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Run, City Girl by Jane Hanson

Worst break up ever? In the late ’80s I lived in a basement apartment in San Francisco a block off Haight Street. I was in my twenties and casting about for some deeper purpose in life. The destruction of the environment concerned me. I liked to hang out with groups of environmentalists and wave signs at CEOs and pass out pamphlets.

At a political event I met Thomas, a full-blooded Native American sporting a thick black braid of hair down to his waist. He passed himself off as a person who knew the answers to life’s mysteries. He communed with the Great Spirit. He burned sage. He was a political activist. My gut told me, “Run, city girl,” but some other part of me was entranced. We began dating.

There were plenty of signs that Thomas had serious issues. First of all, he told me he had serious issues. The littlest thing would set him off on a paranoid rant. If I looked over my shoulder a certain way, I was drawing the attention of the police. If I asked his friends too many questions, I was flirting or possibly gathering information for the FBI. Thomas told me that the FBI followed him because of his political work. He’d participated in radical political groups in the late ’60s and ’70s, but as far as I could tell, he spent his days in my apartment (yeah, I gave him a key) reading spy novels, smoking pot, and cataloging my flaws. This is what I deduced from the indentation in my sofa cushions and the overflowing ashtray I saw when I came home from work. Asking him how he spent his days was proof that I was indeed an undercover FBI agent, so I quit asking.

Thomas and I hadn’t been getting along when he invited me to go camping for a weekend of protests in an old-growth forest. Being a suburban/city girl with no car, my experience with the great outdoors was limited. The only times I’d been camping was as an eight-year-old Bluebird. Our troop slept in cabins, and we melted marshmallows on wire hangers around the campfire. Getting out of the city sounded like an adventure. Maybe Thomas would become less insane while in nature.

One of Thomas’s friends, a Navajo cabdriver, and the guy’s blonde, I’m-proud-to-be-Greek waitress girlfriend asked to join us for the ride. Thomas admired the Navajo because they grew up speaking their own language. Thomas’s tribe’s language was dying, being spoken fluently by only a handful of elders. English, the only language I could claim, was the language of the oppressors. The waitress claimed to speak Greek, but I had my doubts.

Thomas’s friends arrived two hours late. Then Thomas spent another hour fussing with his hair and trying to decide which ribbon shirt to wear. By the time we got to the protest site, the prime camping spots were taken. Say what you will about Western culture, but there’s something to be said for following a schedule and sleeping in a bed. We pitched our tent on a rocky slope.

Being a novice camper, I couldn’t do anything correctly — I put the tent poles upside down, got the tarp muddy, and didn’t close the flaps the right way. The list of my offenses grew. It rained on and off Saturday and Sunday. Thomas was wet, grouchy, and mean. After 20 hours of muddy misery, eating slop off paper plates, and not getting along with Thomas in a damp tent, I was done pretending to be a lover of nature. I wanted to take a shower and sleep in my own bed. I wanted to be as far away from Thomas as possible.

As we dragged his camping gear to his truck, Thomas ran into an old friend — an emaciated, grizzled hippie. They exchanged pleasantries and lamented the loss of the forest, and then the gray-bearded hippie said, “You should visit sometime.” Thomas said, “Okay. We’ll follow you.” I thought he was kidding. Nope. I protested — I had to go to work Monday morning. Thomas, Mr. Hippie, the Navajo, and the waitress (who was a camping genius) stared at me like I was pressing a chainsaw to the trunk of an ancient redwood. Thomas agreed to stop at a shuttered gas station so I could call in sick to work from a lonely pay phone.

Feeling like a hostage, I left a message for my boss that I’d be in on Tuesday or Wednesday. I figured we’d sleep on the floor of this guy’s house in our damp sleeping bags for one night and then we’d head back to San Francisco. How bad could it be?

My memory of the drive to our second night of camping was that we drove for at least an hour on unmarked, winding dirt roads through the forest. Not only were there no street signs, there were no streets and no houses. From the hill where we parked I could see a dilapidated two-story house surrounded by tall trees and undergrowth. We got out of the truck and hiked behind Mr. Hippie in the opposite direction. We passed a vegetable garden enclosed by a chain-link fence. A large gray tent was perched on a ridge over a noisy creek. Next to the tent was a raised platform. I would later discover that the seat on the open platform was the community toilet. The creek was the family’s water source. Inside the tent, Mr. Hippie’s very pregnant wife and a speechless snuffling toddler greeted us.

