Friday, November 30, 2012

Even Steven: A Stand-Up Guy

Even Steven toys with me. He fancies himself to be quite the comedian.

Thursday morning, I arrived at school at 1:50 a.m. That's what my wall clock told me. So I had to find a tall kid to take it down. But wouldn't you know it, the ONE day all year that Tall Kid didn't walk his girlfriend past my room to class was Thursday. So I had to find a small, wiry kid instead, who was willing to stand on a chair. Then I couldn't get the battery loose. So Small Wiry Kid did it for me. The old battery said MAR 2016. The battery I replaced it with said JAN 2010.

During my 2nd hour plan time, the lights went out. They're on a timer. So if I don't move within ten minutes, the lights go out. When I flapped my arms to make them come back on, the one above my desk did not. I have six lights. The worst one possible was out.

I went to enter scores in my gradebook program, but my detachable number pad would not work. The green light was out. I fiddled and faddled with the plug-in places on my laptop and dock until I got it to work. mouse went dead. Twenty minutes of trial and error later, I had both in working order. "Why didn't you just use the little rolly mouse dealybobber on your keyboard between the G and the H?" you might ask. Here's why. It was gone. It had disappeared overnight. From the time I locked the door at 3:30 p.m. and unlocked it at 1:50 a.m.--oh, excuse me--at 7:35 a.m., that tiny round touchy thing had vanished. I was left with a square red plastic fixture that looked like a tiny fuse I used to plug into my car dashboards fuse box to make the lights work again.

"But Val," you say, because you are quite talkative with me while reading my posts, kind of like folks yelling advice at the actors in a horror movie, "what makes him Even Steven? A more appropriate name might be Take-Away Tommy."

He is still Even Steven because I got a balance of karma from him.

In the negative column we have:

dead clock
no Tall Kid
stuck battery
burned-out light
tampered laptop accouterments
missing keyboard mouse mini rolling ball thingy

In the positive column I received:

working clock
Small Wiry Kid
battery unstuck by tiny fingers of Small Wiry Kid
librarian had weather videos I requested sent to my room within five minutes
avoided collision when six-point buck ran across the road twenty feet in front of Tahoe
bagger in Walmart knew what she was doing

Yeah. He's not tit-for-tat, that Even Steven. But my karma is balanced. The earth will continue to spin on its axis. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Things That Keep Val Awake

I woke up this morning wondering...

How do deaf people get up on time for work? It's not like they can set an alarm or a clock radio. It's not like the barking of three dogs just outside the French doors to their bedroom will wake them at 4:00 a.m. They can't have their mom call them to make sure they're up. So I'm guessing that they have some kind of system with a flashing light, perhaps. But what if they sleep with their head under the covers? Or what if they work night shift, and sleep during the day, and the room is already light? I mean, they've got it covered if they still live at home with hearing parents, or have a hearing spouse to wake them. I wish CBS would have shared a detail like that with us when Margie and Luke were contestants on The Amazing Race. I'm just worried about how the deaf can get a good night's sleep without fretting over getting to work on time.

Then I started wondering about people with dog doors. Not about them getting to work on time. About why they have those dog doors. The ones for big dogs. Don't they have tremendous heating and cooling bills? What with that flap of door letting hot air in during the summer, and letting heated air out during the winter? Not to mention the danger of a toddler escaping at will. And how about the vermin that might get in? How does that doggie door know if it's letting in the family pet, or a possum, or a skunk, or Ferris Bueller's creepy principal, Ed Rooney, or a Wet Bandit like Joe Pesci in Home Alone? I just want people with dog doors to be safe and energy-efficient.

Then I started wondering why people buy those little packs of eyeglasses screws and little screwdrivers in the check-out line. Because if their glasses have lost a screw, how in the world do they think they will be able to see to put the new screw in the glasses without wearing their glasses? Sure, they can have the glasses on to pick out a screw and the cute little screwdriver and have them ready. But then they have to take the glasses off their face in order to put the screw in, and that must be nigh on impossible for a bifocaled person to accomplish. I just want people to be able to see, and have glasses in good repair.

Then my alarm went off and my three dogs stopped yapping until the minute I sat down in the upstairs recliner for my morning chair nap after taking my shower to get ready for work.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Throbbing

Sorry. Those of you who clicked in hoping to read a steamy bodice-ripper are going to be sorely disappointed. The only throbbing going on here is in Val's noggin.

I have a heavy-duty headache. I will stop short of blaming my blog buddy, Kathy, who had such an ailment a few days ago. Just because I might have brushed up against some of her germs in the comments section is no reason to make her my personal Typhoid Mary. It could be anything. I am breathed on by the teeming student populace on a daily basis. It could be anything. The Pony had a headache Monday night into Tuesday morning. He doesn't breathe on me too much. But he paws at the remote control. I know that. So I don't go touching anywhere on my face after handling it after he does. It could be anything.

One thing it could be is a broken neck. Okay. That's a little far-fetched. But the stabbing pain started last night at midnight, when I woke up in my recliner in front of the big-screen. One minute I was watching Chopped, waiting to see who won the round with the Cornish game hens, or little chickens, as Frank Costanza might say, just before asking who's having sex with the hen, and the next minute I was trying to keep my head from splitting open. It seems that I was not properly positioned for my chair nap. My neck was askew. It throbbed like the sinuses above my eyes.

I could not believe I was nearly done in by my loyal recliner. I felt as betrayed as John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn in True Grit, lamenting that his horse Bo had put a foot wrong. My recliner has never dared give me such a headache before. One more time, and it's off to the glue factory for him, by cracky!

This day was a miserable study in pain. Had I plans at school good enough for a sub to follow, I would have used a sick day. However, typing up sub plans would have been more painful than enduring the everyday routine. And I was already at school. Besides, I had duty this morning, and duty this afternoon.

By nine-thirty, I had popped an aspirin. At eleven-thirty, Acetaminophen joined Aspirin in Stomach Lake. And as soon as three-thirty rolled around, Ibuprofen arrived late to the gastric swim party. This throbbing noggin is accompanied by shooting pains down the back of my neck. I'm not sure which came first. But they are a darnable duo. Darn them! Darn them all to heck! I like a good Charlton Heston quote every now and then, too.

Nothing is working out for me. I went to fill my giant Bubba cup with ice from my Frigidaire ice-maker, and two chunks popped out. One landed on my Croc before skittering across the kitchen floor. Which meant I had to bend over and pick it up. Making my head throb all the more.

It's probably not a good sign that my neck pops and cracks every time I turn my head. However, "The Cracking" is not nearly so good a title as "The Throbbing."

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Coming Soon, to a School Near You

New Disease Sweeps Backroads

A new disease is on the rise in Backroads. There is no official blood test yet, but doctors report an influx of school-age children in the clinics, their parents seeking a concrete diagnosis. A battery of symptoms sets this new bug apart from previous seasonal illnesses. Symptoms seem to ebb and flow, come and go with the days of the week. Saturdays and Sundays, the patient seems to have recovered. But on Monday, they relapse with full force. Indeed, Monday through Friday is the time patients report the height of symptoms.

Symptoms include:

* general malaise - patient exhibits a lack of interest in everyday classroom activities

* weakness in the neck area - inability to hold head up

* memory loss - patient can't remember rules, assignments, bell schedule, or common manners

* delirium - patient prattles on and on about topics not related to current lesson

* extreme thirst - patient requests a trip to the drinking fountain every five minutes

* extreme incontinence - patient requests a trip to the bathroom every five minutes

There is no known cure for this new disease, which school personnel have termed "Idontwantodoititis." Doctors have suggested a five-day course of Swift Kick in the Butt to alleviate symptoms.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Val, as Any Proper "A League of Their Own" Lady Understands, Reveals Nothing

I am busier than the Octomom on the night before Halloween.

I am compiling a disguise. The Blogger Protection Program does not provide clothing, you know. I would be naked as a jaybird if I didn't have my comfy loungewear to go with my black socks and red Crocs. Even in Backroads, going about your business while naked as a jaybird is not considered polite.

The reason for my sudden sartorial quest is that just in case I make a trek north to a book signing, I will not be recognized. Since one of the signers says she will know me on sight, I will have to avoid that venue. Of course, she is the same someone who has been known to beat the stuffing out of black sock lint on the bathroom floor, read articles about HOW TO STOP ADULT BELLY, let a real creepy critter get away, find accidental bacon in her purse, and just about de-skin her nose trying to scrub off toothpaste that was actually on her reflection in the mirror. So, Linda, let's just say I'm not all THAT concerned about your eagle-eye vision picking me out of a crowd.

That said, I remain ever-vigilant. Missouri is crawling with ne'er-do-wells eager to reveal my secrets. In have not yet been able to locate a handbasket in which to hide. You'd think a handbasket maven like myself would be able to latch onto a prototype, at least. But no such luck. I have had to resort to one of Hick's auction finds. It might look familiar. I already blogged about it here. However, little did I realize at the time how grateful I would be for one of Hick's hoard items.

