Family Movie Night

wreck 

Oh boy, family movie night.  I remember the excitement so well.  Let’s fire up the Jiffy Pop and get ready to enjoy an educational, cautionary tale.  Why cautionary?  All movies have a moral, don’t they?  All movies educate in some way, don’t they?

They certainly do if they’re entitled “The Bottle and the Throttle” or “The Last Prom.”  As a police officer, Dad screened vehicular snuff films to driver’s education students.  Not wanting to endure technical difficulties in the class room, he would dry run his presentation in our living room the night before.  No matter how young we were, this was family entertainment of the highest order and we all looked forward to it.  Only Christmas elicited more anticipation.

Movie night is where I learned that when people bleed out, they turn a beautiful, delicate gray-blue color.  Movie night is where I was fascinated that the force of a crash can remove the shoes from your feet while they are still tightly tied, complete with neat, symmetrical bow.  Movie night taught me that brains are slippery things, and the only way to remove them from the asphalt is with a spatula.  Movie night suggested that perhaps the back window is not the safest place for an infant to ride.  Movie night revealed that windshields are unusually cruel to faces, whether they are exiting or returning.

Yes indeed, movie night was exciting.  After watching, there would be a question-and-answer period until Mom deemed it was all too creepy and sent us to bed.  As if we were going to drop peacefully into la-la land after the potent images of destruction that we’d just absorbed.  Violence is truly primal and difficult to forget.  The images invaded our little lizard brains and fermented.  As a youngster, one does not just drift into butter cream dreams after staring slack-jawed at twisting metal and blood spatter.  I wanted more; much, much more.

My favorite scenes were the ones where the car was wrapped around something, front bumper kissing the rear.  I found it remarkable that the stoic tree or telephone pole didn’t snap, didn’t give, forcing the speeding car to accommodate.  Truth be told, I always rooted for the tree.  The tree was just minding its own business, not a care in the world, when — BLAM — some drunken young stud in his mother’s sedan hits it at full force.  How rude!  As penance, the driver endured a vehicle with considerably less interior room than before, often fatally so.

And then there were the questions.  I couldn’t stop questioning what I’d just witnessed.  Why would anyone ride on the hood of a car when a comfortable seat was available?  What idiot invented the game of chicken and why did anyone go along with it?  Why would you ever get into a car driven by someone so drunk they couldn’t walk?  When a drunk driver says “I’m fine, really, I’m fine.” does that phrase magically banish critical thought from everyone else’s mind?  “Oh well, if you say you’re fine let’s go for a drive.”

I had even more questions about drinking.  No one in my family imbibed, so I had no practical knowledge of how alcohol worked. Just how much do you have to ingest before your eyeballs turn pink?  How much alcohol does it take to push you past fun into fundamentally moronic?  Is this threshold the same for everyone or is it different?  Why would you drink something that smells like cough medicine?  I thought Kool-aid was quite tasty, why not just stick with Kool-aid and avoid trouble?  No one ever got pulled over for drinking Kool-aid.  No one’s mama collapsed into racking sobs because they crashed the car while high on Kool-aid.

Another stumper I posed to my parents was this one.  If you’re drunk and crash your car, why does it seem that your chances for survival are better than if you’re sober?  Is it because you don’t realize what’s happening so you don’t brace yourself, locking your arms and legs into stiff twigs to be snapped?  Does being drunk make you bounce like Tigger, and being sober makes you crack like Humpty-Dumpty?  What’s up with some drunks just walking away from massive crashes?  What law of physics makes it possible for them to emerge from a crushed and flaming carcass of a car completely unscathed?

Why is it that the beauty queen is always the one that dies?  I learned early on from these films that being named prom or homecoming queen was the kiss of death.  By third grade, I had made the mental note to avoid all pageants.  According to these films, winning a pageant was a quick road to an early, ugly demise.  Better to be the long-lived drama club geek, than the tragically dead Snow Ball princess.

