Unbagging the Cats 1

Unbagging the Cats 1

Thursday, June 30, 2011

What We've Got Here is Failure to Communicate

On the county road coming home yesterday, I saw a dark snake sidewind his way across the faded blacktop, all s-shaped and slithery, like he was sliding smoothly on an invisible cushion puffed through the holes of an asphalt air-hockey table. If I stretched him out, he would have been about three feet long. IF. Because I had no intention of stopping to catch and stretch him.

He reminded me of a time I tried to enlighten my students on the stylings of D. H. Lawrence. I was teaching a different subject than my current assignment. With younger kids. We took several days to read and discuss  "Snake". We touched on imagery, alliteration, similes, sibilance, personification, went over vocabulary words pulled from the poem, and drew chronological panels like comic strips. (One little guy included a snake shouting, "Mama Mia!" when the 'clumsy log' was thrown at him.) I explained the reference to the albatross in "Rime of the Ancient Mariner", and how 'Sicilian July' showed that the setting was Italy, and that Etna is a volcano. I felt that my middle school students were more that adequately prepared to write a half-page summary of the poem.

Did you ever feel like Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone? When his movie sister tells him, "You know, Kevin, you're what the French call les incompetents."

One of the reports proclaimed: "I think it's about someone whose land was taken away by the government, and a bunch of other homeless people who might lose theirs."

In case you haven't read "Snake" lately, check it out. There is NO mention of the government or eminent domain or the homeless. The title is SNAKE. The assignment was to write a summary of "Snake". Could this student not even toss in "...and a snake." Just to humor me?

Days like that, when I see my obvious failure to connect, are the reason that I need my summer vacation.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Genius is in the Eye of the Beholder

My sixteen-year-old son, Genius, bought himself an EVO 3D phone last Friday. He has always been addicted to possessing the latest gadgetry. He has had it less than a week, so now he's itching for something new. Since his phone takes 3D pictures, he has decided that his really expensive Canon Rebel T2i camera must do the same. He spent about two hours this afternoon creating his Frankenstein.

The whole project revolved around an old camera tripod. It was broken when it tipped over and messed up the flat platform piece where the camera screws on. I'm sure I remember the incident as a time when I cautioned him not to do something because the tripod would fall over and break, and then the tripod fell over and broke. Because my life is funny that way.

Genius tracked me down in my basement lair, and said he was going over to the barn to work on the tripod piece. I asked what tools he would be using. "Oh, just the drill press and the Dremel tool," he assured me. Upon further interrogation, to ascertain whether he know how to use it, and if Hick lets him use it, Genius replied, "He lets me us it. And I've used it about seventy-five times at school in the shop. I'll be fine." The last sentence had a scornful flavor to it. I asked how long it would take, and commanded that he wear his safety glasses. "I'll be back in thirty minutes. Oh, and I'll go up and get my safety glasses." I told him I would send The Pony to check on him if he wasn't back in time, because I didn't want him to be bleeding out while we lounged around over here in the house. I'm not sure, because he was standing behind me, but I think I heard his eyes roll.

Thirty minutes went by. I sent The Pony to gather eggs and check on his brother. Genius returned to the house about five minutes later. He showed me his new camera platform with a slot drilled down the middle to slide the camera sideways for a second shot. Like another eye. And then he would merge the pictures on his computer, and VOILA! A 3D photo courtesy of homemade mechanical binocular vision.

About an hour later, Genius had completed his experiment and was looking for ways to fine-tune the set-up with some cushy rubber washer thingies (as I call them), or O-rings, as he calls them, to stabilize the camera on the tripod. I set out his supper, and went about my business of various household duties. The Pony was roaming around the house, and Hick was mowing the front field.

I re-entered the kitchen, and spied The Pony counting out Ritz crackers onto the plate that belonged to Genius. Which, if you've ever raised two boys, is a rare occurrence unless one is attempting mayhem. Genius whisked by me and went to his room. I questioned The Pony about his motive. The Pony sang like a canary. "I was just helping Genius with his crackers, because he cut his hand." Genius returned with a blood-soaked Bounty Select-A-Size flapping from his left index finger.

"Don't start. I didn't do it in the barn. I did it after I came back over here. It was a little X-Acto knife accident in my room. I'm fine. He even saw it when I did it." The partner in crime nodded. Nothing brings two brothers closer than keeping a secret from Mom.

Turns out that left-handed Genius managed to slice his left index finger because he was using his right hand to wield the X-Acto knife, due to the optimum angle of carvage necessary to construct his home-made 3D tripod.  Sweet sufferin' succotash! That would be like me trying to slice an apple with my left hand maneuvering a straight razor.

It's a good thing the ACT does not measure manual dexterity. Or common sense. Because my Genius would never get into college.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Ah, Vanity, the Toll You Exact

This morning I chugged through the satellite channels with my upstairs friend, the sluggish Dish Network remote. The receiver in the living room is so old that a caveman would feel comfortable using it. Plus, a caveman has that added bonus of a sloping forehead to thump that remote on when the buttons don't want to do his bidding. I, however, have to rely on my over-developed right thumb to coax those wayward numbers into beaming their infrared wavelength toward the Dish relic.

I won the battle of wills with the inanimate object, and settled on Turner Classic Movies. Normally, I descend through my channels until I hit two hours of Bernie Mac. Because that show simply cracks me up. But this morning, I happened upon a scene of blackmail, and woman-on-woman violence. and a mysterious hat-wearing dame who skulked in the shadows. My curiosity got the best of me. I couldn't turn away. But in a dramatic, heavily-scored pause, I checked the online guide. Yes, my receiver is so old, I don't even have a small window of the show playing when I check the guide.

A Woman's Place (1941) Joan Crawford, Melvyn Douglas, Conrad Veidt
Plastic surgery gives a scarred female criminal a new outlook on life.

At least that's what I thought it said. Within the last year, I've noticed that I sometimes need my glasses to read the TV screen clearly. Downstairs on the big screen, I don't have such a problem. The Dish receiver is more modern, and the screen is bigger. Plus, I can still watch the show while I check the guide. But I don't get downstairs until at least 2:00 on most days. I can fold laundry and wash dishes and cook and referee the boys' fights while I'm upstairs. And I can't wear my bifocals while doing those things. It's hard to give kids The Eye through a line on your glasses. So I left them off. I do it all the time at school. I see just fine except when reading up close, or when driving in an unfamiliar area.

The movie went on. I couldn't tear myself away. I kept supposing that the wife was going to get her comeuppance, or the criminal was going to marry the husband. Because I remembered the title being A Woman's Place. And everybody knows a woman's place is in the home. Right? I surreptitiously checked the guide again. Twice. Same thing. While the plot was sensational, it was not paying off in terms of the title.

When the credits started to roll, I saw the problem:

A Woman's Face.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Not Reunited, and it Feels So Good

My high school reunion was last weekend. Oh, don't expect to hear any tales of who danced on a table with a lampshade on her head. And stop thinking it was probably me. I didn't attend the reunion. I haven't been to one yet. Hick goes to his every time. But not me.

There's no particular reason I don't attend. No grudges. No embarrassing secrets. I'm successful by local standards. Which is kind of like that bookkeeper at the junk store telling me two weeks after hiring me that she did so because I "looked clean". I mean, I have a job. I have a husband and kids. I'm no Quasimodo or serial killer or meth manufacturer. I get by. Nobody is going to think I wasted my valedictorian life by becoming a teacher. It's a noble profession, right?

No, I simply don't enjoy festivities involving many people. The day before the reunion, I ran into a former classmate in The Dollar Tree. Funny. Because I usually run into him in Walmart. He said he was going to the reunion for the first time ever. I wished him well. Today in Walmart, another classmate jumped across the checkouts to declare that I had too many items for the 20 Items or Less counter. Mayhap I did, and mayhap I didn't, as my son Genius likes to say, after reading The Stand. But the checker personally invited me over there. So I told him off, and asked if he went to the reunion. Nope. He was out of town, he said. And added furthermore that he sees everybody he needs to see in Walmart. Ain't that the truth? As I exited the store, there he was chatting up another classmate at the greeting door, although she is usually a checker. He pointed to me. "She didn't go to the reunion, either. Why should we? We have our own right here."

I think a reunion would depress me. I would wonder why all my former classmates looked so old. Because I still feel like I'm eighteen.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Secret is in the Hook

I finished reading a book today. Don't everybody stand up for that ovation. The rousing round of applause is enough. I started it yesterday, and now I'm done. But I am dissatisfied with my total reading experience.

