Saturday, February 28, 2015

Val Hangs Her Head In Shame After Robbing the Cradle of Its Rightful Windfall

Let the record show that Val is a thoughtful mom. Does she not send her non-resident child a card once per week? A card with six dollars enclosed, and a handful of scratch-off lottery tickets? That's not a rhetorical question, but I didn't hear any of you respond. Let me answer for you: "Yes. Yes, Val does."

It does not matter that the card is not exactly a Hallmark. So what if he gets a card every other week with a rainbow-colored, glittery Cat-i-corn on the front? That it comes from The Dollar Tree, or Dollar Store? You'd think one of those chains would have sued the other for the rights to the name by now, but I guess they're all about passing the savings on to the customers. No, the fact that the card is sometimes oversized, and not all that heartrending doesn't matter one whit to Genius. In fact, he even said I didn't have to send those big cards to him every week. He doesn't need to know that those big cards are 2/$1.00. I'm shocked that somebody hasn't opened a Half-Dollar Store around these parts. So for now, Genius can think that I spare no expense in keeping in touch with my firstborn.

I send him six dollars because that's what my mom sent him when she was her old self. Let it be her legacy. The scratchers are just a whim. He doesn't buy them for himself. You never know when somebody's going to win. Might as well be Genius. I send him a couple of one-dollar or two-dollar tickets. The fives that I play don't fit in his cards. As far as he knows.

Last week Genius was all excited because he won FIFTY DOLLARS! Yeah. He even called me right after calling me back to hang up on me because he was being a spoiled father's-son. But the minute he got my card and scratched his tickets, the attitude flew the coop like a space ship being flown by a college sophomore in his underwear. Secretly, I think he just wanted to rub it in that he had a big winner.

So today I picked up some low-cost tickets for his card, but found upon returning home that I had already stuffed some tickets in his card on the kitchen counter that was awaiting a personal note and a stamp. Well. No dilemma there. I set aside some for next week's mailing, and took two of the two-dollar tickets off the top to scratch for myself. I never play the two-dollar tickets. So much work for so little reward. Like those Survivor contestants catching snails and little bitty crabs for sustenance.

Ahem. I won twenty dollars. I am ashamed. That would have been a big win for Genius.

It could, after all, have purchased a St. Patrick's Day sweatshirt from the college bookstore.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Let It Never Be Said That Val Came Between a Boy and His Joystick

Last night I called Genius to give him a heads-up on his tax return.

Can you believe he doesn't know how to file by himself? Makes you feel all safe and secure thinking that he's going to be programming computers and engineering electrical systems in a few years, doesn't it? He might just be responsible for a new off-the-grid movement!

He answered on the second ring. Making me think that he really didn't have anything important going on. "Call me back on the house phone. This call is costing me money." That's because our cell phones have a prefix that is long distance from our house phone. Dang utilities will get you comin' and goin'.

"Hey. You called?"

"Yeah. I sent you two envelopes with your tax info. One of them is strictly for your records. It has a handwritten note in it that says, 'Save these for your records.' The other has two envelopes, one for federal, one for state. The forms are in there. All you have to do is sign and date, replace one of the W-2 copies with your original, put them back in the already addressed and stamped envelope, and mail. There is a list of step by step instructions."

"Okay. But you know I'm going to call you as soon as I get them. I am so incompetent."

"Well, next year I guess you'll have to hire someone to do your taxes. You'll have out-of-state income, you know." Let the record show that Genius has an internship with Garmin that is not in our state.


"I know. I told you. You should have stayed with the same employer." Let the record show that Val wanted to use the phrase, 'You should have danced with the one what brung ya,' but she knew Genius would say that she wasn't making sense, because he hadn't been dancing last summer, but working for $20 an hour with an electrical engineering firm.

"Maybe it's not too late! I don't even want to think about it being more complicated! I can't do it! I'll have to hire someone!"

"If that's the only issue, I might be able to do it. I'm not sure, though. You don't get all of your withholding back this year. It cost you about $59 because we could claim you as a dependent. But it saved us a couple of thousand. Not that we get a refund. We have to pay. But it's less."

"I shall expect ten percent of that savings."

"Yeah, right. You'll get ONE PERCENT, and you already got it, because I looked at your university billing statement today, and you owe $20. I was shocked. I know that sometimes we get a refund check. But most often, the amount you spend on tuition and housing and books miraculously comes out to be the same as your scholarships and RA stipend. Now we owe $20!"

"Huh. It's funny how that works out."

"Uh huh. Enjoy your medium St. Patrick's Day sweatshirt. That's your cut of the tax savings."

"WAIT! You mean that statement actually shows you what I bought?"

"Uh huh. It says, 'St. Patrick's Day Merchandise.' And in the explanation column, it says, 'SS medium.' I figured that meant a medium sweatshirt."

"Oh. Maybe I'm spending my money on a beer stein."

"Yeah, right. That would have been a large."

"An extra-large, actually."

"So I knew it was a sweatshirt. "

"Yes. And I have a sweatshirt for every year."

"Are you going to be one of those people who frame them and hang them on the walls of their ultra-modern apartment brick walls, to show off at alumni parties? I hope I don't open the online statement next month, and see that you've bought a snake-whacking stick." Let the record show that Genius attends a university that is famous for its St. Patrick's Day celebrations, devoting an entire week to the festivities.

"Yes. I will frame them. And I just might need me a snake-whacking stick. But I had no idea that statement actually shows you what I bought."

"I guess you'll be more careful now."

