Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Instant Karma's Gonna Get You


She was writing a novel and hit a wall. The story just stopped.

"Is that okay? Is it okay for the story to just stop? Because the lives the story is about or rather, based upon, continue. They haven't ended. The story isn't over. So maybe this isn't a good story at all." She was babbling. First she said it to herself. Later, she repeated this to her husband.

"What do you mean? Of course it's a good story. And no, stories don't have to have neat little endings," he was trying to drive and cope with a needy wife. These aren't always fun things to do simultaneously. On the other hand, one (the driving) can provide a jolly good excuse for ignoring the other (the needy wife).

She gnawed on her thumbnail and stared out the window. "Did you feel that? That rowr, rowr thing the car is doing?"

Her husband had that look. His forehead was furrowed, his eyebrows coming together. "It's revving. Yes. I guess you'd better take it in sooner rather than later. You'll have time?"

"I figured as much and already took a vacation day tomorrow so I can take it in. God, I hope it's nothing expensive," she resumed chewing on her nail distractedly. The story was driving her crazy. She just wanted to finish it, but it seemed too busy. It seemed like too many stories happening at once. It occurred to her that she'd have to go back to it and pull it apart. Oh hell.

Her husband ticked off a number of things that could be causing the car to behave the way it was. Neither of them wanted to name the big, horribly expensive thing that could be going wrong. She recognized it from the time she was driving their daughter's car over the summer. They'd just been getting ready to take a little combo trip - her company's annual conference with the family joining her to enjoy the resort for free. She was on her way home from the office when she stopped for some shredded cheese at a local convenience store. When she pulled out of the parking lot, the car bucked and revved and then just quit. The clutch had gone out.

Two days ago, when she was driving home from the office, she noticed a similar feel to this car. She was on the entrance ramp to I85 and when the car kept going, she told herself that she was imagining things.

Her husband was still talking. As usual, she was only half-listening. "Well, whatever it costs, it's money we don't have," he said somberly.


The nice Toyota man looked a little worried. "Okay, so it's the clutch. Eleven hundred dollars parts and service. I'll have to order the parts, though, don't have 'em in. Ya got someone to pick you up? Because your car isn't safe to drive."

She stood frozen on the spot, opening and closing her mouth, not quite able to respond. Yeah, this was the perfect morning to give up coffee. Again.

"Um. Uh. No. This is our only car. I don't....." she managed.

"Okay. That's okay. I've got another Corolla you can borrow. I'll get someone to bring it around. Tina here will get you all set up. You should have your car back tomorrow, maybe Friday." And with that he was gone.

Tina smiled sympathetically at her and slid a triplicate sheet of paper her direction. "Just sign here. And you'll need these keys."

She got into the car. It was familiar, pretty much just like the Corolla she and her husband drove, except this one was an automatic. She got into the car, adjusted the seat, turned on the lights and wipers because the rain was still coming down in sheets and pulled through the large, glass door that had magically lifted up for her exit.

"But I don't have eleven hundred dollars," she finally said aloud.

The drive home was just enough time for her to replay, once again, all the financial mistakes she and her husband had made over the twenty plus years they'd been together.

Uncharacteristically, she went chronologically. She started with the student loan money she'd sent to her boyfriend in France in 1987, clicked through the stupid student loans, her husband's expensive periodontal surgery paid for by credit card in 1990, the stupidity and short-sightedness of quitting jobs when she was first out of college, leaving the best job she ever had because she listened to her mother who was convinced that life would be better in the hometown, agreeing to her husband's adding on to his already massive student loans so that he could be a teacher and make not a lot of money, the financial strain of having children, and her favorite - always, always being a bad negotiator and not getting what she was really worth in the workplace.

She pulled the loaner car into the garage, still wondering how in the world they were going to come up with eleven hundred dollars. The lottery was a seriously long shot. She could unwrap the holiday gifts, find the receipts and begin returning things. She could just leave the car running and stay in the garage. She was worth at least her life insurance policy, right? But then, there's that pesky suicide clause that she's never been sure about. Is that true or not? And besides, how long would that take? No, that was no good.

She went upstairs and did what she always does. She cleaned up after he kids who are old enough to clean up after themselves. She checked her email and Facebook and then sat staring out the window at the rain. A kitten wandered in, merped at her and then jumped into her lap to receive lavish love and kisses on its white belly.

A few minutes later, the kitten jumped down, making her think again that it needed to have its claws addressed. She considered going to the kitchen for a bite to eat - this morning's apple had made only a small dent in her hunger. Instead, she turned back to her computer and opened up the file with her story in it.



