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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Whacking the Rooster and Other Lessons in Life

At some juncture during my 26 year tenure in Colorado, I’d managed to embrace a sort of ‘mountain-chic’ (maybe minus the ‘chic’ or plus a 'chick!') lifestyle that I hadn’t previously known or even acknowledged existed. Yes, I was a city girl, but my hometown of New Britain, Connecticut, could be more precisely referred to as a ‘mid-sized’ city of 75,000 souls; and, both my parents grew up on farms. Ergo, my reasoning had me to earnestly believe that I was channeling my inner Martha Stewart or perhaps Amos McCoy. 

In either case, when Chuck and I decided to buy a home on ¼ acre lot in the dead center of Carbondale, Colorado (population, at that time: 2500), I was thrilled. I would now be able to have the vegetable/flower garden of which I’d previously only dreamt. OK…truth be told, I never had really ‘dreamt’ of having a ginormous garden; I was just trying to build the intensity of the prose here; but, I had previously owned a flower box, and that’s almost the same thing.

Once we moved into our new home, I recognized the potential for other farm-like routines, like maybe growing animals; perhaps chickens! 

My neighbor, Kate, also a nurse, who’d likewise longed to raise fowl, suggested we go in cahoots on this one. While she’d grown up with chickens, she’d really only cared for them peripherally, so didn’t have much more of an idea of just how to raise them than I did. So, the two of us went to our neighborhood Rancher’s Co-op and searched for books and tools for raising chickens. Now all we needed were some hens and we’d be in business…well, not exactly, but we’d have somewhat of a head start in our quest to be chicken-mistresses in this jaded world. 

My kids went to a private, laid-back school in Aspen, Colorado. The Aspen Community School, now a charter school, is located on one of the most beautiful 40-ish acres on this earth, across the street from the late and notorious Hunter S. Thompson's home in a lazy village called Woody Creek. The school was built on property owned by a man who helped to start the school and who became it’s director, George Stranahan. George also owned more property, further up Woody Creek Rd with a working Ranch, the Flying Dog (as in the micro-brew company he also owned). George is a wonderful and philanthropic man. He and his wife, Patti, have a great spread and some fantastic people working it. The Flying Dog was known for exploring cattle genetics. George has his PhD in physics and is the definition of "Renaissance Man." 

That’s all well and good, you’re thinking, but this all seems non-sequitur to procuring and raising chickens! But, it IS related, in a sort of 6-degrees-of-raising-chickens kind of way. Annie Steindler, along with then-husband Jesse, worked George’s ranch; Annie raised chickens for the Flying Dog. Kate had recently been talking with Annie’s sister, Jillene,  who happened to live in Carbondale, just down the road from us, and learned that Annie culled her stock annually. She’d get rid of those that weren’t earning their keep and keep the rest in the flock. Annie, then, was our gal! We contacted her and she agreed to let us have some of her older chickens, just to get us started. In the meantime, Randy, Kate’s husband, built us nesting boxes and we cleaned up a little outbuilding on my property, which would become the chicken coop. We were nearly in business! T-14 days and counting, as Annie said that’s when she’d be ready.

Two weeks hence, Annie called to say that she was ready for us to pick up the hens. Kate and I made the 25 mile trip up to the ranch, where we got to see the elaborate set-up these hens currently had. They had ramps and heat and multi-level nesting boxes. There was a separation space, keeping the older hens from the newly hatched chicks. It was a sight to behold and something to which we would aspire. 

Annie took us into the enclosure. Gasping in awe, I watched as Annie picked up each hen and poked a finger into it’s…um…tail end. Now, I’m a nurse, and I’ve never done this sort of thing to any of my patients on first meeting. I looked at Annie questioningly. “I am checking to see if they are still laying eggs. No point in you taking them if they aren’t producing,” she informed us. I tried to close my mouth and not appear the rube. Oh, wait. I WANTED to appear the rube. Never mind. I closed my mouth and tried not to appear the city-slicker that I was. “Ah…I thought that was what you might be doing,” I replied, trying to seem cool with it all. I don’t really think she was buying. That Annie is a smart gal. 

We’d laid newspapers down in the rear of Chuck’s new Jeep Grand Cherokee and brought some laundry baskets to help contain the hens by placing them upside-down over groups of the ladies. In spite of all the clucking in the rear, and a really 'fowl' stench, which I hoped would dissipate before Chuck discovered what I’d done with his Jeep (I didn’t tell him why I needed it), I was over-the-moon with excitement about being a chicken maven; a hen  mother, of sorts! Oh joy, rapture! This was going to be good. 

Now, it never really occurred to me that the newspapers could separate; nor that hens are very ‘efficient’ animals, when it comes to elimination. Yes, as it happens, they don’t ‘hold it’ until it is convenient for you. They kind of just go when the spirit moves them. Or, at least when their bowels  move them. When we opened the rear of the Jeep, the White Leghorns appeared somewhat ‘tarnished.’ Worse yet, there was chicken pooh all over the carpeted rear of Chuck’s Jeep where the newspapers parted like the Red Sea. Holy Moses! I could be in trouble. And, when we removed the laundry baskets, the hens BOLTED at top speed out the back of the Jeep, without regard to the fact that they were not in an enclosed area of my yard. In fact, they were in an alleyway behind my house that led to the street in either direction. Uh oh. Kate ran and got a giant fishing net. Now, what this was supposed to do, I have no idea, but at least the hens seemed to be afraid of it. Somehow, we managed to herd them all into the coop area. They were clearly traumatized by the drive and all the commotion, as well as the new digs. A third neighbor, Karyn Culver-Zaremba , who was into all sorts of herbal treatments and now owns Herbal Simplicity,  ran into the house, grabbing a vial of Arnica, which she said would relieve their stress from the events of the day. These were destined to be New Age hens! They all filed into the henhouse and appeared to want to sleep it off. 

I returned to the Jeep, gasping at the sight. Not only was there pooh strewn about, but there were eggs, whole and broken back there. I knew I had to tackle the situation immediately. I cleaned up the laundry baskets and crinkled up the newspapers, tossing them into my compost heap (the newspapers, not the laundry baskets) and then quickly drove my car to our local auto wash and detail. These men are professionals, I reasoned, and could easily get out the stains and odors. Success! 

Back home, I returned to the coop to admire my new chickens. They were just beautiful. I was already finding eggs in their nests. Kate and I agreed to name them all “Henrietta.” Life was good. 

