Unbagging the Cats 1

Unbagging the Cats 1

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Marching On

We are nearly one-twelfth of the way to Christmas! Hope you're making a list of what to get your loved ones.

Time marches on. Not in a goosesteppy way. Nor in an award-winning, knee-lifting, toe-pointing, marching band kind of way. More like kids playing army, chanting, "Hup, twop, threep, fourp!" In an ungraceful, stomping kind of gait. Time.

Last week, we passed our one-hundredth day of school. Meaning only seventy-four left. Teachers do that, you know. Wish their lives away. Counting down to the last day every year, like they can only live fully during their summer break. Still, it's a better deal than regular working people get. I found that out during my five years of employment with the state of Missouri, handling unemployment claims. The trade-off, though, was that from 5:00 p.m. until 8:00 a.m., I did not think about work. It was my own time. No homework. No worries. No planning. Quite liberating, actually. No stress. I could go to the store and not be recognized. I didn't have to live up to some antiquated saintly standard. But the lure of time, time stretching out lazily across June, July, and half of August, drew me back to teaching. That, and the elimination of my job, due to the advent of telephone claim-filing.

Time is a warn piece of Turkish Taffy when you're a kid, stretching on and on. Christmas takes forever to roll around again. Summer vacation is endless. One day you're running through the sprinkler while your grandpa waters the young trees surrounded by tiny metal fences, and the next day you're getting up early, watching The Lone Ranger and Fury, and walking a mile to school with your neighborhood friends. And that's okay. It was time. You didn't even see the new school year looming on the horizon. One day it's still summer, and the next day it's school. No dreading. For everything there is a season.

College rolls on for four years. Or more. It's limbo before starting your real life. Then things speed up. Marriage. Kids. Hopefully in that order. Life is what happens when you're making plans, as Sheryl Crow says. And before you know it, those kids are nearly ready to graduate. Try as you might, you can't put the brakes on now.

And once the kids are out on their own, time slows down again. Days stretch out. Blending one into the next. Time.

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Lengths of Political Correctness

This morning, The Pony and I left home a tad early to arrive at school in time for my duty. But because this is Backroads, we ran abreast of a developing problem.

A bus pulled in front of us from a side street. It passed three houses, then put on its flashers and threw out the stop sign. I had time. But not a lot of it. I watched the small, pink-ensconced girl as her tiny feet pitter-patted down her sidewalk toward the school bus, in that joyous off-to-school gait known only to kindergarteners. Her parents stood on the front porch watching her, grinning from ear to ear.

"C'mon, little differently-abled girl! Let's hop on your differently-abled short bus so we can get rolling."

The Pony stopped reading in the seat behind me. I caught his glance in the rearview mirror. "Mom. You can't say that. It's not politically correct."

"What? I didn't say anything wrong."

"You can't call it a short bus, Mom. It's a length-challenged bus."

I stand corrected.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Life on the V-List: Ancient Student Archetypes

Welcome to a new feature here at Unbagging the Cats. It's all about lists. It's all about something easy for Val to post when her artesian well of creativity is beset with a low water table.

Today's list is not about ancient students. No septuagenarian college freshmen here. It's about ancient archetypes from Val's childhood school days. You know. Back in the days of transistor radios and polyester stirrup pants and plastic headbands and blue, cloth-covered three- ring binders and black Converse low-tops and duck-and-cover air raid drills.

Every classroom was required to have the following archetypes:

1. The Judy Hensler-that kid, usually a girl, who constantly informed the teacher of goings-on that the rest of the students would rather she remained ignorant of. "Billy pulled Susie's hair in the cloakroom when we were putting on our galoshes."

2. The Cool Dude-that boy every guy wanted to be, and every girl wanted a note from. In my class, it was Wes. He wasn't a genius, wasn't wealthy, wasn't particularly good-looking, wasn't a bad boy, and wasn't a goody-goody. But he had a certain je ne sais quoi that made him popular.

3. The Volunteer-"Can I go out and clap the erasers? I'll get some wet paper towels and clean the board for you. Don't worry about us while you're gone--I'll take the names of anybody who talks. Can I write them on the board? Do you need someone to pass out the workbooks? I'll go get the crate of milks for afternoon snack."

4. The Outcast-a quiet kid who never reacted to insults, or made any effort to befriend other quiet kids. Never made any waves at all, frankly. Not even to raise a hand to go to the bathroom, instead tinkling inconspicuously while seated at her wooden flip-top metal desk, until The Judy Hensler informed the teacher. The Outcast's name was most often followed by a chorus of, "Ew. I wouldn't touch her with a ten-foot pole."

5. The Outlaw, Male Version-a breaker of rules, most often sneaky in creating mayhem. Been finding crumbled balls of pink powdered soap on the floor? He's your man. Check inside his desk, in the pencil tray. There's whole row of future ammunition lined up next to his Ticonderoga #2. The kid who would grab his jockstrap out of his black vinyl zip-top gym bag and put it over a girl's head during indoor lunch recess on a rainy day, while the teacher stood just outside the door, chatting with the teacher across the hall.

6. The Outlaw, Female Version-a mouthy backtalker, not at all sneaky, who made her displeasure known to everyone within a six-classroom radius. We were fortunate enough to have two. Of course they were sworn mortal enemies, who entertained us with daily arguments and fistfights twice a year. Bev, the alpha outlaw, once made the teacher so mad that she stomped over to Bev's desk (front row, first desk, naturally) and grabbed her by the hair, at which time she attempted to drag Bev out of the desk to the principal's office, but Bev's knees kept bouncing up against the bottom of the desk when she was lifted by her hair. Our teachers didn't take no guff! That's a fact, Jack!

7. The Sweet Girl-loved by all, protected by all, friends with everyone, unaware of her inner beauty. And unaware of most other things as well.

8. The Boy Genius-good at math, good at science, sometimes seen using a magnifying glass to focus sunlight into a smoldering black spot on the front of his blue cloth three-ring binder. (He had the good sense to stop when The Judy Hensler asked, "Do I smell something burning?") Sometimes seen in a chair in the principal's office with his coat over his head, unable to face the cold, cruel world.

9. The Girl Genius-competitive, somewhat snippy, looked down her nose at the vast sea of immaturity that surrounded her daily, yet thrilled when Wes the Cool Dude called her at home to see if she wanted to go to a movie. Lived for Stanford-Binet Achievement Test season.

10. The Socially Inept-the giggly boy who brought his lunch in a brown bag and eschewed rough-and-tumble playground games. The spacey girl who came to school with the back of her dress completely unzipped. They were not disliked, but not included in classroom cliques. Their overtures of friendliness were well-received if they initiated them. Which did not happen often, because, well, they were socially inept.

C'mon. You know you had these student archetypes. Maybe you had more, depending on whether you attended elementary school somewhere besides Backroads, Missouri.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Backroads Miz Manners Soothes a Savage

Dear Backroads Miz Manners,

This afternoon I was enraged to find cars parked at the end of a row of parking slots, completely blocking the exit route. At the other end of the lot, the main entrance, cars were also creating new spaces at the end of the row. What is with these people? Do they think nobody notices that they are not within the lines? There is even a city police station in this plaza, right by the entrance. What can I do to stop this illegal practice?

Hopping Mad in Suburbia

Dear Hoppy,

Are you sure this parking style is illegal in your burb? Would a police officer knowingly allow scofflaws to scoff at his laws? Would a cat let a mouse run across his paws? Would a sexist egotistical lying hypocritical bigot let Doralee Rhodes change him from a rooster to a hen with one shot? But enough questions from me.

What can you do? Well, Hopping Mad, you can slam on your brakes, jump out of your car, and start hopping and pointing at the offenders. Perhaps you could scream, until spittle sprang from the corners of your mouth, that parking in a non-parking space is just not fair! When you tire of hopping, you can stamp your dainty foot. But while this may be an intense aerobic workout, it is unlikely to garner the favorable results you so desire. Namely, strapping the driver to a Hannibal Lecter dolly, complete with straitjacket and hockey face mask, and wheeling her to the local maximum security prison three miles down the road, where, upon admittance, you will throw away the key.

Let's try to get inside the demented mind of a row-extender. She is special. No need to drive around seeking another space when plenty of room abounds right there at the end of the row. There's no No Parking sign. No handicapped logo. Nothing to give an inkling that her car might be towed for violating a parking rule. She would be daft, really, to let such an empty area go to waste. And if somebody should challenger her on her automobile placement, she can simply explain that she thought it was a space, because those parking lines are kind of faded.

Yes, dear Hoppy, the world is full of clingers. They will stick to the ends of parking rows like fuzzballs stick to a cheap sweater. Like the wrong toilet paper sticks to a cartoon commercial baby bear's butt. Like white cat hairs on black dress slacks. Like popped Bazooka bubbles in a young girl's bangs. Like fresh asphalt on a white car's rocker panels. And you cannot do anything about them.

