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Monday, April 28, 2008

The Gang's All Here

It seems like every book I pick up these days is trying to teach people how to live, talk, dress, and eat like Southern folk. Either that or how to “Walk Yourself Thin,” a feat I attempted unsuccessfully at the mall where I gained five pounds celebrating each day’s activities with a fried chicken biscuit at the finish line.

Just because we live in small town America, it doesn't mean that we don't have access to the finer things that make for a cosmopolitan existence, like deli food and street gangs. We can march right down to Joe's Sandwich Shop and Tanning Salon and order a pastrami on rye like everybody else in the country. Of course Joe sometimes gets the pastrami and the pepperoni mixed up, but that's a better mistake making sandwiches than if he were making pizzas. I'm just glad he doesn't sell live bait on the side like he used to.

As for gangland activity, I’ll confess that our town, a little less metropolitan than say Goose Creek, is so small that our gangs meet at each other’s houses like Bible study groups, arriving in little knots of two and three together at the predestined meeting place. I’m anxious to see what the Bloods bring for refreshments. I don’t think I want to know what special ingredient they put in their potato salad. I can’t imagine that they’re much for cooking, what with spending all their time planning playground takeovers and group jaywalking, and are likely to pick up some tacky storebought dessert without bothering to take it out of the package. Of course, it’s difficult to disguise a Ho Ho, even on a silver tray.

For the most part, at least from what I’ve heard being shouted between cars at the traffic light, we have traditional gangs with traditional names; Pinheads, You Idiots, and Any Particular Color of Green You Waiting For? These groups don’t have any national affiliation as of yet, but give them a few more years of growth and there is no reason they won’t be able to exploit corporate sponsorship.

Our gangs mark their territory with graffiti just like those in more urban areas, although it’s considered bad form to spray paint on public property. Garden clubs spend many hours of their valuable time engaged in creative ways to beautify the city and vandalism that disrespects their efforts is met with disapproval. Whipped cream and squirt cheese work much better than paint for signs and symbols,with the additional bonus of serving as a food source for nature’s little creatures.

Since spelling is not a strong point in the area, most of our grafitti is done in pictures; frowny faces convey angst just as well as a naughty word and doesn’t get you in near as much trouble with the broom-wielding granny that finds you expressing yourself on the back wall of the Laundromat and who will gladly show you the square root of angst. A nice Mr. Yuk drawn in the dust on the police cruiser gets the message across just fine.

While I’m on the subject, it seems to me that a dress code of some sort would prove beneficial to everyone. Torn jeans and bandanas may be stylish, but what does that outfit say about your roots? Khaki pants are always nice and can be paired with a blue pinpoint Oxford for a sharp casual look, although there is always the chance that you’ll be taken for a bag boy at the A&P. Individuality can be asserted with a name patch on the left front breast in the traditional style, as long as we engage our creativity in name selection and elect only one Killer or Tiny per group. Somebody is going to have to give in and be Mr. Grumpypants.

So as to spare hurt feelingss, it seems necessary to mention that we have recently developed a motorcycle gang franchise, and even though he doesn’t have a Harley, Pervis Pridemore has a lot to be proud of. He has a sidecar that will hold the things Delores told him to pick up at the store including the string cheese and bulk toilet paper, unless of course, it’s holding Delores herself who likes to hop in for a spin down the driveway to check the mail or fetch the newspaper. However, all this chauffeured luxury has served to increase the amount of room Delores occupies in the side car.

Maybe Delores needs some of those pointers on how to walk herself thin. I hope she doesn't try it at the mall. That sidecar can only stand so much.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Cherry Bombs and Sticky Buns

I’m not a nurse. I don’t play one on TV. I can’t even open a Bandaid without an instructional video. But it seems like I could manage to pop a package of pre-made dough without the household going to Code Blue and breaking out the sticky buns.

All I wanted to do was make cherry turnovers for breakfast. There are infants in undeveloped countries who can help their mothers peel the plantains for the appetizer, and I can’t manage to crack open a can of crescents and squirt the cherry plasma out of the bag without feeling like Marcus Welby, M.D.

I’m not a complete moron. Okay, I may have all the qualifications, but I should still be able to handle the point and shoot method when it comes to cherry filling.

“Here’s breakfast,” I said breathily, placing a tray carefully down on the table.

“What’s that?” Bill asked. His tact factor burned out the night I sprinkled meat tenderizer on the garlic bread instead of, well, garlic. Think salt with a side order of salt.

