Tag Archives: Adventures with April

Haunted Highway

You know what I hate most about having lived such an amazing life? My memory is completely shot. Too many awesome things have happened to me and I can’t keep them all in my head. That’s going to mar today’s story somewhat. We can only hope April comes over here and helps to clear things up.

This eerie little tale takes place along the A1 in Australia! (Hi, Michelle! Your forests are creepy! Well, at least one of them.) For the sake of simplicity, we’re going to say these facts are true and accurate to the best of my recollection. In reality, I think I’m making 90% of this up because I can’t remember what really happened and I didn’t write it down anywhere, which is odd in itself. Obviously, something didn’t want me to tell this story.

April and I went to Australia and it was delightful. Except for the one night when it was terrifying.

We were driving The Golden Arrow (that was our rental car’s name) from Cairns to Sydney down the A1, over the Pacific Highway, along the Sunshine and Gold Coasts. Somewhere along the way, we stopped in a scary little hillbilly town in the backwoods for petrol and supplies and, from there, planned to drive until we found the next larger, not-scary town that would be able to provide a place to stay. We figured we’d just drive through the forest and when we came out the other side, it would be night, we would find a motel and we would rest our weary heads to start fresh the next day.

Oh how wrong we were.

We left the scary little hillbilly town a little before sunset, laughing about the gas station’s mostly-toothless attendant who was unintelligble to us, to me especially. April was able to figure out some of what he was saying after she made him repeat it a few times. Me? I never got it. We entered the forest, chortling and carrying on. It was lovely until it started to get dark.

Foggy Woods by Matthias via Flickr http://bit.ly/Foggywoods

Yeah, it started like this and then it just got worse. (photo from Flickr, courtesy Matthias https://www.flickr.com/photos/theowl84/)

As the light faded, the woods started getting thicker, deeper, darker and there wasn’t a bit of civilization in site, no signs telling us how far to the next town, nothing. I don’t remember which one of us was the first to crawl into the back (The Golden Arrow was a station wagon) for a nap. I think it was me. At any rate, by the time it was full-on dark, I was catnapping when, suddenly, the car swerved and April shrieked. Something had jumped out into the road to end its life and probably ours. April, though, amazing driver that she is, swerved and we all survived. The thing is, she didn’t know what it was. All she could say was that it was big and it didn’t look like any animal she recognized, not a kangaroo, not a moose, not a goanna. I didn’t think I’d be doing anymore sleeping so I slithered back up to the front seat and noticed that the trees were really crowding in and it was incredibly dark out there. A mist was creeping along the trunks and stepping gingerly onto the road. We passed something bloated and dead on the shoulder and to lighten the mood, we discussed it, settling on it being wombat road kill.

That didn’t really  help at all, though. There was something out there in the woods and we were miles from anywhere. There were no other cars on the dark, eerie two-lane road and the trees were bending over, just waiting to nudge us, prod us, send us caroming off into their trunks. There was constant peripheral movement, the mist clung as we passed through it, things were readying to jump at us as we crept through the dark.

It was like every horror movie. We expected the car, unreliable as it was, to break down and strand us, leaving us to the mercy of murderers and mythical monsters. We were so tightly strung, jaws clenched, eyes peering as hard as they could to see beyond the murky light cast by the headlamps. The road started sucking at the tires, pulling us off and into the trees. April slowed down but slowing down meant it was easier for whatever was out there to catch us. We were breathing hard, our hearts beating too fast. April was fighting to keep the car on the blacktop. She told me to keep talking, do not stop talking. But what can you talk about when you’re traveling through a nightmare?

That road, that forest, the dark and the mist, the jumpy animals and serial killers, it all went on forever. We drove and drove through the night, terror mounting with every kilometer. The constant thrum of fear bore down upon us as the mist drifted through slow-ink dark and we drifted down a lonely, forgotten stretch of highway.

I don’t know how we made it out. As the sun began to come up and the world began to turn gray, smoky, quiet, we finally emerged from the longest night of our lives. Once we were clear of that horrible, haunted forest, I took the wheel and April took the back for some much-needed sleep. We had made it out alive.

Looking at Google Maps, I would guess the forest in question would probably be Toolara State Forest, Beerburrum/Beerwah State Forests, Devils Pulpit State Forest (based solely on the name. This forest isn’t actually big enough to have taken us so many hours to drive through), or Glenugie State Forest. But your guess is as good as mine. Wherever it was, I don’t recommend driving through at night after making fun of toothless hillbillies.

