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, August 29, 2009

Something's Afoot

Raelynn unfurled a leg longer than the weeds in my herb garden and regarded one foot. She pulled out a cell phone and pressed a button. Immediate attention from Emergency services was essential.

The only numbers I have on speed dial are my kids and the plant doctor. If the Peta people cared as much about geraniums as they do about houseflies, they’d be hurling organic fertilizer at me every time I strolled through the Lawn and Garden section at Sears. A day doesn’t go by at my house without another senseless murder surrounded by potting soil and peat moss. But more important matters were afoot here.

My dear friend Raelynn was experiencing a crisis. Climbing out of her Town Car, she’d chipped the polish on one of her piggies.

Raelynn spends more money on her big toe than most people spend on their first real car—not the beater that got you through college and collapsed in a sigh of oil-induced relief on graduation day, but the one whose odometer turned to 100 for nobody but you. Spread this kind of upkeep over all available footage, and I could float a Ferrari over the Autobahn like a hovercraft for what she spends on the care and feeding of her feet.

If I ever spend that much time on a part of my body I haven’t seen since the last time Waldo was spotted, please repossess my WalMart Master Card.

“They’ll take me at four,” she said, snapping her cell phone shut the way a prosecuting attorney would close a file of incriminating evidence in front of a condescending judge. She watched as I shucked off my Converse sneakers.

“You could take better care of your feet. It isn’t that hard.”

“I don’t have time for all that oil and lotion and sanding them with a rock. I’ve got to peel the potatoes for dinner and vacuum the living room.”

“You use frozen potatoes. How long can it take to push Start? And that little automatic vacuum cleaner of yours scurries around like a mouse sucking up hairballs. It’s like playing room to room air hockey.”

“Well, it’s too much trouble.”

“Taking care of your feet is easier than cooking dinner. Why, after you wash and dry them. . .”

“You have to wash them?”

Raelynn looked at me as if I’d suggested she upholster her Lincoln with vinyl siding.

“You don’t wash your feet?”

“I’m not exactly sure where they are. I figure they must be at the bottom of the pile somewhere. They get the soap and water runoff when I take a shower.”

She blinked. “You’re going with me this afternoon. You need it more than I do.”

Two hours later my feet were softer than cumulous clouds, better decorated than my guest bedroom, and smelled like the perfume tester counter at the mall. I was afraid to walk.

The girl in charge of my new look played the cash register like a slot machine and announced a total. I could have bought a registered Shih Tzu and a groomer to find its eyes for what I paid for my feet. I handed over the little piece of plastic that big girls use to buy new toys and sighed.

That night, Bill and I spent the evening calculating whether it was worth sacrificing the kids’ college education to support my feet in their new lifestyle.

“Well, he said, watching the light dance off of the Pink Passion polish. It gives a whole new meaning to the term “foot the bill.”

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Unorganized Sports

Team sports were best when the kids were little and played for the grand experience of the whole thing.

Son Number One burst onto the soccer scene at six, wearing cleats the size and shape of the business end of a toothbrush. He’d never heard of “offsides” nor had he, in all his years of outdoor recreation, come across a soccer goal, but we missed baseball signups and he wanted to play something, anything.

The first time most of the kids on his team ever saw a soccer field was when they played their first game. I ran down to stand behind the goal so they would know which way to run to score points. Not only unnecessary, this strategy was ineffective. 18 little boys chasing a runaway ball operate on basically the same principal as a swarm of fruit flies chasing a rotten orange.

The ball is in charge and, without question or deviation, they follow wherever it leads. Once I looked up in time to see a herd of gleeful little boys in baggy shorts chase a ball down a hill of muddy red clay and into the woods. The woods were part of a protected wetland area, and resident snakes and other wildlife were only part of the reason that a No Trespassing rule was in place. The boys emerged, some sooner and some later, covered in sticks and smiles. None were in possession of the ball.

Another area of fascination is the uniform. Soccer clothes are a curiosity to small children. As a general rule, the shirt billows like the sails of a tall ship in high winds, and the shorts are often large enough for everyone on the team to fit in the same pair, with a drawstring to cinch them tight enough to prevent embarrassment.

There was a bit of excitement once when a small, blonde boy was absorbed with an emergency situation involving an untied shoe during peak action. At that age shoe-tying is still a risky proposition at best, requiring total concentration. Dealing with voluminous clothing while he bent to tie the errant shoelace added an extra challenge. He managed to tie the drawstring of his shorts in with the bow of his shoe and when he stood up, a dramatic scene evolved that was worthy of an opening shot on television’s famous old show, The Wide World of Sports. It’s a good thing there’s no instant replays at kids’ games.

