Why Didn't Anyone Tell Me?

Why Didn’t Anyone Tell Me?

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  • The Wilma131 South Higgins AvenueMissoula, MT, 59802United States (map)
Katrina Farnum opens up about a love story gone wrong.

Transcript : Purging the Surfaces Before Moving onto the Self

So I was always warned growing up about the dangers of drug addiction and what that might look like if you happen to fall into that peril, the opportunities that might be lost. Friendships that might be lost and all those other things to be attached with that, but what nobody ever told me was that love could be like a drug, and that you could end up in a relationship that resembled drug addiction. That’s exactly what happened to me.

I had gone through this break up and it was terrible. It was really painful and devastating but I was on the mend and was feeling like “Yeah, Alright.” You know you put yourself out there and that’s when I met Sam.

You know things were great and I thought this was the perfect person to date, and I thought this is going to be the best rebound relationship. I’m coming out of this heartache and I could tell you know you have that great sense of intuition about somebody like this is not a good long-term relationship.

[Laughter]

This is a fantastic rebound I can just pop in there and we can have fun. He was very charismatic. He was very charming and a go-getter and he was moving to Canada he was going to go live in Fernie and he was going to snowboard there and I thought perfect, there’s no break up, we already have this planned.

It’s in the initial stages, we know what’s happening..[laughter] and so cool we got this rebound planned.  And it was a little longer of a rebound than I had thought, by seven years.

[Laughter]

They were some of the hardest seven years of my life and I really got to look at what that relationship that it becomes like substance abuse and essentially it is. I look at it now and it’s a lot like Chemical Romance. The ups are so up and the downs are so down and I ended up in a position that I was essentially fighting for my life. All those things that they warned you about the potential loss of friendships you know losing things that are important to you did happen to me at some extent, but I don’t know that people always realize how much you struggle. I don’t know that we always see each other’s darkest hours and I think that because when we retreat to those places we keep them very close and we sort of hide them.

I wanted out, I wanted to leave, I wanted to leave it all behind and get away from him so we did this back-and-forth thing for so long and there were so many times that I felt so broken.  There is a point at which I had been working on this story. I love to write and I had been working on this story and I was in love with the characters. There is one character who made weird things out of bread and like you can bake them and glaze them and they will last forever and she would make little figurines and flowers. She had a twin sister and I felt really connected to these characters.

[Laughter]..

I got to this place where I was like “Yeah I’m really doing it” . Then I’m not sure what he was looking at on my computer that he didn’t want me to know about but he took it to the computer guys and he had them completely erase my hard drive. I didn’t have anything backed up and when I would go to him and say this is how I feel and I’m devastated and this is so hard and why are we doing this. He would say something like “Those are really pretty earrings you have on. Have you had those for a while.”

It’s so weird you’re just looking at this person like “God I hate love you” and I need to get away from you and I worked really hard at times. There was a period where I moved out of my house and I moved in with family and I started looking for a new job, quit my job, started a new job, dropped my cell phone, got a new phone number. Had a new house, a new car and a new everything. I was like “yeah he’s not going to get me”. I’m starting over this is awesome and “BAM” he’d show up at my work.

It was just like that, it’s that moment where an addict has cleaned up and they’re doing so good and they’re on it and they’re making it. It’s happening and they change their environment so that they can make that transition.

Then they’re in that place and that thing is passed to them that offering is made and for me I just felt like maybe I was overreacting and maybe it wasn’t as bad as I made it out to be. Maybe I should give this another shot [laughter]…, maybe it’ll work and so I would, so I did. I wasn’t overreacting and it was terrible and it would be immediate two days after we were together again, but then it’s kind of like “Yeah,” but I already just reinvested myself so I got to plug away at it which is never a good idea. We ended buying a house together, which is bizarre to its own right why we do these things.

It got really gnarly and it just got to this point where we were sleeping in these separate bedrooms and I mean I was young and I was already at that like creepy weird place that you do in a midlife crisis [laughter].. And I decided this is it I’m not doing this anymore, I am marching down there and I’m going to tell him that we are either in it and we are going to move forward.

We’re going to make this work out or we are splitting up like I’m not limboing there’s no in between anymore, so “I got it, I know what I’m going to say.” I felt like he was never listening to me and I wasn’t validated, but I’m going for it, and I walked down the stairs and I walk into his room and it’s dimly lit because it’s evening and he has this little lamp propped up on pillows in his bed with the blankets pulled up and he’s working on a crossword puzzle.

I was standing inside the doorway and I say “So I feel like you never hear me, I feel like I try to say things but that you’re not really listening and I’m trying to get to the whole part about we need to move forward or get away from each other “and he just nods off.

[Laughter]…

His chin just collapses against his chest and something snapped in me like a fucking crazy bitch just came erupting out. [Laughter]… I just I hear myself say “You might sleep through me but you will not sleep through this [laughter] and then I started with the dresser in his room and then just one awesome bitchy motion [noise] just leveled it and I did have an aloe Vera plant on it so it wasn’t like I was just leveling his stuff

[Laughter]

And then I rolled into the living room and by this point I didn’t care who is watching or listening, if the neighbors could hear me or if he was even awake yet, which he was, and he was after me. I leveled all my hippie crystals and rocks, plants, books, pots and pans, mixers, cookie trays, and I mean really anything that was exposed on the surface, which anyone that knows me knows that there are no empty surfaces in my life.

[Laughter]

I’m leveling them all and it’s awesome and I feel pretty good actually like I’m mastering this because today I’m done, I am done with seven years. This is bullshit. I’m over it.

[Laughter]

He comes after me right and then he gets his hands around my neck and he’s like [noise]”You crazy bitch stop it” and I’m whaling on his chest but he sees me, he sees me, and he is just devastated, she’s done, she’s over it, and I was. It was a powerful feeling because I knew none of that bullshit that he had been feeding me like when he would show up and he would say “I’ve been hiking all these mountains all day long and all I do is think about you because you are my soul mate.” He was really just like I’ve been fucking tons of other chicks and now I’m back in town so “Yeah” let’s do this.

[Laughter]

None of that was actually working anymore and you know I made the separation happen.

It’s not easy right because you think that that’s the victory moment, but it’s like that’s the high and now you’re going to go through the low, but you can’t go back. It got to that point where it’s just like “Uh” because I loved him. It wasn’t that I didn’t love him and my heart was so heavy and was hard to eat it was hard to sleep and it was hard to think straight it was hard to go to work. I would crawl on my hands and knees to get to the front door so that I can get to my car so I could go get groceries. So I can continue living and it was a fight for my life and I fought every day for as many days as it took and I had to start looking at myself like what am I doing and what am I responsible for. How can we change what I’m doing so that I don’t keep doing that. I did make mistakes. I didn’t come out of that experience just free and clear and a new page, happy ever after. I got to a place where I rebounded again after that and I made poor choices.

I ended up in a relationship with the person I love dearly and he was a raging alcoholic and that didn’t work out. I had to go back to the drawing table and say “What am I doing, What is this, What is in me, What is my conclusion?” I have been really looking for somebody that was the right person for a really long time. I wanted to love and I wanted to be in that relationship and I was looking and looking and not finding it, so I just started to work on myself. I started looking at what attitudes that I carried and you know I really had to look at my defensiveness because I was a very defensive person, and that was part of my problem. It was something I needed to work on, so I worked on that, and I did a lot of visualization.

I visualized where I wanted to go and I knew I wanted to get there and it was so challenging because I realized that the place that I had been was comfortable, it was so uncomfortable, but it was comfortable because I knew what to expect. I knew that that unhappiness was going to be there. What I didn’t know was what that other place that I was going to go was going to look like and that scared the shit out of me. Even though it had the potential to be so much better, so I just started visualizing what I wanted in a relationship, but I started with myself and what relationship I needed to have with myself. I worked tirelessly at it and when I met my husband I didn’t know he was going to be my husband and he was goofy and he was athletic and he was sweet and I would get his name wrong [laughter] and we ended up being really great friends. He kind of and you don’t know if it was an accident or not but you know, he swept me off my feet and I was a little leery both because I wasn’t sure that I was there that I had done the work that I needed to do.

