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Sunday, May 30, 2010

Tour of Duty

Daddy served in the Pacific theatre during World War II on a submarine that was more like a prize in a cereal box than the sleek, nuclear vessels of today. When I was a kid I thought he was a great adventurer, having seen both oceans during his travels. It never occurred to me there might be more to see; more water than two oceans could hold. My boundaries were limited by the amount of space I could imagine, and I was already pushing the envelope. Dad would laugh and shake his head at my excitement when he talked about being stationed on Hawaii or seeing Mount Fuji through the periscope.

“Did you ever see the Hollywood sign?” I asked once, my voice filled with wide-eyed wonder.

He grinned. “If I had, I’d have been going the wrong direction.”

When I was older, he sent for a copy of a Reader’s Digest book that showed all sorts of wonderful places to visit. That book visited more exotic getaways on the way to my mailbox, than I have to this day. I’m not sure I believed it was real.

One year after I was grown and somewhat of an Authority on The Way Things Are, Son One conducted an interview with his Papa for a school report. He didn’t ask the same questions I’d gone on about as a kid, “Where did you go?” “Did you bring anything back in case you ever had a little girl that needed a surprise?”

He asked about torpedo tubes, leaky oxygen bottles, depth charges and other things that made the war seem uncomfortably close and noisy. It finally seeped into my me-generation brain that if the folks causing the unpleasantness on top of the water had taken a page from Luke “Stay on Target” Skywalker’s book, I wouldn’t be around today to tell clever stories about other people’s adventures.

For the first time I realized that tour of duty didn’t mean tour of luxury vacation spots. It meant that he did indeed bring something back from his travels. Memories.

My memories come from sitting in the comfort of Daddy’s lap and listening to tales of a faraway war. His memories come from standing in the face of danger and showing his heart.

His memories are of men who gave their lives so that I could look at pictures in a book and have hopes of traveling to them one day. Men and women that knew what it meant to serve with mind and body and make whatever sacrifice it took to preserve the minds and bodies back home.

My thanks go out to all of these men and women. And to you, Dad.

On Memorial Day and every day.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

One with the Sun

I’m of the opinion that if you don’t see the sun rise over the ocean at least once in your life, you can’t get into heaven. Don't risk taking the chance that St. Peter will send you back for a field trip. It might not be on your bucket list, but it deserves a place on your sand pail and shovel agenda.

The Captain says today’s sunset is tomorrow’s sunrise, just earlier, so there’s no need to launch yourself out of bed when dew is forming on the newspaper just to see one. If you’re upset about the direction look at it in a mirror.

Our priorities are different. His are wrong.

Vacationing at the beach, I undertook to secure him a spot on the scenic side of the Pearly Gates when he finally goes to the big place computer techs go when they die, and although I’m uncomfortable mentioning Gates and computer technology in the same breath for fear of a licensing agreement infringement, I don’t mean a big room with a high speed Internet connection and a billion users who know how to synch their own Blackberry.

It was 7:00 a.m. The sunlight streamed in the window like it was on a video loop. The Captain’s face was one with the pillow and held the relaxed, peaceful air of a summer breeze in a clover-filled meadow.

Time to get up.

But how to facilitate the waking process without also calling the enemy to battle? He doesn't so much get out of bed as he does launch a ground assault on the day. After the last unpleasantness, I decided not to use the car alarm ploy again. The resulting excitement cost me the chance to see the sun at all that day.

I sat in bed, resting against the wicker headboard, celebrity magazine in hand. I try to improve my mind, even when my body is on vacation. You can’t fight too hard in the fashion battle. Flipping pages like they were fan blades, I glanced over at the victim. I’ve patented a look that will freeze jalepeno peppers, but out of love I set my eyes to stun.

No response.

I cleared my throat meaningfully.

No response.

I repositioned myself repeatedly due to an uncomfortable wrinkle in the linens.

No response.

Inspired by the sheets, I succumbed to a previously undiscovered allergic reaction to thread count.

With a snort, he turned to face the other wall.

