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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Out to Launch

I would rather let my teenaged sons select my spring wardrobe than go through a Halloween haunted house. I may be taking the risk of being seen next May in a stunning camo and chained wallet ensemble, but somehow I’d rather take that risk. It seems like raising two boys would have dulled my susceptibility to the undead wearing mismatched clothes and bearing chain saws long ago, but somehow a grown man chasing me like I’d recovered a fumble and making revving noises until the spit flies frightens me beyond consciousness. Perhaps it’s because I’ve lived long enough to know just what grown men are capable of.

For instance, I know of a man who, with one ill-timed twirl of his office chair, ripped the pull-out drawer of his desk (which he had unfortunately forgotten to un-pull) from its moorings sending thousands of helpless paperclips, ballpoint pens, and TicTacs skittering to their deaths across the floor of his cubicle. Because the drawer had not acted properly according to function and stubbornly refused to recede into the desk upon contact with the chair, he was able to claim that the accident was not his own fault but was, in fact, a hardware problem. The scary part of the story? This man is an employee of the world’s largest defense contractor.

Another example, eerily personal in nature, is this. I have daily contact with, and often wash the underwear of, a man who once worked diligently to create a working tabletop model of a medieval-style trebuchet, for the sole purpose of launching toy farm animals across the kitchen at the dog. Sure, he said he was helping the kids with a school project, but to this day the Labrador looks for flying cows before he’ll set one paw on the linoleum. I couldn’t housebreak the poor animal without setting up training runs through plastic livestock, and he can’t see the movie Twister without going all white around the whiskers.

It is not news that there are men who favor bungee jumping as a form of self expression. Recently, I received a video by e-mail, a form of information transference which upholds the laws of truth, that revealed a victim, er volunteer, dangling by harness from a high horizontal wire. The fact that the scene took place in a large cow pasture and the, um, volunteer was also attached to a team of flannel-shirted engineers atop a John Deere lawn tractor by a long bungee cord gave me pause, especially when the tractor headed downfield at speeds normally associated with phrases such as “Mach 1” and “boom.” The fellow in the harness didn’t pause though, because when the ground crew let go of the tether, he hurtled through space like a cow pie meteor, completed a full somersault with a half twist and landed with gusto in a flourishing maple tree. After that, of course, everybody wanted a turn.

Any one of these guys might be the maniac in the Halloween haunted house you visit. If he’s wielding a chain saw, you can probably make it out alive. But if he’s after you with a bungee cord, you won’t see your family again until you’re starring in a You Tube video with “Fly Like an Eagle” playing in the background.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Breaking Up is Hard to Do

As happens in many crumbling marriages, a factor in the divorce of Madonna and her husband, Mr. Madonna (she’s the one with the killer abs and fishnet hose, he’s the one planning a peaceful existence of solitude in an ivy-covered 250 room cottage in the English countryside) is their 500 million dollar net worth. I can’t help but compare their battle to the one Bill Dear and I would have if we ever called it quits. Contentious points in our settlement would include:

Custody of the dictionaries. We’re word people. This makes for a tough battle. The air will be thick with nouns, and adjectives will cover the walls.

Responsibility for cleaning the kitty box corner of the marital duplex before the security deposit can be recovered. I’d rather take out fire insurance and torch the place.

Subscription to Mental Floss magazine. This one is in Bill’s name. It doesn’t look good for Albert Einstein finding a place in my new pad.

Access to the recipe for Apple Bread. Bill makes bread Sunbeam would open a new division for, so I wouldn’t demand physical possession of the recipe. I just want visitation of the results.

Responsibility of the marital computer tech to repair and update all estranged computers for free. Because the blue screen of death makes me sad.

Ownership of the Disney videos. I brought 101 Dalmatians into the marriage and I’m not leaving with less.

Continued relationship with the extended marital family. Bill has fixed my family’s computers, arranged for repairs on everything from telephone lines to plumbing, and, initiated emergency garbage runs to the dump during the great fruit fly outbreak of 2001. My sisters would pack my belongings in a steamer trunk and set me adrift off the coast of Charleston with a bucket of shark bait before they would let him get away.

Proprietorship of the family fortune--a three liter plastic jar once bursting with cheese popcorn, now awash in pennies collected painstakingly over an eighteen month period. There would be more, but we keep digging into the stash for important life-enhancing substances like candy corn and Easter peeps.

