Is it just me, or can you feel Fall In The Air? The 105 degrees – and CLIMBING – air. It’s only been a week since we drove my daughter back to college and already I see kids sweating in their new back-to-school turtlenecks and I’m buying Halloween decorations. Maybe ghouls are on my mind since we just exorcised the Demon of Unmentionable Stench from my husband Bill’s Toyota Highlander after a rat decided to die in his glove compartment. And go undiscovered for three days. Three HOT, rat-marinating days.
Poor Bill. That was a Stink Fest if there ever was one. Even after he’d removed the carcass with BBQ tongs, the car REEKED. Every day he’d try something new. He knew if it wasn’t fixed soon, we’d have to schlep up Interstate 5 in my ’99 Red Volvo Mom-Mobile with the Harry Potter bumper stickers proclaiming to the world who waved the biggest wand in our family.
In keeping with the plague-like biblical overtones, Bill had his cleansing down to a ritual. Every morning he’d scrub the floor mats AGAIN and wash the air filter AGAIN and then drive the beast around the block with all the windows open, hoping he’d conquered the curse. Once I swear I heard him chanting. The original Eau de Rodentia went pretty quickly. What still made me gag was the smell that now replaced it: the “odor eliminating” – HA! – cleaner that Bill had drenched the A/C vents with. It was Vintage Disgusting Truckstop Bathroom Disinfectant. A sweet pungent chemical smell that took me back to summer nights camping where my biggest fear was I’d drop my flashlight down that hole or meet an unsavory character in a public lavatory. Bill was frustrated, but impressed with the imagery a mere smell could evoke in me. “It’s just a DISINFECTANT!” he’d say, doggedly donning his jumpsuit the next morning to TRY AGAIN.
The funny part – if you can laugh at the prospect of owning a 2-ton stinking metal sachet – was that Bill wasn’t bothered by the cleanser smell even though he’s the one with the sensitive nose. He’s always asking me to “taste the milk” one day after it’s home from the store or “…does this bleu cheese look moldy to you?” While I can happily eat food well past its prime, something about the smell of this “clean” just rubbed me the wrong way. Day after day, as the temperature soared and Bill’s options ran out, he’d stagger inside, like the cockroach in an Edgar Suit from Men In Black, and ask me hopefully to “please come out again and smell the car…”.
After two weeks of failure and feverish googling (…car+odor…odor+eliminate…HELP+STINK…), I sent a desperate plea out to our friends for advice. I even offered a reward. I got some suggestions, but mostly folks wanted to know how or WHY we were harboring rats in our car. The winning solution came from Connie who suggested we use Nature’s Miracle (a pet-odor eliminator) that we happened to have gallons of, thanks to our intestinally challenged pathetic excuse for a cat. Heaven forbid SHE should scare away the rats… Bill poured buckets of the stuff down our A/C vents and that did it. Still, thanks to all of you who prayed for us and for the entertaining list of What You Can Do With Dryer Sheets – who knew mailmen stuffed them down their shorts to repel bees? I thought our mailman was just always glad to see me.
So FINALLY we were able to hit the road with The Kid, a Junior at UC Berkeley who, despite making the honor roll, was stymied all summer by our washing machine: “Mooooooooom, your machine is SOOOO COMPLICATED…”.
Interstate 5 from LA to Berkeley is a bore and a half. On all of our many trips, we have only had two Exciting Moments: once in my daughter’s first year when her psychopathic roommate called her cell phone with One Last Parting Death Threat as we headed home for Christmas and the second just last week. We were rolling along, in the midst of an erudite discussion of Cinema, Art, and Reality TV when disaster struck:
“…After the genius of Survivor, and now that Project Runway is the Gold Standard…I mean, Lifetime is SO LAME-OID… Mom, I have hot sauce in my eye!”
“Mom, my head hurts – do I take aspirin or Excedrin?”
“Well, if you need to stay up and study, then Excedrin has caffeine. But are you getting enough sleep, sweetie? You study so hard, I worry you don’t get enough rest.”
“Oh, no, I had my last final yesterday. I just fell and hit my head on the railing.”
“FELL AND HIT YOUR HEAD?” Was my little darling so studious and sleep-deprived that now she couldn’t walk straight?
