Happy Martin Luther Day?

C’mon…you remember what I taught you last year, don’t you?

I came home from work yesterday and told Nick my news. My company lifts the dress code for one day every year in the spirit of Halloween fun…and, while I had personally elected to not stray down that particular conviviality, my team elected otherwise and I marvelled and revelled both at the dual mischievousness/genius behind the plan.

So I tell all of this to Nick. I continue on, “See, it’s really just an excuse for us to show up in tees, sweatshirts, and jeans to work without getting in trouble.” Besides, when the question was posed, What if they send us home?, there was a general shoulder-shrugging, I’m struggling to see the downside, response.

Nick, I am sure, heard little of this as he was jumping like a Mexican bean and tackled the stairs in a way that would make a mother grimace in almost certain future injury. Stairs need not know that sort of excitement. Stairs need calm, boring people. In a match of stair-climbing, I trump my domestic partner ten, nay, one-hundred fold. Ask anyone.

I follow slowly, as though I am walking through mud or climbing a treadmill at 15% grade. I begin to change from my work apparel for our run. Yesterday was probably the last nice day of the year, kissing the high 50’s in the afternoon. The rest of this week will be lucky to see 45°. Meanwhile, the Latino pod showered me with something fiery and reflective, cheering, “You’re so lucky you know me!” His eyes were Christmas.

My team decided to go today as Badger fans. I am decked out in a Ron Dayne jersey and Nick has scattered roughly 20 baseball caps around me as I type this morning, encircling my neck with an unused 1999 Rose Bowl ticket, a miniature stuffed Bucky Badger and a terrible towel tribute to Barry Alvarez from November-last…and I realize now that Nick has lived his entire life for me to go to work today as a Badger fan.

Nice of him, no?

And, as I publish today’s entry, he jumps-all-but-slides down the stairs with another hat, having had a story behind each that he has presented thus far (including one that he warned has been well worn and I probably don’t want to put anywhere near my head, says he with a scrunched nose), “I thought I was missing one! I got THIS one when we won….”

Leave it to Nick

We parked a good ways away from the Border’s entrance last night—Nick tells me it is protocol to do this with a new vehicle during its first month in your possession. I grumble incoherently as I tie the cords to my hood and walk quickly through the cold, 35° rain. Passing a bumper sticker, he reads aloud, “Body piercings saved my life.”

Then, a moment later, “Oh, I get it.” A short period of silence ensues as we give thought to the sacrifice traded for our salvation. Not much time had passed before Nick admitted his first (mis)understanding of the sticker, and couldn’t understand how nipple rings could recue anybody.

Nice Try

So, one of the perks to me buying a new car was Nick’s chiseled-in-stone rule of “newest car parks in the garage”. I live in Wisconsin. It gets cold. It snows. It frosts. I’m a wuss with cold weather. So I have to live on 5 pretzel sticks three times a day and sell my services on these suburban street corners every evening after work just to realise my goal—it’s worth it for the damn spot in the garage.

You know, and at first I was all like, “No, I couldn’t…it’s your condo, your mortgage…the garage is yours, the end.” He rescinded my termination of his garage policy (can you tell I’ve spent all of 2006 working in the insurance industry?) and I stewed to myself that I just wouldn’t park there. It was the right thing to do.

Then it got cold, and I remembered how I didn’t like the cold, and how Wisconsin typically gets colder, often even below the mid-forties…and I decided to be generous and let Nick sign over his place in the garage. Sometimes I’m too nice for my own good, but what is one to do?

Last night, we stopped by the lot where today I will sign the papers enabling me to call a spicy little compact “mine”. I showed Nick the equivalent to what my car will look like, as mine has been shooed away to an undisclosed location, probably for prettying up…although it really didn’t need much help if I do say so myself. Nick seemed tickled for me, really excited about the car…which isn’t an easy place for Nick to arrive, I’ll have you know. Nick is what I call “particular”. He gives honest opinions.

And, when back at home, he looked at Mazda’s site and all of the configurations available for the model soon-to-be-mine. I sat in the same room, slightly dozing where I reclined only to be startled into full wakefulness with his cries of dismay. “What!?—what!?” He twisted his neck toward me with a pained expression and tells me that the car is too long and won’t fit in his garage.

We’ll just see about that.

I buy my shoes online.

Today was a big scary day for me. I’m less than two days away from driving a brand-spanking-new, arrived-on-the-lot-last-night Mazda. New things are always difficult for me…it’s the unknown that unnerves me…and also what thrills me. For the first time, I was seeking purchase of a car not as a wife, a daughter, or a woman left with nothing and desperately needing a way to get around. My aunts stepped up to the plate and said, “I’ll help you through!” I was grateful. It would have been something I would have asked of my mother.

I’m not so well versed in all of the ways of the world…and now that I know of pride’s silliness, I can admit so freely—because nobody is so well versed in all the ways of the world, nobody. I was a wife and a caretaker…before that, a daughter and a student. This has been a year to define my own title.

I bought Aunt Rose’s old car when she took advantage of the employee discounts in the late summer of 2005. She sold it to me cheap, and I ended up sticking more than double what it cost over the course of the last year—damages from that fender bend not included, obviously. It is a healthy car, thanks to me being like this with Bruce—easily the most approachable, teddy bear of a mechanic around. But, the ’96 Contour is approaching its eleventh year of existence and at that age where more and more systems require maintenance, replacement was imminent.

I’m car stupid, I admit it. Stupider than stupid, if you want the unvarnished truth of the matter. I was giddy the other morning when I kicked something getting into the car and the warning chime to tell me the lights were on and the door was open actually worked! It stopped working by that afternoon, and I spent the better part of five minutes in the parking lot at work, randomly kicking at the floor and opening the door while the headlights shone. It was working again this afternoon, a week later…and I didn’t kick it once!—but perhaps it knew today’s agenda and sought to vie for a spot in my favor.