Yeah. That's me modeling it. Uh huh. That's the ticket. My old friend Jon Lovitz would vouch for me, I'm sure.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Protesting Too Much

Today I found out that several of my blog buddies are going to be signing books on December 8 at various bookstore locations throughout the greater St. Louis metropolitan area. At least that's how we refer to it here in Backroads. That. Or the city.

Today I found out that Sioux is attempting to make me an offer I can't refuse. She has called me out by my anonymous name. What's a gal to do? I did not want to clog up her comments with a lengthy response. Before you go patting me on the back for being so considerate of another's internet space, I must confess that I also refrained from a lengthy comment for another reason. Sioux might have some kind of webtap device that can trace me if I stay on her site too long.

"Oh, Val," you might say. "Enough with the conspiracy theories." Au contraire. One can never entertain too many conspiracy theories. They're like Lay's Potato Chips. No one can have just one. And what with Sioux being a public school teacher, I know that she is well-versed in psychological profiling. It's a perk of the job. You don't even know that you're filing away incidents and behaviors in a cranial database for future reference. If it works on kids, it could work on me.

The distance from my pastoral palace to the teeming metropolis is not the issue. I have been known to make the trip on an old people's gambling bus. But even though I spent a couple of years driving there daily for work, I have developed an aversion to city traffic. Not to fear. Genius volunteered to take me in his little Ford Ranger. I think not. Not that I don't trust his driving. But I would feel safer in my giant Tahoe than in his little red tin can. And here's where we're like a wacky star-crossed watch-fob-and-hair-comb platonic couple. Genius would not feel safe driving my giant Tahoe. If only he could be Jack Sprat Jr., and I could be his momma, Mrs. Sprat. Then he could drive me in the manner in which I feel comfortable.

Hick has stepped up to the plate and agreed to take me. Not home plate. That would imply a semblance of athleticism. Which does not exist, even in Hick's little finger. More like he has stepped up to the dinner plate. He's quite the eater. He knows his way around a dinner plate. And the city. So the transportation issue is solved.

However...even though Sioux guarantees my anonymity, I am skeptical. Am I to believe that she would not know me by my bad teacher's haircut? Oh, wait. We're talking about Sioux. The woman who washes her hair in the faculty bathroom sink. Unsuccessfully, some might add. So the hair issue might go right over her head. Still, she might be able to discern my identity from other aspects of my appearance. Would she not make the connection if a chip-shouldered woman showed up, teeming with road rage, her basement pallor giving way to the rosy red high-blood-pressured cheeks of anger, a ring of gas-station-chicken grease around her lips, drops of wasted Diet Coke on her comfortable oxford big-shirt, a guilty gleam in her eye?

It's too bad that I don't have an alter ego like this lady. A Cathy-on-a-Stick to call my own. Someone who could stand in for me at events such as this. A not-quite-Val to grab a book, get it signed, and high-tail it back to the middle of nowhere.

I am looking into acquiring Val-in-a-Handbasket.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Whose Face Is Redder?

Well. This is embarrassing. I have my days mixed up.

All day, I have believed it was Sunday, not Saturday. Oh, nothing noticeable occurred to make me a laughingstock in the eyes of the world. No more than usual. It's not like I showed up at church and pounded on the doors, muttering about a conspiracy to keep me out.

The Pony and I did the shopping, which has been a Sunday task for years. I whipped up a new side dish in the crock pot. Wrote out some bills. Balanced the checkbook.

This afternoon, I checked  my MegaMillions ticket and my PowerBall ticket. Not winners. I ripped them in the middle, and put them in my office wastebasket. The usual routine. A winner gets to lay on top of a TurboTax CD case, on top of my Puffs With Aloe box, until such time as it behooves me to cash in three or seven dollars.

Imagine my shock when, a few minutes ago, I peeked into to check the weather for the week. You know. Just in case there might be some snow in the forecast. It would happen! And imagine my further shock when I glanced at the 7-day forecast and realized that TODAY IS SATURDAY! The PowerBall number has not even been drawn yet! It's worth $325 million, you know.

Then imagine my total lack of shock when I observed the following summary of Tuesday's weather:

Tuesday: Mostly cloudy with some afternoon sun peaking through. Highs near 30.

Have they no shame? Have they no proofreader? Do we blame the weathercaster, or a copy writer for the website?

Now THAT is embarrassing.

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Curious Incident of Who Moved My Cheese in the Refrigerator

All right already! It's not that curious. I moved my own cheese. I confess. I'm not filing a complaint against myself, so don't whip out those plastic zip-ties just yet. And somebody please tell me, at what point did our society reach the tipping point where metal handcuffs are used more in magic tricks and kinky boudoir escapades than in police work? Seriously, people. Disposable handcuffs made of plastic? I'm checking out space in the industrial park for my proposed handbasket factory.

The cheese in question was last observed on the second shelf of my shiny silver Frigidaire. Frig, for short. Two eight-ounce bars of sharp cheddar, still in their original see-through plastic packaging, had resided on the far-right side of that glass shelf for approximately two weeks. Like stalwart soldiers they stood, on edge, awaiting a call to duty.

Yesterday morning, as I gazed at the cheese, I noticed that it was gazing back at me. "Oh, Val!" you might say. "You're so silly! Cheese does not have eyes." This cheese did. Green eyes. Not full of envy, but full of mold. That is SO not cool. Sharp cheddar should be dark yellow. Not dark yellow with forest green spots, like some wacky leopard all decked out for St. Patrick's day. And speaking of St. Patrick's Day...

See there, how good I am with a segue? Not the motorized riding-on kind spelled Segway, but the ol' switcheroo from one subject to another totally unrelated subject. Sometimes I really impress myself with my mad segue skillz. In my mind, I could totally write copy for the local newscasters.

St. Patrick's Day is  around the expiration date of 3-13-13 that was stamped on my cheese packages. I cry shenanigans! That cheese should have been good to go for another three-and-a-half months! And remember, the expiration date is the recommended date that you use the product by for maximum freshness. Not the date that it will kill you if you eat it. I had a good mind to take that cheese back to Save A Lot. But of course I didn't have the receipt. I'm not in a habit of keeping food receipts in case the food spoils three-and-a-half months before the expiration date. I'm sure they would have given me my money back at that store. They are quite friendly and customer-oriented. After all these years, this is only the second time I've had a problem with something I bought there. The first was some chicken that went bad before the date. When I mentioned it on my next trip, the check-out lady told me I should have brought it back for a refund, but I had already thrown it away. That was chicken. We're talking a day or two, tops. Not three-and-a-half months.

What's the deal? I bought the cheese and drove it ten minutes home and put it in Frig. It's not like I ripped off the packaging, rubbed it on my rump, drop-kicked it across the goat pen, rolled it end over end through the chicken house, called the dog to fetch it by mouth back to the house, used it to scrub under the rim of the toilet, and had Hick carry it under his armpits for two days before re-wrapping it and putting it on the second shelf of Frig. C'mon! People in Morocco, including a visiting Andrew Zimmern, eat khlea, which is fermented meat stored in its own fat. Not refrigerated. And it does not grow mold!

I know that cheese is made from mold. But that should be on the outside of the thick rind, or branching merrily through the cheese proper in veins that are a planned part of the cheese texture and taste. Not growing in ever-expanding circles on the surface of a storebought cheese brick.

You bet I moved my cheese. Right to the plastic trash bag. Which had a built-in cinch at the top, because police are using all the zip ties to subdue innocent cheese movers.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

A Lazy Baker's Dozen

Notes from a Backroads Thanksgiving

1. Adult children really need to learn how to eat regular food, and not expect the world to whip up macaroni-and-cheese and deep-fried chicken fingers to placate them.

2. Certain relatives will lure you into a card game they call "Fitzgeralds" and change their explanation of the rules every time you make a play. At the end, you will find out that the game might as well have been called Bicycle, Hoyle, or Old Casino Used Playing Cards. Because a kid named the game after the cards being used. Upon further investigation at home on the trusty internet, you will discover that the actual name of that card game is Six Card Golf.

3. If you make deviled eggs especially for the person who takes two or three every year, commenting, "I really don't like olives, but I guess I can just pick them off," that person will eat only one of the oliveless eggs, and leave five untouched and unwanted by olive-eaters.

4. Salted butter is way better than unsalted butter, so don't play ignorant and say that you didn't know there was a difference.

5. It is not really considered polite to take a 20 gauge single shot shotgun out of the ceiling and take it home in a bag labeled 20 gauge automatic shotgun.

6. Some sore losers will try to manipulate a game of Apples to Apples by deliberately not choosing the best answer, in fact choosing the WORST answer, rather than give the rightful winner the green card.

7. People who don't know the difference between Miracle Whip and mayonnaise must be missing a taste bud gene.

8. Apparently, the proper way to cool off if you are too hot is not to tell the hostess so she can adjust her thermostat, nor take off your long-sleeved zipper-neck sweater and wear just your T-shirt, nor fan yourself with a styrofoam tray. The solution is to open the kitchen window, struggle with the locked storm window, switch to the next window, and fling it up so cold air rushes through the screen.

9. Girls who get their first real job and move into their own apartment do not know that a layer cake should be put together with the bottom layer turned upside down, so its flat surface will be in contact with the upper layer's flat surface, thus preventing the top layer from sliding off in a declaration of allegiance to gravity.

