thingvellir

We arrived at Thingvellir and strolled through the beautiful park as we perused the narrative our tour company provided. The reference to tectonic plates was so subtle we didn’t realize until after the fact that we had walked the boundary between North America’s and Eurasia’s shifting tectonic plates. Oops. Impressed by our first stop nonetheless, we hopped back in the car, ready to head to Geysir.

The car did not share our enthusiasm. The engine labored loudly but refused to start.

“That’s not good,” Casey said. He slid down in the passenger seat as his Teenager Embarrassment Threat System registered a Code Red.

“Maybe diesel starts slower,” I said, offering a second unsubstantiated mechanical theory. By this time Casey was trying to squeeze himself into the glove compartment.

On the fifth try the engine came to life. We drove without incident to Geysir, where we watched in awe as a geyser called Strokker spewed boiling water 20-30 feet in the air roughly every five minutes. When we got back in the car, it again didn’t want to go, so I consulted the owner’s manual. In 30 years of driving I had never resorted to a manual to help me start a car, but I felt certain I was doing something wrong. It yielded no clues, so I just kept at it while Casey googled, “Can you actually die of embarrassment?” Ten tries later, the car started.

We headed on to Gulfoss, which means “golden falls.” Our narrative informed us that the falls dip down 105 feet over two separate drops. What it did not tell us is that the second drop seems to have no bottom,  which makes it look like the powerful Hvita River is rushing into an abyss. Small wonder Gulfoss routinely lands on lists of the ten most beautiful waterfalls on Earth. We decided to get up close to see where the second drop ended.IMG_4874 2

This required us to take on some spray, which seemed insignificant until Casey said, “Aunt Wheat, there’s water in my forehead wrinkles.”

Clearly a cue to end the sightseeing portion of our day, we headed to our lodging at Hotel Ranga, on the outskirts of nearby Hella. I didn’t like how the car was behaving, so we decided to stay put and have dinner at the hotel. While sipping on my welcome drink at the bar–it was very welcome, indeed — I called the rental company. My attempt to explain the issue was met with the unacceptable suggestion to bring the car back to Reykjavik, 150 miles away. The bar’s only other patron couldn’t help but overhear my half of the conversation. I soon learned he was a private tour guide who also happened to know a bit about cars.

Tour Guide Car Guy (TGCG) said, “Do you mind if I drive it for a minute?” I handed over the keys and we went out to the car. I expected it to start effortlessly and make me look like an idiot–cars, like children, rarely do what you need them to when you need them to–but it performed for TGCG just as it had for me.

“There’s something wrong with this car,” TGCG said. I wanted to high-five him. “It’s either the transmission, or somebody put regular gas in it.” Aha. Door number two sounded both plausible and ominous.

TGCG waved off my concern about the fate of our itinerary, telling me this mixup happens so often in Iceland that it has spawned a mobile cottage industry. The rental company got a mechanic to come to the hotel, flush the gas tank, and refuel it with diesel, all while Casey and I were at dinner. It didn’t even cut into our hot tub time.

Just when we thought our fortunes couldn’t improve, TCGC offered to review our itinerary and then gave us some tips for the next day’s tour of the south coast. He suggested we add an ice caving excursion in the afternoon. This sounded great (never mind that a Thai youth soccer team had just been recused from a cave they got trapped in) but would require us to scrap the day’s first stop, at the educational Lava Center. Casey and I are more adventurous than we are smart, so we didn’t hesitate to sacrifice a little knowledge acquisition in exchange for an adrenaline rush.

IMG_4905 2Our new first stop was Seljalandsfoss, IMG_4913 2a waterfall whose 60-meter drop we observed from the bottom. We also walked behind the falls, which offered a unique perspective and the perfect opportunity to give our forehead wrinkles a fresh supply of water.

From there we drove to Skogafoss, another waterfall.

IMG_4938 2At this point you might be wondering: Don’t all those waterfalls start to look the same? Maybe to some people, but not to me and Casey. We were becoming foss junkies. We loved the power and double-drop of Godafoss, the little-kid-at-Christmas feeling we got from standing behind Seljalandsfoss, and the lush beauty of Skogafoss. Skogafoss is best admired by climbing 400-plus stairs to the top. You can hike along the Skoga River from there and see additional small falls along the way. We might have taken that detour had we not been trying to make a date with an ice cave in Vík.

We got to Vik in time, and the minute I laid eyes on the van that would take us to the caves, I knew we’d

Our "chariot" to the ice caves

Our “chariot” to the ice caves

made the right call. In hindsight, it’s tough to say which was more thrilling, the time we spent in the caves in Myrdalsjokull glacier, or the drive there and back. The former involved donning helmets and crampons, walking across otherworldly terrain where Star Wars scenes have been filmed, and endless marveling at black-and-white horizontal striations outside and within the cave itself. The latter involved being sandwiched into the last bench seat in the van with Casey and two other people, acting nonplussed

Hard to believe we were still on Earth.

Hard to believe we were still on Earth.

as the driver tilted the van sideways to an angle that seemed impossible to maintain, and being willing to leave behind teeth, kidneys, and any other body parts displaced as we bounced from seat to ceiling during the ride. No matter whether

Inside the ice caves (nope, this isn't a black-and-white pic)

Inside the ice caves (and nope, this isn’t a black-and-white pic)

our driver was in cahoots with the local chiropractor: Casey and I absolutely loved the adventure.

