Unbagging the Cats 1

Unbagging the Cats 1

Monday, April 30, 2012

A Basic Human Right

Pardon me, people. I am about to vent like a sewer pipe. And not some beautiful, brown-and-white sewer pipe that is so aesthetically pleasing that it might be mistaken for a Ming vase. By one near-sighted Val Thevictorian, anyway.

My honor has been besmirched! My privacy invaded. My modesty sullied. And in the confines of my own castle, even!

There I was, post-shower, standing in front of the sink and mirror, parting my lovely lady-mullet so my coif did not dry in an unruly manner as I dressed...when the French door handle turned down and the portal to my personal toilette area swung open six inches!!! Believe you me, that six inches was plenty to catch an eyeful of Val, what with the sink being adjacent to the opening, and a wide mirror to assist a peeper yanking his head back as my right elbow slammed the door shut.

This is the perfect situation for shouting WTF? But I didn't. Because a lady only thinks such things. Or mutters them under her breath after the fact.

But let's start at the beginning, shall we?

I arose before Hick. Put in a load of laundry. Told him I was getting in the shower. He may or may not have responded. It's hard to tell with those noises emanating from his breather. Especially with his head under the quilt, soon to be under my forbidden pillows once the shower starts running.

When I got out, I thought I heard Hick moving about. I wanted to tell him to get my Stubs card before taking The Pony to see The Three Stooges. I hollered through the door, "Hey!" There was no response. I no longer heard any movement. So I assumed that Hick was still in bed, or had left the master bedroom/bath area. Then my waking nightmare started. Of course it turned out to be Hick.

It's not like Hick has never pulled this stunt before. In fact, he's kind of like a toddler. As sure as you tell him DON'T do something, he weeds out the DON'T and does that exact thing. But we have had discussions about his transgressions. More like lectures, actually. Which are about as effective as those given by a dry  PHYSICS 101 professor in a lecture hall of 500 students giving discourse on the topic of Work = Force x Distance.

I snapped at Hick. "What do you think you're doing? No knock. No voice. You just can't barge right in when I'm in the bathroom."

But Hick was of a different opinion. Because, you see, he thinks it's his right to check up on his property any time he feels like it, and that property better like it, too, and thank him for barging in, because that property no longer has any rights of its own once it has a ring on its finger. (Let the record show that Val does not often wear her wedding ring. For this very reason, perhaps.)

"Why are you always so hateful? You called me in. Why should I have to knock? Or say that it's me? Who ELSE is it going to be?"

Well. I don't know. Perhaps one of two teenage boys who live in this house? An escapee from the maximum security prison five miles down the road? Queen Elizabeth here for tea? The point IS, I didn't know. It was at least five minutes after I called out to you. Am I supposed to stand there and let the door fling open for any curious room invader who happens by? I think not.

I will not let the perpetrator turn himself into the victim. I am in the right here.

The Geneva Convention probably guarantees prisoners of war the right to privacy. But they are not married to Hick.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

An Unwritten Wardrobe Rule of a Typical Seventeen-Year-Old Boy

Genius popped into my office a few moments ago.

He had just noticed a shirt that has been hanging across the back of the short couch since last Sunday. That's the kind of housekeeper and laundress that I am. No need to put a shirt away if it's going to be worn within two weeks. Criminy! That's how you wear a path in your carpet. The shirt is knit, with a slight v-neck, in alternating dark purple and heather puple wide bands. Purple is our school color.

"What's that shirt laying on the back of the couch?"

"That's The Pony's new shirt."

"I like it."

"It came from Walmart. Go get one for yourself."

"But The Pony already has one."

"So? They come in different colors. Blue. Green."

"My friend has one just like it."

"What color is his?"

"Purple. Just like that."

"But his school colors are red and white."

"When he wore it, a girl told him he looked like Freddy Krueger."

"So now you don't want one."

"No. Because The Pony has one."

It's not like I'm going to decree that they both wear an identical shirt on the same day. Or take an awkward family photo and send it out as our Christmas card. They don't even attend school in the same building. Their schools are on opposite sides of town. Genius drives. The Pony rides with me. And Genius is long gone when The Pony gets off the bus at my school in the afternoon. As are all of the high school students who know Genius.

Do you follow me here? Genius doesn't want a shirt because his brother has one. Not because girls might think it makes him look like Freddy Krueger.

My little Pony. More repulsive than a serial killer with knife-blade fingers who kills you in your dreams.

There's no accounting for the wardrobe preferences of seventeen-year-old boys.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

If Hick Was a Turkey, He'd Have Drowned By Now

Hick and Genius had tickets to the Blues game tonight.

Of course, the minute they left, weather watches started popping up left and right. They beat most of them to the Scottrade Center. A couple hours later, my mom called to say that TV meteorologists advised people with friends at the Blues game to call and tell them to take cover. So I did. You can't be too careful when a thunderstorm with rotation is headed your way.

My land line malfunctioned. Three times, I dialed the number. And three times, a recording came on telling me that (xxx) xxx-xxxx was not a working number. Are you kidding me? I punched in the right numbers. But the phone switched a 32 to a 98. How does that happen? It's the only two numbers that were affected. So I grabbed my OLDER telephone, which worked just fine.

Genius took the call at around 6:20. The game was supposed to start at 6:30. The tip-off, or kick-off, or slug-off, or...maybe it's the face-off. I'm not a follower of hockey. But I know it's violent, and there's a chance of some dude getting his face ripped off. Though not as gruesomely as a cat snacking on the face of a corpse. Heavens to Betsy! Where did THAT come from. I'm still mired in yesterday's post, fresh in my mind from answering comments just now.

I had to repeat the advice to Genius, due to the rowdy crowd background noise. I had called him on the way to report the tent incident and injuries after the Cardinals game. I'm hoping he took this warning seriously. That he didn't just roll his eyes and use his free hand to indicate "Mom is crazy" to Hick. For all I know, instead of taking cover in a restroom, the two of them went outside to look at the sky.

You can take Hick out of the country...but he still keeps returning to the country.

Friday, April 27, 2012

No Pitter Patter of Little Cat Feet

The Pony and I saw a bumper sticker this afternoon that elicited opposing responses.

We had traveled to a nearby town for the purpose of bill-paying. Now don't go thinking that Val drives a Clampett truck filled with chicken cages in order to do her bartering. Nor does she dig up that sock filled with gold doubloons from the back yard every time she needs to settle a debt. The fact is that a payment by mail to this savings-and-loan does not garner a return receipt. And Val is all about her receipts with itemization.

This town is a bit more tony than Backroads. Ritzier houses. Boutiques. Storefronts that do not include Tubbie's Thrift Shop and Jose's Second-Hand Store. Touristy places. A populace that is a bit more snooty than cooty.

There it was. Right in front of us at a stoplight.

Cats Not Kids.

"Well," I said. "Nothing like alienating eighty percent of the population. What kind of statement is that? If you drop dead, at least kids won't eat your face off before you are found."

The Pony ruminated on that concept for a moment. "But cats don't grow up and leave you. They don't have hands to turn the doorknobs."

For now, we agree to disagree.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

If You Can Keep Your Teeth When All About You Are Losing Theirs...

A mysterious ailment has befallen my Colgate toothpaste.

Pasty was all hale and hearty a few short days ago. Robust. Turgid. A breathtaking specimen of toothpastehood. But now he's been cut down in his prime. He lies listlessly in the master bathroom drawer. When placed upon the counter next to the sink, Pasty is a sad panda. Several dents dot his skin. But that's expected of aging, aluminum-based hide.