“They're pastries.” I put my hands on my hips and tilted my head to one side. They definitely looked better tilted.

“I’ll pass. I ate yesterday.”

“So you’re not hungry?”

“I’ll just have coffee. Why are they so. . .crispy?”

I looked at the triangular balls of dough. Burned triangular balls of dough oozing thick red mucus. “I’m having a little trouble with the new toaster oven.”

“Are you sure you changed the setting?”

“You can change the settings?”

“Uh huh. You might want to switch it from “Bloodbath” to “Bake.”

I checked the uncooperative appliance and groaned. “It’s on Broil. I guess they’re overexposed to the heat.”

“Put them out of their misery.”

"Martha Stewart would turn them into cunning appetizers."

"This is not a case for Martha Stewart. It's a job for Dr. Kevorkian."

"There's still hope. I haven't frosted them yet."

"They're bleeding to death."

“That’s cherry filling.”

“Isn’t it supposed to be on the inside?”

“I had a little trouble aiming.”

“If the Germans had your eye in WWII, they would have bombed Lexington instead of London.”

I smeared a concealing cover of icing on a turnover, took a big bite, and settled down beside him. “Well if they’d used cherry bombs like these, the war would have ended a lot sooner.”

Monday, April 21, 2008

Hornworms and Holes-in-One

Gardening is something I try every year to see if I still don’t like it--sort of like creamed spinach, white shoes, or televised golf. I know there are plenty of folks hanging on the edge of their recliner to see if Tiger Woods sinks that putt, but all I can see is a hundred acres, give or take a few azaleas, of lush green grass tended lovingly by a sea of gardeners for a bunch of guys that are only interested in the spot where the hole is.

Now it’s spring again, when a young lady’s fancy turns to thoughts of fertilizer, and in my mind’s eye I find myself once again nurturing a tiny tomato into full sandwich potential. Of course, my mind’s eye could benefit from the attentions of an optometrist, since it’s a recorded fact that I couldn’t grow ragweed with a bucket of mulch, six gallons of spring water, and the latest edition of the Farmer’s Almanac. But always the optimist, I am willing to spread a little Miracle Gro on the situation and give it the old compost try.

My problem is that I don’t have the necessary tools to garden properly. For instance, I need dirt. You would think that your basic dirt would pretty much come with the territory. But you have to have PH balanced dirt or dirt with Lyme disease or some such thing. What I have here in the southern United States is an amazing substance known as red clay. Red clay is a dirt substitute that comes in several forms; most notably copper-colored dust when completely dry, and copper-colored quicksand when wet. You can find it in large quantities on the sides of pickup trucks, the bottoms of children’s socks, or sunning itself in areas where grass is supposed to grow.

The other essential item I don’t have is water. The transportation of a tender seedling into my yard is a great way to ensure that all the water in the county will disappear into a sinkhole and a record-breaking drought will immediately seize the region, leaving nothing behind but dead worms and sunburned fish. It gives a whole new meaning to the term “dry county.”

“It’s amazing,” the anchorman on the news will say, drawing his brows together to show concern. “We haven’t had a drought like this since the last time Amy Mullis tried to grow a tomato plant. We’ve sent crews to investigate this breaking story.” And pretty soon helicopters will be circling my back yard like mosquitoes on barbecue night.

Every year about this time my sister arrives, dressed in root rot black, solemnly bearing the sacrificial tomato plant. She places it lovingly in a pot of expensive store-bought dirt that has been fortified with eight essential vitamins and minerals, not to mention the eleven herbs and spices, and leaves it to die. I don’t see why she just doesn’t just go ahead and throw the thing in the dumpster on the way over. It would save me the trouble of pulling the sticks out of the dirt brick come fall, an activity I like to call “harvesting.”

It’s not that I don’t intend to water the thing. The first day I check it diligently, cooing sweetly and testing for wetness like I’m growing a newborn baby on a vine, which would be an ideal way to have children if only they didn’t get root rot and hornworms.

Eventually I get distracted by important things like sugary snacks or why the Yankees have enough money to buy the International Space Station but won’t get a pitcher that’s not somebody’s grandfather and at least somebody’s grandfather than can hit the outside corner of the plate for goodness sakes, and forget to water the thing until it’s sending up tiny distress signals using the dust in the planter.

So this year as I pry the sickly remains of my nonproductive Big Boy out of the dust and slam it into the trash can with a single stroke, I can compare myself to Tiger Woods. We’re both good for a hole in one.