At one point in the beginning of our relationship I said to him” I think I’m too mean for you, I think I might be too rough around the edges for you “because you are so nice and your so sweet and he said “I think in the end that you’ll be a little nicer and I’ll be a little meaner and it will all work itself out.”

[Laughter]

Okay I can work with that but I really didn’t want him to be meaner because he’s so wonderful [laughter] and you know there was just so much that he did that was so different and it was really refreshing to feel that. It was really refreshing to feel that remembering days when there just hard days.

I don’t even remember what was happening that day but I remember he looked at me, I’m sad and he said I am going to kiss that frown right off your face and I thought that is a guy and he was so devoted to his family that that became something that was so close to my heart like anyone that can devote themselves to their family in that way. I love them so unconditionally.

I knew that I would also receive that treatment and so I married him because he’s wonderful and amazing and makes you know that I am a better version of myself every day and he supports everything that I do wholeheartedly and I really had to come back in and review where I had been and where I was going, and I realized that I had been putting so much and investing so much all the those years and finding the right person and in the end it wasn’t about that in the end it was about just being the right person.

Thank you.

Svein Newman awakens to his house burning to the ground.

Transcript : Renter's Insurance

So I  woke up at 5:08  AM on June 2, 2014, and I remember that time very distinctly.  And I woke up to what sounded like some belligerent jerk shouting in the hallway and banging on the wall or banging on doors, and  my first thought was, “God, it’s early to be  that drunk.” And I presumed, and I think this is fair, I presumed that it was just some guy who had been been locked out of his apartment, his roommate had let him back in, and that it’d be over in 30 seconds, and so I proceeded to try and go back to sleep. But after a couple minutes, it was still going on, and I thought, “Fine, I guess I’ll go deal with it.” So I, I get up and I put on pants, because I’ve knocked on enough doors for political candidates that I know that it’s awkward when the person behind the door isn’t wearing any pants!  [laughter]

And I, I  go to the door and I throw it open to give this guy a piece of my mind. And I start, “Hey….”  And I then I stopped, because it’s  not one guy, it’s  two guys. They’re police officers. And the hallway’s filled with smoke.

And they shout, “The building’s on fire! Get out! Get out! Get out!”

And, at that point I can’t be like, “I *really* would’ve picked a different outfit! Just a second. I’ll be right back.” And so I rushed out of the building wearing these pants actually.

[laughter]

Thank you. And [more laughter]….

I spend the next three hours sitting on the stoop across the street watching my home burn down. And it’s hard to say exactly how I responded in that situation because it doesn’t feel this way, but when I tell the story it sounds like I was maybe in shock, or wasn’t quite processing because I was just cracking jokes, and saying things like, “Well that’s what I get for keeping my fireworks next to my oily rag collection!”

[laughter]
Which, incidentally, is a terrible thing to say next to a police officer when they haven’t figured out what started the fire yet. And just in case my landlords are in the audience, it wasn’t me. There was thorough investigation [laughter], and it wasn’t me.

But a buddy and I make the tracklist for the relief dance party with songs like: “We Didn’t Start the Fire”, “Burning Down the House”, you know, we get through  like 20 or 30 tracks, because, we, we’ve got a while. And I text my boss, and I didn’t say, “Probably not coming into work today. My apartment building is burning down. Hashtag, ‘thanks Obama’.

[laughter]

And she responds, “Well, feel free to take tomorrow off too, but what does the president have to do with this?” And that was when I learned that, that there’s kind of a generation gap with that joke. So if you don’t get it, then ask your kids.

But I learned a few other things in the fire experience too. And and one of those things is that some people are just jerks. They just are. So the fire had been burning for about an hour, and they brought in the third fire truck to spray millions of gallons of water on this building. I’m in my car was parked in front of the building it was kind of blocking the way, but, fortunately in this instance, I’m a little bit but lazy?  And so I had my credit card in my car keys yesterday’s pants that I pulled on and so I go to remove my car I get in I turned it on and I find out that all of the street exits are blocked. You know, they’d been closed off by the police and by the fire department. And so I pull into this guy’s driveway, and he comes out, and he’s  apparently an attorney and he lets me know that he has trial in two hours and so I need move my car. And I point across the street and I tried to explain to him that, while  appreciate his concern, my home is on fire! And he won’t hear it. And, you know, he says he’s gonna call the police, and I say, “They’re standing over there. Let’s go talk to them together.”

[laughter]

But he doesn’t hear it. So he starts yelling at his wife to yell at me to move my car and so I get into my car and I drive across people’s lawns to get it out.

But I also learned, and I mostly learned that people are really wonderful. Because while my friend and I were joking about the playlist for the dance party, it turns out that other friends were actually planning one. Ta, to raise money to replace things. And some different friends had started this online Kickstarter account. And people started getting a hold of me right away, saying, “Hey do you need anything? You know, my my husband and I were thinking about getting a new couch. And here’s a photo of our old one. I don’t know if it’s good enough for you.”

And that the nice thing about being in your 20s is you don’t have great stuff?

[laughter]

And so I had to try and find a diplomatic way to say that’s way nicer than the free couch I pulled out of the rainy alley before!

[laughter]

So, in a sense I made out like a bandit.

[laughter]

One, another important important lesson that I learned is that emotions are contagious? Or infectious? And so that first night of the fire, my friend Vic took me out to dinner, and God bless Vic because, you know, we’re talking about the story and at some point he just stops me, mid sentence and says, Wait a minute Svein. Do you think that they’re gonna have to demolish the building, like, tear down the walls, gut everything out?”

And I’m like, “Well, I don’t see what that has to do with what I was saying, but, yeah, sure.”

And then he says, “Well, then, Svein, this is a tragedy? Allright? But, this is also an opportunity? That you and I? Have never had before and may never have again. Because I’m just sayin,’ that if a couple’a dudes, showed up with some sledgehammers [laughter] and started knocking things down they probably wouldn’t mind.”

And he volunteers to help me the, gather my, you know, things, or sort of filter to the wreckage to try and find things the, the next day with clearly ulterior motives.

[laughter]

And I show up, and the property management gal meets me on site. And she hands me my security deposit check and she’s crying so I start crying.
But then Vic shows up.

Um, and, and, and, an important point of backstory with Vic — Vic used to work in the oilfields. And not like the  North Dakota, Eastern Montana oilfields. We’re talking the backcountry Alaska, they have to helicopter you in oilfields. And so he comes with this big truck and his, like, industrial coveralls,and his boots up to his knees and he has this big breathing mask on. Like, I don’t really understand, he looks like an alien. I don’t even get it. And I’m wearing one pair of jeans and T-shirt that I own at this juncture.

And I tell him, “Vic, I, I really  don’t think we’re gonna need all of that.”

And he says to me, “Shhh.”

[laughter]

“Don’t spoil the moment”

[laughter]

“I couldn’t find my baseball bat. We’re gonna have to use our fists.”

[laughter]

And he’s brought his like, portable speaker system, in some like, waterproof bag and so we spent the day rocking out to 90s dance beats. And we go to the grocery store and we get multiple brands of paper towels to figure out which is actually really the most absorbent.

And people, a few people you know, have asked me, “Well, did you save anything?”

And the answer is, “Yes.”

Which was really great at the time because that first day the fire chief in Billings says, you know, “Kid I don’t want to sugarcoat anything. You definitely lost everything.”

Which is not a great thing to say to a person in,  in that situation.

But we were able to, to salvage some things. You know, I had some clothes that had, you know, there was a lot of smoke damage. They poured probably a couple million gallons of water poured over them. But I took them to the laundromat, that day. I, actually there’s a full day at the laundromat with Vic, you know, bless him again. And I had a lot of hope and then after the first wash I lost all hope.

[laughter]

But by the end of the day just smelled like I really liked camping.

[laughter]

Which is ok in Montana, right? You can pull that off.
[laughter]

But the important thing ah, the most important lesson that I learned is that stuff is just stuff.

I don’t know how many of you read Tom Sawyer when you were in school, [woos from the crowd]  that’s great I didn’t. [laughter] But I did read the CliffsNotes and watch the movie. [laughter]

And I remember there’s a season or there’s a, season, see, I am talking like TV and  movies. You know how I operate. I’m giving away all of my secrets. But….

