Winter Not-Walking
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After all the hiking I did last spring through this fall, I worried about winter. I knew walking outdoors in snow/ice/wind/ would active my princess protest protocol, but I didn't want to fester into inactivity again. Indoor treadmill walking, though, is monotonous when I've gotten used to that which is mountainous, meaning PA Appalachian trail scenery and challenge and joy, and any more coordinated aerobic exercise like dancing or Zumba is outside of my rhythmless comfort zone.

The dilemma: It has to be indoors and it has to be interesting.

What could be more interesting than doing something that has terrified and taunted you ever since you were in elementary school and had to endure the dreaded six hundred in gym class for the fitness test?

Yes, I'm learning to run.

"Run" is an elevated term, as I'm really only jogging slowly, but I'm allowing myself the verb-upgrade decadence.

I'm doing a Couch to 5K Program, which slowly eases you into longer periods of faster moving. It's a well-documented, trustworthy system, and I love that it's brainless and someone else has figured out what to do. A red-headed cartoon lady on the app tells me when to run and when to walk briskly, and mostly she and I get along just fine, despite her refusal to make time go faster. I registered for an actual 5K, my only goal in which is to finish and not-walk.

The first jogging day was, of course, the worst. I had to jog for a full minute interval and had picked a wet, windy, chilly day to do it. (This was before I moved everything indoors until the trees wear buds.) Not having run really ever, my body was sorely miffed. It tried to breathe with every step. (Doesn't work.) It tried to fill its own stomach with daggers. It made pleading eye contact with the super-fit teenager running in the opposite direction, who shared a pitying wave with me and sped up to escape my stumbling.

The second jogging day was vastly better, as I consulted my brother and a friend for breathing advice, but ever since then, each time I jog, my body creates a new excuse that is really all in its mind. "Our nostrils are burning!" it whines. "Our knees are snapping!" it snarks. "You forgot to wear the sports bra and the ricochet effect is knocking the planet off its orbit!" (The last complaint was valid and in no way exaggerated.)

I know these whines are all in my body's mind, though, as I suffer no real injury or even discomfort. It's all part of adjusting to the new, the hard, the foreign. I'm muffling the whine and hoping onward.

And today when I turned into a troll-like nostril-ignorer, I still didn't quit. I did hear the voice of my old orthodontist, though, who looked at my teeth when we first met and uttered a disgusted, "Ugh, Mouthbreather." Apparently old habits are hard to break, but creating healthy and stimulating new ones is still my goal. I'm actually up to twenty-eight minute jogs now, which are exactly twenty-eight minutes longer than I could do three months ago.

So, in May, I hope to be trailing the 5K pack, breathing with my re-trained nose, refusing to walk, and doing something truly embarrassing and over-celebratory when I hit the finish line. There may be jumping, twirling, shouting, dancing.

What Elementary School Me Wanted From God
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As a child, I had two distinct thoughts about what God should reveal when I achieved the afterlife. I was raised Catholic, but these ideas were certainly not ones taught in church or in CCD. I didn't discuss them, as I sensed they would be met with outrage and arguments or depressing denials. I kept them close in the make-the-maybe-come-true part of my heart.

First, God would provide me with an extensive list of all stats related to my life. He could tell me how many times I read my favorite book, The Westing Game, how many episodes of Blossom I watched, how much of my allowance I blew on stickers and Smurfs. He could tell me how many times I did a front aerial walkover in gymnastics, how many minutes I spent practicing the piano, and how many minutes I spent pretending to practice the piano. He'd have every stat related to anything and everything I'd ever done, even the things I didn't realize or remember I'd done. He'd even know how many hours I spent at Woolworths arguing with the Clarion Color Computer to skew the results so it recommended the soft pink blush I thought was ideal, although it clashed with my skin tone. Microsoft Excel didn't exist when I thought up this impeccably organized information that God would illuminate for me, but obviously he would have pre-used it. He had/has that power.

God also would answer all of my questions related to the 001.9 section of the Dewey Decimal system, where the unsolved mystery books reside. He'd reveal the truth or lies about Bigfoot, aliens, the Mary Celeste, ghosts. He'd know if the yellow Volkswagon the murderer drove on the true life TV show, Unsolved Mysteries, really did belong to the family member who my brother and I were sure harbored evil secrets. He'd know what happened at the end of the TV show when the power went out and we never found out who the criminal was.

