Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Bye Bye Betty?

Goodbyes are so difficult.  I am not ready to say goodbye, but it looks like it may be time.  Betty is at the car hospital.  I had to call the AAA emergency line on Saturday.  We were heading home in the early evening when she suffered a loss of gas to the engine.  (See map; click for points of interest.)
Map picture
She wasn’t out of gas--I gave her 8 gallons that afternoon—but the gas was not getting where it needed to be.  There was no power to the engine; there was no power steering; there were no breaks.  We coasted until she came to rest on the front lawn of a large house in Davidsonville, Maryland.

An hour or so and 23 miles later, a very nice tow truck driver was unloading Betty from the flatbed ambulance to the corner of a tiny mechanic’s lot in Southeast DC.  (Conveniently, and coincidentally, down the block from my work.)  I said goodnight to Betty and climbed back into the tow truck cab for a ride home.  I haven’t seen her since, and it’s not looking good.  The mechanic is having difficulty locating the part she needs—a flex coupler.

Betty and I have been through a lot together.  8 years I’ve had her.  8 years and 5 months.  That’s longer than any other vehicle I’ve had.  That’s even longer than any home I've had.  (Thanks, Mom and Dad, for kicking me out for college.)  When I bought Betty for $2200 on New Year’s Eve in 2007, Daddy told me she wouldn’t last a year.  My amazing mechanic in Cali said I’d probably get at least another year when I moved in 2013.  In that light, making it to 2016 isn’t too bad.  But still, I don’t want Betty to go.

Betty has carried me through my life in four states.  Together, we did the move to three of them.  We’ve been across the entire country, from the Pacific to the Atlantic, and many parts in between more than once;  Highway 40, I-80, Route 66, and of course the gorgeous drive down Route 1 with Munchkinhead.
snow Betty
Betty and me in Wisconsin winter-before-last.  She looked good in snow (it hid all the missing paint).

There was that time in Iowa, when Orgfish’s neighbors called the cops about this unsightly car parked in their neighborhood and the police left a giant florescent pink “WARNING” on Betty’s windshield.  (I sent it to Orgfish as her birthday postcard some years later.)  The adventures with Daddy moving from Cali to Wisconsin when we spent an unplanned day exploring Ephraim, Utah while the hose connecting Betty’s coolant overflow tank to the engine was replaced.  And that infamous time we got pulled over for DWB, also in Utah.  I guess we should have stayed out of Utah.
me and daddy at ephraim city hall with blogproof daddy
Daddy and me being the statue outside Ephraim City Hall while Betty was being repaired.

She’s had some tough times, my Betty.  There was that incident where I sort of backed the side of her into a pole trying to get out of a parking spot in Cali.  And that time a week later when I did it again in a different garage.  That first incident was the one that resulted in my having to go in-and-out the window for awhile until a body shop could get her unlocked.
After that, I couldn't lock Betty anymore.  She was ransacked at least once in every town in which we lived, but it was never that bad.  In El Cerrito and D.C., they just made a mess.  But in Cudahy, they took my tape adapter.  I had to fork out another $5 for a new one from Amazon. 
Betty after being ransacked in Cali.

But that was back before I made Betty her very own mixtape.  We've been listening to it a lot less these past few months.  One, I was getting a little tired of it, but more importantly, Betty hasn't been feeling well a lot of the time and it's important for me to listen to her as we putter around town.  She gets especially cantankerous on damp or rainy days and left turns.  I check her fluids at least weekly and keep a storehouse in the trunk of every liquid you could need to put in the car, plus spare clothes and an astronaut blanket in case we get stranded, and bungee cords and sheets for unexpected hauling adventures.  She can really carry stuff!
Taking home my new queen-size bed.  The frame was in the car.  Sometimes going in-and-out the window is a good thing!

Betty hasn't really had a radio in a few months.  The antenna was knocked off by a carwash back in Cali years ago.  The mechanic disconnected the auto-expander and quasi-fixed the antenna to the car.  A few months ago, I walked past Betty on the street and noticed it was gone completely.
Betty with antenna quasi-fixed back in 2014 (after we lost her front trim on who-knows-what).

Betty sans antenna in snowy DC this winter.