Flash forward a few years to the mid-1990s. By now, chicken farming was a finely oiled machine. Kate and I not only still had some of our original flock, which had outlived all expectations, but many were still making eggs. Neither of us had the heart to ‘off’ our pet hens, so we just let them live out their natural lives. However, nearly every year, we were adding to their ranks in order to rotate our stock and have hens of many different age groups. We would order through a place in Iowa called Murray McMurray . MM not only was a great place to make efficient orders, but they had unusual varieties of hens, which appealed to both Kate and me. While the White Leghorns we started with were reliable layers, they were rather boring to look at and just laid plain old white eggs. We wanted some interest and variety. We started ordering all sorts of off-breeds that were interesting and fun. Like Polish chickens. That’s right. DzieƄ dobry!! And, Phoenix Chickens, Butterscotch, Banties, Silkies, Auracanas, etc.; we were in chicken heaven. Their eggs looked like they were already dyed for Easter: blues, greens, speckled, every shade of brown and tan. 

However, the downside to ordering these spectacularly colorful and productive hens was that Murray McMurray couldn’t sex them accurately. In other words, they couldn’t guarantee that we’d just end up with hens. This was just fine with Kate and I. We LOVED the beautiful and colorful roosters that were produced. Problem was, Chuck didn’t. In fact, he was quite irritated by them. To be honest, and though he'd never admit to it,  I don’t even think that he, himself, was as irritated as he feared our neighbors would be. 

It would all start so innocuously…a raspy little ‘cough’ would begin the process. Gradually, the cough would become a hoarse bark and eventually work it’s way up to a full-fledged and proud crow. Said crowing would have been just fine, if it had been limited to a once-a-day…maybe even twice-a-day event. Unfortunately, it would go on all day, from first light till last. And, if there was more than one rooster in the henhouse, it could get pretty loud. That was why, when I ordered 24 chicks one year and 8 of them were roosters, I knew something had to be done. Ok…I would have let it go, but even I had to admit that the cock-a-doodles were dooming our roosters. 

Kate and I had a friend who was a veterinarian in town. “Dave, we were wondering if you would be able to de-crow our roosters? Can you remove their vocal cords?” we asked. Sincerely. We LOVED our roosters. De-crowing them made perfect sense. Dave looked at us and laughed out loud. “Um. NO!” He then explained that it was not a practical solution to our problem and in and of itself, the procedure, which wasn't taught in veterinary (or any other school) would probably kill the roosters. Back to ground zero. 

Our neighbors Keith and Evalyn, were elderly. Keith had been a coal miner and suffered from emphysema. He lived on oxygen which he wheeled around with him in a large green tank. Keith could barely walk 10 feet without needing to take a rest; but if I asked him to kill a rooster, he would be at my coop with his axe in about 2 seconds flat. He was amazing! Evalyn would boil up a pot of water while Keith prepared his axe. Because these weren’t spring chickens (and neither were Keith and Evalyn), they would be tough to eat (plus, I free-ranged them…they were pretty skinny), but Evalyn would can them for use in stews and such. I let Keith know that there was a job to be done. 8 roosters. Keith was excited at the prospect, but said he couldn’t do it at that time and would get to it ‘one of these days.’ The downside was that Keith's lack of strength and agility meant it was a "Lizzie Borden" mission, eg; about 40 whacks to do the trick. But, I reasoned, it gave him something to look forward to.

Now, a while before I’d had specific roosters to kill off, I’d told Keith that another friend, Carol Craven, had specifically asked me to save her some chicken feet, as she’d heard they were good in soup. I asked Keith, whenever he did kill them off, if he could save the feet for Carol. 

A few weeks later, Chuck and I took our kids to the nearest shopping community: Grand Junction, Colorado, about 100 miles away. We’d go there to do major shopping several times a year and it was nearly time for the school year to begin. We’d leave for Junction in the early morning, shop and return that evening. This trip was no exception.

Exhausted, we got home from Grand Junction, kids ambling into the house as we, laden with bags from Mervyn’s and Target slowly began to make our way out of the car. Suddenly, we heard a blood-curdling scream from within the house. We quickly dropped the bags in the driveway and ran inside, only to find the refrigerator door pitched wide open and Cheryl agape, pointing at the bloody contents of several gallon-sized zip lock bags! “It’s our chickens, isn’t it?” she shrieked, shaking, then ran sobbing to her room. I looked at the bags, puzzled at first, until I recognized a reedy-thin leg with feet on it. This was the beginning of Cheryl’s conversion to vegetarianism. She’s never eaten chicken since. 

Yes, Keith was a reliable resource whenever we got into a bind with roosters. And, because we couldn’t have our roosters and eat them, too, he and Evalyn would take care of both issues. He was always ready with his trusty axe, until his strength and stamina left him a few years later and his lungs eventually failed him. Keith was a good man.

We actually had several ‘chick-adents’ in those years. Our hens had become our pets and it was very difficult to see things, natural or otherwise, happen to shrink their ranks. On one occasion, 2 huskies, escaped from their own home, jumped our fence and killed about 9 of our hens in less than 5 minutes. They weren’t interested in eating them, it was strictly an instinctive kill. As soon as they were done, they laid down and panted, begging to be petted. They were beautiful dogs and it really wasn’t their fault. Turned out they belonged to a tenant of a property that Chuck managed. It also turned out that the tenant wasn’t permitted to have animals; she was served notice to vacate. She also was required to appear in court and had to pay a hefty fine. In ranching country, killing livestock is taken very seriously. The responding policeman even offered Chuck his gun to shoot the dogs, a permitted action in this case. But, of course, we wouldn’t have done that. The owner deserved to be shot more than the dogs. 

On another occasion, a fire broke out in the chicken coop. We were awakened by the sound of sirens, embarrassing since Chuck was on the volunteer fire department and ambulance service in those days. He knew he would take a ration of teasing over his own chicken coop going up in flames. They were able to actually save the coop and most of the hens. But, we did lose a few. I was sad that no one was willing to do mouth-to-beak. Whatever. I would have, but, that’s me. They were my friends. 

There was a second dog incident, after which Kate and I put up a 7 foot enclosure of chicken wire around the coop area and quit letting them free range in the yard. Up to that point, I was keeping about 40-60 chickens and up to 6 ducks. I was only really allowed to have maybe 6 chickens, but I did have the big yard, so the space was fine for keeping so many. That and Evalyn was the police chief’s mom, and I gave her all the free eggs she wanted. I didn’t really think I’d get busted when there was more serious crime afoot, like stolen bicycles and all. Nope. I felt fairly bullet-proof. 