It took three referees, two knot-worthy Boy Scouts, and a Team Mom with a cooler full of drink boxes to restore order.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Elvis Has Left The Building. Again.

Some people remember where they were the day Kennedy was shot. Me? I know exactly where I was the day that Elvis died. It’s odd because I was never a big Elvis fan. I mean, in the shiny white suit and cape he looked like Batman’s negative. If I had known about Daniel Craig back then, I wouldn’t even be aware there was an Elvis.

But there are things in life that should never change. Gravy goes on biscuits. Elvis goes in Graceland. He’s as much a part of the South as kudzu or socks that leave red mud footprints on the lineoleum. Start messing with the natural order of things and before you know it you have LabraDoodles on every corner.

I was driving across crown to the junior college I would be attending in the fall. Just as I crossed the railroad tracks, which somehow seems appropriate even now, the local radio personality blurted out the news as if it were groundbreaking research concerning self-salting french fries.

“The King is Dead!”

I thought Queen Elizabeth’s mustache waxing had gone poorly. But no. The King had left the building. Somewhere in Tennessee was a pink Cadillac that would never be driven by hands sporting more rings that a store full of Olympic souvenirs.

And thus would begin an era of ghostly sightings in places that Elvis would boldly go where he had never gone before.

Last Saturday marked the anniversary of the day the King found a spot in the great juke box in the sky. And as sure as every summer weekend there’s a vegetable festival somewhere in the South crowning a Squash Queen and a Court of Gourds, there was a midnight vigil in Memphis held by a group of aging debutants humming Love Me Tender and straining to see through the mists of time for a peek of the ghost of He Whose Hips Swivel Like a Twist and Turn Barbie on Speed.

I read that for $27 you could attend an Elvis Gospel breakfast. They also had some book signings. The day I pay to eat breakfast with a man who’s been dead for 32 years, I hope I’m also game enough to hang around for an autograph.

They say there were more Elvis impersonators than stoplights in Memphis last weekend. But there’s only one guy whose loss makes us feel like we’ve checked into permanent rooms at the Heartbreak Hotel.

The King is dead. But we'll see his influence in our lives for many years to come. And that's no ghost story.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Live Long and Pamper

I don’t always get much useful information from women’s magazines. If I could really Walk Myself Thin,” I would be decked out in Kate Moss’s cast off clothing and people would refer to me as “that poor woman with rickets” instead of “Tank.” I'll walk myself thin the day Richard Simmons sports a comb-over and wears Dickie's work pants instead of silk shorts.

So when I saw the article on how to live longer that suggested eating fruits and vegetables, I knew there had to be more to it. And since I am always trying to improve the quality of life for the man who promised to love, honor, and carry in the groceries, I came up with a quick list for hubby dearest to help him improve my quality of life.

1. Just Say No to the sarcastic comment. My new stretch jeans may make my behind look like two transfer trucks passing on the Interstate, but you won’t outlive the day old bread on the kitchen counter if you say so.

2. Refrain from asking the faux innocent question. It is not amusing to inquire if my mother was the star of Shark Week on the Discovery channel.

3. Never use the word “nice” in regards to my new outfit. Either it takes your breath away, or somebody at the Salvation Army is getting a leopard-print dress for Christmas.

4. Remember: “Refrigerate after opening” is not a suggestion. Neither is “Proceed with caution.” Come to think of it "Don't touch the roast on the second shelf" can be added to the list.

5. Three little words: No cat baths.

6. Use an old rag when checking your oil. Pass up any item of clothing that bears a "dry clean only" label or that looks as if it’s trimmed in lace that could be older than your grandmother.

7. Don’t eat any freshly baked item that you find in our kitchen. There are no such things as Pecan Pie Pixies or Double Chocolate Leprechauns who leave goodies sprinkled about the globe. If there is anything worth eating at our house, there’s been a death in the family. You know how refined sugar comforts the bereaved.

8. Stop putting Granny’s teeth in the dog’s mouth. He may look like he’s smiling, but the Purina sticks to his dentures. And Granny keeps getting choked on Pupcorn bits.

9. Back away from the cat. A kitty stretched out on his back may look like a cuddly ball of cotton, but he has a weapon of mass destruction on all four corners. A friendly game of Cootchy Cootchy Coo will result in a trip to see the nice folks at the all night trauma center. Luckily they do a great job with stitches. And I think you need just one more hole punched in your Frequent Flyer Blood card before you get a free pint.

