Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Has Hick, Perhaps, Been Moonlighting?

I am concerned that Hick might secretly be a member of those Sisters in Crime, the women's mystery-writing group my mom warned me about.

Last evening, he had some scathingly brilliant idea that involved a surveillance sting at a local lake development where we own property. I did not inquire about the details. Sometimes, it's better not to know. However, he let it slip that he wanted to use Genius and his electronic know-how. Genius was not home at the time, and upon my telephone inquiry, emphatically stated, "No way!" Which left Hick to his own devices. I cautioned him that he was not a private investigator, and that slipshod snooping could get him chopped up and dumped into a septic tank. Still, he set out on his own.

We used to go to this lake quite a bit, since our property ownage and the accompanying annual fees allowed us access to the main lake, several ponds, a pool, and various other attractive nuisances. Our attendance has fallen off in recent years. Hick's older boys were just the right age when we had a little pontoon boat, and got our fishing licenses every year. Then we had our young 'uns, who were not pontoon friendly. Nor fishing-pond friendly. Some years, Hick even forgot until the last minute to go pick up our card to hang from the rearview mirror to gain entrance at the guard shack.

I was in my basement lair when Hick returned. He went about his business, and I mine. The fact that I had not been summoned to bail him out of the county jail was a good sign. I watched some late-night TV. Fell asleep in the recliner. And ascended the stairs in the wee hours. As I went to the kitchen to plug in my cell phone, I spied a paper plate message. That's how Hick communicates.

"Did you pay Lost Lake dues they took my card and said my access was denied he took my card he checked the computer & it just said access denied"

See? The first thing this do-it-yourself-detective does is blame the bill-payer. I swear. I am the bad-news Chuck Norris. Everything is my fault. I went to elaborate lengths to not pay our association dues, just so Hick could not solve his mystery. Guess that draft will go into his bottom drawer.

The thing is, had he only asked when he got home, I could have told him in less than five minutes. The records were within arm's reach of my perch at my basement control center. But since he chose the paper plate route, I had to respond in kind. I left a reply on the bottom half of the plate.

"Too bad you didn't mention this last night so I could look it up. I'll have to find the old check register that goes back to November, which is downstairs in last year's taxes, which is right beside where I was sitting for several hours after you got home. Maybe "Access Denied" referred to the computer access to those files."

Smartly, Hick did not add any further message to the paper plate. I just have a hunch that guard shack lever-lifters don't have access to the financial records of the lake association. And that when Hick insisted that the guy look him up and see that the fees were paid, the guy said, "It tells me 'access denied.'" Meaning the files.

Anyhoo...I looked it up this morning, and sent Hick an email with the check numbers, date paid, plat and lot number, owner ID number, and street address of the lot. Of course he did not respond. Are you kidding? It wasn't in his paper plate medium. So I called at noon to see what was going on. Well. Hick is not in the same building all day every day. So his email was unchecked. Is that any way to run a business? I think not. And no way to gather material for a Sister in Crime, either!

Hick had work business towards home this afternoon, and he went back to check on his denied access. Oh. They saw that all fees had been paid. Had no explanation for why the guard shack dude took Hick's card. Nor why the mass emailing or snail-mailing of something-or-other in the records did not include Hick. Unless, perhaps, it was because he had not come into the office to pick up his entrance card for the year.

I think that Sister is gonna need some help in tying up the loose ends of his mystery.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

It Wasn't Exactly a Crime

Just another day in paradise here in beautiful Backroads. I was assaulted by a maximum security correctional center inmate on the way to my mom's house yesterday. Oh, don't worry about ol' Val. She's just fine. Here's how the incident went down.

I was piloting T-Hoe along city streets when I spied a "Men Working" sign. No big deal. It was the third one I had seen on this particular trip. Cresting a little hill by the long-abandoned, razed-building, Coca Cola bottling plant site, I saw a work crew from one of the local maximum security prisons. I'm not sure which one. There are three within 25 miles. Yes, Val lives in the Maximum Security Triangle.

These work crews are all over the place, trimming grass and weeds along the roads. They don't get mowers. Only those on the prison grounds can ride those spiffy, circle-spinning, hand-controlled mowers in jet pilot formation. The ones along the road are only supplied with weedeaters. They are all in the standard uniform white T-shirt with gray slacks. Usually a white prison van is parked nearby, and a brown-uniformed guard with a shotgun stands at the ready. There's never been any trouble that I know of, save for years ago, when we only had one prison, when a work-detail dude ran off and was found hiding under a boat. It's a pretty good gig to get out into the community, I suppose, if you're confined all the livelong day for nearly the rest of your natural born days. So they don't want to do anything to mess up their several-cents-an-hour job.

As I drove past the weed-consuming crew, a gigantic boulder thudded against T-Hoe's left flank. He shuddered. I shook. In the door mirror, I saw all of the incarcerated employees staring open-mouthed after our rapidly receding haunches. That's how hard it hit. I still have not dared inspect the real or imagined damage. I don't want to know. That's because you can't sue the state of Missouri. And I mailed the last payment on T-Hoe last month. We got the title lien release thingy last week. Ain't that always how it goes?

In other news, my day went downhill from there. About a half mile up the road, we noticed that the center stripes and sidelines had been painted. Badly. The center was fine, but one side was larger than the other. In fact, a good three feet of pavement extended past the side line in some places. "It's called The Shoulder," said The Pony. Even though this road had no shoulder before, and no more pavement had been added. Oh, well. He'll learn soon enough when he really starts driving his little truck. Oh, and that line changed intermittently, narrow, then wide, like driving along the falling sands in an hourglass.

I picked up Mom, dropped off The Pony for high-speed internet use, and headed off to redistribute some of Genius's college funds. We encountered another work crew, these in a lift truck with a flagman waving me into incoming traffic. An inmate would have known better. Further up the road, at a speed of 10 mph, we spied the problem many cars ahead. It was a pair of orange highway department road-striping trucks. They were not putting down paint. And they could barely fit between the yellow center stripes and the white sideline. I believe that qualifies as irony.

To add a final insult to my non-injury for the day, a most disturbing incident occurred as The Pony and I wended our way home. I pulled into the gas station chicken store for my 44 oz. Diet Coke. My favorite parking space welcomed me. I unhooked my seatbelt. I picked up my coinage and refill cup. And a scofflaw pulled her car right up beside me in the no-parking zone where it impeded my progress into the store, and blocked the truck pumping gas under the roof. I had no patience left for such nonsense. I flung my seatbelt back on, and told The Pony. "I'm not even dealing with this today." It's hard to keep my uncivil tongue in my mouth when I encounter these parking lot ruffians.

Off under the overpass we went, to The Voice of the Village. Some ne'er-do-well had discarded a 44 oz. styrofoam cup on their parking lot. Oh, the inhumanity! Somebody could have saved forty cents with that cup! I pulled into a regular parking space with the law-abiding parkers of the Village. A man came walking across the lot as I gathered my beverage-harvesting accoutrements. "Oh, no! Just my luck! He's going to get to the soda fountain before me! And with my luck today, he'll get the last of the ice, or the last of the Diet Coke. Wait! Maybe he just picked up some cups off the lot to put in the trash can." Nope. He went in the store with two cups.

I headed in anyway. To be first in line after him. A lady was walking my way with a cup, but she wasn't even close enough for me to hold the door open for her behind me. I waited a respectful distance from the fountain. Dude was on his second soda. Almost my turn. Just as he popped the lid on his last cup, that woman stepped up and started a cascade of ice into her cup. IT WAS MY TURN!

But wait. That was not the worst part. SHE WAS THE CASHIER FROM THE GAS STATION CHICKEN STORE! Getting a fountain soda at her competitor. She looked at me and chuckled. I was polite. You never know when you're going to need a favor when Diet Coke is concerned. "I just came from your store! I was getting out of the car when somebody pulled in there where you have the curb stopper so people won't drive into the building. I hate it when people park there. So I left and came over here."

"Oh, I do, too! They do it ALL the time! I'm working in the kitchen now. Did you know that?"

Well, no. Because she just took my money at the register the day before. Anyway, I asked if she was happy, and she said she guessed so, that she had worked in the kitchen years ago. But she was glad her hours didn't start until 9:00 now, even if it meant cleaning the chicken kitchen at night before closing.

Dang. Busted. I felt like Jerry Seinfeld when he went to a new barber, and Enzo walked in as he was getting his hair cut.

At least I know that NOTHING can make my hair look any worse than it does now.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Help Wanted. Murder Accomplice.

I need a new accomplice.

Last night, just as I settled down to watch my Sunday night TV lineup, a fly buzzed around my head. Circled it like a family pet meeting a new ball of fluff for the first time. Don't think my home is crawling with pests, other than the two-legged kind. It's not like some odorous rural garbage dump, back when "landfill" was just a gleam in the eye of political correctness. It's not like an establishment named Ye Olde Pigge Entrails Shoppe, run by an Original 13 Colonies ex-pat in the teeming equatorial rainforest. It's not that upstairs bedroom window in The Amityville Horror. No, we have issues because the only time Genius decides to chat with me is while he's on his way out the front door. He's like an anti-doorman, letting in all critters indiscriminately, even if they're wearing acid-wash jeans, Crocs, and poofy-sleeved pirate shirts.

When that fly flitted insolently about my noggin, I declared, "NO MORE!" Even though I was comfortably-reclined, I stretched my right arm to reach my handy baby-blue flyswatter. It's on the table by my plier-lamp (read about that plier-lamp in the upcoming Not Your Mother's Book...on Home Improvement, due out September 10), right next to my red wooden backscratcher that I got for Christmas one year. So intent on murder was I that I did not even chortle at the thought of how my mom used to whack my sister with a wire flyswatter handle for lying as a youngster.

In one fell smoosh, I thumped that thousand-eye-er forthwith. He deanimated instantly. I called to The Pony, laying on the couch waiting for Big Brother to come on. "Hey! Get him! Use that Puffs I just cleaned my glasses with. Pick him up in it and squeeze it. Put it in the trash bag."

The Pony trotted over to the wooden TV tray on legs that acts as my end table to hold remote controls. "Where? I don't see it."

"Right there. By the Puffs."


"How can you not see that? Right in front of you!"

"Oh. There." He picked up the Puffs.


"Yuck! Get it off!" I clawed at my face, ousting the poop-crawler from my flesh. "What were you thinking? I can't believe you just did that! How could you not see him, laying there with his feet up in the air, dead?"

"Actually, he was not laying on his back. I saw his guts all over his back."

"EWW! And he landed on my face! A poop-crawler with oozing guts was right THERE on my face! Now he's flying around here, suffering a painful, lingering death. I hope."