10. Individuals can be SO condescending when they ask, "Do you have an iPhone? I'm not buying you one. But do you have one? No? You can get internet on them. And the Ellen Know or Go app. Do you even have texting?"

11. Green bean bundles soaked in butter and brown sugar and wrapped in bacon and skewered with a colored wooden toothpick best way to eat vegetables, ever.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Feast of Our Consumption

Welcome, you smug bon-bon eaters, fresh from a hard day of clicking the remote control while lounging on the couch, work a distant memory in your minds. You missed a breathtaking Day Before Thanksgiving Potluck Lunch. But not to worry--I will bring that DBTPL to you.

I'm sure you are picturing Val and her colleagues dressed in their Thanksgiving finery, gathered around one long table made of many, said table draped with a linen tablecloth, featuring a centerpiece of steaming pumpkin soup in an actual pumpkin tureen, the handle of a carved-gourd ladle elegantly curling over the side, orange and yellow candles providing ambiance as we join hands and give thanks for the feast set before us by the FACS teacher and her minions.

This is where the screech of a needle across a phonograph record jars you back to reality. So much for listening to that Charlie Brown theme music.

We trickled into the teacher workroom to fill our paper plates. The FACS room had been commandeered by the FACS teacher (the very nerve of her!) to hold class. Since she became our go-to gal for turkey procurement, we forgave her. Dress on this special day is best described as informal. Our spread lay sprawled upon the counter between the stainless steel sink and the cardboard cubbyhole slots that house the vital forms and receive the ISS assignments. Candles would have been a nice touch, because one of the overhead fluorescents had gone kaput. The soft glow of the soda machine almost made up for it.

Kyocera stood against the opposite wall, jutting out Drawer 1 like a delinquent with a chip on his shoulder. His longtime companion, Canon, was not himself, having been dismantled yesterday when a repairman cannibalized him for his top parts, so necessary to the convalescence of the office Canon. These vital organs are no longer being donated by dying copiers, nor synthesized in mad-scientist laboratories. Such is the state of copier health care in Backroads.

At the head of our buffet sat the turkey, light and dark. I took a tad of each, the white meat being a mistake, what with turning out to be virtually inedible, even after removing a ropey vein and trying to cut through shiny cartilage with a white plastic fork and spoon. Cold mashed potatoes were next. No flavoring. No butter. Perhaps no potato. On to the Hot Wing Dip. It's a school potluck favorite of mine. Luckily the chicken in it replaced my turkey protein. I snagged a hot roll cold from the cardboard box, to sop up my HWD. I passed up the broccoli stems in cheese sauce, the stuffing, the gravy, the boiled shrimp, the green bean casserole, the corn casserole, the deer sausage with Ritz crackers. On to the dessert counter, under the window next to the laminator. I forwent the apple dumplings, the chocolate pudding pie, and the triple-chocolate cake, going straight to my Mississippi Mud cake that I bought at Country Mart. Which nearly caused a rumble.

A kind, caring soul, do-gooding her way around the venue, took it upon herself to slice all desserts. She meant well. Thought she was providing a vital service, you know, because we were in a hurry, and no knives were in evidence. Goody Soul had found one plastic knife. She popped the tops off the desserts and commenced to cuttin'. I told her I would be having a piece of the Mississippi Mud. Goody Soul kindly carved a section to my liking. "I just washed my hands," she said, before holding the top of my cake slice with four fingers to keep it on the knife. That stuff doesn't bother me. I'm sure she's clean enough. It was what I discovered later that bothered me.

At the end of the half day, I saw people fetching their leftovers and scurrying to their cars. I went in to grab my cake. I worked hard walking into the store to slide my debit card and buy it. There it sat. Just where I'd left it some two hours earlier. One slice gone. And twelve slices remaining. Do you get what I'm getting at? I can hardly re-bring that mutilated baked good to my mom's Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday. Goody Soul had sliced the entire cake. Let me spell it out for you, in case physics is not your first language. My storeboughten cake, which would have had two surface areas exposed from my cut-out slice, now had twenty-four surface areas exposed. Surface areas receptive to receiving airborne contaminants. Surface areas eager to evaporate their internal moisture. AND the number of pieces meant that Goody Soul had not even been symmetrical in her slicing. She gave me one piece, then cut twelve more. Thirteen pieces from one cake.

That's gotta be a goocher somewhere.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

How Do You Know...

How do you know if Hick has taken a week off from work?

No. The answer is NOT, "Your garbage can is empty, and your dog is pregnant." That's how you know if a Frenchman has been in your back yard. Hey, now! Don't be hatin' on me, you of the French persuasion. I am only plagiarizing Stephen King.

You know that Hick has taken a week off from work when he wets your pants. It's true. Don't you hate it when that happens? When you come home from a hard day in the classroom, eager to slip into something more comfortable, only to discover that you've slipped into something LESS comfortable?

I have a favorite pair of dark blue cotton sweatpants that I wear around the house. They're relatively new. I had to draft a replacement for my old gray pair with the purple stripe, due to a rather large hole down the outside of the right leg. I quickly tired of giving free peep shows and grasping the onion-skin-paper-thin edges of that purple stripe. I drape my blue sweatpants over the edge of the forest green triangle garden tub in our master bathroom. They faithfully wait for me from 6:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m.

I see no reason to hang my sweatpants on a hanger. They're SWEATPANTS, by cracky! Nor am I compelled to fold them and put them in a drawer. And I'm too much of a proper lady to kick them in a pile and leave them on the bathroom floor. So they hang on the side of the tub. It's not like Hick is going to be hosting Queen Elizabeth II for high tea while I'm away minding freshmen who say clever things like, "Feel my butt." He doesn't even know how to make cucumber sandwiches. And I'm pretty sure Publishers Clearing House will not barge in with their cameras. Likewise, Geraldo Rivera will not be broadcasting a special during which he will unseal the storage panels that enclose the tub. I'm pretty sure those sweatpants are not going to cause any harm in their intermediate resting place while I'm at work.

Our reunion each evening is joyous. Not me and Hick. Me and my sweatpants. Hick wasn't even home Monday evening. I would have brushed past him anyway, in a beeline for my comfy loungewear. I was stoked. Tossed my work pants into the walk-in closet. Reached for the seat of my pants. And found nothing. They were not where I had left them. They had jumped over the ceramic-tile-road to the toilet, and hung themselves upon my towel rack. My pants were cohabiting with my towel. The secret life of linens. Who knew?

I hopped into those dear saggy sweatpants faster than the Easter Bunny fills baskets and hides eggs on Easter morn. My pants did not feel quite right. It must have been...oh...I don't know...perhaps...THE GALLON OF WATER THEY WERE RETAINING like a premenstrual circus fat lady on a high-salt diet. I felt like a toddler in a morning Pull-Up. What a fine how-do-you-do THIS was for the gal who brings home the bacon.

I left them on. But I stopped short of trying to make The Water Pants happen. I'm no Gretchen Wieners. Even though my pants looked mighty FETCH. I knew, deep in my heart, that my soggy sweatpants were never going to become the new Water Bra. Duh! You wear them on your butt and legs, not on your boobs.

Since Hick was not at home for inquisition and chastisement purposes, I could only guess the method to his madness. It looked like he had undertaken some project with the garden tub. Not wiping all three sides to make it shine. Not cleaning the interior. More subtle. Churning vinegar through the jets, perhaps. Though I did not check to see if my vinegar was missing, and the house did not smell like egg-dying gone awry. Apparently, Hick had taken umbrage to the sight of my sweatpants on the side of the tub, neither sweating nor panting, as he went about his task. So he hung them on my towel rack. On top of my morning shower towel. Which had wiped me down like an ultra-efficient squeegee, its nubby nubbins thirstily imbibing the droplets of well-water from my rather large expanse of epidermis.

Hick is very lucky that no chafing ensued.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Who's Bringing the Roast Beast?

We have a sign-up sheet in the teacher workroom. A list of who's bringing what to the Thanksgiving potluck lunch on Wednesday. You know, because everybody is simply dying to cook up a tasty treat on the night before they have to cook up a bunch of tasty treats. The timing is off a bit this year, what with a switch in personnel, and our regular turkey-cooker out of the rotation. The pinch-getter volunteered to procure the turkey. The least we can do is provide a covered dish as requested.

Therein lies the problem. Like "aloha" in Hawaii, "covered dish" in our building has more than one meaning. Or so it would seem upon perusal of the sign-up sheet. But before I give you a peek at what's on the menu, let's make excuses for the signers. And also for the Johns whose Hancocks are sorely lacking.

We normally have that potluck today. Monday of the short week. In years past, we have had leftovers on Tuesday and Wednesday. More recently, the bird carcass is picked clean before Tuesday rolls around. A hearty lunch of corn casserole, veggies and dip, and sugar-free desserts are left. So changing the day is not such a big deal anymore. We'll stuff ourselves on Wednesday, and clean up the mess. No lingering lesser babkas to be picked over for two days.