"Well, they won't take anything but cash or account. I don't carry cash. I use my debit for everything. So that bookstore stuff gets put on the account. there anything else?"

"Not really. I just wanted you to know that your tax info is on the way. It will take about four weeks to get your refund, since you have to do it by mail since your identity was stolen."

"Okay. I'm done talking now. I've been flying a space ship ever since you called, but I can't beat my time while I'm talking to you." Let the record show that Genius called and asked me to sent him his old joystick last week. The one he used on his airplane-flying games when he thought he wanted to get his pilot's license.

"Oh. Exuuuuse me! I didn't know I was keeping you from fighting aliens."

"You're crazy. I'm not fighting aliens. Who said anything about aliens? I'm flying a space ship!"

"How egotistical of you , to think you're the only species in the universe flying a space ship! I hope you're nice and comfortable, wearing your new $20-sweatshirt while you fly."

"Actually, I have on my underwear and a T-shirt. I've been dressed up all day."

"All right then. I just wanted to let you know that I finished your taxes." Let the record show that Val would never come between a boy and his joystick.

So there you have it. What the college money is going for, and how Genius spends his evenings. I have a good mind to bill him for the ten dollars I spent on mailing his joystick. We provide over half of his support, you know.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Does a Hick Pee In the Woods?

Today we wrap up Val’s continuing series on “Beer and Bro-Things in Backroadsia.” Wrap it up in shiny tastefully-patterned paisley gift paper, and tie it with a festive floppy silky red bow. Or, here in Backroads, dump it in a Walmart bag and tie the loops in a knot. You there! Stop cheering. You can never get enough info about Val. TMI does not exist in her vocabulary. Nor does IRONIC.

Let it never be said that Hick doesn’t have a pot to piss in. Hick has a plethora of pots to piss in. Though how he keeps from making a mess with those pots hanging from the roof of his Creekside cabin is BEEYOOOOND me. You can clearly see that the snow behind them is not yellow. So Hick must have a double-secret method that he’s keeping under his hat. That background is pure as…as…the roof-slumped snow.

Also in this shot is the mini barn. Hick built it even before the mini pony was a gleam in his eye. I suppose he fancied bartering for some mini chickens and mini goats. WAIT! He already had banty chickens and those knee-high goats. So I suppose he knew what he was doing. Even if none of the animals ever stepped talons or hooves into the mini barn.

You might think that little building in the background is the outhouse. Nope. It's out of range. Remember, a lady reveals nothing. It wouldn't be polite to brag about one's outhouse. Nope. That li'l ol' structure is a…is a…STRUCTURE! According to The Pony, "It's that building Dad made so he could put old license plates around the walls." Uh huh. Hick built a building solely for the outside walls. Go ahead. Try to feign surprise.

Again, we have the woodshed. I daresay Hick must have accrued many hours in the woodshed as a boy. Or not. Because as a lad, he was sometimes less than truthful. His mom was in the hospital a lot, and his dad was blind. So it wasn’t too hard to put one over on them. Unlike Val’s parents, who every night cleaned their calabash pipe and polished its meerschaum bowl, and brushed their deerstalker hat free of lint.

Hick saw no reason that his dad should know he was suspended from school for lighting a fire on the vocational school bus. “The heater didn’t work!” he declared, righteously. “We was just trying to get warm. So we took the trash can at the back of the bus, and set the stuff on fire. And I’ll be darned if the bus driver didn’t see us!” Since his family had no phone, Hick waited for the discipline notice to come in the mail. He didn’t mention it to his dad, but took it so his brothers wouldn’t read it. Then he got up every morning, at the regular time, and went and sat in the woods until school was out.

Hick has always been at home in the woods.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Hold Onto Your Board Shorts, Surf's Up!

Part 3 of our 4-part series, Beer and Bro-Things in Backroadsia, brings us this view of Hick's creekside cabin facing the creek. Well, the creek WOULD be there, if it wasn't frozen over.

Here we have the other side of that giant frozen shoot-the-pipe wave that crept off the roof of the cabin. It must be the stuff surfers dream about, except not frozen, and with a whole ocean of water under it, and not in the woods with all those trees to crash into, and with some bikini girls egging them on.

The blue things are insulators off power line poles. I imagine Hick bought up a box of them at the auction, but he may have collected a few here and there from some of his electrical friends. One thing is for sure. Hick did not climb power poles to get them. He is not as agile as a mailman who spent the better part of his childhood growing up in the Pacific Northwest, able to shinny up a sapling and grab a man-fur from the branches after it was unceremoniously tossed out an apartment window.

The rest of the stuff I’m not sure about. Hick’s cabin porch is as busy as a Richard Scarry drawing. No banana car in sight, though. But he DOES have a rearing unicorn.

The hexagonal picnic table in the background has more miles on it that The Pony’s truck. Pony miles. It’s a used truck, you know. That table was bought by Hick and me right after we built the house. It used to sit over in the side yard, where the chicken pen (unused by the chickens) is now.

Yes, we had some good picnics on it when the boys were small. It was right near that picnic table where our old dog Grizzly, the boys’ first pet, found that nest of rabbits being eaten by a giant black snake. Then ate them himself once Hick rescued them from the snake. Little boys cry loud tears.

It was on that table that Hick and The Veteran attempted to deep-fry a fresh road-kill turkey on a Coleman camp stove. Epic fail. It should not take four hours to deep-fry a fresh road-kill turkey. And the term “deep-fry” would inherently lead a person to believe that the meat was, indeed, cooked.

