Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Story Writes Itself on the Road Less Traveled

There are days when I have an idea for my evening blog posts from the minute I wake up. Stories simply too good to keep to myself. Then there are days when I have nothing. The pockets of my clown pants of tales are empty. I'd pull them out to show you, but some lint might escape. Today was almost lintworthy.

I was on the way home after taking my mom on an outing to pay my house bill. Yes. I'm a good daughter like that. Mom had only been out of the house once since the "big" storm hit last Thursday. I didn't want her to succumb to a bout of cabin fever that might progress to stircraziness. So I swung by out-of-my-way to pick her up. A good time was had by all. Mom was so grateful that she paid me $8.00 for my trouble. Yep. That's the going rate of good-daughterness in Backroads today. You would think that's enough of a tale in itself. But that's not the story.

I attempted a short cut to avoid two traffic lights. As Even Steven would have it, my haste was wasted behind a chap with the audacity to drive the speed limit. Not that I'm averse to law-abiding. I'm not. But this chap continued to obey the OLD 30 mph law even after we passed into the 45 mph law. A large white SUV came roaring up behind me. Feinted as if to pass. PUH-LEEEZE! Who do you think you're foolin'? as Paul Simon might have sung if he was being tailgated by a large white SUV while chugging up a 35-degree incline on twisting two-lane blacktop. So close was that large white SUV that I could not even see the brights of its eyes. THATCLOSE! Perhaps I've mentioned a time or two hundred how much I detest tailgaters. But even vengeful Val would not want that large white SUV to receive its comeuppance in the form of a head-on crash. And neither is that the story.

Our convoy, rolling through the evening, had just crossed back into a new 30 mph law inside the outer city limits of Backroads. We bumped over the railroad tracks. Coasted down the hill beside the lovely lake that most municipalities would call a pond, and then it happened! THE STORY!

On the jogging path, blocking a lithe shirtless shorts dude and a plugging sweatpantsed weightloser about fifty paces behind, was A GORILLA!!! Right there on the blacktop jogging path around the lake. Right beside the parking lot. Just across the street from the nursing home that used to be the hospital where I was born. A GORILLA! And it WAVED to me!

It was not a standard black gorilla with shiny hands and face. It was a brown gorilla. The shade of brown that looks really bad in a suit on a TV meteorologist. Kind of a gingerbread hue. I would love to have taken a blurry picture with my phone camera, but there was that messy business of the large white SUV crawling up my back hatch. My resident captive photographer, The Pony, was away at an academic team meet. So I was unable to bring you, in all its glory, the brown furry gorilla that waved to me from the jogging path of the lake that Backroads built.

You know how a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, today you get the thousand words. Not even that. How about 591? It's still better than clown pants lint, don't you think?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Sometimes, Making a Point is Morbid

Every morning, Genius stops by my classroom to grab a bottle of water out of the mini fridge. This behavior is in its fourth year. Ingrained. Extinction at this point would most likely be impossible.

Rats will continue a behavior that is rewarded only one-tenth of the time. Okay, I made that up to sound scientific. But somewhere, there is a statistic like that. I know, because I learned it in a psychology class during my first year of junior college. That's when we weren't discussing salivating dogs, and kids kicking the crap out of Bobo dolls. Or finding out the best way to respond to a liar who says something like, "My nine-month-old son just spoke his first words yesterday. He said, 'May I have a cookie, please?'" The correct response is: "Imagine that!" See how it works? You don't call them out for being a liar, and you don't pretend to believe their claims. "Imagine that." A companion phrase for the "breathtaking" ugly baby.

Now where was I...Oh, yes. Rats! I mean Genius. He came in yesterday and flung open my mini fridge. Let's just say that he met the fate of Old Mother Hubbard's mutt. "There's no water!"

"There's water. In the package under the table."

"It's not cold!"

"No. That's why we have the mini fridge." Genius stalked towards the door. "And you think, perhaps, that the next time you look, it will be full of cold water? Just like that?" He kept going. I swear. He's like me, watching An Officer and a Gentleman for the tenth time, still holding out hope that Sid will be okay. That Zach and Paula will open the door of his motel room at The Tides, and find him laid back on top of the bedspread in his skivvies, watching TV and swigging from his fifth of whiskey, waiting for that diamond engagement ring to pass through his digestive system.

This morning when I returned to my room after parking lot duty, the mini fridge was stocked with water. I think that sometime between yesterday afternoon and first bell this morning, Genius found Sid swinging from the shower head. A dose of reality is not always a bad thing.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Do Not Eat the Honey Mustard

The following public service announcement is brought to you by Val Thevictorian and Theodor Geisel. If he does not appreciate second billing, let's see him do something about it.

Do Not Eat the Honey Mustard

Do not eat the honey mustard.
It is not a tasty custard.
Do not eat it! You'll be flustered!

Do not eat that rotten fare.
Twas just last night I left it there!
I don't know why YOU give a care.
I really want my honey mustard.
Let me have it, you old horse-turd!

Would you like to catch ptomaine?
Eat it then! You'll writhe with pain.
I do not think I'll catch ptomaine.
It's still half-full. The best remains.
Chicken dipped in once, twice, thrice...
Ask Costanza. It's no vice.
Warm, uncovered, out all night?
I can't wait to grab a bite.

Would you slurp it, finger-lickin'?
Later on, you won't be kickin'.
Yes, finger-lickin'. I'll be kickin'.
First I will swirl. Then I will twirl.
I do so like it here and there.
Nom. Honey mustard everywhere!
Here, you try it. Take a bite.
I'm sure you'll say it tastes just right.

Desist, desist, I say, desist!
Why is it that you can't resist?
I can't desist. I love it so!
I'll eat it first, and then I'll blow.
I grip it, dip it, in the sauce.
Watch me! I'll show you who's boss!
Give that back! Not in the trash!
Let's think this through! Don't be rash!
Set it on that magazine.
I'll sneak it. Yeah. I won't be seen.
I truly love my honey mustard
Look how blobs of it have clustered...

Not-Heaven hath no fury like a teenager kept from his left-out-all-night plastic tub of honey mustard, teeming with mouth bacteria, finger-cooties, and partially-digested by chicken-strip-clinging saliva. It matters not that the smooth golden yellow had turned to a shiny metallic gold.

It's incidents like this that make Homer Simpson look perfectly rational in grabbing his sub sandwich out of the garbage can and stroking it like a puppy while microbes dance about his head like so many species of fly in the town dump.

There's a reason people pay big money for refrigerators.

Monday, February 25, 2013

There's a Reason That Cutlery is Limited

You know today was the full moon, right?

Any teacher would be able to tell you that simple fact, even without a calendar, Google, or the Farmer's Almanac. We just know. It's as clear as the bad haircuts that frame our dark-under-eye-circled faces. Kids kick up their flip-flop-shod heels on full moon day. Oh, Missouri need to be showed?

Exhibit A: Genius arrived home after robot practice, sniffing about the kitchen for edibles. He scored a leftover chicken sandwich from yesterday's lunch, a chicken strip, and a vat of honey mustard. The salad was met with a turned-up nose. I casually asked if one of his friends was playing baseball this year. They were starting practice today, a coincidence that has nothing to do with the full moon. Genius, a robot boy, not a baseballer, said that he did not know. I asked about another. "I'm not sure, but he stabbed me with a fork at lunch today."

Oh, he lobbed that one in there like a slow-pitch softball for me to hit out of the kitchen. I SO wanted to say, "Stuck a fork in you? You're DONE!" A clever baseball taunt, you know. But I refrained. Not because I am above such clever repartee. But because that little story hit home concerning MY lunch period.

Exhibit B: A certain table was noted to be acting hinky near the end of the lunch period. It's not like they're on our watch list. It's our sixth sense. Or, you might say, our first-period-lunch sense. We have the younger kids. Freshmen and sophomores. Who sometimes are observed acting positively sophomoric. Like today. One leaned toward the dude sitting next to him, brandishing two white plastic spoons near the neck area. If I didn't know better, I might have suspected he was practicing applying defibrillator paddles to restart a heart. However, because I am smarter than Angelina Jolie in Girl Interrupted, when she declared that she was going to use an ink pen to rip out her aorta, and jabbed it at her neck...I know that, like the aorta, the heart is in the chest. Good to know.

The duty teacher went to investigate. A not-so-innocent by-sitter inquired, "You mean he can't finish popping that pimple?" Uh huh. At lunch. Check your appetite at the door.

Thank goodness we don't give them white plastic knives. The gash Genius was sporting from the fork was deep enough. Since he wasn't raising a ruckus, I imagine that his forking did not materialize out of thin air. Perhaps he attempted to snag a tasty morsel off the tray of another. He does it regularly around here. But we are not armed with white plastic forks. Nor do we live by the state penitentiary code.

Maybe I need to check Genius's room for a poster of Rita Hayworth. The Shawshank Redemption was on TV Saturday night while he was away at a friend's house for movie night. Not that I want to thwart his escape. I might leave a metal spoon in plain sight.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Val on Your Side

Another brainteaser solved by Val. And without even the help of Mystery, Inc.

The convenience store where I regularly buy my eighty-cent or FREE 44 oz. Diet Coke, which shall be referred to as the Voice of the Village, has exhibited a curious trend on days after a snowfall. Black plastic milk crates are placed in the parking spaces. Middle, as in right smack dab in the.

