Saturday, August 31, 2013

Glass and Bugs Just Go Together

Hey! You know that saying, "Sometimes you're the windshield, sometimes you're the bug?" Yeah. I like it, because it's so Even Steveny.

Can you imagine what it would be like if you really were a windshield? If eyes are the windows to the soul, then windshields are the windows from the driver's soul-windows to the outside of the car. Not quite so poetic, eh?

If you were a windshield, you wouldn't have to wipe yourself. There are contraptions to do that for you, and folks like the occasional full-service gas station attendant like those at a certain establishment in Backroads that hires the ex-cons, who don't use a cash register but instead carry the money in a long wallet on a chain, because who's going to mess with an ex-con to get that cash, anyway, because even though ex-conny may have a heart of gold, he is still what we lily-livered pantywaist educators consider hard-core.

Yes, if you were a windshield, people would do their darnedest to keep you crystal clear. Not foggy. Might even give you a drink of Coca Cola every now and then. Shade you with metallic plastic springy contraptions in the heat. Cover you with cardboard on frosty nights. Give you a birdpoopectomy the instant your illness was diagnosed.

If you were a bug, on the other hand, you could fly. Around and around people's heads, buzzing them like an old-timey crop duster after an alleged spy. You could walk on the surface of water. Treat other people's bodies like an amusement park. Sail on saliva in a cavernous mouth like it's the tunnel of love. Explore the ear canal funhouse. Break a leg...heck, have one pulled from its socket, and walk without a crutch.

WAIT! What I really wanted to share with you was that I set The Pony to gathering some creek water yesterday morning, and snipping some leaves off a tree, for my microscope-using lab. The students were buzzing around, looking at prepared slides, like honeybee mouth parts and housefly legs, and ones I had made with crushed leaves, and weed pollen, and creek water...when I saw them.


The miniscule hitchhikers were in the Ziploc bag with the leaves. Tiny red bugs marching along the serrated edges. Tiny red bugs. Clingy. I tied to shake some onto a piece of printer paper. Knocked that leaf on it with a vengeance. Pried a couple off with a pencil lead. Wouldn't you know it? Each time I tried to pick one up on the pencil point and deposit it on a slide for dousing with a pipette-drop of water before sealing it with a cover slip...that darn bug would disintegrate into a red stain. At first I suspected they were chiggers, but I think chiggers are a hardier lot. Oh, and there was also a tiny thin gray leggy spider. He was kind of twisted, but I rehydrated him and flattened him forthwith.

Yeah! Who knew we would end up with bonus bugs? Kudos to The Pony for his selection techniques. Sometimes you're the windshield. Sometimes you're the bug.

And sometimes, you're pressed in a drop of water between a cover slip and a slide.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Val Continues To Depreciate

Oh, how my stock has fallen! It continues to plummet. This $8-daughter is on an express elevator to not-heaven. Today, my very own mother, the one I picked up at the park in 98-degree heat, and drove around on my monetary errands under the cool breath of T-Hoe, stuffed a mere $4 in my cup.

Don't go thinking that Val is some kind of privileged panhandler, driving around Backroads in a Tahoe, rattling a 44 oz. styrofoam cup for donations. No. I had my cup ready for the daily Diet Coke. And in the midst of my many errands, stopped to get The Pony, a ravenous after-school beast, some waffle fries and a root beer. Mom peeled off four ones. "Here. Let me give you this. For The Pony." I was driving at the time. I may or may not have waved my hand dismissively, letting her know that I didn't need her money. At least not at that instant. And she shoved those bills down into my 44 oz. cup!

Let the record show that it was not a malicious act. She was not trying to slice a leak, thus depriving me of my single daily pleasure. I had already put ten twenties in there. The bank refused to take them as a deposit! What's the world coming to, when you can't deposit cash into someone's account if you don't know their account number? It's not like I'm a Nigerian scammer. Genius needs his monthly allowance. The drive-thru teller's excuse was that there have been too many complaints about money being deposited in the wrong accounts. Seriously? I'm betting the account-holders were not the ones complaining. What's up with that? Is everybody dumping money into John Smith's account? Now I have to go back to the bank tomorrow with a deposit slip. Oh, and I also had to put three deposit receipts from my savings&loan in there. As well as two receipts from the credit union. But that didn't mean Mom could jam four ones in there indiscriminately. I have a sneaking suspicion they were not facing the same way, and some were floppy, and they infiltrated the ordered chaos of my circular file.

I need to go call her before she goes to bed. I have some spoilers from Big Brother that might raise my current daughterly value.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

I'll Let You Know When I Get My Own Cooking Series

We're friends, right? You and me? Besties? Except for my BFF Google, of course. But after that, we're likethis, right? So I want to share a little secret with you. Shh...not just anybody can find out.

I can almost make something kind of like a Market Fresh Chicken Salad Sandwich from Arby's!

It's true. Shh...don't let this get out. I don't want to hurt corporate business. People need to keep buying gas and driving to Arby's for their chicken salad sandwich fix. I, however, shall have my homemade Val's Chicken Salad Nearwich. Here's how it goes:

First you cube or shred a leftover boneless chicken breast that you baked on Tuesday. It should have no seasonings on it, because you ran out of lemon pepper, and in the heat of the moment shook a little garlic salt and fresh-ground pepper onto Hick's portion, but left yours unadorned.

Next, you take a half-full bag of whole pecans that your mom gave you last Christmas to make Chex Mix with off the top shelf of your freezer, shake a few onto your Everyday China, and cut them into thirds.

Then you find the bag of Granny Smith apple slices that you bought last Sunday on the bottom shelf of Frig, where that bag somehow opened itself and disgorged half its contents to parts unknown, then lay back with its top open like some common tart. Dice about eight slices to the size of dice. You know. The gambling thingies that teachers have to call "number cubes."

Dump these three ingredients into a recycled Dairy Queen Grilled Chicken Salad black plastic bowl. Notice that it's not big enough, and pour the contents into your favorite smallest brown plastic mixing bowl. Sprinkle on about a sixth of an envelope of Hidden Valley Ranch Dip powder left over from seasoning the vegetables in a pot roast two weeks ago. Grind some fresh black pepper out of the silver bullet pepper grinder that your bestest friend and ex-teaching buddy Mabel gave you one Christmas.

Shake around those damp dry ingredients. Add several dollops of Kraft mayonnaise. NOT Miracle Whip! Shake in one packet of Splenda. Stir the whole kit 'n' caboodle with one of your serving spoons that have all been deformed by the men of the house ignoring the three ice cream scoops.

Serve on Oat Nut bread, which is a poor substitute for the Market Fresh tasty hearty wheaty multigrain stuff.


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Dainty Val Discusses a Delicate Matter

This afternoon I was waiting for The Pony to get out of his once-a-week after-school Algebra II lesson review. Wouldn't you know, the day I had everything caught up and was ready to leave at 3:15, he was staying an hour later?

Have I mentioned that Hick and The Pony have been sick? Hick has been popping Z-packs and old-timey antibiotics like they're sugar-free candy. He has bronchitis. The Pony came down with a bug on Saturday. He tells me, in a raspy voice, between fits of coughing, that he feels much better now.

So this afternoon, I was catching up on some future work, sneezing every time the air conditioner kicked on, blowing my stuffy nose, clearing my throat, and I started to feel a My stomach was rumbling like that of Davy Lardass Hogan scarfing up blueberry filling at the Pie Eat, just before he set off the chain of events that resulted in the Ladies Auxiliary barfing all over the Benevolent Order of Antelopes.

I wasted no time in scurrying down the hall to the faculty women's restroom which is housed inside the teacher workroom. Yes, no time to waste. And it wasn't a Barf-O-Rama I had a date with. Of course, from the other end of the hall came a colleague. One of my lunch table brethren. OH NO! He's known for his chatfests. I didn't have a moment to spare. I ducked into the workroom before he passed the office. Locked my door behind me, and ensconced myself on the throne.