The Pony shrugged and plodded back to the couch. As you may remember, this is his second failure at corpse removal. What's a hit-man to do?

I am advertising for a new accomplice. Only clean people need apply. Uh huh.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Pony Ride

Hey! Guess who's 15-and-a-half and has his driver's permit! If you guessed THE PONY, you are correct. Because he needs to practice practice practice, even though he has not asked how to get to Carnegie Hall, he needs a vehicle. One that he can learn to drive now, and feel comfortable taking his driver's test in. Hick found a bargain on Friday.

Is that little Ford Ranger not as cute as a bug's ear? It's even cuter without the camper shell. That camper was not on it last night when Hick drove it home. Yeah. That's how the salesmen get their hooks in you. They keep your high-mile Chrysler Pacifica on the lot, and let you smell the new-car spray in the vehicle you show an interest in. I'm surprised the wiper fluid didn't shoot out a rainbow, and dancing unicorns did not lead a processional out of town. I had no idea that Hick would score a FREE camper shell in the deal, especially after the paperwork was already completed. This is a 2002, same year as Genius's Ford Ranger, which is red, instead of maroon. Best of all, it has 4WD, which is a necessity out here in Outer Backroadsia.

You might notice that a certain sweet, sweet doggie had to insert herself in the foreground. The background is filled with the $1000 Caravan, the Hick-rigged roof of his Gator, the faded-out cedar-sided garage, and Genius's old basketball goal cranked down to might-as-well-NOT-catch the wind.

Many thanks go out to The Pony's grandma, my very own slaw-lovin' mom, who donated a healthy sum towards the purchase of first vehicles for each of her four grandchildren. The Pony is the fourth. She rocks, that selfless septuagenarian! The Pony called her this evening, to tell her all about it. He's not much of a talker. After pawning the call off on me, he high-tailed it back to his computer games. Mom was ecstatic that he sounded so excited. This might just be the prod he needs to log some drive time.

Hick and The Pony are taking his Ranger to Mom's house tomorrow to show it off. She might even get to go for a ride, though I doubt that The Pony will take the wheel in town.

It's gonna be a long way to Carnegie Hall.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

One Man's Junk is Another Woman's Job, Part 4, THE END

Yes. I promise. This is the end of the Junk Store Chronicles.

None of the big muckety-mucks wanted to work weekends. Even if you've made your career as a junk store supervisor, you desire Monday-Friday, 9:00-5:00 hours. Still, such a booming business could not be entrusted to mere minimum-wage workers. Emmett was our designated guy in charge. Only 17, he WAS the son of Joy, the floor supervisor. We had an uneasy truce. We wouldn't divulge his shenanigans, and he was lax on break times.

We cashier girls soon learned Emmett's idiosyncrasies. He liked working the cash register, to a point. After a while he grew bored, and preferred to ride a stick-horse around the store waving a cowboy hat, or talk to the boot girls. During the slow morning hours, Emmett assigned us to straighten various departments. As customers grew more numerous, he would use one of us to open the second register. But beware the call, "Val to the front, Val to the front." That meant Emmett was going to ask for a break, never to return, and you were stuck at the register until closing. Once elderly Harriet and I caught on, he had to get trickier. "Val to the front for returns. Val to the front!" Harriet had more backbone than I. "Screw him. I'm going to sit back here in the rubber boots. He can't come find me."

Emmett loved cutting up credit cards. We used a VeriCheck box to slide cards through. When it was declined, we had to call an 800 number. Often, we were told to destroy the card. Emmett did this with a flourish. He held it shoulder high, grabbed a heavy pair of black-handled scissors from the shelf below the register, and snipped. "Sorry! Your credit card company says it's no good." Usually folks pulled out another card to try.

He also loved to play Big Man in Store. For instance, a woman wearing a fur stole might wheel up a cart with two lamps. "I want THIS lamp, marked $10, but I want it for the $5 marked on this identical lamp. See?" During the week, Charlene would handle the situation like this: "Oh, honey. That lamp is marked $5 because it doesn't work. If you want the working lamp, sweetie, you'll have to pay $10." Emmett used this tactic: "Those pricers! They can't do anything right! Both of those lamps should be marked $10. I'll have a talk with those pricers." Then he would put the $5 lamp in the return basket. And put it back on the shelf as soon as the customer left.

This job gave me my first and only opportunity to take a polygraph test. And by opportunity, I mean I had no choice. The polygraph dude came in and set up in the Old Man's office in the basement. I don't think he took a crap while he was down there. By the time I got to work, polygraph talk was rampant. Every employee had to take it. Even those who were off were called in. Charlene and Joy and Flora and Boot Boss and all the upstairs and downstairs workers were polygraphed, whether they had access to the cash register or not. Seems that money had come up missing more than once. A hundred or so per week.

Have you ever had a polygraph? It's quite interesting. Maybe you saw Jerry Seinfeld hooked up to determine if he watched Melrose Place. The process might have changed by now, but I was asked to sit in a chair with a stretchy rubber tubing kind of band around my chest and stomach area, a blood pressure cuff on my arm, and a thingy on my fingertip kind of like a pulse-ox machine, then asked a series of baseline questions. I could watch the needle on the graph recorder thingy the whole time. The dude started with questions about my name and age, easily verifiable stuff. I was told to tell a lie on ONE answer. Then he proceeded with the actual questioning. Most of it was basic info about store operations. The kicker was the question: "Do you think you know who took the money?" I answered "yes." At no point was I asked if I took the money. Or who the person was. Maybe they got all of that from somebody else, or maybe somebody confessed later, because I was never questioned further.

I really enjoyed this job. All the employees got along. We went to Silver Dollar City, we had a barbecue, we went out dancing. Good times. They welcomed me with open arms, because I did my job. I don't mean to brag, but after only two months, I GOT A TEN-CENT RAISE! Flora was wriggling like a tickled pup when she told me. "I talked to Mr. Old Man about how well you're doing, and I'm giving you a TEN-CENT RAISE! Uh huh." I later learned that raises were quite unusual for my kind of job. Flora went on to tell me that she was so happy she hired me. "That first day, I told Mr. Old Man, 'She looks clean. I'm going to hire her.' Uh huh. I hope you stay with us as long as you can. Uh huh."

Yep. I stayed a whole year, until my Master's was complete, and I landed another teaching job. All those people who say they can't get a job because they are overqualified? They are either too choosy. Or they're lacking in the personal hygiene department.

Friday, July 26, 2013

One Man's Junk is Another Woman's Job, Part 3

REET! REET! REET! That's the Psycho stabby sound. Just when you thought it was safe to return to read a "normal" post from Val, you discover that she is still beating the old junk store into submission.

Security guard Ronnie was surprisingly effective at stopping boot theft. First of all, he dressed like a rent-a-cop. And he had shifty eyes. I'm sure many a scurvy thief re-evaluated his sticky-footed plan to abscond with a fine pair of ostrich or crocodile or python boots. One particular evening, Ronnie watched as a dude nodded to him and walked out the entrance. "Hey, buddy. Come back here." Thief took off down the parking lot. Ronnie followed. Rush hour traffic on Glenstone, the main drag, slowed Thief enough for Ronnie to close the gap. They both found breaks in traffic as the light changed. Thief made it across first, and climbed up on the railroad overpass that ran beside the store. He headed back the way he had come. Ronnie yelled at him to stop again. They continued to run down the tracks, an every-slowing smoker's pace, sucking the humid sunset air. "Stop!"...wheeze...wheeze..."Stop..."

"All right, dude"...wheeze...wheeze..."I give up..."wheeze..."It's not worth it"...wheeze...wheeze...Thief laid down on the tracks. Ronnie grabbed the boots off his feet and yanked him up to march him back to the store.

"Jesus, buddy! All this for a pair of two-for-$19.99? What's wrong with you?"

Ronnie had a habit of sneaking up behind people and breaking their necks. At least that's what it looked and sounded like. He said he was an amateur chiropractor. He grabbed his victims by the chin with one hand, and the top back of the had with the other, and yanked until a giant CRACK was heard. After the initial shock, the victim walked away declaring how much better he felt. Most likely it was joy to still be alive and able to move all four limbs.

Undoubtedly the best day of Ronnie's work life that I observed was when the foreign girls came to town. I don't know where they came from. I don't know their exact ages. All I know is that they were pale, talkative, excited by our long racks of prom dresses, and spoke in a language I did not recognize. Not English, not Spanish, not French, not Italian, not Russian. Perhaps some kind of Eastern Bloc dialect. Apparently, it was customary in their country to try on clothing before buying it, without the benefit of a dressing room. They were stripping right and left, hiking formals over their heads with abandon. I went up front to report the activity and see what we should do. Ronnie had just spied it on the four-sectioned security camera display. Flora called Charlene to the front, and together they went to diplomatically explain that trying on must be done in the store bathroom, or over their clothes. A lot of pantomiming and pointing got the message across.

Ronnie also had to watch out for big sales rip-offs. The middle of the store sported a gaping hole with wide stairs that led to the basement. It housed paint, tile, and wallpaper. We did a tremendous business in hardware. The parking lot was half full of lumber and bathtubs and shower enclosures and toilets. Any hardware had to be rung up with a ticket written by a salesman, and no materials could be loaded without a salesman assisting the customer. Salesmen worked on commission. It was a cutthroat operation. They were assigned rotating duties such as parking lot, wallpaper, paint, and hardware. Parking lot was prime, because that was the big lumber sales. Two had that duty each day. They stood near the doors, ready to pounce on customers eyeing the outside goods. If both were busy, and a customer asked who to see about lumber, the cashier called a salesman of her choosing. That's why it paid to be nice to the cashiers, and not act like a jackass.

The problem with the hardware department was that customers like to take a dump in the wallpaper bin aisles. Seriously. A sure sign was when Charlene was called over the intercom to assist in the basement. That meant she was picking up turds in a wastebasket to bring up to the bathroom for flushing. Charlene was our go-to gal when the toilet overflowed, too.

On weekends, Charlene and Joy were off. Flora only worked half a day. That meant I had to be a cashier. Chaos and anarchy skipped hand in hand down the flower-petaled path to not-heaven on weekends.

To be continued...

Thursday, July 25, 2013

One Man's Junk is Another Woman's Job, Part 2

...continued from yesterday, wherein I had just been hired by Flora, bookkeeper at the insurance salvage store.

I reported to Flora for my first day of work. She introduced me to Charlene, a six-foot-tall Dolly Parton lookalike. "You'll be working with Charlene in the pricing department. But we always start new people out in Rubber Boots. Charlene will show you what to do."

