Wednesday, October 31, 2012

And a Little Pony Shall Lead Them

A colleague tracked me down this afternoon. Not with bloodhounds, and cops waving nightsticks, and heat-seeking helicopters, and fine-tooth-comb-gone-over photos from Google Earth. Nope. He went about it in the usual way, dropping by my classroom, where I wasn't, and interrogating the silent Pony, who sang like a canary that I was out on the parking lot performing afternoon duty.

My colleague, we'll call him Mr. KIA, for reasons known to the students, strolled over to the concrete retaining wall upon which I had plopped. I do that when all the action dies down. Mainly to watch the lingerers, the kids who treat the parking lot (of the school which they proclaim to detest attending) like their own personal tailgate arena. I would not be surprised if the aroma of grilling brats wafted across that blacktop expanse.

"I have a problem," said Mr. KIA. "And you're the solution." Which was not a statement that was music to my ears, having been the solution for previous problems, one of which involved carting Mr. KIA and his family across town from a broken-down car to a repair shop to pick up the just-fixed car.

Mr. KIA is in charge of the school's entries for the VFW Voice of Democracy Speech Contest. He was on an official mission. Both of my boys entered. Genius is a two-time winner and previous placer. This is The Pony's first rodeo, he having just arrived at the high school campus this year.

"I have good news. And bad news," said Mr. KIA. "Your son won. And your son did not win." The results are secret until the big reveal. But Mr. KIA has to notify the winner, because the winner must record his speech again for submission for further rounds of the contest. Monetary awards are given for the top five places. First place is worth $100.

The Pony won the contest.

Mr. KIA was a bit beside himself. "I'm not sure what to do. I have no influence on the judges. It's a blind contest. No names. The judges listen to the entire audio tape of speeches. They don't know who is who. I can't tell anybody the places. Only the winner. But I'm telling you, because I know The Pony has been sick, and he MUST be at school tomorrow to record his speech for submission. Even if he's sick, can you bring him in before school to give his speech?"

"I'll make sure he's here, no matter what."

"That's a relief. Otherwise, he forfeits the win. I'll leave it up to you to tell Genius that he didn't win this year."

"Oh, I think he can find out when it's announced. Like everybody else."

In retrospect, I think I see what Mr. KIA was getting at. Perhaps I should tip him off. It's not every day that a 12th-grade MIT prospect with an ACT score of 35 is beaten in a speech contest by his 9th-grade brother.

The Pony is moderately excited. Not for the money. Money is of little value to him. He is over the moon on cloud nine because he has earned the honor of the title. WINNER. Of the VFW Voice of Democracy Speech Contest 2012.

Well done, my little Pony.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A Conglomeration of Dummies

I spent the afternoon hanging around with a bunch of dummies.

We had CPR training after school. I've had it before, even more thorough than this presentation, in another district. Once you've been trained in unchoking people, or restarting their ticker, you never really forget how. It's like riding a bicycle, but without the wind in your hair.

Times have changed. Now we watch a video of actors performing CPR, rather than listen to a presenter from the American Red Cross. The resuscitables are mere slick plastic torsos that light up at the shoulder when you're pumping them right. Gone is Resusci-Annie in her navy blue track suit, whose floppy legs the coaches so loved to tie in knots. Gone, too, the dummy infant.

Which reminds me of my precious Baby Genius. He was only six or eight months old at the time. We were visiting my mother, who sat Baby Genius on her knee and fed him candy orange slices. I KNOW! I told her not to do that. She replied, "He's not EATING them, honey. He doesn't even have teeth. I'm just letting him suck the sugar off the outside. He loves it!" And we see how Baby Genius got started down the road of spoilitude.

I should have commanded Mom to stop with the orange slices already. But you know how it is. You never know when you might need Mom to babysit, so you don't want to ruffle any mother hen feathers. She went on plying Baby Genius with sticky jelly candies, and I reclined on the couch reading the local paper. Until I heard a "GAAAAASP!" A sudden intake of air. Squealing, almost. It's what my mom does when she panics. She's done it her whole life, ever since I can remember. She sucks all the air out of the universe, then freezes. Whatever calamity was about to befall her will just have to happen. Because Mom has given up. A kangaroo could punch her, a grizzly bear could maul her, a giant anaconda could crawl out of the swamp and swallow her. All while she remained immobile, eyes bugged out, mouth dropped open.

I jumped off that couch in a jiffy. Baby Genius had his eyes bugged out, too. His baby blues registered surprise. He made no noise. Mom stared at him. And at the half of a candy orange slice between her thumb and finger. I grabbed Baby Genius and flipped him over on my left forearm. Not an easy feat. He was a healthy baby. I lowered his head. Held his chin on my palm with my thumb and index finger, so his head didn't flop around. Kind of wedged his right leg up under my armpit so I didn't drop him. I thumped him on the back with the heel of my right hand. Once. Twice.

A gob of gummy goo shot out of his mouth. Baby Genius started to scream. Mom regained her voice. "I won't give him orange slices any more."

If you've never been trained in CPR or the Heimlich Maneuver, you might want to check into a first aid class. You never know when you might use it.

Monday, October 29, 2012

I'd Like You to Meet My Little Friend

Here's a free physics lesson for you. You're welcome. I strive to be Val Physicsseed, spreading knowledge across the nation.

This morning The Pony and I were nearly flattened by an oncoming dump truck. It was pulling a trailer holding a backhoe, as trucks on our blacktop county road are wont to do. I crested a hill and saw my imminent doom barreling toward my Tahoe's grill. Some inhuman sound that originated deep in my throat may or may not have escaped my lips. I veered for the ditch which would be a shoulder on a normal road, and jammed on my brakes. Anti-lock. I know that, because a light on my dashboard told me for the next mile.

A collision was narrowly avoided when Dumpy swerved himself back into his designated lane. Items in my nonpressurized cabin flew around like so much space shuttle detritus. Only faster. My large plastic free hospital cup of ice and water wedged itself under the heating control box, thankfully saving me from a day without sweet, sweet well water. A stubby recycled garlic butter cup full of change slid from one end of my inch-deep console top to the other, along a non-skid rubber strip. A screw appeared out of nowhere. I hope nothing falls off in the next few trips.

But the main casualty of this Law of Inertia lesson was a pill. A tidbit of medication that I take just before arrival at work. I could take it with the others during breakfast, but it is a heart-rate slower. It makes me feel like I'm walking underwater in a deep-sea-diver suit as I enter the building. So I take it right before we get there, and I don't notice the immediate effects for the first thirty minutes like I would otherwise. I always put it on the top of the inch-deep console compartment where I don't have to fish for it.

In case you are not on speaking terms with Newton's First Law of Motion, aka the Law of Inertia, allow me to introduce you. An object at rest tends to stay at rest, or continue in motion at the same speed and direction, unless acted upon by an outside force. There. Shake hands with him. He's a reliable kind of guy.

That pill sailed along at forty miles per hour while the rest of the Tahoe stopped. Sailed along. To parts unknown. It was not even missed until after I pulled over at an opportune farm road entrance and turned off the Tahoe, then turned it back on. That cleared my brake light on the dash. So I assumed it made my brakes work normally again. I'm a science teacher, not a mechanic.

Half a mile down the road, I looked for my pill. I don't know why. It's not like my heart was racing from the shot of adrenaline that dump truck injected into it. MY PILL WAS GONE! We were already late, due to the near-death experience, and Genius being left home sick with a fever. I couldn't go back for another pill. I hit the lettered county road, then the short cut past the bowling alley. I pulled over at the alley.

The Pony was put to lookin' for that pill. "It's white," I explained. "Like an aspirin." I sorted through the stack of white tissues by the drink holders. No pill. I looked in the drink-holder wells. No pill. The Pony scoured the passenger seat and floor. It should have been simple to spot that pill on the black leather and carpet. No pill. I had just about decided to go on to school, ask for a sub, and go home to spend the day with sick Genius, where another pill awaited.

One last try. "Pony. I'm going to climb out, and you look really good under my seat, and in between it and the console." I stepped down. The Pony walked up to peer into the driver's side. He leaned over. Reached up under the dash, behind the brake pedal, and picked that pill off the black carpet past the custom floor mat.

Mr. Newton, a simple pill can travel quite far at forty miles per hour before gravity drags him down, and he slams into the front of the driver's compartment.

I'll bet you thought that inch-high console lip would stop it. You must have forgotten that the Tahoe had just come over the hill, and was headed down the other side when I anti-locked my brakes. That pill sailed along in a straight line until gravity pulled it down and it hit the floor in front of the brake pedal. It ended up on the left side of the Tahoe, because I had veered to the right, toward the ditch. The Pony and I had been dead wrong in looking for it straight ahead, and on the passenger side.

Mr. Newton is never wrong where motion is concerned.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

A Jarring Experience

There have been some improvements to our infrastructure out here in Backroads.