There is this scene early on, where they’re trying to establish that Tom is such a scamp and so his raft washes into town and he’s lost…it only has a shirt on it, there’s no boy. And so everybody assumes that he must be dead so the plan this funeral for him and he comes back and finds out that they’re planning a funeral and instead of saying, “Wait! Oh my God! I’m still alive! You have it all wrong!”, he thinks, “Oh, I have to see this”.

Right? And ever since that moment I’ve had the same you know, like a lingering question, and  obviously I would never do it. But I go to people’s funerals and I think, “Oh my gosh what I would give to live life that is deserving of this kind of recognition or this kind funeral.” And God willing and the creek don’t rise, this is the closest I’ll ever get to that.

Because, you know, people you know, the people who called, the  people who wrote, the people came forward….

You know, this is a story about me losing nearly everything that I own, but to me it’s not a story of loss it’s a story about realizing how much I have.

Thank you

When plumbing and puberty go wrong, Sawyer Connelly finds himself standing in inches of water from the fast overflowing toilet wondering how to get rid of the evidence.

Transcript : Destroy the Evidence: A Masturbation Story

I’m standing backstage, and I’m really nervous, so I reach for the nearest bottle of liquor. It’s a fifth of Juarez Tequila. And I take a big swing that doesn’t go down as smoothly as I’d like.

I’m nervous for a few different reasons. The first, that my father, my then girlfriend and three of my best friends are sitting on the other side of the curtain in the audience. I’m pretty sure four of them, everyone except my father, was little drunk. And I’m ah, I’m concerned about what they might say in the coming two hours about me particularly related to the ah, the content of the production that I’m about to be in.

The second reason I’m nervous is because I’m about to perform in my school’s version of The Vagina Monologues. [laughter. cheers.] My school, it’s called “Relations” and it includes penises [laughter] and it’s a celebration of sexual culture and the relationships on campus. …deal with some really funny issues and more serious issues, like sexual assault and rape. And it’s just a really, really great experience.

I’m also nervous, the third reason, because one of the monologues I’m about to deliver is entitled “Addicted to Pussy” [laughter] And my, [more laughter]the college president whom I’ve right been working with really closely with some extracurricular material, she’s sitting in the audience. [laughter] And I’m worried she’s going to, ah, have a different view of me after this. [laughter]

But the main reason I’m nervous, is because my castmate is going to be delivering a monologue I wrote, that’s about masturbation and flooding my father’s study. [laughter] Now, my father knows his study was flooded, [laughter] but he doesn’t know how. [laughter] This is my comical way of, which is very quickly becoming less comical in my mind, [laughter] of telling him the full story.

[laughter]

So as 11, as an 11-year-old boy, I was like most 11 year old boys, a horny little shit, and just discovering puberty and masturbation. And in the age of the Internet nudie pics came from the World Wide Web, you know, boobs. And in fourth or fifth grade, you know, a few of us boys, probably like 10 of us we’d ah, print these, they were like Playboy pictures, we’d print them out, really pixelated, on a regular, like 60 pound printer paper, eight and half by 11 and they get passed around the classroom and inevitably someone would take them home, and, well, we know where that goes.

[laughter]

So, you know, as an 11-year-old, the masturbation spot at the time was the maple hardwood floors of the upstairs bathroom. [laughter] And I once left those pictures on the bathroom floor, and to my absolute horror, my mother found them. [laughter]

Now, she was super cool about it. She even gave them back to me. She left them on my desk, [laughter] and next time I saw her she said, “Sawyer, you left something in the bathroom and I put it on your desk.”

Now, I was mortified, and I had to get rid of these. And they needed to go someplace where they would never be found. And the trashcan was, was,  wasn’t good enough. Burning them wasn’t gonna suffice. They need to go someplace dark and deep, and I thought the sewers would be a good, good spot.

[laughter]

So my parents ran a newspaper, a weekly newspaper. Tuesday night was production night. And they would always work late. So that Tuesday night I was gonna get rid of the evidence. And it was gonna be gone. So I took those three pieces of printer paper and crumpled it up into 3 wads and threw ‘em in the toilet. [groans] And I flush the toilet. Toilet got clogged. So I flushed again, and, toilet got a little more clogged. And I started to get a little more nervous.

So I flushed a third time, with a little more force, and I heard, I heard a pop. And you know that when a toilet’s filling up, and it starts reach the point of being filled, and it starts to slow down and you can hear the water shut off? Well, that wasn’t happening.

[laughter]

And the toilet bowl was filling up, and up, and up. Pretty soon it reached the brim. And it started to overflow. And I’m sitting there, standing there, and I don’t know what to do. And as the water is spilling over, onto my feet, I realize that my father’s study is right below me. And in my father’s study, there’s a few thousand books. There’s his computer and his desk with a lot of sentimental family photos and various journalism awards from over the years. And that water is very soon going to going through the floor into my father’s study.

So, my eleven year old mind thinks to grab every possible towel I could find in the bathroom [laughter] and upstairs in the house, and throw it on the floor, around the toilet.

Now there were about 15, 20 towels, and that worked for a few minutes, but, [laughter] the water wasn’t gonna stop anytime soon and eventually those towels reached their saturation point. And they couldn’t hold any more water.

So I ran into my parents’ bedroom and picked up the phone to try to call down to the newspaper, but being a Tuesday, it was a busy night, and the  line was busy. So I sprinted downstairs and just as I got to my father’s study, a bunch of the ceiling tiles fell out and to my eleven year old eyes it looks like the Ganges, the Amazon and the Mississippi were pouring down from above into my father’s study.

[laughter]

So, I went to grab the phone again and try calling the office. No luck. So I high-tailed it out the back door. Lights on, doors wide open, and sprinted — luckily I grew up in a very small town, and the house wasn’t too far from my parents’ office, and I’m pretty sure I was setting a record for a sub-four minute mile.

[laughter]

Got, got to the office, burst through the front door and just screamed, “Mom, you gotta come home. The toilet’s broken. Dad’s study’s getting flooded. I don’t know what to do.”

So, she sprints home with me.  And says some choice words as she runs by the study, and we get upstairs and lo and behold there’s a little knob next to the toilet. Shuts off the water. [laughter]

So.

[more laughter]

We had to ah, air out a few hundred books. My father’s study. Drying ‘em out. Some of them to this day still show the wavy, wavy pages from that incident.

We had to replace the entire ceiling.

But.

My evidence, the pictures were gone for good and that was, that was the important part.

My parents didn’t know hi. Or how. This happened.

So jumping back forward….

Our production goes really well. I’m greeted at the end by drunken hugs from all my friends, and a big hug from my father. And being supportive parent, tells me how ah, how thrilled was and how proud of me he is, and how much my mother would have loved it.

We clean up and everything and as we’re walking out of the theater, I say, “So, pops what do you, what do you think of the story about the study?”

Not knowing he’s gonna throttle me or, you know, don’t know how this went over.

And he chuckles and says, “Thought it sounded pretty familiar. Just, you know, Sawyer, I wish someone had told you how to shut off the water.”

Thank you.

Juanita Vero and her brother are motivated by food growing up. Unpasteurized milk from the cows on their ranch, homemade bread, peanut butter and marmalade sandwiches. They love it all. Once, during a visit to their grandmother's house in Colorado, they are introduced to a gourmet new food. A mysterious log of salty cheesy goodness. A visit to the Fred Myers years later brings enlightenment about this curiosity of the food world.

Transcript : Existential Mozzarella

My brother and I are really motivated by food. We — my little brother — we grew up about an hour east of here on a ranch, and went to a little one-room schoolhouse down the road.  And our favorite class was lunch.[laughter]  And, this was in the seventies and so we had these bright orange Tupperware lunch boxes that have been sitting under our desks all morning long. And so at noon, we get to peel back that soft pliable plastic cover, and that waft, the special Tupperware stench, would just come up. And we loved it.

Probably didn’t help that in our lunch boxes was unpasteurized cow’s milk, not because our parents were righteous hippies or anything it’s just that, we had cows on the ranch and we drank, that’s what the milk was that we drank, and it was not pasteurized.