Save your rage for something you can change, dear. Like tailgaters. I hear that brake-checking is surprisingly effective.

Backroads Miz Manners

Friday, January 27, 2012

A Delicate Malfunction of Inhuman Proportions

There's a big robot competition tomorrow in Cape Girardeau. Not for large robots. The competition is what's big.

Genius and his fellow Robot Boys have been traveling the county, garnering donations and demonstrating their metal dude to elementary and middle school students. They ran into some trouble this morning at the middle school, when their creation would not animate.

In explaining the debacle to another teacher, one Robot Boy said, "We had a real problem. His nut fell off and rolled across the floor." Which sounds doubly horrifying when described in those terms.

I'm hoping they can rebuild him, like Steve Austin. They have the technology. But lack the six million dollars. In spite of the donations.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Val, Your Go-To Gal

It seems like only yesterday that I was gloating about my two whole snow days this year, while complaining about my lack of snow days. For those of you whose Old Mother Hubbard of a school calendar has gone to the cupboard and found it completely devoid of snow days, my apologies. I'm not doing the Eddie Murphy ice cream dance. Really.

Some of you may practice my tactic of sitting around moaning about your bad snow day luck. But one of our own has taken the initiative. A regular pro-active professional educator is she. Sioux is making the choice to go out and grab herself some snow day gusto. Because you only go round once in life. I wouldn't be surprised if she wasn't also rubbing a hole in that National Enquirer Lucky Blue Dot.

But surer than even the Blue Dot is Val, Your Go-To Gal for Obscure Getting-Out-of School Tactics. Sioux has come to the right place. Namely, the comments of yesterday's post. She requested advice for a dance to bribe the snow gods. Because I could not do the topic justice in that cold, antiseptic vacuum of a pop-up comment forum, I'm putting it here for all to see.

The Snow Dance. You must remember that the snow gods are showered with a plethora of offerings every year at this time. Promises to catch up on work, catch up on sleep, finish that Great American Novel, be nicer to the students, be tougher on the students, never "forget" another duty, plan lessons more thoroughly, draw up some new seating charts, stop wasting plan time with gossipfests, bring a healthy lunch instead of eating cafeteria food, you name it, they've heard it. The snow gods take a back seat only to New Year's Day for hearing empty promises.

What do you give a snow god who has everything? I think an original interpretive dance is in order. I can't give concrete details. No Arthur Murray footprints on the floor. Each dance should be unique to the dancer. For Sioux, I recommend incorporating the following: full moon, broke-down Crocs, a string of Christmas lights, and her hair, freshly shampooed in a school bathroom sink. Nothing else. Don't upset the snow gods. And don't upset the neighbors. Early morning hours might be appropriate.

Look for other Getting-Out-of-School Tactics in the future. Maybe. As the mood strikes Val, Your Go-To Gal. And feel free to ask for her methods to solve other obscure problems.

Please do not confuse Val, Your Go-To Gal with Backroads Miz Manners. One gives instructions, the other gives questionable advice. If you don't know the difference, stay on the porch, out of the way of the big dogs.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Sunny Outlook Wearing Thin. Stop.

Since mid-November, hope has sprung eternal in my human breast. Hope for that high-demand teacher-catnip, the ever-elusive snow day.

Have I been rewarded? I think not. I sent my hope springing, like a hopped-up springbok across the sands of the Kalahari, seeking some respite from routine. But unlike the mighty pronking springbok, my hope has withered, unrequited. Two meager snow days. The sole reward for my fountain of hope.

We are rushing at the speed of fifty-degree January sunlight toward the midpoint of winter. And what could Mr. Punxsutawney Phil possibly have to tell us next week? That we will have six more weeks of winter? Ooh! Don't scare me now, Mr. Phil, with that threat of balmy, mild days. Perhaps he will predict an early spring. If so, perhaps he can delineate the difference between winter weather and spring weather.

Because I seem to have forgotten.

It's now or never, Winter. Poo or get off the poo receptacle.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Curious Design Choices of a Not-Woman

Hick is not a woman. I suppose that kind of goes without saying. But I am making a point here.

As a not-woman, Hick fails to see a problem with closing the door to the walk-in closet in the master bathroom. He must be going through a mid-life crisis. He never closed the closet door before, in all the fourteen years we have dwelt in the House That Hick Built. Now he seals that sucker tighter than  a pressurized submarine portal. For reasons that Mystery, Inc., with the help of Velma's entire family of Mensa-recruits, could not ascertain.

Maybe Hick does not like the gaping dark orifice behind him in the mirror as he readies himself for work at 5:30 a.m. Perhaps he's had a bad experience chanting "Bloody Mary" three times while gazing into that mirror. Or...he might just want to accentuate the recently-stained frame around the door by putting an actual door in the middle of it.

As a woman, I have grown used to years of easy access to my clothes. After showering, I simply walk into my walk-in closet and grab a stunning outfit, (perhaps velvet, as once suggested by George Costanza), to drape myself in for a day of educating the citizens of tomorrow. Now I find my easy access blocked. Blocked like YouTube on a public school computer network. Simply elbowing the door does not make it open. But it does give me an elbow abrasion. To avoid injury, I must turn the door handle to gain entrance.

Notice I said, "Handle." Not doorknob. Because the one thing you want throughout the new house when you are moving in with a three-year-old and an about-to-be-born baby is a classy French door handle lever thingy instead of a round, turny doorknob. Why not? You know that your children will be refined art-lovers, simply ecstatic that their rustic cedar home contains French door levers, and will never, ever, yank on those handles repeatedly, like a parched drifter jacking the handle at the town water pump, or a hobo racing a hand cart down the tracks, until the insides of the French door levers hoist a white flag and retire, forever, from latching doors. And of course, your classy French door levers would never poke a toddler in the eye, or snag sleeves or hoods or backpack straps as an innocent victim walked by.

I suppose I could ask Hick why he closes the closet door now. But it's much more satisfying to fling it open and leave it, like we did in the salad days.

Monday, January 23, 2012

What Would Bear Grylls Do?

Whee doggies! That duty this morning was a bit bone-chilling. Silly me! I took the weatherman's word that winds were out of the west. That, to me, meant the building would block the wind. I can weather the cold with my Berber hooded coat when the winds are calm.

Can you believe the wind was actually out of the south? And whipping at times from the east, at 39 mph? That, and the actual temperature of 38 degrees, made me a mite uncomfortable. So to pass the time, I pretended that I was Bear Grylls.

Okay, not the actual Bear Grylls, because that would mean that I had to parachute out of a plane and drop into the parking lot. And I'm never going to jump out of a plane. But I did take note of my surroundings, and picked where I would bed down for the night. It was in the concrete retaining wall alcove by the locker room doors. Oh, perhaps I could have jimmied the door open to spend a comfy night inside with heat from the furnace. But that's not what Bear would do. No sirree Bob! Bear wouldn't go inside if the door was propped open with a big ol' "Welcome! Bear Grylls! Come on in!" sign painted on it.

Since concrete can sap the body heat right out of my ample body, I decided that I would break some branches off the spindly trees growing in the rock beds dividing the student lot from the teacher parking area. No leaves this time of year. But I could gather some dead weeds down by the pond. It's not so much a pond as it is a sewer lagoon. But it's water! We'll get back to that. Right now, we're gathering the dead weeds to put under and over the branches for my bed, in case my layers of fat are not cushy enough for comfort.

Since I need water, and Bear has mentally shamed me into refusing to dart inside the building to the water fountain, I will use my shoe to dip some water from the lagoon. To boil it, I will find that old snapping turtle that accosted me on my end of the parking lot a few years ago, and yank that shell off his back. Sure, it won't sit level with those spine ridges, but I can balance it on some uneven limbs. And Mr. Snapper, all slim without his shell, can be the main course. All I have to do is put him back IN his shell after dipping some more water from the lagoon with my shoe. That's gonna be one tasty beverage I'm brewing.

Alas, I do not carry a lighter. Do you think it would be cheating if I knocked on the locker room door and asked to borrow one from a student? I don't. And if I'm still peckish after my meal of snapping turtle, I can use my shoestring and a paper clip to fish in the lagoon. There's fish in there. And not just brown trout. Plenty of locals dip a pole in there. Which reminds me. To pass the time, I can sing a little ditty over and over.

"You get a line and I'll get a pole, Honey. You get a line and I'll get a pole, Babe. You get a line and I'll get a pole, we'll go down to that crawdad hole. Honey, Baaaby, mine."

