Monday, August 31, 2009

brief respite

To all the fans of Cowboy: here's a post for you:





After a weekend of working on his house (don't worry, more to come), Cowboy mostly did little projects this weekend. I help by wielding hammers between him and his construction buddies... until they determine I'm too slow and chuck them at each other instead.

These photos are from the job site.







Basically, you're looking out his soon-to-be windows. Which is better than looking in his windows, as that's just creepy.






Cowboy's great-grandparents pumped water with this windmill. It's not exactly in working condition, but it's not something he wants to tear down either. I can't blame him.

I give North Dakota a hard time, but at sunset she cleans up nice. Maybe she had a date or something...

Saturday, August 29, 2009

the addict returns

I'm traveling this Labor Day for a girls weekend in Omaha.

I'm pretty sure I can handle the traffic and navigating streets with more than one lane again. But don't let me in any malls.

Should I visit a Gap, New York & Company or Victoria's Secret, I don't think I'll ever get out.

Friday, August 28, 2009

purple people eater

Ok so I don't have the house-building post yet, but it's coming. In the meantime, LOOK AT MY FOOT. It's totally going to win me a Pulitzer Prize someday.




Note the middle toe and how magically purple and delicious it looks. It's pretty much the Barney and Friends-iest of all feet so I'm hauling it to Hollywood to launch its music career. (Heads up, Britney and move over Beyonce.) Look for This Little Piggy on the soundtrack to "Saw VI: Revenge of the Hunting Dogs."

My toes'll be signing autographs in no time.

The cosmetic change is because someone (i.e. me) thought it be fun to step on a dog leash to keep said animal from running away. The problem was, I was shoeless, and the pooch is about 78 1/2 times stronger than me.

Frankly, This Little Piggy is lucky to be alive.

Many city people own hamsters, cats, dogs, bald eagles, etc. ... but I was never one of them.

The first pet I ever owned was a fish. I named him Sunny. He was dead in three days.

Animals weren't allowed in my house, so I don't really know how to care for them. I can pet fur and fill water bowls, sure. But when dogs bark, I scream. And run to my mommy still, but please don't tell anyone.

So when this vicious creature stopped over last night, I'm pretty sure I thought my middle toe could take her.


I thought wrong.

I also didn't think about how ridiculous I'd sound yelping "Ow! Ow!" in front of a man who regularly comes home with scars in irregular places (like his belly button or the underside of his elbow).

Cowboy says he's an electrician, but I'm pretty sure that's just code for "raccoon wrestler" or "coyote slayer."

So I shut up and prayed my toe was broken so I'd have an excuse. But it wasn't. Damn.

That dog is a pooch, but I am a major pussy.




Right now I'm sure you've dislocated your shoulder in an attempt to raise your hand, so allow me to answer your questions:

1). Yes. That is Cowboy's dog. You're meeting her before you meet him. Sorry. But the wait is SOOO worth it, I promise. PS: Her name is Lacey.

2). Yes. I specifically painted my nails for this picture. And then I photoshopped all the edges I'd messed up. You win.







Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Fear ye

For some people, you need doctors, nurses and hallucinations to tell they're crazy.



For others, you just know.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Country picnic

At city potluck picnics, children play, men show their muscles and women dress in summer clothes and gossip about the neighbors and friends who didn’t attend.


Summer clothes: Apparel that is totally unsuitable for outdoor activities, namely short dresses, beaded jewelry and sandals with heels. If you don’t believe me, check out these stiletto-savers, designed to protect your sandals from the sand. Seriously.


In the country, both women and men where t-shirts and jeans shorts.


Jean shorts: Apparel no city girl EVER wears because the clothing is too short, too long or too unflattering. Unless she’s 7, denim in that pattern does not occur naturally on city-folk. Jean skirts maybe. Or capri shorts. I don’t even know a store sells jean shorts for women. But really, they aren't unflattering and jeans shorts may even be practical. But that still doesn't mean I'll wear them...


The country girl in my told me to wear capris. They’re more sensible. They’re more conservative. And they’ll hide your pale skin, she said. But the city girl in me wanted some sun (tan). And she knows how to bust some cap.


So a dress it was. With polka dots. And a necklace so long it caressed my belly button. And white, chucky-heeled sandals accessorized my "Pistol Packin' Pink nail polish.


No one stared at me when I arrived, but maybe that’s because they were wearing sunglasses. And tennis shoes.


You can’t be playing softball in that, they said.


(Not "you can't play softball," rather, "you can't be playing softball" in that)


But my question was: Softball?