Also in our lunchboxes was last night’s dinner slapped between two pieces of homemade bread. Again, not  because Mom was a righteous “I’m going to make everything by hand,” it’s just, she made bread. We didn’t buy bread. We lived too far from town.

And occasionally we would get peanut butter and jelly on the sandwiches and those were special days. And, peanut butter and jelly was exciting except most of the time, peanut butter came with marmalade because we have to use up the marmalade. [laughter] And who, who eats peanut butter and marmalade? Vomit!  [laughter]

So my brother and I would, we would covet. And we would be very…just jealous of the other kids’ lunch boxes and these were tin lunchboxes with fantastic graphics of Star Wars and Dukes of Hazzard. And in those lunchboxes were Lunchables and Fruit Roll-Ups and Capri Suns and, and colorful candy. Stuff that we were never allowed.

My brother, though, he was a wheeler and dealer. And he was fantastic at, at trading and conniving. And, I on the other hand I took the sour grapes route. I said that, “only bad people ate that kinda stuff.” And this was during the Save the Whales campaign and Greenpeace was really out there you know, trying to prevent harp seal pups from getting clubbed and so in my mind I was like, “Only whalers drink Capri Sun and [laughter] and clubbers, seal clubbers are out there with their Lunchables and litter bugs drink pop.”

You know, that’s what I thought.  Bad trashy people would eat sugar cereals with store bought 2% milk. And. It’s funny, I said “trashy” but we lived in a double wide trailer on a ranch, so, I mean….

And when we came home from school, we weren’t allowed inside until dinner was ready. And, during the summer this ranch is a dude ranch, and so we served all of the choice cuts of beef to our guests. And during the off season, we would eat burger, liver, heart, tongue, occasionally, but it was good, it was good.

Mom makes amazing liver and onions and tongue. And then Dad would get an elk or a deer. Again, not because of some, like, “back to the land, I’m going to provide for my family” philosophy. It’s just we were tired of eating organ meat.

Mom hunted too, but she didn’t hunt so much, until, you know, after us kids came along.

And then we would have these food service cans of, of, of insipid vegetables, it was diced carrots and gray peas. And I’m sure the cans were lined with everything that you’re not supposed to line cans with now.

And then, and then we would have rice, and rice was a nod to my dad’s Filipino heritage .

And we would drown our entire dinner in soy sauce which our dad called “bug juice” and my little brother and I just reveled in asking, “Please pass the bug juice,” we were very excited about that.

About once a year we got to go visit our grandmother in Colorado and this meant that we get to ride on an airplane. And Frontier Airlines had a flight from Missoula to Denver and our grandmother lived in to Grand Junction. And airplanes are really exciting because you get to dress up and wear your good underwear and for, for me, I mean,  I could wear a dress or a skirt which I would inevitably tuck the back into my stockings when I would come out of  a public restroom. There’s someone else in here who does that too.

When we, um, but the best part about airplanes with food. We get salted peanuts and honey roasted salted peanuts and pop. And food would come in, our meals would come in little compartments or, er, uh, plates that were compartmentalized and would separate out all of the food types and my brother and I just loved that.

When we arrived to our grandmothers, there always was this kind of air of stress. Um, my grandmother was a very regal woman, and she was tall and kind of lockjawed. And had a long neck that looked like it had a couple extra vertebrae in it. [laughter]

And….

She, she had an immaculate home. It was beautiful. Everything was pale blue, beige, you know, sage green. Children weren’t allowed on the furniture. We had to sit on the floor next to the furniture.  [laughter] Furniture was for adults.

We also knew that our mother was kinda stressed out. We were excited to be there but it was stressful. In part because we, we kind of knew, but didn’t really judge, that our grandmother didn’t like us. [laughter]

And this was because our mother had married our Filipino cowboy father [cheering] who really didn’t offer the family much materially.

Never mind the fact that our grandmother had run off with another woman’s husband, to Colorado, leaving our grandfather on the ranch to shack up with a housekeeper who was only 4 years older than our mother. Very exciting. [laughter]

But, we didn’t judge, again we’re children, we don’t really understand the affairs of adults. We were more concerned about what was for dinner.

And dinners were a really Grand Affair. We would have — candles would be perfectly laid, uh, lit, and and silverware would be going East and West and North and South around our plates. And there was like always a forest of glassware up in the Northeast quadrant. [laughter] And you had to use the right utensil and the correct hand for the correct piece of food to bring it to your mouth. And then you have to drink from the correct glass and you need to have the proper beverage in the correct glass. And we were really excited because we would get served wine in a sherry glass and we just felt so accomplished.

Nevermind the fact that when we weren’t eating we’d have to sit at the side, or, we’d have to sit our thumbs on the edge of the table to keep us from fidgeting. We had to be very still at the table.

Our grandmother’s husband would gallantly carve a Canada goose that he had shot, and he’d be standing at the head of the table carving away, and we would have wild rice which look nothing like rice at all. And we just knew without being told that it was forbidden to ask for the bug juice so we did not.

And, but we love the artichokes!  Artichokes that we could pick off the leaves and then dip them in Hollandaise sauce, and our grandmother would say “‘ollandaise”, as if the  the H did not exist. And, we would dip, and then scrape the flesh from the bottom of the our lower teeth and then very neatly place them on the discard plate, and had to keep perfect circles and stacked very neatly and  layered. And the best part is we don’t have to finish artichoke. We didn’t like the hearts. They were, like, thorny and weird looking and our mother love them. And so we could give the, our mother our artichoke hearts. We don’t have to clean our plate. That was the only time we don’t have to do that.

But before dinner were cocktail parties, and these were fabulous. Not only did we have our very own Shirley Temples with a couple maraschino cherries and cherry juice in, in,in the glass, but there was food! And incredible creations. My grandmother would spend hours crafting and constructing these creations. And they were, they were, like, all sorts of stinky cheeses and you  know, whimsically whittled vegetables and fruit and revolting patees, and crackers and toast points that were adorned with all sorts concoctions that represented the entire plant and animal kingdom on top of a tiny cracker.

And my brother and loved them, but the deal was that we could only sample an appetizer at once we had passed them to all the adults in the room, so my brother and I were on it. It was like, every 90 minutes adult was getting an appetizer plate in their face! So, 90 minutes? I meant 90 seconds. We were on it! On it!

And I just got the gong so I’m hurrying up here.

But our favorite, our favorite hors d’oeuvre was these kind of luminous they all, white, and they almost kind of look like Lincoln Logs. And there’s a very particular way that we could eat them and you have to peel them very carefully. Peel them lengthwise. And we were only allowed, with the loving glare of our mother, we knew that we were only allowed to take a section that was only the width of dental floss. And these were magnificent, magical things and just were so soft and they felt like embroidery threads and they had just this nutty vaguely nutty maybe salty flavor but it was mostly as the divine nothingness. And we’d put them on our tongue, and, my brother and I would watch each other very seriously and, and, because, God forbid the other one took a bigger string than, than, than a piece of dental floss. And this was the most kind of spiritual, you know, closest thing to the sacrament that my brother and I ever had.

Fast forward 10 years, we don’t see her grandmother for over a decade. You know, adult tensions, life gets in the way. We have this kind of vague falling out. I go off to hoity toity prep school that, in New England that my grandmother pays for, I’m not really swearing it because she doesn’t like us, but she’s paying for me to go. I’m not going to ask questions. I don’t really want to untangle that. I’m just going. My my brother, my brother goes to the US Army where he becomes a Black Hawk helicopter pilot and then I end up at a hippie liberal arts school in Portland, Oregon. So it’s in Portland, so it’s in Portland Oregon where I’m at Fred Meyer’s, which is like Albertson’s, ShopKo kind of thing, and I’m getting my weekly college ration college student ration of Raman, ‘cause, you know, that’s what you do. And my favorite is Top Ramen because you can get five packages for a buck. And the best is the chicken, chicken sesame because the it, the sesame oil comes in this neat little packet. And I also like to add a raw egg the last 3o seconds of my ramen because that’s what Dad did.

So I’m scooting over to the dairy section to get my half dozen eggs and I’m standing next to the, this end cap. Catches my eye. It’s about  3 feet wide, 6 feet tall, and it’s just stocked with these glowing white Lincoln Logs.