Charlene took me to the opposite corner of the store from Flora's ivory aerie. The place was as big as a Walmart Supercenter, but not as well-lit. Charlene picked a couple of boots off the floor. They were an assortment of black and green rubber boots. The kind dairy farmers wear. Some were hip boots for fishermen. And some had liners, like kids wear in the snow. "People are always digging through these. Find the mates, and line them up according to size. Go to Flora when you're done, and I'll come get you."

Talk about a Herculean task. Which became a Sisyphean task every night. It was hotter than forty hecks in that place. No air circulated back in the corner. No windows in the whole place. Only the IN double glass doors, and the OUT double glass doors up by Flora's perch. I was sweating like a member of the world's oldest profession in a house of worship by the time I set the boots straight. I went to Flora. "Oh, you're done already?" She called Charlene, who took told me to clock out so we could go to lunch. That was to become our practice a couple times a week. I could take an hour lunch, or a half-hour lunch, so long as I clocked in and out, and worked my allotted hours. Lunch with Charlene meant walking across the blacktop parking lot to the Chinese takeout restaurant next door, where we feasted on sweet & sour chicken, or cashew chicken. It was delicious. The rest of the state does not do cashew chicken like Springfield does cashew chicken.

My days were spent writing prices on items with a black magic marker. No price tags for people to rip off and lie about. Some crafty customers actually brought in their own magic markers and tried to change prices, but our staff knew our writing, and price placement. All the merchandise came from insurance buyouts. The Old Man might buy three boxcars full of merchandise from a store damaged by fire or flooding or some other calamity. He got stuff for pennies on the dollar. Not everything was damaged. A lot of our best stuff was returns from J. C. Penney. Nothing wrong with it. I still have a wonderfully warm comforter that I bought there. We got an employee discount, too. The way pricing worked was that Charlene would give me a box of stuff and a J. C. Penney catalog. Then I looked up the items and wrote a figure that was half the catalog price on the merchandise. On the bedding and clothes, we wrote it on the tag. Stuff that couldn't be found in the catalog went to Charlene. She had a calculating mind, and was pretty spot-on with her assessments. She would have been a champion on The Price is Right.

When there was no pricing to be done, I was farmed out to Joy, the floor manager. The first day of work with Joy was always Toys and Pet Supplies. That involved picking up items off the floor and rehanging them on the pegboard. It was Joy's version of Rubber Boots. After proving myself to the cynical, Chuck-Berris-looking Joy, I graduated to moving racks, re-arraning displays, and folding Levi jeans. That was actually one of my favorite duties. We had tables and tables of Levi jeans. If you looked close enough, you could find red tabs. I don't know where the jeans came from, but they were worn just enough to be broken in. We did quite a lot of business in them, and they were forever getting toppled and unsized. The tables were near the cash registers and front door, and I could chat with Ronnie the security guard and one of the cashiers when business was slow.

One day a weird dude in a Member's Only jacket was weirding his way around my area. I kind of watched him, but I didn't know what he was up to. I found out soon enough. He went to pay for some single item off a pegboard near the register, and I heard Emmett, Joy's high-school-age son who was cashier that day, tell him he couldn't leave. The guy became indignant, demanding to know why. Ronnie stepped over to the register. Emmett said, "Because of what you have stuffed in your jacket." After much hemming and hawing, Weird Dude unzipped his Member's Only and out fell about ten packs of men's underwear. That's the thing. I should have noticed that normal people don't wear a jacket in late-summer heat. Weird Dude declared that he would never buy our cheap crap, and stomped out. Good enough to steal, but not good enough to buy, I guess.

Ronnie stood at the IN door and looked at every customer's feet as they entered. That's because the boots were the most valuable item in the store, and nobody was gonna walk out in a pair on Ronnie's watch.

To be continued...

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

One Man's Junk is Another Woman's Job

Like many people of her era, Val has a checkered employment past. Gone are the days when one could start an entry-level job with The Company right out of school, and work one's way up through the ranks until retirement. In these times, Frank Rutherford would be unable to get his son Clarence a job down at the office. Poor Lumpy. Nor could Mike Brady let Greg deliver blueprints across town on his bicycle. Unless Greg worked for free as an apprentice, of course.

Reading around the internet this week, I realized that I have a relatively lackluster job history. Blog buddies Linda and Sioux have toiled in some interesting arenas. I cannot begin to compete with a national champion photo film biller, an Ernestine-style telephone switchboard operator, a door-to-door casket saleswoman, or a pill-presser who cut off the tip of her finger. Alas, my jobs were not nearly so interesting and unusual. Just a variety of teaching assignments, convenience-store cashier, five years with the state unemployment service, softball umpire in a teenage fast-pitch league, and the piece de resistance...pricer/clerk/cashier in a junk store!

Technically, the establishment was an insurance salvage store. It had name recognition in the minor metropolis of Springfield, Missouri. I had returned to my college town after several years of teaching, in order to finish my Master's degree. I was looking for a part-time job to defray the drain on my recently-amassed savings. I fondly remembered shopping for various oddities at this store. I saw an ad in the paper, and headed out to put in an application.

The lady in charge was perched above the sales floor, in a fake-wood-paneled, waist-high aerie of sorts. I was later to realize this was so she could keep an eagle eye on the workers. She even had a pair of binoculars. Nobody messed's call her Flora. Flora dressed like a country-singing opening act at a county fair. She favored blue jeans, women's cowboy boots, patterned shirts, and a red bandana neckerchief. Which is not to say that she slacked in the make-up or bouffant department. It was a look that worked for her. She had a what I thought might be a slight speech impediment, but turned out to be simply an affectation. At the end of each verbal paragraph, she would say, "Uh huh." But not in a creepy way like Billy Bob Thornton in Sling Blade saying, "Mm hmm."

Flora climbed down from her perch to show me into the break room next door, where she let me have a clipboard to fill out my application. The break room was a long shelved room, unfinished, with a myriad of shoeboxes lining the walls. It was, after all, located in the boot department. The store did a large amount of business in boots. Exotic skins that were supposedly regulated. Several-hundred-dollar pairs of boots. The guy who ran that department was The Old Man's right-hand man. It was good to watch your Ps and Qs around him. His workers had the highest status of all the employees.

I shook hands with Flora and left. I didn't really think I would get the job, because at the time, I had no retail experience. Flora called me the next day. "We'd like to hire you. When can you come in? We'll start you at 20-30 hours a week. We can work around your schedule."

To be continued...

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

There Are 8 Million Stories in the Waiting Rooms of Backroads

I took The Pony to the dentist today for his six-month cleaning. It's free with the enormous premium paid to Hick's dental insurance. Once again, our little Pony had no cavities. He's one gift horse that can be looked in the mouth.

While waiting for him to be polished, fluorided, and released, a Typhoid Mary walked into the office. Of course I had taken the seat nearest the door, as I am wont to do. Which so happened to be the one nearest the class-enclosed receptionist area. Typhoid Mary wheezed in and pecked on the glass. I am not sure that the receptionist slid her shoebox-sized door open.

Typhoid Mary inquired about the receptionist's son. Because the normal thing for a layman to do in a medical establishment is flaunt her immunity to violations of HIPAA by outing medical info on relatives of the workers. Seems the dude had some kind of sinus infection that Typhoid Mary thought mirrored hers, though his was acquired through a rope swing over the river, and hers through everyday living.

Need I enumerate how displeased I was with Typhoid Mary? I suppose her goal was to drop in and explain why she wasn't keeping her appointment. Which apparently she had already telegraphed through other means. The fact that she whined about not wanting to do anything but go home and crawl into bed made me want to shout, "DON'T LET THE DOOR HIT YOU ON THE RUMPUS ON YOUR WAY OUT!" Because there she was, hacking and bronchially-challengedly breathing her germs in my general vicinity. It was all I could do not to huff disgustedly and stomp off to the other side of the waiting room.

Typhoid Mary was on her way to the doctor, but didn't want to go. Seems she had already been antibioticked and inhalered and cough-medicined. Yet her malady clung to her like stink on a deceased road-possum. She was afraid she would be sent for a chest x-ray. Thus stripping her of her Typhoidness, un-Johnny-Appleseeding her, and rendering her a commoner again if her disease was diagnosed and subsequently cured.

I thought about investing in a mask, but I fear a Bubble Boy suit is more practical.

Monday, July 22, 2013

My Early Warning System Has a Few Bugs

Some people use NOAA weather radio, some people use weather alert apps, some people use local television stations to warn them of approaching inclement weather. I use my mom. She's as good as any other warning system. I don't even have to continuously monitor her. She calls me when the atmosphere heats up. Saturday afternoon, for instance.

"I guess you know that there is sss nick heh heh let me try again. There's sss nick... Oh! I'll get it out, there's..."

"What are you trying to tell me? NCIS? St. Nick? Stop laughing!"

"I'm just trying to let you know that sss nick...sss nick...there's weather coming your way."

"What is it? A tornado? We're already in the basement."

"No, it's not a tornado. It's couple of other counties now, but there's sss nick...sss nick...There's thunderstorms headed your way with sss nick... This is terrible! I can't get it out! Wind! There's wind!"

"Excuse me, Ma'am, what's that you say? I couldn't hear you, because I just perished from high winds blowing me out of my house. If only I'd had some kind of warning, I might still be okay."

"Oh! Now you've got me tickled! I'm trying to tell you that thunderstorms with...sss nick...SIGNICKICANT WINDS are headed your way!"

"Well. The least you could have done was tell me sooner, in case I needed to take cover."

"Hehehehehe! Oh! I can't breathe! Stop it! I was only trying to tell you to look out for the wind."

"Thanks, Mom. We'll keep an eye on it."

"All right. I'll call you back if it gets worse."

I really shouldn't tease her like that. But I think she enjoys a good laugh at least once a day. Today, for instance, we rehashed last night's episode of Big Brother. Mom is a fanatic. We laughed at the contestant named GinaMarie, who was shown on a loop butchering a plethora of words such as auburn, disguise, despise, and a few she flat-out made up. Mom laughed and laughed, carrying on about GinaMarie, and whether she really messed up those words, or if she was just putting on for the camera.

I didn't have the heart to correct Mom every time she mentioned AnneMarie.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

And There It Was, a Blog Topic Floating in My Pool

Insider knowledge that you will need in order to appreciate the punch line: 

My step-grandma once took my grandpa for his doctor's appointment. They were both well into their seventies at the time.  She went into the exam room with Grandpa. Everything was fine with his health. Before leaving, the doctor asked, "Is there anything else on your mind? Anything I can do for you?" And my step-grandma spoke up.

"Yes. Would you mind trimming his toenails? I don't want him to get an ingrown toenail again."