To put a positive spin on this book...I must say that the title and cover are brilliant (perhaps scathingly brilliant) examples of how to hook a reader. In the immortal words of Wayne and Garth, "Fished in! Excellent!" I fell for it hook, line, and sinker. The cover attracted me, the title made me nibble, and I chomped down when I read the front flap. I grabbed that book off the shelf faster than a flathead catfish grabs a rotten chicken heart off the bottom of the pond.

I began reading. I couldn't put it down. I took it to the movie today to read before the previews started. It was a page-turner. Now that I'm done, I feel bamboozled. Shanghaied. Misled. Buffaloed. Hoodwinked. Duped. Flummoxed. Conned. Swindled. Baited, then given the old switcheroo.

Would I buy it again, based on the title and cover? Yes. Did it engage me, keep me wanting more? Yes. Did it have more red flags that a flag corps convention organized by China, Turkey, and Vietnam? Yes. Did it bring two words to mind, those two words being James and Frey? Yes. Do I find it quite the coincidence that the author was hosting koi shows at Disneyland at the tender age of twelve, and her last name it Karp? Yes. Because as a country gal, I know that a koi is the same as a carp. Which sounds exactly like Karp.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice...you're a scathingly brilliant fooler. More power to you.

(Yes, I am aware that I did not give the title of the book.)

Saturday, June 25, 2011

You Can't Put it Back in the Tube

Is it possible to overdose on Mederma? I'm sure somebody knows that answer. I don't. And I'm too lazy to ask my best friend Google. I don't have an ulterior motive. I'm not planning to make a dramatic exit.

I use Mederma on my neck scar every morning. The one where my head was nearly severed last summer during my thyroid removal. It's not a bad scar, really. It's much smaller than my lateral meniscectomy scar, which clocks in at approximately six inches. This one seemed to heal faster. Maybe because there's a better blood supply to the neck than the knee. Or perhaps due to the Mederma. I'm only on my second tube. That's not bad for a whole year. I could probably stop using it now, but I've grown accustomed to it.

Normally, I squeeze out a tiny drop the size of a pinhead. A colored, round, pinhead on a pin that Rocky Dennis used in Mask, to mark the world map with places like Kathmandu, where he wanted to travel on a motorcycle with his best friend. Eric Stolz was a genius as Rocky, but I prefer him in Some Kind of Wonderful. Cool dude Sam Elliott, voice of Ben the male cow in Barnyard, was really smokin' in Mask. And I don't mean the wacky tobaccy. As far as Cher, well, she was better in Silkwood, telling Craig T. Nelson that she was really not interested in his shenanigans, so we all should have seen it coming when she hooked up with Angela, the beautician at Thayer's Funeral Home, who could tell which corpses worked for Kerr McGee because, "They all look as though they died before they were dead," as played by Diana Scarwid, later in the movie. Which reminds me. I was talking about my scar medication.

This morning an extra giant blob squirted out of my Mederma tube. It's not like I could put it back. I was stuck with it. And it seemed wasteful just to wash it off my hand. So I rubbed it in the scar, and the front of my neck, and the sides of my neck, and the upper chest area, and put a tad on a little brown spot on the side of my nose, and a smidgen on the rough spot under my right outer eye corner, and smoothed what was left onto my cheeks. There's sunscreen in that stuff, you know.

I'm just a bit leery because I remember reading about a teenage girl who overdosed on BenGay. I know it's true. I read it on the internet. And who would think that you can overdose on BenGay? Apparently there's an active ingredient common to aspirin, a salicylate, I think it's called, though that might not be the proper spelling because I'm too busy reminiscing about my favorite old movies to look it up. So if I give you bad overdose information, don't blame me. Blame Meryl Streep.

I wonder if too much Mederma might affect the thought process...

Friday, June 24, 2011

Snubbing My Personal Paparazzi

Perhaps I've mentioned my raving fan club. The members of which dart to my door the minute I step out onto the porch. No crowd control rope can keep them back. They rush me like free-range chickens anticipating bread crumbs and stale cereal.

That's because they are free-range chickens anticipating bread crumbs and stale cereal.

I know that I've spoiled them. Almost every time I go out, I toss them treats. If I only did this one out of every ten times, I imagine they would still be hooked, though I don't wish to delve too deeply into Skinner to cite the exact reward ratio required for proper operant conditioning. It's a happy accident. Sure, the poultry adoration is good for my ego. But I can live without it. In fact, I might be more comfortable without it.

Today I let Genius drive on the highway for thirty miles to visit civilization on his quest to acquire the latest telephone gadget on the market. Of course I went along. He's on a short leash. The Pony was left at home with my mom, because I don't trust him alone in the middle of nowhere all by himself. He is, after all, the boy who fell down thirteen stairs carrying a plate of corn dogs, and came to rest at the bottom with a fan of red fluid seeping out from under his skull. Okay, it was only ketchup, but it got my heart to pumping when viewed from above.

While Genius and I were gone, The Pony undertook his goat-herding duties from 8:30 to 9:30. Upon our return, my mom met me at the car. "I think your chickens have missed you. They've been coming over to the porch like they're looking for somebody." The feathered beasts came running. I hustled to the back door like a celebrity trying to give the paparazzi the slip.

Later in the day, I left the old homestead to pick up some food. That's when the gravity of the situation hit me. I exited the back door, but those crafty fowl came running to the breezeway by the garage. They stopped. They stared, heads tilted sideways, with their beady eyes. Normally I talk to them. But conversation was awkward. What was I supposed to say?

"Hey, chickens. Nothing for you today. I'm just going to town to pick up some of your dead, dismembered brethren, boiled in oil to a tasty crisp." No. That didn't seem right. So I didn't say anything at all. I snubbed my fine feathered friends.

Nothing comes between Val and her gas station chicken.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Val, Missouri's Most Wanted

I must confess. I went on a killing spree today.

No long trial for me. I did it. And I'll kill again. Sixteen victims and their many children. Sprayed down in the prime of life. I did not even dispose of the bodies. The lone witness may say that I kicked one of the corpses three times. I admit that, as well. It's hard to control my violent tendencies when I'm on a rampage.

It was premeditated murder. I've been planning the attack for several weeks now. I contemplated purchasing a weapon, but I had the means to carry out my mayhem already, ensconced high on a laundry-room shelf. And I knew how to use it. This ain't my first rodeo. This ain't the first time this ol' cowgirl's been known...to kill.

The attack occurred at 11:08 central daylight time. After The View, of course. Bieber was on today. I told my accomplice to wait outside while I checked my weapon, careful that it did not discharge prematurely. Then I stepped out the kitchen door and commenced the carnage. My targets never knew what hit them. They dropped like flies to the wooden planking of the porch. A few seconds of writhing, and it was over. For them. Not for me. I set out on a quest for additional quarry. I was not disappointed.

Prey was ripe for the killing. As I rounded each corner, new targets appeared. It was better than a video game. The objects of my detection did not attempt to escape. I came. I saw. I killed. After one complete loop of the crime scene, all was quiet. Bodies littered the ground. I left them where they fell.

I don't care how much good the victims might have done for the environment, had they lived.

I cannot share my abode with a stinger. Especially not with sixteen of them, and all their little future stingers. Not. Gonna. Happen.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Briefly a Great Notion

Do guys who wear their pants with the waistband sagging way down below their junk know how ridiculous they look? Really? Because I'm guessing the answer is, "No."

I stopped by the store today for some Krispy saltine crackers and some PAM. As I drove out of the parking lot, I had to detour around two young guys, one sporting this fashion statement. Perhaps you've heard of the movie, "Easy A." The speculative script of this dude's trip to the grocery store would be titled, "Difficult A." That's what he looked like. The letter A. The distance between his feet was twice as wide as the span of his shoulders. All in an effort to keep his shorts from dropping to the pavement. He walked like a kid in one of those half-body casts with the plaster bar at the ankles holding the legs apart. His knees did not bend as he swung one leg forward, then the next. All because of his personal trouser style. I know he had knees. I could see them lurking there just barely below the hem of his jeans shorts.

It's not like he was showing off his boxers. His T-shirt hung below his butt, covering the very top of his waistband. What is the point of this costume? It is not flattering. In fact, I think our cheerleaders used to dress up like this back in the day, the purpose being a humorous skit that had us in stitches at the pep rally. Why do these guys want to dress like an old-timey cheerleader and make me laugh?

