What am I grateful for other than the golden ticket citizenship? Baskin-Robbins and Spanx, the ultimate symbiotic duo, I'm looking at you. I've been working our excellent health care system pretty hard this year, so thanks for that. My loving husband's gainfully employed, my nieces are happy and healthy, my dogs are content, so my life's pretty good. Gratitude's great and all, but I've been thinking about this holiday and I've come up with a different angle this year. Americans and their holidays, what's the common denominator across the board?
It's excess. As a country, we celebrate large. We go crazy. We super-size. You doubt me? Walk into any Party City store. As much as we envy other countries their work schedules, I think our heads would explode if we added more holidays.
Don't get me started on Sri Lanka, with 24 holidays, not counting all the Hindu and Buddhist holidays of which there are many. This is why the Sri Lankan GDP is roughly equivalent to that of an epileptic house cat. (It's about 3/10ths of one percent of the US GDP, so really, maybe go to work a couple of extra days there why don't ya?)
For purposes of making my point here, I'm not really counting Martin Luther King's birthday or Veteran's Day because I never got those off ...<< MORE >>
Honesty is the best policy. Except when it's not. That's the crux of Southern-speak, right there. You'll find yourself wandering into the "except when it's not" territory more than you ever thought possible. You might even end up forwarding your mail there, you're in it so often.This goes far beyond the old comic line, "Do these pants make my butt look big?" Really? People, unless you need to quickly assess whether or not your partner is experiencing suicidal tendencies, why would you ever ask a question like that? Baiting your partner with land mine questions is not cool. And for those of you who are stuck in the remedial relationship class, the answer to that question is always, "Why no, Honey. In fact, I was just thinking that you look very pretty today."
No, Southern-speak can be far more subtle. We learned it watching our parents and our grandparents, so we can spot it and drop it without thinking. For those of you who were not raised Southern, well, you obviously need some assistance. Here I am, a public service peach, ready to help.
"I'm just being ugly."
This phrase has nothing to do with physical attractiveness. All Southern women are beautiful and we know it. This phrase refers to behavior, speech, or attitude. The speaker is announcing that they have slipped into some serious hatefulness. It's a half-hearted apology and/or acknowledgement that yes, we are indeed being a world-class bitch but we're not quite finished yet. Recognizing you have a problem is the first step back towards "nice lady" behavior.
"You'd best be getting to it." or "You'd best not do that."
Other regions might use the "You'd better. . . ." but in the South, we have ramped up our seriousness on the good-better-best scale. When we say you'd best, we are quite earnest that you should or should not do whatever we are discussing. This also implies a certain amount of ...<< MORE >>
I am doing my best to reproduce Grandma Grace's recipes, though I can only hope to come close to what I've idolized in my memory. I have conquered her sister Ruby's fried chicken recipe, and her sister Nikki's peanut pie but my own grandmother's biscuits have eluded me, having developed into mythical morsels through recollection.
Whether they are baked by my grandmother or anyone else, I am a sucker for homemade biscuits. Were I Native American, my name would be Dances With Biscuits. I speak about biscuits like other people talk about wine. "I detect a light crumb, a soupcon of butter, a pleasant base note of lard, and the impudence of buttermilk."
Nostalgia aside, were Grandma's biscuits really that good? Yeah, they were truly magnificent. They were ethereal, topped by a crispy, buttery crust that gave under the tooth. They were the perfect ratio of crisp (top) to cloud-like (middle) to crisp again (bottom). They appeared at both breakfast and dinner, always served aside churned butter and homemade peach preserves. At dinner the biscuits were for sopping gravy and filling the corners of your stomach, but you always saved one to have with butter and preserves, kind of a smallish dessert.
My grandmother Grace was a philosopher of sorts, particularly when it came to food. She said that the lumps in mashed potatoes gave the love a place to hide. Biscuits with fresh butter and peach preserves were to remind you that no matter what, life was rich and sweet. A big pot of stew on the stove was the cook's way of saying "Home Sweet Home." As long as you can smell ...<< MORE >>
I was a real challenge for my finishing school teacher, Miss Lillian Beatrice Clarkson, or simply Miss Lilly Bea. Too southern, right? I mean that's a grits level of southern, and indeed she was. Miss Lilly Bea was the personification of southern gentility. She never left her house without pearls, she never broke a sweat, and she was gracious to all. She was the keeper of the etiquette flame, the manners whisperer, and there was not a wedding, funeral, or public event in our village that did not have Miss Lilly Bea's imprint on it somewhere, somehow.
I coveted Miss Lilly Bea's quiet confidence and grace. She was my opposite, perfectly groomed, totally unflappable, and able to hold her tongue. So not me. I did my best to follow her example. I quickly memorized proper table settings, grasping which fork went with which dish and why fish knives have a notch in them. Got it. I excelled at bread-and-butter note writing: the thank you note, the sympathy note, the congratulatory note, the regrets note, and the simple thinking-of-you note. I could spin these out by the dozens, each a masterpiece of personalization. Double got it.
I even learned a rudimentary waltz, but I was just plain awful at it. I have never looked so demonically possessed as in dance class. Finally, Miss Lilly Bea said to me, "Darling, if you can not hear the beat just follow your partner. Don't try to lead if you're tone deaf."
My problems finding the rhythm were tiny compared to my trouble following someone's lead. I could not trust a boy I'd seen pick his nose on the school bus to deftly guide me on the dance floor. I didn't want to hold his hand, and I most certainly did not want his booger fingers placed in the small of my back to sway me through the waltz. My guarded approach — ick, don't touch me — was counterproductive to a successful dance partnership.
That was all awkward with a fat, capital ...<< MORE >>
"You don't want to get old. It's ghastly business."
My neighbor and dear friend Polly was inching towards her 99th birthday. She attributed her longevity to champagne and raking leaves. Her house was circled by stately oak trees, so raking was a serious undertaking, most definitely aerobic.
She might have made a long life because she never married, never had children. Polly was engaged to be married once, and wore a ginormous diamond ring every day even while gardening. Wore it as a reminder. Her betrothed, supposedly a fine young man from a well-to-do family, impregnated a girl while engaged to Polly. Polly terminated the engagement and insisted he marry the other girl. She never dated again. What was the point? She didn't trust anyone not to be just another well-pedigreed, weasel-trousered cad, so why bother?
"Polly, what are my options?" I asked.
"I don't know, but you don't want to die young and you don't want to get old, and that's the truth. You figure something out."
"Okay, I'm on it."
I guess I could talk someone into making me a vampire but then I'd stay exactly as I am today for eternity. I really want to lose another fifty pounds before I get locked into anything. Oh wait, and I need to grow my hair out because this cut isn't flattering. It looked good on Reese Witherspoon in the magazine. Imagine my surprise that it did not translate well to me, a chubby, middle-aged red head. Who am I kidding? I'm not sure I could ever be satisfied enough with my appearance to make it permanent.
Zombies are undead, but they are not pretty. A Southern girl like me could never be happy as a zombie. Our shoes would always need polishing, what with the foot-dragging scuffing them up. How do you apply pink gloss when your lip just fell off? For God's sake, run a brush through that hair.
Zombies are hungry ...<< MORE >>
I inherited some serious clutter issues. Everyday is a fight to keep my home from being declared a disaster area, every flat surface overrun with papers, jackets, coffee cups, and general mayhem.
