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.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Let Lying Dogs Sleep

As a companion piece to a story to appear soon in The Christian Science Monitor about our newest addition, Sam the Smiling Dog, I'm rerunning a piece about our attempt to find a sitter for our furry family when we took a weekend break (escaped) and headed to the beach. I'm excited to point out that no pet sitters were harmed during our absence.

This past summer, 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 Pet Park, 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 tired 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 (Bo) could suck down the bits like a Hoover as you pour it into the bowl, while Sam must take the time to lick up stray crumbs before they evaporate mysteriously into the air or someone else's (another Bo reference. His rap sheet takes hours to print.) drooling maw.

Still, two cups apiece 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.

Saturday, February 20, 2010


Just now I’m cruising toward the intersection of Heavy Sigh and Bless His Heart.

The daily newspaper for the metropolitan area where I live with hundred of other people ran a headline recently that shouted, “Shotgun Blast Kills Woman.”

While I shook my head at the level of violent crime in our world today, my teenaged son peered over my shoulder.

“Why did that make the news?”

What did I raise? A wild animal in the Jungle of Man? A zombie with no heart, not even somebody else’s?

I never miss the opportunity to dish up a life lesson like it was biscuit gravy. “A woman was killed. Thankfully that doesn’t happen much around here, so it made the front page.

“That’s not what is says. They’re all worked up over the blast. Are they surprised that a shotgun actually shot somebody?”

“That’s just the way they wrote the headline.”

“They should be careful what they say. It would be news if the shotgun pulled a knife, or if it popped somebody over the head for a bad joke. But a shotgun blasting somebody is like saying a woman went shopping at the mall.”

“It’s not exactly the same thing.”

“Yeah, I’ve seen you cause more damage at the mall.”

I needed to continue this discussion, but just then I spotted a coupon for a favorite department store.

“Well you should feel sorry for her family.” I reached for my scissors.

“I feel sorry for the writer who doesn’t know about the shotgun thing. He’s gonna feel mighty stupid when he finds out we knew about that cause and effect theory all along.”

I begin to clip. Twenty per cent off, even for sale items.

“Well what sort of headline would you come up with?”

“Well I would sure point out that there was somebody who pulled the trigger.” He watched me as I started to tuck the coupon into my wallet.

“See, Mom, it’s just like you and the mall. Coupons don’t save money.”

I raised an eyebrow.

“People do.”

I checked the fine print on the small slip of paper. Not good on clothing, glassware, food items, or school supplies. The thing was no more effective than an empty gun.

Somewhere the head of the NRA is weeping over the spokesman they’ll never have.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day, Captain!

Dating for Baby Boomers is a lot different than dating for teenagers. Teenagers may say they're hanging out, but Baby Boomers really do. I should know—these days I spend a major portion of my life trying to cover it all up. To me, a belly shirt is something that rides up in the front when I pull the shirttail down in the back and is more an item I would wear to ward off would-be attackers than out to a seven-screen cinema on Saturday night.

When teenagers say they’re going to see a movie, they mean an action flick where the main action is blood loss. Baby boomers experience blood loss when we stand up too fast and all of our platelets stage an intervention around our ankles. Teenagers go to a Counting Crows concert and play air guitar. Baby Boomers count crows feet and go to see the Eagles farewell tour. (Unless we can find it on HBO. Then we watch it from our recliner, wake up at the end of the show and say, “Now THAT’S music,” as we gather our pillows and head up the stairs to bed.)

The younger generation thinks midnight is the new sunset. By the time the clock on the mantle strikes 12 at my house, I’ve been in bed long enough to have pillowcase creases on my cheeks. I realized the difference in mindset one wild weekend when The Captain of My Love Boat and I planned an adult extravaganza to keep the current flowing to the old spark plugs. Both of our teenaged sons were gone for the weekend, so with a hot date in mind and free access to the car, we headed out with high hopes and no curfew. Friday night we went to Wal-Mart and bought a box of those nose strips you put on at bedtime so you don’t sound like an asthmatic mountain goat.

We were going to go out to eat, but we were both so tired from the Wal-Mart excursion that we went home, had a peanut butter sandwich and went to bed, where we slept soundly until 2 a.m. when we passed each other in the darkened hallway during bathroom breaks. Thus rested, we were able to venture out to the mall Saturday night where we shared a combo meal at the food court, got a smoothie for dessert and walked to the electronics store to see if the batteries were on sale. Then we went home and went to bed. I woke Bill up about an hour later trying to put one of those nose strips on him without turning on the light. My aim must have been a little off because when I got through, he wasn’t able to close his eyes for the rest of the night.

So let the teenagers have action-packed movie dates at the mall. As for the two of us, we’ll always have WalMart. And a relationship where we stick together like a no-snore nose strip.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Wailing Away in Mousketeerville

Our cats are indoor cats. To them mice are pink and fluffy and stuffed with hallucinogenic drugs. The Christmas catnip toy is still making the rounds through the living room, around the laundry basket, and under the kitchen table. Showing these guys a real mouse is like showing me a Prada bag. It’s fetching when compared to say, a wheelbarrow full of biological recyclables, but basically impractical for every day use.

So imagine my surprise, this year when I got a mouse for my birthday.

He wasn’t exactly a gift; more of a petite party crasher with a Hulk-sized case of the munchies. I was suspicious when I found the bag of Meow Mix under the sink had enough holes chewed in it to look like paper bag chicken pox. But when I saw a furry little flasher dart across the top of my kitchen cabinet, the festivities began.

I realized right then that “The Night Before Christmas” book is pure fiction. “Not a creature was stirring” is the biggest bundle of propaganda since the “new improved McRib” travesty.

It’s not that I have anything against mice. I’m Mickey’s biggest fan. But if a furry little guy dashes through my kitchen without benefit of red shorts, white gloves, or even a T-Shirt endorsement contract, I’m not going to be chiming in with “Why? Because we like you!”

In our house we favor the catch and release program for nature’s little trespassers. That’s because we are benevolent rodetarians. The Captain of our little drydock ark calls it something else under his breath as he’s balancing on a kitchen chair to capture random moths, grasshoppers, and lady bugs with a paper cup. He greeted the new visitor with appropriate felicitations.

Then off he went to the Big Store on the Corner to bring home a humane trap. Humane is another word for living off h’ors d’oeuvres at our expense. He brought home enough groceries to feed the mouse masses in Hell’s Kitchen. I suspect some of the items are for the hunter as well as the hunted.

Just now this little guy is pushing the limits of our hospitality. So far he’s turned up his whiskers at every item we have on the menu known to entice little mice appetites, and I’m losing patience, not to mention the few ounces of water weight from the first sighting. If I want to Give a Mouse a Cookie, I’m going to get a picture book, not a reality show.

I realize it’s my birthday, and if excitement is what makes a party, one tiny mouse will do the trick.

But all in all, when it comes to special occasion seek and destroy missions, I prefer a nice card to shock and awe.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


A Valentine’s Poem for my Muse

Lead me not to rhyme that’s tired,
Hackneyed, clich├ęd, uninspired.
Writing poems is for the wise,
Thoughtful pen and depth of eyes
Don’t let my pen leak violets blue
Or illustrate with I HEART you
Send me images as fresh
As fruit in stalls at Marakesh
Hair like moonbeams, skin like silk
Odious scenes of mother’s milk
Won’t tweak the senses, light the eyes
Or make the breaths turn into sighs
Important now that Cupid’s near
So his bow shoots heart, not rear
I’ll write now or pass my bonnet
And turn my Lim’rick into sonnet.