Pasty's appearance is not what garners my concern. When uncapped, Pasty has lost some of his get-up-and-go. Rather than emitting a firm rope of enamel-scrubbing mucilage...Pasty sputters out gas, fluid, and runny fang-soap. I fear that Pasty had met with a life-altering accident. Or a dastardly, premeditated deed.

Hick, my prime suspect (c'mon, you know he was the first culprit to come to YOUR mind, too), normally maintains his dental hygiene from the confines of the shower. Yes. I know it's disturbing. But he has his own tube of toothpaste that he lines up on the top of the metal track that holds the opaque doors of the walk-in shower. His toothbrush rests on that lofty perch as well. No holey wall-holder for his chomper-scrubber. So I'm having a hard time pinning this crime on Hick.

I put myself in Pasty's tube. Perhaps Hick was in a hurry. Chose not to shower in the A.M. after finally recognizing the superfluousness of an evening bath and morning shower. And snatched me up for a quick brushing over the sink. Held me in a firm grip, squoze me too near the running faucet under which he dangled his Oral-B Advantage Plus, thus causing me to suck water into my innards.

That has to be it. The only alternative scenario is a near-drowning accident in the jetted triangle tub in which The Pony is wont to immerse himself two-to-three nights per week. The Pony is too old for tub toys. And even if he regressed, he knows that Pasty is not a toy. There's quite a distance from the drawer to the tub. It's not accidental-knocking territory.

Surely Pasty is not a product of China, as some of his brethren who came before him. Because I do not feel like being slowly poisoned by an antifreeze ingredient. Besides, he was fine last week.

I may need to start chewing on reeds. Because if the Hick script is true...where did he get that toothbrush?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Maybe Some Time Up On Blocks Would Do Me Good

I have given up any pretense of writing through the week. No matter how much I plan to budget the time, no matter how many ideas I have half-formed, no matter how many pieces I have already written that just need smoothing with a word-processing emery board...I can't get anything done.

It's just like at school, when I think I'm all caught up, and somebody brings in a stack of completed work from a homebound student at the end of the day. Or first thing in the morning when somebody asks me to round up ten missing assignments from early in the quarter because a parent wants them done now. Or when I'm administering a state test, and nobody is watching my regular class because the substitute has been sent home.

Yes. That all happened within twenty-four hours. As did four blog posts and four sets of answered comments.

I'm firing on all cylinders, but still spinning my wheels.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

From the Boy Who Brought You: "Robins. The HARBRINGERS of Spring."

Words are SO powerful. Some people should be required to have a license to use them. And a number of hours of supervised instruction to get that license. The Pony comes to mind.

He had to attend a school event this evening, a BETA club induction. Since he's already in it, he and his fellow members had to wear their official shirt and sit in the audience. I caught up with some grading of make-up work, The Pony consumed mass quantities of low-nutritional-value snacks, and we headed across town to his ceremony.

Outer Backroads, home of our school, is a small metropolis. There is not a large tax base to fund state-of-the-art public works. As I turned our vehicle off the boulevard and into the parking lot, cargo shifted. "OW! I bumped my head!" The Pony has a history of noggin-knocking on automobile windows. And each time, I am amazed at the thump.

"What are you, some kind of feeb?"*

"A thief and two feebs! Like in that story."

"The Body. Stephen King. Gordie's dad says his only friends are a thief and two feebs. It's a novella with three others in a book** I can't remember the name of. But The Body was made into the movie Stand By Me."

"A book of short stories...isn't that called an analogy?"

"Um. No. That's a comparison. A book of short stories would be called an anthology."

"Are you sure? I though an analogy was like a simile or metaphor."

"Um. Yeah. A comparison."

"Oh. I get it. At least I wasn't far off."

I'm doing my best to put in the hours so The Pony can qualify for his word license.


*Used only as a literary reference in a private conversation with my child. Not a word I would bandy willy-nilly in the presence of others.

**Different Seasons

Monday, April 23, 2012

While I Nodded, Eyelids Dropping, Suddenly there Came a Plopping

It has previously been established that I ain't no Grandpa Jones. Let the record show that I also ain't no Stephen King. But I have a horror tale that will make you blog with one eye open while shaking in your boots and looking over your shoulder.

The real time is 12:20 a.m. I awakened from a sound recliner slumber around 11:45 and wandered into my office to shut down for the night. Ever the conscientious blogger, I did a quick check for comments to post before retiring to my actual bed for a feisty night of wrestling my pillows away from the clutches of Hick, and trying to push a cowl-necked quilt down to cover my feet.

In a move uncharacteristic of my dark nature, I flipped on the overhead light. In hindsight, that act might have saved me from a conniption to rival the dance moves of Elaine Benes.

I posted four comments. I logged out and back in to check my other blog. Kind of like a Backroads river-dweller checking his many trot lines for catfish or snapping turtles. Just as I hit "publish" for a new poetic waxing on my supersecret blog...all heck broke loose!

My keyboard and monitor are set up at the corner of a laminated butcher-block countertop that Hick lovingly installed on two walls of my basement office. It is quite comfortable and ergonomic for resting both forearms while typing. Out of the corner of my right eye, I sensed rather than saw movement. A soft "thud" followed. Not the sound of a heavy object dropping, but that of a substantial one. Like a tiny, ripe persimmon, perhaps. Or a maraschino cherry. But without the dusky orange or bright red color. A dark blob streaking from above to land on my green hummingbird-and-flower-silhouetted Puffs with Aloe box. The one with a TurboTax deluxe CD case laying across the top.

A soft plop. Nothing more.

That's what I tried to convince myself. That is was nothing. Though what kind of nothing would fall from above and bounce off my Puffs box like a fluffy mallet off a tympani drum I could not quite fathom. You know I had to look. You would have looked. Stephen King knows we all would have looked.

My Puffs box was perched on seven CD cases containing resource material for my old and new textbooks. Because I never know when I might want to burst into a bout of lesson-planning on my own time. Thus, the leaning tower of work material, nose-wipers, and tax prep software. It is my own little Dr. Suess-like rickety tower, a monument to Val's dual-flamed candle of productivity.

Turning my full attention to the well-lit woman-made canyon between my wayward tower and a 1990s model Uniden cordless phone in its charging cradle, I saw the instigator. A dark-brown, furry, quarter-sized arachnid. The hair on my neck stood up. My body chose flight, but my noggin argued for fight. Because I could not surrender my workspace to this intruder.

I work in the dark. I cannot comprehend the act of blissfully typing away while an eight-legged enemy silently stalks my territory. But it gets worse.

When Spidey bounced off the Puffs box, he shattered into a million little pieces. Or, more correctly, Mrs. Spidey had the bejeebers knocked out of her. If, by bejeebers, we understand that she released a plethora of tiny offspring. Join me, won't you:


In moments of terror like these, the body takes over. The adrenalin pumps. I could have lifted a tour bus off a trapped family of Duggars. And Cousin Amy, too. I grabbed a folded paper towel that had, a few hours earlier, been a coaster for my giant cup of ice water. I jammed it down on Spidey and several hundred babies. Spidey was having none of it, and skittered behind the upright Uniden and under one-third of a twenty-dollar, three-speaker sound system. The woofer. I made the lightning-quick decision to continue decimating her descendants. Because baby spiders grow.

I wore out my paper towel and reached for a Puffs, hoping that all the birthing had occurred outside the box. I began the big game hunt for Spidey. She proved to be a worthy prey, pausing momentarily at the end of the woofer, just long enough to draw a thrust from my Puffs, then darted under Dell Tower. A jostling of said tower shot Spidey into the desk-wide web of wires that twine together and plunge through hole bored in the countertop like a dark waterfall, running down the wall to power strip near my feet. Spidey could NOT be allowed to reach this escape route. I laid the smack down on her like that uncouth Monty Python foot.

