The Permission Pixie

(It is that time of year again.  Ho-ho-holidays!  So I’m running one of my most popular posts again as a reminder for all y’all.  Remember to take a well-deserved holiday nap or two.)

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‘Tis the season. Fa la freaking la.   I got your jingle bells right here, mister. This is the time of year when multitudes of people run around like chicken missing heads, worked into a frothy frenzy over what absolutely has to be done, oh my God, like now. NOW!

Stop it. The timeline from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day is full of food and the people you love. That’s all that’s necessary. So I’m going to give you a huge pass this year. I am secretly the Permission Pixie. Shhh, don’t tell. It’s my super power.

I, the Permission Pixie, grant you permission to ignore the urge to put up eight trillion blinking lights on your house. I don’t even put up a wreath anymore. I realized that it appeared festively welcoming and therefore encouraged people to visit, always during my jolly holiday nap. Can you imagine?

I, the Permission Pixie, hereby give you permission to ignore all invitations that require you to make something. No cookie exchanges ever again. The pressure to show up with something other than a package of Oreos is too stressful. Cookie exchanges bring out latent Martha Stewart tendencies and all of a sudden, it’s a world championship beat-down for who made the most elaborate cookies. Knock it off. You don’t need to graze through eighty kinds of cookies in a month. You’ve got to leave room for the really good stuff, like pie.

I, the Permission Pixie, give you permission to stop wrapping gifts like you are set decorating The Nutcracker Suite.   I have two words for you: gift bags. Easy-peasy, life is breezy gift bags. I have taken this to the extreme and use brown paper lunch bags with a bright ribbon. I am a sucker for anything industrial-chic that is also industrial-cheap, and brown kraft paper is a favorite of mine.

While we’re on the subject of gifts, I give you permission to stop giving non-consumable, (fruitcake will still damn you to Hell’s sticky spots) store-bought gifts to any person who is over the age of twelve. I say twelve because there are just different rules for little ones during the holidays, but you do get permission to cut back on gifts for them, too. There is only so much plastic crap one child needs, so don’t lose your mind, okay?

Black Friday is a day dedicated to showing the world everything that is embarrassing about America. It is commerce without care, it is greed without good, it is frenzy without friendship. Black Friday makes us all look like excitable, dim-witted sheep, bleating and trampling our way to a 20% discount on stuff made elsewhere. Stop it.

Special note to men. Do not buy your woman any gift with a plug. The exception is the Hitachi Magic Wand neck massager (wink, wink) in which case go right ahead, you scamp you. If not the Hitachi, things with plugs are appliances. Appliances mean housework. Housework sucks a big bag of sourballs. Enough said.

I don’t know anyone who wants another “dustable” around the house, no matter how adorable or commemorative it may be. I know lots of people who crave time. Time with friends, time with children, time away from children, time to sit down and drink a whole cup of coffee in peace. Time to talk and to listen. Give time. Give people what they need and want.

If a friend would stab a hobo to get five hours without her kids, give her a coupon for babysitting. If a friend complains about her lack of organization, gift her with a certificate to help sort out her closet or her office. If a loved one arrives home from work exhausted every day, give them a homemade dinner all frozen and ready-to-go, complete with reheating instructions. If your friend loves to garden but is unable to keep up with it then give an offer to pull weeds for a morning or make potted gardens together in the spring. A gift of your time is more splendid than anything you could buy. This extends to teenagers, too. Give them a gift of an afternoon at the movies, or the water park, or something they just don’t get to do. They’d much rather get that than a Christmas sweater, believe you me.

Why am I so anti-commerce during the season? Well, it’s not that I don’t like things. It’s that I despise the pressure to provide them. This season pokes an emotional blister of mine from my starter marriage. Every year, dear old Starter would wait until Christmas Eve, grab his car keys and grumble his way to the mall. He’d stop at whatever jewelry counter was closest to his parking spot and grab something. Then he’d grumble his way home, complaining that his work had been interrupted. After dinner I’d get the gift, complete with the agonizing details of how difficult and tedious it had been to go get this thing for me, you’re welcome.

Why even bother? Every year I’d get some sparkling item that was extravagantly expensive, but so loaded down with bitterness that I hardly ever wore it. What was the point? So if anyone asked, he could tell them that he spent $5,000 on a bracelet or ring, or earrings, because he was such a magnificent provider. Inevitably, they’d ask to see it. Nope, it’s in a drawer. I need to get a HAZMAT team to scrub all the animosity off it before I can wear it. That’s not a gift. That’s a reminder that you married the wrong person. That’s evidence that it’s not getting better. That’s your invitation to hit the road. Ho ho hot tail it outta there.

Let me be your Jacob Marley.   Listen up, dears. Whatever you give this season, give it with an open and tender heart. Do not give a gift because you “have to.” Give a gift only if you truly want to. Give of yourself, not of the mall, as much as possible. Tell people you love them. Act like you love them. Spend some time treating yourself kindly, too.   Take a nap and eat some pie.

Big News in the House!

I have announced this on Facebook and on the Southern Humorists home page, so if you’ve seen this before I apologize for the repeat.  No I don’t, I’m really excited about all this and will probably announce it again in December.  Go Team Molly!

I have been hired as a columnist for Blue Ridge Country magazine.  My column, entitled “Mill Creek Stories,” will replace the retiring Elizabeth Hunter’s “From the Farm” column.  Elizabeth’s column ran for more than 20 years, so I’m thinking this is going to be a long-term gig.

My first piece will appear in the January/February issue and is about stray cats and the people they adopt.  Those who know me well know that I can not resist telling a good animal yarn so I am starting out with one of my favorite topics.

Here is a link to the magazine’s web site so you can explore.  If you live in the Georgia to Virginia band of states, this regional magazine is especially for you.  It is chock-full of interesting information about local sites, people, food, and events plus it has stunning photographs. If you are just interested in things Southern, you’ll also enjoy Blue Ridge Country. I hope you’ll follow my stories and let me know what you think.

http://www.blueridgecountry.com

Adopt a Senior Dog Month

This is Adopt a Senior Dog month.  I would like to say a few things about adult and senior dogs.  In the interest of full disclosure I must point out that I am just not a puppy person.  I have always gone for the post-adolescence dog when adopting.  It is so much easier.

Senior dogs do not chew up electric cords, drywall, shoes, remote controls, iPhones, or whatever is dear to you like puppies do.  Senior dogs are already housebroken.  Many senior dogs come already trained to basic commands.  Senior dogs don’t require a lot of exercise.  Many seniors still have a lot of life left in them.  Best of all, senior dogs are extremely grateful for being rescued.  Senior dogs know how to love you.

I recommend that you peruse http://www.petfinder.com to find the perfect friend.  It will give both of you something wonderful to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.

Gateway Dog

A Human’s Guide to the Dark Corners of the Internet

I have been tripping over some rather bizarre arguments on the internet recently, and while I can blame this recent bout on political campaigning, it seems to be a constant and even growing problem.

As a public service, I post a handy, dandy visual aid for you.  Remember that people find the anonymity of the internet wildly freeing, to the point that they will openly display their basest self without thinking about consequences.  It’s the internet.  What consequences?

So I advise that you process what you read on the internet with all the skepticism of a pageant queen being complimented by a drunken frat boy.  Sincerity is at an all-time low. Dick pics are at an all-time high.  Need I say more?

Logic

Start Panicking Now!

Deadline panic

This old Calvin and Hobbes panel perfectly summarizes my current state of mind.  I have indulged in procrastination far too long and am well and truly in the middle of a panic attack of my own making.

Never mind the looming deadlines, today I saw Christmas ads in the paper.  Christmas!  How can it be Christmas when just yesterday it was the 4th of July?  I am totally unprepared in every category of life this week.  Save yourselves, people.

Love and Whoop Ass

Keep Calm & Aim

Kind Readers:  I have been working under a deadline — okay, I procrastinated for weeks and now I’m panicking — and therefore am posting an oldie but goodie from my old blog.  Thank you for your patience.  I will get back to a more regular posting schedule very soon.


 

I’ve been thinking a lot about love recently. I’ve been holed up in the house due to frigid weather and when you’re locked up with another human being, you’d best be thinking about love. Otherwise, it could get all stabby.

Don’t act shocked, you know what I mean. When cabin fever intersects with quirky personal habits to make a Venn diagram of whoop ass, you’d better be concentrating on sweetness and light. It’s a lot of work to get blood out of the carpet. Just saying.

Any adult relationship is a complex dance, passion waxing and waning, irritation peaking and ebbing, human frailty exposing its messy self at every pas de deux. Were it not so perplexing, we’d have never gotten great blues music. If love were easy and constant, all songs would sound like they were written by Barney. Life is messy. Messy surprises which makes it interesting. Interesting is appealing, compelling, and fires up our juices.

Please note that I am advocating the authenticity of a messy, true, human bond. I did not say one word about sticking around for a relationship that is difficult. Don’t confuse drama for depth of feeling.

If your partner tests you, takes without giving, doesn’t recognize your needs are just as legitimate as theirs, you have my permission — no, my encouragement — to leave. We don’t reward relentless selfishness. Weigh your options. Being alone is a gift if you’ve spent any time in a bad relationship. Don’t be afraid to do what is best for you. As I said before, it’s a lot of work to get blood out of the carpet.

I think I’ve made it abundantly clear that in comprehending lessons on love, I’m a thick-skulled heifer. I’ve been in many substandard relationships. Hell, I’ve been engaged what, five times? Learning curve flat as a pancake. I’m a relationship idiot. My first marriage was lopsided. It sucked the life out of me and stomped my confidence into a puddle of fetid road kill. Starter was many things, but compassionate, supportive, and loving were not in the mix. After much careful thought, I shared with a dear friend that I was planning to leave Starter. Her response stunned me.

“But you’re diabetic. You’re going to need help as your illness progresses.”

My response was, “I’d rather crawl around a tiny apartment completely blind than rely on him for anything.”

“Well if that’s how you really feel, let’s get to packing.”

Pack we did. I was so happy after I moved out that I threw a party every six weeks for a year. I had a blast. I felt lighter and I positively bubbled with glee. I was champagne personified, all celebration and sparklers. I danced with joy every day. Best thing I ever did. I became me again, not the crust of a person who had to tiptoe through the house on eggshells because of Starter’s temper tantrums.

A surprising side effect of being a giddy-level of happy is that you attract a better kind of mate. Happy attracts happy. Stability attracts stability. Remember, Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Who knew the skinny goober was talking about dating? Be the kind of person you want to meet and — poof! — that person will appear in your life.

Now I am with someone who puts my happiness before his own. He thinks of my comfort. He supports me in any endeavor I choose to undertake, no matter how weird. He doesn’t just say he loves me, he shows me. I really appreciate it because I know what it’s like to find yourself mired up to your belly button in a sucky relationship. This is not bad. This is messy, this is real, this is human, but this is also pretty damn good.

So on Gruff’s birthday this March, just like I have done every year since I met him, I will send a thank you gift to his mother. I thank her for giving birth to him. I thank her for training him properly. I thank her for letting him go. I thank her for getting him all ready for me. Well done, Jean.   I appreciate it.

Because as you know, it’s not easy to get blood stains out of carpet.

 

 

 

 

Codeword: Watermelon

Watermelon

 

Note to Readers:  I don’t know what is in the air recently, but long time followers of mine have been mentioning this post from my old blog and asking me to put it up again.  If it is helpful to you, I’m happy to oblige.  Good luck.

 

I am blessed. Gruff and I hardly ever argue. We are truly compatible and it makes for an easy life. Trust me, I know what I’ve got and I appreciate it. I’ve been married before and when it is wrong, it is painful on a daily basis.

Gruff and I are both ultra-mellow types and it takes a boatload of aggravation to get us riled up. There are occasions when one of us reaches our boiling point, what we call our “that’s it” moment. These volcanoes of vitriol happen maybe once every two years, always when we’re physically exhausted and emotionally stressed and are usually over in just a few minutes.

