September 21, 2017 | Issue #701
On Bubonic Pond
Dateline: Wednesday, September 20th, 9:14 a.m. at the offices of the Island Moon Newspaper.
I have hauled myself into work this morning, sick with what was diagnosed yesterday by my fellow staffers as “obviously either SARS or the Bubonic plague.” I have to take their diagnoses seriously because Mary “Scoop” Craft is kind-of an actual doctor, and Jan Rankin is a WebMD expert to the extent that she can identify any health threat (except salmonella) at fifty paces. That being said, there’s either a 98% chance that I’m going to live or a 98% chance that I’m going to die, and either way, I still have to work. I wouldn’t put it past Jan to have a voodoo witch doctor on stand-by to turn me into a graphic design zombie should I keel over. It’s probably better to try to stay alive, so I’m attempting to cure myself with the medicines of my people: red Gatorade and DayQuil. I should warn you, I’ve just taken a pretty massive dose of the latter, and I have about as much tolerance for DayQuil as a Puritan has for exposed cleavage. Once, when I was picking up my nephews from school, I realized I was fairly high due to the fact that I was belting “Come Sail Away With Me” with all the car windows rolled down. I only knew five of the words. People look at you funny.
DayQuil is the reason I never took any heavy drugs – that and the fact that most “heavy” drugs in the town I grew up in were manufactured in a bathtub by a kid we called Cheese Dragonfart. Cheese failed high school chemistry twice because of a chronic inability to master metric measurement. He also set himself on fire at least 18 times. It was good for entertainment purposes, but the only way he was ever going to be designated as a “pharmacist” was if careers were chosen by lottery.
In any case, for me, Dayquil is a soldier that is pretty much permanently on reserve status. I only take the stuff in total emergency situations, such as this one. If this writing disintegrates into strange unicorn freedom leprechaun ranting, you know the reason why.
“How does a 21st century woman contract the Bubonic Plague?” you might be wondering, possibly even thinking that it is unlikely that I actually have it. Well, let me tell you the tale of my yard pond…
I have a decorative water feature in my backyard. It’s essentially a big hole dug into a dirt pile with a bunch of black pond liner stuck to the edges. When it’s up and running, it has a lovely waterfall that provides a harmonic (if often a little froggy) backdrop to outdoor activities such as screaming at the weed whacker and picking up dog poop. When it’s not running, it’s essentially a swinger’s club for horny mosquitoes.
Harvey did a number on the poor pond. Not only did the hurricane somehow manage to blow around 120 gallons of debris into my “Black Hole of Calcutta,” it somehow managed to cause a leak. I went through a few days of denial – just refilling the thing with the garden hose – but it eventually became clear that something would have to be done.
I hate working on the pond. It’s so big that you have to wade into the 3 ½ foot deep murky, disgusting sludge water to clean it, adjust the pumps, or mess with the waterfall. If there’s a problem, you pray it’s with the pump box because then you may not have to submerse half your body in total slime. Once, when Dad and I were working on it, I trudged in (trying to ignore how gross it was) only to be confronted with the floating corpse of a dead rat. I freaked out so hard that I literally ran out of my shoes, chugging barefoot across the backyard, yelling, “NOOOOOO, NONONONONO, NOPE, NOPE, NOOOOPPPPEEE…” I didn’t stop until I hit the back fence, and might have gone right over it had my Dad not been laughing so hard. I got branded a wussy that day, as Dad scooped the corpse out with the pond skimmer and flung it, jai alai style, over the fence. I then had to get back into the murk to continue the job while the G.P. helpfully said stuff like, “I wonder how that giant RAT died in there. Think there’s more giant RATS in there? You wouldn’t know unless you stepped on one.” Girls like Jane Fonda get “On Golden Pond.” My pond is just much more bubonic. The sad thing is that it makes total sense.
Early this week, I decided that there was no help for it, and that I’d have to climb into the pit to clean it out. I dressed in heavy duty gear – Converse (high to sneakers), jeans, long sleeves, big yellow dishwashing gloves – and got on in. There were about nine million tadpoles (the puppies of the frog world) swimming blissfully in the water that remained. I pulled 25 five-gallon buckets of debris out and worked on the pipes running from the pump box. Thinking I had finished the job, I sprayed myself with the garden hose and slogged into the garage, stripping in front of the washing machine. As I peeled off my jeans, I noticed that my skin was a brownish green color and that there were quite a few residual tadpoles stuck to me. I ran back outside, naked as a jay bird, and hit myself again with the hose – dislodging even more unfortunate “puppy frogs” from my hair. Then I went inside and showered for an hour.
The next morning, I awoke with a runny nose, sore throat, a fever and a gigantic insect bite (bubo?) under my left arm. I’ve been sick ever since. The pond is not fixed. It’s down to about six inches of water at its deepest. The good news is that there don’t appear to be any dead rats…or unicorns…or leprechauns…or freedoms…
Ahhh….DayQuil. You’re my only friend.
September 7, 2017 | Issue #699
Oh! The Humanity!
It would be nice, for the purposes of this article, if the word compassion actually meant something like “feelings in common,” rather than just “sympathy” because at least then we’d all be on the same page. We’re beginning to see a pretty serious problem in Texas due to a secondary hurricane of misplaced mercy that is going to add up to a big mess if we don’t do something about it. The rest of the country feels bad for those people who lost everything, and they’re showing it with truckloads of completely random donated goods. A friend of mine in Tennessee (whose Dad lives in Houston) wrote that she tried to stop a co-worker from heading down to Texas with a truckload she described as “just brimming with home décor from the 80’s and odds and ends of strange furniture.” “My Dad said that they need black contractor bags and face masks, but I couldn’t get her to stop.” she continued. “Texas isn’t your dumpster, lady!”
I understand what pick-up truck lady in Tennessee was feeling. We’re taught to share. We don’t want other people to be without. Most of us have more than we need. However, just because you inherited two stuffed moose heads from your Uncle Elroy (which puts you in the enviable position of owning an entire EXTRA MOOSE HEAD), doesn’t mean that you should load your second best-only-slightly-nappy-but-with-a-lot-of-good-moosing-left-in-it moose head up in your car and earnestly try to donate it to people who haven’t got any moose heads at all. Moose heads, while wonderful conversation pieces, aren’t really terrific tools for cleaning up hurricane debris.
While moose head donations may seem a bit hyperbolic (although I guarantee at least one sad victim of inexpert taxidermy is in bag somewhere, poised to scare the pants off some poor volunteer stuck sorting), they serve as an excellent metaphor for all the useless stuff people give. Folks in Houston are begging for an immediate stained underwear, prom dress and winter coat ceasefire.
“Most of us didn’t own winter coats to begin with. Really! I swear!” protested one frustrated volunteer. “It’s 96 degrees outside and 98% humidity! Please, please stop!”
Port Aransas and Rockport have both stopped accepting goods, instead asking for money and volunteer labor. Recently, a donation center in Rockport was forced to adopt a ‘please just come and take it approach’ to a vast parking lot of used clothing that was about to get rained on and ruined.
Yet, almost everywhere I look, even local people are still posted up along the highway collecting even more stuff with absolutely no rhyme or reason. “We’ll take anything” is not a great philosophy in a world where all things are not equally useful. Do you take just anything camping with you? What do you need more on a construction site – a moose head or a broom? The problem with just giving everything is multi-faceted: 1) the stuff has to be sorted which takes volunteers away from more useful tasks; 2) there’s no place to store things that aren’t immediately useful; 3) useless stuff will take up landfill space that the community desperately needs to dispose of storm debris.
I know folks are trying to help. I know they’re donating nice things to help strangers get back on their feet – things that maybe they struggled to buy in the first place. I’m sure it wasn’t easy for Uncle Elroy to bag that moose. However, people don’t have houses with four walls and a roof. Driving around Port Aransas pitchforking used end tables and moose heads out the back of your 1983 Datsun pick-up truck isn’t helping anybody right now. Maybe that’s a tiny exaggeration, but essentially chucking chifferobes is the equivalent of donating that fluffy, corseted prom dress -- except maybe a little better because you can use a chifferobe as a ladder. Having nothing at all is far superior to having an excess of the wrong kinds of things. Nothing is easy to carry, you never have to worry about it getting rained on or ruined, looters already have a whole lot of it, and you never have to pretend to be grateful when someone throws it at you from the back of a Datsun.
If you want to help, there are several very good ways to go about it. Almost always, lists of items people need in disasters are released by reliable organizations like the Red Cross. Don’t deviate from the list. If a city is asking for cash or volunteers, either volunteer or give them money – don’t load up grandma’s ancient ottoman and expect that to fix the local swimming pool. If communities are asking for clothing donations, don’t go to your closet and just start throwing every old thing in a bag. STOP! THINK! Say to yourself, “What would I need if I were there?” Two pairs of shorts, a couple of nice t-shirts and a pair of good shoes will go a lot further for people in need than 17 plaid polyester leisure suits, 3 down ski jackets and a “sexy” teddy that looks like it’s made entirely of a complicated arrangement of grommets and black dental floss. Fold clean clothing items and sort them according to type. Absolutely do not donate your old underpants. Yes, people need drawers, but this is another case where nothing is better than something. If you want to donate underwear, buy new ones and send those.