Did you know that clutter mates and multiples like mice in the night? You can go to bed, the dining room table top proudly gleaming, and wake up to a swarm of squirming bills, junk mail, business cards, and dry cleaning claiming the table. The plastic newspaper wrapper is clutter's flag, hoisted on a sauce-soaked, carry-out chopstick, declaring the table as territory won. How does it do that?
I am determined not to suffer a homemaking Waterloo, so I Swiffer and swipe, Pledge and parry. I am barely hanging on here, and it's just the two of us in the house. Well, two humans and four dogs, but I'm pretty sure the dogs aren't the ones dropping sneakers, dirty plates, and magazines in odd places. Not to say that they wouldn't if they could, but until they all sprout thumbs they're off the hook.
Still, I take comfort in the knowledge that my house is not as bad as my mother's was. She was a hardcore packrat. Opening any closet or cabinet door would unleash an avalanche of stuff, more than she realized she had, more than she could ever use. If two sauce pans are great, five are fabulous and nine are spectacular. The laundry room was carpeted with clothing to a depth of 8 inches or more. The basement was a no-man's land of her steals and deals.
My mother went to town every Saturday to have lunch, maybe take in a movie, and shop. This was her therapy. As long as she had her Saturdays to look forward to, she could slog her way through the week. Richmond was her "happy place" and woe be to anyone who blocked her path Saturday morning.
One Saturday Mama returned early from her Richmond<< MORE >>
I am a true blue barbecue hound. I have planned vacations around barbecue festivals. I have trekked miles out of my way to pay respects to the South's legendary pits. I know barbecue, I am particular about barbecue, and I will spend some serious cash getting my hands on decent barbecue.
Imagine how excited I was about a new barbecue place opening within two hours of my house. Heck, I drove fifteen hours to Memphis to wallow my way from one end of the Memphis in May competition to the other, so what's 75 miles to me?
Gruff and I headed there for dinner. The place looked appropriately rough. I'm not comfortable eating barbecue someplace "precious." Don't get me wrong, I insist that any eatery be clean but barbecue does not taste right surrounded by frills. The more the joint reminds me of a converted shack, the better.
The first clue that this place was a sham is that there was no smoke. No visible woodpile, no aroma to draw you in off the highway. My grandpa taught me not to eat barbecue anywhere you can't smell smoke and find a woodpile. I forgot this in my rush to try a new barbecue joint. I owe Grandpa an apology.
The second clue was the menu. There was lots of talk about sauces, less about the meat and the smoking process. The hardcore barbecue nuts I know are proud of the hours they've logged tending just the right cuts of meat over just the right type of wood or charcoal. Sauces aren't the star. If meat is smoked correctly sauce is just a supporting player to the dish, hardly necessary at all.
The final nail in the coffin was the food itself. Lawsy lawd, the food. Don't get me wrong, I have an adventurous palate. I giggle with glee at molecular gastronomy. I adore trying the new, the weird, the surprising takes on food, just as ...<< MORE >>
I adore pithy little sayings. I am a sucker for cute bromides. Most are totally useless, and certainly don't stand up to any real scrutiny but I still love them. I have all kinds of observations taped to my desk like, "The secret to getting ahead is getting started."
"There are seven days in the week and someday isn't one of them."
"It is never too late to be what you might have been."
"I write when I'm inspired and I see to it that I'm inspired at 9:00 every morning."
"When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro."
"If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went."
"You're looking particularly good today."
"Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work."
"We are all each other's angels."
"Writing is just another business. Get over yourself."
"Not every person knows how to love a dog, but every dog knows how to love a person."
So there you have it. By reading the slips of paper taped to my desk and monitor, you know everything there is to know about me. You don't have to be Sigmund Freud to figure me out. I am just this simple.
I am a writer. I have a serious procrastination issue. I love dogs, very much. I believe we owe each other kindness. I worry that my Daddy's eyebrows and my Mama's chin are merging into a not-so-pretty union on my aging face. Ta da. Me, the Cliffs Notes version.
Which got me to thinking, what if everyone had their essence distilled into a few fortune cookie-sized philosophies? What if we had to make them part of our introductions? "Hi, I'm Maria. The only disability in life is a bad attitude."
"Well it's a ...<< MORE >>
I have a momentous birthday coming up. It's significant if you believe that birthdays ending in a "5" or a "0" are more special than others. I'm pretty sure Hallmark thinks they are. Although, Hallmark is the king of manufactured hoopla so if they thought for a minute that people would buy cards for a birthday ending in a "7" as super special, then that's what they'd market. For me, this one ends in a "5" so it is justifiably cause for celebration.
I've been thinking about what I'd like for a present this year. I mean birthday pie is a given, an
essential part of my celebrations, but what else? I don't want flowers. I do love balloons because they're forever cheerful, but that's not necessary either.
This is why you don't see bouquets of funeral balloons. You just can't observe a somber occasion with balloons. Well, neither balloons nor
banjo music. Those two things are incapable of being respectfully dismal. Can you imagine?
So, here's what I've decided I really, really crave for my birthday. I want a dumpster. That's not a typo. I want a full-length dumpster parked here for a month. Happy, happy birthday to me. Look, I am not sentimental. I am only interested in things that make my life easier, more comfortable, or more pleasurable. Don't give me the precious, the dustable, or the commemorative.
I want to jettison everything in this house that I do not use. I sold my sterling silver. I touched it once a year when I took it out of the drawer to polish it. If something requires my enduring a chore to keep it, it had better be either spectacularly useful or beautiful. The silver didn't make the cut.
I can't hold a yard sale because the dogs go wild when strangers step onto the property. Ditto for people dropping by from a Craigslist ad. I've put stuff up on eBay with some success but now I'm ...<< MORE >>
This is what happens when I wander away from the safety of kitty videos on the internet into the untamed thickets of pop culture. I find myself slack-jawed, staring at video of little Miley Cyrus twerking against Robin Thicke's wedding vegetables at the VMA awards. That's right. Hannah Montana has become one hoochie hussy and it's all on tape. Now I am fighting the compulsion to spritz my eyeballs with Lysol.
Honestly, I just don't know where to begin or which path to take with this story. I think this might have to be a list to incorporate everything that needs to be said.
1. This performance had Miley sticking her tongue out at bizarre angles on cue. Shuffle, shuffle, quick-step, stick out tongue. Stop it. Gene Simmons is the mack-daddy of exposed tongues. In comparison, you look like a pygmy-tongued amateur.2. White child stars like Miley and Justin Beiber often believe that the quickest path to adult career success cuts right through the ghetto. If you really had the life experience, skill, and deftness necessary to properly represent hip-hop and rap, you wouldn't look like a pale poser. (Reference the career of Vanilla Ice.) Your efforts are just plain awkward. Tiny white people trying to be badass make me sad.
