Friday, April 29, 2011

It's Time to Pay the Piper

All that Go Kart fun doesn’t come without a price. Auggie’s over here, and guess what else he’s used to that Phartacus and Slappy aren’t? Constant parental attention. He’s been here 53 minutes and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard him say, “Let’s go tell your mom!" Really, Auggie? You seem to be unclear on the concept of playdate, darling. I know you’re young yet and uncorrupted by teenage misanthropy and zits, but it’s never too soon to learn that you’re going to want to tell your mom as little as possible about your doings, unless eyeballs are bleeding or pipes are bursting or she specifically asks what happened to the basement rug while wearing an expression that suggests now is the time to pony up unless you want Bad Things to happen. It’s like this: If you’ve got a handful of caterpillars and you’re wondering if I want to see them, the answer is no. If your mom thinks it’s adorable when you repeatedly quote the DVD she bought you for doing your math homework and you feel like I might be equally enchanted, I won’t be. If you think I want to hear the detailed plans of the tree house your dad is going to have built for your Memorial Day Weekend present, you are so very wrong. That, my dear boy, is a conversation for The Mister. In fact, I might just keep you around as a welcome home present tonight for my husband, who’s had a hard week of hotel living and expensed white-napkin dinners while I kept his children alive. TGIF, Mister! I’ll be in the bathroom with gin.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Phartacus and the Go Kart Debacle

My local friend, Shelby-Gail, is one of the most well-meaning, generous women I know, and is a person who will be there in times of trouble despite having troubles of her own. But here I am, about to gossip on her. As Clairee in Steel Magnolias said, “If you don’t have anything nice to say about anybody, come sit by me.”

Shelby-Gail’s son, Auggie, is an only child, the apple of her eye who gets things like a swing set for Easter while Phartacus and Slappy are squealing over a couple dozen plastic eggs filled with Skittles and mini Snickers. It seems Auggie had recently finished reading a book his tutor had assigned, and was being rewarded with a trip to the Splendaville Mini Speedway for an afternoon of go karts, miniature golf, and laser tag. When Auggie finished a book report in January, he got a three-day weekend tubing at a ski resort, and last spring he got a trip to a water park for completing his science project. Phartacus remembers these things, compares them to his own deprived existence, and has already ascertained that life is not fair. It’s good to learn this early, I think; I hear many of today’s college grads are having one nasty shock after the other, after years of soccer games where no one loses and science tests where no one fails and family discipline sessions where no one tells him what a dipshit he is for the sheriff’s house and dropping his wallet.

Anyway, poor deprived Phartacus was fortunate enough to scoop up the crumbs of Auggie’s largesse, and was invited to be the special guest at the afternoon of go kart dain bramage. He returned several hours later, sweaty, giddy, covered in co-cola and ketchup stains, and with mysterious clumps in his hair that I later discovered was caramel. Auggie’s entire family piled out of the car, and Mr. Shelby-Gail, a pink-faced man whose lush lawn is weed-free and mowed in a precise diamond pattern, eyed the dust bowl that is our yard with a mixture of pity and disbelief before loping off to play tag and push the boys on our tire swing. Mr. Shelby-Gail is one of those fathers who spends a lot of time golfing, and if he hung around children more he’d know he’s putting way too much effort into the whole thing. Tag? Gimme a damn break.

While her husband crammed 10 hours of parenting into 45 uninvited minutes on my dust bowl lawn, Shelby-Gail launched into a detailed description of just how ridiculously horrible Phartacus is at go kart driving. How he ricocheted off the track walls and Auggie had to brake and back up to avoid hitting him. Repeated demonstrations of how his head snapped back as he hit the wall and how Mr. Shelby-Gail doubled over, helpless with laughter. Apparently Phartacus is also insanely terrible at something called “putt-putt”, which I soon figured out was miniature golf, based on Shelby-Gail’s reenactment of Phartacus, bent over with butt extended as far as humanely possible, holding the club like a hockey stick, I was told between fits of giggles, as I tried to imagine what the difference between the two could possibly be. But it seems that Phartacus redeemed himself during laser tag, displaying an uncanny accuracy that made Shelby-Gail think he’d be an excellent bank robber. It’s good to know she can see his potential. I suggested Auggie could drive the getaway car.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Rejoice, For He Is Risen. And So Have The Dandelions.

