Ann Romney–what you missed at your Rich Bitch Intervention

Dear Ann Romney,

First, I apologize for not filing this report sooner. I’ve been quite self-absorbed with selling my house, packing, and getting rid of far too many possessions in preparation for our big move. Since we don’t have “people” to accomplish these tasks, I’m afraid letters like these get left undone.

Ann, on July 22, 2012, I extended to you a formal invitation to this year’s *TLC Rendezvous, which had you accepted, would have been dubbed the Rich Bitch Intervention of 2012. Prompted by your blue-blood blunder “you people”, I thought it in your best interest to spend some time with real women in a place fairly scant of your husband’s ilk. Or as Norman Maclean put it, “The world is full of bastards, the number increasing rapidly the further one gets from Missoula, Montana.” Unfortunately, you did not RSVP and traveled instead to London and Israel for a foreign fundraiser. And what bastards you surrounded yourself at that fundraiser! (Sheldon Adelson, whose ass cheeks are still tattooed with Newt Gingrich’s lip prints…gag me with a superfund check. But we’ll get to that in a bit.) I thought I’d report on what you missed. Moreover, this follow-up should clarify the types of activities you would encounter should you reconsider next year once the campaign is over and your defeated husband is off sunning his assets in the Caymans. I trust this description will pique your interest in future rendezvous.

Had you traveled with me to the Big Sky, you’d have hauled your prissy pooter out of bed early to catch a 5:20 ferry and hit the long stretch from Seattle to Missoula. It’s a drive I’ve done probably a hundred times in my life, so you’d have ridden with an expert. I was crabby as hell that morning, some might even characterize my mood as uber-bitchy. In my defense, it seems the night before traveling anywhere I’m always rushing. And, Ann, having no bowed-headed minions tailing me to attend my every whim, like many “you people” women, I tend to punctuate the packing excitement of any trip with a few “shits” and “fucks.” I’m no longer a low-maintenance traveler.

(“Okay, scarves and leather purses I’m taking to Taryn and Lucille are packed. Shorts, shirts, underwear…medications, shit. I don’t have one of my emergency migraine medications. Fuck. I forgot to go back to the pharmacy today to see if it got renewed! What if I get a migraine when I’m there?”)

And even though my husband and daughter had puzzle-pieced nicely into the truck my daughter’s college provisions and my mom’s bedroom set to be kept at Taryn’s house, I didn’t get to bed early enough to rise with a human personality. So had you been with me that morning, Ann, you’d have spent about fifteen frantic minutes racing for the ferry with a coffeeless Honey Badger/Ann Coulter spawn. Once I made the ferry and felt the Zen come-hither draw of Missoula, that nasty bitch left my body. A good play list, a cup of Starbucks, and Mary fucking Poppins was back and heading for her beloved Zoo Town.

Now, Ann, I realize you don’t have those moments. That serene political-wife smile you’ve got permanently pasted on your face has to be the result of Botox injections juiced up with some Wellbutrin, a few horse painkillers, and Metamucil chasers. I’m thinking your supplier is no doubt a Beverly LaHaye acolyte in Concerned Women for America. Whooo howdie! Those girls sure know how to throw a party. And don’t they just give out the best goodies in their convention swag bags? Who wouldn’t look like a Fox news anchor on nitrous?

Of course, at the TLC Rendezvous, we partied a bit as well. Oh, sure. Not like we once did. But I can still make a blender purr with just the right eye-balled blend of tequila, limeade, triple sec, ice, and lime. And to try to describe the guacamole that Lucille made this year with mere words would be like trying to describe the best sex you’ve ever had without using verbs, adjectives, or your hands. (Well, perhaps in your case it’s possible…sorry, I just don’t envision Mittens as a wild man.)

Ann, you’re probably thinking “But what do you talk about at the TLC? What do you do?” Well, here are some conversation snippets. While lacking context these samples should apprise you of the level of discourse expected of TLC participants.