That picnic table made many a trip up the gravel road to Hick’s buddy’s house for cookouts. Don’t think it can walk. Buddy came to get it on his tractor, with a boom pole. That means he strapped that table up with chains, suspended it from a long pole off the back of his blue tractor, and drove it up the road. Then back, to return it, after several weeks of reminding.

I wouldn't be surprised if Hick built a special building just to house the picnic table.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Beer and Bro-Things in Backroadsia

Let us now pull back the curtain to reveal the second installment in Val's continuing series on "Beer and Bro-Things in Baskroadsia."

This is the front of Hick's fine creekside cabin establishment. The main part is on the right. The original cabin. That wasn't enough for Hick. Once a project is finished, it's time to look for a new project. So he decided that he needed to add a bedroom to his sitting room with loft.

Let's direct our attention first to the cabin proper. Notice the twin ceramic rooster-heads on each side of the door? Uh huh. Class act, our Hick. And above the door, probably too tiny for you to read, are three little words: Wild Wild West. Of course he has that metal thermometer to the left of the door, to tell him if it's cold enough to snow. And who wouldn't want to grab a Coke and a smile before sittin' a spell to chew the fat with Hick? That lovely filigree of icicles on the roof line was just a happy accident.

The bedroom addition may look like it has a shiny glassed aluminum screen door, but that's actually a window. I'm sure you could use it for ingress and egress if you so desired. The actual door, according to The Pony, is on the left. The part that looks like the bars in Otis's cell. I can't explain the reason for the milk cans. Nor the washtub.

Don't even ask why the wood stands alone nowhere near the woodshed.

I'm thinking I might just open a bed-and-breakfast for those folks who come from far away to purchase their handbaskets. I even have a wonderful rib-stickin' goody to put on my menu. We had it tonight with some fish. Not that my B&B guests will get fish. They might expect some highfalutin dish like Bourbon-Glazed Salmon or Creole Red Snapper or Mahi Mahi with Onion, Capers, and Lemon...rather than the minced breaded frozen love minnow resulting from the clandestine union of Mrs. Paul and that bearded yellow-slicker-wearing Gorton man.

No, my secret recipe is not for fish. It's for the side dish. I call it Cheesed Broccocaulipeppot. Doesn't that sound tasty? Doesn't it? Here's how you make it. Toss a small potato in the microwave for baking. Take a glass bowl suitable for microwaving, and put in cut-up broccoli and cauliflower. Cover it with plastic wrap and nuke it for several minutes until tender. In the meantime, cut up some pasteurized processed cheese spread. Like Velveeta, or the better Save A Lot brand, Marvella. By now your potato and broccoli/cauliflower will be done. Take out the bowl and lift the plastic wrap and put the cheese on top. Slice the potato in half, and lay it unpeeled sides down on top of your cheesy veggie bowl. Cube that potato while it's laying on top. Add some sweet banana pepper rings. Stir it all together...and VOILA! Cheesed Broccocaulipeppot!

I know your mouth is watering and you have no time left to read.

Bon appetite!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Val Snows the Roof Off the Seamy Side of Hick's Clandestine Activities

You never know what you're going to get around Val's house on any given weekend. It's kind of like Forrest Gump's momma's box of chocolates.

Just Sunday evening, The Pony trotted into my dark basement lair and said, "Oh, Mom. Look what happens to Dad's cabin when the sun comes out after a snow." He poked Hick's phone in my face. Why is it that kids always think old people need stuff jammed up under their noses, rather than held at arm's length or across the room? I need to make some kind of symbol to teach the young 'uns that. Like Mr. Yuck, only with an old geezer shaking his fist at some young whippersnapper getting up in his grill. I'm probably not allowed to say that. My kids try to keep me in check. But they're not here now, are they? So I'll let my outdated-teen-lingo flag fly.

Here's what The Pony showed me. It must have made an impression, because he's not one to share things just for the feel-good rush.

Oh, yeah. Roll that beautiful creekside cabin roof footage. So cool. The metal roof heated up in the sunlight, and the snow that was packed there all week slid down over the edge. Kind of like a glacier, answering gravity's call. And also like a glacier, packed with particles, though in this case they had settled from above, and were not gouged out below.

Nature can be so cool.

And Hick can be such a hoarder. There's his woodshed in the bacground. And his Gator, with that red milk crate that only a couple short weeks ago was still screwed to the front wall of our house for PACKAGES. Gather it all in. It's impossible to see all of Hick's treasures at first glance.

I think I'll make this a continuing series. There are three pictures left to go.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Caught In the Act

Guess what I caught Hick doing Saturday evening.

No, I did not catch him out behind the dumpster with another guy...SMOKING!

Nor did I catch him:

~treating his body like an amusement park

~switching out the cassette in my answering machine

~withdrawing his blood from the blood bank and storing it in Tupperware in Frig II's freezer

~hijacking a city bus to drive a severed pinky toe on ice in a Cracker Jack box to the hospital, making all the stops

~putting my toothbrush in the rack after fishing it out of the toilet

~urinating in the corner of a parking garage

~eating a Chinese takeout Supreme Flounder in a janitor's closet

~sending out Christmas cards showing his exposed nipple

Nope. None of those. Thanks for guessing, but I suppose I kind of need to narrow it down for you. It has to do with Hick's feeding peccadilloes. He goes to the auction on Saturday evening. So we have a quick meal that he can wolf down and still get there in time to pick his seat. Heh, heh. See what I did there?

I made a cheeseburger for The Pony and for Hick. The Pony barely wants any meat on his burger, which he takes with a plastic-wrapped American single and numerous squirts of ketchup. Which reminds me, I forgot to give him a dill pickle on the side. Oh, well. There are plenty of dill pickles in that boy's future.