Right there in the Country Mart parking lot, I had an epiphany. A scathingly brilliant idea. A new product for the infomercial market: boxer jeans. They would be a one-piece garment with an elastic waist, the top part boxers, the bottom part jeans or shorts. So they wouldn't sag. Yet they would still look like they were sagging. The modest male (yeah, right, like there is such a species) could wear briefs or regular boxers underneath, for fear of pantsing. Or depantsing, depending on what region of the country you live in. And the dudes who normally like to go about their day flippin' and floppin' like Kramer when he gave up his briefs can still go commando.

See? My product would be like a dickey for the pants. Fake boxers, sewn to jeans. This would leave the wearer's hands free for carrying both his Slurpee and Big Bite without hitching up his pants every three steps. The schoolboys could carry books and hold hands with the girlfriend in the hall. Don't be hatin' on Val's idea. Who amongst us would have thought there would be a market for pajama jeans? And it's more reasonable than the SNL fake Three-Legged Jeans. Seriously.

I might need to file for a patent. Or not. Because this was a great idea for my trip about town. But then I got home and talked it over with my best friend Google, and discovered that this product has been done.  Even my clever name has been taken, though used for a totally different product.

Back to the old parking lot.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Anti-Polyanna

Never have I been a blue calm sea. I have always been a storm. Ahem. Technically, that was Stevie Nicks, on Fleetwood Mac's Tusk album. But I know what she meant.

I am not one to see the silver lining in every cloud. If somebody asked me if the glass was half empty or half full, I would probably grumble because I didn't like the glass. My husband says I would complain if I was hung with a new rope. I'm not sure I understand that one, but I think it's the complain part that he's emphasizing. I do not live in a cotton candy, rainbow, puppies and kittens, unicorn world.

Sometimes I need to dwell on the negative. The obstacle that prevents me from attaining world domination. The fly in my ointment, the bug up my butt, the thorn in my side, the rain on my parade, my bone of contention, the wad in my panties, the yanker of my chain, the thief of my candy. I just have to let it out.

Like the leopard cannot change his spots, nor the scorpion his nature, I must work things out in my own way. Which does not mean that I am a predator, or sting people who help me across the river. I am a bit skeptical and scope out a situation from all angles before committing myself wholeheartedly. And I don't see anything wrong with that. What a boring world this would be if everybody was Pollyanna.

I have never seen Pollyanna in its entirety. A couple of weeks ago I found it by accident on one of my free movie channels. I watched some, and let it play in the background. Who can resist a Hayley Mills accent? Not me. The character I identified with was Angelica, the sour-puss servant. Or as some would recognizer her, Ralph. You know, of Alf and Ralph Monroe, the carpenters on Green Acres. Mary Grace Canfield, the actress.

Even Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory needed something or somebody to cut the sweetness. Violet, anyone? And Survivor constantly needs villains, from Sue Hawk and Richard Hatch in season one, Borneo, to Jerri Manthey in season two, Australian Outback, to Russell Hantz in the most recent incarnation. Seinfeld had his Even Steven moments. There's Yin and Yang. Magnets have positive and negative poles. Atoms contain protons and electrons. The water cycle runs on evaporation and condensation.

We are not all meant to be alike.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Lord of the Pig's Flies

When I was a child, the highlight of the summer was vacation at Grandma's house. She only lived six miles from us, but Grandma and Grandpa kindly volunteered two weeks of their time to host the grandchildren. Back then, I thought they were doing it for the kids. Now, I know they were doing it for our moms and dads. My mom has three older brothers. Lucky for Grandma, one lived in Alaska. So his three kids were not part of the summer situation. That left her with six of us. Five girls, one boy. Ages 6-15, that one particular summer.

We were pretty much left to our own devices during the day. Grandma worked nights at the state hospital, and slept part of the day. One of the perks of working there was the opportunity to bring home giant jigsaw puzzles of seascapes and cloudless skies. Those things can keep six kids busy for quite a while. She took some vacation time to deal with us, but after years on that schedule, habits were hard to break. Grandpa worked a 7:00 to 3:00 shift in the lead mines, and came home to an early supper and work in his various gardens and hog lot until dark.

Some of the childcare duties fell to my oldest girl cousin. Things like tying shoes and getting everybody dressed and out of the house for the day. We had the run of more than fifty acres. Sometimes we split up, sometimes we stayed together. There was no four-wheel riding back then. We walked. We rode our bikes that we had brought along. We rode the ponies. We drove the tractor. My boy cousin even drove the Ford Galaxie 500 to town. Grandma didn't see any reason a 12-year-old boy shouldn't take his cousins out for a spin. Under her supervision, of course.

We all had our strengths. Boy12 drove us to town for candy. A dollar's worth for each of us. Grandma made sure we went to two different general stores to get the best from both. And that we sat down in the car. Seat belts? Surely you jest. Boy12 was also the ring leader of the Great Grapevine-Smoking Experiment. Shh...nobody is supposed to know about that. He and Girl12 were the only ones to enjoy it. The rest of us just said, "Ick."

Girl15 was good with the critters. A regular Ellie May. She's the one who found the nest of baby birds under the tractor seat, and taught the dogs their tricks, and bridled up the ponies for the Daring Bareback Riders of the Front Yard. She's the one who picked me up when I slid off the back of old Sugarfoot when he ran up the hill toward the house. And made me get back on.

Girl12 would have been voted Most Likely to End Up in Juvie if we took a vote. Which we did not. She was my fishing buddy in the hog lot pond. I think she picked me because she knew she could outrun me. When the old boar came a-chargin', all I saw was her butt going over the fence. Lucky for me, that boar found a bucket of perch more tasty than 9-year-old girl. I made my exit out the wooden loading ramp.

Girl7, my sister, was known for her tangled orange hair and boy toes. A headband took care of the former for two weeks, and we found that it was best not to mention the latter. She might have started that old wives' tale about redheads and their temper.

Girl5 found most delight in chasing Boy12, shouting, "I'm going to kiss you." He ran from sunup until sundown. In a game of Annie Annie Over, he usually volunteered to be a team by himself. And could still beat us.

We never knew a dull moment. Sometimes, Grandma organized an afternoon game of croquet. An ongoing tournament of sorts. Funny how the winner was always Grandma. She could not stand to lose. Let her catch your green wooden ball next to her red one, and she would soundly whack that sucker across the county blacktop road and into an unfenced deciduous forest. Then everybody would have to go find your ball before play could resume. Rummy, Crazy 8's, Pit, you name it, Grandma won it. She was a formidable opponent.

Sometimes Grandma took mercy on us, and called for a game of Who Can Throw the Most Hedgeapples Across the Road. We gathered them in five-gallon plastic buckets and pitched like future Cy Young Award contenders. Now I know she was just ridding her yard of hedgeapples. While Grandma snapped green beans for supper, or dug up dandelion greens with a paring knife, we busied ourselves by dropping anything not nailed down into the sinkhole by the driveway. You could hear water running down there, but not see the bottom. Funny how Grandma was not particularly vigilant about supervising us. I guess she figure that God looks out for children and fools, or in nature's way of thinning the herd.

If Grandma ventured into the nearby field to pick some dill for canning pickles, we fought over which two got to fish in the little pond. It was about the size of a round, backyard swimming pool. Green slime covered the surface. No bait was necessary. That little pond was so overpopulated that fish practically jumped up shouting, "Take me! Take me!" Toss in an unbaited hook, and two or three fish fought to attach themselves. If we were not going to cook them up, Grandma told us to throw them into the weeds. 

When Grandpa got home at 3:30, we ate supper. Then we went to work in the garden. We picked food for supper the next night. Tomatoes, ears of corn, peppers, okra (which none of us were crazy about), onions, and potatoes. That was our favorite, digging potatoes out of the hills hoed up by Grandma. After gardening, Grandpa took a shower in the basement. Every now and then one of us kids got to use that cold-water shower as a treat. Otherwise, we parceled out bath time.

Evenings were spent watching a Cardinal's game if one was on TV, or maybe The Waltons, or Gunsmoke. We laid in the floor in front of the TV, some of us under the round coffee table by the sectional sofa. That's because there was a white mountain goat rug from my Alaskan uncle under that table. If you weren't the lucky one to lay on it, you could still stroke the fur. Grandma popped up some popcorn and poured real butter over it. Or we went outside and had watermelon. Some nights we had slices of Neapolitan ice cream. Other nights Grandma hand-cranked vanilla ice cream. I loved to stir mine until it was soupy, until Girl12 told me, "I don't like it that way. It turns into what it was before it turned into ice cream." We ate ours in the little silver teardrop camping trailer parked out by the carport.