3. On twerking itself. If white people never appropriated any black music or dance moves, we'd be stuck listening to Herman's Hermits and still doing the Pony. For you younguns, that's a dance move from the '60s that a South Korean, Psy, stole from us for Gangnam Style so circle of life and all that. The truth is that twerking is simply not effective when performed by a chick bearing a flat board in place of an ass. The key to booty-popping? First, get yourself a booty.4. Often child stars, particularly girls, think they can assert their independence and adulthood by becoming hyper-sexualized. I'd footnote Britney Spears career here, but it's too obvious an example. Anyway, promoting your own ... << MORE >>
I am officially declaring shenanigans on dating service commercials. Happy, thin, white people meeting in upscale restaurants, trembling with possibilities, the soft candlelight making everyone look romantic and fresh. Knock it off! Shenanigans! It's not real, although advertising is never supposed to be. Anyway, enough all ready. It's too much. I've started yelling at the television and it's upsetting the dogs.
What's setting me off? eHarmony has bought a metric butt-ton of ad time promising — for a fee — to help you find your soul mate. Your soul mate. Not soul mates. Singular, lonely, sealed-in-a-jar-waiting-for-you-to-find-them soul mate. As if there's just one solitary person hidden out there on a planet crawling with 7.2 billion people that is perfect for you. Well, no wonder you need the scientifically slick algorithms of eHarmony to help filter through all the riff-raff chaff standing between you and your lone true love. How else could you possibly hope to knock all those ne'er-do-well imposters out of the way?
If 50.24% of the world's population is male and the total population is 7.2 billion, that gives you 3,602,880,000 guys. For various reasons, a sub-set of these gentlemen are not available to you at the moment. Fine. Even when you subtract the people who are in a relationship already, in prison, or enjoy the musical stylings of Nickelback, there's still plenty of candy in your bowl.
In your time here, you will cross paths with dozens of people with whom you could enjoy a lovely life. There is no "the One." There are "the Hundreds." Maybe even "the Thousands." In truth, you have options. You really are a kid in a candy store. Isn't that liberating? Don't you feel better now?
"The One" is just a smarmy marketing ploy used to sell dating services, diet plans, and breath mints. It is a fairy tale, mythology, an out-and-out bald-faced Madison Avenue lie and it sells squezillions of dollars worth of products because we believe it.
Speaking of fairy tales, remember the "one day my prince ...<< MORE >>
My two nieces just left to head home to Tennessee. They were here visiting me for ten days. Truly, I deserve my post-niece visit coma. I don't want to imply that my nieces are disobedient terrors, they most certainly are not. I am just not accustomed to being "on" for 18 hours a day, answering questions like I'm competing on Jeopardy, feeding, organizing, chauffeuring, cleaning, managing, protecting, listening, et al.
I started calling my younger niece by a Japanese-sounding nickname, Ken-i, because every sentence she uttered for ten days, all two million of them, began with the words, "Can I?" Holy crap, how do parents do this full-time? Are parents given extra-strength, military-grade vitamins the rest of us don't have access to just so they can keep up with their kids? Are they getting regular intravenous injections of super-strength Red Bull? Does the childbirth process give you some sort of motherhood gene mutation so you can hear things whispered five rooms away, cover a quarter mile in three steps, and parse out food for two into seven satisfying portions? If you are parenting and doing it well, you deserve a freaking medal. I mean that. A freaking gold medal.
I am not a parent. I did not get the "mommy chip" embedded in my brain at the factory. The concept just never appealed to me. I have never once asked to hold someone's baby. If you've got a puppy, I'm all over you like crispy on Southern fried chicken, but babies? Not so much. I have never goo-gooed baby talk. I don't get it. Never did. Still don't.
I must make an announcement. To all those people I met during my life who, even without knowing me very well, declared it an absolute certainty that I would change my mind about becoming a parent: You were wrong. You were presumptuous, boorish, and most importantly, you were wrong.
My mom never really sold the job as desirable. Being a mother, according to my own mother, was difficult, ...<< MORE >>
My second grade teacher, Mrs. Walsh, had her hands full with my large class of twenty-one girls and nineteen boys. We were all country ruffians, a feral bunch. First grade was just story time and finger paints, so it didn't do much to smooth our edges. We hit second grade with feet callused from going barefoot, itchy for something exciting, expecting Mrs. Walsh to entertain and educate us, in that order.
If amusement were not forthcoming, we'd provide it ourselves and rarely in an approved manner. We pushed Mrs. Walsh to her limits and bless her heart, she responded calmly to most of what we threw at her. She'd been teaching for more than twenty years, so I guess she was immune to shock. Until Calvin.
None of us worked her nerves more than little Calvin Anthony Westfall. Calvin was the son of the circuit court judge and was whip smart but he was also the only child of two older parents, being a surprise menopause baby. I don't think Calvin's parents had the energy to keep up with him. They barely monitored him. I think that's how he found his hobby. It was an awkward hobby, but Calvin was passionate about it.
Calvin had discovered his winkus. He took inventory frequently. If he weren't pulling his waistband out to visually check on things, he'd be patting it casually like it was a Shih Tzu sitting in his lap. Calvin was sure proud of that winkus.
The trouble is, we were farm kids. We'd seen winkuses (or is the plural winki?) from the time we'd toddled out into the barnyard. Rams, bulls, dogs, stallions, pigs, all waltzing around proudly displaying what God gave them. Calvin lived in the village near the courthouse, not a farm animal within five miles, except for a backyard chicken or two. So little Calvin hadn't learned the ways of the winkus. As far as Calvin knew, he was the only one on the planet ...<< MORE >>
The publishing industry, either because of diminished interest or smaller marketing budgets, now requires writers to be accessible, visible, maybe even happily interactive with their readers, or more accurately, consumers. We have definitely wandered into "be careful what you wish for" territory here.
Some authors are decidedly awkward around normal folk, myself included, and experience great anxiety that they'll say or do the wrong thing in public. This anxiety guarantees that the writer will in fact, say or do the wrong thing. Even David Sedaris, as polished as he is, has uttered some boneheaded comments in interviews. It happens.
Yet the publishing industry forces hapless authors on the community with nary a To Do list for public appearances. Oh yeah! What could possibly go wrong? You never get a second chance to make a first impression, they say. They're right, of course. No longer can an author just show up, read a selection, and sign books. Nope. You've got to perform. (Insert Jazz hands here.) I'm not saying that's an unreasonable request, I'm just saying that it is miles outside of writers' wheelhouse.
So, we pretend. Authors assume the role of extrovert for outings. Sell it to the front row. Pretend to be on Broadway. Personally, I try to channel Nathan Lane. Can't get any more extroverted than good, old Nathan. People will buy books for the writing, but they become enthusiastic fans of authors they find likeable. If my history of first dates is an indicator, I don't do very well expressing my likeability in initial encounters. Maybe I'll just give everybody a dollar.
Some will be surprised that I am so thoroughly an introvert at heart. As an orchid grower, I've given talks on the flower show circuit for years. ...<< MORE >>
We live at a crossroads. Not a magical Robert Johnson kind of crossroads, more of a Gomer Pyle crossroads. Even though we are way out in the middle of nowhere, and it is not possible for me to overstate our rural-ness, it's still a very busy intersection. When I visit my friends in the city, I actually sleep better. It's quieter. Here at my little country corner, traffic starts rolling through around 3:30 in the morning so everyone gets where they need to be in time for work.
Just your average, garden-variety car tends to be loud and jiggly here since this county does not have vehicle emission standards. Air pollution is just not our most pressing problem. The average income in this county is shamefully low, so car maintenance is regularly postponed. There are a lot of vehicles on the road here that sound like they're one lug nut away from extinction.