Yes, I saw God as a personal mystery solver and numbers cruncher. I wouldn't have to ask Him for these things; He'd auto-provide them as was His pleasure and duty. I'd be so thankful and grateful that He'd spill all about my life, in a buffet and bouquet of charts, graphs, and personal A to Z encyclopedias. He'd solidify all my secrets, which would grant Him grand author credit to my story, gaining Him glowing reviews.

Conclusions on the PA Appalachian Trail Or Our Toes Touched New Jersey
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A few weekends ago, my brother and I finished hiking the 229 mile Pennsylvania portion of the Appalachian Trail. Thank you so much to everyone who supported and encouraged us! It was an out-of-character, very difficult goal for me, and everyone who asked about our progress really helped to motivate me.

Since we wrapped up our journey (on the bridge to New Jersey), I wanted to wrap up my thoughts on it as well, with some concluding words in the what-learned/how-I-grew genre. I'll try not to be too sappy, but be forewarned that some rays of encroaching enlightenment may attempt to poke through.

So what did I learn?

I learned that my brother is an excellent organizer and hike-master. He deciphered all the maps, determined meet-up spots and car-drop offs, and found us food, lovely tasty veggie food. He put up with my sometimes-whining, my almost-crying, and my hauling-butt-up-a-rockface grunting that would have gotten me kicked out of Planet Fitness. He was our statistician, keeping track of all progress in mileage and elevation. He was an epic pillar of patience, weathering issues such as my inability to contain my backpack strap in the car ("Why is my car making that rattling noise again?"); my obsessing about books I was reading and babbling about them for hours, and my oversharing about chafed body parts and wardrobe malfunctions. He was more trail magic than the beautiful mixed fruit plate someone left in the woods a few hundred feet from a (thankfully shy) rattlesnake. I'm so grateful that he is in remission from his Crohn's Disease and that he can enjoy his health by helping me become healthier, too.

I learned that in terms of exercise fantasies, I default to mid 80s video games. I'd wish for a Super Mario Brothers one-up that could turn the rocks into clouds. I'd wish for alpine--slide warp tubes that could transform a sharp downward incline into an amusement park ride. I'd hear Mario uh-oh whoopsie music when I wiped out on boulder and beached in a bramble bush.

I learned that my body can do amazing things, and, by extension, that all bodies can. I'd peer down from a huge hill at the bridge we had walked across an hour earlier, at cars that seemed almond-sized. I'd climbed on my own power! No elevators, no escalators, no Mario magic from the previous paragraph. My body can do things I never thought it could. So can yours!

I learned that trail-dogs are awesome: the lickiest, the boundiest, the love-iest. They have the styliest bandanas and the softest fog-misty fur, and the stinkier you are, the more they adore you.

I learned that uphill isn't as bad as I once thought it was. Wet rocky downhill in the dark is much scarier, although the twinkling lights of the town below you are Christmas-card gorgeous.

I learned that rocks aren't as evil as I once thought they were, as long as they are not-wet. Dry rocks have traction. Wet green-slime covered rocks are instant devil-sliding-boards.

I learned that socks sometimes still smell funky-feety even after you've washed and dried them aggressively.

I learned that ProBar makes the tastiest chewies and protein bars, and that I'd resent the bought-in-bulk Cliff Bars that were my former favorites. If you'd like some, let me know, as they are still trapped in an endless melt-and-reform cycle in my car's trunk.

I learned that eating outdoors can be OK, much to the annoyance of my husband and best friend, with whom I've refused to dine alfresco for decades.

I learned that other hikers are usually awesome. They encourage you; they fist bump you even though you are a sniffy-cold-mess; they admit the slope you are about to climb is "exactly as bad as it looks."

I learned that nature is gorgeous; hiking shoes are mortal, and the rumors about Pennsylvania being rocky are absolutely boot-busting true.

I learned that I won't stop hiking, and that my weird winter goal is to treadmill-train to jog/run a 5K.

Oh, and next year: New Jersey! It's only 72 miles of Appalachian Trail, after all....

Wildlife Party on the PA AT
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Frustration overtook me as I realized I'd forgotten to keep up the toad-frog count, but we were end-of-the-day hiking down a steep slope, so preventing faceplants had to overshadow my reptile-amphibian calculations.

The toad-frogs were probably toads, as we were in a dry area, but since I lack well-honed wild animal identification skills, I'll hybrid them up. They were cheerfully prolific that day, springing out at least once or twice a mile. Most were quarter-sized, dirt-and-grass camouflage-colored, but later a monster version galumphed at me stolidly, not impressed by my heavily-treaded footsteps. Maybe he was emperor of the little ones, proud papa to all, or maybe he was a different species altogether. He was at least twenty times the size of the little ones. I complimented his mightiness as he casually observed me from his proud, pine-needle carpeted perch.