We finished the day at tranquil Dyrhólaey, a promontory that features a huge natural stone arch, incredible views and, if you time it right, puffin sightings. We missed the puffins, but as we drove to our hotel in Vik, we did see a cloud that looked like a feather, wispy vanes and all. As we fell asleep that night, we had no idea that an even bigger adrenaline shot would await us the next day…

As they say in Iceland, “þetta reddast”

My nephew Casey and I recently completed a ten-day adventure in Iceland, during which we experienced not only the country’s storied natural wonders but also its emergency medical services. I’ll come back to that second one later.

Casey is the second nephew to get a trip as a high school graduation gift. I took his older brother, J.J., to Greece last year. Finances willing, I plan to do the same thing for my niece and four remaining nephews. I treasure these trips because they help the kids see how travel can open the mind. They also give me a chance to forge a deeper bond, because let’s face it: holidays and family events don’t give me nearly enough time to become a questionable influence.

Like J.J., Casey didn’t have a clear idea of where he wanted to go. He loves the outdoors, so I came up with a list of three choices that might scratch that itch: the Canadian Rockies, Alaska, and Iceland. As I looked more closely at all three, I pushed Iceland for four reasons: 1) it seemed to have the best ratio of time in car to time doing stuff; 2) Casey would experience a place where English isn’t the native language; 3) it would offer a window into how Europe regards the U.S. (spoiler alert: the Cheeto-in-Chief does not impress them); and 4) it would likely be the most challenging and expensive for Casey to pull off on his own in the near-term.

Knowing the last argument was the most compelling, I led with it and said, “You might as well soak me for it.” He couldn’t argue with that, so I set about planning our Icelandic adventure.

I’m not group tour people, and neither is my nephew, so I booked a ten-day self-driving tour through an outfit called Iceland Unlimited. The company describes itself as “fiercely independent,” a term my parents have sometimes used to describe me. It’s really just a euphemism for stubborn, which is why I chose this company from a lineup of candidates: that which is an annoying trait in a human is a potentially useful one in a travel agency. Most of the companies that do tours like this set you up with a rental car (with GPS and a WiFi hotspot), accommodations, a burner phone for in-country calls and emergencies, a map that highlights your route, and a packet with a detailed narrative describing the highlights you’ll see. Then they get the heck out of your way. That sounded perfect to me, and also consistent with “þetta reddast,” an unofficial Icelandic motto that translates roughly to, “it’ll all work out okay.”

As the date approached, I didn’t worry about things like whether I could handle the driving conditions, but I did wonder how Casey and I would do on an extended road trip. Because he’s my sister Suzi’s stepson, we don’t always have him for Team Yank gatherings, so I haven’t gotten to spend as much time with Casey as I have the rest of the niece/nephew contingent. I hoped the trip would narrow that gap, but it’s hard to know how you’ll travel with another person, much less a teenager who hasn’t gone farther than Mexico. I sent Casey a packing list. I also sent videos of the Swedish Chef, whose unintelligible gibberish bears no resemblance to Icelandic but would nevertheless get my nephew used to hearing a language he couldn’t begin to understand.

If Casey had any misgivings at all as we boarded our flight the evening of July 7, he hid them well. When we touched down in Reykjavík at 5 am the next day, the mist that enshrouded the city reflected our collective cognitive and emotional state: we hadn’t slept a wink, and our bodies firmly believed it was 1 am. We arrived at our hotel far too early to check in and went off in search of breakfast–options are limited at  7:30 on a Sunday morning, even in the capital city –and then walked to the Hallgrímskirkja. It’s the largest church in Iceland and the second tallest building in the country, a distinction that’s a bit like being the fastest turtle in a land whose population of 378,000 is spread across 39,770 square miles, but it’s an impressive structure nonetheless. IMG_4829.HEICAn elevator ride to the top gives you stellar views of the city, even when both it and you are in a bit of a fog. We then walked to the harbor and strolled the seaside trail until we reached the Sun Voyager, a captivating metal sculpture whose design and setting evoke Viking imagery so powerfully you’ll want to don a horned helmet.

Solfar, aka The Sun Voyager

Solfar, aka The Sun Voyager

By this time, though, Casey and I were so tired that all we felt like donning were the eye masks we brought –an essential item since the sun sets for only three hours a day in July– so we could take a nap, a wish that was granted around 2 pm. Two hours later and with great reluctance, I dragged our carcasses out of bed. We were sluggish at first, but Casey made a most impressive rally. (The sight of the prices in Iceland was enough to wake me right up.) We spent the rest of the evening exploring the pretty streets of downtown Reykjavik. IMG_4837.HEICAfter a nice dinner, we returned to the hotel and went to the hot tub. There, we met two Americans who were just ending their trip and had lots of useful advice to us, including to fuel up where you can, because gas stations can be few and far between once you reach the rural areas.

We returned to our room, drew the blackout curtains closed, and hit the hay so we’d be ready to pick up the rental car . We would soon discover that most of Iceland is “the rural areas.” [To be continued…]

Getting all keyed up

On Friday night my parents hosted happy hour at their condo with several of their friends from the old neighborhood, and they let me show up at it. (Ever since I invited myself to join their Alaska adventure in 2014, they know better than to try to deny me entry.) At 9:30 or so, they were still having a grand time. I decided to leave before anyone donned a lampshade, and also because I’d left a loose end at work.

I wrapped up the work bit and was in bed by 11. I set my phone to “Do Not Disturb” when I go to bed, but the people I’ve designated as my favorites can bust through that by calling. Just as I was nodding off, in came a call from J.J., my 19 year-old nephew and travel buddyHe also happens to be living with me this summer. It’s going quite well, partly because we get along great (he hugs me every morning when he comes downstairs), and partly because we keep totally different hours. Between the two of us, we could staff a complete rotation at a 7-11.