If I sucked at camping, I was even less skilled at survival living. The pregnant wife was a nutty white woman who claimed to be one-sixteenth Blackfoot Indian. She made beautiful beaded jewelry from “ancestral memory.” Her child was sick and left wet snot stains on her homemade maternity dress. The tent, or wickiup, was cluttered with junk. It smelled of mildew and damp earth.

I was expected to pitch in and help make dinner, since it’s rude to go to a pregnant lady’s dwelling in the forest with no plumbing and no electricity and expect to be waited on — unless you have a penis. Thomas, the Navajo, and Mr. Hippie told stories about hunting deer with rifles and bow and arrow, smoked pot, and inspected the mystery crop growing in the dilapidated house/greenhouse near where the trucks were parked. Thomas warned me to stay away from the house (as if I couldn’t figure out what was growing inside). The pregnant lady, the waitress, and I cut vegetables with dull knives and threw everything into a greasy, dented pot in silence; I couldn’t think of anything nice to say. So, how’s the crop this year? Who made the decision to let your marijuana plants live in the house and the baby live in a wet tent? I bet laundry is a barrel of fun out here! Nice of your husband to invite guests and then sit on his ass while you do all the work. After a dismal dinner, the waitress played with the silent snotty-nosed child and talked about how much she loved babies. I’m not a fan.

I couldn’t figure out how to pump water to wash the dishes. Thomas thought I was being difficult and screamed at me. The depth of his rage and the nearness of hunting rifles frightened me. It also pissed me off. I hadn’t agreed to spend the night on a pot farm with a family of survivalist loons. I excused myself to use the toilet but couldn’t bring myself to climb the platform. I could still hear Thomas complaining about my idiocy.

I had no idea where I was and no clue how to find civilization. I wandered past the fenced garden, mulling my options. After a while Thomas came out of the wickiup, cursing and howling at me to get my ass into the house. I pulled my sleeping bag and a blanket out of the mess in Thomas’s truck and hiked to a ridge. From my hiding place, I heard Thomas slam the doors on his truck, wrestle with his tent, and curse my existence. I decided I had a better chance with the coyotes than with Thomas while he was mad.

I picked a flat spot under a thicket of bushes to spend the night. He’d be calm in the morning and forget that he’d acted like a lunatic. I wouldn’t, though. What was I thinking? Never go camping with a crazy person — that’s my advice to you. I spent a cold, miserable night but was unharmed by any four-legged creatures. I did, however, manage to set up camp in a patch of poison ivy.

I joined my fellow freaks for breakfast, all of us pretending nothing out of the ordinary had happened the night before. To my relief, Thomas announced that it was time to head back to the city. After a few days I had welts all over my hands, arms, thighs, and butt (should have used the platform toilet) from the poison ivy, which lasted for six weeks.

I told Thomas that I never wanted to see him again. He heard, “I want to marry you and spend the rest of our lives together.” He even went so far as to barter his possessions for an antique diamond ring. I don’t remember how he proposed to me, but I do remember that we were on the corner of Haight and Masonic and that he threw the ring at me when I told him “no.”

His behavior became more irrational and bizarre. He showed up at the college where I worked and threatened to kill my boss, the president, the receptionist, and himself. The president, who knew Thomas, told him that he’d be arrested if he again set foot on the property. I wore hats, wigs, and thrift-store costumes to work. I moved to another apartment. Then I moved to another city.

I’ve since learned to heed the signs of mental illness. I never go anywhere without perusing a map. I admire nature from a distance. I do not own a sleeping bag. But I still own a beaded turquoise barrette that Thomas bought from the crazy one-sixteenth Blackfoot Indian lady.

Tell us the story of your breakup and/or date from hell and we will publish it and pay you ($100 for 500-2000 words).

E-mail story to
[email protected]
Or mail to:
San Diego Reader/Dumped
Box 85803
San Diego, CA 92186

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Worst break up ever? In the late ’80s I lived in a basement apartment in San Francisco a block off Haight Street. I was in my twenties and casting about for some deeper purpose in life. The destruction of the environment concerned me. I liked to hang out with groups of environmentalists and wave signs at CEOs and pass out pamphlets.