Where I come from, the boys play softball and the ladies drink lemonade and talk about where they got their hair highlighted.


What do you mean softball?


That’s OK, they said. We’re playing egg toss first, anyways. Husbands and wives are on the same team.


(awkward pause)


And, er... boyfriend and girlfriends too.


So there we were. Me in my dress and Cowboy is his cut-off sleeves, throwing raw eggs at each other.


Don’t mess up, Kate, I whispered to myself. DO NOT mess up.


The first tosses were fine. Toss. Catch. Baby step back. Toss. Catch. Baby step back.


One couple down.


Phew, we didn’t get last, I thought.


Then another. And another.


Pressure’s on, I thought.


Standing 12 feet apart, Cowboy lofts one to me, 5 feet short.


Oh four-letter-word, I said, recalling my days as a tomboy and diving for that egg like it was a Hail Mary Pass and I was in the end zone.


WHOOO HOOO, they cried.


She caught it! ...in heels! one said.


Now put that picture in the paper, said another.


After a victory dance mimicking that of Chad Johnson, Cowboy and I had two other teams to beat. If we made it this far, we might as well aim for total egg shell domination.


At least until it was my turn to throw.


Suddenly, I didn't care about the mud in my toes or the wind flying up my skirt. It didn't matter that the breeze had blown the curls out of my hair or that mosquitoes were biting at my legs. I didn't even notice the pink rings on my shoulders left from a cocktail of perspiration and red spaghetti straps.


My arms, by the way, are made of steel, just ask those 40 pound sandbags. But tossing an egg 15 feet is well, quite a feat.


So instead of tossing the egg and letting it land short, I side-armed the egg like a baseball, chucking it from Point A to Point B.


It broke.


Egg yolk all over Cowboy and his cut-off sleeves, staining his t-shit and soiling his redneck dreams.


He’ll need new clothes, I thought. ...So if this is country, I dreamed, hand me another egg.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

left to my lonesome

I'm sitting at Cowboy's grandmother's house, awaiting his return. Before he left, we were designing his new house (more on that later) but now I'm alone.

The reason for his departure?

To shoot a raccoon.

country cruisin'

The other day I was driving in the right hand lane of a four-lane highway. I switched to the left to pass a Slower-Moving Vehicle. Without warning, said S.M.V. switched to the left lane, a mere meter between her car and mine.


Weird, I thought. No one would enter the left lane in front of a someone who is quite obviously passing them. Maybe she has to turn soon...?


Nope.


So I passed her. In the right lane.


My dad would be so proud.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

why i'll NEVER be country

Me: Why do you have toilet paper in your truck?

Cowboy: I don’t think I need to tell you that, Kate.

Me: (pause...) Are you serious?

Cowboy: Sometimes I work in the middle of nowhere and there’s no toilet around.

Me: Ok, enough said.

Cowboy: Boys use toilet paper too, you know.

Me: SERIOUSLY. Enough said.

Cowboy: It’s not so bad once you get used to it.

Me: That’s why I’m a city girl. So I don’t have to get used to it.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

wallet wise

I read in a women's magazine that random acts of thriftiness are no longer taboo.

For example, if someone compliments your sweater, you no longer have to blush and hope they don't notice it's last season, the magazine said. Now, you have the freedom to say "Target clearance rack!" and not feel ashamed.

Let me tell you something.

This is not a trend. This is PURE North Dakotan.

Up here, people mock those who carry purses that cost more than $50... $40 even. Why would you spend more than $50 on a wallet-carrier when you could save your money and spend it on a $1,000 crossbow at Cabela's?

When I visited the clinic for my annual check up, my doctor knew how much each prescription cost and which was the best value. I don't know if you'll want this one, he said, it's 50 bucks a month.

The sales associates at clothing stores suggest you buy what's on sale, rather than what's full price.

I bought $4 coffee once, and the co-workers made fun of me.

So this "trend," this supposed new-fangled rhetoric, was stolen straight from the Upper Plains. And let me tell you something else. It has never gone out of style.

Friday, August 14, 2009

choke me for my chokecherry

In my attempts to be a good little country girl, I force myself to try new things: food included. It’s very difficult.


One of the foods I recommend is southeastern North Dakotan at worst and regional at best. So I’m sorry to make your mouth water, but you likely won’t find this at your grocery stores. I don’t know if the treat just isn’t as popular in Manchester, Iowa or Tuscon, Ariz., or if maybe the gods who listen when you pray just don’t love you as much as they love me, but if I could choose a way to die, I’d pick drowning. In chokecherry jelly.


