22 August, 2017

Total Eclipse of the Heart

The REST of the story (for Paul Harvey fans): Woke up yesterday morning at a truck stop somewhere in Ohio. I left New York about 10 AM. and drove until about 11PM and then figured I'd better stop before leaving the highway and venturing into farmland. That was fine, either the truck noise or carbon monoxide lulled the dogs and me to sleep. We continued on to the the camper factory in Sugarcreek, where I gave the nice young service guy, with whom I've spoken a few times, the rundown on the camper saga, gave him the broken and melted parts I'd already replaced, gawked at some campers shinier and newer than mine, and we headed a half hour north to the planetarium where I'd read there would be eclipse viewing with telescopes and glasses beginning at 1 PM.  


The President McKinley Monument stands at the top of a reasonably high hill, and I thought that the domed structure on the highest point looked like a planetarium. The only parking spot was high up and directly behind the dome, and luckily in deep shade as it was hot and there were "No Dogs Allowed" signs everywhere. Maybe he was a cat lover? I entered the dark dome only to discover two giant tombs, it was a mausoleum. Oddly enough the planetarium was in the low, flat building down below, so down I went. 


The sign on the door said glasses would be sold only at 1:00 PM up on the monument (aka mausoleum) from where I'd just descended and people were sitting on the curved stone benches. Back up I climbed, asked the first person on the bench if it was the spot and was told in no uncertain terms he was at the head of the line, the end was about 30 people back.  

It was about 11 AM, and I needed my asthma inhaler after so much up and down the mountainside of Canton, Ohio, so the next-to-last lady let me put down my things to return to the car.  I huffed on my puffer, checked the dogs, put down all the windows, and on a whim grabbed my rain umbrella and a bottle of very warm water. Quite a few people had joined us on the stone bench as it got hotter. We all got chatting. Two young girls were in front of the lady in front of me, and they were soon joined by a red-headed toddler and an eight year old. We all waited and chatted about other celestial sightings and adventures. It got hotter and the line got longer. Tempers got hotter at the front of the line as newcomers were given the lowdown after climbing the steps. 

About noon time close to 500 people were winding around the mausoleum. Being a type-A, controlling, Yankee brat I called the office of the planetarium to suggest they get up there and hand out numbers so we could all go sit in the shade. There was only a recording saying they'd be selling glasses at 1:00 until they ran out. As a Yankee controlling northeasterner with a Masters Degree I started emailing the guy named as "in charge" and the director. Then, this being TwAmerica I started tweeting at them. Not long after some people wearing name badges appeared carrying two very small boxes. They sat at the roped-off tables with folding chairs at which we'd all been staring for hours. The line had grown to about 1000, winding around itself like a nautilus shell so that the end appeared to overtake the beginning and a few shouts of "hey, people have been waiting" were answered with "hey, they know, they are the END. Turn around!" Angry, hot Ohioans are pretty polite, compared to angry, hot, New Englanders. Still, the name-tagged few sat at the table, silently awaiting 1:00, for reasons only knowable to the two lying just inside the cool mausoleum door a step away. Yes, they just sat there without hats nor umbrellas, with two small boxes, as the nautilus tail continued to grow. I had by now ordered the young girls to get the red-haired baby into the shade. She'd refused to drink any of my water even though her sister showed her I had not poisoned it. 

Things got exciting, and testy, when the Man in Charge pulled out what appeared to be a portable speaker and microphone from the Nixon era. He stood behind the ropes, far from the maddening crowd, and chirped out something about a limit of four pairs of glasses per buyer, and a total of 500 pairs. Despite a chorus of "what?" he did not come closer to the crowd nor attempt his own voice instead, but word was passed: only four, only 500, and totality was imminent.  

I had become fascinated by the girls, now joined by another, exerting authority by way of most tattoos. One of the girls was pretty, very pretty, in a pre-Raphealite way. She was delicate, with ringlet curls and very fine features. When she spoke it was with a harsh Southern drawl, not a lilting one, and in a way that at first made me suspect a mental deficiency, with vocabulary and ideas much younger than her age. She wore a tank top, basketball shorts, mismatched socks and worn-out slides with a cigarette tucked behind one ear. She talked about a very long bus ride to get there. 

At exactly 1:00 PM, the small boxes were opened and the line began to move forward. I joked about them accepting credit cards but nobody laughed. A paramedic truck had joined us on the hill. There was only one cash box, so one volunteer could only take exact change. On a whim, I asked for five pairs of glasses when handing over my twenty dollar bill. There was a limit of four, so they had to count back the ones and fives and tens. I took four and was immediately offered $10 a pair from someone at the nautilus tail end. I declined, saying they were not for sale, and with a feeling of unreasonable power walked toward three random families with no hope of buying any and distributed my booty. I headed back to the car to release the hounds, since cars were now parked on the manicured lawns so dogs were probably a lesser evil. We sat in the shade in a quiet corner, while I periodically put the flimsy dark film up to my glasses to see if anything was going on yet. 