 “The kids have been great about bringing me bags of peas for my breasts.”

“They (the breasts) look great.”

“Yeah, they’re so high up.”

“Gravity…isn’t there some anti-gravity pill out there yet?”

“But I’m not out of the woods. Speaking of the woods…a friend of mine introduced me to a woman who wrote a book about shitting in the woods.”

“There’s a niche market.”

“She needs a model for a blog article she’s writing. So tomorrow we’re going to go meet her and take pictures. No bare ass or anything…”

Finally, a modeling career! I always knew you’d eventually get discovered!”

(Howling laughter)

“Oh this I wouldn’t miss.”

“So she’s going to photograph you in crap mode?”

“No, no, it will all be very discrete and tasteful.”

“Well, obviously.” (More howls.)

 “It’s my legs mostly.”

“What a waste. You just got new boobs.”

                                  **Another example**

“So have either of you read 50 Shades of Grey?”

“I heard it was shitty writing, so I proudly refused to read it.”

“It is shitting writing. Really shitting writing. (pause) I’m on the second book.” (laughter)

“I’m in the middle of the first book. Phew. I’m getting hot just thinking about it.”

“And I thought I was being so good not reading it because it was bad writing.”

“Yeah, and you’re the slut puppy of the crowd.”

“So I need to download it?”

“Yeah, that way nobody knows what you’re reading. Kindles are like brown paper bags.”

“Oh, you should. I mean, I can’t believe you hadn’t already. You read everything.”

 “I do sort of have some issues with the idea that a young woman is going to try to change some guy—try to save him from himself. By submitting to him. Like that always works. Oops! Spoiler alert. I don’t know. Anyway…the books are fairly tedious with some good sex scenes throughout. The second book at least starts to develop the characters a bit.”

“Can you believe how much money she’s making from these?”

“No shit.”

“Why didn’t we think of that?”

“Well…I’ve never been in a red room. You gotta write what you know.”

“Okay…you’re selling me.”

“Just read them for the sex. Don’t expect literature.”


“It’s all about cultural literacy.”

Of course we do talk about serious things. About breast cancer and again having hair and raising money for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. About holding politicians to their word on funding cancer research and preventive screens under Title X funding. We talk about daughters, Oh God, our immeasurably funny and inestimable daughters.  We talk about the silly logistics of moving and selling houses and the clutter of “stuff”. We talk warily about the worry we feel when we see one of us reenter a relationship that’s caused pain. We ponder the conundrum of gay Republicans. We take in the summer aroma of the Bitterroot Valley and talk about all of the memories that combination of smells brings back. I say I never want to see my parents’ property again on Bear Creek because it wouldn’t have them on it. We talk about memorabilia as I go through the last boxes of my parents’ things I’d saved, Dad’s dog tags from WWII, a story about a cowboy my mom wrote in 1954, a bookmark I’d made for my mom that was a horse I’d drawn. We tell each other how putting your hands in your mother’s baby shoes fills your heart just knowing her little feet were in those tiny shoes. We share that we are worried when one of us doesn’t feel well. We talk about how much we miss one another when we’re apart.

So Ann, while you smiled and chatted with Piers Morgan, while you and Mitt kowtowed to American Christian Zionists and the small fraction of American Jews who’d vote Republican just because you schmoozed that right-wing Likud kingpin Binyamin Netanyahu, we were watching thunderstorms over the Bitterroots. While Mitt crassly tossed out the word “culture” with as much thought to consequence as tossing change to doormen at the King David Hotel, we at TLC were learning from an expert the best way to pee outdoors without splattering our shoes. While you and your hubby hid from the press and let that sleeze ball Sheldon Adelson run his proverbial hand up and down your political thigh, likely dirty from bribing Chinese officials in Macau, we were sitting along the Clark Fork listening to the Young Dubliners play in Caras Park on a perfect Missoula summer evening. (See Juan Cole Ten Most Distasteful Things about Romney Trip to Israel)

Would this short experience have caused you to peel off that thousand dollar Reed Krakoff Audubon Silk Shirt and don a University of Montana Grizzly t-shirt instead? Likely not. But hopefully it would have given you some more insight into the “you people” who seem to be about as far from you as your husband’s business practices are from true Christian ethics.