Making it worse, one of the roads running past my house accommodates all the tractor trailers going from the poultry farms to the nugget factory and from the orchards to the juice plant. The other road handles dump trucks from the quarry and the big rigs hauling roof truss systems. It's a noisy, rattling junction, you can be sure.
That's where the mastiff comes in. Joe is our official Security Director and alerts us to all things suspicious in our immediate vicinity. He's the Top Gun of our thirteen acres and takes his position very seriously. I mean, drill sergeant seriously. Unless he's sleeping, then you're on your own. But other than that, he's a perimeter enforcement beast.
The rest of the pack are fairly casual in their approach to home defense. The Basset hound couldn't care less. The bulldog will bark once or twice if the event exceeds a certain time limit. The boxer will at some point utter a supportive bark, but will never know why since he's deaf and doesn't get it. ...<< MORE >>
23 June 2013Mr. Brian Lando, Director of Programming
Dear Mr. Lando:
I understand you have a big hole in your programming line-up that just opened and you need to fill it, ASAP. Mr. Lando, I am the right plug for your Paula Deen-sized crater.
Like Paula, I am a chubby, sassy, diabetic Southern woman who knows her way around a stick of butter. I can cook, in the tradition of my grandmothers, the deeply comforting foods for which we Southerners are famous. I can deliver my cooking advice in a folksy, charming manner tinged with a melodic accent. My accent isn't nearly as twangy as Paula's, but I assure you that it is truly enchanting.
My hair is red, not white. If you need it to be white, I just have to cancel all my standing appointments with Brandon at the Magic Mane hair salon. Give me six months and I'll turn into a skillet-slinging polar bear for you.
Unlike Paula, I have never used the N-word. Never ever, not even on karaoke night when Ice-T is playing. Not even when sharing a Paul Mooney joke. Never, ever, and I would swear to that in a deposition although for obvious reasons, I avoid all depositions. I am a firm believer in paying out and shutting up when lawyers are present. I'm sure you agree.
Unlike Paula, I do not yearn for a plantation wedding. Nor have I ever bragged that my only black friend (really an employee) is as "black as a board." I promise you that I do not have a brother at all, particularly not one named Bubba whose formative years were in pre-civil rights era Georgia.
Unlike Paula, I understand that if you are an public figure relying on consumer adoration, the consequences of letting your asshole flag ...<< MORE >>
"Ms. Brennan, do you know why you're here?"
I was sitting in a windowless primer gray room, furnished with the bare minimum of a metal table and two chairs. A man, his glasses riding low on his nose while he skimmed a file, was sitting across from me. He smelled like White-Out and fluorescent lighting, definitely a government employee.
"No, I do not. Why don't you tell me?"
"Okay, if that's how you want to play it. You're here because we suspect you of aiding and abetting the enemy, namely al-Qaeda. What do you have to say for yourself?"
"I'd say you've been sniffing the Elmer's. That's insane."
"We have transcripts here from NSA, that's right the National Security Agency, that have you purchasing weapons, making bombs, and going to Iraq and Pakistan. Now what you got to say, Missy?"
"You're high. It is not possible that you have transcripts of any such conversation because it simply did not take place. You could pay me all the money in the world and it wouldn't be enough to get me to Iraq. It's never going to make my bucket list."
"Well, it says right here. . ."
"Give me that." I grabbed the papers and started reading. There were a lot of blanks, referenced by the word unintelligible.
"Dude, what kind of low-bid contractor did y'all use? Over half of the transcript is missing, the other part is misheard. You can not pull law-abiding citizens off the street based on this malarkey."
"Ma'am, I assure you that we only use the most qualified technicians possible. You can trust this transcript."
"Oh horseshit. I worked for the government and I know low-bid when I see it. Let me tell you what this conversation was really about and you decide just how qualified your technicians are."
I turned to the page ...<< MORE >>
Nature is your Xbox when you grow up in the country. I played with tadpoles and the frogs they became. I knew every chipmunk in the yard. We were visited by rabbits and raccoons, cranky opossums, deer, and near-sighted skunks. The groundhogs showed up every year with the spring peas in the garden. While I adore the furry, I always had a soft spot for the birds and their love stories. I watched birds flirt, build nests, remodel nests, lay eggs, and raise their families.
Robins are cheerful, industrious birds and always seem to be around except in the coldest months. Here in Virginia, they appear ten months out of the year and will winter over if they have a protected roosting place and access to food. Robins are pot-bellied, jolly creatures warbling a pleasant melody. What's not to love about a robin?
Want to make friends with a robin? Dig worms to use as fishing bait and leave the turned soil, still wriggling with escaping earth worms, for the robins to feast upon. Friend for life, or at least friends when you have the shovel in your hand.
One summer, there was a robin's nest clearly visible from our bathroom window. At first the robin would fuss every time we'd peek, but robins are accepting of humans. Once she figured we weren't a threat, she begrudgingly tolerated us.
We marked the calendar from the day she laid those beautiful blue eggs until they cracked. Baby birds, louder than you would think possible, emerged and immediately demanded attention and food, chop chop, mama-san. We followed their progress, watching them develop from their horrid tiny pterodactyl phase into adorable fuzzy fledglings.
That year the Beatles were huge in the country and in my heart, so naturally I named our little friends John, Paul, George, and Ringo. No better names for a foursome than that, and the birds were quite a quartet.
One evening as we were sitting down to supper, there was a hullabaloo coming from the bathroom. We all ...<< MORE >>
I remember being their age like, yesterday. I was busting with promise. I remember being so very proud of myself, full of teenage wisdom. In other words, a total block head. Didn't realize it at the time, but I was clueless. I was a big fish, but didn't know how miniscule my fishbowl was. If you want to cultivate a healthy ego, grow up in a tiny town. If you want that ego to get resized by reality, leave that tiny town. Eventually, you'll have a bigger, better life but first your pride is going to get pummeled.
It's a big world. What a kick in the teeth to find that you aren't quite the superstar your Mama said you were. There is always going to be someone smarter, faster, better than you. You're going to bump into them all the time. Don't hate the hot shots, hang out with them. You'll find yourself getting smarter, faster, and more talented to keep up.
I would not presume to tell my nieces what they may encounter in life and how to deal. They wouldn't listen anyway. They probably shouldn't listen. Lessons shared by others don't stick like the lessons life beats into you personally. You've got to figure stuff out for yourself. If you're smart, you'll do it quickly. If you're a dullard like me, life will keep heaving the same lessons in your face until you learn. I was a member of the National Honor Society but in life, I was as remedial as they come. So I have decided that the best way to celebrate ...<< MORE >>
Molly Dugger Brennan
Girl Scouts rock! I was a Girl Scout. I was a member of a tiny troop, led by a lovely British woman, Mrs. Eleanora Wembley. Our troop met in a Presbyterian church basement every Tuesday after school. It was completely wonderful. I enjoyed my time in the Scouts listening to Mrs. Wembley so much that still today, I am a sucker for both a melodic British accent and boxes of Thin Mints.
