A venal monster by any other name …

I have taken to calling the president “Caligula.” Seth Meyers put this in my head by referring to him a few weeks ago as “our drooling, potato-brained Caligula.” It felt perfect. I used the whole description for a bit, but have given up the adjectives. They offer too much cover for evil.

At the start of the administration, I refused to put the word “president” beside Caligula’s name. Also wanted to avoid using his name. I started calling him “THOTUS” instead: Titular Head of These United States. (I was pretty proud of that one, I have to admit.) THOTUS worked for me on many levels. It gave a nod to the man’s baseness by including “tit.” It acknowledged the obvious fact that the decisions he was making were guided by his masters even as he wore the crown. And it let me bypass saying his name or calling him by the office he held.

Eventually, I had to give up THOTUS. It still worked for me, still felt satisfying, but the damage being done to and by this country was too great to be tossing around a cutesy name for a greedy, self-aggrandizing, painfully unintelligent, insecure, hate-monger bent on theft and destruction. And so I finally succumbed, began calling him both by his title and his name.

But now the power and horrific majesty of “Caligula” has been presented, and I find it too fitting to pass up. I’ve been using it almost daily, and it satisfies utterly. Or … almost utterly. Sure Caligula’s rep is that he was a monster and a sexual predator who thought he was a god. That all tracks. Yes, the homework I did that turned up questions about the accuracy of those accounts, but it still felt right. But somehow not enough right. And, of course, that’s because of Caligula’s grand-nephew, Nero.

Nero keeps getting in my way. Famous for “fiddling while Rome burned,” which definitely feels right if you sub in playing golf for fiddling. But “Nero” doesn’t feel as right for me, and “Caligula-with-a-side-of-Nero” is just ridiculous.

And, too, there is the concern that saying anything other than his title and name is just repeating the mistake of THOTUS, the mistake of being funny when there isn’t a single funny thing happening.

I’m sticking with Caligula for now, despite the inaccuracy of the comparison — the Romans at least got one good year of not-insane rule before Caligula turned into a horror legend. I’ve dropped the almost cutesy, doddering-old-fool additions of “drooling” and “potato-brained” and settled fully into this usage. Hoping that I only need to use it for the next seven and a half months.


Clean up in aisle two …

I’ve been working from home. I’ve been putting together distance learning plans. I’ve been listening to the news. I’ve been talking about the pandemic. I’ve been looking at articles about doomsday hoarders. I’ve been looking at people’s pics of the chaos in their stores. I’ve been seeing my neighbors swaddled in face masks and blue nitrile gloves.

What I’m saying is that I haven’t been asleep. I’ve been fully aware of the state we’re in.

But … It seems I wasn’t really aware, wasn’t really paying attention, not real attention.

Today when I took a break for lunch (I finally remembered to take a break for lunch!), I thought, “Oh, let me just place a grocery order.” I’m not out of anything, just figured I’d set up a delivery for early next week so I wouldn’t have to think about it.

(And yes, I’m a person who gets her groceries delivered. Neither of my “neighborhood” grocery stores is in walking distance of my house, and the cost of getting Peapod to come to my door is about the same as getting a cab home from either market. I don’t think I would have become a gets-her-groceries-delivered person if I hadn’t torn my rotator cuff in late 2017. Rolling into 2018 not being able to use my left arm for anything and knowing I was going to be even less able in the immediate aftermath of the fix-it-up surgery I had planned was what introduced me to Peapod in the first place. I’ve been a devotee ever since.)

Yeah, so I went on the Peapod site. There’s a pop-up message warning of diminished delivery options and the new COVID-conscious ability to have “contact-less delivery” and what-all. I clicked past it and filled my cart. Then I went to check out.

And discovered that there are no delivery days or times available before some time in April.


Yes, every delivery slot was sold out, and the customer service line is down because everyone’s been sent home to shelter in place.


Oh, you mean all this pandemic stuff is impacting my life, too? Really? Oh.

Yes, I am this ridiculous. Apparently.


I finished working around 6 tonight and figured I go to my favorite of the two stores in my area. I took a cab because … well, because I’m obviously a pampered little so-and-so. The driver and I talked about what his work week has been like — awful, hardly any fares 😦 — and then I went into the store … to find it almost completely picked-over bare.