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Arrival of Mr. Shocky is Imminent

I was going to treat you to some pictures of my not-so-little rescue dog, Juno. However...Juno does not like to sit for a portrait. Or a quick snap of a cell phone camera. She is a flibbertygibbet, a will-o-the-wisp, a clown. Oh. Sorry. That would be Maria, in The Sound of Music. Juno is just a half-grown pup, living life to the fullest, now that she is not starving or without a home.

To take that dog's picture, The Pony and I double-teamed her. First, we tossed out a couple of loaves of bread to the chickens. Chickens love bread. Chickens love to leisurely peck at bread in the front yard. A front yard bereft of half-grown, energetic pups. Juno, on the other hand, loves bread that is being pecked at by chickens that will squawk and scatter when she runs at them full-speed. She really needs a vocation. I could see her as an award-winning Frisbee catcher. Or herding sheep. I don't know what the non-Lab half of her is, but it's some breed that is highly active and wiry and springy.

The Pony took my phone into the yard to try for a couple of photos. Juno was here and there and everywhere. I sent The Pony to the goat pen with more bread. They were voicing their dismay at being excluded from the stale bread festivities. I stood on the porch to take a picture. Funny thing. Every time I had her in focus, and snapped, Juno appeared up on the porch at my feet. The photo was a landscape, not a dog snapshot. Then there was the incident when she rushed me and knocked the phone from my hand. Which earned her a swat. Not that she noticed. She is unpunishable. No tough love for our Juno. She does not know she's in trouble. I've never seen a dog so smart, yet so oblivious to a human's displeasure. Even her recent hysterectomy and prescribed painkillers did not slow her down. One. Whit.

Our little girl needs finishing school. Or at the very least, some type of obedience training. Hick is not pleased with the chicken-chasing. Even though Juno has yet to bite one, he believes it is just a matter of time until her nose-to-chicken-butt poking routine evolves to murder. His fowl are feathered bundles of nerves. They have not laid an egg in nigh on a month. Of course, their production slows down in the winter. But Hick is ready to let Juno go a round or two with the shock collar. It worked on our black shepherd, Ann, who had a fowl tooth. As in, she killed several of Hick's hens right after he got them. Two of the roosters survived, one by playing dead, and the other by losing his tail feathers. One session with Mr. Shocky was all it took for Ann. And she was unharmed. Now she can walk through the flock without casting a sideways glance.

Some will think it cruel, but Juno may have to learn the hard way as well. Voice commands do not work. Rolled up magazine swattings do not work. Genius popping her with a pellet gun does not work. It is too cold, and she's too fast, to squirt her with a SuperSoaker. And I refuse to let her live life on a chain. No matter what we try, Juno chases those chickens until she's good and ready to stop, or they all run into the woods. Then she comes galloping back to us, all squirmy, with loving doggy kisses. Which is not the time for negative reinforcement, as the deed has already been done.

There are no dog whisperers in Backroads.

Here is a rare moment captured in time. Juno has a shank of some dead animal. It's one of many in her collection. Her collection that is displayed on the back porch, by the kitchen door. It's a virtual Louvre of animal skeletons.

Every now and then, Ann the shepherd tolerates Juno before dashing away to more tranquil arenas. The pictures, alas are the only ones that could capture a glimpse of the elusive Juno. And so, the quality is severely lacking. What we need is Genius with his fancy schmancy high-speed camera whatchamacallit that can illustrate the gases shooting out from a match strike.

If Juno would just slow down to match-strike speed.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Hopefully, Nobody Wants to Frame Me

I hope a CSI team never inspects my home. Not that I have a crime to hide, of course. But I fear circumstantial evidence.

Did you ever see the TV movie "In a Child's Name", with Valerie Bertinelli and Christopher Meloni trying to get custody of Valerie's dead sister's baby? Sis was dispatched by her husband, one mean, shady Michael Ontkean, who smashed her skull with his workout weights. You don't actually see the murder. Just the evidence. To wit, Mean Mike's folks come to morally support him, and sleep in his home. As Louise Fletcher and her lesser-known TV-movie husband are tucking in for the night, they kill the lights, and the entire freaking room glows from the blood-finding chemical the cops sprayed around on the taxpayers' dime. I still get chills when I think about that glow. All over the floor, the walls, the ceiling. Even Louise was ready to lock up Mean Mike and throw away the key, as long as she could get custody of that baby.

My house would glow.

Twenty minutes before noon, when he should have been getting ready to leave for his bowling league, Genius sidled up behind me. "Look at this." That's not unusual. It happens five or six times a day. Usually he wants to show me a photo he's taken, or some new gadget that he simply must have, at that very moment, with a promise to pay me in installments until his next high-paying consulting job. But today was different.

"What? I don't have my glasses on."

"Now don't get excited. It's going to bleed a lot when I take the paper towel off."

"Was it another Horrifying X-Acto Knife Accident?"

"No. I just sliced my thumb on a piece of metal. I was taking out the fried hard drive to put in my new one."

"How deep is that? Wait! Don't pull it apart!"

"Pretty deep. About halfway through."

"I once sliced my thumb right there on the joint, down to the shiny white cartilage, trying to open a cassette tape case. It bled a lot. But it healed. No stitches. I can take you to Urgent Care. I think they can sew people up. But they're going to jam a painkilling needle all around it."

"I know. That makes it hurt more to think about it."

"PONY! Go to the barn and get Dad. Tell him Genius cut his thumb. It's not an emergency. We just need his advice." The Pony ran like the wind. Hick strolled over to the house at his leisure.

"Naw. That'll heal. SuperGlue it, and you can bowl, too. I've SuperGlued my fingers many a time. And they're fine."

"But it's his right hand. He could be affected for life."

"Mom. I'm left-handed."

"Oh. But you bowl right-handed."

"I'm not going bowling today. I'll just stick a Band-Aid on it. I'm not using that liquid skin stuff that Dad used last time. It said it expired in 2004."

Genius bandaged his wound and took off for Grandma's house to soak up high-speed internet. I put his injury out of my mind until I went to grab a paper towel. The next one was marked with the blood of Genius. I have a feeling his room might also have samples of his blood, after today and the X-Acto incident last year.

Then there's the infamous kitchen gymnastics routine when he was in elementary school. Thank goodness The Pony is a proper tattletale. "Um. Mom? I think Genius hurt himself. His hands are full of blood." I would have preferred that he stayed in the kitchen rather than traipse over the carpet. Did you know that when teeth slice through a bottom lip, stitches are not needed unless the cut goes through the lip border? It's true. That thing will heal up on its own. But beware the bubbles and water that leak out of it when the walking wounded tries to drink.

The Pony knows how much mouth wounds bleed. He smashed his on a Little Tikes car. Only a popsicle would stop the screaming. And the bleeding. That time he split his head open on the newel post thanks to Genius letting him win a game of tug-of-war with a bathrobe belt, he had the good sense to roll up like a burrito in a Scooby Doo sleeping bag. So there was just a minimal trail to his room. And he's outgrown that mattress.

We're all glad that when Genius busted his eyebrow wide open in a T-shaped gash at basketball practice, the fountain flowed on the gym floor, in the locker room, up the stairs, and in my classroom. Because we didn't need any more evidence soaking into the carpet at home.

Life. It's as messy as TV death.

Friday, January 20, 2012

What, Exactly, Is My Problem?

I think I have a fear of success.

Many a time, I've had the most scathingly brilliant idea for a submission, to various venues. But rather than nurture those tender seeds in a Styrofoam cup of potting soil on the sunny kitchen table, I let them wither on the vine. Heck. I don't even water them. I'm surprised I'm not kept awake at night by those parched seedlings screaming, "WATER...water...water...for the love of all that is photosynthetic, please give us just a smidgen of water!"

Yet I turn a deaf ear. Retreat to the basement to my recliner, where their pitiful voices grow fainter. Because I don't want people to know that I'm raising scathingly brilliant flora in my breakfast nook. That would be too painful. What if somebody who knows me happened upon one of my crops? I would simply die of embarrassment. Better to kill my produce than risk its consumption by my colleagues.

"Well, Val," you all say. "That's a bit egotistical of you, now isn't it? What makes you think you are such hot stuff that people can't reject your writing? You sound like a gal who would think every man and woman who shops at Save A Lot wants to pick her up."

Point well taken, y'all. That's the valedictorian in me projecting.

Seriously. The quarterly magazine for my state teaching association has had a column for the past year or two that is open to stories from teachers. Go figure. Not an educational kind of column, written by writerly writers in an effort to inform. A column for tales of what teachers like to do after hours. Touching stories about students. Okay. Strike that. Touching, and students should not appear in the same sentence these days. But I think you get my drift. A column for teachers, written by teachers, about their teacherly lives.