What triggers our moments of mayhem? Some magical combination of irritants will slowly mass into a top-popping gusher of profanity. Now — and I can not stress this strongly enough — it’s really important to keep our “that’s it” moments from becoming synchronized events.

If one of us is having a frustration fit, the other can calmly guide the irritated back down to earth and express heartfelt commiseration over the unjust situation that set off the outburst.

If we synchronize our fits, no sane person is left to ground us because we’re both twirling off into the toxic ether and gaining speed. With no one left to drive the bus, we are both hell-bent on ditching it into a fiery ball of destruction. If our “that’s it” moments are reached simultaneously, we just may turn on each other. That is just not good.

You see, Gruff and I are both mud fighters. We are creative combatants and aim to annihilate. If I’m pissed at you I’m not only going after you, I want to destroy your entire genealogy. I don’t box, I fight. There are no rules and there’s no referee I recognize. In arguments, my goal is to scorch the earth. Once again, Gruff and I are extremely compatible. He fights dirty, too.

Out of love for each other, and possibly a teensy bit of fear, we have devised a system if we find ourselves locking horns in a fight to the death. We have a codeword. If one of us thinks that we are about to hurl some poison arrow that will hurt the other irreparably, or if one of us has just been wounded to the core, we stop and yell our codeword instead. Watermelon.

Once the watermelon card has been played, we can not speak of our disagreement or the event that triggered it for at least three hours. Three hours is an eternity and that’s the whole point. It is physically impossible to stay white hot angry during a waiting period of three full hours.

Sometimes I have been so blind with fury that I have set the stove timer for three hours, fully intent on whipping into Gruff as soon as it went off. Inevitably, when the buzzer rings I don’t have it in me to argue anymore and we both end up apologizing for any pain we may have inflicted. We lick each other’s wounds and speak of love instead.

It doesn’t matter what word is used, but I think the word watermelon is comical. It conjures up instant images of happy times. Who associates depression with watermelon? You can’t. You remember eating watermelon on the porch when you were a child. You remember happy summers catching lightning bugs. You remember being carefree. You remember being handed a slice of watermelon larger than your head and getting sticky with juice and seeds. Watermelon is a happy, funny word from light-hearted times.

Do what you need to do, but don’t hurt the one person who loves you the most. Love is hard enough to find in this world, treat it tenderly. If you think it would help, you have my blessing to hijack our codeword. Watermelon.

Facebook: A Procrastinator’s Favorite Tool

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Photo:  Me, the Princess of Procrastination

 

I am a Facebook addict. There, I said it. The reason that I love using Facebook so much is because I am the Princess of Procrastination and there is nothing better for looking like you’re working while completely ignoring work. It’s perfect for self-delusional types like me. I’ll tell myself that I’ll just hop on for a few minutes, just to catch up with a friend or two. Three hours later I’m still there, laughing at cartoons. Ha ha ha ha, Saturn’s rings are actually made up of lost airline luggage! Oh look, kittens!

My Facebook relationship is kind of a love/hate thing. I love keeping in contact with my far-flung friends, but I also hate some of the quirks of the system. I often disparagingly refer to it as Fratboy instead of Facebook. You see, Facebook was invented so college kids could find other students they’d not yet met but thought were hot enough to pursue based on their school photos. This objective can be achieved only with a certain devil-may-care attitude towards your personal data and your private parts.

I understand the hunt-and-chase mentality. I get it. Keeps the blood percolating. Good for you Zuckerberg, for thinking up a more efficient way to meet coeds other than awkwardly standing around a lukewarm beer keg. But when you’ve graduated from a casual hook up site into a billion dollar company, users get antsy about their personal data.

All of a sudden, it’s not just the upperclassmen checking out your stats, it’s the losers in Croatia scraping your information through a Facebook security hole the size of Wichita and selling it to everyone in the former eastern bloc countries so they can send want-a-bigger-penis spam to your personal email account 48 times per day. This just happened to me. It blows. (Note to marketers in the ‘stans:  I am happy with the size of my non-existent penis.  Go away.)

One day I’ll probably tire of Facebook, maybe even jumping ship because of some irritating security failure. Maybe I’ll dump Facebook because I need to actually live my life. Until then I have decided to goose them at every possible turn. That’s my way.

On Facebook, the right-hand column is filled with ads they believe suits you. Ha. If you roll into the upper right corner of the ad box, you’ll see an “X” appear. If you hit the “X” you’ll be given a choice to either hide the ad, or learn more about it. Of course I hide almost every stinking ad that appears. I hide them if I don’t like the accompanying photo. I hide them if I don’t like the name of the company. I hide them just because. Doesn’t matter. I hide ads. I also hide some posts that appear in my news feed, if they’re sketchy or I’m cranky. Keep in mind, I work from home so no one is here to call me out on my crankiness. Cranky happens. A lot. Ask the dogs.

When you hide an ad, you get a pop-up menu that says “We’ll try not to show you ads from Company XYZ again. Why did you hide them?” Then you get a short list of possible reasons to choose from. You get the same list if you block something in your news feed, which used to be a list of posts from just your friends until it became a catch-all for Facebook vomit. Anyway, the reasons they think you’ve blocked a post/ad are:

—          uninteresting

—          misleading

—          sexually explicit

—          against my views

—          offensive

—          repetitive

—          other.

I find this list way too limiting and woefully inaccurate. I think this list cries out for a serious updating. Here’s my draft of a more accurate list of reasons for banishing ads/posts from your Facebook feed.

—          Uses the phrase “You Won’t Believe What Happens Next”

—          Mentions faulty winkuses

—          Mind numbingly dull

—          Bullshit, particularly political bullshit

—          Duck lips

—          Engagement announcement if: the engaged is less than 21 years old, or the wedding date is more than 2 years off

—          Excessive posting of meals

—          Excessive/amateurish Photoshopping

—          Insecurities on display

—          Red plastic cups

—          Stalker/creepy/weirdo vibe

—          Humble bragging

—          Excessive use of !!!!!!

—          Blatant typos (exception made for dyslexics)

—          Ad masquerading as legitimate post

—          Excessive mentions of any deity

—          Posing with anything dead (exception made for zombies)

This is my current list of reasons for blocking Facebook ads or posts but it is still a work in progress. What pushes your buttons? What makes you block a post or ad? I would love to hear it, for two reasons. One, I’m genuinely interested and two, I want to affirm that it is not just me. It’s not, right?

Banned Book Week

Hello, my friends.  This is banned book week, 21 – 27 September 2014, where we celebrate having access to books that someone else decided at one time were too controversial, too provocative, too real, too eye-opening, too mind-expanding for our delicate sensibilities.  As if anyone knows better than you what will help you understand the world, become a better person, expand your perspective, and live a better life.

I hope you’ll find and read some of the books that have previously been banned or worse, burned by the unquestioning and easily controlled.  The mass is easily manipulated.  Just ask any Border collie. Reading banned books is a simple act of defiance but a powerful one.  You can Google the banned books list.  You will be surprised by what classics made the list, deemed too offensive for human eyes.  It is impossible to read this list and not think, “What were they thinking?”  Well, they weren’t thinking but they still thought they knew what was best for you.  Beware of people who claim to know what’s best for you, particularly if you are over the age of twelve.

I leave you with a quote from my favorite banned book, To Kill A Mockingbird.  I can not imagine growing up in the South and not being able to read this classic tale.  You know what?  It does not matter that Harper Lee never wrote another book, because this one is just that good.

To Kill A Mockingbird taught me that not all gruff people are truly mean, sadly that justice does not always prevail, that people’s fears are a far greater motivator than their sense of fairness, and that courage is found in quiet deeds at home as well as on dramatic battlefields.

Read a banned book.  Don’t let other people control your life.

To Kill A Mockingbird

Less Than Ladylike

 

 

 

 

Less than Ladylike quote Nora

This blog is called “Less Than Ladylike” for two reasons.  One, this quote from Nora Ephron, bless her heart.  Two, because both my grandmothers cautioned me more times than I could count against acting less than ladylike.  Sorry, Grandma Grace and Grandma Sallie Willie.  Got to follow my heart.  I promise I will not follow it into coarseness, even though I occasionally drop the F-bomb for effect, but will follow it into loud, raucous debate whenever and wherever it is necessary.

I think all people, no matter their gender, deserve equal rights and respect.  I believe that all people, no matter their color or sexual orientation, deserve equal rights and respect.

I believe that all children, no matter their family’s socioeconomic strata, deserve education, health care, and a safe place to sleep.

I think it is patriotic to take care of all military personnel before, during, and most importantly, after their service.

I believe that every citizen’s vote is equal and that free flowing money only corrupts the elective process. Supreme Court, what the hell were you thinking with that Citizen’s United crap?

I respect that everyone has the right to worship as they see fit.  I will defend your right to worship a gum ball machine if that makes you a better person, and I expect the same in return.

I believe I will have to act, talk, and write less than ladylike for a long, long time to come.  I am at peace with that.

What I can’t believe is that I still have to protest all these things in 2014, a full forty years after I started questioning how this country — rich and powerful as it is — works.  If I weren’t so mad, I’d be sorely disappointed.

Mayberry, R.I.P.

andy

(This piece first appeared on my old blog in August, 2012.  With the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, I thought it timely to post this piece once again.)

 

I grew up in Mayberry, RFD. Officially, the show was named The Andy Griffith Show for most of its on-air life, but the location was Mayberry and that’s how I remember it. RFD for those who don’t know, stands for rural free delivery. What it technically means to the post office, I can’t tell you. What it means to the world is that the post office services an area so small and intimate that an address is barely necessary. I received mail with nothing more on the envelope than my name, county, and state. The postman knew everyone, had time to chat, had time to lend a hand to the elderly on his route if needed. The postman was the thread that connected all.

In this world, my daddy was Andy Taylor and I was Opie. Dad wasn’t the sheriff.   He was a state trooper, but in our county if you were in danger you called the state police. Our local sheriff was a sorry excuse of a man. He took his phone off the hook every Friday afternoon and didn’t put it back until Sunday evening. If you got in trouble on the weekend, and the weekend is where trouble thrives, you got a busy signal on the sheriff’s line.

How did he keep getting elected? That’s a good question. The sheriff’s wife was the head public health nurse for the county. When she delivered medicines to the poor in the months before the elections, she’d tell the recipients that if her husband didn’t win she might be so distraught she’d be unable to continue delivering their prescriptions. So he got re-elected standing on blood pressure medicine and insulin. As I said, sorry excuse of a man.

Just like Mayberry, we had a courthouse square with the obligatory statue and ancient shade trees. There was a drugstore with a soda fountain that made excellent grilled cheese sandwiches. Their strawberry milkshake was pretty special, too. The gas station would let you pump gas and settle up with them on payday if you were in a tight spot, just like Goober and Gomer. There was no stop light in the entire county. There were more historic battlefield markers than there were stop signs.

It was a great place to be a kid. Just like Opie, I lived in the land of dirt roads, fishing holes, and ice cream socials. My world was populated by women who planned for months to show off their skills in the county fair, just like Aunt Bea with her pickles. There was a barber shop like Floyd’s that was more men’s social club than a working hair stylist. Until I was six, there were party lines and an operator on the phone system, though her name wasn’t Sarah.

We even had our version of Otis, the town drunk. I wonder what would happen to Otis now that law enforcement is sitting squarely in the military surplus world of fear-based policy decisions? Otis is still just an alcohol-addled, stubborn nuisance every payday, but now he’s seen as a menacing threat by people wearing riot gear. This development will not end well for poor Otis.

I remember my daddy talking a thoroughly drunk and completely naked Otis down out of a maple tree where he was singing a shaky version of Beautiful Dreamer and driving him home to sleep it off. I can’t help but think that today poor Otis would be tear-gassed, tasered, handcuffed, and tossed in jail if he lived through the process at all. It seems like overkill, when kindness works just as well, maybe better.