I didn’t take pictures because we’ve all seen the pictures. I mean, I’ve seen the pictures. I’ve talked about the pictures. But I’d also been to the store as recently as last Friday, and the store was totally full of food, was totally fine. What a difference a week makes.

I kept wheeling my cart through the aisles, looking, thinking surely I’d find some little something to bring home. And yes, I did find a few things to bring home. But not the things I had on my shopping list. No yellow or orange peppers, no bananas, no grapefruit, no honey-wheat pretzel twists, no hummus, no Chobani Key Lime Crumble yogurt, no, no, no, no. no.

(Don’t be alarmed: my house is full of food. Full. You know, of food I actually have to put some effort into preparing, as opposed to food I can just unpackage and eat. I’ll be just fine.)

But, yeah. In the last few days, the craziness came right up to my door and swept past me in a tidal wave, and I was so busy navel gazing that I didn’t notice.

It’s March, which means it’s time for the
13th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Curious? Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot

Fleshing Out the Five: Into the Woods, Part 2

Because I am nothing if not stubborn af, here I am with another dive into the details of my Counting to Five post!

At the start of SOLSC month, I wrote about getting lost in the woods when I was at a writing retreat upstate this past fall. In my list post, the fourth item on the list divulged that my lost-in-the-woods experience hadn’t, in fact, been the first. And so I wanted to write out the other times I’ve been lost in the woods … and what I’ve realized as I started working on this “fleshing out” of those times is that I’m going to need, as it were, a bigger boat. There’s too much to say for one post! In any case, let’s get into it.

For all the fact that I have a really great sense of direction, there has been more than one occasion when a forest has turned me around and tried to swallow me. My sense of direction isn’t legendary, but it’s strong — so strong that my family used to rely on it when I was a child. But clearly, forests are able to throw me off my bearings with ease.

Fox, my sister, was in the Girl Scouts when she was a kid. I’d never been a Girl Scout, but she had a lot of fun with it, and sometimes I went along as almost-adult supervision.

One year, there was a picnic planned in a gorgeous park in our ara, Thatcher Park. My family went there for picnics sometimes, too. I remember it as huge and untouched-seeming. Yes, there were picnic areas and trails, but mostly it seemed like a hilly forest with streams and waterfalls and only occasional breaks in the trees for the sun to stream through. I loved that park.¹

The Girl Scout picnic was in a tiny half-clearing in the woods. A bunch of girls, a handful of moms, and me. There was a ton of food, lots of games. At some point, someone suggested a hike on one of the trails, and about half of us went.

I don’t know where or how we lost the trail, only that we for-sure did lose it. I don’t remember when we realized we were lost. I think some of us knew we were lost before anyone said it out loud and made it real.

I was a teenager and not the other of any child in the group. I can’t imagine how hard it was for the moms to know we were lost and to remain calm, to have to act as though there was no real problem and that we were all on an adventure. I know I wasn’t worried, but I realize now that my confidence was ridiculous, based on my ignorance. I acknowledged that we were lost, but I thought it wouldn’t be too hard to find our way because we’d all been to Thatcher Park and it was a park, after all. How hard could it be to get un-lost? We’d have to wander a bit and we’d be fine.

Looking at Thatcher Park now — thank you, Google, a thing that didn’t exist back then in the wild and wooly pre-Internet days — I see how crazy my sense of calm was. Thatcher Park is aa few thousand acres big. We’d have had to wander much more than “a bit,” and that wandering wouldn’t seamlessly bring us to anything familiar. We were in trouble, but I didn’t know it. I’m betting the moms knew.

We walked in the woods a long time. The girls were pretty fine. At first, they surely didn’t know we weren’t on a real trail, but even if they knew, maybe they just trusted their mothers to get us where we were going. That’s usually a reasonable thing for a kid to be able to do. And even after we’d voiced our belief that we were lost, the girls were fine. For them, it really was an adventure. And I guess that’s a testament to how easy their lives were, how good a job their parents had done raising them to feel comfortable and safe in whatever environment they found themselves. That’s a gift. No one freaked out, no one cried. They stayed buoyant and game, kept marching along with a clear sense that we’d be fine. And that was a gift to the moms. I kind of love that, thinking about it now. It impresses me. Of course, maybe they just had the same false sense of safety, I had in that moment, believing Thatcher Park to be some docile little postage-stamp-sized park.

