Unbagging the Cats 1

Unbagging the Cats 1

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

There Oughta Be a Law

There ought to be a law against the manhandling of precious manuscripts being lovingly shipped away to contests on or near the deadline.Seriously.

Monday, I packed up three entries in a manila envelope. I double-, triple-, quadruple-checked the address. I peered inside to make sure my entry fee was enclosed. I pried up the prongs and licked the glue. I hermetically sealed that sucker, and took off for the post office.

Reaching the post office before closing time is no mean feat. It's not that the back roads are clogged with rush hour traffic here in Backroads. It's just that the back roads leading to the post office are...well...back roads. They are winding and hilly and have a proper speed limit. They also have the occasional school bus clogging up the works. So I generally allow thirty minutes of get-there time.

The post office is somewhat like my workplace. The clocks are ahead of real world time by about seven minutes. So I have to make that allowance as well. We learned the hard way that no amount of Genius-pounding on the glass door, pointing to the time on his phone, would motivate those time-shifters to let him in. Of course, that lesson did not phase me, because we were only there to pick up a package of some electronic gewgaw that he had ordered.

So there I was Monday, strolling into the dead-mouse-smelling post office with twenty whole minutes to spare. I was behind one of our school substitutes in line. She distracted me momentarily. I slid my masterpieces across the counter, and told the clerk I wanted to mail that envelope. Plus, I wanted two books of stamps.

I finished chatting with the sub, and turned just in time to see my prized possessions being pummeled by the clerk. She took my envelope, so pristine, so crisp, so perfect that I thought for a moment a ray of light had shone through the front window to cast an ethereal glow. Wait! Did I hear a chorus as well? With a harp? Nah. What I heard was the PLOP as that clerk dropped my parcel into a milk crate full of raggedy, odd-sized packages. I think some were covered with grease. And there might have been a rat tail twitching down at the end. I was almost ill. I mumbled that I'd take any stamps besides holiday stamps, and didn't even count my change. It's hard to let go.

And today, I dropped off three more works of Val for a different contest, having decided upon a last-minute substitution on Monday. The post office still smelled of dead mice. You'd think Uncle Sam could spring for a car-freshener leaf, in spite of the budget crisis. Even the people of Backroads don't want to wait in line while inhaling Eau de Deceased Rodent.

This afternoon, I was pleased to see a different clerk. She stroked my envelope like it was composed of fine Corinthian leather. She placed it gently on the scale, so as not to bruise my words. Then she stuck on the postage sticker and set it in the bin. I couldn't help but notice. THE STICKER HAD A WRINKLE!!!

Thank goodness my other entries were submitted on-line. I'm beginning to think I have a touch of OCD.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Sock It to Me

My socks are the disaffected youth of the hosiery society.

They only obey laws selectively. Such as the law of gravity. But not curfew. In fact, some of my socks have been out on the town for years. They were last seen at the corner of Washer and Dryer.

They slouch.

They seek the lowest level. Lower and lower, in fact, as the day goes on.

They flap off the end of my toes. Like too-long jeans that are stepped on with frequency.

They hang out where you don't want them. Like on a pants leg just out of the drier.

They are holey. A fashion statement.

They run away. Some are never found.

They don't answer when I speak to them.

They don't care how they smell to the rest of the world.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Of Moos, and Yips, and Stealing Rats...A Fable.

Once there was a farmer who grew corn with the help of his ox, his cat, and his pup. In the spring, Farmer plowed the field with steadfast Ox. Upon harvest in the fall, Cat watched over the corn to keep out the rats. Pup was a new addition, having only been brought to the farm a month before harvest time. His job was to keep deer out of the corn field.

Farmer liked to think he treated all of his animals well. Ox was a self-motivator, a quiet type who did his chores with no fuss. Farmer supplied Ox with food and a stall, and left him alone when Ox was not needed for plowing or clearing the field.

Cat liked to cat around. Some days Cat cut out for town, leaving Farmer, Ox, and new Pup to take care of the corn. But after the harvest, Cat pretty much stayed put. Rats were swiftly dispatched if they tried to steal the corn.

Pup was still learning the ropes. A scant month into his job, he figured out that corn was good, and deer were bad. He yipped and yapped when deer ventured into the cornfield. The deer gradually reached a consensus that it would be easier to find tasty treats elsewhere than Farmer's corn field.

Over the years, Farmer developed a habit of talking to Cat on a daily basis. Sometimes Cat followed him into the house and sat down for a saucer of milk. Other days, Farmer stopped by the barn to visit Cat and provide a good scratch behind Cat's ears.

The night before harvest, Farmer, Ox, Cat, and Pup stood by the fence and admired the corn. "Did you ever see such a fine field of corn, Cat? It's superior to the corn grown across the state this year. Significantly superior." He motioned for Cat to join him, and walked along the fence row, praising Cat for the fine crop.

"But I haven't really contributed to this harvest yet," mewed Cat.

Pup gamboled after them, begging to be noticed.

Ox hung his head. A single oxish tear slipped out of his eye. He plodded back to the barn to rest up for the work that lay ahead.

The moral of this fable? Every now and then, even an ox needs validation.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Teensy Weensy Indiscretion

The Backroads Polar Express is chugging right along toward the Backroads Pole, bearing writing contest entries and not much else. That could be remedied on Monday, though. Because I am breaking tradition and making a list, checking it twice, shopping from work, to get the best price.

I was not planning on a work-day shopping spree. But that naughty little voice kept insisting. It sounded very much like Genius. Who says I can get a really good deal on a laser printer/scanner/copier on CyberMonday. I have never shopped before from work. Let the record show that I will only be using my planning time, as I have planned ahead through Christmas break, and all of my grades are caught up and entered in the grading system. I would use my lunch time, or the forty-five minutes I have before the first bell, but I am otherwise occupied on Monday, what with parking lot duty before and after school, and a week of lunch duty to put the kibosh on that scenario. As further justification, I point to Exhibit A, a blown-up photo on an easel, showing Val at her desk, hard at work grading papers and prepping for the next lesson, with the clock in the background showing 4:45. P.M. or A.M. Take your choice. A more tech-savvy Val might also have shown a desktop calendar with its pages being shuffled to show that such off-the-clock burning of the afternoon oil has taken place at least four days per week from August 15 through November 22.

I think that eighty-four hours of work on my own time can be exchanged for fifty minutes of shopping on company time. I'm even willing to pay a pro-rated equipment/internet usage fee for the convenience. Besides, once I make my purchase, I'm done. I doubt it will even take the whole fifty minutes. Then I can traipse around breaking the copy machine and chewing the fat with other faculty on their plan time.

Seriously. It's not like I'm watching internet pr0n, Skyping my family overseas, driving home to put a load of laundry in the dryer, sending inappropriate political emails, or taking a nap. And I'm actually saving the school money by not taking one of my contract-given personal days to stay home and shop while a substitute molds the minds of the citizens of tomorrow. At a cost of seventy dollars per day.

And the whole scenario might not even be necessary, if I can find what I need at 5:30 a.m. The problem there is that the Backroads information superhighway is...well...like an information backroadshighway. Slower than molasses in January. And there's that pesky duty responsibility hanging over my head, preventing me from arriving a few minutes later. I can't pull an all-nighter because I have to be fresh for a day of performing three duties.

In any case, I won't be browsing. I have a list. I'm a woman on a mission.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Don't be Yakkin' While Val is Redactin'

I sense a new theme emerging on this blog.

I am on fire. Don't bother to call the rural fire protection district office. I've paid my yearly fire tag, but I'm not in need of putting out. Nor am I hot-flashing. Or any kind of flashing. I am flying through some pieces to ready them for contest submissions. Because it's almost the end of the month, you know. And deadlines loom on the horizon.

Sparks are virtually flying from my fingertips. Some days you got it, some days you don't. I hope I'm not in some manic phase like Abby's mother Maggie on ER. I don't want to wander into the workplace and embarrass my child by acting all flirty in my too-short, too-young dress. And I certainly don't want to run off to Oklahoma and shack up with a trucker until he leaves me in a motel with the bill while I am spiraling down into depression, so that Abby and Carter have to come find me, causing a rift between Abby and hot, hot Luka, who didn't really mean to kill that man on their first date, it just tends to happen when you pound somebody's skull into the pavement.

