Cell No!

Recently, during a discussion in our kitchen about the time-space continuum and dog farts, the topic of cell phones came up.  I hate them. I think they might have some use if I were back in Iowa, the western counties, and a blizzard was coming on as I drove into the great chasm between Varina and Odebolt, and it might be nice to let people know where I was in case the blizzard blew me into a ditch and covered me up. Barring that, I don’t see much point beyond chatting, and any male who likes to chat, and do so on a cell phone, needs to buy his underwear at Victoria’s Secret. I hate cell phones. However, I own one. Lisa bought me one for my birthday a while back and I am just now learning how to answer it. I carry it in my school bag where it usually stays, and does so in the OFF mode. I know how to send a call and how to receive it. For either, you just flip off (I mean flip open) the phone and push the button marked “STUPID.”

Anyway, Lisa and our younger daughter Rowe were putting together some baked goodies recently, but they had a problem. They were out of brown sugar. I volunteered to go to the store before the football game started. I am such a prince.

“Here, take your phone in case we forget something,” Lisa said, pushing it toward me from the kitchen countertop where it was plugged into an outlet, charging up.

I recoiled from the odious instrument. Pure instinct. It was like the time I came upon a copperhead on the foot path in the mountains. I said, “No, you guys write down exactly what you need and then I’ll be happy to go get it. Without the cell phone.”

“It won’t hurt you to take it, just in case,” Lisa said, scribbling down what else she needed.

“I would rather make three trips to the supermarket than answer one cell phone call.  In public. Make that four trips,” I said.

Lisa game me a look and I acquiesced.

As I reached for the vile thing, Rowe, who loves technology, said, “Let me show you some of the options, Dad.’

“I don’t want any options,” I said. For some reason, she thought that was funny.

When I got to the supermarket I considered leaving the phone in the car. That way, if they called, they could just leave a message and I could say, sorry, I just finished. Then I realized I did not yet know how to retrieve a message, so I slipped the phone in my jeans pocket and went inside. I shopped as fast as I could because I suspected, as a joke, Lisa and Rowe would give me a call. What fun to harass people about that which troubles them. I told them I did not like bells going off in my pockets, especially in public, but I still didn’t trust them.

I was making great progress on the list (cocoa, white flour, and brown sugar) until I got to the brown sugar. Lisa wanted the kind in the plastic bag and all I could find was the kind in a box. On top of that, she had not said what kind of brown sugar – dark brown, light brown, granulated, raw brown, sorta brown, fawn brown, sandalwood brown, faux brown – she wanted. This slowed me down. It also made my body itch all over because I was confident about the trick call allowing the people around me to mutter about the dork talking in the baking supplies aisle.

What to do?  What to do!  I paused, transfixed, in front of the sugar shelves.  If I could grab what she wanted and get out, maybe I’d get home before she and Rowe pull their little joke.

As I reached for the boxed light brown sugar to be used only on weekends by right-handed women of German-Scotch descent, my pocket jingled softly. At first I thought it was someone else because it had never happened to me before. When I realized it was for me, I retrieved the insidious device, flipped it open on the third try, pushed “STUPID” and said, “This better be good.”

It was my bride. “Baking SO-da,” she said.  “Add baking SO-da.”

“I got it,” I muttered. I pressed STUPID to END the message (END rhymes with SEND) avoided the glares of my fellow shoppers, whipped through the “10 Items or Less,” checkout, and sped home.

I hate cell phones.

Bather of the Cat

Image Mark Twain once said, “A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way.” I will build on that and say, you can learn things about a young cat by giving that feline it’s first bath that you can learn in no other way.

For example, I thought the extent of a wet cat’s physical reach was comparable to its reach when it is dry, or about 15 inches. That was a mistake. A wet cat’s physical reach when it is being given it’s introductory bath can reach all four walls and the ceiling in a medium-sized room. Simultaneously. And those itty-bitty velvet paws grow from the size of a silver dollar to that of a hubcap.

Perhaps you cat owners were wondering why on earth was I giving a cat a bath? Cats are clean, you might say. Cats bathe themselves. Cats are fastidious. Tru dat, but when those little representatives of Satan’s Empire stroll through poison ivy and then rub up against my wife, who is hypersensitive to poison ivy, and donate to her rash, blisters, and weeping sores, a bath for the cat is necessary. The doctor said.