After we’d been hiking a LONG time, we came out of the trees into a sunny clearing full of some beekeeper’s hives. I’d never seen an apiary before, but somehow I knew what the hives were, knew to tell the kids not to open them or mess with them.² I thought it was cool to just suddenly come across a little colony of beehives.

Past the bees was a road and a choice — walk right or walk left? How were we supposed to decide? We chose to go left. Maybe either direction would eventually have gotten us back to the rest of the troop. Maybe turning right would have gotten us there faster. We’ll never know. What we do know is that the road eventually brought us to a  Park entrance and that entrance eventually brought us back to our group.

And the girls had had it right — it was an adventure. They had a lot of fun telling and retelling the story of our being lost, of finding the beehive nation, of the LONG hike on the road. I’m sure the moms were hugely relieved … and maybe treated themselves to hot toddies when they got home that night!

That experience of being lost was quite different from my experience in the finger lakes, the one I wrote about that inspired this post. At no point was I afraid when I was with the Scouts, and I’d definitely been freaked out last fall. And sure, that could be because I wasn’t alone when I was with the Scouts. And also yes, I had my completely ill-informed idea of the size of the park. But also because woods just weren’t scary to me then. I was in the woods a lot growing up. It was an entirely familiar experience for me, and being scared wouldn’t have occurred to me.


Thinking about my sister and her friends’ calmness when we were lost and about my own childhood ease with being in the woods reminds me of being maybe seven or eight and off at summer camp, hiking to John’s Brook. There were two counselors with our gang of kids as there always were on trips. In our eyes, they were adults, but they could easily have been only 18 or 19 years old.

During our hike out to the water, we came to a cleared space that was full of men with motorcycles. I remember being very excited by all the bikes, as were my friends — perhaps this is where my desire to have a Harley was born? — and I remember that the men were kind of … not warm-and-fuzzy looking. With their sleeveless leather vests, their tattooed arms, their ZZ Top beards, their long hair and sunglasses, they were like a caricature of a motorcycle gang. I mean, they were a gang, but when I think about them now, I think how “out of central casting” they were.

I wonder what our counselors — two young women alone in the woods with a bunch of kids — were thinking during those moments we spent with those men. Some of us kids asked to sit on the bikes and were lifted up and plopped down in the big saddles. We were having a great time. What terrors could have been in the minds of our chaperones? And, even once we continued on our hike, would those terrors have subsided? We were on our way to stay overnight in a lean-to by the water. Were the counselors freaking out all night, sitting watch over our oblivious heads?

The woods, y’all. You never know what’s going to happen out there!

¹ Okay, so I looked it up so I could insert that link and a) it’s still there, thank goodness! b) it’s so much bigger than I’d ever realized, c) it’s not quite as trees-only as it is in my memory, and d) it’s just as beautiful as ever.

² Yes, I could have seen a picture somewhere, but it’s much more likely that I knew about beekeeping because of Mildred, my biology teacher/summer camp nature counselor aunt. Mildred was absolutely someone who would have talked about beekeeping and shown me how manmade hives work.

It’s March, which means it’s time for the
13th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Curious? Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot

Fleshing Out the Five: Baby, You Can Drive My Car

Some more oversharing! I’m still working my way through the five random facts about me that I shared in my Counting to Five post. The second item on the list was the fact that I don’t have a driver’s license.

I am most assuredly not the only adult in the America without a license, and yet people are always shocked when they discover that I don’t drive.

I learned to drive in high school, the way most people do. My parents taught me, and I took driver’s ed. My parents were both good drivers — unflappable, good parallel parkers, at home with speed — and learning from them meant I took on some of those qualities, too. I was pretty comfortable driving … too comfortable, as it turned out. When I took my road test, I was a little too casual about a stop sign. As soon as I slid past it with the barest of pauses, the examiner told me I’d failed. “You’re a good driver,” she said, but you need to follow the rules.”