Since we don’t overlap that much, we often have to rely on something other than in-person communication, and I’ve noticed our habits in that department differ quite a bit. I place actual phone calls occasionally, text regularly, and if a communication requires a quick response, I try to give it. J.J., like most kids his age, goes nowhere without his phone but rarely uses it to speak with another human. If he texts me, which is not that often, it’s generally because he needs something. When I was on vacation with Dude, for example — the first trip I’d taken with a significant other since the Lawnmower –my nephew texted to ask what the HOV hours are on I-66 inside the Beltway.

To let him know I grasped the magnitude of the crisis, I immediately responded, “Is your Google broken?”

J.J.’s generation seems to reserve phone calls for dire situations requiring interaction with the elderly, by which I mean anyone over 25. If you don’t answer, they tend not to leave a message. They figure you have caller ID, so you already know who was trying to reach you, and if you want to know the why, you’ll have to call back. Or just stay in suspense for the ten seconds that elapse before they try to reach you again, because whatever this is, it is IMPORTANT. Once you address the issue in question, you should expect communication to cease until a new need arises.

I picked up on J.J.’s second call and learned he had locked his keys in the trunk of his car.

“What a dumb thing to do,” he said. “I feel like such an idiot.”car-key-842107_1920

“I know exactly how you feel,” I said, and I meant it.

I haven’t locked my keys in my car since I was 16, when I did it twice in one week. Yes, two times in a seven-day period. Some of you parents out there might be the types who would laugh off such a thing. My mother might even have been one of those types. I’ll never know, alas, because she was with me when I blundered for the second time. I had to call my father, the mere idea of which filled me with dread. Dad had fielded my first distress call a few days earlier and, though he hadn’t raised his voice, he made sure I understood I’d used up my one and only freebie. My parents had endured my legendary absentmindedness for years –I was singlehandedly responsible for our family’s vast reserve of mateless mittens–so Dad had grounds for issuing a warning. When he learned I failed to heed it, he was livid.

The fifteen minutes it took Dad to drive to the scene of the crime –our veterinarian’s office in Springfield — felt like hours, during which the theme from Wagner’s “Funeral March” played on a nonstop loop in my head. When Dad arrived, I could barely meet his eyes. I don’t remember whether he gave the keys to me or Mom, I just know I got in the car and shut the door as fast as I could, hoping to insulate myself from a chewing out that promised to be memorable.

Dad rapped his knuckles on the window. Uh-oh. 

I rolled it down an inch, which did little to blunt the volume or clarity of his message. As I recall, it had three key points: 1) I’d been seriously irresponsible, twice; 2) I’d created a situation where anyone who wanted to steal the car could just smash a window and drive off with it, twice; and 3) I was grounded for a week.

I could not refute points one or two, but that third one got my attention. Just as I was about to mount a defense based on the injustice of grounding a straight-A student while other kids were off doing drugs and getting drunk, my survival instinct kicked in and I zipped it. Also, I spotted a sliver of an upside: as a nerdy goody two-shoes (see Wagner reference above), a grounding for cause might give me some much-needed street cred.

After recounting this episode for J.J., I said, “Obviously you called the right person.” And then I grounded him.

I’m kidding, of course, because I decided helping him was more important than my amusement. But it was a close call. To my surprise, he didn’t need an immediate rescue, he just wanted to know how to get it sorted out, so he started peppering me with questions. Our dialogue went like this:

Him: How will we get the keys out?

Me: My roadside assistance covers that, and I can check to see if it covers you. It probably won’t, but I bet your mom’s policy has that same service, and I bet it covers you. And if not, plenty of services can do the same thing.

Him: How soon will you find out?

Me: You should text your mom right now to ask about her policy–she’ll see it when she wakes up –and I’ll check my insurance in the morning.

Him: How early will you wake up?

Me (fighting hysterical laughter at the idea that my nephew thought I might out-sleep him): Eight at the latest. And you should know I’ve never slept til 8.

Him: Can you call me then? I’ll set my alarm.

I loved that my nephew was willing to spring to consciousness for an update from his aunt, the auto insurance concierge.

I woke up at 7 the next morning, texted J.J. the news that my policy didn’t cover him, sent links to services that could help, and texted my sister to make sure he’d reached her. By 9:45 am I hadn’t heard a peep out of anybody. I assumed this meant the situation had resolved, primarily because our man would have done anything to reach me if it hadn’t, up to and including sending homing pigeons. A phone call to Suzi confirmed my hunch.

As I told my sister, I was glad it all worked out. And since J.J. experienced a minor adventure in adult-ing, maybe he got a little grounding after all.

Have nephew, will travel: the reboot

My 19 year-old nephew, J.J., is living with me this summer. I’m surprised my sister Suzi endorsed this arrangement, since I have no children of my own and my greatest contribution to the niece/nephew contingent thus far has been to instruct them to respond to any and all uncomfortable questions with, “Why? What have you heard?” Still, I’m glad she gave it the thumbs-up, because I went on the road for three weeks straight –some work travel, a trip to see a friend, and a glorious one-week vacation with Dude — and I needed someone to keep an eye on the joint while I was away.

I got home late Friday night and found no nephew and a house that was very clean. Suspiciously clean, in fact, to the point where, if my house could’ve talked, it would have responded to, “Did you have a party here?” with “Why? What have you heard?” J.J. and I encountered each other in the kitchen the next morning. I had awakened at 10 am due to jet lag, and he at 10:15 am due to being nineteen.