Spidey writhed within her wire confines. A couple of hundred more young 'uns poured out of her. I pressed and pressed with my wadded-up Puffs. Lucy and Ethel in the grape vat had nothing on me. When the surface stopped moving, I scraped up the carnage and flushed it down the toilet in the NASCAR bathroom.

There's probably a trochaic octameter poem here. But I ain't no Edgar Allen Poe.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

I Ain't Exactly Grandpa Jones

Do you ever wish you lived in a simpler time? Out of the rat race, rockin' on your front porch with a hound at your feet, whittling a child's toy while puffing on your corn cob pipe? Me neither.

But sometimes, I wish I was part of Hee Haw. So somebody could holler, "Hey, Val! What's for supper?" And tonight, I would answer:

"Kretschmar ham, Yukon Rose potatoes, baby carrots, sweet onions, Pillsbury Flaky Layers Butter-Tastin' Biscuits, and fresh strawberries."

Saturday, April 21, 2012

A Ticking Yard Bomb

And the winner is...

Those of you who entered the First Tick Bite of the Year office pool need to check your master grid. Folks who put money down on Val, April 21, 9:45 a.m., shower, or right hip are winners!

The victim is resting comfortably. The perpetrator is most likely doing the backstroke in a Backroads septic tank, having been summarily flushed after his recent plucking.

Just a clue for those of you who entered the pool for the first time this year. Val is always a sure bet. Never mind that her dainty feet never touch a leaf of grass. That her family tramps the grounds willy-nilly, just itching for parasites to hitch a ride on their shoes, socks, leg hair, and jeans. That an army of chickens have been employed to feast on yard vermin from sunup until sundown. Val is always first-bitten.

Short of encasing myself in a Bubble Boy suit, I am clueless on how to end this winning streak. I am the reverse Susan Lucci. A string of 18 Emmy losses? Pshaw! I am on par with a series of first bites to put that record to shame. Even though I take precautions to prevent infestation.

I walk across the wooden porch, down the wooden steps, onto the concrete sidewalk, into the concrete-floored garage, step into my large SUV, drive to work, step out onto the blacktop parking lot, walk to the concrete sidewalk, and into the tile-floored building. And repeat in reverse on the way home. Weekends, the only variable is the blacktop Walmart parking lot in place of the school lot.

Perhaps I could curtail my evening lovefests with my silky dog Juno. But I see no need to break her heart. She has been doused with flea and tick drops. Besides, Genius sits in the front yard with her at his knee for thirty minutes at a time. And he is tick-free. As is The Pony, who circumnavigates the lawn collecting free-range eggs on a daily basis.

I must emit a pheromone that attracts ticks like catnip attracts cats. Ticknip. Flowing from my pores like sweat in a Gatorade commercial. Whereas Hick gives off tick-repelling waves of energy, like those sonic plug-in boxes repel rodents.

In an effort to make lemonade of this phenomenon, I have been brainstorming. The best solution so far is to hire myself out for BBQs and outdoor weddings and camp-outs. Forget those citronella candles and insect foggers. All I have to do is stand in the designated area, and ticks will latch onto me like flies sticking to flypaper.

And I'm environmentally friendly.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Black Sock Down

It will probably come as no surprise to you that I wear comfortable shoes. No silver sandals or Manolique Blalocks or whatever those fancy-schmancy footgear devices are called. And as a wearer of comfortable shoes, I do not scrimp in the sock department. Cushy, sweat-wicking sheaths for my dainty tootsies are a necessity. Because I try not to flaunt what I've got, my wardrobe is at the opposite end of the Joseph's Technicolor Dreamcoat spectrum. Which means my crew socks are black.

Perhaps you are familiar with the expression, "A place for everything, and everything in its place." Nobody at my house has ever heard it. I try to parcel out my weekly chores to the boy young 'uns. A practice that yields mixed results. For instance, I sort, wash, dry, and fold the laundry. The Pony puts it away. His idea of "away" is a bit different from mine. So each week, I find my rolled-up socks stacked on a trunk at the end of my bed.

Upon arising, I stumble around the bedpost and grab a pair of those socks. It's convenient, actually, adjacent to my underwear that The Pony has also deposited on the trunk. Of course this harvesting of foundation garments takes place in the dark. Far be it from me to awaken Hick from his beauty slumber.

I keep that room as dark as if Dracula himself was sleeping the sleep of the undead, dreams of long-necked Burmese women dancing in his head. The voice of reason tells me that Hick will not notice if I turn on the light. Not with his head being buried under the quilt that exposes my feet all night long. And covered by my pillows that he is forbidden to touch. I know he grabs those pillows as soon as I get up. Because they are always messed up when I go to straighten them. I can never be sure, though, because the room is dark. But I make good use of circumstantial evidence in an argument.

Sometimes, this morning, for instance, I don't get a good grip on my comfy ebony crew socks. And they fall to the ground, to be searched for with bare feet. You don't expect me to bend over, do you? I might whack my head on the trunk. Better to ferret them out and grasp them with my toes than risk a concussion. Hick would never hear me fall. Not with his head under a quilt and two pillows, and his breather whooshing away. I would be like the proverbial tree in a forest.

Like fog on little cat feet, I creep into the bathroom. Set my socks on the counter and go about the business of making something this pretty look like a chump. Which is hard G-D work. Oops! That's Woody Harrelson as Billy Hoyle in White Men Can't Jump. What I meant to say is that I clean and clothe myself, then wake Hick so he can get ready while I take my morning chair nap.

Hick does not have little cat feet.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Val the Stabber

I lapsed into a half-hearted stabbing spree today. Without thinking. By rote. Not that I practice and carry out full-on stabbing sprees on a regular basis. I was kind of having a not-so raibowy, unicorny, lollipoppy day.

When I finally reached the sanctuary of my garage, and saw a package on top of the generator, I almost squealed with not-rage. I was sure it was my pre-ordered copy of Jeneration X. Jen Lancaster's new release. And indeed, the box had Amazon written all over it. Imagine my surprise when I hacked it open on the kitchen counter and found, not my long-awaited literary treat, but a flash attachment for the camera of Genius.

The big, fat, fluffy, pillows of air-stuffing mocked me. I took the carving knife that is ever-so-ready down the side of the sink drainer, and stabbed. Stabbed. Stabbed, stabbed, stabbed, STABBED! Any trio of visually-challenged rodents that might have been loitering about the premises should count their lucky stars that they still have their tails intact.

I, too, enumerated a few celestial bodies of hot gases. Because in spite of my errant thrusting, I did not inadvertently disembowel myself. That would have been tragic.

Because Jeneration X does not come out until May 1st.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

They Really Shouldn't Have

Who doesn't love an unexpected gift?

Maybe it's a magnet that your buddy picked up in Mexico. Or a ceramic deviled-egg dish with a lid shaped like a hen. A mini notepad for jotting down ideas. A box of Crunch 'n' Munch for a shut-in. A horse calendar for an equine aficionado. A glass cake plate for an elder's china cabinet.

But sometimes, an unexpected gift is creepy. Like a dead bird propped up in praying position over the morning newspaper that an apartment neighbor steals each morning, reads, and returns.

I was the recipient of an unexpected gift this morning. My cats left it for me. It was not their usual present of a mouse butt. Nor even their most exotic token of affection, the severed squirrel head. No, this one was different.

Vomit clusters.

I'm no stranger to the vomit clusters. They are sometimes evident on the garage floor if the other cats have not fought over them for a snack. Today's vomit clusters were not on the garage floor. They were on the windshield of my black Tahoe, just under the windshield wipers, on that little grid thingy that may suck in or blow out air. No re-gifting for these vomit clusters.