That sign-up list used to be on the back of the door in the teacher workroom. Which is unfortunate, because the door is always propped open. So you really had to search to find the list. In days gone by, people tried to haul in a balanced meal. To not bring what others had already signed up for. As luck would have it, the first signer was usually the Loaf of Bread Guy. You could mark that off your list right away. Now the sign-up paper is on the table by the soda machine. I only found it because I sat down to rest while Kyocera was churning out my copies.

I'm giving my colleagues the benefit of the doubt. They probably thought we weren't having our potluck this year. Or they didn't find the list. But the reality remains. It is Monday. The potluck is Wednesday. Only ten people have signed up. Here's what we're having. Read it, and weep with me.

hot wing dip
chocolate cake
green bean casserole
Mississippi Mud cake
apple dumplings
Farmer's Almanac

Okay. That last one is a guess. Lady of Spain, we adore you. Your writing is beautiful, so stylish, with curlicues and loop-de-loops, yet unreadable. I know you are writing in English, because there are no beginning questions marks, and no funky upside-down exclamation points. I am sure you're bringing something delicious. But the best I can decipher is Farmer's Almanac. Please forgive my monolingualism.

I'm not all that concerned about filling my gullet at Wednesday's brought-in buffet. I could easily spend 39 days on Survivor, all the while giving my share of rice to one of those little skeletal girls without ever feeling the bite of hunger. Besides, school dismisses at 1:00 that day. I can grab some gas station chicken on the way home if I feel a mite peckish. Such a meager menu does not cause me undue alarm. Enough is as good as a feast, I've heard.

I guarantee you that more than ten people will show up to eat.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Sweet Val-dalia

Hick and Genius went to the Rams game today. They are denying responsibility for the loss.

Genius took one of his fancy schmancy cameras along. But I got the photo that Hick took with his phone. You might notice that the picture is not of actual game activity. It's Hick's statement on how he has connections and gets free tickets that are nothing to sneeze at. Except maybe they are, because it's not like the Rams are setting the league on fire with their performance this year. Even though it's already better than last year. Which really is not saying much.

I have not been a rabid Rams fan since the years of cryin' Dick Vermeil, Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, Ricky Proehl, Todd Lyght, D'Marco Farr, and Jeff Wilkins. Don't go thinkin' I'm a fair-weather fan. I rooted and tooted for the Rams from the time they came to St. Louis. But after Dick Vermeil, my interest petered out. I just couldn't get behind Mike Martz.

My interest in football has fallen by the wayside. Gone are the days when I entered the local Backroads paper's weekly football contest. It involved high school, college, and pro games. I won it twice, though not in the same year. Not too shabby for an old lady housewife. The prize money was three digits. I DID have to travel to a furniture store twenty miles away for a promotional photo. No pic, no check. A small price to pay for money.

There you have it. Another layer to the onion that is Val Thevictorian. A true Renaissance woman.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The First Back-Yard Bank of Backroads

Well. I finished yesterday's tale with a thinly-veiled threat to withdraw my fortune from the bank and bury it in a sock in my back yard.

Judging from the comments, I am not the only citizen of the blogosphere to entertain such thoughts. The Chubby Chatterbox himself jumped on the back-yard-banking bandwagon. Though he was careful not to snag his brown corduroy suit. I have a large back yard, and an even larger heart, ice-cold as it may be. So I have decided to open the First Back-Yard Bank of Backroads. As a service, you know. For all of my well-heeled bloggy friends.

As with any financial institution, the First Back-Yard Bank of Backroads must have rules and regulations. Here is a smattering of those I just thought up on the spot. They are subject to change. This list is not meant to be all-inclusive or exhaustive. Exhausting, maybe.


Bylaws of the First Back-Yard Bank of Backroads

* Accounts are for savings only. We have not yet purchased a printer to make checks.

* The FDIC does not insure money invested in socks. The First Back-Yard Bank of Backroads has its own FDIC. That stands for Future Dollars In Clothing. Your money will be right there in your sock when you dig it up at a later date.

* No nylons or silk.

* While you may dig other people's socks, you most certainly are not allowed to dig other people's socks. That means you, Hippies!

* Not responsible for damage due to bored dogs.

* There are no lobby or drive-thru hours. We operate 24/7/365. However, funds may be unavailable during periods of heavy rain, snowpack, or tornado warnings.

* Interest is zero percent, compounded daily.

* Robbers take note: this is a BYOS facility. Bring Your Own Shovel.

* Two types of accounts are available: Regular and Deluxe.

* Regular accounts have no limit on deposits or withdrawals, but require patrons to bring their own shovel. Don't get any robbery ideas, cheapskates!

* Deluxe accounts have a service fee of two dollars per month, and are limited to one deposit and one withdrawal per week. Our workers are women and children. We do not need ropey muscle to repel future suitors, nor threaten our peers.


As an incentive to open an account with the First Back-Yard Bank of Backroads, we are offering a free sock with each account. They come in the following styles:

#1. white, knee-length, tube sock with two purple stripes at top

#2. black, crew-length dress sock

#3. pink or teal terrycloth ankle sock with pom pom at heel

#4. heather gray, crew-length, wool hunter's sock

#5. white, knee-high, compression hosiery suitable for surgery and/or plane rides

#6. white, cotton, seamless, nonbinding, crew length diabetic socks

#7. striped red, green, blue, and yellow knee-high toe-socks

#8. red, grippy-bottom, terrycloth ankle socks

#9. pastel yellow, handknit baby bootie

#10. white, moisture-wicking, odor-eating, quarter-length athletic sock

#11. argyle


Put yourself in your money's shoes!
Call 1-555-SAVE MEE to open your account today.
Ask for Val.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Situation Under Review

Today, Val takes on the banking industry.

I have a bone to pick with my financial institution. I think they've had it in for me since I closed my savings account and took my fortune elsewhere. There. I said it. I suspect retaliation for de-monetation. I can't even remember the reason, now. I think it had something to do with charging a fee if I made two or more deposits or withdrawals a month.

Fie on you, Bank Branch! If it's MY money, you should not have a say in how often I need to use it or grow it. It's not like I was draining the account, then re-opening another to get a fancy gift. Nor was I withdrawing huge chunks to buy run-down properties and flip them. So I took it out. The money. Not IT. Who do you think I am, a date of Jerry's friend Elaine? Unlike Elaine's anatomically-correct date, I explained why I was taking it out.

Okay, that one may be a bit far-fetched for a conspiracy theory. I'm sure it was a simple policy change that affected everybody with a savings account like mine. But I'm not here to dwell in the past. I took action when I was dissatisfied. Don't make me do it again, Bank Branch.


Hick was issued a reimbursement check for the bills he paid with his credit card for the business trip last week to Massachusetts. This involved airline tickets, housing, and food for three workers for five days. A hefty sum on a personal credit card. Upper four figures. We pay off our card every month, so I wanted to make sure the money was in the checking account. Normally, Hick's payroll check is directly deposited. But reimbursement checks are issued on paper. I took it to the Bank Branch for deposit on my way to the doctor's office on Thursday.

The teller girl looked at the check like it was a gossamer fairy wing. A unicorn horn nub. Bigfoot's ingrown toenail. You'd think she had never seen a paper check. That she had gone straight from Ron Moody as Fagin with his drawstring bag of coins in OLIVER! to electronic transfers. In three seconds flat. "Is this a payroll check?"

"No. That is done by direct deposit every month. This is from the same company, though. It's a reimbursement check." Let the record show that Hick had signed the back. That I had written FOR DEPOSIT under his signature. That I submitted it with a printed deposit slip bearing our name and account number. And that we have banked there for twenty-three years.

"There is probably going to be a ten-day hold on these funds."

This would not cause us undue hardship, because the institution where I now stash our cash has no limit on withdrawals and deposits. I could take out money to pay off the card, and put it back when the reimbursement funds were available. An inconvenience. But not a hardship. It's the principle of the matter.


Uh huh. Even the guy behind me, who stepped to the next teller girl, knew this loophole. As my drama in real life was playing out, I heard him say, "I want to cash this check. Then I'm going to deposit the cash into my account. The girl last time told me that would avoid the hold."

I looked at Teller Girl and raised my left eyebrow. The students call it The Stinkeye. She excused herself to go ask somebody important, who was in a glass-walled office discussing a home loan, making comments like, "I've never heard of that kind of loan. We can give it a try."

After five minutes, Teller Girl came back. "There won't be a hold. She signed off on it." Hmpf! I should say so. You would think that twenty-three years with no overdrafts would account for something. Last December, we went through the ten-day hold with the Christmas bonus. That's a Christmas bonus. Not an After The First Of The Year bonus.

I've a good mind to keep our money in an old sock buried in the back yard. The interest earned would be about the same. I'm reviewing the situation...

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Anthropologists Beware

Turns out that future anthropologist might look askance at a certain segment of the Backroads population.

An article in our science magazine reported on the Chinchorro mummies. How they are different from Egyptian mummies like King Tut, and modern-day mummies like Kim Il-Sung. A student new to our school this year raised her hand. "At my old school? We made our own mummies out of chickens. We wrapped them and buried them in the yard. I don't know why they were teaching us how to make mummies."