So I was personally sorry to hear that Andy Griffith, the actor who so completely inhabited and molded Mayberry, passed away recently. I hold Mayberry as a touchstone for a time when I was happy, carefree, and cared for. Neighbors knew and took care of each other because it was the right thing to do. If a farmer fell sick with crops in the field, those crops were anonymously harvested and put up. Livestock was fed and milked morning and evening until the farmer was back on his feet.

If someone got sick or died, God forbid, women descended on the family’s home with casseroles, ham, and baked goods, scrubbed the house into company-ready status, and got the lawn cut. All was done without thought of acknowledgment. It was simply the right thing to do. It was also done because you knew that when you hit a rough patch, your neighbors would drop everything and be there without you having to suffer the embarrassment of asking for assistance.

This abiding sense of community was shown every week on Mayberry. Now that Andy Griffith is gone, he’s pulled the last remnants of Mayberry into the mists with him and I will forever miss it. Andy Griffith played Sheriff Andy Taylor with the three qualities that could still save our world: grace, generosity, and good humor.

Good-bye, old friend.

Bad Buddhist

Brsa Orange Delight 'Starbeck' HCC

 

(This piece first appeared on my old blog in May, 2011.  I still struggle with this issue today.  I am trying my best though.  Not being a vendor at the flower show helps.)

I absolutely did not want to write this piece. I fought like a rabid badger to prevent this story from appearing in public. I am deeply ashamed of myself and saw no good reason to reveal this story to anyone. I have tried for more than three months to write anything but this, but it’s just no use.

This story held all my other story ideas hostage and would not let go. This story demanded to be exposed and until I did that, I was locked in block. My mind was thick and stupid. I couldn’t write anything fresh and funny until I told everyone this hairy, horrible, admit-to-the-whole-world-that-I’m-a-total-bitch-ass-monster fable of disappointment. I totally screwed up. I hope telling this will make amends. I hope it lets me write humor again.

“The only real failure in life is not to be true to the best one knows.” ~ Buddha

I have been a practicing — and I could not mean that more sincerely — Buddhist for over twenty years now. I have committed myself to aiming for the peaceful mind, holding compassion for others foremost in thought and actions, and trying to walk the positive, calm path. While I am at home surrounded by comfort, security, my loving husband and my dogs this is a piece of cake. I got this. I pretty much nail the whole “one with the universe” thing and I expect to start levitating any second now. I am so freaking enlightened I scare myself.

“Work out your own salvation. Do not depend on others.” ~ Buddha

Unfortunately, I am often called upon to leave the house. My goal is to walk in public and carry the same serenity that I achieve within my own four walls. For short trips out, I can do this. Well, if everyone plays nice. And then there’s the special Tourette’s Syndrome affliction that is specific to when I’m driving. I’m working on that. Anyway the point is, I have to practice Buddhism a lot harder when I’m with other people.   A lot harder. But this is the whole point. Any jackass can be calm and centered if they’re by themselves. It’s taking the act on the road that’s killer.

My husband and I are orchid vendors at the Philadelphia Flower Show. It is physically, mentally and emotionally depleting. It is nine days of plastering on a dazzling pageant smile, standing on concrete from 8:30 in the morning to 9:30 at night, answering questions that are often where-the-hell-is-security levels of weird, and making too little money in this economy for this level of effort.

The first weekend of the show all the vendors are excited and happy. The show is full of possibilities, a potential treasure chest of profit waiting to be swept into our booty bags and carted home. We are all springtime fresh, full of expectations, and barely able to control our giddiness. I strongly suggest to all consumers that they visit the show the first few days it is open. Trust me. It’s a better experience for all.

“In a controversy the instant we feel anger, we have already ceased striving for the truth, and have begun striving for ourselves.” ~ Buddha

The last weekend of the show the vendors are beat to crap and beyond. Our backs have compressed from standing on concrete for nine days making all of us shorter in both stature and temper. We’ve totaled our take and it’s nowhere near our expectations. My tiny booth costs just over $5,000 for the event. The vendors that have taken multiple booths are stressed to their eyeballs. We’ve not slept well in days. We are dehydrated and cranky. We have caught whatever communicable bug is circulating amongst the show attendees and we’re getting sick. Even if you don’t realize that you are the 253rd person to ask me about the goddamned Home Depot “Just Add Ice” orchids this week, I know it. I know it and I am about to lose what’s left of my mind because of it.

At this moment in the show, I am struggling to plod on until the doors are locked and breakdown begins. I am focused on getting out in one piece. I desperately want to bury my face in my mastiff’s neck and sleep in my own bed. I just want to go home. I am so tired that I am near tears and I don’t know why. I just am.

When it is announced over the PA system that the show is officially closed and vendors are allowed to break down their booths, a cheer and applause rings out loud enough to be heard through all of downtown Philadelphia. This outburst holds more sincerity and emotion than any sports event could ever muster, it is the cry of hopeless prisoners being released.

We rack and stack as fast as humanly possible, running material and plants out to the van and sprinting back to the booth for more loads. Imagine my disappointment to see that a florist in a large rented truck had sideswiped our van and failed to mention it. I know this florist hit our van because in addition to the damage being at the exact height of his bumper, the paint chips from our van were still clinging to his vehicle.

Here’s where I made my first mistake. I got angry. I was mad that the florist didn’t have the decency to tell me he’d hit my van. My name and phone number are plastered on three sides of the vehicle, it’s not like he couldn’t tell who owned the van. Honestly, the delivery van is ancient. If he’d come to me and confessed that he’d hit the van I’d probably have let it go, the damage being purely cosmetic.

 “You will not be punished for your anger. You will be punished by your anger.” ~ Buddha

I sought him out to discuss the matter. He started the conversation by calling me a liar, telling me he had two witnesses that said he had not hit my van, and I told him that was meaningless because I could conjure three witnesses who said he did. We walked outside and en route I referred to him as sweetheart which offended him. Really? You’ve just called me a liar, and the word sweetheart offends you. Darling, sweetheart was so far down the quickly edited list in my head that it was not even in the top ten choices of what I really wanted to call you.

Here’s where I made my second mistake. I snapped. I started screaming and shaking. The calm, centered, enlightened being who had been hovering near the exit completely fled the building and was replaced by a violent lunatic who was consumed by thoughts of snapping this asshole’s head back by the scrap of hair he had left and drawing a serrated knife across his trachea. Buddhist go bye-bye. Psychotic Samurai is in the house!

My husband saw what was happening and intervened, calling the gentleman something we could all agree was far more offensive than sweetheart. They argued and hollered while I stood, twitching, on the dock. Of course, no agreement was reached. It seems that this guy’s very life depended on his not admitting that he had possibly done anything wrong.

We cut our losses. We left. We drove the five hours home in near silence, only speaking to ask each other if we really wanted to sign up for the event again. Not sure. Not sure at all. We were on the waiting list for the Philly show for seven years. We’ve done it three years now. It’s not what I thought it would be. What is?

I am disappointed. I am disappointed in the sales numbers. I am disappointed in the gate. I am disappointed that someone could sideswipe my van and think that it was okay not to mention it. Most of all, I am disappointed in myself. Even though I was tired to the bone, it was wrong of me to want to hurt someone. It was wrong to explode. It was wrong to rage.

I am deeply disappointed that I crumpled so quickly when faced with a simple test of my composure and compassion. That’s all this was to me in the end. It is a failed exam. I flunked out.

This situation belts me across the face with the humiliating realization that in twenty years of learning and trying to follow the tenets of Buddhism, I have not come nearly as far as I thought I had. Not even close. Now I wonder if I have enough time left in my life to understand that which I’m seeking to achieve. I hurt myself because I wanted to hurt another. When tested, I failed. Miserably.

 “When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. That is my religion.”  ~ Abraham Lincoln

Middle Management

Oney Brennan

(This post originally appeared on my old blog in August, 2010.  Surprising everyone, Oney passed away in October, 2010.  It still hurts.)

 

We have a Great Dane named Oney. The name Oney rhymes with pony and was the name of my great-aunt, Oney Lavinnia Davis. My great-aunt Oney never married despite having many suitors. She suffered from seizures and did not want to run the risk of passing that on to children. She loved all children but whenever anyone was pregnant, she always hoped that they would give birth to a robust, ginger boy. Aunt Oney had a real thing for red-headed, freckled boys and I’m certain if given half a chance, she would have kidnapped Opie for her own.

My great-aunt was an industrious woman, gifted with all things involving needles and threads or fabric. She was a wonderful seamstress, fashioning extraordinary formals for my cousin. She was an accomplished lace maker, knitter, and crocheted all my dolls’ wardrobes. She had her daily activity schedule and stuck to it. So does my Great Dane.

My Great Dane Oney is devoted to her routine. From morning to night, she has a plan. Upon rising from bed, she heads directly downstairs to the living room sofa for a post-sleep nap. She believes in starting the day gently and how better to ease into things than with a nap? Then there’s breakfast, eaten with appreciation and grace. After breakfast, the pace quickens and it’s time for her first official pass of the day. This means that she absolutely must go out and inspect the entire property. It’s important for her to establish that during the night we were not invaded by marauders, cutthroats, or groundhogs. Once perimeter security is confirmed, it’s time for the post-inspection nap.

Fully rested, Oney is ready to take on more management duties. She simply can not abide displays of frantic energy of any kind. Screaming toddlers send her straight to bed. Border collies make her flipping insane. If the English mastiff, Joe, and the Basset hound, Clara Jack, start to roughhouse and tussle, it must be stopped. Oney will get in between the two and try to block their contact as they pounce at each other despite her efforts. When that fails, she will put her paw on Clara Jack and push her to the floor. “When in doubt, stand on ‘em” is her leadership mantra.

More important to Oney than crowd control is resource management, or rather the allocation of the rawhide chew bones. We have three dogs, and I always buy four bones because this is not my first rodeo. I’ve learned that when you’re passing out something with the desirability of a large beef rawhide bone, having plenty keeps peace in the pack. Invariably, and for the life of me I can’t explain why, one bone will become “the one.” It, above all other bones, will be the most delicious, the most desirable, and the most sought after bone in the house, maybe even on the whole planet. Now skilled manipulation and strategy become important. Here is where Oney shines.

If Clara Jack has “the one,” there’s not much hope of getting it from her unless one of Clara’s favorite humans comes through a door and she bounds over to them in greeting. Then the bone can be snatched away. That’s a tough scenario to manufacture, so Oney just has to be patient, in position, and wait for opportunity to present itself.

If Joe has “the one,” there’s no waiting involved. Joe sees himself as Head of Security here, and will bark ferociously at the front window at anything that seems askance within a two-mile radius of our property. All are warned. There’s a 200-pound mastiff watching you. All Oney has to do to get the bone is to bark once or twice. Joe will run to the front window to man his security station, barking the whole way. Oney will snatch the dropped bone and run upstairs. After Joe is through securing the house, he’ll return to where the bone was and wonder what the hell just happened. I’ve seen this played out too many times to think it’s a coincidence. It’s sneaky, it’s devious, it’s effective; by God, it’s middle management material.

A variation of this maneuver is when Oney has “the one” and Clara Jack has been patiently watching and waiting for her opportunity to pull a quick grab-and-go. I’ve seen Clara sit there over an hour, observing, inching closer, her desire for the bone practically vibrating off her body. Oney gets tired of the bone but doesn’t want Clara to have it for reasons known only to Oney. Oney will get up, carry the bone right past Clara to a sleeping, oblivious Joe and drop the bone beside his drooling maw, making sure that he wakes up during this process. Joe rouses and thinks that the rawhide fairy has visited and starts to chew the gift. Clara who has devoted over an hour of her time to the pursuit of the bone just stares in disbelief.

Now that Oney has affirmed her superiority, it’s time for the official evening inspection of the property. Deer, foxes, and bear are warned that this is dog country, and not to defile the kingdom by trespassing during the evening hours.