The doctor said, "Sure." He left the room and came back with some kind of scissory instrument. My step-grandma took off Grandpa's shoes and socks. The doctor clipped the nails, and all was good. They shook his hand and said their goodbyes. My grandparents, of course. Not the toenails.

It was only at the counter scheduling Grandpa's next appointment that my step-grandma noticed that she was not at the General Practitioner's office, but at the Cardiologist.


Life's rich tapestry left an unraveled thread in my backyard pool yesterday. I stepped out the laundry room door to look off the back porch at Hick and The Pony cooling their rough man-heels in Poolio. The Pony was running laps, spinning an air-mattress-ensconced Hick. The air mattress was yellow. I could tell by the parts that were visible, on the sides of Hick's head, and down by his feet. We made a bit of small talk through the hazy afternoon air.

"I'm going to go to town, to that place beside the old ice cream shop, and get myself a pedigree."

The Pony was behind Hick's head at that point. He looked at me in alarm. "Dad is a dog? He's going to get himself a pedigree?"

Hick was not really amused. More like resigned. "All right. So I said the wrong word. I was watching my show, American Restoration, the other night, and all of them guys went in and got a pedigure. Whatever you call it. On their feet."

"Yeah. I figured you meant pedicure. What's going on? Men like you don't get pedicures. That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard. A pedicure. Nobody wants to touch your feet! You barely even have toes. And you need a magnifying glass to see your tiny toenails. Something's going on. Why would you pay 30 or 40 dollars for a pedicure?"

"It costs that much?"

"I don't know. I've never had one. But you'd have to pay them, and then give them a tip. Are you getting your toenails painted?"

"I thought it would be about 10 dollars. I'm just going so they can clip my toenails. I can't reach them." The Pony snorted. "Do YOU want to clip them for me?"

"NO! Not even for 10 dollars!"

Something is up. Hick has always clipped his own toenails. It's not like he's been bloating up like Violet Beauregarde, getting ready for the juicer. In fact, he's lost a few pounds. And he's not like Frank Costanza, seeking a long-lost paramour from his war days. Hick is willing to take off his shoes.

I don't know why he can't just go to the cardiologist to get his toenails clipped like everybody else.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

My Mom's Gonna Love This One

The interstate hordes descended upon me today as I tried to enter the gas station chicken store. I have given them my return 44 oz. Diet Coke business lately, because they have fixed the Diet-Pepsi-tasting fountain spigot. I think they're keeping that sweet little old lady away from it.

My mission was twofold. To capture the elusive Diet-Coke-tasting 44 oz. Diet Coke, and snare some chicken for tonight's supper. Hick and The Pony are going to the auction. Perhaps if he's full, Hick will not look twice at the Auction Meat. Genius left shortly before noon, declaring that he'd be back late tomorrow night. Oh, to be young and irresponsible, possessing pockets lined with Mommy's cash.

We had no sooner pulled into my very special parking spot than the multitude overtook us. Bing bang boom! Three cars whipped in. Each contained four people. They all got out! It was like a clown car convention. More and more and more people crawled out the doors and milled around in the parking lot just behind T-Hoe. The horror! The gas station chicken store is not Voice of the Village. No roomy aisles here. A green fruit beetle would feel claustrophobic in this establishment. No way was I going to shoehorn myself into that miniscule shop boasting only three aisles in order to wait in a line like an amusement park rope-and-stanchion accordion. I told The Pony I would wait until the human traffic thinned out.

I swear, it was like observing a roach motel. Customers walked in, but they didn't walk out. More and more and more. Like sweets into Augustus Gloop on the Wonka Chocolate Factory tour. We saw the clerk with one tooth having a cigarette on his break. He hustled right in behind the stampede. A lady appeared from behind the traveler's bulletin board thingy beside the store. She took a drag on her cigarette, then laid it on the seat of a square picnic table concreted into the ground. Are you getting this?

She laid her cigarette on a picnic table seat at a convenience store!

I voiced my amazement to The Pony. "Can you believe that? Let's see if she puts it back in her mouth when she comes out. Who wants to suck on a cigarette that has been laying where strangers put their butts? Besides, it's a good thing the grass isn't dried out. If the wind blows that thing off, instant forest fire."

A couple of portly females in sundresses trickled out carrying beverages and snacks. Just as I suspected. These travelers had each been making individual purchases. Not that there's anything wrong with that. I just preferred to wait in my car until the mad rush was over. The menfolk and adolescents emerged. Then the apparently unrelated smoker with a bag of chicken and a soda. She made a beeline for her cig. It was no longer on the picnic table seat. It had rolled under the table, on the gravelly faded-and-pockmarked blacktop.

She picked it up and jabbed it between her lips!

That blond puffer chick took off up the hill towards the used car lot and the can-opener factory. Like that was the most normal thing in the world, picking a lit cigarette off the ground and smoking it.

Now I know why my mom is a people-watcher.

Friday, July 19, 2013

A Hick Christmas In July

Hick was giddy with anticipation Monday afternoon. He was like a kid promised an all-expense-paid trip to a candy store. If, by candy store, you mean a dark basement filled with forty years of junk. Yep. One woman's junk is my man's treasure. Mom has been cleaning out her basement, and promised Hick first grab.

It all started because Mom was having new insulation put in her basement ceiling. She uses a handy man recommended by somebody at church. The fact that he once replaced a silver stopper in her white downstairs bathroom sink with a blue one did not deter her from seeking his services again. This time, he brought his son. His fifty-year-old son, if that tells you anything about the speed at which this job was being completed. Mom is like my sister the former-mayor's wife when it comes to people being in her house. Sis always went to visit Mom on the day her cleaning woman was scheduled. Now she has a cleaning man, and she still makes herself scarce. Mom moved to various rooms as her work crew hobbled through the house.

"I'm in the living room right now, on the kitchen phone, because they're eating lunch down in the family room. No. I didn't make it. They brought their own. They took all those boards that were up in the ceiling and laid them out behind the house. If Hick wants them, he can have them. There's some metal pipes, too. And a heavy box that I can't lift full of metal things. And some old bottles. It looks like rain, so I might go out and cover the boards with an old tablecloth. That won't hurt it. I got it at Dollar Tree."

I told Mom I would run by with The Pony to help her cover the boards. She had thought of cutting off some plastic from a big roll in the basement, but since the workers were wearing masks, and she didn't have one, she was afraid.

I called Hick on his lunch break. He was practically doing cartwheels, the best I could tell over the phone. "Tell her I'll come out after work. It won't hurt those boards to get a little bit wet." Of course enough is never as good as a feast for Hick. "What about the old insulation? What's she going to do with that?"

"As far as I know, her workers are taking it to the landfill."

"Tell her to keep it. I can put it in the BARn."

"Are you sure about that? It might be asbestos."

"Naw. It would be fiberglass. Never mind. They can haul it off."

The Pony and I arrived to see the workers' truck parked in the driveway, with three pieces of metal about twelve feet long leaning up against the side away from the porch. Mom came out to greet The Pony. "Do you know these guys have some metal leaned up on the truck?"

"No...I don't see any. But I told them they could have a couple of pieces."

"That's three. Not a couple. You might want to watch what they carry out. I don't want them to take advantage of you."

"Oh, it's just old metal."

The Pony did his covering job. Mom lurked around out of sight until her crew left. Hick went to grab his treasures in his truck with no brakes before Genius drove it and found out it had no brakes. He got some 12-foot 2 x 4s, some conduit, and some copper rods. Everybody's happy except me (shocker!) because I think those guys are going to help themselves to what Mom thinks is junk.

Hick went by today and picked up a box of old bottles. Mom has more for him after she looks through some milk bottles that she is sure she has cardboard caps for. Hick has his eyes on the heavy box with an old light guard and some ancient extension cords visible near the top. He figures it is scrap metal that he can send with Genius to the junk dealer.

Hick is a master recycler.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Don't Even Get Me Started on the Newly-Shortened Strings of a Certain Feminine Hygiene Product

The latest product receiving an unfavorable review here at Val's Gripatorium is Great Value Heavy-Duty Paper Plates. Not those Chinet cardboard-type platters that can hold an entire Thanksgiving dinner. The regular, everyday, crimped-edge paper plates with a greaseproof coating. They come in a flimsy newsprint-thickness version, but that one's not on my radar today.

The plates work just fine. They are sturdy enough, yet not too thick. They're good for slicing onions, pickles, and tomatoes without juice soaking through while the fixin's sit on the counter to be added to hamburgers hot off Gassy G. And they can be used as our everyday china without dripping slaw or quesadilla runoff or french onion dip.

The problem is the latest package of Great Value heavy-duty paper plates. They are stuck together so tightly that it would be an upper-body workout for The Rock himself to pry them apart. I know that paper plates stick together. This brand has always needed some separation. But this recent batch is off the hook in togetherness. Every two plates are cemented together. Every two. No random stickage. Every two. It's not just one little corner of those round plates. A couple of crimps along the edge. Nope. These plates are like giant paper pita pockets, with an opening only large enough for a medium pickle slice to slip through.

I have to spin those plates round and round until I find the crack in their armor. Pry one finger inside and start working my way around the edge. The plates used to be attached by a mere two or three crimps, only along the edge. Like a clam shell. And it was a random placement every five, six, or seven plates through the stack. Now it takes considerable time and effort to rip them asunder. I think it's a scam. What are the odds that EVERY TWO PLATES are stuck together that tightly? Yes, I think it's a scam to make me buy twice as many plates. Some people might not even know that two plates are there. "Wow! These are really heavy-duty plates!" Not noticing that they are only getting half the amount listed on the package.

I haven't been this incensed since my Puffs With Aloe started having irregular or non-existent folds along the sides.

The paper products conspire against me.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Stop Him, He's Out of Control!

Every summer Hick resents our vacation from school. He leaves chores for all of us, like he's in charge around here. We go through the motions.

The Pony, on goat-herding duty every morning, finds ways to shave an hour into 15 minutes if he's feeling cantankerous. Or he waits until afternoon when the skies cloud up, and says, "We can tell Dad it rained, so I didn't let them out today." The goats are not being harmed. They have acres of fenced pen, and receive hay and goat chow every evening.

My chore for today was to send in Hick's passport for renewal. Because he has been forgetting since April, when he got a new photo. I was reading through the five pages of printout he left me with instructions when the phone rang. It was Genius.

"Can you come pick me up at the bowling alley?"

Believe me, he was not bowling. Saturday afternoon leagues are over. The bowling alley is not even open on Wednesday mornings. And Genius had been fulfilling his duty of hauling a load of gravel for Hick. So now he was at the bowling alley with Hick's truck, and a long-bed full of 2-inch clean.