Hold on to your bulky items for later. Someone is probably going to need that old, bull-elephant-sized-microwave at some point, but not right now. THINK! If something can’t be carried easily, or would be ruined if left out in the elements, now is not the time to donate it. Just wait. If you still feel guilty, send cash. Seriously, a $2 donation is more meaningful right now than dropping off your “love” stained futon from college. Just leave that bad boy in the shame corner of your garage -- where it belongs.
The Rev’s church’s relief organization (Presbyterian Disaster Assistance – hilariously P.D.A. for short) is an excellent resource on useful items to give during a disaster. You can go to their website at www.pda.pcusa.org. They suggest that you provide 5 gallon, re-sealable “Clean-up Buckets” that contain items like clothesline, laundry detergent, household cleaners, scouring pads, gloves, dust masks and bug spray (please visit their website for a complete list and instructions on how to safely pack and seal your bucket). They also give directions for creating hygiene kits and school kits for kids. These recommendations are made based upon years of disaster relief efforts world-wide. The great thing about kits like these is that they don’t expire, and are easily shipped or stored. If the organization winds up with too many, they can use them next time. The Corpus Christi drop-off site for these donations is Grace Presbyterian Church at Yorktown and Cimmaron. There is an urgent need for more clean-up buckets.
When I was evacuated, wondering whether I was going to have a home to go back to, the things I was really worried about were irreplaceable not because I wouldn’t have the money to get new ones, but because those objects were links to my past and my family. The needlepoint my Gran made for me when I was seven wouldn’t be worth much in a thrift shop, but to me it’s priceless. I remember sitting on the arm of her lime green velvet chair, watching her carefully place each tiny stitch that would become a pretty girl beside a huge oak tree. When I look at the finished piece, now framed and hanging on my bedroom wall, I can remember how my Grandmother smelled, and feel the moth-softness of her arm brushing me as she stitched. If I lost that picture, the hole that was left couldn’t be filled by anything in this world. That’s how it goes. The really important things in our lives aren’t interchangeable.
The moral of this story is: GIVE THOUGHTFULLY. Follow instructions when you can, and when there aren’t any, take the advice of organizations who know what to do. Throwing moose heads and ottomans at this problem is ultimately only going to make it far worse, even if they’re really nice and attractive moose heads and ottomans.
It’ll be okay. You really can help. Just think about it, be careful, try to do the right thing, and listen to what people say they need. You’ve got a fine head on your shoulders. Don’t let Uncle Elroy measure it.
On Suburban Road Warriors and Why We Can't Use the Blue Gott Cooler Ever Again
August 30, 2017 | Special Edition Issue #698
Adulthood is a funny old thing. Last week, I was stuck in a tiny hotel room in San Antonio with my parents and both big dogs. This did not go well. The optimum number of Bairs in any small room is one. Stack too many of us together and the net result is the same as what happens when you fill a closet full of cats: screeching, terrible fights followed by sullen silences. At one point, the G.P. (my Dad) decided that we had only migrated from Hell to high water because he was sure that the creek behind our hotel was going to flood. It had a long way to go – from the dry culvert to the top was about fifteen feet. Dad wouldn’t give it up though, and (in a masterful battle) flood plain plots were deployed. Everyone accused everyone else of not being able to read a map. Then Dad got further infuriated because slices in the loaf of whole wheat bread Mom brought to the evacuation were “too big.” He also tried to walk both dogs in the middle of the night wearing only what he described as “my worst pair of underpants.” Family Time should be redefined as the length of the prison sentence you get for knocking out your own father with a half empty tub of Country Crock.
We didn’t stay in San Antonio long. The G.P. couldn’t stand not knowing what was going on back home, so Saturday morning he insisted that we white knuckle it back. I was pretty sure that driving into a hurricane is generally considered a bad idea, but I was out-shouted. Luckily, we made it home in one piece and neither house sustained too much damage. We lost fences, one tree, and had a few shingles in the yard. We also had no power, we were on a boil and we were supposed to limit our use of the toilet. It wasn’t bad at all, especially compared to the horrors I had been mentally preparing myself for. As we watched the news all night on Thursday, I swear I was just waiting for my little yellow house to blow past the guy from the Weather Channel – merrily skipping down Shoreline Drive, free at last from the terrible shackles of its slab foundation.
My father is in his element when faced what most people would consider “privation.” He would be totally happy holed up under a tarp in a swamp as long as he had his guitar, a whiskey coke, and a hammer to kill the alligators. The Rev and I both thought (out loud) it was stupid to return home before it was recommended. When Dad determined that everything was fine, he was like a smug cat that had eaten an entire pet shop full of canaries. The smug rolled off of him in waves of smugness so thick that I’m pretty sure it’s what forced the storm North to poor Houston.
While Dad didn’t give two licks about the power, the boil, or the toilet situation, his rich retiree neighbors had a different take. I had two of them come up to me as I was unpacking the car, and angrily demand to know how they were supposed to “boil water when the electricity is off.”
“Do you have a gas grill?” I asked on both occasions
“Yes,” both people replied, furious that they hadn’t thought of it. I was legitimately concerned for them.
The power was still off at Dad’s house 42 hours later when the Rev and my brother (who is visiting from Hawaii – Bairs are among the only people stupid enough to fly directly into a hurricane for a “vacation”) got home. I went over to check on them when I finished work, but the dark house was deserted. It reeked of gas fumes from the G.P.’s generator. He had managed to plug in the fridge and his guitar amp – because priorities. The machine chugged along, locomotive loud, as I banged the front door shut and left.
At that point I observed that the G.P.’s block had undergone a not-so-subtle character shift. Instead of the obsessively manicured yards of yore, now the houses boasted trashcan fires in the front yard. Small yappy dogs were staked around the perimeters serving as early looter alert systems. Floral couches had been drug into front yards with an obvious disregard for the preservation of chintz. I’m sure that somewhere there were some hot dogs on sticks waiting to be roasted over the flames – at least I vehemently hope they were hot dogs. I surreptitiously checked the foundations for newly sprouted wheels.
Evidently, it only takes about 53 hours of semi-serious privation for my Dad’s elderly and wealthy neighbors to transform from people who can’t figure out how to boil water without electricity, into leather-studded-bandolier-wearing, Mohawk-in-back-of-the-bald-spot-sporting Road Warriors in plaid cotton boxer shorts. I really think that one of these ancient guys should serve as the unofficial mascot for Hurricane Harvey. He’ll be pictured fiercely brandishing a hot dog laden stick on the end on all the t-shirts. The caption will simply read, “Survivor.”
We’re not sure if the original Road Warrior was happy about the return of my brother and The Rev. Mom was still mad at him, and she’s a fearsome creature when she’s enraged. Plus, he’d managed to essentially turn the house into what looked like the offspring of a hobo encampment and a dirty gas station bathroom. He was about three hours away from re-inventing the ultra-hygienic towel on a roller. Because the G.P. still loves Mom even when she’s mad, he helpfully told her not to put potable water in the blue Coleman thermos. “The toilet seat fit perfectly”, he said.
Mom moved in with me. It took her about three seconds to claim my Queen sized bed with the two super fluffy feather beds and the memory foam. Stadler and I have been relegated to my guest room where we’re piled into my nephew’s old twin. It still kind of smells a little like pee, but it has Incredible Hulk sheets so we don’t mind too much. We must all do what we can.
Yesterday, a friend of mine posted on Facebook that she heard someone say, “I am glad of my struggle because through it I know my strength.” In contrast, I posted that I had accidentally invented a Swiss Army Plunger (axe head on one side, hammer head on the other perpendicular to a long shaft with a plunger mounted on top), which makes me a complete genius. It would probably be better to focus on the former right now. However, if anyone knows how you get on Shark Tank, shoot me a line – I’ve got an exciting new multi-tool to pitch.
August 17, 2017 | Issue #696
When I was 14 years old, I made the choice to become an ovo-lacto vegetarian. I would eat animal products (like eggs and milk) but not meat. It was not an easy transition. My grandfather raised cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and chickens – many of which wound up at the slaughterhouse. I still remember my first vegetarian Thanksgiving. My regal Grandpa Harold was amused. He didn’t think I’d last, and there was no way I was getting the satisfaction of him thinking my decision was anything other than typical teenage rebellion. My Gram was positive that I’d die within a week due to lack of protein -- she tried to sneak meat into my food for the next decade. Ron, our farm foreman, was outraged. He told me as I passed him the potatoes, that what I was doing was an insult to my family, to our way of life, and directly to my Grandfather. Grandpa’s eyes twinkled. He always did like a little sass.
I did last, though – as a strict ovo-lacto vegetarian for 14 further years, until I moved to Honduras and had to fish for food. I got pretty skinny before I got good at it. I still don’t eat red meat.