The same day, while sliding down the afore-mentioned slope, I grabbed a tree trunk for support. Half an inch below my hand, a millipede squirmed. Fortunately, I am completely controlled when encountering this face-eating insect-tank, so I only shrieked and cursed at about ninety percent volume. (Little did I know in a few weeks, this singular encounter would pale in comparison to the weekend hell-hike that can only be known as "sliding wet rock millipede invasion party.")

Finally, although it happened first chronologically on the day I'm describing, my brother called back, "Check out the snake in the path." Checking out should be reserved for library books or attractive dudes, so his use of language was immediately suspect, but that wasn't the biggest issue. The biggest issue was scaly and purply-black and fork-tonguing at us from the path. We've seen a dozen black snakes while hiking over the past two years, and while I rationally know they are harmless, they still give me the hand-flapping skeevies. This one, though, was different, as is was not only blocking the path but also looking at us directly and, even worse, advancing our way. It clearly had encountered multitudes of hikers and was not threatened by a sibling slack-packer duo.

I dislike deviating from the trail, as the PA AT itself is daunting enough, and I once commented I wouldn't go three extra steps to a scenic overlook even if the scenic consisted of reanimated dancing Patrick Beautiful Swayze, but in this case I broke my personal mission statement and took a detour. Stepping over the snake was certainly not an option, as obviously that was just an invitation for it to warp power up at me, fangs-first. Somehow we survived, probably because the snake was bored with the complete non-challenge we offered. (One-upping this one, a few weeks later, an even gutsier snake would have the audacity to perch on a rock an inch from the white blaze that marks the Appalachian Trail. "I hiss at your silly human unnatural pathways," it seemed to mock, as I waited for it to evacuate.)

Toad-frogs, millipedes, and snakes appear in vastly different rankings on my preferred animals scale, but I still love seeing them all while hiking. It's their woods, and I appreciate that they allow me to visit. I'm a peace-loving, vegetarian, hippie-ish person at heart, and I never want even the creepiest crawliest ones to get hurt. I fantasize that they chat about me after I thunder on by, saying things like, "Wow, that orange-and-purple-pantsed one certainly was a bit of a weenie about our leggy/legless loveliness, but she doesn't do too bad for a couch-inclined super-napper...."

More Hiking: Hard Choices
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It was around mile eight on a third-day-tired Appalachian Trail hiking trip when my brother called back at me, "Gnats or rocks? If you could pick one to disappear right now, which would it be?"

As I tripped over the billionth boulder and evicted yet another bug body from my eyeball, I considered this magical offer.

Pennsylvania is sometimes nicknamed Rocksylvania for obvious reasons. Sometimes the state's 229 miles of Appalachian Trail are smooth and easy, pine-needle-carpeted, cement bridged, or boardwalked. Often, though, instead you are tripping through a minefield of giggling geology that mocks your tender toes and requires you to lift your legs to Rockette-kicking heights to scale them. The endless sharp rocks come in every shape and any size, from tiny sliding pebbles to massive monsters.  The sound of your toe snagging yet again on a rock you didn't quite clear becomes a constant syncopated percussion.  You trip; you curse; you fantasize about treadmills and beaches and anything straight and/or soft.  You don't see the sky or trees for miles, as every second your eyes must help you plan your dance around rocks. 

My most memorable rock problem came one day when I needed to jump-climb from one invasive boulder to another, and the way the second stories-high boulder was jaggedly curved made it impossible for me to proceed without either twisting an ankle or stabbing myself in the chestical area.  The only way to carry on without injury to my top or bottom was to grasp and squash my chest with one hand while jumping diagonally.  It was not a balletic performance.  Clearly I exceeded the upper body size limit for that part of trail, which really should be posted.  

Gnats, although slighter than rocks, can be equally annoying.   They never follow your kind, patient advice to shut up and go away.  It's not like there are swarms of them, but just one or two may follow you all day.  (I realize they probably have some kind of evil relay race system and that the same gnat is not attached to me for ten miles, but I lack the insect indentification skills to distinguish one individual from another.)  They whine at your head, your ears, your nose.  They bash into your face.  They ping pong off your cheeks.  They cause your fitbit to miscount your steps because it thinks you are swinging your arms as part of walking, not as part of trying to fight them, and this phenomenon causes you to think you are closer to the end of the hike that you really are.  Often you smack yourself in the face because you wave too wildly at them.  They torture your head while the rocks attack your feet. 