''Are you all right? Why are you at the bowling alley?"


"I'll be right there."

Yes, only Hick would send his 18-year-old son with $20 to buy a truckload of gravel in a 4WD Ford 250 Extended Cab with bad brakes. I have not liked that truck since he bought it. Not like I drive it regularly. It's been years. But when we had vehicle problems, or when the power was out and I couldn't get my car out of the garage, I drove it. It always felt like it was running away with me. I used to have dreams about driving it with no brakes.

According to Genius, even the emergency brake lost function. From the looks of the gravel up on the metal toolbox, against the back window, and more gravel over the tailgate on the bumper, I'd say some rock was flung today, in reckless abandon.

Even Steven has either staged a reckoning, or is planning one. The Pony went to eat his lunch today, a lunch planned since this morning, of a bowl of cereal, and found that the cupboard was bare of his box. From which he had eaten only one bowl since purchase. The whole time we were in town, when I asked both boys several times if they wanted to pick up something for lunch, The Pony said, "No. I'm having cereal, remember?" I asked Genius why he didn't let us know that he had eaten it. So we could have gotten more while in town. Or something else for lunch.

"I really wasn't even listing to either of you."

No cereal. No brakes. Even Steven is a harsh taskmaster. Genius had better be hoping that his Stevening is still being planned. That the brakes were the initiating factor, and that something good lies on the horizon.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Autumn of Our Discomfort

Money makes the world go round, but it's who you know that greases the axle.

Shortly after we married, Hick and I decided to upgrade my newly-purchased $17,000 house. No, it was not the early 1900s, and we were not renovating a mansion. It was the cusp between the '80s and the '90s. My new old one-bedroom house was on a corner lot near the four-way stop that marked the "downtown" area of the 5000-person metropolis where I grew up.

We decided to put a computer nook into the living room. It was, after all, the dawning of the home computer age. The nook entailed knocking out part of the front wall to add an alcove. Hick had just the man for the job. Though a handyman himself, Hick was working in the city, raking in overtime, and gone for 14 hours a day. So he hired a guy he knew who was an excellent finish carpenter. The guy, Woody, worked construction during the day, and did side projects and roofing for cash in his spare time.

Woody showed up bright and early on a Saturday in mid-October. His intention was to knock out part of the front wall and get the section framed so he could enclose it Sunday. Then he could finish the interior the next weekend. We would be snug and under roof in the meantime.

Hick knew Woody from way back. He paid him half the money up front, with the rest to come upon completion. They had measured, decided on materials, and Hick bought them at a salvage store. It was a bargain for all involved. Woody was a stand-up guy who didn't take crap from anybody. He looked like D.B. Sweeney as Dish Boggett in Lonesome Dove, the miniseries.

The demolition went well. By evening, Woody had framed the nook, and covered the opening with blue tarp. He was confident that we would be under roof the next day. We had chosen this weekend specifically, because the weather forecast was clear and not frosty. It was not yet Halloween. Indian Summer was in effect.

Sunday dawned. Woody was conspicuously absent. All day. The work week loomed. We had a hole in the front of our house. Hick was mildly perturbed. "That's not like Woody. He's dependable. He must have run into some trouble." This was the era before cell phones. I'm not even sure Woody had a home phone. Hick usually knew where his kind of workers hung out, and simply dropped in to hire them for his off-the-books jobs.

I was not worried about the weather getting in. I was worried about people getting in. Namely, strange people who stopped at all hours at the house across the street. Stopped for ten or fifteen minutes, often with a person waiting in the car, then left, never to return. It's not like family was visiting. "What's going on over there? It looks suspicious. Is that a drug house?" I had gone to school with the dude whose father lived there. Dude lived there sometimes, and lived on the family farm the rest of the time. I had not known him to be a drughead in school, but something was fishy.

Hick disagreed. "They're not dealing drugs. The old man is a bail bondsman. People are showing up to get bail money. Not drugs." Like that made me feel any better about the clientele who could sit in the car and observe the blue tarp wall keeping them from walking in to see if anything was worth stealing while we were both in the city, working.

Monday went by with no word from Woody. Tuesday passed, Woodyless. Then Hick solved the mystery. "Hey! I read the court report in the paper. Woody has been locked up in the county jail for bar-fighting. He'll be back to finish the job when he gets out. I knew there was a logical explanation." Thank goodness our blue tarp wall was not broached by anything besides insects.

Woody showed up the next weekend. The nook turned out well. In fact, we also used Woody to build on a second bedroom, replace the sub-floor, expand the bathroom, and frame and roof our current home. He does quality work, that Woody.

I don't know if he used our neighborhood bail bondsman.

Thanks to Joe H., the Cranky Old Man, for reminding me of this story today.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Shout, Shout, Another Thing I Can Do Without

Hick received a call from his doctor's office this evening. He only picked it up because he happened to be walking by the phone at the time, to awaken a napping Genius and goad him into helping Hick unload his truck so he had room to haul more junk. More about that another day. I couldn't help overhear the confidential medical record conversation. Seems Hick had dropped in to the doctor's office to give some blood for a lab test while he was on vacation. The results were not good. They were SO not good, in fact, that Hick came home telling me that the staff could not even give him a result. The measurement was off the charts. That's when he confessed to not taking one of his medications on a regular basis. The doctor sent him down to the hospital lab a couple towns over for further testing.

Tonight's call was to alert Hick to the fact that his lab results were in, and everything was JUST FINE. He questioned the messenger. "So I'm going to live? Huh." How come the office results showed that he was whistling past the graveyard, knocking on Death's door, and barging right in while Death was still slipping into his Grim Reaper uniform? Of course they had no explanation. But Hick and his informant made plans for him to drop in and discuss renewing prescriptions at the end of the week. You'd have thought he was planning the Invasion of Normandy, or that my mom and I were planning a rendezvous to exchange leftovers, such was the intricate dance of details bandied about over the land lines.

It's not that I wanted to eavesdrop on Hick's health details. I couldn't avoid them. Not with a pillow pressed firmly over my head (no doubt a long-running fantasy of Hick's), not with jet-engine headphone ear-protectors, not with my ear canals hermetically sealed with soundproof cement. Hick is a telephone loud-talker. I'm sure you all know one. A person who has not yet entered the golden age of information.

A telephone lets a person miles away from you hear your voice. It's magical. You don't have to shout so they can hear you through the compression waves that sound uses to travel through air. There's a talky thing that converts your voice so it goes through a wire and comes out a heary thing on the other end! You'd think Hick would be aware of this newfangled technology. But he's not. He's like that neighbor...of Doolittle Lynn, when Doo took Loretty out of Butcher Holler and moved her clear across the country to Washington state, where she sat on the front porch of their shack with her two toddlers, kicking the washing machine, writing songs on that guitar Doo bought her instead of a wedding ring...who had to walk to the edge of the field and yell that Loretty's mommy had called to say her daddy died. That's because Loretty didn't have a phone. Thus the hollering. It's not necessary with a phone. Not even with a tin-can-and-twine phone like we made as kids.

I won't go on about the mechanisms and physics involved with cell phones. But I WILL tell you that you do not want to be closed up in a Tahoe with Hick when he talks on one.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

I Sigh With a Little Help From My Friends

Let's talk about drugs. The care and dosing of, specifically. Some people go to extremes. I'm sure you have already guessed that Val is the voice of reason. I swear, you must have some kind of psychic powers. It's the people around Val who don't know what they're doing, of course.

Hick is a bit lackadaisical in the drug dosage department. Just this week, his doctor called him out on some lab results. "Oh. That one. I take it. But I don't take it every time. Oh. The insurance says I haven't filled it in three months? Well. I still have some left." Yeah. The doctor wasn't buyin' Hick's excuses. He doesn't realize that Hick is one of those corner-cutters. A person who is not precise on certain things, but overly precise on others.

Take cough medicine, for example. The last time Hick was very sick and missed work and had some prescription cough medicine, he took it around the clock. "It says, 'Take every 4-6 hours.' So I take it every four hours. It says so. On the label. The doctor must want me to sleep, because it knocks me out. Am I coughing? No. I'm asleep. Because I take my medicine like it says."

Hick did not want to hear about the "as needed" part of the label. He was sure he was supposed to take it on schedule, 24/7, until it was gone. Unlike antibiotics, which he only takes until he feels better. Even though the label says to take them on schedule until gone. But getting back to that cough medicine...for one so strict on the dosage administration, Hick was a bit careless in the measuring department. Forget that little plastic cup the pharmacy puts in. The label said "teaspoons". So Hick was sure he had to take that medicine with a spoon. To Hick, any spoon is a teaspoon. Any spoon except a measuring teaspoon in the kitchen. It could be a silverware spoon from various sets, a serving spoon, a baby food spoon, or perhaps a big wooden decorative spoon off a kitchen wall-hanging arrangement. It's a spoon, by cracky! And the instructions said to use a spoon.

We have a veritable home pharmacy above the stove. Aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen. You got a headache? We've got the remedy. Here's the problem with our over-the-counter, over-the-oven stash: the lids. Hick thinks the lids should be spun away from that line-up arrow thingy. Like the medicine will fall out of the bottle all willy-nilly, because that lid won't stay on. Either that, or he expects a roving band of headachy toddlers to invade our kitchen with the sole purpose of prying open medicine caps that are not set in the childproof mode. I don't know how many times I've gone to pop out a pill and ripped half the fingerprint off my thumb because the arrows were not lined up like I left them. I can't count them on two hands, because my fingers are too sore for counting, what with their ripped-off fingerprints.

My mom errs more on the side of caution. A while back, I had given her a couple of acetaminophen, and a couple of ibuprofen. That's because The Pony takes one kind for a headache, and Genius takes the other. Every now and then their noggin commences to throbbin' while they're soaking up Grandma's high-speed internet, and she had asked me for something to keep on hand. She's not one to pop pills, my mom.

So a month or two ago, Mom stuffed a Walmart sack with plastic containers that I had given her leftovers in, and some snacks for the boys, and those old pills. "I'm giving these back to you because I've had them for quite a while, and I'm pretty sure they're expired now." You know. Because she couldn't simply throw them away, or bury them in the backyard, or seal them hermetically in a jar with a Mr. Yuk sticker on the front. She had to return them to me.

Somewhere, there's got to be a happy medium between these extreme pharmaceutical habits.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

There Is Much Joy in Backroads

Even Steven is smiling upon the Thevictorian family today. Mighty Casey himself would be welcome to drag his backwards-K butt over to our abode and join in the celebration.