Now, I’ve tasted delicious regional treats before. I even posted an e-mail I wrote about my kuchen-baking-and-ultimately-dropping experience last year.


And while kuchens and knoephlas and lefses and sauerkraut can be tasty, I’d say chokecherry jelly tops both Billboard’s Adult Contemporary and its chart of Hip Hop/R&B.


Take, for instance, the day Cowboy and I made pancakes with chokecherry syrup. The story is, Cowboy’s grandmother attempted to make chokecherry jelly, but when it didn’t set correctly, she jarred it anyway and called it syrup.


She did me a favor.


Basically, I got a chokecherry REJECT and yet I still knelt before the jar, faced Mecca, painted blood around my door and offered my first-born son in hopes that this Manna from heaven would rain on me forever. Screw water, send me some chokecherry.


So naturally, the side dish to any syrup is pancakes. And since I no longer believe in grocery shopping, I had zero pancake mix in my cupboard.


No bother.


I may have lost my faith in Leever’s Supervalue, but cook books: they have me singing HALLELUJAH.


So I plucked my latest used-bookstore purchase, dusted its cover and turned to page 44, Oatmeal Pancakes.


The directions say this recipe should yield four servings for a total of nine pancakes, but they obviously weren't feeding cowboys. I was. So my recipe fed two. And it yielded five pancakes: one mini, four large and one super-sized.


The recipe book calls for this:


* 1/2 cup quick-cooking or old-fashioned oats

* 1/4 cup all-purpose flour

* 1/4 cup whole wheat four

* 1 T sugar

* 1 tsp. baking powder

* 1/2 tsp. baking soda

* 1/2 tsp. salt

* 3/4 cup buttermilk

* 1/4 cup skim milk

* 2 egg whites

* 2 T canola or soybean oil


Since I would never purchase something as expiration date-y as buttermilk, I used all skim instead. And since I’d never heard of soybean oil, I used olive. (It’s what I had. Don’t judge).


So my recipe looked like this:


* 1/2 cup quick-cooking or old-fashioned oats

* 1/4 cup all-purpose flour

* 1/4 cup whole wheat four

* 1 T sugar

* 1 tsp. baking powder

* 1/2 tsp. baking soda

* 1/2 tsp. salt

* 3/4 cup buttermilk

* 1/4 ONE cup skim milk

* 2 egg whites

* 2 T canola or soybean OLIVE oil


If I don’t mention here that while I was the pancake mixer, Cowboy was the pancake flipper, he’d forever refuse worming my fish hooks. And that punishment, I just cannot bear.


So there.


He flipped pancakes. And he didn’t burn them. While wearing an apron. And singing Shania Twain's "Man... I feel like a woman."


What resulted was something I should have photographed, because likely, the Guinness Book of World Records would have included it in its registry of best pancakes in the WHOLE. WIDE. WORLD. That’s how good they were.


Now, I don’t write this to torture you (too much). And, I’m sure you’re Amazon.com-ing “chokecherry jelly” right now. Perhaps, by some act of contrition, you can purchase a jar of your own. Well, you can. But likely, it’s no better than Kool-Aid, Pop Tarts or some other cardboard-boxed rendition of homemade goodness that never compares to fresh-squeezed orange juice or grandma’s baked biscuits.


That, and 11 ounces costs $8.99. EIGHT NINETY-NINE. I can guarantee North Dakotans aren’t paying 9 bucks for chokecherry anything, unless you can use it to bait fish.


So, if you live outside the Upper Plains region and are willing to profess your undying affection for me in 500 words or less, I will send you some. Don’t expect the straight from the stove stuff I’ve got, yours will be from the store. But it will be the homemade stuff, sold in stores, if you know what I mean.


P.S.: Careful what you write. It may will show up on this blog.

Now wipe the drool off your face and get back to work :)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

kuchen again

I originally wrote this in October 2008 as an e-mail to my family.





For the 14 months I've lived here, I've heard, smelled and tasted various German dishes I never knew existed throughout my 23 years as a member of the blank, blank, and blankity blank families (no names, no creepers).

In North Dakota, the food pyramid has seven food groups instead of six. The seventh consists of fatty, creamy, buttery desserts and dishes baked with the sole purpose of keeping warn in the winter. See: knoephla (pronounced neff-la) soup.

On Tuesday, Leslie, a friend from our server days who shares a love of travel and a hate of idiot men, and I gathered our spatulas and borrowed rolling pins and headed for the hills of Jamestown High School where we could feel our thighs thicken before we'd even entered the room. If you guessed we were there to learn, you'd be correct. Two 20-somethings signed up for a cooking class along with mothers, grandmothers and married women intent on finding us husbands. In true Katie-fashion, Leslie and I were the only women sans-engagement bands there.