And I’m staring at them. And it’s, it’s string cheese! It’s called string cheese.

[laughter]

I’ve never….  It’s 12 packs of string cheese for two dollars and 87 cents!

[laughter]

And I’m staring at it and it’s like, this shock and explosion of mental life montage kind of like is in my head and I’m thinking of my grandmother and and and the stress of of family, and responsibilities, and of course money and and how does it all fit in? And I’m like, “Is my grandmother a fraud? Is my, is my family a fraud? And then, obviously, next, am *I* a fraud?

Why didn’t anyone tell me? String cheese? $2.87?

Saving money when living in Southern California requires creativity. Nicole Sweeny, crushed by student loans and working a cool job that pays “dirt and high-fives” solves this problem in a very creative way: she stops paying rent.

Transcript : Home

I was not kidding about being nervous, so we’re just going to all kinda jitter through this together.

For the last decade or so, negotiating the concept of “home” has been kinda complicated for me. I have lived in five different time zones, I went to school on three continents. But growing up, this was much simpler. I spent most of my childhood in L.A. or the L.A. area. And that is what felt like home. That’s the one that felt “true”.

When I was in high school,. My family moved from L.A. to Jefferson City Missouri, which is a very tiny town right in the middle of the “Show Me” state. At the time, I had purple hair, about as long as it is now, but like, bright purple. And I fancied myself a city girl, I was not. And our home in the San Fernando Valley was dreamt up in some suburban cookie cutter fairy tale. But, I had ideas. I had some ideas. And I also had a lot of feelings about this move, as fifteen-year-olds do.

We…the town is a very sort of “Friday Night Lights” vibe to it in terms of like the devotion to the high school football team. The bus rides to school involved, you know, cow pastures out my window, which is not really a thing that I saw much of.

And so, I had a pretty contentious relationship with this town. I felt like I did not belong there. This place was not for me. I belonged in California. That’s, that’s what I was.

When I graduated from high school, though, I did not immediately go racing back to California. I went off to school in D.C, then I decided to go to graduate school in Paris, even though I didn’t speak any French. I’m really good at making impulsive life decisions. Even when I try to plan, it’s still kind of woefully disconnected from whatever that force is inside me that says, “Yeah, dive in! Do The Thing!” Always time to panic later.

So, after a year of [dramatically] croissants on the Champs de Mars, and drinking wine by the canal and like, also going to class and finishing my coursework, I decided that I was now going to do a responsible thing, I was going to be really responsible, and since my thesis was basically just Internet stuff, I could do that pretty much from anywhere. So, I decided that I would go home to my parents’ house, save some money, you know, pound it out, get it done. Be really responsible.

I don’t really know what that word means, it’s like this vague adult concept that I am forever falling short of in some made-up way. But. I was going to do it.

Shortly after getting back home, I went out to California to visit my best friend Anastasia, and celebrate her engagement. It was a really big deal because, spending most of our friendship long distance, we don’t — we did not get to be together for most of these big life moments so being able to be there for her engagement was really exciting. And it made me, you know, really nostalgic for California in a pretty big way.

So I applied for an internship. It was this location independant internship for this really cool start-up company, and I was like, “Well, this is perfect, I can have something else to focus on while I’m writing my thesis, and then, maybe at the end of it, maybe I’ll have a job lined up, which is really responsible. So, I interviewed for this internship while I was visiting her, and instead of being offered the internship, I was offered an actual job. Of the show up. Be at the office variety.

Unfortunately cool little startup also like, paid dirt and high fives. So, not great. But I decided to — whatever! I’m going to do The Thing! ‘Cause, that’s what I do.

So, I took the job. I convinced myself that I would write my thesis, like, on the weekends or something. Ahh, I don’t know. So.

I moved in, with my best friend. She had this pullout couch that she bought second-hand. And, things were going pretty great! I had, like, the most affordable rent in all of Los Angeles.

Even with my very affordable rent, I also had very high student loan payments, so, I had to get this weekend job. That I hated. At, this like, rich people neighborhood where a Kardashian lives, and, clearly I’m a very privileged person, but this introduced me to a whole  other world of rich people problems that I had just never, like, comprehended. And really didn’t want to know anything about.

But.

Every weekend, I drove myself out to my soul-sucking job, and, aside from that, I loved everything else. Everything else was going great. My, you know, dirt and high-five job was doing really well, I got to be there with my best friend and play in her wedding. Like, every night in this apartment was like a big wedding planning slumber party thing. Things were really great.

And I was also really good at avoiding emails from my thesis advisor, so, you know — living the dream!

Unfortunately, Anastasia did eventually actually get married. And the plan was always that I had to go, when that day came. Plans and I don’t really mix really well. So, I, I didn’t. Couldn’t really find anything. I also decided that I could not continue to drive out to Calabasas, so I quit that job.

So, I had less money, and, there, you know, you just can’t beat the Best Friend Rate. Randos on Craigslist don’t offer that, it turns out. So, I had the brilliant idea that the solution to the cost of living in Los Angeles is to not pay rent.

You don’t pay rent, it’s fine, right? So I got myself a storage unit. And a membership to 24-hour fitness, and I moved into my car.

At the time, I did not tell anybody that I was doing this. Because, I assumed, correctly, that people were not going to approve, of this life choice. I have since told everyone in my life that I was doing this. But the thing that I have not admitted to anyone until, like, right now, is that I truly thought that this was a great idea. I, I was convinced that I had figured it out.

And, you know, 24-hour fitness, I had, you know, a bathroom at all hours, it was great. So where I parked was a block in North Hollywood just up the street from the 24-hour fitness. When I would get up every morning to go to the gym, I had a great gym routine going. Cause, you know, I had to work out to shower. I couldn’t, you know, just use the shower at the gym, that would be weird. I’m like, sleeping in your car…not weird. But when I would get up to go to the gym every morning, I saw — there’s a couple other cars on this same block that also had midwestern state plates and fogged up windows.

“I see you, Ohio.”

There was something oddly comforting and re-assuring about that. Unfortunately, there’s also, like, a constant anxiety about like, not being seen. Like probably the only time that I remember being genuinely afraid was the one night that I tried to sleep in the front seat. Just, the visibility factor. Not good. I love my car dearly. I have a convertible Mustang. It’s real nice, but I don’t know if you ever tried to sleep in the backseat of a Mustang, or just sit in it, like, at all? It’s not comfortable!

So, so that was a good time, but you know, I kind of piled under my blankets. Went to the beach every weekend. People now they don’t really do that, but I did, because, you know, they have bathrooms. They’re not great bathrooms, but I wasn’t really in a position to be selective.

So, you know.

I tried really hard to make this thing work. But, it turns out that all mof the free time that I thoguht I was going to have to spend at the library was pretty consumed by like, “where am I going to sleep? Where am I going to pee? Like — Dagney — where can we poop?”

The questions, they are many.

Pretty constant. And, eventually I had to sort of accept that this was not working out for me and I was going to have to go home.

When I was telling this story the other day, the phrase “homeless in your hometown” was thrown out. And it was sort of jarring to me because I had never thought of myself as having been homeless. Like, I thought of this as this stupid thing that I did, once upon a time.

And so that word, it’s just sort of weird to me, but the actual kicker though is that I was in a position where, in  my hometown, I don’t feel comfortable telling anyone, like, “Hey, can I sleep on your couch? That would be cool.”

Instead, I you know,  packed up my life, which was, you know, already very conveniently packed up, and returned to my parents’ in Missouri.

And, um, yeah — the idea of “home” this whole “hometown” thing. Turned out to be a lot more fraught and complicated than I had previously idealized it to be or imagined it to be. Except, I will add, that clearly I did not stay in Missouri. I did eventually write that thesis. Took me a very long time, but, got it done. Took extra — several semesters — enrolled in thesis.

But, I found myself here, in Missoula. Moved here in the dead of winter. And, it was snowing the day that we unloaded all of my stuff from the truck and into my apartment. And a few strangers from my new job who had known me for all of a hot minute, turned up to help me unload all of my stuff in the snow.

So. I don’t know. Maybe it’s not that complicated.

Thank you.