But I have to wonder how he deals with hornworms.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Missing Inaction

Frankly, I’m a bit concerned about the strategic national defense of a country who openly solicits assistance from my son. I’m not saying that he’s not capable of fulfilling his patriotic duty, but I just can’t believe that an eighteen year old that goes all white around the mouth and makes the pouty face when his applesauce touches his pork chop is going to be reliable with rations packed into an indestructible Hefty bag.

As soon as my son entered his senior year in high school, the United States Army began a postal crusade to win his affections. Our mailbox was bombarded with pamphlets extorting the virtues of Army life that boasted so many bonuses and benefits it resembled a campaign for a timeshare in an exotic land where you could experience the world, earn an education, and operate heavy artillery. All this with a meal plan and government issued fashion accessories.

This kid has remarkable experience with real-life tactical weapons. He masterminded the construction of a working tabletop trebuchet for his younger brother’s science project, and provided ammunition in the form of toy farm animals to launch at the family dog. (Bo survived several near-misses and a plastic cow in his water bowl.) His present stockpile of munitions includes a marshmallow gun made from plastic pipe, three foam rubber swords, and a heavy duty water gun that leaks.

If it’s his video game skills that has the Army all atwitter, I can understand their excitement. To his credit, he has defeated enemy armies and crushed mighty weaponry on practically every game system on the market. He is a virtual expert in guerilla warfare with camo-clad GI Joe types, and a definitive power in open battle with earthbound aliens. But I just can’t believe that worldwide thermonuclear war will pause for him to get a snack and watch reruns of The Family Guy.

Fortunately for those of us who depend on the Armed Forces to maintain peace at the borders and keep terrorists out of the potato salad, Son Number One opted for college life instead of a military experience. Reportedly, Uncle Sam likes soldiers who can take out the enemy without having to stop and reload their controller with AA batteries.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Green Sleeves & Designated Drivers

The Masters is the only sporting event where men view an article of clothing as a prize. For many years, the golf course has been the only place where men have displayed a flair, by which I mean audacity of taste, for fashion, by which I mean high dollar clothes that don’t match. When I think of what plaid has had to suffer for their enjoyment, I want to run down to Wal-Mart and buy up all the material scraps from the clearance table before they strike again.

Over the years, the talk on the course lately has not been, strictly speaking, about haute couture. At least once the hot topic of discussion was “uniform balls” by which, if they mean what I think they mean, I’m completely embarrassed for their wives and mothers. What they say it means, according to a random sampling of an article in the newspaper delivered fresh to my pine tree each morning, is that they all use the same ball. Not the very same one, but little golf ball clones of the original. That way nobody is using, let’s say, a ball so juiced that the words “Fresh Squeezed” should be stamped into the dimples. Golfers tend to go all white around the spikes when uniform balls are mentioned, but they agree that if such a thing were to happen, it could only happen at the Masters.

Apparently, the laws of space and time bend according to the Masters' whim. Where else could you get 365 acres of flowers to bloom at the same time without having some neighbor kid pick them all?

The Masters even has its own vocabulary. Fans at the Master’s are called patrons. Of course, when the price for a ticket surpasses that of a high-end Rolex, fans can be called Grand Putting Poobahs if they like.

Speaking of calling people names, the Masters is the place to look for unusual ones. Names, not people, but of course there could be room for discussion there. There is a past Masters Chairman named Hootie Johnson. There is nothing special to say about Hootie except that there is a grown man named Hootie who does not, that we know of, perform in a rock band. There is also a golfer named Jesper Parnevik, who is to fashion what Simon Cowell is to the warm fuzzies.

Which brings us to the last matter. Women aren’t allowed to play. It’s probably a good thing for the guys, though, since there’s not a woman alive who wouldn’t walk off with the top prize. It’s a blazer and purse to match—and they’re both green.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Guten Tag

This week while bobbing and weaving through some computer glitches that made me view modern electronics with the same peaceful goodwill that I feel for toilet paper made of razor wire, I came across a note from the lovely Stacey over at Hippie Sounds who tagged me with this meme. The deal is: I have to state the rules: Tell seven random and/or interesting facts about myself and then run off to get five of my best friends to play; we’ll all put links to each other on our blogs and the rest is publishing history.