Judging by the level of lawn mower noise going on this holy Easter morning, my “Good Christian” neighborhood is full of posers.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

A Tree Falls in Nifty's Yard

Spring, that season of bursting greenery which spurs an annual ride-on lawn mower extravaganza in my neighborhood. NISTFTSA, who I’ve decided to call Nifty for short, has begun his tradition of thrice weekly two-hour rides around his half-acre patch of paradise, rusty mower grinding up sticks and burping up stones. Nifty and the fam spend as little time as possible inside their dark, dingy house, preferring to camp out on their various backyard decks for six months of the year, blasting classic rock and watching the seasons change in their above-ground pool. One of Nifty’s dead pine trees just partially collapsed, sadly only onto his own chain link fence. I admit I was hoping it would fall into Creepetta & The Hamburglar’s yard, as that right there would have been some entertainment.

Creepetta, she of the disturbingly prominent mustache that fascinates Phartacus, knows every single blade of grass that belongs to her, and will not hesitate to tell you so. When I first moved here, she leaned over the chain-link to tell me that their fence person had put the fence in wrong, so those coneflowers I was watering should actually be hers. (We did eventually put in a 6ft wooden fence along the proper boundary in back, and the coneflowers were so aggrieved to find themselves in Creepetta’s care that they migrated under the fence back here the following season.) Soon after that, I briefly parked my car on the side of the road between our two driveways while we did some yard work, and she came over to ask me if I knew where my property boundary was, because I was parking in front of her property, and two of my tires were on the edge of her grass.  The coneflowers shook their heads knowingly.

Mind you, these people have four cars (including one that’s actually a peeling storage unit stuffed with Hefty bags) and two driveways, yet they will park beside one driveway, on the grass right up next to their house, in the middle of the lawn. But not on the edge of the road. Lord no.

We had a snowfall that first winter, and after The Mister cleared our driveway, he went over to shovel Creepetta’s. Couple hours later, she came home, saw the cleared driveway, and came knocking on our door to tell us that she was “extremely uncomfortable” that The Mister had done that, because they were not elderly and could shovel their own driveway. I told her not to worry, it sure wouldn’t happen again. Gossip came back to us that she’d told her pastor about “the incident”, worried we might have been trying to peek in their windows. Of course, you know what I’ve wanted to do ever since…

Next spring, we had a birthday party for wee Phartacus, and warned the guests not to park in front of Creepetta’s house. One of them parked across the street from her driveway, and we were in the middle of cake and presents when, guess what? Ding-dong. No one’s supposed to park over there, either. (Hey, guess what else? I wrote that before “The Wizard of Oz” started on TV, and as I type the Munchkins are singing, “Ding dong the witch is dead.” It’s as though the universe hears me.)

I used to feel sorry for Creepetta’s husband, The Hamburglar, who rides his mower wearing a black, large-brimmed hat and a hospital mask. But when we were putting in a front yard fence and connecting it to their chain link as agreed (this was before the 6ft privacy fence in the back; we could only afford to sequester in stages) he came marching over, puffing and ready for a fight, to insist we pay the fencers an extra $300 on the spot to put a gate in the connecting section, in case he wanted to access the tiny triangle of his grass for any reason.

A couple years later, it seemed that our post oak was infringing on their rights, and Creepetta came marching over to tell me about her prerogative to trim tree branches that extended into the air above her property. OK. I asked that I be notified when the trimmers were coming so that I could see what they were going to do. The next week, I came home to find great chunks of the tree lopped off, and all I could think was what she would have done if I’d plucked a blade of grass out of her lawn without her written permission.

So I was rather looking forward to the day when one of Nifty’s dead trees dared fall into Creepetta & The Hamburglar’s yard. Given their distinct proclivities, it could have been an episode of “Cops”. So disappointing. The good news is, plenty of other dead trees in Nifty’s yard.

Robble robble.
That's my grass patch, bitch.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


In my first post I said that I was going to try and focus on enjoying the delightful parts of The South and mock the rest. My focus here has been the mockery, but now’s where I make good and describe something I enjoy greatly (other than pork barbeque): my friend LJ.