Most of the day’s tasks completed, the pace mellows again. Evening meal is eaten, followed by a sound pre-sleep nap on the sofa. All dogs are officially off-duty now. There is sincere snoring until the word is given that it’s time to crawl up the stairs and officially go to bed. Oney’s last management duty of the day is to allocate sleeping space to all on the bed. We humans have reserved spaces, and the three dogs meld themselves into the remaining nooks and crannies. The Basset overheats easily so she prefers space under the ceiling fan, but Oney and Joe both want their blankets thrown over them and tucked in before the lights go out.

Life as a middle manager rocks!

The Rock Pile

rock pile small

 

My friend Allison has been through her fair share of life’s ups and downs. Recently, she’s spent a lot of time on the down side of the hill. This bout of hard luck seems to be making her a little bitter, a little cranky, and a lot less fun. It’s a shame because Ally is truly a dear, sweet, loving person. She deserves a little happiness to roll her way. Sadly she seems to attract the dramatic, preferring soap opera style Strum und Drang over peace.

Allison never had the benefit of my grandma’s advice when growing up, which would have nipped this silliness in the bud. My grandmother told me often, “I expect you to try new things in your life. I expect you to fall on occasion. Pick yourself up and try again. You are not allowed to lie there and wallow like a fat, muddy sow.”

Allison indulged in a bit of sow-wallowing this summer and paid a tidy sum to do so. Allison went to a women’s camping retreat for two weeks. I’m not sure how this retreat was advertised, because I got odd messages from Ally. She bought new tees, sandals and shorts. She complained that finding shorts that looked cute both with tees and topless was really difficult. Hello? Shorts that need to look good with and without shirts just aren’t purchased by females. I’m thinking the Malibu men’s beach volleyball team has a lock on this fashion trend, but why would Allison need such a thing? “Well,” she explained, “I expect that we will be honoring our womanhood by dancing around the fire topless. “

Uh huh. I honor my womanhood by eating strawberry shortcake in my bathrobe while watching Monty Python re-runs. To quote Henry David Thoreau, “Distrust any enterprise that requires new clothes.”  I have a news flash for Miss Ally.  If you are topless, no one should be checking out your shorts.

I think I have figured out why Allison signed up for this “Outward Bound meets Oprah Winfrey” event. When Ally is under pressure from bad luck, a bad relationship, a bad job; she tends to make impulsive decisions. I’m counting the two-week camp-out for unhappy women as one of her questionable choices. Even worse, it was expensive.

On Day Two of the retreat, Allison signed up for a class on “Attracting Joy to Your Life.” It was a popular class loaded with participants, all eager to find the elusive secret to happiness. Nothing wrong with that. Everyone deserves joy. The morning was spent on generalities and before breaking for lunch, the class got their first assignment. During lunch, everyone was to go out and walk around the campus. Pick up a pebble or rock for each issue in your life that made you feel disrespected or angry. Document your hurt with a stone only if you thought about the incident every day. The size of the rock chosen should also represent the amount of hurt you suffered.

Ally was all over this assignment. She was so eager to get to it that she skipped lunch altogether. She found a sizeable stone to document her philandering ex-husband, rocks to represent her three older sisters and their life-long mistreatment of her, a flat paver to show her boss’ general lack of appreciation, and chunks of gravel for every self-centered slacker she’d ever dated. I had no idea that Allison felt so wronged. I can not imagine being haunted by past events every day as she claims to be.

Allison managed to get her load of issues back to the class space just in time for the afternoon session. It took the pillow case off her bunk to haul it all, but it was worth it. As everyone assembled, some with just one tiny pebble, barely a bead, Ally was very proud to see that she had the largest pile of rocks. No one else even came close. She was going to have so much fun.

Allison had heard about this exercise before. You took your rocks down to the lake. You yelled everything you could think at the person the stone represented and heaved it into the water. It was supposed to be cathartic and wonderful. She could not wait to start screaming and chucking her collection of wrongs.

The instructor walked about the class, examining and commenting on everyone’s pebbles. He spent some time counting Allison’s pile o’ pain. He questioned whether she really carried so many injuries with her on a daily basis. She swore that she thought about each and every one of these issues at least once a day. With a sigh, the instructor went back to the front of the gathering.

“Okay people, this is an important exercise for you to accomplish. Only by completing this task, will you be able to begin living a joyful life. Is that clear?” asked the instructor.

Allison was practically vibrating with anticipation now. She was going to lug all these hateful injustices to the lake and drown them. She was going to be free. This was going to be so great!

The instructor was talking again. “All of you have assured me that you have gathered rocks to represent the painful issues that you think about every day. These issues nip at your confidence, block you from achieving success, and prevent you from attracting happiness and love into your life today. These issues are a tiresome burden to carry and you must prepare to not only let them go, but to gladly rid yourselves of them forever. Unfortunately, old pains are comfortable pains. People carry things around for years because if they let go, they are uncertain of what’s next. It’s a better-the-devil-you-know thing. But we are going to move beyond that here this week. We are going to let go and open our lives to true joy. Are you ready?”

A resounding “yes” was heard from the entire class. Everyone was ready to divorce their anger and find happiness. Quite a few of the rocks in the room represented ex-spouses, so divorcing the pain was practically a literal task for the group.

“Now” the instructor began, “in order to fully understand what you are doing to yourselves by carrying these past disappointments around and reliving them daily, you will carry your rocks everywhere with you for the next three days. You may not even go to the bathroom or the mess tent unless all your rocks are with you. Is that clear?”

“What? Wait.” said Ally. “What about the lake? What about the rocks and the lake?”

“Oh, thank you for reminding me.” said the instructor. “I would not recommend swimming for the next three days. You in particular, Allison. You are in real danger of drowning yourself.”

 

Let Your Freak Flag Fly

(This piece originally appeared on my old blog in January 2014.)

 

I loved being a realtor. Basically, I’m a snoop and there’s nothing like selling residential real estate to scratch the rashy snoop itch. And here’s where the public service announcement comes in. People if you are selling your house, you need to get your embarrassing personal shit out of there. Rent a storage locker, box it and take it to mama’s attic, whatever you need to do but do not leave it out on display. It will kill the sale.

If you can’t tell whether your prized possessions are outside the normal range, ask a friend. Ask your mother. Ask your realtor. Things that you may be very fond of might just turn someone else off. That someone could have been your most lucrative offer. So don’t get uppity about your hunting trophies. Don’t be all proud about your gun collection. Don’t showcase your Nazi memorabilia. Just don’t.

I used to tell my listing clients that once their home was on the market, it was no longer their house. They were now guests in their buyer’s house. The house had to look like it already belonged to their buyer. They had to treat it as if they were just borrowing it for the weekend. Buyers have a great deal of trouble visualizing potential when they are being smacked in the face with your reality.

Don’t get all defensive. Yes, a whole lotta home buyers are freaks but they are only comfortable with their own flavor of freakiness. They find your brand of freaky downright disturbing. If your house meets their needs perfectly in every way possible but has an idiosyncratic “souvenir” laying about, they will either run away from the sale or offer you thousands less than your asking price because eeeewwww.

I know what you’re thinking, you bunch of little sex monkeys. No, I’m not just talking about the errant pleasure toy. I’ve come across a bunch of them showing houses and yes, you should definitely slide the lube and the magic wands into a storage box under the bed, you exhibitionist scamp, you. I’m talking about the less-vanilla items. The things that people don’t even recognize at first and then their brains blossom into oh-my-god-why-is-this-thing-in-the-kitchen?*

For example, I showed a normal, suburban house in a good neighborhood to a young woman. Everything was peachy until we came to the master bath. There was discoloration in the jacuzzi tub. Faded splatters in the tub and droplets on the tile. Is that blood? Looks like blood. Looks like a lot of blood. Why is there blood? Actually, don’t care why. We’re leaving now. House tour over.

I called the listing agent and asked about it. She called the homeowners. Turns out the homeowners were with the diplomatic corp and had just slaughtered a goat in the bathtub for a large family celebration. Let me repeat that. Slaughtered a goat in the master suite jacuzzi tub. So do you think my vegetarian, PETA card-carrying client wrote a contract on that otherwise perfect house? Fat chance.

I showed a house that had extra large eye bolts in the ceiling joists and wall studs of the blacked-out basement. I’m not sure what the homeowners used them for, why they needed such heavy duty bolts so securely installed but my buyers couldn’t get past referring to that house as the one with the slave dungeon.

There was one home that pushed all my ick buttons and I just didn’t see it coming. I showed a lovely condominium near public transportation, a park, and shopping to a young couple. Neighbors were sitting out on their patio and we talked with them before we went in. They said, “Oh, that’s Jasper’s condo. He’s a phys ed teacher at the middle school. Let us know what you think of his place once you’ve toured it.”

Well, the place was lovely. It was bright, updated, clean and fresh, with loads of natural light. I mean, I had this place sold. Then we saw the bedroom. And we just stood there, staring. The bedroom walls were covered in framed photos of barely adolescent girls in gymnast costumes. Most were mid-air, tumbling, jumping, splitting, all tiny with their hair in a tight little bun. When I say the walls were covered, I mean frame edges touching, no wall visible, had to be at least sixty 8″ x 10″ shots per wall.

You know what? The photos weren’t the creepiest thing in the room. Didn’t see that coming, did you? The bed was way creepier. Ole Jasper there had built the bed special, so the top of the mattress was four feet off the floor, just like a balance beam. Hanging from the ceiling above the pillows were a pair of gymnastics rings. Well, you can’t unsee something like that.

As we filed out, the neighbors asked what we thought. My client answered. “No. Just no.”

* Fun fact: That thing that was on the kitchen counter was a life like replica of a female porn star’s private parts. Why was that sitting in the food preparation area? Huh?

Could Not Fail

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(This piece originally appeared on my old blog in October 2012.)

“What would you do if you knew you could not fail?”

These are the words inscribed on a very popular paperweight. It is meant to be inspirational, encouraging you to aim high in life. Nice platitude. They’ve sold a squezillion of these office accessories.   I don’t know who came up with this phrase, but it smells like Stephen Covey to me. Mr. “Seven Habits” was always good for executive inspiration. Could be Robert Schuller though. He loved bromides, too.

What would you attempt if you were guaranteed success? If you were certain that there would be no downside, no penalty for your actions, what course would you set? What would you really do if you knew you could not fail?

So what does it say about me that whenever I see this paperweight I think to myself, “I’d kill a few people and buy lottery tickets.” What, not lofty enough for you?

Sure, it might be more socially acceptable, more noble if my goals were to end world hunger, but I’m too old and tired to care at a global level any more. That “saving the planet” shit is for the young. When I was young, I was invincible. I was fierce. I was willing to slog through gator-infested swamps to achieve my goals. Now, not so much.

When I was young, I wanted to save the world. I tried to enforce order. I followed every rule, even the stupid ones like don’t wear white shoes after Labor Day. As if that made any difference to the greater good. Now that I’m older and have more perspective, I’ll wear white shoes whenever I please. Hell, I’ll wear white, bedazzled flip-flops in November if I feel like it. My footwear does not effect my standing as a good citizen. How about that?

The perspective gained from living for a while makes life easier. First, you realize that you don’t know everything. Eventually, it dawns on you that you really don’t know a damn thing. Then you’ll realize that not only do you not know anything, you don’t care that much about it either. Poof! Life is so much easier when you have perspective.

Family, friends, comfort and health become the entire world to you. It turns out that’s enough. If everyone took proper care of their own health, their friends and their families, it would ripple across the globe and the world would be a better place for all.

So now that I’ve shared my aged wisdom, let’s revisit the issue. What would you do if you knew you could not fail? I’m sorry. I’d still kill a couple of people and buy lottery tickets.

Recalled

Remember when I said I’d be posting new stories as soon as I healed from my recent surgery?  Yeah, me too.  I healed like a boss and am all better from the surgery, but. . . .

Walking back from my mail box (no more than 25 yards from the front door) one of the muscles behind my right knee ripped.  Spontaneously ripped.  Boom!