Being a curious sort, this got my attention last December when we had our, ahem, first unforecast eight inches of snow. Oh, I thought. They're keeping people from becoming impaled by icicles falling from the roof overhang. That's how my mind works, you see. It jumps to the goriest, most human-carnage-resulting conclusion. Next, I supposed that maybe the management did not want people slipping on ice that may form on the parking lot. Which was silly, because they did not block off the sidewalk, or even scatter chunks of salt over the lot by the gas pumps.

Because I'm a curious sort, I noticed that the widely-corrugated green metal roofs of the prison outbuildings that I pass twice every day harbor great sheets of compacted snow that sit complacently all the live-long day, until that instant they decide to slide over the edge in a spectacular show of exploding white crystal smithereens.

Aha! I thought. Voice of the Village does not want people bombarded with stealthy ice-pancakes from their metal roof. Still. They left the sidewalk unblockaded. I suppose business would be hurt if they did not allow entrance into their facility. Today, I voiced my theory to The Pony.

"Uh. No. They are worried about it hitting people's cars. Not people."

The intention was revealed when I paid for my precious elixir. Yes, paid. I startled my soda-giving clerk, he so deep in contemplation, sitting on a stool behind the register, that he did not recognize it was me until he had already reached his hand out for my three quarters and nickel. Val always pays for her 44 oz. with correct change.

"Hey, do you block off the parking spaces so people won't get hit by the falling ice chunks, or the cars?"

"Oh, the CARS!"

"We had a disagreement. I said it was the people, but my son said, 'Duh. People might get mad if they get hit, but they will SUE if their car gets damaged.' "

"That's right! People can get out of the way, but their CARS are something else!"

Any mysteries keeping you awake at night? Allow Val to investigate.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Maybe We Should Bury Them in Shallow Graves

Hey, remember that storm we had here in Missouri on Thursday? Yeah. That one. This still reminds me of it. It's a picture of our gravel road today at noon.

But getting back to when the storm was but a pup...I was getting a little upset with the TV meteorologists. They just couldn't predict any time or numbers until don't know...THE NIGHT BEFORE THE SLEET HIT THE ATMOSPHERE. They kept hemming and hawing about it being a southern storm, which is SO unpredictable here in Missouri. What they're being paid for if not for predicting weather, I don't know.

The day OF the storm's arrival, the event we had been waiting for some TEN LOOOOONG DAYS, I started hearing that my county was going to get the worst of the freezing rain. Puh-leeze! All that time, this tiny tidbit had been glossed over. We would be getting more sleet and freezing rain than snow, sure. But what those TV meteorologists had accidentally failed to mention was that this could be a slight problem for us folks here in Backroads. Not in the slippery-road-problem kind of way. In the ICEPOCALYPSE of '06 kind of way.

I listened to those ice-cryers, proclaiming that utility crews from out-of-state were traveling here to await our depowering, and thought of the monster-shouter in The Stand. Until I remembered that he was kind of right. Here it was, sleet already falling, and freezing rain coming, and me not knowing how to hook up the generator and keep from frying all of our electrical circuits. Wasn't THAT a fine how-do-you-do? Lucky for me, Genius was lolling around like Axl on The Middle. Luckier for me, we had power until 7:38 p.m. Lucky for you, I had posted to my blogs a bit early due to my SNOW DAY.

It really wasn't that bad. I had just settled into my basement recliner with 236 Pounds of Class Vice President. I was on the final few pounds. The part where author Jason Mulgrew dons a fur cape to give his vice-presidential candidate speech. And the power went out. I grabbed my green and red and white fleece blanket, The Pony fetched me one of his book lights, we lit two hazelnut cream candles, and settled in for a bit of a wait.

After thirty minutes, Hick and Genius went to the garage to fire up the generator. Gennie was having none of it. Nothing like having your vital machinery in working condition, ready to assume the load when needed. It took them another thirty minutes to make Gennie power up. Then The Pony and I were able to watch King of the Nerds, and become one step closer to seeing who prevailed in the house called Nerdvana, to eventually ascend  the Throne of Games.

Luckier for us, the power returned after only ninety minutes. Sometimes, I think Missouri needs to bury its power lines in a shallow grave like my telephone line from pole to house. Or like cat poop in a sandbox.

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Miasma Comes in on Giant Fat Feet

Greetings, fellow educators with a snow day to burn, and carefree retirees looking for trouble. At the time of this writing, Friday morning, I am out of my element. Val is a nighttime blogger. To create a tale of intrigue so early in the day is not in her DNA. Nothing has happened yet! Sure, some of you might consider this to be a blog about nothing anyway. But I assure you, it is no internet-screen version of Seinfeld.

Since nobody and no thing has conspired yet to derail Val from her mission to take over the world, you will be treated to yesterday's news. PEOPLE AT A LOS ANGELES HOTEL DRANK CORPSE WATER! It's true! Here's a link. I saw a smidgeon of the story on the news, and I just had to know more. My BFF Google and I convened to get to the bottom of this secretive cistern.

I foresee a miasma of emotional-suffering lawsuits stomping in on giant fat feet. Seriously. People sue because their coffee is hot. Do you really think they will drink corpse water lying down? I, myself, do not. Think so, that is. Not drink corpse water lying down. But I don't do that, either. Or sitting up. I'm pretty sure that drinking water in which a corpse has been decomposing for two weeks is one of the things that is kind of unhealthy for you.

Hick says it isn't. "They treat that water with chemicals! It's safe to drink. And anyway, that's probably toilet water. Not drinking water."

Well. The last time he was in charge of the rooftop water system at a Los Angeles hotel was...let's see...I believe it was...NEVER! So I said to him, "Oh, so it's okay for corpses to be floating willy-nilly in the water supply tanks of hotels in California?" Maybe that explains how some people check out but never leave.

I'm no water quality technician, but I would bet a 44 oz. Diet Coke that people are not supposed to drink corpse water. I reminded Hick that in Cold Mountain, Jude Law came upon Giovanni Ribisi trying to move a dead bloated cow out of the creek, because it was upstream from his homestead, and was ruining his water. In fact, Jude loaned him his newfound friend, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and his stolen two-man saw, and they set about hewing that deceased bovine in half to remove its carcass from the creek. That's a lot of work to go to if it's perfectly all right to drink corpse water. And do you know what Hick said to me?

"VAL! That was a COW!"

Like decaying cow microbes are unhealthy, and decaying people microbes are no big deal.

Besides Hick's frivolous attitude towards corpse water, here's another thing I find disturbing. Guests at the hotel reported to reporters that the water they had been drinking for EIGHT DAYS had a funny taste, but since they were from Britain, they simply assumed that's the way it was over here. Like we are a nation of corpse-water drinkers! Oh, and furthermore, the water that came out of the shower head was black for the first few seconds. But they did not complain! Heavens to Betsy! Are the British THAT polite and unassuming and reluctant to make waves?

I read on another source that this couple was paying $65 per night for their room. I don't know about you, but I, like Vern in Stand By Me expecting more for his seven cents than hamburger and Coke, would have expected more for my $65 than corpse water and a black shower.

Val has expensive tastes and unrealistic expectations, it seems.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Anatomy of Why Val Needs a Lobotomy

A much-desired, long-awaited snow day fell into my lap last night. I promptly celebrated by falling asleep in my basement recliner after The Pony and I watched Survivor.

This morning, the trusty meteorologists on all channels kindly informed me that I was safe until 9:00 a.m. At that point, Backroads would be beset by sleet with a little snow mixed in. Because, you know, our area was only getting mostly sleet and maybe some freezing rain and high winds in the afternoon. With this forecast fresh in my mind, I went about my business.

By 7:45, I was ready to head to town for some chili fixin's and a sausage biscuit for Genius. And, you see, I figured I might as well pop in to pick up a 44 oz. Diet Coke for myself. What with being in town and all. Okay. As you might surmise, most people rush out for milk and bread. Val rushes out for a 44 oz. Diet Coke.

The trip to town was uneventful. Temperature hovering at 24. Roads clear. Sky overcast. The main county road, marked with a letter, had been spritzed with saline and beet juice for two days. Our blacktop county road had received no such tender loving care. Had I slid off into a ditch, I could have laid there like Ray Brower knocked out of his Keds picking blueberries along Back Harlow Road until Gordie, Chris, Teddy and Vern showed up to discover the body.

I pulled into Save A Lot on schedule and grabbed my items. At the checkout, a worker moaned, "Here it comes." She was not delivering a baby. The sleet sluiced down outside the front wall of windows. I paid and boxed. My mom called to see if I was home yet. Nope. I carted and loaded and took off across the road for my precious. My 44 oz. Diet Coke. I had to hold onto the Tahoe's body to walk on the sidewalk and parking lot.

I thought about going directly home. If the sausage biscuit had been for The Pony, I would have had no qualms. But it was for Genius, a surly morning person who would make me rue the day I returned without his sausage biscuit and hash rounds. The Pony had rejected such a fine repast three times before I left. I decided that since I was there anyway, I would have one as well. They had two for $1.87. Far be it from Val to pass up a bargain. I ordered Genius's hash rounds, and threw in one of those for me, too. I went inside to order because the drive-thru was backed up. It did not save me any time. Ten minutes later, I was gingerly traipsing through the bushes alongside Hardee's, not wanting to chance their concrete ramp down to the parking lot. I grabbed the Tahoe's trusty hood and stepped down. Lucky for me, ice had not yet built up on the running board.