A blacktop byway notorious for its rough surface received a major makeover last week. That section of road was a nightmare. The city had put in sewers or a drainage system under the road. The resulting patch job made the eighth-mile strip a cobbled conglomerate of differently-elevated platforms. A toddler could have seen the need to apply a single coating of asphalt, run over it with a roller, ensure the edges were lower than the middle for drainage purposes, and slap some sealer on top. Voila! Yes. The proverbial toddler was fluent in French.

It seemed that the city fathers had accepted the lowest bid on the original job. With no reservations. Driving over that segment of thoroughfare was like steering the lunar module over uneven green-cheese terrain. Lowe's could have set up a mobile service department to shake their paint by hauling gallons of Sherwin Williams across that rough patch. The large metal manhole lid was elevated, sitting atop a mini-Everest of faded blacktop. It made a clanging noise each time the tire-Sherpas carried an automobile up and over the peak. Not one smooth segment, but approximately forty-eight contiguous multi-level segments of various fade-itude comprised that compromised roadway. Had it been an article of clothing, it would have been Dolly Parton's coat of many colors. Except that rather than cut-up scraps of cloth from donated clothing, it would have been scraps of unwanted asphalt poured by traveling con-men assuring you that they were doing you a favor by giving you a deal on the material left over from a job down the street, and rather than being many colors, it would have been monochromatic, and instead of keeping a schoolgirl warm, it would have broken the back of an Olympic-level weightlifter. But other than was just like Dolly's coat of many colors.

Now, that street is as smooth as a baby's bottom. Not that I'd ever drive over a baby's bottom with my Tahoe.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

What's the Difference Between Southwest Airlines and a Prostitute? Nothing. They Both...

Hick returned home from his week-long east coast trip last night. Without his baggage.

He never checks anything except his suitcase full of clothes. But this time, he had to leave behind his tools and his clean uniforms, because he will be going back to finish the job. He had to buy a cheap bag (ten dollars to be exact) to take up the slack for his left-behind bag. He carried on his travel bag of medication, and the cheap bag of personal clothes, because he knew it would be beat to $!*#.  He included in his checked rolling suitcase his steel-toed work boots, his recently obtained orthotics, his breather, his dirty underwear and socks, and his Crestor. I don't know why Crestor is in the doghouse. Why he couldn't ride with the cool meds in the pressurized cabin. But I'm not here to defend a shunned statin. The checked bag was lost between Boston and Chicago.

Hick said the Southwest people promised to deliver his lost bag to our house today. I laughed. I've watched those airport shows. On the Fly, specifically about Southwest Airlines, on TLC. And Airport 24/7 on The Travel Channel. And Baggage Battles. I told Hick, "Yeah. Sure. They're going to deliver it to your house? I don't think so. Right now it's probably in an aircraft hanger with 50,000 other bags, waiting for people to bid on it at auction. Boy, is somebody going to be mad when they pay a couple thousand dollars for your breather and dirty underwear!"

Hick insisted that he was told the bag would be delivered by Fed Ex. Until this morning. when Southwest called to tell him that his bag had arrived in St. Louis, and they would have it here by Tuesday. Having already gone the night without breathing, needing his Crestor, and requiring his steel-toed boots for work Monday, Hick waxed cantankerous. Sorry. Southwest can only deliver lost baggage within a radius of thirty miles. Otherwise, they have to contract the job, which takes longer. You know. Because people who travel all live within thirty miles of an airport.

So Hick planned to drive to the airport for his bag of vitals. He was promised a one-hundred-dollar travel voucher for his trouble. But he didn't really want to spend the day driving to and from the airport. So he called back and asked if the driver could meet him halfway, at his workplace. Sure thing. Within a four-hour window of time. However, the driver called before leaving, so the transfer was made without a hitch. But there was no voucher.

On the bright side, Hick will be breathing all night, with even-keel cholesterol, a pile of dirty socks and underwear back under his own roof, dreaming of how safe his toes will be at work next week.

Friday, October 26, 2012

That's Not a Regular Item on my Shopping List

I had a day off from school today. That's because we stayed late Tuesday and Thursday for parent conferences. A total of nine hours late. And for that, we were rewarded with a day off. A school day, which totals seven hours and fifteen minutes if you count the latest time we may arrive, and the earliest time we may leave. We need to get a math teacher on the calendar committee.

A day off is never really a day off for Val. It's just a day of different duties that need doing. The plan was to pay some bills and complete the shopping. My faithful assistant, The Pony, was not available. He spent the night at Grandma's, and was no doubt laying on her couch, being fanned with palm leaves, and fed seedless grapes while hearing what a smart and handsome and helpful boy he is. Genius has never been a good gofer. But if you need anything electronic tweaked or taken out of the box and set up to run in 3.5 seconds, he's your guy. He appeared as I was getting ready to leave.

"While you're at Walmart, will you buy me a syringe?"

Thank goodness I had not yet procured my 44 oz. Diet Coke. A clip-show-worthy spit-take might have befouled my laptop. Genius always says I blow everything out of proportion. This request was no exception. Even though I uttered no words. A minimum-wage haircutter once told me I had very expressive eyes. Right after she butchered my tresses. So I'm thinking the horrific nature of this request registered in my facial expression.

"Yeah, Mom. I'm shooting heroin."

"I can't walk into Walmart and pick up a syringe! Those are behind the counter in the pharmacy! And you have to have a prescription or something. Or get it with diabetes medicine."

"Dad is diabetic. Tell them that."

"He takes a pill. I am NOT going to ask for a syringe! Why do you need a syringe? You panic when you get a shot."

"My printer has an ink clog. I want to shoot air into it to unclog it."

"Don't we have a can of air?"

"We used up our air. And besides, that straw isn't thin enough for where I want to stick it."

"How about a baby medicine plastic syringe thing? Like you use to shoot liquid medicine down a baby's throat?"

"That won't be pointy enough, probably. Maybe something for cooking."

"That would be like a big turkey baster. Definitely not pointy enough."

"I guess you can get me a small can of air."

Let the record show that our Walmart only stocks large cans of air. But they DO have a flavor injector on the cooking gadget aisle. Which looks like a syringe, with a separate needle attachment that looks all pointy. Until you open the package, and see that the holes in that needle are on the sides, not the tip.

Heroin shooters, take note.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Crouching Low Amidst the Four-Leaf Clovers

In the fall, an old gal's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of blood. Bloodletting. Hatchets chopping. Witches on broomsticks. Cauldrons bubbling with eyes of newts. Black cats darting across one's path.

Hold on there. Back this blog up.

If a black cat crossing your path brings you bad luck...does a white cat crossing your path bring you good luck?

I would love to be the buster of this myth, but alas, the white cat that darted in front of my Tahoe suddenly thought better of his possum-road-crossing ways. He turned on a dime and shot back from whence he had come. Namely, the swaying weeds at the edge of the blacktop.That flighty feline made a beeline for the roadside faster than a plump wallet attached to fishing line manned by a gang of young toughs.

So...if the anti-black cat brings good luck upon path crossing, does this mean my good luck is being revoked?

I just can't catch a break. They're so much more elusive than airborne pathogens at a convenient care clinic.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Val is Sorely Lacking in Christmas Cheer

Remember how, when you were a kid, you stayed awake Christmas Eve in anticipation of Santa's visit? What great fun it was to imagine what he was leaving under the tree? The joy of tearing into those packages once the clock struck six, the earliest time you were allowed to wake your parents and raid the stockpile of gifts?

I felt like that today. I have been sick since Monday night. I called the doctor yesterday to see if I could have some medicine called in to my pharmacy. A little something for a burning chest and green phlegm. I could not get there in time last night. So today, I called the pharmacy to make sure my presents were wrapped and ready for pick-up. Indeed. Two medicinal gifts were awaiting Val at her earliest convenience. The thought got me through the day. An antibiotic, I presumed, for the green phlegm. And some cough medicine to liquify it and expel it without unproductively-coughing my fool head off every sixty seconds.

Remember how, when you were a kid, you ripped open a package and saw that your grandma had given you a twelve-pack of tube socks?

I felt like that today. I arrived at the pharmacy around four. The clerk hauled out a flat package. A FLAT package. It could no more contain a bottle of cough medicine than a wrapped-up Norman Rockwell calendar could contain an Easy Bake Oven. I inquired as to what happened to my Easy Bake Oven--er--my cough medicine. The clerk pointed out that the doctor had prescribed Mucinex to the tune of twenty pills for $23. Which is an over-the-counter med he prescribed, which is not covered by either of my two insurances. When he could have prescribed over-the-counter Robitussin for less than $8. Or a prescription cough liquifier for $4. Neither of which contains pseudoephedrine, a drug which I am not keen on consuming, which is a major component of this new, behind-the-counter Mucinex. C'mon. I'm not looking to make meth.

Remember how, when you were a kid, you ripped open a package and saw that your step-grandma had given you a single pair of tighty-whities to share with your brother?

I felt like that today. The antibiotic my doctor had prescribed was azithromycin. The insert of which warned against driving until I see how my body will react, due to dizziness being a side effect. I'm a working woman (not THAT kind) who must drive herself to work. Who has been having bouts of dizziness since the weekend, along with some ear pain upon swallowing. Oh, and azithromycin is no friend of antacids. Which I take every day. So their fractious relationship pretty much blows the USS Val Takes Azithromycin out of the water.