DC is rough on Betty.  Besides the antenna loss, the swampy humidity caused the fabric on the ceiling to start detaching.  I pinned it back in place with a decorative pattern of thumbtacks.  Sometimes, they fall off, too.  Backseat passengers, beware.  Parking outside with no shelter these past two years hasn't been great.  The mohawk on her roof that had developed slowly over the years has quickly gone, leaving just a small patch of white amid a mess of unpainted grey and rust.  Whenever AAA asks what color the vehicle is, I say, "well, where there's still paint, she's white."  AAA came out a lot the past year.  In addition to the tow, there were several dead batteries. We eventually figured out the culprit was the glove compartment light, which wouldn't shut off correctly ever since Munchkinhead broke off the latch on a very cold WI night coming home from the theater.  I braided some yarn, looped it through the inside hook and the hole in the door where the latch used to be and tied the door shut, but it wasn't enough pressure for the light switch.  A mechanic took out the bulb and Betty stopped dying.  Somebody took out a taillight with who-knows-what.  (I replaced it.)  Oh wait, that was me.  I backed into a tree trying to do a Y-turn; dented my bumper sticker.

And then there was that time a few weeks ago when Betty got shot.  Just her tire, luckily.  The police tape is still in her backseat, next to the blanket I put in her for when homeless people use her as a warm place to sleep.  (Tho I would prefer if they'd put the seat back upright when they're done.)  The tire shop had to bust off one of her hubcaps in order to rotate the tires when I got her new one.  That put her down to two hubcaps.  We'd lost one in Cali when the mechanic had to bust it off.  She wears the two she has left on her back tires.  The recently removed one rides in the trunk.  I always have to call AAA when I have a flat tire, not because I can't fix a flat, but because I can't jack up the car.  There's no frame left for the portable jack to lift; it just goes right through the car.  AAA has to come out with their big fancy jack and lift her from the frame underneath.

Betty's got character; there's so much that's still so wonderful about her. She floats down the highway--when her engine's getting gas anyway.  I can parallel park her like you wouldn't believe, even on the left-hand side of the street.  Her heater is amazing--the air-conditioning hasn't worked since at least '08, but I hate air-conditioning anyway.  She's very polite--no horn.  Her interior is spacious and comfy.--At least I think so; Daddy thinks her front seat is broken, claims it's lopsided.  He may be right, but since I weigh about 100 lbs less than him, I can't really tell.  The thing I notice more is that one hole in the floor by my left foot that my stiletto will slip into if I'm not careful.  It matches the hole in the seatback from the previous owner's dog.  But I digress. 
Betty is so spacious, Munchkinhead turns into a t-rex when she tries to drive her.

And most importantly, she gives me an amazing freedom.  Not just the standard freedom of a car that allows me to go places far or near whenever I want, but the additional freedom of going places I otherwise couldn't or wouldn't.  I never worry about where I park Betty, if she'll get scratched--who'd notice? or that she'll be stolen--that'd be a very weak joy ride.  I get the prime spots in the grocery store lot, right next to the cart return.  Her heft makes her a great option for snow-covered streets (ok, my Wisconsin training helps a little with that, too.)  And I'm safer in neighborhoods where I otherwise would stick out like a blazing red target.  The combination of Betty and my white privilege allow me to go anywhere.  Betty helps me blend in where it's rough, and being a white girl gets me a pass when Betty raises suspicions in the fancy places.  In a city like D.C. where neighborhoods can change from one to the other in half-a-block, and where it's so easy to get lost, this is especially important.

Betty and I have travelled a long way together and we're both a little worse for the wear.
Betty and I both looking shiny, if not new, back in the summer of '08.

Betty turning 170K just over a year ago.
I'm just not ready to give up.  Not yet.  Not quite.  Not without a lot of tears.  So here's hope that somehow, a 1993 LeSabre flex coupler shows up in D.C., and that the mechanic can then figure out why gas stops going to the engine sometimes.  The flex coupler isn't for that; it's so the steering column doesn't detach from the wheels.  That's why she's been hating those left turns.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Revisiting the tear-stained sun

“Her books are very emotionally difficult to read.”  It’s a phrase I say nearly every time I’m recommending one of Chimamanda Adichie’s books, most often for Half of a Yellow Sun or Americannah.  I know it to be true.  I spend a great deal of the time with my head buried in her books also with tears streaming down my face, an angry growl churning in my stomach, my face glowing beet red.  I always assumed it was the subject matter.  Her works contain a lot of violence, sexual abuse, domestic abuse; I mean, it’s war, and difficult relationships, and oppression and such.  It’s not supposed to be easy.  But that’s not the reason.

