The first thing I ever won in my life was a complete set of children's encyclopedias from the grocery store. I was twenty-three and seven months pregnant. My second big win came the day they drew my name out of a hat for a random drug test at work. I got to visit the nurse and pee in a cup. The third? A trip. "Hello?" I answered the phone. "Is this Millie Noe?" "Speaking." "Congratulations, ma'am. You just won a vacation for two, which includes a two night stay in Orlando, a three day, two night cruise to the Bahamas, four nights in Daytona Beach and three more nights in New Orleans." "What?!" I screamed. "Me?" "It's a trip for two." "Me and Sven?" I screamed. "Sure." "Nothing in life is free, Millie," said Sven, when I told him the news. "There is always a catch." Well, okay. We did have to provide our own transportation. We did have to listen to a spiel about time shares in Orlando and then in Daytona and also in the French Quarters. It is true that probably everybody who happened to drop their name and phone number into that jar at that Chinese restaurant, when their husband wasn't looking, won a trip. And it is common knowledge that two teenage brothers, should not be trusted to stay home alone for two weeks while their parents are off pissing off time share people. But you see, my Marques and Rene were very good boys. So. The thing I liked the most about Orlando was leaving it. We ate and drank ourselves around the world at Epcot Center and we watched bungy jumpers across the street from our hotel as they plummeted to certain deaths and then bounced around like little toy people on strings. And the weather was nice. But, it was still Orlando. During our stay we walked into our first time share class and we were seated in a room full of other winners just like us. All we had to do was sign on a dotted line and we could take a vacation every year and we could stay in resorts all over the world, just like this one. I thought it sounded reasonable. And then Sven said, "Um, I'd like to take this information with me and think about it." "You must sign right now, if you want this really good deal." "Yeah. No. I'd like to take it with me and think about it for awhile." "But you will lose this fantastic sale that we are having. It is today only." "What are you hiding? Why can't I think about it for a day?" "I'm not hiding anything, sir. But you have to sign it today to get this one time offer." "Well, I'd like to think about it." That's kind of how it went for about an hour. Sven is still thinking about it. After fun in the Orlando sun and playing on Cocoa Beach we drove to Cape Canaveral to meet up with our cruise ship. As we boarded the narrow opening I was handed a pina colada in a fancy glass. "Thank you!" I said to the handsome dude with the tray. "No thanks," I heard Sven say and I saw his hand go up, palm out. "What's the matter?" I said. "We're going to be charged for that you know," he answered, glowering at my paper umbrella and cherries on a sword. That is when I realized that it was entirely possible that my sweet Sven could fuck up a cruise. After learning which life boat was ours and finishing the safety course, we went to find our free cabin, scampering off like two giddy kids. The staff kept on directing us to flights of stairs that were headed down and then down and then down again. You know those little round circle windows on the sides of ships that are just above the water? That was our window. It was a one headed window. Our bunk beds were adorable. And fortunately we were small. Unfortunately, they were made for really small people. If we were both in our room at the same time we had to announce if we were about to scratch our nose or make any sudden moves, so as not to elbow each other. Felipe was our guy. He was super sweet and he wore a crisp white uniform. My shoes were always straightened into a little row of pairs and a rose was always placed on top of my belongings. Sven's shit was always left untouched. "He's got a thing for you Millie," Sven would complain. "Who, Felipe?" I would answer. There are lots of loud speaker announcements on cruise ships. Cruise ships like people to participate in cruise ship activities. And cruise ships have assigned seating in the dining room. Our table was interesting. There was an old deaf guy, named Ralph. His wife was sea sick and therefore she did not join us. We never met Ruth. Three days No Ruth. I think Ruth might have been overboard. Next to Ralph were Sven and I. And on our other side were seated Maria and Gena. Pronounced Mar-ee-ah and Gee-nah. (Hard G) They were from Russia. And they could not speak any English. We were from Lodi. And we could not speak any Russian. Ralph was deaf and he didn't know what language any of us were speaking. After our first meal, the two of us from Lodi and the two of us from Russia were studying posters on a