I am in a quandary as to how best dispose of my gift. I can't reach that far across the car to grab them. Not that I would, anyway. Even with rubber gloves. I can't poke them with a stick, because they'll break. No spearing or stabbing. I can't scoop them off with my long ice scraper, because they will crumble down into that air grid thingy.

Being late for my morning commute already, I chose to contemplate my choices while on the way to work. I figured my vomit clusters would be none the worse for wear after baking in the sun all day. Kind of like mud pancakes. Only fluffier. Nobody stole them while I was in school. They rode home while shedding nary a morsel of their regurgitated goodness. I parked them back in the garage. Short of a cat eating them overnight, I am no closer to a solution than I was this morning.

Any suggestions?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

It's Hard Out Here for a Peep

I spent much of Saturday biting the heads off rabbits.

Don't jump to conclusions. I'm not a circus performer, nor a heartless bunny-killer. But I AM addicted to Peeps. So when I saw that Walmart had placed them on an endcap last Monday, I stocked up. Apparently, yellow rabbits are the red-headed stepchild of the Peeps family. I grabbed three packs. Because you can never have enough Peeps.

When I opened them, I planned to eat two. Only two. Two Peepy rabbits. The ears went first. They have the most radioactively-colored neon yellow sugar. Mmm...Then I bit off the head. To show mercy. It was quick. That lifeless bunny never knew what hit him. I got three bites out of the body. Then started on number two. Before I knew it, both squishy snacks were gone! And there were two in the pack that had lost their chorus-line partners. One had gaping, sugarless wounds on his side. Exposed marshmallow without sugar. That had to smart. So of course I found it necessary to put those two out of their misery.

Momentarily sated, flying high on a sugar rush, I vowed to save the rest of the rabbit Peeps until the next day.

You know how this is going to end, don't you? Several hours later, I hear those Peeps calling me. "Where are our brethren? We must be reunited. You are the prime suspect. We demand that you take us to them. Forthwith." Those sniveling sugar bunnies sure did talk big. And since they asked for it...I acquiesced.

Later that night, four lonely bunny Peeps silently cried themselves to sleep over their missing conjoined siblings. What better time to dispatch them? One minute they were snoozing, dreaming little bunny dreams, oblivious to the horror that had befallen their close-knit family. And the next, they were oblivious. Out of harm's way. Digesting in my stomach acid.

It's hard out here for a Peep.

Monday, April 16, 2012

A New Concept. Like Sliced Bread,

Hick had some knee surgery last month. A meniscectomy and a shaving of the other part of his cartilage. For some odd reason, the insurance did not feel this surgery was a necessity. You know. Because elderly men everywhere want the inside of their knees to be SO PRETTY that they are clamoring to have meniscectomies. It must be a self-image issue, wanting this totally unnecessary operatioin. Hick's other knee had been repaired several years ago. This one would not have been such an issued, except that he could not walk on it without pain. It was not a gradual thing. Something happened to it on one of his jaunts about the property, and he could not extend it completely. It swelled up. It interfered with his job. So he went to an orthopedic surgeon, who of course recommended surgery, after the requisite diagnostic testing.

Bills from the 1049 medical providers have been flowing in. I get the bill. I pay the bill. They all come from different entities. The surgeon. The hospital. The anesthesiologist. The anesthesiology group. The hospital lab. The department that does the pre-surgery EKG. The blood work people. Pathology. We'll probably get one from the janitor who changed the trash bags in the recovery room. Most of the bills are not hefty. While the insurance would not pay, they did have the negotiated price that the providers have contracted for. So one day, I might get a bill for $2.40, and the next day for $45.08.

I put on my check-writing cap this morning and commenced to forking over the fruits of Hick's labor. And mine. Though his was 67% of mine, according to the Missouri Department of Revenue. Which I like to think of as Hick being fruitier than I.

As I was getting ready to tear off the payment stub, I noticed a message at the bottom of the $45.08 bill. "If you are paying in full by check or credit card, you may deduct 25% and write '25% discount' on your check." Ain't that a fine how-do-you-do! A discount for paying your bill! I mentioned it to Hick, who said he had asked the insurance coordinator at work about all these bills pouring in, and why the insurance would not cover the surgery. And she had asked him if I was calling the providers to see if they would take less if it was paid in full.

SHUT THE FRONT DOOR! Who knew that the insurance industry operates like a used-car salesman? Not Val Thevictorian! That's a fact, Jack!

Oh, I suppose you worldly city folk knew all about this hidden money-saving tactic. But out here in Backroads, we kind of suppose that you are supposed to pay the price as marked. Except on the car lot.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

It's Not the Rain, Sleet, or Snow You Have to Worry About

Well, it looks like my last self-absorbed writing exercise garnered a few opinions on the state of the U.S. Postal Service. Let me clarify that while I feel I am getting my money's worth from a forty-five-cent stamp, I do not put the mail carriers on a pedestal. I simply trust this delivery system more than an electronic one.

Through the years, I've had some issues with my mail. The first problem to rear its ugly head was my small-town postmaster taking liberties with my People magazine. Let's just say that when it has arrived in my post office box on Monday for six months, I notice when I don't get it until Tuesday. Especially when it has cookie crumbs chilling near the staples, in their own tiny grease spots.

"Oh, c'mon, Val," you might say. "Don't be so petty. No harm, no foul." But my second issue could have caused harm. While teaching and living in Cuba, Missouri, I took some classes toward my Master's degree. The classes were through Drury College in Springfield. Driving there was not feasible, so I took a couple of night classes at their Fort Leonard Wood campus. I mailed in my tuition check, as any reasonable person might do, with plenty of time to spare. Imagine my surprise when I received a letter from Drury saying they would have to cancel my credits if I did not pay the tuition. Of course those letters always arrive on a Friday afternoon, and you don't get around to opening them until Friday evening, and so you stew all weekend over your impending expulsion from your Master's program.

By Monday, I had worked myself into a snit. I burned up the phone line with my haughty accusation that the Drury registrar's office needed to take a refresher course on the difference between their butts and some random holes in the ground. Only to go all Emily Litella on them when they inquired as to whether I had the actual canceled check in my hand. Um. Never mind. I sent them another one. For all I know, my original check is mildewing in a dilapidated tool shed on the outskirts of Doolittle, having been stashed there by a carrier who could not deal with the concept that the mail never stops.

More recently, we've had an issue with missing mail at our rural bank of mailboxes down on the county road. I fear it is the fault of a local ne'er-do-well and not the rural carrier himself. I spent the first two weeks of one August fuming because my employer had not sent out the regular letter informing us of important back-to-school dates. Only to have my teaching buddy tell me that she had gotten her letter three weeks previously. Oh, and apparently the thief had also absconded with a phone bill and an electric bill. Which I found out when the next month's bills seemed twice as high. And I saw that I was delinquent. Funny how checks for the full amount rectified that problem forthwith.

Six months later, the issue cropped up again.  Hick had neck surgery to put a titanium plate on his vertebrae. Medical bills trickled in from various providers. I paid them as I got them. Until one showed up from the hospital that was marked thirty days past due. It was not a small bill. Over two grand. I was mortified. We always pay our bills on time. Well...unless they don't come in the mail. I don't go looking for them, or cross off a monthly checklist. Again, it came on a Friday. Another weekend stewing was in order.

I called the hospital to explain the situation. That we had never received the first bill, and that I wanted them to put a note in the file that the check was on its way. The lady was very polite. "Oh, don't worry about it. We can set up a payment plan for you." I told her that I didn't want a payment plan. I was sending the full amount. She said that if I wanted to use a credit card or debit card RIGHT THEN, she was authorized to cut the bill in half. IN HALF!!! You bet I used my debit card!

