Really. Mental Illness is no Laughing Matter

We’ve spent the past week traveling to and spending time in Ashland, OR for the Shakespeare festival, which goes on for most of the year up there. It was beautiful this time of year. The leaves were turning, but it was still warm during the day and mildly cool at night. We stay at a B&B that M found the first time she went to Ashland called Oak Street Station. The hosts are amazing. Fantastic breakfasts and homemade cookies every afternoon. We enjoyed three shows. The first was a one woman comedy act called “Return to Planet Lisa” with Lisa Koch, who, unbeknownst to me, I’d seen at one of the women’s music festivals in a duo called Dos Fallopia.
Tuesday night we saw an incredible production of “Jeckyl and Hyde.” The actor who portrayed him, James Newcomb was astounding. His transformation onstage was brilliant and I was actually almost believing it was 2 different people.
The third night we saw “Intimate Apparel” set in NYC in the early 1900’s. Again, amazing.

The drive home from Oregon was interesting. We opted not to return through the valley and have to put up with the 99 again so we went along the Oregon coast, very close to how we came home from Canada. When we came through the coast on our way home from Canada in July we stayed at some dive motel in Eureka. Afterward, we found a historic hotel called the Eagle House where we told the woman at the desk we’d like to stay when we returned from Oregon in October. She had told us that her son worked for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and would be happy to have us stay next time.

We got into Eureka on Friday night and the woman, Beti, remembered us and gave us a really nice suite on the third floor for a really reasonable price. We hated to leave, especially in the morning when it was cold and drizzly out. The last thing we wanted to do was hop back on the motorcycle and ride along the cold soggy coast.

As we rode inland it got sunnier and we warmed up a little. My goal was to get close to San Francisco. We decided to go through the Napa Valley because Monica had never been there and I thought it would be kind of cool to stay in Calistoga with the hot spring hotels. Something told me we should go to Santa Rosa instead since it was Saturday night and I knew that things were expensive in the Napa Valley, but I didn’t listen to my instincts. We arrived in Calistoga only to find it packed with tourists and not a room to be had. I was a little frustrated because I really wasn’t familiar with the area. Monica kept wanting me to check every hotel that she saw which was quickly turning into a tedious waste of time because it was obvious that nothing was available or affordable. We ended up following Route 29 and went through St. Helena, which, again, looked to me to be very pretentious and expensive. I was ready to keep going when Monica spotted a hotel she had to check out. Fine, I thought. Go in and find out there’s nothing available or it’s outrageously priced. I wait outside while she finds her way inside. She’s gone for what seems like a half an hour. I’m sitting on the bike in the middle of practically in the middle of traffic, aggravating everyone else. I pulled around the corner to wait. Where the hell is she?? Any minute now she’s going to come out and admit that it was too expensive. But no. By now it’s dark and I finally see her on the other side of the street where she is giving me the Thumbs Up sign. No way. She crosses the street and says to me, “How open-minded are you?”
Are you kidding me?? Frankly, not very. I’m cold, tired, cranky, mad at myself for coming this route and it’s now dark.
“The room is $149.”
This is good news?I turn toward the bike.
“But here’s the thing. The girl at the desk is really cool and she’s offered to let us stay at her house.”
Uh, excuse me? “What are you talking about? Are you insane?” On the other hand, we had no qualms about staying in people’s houses in Canada.
There is no freaking way I’m staying at some strange woman’s house. I’ll find a motel down the road. I hope. I have to admit, I’m a little torn at this point. I had a vision of driving half the night and never finding a motel. I’m also not wild about driving on a winding dark road with idiots who’ve been out wine-tasting all day.
Just for kicks, I make Monica get back on the bike to cruise down to the end of town where I am certain there is a cheap hotel just waiting for us. No such luck. Reluctantly, I turned around and told Monica I would meet the girl. She took me back to the hotel where we met Suzanne. She seemed pretty normal so I—-believe it or not—agreed to stay at her house. After all, it was going to be a short night. I intended to leave as early as possible. I couldn’t believe I was agreeing to this. Secretly, I was thinking of a way to kill Monica for getting me into this. Why can’t she just go into a hotel and ask a simple, “how much for a room?” She insists she did just that, but, of course, has to ask, “Is that your best price?” What kind of lame pauper barters for a hotel room in Napa Valley??

