Tonight’s Tour Includes ‘Pig Alley’, 1989

Pigalle Place is a red light district in the Montmartre area of Paris. It’s where you’ll find the Moulin Rouge along with sex shops, topless bars, and other notorious ‘adult entertainments.’  It’s been known pejoratively as ‘pig alley’ since World War II. I doubt the male patrons who go there stop to think when using the name what they are in effect calling themselves.

The royal tourist coach

full of oily adolescents

forces its way into the sticky, narrow street.

Packaged vaginas stuck to tired Montmartre walls,

spandex and rouge

lips where a child once painted

the voice of her mother.

A leathered proprietor smolders in

the alley’s darkened folds,

his chattel

for francs or dollars.

Prep boys gawk

lurid faces blowing whistles

fogging windows damp with insults and

safe distance bargains.

The smug headmaster

watches the rites in a tilted rear view bus mirror.

He says ‘they’re entitled to some fun.’

He says ‘it’s harmless.’

Liberte’, Egalite’, Fraternite’

Wedged in too tightly between a Peugeot

and a cigarette-stale perfume,

the bus backs out

spent of interest.

Not even offering to pay

for the fuck.


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.

Gay Marriage Will Ruin My Marriage?

(This post was originally posted in February 2012 on my previous blog, Lame Duck on an Empty Nest and was one of the most popular posts by far. Since I wrote it, the anti-equality crowd got enough signatures to get Referendum 74 on the ballot, an attempt to vote down what the legislature passed in February–marriage equality.)

Big news from my state: our legislature passed gay marriage and the bill is on its way to Governor Christine Gregoire for her signature, which she promises to deliver Monday. Just in time for Valentines Day. Oooh, wee! Phew! Raise your mimosa, girlfriend! I’m trying to take it all in, because it’s evidently going to irrevocably change my life, or so says groups at CPAC and covens like Concerned Women for America. They tell us this week’s Ninth Circuit Court’s ruling, which overturned California’s Prop 8, and the upcoming extension of nuptials to Washington State’s gay and lesbian community are the end of marriage and ultimately the family. Or, as the girls at Concerned Women for America warn, “homosexual marriage will devalue your marriage. A license to marry is a legal document by which government will treat same-sex marriage as if it were equal to the real thing.” They go on to argue:

“If the Smithsonian Museum displays a hunk of polished blue glass next to the Hope Diamond with a sign that says, ‘These are of equal value,’ and treats them as if they were, the Hope Diamond is devalued in the public’s eye. The government says it’s just expensive blue glass. The history and mystery are lost too.”

Holy hardest known natural material! As a teacher who starts every year with a unit on logic and fallacies, those ladies have seduced me with their clear metaphorical reasoning! (That didn’t sound too gay did it?) Moreover, the idea that my polished blue glass marriage might get plunked down next to a Hope Diamond coupling…Oops. (Sorry, I have a hard time telling diamonds from cubic zirconia—they’re both lovely at ten paces.) That’s the other way around. Let’s fix that. The idea that my Hope Diamond marriage might get plunked down next to a piece of polished blue glass…well you can see that I’m bound as a blogger to detail out how much I’ll miss my marriage and my husband once this whole thing unravels as a result of some guys with good taste tying what will no doubt be a fabulous knot. And you can bet your evangelical tight asses when they do, the guys exchanging vows with a Northwest software industry backdrop won’t be wearing cubic zirconia!

         The Concerned girls for America are justifiably worried that history and mystery will be lost. It’s probably a good idea here to tell you a bit about the history and mystery of my marriage, just so you’ll see how much I’ll lose when these gays break up my twenty-year union.

         In terms of history, I met my husband after spending a summer researching frontier prostitution in Idaho’s Coeur d’Alene mining district. I came back to my teaching job that fall with boxes of nineteenth century police records, fire insurance maps and more research than any master’s thesis could ever use. I’d been on a research project of sorts for the right guy up to that age (30), and like beads on a rosary, I had collected the right guy (or so I thought before then) at the wrong time, nice guys most of the time, and then wrong guys too much of the time.

In a 1980 VW Rabbit with the backseat removed for his Samoyed, my teacher husband drove into my life. His big, white doggie buddy rarely rode in the back, though, simply because he preferred to ride shotgun and snack on Twizzlers with the boss. I was absolutely bedazzled. For this scene contrasted sharply to the previous guy I’d dated, a wealthy Seattle businessman who couldn’t date on Sundays, because that was the day he washed his expensive yuppie car. Guess which bead on the rosary he was.