He gave me a little hug and, as all innocent, non-party-hosting people do, asked, “So, does everything look okay?”

I told him the place looked great, because it did, and then made a mental note to dust for Cheez-Its. We spent a bit more time catching up –he’s a great kid and actually wanted to hear all about my trip –after which I decided to put off unpacking by going to the gym. My effort to procrastinate made it no further than my car, which, after a three-week vacation, opted not to start. I could hardly blame it.

I went back into the house and asked J.J. if he had jumper cables. He did, because my parents had given them to him when he got his license and because every driver should have them. I had no good explanation for the fact that I didn’t have them, especially since my four year-old battery had fired a warning shot during a cold snap a few months earlier.

“Have you ever jumped a car?” I asked. He hadn’t. If my nephew thought our adventures together would take place only in exotic locations like Greece or the sewers of suburban Richmond, he had another think coming. As proof of his love for me, he paused the video game he was playing and followed me outside.

Our first problem was the fact that my car was parked in the driveway in a position that would make it  hard for standard-issue cables to reach the battery. As J.J. and I were assessing the situation, my next-door neighbor, Mac, came outside. He saw what was going on and immediately offered to move his car so J.J. could park right beside me, thereby resolving the cable extension dilemma.

Our next challenge involved hooking up the cables. I’ve done it only a few times and am never certain of the sequencing offhand. It’s one thing to forget the order of operations when it involves something harmless, like algebra, and another altogether when it involves electricity.

“This is why we have Google,” I said, and we took to our phones. Within minutes we had everything hooked up and humming along, and neither of us had been electrocuted.jumper-cables-926308_1920

As we waited for my car to get juiced, J.J. said, “It’s a good thing I was here. What would you have done if I hadn’t been?” I couldn’t resist the opportunity to impart a little lesson in self-sufficiency.

“I’ve been single for a really long time,” I said, “so if I don’t know how to do something myself, I have to be able to figure out how to get it done. I’m glad you were here, but if you hadn’t been, I’d have called roadside assistance. And if I really needed to get somewhere right away, there’s always Uber and Lyft.” He nodded and looked somewhat impressed, which left me feeling pretty good about the whole episode.

That good feeling evaporated a few minutes later as I started driving down my street and heard my car giving off a strange and ominous thump with every rotation of the tires. When I got to the end of the street, I pulled over to perform a quick inspection. J.J., who apparently knew his aunt better than to assume she  would just ride off into the sunset without incident, reappeared.

We popped the hood and huddled over the engine together, two people who don’t know the first thing about car innards but have watched enough TV and movies to understand we had an obligation to spend at least a few minutes in quiet, and futile, contemplation of the engine block.

While we were doing that, my neighbor Tamara pulled up alongside us and said, “Welcome home! Do you need any help?” The truth was I had no idea. Unwilling to make her hostage to my ignorance, I assured her we were fine and sent her on her way.

Moments later, another neighbor, Jane, rounded the corner in her car. She and her husband live a ways up the street, but we’ve gotten to be friends, thanks to our patented happy hours and the fact that I live on a street where people actually like to get to know each other. She slowed down and asked, “Is everything okay? And other than coming back to this, how was your trip? It looked amazing!”

The trip had been amazing, unlike my re-entry thus far. But I realized in that moment that, despite being less than thrilled to come home to an uncooperative car, coming home to neighbors who are friends felt pretty darned great. I decided to impart one more life lesson to J.J.

“Remember all that stuff I said about being able to get things done myself?” I said. He nodded. “That’s still true, and it’s still important. But just because you can go it alone, that doesn’t mean you have to or should.” As my neighbors once again reminded me, friendship is a two-way street, and sometimes you need a little help to get out of the driveway.

 

A mother’s work is never done, and I know why

My nineteen year-old nephew, J.J., is coming to live with me this summer. He claims he needs to be close to his job, but I think he’s hanging around in the hopes that I’ll take him to Greece again. Whatever his motives, he’ll be here soon, so I spent some time yesterday trying to free up some closet space for him.

Like most normal people, I will look for any excuse to delay such unpleasantness, and I found one when I came across a box of photos and correspondence my mother had saved for me. We shan’t speak of the photos, most of which hail from the late ’70s and early ’80s. (I would refer to that period as “my awkward years,” but I think those are still in progress.) The papers, on the other hand, deserve some air time.

My personal favorite is a letter I wrote to my parents, dated November 20, 1979. I really poured out my heart, as evidenced by the following excerpt:

I am very thankful to have parents such as you. You have brought me up. Without you I could not live. I would not have shelter, food, or things to drink. There is much to be thankful for. Birds, dogs, cats, every animal in the world. We are lucky to have our lives.

Based on the contents, you’d think I wrote this love note from Cellblock B as part of my application for parole. But the return address I scrawled at the top indicates Orange Hunt Elementary School, so I’m guessing it was a Thanksgiving assignment from my fourth grade teacher. I especially like the first sentence, conveying my appreciation for parents “such as you.” As in, “not you specifically, but pretty much any old pair of people, since all you two do is meet my most basic needs as a human.” Reading this undoubtedly let my parents know that all of their sacrifices– years of being sleep deprived, changing diapers, mediating squabbles, saving up for college tuition, teaching us manners (or attempting to), coaching our sports teams, and spectating at all sorts of events ranging from swim meets to piano recitals, while always imparting important life lessons along the way–had been worth it.