Hick likes a burger with Pepper Jack. Of which we were fresh out, him never bothering to tell me what he wants when I go to the store. He's lucky I had buns that were not spotted. In place of his missing Pepper Jack, I sliced off two thin slabs (yeah, it can be done, by a master cheese-cutter such as Val) of extra-sharp cheddar.

I also prepared to set beside the king a dainty dish of onion slices, dill pickle slices, and tomato slices. I offered a variety of accompaniments. Hick could have munched on celery/broccoli/cauliflower/baby carrots/ridged Ruffles all with Hidden Valley Ranch. Not from a bottle, either, or that French Onion kind of dip. Uh uh. The kind made with a tub of sour cream and a packet of powder! I know, it kind of violates my oven-heating/microwave-warming rules to provide a burger from the stove top, AND whisked dip...but I WAS getting rid of him all evening, so I pulled out all the stops.

OR, Hick could have opted for Scoops, restaurant style tortilla chips, tasty Save A Lot Senora Verde mild salsa, chunk pineapple in 100% juice, or the old standby: slaw. I swear, it's like that man tries to provoke me. No, he didn't want any of that.

I went into the bathroom to grab some laundry. Hick must have thought I would be descending to my dark basement lair, because he plopped himself into his La-Z-Boy and cranked up the volume to a level both coasts could hear, and put on one of his greasy mechanic shows. As I walked behind him with that laundry, I saw that Hick had indeed added a side dish to his main course.


The significance of that being that individual bags of chips are for school lunches. Not for home consumption. Never mind that in our big bag of little bags, we have Lays Potato Chips, Cheetos, Sun Chips Original, Fritos, Nacho Doritos, and Cool Ranch Doritos. Let the record show that Val prefers the Lays and the Fritos. The Pony claims the Sun Chips and the Cheetos. Which always leaves us with excess Doritos, to be consumed when nothing else is available and a trip to the store is not imminent.

I called him out. "Why are you eating my Fritos for school? You could have had any other kind of chip. But those are for my lunches."

"I really wanted Cheetos, but I couldn't find any."

"That's because The Pony takes them in his lunch every day. We used those, and he has a six-pack of just Cheetos in the pantry, not on the table where you found those." Oops! I think I said too much. "Besides, I guess YOU are the one who took all the chips out of the other big bag, and left that big bag on the cooler on the stool under your cuckoo clock that you wind twice a day."

"Not me! I didn't take any chips."

Yeah. Like I'm going to believe that. I didn't take them and leave the empty bag behind, because I have to throw it away anyhow. No need to make it a two-step process. And The Pony only takes chips in his lunch, which I pack for him, and has to take out the trash, so he knows to fill it as he goes along.

Caught in the act. And not even the least bit remorseful. I swear. You guys seem to think that any food in the house is available for your consumption.

As soon as I get my proposed handbasket factory up and running, I am going to design a special handbasket for the ladies, with a hidden compartment to hold snacks for the trip. Maybe even an insulated area for ice cubes. I hear that ice water is all the rage at that destination.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

She's Felix and I'm Oscar

My sister the ex-mayor's wife and I are the new odd couple. She's Felix. I'm Oscar. No, not because I'm a grouch, though she may beg to differ, what with younger sisters always being assumed to be the oldest getting all testy and whatnot.

Thursday I had to run by her house during a 30-minute interlude during which she was not scheduled for other engagements. She arrived after I parked in her driveway, coming directly from the hairdresser. "Oh, having your hair colored?" I asked. She was not amused.

"I've figured out that's why everybody thinks you're younger than me. You're still working, and you color your hair. I do not."

"Well, I already told you, maybe you should, and maybe you need a part-time job."

We walked through her garage to the kitchen door. "Oh! My car is so dirty it makes me sick!" Let the record show that her car is a white SUV with those running board pipe thingies that swing up under the side of the car when she's not getting in or out. I saw not one speck of anything on that car. Unlike black T-Hoe, who was sprinkled with white salt residue from driving on the snow/ice-covered roads on the way to town.

So Friday morning, as The Pony and I headed to town, him not having left the house since last Saturday night, his birthday laser-tag bash with his woman and some friends, I had him text Sis while I was driving.

"We're headed to town. Do you want me to drop off your copy of the beneficiary deed for Mom's house that I picked up yesterday?"

The Pony laid my phone down. I was driving. Don't text and drive, folks. I thought I heard it ding, but The Pony said no. When we got to Walmart and I was safely parked, I checked it. Sis had responded fifteen minutes ago.

"Are you here right now? I was going to take a shower, but I'll wait if you're here."

"We're going in Walmart. It will be at least 30 minutes, maybe 40, before we get there."

"Okay. Text me when you're here. I'll go ahead with my shower."

We didn't have much to buy, so we went over to Dollar Tree for some 50-cent greeting cards to send Genius each week. Only the best for my first-born. Then the time was right to go by and drop off the paperwork.

"Here, Pony. Text Aunt Sis and tell her that we're on our way."

Shortly, the phone dinged. The Pony went apoplectic. "That's IT! I'm never reading your texts for you again! You can do it yourself from now on. I can't take it anymore!"

"Why? What did she say?"

"Um. No. I'm not repeating that!"

"It can't be that bad! Let me have the phone." Let the record show that I was at a stop sign. "Ohhh! All it says is 'I'm clean now.' What's so bad about that?"

"Stop saying it!"

"What's wrong with you? She just means she's out of the shower. You're so weird."