And, since my wife is hypersensitive to poison ivy, the honor was bestowed upon me to become Bather of the Cat.

The cat objected. I had a good grip on her neck (oh, the possibilities missed!) and her two front legs while I lathered her up with Dawn. She reminded me that she had two more feet and they had talons that would make a vulture jealous.

I now have three slash marks on my left forearm that look like the logo from a can of “Monster” sports drink. They are not scratches. They are, to be accurate, rips. They will scar. They were deep. I bled as much as I did when I hit myself in the head with a baseball bat, which was more fun.

When it was time to dry off the little queen, my proximity to the microwave was enticing, but Lisa was overseeing and blocked my way.

But Lisa can’t always be around now, can she? Now, where is the little Princess? Here, kitty kitty kitty. . .

Fun with Femurs, Tattoos, Hospitals and Mark Twain

Recently, my wife broke her left leg. A displaced fracture, which means the two parts of the bone did not meet perfectly. The medical profession has a term for it. Discomfort. She had enough discomfort to be immediately admitted into a local hospital. They scheduled her for surgery the next day, less than 24 hours since her accident. The surgeons were expert and she is home and ahead of schedule on her rehab.

I was in the hospital, too, for those three days, and I have one observation to make. The room had a private bath, which was nice, but when I attempted to use the facilities, I lifted up the lid and guess what? Some joker had placed a thin strip of paper right over the middle of the commode. Other than considerable gymnastics to keep from breaking that ribbon of paper, I survived our stay.

To occupy my mind, I would occasionally stroll down the hallway. Each room had a frame outside the door with the patient’s name on a strip of paper in one slot and anything else pertinent to their care on another slight just below. There were instructions about food, special diets, and other elements of care. The slips of paper just slipped in and out easily, so, for the heck of it, I would go around and change the slips from one room to another.

Just for fun as she was emerging from surgery (which included placing a 7” steel rod in her left femur), we taped her comments as she awoke. Her observations were quite pointed and colorful; some would call them shocking. A wide variety of observations on specific people, health care professionals, and other Americana were offered extemporaneously. Until that time, I had never seen a nurse, never mind several nurses, blush.

I pulled a little prank on her, explaining that all surgical patients could receive a free tattoo while unconscious, and that we took up the offer of a freebie tat of the bust of Mark Twain. Winking. On a part of her body she could not see. Since she teaches English, it seemed appropriate. She was not initially pleased with that information.

The best thing coming out of surgery was her hearing the surgeon comment to the nurses that my beloved “has the musculature and bone density of a much younger woman.” I wrote that down and he signed it. The first step, and an enduring one, to complete mobility again.

Mulching My Way Back To You

Image     My wife, beautiful and brainy, almost always makes wise decisions.  I say “almost” because her discernment escaped once briefly when I proposed marriage, she agreed, I instantly offered a diamond ring, and she slid it on her finger, sealing her commitment to marry me forever.

In the years since, the word “commitment” periodically leaps into her mind, inevitably paired with “John.”  As it is with others; “damn” with “Yankee,” or “cruel” with “stepmother.”  Part of my commitment to her was the genial acceptance of “honey-do’s.”  For the uninitiated, a “honey-do” presents a gentle request from the fairer sex (Lisa) to the cruder sex (moi) to accomplish some simple task that will enhance connubial bliss.

A while back, a particular honey-do seemed simple – acquire a truckload of (FREE!) mulch from the city landfill to be used for establishing beds for a well-planned, lovely, privacy-providing plant-and-flower garden off our sun room.  No sweat.  Happy to comply.

I reserved an open day in early August to acquire and distribute the (FREE!) mulch while Lisa would be in meetings at her high school.  When she came home I would surprise her with a completed love offering.  Suspecting vigorous labor ahead, I ate a big breakfast.  After Lisa left, I rested, waiting for the landfill to open.  When I did stride out to my truck, I noticed that it seemed unusually hot for so early in the morning.

Being one who continues to woo his wife, I shrugged off the heat and hustled off to the county landfill.  Heat or no heat, a honey-do is a honey-do.  I joined a line of trucks and patiently waited with the radio on and the air conditioner thrumming coolness into the cab.  The man on the radio said, “Hoo-boy, but it’s gonna be a hot one! Maybe a record high!”  Then it was my turn to acquire the (FREE!) mulch.