Somewhere on another street, possibly in another town, an unknown hand flipped a switch on a small countertop appliance, and a dark beverage began a slow drip into a pyrex pot. Nobody gives a wake up call like Mr. Coffee. If they could train Captain Caffeine to sniff out bombs like he can track down freshly brewed coffee, he would always have a job as an airport monitor.

He sat up, sniffing the air like Smokey the Bear on the trail of three matchbook packing Boy Scouts.

I padded to the kitchen and returned bearing a cup filled with the drink that never sleeps
He burst from the bedclothes like Superman in toddler-sized tights. “So, wanna go see the sunrise?”

“Sure, but you’d better gas up the car.”


“Because we’d have to travel three time zones toward the west to get a glimpse.”

He took a long drink from his mug. Some women go their whole lives without the type of caress that the Mickey Mouse on that cup was getting. Captain Serenity leaned his head back and closed his eyes.

“That’s okay. We’ll catch the one tonight. Got a mirror?”

He took a draw of coffee that made Mickey’s ears stretch, and shot a boyish smile at me from across the room.

Just my luck. I have a plan to get to heaven and he finds a secret door to Paradise right here on Earth.

Monday, May 24, 2010

I'm An Erma

Join me on Stacey Graham's popular site, An Army of Ermas. The Mullis family undertakes a family camping trip vacation. I should get combat pay for experiences like this!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Bathing Suitable

Buying a new bathing suit is like selecting an alias for the Witness Protection Program. You want something that fits and has flair, but that will keep all your hidden assets locked away where no one will ever find them.

In my experience, the main function of a bathing suit is to gather oceanic sand in the lining of the crotch while you’re trying to balance on the retracting grains of an outgoing wave without spilling your drink-filled coconut. With my typical lack of coordination, my coconuts take a dunking every time.

I went shopping with my sister and my niece, Knockout. This girl could wear an oven mitt and guys would follow her into deep water. I was painfully aware that my thighs had expanded to the outer banks and my behind had relocated to the subtropics.

We’re at Wal-Mart, browsing through the racks. It’s the only place I can get support hose, Sugar Smacks, and sinus medication without having to change parking lots. Presently my buggy is loaded with a month’s worth of Friskies and the floral pack of Hanes Her Way Full Coverage. Nothing says party like a well-fed cat and chubby sized underwear.

While Knockout was slipping on bikini tops over her clothes, I was fumbling through the racks looking for something with sleeves and a bib. I couldn’t fit a bathing suit over my clothes if I had the Jaws of Life to help me dress.

“What about something with a little sarong to cover up problem areas?” Knockout suggests, flattening an invisible wrinkle in her belly button.

I couldn’t fit a sarong over my shin with a shoe horn.

“Do they have anything with a hoop skirt instead?”

I’m headed to the seashore for a weekend away from the Labradors. All I’m going to do is pick up a few seashells, eat some fish without having to share, and play a round of beach putt putt. I shouldn’t have to use up the gross national output of latex to get a hole in one at Shipwreck Cove.

When it comes to shopping for clothes, I use the lawn and garden strategy. I don’t so much have to focus on my strengths so much as try to mulch the problem areas. I’m at the age when weeds are creeping into the rhododendrens and the ground cover is losing momentum. I figure if I keep everything in the dark and provide proper drainage, we can keep the damage to a minimum.

Also I stand by the idea that if I can’t see it, it’s not a problem. I’ve played hide and seek with my navel for 35 years. Once I passed 40 and realized I’d need a topographical map and a satellite signal from NASA to find my waist, I declared myself the victor and began looking for my original chin. We might have to call in the Mars Rover for that one.

“What about a cover up? You like retro.” She held up a tye-dyed washcloth, swirling with all the colors of a bowl of breakfast cereal.

“It looks like something you used to clean up a chemical spill. A very small chemical spill."

I wandered across the aisle to a rack of likely-looking house dresses to use for disguise. My idea of coverage is mountains-to-sea. I’m not interested in anything that leaves the foothills or the Great Plains out in the open. I untangled a handful of spaghetti straps and pulled out a prospect. “What about this? It’s almost long enough to cover the coast at high tide.”