Dear me. What a predicament. The nature of left me vulnerable. One could only hope that Lunch Brother was hard of hearing. Oh, he came in. I heard his footsteps. I heard the tinkle of change, and the thud of the beverage machine. But then I heard nothing. Was he waiting? To chew the fat? Shoot the breeze? I certainly hoped not. I was not comfortable doing my business with him on the other side of one thin concrete-block wall and wooden door. Like Jerry separated from Kramer's boys by one thin layer of gabardine, I was a bit freaked out. And so was the Febreze Air Effects Hawaiian Aloha.

There was no holding back When I exited, I snuck a look over toward the table area. Whew! Lunch Brother was gone. Gone with the mighty wind.

I was in no mood for his rhetorical question of, "Is there really any nutritional value in corn?"

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Good Thing It Wasn't Perishable

We are a booky family. Not a bookie family, taking bets from hipster doofuses who got a hot tip on a horse whose muddah was a mudder. Booky. We read. All but Hick, of course. Who could not even be bothered to read the tag on the lovely rust-and-green plaid pillow he put on our bed. The one that smelled of cedar and came with the new doghouse and said, "Not for human use."

The Pony and Genius read on Kindles and Nooks, when convenient, but we all prefer a heavy tome in our hands when given the option. Two years ago, Genius talked me into Amazon Prime. And by talked, I mean strong-armed. I'm not saying it's cost-effective for the average Backroader. But it suits us just fine. Mainly because when Genius decides he wants something, he wants it yesterday. Oh, and no more waiting until there are enough items in the cart to justify an order. We throw out orders all willy-nilly now, at the drop of a hat into the wind to hold hands with caution.

Two weeks ago, The Pony spent Friday night with his grandma. I had to pick up a package at the dead-mouse-smelling post office all by myself. Sometimes Amazon ships USPS, sometimes they ship UPS, and occasionally, they ship FedEx. This package was in a book-shaped cardboard box. You know the kind. It folds around the book. Because I was Ponyless, I left it on T-Hoe's shotgun seat. I figured it was a book that had shipped separately from my last order.

I have been PG-13-cursing that book for two weeks. It is in the way of the stuff I throw on that seat. It's no skin off The Pony's soft, soft nose. He doesn't ride there. I thought he'd take a hint and carry my package inside. He's had two weeks, you know.

Sunday afternoon, The Pony said, "What book IS that, anyway?"

"I don't know. I didn't even open it because it would be more awkward with those flaps sticking out." Surely you don't think I'd throw away the cardboard if I won't even carry in a book.

The Pony ripped that package open. "It's The Adventure Time Encyclopedia! I wondered why I saw it in Walmart this morning. I knew it should have come by now!"

Yeah. Sorry, Pony. Even Amazon Prime is only as good as its package picker-upper.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Everybody Poops in Backroads

Pardon me while I address those summer vacation caravans who pull into our little burg of Backroads and proceed to de-poop their animals on our landscaped restaurant lawns. YOU PEOPLE ARE FOUL!

Okay. I feel a teeny tiny bit better. Here's the deal. We have a Dairy Queen just off the interstate. The owners have been improving their property this summer with a new building facade, a new sign, and a new roof over their previously bare drive-thru window. They already have a nice metal-bar enclosed playground for the kids, with tables and a little covered pavilion thingy. The parents can eat inside, soaking up the air-conditioning while watching the kiddies play through the front windows. Or they can sit outside with them.

Across a strip of parking lot from the barred playground, there's a well-maintained section of grass that merges up on the stoplight and road right-of-way. Every day, while waiting in line catty-corner from the DQ in my gas station chicken store with my 44 oz. Diet Coke, I see a carload of people pull in and walk their leashed dogs on that grassy area. And by "walk," I mean stand and watch the pets poop. On the grassy area. Without even an inside-out baggie or old Walmart bag to pick up the poop for disposal. So the kiddies and their parents, enjoying almost-ice-cream or Dilly Bars or an Arctic Rush that used to be a Mr. Misty get to gaze upon piles of dog turds. Oh, and what IF those free-poopers actually scooped? Would they take their turds away, or stuff them in the DQ trash receptacle?


I mentioned it off-handedly to The Pony as we drove past. Okay. I ranted about it to The Pony. "Look at that! That's nasty! Who wants to look at dogs pooping while they're having lunch?"

"Kids. Kids love that stuff. They'd love to get ahold of them if they could escape from those bars."

"The dogs?"

"No. The piles of poop."

Kids these days. They don't know how to work up a good head of indignation.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

This'll Scare the Pants Right Off You

I am submitting a ghost story today. I've got plenty, you know. My life is a regular cornucopia of the supernatural. The story of choice came to mind right away. No, it's not even the headless man in the basement. That one might go too, if I have time. Last night I relived this chosen incident in my mind in preparation for the finishing touches. Unfortunately, I relived it at 3:30 a.m.

I'm pretty sure that trip down memory lane affected my dreams. I was upstairs in a totally white area, with severe, square-cornered architecture. Several groupings of college students sat around on the floor. I began my tale. "Anybody here want to hear a ghost story?" I heard several members of my captive audience breathe, "Ooh!" Then a girl in a different grouping said sarcastically, "Can we stop with the oohs already?" I heard people milling around under my concrete platform on the mezzanine, hubbubbing. Probably drinking white wine in Waterford crystal. Behind me, as I was compelled to look over my shoulder, stood a mannish, frowning, black-haired woman with a blunt haircut in a Jack LaLanne belted white jumpsuit. As I turned, I saw several identical women stationed around the area, hands on hips. They were like those models in the Robert Palmer "Addicted to Love" video. Only nobody would have considered them hot. And they were not wearing red lipstick or fake-playing guitars.

On the bright side, after tossing and turning several hours, I got up for a drink, and thought up the first two lines for my story. Here's one: I saw my first ghost shortly after 9:00 on a hot August night in a Cuba, Missouri, high school gym.

A big thanks to blog buddy Donna for tipping us off about this opportunity. You've still got time. Whatcha waitin' on?

That's all from me for now. I've got to let my ghost flag fly.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

It Happened So Fast

Genius popped in for a short interlude this afternoon. He needed some vital accessories that he had left behind. Such as dress shoes for a banquet with the chancellor, and Calculus notes for a study aid.

I did not tell Hick that he was coming. I wanted the visit to be a surprise, what with Hick moping around here sadder than Gizmo under the Christmas tree, stopped from tooting his trumpet and waving his candy cane, right after Stripe spat on him.

The surprise was on me. Genius arrived, but Hick was nowhere to be found. I had sent The Pony looking for him ten minutes earlier. He reported that Hick drove down the gravel road in front of the house on his Gator, with all three dogs barking and running alongside. I figured he would either stop at the BARn, or continue down the road to the mailbox area by the creek. Perhaps see a red Ford Ranger, and say, "That looks like Genius's truck. Wait a minute. It IS Genius!"

That didn't happen. I tried to call him, but was shunted to voice mail. Genius came through the door just like he belongs here. We chatted a few minutes, then he went into his room to pack up his stuff. He was not planning to stay tonight. He'll be back next weekend. "Hey! My bed is made!"

"Oh, that must have been your dad. He goes in there a lot. He really misses you."

I heard the Gator before I saw Hick drive across the front yard. He almost twisted his neck off looking at Genius's truck in the driveway, then at the window to his room. I heard the kitchen door slam. "Genius is home?" He made a beeline for the bedroom. "Are you staying tonight?"

"No. I have some work to do. I needed my Calculus notes. You brought me an empty folder instead of the composition book I asked for."

"Oh. I knew it was empty. But it said 'Calculus' on the front. I figured you wanted it for your notes."

"No. I've been looking online all week for help. So I came to get my notes."

They came out to the living room. "Did you know he was coming?"

"Yeah. I wanted it to be a surprise, and then you disappeared."

"I was taking a nap down in my cabin."

"That must have been a short nap. Just ten minutes before, you were riding your Gator from the direction of Buddy's house."

"Oh. Well, I went up to look around at the house where they found the head in the septic tank."