I had a really kick-butt column. It's still on my hard drive. But I never sent it. Because I did not want the notoriety if it was published. And I think it might have been. Because some of the columns were not compelling enough for me. Or they had grammatical errors and punctuation faux pas. Not a great advertisement for teachers. I was surprised that nobody spiffed them up before publication. Wacky mechanics aside, I think my writing could have held a candle to some of those stories. Held a candle to them until they went up in flames. Not that I'm criticizing. Because those writers had the guts to submit. And were published.

I think I've got a creative screw loose. And narcissistic tendencies.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Robots and Sharp Tools and Mummies.

Genius (the boy, not the cat) was allowed to leave school after lunch to travel the county seeking sponsors for the school robot team. Because he was taking along two team members, he needed a bigger vehicle than his Ford Ranger club cab. Apparently, the other boys did not know that Genius had finagled his father's Chrysler Pacifica for the day. Not that it's such a grand car. It's old and we bought it used for the express purpose of beating it to scrap on the highway six days a week. But it IS very roomy on the inside.

The Robot Crew was overheard in the hallway before lunch. "I call passenger seat. You're going to have to ride in the back." (Surely you didn't expect him to call "shotgun". It's the ROBOT Crew. Try to keep up.)

"I guess I'll fit. I'm thin." Said the six-foot sophomore. So it was a bit of an empty threat. These fellas need to work on their intimidation techniques.

Some of the guys saw Genius pull into his assigned slot on the student parking lot this morning. "That's a mom car." Genius laughed. He knew his other option was the $1000 Caravan. Without a speedometer. When he related the tale, I asked if he had informed them that it was a DAD car. Nope. I guess a 17-year-old boy can only take so much embarrassment in one day.

As we left the driveway this morning, I told The Pony I was worried that Genius would forget to open the garage door before backing out. He's used to parking beside the garage. And he's kind of an absent-mined professor about practical everyday life. "Sometimes he's not the sharpest tool in the shed."

The Pony agreed. He put his own spin on it. "He's a few mummies short of a tomb." Perhaps I haven't mentioned that The Pony's vocational dream is to be an Egyptian archaeologist.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Who Let the Cat In?

This is not a cat blog. Seriously. We have five of the critters, but only two were planned. The other three were surprises.

When the boys were in grade school, I met the first cat I didn't dislike. It found us. She was a half-grown calico who simply appeared on our porch one September. As I walked from the garage to the porch, the boys spied her. "Look! A cat!" They're both geniuses, my boys.

I stopped on the sidewalk, the cat waist-high on that part of the porch that serves as a breezeway between the garage and the house. That kitty looked at me for five seconds, then scampered up my shoulder and onto my head. The top of my head. Where she sat, her tail handing down, looking much like a kitschy kitchen clock. That became her pattern. She liked me best. She only sat on my head.

Sadly, Kitty was not with us very long. Hick threw a Halloween hayride and bonfire for his work colleagues and their families. Two teenage girls took a liking to Kitty. You know kids these days. They are quite forward. "Can we have this cat?"

"No. It's our cat."

"Are you sure you want to keep it? We really like it."

"Yes. We want to keep our cat."

That was a Friday night. Saturday was the last day we saw Kitty. It could be coincidence. Perhaps Kitty was a rambler. A feline hobo. A wanderlust. But more likely, those girls came back and kitnapped her. It was a conspiracy of epic proportions.

Catless, the boys went about their lives. They didn't much seem to mind that Kitty was gone. But my head was cold and lonely. When a teacher at the end of my hall said she had two litters that she needed to get rid of, and wouldn't my boys love to have a kitten...I said yes. I won't prolong the point with all the details. But we took two kittens. And a year later, we adopted three that were dumped at the end of our road.

Today, one of the original cats was bound and determined to come in from the cold. He belongs to Genius, who just so happened to name his kitten before we could even bring him home. Upon their first meeting, Genius proclaimed, "I'm going to call him Genius. Because he's so smart. He picked me. Even when I put him back in the box, he climbs out and crawls up my leg."

Genius the Cat is an orange tiger-striped fellow. Why he wanted to come in from the cold, I'll never know. He weighs twelve pounds. A regular Garfield is he. The vet even told us, "That cat is overweight." When he jumps off the porch, he lets out an umph of air. In the summer, he's svelte. A sleek hunter. But in the winter, he bulks up to withstand the elements. He's always been a sly devil. At one time, he would stand on his hind legs and try to turn the kitchen doorknob with his front paws. Unsuccessfully.

Hick and The Pony had planned a trip to Lowe's this evening. Hick opened the door, and Genius the Cat darted in. Hick didn't know that Genius had already come in once when The Pony and I arrived home. The Pony ran after him that time, and caught him in my bedroom. Which is unusual, because Genius the Cat most often darts down to the basement, the better to get lost and prolong the search.

I could see the event unfold. Hick gaped in slow-motion as Genius the Cat slithered past his ankle and through the six-inch gap of the closing door. Hick snapped out of it. "Get the cat! He's in!" Like that's an emergency. A cat cannot be rushed. You shall catch no cat before his time. It would be easier to buy some inadequately-aged wine from Ernest and Julio Gallo. A cat will surrender when he feels like it.

Boy Genius took on the task this time. He followed Genius the Cat to the master bedroom and snuggled him up on his chest. "No, Genius. Not in the house." In the kitchen, Hick reached for the cat. Now that was a sight to behold. There is no love lost between these two. Their relationship is cordial at best. Many a morning I've heard a caterwaul followed by, "Stupid cat!" as Hick stepped on the tail of Genius as he stepped out the door on the way to work.

When Hick took Genius in his arms, it looked like a man trying to wrestle an octopus. Genius dug his claws into Hick's right shoulder. Hick didn't flinch. He's tough like that. But his eyes were buggy. He squeezed Genius about his midsection. Genius's tail stuck straight out, hairs on end, like that of a cartoon cat in the midst of chewing an electrical cord. His eyes, too, bugged out. Hick turned and risked mayhem by taking one hand off of Genius to open the door. To make up for it, he squeezed him tighter. Genius gave me a look like that dude Paul, part of the volcano-studying team, trapped on the bridge in the middle of Dante's Peak, the movie. The dude who goes into the drink as the rush of water from the broken dam takes out the bridge.

Hick shouted for The Pony to get out there. He slammed the door just before Genius the Cat made his way back in. Last I saw, Genius was perched on top of Juno's house, gazing at the kitchen door.

I might give up my script for The Unrested in favor of Rise of Planet of the Felines.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Val Takes on the Movie Business

I'm starting a new subgenre of horror movie. No more walking undead for me. Get comfortable on your couch. Make sure you have a blanket to hide under during the unbearably scary parts. You might even want to leave the lights on. And make sure you heed the warning before the opening credits: If you are pregnant, have pain or injuries in your back or neck, or have a heart condition, you should not watch this movie. Okay. Everybody set? Got the popcorn and SnoCaps and Diet Coke within reach? Let's roll it.


A woman lolls in a cheap blue recliner in front of a big-screen TV in a dark basement. Her mouth sags open. A hideous sound emanates from her nasal cavities. The plain, school-issue-looking clock on the wall shows 12:50. The woman startles awake. She sees a local chief meteorologist on the big screen, crying gloom and doom about a wave of severe thunderstorms. "Hmm...I think I'll just stay up a few more minutes and see I'm going to die tonight."

The clock strikes four. No. It's a cheap clock. The big hand moves to the twelve, while the little hand stays on four. "Gosh! I need to get to bed. I have to get up in fifty minutes." The woman shuffles upstairs. As she rounds the newel post, objects crash on the children's end of the house. She slides her feet along the carpet, hair on the back of her neck on end. An unkind person might say her hackles are up. In the dim light of the 25-watt bulbs her husband insists on using, both boys lay sleeping. Nothing is out of place. The bathroom gives up no secrets.

The woman dresses for bed. Where she remains awake until 4:35, thoughts of tornadoes and night bumpings dancing in her head. At the alarm, she rises to begin her day. Unrested.

Objects slip through her fingers with ruthless abandon. If she was Rooster Cogburn's son, Horace, she might have broke forty cup. At work, a colleague asks if she's okay. "You really don't look good." She muddles on. 

A discussion ensues with the class that wishes for a society with no rules. "How come you say there is no smoking on school property, yet we see a million cigarette butts out back?"

"Well. It's probably from adults going outside to smoke during basketball games."

"Then you can't say there is no smoking on school grounds."

"I can say anything I want. The fact that people smoke when they shouldn't does not change the rule. What do you think will happen, the police will show up to arrest the smokers?"

"I don't know. But you can't say there's a law against smoking on school property."

"There's a law against driving without a driver's license. But you sit here and talk about driving. And you don't have your license. Does that mean the law does not exist? I think not."