Why would I become a vegetarian when bacon tastes so good? Almost every meat eater in my life has asked me some derivation of that question, and I’ve thought about it for a long time. I originally stopped eating meat because my best friend in high school, Karen, quit and got really thin. I was vain and chunky – but that’s not why I kept going.
When I was little, we lived on our family farm. There weren’t a lot of other kids around, and my parents worked all the time. My brother wasn’t born until I was 3, and I really wasn’t keen on the whole idea of having a baby around anyway. At some point, against everyone’s wishes, my Grandfather gave me a young goat to keep me company. Her name was Schwanlea. I spent every minute I could with that goat, and continually freed her when the Rev tried to pen her up. She got on top of the cars and ate the garden. She ate everything. When my little brother started to toddle, I taught her to run at full speed across the yard and knock him diapers over tea kettle. This did not win me any big-sister-of-the-year awards, and wound up getting poor Schwanlea de-horned. Eventually, we moved away from the farm. Schwanlea stayed behind. I got to see her on holidays, and she always remembered me. Grandpa bred her and built a good sized goat herd. I always missed her. I still do.
We moved to Montana first, and then to South Dakota. I recall one winter supper especially. I was maybe six or seven years old at the time, and we were eating weird tasting spaghetti.
“What kind of meat is this,” the G.P. asked.
“Goat,” replied my Mother.
It was one of Schwanlea’s kids. My Grandpa had shipped us the meat. I threw up and cried myself to sleep for about two weeks after that. From then on, I was suspicious about meat. You never know when you might be eating your best friend.
Grandpa always warned us not to name the lambs.
There are many other experiences that made meat distasteful to me, but fundamentally I think that animals are sentient – that they have feelings, that they know that they exist, that they understand pain and feel joy. There is a bitter algebra at play here. How can I eat a chicken and not eat a cow? It boils down to this: everyone has a level. If I can kill, slaughter, and prepare meat without overwhelming guilt or sorrow, then I can eat it. If I’m not morally or emotionally strong enough to do it myself, then I shouldn’t eat it. Killing is a regrettable business. It’s not one that we should hand off to other people lightly, at least I don’t feel that I should. Meat doesn’t come only from the supermarket.
Other people are different. The Rev for example could bottle feed a baby calf while saying, “Oh baby calf, you’re so cute! I’ll eat your face.” And she means it. It would take about four hours of actual hunger before Mom started getting out the cookbooks looking for the best recipe for “Neighbor’s Cat.” Dad (who used to kill badgers with a hammer to protect the farm) seems to think that killing is a distasteful but necessary part of being a man. I know how to fish and snap a chicken’s neck. We all have levels. That we have a choice in what we eat is an amazing luxury.
People get angry with me because I don’t eat enough meat, or because I eat too much. New vegetarians are often preachy. I was insufferable at age 14. What you find out though, is that no matter how vegan you happen to be, there’s someone out there who is more so. This is true of every single vegetarian … except one. That guy has the right to get holier-than-thou on everyone else, but I’ll bet he’s pretty tired from all the foraging.
I once knew a young Buddhist acolyte. He lived in Canada, and every fall on a certain holy day, the monks would go to a local pet store and buy every goldfish. The slow, but joyous procession would march down to the river bank, and set all the fish free at once. Then, having done their good deed, they would turn and dance joyously back to the monastery, the acolytes bringing up the rear. My friend said it took a minute, but that all the goldfish died due to the shock from the cold Canadian water. “Plop…plop…plop…they all floated to the top.” He didn’t think the monks knew.
On the other hand, meat eaters are often just as aggressive, and have been known to literally try to shove hamburgers into my mouth. They pretend it’s a joke. I don’t hang out with people like that twice.
The choices I make in this world – what I eat, what I wear, who I love – are not necessarily an indictment of the way anyone else chooses to live their life. My choices are an expression of myself. You aren’t me. You don’t have to understand. You don’t have to do it, too.
We don’t all fit into the same sized pants. Why would anyone ever think we could all fit into the same lives? Relax. I’m not going to eat you.
An Open Letter to the Guy Who Left His Tighty Whities on the Street
August 10, 2017 | Issue #695
I don’t know what compelled you to discard your not very gently used tighty whities by the roadside. I can only imagine that you had a personal emergency situation and decided that throwing them out your car window was the equivalent of magically transporting them into another dimension, preferably one populated entirely by appreciative dung beetles. I can assure you that this is not what happened.
Instead, your underpants sat in the middle of the road, being run over by cars and soaked by last night’s rain... until my dogs found them this morning, that is.
A bit of background here: I am responsible for the exercise needs of two large dogs, Rowlfie and Stadler. At a combined weight of 156 pounds, they possess the towing strength of approximately one Clydesdale – two when they see a cat. I give them their work out by attaching their harnesses to a two-headed leash with a handle like a waterski tow cable, and let them haul me around the neighborhood on my bike (Gertrude), while I burn out the brakes and yell, “NO SQUIRRELS.” It is, admittedly, a pretty stupid way to save time since it’s ultimately going to wind up at a minimum breaking both my legs and rupturing my spleen. However, the canine contingent seems to really enjoy it.
The morning was pleasantly cool – a mere 83 degrees and I was excited to go for a long “ride.” By the time we reached the street in question, the dogs had settled in to a nice, companionable trot. Everyone was enjoying the beautiful morning by the sea. I noticed your downstairs debris from about half a block away, but mistook them for an HEB bag. Not thinking the dogs would have any interest in said stupid bag, I continued on course, happily listening to my music and thinking that the world wasn’t such a terrible place after all.
Unfortunately, thanks at least in part to people like you; the world is not a bucolic paradise. It is, in a word, often quite crappy.
I turned my gaze from observing the way sunlight runs liquid down the palm fronds back to my happy dogs, thinking that one of them might shoot me a thankful grin. Instead, I witnessed my ever-curious, pokey-nosed Black Lab, Stadler, gleefully scoop your streaked tighty whities into her eager jaws and then begin tossing them up into the air, catching them as she ran. She didn’t miss a stride.
“OH NO! GOD NO!” I screamed, immediately and accurately assessing a situation so terrible that the story must pass into urban legend, a cautionary tale to terrify young dog owners.
“RELEASE!” I yelled, trying to get her to drop your underpants as Gertrude ground to a wheel-peeling halt.
Stadler, carrying a prize so spectacular that any compulsion for obedience was vehemently overridden, did not release. I dismounted and tugged her closer to me so that I could remove her new most favorite toy from her jaws. I grabbed your underpants by what I hoped was the waistband and began to pull. Every neuron in Stadler’s small brain lit up like an especially ambitious Christmas tree. “GAME! GAME! GAME WITH AB! TOY!!!” She began to pull in earnest, planting her back feet and mock growling.
I hollered at my poor dog, all the while trying to ignore the fact that I was trying to wrestle a pair of underpants of the genus Horrible Horribulus away from her. Stadler began to give way a tiny bit as I pulled her front feet off the ground, but still clung like a barnacle armed with epoxy. I started to try to shake all 74 pounds of her off, still yelling stuff like, “STADLER! THIS IS DISGUSTING! OH GOD!! EWWWW!!!”
And that’s when 82 pound Rowlfie joined in, grabbing a corner left unclaimed by the original combatants. Rowlf snapped his gator mouth shut, braced his stocky bulldog body and started pulling for all he was worth. I am nothing if not competitive, and there was absolutely no way these dogs were going to take your nasty man panties home with us. I uttered a cuss so long and profoundly disturbing that it can’t be reproduced in print (I know this because I tried and the paper kept catching on fire), placed my other hand on your undies and faced the rapturous canines.
After a couple of minutes, Rowlfie’s weight and strength dislodged Stadler. She tried to get back in, but she couldn’t maneuver around Rowlf to get another bite of your drawers. I reeled Rowlfie in like I had a swordfish on the line, gradually winding your tighty whites around my right fist. Eventually, I won the terrible taffy pull, dislodging old Rowlf with one great final tug. Exultantly, I held your corrupt contribution aloft as I remounted Gertrude, and made to start our ride anew.
I probably should have noticed that both dogs were sitting, ears perked forward, staring almost lasciviously at their new FAVORITE TOY OF ALL TIME as I held it out of reach. I didn’t, though, because trying to mount a bicycle holding a leash in one hand and a pair of disgusting underwear in the other is more difficult than you might imagine. As I accomplished the task and made ready to resume our journey, I angrily hurled your beleaguered briefs at the nearest curb. They flew like a fastball and landed in the gutter with a disgusting “splat.”
And that’s when both dogs ran directly over me and my bike to retrieve them.
As I lay in the street, my helmet knocked cockeyed and my body bereft of all air, I watched the now uncontrolled canines joyously tearing your underpants to shreds. They fought until they finally stretched the elastic waistband to its breaking point, and then scooped up the remains and brought them over to me (still tangled, defeated in Gertrude’s frame) – to see if maybe I could fix the toy so that they could play some more.
Eventually, I managed to tear the scraps out of their dog faces – although I’m pretty sure at least some fabric made it into their digestive systems. This time, I bagged your trash pants in a poop sack and went home.
