I have four more days (actually less if I count hours) until I am allowed to use my crutches. Today I went with my Aunt Victoria , my brother, and my cousins who are my Aunt Victoria's two sons, to a place called "Cat Haven." Last night my Aunt Victoria came to pick up my brother and me. Her house is more than three hours away from our house.
We woke up and left at the crack of dawn to arrive at this "Cat Haven" place before it became too hot to be enjoyable. We actually would have needed to arrive by February if we really wanted to be there before it was too hot to be enjoyable. "Cat Haven" is located off Highway 180 in the foothills of the beautiful San Joaquin Valley. (Sarcasm does not translate well into print, so I'll come right out and say that one would refer to either the San Joaquin Valley or the foothills of the San Joaquin Valley as beautiful only in the most sarcastic terms possible.) I'm not certain what the elevation of the place was, but it was high enough for rattlesnakes but too low to be comfortable temperature-wise even for someone who was brought down from the high country suffering from the effects of hypothermia. I often complain about being too cold at night and wear sweatshirts in the greater Sacramento area in the summer when others are jumping into pools and pouring ice water on themelves, and I was hot at "Cat Haven" in the early morning. "Cat Hell" would probably be a more fitting name, although maybe members of the extended cat family like living in ovens.
We knew we would be on a dirt trail, so my Aunt Victoria, who is more of a clean-freak and germophobe than my mother is, triple-wrapped my cast and my upper body from waist to neck in garbage bags. Even the people who worked there thought my aunt was a nut, and they were all worried I would get heat illness. My cousin Michael, who was determined by consensus to be the physically strongest and most coordinated among our group, pushed me in my wheelchair, which incidentally, will probably never be the same in terms of cleanliness. I'm glad I have a spare, and I'm glad I'll be essentially rid of all wheelchairs shortly. After we arrived home, my aunt took my wheelchair to one of the dairies so the employees could powerwash it with one of the hoses they use to wash away cow dung from the milking areas. Isn't it a nice thought that I'm considered in the same league as a cow in terms of cleanliness?
The trail was theoretically handicappped-accessible, but the true accessibility of the trail for the handicapped is most definitely a subject open to debate. I actually fell out of the wheelchair into rattlesnake territory twice (it would be just my luck to have been bitten by a rattlesname at this point), and was almost dumped out at least twelve other times. The people who operate the facility ended up finding another male employee whose job it was just to keep me from falling out of my wheelchair. They considered tying me in the wheelchair, but decided the liability might be too great if the wheelchair overturned with me in it.
So my cousin was pushing me, another young man was walking backwards, ready to jump and catch me at the slightest un-leveling of the chair or at the faintest sign I was sliding forward (this happened at least ten times).
The man leading the tour asked if it wouldn't be easier to put me in one of those toddler backpacks and carry me down the trail. He said someone had left one behind, and he was pretty sure I'd fit. He even offered to carry the pack. I begged him to please not make me get into one of those things; such truly would have been adding insult to injury. Another employee was pouring water down me at such a rate I was sure I would hurl. My brother and my cousin Philip were [jokingly?] pushing and shoving each other off the trail and into the rattlesnake territory while calling each other gay. My Aunt Victoria, who is not an educator and deals with young people only in small groups, was attempting with no success to control my brother and my cousin Philip. Also in our tour group were about twenty-four boys from a day camp whose behavior made my brother's and my cousin Philip's appear appropriate for the U. S. Naval Academy by comparison. The day camp with which we were grouped had roughly fifty kids. They divided them by gender into tour groups. This was great for the girls and for anyone traveling with them, but made life sheer hell for anyone traveling with the male group. (I have neither a teaching credential nor any sort of degree or certification in child development, yet even I could have figured out that it woulld not be wise to put all the boys in one group and all the girls in another group. What does this say for the leaders of the day camp?) The only consolation for me was that the boys were slightly afraid of the crippled girl all covered in garbage bags and in a wheelchair, so they had me go first (this was probably also so that if I fell or my wheelchair went out of control, I wouldn't take anyone else down with me) and largely kept their distance from me, but I still had to listen to them, and I got hit with the things they threw at each other when they missed, which was about 90% of the time. Kids today cannot throw accurately because they spend too much time playing video games.
We went to all this trouble to see a snow leopard (beautiful, by the way, and does not like snow), a serval, a couple of tigers, a lion, a jaguar, and something the name of which I can't remember because I was being pulled out of rattlesnake territory while it was being discussed.
We probably should have stayed home and watched the Animal Planet. Someone had suggested the Fresno Zoo (actually a pretty good zoo), but since we'd all been there before, that idea was rejected.
When we got back to the gift shop, my aunt and the employees cut the plastic off the top of me, then hosed me down. Someone had one of those thermometers that they roll over people's faces, so they rolled it over mine and discovered that my temperature was 103. They hosed me down again, then dried me and cut the plastic off my leg. The place sells gift clothing, so someone who works there found a shirt and shorts to fit me, and helped me change in the "handicapped-accessible" restroom, which was actually the only part of the place that was truly handicapped accessible. They loaded me down with Gatorade and Seven-Up Bottles. My aunt, who is an absolute non-drinker, as in drank Sprite for the toast at her own wedding, bought a six-pack of beer. My aunt tried to pay for everything, but they would not take any money from her. They could not get rid of us fast enough. My brother said the guy who ran the place was writing down the license number of my aunt's Cadillac SUV (I don't remember what the model is called.) I wish them luck, because she gets a new Cadillac SUV every year, and she never has vanity license plates. Their time would have been better spent carefully identifying the day camp and its operators.
As far as my aunt goes, they'll never see her near the place again. She was too traumatized. She polished off two beers before we got into the car and out of the parking lot. My cousin Michael, who is twenty and is a licensed driver, and, if the truth were to be told, has been driving on dairies since he was five or six years old, had to drive us home. We made two more pit stops so my Aunt Victoria could down two more of the beers. She said she was saving the last two to put on her hair, as beer is supposedly a good hair conditioner. I highly doubt that. Once she reached the privacy of her own room, I'm sure she guzzled those two down as well.
As far as I was concerned, I was fine once I got into the air-conditioned vehicle. All I had to do was look pitiful for my aunt to hand me a Vicodin. I was truly in my happy place. (The truth of the matter is that I saw my aunt down a couple of Vicodins as well, but I don't really care. She'd had a rough day.)
My aunt was too exhausted/shell-shocked/stoned/drunk/hung over (take your pick) to cook dinner. My cousin Michael got pizza for us. We had a great time telling Uncle Ralph about our day. My suspicion is that this year my Uncle Ralph will write the family's Christmas card letter (which he has never considered doing before) and mail it off before Thanksgiving, long before my Aunt Victoria has time to tell her side of the story.
It's after midnight. THREE MORE DAYS!!!