With order restored, the woman abandons the sandwich she brought for lunch, and repasts on hard-as-a-rock grilled cheese, and mini ravioli. The day goes downhill from there. She bandies words over the difference between a mouse in a Big Mac bun bag, as opposed to a rat. Which requires pictorial evidence of the Foot Locker rat in the Bronx, a capybara, and a nutria. In a totally unrelated incident in a later class, she is asked if she would like to see "my skink's tongue." Well of course. For the record, the skink's tongue is navy blue. In contrast to the orange babyfood it is lapping up. The woman's day is capped off with a horrendous cartwheeling near-face-plant after stubbing her toe on the leg of a wayward chair that a student insists on shoving into the main back-of-the-room thoroughfare.

After sleepdriving home like Clark Griswold in the Family Truckster after crossing from Illinois into Missouri, but without causing a pedestrian to yank a little fluffy dog to safety with its leash, the woman whips up some sustenance for her family, and retires to her office to write a script for her new horror subgenre: The Unrested.

Monday, January 16, 2012

A Mindboggling Act of Staggering Stupidity

I see shadow people.

Not in the paranormal sense. None of that nonsense for me. So any of you shadow people looking over my shoulder as I type this, BEGONE! I've got no interest in you today. Nor any other day. That headless man I saw by the TV was enough for me. And he was no shadow. He was the real deal. So you amateurs find somebody else to impress.

I'm talking about roadwalkers. Not streetwalkers. We don't have them here in Backroads. They would wear their feet bloody, traipsing about our sprawling little metropolis. Nope. They do their business out of their homes. One was caught a couple of months ago. She had over a hundred clients. Allegedly. Because when her picture was put in the paper, people said, "Wait a minute! SHE had over a hundred customers? Were they blind?" No offense to any blind folks who might be reading this. But that gal was not at all attractive. She was downright scary. Though I suppose her customers were not really paying all that much attention to her face.

Getting back to my shadow people...I saw three of them on Saturday. People who walk in the roadway while wearing black clothing. What's up with that? Death wish? Black is slimming? Doesn't show stains? Warmer because it absorbs the sun's radiation better than light colored clothing? Goth statement?

At 6:30 a.m., two-lane curvy blacktop is not where you want to be wearing black jeans and a black hoodie. Even if you are walking in the lane of oncoming traffic. For cryin' out loud, get yourself a flashlight or an orange cap already! Why would anybody be walking at that hour? On the way to work, maybe? Then you have enough money to spend a dollar on illumination. Or turn around and go the other way, because there's a thrift store that would probably GIVE you such items if you explain that you're low on funds and can't curb your desire to walk in the road just before dawn.

The first shadow person startled me into jerking the steering wheel. Even though he was not in my lane. He was going up a hill, with his back to me. As I crested that hill, I saw the lights of an oncoming vehicle. I flashed my brights as a warning. At the very least, fear of a speeding ticket might make that driver slow down and be more alert for a couple of miles.

The second shadow person was closer to town, having just walked over a rickety one-and-a-half-lane bridge. I shudder to think what might have happened if two cars tried to cross over that bridge before seeing the shadow person. There's nowhere to go except up the iron railings. And a car isn't going to do that.

Shadow person number three was observed on my return trip, walking toward town with his back to traffic. Again, in the road, on a hill, just begging to be mowed down before the driver even knew what he hit.

This situation is crying for a public service announcement. Road Walkers Wear White at Night.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

A Big Heads Up

I am much relieved that the Russian space probe, Phobos-Ground, has made its grand exit from the sky. No matter how you spell it, in Russian or in English, Fobos-Grunt literally means fear of ground. Uh huh. I guess in this case, not so much. Because it came crashing down on terra firma this afternoon, reuniting with the ground like hillbilly kissin' cousins reuniting out behind the barn while the adults whittle and smoke their corncob pipes on the front porch of Granny's cabin.

Now I can stop obsessing about that hunk of cosmic junk falling from above, possibly denting my noggin, and get back to worrying about all the other stuff that could come hurtling down to hurt me. Including, but not limited to:

*that blob of airline poo that Joe Dirt named "Meteor" and used as a surface to hold the ketchup he swiped his french fries through

*Wile E. Coyote discovering that yet another ACME product did not live up to its hype

*a globe tossed by Harry Connick Jr. off the roof of a frat house, but not caught by Fred the Genius in Little Man Tate

*a large flock of dead birds mistaking Missouri for Arkansas

*a hail of rocks when Carrie White is upset

*a penny tossed from the top of the Empire State Building toward the west, by a person with a really, really good arm

*a tarpon, Asian carp, sturgeon, shark, dolphin, or other liquid-dwelling creature that objects to the passage of my boat through their waters

*a wasp nest when I'm distributing canned death around the perimeter of my porch

*free-range organic fertilizer when I'm walking under the giant cedar our chickens prefer for roosting

*Maxwell, the Geico wee wee wee pig, in the event of a zip-line malfunction

*the "sky" that loudmouth Chicken Little keeps harping about

*slow drips of blood from the bunk above me at Camp Crystal Lake

*a roasted marshmallow flung by Dennis the Menace

*a rock wielded by Tom Chaney as I am trying to rescue Mattie Ross from a snakepit

*pieces of worm and hook while fishing beside an inexperienced angler

*bars of soap in pillowcases while I'm trying to sleep in my barracks bunk in Full Metal Jacket

*a cannonball fired by the MythBusters crew

How about you? Any incoming cephalo- phobias? Things you fear might crash into your cranium? Do tell.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Witch Gave Me One Fork

I've a good mind to put the local Hardee's out of business. You know I can. Why don't you just ask 7-Eleven and Sonic, huh?

Saturday. Hick had to work until noon. The Pony missed spending the night with his grandma Friday, because of the weather and no school. So I arose at the crack of pre-dawn so we could do our shopping. My mom met us at Walmart at 7:30  to pick him up for the day. Genius slept until 10:00, painted the boys' bathroom, and escaped my clutches to bowl in his league.

After watching part of a Glee marathon while tending multiple loads of laundry, I headed back to town for some Save A Lot necessities. Hick had just arrived home. He was putting up St. Louis Blues border in the bathroom. I asked if he wanted a Hardee's Red Burrito Taco Salad for lupper. That's the meal that combines lunch and supper. Genius came up with the term in his younger days.

I knew that The Pony would be fed to the point of foundering by his grandma, and that Genius would have bowling alley food. And I'm a wizard at getting out of toiling and troubling over bubbling cauldrons of eye of newt and toe of frog. Besides, I was exhausted after spending two days at home with the boys, who seem to think that we live on a homestead on the frontier where womenfolk have nothing better to do than cook three times a day, separate meals for each individual, washing up the dishes after each feeding.

The Save A Lot shopping was accomplished with nary an indecent proposal or inhalation of foul body emissions. I scooted on over to Hardee's. They're having a special, you see. Two taco salads for six dollars. That's a downright steal. They normally cost $4.99 each. Oh, I know they're not healthy in a salad sense. But when you consider that half is your lunch, and half is your supper, it balances out.

I pulled into the drive-thru lane behind two cars and a truck. We advanced at a reasonable pace. The other drivers pulled around to the window, out of my line of sight. When I got to the speaker, no one was there. Nobody asking me to wait a minute, nobody advising me to order when ready, nobody asking to help me. I might as well have been dropped into The Langoliers. Four minutes ticked by. I contemplating driving around to the window and asking what the deal was, ordering there. My radio was on. I'm sure they could hear that a car was at the speaker. I thought of honking. You know. Just to see if my horn worked. I don't use it very often. But instead, I said, "Um. Is anybody going to take my order?" And IMMEDIATELY, a girl said, "May I help you?"

I ordered two taco salads. "Would you like anything to drink with that?" No. Hick can drink at home. Not in that way. But you know what I mean. No reason to waste money on sodas there, when I can get a giant one at the gas station chicken store for $1.39, or $0.99 for a refill. "If your order is correct as shown on the screen, you can pull around." Well. The screen showed only their add for some box of hand-dipped chicken strips. I wasn't about to wait four more minutes for her to remedy that situation. I pulled around anyway, to pick up lupper for Hick and myself to the tune of $6.48, cheaper than the bowling alley lunch of Genius, but not so cheap as The Pony's free Grandma feed.

The window gal fiddled around getting my change. She apologized for my wait. Then she handed me a bag containing our taco salads. When I got home, I saw that she had included ONE fork. Not that it mattered for eating purposes, because at home, we have our own forks. I should know. I wash them three times a day. But it's the principle of the matter. She put in ONE fork. Like I was going to use it to eat both taco salads.


Friday, January 13, 2012

Miz Vanilla Bean 2012

My sister gave me some Bath and Body Works soaps and lotion for Christmas. We distributed the bottles, unscrewed the tops, and sniffed the round openings like a new dog making friends at Kennelwood Village.