Three McDonald’s Monopoly game pieces, two of which were good for a free order of medium fries in 1998.

The cast iron frying pan. Seasoned by years of campfire cooking and bacon grease massages, it makes the best gravy in the continental United States, outlying territories, and Arctic ice floes. In the Southern United States, the family’s cast iron frying pan is passed from generation to generation with the same care as the family Tupperware. I’d sooner part with the children than the frying pan. The frying pan requires less maintenance and never asks for allowance.

Unlike Madonna’s breakup, media coverage might not whip the ordeal into a frenzy of transatlantic proportions. But the SugarTit News and World Report might give us a call to see if somebody’s going to extend the subscription when we split. In our tiny, kudzu-covered corner of the world, our cancellation could put that paper to bed for good. For the future of freedom of the press and media in America, I guess we’d better stay together.

Besides, neither one of us is willing to take custody of the cats.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Two Cents

As a cost conscious individual whose retirement funds are tied up in the spiraling gasoline market (I still owe three monthly installments on the tank of gas I bought before the bust), I am always attuned to ways of saving money. I’ve found as I’ve traveled through the express lane of life that there are certain factors that clue you in to the road most likely paved with full-priced, economically unstable gold-plated bricks. Keep your eye out for these and grab the next exit toward the coupon-cobbled road of the thrifty and impoverished. This road is often paved with copies of McDonald’s dollar menu.

Always pay attention to product descriptions:

Medication is a specialized treatment that costs not less than twenty-five dollars per designer colored tablet and causes side effects which include, but are not limited to, drooling, drowsiness, hives, death, and poor fashion choices.

Medicine is a couple of aspirin. Without the easy-swallow buffered coating. Side effects: dropping twenty bucks on fashion magazines and makeup at the drugstore at time of purchase.

The department store that advertises a fashion pant is offering up a pair of slacks painstakingly pieced from delicate fabric made of handwoven alpaca wool. The material is priced per square inch on the same rate of exchange used to determine the value of real estate in Beverly Hills. Likewise the word “trousers” used in describing women’s clothes indicates payment in large bills or barrels of crude oil.

On the other hand, a pair of pants, while seemingly twice as much commodity for the money, is often found on the clearance rack at WalMart for ten dollars. Elastic waistband is complimentary. To say the least.

Another important factor to remember is advertising. If a restaurant advertises a lunchtime taco special at the drive-through, you can feed your entire office with a coupon and a twenty dollar bill, with extra salsa to spill on your upholstery. However, if a restaurant is located in a grove of trees on the outskirts of the shopping district, boasts no windows, is barely visible due to subtle lighting, and has an advertising campaign passed by word of mouth over cocktails at the country club, you could book a cruise for a week of summertime fun in Los Cabos, before you afford one of their shrimp.

Likewise, keep in mind that any beauty product advertised by a film star is likely made from the antennae of Guatemalan butterflies and is priced by the gram.

But any product advertised by Paris Hilton is cheap, which in this case is not the same as inexpensive. Choose wisely or risk being followed home by paparazzi with disposable cameras demanding a cleavage shot or an outraged Chihuahua in a tutu trying to serve papers for emotional distress.

Remember that the educated shopper can always find the good buy. And now that the price of gas is coming down, you can save for that hamburger you always wanted. Or afford to give the snotty waiter offering you the dinner special--a glass of water and an olive--at the fancy restaurant a piece of your mind--your own two cents worth. Plus tax.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

It Ain't Easy Being Lean

My body is the result of a strenuous conditioning program developed by a team of experts, Ben and Jerry, who have discovered through scientific study exactly what I need to maintain my biological unit in its present operating condition.

A Very Important Detail in my physical routine is that I am fully capable of chugging chocolate until the wax in my ears turns to cocoa butter, but that’s professional-level stuff and I don’t recommend it for everyone. Please consult your doctor or confectioner before engaging in any unusual activity.

However, given the fact the stretchy part of my pants is beginning to function more as a guardrail than a fashion accessory, I’m considering taking action before the overflow threatens the structural integrity of my Fruit of the Looms. But don’t be concerned; I have no intention of jumping on the current diet wagon. To me, a hamburger wrapped in a lettuce leaf is a steak dinner gone horribly wrong.

I plan to donate my figure to foundations.

It’s a common myth that proper undergarments will make a treacherous and unfortunate outfit as socially acceptable as a little black dress at a Kennedy cocktail party. This is simply not true. Some tasks are far beyond the abilities of even a long-line bra and panty girdle. Spandex does not have superpowers.

And while we’re on the subject, if the person that tells you that 50 is the new 30 is waving you on down the fashion fast lane with a thong and a stick-on bra, you’d better take the next exit that leads to a department store. There are some things that need full coverage, even if you’ve had enough plastic surgery to make a clever overnight bag with the leftover skin.

Fifty year-old cleavage should be kept locked up tighter than the family silver. I have a close friend, bless her heart, who insists on wearing the kind of top made to show off the designer label in her underwire. When she bends over, it looks like the tide going out over a coral reef. I shudder to think of what could get lost in the undertow.

And while we’re passing out fashion tips like door prizes at a Cosmo party, please keep in mind that when Mama told you pearls go with everything, she was not aware that a generation would come along who would spray on tans like she sprayed on Midnight in Paris, and who would sport pants that show more cleavage in the back than Joe the Plumber when he’s snaking the septic line.

Now they’re saying that hip huggers are hazardous to your health, so I’ve decided to just stick with my stretchy pants and hope the elastic holds out. According to a specialist (some guy on the radio), snug-fitting hip huggers could pinch a nerve and cause the outer thigh to tingle; a condition caused skanktrampitis. As far as I’m concerned Johnny Depp causes the same reaction without the Surgeon General getting involved.

The important thing to remember is that good taste never goes out of style. But if it takes a push up bra to lure a pirate to buried treasure, make sure there’s plenty of booty.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

In Cahoots

Collaborating on a novel with your spouse is like sharing a piece of bread that only one of you wants toasted. When one is heartbent for modern romance and the other is set to strike out down the stony path toward gothic horror, it seems like the easiest thing to do would be to meet congenially in fantasy or science fiction. But by the time the opening sentence finds its place on the electronic media screen, things are already personal. If redecorating a house together leads down the long and winding road to relationship stress, collaborating on a novel is the short, straight path to dividing your assets.

My husband, Damien Spielberg, took a perfectly lovely and sincere story about the relationship between a maiden apprentice and her mentor and turned it from a lively, endearing romance into a Renaissance Wizarding Extravagana complete with recreational lightning bolt action. And he made it a screenplay, to boot.

“If we’re going to be in cahoots on this thing, you’ve got to learn to give a little bit,” he said, striking through an entire page of my rich, descriptive prose with a wide-point permanent marker.

I snatched my beloved pages from his jagged claws. “Cahoots? You make it sound like a bad western. We’re collaborating.” I bit the eraser off my pencil.

“What happened to my colorful description of Abby meeting Bob for the first time?” I asked, wrinkling my brow as I flipped through the pages.

“Here it is,” he said, wiping out another paragraph as he gestured nonchalantly with his Sharpie.

“Scene I. Abby meets Bob.”

“That’s all? The humor of the scene comes from Abby, a modern businesswoman accustomed to a sterile and structured environment, coming to terms with the fact that she is competing for a promotion with a man whom she’s just discovered is a 500 year old member of wizarding royalty who is grandfathered into her company’s pension plan.”

“I put wizard in the script notes. See here in the margin? Bob wears a pointy hat.”

“A pointy hat? Bob is not a dunce. Bob is a staff-wielding mage who served in some of the most influential governments in history. He talks to fish!”

“Calm down. I mentioned the fish. See here in Scene III. There’s a nice bit here in the willows by the pond.”

“So how do we know he talks to the fish?”

“Easy. Dialogue.”

“Dialogue? You mean a conversation? This is coming from the man who told me he was in a wreck two hours after he totaled his new car and the rescue team delivered him to the emergency room? You didn’t call me until the nurse dialed the number for you.”

“And after they gave me enough painkillers to make me count to ten in three languages and sing the Lumberjack song to a burly intern. But this is different. It’s Bob talking. Not me.”

“That’s a good thing. Otherwise it would be the world’s shortest book.”

“We’re supposed to be working on this together. Be nice.”

“I’d rather be the dental hygienist in the tiger cage at Ringling Brothers.”

“Need references?”

“Never mind. Tell me more about our wizard’s wonderful world of words.”

“The only way you can see into the man is to hear him talk.”

“I’ve got to hear to see? What about my searing description of their awkward encounter in the elevator?”

“I covered that. In the second scene you see the looks on their faces when she realizes he can read her thoughts and she splashes peanut butter milkshake all over his topcoat, tries to scrape it off with his cane, and accidentally pokes him in the n---.”

“Stop!”

“I was going to say nose. When you see that, you can hear their hearts.”

“Okay, now I have to see to hear.” I turn a page in my narrative version and mark out several paragraphs describing Abby’s clothes. “So how do you come up with all this clever conversation?”

“I listen to people talk. Then I write it down.”

Easy enough. “By the way, back at the pond, what are Bob and the catfish discussing?”

“Whether he should take the job.”

“What do they decide?”

“The catfish advises against it.”

“And why is that?”

He says that Abby is a bad influence and Bob should leave the company entirely.”

“I’ve given her a beautiful home, a killer figure, and a sparkling wit. Why doesn’t he like her?”

He sighed and scratched his head. “She talks too much.”

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Mixed Messages

Compared to my mom, Martha Stewart bakes with an Easy Bake Oven and a low wattage bulb. When I was a kid, my mother, the love child of June Cleaver and the Pillsbury Doughboy, baked enchanting birthday cakes that rose from piles of hand-measured ingredients: freshly sifted flour, cups of sweet milk, and eggs so fresh the hens were still thinking up baby names.

My sisters and I would search through cook books full of black-and-white pictures of prize-winning creations, picking the masterpiece we wanted for our birthday celebration. Mama would lovingly pull out her Mixmaster, line baking pans with waxed paper, and lock us out of the kitchen to keep our tiny fingers out of the double boiler.

Years whizzed by like a blender stuck on puree, and I stood contemplating a box with a fuzzy picture of a cake stamped on the front in brown ink. Bake from scratch? Excuse me? Are you here on a visa from the Land Where Whipped Cream is a Still a Dairy Product? My kids think ingredients are the bad things for you that are listed on the side of the box; the renegade roll call of –ites and –ates that begins with corn syrup and end with death. They believe that Red Dye number 2 is the only pathway to Nirvana and have abiding faith that Little Debbie is a natural Earth Mother that sprang to life from a carton of Cool Whip.

The first time my kids saw a round cake, they thought I’d cut off the burned corners. In their experience, cakes went straight from the mouth of the Betty Crocker box into my 11 x 13 baking dish and on to a fiery death in the bowels of our thermostat-challenged oven that raged from frozen food to flash fried in a matter of minutes. They thought cakes were bricks with chocolate frosting. But since they helped open the box and mix the mortar, they also thought chocolate bricks were the best invention since nunchucks for Ninja Turtles.

One Christmas when we made cookies together, I tried the old fashioned bake without a box method. By the time the butter softened and the eggs were room temperature, Santa’s reindeer had come and gone and the dog had long since digested the icicles off the tree. The next Christmas I snagged a roll of cookie dough that let me chop off cookies like I was slicing dough with a circular saw. They were ready in twenty minutes and the kids clustered around like cats around a cricket to pipe on red reindeer noses and Santa hats.

My mom would have known that red dye would smear into the other colors until Santa looked like a bloody-eyed zombie from Christmas past.

As I watched the kids giggle over their creations, I grabbed a warm cookie and took a bite.

Rolled cookie dough: $1.99. Soap to clean up the mess: $2.50. Happy kids making Satan cookies: Priceless. Mama would be proud.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Who Am I and Why Am I Wearing These Pants?

After almost half a century, I’ve finally figured out my identity. It came after a lot of finding out what my identity isn’t.

I’m not the customer that strolls into a highbrow boutique to have all the salespeople cluster around her cooing, “I’ve been waiting for you to come in. I have a clever little cocktail dress in a size 6 that would be just perfect for you after we take it in.”

I’m the customer who wanders in the store, fumbling through her purse for her bifocals and casting about nearsightedly for the chubbies department while Twiggy the sales girl adjusts her shoulder pads to give the illusion of a three dimensional shape and mutters through her nose, “I’ll be with you in a minute.” Meanwhile I can find the perfect dress to wear to the class play on the clearance rack.

I’m not the employee that writes a clever computer program that allows the CEO to unsend an e-mail that distributes company secrets to everyone in his address book, including the Soviet spy that highlights as a janitor.

But I am the employee that can unjam the copy machine with a raised eyebrow, a push of a button, and a hip check in less time than it takes the culprit to hijack the elevator to the third floor to jam their copy machine.

I’m not the wife that can pull together a catered luncheon for 150 when my husband offhandedly invites the rained-out IT Teambuilder Weekend group home. But I know the way to a man’s heart is paved with meatloaf and mashed potatoes and I have a secret ingredient that gets his attention faster than an advertisement for a car that runs on beer.

I’m not the health-chick who can order a salad for lunch and be too full to pack in another bite. I’m the one who reaches for the dessert menu as soon as her stretch jeans hit the cushioned seat of the booth and orders her entrĂ©e by saying, “Whatever goes with the Death by Chocolate.”

I’m not the Mom that can whip up a fairy princess costume out of two doilies and a handful of glitter that consumes the under-five crowd with envy. But I can juggle two soccer practices and a baseball banquet on a single Saturday without losing shin guards or sanity.

I’m not the daughter that can buy her parents a mansion on fifty acres of Kentucky bluegrass or a nice retirement villa in the South of France. But I can make sure they get to every doctor’s appointment, including that awful dentist who makes dentures that stick to a candy apple like the Sword in the Stone.

I’m not the sister who picks out birthday cards with enough flowers on front to kick your hay fever into high gear and has it delivered to your office in a pot of seasonal blossoms that I’ll drop by your house to plant in the garden for you later.

The bouquet I send you will be made of assorted chocolate bars; at least one will have a bite missing and another will be an empty wrapper. But I’m the sister that goes shopping in the petite section with you even though the only thing petite about either one of us is our patience with all the clothes made for small, slender women.

So if you’re looking for the one who will stick by you through bad manicures, haircuts gone wrong, and spray-on tans that look like a summer sunset off the coast of Florida, I’m your gal. But try and pull on a pair of skinny jeans after a post-romance feeding frenzy and you’re on your own. It takes a wise woman to know the limits of her stretchy pants.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Palintology

When it comes to politics, I’m not exactly an activist. My vote will probably go to the candidate most likely to introduce a federal holiday dedicated to the consumption of chocolate, or one who disallows the wearing of belly shirts by any citizen, legal or otherwise, who sports an actual belly. So don’t get the idea that someone could actually exploit my vote through such trivial factors as race, gender, or resemblance to a primate.

However, I can’t help but notice a swarm of media activity surrounding the female Vice-Presidential nominee on the McCain ticket. I’m not sure which political party she represents, although I’m pretty sure it’s not the National League because the Cubs already clinched their division and I’m relatively certain there are no women on the roster.

We learned enough about Sarah Palin in the first 24 hours after the announcement to steal her identity and open up a mooseburger stand on the White House lawn. I call this mindless tunneling through the details of a public official’s private life Palintology. It's about as useful in determining a person’s character as using a few shards of ancient Egyptian pottery to establish Cleopatra’s favorite china pattern.

My local newspaper, The Sugar Tit Times and Record, published a large, photo-enhanced story concerning the frequency and duration of Sarah Palin’s visits to her hairdresser, including the fact that the hairdresser’s alleged baby sat on the lap of the Alaskan Governess on at least one occasion, although the article did not report whether the baby actually got frosted or tipped. Upon consideration, it seems that the disclosure of all politicians’ hairdressers is important to help the general population avoid the Richard Nixon three-point style or even the Ronald Reagan look, bless his theatrical, poorly styled heart.

Not long ago I caught some fetching pictures of a bikini clad Sarah Palin on the Internet. Turns out those pictures were *gasp* not actual, unretouched photos and the privacy of the gubernatorial belly button remains intact.

This attention to physical suitability for office seems somewhat biased. I notice nobody went to the trouble to doctor images of Barack Obama, John McCain, or even Dan Quayle, the attractive political has-been famous for his poor-spelling platform, sporting Speedos. And if anybody gives us swimsuit shots of Newt Gingrich, I’m going to burn my voter registration card, which is presently tucked securely into my wallet between my Powerball ticket and my cents-off coupon for ground round.

So when it comes to political selection for leaders of the nation, do your own research. And if you come up with an actual photo of the belly button in question, sell it to the highest bidder and use the profits to go ice fishing in Alaska. Exploitation for representation. It’s the American Way.