wall of day trips that you could take. We pointed to and agreed to go snorkeling together. The next day was the day that I discovered that just by making eye contact with a women in a kimono, sitting across from you on a pontoon that is traveling over the prettiest shade of aqua water ever, one can have one's hair braided with a couple of beads thrown in, even if one's hair is short and the braid sticks out and it looks stupid. And that costs $15. I was also shocked to find out that fifty year old Russian men walk around in very small Speedos. The boat motor stopped abruptly and the instructors in dread locks geared us up with life jackets, flippers, masks and snorkels. Holy shit. They wanted us to jump into the pretty water. Did you know that when you have a snorkel mouth piece lodged between your teeth and you submerge your head to be dazzled by dazzling, colorful fish in many schools of many stripes and they are are coming right at you, it is natural for some to let out a surprised shriek. And if you are the shrieking type, you will undoubtedly swallow enough sodium for an entire year. Don't be fooled by that pretty blue water. It tastes like the salted rim of a margarita, without the margarita. But there, treading water in that ocean on that day, the four of us shared a vivid lifetime memory. And we became fast friends for the next eighteen hours. The pontoon transported us to a sandy beach with a long wooden pier that stretched over the aqua-blue and we were handed some kind of a rum drink and were invited to join some sort of a party. My next recollection is Maria and I with our foreheads placed on a bat handle and running in circles around it, on the beach, and then trying to run to bases that were half buried in the sand, and laughing our asses off, while Sven and Gena stood next to each other with folded arms and waves lapping at their shins. It turns out that you do not need to speak the same language if and when fish pointing and Rum are involved. We also enjoyed fresh conk, cooked over an open fire. From there the pontoon motored us to a port in Nassau where our cruise ship would pick us up. The port was filled with tents. "Here pretty lady," the vendors called to the women. The folded armed men looked at each other and they swiftly moved their hands over their wallets. Here is some interesting information about my sweet Sven. Although he is very frugal, he happens to be the worst deal maker that God ever created. If the sticker price on a car is $800. Sven will offer $850. And that was a pretty shitty car. He once paid ten dollars for a free pool table. But for some reason, he was Donald Trump when he stepped foot on Nassau. "How much?" I would say to the lady. "Fifteen." "Too much," Sven would say. "Eight." "Eight? For this? No." "How much for this?" I would say. "The bracelet?" she would say. "Ten dollars." "Five," Sven would say. "Five? No!" the vendor would say, indignantly. "Sven knock it off," I said. "Millie, they told us on the ship that we should never pay what they are asking." "For Christ's sake! You decide to barter for the first time in your life, here today, with people who are just trying to eat? Don't you want world peace?" In just two hours the island natives under those tents were all referring to my husband as, The Devil Man. Regardless, Maria and I bought plenty of souvenirs. That night Ralph and his empty chair, Maria and Gena and Sven and I ate a magnificent dinner of steak and shrimp and an outstanding flaming dessert. The wait staff and the cooks all sang and danced, weaving their way in and out of the tables to the tune of The Locomotion, and our dining experience ended with a standing ovation from all of us teary eyed diners. After dinner there was so much to do. There was a band, there was a comedy act and there was a casino. Do you know where Millie and Sven spent the evening? Millie in her little black borrowed dress and Sven in his tie? On top of the deserted deck, on top of the stacked lounge chairs, looking at the stars. It was very romantic. Yes, if it were a movie. However, Millie wanted to see a comedian. Millie wanted to go dancing. And Millie wanted to throw a dollar into a slot machine. But Sven did not. He wanted to lay next to me and gaze up at the milky way. "Sven," I whispered. "Isn't that the same little dipper that we have at home?" "No," he said, "it's a different one," and pulled me in close. I was fortunate that I did not suffer from sea sickness. Thank God. I woke in my little bunk bed to a strange noise and thought, "What the fuck is going on?" I put my nose against the little circle of light. We were docked. Big ships rock real slow and real deliberate-like and they creak and they groan when they are tied to a dock. We bumped into Maria and Gena at the never ending breakfast buffet, that was about to end. We gave hugs and exchanged business cards