Speaking of expressions of heartfelt gratitude for one’s parents, I also unearthed two Mother’s Day cards I made for Mom. The first, which predates my prison epistle by 18 months, features a construction paper flower with white petals. On the back of each petal, I wrote a chore I promised to do: make my bed, dust, fold the clothes, clean my room, take out the garbage, and vacuum.

IMG_4489 2This was a fairly tall order for a seven year-old, considering I could barely fold a napkin much less a shirt, the vacuum cleaner and I measured roughly the same height, and the only thing I’d ever done with trash was generate it. I shouldn’t have been surprised, then, to discover yesterday that all six paper petals are in absolute mint condition. I don’t think Mom even bent them to see what was on the back, most likely because she understood exactly who she was dealing with: a daughter who was three petals shy of a full daisy and who was perfectly happy to use verbs like “dust” and “clean” in a sentence, but not in actual life. No wonder we have that cliche about a mother’s work never being done.

I apparently repurposed the Mother’s Day promise book idea again a year or two later–the classics never go out of style — but this time I wised up and gave time and quantity parameters. I didn’t want Mom to take advantage of my vast generosity.  
I just hope any card-induced depression my mother experienced as a result of receiving a book full of IMG_4491 2empty promises laced with terms and conditions was offset by optimism about my future as a lawyer.

As Mother’s Day approaches, I’d like to take the opportunity to set the record straight and say what I really mean, and not in some crummy homemade card but in a blog read by entire dozens of people: You’re insane, Mom.

A thinking person who survived raising me, Suzi, Lynne and L.J. would know better than to tell us where she lives, but we’re glad you did. Not because we’re going to come over and dust the joint or anything –c’mon, Mom, some things never change –but because you are still, and always will be, the person we go to when we need a sounding board, a laugh, a gourmet meal, a cheerleader, a proofreader, a test audience, a concert buddy, a fashion consultant, an extra driver, an ear, a hug, a tennis partner to concuss, and so much more.

Happy Mother’s Day to the greatest of all time. And don’t forget to let me know when to show up for dinner.

On a slow boat to Tampa with Capital Punishment

Capital Punishment, the relay team with which I did the 24-mile Tampa Bay Marathon Swim in 2015, just accomplished that feat for the second time this past Saturday. An event like that can leave you feeling beaten up, but I came home feeling great. This may have something to do with the fact that I did not actually swim, but I’ll come back to that technicality later.

A few months ago, Capital Punishment’s captain, Bill, suggested getting the band back together. Though I have come to view Bill as my Patron Saint of Bad Ideas — he did, after all, introduce me to my now ex-husband, and he also got me to agree to a race that involved jumping off the back of a perfectly good ferry — three years had passed since Capital Punishment’s first adventure and my mind used that time to airbrush over the traumatic bits. The prospect of doing the TBMS all over again left me with ten parts dread and ninety parts happy anticipation of hanging out with Bill, J.C., Mark and Tommy, aka “the boys in the boat.”

As so often happens with boy bands, however, not every member could commit to the reunion tour.

J.C. bowed out due to a milestone family event or something similarly trifling. Tommy, our ringer, qualified for the four-lake 2018 SCAR Swim, which is the open water equivalent of touring with Beyoncé. We wished him well while wondering privately if all the salt water he’s snorted over the years had finally damaged his brain.

Capital Punishment still had its lead singer and rhythm section, so we just needed a couple of replacements for the show to go on. Bill had already recruited his friend, Mark, a retired Navy Admiral. Mark II, aka “the Admiral,” spent decades keeping entire fleets afloat, so he’d likely excel at keeping our team afloat. Tommy drafted his friend Helena. We knew nothing about her except that she trains and keeps up with Tommy, which was enough to make us love her unconditionally. It also made us volunteer her to swim the opening leg of the relay, because Tommy would have wanted it that way.

All seemed well until the Wednesday before the race, when the unexpected happened: I had a minor and unscheduled medical procedure. No big deal until the doc imposed a week-long ban on swimming. “And no open water swimming for two weeks,” she said.

Just like that, the months I spent in intense training, drinking both red wine and white, went right down the drain. Distraught, I relayed the news to Captain Bill via voice mail and text.

“Don’t worry, take care of yourself!” he texted, adding that he had a few standbys. Though mollified by the knowledge that I wouldn’t be leaving my teammates high and dry, I wondered if I should even make the trip. What good could I do them? And would I even fit in the boat? I waffled until Thursday night. Since I’d already sprung for a plane ticket and lodging, I opted to pack my bags, leave the self-pity at home, and just enjoy a weekend away.

I flew to Tampa Friday afternoon and then met Bill and Mark I at the pre-race safety meeting in St. Petersburg. That’s where I learned the plan to replace me had fallen through. Tommy tried, but events like SCAR had already claimed all the people who possessed the requisite combination of swimming prowess and insanity. Now the four members of Capital Punishment would have to swim six miles apiece instead of five. On the upside, this vacancy left enough room in the boat for me. I was glad to accept the opportunity to join the band, even if it meant I would basically be playing the triangle.

At dinner that night I met the Admiral and his significant other, Amy. They fit in with Capital Punishment perfectly, meaning they didn’t even consider talking race strategy until the second round of cocktails had arrived. The Admiral suggested swimming fifteen-minute shifts instead of the thirty-minute rotations we’d done three years earlier, and the wisdom of this approach would soon reveal itself. Amy, the other non-swimmer, volunteered to take photos and videos of Capital Punishment in action, recognizing that someone had to satisfy the public’s demand for footage of middle-aged people in swimsuits and googles.

