So, I met this guy. He was probably about eighty, and had a big, donut belly …
Birthdays are a great, big, deal to me. I love them and I hate them. Like New Year’s, I really don’t get celebrating the passage, the death, the demise, the extinguishment, of time. Time is precious, and for those of us who are realists, and therefore mortal, time is not eternal. To party for the passage of time seems wrong. But, a party being a party, any excuse becomes reasonable. Birthdays. To grow older, chronologically, is terrifying. But, with a commitment to always strive for a more youthful life, as I grow older chronologically, I am, at least, holding my own in the aging process. A few more gray hairs, cleverly concealed with a cheap, temporary, rinse, purchased at Target for less than eight bucks. A fine line here, a tiny wrinkle there, a wee freckle, a sunspot, but, overall, I think I don’t look my age. And heaven knows I don’t act my age! That’s what it’s really all about, how you feel, which is evidenced by how you behave, how you live! I’m, like, twenty-two, in my mind, in my enthusiasm and energy for life, and, most importantly, in my fantasies.
It’s my birthday (day, week, month). I’m turning 52. Again, not that chronological age matters that much. My friends are all out of town, one in Paris (yes, France, and without me), another in Georgia, the others that live near, are otherwise occupied. The boyfriend is unavailable, for sticky, family, divorce, kids, custody, visitation, don’t really have a girlfriend as far as the future ex-wife and kids are concerned kinds of reasons I still don’t totally understand (just a fuckbuddy, and, grammatically speaking, is that one word or two?) Mom, who would love to spend time with me, is 91 years old and has the energy of a very old, very tired, 91 year old. My kids live in Hawaii and New York, though they were both here to celebrate with me last year, but to expect that every year is unreasonable. So.
- Am. On. My. Own.
And that’s okay, because, really, truthfully, I don’t know anyone (other than, perhaps, my kids) who could “hang”. What an opportunity! I took a couple of days off work, padded nicely by a weekend, and I took off for an adventure. I am, after all, an adventurer.
How does a hedonist/lush/gourmand/adventurer celebrate her 52nd birthday when given the opportunity of doing so completely on her own? Brilliantly! Splendidly! Freely! Tipsy! Well-fed! Active! How else?
As a hedonist, I decided I would occupy all my empty, idle, time with something amazing, enjoyable, and unforgettable. As a gourmand, I carefully planned my scrumptious meals and, as a lush, I also stocked up on several craft beers and tolerable red wines (I am perpetually up against the limits of my wine budget, beer budget, too, for that matter). As an adventurer, I had to find a venue that would offer me a little of everything I’ve been yearning for; hiking, camping, paddling, fly fishing. Mt. Lassen Volcanic National Park.
Thursday, the day before my birthday, I hopped in my car and drove north, quite early in the day.
Of course I’d made my list, and I’d shopped very carefully for what I’d “require” on my trip. One thing I failed to obtain, however, was a cookie. I’d been dying for a cookie, a really good, artisan bakery type cookie. When you only eat one sweet per week (excluding dark chocolate, of course), you don’t waste your time on grocery store or pre-packaged fare. I wanted a really, really, good cookie. I wasn’t going to have a birthday cake, nor did I really want one. I had visions of one perfect cookie with the candles I stole out of my mother’s stash of birthday candles, which probably date back further than I do, little flames flickering in the breeze, at my lovely campsite in the woods. I’d take a selfie, of course. That is all I wanted; a birthday cookie.
As I drove north, I considered where I may find such a luxury, as the towns grew smaller and less and less likely to know, even, how “artisan” was spelled, or what it meant, for that matter.
Cottonwood, California. The metropolis, from what I could tell, consisted of a main thoroughfare about a mile long, with a couple of dusty side streets. I needed gasoline, before heading east, towards the mountains. It was during my thirty-second voyage through Cottonwood, California, that I sped past Sandy’s; bakery, café, home-baked treats, her sign boasted. Bingo. Cookie time. While the sign didn’t specifically say “cookies”, it seemed a safe assumption, I mean, would cookies not fall under “home baked treats”? It’s the first “home baked treat” that comes to my mind. I made a U-turn, or as we used to say back in high school, I “flipped a tit”, which still makes me giggle when I say it! Making a U-turn comes up third on the list of definitions of “flipping a tit” on Urban Dictionary, just so you know, the other two have something to do with freaking out or spazzing out. Good to know. I will refrain from using that phrase when not proximate to my contemporaries.
I made a U-turn and headed back to Sandy’s and the promise, okay, assumption, of an artisan cookie. I parked my very inconspicuous, blue, Honda Civic, which I call “Meep” in the parking lot. As inconspicuous as Meep is, we aren’t at all inconspicuous with the bright red, orange and yellow kayak strapped atop. The kayak is named “Prudence”. Another story. We are very, very conspicuous. Which is, after all, my M.O. in life. Be conspicuous.
I’m going camping, in the mountains, alone. I’m in dirty shorts, a shabby tank top, no make-up, no sixty dollar, push-up, angels sing, Victoria’s Secret bra (no bra, in fact, which means I’m flatter than a ten year old boy). I have unwashed, somewhat stringy hair. I usually sprint between my bedroom and the bathroom down the hall, for the shower, when I look this bad. Today, I don’t care. I am, in fact, finding a great deal of freedom in my carefree attitude about my general appearance. I wasn’t looking my most attractive, but I’m guessing I looked better than what Cottonwood, California typically offers.