Even though we were few in number, we planned a good, old-fashioned Girl Scout camping trip. I plotted like it was the Normandy Invasion. I used all my piggy bank money to buy essential camping gear. I got a pup tent. Accurate description, pup tent, since it was only big enough to hold two puppies. I practiced setting up and breaking down my itty-bitty green tent until I could knock it out in ten minutes or less. I was a pup-tenting fool.
I got a cleverly designed cooking kit, which disassembled to reveal a small mug, plate, sauce pan, and frying pan. I got a collapsible shovel and a small hatchet. I was primed and prepared. I was Survival Sally.
I was so excited. I was going to face down the unknown and emerge victorious. I saw myself proving my merit, forging my independence, surviving the harshest elements and wildest beasts. I was the poster child for courage in the dangerous wilderness. I was eleven.
In reality, our troop of twelve girls scouts and six mothers went to Olansky's Pond, the same place we all took swimming lessons every summer. We knew this pond and the surrounding area well. It was in the middle of nowhere, on the way to nothing, a largish pond or a smallish lake depending on recent rainfall and your point of view.
I was crushed. This was like camping in your own backyard. This was no life-changing adventure. How was I supposed to forge my independence at Olansky's pond? What ...<< MORE >>
I've just returned from a trip to New York. I love the city, it's so invigorating. The people-watching is excellent. The tolerance for my personal weirdness is practically unlimited. I've never had a bad experience in New York. Love it, love it, love it.
On this trip I mixed it up with the locals. I was invited to my first fancy-shmancy book launch party. Ooooo doggie, this soiree took people-watching to whole new levels of mesmerizing. This book launch was not held in a bookstore, but in someone's fancy-shmancy riverside apartment. You know the type. The address alone jacks the price of an apartment the size of a shoe box into the stratosphere. This apartment was the size of three shoe boxes, so you know it was pricey.
The writer in me tried to observe everything, everyone, eavesdrop on every nuanced word, all to mine for story material later. The bumpkin in me was completely overwhelmed, trying not to spill my red wine (Idiot, why did I choose the red wine?) on the precious furnishings/rugs/original art/esteemed guests/myself.
While everyone was completely gracious, and I met some fascinating people, nothing makes a girl feel more like a grain-fed heifer than being the largest woman in the room. By a lot. If I were British it would have been multiple stones worth, almost a boulder. As a well-nourished American, I was probably close to double the weight of most of the women present. Yes, I am a big girl but I've never been such an obvious, lonely outlier on the trend line before. Which made me wonder, have I ballooned that much or are these women freaking tiny?
Those two possibilities are not mutually exclusive. I am indeed an overfed piglet in spite of having lost a hundred pounds, and these women are truly made of twigs, twine, and coral lip gloss. Our charming hostess possessed legs the diameter of Dixie straws. Were I a landscape photographer, I would not have to ask her to move aside. ...<< MORE >>
I remember the day my little sister and I got brand new quilts. These weren't ordinary, store-bought quilts, no sirreee. These weren't hand-me-down quilts, either. These were custom-made, just-for-us quilts, with our names and birthdays embroidered on the top center square. They were sunshine yellow with bright, cheerful flowers appliquéd in every square. It made me feel extra special to have something that was so uniquely mine.
It wasn't until years later that I learned the sad story behind my happy quilt. Daddy regularly checked on a collection of elderly, independent-living people, just to make sure they were doing okay. Two of these people were a brother and sister in their 70s. The brother was nicknamed Penny and the sister was Izzy. Their mother had been a devoted Gilbert and Sullivan fan and Penny's given name was Stanley Penzance Freitag and Izzy's was Mabel Isabel Freitag, from the Pirates of Penzance. I can only imagine their relief that The Mikado had not been their mother's favorite Gilbert and Sullivan piece.
Penny owned railroad cars, specifically the kind that haul timber. He leased them out to the local lumberyards, or hauled his own cuts, always working the best angle. He had a small crew of men that regularly helped him out, loyal to a fault because Penny paid fairly and on time. Every Friday at lunch, Penny would hand out that week's pay in cash. Bad habit maybe, but it was his way and when Penny had decided that something had to be done a certain way, that was how it would be.
One Friday one of his regular workers called Daddy. He was concerned that Penny had not shown up yet and it was payday. He didn't want to go check on Penny and Izzy all by himself because Penny kept a sawed-off shotgun by the back door and he didn't trust Penny not to ...<< MORE >>
"I do it myself!"
That was my first complete sentence. Kind of set the tone for the rest of my life right there.
"I want a doggy!"That was my second complete sentence. On a roll now, boy. Both sentences are grandly imperious. Given the trend line these two statements create, I'm surprised my third sentence was not, "Off with his head!" Might have been for all I know, because my mother stopped recording my bon mots in my baby book after the second demand.
I routinely declared my need for a dog. Then one day, a fine and frisky female beagle puppy appeared. I was four years old and over the moon. I had chosen the honest name of Petey for my pup, and I didn't care if it was a boy or a girl. I wanted to call my ball of fur and ears Petey. That was not to be. Mama said the pup already had the name of Choc, short for Chocolate.
Having a puppy was more important to me than naming it Petey, though I was disappointed. I learned to go with Choc as her call name and she seemed to like it well enough. It was years and years before I learned that the name Choc was a slap at my Dad. Mama was a world class, champion grudge-holder. The name Choc was my mother's passive-aggressive way of commenting on another woman mooning over Daddy. Every time I squealed for Choc, it ripped a band-aid off a festering wound.
Note to passive-aggressives: do not use children and puppies to make your point. It's cowardly. It's bad juju. I know hiding your point behind other messages is just your normal operating procedure, but really now. Children and puppies are off limits. You may use cats because they're into it, but no kids, no dogs.
My daddy and the other state troopers set up speed traps regularly. They had their favorite hidey-holes in shady spots, ...<< MORE >>
I grew up in a farming community. It was a good place to be a kid and learn about life. These weren't factory farms. Dairy farmers in my county knew each cow by sight, watched over them, fretted when they exhibited signs of stress, and depended on them to support their families.
The cows knew their people, too. The cows learned who would take the time to scratch their ears, and who was too rushed to bother. Do not underestimate the intelligence of your average cow. Cows are not just standing there, chewing cud. They're thinking. Cows figure shit out.
For those of you who haven't connected the Vitamin D dots, milk comes from dairy cows. Cows lactate after they've given birth to a calf. Get it? That means every two years or so, a cow has to give birth in order to keep producing milk. That's a lot of calves. Approximately half of them are going to be male. Boy cows are fine animals but they are worthless for milk production, so they're often classified as veal. Cue Elton John's The Circle of Life.
Funny thing, though. Cows don't see their brand new, healthy calves as surplus. They see them as their babies. Turns out, cows care. A lot. If you misjudged due dates and didn't get the cow confined to the barn in time, cows will give birth in concealed areas to protect their newborns. Unfortunately, cows can get in real trouble giving birth to something with four spindly broomsticks for legs. It's safer if birthing is done in the barn, supervised. Not all cows agree. They will become decidedly uncooperative about the process.
That's why my friend Anna's brother built a calf cart. It was a simple wooden farm cart hooked to the back of his ATV. Whenever a pregnant cow went the clandestine birth route, he'd traverse the property until he found the calf, load it into the cart and take it away to the calf ...<< MORE >>
Molly Dugger Brennan
Between municipal budget cuts slashing library hours to a minimum and ever more children being diagnosed with ADHD, how is anyone ever going to access great literature or have the time and attention span to enjoy it? How will citizens learn the moral lessons that unfold within the pages of the classics? The drama, the pathos, the romance, the swashbuckling adventure, all lost? That can't be.