Louis Woodrow Vero born 1939 in Sacramento, California. He cowboyed after college in Idaho and Oregon and ended up on a dude ranch in Greenough, Montana, where he married the boss's daughter and-- to paraphrase Winston Churchill-- he lived happily ever after. Our cowboy hero gives us the background to understand how he came to acquire the skill to allow him to perform emergency surgery on a cow with a prolapsed vagina out in the field.

Transcript : The Filipino... Cowboy?

I’ll start here in just a little bit.

My parents, came from the Philippine islands, and immigrated into the California coast, where I was born, as Marc said,  in 1939, but he didn’t say, that I was born on the 4th of July. I don’t know how they planned it but that’s what had, how it happened.

 My parents had a total of five children, and I was the last one. And, after I was born, my parents divorced. And I always thought, and I never did ask, was it because of me?

I did grow up in California and I’d like to jump forward after telling you that my mother nicknamed me “Cowboy”, because of the Filipinos folks’ penchant for the Western heroes of the day. And surprisingly, they had a lot of friends who felt  the same way. So she nicknamed me Cowboy. And you know how people are that way, they give you a name I hope you live up to it?

So I don’t I don’t know if I did anything with it then, but let’s jump forward to when I went off to college at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, California. 

And the school is is well known for its Agriculture Department and its Engineering Department and its National Champion Rodeo teams. Anyway, I was enrolled in the animal husbandry department where we learned about swine, sheep and beef cattle, dairy cattle. And horses. 

In my sophomore year, I enrolled in the colt starting class where these unbroke horses were donated to the school by folks around the school or raised colts from the University’s herds. And I happened to bring along a three year old buckskin gelding from home, up in Sacramento, whose name was Henry. 

And all the students, there were about ten to twelve of us. All of us students got along pretty well, starting the colts in about three days or so. Checking them out, getting them saddled  so that we could ride ‘em. Except for this one particular young mare, who, after you saddled her, would go over backwards and land on her saddle.

But the young man who had him, Bill Boyd, who had the horse, Bill Boyd, was very good at avoiding being squashed. And after, it was about the eighth week of the class, she was coming along pretty well. And had stopped flipping over, so that the whole bunch of us were able to ride on campus, anywhere through the units. And we had some cow pastures up above the campus, up in the hills and canyons. And that was great.

There are two instances I’d like to tell you about that characterize what I can remember about the class.

The first is, we had Poly Royal,oil which is a campus-wide celebration, and it’s billed as a county fair on a college campus. It’s  a multi-day affair where it’s an open house for all of the departments. And there was a horse show at the rodeo arena. And I entered up, along with the other members of that class I just took, in the Green Broke colt class. And that was judged on: way of going —  either direction —  at a walk, trot, and canter,  with a stop and backing up.

I am humble enough to say that my horse Henry won that class, and I was excited about that!

The second instance I’d like to talk to you about is, our class, toward the end, all got invited to a calf branding on one of the colleges cattle herds. And it involved, first we’d go up and gather all the cattle out of the hills, Then we’d separate the calves off the mothers. And this particular time we separated the calves into two bunches: one to be done on horses, students on horses, and dragging them to the fire, and the other group were students on foot, who gathered the calves and ran them up the chute. And I am happy to say that we students on the horses were, and the horses were, our colts were super. They really did well, responded well, and I’m here to tell you that we outdid the folks with, ah, being on foot.

I need to tell you that we dragged the calves up, to the branding fire, where students would process ‘em by vaccinating them, marking them, worming them if they need it. So, on from there to my graduation and after. 

I went to work for a feedlot in Idaho, on the Snake River, where we had about four thousand calves to take care of and I was the only cowboy there to ride all the pens, find the sick ones, if there were any, and, pull ‘em out. Drive ‘em out of the pen onto this big common alley that we had that led to the doctor pen. 

I was lucky to have a pretty good Australian pup with me at that time, and we go in my horse Bob and he was named after a friend of my brother’s who gave him the money to buy the horse and his name was Bob. So I’d be riding Bob, and my my dog, Tis — did I tell you his name, or, where it came from? So, I…. Whenever I’d go to feed him, I’d take his food and dish and say, “Here itis.” [Laughter]. So, I’d set him up at the open gate, to the pen of cattle. And I’d set him in the open gate, and he’d keep the cattle from going out. I’d ride the pen. If I found any sick ones, I’d drive ‘em up, to the gate, And I’d wave him to the side,  and he’d get out of the way, and I’d drive the sick animal out into the alley.

We’d ride all the pens and after we rode the pens and gathered the sick cattle, I would drive them down to the doctor pen. And the chute leading up to the squeeze where I’d doctor the cattle, had this space about a foot up from the ground and that was so that the dog could bring them forward by nipping at their heels. And so, as I said, the only cowboy there. So, I’d be at the head catch, I’d have my dog bring, bring ‘em up I’d doctor ‘em, usually for pneumonia or dehydration, and I probably used some antibiotics like, penicillin, and then electrolytes. They I let ‘em out, out the gate. And my dog would be sitting there, and I’d say, “OK, go get another one!” 

And I thought he was multi-lingual because he responded, “High!”  

I didn’t know that he spoke Japanese!

And he’d go back and bring another one up. 

That lasted for about a month. I mean, there was a month of no time off, every day, and my horse and my dog got pretty good at handling cattle. 

From there I was hired away to a co-calf operation on the Columbia River, about thirty miles from the Pacific Ocean. And, it was on the banks of the river. Made up of a bunch of small dairy farms, but we had oh, about fifteen hundred mother cows with the lowels on green pasture.

My job was to ride through these pastures and if there was anything sick, treat ‘em. 

The one event that maybe I can talk about that maybe summarizes my time there was.

I was riding through this one pasture, and, I think I was on Bob, maybe I was on another horse named Bananas. But anyway, had my dog with me. And I notice this big, maybe she was a cross-bred cow. Obviously pregnant. And she had a prolapse of her uterus sticking out about that far. So, I wasn’t quite sure what to do, but…. I went ahead and followed her for a while and roped her by her two hind feet, so that I could restrain her. And I got her up short with short rope. Dallied around my horse’s I mean, my saddle horn, and tied off. Stepped off, with my doctor bag, which didn’t have very much in it. As I said. But.

I reduced her uterus, about that far back in. And sewed her up with the point of my knife to make holes. And sutured up. And tied her off with a buckskin shoestring that I had. 

[Laughter]

So, I mean she took it real well. 

[Laughter]

And I was happy that when I did reduce her uterus back in, she kinda peed, and when she stood up, I let her up, and she stood up, she really peed. And that was a good sign. 

I had, as I said, about fifteen hundred cows to go through, I was the only cowboy, so…. It was a week and a half before I got back to that cow in her pasture. And, what a feeling. To find that cow. In her pasture. With no apparent ill effects. The buckskin, the string was gone. And she had a healthy bull calf suckin’ on her. 

Now, no one ever told me that life would be so fruitful for $385 a month.

Visiting her brother-in-law in Hong Kong, Jennie had an adverse reaction to all of the walking she's enduring. In an effort to help her heal, she undergoes a regimen of acupuncture, smudging and drinking a mysterious concoction whipped up by a Chinese Medicine Man.

Transcript : Drink This, it’s Good for You

Winter in Hong Kong is just a little bit different than winter in Montana. The daily temperature is about 75 or 80 degrees and the humidity is around 99.9999 percent. All the time it sticks to your face. It’s like a thin film. You need to wash your face all the time. 

And my husband had taken me to Hong Kong to see where he had spent the first 23 years of his life. Visit his family, and meet his friends. And I quickly learned that the three major pastimes in Hong Kong are shopping, walking, and eating.  And we did those, every day, nine or ten hours a day. 

Now, the evening of the third day I found myself hobbling from the train to the apartment on painfully swollen feet and ankles. This is something that it never happened to me before, and I’m going through things in my head what could be causing his condition. It’s not my shoes. And I don’t think it’s all the walking, but I bet the humidity has something to do with it. I felt a little bit like a raisin that had been dropped in a glass of water. I blew up.  