Genius turned to look at me. "He went to look at the head in the septic tank." A look that said, Same ol' Dad.

"I know the head isn't there anymore. I just went to look."

Something about this alibi stinks more than a head in a septic tank. Nobody takes a nap in a cabin without electricity when the temperature is 95 degrees. Even a ten-minute nap. Still, Hick suffered punishment enough, what with missing out on ten minutes more with his boy home from college.

We heard tales of survival concerning mysterious laundry spots, dining hall rip-offs, an overabundance of mini-fridges, the upcoming honors banquet, and next weekend's electrical engineering ersatz Easter-egg hunt with radio transmitters instead of eggs. Hick grilled some burgers and hot dogs on Gassy-G, I carved up some strawberries suitable for sugar-dipping, and we sent Genius off with $40 gas money and stray quarters for laundry.

He looked great. He sounded great. I think college life is agreeing with him.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Sometimes, the Best Actors Are Not in the Theaters

I must commend those put-upon convenience store clerks who have such patience that one assumes they have ice in their veins, hydrocodone in their bloodstream, and not a hint of murder on their mind. They're just that good.

You know how it is. You are tending the register on a Friday evening, and your partner steps out for a smoke just after 4:30 in preparation for the after-work rush. And in comes a born-tired-looking woman of no small girth, who fills up her soda cup and steps to the counter. No. It was not Val. BTL Woman pays for her soda. Then asks for cigarettes for her daughter, who is not with her. And doesn't remember the brand. But describes the pack. Pays. Remembers that she wants to cash in a scratcher ticket. Picks out a new scratcher ticket. Scratches. Says, "Oh. Do you sell ice? You do? I need a bag of ice. I almost forgot. I'm sorry to be such a problem."

The stern-looking clerk, a living, breathing picture of the hard-knock life, with her graying black hair in an unfashionable neck ponytail that highlights her American Gothic features, glances out at the line of six customers and says, "Oh, that's all right. No problem."

The envelope, please...

Thursday, August 22, 2013

You Can Lead a Hick to Literature But You Can't Make Him Read

Hey! My books are coming out in a few weeks! Yeah. MY books. Actually, they're not completely my books. More like they're about one-sixty-third my books. That's 1/63 in fraction form. I always like to promote math literacy. I have a calling, I think.

So I have a story in each of these two books. What's that? You want to know the name of these books? Sure. I'll be glad to tell you. Since you asked, and all. Not Your Mother's Book...on Being a Parent, and Not Your Mother's Book...on Home Improvement. They're listed for pre-order on Amazon now. But I saw the most interesting sight when I consulted my BFF Google for a link. WALMART dot com has them, too! Don't that just beat all! I wonder if Walmart will have them in the store. I guess time will tell.

Anyhoo...I'm not here to promote myself and strong-arm you into coughing up cash for a book. Not like the text I sent my best ex-teaching buddy, Mabel, this morning. NOT on school time, of course. I asked her how many hundred copies I should put her down for. Can you imagine, she did not give me a straight answer? I'm not doggin' on Mabel. She's my bestie. I hold her in higher regard, even, than Google. She stepped up to bat for me more than once. (Private note just for Mabel: No need for that special text. I know what you did last winter.) Hey, now! Don't go peeping into private correspondence.

Anyhoo 2...I'm not here to communicate privately in plain sight with Mabel. I'm here to let you into the inner sanctum that is my life with Hick. Last night, I called to him from the kitchen, "Hey! My books are coming out in a few weeks!"

And he said, "Good. I'll finally get to read what you wrote about me." Let the record show that only one story is about him. Egomaniac. And that at the time I strong-armed him into signing a release asked if he would sign a release, I handed him a printout of the story. He said, "Naw. I'll sign." That copy languished on the end table by Hick's La-Z-Boy until I feared that it would spontaneously combust. So I threw it away after three weeks, whether most people would consider it trash by then or not. We bandied words over this scenario for a while.

Then I said, "I was just telling you to see if you wanted to buy a copy." Now we all know that Hick is not going to waste precious money on a book. Not even if he could get a metric ton of them for two dollars at the auction. Money is for auction meat, and bug catchers, and cake plates, and Falstaff and Coca Cola memorabilia. Not plain old junk like new books.

"I'm not buyin' no book. I can read yours. You'll get it for free. Why don't you tell your teachers at school about it. Maybe those kind of people will buy one."

I have a feeling that if our house was on the prairie, my boys would be working in the fields, not sitting in the Walnut Grove school house listening to Miss Beadle.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

One Good Brag Deserves a Mother

Get your earplugs, people! It's horn-tootin' time at the homestead of Val.

Genius has been elected to be a floor governor at the University of Smart. It's true. He texted me after 10:30 last night. I didn't see it until around 2:00 a.m. But my pajama buttons were bursting with pride.

Of course, I don't know what a floor governor is. Perhaps it's a drunken public official who can no longer stand. A floor governor. Or one who makes sure hallways are swept, common carpet areas vacuumed, and toilet tiles scrubbed. A floor governor. Whatever the case, I am pleased as punch. The good kind. With sherbet and pineapple juice and 7-UP and mini marshmallows.

After a request for further information, perhaps in his first formal response as an elected official, Genius informed me that he did not campaign for the position per se, but let it be known that he was running for the office. He gave a speech. And was elected. Apparently, there are five floor governors per 100 people. That's a lot of drinkin', or a lot of clean floorage. Genius will attend residence hall meetings to voice the concerns of his constituents, and have his finger in the till regarding the distribution of dormitory funds. He will assist in organizing activities for his fellow residents. Like a party planner!

His grandma is puffed with pride as well. I could feel her smile beaming through the land-line. You'd think we were all key members of his campaign. "What was it you said Genius got elected to again? I've been telling my friends about him all day. I told them he was elected Hall Monitor."

Yes. We are all very proud.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Great Big Gobs of Greasy Grimy Paper Products

Yes. It's about time for another woeful tale from the annals of Val's life. But this one is very recent history. Hot off the calendar. Twelve hours old. Not even ready to be termed "day old" and set on the counter at half price.

Perhaps I've mentioned what a great help The Pony is when he accompanies me on the weekly shopping trip. He's a real go-getter. I tell him several items I need, and he goes and gets them. Kind of like a scavenger hunt with no prize, and he's the only participant. This week, I sent him for a giant bottle of Germ-X, three packages of neon index cards, baby wipes, a three-pack of Puffs With Aloe, and a can of Febreze. We don't go though those every week here at the old homestead. Those items were for my classroom.

Have I clued you in that The Pony is a real go-getter, but lacks the quality control gene? He grabs shelf stock without inspecting it for flaws. Yes, The Pony has a penchant for picking up the most damaged goods in each section. I almost had hope this week, when he returned to my cart, about which he orbits like a satellite, to tell me that the plastic containers of baby wipes were all stove-in. I sent him back for the plain ones. My white board isn't getting diaper rash any time soon. Yes, I almost had hope. But there it was, at the end of the evening, as I sat back in my basement recliner and reached for my National Enquirer: a rip about halfway down the second page. I hadn't noticed at first, due to the folded-down edge at the corner.

The school accessories lolled about T-Hoe's rear end until this morning. No use carrying stuff in the house that will be carried right back out. This morning we had time to take it into my classroom. And by we, I mean The Pony. He packed that stuff in right quick. Left it on the first row of desks.

I grabbed the Febreze out of the gray plastic bag, and put it on the next-to-top shelf of my cabinet. Hmm...that didn't smell like Febreze. I hefted the Germ-X through the top of the crinkly plastic, and put it beside the Febreze. Then I carried the bag with the three packs of neon index cards to my desk. That was all we brought in this morning, besides my usual school bag. Just the necessities. Let the record show that teachers are germ-free, non-smelly, and bright.