Say no more. I spend countless hours reading. I would do this anyway, but now I can serve your needs while I enjoy a good book. I have summarized the plot lines of the true magnum opuses. (Note: I so wanted the plural of opus to be opie, but it really is opuses which just sounds like the plural of opossum to me.) To fit today's needs, these synopses can fit on Twitter. You're welcome.
Jane Eyreby Charlotte Bronte: Hungry, cold, class system sucks. Edward's hot, my cousin's not. #orphansupportgroup #workplaceromance
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway: Drinking & debauchery doesn't fix anybody's problems. It's fun trying though. #barcardi #viagra #seepamplona
On the Road by Jack Kerouac: Who's got gas money? Who's got condoms? Who's got ideas? Carlo? #californiatourism #aaa
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee: The ignorant resort to racism to prop up their self-esteem. If you're black, do not move to Alabama. #NAACP #johnniecochrane
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand: I got mine. Screw you. #paulryan #kochindustries
Fahrenheit 451by Ray Bradbury: Books make mighty fine kindling. #teaparty #Borders
Moby Dickby Herman Melville: Call me Ishmael. Do not ...<< MORE >>
Let me tell you about my friend, Leah. Leah and I are both particular when it comes to food. Particular is a much nicer word than fussy or unreasonable, don't you think? In all honesty, we are both fussy to the point of being unreasonable, but I prefer the word particular. Leah has worked in the food industry for decades and could whip up a Michelin star-quality meal if thrown into a kitchen with nothing more than a rusty spoon and a dead possum.
I spent quite a few years working in restaurants and have dedicated my entire life to eating, so I know my way around a plate or two. As we've aged, we've both honed our recipes to thoroughly please ourselves. Anyone else who enjoys our cooking is merely along for the ride because we cook for us.
We are making more of our own food as we become progressively more exacting in our tastes. For example, we grind our own meats and make our own sausages. We mix our own dry rubs and spice blends from recipes we have developed through years of refinement. We don't use frozen or pre-packaged meals. We marinate and fry our own chicken. Our macaroni and cheese dishes are divine, mine heavy with gorgonzola and hers flavored with smoked gouda. Delish. Leah even cans her own salsas, from her own homegrown vegetables, which she smokes, peels, and chops her very own self. Yeah, we're precious like that.
So we were lounging in her dining room, enjoying a splash of wine when she makes the pronouncement that she and Cooper went to dinner the other night at a well known chain restaurant and it just wasn't up to snuff. Wasn't special, wasn't nearly as good as her own cooking, wasn't worth the money or the time.
Oh holy crap. Now you've done it, Leah. You've violated a supreme tenet of the Chick Code. Take it back! Take ...<< MORE >>
"I think we Southerners have talked a fair amount of malarkey about the mystique of being Southern."
~ Reynolds Price
I have been asked to define what it means to be Southern. Since I am promoting myself as a native tour guide for all things from the American South, I should be able to answer this question easily, only it's not that simple. It's messily subjective when you start thinking about it.
My husband Gruff can't wait to read this one, since he thinks my values are more aligned with SouthPark than with South Carolina. It's true. I am more liberal than most of the geographically defined South, but the South is always reconstructing itself and its values. It must to stay relevant to its growing, shifting population. It has to reinvent itself every so often so it doesn't become dusty and obsolete, an inherited knick-knack destined for the world's yard sale box.
I was raised in Virginia which is a very different milieu than Mississippi. There are dozens of flavors in the Southern stew, each as important as the next. Different states offer distinct tastes of the South, but there are common spices that bind it all. So no, I don't have a pithy, bumper sticker definition of what it is to be truly Southern and probably won't be able to produce one. Damn, I could have made millions selling bumper stickers.
Let me start by telling you what the South is not. It is absolutely not whatever the A & E and TLC channels think it is. A & E stands for Arts and Entertainment, and they have a rather flimsy grip on the Arts part of their name. TLC stands for The Learning Channel, an ironic moniker if ever there were one. If there is a TV channel currently on ...<< MORE >>
Molly Dugger Brennan
Our English mastiff is getting on in years. His muzzle is peppered with white hair, and his hearing is not quite reliable. In Joe's massive chest still beats the heart of a Samurai warrior, and he takes his role as chief protector of all that is ours extremely seriously.
Be warned all that venture near, Joe is on duty and you are suspect. Even if he has met you a thousand times before, you are merely an unwelcome trespasser until he decides otherwise. Being deemed a friend at present does not convey those rights automatically in the future. Acceptability is decided on a case-by-case basis.
Joe's suspicions are triggered by certain events, or even words, that he has decided pose a threat. Since most people who possess the intestinal fortitude to come to our front door start with a tentative "Hello," this word now triggers a Def Con 5 level response. Unfortunately, he applies this criteria indiscriminately. So when Gruff or I answer the phone — Hello — fierce barking erupts.
Intruder alert, intruder alert, unauthorized person attempting entry. All security personnel to Sector Three. And by security personnel, I mean an indolent bulldog and a deaf, three-legged boxer who is inept but unfailingly enthusiastic. The Basset hound does not participate. The princess hound couldn't care less if we were invaded by a mariachi band and a horde of ninjas as long as one of them stopped and scratched her tummy.
Joe's reaction to the word "hello" has gotten so visceral, I'm thinking of changing the way I answer the phone. "Hola" did not fool Joe. Neither did the way my daddy used to answer the phone, "yellow." "Wazzup?" doesn't seem quite professional enough, and "Dude!" even less so. I guess I could use "Good morning" or "Good afternoon" but since I am so rarely aware of the time, this might come out wrong.
We've ...<< MORE >>
Molly Dugger Brennan
I've been thinking a lot about love recently. I've been holed up in the house due to frigid weather and when you're locked up with another human being, you'd best be thinking about love. Otherwise, it could get all stabby.
Don't act shocked, you know what I mean. When cabin fever intersects with quirky personal habits to make a Venn diagram of whoop ass, you'd better be concentrating on sweetness and light. It's a lot of work to get blood out of the carpet. Just saying.
Any adult relationship is a complex dance, passion waxing and waning, irritation peaking and ebbing, human frailty exposing its messy self at every pas de deux. Were it not so perplexing, we'd have never gotten great blues music. If love were easy and constant, all songs would sound like they were written by Barney. Life is messy. Messy surprises which makes it interesting. Interesting is appealing, compelling, and fires up our juices.
Please note that I am advocating the authenticity of a messy, true, human bond. I did not say one word about sticking around for a relationship that is difficult. Never confuse drama for depth of feeling.
If your partner tests you, takes without giving, doesn't recognize your needs are just as legitimate as theirs, you have my permission — no, my encouragement — to leave. We don't reward relentless selfishness. Weigh your options. Being alone is a gift if you've spent any time in a bad relationship. Don't be afraid to do what is best for you. As I said before, it's a lot of work to get blood out of the carpet.