The final resting place of your tighty whities was in my big green city dumpster. They were given an eloquent final eulogy the premise of which was, “Sons of blanks who throw their blanking downstairs detritus out the car window so the blanking dogs can get it.” If you would like to hear it, please contact me at email@example.com, subject line: “Penitent Douche Canoe.” I will be happy to recite it for you verbatim. You owe me a full bottle of hand sanitizer, a gallon of bleach, three pink “Hello Kitty” Band-Aids and a heartfelt apology.
Super Fly Super Fry
August 3, 2017 | Issue #694
Earlier this year, I noticed that I was lacking in the arena of culinary prowess. I could reliably concoct such delicacies as cut up vegetables with ranch dressing, cheese and pickle sandwiches, pizza pockets, and microwave popcorn – but those dishes lacked panache, even if served on the nice plates. I decided that since I have oodles of time, I might as well do something productive with it and learn to cook.
The problem with being single and trying to learn to cook is that you always wind up with tons of extra goodies. It’s tough to eat one splurge meal and then go back to a heathy diet of chicken chunks, roasted broccoli and quinoa when there’s a five layer chocolate cake and 4 pounds of lasagna sitting in your fridge. Also, I’ve been taught my entire life that wasting food is the moral equivalent of hitting a starving person in the face with a baseball bat. Even if I can’t exactly tell you where the starving children are, I know they’re somewhere and they’re very angry that I fed the extra pasta to the dog.
My inelegant solution to the Leftover Conundrum is to invite my parents and friends over to eat, and then load them down with all the extra stuff. The problem with feeding the Rev and the G.P. is that Dad is a finicky eater. He passionately despises every white condiment and sauce; mayonnaise being the prime offender. However, the G.P. loves pie the way Scrooge McDuck loves gold, and the promise of the dessert greatly increases the probability that Dad will show. I’m pretty sure he’d swim in pie given appropriate amounts and a little privacy. Mom is much easier. I called her last Tuesday and told her I was craving coconut shrimp and invited them over for a Friday night pig out. The Rev didn’t hesitate. “We’re IN!” she exulted, not even bothering to check with Dad.
I decided the menu would consist of coconut shrimp, French fries, fried breaded cod, a cucumber salad with a simple vinaigrette, homemade bread, and strawberry rhubarb pie. My friend Tamara offered to bring ingredients for fresh mango margaritas.
On Friday, I got up early to start cooking. My bread had to proof for a couple of hours before I could pop it in the oven, so I opened my new cookbook to the page that read: “Foolproof Pie Crust.” I started gathering ingredients …until I got to the line that read “1/4 cup of vodka.” Um…what? I read the text again, and then the entire recipe which said that the vodka helps make the crust moist enough to roll out easily, but evaporates so that the result is a “flaky and soft.” That sounded a little like dandruff to me, but I had vowed to actually do all the steps of the recipe, rather than just the ones that seemed sane. I had, however, recently consumed my emergency medicinal vodka because it was critical that I watch a Lifetime Television for Women movie of the week, and I needed to turn off 83% of my brain to enjoy it.
I rode my bike to the booze palace, taking Stadler (who thinks cheese sandwiches are the culinary equivalent of dinner service at the Ritz) along. It was only 8:30 in the morning. The lights were on, but the doors were locked. We peeped through the windows, Stadler’s black nose leaving a delicate snot print, but no one was there. Store hours weren’t posted, but morning exercise makes me insufferably positive, so I cheerily thought I’d try again later, and rode home.
At 10:30, we returned to the now bustling store. I blithely asked the clerk for her cheapest bottle of vodka. Still wearing my dog jogging outfit (which is basically a ragtag assemblage of holey clothes worn in optimistic layers to prevent slips of nips and nether cheeks), I looked pretty messy and sweaty. The look the clerk gave me resembled the frigid glare of a librarian who has just caught a tontine of teenagers gleefully defacing a rack of public health pamphlets celebrating “The Wonders of the Human Prostate.”
“It’s for baking!” I cried, defensively. “I only need 2 ounces.”
“Oh, well how about these small bottles of Absolut. They’re $2 each,” she sailed smoothly from suspicion into sales mode.
“What’s that one over there for $1.78,” I responded, eyeing a pint on the lowest shelf.
“That’s more than you need,” she said, misgivings restored.
“Just the alcohol content is important.” I insisted.
“Okay,” she tersely replied, ringing up the small bottle with exaggerated irritation.
I was still riding high on endorphins, and so didn’t immediately grasp that my ratty apparel and sweaty dishevelment caused the saleslady to think that I was one bandana on a stick away from being an alcoholic hobo whom she’d ultimately have to evict from her parking lot for publically swilling rot gut hooch while arguing with vodka induced Valkyries. It’s also possible that she witnessed my curious Labrador and myself peeping (creepily) through her store windows. Plus, Stadler did leave a snot print. That tends to irritate some people. I made a mental note to wear a hat and extra-large sunglasses next time. Incognito is often the only way to go.
Dinner went very well. My Dad was satisfied with the fare, going so far as to say that the coconut shrimp was “delicious” and that it was amazing how you could make much better meals at home than you can get at restaurants, for less money – completely dismissing the fact that it took me 8 hours to prepare the meal and two to clean it all up. As I was packing up leftovers in my Hillbilly Tupperware (cottage cheese tubs I save for leftover dispersal, since anyone born after 1985 is categorically unable to wash and return borrowed dishes) the G.P. allowed that although my strawberry rhubarb pie was “perfect,” I was a flawed chef.
“I’ll bet you have mayonnaise in your refrigerator!” he accused.
“Sure do,” I replied.
“Gross!” he snorted, disgusted.
“Be sure to bring my pie home,” he ordered the Rev, and walked out my front door.
The Rev took a genteel sip of her margarita, and said (with a sly grin), “Someday, I’m going to tell that son of a bitch what’s in his beloved deviled eggs.”
She did bring him his pie, though. Love endures.
The Kite Bummer
July 27, 2017 | Issue #693
Whoever decided that children flying kites is a fun and healthy way to spend an afternoon is probably currently sizzling on the same special rung of Hell as stereo instruction authors, tax auditors, and people who put the toilet paper roll on the wrong way. Several years ago, obviously participating in some mass delusion caused by excessive Mary Poppins, I decided I’d buy kites and fly them with my then very small nephews. I purchased super cool Star Wars and SpongeBob varieties, captured the kiddos and Stadler (my loyal, but intellectually challenged, Black Lab) and walked down the block to the local park. It was a gorgeous day – sunny, with the perfect amount of wind. I was sure that I would cherish the children’s delight for the rest of my life.
Approximately two minutes into the adventure, both kids and the dog were hopelessly tangled in the string. The children were sobbing and struggling, getting even more snarled. Stadler just sat there, tongue lolling out the side of her mouth, waiting for me to save her. It took nearly twenty minutes to set everyone free, mainly because children can’t hold still for more than a nano-second unless they’re hypnotized by Doc McStuffins. It didn’t help that Stadler kept bringing us sticks, which in turn got interwoven with the kids, kites and string, and then had to be tugged out by the puppy.
Finally, after chewing through some of the more difficult parts, I got both kids loose. They ran away to play with the dog, leaving me with haggard bits of kite line which I tried to roll neatly back on to the spools. As soon as I got one cleaned up, Jovanni begged to try again.
A strong breeze crept up as he began his ungainly run, and his kite sailed into the sky, soaring with the grandeur of an eagle.
“JOJO!” I yelled, excited. “IT’S FLYING! YOU DID IT!”
Jovanni stopped, turned to look up and promptly let go of the string. The freed kite continued its graceful ascent, drifting out of the park and over the horizon, far out of reach. The world hung from a single strand of gossamer, and then dropped as Jovanni’s mouth turned from an ‘O’ of astonishment, to a howl of unbridled, inconsolable despair.
“It’s GOOONNNNE! MY KITE IS GONE!!!! AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!”
Avery saw his brother’s anguish and joined in, crying in sheer solidarity. Stadler brought him a stick, but it was no consolation.
That was it. I quit. I gathered up both children, hooked Stadler to her leash and started the horrible trudge home, cramming the tattered remains of the SpongeBob kite in the first trashcan we saw. The children marched slowly, bawling like they were off to eat sand in the gulag rather than walking one block to their grandmother’s house where they would get cookies and juice while watching cartoons. I vowed never, ever to fly a kite with children again.
Cut to this summer. The boys were visiting, and the Rev had spent quite a bit of time and money trying to find healthy activities for them. The day they arrived, I walked into my parents’ house and Jovanni ran up to me clutching a suspicious bundle.
“AUNTIE! GRANDMA BOUGHT ME A KITE! CAN WE GO FLY IT?!?”
“Not right now, buddy. Let’s wait until we go to the beach.” I told him. I grabbed the Rev and said, in a hoarse stage whisper, “What the Hell, Mom! You know what happened last time.”
“Ohhh,” she tittered. “I forgot about that.” For the record, the Rev has the memory of an elephant who grazes solely on gingko biloba. Revenge is a mother – more specifically, my mother.