Somewhere in or around the new millennium, after Keith had died, I ordered some more hens. By now, Kate had her own coop in her back yard and we each had maybe 17 hens. Kate took a few of the new crop of 24 chicks and I took the rest. I had more space and could accommodate more hens than she could. In terms of eggs, my personal favorite hens were Auracanas. They produced blue-green eggs that are naturally lower in cholesterol and just beautiful to look at. Plus, the hens, an exotic South American breed, are wonderful setters. They are also very mellow and not ‘broody.’ However, for fun and beauty, my favorite chickens are the Polish varieties. They kind of look like Tina Turner with a giant Afro. And, they come in all sorts of colors. The males are especially proud-looking and have gorgeous feathers. They are one of the breeds that Murray McMurray cannot sex. But, I decided to take a risk and order a some in my batch of chicks. 

Of course, I managed to get ALL roosters from this batch of Polish chicks. I had a fantasy, ongoing from previous years, assuring  me that no one would notice the roosters inthe coop....of course, no one did--till they started their crowing business. Sadly, Keith was gone. But when I mentioned the situation to my friend, Ginny, she knew just what to do. Ginny grew up in West Virginia and was used to such things, I reckoned. When she arrived at my home, she wasn't quite wearing camouflage and a headband, but she did come with rope and a plan. My assignment was to run through the yard and capture the roosters, she'd do the rest. Ginny dispatched the roosters quietly and efficiently and hung their lifeless little carcasses on the side of my barn to let the blood. There were about 9 of them in this assemblage and Ginny said that there wasn't enough meat among the entire group to feed her family of 3! Ginny was soooo matter-of-fact about it all. It was as though she didn't realize that chickens came from the grocery store nicely wrapped in cellophane, or something! I was excited, knowing that I had my ace-in-the-hole should I end up with more roosters in the future. 

However, by a year or two later when I made my next order, Ginny had left the area. Again, I ordered 6 Polish poults and just my luck: one of the chicks was NOT a chick…but a rooster. What to do?

My husband, Chuck, by now in law school and studying furiously at home whenever he wasn’t in his real estate office, was extremely annoyed and hypersensitive to the cockcrow. This little fella managed to have a VERY loud croaking voice, almost right from the get-go. And, he was the only rooster in the bunch, so he was one happy boy with a big smile on his beak, if you know what I mean. Starting in early spring, Chuck was on me about the rooster. “Get rid of it.” was his mantra. I, of course, made light of the situation, though I was trying to proactively find some housing for the little guy. I put up a notice at the Co-op, I checked with other chicken-keepers--even with the vet tech school at the local college--all to no avail. Evidently, that year there was a bumper crop of roosters. No one was willing to take even one more. 

Chuck was becoming more annoyed with me. “Get rid of the rooster!” he would bark. Still, I was managing to keep things light and misdirect him so that he wouldn’t focus on it 24/7. Meanwhile, I took a trip to the east coast to visit my family. While I was there, staying at my Mom’s (who had a Mother-in-Law apartment in my brother and sister-in-law’s home), I went upstairs to visit my brother. Ken had been laid up with a leg injury. I sat on a couch across from him; his leg was propped up and in a brace. He was telling me about his injury and, though I was listening, I was distracted by a documentary he was watching on HBO that I noticed via my peripheral vision. The movie detailed the life of a very impoverished family living a survivalist existence in either the Appalachian or Smokey Mountains. What really caught my eye as I was speaking with Ken, though, was when the woman they were filming, in a seemingly unconscious move, grabbed a chicken and effortlessly wrung it’s neck, then plucked it and cooked it for dinner. A plot was hatched, in my mind, as I knew that, if I ended up having to ‘off’ my rooster, I could maybe benefit from having seen this demonstration on the art of rooster-whacking. 

Time passed, but Chuck’s wrath was growing. I was still hoping for miracles, where the rooster was concerned. Maybe if I did some rooster-whispering, it would stop its wily ways? Or maybe it would be taken out by spontaneous combustion? Perhaps a well-aimed lightening strike? Dang. None of this was to happen. By the beginning of August, I could see that Chuck was becoming more agitated. I only rarely heard the rooster crow, but Chuck could hear it BREATHE! One day, on his lunch hour, Chuck came home to eat. He was already on a tear about some issue at work. However, with the windows wide open, the crowing rooster resonated loudly in the living room. Suddenly, the rooster became the focus of Chuck's atrocious day. He made a bee-line for the shed, rooting around for an axe. “Oh, just stop!” I relented. “I will take care of it.” He stormed out of the house, slamming the door for effect. I tried to bolster myself for the task ahead. 

At about 2 pm, I went out to the chicken coop which was located under an ancient Colorado Blue Spruce. Really, that tree kept what I was about to do from reaching the eyes of the general public; this was probably a good thing. 

Now, one thing I haven’t mentioned about this particular rooster is that he, being the king of the coop, felt entitlement. While he may have looked like Tina, he acted more like Ike. He had giant spurs on his legs and he didn’t hesitate to use them. Scrawny though he was, Henry would kick you with his spurs and you would most definitely feel the pain on bare shins. The minute I walked into the chicken yard, he charged and spurred me, as though he knew what I was about to do. 

My chickens were tame and, though they didn’t love being held, most of them would at least let me get close. Not Henry. Not on this day. He saw me coming and took off. I spent at least 20 minutes running around the coop and chicken yard, trying to catch him (and half-hoping I wouldn’t). When I finally did, I was totally out of breath and sat down on a stump with Henry on my lap. I just looked at him and giant tears rolled down my eyes. Even though he was the goofiest-looking thing you’ve ever seen, had just spurred the heck out of my shin and he was twitching as though he was having a seizure in that nervous way that chickens do, I just adored him. “I am so, so sorry. I don’t know how I’m going to do this.” Henry cocked his head to the side, as though he was trying to figure it out, too. 

I stood up and cupped my right hand around his neck and used my left to hold his legs together, to keep him from getting away. He fluttered his wings and blinked a lot. “Oh f***ing shit, damn it all! I am so sorry!” I probably said more of the ‘f’ word. In fact, I think I said it the entire time, in one looooong syllable, during the wringing ceremony. With that, I dropped my left hand off of Henry’s feet, the weight of his body lengthening his neck in my right hand. “F**K!” I screamed as I whirled and twirled poor Henry to kingdom come. Horrified, after about 25 twists, I dropped his body to the ground and broke into a fresh stream of tears. I had spent my life as a HEALER; A HEALER, I tell you. And, here I was, wresting the life of a helpless fowl. 

There he lay, prostrate and dead, on the ground. The chickens in the coop cautiously came out, sort of like the Munchkins after Dorothy’s house dropped, and they edged progressively closer to poor Henry, curious. Henry’s neck was preternaturally elongated. One brave hen came up and gave him a peck. In the eeriest move possible, Henry suddenly jerked upright. His neck wasn’t right. It was very long and a bit wobbly, but there was Henry, up and running away. Fast. Oh shitty shit! How could that be? Now, I had to run after him. I got up, my mind reeling at the fact that I had done everything the woman on HBO had, but now I have a long-necked rooster who is REALLY pissed off at me and walks funny, to boot. I went after him. Though he appeared stunned, he was really quite fast. It took a bit to catch up to him, but I finally did. 