On the way out of town, I spied a county road truck. He wasn't spraying. Just driving my way. And because Val is a hometown celebrity, that big orange dump truck with a plow on the front and special tubing on the back set his gravel-sprinkling lever as he turned onto that unloved county road. I had an escort in front of me dropping black pebbles like rose petals in front of a blushing bride. Black gravel. The lesser, cinnamon babka of highway department road treatments. I tried to take a picture through the windshield, but the camera had disappeared from my phone. Good thing a meteor didn't streak across the sky in front of me.

As I turned onto our gravel road, my little Pony called to see if I was okay. He was worried that I had been gone too long. Besides, his grandma had called badgering him about my whereabouts. He came out to help me unload my purchases. As I set the Hardee's bag on the counter, I said, "Would you like a sausage biscuit and hash rounds?"

"Yeah! That sounds good. But where are Genius's?"

"Um. There is one of each for him in that bag."

Darn! All that way, all that stress, all that salivating over how good those ketchup-dipped hash rounds were going to taste with my crisp 44 oz. Diet Coke...all for naught. You can be sure I did not offer him my soda.

Here was the concrete behind the garage when I arrived home at 8:50 a.m.

Juno had to get into the act. (She looks a bit misshapen because Genius used his wide-angle lens). Juno's a curious one. Or just happy to be released from her unfortunate BARn incarceration. This was the beginning of our storm. So far, we still have power, though my mom's was knocked out for forty-five minutes.

School has just been cancelled for Friday. I hope I can make it to town tomorrow for a 44 oz. Diet Coke.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

My Epiphany, Revisited

Let's set the record straight. Judging from responses to my epiphany a couple of days ago, some folks seem to think that I am careening toward the precipice overlooking the chasm of lunacy. I assure you, that's not true.

I have not gone over the edge, off the deep end, round the bend, off my rocker, or out to lunch. Nor have I lost my marbles, become unhinged, or flipped my lid. I am just fine, thank your very much, and in possession of my full faculties, flinging cliches like a madwoman.

You'd think I was Maggie Wyczenski, popping into the ER in a too-short skirt, handing out bagels all willy-nilly to my daughter Abby's colleagues, unmindful of the fact that I am off my meds and quite the embarrassment. But that's not me. I don't even have a daughter. Nevermind a too-short skirt.

Or that I'm covering the walls of a tool shed with newspaper clippings foretelling a subversive plot to take over the world, like Russell Crowe as John Nash in A Beautiful Mind. All of Hick's tool sheds remain full of his junk and treasures. While my basement lair is not quite up to code with OSHA, it is far from a schizophrenic's playhouse.

I do not use my down time to sit at the keyboard typing typing typing like Jack Torrance at the Overlook Hotel, churning out reams of paper proclaiming, "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." Even though a blizzard may rage outside my isolated home, there are no creepy twin girls nor an elevator full of blood to accompany me on my overacted journey toward madness.

I'm just Val, suiting herself in the pages of her side project, defying convention one preposition-ending sentence at a time. That's the page I'm on, and the state I'm in.


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Val is No Nancy Drew

Further discussion of Val's epiphany has been tabled in order to bring you this breaking news:


Juno is the doggie we rescued from my mom, who found her dumped in the yard, all of three weeks old, and proceeded to NOT FEED HER because she didn't want her hanging around. Anyway, Juno is now a year old, healthy as a horse, a long-haired, black, border collie/lab mix, all legs and human hazel eyes and feathery tail.

Oh, you didn't know that Juno was missing? NEITHER DID WE! She's an outside pet. Most mornings she comes a-runnin' to lick my hand goodbye as I leave for school. In the evenings, she darts under the garage door to eat a mouthful of cat food before I get out of the car. We have a regular lovefest on the porch under the breezeway. This afternoon, Juno was not there. Neither were the other two dogs, so I thought they must be out running around.

This evening, The Pony put off collecting the eggs when we got home. For the last couple of months, it has been THE EGG. But the hens have started laying again. Hick found a whole chicken-butt-load of them in the dry leaves under the pool steps just outside the basement door. So we're back up to eight eggs a day. At 5:30, I told The Pony to get out there and get the eggs before it was dark. His proposal to use a flashlight later fell on unsympathetic ears. He can only garner so much sympathy for that atrocious haircut that I made him get.

The Pony returned to gloat. "It's a good thing I waited to get the eggs. One minute earlier, and we wouldn't have had that last one. It was still hot. I scared the chicken right off it. She jumped up, and there it was. She ran screaming all the way from the chicken pen to the back yard." Normally, Juno goes with The Pony to fetch the eggs. Whether for companionship, or in hopes that he will trip on a root and bounce one out of his red-and-green Easter basket, I'm not sure. The Pony did not mention Juno.

Hick got home late, ate supper, and commanded The Pony to accompany him to feed the goats, check on the three new kids, and work on a board for his science project in the BARn. The Pony returned to the house around 7:00. "JUNO WAS LOCKED IN THE BARn! She's been there since the last time Dad was in there. That was yesterday afternoon around 4:00. Now that I think of it, she didn't come out of her house this morning when I threw that meat out on the back porch. She's been there all day! And last night!"

"Oh, no! Is she all right? Can she still bark? Or did she make herself hoarse trying to get somebody to let her out?"

"She seems okay to me. In fact, she's really, really happy, bouncing around and playful."

That sounds like sunny Juno on an ordinary day. I'm glad she was not traumatized. I suppose the trade-off for a night in a heated BARn is a very late breakfast at 7:00 p.m. Poor, poor Juno. She's a social butterfly with people and other animals. Plus, her plastic chicken with only one foot was laying in the yard all alone. She plays with it every day. It's a good thing The Pony is pushing his project to the wire. Juno might not have been found for another day or two. Usually we notice when an animal is missing. Hick has locked up other pets in the BARn. That's the first place we look. This holiday weekend had us all discombobulated.

After a tasty repast of dry dogfood, and a bowl of fresh water, Juno was happily reunited with her canine companions. They are, no doubt, snuggled into a single house by the kitchen door, on a nest of cedar shavings, awaiting 2:00 a.m., when they burst forth and bark for five nonstop hours.

Monday, February 18, 2013

To Write, Like Nobody's Reading

An epiphany slapped me across the face in the shower this morning. Bet you didn't even know epiphanies were waterproof.

I have come to the conclusion that I gotta do what I gotta do. Enough with my unnamed project languishing like a limp, vampire-drained maiden across a chaise lounge on the second-floor veranda in the morning humidity. I cannot change my spots. I need to write like there's nobody reading. Which is likely not so far-fetched.

I'm not talking about pieces I plan to submit to various and sundry call-outs. I can play by the rules as competently as the next writer when I so choose. However, when it comes to my seething cauldron of creative juices that will eventually be rendered into a tasty treat for a decidedly eclectic palate, I must let my freak flag fly. To do otherwise would be a gross disservice to my voice. I refuse to become a barkless dog. Or a mockingbird. One style does not fit all.

No, I will not be a stifled Edith Bunker. I will not try to type with one hand tied behind my back and the other encased in an insulated, waterproof mitten. Like Kramer, I'm out there, baby, and lovin' every minute of it. Only with the benefit of underwear. There was no groundbreaking incident that led to this decision. No forty-eight-hour marathon in my dark basement lair, chain-sipping Diet Coke. It just hit me this morning.

I blame the thyroid meds.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Samson is Feeling Weak

The Pony has been growing out his hair. Not so much as a fashion statement as a statement that he hates having his hair cut. I let him go as long as I could. I will stop short of comparing him, in the manner of True Grit's Mattie Ross of near Dardanelle in Yell County, a less-than-tactful young lass, to a man of Texas, who cultivates his hair like lettuce.

The Pony has his father's hair. Well, hair like his father had when he HAD hair. It is a mixed blessing, much like that of Theodore "Beaver" Cleaver, who inherited the freckle-prone Bronson skin from his mother. And thankfully not her penchant for pearls. When The Pony's hair gets longer than a couple of inches, it waves. It kinks. It curls like a springy perm that Mike Brady paid good money for before flying off to Hawaii for his boys to find that bad-luck Tiki idol in a cave. Because The Pony showers at night, his hair is stretched and bedraggled by morning. The remedy is a quick scrunching of fingers dripping with water. That tightens it back into regular curls. The Pony's mane had grown so long that it came down past his eyes when unkinked. I decreed that he was getting it cut over this three-day weekend.

Hold on for a minute while I dab my eyes with my dainty, initial-embroidered hanky. Pass me the smelling salts. I am beside myself. My actions are akin to Pony abuse. It is enough to change my philosophy of spare the clippers and spoil The Pony's shot at normalcy. What that haircuttress did to my little Pony was a crime. A low-down, dirty, crying-shame crime.

We called ahead to check in. Never mind that the wait at that time was two minutes. It takes us twenty to get to town. You never know when a bus of Duggars might pull up for a round of shearing bill-footed by TLC. We arrived, parked, and elbowed a little girl and her mother out of our way. The butcher was none other than the Janice Dickinson lookalike who does such a fine job on my own tresses. I was not worried. I knew The Pony was in capable, experienced hands. I sat down to read a book.