Mr. 1980 VW Rabbit and I flirted for a few weeks, and then he got up the courage to leave a sticky note under my door asking me on a date. (I’ve still got that sticky note in my jewelry box.) That date all but cinched the deal for me, and within a month I was packing up my cozy little beach cottage and moving in with him and a dog with a penchant for Twizzlers.

That’s the beginning of our history. The mystery I suppose is marriage itself, that journey that puts you on roads you never dreamed you’d travel. I now ride shotgun, or to be more precise, he often does because I have a problem with chicken breaking. On our journey we’ve driven through a rough pregnancy and all the subsequent twists and turns and lovely country of raising our beautiful daughter. My husband travels with a high maintenance partner that he takes too often to emergent care for migraine rescues, where he sits quietly in dark rooms until the medicine kicks in and my vomiting stops. He travels with someone who’s had to stop the journey for surgery several times, including neurosurgery. On this journey we’ve remodeled houses and our original expectations of marriage. We’ve battled, unpacked our past baggage, and then figured out what baggage to continue to carry and what to leave behind. We’ve laughed and laughed and laughed. We’ve buried our family members and held each other in that grief. We’ve carefully red-penned road maps, and now we’re heading to a new direction together next year, a new life neither of us would have dreamed even five years ago would ever be possible. Regardless of what opportunities or travails await us around the next turn, I plan on remaining strapped in next to this best of all friends and men, because I love him madly. Yeah, I’ll sure miss him now that gay marriage is around. I’m damn sure all of our hard-earned bond will suddenly veer off this matrimonial road.

Now let’s rationally examine if a gay or lesbian coupling could match what we have, and if they can’t, then I suppose, like those bun-coiffed white breads at Concerned Women for America, I’ll just have to follow their diamond/blue glass logic. Let’s take a fictitious lesbian couple, for example. I can think more like a lesbian than a gay male for obvious reasons. Plus, I do have a promise to myself that should I ever cross that sexual Rubicon, I’m shooting for a three-way with Rachel Maddow and Stephanie Miller. But I digress…

Would a lesbian ever go through relationship after relationship in her twenties awaiting Ms. Right? And then, upon meeting her, immediately know it and rush headlong into the relationship? Check.

Would a lesbian get all smitten by a canine-toting smart girl in an old car? Oh hell yes. Or then stick with that smart girl, and that smart girl stick with her through childbirth, parenting, medical crises, grief, and all of life’s changing directions? Uh…yeah. Could those two love each other madly? Well, of course. Why is that hard to understand?

So which then is diamond and which is cubic zirconia? Nobody knows until they’ve been in marriage for a while. There are no guarantees. The only thing that makes a marriage a diamond is its hardness, its imperviousness to chipping and the hot pressures of the world. And that quite frankly is based in values, luck, timing, and a commitment to one another. The hard work of marriage isn’t packed between your legs. Marriage is a diamond if it helps two people travel through this big mean world; marriage is a diamond if it gives two people diamond strength.

But those smug klugs at Concerned Women for America counter with one more metaphor to support their diamond reasoning. And this one is as brilliant as they are:

“If government grants professional licenses to just anybody, every profession and qualified professional is devalued. The government says an uneducated panhandler can do brain surgery.”

Clearly those girls’ polyester pantsuits are chaffing in places they shouldn’t. This is what we call arguing through inappropriate metaphor in my government classes, and oh, what a beauty of an example. Makes me almost want to teach next year and not retire just so I can share this one in my opener unit. I said almost.

I come from



I come from Green Stamps and Zane Grey

A lightning struck trailer

Cattle guards too slick in winter

For a sure-footed pack mare

Shots and chainsaws piercing kid prayers

A beer tab popped

“I’ll be God damned if I ever have another trap like that.”

And from then on, gates

Big green steel gates.


I come from up Bear Creek

Selway’s buzzed edge

July horse flies

Mosquito-bit and skinny dipped thighs

4-H sewing projects for the Fair

Tamaracks going amber

Thirty-five inches of snow one Halloween

Ham hocks and navy beans

Love leavened cornbread

“Iron skillets bake a better crust.”