I avoided the kite flying until the boys’ last weekend. The G.P. and I were slated to cover a Dog Surfing event at Horace Caldwell Pier and decided to take the kids with us. Jovanni saw his opportunity. Getting good pictures of dogs surfing isn’t the easiest gig in photojournalism. Essentially, you have about two seconds between when the animal gets on the surf board and when he falls off. Those two seconds should be used for adjusting your zoom and focus, but in our case they were occupied by a kid screaming bloody murder while brutally dragging a kite down the beach.
Jovanni lasted a good ten minutes before he got the string horribly tangled. He handed me the mess, begging me to fix it and then ran out into the surf to Boogie Board with his grandfather and brother. I sat in the sun, painstakingly untying knots for an hour. I had adopted the policy of not carrying my trusty knife with me after Avery found it in my purse. “Look what I can do, Auntie!” he cried, brandishing the open blade. The Rev’s luxury kite string was too tough for my teeth. I was angry.
Finally, I finished. The line was neatly rolled back onto the spindle. The G.P. appeared and announced it was time to load up. We had brought an incredible amount of crap with us – chairs, umbrellas, an entire Holiday Inn’s worth of beach towels, enough fruit snacks to feed Mongol horde, endless bottles of water, vats of sunscreen and bug juice, phones, cameras, wallets, glasses (reading and otherwise), a travel radio, beach toys, boogie boards – all of which had to be lugged back up to the truck. “Boys, you’re going to have to carry your towels and ONE OTHER THING each, okay?” I said, as I loaded three wooden chairs onto my back. Avery complied, grabbing a giant sack full of water bottles and his boogie board. Jovanni whined and grabbed his kite, which he drug behind him, letting loose the string, immediately snarling it.
“JOVANNI BAIR,” I exploded, “IF YOU TANGLE THAT KITE STRING AGAIN, I SWEAR BY EVERYTHING HOLY I WILL NOT FIX IT. PICK THAT UP RIGHT NOW!”
Jovanni picked up the tattered kite and ran to the truck. We fastened everyone in, and started down the road. Small sniffling sounds crept from the backseat, growing increasingly louder as the adults pretended not to notice. Finally, the G.P. asked what Jojo was crying about.
“Auntie said she won’t ever fix my kite ever again,” he wailed, sobbing pitifully.
At that very moment, I developed a new theory about the etymology of the phrase, “go fly a kite.” I’m pretty sure it really just means, “Go [redacted] yourself.”
At least that’s what it meant when we got home and I said it to my mother.
Jovanni was fine. He never mentioned his kite again. The Rev reports that she threw it out yesterday.
July 20, 2017 | Issue #692
Last Sunday, I had to make an emergency call to the G.P.
“Dad, that stupid tree on the fence line has collapsed and now there’s a brush tunnel that looks like it goes to a magical fairy land, but is just really scratchy and leads to the overgrown weeds in the easement. We’ve got to cut it down.” I knew what it was like in the tunnel because I thought it would be cool to make it into a fort where I could read books, drink lemonade and eat peanut butter cookies. This theory proved false when I was attacked by red ants and got slashed to pieces by pokey branches. Plus, I nearly lost an eye. The only way I’m wearing an eye patch is if it’s a part of my pirate outfit. Or, like, if I get a sty. In any case, “attacked by tree” is not a valid reason to become a Cyclops.
“What do you want me to do about it?” the G.P. grumbled, sick to death of working on my devil yard.
“Can you bring that pole thing with the saw on the end over? I’ll just cut the bad limbs off.”
It was actually a nice day. The overcast sky had mitigated the big burn of summer, and it looked like it might rain. Dad agreed to come over, noting that if I was going to mess with cutting down a tree, wearing some head protection would be smart. Frankly, that’s always a good idea. I once knocked myself out in a Holiday Inn swimming pool on New Year’s Eve by swimming directly into one of the sides. I inhaled a little water, which caused me to wake up and surface to all my friends laughing hysterically at my spluttering. I tried to pretend I hadn’t almost killed myself, but no one bought it due to a forehead dent, and they cut me off (booze-wise), and also wouldn’t let me go to sleep. I had to sit around bored (and very damp) until 9 a.m. when I then had to drive everyone home. It wasn’t my worst New Year’s. Still, you understand why people are always suggesting I wear helmets.
I knew from bitter experience working with Dad, that I’d better be well into the job before he got to my house, so I grab my big loppers and started cutting the branches that I could and hauling them to the curb. I had a decent pile going by the time the G.P. pulled up.
“Why are you doing that?” he asked, disdainfully. “I’m just going to saw the top branch off anyway. It’ll all fall at once.”
I said something about smaller pieces being easier to haul to the curb, which was an acceptable platitude. Dad got to work with the pole saw, trying to cut through the broken-yet-still-thick branches that had created the tunnel. My theory was that I’d only need to saw the limbs about two-thirds of the way through, and then I’d climb up in the tree and stomp on them to finish the job. I was on the top of the fence climbing up into the oak when Dad nixed this idea.
“What the hell are you doing now?” Dad hollered, abruptly halting his long distance sawing.
“I’m just going to stomp on it so it falls!”
“Get the hell down from there, you idiot!”
Pouting, I started my descent. I have always loved climbing trees, and the ancient one in question was particularly good with lots of sturdy branches and hand holds. In fact, this was the tree I had once drunkenly designated as the one in which I would build a treehouse so that my friends would have a place to stay when they totally messed up their lives – but not a very nice one, so they would also leave.
I leapt off the fence and started looking for something to do, just as the branch the G.P. was working on cracked in two. I grabbed the leafy end and started pulling that part out of the tunnel, intent on hauling it to the brush pile. It fell from the tree with a loud crackle – and wonked my father right in the face.
The world slows down dramatically when you’re sure you’re going to get killed. I swear there were about three days of time in between Dad cussing and then spitting blood, and me managing to speak. In that eternity, I was wrenched through a grist mill of guilt.
“Dad, I’m sorry!” I finally managed. “Are you okay?”
My father spat again and returned to his sawing. His righteous anger rolled towards me in waves.
But he said nothing.
I began to very carefully haul more branches to the pile that was beginning to resemble deadfall from a Stephen King story. Dad sawed, and the pile and the silence grew ever thicker, punctuated only by the G.P.’s occasional genteel expulsion of bloody spit.
Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore. We’d eradicated the tunnel, the remains were stacked and ready to be hauled off by the city. The remaining work was more for finish than function.
“That’s good enough, Pops. Let’s quit.” I offered, trying to find a fragile peace.
“Let me get this one down first,” Dad said, chopping at a particularly thick limb.
“Okay,” I replied, still in shock that he hadn’t turned me into emotional mush, yet. The branch fell and I lugged it to the pile. Dad took a sip of iced tea from his Yeti, as he put his saw into the back of his truck.
“This whole tree is a mess, Ab. It’s going to have to come down. We can either pay someone $500 bucks to do it, or I suppose I could just buy a really good chainsaw.”
“Why don’t you just get the chainsaw, Dad. The city comes out again in October. We’ll cut it down in September, and I’ll just work on rolling all the bits out to the ditch for a whole month. I’m sure I can get it done.”
My father scoffed, got into his truck and drove away. I’m still not sure what the verdict is. I’m pretty sure Dad is never going to cut anything down with me ever again. That’s okay.
I really like my tree.
Revenge of the Babysat
July 13, 2017 | Issue #691
Abigails Note: This week has been a blur of jam packing every last bit of fun into my nephews' time with us, and trying to locate all of their possessions in order to pack them. The kids are on the plane and we still haven't found Avery's hoodie. It's possible that it leapt into another dimension to avoid being used as a dog toy. This article is about when they boys were small. Avery was one and a half and Jovanni was barely five. I wasn’t the “classiest” of care providers, but I also babysat for free. You get what you pay for.
In the beginning…
This story begins in a compact car filled with cranky children. Naptime was fast approaching and it was paramount that the baby be kept awake during the ride. If Avery fell asleep in the car, even for a second, he wouldn’t nap – a total tragedy. I sang loud nonsense songs, desperate to keep the kids awake, but Avery was nodding off. Finally, Jovanni popped up with this gem, “Auntie, Avery farted and it’s stinky back here!”
“Come on J.” I volleyed, “You’re just blaming it on Avery. The smeller’s the feller, you know!”
“No way, I DIDN’T FART.”
“Sometimes my Daddy farts, though, Auntie.”
“Wow, J.” I replied, exploiting the opening. “Do you know that your grandpa is the grand champion farter of all time is?”
“Yeah, J. and do you know how Grandma farts?”
“She LIFTS HER RIGHT LEG and lets out three or four little ones and then one that sounds like a whistle.”
“You mean like THIS, Auntie,” J. started making super loud fart sounds, but then (beneath his cacophony) I started hearing tiny, “Pbbbfffftsss.”
“Now, you’re getting it Jojo! Is Avery making noises, too?”