and went on our separate ways. I was smacked in the face with land-sickness as soon as we stepped off that boat. If I'd been the driver to Daytona, the car would have been weaving back and forth and in the ditch for sure during that stint where I had to put my head between my legs. Poor Ruth. I was comforted by the thought that she had probably been thrown overboard. Daytona Beach is a giant parking lot made out of compacted sand, that is situated between the ocean and hotels. Being from Wisconsin we know all about tailgating. But this was a little different. At home we wear common jerseys and we share a common goal. Eat. Drink. Win the game. Here there was no game. I have no recollection of the time share class we sat in, in Daytona. They say that trauma can cause memory loss. Sven remembers it well. He claims that the push was hard and the guy in charge ended up calling in the big guns when Sven said he wanted to take the information and think about it for awhile. Apparently after two hours they must have given up and stamped our paper, because our room up there on the eigth floor was indeed, free. On our first night, we slipped into the abandoned hot tub next to the deserted pool. We were young. We were in love. Things got steamy. We rode the elevator back up to our floor. The doors opened. We stepped out and a gang in swimsuits, piled in. And then, one second, just before those doors closed, they burst into an hysterical, high pitched, pee your pants, cackling, screaming, laughter. "Well that was weird," I thought. Back in our room I looked out our window and this is what Sven heard. "Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!" "What?" he said running out of the bathroom in his birthday suit. "Look!" I pointed. "Yeah?" "Down there under the spotlight." "Yeah?" "What do you see?" "The hot tub." "AHHHHHhhhhhhhhh!" I screamed. "What?" "AHHHHhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!" "Oh Millie, nobody could see us." "AHHHHhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! And get away from the window you idiot!" The next day Sven went golfing and I disguised myself with a pair of Jackie-O-sunglasses and a baseball cap and made my way down to the beach. I walked through rows of vehicles and set myself up on a small sand chair on the strip of sand between the growing parking lot and the ocean. Sven showed up a few hours later, just as a Latino guy was handing me a line, and just before my lips began to puff up like Angelina Joli's. NEWS FLASH. LIPS GROW FASTER FROM SUN POISONING THAN BOTOX. Fortunately mine were back to normal by the time our time was up in tailgate city, because big lips do not fit on my face the way they do on Angelina's. Next stop? Pensacola, to spend a couple of days with Sven's old friend. It was the first time I ever met Thom. He'd lost his wife to cancer just three months prior. With watery blue eyes he introduced he me to her picture, sitting next to her box of remains. Even though Thom's times were about as dark as they could get, he entertained us endlessly by stuffing us with kalamari, steak, grouper, Crispy Crème donuts and ice cream cones. He took us fishing on the whitest sand beach in the world, where we caught nada. The next day the guys went golfing. I declined. Because I would rather shoot myself in the foot, than golf, unless of course the course has a windmill and a swinging log that you have to get past. Instead I made use of his washer and read some Stephen King on his sunny patio to the sound of the dryer. It was hard to believe that it was still cold outside, back home. Once again, Sven and I were on the road. A dark haired kid with mirror shades, probably no older than twenty-one, met us at a wrought ironed table in a vine covered courtyard. "I know you are not going to sign this paper," he said to Sven and he looked at me knowingly. "You do?" "Yes. Your reputation precedes you. But you see, I have to spend two hours with you guys in order to get paid." "Oh." "So we might as well just have a good time," he said. "You can take this information with you, and think about it." And then we ordered a round of beers. Had a good time. And the guy got paid. Our hotel was a few blocks from the French Quarters. "Do not walk to the French Quarters," we were warned. "It is not safe. Always take our shuttle." But we didn't need no shuttle. Because our transplanted friends from Wisconsin, who'd moved to a bayou, south of New Orleans, picked us up in their pick up truck. Jon beeped and we jumped in the back bed. He pulled up next to a small opening on the curb in the crowded quarters, in front of a sign that said, NO PARKING. Through the open window we heard Jon say, "Fuck that." Then we heard Pam say, "No Jon, don't. You can't park here." And then we heard Jon say, "Fuck that." And then he pulled that pick up truck right into that spot, leaving the