I thrust my arm elbow-deep into the crinkly sack to retrieve the neon index cards. Something was seriously amiss! My delicate sense of touch screamed with indignity. There was goo in that bag. Like the viscous gel that buffers Vienna Sausages from the cylindrical walls of their pop-top metal prison. But this goo was more bereft of meat than even the Vienna Sausages. The Pony had selected a giant bottle of Germ-X that some wily customer had seen fit to screw with, thus enabling the push-spout. Unsafe for transport in a shapeless plastic bag.

I set out my neon index cards onto my desk, pack by pack. Grabbed one of my remaining Puffs (with aloe) to wipe it down like a momma Clydesdale's tongue cleaning her newborn commercial-destined foal. The first two were unslimed without incident. The third time was not a charm. That last package of neon index cards eluded my grasp like an overtired toddler refusing to have his face polished clean of melted chocolate. It squirted through my palms faster than a greased pig at an Iowa county fair contest. But without squealing, and lacking that cute curly tail. It was recaptured near my left foot, and swiped clean of its clear antibacterial coat. Val does more exercise before 7:30 a.m. than most Olympic athletes do all day.

The world, and sometimes The Pony, inadvertently, conspire against me.

Monday, August 19, 2013

I'm Sure It Was All Just a Plot To Embarrass Me

In the midst of my selfless, illustrious career educating our nation's youth, I took a detour. A side trip to garner more education for myself, in order to bring even more smarts to the future citizens of our great land.

I rented an apartment in Springfield, Missouri, to use as my home base. I worked at the best junk store ever, and attended classes to complete my Master's degree. I kept odd hours between work and school. Sometimes I worked nine-hour shifts, some weekdays I was off, and I was back and forth to the college library on an irregular basis.

Imagine my surprise and consternation upon arriving home one evening to find my front door ajar. Creepy, to say the least. I pushed it open. Thought for a minute that I'd forgotten to pull it shut tight enough. Until I saw the bent metal around the door frame. I called inside. There was no sound, so I went in.

The wires to my new VCR were hanging out the front of my particle-board entertainment center. That hit me like a punch in the gut. MY VCR WAS GONE! And along with it, the first VHS tape I ever bought: Aliens! Ooh! The injustice!

I called the police. Told them I wanted to report a robbery. The dispatcher asked if the thief was still there. No. That would be crazy, a thief letting me call the police. The point he was trying to make was that I was actually reporting a burglary. Not a robbery. Potato, potahto. Get somebody over here.

As I waited, I noticed how cold the apartment felt. It was fall. The heat was running. But I was cold. A look in the kitchen revealed the reason. My sliding glass door to the fenced-in patio was open. I left it. In case the cop wanted fingerprints, you know.

He didn't. A real cop is not like a TV cop. He looked at the front door. Saw the pry marks. Looked on the patio. "It looks like the guy came in the front using a screwdriver on the door. He grabbed what he wanted, and probably balanced it right here on the corner of the fence. The he hopped over when he was ready to leave. I'll bet they've been watching this complex."

Yeah. I had seen a guy loitering around the corner near our parking lot. This was before cell phones. They must have had walkie-talkies. Since we were situated on a dead end, the accomplice knew that once I drove out, his guy had time to ransack until the accomplice notified him to get out, because my car was returning. Quite a set-up. I'm always suspicious of loiterers now.

The most embarrassing part was telling that handsome young policeman that nothing else had been taken. That the only thing I had worth stealing was a VCR.

No. The MOST embarrassing part was when that handsome young policeman said, "I see he ransacked your spare bedroom, too." Um. No. I'm a slob. I had clothes strewn all over the spare bed.

But I didn't tell him that. That darn ransacker! How dare he mess with my clothes!

Thanks to blog buddy Stephen today for reminding me of this horror!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Sundays in the Basement with Val

Hey! Who stole my weekend? Seems like just a few minutes ago it was Friday night. Here we are at the dawn of a new work week, and I still have stuff to do. Today's stuff includes readin', writin', and roastin'.

I have a new book I'm dying to dive into. It's called Dad is Fat, by Jim Gaffigan, the comedian. Something tells me it will give me a chuckle.

There are two stories wrestling around in my head, fighting to be first in line for me to procrastinate. I'm getting them done tonight. I swear. That intra-noggin horseplay has got to stop. It's all fun and games until somebody loses their medulla oblongata. And without your medulla oblongata, you're nothing.

I have a roast in the oven. That's nothing like a bun in the oven. Though they both make a woman fatter. No, this is a real roast, or as we used to call it around my childhood home: Sunday food. It's our first roast without Genius. Sniff. Sniff. No, I'm not trying to pick up his scent. I'm showing emotion through my fingertips. The keyboard lacks nuance.

And I lack a desire to continue typing.

One (or more) of those three items listed above is going to be delicious.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

A Rose, By Any Other Name, Can't Hold a Candle

I have a smelly little secret.

You won't tell, will you? I knew I could count on you. It's not a big deal, really. Not like I'm Molly Shannon as Mary Katherine Gallagher, poking my fingers into my armpits when I'm nervous, and then sniffing them. No, I don't have halitosis, body odor, stinky feet, or feel less than fresh. I don't smell, as in give off a scent. I smell, as in inhale an aroma.

Oh, you might think I like to sniff out fresh-baked cookies, sun-dried sheets, a baby's scalp, honeysuckle on a fence row at dusk, or steaming blades of grass after a summer rain. But you would be incorrect. That's okay. We're all good at different things.

No, I like to take a good whiff of Vicks VapoRub every now and then.

That stuff opens up my nasal passages. It's soothing. Takes away the stuffiness. I stop short of slathering it on my chest. That's for colds. Hard-core congestion. This is just a hobby. A treat. Nor do I use Vicks to coat the bottom of my feet to draw out toxins overnight. That was one of my mom's suggestions. For my boys, not for me. Are you kidding? She looks out for me and offers to sit up all night with me when I'm sick, but the Vicks treatment is sorely lacking from our mother-daughter healing repertoire. Furthermore, I resist scooping out blobs of Vicks and swallowing them. That's what Hick says he used to do, at the urging of his father. Who knew? Guys have their own father-son healing repertoire.

Yes, I'm a Vicks sniffer. In moderation, of course. No need to stage an intervention, though I DO love to hear how much people value my presence on this earth. Which is not me fishing for compliments, just a statement of fact for the eventual 44 oz. Diet Coke intervention that looms on the horizon.

Now excuse me. I have a previous engagement with a squatty blue glass jar.

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Classless Elephant in the Room

We jumped through a myriad of safety drill hoops today. The first one kicked off during my plan time. Oh, sure. I could have turned out my lights and sat in the corner away from the door with my chair tilted back for a nap. Oh, wait! That was the old custodian during his shift.

No, I participated, in the spirit of safety drills everywhere, hauling myself down the gym steps and into the boys varsity locker room. Of course, I stopped by the bathroom on the way. Doesn't everybody go to the bathroom on the way to shelter for a tornado? This Val does. I still made it down there before some students from the other end of the building.

A colleague who fancied herself in charge, with good reason, because nobody else wanted to be the disaster drill director, turned to me and asked, "Are your kids in here, too?" Like we haven't done that same drill over and over enough for her to remember that my classroom is on the hall with all the other classrooms who report to that designated safety spot. She had just commanded five members of her class to sit on the floor of the handicap toilet in the boys varsity locker room. Yeah. Isn't that the stuff nightmares are made of?

Many pairs of eyes from heads about to assume the position zeroed in on me as I stood in the no-man's-land away from concrete walls. "I have no class." I caught a few eyes, from my prime stand-up location in the center of the room. Elicited a few smirks. "But we both know that's not news." Heh, heh. She cracked.

"Yes. Isn't THAT the truth!"

Then we all got yelled at because the kids weren't down on the floor yet. We're usually the last room inspected. Surprise, surprise. No skin off my nose. None of those about-to-be-blown-away kids were mine.

The lack of class has its perks.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The V-A-L Workout

My mom sometimes fails to realize that she is living in a technologically advanced civilization. Wednesday afternoon, I picked her up to ride with me to run eight errands after school. It was an abbreviated teacher work day. Good thing. I got home later than a regular day at school.