Where was I? Oh, yes. I've got a plethora of pieces going out on Monday. Lucky for me that I have six years of daily blog posts to in my submission stable. Posts which only need a bit of trimming, padding, direction, tailoring, updating, polishing, and de-blogifying. I keep that old blog around like an ant keeps an aphid, storing that sweet nectar until I need it. No use reinventing the wheel. I already do that twice a day.

So far, there's one down, and seven to go. I need to get busier.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Don't Come A-Knockin' When Val is Concoctin'

Nothing gets Val's creative juices flowing like popping a thyroid pill and peeling 1.5 dozen hard-boiled eggs. That's when my muse came a-knockin' Thursday morning, ignoring the "No Muses" sign on the front door. I sat her out back like a wayward hobo with a plate of barbecue, like Idgie sat old Smoky Lonesome in Fried Green Tomatoes. I did not, however, take a few minutes out of my culinary-creation mode to accompany her, give her a snort of whiskey from my apron pocket, and tell her the story of the geese that flew away with the lake frozen to their feet. I must draw the line at creative-energy sappers somewhere. After all, I was in the middle of formulating award-winning contest entries in my head. As well as whipping up some delicious deviled eggs.

You may think that a muse would be the perfect guest at the table when one is in the midst of a head-writing whirlwind. But no. That muse may just gum up the works. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. A muse is best received during quiet contemplation time in one's dark basement lair, after holiday festivities have wound down.

Though I wanted to place my muse on the back burner, I refrained. You never know when some busybody has the Muse Abuse Hotline on direct dial. So I opted for the hobo/barbecue treatment. It's more humane. With her safely ensconced out back on the pool deck, I peeled, sliced, chopped, mixed, dolloped, and sampled. The annual Thanksgiving deviled eggs were nonpareil. If I do say so myself.

To humor the muse, I exited through the laundry room and called to her over the porch rail. "What was that you were sayin'?"

She mumbled back, through her hickory-smoked-sauce-ringed lips, "I've got the most scathingly brilliant idea for a blog post! Several, in fact..."

I left her noshing poolside, and retired to the La-Z-Boy with two note cards. Three by five. I filled both sides of each with copious notes. What else would I put on a note card? As any student can tell you, my handwriting is worthy of a draftsman. Block letters, all caps, much like a typed manuscript. I turned those cards on end for maximum coverage.

When I read them today, I felt like Jerry Seinfeld and his flaming globes of Sigmund.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Necessity: My Mother's New Invention

Thanksgiving dinner this year was a bit sedate for my tastes. My sister was not present to stir things up, it being her year to feast with my brother-in-law's family. The boys got to sit at the big-people table. Apparently, this was not so special a treat as they had anticipated. Both excused themselves quickly when they saw that dessert was not imminent, and retired to the family room to play video games.

I tried to appear interested in the financial planning conversation between my mother and Hick. Really. But it's not like either one of them was ever mistaken for E. F. Hutton. I finally asked if we could change the topic. Because I knew exactly how my students feel when I talk about igneous rocks. My eyes glazed. I wanted to pull my hair out. All of the bones in my body disintegrated, and I slumped over and put my head on the table. Make it stop. Please. Hick had to squeeze in a final comment on 401Ks. After drowning his pique in a slice of no-sugar-added pumpkin pie with sugar-free Cool Whip, he excused himself for a couch nap.

Mom and I sat at the table, our freewheeling conversation full of minutia that I have no time to share with her during our daily fifteen-minute phone call at 6:00 a.m. We talked through the valley of the shadow of hair mice, cat ice water, final will and testament revenge, snow days, college graduation programs, framed mirrors, and...the piece de resistance: Mom's Good Deed.

That's what she called it. "Did I tell you about my good deed at church last Sunday?"

"No, I don't think so."

"This old lady, a friend of Mrs. Regular Church-Goer, sat down by me and said, 'Don't you like these shoes? I just love them. But they're too big. I'm afraid I'm going to fall. Every time I walk, they almost come off my feet.' Mrs. R C-G went by and said, 'It's true. I walked in behind her, ready to grab her if she fell.'"

I nodded. What else are you supposed to do in the middle of a story like this? I was waiting for the good deed.

"I told her, 'Why don't you try a rubber band to hold them on?' And she said, 'Oh! Do you have one?' I fumbled around in my purse and found the one I use to keep my checkbook closed, and gave it to her. It was just one of those little skinny ones. She put in on and stood up and said, 'That really works! Do you have another one?' So I dug through my purse, but I didn't."

"What kind of shoe?"

"Just slip-on shoes. Flats. Not high heels."

"Wait a minute. You gave her a rubber band, and she put it around her shoe? Like, over the top of her foot, and under the shoe?"

"Uh huh. I asked her if she wanted me to go up to the office and see if they had another rubber band, and she said yes. But on the way, I ran into the choir director, and he said he had some. So he gave me two. And they were the BIG ones, the thick ones."

"What color were they?"


"Clear? They don't make clear rubber bands!"

"You know. The regular color of rubber bands. Kind of tan. Clear." 

"Oh. Flesh-colored, you mean?"

"Well, I guess you could call it that. So I gave her the big ones, and she put both of them on, and said that was great, that she could walk now without her shoes flapping."

"You call that a good deed?"

"Uh huh. I helped her with her shoes."

"Wouldn't that cut off her circulation? I don't think rubber bands are meant to go around your feet. What if she got home from church and sat down in her recliner and forgot to take off her rubber-band shoes? And then fell asleep, and woke up with her circulation cut off, and called 9-1-1, and said, 'Help me! I don't have any feeling in the end of my feet!' What if she had to get the end of her feet amputated? All because you told her to put rubber bands on them? And then she could become famous for a new quote: I cried because my shoes were flappy, until I lost the end of my feet and they became really, really flappy, and not even a rubber band would hold them."

"Oh. I just thought I was doing a good deed."

"You were, Mom. You were."

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

I Covet, You Covet, We ALL Covet School Spirit Butt Pillows

Or maybe it's just me.

Tuesday afternoon, I spent fifty minutes yearning for a school spirit butt pillow. Not for myself, of course. For Hick. Not that his butt needs extra cushioning. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

We had a school pep rally to kick off our basketball season. It was fantastic. The gold standard of pep rallies. Normally, I don't get all excited about such an event. I'm jaded. Introduce the teams, perform some mechanical cheers, blindfold the seniors and make them swing a wiffle ball bat at a pinata of the opposing team's mascot while it's yanked out of harms way on fishing line, and try to kill time so we don't have to go back to class. But this one was different.

Genius was called out of the stands to compete in a donut-eating contest. Catch was, the donut dangled on a string held by a cheerleader, and contestants had to sit on their hands and bite at the elusive dough ring. Genius had the misfortune of a floor donut. The last half fell off the string. We teachers lining the rail over the gym floor hollered at him to eat it anyway. Five second rule, you know. But he had to act all hoity-toity and refined and such. At the end, he picked up the donut as he headed back to the stands. I told my cronies, "If he eats that now, I'm going to smack him." He didn't. But later said he had thought about it.

At least Genius wasn't chosen for the catwalk, in which he would have needed to wear a tiny pair of kitty ears on a headband, and back-arch his way on all fours across the center line. Or the banana-eating contest, in which he would have been blindfolded at a table of bananas, with his opponents being spirited away so that he was the only one shoving bananas down his neck.

But the best part of the program was the flinging of freebies into the crowd. Plastic drinking cups, mini foam basketballs, and butt pillows! Oh, and candy. For some reason the kids were excited about the edibles. But we rail-standers were jonesin' for some posterior pillows. Dang if those cheerleaders didn't have a stack of about a hundred of them. Did they toss any our way? Nope. It's not like we were dangling off the side of Mount Everest courtesy of nylon rope and carbines. Even a cheerleader can float a foam cushion the height of a basketball backboard. Can't she?

Time spun out toward the final bell. A coach tossed a colleague THREE cushions. I cry shenanigans! Her boys are players! They don't need any butt pillows. But my Hick is a loyal supporter. While I attend all home games, he even travels to away events. Where he is often forced to sit on wooden bleachers.