4 Comments

Filed under Adventures, In someone else's backyard, My Dearly Beloveds

A profound compliment

Compliments are funny things. Some people want them, seek them, love and need them while others shun them and are flustered by them. I ride that line. I like praise and even seek it but only when I feel I deserve it, otherwise it freaks me out. I’ve found that when someone says something nice to me, I have one of two reactions, neither of which are “Thank you.”  If I agree with the sentiment, I tell a story. For instance, if someone says, “That’s a darling outfit,” I say, “I know, right? I got the skirt at the thrift store and the shoes were on sale and the top was a hand me down and my great grandmother made the sweater during the blizzard of ’43.” It’s like I need to explain why the praise is true even if my explanation has nothing to do with the original compliment. If I don’t agree with the sentiment, I argue. I’ll act all demure with a, “Oh, that’s so nice, but I had nothing to do with it,” or “It just happened this way,” or something equally vague and somewhat insulting to the praise-giver. I know I’m just supposed to smile, accept the compliment and move on. According to childhood lessons in etiquette, I should return a compliment but that’s even worse than accepting one. A forced compliment is hollow, isn’t it?

There was one compliment, though, an off-hand remark that had nothing to do with anything I did but that left me speechless, nonetheless. It was, and remains, the best compliment I have ever received in my life.

Back during our early high school days, my BFF, T, began to conserve her syllables both, I think, as a matter of communication efficiency and also maybe a little due to verbal laziness. During the school day, we had a lot to say, so much so that every moment in the hallway was spent chattering over each other at our lockers and when we were apart in separate classrooms, we wrote notes to one another. When we finished our homework in the evenings, we’d call each other. This was back in the days when the house had a main phone because cell phones were a thing of science fiction; we’d tie up the line for hours. I still don’t know why our parents let us do that but I suppose it was a good way to keep telemarketers from disturbing the peace. So knowing there was a lot to be said in a short amount of time (because, really, we probably only had 4-5 actual hours per school day to express our thoughts), T started shorthanding her speech and, as a result, my name lost two syllables and simply became “Er” (as in Eyre, Jane Eyre) This easy-to-say new name stuck and I am still “Er” to T and a few others, including my Longest Running Friend, April. April’s been calling me Er since T coined it so by the time she and I got to Korea, it was my default name. I don’t think she could have added the “ica” if forced.

South Korea was my first legitimate trip out of the country. It was scary and culture shocky for the first month or two but we eventually found our places in the environment and functioned appropriately as young twenty-somethings abroad. So one night midway through our year there, we were out with our co-workers/friends and were the only non-Koreans in the group. I was walking out of the bar with Michelle (real name: Sae Kyung), April and Julie (I don’t remember her real name) right behind us. I heard Julie ask April, “Why do you call her ‘Er’? Is it because as your friend, she is so important to you, like the air you breathe?” I think we laughed, April and I; Julie’s logic seemed hilarious. April explained the shortening of words for the ease of communication. Obviously, the name had nothing to do with anything I’d done, nothing to do with me at all, really. It was just a question based on linguistics and the desire to understand our tradition of nicknames but it hit me hard and has stuck with me all these years, the thought that I could be as important as the air someone breathes, I could be that necessary in a life and that my necessity was apparent to another individual. What a wonderful thought, this gift of belief in the worthiness of one single regular human being and her potential impact upon another. I’d like to say I try to live each day with this beautiful sentiment in mind, that I try to be as important as air, but I don’t. I don’t believe that’s how life works, that any one person is truly irreplaceable. We can’t be; there’s no guarantee any of us will be here tomorrow unlike the air which will most likely be here for all of our tomorrows and probably our great-great grandchildren’s tomorrow if we don’t jack things up too badly. No, of course, our air won’t last forever, either, but we know we’re transient and the air, in comparison, is probably more permanent. Also, I never had a child, probably the only instance in which that statement of importantce is true or as close to true as possible. So, no. I am not as important as the air we breathe. I just have friends who don’t speak my full name. And yet, that is the best compliment, the most meaningful sentiment, I’ve ever received.

3 Comments

Filed under Adventures, In someone else's backyard, My Dearly Beloveds

My fancy French perfume smells like bugs. Apparently.