Naturally, we were the only women sans-culinary skills as well.

The class we'd signed up for was a $15 kuchen (coo-gin, like begin but without the be-) baking class offered by the local Career and Technology Center. Kuchen is a German dessert made with pie-like crust, custard and various kinds of filling including peach, blueberry, apple and the most popular: prune and cottage cheese.

The first order of business was the rolling of the dough which, after the teacher did it, seemed simple. She lied.

My first problem was getting the grapefruit-sized lump to stop adhering to my rolling pin despite my shaking it like a fly swatter in an attempt to get it off.

Flour Kaite, one woman whispered. I know, I lied.

Soon, my crust was as flat as Christina Aguilera in her "Genie in a Bottle" days but like unlike most small-chested women, my dough had curves. Not the round, circular, 360 degrees ones like the crusts of my classmates, but rather, mine had curves similar to that of a two-handled ping-pong paddle.

Despite this, I kept rolling along thinking sooner or later, it all would even out. I was wrong.

Better just to start a fresh with yours, the teacher said, without bothering to lower her voice. The other students looked at me like Katie Couric looked at Sarah Palin, "What's WRONG with you?" they thought. "You'll NEVER get married rolling dough like that."

Awesome.

So after some extra help by both the teacher AND the woman standing to my right, finally my crust was ready for its tin. This job I could do. I folded my crust in half and kneaded it in place without any extra assistance. Soon, it was time for prune layering and oven baking.

When the teacher removed my masterpiece, she even marveled at its perfection all the way to the kuchen cooling counter a home-ec station west. Soon, my classmates' faces of pity turned to jealously, but I slapped their hands. Take my kuchen and yours'll be in your face, I hissed.

When the kuchens were cool and the class over, Leslie and I bagged our treats and posed for a photo. My perfect kuchen would make a perfect framed picture. The only problem was, I dropped it.

That's right.

The most beautiful kuchen in the class, and likely the whole world, was suddenly lumpy, uneven and pathetic.

But like the culinary expert I am, I patched her up, wiped her clean and took my kuchen to work the next day where Germans from as far away as the advertising department marveled at its greatness.

So, who wants to visit?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

small-town savior

You know you live in a small town when a Catholic priest (whom you've never met) visits your office wondering why he hasn't seen you in church.


total bullhead domination

I've been fishing four times now this summer, but it wasn't until this time that I actually caught something. So keep that in mind:


Two Cowboys and a Katie the lady dropped lines into Lake Ashtabula Saturday as part of the Barnes County 18th Annual Bullhead Tournament.


Bullhead: also known as “mud pout", "horned pout" or “mud cat.” A bullhead is a dark, slimy “trash fish” that barks at its captors. Fish are foul enough, but this kind goobers all over AND has whiskers like a cat. Then, once the angler buckets the beast, the fish thrash around and bellow at each other. Many anglers consider it a trash fish as its meat is usually undesirable.


Note: In this story, Cowboy Jr., refers to the Cowboy you’ve met in blogs before. Cowboy Sr. refers to his father, whose nickname REALLY IS Cowboy. And now we enter the Twilight Zone.


Both Cowboys GUARANTEED I'd catch a fish this time, so I prepared myself for total bullhead domination. I pumped iron, drew black squigglies under my eyes and repeated affirmations like "I release my hesitation and make room for victory.”


The pressure was on.


So when I cast Ladyfish Shakespeare, I wanted to make sure I did it right.


Just drop the line in the water and let it drag until it hits the bottom. You’ll know because your line will stop moving, Cowboy Sr. said.


So I did.


The problem was, the boat was moving. So my line kept moving. And I never stopped it. For 10 whole minutes.


We must be really deep, I thought.


I asked Cowboy, Jr. if I’d done something wrong. If my line was in sight, I was blind to it. I'm no pro, but it just felt wrong.


Nope, it’s fine, he assured me.


But when the fishy monitor read 12 feet, it was clear. Something's up.


Hoping no one would notice, I started reeling in. Ten minutes later, Cowboy Sr. said MOVING ON, so everyone started reeling along with me. The Cowboys finished in under a minute. I took half an hour.


Finally, my line appeared in the horizon but seemed to leap like a skipped rock over water.


Hmm... that’s funny I thought. There’s supposed to be a weight on there. Why is it floating?


She’s got a fish! Cowboy, Sr. said.


And I had.


A baby bass.