I just Googled Kennelwood Village. Because I remember those commercials about sending your dog to summer daycamp there, complete with activities and obstacle courses and private lounges, each furnished with a mini couch and TV. Well, well, well. Looks like Kennelwood Village is now a hoity toity Kennelwood Pet Resort. You almost expect cruise director Julie McCoy to show up and promote activities on the foredeck. But I'm not here to disparage or promote Kennelwood. If folks have the disposable income and are so inclined, more power to them. And to Kennelwood, for so successfully marketing love and guilt.

There was a green bottle of lotion that I didn't pay much mind to, but everybody oohed and ahhed over. We brought the whole kit and kaboodle home and stashed it away under the sink to await a lapse in soap coverage.

This week, my hands were feeling a bit dry, so I sent The Pony on a reconnaissance mission to the undersink area to procure some lotion. He came back with the green bottle. Green is my favorite color. I'm simple like that. So it was without trepidation that I slathered the silky, opaque, pastel lotion onto my hands and forearms just before dashing out the door for work.

I'm surprised that our little dog Juno didn't eat me on the way to the garage. That lotion made me smell better than a sugar cookie fresh and hot from the oven. Vanilla Bean. That's the fragrance. I'm no fan of vanilla. But that stuff is some kickin' gourmet lotion. It's all I can do to sit at my desk without licking my hands like a cat cleaning between her toes. Or like that Simpsons comic book guy must lick his hands after eating a particularly tasty Cinnabon. I fear that both faculty and students will think I have contracted a sudden-onset case of OCD which involves sniffing my hands at five-minute intervals.

Mmm...I'm doing it right now.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

A Faker's Half-Dozen

Sioux has graced me with an award. It's no leg lamp, but it's not a broke-down Crog, either. And I'm all about free stuff. So I'm going to tell y'all a few little-known facts about myself. After all, it's my favorite subject.

1. Sometimes, despite my best intentions, I fall asleep in the recliner at 7:45 p.m. and awake at 1:00, realizing that I missed my daily blog post.

2. I love a good post-apocalyptic yarn. On the Beach, Earth Abides, Lucifer's Hammer, One Second After, The Stand, or Alas, Babylon...any way you slice it, I revel in the cataclysm. Virus, meteor, or nuclear bomb, it makes no never-mind to me. I love to see who takes charge, and who perishes due to stupidity. How contrived social conventions fall by the wayside, bowing to survival of the fittest and smartest. Sometimes the meek prevail. But not often.

3. To balance my karma, and appease Even Steven, I am also a fan of humorous, slice-of-life authors such as Jen Lancaster, Celia Rivenbark, Hollis Gillespie, Laurie Notaro, Lauretta Hannon, David Sedaris, Wade Rouse, Haven Kimmel, and Chelsea Handler.

4. As I type this, I have a tiny Band-Aid above my left eyebrow. I've not been injured, operated on, poked with a stick, had an unfortunate curling iron incident, nor bitten by a brown recluse. Neither am I trying to look all Nelly-cool. It worked for him. For me, not so much. I'm sure it's just the location of the miniature plastic adhesive strip. Cheek = cool. Eyebrow = loser. Actually, mine is to hold some triple-antibiotic ointment over a wayward eyebrow follicle.

5. Jelly Belly flavors enjoyed by Ms. Val Thevictorian are: buttered popcorn, toasted marshmallow, Tutti Frutti, and bubblegum. Those she abhors: dirt, sardine, earwax.

6. I have had several near-death experiences. In my mind, anyway. They range from nearly falling into a roaring Alaskan stream where I saw a grizzly bear and salmon poachers, to rolling a Chevy Chevette three times down the center line of Missouri Highway 8.

7. I have a fear of heights and deep water. Because really. Depth is just height under water. The day I was supposed to jump off the 10-meter tower (that's 33 feet, you know) in my Swimming and Diving Techniques class was particularly stressful. I told the instructor that I simply could not do it. And that if it meant I had to drop the class, change my major, whatever...I would just have to change horses in the middle of that ol' higher education stream. Another girl voiced the same fear. He talked HER into jumping off the platform. It was outdoors. She changed her mind on the way over the edge, turned around in midflight to try and grab the platform, and swung in toward the concrete pool deck. She missed it by about 18 inches. The instructor covered his face with his gradebook, so certain was he that she was going to end up as a flesh-and-crushed-bone pancake. Lucky for her, she survived with only a full-body bruise. The instructor offered to give us both the credit if we agreed to take his beginning swimming class for a second time. Piece of cake. The hardest part of that was the 30-minute drownproofing test. All you had to do was float like a dead man, face in the water, DEEP WATER, under the 3-meter board. No touching the sides. We both passed.

And there you have it. Seven things you didn't know, and possibly didn't want to know, about Val. I am not passing on this award, because the last time I bestowed such an honor, none of the recipients played along. So don't worry. Val's not giving out any more such gifts. Spurn me once, shame on...shame on you. Spurn me...you can't get spurned again. That's what I always say. I heard that from some world-famous dude one time.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Backroads Miz Manners Weighs in on a Cheeky Betrayal

Dear Backroads Miz Manners,

A curious thing happened to me today at work. Let me set the stage for you. Our restroom is designed for an occupancy of one. It is fully compliant with all differently-abled laws. There is a sign on the wall by the door that labels it Women's Restroom. Braille is included. The door is wooden, heavy, and designed to swing closed. There is enough room inside to set up a small desk and use it for an office, if a gal was so inclined. Or to stand twenty close personal friends for an audience. Plenty of room for a wheelchair to park while restroom business is being done. And there's a long, sturdy rail the length of the wall beside the toilet. The door handle is of the lever variety. To insure privacy, the door locks with a deadbolt.

Each day as I push open the door and step inside that gloriously private restroom, I do a 180 and snap that deadbolt lever the instant the door settles into its notch. A moment too soon, and the deadbolt will stop the door from closing, emitting a heavy-duty clank. A moment too late, and the door necessitates a minor reversal, a pulling back, to line up the deadbolt with its receptacle. Yet I have consistently mastered the unseen ballet. Until today.

Herein lies The Curious Incident of the Hag in the Daytime. I pirouetted as per usual. Only to feel the sharp bite of wood on my nether regions. How could that be?

Betrayed By My Own Butt Cheeks

Dear Betrayed,

I am inclined to suspect that this incident is not so curious at all. No doubt you have just returned to work after the holidays. Holidays during which you overindulged, perhaps, in Chex Mix and Jelly Sticks and gas station chicken and Little Debbie Cakes.

Do you own a full-length mirror? Or have friends who do? Or live near a calm lake or gigantic puddle? A look at your reflection might solve the mystery. If, for instance, your buttocks appear to be two Texas-size cinnamon rolls fighting with each other as you walk...you have your answer.

Drop your cakes and grab your weights. Don't let the door hit your ass on the way in.

Backroads Miz Manners

Monday, January 9, 2012

Val. A Vital Cog in the Comedy Duo Wheel.

I was kicking my doorstop this morning when a colleague happened to pass by my room. Let the record show that I was not kicking my doorstop in a fit of pique. I was kicking it into place to hold the door open. You don't expect me to bend over, do you? Get real! And by happened to pass by my room, we all understand that such a journey occurs every day, every hour, since I am on the path to the faculty women's restroom.

The problem is that my doorstop is too big to hold my door against the concrete-block wall. Shh...don't let anyone else know, but my mother swiped it from an outside door once upon a time after a raft of doorstop thefts within the building. I chastised her. Severely. But I kept the doorstop. Who's gonna know? So anyway, this wooden wedge is made for a heavy metal door. One that does not abut an interior wall with a gap of one thin inch between them.

There I was, kicking to beat the band. My old wooden doorstop, made by my students in woodworking class (what were you thinking, that they whipped one up in Foods?), was filched by a shameless fellow employee. Or perhaps somebody's mom. How I miss that old woody inclined plane! All I had to do was push the door open, kick out the doorstop, finish shoving the door until it reached its limit, and VOILA! That little simple machine landed at the perfect angle, the perfect distance along the door, and propped it open. Not so the current one.

Oh, I try to kick that monster into place. But the pointy tip-end of it hits the wall and bounces back. That leaves the door only three-quarters open. That won't do. I have to jam it in at an angle, all cattywompus. It's time consuming.

So my colleague caught me in mid-kick. She raised her eyebrows. "That bad, huh?" A comment that never fails to get under my skin. Like I have rage issues by the end of first hour.

I motioned toward the doorstop. "It's too long. It doesn't fit."

Without breaking stride or missing a beat, my colleague deadpanned, "That's what SHE said."

I hate starting the day as a straight man.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Who Moved My Tease?

Perhaps you've notices the lack of snow-day weather this winter. I know that I certainly have. And I'm guessing that everybody who makes a living educating the future of our nation has also noticed.

