Friday, November 19, 2004

So I Chickened Out

So I went up to my son's school tonight, for the first night of the big Thanksgiving Quaker hippie party community weekend. On Friday night there are parent/teacher conference and then dinner for everyone and then there's a play. On Saturday there's a big Thanksgiving dinner featuring the turkey the kids raised and killed (yup. More later) and a fundraising auction and an all parent meeting. All very sweet. When they sent the information about this they also said, camping available in the ballfield, etc., etc. So okay, I can't really afford a motel, I don't have any friends up there, I figured I'd camp. I was a little dubious, since I'm not like, hard core camp girl, Everest base, 30 below, howling winds, sleet, etc. Generally I camp from May to October and sleep indoors in the winter. But you know, be cool, experience, go for it, why not?

Then I had a brilliant idea: bring the dog. Theo, the bouncy dog. The Looooove Dog. The dog who is Jim Morrison reincarnated: he has long hair, won't shut up, chews panties, and wants everyone to love him. Theo will break the ice, I reasoned. I will meet people with Theo there to jump on them and lick their faces! At least I might meet them between apologies. So I asked M's housefather if it was okay for Theo to come. Sure, he said. And if it's cold or raining, you can sleep in the house, we have floor space. And, I think, Theo will keep me warm wherever I am. He's mostly collie, he's like a walking shag rug.

So this afternoon I ran out of work, picked my car up from Red to the tune of about $350 I don't have.
Red said, "You got you a right rear tire that's as smooth as my head young lady! And that ain't no good!" Terrific. Car needed some new belt, new tire, inspection & replace the taillight. (It is driving beautifully now) Then I went home, packed up the car, the tent, and . . . Theo.

Uncool. Exceedingly uncool, as became desperately apparent right away. He had to be on a leash and wasn't allowed into any of the buildings. Now I was prepared for the building thing but I thought he could just run loose around the place with the other dogs. Nope. Freedom from leashes is only granted to resident dogs, not visitors. So I had to tie him up. He doesn't like being tied up, and when you tie him up he barks without stopping until you untie him. He'll go on for hours and hours. He really will.

Cigarettes, it is also immediately apparent, are the other problem. This is, of course, a non smoking school. The only other parent I know, who isn't a current parent, since his kid graduated last year, acted like that wasn't a problem. I had forgotten that he's kind of an asshole and no doubt just smoked without asking or worrying. He's immune to criticism. Assholes often are. I lit up a cigarette & M got frantic. "Put that out!" he hissed, "This is a no smoking campus!" Bummer. 24 hours without a cigarette is not my idea of fun. I might just machine gun the whole school.

Oooookay. So there I am, unwelcome dog, no cigarettes, and my little tent looks lonely as hell in the middle of this big field. Apparently no other parents are camping. They must have read the information differently, or I'm out of the loop. Probably I'm out of the loop. I thought there would be lots of friendly Quaker hippy types camping. This was another way I thought I would meet people. Nope. Big empty field. Faaaaaaar away from anything. Dog on leash. Hmmmm.

So we go to the conference, which starts 45 minutes late. I'm afraid to just split and take Theo for a walk, since I think then I'll miss the conference and that would be bad. So, for those 45 minutes Theo, tied up, barks at the top of his lungs. The conference, having started so late, is cut quite short. That's okay. Basically we're covering the same damn ground: noone has any idea how M is doing academically since his astonishingly terrible behavior has ensured that he has done no discernible work in the past two months. The teacher, however, has been snared by the charisma and the charm, and is sure that M. has it in him to do all the work wonderfully. If M. was only so sure, he might actually do it. That would be novel. I'm not holding my breath. The bell rings for dinner.

We're already late, so I tie Theo up again, right by the dining hall. Then I come in, almost last, stand in a silent circle holding hands, while Theo goes completely berserk, directly visible through the glass door behind me. As soon as circle ended I ducked out and put him in the car. I get back, M has thankfully saved me a place, we eat vegetarian food: bean soup, salad, bread. It was good, but I don't eat much. I'm shy, and stuff like this is really hard for me. I talk to M.'s housefather, to another staff member I know a little, and a little to my neighbor, a nice older lady, but I can't figure out why she's here. Community member? Grandmother? World leader on tour? I have no clue. She tells me she once had a one woman show at the museum where I work, long ago, she says. Many many years. She reiterates that a few times. Many years. She tells me they're building McMansions in her neighborhood in Charlotte, I tell her Asheville's just as bad. We commiserate briefly. Then she disappears and I don't see her again.

So I'm sitting there totally alone and decide, since dinner is obviously over, and I've helped clear the table, to go & check on Theo & smoke a cigarette to kill the hunger pangs. I do this. I get back and discover that, lo & behold, there are announcements going on. Noone told me there were going to be announcements. Damn. Everyone looks at me as I come in the door and a couple of them wrinkle their noses - double damn! Busted! They smell the cigarette! (How did I get away with it in high school? Did everyone smoke then so nobody could tell?)

I ask one of the staff members what I have missed. "Nothing much" he says, "Except that some hunters lost 7 bear dogs around here and they're not the friendliest dogs, so be on the lookout." Great. Wonderful. My mind instantly flashes to a news story from a couple months ago, where a lost pack of about 10 bear dogs killed a nice Lab in someone's yard. I think about my little tent, all alone. I think about my bouncy Love Dog in the tent with me. I think about Cujo. I think of all the feral dog pack horror stories I have ever heard. It's actually quite amazing how they all leap to my head at once.

That's when I conceived of the idea of just leaving. Packing up the tent, and driving home. It's only an hour, it isn't that far away. And the car is no longer in imminent danger of dying.

So I helped clean up dinner a little, there were lots of people who all knew each other, and me. I wiped tables and stacked chairs, and then walked over to see the play. The play was great, they did a fantastic job, and M had the teeniest part: he sat motionless & invisible in a box for an hour and then jumped out, grabbed his red electric bass, strummed some chords and did a total Joe Strummer leap off the stage. Short but cool. That's my boy. After the play, I told him I was leaving, and I did. Pulled the tent down, didn't even pack it up, just hauled it to the car & threw the whole thing, complete with sleeping bag & pads & all into the trunk. I second guessed myself all the way home.

I feel like a total chicken shit but the truth was I just couldn't face the whole next day, with this miserable barking dog, and me having no idea where to go, what to do, knowing noone. It was just too painful and too scary. I really am shy as hell; as a kid I was damn near catatonic in social situations. I've gotten over most of it with age and liberal alcohol - but stuff like this sends me right back into freaked out trance mode. And it's a self reinforcing cycle: when I feel like that, I start sending out the big Repell-O Rays, my patented Repell-O rays, and noone wants to be anywhere near me. I sat at one end of a row of chairs for the play; the room filled up around me, noone sat in that row until there was literally not one other seat left and some people had opted for the floor rather than sit next to the strange woman.

Finally M's roommate's mother sat near me. She's very nice and we discovered that her husband's great uncle and my great grandfather both worked at the Francis Marion Hotel in Charleston around the turn of the century. Thank the GODS for Southerners. If all else fails, talk genealogy. They had gotten a room at the Celo Inn (expensive) and the one set of grandparents were at a hotel in Burnsville (also expensive.) But there are some shithole dive motels in Burnsville and next year I will know to book a room and not bring the dog. Next year I will know what is going on and I won't be so scared and freaked out and unable to speak. Next year will be better.

And tomorrow? Tomorrow morning I'm driving back up there and I'll do the whole thing: dinner, auction, parent meeting. I hope it's better than today. I really hope so.

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