I’ve researched this car for months, this and a small selection of others…but this sang to me above the rest.

Dude, the seat raises! You pump it up like a barber’s chair! The steering wheel not only tilts, but telescopes out! It’s totally a short-person-loving car! I sat inside one of them and when asked if I wanted to test drive, I declined. “I know what I want. A test drive won’t make or break that.”

The salesman who initially quoted me an offer last Wednesday half-smiled. “In eight years,” he said bouncing the key in the palm of his hand, “I’ve never sold one of these to someone who didn’t first take it for a test drive.” I proclaimed that I would be happy to be his first. My aunts, totally of the same mindset chimed in that in all their years of car-buying, they’ve never test-driven one of their vehicles. Brenda alone has had something like 11 or 13 car buying excursions…Debbie did not supply a number.

Steve seemed disbelieving of this record and widened his eyes perceptibly. I chirped in, “I buy my shoes online, too.” Brenda added that she did the same and he seemed slightly disturbed all while accepting that he was dealing with a crowd of a different sort altogether. He promised he would tell stories of me, of the woman who bought a car without first test driving. I smiled to myself…with an act of seeming nonsense, I became noteworthy—it was all too fitting.

The car odometer currently reads 8, and when Steve told me he was going to fill it up with gas before turning it over to me, I told him the mileage better be under 10 or the deal is off, Bucko. He laughed and shook my hand, agreeing to my terms. We had the guy in charge of the sticky financial stuff agreeing to meet us for beer later on and I knew at once that car shopping with my aunts was better than a whole pound of Peanut M&M’s© in one sitting!

When I met them, my aunts, at the restaurant for lunch, the waitstaff all knew it was car-shopping day. Brenda thinks they were bored. I think it was more a case of my aunts being talkative. I found it funny when the salesman left the office at one point and Debbie said, “Is he irritating anyone else!?” Brenda and I shook our heads—but I was quick to qualify that we had indulged in a little lunchtime adult beverage consumption while Deb stuck to straight lemonade. That might’ve been the deciding factor. It also might explain why Debbie’s curiosity centered around what my interest rate would be and Brenda’s around why my license background was redder than hers.

I stand corrected.

Finally, an open spot appeared at the end of the curb. Pulling in like a pro, he brushed from his chin the last bit of crumbs from breakfast—it’s Monopoly season at McDonald’s, you know…and there is nothing more American than a gluttonous hunger in the name of financial gain. Breakfast on the go? No problem, with pleasure. He grabbed his cappuccino, I, my coffee, and we all but bounced from the SUV.

The air was electric. I had never been, and the sizzling air took my breath away. We sauntered on almost jaunty rubber feet down the misleadingly quiet streets. The air was crisp, almost biting, but the sun shone and washed over our faces and made me, by all shadows’ appearances, very tall indeed.

I felt tall…excited. The thrill of something new is indescribable, and, unfailingly, it melts the world away. You’re no long a this-many-years-old person who’s been through this-life-event-and-that—you’re just you in all of your purest glory. I felt like a little kid who didn’t want to blink for fear that I’d miss something truly spectacular in that split second. Gradually, sounds reached my ears…voices, music, laughter…joy.

Nick, already holding my hand, tugged me along as I gawked around at the gatherings of people. He had foretold the night before that I would be drinking well before noon this day, and I laughed sardonically at his play for a joke. And, as we rounded a corner, tossing our empty java cups in a wiry trash receptacle, he led me to a beer garden. “Guess what time it is?” he smirks. I shrug…when faced with such newness, time becomes the x-variable…and like much of the algebraic equations on those grimy-once-glossy textbook pages, completely fruitless to solve. I submit a guess at 10:30.

“NINE-FIFTEEN!” he cries with his wide, sparkling eyes. He toasts his Bloody Mary to my Honey Weiss, and I nod quietly to my mother looking down at me and then again as I order a second. She’d be enjoying this, this foray I’ve had with living here in 2006. I can see her laughing so clearly, loosening the buttons at my neckline and rumpling my shirt. If we learned anything with Cancer, it’s that life is serious enough on its own…for Pete’s sake don’t add to the mess!

Football. I was going to see my first Badger game, and the Homecoming game at that! I try to tell people that I don’t like sports, but there’s just no cloaking the fact that in the past several weeks of watching college football, I truly get into the game. I’m not proud, but there you have it. I’m outed. Be gentle with me.

I was into all of it—the sounds, the scents, the traditions—the existence of a fifth quarter! I think it was within the first five minutes of play that I leaned into Nick and said, simply, “I get it.” Nick is a Badger fan through and through…disturbingly at times. I’d never understood the allure of college sports where the players cycle so frequently…but I understand now—for it’s so much more than a game.

I wore a smile well into the night, and of course the 48-12 win didn’t hurt the excitement one itty bit. But, I was tired. I whined that I shouldn’t be so tired because I did absolutely nothing all day—Nick said in a relaxed, “I’ve done this before” mentoring way, “Games take a lot out of you.” And, with that almighty proclamation, we spent the night like sober little drunkards, half passed out on the furniture and only resisting an early night because it required the task of climbing stairs. It was such a wonderful day.

But, I must stand firm that while I get the draw of game-day excitement, I don’t necessarily understand why Nick found it necessary to re-watch the game on ESPN once we got home (he TiVo’d it) and then again on the late PBS broadcast with local announcers. His mother is the same way when she goes to a hockey game, I’m told. Nope, don’t get that one at all.

And I don’t know how the pretty hi-def ESPN recording came to play the other morning before work when I wanted to fold a quick load of towels before heading out…no idea whatsoever. (clears throat) So…uh…look! Over there!