All I could think of was, now I really,really need to be effective. I don’t want Henry to suffer. More, that is. I grabbed him and with the same sort of swearitude as before, I began with vituperation and and a string of expletives. I wrung Henry for all he was worth. In fact, I think I could have won a wringing contest. I tossed his lifeless body to the ground, only to watch him, once again stunned and now bleeding slightly from the beak, stand up defiantly. It was Rocky vs. Apollo. It was David vs. Goliath. It was me vs. Henry. 

Now, if I’d been thinking straight, I would have realized that I had probably done in the little bastard’s vocal cords, by now, with all that squeezing and jerking. But, I was crying inconsolably, miserable that I had failed in my task and now had this suffering animal on my hands. I decided there was only one thing I could do. I ran down the alley to Evalyn’s home and asked her if she still had Keith’s axe, then proceeded to tell her the tale of woe. To my utter horror and surprise, she stood there laughing. “Oh, I’ll take care of him, honey,” she said. “I’m a Nebraska farm-girl, you know.” Now, Evalyn was, at this point, at least 83; there was no way I was going to let her swing an axe. She did, however, insist on coming with me. 

Henry, though alive and standing, wasn’t looking great. He mostly looked really, really confused about life. I was able to catch him, though he still eluded me on my first few attempts, and placed him gingerly on the stump I’d sat on earlier. Many of the hens kind of gathered round, peering nosily, sort of like the townsfolk in Shirley Jackson’s, “The Lottery.” Yes, that’s exactly how it felt! 

I saw Evalyn place her hands on either side of Henry’s now rather long neck. 

“No!” I shouted at Evalyn, not meaning to come across as harsh. “You don’t understand. I will NOT  be looking at what I’m doing when I swing this axe. I could just as easily take off your arms or head. Please don’t hold him." She moved and strangely Henry stayed there. I took a wide stance and adjusted my swing. With a fresh stream of swears, my eyes clamped tightly shut, I brought the axe down on Henry’s vulnerable neck. I realized, too late, that I still hadn’t fully committed to my swing. Henry was not completely decapitated. Evalyn let out a laugh. I was dry-heaving. And swearing. And crying. Evalyn took the axe and hacked twice more before completing the job. She walked back down the alley toward her house with the headless and profusely bleeding trophy of Henry and the bloodied axe, looking somewhat like Baby Jane. It’s an image I won’t soon forget. I went back to the coop and got valiant Henry’s head and tossed it in the garbage. Well fought Henry. Well fought. 

I kept my chickens and ducks until Chuck and I moved away from Colorado to Southern California. Between this tale and our leaving, there were still more adventures, including the police shooting of a rabid raccoon in my yard (the raccoon had been attacking my chickens and ducks). The police knocked on my door, waking me up at the crack of 10am, so as not to scare me when they were going to shoot the ‘coon. It was a little reminiscent of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid vs. the Bolivian Army. I think they even reloaded and continued to shoot after emptying both their pistols. It may be the only other animal in Carbondale that went through a more protracted death than Henry. I also had to save one of my ducks from the clutches of a fox and yet another was killed by a different raccoon, leaving 6 fertilized and ready-to-hatch eggs, later incubated by a hen who thought she was the ducklings’ mom (see photos, below). 

I probably will never have the chance again to raise chickens or ducks, but they taught me a lot in the 11 years I had them. For one, they showed me how simple life can be: eat, eliminate, procreate. Then there’s the whole nature thing…just the fascinating life process. Their eggs were totally awesome, amazing and delicious. And, for a time, we had the coolest house in Carbondale and the local petting zoo. How can you put a price on that?! 

© 2009, Ryb Katz, all rights reserved

Henrietta and ducklingsHenrietta was very frustrated with the ducklings. Though they imprinted with her, she just couldn't teach them to scratch in the soil like the other chicks she'd raised. AND, she was positively beside herself when they jumped into the pond!HenryA cacophony of Carbondale chickens

Saturday, July 2, 2011

An American Adventure in Paris: Our Long-Winded and Only Slightly Exaggerated Tale of Whoa!

Chapter 1-getting there

In the spring of 1972, I was a senior at New Britain (Connecticut) High School. As the time neared for graduation, I heard excited murmurs from some of my fellow students of trips to Europe. These exploits were intended to emblazon their passages toward adulthood; to celebrate and measure the moments before serious study replaced senior slacking-off. 

Unfortunately, I was never in a financial position to make such a journey. We were a poor family and I was only starting college through the grace of my older brother. Tom agreed to pay for my first year with the caveat that it needed to take place outside of Connecticut. He was wise enough to know that I needed to get away from the difficulties of our family circumstances and start fresh. He was very wise. I chose Houston, as I'd applied late in the year to colleges and most warm southern-state schools had already closed admissions. Houston was simply the furthest away from Connecticut I was accepted.

Fast-forward some 26 years to 1998. Chuck and I were successfully settled in to our lives in Colorado, where we'd lived since 1978, having moved there shortly after the birth of our son. I'd met Chuck almost the instant I arrived in Houston, we hit it off right away and were married 5 years later, on my 23rd birthday. Chuck had just won a contest at his real estate firm. The winner was to earn a trip to Paris for 2 for a weekend! Well, who flies to Paris for just a weekend, right? My masterful negotiator was able to get the donor to kick in an entire week. We were thrilled. We set the trip for March of that year. We hadn't done anything special to mark the passing of our 20th wedding anniversary the summer before, so this was going to be a long-overdue celebration of that milestone.

In the meantime, we had a few problems to work out, in terms of logistics. Our daughter, an actress, needed to be in LA at that time of year. Since she was still a minor, I would take her annually to LA for about 3 months so that she could be there during Pilot Season, a time of year when there are generally more opportunities for actors to audition, since networks are testing out new 'pilots' for television, in addition to the movies that are filmed year-round. She and I would stay at the fabulous Oakwood in Toluca Lake, a corporate housing facility that is nation-wide. However, this one, in particular, had a perfect set-up for child actors and their families to have the full-on experience of pilot season. We'd been staying there during pilot season for the previous 3 years and would have an absolutely great time. 