Genius has been moved from homeless housing into his first choice dorm. I found out quite by accident, checking to make sure that his paid tuition that is due on Monday still showed up online. I noticed that on the itemized fees, the dormitory bill had been subtracted. And right below it, a more expensive fee had been added. Of course Genius had just stepped into the shower. So we had a muffled conversation.

"Hey! Can you hear me?"

"What? Talk louder!"



"I think they switched your dorm. They subtracted the fee, and added a different one. And instead of The Quad overflow thingy, it has some initials."

"WOOHOO! I got in! I just checked it yesterday morning, and it was the same."

"This shows it went in yesterday."

"I'll check when I get out."

So now Genius has a definite room, with an address, in the building he wanted. Not some amorphous maybe of a living space like the gymnasium where Lewis and Gilbert ended up before exacting their nerdy revenge. He was also able to look up his roommate and suitemates, and find out what floor he'll be living on.

In other news, The Pony is going to a party. He was invited yesterday, or maybe earlier this week by phone when he was at his grandma's house. He only told me this morning when I asked what he'd been texting about yesterday when I thought he was getting in the pool.

At first, The Pony told me he didn't think he'd go. More interrogation revealed that plans for the party included dancing and pizza and a bonfire. I know The Pony is a pizza boy. So I asked him, "Do you like to dance?"

"Um. What do YOU think? No."

"Do you like to burst into flames."

"Well, you should know that the answer to that would be, 'Hopefully, no.'"

"I'm sure there will be girls there who would love to teach you to dance."

"Uh, no."

The Pony went off to let out the goats. Then he hoofed it down into the woods to help Hick at the creekside cabin. I don't know what went on there, but a few hours later they both returned.

"Tell your mom."

"Uh...I'm going to the party?"

"Oh, I thought you decided not to."

"Apparently Dad says I am."

"I'll take him. It'll be good for him."

I suppose the only cherry on this sundae would be if Hick procures some Auction Meat while waiting for the time to pick up The Pony.

Friday, July 12, 2013

It Does Matter To Her

Are you sitting down? That's not a rhetorical question. I'm serious. All of you who have a habit of standing while you catch up on your blog-reading need to plop your fanny onto the settee. I will not be responsible for any concussions incurred from fainting falls.

Okay, now that you're seated, get a grip, brace yourself, and hang onto your hat.


Easy there. Don't be jolted off the settee as the world stops revolving, spinning slowly down to die. Baby, Mom a-wants slaw. She would give everything she owns just to have her slaw again. SLAW! Look what you've done to her! You've taken the heart of her, and left just a part of her. Mom went truckin' down the highway. I hope you got outta her way. Wouldn't you know it? She wouldn't show it. But Mom was looking for all the sweet slaw she could find.

Here's the deal. I tried to call Mom this morning at 7:50. She didn't answer. I felt a bit guilty. Maybe she was sleeping in. So I tried again immediately. Time for her to get up. No answer. I DID NOT call her cell phone. No sirree, Bob! I would not be responsible for thirty minutes of purse-rummaging to grab that cell phone from right where she always puts it. I vaguely remembered her mentioning that she might get out this morning to go to the store. She had planned on it Thursday evening when she brought The Pony home. Because SHE WAS OUT OF SLAW. Uh huh. And she had three sausages left, with no slaw! But she didn't want to deal with Walmart at the end of the day.

About an hour later, Mom called me back. "Did you call me?"

"Yes. But I'm folding laundry now. I'll call you in a few minutes." That gave her time to get settled. Because there is no such thing as a quick phone call to Mom. I will abbreviate the conversation. I know you don't have thirty minutes. You might be folding laundry and placing it upon the settee beside you.

"I saw that you had called. I went to Walmart to get my slaw."

"I was getting worried when you didn't answer, but then I remembered you were going to pick up some slaw."

"Well! They were out! I looked and I looked, and the whole slaw section was empty! So I asked one of the deli workers, 'Is there someplace else I should be looking for the slaw?' And that woman said, 'Oh, we don't have any. We may not have it until this afternoon, because we had a power outage, and we had to throw a bunch of it away, and we haven't had time to restock.'"

"See? I told you I would pick some up for you at Save A Lot yesterday morning and give it to you when you brought The Pony home. Then you would have had slaw."

"I know you did. But I just don't like Save A Lot slaw as much as I like Walmart slaw. It is really good."

"So now you don't have slaw. What are you going to do with those sausages?"

"Well, at first I thought I'd run back over to Walmart this afternoon. But then I thought, 'I'm not going to mess with that on the weekend. I'll get it next week.'"

"How can you go that long without slaw?"

"Oh, I have slaw. I went by Save A Lot and picked some up."

My mom. She loves her slaw.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

No Wonder I Have a Headache

The universe is now working 24/7 to earn triple time for conspiring against me.

I had internet issues most of last evening. And by internet issues, I mean I HAD NO INTERNET! Even Genius could not figure it out. It finally started working again on its own. No doubt after the universe had a good chuckle after toying with me.

I had a horrible dream that something happened to my sweet, sweet Juno. Something by my own hand. I cannot even put it into words. Think: The Yearling. And after it was over, the person who told me to do it said, "Well, if you'd asked, you probably could have substituted a different dog." Yikes! Such a nightmare.

I woke up with a pulsing headache in my above-eye sinus region. It is just now beginning to fade.

The worst fly in the ointment of my life is the plan of the county highway department to resurface a bridge just past my turn-off. That means the main road will be closed, and hordes of bad drivers will be barreling along my blacktop county road for two months. The road that is barely wide enough for two cars. It is the official detour. The highway department put up their signs today. This fresh not-heaven will start on Monday morning. I can't even begin to imagine what incidents will occur at the one-lane, first-come-first-across low-water bridge. A simple trip to town will be like morning and evening rush all rolled into one with a game of bridge-chicken thrown in for fun.

I am not yet ready to wean myself from my daily 44 oz. Diet Coke. There's still relaxin' time left before school starts. This old ox is unwilling to don the yoke of responsibility at this juncture. I just want an easy route to civilization for my magical elixir. Oh, for the carefree days of driving to the movies to rub elbows with cellophane-rustlers and soda-dumpers and stale-popcorn-dispensers.

You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Rustler Stole My Patience

The Pony and I took my mom to the movies today to see Dispicable Me 2. You know what that means. We had issues. Not so many as I expected, though. I didn't have to browbeat the counter clerk into giving me the just-popped popcorn instead of the already-bagged-and-cold dregs from the bottom of the popper.

Really, it was just one little issue. This is a kids' movie, so I expected a bunch of kid stuff. Lots of getting up and going to the bathroom and getting refills and hollering at the screen. From the kids, too. Of course there were those who rolled in at 15 minutes past the show time and stood in the aisle deciding where to inflict the backs of their heads on those of us who got there early. The daycare contingent who took up two rows got there in plenty of time to stake out their territory in the middle of the theater. The two adults with them had ONE popcorn bag. I envisioned those kids passing it along the row, taking one kernel at a time, sharing like the large family of Rita-the-rat in Flushed Away sharing that one bowl of soup as it slid from one end of the table to the other as their houseboat tilted to and fro. That's one of my favorite animated movies. Check it out if you have the chance. My personal favorite is the scene where the sewer slugs sing, "Poor old Roddy, flushed down his own potty..." But I digress.

We had our regular next-to-the-back-row seats. Nobody sat directly in front of us. A lady and her grandson came in and sat behind us just as the previews started. All was well until the movie itself began. Then they pulled something out of their pockets or purse that drove me crazy. I don't know what it was, but my ears told me it was some kind of candy wrapped in cellophane. You know cellophane. It crinkles. It can't be tamed. Can't be worn out. Can't be quieted. When The Pony has a box of candy, say, for instance, Cookie Dough Bites, that are enclosed in cellophane inside the box, I tell him to dump those tasty tidbits right into the box. Get rid of the cellophane. If only I could give such sage advice to other people's children. Or grandchildren.

That kid was a world-class cellophane rustler. It was like he was digging to China in the bottom of that bag. Like he couldn't eat what was on top, but had to dig out the deepest morsel for each bite. He must have been practicing to be the Guinness World Record Movie Cellophane Rustler. He probably had a plexiglass case lined with red velvet for when the Olympic Committee adds cellophane rustling as a sport. That racket went on for over half an hour. The Pony was oblivious. Me, not so much.

It's the little things, people. Just because it wasn't listed on the screen with those other behaviors that AMC wants you to refrain from, like arm-punching and whistling and chair-kicking and texting, doesn't mean it's okay.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

So Many Weirdos, So Little Time

If Val was a middle-school kid's electromagnet science project, she would have eleven coils.

Yes, I'm a weirdo magnet. Through no fault of my own, odd members of the human race seek me out for personal interaction. They are like copper wire loops to my inner core of sensibility. Opposites attract. Let's look at a partial list of the metal filings that have been drawn to me like a red plastic stylus on one of those Woolly Willy make-a-beard-on-my-face toys.

Here they are, in no particular order:

Arm-Rubbing Save A Lot Woman who followed me through the store, asked if I had a husband, stroked my arm, and told me I was SO PRETTY.

Walmart Mistaken Identity Woman who shouted at me from one end of a frozen food aisle to the other, "Jane! Jane!" She ran up to me, would not listen that I was not Jane, ended up in front of me at the checkout, and made a pointed comment to the checker about people pretending they were somebody else.

Crazy School Invader who came to my room on my plan time, said, "Is this the office?" and disappeared, later to be seen running around the building pursued by the athletic director and the principal. Made more creepy by the fact that to get to my room, he had to enter the main doors, walk past the office, past a counselor's office, past a nurse's office, past an athletic director's office, down a hall, past the teacher workroom, two restrooms, and a janitor's closet to arrive that my room full off student desks, which he assumed was the office.

Creepy Bug-Eyed Neighbor who followed T-Hoe into my semi-dark garage one Thursday night before Halloween back when the boys were ten and seven, and Hick was away at the bowling alley. At the time, here's what I had to say...

My heart almost shot out of my mouth. I say almost, because I guess it is hooked to things like the aorta and inferior vena cava and stuff to hold it in, or else somebody would have been nailed with a hillbilly-heart projectile. I looked behind the car, just inside the garage door, and there was a bald creepy man in a painters' hat. I screamed a little bit, and grabbed at my chest to keep my heart in.

"I didn't mean to scare you. I saw you drive in." It was our neighbor, the Land-Stealer. He shaves his head, and kind of has bug-eyes, and I wasn't expecting anybody to have followed me down my 1/8 mile driveway, so I was scared. He just wanted me to tell Hick that he had all the papers ready for the land he stole from us that we are buying back at an outrageous profit for him. That's all.