I told my partner in crime, who was contemplating cutting out ten minutes early as soon as the bell rang, that I was willing to pay for a pillow. "Peruse the crowd with me," I said. "Which kid would most like to trade a butt-pillow for a dollar? I might even go two dollars to procure the elusive school spirit butt pillow." We had a little entrepreneur picked out just as the bell rang. Which spoiled that clever plan.

But what to my wandering eye should appear but three butt-pillows abandoned on bleachers so near. I hollered at Genius. He stepped right over one! Alas, as he is wont to do at home, he ignored me. My crime partner declared, "I'll go get them for you." Then she proceeded to go the long way and stop twice to chat with traitors who already had butt pillows, or had thrown them to others. She finally wended her way down the steps, across the gym, up through the bleachers, and harvested my trio of comfort. I thanked her profusely, and offered her a dollar. She declined. Because payday was so recent, perhaps.

I stopped Genius in the hall. "Look what I got! I can't believe you didn't even try for one!"

"Mom! Did you read them? They're from 2008. Sponsored by some financial group."

"Your dad's butt won't mind. He'll need them tonight. Make sure you give them to him before you leave. I might not be home by then."

"All right. Look! I got a mini basketball and a cup!"

"Great. They're not that comfortable to sit on."

"Good thing you got three cushions. They're pretty thin."

"Your dad will be excited. He loves things like this."

I arrived home just as Genius and Hick were getting ready to go. "Do you like your butt cushions?"

"What butt cushions?"

"Genius! Where are Dad's butt cushions?"

"I put them on the couch."

"I didn't see any butt cushions."

"How could you miss them? They're bright purple. On a tan couch. Ten feet in front of you."

"Well, I don't go looking at what's on the couch. Oh. Those are nice. I'll take one with me."

"Dad! You need more than one."

"Okay. I'll take two."

Hick called me after the game. "We won."

"I know. I listened on the radio. How did your school spirit butt pillows work?"

"I don't know. I forgot them in the car. I didn't want to walk back out for them."

I don't know why I bother.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Val of All Trades

I am sometimes mistaken for a Walmart clerk. I don't know how that happens. One minute I'm wheeling my cart down the Clearasil aisle, headed toward the feminine hygiene products, and the next minute, a stranger is accosting me for top-secret store information.

Sunday, I hit the trifecta minus one. The bifecta, as I shall call it. Or one hat short of a trick. First up was not an actual stranger, but my mother's across-the-road neighbor from Czechoslavakia. Well, he was from Czechoslavakia, before he came here way back in the seventies or eighties. But he still has his accent. He's a woodworker. He makes doors and cabinets. But his mission today was to find a chain for his dog. And he wasn't finding any dog chains in the make-up and tampon section. "They've switched everything around on me! This used to be the dog area." Um. Yes. Back in the nineties, maybe. Because I distinctly remember some goldfish tanks that Genius liked to watch when he was a toddler. I can only assume that the Good Samaritan Czech, who leaf-blows my mom's yard without even asking, delegates most of his shopping to his Backroads wife. I directed him to the back of the store where, sadly, the pet supplies reside, bereft of goldfish. He took off towards sporting goods. Maybe he had never really planned to settle in Missouri, but landed here thanks to his wonky sense of direction.

I had shopped my way back to the soda aisle, where I was comparing prices on Reynolds Wrap, thanks to those crafty thing-moving-arounders bemoaned by the Czech, when the second sadly-mistaken inquisitor accosted me. She was a mousy little grandma. Undoubtedly stressing over hosting the upcoming feast.

"Excuse me. But I am looking for pie crust. REAL pie crust. Not cookie pie crust. And I don't know where to find it."

"Well, you've asked the completely WRONG person. I've never bought it. The graham cracker crust is on the baking aisle. But I think the real pie crust is in the refrigerated section. You might try there."

"Oh, thank you!"

Of course, that only narrowed it down to half the store. She took off towards the milk/biscuit/egg area along the back wall. I'm hoping that from there, she continued up the far wall past the sour cream, cheese, cold cuts, meat, frozen meats, then made a left and peeked into the end freezer just before the produce. Because that's where I glimpsed those real pie crusts, stacked insouciantly inside each other, gazing through the glass, practically oozing some "eat me, eat me" sentiment.

I'm thinking of submitting an invoice for services rendered. Can Walmart ever have too many pie-eating dog-chain experts?

Monday, November 21, 2011

But Hopefully from a Hole in the Ground

Sunday, I prepared an evening meal of chicken and noodles. Hope nobody conked their head when they passed out from that disclosure. Life is not one endless banquet of gas-station chicken, you know.

Like countless pioneer women before me, I arose at the crack of dawn to catch a tender pullet from the front yard, hack its head off, re-catch the body, scald it, pluck it, boil it, and add the tender noodles that I had rolled out from scratch while the pullet released her juices in the stoneware stockpot. Or crawled out of bed at 8:15, cut open the chicken package, dumped it in a pot of water, and set out my bag of egg noodles. Same difference.

But my preparation methods are not the issue. The Pony and I left the foul cooling her legs in the fridge while we did the weekly shopping. Upon our return, Hick was loitering about, clamoring that he and Genius were heading to Lowe's for some paint to update the lair of Genius. I remarked that the old homestead smelled like a boiled chicken. Hick concurred. "I noticed that when I came in from the barn."

Groceries were stowed away forthwith. The Pony fetched the linens for scrubbing on a washboard down at the creek--I mean gathered the towels and stuffed them in the washer. I decided to clean out the bottom shelf of the pantry. My assistant, one T. Pony, was left holding the bag while I sorted through outdated items. At one point, a noxious odor permeated the kitchen. My inquiring mind wanted to know the source.

"Eww! Did you fart?"


"Well, stop it. My eyes are burning."

"Or maybe it's just the smell of boiled chicken."

"Great. You don't know your butt from a boiled chicken."

Thank you. We'll be here all year.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Paranoia, Gale Winds, and Self-Righteous Val's Whine

I am re-thinking my reliance on Save-A-Lot as a self-esteem booster/hook-up center. Sure, men and women shopping there flock to me to admire my great beauty, and proffer money. But the reaction of the employees leaves a little to be desired.

Sure, the higher-up stocker/cashier lady always greets me. We even had a moment one day, when I told her I felt bad that she had to work on some holiday or other. I accidentally let it slip that I am a teacher. I think she may hold it against me. Now she doesn't speak unless I speak first. What's up with that? And after I had so many tete-a-tetes with her at the onion bin, and on the canned meat aisle. How else would I know that Walmart is only shooting themselves in the proverbial foot by keeping in-store temperatures hot enough to clarify butter, what with their open coolers struggling to maintain their cool, thus expending excess electrical energy?

The boy checker is right polite. But he hasn't been around lately. So I'm left with a middle-aged mom whose name must be Cathy, as in Chatty. And two young pony-tailed maidens. And the septuagenarians. They've all been friendly in the past. But Saturday, the worm turned.

I ran in for some ground beef, chili beans, bread, and bananas. No checkers were up front. Another customer and I paced back and forth looking for the conveyor that seemed most likely to be accepting merchandise. The two septuagenarians came out of the office. I took the one with coal-black hair. Actually, the pace lady made that choice for me, because she took the soft grandma lady.

Coal Shiner's Coiffure scanned my items and sent them over Conveyor Falls into my cart. As she was waiting for me to fork over the cash, she turned to Grandma Softy and said, over her shoulder, "It's really a bad hair day, isn't it?"

Exsqueeze me! I think she was making fun of my hair! Yes. It was very windy. I even had to hold my shirt down so I didn't do an impromptu, abbreviated version of Dress-Up Day. You know what that is, don't you? When the wind or a person with no respect for boundaries flings a lady's dress up over her head, exposing her undergarments. If she's wearing any. But I digress...

What else might have prompted Coal Shiner's Coiffure to make such a statement about the weather? I think that was terribly rude. She could at least have had the respect to speak Korean, like the girls at the nail salon, when they made fun of Elaine, before she brought George's dad to catch them at it and translate.

The audacity! Don't they know that Val is in high demand as date material for their customers?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Fat of the Land

This weekend puts us smack dab in the middle of deer season. And since I live in Backroads, that means my dogs have been living off the fat of the land. They feast on limbs and entrails strewn willy-nilly about the compound. That the offal might be found on our contiguous twenty acres bothers me a bit. For we have given nobody permission to hunt upon our land except one neighbor. But the country cur knows no boundaries. Skins and hocks and back-leg-elbows abound along our gravel road and the blacktop county road.