Because I would be initiating the journey from LA and Chuck would be starting from Aspen meant coordinating flights. This wasn't quite as difficult before 9/11, but it still had it's challenges. In the meantime, I also had to figure out custodial care for my daughter, who at 15, couldn't be left alone. I'd arranged for one of her acting coaches to stay with her. However, about 2 weeks prior to leaving, he called to say that his wife couldn't accompany him and he felt uncomfortable being left alone with a 15 year old girl. Good call. But, now what? I was terrified to tell Chuck this newest development. He was getting so excited about the trip, that I was worried he would cancel if he thought we were minus the guardian. I knew I'd conjure something up, so I didn't want to worry him needlessly.

My son, in whom I did confide, suggested that my daughter stay with him. Problem was, he was in Colorado at college. I couldn't imagine flying her back there for the week while we were in Europe. But, I did keep this option in my back pocket, just in case.

Another friend offered to take her. I was thrilled, but my daughter wasn't. She didn't really get along with this woman's daughter and was uncomfortable with the whole idea of it. Strike 2.

Finally, 2 women from our Colorado group (our children all had the same manager) of acting families offered to watch my daughter for me while I went. One I'd known quite well for several years. She'd raised 3 other children to adulthood and had her son in LA for his first year. The other woman I didn't know as well, having just met her during this trip. But, I already liked her a lot. Her son was just 8 at the time. She said she always wished she also had a daughter and was looking forward to doing 'girl stuff' with mine. Bingo! We had a winner! Now, it was time to prepare for my trip!

I was very excited about journeying to Europe. Chuck and I had been to Mexico, but never anywhere else outside of the US. I ordered a book, called "Speaking French in 10 Minutes a Day" after noticing the Spanish version in my daughter's possession. In fact, since it was just 2 weeks from our trip, I asked that it be 'rush' shipped. Allegedly, that was 2-day shipping. What they didn't tell me was that it didn't necessarily ship the day, or even the week, that you ordered it. It arrived the day before our trip was scheduled; I had 10 minutes of French class under my belt!

Chuck arranged that I fly from LAX at 7:30am; he was to depart from Aspen at about 9am. We would both arrive in Denver at approximately 9:45 and we had a flight to Dulles (Washington, DC) that left at 11am. From Dulles, we would depart to Charles DeGaulle Airport at about 7pm. It was all sort of tight scheduling, but by the following morning, we'd be in Paris! Ooh la la!

The first sign of trouble was when Chuck called me at 9pm the evening before our trip. He had been just about to go to sleep when he checked the road report (something you have to do in Colorado during what can typically be the heaviest snow month of the year). The forecast showed the probability of a huge blizzard moving into Aspen. He knew the planes would not fly out of there in those conditions. He called for a ground shuttle to see if he could get aboard. He could, but it would leave at 3am for Denver. The trip would take 5-1/2 hours. That really sucks for him, I thought to myself. But, at least we're going to Paris!

Since the flight out was on United at 7:30, one of my friends who was to watch my daughter, offered to take me to LAX at 4:30am, so I wouldn't have to leave my car unattended at the airport for a whole week. Unfortunately, owing to the fact that my father always made promises that he didn't come through with, I have had a lifelong thing about not believing something is going to happen until it is imminent. So, I didn't start packing until about midnight. I didn't finish packing till 2:30am. I set the alarm clock for 4 and quickly drifted off to sleep.

I awoke with a start. I heard birds chirping as I stretched my arms and legs, snug in the bed. I slowly made my eyes open, smiling at the day. I remember thinking, "Wow! I had no idea that it was so light out at 4:00am!" Slowly, I turned my head toward the alarm clock, which had still not gone off. 7:30. I stretched again, then sprung upright in horror. 7:30!!! That's what time my plane leaves. I screamed at the top of my lungs, waking my daughter in the process. I started crying uncontrollably. What would I do? 

I immediately called United and pled my case. I was sobbing on the phone..."Ma'am. The only way you will make it to Paris today is if you take either our flight to San Francisco, where it is currently fogged in--we aren't sure that one will get out), or you can take a flight to Chicago, which leaves at about 11:30am and then have a direct flight to Paris, arriving within 1/2 hour of your husband's flight, at 9am tomorrow." "But, it's my aaaaannniversaryyyy..." I sobbed. "I'm sorry, Ma'am. That's really the best we can do. I am not even sure that they will honor your ticket at LAX. You know, they don't have to, since you missed your flight." "But, I didn't miss alarm clock just didn't go off like it was supposed to!"

I called my friend, who was supposed to have taken me to the airport. She said that her alarm failed to go off, as well. However, she had awakened at 4 and when she didn't hear from me, she thought I'd decided to drive myself, after all. When she heard my hysteria, she rushed over, ready to drive me to LAX. 

Problem was, now it was almost 8am. Burbank is only about 11 miles from LAX, but you wouldn't know that at rush hour. We spent nearly an hour just getting from the 101 northwest to the 405 south. We drove at the breakneck speed of about 10 miles/hour from the 405 in Sherman Oaks past the Wilshire Blvd and Venice Blvd exits. It was 9:45am and I figured that Chuck was in Denver, by now. My friend had a bulky mobile phone that she let me use to try and reach him. 

I called the Denver Airport and had him paged on the dreaded WHITE PHONE. Within a few minutes, he picked up. "Where ARE you?" he bellowed into the phone. "I-I-I am s-still in LA," I sobbed. "WHAT?" (he may have said another word here). "Why are you still there?" As I went on to explain the situation to him, he was livid. "Maybe we should just cancel this whole thing. It's not starting out very well," he screamed into the phone. But, I insisted that I give it a try, to go to the airport and see if I could get on the flight to Chicago. "Oh, that's just great," he sputtered. "I am supposed to be going to Paris with my wife and now we're going separately!" "Please, Chuck. You can't make me feel any worse than I'm already feeling," I cried. "Oh, just let me try!" he replied at about 105 decibels!

We got to LAX by about 9:50am. I rushed inside the terminal to speak with a United agent. I was exhausted and tears were streaming down my face. I explained the whole situation to her, modifying my disappointment with sobs. She quickly printed up a ticket, handed it to me and said, "RUN!" I asked my friend to let Chuck know that I'd made it aboard. I wondered if my luggage would make it, too. Frankly, at that point, I almost didn't care and I finally started to relax. 

Once boarded, I took my customary 1-1/2 mg of xanax and settled into my seat. It seemed as though, just minutes later, the plane began scurrying down the taxiway and started to slow for the long line of jets that were jockeying for take-off position. That's when the captain came on the PA system. "Good Morning, Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your Captain speaking." (why did they always have to sound like Carleton, the drunken doorman on 'Rhoda')? Then, a collective sigh from the passengers as he continued, "Due to a HUGE snowstorm that is currently hitting in the midwest, we have been put on hold for take-off. It appears that we will be sitting here for about 2 hours." OK. 2 hours. I looked at my watch. Take-off in 2 hours? "We should arrive in Chicago at an adjusted time of 4:40pm, CST." I looked at the ticket in my hand. My flight to Paris was leaving at 4:20pm. I started sobbing all over again. The woman sitting next to me asked if I was ok. "N-n-no," I stuttered. "My husband is going to Paris without me!" With that, I fell into paroxysms of sobs and doubled over in my seat. My seat mate turned and stared out the window. I can't say I blamed her. 

