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Friday, July 24, 2009

Car Talk

Before graduation, the morning commute was difficult enough, what with the intricacies of locating a suitable project for show and tell that wouldn't shine a humbling light on my housekeeping skills, and deciding who gets the cottage cheese sandwich, and finding out just who fed the rest of the ham to the fish anyway. Well, that and locating lost shoes in the trash compactor.

Throw into the mix the fact that to avoid being late we had to take the route through the well-to-do wildlife-infested subdivision across the street, and the whole adventure was unsettling. Sure, there are smiley Katie Couric types who think chipmunks are always making ball gowns for aspiring cartoon princesses, but in my experience the wretched woodland creatures while away their time making great sport of playing “keep away” with my car. More than once, I hung the blame for my tardiness on a hearty game of Squirrel Tag.

This year, both boys will attend Community College, which seems carefree enough. But between the three of us, we have two cars. Finding a way to work in the morning will be like playing musical chairs at sixty miles per hour. Sit down at the wrong time and you could block the passing lane for three hours and get national exposure on the six o’clock news. I’m willing to make sacrifices for my children’s education, but I don’t want to deal with the physical distress that kind of road rage could cause.

So I’m left playing Merry Go Round the family Kia with Click and Clack, the car stalkers. I figure my best chance for reliable transportation this fall will be hijacking a grocery cart from the Piggly Wiggly and riding it skateboard style down the Interstate. It may not be the most efficient method, but every Prius on the road will be mad with envy at my gas mileage.

On the other hand, I could hang out on the corner every morning waiting for the Magic School Bus to give me a lift, but I don’t think Miss Frizzle’s driveway goes all the way to the bus stop.

I try to comfort myself with the idea that in a few short years, both boys will be self-sufficient and independent with good jobs and cars of their own. In the meantime, I’ll have to careful when taking the shortcut through Squirrel Ville. One wrong turn and Cinderella's furry little dressmakers will be out of commission. Which is okay with me. She's already got a dress to wear and I'm not even invited to the party.

But I wonder if she'll let me borrow her pumpkin to get to work on Monday.

*Please note that no woodland creatures were harmed during the writing of this essay.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Green Acres

I thrive on civilization. If I get more than half an hour from a mall, I go into withdrawal and require a whiff of Estee Lauder’s free gift to bring me to my senses. To get my shopping fix when traveling, I’ve been known to pull over at all-night drugstores and check out the sale on cough drops. People close to me understand that if I don’t have access to a restaurant with a dessert cart at least once a week, police action may be required.

So how did a nice city girl like me end up in Farm Town?

The closest I’ve ever come to crop rotation is sending my cotton socks through the spin cycle.

I was hard at work one afternoon, trying to figure out how to send a Coffee Smiley to 70 of my closest friends on Facebook when up popped a memo.

“Your sister gave you a pig.”

Excuse me?

Give me barbecued ribs, butterflied pork chops, or a crown roast. Don’t bother me with livestock unless they’re trading them for Red Lobster coupons or gold bricks at the Fort Knox outlet store.

After further investigation I discovered that my own sister, the sister who wore a silver sparkly gown to the 1968 Christmas ball and refuses to get a dog because that’s one more place she has to set for dinner, was plowing virtual farmland like she was digging for dollar sweaters on the clearance table.

I investigated her little piece of potato plantation. She was about to sell her spuds at the market for enough money to keep her in hash browns for years to come. Pretend potato money is just about the same as what I’m stashing in my piggy bank these days anyway, so I signed up for a farm of my own.

In real life, my gross household product is mold on the cheddar. Here was a chance to win friends, pick produce, and while away an afternoon I would normally spend overwatering the cactus.

So this little piggy went to market.

By the end of the week, I had enough livestock to fill an ark, I'd grown fruit trees laden with bounty, and my crops rotated like Shakira’s hips.

Meanwhile my family was living on a steady diet of frozen peas and Spam jelly. When my son asked me for his lunch money I snapped, "You'll have to wait for market price like everybody else." I found myself scheduling bathroom breaks around my harvesting schedule.

