Note: Cruel Wife will undoubtedly remember things a bit differently so this story may evolve a bit as I am corrected. Some of this is embellished a bit, yes. The places and people are the same.
Cruel Wife and I lived in Washington. We met, we dated, my life was over before I knew it. I proposed, we killed time, and we got married.
Not really, no.
Just after we got back from our honeymoon I got word that I was in a last round of layoffs. It was not an auspicious beginning.
After looking for work for months – and I mean months – I found a job in Michigan. I flew out to begin my new job while Cruel Wife finished her degree (she analyzes failures for a living, mostly mine), and then a month later I flew to Washington to meet up with her and then move the last few items “back east”.
For a Northwest person, anything east of Boise is “back east”. To a Northwester, moving within 100 miles of Detroit is a death sentence or consignment to Hell, whichever seems worse. It varies from individual to individual.
We loaded up my truck with what little was left to move and set off from Pullman, Washington (Cruel Wife is a Cougar – no, not that kind of Cougar). It wasn’t easy. We knew we’d be leaving behind good coffee, friends, family, good coffee, the beautiful Northwest, good coffee, Taco Time™, and real seafood.
For my part I was going to miss Taco Time™ the most.
For Pete’s sake, you didn’t believe that, did you, Faithful Reader? It was coffee. And seafood. Again, you believed that? Okay, okay, friends and family.
We had suitcases, my toolbox, a big medium-sized recliner, and a cat carrier. With a cat.
Let’s focus on the cat for a moment.
Silver d’Cat was a Himalayan, which is cat fancier-speak for “cat with a really flat face”. When Cruel Wife and I were dating early on, Silver (short for Silver Streak) d’Kitten would nap on my chest when I napped on the couch. It was an equitable trade. He used me and I got points with the girlfriend. He was a pretty cat, never really a big cat, and one of the kindest little kitty hearts you can imagine.
Silver d’Cat two years later, with a new name and identity, now an unhappy cat in a cat carrier on the seat between us, in a jeep. Not one of us was happy, and Silver and I were competing to see who could be the most annoying in voicing our annoyance. The vet had given us a bottle of pills to give to Silver, ostensibly as a mild sedative, but there was one teensy problem, and at first blush you might not think it was a problem and your mind would move on to other matters, oblivious to certain realities.
The pills were about one inch in diameter. The cat’s throat was about 3/16 of an inch in diameter, less if you were trying to give him a pill. This was a problem. This is the rough equivalent of fitting a hippo into a VW bug. It’s also a good deal noisier. With every limb straight out, every hair on his body standing on end, his claws fully extended, and his eyes the size of dinner plates we would tackle him and force this giant pill down the Maw of Death, my pet name for the beginning of Silver d’Cat’s alimentary system.
I realized right away that he and I could not share these pills – they damn near killed the cat, so why would I want to subject myself to that? Instead, since my allergies were really bad, I stuck with Drixoral™, which causes me to see Shadow People and that made the drive much more interesting when I was behind the wheel. If one were to glance at the instructions on the package and actually read them for comprehension, one would see:
Warning: Do not operate heavy machinery while taking this medication.
This was no problem since the Jeep classifies as a light truck. So went my reasoning.
Fifteen minutes after the first pill, Silver stopped yowling in a screeching tone and more in a druggy-screeching tone. Cruel Wife informed me that she’d take a look and see how the little guy was doing.
“HE’S FOAMING AT THE MOUTH!!!” blasted into my right ear, shredded the already spongy-matter that comprises the greater share of my brain, out of my my left ear, and left stuff that was really hard to clean off splattered against the driver’s side window. The Jeep screeched to a halt as I locked up the brakes and stopped on the side of the road. The journey of thousands of miles starts with but a single panic attack.
We drug druggy-yowling Silver d’Cat out of his carrier (getting him in was like putting toothpaste back in the tube) and decided that he wasn’t happy outside the carrier now.
It was early on in our relationship and I had not learned that most of the time you’ll do a whole lot better if you never say anything. “Oh yes, he’s foamy all right. Hey, you could use this stuff as shaving cream – it’s got body to it. What? What’d I say?” Or something unintelligent like that. That was the first look Cruel Wife had ever given me. It was awful. I felt my flesh being stripped from my bones, my marrow crumbled to dust, and my testicles blackened and fell off. It was readily apparent that this was her baby. She had no sense of humor or tolerance in this area.
New Rule #1: Do Not Mock Cruel Wife’s Baby Even if It is Furry.
We decided as a couple (ahem) that he did not need to ride in a carrier but would have a leash and ride on the seat between us. Carrier went in back and we drove on.
Olfactorily I am the canary in the coal mine. After a while I said “What’s that smell?” The smell was enough to peel the paint off the inside of the cab and Cruel Wife knew it was there as soon as I did. It was all the grittier smells of a tannery, a pulp mill, and a chicken farm with chicken-poo lagoons and they were emanating from the cat in little kitty burps (Cat Burp Bombs – CBB’s) that came out with the froth running down his chin. Make no mistake: Our cat was stoned and he passed David Bowie, Jim Morrison, Sid Vicious, and Jimi Hendrix on his way out of the solar system. I thought perhaps that I could chew up little bits of one of his pills at a time but then figured my drooling/foaming and CBB’s might tip off Cruel Wife. Well, I still had my Drixoral and my Shadow People friends.