True to his word, the Captain delivered our flight to Chicago on time; which, of course, was too late for my connection. It was snowing in Chicago, but certainly not a white-out condition. I found that to be rather frustrating, given the circumstances. 

I bolted off the plane, still crying, and ran to the United Customer Service area. "Please," I begged. Is there some way you can reach my husband? You see, I m-m-missed my f-flight to Paris and he is at Dulles now and probably getting ready to board h-his flight. And, this was our 20th A-anniversary trip and t-the alarm didn't ring!" "It's ok, Ma'am. We can put you on the next flight to Paris, tomorrow night!" she replied with a big smile. "B-but, he'll be heading there today." "Just a minute. Did you say he was leaving from Denver?" I nodded. The customer service agent looked up Chuck's flight. "Why, Ma'am. Your husband isn't going to make it to Dulles on time. His flight was 2 hours delayed taking off from Denver because of the snowstorm there. He's going to miss his connection, too. But, look: if you run like the wind to gate C-17, you can get on a flight to Dulles that should arrive just about when he does and you can spend the night there and fly out together tomorrow." 

A giant wave of relief flooded over me. I quickly popped another 1/2 mg of xanax and ran for C-17. They were just about to close the doors to the gateway when I arrived, clearly out of breath. Once through the portal, I calmly strolled down the jetway and to my seat in coach and settled in, falling fast asleep before we even took off. I suddenly heard a muffled, "Is there a Dr or person with medical knowledge on board this aircraft?" through my dreams. I startled awake and located a flight attendant. "I'm a nurse. Did you find someone to help?" She shook her head and explained that there was a young man aboard who said he was diabetic and thought he was having a reaction. When I arrived at his seat, toward the front of the plane, the young man in question was trembling and sweating profusely. He was speaking slowly, but was clearly conscious. He was wearing a Medic-Alert bracelet, indicating he was, indeed, diabetic. I secured a glass of orange juice for him. He drank it down and it worked it's magic. The flight attendant said that the pilots wanted to know if they needed to land the plane sooner than DC. I told her no...the kid would be fine. As it turned out, he'd taken a dose of insulin earlier and hadn't backed it up with anything to eat. He was able to follow the juice with a meal, and was just fine. Whew. I was glad it was an insulin reaction and not a baby. I don't do babies. 

It was nearly 9pm EST when I deplaned in DC. I ambled down to baggage claim to find my things, glancing at the monitor to see if Chuck's flight had made it in. It had. Early. I found my bags and went to the United counter. "Excuse m-me," I started. "B-but, my husband's flight was supposed to be here now, but he's already gone and he didn't know I was coming. And, I d-don't know w-where he is...Oh, and it's our 20th A-an-ni-ver-sar-yyyyy," (I suddenly realized I'd been telling my tale, now, for nearly 12 hours, and had barely stopped crying in all that time). 

"Here, Ma'am. This is a taxi transfer. They took your husband to this hotel. Please. Just take it. Go now." They actually seemed, well, relieved to have me leave the airport. The taxi driver was nice, especially when I explained that I didn't have cash to give him a tip, since I thought I'd b-b-be in P-paris by the next morning! Waaahhhh!

I walked into the lobby of the hotel, Westfield's Marriott, a nice, upscale place in Chantilly, Virginia. I'm not sure where I thought United was putting up it's displaced passengers, but I thought it might be more in line with a Motel 6. This, then, was a nice surprise. I approached the desk, which, except for me, was devoid of customers, but heavy on the employees. There were 3 people ready to take my information. "I'm just here to meet my husband. He doesn't know I'm here. It's a surprise!" I smiled. They glanced at each other. I am now sure they thought I was trying to catch Chuck with 'the other woman.' "Well, Ma'am. We can't give you his room number. We're sorry, but that violates our security policy." I couldn't help it. Really. I flooded with tears. "It's our 20th Anniver-ver-sary. I-I m-missed the p-plane. W-we were s'p-posed to b-be in P-paris!!!" I was beginning to feel like Laura Petrie, talking about her Aunt coming to their wedding, "all the w-way from O-hi-hi-ooooo!" "Let's call his room," said one desk clerk. "Yes, LET'S!" repeated another. They dialed. It rang. And rang. No answer. I broke into fresh tears. One clerk said, "Could he be in the restaurant?" "N-noooo!" I sobbed. The bell captain, overhearing the commotion, interjected: "Well, what about the bar?" Everyone looked at me expectantly. I glanced up, a smile splitting my tears and pointed at my nose. BINGO! That was it. One of the bellboys showed me the way.

As I approached the bar, I could hear one loud, slurred voice above all the others. "...and, when I got to the airport the white phone was paging me. The WHITE phone. That'sh NEVER good! And, she over-schlept and she'sh on her way now to Parish....I did everything right. And, I'm here!" I looked into the barroom. There was my husband, splayed across the bar. The bartender who apparently had heard this tale at least 20 times, appeared as though his eyes were rolling back in his head. "And...that looksh like her. THERE!" Now, in our adult life, I have rarely seen my husband drink to excess. However, even I had to agree that this was probably a justifiable occasion in which to do so. 

We ate some dinner at the bar and went up to room 377, where Chuck proclaimed himself happy to see me! So happy, that he wanted to upgrade our tickets to business class! Oh, yes! He called and used some of our accumulated frequent flyer miles to do just that. It was going to be a great trip, after all!

I realized how much I'd missed my husband. Even in his somewhat goofy, drunken state, he looked at me with puppy dog eyes. I told him I wanted to get out of my travel clothes and dashed into the bathroom. When I came out moments later,  I was serenaded to the sonorous racket of loud snoring. Chuck had passed out diagonally across the bed. Great. We hadn't seen each other in nearly 3 months and he fell asleep!!  I climbed into the other bed in the room and fell into a  deep slumber. Timing wasn't important for the following morning. I could sleep as late as I wanted. We had till about 7 pm till our flight was leaving the next day. AAAAHHH...sleep.

Chapter 2-To Paris. Really this time!