Sometimes we were allowed to sleep in that little camper. Other nights, we slept in the front yard under the mimosa trees. I thought it was for fun, but now I realize that Grandma never had air conditioning. Grandpa put a couple of pieces of plywood on two sawhorses, and brought out the mattress. Some of us slept on chaise lounges with thick cushions, others on the kind with nylon webbing. We nodded off looking at the big dipper and listening to the whippoorwills.

Our parents dropped in for infrequent visits. Maybe they just showed up for hog-butchering day to get some meat. We loved to play around the severed head propped up on the carport wall. Nobody ever told us to get away. Some genius could have marketed a toy called Severed Hog's Head and made a fortune. I did not feel bad for that little piggy. We poked it with sticks, swatted at the buzzing flies, marveled at the tongue handing out the side of the mouth, looked up its nostrils, touched the coarse hairs, and never considered that it was being saved for the purpose of head cheese.

Chicken, the other white meat, was also a staple on Grandma's table. She dispatched them herself in the side yard by the water faucet. We gathered to watch. But not too close. When she was done swinging that chicken by the head to wring its neck, she chopped the body loose. We didn't want that blood-spouting poultry-corpse to run into us. It's not like it could see where it was going.

Ah...simpler times.


Thanks to Tammy at Message in a Bloggle for giving me this scathingly brilliant idea in a comment a few days ago.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Backroads Miz Manners Cops an Attitude

Backroads Miz Manners is at it again, dispensing timely advice to the whiners among us.

Dear Backroads Miz Manners, 

For years, I have borne the lion's share of household duties. I know that my husband works hard outside the home. But so do I. I have grown accustomed to being that lioness who slaughters the wildebeest and brings it home for the males in my pride to feast on before I get my share. I understand that the main chore of the males is to lounge around, napping. And that the secondary chore is to occasionally fight with one another to establish dominance. I don't expect any help from them in cleaning up our little portion of the savanna.

Imagine my surprise this morning when I schlepped the full pail of dehumidifier water out the basement door, only to find that my old jug of bleach had disappeared. I put half a cap of bleach in the dehumidifier bucket once a day. That keeps it sparkling fresh. No mold is going to take hold on my watch. I searched the back yard. Perhaps last night's storm had blown the bleach into the edge of the woods. Or under the pool deck. I searched high and low. No bleach.

My husband returned from a jaunt on his John Deere Gator. Supposing that he had traveled more ground this morning on his little green jalopy than I had on foot, I asked if, perchance, he had run across my bleach jug. Silence. And then..."Oh. That was bleach in there? I threw that away yesterday."

It's not the price of bleach that annoys me. I have another jug in the laundry room. It's just the fact that my man would sooner give away a goat than lift a finger to assist me. And yet...he took it upon himself to toss out a jug of bleach remnants that had been residing on the concrete retaining wall under the house by the basement door since 2009, when he used it for something to do with the pool.

Is it just me, Miz Manners, or is my husband trying to drive me crazy?

Signed, Curiously Chlorine Free

Dear Chlorine,

It's just you. Toughen up, Buttercup. Save the drama for your mama and have some cheese with that whine. Your man takes the initiative to discard some back yard jetsam, and all you can do is bawl about it? Tote that pail with a smile on your face, woman, and stop berating your significant other. It's Father's Day, for cryin' out loud. Get off the guy's back for one day, why don't you, and let him pat himself on it for his good deed.

Stand by your man, darlin', and in another fifteen years he might do another chore.

Signed, Backroads Miz Manners

Saturday, June 18, 2011

What a Wonderful World Val's Would Be

What a wonderful world Val's would be, if...

...her attendance at a writer's group did not cause all other members to stay away.

...expired cans of biscuits did not explode inside her refrigerator.

...the basement egress she used for dumping the dehumidifier twice a day did not lead through a weird, wacky, multi-level rock garden of sorts.

...her kitchen sink was stainless steel as she had requested at the time her house was built, instead of a light almond color preferred by her husband, or better yet if her dishes were washed in a dishwasher for which a space was left under the counter, which has remained vacant for the past 13 years.

...the young lass who worked the Sonic drive-thru window understood that change from $20.63 for a bill of $9.63 was $11.00, not $10.00.

...various minimum-wage workers did not recoil in horror and exclaim, "Eww!" when she answered their inquiries as to what she does for a living with, "I'm a teacher."

...she had one of those beds that people can jump on and not spill a glass of wine, instead of one which acted as a trampoline to vault her halfway to the ceiling every time her husband turned over in his sleep.

...the four or five people per day that she encountered walking in the road realized that a road was for automobiles, and that they really should have stepped off the pavement so a driver did not have to make the choice of slamming on brakes to avoid (A) hitting them and (B) colliding head-on with oncoming traffic.

...teardrops were pennies, and heartaches were gold.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Telltale Drip

Don't be afraid. I know. It's too quiet. Nobody is stirring, not even a tiny, big-eared field mouse that could have snuck in under the basement door to run across my stylish red Croc as I sit in my dark basement lair, illuminated only by the glow of my desktop computer monitor.

Shh...did you hear that? Oh. It's nothing. Just the drip, drip, drip of the dehumidifier. Not the beating of a telltale Diomedes fishing spider's non-chambered heart. There's nobody here. Just me and me.

It's like this every weekend. I've prepared a festive little post for my guests, much like college roommates selling plasma to afford a few bags of pretzels to scatter around the apartment in mismatched Melmac bowls, pretzels being the snack of choice because nobody really likes them, so they last all night. But unlike a rockin' college party, my internet soiree is a virtual ghost town. Dust bunny tumbleweeds scoot to and fro on my gusty, carbon-dioxide sighs.

The weekend is not a friend of creative-juice-drooling Val.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Castaway Val in North Pacific

By really, really popular demand, (the request of FIVE people), I present: Castaway Val, in North Pacific.

Many years ago, my family took a two-week vacation to Ketchikan, Alaska. My mother's brother worked for the U.S. Forest Service. He and his family lived in Ketchikan, and graciously hosted my parents, my sister, my grandmother, and me in his house on the side of a mountain. It seemed to me that everything I saw in Alaska was on the side of a mountain, but that's how things look when you're from Missouri.

Uncle Joe (not his real name) made sure we saw the sights. We went to a salmon cannery, a paper mill, a totem pole park, the beach, Ketchikan's downtown shopping district by a bunch of piers, and the piece de resistance, a multi-day fishing trip to an island with a cabin reserved just for us.

Little did I know that the trip to the island would be made in Uncle Joe's boat. A boat just like my grandpa's, with an outboard motor, used back in Missouri to fish in the St. Francis river. I had never associated such a boat with a jaunt across the ocean. A strip of ocean so vast that one could barely discern terra firma along the horizon fore and aft. Wearing an orange life jacket, with a grip that surely left imprints in the metal hull, I was whisked to my destiny in the company of my sister, father, and Joe. That's all his boat could hold, you see. He would drop us off with the fishing poles, and make a return voyage to bring Mom and Grandma and our supplies.

I was ecstatic to step foot onto the island. Because it meant that I was not going to become a denizen of Davy Jones' Locker. Dad, Sis, and I took the poles and set off to explore. It was a sunny, early-August day, temperature in the 50s, fluffy clouds overhead. My dad was lovin' it. He led us to a creek and cast his line.

Several hours later, the buzz of a small red plane drew our attention skyward. We were impressed. In Missouri, we didn't see planes flying so low. "Look at that," Dad said. "It's one of those planes that lands on the water." Indeed, it was. The Red Baron started to circle. We were mesmerized. "I bet he's looking for somebody," Dad told us. The plane went round and round. Lower and lower. We could see the pilot. We waved. He dipped a wing. "He's looking for US!" said Dad.

We lost the Red Baron in the trees. Dad made us hike back past the cabin, to a little lake or lagoon kind of area. There was the pilot with his plane at the dock. Waiting for us. We introduced ourselves. The Red Baron said, "Joe had trouble with his motor. He's not going to be able to make it back out here today, so he sent me to pick you up."

Wasn't that a fine how-do-you-do? Not only had I sailed the high seas for naught, but now I was being bamboozled into a flight in a tiny ski-plane. Val has never been comfortable in the wild blue yonder nor the deep blue sea. This fishing trip was turning out to be the worst of both worlds.

Dad climbed into the shotgun seat. I went in behind him, then our fishing poles, then Sis behind the pilot. We were crammed in like sardines. Without the mustard sauce. The poles poked between Sis and me, intruding into the narrow space that separated Dad from the Red Baron. By this time, the sky had clouded over, and a light rain began to fall. The windshield of the plane was fogged over like it needed a good defroster.