I think I've made it abundantly clear that in comprehending lessons on love, I'm a thick-skulled heifer. I've been in many substandard relationships. Hell, I've been engaged what, five times?<< MORE >>
Saint Valentine's Day has come and gone. I had written a blog post for the occasion. In fact, I wrote three different posts. You might have noticed that I did not publish any of them. Why? Because every one of them made me sound like a bitter, pessimistic shrew so I erased them all.
What can I say? Sometimes I am just an insufferable bitch. Ride with me in rush hour traffic sometimes, you'll see. I don't like to publicize my non-Buddhist moments to the world if I can help it and in this case, I could definitely help it. It's the literary version of dying my increasingly gray hair. You don't need to see that and it doesn't do me any good to show it. It's not pretty, people.
I do want to make a point about Valentine's Day and I want to make it in a non-cynical way, so um, not in my usual style. I know that I am often the Queen of Cynicism, the High Priestess of Southern-fried Snark, or as Gruff calls me, the Snarkness Monster. I own that. I am trying to be tender here, damn it. Don't judge me.
Here's my point. Nobody in this world owes you squat. Period. Let that roll around in your skull for a while. I'll wait. Understand it's the absolute truth. Sorry, all you Harlequin romance freaks. There's no guaranteed soul mate waiting on horseback for you. He's not at the Starbucks or the Jiffy Lube either.
Now recognize that if someone is ...<< MORE >>
Molly Dugger Brennan
Here we are. We're already ankle-deep in a brand new year, 2013. No New Year's resolutions for me, though. I'm too cynical to be played by good intentions and resolutions any more. I have not kept a one, not a one, ever. So, now I issue a single declaration. More festive, more regal, more likely to become reality.
Hear ye, hear ye, I hereby declare that 2013 is the year that I get my Nojo working. Yep, I meant Nojo. With apologies to that great blues singer Muddy Waters, it's not the same as Mojo. Nojo is the art of telling other people no to keep yourself from getting stretched too thin. Nojo knows the difference between being helpful and getting used. Nojo protects you from others and more importantly, it protects you from yourself, or rather your fantasy version of yourself where you are some sort of 24/7 super hero. Who doesn't need a little of that in their lives?
Nojo is the magical charm to deflect people who ask for your help, just because it is easier than doing the work themselves. (Hint: it's not a compliment that they ask for your advice. They want you to fix their messed-up life because it (1) gives them someone to blame, and (2) lets them avoid responsibility. They also get your attention, which they crave. Don't fall for it. )
Nojo allows you to stop running yourself ragged. "No, it is not possible for me to make cookies for your bake sale." If I truly believe in the group, I'll toss them a $20, which is more than they would have gotten from my lame-ass cookies. I bet charities who hold bake sales would make far more money if they held unbake sales. All the people they regularly hound to cough up homemade goodies alternatively hand over a twenty. ...<< MORE >>
I am left-handed and unreasonably proud of it. We are merely ten percent of the population but we make ourselves known. Growing up, I felt special because I was different from most. Only one other student in my class was left-handed, and we had to race each other to get the only left-hander's desk in the classroom. Whomever lost out had to spend the semester turned sideways in order to take notes, but then you were looking out the window instead of towards the teacher, and that's not a bad thing.
In the artistic and creative fields, we kick right-hander ass. I think the creativity comes from spending your entire life adapting everything so you can use it. Sewing machines, I'm staring at you. Fountain pens, you suck too. Can openers, bite me.
Jimi Hendrix, Rembrandt, da Vinci, Beethoven, McCartney, Kurt Cobain, Michelangelo and so many more were left-handed and they definitely shaped their worlds to suit themselves. There have been an unusually high number of astronauts who were left-handed. Even more astonishing is how many astronauts were from Ohio. Hello? What is going on in Ohio that motivates people to not just leave but leave the planet? Ohio, we need to talk.
There's some research floating around that says being left-handed isn't so good for your overall health and life expectancy. Psychologist Stanley Coren published The Left-Hander Syndrome in 1992 that posited being left-handed shaved a fat nine years off your life. Really? That's a bigger difference in life expectancy than between smokers and non-smokers. If there really were such a threat to one's wellness from handedness, I'm sure that insurance company actuarial table geeks would put "Are you left-handed?" on their coverage applications right below "Do you enjoy parachuting?" and "Do you smoke?"
I would be willing to believe Mr. Coren's pronouncement if all the left-handers in his ...<< MORE >>
First Law of Desire: One's level of satisfaction with an object once acquired will be in inverse proportion to one's previous level of desire for said object.
I have lusted for many things in my lifetime. Most were items, some were events, more than a few were men. I have learned that the First Law of Desire is eternal and guaranteed, at least in my own life. The more I have vibrated with pure, intense craving for something, the less I enjoyed it once it was mine.
My first memory of powerful yearning was when I was in the fifth grade. There was a rain coat in the Sears catalogue that was unlike any I'd ever seen and I absolutely had to have it. It was a delicate ice blue color, double-breasted, belted, with a Nehru collar. It was chic. It was sophisticated. It was everything I was so desperate to be. Never you mind about the practicality of handing a pastel rain coat to a ten-year-old girl, it was all I thought about. It consumed me. My parents promised that it would be mine if I got all A's on my next report card.
I was an honor roll student. I got A's all the time. Easy-peasy. In six short weeks, I just knew I would waltz into school wearing a coat that would make me look like a glamorous, international spy. The coat was within my grasp. Then, it happened. I got hit with the likes of which I'd never seen before. Fractional math. Ratios. Word problems written by Satan himself.
There are two types of fruit at the farmers' market that outsell all other kinds, strawberries and blackberries. The ratio of strawberries to blackberries for sale is 5:3. If there are 64 pints of strawberries, how many pints of blackberries are there? How many pints of berries does the farmer need to sell to turn a profit? Why doesn't the cute girl selling eggs pay any attention to ...<< MORE >>
Stop it. The timeline from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day is full of food and the people you love. That's all that's necessary. So I'm going to give you a huge pass this year. I am secretly the Permission Pixie. Shhh, don't tell. It's my super power.
I, the Permission Pixie, grant you permission to ignore the urge to put up eight trillion blinking lights on your house. You absolutely do not need to decorate your vehicle. You can shove the Shelf Elf into a box. I don't even put up a wreath anymore. I realized that it appeared festively welcoming and therefore encouraged people to visit, always during my jolly holiday nap. Can you imagine?
I, the Permission Pixie, hereby give you permission to ignore all invitations that require you to make something. No cookie exchanges ever again. The pressure to show up with something other than a package of Oreos is too stressful. Cookie exchanges bring out latent Martha Stewart tendencies and all of a sudden, it's a world championship beat-down for who made the most elaborate cookies. Knock it off. You don't need to graze through eighty kinds of cookies in a month. You've got to leave room for the really good stuff, like pie.
I, the Permission Pixie, give you permission to stop wrapping gifts like you are set decorating The Nutcracker Suite. I have two words for you: gift bags. Easy-peasy, life is breezy gift bags. I have taken this to the extreme and use brown paper lunch bags with a bright ribbon. I am a sucker for anything industrial-chic that is also industrial-cheap, and brown kraft paper is a favorite of mine.