It is fair to surmise that I am no longer a person whose warranty has merely expired, I am now on the urgent recall list.  I am the human equivalent of a Chevy Aveo.  I am in a wheelchair, hopefully for no more than three weeks.

So, I ask your continued patience.  When I return, I promise it will be with all the wit, wisdom, and snark you’ve come to expect from me.  The new post will be so compelling, it will be the literary equal to a neon sign flashing “LIVE NUDE GIRLS!”  I’ve always wondered why the word “LIVE” was necessary.  Be back soon.  Two drink minimum.

live nude girls

Truly a Southern Girl

Perennial plant

Thank all y’all for your patience as I get back up to speed after my operation, which went swimmingly. I thought y’all would appreciate knowing what I’m like going under anesthesia, because the staff in the operating room sure did.

The anesthesiology nurse told me that while I was being put under, I tried to manage my environment unlike anyone else.

It seems I said, “It’s too bright in here. The light’s not right. I won’t look pretty.”

There you have it.  All my upbringing distilled into one foggy demand for more flattering lighting.

 

Bump In The Road

I will be posting more fresh and frisky stories as soon as I get this demonically possessed gall bladder removed. Next week, I promise.

In the meantime, I am seriously looking forward to getting topped off with an industrial dose of morphine and catching up on my sleep. Be well.

It’s On the List

“I’ll put it on the list” Gruff purred into my ear.

I melted. My heart fluttered. I thought, “Oh, it is so wonderful to finally be with a guy who can do useful things, like fix busted appliances, build stuff, and replace the old mailbox.”

I was in heaven. I was elated. I was so naive. This was way back in the year 2000, when Gruff and I were all fresh and fluffy and playing footsie in our brand new relationship. Now I have learned what the phrase “I’ll put it on the list” actually means. What Gruff is really saying is, “Your request has been heard and is duly registered on the Majestic Master of Home Repair’s Magnanimous To-Do list.   Your item is number 27,383. We are now servicing number 5.”

I have lived with three men in my life. My dad, my starter husband, and now Gruff. Neither my dad nor Starter could screw in a light bulb without supervision. Thankfully, both of them had learned not to attempt home repairs. If anything broke, or even flickered, you called The Man. There was a plumbing Man, an electrical Man, an appliance Man, and so on comprising an army of Men who could fix things, awaiting your phone call to leap into action, for just a $75 minimum charge.

Then I married The Man. Gruff’s an engineer.  He can fix anything. That means that I can not call another Man because that would be a waste of money when Gruff has the skills to do it himself. This is a dilemma for me. On the one hand, it’s nice to have someone handy that is handy. On the other hand, Gruff’s schedule is so overbooked that I end up waiting until all other home, greenhouse, or office fires have been extinguished before he turns his attention to my requests.

Case in point. I bought a beautiful, grandly large, sparkling white mailbox to replace our small, plastic, spider-infested one in 2003. I had our name put on both sides in purple lettering, making us an official family. Yeah, I know. It was a little bit out of The Jerk (The new phone books are here, the new phone books are here! . . . . I’m somebody now!). Anyway, I was very pleased with my gorgeous new mailbox and just knew that it was going to be the envy of all who drove by.

It’s 2014. That mailbox still sits in the corner of the living room beside the television, becoming encrusted with dust, looking pitiful. It mocks me. Every time I look at the thing, it says, “All your mail and packages could easily fit within my sturdy steel constructed maw, comfortably safe from harm and elements. Good luck with that broke-down Rubbermaid thing that your mailman balances Amazon boxes on top of. You have noticed that the lumber trucks rattling by send your precious goodie boxes tumbling into puddles, or worse, the middle of the road, haven’t you?”

I pushed a chair in front of the mailbox so it doesn’t glare at me while I’m watching TV. It doesn’t help. I can still hear it weeping. It’s bored and unfulfilled, prevented from doing its life’s work. Hence, I have started referring to it as the “Motive Mailbox.” If ever I snap and smother Gruff in his sleep, the homicide detectives will look at that miserable mailbox in the corner of the living room with a receipt dated July 2003 on it and declare, “Chief, I believe we’ve found a motive for the murder. Book her, Danno.”

There Be Dragons Here

Amos Henry and Joe

 

We live at a crossroads. Not a magical Robert Johnson kind of crossroads, more of a Gomer Pyle crossroads. Even though we are way out in the middle of nowhere, and it is not possible for me to overstate our rural-ness, it’s still a very busy intersection. When I visit my friends in the city, I actually sleep better. It’s quieter. Here at my little country corner, traffic starts rolling through around 3:30 in the morning so everyone gets where they need to be in time for work.

Just your average, garden-variety car tends to be loud and jiggly here since this county does not have vehicle emission standards. Air pollution is just not our most pressing problem. The average income in this county is shamefully low, so car maintenance is regularly postponed. There are a lot of vehicles on the road here that sound like they’re one lug nut away from extinction.

Making it worse, one of the roads running past my house accommodates all the tractor trailers going from the poultry farms to the nugget factory and from the orchards to the juice plant. The other road handles dump trucks from the quarry and the big rigs hauling roof truss systems. It’s a noisy, rattling junction, you can be sure.

That’s where the mastiff comes in. Joe is our official Security Director and alerts us to all things suspicious in our immediate vicinity. He’s the Top Gun of our thirteen acres and takes his position very seriously. I mean, drill sergeant seriously. Unless he’s sleeping, then you’re on your own. But other than that, he’s a perimeter enforcement beast.

The rest of the pack are fairly casual in their approach to home defense. The Basset hound couldn’t care less. The bulldog will bark once or twice if the event exceeds a certain time limit. The boxer will at some point utter a supportive bark, but will never know why since he’s deaf and doesn’t get it. So threat assessment falls squarely and solely on Joe. He sees it as a somber responsibility.

Lumbering, squealing, jostling trucks are never going to be accepted by Joe as anything other than an imminent threat to our well-being. They are the mechanical equivalent of a dragon suffering a violent seizure and everyone needs to be made aware that something awful is happening this close to the house.

Every dump truck, every garbage truck, every Department of Transportation vehicle, every big rig has to be chased off by ferocious barks. These are serious, slobber-slinging messages of doom. Woe be to the vehicle that dares to slow down, or horrors, park near our property.

I am torn about this security soundtrack. On one hand, I like the fact that everyone knows we have a protective, 200-pound dog on the property. It makes my life a little easier. It helps preserve my privacy. It has totally eliminated the annoying visits from the “Have you accepted Jesus as your personal savior?” crowd.   To the couple trying to sell insurance door-to-door, Joe didn’t think much of you either, but I guess you got that memo while standing on our porch.

On the other hand, shut up already! I have attempted dozens of times to record a series of pod casts. I do not have one that I can use because somewhere in every single recording is a series of ear-splitting alarm barks. What to do? I’ve always approved of Joe’s behavior in the past, even encouraged it. Now that it doesn’t mesh with my goals, how do I tweak his protectiveness? He just doesn’t understand, “Not now baby, Mama is trying to record the funny.” How many Benedryl do you think it takes to make a monster-sized mastiff sleepy?

This week has been particularly bad. It’s a holiday week, so traffic is heavier than usual. Also, Joe has a deputy-in-training. We are babysitting my in-laws’ Irish Wolfhound, Amos. Amos is all too eager to learn the ways of home protection. Amos is supporting Joe on every woof, racing from window to window trying to understand what it is we’re barking at. Doesn’t matter. Joe said it was time to howl, so mad barking is in order.

I’m pretty sure I can translate the barking after six years of hearing it. Allow me.

“Hey, you cow. I see the way you’re looking over here. Keep your eyes on your own pasture.”

“Oh my God, is that a cat?”

“Did you hear a dragon? I’m sure I heard a dragon. Dragons rattle and that was definitely a rattling sound. Y’all had better recognize the danger we’re in. Dragons kill, you know.”

“Is that cat still here?”

“Look at this! It’s a rabbit. Just who do you think you are? Go away. I saw Monty Python.”

“Motorcycle, motorcycle, motorcycle! That’s way too loud for a Honda, Mister. Move along.”

“It’s another dragon. Wait no, it’s a dump truck. I don’t like your looks, buddy. Keep rolling.”

“Wait, is that the same cat?”

“You! You with the bible. Get back in your car or else.”

“Intruder alert! Hey, that’s Daddy’s car, that’s Daddy’s car. Daddy’s home. Time to dance! Let’s bark to share our joy.”

“Daddy’s in the house! We missed you so much! Let’s bark to show you how much we worried while you were gone.”

“It’s dinner time. We will now bark to express our gratitude.”

“It’s TV time. There’s that nasty little Jack Russell terrier on the PetMeds commercial. We hate him. Bark to convey our collective disapproval.”

. . . . and repeat.

What It Means To Be Southern

biscuits

 “I think we Southerners have talked a fair amount of malarkey about the mystique of being Southern.”

~ Reynolds Price

 Many Yankee friends have asked me to define what it means to be Southern. Since I am promoting myself as a native tour guide for all things from the American South, I should be able to answer this question easily, only it’s not that simple. It’s messily subjective when you start thinking about it.

My husband Gruff can’t wait to read this one, since he thinks my values are more aligned with South Park than with South Carolina. It’s true. I am more liberal than most of the geographically defined South, but the South is always reconstructing itself and its values. It must to stay relevant to its growing, shifting population. Otherwise, it becomes dusty and obsolete, a garish knick-knack destined for the world’s yard sale box.

I was raised in Virginia which is a very different milieu than Mississippi. There are dozens of flavors in the Southern stew, each as important as the next. Different states offer distinct tastes of the South, but there are common spices that bind it all. So no, I don’t have a pithy, bumper sticker definition of what it is to be truly Southern and probably won’t be able to produce one. Damn, I could have made millions selling bumper stickers.

Let me start by telling you what the South is not. It is absolutely not whatever the A & E and TLC channels think it is. A & E stands for Arts and Entertainment, and they have a rather flimsy grip on the Arts part of their name. TLC stands for The Learning Channel, an ironic moniker if ever there were one. If there is a TV channel currently on air attempting to dumb down its viewership outside of Fox News, it is TLC.

“Beauty is not in the face; beauty is a light in the heart.”

~ Kahlil Gibran

The South is not Honey Boo Boo, even though that little girl is an adorable dumpling. I don’t know anyone currently involved in the pageant circuit. It’s just not that big a deal here in Virginia compared to some of the other Southern states. I participated in a couple as a child and hated every minute of it. I finally announced that if I couldn’t wear shorts and flip-flops, I wasn’t doing it at all. Pageant career wrecked at the ripe old age of eight. Thank God.

It is not diving into muddy places to wrangle catfish. Every Southerner knows that you catch catfish by putting smelly bits on a hook, setting the pole in the river bank and coming back the next morning to round up your catch. Most of the time you get catfish, sometimes you get eels, and both fry up just fine. Catfishing is definitely not an aerobic, waterlogged, near death experience. That’s just silly.

It is not all trailer parks. It is not all hoarding. It is certainly not the combination of the two, chicken hoarding in a trailer. Yes, I did see this on one of the aforementioned channels. It was just pitiful. The whole time I was watching it, I was praying, “Please be Missouri, please be Missouri.” Even better, it turned out to be Illinois. Take that, Mason-Dixon line.

It is most certainly not letting camera crews follow you around while you commit a federal offense (moonshining). No self-respecting moonshiner would show a camera crew Grandpa’s favorite hidey-hole in the woods nor would they allow the making of their very best recipe to be filmed. What’s next, TLC? Backwoods Breaking and Entering?

It is not all shooting and spitting. It’s not all hunting, mud, and camouflage clothing. It is not all men with wild beards. It is not all gators, ducks, beer, and pickup trucks. Wait, it might be all about pickup trucks. I have to think about that one.