truck half on the road and half on the sidewalk. But the no parking sign was no longer visible, so. We all jumped out. And there we stood in the heart of the universe. "Stop!" yells Pam as we passed a shop with a pink and purple paisley carousel horse in the window, still on its pole. "What?" says Jon. "I have to have that." "Have what?" "That horse." "No you don't." "Yes. Jon. I want that horse." "Why." "Look at it!" We all looked at the window. Like I said, it was a pink and purple paisley carousel horse, still on its pole. "What are you going to do with that?" "Don't worry about it." "Jesus Pam, it's going to be a bitch getting on the trolley to see all the flowers and to eat at that little place we like, or walk into a bar or even into Café Du Monde, where Sven threw that empty cup across the room that year we went to Mardi Gras, if you are dragging that thing along. And I am not going to carry it." We had our day in the sun. And it was late by the time our heads hit our pillows in the rather small hotel room. After a big breakfast and an even bigger flea market under a tent, it was time for good-by. I am pretty sure that the pink and purple paisley carousel horse rode home in the back of their truck, on its pole. Sven and I always run out of cash. It doesn't matter how much we have. It just disappears. And this trip was before ATMs on corners. And we weren't charge card carrying people. On our honeymoon to Maine, I am sure it was that pair of tennis shoes and all those socks that Sven had to have that broke us. But I couldn't pinpoint any specific fuck ups this time around. We just seemed to be digging deep into our pockets and not coming up with very much green stuff. Not to worry. We had a place to stay. This was a free vacation after all. And just walking up and down Bourbon Street with a bowl of red beans and rice and a pint or two of those one dollar draft beers that you could purchase at those curb side stands was good enough for Millie and Sven. But those beer stands are really just a gateway to hell. You see, you cannot walk into a bar and use a restroom and leave. The host seats you. And not in the bathroom. So Sven got us a table right in front of a very cool sax player and he ordered us one last beer, with what little he had left, while I did my business. "Always take the shuttle. It is not safe," they said. But, we didn't see no shuttle. We cut through an alley. That is when a guy popped up out of the dark and was all of a sudden right in step with us. But I think he realized that we weren't worth robbing, since I was bitching about the fact that we had to go home because we couldn't even afford to pee. He went back to his spot to wait for a victim worth his while. And the next morning we loaded up the car and got back on the road for a long drive north. We were hungry and tired when we parked at the Lodi grocery store, a place that we could finally write a personal check. The kid bagging our groceries was a friend of our oldest son. "What do you suppose happened to Andy?" I said to Sven as we filled our trunk with brown paper bags. "Maybe he got into a fight," said Sven. "That must have been some fight. His front tooth was snapped right in half." "Yeah, I saw that." We walked in the front door of our house and were immediately bulldozed over by Leonard, the yellow lab from hell. The place sparkled. "See Sven," I said. "I told you they would be good." "Hmm. I don't know. It seems a little too clean to me," he said. "Oh, you are such a pessimist." "Yeah? What do you suppose happened to this?" he said, a little while later. He was holding the cover of the Weber grill, which had a significant dent in it. "Is that all you got?" I said. "The wind probably blew it off the deck." "Yeah, right," he said. "I am sure that is what they will say when they come home from their dad's tomorrow." That is exactly what they said. That was bullshit. Here is what really happened. On day one, as we were backing out of our driveway, my sweet boys were busy moving our furniture out of the living room. They were numbering every plant and the fish bowl and they put them all into our bedroom until two days prior to our return, when they vacuumed and mopped the hell out of the place and put everything including the gold fish, back in it's proper numbered spot, before going to their dad's house for the weekend. In the mean time, they hosted a twelve day party at Chez Millie and Sven. It was a legendary time that one of Marques' friends very eloquently boasted about in a tux in too much detail for my red face, over the microphone in the crowded room on Marques' wedding night. And Andy's tooth snapped off when he and that grill both fell off the back deck. So I guess everybody had a good time. Those brochures from the kid in the mirrored shades in New Orleans? Sven is still looking them over. He is still thinking about it.