Unbagging the Cats 1

Unbagging the Cats 1

Monday, October 31, 2011

They Should Have Stamped it Frah jee lay

Did you ever send away for sea monkeys after seeing that ad in a childhood comic book? I didn't. But I feel like the countless children who, like Wally and The Beaver, eagerly awaited the arrival of their tiny crown-wearing ocean primates. Only to be sorely disappointed.

I was sorely disappointed today. Shush up with that whispering! It's not becoming. I certainly realize that almost everything I do at my age results in something affecting me sorely. You're going to miss my message if you continue to nitpick.

My official award certificate arrived! The one touting me as an honorable mention recipient in the 80th Annual Writer's Digest Writing Competition. Because, you see, my memoir/personal essay entry earned 89th place. Did I ever tell you about that? Oh, well. No time now.

The certificate was unceremoniously jammed into my mailbox by the unsavory Backroads postman. No. That's not a euphemism for scantily-clothed cavorting with gentlemen in black crew socks, regrettably caught on camera. It's a fact, Jack.

My mailbox is made of metal pipe, approximately six inches in diameter. This metal pipe is ensconced in a wooden cubicle in a row of fifteen cubicles perched on metal posts sunk three feet into quick-set concrete at the side of the blacktop county road. People in the country can't have nice things. Because of other people in the country who like to bash and smash. The postman folded my special award and stuffed it into my green metal pipe with the yellow interior. Let's just say Hick was channelin' some John Deere energy when he created the mailbox.

Now my special award has a crease down the middle. Good thing it wasn't a leg lamp.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

My Newest Suitor

I have been harboring a secret.

A few weeks ago, romance once again stalked me at the Save A Lot. Yes, it's been a while since that fateful New Year's Day when a woman followed me through the store, proclaimed me to be SO PRETTY, and stroked my arm. But a potential new significant other has once again appeared upon the horizon.

This one was of the male persuasion. There I was, boxing my reasonably-priced foodstuffs at the long counter under the front window. Out of the corner of my left eye, I spied a wiry little hillbilly. His hairstyle would best be described as Eddie Van Halen in his medium-length era, only dirty-blond (the color, not the cleanliness quotient). Little Hillbilly's country ensemble was composed of the requisite white wife-beater, a pair of nondescript jeans, and white leather hightop sneakers, the style of which was popular in the 1980s. His height brought him a bit past my shoulder.

At first I assumed he wanted to grab a plastic bag. I was blocking one of four bag-dispensers. There was a lady on the back side of me at another one. But two were still available to my left. Little Hillbilly held out his hand. I glanced his way. He was proffering money! Paper money! I met his gaze.

"Oops! Sorry! I thought you were someone else."

Was that some kind of pickup line? Was he mistaking me for a prostitute? Was he a chubby-chaser? A future country singer with a rap sheet a mile long wishing me to be the Lib Hatcher to his Randy Travis? Little Hillbilly was a congenial dude. He chuckled at himself.

"Here we go." He went to the lady behind me. She might have been his mom. Or his Lib Hatcher. He handed her the money. And apologized again. "I really need to watch what I'm doing. Heh, heh."

I really need to start wearing my wedding ring when I shop at Save A Lot.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Backroads Miz Manners Explains Chicken Strategy

Dear Backroads Miz Manners,

In your column next week, could you advise about the proper etiquette when one finds one's self in a game of "Chicken" in the parking lot of K-Mart, with a car that is determined to go the wrong way in a one-way aisle? Please?

Not a Rage-a-holic

Dear No-Rag-aHol,

First of all, pardon me for the butchering of your name. It lent itself to an improper, snickerworthy abbreviation. 

Now, let's get down to the business of handing offenders their butts on painstakingly-decorated platters.

The main goal in a game of "Chicken" is to make one's opponent the chicken. Not a pretty little speckled hen with sweet yellow chicks peeping out from her wings, or a jaunty red rooster strutting across a freshly-mowed front lawn. More like a squawking, bald-necked Turken with molting feathers, fleeing for safety from a real or imagined threat.

To succeed in a contest of K-Mart Parking Lot Chicken, one must assume the mindset of Kathy Bates in Fried Green Tomatoes. Do not stop one's vehicle. Do not pull over. Continue until the challenger stops, swerves, reverses, or is plowed into by one's very own automobile. In the event of a collision, one should mimic the attitude and accent of Ms. Bates as Evelyn Couch, and announce, "Face it girls, I'm older, and I have more insurance."

In a perfect world, one WILL have more insurance. Which is a good thing, because one may need it after applying these Chicken-winning tactics. When one is in the right, it is worth a bit of inconvenience and financial hardship to put others in their place. In the event that the chicken is male, one can channel Kathy Bates as Libby Holden in Primary Colors, and point one's concealed weapon (for which one has a concealed carry permit, of course) at the driver's crotch and announce, "Mister, I'm about to make you Missus."

Let's review. One must be a regular Tom Petty in not backing down in a game of Chicken. Be prepared to ram the opposition, or point a gun at its crotch. Under no circumstances should one show weakness, and appear to be a

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Mighty Convenient Care Clinic

I have been under the weather for a few days. Twelve days, to be precise. It's something I can't shake. If my illness was a one-sentence pitch, it would be "Sinus infection meets common cold."

The whole thing started a week ago Monday. I woke up with a pounding headache above both eyes. Which continued for three days. And I noticed the oddest thing. No matter where I was, there was a bad smell. I even asked The Pony in various venues, "What IS that? Do you smell it?" But he didn't. I have since come to the conclusion that I was smelling my own sinuses. Kind of creepy, huh?

Those three days of head-throbbing were followed by four days of throat-clearing, eye-watering, and night-choking. After which a new festival of nostril-clogging and chest congestion set up its brightly-colored tent on the prime footage of my person. So I did what any dedicated educator would do, and toiled from dawn 'til after dusk at conferences Tuesday and Thursday, and chose today, a day off, to seek professional intervention.

I did not even try to find a signal in the school building for my phone through the week, to call the doctor and set up an appointment. Pshaw! Doctors don't want to see you unless you have a standing six-month appointment. So I showed up on the doorstep of my town's newest medical facility, the Convenient Care Clinic. Which was OH SO CONVENIENT! Not only did I park right in front, instead of in a large hospital lot where a trolley-driver stalks you the minute you put your PRNDL in the park position, after traveling a distance of only five miles instead of twenty, but I was THE ONLY PERSON IN THE WAITING ROOM! Granted, I was examined by a nurse practitioner and not a doctor. But does something so routine really require eighty-leven years of medical school and a Denver mint of debt? I think not.

You know what happened, right? While in the exam room, I coughed nary a drop of phlegm. My nose did not drip or stuff up. My head did not hurt. I had no fever. And though I complained of wheezing, not a crackle was auditory. Huh. I, a perfectly healthy woman, had taken a day off to go sit in an exam room and be pronounce fit as a fiddle. I felt like the cartoon dude who found that singing frog: "Hello, my honey! Hello, my baby! Hello, my ragtime dolllllll!"

Still. The kind, gray-braided nurse practitioner gave me a prescription for an antibiotic and some cough medicine pills. That's right. She said that since it had lingered so long, and kept switching back to my sinuses, I probably needed the antibiotic to fight of that yellow snot. Which was green twelve days ago.

I forgot to take the first antibiotic pill when I picked it up. So I will take it tonight. It's supposed to be ingested twice a day, twelve hours apart. Hopefully, this is one that I do not have an unknown allergy to. The cough medicine pills might be interesting. I'm guessing they're something like benedryl, since the name starts with bene-. Anything that keeps the headache away is worth the squandering of ME-time in that office.

It only took thirty minutes. Which makes it Mighty Convenient Care to me.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Whining

Life is sometimes like a horror story. A Stephen King story, to be exact.

Our puppy, Juno, has finally started to grow. To get a belly. To waddle like the roly-poly puppy she was meant to be, before some cold-hearted criminal dumped her on the roadside. Two weeks ago, Hick decided she was big enough to sleep on the porch at night. To roam the grounds by day. A chicken hawk would have to be the world-class bodybuilder of chicken hawks to lift her now.