I opened the door to the “bakery”, I now use that word rather loosely to describe this establishment, and was greeted with a chorus of (elderly) male voices. Apparently, Sandy’s is where the old cronies of Cottonwood, California assemble early on a Thursday morning. I can’t help but smile. I like attention. Usually. It makes me smile. Usually. Sandy (I assume) is behind the counter stirring up the biggest damn batch of egg salad I’ve ever seen. Did I mention Sandy’s was a deli, too?
Sandy looks rather surly, perhaps because I stole all the attention from her and her “home baked treats”, I don’t know. One old codger asks me if I’m going kayaking. (Multitude of snarky, subliminal thoughts; “Um, yah, that’s why I have a kayak strapped to my car,” or, “I like getting really shitty mileage, so I keep that thing strapped to my car so I can overconsume fossil fuels in an economy car, I lost (willingly gave up) the Suburban in the divorce”, or “that kayak, it’s just dude bait,” or, “what kayak?”).
I replied, audibly, out loud, “Why, yes, I am going kayaking, camping, hiking, and fly-fishing.” You see, I speak “man”. I am the girliest of girls and the beastliest of girls all in one fun bundle (a “fundle”, as I like to call it). The oldest codger quipped, “your boyfriend gonna carry that thing to the water for you?” I look around, as if for the boyfriend, I assure him, “nah, that kayak only weighs thirty-eight pounds, I’ve carried it over a mile down a mountainside by myself, I’ll get it where I need it to go!” Another old guy chimed in, “you’d better wear a life jacket if you’re taking that thing down the Sacramento River.” I assured him, them all, “oh, I’m going way past the Sacramento River!” to which the third guy inquired, “where you going?” By this time I’ve made my way to Sandy’s pastry case and I’m looking, in earnest, for a cookie. Sandy is staring at me so intently I can feel heat, like an ant under a magnifying glass on a hot summer afternoon in the desolate and dry Cottonwood, California “Lassen. Butte Lake, up by Lassen.”
The third guy, a man I’d say was in close proximity, in one direction or another, to eighty years old, seemed the most civilized of the lot. He rose and approached the counter where I stood. I was looking at him, his friends, the fearsome Sandy, a terrifying mountain-high pile of egg salad, and the even more fearsome offering of overly colorful donuts packed into her “pastry” case. “Butte Lake, I’ve been there, nice place,” he suggested. Oh, I’d done my research online, I’d Googled the shit out of the place, and, for what was available, even mid-week, for last minute reservations, I was quite pleased with my selection. Okay, it was all that was left, the very last campsite in the very last campground, next to the vault toilet and without piped water or any other amenity. That’s okay, I’m a “backpacker”, amenities, shamenities, whatevs.
The old guy leaned in a little closer, not uncomfortably closer, but markedly closer. I stood my ground on the dingy, faded, old, asbestos tile floor in Sandy’s Café slash Bakery slash Deli slash old crony meeting house. “You’ve got to hike to the top of the Cinder Cone,” the old guy all but demanded. “You can look out over the Painted Dunes and Butte Lake.” He spoke from experience, this elder gentleman who appeared to have consumed a few too many of those overly colorful donuts in his eight decades, give or take a year or two. At some point, this man had been atop the Cinder Cone, which I’d seen listed as a “feature” proximate to my camping accommodations. I had “my list” of things to do, though; paddle Butte Lake, practice fly-fishing with my new fly rod and the reel that had been given to me as a gift. I also planned on summiting Mt. Lassen itself, a dormant volcano rising 10,457 feet above sea level. “Dormant” meaning it hasn’t violently erupted in 100 years and 55 days. I hadn’t really planned on hiking the Cinder Cone, whatever it was, a pile of ash, a pile of rubble, but this octogenarian gentleman seemed to think it was more worthwhile than anything I had planned. I took it under advisement.
By this time, Sandy had lumbered over to the counter and was staring even more intently at me. I told her I wanted a cookie. I mean, a girl wants what a girl wants, particularly when it’s her birthday. Sandy replied, “I only have donuts, everything else is special order.” So, I think, if I’d had the wherewithal to calculate at precisely what point I’d want to refuel my car and had researched the nearest “bakery”, I could have called ahead and had a single artisan cookie crafted? Doubt it. I really don’t like donuts, I only wanted a cookie. Sandy really didn’t like me and only had donuts. A quandary. She stared at me like a bruin (which I’ve come to understand means a premenstrual she-bear), I stared at her like a lost puppy. I just wanted a goddam cookie. At the very bottom of Sandy’s “pastry” case, in the shadow of all the overly colorful donuts, I spied what sort of resembled a bear claw. I don’t often eat pastries, but when I do, I can almost tolerate bear claws, once every two to three years. Maybe. I had to ask, to be certain, though, “Is that a bear claw?” Sandy assured me it was, she could have been lying, because it only kind of resembled a bear claw. “I’ll take it.” I tried to envision the lump of frosted pastry with my (mother’s ancient) birthday candles in it, and almost could. She lifted it (with some labor, I might add) out of the “pastry” case and placed it in a tiny, plain, brown paper sack. She relieved me one dollar and eighty nine cents. As I turned to leave, I was, again, hailed by the collective of old cronies of Cottonwood, California. Above all the voices, though, I heard one exclaim, “Cinder Cone!”