From dinner we headed to our lodging, a very large and very pink house Bill had rented for our group. In terms of decor, it’s what you’d get if Mary Kay mated with Liberace and gave birth to a house. We forced ourselves to close our eyes on this marvel and get some rest, knowing our 6 a.m. departure would come all too soon.

The next morning, we got ourselves to Magnuson Marina Cove by 6:30 and were treated to a happy surprise encounter with Tommy. This almost made up for our unhappy surprise encounter with 17 mph winds. We met Helena, our lead-off, who appeared unfazed by the stiff breeze. Her main concern was that it takes her “a good two miles to really get going.” I didn’t want to tell her it takes most of us two miles to really get stopping, and that’s if we’re swimming in a pool.

The race got underway at 7 a.m. amid an obnoxious chop, which Helena powered through for a good twenty minutes. The Admiral took over from there, followed by Mark I and then Bill. By the time the first leg was done, Capital Punishment had met its collective sodium requirements for the next 42 years. The team referred to the water as “a washing machine,” but I begged to differ. From where I sat, if the conditions bore any resemblance to laundry, it was the primitive kind where people stood in a river, alternately pummeling their clothes on rocks and then submerging them until they were clean, or at the very least unconscious.

The Marks, high-fiving at a shift change.

The Marks, high-fiving at a shift change.

I vacillated between feeling guilt and relief over not swimming. In fact, vacillation became my default state, what with the swells that rocked the boat for the first five hours of the race. Helena and the boys continued to fight through it, Amy kept time and signaled shift changes, and I ate the team’s provisions, starting with

Taking a break from eating the team supplies to work on my mermaid impression.

Taking a break from eating the team supplies to work on my mermaid impression.

the bananas. It’s just the kind of perseverance I bring to tough situations.

Long after noon, and well over halfway through the race, the tide really did turn and Capital Punishment finally got following seas. This brightened the collective mood until the team remembered they were sharing the waters with the likes of sharks, rays, and the 800-pound “marine blimps” known as Goliath Groupers. This may explain why, despite facing adverse conditions and swimming shorthanded, Capital Punishment was on track to crush the 2015 team’s time.

Someone else's close encounter with a Goliath Grouper (courtesy of Vimeo).

Someone else’s close encounter with a Goliath Grouper (courtesy of Vimeo).

They were still cruising when, around 4 pm, we were able to see the shores of Tampa –the finish line — without the aid of powerful binoculars.

“Hooray!” I said. Then I promptly resumed eating the team Twizzlers, because let’s face it: at three to four miles per hour, we were moving faster than arm hair grows but we weren’t going to blast ashore any time soon.

Helena and Bill at a handoff.

Helena and Bill at a handoff.

The Admiral then suggested shortening the shifts to ten minutes. This allowed the team to make the most of their energy reserves and have a little fun in the process, if the 100 IM Mark I did at Mile 22 of a 24-mile slog somehow qualifies as “fun.”

The team had agreed beforehand that all of them would jump in for the final hundred yards so they could finish together. As Mark I was on the literal last leg and nearing the hundred-yard mark, he turned his head to breathe and to issue what will surely go down as Capital Punishment’s rallying cry: “Where the f*&^ are you guys?!?”

Amy, the team historian and back-up Twizzler eater.

Amy, the team historian and back-up Twizzler eater.

With Amy and I cheering them on, Bill, the Admiral and Helena jumped in for the short swim to the shores of Ben T. Davis Beach. Capital Punishment had knocked out 24 miles of really tough swimming in ten hours and 21 minutes, more than half an hour faster than the original band on its first tour.

For all the mixed emotions I’d experienced over the course of the day, I felt a surge of pure happiness for  my friends old and new as they hugged each other. As we celebrated their amazing accomplishment, I was downright proud to say, “I’m with the band.”

An elated (and probably relieved) post-race Capital Punishment.

An elated (and probably relieved) post-race Capital Punishment.

 

This Bud’s for you, Easter Bunny

I’m pleased to report that the neighborhood civic association renewed my contract to be the Easter bunny for the annual egg hunt again this year. It’s a pretty easy gig: I spend half an hour walking around, waving and posing for pictures, and traumatized kids spend years in therapy. It’s a win-win.

I must have done an especially great job last year, because they sweetened the deal by offering to supply me a handler. I appreciated that but opted to source one myself. Some roles are too important to leave to chance, and Chief Mascot Handler is one of them. I sprang for an upgraded rabbit suit a few years ago, but Suit 2.0 includes the same sensory deprivation that came standard in the first model and even less adequate air flow, so you really do need someone to act as your eyes and ears. And to hold the smelling salts should lack of oxygen make you pass out.

Last year’s Chief Mascot Handler, my mother, took herself out of the running because she had to prepare pizza gaina, the ham, egg and cheese bomb my family eats on Easter every year. I made the pizza last year and understand how time-consuming it is, even if you skip the step where you make the dough, wait an hour for it to rise, and then, on realizing it has less interest in rising than a teenager on a school day, hurl it into the trash.

Since Mom was out, I scoured my friend roster for someone who had the essential traits: trustworthiness, punctuality, and a working knowledge of CPR. My friend Bud sprang to mind right away. Though I wasn’t sure about Bud’s CPR skills, I know he’s a gifted artist, a stalwart pal, and a lover of absurdity. I made the pitch via text earlier this week.

“Of course I’m game,” he wrote, just as I knew he would.

The event was set to begin at 10 am today. When Bud arrived at my house at 9:45, I was in the process of suiting up. As a seasoned mascot, I know crowds can be volatile, so in case this one turned on me, I put on a pair of worst-case scenario socks given to me by my friend Philippa.