So in the end, I had to give up my farm and say goodbye to my amber waves of grain.

Once the American dream interferes with the natural flow of things, something’s gotta give.

But I’m keeping the pig. Times are tough and you never know when Fort Knox is going to open that outlet store.

Or when you’ll get a craving for barbecued ribs.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Harry in Harlem

Okay, I’ll admit it. I’ve ridden the Harry Potter wave from the Thames to Timbuctu. I’ve celebrated book releases with so many midnight rides, I still scream one if by land, two if by sea when I climb into the Kia. I’ve worn graduation gowns turned wizard’s robes and painted more lightning bolts on the kids than you find pictures on cave walls.

I can’t help thinking we would have taken care of Harry Potter’s pesky bad guy a little quicker if He Who Shall Not Be Spammed had popped up here in the colonies. Let him get a taste of The Big Apple, and Lord V might just end up squealing like a Lady. If his little turban hopping habit landed him on the wrong head in New York and he ended up bleached, braided, and mohawked, there’s not a stylist in the world that could return him to the man he was.

And I’d like to see those Dementors float into Harlem. One try at a Kiss of Death with a gangland switchblade and they’d be begging for admission to a Happy Place. Don’t even ask about the hubcap implant they need removed or the need for free dental care. They’ll just have to wait for the new health plan like everybody else.

Now let’s talk mythical creatures. There’s folks lying in the alley out back of Times Square who have first hand knowledge of flying elephants. Dragons don’t put out much of a scare factor to folks who ride Screaming Meanies every day of their lives.

Most important of all is the knowledge that the minute His Badness was spotted floating free-form around the No-Fly Zone, the White House would have authorized an 8 ½ x 11 family portrait suitable for framing and a sprinkling of F-16s to scramble as an escort to a Location of Interest.

Don’t make us call in Iron Man.

Or the Incredible Hulk

Or the Ghost Busters.

Yep, get Bill Murray and his ghost gathering gang on the job and we'll see how much the Evil One can do after he’s sucked into the business end of a Dirt Devil. And once you’ve been slimed in New York, it doesn’t take seven books and a flying broom to figure out your haunting days are numbered.

So as much as I’ve enjoyed the action and suspense of wizarding a young man through the throes of pubescence and delivered him at the door of his destiny, I’ve got scarier things to think about.

I’ve got teenagers of my own. And no magic potion to give me all the answers.

Saturday, July 11, 2009


I made my husband miserable today, which was a relief, because he’d gone about his business in relative calm for several days, and I was afraid he would think I wasn’t taking my job as a wife seriously. Nothing says "I Care" like a sticky note telling him to cut the grass before I braid it.

Several times a week I like to remind him of household projects he’s neglected or impending gift-giving occasions he should prepare for. That way he knows I’m showing interest in his personal obligations.

I have a theory that it doesn’t show proper personal attention to receive an orchid bedecked greeting card that has, “In sympathy for the loss of your pet” scratched through with a black marker and “Happy Anniversary, Honey” scribbled in its place. Advance planning can go a long way toward creating a Hallmark moment that doesn’t conclude with projectiles launched by an offended party and an emergency room visit.

It’s also important not to let his schedule get too lax or he’ll wind up in mischief of some sort and before you know it, he’ll start pulling out power tools, and it will take forever to restore order. The last time the electric sander saw the light of day, the cat lost his eyebrows. A responsible man would have told me that the black button meant ON.

This time, however, my job was easy. All I had to do was say, “Honey, why don’t you see the doctor about that toe?”

After years of marriage, I've come to understand that the word "doctor" transforms the male pschye into something resembling a castoff retread. He regarded me with the same loving gaze I’d seen the time he refused to buy a Poodle so I suggested we attempt a home perm on the Labrador and put bows in his ears.

“Why don’t you buy clothes that fit instead of pants that you have to lose five pounds to wear?”

I love the man, but honestly, sometimes he says things that just don’t make sense.

The offending toe was swollen and sore and gave him the charming, easy gait of Quasimodo thumping through the streets of Paris. It seemed that we were hovering on the brink of something serious, such as me having to take a look at it, so I suggested the unthinkable.

