I’ll admit it. When I was a teen, I used to be a bit of a gossip. My own self-esteem was so fractured after my merciless stint in middle school, I felt less “different” when I learned of others’ flaws, weaknesses and mistakes. A good gossip-mongering session made me feel included because everyone was doing it. Face it, most teenage girls are prattlers – vicious, fanged creatures who can tweet a libelous story about a frenemy faster than they can flip their hair and roll their eyes.
Thus, in high school, joining circles of prattling, adolescent girls while they shared secrets, rumors, and, frankly, big ass lies, seemed like a brilliant idea. After all, if the vipers were hissing about other people, they weren’t throwing shade in my direction. Nothing like the logic of the recently estrogen-infused.
Fortunately, I got older and, eventually, wiser, and learned that words can hurt, rumors can maim and lies can destroy lives. Talk about a paradigm shift for a blogger who calls herself Miss Snarky Pants. I could have been Perez Hilton if not for that pesky conscience of mine. Now granted, I make generalizations about people and take stabs at celebrities who deserve it because IT’S A HUMOR BLOG. Yes. That’s how humor blogs work. If it’s too edgy for you, please feel free to get your funny on by reading the “Laughter Is the Best Medicine” section of Reader’s Digest. Or, may I suggest, Breaking Amish.
And for every crack I make about Kanye “Officially-As-Narcissistic-As-Trump” West – who’ll become President when gravity turns out to be just a prank (What? The GOP thinks climate change is a Chinese conspiracy.) – I make at least ten digs about myself. After all, I’m uber-comfortable with the whole self-deprecation thing. Why? Because when I poke fun at myself, I’m not hurting anyone else. And with my muffin top, I barely feel the stick, anyway.
As I grow as a writer and a person, I sometimes wonder if I’ll outgrow snark. Then I slap myself and come to my senses. Still, I continue to learn from others’ behavior and, predominantly, my own mistakes. I note what hurts, who it hurts and why it hurts. Each day, I find myself a hair more compassionate and a freckle more thoughtful.
Very recently, I ached for someone else because of gossip. A tidbit, anyway.
After all, let’s not be ridiculous. I still luuuuurvve me some gossip. I won’t lie. I often kid, “I don’t repeat gossip, so listen carefully the first time.” However, in reality, when it comes to the rumor-mongering game, I’m a catcher, not a pitcher. I don’t like to spread gossip and I despise the idea of disseminating lies, but I love information. Information is, well, information. I thrive on knowledge, even if it’s just the ingredients in my cereal. I will, sometimes, share my personal stories about a person with another because, to me, it’s not gossip; it’s part my experience and may have impacted the person I am – or was. It may explain why I like or dislike a person. Or it may be something the recipient of the information really should know.
For example, If Gary Busey tries to chat you up at a film festival…run. Fast. Here’s why. Trust me, this is info a person needs if he or she going to be within a 50-mile radius of that lunatic. However, the older I get, the more carefully I choose the stories and with whom I share them. I often leave out gossipy tidbits, that while juicy or lascivious, aren’t necessary, because the harm they could do outweighs their benefit.
Recently, I wish someone had done the same. I was talking with an acquaintance – we’ll call her, Blair – who shared some, erm, intimate information with me about a mutual friend, whom we’ll call, Serena. Unsolicited, I might add. I can say without fingers crossed that I neither expected the salacious detail, nor particularly enjoyed it, but I made a joke…because that’s what I do. Particularly, when I’m uncomfortable. Blair wasn’t gossiping, at first. She simply shared a personal story about her relationship with Serena. Then an opinion. And then came, the tidbit. Oh, the tidbit. I could have done without that tidbit in the same way I could have done without peritonitis after my gallbladder surgery.
The problem with that snatch of private information is that it was like butt implants on Kim Kardashian – completely unnecessary. It didn’t enhance the story, nor did it garner Blair any empathy from me. Instead, it made me sad. Sad for Serena – who is a person I care about. Sad that I now know something I can’t forget, but I feel is wrong for me to know. It’s the information a pervert gains while peeking through a hole in your blinds. The car accident you can’t unsee, even years later. It’s a tidbit that I know would embarrass Serena – if she knew that I knew. And it’s not a shameful thing. Not at all. However, it’s a personal one. And I made a joke because I didn’t know what to do, in that moment.
That was shameful.