Not getting my license didn’t mean I didn’t drive, however. I knew how, and I knew I was good at it, so I drove when I had to. I took a friend’s keys and drove us home when he got ridiculously drunk at a party he’d invited me to. Drove a carload of us home in the wee small hours of a foggy spring night from somewhere in southern New Jersey after we’d played groupies and driven down to DC to follow a band we were all crushing on. I drove when I needed to. And certainly that wasn’t smart, but it also turned out okay. I’m not such a risk taker today, however. For all kinds of reasons.

I was annoyed to have failed my road test, but it didn’t make much of a difference in my high school life. There wasn’t any chance I was going to get a car. My parents couldn’t have afforded to give me one, and my babysitter pay wasn’t enough to get that job done, either. I could have retested, and I probably planned to do just that. Somehow that never, happened, however. There have been times I’ve regretted not being a legal driver — when my desire to have a motorcycle or learn to drive an 18-wheeler rears its head — but mostly I’m okay, and I’ve been fine relying on mass transit and the kindness of friends with cars and strangers willing to stop for a hitch hiker.¹

I’ve had a permit two times in my adult life, but I’ve never gotten serious about working up to take the test. I got the first permit in my late 20s so I could share the driving the summer some friends and I rented a house in the Hamptons. That was fun, as the car I got to drive was a Chevy Malibu convertible from the 70s! I got the second permit in my late 30s to have as an ID so I could stop carrying my passport around. I’m in my late 50s now (whoa! … that’s the first time I’ve said that!), and I haven’t had a permit in 20 years!

I’ve started thinking about getting a license. There are places I’d like to go (and places I’d like to live after I retire) where having/driving a car would be not only helpful but necessary. Some of the writing residencies I fantasize about applying to are pretty remote, and I’d have to get myself to and from.

So maybe, 40 years after driver’s ed, it’s time to take this driving thing a little more seriously!

¹ Stay calm, my hitching days are long behind me, and I’m right here telling you this story, so you know I survived. It’s all good!

It’s March, which means it’s time for the
13th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Curious? Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot

Pandemic A-Go-Go

You know, or something.

I’m not really trying to be flip about what’s happening with this virus. I’m just … at a loss for what all to say. My state’s governor announced today that the education programs I oversee are all ceasing in-person services for the rest of the semester. We have a week to come up with a contingency plan before online programming is set to begin.

We need more than a week.

I think the decision to go online is a good one. I think it’s the right decision. It just isn’t that easy for programs like mine, and certainly isn’t anything like easy for the people we serve.

We’re rallying. I mean, of course we are. How not? Our students are everything, and we need to make sure they are supported through this strange time. And also, this is what we do, right? We figure shit out and make plans and carry on. It’s what we’re all doing everywhere, right? Because our lives have to go on, and our communities have to come through this, and so we do what we have to do.

And then I stopped at my grocery store on the way home. I wanted some fancy cheese and some French bread and some fruit. In and out. Easy, right? How did it not occur to me that — between the WHO announcement and the governor shutting schools down all over the state — people would be panic-shopping and losing their minds all through the aisles?

I am silly this way. Entirely.

I can’t really be this oblivious, and yet … I wasn’t prepared. Wasn’t prepared for the serious soul-searching in the produce aisle, a couple debating whether they should risk fresh fruits and vegetables because someone who handled the food might have been “A CARRIER.” Wasn’t prepared for the woman taking every case of bottled water on the shelves and setting her small child atop the pile in her cart to keep other shoppers from trying to swipe a case. Wasn’t prepared for the man who tried to convince people to let him cut the (very long) check out line by giving us dramatic stage-coughs and saying, “I got the asthma! I can’t be around all these people! Let me get home!”

I wasn’t prepared.

I’m home now. I got my snacks. I’ve sent a zillion emails to staff to get our planning under way. I’ve emailed my family so they won’t worry about me, all alone up here in the sickly north.

So, here we go, friends. Here we go.

Sending love and well wishes to you and yours and hoping we all come through this intact, stronger for our struggles, and ready for the next challenge!

It’s March, which means it’s time for the
13th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Curious? Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot