Click any letter for a look at my prize-winning essay from the Erma Bombeck Writing Competition. You don't even have to buy a vowel.

Saturday, September 27, 2008


Since it was Saturday and I had no other tasks before me, unless you count coming up with creative excuses not to walk the dog or whipping out a check for the rent, I whiled away my time sharpening a pencil.

I didn’t realize at the time that pencil sharpening is an Extreme Sport boasting a difficulty on par with weasel wrestling or damp mopping with a frisky Labrador in the house. I simply wanted to solve the daily crossword. My pencil, the only one I could find without a clever pirate skull pencil topper that came free inside something that costs more per gallon than gasoline, was dull.

The problem began several years ago when we bought the children a pencil sharpener in answer to a popular excuse for not doing homework. My husband and I, believing we were no less intelligent a team than the pencil sharpener manufacturing squad, came to a unanimous decision that battery-powered pencil sharpeners lack sufficient power to take care of the number and quality of pencils that we intended to provide for our scholarly brood.

After comparison shopping among major brands and dealers, we procured a handsome electric pencil sharpener, red in color, imagining it would gnaw through a mere Ticonderoga like a menopausal chick through chocolate (names omitted to protect the chubby).

For the most part, Red sprawled aimlessly on the counter, holding down a stack of trading cards and some stray recipes I pretended I was going to try, although he once gave a half-hearted effort to sharpening a chopstick for Son One’s amusement. But today’s mission was vitally important. Since I live in the land of Y chromosomes who aspire to greatness, I’ve never finished a newspaper crossword alone. If I worked fast, I could complete the thing before the crowd got up to watch the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles kick some shell.

Finding an open, accessible outlet in my house is rather like hunting for the last red M&M in the pack. Once upon a time they were in abundance. Now that they’ve gone the way of other endangered species (like pantyhose, the cents symbol on your keyboard, or a celebrity who's not expecting at least one infant), no matter how fervently you search through the tumbled pile of greens and browns, when you plunge down to the bottom of the bag you end up with a fingernail full of something brown and gooey.

So I began my search through the house swinging my pencil sharpener like Florence Nightingale with her lantern, only she was out to help people and all I wanted to do was solve the Jumble.

There’s an open outlet in the laundry room, but the calisthenics involved to reach it would necessitate hanging by my toes from the shelf over the dryer. I’ve lost a little muscle tone in my ankles over the years, probably from the bizarre habit of sitting in front of a computer for extended stretches of time in an attempt to earn grocery money. I could climb down the wall like a blue-tailed lizard, but I’m concerned about the integrity of my landing gear. One crash landing and I could meet my insurance deductible for the next five years.

I peered cautiously into the bathroom. The outlet there sports eerie octopus arms attached to the curling iron, the electric toothbrush, and the boys' John Deere-strength razor. I can almost understand the cord the goes to the amplifier for Son Two’s electric guitar, but you wouldn’t think a house full of teenage boys would require a crimper.

The kitchen outlet is in plain view, but unplugging the microwave and crock pot seems cruel and unfair after all they’ve done this summer to save me from turning on the oven.

Which gives me an idea. All I have to do is pull the stove out from the wall, edge the refrigerator over a bit, knock a few dozen greasy dust bunnies out of the way and skirt around the puddle of mystery goo. I pulled the plug, draining power from the evil appliance who’s main purpose is to encourage marathon sweating as I hover over fried chicken, corn puddings, and asparagus casseroles.

Looks like pizza delivery tonight.

Sharpening my pencil to a perfect point and breathing a sigh so big I could have sent the Santa Maria clean past America in one blow, I returned to the puzzle page and was delighted to find that I knew the answer to the first clue. As I lowered pencil to paper, the tip snapped off, digging a hole through two pages and my last nerve.

Now I know why they call it the breaking point.


the Bag Lady said...

Hehehehehe - isn't that called Murphy's Law?
Great post, Amy. Love the line about climbing down the wall like a blue-tailed lizard - I'm not so sure of my landing gear anymore, either!!

Mysti L Guymon said...

Amazing, as always, Amy! Next time, erasable ink.

Terra Chandler said...

Hahahaha....oh lord that sucks. You should try ultimate crosswords...with a pen!! Although, if your house is as nuts as mine (and by the sounds of it, it is), finding a pen will take infinately longer than finding an outlet. Eh well. Good luck next weekend!! :)

Angie Ledbetter said...

At least the monster's been unplugged. Aren't there crosswords available online? ;)