I am not so sure that Hick was looking out for Juno's best interests instead of his own. Since both boys were spending the night elsewhere, Hick would have needed to put Juno in her pen at dark. Thus, he decreed that she could sleep on the porch. I was concerned. The temperature that morning had been 39 degrees. And was expected to plummet again overnight. Because we live in what the chief meteorologists refer to as "outlying areas." Juno's thin puppy-fur did not seem like a warm coat to me. Plus, Hick refused to get her afghan out of her pen. "She'll be fine."

I argued for the afghan. It has holes to trap Juno's body heat. She slept on it every night since her abandonment, once my mom caved and decided not to let her die. Hick grudgingly compromised. He would not get the afghan, but he would get the wooden kitten house off the back porch and put it by the front door.

The kitten house is a contraption Hick made when we first got two kittens for the boys. Not to be confused with the hotel of cardboard boxes later constructed by Genius, who christened it "The Cathouse." Much to my embarrassment. But getting back to the small-animal safe-house...it's a rectangular box one foot tall and two feet long, with a round hole in the front the size of a two-liter soda bottle, with a hinged top so you can open it up and scoop out recalcitrant baby animals for meds if need be. The last resident was our full-sized long-haired calico, who was a pariah of sorts, always on the run from the other four cats. She moved in with the neighbors, so her little wooden apartment has been empty, save for a fringe of long white hairs around the entrance.

Hick set the box between the front door and the window. He said Juno went in and out of it twice. She would be fine. The next morning, I arose to hear whimpering outside the door. I stepped out and saw Juno shivering so much that she could hardly stand. I fetched her some Ol' Roy Hearty Loaf puppy chicken. She wolfed it down while shaking like a paint-stirring machine at Lowe's. I scooped her up in a towel and took her in the house. Hick was in denial. He declared that Juno had slept in the house and been plenty warm all night, and was just cold because she came out when she heard me get up. In any case, I held her until she warmed up. By then, the sunlight was hitting the back porch, so I put her down on the warm towel in a patch of it by the back door.

That afternoon, The Pony and I reclaimed Juno's afghan. I made Hick rinse it with the hose and hang it to dry on the sunny porch rail all afternoon. Except Hick marches to his own drummer, and hung it over a metal chair in the yard, so it was still damp. I tossed it in the dryer and went with The Pony to inspect The Box. We thought Juno's post-supper belly was too big to allow her entrance. The plan was to take off the top door, turn The Box on its side, and line the bottom with the afghan. That way Juno would have an open-sided sleeping box, with easy entrance, and a roof over her head.

The Pony lifted open the top door. It came off in his hand, because the hinges had rusted off. On the underside of the lid was A DINNER-PLATE SIZED WASP NEST!!! The Pony dropped the lid. Thankfully, the nest was inactive. I'm not even sure if it was this year's nest. But it was wasp nest of colossal proportions. I could only hope that our little Juno had NOT been in that box with it. Overnight. In the dark.

It made my skin crawl. I felt like Jack Torrance at the Overlook Hotel, gazing at the wasp nest under the glass bowl, the underside teeming with live wasps.

Hick's reaction to the scenario? "Huh."

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Quarterly Harvest of Semi-Precious Paperclips

First Quarter ended last week. Which means only one thing: time to recycle the paperclips. I know it's time, even without an old red gradebook that needs a page-turning, or some calendar-watching crony telling me, "We're a fourth of the way through the school year!" I know it's time. Because in my top flat desk drawer, the paperclip compartment of my pencil tray is as empty as a sugarholic's candy bowl at 9:00 Halloween night.

The main classroom predator of paperclips is my stack of make-up work. I have a rack for each subject. At the end of the day, I take the extra copies of assignments, write the date in the upper right corner, paperclip them together, and put them in the rack. When an absent urchin reappears, I point to the rack and emphasize the date. Presto-chango! The student has the make-up work. Mayhap it will appear the next day complete, mayhap it won't. My responsibility in the exchange is complete. Even is there is no written assignment, I type a short note about the day's activities, print several copies, and put them in the rack. Paperclipped together, of course. So we're looking at forty-five paperclips per subject, assuming there was only ONE page of the assignment each day.

I used to work at the unemployment office, in the department that determined the eligibility of claimants. It was kind of like being a telephone judge, jury, and executioner. We received our caseload for the day, called employers and claimants, wrote up both sides of the stories, and allotted or denied benefits. Our supervisor, Larry, had no greater bugaboo than extraneous paperclips. We loved Larry. Really. He looked like Ned Flanders, complete with the walk and the mustache, but remiss in the diddly-doodly-speak. Larry decreed that we should file no paperclip before its time. He assigned someone, on slow days, to comb through the five-drawer lateral file cabinet and REMOVE all paperclips. "The papers are not going anywhere, people. They'll still be in the same order you put them in the folder. They don't need paperclips."

Danged it he didn't have a point.

Of course, Larry's not here to reason with me concerning my make-up work bindings. I feel that they're totally necessary. It's not like I throw paperclips away at the end of the quarter. I recycle. 

I have only been through one subject at this point in the harvest. With five hours slotted for parent conferences tomorrow, I think I can reap the remainder of the tiny metal loops that I've sown.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Straight From the Puppy's Mouth

Hi! My name is Juno. Five weeks ago, I never would have imagined that I would be writing my very own blog post. In fact, I never would have imagined being alive right now. I was slowly starving to death. My insides were stuck together like the sides of a produce bag at Walmart. I had barely enough energy to sit up and look pitiful. That time is kind of foggy for me. I may have been lapsing in and out of consciousness.

One minute I was snuggled up next to my mommy and brothers, having a nap, and the next thing I knew, I was all alone beside a road. My people and my family were gone. GONE! I tried to catch a scent to follow them, but that's kind of hard for a three-week-old pup. I held up my nose and caught the faint smell of a person. I trotted toward it and wound up in the yard of a country house. I was kind of scared at first, but my tummy started to rumble, and I know that PEOPLE mean FOOD, so I sat on the front porch.

A LADY came out and said, "Oh, no!" She scurried past me to her garage. I followed her, but she didn't pet me. She said, "Shoo! Go on home!" I sat down until she turned her back. Then I ran after her. Gosh darn if all the lights didn't go out then. The LADY put a plastic cooler over me and drove away in her car. It was dark under that cooler. So I didn't move. I couldn't go anywhere, anyway. Coolers are supposed to have snacks and drinks in them, aren't they? Not puppies.

After a long time, the LADY came back and let me out. She said, "Shoo!" again. I wondered if that was my new name. The LADY went inside the house. I sat down at the door to wait for her to come out again. I could hear her moving in there. I could smell food.

That night, I got really cold. I had nobody to snuggle with. The LADY stayed inside. I laid on her welcome mat by the door, shivering. The next morning, the LADY opened up part of the door and looked at me through the glass. "Oh, no, " she said. Again. I sat there patiently all day, but nothing happened until around 4:00. I saw somebody at the edge of the LADY's yard, taking her mail. I barked and barked. Nobody's going to steal mail from MY new LADY. That thief hustled around the side of the house. At the last minute, I caught the scent. The thief was the LADY! What a trickster! She really had me fooled. I hoped she saw what a good guard dog I was. But all that barking made me weak. It had been a whole day since I ate anything. I left the porch for just a minute to go over to the creek and get a drink. Water is not very filling.

My second night at the LADY's house, I shivered on the mat again. And again, the next morning, she peeped out. But she wouldn't come play. No matter how much I whined or wagged my tail. At least I got another whiff of her food. My tummy had just about given up on ever having anything inside it again. I was really, really tired. I laid down on the mat and sighed. A nap sounded good.

Then a red truck pulled into the driveway. A BOY got out and came up on the porch. He saw me and laughed. He squatted down to pet me. (I LOVE HIM!) I did my best cute puppy act. It was hard, because I was so weak. The BOY went in the house. I heard him talking to the LADY. I whimpered, put nobody came out. Time to take things into my own paws. I went around the side of the house, where I could look in and see the BOY and the LADY. The BOY came out and laughed some more. He told me to follow him. It was really hard, because of my weakness, and because of some steps. I stumbled and crawled and followed the BOY while he made a movie of me on his phone. Maybe I was going to be famous.