"Chicken parts? Or a whole chicken?" I was curious. Because at my old school, I taught the kids how to dissect a chicken wing. It's just like the human arm, you know. They're homologous structures. The part of the chicken wing that most people avoid has two bones like the radius and ulna in your forearm. The icky part you throw away is like your hand and fingers. The meaty part we like to eat is like your bicep muscle. You can put a dull probe under a tendon in that upper chicken wing, and make the bottom part move, like your bicep moves your forearm when you flex it. Coincidentally, my students declared that they would never eat chicken wings again.

"We mummified the whole chicken."

"Are there plans to dig them up?"

"I don't know."

"Because, I wonder what the point would be, just to bury them, and never look at them again."

"I know. If somebody finds all those mummified chickens, they're going to think something weird was going on."

Maybe a Missouri teacher of the lower grades can fill me in. Is this come kind of GLE objective? I remember The Pony learning an awful lot about mummies in one of his classes. But then again, The Pony loves all things Egyptian. So he might have picked up some knowledge elsewhere, and elaborated when discussing what he was doing at school that week.

I'm all for hands-on learning. But I draw the line at having my students make mummies. Besides, it's not part of my CLEs that will be tested on the EOC next spring. I certainly don't have time to kill and mummify.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

People, Let Me Tell You 'Bout My Best Friend. He's a One Gal Copyin' Pal Who'll Love Me 'Til the End.

The copy machine is loaded.

I take full responsibility. Those Kyoceras just can't hold their paper. Like a kindergartener forced to hold a vomit bowl under his chin in the car, Kyocera has to have a safety outlet. Drawer 1 must remain open. If we close it, you see, Kyocera's guts start churning. Paper goes places paper shouldn't go. It's too much for his system. Kyocera shuts down. He needs a cold cloth for his forehead.

I feel for Kyocera. I do. Nobody wants to be exposed, a virtual stranger's arms up to the elbows in his guts, in full view of every Tom, Dick, and Harry who walks down the hall. I try to soothe him. Any time I need a job done, I coddle Kyocera. First, I check for a fever. I ask how he's feeling. He's not very talkative, that Kyocera. But sometimes he flashes a text that says he is under the weather. And I leave him alone.

Today, Kyocera appeared to be perfectly healthy. Robust, even. He had just finished a major task for a colleague. So I let him rest momentarily. Gave him a quick check-up. It seems that he was not starving, but it had been a while since he had eaten. Like maybe his blood sugar might be low. So I fed him. Filled him to the brim. You never want Kyocera to get hungry while he's working for you. His nutrients go down the wrong tube. Sometimes, a simply Heimlich maneuver can fix him. If you catch him choking in time. It's tricky. Because, like humans, a choking Kyocera makes no sound. I saved him on a hunch, once. Pulled open Drawer 2, and saw an accident waiting to happen. His next bite was twisted into a shape that would never have fit Kyocera's esophagus. I removed it. Disposed of it. And that day, like today, Kyocera hummed happily along. If he had lips, I swear that he would have whistled while he worked. None of those septuagenarian-with-emphysema wheezes were in evidence.

I got Kyocera loaded. And I take full responsibility.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Freaking Mr. FedEx

I surprised the FedEx man today.

Not surprised, like hiding behind the girls' bathroom door and jumping out, screaming BOO at the next fourth-grader to enter, who just happened to by my revered teacher, Mrs. Burns. I was so mortified that time that I vowed never to jump out from behind a door shouting BOO again. A vow which remains unbroken to this day.

I mean surprised, as in starting down the long driveway as he was backing away from the house to come up the driveway. I pulled off in the three-acre front yard to allow Mr. FedEx the gravel all to himself. We do that here in the country. Drive in our yards. Because we might as well. Total strangers do it all the time. You only know when you see their tire tracks when you get home from work.

Mr. FedEx stopped his van beside me. We do that here in the country, too. Stop driving opposite directions to sit and talk out the window to each other.

"You know you left a note on the door to leave the package in the garage so the dogs won't eat it? I did that last time. I put the package in the garage just now. But I think there's another dog in there!" Mr. FedEx has mentioned before to Genius that he is a bit leery of dogs. Genius has assured him that our three are all bark. And that the bark is mainly reserved for 2:00 a.m., other barking dogs, and absolutely nothing. Rarely do they even bother to bark at strangers who approach our home.

"Oh, one might have run in. It's okay. I'm going in there now."

"I think it was a dog. All I saw was a pair of eyes."

"That might have been one of the four cats. Or a mouse! My husband gets mad when he pulls in the garage and a mouse runs up the wall. 'Why do we have four cats if they can't even kill one mouse?' he says."

"Ha! THAT'S funny! All those cats and still a mouse."

Mr. FedEx laughed on up the driveway to the gravel road. I laughed on down the driveway to the garage. I could picture the scenario. Unlike the packages left stacked neatly on top of the generator by the UPS lady, a friend to dogs everywhere, with her fistful of crunchy treats to toss will-nilly for the fleabags...packages left by Mr. FedEx are found on the floor right inside the garage door.

I can see him, Mr. FedEx, a tall, burly man, pressing his face against the glass, hands shielding the sides, trying to peep into that garage door. Standing on the sidewalk, turning the doorknob, peering into the dark interior. Light only coming from the two rows of thin windows embedded in the slide-up entry doors at the opposite end. The sudden wink of a pair of eyes. The EEK as Mr. FedEx tossed the package inside and slammed the door, legs pinwheeling, cartoon music clunking, as he tried to make a quick getaway.

Poor guy. He needs to carry some treats. Or get Gramma Mimma's muttony napkins out of his pockets, if he wants the animals on his route to ignore him.

Monday, November 12, 2012

This is Why Genius Wants to go Away to College

Genius and two friends went to a movie Friday evening. Not a regular Backroads movie at the nearly-local fourplex. A movie in a city up north. Halfway between Backroads and the BigCity. He didn't plan to be out late. They met up right after school, and headed off to a 4:45 showing. I was a bit apprehensive, what with it being a Friday night. But Genius has been to the BigCity by himself, so I let out the apron strings a bit.

I didn't even command Genius to call me when he got there, and when he was leaving. The Pony and I scurried around so he could feed the goats and chickens. Then I took him back to town so he could spend the night with his grandma. Hick was still in Massachusetts. So I had the homestead to myself. I was happily cruising the information superhighway when the phone rang just before 7:00.

"Mom. There's been an accident. We are out of the movie, but we can't get on the road. The police have it blocked. There are ambulances coming."

"You're not sitting in traffic?"

"No. We're on the parking lot of a gas station by a mini mall. We're just standing here watching. They're letting one lane of traffic through."

"You need to be careful. Know your surroundings. Don't get robbed. You all look like country people. Don't let anybody take advantage of you."

"You're crazy. We don't look country. We're fine."

"Just be careful. Call me back in twenty minutes, or when you are leaving."

Yes. I'm overprotective. But Genius is naive. He will object when he reads this. But it's true. When I worked in the BigCity for the unemployment office, down by the Bevo Mill, a coworker said the same thing to me. Hick worked near Tower Grove and Chouteau at the time. So we rode together. He had to be at work at 7:00 a.m. My supervisor didn't show up until around 7:20 to open the building. I told Hick to let me out so I could wait. I never thought anything of it. There were not many people around at that time of morning. Just those driving by on the way to work. Hick picked me up after work. We both had overtime back then. My supervisor assigned me extra filing to pass the time. When he left, I was sometimes alone for a half hour until Hick was ready to go. At least I could wait inside the office. The door locked on its own when I left. The only time I got scared was when a guy walked from narrow window to narrow window, pressing his face against the glass, watching me. I went to the windowless break room to spoil his fun. Still, I felt safer with this arrangement than dropping off Hick and picking him up later.

The phone rang again at 7:15. "Mom. We're leaving now."

"From the parking lot?"

"Yeah. We think there was a drug deal going on behind the gas station. So we got back in the truck."

"I TOLD you to be aware!"

"We're fine. You overreact. The coolest thing ever happened while we were waiting! There's a Domino's in this strip mall. A guy sitting in his car stuck in traffic called and had them deliver a pizza to his car. It was great!"

"I'm glad you were entertained."

"Yeah. Well, we're going to Steak and Shake. Then I'll be home."

"Be careful. It's the opening night of deer season. Drunks will be on the way to deer camp. Look out for the other guy. Like oncoming traffic."

"All RIGHT! Bye."

Yes. I'm overprotective. But I'm sure the people in the accident never planned on colliding that night, either. You never know. All my blathering might have delayed them just long enough to avoid an unfortunate mishap.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Example Number 179 of How the Universe Conspires Against Val

Before Genius sent me to the dead-mouse-smelling post office with his $48,000 envelope, he had to write an editorial essay to include with his scholarship application.

With the efficiency of a NASA flight control technician completing a checklist prior to launch, Genius gathered all materials for his packet, and left it with his recommendation-writer. They go way back, she being an upper-level mathematics instructor with the claim to fame of shaking Wernher von Braun's hand in her childhood. She was supposed to seal her recommendation in a separate envelope, then pass the packet on to the last person, the official-transcript-adder. And herein lies today's tale: Example Number 179 of How the Universe Conspires Against Val.