So, rocks or gnats? If I could make one disappear, which would it be?  Would my head be happy or would my feet be fancy free?

My head is filled with rocks on this one, so I don't think I can answer at this time.

Update: A friend recommended a gnat shield I can wear over my head. I can't wait until it arrives!

Thank You, Geology
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Sometimes while hiking, I need to be not-hiking.  When these necessary rest times are near, and I'm about to fall over, I search for a miracle: a hard, ancient, easily accessible miracle.  In real life I call it something slightly ruder, but for the purpose of this blog we'll call it a perfect rear-rock.

The perfect rear-rock makes you swear Mother Nature created it specifically for your own exhausted nether regions.  It comforts and curves around you.  It's smooth, welcoming, right on the edge of the trail.  It's better than your best friend or a salted chocolate truffle or your husband's offer to walk the dogs because you took your shoes off and have a plate of spaghetti balanced on your lap.

Sometimes, though, the perfect rear-rock betrays you.  It has previously hidden teeth that jab at you. It's angle sliding-boards you onto the dirt.  It doesn't fit you even though you optimistic-estimated that it would, like those cute pants in the thrift store someone skinny must have shrunk before donating. 

Then there are rear-rock gray areas.  Too moss or not too moss? Sure, moss is comfy and flocked and velvety, but if you sit on it, hikers to follow may discern the rear-print you leave behind from your butt pressure.  Do you really want to leave that kind of fossilized  memory?  And should you brush off your butt when you finally rise to hike on? Butt-brushing expends energy you probably don't want to waste, but sporting leaves and dirt-paintings on your heinie is also less than ideal.

The ultimate rear-rock betrayal happened two weeks ago. I flung myself onto one near the end of a personal record-breaking 15.2 mile hike.  While my heinie was happy, I failed to calculate for arm-flail and bashed my wrist into a different rock, causing bleeding and bad wordsing.  So no matter how much you love that approaching perfect rear-rock, have a little self-control while plopping on it.

I've seen free-sign recliners in people's driveways and wished they could be Star-Trek-transported to the Appalachian Trail.  Before I can enjoy that technology, though, I salute perfect rear-rocks for all they have done for me.  I hope they will similary under-serve you.

Hiking #9: Dollars Will Help
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To market librarianship as a career option, I highlight the shopping part. "It's a job where you get to spend other people's money!" I'll announce, which earns instant cheers. I then have to clarify that you are of course using other people's money in a responsible way to buy appropriate materials, but you do get to choose the books, unwrap them like a tasty present, and love them first. The thrill of consumerism still resounds, despite the adult-dull drab-dust of terms like "responsible" and "appropriate."

Hiking-shopping is of course different because it's done with my personal funds, and it's a much newer and more foreign undertaking than buying books, which I did as my natural function as soon as I could toddle up to a bookstore counter. That I'm actually interested in and enjoying acquiring trail supplies is strange yet entertaining. I'm entering stores I would have zoomed by in the first forty years of my life (REI, Sports Authority before it went belly up); I'm inspecting tread on hiking boots rather than coveting the sparkly paisley sandals; I'm trying on new adjectives like "sweat-wicking" and "high performance."

I am a responsible consumer and don't overspend on things I don't need, as hiking, after all, is supposed to be about quiet time in the wilderness, not about dropping drastic dollars. I'm a casual day hiker, so I don't need fancy lightweight stoves or weather-tough tents. I'm not ashamed to admit, however, that I'm enjoying the store-visiting and window-shopping aspects of hiking. (Let's not forget one of my favorite indulgent escapist activities, after all, is spending the entire day at an enormous luxury mall with my best friend, buying little but admiring all.)

Recently I've marveled at the specific species of band-aids available (gel cushion toe blister!), learned that energy bars come in delicious and disturbing varieties (cricket flour is not a euphemism), and bought socks for their active qualities (keep toes dry) rather than their appearance qualities (are neon orange and lacy). It's a whole new world, and it's fun to consider your options before your debit card concludes them.

Some hiking-shopping has been more frustrating, and I'll censor this to make it less embarrassing for all of us. Athletic clothing for women is going through a fitted trend right now, which I'm comfortable with on certain parts of my body but not on others, so for this reason I have a confusing collection of lady pants coupled with dude shirts. It's confusing to need to plunder the men's workout wear section because of some of your not-male parts.