The Red Baron noodled his plane away from the dock. He faced it into the wind or away from the wind or whatever pilots do when they want to sail their plane across the water and lift off. We began to pick up speed. The engine whined. The Red Baron wiped off his side window and peered out. He looked at Dad. "Can you see anything?" The silence was a negative in my book. "Well, I can't. Do you think we're going to clear those trees?" I could see the shadow of what must have been trees along the edge of the water, fast approaching through the foggy windshield. Dad still had no answer to what I was hoping was a rhetorical question. Because I was smart like that. Did I ever tell you that I was valedictorian?

We cleared the trees and made our way back to Ketchikan. Nobody was happier to reunite with the family than I was. I was pleasantly unaware that I would be headed right back out to the island on Joe's boat the next day. The second attempt was a success. All people and things were transported without incident. I even saw my first real live bear not in a cage on that trip. Along with some salmon snaggers. Who were inherently more dangerous than the bear, according to Uncle Joe.

And that's the story of Val's three-hour tour that left her stranded (briefly) on an Alaskan island.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

I Have Just the Place for It

Linda at Write from the Heart has kindly bestowed upon my blog a lovely green award. How did she know that green is my favorite color?  I will now foist upon you seven facts about myself. Pay attention. There might be a quiz at the end of the quarter.

7 Facts About Val

1. For a year, I worked in an insurance salvage store. The bookkeeper later said she hired me because I looked clean. My work ethic impressed her so much that she gave me a nickel raise after the first month. Which did not fly well with the other employees, them seeing me as not yet having paid my dues. The place was rife with illicit affairs, backstabbing, power struggles, theft, embezzlement, revenge, hazing, unrequited love, trade secrets, off-site socializing, and attack dogs. A fictionalized memoir could practically write itself. I have no plans to write it.

2. I was once stranded on an Alaskan island, and had to be rescued by a four-seater plane that landed on water.

3. My idol is Dolly Parton. I find it amazing that she was born a nobody in the middle of nowhere, and made herself into a 950 million dollar force to be reckoned with. Did you know that Dolly dabbles in dinner theaters and amusement parks? Even if she was not a performing artist, she could make a healthy living off the rights to songs that she has written. Did you know Dolly wrote I Will Always Love You, and that the Whitney Houston version alone made her six million dollars in royalties? Or that Dolly provides free books for kids in certain communities each month from birth to the age of five? Or that when Porter Wagoner fell on hard times, Dolly bought the rights to all of his songs, and then sold them back to him for one dollar? I don't care how many people make fun of her most obvious attributes, Dolly is a class act.

4. Since childhood, people have told me I'm a funny gal. I'm hoping they mean funny ha, ha, not funny peculiar. Do you buy into that opposites attract theory? Because I seem to have married a man born without a funny bone.

5. My grandpa worked in the lead mines, and raised hogs on the side. It was not uncommon to spend a summer Saturday running barefoot in his yard, tossing hedgeapples into the sinkhole by the driveway, and poking at the severed hog head sitting on the concrete-block wall of the carport.

6. I have two grown stepsons and two growing sons. I pride myself on the fact that the toilet seats have always remained down. If Momma ain't happy, ain't nobody happy.

7. I would rather be a follower than a leader, but when I am in a group, people expect me to be the one to speak. Customers in various stores accost me as if I am an employee, even though I wear no uniform, or even clothing that matches.

I would like to extend this award to any of my followers or commenters or readers, without pointing a specific finger. It's too good to keep to myself, on the mantle of one of my three electric fireplaces. Go on. Help yourself. It's free! You know you need a chance to tell your deep dark secrets, or brag that you can put your feet behind your head and walk across the floor on your buttocks. All you have to do is link back to me, tell seven things about yourself, and give the award to seven more people. Kind of like a scratch-off lottery ticket chain letter, but without the chance of winning cash.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Val's Perceptions of Reality

Did you ever notice that...

*When a car is tailgating you, it's because the crazed driver has control issues.

*But when the car in front of you is going too slow, you must get close to show the driver what an incompetent ignoramus he is.

*When you trip over a pair of size thirteen shower slides that are parked behind the couch, your son is an insensitive brat.

*But when your husband kicks your red Crocs out of their position where you left them behind the couch, he is blind as an insensitive bat.

*When somebody injures his shoulder while wiping down the kitchen counter, he's a fragile, brittle-boned geezer.

*But when you strain something in your shoulder while wiping down the kitchen counter, it's because you are an energetic, Olympic-class counter-wiper.

*When the TV is too loud during someone else's favorite show, it's because that person must be senile and deaf.

*But when the TV is too loud during your favorite show, it's because the speakers are made into the back of the set, and someone else hooked up the surround sound speakers wrong.

*When a driver pulls out in front of you, making you jam on your brakes, it's because he's a stupid fool who got his driver's license out of a CrackerJack box.

*But when you pull out in front of another driver, it's because you were momentarily blinded by the sun.

Yeah. I noticed that, too.

Monday, June 13, 2011

To Sleep, Perchance to SLEEP

Most days, I am up by 6:00 a.m., and don't retire until after midnight. Sometimes, I nod off in the recliner while watching TV around nine or ten. I'm not bragging about the amazing amount of time I waste throughout the day. Merely pointing out that if my boys need me for something, I am there. I am accessible. It's not like I run a multimillion dollar corporation, and employ nannies, and require an appointment to command my undivided attention.

This afternoon, I was dragging. All that doing nothing really wore me out. I had arisen early to watch out the window for an impending thunderstorm to blow me away. I woke Genius so he could take pictures of gumball-sized hailstones. Funny thing. Genius said his fancy-shmancy camera would not be able to capture the hailstones. That was news to me, since he had taken excellent raindrop pictures with his OLD camera,

and lightning flashes with both. Odd how those hailstones moved faster than lightning and a splashing raindrop. Besides, it was 9:00 a.m. He'd had enough beauty rest. Yet after one look at those unphotogenic hailstones, Genius crawled back in bed until I made him get up at 11:00.

The Pony and I made a trip to town. Picked up the mail. I saw to it that both boys had lunch. Tossed in a load of laundry. Emptied the dehumidifier. Not exactly an Olympic contender's workout. But I was tired. At 2:00, I laid down for a short nap. At 2:20, Genius waltzed into my boudoir with his laptop, and proceeded to quiz me on which photo would be the best to submit to a contest. Something he could not have done before or after my short nap, of course, because he was sleeping.

I had to wake him for supper at 5:00. I expect him to clomp downstairs around 10:30 p.m. to wake me from my recliner slumber for another vitally important decision.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

What Are YOU Lookin' At?

Every now and then, when all creativity leaves my body like so much intermittent rainfall on blacktop pavement at noon on a sunny, 90-degree day, I check my blog stats. I feel so sorry for the readers who came here, all psyched to learn about their pet pecadilloes, and found only my rambling tales of assorted animalia, gray hair, and optometrist appointments. It is to those unfortunate folks, unable to quench their thirst for knowledge, that I offer my sincere apologies.

Mrs. Brady Haircut
It's not here. I don't have one. I can't give one. My hairstylist, aka The Butcher of Seville, does not give them. You are split-ends out of luck.

My Lilac Bush is Sagging
Most of them do, when they are full of blooming lilacs. Mine are not, nor were they, during lilac blooming-in-the-dooryard season. The goats ate them. I have no advice. I hope this is really about lilacs. Not some euphemism for an  inappropriate topic.

Backroads of Real Cats
Whatever. Like there are backroads of fake cats. What kind of person wants to know about backroads of real cats? What's to know? Where they drive? Toonces is not real. What's the deal?

Shoes with Toe Holes
Somebody's got a bunion!

I Ripped Off My Blouse
Hey! Winona Rider is found my blog! Or not. Maybe somebody violently removed her lady-shirt, and wants to commiserate, to find a kindred spirit. Which is a bit disturbing, actually. Nobody here needs the blouse off your back. Keep you blouse on, already!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Backroads Miz Manners Explains the Hunter-Gatherer Continuum

Today, Backroads Miz Manners puts on her anthropologist hat in an effort to answer a hypothetical reader's question.


Dear Miz Manners:

Every weekend, as I plan my shopping trip, I ask my husband what he would like from the store. I ask what meals he wishes for me to prepare during the week. What snacks might tempt his tastebuds. Every weekend, he says anything will do. He has no preferences.