I’ve heard it said that “eccentric” means weird with money. There’s truth to that, but I think LJ might be an exception.  LJ is a delightful mix of whimsy and Southern practicality. Her name is really Lila Jane; she says it’s a hick name but I think it matches her old-fashioned feminine looks. She’s got long chocolate curls, large hazel-flecked eyes, white skin, and a curvaceous (__!__). Her toenails are always painted and she has a high-pitched girlish giggle. I met her years ago at Mother’s Milk, where she thought I was a bitch and I thought she was a ding-a-ling. We later found that to be a match made in heaven, and cemented the friendship by exchanging endless emails of faux Harlequin romance excerpts.

Carissa quivered as Drake strode manfully toward her, his glistening chest muscles rippling with tension...

LJ bakes muffins and cakes and cookies, is afraid of high fructose corn syrup and the “bad” side of Splendaville, drinks Evan Williams whiskey, and says “fuck” a lot but is extremely offended by the term “goddamn”. She works off the cake and cookies by riding her kid’s Razor scooter around the neighborhood while singing. She doesn’t care what her neighbor thinks because she knows that neighbor has more kids than seatbelts, so what’s she gonna do?

When I was housebound with Saint JM awaiting surgery, LJ came over to keep me company. She arrived with a basket full of homemade biscuits and gravy, pumpkin scones, and peach moonshine. You’ve got to admire a friend like that. LJ perched on my sofa for several hours while we made elaborate plans for post-surgery tea parties and repainting a chest of drawers. We haven’t done those things, but it sure helped get through the winter, which I think is really the point.

Now, LJ has particular annoyances. One is people whose eyebrows have no arch. LJ’s brows arch delightfully, and when I told her about Brunhilde and the chin hairs, (goll-EE I'm having fun linking today) she said she plucks her eyebrows in the rearview mirror, but that public chin hair plucking is flat-out wrong. I assume the eyebrow grooming only happens when her car is stationary, since she’s also afraid of the interstate and breaks out in a glisten if she’s not home before dark.

Another vehicular annoyance of LJ’s is when people drive while eating chicken drumsticks. Really, any bone-in fowl. It’s OK to eat a sandwich or several Cadbury crème eggs, I'm told, but LJ says gnawing on chicken bone (particularly KFC ones, not sure why) while driving is “unseemly”. She’s seen people do it, which is why she knows.

LJ is fickle. She’s extremely supportive of friends. If I complain about being fat, she says with sweet sincerity that I DID just have a baby. Six years ago. Yet she keeps forgetting her appointments with one particular doctor because his nose bothers her. (I’ve seen it; it is pretty big.) She has great guilt about not getting regular religion, but she knows her stripper name is Frappity Bubbles.

She’s got to be one of the best things south of the Mason Dixon line, pork barbeque included. I think of her when I hear this song: Feist - Mushaboom

Monday, April 18, 2011

Library Lapse

I saw Vivien today at the Splendaville Library counter. I had one hand on Slappy, who was pillaging the sticker box in search of Transformers, dinosaurs, Iron Man, or pretty much anything other than Care Bears and My Little Pony, and my other hand was rummaging for my library card. Slappy had just been to the pediatrician after being booted out of school for pink eye, but not before Spring Picture Day, noooo. So those will be some nice shots; you know you have to pre-order them, don’t you? Right now I’m kind of wishing I’d ordered two sets of Grandma & Grandpa mugs.

I got the call from the school nurse on my way into the shower, so I scrapped that plan, threw on gray sweatpants and The Mister’s old military shirt, gathered my limp hair into a ponytail, and took my makeup-less self down to school and from thence onto a morning that had nothing to do with my carefully laid plans of sloth and gluttony. Though I certainly looked like I’d stuck with Plan A. For pretty much, years. I was half of a hot mess; you know which half.

I look up unawares from the library sticker box and encounter that pair of big, bright blue eyes gazing at me with an expression that suggests she has encountered a potentially rabid baboon holding a handful of shit. Vivi’s two little boys clung to her pant legs, goggling at the wide world filled with non-Baptist book readers, bottle-fed babies, and other reprobates.

Now I know that if I go to Walmart unwashed and unkempt, I will see all the people who discuss me at the Backwoods Baptist Wednesday night Bible study, but I thought that the library at noon on a Monday might give me a pass. So wrong, so very wrong. Here’s Miss Nine-Eleven Conspiracy Theory herself, eyeing Slappy with alarm in case unholy germs spring from his head like a pink-eyed Athena ready to spear good Evangelical children.