Sometimes, I just feel like shouting, "BAH! HUMBUG!"

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Crossing Boundaries Like a Wallenda Over Niagara Falls

Val has been feeling a bit prickly lately. As prickly as the formerly smooth buttocks of a toddler who wanders in from the wading pool, only to topple backwards into the earthenware pot holding Grandma's cactus.

Even you, my dear enablers, would be outraged by the fate that befell me this evening. I am livid. Spitting mad. Ready to spew vitriol with more zeal than a disgruntled camel.

It all started with the meeting. A meeting of parents interested in learning more about scholarship opportunities for their young 'uns. Deadlines, the filling out of forms, tricks and tips, etc. Before the meeting was called to order, I arrived at the venue. I cooled my heels browsing through the library stacks. A free moment is a terrible thing to waste. As an insider, I had access to the room before it was free of a lingering meeting which convened before the scholar escapades. I could hear the incoming mob outside the door. Like Vandals, unused to biding their time, eager for the pillaging to commence.

I stepped out from the stacks when the presenter announced that the crowd could enter. She encouraged attendees to sign in, and pick up one each of the seventeen stacks of material on the table. As I took my first step, the horde surged past me. I narrowly avoided spinning like a cartoon Tasmanian Devil. Unwilling to lose an arm in the maelstrom of thrashing talons, I headed for a table at the edge of the library, with the intent to come back to the materials when the hubbub died down.

I found a chair at the end of an empty table. Upon the table in front of that chair, I placed my stack of note paper, topped by the grade report of The Pony. I laid my red rolling writer upon the grade report. And lastly, I set my new bifocals on top of the grade report. Like a beltless raincoat draped over a theater chair, my accoutrements signaled TAKEN. They could not have been mistaken as a mere pile of discarded scratch paper. After all, my personal touches were evident. A grade report with my son's name on it. Bifocals, for cryin' out loud.

Many of you who moonlight in forensics for the FBI might have surmised by now that something untoward is about to occur. That my personal territory-markers, tooting a tin horn with exuberant Christmas glee like Gizmo, the original Gremlin, are about to be drenched with Stripe spit. Figuratively, of course.

I returned from my information-gathering sortie, only to find that an unsavory segment of the mob had rushed my saved table like uncouth hillbillies stampeding from their neck of the woods to a town that lost its power, in an effort to grab their unfair share of the vittles being served up by the Red Cross. A self-important woman, a high priestess, perhaps, of the Vandals, had already directly linked her nether regions with the cushion of my saved chair. She was PASSING MY STACK OF PAPERS, PEN, AND BIFOCALS over the heads of other usurpers seated near her. "Here. Here. Somebody take this." Not merely pushing it aside. Pretending it wasn't marking my saved place. She was actively, aggressively, PASSING MY STACK OF PAPERS, PEN, AND BIFOCALS over various and sundry heads, attempting to dispose of the evidence.

I strode to her side. "Those are my papers. Give them to me. It looks like I'm sitting somewhere else."

She did not even have the common decency to cower before me. To make an excuse. In fact, I thought I was going to have to lean my ample bosom onto her head to hold still her swaying, like that of a King Cobra menacing before a strike. I recovered the tools of my trade while the howling jackals looked on, unabashed.

I retreated to the opposite end of the room, and sat in a seat that mirrored hers, the one that used to be mine. It was a great angle for giving her the stinkeye the rest of the evening.

Monday, October 22, 2012

I Want to Thank You, Rae Donna...

Sometimes I wish I was Julia Sugarbaker. Not only would I be rolling in old money, and have a healthy superiority complex thanks to my sister Suzanne, but I would also be quite comfortable espousing my opinion on any subject under the sun.

I am going to wear Julia's hat tonight. Not so much her hat as her pearls. A strand of pearls which I refuse to ever-so-slightly suck on, just to make the photographer from the Women of Atlanta pictorial essay happy. In the spirit of Julia's bashing of Ray Don Simpson, I present...

I Want to Thank You, Rae Donna...

You're the gal who darts in front of us at the copy machine on our planning period. You want to run 100 double-sided copies of a 16-page document, stapled. You expect us to monitor your job while you dash back to your classroom. You expect us to clear jams when the machine stops. You'd like us to put in paper if it runs out. And I want to thank you, Rae Donna, on behalf of all the harried teachers in the world, for your absentminded actions and total lack of copier etiquette. But read my lips and remember, as hard as it is to believe, sometimes, we like running copies without your papers left in the drawer making double exposures on ours, and sometimes we just like stopping the job you have abandoned.

There. I feel better.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

I KNEW There was a Conspiracy Afoot

Ah...autumn in Missouri. Temperatures in the fifties Saturday afternoon, and in the upper seventies Sunday.

Thank goodness our air conditioner broke this summer when temps hovered at one-hundred-seven for several days. Because now we have a working AC/heating unit. Funny how at first the repair guy put in coolant. Then a week later, upon the second breakdown, said we needed the whole heat pump thingy replaced. Oh, and on his way out, decided that maybe the thermostat was the problem. So he hooked us up with a new one. Free of charge. And even took the old one to dispose of.

Everything has been working throughout the late summer and fall. Cool nights? Hick switched it over to heat upon rising in the crisp morning chill. And when Genius got home from school first, he put it back on cool to maintain comfort. I, myself, have not inspected the new thermostat. The old one gave me a headache. It was top of the line. State of the art. A gadget man's gadget. Only the best for Hick. He is like my dad used to be about owning only Craftsman tools. If he was a car man, he would walk around spouting, "Porsche. There IS no substitute." And he would not be quoting Tom Cruise as Joel Goodson in Risky Business.

That old thermostat was a cool dude. Like Ferris Bueller. It would hold the heat, hold the cool. Heck, it would have held the pickle, held the lettuce, and sang, "...special orders don't upset us," like a squeaky clean teen in 1973 Burger King commercial. He was simply amazing. He could bring home the bacon and fry it up in the pan, all the while never letting Hick forget he was a man. Not to say that Thermo was feminine, or a wearer of Enjoli or anything. He and I peacefully co-existed. Hick would sometimes program him to run cold during winter days, and warm up just before we got home. Saw that he kicked it down a notch overnight, while were were tucked snug as bugs in rugs with visions of comfortable temperatures dancing in our heads.

The new thermostat is a piece of crap.

Today I felt a bit warm upon ascending from my cool basement lair to prepare the evening meal. I knew Thermy had been set on heat for the recent spate of cool days and nights. I stopped by to take a look. No door to open like Thermo used to have. Thermy simply had a button on the front to slide amongst four settings. Emergency, heat, off, cool. That's it. I called for Genius. Asked him to put it on the setting that would run the heat at night, and the AC during the day. He laughed. "That piece of crap doesn't have one."

Hick is going on a business trip tomorrow. I must be able to fend for myself in the event that Genius is out gallivanting around. When Hick tromped in for supper, I asked him about the new thermostat. How to make it heat and cool without manually switching settings. "Oh, you just put it on AUTO." I heard Genius chuckle. He hollered that no such setting existed on Thermy. Hick begged to differ. He turned on the light. He fetched his glasses. He poked and prodded. "Huh."

So we have the cheapest thermostat in the history of the world. Except, perhaps, for some prehistoric creature that Fred and Wilma Flintstone used for their heating and cooling needs. Like their point-beaked bird to play their phonograph records. And their pelican trash can and warthog garbage disposal.

This situation will be remedied forthwith upon Hick's return.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

You Can't Teach Inspiration

Sometimes I think Genius should scrap the whole college education plan and loll about in his bedroom, inventing. Sure, it doesn't pay very well. But it doesn't cost a lot, either. He's a scavenger, that boy. When we were picking up the clutter for the impending visit of his gasoline-bomb crony, we found a mysterious object on the kitchen counter, in the area where Hick tosses items he has no use for, but can't bear to discard.

"What's this thing? It looks like some kind of battery pack."

"Mom. That's the light pack for the cap you gave Dad for Christmas. The one where the lights clipped onto the bill. He broke the clip."

"So it's no good anymore? It can't be strapped on a cap as a headlight to feed the goats after dark?"

"Not really. It's junk."

"Toss it."

"WAIT! Give it to me. I'll take the LED lights out of it. I can use them."

He's a cannibalizer, that boy. Bits of wire here. Switches there. Relays, whatever they are. Circuit board thingies. It's beyond me. He has a knack for creating things he needs. At least he's dealing in electronic items, not digging up body parts and zapping life into a Frankenstein.

He's selective in his creations, though. He's been developing his own film in the kitchen sink for a couple of weeks. He showed me a somewhat sepia, somewhat black-and-white print of Mount Rushmore that he took on vacation two years ago. As he was extending his arm, the photo was backlit by a floor lamp. "Wow! Look at that! It's so cool!" I turned to admire his handiwork. He was right.

"You need to get one of those frames that light up the picture. I saw them on The Celebrity Apprentice a couple of years ago."

"Those things are expensive."