Once upon a time in the mid-90’s, my longest running friend (she hasn’t been running a long time; I’ve known her since I was in 5th grade. Her name is April) and I lived in South Korea for a year as English teachers. We had many fantastic adventures there and I loved it but that’s not what I’m writing about today. It’s just that this story starts in Seoul and ends in a machine shop in the Rockies so here we go:

I wish I’d have written down what these stories were. Just because I’m me, I’m thinking the woman in the blue and yellow hanbok is doing something with kimchee and the the woman in gray with the brown tunic is a thunderstorm. But that’s probably 100% inaccurate.

This one time in South Korea, my friends and I went to dinner-and-a-show at the Buddhist temple restaurant in the art district of Seoul. It’s a neat place to eat – it’s vegan and they serve little pieces of plants you’d never think to stick in your mouth had they not been presented as food. There’s a phenomenal show complete with drum solos and dances and you sit on the floor, knees tucked under a short table. So my friends and I were sitting at our little table and I smelled something gorgeous that wasn’t food. I asked my friends if they smelled it, too. We pinpointed the scent:  It was coming from the table next to us. I tapped the woman over there on the shoulder – she was white so I felt safe using English instead of Pantomime – and asked, “Excuse me, but what perfume are you wearing? It smells amazing.” She looked at her husband and he leaned in and said something. She nodded, then looked back at us and said, “Hahn zhelle” So…ok, not all white people in Seoul speak English, apparently. I know, weird, right? But, come on, who else but English people would be in Seoul? As it turns out, lots of different people. This particular couple was French. And you’d think that would have been easy for me; my grandmother is French. I took six years of the language between high school and college. April, also fluent in the language, having even been able to tell the police, once, that a goat had fallen out of a tree and onto her car…in French, was sitting right next to me and we could NOT figure out what this perfumed woman was saying. We kept prompting her until her husband got in on the action. They kept saying, “HAHN ZHELLE! HAAAHNN ZHHHEEELLLE. Eez dee airy mooglay. Eez heez HAHN ZHELLE!” and I was all, “I don’t even know what a ‘hairy mooglay’ is.” Finally the French man said, “Eye theenk een yohr lahngooahje, yoo say ‘AYnjelle’,” making the word sound hideous. The third friend, she hadn’t spoken French in about 20 years, yelled out, like it was a game show, “OH! ANGEL! Right? You’re saying angel?” The man nodded, relieved that we’d finally broken through our stupid American language barrier. His wife had long since turned away, fed up. She did shoot us a look and I think she rolled her eyes at us, but it was in a French way so I can’t be sure because I obviously do not understand that language. Regardless, I caught hints of her perfume wafting by throughout the evening and was determined to buy some for myself because, honestly? The scent truly was heavenly.

When I got my next paycheck, April and I went to hunt for Angel by Thierry Mugler. I’d never heard of the guy but we figured he was some couture dude so started at the upscale perfume stores. We drew pictures and pantomimed and some of the stores had heard of the scent but none of them had it. We were going to give up when we found this tiny perfume shop on our way home and decided to stop and ask  because it’s always good to be turned down one more time. And we were turned down, only not because they didn’t carry it. They did, but they only carried a couple of bottles because it was very expensive and they’d sold their last bottle just that week. However, she said, they would get more in and we should check back.
We checked for months. We always missed it except for the one time I stopped in on a whim and there it was, a small blue star bottle. It was beautiful. The only problem was that I didn’t have any money on me; I hadn’t planned to do any shopping that day and it was only coincidence I’d been in the area. By the time I returned several days later, it was gone. Angel was the most elusive perfume in Seoul.

Our time in South Korea came to an end. We were sad to leave and scared to return to America so we decided the best thing to do would be to acclimate to the White Man Ways by going to Australia first. I was excited to hit all the duty free shops in the airports along the way because they would have to have Angel. Only, they didn’t. I knew it existed, I’d seen it with my very own eyes. But I couldn’t find it anywhere. By the time we got to Australia, all the airport shops were closed. I don’t remember the order of events, but at some point, we wound up at the train station in Sydney and there was one little shop open down at the end of a dark hall. It was a perfume shop. I walked in and asked if they had Angel and the women turned around and took a box from the shelf then handed it over. It was light blue and the silver scrawl across the front said, “Thierry Mugler Angel” I FOUND IT! It was over $80 in American money and I had allotted myself only so much spending per day which I had to make  last for the full 17 days we’d be in the country. There was a chance we’d be back to the train station before we left but I’d learned a valuable lesson: if you turn your back on this stuff, you may never find it again.