“Wale, haaaah Patsy,” crooned Vivi in a sugary timbre that set my ears ringing, “Is thayat lil Slappy? Mah he’s grown beeg.”

(“Why is that your little Ray-Erick? Ten already? It seems like only yesterday he was five years old, unbuttoning your shirt for a quick hit of ‘liquid gold’.” No I didn’t, but I thought it.)

At this point karma threw me a bone and I noticed that Vivi was also in a baggy sweat ensemble, and the hair on the left side of her head was mashed up against her skull as though she’d just sat up from a fraternity gang bang.

“Hi, Vivi. So wonderful to SEE you!” (to see you just as unwashed as my heathen ass)

We eyed each other with mutual distaste, exchanged buh-byes and I dragged ole Pink Eye out of there before he could touch Ray-Erick or his little brother and send them running for the Protestant-only bathroom.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

When You Pluck Your Chin Hairs in Public, I WILL Judge You

You know how there are some people you can tell you won’t like – before they’ve ever said a word to you – just on how they act? Sometimes I know things that way. That’s right, I pre-judge you if I hold the door open and you saunter through without saying thank you. I pre-judge if you loudly blab on your cell phone in the doctor’s waiting room or on the treadmill at the gym. (Because people who talk loudly in public are never saying anything worth eavesdropping on. I’d like a person who bellowed about their exciting family secrets or police records. But no, it’s always an exhaustive list of potential cat names or what they bought at the Porkly Workly manager’s special. So insensitive, boring people that way.) I pre-judge you if you hold up a whole line of cars because you had to stop right there at that double yellow line so you wouldn’t have to miss your turn or double back. I could go on – you know I could – but you get the idea.

The common theme for me is inconsideration. I’d have to say that all of my peeves boil down to that one trait. You leave your dog outside to bark all day while you’re at work or have your hearing aid turned off? Inconsiderate. Think you’re the self-appointed pace setter of the road and you’ll do 25 mph in the left lane neck-and-neck with a semi because The Bold and the Beautiful doesn’t start til two thirty or just because nobody has any business going faster than that? Inconsiderate. Do you butt into my conversation with the retail employee I’ve waited 10 minutes for just to ask “one quick thing” that takes several minutes and a call to management? Inconsiderate.

I have pre-judged the grandmother of one of Slappy’s classmates. She’s got a hulking physique, long bushy blonde hair that’s brighter than the first forsythia of spring, and is stuffed into an electric blue Ford Focus that is guaranteed to be in my way whenever I’m on school grounds. Last week she pulled away from school pick up, drove as far as the school’s entrance driveway, put on her right blinker, then apparently put it in park and opened her grandson’s backpack to read all the day’s happenings while a dozen cars waited behind her. If she’s the first one to the car line, she’ll only pull up as far as the “best” spot, right where the curb dips and the kids are let out, instead of pulling up to the beginning of the pick up area. Because you know how those five-year-olds hate to expend any more energy than they have to. God forbid they work off one of those Double Stuff Oreos she sent in because she’s that kind of suck up.

A couple of days ago, I arrived at school a little early from errands and there’s Brunhilde, parked in the sweet spot. As I pulled past, I saw that she was looking in her rearview mirror and plucking her chin with tweezers. MmmOkay, I could see noticing such things when one is alone, sitting in a car for half an hour with no social networking connection. Hey, maybe she gets there early just so she can attend to her beauty needs in the privacy of a schoolyard flooded with natural light. I don’t know, but after parking in front of her – at the beginning of the pick up area, thank you very much – and checking Facebook on my phone, I glanced up to the rearview mirror and she was still plucking. Sweet Jeebus, it must have been a chin hair emergency. Of course now I’m riveted and watch the whole grooming show. I guess she too was riveted by the sight of so many chin hairs glistening in the spring sunshine, because I can’t imagine doing that kind of thing in plain view of people you are certain to see again, yet the whisker work continued as cars pulled up all around her.

And I think that if you’re going to send Double Stuff Oreos on snack day and pluck your chin hairs in public and generally make a vehicular nuisance of yourself, for Pete’s sake make sure you do something spectacular at the end of the year picnic. Here’s to waiting and hoping.