The BOY left after about an hour. But the LADY came out on the porch. She set down a Cool Whip bowl full of milk. I LOVE MILK! I thought I had died and gone to Heaven!. I could barely get my head over the side, but I lapped up that milk like there was no tomorrow. And then, the LADY brought out a paper plate covered with bread soaked in bacon grease. Nom nom nom! And you know what was even better? While I was stuffing myself, that LADY went and got the cooler, and set it on its side right by the door, and put in a soft, soft afghan for me to lay on. It was the best night ever! My full tummy was toasty warm on that afghan.

The LADY and I passed another day like that. She never petted me, but she brought out food and said, "Here you go." A day after that, my new mommy came to get me. She didn't know she was my new mommy yet. She was checking me out. Everybody kept calling me "he," even though a little kid should have been able to see that I was a girl. When NEW MOMMY saw me, she said, "That's a girl!" I think NEW MOMMY is some kind of genius.

I was on my best behavior for NEW MOMMY. My life depended on it. I sat down at her feet and looked into her eyes. She reached down to pick me up, and held me on her chest. I laid absolutely still. Love me, NEW MOMMY. Love me. Please. She petted me. I did not squirm at all. She was all cushy and warm and talked sweet to me. ( I LOVE HER!) Hey! A new BOY was in her car. Come and play with me, NEW BOY! He did not want to pick me up. But he squatted down and patted my head. I wiggled and licked his hand. I want to be part of their pack!

You know what? NEW MOMMY and NEW BOY took me in their car, in a cage. I was kind of scared at first, because I could not see out. But I could hear them talking, and I had my afghan that LADY sent with me so I could smell it. We got to my new home after a long time. Some big dogs there ran away from me. I can't figure out why they don't like me.

So here I am with one of my new cat brothers. He likes to creep in and eat my food, so I growl at him. Which NEW MOMMY says is The. Cutest. Thing. Ever. She's kind of dramatic like that. My NEW BOY took this picture with his phone. He had to get his big human foot in there, with those freaky long toes that sure are tasty. But he swats me away when I try to chew on them.

On weekends, I get to run around the yard and porch. But at night, I sleep in my own room. It's kind of high off the ground. I think rabbits used to live in it. I have a play-yard with a wire floor. I'm sure glad to be in there at night. I hear animals that I don't even recognize, howling and stalking about. My afghan is soft and warm. I have food and water in my room. I have to stay in there on weekdays, because hawks swoop around and their shadows scare the chickens into squawking. I'm smaller than a chicken, so I'm kind of scared, too. But in the evening, my people let me out and play with me. I hear them talking about leaving me out when I get a little bigger.

This is the best life ever!

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Good Silver

I'm not a blue-blood. I don't have hired help to polish my nonexistent silver. My flatware is old. So old I don't exactly remember where it came from. Perhaps it was a gift from my parents. Or maybe Hick and I picked it out when we got married. I suspect there are sets just like it on the Walmart shelves. Except for one item.

In the spoon section of my drawer divider, down under all the other spoons, next to the bottom, is The Good Silver. The one spoon that I desire over all others. It does not match the pattern of the other spoons. This one, let's call her Spoony ('cause I'm clever like that) is more dainty. She has a thinner handle. Her bowl is tapered. She's petite, yet the same length as the other spoons.

Spoony showed up on my kitchen counter one day when I still lived in my old house. Hick was an hourly employee at that time, with his old company, before the new offshoot snatched him away and made him salaried. It was Hick who brought me Spoony. He denies it. Says Spoony was always ours. But I can tell the difference in size, weight, and filigree of flatware. If I brought home a stray shotgun, and Hick declared that it was not ours, and that I was bringing home stray shotguns, I, too, would deny it. Because I know as much about shotguns as Hick knows about silverware. But chances are that will never happen, because people at my workplace don't sit around at lunch, swapping shotguns willy-nilly.

I hide my dear Spoony away until I want her to serve me some delectable soup, or chili, or yogurt, or pretty much anything that I can't stab with a fork. The boys don't appreciate her. "Hey! This spoon's not big enough to get a good bite!" She's not that much smaller. Really. It's not like Spoony is the spoon equivalent of an olive fork. She's just streamlined. Aerodynamic.

Most nights, I wash her separately, even though the common spoons pile up beside the sink. I stash her away for safekeeping. When the spoon stack starts to dwindle, and Spoony is in danger of being exposed, I break down and wash the dishes. Perhaps I've mentioned that I have no dishwasher. Not a machine. Not the capable four hands of two boys. I'm it.

The dishes were done Saturday night. Sunday morning, only two paring knives, a set of tongs, a fork, and Spoony rested beside the sink. Oh, and the black plastic spoon with which I dip Juno's puppy chicken canned dogfood lay at a right angle, way over by the edge of the counter, towards the door. Saturday night, I forgot to feed Juno. Don't go calling Sarah McLachlan to sing me to shame. I forgot to feed her at 5:30 p.m., and remembered at 10:00. The Pony and Genius had been out on a hayride, and my schedule was thrown off. Then Hick fed Juno some dry dogfood before I could flip open the puppy chicken can. That little dog eats a-plenty. Morning, noon, and night on the weekends, morning and night through the week. Pardon me if her belly returned to normal shape for 4.5 hours.

At 5:00 Sunday evening, I called The Pony to the kitchen. "Go grab me a can of puppy chicken. I want to feed Juno before we forget." I grabbed a paper plate out of the wastebasket. Only the best for our sweet puppy. I scooped chunks of puppy chicken loaf out of the can. That's how Juno likes it. In chunks so she can wolf it down. She is not one for nibbling around a pile of moist food. I was fast approaching the half-can mark. That's all we feed her at one time. Otherwise, her little belly might burst. I dabbed the final hunk onto the plate. That's when I noticed...

...Spoony clutched tightly in my hand.

Oh! The spoonmanity! My very special spoon, SPOONY, was encrusted with canned dogfood! I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. The Pony chuckled like an Olympic-gold-medal-winning chuckler. I wiped Spoony down with a Puffs With Aloe. I soaked her in a bowl of hot water. I scrubbed her with hand soap. With GermX. I regretfully laid her back in the growing pile of silverware beside the sink to await a proper full-body immersion in scalding, sudsy water.

I'm not sure I will ever be able to look at her the same way again.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

One Good Turn

Our local paper has a regular column about people who do good deeds. Kind of like a Caught Being Good list for adults. Sometimes the acts of kindness are heartwarming, like folks helping stranded motorists, or lending money at a tough time, or cheerful, shelf-stocking teenagers assisting septuagenarians with items on the top tier at the grocery store, or a 9-1-1 operator making sure a lady about to lose her speech got a free land line so a call for help could be traced in an emergency.

But other times, the good deed is a stretch of the imagination. Take the week that a woman was commended because she paid for a newspaper she accidentally picked up. I'm not mocking her. ME, of all people, who just happened to let it slide when the Walmart checker forgot to ring up my DVD of Bridesmaids (Blu-ray edition), and a computer game that The Pony had picked out. I can't help it that she unstealified it and then forgot to charge me. It's not something I make a habit of, ripping off The Man. My momma didn't raise me to be the black sheep of retail customers.

My questionable moral fiber aside, Paper Woman did not use good sense. She stopped to buy a copy of the local newspaper out of a machine. She put in her fifty cents, scooped up her flimsy latest edition, and let the door of the dispenser slam shut. After perusing the headlines, she noticed that she had picked up TWO papers. So she got in her car, drove to the newspaper office, and handed the counter person the extra paper. She explained that she did not want to steal, so she returned the surplus copy.

PUH-LEASE! How much did it cost Paper Woman to drive to that office? Obviously, she had not purchased her paper at the machine out front, or she would not have needed to drive to the office. Around these parts, it could have been a twenty-mile round trip. For a fifty-cent newspaper.