I don't have any pictures of the shop in the train station because I was using a film camera and it seemed like a waste of a shot to to take a picture of a dark little perfume store in the basement under the trains. So, instead, I'm just going to share some pictures from my trip to Australia to prove that I was there and also to make you jealous of my jet-setting ways. (Please be jealous now)

I don’t have any pictures of the shop in the train station because I was using a film camera and it seemed like a waste of a shot to to take a picture of a dark little perfume store in the basement under the trains. So, instead, I’m just going to share some pictures from my trip to Australia to prove that I was there and also to make you jealous of my jet-setting ways. (Please be jealous now)

This little wallaby totally let me abuse it and it didn't even bite or kick me! I pet it and kissed it and loved it and held it and took it home and called it "George" only not really because it got bored with me and hopped away. But it was a super cute hop and I was really excited about the whole thing.

This little wallaby totally let me abuse it and it didn’t even bite or kick me! I pet it and kissed it and loved it and held it and took it home and called it “George” only not really because it got bored with me and hopped away. But it was a super cute hop and I was really excited about the whole thing.

This is the big, ol famous bridge out in Sydney Harbor which is what leads me to believe it's called Sydney Harbor Bridge, but I could be very wrong on this point. I'm going to hope that my new friend in Australia who found me via Goodreads will come back and correct me if I'm wrong because I'm waaay too lazy to Google it.

This is the big, ol famous bridge out in Sydney Harbor which is what leads me to believe it’s called Sydney Harbor Bridge, but I could be very wrong on this point. I’m going to hope that one of my friends in Australia will correct my mistake because I’m waaay too lazy to Google it.

wpid-IMG_20130323_161522.jpg

Here is my bottle of Angel. And I also kept the little card and information packet that came in the little envelope. I had the box until a few years ago. So I’m a pack-rat…but I’m a fancy, elegant pack-rat. Obviously.

I bought it. I was elated. I kept it safe the entire trip and brought it home with me and it became my Fancy French Perfume because, up until that point, my fanciest scent was Calvin Klein’s Eternity. I still have my Angel. Parfumiers say that perfume can last for up to 5 years if you keep it in a cool, dark place. I’ve had perfume go bad on me before but Angel is not one of those. Now it’s less sweet, there’s less of a light powder scent; it’s muskier and woodsier but it still smells divine. I started wearing it again recently because it’s a wonderful scent for the end of winter; it’s rich and deep and smells good seeping out from under a heavy sweater like the earth smells good seeping up from the thawing ground.

I still had some clinging to me when I went to work at Chris’ machine shop on Friday. I walked in, sat down and got started. He came over to tell me something, stood for a moment, then said, “You smell like bugs.”

I asked, “Bugs? What do bugs smell like?”

He said, “Buggy.”

I asked, “Is it a sour smell?”

He said, “No. And don’t worry, you don’t smell like crickets. They smell horrible.”

I said, “Well, I know what grasshoppers smell like. Do I smell like that?”

He said, “No, you smell like pine seed bugs.”

I said, “What the hell are pine seed bugs?”

He said, “You’d recognize them if you saw them. They look like Maxwell bugs, only brown.”

I had to google Pine Seed Bug. Yup. They’re box elder bugs that are brown. I asked, “What do they smell like?”

He said, “Not good. They smell like you smell. I think it’s your perfume.”

I said, “How do you know I’m wearing perfume?”

He said, “Because you smell like bugs.”

So maybe I was wrong about my 15-year-old perfume not being rotten. Apparently, it smells like bugs.

wpid-IMG_20130323_162604.jpg

Here are some extra bonus pictures of Australia. These pictures are currently in my photo album and I just took pictures of the pictures, thus the glare, because Gabe is too lazy to scan all my pictures for me. He’s so mean.
Anyhow, this was taken in the rocky-formationy area that is NOT Uluru but is somewhere else in Kata Tjuta National Park.

wpid-IMG_20130323_162554-1.jpg

Also taken through photo album plastic. Nice, right? This is also in the Ayer’s Rock general area. It’s a shame I never became a travel photographer…based solely on how much I like this one picture.

11 Comments

Filed under Adventures, For my short story collection, In my backyard, My Dearly Beloveds, My journey to writerhood, Out & about or abroad