10. It is now against Federal Law to feed hot dogs to the Dachshund. The last occurrence resulted in a chemical reaction that brought a swift penalty from OSHA for unsafe fueling procedures. It also set fire to the electric blanket and melted two pairs of house slippers and a Hello Kitty pillow sham, and took a team of Navy Seals and ten Boy Scouts wearing HazMat suits to secure the area.

Now that you're going to live longer, you may plan to use your extra time to improve my quality of life with clever surprises of sugary snacks.

Either that or we'll take a nap. Time with you passes too fast anyway.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Ten Commandments for My New Neighbor

Living in a duplex, I go through neighbors like a family of cats goes through a five pound bag of litter that freshens with every step, and I have some friendly advice. If you want to make a go of it in this neighborhood, you’ll listen up and not staple this list to the hood of my car like the last guy did. If you want a reference from him, he is residing peacefully at Happy Acres Memorial Gardens. Feel free to use my name.

1. Old tents and ripped cushions in lawn furniture may be acceptably repaired with duct tape. Back windows in old Fords or open wounds on small children may not. Neither is it a substitute for nails and a willingness to locate a hammer when your mailbox has been detached from its post. A mailbox trussed to a wooden spike by thirty rounds of silver adhesive looking like a tin can with a toothache causes undue stress in an already unstable housing market.

2. John Deere makes a wide selection of lawn tractors. That six month old goat you’ve got tethered to a hubcap with three feet of heavy links like he’s the anchor man on a baby goat chain gang is not an acceptable substitute. Let’s send you out on a short leash to get the morning paper and see if you effect a change of heart.

3. Also, in the future please Just Say No to the idea of mowing the lawn clad only in your underwear. Indulge in a roomy pair of gym shorts and you’ll find yourself zipping up the neighborhood popularity poll before you know it.

4. A privacy fence is for, well, privacy. Please don’t launch your youngest child over the top of the fence like a punted football to find out what we’ve got cooking outside. We are not responsible for stray grill marks.

5. If you have a taste for loud music, please play something I know or can understand the words to. Having the tune to a rap song I don’t know stuck in my head will lead to my hanging about in your bushes trying to find out what words sound like “scratch my itch.”

6. A swimming pool is commonly used for swimming. I’m sure your new bass boat will skip over the lake like a flat stone, but trying out your new outboard motor in the above-ground will result in an appearance on Funniest Home Videos. Remember there’s nothing to impede your progress toward the slime pit across the street except that scraggly row of dandelions you call a flower garden.

7. Please don’t sneak over under cover of darkness to partake of the blueberries on my bushes. I’ll be glad to share. Just like you’ll be glad to share that mess of freshly caught, cleaned and chargrilled trout with me next summer. Also, I don’t mind if your kids climb the tree in my back yard to purloin fruit. But keep in mind the results from a morning filled with little green apples leads to an afternoon filled with personal aerobics of a stressful kind.

8. I understand if your Uncle Earl had an evening of social entertaining that leads to a hearty headache the next morning. But if any more of his “nieces” ring my doorbell at three in the morning clad in leopard-print hip boots and a leather halter top and ask to use my litter box, I’m calling Animal Control.

9. This is the South. We surpass just about everyone in the number of per capita lawn ornaments. But those plywood cutouts of Granny bending over to show her polka dot bloomers have been done to death. At least get something classy like one of those windmills that look like the roadrunner’s legs are going in a circle.

10. Close your curtains. The neighbors don’t need to know that the Jaws of Life was summoned to your home for the sole purpose of retrieving your wife from the Jacuzzi. Nor do we care how she plans to remove the dirty bathtub ring.

Attached you’ll find a request for samples from your garden for quality assurance purposes, a form absolving us of liability in cases of kitty prints found on the windshield of your Corvette, and a sterile baggie for DNA testing. Welcome to the neighborhood.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Lying Dogs and Cat Nip

We finally conjured up the nerve (and money) to spend a weekend at the beach. It's hard for us to get away, since there's no immediate family left willing to stay with our darling doggies (oh yeah, and the cats, like they're not old enough to take care of themselves, and boy do we have nerve thinking they need a chaperone). But over the years we did without luxuries like frozen pizza and liver mush to scrape together enough cash to hire Guido, who usually moonlights at Happy Valley Sanitorium, to stay the weekend at our home. Here, then, are Instructions for the Pet Sitter while we’re on vacation:

There are a number of animals here. It is important to remember that dogs and cats have been bred over the centuries expressly to tell lies about the amount of food they are allowed to consume.

Here’s the routine. This section applies to the Mostly Labradors, which is the State Dog Breed of South Carolina. That’s not official, mind you, but everybody knows it’s true because according to a scientific poll taken at the Doggie Do Canine Emporium and Park last Tuesday after the Milk Bone truck came by, everyone here has been owned by such a beast at some point in their lives. The Mostly Labs are the ones most likely to try and intentionally mislead you about the frequency, amount, and duration of meal times. The Labrador Breed Club flag bears a picture of a cookie and a loophole.