On Thursday, a colleague commented that if we could make it through six more days, we'd have a day off. Well. Isn't that so very psychic of her? And then I got to thinking...we are supposed to be off on January 16 for Martin Luther King Day. It's on our schedule every year. But we are rarely off. That's because it's the first make-up day for snow days.

We have a calendar that lists the order of make-up days. We usually miss our President's Day holiday as well. And part of our Easter Break about fifty percent of the time. That hits us hard. Because our district has no such thing as a Spring Break. It's Good Friday and the Monday after Easter, a four-day weekend. I know that the idea is to make up those days because most of our days missed fall into third quarter. Since we're getting intermittent days off, we shouldn't need the holidays.

Teachers are a bit hard-headed. Those are our holidays, by cracky, and we want time off! Just like some put off scheduling their mandatory dance chaperoneship until the last one, "...because you never know what might happen," we will gladly serve out days tacked on at the end of the year if we can have our mid-year respites.

So a few years ago, we put the bug in the ear of the calendar committee that snow days did not need to be made up in order of the scheduled holidays. In our humble opinions, of course. And they compromised, with some going in order, and then some at the end, and then back to the order. It might be a little different every year. If the last day of school is scheduled for a Monday, then the end-tacked days start sooner. But if we are getting out on a Thursday, every effort is made to keep from going into a new week.

As you can imagine, the school calendar mailed out with our contract and opening-day itinerary is vital when you are jonesing for days off. After the comment about the six days then off, I felt the need to check that calendar and see if MLK Day was the first make-up day. Just in case we might get a snow day this week. Normally, I make a copy and tape one to the inside of my classroom cabinet, across from the little mirror that I use when I fork my hair after a windy entrance. Alas, with my two new textbooks this year necessitating extra preparation, I was lax in my calendar copying.

Never fear. The original school calendar is always taped to the inside of my kitchen pantry door. I never take one down. But I constantly tape them up, along with the emergency phone tree, even though that is becoming obsolete with the texting and automated phone call notification system. It's downright handy to open up the pantry for a heaping helping of hope.

Friday evening, I went to the cupboard to check on that calendar.


Old Mother Hubbard's Dog would starve to death around here. And after that, he would turn over in his grave. Not a phone tree or calendar in sight. Hick was off gallivanting about the grounds, freeing a goat's head from the fence. Nobody knew how long she'd been there, but the billy goat had a sly grin.

When I called to ascertain the fate of my longed-for symbol of hope, my calendar that teased me with fourteen make-up days in case of time off for snow, Hick said, "You just now noticed it was gone?" Like I should have been keeping an eye on it through the dog days of August, the sweltering month of September, Indian Summer October, four-day weekend November, and Christmas vacation December. I swear, I don't know what goes on in that guy's noggin sometimes.

Seems that Hick had removed my good-times blueprint when he took off a week in November to putter around and do jobs that didn't need doing. Like staining all the interior doors, which he had neglected to do these nigh on fourteen years since we built the house. Staining them an unappealing oak shade, when I preferred a clear coat to let the light pine color brighten up the house to match my sunny disposition. But that's not the point right now. Hick had taken down ten years of my life, and carelessly tossed it high on a shelf in the master bathroom walk-in closet. Without removing any tape.

By the time I solved that sticky puzzle, I was in no mood to save my career memorabilia, and the record of district spelling bee practices and summer open gyms and basketball schedules and choir and band concerts. It's as if my pantry door had a gastric bypass, and has already slimmed down considerably on four ounces of food per day. One phone tree and one school calendar hang forlornly on the inside surface.

I'm keeping an eye on the forecast.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

My Kingdom for Captain Morgan

I dashed to Save A Lot this afternoon to grab some bananas and milk. It was not a real shopping trip. Just necessities. And five individual bags of Jalapeno Munchies for Genius, because they are hard to find. So you can see, I was not on a mission to attract paramours today. Not that I ever set out consciously to waft my powerful pheromones toward the unsuspecting.

I am pleased to report that no customers approached me for a prospective love match. I am displeased to report that someone else was sending out pheromones. And not in a good way. I'm thinking the only takers for his chemical attractant might have been carrion-eaters and catfish with a yearning for stinkbait.

The odor assailed me on the egg-and-cheese aisle. I thought it was a young woman and her slightly unkempt dude. Little did I know it was an older cat a couple of aisles over. I passed him by the smoked processed meat section, and turned to look over my shoulder for the young couple. But they were still fingering the shredded cheese.

It was bad. Imagine the smelly parking valet who funked up Jerry's car so bad that Elaine's hair even smelled like his BO. So bad that Jerry tossed his keys to a bum at the end of the episode, and even HE didn't want the car. The aroma emanating from Smelly Cat was not BO. It had another layer. An unwashed nether-region kind of note. If he had been PigPen, I could have at least seen the cloud around him. Any other cartoon would have shot tendrils of scent in zig-zaggy clouds in all directions. But I had no warning until I walked into a pocket of his essence.

Danged if I didn't end up in line right behind him. The checker took a slight step back. Her eyes watered. She spoke without inhaling. As he walked away, she dabbed a tissue at the rivulets running out her nostrils. I could not take another whiff of that noxious pocket of cast-off molecules. I had to mouth-breathe.

The worst part of being a science teacher is knowing that a smell originates from cast-off molecules. When you inhale a stink, you are taking molecules of that substance right into your body. Sad, but true.

I've got a little bit of Smelly Cat in me now. Captain Morgan would be much more welcome.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Shame, Shame. I'm Glad Not Everybody Knows My Name.

I am feeling a bit guilty tonight.

The local Sonic appears to have gone out of business. I first noticed that something was amiss on Sunday, January 1st. The Pony and I had finished our weekly shopping, and I desired a Route 44 Diet Coke to keep me company all afternoon. I turned into the Sonic drive, and noticed nearly fifteen feet of flapping yellow caution tape. Hullo! What's this then? I automatically think with a British accent when startled.

I slammed on the brakes and contemplated my situation. There was one car parked in an odd manner, not at one of the drive-in bays. The Pony said there were no lights inside the building. I looked more closely at the caution tape. It was affixed to a pole on one side, and flapping loose at the whim of the 40 mph winds. I made a sort of U-turn that was more akin to a long-metal-loop-of-a-WheelO-turn (and don't tell me you've never heard of a WheelO). Because the percentage of spring chickens amongst my readership is, in actuality, much lower than the percentage of self-proclaimed spring chickens.

My mother believes that the Sonic is closed for good. Not for the good of mankind. For good, permanent. What does she have to lose by being a doomcrier? She has her own Sonic in her neighborhood. So I'm taking that opinion with a grain of salt. Which would go down good with a Sonic Route 44 Diet Coke. I'm hoping it is merely closed for renovation. Though the absence of those regional-style hot dogs and sundae shake posters from the side of the building does not bode well for my theory.

My guilt stems from a practice of which I am not proud. A practice practiced by The Pony and moi for nigh on two years now. We asked for extra ketchup. Every visit. Though I did refrain on those visits when I only used a receipt to receive a free Route 44. But otherwise, it's true. The two of us have double-handedly bankrupted a branch of Sonic by procuring beaucoups of ketchup for the price of zero dollars and zero cents. Or as we like to think of it, FREE.

No wonder that Skater Drive-Thru Dude felt it necessary to keep the bills from my five just because I gave him proper coinage along with it. He wasn't scamming me for a tip I did not intend to give. He was merely embezzling from me in order to give to poor Sonic. In order to help defray the cost of my constant ketchup-scamming. The goose and the gander both got their just desserts. It took one to know one, and all that.

Now the universe and Even Steven have joined forces to teach me a lesson. Ketchup is never free.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The One Without a Clever Title

I love making up titles. Sometimes I twist around a post just to get at the title angle.

When I look back at those first two sentences, they seem like something Darrell Hammond as Sean Connery on SNL Celebrity Jeopardy would mangle in a most inappropriate manner. But that's just a happy accident.

There's one title that keeps harping at my subconscious. A title that has no concrete theme. But then, most of my writing starts out like that anyway. It's like making soup. You toss everything in a pot, let it simmer, and fine-tune it before serving. Which probably makes you vow never to try my soup. Or throw up a little bit in your mouth.

Here's the title that keeps yanking at its leash, chomping at the bit, revving its engine, tearing around the house like a cat given a taste of Aunt Polly's medicine by Master Tom Sawyer:

The Battle for Bitchin' Stadium

There are no Iron Chefs in this proposed story. Only me. And Hick. And our battle of wills over such bones of contention as towering bowls of soup, almond vs. stainless steel sinks, the clandestine washing of ONE dish, the spraying of Stove Top Stuffing like so much blown-in insulation, and the benefits of auction meat.