It is not all fried foods. Only 87% of it is. The rest is pie. Unless we are talking about fried peach pies, then 100% is about fried foods. Want to find yourself a mate in the South? Learn to fry chicken. Paula Deen is far more representative of our cuisine and tastes than I like to admit. She’s also indicative of our collective medical condition, unfortunately.

It is not all about pitching hissy fits or conniption fits. Yes, there is a difference between the two. Major fits don’t happen very often because we were raised better than that. However, if you hear a Southern woman utter the words “That’s it!” or “As God is my witness. . .” it would be prudent for you to find a reason to leave the house. Best not to dawdle, either.

“Anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic.”

~ Flannery O’Connor

Hello, Hollywood! A Southern accent is not shorthand to tell the audience that a character is stupid. Having a character say stupid things is the clue that they’re stupid. Stop being lazy and bigoted, why don’t cha? We are not ignorant. We have a slow, rolling cadence but make no mistake, we are not slow-witted.

I’ll stop telling you what the South isn’t and start telling you what it is. It is an inherited gift of storytelling. Every Southerner grew up hearing family tales and can share at least a half dozen stories that will have you laughing through tears. The best thing a Southern raconteur can hear is this phrase, choked out through laughter. “Wait, wait, let me catch my breath.”

It is flirting. We all carry the compliment gene. We will find something about you to compliment, even if we’ve got nothing to work with but your choice of socks. It will be a sincere compliment, and you will feel lighter for it. The goal of Southern flirtation is to get the face smiling with a wee bit of pleasantry. It is about friendliness and playful banter. It is about making life fun. It is not about foreplay, so don’t get all flustered.

“If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.”

~ Will Rogers

It is our dogs. We have a strong bond with our pets, and when a faithful companion dog passes away it tears out a chunk of our hearts. The connection between a Southern man and his best hunting dog is not to be trivialized. We appreciate the friendship, the helpfulness, the unconditional love, the comedy our dogs provide us. This world would be a better place if humans could be more like dogs.

“. . .this is the South, we encumber you with hospitality.”

~John Grishman, The Firm

It is not knowing a stranger. If we are in the Express lane at the Piggley-Wiggley, we will start a conversation with you and everybody else in line. We will be on each other’s Christmas card lists by the time we check out. We will be sad to see you go, we enjoyed our time together that much.

It is hospitality. If you appear on our doorstep, even if you are a Jehovah’s Witness and our true inclination is to set the dogs on you, we will offer you a glass of lemonade. We will sit down with you though our chore list is backed up two miles long. We feel obligated to make you comfortable. We love to visit. Calling on elderly friends and relatives after Sunday lunch is a tradition. We simply must talk to others or we will lose our minds.

“Perhaps no bread in the world is quite as good as Southern corn bread, and perhaps no bread in the world is quite as bad as the Northern imitation of it.”

~ Mark Twain

It is our food. It is barbecue. Barbecue is cooking meats with smoke, not heat, at 250 degrees or less for many hours. It is not grilling. Grilling is a cook-out. They are not the same and the terms are never to be used interchangeably. Hear that, Bobby Flay?

Barbecue is to the American South what wine is to France. Drive 200 miles in any direction and there are regional differences in technique and flavor. The French have their terroir, we have our sauces. Barbecue is our claim to fame. It is our birthright. It is our destiny. We simply do not joke about barbecue.

It is fried chicken emerging from hot grease like Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus. You can heal a lot of bad situations with a platter of good fried chicken. Southern fried chicken aficionados are second only to barbecue hounds in their commitment.

It is iced tea. It is homegrown vegetables. It is sugar. It is bourbon. It is pie. It is cornbread. It’s a mess of greens. It is seafood, particularly shrimp. It is grits. It is hot biscuits. It is country ham. It is all our favorite foods, born in hardship and making do, that feed our very souls and make us feel the rush of generations past whenever we put spoon to mouth. Want to make friends? Learn to fry chicken.

“I even went so far to become a Southern Baptist for a while, until I realized that they didn’t hold ’em under long enough.”

~ Kinky Friedman

 It is church. Collectively we are a religious group, fond of the drama and entertainment of a good, old-fashioned revival every summer. Much charity and good work has been done by the churches in the South. Yes, there are Southern religious groups that claim to speak for a much larger portion of the population than they actually represent, and there are groups that seem to cherry-pick the bible as a justification for judging others. The majority of churches in the South concentrate on helping people and are not drawn into the political forum like moths to a bug-zapper. Don’t let the loud mouths lead you to believe that this is what Southern religion is all about. It is not.

“The Southern character is opposed to haste. Safety is of more worth than speed, and there is no hurry.”

~ Maria Mitchell

It is hot. It is sticky. We move slowly. We talk slowly. We are not quite on “island time” nor do we belabor the word manana, but we are pretty close. You try to be all perky and motivated when it is 98 degrees with 95% humidity. It’ll beat the frisky right out of you, but quick.

“A family is one of nature’s solubles; it dissolves in time like salt in rainwater.”

~ Pat Conroy

It is family. It is having certain archetypes represented in every single Southern family, and that is an inescapable truth. You are destined to be related to:

(1) either a Blanche DuBois or a Scarlett O’Hara and God help you if you have both in your extended family because the level of manufactured drama will be unbearable;

(2) a rough-and-tumble Tom Sawyer type (can be female);

(3) a Jim Williams bon vivant (Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil);

(4) an Aunt Polly or Aunt Bea, hardworking, pearl-clutching, everybody-be-good-now woman;

(5) an Andy Taylor or a Caddy Compson (The Sound and the Fury) decent guy;

(6) a Boo Radley, (To Kill a Mockingbird) cranky on the outside, kind on the inside type; and

(7) some incarnation of Barney Fife.

This is why food is so important at family reunions. It gives you something to distract everyone from personal differences. Want to keep the peace at family gatherings? Learn to fry chicken.

“There is no such thing as being too Southern.”

~ Lewis Grizzard

So there you have it. My definition of what it means to be Southern. I am Southern. All you need to know about me is that I faithfully worship my own Holy Trinity of Southern life: a porch, a pie, and a pack of dogs. Oh, and you can bet big money that I can fry chicken.

Southern Vernacular

scarlet

 

Honesty is the best policy. Except when it’s not. That’s the crux of Southern-speak, right there. You’ll find yourself wandering into the “except when it’s not” territory more than you ever thought possible. You might even end up forwarding your mail there, you’re in it so often.

This goes far beyond the old comic line, “Do these pants make my butt look big?” Really? People, unless you need to quickly assess whether or not your partner is experiencing suicidal tendencies, why would you ever ask a question like that? Baiting your partner with land mine questions is not cool. And for those of you who are stuck in the remedial relationship class, the answer to that question is always, “Why no, Honey. In fact, I was just thinking that you look very pretty today.”

No, Southern-speak can be far more subtle. We learned it watching our parents and our grandparents, so we can spot it and drop it without thinking. For those of you who were not raised Southern, well, you obviously need some assistance. Here I am, a public service peach, ready to help.

“I’m just being ugly.”

This phrase has nothing to do with physical attractiveness. All Southern women are beautiful and we know it. This phrase refers to behavior, speech, or attitude. The speaker is announcing that they have slipped into some serious hatefulness. It’s a half-hearted apology and/or acknowledgement that yes, we are indeed being a world-class bitch but we’re not quite finished yet. Recognizing you have a problem is the first step back towards “nice lady” behavior.

“You’d best be getting to it.” or “You’d best not do that.”

Other regions might use the “You’d better. . . .” but in the South, we have ramped up our seriousness on the good-better-best scale. When we say you’d best, we are quite earnest that you should or should not do whatever we are discussing. This also implies a certain amount of urgency.

“You go right ahead.”

Under no circumstances are you to proceed with whatever you are contemplating if you’ve heard this from your mate. It is not permission, it is a warning. In fact, if you’ve pushed hard enough, you might hear this phrase delivered in an even clearer manner. “You go right ahead, I dare you.”

 “Bless your heart.”

This one is pretty well-known yet still confuses people. We are not the Pope. We ain’t blessing nobody. This is our go-to substitute for anything rude we might think when we realize you’re not very bright. We understand you could just be having a bad day. Everyone suffers moments of stupidity. I warn you though, if we say “bless your heart” and pat your hand, you’ve just said or done something so peculiar that it has convinced us your mother still has to dress you or worse, you’re a ward of the state. Which would explain a lot about you, actually.

 “Fine.”

This one is practically universal, so I’m surprised that people are still confused about its true meaning. If you are in a discussion with your mate and they say “fine,” particularly if they deliver it with any degree of finality, this is not agreement. If anything, it is agreement’s bastard evil twin. It is a warning shot across your bow. The “fine” cannon has been fired. Stop talking. Stop doing what you’re doing. Back out of the room quietly. Maybe get in the car and go for a long drive. Don’t broach the subject ever again.

I can understand the source of this confusion. I have poked about all the dictionaries I could find. American Heritage, Merriam-Webster, Oxford American and they all get it wrong, wrong, so very wrong. Just one dictionary comes close to giving the correct definite of the word “fine.” The Urban Dictionary captures the essence of the word, which I will paraphrase here.

Fine: meant to signal the abrupt end of an argument. Also see: Go fuck yourself.

Any questions?

The Key

My choo-choo train has been known to jump the track from time to time. Sometimes I get so irritated that I fly right past miffed, hang a hard left at pissed off, and head deep into hissy fit territory.   I believe that it is perfectly fine, better than fine even, for a woman to let it be known when she is right livid with the world.

Lord knows, I’m not one of those darling, demure little dears who politely hold it all in. Stuffing your conflict down inside often results in a very messy and public explosion in your late 40s and early 50s, most likely involving the cabana boy from the Mirage hotel in Vegas. What is it about the scent of coconut oil and margaritas? The embarrassing part of my occasional derailments is that I am often mad about the wrong thing.

Let me tell you a story about one very mistaken hard-core huff I had going right after I met my Gruff. I realized quickly that I could spend a whole lot of time with this guy. We were in synch immediately, comforting in the way a pair of fuzzy bedroom slippers are. That might be a reference that is understood only by women, but you get my drift. Everything felt cozy. It felt right.

I liked right. I’d done wrong, horribly wrong. Right felt well, right. This could work. This was much better. I decided to go out on a limb. I had a key made for my house and wrapped it in a pretty red box, complete with satin bow. This was the key to my very own house. My house, the one I’d bought with my money, and decorated just for me. It was my private happy spot and I was giving someone else, a boy even, full access to come and go as he pleased. To me this was huge. I wanted to do it, yet the emotional enormity of it caused severe shortness of breath.

I hemmed and hawed, hid the pretty red box in my lingerie drawer, and thought about it incessantly. What’s the problem? I mean, Gruff was a great guy. I really, really liked him. Surely he deserved a key. The saintly Salvadoran cleaning woman whose only English was “More Windex, missus” had a key. Why not Gruff? If I gave Gruff a key to my house, he could pick up some Windex on his way over. It was a win-win situation.

I decided to do it. Worse, I decided to infuse it with all the romantic overtones of that Hallmark, Inc. fabrication, Valentine’s Day. Yep, I gave Gruff the key to my house over dinner on St. Valentine’s Day. He appeared to be um, underwhelmed. He said, “Oh hey, thanks.”

Now I made it worse. I explained, perhaps too enthusiastically, that this was the key to my house. It was my refuge, my safe harbor, my freaking Fortress of Solitude and he should recognize that he was receiving the highest honor I could bestow. I believe he responded with, “That’s great, Sweetie.”

Fine. Men just don’t fully appreciate the emotional sensitivities of such things. I was expecting too much. I had just given him my key, not a kidney. Fine. I had agonized over the event for weeks, but never mind. It turned out to be not so much of a big deal. Fine.

Of course you realize there is a second part to this transaction. I had given Gruff my house key. It followed that Gruff would now give me his house key. Here’s where the wheels on my train started to lift off the track. I waited, and I waited, and there was no key. Gruff came and went, but there was no presentation of a key for me.