Jury Duty Dude Who Looked Like Hannibal Lecter who was supposed to sit right next to me on the pew in the courtroom, but refused to enter that row, and went to the one behind. He was so scary that the deputy reading off our names did not correct him. It might have been because he asked why she wasn't wearing her badge, and asked for her name, and slowly licked the dull lead on a nub of a pencil and wrote it down on a tiny flip-top spiral notebook that he took out of his gray prison-issue-looking slacks.

Befuddled Jury Duty Lady Who Convicted Innocent People, her proclaiming that she could tell, just by looking, that those folks were guilty. She was referring to other prospective jurors who were sitting near the judge's chambers with doctors' letters hoping to be excused.

Young Scofflaws on the Loose who ran up to soap the windows of the car while I was sitting in it in plain sight as Hick took the boys up to a house for trick-or-treating.

Raincoatless Flasher Dude who called me over to his car to ask if I had the time, me thinking he was shirtless because it was summer, and that he wanted me to check my watch, not his...

Odd Lady in a Master's Class who turned to me and asked, "What if you have bruises all over your body and you don't even play volleyball?"

Countless People Who Ask if I Work Here, no matter whether I'm walking through Walmart, a casino, a school not my own, a college science fair, a museum in Mississippi, a shoe store, etc. I am everyclerk.

Generous Addled Man in Save A Lot who came up behind me while I was boxing my groceries, put his hand on my shoulder, and held out a wad of money. "Here."

Oh, dear. I'm leaving out so many. I've had no time to accurately catalog them. I know the Pink Panty Drunk Driver lady is missing, and the guy who hollered, "Every man's dream!" when I ordered two breasts and two thighs at the Gas Station Chicken Store. Not to mention the Walmart parking lot ZZ Top beard guy who told me how he was waiting for his friend to buy some lettuce for a salad to go with their spaghetti, or the casino frat boy who literally pulled my crank, or the mouthy woman at the movie theater who spouted off to my niece (blood is thicker than popcorn), or the doctor's receptionist who gave me a work excuse after surgery for an entirely different woman.

So many weirdos, so little time.

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Universe Works Overtime

Ahh...the universe must be looking for time-and-a-half on next week's paycheck, what with the extra hours it has put into conspiring against me.

Perhaps I mentioned that the Gas Station Chicken Store befouled my precious fountain of Diet Coke. I gave them over a week to remedy the situation, but the taste was still like Diet Pepsi or the dregs of a chicken-pen water pan. So I switched my loyal beverage patronage to Voice of the Village. All was well. I had a new routine.

Today I went to the bank for the little matter of reclaiming my debit card that was eaten by the ATM just because I drove away without touching the screen to say that I was finished and wanted it to return my card. Kind of petty for that ATM to retaliate so harshly due to my lack of caress. I pulled into the bank parking lot, careful to avoid the car coming out the entrance, because, you know, nothing is THAT simply for Val on her daily excursions. The teller inside said that sure, she could get my card back, but it would take a lot of paperwork, and two employees. Not that she wanted to make me feel guilty or anything. She did, however, exact revenge by asking to see my ID, which, of course, is my DRIVER'S LICENSE. I swear, I've had to show that hideous likeness more times this summer than in the previous seven years, when I had one that was quite fetching.

That teller was gone for a while. I'm supposed to think that it took time for the forms and the buddy system to crack open the ATM. But I think in all actuality they were yukking it up and Instagramming my bloated, misshapen, droopy-lidded countenance willy-nilly through the major social networks. Once I had my debit card and, unfortunately, my driver's license back, The Pony and I headed towards home, with a quick stop at Voice of the Village for my 44 oz. Diet Coke.

I grabbed my cup and the correct change, and joyfully exited T-Hoe and entered the establishment. I mentally patted myself on the back after making it through the door before the dude carrying his toddler daughter. They looked like soda fountain people. Slow ones. I rushed past the place where I saw that giant fruit beetle, wove past the Natural Light display, and saw two signs taped to the dispenser of happiness: OUT OF ORDER.

WTNH! Remember that? WHAT THE NOT-HEAVEN! Imagine the odds of the two mainstays of my caffeine habit going down at the same time. After two years of steadfast service. Darn you, Universe! Darn you all to heck! Can you see me shaking my fist skyward, toward the cosmos?

I turned on my rubber-soled heel, a feat made easier by the melted-ice water droplets on the red concrete floor. Back through the Natural Light display, the former beetle territory, and out the door. Foiled again! Back to the Gas Station Chicken Store. The congenial man with one tooth was clerking. He greeted me pleasantly. The owner was lurking in the back near the beer cooler. I thought of mentioning the befouled Diet Coke. But I didn't. Owner had been so discombobulated that time he poured the hot coffee water into the soda fountain and sent up a cloud of steam while I was drawing my drought that I feared he could not handle bad news of this magnitude. I clunked in a few ice cubes. And threw caution to the wind, and pushed my styrofoam cup against the lever. It LOOKED normal. Not too foamy. I slapped on a lid and paid. Once in the privacy of T-Hoe's tinted windows, I took my water-cup straw and pierced the X marking the spot. One tiny sip. It was okay!

That was a good thing. Because for the quarter-mile drive under the overpass to get to the Gas Station Chicken Store, I had been panicking about what to do. What if that soda was still Diet Pepsi-ish? Where would I go. I asked The Pony. He was not much help, not being an addict, not grasping the magnitude of the situation. "Does that liquor store have a soda fountain?" I don't know why I asked him. It's not like he could drive himself to town on the sly.

"How would I know?"

"Sorry. Some of them do. My old haircutter used to leave her teenage son money to walk to the liquor store for a soda while she was at work. Now where else could I go? Subway? Do they have Coke or Pepsi? They won't let me bring in my big cup. Are there any other gas stations? Oh! The Casey's! I can go there if I have to!"

Lucky for me, my thirst was slaked at my old pal, the Gas Station Chicken Store. It's hard placating this monkey on my back.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Punishment For the Good-Deeder

The universe has not taken a holiday from conspiring against Val.

I found out Saturday morning that Hick is laying in hay stores for the winter. Uh huh. Who woulda thunk that July is the time to buy winter hay? Not me. Because last year we bought winter hay in the winter. Or tried to. Because hay was scarce. Apparently, people had not been making hay last summer when the sun shone at 108 degrees for several weeks. So our goats had to eat goat chow, or whatever they eat when there is no hay, no bark left on the cedar trees in their pen, and no tin cans laying around.

Because Hick was going right then, that morning, to hook up his truck to a trailer of 75 square bales to haul it home and wake up Genius to stack in under the BARn lean-to...I had to cough up a couple of hundred bucks in cash. Not only that, but Genius was strong-arming me to pay for half a monitor. Yes. Half a monitor. He bought a whole one, but thought I should pay half, because it's for college. For his laptop to hook up to, and to use as a TV. Last time I checked, laptops came with screens. But you know how I am out-of-touch with technology. So I figured I could scrape up the money, then go take some out of our account at the bank's ATM. The Pony could ride with me, logging some front-seat time as decreed by Hick.

This good deed cost me dearly.

The Pony does not like riding up front. We have compromised. He rides shotgun on the way to where we're going, and he rides behind me on the way back. What his dad doesn't know won't hurt him. As we started into the garage, I said, "Up front, remember? Dad says."

"He didn't say anything about THIS trip. That was last time."

"No. He means EVERY time." The Pony sighed and hopped in. I ran in Save A Lot, another part of the good deed, because Hick wanted more meat for grilling. Gotta keep the new auction grill, Gassy G, in business. He's like the opposite of the boiler at the Overlook Hotel. We don't have to watch him like an Excedrin-chomping Jack Torrance to dump the pressure, we have to furnish him with neverending sacrificial flesh. If denied, Gassy G might grow grumpy, and growl at us like the furnace in that Home Alone boy's basement.

We continued to the bank. I lectured The Pony as I went through the motions, "Always be aware of your surroundings. Lock your doors if you're in the car at the ATM." I took out my exact amount. Counted it to make sure the machine didn't short me ten dollars like the human at my mom's bank. I drove around through the back alley so The Pony could hop into the back seat. "Do it here, at the stop sign. There's nothing behind us. I'll put my money away before we go to Sonic for your lunch. Wait a minute! WHERE'S MY DEBIT CARD?"

Yes. I had left it in the machine, being discombobulated by the new timing of my cash trip, the new amount, the new front-seat companion. You know how it's the little things that can throw you off your game. "What time it is? Oh, no. It's almost noon. Let's go back and see if it's in the machine. Hopefully, nobody else had gone through the cash machine. I'm not going backwards up the alley. Here. Let's cut across this lot and go back." Of course fifteen cars were going our way, impeding my pull-out. The Pony watched them like a hawk.

"Nobody went into the bank lot, Mom!"

"No? Probably because they're closing at noon." I went to the ATM. It had already gone back to new customer mode. I backed up and entered one of the three drive-thru bays. The workers were milling around at the front counter area, not at the drive-thru post. "Excuse me! I think I left my debit card in the ATM. Could you please check and see if it's there?"

"I'm sorry, Ma'am. We're not allowed to open the ATM until Monday. You'll have to check back then."

No rest for the weary, no joy in Mudville, no cash for the stupid. I'll be going to the bank on Monday morning.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Ousting the Invading Hordes

Fling wide the door! Step through, and hold it open in an act of chivalry. Chivalry is not dead. It lives! It lives in the egresses of my humble home, where the menfolk see fit to invite in poopy-foot flies until the cows come home. Thank goodness we don't have cows.

If I had my druthers, my family would be required to enter our abode like Indiana Jones creeping through the Temple of Doom. Like Tom Cruise trying to complete an impossible mission. Like Maxwell Smart striding though closing doors at CONTROL headquarters. Or to exit like Maria slipping out the front door of the von Trapp mansion during a grand party.

Flies have no business in my house. There's no poop to crawl on. That's their job, you know. To crawl on poop. Don't tell me how flies like decomposing critter carcasses just as well. Nope. I know what they're up to. They're poop-crawlers. That's what they live for. That's how they live. Sure, every now and then you hear of them laying their eggs in decomposing critter carcasses. They're just using them as surrogates because they can't find enough poop to crawl in. Poop, poop, poop. That's their mantra.

I show no mercy when they come poopy-footing around my kitchen. I grab the old-fashioned baby-blue flyswatter that hangs from a metal hook on the cutting block. "Feast your compound eyes on THIS!" I hiss. In my mind. Out loud might make my chivalrous menfolk look at me askance. The poopy-footed guest today was invited by The Pony after our trip to town. "Close that door! What are you trying to do, let in flies?"