It's still coming together in my head. Still a gossamer web of culinary conflict. But it won't let me rest.

And wouldn't you know it? I have title block.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Sweet, Sweet Memory Lane

Sorry for all of you trying to keep your New Year's Resolutions...but I simply must get this off my chest. Here is my latest addiction. By "latest" I mean since Christmas. I don't buy these to keep in my home. Because they don't keep very long. Like I said, it's an addiction. I can't have just one. Though one should be plenty, because they are so SWEET. In fact, that's part of their name. Somebody's got the right marketing idea here.
I buy these for my mom every year at Christmas time. Two raspberry, two orange. She knows by the shape of the box what she's getting. Except for this year, when I stowed them away in a bigger box with some Cardinals World Series commemorative picture books, a Regis Philbin autobiography, a linen kitchen calendar, some slippers, and some candy-cane striped footies. Don't be whispering that Val is a cheapskate where the woman who gave her life is concerned. I also bestowed upon her an office chair for her computer, and a new coat. But they are not nearly as tasty as jelly sticks.

No, I didn't dip into Mom's gift. I'm not that addicted. But Hick and the boys had the good sense to gift me with my own jelly sticks. And I noticed upon consumption that they are smaller than they used to be! Shocker, huh? Like many other food products, their packaging and price has stayed fairly constant, but the size of the item has decreased.

My delicious jelly sticks used to be fatter than my middle finger, and longer. Now they are the length of said badfinger, and as skinny as LeAnn Rimes. I have pencils fatter than my current jellies. And they're not the bloated, just-learning-to-write pencils that go with Big Chief tablets, either. My jellies are emaciated. It takes more of them to satisfy my voracious sweet fang.

It really does no good to complain. Except to make me feel better. Getting that topic off my chest provides more abdominal room for...JELLY STICKS!

I can't live in the good ol' days when jelly sticks were hearty, rib-sticking confections. My love for the jellies goes way back to my childhood. To Sears on Grand, where the candy counter housed an amazing display of treats. Because it was considered a lengthy trip from Backroads to St. Louis, my family had to stock up on provisions for the drive home. We each got to choose our poison. My sister went the way of nonpariels.

I must admit that I am no fan of the nonpariel. Those white hard candy thingies ruin it for me. I would sooner dip into my mom's choice of bridge mix. Even though half of them were not very tasty to my juvenile palate. Still, I took my chances. Who was I to turn down a bite of someone else's treat?

My dad liked the maple nut candies. I must say, I approved of his choice. The maples were a welcome respite from the chocolate.

My treat was jelly rings. I can not find a photo to do them justice. The picture here shows a chocolate raspberry jelly ring. But mine from the Sears-on-Grand candy counter were white chocolate, with a variety of jellies. If I held them up in the headlights of the car behind us, I could somewhat see the color of jelly inside. Green, yellow, orange, red. I liked them all. But the red was my favorite.
So. This has not ended well. I fear that I might have caused several resolution relapses. Surely you are made of stronger stuff! Just looking at these pictures, and visually stuffing yourself with all of the eye-sugar, should be enough to make you a bit queasy. Perhaps a picture of hot, salted nuts is in order. That's what the Thevictorian family used for an antidote to soaring blood sugar. Mmm...can you smell them? Cashews. Pecans. Mixed nuts. All under glass, beckoning with a cartoon vapor trail to draw us into the candy counter area to start with. It's a good thing we only made that trip once every three or four months.

Back to your salads and protein. Forthwith.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Val Could Be an Honorary Flintstone

Did I, perhaps, tell you about the swag I raked in on the last day of school before the Christmas holidays? If not, I must be addled about what I post here, and what I post on my supersecret blog. So let me just set the scene by explaining that a student gave me a little notepad with a cardboard cover, and a fold-up pen that clips onto the side. She no doubt thought I was overdoing it when I thanked her profusely. But seriously. That was the perfect gift for Mrs. Val Thevictorian.

I love all things paper and pen. They're so cute. And so practical. I used to go overboard buying school supplies for my stepsons. Hick, careful of his wording lest I take offense and leave the job to him in future Augusts, said tactfully, "This is all very nice. But I think a few notebooks and pencils would have been enough." Au contraire. Even middle-school-age boys need some accoutrements. The boys sure didn't complain. Who wouldn't want a car-shaped pencil sharpener or a watermelon-smelling eraser or a mini-stapler?

And such karma has come full circle. Now I have this sweet, blue-and-green-striped notepad in which to jot my rapid-fire thoughts. Everybody gets those instantaneous, scathingly brilliant ideas for writing, don't they? It's not just me? Because they generally occur within the hour or two after I take my thyroid meds. I'm sure that's just a happy coincidence. That I start firing on all cylinders when all my cylinders start firing.

The problem is that my brilliance fades away. much like vivid dreams vaporize by midday. Sometimes, if I'm driving, I tell The Pony, "Remember this for when we get home. I'm going to ask you what idea I had, and you repeat it to me." He's a very astute personal assistant. With a steel-trap mind. If it was the early '90s, he could be my living, breathing, Deluxe Talk Boy. As seen in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. With my new notepad, I can ask him when I drop him off at his building, and make a note. That frees up The Pony's brain for educational purposes.

Now, instead of just having the title or main idea, I also have the various riffs that shoot off from the basic subject. I don't have to reinvent the wheel, but merely spiff it up with a raggedy old t-shirt and some Armor All. No high-tech electronic gewgaws for me. No fumbling to figure out how my phone can save my voice. No spy gadget that will record sound at the push of a button. Or less. A little note pad with attached pen is all I need.

Funny how you never think to buy something like that for yourself.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Backroads Miz Manners Pinches Penny

Dear Backroads Miz Manners,

Recently, I was standing in line at a gas-station-chicken establishment when I noticed a terrible breach of convenience-store etiquette. A young boy pocketed a penny out of the free penny dish on the checkout counter, and lorded it over his brother. "I got the last one. No penny for you. You can't even read it. 'Take a penny.' So I took a penny. You don't get one." I was sorely tempted to grab him by the scruff of the neck and shake him until he put it back. Or pinch him 'til he let it go. Sometimes my ire gets the best of me. In this instance, I choked back my outrage and merely gave him the stink-eye.

A certified child-care professional has advised me in past small-fry near-confrontations to squat down and stare into the perp's eyes. Silently. That idea scares the pants off me.

What should I do if this happens again?

Penny-less Pincher in Backroads


Dear Penny Pincher,

What is your major malfunction? You have no problem offering your thoughts without the offer of a penny.

There's no abrasion of epidermis from your nasal protuberance if the lad pilfers a penny. It wasn't yours, now was it? 

Are you envious that the boy got it first? Perhaps he saw a penny, and picked it up, so all the day he'd have good luck. He knew that if he saw a penny and let it lay, he'd have bad luck the rest of the day. 

Maybe he was saving it. Which makes it a penny earned, not a penny stolen. 

What if he already had one penny, but didn't have two pennies to rub together? Problem solved. Quite an ingenious little fellow!

Did you ever stop to consider whether the youngster had a mild case of Asperger's Syndrome? In which case he might be inept in social situations, and take such a penny-dish sign quite literally.

Get over yourself, my dear. The world is full of pennies that will be grabbed before you can get them. Learn to choose your battles. What's next, reporting a relative for removing the tag from a pillow?

Backroads Miz Manners

Sunday, January 1, 2012

If At First Val Doesn't Succeed

Look for some changes to Val's little venture in the coming days.

Unbagging the Cats began letting Val's secrets out the bag in February, 2011. Before that, I had fiddle-faddled around with my supersecret blog, whining and slice-of-lifing and being creatively inappropriate as the whim hit me. Since deciding to get seriously into real writing last year, I have submitted 11 works to contests, and 5 works for publication. Five are still in limbo, the results not yet in. Four of my contest entries have placed. That's a success rate of 36%. If I was a baseball player, my batting average would be .364, which is not too shabby for a rookie. If I do say so myself.

My new goal is to submit MORE. That way, I might enjoy more success. Not necessarily a better success rate, mind you. But a greater quantity of successes.

Please excuse the disjointed nature of tonight's post. I am preoccupied with technical issues.

I have been trying to get a new template going for the last two hours. I'm not really that stupid about Blogger templates. The problem is with switching out the names on my blogs. It worked like a charm on my old supersecret blog. I simply moved the name forward to the new blog, and renamed the older ones as Supersecret Blog One, Supersecret Blog Two, etc. Like I said, it worked like a charm, all the way up to number five, soon to be number six. But the old unbagged cats are giving me fits. The domain name refuses to be manipulated so easily. So I'll be trying again tomorrow, because I wash my hands of it tonight.

I blame New Blogger. Even though it's several years old now.