"Make your own."

"I could totally do that. But where would I put it? I don't have room on my desk. I'm not going to drill into the wall to hang it. I'm leaving home in six months. That would be a waste."

So much for that idea. It's like he had it all worked out. Designed it, built it, framed the pic, and decided that there was no place for it. Easy as pie.

Not all of his inventions are gems. There was the idea of the car that converts into a plane. You know. For quick trips to Walmart. Never mind that there would have to be landing areas and parking places for planes. And flight plans. And operator's licenses. Those details were of no concern to him. Not his fault if folks didn't look where they were going, and flaming car-planes plummeted from the sky onto the unsuspecting citizenry. (There really is such a car-plane, you know. I've seen one somewhere like a Hammacher Schlemmer catalog.)

Likewise, his plan to deliver mail to individual homes through vacuum tubes like those used at the bank drive-thru was not well-thought-out. First, the expense of digging underground tube tunnels. Then the question of how the canisters would know where to go. And collisions at tube intersections. And where to store all the canisters, And what about the lack of pressure if everybody decided they wanted their mail at the same time. And how to clear a clogged tube. And would there be giant tubes from postal hubs to local post offices. The only positive I could see was the opportunity to avoid entering the dead-mouse-smelling post office.

I'm sure Genius is not the only inventor to conjure up duds. Surely even George Washington Carver came up with a couple of yucky peanut recipes. Thomas Edison produced 99 % perspiration. Leonardo da Vinci cobbled those unbalanced water-walking shoes. And still, they did all right for themselves.

I doubt any of them burned their arm on the oven heating element reaching in to get a tray of potato skins.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Quick, Toss Me That Antidote

I am not feeling like myself today. Something is percolating. Bubbling to the surface. I can't stop it. It's about to erupt like a grossly-overloaded zit being squeezed and recorded for posterity on YouTube.

I have the urge to commend somebody for a job well done.

Yeah. It feels as foreign for me to type those words as it does for you to read them. Here's the situation. Thursday morning, I called in some prescription refills. It just so happens that my pharmacy is one that has been bought out by a larger chain. Nothing but problems have ensued since the changeover started. People wait in lengthy lines, only to be told that their insurance company is not responding to calls. That the pharmacy is out of stock in that particular medicine. That Express Scripts denies their coverage.

Last month, I was given the runaround on a particular prescription. The reason, it seems, that it cost me thirty-four dollars more than in previous months was that one of my two insurances was not responding. Just bring my receipt next time to get a refund when the insurance responds. You guessed it. I did that. Nope. It was more because the doctor needed to write a letter to the insurance telling them that I can't take the generic. Yep. It was totally an issue between me an my doctor. I turned down their offer of a great deal on swampland in Florida.

Thursday morning, I called in the refills to the automated system. I knew better than to try and pick them up Thursday afternoon. So I waited until Friday afternoon. What do you know! One was not filled. But the counter girl without a name tag looked it up, and said she would have it filled if I wanted to wait. Which kind of defeats the purpose of calling it in the day before so it would be ready. But I waited.

A different girl, more of a gal, really, called me when it was ready. She rang it up. I stopped before scanning my debit card. "Are you sure that's right? Because I paid a lot more last month." Beth, the gal, checked. It was the overcharged prescription, back to its regular price. I explained my previous runaround, in which she had no part. She said she would check on it for me. That it would be worth the wait if she could get me a refund. So I waited.

Finally, a matron called my name. Hers was Donna. She knows me on sight. She rang up my order at the lower price, and shoved thirty-four dollars and seven cents across the counter. "Let's take care of this refund first." No asking for the old receipt, or my ID, or my insurance cards. Just cash on the countertop, baby!

I have a good mind to call the local paper and nominate Unknown, Beth, and Donna for the adult version of Caught Being Good. Or write a letter to their store manager complimenting them on their customer service skills. I'm so giddy, I might just do both.

I think I have a fever.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Messin' With Hick's Flock

It's no secret that my little Pony is an egg collector. Not a connoisseur of fine Faberge eggs. Not a hoarder of hen fruit. He's the guy who goes out each evening to look under chickens' butts for eggs. This has been his job since Hick bought his first two hens and a rooster. We won't discuss the unfortunate massacre that ensued at this juncture.

Even though he is now fourteen, The Pony grabs his little red-and-green wicker Easter basket and skips over to the chicken pen, twirling it on his wrist. Not that there's anything wrong with that. But I'm glad we live in the country. No good can come of his classmates getting a glimpse of this side of The Pony. His job has grown more challenging, now that the fowl roam at will about the grounds, dropping eggs as the mood strikes. That's only possible because our dogs have been aversion-trained to not eat the chickens. We won't discuss Hick's questionable canine-training methods at this juncture.

In spring and early summer, The Pony sometimes found fourteen eggs a day. Those were the salad days, my friends. The egg salad days. A stealthy spoiled neighbor dog put an end to that bounty. He siphoned off several of our layers. Witnesses reported that he carried the lifeless bodies home. His owners put up a skeptical front when interrogated. We won't discuss the across-the-road feud at this juncture.

In recent weeks, The Pony has been gathering two eggs per day. Sherlock Hick has deduced that my favorite rescue doggie is eating his eggs. Never mind that I have seen our older rescue dog carry two in her mouth, eat one, then eat the other as MY favorite rescue doggie licks the remains out of the cracked shell. Sherlock Hick presents, as Exhibit A, the fact that he gathered eggs himself on Saturday, laid them on top of the large garbage can that holds chicken feed, and found them missing when he returned an hour later. We won't discuss the issuer of Sherlock Hick's law license at this juncture.

On Monday, The Pony charged into the kitchen waving his basket. "I found one egg, and A GOLF BALL!" Which he had carried into the house in the egg basket. Like Hick was going to crack it and eat it. Or put it in a carton with the eggs he sells to a gal at work. The Pony was flabbergasted with his find. "I don't know HOW a GOLF BALL got into the chicken nest!" We won't discuss The Pony's sorry knowledge of chicken anatomy at this juncture.

I suggested that, perhaps, Hick had put it there to make the chickens more inclined to lay in the nest. The Pony allowed that he had heard of putting a plastic Easter egg in the nest to elicit laying. But not a golf ball. He did, however, grudgingly return the Titleist to the nest, with a promise to ask Hick if he had planted it. We won't discuss the naughty faux pas of spelling "Titleist" without the "e" at this juncture.

Yesterday, I asked The Pony if he had talked to Hick about the golf ball. "No. But don't worry. I put it back out there in the chicken coop. I put it in a different nest, though." I have no idea what possessed The Pony to mess with the chickens. He'd be safer messin' with Sasquatch over some Jack Links Beef Jerky. These little peckers don't take kindly to a hand ruffling their underfeathers in search of an egg. The roosters don't take kindly to anybody male invading their territory. We won't discuss what happens to roosters who challenge Hick at this juncture.

Imagine, if you will, our poor Ameraucana layers, no slouch in the colored egg department, discovering a golf ball in the nest where they deposit their pastel greeny bluey eggs. "Oh, dear. What's this white dimpled thing? I should not be pleased to observe the misbegotten embryo that would hatch from such an ugly case." So to think they have gotten rid of the golf ball, then to find it popping up one nest over, is not going to set well with the setter. We won't discuss what might happen if Hick's chickens start laying a rainbow of miniature-golf-suitable, dimpled, spherical eggs at this juncture.

Somewhere, Hick is happily puttering around his BARn, singing under his breath. "Oh...I had a little chicken and she wouldn't lay an egg, so I put an old golf ball between her legs..."

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

You Might as Well Try and Ditch the Wind

I was the short-straw winner of parking lot duty this morning. Actually, it's a standing duty. Heh, heh. I said standing duty, and we STAND. The duties are set at the beginning of each school year. Wednesday is my day now. The parking lot is better than bus, but not as convivial as cafeteria. It's usually peaceful in the morning, except for chastising speeders. My issue is with uncontrollable climatic factors.

Today was a zephyr morning. An annoying swirl of wind dogged me the entire thirty minutes. Not an ongoing gale, to which I could adjust my position, and lean into like I was riding the bow of the Titanic. A twisty wispy current that reshaped my hair until I looked like a cat had given my head a bath. A cat without a cosmetology license.

Thankfully, it is not yet Chapstick season. Because tufts of hair would have become glued to my lips. At least this morning they waved to and fro, tickling me like a freshman on a band bus headed for a competition, wielding a pillow feather and stroking the undernose area of sleeping trombone players.

It was the kind of wind that hawks ride like an aerial lazy river. Two yellow sugar-maple leaves circled overhead like a pair of such raptors, but without the promise of snagging a field mouse, or dropping liquid feces on my head. The wind away from the building roared like a category five hurricane. Trees bent. It was a toss-up on which I would see first: an old crone pedaling a bicycle with a Cairn terrier in the basket, or a Holstein cow  and the entire cast of the movie Twister.

I yearned for a knit beanie to hold my tresses in place. I'm not sure whether it would have looked more out of place on me, or on those hipster dudes who wear them during midwestern summers at 107 degrees.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Am I the Only One Who Sees This as an Issue?