The subject matter isn’t what makes Adichie emotionally difficult to read.  What makes Adichie emotionally difficult to read is her writing.  She cruelly uses our humanity against us, her readers, plays with and preys upon our propensity to hope.  She presents something to us, makes it familiar, comfortable, happy even-- A calabash providing solid comfort to a terror-stricken young woman on a dilapidated train overcrowded with fleeing refugees; a bouncy baby girl that arrives into our view only a few pages after the characters who have become endeared to us decide together that they want to have a child; the expectant young relative whose joy and excitement is brought to us through seemingly excessive side-jaunts to her far-off village.  But the calabash holds a young girl’s head; the baby is only one of theirs; and the pregnant women are raped and sliced open before they are killed.

Adichie uses our innate hope for the good and beautiful, presenting a world to us that we do not even know is veiled, until we love what we think is there; and she pulls off the veil, daring us simultaneously to love the hideous reality and to hate the beauty we’ve already internalized.

And I simultaneously hate and love, her.  As I turn another page with tears streaming down my face, wishing the book were over, wishing it would never end.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Second Life Tights

H&M.  The label rather gives their history away, these worn-out black knit tights lying in the gigantic pile of mending on what used to be a place to sit.  Some people build mountains out of molehills; I build them out of clothes that need to be fixed.  Much like my mother does with items that need to be ironed.

I like H&M, too, but not as much as Munchkinhead.  Or, at least, I don’t shop there quite as much as she does.  And a pair of knit tights from there is most certainly in my possession as the result of a wonderful Christmas present from her.  I wonder what the label said.  Probably something about “to: long legs, from: short legs” or some such silliness.

The tights have been through a lot.  A present when I lived in Cali, in the Yay, where one needs to wear woolly knit tights nearly year-round.  Then put to good use again in Wisconsin’s bitter cold winter, likely serving as a layer of warmth buried beneath slips, long thick skirts, fuzzy socks and sturdy boots.  It’s no wonder the tights no longer provide any coverage for toes or that it is easier to see through the heels than through Betty’s rear window.

I’d given them to Munchkinhead to darn.  She’s quite good at darning.  “These cannot be darned,” she informed me.  It seems they were already damned; one cannot darn nothingness.  So she sent them back, via Mommy, to sit on Mount Sewme until I decided what to do with them.

Munchkinhead helped.  With the decision, that is, indirectly, sending a smattering of additional torn-up legwear after cleaning out the large filing cabinet in her living room.  Within the new stash, old hold-up stockings with their own holes and runs and perfectly intact whatever-you-call-the-garter-replacing-sticky-bands-at-the-top.  A seam ripper, a scissors, and a sewing machine later, I have new black woolly knit hold-up stockings.

If I have to shorten them again in the future, Munchkinhead will have new hold-ups.






new stocking

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Fly Away with Me

Thirty-thousand feet up in the air a circle of sunlight on a plastic tray table transports me further than the plane I'm in ever could, to a time and place lodged in the happiest corners of my memories, where I keep Christmases and home-comings and everyday bits of my childhood that make tears well up in the corners above my smiling cheeks like dewdrops in the creases of a daisy.

The warm beam hugs my small frame as I lie on the floor, stocking feet swinging in the air, chin perched on tiny  hands above elbows planted in rough gold carpet.  The crowd from the tv screaming behind the roaring white noise of jet engines and oxygen circulation systems, as though even an Airbus can yell, "go Pack, go."  My mother cheers.  The man behind me snores. I ask my daddy for some more popcorn.  I take another sip of my hot tea.

The bright light creates rainbows on my paper at the edges of the window's shadow, rainbows on the golden carpet fibers enthralling my curious young eyes.  I glide my hand, smoothing the paper, watching a hundred dazzling, sparkling stars dance and twirl on the plastic wall and someone else's seat, my aging eyes behind corrective lenses still enthralled by the magic splendor of prisms in the sun.