"Well, I'm not reading any more."

When we got to the house, Sis came out. She stood by the driver's door. It was 14 degrees. I told her several times, "I didn't plan to come in. But you can sit in the car for a minute. It's warm." Sis had been trying to talk to The Pony through my window, since he wouldn't put his down, and, you know, he sits right behind me, freeing up the front passenger seat for Sis. She finally came around and climbed in.

"I was wondering why you kept standing there in the cold. I'm turning it back on to get warm with my seat heater."

"Well...I didn't want to get dirty. I just had a shower, you know." The Pony put both hands over his ears. I saw him in the mirror.

"You'd better not say that. He flips out."

"Why? Because I'm clean. I just had a shower. And...well...this car..."

Let the record show that the inside of T-Hoe is NOT dirty, no more than a little dust on the dash. No trash at all up front. Just The Pony's coat and laptop and poetry-writing composition book in the back.

"He was just horrified by your text. Kind of like when I went to the doctor in the city on Wednesday, and we let him stay home all alone in the freezing cold with 8 inches of snow on the ground, unable to drive if anything went wrong, and I said, 'We'll be gone for about five hours. We have to leave now because that hearse is coming for the man across the road, and we don't want to get trapped in if it gets stuck on the hill, and we're going all the way to the city to the gynecologist.' Well! He went running away yelling, 'NO! NO! What's been heard can't be unheard!' I don't know what's wrong with him."

Sis turned to look at him. "Pony! It was just a shower. Don't YOU take a shower? There's nothing wrong with being clean. Hey, do you want me to tell you what that doctor does?"

"NOOOOO!" He grabbed his ears again.

"Don't you need to be out practicing your driving? So you can get your license and take that woman of yours to prom? You have a lot of money, don't you? Why not take a limo?"

"Uh. It's an HOUR away to pick her up. But maybe senior year I'll get a limo."

They chatted a while, the shower not being mentioned. Nor the gynecologist. Sis got out to go put on her makeup for her next trip in her dirty-clean car. She stood outside T-Hoe's door.

"What are you doing? That's a cold draft."

"I'm just trying to figure out how to close this door...without touching it." She poked the silver outside door handle with one finger.


Oscar was not quite amused.

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Road To the Laundry Room Is Podded With Good Intentions

Let the record show that Val Thevictorian has no cleaning lady. No cleaning man. Nobody who pops in off the street with an untreated addiction to dusting, sweeping, scrubbing, scouring, Hoovering, polishing, away-putting, or mopping.

Oh, Val is not exactly a hoarder. We don't tromp across pizza boxes or climb mountains of two-liter soft drink bottles to get to the kitchen while the bones of forgotten departed dessicated felines crunch beneath our Crocs. No. Val, like Abby the nurse/doctor in love with Luka/Carter/Luka on ER told that little kidney girl about her professional skills, is "Technically proficient, despite certain attitude issues."

Val knows how to clean. She has a motivation problem. She can't do everything for everybody. If it's not tripping her or blocking her view of the TV or emitting a rotten smell, Val lets sleeping dogs lie. Not actual dogs. They belong outside. She's not a hoarder, remember! No, metaphorical dogs. Things other residents of this house drop here and there with no inclination ever to return to reclaim them.

So yesterday I got the urge to straighten up the coffee table in front of the long couch, mainly because I sit on the end of it to fiddle about with my Shiba while upstairs in the light, and the space for my rumpus is decreasing. The only other alternative is that my rumpus is increasing. Which I am sure is not the case. So I started picking up spare cell phones and wires and plug-ins and boxes to carry to Genius's room. Then I gathered two black and one blue Spiral notebooks that The Pony claimed he would use for his poetry writing, which has escalated, now that he has a paramour. I moved a pack of manilla envelopes to the shelf area under the TV, and tossed a Walmart bag with TurboTax onto the couch. Val KNOWS how to clean. I picked up a folder with new account information from when The Pony got his checking account and debit card last June. And there it was. Inside the bank folder. This baggie:

Sorry to disappoint those of you who expected cannabis. The Pony attended the gathering of HIS PEOPLE in Columbia, Missouri. Not inside the borders of Colorado. He was gone three weeks to his nerd convention. I figured he might do four loads of laundry. So I sent four Tide Pods. Let the record show that Val is not a fan of Tide Pods. She is a loyal Tide user, but those pods are creepy. They feel like eyeballs. Don't ask where Val has been feeling eyeballs. She's a science teacher, for cryin' out loud! She has felt her share of eyeballs.

Genius, laundry-doing man o' the world, swears by Tide Pods. I bought him some last summer. You know, because he was working 40 hours a week for $20 an hour, yet was broker than when he was existing on his Grandma's five dollars a week at college. I think it was shortly after he confessed to surviving on $0.88 frozen pizzas, and the landlord's dog stole his last piece off the plate. Genius said he could spare a few Tide Pods, so I sent four with The Pony. As you can see, three remained. And have been laying in a folder on that coffee table since last June. Good thing my rumpus cheek did not expand and compress that folder.

The Pony also loves the Tide Pods. You know. After using ONE of them eight months ago. "They're squishy. Don't lick them! I think they dissolve in water."

"Okay. I'll try to resist. I'm going to throw one in with the laundry now."

"I'll come up. I like them."

"Do you want to throw it in?"

"Sure. See? It squishes."

"You didn't lick them, did you?"


"Because you seem to know an awful lot about that coating."

"I think, at MSA, I put that pod in the compartment where you put detergent. But it still worked okay."