In retrospect, I should have said something, like, “Hey, didn’t need to know that!” or “That’s uncool.” In the jumble of it all, I didn’t. No, I spurted out a pithy statement that summed up the whole thing and elicited a laugh. The problem with my behavior is that I inadvertently encouraged Blair’s tattling. I rewarded her indiscretion with a quip, when I should have discouraged her revelation, because its harm most definitely outweighed its benefit. The tidbit changed nothing about Blair’s truth. It didn’t encourage me to upgrade her from acquaintance to friend status. If anything, I knew then that my words would forever be guarded in her presence.
It also made me want to apologize to Serena and give her a big hug. But I can’t do that because I know something I shouldn’t know. And it would be totally weird if I suddenly showed up on her doorstep and gave her a bear hug just because it’s Tuesday. So I’m sending this embrace out into the universe and hoping it lands, warm and tight, around Serena.
Blogging about yourself can be a freeing experience. You’re shedding your mistakes, your embarrassing moments – and your shameful ones – in front of the entire world. You’re coming clean. You feel honest. Still, honesty has a price. It’s not fair when someone else has to pay it, in the blogsphere or in real life.
So, today, I learned something. And while I’m a hair more compassionate and a freckle more thoughtful, I’m still sad – and I don’t feel the slightest bit wiser.
This winter, Miss Snarky Pants had a migraine for four months. Writing – and worse, editing – with a headache that lasts longer than a session of Congress is a hell reserved for someone much worse than myself (no, really, there’s this guy in Omaha), so I thought I’d spare you (but, mostly, me) the misery. Instead, I focused on my new, erm, hobby: Snarky Threads!
I know. Who gets a mega migraine and ends up with a hobby? Handwork, like cutting and embroidering, is incredibly soothing – and doesn’t require the intense constant thought that writing demands, except during the initial design process. I’d begun playing with the idea of working with wool felt and creating high-quality, but funky, fun designs – products I wanted to see in stores…but wasn’t. Day of the Dead. Steampunk. Whovian. Nerd chic.
All the work is completely hand-done – the cutting, the embroidery, the beading, the felt flowers – so it’s not a quick process, but every piece is a new adventure. I use high-quality 20% and 35% wool felt for the base pillows, which is much softer and durable than the craft felt you made ugly things out of when you were a kid. C’mon, they were ugly. The pom pom and felt panda bear ornaments I made in Girl Scouts looked like interracial snowmen with testicular cancer.
Take a peek at some of my designs and let me know what you think.
Unless you hate them. In that case, move along. Nothing to see here. This is not the Comment Box you’re looking for.
P.S. All photos are the exclusive property of Miss Snarky Pants. 🙂
P.S.S. Now comment away. I can’t wait to hear what you guys think of my little endeavor.
It’s true. I’ve denied it for years, not because I was ashamed of being a hypochondriac, but because I didn’t think the word applied to me. Why? Miss Snarky Pants, with all of her books, her degrees, her 4-year reign as FCS’s Spelling Bee Champion – don’t be a hater! – never bothered to look up the friggin’ word in a dictionary. Nope, I determined its meaning from overhearing its usage in every day speech. My parents, for example, used the word a lot, and, come to think of it, slewed their eyes towards me whenever they uttered it. For all these years, I’d been operating under the delusion that a hypochondriac was a person who believed they had many illnesses, when, in fact, they did not.
Color me red when I discovered the error of my ways. The cornerstone upon which the entire foundation of who I am and what I believe was crushed when I Googled hypochondriac, only to discover that Dictionary.com defines it as “an excessive preoccupation with one’s health, usually focusing on some particular symptom, [sic] as cardiac or gastric problems.” For a moment, I thought, That’s not me. I usually think I have cancer. I’m not worried about my heart…except for when I can feel its beat pulsing in my temples, and then I’m certain I’m suffering an aneurysm. Hey, it could happen. And my gastric problems are real. You can’t fake diarrhea.
I scrolled down to the second definition: a person who worries or talks excessively about his or her health. Crap! I couldn’t deny it. My health sneaks its way into every conversation I have these days. I get asked, “How are you feeling?” more often than Taylor Swift gets asked, “Who are you going to write a nasty song about next week dating?” For example, today while I was warning my outdoorsy neighbor about the recent mosquito-borne pathogen outbreak in Florida, she blurted out, “What the hell is dengue fever?” However, her next question was “How’s your stomach feeling?” This woman has never even used my bathroom, but she’s knows that my bowel has been distressed lately.