Well. How was I to know that Janice was off her meds and on her drugs? I listened with a deaf ear to the small talk between the two. Thought nothing of it. Then I sensed that they were done, and looked up to see my poor Pony with a moon face like eyes and nose painted on a cue ball. Oh, the equinity! My little Pony had a forehead the size of the Mendenhall Glacier. And it was receding. I did not want to make him feel bad. Nor Janice herself, since she would no doubt be cutting my hair at a future date. "Whoa! It sure is short!"

As we went out the door, I said, "How come you didn't tell her it was getting too short?"

"I couldn't SEE it! I have to take my glasses off, remember? So I couldn't see in the mirror how short it was. Until I put on my glasses when it was done. And it's not even straight!"

"You're right. At least there are no holes in the back, like they did to Genius twice. The back looks good.. It will grow out. That's what my mom always told me when I got a bad haircut. Don't be surprised if kids say something about it at school."

"I know. If they do, I can show them your driver's license picture, and then I won't feel so bad."

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Backroads, We Have a Problem

For those of you who might think all Hick does on a weekend is lounge around in his La-Z-Boy, I present the following true tale from earlier today.

We were on our way to pick up The Pony from his grandma's house to take him out for his birthday dinner. Hick was piloting my Tahoe. He took several phone calls from work, because the world cannot turn on its axis without the careful guidance of Hick. I must have complained about his lack of attention to the road during these calls. I know that's hard to believe. I think my exact words were: "Why don't you just pull over until you're done talking on the phone?" Hick saw no need for that. After all, his sweaving was not that much different than when he devotes his full attention to driving.

"You must have nine lives. I think you're on number seven right now."

"Make that number eight. You almost lost me this afternoon."

"How's that?"

"I was almost done fixing the tire on my tractor. I needed it to roll forward just a little bit. I didn't want to climb up, so I stood beside it and pushed in the clutch. It started rolling, and my hand slipped off. That popped the clutch, and the tractor took off by itself. I fell down. I rolled out of the way so it didn't run over me."

"You mean the tractor was driving itself?"

"Yeah. I would have let it go to see where it ended up, but it was heading for the BARn. I jumped up and ran alongside. Then I thought, 'This is stupid.' I knew I couldn't get on. So I ran along and reached in and hit the kill switch."

"You are a big dumb ape."

"Yeah. That was not a very smart thing to do."

Acknowledging the problem is the first step.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Neither a Lender Nor an Enabler Be

I don't like to loan pencils.

It really has nothing to do with germophobia. I would never lend one of my three main writing utensils to a student. But I have others I could lend. It would not break my bank to hand out a pencil every hour, and not get it back. No. It would not hurt me. It would hurt the borrower. I am a big believer in responsibility.

My policy is that if I find a pencil or pen, I put it on my desk as a loaner. If somebody asks, I will let him use it for that class period. But once it's gone, it's gone. No loaning until I find another. And if somebody claims it, that's one less pencil available for loaning. This keeps the borrowing to a minimum.

Don't go thinking Mrs. Thevictorian is a selfish pencil-hoarder. I have given kids the pencil out of my hand on certain occasions. Like when the asker is not a habitual borrower, and mentions how his pencil broke, or ran out of lead, and he is now faced with a pencil-less day that will be stressful to one so conscientious in completing and turning in assignments.

In the past, there was a year of pencil giveaway season in my classroom. I used to hand out writing sticks willy-nilly, hoping to help those who could not afford pencils, or those who didn't have a way to town to buy pencils, or those who had their pencils stolen, or who left them in their pants pocket during the wash, or ran out of lead, or...the excuses were endless. I grew tired of finding my special pencils broken in half, on the floor, lost by the next day, left on the student desk, out in the hall, and hearing how they were stupid wooden pencils--didn't I have any mechanical pencils? Like the one in my hand?

It seems like the same kid always needs a pencil. Every day. I can't imagine asking for one seven hours a day. Day after day. Funny how these kids have a dollar for a giant sugar-free beverage from the machines at lunch. But can't spare a quarter for a pencil from the teacher who sells them in the cafeteria every morning during the free-for-all breakfastfest.

Give a student a pencil, and he writes for an hour. Make him be responsible for his own pencil, and he writes for life. This elder needs help from the village in raising responsible students.

My last two loaners disappeared when I had a substitute last week. Our subs are notorious for loaning pencils. I laid the two loaners on the desk, along with two pens for the sub to use. Better than having them rifle through the desk in search of implements to toss out like candy from a Labor Day Parade float. The pens remained. The pencils were gone.

Now I have no loaners. But in one class, with my older kids, I loaned two of my personal pencils yesterday:

Not the yellow Office Max. He is there to lend perspective. Two pencil-beggars of advanced years and experience were given the choice of using the behemoth or the sprite. As Kim Darby told Glen Campbell in the original True Grit, regarding his character stealing a kiss or spanking her, "I assure you, one would be as unpleasant as the other." They did not like scribbling with these outliers. A message was sent. And received. The freshmen would try to borrow these on purpose, just to gain the spotlight. One has to know the psychological profile of one's clientele.

Mrs. Val Thevictorian. Saving the world, one pencil-borrower at a time.

Please disregard my shoeless chair, dipping its bare tootsies into the photo like an exhibitionist.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

If You Can Keep Your Head When All About You Are Determined to Split it in Half...

Oh, dear. I seem to have made an unfortunate global faux pas.

I blame the blinding headache that beset me around 2:30 a.m. I think it must have something to do with the atmosphere, seeing as how I had duty out in the parking lot yesterday morning at 34 degrees, and again after school at 56 degrees. It's sinus in nature, hits me in the evening, and is sometimes abated by a scalding shower. However, there is no scalding shower in my classroom. I must make do with the tools I have available. More on that later. Let's get back to my global faux pas.

After lunch, a colleague passed me as I stood at my post monitoring the hallway. "What's that illness where all your joints and muscles ache, and you don't have any energy? I want to tell my class, and I can't think of the name."

"Oh! Wait a minute! I just had it. Now it slipped away. I KNOW what you're talking about. I'll think of it in a minute. I'll call you."

She went on down the hall a few steps. Snagged a paraprofessional and interrogated her. "I think it starts with an 'F'. What IS it?"

Suddenly, the diagnosis came rushing back to me. I hollered down the hall, "That's it! Fibromalaysia!"

"Oh, yeah! Fibromyalgia! Thanks!"

I did not correct her. No need to emphasize the fact that I had just given an entire nation a medical disorder that is sometimes declared imaginary. That headache was really working on me. All I wanted was some peace and quiet. Not an easy wish to fulfill inside a secondary school. I thought I had achieved my P and Q during my plan time second hour. A belief which lasted approximately two minutes.

All I wanted was to be alone with my vibrator. HEY! Not THAT kind of vibrator. The flat, egg-shaped black plastic vibrator I ripped out of an airplane neck massage bean-baggy collar thingy. Blue. I hold it against my forehead and the headache goes away. Unfortunately, like standing in a scalding shower, that act is not conducive to learning. So I have to do it on the sly. In stolen moments, like my plan time.

So I whipped it out and went to town. Ah...the absence of pain. If I had a hind leg, I would have been twitching it like a blissful hound having his belly scratched. It was great while it lasted. Then I heard footsteps in the hall. I did not want to be caught in flagrante delicto with my vibrator. So I turned it off and set it beside my desktop laptop. As soon as that student went walking by, I picked it up again. I almost gave myself vibrator elbow in the span of fifty minutes.

Never had there been as much hall traffic as there was today. It was like a million-youth-march. The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade exhibits less foot traffic than passed by my classroom. Kids flitting and giggling. Adults clomping like Anheuser-Busch Clydesdales down cobblestone streets. Adults and students raiding the storage closet right next door. Uninvited visitors. I would not have been surprised if contestants from the Amazing Race had popped in to ask directions. I blame Valentine's Day. Our halls are normally bereft of students during the golden fifty minutes.

"But Val," you ask, "why didn't you simply close your door?" Because there is no such thing anymore as simply closing one's door. All doors must be locked. They can be propped open, mind you, but the lock must be engaged so that a simple slam renders the room impenetrable. That means the 147 times somebody comes a-knockin', the student closest to the door gets to walkin' and lets them in. On my plan time, I am not jumping up and dashing diagonally across the far reaches of my room to let in somebody tap tap tapping at my chamber door. Today, for instance, I had a phone call, followed by a student seeking missing work, an office worker with a request for absentee homework, a textbook returned by another office worker that was not even in my number segment, and a drop-in paraprofessional asking to see my driver's license photo.

No wonder my head hurt.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Neighbor Creeps in to Sharp Little Cat Feet

Now that dogs have had their day, I must devote a few moments to cats. Because that's how much time my cats devote to me.

I was never much of a cat person. My mom couldn't stand them, so there was slim chance of having one as a pet. Mom said cats were sneaky. She hated the way the neighbors' cats, John, Paulie, George, and Ringo, wound around her ankles when she walked all the way across the back yard to scrape her leftovers into the ditch. Town in Backroads is just a closer figuration of hillbillies.

During early adulthood, I lived in an apartment complex where a neighbor in the next building had a black devil cat. That's what the rest of us called him. She called him Fred. Crazy Cat Lady was crazy about her cat. He could do no wrong. When she invited our little crew over to socialize, Fred was the one who went crazy. You know how a cat can be sprawled on the floor one minute, or laying on the fish tank cover dipping a paw lazily into the water, then suddenly decide he needs to be somewhere else? Yeah. That's what Fred would do. Dash around that apartment like gravity had no hold on him. I swear he ran along the walls like a speed cyclist, round and round, and then upstairs to his bedroom with a little POOF of air announcing his exit. You'd think he'd been dosed with some of the painkiller Tom gave to Aunt Polly's cat, Peter.