"I have nothing to say."

I guess we're lucky that The Pony wasn't whacking those pods with a ball peen hammer, creating modern art spray to attract a companion.

After that colorful discovery, the urge to tidy up the coffee table flew out the window and sailed away on a zephyr. Such are the housekeeping habits of Val Thevictorian.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

This is Why We Can't Have Nice Cheap Food

Val is a discriminating shopper. She does not buy her groceries to warm in the microwave or heat in the oven just any old place. She would never, for instance, buy her meat at Walmart unless under duress or dire straits. Nor would she buy macaroni & cheese at Save A Lot. Some products are interchangeable. But not those.

Likewise, Val has her preferred Save A Lot location. As those recruits in Full Metal Jacket were enamored of their rifles, so is Val enamored of her Save A Lot branch. She might as well chant it...

This is my Save A Lot. There are many others like it, but this one is mine. My Save A Lot is my best friend. I must master it as I must master my life. Without me, my Save A Lot is useless. Without my Save A Lot, I am useless. I must shop my Save A Lot true. I must buy better than my fellow shopper, who is trying to kill me. I must outshop her before she outshops me. I will. Before Even Steven, I swear this creed: my Save A Lot and I are consumers of my country's bounty, we are masters of our fellow shoppers, we are the providers for my family. So be it, until there is no competitor, but peace. All hail Even Steven.

But today Val violated her creed. She shopped at a different Save A Lot. A mistake from the get-go.

I was happy to find an empty parking space near the door. Sure, it was in the second row. But I could cut right across the first row. Oh, dear. A carload of hooligans pulled in directly in front of T-Hoe as soon as the truck there vacated the space. Out clumb (yes, that is the most appropriate word for the disembarking of the driver) a rotund woman. And from the other three doors rolled three rotund nearly-adult daughters. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Val herself is no 1970s Olga Korbut.

Jupiter and her three largest moons made it into the store before me. I had to find a cart, there being only one left in the rack in front of the store, cutting down considerably on my selection time. I assume Jupiter commandeered a cart already inside the store, even though they don't have racks in there. I passed the quartet on the produce aisle, though they were not looking at produce, but at the displays of leftover Valentine hearts near the door. Down the row I went, grabbing some shredded lettuce, bananas, a tub of margarine...and made a beeline for the hamburger. I had to circumnavigate an employee holding court with a layman, and another employee dusting off her hands after having just stacked a dozen pork products in the meat cooler.

There. The object of my desire: a family pack of ground beef. I leaned over to ascertain the expiration date, and sensed a presence behind me. IT WAS JUPITER AND HER MOONS! I swear. They were as sneaky as The Sidler at Elaine's J. Peterman job. I had just pulled my cart along the beef. Now they were toeing the turf like would-be butt-gorers at Pamplona. I grabbed the first package with a reasonable date of Feb. 21, and wheeled my cart out of the way. Considerately, I thought.

"Mom. Be polite!" said Ganymede. Jupiter made a noise that sounded suspiciously like heh heh. Then she instantaneously filled the spot I had just vacated. I backtracked to go up the chip aisle, dodging Io and Callisto, and the relocated employee/customer conference. The Pony wanted some J. Higgs Salt and Pepper Potato Chips, a Save A Lot brand that he finds superior to any other offerings. Of course they were down near the floor, not like their prominent face-height display at my favored Save A Lot branch. I stooped to grab two bags, and heard Ganymede once again. " careful with your cart."

OH! Do you know what Jupiter had the nerve to say, loud enough for Val to hear? "I'M THINKING ABOUT USING IT AS A BATTERING RAM."

But wait! Before you start texting me your RUSH handbasket orders, you must hear what I saw at the checkout line! As I waited, three deep, while another checker opened her register and said she would help someone, and Jupiter escaped my gravitational field to slingshot her orbit in that old man went up to the bread racks and commenced molesting the goods. Oh, yeah. He did not simply read the date as I had done. No sirree, Bob! He put his palm on top of the loaf and squished it over halfway to the rack. Yeah. He didn't squeeze it briefly. He crushed it. Halfway. Did that to three loaves, then took a fourth that he did not flatten.

NOW you can start texting your handbasket orders!

I shall not stray from my preferred Save A Lot branch again. I should have remembered, this is the one where the checkers gypped my mom on her slaw!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Val Really, Really Needs a German Shepherd Pup

Val is about to come unglued and go off her rocker. She's had her fill, and her bile is up. Not-Heaven hath no fury like Thevictorian harmed.

Tuesday, near the end of our snow day, Hick called The Pony out to the garage for some trifling task. The Pony shod himself and threw a jacket over his back, then headed out the kitchen door. He was gone less than five minutes. When he returned, he was full of concern. Yes. I resisted the urge to lift up his forelock and check him for fever. Because EVERYBODY knows that concern about other people and things is not really The Pony's style.

"Oh Mom. Remember earlier, when you sent me to the BARn to check on Dad, and I told you Juno looked like she was limping? Well, now there is a spot of blood on the porch where she was laying. In the snow."

"Maybe she cut her foot on the ice. I'll have Dad look at her."

"Okay. But there's blood on the porch."

Hick came in shortly after The Pony had descended to his basement gaming couch. "That crazy big black dog across the street needs to go. I was driving my Gator, and Juno and Ann were running along with me like they always do. That big black dog from across the road came up barking at us in the driveway. I stopped. Usually he'll run off. But this time he jumped on Juno. He got her down and was biting on her. I jumped off the Gator to kick him away, and he looked like he was coming after me. Then he ran off home."