Straight A students didn’t die in these movies.  The football star and the Junior Miss County Fair ruptured and bled out like slaughtered livestock every single time.  Their death was even more assured if they had (a) just won a scholarship, (b) were scouted for professional sports, or (c) had recently gotten engaged.  Oh, the tragedy!  Obvious message:  don’t get into a car with someone who is too sloppy drunk to talk, no matter how cute he may be or how long you’ve been crushing on him or how much it will impress your girlfriends.  Hidden message:  study hard, get good grades, and be way too geeky for the sports stud to ever want to drive you home guaranteeing your continued health.  It’s the better way to go.

Lesson learned?  Don’t drink to the point where embarrassing YouTube videos can be posted of you.  Don’t drink to the point that people can write on your face with permanent marker and you not realize that it’s happening.  Don’t drink to the point where you think you can really sing and that American Idol should just hear your rendition of Purple Rain.  For God’s sake, don’t ride with anyone who has.

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Affording Doughnut

Doughnut 1st Day

(This piece was originally posted on my old blog.  I am running it again in honor of Doughnut, who passed away on Monday.  Sleep well, my little clown.)

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Are you financially secure? Is your retirement plan fully funded? Are your children’s orthodontia needs, wedding plans, and college tuitions all paid? Do you have piles of cash just lying around your house, collecting dust? Well my friend, you are exactly the type of person who should adopt an English bulldog.

I am convinced that the English bulldog is the only animal on the planet that makes the platypus seem smartly designed. The bulldog’s whole head is so convoluted and badly put together that the eyes, the teeth, the ear canals, and respiration can only be described as totally jacked up. “Jacked up” is the official medical term used by my veterinarian, who bred English bulldogs until he came to his senses.

Why would breeders make something with so many inherent weaknesses? In a word, adorability. Humans are hardwired to go all squishy when they see something with an oversized, rounded head, big eyes, and a snub nose. I believe this coding was to bond us with human babies even when they were screaming loud enough to rupture your eardrum, but the response is indiscriminate. Show a human something that has a wobbly, balloon-like head with large blinking eyes and we become goo. How else could Hello Kitty, a rudimentary sketch of a cat’s head, have become a mega-bazillion dollar industry?  Adorable sells.  Big time.

English bulldogs have adorability to spare. Even when they’ve matured past puppyhood, they still reduce humans to blubbering baby talk. “He’s mama’s squishy-wishy cutie-patootie, yes he is. Aren’t you, baby? Aren’t you my darling little pudding pop?”

God help me, I am a new bulldog mother and I am completely smitten. Before I adopted Doughnut, I read all the papers on bulldog health problems. I told experienced bulldog owners that I had found an article calling bulldogs a $5,000 check waiting to be written. I thought it was a joke. I laughed. Their response was different. They said, “Really? That figure seems low.” Uh-oh.

I did it anyway. I found a photo on http://www.petfinder.com and fell in love. I saw swinging jowls, mismatched ears, nubbins of teeth pointing in all directions, and a face only a drunk mother could love.* That’s the one for me! Thank God I’m married and not actively dating anymore. If this bulldog thing is any indication, I just can’t be trusted to choose wisely.

I have had Doughnut just two weeks now. His first surgery is booked for this Tuesday, when he’ll have his ear fixed and a massive amount of dental work done. Did you know that teeth can point straight back and up towards one’s ears? Apparently they can, though it doesn’t help one chew.

I am optimistic that Doughnut is hale and hearty in all other areas. He does appear healthy. My vet has thoroughly examined him and uttered the classic, qualifying line, “He seems quite sturdy. . . for a bulldog.”

Take pity on me if you see me on the street corner behind a card table, selling baked goods to raise money for vet bills. It means that I have adopted the canine equivalent of a money pit. But I should have known that. After all, I adopted a bulldog.

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* “. . .a face only a drunk mother could love” was the reaction of my friend, Al P., to Doughnut’s photo. It was a phrase I fell in love with and had to use. Thank you, Al.

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.