Nowadays, I might snap up a sports supply catalog in a doctor's waiting room rather than snarl at its grinning models. I might agree to visit Cabela's, although I still want to avoid the abundant taxidermy their superstore boasts. I might even engage a stranger in a protein bar comparative study. I'm a little bit hiker now, not only on the trail, but also at the mall, in the grocery store, and on the can't-sleep-so-I'm-fantasy-shopping Internet.

Hiking #8: Hiking Hurts Noses
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"So what's your ickiest part?" my brother asked me and his girlfriend, as we inhaled the car's glorious air conditioning and tried to make ourselves presentable for a post-hiking sushi feast.

I tried to make my answer accurate, yet also appropriately descriptive of my sweatiest personal geography.

My mild-mannered brother exclaimed something like, "Ugh. Argh. Blorp! Why are you telling me this? Blech!!!"

It turns out he had said "achiest" not "ickiest," and pain and skank are immensely different genres. I apologized, but certain things can't be unsaid, unsmelled, unimagined, unicked....

Hiking has exposed me to new lows and highs in personal putridness. I've learned a lot about how offensive one's body can become to even to one's own senses.

I'll head-shoulders-knees-and-toes this in terms of body part order and begin at the top. Last summer I hiked in regular old cotton t-shirts and capris, but this year I upgraded to spectacular sweat-wicking everything, which really helps with comfort. One hiking day a moist mystery rose to the surface: Why was the end inch of my ponytail suddenly sopping? Dripping tree juice? Spitty bugs sucking on my strands? Unrealized over-the-shoulder water-bottle waterfalls? Eventually technology arose as the answer: the wicking wonder of my shirt had cleared the sweat from my skin, ferried it to my shirt's outside surface, and deposited it into my back-skimming ponytail. How foul and fascinating! I now hike with my hair in a bun to avoid this phenomenon.

And then there's pooling. A few weeks ago I saw Guns N' Roses in concert and was amazed with the almost-constant sweat stream running down Axl's and Slash's arms, as if they had turned a faucet onto steady medium. My hiking arms have boasted a similar pattern which gets interrupted when we sit to rest or refuel. I will censor exactly where the pooling occurs when parts stop progressing on the trail, but let's just say it's at multiple mid-body places where fluids can collect. If you're not sure if your answer is correct, it is, and I'm so so sorry.

Next on the gross list is the adhesive powers of sunscreen. I hike in capri pants, and my exposed lower legs attract dirt, dust, and debris of all kinds, and the sunscreen seems to seal the deal. It's like I'm wearing grungy brown legwarmers, a distinct fashion no.

The ending is the worst -- my hiking shoes and socks. My husband has cleared the room when I've removed them, and even my dogs have flashed me shocked looks at their reek. Apparently waterproof shoes that repel outside water also retain inside uh, "water." Powders and sprays and airings help only a bit.

My hiking body is a wonderland of nose woe, but in a weird way, I'm proud. I've never been so stinky, which means I've never worked so hard. I hail my horribleness!

Hiking #7: Pissy Adult Tantrum Cabin
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Last summer, I started hiking for the first time, motivated and masterminded by my brother, Michael Arthur. I was shocked at how much I enjoyed it, despite my natural propensity to prefer snackful sloth. Last year my brother planned hikes for us all over the state, but this summer he suggested a more linear goal: that we hike the PA part of the Appalachian Trail, in day hikes over many months. (It's 229 miles, so it will be a multi-year goal.) I am no hardy thru-hiker and camper, so all hikes must be followed with nightly restaurant feasts and showers, and my brother does all the logic puzzle labor of planning car drop offs, dining options, and meet up spots. He is somewhat magical and saintly in doing all the work, including the lugging of the heavy pack. All I do is show up, slather on some sunscreen, tie my shoes, and hit start on the fancy fitbit my brother bought me. I crave credit for every step and stair! I'm a sweat-wicking-gowned princess in stained slippers with excellent mud-caked traction. (They have cute purple accents, too.)

I'd rate my average hiking mood as moderately cranky to joyful, depending on the humidity, mileage, and distance to dinner. Last year hills were my major nemesis, but they are a little less daunting this year, as I have honed powerful coping strategies including creative cursing and frequent tree leans to lasso my heart rate back down.

On one hike, though, I distinguished myself.