 Ahhh….but now you’ve got Paul Ryan on the ticket. Is your campaign bus nothing but mirrors inside? One can only imagine. But that’s for another letter.

 Keep us “you people” in your thoughts and prayers as I’m sure you always really do. And, there’s always next summer. You’ll have plenty of time on your hands.


C in the TLC

P.S. If you, too, would like to learn how to better ‘do the deed in the woods’ with all the confidence of a Papal bear, you really do need to pick up Kathleen Meyer’s book How to Shit in the Woods. Kathleen is funny not only in person, but on paper, and this book helps save our back country while making the reader laugh at every page turn. Oh how I love funny women, and I’m so glad I got to meet this one! If you’ve got somebody heading out on a backpacking trip…this is a great gift!



My invitation to Ann Romney for a Rich Bitch Intervention

July 20, 2012

Re: “You People” and an Invitation to a Rich Bitch Intervention

Dear Ann Romney,

This letter is to formally invite you to this year’s *TLC Rendezvous, which will be held next week in Missoula, Montana. Should you choose to accept this gracious invitation, the TLC Rendezvous, named for the three friends who meet annually (picture below), will generously rename the gathering this once as the Rich Bitch Intervention of 2012 to include and honor you. I’m going to talk straight with you honey, you need this intervention like your husband needs Hispanic votes in swing states.

I extend to you this invitation because of your use of the two words “you people.” This is not to laud those words. And trust me, I recognize that the pressures of a presidential campaign are extraordinary. Some would accord your simple phrase as a slip of syntax made under duress, uttered when the press did just that—they pressed you. But the three of us at TLC recognize your problems to be much deeper. By using these two words we hear your cry for help, and help you’ll have if you accept this generous offer.

Just as a bull responds to a red cape, I snort and paw at certain word choices. “Sweetheart,” for example, might work on a Hallmark card, but have some guy I don’t know call me that, and I’ll likely clarify for him pronto that I’m not his. The diminutive word boy used to address African American men is an egregious example that even the Eleventh Circuit Court ruled was evidence of racial discrimination.

Boy is used in classist ways as well. I remember distinctly my dad coming home from work one afternoon spitting mad. He had been building a fireplace for a university professor in our small town, and the guy who was probably younger than my dad kept addressing him as boy. My dad finally threw down his trowel and said “Look, boy, you can get some other son-of-a-bitch to finish this job.” The guy, chagrined, eventually apologized and treated my dad with cautious respect from that point on. Later in life when my dad would refer to grown women as “those girls,” I’d remind him of that story.

You see, Ann, “you people” is such a phrase. It’s a two-word moment that drips with Driving Miss Daisy. It’s two words with the heart of Leona Helmsley, the tact of Rush Limbaugh, and the brains of Jersey Shore’s Snooki. Packed with lots of racist baggage, it didn’t help that you used these words when talking to Robin Roberts, an intelligent and stunning African American woman. Now I’m not calling you a racist. I think you’re just a pampered pony princess nearing the point of no return. But a TLC intervention will not only help you understand why those words would be offensive to real women, it will introduce you to three real-live women, none of whom have butlers or $100,000 dollar horses. It will be sort of like doing good works with one’s church, only with good margaritas, guacamole, and some jokes about blowjobs.

At the TLC Rich Bitch Intervention you’ll drink out of non-crystal glasses, hang out with at least one woman without a pedicure (that would be me right now), and go through a series of exercises to assist you in loosening up that tight Stepford ass of yours. If you progress well, you may advance to the Mo’ Club level, where you’ll relish a cold brew, a cup full of peanuts, and a hot-pepper cheeseburger in one of Missoula’s landmark establishments.