“That’s a prom dress.”

“How can you tell?”

“There are sequins on thong.”

“I thought that was an armband to hold my iPod.”

“There’s a clip on the tiara for that. See, there’s a secret compartment behind the disco ball.”

Three dozen prom gowns and I pick the one that needs John Travolta in a white suit to complete the package.

“Here’s an animal print. You’d be right in style.” Knockout whipped a bikini bedecked with pink and green peace symbols off the rack and held it up with a flourish. A trail of leopard prints the color of blush traipsed through the peace fields.

“The leopard is already embarrassed and I haven’t even tried it on.”

She flipped through a few more prospects. “There’s nothing left on the rack but old lady swimsuits.”

To this kid, Paris Hilton is ancient history.

With a sigh, I tossed the sequined thong and tiara selection into my cart. I may not be Queen of the Prom, but I’ll be the best dressed gal at the Pirate Ship Putt Putt course.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Mother's Day Out(Law)

My birds can’t sing. It's not so much that they're not motivated, as much as that they're gifted in other areas, such as recreational violence. They while away their time scarfing up purple berries to use later in a revenge-fueled attack on my car.

Why is it that everybody else gets a symphony of nature’s sounds outside their window in the morning, and I get what sounds like a bunch of Saturday night revelers tooting the best of Milli Vanilli on empty whiskey bottles? Just my luck to get the only birds in the world who hate morning.

I suspect they drink.

And although the idea of installing a wet bar outside loaded with enough goodwill to bring peace to the entire neighborhood is appealing, I don’t want to make the Audubon Society’s top ten “Enemies of Nature” list.

So, in honor of Mother’s Day and in an effort to instill pleasant and healthy morning habits in our bird population, the Captain of our Aviary, the man who vowed to love, honor, and rid the world of household pests, decided to install a bird feeder outside beside the combination dogwood tree, kudzu vine, and rose bush. I realize now that he’s had it in for me all along.

I’m not much of a gardener, so when the only thing that grows in my yard is a twisted smorgasbord of flora, I tend to leave it alone and pretend I don't hear the smacking sounds echoing from its depths. I’m pretty sure the cat is in there somewhere. And the barbecue grill. And my last car.

It ate my birdfeeder.

The next morning all that was left of the new birdie buffet was a trail of scattered sunflower seeds.

The bird population was seriously ticked.

About that time the family scavengers, Sam and Bo, Labradors from the planet We Are Starving came to investigate the possibility of sharing a picnic with the birds. Both are well versed in the language of international cuisine and begin snuffling through the birdseed like they’re tracking T-Bone flavored truffles.

As the sun rose to find me standing in the tall, wet grass with sunflower seeds stuck to my shoes like beetles on the screen door, with screeching swallows pelting me with pinfeathers, and pellet hounds shinnying up my shins, I could only think of one thing.

Never mind the stupid birds. I can’t wait for Father’s Day. It’s payback time.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Animal or Edible? Mother's Day at the Zoo

My kids are taking me to the zoo for Mother’s Day this year. It’s the only place where I’ll feel at home, yet get to watch somebody else clean up after the baby. And if the elephants track mud into the dining room, well, let their mothers take away dirt slinging privileges. Somebody will hit the hay without having any of it to eat.

First, the family offered to take me to the all-you-can-eat buffet at the Country Club (insert snooty font here), but I don’t want to go somewhere on Mother’s Day that would question my credentials if I applied to serve as kitchen help. I’m not trustworthy with the crystal on normal days, and it’s alarming to know that I’ve been seen swirling my homegrown manicure in the champagne punch and complaining about the consistency of the water in the finger bowl.

The most important setback is that their idea of “all you can eat” at the Club is three English peas and a broiled scallop. I’d have better luck taking my chances with the penguins diving for fish at the polar exhibit. So I’m off for a treat at the zoo—and if the trainers are sloppy with their aim in the sea lion tank, I might get lucky with a herring.