IMG_4360.JPG-1

Side-by-side, the socks read, “If yuo can read this bring me a glass of wine.” Based on the spelling, I have to assume the sock-maker was hitting the sauce while sewing. Which is precisely how I would approach sewing, if I’m being honest.

Once I’d put on the rest of the outfit, Bud chauffeured me to the park. After making sure my head was screwed on straight, he helped me out of the car and into the crowd.

“Wow, there’s a lot of people here,” he said, impressed. The size of the gathering didn’t surprise me one bit. I live in an awesome community, and let’s face it: a mascot celebrity like me is a huge draw.

IMG_4362On surveying the scene and all the adorable little kids, Bud said, “I’m having an acute attack of cuteness.” He got so caught up in the festivities and picture-taking (he excels at photography, too) that he was temporarily diverted from his handling duties. Two girls who live on my street, and upon whom I undoubtedly inflicted psychological damage in this very park just a few years earlier, swooped in to help. Suddenly I was an Easter Bunny with an entourage.

We soldiered on, with Bud giving me the occasional field report. From the sounds of things, I achieved an unusually high delight-to-terror ratio among the target demographic this year. Several kids kept a wary distance but didn’t freak out, and only a handful burst into tears and fled. A few children offered me eggs and candy from their basket, and one even gave me some artwork. IMG_4363 (2)

Most kids ran up and hugged me. They may have felt sorry for me because I once again looked like a rabbit who’d just had a root canal, but I’ll take the hugs however I can get them.

“You’re soft,” one of the huggers said.

“That’s what happens when you hit middle age, kid,” I wanted to say. I held my tongue, however, because the Professional Mascot Code requires silence while in the suit.

I also kept quiet when one parent handed me his baby and another kid handed me a bunch of dirt. I felt like a politician. If Congress weren’t already full of clowns with law degrees, I’d consider a run for office.

After half an hour of glad-handing, Bud walked me back to the car and drove me home.

Freed from the rabbit head, I asked, “Would you do it again next year?”

“Absolutely, it was fun,” he said, with no hesitation whatsoever.

I hope he comes back, because every Easter bunny needs a good friend to make sure she doesn’t lay an egg.

Tools of the trade

Tools of the trade

 

Oh when these Yanks go marching in…again

When I was a student at Orange Hunt Elementary and Lake Braddock Secondary School in the ’80s, I never worried that a private citizen armed with an assault rifle would burst into the classroom and commit mass murder. But my niece and nephews, who range in age from three to nineteen, do worry about that, and I hate it. Gun violence has no place in schools, and childhood should not include participation in active shooter drills. Gun violence blights our cities, too, where it has a profound and disproportionate impact on the daily lives of low-income and minority populations.

Before anybody leaps to label me, I am not a Second Amendment hater or prohibitionist. My father used to hunt, I have fired a gun, and I even owned one briefly many years ago, which is a whole other story. So I do not blame the amendment itself, but rather what’s been done with it. Powerful lobbies have been allowed to pervert the Second Amendment to the point where it enables death more often than self-defense. I blame lawmakers for that, and I blame my generation for letting it happen on our watch. Our kids deserve better, they know it, and they have had enough.

Whatever my generation’s failures have been, my peers deserve huge credit for raising kids who know how to stand up for themselves. In the wake of unfathomable loss, the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High school recognize they have a platform and they’ve seized it. They’ve shown maturity, courage and resolve in the face of attacks from cowardly adults who’ve accused them of being “paid crisis actors” and worse. They’re using their social media savvy to convert outrage to action, mobilizing the masses who have also had enough. I was among those masses at the March for Our Lives in D.C. yesterday.

All of Team Yank was there in spirit, and three members —  Mom, my sister Suzi, and my twelve year-old nephew, Will –joined me in person. It meant a 90-mile, early morning schlep from Richmond for Suzi and Will, and a day of discomfort for my 74 year-old mother, but no one uttered a word of complaint. (Mom was putting on her protest shoes for the second time in 14 months; she knew the drill.)  When we emerged from the Metro at 10:30 am and made our way to the rally entrance, the crowd had already filled four blocks of Pennsylvania Avenue.

Though tragedy precipitated this event, the knowledge that kids had pulled together a crowd like this gave me a surge of hope and put a smile on my face. While we waited for the official program to begin, we took in sign after potent sign: kids wearing bulls-eyes that said, “Am I Next?,” posters that read “Protect kids, not guns,” “This is the movement, not a moment,” and “There should be a background check before the NRA is allowed to buy a senator.”

When you piss of the Quakers, and to the point of misspelling, you've really done something.

When you piss off the Quakers, and to the point of misspelling, you’ve really done something.

IMG_4349-1

IMG_4343-1Shortly after noon, the kids began to speak. They came not just from MSD High School, but from places like Chicago, D.C., New York, and Alexandria. Each told us about the people they loved and lost to gun violence, making it personal and refusing to allow those victims to be reduced to statistics or their names forgotten. They told us about the trauma they carry, their fears, and the nightmares that haunt them. They cried, and we cried with them.

But those kids also showed us resilience.

“We are going to make this the voting issue,” MSD student David Hogg said. “They will try to separate us by race and class; they will fail.”

Cameron Kasky, another MSD student, said, “Stand for us or beware. The voters are coming.”

Eleven year-old Naomi Wadler, an Alexandria student, said, “We have seven short years until we, too, have the right to vote.”

And from the nine year-old granddaughter of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King: “I have a dream that enough is enough.”

