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Ask Raymond Carver

Dear Raymond Carver,

Yesterday, while on the phone with a friend, I mentioned that I'd phoned her the day before. She told me she knew I'd called, saying that she saw it on her caller ID box but didn't pick up the phone. I think that's downright rude! Do I have a right to be miffed?

—Ignored In Ishpeming

Dear Ignored,

Pam and I spent the day down at the old speedway. She was reading the paper and saw there was a flea market there all weekend. She said, "Let's go, maybe we'll find a cheap lawn mower or some end tables." We both had Sunday off, so we went. The vendors come from who-knows-where and set up their tables right there in the middle of the racetrack. There were old campers and trucks parked all around the track. I asked Pam which one she thought would come in first. She laughed and grabbed my arm. She likes when we get out of the house together. It puts her in a good mood. It was hot. We drank out of red plastic cups I'd picked up when we'd stopped for gas. Pam got right to digging through the piles of old clothes. I made trips back to the parking lot to refill the red cups. I'd pop the car trunk and get ice from the Styrofoam cooler. Then I'd open up the passenger door and get the bottle of whiskey from under the seat. Pam always drank her whiskey with water, but I didn't bother with that. I'd take my time finding Pam in the crowd, and by then what she had was whiskey and water, anyway. I could have put the bottle in the trunk with the cooler, but I didn't. It felt good to sit down in the car for a few minutes, my legs hanging out of the open door. I smoked a cigarette. I knew Pam wouldn't be worried about where I was. I lit another cigarette and scratched a circle in the gravel with my toe.

Dear Raymond Carver,

My husband simply refuses to turn off the TV when we sit down to eat! I think mealtime should be a family affair, but he won't listen. As the kids get older, it's often the only time we spend together as a family, and I don't want to have to compete with some game show. A friend suggested I stop slaving over my legendary casseroles and home-baked desserts and just serve TV dinners until my husband gets the hint. What do you think of that idea?

—Perturbed In Pike Creek

Dear Perturbed,

Instead of cutting across the grass, I walked the long way, around the track. Everything was bright and the track was soft from the heat. I found Pam in front of a long table of old books. She stared hard at a row of old hardcovers and ran her finger along the spines. She leaned in to look at the next row and ran her finger along those, too. Then she stepped a few feet to the right and repeated the whole thing. Once or twice, she put her hand up to her mouth as if she was thinking hard about one of the books. What she was trying to remember, I had no idea. Besides her Calorie Counter and Guide To Flowering Perennials, the only books Pam has at home are the three nursing textbooks someone at work gave her. Pam is a nurses' aide. When people ask her how that is different from being a nurse, Pam always says it means she does twice the work and gets half the pay. She wants to go to night school, if we can ever get caught up on the bills. Right now, she works at the old folks' home putting diapers on the crazies. That's what they call them, but only when they are not around. Pam says she and the other nurses' aides have to do something to release tension. She says the old drunks are the worst. "They're mean," she says. Once, Pam and I were talking about how maybe we should give up drinking altogether. Pam said, "I don't want to end up a mean old drunk. Just kill me if I end up like that."

Dear Raymond Carver,

My next-door neighbors tend to stay up extremely late, sometimes until 1 or even 2 a.m. When the weather's nice, they like to entertain friends outside on their deck until all hours, and it can get pretty loud. I don't want to take away their right to enjoy themselves, but voices carry (and keep me tossing and turning in bed). What should I do?

—Light Sleeper In Louisville

Dear Light Sleeper,

I found Pam talking to an old woman over a box of old postcards. I handed Pam her cup. She said, "Thanks, hon," and smiled at me. She and the old woman were talking about Florida. Pam had lived in Florida after her parents split up the second time. My face felt hot. I tried to remember if I had eaten anything that day. I noticed a sign propped up on the table: "Jerry's Resale: Antiques & Collectibles." I looked over at Jerry. He was helping a fat man with a beard put a huge blue glass jar in a paper bag. The fat man looked excited, like he'd really hit the jackpot by finding that big blue jar. He handed Jerry some money. Most of the other vendors had gray cash boxes, like they use at high-school basketball games. Not Jerry, though. He just pulled out his wallet, put the bill in, and took out some change. The wallet was so thick it didn't even close. Somehow, Jerry stuck the fat wallet back in his pants pocket. Then he sat down on his folding chair and went back to staring off across the track. As he sat, he leaned over to one side, resting all his weight on the hip with no wallet. For a long time, I watched him sitting there, leaning all the way to one side like that. Finally, I couldn't stand it anymore. I found Pam, still talking about Florida. On the way to the car I told her about the wallet. Pam said, "Don't be too impressed. I used to waitress, so I know what a stack of ones and fives looks like. It looks like a heck of a lot more than it is." I tried to explain that the money wasn't the point. She laughed and gave me a squeeze. "Let me drive home," she said. "You've had too many." In the car, I leaned back and closed my eyes. I was happy to be going.

Raymond Carver is a syndicated columnist whose weekly advice column, Ask Raymond Carver, appears in more than 250 newspapers nationwide.

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