I'm not sure how long little fishie held on while I reeled my line from the Pacific Ocean and back, but I drafted a letter to PETA offering my apologies. Cowboy Sr. threw him back, but it didn't matter.


I’d caught something.


But I had to catch more. Suddenly, I had a craving for it.


I yearned for another catch the way I yearn for frozen peanut butter balls.


Just one more and I'm done. Two more, I swear. I'll trade you my checking account for a peanut butter ball. I'll trade you MY CAR for a peanut butter ball. GIVE ME PEANUT BUTTER BALLS OR GIVE ME DEATH, DAMNIT.


Careful not to cast incorrectly, I focused on fishing as one of the boys adjusted my jigger and wormed my hook.


Children whined in the pontoon next to us. I need bait! Take this fish off! they cried.


Quiet! I shouted back. We, experienced anglers, need to concentrate.


Ladyfish and I stood shoulders back and head high. We focused on the task ahead like Tiger Woods on the 18th green. I dropped my line directly into the water, set my reel and cast my eyes to the mossy hills and mooing cows surrounding me. (How clean is that water? Anyone wanna swim?)


No sooner had hook hit bottom but Ladyfish tripled her weight. Then she curved like a horseshoe.


Something’s wrong, I said, looking at Cowboy Jr. like I do when he wears t-shirts with cut-off sleeves.


It’s not wrong, you caught a fish!! he said with the same excitement typically reserved for kitchen fires and traffic accidents.


Whhaaaa, I screamed. Call 911...


So I reeled and reeled, ignoring the buzz of the line as the fish swam faster than I turned the crank. Ladyfish yelped along with me, her line tugging in both my direction and that of the fish. Imagine the stretch marks...


But Ladyfish didn’t care. She’s tough. She’s strong. And she’s pink.


Finally I could see the bullhead, fighting for his life and summoning to the power of the Ladyfish before him.


I reeled the line as much as I could, then turned my body so as to bring the fish to the boat, but not my face to the fish.


Is that a catch or a kitten? I asked, awed by the whiskers before me.


You take it off for her, Cowboy Sr. said, eyeing the depth to which the hook protruded the fish’s stomach. He swaller’ed her.


Using a pincher that looked more like a revolver than the hook-removing apparatus of its birth, Cowboy reached into fishie’s bowels and set Ladyfish free.


We we off to fish again.


And since it was so late in the day, I guess the fishies had eaten their lunch. But one wanted dessert.


Reel, reel, reel, I worked, knowing I could handle it this time. I’d caught two sea demons by now. Naturally, I was an expert. Nothing could stop me. I had talent. I had grace. I had Ladyfish.


But as soon as I lifted the bull in the boat, Ladyfish died.


She'd suffered a fatal fracture snapping in two like I wanted to snap that mud cat in two. But I didn’t. Because it was slimy.


The good news is, doctors said, she felt no pain.


But it didn’t matter.


I mourned the death of Ladyfish the way my dad cried when Reggie Bush pushed Matt Leinart for USC’s win against Notre Dame: with pounded fists, ripped t-shirts and a lifetime supply of malt whiskey.


I was just about to recite Ladyfish’s eulogy when I heard, FIXED ‘ER!


Fused together with country cleverness and a little fish grease, Ladyfish was shorter, but she was very much alive. Cowboy Sr. had evoked the power of the Phoenix and breathed new life into my fallen fishing pole.


My hero! I swarmed, hugging his neck, kissing his cheeks and wondering if its inappropriate to dump the son and date the father.


But my thoughts quickly shifted to the task at hand. I had fish to catch. And the babies in the boat next door hooked fish so well, we called them professional hookers.

Monday, August 10, 2009

out of practice

It's customary in the Northern Plains to celebrate/mourn the departure of a friend over cocktails. Last night (Yes Sunday. Don't judge.) was no different.

I used to blog about bar creepers as often as I complained of falling snow or the guy who tucked his hoodie in his jeans. But lately, I haven't frequented the bars as often. Or if I do, I accessorize with a Wrangler-wearing Cowboy ;)

So I was out of practice when a fumbling 50 year-old approached our table and asked our names. As a means of getting one of us to follow him to his residence at the Budget Lodge, he spilt beer on our table.

Cookie, my friend who is forever leaving in pursuit of her opera career, yawned.

Note: Cookie doesn't like it when I say this, but her level of talent borders on ridiculous. See for yourself:




Oooo, a yawn, good one, I thought. Why didn't I thing of that?

Yeah, we have to wake up really early tomorrow, I said.

I gotta wake up early too, he said, wiping his face with his Beer Bulls-eye t-shirt. I gotta work at 5:30 a.m.