I later told Hick that I was embarrassed. They must have thought we could not pay. They assumed we were paupers, needing a reduction, a handout of sorts. Hick said, "I don't care what they think of me. THEY JUST CUT THAT BILL IN HALF!"

More on this concept tomorrow.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Bee #371 in Val's Bonnet

Another conspiracy uncovered by Val Thevictorian!

I refuse to pay my bills online. Refuse, I tell you! Because it's not like using real money. Now, I'm not saying that I go out to the backyard and dig up my gold doubloons in their moldy old sock whenever it's time to pay the piper. That would require too much physical labor for sedentary Val. Nor do I have a cash-only policy for purchasing goods and services. But checks and debit cards are still legal tender. And there's nothing wrong with using a credit card sometimes, as long as the balance is paid at the end of the billing cycle. My creditors, however, are of another opinion.

What's with companies demanding that their customers use automatic payment systems? I'll tell you what's with it. They want an excuse to suck money out of your account indefinitely. So you have to jump through hoops to have it stopped when you no longer desire their services. Oh, and possibly so they can drain every last drop of assets from those good-for-nothings who wish to have their cake, eat it, and not pay for it.

These would-be asset-suckers use a myriad of techniques to bully me into automatic payments. I refuse to succumb. It makes no never-mind to me that I am single-handedly deforesting the globe by demanding a return envelope to enclose my check and payment stub. I'm confident that I am leaving a smaller wooden footprint than the creditor, who insists on using oversized billing envelopes and stuffing them with unwanted offers. Note-to-selves, creditors...your billing procedures and legal gobbledygook could be printed on the inside of your envelope if you are such tree-lovers. No need to send a separate page of the statement each month with that info.

The ploy of saving a stamp is lost on me. Considering the price of gas, I get a lot of bang for my 45/100 of a buck. And I am not so OCD that it pains me to stick a stamp on a printed rectangular area that is bigger than that stamp, and protrudes unaesthetically around the edges.

The latest tactic to shame me into paperless billing comes from Sprint. They of the giant, 5.5 by 8.5 inch envelopes. NOW they expect me to rip that sucker open on the dotted lines, trim and fold, turn inside-out, insert and seal, and trust that my spit will keep that sliver of adhesive from coming unstuck during transcontinental trucking. I call their bluff. I will see that bet, and raise them a wait-until-the-absolute-last-minute-possible mailing date. Because I'm passive-aggressive like that. Make me learn origami, and I'll make you lose interest on my early payment.

I don't want online banking. And I don't want online bill payment. No. Just no. That's tempting fate. Hackers. Errors. Identity theft. Nope. Not going to worry my pretty little head about it. I'd sooner haul in eggs and goat-cheese to barter, rather than depend on the innernets for my financial transactions. Sure, I use PayPal. Because it's so darned convenient, and my credit card number does not have to zip willy-nilly through the world wide web, fly-by-night, single-transaction universe. Just so we know where I'm coming from.

Progress for thee. But not for me.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Deaf Leading the Dumb

I am a loving, caring spouse. Here now! Stop that guffawing. Reattach your posterior that you just laughed off. It's true. I'm all about pleasing my man.

So when I had a commercial lull during Double Jeopardy this afternoon, I grabbed the satellite remote and looked to see what was on tonight. There was one of Hick's favorite movies: O Brother. Where Art Thou. Really. Nothing better than a slick-haired George Clooney declaring, "We're in a tight spot."

Hick came in from goat- and chicken-tending and called down to see what channel his movie was on. Because there's no other way of garnering such information besides consulting the horse's mouth. Or The Pony's mouth, in this case.

The problem with Hick and technology is that he, like I, depends on Genius to program everything for him. So he has his own channel list called Dad's Channels with the how-to-murder-your-wife shows, and Swamp People, and Top Shot, and Pawn Stars, and American Pickers, and the Outdoor Channel. Oh, and TLC to get Doomsday Preppers and Hillbilly Handfishin'.

"Ask your mom what channel my movie is on."

"Dad wants to know what channel his movie is on."

"Go to 'My Channels'."

"Dad! Mom says to go to her channels."

"No! To 'MY Channels'!"

"She says to go to HER channels."

"NO! I'll do it myself!" I went to the bottom of the stairs. "Put the list on 'My Channels'. Emm wyyyyy. M, Y. C H A N N E L S. 'My Channels'. It's down from 132. I don't know which channel."

"I don't see it."

"Did you put it on 'My Channels'?"

"All Channels."

"NO! 'MY Channels'.

"Casablanca is on 132."

"DOWN from 132!"

"It's on 130!"

"Yeahhhhh. Isn't that down from 132?"

"You don't have to get smart."

Now pardon me, while I knock this one out of the park. Since he lobbed it up all high and outside, just where I like it. Itchin' to knock the cover off of it, over the right field fence...but under my breath, of course. Because I like nothing better than pleasing my man. And getting a good blog post out of it.

"I only wish you COULD get smart!" Shh...he didn't quite make that out. Which is probably for the best.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Tooting Another's Horn

A bit of horn-tooting is in order for my 11th-grade son, Genius.

Today his principal notified him that he has been named a National Merit Scholarship Qualifier. This honor is based on the PSAT scores from students who took the test in October 2011. The way it was explained to me, Genius ranks in the top 50,000 of the 1.5 million high school juniors who took the PSAT. That is like the top 3.3% of students nationwide. The 96th percentile.

In September 2012, semifinalists will be named. Genius may qualify at that point, or may be out of the running for a National Merit Scholarship. It depends on how Missouri scores stack up. In the very least, he will get a Letter of Commendation. Which certainly can't look bad on a college application.

Though it might not look so good hanging on the wall of his room in our basement when he is 30 years old and unemployed. Just kidding, Genius!

Here's a link about the National Merit Scholarship Program. Though it is from Wikipedia...

Genius is pleased to have made this first cut. We are all quite proud of him. It is not a common occurrence in our school district. I'm not so sure it has ever happened before.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Ailin' and Wailin'

A strange malady has befallen me. I have an aching pain in my hands, between the knuckles and the next joint. Right where the digits join the hand proper. It's in both hands. The last time I had any kind of pain like this was way back when I worked in an insurance salvage store, handwriting prices on items with a Sharpie.

Back then, the pain would wake me up at night. I had to drag myself out of bed, stumble to the kitchen, and instead of pouring myself a cup of ambition, I filled a mixing bowl with equal parts ice and water. Then I plunged my hands in, and held them there until I wanted to scream. The cold took away the aching pain. But gave me a different kind of pain. I don't know why I bothered. But at least I was proactive. Doing something besides crying into my pillow. I diagnosed myself with carpal tunnel syndrome. Since I knew what was wrong with me, there was no reason to see a doctor. Thank goodness the pain stopped after I quit handwriting prices with a Sharpie eight hours a day. I had no desire to perform surgery on myself.

I have no idea what triggered this recent pain. It's not like I've been burning up the keyboard with submissions. I have a comfortable workspace where I can rest my hands on a corner countertop to reach my keyboard. I have not been milking cows with Jon Lovitz looking over my shoulder, asking, "Doesn't that HURT them?" I have not been two-fistedly squeezing stress balls. Nor training for Olympic Tug-O-War. Nor grabbing student ears and dragging them to the office. Nor over-using a re-gifted Label Baby Junior. Nor wrapping Pudding Skin Singles. Nor signing royalty checks from Japan.

And I don't even own a Sharpie.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

To rob Peter, or not to rob Peter: is that a question?

Is it nobler in my mind to suffer
Without wings or cole slaw from gas station chicken,
Or save gas by taking sick days from work,
As a manner of paying my contest fee?