  1. Dilf and I live paycheck to paycheck. A lot of times I skip or underpay bills just to make sure I have grocery money. Another of my medical bills ($781 worth) just went to collections. I have insurance; it's just not the RIGHT KIND. My sister lives the same way, except her problem is dental bills.

    I get so pissed off when I hear smug commentators or financial assholes talk about people failing because they "live beyond their means." Have you been buying designer boots when no one was looking? I know I haven't.

    And if this is happening to us, with an income coming in, what is happening to the unemployed?

    If I won the lotto, I'd pay for your car repair.

  2. Resume time. Seek high level management position. Demand perks. Treat employees with contempt. Rise higher in company. Demand more perks. Invest in companies with your privileged information. Write a book on your success. Piss off someone important. Get fired. Live happily with rewards of Golden Parachute. The End.

  3. I believe most folks I know are just one major illness, major home or car repair away from financial crisis. I often feel closer.
    Wish I had advice to give.

  4. Can I tell you something that may not pay the bills, but might cheer you up? This is some seriously great writing. Just finish your story. Good writing is worth gold.

    As far as the eleven hundred dollars, it's going to work out for you. It may not work out the way you imagined or hoped, but somehow it will be all right. I've been in bad spots before, and it always worked out somehow. Deep breaths -- and keep writing :)

  5. Breathe. Think about our story. Plot a little. Breathe.

  6. I am with you. We just got a deferrment on my son's tuition so we could pay for the Cobra insurance. What we are going to do next month, I don't know...Hang in.

  7. This calls for a complete non sequitur: Part I and Part II.

    Finances. *shudder*

  8. Different beginnings here, but pretty much the same story.

    All of our vehicles were apparently manufactured by Satan.

    I have no advice, but you have my understanding.

    Wish I could help.

  9. don't have much to add other than you know you and the family are in my thoughts and prayers.

  10. Lisa, this was a brilliantly written post. PLEASE don't give up on writing your book--I know you'll be a big success! You're a wonderful writer.

    As far as the finances go, I can only say that I CAN RELATE...and I know so can many other Americans--probably MOST other Americans. I hope it helps in some small way to know that you're not alone. :)

  11. What the others said. Keep on writing. You are a wonderful writer and some publisher is going to realize it.

  12. One of the things I've grown to dislike about Portland is all the hot new development downtown and the fact they have to herd homeless people out of the way before they can do the great modern urban photo-shoots. They probably hire models to ride the trolley.

    I'm sorry you guys got hit again and I really do wish there was something I could do to help.

    Your writing really is wonderful.

  13. ah's bad news and more bad news lately, i am telling you...but lisa, i read this transfixed, really, I did! it's glorious writing if I could just forget it was about you...

    things will get better...they have to.

    blessings to you and yours...

  14. Uh oh....... I'm second, third and fourth guessing my decision....

    If ya wanna give a call to discuss $.... I'll be around Thurs. afternoon and Friday.....

    I'll contemplate that second blog again for ya, too!

  15. If the story just ended, maybe it's time to quit writing and look at what you have written.

    Bummer about the clutch. Automatic transmissions break down too, as you might notice if you read a post I did recently. It only cost me about $1100 only because I got a good deal on the labor by having my neighbor UP on the Tundra do the work.

  16. Oh, Lisa. I know what you are going through. My engine went out just before Thanksgiving. This was after being home for almost two weeks with walking pneumonia. It cost me $1650.00 for a used engine and the property taxes had to be paid this month. The first time I did that with my own money. It was always Mom's money before that. Anyway, hang it there, finish and sell you book, and become a rich, famous writer. No more money worries.

  17. I hate money. I love your writing.

  18. Sorry about the clutch. Unlike some repairs, you can't really put that one off.

    You need to have an affair with a mechanic so you can get some free work done. Just tell MathMan you're putting the family's needs ahead of your own. ;)

    As for the writing, yes, sometimes stories just end. If anything, take a break from it for a couple of days. Don't panic. It'll happen. Go back and read through it (out loud) and maybe it'll hit you while you're proofreading. Your blogging is proof that you can write.

  19. I feel like we need to keep a clutch in the freezer for when we run out.

  20. I love you guys for your kinds words and support and offers of support. As I've said elsewhere, we'll muddle through. Having your friendship and encouragement is as valuable as anything I can imagine.

  21. What occurred to me is how perfect this post is to be the ending scene of your book.

  22. Sorry to hear about the clutch...but I'm sure it will work out. Great post, and I hope the story gets a perfect ending.


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