“Oh, no. No biggy, we were riding this old mattress down the stairs like a sled and I guess it’s not really big enough for all twelve of us. Anyway, THANKS! GOTTA GO!”
So, next off-ramp we visited Our Lady of The Food Mart, Patron Saint to roadside victms and Junk Food Addicts. Ordinarily we would never set foot inside such a low-class establishment; preferring the finer things in life like Jack In The Box Jalapeno Poppers, Dunkin’ Donuts, and ANYTHING named after a volcano from Taco Bell.
In search of Visine, we headed for the First Aid Aisle: phone chargers, bandaids, analgesics, duct tape, “personal products”… Crazy Glue. CRAZY GLUE? What mishap on the road could possibly be solved by CRAZY GLUE?
“Oh DARN, 75 miles an hour and I just snapped the steering column! And there go the air bags again… Honey, did you remember to pack the Crazy Glue?”
NOW I was curious. Sitting in a car for hours and hours, driving past dusty crops, this store was suddenly a kaleidoscope of entertainment. I HAD to explore. First aisle: chips. Second aisle: MORE chips. In fact, the entire store was a Flamin’ Hot Mecca! Flamin’ Hot tortilla chips, Flamin’ Hot popcorn, Flamin’ Hot pretzels, Flamin’ Hot pork rinds… Only aisle number 3 had actual food sans flamage: mustard, catsup, four cans of Hormel Chili, a brick of Velveeta, and ONE lonely loaf of Wonder Bread; COUNTRY STYLE – a pseudo-grainy nod to the traveling organickally inclined. But the last aisle was the crescendo to the symphony of Scorch-O-Rama. Now, I know you are thinking: “HOW do you top the Luciferian Largesse already described?” Well, I am here to tell you: with Flamin’ Hot VARIETY Pak! EVERYTHING all in one package, for the indecisive or burnt-out few who just can’t decide. Buying the Visine, I cheekily asked the clerk if they had Flamin’ Hot Twinkies, and he said they were sold out.
So, Flamin’ Hot Eyeball disaster behind us, I looked on the bright side: she
may be Laundry Challenged and our sauce packet suit is pending, but I must have done something right. She IS in college, she DOES wear cleanish clothes, and she drinks tea – and not that silly boba shit. She has even started a teapot collection. While I like to collect flowery pots, she favors animals. She has a childish tea kettle with jungle critters, a charming tea set of owls, and a rogue elephant creamer. But when I really want to glow with pride, I think back to a Special Moment from her first year in college.
“Mom, MOM, GUESS WHAT?! Remember that class with the waiting list where I had to take an exam just to get in?”
“Uh, I’m not sure I remember. Did you tell me when you last called THREE WEEKS AGO?”
“Yeah, maybe. Well, the test was really hard and I KNOW I got at least one wrong, but I just found out I got in the class and GUESS WHAT ELSE? The instructor said I had the highest score by far and he led the whole class in a standing ovation!”
“That’s GREAT, sweetie!” Now I was paying attention. She’s majoring in Architecture and SOMEBODY has to come along and replace Frank Lloyd Wright…
“What class is this for?”
“My Lost class!”
“Your LAST class? I don’t care when it is, sweetie, what is the NAME of the class?”
“Lost! About the TV show! It’s one of those one-unit classes designed to help freshmen meet people.”
“Oh. That’s great! I guess watching the entire show TWICE this summer really paid off. I’m so proud of you!”
So Proud. I haven’t been this proud since she got that A+ her first semester for knitting a Harry Potter scarf…
Hugging our prodigy goodbye and back on the road home the next day, Bill and I soothed our empty-nest souls with podcasts from NPR. Besides The Loh Life and Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me, we had also brought Car Talk. Our friends Lorelyn and Judy had suggested we take our Car Stink Dilemma to Click and Clack, and when their website proved no help, we downloaded a bunch of their shows. And there, past the halfway point, right around Lerdo, was our salvation. Our hearts soared with joy as we listened to the July 4th airing of Car Talk: a professor had called in because a disgruntled student had peed in the air intake on his car hood. Of course, they had the answer: spray in Frigi-Fresh and run the A/C. AND lighten up on the grading curve…
Peed in his air intake? Kinda makes our dead rat look cute now, doesn’t it?
Editor’s note: this post was first published on the T-Ching site in Fall of 2009.