“Yeah, he’s mouth farting. “
A few miles later, after we’d all been joyously sounding off for several minutes, Jojo said, “Okay, Auntie, I don’t want to talk about farts anymore.”
“PBBBBBBFFFFFFT,” Avery replied. The baby was a genius.
The next morning I decided to revisit the topic.
“Hey, J. remember how I told you that Grandpa is the world grand champion of farts?”
“Do you know what Grandpa used to do to us every Christmas?”
“No, Auntie? What did he DO?” I glanced in the rearview mirror, both children were paying perfect attention, eyes as wide as saucers
“Every year on Christmas day, your Grandpa used to make us drive 5 HOURS to go to Grandma Jasmin’s house. It’s cold in Kansas in the winter time, so we had to have the windows up in the car and the heater on. EVERY YEAR your Grandpa would get a gigantic cup of McDonald’s coffee, lock us all in the car, and FART the ENTIRE way to Goodland. Stinky, horrible, nasty, oily farts! Your Daddy and I would BEG to roll the window down, but Grandpa didn’t want to let any of the heat out of the car. We used to just open the window a tiny crack and put our noses up to it for miles until he caught us and made us put it up. When we got to Grandma Jasmin’s and finally opened the door, your Daddy and I would fall out of the car and flop around on the ground like dying fish. Grandpa always said we were overdramatic, and maybe we were, but the stench of Grandpa farts could really get under your skin. If you smelled your arm three hours later, the Grandpa stink would still be there. It was horrible!”
“Really, Auntie? Grandpa REALLY did that?”
“Yep, Jojo, and if you don’t watch out, he’ll do it to you, too!”
“I don’t want Grandpa to take me to swimming lessons, Auntie. I’ll smell like FARTS the whole time!”
A grandfather’s revenge
Jojo has always been something of a cat whisperer, so the next afternoon, the Rev and I decided to take the children to a cat show at the Omni. We paid our entrance fees and walked into a room filled with the whitest people I have ever seen in my life. The cat show crowd might have some competition on the paleness front in, say, Reykjavik, but in South Texas these people looked like method actors auditioning to be the new Pillsbury Doughboy. There were also around 250 really ticked off cats.
We walked around a little bit with Avery securely strapped into his stroller (the Sticky Wheel 5000), and watched some of the cat judging. Evaluating show kitties basically involves picking the cat up and stretching it out until it resembles a tube with ears and feet, and then putting it down and dangling a little sparkly pom pom thing in its face until the animal gets angry enough to try to hit it.
Everything was going swimmingly until Avery realized that there were cats everywhere and that he was being negligent in his sworn duty to grab every single one of them. We turned him loose. Two seconds later, he started sticking his pudgy little baby fingers in every cat cage, cruising for a nasty bite or scratch. I told him, “No,” and he started screaming. The Rev moved swiftly. She grabbed a lollipop off of a nearby table, unwrapped it, and shoved it straight into Avery’s mouth. He broke into a beaming smile.
Once his salivary glands were activated the child became a geyser. Rivulets of drool ran from his mouth, soaking the front of the brand new shirt we’d just changed him into. I picked him up and ran him out of the show before he got stuck to a fancy cat. Baby spit oozed down my arms and dripped onto the floor in sticky, pendulous, globs. We sat down in a very nice chair with a panoramic ocean view. Avery kept drooling, having by now produced the approximate volume of the English Channel in spit. He smiled, his bottom lip laden with dribble, looking like a dam about to overflow. You could see the burgeoning viscosity.
Then he stuck out his tongue, and went, “PBBBBBBFFFFFFFFTTTTTTTT!!!”
“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” I screamed, but too late. I was covered from the top of my head to my waist in baby spit.
I wiped us both off (unsuccessfully) with a diaper, and walked back into the cat show. We found the Rev examining a disdainful Siamese
“What happened?!?” she exclaimed.
I looked like something out of the Black Lagoon. I could feel my escaped hair sticking to my cheeks, and my shirt was plastered wetly to my chest.
“Avery mouth farted,” I said. “Thanks for feeding him that lollipop.”
Mother started laughing, slowly at first, and then with her hand over her mouth to mute the guffaws. Tears streamed down her face. “It seemed like a good idea at the time,” she choked.
“Whatever,” I said, putting Avery back into his stroller.
“What a KEEE-UTE baby,” cooed a cat lady.
Avery struggled against his bonds, sensing the possibility of further suckers.
“Dude, you can’t be free! Quit it!”
“Yes, honey, you can’t be free -- just like all the kitties!” tittered the cat lady.
“Actually, he can’t be free because I’m pretty sure he’d stick to the rug and we’d have to use adhesive remover and an industrial sized spatula to get him loose.”
“He certainly is a wet one,” the cat lady replied.
That was potentially the understatement of the decade. The kid was a drool tsunami, which is probably why no one had taught him how to make fart noises. Lesson learned.
The De-Evolution of Man
July 6, 2017 | Issue #690
In nature, every mama bird must at some point allow her fledglings an attempt at flight. Whether the impetus to release her young comes from nurturing or annoyance, it is still a biological compulsion – although one that occasionally results in full-bellied felines.
I’m not sure what made the Rev decide that my father and I were capable of providing care for my small nephews for three days, but I’d wager it was pure irritation combined with the bitter algebra of necessity. There may have also been just a soupcon of “I’ll teach those jerks to appreciate me” thrown in, too. Dad and I are convinced that she rearranges her kitchen once a fortnight because if no one but Mom can ever find anything, we’ll probably be forced to keep her.
In any case, the Rev unceremoniously left us to fend for ourselves while she went to what Dad called “some preacher concert in San Antonio.”
I know you’re worried, so I’ll just tell you right now: NO ONE DIED.
Day 1: Homo Sapiens
I spent the day with the family getting sunburned while chasing children with sunscreen at Schlitterbahn. After hauling ourselves and our arsenal of kid-specific water junk back to my parents’ house, I cooked a couple of pizzas for dinner. The G.P. thought I had made way too much, and yelled at me. I snuck a piece to Stadler (my dog) in the interest of proving him wrong.
After dinner the evening pretty much went as follows:
Chase Avery (age 6) into shower. Kid starts yelling for help. He has broken the cold water knob. Rescue child from certain death as he is not smart enough to just get out of the shower. Excavate pajamas from the Jabba-the-Hut sized pile of clothing that had grown fungus-like on the floor of the boys’ room after somehow sensing the Rev’s absence. Insert kid in pajamas. Put kid in bed. Yell at other kid to take shower. Avery is missing. Find him in the great room playing with Dad’s pool table. Put Avery back in bed. Give him a book. Continue to scream at Jovanni to take shower. Chase Jovanni into shower with shouting and threats of no more waterparks. Avery is not in bed. Locate Avery at dining room table making “animals” out of pipe cleaners. Physically carry Avery back to his bunk. Exhort him to “STAY!” Frustration caused me to resort to commands that work on the dog. Repeat pajama excavation for Jovanni while Avery shouts helpful archeological advice from the top bunk. Run around behind naked Jovanni with pajamas. Tackle kid. Insert second kid in pajamas. Put Jovanni in bed. Avery has vanished again. Find him trying to lasso dog with an extension cord. Haul kid back to bed. Jovanni has stayed in his bunk. MIRACLE! Screaming/panic ensues because Avery can’t find a stuffed giraffe which turns out to be the size of a contact lens after we tear apart the bedroom looking for it. Both children finally in bed. Say goodnight, go to close door, “WE WANT A STORY.” Give up. Yell for G.P. Let Dad finish putting the wee heathens to bed. Clean kitchen. Go home. Collapse.
Day 2: Homo Neanderthalensis
The next morning, I arrived at my parents’ house early. I let myself in the front door, and headed to the kitchen. It was already wiped out. Dishes and peanut butter encrusted knives were stuck to every inch of available counter space, with entire constellations made of bread crumbs between them. All of the cabinet doors were open, with the exception of the one that concealed the trashcan. I sighed, grabbed a fresh dishcloth and got to work. The children hadn’t yet awoken.
Avery emerged, shirtless and ruffled.
“What do you want for breakfast, Avox? How about some fruit and yogurt?”
“No.” he muttered, eyes narrowing for a fight.
“How about eggies and bacon?” I suggested.
“NO, AB!” he yelled, still a slumber-fuss.
“What about PIZZA then?!?!” Hoping against hope that he’d eat a couple of pieces (there was still a 12 inch brick of pizza slices preserved in plastic wrap on the bottom shelf of the fridge).
“YEAH, PIZZA!” Avery shouted, excited to get an unusual breakfast. I heated two slices up for him, and snuck Stadler a third.
At about 2 p.m., the G.P. texted to ask me if I could help him take the children to a place called “Get Air.” I was finishing the Island Moon’s new website (www.islandmoon.com) and couldn’t leave.
“That’s ok,” said the G.P.’s final message. “What could go wrong?”