Earlier in the week, we caught Tank the beagle and Ann the black shepherd gnawing away with gusto on a heart-lungs combo. The Pony jumped out of the car to ascertain whether the canine treat was permissible blood-and-guts, or clandestine carnage, such as a chicken carcass. He gave the A-OK, and we left them to enjoy their repulsive repast.

This morning, Hick stated that he'd seen the dogs dragging something deerish through the front yard. And that he'd had to toss a hind leg off the back porch. I filled him in on the heart-lungs entree. Hick was beside himself. "I would have eaten that! They're butchering all over the place, and just leaving it."

"You would have eaten a heart and lungs?"

"Well, the heart. Not the lungs."

"Out of the front yard? Not knowing how old it was?"

"No. Not out of the front yard. But I would have eaten the heart. It's good."

"When and where have you been eating deer heart?"

"That wild man guy on TV eats it. And I used to eat chicken hearts all the time."

"It's tough. You have to slice it really thin. Because it's a muscle."

"The chicken hearts were tender."

"They're a lot smaller. And they're probably slow-cooked."

"Anyway. I'd have eaten a deer heart."

"Sorry I didn't wrestle it away from the dogs for you."

Friday, November 18, 2011

Secret Agendas

Perhaps I read too much into attempts to draw me into conversation.

"That's a nice shirt. Is it new?"

It's about time you wore something different from the past ten years.

"You are so efficient."

You must not have a life.

"That's okay. Go ahead. I'm already prepared for my classes. I can run my copies later."

Nothing like waiting until the last minute. You dang slacker.

"Oh, is that leftover pizza?"

Do you really think you need all those calories when you could be having the school pizza that looks and tastes like cardboard, like the one on my plate, for example?

"You must be really proud of your boy."

Because he has a chance for a great future. Unlike you. Who only became a teacher.

"Did you get a haircut?"

Because I swear your forehead is the size of an aircraft carrier landing strip. And I can't wait to go tell all my friends to check it out.

"Do you have any kids?"

Because you are so butt-ugly that it's hard for me to imagine you could capture a mate and force him to procreate with you.

"Did you do anything fun this weekend?"

I doubt that you did, because you're such a fun-sucker. But go ahead. Surprise me. At least make something up.


Perhaps I should work on some self-esteem issues. Or stop listening to that little voice in my head

Thursday, November 17, 2011

From the "Talk Amongst Yourselves" Files

We all know that people in H E doublehockeysticks want ice water. They clamor for it, I hear. But what about pets? Not pets in H E doublehockeysticks. Why would pets be there? Even that nonpet chipmunk that sank its teeth into my index finger, necessitating a tetanus booster (for ME, not the chipmunk) does not deserve to go to H E doublehockesticks. What I mean is, "Do pets want ice water?"

Professor of Pet Drinking Preferences #1 puts ice cubes in her cats' water containers. Only in the summer, of course. What do you think she is, crazy? She does that because she knows her cats don't like warm water. They like it cold. With ice. And they turn up their feline noses at hot dogs. They eat mice and birds, but draw the line at sodium-rich, processed offal. So they must be gourmet cats. Who prefer ice water. Perhaps in Waterford crystal.

Professor of Pet Drinking Preferences #2 stops short of the ice spiking. But she knows that horses prefer their drinking water cold. She knows this, because when she dumps out the old water, and puts in fresh water, those horses imbibe like Otis Campbell just released from Mayberry's drunk tank. Whether she leads them to the water or not. She looked puzzled when I asked if maybe, just maybe, those beasts of burden prefer that fresh water not because it is cold, but because it is fresh.

Newsflash! Cats and horses are animals. Animals. They have not adapted to drinking ice water because it gives them some survival or reproductive advantage. The kittens and foals do not inherit a love of ice water from their parents. It is a conditioned response learned by individual animals whose owners provide them with ice water. So don't tell me that cats and horses prefer ice water. They would drink out of a filthy hoofprint like Glen Campbell as Texas Ranger La Boeuf in True Grit, and be glad to get it. My own cats like to lap at the green scum on the plastic pond containing giant goldfish. So I might as well declare that cats prefer fish-flavored green water.

Pardon me for being so skeptical. To convince me of such preferences, you're going to have to (1) make that animal speak, enunciating clearly, declaring his love of ice water. Or (2) perform a controlled experiment, repeatable with the same results. showing that in a side-by-side taste test, and a sample of one hundred or more cats/horses, the majority choose ice water over tepid water. Because that's how I roll.

And for everybody who would like to tactfully explain to me that the proper term is "iced water" and not "ice water", with the latter being water from melted ice, I say: "This is Backroads, Missouri. We call it ice water."

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Convenient, Yes. Trustworthy, No.

...continued from Novermber 15

There I was, with no flu shot on November 12. My antibiotic course was fini. I rounded up Genius and off we went to Walmart for a quick session of arm-poking before his bowling league. We hustled in and made a beeline for the flu-shot table. It was gone.

I cruised over to the pharmacy to inquire. "Oh. We stopped giving flu shots three days ago." Major bummer. I was jonesin' for an intramuscular jolt of anti-influenza cocktail. My corpuscles were going to work out like Jerry Seinfeld with Lloyd Bridges as Izzy Mandelbaum, so they could give influenza a good old-fashioned butt-kicking should they be accosted by him in a dark artery.

Back we went to Val Town and her Convenient Care Clinic. Because what better place to walk into on a Saturday morning and ask for a flu shot? It was SO convenient! AND we were not charged. Insurance was billed forthwith. After filling out the vaccination questionnaire, we were called back within five minutes.

The practicing nurse practitioner had two syringes laid out for us. As she was dabbing at the left arm of Genius with an alcohol wipe, I said, "This is the dead virus, right?" She looked at me like I was a set of headlights on the original Big Foot and she was a modern-day Bambi.

"Yes. Well. It's attenuated."

"That's not the dead virus. That's the weakened virus. We want the dead virus."

"Why? Did you have a reaction to the attenuated virus?"

"No. But you can sneeze out actual flu virus while you're developing antibodies to the attenuated virus. It's not dead. You can give someone else the flu. And my husband has a compromised immune system. So we can only have the dead virus."

"Oh. Let me go check the box."

Florence Lyingale left the room to rummage through the fridge where she got the vaccine. I was a bit uncomfortable. Because you don't know what you're getting if you don't ask. And maybe if you DO ask. Because Flo Lyin' came back.

"It's your lucky day."

"Why. Is it the virus dead?"

"Uh huh."

Flo started scrubbing up on Genius again. He was about to come out of his skin. "You may get mild flu symptoms and run a slight fever as your body responds to the vaccine."

I took the shot. But I'm not sure what was in it. That possibly-prevaricating wench had better have been telling us the truth. Because if I die of the flu, I'm going to make it my supernatural mission to get even with her.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Universe Conspires

Once again, the universe is conspiring against Val T. Victorian.

You know how some years, you can't buy a flu shot with a boatload of salvaged treasure?

This is not one of those years. The flu vaccine is plentiful. They're practically giving it away. Like S & H Green Stamps.

I never used to bother with a flu shot. Pshaw! That was something for weaklings. For wormy, ricket-ridden, scurvy-sufferin' feebs. Not for me. Until I caught the flu. I missed five days of work, with a weekend in-between. I lost my voice. Do you know how hard it is to answer the phone when you can't talk? When I went back to work, my colleagues cried, "Too soon! Too soon!" I must have looked like death warmed over. I almost blacked out from a coughing fit. I never want to catch the flu again.

Therein likes the problem. I work in a high-risk flu-catching setting. A public school! So I gladly offer up my deltoid for injection every year. No big whoop. But this year, with the influenza-thwarting elixir flowing from health-givers syringes like water from an artesian well, I found myself without an inoculation at the late date of November 12. That's unheard of! It's even more scandalous than ending a sentence with a preposition. Some folks in my vaccine-seeking circle have been known to take the stab at the end of September. Sore-armed is forewarned. Nobody's going to slip them a flu mickey before their immune systems are prepared!