Ann, I realize that all women must make personal compromises and sacrifices at times in their lives. You have sacrificed yourself well for Mitt’s political glory and business career. In fact, Mitt’s campaign handlers knew exactly what they were doing putting you on Good Morning America where you made your verbal gaff. Of the morning “news” shows, “GMA” is currently winning in the 25-54 female demographic. God knows Mitt’s about as popular with women as Virginia’s Governor Bob McDonnell is with his vaginal ultrasound wands. And he polls right up there with Chlamydia. You were there to put that softer touch on his Bain debacle. Your “stand by your man” performance should have given Mitt a bump in the polls. I know you probably love the lug, but for Christ’s sakes, woman. Have some self-respect!

And that’s just what you’ll get at the TLC Rich Bitch Intervention. For we know that underneath that hoity-toity crap is a woman who’s struggled with disease and challenges. Okay, not just like us—you never had to worry about paying for your care, but we get some of what you’ve faced. So, Ann, climb down off that high horse named Rafalca that is worth more than most Americans’ homes are now and join us (a.k.a. “you people”) for a bit of TLC. You’ll not only learn how to talk like real people, you’ll meet some.


(C in the TLC)

*TLC is an acronym for Taryn, Lucille, and Cindy. We’ve been friends for 35 years, meeting annually and keeping each other real. This was taken last summer.

RSVP by U.S. Postal Service only. We want it running and don’t want to see it outsourced.

I Sold Our Boat

Boats are like tattoos. For whatever reason–too much alcohol, sunshine, optimism, cash in your pocket–or some kind of giddy adrenaline sparked by the lot, suddenly there you are at a boat dealer taking advice from a sun-scorched twenty-something with a hangover who clucks his tongue at you and “can’t believe you don’t have a boat already!” He does the equivalent of introducing you into the “cool crowd” in junior high by taking you over to the “best deal”. And even though you’re damn near fifty at the time and more keen to bullshit than the average bear simply because you’ve taught high school since you were his age, you flush a bit when he says “you look like a natural” as you grasp the wheel. Damn right.At that point if he’d said, “a picture of the boat would look natural on your upper thigh,” I’d have probably said “ink her up.”

What is it about taking that boat wheel in hand? I’m convinced that Odysseus never needed beeswax or his men to tie him to a mast to withstand the lure of the Sirens calling from shore. Circe should have advised him to just hold on to that wheel, for that would be more seductive than any winged maiden within earshot. I felt it again two days ago as I got into the boat to start it up, wanting to make sure it had no problems before potential buyers came to look at it. I pumped the throttle a couple times, turned the key and after the old gas cleared, The Nimble Little Minx coughed to life. Within a minute, she was running smoothly, and I sat and let the wheel hum lightly in my hands. I’ll miss this feeling. I’ll miss owning a boat.

When we bought the boat in 2007, we were as green as the algae that can get caught on your propeller. But we learned quickly about tides, and I learned to adeptly back trailer and boat down ramps for launchings. I learned with an air-born gulp and hard thump not to take the wake of a container ship at too high of speed. And unfortunately for my husband, I learned to get the boat closer and more parallel to the dock only after he fell in trying to get us moored for lunch one day. Some nice fishermen on the dock who spoke very little English fished him out. He forgave my poor skippering after a couple gin and tonics.

Salty smart asses too often target new and giddy boat owners with hull-scratching comments about their new purchases. They offer up tired phrases like

“The two happiest days in your life are the day you buy your boat and the day you sell your boat.” Or they define “boat” for the new boat owner as “a hole in the water into which you pour your money” or explain that the acronym BOAT stands for “break out another thousand.” These jokes, while technically true, are nothing more than a way to make newcomers feel like they’re fools. Of course, it takes one to know one, and that’s part of the joke. But I never really appreciated these jokes.