The next morning, we slept in and went downstairs in the hotel for a late breakfast; then, lazily returned upstairs, taking our time. We packed and decided that we were taking no chances. We'd just spend the whole rest of the day at the airport. Maybe we could even treat ourselves by buying our way into the Red Carpet Lounge. So, we headed for the airport and were probably there by 1pm. We milled around for a bit, buying magazines for the long flight, then located the Red Carpet Club. We stepped inside and Chuck started to ask them about buying a day's stay there. I smiled at the attendant and explained that it was our 20th anniversary and that we almost didn't make it to Paris. By the end, I had tears in my eyes--and she did, too. She not only let us in for free, but when she told her co-worker about us, they handed us free drink vouchers, too! 

Once seated in the lounge, I decided to call our daughter, just to be sure she was doing ok and that my friends, were, too. We told her the entire harrowing tale and she was happy for us that we were actually going to get to Paris together! Toward the end of the call, she inquired as to whether she could go to our apartment (she was staying with one of my two friends every night while we were gone) to do her homework, as the environment was quieter in order to get things done. Of course, I said. That would be fine! Oh, and I left the car keys in the drawer by the refrigerator, just in case one of my friends has a car problem and needs to use it. 

My car was a 2-year old Eagle Vision. I hadn't really liked it very much. It felt like a "guy" it was trying to be macho. I was used to driving a stick shift. This car had an "autoshift," which was supposed to make you feel like you were driving a stick shift. It was the dumbest thing ever. That being said, it did actually look pretty sharp. We were going to start teaching our daughter to drive it after she and I returned to Colorado from LA in April. 

We checked in with our son, too, who was in his sophomore year at Colorado State. He was doing great and was genuinely happy for us that we were having a getaway. And, he actually thought we were already in Paris. Why wouldn't he?!

777's were only a few years old when we were taking this flight. Neither Chuck nor I had ever flown on one. And, now, we were going to do it in business class! Oh, joy! 

Business class, was definitely not full. We had seats that could only be described as plush, leather recliners. We'd never been on a flight where we each had our own individual screen, so we were quite excited about being able to choose whatever movie we wanted to watch, too. And, the dinner was like a fine restaurant. Steaks and lobster and just about anything you wanted. They opened bottles of fine French wine. In fact, they gave Chuck his own bottle, since no one else was drinking that particular one. You were also given a goodie bag of toiletries, ear plugs, eye mask, slippers and just about anything you might need. We felt like idiot hicks who'd hit it big! 

At one point, during the night, Chuck had to use the restroom. When he stood up, he pulled back the curtain overlooking the coach class. There, the passengers were splayed all over their seats, hoping to find a decent position in which to ride out the long flight. He quickly drew the curtain back and, with a long sigh declared, "It's horrible. Horrible!" 

I pulled out my French studies, too excited to sleep. We were due to get to Paris at about 8:30am. I wanted to be ready! 

I remember walking thru Charles de Gaulle Airport in awe. It was a beautiful facility...clean and new-looking and it had lots of windows with views to the sky; very futuristic! The Metro (Parisian subway system) runs from the airport and into the city. Chuck had done some configuring prior to getting to Paris (he certainly had the spare time!), so as to know which trains would be best to take to get to our hotel. 

The man who offered the prize to Paris for the contest Chuck had won was a multi-millionaire land developer. He traveled frequently to Paris and told Chuck's office that the hotel he'd booked for the winner was the same one in which he stays when he travels there. As it turned out, it wasn't located very far from the airport, at all. Maybe the first or second stop on the Metro. We were able to walk from the train directly to the hotel. I remember seeing the hotel and thinking it looked sort of "quaint" and very European from the exterior. 

We entered the hotel, obviously 24 hours late for our reservations. "Bonjour, Monsieur! May I help you?" Chuck gave our names and a little background on why we were late. "Monsieur. We are very sorry. But your room isn't ready." "But, how could that be? We are late!" "Yes, Monsieur, but when you didn't arrive, we had to give your room away. Now it is not ready." It was about 10am, and the room would not be available until at least 3pm, she explained. She said that we could store our luggage with the bellman for safekeeping. So, we gathered a few essentials, checked our bags and headed upstairs to the in-hotel restaurant for breakfast.

Chuck plotted out a course to the Eiffel Tower. In spite of our travel fatigue, we figured this would keep us away long enough for them to prepare our room and we'd get to see the landmark at the same time. In studying the metro maps, Chuck recognized that we were located far from the city at this hotel. We'd be taking the metro everywhere. We'd exchanged currencies in Washington, prior to boarding our flight. 

One of the lessons I studied while on the flight was how to ask for tickets for the Metro. Evidently, it is best to buy 10 of them, or 'dix billets, s'il vous plait." I repeated this phrase to Chuck a few times. He became annoyed with me and said, "I'm sure they speak plain English." He approached the ticket window and said, "Ten tickets, please." "Eh?" replied the vendor. ("say, 'dix billets, s'il vous plait,' Chuck")...Chuck: (bellowing): "Meh Eyuh Hev Ti-en Tee-Kats, Pleeeze?" "Eh?" the vendor replied, even more loudly. In a quiet voice, I approached the vendor. "Dix billets, s'il vous plait?" "Ahhh Ti-en Tee-Kats. Oui, Mademoiselle." He glared at Chuck, but smiled sweetly at me as he handed me our 10, tickets. "I don't think I like these people," Chuck said, under his breath.

As we awaited the approach of our train, a man pressed against my back. I turned around to see him trying to take my purse, which was slung over my shoulder. I grabbed it tightly and he ran. But, a policeman saw the whole thing and chased after him. We boarded the train and took the long (45 minute) ride into the city. I had to remind myself to stay en-guard; we were, after all, in a big city.

I suddenly felt full of energy and, as our train pulled to a halt at our stop, I bounded off and raced up the stairs toward the surface street, anxious to see the city above. About 1/2 way up, I heard behind me a very LOUD, "Oh SHIT!" I would have known that voice in any language. I turned and headed back down. What I didn't expect was that he meant it literally!! On detraining, he had plopped his sneakered foot into a very large, steaming, loose pile of...well...SHIT! And, it actually looked too large to be from a dog, if you know what I mean! And, not only had he stepped in it. But, it had 'backsplashed' up the back of his pants, nearly to his ass. And, you could almost see the odor steam coming off of it. This...was...exceptionally...BAD!!!

"Should we go back to the hotel and get a change of clothes for you?" I inquired, trying hard not to laugh. Chuck was in a shitty mood. Really. "I am NOT going all the way back (he may have said a bad word; a really bad word in here, too) to the hotel and coming back here. I'm NOT! Let's just go." So, we went. No one came anywhere near to us. We still didn't see any dogs, either.

