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ralph robert moore


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the 'rg' factor
april 26, 2003

This week we were determined to cross off a number of items on our "To Do" list.

You probably have a To Do list, on paper or in your head, prepared either by yourself or your partner. I've always preferred the paper variety, because then we get to actually draw a blue-inked line through the task once it's completed. That's a great feeling, like stepping on a bug.

Our list tends to include jobs absurdly varied in the degree of work and expense needed to complete them. "Buy more printer paper" might be above, "Interview contractors to paint all the white trim on the house".

The biggest task we wanted to accomplish this week was to bring our 1999 Honda CRV in for its 90,000 mile check-up (it actually has 100,000 miles on it, a testament to all the time we spent on the highways each work day, until the past year, commuting to and from work). We also needed a new inspection sticker, a look at the brake pads, since the wheels were starting to let out a squeal each time my shoe pressed down on the foot brake, the starter replaced (this last was a recall item, so it would be free), and a new timing belt.

If the Honda dealership were located right down the street, bringing the car in wouldn't be a problem. However, since we live in a suburb of Dallas, a rather rural one at that, goats for neighbors, taking our car in entailed a trip of about fifty miles, which for us, these days, is like a moon shot. Plus, since all this work would take a while, longer than the number of magazines in their waiting room, and we only had that one car, we'd have to rent a car to get back home.

So late the previous week, I called up Lute Riley Honda, made an appointment for this past Thursday, telling them I would drop the car off Wednesday, then called Enterprise Rent-a-Car to reserve a car (Lute Riley has a deal with Enterprise whereby if you need a rental car, Enterprise will send someone out to Lute Riley to pick you up and take you back to Enterprise to fill out the paperwork and get your car).

We drove up to Lute Riley right after Mary's speech therapy on Wednesday (during the therapy saying goodbye to Samantha, Mary's therapist of the past several months, who has now completed her internship, and is heading back to San Francisco. She was a tremendous help to Mary, not only with the therapy itself, during which Mary improved significantly, but also by assisting Mary to get into group therapy, and into the hospital gift shop volunteer work. We'll miss her. We hope she and Mup, her handsome black dog, find true happiness in California).

On the way to Lute Riley we stopped for lunch at a Grandy's, an American fast food chain specializing in "home cooking", such as chicken-fried steaks and pot roast sandwiches.

We both ordered chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, a bun, and decided to eat in our car.

The drumstick was delicious, as drumsticks always are. Sitting behind the driver's wheel, I took a blissful bite into the fat, battered breast. An extraordinary amount of hot juice immediately squirted out the side of the breast, which so startled me I dropped the breast back into the take-out box.

I call that the 'rg factor', meaning when 'ah!' turns to 'argh!'.

I was phrasing in my mind how I would convey to Mary, who was sitting next to me, in the passenger seat, poking her black plastic fork into the mashed potatoes, and therefore unaware of this incredible occurrence, just how tremendously juicy the spritz had been, when I looked down and realized the whole side of my sports jacket, and the exposed section of my shirt, were covered with huge, and I mean really huge, dark, moist spots where the juice had landed. Great. I'm going to Lute Riley, and Enterprise, and all the other stops we had planned, with grotesque food splotches all over my clothes. I'm thinking, why don't I just muss up my hair while I'm at it, and insist on speaking to everyone in pig Latin?

Which reminded me of two other times I had to walk around with filthy clothes in public.

The first time was in the late Seventies.

Mary and I had just moved in together a couple of months earlier, living in a college section of Santa Barbara known as I.V., short for Isle Vista. Fall was approaching, at which time all the apartment rates would go up (the students returning), so we decided to move to San Francisco.

We had two cars at the time. A white Mustang with red leather interior, a truly beautiful machine, which had been Mary's, and a red Fiat, an Italian-built sedan, which was mine (I don't know if they still make Fiats. It was always in the repair shop. A Fiat repairman told me once that "Fiat" was an acronym for "Fix it again, Tony".)

We left the Mustang in Santa Barbara with a friend for safe-keeping, and decided to tow the Fiat up to San Francisco behind the U-Haul trailer we had rented for our furniture, clothes, pots and pans, records.

We had two cats at the time, both Mary's. We figured we'd put them in a box in the cab of the U-Haul with us during the trip, which was several hundred miles. We went to the vet's and got cat drugs to keep them sedated during the long drive (and no, we didn't take any of the drugs ourselves to see what they were like. It was the Seventies, but it was the late Seventies).

We had everything planned, almost every item on our huge To Do list messily scratched out by the morning of our trip. The U-Haul was already mostly loaded. All we had to do was angle the bed in there, toss in a few miscellaneous items, reefer clip, coffee maker, drug the two cats, hook up the Fiat to the back of the U-Haul, and take off. We figured we'd make the apartment we had rented in San Francisco by early evening. There was a Talking Heads concert that night in the city, and we might even go to it.

The first problem we ran into was hooking up the Fiat to the back of the U-Haul truck. I think we allocated something like half an hour. It actually took all day. The sun traveled in a yellow trail from one edge of the perfect blue sky to the other. By the time the hitch was securely locked, we realized all we really had daylight left to do was pull out of Santa Barbara to the nearest town, spend the night there.

The second problem was the two cats. We were absolutely not allowed to have pets in our I.V. apartment, which such restriction we had cavalierly ignored, but in order to get our security deposit back we couldn't let anyone see us carrying the cats from our apartment to the U-Haul.

We had it all figured out. We put the cats in a cardboard box, loosely closed the top flaps. For all anyone knew, we were just carrying out one more box of flower-rimmed dishes.

Except that as soon as I was on the sidewalk with the box in my arms, the bottom of the box gave way, and the two cats, deeply drugged, spilled out the bottom onto the sidewalk, absolutely limp, like liquid.

