The drudgery of the gray skies hit after a particularly devastating breakup. I still showed up at my job (luckily at a place that I loved) and I still made plans with friends (who luckily still loved me), but my heart just wasn't in it. As I slogged through the rain while nursing a seriously broken heart, I realized two things: 1. My favorite season is summer. And 2. I'm a goddamn adult and I can live wherever I want! Thus began the search for a new, affordable city in which I could get my sun craving year-'round. After ruling out San Diego, Los Angeles, and Palm Springs (too expensive, too hectic, too boring - in that order), I hit upon the idea of Tucson. It seemed kind of romantic - the hometown of Giant Sand, Calexico, cacti, palm trees, and cowboy boots with miniskirts (a look I was briefly able to pull off). I gave notice at my job and packed my bags in short order.
The first orders of business, after taking in the sights and treating myself to a few "Welcome to your new life" margaritas, were securing a place to live and a job. Both were accomplished by the (now quaint) act of looking in the newspaper. My new apartment complex offered a unique 3, 6, 9, or 12-month lease to appease the snowbirds. I began my 9-month commitment in what I would later learn was one of the less desirable parts of town. Those wacky senior citizens; they'll live anywhere!
The job was equally as easy. I saw a "Help Wanted" ad for a cactus nursery, drove out to said nursery to apply, and showed up for work the next day. Bach's Cactus Nursery was (and is) a magical place - a family-owned business with acres of land covered in (you guessed it) cacti. It's just flat-out gorgeous there, plus the owners and employees are awesome to boot. It was a treat to spend my workdays outdoors after being cooped up in a windowless office in rainy Portland. I was in heaven.
My favorite part of the job, other than cooing at baby cacti the size of dimes, was taking customers around the vast retail area on golf carts equipped with walkie-talkies. (Yes, I'd previously worked at a hip rock club in the heart of downtown Portland - but in my mind it didn't get any cooler than this. What are rock stars compared to infant saguaros being nurtured along their 100+ year lifespan?)
One day I had the pleasure of accompanying a woman who was not afraid to speak her mind. She knew the nursery well and had a shopping list to prove it. Our exchange was pretty much, "Go here. Go there. Grab that." And I gave the "yes, ma'am" while daydreaming of an ice-cold beverage after a sweltering workday. It was a pretty mellow repartee, until her commands suddenly changed, shaking me from my Tecate reverie.
"Speed up!" she said while pointing to the middle of the dusty parking lot.
At first I was confused. She'd rounded up her purchases and we were heading back to the main retail building. What could be left? Then I spotted it... a rattlesnake. And not any rattlesnake - one poised and ready to attack.
"Speed up... towards the rattlesnake?" I inquired. She was emphatic, but I figured it didn't hurt to clarify.
"Yes. Speed up and run it over." she replied as she sat back and crossed her arms.
I found a couple of things wrong with this plan. One was the speed in which the golf carts were capable of traveling, which is to say not fast enough to ensure death of anything other than a small bug. The other was the thought of which side to run the snake over with - hers or mine? It seemed it should be hers, since she was so anxious to kill the damn thing; but then she probably thought it was my job and that taking the smattering of guts would be the customer service thing to do. Knowing my luck I'd pin it under the tire on my side, just within striking distance of a very angry reptile. So, I slowed down.
"What are you doing? It's going to get away!" She tried to maneuver her foot towards my pedal, but I blocked her. I thought two things in that moment: 1. I don't get paid enough. And 2. Old bitches are crazy.
"Ma'am, please remain calm. I have a better idea." I reached for my walkie-talkie and put out an all-points bulletin. "Ground crew, we have a rattlesnake in retail. Repeat: rattlesnake in retail. This is not a drill."
My sweet coworker Jason, who was phased by nothing, was on the horn in seconds. "On my way." He was there moments later with a garbage can and pronged stick (that's there's probably a fancy name for, of which I am unaware). He nabbed the snake, dropped it in the can, gave us a nod and walked away to release the terrorist back into the wild.
I thought my customer would be thrilled. I turned to her with a smile. Instead I was met with a glare.
"You really should've run that damn thing over."
I said my final "yes, ma'am" of the day, while thanking heaven that I wasn't nursing the strike of a snake.. and that we didn't work on commission.
[Photo Credit: I decided I picture of the nursery was much more reader-friendly than a pic of a rattlesnake. I'm always thinking about you, dear reader.]
"My god, I'm an idiot." That's what was going through my mind as I sat in the waiting room at my doctor's office while my ears sizzled with bacteria. I'd recently gotten them double-pierced at Claire's in an effort to recapture a fashion decision I'd made when I was 16-years old. Now I was paying the price. It felt like a brilliant idea at the time. (It always does.) I like wearing my hair pulled back in a ponytail. I also enjoy wearing big, dangly earrings. It only seemed natural to want to add to the fun.