At a political event I met Thomas, a full-blooded Native American sporting a thick black braid of hair down to his waist. He passed himself off as a person who knew the answers to life’s mysteries. He communed with the Great Spirit. He burned sage. He was a political activist. My gut told me, “Run, city girl,” but some other part of me was entranced. We began dating.

There were plenty of signs that Thomas had serious issues. First of all, he told me he had serious issues. The littlest thing would set him off on a paranoid rant. If I looked over my shoulder a certain way, I was drawing the attention of the police. If I asked his friends too many questions, I was flirting or possibly gathering information for the FBI. Thomas told me that the FBI followed him because of his political work. He’d participated in radical political groups in the late ’60s and ’70s, but as far as I could tell, he spent his days in my apartment (yeah, I gave him a key) reading spy novels, smoking pot, and cataloging my flaws. This is what I deduced from the indentation in my sofa cushions and the overflowing ashtray I saw when I came home from work. Asking him how he spent his days was proof that I was indeed an undercover FBI agent, so I quit asking.

Thomas and I hadn’t been getting along when he invited me to go camping for a weekend of protests in an old-growth forest. Being a suburban/city girl with no car, my experience with the great outdoors was limited. The only times I’d been camping was as an eight-year-old Bluebird. Our troop slept in cabins, and we melted marshmallows on wire hangers around the campfire. Getting out of the city sounded like an adventure. Maybe Thomas would become less insane while in nature.

One of Thomas’s friends, a Navajo cabdriver, and the guy’s blonde, I’m-proud-to-be-Greek waitress girlfriend asked to join us for the ride. Thomas admired the Navajo because they grew up speaking their own language. Thomas’s tribe’s language was dying, being spoken fluently by only a handful of elders. English, the only language I could claim, was the language of the oppressors. The waitress claimed to speak Greek, but I had my doubts.

Thomas’s friends arrived two hours late. Then Thomas spent another hour fussing with his hair and trying to decide which ribbon shirt to wear. By the time we got to the protest site, the prime camping spots were taken. Say what you will about Western culture, but there’s something to be said for following a schedule and sleeping in a bed. We pitched our tent on a rocky slope.

Being a novice camper, I couldn’t do anything correctly — I put the tent poles upside down, got the tarp muddy, and didn’t close the flaps the right way. The list of my offenses grew. It rained on and off Saturday and Sunday. Thomas was wet, grouchy, and mean. After 20 hours of muddy misery, eating slop off paper plates, and not getting along with Thomas in a damp tent, I was done pretending to be a lover of nature. I wanted to take a shower and sleep in my own bed. I wanted to be as far away from Thomas as possible.

As we dragged his camping gear to his truck, Thomas ran into an old friend — an emaciated, grizzled hippie. They exchanged pleasantries and lamented the loss of the forest, and then the gray-bearded hippie said, “You should visit sometime.” Thomas said, “Okay. We’ll follow you.” I thought he was kidding. Nope. I protested — I had to go to work Monday morning. Thomas, Mr. Hippie, the Navajo, and the waitress (who was a camping genius) stared at me like I was pressing a chainsaw to the trunk of an ancient redwood. Thomas agreed to stop at a shuttered gas station so I could call in sick to work from a lonely pay phone.

Feeling like a hostage, I left a message for my boss that I’d be in on Tuesday or Wednesday. I figured we’d sleep on the floor of this guy’s house in our damp sleeping bags for one night and then we’d head back to San Francisco. How bad could it be?

My memory of the drive to our second night of camping was that we drove for at least an hour on unmarked, winding dirt roads through the forest. Not only were there no street signs, there were no streets and no houses. From the hill where we parked I could see a dilapidated two-story house surrounded by tall trees and undergrowth. We got out of the truck and hiked behind Mr. Hippie in the opposite direction. We passed a vegetable garden enclosed by a chain-link fence. A large gray tent was perched on a ridge over a noisy creek. Next to the tent was a raised platform. I would later discover that the seat on the open platform was the community toilet. The creek was the family’s water source. Inside the tent, Mr. Hippie’s very pregnant wife and a speechless snuffling toddler greeted us.