And yes, I’m terrified that I’m going to contract dengue fever. Why?
(1) Eight cases have been reported in Florida in the last few weeks, in two counties: Martin and Miami-Dade. Granted, I don’t live in either of those counties, but mosquitoes can fly. Fly! They aren’t constrained by the nightmarish gridlock on I-4 as families squeeze in a pre-Labor Day Disney visit. No, mosquitoes view that arterial roadway as, well, an actual artery. Moreover, the Aedes aegypti, the species of mosquito that typically carries the virus, prefers human blood to that of other mammalians. Did I mention that only the breeding females transmit the disease? Mothersuckers!
(2) Iknow someone who contracted dengue fever while in Central America. Obviously, the disease isn’t all that rare. His case was so severe, he prayed to God for death. And he’s an atheist.
(3) When it comes to mosquitoes, my blood is a bottle of 1945 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild Jeroboam. No, make that a FREE bottle of 1945 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild Jeroboam. Yeah, I had to Google that, but it doesn’t make it any less true. Their lust for my blood culminates almost daily in a feeding frenzy that’s convinced me that no vampire could ever resist me. Take that, Bella Swan.
(4) I’m an unlucky person. Sort of. In my mind, most of the good things that have happened to me in life resulted from hard work and perky breasts, not good fortune.
The problem is that I’m a recovering attorney, and my mind operates in a very specific way. When I assess that there is a threat within a 500 mile or so radius, I scour the Internet for evidence to support or dismiss that threat. After reading dozens of articles, blogs, Wikipedia entries, and a couple of double-blind, random, placebo-controlled studies, and determining that the threat is valid, I then begin comparing the disease’s list of symptoms with my current ailments. Dengue fever sufferers, for example, may expect fevers as high as 106 F, severe headaches, body rash, joint and muscle pain so draconian it can cause contortions, nausea, vomiting, eye pain, and minor bleeding from the gums and nose.
My gums bled this morning when I brushed my teeth. My lower back is killing me and I’ve had recurrent abdominal distress for over two weeks. Someone’s tap dancing on a nerve directly behind my left eye, as I write. I could be dying. But the only doctor I’ve seen in months is my chiropractor.
Why? Because I don’t really believe I have, or am going to catch, dengue fever, but the chance exists. In law, you might call it reasonable doubt or preponderance of the evidence. If there is any reasonable doubt that I could be bitten by an infected mosquito, then I have to take the necessary precautions to make sure that neither I, nor Hubby, my family, all my FB friends, all my Twitter friends, all the friends whom I’ve actually met, the lady in front of me in the checkout line who looks like she has a weak immune system, and each and every one of my adoring blog readers, contract dengue fever. Does that make me a hypochondriac or just a concerned citizen who believes that Benjamin Franklin was correct when he wrote, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”? C’mon, he nailed the whole electricity thing. The dude had mad smart skills.
Call me a hypochondriac, but it won’t stop me from hiding indoors after dusk for the next couple of months. After all, I live in one of the warmest, wettest places in the country, and that doesn’t take into account Tampa’s strip clubs, which are a hot mess all on their own. My yard breeds mosquitoes the way those Duggars spawn children. Our 1920’s bungalow rests on bricks stacked a foot high – and, based on the bites that pepper my calves and ankles – the dark, sweltering space below it is probably the largest Aedes aegypti neonatal unit in Florida.
Today, I’ll be calling our local mosquito control center and requesting that they do a drive by drenching. Likewise, thrice-daily DEET baths, and mesh body armor after dark are probably in order. I’ve considered sending Hubby outside 5 to 10 minutes ahead of me as a decoy of sorts, but that would involve stepping over a serious moral line. One I’d readily cross (hey, his immune system has my lymph nodes mounted on wooden plaque hanging on its wall), but those pesky, little bloodsuckers won’t touch him. It’s like his mother bottle-fed him a diet of Off! mixed with Skin So Soft. I thought spouses were supposed to have each other’s backs, but mine won’t even donate a pint of blood.
Prevention is the key to beating hypochondria. If I’m not bitten by a mosquito, I won’t worry that my headache is indicative of blistering fevers and aching muscles to come. Or, if I don’t leave the house until Thanksgiving. Or if I temporarily move to Antarctica.