Let's say one is given a list of telephone numbers for everybody in one's office. To have handy, you know, in the event one needs to dial a certain person's extension. Would it be considered rude for one to ask why the numbers are listed in numerical order? Hypothetically, of course.

I always try to look up somebody's phone number by going down a list from 101 to 102 to 103, and so on. Until I get to the extension of my person. Don't you? That's why the phone book is arranged that way, right? In numerical order of all the people in town? What's that? It's NOT? Only the reverse look-up is like that, to find prank callers? Nevermind.

The problem is easily remedied. All one needs to do is unstaple the four-page document and scan it on the new copier/scanner/printer everyone got this summer. Without an operating manual. Then copy, then paste, then alphabetize, then print, then staple. Voila! Easy as pie!

So far, I'm at the unstapling part. Hypothetically.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Monday Afternoon at the High Blood Pressure Emporium

I had a 3:30 appointment today to have new lenses put into my frames. Perhaps you remember my original visit to the optometrist's office, when all the workers ran around bumping into each other like ants, shouting about my blood pressure, which, according to the optometrist himself, did not even warrant mention.

Now I have figured out their obsession with blood pressure! And I'll share it with you. That office sends people's blood pressure skyrocketing like a mallet-and-bell test-of-strength at a carnival.

I arrived at 3:25, frames in hand. The counter girl took them and told me to have a seat. There were 25 chairs in the waiting room. I'll tell you how I know that a little bit later. None were occupied. So I chose one at the end of a row, my back to the front wall, right next the glass vestibule. I had a view of the whole waiting room, the counter, the main hallway, and the entrance.

One man came in after me. He told the counter girl that he'd been there three days in a row. Sucks to be him. I just didn't know how hard. A couple of frail, elderly women tottered in. A younger one followed. After a brief respite at the counter, they were told to have a seat. I'll be ding-dang-donged if they didn't sit RIGHT NEXT TO ME! Do you get my drift? There were 24 chairs from which to choose, and they chose the one RIGHT NEXT TO ME! I didn't know there were 24 chairs left. I had to surreptitiously count them with shifty eyes like those in a portrait in a medieval castle, because I didn't want to turn my head and inadvertently start a conversation with that spinster RIGHT NEXT TO ME.

I think, perhaps, they were severely dehydrated. Not thinking clearly. After all, people on an airplane would shy away from me. Complain to the stewardess. Boldly announce that I needed to purchase two tickets. Ask that I be removed from the flight because surely the plane was over the weight limit which would allow it to soar into the wild blue yonder. But here, in a Backroads optometrist's office, Slim Fady and her cohort wanted to rub elbows with me. Moisten their twiggy arms with the sheen of grease seeping out of my folds. I felt like Jabba the Hutt next to an anorexic tween version of Olive Oyl.

I would have been beside myself, but Slim Fady had already taken that chair. If she was Lucy and I was Ethel, we could have fought over the armrest like ex-friends in a theater. I didn't know how to cope. I wanted to write down snide remarks about her in my little spiral notebook, stuffed down the side of my purse, which I was clutching with a death grip, making it my own personal stress ball. However...I couldn't write because Slim Fady was RIGHT NEXT TO ME! She could have read everything I wrote. Kind of. Because I didn't bring in my bifocals, being there to pick up new ones along with my new lenses. And obviously, Slim herself was at the freakin' eye doctor for a reason. I believe she had mumbled something about not knowing what she was seeing because everything was blurry when she looked above her bifocals. Lucky for me, though, that I'm ambidextrous. I wiggled out my tiny spiral, my extra-thin Zebra pen, and went to town releasing my vitriol onto paper. I kept it turned away from her. Pretended it was just my wacky lefty writing style.

People began to pour into that office like refugees from an overheated clown car. A woman strode in dragging a hot-tempered little redhead by her wrist. The sister, maybe a year older, and a lifetime of second-fiddleness in her future, stumbled in three feet behind, managing to slam herself in each of the two entrance doors. In her defense...she WAS wearing glasses and entering an optometrist's office. A tall nerdy high school boy came in. An older blond woman with hair shorter than Ellen Degeneres. A mommy with a boy toddler. A gal with a girl toddler. All 25 minutes, 22 people entered that office.

I was growing more perturbed by the minute. The one poor three-day guy was still at the counter, being quizzed on whether he took any medication. "Just for blood pressure. Lisinopril, I think." Great Googly Moogly, dude! Toss me one of those. They're generic. One point six six six repeating cents apiece!

Hope sprang eternal in my ruffled breast when I heard the companion to Slim Fady and Accomplice on the phone saying it was kind of crowded, and maybe the task could be accomplished another day. Imagine my surprise when she got up and left. Left Slim and her sidekick right there. They were not together. Meanwhile, all hands on deck were helping a family of three pick out new frames. I understand that frames are the bread and butter of the office. But that family was there before I arrived, treating the office like a cooling center.

Counter Girl came over and relieved me of Slim Fady and Co. Wouldn't you know it, not thirty seconds later, the questionable-parenting-skilled gal parked her girl toddler ONE CHAIR AWAY FROM ME. And left her! Absconded to the counter, leaving a tot who could barely string a sentence together. "Book? Book? Me walk. Book?" Mom Gal came back. Set Girl Tot in the chair again. Gave her a book. Left. "Sticker? Book? Me walk." Please make it stop, for the love of all that is booky and totty!

Fortune then smiled upon me. My years of clean living having paid off, Even Steven settling a score, Counter Girl (no, she wasn't that efficient, there were four of them, interchangeable) came out with my new frames, new bifocals, and a paper for me to sign twice.

I really need to call the doctor and get my blood pressure checked.


ALTERNATE TITLES that converged upon the page, not taken:

Blind Like Me

There Are None so Blind as Those Who Go to the Optometrist's Office at 3:30 on a Monday Afternoon

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Deck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

Out here in Backroads, our trees are BEAUTIFUL!

I feel like I am living in a New England calendar. Genius was dispatched this afternoon to record the views with hues for posterity. I suggested the glowing yellows down by the creek in the mailbox vicinity, or the street in town by the library and the dead-mouse-smelling post office. Genius, however, held out in favor of Hick's creekside cabin foliage. Most of which is now on the deciduous forest floor, thanks to last night's storm. That little structure in the background is not the cabin. It's a deer feeder.

The mailbox area caught my fancy when I stepped out to get the mail this afternoon on my way to town for a 44 oz. Diet Coke. No, we don't have mail delivery on Sunday. We have mail delivery on Saturday, and three guys who would forget their head if it wasn't held on by that flap of skin called a neck. The sky was overcast, making those yellow trees pop all the more. The air had that fallish smell of crushed leaves. But the wind whipped like the lion of March.

It was not an ill wind blowing no good. More like a wind of fortune. A windfall. The green metal pipe mailbox custom-made by Hick contained a letter for Genius from Missouri S&T. The school of science and technology. Formerly the University of Missouri-Rolla. Way formerly the School of Mines. The letter offered Genius a scholarship package of $8,500 per year. Nothing to sneeze at. He has until May 1 to accept. Right now he still has his heart set on MIT, then Stanford, then Washington University. He looks at Missouri S&T as his safety school. I look at it as a perfectly suitable choice for his engineering major.

That wind was out of control. Last night, it blew right into the very wall of Genius's bedroom window. He had a leak from the top of the window to the sill. Hick thinks the rain blew horizontally and ended up coming in through the soffit on the front porch roof. He checked the attic, and could find no evidence of a roof leak.

As I exited my Tahoe to re-fill-up my 44 oz. cup of liquid energy, the wind whipped around me like an invisible cartoon Tasmanian Devil. I daresay my shirt would have gone up over my head if I hadn't plastered it to my sides with both arms. The gales of November have come early. Such blustering should not be felt in Missouri. Backroads convenience store parking lots are NOT as exposed as the deck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

I love this season.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

They Sure Don't Make Pigskin Like They Used To

As a part of the preparations for the impending overnight visit of Genius's friend, all hands were on deck this morning for last-minute spiffing.

The organized chaos of the spic-and-spanning was a bit like giving a mouse a cookie. An ADD mouse. I moved items on the counter, then I had to wipe the counter, then the stove looked grimy in comparison, but a shiny stove is no good if that back thing with the controls is spotted, and the knick-knacks lodged atop the stove-back needed a good scrubbing so they didn't stick out like greasy thumbs.

One such item was a stand-up, three-inch-tall, Pepto-Bismol-colored ceramic pig, with a hole in his head to shove three bright pink measuring spoons. A long-ago student gifted me with that cute little pig, so precious with his painted-on chef's apron and cheerful snout. If there's one thing the world does not need, it's a pig with greasy skin. I chucked Piggy into the leftover dishwater which I was using for wiping down the countertops. Between swipes at my burgundy-speckled counter, I turned to wipe off Piggy. Not with the dishwashing sponge. That would just be wrong. I grabbed a soft- and rough-sided sponge that Genius had previously used for the shower door. I used the soft side, of course. To no avail.