By the time you get here all the animals will have had their morning potty break and have eaten breakfast, which they will lie about having. If animals hadn’t been fed in weeks, they would be dead, not rolling about the living room floor looking like a can of biscuits about to pop open. The vet mentioned the word “blubber” at our last appointment which is not, to the best of my recollection, a word associated with starving animals. They can eat again at supper time, which is not the time of day marked by finishing breakfast.

No, they do not need a snack.

No, not even a little one.

No, they do not need a cookie.

Yes, I’m aware of the cuteness factor.

Yes, I know about the big brown eyes.

Okay, maybe one cookie.

They’ll need to go out when you get there. They can stay out until they get hot and want to come back in. That should take at least until they reach the bottom step. Repeat as necessary until you consider replacing the kitchen door with one that revolves at a steady clip.

If they go missing, they’ll be at the neighbor’s house begging for food. They’re dogs; they don’t know Halloween comes only once a year. Especially since the neighbor has a treat for them every single day. Twice on the weekend.

However, they’re not supposed to beg for food, so if you catch them trick-or-treating at regular intervals throughout the afternoon, you may speak sharply. They won’t listen to you, but at least you’ll feel like you tried. Be aware that their feelings will be hurt and they’ll gaze balefully at you like you’ve taken their last cookie. It’s okay; they weren’t supposed to have one anyway. The Atkins diet people would go broke with spokesmodels like these.

If they start to go out of the driveway, call out, “Stay in the driveway!” in a cheerful tone and they’ll run to you like lost sheep found. Keep some of their regular kibble in your pocket and give them a bite when they’re good. In that way, a few kibble should last the entire time we’re gone.

Sometimes they give into temptation if a squirrel or bunny across the street is particularly insistent in their taunting, but for the safety of all concerned (not the bunny or squirrel who have no need even to break a nervous sweat) the dogs should stay out of the road. It’s a quiet enough neighborhood, but I’ve come down with a nasty case of laryngitis yelling for them to come back when in hot pursuit of a stray butterfly.

Around 6:30. For supper, both the big dogs get two scoops from the bucket, and Lucy, the Dachshund Diva gets one. The amount of time it takes to consume the food is in no way related to the amount of food each should receive. Hunga Din could suck down the bits like a Hoover as you pour it into the bowl, while Whatzit must take the time to lick up stray crumbs before they evaporate mysteriously into the air or someone else's drooling maw. Still, two cups a piece is the rule. Those who overindulge have to be helped when it comes to establishing limits. “Just say no” is not a viable slogan for a beast who stoops to begging for the rights to lick the butter dish.

You’ll need to put Lucy’s food down next to you so as to fend off the big dogs. They’ll circle her, and every now and then they try to snag a bite, but since they are afraid of her, they’ll mostly try to convince you that she is not hungry and said they could have her supper.

After supper, they’ll need to go out again. They like to roughhouse inside, but if they get too wild you can take them outside. (They’re like small boys and will often resort to biting each other’s ear just to see who squeals first.) If you walk up and down the driveway they’ll probably start chasing each other--unless it’s hot. Then they’ll follow you up and down the driveway and complain. They usually do more chasing after dark when it’s cool, but they’re both afraid of dog-eating monsters and you’ll have to stay out with them as a motivational and protective influence. Usually about 20 minutes will be all you can stand.

Make sure they go out again at bedtime (between 10 and midnight), but that’s not a big playing time. If you don’t make them go out, they’ll be insistent to speak with you personally at about 5:30 a.m., which I know from experience is way before dawn this time of year.

In the morning, same deal foodwise (2 cups for big doggies, one for Lucy, but Divas don’t breakfast well and she will probably ignore it and want to be served brunch instead later in the morning).

A word about Lucy; she’s half Dachshund and half Bull Shark. She’ll put up with a certain amount of ignorance on your part, but if you expect her to do anything she considers demeaning, such as listening to baby talk or fetching a ball, she’ll take your arm off up to the elbow. It's important to remember that if you can see her teeth, she is not smiling.

As for the cats: Feed them. They’ll lie, too, because it’s expected, but if you keep their bowl full of Friskies then really, what right do they have to complain? But be careful of the gray one. I suspect he and Lucy have the same father. If all else fails toss him some catnip and close the door. What happens in the cat box, stays in the cat box.

Thank you for your assistance, and I understand that our agreement expressly forbids me from using your real name.