"I'm going back to the car for my phone. I was holding the door for you. Look out. This one's trying to get in. Too late."

Yes. Too late. For that poop-crawler. I grabbed my swatter. The Pony had returned. "I just saw him. Where did he go?"

"Um. Right there. On YOUR FOOT!" Huh. Like he thought I could feel a fly on the instep of my white leather New Balance. Some reverse princess detecting a pea.

"Watch this!"

"Haha! He got away!"

"Not for long. Where'd he go?"

"Right here. On the floor."

"He's not very smart."

"Let ME get him." I handed over the swatter while I busied myself getting my 44 oz. Diet Coke ready for transport to my dark basement lair. "Oops! Missed." I took back my swatter and sent The Pony packing my drinks downstairs. That poop-crawler landed on a metal tray on my almond stove-top. I swung without mercy. Like a clean-up hitter going for the left field fence. Some might term my at-bat as a foul. The poop-crawler tried to take off. Too late. He must have been suffering from multiple macular degeneration. I struck him a glancing blow, which caused him to fly in a slow spiral into the drip pan of my front burner. Don't think I was giving up.

I pulled up the metal coil and dipped the edge of the flyswatter under the poop-crawler. He walked in a circle like a puppy chasing its tail. Only much smaller, and not cute. I spun to the sink, and dumped him in. Turned on the water full blast. Grabbed the sprayer for good measure. That's one poop-crawler that's not coming back.

Later, I told The Pony, "I got him! I smacked him on the stove, and he flew into the burner, and I scooped him out and washed him down the sink."

"I know. I heard the death scream." I'm not sure if he's talking about one from the poop-crawler, or from me. "I would have turned on the burner and roasted him to ashes."

So much for chivalry.

Friday, July 5, 2013

'Tis Not Nobler To Suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune rained down on me today. Yes, there was no joy in Backroads. Cranky Val bad-lucked out.

Perhaps I have mentioned in passing that I enjoy a 44 oz. Diet Coke on special occasions. Like the dawning of each new day. I travel with a stable of styrofoam cups to grab a refill while I'm out and about. I frequent two establishments in downtown Backroads. No need to travel far and wide for my caffeiney fix. I used to enjoy Sonic Happy Hour on the way home from work, until Sonic made it Unhappy Hour by altering the half-price time so I could not get there, and then had the gall to go out of business (no doubt due to my lack of patronage), and the road that ran down Sonic fast-food row was closed for a new bridge.

My go-to re-filling stations are the Gas Station Chicken Store and Voice of the Village. Yeah. Those are made-up names. But anybody from these parts would know what I'm talking about. I've had an issue of late with the Gas Station Chicken Store. Last week, I happily filled my cup, dropped my exact change into the cashier's hand, and practically pranced out the door with that 44 oz. Diet Coke in my hot little hand. Mmm. I never put a straw in it there. I take it home, and use recycled straws that I wash out. It's not like a long straw is a hardship, what with the 84 pieces of silverware I have to wash each day. Once home, I plop that cup into a spare cup, thus double-cupping and keeping my elixir cool throughout the day. The Pony carries it downstairs and puts it on my desk, where it awaits my imbibing. After drinking a bit, I add ice from Frig, also carried down by The Pony, in a Bubba cup to use as needed. I sip this delightful beverage over the course of six hours or so.

On that fateful day last week, I leaned over to swill the first gulp, and IT TASTED FOUL! Foul, I tell you! Not like there was a moldy mouse in the cup. I would have noticed that. It tasted foul! Like Diet Pepsi! I can hardly type those words. I'm retching as I remember. It was all I could do to drink half of it. So put-off was I by this betrayal that I shunned the Gas Station Chicken Store. I bestowed my business on Voice of the Village. It's 27 cents cheaper there, and sometimes FREE, depending on who's behind the counter. On the down side, they don't sell chicken.

Today I decided to give the Gas Station Chicken Store another chance. I was sure it was a simple error. They have the Pepsi machine right next to the Coke machine. An honest mistake. I saw it as a good sign that my favorite parking place nearest the door was available. I skipped in merrily with my cup, almost expecting the employees to call out, "VAL!" Because sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name. I sidled up to the Coke machine, clunked in several cubes of ice, and began the refilling. But this time, I grabbed a straw and stabbed it through the thin plastic skin of the lid. Ptuey! IT TASTED FOUL! Same as last week. I got in line to pay, because I am sure that in a court of law, "IT TASTED FOUL!" is not an adequate defense. The sweet older lady whose little fluffy dog was eaten by her neighbor's dog several months ago said, "Hey, where you been?" That's proper grammar for this area.

"Your Diet Coke doesn't taste right. I noticed it last week. It tastes like Diet Pepsi. So...I've been getting my soda somewhere else." Because I'm a stand-up gal, I bought two lottery tickets. Gotta give some good with the bad.

"It tastes like Diet Pepsi? I just refilled it. It said 'Coke' on the box..."

"I don't know what happened, but it doesn't taste like Diet Coke."

"Huh." Yeah. She gave the same treatment I gave that weirdo hot-dog lady in Save A Lot the other day. I don't hold it against her.

I took that tall cup of bilge-water out to T-Hoe, and made The Pony sample it. Against his wishes. It could be that I commanded all wrong. "Taste this crap! It's nasty! What do you mean you'd rather not? Take a sip. It almost makes me sick! See? Does that taste like Diet Coke? What do you mean, 'Kinda?' Don't you know the difference in Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi? Or else they've got the carbonation way out of whack."

"It MIGHT taste a little like Diet Pepsi."

"Do you think your dad might want it if I take it home?"

"No. Nobody wants that."

I poured it out the window and headed straight for Voice of the Village. Even used the same cup. It was the best decision I made all day. Voice of the Village is to Diet Coke what Jack Daniels is to fine Tennessee sippin' whiskey.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Perfect Time for a Good Grilling

On Wednesday, I made a shocking discovery. My cell phone was broken. I noticed it right before The Pony and I left home to stock up on barbecue supplies. I broached the subject with him, our discussion made all the more convenient because he was riding in the front seat of T-Hoe, orders from his dad. I began my line of questioning with the first of the usual suspects.

Did you knock my phone off the cutting block?
Are you sure. There's a crack in it. Look.
Hmm. That IS a crack.
You didn't do it?
No. If I did, I would tell you. But I didn't.
I noticed it last night. I left it on the cutting block, propped on its kickstand to get one bar, facing my purse on the counter. When I came upstairs in the wee hours, it was facing the stove, and moved over about six inches. I though I saw a long smudge, like from unlocking it. But it's a crack. Are you sure you didn't knock it off?
No. Funny how you can drop a phone from three feet onto the garage floor numerous times, and it doesn't break. Yet tip it over onto its face, and it cracks in two places.
Yeah. Funny. You know so much about it.
That's what happened to MY phone.
Uh huh. And you'd tell me if you cracked mine?
Yes. It's ONLY a crack. It's not like your phone is broken. Mine has TWO cracks.
And yours doesn't receive calls.
Um. Well, it's fine for what I need it for. I don't need people interrupting me with calls.

The next witness was out of our jurisdiction, and was contacted by phone.

Hey, did you knock my phone off last night?
No. Why?
Because there's a big crack down the front.
I didn't know that. It was fine the last time I looked at it.
You didn't move it on the cutting block?
No. Why would I do that?
Because just before you left on vacation, you kept yelling at me to put it back on the counter.
Well, it's stupid to put it on the cutting block. It's in the way.
I see. So you didn't even touch it.

The third witness took more finesse. He's a clever one. Evasive. But not well-versed in the nuances of interrogation. He also gave testimony by phone.

Did you pick up my phone?
Pick up you phone?
Yes. Did you pick up my phone?
No. Don't you have it?
Yes. But it was moved on the cutting block, and facing a different way.
Well, I brought in Chinese food last night when we got home.
Did you put the bag on the cutting block?
No. I put it on the counter by the stove, where I always put it.
You didn't move my phone?
No. The Chinese food got put there.
What do you mean?
The boys were getting out their food. And the bag got put on the cutting block.
Did you put it there?
No. It got put there.
You sound like a liar. Who says, "It got put there." A normal person would say "I put it there." Or "Genius put it there." Or even, "The boys put it there." Yet you say, "It got put there."
I'm not a liar.
Remember that time with the paper towels? You swore you didn't use them. Then you swore you didn't get your dirty fingerprints on the end of the new roll again. And I found out you had flipped the roll upside down on the holder, and there were dirty fingerprints all over that end. Right? Do you remember?
Yes. I remember. I DID flip the paper towels so you wouldn't know I got them dirty again.
But you told me you hadn't used the paper towels, didn't you?
Yes. I told you that.
THAT WAS JUST A ROLL OF PAPER TOWELS! I can imagine how you'd lie about breaking my cell phone.
I didn't touch your cell phone. I'll bet GENIUS did it!

What say you, jury?

THE PONY with a condiment cup of sweet & sour sauce by Frig?

GENIUS with a carton of fried rice, a carton of chicken, and a styrofoam tub of sweet & sour sauce by the stove?

HICK with a paper sack full of Chinese takeout, and misdirection?

They all have flaws in their testimony. Yet they stick to their stories, and don't flinch when I point out their inconsistencies. My circumstantial evidence cannot rule out any of the three. I think I'll just lock them up in a shared cell to commiserate for eternity like Jerry, Elaine, George, and Kramer.

BREAKING: Val, the judge, jury, and executioner, has declared a mistrial. After this story went to press, just before publication, new developments occurred, brought to the court's attention by one of the defendants. The circumstances are a bit sketchy, but previous evidence seems to have been destroyed.

Genius arrived home from a sleepover. He showered. He stormed out. He slammed the door. He apparently had a rendezvous with Hick involving physical labor, which may or may not have included a discussion of PhoneBreak. He entered the kitchen to forage for sustenance. I, in the living room, heard water running in the kitchen sink. For a long time.

I thought you said your phone was broken.
It is. Down the front glass.
No it isn't.
Yes, it is. The Pony saw it himself. PONY! Did you see the crack in my phone?
That's what you told me.
You know you saw it in the car yesterday. You ran your finger over it and said it WAS a crack.
If you say so.
Look! There's NO crack.
Well, it was there yesterday. I tried everything to get it off, and I could feel the crack. One piece pushed down, and it was a definite crack.
Look. It's fine.

If I didn't know better, I would have sworn that Genius had a spare glass phone face thingy laying around like Frankenstein parts, and that he replaced it. Or else he gave my smart phone a shower under the kitchen faucet. One scenario is as disturbing as the other. For now, the case has been closed.

This is Emily Litella, your courtroom reporter, signing off.