“You could go to the doctor tomorrow on your day off.” Call me crazy, but I thought days off were there to take care of these things. In truth, days off were created so you could cut your grass in time to make your neighbor’s lawn look like Don King’s hair by comparison. Then you whiled away your time in the hammock reading last year’s Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.

I could see he needed some understanding and encouragement. “There’s no need to be afraid.”

Here’s a clue for newlywed brides. If you want your marriage to last longer than it took to eat the wedding cake, don’t suggest he’s afraid of anything. Especially doctors or other naturally frightening things.

“I’m not afraid,” he said, staggering along beside me. “I just don’t need to go. I’m fine.”

“The last time you were fine it required a course of industrial strength painkillers and a week’s worth of muscle relaxers. I had to do the fireman’s carry whenever you had to go to the bathroom.”

“That was different. That was my back.”

“The only reason I got you to the doctor that time was your muscles spasmed and you couldn’t put up a fight. Son One, the Incredible Hulk, carried you into Urgent Care like you were a statue. You’re just lucky it was too early in the day for the pigeons to be out.”

“Very funny. I’m fine.”

A light breeze came along and he winced at the pressure on his foot. I could see this was going to get ugly if I didn’t pull a clever idea out of the 98% humidified air.

“I guess we won’t need those tickets to STOMP I got for our anniversary.”

“You got tickets to STOMP? They’re always sold out.”

“Yep. A stage full of guys abusing every day items with sticks, all in the name of rhythm. I’ve heard the best part is the finale.”

“I know. They strap trash cans to their feet and don’t even get in trouble with their wives for digging divots out of the linoleum. It’s the best show ever. I guess since you went to all the trouble to get the tickets, I’ll go to the doctor.”

“Good for you. While you’re gone, I’ll go shopping for something to wear.”

He raised one eyebrow. I hate it when he does that. It means he already knows what I’d rather not say.

“Well, I’d have to lose five pounds to wear anything I have now.”

Happy Anniversary, Honey!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Field of Streams

Homeward bound from a Fourth of July picnic, we passed down the main street of our small town. The journey was slowed somewhat due to the unusual traffic, but the tractor soon turned off and we had the road to ourselves.

As we approached the Municipal Complex, the kids, excited by alarming and possibly disastrous situations, noticed a mob outside the fire station who both appeared to be hard at work placing letters on a large sign by the road.

“Look, Firworks!”

Nothing says small town like a budget without enough spare change to buy a vowel.

Boys are natural fans of pyrotechnics, particularly the pyro part, and I’m always on the lookout for fresh air opportunities, so we whipped a U-turn at the abandoned gas station and came back to join the crowd.

The public parking places were occupied by the fire truck and a wheelbarrow, so we parked the car in the Fire Marshal’s yard, and struck up a conversation with the boys’ Scout Leader. It seems the Town Council had a son who got them a good deal on fireworks, so a Fourth of July blowout was in full swing.

At the time, we didn’t realize the importance of the word “blowout.”

The kids, with a genetic instinct for finding free food, headed toward a table dripping with slices of watermelon. An unlimited supply of a fruit that’s 90% liquid. There’s a good thing to have on hand when the yard is full of free-range kids and the bathrooms are locked up.

In the fenced pasture across the road, the fireworks launch squad strode into view. The crew chief carried a cardboard box full of bottle rockets and a disposable lighter. His wife wore blue jeans and a motorcycle bedecked tank top that didn’t leave much room for the handlebars.

Son Two materialized out of the twilight. His cheeks were sticky and there was a misfired watermelon seed stuck to his chin. “I have to go to the bathroom.”

Across the street, the launch chief sorted through the rockets like he was searching for the half inch piece in his socket set, and carefully arranged a bouquet of bottle rockets in a soda bottle.

“It’s about to start. Can you wait?”

Son One appeared beside his brother, wearing a pained grin and dancing a familiar jig. “You, too?” He nodded just as the first rocket took off with a sizzle of sparks.

Both boys disappeared. Nothing comforts nature’s call like a lit fuse.