Just like I didn’t appreciate the guy on the boating launch one day say “Whoa, little lady. Ya think you can get that in the water?” (Note that this guy was probably my age.) I just looked at him from my truck window and said, “Fuck yeah.” When I negotiated that baby into the water in a perfect L-shaped turn and dropped the Minx in like I’d been on the water my whole life, I considered it not only a triumph for all women, but for all landlubbers.

The couple that bought our boat is new to boating as well. I like this pair. They are friends of an old friend of ours. They’ll go through some of the same things we did. They’ll likely buy a little tide book or have the Puget Sound tide page bookmarked on their computer to aid in their launching. They’ll figure out the inverse and counter-intuitive turn of a truck wheel when backing a boat down a ramp. They’ll no doubt through trial and error figure out how to back the ball hitch under the trailer just enough to pop it on—something we always sucked at. They are going to run into challenges with the boat and have moments of frustration. They are going to wonder if the money is worth it.

But I also know that they will have moments of pure joy. They’ll have moments like I did that they will keep forever. A moment like singing the song “Miss you so Badly” with my two best friends of thirty-five years out in the middle of Seeley Lake in Montana on a perfectly hot day. That’s the day the boat was christened The Nimble Little Minx. Or hearing over the motor my daughter squeal with laughter as she and my husband rode a towable inflated raft. Or heading home one evening on a glass-smooth Puget Sound when seals emerged around the boat, and we cut the engine just to watch them swim and play around us. So yes, I suppose that tattoo, even though I’m having it removed, is still really etched in my skin. And what a beauty she was.

Explaining Mitt Romney’s Dog Crime to my Border Collie

(I originally posted this on my previous blog Lame Duck on an Empty Nest back in January, 2012 during the Republican Primaries.)

It had been a fairly long Friday at school today. When I hit the door, Flick is at the top of the stairs with her little snarl-grin she gets for me, wiggling her entire body in the thrill of our reconnection. I’m just as thrilled to see her, and from the bottom of the stairs until the moment I reach her–my arms full of purse and grocery bags, in my usual doggie/kitty baby-voice I coo and say “Ooooh, my Flick, my cutest baby, my lover…how are you today? What a beautiful girl…what a good girl….oh hello to you, too.” The purse must be dropped and full affections must be delivered, not only to Flick but to my cat who swirls around my feet awaiting the same attention. Then comes the second cat squeaking out a raspy “rowl”. What a greeting! No matter what kind of day I’ve had, I’m fully uplifted by this furry welcome wagon. We all reconnect. Toys are brought and offered. There’s much excitement. Flick immediately goes out to the back yard for a bathroom journey but is just as quickly back on the deck wagging at the slider. She wants in. She wants to tell me something.

 She’s quite exercised. First, she runs to the bedroom and grabs Froggy, dropping it for me. Then she finds her tennis ball. I pet her and ask her why so energetic. “I’m not energetic, dramn it,” she answers as she sails through the kitchen.

 “No?” I say as I get ice cubes from the refrigerator. She hates the sound of ice cubes dropping in a glass, so she takes another circuit through the house. She runs back, grabs a bite of kibble, and then I know for sure she’s got something on her mind. She’s a nervous eater and tends to snack when she’s stressed. She chews kibble while she paces, and even though she scatters kibble throughout the house, I love this about her. Having gone through a half-rack of Oreos after a bad day a time or two in my life, I can relate.

 “Uh….Mom…is it true what I heard on the radio this morning?” she asks.

 “What?” I filled up my glass with water and took a drink.

  “Ya know, the gruy who wants to bre president that tried his dog to the roof of the car and drove across the crountry? (Chomp chomp)  Is thrat true?” She’s crunching kibbles the whole time she’s talking, so she’s a bit hard to understand. I take another drink before I answer.

 “Romney…well he’s a Republican.” Like that’s supposed to explain that behavior to a Border Collie.