After a month, I had worked myself up into a right proper snit. I assumed that I wasn’t getting his key because he was dating lots of different women and couldn’t risk any one of them popping over unannounced. Maybe he was running a meth lab in his house. Maybe he was a secretive hoarder and his whole upstairs was filled with old newspapers and desiccated rat carcasses. I didn’t know. Anything was possible. Gruff lived two hours from me, it’s not like I would be dropping in every twenty minutes to check up on him.

After six weeks of imagining the worst possible scenarios, my locomotive derailed at high speed. I greeted my new love at my front door with the tender phrase, “Where’s my fucking key?”

“What?”

“I gave you a key to my house, which you are using to unlock my damn door anytime you please and I just want to know, where’s my key? Why haven’t you given me the key to your house? Huh? What up with that, Playa?”

“I don’t have a key to my house.”

“You’re lying.”

“No Molly, my house was built in 1905 in a very rural area. When I settled on my house there were no keys transferred. There are no keys.”

Um, never saw that coming. I mean, who doesn’t have house keys? Who goes to sleep at night with every window and door unlocked?   I come from a law enforcement family. We were taught from toddlers to know your surroundings, protect yourself, and lock the damn doors. Hell, we weren’t allowed to learn how to drive until we could load, unload, and properly fire a weapon because there was going to be a pistol under the driver’s seat of any family car you drove. My daddy’s head would have popped off its stem had I suggested that we not lock the doors to the house, day or night. Good Lord, who does such a thing?

Gruff did such a thing. No biggie as far as he was concerned. Totally new concept to me however, and after I wrapped my head around it, I had to humbly apologize for so convincingly playing the role of psycho-bitch-girlfriend.

I was mortified. I had not asked simple questions while I was still chugging along sensibly, but instead waited until Ozzy Osbourne was screaming “Crazy Train” in my cortex and pounced on Gruff like a paranoid she-devil. I made amends with barbecued ribs and pie, but still felt odd about the whole thing.

Thankfully, Gruff is not one to hold on to my weirdness. He let it go and so did I. Eventually I sold my perfect little home and moved in with the love of my life. You can bet your ass there are now locks on all the doors and plenty of keys.

 

Nine Times

 

Perennial plant

I would rather go to the dentist than attend a wedding. That is the stand-on-my-mama’s-grave, honest truth. I know what you’re thinking. You’ve surmised that I’m single and therefore uncomfortable with everyone’s Aunt Stella coming up to me at the reception asking when it’s going to be my turn. Yeah, that would suck but that’s not it.

I’m married, for the second time even, so I’ve gotten my fair share of ceremony. Well, ceremony as I define it, which is kind of casual. I got married at home in front of the fireplace the first time and in the backseat of a pink Cadillac convertible the second. By the way, getting married in a drop-top pink Cadillac is the best thing ever. I highly recommend it. No stress, no procession, no family fights, no sloppy cousin kisses, and no sticky canapés. Of course, it is a lot more fun if you’ve chosen the right person to sit in the back seat with you. Botched it the first time, nailed it the second.

I’m just not a hoopla kind of girl. Weddings seem a silly waste of money to me when the cost could be such a nice down payment on a house. Having a comfortable home is very important to me. Having a photo of me in yards of tulle and taffeta is not. No, the reason that I hate weddings is that I was a bridesmaid nine times. Being a bridesmaid nine times is more than enough trauma to induce wedding PTSD for life.

Nine times I’ve slow-walked down the aisle in a ridiculously expensive dress whose sole purpose is to make the bride look better by comparison. This leaves deep emotional scars, particularly since there is embarrassing photographic evidence still floating around my social circle. Every so often, the very worst of the bunch will bob to the surface.

Someone will find a box of pictures while they’re moving and email me a photo of myself, a 200+ pound woman, in a Pepto-Bismol pink taffeta ball gown with puffed sleeves. There is a video tape somewhere of me in this horrific ensemble (shoes dyed to match, naturally) dancing the Bunny Hop. In case you’re wondering, this is how night terrors are born. If anyone ever puts that up on YouTube, I’ll have to kill them and I guarantee you, no jury with even just one female member will convict me.

Nine times I have helped brides tie thousands of pastel colored Jordan almonds into little net baskets as reception favors. I have a question. Does anyone buy Jordan almonds except for a wedding? Are any widows going to ask me to tie black almonds into little net baskets for a funeral? Note to self: start marketing funeral favors. The business potential is huge.

Nine times I’ve been videotaped dancing like a meth addict in a dress that could have been a costume for any Tim Burton film. Nine times I’ve had my ass grabbed by somebody’s drunk uncle at the reception. Nine times I’ve helped the bride back into the handicapped stall holding her ball gown up over her head so she could pee. Nine times I’ve pretended to be deaf when I heard the plaintive wail, “Hey, I can’t get around my skirt to wipe.”

Nine times I’ve thought that maybe the salute to newlyweds should be Molotov instead of Mazel tov. Nine times I wanted to rename the processional to “Here Comes the Snide.” Only once did I hear my most favorite wedding toast, delivered by the best man to honor his childhood buddy and what turned out to be a genuine, Junior League Bridezilla.

“May you always be as happy as your bride is charming and gracious today.”

 

In the Mother ‘Hood

trophy for writing

My two nieces just left to head home to Tennessee. They were here visiting me for ten days. Truly, I deserve my post-niece visit coma. I don’t want to imply that my nieces are disobedient terrors, they most certainly are not. I am just not accustomed to being “on” for 18 hours a day, answering questions like I’m competing on Jeopardy, feeding, organizing, chauffeuring, cleaning, managing, protecting, listening, et al.

I started calling my younger niece by a Japanese-sounding nickname, Ken-i, because every sentence she uttered for ten days, all two million of them, began with the words, “Can I?” Holy crap, how do parents do this full-time? Are people given extra-strength, military-grade vitamins the rest of us don’t have access to when they become parents just so they can keep up with their kids? Are they getting regular intravenous injections of super-strength Red Bull? Does the childbirth process give you some sort of motherhood gene mutation so you can hear things whispered five rooms away, cover a quarter mile in three steps, and parse out food for two into seven satisfying portions? If you are parenting and doing it well, you deserve a freaking medal. I mean that. A freaking gold medal.

I am not a parent. I did not get the “mommy chip” embedded in my brain at the factory. The concept just never appealed to me. I have never once asked to hold someone’s baby. If you’ve got a puppy, I’m all over you like crispy on Southern fried chicken, but babies? Not so much. I have never goo-gooed baby talk. I don’t get it. Never did. Still don’t.

I must make an announcement. To all those people I met during my life who, even without knowing me very well, declared it an absolute certainty that I would change my mind about becoming a parent: You were wrong. You were presumptuous, boorish, and most importantly, you were wrong.

My mom never really sold the job as desirable. Being a mother, according to my own mom, was difficult, heartbreaking, and chocked full of self-sacrifice and endless chores. By the time I was a teenager, I was convinced my mom was campaigning for honorary Jewish Mother status. I am telling you, she could have been a contender.

She didn’t mention an up side so even though it may have been inaccurately lop-sided, this was the view of motherhood I got during my formative years, kind of a donkey-meets-plough thing. Not pretty. Not much of a recruitment poster. So, I made certain that I did not accidentally dance the mama mambo by judiciously, obsessively, zealously swallowing a birth control pill every morning for forty years.

When you’ve had more than one gynecologist tell you that you have a “good, wide, birthing pelvis,” you tread lightly. When you’ve had multiple surprise “menopause babies” appear in your family tree, you get cautious. When you have a boyfriend insist that you must make babies together because they’d be gorgeous, you dump his ass.

My point is, parenting is not for everyone. It is not one-size-fits-all. It is an enormous, life-long responsibility requiring a particular set of skills and values. I know that you can learn some of these skills, but there has to be some desire and aptitude present. It is as silly to insist that every woman be a mother as it is to claim all men should be porn stars. Just because you have the equipment. . .well, you know what I mean.

If you are a parent and you are doing it consistently well, you are a god-damned national treasure. You should be recognized with a ceremony, and hoopla, plenty of hoopla. I don’t know how you do it. You must have reserves of patience, energy, adaptability, and motivation I can only dream of.

This isn’t much in the way of acknowledgment, but if you are a parent and you are doing it consistently well, I salute you. I applaud you. You are doing an important thing. You are a rock star. Now go take a nap. You’ve earned it.

You Had Me at Hello

Joe Asleep Close Up

Our English mastiff is getting on in years. His muzzle is peppered with white hair, and his hearing is not quite reliable. In Joe’s massive chest still beats the heart of a Samurai warrior, and he takes his role as chief protector of all that is ours extremely seriously.

Be warned all that venture near, Joe is on duty and you are suspect. Even if he has met you a thousand times before, you are merely an unwelcome trespasser until he decides otherwise. Being deemed a friend at present does not convey those rights automatically in the future. Acceptability is decided on a case-by-case basis.

Joe’s suspicions are triggered by certain events, sounds, or even words, that he has decided pose a threat. Since most people who possess the intestinal fortitude to come to our front door start with a tentative “Hello,” this word now triggers a Def Con 5 level response. Unfortunately, he applies this criteria indiscriminately. So when Gruff or I answer the phone — Hello — fierce barking erupts.

Intruder alert, intruder alert, unauthorized person attempting entry. All security personnel to Sector Three. And by security personnel, I mean an indolent bulldog and a deaf, three-legged boxer who is inept but unfailingly enthusiastic. The Basset hound does not participate. The princess hound couldn’t care less if we were invaded by a mariachi band and a horde of ninjas as long as one of them stopped and scratched her tummy.

Joe’s reaction to the word “hello” has gotten so visceral, I’m thinking of changing the way I answer the phone. “Hola” did not fool Joe. Neither did the way my daddy used to answer the phone, “yellow.” “Wazzup?” doesn’t seem quite professional enough, and “Dude!” even less so.   I guess I could use “Good morning” or “Good afternoon” but since I am so rarely aware of the time, this might come out wrong.

We’ve recently suffered an irritating rash of telemarketer calls, so Gruff has devolved his phone greeting to the formal, “Please identify yourself.” My man is so gracious and friendly. Now you know where Joe gets it from.

I know that some of you are wondering why I just don’t break Joe of this habit. Fair question. It is useful to me to have a 200-pound mastiff who feels protective. We are way out in the hills and fending for oneself is a time-honored tradition in these parts. Fending is much easier for a plump, middle-aged, non-athletic, diabetic chick when you have a concerned mastiff by your side.

I’m willing to grant Joe a little leeway in the area of his early warning systems. He has discouraged uninvited people from coming into the house before, and I respect and appreciate that. It doesn’t matter that I might be inconvenienced, or that callers are confused. It’s what Joe needs.

Bonjour, y’all!

Fat-Bottomed Girls

Chicken dinner

 

There’s a saying here in the South that we do not like to admit is true. We like to think of ourselves as evolved, strong, dare I say even refined. Underneath our perfect pedicures, perfect blonde highlights, and perfect Talbot’s ensembles lurks a dirt road tomboy hungry for mama’s cooking. Yes sirreee, “It ain’t fit to eat if it ain’t fried.”

My weakness for fried food is hard coded in my DNA. I’m certain that I was weaned from mother’s milk straight to fried chicken as a toddler. Otherwise, I can not explain the visceral reaction I have to the smell of hot grease. My knees buckle a little and my mouth starts to water. The smell triggers genuine primal desire and woe be to anyone standing between me and the source of deep-fried deliciousness. This is why I have never, ever owned a deep fryer. I knew that I could not be trusted with one in my house.

My brother-in-law Bull got a deep fryer one Christmas. He wore it out. Broke it from overuse. Swore he wasn’t going to replace it. Somehow a brand new one managed to sneak into his kitchen as if the grease fairy had delivered it in the night. How did that get here?