If I sucked at camping, I was even less skilled at survival living. The pregnant wife was a nutty white woman who claimed to be one-sixteenth Blackfoot Indian. She made beautiful beaded jewelry from “ancestral memory.” Her child was sick and left wet snot stains on her homemade maternity dress. The tent, or wickiup, was cluttered with junk. It smelled of mildew and damp earth.

I was expected to pitch in and help make dinner, since it’s rude to go to a pregnant lady’s dwelling in the forest with no plumbing and no electricity and expect to be waited on — unless you have a penis. Thomas, the Navajo, and Mr. Hippie told stories about hunting deer with rifles and bow and arrow, smoked pot, and inspected the mystery crop growing in the dilapidated house/greenhouse near where the trucks were parked. Thomas warned me to stay away from the house (as if I couldn’t figure out what was growing inside). The pregnant lady, the waitress, and I cut vegetables with dull knives and threw everything into a greasy, dented pot in silence; I couldn’t think of anything nice to say. So, how’s the crop this year? Who made the decision to let your marijuana plants live in the house and the baby live in a wet tent? I bet laundry is a barrel of fun out here! Nice of your husband to invite guests and then sit on his ass while you do all the work. After a dismal dinner, the waitress played with the silent snotty-nosed child and talked about how much she loved babies. I’m not a fan.

I couldn’t figure out how to pump water to wash the dishes. Thomas thought I was being difficult and screamed at me. The depth of his rage and the nearness of hunting rifles frightened me. It also pissed me off. I hadn’t agreed to spend the night on a pot farm with a family of survivalist loons. I excused myself to use the toilet but couldn’t bring myself to climb the platform. I could still hear Thomas complaining about my idiocy.

I had no idea where I was and no clue how to find civilization. I wandered past the fenced garden, mulling my options. After a while Thomas came out of the wickiup, cursing and howling at me to get my ass into the house. I pulled my sleeping bag and a blanket out of the mess in Thomas’s truck and hiked to a ridge. From my hiding place, I heard Thomas slam the doors on his truck, wrestle with his tent, and curse my existence. I decided I had a better chance with the coyotes than with Thomas while he was mad.

I picked a flat spot under a thicket of bushes to spend the night. He’d be calm in the morning and forget that he’d acted like a lunatic. I wouldn’t, though. What was I thinking? Never go camping with a crazy person — that’s my advice to you. I spent a cold, miserable night but was unharmed by any four-legged creatures. I did, however, manage to set up camp in a patch of poison ivy.

I joined my fellow freaks for breakfast, all of us pretending nothing out of the ordinary had happened the night before. To my relief, Thomas announced that it was time to head back to the city. After a few days I had welts all over my hands, arms, thighs, and butt (should have used the platform toilet) from the poison ivy, which lasted for six weeks.

I told Thomas that I never wanted to see him again. He heard, “I want to marry you and spend the rest of our lives together.” He even went so far as to barter his possessions for an antique diamond ring. I don’t remember how he proposed to me, but I do remember that we were on the corner of Haight and Masonic and that he threw the ring at me when I told him “no.”

His behavior became more irrational and bizarre. He showed up at the college where I worked and threatened to kill my boss, the president, the receptionist, and himself. The president, who knew Thomas, told him that he’d be arrested if he again set foot on the property. I wore hats, wigs, and thrift-store costumes to work. I moved to another apartment. Then I moved to another city.

I’ve since learned to heed the signs of mental illness. I never go anywhere without perusing a map. I admire nature from a distance. I do not own a sleeping bag. But I still own a beaded turquoise barrette that Thomas bought from the crazy one-sixteenth Blackfoot Indian lady.

Tell us the story of your breakup and/or date from hell and we will publish it and pay you ($100 for 500-2000 words).

E-mail story to
[email protected]
Or mail to:
San Diego Reader/Dumped
Box 85803
San Diego, CA 92186

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Comments
2

this is typical of your whacked out northern california mentally unstable liberal loonie bins! I know! I lived in Hawaii with a bunch of dirty tree huggers. You are lucky to be alive. Sounds to me that this so-called "native American" doesn't know -much about survival!

April 17, 2008

Too funny! I was in the San Francisco area 1973 to 1977. My idea of camping is in a $200,000 motor home driving through the forest at 60 mph.

April 18, 2008

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