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Don’t Give Up At The Eleventh Hour

Not much changed in the short ride from Oconee campground back to Pat’s place. We were still hot, tired, in need of cool showers and fresh clothes, and to add to the mix, we were disoriented.

Our books weren’t up for sale yet, we’d run into technical snags that needed to be solved, we still had some sorting and packing to do, Pat needed the newly cleaned and painted basement room for an anticipated family visit within a week or two, and we didn’t yet have travel plans set for our next transition.

After unpacking the truck, Chelsea and I sat on the bed in stunned silence, seeking a bit of solace in the afternoon sunlight, surrounded by our pile of black and yellow panniers.

The red cooler from our campground sojourn sat in the sun on the porch, with the remains of our food getting warm. The stack of Pat’s gear still needed to go back to the workshop. Pat was clearly anxious and edgy.

We just wanted to pour a tall cold one and chill on the porch for hours, reading and watching the river, maybe finishing the day with a Hercule Poirot episode or two.

That didn’t seem to be a likely option. Rather, discouragement was clearly winning. Chelsea and I sat on the bed amidst the mess and looked at each other quietly for a few minutes.

I finally broke the silence, asking, “What should we do? What can we do?”

After a few moments Chelsea said, “Well, one thing I do know. We can’t give up at the eleventh hour!”

We repeated that phrase like a mantra throughout the following week.

The “book week” and the joys of self-publishing

PayPal wasn’t working as a payment system on our shopping cart and we couldn’t figure out why. As a way around it, we successfully signed up for Google Checkout, then discovered that they would hold our money for several weeks.

The books were downloading out of order. We made last minute changes to the books and had to re-convert them several times. The cover art wasn’t showing up properly on one of the books. The downloading links needed to be tweaked.

Chelsea spent more hours than she cares to recall searching online forums, reading lines of code, and looking at rules and regulations on payment systems. I kept writing and helping Chelsea troubleshoot when I could.

Meanwhile the heat had kicked up and the bugs were proliferating, including mosquitoes. I worked outside in the Adirondack chairs, but by four in the afternoon each day I was extremely uncomfortable with heat, bug bites, and humidity.

Chelsea was upstairs in Pat’s man cave, hunched over the laptop with low light, no real windows, the television talking non-stop behind her, and feeling self-conscious about “invading” Pat’s space.

But determination and persistence won the day. By Sunday night Chelsea had solved broken links in our payment systems, fixed coding in the shopping cart, solved the downloading links, we’d written and sent our first fifteen emails, and we had two successful sales.

Pat was thrilled for us. We were pleased but nearly comatose. Knowing we needed some sort of celebration, Pat took Chelsea and went to the local Dollar General for frozen pizza and ice cream.

I was so tired I stayed in the chair where I’d landed, staring mindlessly at a barbecue cooking show. I finally fell backwards and muted the television, watching the barbecue cook-off in blissful silence till Pat and Chelsea returned.

One bourbon and water, hot pizza, chocolate ice cream, and plenty of laughter was all Chelsea and I needed to forget any current stress.

Our living quarters

Though our little room in the basement was nice, with a very comfy bed and a few wonderfully homey touches like side tables, curtains, throw rugs, and table lamps, it wasn’t an ideal space to spend more than a night or two.

It wasn’t a matter of getting rid of the spiders and mice. Rather, we had carved out a niche in their territory. The spiders were willing to cede a small amount of space, but they steadily encroached on our small bedroom area day by day. We’d lie in bed before lights-out watching a variety of them making their homes on the low ceilings.

Nearing midnight one night Chelsea and I were launched out of bed by mysterious noises in the kitchen. We found the culprit – a very fat and healthy mouse crawling out of our portage pack. Pat killed it the next morning. Three nights later another mouse moved in. Same brief end for that guy, too.

With dehumidifiers humming intermittently but frequently in the background, off and on twenty-four hours a day, the air temperatures hovered between sixty-nine and seventy-five degrees. Pat says it’s perfect for storing wine or expensive cigars, but since we weren’t expensive cigars or wine, we weren’t too sure how much we liked it, especially when combined with the low ceilings and ultra-low natural light.

We were living in a dark cool cellar.

The cables for the upstairs television and satellite internet hung low over Chelsea’s side of the bed, brushing her hair every time she stood up from bed. The alarm for the satellite internet would beep five times faithfully when the signal went out, which was intermittent and fairly frequent.

Along with the dehumidifiers and satellite internet alarms, we had the steady high-pitched background beeps of the ultrasonic bug repellant devices in the laundry room and kitchen.

We had visual privacy but no sound privacy from upstairs to downstairs. We could tell what television shows Pat watched, and if we didn’t take evasive action, we could hear every word of every phone call. We heard every footstep and could tell what shoes he was wearing.

The sounds were particularly amazing when he’d drop something, especially things that rolled. That happened frequently for over a week since he was moving big pieces of furniture around the house and cleaning out bookcases and cabinets.