I decided the event needed music, and a BBC show featuring Bartoch was available and seemed suitable as the sun began to reduce sliver by sliver. I experimented with putting the dark film over my camera lens and angling the viewing screen, and it actually worked. Yankee ingenuity triumphed once again. There was an older man alone, under a tree, between myself and the cemetery, and he was without eclipse viewing glasses. I held mine up and gestured, inviting him to look. He came over and complimented my fine dogs, and we chatted while passing the glasses back and forth. He asked where I was from, and instead of my usual reply of Boston to avoid giving a geography lesson of the Bay State, I asked if he knew where Cape Cod is. He answered with a third question, how far was I from Martha's Vineyard and Teddy Kennedy? 

I occasionally am asked if I live near the Kennedy Compound in Hyannis, which I do not, but had never been asked even indirectly about Chappaquiddick. 
Given this rare opportunity I offered that I felt he'd have been president in good time had it not been for that, and was again surprised that the gentleman agreed and went on to say John F. Kennedy was in fact the most handsome man he'd ever met, even better looking in person, and his wife Jackie too. We kept passing the glasses as the sun continued to slip away.

It seemed my new friend has been in the Ohio state legislature, and had been a democratic delegate to a certain important convention. I told him I'd recently been a delegate to the Massachusetts state convention, and am involved with a state legislature campaign for a Democrat. I yelled at the dogs not to trip the fella, as they had jumped up and started wrestling as the day suddenly cooled
noticeably and they got less lazy. My gazing companion quipped that we had a lot in common, and wasn't politics fun? He chuckled a bit. He told me about the fine park we were in, and when he was little there had been a wading pool down below. He mentioned his Lithuanian grandparents, and his 30 years as a Chevron executive, and his years as a course reviewer for Golf Digest. That's how he'd met Donald Trump, when reviewing one of his courses, and how they'd had a substantial chat aimed, he was sure, at garnering a good review. I said I'd heard Trump's a lousy golfer but he said no, he's pretty good at that. By now the show in the sky was nearly over, my daughter had been texting her eclipse experience from Seattle and Bartok had ended.

We exchanged names, he said how he was glad he'd taken his two sons to Washington, DC, and I told my story about marching up the mall alongside Jesse Jackson and Coretta Scott King in 1993. We passed the glasses one last time and he said how glad he was he'd come up the hill and that we'd met. As he left I put the dogs in the car, then realized I'd left the keys in the car and they battery was dead.

None of the eclipse watchers near me had jumper cables, so down the hill I went again and the museum's Education Director kindly got us going again. I wondered if I'd tweeted at him earlier. We drove to the hotel I'd reserved in North Canton, which was supposed to accept pets but did not, which entailed a call to the online reservations to refund the non-refundable payment. It took a while to find a reasonably priced, dog-friendly hotel that would give me 2,000 airline miles (because I'm a thrifty Yankee) and another half an hour to drive there. I was looking forward to a rest and some food when the freight train barreled through the back yard.

The post-eclipse downturn of luck continued with the president's address for an unlimited limited engagement in Afghanistan, an email saying the damage to the camper was "shockingly bad" requiring another night in a mediocre hotel (requiring a change of rooms and a second dog-deposit) and a huge repair bill, the diminution of my bank account from the as-yet non-refunded amount from the dog-unfriendly hotel and the prospect of another meal from Hardee's and no one with whom to discuss the beautiful face of John F. Kennedy.

25 September, 2016

Autumn Weather and the Calendar Finally Sync

It's a gorgeous, cool fall in New England day, and for once I'm not running a fan nor an air conditioner.  Yesterday I was able to dig and plant all day without feeling like I need to shower every half hour because of the humidity, a big win.  I also finished putting up a wire garden fence so the entire yard is enclosed in two sections. Huzzah!
Nickerson State Park

Sunday mornings with my son are wonderful, and they only occur bi-weekly, so I savor them.  He and his sleep over buddy are enjoying my homemade French toast made with local Portuguese bread and local eggs. Of course real maple syrup! We will go to Mass at noon, and while I did think about it I really don't expect that fasting before receiving the Eucharist applies when they put a Mass at noon.  Seriously, a whole church full of people with grumbling stomachs and low blood sugar? I do fast before the earlier Masses, but I'll bet even the priest has had coffee by noon.

France 2015

I love podcasts on a Sunday morning, a happier alternative to Sunday morning gloom and doom talk shows.  I check the BBC app to see what evil Putin wrought during the night, and the go for the good stuff.  The takeaway so far is to have an actual budget line-item for giving, to respond to an unexpected need or for regular giving. Moreover, rather than have charitable fatigue, because there are so many needs and what can one person do, identify what "keeps you up at night" and it's okay to say no to the rest at this time. So even if it is one-half of one percent of income, or a set amount, make it happen.  I never use the envelopes at church because I'm going with the give anonymously directive, I cannot stand that they do keep track of who gives what so I won't play along. This enlightenment was delivered via The Simple Show episode 41 and Chris Marlow. I'm a huge fan of Tsh's.

