The Catfish and the Bicycle

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(Friends:  I am trying this story on for size.  It is indeed based on truth but it doesn’t feel quite right to me yet, so I’m crowd-sourcing guidance from y’all.  I welcome all comments and suggestions.)

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Now I understand that my sister and I had a peculiar childhood. With both parents in law enforcement, expectations for us as budding young Southern ladies were skewed towards a paranoid place. I don’t know how normal our upbringing was, I honestly doubt I’d know normal if it tapped me on the shoulder and introduced itself.  It was normal for our clan, that’s all I can say.

The Manson murders happened when I was just approaching puberty. My mother never saw the world the same way again. She was suspicious before the trials, but seeing young girls convicted for such sadistic, blood-thirsty acts put a potential monster behind every beaming cheerleader’s face.   She counseled me to be wary of girls who didn’t “act right.” Being Southerners, not acting right could mean a girl didn’t compose proper thank-you notes, or that she was fixing to disembowel you. Not acting right was a confusing catch-all category, but whatever it meant, I was to avoid it.

So my sister Lynn and I were expected to be young ladies; well-spoken, well-read, and well-mannered.   In contrast, we were also expected to never ever to be the girl that ends up in a shallow grave down by the river. If someone tried to hurt us, we were to scream, gouge, bite, kick, and do whatever disgusting thing was necessary to live. If you look up schizophrenia in the dictionary, it may reference my early years. Be a delicate flower of a girl, kindness personified, but if you have to, use your thumbs to pop a guy’s eyeballs out of his skull.

Where I grew up, everyone learned to drive as soon as they could see over the steering wheel, around twelve or so. In a farming community, this makes sense. The trade-off for driving lessons was learning to load, shoot, and reload a handgun proficiently. These two activities were linked because no matter what family vehicle you were in, there was going to be a pistol under the driver’s seat. Unless you were in the pick-up, then there were shotguns in the gun rack plus the hand gun under the seat. I can’t imagine why boys weren’t lined up around the block wanting to date me in high school.

In my husband’s family growing up, if you couldn’t fall asleep you were encouraged to get up and do something useful. Read, do crafts, anything productive yet relatively quiet. In my family home, if you couldn’t fall asleep you kept your ass in bed. Rambling around in the middle of the night meant you might be an intruder, though I don’t know who could possibly be stupid enough to try to break into our house. Being mistaken for a prowler, well it could get you shot.

Car trips and outings meant we played the Observation Game. It was probably to keep me quiet, but it did teach me a skill. Think of it as the policeman’s version of “I Spy.” We’d be rolling along in the car, or walking along the street, and I’d be quizzed. How many people did you see in the car we just passed? Describe the man who just came out of the hardware store. What was he carrying? Which way did he go? You’d better be able to describe his face, not just his clothes. You did not get points for clothing. Where’s the closest exit to where we’re standing right now? If the path to that door is blocked, where’s the next best one? Get most of these questions correct, and an icy Nehi soda was the prize.

These were our formative years. Call them unusual, call them bizarre, call child protective services, it was what we knew. It was my parents’ way of protecting us from Very Bad Things. And there are always very bad things in the world. As adults, my sister and I often pass for typical, well-adjusted women until something happens that triggers our stand-up-and-fight-back.

Lynn now has two little girls and is raising them by herself. She’s getting by. Lynn found three beat-up but workable bicycles at yard sales so she and the girls can go biking on Sundays. She keeps the bikes in a decrepit shed behind her house. It ‘s an open shed which might collapse if you look at it cross-eyed, but there’s been a rash of bike thefts in her neighborhood and it’s the safest place for them.

One night while washing dishes, Lynn notices movement in the backyard. Someone is trying to steal the bikes! Not thinking twice, she grabs a butcher knife from the dish rack and runs out the front door just as the thief was coming down the driveway, pushing her daughter’s bike.

He stops — rookie mistake — because my sister is still running full throttle at him, waving a big knife, and screaming, “You drop that bike or I will gut you like a catfish!”

There’s a battle cry my family can rally behind. She got the bike back. No filleting necessary.

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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.

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.”