Ay, there's the rub.

What should I deprive myself of in order to foot the bill for my contest entry? Do my children really need fast food every time they open their squawking beaks to clamor for it? Probably not. Do I need a 32 oz. fountain Diet Coke every day to the tune of $1.39? Probably not. Does Hick need money he skims from his weekly gas allowance for auction gewgaws? Definitely not.

Three value meals unfulfilled: $24

Eighteen less Diet Cokes, or having them only on weekends for three-and-a-half weeks: $25.02

Three hundred sixty miles per week, divided by twenty miles per gallon, is eighteen gallons, times four dollars per gallon, is seventy-two dollars, subtracted from Hick's weekly allowance of one hundred forty dollars: $68

Aww...who am I kidding? I'm not hurting for money. I have plenty squirreled away for just such emergencies as contest entries. I have a gas allowance too, you know. And I don't fritter my skimmings away on auctions. Nor do I have a weekly bowling habit that necessitates a fee and a meal, for which Hick is granted an extra twenty.

I might even enter twice this year. There's a discount, you know.

Monday, April 9, 2012

A Terminal Date, by Any Other Name...

Deadlines are looming, people. DEADLINES!

I'm juggling end-of-the-school-year deadlines, testing deadlines, personal check reorder deadlines, and income tax deadlines. But the good news is, "Taxes are done, Man!" To paraphrase Kenny in Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead. So that's one item to cross off my list.

But another deadline looms on the horizon. The 81st Annual Writer's Digest Writing Competition deadline! The Early Bird Deadline is May 1, 2012. After that, the $25 fee will be an extra $5 per entry until the absolute deadline of May 15, 2012.

There are 10 categories for your writing pleasure:
  • Inspirational Writing (Spiritual/Religious)
  • Memoirs/Personal Essay
  • Magazine Feature Article
  • Genre Short Story (Mystery, Romance, etc.)
  • Mainstream/Literary Short Story
  • Rhyming Poetry
  • Non-rhyming Poetry
  • Stage Play
  • Television/Movie Script
  • Children’s/Young Adult Fiction
And of course there are prizes:

Grand Prize
  • individual attention from 4 editors or agents
  • a trip to the Writer’s Digest Conference in New York City
  • $3,000 cash
First Place: $1,000 cash and $100 off WD Shop purchase
Second Place: $500 cash and $100 off WD Shop purchase
Third Place: $250 cash and $100 off WD Shop purchase
Fourth Place: $100 cash and $50 off WD Shop purchase
Fifth Place: $50 cash and $50 off WD Shop purchase
Sixth through Tenth Place: $25 cash

I've got to whip something into shape. I can't just rest on my laurels from last year. You remember last year, don't you? When I won 89th Place in the memoir category? Surely you have not forgotten. I'm certain I told you about it. Like here. And here. And here.

My current aspirations include ramping my writing up a notch and snagging 88th place. Just think, if all goes as planned...in only 87 years, I'll be WINNING this category!!! I need to make sure those long horns are well-oiled so they will be in shape to blare more huzzahs from the rooftops.

If you are a contest-enterin' fool, sit your butt in a chair and commence to writin'! Don't put it off until two days before the deadline. That there kind of procrastinatin' can land you in 89th Place. But that's okay. I'm done with 89th Place. It's open.

Can you estimate how many times I used the word deadline in this post? C'mon. Give it a try. It's not so colorful as guessing the number of gumballs in a Mason jar. And there's no prize. It's not like I can award you a jar full of deadlines, now is it? The answer will be in the comments when I reply tomorrow. No fair counting, OCD crew. That's not an estimation. You can't trick me. I used to dabble in math.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Val is the New Freddy Fender

Here it is. Day Three of my four-day holiday weekend, and I have once again let life get in the way of writing. There's really no way around it, short of leaving home, or locking myself in Hick's concrete-walled, steel-doored safe room. I cannot escape my familial responsibilities. Well, maybe I could have skipped watching Mean Girls with The Pony on Friday night from 9:00 to 11:00. But a child needs quality time with his mother. And his peals of laughter were precious to behold.

Wasted days and wasted nights. I wonder if Freddy Fender was a writer. Besides songs, I mean. I try and try to budget my time, but as with any regular weekend, I run out of weekend before I run out of chores. I can squeeze in the bare basics, and then time is up. Back to work. Lucky for me, I'm off Monday. But I have to do the Walmart shopping, which I didn't do today, because, well, it's Easter Sunday. And I couldn't do it yesterday, because I had to boil 48 eggs and 10 pounds of potatoes. And make potato salad and vegetable dip. And toss in two loads of laundry. I couldn't do it Friday, because I did the Save-A-Lot shopping for ingredients for the Easter food. Oh, and in between, my boys demanded pancakes for breakfast, and two other meals a day! Sometimes, I get so frustrated I could just cry.

Oops! Time got away from me again. I've got to go watch Amazing Race. But I really need to get a handle on this time-management issue. Before the next teardrop falls.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Like a Well-Shod Millipede

In an effort to get back into the swing of writing last night, I cautioned Genius that I did not want any more interruptions. "I can't get anything done when you pop in and distract me."

"Oh, I'm not going to be here that much longer. Enjoy me while you can."

"I'll enjoy you on MY schedule. I'm trying to get some submissions together. You'll sign a release, right?" Of course, I'm hoping that because he's under 18, his parent, which would be ME, could sign the release.

"Well, I don't know. It depends on what it's about. When I'm famous, I can't have my image tarnished by an unflattering story."

"I'm thinking of the rocket story. You said I was not allowed to tell that one to my students."

"I'd sign for the rocket story. What's in it for me?"

"I told you I'd give you ten percent of anything I make. So if I'm paid with a copy of the book, you can tear out 10 pages for every 100 pages in the book. Of course, first I have to get rid of you so I can write the story, then I have to submit it, then it has to be accepted, then it has to be published...I may be dead before all that happens."

"Great! Then I'd get it ALL!"

It's slow going. He's been in my office twice in the last ten minutes. First to raid The Pony's desk, which was originally my desk, for those black clippy things that hold a thick sheaf of papers together. I caught him sneaking out a brand new pack of oversize, colored paper clips. "Oh, these? They'll work, too."

"But they're mine."

"Oh, c'mon. They're not even open! You don't need them."

"Here's a mini version of those black clips. How about these chip clips?"

"They're perfect. Here. Take your paper clips. Don't you have any more of those black ones?"

"No. But Walmart sells them. Maybe you should go to town for some."

"That won't be necessary."

"That would have kept you away for a while. Now go. Don't come back down."

"Not even to bring the clips back?"

"NO!. Stay out."

He brought back the clips. They were for his newest project, photographing assorted fruits dropped into an aquarium of water. More on that project later. I can't really concentrate now.

It's like perpetually waiting for the other shoe to drop. From a millipede.

Friday, April 6, 2012

I Wonder If Dr. Frankenstein Got His Start in a Basement Labooooratory

See if you can guess what this post is about:

No. It's not about how the House that Hick built is held together with miscellaneous wire and Scotch tape. Nor how an Easter wreath can be constructed from eggy-looking light bulbs.

I had big plans today. Plans to whip some submissions into shape. Genius, however, had other plans. I know this, because within ten minutes of settling down to write, the pitter patter of large, sweaty feet echoed through the basement. Echoed over the dulcet tones of Sammy Kershaw's Vidalia. "Ain't nothin' so precious as a firstborn child..." I didn't name Genius Vidalia. But I often find myself murmuring Sammy's tag line: "You always gotta make me cry." Sometimes with sorrow. Sometimes, with laughter.