I don’t have five friends, but I know five folks who haven’t had time to add me to their “Do Not Disturb” list. So watch out--sometimes bloggers can be unruly when taken by surprise. I’m tagging Carolyn at Mama Needs a New Book Contract, Plaid at Weird Its, , The Bag Lady (who I was previously stalking for friendship before she finds out I tagged her) at Bag Lady's Blather, Melanie at What Am I Doing in Mexico?, and KODB at The Doggerel King, who dared me to tag him even though he has a better record at Intergalactic Alien Labrador sightings than he does at fulfilling tags. That said, here are my innermost secrets. Once you read them, consider yourself tagged. C'mon, give us a secret to two. We promise not to tell.

1. My family banned me from playing Monopoly because I still hold a grudge from1998 against someone I share a wedding anniversary with for refusing to lend me $500 when I landed on Park Place in the midst of a housing boom.

2. My house is situated in a bed of feline activity and I’m being held prisoner by a gang of rogue housecats. I gave in to their demands long ago, procuring gourmet treats and crunchies in the yellow bag. Then I let them out. And in. And out. . .

3. I was almost dismissed from kindergarten due to the unfortunate Red Crayon Incident. To this day snacktime with apple juice and graham crackers makes me confess to notorious crimes and implicate other children’s participation in sandbox time at recess.

4. I’m in love with Captain Jack Sparrow. There’s just something about a man with gold teeth and eyeliner that screams LOVE SLAVE!

5. I attract ultra-needy psycho whiner types like black pants attract random pieces of free-floating lint. Rest assured that I will not leave the grocery store without finding out if the cashier’s aunt’s next-door neighbor is going to have the baby and whether the father is the drive-through teller at Nick’s Bank ’n Tan or the bag boy at register 6.

6. I’m a part-time church secretary. That means that between 9 & 3, I’m the Head Angel in Charge. But at 3:01, don’t EVEN block the drive as I’m trying to leave.

7. I have ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) which means I’m often distracted and forget to finish th

Monday, April 7, 2008

Speed Trap

Don’t get me wrong. Some of my best friends are police officers. Well, maybe not my best friends, but I knew somebody once who was married to a police officer. And whenever a police officer calls trying to sell tickets to a circus or something, I always buy some. Well, if I have any money left after I get lottery tickets, and if my car insurance isn’t due. Also, I have fond memories of a considerate and sympathetic patrolman who let me off with a warning when I was beating a hasty path to what would be my Mom’s last Mother’s Day celebration. And that’s a fact.

But when it comes to speed traps, it’s Survivor: Blue Light. All alliances are off.

My husband and I were enjoying a Sunday afternoon drive, engaging earnestly in conversation, while I smacked bubble gum as fast as I talked. We had just left the preacher’s house and we were feeling pretty cocky about our future prospects. I favored paying the rent, while he was touting the benefits of blowing our money on groceries.

About that time we heard the one noise that’s worse than that gurgling sound that comes from your baby’s diaper during a pool party at the boss’s house. You couldn’t mistake this sound: a short blast from a police siren, close enough on our tail that it was apparent somebody in a position of authority wanted to chat with us.

We pulled over and waited, practicing our best law-abiding-citizen look. The officer, a graduate of the Rocky and Bullwinkle School of Beauty, apparently took advantage of the situation to check her hair and makeup, flip through her yearbook, and make reservations for her kindergarten reunion from military school before she approached our car.


How can a person speak without separating their teeth?

“I’m officer Birddropping and I’ll be your public servant today. I couldn’t help but notice your haste to move through my jurisdiction and I have several interesting selections available for you this afternoon.”

She flipped open a well-worn notebook. “We’re offering a lovely $89 speeding ticket. It comes with a side order of four points off your license. There is also a $176 citation with a side of two points. Our special today, which you qualified for by neglecting to sign the back of your registration card like an uneducated baboon, is the $170 ticket for reckless operation of a vehicle. Had you deciphered the fine print on the back of your card and had you offered a DNA sample and cash alternative, you would not be eligible for this offer. This is your lucky day.”

We opted for the special.

“Excellent choice. May I also recommend the court date? You’ll be sorry if you don’t go for that opportunity. We’ll all meet there and make a day of it.”

Nothing says law and order like a little public humiliation.

Although the idea of spending the day in a two-bit courthouse with Officer Sunshine and Hanging Judge Judy sounded about as much fun as hand cleaning the cheese grater, we agreed to set the date. The officer presented us with our written invitation and leaned down to make eye contact.

“Slow down for me, now.” Which is legal talk for, “Take another spin through here real soon. You look like you have a bond that needs cashing.”