I drive to the store alone. I load my cart with groceries. Upon returning home last time, I saw my husband floating in the pool. He was relaxing on a raft, with sunglasses and cap as accessories, soaking up the sun. I know he saw me lugging the boxes of canned goods and frozen foods and perishables into the house. That's because he called out to me and waved. Yet he made no move to help.

Why are my efforts to involve him in the food facet of our life together falling upon selectively-deaf ears?

Not Paula Deen


Dear Not-Paula,

I am sure that you learned about Hunter-Gatherers in your social studies classes back in elementary school. Perhaps you were taken on a field trip to Cahokia Mounds (though Miz Manners certainly hopes you averted your eyes from the semi-naked woman). 

What many people don't know is that Hunter-Gatherer behavior can be represented by a continuum. Some people may be a Hunter 6 on that continuum, while others fall into the category of Gatherer 0. Most people are somewhere in between.

It appears that your husband is a pure Hunter 6. Where food is concerned, he will try to capture the occasional escaped Pot-Bellied Pig and make bacon before the neighbor knows it's gone. Or he might scoop up a road-kill turkey and try to deep-fry it on a Coleman camp stove, with the aid of a blow torch. That's about the extent of your mate's Gatherer skills. He sounds as if he doesn't have a Gatherer bone in his body. So the gathering tasks fall to you.

Resign yourself to planning, gathering, buying, unloading, preparing, packaging, and saving all food items that enter your home. The Hunter's job is to find the food on his plate, put it in his mouth, and forget about it until the next feeding time. He can accomplish this in 5-10 minutes per meal.

You should allow slightly longer for your part of the task.


Friday, June 10, 2011

I Can't Focus

Last week, I had a call from a lady claiming to be soliciting members for a focus group. Normally, I would not have answered the call, but my gatekeeper, my personal assistant, my secretary, my call-screener, aka my thirteen-year-old son, The Pony, was on vacation. In my basement lair, next to my computer, I have an antiquated land line. I don't mean to brag, but my phone would put the shoebox-sized cordless phones from the early Seinfeld episodes to shame.

My phony albatross is ivory and upright, with a gray, six-inch rubber antenna projecting toward the floor. The floor of my bedroom upstairs. Lest you forget that I'm a subterranean dweller when I'm in blogging mode. There is no caller ID, no panel in this phone that displays the number of the caller. Without The Pony shouting, "Grandma!" or "Unknown!" or "It's Dad!" from his couch position near the more modern receiver in the basement proper, I am in the dark when my phone starts ringing. I answered. Because it might have been my mom for the fifth time that day. Or Hick. Or the boys.

The woman identified herself as Marci Gillerman. I give her name, because I figure anybody calling people trying to recruit a focus group is not counting on remaining anonymous. She was very polite. She got her verbal foot in the door of my ear, and forged ahead like there was no tomorrow. My issues are not with Ms. Gillerman specifically. But with her type.

Let me apologize in advance to those of you who dwell in an urban environment. I don't mean to lump you all together under the umbrella of city people. But we simple folk out here in the boonies are tired of being lumped together as well. So if you do not treat people in this manner, don't get your city noses out of joint. I mean you no harm.

Our conversation went a little like this:

I am looking to start a focus group on your area. It will pay $75, plus a free dinner. It is on June 16, in your area. Are you familiar with what a focus group does?


What do you do for a living?

I'm a high school teacher.

Oh! I have five teachers already! A retired teacher, a social studies teacher, a special ed teacher...you must have a really good educational system down there!

We have many school districts in this area.

Our focus group is trying to find out your opinion on several issues. If you know how a jury works, people give their individual opinions, and then discuss all options that might have been mentioned.

I have been on a jury.

Oh! That's even better! But you know how a jury can drag out...and this is only three hours.

I'm sorry. I don't think I'm interested.

Again, let me emphasize that Ms. Gillerman was very polite. I'm sure she did not intend to sound condescending, or even realize that her words might have been taken that way. She was only trying to round up people for her focus group. However, the cedar chip on my country shoulder caused me to perceive the exchange differently.

First of all, the town she kept mentioning is a good 15 miles from my town. So it is not my area. (She kept naming that specific town. It has a completely different telephone exchange than my town. So I'm not sure where she got off thinking I lived there.) We are not some Hooterville with Sam Drucker letting us each run a tab at his general store. We have three Walmart Supercenters, by cracky! The county population is over 60,000. We have three state prisons. And there are twelve school districts in our activities association. No wonder she had so many teachers on her list already. Education and the department of corrections are pretty much our main employers. So...don't be thinking we have a really good school system just because it's summer and some teachers are willing to give up three hours for $75. We have several good school systems because people care about their kids and make them go to school and back up the teacher if Johnny isn't performing to his optimum level.

Maybe I'm just touchy about that education thing. It's not like we're all Zekes and Cletuses sitting on the porch in rocking chairs, whittling new corncob pipes in between slicing off hunks of chaw and zinging the spittoon.

Of course I understand how a jury works. I attended a really good school system, you know. (Plus, I was valedictorian!) I managed to disqualify myself from two juries in the jury pool stage, because I had done business with one of the attorneys, and did not know if I could be impartial. They nailed me on the third one, though, and I had to spend two days hearing a case on eminent domain. Even though I told them up front that I was not a fan of eminent domain, because the state took part of my pappy's homestead. I mean, my dad's land, to put a highway through there. Just like the case I would be hearing.

I know what a focus group does, because I do not live under a rock, and I've been on one before. The focus group that lassoed me was the Herbal Essence shampoo conglomerate. They roped me in while I strolled through South County Mall, and forced me to watch four commercials and fill out a checklist about how each one made me feel. I don't remember much of the discussion, but I do remember the wheelbarrow load of free product that was proffered for my time. I suppose I sold myself cheap. I am a now a loyal Herbal Essence customer.

No, I did not wish to join this focus group. The $75 will not even fill the tank of my SUV. I value my time more than the cash. And even more than a free dinner. Besides, that's the night of the next meeting of that local writers group I discovered by accident last month. I'm still thinking about attending.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Case of the Clairvoyant Cashier

Last week, I made my regular stop to pick up some gas station chicken for supper. The unfriendly, toothless woman no longer works there, the good ol' boy who barked, "That's every man's dream," in response to my request for two breasts and two legs was not on the premises, and the chicken bin was well-stocked. You would think such details would bode well for my chicken pick-up.

Or not.

I took every man's dream in a box, a large tub of cole slaw, and the ticket to the cashier. She rang it up, took my money, handed back change...and said, "You be really careful, now." She peered earnestly, deeply, into my eyes as the words left her lips.

Well. I was not sure what to make of that. I hauled my fat- and sodium-laden spread to the car. What did she mean? It sounded like a warning. I was so distracted that I barely noticed the little black pickup truck parked all helter-skelter near the front of the building. I went around it, clutching my chicken. That's not foreshadowing. It was just a bad parking job.

The weather was clear. There's no rush hour in my neck of the woods, unless you count the backup at the traffic light when the prison changes shifts. That time had already passed. It was not a holiday. No sirens sounded,  no police or firemen raced by. I did not walk under a ladder, see a black cat, break a mirror, spill salt, or get thirteen cents in change. 

Nothing happened on the way home. But I couldn't get the image out of my head. That's just inappropriate, to tell somebody to be really careful after you sell them gas station chicken. Who does that woman think she is, anyway? Johnny Smith in The Dead Zone? Did she mean she could see my future of clogged arteries? Would I choke on that tiny, sharp leg bone? Aspirate a cube of diced carrot from the slaw and die a lingering death due to pneumonia? None of those scenarios came to pass. The chicken was tasty, as always.

I am getting a weird vibe from my petroleum/poultry bistro.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Dripping the Light Fantastic

Hot enough for you?

Not for some prisoners on a work detail that I saw yesterday afternoon. It's not like we have the tent-city, pink-underwear, baloney-sandwich, chain-gang prison in our fair hamlet. But we do have three state prisons within a forty-mile radius. Good for jobs, you know. State merit system jobs. And speaking of gainful employment, those prisoners like to have the groundskeeping-crew jobs. It's a privilege. Plus it gives one the opportunity every now and then to run off and be discovered hiding under a boat.

The work detail wears the standard prison garb of gray pants and white T-shirts. If they're working on the road right-of-way, they also wear the flimsy orange don't-run-over-me vests. Some of those dudes yesterday had accessorized by adding...are you ready for this...orange sock caps. Yeah. The knit kind you wear in the winter to hold in your body heat so it is not lost through your scalp. Which is something that, um, most people would like to lose when the temperature is 95 degrees.