 “Ya, Romney. Did thrat really happen?” Flick continues to pace and chomp, pace and chomp. She’s got kibble from one end of the kitchen to the other.

 “I’m afraid so,” I answer carefully. “But he didn’t just tie Seamus to the roof. Seamus was in his carrier, you know, his bedroom.” That was a bad enough image, but I didn’t want to scare her. I Frank Luntzed the hell out of it.

 “So rif he becromes president, rill dogs have to ride on the roofs of cars?” She’s rarely still, but she has stopped shortly when she asked this and looked at me with those big, brown doleful eyes. I reach down and rub her behind her ears.

 “Oh, Flick, beautiful girl. Of course not! You’ll always get to ride shotgun right next to Dad.”

 “Uh, Mike,” she corrected me. Flick continues to have some issues with the fact that I’m the alpha female. She’s so alpha it’s a wonder she didn’t drop a testicle. She grudgingly relinquished the role when we rescued her, and when Mike’s not around, Flick and I have a true sisterhood. But as soon as he gets home, she sometimes forgets and thinks she’s top female; she thinks she’s the wife. I look at her with love but directly in her eyes.

 “Dad,” I say firmly. She reaches back to sniff her “girl parts.” She does that for comfort in stressful situations, too. But she quickly refocused on the topic.

 “So, what about rother dogs. Will they have to ride on roofs if he’s president?”

 “No. Presidents can’t order dogs to ride on roofs. They can only invade other countries after lying about weapons of mass destruction and order people tortured. Dogs are safe.” I rubbed her head. She rolled over on the floor, attempting to keep her mind off the scary images in her head—the picture of being trapped in a vestibule on top of a car for 12 hours and shitting herself in that cold, scary wind tunnel. She closed her eyes as I rubbed her stomach. This should appease her, I thought. She rolled back up and shook. No luck.

 “But wrhy didn’t they ret Seamus ride in the car?” She had her teeth in this and wouldn’t let it go. I started rubbing her chest and then back again.

 “I don’t know, my good girl, my cutest girl. He’s an asshole. You don’t have to worry about it.”

 “But I am wrorried about it. You know me. I wrorry about shadows! I wrorry about the ice maker! I wrorry about big truck breaks. Now I have to wrorry about Mitt Romney putting rus dogs on roofs!” She ran to the back room and came back with her hedgehog and made it grunt and few times. I sat down, and she came and put her head in my lap.

 “But you’re safe, and you know you never have to worry about us putting you on a roof.” I rubbed her behind the ears, those soft ears.

 “But I’m a Border Collie! It’s my job to wrorry. I don’t have any sheep!” She stopped and nuzzled me, looking up at me. Then she softly said, “besides….I’ve been there…” I took a breath. She’s seen starvation, and when we got her, not only was she skin and bones but her pads were all worn completely down from running. This is a Border Collie with baggage.

“I know you have, girl. You’ve never talked about it.” She pulled away from me and made her way back to her bowl for another mouthful of kibbles and began more rapid, nervous pacing.

“I cran’t,” she said as she chomped.

“I know, girl. I’m sorry I brought it up.”

“You didn’t, Mom. I did.” She circled the couch as if herding it.

 “Flick, come here….you just need to come, lie down. I’ll make a fire. Lie here beside me and relax. It’s going to be okay. Romney won’t win anyway. He’s not even popular in his own political party let alone with the rest of the country. About 39% of the people in this country are owned by at least one dog. That disgusting story plus the fact that Romney’s a rich guy who’s responsible for outsourcing his own labor in his companies is going to prevent him from being a viable general election candidate.” Flick came and lay at my feet. She rolled over in a huff.

“I need to hear rit from Dad,” she said. I rolled my eyes.