We thanked the officer politely and deftly chose the opposite direction as we left the parking lot. My beloved eyed me suspiciously.

“Congratulations. I remember the days when you would have hopped out of the car to go bra to badge with any chick with an attitude like hers. Today I didn’t have to bail you out of jail or pick pincurls out of your teeth.”

“I like to think I’m beyond all that.”

“Then what are you grinning about?” my husband asked, stroking his wallet consolingly.

“Officer Sunshine seemed to value the importance of DNA. So when she stomped past my window,” I said, slowly peeling the wrapper off a fresh piece of gum, “I left her a sample.”

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Bread, Milk, and TP—The Roll Story

“I’ve got to get bread and milk. It’s snowing.”

I glared at Bill, who was selfishly refusing to leave the Panthers in a fourth-down-and-goal-to-go situation for an essential grocery store run during one of the fiercest storms we’d had in South Carolina all winter.

“Amy, you’ve seen three alleged snowflakes in the past half hour, two of which I believe to be fuzz on your glasses. I just don’t see the need to go to Defcon One over dryer lint.”

“OK, smart guy, what are we supposed to do for food?”

“Well, since you went grocery shopping yesterday, I suggest we take a quick trip to the big white box in the kitchen and stroll down the frozen food aisle.”

“Very funny. What if the power goes out?”

“What about th the gas grill? You know that thing doesn’t freeze up in the winter like that box of dry ice you call a car.”

I sighed and looked out the window. In minutes we would be blanketed in snow up to our shoetops and my husband was endangering our lives and caloric intake with his overly cautious attitude. Inspiration struck as suddenly as the snowflakes I’d been waiting for all winter.

“We’re out of toilet paper.”

“Well what are we waiting for? Put something on over those shorts and let’s hit the road.” Bill grabbed his hat and was backing the pickup down the driveway by the time I hit the screen door.

As we approached the grocery store, we noticed disruptions in the traffic patterns. News helicopters hovered overhead, radioing reports into hectic newsrooms. Cars filled the supermarket parking lot, and shoppers with upturned faces struggled to push overloaded buggies against the flow of traffic, people, and weather.

Rare items such as snowflakes big enough to see without bifocals and a decent bullpen for the Braves make the news in the South. Down here we don’t interrupt Wheel of Fortune every time a tornado sucks up a trailer.

We parked in the overflow lot and caught the next available tram to the door. Once inside, I reached to take the last shopping cart, but a white-haired woman in a powder blue overcoat rapped my knuckles sharply with a flowered umbrella, grabbed the cart, and hurtled away toward the wine coolers.

“You get the bread, I’ll do some reconnaissance work in paper products,” Bill shouted over his shoulder as he sprinted past a crowd of people battling over a small pile of fireplace kindling. “Meet me on aisle six in half an hour.”

I muscled my way through the crowd until I came to a knot of people trying to force its way down the bread aisle like an armada of plastic boats in the bathtub drain. Caught up in a sudden current, I was swept down the length of the bread aisle and deposited neatly at the other end between the ice cream cooler, which was empty, and the frozen vegetable case, which was packed full. Apparently dependence on the food pyramid isn’t an issue during times of weather crisis.

I began to see a trend. I also saw my husband, wrestling with a small boy over the rights to a battered roll of Scott Tissue. I motioned frantically just as the boy administered a sharp kick to the shin. Bill limped toward me, muttering under his breath.

“Five more minutes and that kid would’ve hit the dirt,” he grumbled. “The Surgeon General should post a warning at the entrance to this store.”

Honestly, if that man would keep his attitude right, he’d have a much better outlook on life.

“Have you noticed a similarity between shopping today and the Saturday before the Super Bowl?” I screamed conspiratorially over the din of crashing shopping carts.

“Hey you’re right. All the important stuff is gone. Jerky strips, string cheese, beer...”

“And milk, bread, and toilet paper,” I finished, smartly plucking a pack of Charmin from the top of a passing cart.

Some time later, we set our sights on the flashing light over register seven and headed toward the front, with Bill bravely pulling our overloaded cart like an Iditarod sled dog. I mushed from behind, our buggy loaded with representatives from all major food groups: salt, sugar, crunchy, orange, and meat by-products.

Looking back at my fellow shoppers, I realized that in the sunny South, where breathing in summer humidity is like snorting boiled cotton balls, winter snow isn’t just a handful of frozen water.

It’s another reason to party.