But I'm not here to discuss inmates and their fashion statements. I'm here to talk about perspiration. The sum total of my manual labor yesterday was carrying in some groceries. While I don't mean to brag, I would like the record to show that I did my part for the water cycle by contributing scalp rivulets and underboob sweat back to the environment.

My son, Genius, is a world-class water cycle donor. In the Water Cycle Olympics, he would hold the gold medal for every event in the hand and foot division. It's a wonder he doesn't short out his phone while texting. He could coin a new walking on eggshells phrase: walking on banana peels. At times, I think he must be part snail, considering the trail he leaves.

A couple of years ago, he took apart his brother's computer to add a sound card. He perched on the chair with one foot on the floor, and the other foot on the seat, his knee bent up by his chin. A minor industrial accident occurred, perhaps due to his slippery fingers. A small hole was gouged into the flesh of his hand. I applied a Scooby Doo Band-Aid to staunch the flow of his life fluid from the newly-opened spigot. As he was finishing the task and putting the cover back on the computer, he called for my attention.

"See that?" Genius pointed to the floor under the chair. I peered at the tile, expecting to see some crimson drops of blood. "That's a puddle of sweat that dripped off my foot."

World. Record. Holder.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Future Enterprisers, Take Note

I have been enjoying a staycation this week. Hick took Genius and The Pony on a little vacation to the Badlands, through the valley of the shadow of Roosevelt's nose, (yes, I'm listening to Emmylou Harris right now), and up Pike's Peak. I've been there. I dislike vacation travel immensely. So we are all enjoying the best of both worlds right now.

They left Friday morning. I had an optometrist appointment at 2:30, so I fiddled around enjoying myself with a couple loads of laundry, a sink full of dishes, and some bill-paying. Lunch was debated amongst me, myself, and I. The office was 20 minutes away. I didn't want a big spread. But I didn't want to put off the meal until after the appointment. So I settled for a Banquet.

A sorrier name for a product you'll never see than Banquet. A banquet is an elaborate, sumptuous repast. Mine was neither sumptuous, nor elaborate. And repast is in question. I was not expecting Paula Deen cuisine. Or even Lean Cuisine. I am a bargain shopper, you see. Every now and then, on my jaunts to Save A Lot, I toss a couple of Banquets in the cart for Hick in case I have to stay after work, or for a rare occasion when I want to ingest a hot meal at the school lunch table. They only cost $0.88, you know. Which means they are horribly overpriced.

The one I grabbed was meant for Hick. I'm more of a Boneless BBQ Pork Rib kind of gal, whereas he's a Chicken Fried Steak kind of guy. He's lucky I saved him from this one. He might have had a flashback to the unfortunate Linguine with Clam Sauce debacle. I will not take the fall for that one. Hick picked it out for himself. So it's not my fault he was green for three days, and missed work, and thought he was the first man ever to have food poisoning. Who buys a TV dinner with clam sauce, for cryin' out loud? Apparently, nobody but Hick, because I haven't seen them for about twelve years now.

Anyway, I must report that my Chicken Fried Steak was as tasty as a wet piece of drywall that might have fallen off a sodden ceiling into a plastic tray compartment of bland white paste, right next to some see-through mashed potatoes and neon-yellow corn. Normally, I like the corn in Banquet frozen dinners, but on this day I saw no reason to consume a healthy vegetable when I was busy desiccating my internal tissues with a boatload of processed sodium.

This meal made the frozen Salisbury-steakcicle that Tom Cruise as Joel Goodson licked for his supper in Risky Business look good. But then, he had a glass of whiskey with a drop of Coke on the side. The Banquet people are crazy-smart to call their product Banquet. Some of them must have been Future Enterprisers. Instead of making a Memo-Minder, they made Grub in a Box, and named it Banquet.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Mirror, Mirror

While I was biding my time in the optometrist's chair, I let my peepers roam about the exam room. Straight ahead, mounted side-by-side on the wall, were two square mirrors. I know they are used to reflect the vision chart once the lights go down. But during down time, they are simply mirrors. As such, they reminded me that I am not the fairest one of all. In fact, they reminded me that I really needed to touch up my roots. Cheeky mirrors.

It's not that I was rockin' the skunk look. Than unfortunate coiffure faux pas sometimes befalls those of us who inherited our dad's dark brown locks rather than our mother's red tresses. Especially those of us with grandparents known for their flowing white manes during their septuagenarian decade, the foundation for such having been laid down in their twenties. It's true. I come from an early-graying lineage. Not a problem. After the first thirty or forty inquisitive adolescents kindly graced me with the observation, "Hey! You have gray hair!" I decided to remedy the situation. And never looked back. I even find it entertaining when the students ask, "Did you dye your hair?" Because they think I am just doing it for a darker shade. That's what they do, you know. Nobody ever insinuates that it's to cover gray. I would like to think that they are uber-compassionate and do so to spare my feelings. But all signs point more towards inattentive oblivion.

Recessed in the ceiling in front of the mirrors was a row of lights. I'm not sure why they were positioned so. The doc always dims them for the exam, and  uses a hand-held torch to peer into my soul. I don't know the exact number of foot-candles emitted by the ceiling, but the ambience was much like a community theater stage. I briefly considered putting on my own private show. A dance routine, perhaps. A chorus line of one.

I could have presented, for my two-mirror audience's pleasure, that dancing frog routine: "Hello, my honey! Hello, my baby! Hello, my ragtime doll!" But since I was lacking a cane and top hat, a simple kick-ball-change beginning tap routine would have had to suffice. I'm not a natural dancer. That must come as quite a surprise to you. Some might think my hoofing more akin to that of Rhoda in The Bad Seed, with her Claude-Daigle-bashing metal taps, than that of Ann Miller. Far be it from me to try and sway the tide of public opinion.

Alas, my Chorus Line audition was rain-checked for another day. The doctor chose that moment to enter and get down to business. I think he saved me from a fate worse that being caught out of the chair, jotting down blog ideas in a tiny spiral notebook.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

And Now, the Rest of the Story

I mentioned that I made a visit to the optometrist Friday. And while sitting in the waiting room, I got the urge. That uncontrollable urge...to write. Believe me, it was worse than those dripping bladder pipe people driving in pipe cars, or the overly-distended balloon-bladder people at the class reunion. I could barely control it.

I started making up mind pictures. Then, like the eighth digit that would have broken the telephone number's back, an idea tried to take hold. My short-term memory cache was full. My mind overflowed like a toilet flushed by a want-ad handyman who had the other urge while breaking up a concrete porch slab. I searched for mental towels to sop up the runoff. The assistant called my name.

There I was, walked through the maze and into a darkened room, directed to sit here, put my chin there, lean my forehead thus, open my eye wide, grab the clicker, squeeze when I saw wavy lines, move to this chair, lean forward, look at the red barn at the end of the lane, don't move, wait here. My overflowing thoughts had suspended themselves. I couldn't dwell on them, what with a woman, man, and different assistant behind me in the dark, performing a different, unconfidential medical test. I ran through my mental picture gallery. At least it was intact.

My assistant (I like the sound of that) called me into the exam room. She directed me to a chair in the corner. After leafing through my folder, she motioned for me to sit in the exam chair. I got up, expecting her to leave and go about her business. She watched me. It was unnerving. Did she think I was incapable of striding three steps to the other seat? Did she expect me to trip? Fear that my gargantuan proportions would not fit between the armrests? Have a premonition that I would make an escape? Anticipate a monetary gratuity? She stared at me until I was ensconced in the hot seat. Then she left and closed the door.

I tried to be good. For all I knew, they had hidden cameras. I conjured up my story images plus overflow. Mistake. More ideas began to surge. The looming contraptions spoke to me. "I'm worth a lot of money. The doctor is still paying for me. Don't touch me. I know you want to. Your fingerprints can be traced. Look at me. My name is Phoroptor. I was deadly in the dinosaur days. I can be reanimated. NO! Look at ME! I'm Topcon. I am privy to state secrets. Maybe you've heard of my cousin, DEFCON. My relatives work deep inside Cheyenne Mountain. Can you keep a secret?"

I may just be channeling Danny in the topiary of the Overlook Hotel (Help me, Dick Halloran!) but I think I saw one of the shining metal monsters move. I turned way. I swung my feet down off the foot-holder platform. I leaned forward. This chair was not built for comfort. Who knew how much longer my wait would be? In the dark room, there had been a debate about who to call back first, the dude already in there who had a 2:45 appointment, or the dude who had a 2:15 appointment but got there at 2:35. They settled on Mr. 2:15. Sucked to be Mr. 2:45, all early-arrivin' for his time slot, taken back ahead of the prima donna belle of the ball, only to be sidelined for his royal majesty.