Stars like Lin-Manuel Miranda, Miley Cyrus and Ariana Grande sang between speeches, but they were just supporting cast members. Their brief performances kept the spotlight on the kids and the fact that kids, not adults, are leading this change. Our group of four left feeling tired, yet energized, after a day that was heartbreaking, inspiring, positive, and above all, powerful: these fed-up kids are making America great again. They seem to understand that showing up matters, following up matters more, and voting may matter most of all. I can’t wait to see what they do, and I can’t wait to help them do it.

Those who try to downplay the significance of yesterday’s gathering are likely the same people who said the Women’s March wouldn’t make a difference. Right. Because the record number of women who ran for office last year was just a coincidence.

To paraphrase a line from Hamilton, because I have a feeling these kids know it by heart, history has its eyes on them. And well it should: just like the lead character, they are young, scrappy and hungry. And they are not throwing away their shot.

State Farm isn’t there for me the way these people are

I missed the crazy wind storm that rocked the D.C. area last Friday because I was out of town on business travel and visiting Dude. But I had been following the news leading up to the “bomb cyclone” and dreading the approach of its 70 mile-per-hour gusts almost as much as if I’d been local.

I feared for the safety of my loved ones, worried about my house, and prayed Fairfax County would cancel school for the day. (My teenaged nephew, Timothy, doesn’t weigh a whole lot, and wind like that would have picked him up at the bus stop and deposited him in Kentucky.)

The anxiety I felt about my property was mitigated to some extent by the fact that my neighbors knew I was away and were keeping an eye on the joint. Actually, “neighbors” is the wrong term, here. That word suggests physical proximity but no emotional closeness, whereas I view these people as dear friends who just happen to live in my immediate vicinity. And when I say “immediate,” I’m not kidding: the houses in our neighborhood sit less than twenty feet apart.

As we were touring the place six years ago, my Realtor had wisecracked, “Guess you’re gonna get to know your neighbors.”

“Either that, or I’ll pretend like I’m encased in a forcefield of invisibility,” I had said. I was kidding, though that second option held some real appeal for an introvert like me. The idea of having to overcome my aversion to small talk in an effort to ignite authentic connections daunted me, especially given our “I’m so busy” society that finds virtual friendship easier and even seems to prefer it. I also wondered if my child-free status in a kid-heavy ‘hood might make this undertaking even more of a challenge. But I resolved to give it a shot.

My resolve got a huge boost two days after I moved in when Nadine, the neighbor across the street, sent her teenaged daughter over with a plate of welcome brownies. I received further encouragement shortly thereafter when I met Tamara and Stuart, my literal next-door neighbors. They exuded warmth, and also wine. The latter landed me a coveted gig as the Easter Bunny in the annual neighborhood celebration. On seeing the wonders wine could do, Tamara and I hatched a plan to have a street-wide happy hour in my front yard, and the minute the weather turned warm, we started executing. Tamara helped spread the word, and I canvassed the street on foot, handing out paper invitations to people who responded enthusiastically solely because I wasn’t selling anything or trying to get their vote.

Whether it was the promise of beer, the allure of a pair of plastic flamingoes, or the prospect of reconnecting with old neighbors and meeting a new one that drew people in droves, I’ll never know. I just know they showed up, brought piles of provisions, and stayed for hours. Their display of generosity in all its forms told me these people were open, fun, and inclusive. And that night showed me the difference between a neighborhood and a community, making me feel like I’d hit the jackpot.

Those happy hours have become tradition –  we now have a rotation of hosts – and the people I see there long ago transcended neighbor status and have become friends. They’ve shown up as an army during Snowzilla, shoveling for me because I’d sprained my wrist (a wise move on my part, in hindsight); they’ve handed me a glass of wine and listened as I worked through the complicated emotions surrounding the sale of my parents’ home; they’ve marched with me for women’s rights; their kids have made me Christmas ornaments; and they’ve left birthday cards, wine, and even an eggplant on my doorstep. Together we’ve done airport runs, celebrated a newly minted citizen, and welcomed the births of a few new residents. In short, they make this place feel like home, and I know we’ve got each other’s backs.

I shouldn’t have been surprised, then, when Felipe, who lives across from me, texted last Friday that my car had not weathered the storm all that well: a tree branch had taken flight and smashed through the back window. He sent a photo and wrote that he’d try to cover it. I thanked him and told him not to risk his safety, but another text came a few minutes later: he’d gone to check it out and, while there, had taken the umbrella out of my patio table and put cinder blocks on top of it to make sure it didn’t become a projectile. Because of him, I didn’t come back to an unpleasant surprise and was able to get a claim started even before I got home. I wrote an effusive thank-you text, to which he replied, “That is what neighbors are for!” True, when those neighbors are also your friends.

The next day, Tamara let me know by text that she’d looked around the property and the house seemed intact. She was headed to the hardware store later, she said, and could get a tarp “to cover your rear window if you want.” Yes, I wanted. Pretty please, with wine on top.

When I got home late last Sunday night, I expected to find a tarp on my doorstep, or possibly inside my house, waiting for me to wrap it around the car. I did not expect to see the back of my car encased so thoroughly and carefully in the tarp that it looked like it had been swaddled. It was the first, and I hope only, time the sight of sheet plastic anchored with twine and cinder blocks brought tears to my eyes.

This is a work of tarping art.

This is a work of art, never mind the canvas.

When I don the rabbit suit later this month, I’ll wave with extra enthusiasm and give my friends and their kids and especially warm hug. The kids will flee in terror, just like they always do, but their parents will know this bunny really loves them.