Our absolute favorite, though, was one early evening when Pat hollered downstairs, right through the floor, that he was making dinner and we were welcome to join him. We heard every word as though he were in the room with us, but louder.

We had two small rooms, the kitchen and bedroom. To reach the bathroom we headed through the kitchen and then negotiated our way through a combination storage room and laundry room. The ceilings were so low in that section that we, at only five-five inches in height, had to bow our heads to avoid hitting stray hooks and hangers.

The room was dark and very cluttered, full of projects in varying stages and full of clothes of all kinds that wouldn’t fit in the small closets upstairs. We carved out a pathway, but had to use a light at night to see our way.

The bathroom itself had been carved out of the downstairs in a DIY project. It was functional but hadn’t been used in years and hadn’t been finished off. We spent as little time in there as possible on the bare necessities, using the kitchen sink for hand washing and tooth-brushing. We used Pat’s shower upstairs.

Spiders and bugs and wasps

During our stay we spotted an astonishing variety of bugs and insects, most of which were like something out of Star Wars. Pat was in and out doing laundry downstairs and would often forget to close the outside door. As a result, we got some incredible insects that took up residence in the laundry room.

For a few days running Chelsea and I kept our eye on one huge flying insect under the edge of the dryer.

We gradually noticed it hadn’t moved. Gingerly giving it a closer inspection, we discovered it was dead. When I attempted to move it outside, a matching insect, very much alive, burst out from under the washer and flew frantically around the room before settling on the door curtain. The body was at least five inches top to bottom and the wingspan was easily eight inches across.

Adopting a live-and-let-live attitude, I let well enough alone for the time being.

However, I made the truly big mistake of telling Pat about it one night. He wanted to see it. It must have been his inner child emerging after a few stiff bourbon and waters, but he grabbed the very-much-alive insect off the curtain and began chasing me with it, threatening to stick it onto me.

Trapped in the bathroom, I had vivid flashbacks of growing up with three brothers and all the teasing I underwent those years. I let my inner child out and threatened Pat with severe bodily harm if he didn’t let me out, immediately. I guess I hadn’t lost my touch, as he gave in quickly. Maybe it was the ferocious ‘I-mean-business’ look on my face that did the trick.

Towards the end of our stay Chelsea was upstairs working again while I was outside downstairs writing. Movement in my peripheral vision, down towards my feet, kept catching my attention. I finally realized that I was seeing an astonishing bulbous spider with arched orange-and-black-and-khaki-checked legs, something right out of that Star Wars scene with Jabba the Hut.

Spider after being stung by the wasp

The spider had just caught a butterfly and was efficiently eating it.

I really wanted Chelsea to see the spider so I kept my eye on it. Besides, I didn’t want that thing anywhere near me.

For some time I’d also had my eye on a sinister-looking red and black wasp, maybe a fly, that had been meticulously examining every millimeter under my bench for quite some time. A few glances later I saw the wasp nose-to-nose with the spider. They stayed unmoving for quite awhile. I was sure the spider had gotten the fly.

By the time Chelsea came downstairs I realized that no, the wasp had stung the spider, after the spider ate the butterfly. It then proceeded to slowly drag the spider along the porch. Ahhh, nature in all its vivid glory.

We watched in semi-horrified fascination, being sure to keep well away from the fly-wasp. We didn’t want to be the next meal.

Speaking of the next meal, I have a great insect story from Oconee campground. Just before complete dark had fallen, two nights before we left the campground, Chelsea and I were finishing dinner, hurrying to get done before we lost our daylight. Unsettled and wanting to get a move on, I got up to wash the dishes at the campsite faucet near the road.

I felt something warm on my leg, and looked down to see blood pouring from shin to shoe. My flip-flop sandal was already full of blood with no end in sight to the flow. I had felt nothing. Nothing at all. Examining the site carefully, it looked like I had an actual puncture wound the size of a small nail or a thick tack.

I hopped over immediately to the faucet and cleaned the blood off the puncture. Chelsea quickly did the dishes and we headed for the bathrooms to brush our teeth. I cleaned the wound carefully again in the bathroom, but by the time we got back to the tent, I had a purple bruise at the puncture site. A nasty red rash was spreading.

Something pretty aggressive and well armed had clearly bitten me. I’d love to have seen it, if only to know in the future how to avoid whatever bites like that.

Though I had an additional but smaller outbreak of the rash about two inches higher than the puncture, regular applications of Wounded Warrior to the whole infection saved the day. Chelsea was very impressed with the rash and bruise and puncture. Pat nearly flipped when he saw it, still looking raw and angry, four days later. I think he was ready to haul me off to the emergency room.

It did take over two weeks for the rash and bruise to completely disappear and the hole to completely close over, but I’m happy to report I’m as good as new now. I hope to avoid any encounters with that creature in the future!

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