So that night I slept with my feet elevated, and by morning they did resemble human feet again. But, partway through that next day, they swelled up again. And I told my husband that something was going on. It’s not quite right. And we needed to make a little adjustment to our routine. So he had a chat with his brother, Thomas, who happens to be a Chinese medicine doctor. Convenient, right? And Thomas decided that we should go for our outings in a private car, so we didn’t have to run to the bus, run to the train. Run here, run there. 

So the next day they came and took us out, and we drove all around and saw the sights. And then they took me to this beach at a place called Repulse Bay. But it was really nice. It was beautiful. And it was deserted because it was wintertime. It was actually March, but it was wintertime, in their minds, and nobody went to the beach in the wintertime. 

And I don’t know if you’ve been to a big city. There’s nine million people in Hong Kong, and they all wanted to be where I was all the time. So. This beach was heavenly. And I took my shoes off, and I walked in the cool sand. And then I put my feet in the soothing waters of the South China Sea. 

And my husband likes to say, “You know, it’s just the Pacific Ocean.” But “The South China Sea” sounds so much more exotic. And it was really nice. It was soothing on my swollen feet. 

And then this big tour bus pulled up. And posited about three dozen mainland Chinese tourists who were all bundled up in parkas to ward off the balmy breezes of the winter in Repulse Bay. 

And I didn’t pay it a whole lot of attention, to them, but I, I  became quite a curiosity as I waded around in the water. And my husband came over, and he put his arm around me and he said, “Nobody goes in the water in the wintertime. Come away and stop making a spectacle of yourself.”  

That night at dinner, my brother-in-law, the Chinese medicine doctor made a big deal about sitting next to me. We get along fine but he doesn’t speak much English. And, there’s not a lot of chatting going on. And his napkin fell onto the floor and he went under the table to retrieve it. And then it happened again. And then it happened again. And I looked down there and he was trying to sneak a peek at my swollen ankles. I said, “Can I help you with something?

“No”

He started eating. 
And then I felt this light touch on my wrist, And I could hear him counting.  He’s taking my pulse. And I said, “Thomas, is there something you want to tell me?” 

“No”.

He didn’t want to tell me anything. 

So, the next day, he comes to the apartment and he has a huge thermos. And he plunks it on the table and he takes the lid off and the stench that wafted out? 

It out it was a Chinese medicine of some botanicals and desiccated bugs or something.

And he said I had to drink a cup of it after every meal. And the food was really good. But a sewer water chaser will put you off your appetite. Just like?  And I said what’s in that stuff? And he just shook his head. And my husband said, “You don’t want to know.”  And my brother-in-law, who doesn’t speak much English looked right at me, and said, in very clear English, “Drink it, it’s good for you.”

That night, when we got back to the apartment, after another day out on the town, he set up this traveling medicine show, and proceeded to do acupuncture on me. In the middle of the living room. In front of all of the relatives. And they’re standing and watching. 

“Oooooh!”

And they see my ankles, “ooooh,”

And he puts a needle in my leg. And on the end of it is this little wad of incense or something, I don’t know what it was. And he lit it on fire. It’s wafting up into the air.

 And he tells my husband to tell me to, “Relax. Close your eyes. It’s going to take about 20 minutes for this to burn off. Yes, of course, with everyone watching. It’s very relaxing.” 

We proceeded on in this fashion. The sewer water chaser after every meal. For two weeks. You get this little fruity flavored lozenge, though. After you drink the sewer water, you pop the lozenge in your mouth and suck on it. The, the fruity flavor doesn’t quite cut the sewer water flavor, though. It did make me pee. I had to pee a lot. So, that was the benefit of it. 

At the end of our trip, we took a bus to the airport. And my brother-in-law came along. And he and my husband sat in the bus and murmured seriously in Cantonese so that I wouldn’t overhear, because, I speak no Cantonese. But nobody told me what they were talking about.

 And we got on the plane, and my husband never said anything. And we took off into the air and it’s sixteen hours from Hong Kong to Los Angeles. You do Tuesday twice. You arrive home an hour before you leave Hong Kong. 

And somewhere over the coast of Japan, my husband finally turned to me and he said, “Thomas would like you to see a doctor when we get home.”

And I said, “What else did Thomas say?”

“Well, you might be going into renal failure. Or, heart failure. But don’t think about it now, just try to get some sleep.”

Now, I’m happy to say that the minute my feet touched the tarmac at Missoula International Airport, all the moisture was sucked out of my body, and I returned to my normal size. And it never happened again, so I didn’t go to the doctor. Now everytime I ask my husband, “What’s in that stuff?” he just looks at me with this look– dreaded look on his face. “You. Do. Not. Want. To. Know.” Thank you.

Dagney, guiding a river trip on the Salmon River, tries her best to be empathetic to Ken, a client who is having difficulty adapting to being outside in such an unfamiliar environment.

Transcript : Gettin' In The Groove

The summer that I was twenty, my life kinda fell apart around me. I came from a really stable home and all the sudden my parents were having marital problems. I had been a dancer my whole life and all the sudden my hips weren’t really working and I couldn’t do what I wanted to do the most. I got fired from a job that I really loved, and of course I found myself in like the 18th or 19th heartbreak of my life, ‘cause, you know, I fall in love every single day.

So, before I continue on with the story I think it’s important to know what I do in the summer, which, has kind of already been introduced. But there’s this joke that: how do you know somebody is a river guide? Well, they’ll  tell you. So, I’m a river guide and I work these multi-day trips, and there’s almost nothing that I love more than this. I get to show people their public lands. I get to wake up every single morning not having slept under a roof or a tent because if it rains I mostly just roll under the nearest kitchen table.

I adore getting to hear the stories of people who come and save up for years to just spend a week outside with me.

So this is where I would introduce the character Ken. I knew Ken  was going to be a problem child the moment that I met him. And by child I mean this guy was like thirty-five. He was not a child.

So, Ken had gotten this river trip on the Main Salmon, with his girlfriend, and they had found it on, like a Groupon site, or something along the lines of this, so it was discounted heavily, ‘cause this kind of guy would never be on this sort of a trip. And I say that affectionately, because so many different people from so many different walks of life come on these river trips with me. It was pretty obvious to me that Ken had never been outside before. And I know this because the first thing that he said to me was, “So where do we poop?”

And, this is not that uncommon of a question. Being outside, especially if you’re not used to it — that can be kind of an intimidating experience for a lot of people. And I’m just laughing that I’m sharing this story because I don’t talk about poop with my friends. This is like, not a normal thing for me. So I’m just laughing that this is the story I chose to tell.

So, the river trips that I do, we have this really sophisticated system, it’s called “The Groover”. And the groover was traditionally this rocket box, it was like a big square Army can, and you sat directly on it, and it gave you grooves on your butt and that’s why it’s called a groover.

This is much more sophisticated at this point. Right now we’ve got these really nice, they’re called “Johnny Partners”, and they’re these like, big aluminum boxes, they have handles for guides to carry with ease. We put a nice beautiful toilet seat on them so that people can pretend that they are inside and comfortable.

And we usually set these up like way away from other people in camp, and it’s usually in this beautiful setting, and, honestly, it’s my very favorite place to go to the bathroom, so I’m not sure why other people struggle with this.

So, when I received this question from Ken, “Where do we poop?” I was like, OK, I’ve got this. I’ve dealt with people like this before. I’ll just explain to him.

And I was like, “Ken, I’m really glad that you asked.”

I put on my happy river guide face.

And I walked him over, and I was like, “You know what, I’m just going to take this moment to show everyone in camp. So, everyone come over here. This is how we do this. This is our handwash system. You’ll know that someone is in the bathroom because they’ll take this paddle with them. So if the paddle’s gone, you’ll know not to go over there. When the paddle’s back, that means the bathroom’s open.” Yadda yadda. I do my spiel.

So, after I do this whole spiel, I can tell that this wasn’t really the answer that he was looking for. He’s kind of got this face on, like, Huh.

And I knew that that’s not what he was getting at.

So here I am, a year from having my life fall apart on me and this was the summer that everything was going to go right. And Ken was just messing it up for me. So every conversation the whole week, Ken and I were just talking about different ways that he was trying to go to the bathroom in the woods, and different ways that I didn’t want to let him. I was very stubborn about it.

“So, Dagney, what would happen if like, the groover was full”, he would ask me. And I would just lie. I’d be like, “We don’t have that happen ever. That’s not a thing.”