Normally, I am a goody-two-shoes, and follow directions to a T. Not anymore. My bad two shoes stepped down from that torture rack and walked over to my purse, from which I took my black-covered, $.79, flip-top, spiral mini-notebook. I furtively filled three pages with cryptic scribblage. I was afraid of being caught, of being assumed a secret shopper, of having my materials confiscated. And I don't even read mysteries.

Whew! I felt so much better after relieving myself of those ideas. I climbed back into the exam chair successfully, without supervision. The doctor came in, checked out the windows to my soul, and released me.

Heavy equipment for optometry office: astronomical.
Annual eye exam with insurance: five dollars.
Enough material for a week of blog posts: priceless.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Out and About with Val

Maybe I need to change my style. It's getting all Wild Kingdom up in here. Looking back over the last couple of weeks, I've had the moth, the chicken, the spider, the possum. I might as well start a cooking blog: Val's Bizarre Hillbilly Treats. Is it a Freudian slip that I first typed "teats" in place of treats? That would be a different blog entirely.

Yesterday I had an appointment with the optometrist. I didn't take a book with me like I do at the doctor's office, because I didn't want my eyes all focusing and unfocusing just before the exam. An opto appointment is not as stressful as a doctor's appointment. There are no sick people to breathe on you, only whiny kids who commandeer the ceiling-mounted TV for cartoons that they pointedly ignore. And I was lucky enough to get a 2:30 appointment, so no whiny kids were around. Nap time, you know.

Another good thing about the opto office is the carpeting throughout. More homey instead of industrial. You know there won't be any emergency gurney-racing down the halls, or clean-up pages for various and sundry effluences that might taint the tile. Once you get back to the inner sanctum, you don't see sharp or hosey objects that may be applied to your body. Only stainless steel contraptions that twist and turn and telescope and retract, kind of like adult Transformer toys.

After checking in with picture ID and insurance cards, I sat down to wait. And wouldn't you know it? I got the urge. Don't you find that you get the urge at the most inconvenient times in the most inconvenient places? You know what I'm talking about...the urge to write. Thoughts were pinging through my noggin like spitballs through a classroom controlled by a substitute. I was generating enough material for a week's worth of posts. On both my blogs. Woe was me. I started making pictures in my mind. That's a way to remember things, I've been told. If you can't remember names, then when you're introduced to John Goodman, picture a dude sitting on a toilet with a teacher's red stamp of "Good" on his forehead.

I don't want to foreshadow what you're in for this week, but my picture was somebody peeing on Tom Cruise, who had gray roots and feet dripping with sweat.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Say Hello to my Great Big Friend

Unbagging the Cats: not just a crummy memoir-writer's blog anymore. Now with more Lepidoptera!

I found him on the porch this afternoon. Please excuse the quality of the photo. I did not have the expensive camera of my son, Genius, at my disposal. This is from my phone. In order to get Mothra to stand out, the background kind of blew out in an atomic-bomb-like flash. Technology is not my friend.

This is a Luna Moth. It only lives for one week. That's because it has no mouth for eating people's sweaters, or perhaps foliage. The main duty of this fine specimen of adult Luna is to mate. That might explain the faded, tattered body found on the porch under the Dolomedes fishing spider a few days ago. It either loved and died, or was murdered by Spidey. Which reminds me of a Hick tale.

When Hick first discovered the unregulated livestock auction a few miles from our home, he started with chickens and rabbits, then branched out to a guinea, then declared that he needed a turkey. He found one a couple weeks later. It was a dark turkey, not wild-looking and thin, but more like a kid's drawing of a Thanksgiving turkey. Without the neon-colored, finger-shaped tail feathers.

The turkey could often be found in front of Hick's truck, fanning his tail, admiring himself (and sometimes fighting himself) in the bumper reflection of his likeness. Hick decided that Turkey needed a mate. Hick loved that bird. On more than one occasion, I stuck my head out the door to hear, "Who's a big turkey? Who's a big turkey? Him's a big ol' turkey!"

The first wife did not last long. She was a dainty white bird, perhaps of the Butterball persuasion. Turkey and the Missus did not bond. Hick was always trying to play the matchmaker. One day, when he went out to feed, Turkey attempted to consummate the union. Hick went on about his business of stalking his new goat. He heard a commotion, but figured that Turkey was enthusiastic about his amorous adventure.

When Hick returned to the scene of Turkey's honeymoon, he found the Missus dead. She had been loved to death.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Dog-Eating Pony Thrives Despite Unusual Diet

Here are the latest stories, ripped from the headlines of Val's life.

Dog-Eating Pony Thrives Despite Unusual Diet
A thirteen-year-old midwestern boy appears to be hale and hearty, in spite of consuming mass quantities of corn dogs. The little fellow, referred to as The Pony by his family, due to an aversion to My Little Pony Happy Meal toys earlier in his youth, has a taste for the maize canines. He insisted on taking one in his school lunch every day for the entire year. According to The Pony, "I would never eat that junk they serve in the cafeteria." The thought of setting a world record such as that of the Big Mac eater has never occurred to The Pony. "I just like corn dogs," he said.

Wetland Draining Long Overdue
A local woman finally shamed her son into hooking up a dehumidifier that had been placed in her basement two weeks ago by her passive-aggressive husband. She had originally requested a new dehumidifier before Mother's Day. The old appliance had ceased sucking moisture from the air, but continued to emit jet-engine decibels. Bear Grylls recently considered a Man vs. Basement episode, but declined after declaring that a case of basement rot could end his career. He likened the moisture content of the subterranean air to "...the humidity of 10,000 rain forests." Actual humidity was revealed by the new, working dehumidifier to be 75%, or, "Normal," as the man-of-the-house stated. A fact check revealed that this individual had no knowledge of ambient humidity levels, or even a passing acquaintance with reality.

Budding Architect Completes Construction of Eckrich-Ritz Tower
A sixteen-year-old architecture savant revealed his new design Wednesday evening, to an unsuspecting crowd of one. There was no formal ribbon-cutting, but the audience was heard to exclaim, "Ah!" Construction took 90 seconds. Materials consisted of Eckrich Smoked Sausage, sliced to two baloney-widths thick, and Ritz Crackers, low-fat variety. Additional support was provided by Oberle cheese. The tower was pyramidal in shape, with a base of five Ritzes, tapering to an Oberle spire, with load-bearing duties executed by Eckrich. The adolescent engineer has a history of such construction projects, two former structures being his Tokashima Inn (seen below) made entirely of playing cards, and the nomenclaturally-challenged Cat House of  '05.

Missouri Man Harvests Bumper Crop 
A southeast Missouri gentleman farmer is resting on his laurels after harvesting a bumper crop of hen fruit. His refrigerator was filled to the brim this week with brown, green, and cream-colored eggs from his free-range chickens. At last count, his wife found eighty eggs cooling their never-to-be-hatched heels on the bottom shelf. A woman of unremarkable talents, she banished the crop from the house in a fit of jealousy over the farmer's achievement.

Bouts of Sporadic Excavation Observed in the Heartland
Mrs. Val Thevictorian has been heard tapping the keyboard in feverish fits and starts, one day after being released from her sentence of 174 days of school-teaching. She is rumored to be mining her memory for appropriate anecdotes to fill a book-length humor manuscript. Sources close to the wanna-be author report that the world is a much safer place with Val ensconced in her basement lair for the summer. The sources were also heard laying odds on who in her right mind would want to read what they call "Thevictorian's Folly."

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Chicken Pants for Thee

It was so hot today, our chickens were panting. They held their beaks half-open, enough that you could see their tongues. Either they were panting, or they were in awe of my presence. They come running the minute they hear a door open. Front door, basement door, garage door, car door...any old door will do. I confess to spoiling them with handouts. They are not picky chickens.

Their preferred treat is cantaloupe. If it doesn't split open when I toss it off the porch, they peck their way to the center. The seeds appear to be the most appealing to a chicken's taste buds. They also love cereal and bread and tortillas and strawberry tops and corn cobs. The chickens clean the cobs, then the goats get the rest. They are efficient garbage-disposing machines. We repay our fowl friends by stealing their eggs and depriving them of families. Too bad, so sad. That's what happens when you're born low down on the food chain.

If only they could be trained to partake of the Dolomedes tenebrosus before it reaches the house.