"My JUNO? That dog bit my JUNO? Is she okay?"

"Her shoulder is bleeding a little. There's a hole in it. I'll check her tomorrow. She's a little sore. She was limping."

"Those dogs get more aggressive every day. They come up in the yard and chase our dogs up on the porch. If they're going to attack, something needs to be done. And I'm not talking about a paintball gun."

"I got out the BB gun."

"They can't even feel that with their fur."

"I'll get out some other shot. It won't go through their skin, but they'll know they've been hit. I'm not going over there to tell them about it now, because her dad is on hospice, and he's staying with them, and she doesn't need something else to worry about. If I see her husband out, I'll tell him. He won't put up with something like that."

"You don't know what those dogs are going to do. They come out in the road and bark at me in T-Hoe. When I stop to keep from running over them, they come over by my door, still barking at me. They might bite people next."

"I know. All I can do is run them off when I'm home."

I'm just beside myself. What will happen to my sweet, sweet Juno when I'm away at work for 10 hours? That dog has already attacked her once. Why would he stop now? It's not like we can call the dogcatcher out here. He only works in the city limits. I guess if that dog bites us, the county might come get it. But then there's all the trouble of those pesky rabies shots. If my sweet, sweet Juno was attacking pets and killing chickens, I'd want the witness to stomp right up on my porch and let me know. That can't be tolerated. What if that black dog wants to bully a kid? Everyone out here lets their dogs run loose. These two are the only ones who cause problems.

That black dog with the brown butt without a tail had better watch out. He's going to bite off more than Hick will let him chew.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Val's Philatelistic Dilemma

Okay. You've had the skinny on my all-you-can-eat birthday feast. Now for the next task that kept me busy on Sunday, the writing of the thank-yous.

Let the record show that Val is not a conventional Emily Post etiquette type of gal. She does not set a table with 20 forks and use them from outside in. She does not give one whit about wearing white after Labor Day, nor is she concerned with her purse matching her shoes, or how to fold a handkerchief into her husband's suit pocket. Yes, she will write thank you notes, because that is a matter of common decency. But as far as keeping it simple, refraining from composing an essay...Val uses her own judgement. So the notes took a bit of time, over two days, until she was satisfied with the results. If Mom had a tight connection with some of the respect-payers, far be it from Val to short them in their thank-yous. I wanted a personal anecdote to let them know that I indeed knew who they were.

The thank-you cards with accompanying envelopes that my sister the ex-mayor's wife gave me were adequate for a one-size-fits-all note, but not for my purposes. I got a few full-size cards for special people. Hick's workplace had sent a beautiful large flower arrangement, which he had pointed out to everyone, just before pointing to the smaller plant from my administration, while neglecting to also show the garden stone from the staff in my particular building. So I told him I was sending a thank you card, and he said, "Huh. Most people just tack up one of those little cards on the bulletin board." He's so great with his support.

Sooo...I had about a dozen regular size cards, and a bunch of those little ones, and they were all needing stamps. Lucky for me, I had sent The Pony in to get my last two books of stamps, specifying the flag forevers with their little firework motif...

and in his way, he had returned with ONE book of flag stamps, and another of sissy flowers. "I couldn't help it!" he said. "They only had one book of flag stamps, and she just gave me the flowers." I was not a fan of the Winter Flowers. I had been putting them on my bills. TAKE THAT, you moneygrubbers! But I still had quite a few flower stamps left. They went well on funeral thank-you notes.

Then I ran out.

Off I went to the dead-mouse-smelling-post office, eager to grab some more sissy flower stamps. Not that it would actually matter to anyone who got the card. But it mattered to me, the micromanager. Well. They were fresh out of those sissy flower stamps, having no doubt foisted them off on other women's sixteen-year-old sons who wouldn't think to complain. Nor did they have any of my flag stamps, which I think was called the Star Spangled Banner Stamp. I don't know about you, but that one should never go out of style, in my opinion.

The dead-mouse-clerk pointed to the display on the counter. "Here's what I have." Hmpf. None of them suitable for a funeral thank-you envelope. Sure, people may not have minded what kind of stamp I put on there, but seriously, wouldn't you look askance at a funeral thank-you sporting Batman?  Mom wasn't Batman.

Or a Neon Celebrate Stamp? I don't think even the staunchest believer in eternal life would choose to view the passing of one's beloved mother as a celebration.

Winter Fun did not quite seem appropriate. It's not like we were out building snowmen and ice skating.

And as many times as I had watched Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer with Mom as a child, I couldn't see putting Rudolph or Hermie or The Abominable Snowman on her thank-you cards.

Which brings us to my last choice, the Jimi Hendrix Stamp. I'm not really sure Mom was a fan.

The dead-mouse-clerk saw my dilemma. "Wait. I think I have the perfect thing that would go on those little thank-you envelopes. Here."

Yeah. The Sealed With Love Stamp. I went with that.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Catfish, Catfish, Everywhere, and Not a Fin To Eat

Okay, let's start with the birthday dinner, because it's getting on toward supper time, and I'm feeling a mite peckish.

Hick wanted to take me out on my birthday, but with it being a weekday, I bargained for a Sunday meal. That worked out fine, because then we could celebrate The Pony's actual birthday as well as my own. The destination of choice was always planned to be a local catfish house. Let's call it The Fish Skillet. They have recently switched ownership, and remodeled part of the building, and offer some new tidbits as well as the standard All-You-Can-Eat fare served family style for $12.95 a head, beverages extra. That might sound cheap to you city-dwellin' fellas, but out here in Backroads, that's exorbitant.