I commend Paper Woman for her honesty. But pity her for her lack of foresight. How about simply putting two more quarters in the machine? Or better yet, putting in two more quarters, then returning the extra paper to the machine? That way, she could be a double do-gooder. Decree herself Doubly DoRight. And later, she could call the office and tell them what she'd done. She could still be a small-town celebrity. But with less hassle, and more money.

There you go. Problem solved. You're welcome, Paper Woman. Maybe I should call the newspaper office and tell them of my good deed.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Backroads Miz Manners Touches Upon a Delicate Situation

Dear Backroads Miz Manners:

Is there a polite way to tell someone to stop staring at you?

Not a Two-Headed Freak

Dear One-Headed Freak,

I've found that the best antidote for what's ailing you is to meet the starer's stare and inquire with all the sweetness you can summon from the depths of your dark, dark soul: "May I HELP you?" The ogler will generally drop her gaze and shuffled along, head down.

This method has been carefully researched. Other attempts were not so successful. Consider, if you will, the following example.

Perhaps one has just returned to her large SUV after picking up her routine prescribed medications at the pharmacy. Suppose, upon reaching into her shirt pocket to extract her debit card, which she had carried in an effort to avoid toting her purse, she accidentally left a line of black ink with the pen she clutched in her fingers to write the receipt amount in her checkbook. 

As any woman who refuses to carry a Tide Pen because of her aversion to that Super Bowl commercial with the talking shirt-stain upstaging an interviewee trying to land a job knows...GermX makes a great impromptu stain-remover. One could theoretically dab GermX over and over onto that ink, and remove it before even firing up the large SUV. That event would be considered private. After all, it occurs behind closed windows.

Suppose a Nosy Nelly chose that moment to traipse across the lot from The Dollar Tree, gooning into the confines of one's automobile. Tactics which should be avoided, proven by trial and error, consist of the following:

1-Frown at Nosy Nelly, snarling, "What the eff are YOU lookin' at?"

2-Say to oneself out loud, "Who the eff do you think you are, staring at me like that while I'm in my own car, minding my own business?"

3-Roll down the window and shout, "Take a picture, it'll last longer!"

4-Honk one's automobile horn as Nosy Nelly walks in front of one's car.

5-Go all Jerry Seinfeld in The Pick, and stumble all over oneself explaining, "It's not what you think! I'm just rubbing some GermX into my pocket, trying to get rid of an ink stain!"

6-Open one's sunroof, stand up and poke one's head out, and scream, "Is my sitting here in my legally-parked automobile, cleaning my shirt and writing down the transaction for my prescription medication KEEPING YOU FROM TRYING TO SCAM THIS WEEK'S SUPPLY OF MUSCLE RELAXERS?"

You see, gentle reader, there is more than one way to skin a cat. Some more effective than others, but most of them outside the boundaries of polite society. Please temper you response in such a situation so as to avoid unnecessary drama.

Backroads Miz Manners

Friday, October 21, 2011

An Alarming Discovery

I had a really good story to tell you tonight. I sat down and started typing, words flowing at the speed of a rival district's school buses. The more I typed, the more the tale seemed hauntingly familiar. Perhaps it was because I had related the details to several people right after the incident. Surely that was the explanation. I am not a plagiarist.

Unless I steal from myself. I went into my 240 posts. And found strikingly similar details in a vignette set to appear next Thursday. Call 911. Get the handcuffs ready. I plan to prosecute myself, unless I make myself an offer I can't refuse.

Now I am left without an idea. Bereft of inspiration. So allow me to turn the spotlight on you, my readership. I know. It seems terribly unnatural to me, too. But humor me.


1. Mix your green beans with your mashed potatoes so they are easier to keep on the fork, or have your food separated by compartments in a cafeteria tray?

2. Allow a daddy-long-legs to roam about your classroom from the point of discovery right in front of your desk while your students clamor about it all hour, or accidentally fail to stop an eager future-exterminator from stomping on it and grinding it into the linoleum tile?

3. Waste readers' time with an effort such as this, or turn out the lights on your blog for the night, posting nothing at all?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Banker is IN

This month, I am a banker. Not a financial-type banker, like Milburn Drysdale, seeking out hillbilly millionaires with an oil fortune, and a strapping country boy to dally with my secretary, Miss Jane.

No. I am more of a Newman-type banker, allowing Kramer to store his blood in my freezer inside Jerry's Tupperware, after Kramer had a falling-out with his blood bank over a rate increase. Thank goodness I don't have a friend named George who left an X-acto knife on the counter after filleting some pudding-skin singles.

I have been storing up posts for next Tuesday and Thursday, when I will be staying late for parent conferences at school. Where else would you expect us to hold parent conferences, anyway? I always feel stressed on those nights. I don't get home in time to do anything. I feel beholden to my blog(s). It makes me resent them. And those poor innocent blogs didn't do anything to me. They just exist. Because I created them.

So now I'm banking four extra posts, scheduled to auto-publish while I'm away. In the event that something goes haywire (but not as haywire as a borrowed car overheating, and me refusing to turn off the air conditioner because my Tupperwared blood will boil before I get it to the new blood bank, resulting in steam pouring out of the radiator, and my blood the only liquid available to pour into it and save the engine), I will still be home later to push the "publish" button.

Perhaps I should dress for success. A monocle might be in order. And some spats, a top hat, a coat with tails, a bow tie, and a well-groomed handlebar mustache. Yes. I'm bending my gender. Because no way do I want to be Ruby Deagle, the villain in Gremlins, who wants to put Billy's dog to sleep. Except I agree with her that Billy shouldn't have brought Barney to work at the bank.

Yep. This month, I'm a banker. Will butcher, baker, and candlestick maker appeal to me in the future? Who knows. I'm not exactly Morgan Spurlock. Even 30 Days of banking would be too much for me.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A Medical Mystery That is NOT Genre Fiction

I came down with an unusual affliction right after school today. One minute I was fine, and the next minute I was beset with a bout of intense itching in the chestal/breastal area. Right at the confluence of the twin peaks. There was no moment of biting/stinging clarity.

My room was empty save for The Pony, who had disembarked his bus, harvested some snacks from the third drawer of my file cabinet, and turned his back on me in favor of rereading a book for the 197th time. I reveled in the newfound solitude by sticking my fingers through the gap between shirt-buttons and scratching to beat the band. Ahhhhh.

Then I peeped inside. I had come down with hive. Not hives. Hive. I had one giant welp in the middle of my sternum. Now, some of you may think I misspoke there, and that there's no such thing as a welp, and that what I'm really talking about is a welt. And to you, I say, "Come down here to my little slice of paradise, and my peeps will show you what a welp is all about."

I can't imagine what caused this urticaria. Did a toxin glide into the room on a cartoonish wisp of smoke and snake its way inside my shirt? Did a six-legged vermin jump off a fellow man and onto me? Did a half-hearted enemy make a juju of me, and stick a pin into that area? Don't know. Don't care. I just want it to stop itching.

I refuse to turn into my sixth-grade teacher, Mrs. McCrorey, who spent half the day poking a red ink pen down her neckline, and roto-rootering it about. No student is going to be scarred for life by my inadvertent itch-relieving motions.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

I'm Not Worthy. OK. If You Insist. Yes, I Am.

Well, looky there! I have raked in some awardy bling since yesterday. That's better than checking a trot line baited with rotting chicken gizzards and finding a 130-pound blue catfish!

Seriously! Thanks to my newest follower, Bailey, for bestowing this award on my little old blog. And thanks even more for NOT giving me a 130-pound catfish.

Here's the list of responsibilities that the 7 x 7 Link Award carries. Not quite so important as the care of a Mogwai, but then again, I'm no Randall Peltzer. I can handle it. You don't have to worry about gremlins chewing through your electrical wires. Not on my watch.

Here are the details: any recipients will provide seven links to the blog posts of their choice, according to the categories to follow, and then will choose three lucky blogs to receive the award.

My list of posts, carefully chosen, like a fine wine, but without the cork-sniffing, are below.