Suzanne told her boss that we were “friends” of hers because—naturally—it would not be cool for her to take away prospective customers from the hotel to board in her house, would it?
Off we go to the house. It wasn’t too far from the hotel and was within walking distance to the main drag of town. I was also, by this time, pretty hungry. She told us she would sleep on the couch and we could have her room. The house was small and quaint. I didn’t realize she didn’t have a guest room at least before she invited us to stay with her. She got us settled in and went back to work. However, before she left she casually mentioned how impressed she was with the hospital in Napa and how we should move to the area, and how they had such a good cardiac program, blah, blah. She knew all this, of course, because she’d recently spent 28 days “in treatment” because of a “really bad divorce.” All of a sudden I knew she wasn’t getting 28 days of cardiac treatment. Oh, yeah, by the way, she tells us, “I’m an alcoholic. It will almost be 3 months since my last drink.” Groovy. “You can stay in my room. But I have to get my meds and pajamas out first.” Out of nowhere, she pulls a gallon sized baggie filled with prescription bottles. “You guys have to be out of here early because my parents are coming over in the morning and they will freak if they find you in here.” I wondered why on earth her parents would be compelled to inspect the bedroom of their 40 year old daughter, but I didn’t press the issue. By now, I’m just a little uneasy. Fantastic. Just another reason to rise early and hit the road.
She headed back to the hotel to finish out her shift and Monica and I got settled in her room. She informed us she had just changed the sheets that morning so we felt reasonably safe from that perspective. On the bedside table were two books. Being naturally curious, I scanned the titles: Living with Bipolar Disorder and Narcotics Anonymous Handbook. Sweet! “Are you happy?” I asked Monica. “You’ve housed us with a crazy woman!”
“There’s a lock on the door,” she informed me meekly.
Suzanne had told us of a couple of restaurants close by and recommended one in particular called, “Cindy’s.” We showered, put on our more respectable clothes so we wouldn’t look like two wayward hoodlums and set out to find the restaurant. The highlight of the evening was finding the restaurant. We justified having a nice dinner because we were saving so much on a hotel even though we ended up leaving Suzanne an ample tip equatable to what we would have spent at any boarding house. We happily ordered drinks. Monica was certain I was in need of a beverage to keep from brooding about the state of affairs we had found ourselves in. We lingered over dinner and had a good time with the waitstaff. We were content to lounge on the patio while the rest of the customers ate in the hot stuffy inside.
We semi-staggered back to the room well after 11pm and then thought how inconsiderate we were for coming back to AA girl’s house with liquor on our breath. I said to Monica, “You realize that she only invited us to stay at her house because she’s manic, don’t you?”
“I guess a normal person wouldn’t have done that, huh?” she acknowledged.
“Uh, no. Let’s just hope she’s still manic when we return and she hasn’t gone over the edge with depression already.” I told her I envisioned Suzanne offing herself in our absence and we’d be the unlucky saps to find her corpse hanging in the middle of the living room. Not really funny, but it had us laughing until our sides ached. I could see us running for our lives, fleeing the St. Helena’s police department, accused of murdering the poor girl. The only witness was Suzanne’s inebriated neighbor. Yes, officer. It was two women. On a big blue motorcycle. Never seen ’em here around these parts before….My imagination was running rather wild. “That’s a horrible thing to say, “ Monica scolded me between bouts of rolling hysteria. “Promise me we will NOT say anything bad while we are in her house.” I vowed I’d behave.
To our amazement, Suzanne was alive and well, sitting on the couch visiting with a friend. “Hi!” she greeted us cheerily. “This is my friend Craig. He’s a drug addict.”
I kid you not. She said that. “Well, I’m past that now,” he said.
“That’s how we met,” chirped Suzanne. “In AA.” Craig, we found out, was a nurse. But, he wasn’t allowed to work near narcotics anymore because, well, he was sort of under disciplinary action, etc with the Board. “I got through nursing school on meth and booze,” he informed us. Oh.My.God. At any rate, he was gainfully employed as a telephone triage nurse working 6 hours a day at $45/hr. Damn, crime does pay. What am I doing wrong?
We sat up for an hour and a half and listened to Suzanne and Craig’s life story which was interesting in a warped sort of way.
We left early the next morning. I tried to sneak out before Suzanne awakened, but manic people apparently don’t sleep very soundly. “Are you leaving?” she practically leapt off the couch.
“Yeah, we have a lot of miles ahead of us.” Besides, I don’t want to run into your psycho parents.
“Life is always an adventure with you, I have to admit,” I told Monica as we drove away. One of these days you’re going to get us killed. I guarantee it.
“Yeah, and we had a room AND a great dinner for less than the price of that hotel would have been,” she said proudly.

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