And so he’s come up with more and more elaborate schemes, asking me like, “What if. What if. What if.”

I think my favorite one was like, “So, if you guys left me here and you like forgot to pick me up and I was stuck out here by myself….”

And I was like, “Well, there’s probably another group a day behind us, and you would just pick up with them. ”

None of these answers were satisfactory to him, but I thought that I was super clever and just deviating him so that he would just forget about this whole topic.

So the very last morning we were at this beautiful camp and it’s called California. And it’s this huge sandy beach. It’s the last morning. The night before we had played a bunch of games as a camp. We had finished off the rest of our beer. We had a really great meal.

And I was the trip leader that week, so I was making sure that we were getting out of camp on time, I was making sure the boats were packed correctly… I was kind of scattered and going everywhere. And this was my last trip that I was leading that summer, so I was feeling really proud of myself and accomplished after like kind of picking my life back up and just being determined to make the best of things.

And as I’m finishing up the last things, we have this moment in the morning — and it’s a very important moment because it’s when we’re putting the toilet away.

And so, as every good river guide knows, you have this one final call in the bathroom, because there’s inevitably that one person who forgot to go.

So, before you take down the toilet, which is the very last thing that you pack in your boat, you go, LAST CALL ON THE GROOVER! And if no one runs, then you’re probably good to take it down.

So, I did my shout. I called the groover one last time. And no one came. So I was like, Alright. I made it one more week out in the wilderness. Everyone was happy. Everyone had some really successful trips and good memories. You know what, I’m just going to go take down the toilet for the rest of the crew. Like, normally, l don’t, this isn’t my specific job on this crew, but I’m gonna go do it anyway because I’m in a really good mood.

So.

The place that the bathroom is set up at California Creek, it’s beautiful. There’s a creek on the upstream side of this camp. And it’s shaded. And it’s kind of dark. And we set up the toilet right next to this creek. And there is some fresh mint that happens to grow kind of near there. So it’s it’s this very serene fairy garden feel when you’re heading over in that direction. And I’m feeling like I’ve got things going on, I’m in a pretty good mood, and so I start to head that direction.

And, as I turn the corner, to right where you would start to see the toilet, but that you couldn’t see anyone else in camp, so that you’re in this little limbo land between toilet land and camp land, there’s three very distinct rocks stacked on top of each other. And I camp here pretty frequently in the summer, but I had never seen these rocks cairned quite in this way.

So there’s three huge rocks cairned on top of each other. And on top of the three rocks was this beautiful Dairy Queen swirl of a poop. With toilet paper as like, the whipped cream on top.

Now, I only had one guest all week who was asking me, “Where to poop? What if this happened? Dagney, if the world was blowing up and I really needed to go to the bathroom, where would I go?”

And I just flat out told him “In the groover” every time, but I knew that he was going to pull something like this.

So, in having such a frustrating year the year before, I’m feeling like, I kind of had my shit together then. I just collected myself, I gloved up, I grabbed a trash can and I thought, Man, you know, a lot of people told me that as you grow up, you have to learn how to deal with some shit, but why didn’t anyone ever tell me that it wouldn’t be mine?

Vanity license plates allow Susan Hansen to connect with the people who saved her life.

Transcript : Paradox Pairdox

Some of the best times of my life have been when I spent time as a non-traditional student at Montana Tech. I had no idea that I was a nerd. I loved learning. And this school open up just a whole new world for me. I loved meeting the professors who are so passionate about their work.

There were actually two professors married to each other who stood out to me. They did a lot of civic work. They were active with Big Brothers and Sisters. On a few days of the year they would put on a chemistry show for middle schoolers to entice them to become scientists in chemistry like they were.

And you know, I love a clever license plate. Whenever I drove over by the chemistry department I would see their two little twin cars and the license plates each said PAIRADOX.

Well as much as I loved Montana Tech,  I did not want to continue to have to drive by the house where my former fiancee’s truck was parked at his new fiancee’s house. I told everybody that I was going to Missoula because I wanted to study psychology, and I did want to study psychology, but I needed a change of scenery really bad.

So Missoula here I come. And it was a town of peace and love. I knew that because there was a peace sign up on the hill. Well, those professors at  Montana Tech that I liked so well with the clever license plates, I did know a little bit about their research.

Their research involved a drug called Taxol®. They were having a lot of problems getting their drug accepted by the medical community as a treatment for breast cancer.

Pretty soon I found myself with some lumps on the side here and I didn’t think about it too often except in the bathtub and then the rest of the day I’d  forget about it. But one day it was October which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I was driving past my doctor’s office, and on the radio it said, Breast Cancer Awareness Month get yourself checked, and I did.

Well, I just knew that eventually, after appointment, after appointment, after appointment, that one of those doctors was going to say oh no it’s nothing. I was prepared for that. I was not prepared for the day when they said, yes you’ve got it. And I had to have surgery.

Surgery. It’s kind of a nice word for saying mastectomy, and mastectomy is a nice word for saying they’re going to cut me.

They did.

Three weeks after that, I got to start chemotherapy. One of the chemotherapy drugs with called Taxol®. So I thought about those two professors. Don and Andrea Stierle,every once in awhile in kind of a passing way.

Well, I thought about them a lot when I looked in the mirror and I didn’t have any hair. I did eight rounds of chemotherapy, then I did radiation, and I did reconstruction. This is plastic. The miracles of modern medicine — they’re amazing. And so many of us who are afflicted with cancer go on to live long, long, long lives.

I’m one such lucky person. That’s been 11 and a half years since I had that surgery.

I went back to work. I went to work for Corporations Fuck You. I got to work on the phones.

Thank you for calling Corporation Fuck You. My name is Susan. How are you today?

That job was killing me. I. I survived cancer, to work this job?

Everyday I complained to my brother. I said, they did this and they did that and it’s awful I just can’t stand it any longer. He said, Well why don’t you go to work on road construction? You can work in the same environment where I work.

Me? Really? Road Construction?

Yes. You can be a flagger. You go downtown to the Union Hall, sign up, they’ll train you.

They did. They trained me. Very well.

They called me a Traffic Control Technician. Very powerful. And they told me that my job was safet,y and the first person that I had to keep safe was myself.  it’s the same as the old story about being on the airplane with oxygen mask and you need to put your own oxygen on first.  And so I had to keep myself safe first too. I had to keep the people who are driving through road construction safe and I needed to be aware of the safety of others working on there.

It was a different world. I loved it. It was awful. It was hot.

I stood on my feet, sometimes 13 hours a day, and you’re not allowed to sit because it psychologically takes your attention away from your job of keeping everyone safe. So I stood with my sign, and my hard hat, and my boots.

You know on the first day, I arrived on the construction site, and I tried to — act like I knew what I was doing? I thought I had shiny boots and a shiny new road construction hat. And on my radio there was a little button that said MON? Over the radio I said, Now, tomorrow is Tuesday. Will I get a new radio or new button? And they loved that. They know I was a rookie right away.

I made friends with every car that I stopped, well with every person, who was driving the car. And. And I told them that they needed to drive 25 miles per hour. They needed to follow closely.

And — then I would get to talk to ‘em. And I got to hear so many stories. If you think you get to hear stories here, well I got to hear stories all day long. It was it was the best job for me.

Well, one day, I got to see lots of clever license plates, by the way, one day, there was a license plate that drove up and it said: DNA. Hmmm. I wonder what that stands for? Well I told the occupants of the car the whole spiel about how fast they could drive, and they seemed like they’re having fun. And, pretty soon,  I look really close at their faces and I said, Are you two professors, at Montana Tech?

They said, Well, yes we are. Did you use to take some of our classes? Have been our student?

No I’ve never been your student, but I certainly did use your drug Taxol®.  I know that you’re having a lot of trouble having that accepted by the medical community, and you must have been successful because here I am to prove that that’s a great drug.

It was the most wonderful reunion that I have ever had in my life. Pretty soon it was time for them to drive off with a pilot car —  and I was so sad to see them go.

Don stuck his head out the window and he said, Thank you.

And I said, No! Thank you!

Nobody ever told me that I would be able to say thank you to the scientist who developed the drug that saved my life.

Thank you.