It was a steamy day, and I was dragging from the previous day's hike. It was one of our first hikes of the season, and my spoiled muscles were missing their winter hibernation. The trail had many handy cheat spots, accessible roadways where I could plop myself and wait for my superhero brother to drive a car to rescue me. Michael had already negotiated that I should attempt another mile to the next possible rescue spot, and when we got there, I once again tried to bail.

"I'd be happy if you just make it to the next stop at the bottom of the hill," Michael said.

Something snapped, something irrational and ugly and loud. I stomped and yelled. I raced ahead, which obviously proved how exhausted I was, that I could rush ahead and scream. I mentioned something profanity-peppered about expiring on the trail, and how that might make my brother REALLY happy, etc. nasty etc.

My again somewhat-saintly brother caught up to me, mentioned something calm and careful like, "It really isn't cool to rush ahead and yell when someone is trying to reason with you," and sped ahead to let me cool off.

A minute after the tantrum, embarrassment hit. It's not cool to be over forty (or any age) and to be shrieking in the wilderness, with your brother as your target and his lovely girlfriend as your witness. I did lots of apologizing and self-shaming. Part of my punishment was that everyone who asked about that day's hike got to hear the truth about my shrieking.

The incident has not repeated itself. It's actually become a bit of a joke. My brother claimed his lawful rights to tease me about it for the rest of my life, and a scale has been created to gauge my grumpiness. Since my attack was near a cabin, the Maria tantrum scale is based on shelters, from a mild crankiness (tent) all the way to off-the-charts monster (mansion).

I'm trying to keep it at tent growl level and for this to serve as my once-in-a-lifetime major hiking temper tantrum. I'm carrying on a proud family tradition, after all, one my usually mild-mannered dad began over twenty years ago in the Muir Woods, when he grew tired of my brother's and my teenage tree-hugging antics and threw a surprising and mythical conniption of his own.

And thanks again to my brother, for not yelling back and for continuing to hike with me. I owe him a mountain-mansion of vegan treats.

Top This
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To me, burgers and dogs and o-rings and poppers are all about the toppings: relish and mustard and ketchup and yum, splurting out everywhere, necessitating napkins and summoning joy. Sometimes, however, condiments surprise: thinking themselves way outside the bun and the side-serving cup.

Earlier this summer, my husband and I were visiting a pizza place. It's known for being sticky-tabled, grouchy-waitressed, and almost-empty, but we still occasionally go there, lured by fried cheese and the easy potential for sarcasm fests. We ordered fries to accompany the pizza (I did have a salad, too, to counteract all the carbiness), and I requested my best buddy, ketchup.

The server looked puzzled.

"Hmm...." he said. "Let me see if I can find some."

There were searchings and sighings and shoulder-shruggings, and queries of all staff members present.

"I'm so sorry," he said, "Someone must have.... I don't know. It's just not here."

Every single bottle of ketchup in the twenty-tabled restaurant had flown the fridge.

This led to weeks of ketchup-hiding-and-seeking around our home, to tall tales of the ketchup's adventures ("Today I bellied my bottle-self up to a snoozing cow herd!"), to the planning of a BYOK sign to hang on the restaurant's door, to rumors of errant ketchup mobs stampeding all over town....

And then....

A few weeks ago, I went to see Guns N' Roses, which I have recounted obsessively, but I mostly-censored one detail of the show to debut in this blog. While waiting for the band to play, the woman behind me poked me.

"I'm so sorry," she said. "I'm so so sorry. Oh no oh no oh on oh no."

Realization and something stickier cascaded down my ponytail. Her lap, her legs, and my hair and back, were coated in condiment.

"Seriously?" I said. "Do you have any napkins? And is this ketchup or mustard?"

"Both," she confessed, relinquishing all species of paper product in her possession.

I've always wanted to be a blonde or a redhead, I told her, as my sense of humor returned. My family teases me about my spill karma, where I infect others with my clumsiness, so the accident may have really been my fault. "So you should be apologizing to me?" she laughed. I put my hair into a bun, to imprison it as much as possible, to minimize besmirching my neighbors, and the man next to me remarked, "Wow, you smell [dramatic nose wrinkle].... Well, I guess it's not that bad. [cough]" It helped that everyone around me reeked of beer, sweat, and nostalgia, so my hot doggyness was not so foreign or foul.

For the first time ever the next morning, though, I had to wash my hair before going to the hair salon where they wash my hair. Mustard works well as a styling product: it sealed in some festive curls, if you could overlook that they were caked and reeking, like a picnic gone rancid and the smarmy side of rock 'n roll.

Condiments: Sometimes they're not there; sometimes they're in your hair.

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