When we got up to street level, we were able to look several blocks ahead and see the Eiffel Tower rising over the trees. We started to head in it's direction. The foul stench that emanated from Chuck's jeans was nearly overwhelming. Suddenly, he flitted to my right. With a quick motion, he lifted his right leg up high and began to wipe it off on the elevated lawn of the home we were passing. It didn't really clean the jeans off, but it did remove some of the larger 'chunks.' And, really, I was starting to get used to the odor (NOT!). 

We made our way to the tower. I believe we had to pay money to go up in it. As we learned, it requires an elevator ride to go up. So, first, that meant we had to stand in a line. On some stairs. I stood behind Chuck to cloak him, but every so often, I would move aside. You know. So no one would think "it" was me. We were the first into the elevator. I moved to the opposite back wall from where Chuck had gone. I watched as people came into the elevator, politely crinkling their noses to try and determine WHO had let go! I started laughing hysterically, which made Chuck laugh. Many others on the elevator laughed, too. Probably to keep from crying. Oh, yeah. It was BAD!

We walked around the tower and were amazed by the views. We really were in Paris! It was beautiful. It was cold and gloomy...but, beautiful. I had no idea that there were things to do on the Eiffel Tower. I thought it was just a big radio tower-looking thing. But there are shops and restaurants and all sorts of things to see and do. I bought a few post-cards, and Chuck did, too. 

When we returned to our hotel that afternoon, we were finally permitted to go to our room. As soon as we stepped foot in the elevator, we realized that this was not going to be a luxury stay. The room was tiny and the walls were thin. It was difficult to imagine that the multimillionaire who'd sponsored the contest stayed there. A brochure in the room indicated that it was the European cousin to the Motel 6. Great! We could hear everything our neighbors were saying, and could smell their cigarettes. The tv had only one English-speaking channel (the BBC) that wasn't all news. The bed was 2 twins moved together, but there was nothing to hold them together, as we soon discovered when in the middle. As the beds spread rapidly apart, it sort of squished any romantic potential. 

I decided to shower, which was fine. But, when I plugged my hair dryer in, it knocked out the electricity. "Chuck? Did the power go out in the room?" "No, Dear. The power went out on all 5 floors of the hotel!" Oops. Someone switched a breaker and it was all good.

Later in the week, I found the offensive jeans, stashed in a plastic bag to be taken back home, in Chuck's suitcase. A woman would have thrown them out in the garbage. Only a man would take them home after marinating them for a week in plastic.

But, the rest of the week was really fun...we went to the Louvre, took a dinner cruise down the Seine, went to the Pere le Chaise Cemetery (to visit Jim Morrison, among others), saw "Good Will Hunting" in English (subtitled in French), saw the Arc de Triomphe on the Champs - Elysees, toured the Notre Dame Cathedral, visited a holocaust museum, had amazing wine, food and chocolate and best yet: Chuck let me buy all the Metro tickets. 

Back to LA--Surprise!

It was tiring, heading back to the States. United routed us so that Chuck and I flew together, first to Chicago, then had separate flights: he to Denver, then Aspen and I flew to LAX. Still, it was a total of about 17 hours from the time we left Charles de Gaulle till we reached our respective destinations. Worse, when we arrived at Charles de Gaulle, we realized that our Business Class seats were only honored one way. Our return trip would be in coach. Horrors! Chuck saw what it was on the trip there. He had no desire to fly back that way! But, there we were: tucked into the very center seats of a 777 midway in the coach cabin. There was a family sitting behind us. They all seemed to have a cold. Maybe tuberculosis, even. It sounded like it. And, why, with American's being more overweight than ever, do they make the seats so narrow? I weighed 127 lbs and I was rounding my shoulders to fit in my seat without touching the stranger to my right. But, long though it was, it was a good flight and we returned right on time. My friend and my daughter picked me up at the airport and I took them out to a steak dinner at one of our favorite restaurants (this was before my daughter became a vegetarian) in thanks for a job well done. 

When we stepped inside our apartment at the Oakwood, my daughter looked at me and said, "Mom, I have to tell you something. It's bad." I don't have to tell you that my heart was racing a bit, so when she continued and said that she'd invited a few friends to the apartment for a party, I kind of bit my tongue. That didn't sound too, too bad. "What happened?" I wondered aloud. "One of the boys brought some beer and we each had some. By the next morning, one of the kid's Mom's came over and was yelling at us! She said she was going to call you, but told me she wouldn't if I told you first." Of course, we had a VERY long, VERY detailed discussion, in which I collected names, dates, social security numbers and the like. This was serious, and I knew it. "You spent the night here in the apartment?" How did that happen? As it turned out, she'd manipulated the permissions I'd granted her by telling my friends that when I called from the airport, I said she could go to the apartment any time she wanted; that she just needed to check in with them. They thought it was weird, but didn't question it. "But, Mom. That isn't the worst part. I crashed the car!" I was just thinking that this was an awful situation...but, now, the whole 'drinking incident' paled by comparison. "You WHAT?!!" "Security* came to the door of the apartment and said that the car was parked illegally and must be moved or it would be ticketed. I really thought I could safely move it. But, when I tried to back out, I hit the big pipe (that they placed to mark the parking spot). Then, I hit it again when I tried to straighten the car." *This story was later proven false. She admitted, afterward, that she was just wanted to try out her driving skills by driving around the parking lots.

"Oh brother. Let's go look at it." I was exhausted and suddenly, it didn't feel as though I'd just been on vacation. We approached the car. One of the headlights was dangling out of it's socket, looking much like an eyeball that has been wrenched out of place, dangling for all to see. There were rubber scuff marks all over. It was actually remarkably UNdamaged from what I'd expected. I told her that before I actually killed her, I would need to sleep on it. We went to bed.

The next morning, with a clearer head, she and I went to the Chrysler dealership and had them assess the damage. "Well, you can either pay $2000+ for the major fix-up...or you can pay about $150 and we can make it work. What do you think?" I chose, of course, the $150 and had my daughter enter into an agreement to repay the money, apologize to the parents and friends whose trust she'd abused and she needed to toe the line STRICTLY for the rest of her time in LA...and next year's pilot season would be in question. Cheryl was a good kid, but it was an important lesson for me to learn that even good kids make stupid choices.

Strangely enough, the car held together pretty well, though occasionally the headlight would pop out, if we hit a big enough bump in the road. When we returned to Colorado, Chuck started giving our daughter driving lessons. After the first one, he told me that the car felt as though it was 'pulling.' "Yeah, I really don't like this car at all," I replied. The next morning, before I even woke up,  he'd gone to a Honda dealership and traded it in for a new Accord. I didn't tell him about the accident till well after our daughter had left home and was in her 20s. He needed to cool off and some secrets are better left kept. 

I'd return to Paris in a minute, but Monsieur still has a few reservations, s'il vous plait!

© 2009 Ryb Katz. All rights reserved