Crazy Cat Lady booked a cruise to Greece that summer. The only problem was Fred. She asked me to look in on him once a day. To make sure he had food and water, dump his litter box, and put her newspaper and mail on the kitchen table. I agreed. It's not like teachers have anything to do in the summer. Except take a cruise to Greece.

The first couple days of cat-sitting were uneventful. I grabbed the mail, picked up the paper, and let myself in with CCL's key. Fred was nowhere to be seen. I could tell he was living by the absence of food, and the presence of poop. I did my duties. Sprinkled some food for the fish. Made sure the cover was folded back down on the fish tank.

Around the third day, Fred grew bold. He sat halfway down the townhouse steps, watching. It was eerie. I tried to make small talk with him. But you know how dismissive cats can be. I might as well have been talking to myself.

The next evening, all not-heaven broke loose. The minute I stepped inside the front door, Fred tore down those steps and clawed my bare leg, then turned on a dime like a well-trained, expensive barrel-racing steed, and ascended the carpeted stairs with nary a snagging of claws. Wasn't THAT a fine how-do-you-do! And me providing the food which provided him the energy to attack, making it harder for me to walk into the kitchen and provide his food. We were almost an O. Henry story.

The next night I was armed. One-armed. I tucked the mail under my left armpit, and clutched the newspaper in my right hand. I stepped inside. Down those stairs Fred shot like one of those tubular fireworks that scream across the ground and explode under your lawn chair. He scraped more skin from my shin. Darted away before the blood began to flow, as I took a sweeping swing with the daily news. There was no joy in Apartmentville. Mighty Val had struck out.

That was our pattern for the rest of the week. I took to slipping on a pair of sweatpants over my shorts before the feeding mission. And wore shoes instead of THONGS (there, I said it, the proper name for rubber footwear that has nothing to do with tramp stamps and strippers and pr0n stars). I never did connect with that black devil cat. He always got in a swipe.

When CCL returned, and asked, in the middle of a lovefest of purring and petting (her and Fred, of course, not her and me, just because I mentioned pr0n don't take liberties with my ambiguity), "How did you and Fred get along?"

"Just fine." I eyed Fred. Fred eyed me. We both pretended our little week together never happened. CCL kept inviting our gang over for socials, where she would sit on the floor and demonstrate how she could put her foot behind her head, and Hick, the future Mr. Val, would watch with his eyes bugged out, and our buddy the insurance adjuster would put Scotch tape on two of Fred's feet to see him walk like an Egyptian.

Ouzo might have had something to do with it.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

That Hypothesis Has Already Been Proven Correct

Today I read an article that said dogs are more likely to steal food if they think they are not being watched by people. My reaction? "And...?"

Don't dog people already know that? Without need of a scientific study?

Every evening I open the garage door when I'm halfway down the driveway. My feisty dog Juno runs down off the porch, wagging her feathery black tail, wiggling with pleasure, and shoots under that door as soon as there is enough room for her wiry body. I make my 90-degree turn and pull in, and there's Juno bent over the roasting pan of dry cat food. As soon as I put the Tahoe in PARK, Juno reappears on the porch. I can see her through the glass of the garage people-door.

Butter wouldn't melt in that dog's mouth. She acts all glad to see me, like she has not got cat food on her breath. If I close the big metal door as soon as I pull in, trapping Juno in the garage with me, she stands beside the cat food pan. "See? It's me! Your loving doggie! Happy to see you back home again! What...THIS? It seems the felines have eaten their fill. I'm just investigating. You might want to feed them less. Because there's FOOD IN THIS PAN! I'm just telling you. It's not like I'm eating it, you see. That's CAT food. And I'm a dog. Not a cat. I'm just standing here. I seem to be trapped inside this structure. I really want to be out there on the porch. I ran in momentarily to greet you, you see. And I simply noticed this--what do you call it--roasting pan with cat food inside. Don't that just beat all? I mean, imagine, four cats, and still food left here. That's wasteful. You'll never catch me and my dog brother and sister letting food go to waste like that! If you need to dispose of it, well, I will volunteer to clean it up. Just let me know."

Uh huh. Juno knows I can't jump out and scold her until the car is stopped. She straightens up at that instant. We might as well have a study to prove that teachers wish for snow days between December and March.

Monday, February 11, 2013

It's a Sunshine Day, Though Not a Brady One


Is this thing on? Testing. Testing., two.

Ahem. I would like to thank Tammy for bestowing the Sunshine Award upon me.

I haven't been this proud since I won 89th Place in the 80th Annual Writer's Digest Writing Competition, Memoirs/Personal Essay category. Uh huh. It was like when, in one of my favorite old movies, Dante's Peak, the motel clerk tells Pierce Brosnan that the town has just been named Second Best Place to Live in the United States, Population Under 20,000. Yep. That fictional town and I are both mighty proud. But I'm not gonna blow my top and lay to rest several minor characters.

What have I done, you might ask, to deserve this award? GOOD QUESTION! It seems that I am flinging out cheer willy-nilly over the innernets. C'mon! You KNOW the first person you think of when you hear the word SUNSHINE is Val Thevictorian. That's me. Sweetness and light. Kittens and unicorns. Cupcakes. With sprinkles! I'm a regular Pollyanna. Nary a cross word shall issue from my fingertips. What's that? I'm a big fat liar? Hm...have you been looking at my recent driver's license photo?

Lucky for me this award requires me to answer a few questions. What better subject to talk about than ME? And the format surely beats going down to the station and being hooked up to that polygraph machine.

FAVORITE COLOR: Green. Any shade. Neon, forest, emerald, with envy...

FAVORITE ANIMAL: Dog. Sorry, my cats. You are too aloof.

FAVORITE NUMBER: 4. For no particular reason. And in spite of the fact that two of my relatives used to work at State Hospital Number Four. Also referred to, by children, and not very politely, as The Loony Bin.


FACEBOOK or TWITTER? What's that? I don't partake of such employment-terminating sites.

MY PASSIONS: my boys, my husband's quirky ways, Seinfeld trivia, and pretending that I'm a writer.

GIVING or GETTING PRESENTS: Giving. I pick out good stuff. I don't like pretending to like things given to me in good faith. It's the thought that counts, and contrary to popular opinion, I do not like to hurt feelings.

FAVORITE DAY: Friday. The whole weekend stretches ahead, full of promise.

FAVORITE FLOWER: Lilacs. That's what I miss most from my $17,000 house. We tried to dig up shoots and grow them here, but one died the first year, and the other took seven years to bloom. Then the goats ate all the low branches.

There you have it. What makes Val so sunshiny. Drink a cup of that every day, and you might turn out just like me! I think I might market it as Vitamin V. Can't be any crazier than selling people water.

Now, for the moment we've all been waiting for. Who shall receive this award next? While many of my readers (heh, heh, that makes it sound like I have a lot of readers) are worthy, I have decided to foist these awards onto the two dudes on my blogroll: Stephen, the Chubby Chatterbox, and Joe, the Cranky Old Man. If they already have a Sunshine Award, they can darn well accept another. Even if they don't want to respond to the interrogation. I'm sure each of them has a man cave where they shelve their awards, and polish them and talk to them like this clip of cartoon penguin surfer Tank, in Surf's Up, talking about his trophies. Okay. Maybe not that creepy. But I'm sure they can find room for one more.

Thanks again, Tammy, for the opportunity to revisit my favorite subject.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Face that Even a Mother Can't Love :(

I don't understand how I got this reputation as an exaggerator.

Even my own mother seems to think I blow things out of proportion. Can you believe it? You'd think I claimed to have a broken neck when I slept on it wrong. Or that my head exploded when I experienced slight tooth discomfort upon biting into a caramelized onion burger at the casino. Or that mouse turds flowed from my bathroom light/exhaust fan like an indoor Angel Falls. Huh. I guess I'll just have to get to the bottom of this character-assassination conspiracy one of these days.

When I told Mom that my driver's license photo made me look like Twain's description of Injun Joe, she kind of glossed over it. "Oh, honey. I'm sure it will look better when you get your license in the mail." A regular Pollyanna is she. Never has a bad word to say about anyone. People are always coming up to me and telling me that my mom is one in a million. Such a sweet lady. They just love her. If she was on Facebook, she would have eleventy-billion friends.

Friday afternoon, Mom met me on the Walmart parking lot to pick up The Pony for a sleepover. I motioned for her to climb into the Tahoe. The passenger seat was available, you know. Because The Pony insists on riding in the seat behind me. "Hey! I thought you might want to see my picture that's going to be on my driver's license for the next six years." I held up the paper, folded over, as I prepared her. "Now remember, this is your sweet baby girl. Your firstborn child. The one who's having a birthday next week. Remember those pictures from when I was little? The white hightop corrective shoes? The topknot of hair you made into a curl and tied up with a ribbon? The innocent toddler the camera loved? THAT'S NOT ME ANYMORE!" I thrust the picture under her nose.

"OH! Val..." She recoiled. I think I saw her suppress a retch. There was an uncomfortable silence.