“Yeah,” I said exhaling in that way I do when I love and am at the same time disgusted with a family member’s behavior. “I figured as much. We’ll talk to Dad when he gets home. He’ll tell you Romney has no more chance of winning the presidency than a Chihuahua has of becoming a good sheep dog.”  Flick closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and exhaled her stress and slept. I fear her dreams placed her in a doggie dystopia where the government required dogs to ride on roofs and each SUV on the freeway sported a shit stain down its back window with a bumper sticker that said Romney 2012. I just hope Flick asks my husband about what “man-on-dog Santorum” refers to. I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t believe me if I told her.

Traveling in Southern France with the ‘Little Fuquier’

This travel piece was posted on my first blog in June, 2009.

Before I tell you this story, I need to introduce you to the little travel demon that’s attached himself to us from the first morning of the trip. We’ll call him the “little fuquier.” First, he smugly threw fire bolts into my lower body, especially satisfied to watch me search for bathrooms as frequently as I did good photo ops in Paris. Then, when things seemed calm and without incident, he gobbled Mike’s ATM card. The little fuquier likely had something to do with delaying the money transfer that Fidelity had promised in Paris to fix that problem as well. No money showed up. He’s no doubt given the money to his ne’er-do-well little fuquier cousins to party their asses off with on the rue Oberkampf. Then, still needing attention (sort of like Kim Jong Il lately) he tampered with Europecar arrangements in Beziers, stranding us at the train station. He has been one busy little fuquier to be sure.

We hadn’t heard much from him for a spell, that is until today. And what a day he’s had. Paul Theroux, the celebrated travel writer said, “travel is glamorous only in retrospect.” He must have met the little fuquier, because glamorous is not an adjective I’d use to describe our experiences today. Oh, sure. We were (and are) in a glamorous spot. I was getting a glamorous tan in the 90-degree heat. But being stuck on a median on the Promenade Anglais from 1:45 until 4:45 pm. is not a glam setting. And the Promenade fringes some pretty great digs in Nice, let me tell you. In fact, as I stood there waiting for the Europecar rescue vehicle that never arrived, I almost had enough energy to fantasize Johnny Depp in some little apartment overlooking the sea. Almost. But after two or three hours in the hot sun with a broken down car hitched on the median, traffic whizzing by, not even Johnny Depp sounded good. Yes, that’s how beaten I was. Not even Johnny Depp sounded good!

The day started sunny and uneventful. Sure, I was still dreading the drive to Nice. The day before had been trying behind the wheel from Meg and Simon’s Maison-Hirondelles, a charming little bed and breakfast about twenty minutes out of Beziers. It is challenging enough to drive in a new country where the traffic signs are unfamiliar and the roads are narrow and arranged in medieval labyrinths. But we decided to bring along Sally–Mike’s name for the bitch-in-the-box GPS, the most hot and cold broad ever to work the satellites. Sally would nicely say “In 300 meters turn right” or “take the second left in the round about,” and I would oblige, shifting the VW rig down and buzzing in the direction she’d told me to go.

But then Sally started to act like Glen Close in Fatal Attraction. She’d give a direction you could not possibly follow. She’d coolly say, “recalculating.” And then all hell would break loose. When we needed Sally to be rational the most was when she most went off the beam. She boiled rabbits in the middle of town, in heavy traffic, and then she’d say something brilliant like–”at destination.” But we weren’t at our f-in destination. Then she’d come back on and act completely sweet and rational–telling us where we were and where to turn.  I tell you. I don’t know how Michael Douglas did it. (Not that the ass didn’t deserve some of what he got in that film.  It should be a required preparation for governors of South Carolina; they’d have to view it right before taking the oath of office.)

We left Aix-en-Provence after a quick breakfast there. Sally hadn’t had her coffee and had trouble getting us out of town. By that time I’d learned to not trust the bitch and just looked for signs to Nice.

Only two hours to Nice. We had it timed so we’d get there right when the car rental office opened at two, drop the car, catch a cab to our hotel, deposit our bags, and explore the city. I wanted to see the Chagall museum. Traffic was dicey by the turn off to St. Tropez, but the French do a wonderful job of keeping to the right on the freeway, so you can get into a certain rhythm. I drove in that French rhythm, my mind occasionally drifting from the backs of tanker trucks to floating Chagall dream people in azure skies.