A few hours later, Dad and the kids returned home bruised and battered. Evidently, the best thing to do at “Get Air” is play dodgeball. Unfortunately, some of the kids playing the game were prodigies trained since birth in the art of viciously beaning other people with red rubber death balls. Avery had a black eye, and Jovanni sported a big bruise on his jawline. Dad bought them fried chicken, mashed potatoes (which looked more like Elmer’s glue with pepper), and biscuits for dinner. The kids picked at their food, claiming to be “too sore” to eat it. I brought them some ice cream – a miraculous cure.
Day Three: Homo Erectus
On the third and final morning of the Rev’s absence, I arrived shortly after dawn. The gentle morning light slipping tenderly between the blue and white floral curtains revealed that the house was in a state of near total disrepair. Detritus was strewn thick as seaweed -- I counted at least four pairs of tiny (and quite dirty) tighty whities in the living room alone. The oak dining table was covered in crayons, half colored copier paper, pipe cleaners and something sticky that might have been either glue or melted popsicles. There were glasses half full of goopy and mysterious liquids stacked haphazardly on every available surface. Sofa cushions littered the floor – the only marker designating the once great “Fort Brat” that tragically appeared to have been nuked from space. Forlorn, fluffy dog hair tumbleweeds drifted languorously across the slate floors. Sanitation had taken a real nose dive.
The men emerged soon after my arrival. They communicated almost entirely in grunts and shoves, lapsing briefly into pigeon English to answer my questions. They had devolved into itchy, sticky, proud farters.
They were extremely happy.
Stadler and I backed slowly out the front door, not wanting to witness what came next. I feared they would start spitting on the floor and marking territory.
That night, Mom returned from her liturgical journey. By the time she arrived, the well-trained G.P. had whipped the house into shape and forced the children into mismatched but modest clothing. I think that the boys had a lot of fun being boys. Still, it’s probably good that it was only short term. Otherwise, property values would plummet, neighbors would move, the CDC and the EPA would get involved, and Canada would start gently suggesting ways to solve the global health crisis generated by my family. “Fire is cleansing, eh.”
“Grunt,” the G.P. would respond.
At least I got rid of all the pizza.
The Turning of the Screws
June 29, 2017 | Issue #689
The decision to travel to an amusement park with small children is best made on the spur of the moment, much like when one jumps off a cliff. If you stand on the edge for too long, you’ll be consumed by second thoughts, which tell you that, should you decide to take a chance and plummet, you’ll surely die – or at least post an epic belly flop. It’s better to hold your nose and just take the plunge.
I can say (with some pride) that last Thursday I announced my intention of taking the G.P. and the small children to Schlitterbahn after having barely thought about it at all. The kids were excited for a day at a water park, and Dad had been talking for months about how he wanted to float the Lazy River. We got the necessary coolers/backpacks/water toys loaded up and coated the children in a layer of sunscreen so thick we could have shot them into space without risk of atmospheric immolation. Away we went, only returning home once because Avery forgot to poop.
We arrived at the park and checked in easily. I got lost trying to find the cabanas, dragging my poor trudging family the long way around. There was some complaint from the troops.
“How far is it, Auntie,” whined Jojo. “It takes forever to get there!”
“Yeah,” offered the mutinous G.P. “It seems like there might be a shorter way.”
There was, but the path was designated by an arrow pointing directly into the stratosphere. I ignored the sign and veered in a direction which seemed like it wouldn’t require a helicopter. Like many of my decisions, this one was regrettable.
Eventually, we arrived at Beach Access 10. The G.P. and the boys couldn’t wait, and took off down the Lazy River. I reclined on a lounge chair with my book and a bottle of water.
Thirty minutes later, Jovanni appeared.
“Where are Grandpa and Avery?” I asked. They were supposed to all stay together.
“I don’t know. I guess they went a different way,” Jojo yelled, drifting languidly away on his tube.
After another half an hour, my nephew reappeared like an especially irritating clockwork canary.
“Jojo! Did you see Grandpa and Avery?” I asked, chasing him through the shallows with the sunscreen.
“Nope!” He laughed, happily plunging down the river, a streak of white goop lingering, skunk-like on his back.
“FIND YOUR GRANDFATHER!” I screamed.
I inherited my directional impairment from my father. It was entirely possible that Dad and Avery could wind up floating the Lazy River for eternity, doomed to pass close to Beach Access 10, but never reach it, like lost souls from Dante’s Inferno .
Finally, I saw my soaked and bedraggled father porting his inner tube across from an adjoining pool, while Avery bounced alongside in his little red lifejacket.
“GRANDPA GOT US LOST, AB! We went around and around and around!” Avery hollered, wriggling like a minnow as I valiantly tried to baste him with sunblock.
Avery must have betrayed Dad’s great secret, because the G.P. glared at the oblivious child before saying defensively, “You could spend years just going in circles on that damn thing.”
“You could,” I replied, making an ill-fated grab for Avery and face planting myself in the shallows. I emerged, spluttering, “Jojo’s been back twice.” Dad huffed off toward the cooler and grabbed a bottle of water.
“Let’s go again, Ab!” Avery said, happily climbing onto a two-man tube, ready to set sail.
“You take him,” said the G.P. “I need little break.”
At that instant, Jovanni shot out of the access canal like an otter covered in Crisco, just in time to join us. We went around and back in record time, thanks to Jovanni’s superior navigational skills. I gave the kids some snacks and further chased them with the sunscreen. I adopted a linebacker’s approach, but small targets are difficult to tackle. The kids began begging for a ride on the roller coaster.
Dad decided that we all ought to go. We covered up our material possessions with towels (invisibility cloaks as far as thieves and coolers are concerned, right?) and headed up the hill. Avery was scared to ride the roller coaster until Jovanni called him chicken. Evidently, being called a fluffy murder fowl makes one very, very brave.
There was no line when we arrived, but there was a sign with a cartoon dog that said you must be “this tall to ride.” Avery put his back against the ruler and peeped over his shoulder. He wasn’t even tall enough to ride with an adult, unless you counted his frothy mop of curls, which they didn’t (I asked). Jojo was tall enough to go all by himself.
Avery collapsed in a puddle of disappointment beside the ropes that surrounded the line. There are few things in life worse than screwing up your courage and then having a cartoon bloodhound tell you that you’re too short. Jovanni didn’t help matters by running around crowing that he was “finally getting tall enough.” Tears began to pour down Avery’s round little cheeks.
Then the power went out.
The great blue screws that drove the torrents of water ground to a halt. The call of
“Power’s out!” echoed mournfully across the firmament, and folks began the slow march to the exits – dragging disappointed children and still-full coolers along behind them.
“Look!” I exclaimed. “No one gets to ride!” A smile crept across Avery’s face, and he happily bounced up and took my hand.
“Is it broken?” he whispered, in total awe. I’m sure that he had wished very hard that no one else (especially not Jovanni) could go on the ride either, and was afraid he’d destroyed Schlitterbahn with the power of his mind.
“No, Avox. There just isn’t any power right now.”
“Can we come back when there is?” he pleaded.
“We sure can,” I replied, swiping at sunscreen streaked across his nose.
“That’s GREAT!” he whooped, dancing away.
We got our stuff and joined the exodus. The G.P. looked over at me, as I Sherpa-like drug the cooler and all the towels and beach accessories back to the car, keeping a watchful eye on the small children.
“That’s a hell of sunburn you’ve got there,” he said.
Bright red and already peeling, my chest and shoulders looked like the unfortunate result of crossbreeding an iguana with a beefsteak tomato. I had put sunscreen on everyone -- except myself. The children thought this was very funny, and so our outing ended in laughter … and an awful lot of aloe vera.
The "Old Man" Card
June 22, 2017 | Issue #688
Abigail’s note: This is a belated article referring to last weekend's holiday. Dad has always operated on his own timeline, and so failed to do anything hilarious in time for last week's publication. In our family, Father's Day would more aptly be called Father's Delay.
Lately, I’ve been working on cleaning up my yard. If you’ve read this column for a while, you might remember that last January the G.P. (my Dad) dug vast trenches across my half acre back yard trying to ferret out a busted gas line. The pits are filled in, but there’s a pretty serious rubble problem – I’ve seen less rutted wheat fields. Also, since this is Corpus and the soil is evidently made of clay, salt and driveway cleaner, nothing except especially hardy bind weed seems to grow.
Some weeds needed whacking, so off I headed to my parents’ house, intent upon borrowing the devil device. Dad was loathe to hand it over because he and his next door neighbor were locked in The Great String Trimmer Battle of Passive Aggression.
“He doesn’t think I edge enough,” said the mortally offended G.P. “That bastard offered to let me use his trimmer. I’ve got four of thePlanta Claus: The G.P., Christmas Day, 2016 things.”
“What a jerk! Can I use ONE of them, though, Dad? The yard looks like I’m trying to create a habitat for wayward cheetahs.”
“I may be an old man,” he replied, “but I can still do that job a whole hell of a lot better than you can.”
The argument was unstoppable, but not because it was particularly good or logical. It’s very true that the G.P., with his approximately 300 years of both actual and genetically engineered farmer experience, is much better at weed whacking than I am. However, when I was a small child, he was infinitely better at walking than I was. I’m pretty sure it was still important for me to learn.