I come from rabbit ears on a snowy television

JFK’s funeral caisson

Gunsmoke and Red Skelton

“Goddamn hippies.”

Vietnam casualty counts for dinner

Ritz Mock Apple Pie and whole, fresh milk for dessert


I come from brick dust on work boots

Travertine and slate, sweet wet cement

White polished nurses’ aide shoes

“Did Mrs. Buehl get caught without her clothes again?”

stealing down the rest home hall to Max’s room.

And Mom’s common quip

“Just cause there’s snow on the roof

doesn’t mean the fire’s out in the basement.”


I come from an Avenger of Bataan

Who abandoned his youth on Zig Zag Pass.

An Indiana farm girl who wanted to be an English teacher

Who got the highest grades at beauty school

And knew all the bones in the body

Who’d read Gone With the Wind thirty times

And liked Melanie best.


I come from bull pines and ditch riders

Clucking church women

Cellophane rapture lessons in their

Total Woman book clubs.

Don’t pay the fence builders until the job’s done

They’ll go on a bender

Old Kenny Roan

Bummin’ always repaid dollars from Dad

“My Indian brother”

“My Indian brother”


I come from a bar and grill juke box

Set underneath old Ed’s hand painted copy of

Remington’s In Without Knocking

Paint smudged fifty cent pieces

From the big, chiming brass cash register

“A Boy Named Sue”

“Harper Valley PTA”


I come from never doubting the existence of love

But its cost

Oh, God, its cost.

“Let’s go home.”

“After one more, we’ll go.”

“This eye? Well. . .would you believe I hit a door?”


I come from loaded guns

I’d silently empty

Into my box of Barbies

When Dad came home

Full of Jim Beam and “Japs”


I come from a place

I keep safe from my daughter

Trigger locked

High up in my closet

So she won’t see a ten year old cry.


Homeward Flights

(Written on the way home from Europe, August 2009)

A hundred and fifty thousand air miles ago

I drank only Shirley Temples and

rode in the pickup back with

shovels, broken brick.

First class.

Hub to rusty hub wide seating,

leg room enough for scaffold planks.

Dad’s canvas tool bag coughed dry mortar

on every bump.

On the gun rack his level gurgled.

Hayfield bugs hit the cracked windshield,

a Jackson Pollock

by the first gate,

where the first cab to cabin

words could finally bounce over

three-quarter tons of rattled metal.

From the Mercantile to home

we gained altitude,

outran the Fokker mutts that tailed us by Roys,

raced to the crest of Ralston’s Hill

where an air pocket,

that sudden foot of space between

ass and truck bed,

flipping stomachs and delivering

a split sweet moment of weightless joy.

It was before kids were so seat-belt safe.

It was before body scans.

A She Wolf and Other Roman Women

(Written in Rome, August, 2009)

Having a vague grasp of the story of Romulus and Remus, those twins raised by a benevolent wolf, I have been pleasantly surprised to hear of the alternative interpretation of who truly nurtured those boys into early adulthood.  Gaetano, our guide in Pompeii, first clued us into this version of the myth of Rome’s founders. The less known and touted portion of this myth is that it was not a wolf at all that raised the boys, but a harlot, for “she wolf” or “lupa” was shorthand for courtesan in ancient Rome. They received their names for howling at men in their bidding for customers. It also may have been that the shepherd Faustulus, who myth tells us found the boys in the wolf’s den, lived in a dual income relationship with his wife, Acca Larentia, and it could be that income came from her notorious activities. As with all myths, the retelling by various ancients and various factions of ancients blends and sifts the tales to their particular likings. In any case, myths often have tiny seeds of truth, and any kernel of truth of twins being raised by a wolf seems farther fetched than twins being raised by a woman who turned tricks. And certainly, an “Eternal City” would attribute its roots probably morequickly to wolf milk and teat than to a lactating strumpet.

But women standing just behind the curtain of male myth in Rome’s origins doesn’t stop at saving the baby asses of these two brothers. To begin with, the boys’ mother, Plutarch and Livy told us, was none other than Rhea Silvia, a priestess. She received a forced honor as a Vestal Virgin from her uncle Amulius, who had a shitload of gold, but not the rightful inheritance as King. No, that right was her father’s, papa Numitor. Uncle Amulius living before the medieval chastity belt, placed Rhea Silvia in the position of forced celibacy, for he wanted no rightful heirs that could challenge his poached throne.  Vestal Virgins found to be deflowered were buried alive.  If they kept their knees together for thirty years, they could live their lives in luxury, be certain that their blood would never be spilt, and even marry once their thirty years were up. Not a bad deal, really.