I'd initially gotten my ears double-pierced in high school, but plucked out the extra jewelry in short order when someone told me that girls with multiple piercings were considered sluts. The more holes you had, the sluttier you were assumed to be. I felt queasy. I had six, and I was a virgin! What would people think? The situation had to be rectified, immediately. This was before: 1. High school hook-up parties were the norm and 2. I stopped giving a shit about what people thought. (Also 3. fuck the term slut and the double standard that it implies.) At any rate, the studs came out, the holes grew over, and my reputation was saved. I became the most popular girl in school and was also voted prom queen! I obviously made the right choice. (In reality I continued to toil away in social obscurity, no one noticed whether or not I had those damn earrings removed, and I had the most awful prom date ever. But what's a blog for if not to rewrite history?)
So, present day. I'm no longer worried about being branded as a fast girl. (How quaint!) If anything, I wish I'd slept around even more before tying the knot and have been known to ply my single friends with wine in hopes of hearing juicy details of their active dating lives. Not at all creepy - I usually pay for the wine. But those grown over holes still taunted me. They were visible divots in my ears, a constant reminder of a more insecure time. Not only that, but I love jewelry and yet somehow had agreed to a tattoo on my ring finger instead of a diamond. I owed my husband the extra opportunities to adorn me with bling. (Honey, if you're reading this what I'm saying is that I want diamond earrings.) Instead of staring at these empty holes, I could fulfill both my 16-year old self's wishes and provide something for my husband to invest in. I mean, in this economy are my ears any less safe than an IRA? I was doing him a favor!
With this in mind, I headed to the mall. I guess I figured that Claire's worked for me more than 20 years ago, so why wouldn't it work for me now? Plus I could window shop and see a movie afterwards. It was to be a multi-tasking experience. I swung into the boutique and waited in line. At the counter was a harried 50-something woman who appeared to be working the store alone. That might've been my first clue to put off my errand of doom. But I was already there and my matinee started in a ½ hour, so I stayed.
I got to the front and told saleslady what I wanted to do. "Great!" she replied with her mouth while her eyes flashed, "I want to murder you." I was sent off to a corner where I filled out paperwork releasing Claire's of any responsibility whatsoever. I might've even signed away my firstborn, but I'm not having kids so the joke is on them!
Finally the woman approached and we chatted about the plan. Then I asked the fateful question:
"Oh, by the way, can you swim in the ocean soon after you get your ears pierced?" I inquired.
"Why would you be worried about swimming in the ocean? We live in Oregon." was her arch response.
"Well, I'm leaving for Oahu in about a week. Should I be worried about infection?"
She grasped her clipboard so hard that I thought it might break in half. Her face contorted as if she'd just drank a carton of sour milk. She stared at me for almost a minute before saying, "You're going to Hawaii? In about a week? How lovely! I've always wanted to go there. And of course you should get your ears pierced right now. You have nothing to worry about!"
Much like you know Cheryl Strayed made it out of the forest because she lived to write her stunning memoir, Wild, the reader can most likely ascertain that I too went through with my life-changing decision. I let the angry, over-worked, under-appreciated, 50-something who was working at Claire's without a financial net or vacation time pierce my ears. Four times, to be exact. And then I went to Waikiki. (Well, first I went to my movie. Another great experience you can read about here.)
I was feeling a bit of trepidation about my decision that first day on Oahu when I initially considered hopping in the water, but the warmth quickly overtook me and I spent the rest of my time happily chasing waves. Meanwhile, no sooner than you could say "Mai Tai," and my ears were becoming infected with gifts from the salty sea.
I tried to deny it at first. She couldn't possibly be that mean and I couldn't possibly be that dumb. I spent my evenings swabbing my ears with the solution Claire's had sent home with me. I was diligent, but deep in my heart I knew it was a lost cause. Indeed, I did have something to worry about.
Which brings us to the doctor's office. I was foolish to revisit a fashion choice inspired by Madonna. I was even more foolish to take advice from a bitter woman with a Hawaiian-sized chip on her shoulder. (Not that I blame her - I just wish I hadn't gotten nabbed in the crosshairs.) Luckily I caught the icky stuff in time - only one piercing closed and I was saved from something more serious. Now I have 5 holes instead of 6. (Miraculously the notches on my bedpost has remained the same.) I also learned a valuable lesson: you can't go home again, but if you're lucky you can fix the stupidest of mistakes with health insurance.