“I won’t get better if I don’t keep trying, Dad.”
He snorted and walked back into his office. He knew I couldn’t win. Like a housecat, the G.P. doesn’t enjoy playing with a dead mouse.
He came over and worked on my yard that afternoon. The weeds in the easement behind the fence are taller than I am, so he didn’t get too far. He mixed me up several gallons of Round-up and sent me off on a mission of murder. I crawled into the thicket and liberally basted everything I could reach and carpet bombed what I couldn’t.
A couple of days later, the Round-up hadn’t killed anything – some stuff may have actually gotten bigger. I went back over to Dad’s to address the problem and gather more tools. I’m building planters out of the boards that were left after the G.P. cut my large back deck in half (the gas line was evidently more difficult to find than Nemo), and I needed a circular saw and a drill. Dad was in a rough mood that morning. He had capitulated and edge trimmed his front yard – a brutal defeat.
“Dad,” I yelled, as Stadler and I barreled through his front door, “the stupid Round-up didn’t work. Should I make some Napalm?”
My family knows to take my threats of chemical deforestation very seriously. The G.P. practically ran out of his office and into the living room, probably expecting to see me holding a can of gas and some Styrofoam. Relieved at my apparent lack of flammable ingredients, Dad listened to my admittedly ambitious solution to my yard problems.
“I’m an OLD MAN, AB! I can’t be the family’s pack mule anymore!” he exploded, stormily retreating to his sanctum, barely sparing a backwards glance to make sure I wasn’t arming myself with old batteries.
“Okay, Dad,” I said, feeling awful about asking for more than he could give. I wanted to crawl into a hole and die for making my heroically indomitable father admit any sort of weakness. I slunk away home. This time I was beaten badly, even though I left with the tools I’d come for.
Twenty minutes later, I was outside scrubbing the remains of my deck, berating myself for being an ingrate. Then, I remembered that just 5 months ago my father spent weeks single-mindedly digging up my yard like a gopher loaded on high quality methamphetamine.
“OH MY GOD,” I thought, “It’s a freakin’ gambit!” I laughed aloud, realizing that while my father may getting old, he’s still a far better card shark than I’ll ever be.
“The Old Man Card”
My father is hilariously sly -- always, so it comes as no surprise that he’s figured out a way to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, without any argument from the rest of us. Excited, I posted my new theory on Facebook:
“’The Old Man Card’ is by far the most powerful in the familial deck. It trumps every other card, inflicts maximum damage, cannot ever be used by any other opponent, is only applicable to one turn, and returns to the wielder’s hand directly after each use. The only conceivable drawback is that you have to BE an old man to throw it – but only for the one turn.”
“Har, har, har,” the G.P. replied. “We may be shriveled shells of our former selves, but we still have the ‘Old Man Card.’”
I wasn’t buying it.
“…and that’s how you play the card, Methuselah. In an hour, you’ll be Thor again.”
Behind the poker face
My father is my favorite person, and bears responsibility (along with Star Wars and badgers) for my sense of humor. He earned his “Great Provider” nickname when he decided that our demise was imminent due to the Rev traveling to Washington, D.C. Off he went to the grocery store, reappearing in the kitchen 30 minutes later juggling 3 watermelons and two bursting sacks full of frozen bean and cheese burritos. “WE WILL SURVIVE!” he crowed, “…but it could get a little stinky.”
Dad isn’t perfect, but he has given me many wonderful gifts. He taught me about survival and self-sufficiency, and, in that way, he has saved my life many times over. He showed me how to swim, and taught me how words work and why thinking matters. But the greatest of my father’s gifts, as the apostle Paul so aptly noted, is love. He gave me not only his love as a father, but inspired my love for nature and music. When I was most hurt, he reminded me that no matter how awful we feel, there is still something great and glowing within us --and he has never since let me forget
At Christmas dinner this year, my Dad stared out over the quiet sea and said, “I may be old, but I still experience moments of profound joy almost every day. That’s what makes everything so worth it.” I hope he lives forever.
May 25, 2017
A few weeks ago, my friend Mel B. asked me to go hiking with her. She is an aficionado of the sport, traveling long distances to beautiful places just to walk all over them. Mel loves hiking to the extent that she often quotes blogs on the subject, and carries a snake bite kit in her purse – even if she’s only going to Starbucks. Stadler and I are not in her league, but we do love walking, especially if we can hunt Pokémon while we’re doing it. Too often, I imagine myself and my dog wearing pith helmets and parting tall savannah grasses in hot pursuit of a duck in a wizard hat. “Shhhhh, we’re hunting purple ghosty things,” I whisper to Stadler, channeling Elmer Fudd. Stadler usually expresses her disdain by attempting to jerk my arm out of its socket to fake pee on a suspicious blade of grass. We do not always share the same objectives.
I readily agreed to go, and in my excitement for the trip, I downloaded a hiking app to find the best/closest trails. This app is now known as the Liar Liar Pants on Fire Application (L.L.P.F.A.), for reasons that will soon become crystal clear.
Mel B. and I are very different types of early risers. Mel awakens chipper and happy – one pictures small birds and big-eyed forest critters helping her with her morning ablutions while she sings nonsense syllables at them in a warbling soprano. At my house, I have to set the alarm on my phone to fog horn/gunshot/horror movie scream/falling over drum kit/tornado siren in order to dislodge myself from sleep. Anything less (like a lovely harp or babbling brook) and I’ll just snuggle up until it’s time for dinner. Stadler is no help. The dog might love to stay in bed even more than I do, and is immune to the morning cacophony, responding by rolling over onto her back, all four paws in the air, so she can hog the breeze from the box fan. I head, one eye begrudgingly open, directly to the coffee, grumbling the entire way… “Lazy ass dog…gets to stay in bed…gonna sleep all day…dumb dog,” and am Ab the Terrible until the caffeine kicks in. People have grown to fear morning me, giving me the wide, careful berth normally reserved for hand grenades and trapped badgers.
Mel wanted to head out early – at 7 a.m. to be precise. I was halfway through my coffee when she breezed through my front door, brandishing her snake bite kit as though it could cure everything from acne to Zika. Off we went, following the directions of the L.L.P.F.A. to Port A, where the app insisted there was a beautiful five mile trail. The Google Lady took us straight to a parking lot that boasted no less than 25 small mobile homes in various states of disrepair and a few tents. This seemed wrong. “I haven’t heard of any hiking around here,” replied clerk at the convenience store after being cheerfully interrogated by Mel, and sourly stared at by me. L.L.P.F.A. indicated that we were standing a mile down the trail when we were clearly in the potato-chip-and-weird-jerky aisle at the Stripes. The only nature photographs we’d capture on this “trail” would feature beach goers rooting through the beer cooler. “Let’s go to P.I.N.S.,” I suggested. “There’s at least one trail out there. The L.L.P.F.A. says it’s 9 miles long! That’s a great hike.” A dark thundercloud of rage rolled across Mel’s beautiful brow.
“I. HATE. SAND.” She said, enunciating each word like her tongue was a gavel.
“The trail isn’t on the beach,” I replied, turning back on to the highway. Mel’s eyes shot daggers.
Luckily, Mel was too excited to stay mad for long. We got to P.I.N.S. and bought our day pass at the visitor’s center. “Is there anything we should know about the trail,” I asked a ranger, concerned because 9 miles out and back is a pretty long hike. He looked at me like I was a congressional level idiot and said, “It’s a little windy today. You shouldn’t have any problems, though.” Pride puffed out my chest as I strutted back to the car. “He could tell we have hiking experience, Mel. Otherwise, he totally would have told us to be careful. We are MIGHTY HIKERS!”
We arrived at the well-marked trail head a scant ten minutes later. It seemed that many people had the same idea, including an assortment of elderly folks with walkers and one guy in a wheelchair. The beginning of the walk was neatly paved, and we set off in high spirits. With 9 miles to go it had to get harder! We strolled for 20 minutes, pausing frequently so that Mel could take pictures of cacti, and then rounded a corner. The sign that marked the trail head was clearly visible. We’d hiked in a loop for less than a mile. There was nowhere else to go.
Furious (and feeling pretty stupid) we slammed into the car, driving until we saw a barbed wire gate with a sign. It marked the last vestige of the great old cattle ranching on the Island. We hiked in, only to find a rough trail surrounded by patches of strange and beautiful wild flowers. As we walked further, I let Stadler off leash. She tried to join a herd of white tailed deer – happily dog bouncing right along with them. They turned her down so forcibly that she sped back to us as though she was equipped with turbo. Don’t buck with white tailed deer.
After the hike, which was still shorter than we preferred, but wilder than we dared hope, we drove home, cautiously content. The second we passed the water tower, returning to the land of cell signal, I stopped and deleted the L.L.P.F.A., angrily stabbing it into nonexistence with my index finger. “Are you done?” asked Mel, back to her normal, optimistic self.
“Yes,” I pouted, marginally humiliated by my phone rage.
“Good,” she said. “Let’s fry up some snapper.”
And we did. All’s well that ends with a good lunch.