Enter Mars, literally. Mars. Some say it was seduction. Some say rape. I wasn’t there mind you, and we all know that law disallows the past activities of the defendant to be introduced during trial, but let’s just say that Mars, being the God of War, had a proclivity for mindless violence, dominance, and mayhem. So the possibility that he charmed and seduced this woman who had family pressures and the possibility of live burial on her seems less likely than rape. Circumstantial evidence—“he said, she said”–to be sure, but let’s look at the statistics. Anyway, the outcome was pregnancy, a tough situation for a Vestal Virgin.

Rhea Silvia bore twin boys, Romulus and Remus, and they were spectacular male specimens. This pissed off Amulius tremendously, and he imprisoned the recovering mom and ordered the twin boys to be put to death. Of course, kings never do their own dirty work (can you say Dick Cheney?) and Amulius outsourced the nasty task to a servant.  Luckily for Romulus and Remus (and the history of Rome) that the servant had a soft spot for babies. He placed the little ones in a basket and laid it on the banks of the flooding Tiber River. The rising waters picked up the hapless cargo and delivered the brothers gently downstream where the “she wolf” discovered the two.

Of course the two brothers grew up, their youthful years as myth and history pinpoint at around 771-753 BC.  When around 18 and full of testosterone, the young men eventually encountered their real grandfather, Numitor and their evil great uncle Amulius again after a kerfuffle over some sheep.  Their grandfather discovered the true identity of Remus, and when Romulus returned to assist his brother, he incited a revolt in the city and in the melee, old ornery Amulius, was killed. The brothers then released their imprisoned mother.

You’d think the two would have figured the Gods had favored them and that familial harmony would be better than a usual goat sacrifice as thanks. But no. These two could not agree on which hill to establish the new city. Would it be Palatine Hill or Aventine Hill? Romulus preferred Palatine; Remus Aventine. They consulted flocks of birds as omens. Even that did not solve it, for they both saw flocks that gave them the answers they wanted. (Again, I’m thinking of the Bush Administration looking for WMDs here.) Remus saw six vultures; brother Romulus saw twelve. Compromise was not something they evidently learned along the way. Romulus, convinced twelve vultures trumped six started a trench on Palatine. Remus having none of this leaped the trench, a bad omen I guess for starting cities in 753 BC. It was enough to enrage Romulus to the point that he slay Remus for his brother’s broad jumping antics. Romulus then declared himself King, named the city after himself, and completed the city.

Rome grew, filling up with males from all varieties of life’s harder edges. Of course, just like an early western mining town, something essential was missing, for even though Romans were flexible in their sexual tastes, women still filled that civilizing niche. Without women, Romulus and Rome had a demographic problem on their hands.

Romulus hatched a plan. He’d go to a neighboring tribal area, throw a hell of a party, invite the locals, the Sabines, known for their lovely women, ply their men with plenty of wine, and then when the signal dropped, capture the women. This is what is later known as The Rape of the Sabines. They captured daughters and the younger women in the crowd and whisked 700 women back to the all-too male Rome.

The Sabine men, once sobered and sufficiently armed and organized under a guy named Titus Tatius, retaliated, marching on Rome, wanting their women back. They got help from a young girl named Tarpeia who opened a gate for the Sabines on the deal that she’d receive some cool arm jewelry in exchange. She got the jewelry. That and Sabine shields from the men as well, dying under the weight of it all. (Myths always have to teach women not to want too much.)

The ferocious battle continued until the Sabine women rushed onto the battle grounds with babies in their arms, pleading with both sides to stop the madness. They cried to their new Roman husbands as well as their Sabine fathers and brothers, “live in peace as one people.” Suddenly, all the adrenaline and testosterone drained from the scene. Big, burley Roman warriors and outraged Sabine men looking for vengeance stopped and sang “Kumbaya.” Romulus and Titus Tatius decided to rule jointly, doubling the size of Rome. Birds chirped, bees buzzed, and small little furry animals procreated.  Why? Because women, yes women, talked some sense into the men.

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