It's not my fault that my defenseless blood went a-wanting for weaponry. I meant to get a flu shot. Really. Once I found out that Walmart was giving them, I didn't see a need to hurry. Every weekend, I thought about getting the shot for The Pony and myself. But you know how it is after traipsing from corner to corner in that store. What with people taking photos of you to post on the internet and all. So I put it off.

On Halloween, The Pony and I stopped after school. I filled out the paperwork. I had the money ready. Then the RN/LPN/Walmart Greeter Most Adept at Stabbing Folks With Needles asked me that question. "Are you taking antibiotics?" Well. Yes. I was. For that sinus sickness that had plagued me for two weeks. But I felt so much better on Day Four of those antibiotics, I figured I could duke it out with Mr. N. Flu Enza with one hand tied behind my back. Apparently that's not recommended. So I let her shoot The Pony, and left.

But like my Six-Can Chicken and Dumplings Fiasco, the plot thickened.


Administrative Request: 
Please do not leave comments about how getting the flu shot gave you the flu. No. Don't even entertain that thought. I am a science teacher. I know my way around vaccines and the immune system. Don't be that person who tells the OB/GYN that you found your baby under a cabbage leaf, where the stork dropped him. Just don't.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Floundering Gourmet

It's a wonder my boys have not drifted away on a zephyr.

I try to feed them regularly. I try to whip up meals that tempt their tastebuds. They are a bit persnickety. The Pony, after all, once demanded to know who put the MEAT on his cheeseburger. And a preschool Genius clamored animatedly, in earshot of several disapproving grandmotherly customers, for me to BUY THE MASHED POTATOES IN A BOX, MOM, LIKE THE DAYCARE LADY, BECAUSE YOURS ARE NOT AS GOOD AS HERS.

So I'm always on the lookout for a simple, boy-palate-pleasing entree that is not too decadent. Like George Costanza would drape himself in velvet if it were socially acceptable, my boys would eat three squares a day consisting of their grandma's Rice Krispie Treats made with a 55-gallon drum of peanut butter, and coated with a hard chocolate topping an inch thick.

Several years ago, I stumbled upon a recipe for quick chicken-and-dumplings. A poor, overworked woman's chicken-and-dumplings. So simple. Six cans. Two cans chicken broth, two cans cream of chicken soup, and two cans chunk chicken breast. Add pepper to taste, and water if it's too thick. Boil up the liquids, and add a package of flour tortillas, cut into dumpling-sized strips. Boil for five minutes. Add chicken last. From start to finish, it takes about fifteen minutes. And tastes amazingly like childhood chicken-and-dumplings, if your grandma was not a very good cook.

I remember the key to this recipe. It's crucial. Just like the boy at the backstreet curio shop warned Randall Peltzer to never, EVER, feed the Mogwai after midnight, you must never, EVER, let the tortilla strips boil in the chicken liquid even one second over five minutes. Sure, those tortilla dumplings won't kill the biology teacher for taking a blood sample. But mayhem will still ensue. Mayhem, not like the Allstate insurance guy riding along on the side of your car, advising you to change lanes at an inopportune moment. Mayhem, like your delicious faux-dumplings sticking themselves to each other and the side of the pan like Velcro love monkeys. I understand the six-can rules. And obey them.

Last night, Hick requested the ol' faux chicken-and-dumplings for supper. Because he has to watch his carbs, I opted to make the six-can recipe with multi-grain wraps instead of flour tortillas. Hey! They work for him when we have tacos, or Blazin' Chunks chicken wraps. Why not in my trusty dumpling concoction?

I tossed everything together. Added pepper. Three times. Brought my cauldron to a roiling boil. Tossed in the cut-up multi-grain wraps. Stirred. Watched the clock. Took the pan off the heat. I removed from the oven the Flaky Layers biscuits that The Pony had requested. Because that boy tries to live by carbs alone. I spun my ladle like a baton. A bit of showmanship never hurt the plating of anybody's short-cut recipe. I dipped into the pan and discovered the broth to be as bereft of dumplings as Old Mother Hubbard's bone-cupboard was of her poor dog's calcium-rich, marrow-containing snack.

Apparently, multi-grain wraps are no substitute for flour tortillas.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Backroads Miz Manners Declares: It's a Great Gig if One Can Get It

Dear Backroads Miz Manners,

I read on the innernets that a teacher is being fired for calling her students future criminals on her Facebook page. Can that really happen? She didn't give any names of the future criminals. Isn't she entitled to free speech? It's not like she posted a picture of Little Lord Fauntleroy and labeled him, specifically, as a criminal. Aren't teachers allowed to let their hair down, to blow off steam, to enjoy the same constitution-given rights as other citizens on their own time?

I Thought This Was America

Dear Thought-Full,

I'm not a teacher myself, but I used to pal around with a whole passel of professional educators. Once they sign that teaching contract, they cease to enjoy the entitlements of every other citizen in these United States. No Rapunzeling for them. They must hold in that steam like the boiler at the Overlook Hotel, but with no Jack Torrance to alleviate the pressure periodically.

Teachers enjoy no such thing as "their own time". They are always on the job, if not on the clock. Always on stage. Always representing the school district. Shopping on the weekend? They must double as goodwill ambassadors. Greet any patrons cheerfully. Politely decline discussing work-related issues. Grin and bear it if a young charge takes the chance meeting as an opportunity to fly the single-digit birdy, or catcall comments across the parking lot.

Any teacher sighting is fodder for the rumor mill. Renting movies in a facility that also offers adult fare? That teacher becomes a pr0n aficionado. Sip a cool one in the beer garden at the Labor Day picnic? That teacher is a well-known alcoholic. There's a long list of behaviors that are denied to educators, unless one is itching for a reprimand or dismissal.

Backroads Miz Manners hopes she has clarified the question of teachers and their constitutional rights. Please be advised that this is only the tip of the rights iceberg. Every year, teachers in titanic proportions forge full speed ahead into this obstacle. Some rules are made up as one goes along. But don't you worry about our public school educators. The minimum statewide starting teacher's salary in Missouri is $24,000. If one sticks it out, and continues to accrue college credits, that salary can improve. But don't be fooled by charts of "average" teacher salaries. Administrator salaries are included in those statistics, which skews the data to the high side.

Perhaps Backroads Miz Manners should not have revealed such insider information. We can't have the entire population flocking to college to become teachers, now can we?

Backroads Miz Manners

Saturday, November 12, 2011

What Kind of Freak Am I?

It's no secret that I sometimes nod off in the recliner while watching the Food Network.

I put on my basement glasses to watch TV. They are my old prescription, not bifocals, not the ones I use for driving or taking in a high school basketball game. They just make the screen a bit clearer. A couple of times, I've picked them up from the table beside my chair to find a single fingerprint right in the middle of the left lens. I don't know what's up with that. The Pony sometimes shares the big-screen with me, but he swears that he never touches my glasses. And why would he?

An evening in front of the TV requires accessories. My go-to comfort items are a stuffed, chartreuse/royal blue/yellow snake that The Pony won at the school carnival three years ago, and a soft, soft chartreuse throw blanket with red, green, and white spots that I won at my sister's Christmas Eve party. Yes. My accessories are color-coordinated. By happenstance.

The snake serves as a neck support. It is just right. The throw is toasty warm. I blame it for my lapses into unconsciousness. When I start feeling drowsy, I lean way back in the recliner. Sometimes, I push the glasses up onto my head so as not to peer out from under the lenses at the TV. It would be too much trouble to take them off and lean over to put them on the table.

Last week, I awoke at 2:00 a.m. I'd been asleep for going on three hours. The throw was insulating me like an out-of-control electric blanket. I peeled it off and unreclined. I felt the glasses on my head. I didn't remember putting them up there, but nobody else was around to do it for me. I took them off.

The glasses were dripping with liquid. Huge droplets had condensed on the outside lens side. I know I was sweating. And I know that basements are the most humid part of a house. But really. I would have had to sweat like a cartoon character, squirts of perspiration shooting from my brow like so many reverse raindrops, to form the collection of water beads on those glasses.

What kind of freak am I?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Would a Moon, by Any Other Name, Still Shine so Bright?

Last night was the full moon.