For anonymity purposes, we shall call the recommendation-writer Julia. As in Sugarbaker. For reasons which will become apparent a bit farther down the page. The official-transcript-adder shall be known as OTA. Try to keep up.

Julia schlepped the ever-fattening packet up the long hall to OTA's office. She proudly, and with a flourish, I imagine, presented the pile of documents to OTA. Julia is a staunch supporter of Genius, declaring him to be, if not one-in-a-million, at least one-in-five-in-her-career. As in the top echelon of students she has had the pleasure of teaching in her thirty-some-odd years of education.

OTA inspected the scholarship instructions. Not because she didn't trust Genius and Julia to be thorough, but because it's kind of her job. Like a quality control inspector, rather than the last worker on the assembly line. She thumbed her way through the stack of documents. "Essay? Has somebody proofread this for him?"

Julia nodded. "His mother checked it over last night."

OTA raised her eyebrows. "His mother? Why did he have his mother look at it instead of his honors English teacher? Or me?"

Julia drew herself up to maximum height, in order to look down her nose at OTA. "His mother is an accomplished writer. She writes every day. She has received an offer of publication. She has won several writing contests. I'm not positive, but I believe she's writing a book. AND, she was valedictorian of her high school class. So I would think that her proofreading would be sufficient."

OTA blinked. "Well. I nod and speak to her in the hall when I walk by. But I had no idea she was so accomplished. I'm sure his essay will be fine."

I know all of this, because Julia ran straight to my classroom to inform me. I'm pretty sure flames were still shooting from her nostrils. We share a prep hour. They're not really for prepping lessons, you know. They're for gossiping. Julia is also a staunch supporter of me. She wanted me to know that she has my back. Any place. Any time. Whenever somebody disparages my intellectual capabilities.

I bear OTA no ill will. She is merely one of many who judge this book by its cover. I am like Chris Farley's Bennett Brauer character with finger-quotes at SNL's Weekend Update desk. Maybe I'm not "conventionally pretty" or "smart-looking" or "well-spoken" or "one of the popular crowd" or "dressed for success" or "able to not blend in with the woodwork" or...well...OTA is not the first person to underestimate Val Thevictorian.

Let the record show that we are a small school district. One long hallway is the extent of our building. No multi-acre campus. One. Building. Three teachers per academic department. I have been with this district since the year The Pony was born. You'd think I might be more than a one-dimensional character. Like one of those stick drawings on the back windshield of a Ford pickup, a wild-haired little boy peeing on a Chevy emblem. At least I did not receive the Dean Wormer speech: "Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life, son." That's because I am not a drunk. And not a son.

Apparently, the universe has other plans for Val. Plans which do not yet include respect from her peers.

Because Karma has been teething on my posterior recently, I fully expect a plethora of typos to escape my attention in this post. Showing that I am not quite the grand proofreader that I imagine myself to be. Let the record also show that I know my blog writing is not sentence-structurally correct. It's my style. Not MLA 7.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

A Modern Horror Story. Or as I Call it: A Horry.

Funny thing about my comment section. People give me advice. I know! They are selfless like that. Always willing to help out a gal named Val struggling with Karmatic payback. Who knew that Stephen was well-versed in the everyday uses of lamb's blood? Not this chick. And there's Sioux, who touts the power of a not-so-clandestine group called the WWWPs.

I don't mean to brush off their helpful hints. But it seems that finding a virgin here in Backroads, and a volcano to toss her into, would be more practical. Since I'm a logical kind of troubleshooter, I will consider the cons of each solution. What? What about the pros? I'm also a pessimistic kind of troubleshooter.

I think Stephen's antidote is the safer of these two divergent paths. C'mon! Who wouldn't rather slaughter a lamb (or wave about a frozen lamb chop) than face a group of not-quite-spring-chickens cackling over Big Os and tall tales? All you really need is a knife. And a lamb. Or maybe just the lamb. It could trip while frolicking, and skin its woolly knee, and VOILA! Lamb's blood! Free for the taking. Without the guilt. You might even be able to find the stuff on eBay. Left over from a Red Cross lamb's blood drive. If you're discreet, PETA might not get wind of it for a long time.

Sioux's proposition of a sortie to the BigCity to consort with WWWPs is more fraught with danger than the notion of walking into a classroom full of freshmen without a lesson plan. I quiver with fright from the contemplation alone.

First of all, there would be that issue of hiring excavators to remove a wall of my basement to free me for the trip. Then trying to keep the media away while I'm hoisted onto the flatbed truck borrowed from Sea World and driven cross country just for my benefit.

Say, hypothetically, that I arrive at the venue for the aforementioned book signing. What if everybody else is wearing pajama jeans? And Val has none? There they'd be, those WWWPs, lolling about, killing time between autographs by passing around bits of novel like tasty hors d'oeuvres upon a silver platter. And I'm not talkin' pizza snacks, those tiny slices of rye bread topped with a filling of sausage and melted mozzarella like my sister learned to make in junior high home ec. Nor a spritz of Cheez Whiz on a Ritz. There might even be poetry in that venue that didn't plagiarize The Raven.

Anything could happen at such a book signing. I might find myself dodging inopportune streams of impromptu lactation from one of the authors. It can recur, you know, years after the baby has gone off to college. It's true! I read it on the internet. And what if somebody pulled a chair out from under me? Or tried to jam my head up under the faucet in the bathroom sink, under the guise giving me a free shampoo, and then left me there, without even putting in a courtesy call to the local calendar-model firemen? Or I was asphyxiated by uncontrollable bursts of flatulence? What if I was used as the target for a newly-patented game of Purse Shoots the Girdle. Even worse, somebody could use me as the basis for a story!

Does anybody have Mary's cell phone number? I hear she has a little lamb.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Karma Grabs a Mouthful of Val

You know that sick day I took yesterday to pay a visit to the lab for a blood draw? Karma has wasted no time in exacting retribution. Evened the Steven that very day, in fact. For though I was indeed entitled to my sick day for a medical procedure, Karma failed to concur.

The very sick day I was going about my merry way, feeling fine, sporting an unsightly hematoma the size of a Kennedy half dollar on the inside of my right elbow, Karma flexed her maw. Took a Jaws-like chomp on my ample behind. Made sure that a sick day was used for sickness. Or painful accidental injury.

It was like some creepy Final Destination movie. No matter what steps I might have taken to avoid my destiny, Karma would even the score. There I was last evening, happy as a clam in a blue recliner in front of a basement big-screen TV, when Karma struck. I had just picked up one of the 1503 mail-order catalogs that a carrier from the dead-mouse-smelling post office had crammed into my makeshift metal-pipe mailbox earlier in the day. Because those mail-order companies don't want people along the mail chain-of-command shopping willy-nilly in random catalogs, they seal the top and bottom with two clear circles of stickiness that must be severed in order to turn the pages. I have a habit of slipping a finger inside the pages, and poking at those sticky circles like a blunt, fleshy letter-opener.

I had three sticky circles severed. I was on the last one when Karma took her bite. Like a piranha she was. Forget the fleshy buttocks. She went right for the jugular of my finger-webbing. The base of my right badfinger, where it joins forces with my pointer. YEEOUCH! I think I heard the slicing sound. Like a paper cutter blade slashing through construction paper. Blood oozed out. You'd think there would have been a shortage, after the leak from my median cubital vein forming the newest Great Lake, which I have named Lake Elbowio, just under the surface of my translucent old-lady skin. I hollered to Genius, who was flitting around with some photographs he had taken, printing them for wallpapering his room. "EEWWW!" So much for sympathy. I staunched the effluence with a tissue.

Flash to the future. Today. Did you know that a paper cut can be reopened when you are doing the good deed of carrying a Popular Photography magazine to your son's room? And that while you notice the pain, you are a tough old bird, and may not notice the seepage until you are on your way to town to grab a 44 oz. Diet Coke. And furthermore, did you know that Karma will rub salt in your wound under the guise of Germ-X while you are doing the good deed of cleaning up that bodily fluid before entering a business establishment? Note to Self: Germ-X in a paper cut hurts like Germ-X in a paper cut.

But back to yesterday's sick day. Karma wasn't through with me yet. She took my crown. The last one on the bottom left, just in front of the pulled wisdom tooth.

I must get to work evening the balance. Do any of you need assistance in crossing the street?

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Val Uncovers Yet Another Conspiracy

You're not going to believe this. I'm about to blow the lid off the biggest scam in the healthcare industry. Yep. Just me, little ol' Val, taking on the establishment. Good thing I don't work in that field. I might get the whistleblower treatment.

This exposé will knock your socks off. People will be running willy-nilly through the streets, sockless, leaving their shoes off rather than risk an embarrassing case of stinkfoot, subjecting their pinky-toes to accidental amputation by streetsweepers. It's that big.

But first...Yes. I AM a fan of Julie Chen on Big Brother. She really knows how to delay gratification with her BUT FIRSTs. So I am following in her footsteps, short of marrying a network head, to further the suspense. I will divulge this dastardly deed of skullduggery momentarily. But must bask in my backstory.

