Or bust.

White CRV, Wisconsin plates, M-22 bumper sticker.
White CRV, Wisconsin plates, M-22 bumper sticker.
As soon as I realized Ruby’s car had been stolen out of my driveway, I wanted to vacuum the living room.

First I wanted to walk the neighborhood, hoping I would see it, sure I would see it parked around the next corner, wheels gone or door open, but there. The thieves would have gotten in and seen the tub of caramel corn in the front passenger seat, the summer tops on hangers, and the Pig Roast or Bust travel book Ruby had made, spiral bound and including section dividers. If they’d paged through it, they would have seen one tab for Fabric Stores between Madison and Alexandria, another tab for Motels, another for Campgrounds, and a Summary page linking the likely stops with approximate travel times between them (MT & Dave’s to Yoders in Shipshewana 2½ hours, Yoders to something in Ohio 3 hours). They would have seen the first bag of fabric from a store in Crystal Lake, and they would have said, “We can’t take this lady’s car. We like the spirit of this lady and we want her to make it to the pig roast.”

But Dave and I walked the neighborhood, as soon as I’d woken him and made him understand that “Ruby’s car is gone” didn’t simply mean she’d left early. As we looked around corners for her familiar car, one we’ve seen every August for the past ten years when we meet up in Michigan for a week, it became clear that what the thieves had actually said was, “1999 CRV, it’s a chopshop favorite. Let’s go.”

The thieves couldn’t know that the pig roast was in honor of Ruby’s first boyfriend, Slim, who died earlier this year. They couldn’t know that Ruby hadn’t been able to make it back east for his funeral, or that a funeral had anyway seemed an odd thing to connect with Slim but the summer pig roast his friends always threw felt like a better place to say goodbye.

When Dave and I got home from our neighborhood search, Ruby had already talked to the police and found a 2pm train for Madison. We offered her our car to continue the trip east but she wanted to get back home and start shopping for a new CRV. I held off on vacuuming until we took her to Union Station, and then I held off again because some other friends were arriving in their rental car from Midway. I wanted to erase the event by vacuuming and then maybe also mopping, but instead I had to say to my other friends, “Did you get rental car insurance?”

When they said no, we had them put their car inside the gate, and we parked ours in front of it.

There were also three bottles of dressing in the CRV, because Ruby’s pig roast task was salads. I believe there was also a Recipes tab in Pig Roast or Bust but I can’t be sure. I only got to see Pig Roast or Bust for a minute, standing on the driveway as Ruby got an overnight bag out of her car, paging through it and marveling at how a drive to DC suddenly seemed short and fun when you looked at it in terms of 2-3 hour fabric store destinations. And marveling at Ruby, who continues to interact with daily living in a way that is unlike anyone else I know yet mostly manages to pass for normal.

I’d almost asked to hold on to Pig Roast or Bust and bring it inside to look at longer, but when Ruby reached for it I knew I’d feel terrible if she ended up forgetting to put it back in the car in the morning. Like the last conversation you don’t get to have with someone you’ve loved, I couldn’t have known there’d be no car to put it back into.

Coming back

Clown noses from Dale's birthday
Ruby said the noses were cheaper in bulk.

When we got back from vacation I realized Django is old. I’m afraid to say that because I don’t want to look like I’m projecting. I can’t help it. I’m turning 50 and she’s turning 12. I didn’t plan it that way, it’s just what happened. So coming back and hearing that all the warnings and nightmare scenarios I’d given Kelso and Karl, “she goes ballistic at skateboards, she will attack toddlers on scooters, she intensely hates a white dog named Princess,” came to nothing, I had to wonder: Had I prepared them for a younger Django? Had I written up two full pages of instructions on leash-gripping and treat distractions for a dog that no longer exists?

She looked so old on our first walk this morning. It was hot here, full of humidity which I’d forgotten about after our days in northern Michigan. There, the heat was dry and breezy, soft across your skin. Here it pushes heavy and intractable. We walked down Sunnyside. Django did her business and then, when Dave turned into the alley to toss it out, stopped dead in her tracks. Paws pushed against the pavement, head down, eyes staring up under half-closed lids. “She’s not even going to make it around the block,” I said despondently. Kelso and Karl probably wondered why my instructions said “three walks a day, at least”  when clearly all she can manage is a trip around the yard. “She wants her ball,” said Dave.

I looked again. We were standing near the head of the alley, the spot where we usually throw a tennis ball if no one’s around. Granted, she wasn’t actually in the alley, so she wouldn’t be able to see the ball if I threw it. Perhaps she’s too old to remember she needs to be able to see. Anyway, I threw the ball and she tore around the corner. She chased it down, brought it back, and got her treat.

Because of the heat, I only threw it a few times. I worry about her collapsing. In Michigan, Ruby said that after 50 you start second-guessing every ailment, every ache. You think, “Is this it?” she said patting her chest. But a day later, on her husband Roy’s 49th birthday which we celebrated with clown noses and a horrible clown statue and “Send in the Clowns” playing on Tara’s iPad and a clown sundae created by the waitstaff, Roy said age is nothing, not even worth thinking about. To some guy who said he’s not really 49 because he’s now in his 50th year he said, “Whatever.”

We continued walking east, until Django pulled south to go to Hanover Park. That’s what Kelso and Karl called Horner Park accidentally, and I like it. It sounds prettier, more European. No one really cares what a park is called, as long as you know how to get there. It always surprises me, how many small freedoms are ours for the taking.