When we got to Nice we had a half tank of gas. Savvy travelers that we are, rather than let the car rental company gouge us for the cost of refilling it at their rates, we stopped on the Promenade to fill up.

And that’s where the little fuquier must have decided to have a last bit of fun with us. We pulled up to diesel and tried to get our credit card to work in it. The card, of course, would not work. So Mike went in to inquire as to how to get it to work. The man came out and directed us to a different pumping station, one in which we could just pay by card inside. Great. He was helpful, but it was all a bit confusing. I pulled the car up, got out and went in to pay with the credit card. Mike filled us up.

Off we sailed east on the Promenade Anglais, which ribbons along the Mediterranean. We were about three kilometers from the Europecar office when the car started to sputter, spit and cough. It died right in traffic at a light. I tried to start it. Desperate. Cars are honking behind me. Come on. Come on. Shit. Finally. It started. I coaxed it along a bit farther, revving the engine for all it was worth in first to the next stop, desperately trying to find a place to pull off. It gasped and stopped again. More honking. I’m saying “shit” “what the f” (you name it). I can pretty much call an inanimate object every epithet known to womankind. Mike says, “God, maybe it wasn’t diesel I put in.” If I’d still had my fallopian tubes, they’d have sprung from my body and choked him.

There are moments in every marriage when you want to scream at the top of your lungs at the one you love so much. I wanted to reach over and grab him by his 150+ IQ and slap some “attention-to-detail” sense into him. I kept my hands to myself.

I limped and lurched us over to a left turn in the median finally where the car gave up for good. A cambien (phone) sat in close proximity, so Mike took the Europecar paperwork and phone card and trudged off to slay that dragon. I tried to talk myself down as I waved people around.

I watched Mike struggle with the phone conversation, using his hands to convey his meaning. (Yeah, like that will help.) It was taking forever to just talk to Europecar. Finally he came back to the car. They were coming, but it had been a long and arduous task to get through all the bullshit on the phone.  “God, I’m sorry. I still think I put in diesel, but that must be what happened in the confusion,” he said.

By that time I’d had enough time to cool down. To realize that this was the guy who’d stuck with me through 23 hours of childbirth. Through five months of vomiting at the beginning of the pregnancy. Through sixteen years of migraines. Through brain surgery. Through losing my parents. Through paying off student loans. Through eight long years of George W. Bush. “It could have happened to either one of us. I love you,” I said. Within a few minutes, I knew I really meant it.

And it could have. It’s called traveling. It’s called being out of your comfort zone. It’s being humbled by circumstances beyond our understanding and hence beyond our control.

The rest of the story of the “big Promenade strand” is the two police officers who rode up on their bikes and assisted us. They stayed with us, called assistance for us, recalled assistance for us, and tried in vain to get Europecar to help us. (This was before Europecar knew why the car stalled.) Finally, after waiting going on three hours, one of the officers said, “Let’s try to start it.” It miraculously started. They escorted us the kilometer and a quarter to the office (yes, we were that close). The two officers were so nice. One spoke English. He went into the Europecar office and basically told them they had treated us poorly (like that helped).  In the end, the extra insurance for complete coverage I took out will not cover this SNAFU. It was our mistake, and we’ll pay for it handsomely no doubt.

On the brighter side, our hotel is lovely, and we actually had Wifi (or at least we did until I changed the battery on my computer and lost the configurations). I’ll see if I can post this later.

As we prepare to leave France in the morning, we hope the little fuquier stays put. We’re happy to take with us the kindness of the French. We’re overjoyed to have new friends. We’re exhausted as well.

Other things GPS might stand for:

Going Past Site

Getting Pissed Swiftly

Global Proof of Suckers

Glorified Pitiful Service