Genius holed up in Hick's basement workshop. It shares a wall with my office. A wall that doesn't quite seal to the floor. That's Hick's partitioning for you. I could hear Genius exclaim something every now and then. I tried to tune it out with Queen of My Double Wide Trailer, but Sammy wasn't forceful enough. Because I'm a curious cat, with no desire to expire any time soon, I called Genius into my office.

"What are you doing in there?"

"Dropping lightbulbs."

"I told you not to do that in the house. I don't feel like dying today."

"It's the old lightbulbs. Not the new twisty ones. These don't have mercury fumes."

Let the record show that Genius is not some weird, lightbulb-smashing freak. He has been wanting to take pictures of lightbulbs shattering. I forbade it several months ago. But he's a persistent little devil. His tactic is to wear people down. Or just to do what is forbidden, then justify it.

Genius asked for a brain for Christmas. It's really called an Arduino. Some kind of circuity thingamajig. He hooked that to a camera flash, a laser, and a resistor. Oh, he excitedly explained to me how it worked. I threw up my hands. "Um. Dog here. Learning to fly a plane. You've lost me." Genius went on. The best I can gather, he drops a lightbulb and breaks a laser beam and the flash goes off and the camera snaps a picture. He started in again about resistance and volts like three AA batteries, and I just said, "Woof."

"Where'd you get the lightbulbs?"

"Walmart. I even bought them with my own money. Five dollars. Did you know that the Walmart bulbs break great, but the ones I got here from the house BOUNCE?"

"No. What are you doing breaking our GE lightbulbs?"

"Oh, I save them when they burn out. So I can break them."

"What are you using for the backdrop?"

"My Harry Potter cape. And my 7th grade science fair project board. The project about cooling a soda in the freezer, ice, or ice water."

Let the record further show that Genius is not some weird freak who walks around in a Harry Potter cape. It was his Halloween costume. Made by his maybe-girlfriend, Hermione. The one who made him a wand because his stick wasn't good enough.

He is, however a weird freak who splices wire and gadgets together to save me $200 on a store-bought instrument that uses a laser to make a camera take eye-catching photos of breaking lightbulbs.

I'm kind of impressed. Because I'm not very smart about electronic thingies.

Or lightbulbs.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Voracious Val Feeds Her Brain

Years ago, when I split my work day between middle school and high school, the middle school ran a reading contest. Two students and two teachers could win lunch at a local restaurant. I believe it was tied in with Pizza Hut's Book It program. The kids were moderately excited.

The faculty was fired up. AN HOUR AWAY FROM SCHOOL FOR LUNCH! The competition was cut-throat. We carried our reading logs with us constantly. We combed the premises for suitable reads. They had to be chapter books of at least 100 pages. There were those among us who sought only the rudimentary facsimiles of literature. They rushed the English teachers. "What do you have? The shortest ones! I need one now! And make sure you save that other one for me. I'll get it after school."

The teacher across the hall filled me in every afternoon. The colleagues taking the low road. Playing dirty pool. She knew they would not last. We were in it for the long haul. Legitimately. This newfangled reading thing was not new to us. We regularly carried tomes for the down times, and discussed the merits of recent works of fiction and nonfiction. Because of the sheer number of volumes necessary to win, we, too, consulted the English teachers. But not for the shortest. For the best.

That is how I came to read The Giver. The Hatchet. Bridge to Terabithia. The Outsiders. Where the Red Fern Grows. The Yearling. Treasure Island. I didn't know what I'd been missing.

We could still count books that we'd already read, as long as we read them again. At the high school, I was elbow-deep in at-risk youngsters. That was my job at the time. And far be it from me to hold them back when they needed help with their reading assignments. They mostly needed help because when the teacher assigned them to read a chapter, they did not even crack open the book. So once various assignments were completed or being worked on, I pulled out one of their assigned books. "Go on with what you're doing. I'm going to read aloud from this book. What chapters will you be discussing today?" I wasn't exactly music to their ears. But at least they were exposed to the book's contents before being handed a quiz. We slogged through The Odyssey. The Scarlet Letter. The Red Badge of Courage. Lord of the Flies.

Just for fun, when they did not have a novel in progress, I threw in Tom Sawyer. With edited dialogue, I'm ashamed to say. Because no use tempting fate. I also brought them a couple of Gordon Korman series: Island, and Dive.

Meanwhile, back in Adult Land, Cross-Hall and I did our best to out-title each other. The odder the better. Bleachy Haired Honky B*tch, Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress, Running with Scissors, Plainsong. The majority of Oprah's Book Club picks. Anything new or old, off the shelf or hot off of Amazon. I drew the line, though, on toting my unabridged hardback of The Stand from building to building.

We tore it up, Cross-Hall and I. A Personal Pan Pizza is a mighty motivator. We were crowned the winners. Oh, and a couple of little bookworms, too. We feasted for a full hour on the district's dime.

Val Thevictorian. Voracious reader. Voracious eater.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Send Lawyers, Gorillas, and Elephants. The Words Have Hit the Fan.

I love words. Always have. It was a red-letter day when my ninth grade English teacher wheeled in the TV to let us watch Wordsmith on PBS. For some odd reason, my peers did not seem to share my elation.

When Genius was born, I talked to him nonstop. You never know when a toddler might grow up to be on Jeopardy and need to regurgitate obscure facts. Before the Parents as Teachers budget was decimated, Genius had his own personal educator who made home visits. She said she loved to come to our house. Not only because the floor where she interacted with Genius was free of roaches, but because he talked like a little adult. "I'll bet you talk to him like an adult, don't you? He seems so mature." Ahem. He was my first baby. I did not know there was a special baby language. So I talked to him like a person. Yes.

Sometimes, a child does not know the nuances of adult language. I remember telling toddler Genius, who had a stubborn streak, believe it or not, which I attribute to his father, that he was so argumentative, I was certain he would grow up to be a lawyer.

"I am NOT a lawyer!" said Genius. "YOU are the lawyer!" He had the word confused with liar. Well. As the little boy said with a shrug of his shoulders, no words necessary, in Liar Liar, "Same difference."

This afternoon, The Pony got into the act. He tried several times to explain to me about a smell emanating from an object. Three times, he became tongue-tied, trying to get his idea out. I finally put an end to the struggle. "I get it. You're wanting to use the word emanating." The Pony concurred.

Nearer to home, we passed a house where a large brown hound was sunning himself on top of a red Chevy Cavalier. Not on the hood or trunk. On the roof. He covered the entire square-footage. The Pony and I debated on how he got up there.

"Duh. He climbed up there."


"How do our cats get on top of our car? He used his feet."

"But cats can climb. Dogs can't."

"They can jump. How do you THINK he got up there? Perhaps when the people bought their car, it came with a large brown dog on top. The dealer put him there, I guess."

"No. Somebody at home put him there. They would have noticed at the dealer. He's only like the one-hundred-pound gorilla in the room."

"Uh huh. Then nobody would have noticed. Because one hundred pounds is mighty small for a gorilla. They weigh much more than that."

"DOH! I feel so foolish now."

I didn't have the heart to tell him about the elephant in the room.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Drip, Drip, Dripping on my Cellar Floor

Please excuse my indelicacy this evening. If you are a certain follower, you might not want to read this one out loud to your wife while she is eating. Because my psychic powers tell me she would not be appreciative of my literary talents.

Who's in? Last chance to turn back. Like the tour guide warns you as you step foot into Marvel Cave at Silver Dollar City, you are going to spend an hour climbing up and down nearly six hundred steps. And if you can't make it, there will be a time lag before rescue workers can haul you out. Same here. Not the six hundred steps part. Or the hour. But if you ignore the warning and forge ahead, some trauma might occur for the weak among you. Still with me? Okay then. Let the bloodbath begin.