"Uh...I thought you were exaggerating. But...that's TERRIBLE! It doesn't even look like you."

"Thank goodness. I tried to tell you."

"I've never seen anything like that!"

"Thanks. I'm a monster."

"I wouldn't even claim you."

"Your baby girl!"

"I would never have believed it was as bad as you said."

"Now you know."

"To look at that makes me think you've been on an all-night drinking binge." Let the record show that Val has been a teetotaler since May 29, 1992. Not that anybody's counting.

"Your sweet baby girl!"

"It's just that look on your face...You look twice as old as you are!" Which would make me older than my septuagenarian mother.

"This is terrible."

"It IS! I just can't believe how bad it is."

"Thanks, Mom. You're really making me feel better."

"I'd take that back and say, 'These are the comments I've been getting...'"

"They would laugh me out of that place. Especially after looking at the picture."

"Well, I'd tell them, 'I went to cash a check, and they wouldn't do it because they didn't think that was my picture!'"

"What if I go to the doctor, and they won't treat me because they think I'm committing insurance fraud?"

"They will have to do something. This is not right."

 "You were kind of quiet when I first showed you."

"I think I was speechless."

"Maybe this will bring it back to you." I held up the paper, ready to expose the picture again.

"NO! I hope I don't have nightmares tonight."


"What is it? People open up a cross or something to keep things from attacking?"

"You mean vampires?"


"I know! I'll say I lost it. Then I'll go in, and pay for a new one, and get a new picture! I can't wait until my license gets here so I can 'lose' it. It wouldn't do to go in there and say I lost it before they even mailed it!"

"Oh, honey. Do you want me to call over there and ask if they'll take a new picture? I'll tell them I didn't even recognize you."

"No. Then they'll know it's me when I go in. They'll make it bad again. But not worse. That would be impossible."

"Something has to be done."

"I know. Your sweet baby girl..."

"Don't show me that picture again!"

Yeah. Even my angelic mother was bagging on my license likeness. It's THAT bad. I went to bed in good spirits Friday night. The solution all planned out. The loss of license. New photo. Then I woke up. And realized the license office would most likely just charge me a fee, and PRINT THE PICTURE ON FILE IN THEIR FACIAL RECOGNITION SOFTWARE.

Woe is me. And woeful is my photo.

Any suggestions?

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Journey to Renew One's Driver's License Begins with a Single Trip to Town

On Thursday, I took a personal day at work. That's like a sick day, except you know ahead of time that you're going to be off, and you feel just fine. In the beginning.

I knew I had to renew my driver's license by Monday. Not that I received a notice from the MO DOR. I just knew. Because last time, it was a six-year renewal. And the new expiration date is one's birthday. So...I knew I had to get in there and do the deed. Having worked for a state agency, and having waited in many a line at various license offices, I knew better than to try and run in Thursday or Friday after school. That would only give me an hour to complete my business. So I took advantage of a personal day, meant to be used for business that can't be completed outside of school hours.

The Pony still needed hauling to school. What's that? Why couldn't he simply ride in with his brother, Genius? Surely you jest. Have you not been paying attention all this time? One is more likely to receive an invitation to the wedding of Oil and Water than to see my two boys enjoy each other's company on a trip to school. I arose like any other workday, herded The Pony into the Tahoe, and sped over hill and dale to deliver him to school. He thanked me.

Since the license office didn't open until 9:00, I had ninety minutes to burn. I sped back home and TurboTaxed my federal and state returns. At the stroke of 10:00, my mom called to remind me not to forget to renew my license. She filled me in on all the minutia about the office. Preparing me. It's been six years, you see. The license office is no longer in the mini mall behind the church. Nor is it beside the old bowling alley, in the storefront that used to house the video store. Nope. It is now behind the dead-mouse-smelling post office, between the daycare and the house with a big sign for the Space Museum in its yard. I pass it all the time. But Mom wanted to make sure I knew where to park, and that I must first stop at the window on the left to get a number unless the girl wasn't busy, and if I got a number, to sit in the waiting room on the right. And to be prepared for a vision test. She looks out for me, my mom.

By 10:15 I was on the road again. The weather was cloudy but calm, temps in the forties. I was having a good hair day. All signs pointed to a quick license renewal, and the rest of the day stretched ahead for the pushing of the SEND button on taxes, and getting Genius's college board IDOC stuff ready to mail off. Val plans. State employees laugh.

I parked without incident. Only one other customer was inside. Standing right in front of the door. I could barely get in. But that did not bother me. After all, I had my old license ready, and a head of good hair ready for a picture. The dude was on his cell phone. He abruptly stepped back to let me in, and tell the girl behind the wall-hole that he would be right back, just as soon as he ran across town to get it. I'm assumed he was talking about a document, not a quickie.

I stepped up to the window, and the License Warden, all of 23 years old, asked my business. "I'm just here to renew my driver's license." She reached out her hand. I passed her my old license. She looked at me. Had the nerve to ask for my birth certificate. Dear me! Do I not look born? Do I look younger than 16? I think not. "You're kidding. I have to go all the way back home and look for my birth certificate?" She nodded. AND handed me a two-sided paper of necessary documents.

"Here is what you need."

"It would have been nice to know that before I came in. I never got a notice. How silly of me not to remember that from six years ago when I last renewed."

"Oh, this is a new process. Didn't you see it on the news? We need your social security number--"

"I have the card. But I don't know about my birth certificate."

"It has to be an official birth certificate with an embossed seal. And you'll need proof of residence. Here. Here's what you'll need." She circled various items on that two-sided handout and pushed it at me, with my old license. I sped out of the parking lot to seek evidence of my existence. Almost daring the police to stop me and ask for my license. I called Mom to complain.

"It would have been nice if you'd warned me I'd need my birth certificate."

"Oh. I didn't need mine. I might have yours here. Do you want me to look for it?"

"I guess you can. I'll look at home. Those things are harder to keep track of than scissors and pencil sharpeners at our house." I rushed home. Let the record show that Val does not live just down the street from the license office. That she can't hop on the subway, the EL, the T, a cable car, a crosstown bus, a double-decker bus, take a Yellow Cab, a Hansom Cab, or a rickshaw. She lives off the grid of back roads, up a gravel road. That she had already traveled twice before 11:00 a.m.

The elusive birth certificate lay on my office file cabinet, just under the birth certificate of Genius, fresh from his licensing in December. Silly me. I thought he needed it because he was getting his license after having a permit. I read and re-read the list of documentation. I needed...

+ my old license-check

+ my social security number-check

+ proof of residence dated within the last 60 days-an electric bill stub should do

+ notarized marriage license OR social security card showing current name-card will do it

+ place of all this, INS papers will do

Being a thinking kind of woman, I anticipated License Warden giving me a hard time with that electric bill. It was in Hick's name, of course. The way most married couples have their bills sent. So I grabbed my last check stub showing MY name with the address. Off I went back to town for the third time before noon.

Now the wind was whipping up. I called Mom to tell her I found a birth certificate obtained from the county health department at a cost of $15 in 2007. "I found your birth certificate in my safe. I think it's from the hospital. It says 'Certificate of Live Birth' at the top."

"Mom. That's not good enough. I'm not running for political office. I'M TRYING TO RENEW A MISSOURI DRIVER'S LICENSE! Does it have an embossed seal from the state? No? It won't work. I''m starting to think I might have to move out of the country, then get papers from the INS, THEN come back and renew my license."

Business at the license office was picking up like the wind that swirled my good hair to bad. License Warden was not at her desk. She was interrogating a dude at the eye test/picture desk. Another clerk called my number. 25. A lady on my heels had grabbed 26. An old man in overalls came in and plopped down in the chair closest to the eye test/picture desk. Another lady snatched #27. The clerk asked for my paperwork. Pawed through it. Gave it back without doing anything. Said, "She'll call you next."

License Warden took Dude's photo. Sent him on his way. Called, "NEXT." I got up. I was next, you know. With the #25. Even the other clerk had said so. As I rose from my seat by the door, Old Man rose from his seat near the desk. Uh uh. That wasn't happenin'. I rushed over and sat down before he had made it three steps. No number, no service, geezer. He was lucky I didn't throw a forearm and make him snap a spindly hip. I don't care how many times HE had to go back home, I was taking my rightful turn. Of course License Warden looked over my documents and said, "This electric bill is no good. I have to see something with YOUR name and the address. VOILA! I whipped out that check stub. She looked perturbed. "I have to scan this. Do you want this check part left on it?"

"Well, since it's done through direct deposit, and that 'check' shows zero dollars, I think it will be okay." I swear she lifted the corner of her lip in an inadvertent snarl. She told me to put my head on the white square cushion of the eye test box. Which meant I had to stand up, reach across the counter, grab that contraption and drag it to the edge, then sit back down and look into it. Wouldn't want her to move a centimeter to do her job. Then she told me to sit in the other chair for my picture. Yeah. They do it sitting down now. She said to look at the blue dot. I did. I looked. Focused my gaze. Waited. Took a breath. Blinked. Stared until my eyes almost lost focus. Bli--. SHE SNAPPED THE PICTURE.

Oh, what a picture it was! She gave me the copy of my new license on piece of paper. Said the plastic one would come in the mail in seven to ten days. I looked at the picture. "This does not look like me. Can you take another one?"