I took a sick day from work to have some lab work done. Don't worry about my earning power. I currently have accrued 109 sick days. Make that 108. Any days over 100 left at the end of the school year will disappear. Gone are my days of scheduling lab work after school, muddling through the day without eating or drinking for a fasting blood test. I'll take my benefits now, thank you very much. A sick day for which I will be compensated twenty dollars upon leaving the district. A sick day for which the substitute is paid seventy-five dollars. So even cashing out one hundred sick days at the end of my career, I have saved the district a tidy sum of five thousand, five hundred dollars. Kudos to me. I don't expect a thank you note.

Due to price gouging in the insurance business, we seem to change providers or policies each year. The current carrier requires that lab work be sent to one specific provider. Countless employees have had problems with blood draws at doctors' offices and hospital labs. But there is ONE outpatient lab in our county that will send the specimen out correctly, and save the individual from paying a hundred seventy dollars for a routine blood test.

That's not the reveal.

The preferred-provider phlebotomist prepped my inner-elbow for the needle. "Have you been fasting?"

"Yes. Since seven o'clock last night. I didn't even take my medicine this morning."

"Oh, you should always take your medicine."

"Well, I have it out in the car. For when I'm done here."

"Do you have good veins? I hope you've been drinking a lot of water."

"Wait. What? I'm not supposed to drink water. That's what they always tell me when they give me the lab order. 'It's a fasting blood draw. No food or drink for twelve hours before the test.' Sometimes they say just a sip of water with medicine that you can't put off that long."

"Oh, no. We WANT you to drink water. So your vein won't blow. No matter how careful we are, these collection vials are vacuum tubes. You can get a blown vein. It's painful, and it messes up your vein for future blood draws."

So there you have it. YOU CAN HAVE ALL THE WATER YOU WANT BEFORE A FASTING BLOOD DRAW! Straight from the phlebotomist's mouth.

You're welcome. I have risked persona-non-grataness with the medical establishment to bring you this vital information. I certainly hope there is not a Silkwood shower of retribution in my immediate future.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Listening Between the Lines

Hick has been working in Massachusetts this week. His company bought out a factory there, so he is coordinating the move of a multitude of machines. Hick is good with that stuff. He knows how to take it apart and put it back together. With a minimum of leftover parts.

Tonight he called to report that he spent $20 on a coat. "I had to," Hick said. "It's snowing here. And I have to load the truck all day tomorrow." Lest you think I begrudge him $20 for a coat, a HEAVY coat, as he informed me, I do not. It's just that he has a penchant for using the debit card and neglecting to show me receipts. So each week when I call the bank's automated number to keep track of checking account expenditures, I am left with several mystery purchases. All of which mystify Hick. Making me think we're being scammed by some minimum-wage Lowe's clerk after Hick uses the card. Just last week there were three unknown charges. Upon a severe poking with a sharp stick--I mean, a round of questioning under a bare lightbulb, Hick remembered that he had used the debit card at the pharmacy for extra medication to take on his trip, at a sporting goods store to purchase ammunition, and for a fifty-dollar charge for something to do with the airport. My hair is thinning. Not from old age, but from tearing it out by the fistfuls.

I was shocked to hear that Hick was loading a truck. "You mean you and your helpers have to carry stuff out? You'll have a heart attack in that weather!"

"We don't CARRY it. I run the forklift. I've been doing it all week. Today, the guy here who does what I do back at the plant asked to see my license! He said, 'I just figured you had one, so I let you run the forklift. But now I need to see it.' I told him of course I HAVE a license to operate the forklift. I am the one who trains people at work, to certify them for the forklift. He said, 'Well, you DID drive it forwards down the aisle, when you should have been going backwards.' And I told him, yeah, but I turned it around as soon as you asked me to. He agreed that I did. But he STILL wanted to see my license. Can you believe that? I had to call work and have them fax a copy. So I can still drive the forklift."

Something tells me there's more to that story.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Val Goes to the Ends of the Earth to Cast Her Vote

I just drove back from voting a couple hours ago, and boy is my carpal tunnel tired. But seriously...

It is difficult for me to vote in the early morning hours before work, because my polling place is in the opposite direction from my job. Ninth-graders wait for no woman, so it wouldn't do for me to be late because I got tied up in the voting booth. Not literally tied up. I'm sure that would count as some untoward type of kinky voter intimidation. Please excuse me for taking liberties with the word "booth". It is more like a flip-down diaper-changing table at my polling place. No sides to speak of. You're airing out your stinky baby's butt of a ballot for all inappropriate gawkers to see.

I vote in a little country church. I don't know the denomination, or any of the parishioners. It's an old rock building. Voting is in the basement, where smells of phantom church socials linger. Oops! That's the aroma of today's cooking for the old ladies manning the voter rolls. The rustic chapel resides six miles outside town. I don't know how many people are expected to Garmin their way to the middle of nowhere to vote. But an old-fashioned revival could not have filled that church to the gills like this election. The Pony and I had to stable the Tahoe in overflow parking. That's a side lot, almost gravel, on the upper end of the churchyard.

Hopefully, all voters were able-bodied. Because upon entering, one must hike down four uneven carpeted steps. A long table of mature women sit behind the voter registration books. I'm not sure if it's required by law, but everybody always hands over a driver's license to the book biddies. They page through the tomes of A-F, and G-L, and so on, depending on your last name. I was pleased to see that Hick had a big yellow sticker covering his name, with the legend ABSENTEE BALLOT over his sign-in space. That's because Hick voted Saturday, and is now cooling his steel-toed heels in Leominster, Massachusetts, on a workation from his job. No voter fraud here in Backroads.

After signing in with a red pen, I was shuffled along the table to another eldster who handed me a ballot. That's it. No instructions. She might as well have shoved a baby bird from the nest to fly or die. In past years, we've had an electronic machine or two. Not this time. But we had a lot of round tables, suitable for a poker tournament. Or perhaps not, depending on the religious affiliation of the churchmembers.

I wove my way through the close-proximitied tables, to one with just a man and his grandson. The seven-or-so-year-old occasionally asked Grampy a question. "Do you have to pay to vote? Is it true that if So-And-So is elected, he will make school three hours a day? That's what I heard at school." Most people sat at the tables. Only a couple used one of the three baby-changers. It was hard work filling in the ovals with a BIC black pen.

The after-work rush started as I was finishing. A lady plopped at my table, blocking my way out of the voter's maze. I looked like Ms. PacMan trying to find an alternate route. I resisted making that dying sound when a strapping eighteen-year-old first-time voter refused to yield to me at the narrow escape slot. Kids these days. They don't realize that the elderly have the right-of-way.

The fellow elderly, though, know where it's at. A gentleman motioned for me to go ahead of him at the ballot-eater. The shredder-looking machine that you feed your own ballot into. I was skeptical. I couldn't take time to read the directions with people lining up behind me. Besides, they might have been looking at my ballot. I was not going to be the one charged with inciting a rumpus in a church basement. No sirree Bob! That machine sucked my ballot in like an early-elementary child slurps a spaghetti noodle.

Mission accomplished.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Out of the Mouths

What's in a name?

That which we call a breaded pork chopette? By any other name would taste as...adequate.

Would YOU eat a breaded pork chopette? That's the question the students asked themselves this morning. Except for the one who called it a breaded pork chop-it. "What's with these names?" he inquired. Foolishly wasting his breath, which he should have been saving to better ask, upon setting eyes on his tray, "Why are the baked fries looking exactly like tri-tators?"

I don't get it. The school lunch regulations. The same regulations which say students can only have mashed potatoes twice a month apparently say they can have a breaded pork chopette and three potato triangles thicker than a McDonald's hash brown, plus some kind of cookie in a sealed bag like potato chips. And a Pop Tart or six-pack of little chocolate donuts with juice and milk for breakfast.

Their's not to reason why. Their's but to eat and sigh.

I bring my lunch.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The $48,000 Envelope

Last Wednesday, I rushed to the dead-mouse-smelling post office after school to mail The $48,000 Envelope.

No. It wasn't an entry for the Publisher's Clearing House Sweepstakes. It was an application for a Chancellor's Scholarship to Missouri S&T. The student has to meet specific academic criteria to qualify. Fifteen of these scholarships are awarded to incoming freshmen. That's twelve thousand dollars a year, renewable, as long as a 3.25 grade point average is maintained.

The deadline was a postmark of November 1. Genius had been toying with the idea of applying for quite a while. Upon receiving his last ACT score of 35 (out of a possible 36), he checked into it again, and saw the rapidly-approaching cut-off date. He rounded up his references, wrote a required editorial response on the subject of gas price control, and requested an official transcript to be mailed by the counselor. The office brought me the packet in a manilla envelope, ready for posting.

Perhaps you remember some of my previous dealings with the dead-mouse-smelling post office. How I did not feel that they handled some of my writing contest submissions with the proper amount of reverence. Things have not changed.

I pushed The $48,000 Envelope across the counter to the postal clerk. He tossed it onto a scale. Without even wiping it down with alcohol! There could have been cocaine crumbs on there. Or fecal matter.