As I was sitting in the warm glow of my monitor last night, in my darkened basement office, I rubbed my forehead. Kind of kneaded it, in the sinus area above my eyes. Where it felt like I had a Neanderthal brow. A headache which did not depart until after a lunch of chicken nuggets, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen this morning at 10:53. As I was intent on relieving that throbbing, night-time annoyance, I felt a stray eyebrow strand. A single hair. Stubby. Just sprouted. Out of place. So I did what any woman with unaddressed grooming issues would do, and attempted to snag it with my thumbnail and fingernail to pluck it out. I can do that sometimes. First try.

Last night, it did not happen on the first try. Or the one-thousand-and-first try. But who's counting? Not me. Or I might have stopped after five hundred. I finally gave up. Threw in the non-existent towel. The errant sprig had bested me. But because I knew it was there, I felt compelled to touch it again. Just to see if I might have been mistaken. If, in fact, I had ripped it loose, and only a flake of dry skin was left. You know this isn't going to end well, don't you? You can still run back up those steps and into the light before we reach the heart of this deep cave of gouged flesh.

Still here? I tried to warn you. I reached up and felt a small lump above my eyebrow. What...? It was apparently my body's full complement of platelets, valiantly attempting to form a fibrous clot to end the blood loss that might require a neck tourniquet from the tour guide. IF only I had one there in my basement lair. My fondling of the site of the unsuccessful plucking endeavor dislodged the still-solidifying infant scab. Blood poured from the self-inflicted wound like summer-in-the-city water from an adolescent-sabotaged hydrant.

At first, I could not believe that my life force was leaving me at such an alarming rate. "Oh, I must have worked up a sweat during the kneading and picking stage. That's it. Brow sweat. 'Tis only sweat, and nothing more." I grabbed a tissue and dabbed. Twas much, much more than the glow of ladylike perspiration. I needed a little bucket like Vermonters hang on their maples to catch the sap. An oil-spill boom filled with hair clippings off the salon floor. A thirty-roll case of Bounty, the quicker picker-upper. A stuck pig had nothing on me.

Perhaps you've read Stephen King's Carrie. Ol' Steve is fond of mentioning the coppery smell of blood a plethora of times in a variety of stories. Who can forget the elevator and creepy twins of The Shining? Or those wacky undead who inhabited 'Salem's Lot, imbibing gallons upon gallons of the stuff like so much Sunny D. But my predicament lent itself to Carrie White's crowning moment. Without the thud of the bucket against Tommy Ross's head. I wonder if Mr. King ever had an errant eyebrow hair. Because he learned about that coppery smell somewhere. And I can vouch for the aroma.

Taking my lead from the natural world, I took it upon myself to lick my own wounds. To put some high-grade mom spit on my finger, and apply it liberally to the drowning nub. It took several applications. But the wound once again began to clot. Needless to say, though I will say it, because I'm all about superfluous blog posts, this incident did little to help my sinus headache.

I wonder...is a headache a harbinger of exsanguination?

Monday, April 2, 2012

One Can't Handle the Truth

I had to stay after school today. No, I wasn't caught being bad. I had my regular weekly parking lot duty. Then a monthly faculty meeting. Then an additional, tacked-on meeting for test-givers for the upcoming EOC season. If you're a high school teacher in Missouri, you'll know what I'm talking about.

So...you can imagine the excitement that permeated the library after the non-EOC-giving teachers were released. It was downright palpable, I tell you. And pulsating. I'm surprised the books didn't unshelve themselves like those of the New York Public Library in the opening scene of Ghostbusters.

It was a grand production. Projector. PowerPoint. Audio message. All standardized for distribution around the state. We had to sign off that we attended and were prepared. Paper materials that were distributed must be turned in at the end of our testing window, to be shredded. No giggling. No note-writing. No texting. No paper-grading. We dutifully watched black words on a white screen while a disembodied voice read to us. NOW I understand how a bedtime story puts kids to sleep.

Near the end, the steady drone of the oddly-sibilant narrator was spontaneously joined by another voice. Not human. The chirping of a cricket was distinctly heard by all. It lasted no more than fifteen seconds. We glanced around at each others' studious, upturned faces, lit only by the reflection of the projector screen.

One of my regular lunch companions was the first to crack. Not merely a grin. A wink. A knowing, Mona Lisa smile. Nope. She did a dry spit take, followed by a hearty, "Bwah, ha, ha!" And, in case nobody noticed, she bellowed, "I heard a CRICKET! Was that on the tape, or was that a REAL cricket?" We commiserated. Sure sounded real. But we didn't want to be the ones to bring it to the attention of our Grand Poobah of Testing.

He did not know, either.

Truth. It's stranger than fiction.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Blinded By the Sight

And now, the rest of the story.

The Pony and I saw a plume of black smoke billowing over our Backroads paradise Friday evening. We went inside and looked for Hick, but he was no doubt communing with his goats and chickens. I took up a vigil in the La-Z-Boy to see what developed. Because our large living-room window faces west, I closed the blinds to avoid becoming blind. Hey! I wonder if that's how the inventor named those things!

About twenty minutes later, I heard an uncommon noise, and called downstairs to The Pony. "Did you hear that? What was it?"

"I don't know."

"It sounded like a horn. Maybe your dad is out there on the Gator or the four-wheeler. Go look. And check on that fire while you're at it."

The Pony went out on the porch for a few minutes. "I don't see Dad anywhere. But you must have heard a truck. Because there's dust hanging over the road like a big one just went by." That happens a lot. Hick's buddy has a dump truck, and does freelance hauling. In fact, Hick was one of several in his ragtag crew who took an old Mack truck, cut it down, added hydraulics and a dump bed, and transformed that bargain Mack truck into a money-making implement for Buddy. Hick is a man of many talents. But being around to be found in the evenings is not one of them.

The fire was burning, but no closer, according to The Pony. We were in no imminent danger. The house was not even filling with smoke yet. I  descended to my dark basement lair. It was not until later that night that Hick filled me in on the details.

Hick exited his barn and saw the smoke. A fire truck went by. THAT was the noise I heard. The fire engine honky sound. Being Hick, he decided that he needed to hop in the Gator and go investigate. The fire had jumped the gravel road and was about to get in behind Buddy's house. The fire department put it out.

The fire started behind Mergatroid and Myrtle's house. They are former city slickers who bought property right after we moved into our house. They started out visiting on weekends. Buddy met them first. Or rather, his son, then six or seven, met them first. He heard a lawnmower, and went to see who was there. It was Myrtle, mowing her land with a push mower, totally nude, which was a sight that nobody wanted to see. Because I suppose that's what city slickers think goes on down here in Backroads. Like it's all one big back-to-nature preserve. Granted, it's a private homeowners' association. But it's not gated. There used to be a metal bar gate with a padlock, but once people started building and actually living out here, that was taken down.

The problem...well, one of them...with Mergatroid and Myrtle is that they have a bunch of old tires stacked on the back of their property. I'm sure they are saving them for a noble cause, like building a house with insulated rubber walls, or making a fence of them. Or perhaps whittling them down into sandals to sell online as a way of recycling. But old tire piles can spontaneously combust. However, that was not the case. Somebody started a fire.

Not that it was arson. It was most likely an accident. Because not that many people come up in here. And this side is a dead end. Hick's theory is that somebody gave somebody permission to use their land. Like we have given a couple guys permission to bowhunt during turkey season. And the somebody got off that person's land, perhaps hunting mushrooms, maybe dropped a cigarette, and WHOOSH! A tire fire is born.

I don't know who called the fire department. But I'm pretty sure they had purchased a fire tag.