We traveled to a nearby town for financial business, and The Pony asked for some breadsticks from Captain D's. He makes a meal of them. In fact, he eats them in the car. Can't even wait to get them home. So I have to ask for butter and a knife at the drive-thru. We motored merrily along, Mom and I gossiping and The Pony strapping on the old feedbag.

I pulled up at the bank drive-thru to deposit some cash. Mom, in the passenger seat, because what self-respecting eight-dollar daughter would put her mom in the back seat and her adolescent son in the front, turned to look at The Pony. You know that grandma-grandson look. How she adores him! "Is that good. Mmm...mmm. Is your tummy getting full?" And she made that sound like a grandma makes to represent tasting something tasty. Kind of smacking her lips in an imitation of eating.

"You know they can hear everything you say, right?" I put my deposit in the pneumatic tube canister thingy. Looked sideways at Mom. "They have a microphone so they can hear. I'd like to point out that it's not ME saying that stuff."

Mom's eyebrows went up. "Ohh...!"

"Lean up so they can see you! Don't be shy! Here. Come forward a little so they can see around me..." I patted her on the back. Leaned myself back against T-Hoe's driver's seat to give the drive-thru tellers a good view.

Mom was laughing so hard she couldn't talk. "I...I...oh...hahahahahaha!"

"This is how Genius got me laughing at home the other day. I was so sad about him leaving that I didn't even get mad when he asked if I was having a stroke." Mom laughed harder.

"Oh...oh...I...can't...stop..." Between the two of us, we were shaking that car more than two teenagers in a shaggin' wagon with a bumper sticker advising folks not to come a-knockin'.

The drive-thru tellers did not let on. I imagine they've heard stuff that would curl Cher's hair. As we drove away, Mom gasped, "Oh. I am exhausted. I'm not working in the yard when I get home. This was enough of a workout for me."

Laughter. The medicine Val dispenses without a license.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Guilty Until Logically Deduced

For a brief moment Tuesday, I was public enemy number one.

Or maybe I was just the most convenient suspect. Intended scapegoat. Don't worry your pretty little heads about poor ol' Val. I dodged the rap. Didn't even need an alibi or witness. I'm rubber, everyone else is glue. Accusations bounce off me, and stick to...everyone else.

When we returned to the old salt mines Monday, the teacher workroom greeted us with a small table piled high with toner cartridges. I was impressed enough to suck in my breath in wonder. Boxes of toner cartridges are scarce as hens' teeth when the Kyocera starts fading. But here they were. Like a banquet laid out for a queen. If her royal highness felt a mite peckish for stacks of cardboard stuffed with dark powder encased in plastic. There was no time to take pictures of each other standing beside Mt. Toner with our smart phones. Every minute was accounted for that day, along with fifteen of them squeezed into overtime territory like rolls of muffin-top flesh over a denim waistband.

We worked in our rooms Tuesday. Talk about the state of education these days...nobody even had time to pop in and gossip. I'm surprised our noses didn't wear out the grindstone. I, myself, stayed in for lunch to catch up on my paperwork while watching two mandated online videos with one eye. It was during that time I received a call from the office, inquiring as to whether I was the one who OPENED EVERY CARTRIDGE BOX. Which was a problem, you see, because then nobody could tell which cartridges were fresh, and which had been bled dry yet replaced in a box for recycling or disposal purposes.

To borrow a line and title from Shaggy, "It wasn't me."

There was no further questioning. Perhaps I was the only one in the building to call when the heinous act was discovered. Perhaps something in my tone portended danger, or innocence. Perhaps it was an effort to make me sing like a canary and turn in my fellow faculty. Or MAYBE they suddenly realized that I was not exactly toner-cartridge-replacer material.

I swear, if I was the last woman on Earth, and wanted to make a copy of my own ample buttocks for personal viewing, I would never attempt to replace a toner cartridge in a Kyocera. Or any copier, for that matter. Nobody wants a five o'clock shadow on their midsection, even with nobody else left on Earth to see it. Besides, those toner cartridges require a workout more strenuous than an English Channel swim rolled up in an Iron Man triathlon rolled up in an Olympic marathon. Toner cartridges must be shaken, not babied like a tube of nitroglycerin transported through the Badlands on horseback.

Did I open eleventy-thousand boxes of toner cartridges? I hardly think so.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Times, They Have A-Changed. And For What?

Sometimes, my family lore is wasted on The Pony.

The other day a song came on T-Hoe's radio. Radar Love, by Golden Earring. I think it was a one-hit wonder. But it took me back. I had to share with The Pony.

"I always heard this song when I was a Magazine Captain. In high school, I was chosen to be one of four or five captains who counted up the junior class magazine sales money. Each morning, we got out of class to sit in the Student Lounge and tally profits. The Student Lounge was great. It was a building out on the parking lot with tables and chairs and a jukebox and soda machine. We could go there with our lunch trays, or to hang out and smoke. No teachers were on duty. It was our place."

The Pony barely looked up from his laptop. "Hmm...sounds like a hive or corruption and degenerates."

Exactly. Yet we survived. Our class produced doctors and lawyers and college athletes. And teachers. Go figure.

Monday, August 12, 2013

I Need to Keep a Ledger

I think Genius owes me one. Or maybe Hick owes me one. Whatever. I'm going to call in my debts one of these days, and those two had better start socking away some dough.

Perhaps I've mentioned that Genius moved away to the college dorm on Saturday. Hick and his oldest boy, Genius's adult half-brother, helped with the heavy lifting. I stayed home. First of all, I would not have been a help, but rather a hindrance. And besides, the pool of tears would have risen up to thwart their maximum oxygen uptake. The main reason, though, was that I did not want to embarrass Genius in front of his new dormie buddies.

Sunday, Hick made a return trip to drop off some forgotten computer wiring, and the very special desk chair that Genius got for $10 at Goodwill. He puttered around before departure time, nearly purring with pleasure at seeing Genius once more. I spied him driving his Gator in laps around the house. He went to check on his goats and chickens. It was through the living room window that I spotted him climb out of the Gator, and sensed something amiss.

I couldn't quite put my finger on it. Something to do with apparel. Hick is not known for wearing plain white T-shirts. They always have a logo on the left chest. Or a word emblazoned across the front. This one was plain. Yet there was some funky fancy stitchwork around the sleeves. A gray strip along the back of the neck. Then I knew. It was one of those Starter shirts that wick away moisture. They're really very cool for the wearer. Genius has them in many colors. He used to use them for basketball practice, and to mow his grandma's yard. The Pony has several himself. Most notably, The Pony has about five of those shirts in white. They're like a uniform to him in the summer, because no matter what shorts he pairs them with, he's fashionable. I knew that Hick would not fit into The Pony's shirts. Then I remembered that I had bought him one to work at a junior-class fundraiser at Busch stadium in the heat of last summer.

That gray strip is what tipped me off. Those shirts don't have a gray strip. Except on the inside.

Hick was wearing his shirt inside out.

As soon as he came in, saying he was ready to leave, I told him. He denied it at first. Then looked at the shoulder stitching. Took it off. Reversed it. And thanked me.

I'm not the only one who doesn't want to embarrass Genius.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Some Calls It: "Going Undercover."

Hope you didn't think I was finished with my Hickisms yesterday. He was on a roll, giving me a two-fer Friday. Not only did he declare that poison and sugar-water are virtually identical, he enlightened the family on one of his new reality TV shows.

We were on our way home from Genius's Last Supper at a local steakhouse. Hick was devil-may-caringly sweaving us down the divided highway while T-Hoe died a little bit inside. We blobbed lethargically in our black leather seats, digesting meat and potatoes and salad and rolls. The Pony sat pecking on his laptop. Genius was directly behind me, but I assumed he was listening to music on his phone. Hick finished sneezing 14 times in a row, then waxed philosophic while waving his free, non-driving arm. One of his favorite topics lately has been the grisly discovery of a body in a septic tank in outer Backroads, and the recent break in the case that led to an arrest.

"I seen on my show the other night that they waited two years to get one of those mob guys. They filterpated his group until they had enough information to arrest him."