A little girl at the end of the block put down her jumping rope and shouted accusingly, "Are those cats alive?"

I abandoned the box, grabbed both limp bodies up off the sidewalk, eight legs, holding their heads to my chest, hurrying towards the cab of the U-Haul. Both cats rolled their heads back, looking up at me groggily, and emptied their bladders down the front of my shirt and pants.

We stopped for the night at San Luis Obispo, just north of Santa Barbara. While Mary waited in the cab of the U-Haul with the cats, I went to the motel's office to rent a room. It was after dark, my hair, down to my shoulders in those days, a mess, sticking out everywhere, my face and hands covered with grease from working on the tow hook-up, my clothes filthy. And I reeked of urine.

But they rented us a room. Like I said, it was the Seventies.

The second time I walked around with filthy clothes in public was in the mid-Nineties.

It was a Friday.

Mary picked me up for lunch. We were going to a large mall in far north Dallas, I forget for what, and decided to buy lunch at the mall's food court, to save time.

We choose a Chinese food booth. It was the type of place where you load your square styrofoam containers on a brown, hard-plastic tray. We carried our trays over to a nearby free table, ate and talked.

Picture me at the little round table, sitting across from Mary, laughing and eating, people passing by, kiosks selling purses and chocolate in the near distance. I look really happy. I'm with the one I love, it's Friday afternoon, the food tastes good. What I don't realize, but what we can see, lowering our gaze beneath the 3-D rim of the table, is that the front of my pants, and specifically my crotch, are darkly wet.

What happened was, the brown hard-plastic tray I picked up had previously been set down on top of another tray that had sauce pooled on it, so that as I carried the tray over to our table, its bottom was steadily dripping sauce onto the front of my pants.

Once we finished eating, got up to slide the now-empty styrofoam containers into the nearest trash receptacle, putting the trays on top, Mary looked down at my pants and said, "Oh my God, Rob."

I looked down. My crotch was soaked, the wetness running down the fronts of both pants legs. It looked exactly-not somewhat, but exactly-- like I had pissed in my pants.

And here I was in the dead center of one of the largest malls in Dallas. We had to pass a thousand shoppers to get to the parking lot.

We walked quickly, but literally hundreds of people noticed my huge stain. It was kind of interesting, after a while, or I suppose I made it interesting to me, simply to funnel my embarrassment. People would be toddling along, approaching us, glance at my face, glance down, then really GLANCE down, look frightened, veer away from my impending approach. I felt like lolling my tongue out sideways, as an excuse.

So anyway, having hot chicken breast juice all over my sports jacket and shirt, while we went to Lute Riley and Enterprise Rent-a-Car, although not desirable, was something I could live with.

I had a trepidation we'd have to wait at Lute Riley for an hour or so before the Enterprise guy showed up, another hour at Enterprise while they found a car for us, but in fact the whole thing went very smoothly (I want to say that Lute Riley, which I believe is the second largest Honda dealer on the planet, the largest being in Japan, has always impressed me with the professionalism and courtesy of the people working there. When Mary had her stroke, she had that morning brought our car into Lute Riley for a check-up. Once I told the people there of the situation, they had one of their employees drive our car to the emergency room parking lot of the hospital where Mary had been admitted, which was a good distance, so I'd have the car available to me, free of charge. That's a commitment to service you don't often find. I have nothing but good things to say about Lute Riley Honda).

Likewise, as soon as we got to Enterprise, they immediately processed our order, and had us in a car within ten minutes. I went through the usual rental car confusion of trying to figure out how to lock the doors and get the windows to slide down, then we were on our way.

Since we don't get to Dallas often these days, we brought with us, in the inside pocket of my jacket, about twenty thousand dollars in checks we wanted to deposit, so we swung by our bank on the way home. Another line through an item on the list.

When we got home, I made an appointment with my periodontist to have oral surgery done on my upper teeth in late May. What he'll do is cut into my gums and insert bone transplant material, to reduce the pockets, then sew everything up. The operation will take about two hours. I'll have to go back the following Friday to have the stitches removed from my mouth. Not a pleasant thing, in fact grim, gory and gruesome, but at least I'll be getting it over with.

We took it easy in bed for a while after we returned from Honda. Just as I was smugly congratulating myself, back of my head on my pillow, on getting our Honda in shape, we heard a loud noise from our master closet, cats running away from the noise like rats from a sinking ship. Mary and I rose from the mattress, peered into the closet.

The rod running the length of our closet had pulled away from the wall, spilling suits, shirts, sweaters, pants onto the white carpet, a tall pile of swirled ties to one side like a bitter, multi-patterned cherry. To fix it, we'll need to replace the shelf above the rod, also pulled away, which had supported the rod, going to Home Depot to get the right length of board cut, then beveled on one edge, painting the board in our garage, locating studs in the wall to drill into, replacing the support struts underneath, etc. etc. One door closes as another slams in your face.

Another big To Do is resolving Mary's long term disability.

Mary received short term disability the first three months following her stroke, at which point she went to long term disability, meaning she's now received a year's worth of disability payments. The checks are automatically deposited into our account, just like my paychecks are.

After a year, the insurance company that pays for Mary's disability requires that she file for disability benefits with Social Security. If she doesn't, the insurance company will reduce her monthly benefits by the amount they believe Social Security would have paid had she filed.

This week I went through all the paperwork associated with filing with Social Security. It's a scavenger hunt in Hell. We have to obtain proof of her Social Security number, proof of her birth certificate, and loads of other documents, and we have to do it all, and file it all, within a pretty tight timeframe. But at least we got started.

My pen is poised to the left of, "Resolve Social Security Issue."

Right below that item on the list is, "Buy Zinnia Seeds."