The trouble with zoo food is that I’m never sure what I’m ordering. During my last trip I found that keeping with the theme, everything is named after animals or their habitats. Frankly, I’d rather have a Brillo sandwich than belly up to a Penguin Patty or a Moose Nugget dipped in the special Serengeti sauce. Even McDonald’s is keen on white meat these days, but I’m not familiar with which part of the moose the resident Quality Control experts dub “nuggets.” I'm afraid to ask the origin of the special sauce.

On an information board near the Jungle Park Tanning Salon, Ice Cream Boutique, and Gift Shop, I discover that besides the availability of Desert Dogs and Farmyard Fries, a special feature available at our zoo is the availability of Zoo Poo. I may not be excited by the litter box back home, but I’m ecstatic to find that I can purchase a full square yard of exotic animal droppings to fertilize my drooping day lilies down by the mailbox. I couldn’t grow a dandelion with a degree in botany and a lifetime supply of Weed Chow, but here’s fresh hope that a sprinkling of zebra droppings will give my garden new life. If I go wild and get a memento from the elephants, I could probably turn my scrubby pine trees into giant Redwoods by fall.

It’s hard enough trying to figure out which kiosks sell pop and which ones sell poop, but complicating things is the bizarre effect I seem to have on zoo creatures. I don’t know if it’s the clean, fresh scent of my apple shampoo that drives them wild or the everpresent aroma of meatloaf from hard time served in the kitchen, but I must be the animal kingdom’s equivalent to soft lighting and Frank Sinatra, because every time I stroll through the gates, suddenly everybody from the sea turtles to the hungry hippos are in the mood to engage in activities that I don’t want to explain to the kids.

Kid One: “What are those monkeys doing?”

Me: “Square dancing. Have some pizza.”

Just as the monkeys get to the do-si-do, I whip the kids into the aviary where I suddenly discover Rockin’ Robin is not just a song, it’s the theme of the whole park. If the Red, Red, Robin Comes Bob Bob Bobbing Along any closer, we’re going to be in the middle of a flying flock.

“Here,” I say, thrusting a waffle cone into Junior’s hands as I pull him along behind me flapping in the breeze like mud flaps on a tractor-trailer. “Have some ice cream.”

It’s no better in the big cat cages, where Mr. & Mrs. Panther show Tony the Tiger a thing or two about what constitutes Greeaaaaaatttt!

Starving, tired of dodging displays where all the animal occupants should be sporting a black box over their eyes, and weary of sidestepping cute carts peddling poop, I sink down on a rock outside the reptile house, setting off a wave of rustling and slithering inside.

“It’s okay, Mom,” Junior says sliding down beside me. “Have a moose nugget.”

I didn’t even ask which stand it came from. And I don’t want to know.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Beauty Buffet

My mother religiously practiced the Pond’s 7-day Beauty Plan for forty years. I figure if it didn’t work for her in four decades it won’t do me any good to jump on it as a last resort. I wash my face with whatever soap product is melting in the dish and leave off my glasses when I look in the mirror. For all I know, I look terrific.

Why is it that some of us inherit all the withered branches a family tree has to offer and the slobbering weasels of the family get all the good stuff? I got my mom’s body type and the shape of her legs, which were like parentheses from the knees down and crescent rolls from the knees up. I can look in the mirror and see all the food groups represented in my body. Don’t think I enjoy sitting on this rump roast.

With as many can’t miss beauty plans advertised on the market today, it seems like I could find one that would turn my rolls into flatbread. There are plenty of doctors willing to gather up all the folds and trim off the excess. The whole thing seems to be sort of like making a pie crust. Anything that hangs over the sides gets lopped off and redistributed to more deserving areas. They should be able to fashion extra people with all the extra material. We could harvest enough excess flesh from my thighs to create Victoria’s Secret models that resemble humans instead of uncooked spaghetti.

I finally found a beauty routine that seemed likely to make a difference. You use an avocado, two slices of cucumber, and a tomato, and serve it with a large pan of burritos. You won’t be any better looking, but with everybody crowding the buffet table at your dinner parties, no one will notice.