Damn.

So the conversation continued:

Him: I'm from Arizona.
Cookie: Oh.
Him: I make $35 an hour.
Cookie: Wow.
Him: Yeah, I do rodeos. I ride bulls.
Cookie: Dangerous.

The cloud of sarcasm was so thick, I almost spit my drink.

Soon Prince Charming hunkered over our table and was ALL up in Cookie's grill. With his spilt beverage now bathing our table, our leading man mapped his city of origin with an ice cube and compared it to Cookie's future home in Colorado.

Still not knowing what to do, I looked around the bar, willing someone I knew to show up. When that didn't work, I pleaded with my eyes for some non-creeper to save us. The problem was, no non-creepers existed.

Suddenly, Cookie's phone didn't ring, but she answered it anyways.

Hello? Oh, shoot really? she said, winking at me.

Uh, we better go, I said, grabbing my purse and Cookie's and high-tailing to the nearest exit.

Saved by the bell Cookie! I said. Who was that?

Uh, no one, she said.

If it weren't for her opera awesomeness, she'd have a career in Awkward Situation Management.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

that's bullhead

Ladyfish Shakespeare and I have made three attempts at fishing this year. So far we've caught nothing but seaweed. But we will attempt No. 4 today, at the Barnes County Wildlife Federation's 18th Annual Bull Head Derby.

Say that five times fast.

Cowboy says (this is why I don't write about him! Because then I start sentences with "Cowboy says").

Cowboy says my chance of catching a fish are pretty much 100 percent.

I think I have a better chance of catching heat stroke this winter.

So I'm packing. Not heat mind you... but a stash of red Twizzlers and a 12-pack of Shiner Bock. That way when I get bored, I can pack up, and leave.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

traffic tantrum

This weekend I drove to the land of my forefathers: Iowa.

The drive there includes seven hours of country and two hours of bumper-to-bumper and forehead-to-steering-wheel traffic.

As I sat (yes, sat) on Interstate 494 near Minneapolis, I rolled down the windows so as to conserve precious gas. And also, because it was a summer day and I wanted some fresh breeze. But I didn't feel any. That's how slow it was.

In fact, it was SOO slow, I painted my nails, waxed my eyebrows and PLUCKED the hair from my legs. Plucked. Like a bajillionty hairs. That's how much time I had.

Then, I took a photo with my cell phone. It turned out like this:





Interstate 35W was my turn off and it turned me off to anything pleasant as well.

I35 was more than 20 minutes but less than 5 miles away. I sat there in awe, wondering who would waste their life living through this misery. But I found ways to pass the time. First, I made friends with neighbors (who I could speak to from my window). Then, I watched a bird gnaw insects below me. I even introduced Vinny to some of his long lost Volvo-family relatives.

Then I got a text from the Cowboy. Apparently, he not only reads minds, but he gets under your skin too.

CB: Sick of driving yet?

Listen a--hole, I'll tell you what I'm sick of...

But I just called him instead.

In that time (32 minutes) I drove 5 miles. He drove 30.

That's the thing about small towns. Five miles doesn't seem so far anymore.

And, only in North Dakota can you steer with your knees and drive 75 mph +. In big towns, you may knee-drive as you sneeze or blow your nose. Not here. Here, you drive that way because you've got more important things to do like text your brother or read a magazine or something.

The other annoyance about driving big city interstate is the break lights. Every 20 seconds I was braking, slowing down or yielding to some lady pushing a stroller. Jerk.

North Dakota's interstate doesn't have all that. In fact, typically your car flies solo. North Dakota doesn't even have brake lights. They just haven't been invented yet.

You could call that a good thing. Maybe. Not waiting 24 hours to drive six miles is a plus. But I guess I'm just not ready to write the words "good" and "North Dakota" without a period and some question marks first.

Monday, August 3, 2009

blast from the past

This post is at the request of J, who writes a blog called "Highly Irritable" about her life as a full-time student, mother and eater of all things gourmet. Her writing makes me laugh so hard my eyes tear. My personal fave is this one about jamming to her iPod while walking in public. I too sing along as I saunter the city sidewalks. Although instead of "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "Devil Went Down to Georgia," I prefer more modern hits like "If you seek Amy." I'm still not sure why, but I get a lot of phone numbers that way...

Anyway, I alluded to this tale in the third part of my "Parents" series but didn't really elaborate. So here ya go.