The full moon of November was known to Native Americans as the Full Beaver Moon. A fact which I chose not to share with my students, even though we spent several weeks studying astronomy. Chalk it up to years of teacher's intuition, but my teachy sense tells me that my students might have let the facts fly right through their knowledge-thirsting brain-sponges. Setting traps before the swamps froze, for one last fur harvest before the dead of winter, would likely take a back seat to the HILARIOUSLY INAPPROPRIATE NAME OF FULL BEAVER MOON.

Likewise, I refrained from sharing with them the details of the beautiful hoar frost that graced my gravel road this morning as I cruised to school at 21 degrees.

Last week, I bravely introduced the Mohs Scale of Hardness, used for mineral identification. The snickers at the property of cleavage, though subdued, were still more evident than those that escaped during a schist explanation.

I must admit that I also gloss over Uranus.

We won't even touch on the issue that the industrial arts teacher has with wood.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Security, Schmecurity

Oh, the lengths we go to in order to preserve our private information.

Funny how my checking account number is less important than a Backroads Missouri student's ninth-grade science mid-quarter scores. This is password week during our school technology security month. Yeah. 'Cause we're geeky like that. Those of us who are good eggs are rewarded with Hershey bars if our systems are secure when checked at random. The bad eggs get a solemn note with a frowny face that borders on snark. Once upon a time I got one of those. Even though I had doggedly logged off for lunch. As I did every day. But lo and behold, my unit was malfunctioning. It said I was logged off. But I wasn't logged off. You can bet I put in a technology work order after my frowny. How was I supposed to know that my unit had a problem? I am not the company computer guy. I still harbor a grudge.

Just after the lunch bell, on my way back to my classroom, I saw the tech checker shooting the breeze with the principal. I informed him that I was LOCKED, and that he could just skedaddle on down the hall and take note. Which he did. And left me a Hershey on my keyboard. Where it was already melting when I rescued it after the four-minute passing period. Oh, and I also used the opportunity to remind him of the frowny time, and how I was completely innocent. He seemed a bit uncomfortable. He humored me like a grandpa soaking up the details in a four-year-old's tale of the time Big Bird drove him to McDonald's in his Power Wheels Jeep.

But enough of the sad frowny times. After school, I took a work reimbursement check to the bank for Hick. I normally deposit such items, but today I decided that cashing it would be easier. And quicker. It was only double figures, for gas money and lunch on an in-state trip last week.

The bank was cram-packed. All three lanes were full. I was fourth in line, no matter which one I chose. I know you're scratching your citified heads over the thought of TWELVE cars overwhelming my financial institution. But we're talking Backroads here. Not a major metropolitan area. I chose the one less traveled by (the one people normally avoid due to the hairpin turn needed to access the back alley for egress when business is complete), but that made no difference. People still piled in behind me.

When my turn rolled around, I put Hick's check into the tube insouciantly. The twenty-year-old teller had no way of knowing that I had blithely signed Hick's name to the back. How could she? It was the spittin' image of Hick's hen-scratch. Then she had the nerve to ask if Hick was with me in the car. Um. NO. She said cashing the check was no problem, but she needed my signature on it as well. So she tubed it back out. I signed. My signature is quite different from Hick's John Henry.

By the time I tubed it back in, I had a new twenty-something teller. They were tag-teaming at closing time, apparently. She greeted me all over again. And asked what I wanted to do. I said, "Cash that check, please." She asked if I had my bank account handy. Of course. She wanted the account number. Spoken through the speaker. I have done this before, but when I was the only car at the drive-thru. I spoke it in a normal tone. Telly asked me to repeat it. Louder. Most likely due to the Hillbilly Cadillac idling in the next lane, all four-wheely and big-footy and unmuffled.

I told her I was a bit uncomfortable shouting that out, what with all the people around. Criminy! She had both names. She could have looked up the gosh-darn account and from her terminal. It's not like she even asked for ID. For all she knew, I could have allegedly stolen the checkbook and account number along with the reimbursement check. Not wanting to anger the waiting patrons by necessitating a third tubing to insert a deposit slip with the account number, I shouted it. Not quite so loud as huzzahs from the rooftops in honor of placing 89th in the 80th Annual Writers Digest Writing Competition. But close.

I'm hoping that the Hillbilly Cadillac folks were making a withdrawal to fund their deer camp escapades, not to finance a pseudoepinephrine-buying spree for their meth manufacturing hobby.

Ahh...for the days when I walked to the drive-up window of my little bank in Sheldon, Missouri, to deposit my monthly paycheck. When all I had to worry about was carbon monoxide poisoning if one of the townspeople suddenly had to bank on the same day as I. And the biggest breach of security I had to deal with was when the postmaster kept my People magazine from me for a day, and put it in my post office box with grease spots and cookie crumbs between the staples.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Like Catnip for Felines

I have a confession. I do not treat all of my classes equally.

I know that is shocking. They're supposed to be like my children. Right? No favorites. No special treatment. They all have their unique qualities, and their foibles. For years, I lived by that principle. No matter what the minor transgressions, the occasional lapse of decorum. All enjoyed equal benefits under Val's tutelage. But times have changed, my friends. This ain't their granny's public school education.

For the past three years, I've gradually grown immune to my blinders. And this year, I saw the writing on the wall. Not actual writing. Laws, NO! That gives my cold, cold heart a whole passel of palpitations. Let me clarify. I've seen the figurative writing on the wall. Matters came to a head with the advent of second quarter. I think of it as The Battle of the Germ-X.

Let's look at the facts. I provide the Germ-X. And the tissues. And the adhesive bandages. Not that my charges are germy or snotty or bleeding like stuck pigs. Some things you need to have on hand in case a need arises. I have no issue with a child blowing his nose and taking a squirt of Germ-X. That's why it's there. I DO, however, take issue when over half of the class rushes in from lunch and begins pumping out the Germ-X like there's no tomorrow. Like President Morgan Freeman just came on TV and told us that a meteor is going to deeply impact the earth and we're basically toast in two weeks. But keep on working. Love your fellow man. Kiss your butt goodbye. And soak up all the free Germ-X that you can.

Seriously. Who needs to wash his hands with Germ-X AFTER lunch? Just askin'. Because it seems mighty weird to me. It helps matters not that they frolic in a manner that Vi-Jon Laboratories Inc. would wish to show in slow-motion, gauze-lensed commercials nationwide. With back-lit dollops of Germ-X squirting through the air like mysterious hoax UFO rods. It's always my older kids. Not the tender freshmen. The freshmen seem well-schooled in the ways of Germ-X. But it's like catnip to the upperclass cats.

In fact, one class predominantly used up an entire quart of Germ-X in one quarter. So I've taken to putting away the new bottle during their class period. Any one of them is welcome to bring in a community Germ-X container. I'll set it out.

Of course, their class-section siblings will also reap the benefits.
What's fair is fair.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Boy Does Not Live By Pop Tart Alone

I have a bone to pick with today's youth. Not a major bone, like a femur or a tibia. A smaller bone. Tiny, really. Like one of the phalanges. The baby-toe bone, perhaps. All you other bones, stand clear. I got no interest in you today. You're Farrell and I'm Rooster Cogburn.

Genius took his ACT in mid-October. He's taken it once before, his sophomore year, and scored a 31. Which is really good, a perfect composite score being 36, and the national average 21. His October score came out today, and he barged into my classroom before school to check it online. He brought his breakfast tray with him. Because anybody who's ever done time in a high school cafeteria knows that food can not be left unattended. Unless you have a strong stomach and weak imagination.

He set the tray on my desk. "Are you eating all of that?" Contents consisted of an open half-pint of milk, an open half-pint of orange juice, three little powdered donuts left in the six-pack, and two chocolate chip Pop Tarts lounging on top of their foil wrapper. Yes. That's how we fuel America's youth. Free to all. The breakfast of champions.

"Don't worry. All of that is only 400 calories. And I don't think I'm going to eat the Pop Tarts." He stated that matter-of-factly while logging into his ACT official site.

"Um. There's no way."

"Yeah. I read the nutritional information. The donuts are 190 calories. I didn't read the Pop Tarts yet."

"Those drinks alone would be 400."

"Oh. I forgot about the drinks. But I was reading a girl's graham cracker calories, and they were 190. Look at the labels if you don't believe me."

"Okay. Donuts...370 calories."

"What? No way. Look here. 190."

"You must not be considering the portion size. No. That's calories from fat."