Not to let an appliance go to waste, the new fryer got fired up and put to good use in no time at all. I have listened to Bull wax rhapsodic about fresh French fries at midnight, okra as snack food (it’s a vegetable you know), and hot doughnuts on Sunday mornings. If a man can love something with a plug, Bull is definitely engaged to his fryer.

I am what polite, artsy people refer to as Rubenesque. To put it plainly, I’m a big girl. I am also diabetic. I have no business even looking at deep fryers. Yet I found myself in Kohl’s department store one day in the kitchen section. I was holding a 30% off coupon. Small appliances were already marked down. I could have gotten a waffle iron, I guess.   I could have chosen the sno-cone machine. I could have walked across the aisle to Women’s Shoes and gotten those adorable espadrilles I found. I think we all know where this is going. I bought the deep fryer. Cue Queen’s Fat Bottomed Girls on the iPod for the occasion.

When I got home with my new favorite appliance, my husband Gruff could not believe it. I think his exact words were, “Woman, have you lost your mind?”

“But Bull just adores his fryer, and I had a coupon, plus it was already on sale!”

“Bull weighs less than one of your legs and he is not diabetic. What were you thinking?”

“I had a really good coupon and it was on sale and, and, and I wanted it, okay?”

“Fine. It’s your funeral. I suppose you want me to break down some chicken to inaugurate your new doomsday device?”

“Yes, please. That would be lovely.”

The deep fryer has been all I dreamed and more. Oh my God, the fried chicken!  It’s been smack-your-mama delicious.  Fish and chips so fresh and crisp, it would make any Anglophile weep.  Peach hand pies, the filling sweet and the crust shattering with every bite.  So good.  Oh and French fries in minutes is like the best thing ever.  I love crinkle cut fries.

After getting a couple meals out of the Ore-Ida sack, I was reading the empty package. It seems that the good people at Ore-Ida think their package holds 11 servings. Eleven? They are misinformed. There must be some problem on the production line that they need to be made aware of. Their bag only holds four servings. That’s misleading the consumer. Eleven servings. Please. You’d think my endocrinologist mandated those portion sizes to Ore-Ida. You know, I don’t think I’ll mention to my doctor that I am the proud owner of a new deep fryer. The news might just make her cry.

Gruff’s right. I have lost my mind. I’m insane. I am indulging in self-destructive behavior. I should be ashamed. I am a weak, pathetic woman. I am also a woman who’s having hot doughnuts this Sunday! Oh happy, happy, joy, joy!

Codeword Watermelon

 

I am blessed. Gruff and I hardly ever argue. We are truly compatible and it makes for an easy life. Trust me, I know what I’ve got and I appreciate it. I’ve been married before and when it is wrong, it is downright painful on a daily basis.

Gruff and I are both ultra-mellow types and it takes a boatload of aggravation to get us riled up. There are occasions when one of us reaches our boiling point, what we call our “that’s it” moment. These volcanoes of vitriol happen maybe once every two years, always when we’re physically exhausted and emotionally stressed and are usually over in just a few minutes.

What triggers our moments of mayhem? Some magical combination of irritants will slowly mass into a top-popping gusher of profanity. Now — and I can not stress this strongly enough — it’s really important to keep our “that’s it” moments from becoming synchronized events.

If one of us is having a frustration fit, the other can calmly guide the irritated back down to earth and express heartfelt commiseration over the unjust situation that set off the outburst.

If we synchronize our fits, no sane person is left to ground us because we’re both twirling off into the toxic ether and gaining speed. With no one left to drive the bus, we are both hell-bent on ditching it into a fiery ball of destruction. If our “that’s it” moments are reached simultaneously, we just may turn on each other. That is not good. Not good. Not good.

You see, Gruff and I are both mud fighters. We are creative combatants and aim to annihilate. If I’m pissed at you I’m not only going after you, I want to destroy your entire genealogy. I don’t box, I fight. There are no rules and there’s no referee I recognize. In arguments, my goal is to scorch the earth. Once again, Gruff and I are extremely compatible. He fights low and dirty, too.

Out of love for each other, and possibly a teensy bit of fear, we have devised a system if we find ourselves locking horns in a fight to the death. We have a codeword. If one of us thinks that we are about to hurl some poison arrow that will hurt the other irreparably, or if one of us has just been wounded to the core, we stop and yell our codeword instead. Watermelon.

Once the watermelon card has been played, we can not speak of our disagreement or the event that triggered it for at least three hours. Three hours is an eternity and that’s the whole point. It is physically impossible to stay white hot angry during a waiting period of three full hours.

Sometimes I have been so blind with fury that I have set the timer for three hours, fully intent on whipping into Gruff as soon as it buzzed. Inevitably when the timer rings, I don’t have it in me to argue anymore and we both end up apologizing for any pain we may have inflicted. We lick each other’s wounds and speak kindly instead.

It doesn’t matter what word is used, but I think the word watermelon is comical. It conjures up instant images of happy times. Who associates fury with watermelon? You just can’t. You remember eating watermelon on the porch when you were a child. You remember happy summers catching lightning bugs. You remember being carefree. You remember being handed a slice of watermelon larger than your head and getting sticky with juice and seeds. Watermelon is a happy, funny word from light-hearted times.

Do what you need to do, but don’t hurt the one person who loves you the most. Love is hard enough to find in this world, treat it tenderly. If you think it would help, you have my blessing to hijack our codeword. Watermelon.

 

 

Bossy and Proud

I am bossy. There, I said it. Bossy from birth, as a matter of fact. I come from a long line of bossy women, all beloved by their men, their families, and their communities for all they accomplished.  So when I heard that my beloved Girl Scouts had hooked up with Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, to ban the word “bossy” I was confused. Sheryl Sandberg, her eyes glistening from the painful memory, said that she was labeled as bossy as a little girl and how hurtful that was to her.

Hurtful? You are the chief operating officer of a multi-billion dollar company and the best selling author of the alpha-business-female bible, Lean In. Hurtful? We should tattoo all little girls with the word “bossy” if that’s the end result.

With all your clout Sheryl, the best you can come up with is to tell everyone to ban a word from their vocabulary? There’s some bossy irony, right there. I’m a writer so I think every word has its place, no matter how vile. I’m not one for censoring any word. Limiting one’s vocabulary is a no-go in my world.

You could use your considerable clout to make progress on real issues affecting women today. May I suggest the gender wage gap, domestic violence, science and math education for girls, the attacks on the food stamp program, or women’s health care? Surely it is far more damaging to tell a little girl that she’s not getting a hot lunch at school because of program cuts than to call her bossy.

In fact, it was in the Girl Scouts that I was encouraged to be bossy. I was taught to dream big, formulate plans, lead others to implement them, overcome obstacles through persuasion and determination, and succeed like only a truly confident, bossy girl can. I will forever love the Girl Scouts for that lesson.

I think the Girl Scouts should start handing out Bossy badges. Bossy has passion, leadership, and drive. Bossy makes the world a better place. Case in point: Ms. Sheryl Sandberg. Let’s not pull that bossy ladder up behind you Sheryl, just because you’ve achieved your success.

I must explain a truth to you, little ones. Bossy is what you’re called before puberty. After puberty, you’re going to be called bitchy. So what? Bitch isn’t an insult, either. To quote Tina Fey, “You know what? Bitches get stuff done.” “Bossy” and “bitchy” are just two words that are often synonymous with “strong leader.” It’s what weak, lazy people say when confronted with passionate vision and competence in girls.

Sheryl Sandberg, if you want to gather your A-list friends to campaign as America’s word police go right ahead but you’re undermining your own project. By telling everyone to stop using the word “bossy,” you’re emphasizing the message to little girls that being “bossy” is somehow bad instead of badass. You’re not helping. I’m bossy and proud of it.

What Do You Look for in a Mate?

Apologies to all for my tardiness in posting. I am in the process of moving my blog (four years’ worth) to this site from GoDaddy.com. GoDaddy announced in April that it just wasn’t into bloggers anymore and kicked all of us to the curb. I’m hoping my relationship with WordPress will be more than a rebound.

While I am figuring all this out, I have inserted a link to one of my all-time favorite YouTube shorties (two minutes or so) from Mark Grist. If you don’t know him, here’s your chance to see what’s he is about.  If I weren’t already married, I’d seriously be crushing on this man.

Letter to a Young Dumbass

(This post was one of the most popular I’ve written and it appeared on my old blog in 2013.  Since it is time for graduations around the country, I am replaying it this week.)


 

Two of my nieces, Megan and Katie, graduate from high school this month. They are both gorgeous redheads, full of potential and possibilities. They’re so young, so fresh, so unaware. That’s not a criticism, that’s actually right on schedule. That big picture perspective only comes with time and experience. They’ll get it. Life is always willing to teach. All Megan and Katie have to do is listen.

I remember being their age like, yesterday. I was busting with promise. I remember being so very proud of myself, full of teenage wisdom. In other words, a total block head. Didn’t realize it at the time, but I was clueless. I was a big fish, but didn’t know how tiny my fishbowl was. If you want to cultivate a healthy ego, grow up in a small town. If you want that ego to get resized by reality, leave that little town. Eventually, you’ll have a bigger, better life but first your pride is going to get pummeled.

It’s a big world. What a kick in the teeth to find that you aren’t quite the superstar your Mama said you were. There is always going to be someone smarter, faster, better than you. You’re going to bump into them all the time. Don’t hate the hot shots, hang out with them. You’ll find yourself getting smarter, faster, and more talented to keep up.

I would not presume to tell my nieces what they may encounter in life and how to deal. They wouldn’t listen anyway. They probably shouldn’t listen. Lessons shared by others don’t stick like the lessons life beats into you personally. You’ve got to figure stuff out for yourself. If you’re smart, you’ll do it quickly. If you’re a dullard like me, life will keep heaving the same lessons in your face until you learn. I was a member of the National Honor Society but in life, I was as remedial as they come. So I have decided that the best way to celebrate my two beautiful, brilliant nieces is to address the idiot that I was. Maybe they’ll appreciate it.

Dearest Dumbass,

You don’t know me but I am you in 35 years. I know, I know. Ancient. Shut up, it’ll feel young when you get here. You’re going to do a lot of really bonehead stuff in your life and I thought maybe I could give you a few pointers to smooth your path a bit. You won’t listen because you’re a thick wit, but I feel obligated to try. Please pay attention.

Lesson 1: Just because a guy waves something sparkly under your nose does not mean he’s the right guy for you. It only means that he had enough cash for a diamond. Big whoop. In fact, the quicker a guy coughs up a ring, the more disastrously wrong he is for you. (I was engaged five times and married twice, I have learned. I am still a sucker for sparkly things but I don’t make life decisions based on them anymore. I buy them myself.)

a.         Never date anyone who is rude to waiters and valets. That’s asshole behavior.

b.         Never marry anyone until you’ve seen them with some sort of stomach ailment like food poisoning or flu. It’s a real window into their true personality.

c.         Never date anyone whose values vary wildly from yours. It will crop up in embarrassing, shocking, and destructive ways.

d.         Things that merely annoy you about a person when dating will make you homicidal in ten years. Never believe that things will improve after marriage. If personal idiosyncrasies change at all, they get worse.

e.         Always date someone who makes you a better person. Someone who has your back. Someone who encourages your dreams. (Ding, ding, ding, ding! Big, honking clue here. Not Rick. Never Rick. Forget Rick.)

f.          Interesting factoid for you. You do not have to marry at all. Society, friends, and family haven’t a clue what’s best for you. Don’t conform to their expectations if it feels wrong. The worst thing you can do is marry because you think you’re supposed to. (Ding, ding, ding, ding! Big, honking clue here. Not David. Never David. Forget David.)

Lesson 2: Before you marry anyone, sit down and write out a job description for them as your spouse and have them do the same for you. Everyone grew up in different households and what is normal is one family is unheard of in another. By talking out roles ahead of time, there are no hidden expectations that go unfulfilled. Trust me, you never want to have the conversation where someone shouts, “My mother always did that in our house, why can’t you do it?” That talk does not end well. Continue reading