Swatches of Piggy's pink skin flaked off upon contact. Not his entire epidermis. Just spots here and there. Pink gone. White underneath. Like a case of vitiligo. "Oops!" I said. "Piggy is peeling like he has a bad sunburn."

Genius screamed at me. "Stop scrubbing him with the rough side! No wonder. You're scraping off his skin!"

"I am not. I used the soft side. I don't want to throw him away. He holds measuring spoons!" Because, you see, as a new gourmet cook, I never know when I might need an eighth-, fourth-, or third-teaspoon of rosemary for some exotic, five-ingredient, crockpot creation. I stood Piggy on his head in the dish drainer.

Genius puttered around, sweeping the kitchen floor in a manner acceptable only to seventeen-year-old guest-hosters. He had grabbed the broken-down, angled broom from the laundry room, after first announcing that he really didn't care if the floor was swept or not. Because, of course, our kitchen floor could be piled ankle deep with peanut shells like a dining room at Texas Roadhouse, but that darn three-inch pig should be spotless. He swept up a pile of departed dust bunnies large enough to make a toupee for Hick. Not over by the wastebasket, but out in the middle of the kitchen. "There's no dustpan. Can I just leave this here?"

After "discovering" two dustpans between the washer and the wall, Genius snatched the kitchen floor bald. He had a glass of water he wanted to pour out. "Hey! The sink is full of water! What am I supposed to do with this?"

"I'm done. Pull the plug and let it out."

"Noooo! I might get Piggy's flesh on my fingers!"

Piggy is back in his old kingdom-surveying spot now. A little worse for wear. I can't see throwing away a perfectly cute pig just because he lost some color. Did I mention that we might be hoarders?

Friday, October 12, 2012

There, But for the Viewing of a Movie, Go I

I have a confession to make. I recently considered a life of crime.

Actually, it was more like an afternoon of crime. I'm not really one to rock the boat. I'm the one clinging to the sides, screaming at the others, "Stop rocking the freakin' boat already!" I fear consequences more than I enjoy living on the edge.

The whole crime spree thing is Genius's fault. That boy is having a guest spend the night this weekend. A fellow seventeen-year-old boy from a neighboring school district. See. That part is significant. I don't normally encourage sleepovers for my boys. A big part of that comes from being a teacher for their friends. It is weird to have your students in your house.

Genius used to have an annual sleepover with four or five of his closest buddies. When they were younger, The Pony and I would spend the night at Grandma's house while Hick supervised the extra young 'uns. As they grew older, Genius was allowed to have his party in the BARn loft. The kids loved it. They stayed up all night watching movies and playing video games and eating junk food and looking at Hick's posters of bikinied beer models on the wall. Now they are all tied up with sports or girlfriends or jobs, and can't coordinate a weekend for the gathering. Genius has been running around with like-minded nerd friends from nearby schools. Like the one whose dad shot bottles of gasoline for entertainment.

Stay with me. I'll eventually get to the crime spree.

For two weeks, we have been sprucing up our abode in anticipation of the sojourn of The Invited Guest. Genius has worked himself to the bone, cleaning his room, his shower and toilet and sink, plus the basement computer graveyard. We're not quite ready for a layout in Better Homes and Gardens, but The Invited Guest is less likely to be trapped under a stack of hoard and press the rescue squad to call for an intervention. A more thorough effort could not have been made to ready Great Britain for the Queen's Golden Jubilee. Genius has even decided that I should put my new fundraiser crockpot cookbook to use, and make Orange-Glazed Chicken for Saturday supper. Thank goodness I bought a 5-Ingredient Meals cookbook.

So here comes the grand larceny scheme. I told Genius that it would have been cheaper to buy them each a pizza than it was to obtain those five ingredients. Which is actually six, because apparently, the chicken doesn't count. I don't begrudge the growing boys their protein. But those ingredients added $21 to my Walmart tab. Granted, we'll all be enjoying the meal except for The Pony, who is a simple fellow with simple tastes. Genius allowed that he and The Invited Guest could have each had TWO pizzas from Little Caesar's for that amount. Indeed. But instead, they'll have boneless skinless chicken breasts, orange juice, chopped onion, crushed garlic, ground black pepper, and rosemary. Oh, and a side of rice, but that wasn't an ingredient, either. I already have a pepper grinder full of pepper beads or whatever they're called. And I'm making him settle for minced garlic, which I already have instead of fresh. It is the rosemary to which I object.

Have you seen the price of rosemary at the Walmart lately?

A small bottle of crushed rosemary is $4.97...DID YOU HEAR THAT? Four dollars and ninety-seven cents! For something that I'll only use a pinch of. Once. Unless we really like this recipe. I am by no means a gourmet crock pot cook. And I'm pretty sure that if I drove next door and asked to borrow a pinch of rosemary, the door would slam in my face. I'm not sure of the growing season for rosemary, but I'm also pretty sure that it's too late to start a window box garden.

CRIME SPREE ALERT! I told Genius that I felt like opening that bottle of rosemary and shaking some into a small privacy envelope that I had slipped out of a box in the office supply department. Except that there are almost as many cameras in that Walmart as there are in our school building. And somebody might mistake my purloined rosemary for a different herb. Then I would be schmoozing with petty thieves and prostitutes and check-kiters and meth-makers and political candidate solicitor pot-shot-takers in the county lockup. Because The Pony would not think to call home, I would be learning new trades and making new friends until it was time for some sandwiches, and Hick and Genius thought to track me down and bail me out. Have you ever seen Chained Heat?

I paid for the rosemary.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

As a Matter of Fact, I DO Have a Question

I am fit to be tied.

Okay, so one does not have to be very fit in order to be tied. But I am suitable for trussing. In addition, you can knock me over with a feather, and butter my butt and call me a biscuit.

The Pony and I arrived home at the same time as Hick, having stopped to torture ourselves with the weekly shopping. We were still putting away our bounty when Hick came through the kitchen door. He saw that work was in progress, and walked on through to the front door, proclaiming that HE would gather the eggs tonight. Hick came right back in, holding a paper.

"Look here. It says, 'Sorry I missed you. You can call if you have any questions.' Huh."

It was a Xeroxed or Canoned or Kyoceraed copy of a political candidate's manifesto. From the looks of it, that copier was sorely in need of toner. But the most egregious insult in this blatant attempt to hunt down votes one by one was the fact that we live in a private association. That means we have signs at both entrances to our compound, declaring that THIS IS A PRIVATE ASSOCIATION. No Soliciting. No Trespassing. I may come from a line of simple country stock, but I think this means we don't want no 'lectioneers lollygaggin' up in these here parts.

I won't reveal the candidate's name. Nor the party affiliation. Nor the district. But it was for the Missouri House of Representatives race. Furthermore, we do not live in this candidate's district. So the minions were barking up the wrong tree. Apparently, a candidate who would send out workers with badly-photocopied information on his campaign would not spring for a GPS so the volunteer workers would know if they were within district boundaries. It stands to reason that one would become disoriented while trespassing on the privately-maintained gravel thoroughfares of a private homeowners' association.

This episode has unfurled two red flags and run them to the top of my flagpole. Given the shoddy wad of information stuffed into my doorjamb, with a handwritten note at the top, did the actual candidate himself stop by? And if so, would I want to vote for a person who blindly disregards the posted privacy rights of others? Flag number two, whipping in the chill wind, begs the question of whether this is a simple scam by ne'er-do-wells to case a joint and determine whether the owner is home. With a plan to come back another day to liberate the owner's property and liquidate it forthwith.

I've half a mind to CALL that number listed on the flyer. "Yes. This is Val Thevictorian. You stopped by my place yesterday and left a flyer in the door. It said to call if I had any questions. I do. WHERE DO YOU PEOPLE GET OFF TRESPASSING IN A PRIVATE ASSOCIATION?

The other half of my mind says to let it lay. Like the lazy dogs on my porch, who won't even bite a solicitor on the buttocks.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A Loyal Companion Has Fallen

It is with heavy heart that Val reports the passing of Mr. Haier.

Mr. Haier was a longtime companion of Val o'er the last decade. He spent every day in the classroom, silently observing, never intruding, at times shouldering a heavy load, He was the first one Val greeted each morning. She regularly touched bases with him at lunch time.

The students were sometimes envious of the close relationship Mr. Haier shared with Val. On occasion, they tried to come between the two. Or attempted to insert themselves into Mr. Haier's good graces. Val was having none of that. Nobody comes between Val and her Mr. Haier.

Each summer, high-level talks occurred concerning the feasibility of allowing Mr. Haier to stay on. "Too expensive," some believed. "Not justifiable," said others. But the matter was always tabled, no decision made to upset the status quo. It helped that other faculty members had their own Mr. Haier-like companions. Rocking the boat would have caused sure mutiny in the county.

Yes, Monday was indeed a sad day. Val herself discovered the remains of Mr. Haier that morning. Already in the classroom. Sitting in the dark, in his regular place beside the file cabinet. The place where he liked to observe his kingdom, just chillin'.