Most Beautiful
I picked The Butcher of Seville. Because what better platform to spread the word that beauty is in the eye of the beholder? Or the ninth-grade student.

Most Helpful
It takes a village to raise a teenage boy. That's why I am enlightening the global village with The Unwritten Culture Rules of Sixteen-Year-Old Males. Forewarned is forearmed, you know.

Most Popular
A lot of folks seemed to enjoy a voyeuristic journey into my bedroom. Not quite on par with Rochelle, Rochelle: A Young Girl's Strange, Erotic Journey from Milan to Minsk. But passable for a domestic, old lady's staycation. So I present: My Clandestine Dalliance.

Most Controversial
Are there shades of gray to morality? Or is it OK to stick it to The Man when opportunity presents itself? Will I impale myself on the horns of my dilemma? Check out Val Sticks it to Big Business.

Most Successful
I take this category to apply to my personal successes concerning this little writing blog. Because it IS all about me. And I love to toot my own horn, and share an occasional contest entry.

Most Underrated
Maybe people were afraid to comment on my Somewhat Inappropriate Example post. But I stand by it. I never claimed to be an Anna Nicole Smith. But I HAVE been termed outrageous.

Most Prideworthy
Like children in a family, or students in a classroom, I can not declare myself more proud of one post at the expense of others. I'm proud of ALL of my posts equally. But I kind of have a soft spot for this one. Perhaps in my head, when I wrote it. C'mon. Who can resist a headline like Dog-Eating Pony Thrives Despite Unusual Diet?

I would like to share my good fortune with:

Josh Hoyt, from The Blog That Helps You Diagnose Your Characters
Josh hooked me up with the Pay It Forward Blogfest that garnered Miss Bailey as a follower. So I must thank him first in my acceptance speech for this 7 x 7 Link Award.

labbie1, a faithful commenter from The Adventures of Garrett Squared, who is somewhat famous for having a tornado-blown canoe stab through the side of her home.

Sioux, a teacher/writer who really gets me, who one time so selflessly offered to accept a book I had won in a contest. In order to keep her from accepting this award for me, I am giving it to her, too. See? It's kind of like reverse psychology. If I GIVE it to her, she won't want MINE. Oh, yeah. Here is Sioux's Page.

So there it is, in all its glory, my 7 x 7 Link Award. I really need to build a storage area for my awards. Because all this horn self-tooting is making me short of breath.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Curious Incident of the Butts in the Road

I know you must think I'm some little old lady with a driving phobia, what with all the roadway oddities I grouse about. Perhaps you picture me as Tweety's Grandma.

Or imagine me hunkered down behind the wheel of a 1958 Studebaker, peering between the dashboard and the top of the steering wheel.

Maybe I'm really concentrating on maneuvering my vehicle through perilous territory, my sweet little Tweety on my lap.

Or maybe what I THINK is sweet little Tweety is nothing more than a spot of bird doo doo on the windshield.

I assure you, I am not in such a road-hazardous condition. I merely attempt to pilot my large SUV from home to work and back again each day, along the two-lane blacktop of rural Missouri. But there are days, my friends, when Common Sense is a neglected toddler who slips out the back door to run barefooted down the street to the carnival at the city park, where she tugs on shirttails and begs for cotton candy.

Today I turned onto a new stretch of concrete road behind the high school of a rival school district. There, on the pavement, sat four middle-school-aged boys, legs crossed, facing the woods that separated them from a trailer park, oblivious to traffic whizzing by at the legal speed of 30 mph.

W. T. F. ?

They were not on the shoulder. They were not in the grass of the very wide right-of-way. Their derrieres were smack dab on where the white line would be if the state of Missouri threw caution to the wind and actually painted lines on the sides of our roads down here in the hinterlands.

Of course I mouthed them and gave them my best disapproving teacher look. One glanced over his shoulder insolently. And smirked.

At that moment, Hick, master of the inopportune phone call, rang me up to tell me that he ate chicken livers for lunch. Oh. And that he would be staying late at work for a plant inspection with the fire marshal. Let's hope he didn't pull a Coyote Ugly faux pas and squirt him in the face like Violet, who was really tricked into it by Rachel the New York biatch, who taught her the chant, "Heck no! H2O!" just before the fire marshal ordered a glass of water.

I ranted to Hick about the road butt, and he said to call the police. I said that was kind of stupid, it's not like there was an emergency, and anyway, the county would have to send a car, and who knows how far away they were at the moment, and I didn't want be on record for calling in a false report in case somebody was getting his head bashed in elsewhere, and really needed that patrolman. Hick said to call 311, the non-emergency reporting number, and that it was city jurisdiction, not county.

Still. I was driving. I did not want to look down dumbly to try and find the numbers on my smart phone. If I see the road-butt boys again, I will pull over and call.

They were probably smoking a doobie.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Got a Memoir Inside You Just Trying to Get Out?

Anybody up for a contest?

The Writer magazine is hosting an Essay and Memoir Contest. Entries should be original, unpublished viewpoints on a particular topic or experience you've had. Deadline is November 30, 2011. Entries must be submitted online, and be between 1000-1200 words. You may enter more than once. The fee is $10 per entry. Complete details may be found here.      

"What's in if for me?" you might ask. Prizes will be awarded to the first three places:

First Place: $1,000 (USD); publication, along with the finalist judge's comments, in The Writer magazine; a 10-week online writing workshop offered online by Gotham Writers’ Workshop ($420 value); and a one-year subscription to The Writer magazine.

Second Place: $300 (USD); enrollment in a four-week How to Get Published seminar taught online by a literary agent and Gotham Writers’ Workshop ($150 value); publication on The Writer Web site (WriterMag.com); and a one-year subscription to The Writer magazine.

Third Place: $200 (USD); enrollment in a four-week How to Get Published seminar taught online by a literary agent and Gotham Writers’ Workshop ($150 value); publication on The Writer Web site (WriterMag.com); and a one-year subscription to The Writer magazine.

If you are at that place in your writing where you would rather write for pay than pay to write, this contest is not for you. But if you're the type who likes to see how you measure up on the big yardstick of competition, you may want to investigate further. Here's the FAQ page.

I've got an idea percolating already. But since I'm a pantser, I may be submitting something entirely different on November 29.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Objects in Moth Eyes Are Less Sweet Than They Appear

Greetings, humanoids. I come in peace.

Actually, I came by accident. One minute, I'm flying around scouting the terrain, and the next minute I'm landing on what I think is a fine field of cotton candy, the kind movie theaters sell in foil pouches for outrageous fees. But once I set down, I discovered the dirty secret of this little landing strip. And I do not mean "landing strip" as in that euphemism you humanoids use to refer to sleekly-groomed lady-parts. No. I mean it as a narrow area on which I gingerly unfurled my six legs in order to rest my leafy wings.

Who would have suspected, from this kaleidoscope of colors, that I was about to take a load off on a puppy's afghan? Not I. That's for sure. And to amp up the embarrassment factor exponentially, that tawny striped pie-headed cat had to begin kneading said afghan while staring right through me. You would think a three-foot-high porch rail overlooking a ten-foot drop would put the kibosh on such predators. But not in this chicken-infested heck-hole. I've lost many a colleague to those gnashing beaks. Now I must also concern myself with the mountain-goat of felines.

With your world so fraught with danger, I declare this mission officially aborted. I shall seek my tasty spun sugar elsewhere. And with that, I take my leave...

Friday, October 14, 2011

All Stove Top With No Place to Go

The full moon Tuesday had me feeling a bit Halloweeny. That, and the Annual Ketchup Tablecloth Yard Ornament I pass every day on the way to school. But they don't hold a candle to the sight I beheld Wednesday morning, upon entering my kitchen after leaving The Pony and Hick to their own devices with a pan of Stove Top Whole Wheat Stuffing For Chicken.

Don't hate me because I'm a gourmet chef. Hate me because I serve up the food onto the plates, and abandon my eaters. This blog doesn't write itself, you know. Genius gallivants about town until all hours. Hick spends quality time with is goats and chickens. The Pony lives to game on his laptop. So we all do our own thing in the evenings. I dished up chicken and stuffing for The Pony, and told him that if he wanted some more, to wait and see what his dad left.