Perhaps I should have paid more attention to the omen that manifested itself on the walk from T-Hoe to restaurant. "Look out, Pony! You almost stepped on that dead bird!" Uh huh. A dead gray bird with yellow-tipped wings lay flat upon the blacktop, stringy entrails on display, beady birdy eyes gazing sightlessly into mine.

"Oh," said The Pony. Not one for words or empathy.

I had left my coat in T-Hoe, because it was giving me static. Besides, who wants to wear a regular quilted purple winter coat with a gray sweatshirtlike lined hood for an entire meal? "I DO! I DO!" shouts Val, who desperately needed her coat once inside the establishment.

Let the record show that Val and family truly enjoy feasting at The Fish Skillet. We feed there several times a year. What a spread! First, your drinks come in a quart mason jar. Then a basket of hush puppies arrives, to be slathered with honey butter by The Pony, and eaten by the half-dozen. He loves him some hush puppies. Also brought out before the good stuff is a plate with sliced onions, dill pickle spears, and lemon wedges. But let's not forget the baked beans, which are Hick's territory, and the SLAW! They have the BEST slaw ever. Finely chopped, juicy, sweet, sweet slaw, served in a large flat white glass bowl. Mmm. Then the meat and potatoes arrive. Wedge fries with a bit of seasoning, fried shrimp, chicken breasts with a delicious sweet & sour dipping sauce, and the star of the show, fried catfish chunks with a cornmeal batter, the size of a plump kindergartener's fist. And tartar sauce!

Except it wasn't. Not like the old times. Not what I'd been surreptitiously salivating over for four days. New management. Some renovations. Not our beloved Fish Skillet.

First of all, the revamping seemed to consist of making the entry area larger, so they can stack up more people waiting to eat-all-they-can. The carpet had been replaced with hardwood floors. An etched glass partition divided one dining area from the entrance, rather than the woven wood slats of old. And that's about it. The tables were the same, the chairs were the same, even the tablecloths were the same. BUT THE FOOD WAS NOT THE SAME!

We were seated in a corner, at a table for five, even though there were only Hick, The Pony, and me. We were right under the thermostat. At one point, Hick told me to bump it up a couple of degrees. Indeed. I was sorely tempted. That thing registered 69 when we sat down, and 68 when we left. That is too cold to consume mass quantities of catfish. My hands were shaking so much that I could barely fork that slaw into my mouth. Michael J. Fox would have had better luck. And by the time we were ready to leave, Hick further noticed that the heat was not on at all, but was turned off. To which The Pony offered, "So it's just a big bulky thermometer."

Oh, and the slaw was not the same. It had CARROTS in it! Val prefers her slaw without carrots. If carrots must make an appearance, then they should be of a tiny dice, about the size of ammunition for a Red Ryder BB Gun. But no. These carrots were long slivers. Oh so long. I had to pull three of them out of my throat as The Pony watched in horror. It felt like I was trying to swallow a shoestring made completely of aglets. And the slaw was brought to the table in a plastic cereal bowl. Not a shallow grand white glass bowl, showing off the acre of slaw awaiting consumption. The taste of that slaw was still above average. But the texture was off-putting.

Hick noticed right away that he did not get his platter of onion slices, dill pickle spears, and lemon wedges. He and Genius used to bargain for the pickle spears. He also noticed that his baked beans came in the same kind of small cereal bowl as the slaw. "You guys don't really eat the beans, do you? I'll just eat them right out of the bowl." And he did.

The Pony grabbed a handful of hush puppies and began feeding. He could make a meal of them and the fries, which were now served in a basket like the hush puppies, and not on the grand platter with the meats. Which brings us to our next topic, the sad decline of Backroads civilization.

The fried shrimp were the same as always. Or at least said The Pony, they being his meat of choice, and most likely just frozen from a bag. They don't advertise using farm-raised shrimp, after all. The chicken was now strips. Tenders. Kind of like Hardees chicken tenders. No half breast without the bone, tender and moist, pure white meat ready for dipping. Nope. Now they were oddly-shaped strips, with a fried breading all around, and some suspicious bites that were not white meat. With enough sweet & sour sauce, they were edible and almost tasty.

The catfish was the major travesty. Where, oh where, had those fat juicy nuggets gone? In their place was a strip of cornmeal-battered something that was passed off as catfish. It was thinner than beef jerky. And just as chewy. Hick and I agreed that is was like batter-dipped fish skin, fried to a crunch. The "fish" was served in long flat sections, like you might have filleted the flesh off an anorexic catfish. And when the first platter was set upon our table, it contained just 3 fish pieces. For cryin' out loud, people! It's a CATFISH house! And we were paying $12.95 a head for all-we-could-eat! I took a piece of fish. Hick took two pieces of fish. And The Pony announced forlornly, "I was going to try a piece of fish this time." So Hick stopped our server and asked for more fish. She looked a bit suspicious. We still had chicken on the platter, and a few shrimp. It was like she was in charge of rationing the catfish. Not that it was anything to write home about.

Yes, that was the pattern all evening. The server brought out just a little bit in one of those small cereal bowls. Then we'd have to ask for more. It got to be a chore. I'm sure that was their goal. Shame you into asking over and over for more food, until you finally got embarrassed and decided you were done. From our past dining experiences at The Fish Skillet, I have left stuffed. Filled to bursting. With delectable food. This time, I left barely sated.

And frozen to the core. Which is, perhaps, appropriate. The Fish Skillet will not see Thevictorian's business again until Not-Heaven freezes over.