Val heard Mr. Haier's last gurgles. She went to him immediately, and detected a fever and flop sweat. She shook him. He did not respond. He was burning up. Due to the high fever, Val immediately disconnected Mr. Haier from life support. She cleared out all of his passageways. And immediately began a search for her new Mr. Haier.

As luck would have it, a strapping young replacement was found online by the end of second hour. Val's husband, Hick, purchased the newbie on his way home from work. Val and The Pony carted him in Tuesday morn.

RIP, Mr. Haier. Your great grandson will do you proud.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Good News Is: She's Not Keeping My Secret Anymore

A crisis of epic proportions was narrowly averted at school yesterday.

A colleague, hereafter referred to by the nom de fume, "Stinky," strode back-and-forth down the hall like a wayward paddle being wielded by a nervous parent in the original PONG video game. First to my right, then to my left, indecisive.

"There nurse isn't here yet. I just wondered...does she keep deodorant in her office?"

"Probably. Do you need some?"

"Yes! I forgot to put it on this morning after my workout."

"I have some that I keep here for just such an occasion. It's kind of old. I use it once or twice a year. But it's a stick roll-on."

"I don't care if you don't care."

"Nope. I won't need it again for months. It's right here." I stepped into my room and grabbed a small travel-size Secret off the top shelf of my cabinet. I palmed its light-blue plastic body, and smuggled it into the hall. Stinky palmed it and started on her merry way. I'm not sure where she was planning her application, but it was NOT in the hall under the watchful eye of a myriad of surveillance cameras. I'm thinking she snuck off to her lab, and refrained from slathering on the Secret in front of her waiting class of juniors.

I thought my property would be returned forthwith. Yet I had not seen hide nor hair of it by seventh hour. This morning I called to Stinky on her way to the bathroom. The whole world passes by my post in the upper end of the hall. "Hey! How long are you going to keep my Secret?"

"Well, I thought I should keep your Secret yesterday, but I'm not keeping it anymore. I'll catch you on my next trip."

The palmed hand-off was accomplished third hour. The kids are giving us funny looks. I refuse to tell them about my Secret.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Do Not Ask For Whom the Cat Yaks

I know how a cat feels tonight. Or maybe I don't. Maybe the cat is slightly depressed because every time he runs in the house, the homeowner grabs him under his soft, orange-striped belly and lugs him out the back door.

Perhaps what I mean is: Tonight, I know how a cat feels.

That does not mean I have a sudden urge to be at the other end of the house, RIGHT NOW, and I claw the carpet in a shower of sparks and propel myself over there forthwith, barely touching the floor, like I've been shot out of a cannon.

That does not mean that I revel in bathing myself in front of curious onlookers with the only cleansing agent being my rough pink tongue, all the while flaunting my superior flexibility and complete lack of embarrassment at burying my head deep in my anal region.

That does not mean that I feel comfortable draping myself over various natural and man-made objects, like all bones have been removed from my body, rendering me as limp as a Salvador Dali timepiece upon a bleak landscape, snoozing like somebody switched the catnip for Ambien.

It DOES mean that I know how it feels to make a yakking, hacking, choking sound when a Roasted Garlic Triscuit becomes wedged under my uvula.

Do not ask for whom the cat yaks, my friends. He yaks for ME. To teach me how a cat feels. Because I'm all empathetic like that. It's true. People sometimes refer to me as Mrs. Empathy.

When they're not referring to me as That Infernal Cat-Yakking Val.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Things I'm Learning About You Day by Day

It seems there is an update to the Unwritten Culture Rules of Sixteen-Year-Old Males. An addendum, perhaps. And the Truth in Blogging Law requires me to inform you that technically, this item should probably start a new document, the Unwritten Culture Rules of Seventeen-Year-Old Males. But I have no time for that today.

Genius informed me that, contrary to his earlier rule, two seventeen-year-old guys CAN go out to eat together. As long as it's not to a fancy restaurant. Because then people would stare at them. But here's the update. A guy can tie a tie for another guy. With certain restrictions.

How To Tie a Tie for Another Guy

1. Do not face him and attempt to get it right. That is impossible. It's backwards.

2. Do not stand behind him and reach around his neck and tie it like it's on your own neck. That is just weird.

3. Have the guy take off his tie. Put it around your neck and tie it. Then loosen the knot and slip it off.

4. Hand the already-tied tie to the tie guy. He can put it over his head and tighten the knot. Done.

I also learned that it's better to take a chance on death by fiery automobile crash than to ride to school with your mom if the weather forecast is for ice and sleet. That would upset a guy's whole routine. He'd have to get up about an hour early, which is just not happening. Even if it's only for one or two days all winter. No. That's not an option. A little Ford Ranger truck with four-wheel-drive is as safe as a Tahoe, because a guy has driven that a whole year and a half already, and never had an accident on the ice. The mom can drive herself like she's done her whole life. Why would a little ice make her nervous now that she has a seventeen-year-old son who could possibly drive her, even though that's never gonna happen?

I learn something every day.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

As I Lay Freezing

Wheeee doggies! Last night, it was colder than Val's heart when a habitual latecomer pleads with her not to count this last tardy, as it will send him to the school pokey to ruminate on the error of his ways. Or, as the thermometer in my Tahoe showed at 11:00 a.m., forty-two degrees.

I awoke at 4:50, even though this was Saturday. That's thanks to Hick, who left the official alarm set per normal workday, because Genius needed to arise at 6:00 to head to the city to take his SAT. Hick sees that as being perfectly sensible. The hitting of the snooze button for one hour and ten minutes. I, myself, do not.

The bedroom was icy. Like one of those ice hotels, but without the vodka. I got up to throw a load of late-night-washed clothes into the dryer. The dryer which is on the other side of the bedroom headboard wall. An act which I see as perfectly sensible. But Hick, himself, does not.

"Wooo! It's cold in here!"

"It's sixty-nine degrees. Maybe it's time you turn on the heat."

"Why didn't you turn it on when you got up?"

"I don't know how to work this new thermostat. That's what you're for."

"Here. Warm me up."

"I have been standing on the tile floor of the laundry room. You are the one who has been here under the quilt."

"But I need warming up."

"I need more sleep."

"You're warm."

"You're mistaken."

"All right. I'll go turn up the heat."

You see, I am not a cuddler. Not a snuggler. Sleeping is sleeping. Not being entwined by your spouse like a world-record-length boa constrictor is bent on squeezing the life out of you before dining. Were I a contestant on Survivor, I would spend the entire thirty-nine days without a wink of sleep, rather than try to capitalize on the body heat of others by snoozing in a pile like a litter of newborn puppies. Lucy and Ricky, Rob and Laura had the right idea with their twin beds. A good night's rest is essential to the purveyance of comedy. Is it not enough that I must find creative ways to block the gale-force wind from Hick's breather in order to catch some ZZZZs without the breath being sucked from my lungs by Bernoulli's Principle?

I have already compromised with Hick on the quilt issue. My fluffy comforter, purchased from an insurance salvage store with my employee discount many years ago, is much more effective at holding in body heat. Grandma's quilt, hand-stitched with love, given as a wedding gift, is sorely lacking in BTU retention.

Hick left the bed to attend to his husbandly duties. You'd think he was Dennis Quaid beginning his trek to rescue his son, Jake Gyllenhaal, after sudden global cooling in The Day After Tomorrow.

My hero. Hick turned on the heat. And set the thermostat to seventy-one. Funny how much difference two degrees can make.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Defining the Problem is Half the Battle

Can you keep a secret?

I don't like people to read my writing. Not this bloggy stuff. I could shovel this out all the live-long day. Plaster it on the side of a city bus. Paste it on a billboard. Stuff flyers under the windshield wipers of four-wheel-drive trucks at Walmart. Makes me no nevermind. I'm anonymous, by cracky! "So what? Who cares?" as Fred Armisen as Joy Behar would say on SNL.

It's the real writing, under my own name, that I protect like a newborn at the height of flu season. I don't want it out there where people can gawk at it, chuck it under the chin, insert a germy index finger into its tiny fist. What if they think my new baby is ugly? If they must turn their heads and wretch immediately after setting eyes upon it? What if they say my baby is BREATHTAKING?

My tender offspring must be protected. Shielded. Dandled on my knee and cajoled into cooing at the wretched masses until their prying eyes soften, crinkle, gaze with utter awe at my progeny. And it's not just the fully-formed infants who need protection. It's the seeds of ideas. The tiny embryos. All need a safe haven in which to germinate.

I was mortified this afternoon when I arrived home and found a notebook in plain view on the living room coffee table. A notebook I had left in my laptop bag. The laptop bag which Genius confiscated to take on his MIT alumni interview on Saturday in Webster Groves. A notebook which was open, flipped back around its spiral spine, exposed like a passed-out sorority girl with her dress hiked up around her waist, an object of curiosity for anybody who walked by.

There was nothing earth-shattering on the pages. They were filled with my block printing, all caps (who knew?) detailing ideas for writing projects. My face flamed red. I dashed to rescue my naked ideas. Slammed the opaque purple cover shut. Shuddered. Looked around. Only Genius and I were home. But still. That's one person too many who saw my writing.