While we're on the ...<< MORE >>
Gruff does not think I'm funny. He does not read my blog and apparently does not want to. He asks that I inform him if I've posted something that he may be questioned about at his office, but other than self-preservation he displays no interest in my writing. He has his reasons, which have merit. He says he doesn't want to influence me in topic material or style. His opinion does matter to me and I never want to embarrass him, though it turns out I do, often, but I don't mean to. I'm not actively mining our marriage for comedic material, though Lordy knows there are just some stories that are too good to keep quiet.
Honestly, men and women are not natural housemates and there's a lot of misunderstandings and differences in habits that provoke a hearty laugh. If you didn't laugh, there'd be more gun play and then there'd be the brouhaha over whose turn it was to clean up all that blood.
So my dear, sweet husband doesn't think I'm funny. I don't think I'm being singled out because truth be told, Gruff hasn't laughed out loud since the 1974 premiere of Blazing Saddles. He just doesn't laugh. I will tell him jokes that I think are roll-on-the-floor funny and he'll just stare at me. On our very first date, I used some of my best joke material and he looked, um, perplexed. Okay, tell me if you think this is funny. "Where do they get virgin wool from? . . . . . from ugly sheep!" A hoot, am I right? Gruff, not so much. Maybe I shouldn't have lead with that one.
Gruff will begrudgingly skim any piece I'm submitting to magazines, just to make sure that I haven't written something that will make the editor's eyes bleed in disgust. Sometimes, I get rolling on tangents that are a side-splitting riot to me, but kind of odious to everyone else. It's best to let Gruff point out the potential for becoming known as "that bitter bitch" instead of "that funny chick to whom we should send a hefty ...<< MORE >>
Molly Dugger Brennan
I have been away from home for several days on an eye surgery/socializing with old friends whirlwind tour. Except for the cutting a hole in my eye part, I had a grand time. The eye thingy worked out great too, because now I can see like a freaking hawk. I can see individual hairs on the dogs. I can see tiny birds in the trees. I can see deer in distant fields. Unfortunately, now I can see cobwebs and dust. I can see my own wrinkles for the first time. I can see moles and chin hair that I did not know I had. It's a mixed blessing, really.
At dinner one night, one of my friends offered one of the best conversation starters I'd ever heard. What's the worst job you've ever had? This question really intrigues me and it sure got the ball rolling at dinner. Everyone has had some job experience that is at best awkward, and at worst, psychologically damaging. So, I'll tell you mine if you tell me yours.
Contest Alert! Leave your worst-job-ever story in the Comments section below. You've got 3,000 characters to play with. In my usual magnanimous fashion as Queen of All that is My Own Blog, I'll choose a winner and bestow a prize. I've not decided what the prize will be but I guarantee you that it will not be of the caliber that you will be able to regift it. This is more of a bragging rights kind of thing. I choose Friday, 30 November 2012 as the end date for this little contest. Are you in?
As promised, here is my Worst Job Ever story. It wasn't the work that made it the very worst, it was the boss, the vice president of my division. This job was at a typical, completely interchangeable, Beltway-bandit tech company. I was writing user manuals for custom software packages. I thought the vice president was okay, kind of discomfited, kind of socially inept, but you get that a lot when you take a techie-type and force them into management because that's ...<< MORE >>
My dad died recently. No worries, he was 85 years old and chose not to continue fighting Stage IV colon cancer, so it's not like it was a surprise.
I visited Daddy several times during the last few weeks. People who are dying have things to say. No matter how weird, you have to let them say it and you have to listen. They're dying so they get to say whatever they please and as someone who is not dying, you roll with it as best you can.
My mother died years before Daddy, just a few years after they divorced. Dad remarried and seemed to enjoy life with my step mother but I was moved out and long gone by then, so I couldn't tell you a thing about the inner workings of their union. I do remember my parents' marriage as poorly fitting shoes. They weren't quite right, they weren't comfortable, they weren't happy as a pair.
My mother spent many a day bemoaning the fact that she married Daddy while she was going steady with someone else, a boy that had gone off to serve in the military. I heard the name sweet Tommy McAffrey at least once a week. For all I know, "Sweet" was his first name as it always preceded Tommy McAffrey when she spoke of him. He never married, she said. He loved her that much. She broke his heart and ruined him for all other women, she said. I should have stayed faithful to sweet Tommy, she said.
What's that old saying? Absence makes the heart go wander. Anyway, it certainly applied in this case. Mom eloped with Dad to Delaware and married over the Christmas break in her senior year of high school. Grandma wasn't keen on Dad, since he was a good nine years older than Mama and she certainly wasn't keen on her only daughter dropping out of school in her senior year. It was not a union showered with blessings by either ...<< MORE >>
The current hurricane naming protocol just confounds me. In the aftermath, when distraught people are interviewed on the local news while sitting amidst the rubble that was once their family home, it is just not right to hear them say they were wiped out by Sandy. It's like admitting that someone named Brittany kicked your ass.
If I am going to lose everything, I want the dignity of having it taken by something with a sinister thug name. A hurricane should sound like someone who would knife you in a back alley, not steal your cupcake at a Junior League tea. If a storm is going to bust me up, it had better be named Sergei, Esteban, Kurt, or even Earline. These are storm names that demand respect, even fear. Jorge, Boris, Adolph, and Otis are a' coming and you'd best be prepared. I am certain that storm preparedness would be taken far more seriously if the population has been warned that Bruno is barreling their way. But Sandy?
If the name of the storm reminds you less of devastation and more of a perky cheerleader, the PR battle has been lost. I don't want to hear about destruction from Tammy, Kathy, Justin, or Donny. I've watched the Weather Channel. I've seen the wide bands of storm activity and heard the breakdown of impending doom. And yet, every time they attribute this potential Armageddon to Sandy, I giggle. The message is diluted, even lost on me. Thank God I live with an authentic adult who will prepare our home ...<< MORE >>
These are the words inscribed on a very popular paperweight. It is meant to be inspirational, encouraging you to aim high in life. Nice platitude. They've sold about a squezillion of these office accessories. I don't know who came up with this phrase, but it smells like Stephen Covey to me. Mr. "Seven Habits" was always good for executive inspiration. Could be Robert Schuller though. He loved his bromides, too.
What would you attempt if you were guaranteed success? If you were certain that there would be no downside, no penalty for your actions, what course would you set? What would you really do if you knew you could not fail?
What does it say about me that whenever I see this paperweight I think, "I'd kill a few people and buy lottery tickets." What, not lofty enough for you?
Sure, it might be more noble if my goals were to end world hunger, but I'm too tired to care at a global level any more. That "saving the planet" shit is for the young. I remember being young. I was invincible. I was fierce. I was willing to slog through gator-infested swamps to achieve my goals. Now, not so much.
When I was young, I wanted to save the world. I tried to enforce order. I followed every rule, even the stupid ones like don't wear white shoes after Labor Day. As if that made any difference to the greater good. Now that I'm older and have more perspective, I'll wear white shoes whenever I please. Hell, I'll wear white, bedazzled flip-flops to Thanksgiving dinner if I feel like it. My choice of footwear does not taint my standing as a good citizen. How about that?
The perspective gained from living for a while makes life better. First, you realize that you don't know everything. That takes a lot of pressure off. Eventually, it dawns on you that you really don't know a damn thing. Then you'll realize ...<< MORE >>