"No. Not with this new face recognition software. We can only re-take if your eyes are closed." WENCH! My eyes were half-closed. I know she waited until just that moment when my expression was most unflattering. I called my mom again on the way home. She seemed to think I was exaggerating.

Until she saw the picture on Friday.

Friday, February 8, 2013

The Face That Launched a Thousand Quips

If laughter is the best medicine, I can eradicate all manner of ailments heretofore deemed incurable.

I am not putting on airs concerning my comedy-writing talents. Nor am I polishing a stand-up routine that will make Jay Leno fire up one of his vintage autos, drive halfway cross-country, and come knocking on my door. Nope. I hold the remedy for what ails mankind in my palm. Here. Look at this 8.5 by 11 printout with my temporary license to drive. It is the presumed likeness of my face on my renewed driver's license photo.

Seriously. You did not actually think I was going to post the picture, did you? Although I could. And still remain anonymous. Because it looks nothing like me. That's not just me wistfully looking in a mirror labeled Caution: Objects in mirror are prettier than they appear.

My new photo makes the mug shots of Nick Nolte, Phil Spector, and Randy Travis look like Glamor Shots.

Everybody I showed that monstrosity to said the same thing. "It doesn't even look like you!" Unfortunately, they did not zip the lip right there. Oh, no. They had to embellish.

"You've got to be kidding me!"

"Why does your head look"

"That's hilarious!"

"That's a mug shot!"

"What's wrong with your eyes?"


Okay. So that's a few quips short of a thousand. I'm saving the rest for tomorrow. In fact, I can stretch this cow out for two or three more days of milking. The thoughts (vocalized) of my mom when she saw the picture left me feeling a bit un-nurtured.

A description does not do it justice. But I'll try. My new driver's license photo makes me look like the accelerated-aging hermaphroditic daughter of George Lopez and Roseanne Barr (from the first season of her series), afflicted with a lazy eye and the mask of pregnancy, sporting a mullet, who swallowed too many balloons of heroin.

Last night, a virused Genius returned home around 8:00, hacking and coughing about losing to both schools at the academic matche after school. We commiserated about his lack of fashionable clothing to wear to tonight's Sweetheart Dance, where his presence was required to return the Sweetheart King's crown that has perched on his closet shelf for 52 weeks. I told him a white shirt with khaki pants would make him look like supermarket groups who bag groceries for tips on the weekend. As he started upstairs, I told him to take a look at my new driver's license picture.

"HAR HAR HAR!" I heard him a floor above and two rooms away. "This is the BEST THING that's happened to me ALL DAY! I'm going to take a picture of it and put it on Facebook!"

"NO! That's not gonna happen! I don't want the kids to see me!"

"It looks NOTHING like you!"

Let the record show that I might possibly have entered the Breathtaking Zone.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Not-Heaven Hath No Fury Like a Boy with a Damaged Package

Genius was having issues with his package last night.

He came to my dark basement lair for a consultation. And I with a shingle not even hung on my nonexistent door. "Did you or The Pony see my package when you got home?"

"No. I did not see your package. I'm sure The Pony would have mentioned it if he noticed. Or grabbed it on the way from the garage to the house. Your package would stick out like a sore thumb. It's not like we wouldn't see it."

"Well, I can't find my package. I looked everywhere! It's not by the door. It's not on the front porch. It's not on top of the doghouse on the back porch. It's not in the garage. My package is missing!"

"I don't know what to tell you. Did your dad have his dentist appointment today? Maybe he came home early and saw your package laying on the front porch and put it in his car. Here. I'll call him. Did you see Genius's package? All right. Just checking. He's preoccupied with his package tonight. Dad has no information on your package."

"FedEx says they left it here at 12:30. I hope those dogs didn't eat my package! I didn't see any bits of it in the front yard like when they ate Dad's Case Collector Knife. I am going to call FedEx and give them a piece of my mind! I think they are lying, and still have my package on their truck like that one time."

"Check one more time before you make a scene."

Off Genius went to the porch and garage. I didn't hear anything else from him. Hick arrived. Doors opened and slammed willy-nilly. I sent The Pony to inquire about Genius's precious package. Genius stomped downstairs to fill me in.

"I called FedEx and they said they left it in the garage. I told them it wasn't in the garage. They said they put it through the cat door. I went outside and saw that they had shoved it in the cat door, and Dad ran over it when he pulled into the garage. Idiots!"

"Is your package damaged? Can you still use it?"

"It was just photo paper. The box is crunched, but there's not much you can do to a stack of paper. Oh. And FedEx broke the cat door."

Where the FedEx man stuffed Genius's package:

 Where should the FedEx man have gently laid Genius's package? Inside the green door. There's a brick sidewalk showing the way.

FedEx might as well run a tab, after the yard trench debacle and offer of landscaping services. Do you know what happens when a country cat door is broken? Possum infestation. Possums LOVE dry cat food left in an old roasting pan alternately freezing and baking in an accessible garage.

If that dog-fearing FedEx man thought he was scared seeing cat eyes peering back at him when he used the proper door...wait until a possum hisses at him from the depths of the dark garage.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

A Finger in Name Only

Two posts ago, when people actually left comments, unlike the private chat room that section proved to be yesterday...a polite reader feigned interest in the tale of THE FAT RED PINKY FINGER. Not one to disappoint my vast readership, I present this account of what happens when septuagenarians ignore their body's cry for help. And take in relatives to provide shelter in a storm.

During the big ice storm of ought-six, our power vanished overnight. I had no desire to sit in my all-electric mansion with no heat, no light, no means of cooking, no water, no flushing, and no way to entertain two boys. Hick selflessly volunteered to call in late to work so he could drive us to my mom’s house twelve miles away, our storm oasis, a tiny island of power surrounded by an ocean of blackout.

Genius, then eleven, and The Pony, eight, took over Grandma’s TV and computer as soon as we arrived. I read the paper and chatted with her while she bustled about gathering snacks for the kids. The Pony was the first to notice something amiss. “Grandma, I don’t like it when you’re like this. You look depressed.” Mom set down a bowl of macaroni. She sucked in her breath, and grimaced.

“Are you all right?”

“Oh, I just bumped my finger. It’s been a little sore.”

“What’s wrong with it?”

“I had a hangnail that was bothering me. I tried to fix it with a needle, but it’s not getting better.”

“You can’t go poking at it with a needle!”

“I dipped the needle in alcohol, and used cotton balls soaked in Bactine. It only hurts when I hit it on something.”

“Let me see.”

“Do you think I should put some antibiotic ointment on it?”

That pinky finger was bright red, and swelled up big as a bratwurst. “Boys, get your shoes on. We’re going to the emergency room.”

The emergency room only had two patients. That tends to happen when the roads are coated with ice. The nurse took one look at that fat red pinky finger and hustled Mom back to an exam room. During her ninety-minute stay, various staff popped into the waiting room to ask if we were with somebody. “We’re with the finger.” They knew exactly what I meant. The doctor soaked Mom’s finger for twenty minutes, wrapped it in gauze, told her she had paronychia, gave her a penicillin pill, and told her to fill the prescription when the pharmacy opened the next day. [WARNING: DO NOT search for pictures of paronychia!]

Back at home after her soaking, Mom seemed in better spirits. The boys and I hoped she was on the mend. We’re the kind of freeloaders who need to be waited on hand, pinky finger, and foot. Hick went back to protect the homestead, armed with a kerosene heater and flashlight. We had eighty-five homes without electricity on our line, and no estimated repair time. It would turn out to be five days. Five days of the fat red pinky finger. The boys and I stayed with Mom. Hick worked by day, came to sit a spell with us in the evening, and then went back to sleep at home in the cold. I picked up Mom's antibiotics and made sure she took them on schedule.

Genius organized a team Scrabble game. He picked the teams and the names. His own team with The Pony and Grandma was called Geniuses. Funny how he named the team of Hick and me the Morons. I could not stand for that, and renamed us the Genius-Slapping Morons. To which The Pony declared we were the Dum-Dum Genius-Slapping Morons. Whatever. We spanked them. Not literally. Not that I’m averse to spanking kids when they need it. No, what I mean is that we beat them. Not literally. What I’m trying to say is that the score was 316 to 142, in favor of the Dum-Dum Genius-Slapping Morons. Our last play of forty-two points, adding the word “wove” in the lower left corner of the board, on the triple word score square, demoralized the competition. The Geniuses forfeited with only twelve letters left in the game. Woo Hoo! I beat an 8-year-old, an 11-year-old, and a little old lady with a systemic staph infection! Oh. I had a partner. Hick was the letter-drawer. He done good.

I think Mom might might have been ready for me to go home. In a power struggle over who got the long couch for a nap, she seemed to side with Genius. She gave him the best pillows and the soft blanket. I got one square pillow made of Berber carpet’s pillow-cover cousin, who was good at soaking up drool but left a relief map of the moon on my cheek, and a brown horse blanket. That thing could have been used as industrial-grade sandpaper. And Mom left my right foot out every time I asked her to cover me again.

The Pony walked around like a hunchbacked septuagenarian, clutching his sacroiliac with his right hand. According to him, “Grandma’s couch has a bar in it that hurts my back.” He spent four nights on the hide-a-bed, while Genius made the couch cushions into a bed on the floor. I took a bed upstairs. We were fast wearing out our welcome. Luckily the power was restored the night before school started up again. Hick bought a generator and two fake fireplaces to make sure that predicament would not befall us again.