"Well, I'm not going to eat the Pop Tarts."

"Look. Pop Tarts...410 calories."

"I always plan to eat the Pop Tarts. Then I eat the donuts, and I get full."

"I'm just pointing out that you have to know what you're reading in the nutritional information."

"Okay. I got a 34!"

"I'm really proud of you."

Genius gathered up his tray and left, grinning from ear to ear. You'd think a learned scholar such as himself would be able to calculate the calories in a school breakfast tray.

Wouldn't you?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Rumors of My Lethargy Have Been Greatly Understated

My extra hour of sleep this weekend seems to have made me crave even more. I barely have the energy to think up prepositions to end sentences with. And my usual lightning-quick ability to toss out cliches willy-nilly is slower than molasses in January.

I'm taking a chair nap.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

A Literary Throwdown of Sorts

Are you all finished with your essays for The Writer 2011 Essay/Memoir Writing Contest? You haven't forgotten, have you? Surely you're not putting it off until 11:30 p.m. (Eastern) on November 30. Of course you're not.

I have my framework. And a title. But, much like myself, my essay needs a boatload of refinement.

Because writers are busy people, most with real jobs to attend to during the week, and others with yet additional weekend chores required to run a household...I am posting the official rules to save you a click. That'll get you motivated, right? Plus, it acts as filler for today's blog post! It's the Certs of official rules. It does two, two, TWO jobs in one!


The Writer 2011 Essay/Memoir Writing Contest Rules

Entry fee
$10 per entry, payable to Gotham Writers' Workshop. Entry fees are nonrefundable. Payments must be in U.S. funds (USD).

Entry must be submitted by 11:59PM (EDT) November 30, 2011.


1. Entries must be submitted online only, using the official entry form found [LINK]. Mailed entries will not be accepted.

2. All entries must be original and previously unpublished in any print or digital format. Entries must be in English and submitted by the author, who must be at least 18 years old at the time of entry.

3. Entries should be a personal essay or memoir about a person, place or event in your life.

4. Word count: 1,000-1,200 words.

5. Entries will be judged based on creativity, clarity, organization, logic, and overall quality of writing, including grammar, punctuation and syntax.

6. Submissions containing profanity or portraying graphic sexual acts or graphic violence will be disqualified.

7. A $10 nonrefundable entry fee, payable to Gotham Writers' Workshop, must accompany each essay/memoir entered. If you do not wish to pay by credit card, you may send a check for $10 per entry, payable to "Gotham Writers' Workshop" to the address below. You must include the title of your entry and your name on the check. Your entry will not be forwarded to the judges until payment is received. Mail checks only (entry must be submitted online using the form located at WritingClasses.com/essay2011) to:

Gotham Writers' Workshop
555 8th Avenue #1402
New York, NY 10018-4358
Attn: The Writer Essay & Memoir Contest

8. You will receive an email confirmation upon the successful processing of your entry. If you use a spam filter, we suggest you add write.org to your approved senders list. Please allow up to five business days after submission for processing of the confirmation.

9. You may submit more than one entry, but each entry must be accompanied by a $10 entry fee. No revisions will be accepted under any circumstances. Entries are forwarded to judges upon submission.

10. No simultaneous submissions are allowed.

11. Winners will be notified via email by March 1, 2012. All entrants will be notified of the results by March 31, 2012.

12. Employees and affiliates of The Writer, Kalmbach Publishing Co., and Gotham Writers' Workshop are prohibited from entering.

Editors at The Writer will read and judge each of the entries and select 20 semifinalists.

Lee Gutkind, the finalist judge, will select and rank three winners from among the semifinalists. Lee is founder and editor of Creative Nonfiction. He is editor of Best Creative Nonfiction, an annual anthology and author of Keep It Real: Everything You Need to Know About Researching and Writing Creative Nonfiction. The decision of the judges is final.


There you go. You're welcome.

I don't want to reveal too much, because as we all learned in A League of Their Own, a lady reveals nothing. That, and there's no crying in baseball. Except for maybe this year's Texas Rangers (GO CARDS!). Where was I? Oh, yes. To tempt you to outdo me, I shall reveal a tiny portion of my entry. Because I'm a tease like that. I'm pulling up my ankle-length skirt to scandalous mid-thigh heights, to allow you to see my garter of a title, which is:

The Hippocratic Oaf

Let's just say that patients do not look favorably upon vocally misanthropic surgeons when they wake up in the middle of an operation.

My biggest challenge will be trimming it to 1200 words.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Duty is in the Eye of the Beholder

This morning, Genius informed me that I owe him $20.

"I don't think so. I don't OWE you anything."

"Yes you do! You always pay me to download music on my Zune account. It costs $60, and you always pay me $20. Now they're going to take money out of my bank account."

"I don't use it. It was YOUR idea that I pay you."

"How much music have you downloaded?"

"All together...less than ten songs. And that's a bit on the high side."

"Well, you COULD download as much music as you want. That's why I pay for it."

"I don't use it. Because last time I did, you told me that's why I went over on the 'unlimited' internet usage."

"No I didn't."

"You know you did! That was before I found out you'd been connecting to my internet and playing X-Box games! You know you're not supposed to use my internet."

"Well, when I use my phone internet, I can't get calls."

"Too bad, so sad. Get calls OR play games. Now you stay off, since I make you pay the overage. And you did too tell me it was because I downloaded three songs. You said that downloading songs uses up my internet stuff."

"Mom. I'm so sure I said, 'Downloading songs uses up your internet stuff.' STUFF? What is STUFF?"

"You know what I mean. You told me that."

"Well, it doesn't. You could download five thousand songs a month and not go over. Leave out a few songs for searches, that is. Now. When are you going to give me that $20 that you owe me?"

"I don't owe you anything! I gave you life! And more gewgaws and doodads than any kid could want. I don't owe you anything."

"Yes you do. I want my $20. Technically, they're not going to take it until about the 15th, but I want that money to be in my account."

"You already have $100 in that account that I started you with. So what you're saying is that you burned through my $100 as well, and need the money now, plus that $80 I put in yesterday for your November allowance."

"I didn't spend your money. Except for $4.95. But now that's back after the $80 went in."

"You have always been so difficult! Ever since you were a baby, slamming your head into my face, saying, 'Mommy beeb! Mommy beeb!' while your sticky little fingers tried to pry my lips apart in search of blood."

"Oh, Mom. You always bring that up."

"You did it a lot. It was hurtful. Emotionally. I'm surprised you didn't try to claw your way out of the womb with your soft baby-fingernails in an effort to begin the torment sooner."

"Are you going to give the $20 you owe me?"

Friday, November 4, 2011

Backroads Miz Manners Prescribes a Cure

Dear Backroads Miz Manners:

I recently caught my son throwing away his medication. It was a Zyrtec pill he had laid out the night before and forgotten to take. Rather than slip the over-fifty-cents-per-dose pill back in the bottle, he stuffed it deep into the wastebasket while my back was turned. I am not made of money. The boy also takes Nasonex to the tune of $40.00 per month. I will not be able to afford lottery tickets and Sonic sodas if this behavior continues. A stern talking-to merely elicited a shrug of his shoulders. How can I nip this behavior in the bud?

Bud Nipper

Dear Bud,

It depends on the age of the child. A tot might simply need his pill shoved into a spoonful of ice cream or pudding. However, since you say the boy laid out his pill the night before, I am going to assume the offspring is in the upper teen years. Only a teenage boy could set out a pill one minute, then be distracted by a refrigerator, pantry, and cabinet full of midnight snacks just crying out to him: "Eat me! Eat me!"

In dealing with the upper adolescents, a calm dose of reasoning might do the trick. Explain to your spawn that you have entrusted him with his personal health care. You are treating him better than a common cur, in that you do not drop a pill into the back of his throat and hold his muzzle closed until he swallows, perhaps stroking his throat to precipitate the ingestion. 

You allow him to choose the time of his dosage. HE laid out the pill, not you. It's not as if there might be a stigma attached, as Jerry Seinfeld discovered in quizzing his girlfriend on whether her undergarments were 'the panties your mother laid out for you'.