Sometime between The Pony's plating, and 4:50 the next morning, a near-catastrophe stuck the stove top. In the wee hours, with only an under-cabinet fluorescent bulb to shed some light on the situation, I heard in my head the stabby music from Psycho. Picture me peering at my almond Kenmore with the face of Eddie Murphy in Daddy Day Care, the scene where he opens the bathroom door to see how Jeff Garlin's son had potty-trained himself so quickly.

Crusty crumbs of stuffing lay scattered randomly across the once-smooth metal. Some chunks had lemminged themselves over the edge to splat on the linoleum before petrifying. I am fairly confident that both Hick and The Pony are acquainted with rudimentary tools such as the serving spoon. Like the one that was left in the pan. It's not as if I left them to their own devices to experiment, like chimps poking sticks into a termite mound. A bigger mess could not have resulted from inserting a mixer into the pan and turning it to HIGH. Did they put a blob of stuffing on the spoon, and flip it at each other's mouth, perhaps? Did they tip the pan over their respective faces, and revel in a shower of stuffing? Did they try to feed from it like pigs at a trough?

The site was disturbing. Not as disturbing as when Ben Stiller got his beans above his frank in Something About Mary. Or as disturbing as when Ben Stiller played pick-up basketball in Along Came Polly, and got a mouthful of sweaty, hairy, man-boob. But it was disturbing. In a non-Ben-Stiller kind of way.

There's no explaining the mysterious power of the full moon in cahoots with Stove Top Stuffing.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Best Chip Ever

Our cafeteria served up a taco concoction yesterday that looked more like a quesadilla. Along with it, they provided tortilla chips and salsa. Since the price of a teacher lunch increased dramatically, we have been on an unofficial strike. School lunches on our table appear once in a blue moon. One colleague paid the $2.80 extortion fee. She was sorely disappointed with her tortilla chips.

Lucky for her, I had packed a ziploc bag with just that foodstuff. "Here. Try some of mine. They're great." She demurred at first, then acquiesced. I shook some onto her tray.

"Hey, these are good! Where did you get them?"

"Save A Lot. I meant to bring the triangle chips, but I picked up the wrong bag this morning, and they were already open, so I've got the circular ones."

Another sister-in-arms showed up. "What's that?" She's the one who told my son that I was feeding her grapes every day. Technically true, but without the toga and palm frond connotation.

"Here. You might as well have some of these with the grapes."

"Mmm. Where did you get these?"

We discussed the merits of various generic tortilla chips. I promised to bring the bag the next day, so they could see what it looked like, in the event that they made a shopping trip to Save A Lot.

Today I brought in the bag, still half full. We passed them around the table. Again, compliments were given to the chef: Senora Verde. Goldilocks herself would have decreed these chips, "Just right." I held up the bag. And saw that the Use By date was Sep 4 2011.

I had been feeding them five-week-old tortilla chips while they swooned over the salty goodness.

In fourth hour, one of the kids asked, "I don't mean to be rude, but what was the deal with you teachers and those chips you were passing around?"

"Oh, those? They are just the best chips EVER! We couldn't get enough of them. Funny thing...they expired on September fourth."

He nodded. Like a tableful of teachers chowing down on expired chips like there was no tomorrow was a perfectly feasible scenario.

You don't know whether to laugh or cry.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Val Slam-Dunks, with Flames Licking at Her Nikes

My local writing group meets next week. You know, the group I attended for the first time in June, and nobody showed up but the leader. Group was canceled in July, due to too many people reporting that they could not attend. And in August, it was the evening of my first day of school. So I have not been back since that initial time. I was unable to find a report of September's meeting online. I don't know if they met or not, because I completely forgot about it until I was sitting at home halfway through meeting time.

Now I see that the location has been changed from the library in my town to a church gym in a neighboring town.

I think I will simply let my group membership lapse. It's not like I'm afraid to set foot in a church because I might burst into flames. Or that I begrudge anybody their right to worship as they see fit. I just don't feel comfortable meeting in the church gym. What if an exercise routine accidentally breaks out? To me, a library means books. Reading. Writing.

A church gym? Not so much.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Annual Ketchup Tablecloth Yard Ornament

Each morning, The Pony and I drive up an old-timey residential side street to get to his school. The speed limit there is 20 mph (don't ask me how I'm so sure), and people park their cars along one side. When two vehicles approach each other, the one on the parking side has to pull over and wait for the other to pass. It's just small-town traffic etiquette. Whatever the season, people who live on this street decorate their yards and homes. As we pass the park and pull into this neighborhood, The Pony sighs and puts away his book/Nook/laptop/phone time-passer and readies himself for the middle school world.

Last week I pointed to a house with fake spider webs surrounding the entire porch. "Wow! They must really have a bad arachnid problem." The Pony, true son of a science teacher, chuckled. On Friday, he spied a new decoration.

"Oh, look. Those people hung up a tablecloth with ketchup in their tree."

"Um. I think maybe they are portraying something else there."

"Yeah. Like somebody was really careless with the ketchup. And got it all over the tablecloth. So they hung it up in the yard."

"Don't you think maybe it's meant to be a ghost. A bloody ghost?"

"No. Ghosts aren't bloody. But tablecloths are ketchupy." 

"Give up. You know I'm right. It's a ghost. A sheet ghost. It's probably got two eyeholes cut into the top."

"Or somebody cut up the tablecloth."

"Sure. The careless ketchup-splasher had an embarrassing dining faux pas, and sliced the tablecloth while carving his filet mignon."


"Admit it already! I'm right."

"Not necessarily. It could be a tablecloth."

"Uh huh. The annual ketchup tablecloth Halloween yard ornament. Got it."

When I dropped him off at the band building breezeway, The Pony was grinning from ear to ear. He really is my best audience. And a good source of material.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Monday Morning You Don't Look Fine

The only thing worse than a Monday morning is a Monday morning when you have parking lot duty before school, plus lunch duty later in the day, and more parking lot duty after school, then have to stay until 5:00 p.m. in order to pick up your son from Academic Team practice, and the only break you have is your plan time from 9:09 until 9:59 a.m.

I was stressed this morning. Hick and I both have radio alarm clocks on our respective nightstands. His is the official waker-upper. Mine has a habit of fluctuating wildly in the clock department, after any little power outage. Then it will run as normal until the next power outage. So it is usually several hours ahead or behind time in real life. I get used to it. Lately, my get-up time of 4:50 a.m. has been represented by 11 minutes after on my clock. When I go to bed, I mentally calculate how many hours and minutes of sleep I have until that alarm goes off. It must be the old math teacher in me. Or the undiagnosed OCD. Most mornings I awake a few minutes before the alarm, and lay abed until Hick's music starts to play, and he tells me it's time to get up. I like for him to feel needed like that.

This morning, I woke up at 4 minutes after. I turned over. I woke up again at 24 MINUTES AFTER! Hick had not awakened me. I jumped out of bed and ran to make The Pony's lunch and mine, lay out his clothes (no creepy Seinfeld jokes here, please. It's just more efficient than telling him to change into something more presentable), and dashed to the shower. I was 13 MINUTES BEHIND! That's critical on a duty Monday. I barely get to work with enough time to log in, type my password in quadruplicate to get into all of my secret teachery locations, and hustle out to the would-be demolition derby area.

I lathered, rinsed, and did not repeat. No time for that. I dressed. I styled my hair in a manner that has led students to ask if I turned on a light or looked in a mirror before coming to school. I rooted Hick awake. "You didn't tell me it was time to get up! Get going! I didn't hear the alarm!"

Hick was too lethargic for my tastes. "No. I didn't tell you to get up. The alarm didn't go off."

"Well, you better fix it for tomorrow. I'm going to be late!"

"The alarm didn't go off because it's not time yet. It's only 4:40."