The fireworks display proceeded with random showers of red and gold sparks, interrupted now and then by an unmotivated dud rocket that bailed on liftoff and headed back to the picnic table that served as Ground Zero. Once, the launch team was visible through the gloom and gathering smoke, stamping out embers in the tall grass of the pasture.

Son One appeared by my side, clutching another slice of watermelon like it was a football and I was the defensive line of the Pittsburgh Steelers. “They set the bench on fire, but they put it out with a juice box.”

I’d had a slice of watermelon myself and the juice box reference made me think fondly of indoor plumbing. I squinted at him. “Don’t you have to go to the bathroom?” Across the street the launch crew ducked as another dud rocket zoomed in low over the pyrotechnic staging area.

“I can wait.”

Stephen King never came up with a scarier line.

He dashed away, weaving a path around knees and ankles like an Olympic skier on a timed run.

Suddenly, the grand finale accidentally erupted. The entire area lit up in a patriotic display of billowing smoke and crackling fire. The picnic table and the box of fireworks were ablaze and nearby portions of the pasture showed signs of imminent ignition. The fire truck swept out of the driveway and across the street where it made short work of the ambitious embers.

As the excitement died down and the crowd drifted away through damp ash flakes floating in the air, both sons appeared at my side, eyes alight, wearing Junior Firefighter stickers. They smelled like bacon.

“This is the best Fourth of July ever!”

“So, where’d you get the stickers?”

We heard a blast from the fire truck and turned to see the driver give the boys a wink and a wave.

“What’s that all about?”

“Well you know how you always tell us to use our natural resources wisely?”

I’ve been a mom long enough to know that when they remind me what I’ve said, I wish I hadn’t said it.

“Well we don’t have to go to the bathroom anymore. AND we helped put out the fire!”

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Scenic Route

I don’t want to say I’m a city girl, but I compute the distance between two places by how many shopping malls I’ll pass on the way. Contrary to popular urban myths, in the south we don’t compute the miles by how many hills across the holler the neighbor lives or how far down the Appalachian Trail we have to wander to make it to South America. As a matter of fact, if Michael Jackson thought Never Land was a fantasy world, he should see the governor’s mansion here in South Carolina these days.

I’ve grown accustomed to city amenities such as vertical parking places instead of parallel ones, restaurants with drive through windows, and random Elvis sightings in poorly lit taverns, but I don’t live in a place where the yards are marked off by the lines in the concrete or where neon replaces methane as the gross natural gas of choice. As a general rule we grow grass rather than unroll it and are more likely to shoot doves for dinner instead of pop them on top of a wedding cake. Nothing unusual for small town America.

Except for the buffalo.

Riding along even major thoroughfares in our area, you’re never surprised by the random goat standing in a feed trough to the right or a large Labrador guarding a shady spot under a tree on the left. It’s unusual, but not unheard of, to see live chickens instead of lawn ornaments in occasional front yards on the way to the city dump. It did strike me as odd, though, when a coworker encountered a buffalo ambling down the road one summer evening.

I’m not sure which of the Department of Motor Vehicles’ strict principles of road travel apply to your standard buffalo encounter, but I know what my friend did. He gave him the right of way.

I felt the need to test the buffalo theory before I reported the adventure to friends. The people I know are repeat offenders when it comes to embellishing stories and often unfairly suspect me of the same behavior.

“How did you know it was a buffalo?”

He thought a minute. “It had a beard.”

Great. So it was either a buffalo or Abraham Lincoln’s ghost has taken to patrolling the passing lane of South Carolina highways.

“That wouldn’t get you very far with a police sketch artist. All you have is a Beard of Interest?”

“It was bigger than a cow.”

Bearded and bigger than a cow. Insert mother-in-law joke of your choice here. I needed more concrete evidence or that story was going to stay a secret until General Sherman replaced Smokey the Bear in the Stop Forest Fires campaign.

“It walked right down the middle of the road. And it looked hungry.”

Now we’re getting hot. A bearded road hog bigger than a cow wandering down a road in the twilight searching for a snack.

Another Elvis sighting. And he’s in disguise.