Point out that the boy could suffer worse treatment than a single, small, beveled-edge, rectangular, clear-coated Zyrtec pill once at bedtime. It's not a giant horse-pill of a potassium tablet, or a prenatal vitamin, or with a sandpapery finish, or tasting like that bitter little divider in a pecan that can make you pucker up worse than a truckload of lemons.

These adolescents are well-known for their slacker behavior. One is more often to be found laying face-down in a La-Z-Boy recliner than outside by the creek cutting firewood for the winter. No doubt the wastebasket was a mere three steps from the laid-out pill, while the medicine cabinet was four.

Explain that due solely to the fact that he is your favorite son, you are allowing him a second chance to self-medicate. Any violation in the terms and conditions of already-established dosage instructions may result in a nightly line-up of meds distribution in which you hand him the pill, he swallows, and then opens his mouth wide while lifting his tongue for your inspection, as seen in Girl, Interrupted and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

I am confident that he will hear this message loud and clear.

Backroads Miz Manners

Thursday, November 3, 2011

What is the Job of Nasal Captivity?

I don't know. You tell me. What IS the job of nasal captivity? It was in the top ten searches yesterday that brought people to the great cat-unbagging experiment. One little questions brings thoughts of so many scenarios.

Is there a ring of clandestine nose-capturers on the loose?

Are companies hiring employees to hold their own noses?

Was this an answer for Alex Trebek on yesterday's Jeopardy? (Which reminds me, if I ever start a garage band, I think I'll name it "Yesterday's Jeopardy."

Is, perhaps, the job of nasal captivity to freak out young children in that cruel "Got Your Nose!" game?

Did somebody name a sweet baby Nasal Captivity, and now that child is grown, and sought by debt collectors?

Does an English-as-a-second-languager have 'captivity' and 'cavity' mixed up?

I concede. I cannot crack the code of nasal captivity. Obviously, that's not my job. I didn't even set out to write about it. Nasal captivity caught my eye on the way out of Statsville, en route to Teachers Are Creatively-Stifled City. And we have just crossed into the city limits.

Some days, it just doesn't pay to be a teacher. Not tomorrow, though, because it's teacher payday! But today, for instance. I was handed some great kernels to cultivate for fertile blog posts. But I must let my field lie fallow. In fact, even yesterday's post would likely be frowned upon. Because even though I elaborated upon the problem with my patience level, it could be misconstrued as an attack upon my charges. Which is not the case. Such behavior is the nature of the...adolescent. The pushing of boundaries. The struggle to break free. To become autonomous. Which is necessary to progress to adulthood. I, on the other hand, am a control freak. So sometimes I near my limit of fostering such progress. Then I rant about it, and reset. No harm, no foul. In my opinion.

I really wish I could place these tiny seeds between two damp paper towels and let them germinate. Then set the sprouts in some spongy peat moss and allow them to take root. Help them branch out. But alas, these fledgling flora must wither before they are even on the vine.

I'll leave you with the embryonic ideas. So that you may weep with me at the waste.

*In the telling of a prank involving a hundred pumpkins, somebody confused 'pumpkins' with 'puppies'.

*"The machine ate part of my dollar." (holding bill with the end chewed off)

*A post-septuagenarian breeder of wiener-dogs was fond of flipping over the puppies to show their junk while crowing about their 'credentials'.

*If somebody steals money from your locker, you should keep quiet and not be a snitch. Because everybody knows the thief is the poorest kid in school.

*Boob cracks must be covered, or sent home to air their grievances in private.

*The keystone of the teacher dress code is a collared shirt.

Are you weeping yet? My head is about to explode. I've already divulged too much. But one thing is certain. The first song my garage band will perform is "Teachers With Collars" to the tune of Wynonna Judd's "Girls With Guitars". I'm taking poetic license with the pronunciation of collars. I can do that. As an artist.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

How Do I Lack Patience with Thee? Let Me Count the Ways...

I love my job. And normally I don't slide into a February funk until February. But this week has tried my patience. In the following ways:

For the love of all that is scholarly, please, please, please follow directions! I used to give benefits of doubts. Times have changed. I am rescinding the benefits.

1. Discuss in your own words means that I will no longer pretend that you know what you're talking about when you copy a paragraph out of the book. I will not sample your buffet of knowledge and choose the concept that appeals to me.

2. Write "true" if the statement is true. If false, write the word that will correct the italicized word to make the statement true. See what's going on here? Each blank will contain either the word "true" or another word. Not 'T's and 'F's. Not words and blanks. Not trues and falses, with the italicized word marked through and a phrase written above it or below it. Not trues and falses, with a word or phrase of your choosing marked through, and more words or phrases written above or below them.

3. You are tardy if you are not in your seat when the bell rings. In your seat. Which is inside the classroom. Not in the doorway. Not in the hall just outside the doorway. Not at the drinking fountain. Not in the bathroom. Entering the room, even if you deposit your giant backpack (which includes everything except your textbook) and then leaving again so as not to be in your seat upon the ringing of the bell, does not negate the tardy. It matters not that you had once crossed the threshold. Standing in various places around the room chatting with your friends does not negate the tardy. Because you are not in your seat, you see, and ready to learn.

4. You can have candy until I find your trash in my room means that candy privileges end when I find your trash in my room. Trash includes, but is not limited to: a Smartie, a Sweet Tart, a scrap of M&Ms wrapper, a scrap of Skittles wrapper, and an empty package from a Sonic toy. Since those items were harvested after ONE CLASS this morning, first hour, and set up as an exhibit to explain the new policy, your days lolling about in the land of Milk Duds and Bit-O-Honey have ended. The fact that a later Do-Gooder took it upon himself to pick up the shrine of garbage and move it twelve inches into the wastebasket does not cancel the ban. Though it might have if somebody in the littering class had thought to pick it up from the floor and desks before exiting.

5. Lunch time is my time, not me-and-you time. Just because you were in my class last year, and have passed me four times a day in the hall since school started without speaking, does not entitle you to barge into my empty classroom at the lunch bell to tell me your are planning to build a robot. I commend your effort. But I do not care to discuss it with you during my 20-minute lunch period, thus keeping you from your class, where you belong until it is your lunch time, since your teacher will expect a note from me if you are tardy.

Alas. So many ways. So little time. I'm sure I will make a quick recovery. The days between now and Christmas break will fly by. But I will be counting like a spinning dial on a gas pump come February.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

What's Up, Snacky Cat?

A while back, I voiced my concern about strange goings-on in my classroom. Things were moved just a tad. Pencils and pens rearranged. The mysterious Wite Out/Liquid Paper correction pen switcheroo. A lipstick-blotted tissue in my deskside wastebasket.

This morning, I plopped down behind my command center. I unpacked my bifocals in their green hard case, and my flash drive in its dual, cushy, gray, nylon-and-Velcro holder. I logged on to my desk laptop. Five times. You'd think they could streamline that process, instead of requiring separate entries for laptop, PowerSchool, GradeBook, email, and Gaggle. Especially when some of them time out if not used frequently enough over the course of the day. It's a full-time job, practically, to maintain access to such learning accouterments, all the while trying to implement actual learning. I'm not sold on such a high security clearance. It's not like we're running The Denver Mint.

I glanced at the phone, which thankfully does not demand a password unless I desire to hear a message that some inconsiderate person has left me, not taking into account my aversion to all things tech. And there, by the phone, under that off-white dealybobber that looks like a Wiimote, but fatter, with a cord attached to something computery, was a particle of unknown origin. It looked like some kind of food. I quickly assessed my snack situation. Nope. Nothing that color or shape. The closest would be a crumb off a cinnamon raisin snack bar. And this was no crumb. It had a definite shape. An "X" shape.

I picked up the unidentified newfound object. It looked for all intents and purposes like a tidbit of cat food. Now WHO could be seeding my computer accessory table with cat food? I was flummoxed. Bewildered. Perplexed. I showed it to a colleague in the hall between classes. The one who told me the other business was all in my head. Even she was confused.

During my plan time 2nd hour, I reached for my school bag to find a paper I needed to correct. There, in the bottom of that red Office Max teacher-appreciating red canvas bag with black straps, was the equivalent of a cup of Meow Mix. I'm supposing that my flash drive case picked up a piece and disgorged it when I tossed the flash drive on the table.

The Pony has grown careless in distributing our bribe that keeps Juno on the porch each morning. Perhaps I should carry my own bag to the car.