Never mind.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Moment You've All Been Waiting For

And now, without further ado, I present my 89th-place winner in the 80th Annual Writer's Digest Writing Competition, Memoir/Personal Essay category: 


One Great Big Not-Listening Party

I live in a hillbilly mansion. Not a retro-cool, Milburn-Drysdale-selected, Beverly Hillbilly mansion, with a cement pond out back.  Just a three-bedroom, cedar-sided, wraparound-porch home in the middle of nowhere. Or Missouri, as some people call it.
Behind my mansion stands an above-ground pool, vinyl and metal, with a curved wooden deck on one side. My hillbilly husband, Hick, built that deck himself. It’s one of the few things that turned out the way he planned. The pool, or Poolio, as we call him, is one step up from an old claw-footed bathtub that you might find cooling its toes in a cow pasture. Poolio, unlike Hick, has a filter. Not that it matters very much. Poolio contains the same water he was filled with way back in 2006. I refuse to bask in the buttwater soup that is Poolio’s main ingredient. How can I possibly feel refreshed after floating around in water that has washed the sweaty rumps of Hick and our two boys over previous summers?
Hick says that he puts enough Baquacil in Poolio to neutralize any buttwash that survives the filter. He puts the same chemical in his hot tub, but it still smells like old people. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. My high school students lump me right in there with the old-people group. According to one of them, “If I told you to act your age, you would drop dead.” Which reminded another one, “You’re so old, God signed your yearbook.”
I make my living teaching physics and biology to high school students who are not impressed with my status as a former high school valedictorian. I know that, because they ask, “What is a valedictorian, anyway?”
In my job away from work, I spend the majority of my time protecting the world from the schemes of my hillbilly husband. Namely, keeping Hick from: being shot, setting the mansion on fire, building the kids a clubhouse in a sinkhole, mining copper in the back yard, chucking dead possums over the neighbor’s fence, stealing the dog’s pillow for our marital bed, nailing a giant Save A Lot sign to the barn, cooking roadkill turkey with a blowtorch, making sausage out of the other neighbor’s pot-bellied pigs, and bragging that our son has an IQ of almost 100.  

That shooting incident turned out fairly well. The Shooter apologized to Hick, citing his fondness for alcohol as a mitigating circumstance in the confrontation. That, plus a $1000 bond and $1500 for a lawyer after he threatened to shoot one of the deputies Hick sent to investigate, made him see the error of his ways. Hick offered to let The Shooter cut down two cedar trees that were near his driveway, and explained that he would not have made such a fuss about the old garage door and cartons of junk The Shooter had placed on our property if he had known that it was a temporary condition. I’m surprised they didn’t file a charter to form a new chapter of the Mutual Admiration Society. I fully expected to find them building a unicorn feeder, or sitting under the rainbow, crocheting toilet paper cozies.

Sometimes, Hick gets a bee in his bonnet. That’s figurative. Hick doesn’t really wear a bonnet. That would just be creepy, like a little baby with a giant adult man’s head in its frilly bonnet. And that bonnet would get the worst end of the deal, what with Hick’s head sweating all the time, especially when he eats hot wings or jalapenos, or mows the yard wearing one of his collection of 1500 caps. But if that were the case, he would not need a bonnet, because, well, he’s already wearing a hat.

Hick is not exactly Sarah, Plain and Tall, a great bonnet-wearer in fictionalized history. He is more like Scary, a Pain to All. While I’m unbonneting Hick, let me confess that there was no actual bee. It’s a figurative bee. No need to call the entomologist to order a round of antivenom. Hick’s noggin is a virtual hive of virtual bees. His head is chock full of ideas for improving the old homestead.

Last year, he decided to move the big-screen television to an area that would block a little walkway under our basement stairs, right between the gun case and the mini-fridge. To which I said, “Hold on thar, pardner! What if you crave a cold beverage whilst you’re a-loadin’ up your weapon?”

Hick was all about cutting off access between the armory and the watering hole. “We will never get rid of the mess until the TV is moved.” Perhaps he is privy to some weird type of hillbilly Feng Shui, in which major appliance placement channels Chi to clean the house.  

If I didn’t need to concern myself with house cleaning, I would have more time to cook. I could come up with culinary creations to rival Hick’s shallow-fried roadkill turkey. I might reformulate my vegetable beef soup recipe. Hick once told me that he likes my soup, he just doesn’t like the juice. Which, um…I believe is the main ingredient of soup. I once caught him with a bowl of soup piled six inches high. If you define soup as an entire beef roast that has been simmered and steeped in a pot of vegetables to impart both name and flavoring to vegetable beef soup. Hick has a habit of mining what he wants from the pot of soup, and leaving the rest.

Because Hick doesn’t like the juice in soup, my recipe is kind of thick. This does not please the oldest son, Genius. When asked if the soup was good, he replied, “Well, it was not so much soup as it was a bowl of assorted vegetables.”

The boys learn more about their father every day. They know that when he uses his clippers to cut their hair, some blood will spill. And not Hick’s blood. He tries to teach them skills that he feels are important. Like how to be thrifty. One man’s junk is Hick’s treasure.

On the way to a baseball game, Hick slammed on the brakes, and jumped out of the Yukon to walk back and pick up something in the middle of the two-lane blacktop. He climbed back in with a piece of metal that he said was a linchpin. At first, I thought he was getting it out of the road so that some driver like me would not run over it. Then he said, “That’s worth ten dollars. I’ll take it home and use it to pull the hay wagon or the lawnmower trailer.”

The boys started teasing Hick about his ten-dollar treasure. He used the incident to lecture them on the value of ten dollars. Or five cents. “That’s a lot of money. You boys have it too easy. When I was a kid, I had to work for my money. Do you know what my first job paid?”
We answered in unison: “You pumped gas for all the soda and candy that you could eat.” Because, you see, we’d heard this story before. Or so we thought. His first job was working in a gas station twelve hours a day and on weekends for candy. Then Hick started a new story.
“I shot birds with my BB gun for the lady next door.”
I couldn’t let it go. “What, like that would get rid of them? What’s the point? Wouldn’t more just fly in to take their place?”
“She didn’t do it to get rid of them. It was for her cats. She felt sorry for them because they watched the birds out the window and couldn’t catch them.” That got the boys interested.
“They were for the cats to play with?”
“No. For the cats to eat.”
“She even bought our BBs for us, and paid us five cents a bird.”
Now the boys were really laughing. “Dad! You did all that for five cents a bird? Hey! I just saw fifteen cents fly by!”
“Wasn’t that a lot of work for a few cents?”
“We shot four or five a day.”
“Woo hoo! Twenty or twenty-five cents! What did you spend that on?”
“That was a lot of money back then. I could get a chocolate soda for five cents.”
“Eww. No wonder. It was a chocolate soda.”
“Hey! I thought you got all the soda you could drink anyway.”
“No. This was before. When I was younger. Go on and make fun. I had to work for my money.”
“Yeah. Like you wouldn’t shoot birds anyway.”
On the way home after the game, there was a car parked by the creek near where Hick picked up the linchpin. “Look,” said Genius. “I bet that guy is looking for his linchpin.”
That’s how my life unfolds here in America’s Heartland. One day I’m propping up the back hatch of my Yukon with a crutch lovingly provided by my hillbilly husband to replace the broken hydraulic lifter, and the next day I’m diplomatically declining his offer to buy me some auction meat. He couldn’t explain what kind of meat, because on the side of the box, it just said, “Meat.”
A lesser woman might have given up by now, abandoned all hope of ever changing Hick’s manner of meandering through her world. Not me. I’m up for the challenge. One of these days, Hick is going to listen to the voice of reason. My voice. The boys are not so sure. They have also inherited some of their father’s selective-listening genes. I am reminded of another Yukon ride, home from a baseball game played by The Pony, then seven years old. Genius was ten, and not a great spectator.
The minute we piled into the car, The Pony was done with baseball. “GameBoy, please.” The GameBoy was a great bargaining tool.
Me: “You’re not getting it. I told you that if you didn’t stop picking up dirt, you couldn’t have it.”
The Pony: “No. You didn’t say that.”
Me: “Yes, I did. I told Dad to tell you. Remember when he came over to third base and said to quit throwing dirt and standing on the base?”
The Pony: “Well, he didn’t say it. And nobody ever throws me the ball, anyway. So why did I have to stop?”
Hick: “I never told him about the GameBoy. I didn’t hear you say it.”
Me: “And anyway, you’re in trouble for trying to take over first base and not getting off of it when Coach told you to.”
The Pony: “Nobody ever throws to me on third. So I went to first. They always throw it there.”
Me: “That other boy plays first. You can’t just go there. Where was the one who rolls in the dirt all the time?”
The Pony: “I think they took him off.”
Genius: “He probably didn’t come, because it rained. And that would spoil his dirt-rolling, Imbecile.”
Hick: “That’s it! You are going to your room when we get home.”
Genius: “Mo-om!”
Me: “It’s your own fault. Dad tells you all the time to stop the name-calling.”
Genius: “Well. Isn’t this just one great big not-listening party.”