The first snort came from The Pony. I did not even think he was listening. Then Genius chortled and said, "I think you mean infiltrated. Not filterpated. They infiltrated the mob." He's a helpful guy, that Genius. Like a walking thesaurus with an autocorrect feature. I, on the other hand, groped for my purse to grab a pen and tiny spiral notebook to jot down the infraction.

Saturday morning, Hick denied his filterpated faux pas. His protests fell on deaf ears. Two boys and one notebook can't be wrong.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

You Can Catch More Flies With Dirty Laundry Than You Can With Poison

It appears that I have been remiss in airing Hick's dirty laundry lately. We can't have that. No need to let my blog stagnate in the unaired-dirty-laundriness of Hick's hot air. Which brings us to last evening.

The Thevictorian family gathered near the kitchen door in preparation for an outing to feast on a last supper for Genius. Attention was draw to Hick's latest auction purchase, which sat perched upon the kitchen table. No, the picture below is not of our kitchen table. It's the corner of the back porch deck.

Yes. You're right. It's a beautiful, beflowered, bug-catcher. If you look close enough, you may see an actual bug inside. That's not the dirty laundry part. Anyone could buy a beautiful, beflowered, bug-catcher at an auction and bring it home and set it on the kitchen table. But only Hick could expound so uninformedly upon its operating instructions.

HICK: "See, boys? It's a bug catcher. You pour your poison in here, and then you hang it up. When the bugs go in, they can't find their way out. So it catches them, and you don't have bugs."

THE PONY: "Umm...why would bugs go in to get poison?"

GENIUS: "Yeah. And if they eat poison, of course they can't find their way out. Because they've been poisoned. And they're dead."

VAL: "Wouldn't you put sugar-water in there to catch the bugs? Because I'm pretty sure they prefer sugar-water to poison. If you put poison in there, the bugs won't want to go in."

HICK: "Sugar-water,'s the same thing. The bugs go in and get trapped. It's a bug-catcher."

VAL: "Boys, don't ever taste sugar-water for your dad."

And furthermore, after Hick told my mom about his bug-catcher, we warned her never to tell him how pretty it is. Because then she won't just have a cake plate problem and a tiny egg problem, she'll have a bug-catcher problem.

I wonder how bugs would respond to Hick's dirty laundry stuffed up in there.

Friday, August 9, 2013

I Met My Old Boyfriend on the Front Page of the Local Online Newspaper This Morning

Okay, so Paul Simon is never gonna win a Grammy if I let him use my song lyrics. He can just get over it. Go for a ride with Billy Joel.

Yes, this morning I clicked on the link for my free morning dose of Backroads news and gossip, and there he was. I didn't recognize him at first. He was holding a big fish. That's not a euphemism for something more racy. It was an actual fish. In another country. I only read the article because it had the words "local author" in the title. And there, under the picture, was his name. MY OLD BOYFRIEND! Okay, that's not his actual given name. What kind of mother would name her son MY OLD BOYFRIEND? One who by happenstance marries a man with a surname of BOYFRIEND, perhaps. But how likely is that, really?

Yes, there he was. After I had just been thinking about him yesterday. Not thinking about him in a way that is tantamount to the betrayal of my significant other, one mister Hick Thevictorian. No, thinking about him as a minor character in a story about dating. Well, not so much a story, as a true account of a really doomed date. The more I thought about it, the more I talked myself out of the effort. Listen, Val, he would have to sign a release. Have you even heard from him in all these many years? No. He could be all the way off in a big city, pursuing his journalistic dream. Or in a hut on a tropical island, sipping lemongrass tea from a turtle shell with 106-year-old Amelia Earhart, discussing last week's visit from Jimmy Hoffa. It's really not a good idea. Move along.

Funny how a thread from life's rich tapestry can unravel and near amputate your pinky toe, without a hipster doofus in sight to put it on ice in a Cracker Jack box and rush you to the hospital on a city bus, while making all the stops.

Funny how the fact that this dude has been living within ten miles of me, and is easily contactable to request a signed release makes me REALLY not want to pursue the tale.

I keep trying to tell myself that my plummeting ambition had nothing to do with the words award winning...writer in the first sentence.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

My Compliments on the Schlep

I'm about to become an honest woman again. Back to work on Monday. Today I took The Pony to school to pick up his schedule and locker assignment. Okay, it was just an excuse to use him as a beast of burden in my classroom. To set out all my textbooks. To readjust the furniture after the summer waxing. You know. To lift and carry 31 desks and 31 chairs to their proper positions, because we can't scoot them. That would mar the fresh wax. Oh, and to help me haul the classroom tables to the right places, and move the file cabinet across the room after finding a dolly to load it on. You're not going to believe this...


I was happier than Goldilocks having sweet dreams during a nap in a cushy bed after sitting a spell in a comfy chair and consuming some scrumptious porridge. It could not have been better if a silky unicorn had come trotting down the hall on hoofs that tinkled with jingle bells, snorting rainbows, his gleaming horn stacked with Krispy Kreme donuts, bearing a basket each of precious puppies and fluffy kittens, held by Goran Visnjic in a chamois loincloth.

Every single one of my 31 desks with their accompanying chairs were placed JUST RIGHT in the precise position that I favor. And each of the four feet on each of the 31 desks and 31 chairs were wearing CHAIR SHOES! That's 248 furniture shoes, people! To keep the gleaming tile scuffless.

The bag containing my school laptop was laid upon my desk. And it contained ALL OF MY MARKED ELECTRONIC ACCOUTREMENTS! The tower of amplifier, DVD player, and VCR was stacked just right. All the wires were hooked up. AND IT WORKED! The phone and printer were exactly as I left them, even thought they had been moved out and cleaned. My three tables were in the right places. The mini-fridge and microwave were back where they belong, and they were PLUGGED IN. Whew! I thought I was going to swoon there for a moment.

It was all I could do to prevent myself from twirling around and around in the center of my classroom, singing "The halls are alive, with the sound of competence."

Is there an Oscar, Tony, or Emmy kind of honor for custodians? A "Scrubby," perhaps? Because I am nominating our two building custodians and their summer helpers. They don't even have to thank me in their acceptance speech when they win. Somebody is going to have extra Chex Mix under the tree at Christmas.

Kudos to my cleaning colleagues! Have I mentioned that they are women?

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Genius Has a Lot To Learn

Genius has developed a bad habit just before heading off to college. No, it's not a 44 oz. Diet Coke habit. It's a 44 oz. Cherry Lime Lemonade Sprite habit. I don't know how he could have succumbed to such an addiction.

It all started earlier this week. He asked me to bring him a soda from town. Not just any soda. In fact, he really wanted a Cherry Limeade. That wasn't happenin'. No Sonic in this neighborhood. Dairy Queen, with all their flavors ready for the squirtin', declared that they did not have cherry limeade. I'm sure a more creative employee could have concocted one. So...I was left to my own devices, and Genius's backup instructions.

It went a little like this. "Get a cup not the size of yours, but the next size down. Fill it about half full of ice. Put in the cherry flavoring. Add Sprite." He refused to use one of my 44 oz. cups, even thought it meant an $.80 charge rather than a $1.20 charge. Oh, well. It's less spending money available for him in college. I spied a dispenser for pink lemonade, and added that to give it a sour kick. Like limeade. Only lemony. And pink. But I figured the cherry would camouflage the pinkness.

He liked it! He really liked it! But the next day, he commanded me to find a tiny plastic hollow lime ca[able of squirting lime juice. And to get a 44 oz. drink. Made the same way, of course, because it was good, it just needed lime. He could not do this himself, because he did not know what I put in. And he could not use one of my refill cups, because around the top they had a slight discoloration from the lid clamping Diet Coke into the styrofoam. Shh...we keep extra cups in T-Hoe. I carried out one cup, mine, he thought, and The Pony handed me another one in the car. Voila! Refill price.