I studied abroad in Ireland my junior year of college since the classes were so overwhelming (overwhelmed with hangovers, that is), Samantha P. and I took a three-week vacation. We started in Germany and ended in Spain. Mid-trip, we visited Italy. Instead of finding lip-syncing heart throbs like Lizzie McQuire, we just found one woman. Who used to be a man. And screamed. Through the night.

This story has little to do with our upbringings, our differences or how many snow shovels it takes to get out of our driveways. Nay, this is a story that unites us. Nary a city girl nor a country bumpkin, this story is about common ground and common humanity. It's the kind of tale that makes you hold hands with your neighbor and say: that s--t is wack.



5/5/2006
6:39 p.m.

It all started when we arrived at our Roman hostel. We didn't get there until after 11 p.m. so we figured we could just check-in, check our e-mail and check out for the evening. With drowsy arms and hair infused with enough grease to give a girl a heart attacke, I hauled my suitcase to my room and flipped the light.

It was the wrong one.

In European buildings, lights to bathrooms, bedrooms or living spaces are customarily on the outside. So in this case, I left someone in the dark mid-stream -- which is almost as bad as peeing outside.

WHOOPS, so sorry, I said, over-exaggerating as this was a hostel. A hostile hostel, in fact. In hostels, you have to be especially careful not to offend someone as you may wake up in the middle of the night with your roommate standing above you wielding scissors in her hands.
With that happy thought, I put my bags down, unfolded my sheets and noticed two girls chilling in the same twin-size mattress, not like they were cuddling, like they were scared. They were like my dark raven: a preamble to what would be...

When the pee-er was through, she opened the door and furrowed her eyes upon me the way I imagine Ms. Trunchbull furrowed at Matilda. I felt scared, small and like I had to pee too... oh wait, I already had... on myself.

Apparently for transvestites, if you have to mark your gender (since our hostel was split as such) you just check your first preference.

I apologized for leaving her in the dark, but she just stared at me... and crawled into her bed... directly beneath mine. And as I left, she cried.

And so did I.

I couldn't check my e-mail without Samantha P. (my former roommate and current traveling buddy) because I was all out of cash, but I couldn't stay in my bed. The SOBBING TRANSVESTITE was there.

And not only that, but the room was Na-Row. As in, bed-3 foot hallway-wall. Not exactly a place to hang and mingle.

So, I walked to Samantha and with eyes the size of the Coliseum (i.e., the girl-way of saying "Do as I say and don't ask why") and asked her to please hurry.

Samantha said I was insane and asked, in a volume even turtles can hear, WHY DO WE NEED TO HURRY?

She might as well taken my clothes of and hung me upside down in Vatican City. Right next to Pope Ben. Far less embarrassing.

The time lapse between the sobbing she-man and the departure to e-mail felt like I had conceived, given birth to and watched the high school graduation of my first child. However, we finally escaped room F06.

I explained the situation to Sam, but she didn't seem to think it that big o' deal.

Ok, chill out Kate, she said. Check your e-mail, fiddle with facebook, the he/she'll be asleep when you get back.

An hour and a half later I returned to F06 with a pillow in my hands and a bawling roommate in my bunk.

"Oh my gawd. OH my GAWD!" she screamed to no one in particular as I stood, mouth agape in the doorway.

"Are you ok? Are you OK?" I asked her.

No reply.

I didn't know what to do, so I sought the solace of the man at the front desk.

"Umm, my roommate is screaming and crying and I don't know what to do. Can I please change rooms, she's scaring me," I said, pale-faced and trembling and possibly still smelling of urine.

Immediately the kind receptionist knew to whom I was referring but told me the hostel was full. He said the patrons had problems with her the night before. She cries, but she isn't dangerous, he said.

Had it not been for the Canada goose that flew in my mouth, as is was so wide it could accommodate one, I'd have said WHAT DO YOU MEAN, NIGHT BEFORE?? Instead, Samantha joined us. And again, appeared much calmer than me.

Samantha gave me the impression she and Heather/Stephen (as that's what the woman called herself, depending on the situation) had talked about why she was upset, apparently while getting facial surgery (in some country I've never heard of) the doctors mutilated her face and wouldn't let her leave the hospital. She wanted to go back to the U.S. but had no money, no family and no friends.

Feeling like the hugest b-word in Western Europe, I remembered reading a newspaper story about a man who became a woman and how he'd always felt like he was born of the wrong body. Many challenges are difficult, but usually we have someone or can find someone who has undergone something akin to our own suffering. Those people find strength and hope from someone's similar suckiness. This person didn't, and likely wouldn't, have that. I felt sorry for her. I felt more sorry when coworkers and friends made fun of her and how gross/unnatural/selfish her choice was. And maybe changing genders is. But her choice wasn't mine to decide, and it wasn't mine to judge. After reading that article, I meet one transvestite and nearly peed my pants. Two words: get over it, I told myself.