Silver’s effluent also had this inorganic chemistry smell to it – sharp, unfeeling, lead-pipe cruel – and after a while we’d made it through Couer d’Alene, across Idaho in no time at all, then Lolo Pass in the Bitterroot mountain range. By the time we came out of the mountains we’d had enough of trying to sneak bits of fresh air and avoiding CBB’s so we made the command decision.
New Rule #2: No Drugs For Himalayans Riding in Jeeps.
Silver was in full agreement with this rule. In fact he co-authored that bill and you can still see his foamy little footprints all over it.
Montana was pretty big, pretty, and incredibly boring after a while. I said “Well, I know what will help pass the time.”
New Rule #3: No Beer in the Truck No Matter How Boring it Gets. Even if You are Passenger.
Mumbling “I don’t see how ‘happily ever after’ is even going to happen…” Cruel Wife gave me the look again and said sharply “WHAT?” as we swerved almost imperceptibly. My Shadow People friends all screamed “SHUT… UP!” Wise people, those Shadow Folk.
We spent the first night in Livingston, Montana with her relatives. I drank some beers and tried to stay out of the way. I did get a tour of a local laser manufacturer, which was pretty cool. I was itching to get going though so we said our goodbyes and took off, bound for Hardin, Montana to see Grandma. Cruel Wife’s grandma.
Update: In Cruel Wife’s words…
Only one correction of note. We stayed in Livingston, MT the first night. Can’t forget that. My cousin tried to pawn her son’s iguana off on us. Now LK and I both think iguanas are cool critters (which had led to the offer since she was trying to find it a new home), but two (semi) adults, one unhappy cat, AND an iguana in the cab of a Jeep would have upset the balance of the universe. Global warming a decade early. Meltdown of the global economy. Dog and cats living together in sin. You get the idea. Seeing all these ghastly ramifications, we politely, but firmly refused.
Montana is a big place and we had driven a fair distance. Cat on the seat, Cruel Wife and I swapping off, and the Shadow People in the back and hanging off the sides of the truck. We got into town fairly late in the afternoon. We planned on spending the next day there and leave the following morning.
Cruel Wife’s grandma went through major depression era hardships. We’re talking NOTHING got wasted. NOTHING. “That old milk box can be chewed up for extra fiber. “ “Toilet paper has two sides, you know!” “Tuna cans make good candle votives as long as you use the fat rendered from roadkill.”
“Spaghetti” really means noodles with a can of tomatoes, lots of bacon grease, and whatever else is lying around – “You just scrape the mold off it and it’ll be fine. Really, Lemur, it was good last week. So what if the vegetables have split open and are moving around by themselves and eating bugs and small animals?”
New Rule #4: Eat What Grandma Provides Even if You Wouldn’t Feed it to Diseased Mutant Pigs.
The next morning dawned bright and clear and as is my usual custom I ignored it completely, opting to sleep in as long as I could. At some point the plan evolved into a “Let’s get a tour of the town.” Grandma drove and it was… it… it was traumatic. It was like being eviscerated with a grapefruit spoon.
Montana’s speed limits were pretty lax at that time and we screamed up the on-ramp and skidded onto the freeway at times topping 40 mph and averaging about 35 mph. I was in the rear seat and turned around to see a truck perilously close to us and getting closer with every beat of my now-arrhythmic heart. The grille loomed in my vision and seemed to extend for miles to each side of us. I could count and identify bugs on the front of the truck’s bumper, which was at eye level. I squeaked “Cruel Wife… Cruel Wife… Cruel Wife… Oh please oh please go faster…” While I was tapping frantically on her shoulder she turned around and said “Grandma, you’ve got to go faster!”
“We’re going to die,” I whispered quiety, unheard by a single living soul.
To Cruel Wife Grandma replied “Oh, no, I don’t like to go too fast.”
New Rule #5: Never ride with Grandma again. Ever.
We were very near the location of Custer’s Last Stand and I began to wonder if we wouldn’t be joining him soon. The semi truck lurched sideways and forward to pass us as if we were standing still (which we very nearly were). A few fear-filled miles later we pulled off the highway and visited what I believe was billed as the “Combine of Death Capitol of the World”. It was an entire museum devoted to the celebration of farming equipment specifically designed to mangle people in really scary ways. I swear half the equipment was protected from the elements not by paint but layer upon layer of dried blood.
Hardin, Montana is not a large town, a little bit over 3000 people if you count the people waiting at the bus station. We got the five minute tour and then Grandma suggested that we get Chinese food for dinner. I don’t remember what I ate but I do remember looking at it with slowly dawning horror as I realized that it probably had come from a can bought from the local grocery store. You know you’re getting authentic Chinese food when the waitress asks if you want ketchup with your meal. I choked it down and smiled wanly at Grandma, saying “Mmmm… good.”
Visiting the gathering hall we met many nice ladies there who were charming and warm which was funny to me because Grandma wasn’t exactly the most huggable lady in the world, if you get my drift. We stayed there long enough for my lips to stick to my dried-out teeth from holding a smile and for my eyes to start throbbing as I tried to at least look like I was engaged in the conversation. And then we stayed some more, probably as much as two more hours. I very nearly cried with relief when we left.
Another uneventful night passed and we were on the road by ten that morning ready to experience the rest of our trip.
(next, Part II…)
Old News: Oldcatman has posted a special message to me and others on his blog! Yay!
He gave us a big finger, I heard. He’s so cute when he gets his panties in a wad. No, no, don’t go over there, you’ll just give him better stats. Act casual.
If you’re known by the enemies you keep, I’m a happy camper.