Life after newspapers, part 3: Varmints, romance, accidents
All I could think about last week was Saturday night. My husband and I had a big date planned — dinner and a movie —to celebrate our 23rd wedding anniversary. Our 9-year-old son would spend the night at his grandmother’s; after all, who knows how late we’d be out or what other magic the night might hold?
It’s been a long time since my husband and I have gone out for an evening alone. Our differing work schedules enabled us to take great care of our son, and for that we’re thankful — he is, after all, the source of light and energy around which his parents revolve — but I can’t tell you the last movie my husband and I saw together. While I was working, we’d occasionally grab lunch, but we’ve not had dinner together during the week — let alone a date — in a long, long time.
This is also a pivotal point in my life. After nearly two decades as a newspaper reporter and editor, I’ve joined the ranks of the unemployed, folks whose jobs were “eliminated” to help keep their employer afloat. While I understand the move — this is after all, a horrible time for the newspaper industry — being unemployed is taking some getting used to. Things are different at home — not bad, but different, a big shaking up of the status quo — and it feels like my husband and I are renegotiating our lives.
Against this backdrop, I looked at Saturday night as a chance to reconnect with my husband; however, the road to our big anniversary date would be a bumpy one.
Earlier that week, I was in the bathroom, brushing my teeth, when I heard what sounded like someone walking above my head on the second floor. My husband was driving our son to school, so I knew I was home alone.
Or was I?
“Hello?” I called out.
I shrugged, chalking up the sound as an auditory hallucination. Then came the sound again, but this time it was in the exterior wall of the bathroom. I pounded on the wall and heard something inside moving about.
“Varmints,” I hissed, like Yosemite Sam tracking Bugs Bunny.
Outside, I discovered that part of the under-eave soffit of my old bungalow had pulled away from the roof. Something was living — or trying to live — where it didn’t belong and where it certainly wasn’t welcome.
Now, it’s not unusual in these parts for creatures to take up residence in odd places. My next-door neighbor had a family of raccoons living in her attic for a while. We spent a couple days trapping a chipmunk that had slipped inside our house when the back door was open. A demented squirrel terrorized my sister’s house for a couple scary days; it actually clung to her window screens and hissed at her. Years ago, one of my reporters had a hive of bees inside a wall.
So, why not varmints in my roof?
I found someone to take a look the next day.
“Starlings,” the repair guy said. “These birds got to go.” He removed the nest from the space between the siding and the roof and fixed the damage.
To celebrate the good ending to my varmint problem, I sat down to a cup of my own “fancy coffee,” made by mixing the frothy brew from my Senseo one-cup coffee maker and adding stove-warmed milk: Coffee-house style latte at a price even an unemployed journalist like me can enjoy.
Seeing me drink coffee jolted my husband’s memory.
“I forgot to tell you,” he said. “They’ve recalled your coffee pot. Something about the boiler possibly blowing up.”
He handed me the information he received in an e-mail, which included a number I had to call.
Now, as weird as it sounds, I love that coffee pot. It’s the second one I’ve owned, after wearing out the first. I use it at least three times a day, more when I’m writing. At the risk of sounding dramatic, being without it at this point in my life seems cruel. When the woman answering the Senseo hotline told me to unplug my beloved coffee pot immediately and quit using it, that in six to eight weeks I’d receive a replacement, I reacted like a brat.
“Six to eight weeks? I can’t wait six to eight weeks,” I whined. “I live in Michigan and I just lost my job. I NEED MY FANCY COFFEE. Please, isn’t there something someone can do to speed up the process?”
The woman at Senseo central took my name and number and promised a supervisor would call as soon as possible.
The next day, my husband picked our son up from school. They arrived home with an ominous note: It seems there was a case of head lice in my kid’s class. The note told us what to look for and what to do in case we found that our fourth-grader was infested.
Each day leading up to the weekend, I inspected my son’s hair and scalp: Nothing out of the ordinary. I did a final check of my kid’s head on Saturday and sent him to his grandmother’s with my conscience clear.
Finally out alone, my husband and I had a wonderful dinner. He ordered a frozen margarita and I had a glass of red wine. We talked and laughed our way through a wonderful, multi-course dinner. Then we saw the charming “Sunshine Cleaning” at the local cineplex.
As I always do, I checked my cell phone for missed calls. There was an agitated message reporting that a few things resembling sesame seeds were spotted in my son’s hair.
We fetched our son from his grandmother’s. Sure enough, head lice. I have no explanation as to how I missed them, except to theorize that the nits hatched sometime between my final examination and the end of the movie.
My husband made a late-night run to the drug store for special shampoo and lice combs. I spent the remainder of my romantic anniversary evening picking varmints from my kid’s hair.
The next day, I took my kid outside and shaved his head. It was the only way to get all the nits. Sighing as I washed bedding in hot water and sealed pillows in plastic to kill the nits, I thought that things couldn’t get much weirder.
I was wrong.
On the day marking the one-month anniversary of me losing my job after nearly two decades at the local newspaper, I accompanied my husband to pick our son up from school, an easy enough task, I figured. Little did I know that my husband approaches rides to and from school with the seriousness and precision of a stealth military operation, timed out to the second.
“We’re not going to make it if you don’t hit the next exit by 3:28,” he said, looking worriedly at his watch as we cruised toward the school on the freeway. “The bell will ring at 3:45 and I like to do the sign-out sheet in the office to avoid the parents in the gym.”
So I sped it up a bit, and we made the next exit a whole minute ahead of schedule. Mission accomplished.
When we hit the school parking lot, my husband showed me where to park in order to get in and out ahead of the buses.
“It’s a nightmare if you get stuck behind the buses,” he warned before bounding into the building as I kept the engine running. He reappeared exactly nine minutes later with our son in tow. He climbed into the front seat and my son opened the back door directly behind me.
I surveyed the long line of buses waiting for their passengers. My husband nodded toward them. “Get ready,” he said as he fastened his seat belt. “Now, go. GO. GO. We’ve got to beat the buses.”
As I eased the car forward I heard a thud and then a cry. I slammed on the brakes. There was my son, the one I thought was safely belted into the back seat, sprawled instead in a big puddle, crying, his backpack on the asphalt beside him.
“YOU. RAN. OVER. MY. FOOT,” he said loudly between sobs. “It hurts. Are you trying to kill me?”
The heads of the other parents in the parking lot turned in our direction. “Look at her,” I imagined them saying. “It’s the editor from the paper, the one who got let go. First she shaved the poor kid’s head. Now she’s gone crazy and is trying to kill that poor little boy.”
“Are you OK,” I asked my son.
He nodded through his tears as he pulled himself out of the puddle. “I can walk,” he said. “I’m OK. Just get me home.”
After he got himself into the back seat, we took off, though by now we were stuck behind the buses, punishment from a vengeful school parking lot god, I am sure.
At home, I examined my kid’s foot. It was fine; a little sore, he said, but none too worse for the run-over. The next day, my husband picked our son up by himself.