Almost immediately there was a mistake.  The man operating the front-end loader mistook me for a Ford 350 and dumped approximately six metric tons of (FREE!) mulch into the bed of our little Nissan Frontier.  When the front wheels settled back down to earth, I eased away from the landfill and skated home with the a/c on high and the radio off.

Safely home, I unloaded (FREE!) mulch, interestingly, hot to the touch, so hot it exuded steam in (I learned later) 97-, then 98-degree heat.  I whistled while I worked, pleasantly productive, shoveling out the back end of the truck.  Delighted to be useful, pleased to be needed, I labored on for the next five hours, pausing more and more frequently to make sure I completed my task professionally, and to make the dizziness go away.

When I finished, I tottered to the truck and parked it out in front of the condo, slithered up the steps, and plunged myself into the air-conditioned interior of our residence.

Lisa was surprised, pleased, entranced with my efforts to help nudge her dream garden along.  She flashed mild alarm when she was forced to feed me at dinner because I could not raise my hands, but I fully recovered in forty-eight hours.

The next step waited coyly around the corner, peeking at me, beckoning with a delicate, feminine finger, innocently imploring me to acquire another load of vital material to feed future fragile flowers and bountiful bushes.


A warped rascal makes his introduction

I was born in Clinton, Iowa in July a long, long time ago when there were still a few of the smaller dinosaurs  (Procompsognathus, anyone?) scurrying about in the cornfields. I grew up weird, being told by a science teacher in 9th grade that I was "warped," which delighted my classmates, thus securing, on a scientific basis, future behaviors. In that same pivotal freshman year, I was also shown to the principal's office five times for what I would call "being a rascal" but he called it "being an incorrigible." The last visit provoked anger when, threatened to be sent to the State Training School for Boys in Eldora, I asked, innocently, "Do they have a basketball team?" My question went unanswered. In high school, my interest in college was discouraged by guidance counselors, who told me that, if I somehow got into a college, I would have to be a P.E. major. But I liked stories, which I was encouraged to write by Mr. Olson in Creative Writing class my senior year in high school. It all worked out. Also, in high school, I hit myself in the head with a baseball bat. (Don't think about that too much, please.) I earned some college degrees, served in the USAF in the Philippines and Massachusetts, and spent one year hitching around Europe and ending up on a kibbutz in Israel. I am thankful to the USAF for, through them, I met my long-suffering wife, Lisa, who is beautiful, brilliant, and gifted as a teacher. I mean, how would you like to teach 9th graders English all year long? Yet, she loves it and is successful as well, being a National Board Certified educator.

I have traveled in 43 states and 23 countries, fleeing sordid criminal records checks.

We have two grown daughters: Caitlin, a published history professor in New England; and Rowe, a published poet here in South Carolina. So, writing runs deep in our family. As for me, so do rejections. I've had dozens upon dozens, but I've also had the occasional published piece and a check in the mail from time to time. My work has appeared several times in Reader's Digest (including a First Person Award), McCall's, THE SIGN, Dynamic Years, Today's Health, Newberry Magazine and a couple of literary magazines: The Reedy River Review and The Mountain Laurel. I wrote a novel as part of a three-book monograph series for The National Institute of Mental Health (oh, the irony, for someone designated "warped" as a child!), entitled Son-up, Son-down. I also had the privilege of being a featured columnist in the Morganton (N.C.) News Herald and the Clinton (S.C.) Chronicle. Most of my stuff involves making fun of myself. There's just so much material.

I have to admit I'm excited about my forthcoming commercial fiction novel, Signs of Struggle, due out this coming autumn (autumn is a better word than "fall"). When it's ready for purchase, believe me, I'll let you know, and I'll post details along with a synopsis. The greatest influences on my writing, and my favorite authors? Mark Twain, Joseph Heller, Robert B. Parker, Ron Rash, Sherri Reynolds, and Marilyn Robinson pretty much tell the story.

Now, a word about the title of my blog, "Curly, Larry, and me." I love The Three Stooges. That should tell you something. Although I'm an English professor, I am not an intellectual, a scholar, or a grammarian. I just love stories and I love to write, and the college encourages me in that self-destructive behavior. And my tag line, "Don't ask the question if you can't stand the answer" comes to me from a former Green Beret and SWAT Team member who said that to me once and it stuck.

Enough for this post. I promise to write regularly, faithfully, and on occasion, warpedly. (I told you I am not a grammarian.) Tell your friends if you like my blog. I hope you will. More later.