Three days now, and I've been looking like a two-fisted 44-ounce drinker. Wouldn't you know it, today the Voice of the Village was out of cherry flavoring. But I pumped that several-gallon plastic jar for all I was worth, and gathered enough cherry nectar to suffice. Oh, and they were out of long straws. But that didn't really matter, because THEY WERE ALSO OUT OF DIET COKE! I had to drive to the gas station chicken store for MY refill. So I got him a straw there.

Now if I could just stop him from throwing away his cup every day...

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Maybe He Wants a Newsboy Cap for Christmas

Genius is off to college Saturday. The end of an era. He is milking the situation for all he can get.

This morning he came up with the cockamamie idea that I should make him a big going-away breakfast. I know where he got that inspiration, and I can't thank that Madam enough. I was, however, able to talk him down from the omelet, Belgian waffle, rasher of bacon, and freshly-squeezed orange juice ledge. Especially since that might require him to arise five minutes earlier to have time to eat. He says he will accept Martha White instant strawberry/blueberry muffins instead, on Thursday.

Genius declared that he should have a special meal of his choosing. Tonight. Never mind that he's getting a going-away steak restaurant dinner on Friday. You'd think he was a death-penalty inmate with three sentences, the way he's cashing in on last meals. Did he ask for a banquet of Val's specialties? A spread of pot roast, towering vegetable beef soup, Chex mix, deviled eggs, potato salad, garlic cheese bread, cheddar Bisquick biscuits, and Oreo cake alongside graham cracker crust chocolate pudding pie with Cool Whip topping? No. That boy is certainly no gourmet. He wanted Chef Boyardee boxed pizza mix baked deep-dish style. With hamburger on top. When he finished in three minutes, he said, "That was certainly worth the two hours it took you to make it." Haha. He knows it was only one hour and change.

This morning he stumbled out of bed as I was channel surfing. "Is that NEWSIES? You've GOT to watch it!"

Seriously. There's a reason that movie cost $15 million to make, and grossed $2 million. I could not help but provide commentary throughout. If you've never seen the movie, let me spare you two hours of your life. Christian Bale is Jack, the head newsboy. He has a line about how headlines have to be catchy, have certain words that are sure to sell papers. Words like maniac, corpse, love-nest, or nude. He gets the idea for newsboys to strike, after selling papers with bad headlines like, "Trolley Strike Drags on for Third Week," and seeing how determined the trolley workers are.

At one point, Jack, who dreams of moving to Santa Fe, and goes by the nickname "Cowboy," steals a horse. He rides it down the street, singing one of the many bad songs in this musical, then jumps off and slaps it on the rump. The horse runs off camera, in the direction of a fire that was earlier attributed to violence from the trolley strike. I couldn't resist.

"Oh, great. Just steal a horse and send it off to its death. Make your own headline so you can sell papers tomorrow. I can see it now: Corpse Found On Trolley Tracks Near Maniac's Love Nest."

Genius could not take that lying down on the couch in only a pair of cargo shorts. "Wait! If it was a dead horse, wouldn't it be a HORPSE? I'm a genius! That's my best line ever! A HORPSE! Get it? A horse corpse is a HORPSE!"

Yeah. Let's not start polishing your Grammy, Tony, Oscar, and Emmy just yet. Genius declared that this moved actually won an Oscar for something to do with the score or a song. Must have been slim pickin's in that category in 1992. I also informed the loyal fan that I could have easily shortened this movie by 30 minutes by simply omitting all the meaningful glances and pregnant pauses. And another thing. "Why is it that people at the turn of the century were always storming out the window and scurrying down the fire escape?"

Genius had no answer to that. He lay all starry-eyed, anticipating the next song, so he could tip me off and tell me trivia. It did not help that he had been shown this movie by the school's music department, perhaps more than once. I was not about to let him off so easily. "Oh, look! A flash mob just came around both corners, and joined in a choreographed parade down the street! And apparently, Newsies who can't afford to pay an extra ten cents on a hundred papes (that's what they called the newspapers in this movie) can eat amazingly well and have the energy to dance and sing all the livelong day while they're on strike! Whew! Can you imagine the smell of that movie set?"

Genius looked up from the couch pillow he was clutching to his concave bare chest. "Oh, yeah!" Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course.

I really shouldn't torment him in his final days, over one of his favorite movies. He turned a deaf ear to my suggestion that Oliver! is a true musical with the same kind of choreography, and actually won the Best Picture Oscar in 1968. Even though Batman wasn't in it.

Sadly, I don't know who will co-host my Critic's Corner once Genius makes his scheduled exit.

Monday, August 5, 2013

There Must Have Been a Rerun of Stand By Me

Alas! Poor MB, our embattled country mailbox, has taken another hit. This time, the attack was physical. No, not a mere groping by thieving paws, besmirching her dignity, while leaving her outer shell intact. This was a vicious, premeditated act of cowardice.

Hick discovered MB in distress on Sunday morning. She and 15 of her closest friends, clinging precariously to their dignity, and their support system. Hick assumed it was an accident. A hit-and-run. Quarters are tight now with our county road being used as a major detour. The meeting of a large delivery truck and a dump truck pulling a backhoe, perhaps. A case of too much width and not enough road. A sideswiping that knocked MB and her cohorts off their pins.

Yes, their roof and their flooring separated. Their individual partitions were ripped asunder. No longer do they enjoy their solitude, their privacy. Like insecure new inmates in a communal shower, they must avert their eyes, stare straight ahead. MB, gasping for fresh country air, is upset that her fine green coat was besmirched with wood rot and dust. Her neighbor, a fan of Home Alone, Scream, and Edvard Munch, emits a silent shriek.

Hick, the caretaker to the old and decrepit, spent an hour shoring up their confidence. Set what bones he could. Braced their broken supports. All but one survived to carry out their daily activities at the start of the new work week.

When The Pony and I went to town, we discovered that this was not the accident that Hick assumed. Evidence of additional carnage was clear to see. No, this was no accident.

It will be remembered as the Night of the Federal Property Destroyers.

The destruction of federal property in the form of rural mailboxes is not a new fad. It's been going on for years, and is most likely called "boys being boys" by those not personally affected. Still, it carries a fine of up to $250,000, and three years in prison for each act.

Hick constructed MB of steel sewer pipe in an effort to make her indestructible. She holds her own. It's the framework in which she resides that takes a beating. Our fellow property owners came up with this long cubby box idea, to stop the more fragile mailboxes from being whomped on the top with metal bats and rebar and tire irons and crowbars and whatever federal property destructors are using these days. They cemented the metal supports, and have had few incidents of mass destruction over the past many years.

Up the road, some mailboxes were completely gone, some were in ditches, some, in their wire cages, were just fine, and one batch was squeezed on top, as if a reverse Jaws of Life had pinched them like giant pliers. Homeowners out here take various routes to combat this willful destruction of federal property. One guy buys half a dozen cheap mailboxes, tightens one on his wooden post with two screws, and simply sets out a new one after destruction. Two people have built elaborate brick posts and semi-circular enclosures that surround their mailbox like a glove. A red, rectangular, brittle glove, but it has worked so far. Some buy the hard Little-Tikes-playground-type plastic enclosures. Another dude with a family compound row of six or eight mailboxes has his supports set up so that the framework will collapse upon contact, and all he has to do is set the whole thing up and put in a couple of screws. This is good business for screw manufacturers, it seems.

So all of you who may brag of your youthful shenanigans playing inning after inning of mailbox baseball may want to ask yourselves, "Is it worth $2.5 million, and 30 years in jail?" This isn't the 1950s anymore. A good game camera that is motion-activated goes for less than $50 at Walmart. And some folks are armed and just plain crazy.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Then End of an Era

The auction is a gift that keeps on giving.

Hick loves shopping at the auction several times a week, and giving gifts that keep people working. And by "people," I mean his own family members. Last night, he bought a new egg basket for The Pony. Now The Pony can put all his eggs in one basket. Heh, heh! See what I did there? Put all his eggs in one basket! I crack myself up sometimes. Actually, The Pony can't put all his eggs in one basket, because the tiny eggs that I think are reptile eggs but Hick says are just itty bitty chicken eggs in spite of their leathery shell would simply fall out of this new basket. And so would the banty eggs. You know. The ones my mom really likes, according to Hick.