Other podcasts I enjoy are Happier with Gretchen RubinGirl Camper, The Moth Radio Hour, and The Lively Show.

Enjoy the Sunday outdoors wherever you are.  Remind me to write about how much I wish the Blue Laws were revived. 

18 September, 2016

Bedbugs and Broomsticks

I am not a linear thinker, so this is not a chronological blog. This is about my battle to obliterate bedbugs from one albergue on the camino de Santiago de Compostela.

I arrived the day before my two week stint was to begin, in order to be oriented by the two current hospitaleras.  This albergue is owned by the town and staffed year-round by volunteers. They were lovely Spanish women who had become great friends during their two weeks in July.  They made crafts, hung out in the cafes and enjoyed the interaction with pilgrims.  They showed me where the mops were, how to run the washing machine using only cold water, and how to register the pilgrims.  When my colleague from Valencia arrived, we all went out to dinner and had a fun evening. We newcomers lodged in the albergue with our guests and the departing hostesses went to the volunteers' quarters in a small space across the courtyard.
Benches up to give the floor a good cleaning every day

The first days were wonderful! Hot and sunny, with a steady stream of guests from all over Europe and Australia. I got to know the townspeople, tended to many blisters and sprains of the pilgrims, and worked from six in the morning until we locked the doors at 10 PM.  However when stripping the sheets from the bunkbeds the next morning, there skittered across a top bunk a chinche. We had learned about them in hospitalero training, and although I kept an eagle eye out for them on my pilgrimages and indeed all of my travels, I had never encountered any.  I had already been flipping the mattresses and washing them down daily, they were covered with plastic. Now I was on the hunt. No panic, just irritation.  I assumed they had come in with the prior night's guest. However when I pulled the bunk away from the wall, I discovered a well-established colony that had been in residence for some time.  I called my partner upstairs to see.
Bedbug poop and eggs

Blood of an unfortunate pilgrim on the bed

Live bugs and poop on the bed post

The masses of bedbug poop, shed shells, eggs and living creatures were shocking. And disgusting.  This was beyond what I thought we could deal with with the can of fly spray that we had.  We had no car to travel to a town with an actual store, we only had a small tienda.  It was a weekend. I asked her to call the area coordinator with whom she was in contact from her one other assignment, and she left him a message.  With a couple of hours before opening for the day, we focused on stripping all of the beds and taking out all of the heavy fleece blankets.  They could not be washed in the tiny washer and didn't smell great.  We soon discovered that one load of laundry washed in hot water took 3 hours.
Next to the bed

Bed post

Bed frame

Finally we received a call back from the coordinator.  Do nothing, tell no one. This is normal and happens every year. My partner related this to me and said, "he's in charge, we do what he says."  Monday morning we went to the town hall and told them we needed something to clean out the bugs.  Again we were told this is normal, they would have some bug spray brought to us.  Nothing happened.  On Wednesday I had really had enough and felt horrible about putting pilgrims in the hostel.  I had expressed my distress to the USA trainer who agreed it was a difficult position, but we served at the pleasure of the town.  I scooped up a plastic bag of living and dead bedbugs and brought them over to town hall, at the same time emailing the Spanish coordinators pictures and video of scattering chinches.  After throwing the bag on the floor and stomping on the bugs, spurting blood, we were told to close the affected room for the night and that an exterminator would come. He did, two days later. We were told albergues in the next towns were calling back and complaining of bedbugs arriving at their hostels.

Antonio pasted the beds with a noxious poison, and told us to close the building for the day.  We did, and I biked over to the neighboring town's albergue for a much-needed break.

The next day I found nests in another room.

As directed, those two rooms were closed while we waited for Antonio to return. In the meanwhile, I bagged all of the blankets in 21 black plastic bags and put them in the hot sun to kill the bugs and eggs.  I put fresh shellac on the woodwork and dining tables after scrubbing them well. The black bags finally were taken away to be laundered, after sitting in the yard for a week. All 30 sheets and 30 pillow cases had been washed and hung in the sun to dry.
Some of the bags of blankets on a hot tin roof

My partner went off to Paris for vacation and a replacement arrived.  Antonio came back with yet another noxious chemical and painted it on the beds.  The slats were screwed down in places and the men refused to allow me to unscrew them even though we could see that the bugs had squeezed under.  He insisted that the whole thing could not have happened as I have described. The albergue was closed again for two days. The American who came two weeks later to host reported that they were "bed bug free to the end." Amen to that.
Sunset on the meseta
Cleaning and poisoning bugs

I guess my mission was to rid the place of infestation, making no friends in the town hall but garnering respect and thanks from the townfolk.  Bedbugs can be and are everywhere, these same pilgrims often left us to go to nice hotels for a respite.  They are not known to transmit disease from human to human. I did everything I could to make sure the host quarters did not become a casualty, and I was very careful about my own backpack. But it still makes me feel creepy to remember these critters! Everything else about my time volunteering was exhilarating and fulfilling.

Town folk

Town folk

Town folk