Outside, the dark ridges of the Appalachians flow under a sheer veil of mist as a river winds off in the distance. Outside, the world is brilliant in the gleaming white of a Wisconsin winter, clear and cold.  Skies of the brightest blue.

I am grateful to be tucked inside, in my sunbeam, warm and glowing, from the love around me, from the memories inside me.  In my mind.  In my heart.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

For Rain or Shine

“Mommy, can we do the umbrella class at Bungalow?”  “Well, ok,” she said, neither of us realizing what we were getting ourselves into.  I don’t know what we thought making an umbrella entailed.  A couple hours?  Some scissors?  Magic?  Well, it turns out to be a little more than a couple hours,  a little more than some scissors, and no magic.

The hardest part was choosing the fabric.  I had a concept in my head, but nothing was singing out to me, and the fabrics I kept finding myself drawn to didn’t match a thing in my wardrobe.  Mommy, however, little over achiever that she is, found her fabric right away.  She was a good deal of the way into assembling her umbrella before I had my fabric selected.

Mommy chose two complimentary fabrics: a cute  print on white with 1950s-style Parisian women doing things around Paris, shopping, sitting at a cafe, standing by the Champs Elyse or near the Eifel Tower; and a large grey polka dot on white. 

I chose a black and white print of cityscape silhouettes, people in business clothes going here and there with briefcases interspersed with large round clock faces and park bench scenes. WP_20150328_018 I liked the modern, busy city feel of the images combined with the old-fashioned simplicity of black & white.  It seemed perfect for a busy city like D.C.  I had some trouble choosing a complimentary fabric, but eventually went with a black, grey and white flower on a variegated pink background.  I hedged a bit, looked at lots of fabrics, and pretty much just went with this combo because I was tired of looking and race-horse Mommy was on her third lap.  And being the little trouble-maker that I am, that wasn’t enough.  I decided I wanted a binding along the bottom and picked black with small white polka dots.  Mommy and the lady helping us, Peggy, cut the polka dots into strips and ironed it into double-fold bias tape.

attaching binding First step to making umbrellas is to cut out your 8 panels.  Then – here’s where things seem a little backwards – you hem them each individually.  Since I was putting on binding instead of hemming, I had to sew each bias strip onto the bottom of my panels while Mommy hemmed hers (well after Mommy hemmed hers cuz I’m a slow poke).

Next, you sew all the pieces together, being sure to leave an opening at the top for the umbrella post.  You also make a strap to wrap around the umbrella and hold it closed and stitch that onto the umbrella.  It turns out those are the easy parts.  Then, you put your machine away and take out the hand needle.  Oh boy.

WP_20150328_025The umbrella frame is kind of scary on its own, like a giant pokey spider.   It comes with 9 parts to be assembled onto the frame, 8 little metal tips and 1 cap.  The metal tips are sewn onto the umbrella covering and then lock onto the ends of the metal frame.  The tips are sort of like little metal tube socks.  At the top end, there’s holes in the metal across from each other for stitching the tips to the umbrella.  It’s a little tricky at first, and it helps a lot to safety pin the tips to the umbrella covering and slip onto the frame first, then slip them off the frame one-at-a-time to sew individually, removing the safety pin after a few stitches.  The really cool part about this step is you get to see how your umbrella’s going to look!

We had to go home before I got to sewing on the tips, but Mommy was able to finish her umbrella during the class.  After she sewed on all the tips, Peggy helped her glue the cap onto the top of the umbrella.

gluing the top

button Next, Mommy sewed each seam to the umbrella frame.  When she got home, she added a button and button-hole to the closure strap.



Voila!  A beautiful umbrella.

Mommy's umbrella


Mommy and her umbrella

Mommy’s going to spray hers with waterproofing so that it can actually be used as an umbrella.  I want mine to be a parasol for the hot D.C. summer sun, so I’m not spraying it with waterproofing.  I originally wanted to add lace to it, before I picked out my fabrics, and am still toying with the idea.  But for now, here’s my parasol.

business outfit cropped 

It wound up perfectly matching the outfit I had on that day, the polka-dotted side of my wrap skirt and a light pink blouse with black and white spectator stilettos.  Goes ok with my suit, too.