The Pony has been collecting eggs in an old Easter basket since we first got chickens. Guess where the chickens came from. You got it! The auction! Those first feathered friends were leghorns, and they sure were layers. Then Hick bought a crate with a Typhoid Clucker. He said he heard one cough, but he didn't think anything of it, and turned the new chickens in with the old chickens, and decimated the flock. Poor Pony was on deathwatch that summer. Every day, he found a fowl corpse. Those leghorns were not hardy enough, I suppose. Now we have pretty, pretty Ameraucaunas who lay colored eggs, and ugly, ugly turkens who are butt-ugly but quite prolific. They are both a sturdy lot who only succumb to being eaten by predators.

Don't tell The Pony, but his new egg basket is really made for golf balls. But it's good enough to carry eggs. The Easter basket was on its last legs. The bottom was held in by several bread twist ties. And for a dollar, you can't go wrong buying a golf ball pail to carry eggs.

Though I would draw the line at trying to fill it with Diet Coke.

Saturday, August 3, 2013


From the man who almost bought me Auction Meat...I proudly announce: Auction Tomatoes!

They appeared on my kitchen counter overnight. This was one of Hick's bargains. He got 11 tomatoes for $3.00, which is better than the $3.65 I paid for THREE tomatoes from Walmart last week. I swear, I don't know how people eat without auctions!

We don't have a garden. We tried, way back when the boys were little. Borrowed a tiller from my grandma, dug up the earth behind the garage, and planted carrots, corn, tomatoes, onions, watermelon, and cantaloupe. Funny how the animals that lived here before us thought it was a salad bar. We claimed a few carrots, maybe a tiny onion or two, and a couple of tomatoes.

The cats thought they were big game hunters, laying around the garden and nabbing rabbits galore. Dragging those hulking rabbits across the front yard, practically chest-thumping over their victory, only to have their prizes wrenched from their jaws by the dogs. Oh, and the cats also thought the garden doubled as a feline latrine.

The most depressing days were when we could spy the baby melons in the evening, marveling at their expansion, only to observe a deer standing over them the next morning as we backed out of the garage. Then there was the herd of neighbor horses that got loose and tore up the garden like hyperactive Lipizzaner Stallions in a rectangular show ring. Birds perched on the plants throughout the day, pecking through the tender blushing skin of the tomatoes.

The darkest hour was when, at sunset, I went to pick a ripe tomato for supper, and my hand went through the back of it, just as a GIANT GREEN TOMATO HORNWORM peeped over the top. I sent Genius to find Hick. My screams must have given him a sense of urgency, unlike my cries heralding the two-minute-contraction phase of Genius's labor, which prompted Hick to take a shower and pack himself a bag of comfortable shoes and Milky Ways before driving me to the hospital...because he came running to the garden carnage.

Mighty Hick, my hero, grabbed that hornworm between his thumb and index finger, and exclaimed, "He tried to bit me!" Next thing I knew, Hick's hand was awash with tomato seeds. Tomato hornworms apparently poop themselves when their heads are crushed by a heroic husband. Since it was not feasible for Hick to stand in the garden all day and pick hornworms off the tomatoes, we tried a powder insecticide. By then we had only a few tomatoes left.

Our gardening days are over. Sometimes, the country wins.

Friday, August 2, 2013

I'm Probably Going to Wind Up On the Wrong End of Road Rage One of These Days

Did you ever have the feeling that you are the subject of somebody's blog post? Yeah. Weird, huh? I don't mean to brag, but I am quite sure that somewhere, somebody is typing their fingers to the bone about me. Typing so fast that the contestants on Survivor and Naked and Afraid are arm-wresting with what little dehydrated strength they have left to hold shredded coconut shell fibers over the keyboard to catch a spark.

It all started when I took The Pony to town this morning to meet up with his grandma for an overnight visit. I dropped him off at Little Caesar's. Mom was getting him a pizza for lunch. After all, it was nearly 11:00 a.m. I pulled out of the parking lot onto the city street. It was a right turn. The only oncoming traffic was a football field away, having just gained a green light. Yet within seconds that speed demon was upon me. On me like Val on a 44 oz. Diet Coke.

I was going the speed limit, of course. Val is no scofflaw. Rolling along at 35 mph without a care in the world, visions of 44 oz. Diet Coke dancing, with thumbs and little kicks, in my head. And then that sight in the rearview mirror, scarier than the Animal House "Eat Me" cake car. It was an itsy bitsy teeny weeny metallic baby-poop-green miniature SUV. So close that I could not even see its rubber baby SUV bumper. That's too close! If I had suddenly slammed T-Hoe's transmission into PARK, and then REVERSE, his beeper would have warned me that an object was in imminent danger of strikage.

It was only about a half mile to my turn. A right, just past my mom's bank. You know, the one that shorted her ten dollars on her check deposit with not-enough-cash back. I signaled with plenty of time before the turn, yet not too soon so as to make my automotive dingleberry think I was turning into the bank to be shorted ten dollars. I applied the brakes, and slowed gradually for my turn. A sharp turn, I might add. More than a 90-degree turn. Kind of like a switch-back on Pike's Peak. Oh, dear sweet mother of all that is phobic, DO NOT EVER drive up or down Pike's Peak. They have a train to get you there. No need to go all Overlook Hotel creepy-music crazy getting there by pavement.

As I pulled T-Hoe's steering wheel to the right to commence my turn, Speed Demon HONKED at me! Can you believe it? Someone as safe and careful and law-abiding as myself, getting the HORN?

I don't know why Speed Demon didn't just whip into the center turn lane to go around me. Everybody knows that space goes to waste here in Backroads. It's like a no-man's land to be avoided at all costs, only veered across hastily from the right lane when turning left.

Yes, Val's law-abiding ways were rewarded today with an unceremonious toot of outrage.

Or as I refer to it: mission accomplished.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

As the Stomach Churns

I had a close call last week. This might not be the best thing to read if you're weak of stomach. Thank goodness I am my own quality control inspector.

When The Pony and I take off for town, I grab a 44 oz. styrofoam cup suitable for refilling with Diet Coke. Yes, I have three spares in T-Hoe, but I always bring one from the house. That's because you never know when you might run into somebody who wants a giant beverage. Cheap. And I learned my lesson that day I only had one car cup with me, and I tottered like a Whoville Who on a homemade Whocycle as I walked around the back-end of T-Hoe, and crunched my cup with a not-so-svelte hip against his rear bumper.

I wash out my refill cup every night, or morning. As we leave, I run a little bit of water into it, and add five or six ice cubes from Frig's freezer door. Two birds, one stone. I can quench my thirst if needed, and then toss it out to refill with Diet Coke. No need for a separate water cup.

It might have been the day I was readying Hick's passport renewal materials, or gathering bills. I asked The Pony to get my cup and put a little water and ice in it. He knows the drill. He's usually standing there while I do this last-minute task myself. Let the record show that there's always a 44 oz. cup drying in the sink drainer, and one or two outer cups on the kitchen counter. Those are cups that have outlived their usefulness, and act as insulators to hold the precious full cup of Diet Coke as it sits on my desk all afternoon.

I rushed into the kitchen, grabbed my cell phone from the charger, and took the water cup The Pony handed me. I looked inside to make sure there was not too much or too little water. THERE WAS BROWN DIET COKE WATER IN THE ICE! And brown stains on the side. And The Pony thought I was going to sip on that while driving. The horror! Seems The Pony had grabbed an outer cup, not washed every day, and added water and ice.

I had not felt that queasy since Genius was a toddler asking for sips of my Bubba Cup of ice water. Since that day I popped the lid off that night, and saw that the inch of fluid in the bottom resembled the waters of the Missouri River. The Big Muddy. Like frothy hot chocolate. With the froth being toddler saliva.

Kids and drinking just don't mix.