"Will that have today's postmark? October 31st?"

"That's what this sticker will say. October 31st."

"It's my son's scholarship application."

Postal Quirk did not even dignify that with a response. Like mothers brought him scholarship applications that could decide the future of their first-born sons all day, every day. He printed the sticker and stuck it on. Without even measuring the distance from the top and side of the envelope! Just slapped it on there, all willy-nilly, not caring whether or not it was geometrically correct! We're talkin' about a scholarship application to Missouri S&T here. Not a portfolio to the Picasso Institute of Matchbook Cover Art! An engineering school. Where precision is a virtue.

Furthermore, Postal Quirk tossed that envelope sideways into a gray plastic tub. Rather than carrying it on a red velvet pillow to the back of the mail truck and securing it with a special Velcro seatbelt made just for scholarship applications to Missouri S&T.

Genius did not grasp the gravity of this situation. He thinks of S&T as his fall-back choice. His safety school. I look at it as MY number one choice. Genius has already officially applied, and has an offer of a scholarship packet that amounts to almost 71 percent of this very special scholarship. But still...

Momma needs to have adequate 44 oz. Diet Coke money in her golden years.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Lost Art of Cooling One's Jets

People need to be less impulsive.

Seriously. We are human beings. Not animals. Apparently, a large portion of the populace of Backroads has never seen The Elephant Man.

I stopped by my soda-supplier on the way home yesterday. Grabbed my fill-up cup from the passenger seat of my Tahoe, and practically danced a "Wouldn't you like to be a Pepper, too?" jig into that convenience store. Not that I was after a Dr. Pepper, mind you. We all know that Diet Coke is my dark master. But I was elated with anticipation. I only partake of the magical elixir on weekends during the school year.

As luck would have it, another customer had arrived in Cokeland afore me. So I did what any sensible adult would do, and stood back a few feet from the soda bar. Stood right there by the pyramid of the beer of the week, patiently waiting my turn. Three-Soda Annie was jawing with the dude who gives me free refills. I could tell by his voice, even though he was hidden behind the scenes like Oz the Great and Terrible. Three-Soda Annie had already drawn her sodas. She was rummaging through the lids. But her bounty was scattered about the counter without their tops.

"You hit me in the head! Watch what you're doing with that ice, buddy!"

Though I was a bit hurt that Soda Dude has another close personal customer, I did not begrudge them their banter. I could picture him deadpanning his response, while standing on a soda crate and pouring cubed ice from a white ten-gallon drywall bucket into the dispenser. Three pieces of said ice observing me insouciantly from where they rested on the terra cotta tile. "There's no way I could hit you on the head with a piece of ice!" declared Soda Dude. As a square popped over the gap at the top of the soda dispenser, which has not fit properly in that custom-made space since they replaced it two months ago.

"Don't worry. I'll just kick it out of the way so nobody slips on it and sues you." Three-Soda Annie side-kicked the cubes under the edge of the cabinet. She went back to wrestling with the lids and straws.

This all happened in the span of a gnat's wing-flutter. A long-haired methy woman walked in with a younger guy as I stood waiting. She barged ahead. Looked at me with a wary eye. Like my dogs look at each other just before breaking for whatever leftover treat I have tossed onto the porch. Just before they snarl and gnash their teeth until one winner emerges and the other two cower in submission. I did not meet her eye. I've heard that's a sign of aggression.

Methy Woman grabbed a 32 oz. foam cup out of the wall hole. Lightweight. She gave Younger Guy a look of annoyance. Pertaining to me. I could tell. Then she sneered in my direction. Rolled her eyes. I edged closer to the soda bar. The ice dispensers at BOTH ends work now. Careful not to tip over one-third of Three-Soda Annie's beverage haul, I rattled a tiny bit of ice into my refill cup. Three-Soda Annie gathered her be-topped bevy of potables and scooted off to the register. I moved over to the Diet Coke spout.

Methy Woman sprang into action. She pressed that ice lever like a famished lab rat hitting his self-feeder in an obesity experiment. She shot Mountain Dew into her wide-mouthed cup while her own wide mouth practically salivated. As soon as it topped off, she bent her head over and SLURPED like a cowboy at a babbling brook. A drag rider, the cowboy at the back of the herd, after traveling twelve hours across the Dust Bowl. She darted around me and snatched a plastic lid, taking another loud SLURP before covering her caffeine and poking a straw into it.

Something tells me that Methy Woman has not even a passing acquaintance with Emily Post.

Friday, November 2, 2012

A Study of Two Misdiagnoses

I must thank you all for expressing your concern about my recent liver ailment. Even thought it turned out to be merely a case of overwork and old age and a sore diaphragm, not a liver ailment. You have warmed the cockles of my hepatic vein. And I must especially thank my newest commenter, whose comment you will not read in the comments section, but here, on the blog proper:

My name is WITHHELD, I am from Ukraine, I am 32 years old man. I don't smoke cigarettes and don't drink alcohol. My blood is O+ and I have a good health. If you need liver transplant I am ready to give part of my liver, but I want to receive a big compensation for that. P.S. This is not a joke and I am not a scammer or cheater.

What a selfless act of generosity! WITHHELD is willing to part with a part of his liver. Just for ME! Of course he would like a big compensation. Selfless generosity has its price, it seems.

Thank you for the offer, WITHHELD. But I think I'll keep my own liver. Old as it is. It hasn't failed me yet. And you, WITHHELD, I am awarding a berth of honor in my 5PAM folder. For old time's sake.

Genius was not amused by my malingering liver. He sat with his head propped up in the corner of the exam room at the convenient care clinic last evening, rocking a 100-degree fever that he had battled since Sunday. To pass the time while waiting on the nurse practitioner, I regaled him with tales of my aches and pains.

"I can't take it anymore," Genius announced to the walls that had ears. To the entire waiting room full of virus- and bacteria-shedding ambulatory Petri dishes on the other side of that thin sheet of drywall. "I can only take so much stupidity in one day. I have reached my limit. Make it stop!"

I might add that this came after a Scooby Doo gummy treat plopped onto the floor in front of The Pony, who was swinging his legs from atop the exam table, running interference for a time with those eavesdropping diseases-in-waiting by crinkling the paper atop the table to beat the band.

"What is wrong with him? How can you have a gummy fall out of you like that?"

The Pony looked at the ceiling. "I don't know. I don't remember eating a Scooby Doo gummy today. It must have been in my pocket for a loooong time."

Let the record show that I wash and dry The Pony's clothes every week. No gummy would survive intact like the green Mystery Machine that sprang full-blown from some portion of The Pony's person. The Pony hopped down. Picked it up. Inspected it. Threw it away. As we left the office and crossed the parking lot, I spied a spilled-open packet of gummies in a vacant parking space.

"Huh. I'm guessing you took that path when you walked into the office to meet me."

"I think I DID walk that way."

Diaphragms impersonate livers, and a Scooby Doo gummy hitches a ride on the bottom of a shoe. It's a crazy, mixed-up world out there.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Please Help Me Mend My Broken Liver...and Let Me Liver Again

Yesterday morning, I feared that my liver was failing.

You know how it is. You cough, and a spasm surges through your liver. A crampy spasm. Don't tell me people in this day and age don't know where their liver is located. Surely you have all received adequate anatomy instruction in the public schools of our great nation. The liver is on your right side. Tucked up in under your ribs, with part of it hanging out. Not hanging out of your body. That wouldn't be right, unless you'd accidentally cut yourself rather badly, and sliced through the abdominals and fascia. Your liver has four lobes. Did you know that you can donate a part of your liver for transplant into somebody else, and two people can live quite nicely on one liver? But enough about generic liver facts. Let's get back to MY liver.

I started to get a bit worried. I treat my liver well. No alcohol to metabolize for MY liver. He's a teetotaller. Don't want him coming down with cirrhosis, by cracky! And no intravenous drug use or promiscuous sex to expose him to hepatitis. Yellow is not a good color on Val. She would not wear jaundice well. I don't make it a habit to go about my day kissing multitudes of people. So mononucleosis should steer clear of my liver. And I most certainly do not overdose on acetaminophen. I know that's a liver no-no. What could give me such spasms with a simple cough? Sure, I've been sick over the last ten days. But a round of azithromycin nipped that blight in the bud. So my liver should be in the pink of health, filtering blood cells willy-nilly, not even noticing that void in the middle where my gallbladder used to reside.

Then the truth hit me like a cartoon frying pan over my cartoon head, with stars and birdies circling my noggin. I am getting old!

There was no injury to my liver. My diaphragm was sore. Don't tell me people in this day and age don't know where their diaphragm is located. Surely you have all received adequate anatomy instruction in the public schools of our great nation. Or at least in your choir class in eighth grade. Your diaphragm separates your thoracic cavity from your abdominal cavity. It keeps your lungs from touching your liver. It also enables you to breathe. It's a big ol' muscle. As long as we're discussing structure, we might as well discuss function. Or not. Because all I really wanted to say was that my diaphragm was aching from overuse.

Apparently, when old people practice CPR on a dummy for two hours, the diaphragm is sorely taxed. The liver, on the other hand, never breaks a sweat.