Today’s projections

It’s all in how you look at things.

I don’t think Django likes people parking out front and then walking to the train. Something about the way they shut their doors. A big slam though it’s early morning. But for them it’s halfway through the journey, it’s been morning for hours.

They pull in quickly, slam the door, and walk briskly away, street shoes clicking on the pavement. Django fires off one short, piercing bark. She pauses as they continue off, unheeding. She barks once more.

What else does she do that I misinterpret? I don’t say project my emotions onto, because I don’t care that people park here and walk to the train. It’s a public street, and I’ve done it myself, in similar close-to-an-el-stop-but-easy-to-park-in neighborhoods. Vaguely feeling like someone’s going to yell at me when they see where I’m going, imagining myself retorting, “I’ve just as much a right to park here as you do,” seeing the slashed tires when I return. No, I’m not projecting. What am I doing? Being silly. Pretending she’s a deep thinker. Projecting my image of Django as Parade Marshall. It never gets old, at least to me.

Yesterday Chris came over. It was too late to take headshots of Dave, so we sat outside and had a drink. Chris told us some odd stories of people from a bar he used to work at. For example, a couple showed him their pictures from the guy’s birthday party where a conservative-looking woman was going down on his girlfriend. “She was down there for like ten minutes,” said the guy, flicking through picture after picture on his iPad. “It was awesome.”

What was that guy trying to project? What image of himself? His girlfriend? His lifestyle? We reveal ourselves with every act, every word. Sometimes people are paying attention.

On the phone this morning, Ruby told me about how when she lived in Appleton she used to read the Bargain Bulletin, a sort of print precursor to Craig’s List. One listing read, “Wanted to buy: Large green aquatic frogs.” Why on earth, wondered Ruby. Being Ruby, she called to ask.

“I just thought they’d be kind of interesting,” said the man. “Do you have some to sell?”

“No,” confessed Ruby, “I do have a friend with a farm, though, and could ask her to keep her eyes open. What would you be willing to pay?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” he said. “Maybe a dollar or two?”

This stumped Ruby, who couldn’t imagine how someone could want large green aquatic frogs enough to post a classified ad, but not have a specific reason or even assign them much value. “How large is large, anyway?” she asked.

The man answered, “Just about any size.” And that was the end of that.

Mrs. Libman disposes

bug climbing
Always giving you a little something extra.

No story today, but there’s this: Yesterday I got on my bike and rode out to the highway, not sure where I was headed. I rode up M-22 a mile or two, terrified the few times a car passed. There’s a good shoulder but I was still convinced I was invisible. I saw a sign for a road that Ruby had said goes around a pretty lake, so I turned off.

Even though there’s no shoulder there’s almost no traffic. I was about the same level of terrified every time a car went by, but it only happened twice. The rest of the time, solitude. A few houses. Great views of the lake. Lots of long, winding downhill slopes and only two uphill ones of any difficulty. I had to get off and walk but I could feel that at some point I might be able to ride them. Later I ran into Rebecca at Molly’s cocktail party and she said she and Rich had also ridden around that lake today. And for the first time since they’ve been coming here she rode both uphill slopes all the way to the top. I asked how she did it. “Are you stronger this year? Have you been training?”

“No,” she said, “This year I just didn’t give up.”

The comforts of not being home

rubber ducky
Have arrived safely. No idea what that means.

Today on our way up the lake coast, we ran into Frank and Fern at Ray’s drive in. They were sitting at a picnic table outside. They said we’d just missed Ruby and Roy, who’d already gone on. As we sat and ate our perch sandwiches (best in town), they said most years they run into Ogilvy and Olivia here. We usually leave Chicago so late we just hope to make Brigadoon by dinnertime, but it’s worth it, leaving early to make Ray’s by lunch. Later we learned that the O’s pulled into Ray’s about ten minutes after we left.

Seeing Frank and Fern made me feel like I’d stepped into Brigadoon early, and I felt a rush of comfort. Out of the chaos of infinite places, infinite choices, infinite points in time and people on earth, a few people we know converge spontaneously at the same place for lunch. Maybe not so spontaneous, since we’re all headed for the same place another three hours up the road, but still.

It’s also comforting not having anyone here, or expecting anyone. I don’t have to make sure Brigadoon is a good experience for someone else. Last night the soup was lukewarm and I thought, if Buck and Xeena were here I’d be mortified, but since it was just us, I sipped my soup as fast as I could, to get the last of its delicious warmth. Dave thought the Bleu cheese dressing tasted like Ranch but I thought it was the same, garlicky and superb.

After dinner I sat on the inn steps with Alice Fay and talked awhile, about families and how you keep learning that you know nothing about the stuff you thought you’d gotten so wise about. The wind was up though not crazy, and even the little lake was moving. Blue is still here. Thirteen years old and he came creaking his way around from the kitchen, where he’d just gotten a piece of flank steak from our drinks guy. He came over and got petted and praised by all of us for still being alive, then he went and sniffed around in some ground cover and laid down.

We headed back to our cottages. As we unpacked, Dave found the rubber ducky from our bathroom at home, tucked in the pocket of one of his shirts. A goodbye gift from Jakob, who’s staying at the house while we’re gone. I took a picture and emailed it to him. No wireless here, but my phone works. A few years ago, you couldn’t get cell reception in Brigadoon, but now I’m on 3G most of the time. I must be changing, because I find that comforting, too.