And on another note-- no, Sam didn't have a conversation with the woman beneath me. Not ever. The truth was, Sam spoke to another roommate of ours, one who had made my bukmate's acquaintance the night before. So here I am, beating myself up for the woman who just might beat me up.

Anyways, Sam and I returned to F06, together, as I would not enter ALONE (despite my newfound compassion) and climbed into bed.

Since everyone else was asleep, we decided we'd sleep in our jeans... again.

(Note: Sam and I travelled to Italy on a ferry that treated its passengers like cattle, expecting them to sleep outside with torrential rains and hurricane-like winds all the while bed and blanket-less. For the two day trip, we'd barely managed to find a water spicket to brush our teeth, let alone an entire bathroom, changing area or broom closet to switch-out our clothes. Sleeping in denim in unpleasant, especially if you've worn/slept in the same pair three days in a row.)

I had some trouble climbing to my top bunk as I couldn't swing my leg as high in jeans... and I wasn't about to ask my bunkmate for a boost.
SWING, SWING, went my leg, conking the aluminum pole and falling short of its intended destination. (Remember, it's pitch black, everyone is sleeping, and a former man with a scrunci in his hair rests below me)
Sam..., I said in a whisper, what do I do? SWING. CONK.
Just, she stuttered, you gotta... she said, pushing my behind like a stubborn Volvo in freshly fallen snow.
It's not... SWING I can't do it SWING SWING CONK.
Yes, you can. PUUUUUSH.
I felt like I climbed Mount Everest. Had it not been for the snoozing she-male, I may have stuck a flag in my mattress and summoned Sam to take a picture. Elevation: 6 feet.
I took off my shoes, covered my head with blankets and cuddled with my purse. It was no Winnie the Pooh, but she-man didn't seem the type to share.

I didn't know where Heather/Stephen was.... sleeping or in the bathroom, so I laid awake, waiting...

I thought I'd felt movement and then I knew did because she hurdled herself like a Golden Retriever with nightmares.

Soon, I could hear the sound of her sleeper's breath, so I felt safe enough to get some sleep of my own.

Within an hour, she was hurdling herself around again and soon it was back to the "Oh my Gawd, OH my GAWWWDS!" The show carried on like this with several encores, but few intermissions, which meant no sleep for me.

The highlight of the performance was when she started saying, "I can't believe it, I just CAN'T believe it!" and left the room.

I could hear her crying to the guy at the front desk. I was hoping he'd kick her out, but she returned. I later learned she asked to speak to the American embassy, when he said that wasn't possible, she screamed Oh my GAWD some more. He asked her to be quiet as the entire hostel was sleeping, but she said she was crying and that was how it had to be.

She came back to the room, it being 4 a.m. by now and thrashed herself around some more. I don't think she screamed much after that, but it didn't matter, she wasn't sleeping so neither was I.

Samantha got up at 6 a.m. and showered. I'd have joined her so we could see Rome earlier, but I was too scared to climb off my bed.

When she returned, wearing something not three days old, I grew jealous enough to face my fears.

I hopped down, grabbed my suitcase and booked it to the bathroom because I HAD to pee -- this time in a toilet. And, because I was afraid she'd grab me like one of those arms in the thriller movies that you KNOW is coming but you still jump out of your seat anyways. (And if you're like my Aunt Bev, you flail your cupped fists at the scream, punching at the bad guys and b--ch-slapping their faces-- yeah THAT arm)

Hostel bathrooms, especially showers, don't have room for a suitcase but this one did and I was thankful I didn't have to rummage around in it with Heather/Stephen glaring at me. I'm no fighter, but I know enough not to risk it with a person who voluntarily takes a jackknife to his... er... face?

As I was straightening my hair in the hallway, Heather/Stephen called the embassy and was not bashful about yelling at them with the whole world (quite literally) listening.

In a high-pitched voice: "This is Heather and I've been TRAUMATIZED... uh huh, uh huh, well if you can't help me, get me a supervisor who can!"
Insert low-pitched voice: "Hello. This is Stephen..."

She'd ben traumatized, you see, and all the Americans could do was send her on a discounted flight to San Francisco. A very expensive city, especially for someone on social security. She screamed, she cried, and I applied mascara. Soon, it was time to go.

We saw the Colosseum and some of Rome's ancient ruins, but who cares? Why see the world when you have this kind of entertainment four feet beneath you?

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