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Preparing For the Release of the 89th-Place Entry

Hope you didn't drop in just to read my 89th-place-winning entry in the 80th Annual Writer's Digest Writing Competition, Memoirs/Personal Essay category. Because you will be sorely disappointed to find out that this gem will not be unveiled until Sunday at 3:00 p.m., Central Daylight Time.

That's because I need a little more time to gloat, to revel in my 89th-placedness. To wallow in my fame and celebrity. To work the 89th-place kinks out of my brain so that the everyday mediocre fog can settle in again. My fifteen minutes of quasi-fame are about to wane. I've got to round up some litter-carriers to bear me through the streets, while I lounge in a recliner and disperse witticisms to the crowds lining the victory route. Funny how no litter-carriers have applied yet.

This afternoon, I passed no less than fifteen cars on my county road, over the distance of the two-and-a-half miles to the lettered highway. On a normal day, I might pass one. I was sure they were heading to my home, to admire me from a tasteful distance, having gotten wind of my plan to put up that billboard by the prison to direct people to my house. Imagine my surprise when, on the return trip, I saw a poster of a pig three turnoffs before mine. Oh, well. I suppose a pig roast on a fine October day is right up there with gawking at an 89th-place winner.

But enough of this nonsense. My cheeks have grown Dizzy-Gillespie tired of tooting my own horn. Let's get down to some facts on my little contest entry.

1. I had entered once before, about five years ago, and won nothing. I toy with the entry idea every year, but put it off until it's the end-of-school crunch time, and it doesn't get done.

2. This year, I thought the deadline had passed. For some reason, I went to either the Writer's Digest website, or Chuck Sambuchino's blog, and found out the deadline had been extended by one week. Which gave me two days to submit an entry.

3. My entry reads like it was done in two days. I cut and pasted and rewrote and tweaked and agonized over the format. Still, I spent two days on it. It would have benefited from a good month to marinate, to age, to grow more mature than that smart-aleck cheese on the Cheez-It commercial.

4. The limit for my category was 2000 words. I'm a wordy gal. I had to pare away like a sous chef for Bobby Flay in Kitchen Stadium. This left my entry a bit disjointed, like one of those push puppets on a round base that dance and collapse.
4. Last year the contest had 12,300 entries. I don't know how many there were this year. But there were still ten categories. I don't know if Memoirs/Personal Essay is a big or small category. I would assume it draws more entries than Television/Movie Script, but fewer than Genre Short Story.

5. What is my memoir about? Somebody who shall remain nameless asked that on the original 89th-place-winner post. Taking a lesson out of John Wayne's primer, along the vein of Rooster Cogburn in the courtroom, who declared, "Well, I always go backward when I'm backing away," I can truthfully attest that my memoir is about my life. Thanks so much for setting me up for a True Grit reference!

6. I'm guessing that the judges liked my voice, or that other people did not follow the submission guidelines. Because my entry was trimmed within an inch of my life, and does not flow as smoothly as I might have desired. But what can you do, when you're an Aquarian procrastinator, but rest on your 89th-place laurels and hum Dusty Springfield's rendition of It Goes Like It Goes, the theme song from Norma Rae:

"So it goes like it goes
Like the river flows
And time, it rolls right on.
And maybe what's good gets a little bit better,
And maybe what's bad, gets gone."

Sunday. 3:00 p.m. Central Daylight Time. The debut of my entry, "One Great Big Not-Listening Party." Be there. Perhaps I can serve some sparkling cider and Cheez Its, while my loyal cadre of supporters mingle and chew the fat.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Rumors of My Humility Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

How do I love me? Let me count the ways. I love me to the depth and breadth and height a giant billboard proclaiming my 89th-place finish in the 80th Annual Writer's Digest Writing Competition, Memoirs/Personal Essay category can reach...Yeah. I kind of like the ring to that. I might just call it Sonnet 89.

There's a wall of billboards across the road from the exit to the local state prison. I'm sure my accomplishment would be well-received by that demographic. I could point such lovers of the fruit of my quill toward my house for tours. They could sit raptly at my knee, listening to my tale of entering the contest at the last minute, when I accidentally discovered that the deadline had been extended. I might even feed them some pretzels shaped like "89s", and give them some sweat off my brow in a Dixie Cup to wash them down. They're not going to complain. They've just escaped from prison, out the front door.

Don't even think I'm going to let this claim to fame go gentle into Old Posts so soon. I'm going to milk this aphid like an ant jonesin' for some sweet, sweet aphid honeydew. That's a little symbiosis joke for all the science teachers out there. A mutualism joke, specifically. But a science teacher would know that.

On Saturday or Sunday, I will post my 89th-place, self-aggrandizing work of embarrassing mediocrity. But I've still got some braggin' to get out of my system. We narcissists are like that. It's what makes us especially endearing to the masses.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Let the Long Horns Blare Huzzahs from the Rooftops

WooHoo! Break out the sparkling cider! Val has an announcement to make. Ding! Ding! That's my Oneida spoon tapping on my Baccarat sparkling-cider flute.

I have placed 89th in the 80th Annual Writer's Digest Writing Competition, Memoirs/Personal Essay category.

Oh, yeah! Val's famous now! Forgive me for tooting my own horn at such a decibel. That is so totally uncharacteristic of me. I can't help it. I am more exhilarated than a teacher on the last day of school. Prouder than a possum upon completion of a successful cross-road trip. More excited than a kitten in a room full of laser pointers. More pumped than a basement in a low-lying subdivision. Happier than a hack writer with a link to a cliche collection.

I might just cast myself a medal proclaiming: "89th Place" and wear it every day, even on snow days when I don't leave the house. I feel that a plaque might be appropriate, for setting on my desk to let students know that not only was I valedictorian of my high school class, but that I'm also a nationally-recognized writer. Because fourteen-year-olds will be impressed with my mad wordcrafting skillz, yo! I could erect a sign out on the county road, with an arrow directing sightseers to the home of the 89th Place winner.

Sure, some people might call me 88th loser. But I'm not listening to those killjoys. Uh uh. I've got my index fingers wedged tightly into my ear canals, humming "I am the 89th champion, my friends," so as not to have my mellow harshed by those who would scoff at my talents. If, for some reason, those 88 writers ahead of me in the Memoirs/Personal Essay category cannot fulfill their duties as the category winner, I will be glad to step up and carry out their reign.

Because I'm selfless like that.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Regular Wednesday Night Meeting of the Blogging Grammar Police Society

More from the sadly misunderstood phrase and/or misspelled word files, again garnered from comments on some big-time political blogs:

"This truly is one of the most despicable acts of condensation and ridicule to us."

It appears that somebody is not only making fun of us, but also rainin' on our parade. Or will be, after all that condensation becomes too heavy for the atmosphere, and begins to feel the pull of gravity. 

Might I suggest, perhaps, a substitution, such as condescension?


"The latest donation request wreaks of desperation." 

Well, gosh. That donation request is inflicting desperation on folks, perhaps. But I believe the author was trying to make a different point. One along the lines of something is rotten in the states of America.

When pointing out that something stinks, the word of choice should be reeks. There's even a really bad movie to help you remember, by the title of Reeker.


I now adjourn the regular Wednesday night meeting of the Blogging Grammar Police Society.