The fat red pinky finger defied antibiotic intervention. Mom’s doctor referred her to an infection specialist after four rounds of antibiotics. The infection specialist referred her to an osteopathic orthopedic surgeon, who gave her a week to make a decision on his recommendation of amputation. “Well, I don’t guess I would miss it that much. I don’t use it for anything but cross-stitch.”

I put a stop to that talk and took Mom to a different orthopedic specialist, who performed surgery to scrape the bone. She still has her pinky-finger, though it’s a bit stiff.

We’ve had more ice storms, less severe, and weathered the power outages with our new generator and fake fireplaces. I can still whip children and old ladies at Scrabble. And nobody has lost any digits.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

At Play in the Field of Dreams

Dreams are funny things.

One minute you might be cruising along with the windows down, drinking a long-neck with your deceased father riding shotgun. And the next you are giving students balloons to blow up as a reward, when one of them chokes and you are afraid to do the Heimlich maneuver because you lost your CPR card.

My dreams often deal with word play. I can't always remember them past the first few hours, but this one from Saturday has me stumped. I was in the middle of pranking someone by using three versions of a word. Homonyms. Homophones, to be precise. The words were:


I have no idea from whence they sprang. Or where I was headed with my prank. I just find it odd that I would wake with those three words on my mind.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Something is Afoot Above

Hullo! Wot's this then?

Oh, dear. Excuse my fake Britishness. It creeps out sometimes when I am in a state of shock. Like this afternoon, for instance. The Pony and I had trouble crossing a medium thoroughfare because a never-ending cordon of cars cruised past. It was as if Tweety's grandma was on a Sunday drive, holding back traffic. Auto after auto passed by, at  slower speeds that normal. A helicopter flitted past, from east to west. It was not THIS helicopter.

No, THAT helicopter was of average proportions, such as many a helicopter seen over these parts in the past. A sightseeing voyage, perhaps. Or a news copter.

The bloated bird shown above came out of the east. Tweety's grandma's line of traffic was behind us, to the west. Nothing is to the east. Empty farmland populated by cows. The Mississippi River a county over. No major hubs of population. This gray chopper circled once and began its descent. Quite creepy. I knew it was setting down on the helipad of the local emergency facility. The other helicopters I've seen land there are petite, dainty things. White and red and blue.

The chopper in The Pony's hastily-snapped phone pic appears to belong to ARCH Air Medical Services. That's the closest thing I could find to compare to its bulbous shape and gray coloring. Unusual in this neck of Backroads. That ER is an ER in name only. It's not a trauma center. Has no beds. They greet and treat and send you to a real hospital. That's what they did with my gallstones and The Pony's broken elbow. Sure, they stitched up Genius's eyebrow, and soaked my mom's FAT RED PINKY FINGER in a solution prior to bandaging and referring her to an osteopath who wanted to lop it off.

I can't imagine anybody in need of an air ambulance going there, when fifteen minutes north or south could take them to a trauma center. Two totally different helicopters spotted within ten minutes. Not an everyday occurrence in Backroads.

Every picture tells a story. I'm just not clear on this one's plot.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

A Bit of the Scofflaw Blood Flows Through Val's Veins

On my way home from town shortly before noon, I let the Tahoe loose down the hill approaching the boundary of the city limits. A police car screeched to a stop from a side road, barely avoiding a broadside accident, or as some would probably term it, a good T-boning from me.

Let the record show that I was going approximately five miles over the speed limit. Hey! Those laws are made for people who don't know how to control their large SUVs. Besides, Genius said that his teacher told him on a robot team trip that police have a saying, "Nine, you're fine, ten, you're mine." Where she got her insider information, I don't know. It was so kind of her to enlighten beginning drivers on this corollary to the rules of the road.

The road from whence the patrol car nearly came flying has a twenty mph speed limit. I know that for a fact, Jack. I cut through there to go from town to the bowling alley. It runs past an elementary school. And those signs do NOT say when school is in session and children are present. Twenty mph is the speed limit all the livelong day. 24/7/365.

The policeman and I glanced at each other. Furitively. Like college acquaintances encountering each other in an adult bookstore on the edge of town. Not that I would know anything about that. We nodded. And went on about our business. I slowed down, and he tore out of there like a ninth-grade boy on his way to the cafeteria at the first clang of the lunch bell. Without lights and sirens.

Rules. Made to be broken. By Val and the law.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

What Evil Lurks in the Hearts of Women?

For a certain portion of my checkered past, I worked for the Missouri Division of Employment Security. I did not help people find jobs. That was the other side of the office. I was an enforcer of sorts. I started as a an E.S. Deputy, and rose through the ranks to the lofty job of E.S. Technician. Deputies filed the claims, and inspected the work search logs of claimants every four weeks. Face to face. Pressed for time. Moved the masses. Technicians were the judge, jury, and wanna-be executioners. They worked mainly by phone, with a headset, calling employers and claimants to get both sides of the story on separation details. Occasionally a claimant would come in to give a statement in person.

A technician had a finite number of cases to adjudicate. Once that was done, he could be pulled to assist with the deputy duties, or catch up the filing, or help with the mail. I loved that job. If you had any kind of people-reading skills at all, it was a fascinating process. Sometimes it was obvious that both claimant and employer were lying through their teeth. So you  were swayed to the side of the lesser liar. We had a protocol for denials and the assessment of penalty weeks. The key thing to remember was that every decision had to be made based on the last incident that caused the separation. Didn't matter if Bob had been late nineteen times that month, and was told that he'd be fired the next time he was late. If he had a flat tire and called in per company policy to report his impending lateness, there were no grounds for dismissal in our book. No penalty.

My cubemate was a classy lady we'll call "Grace." We sat at the two front cubicles of the double row of technicians. Like pilots. Engineers. Facing the cabooses of the deputies and their supervisor. The public did not come back to our section unless scheduled to give a statement. We were pretty much left to our own devices. The technicians scheduled for a two-hour call block were not to receive incoming calls unless asked for by name. When not making calls to gather information, we made decisions and wrote out our reasoning. It was common to look over the rose-colored fabric partition made through the sweat of the brows of Missouri Department of Corrections inmates and ask for input from a cubemate on borderline cases.

I was a relative newbie, and Grace was a seasoned veteran. She was a throwback to more genteel times. She wore died-to-match pumps. Tasteful wigs. A skirt and sweater set every day. Pastel. She was quite prim and proper, always polite, looked up to by the rest of us. I was quite comfortable under her wing, learning the ropes.

Throughout the day, a technician would catch bits of one-sided conversations, some mundane, some titillating, some a doggone cryin' shame. But we were fair to a fault. Always followed our guidelines, even though one might mutter, upon disconnecting, "No wonder that guy got fired." Or, "That story won't fly." Or, "They were just looking for an excuse to get rid of him."

Three months into the job, I felt like I knew Grace. I saw her swivel her chair to face me across the shoulder-high partition. She was just wrapping up a claimant statement call. She thanked the person on the other end of the line for the information. Unplugged her headset wire from the phone. And said clearly, though not loudly, "XXXX XXXXXX." Sorry. I can't bring myself to type her actual words. Let's just say that it was an expression describing one who might, for a share of the purse, ride upon the back of a beast found in arid regions of the eastern hemisphere, known for its ability to store water in a protuberance found upon its dorsal side.

My mouth dropped open. Grace's blue eyes met my hazel. She smiled, and turned to write up her statement.

It was as if The Baby Jesus had been kidnapped from a church nativity scene, taken on a bar tour of the neighborhood, and returned talking like Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog.

Grace had not been kidnapped.

Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of women? Val knows.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Two Bits, Four Bits, Six Bits, a Dollar! If You're Over Thirty, Stand Up and Holler!

Let's hear it for old people.

That's right. You heard me. Because I'm old. Or maybe you didn't. Because you're old. But it wasn't for lack of me trying to get out the message.

Kids these days! And by kids, I mean anybody under thirty. They can't be bothered with us oldies. We are in the way of their pleasure. Haven't you noticed that in your dealings with folks who serve the public? Clerks, waitresses, tellers, cashiers. We bother them. They don't want to look at us. They want to get us out of their way as soon as humanly, retaining-employment possible.

We cut into their valuable time, you know. Time that could better be used to roll their eyes behind our backs. Ride a kitchen broom like a stick-horse. Text friends working in other minimum-wage jobs. Sext their significant others. Tweet that they just waited on the most annoying old geezer who expected them to carry food to the table, and only left a ten percent tip.

Our fellow old people, on the other liver-spotted hand, revel in serving us. We are kindred spirits. A chat of ten to fifteen minutes is not uncommon, as long as there is no line backing up. Old people are pleased as punch to have gainful employment in order to supplement their income so they don't have to eat cat food. Which is, perhaps, an outdated reference, when one knows that one can get a new McDonald's caramelized onion burger for less than the cost of Fancy Feast.

Old people do not know how to text. Perhaps they USED TO sext, back when it was called flashing. None of that eye-rolling for them. You never know when your eyes might get stuck like that. And you will never, ever catch an old folk riding a kitchen broom like a stick-horse. They could break a hip, you know. An old person will not hesitate to tell you about Aunt Bertha's compromised sacroiliac, or complain how people these days take their babies out at all hours of the night without even putting shoes on their tiny sock feet. AND they will count back your change with authority.

Let's hear it for old people.