I believe I fall at the high end of the introversion spectrum.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

An Appointment With Tim Whatley Would be More Relaxing

Hey! There's another conspiracy theory here in the heartland!

The folks at my optometrist's office are now gathering information for the government. That's what they told me. I didn't even ask. They always want a list of medications. That's fair game. Something might be affecting my sight. Or I might be prescribed an antibiotic to which I am allergic. But this was totally different.

Mr. O, the optometrist himself, was grousing about it. "Excuse me. I've got to enter all this information. It's something new that we just started. We don't have a choice. It's for the government. We're still trying to learn the screens." He quizzed me on my medications that the air-cannon girl had already quizzed me on. The medications that I had handed on a list to the counter worker. The list that a totally different girl returned to me in the exam chair. That's four people waltzing around that office with my Hippa info. All that, and Dr. O could only find one medication listed on my account, and two that were not even medications that I have ever taken. The word cluster comes to mind.

Oh, and the air-cannon girl was overly inquisitive as to my blood pressure. I was starting to think something was wrong with me.

"Do you have high blood pressure?"

"I take medication for it. So, no. It's controlled."

"What was your blood pressure the last time you went to the doctor?"

"I don't know. That was months ago. He didn't adjust my medicine."

"Was the bottom number in the seventies."

"I believe so."

"Was the top number in the one twenties?"

"That sounds about right."

"Okay. We're going to go to a room and get your blood pressure taken."

Criminy! You'd have thought they were rushing down the hall with a gurney to wheel me out to the helipad to life-flight me to a major trauma center. I feared that something weird had shown up in the air-cannon test, which I know is for glaucoma, or the click-on-the-wavy-lines test for peripheral vision, or the shine-the-light-into-the recesses-of-your-brain test while you look at a little red barn down a long dirt road.

In the exam room, Air-Cannon Girl typed my medical info into the new database. Another girl came in and said she needed a space to record that a person does not have diabetes. Dr. O appeared, and did a stint as data entry clerk. He flipped lenses and determined that my prescription has changed. He shined a beacon onto my retinas and scoured them for anomalies. At no time did anybody come in to check my blood pressure. Or even mention it again. Dr. O said that if I had brought a driver, he would dilate my eyes, but that since there was nothing remarkable about my exam, he didn't even think I'd need to come back another day for the dilation.

So what's the deal with the blood pressure panic? I guess they get a finder's fee for any new diagnoses. Dr. O said that everybody has to do the new government information-gathering. Optometrists. Pharmacies. "Even dentists?" I asked.

"Well, probably not dentists."

Pardon my French, but WTF? That stands for "What the French?," right? Because if an optometrist has to take all that medical info, wouldn't it stand to reason that a dentist, who gouges and pokes and draws blood and gives shots and doles out pain pills more than an optometrist should be doing the same thing?

I'm betting there's some kind of grant money involved here. Something is fishy in the eyeball industry.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

A Serious Lapse in Smarts

I'm sure you are all aware that bridges have a load-bearing capacity. Even my students know that, after we build bridges out of a single sheet of paper, design it to span eight inches, and attempt to stack over three hundred pennies on the deck.

I cross several bridges in my daily travels. From old low-water bridges to new, improved low-water bridges, to high concrete spans with low side walls, to a soon-to-be demolished metal monstrosity complete with rusty dents.

Saturday, I was cruising along on the approach to the dippy old low-water bridge where the geese and city people like to perch. No sides. The whole bridge disappears under eight feet of water when it floods. So I'm always cautious coming up to the dip in the road that reveals the imminent obstacles. And Saturday, wouldn't you know it, brought me a new obstruction. I was concerned. Would that bridge hold me, my Tahoe, and the blocker? It was a scary instant. But I sped ahead at ten miles per hour. Right out onto that bridge. And I came to a non-screeching halt beside the offender...


Seriously. Does this boy have to try to thwart my existence every waking moment? There's not room on that bridge for the both of us. I am in the right. Don't take his side. He was walking on a bridge built for cars. Okay, so it was most likely built around 1900. Was there cement then? This thing is old. Nobody build bridges that dip down into the creek anymore. They put the straight across, from one edge of the road to the other. A child with an Erector Set could do better than this half-hearted attempt. But I'm not here to berate the bridge-builders today. They can step aside. I'm here to chastise Genius.

Which I did, out the rolled-down passenger window of my Tahoe. And do you know his response, that seventeen-year-old son of mine, all responsible-acting, jonesin' for an MIT acceptance? He jumped on the running board and said, "Drive me to my truck." A truck which was approximately twenty-five feet away. The distance that rednecks drive up a private road before disrobing and slipping into their camo togs.

The nerve of that boy! "I wanted to get some pictures," he said. Even though he was on the way to his bowling league, Hick and The Pony having left him because he was running late.

We're gonna need a special handbasket because of him.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Excuse Me While I Voice My Opinion

Ahem. I have a little something stuck in my craw. A tiny axe to grind. A miniscule thorn in my side. Someone has given a slight tug to my chain.

I hate to complain. It's so unlike me. But something must be said, on behalf of appointment-schedulers everywhere.


There. Somebody had to say it. You're welcome.

Monday morning during my plan time, I called my optometrist to schedule an appointment that I've been putting off since July. The way I see it (heh, heh, I said SEE it when talking about an eye appointment, snort snort), my eyes ain't broken. So they don't need fixin'. But that postcard lays there on the kitchen counter, mocking me, making me feel guilty every time I pick it up and squint at the check-up message.

The office girl pulled up my file to see how long I had been absent from their bank account. She interrogated me for info on both of my insurances. Then she said that she couldn't find insurance on me, and would I be shocked when I came in and the bill was run without insurance? Not at all. I told her I knew this was short notice, but that I was available any time on Thursday. That's how the week works out best with my lessons. I'm a working woman, you know. Not that kind. But I have responsibilities.

Girly said that she had a 2:00 appointment on Thursday. Not what I'd hoped for, but I took it. I even repeated it back to her, and wrote it down. Then I called the office and arranged for a substitute. I typed up Thursday's lesson plan. Informed my students throughout the day that I would be gone. Just so they'd know what to expect. They are creatures of habit. No need to spring any surprises on them.

Today I got home at 4:30 and saw the light flashing on my answering machine. Yes. We still have things like that here in Backroads. It was the optometrist's office, reminding me that I had an appointment tomorrow at 2:00 with Dr. X. Tomorrow is WEDNESDAY! I called them back. Relayed the info about my appointment. Told them in no uncertain terms that I would NOT be there Wednesday at 2:00, because I would be at work. Unlike Thursday, when I would be off. Because I had scheduled a substitute so I could go to my optometrist's appointment.

Girly 2.0 declared that my appointment had been made for Wednesday. I told her I would not be there. She rooted around in her computer, and said that all she had on Thursday was an 8:30 appointment. Perfect. I told her I would be there. For my Thursday appointment. Right? Right? THURSDAY? She assured me that the appointment was for Thursday.

We'll see. I'm not sure these gals grasp the concept of a calendar.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Totally Inappropriate. And So Unbecoming.


You know how they are. Sometimes, the lines of appropriateness become blurred for them. Like when they need to blow their nose, but don't have a tissue. Stacking hay, for instance. Or taking a three-point stance on the forty yard line of a high school football field with 2:48 left in the first half. Standing in a bass boat, perhaps, casting a Strike King buzzbait. No problem for a guy. Just bend slightly at the waist, press a thumb up against the side of one nostril, and spray the snot out of the other one.

I think you get my point.

This afternoon, The Pony and I stopped at the row of mailboxes on the county road. As The Pony was gathering our junk and bills, I saw movement beside a truck parked about twenty-five feet up our gravel road. Two guys were changing clothes.

Really? REALLY?

Sweet Gummi Mary! Do males have no shame? Right there creekside. Disrobing and re-robing. Like they were in the middle of Filene's Basement, trying on wedding dresses! In front of dropped-off kittens and mobile meth lab operators and schoolkids disembarking from big yellow Bluebirds.

One of them looked me in the eye. And continued! He had the truck bed between him and me, with his buttocks smiling at the creek. For cars coming the other way to see. The other dude was between his door and the tiny extended-cab mini-door. Like he had created his own three-sided, metallic, tiny dressing room. Like when guys stop on the road to pee. They open both doors and stand between them, like they think nobody can see their business, but secretly hoping that everybody can.

I call shenanigans! These fellows were climbing into camo. Pants, t-shirs, long-sleeved shirts, caps. The whole kit 'n' caboodle. It's bow season here in Backroads. But if these dudes owned land up in here, they would be changing there. I have a feeling they were up to no good.

What kind of innocent hunter parks on somebody's private road and strips off to don camouflage? I would have taken a picture of the truck with my phone camera. But I didn't want to be accused of having pr0n. Besides, I didn't have armor to repel a broadhead.

For a minute, I thought I heard the twang of a banjo, and looked at the bridge in case there was a misshapen-headed savant boy challenging me to a four-string duel.