Plus, I have bigger concerns. Did you know that spices can carry salmonella? The FDA will be releasing a study that shows that 15% of coriander, 12% of both basil and oregano, and 4% of regular ol’ peppercorns imported to the United States are contaminated with the potentially-deadly virus. Americans are particularly at risk because we tend to add pepper to our food after it is cooked – and the heating process is what destroys the salmonella virus.
Now ask yourself, Have I sprinkled a little fresh, ground pepper to my food recently? When did the chef add that coriander to my curry? What about the basil I use in my homemade Italian vinaigrette?
Now who’s the hypochondriac?
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While discussing the topic of dishonesty with a friend who chronicles the unbelievably funny and charming things her toddler, Alice, says in the course of everyday life in her brilliant and wonderfully concise blog, the book of alice, the topic of first lies (not first lays, you pervs!)arose. Of course, there are two kinds of first lies: (1) the one your mother will remember forever – since her heart shattered just a little that day upon discovering that you were well on your way to becoming a full-fledged heathen – but you won’t recall it because parents don’t typically beat you until you’re at least four or five; and (2) the one you remember – probably because you got your bottom whipped or at least got sent to the “naughty chair” for engaging in the deception.
As a person who is guilt-wracked when I commit the most minor of offenses, my first lie haunts me much in the same way that Scrooge was plagued the chain-rattling Jacob Marley. Due to a move to Miami early in my sixth year, I joined Mrs. Cupman’s first grade class about nine weeks into the semester, at which point I was introduced to the dreaded, blue plaid parochial school jumper paired with a baby blue, Peter Pan-collared blouse beneath. Stiff and most certainly interwoven with steel threads, the tartan fabric was made to withstand Florida’s hurricanes, falls from the monkey bars and daily instructions to sit in the lotus position on the school’s concrete sidewalks. It is rumored that the needle used to sew our jumpers was actually a long, sharpened diamond mined from Chuck Norris’ bone marrow, though I hear the current method of construction involves lasers and cold fusion. Regardless, I understand that my voluminously-pleated uniform came with accessory tent states and a portable Coleman grill.
Despite the relative strength of the blue tartan and the fact that it was so dense it could have been used to make black out curtains during WWII, my mother insisted that I don a silky, white half-slip trimmed in lace beneath my uniform. An avid comic book reader as a child, my mother may have been operating under the belief that the x-ray glasses advertised in the back of her cherished copies of Casper the Friendly Ghost really worked and that some pervy boy in my class possessed a pair. Though talkative, I was still a bit shy as “the new girl,” but managed to befriend another kid who resembled me in every way. Long light-brown hair with bangs. Check. Gap in smile from missing front teeth. Check. Female. Duh. Scrawny with bony knees and a thin, pixie-like face. Check. Michelle quickly became my best friend. I believe the conversation went something like this:
Michelle: So, you’re new, huh?
Me: Yeah. And I have a puppy. Her name is Daisy. And I have a cat, too – named Pumpkin, but she doesn’t really look anything like a pumpkin. She looks like she stepped in paint. And she scratches. (Holding out my arm.) See. And my parents are divorced, but they’re getting married again. And I’m gonna be the…
Michelle: If you stop talking, I’ll be your best friend.
Me: For how long?
Michelle: I dunno. Forever.
Me: I can’t stop talking for the rest of my life. I’ll get in trouble when Mrs. Cupman calls roll and I don’t answer. And then there’s reading class…
Michelle: No, just shut up for a little while. I’ll be your best friend forever.
Me: (Lips pursed together tightly, I nod in agreement.)
With over two months of first grade under her belt, Michelle was a pro and she clued me in on all the vital information a newbie like me would need to know in order to succeed in this initial year of my education.
First rule: Never buy the school lunch. Even if the best your mom had in the fridge was a shriveled apple and a lettuce and mustard sandwich, you were to demand that she wrap it up in a paper bag and bring it to school. Unlike in kindergarten, bathroom breaks were not a right, but a strictly-scheduled privilege – and to eat the school meatloaf was to risk soiling one undies, not to mention gaining the nickname, “Poopy Pants” for the duration of the school year.
Second Rule: Do not commit any capital offenses. In first grade, capital offenses were amorphous crimes, and, at Westwood Christian School, could include: taking the Lord’s name in vain, hitting, spitting, biting, kicking, sassing back, lying, cheating, stealing, failing to follow the line leader, calling the line leader a “passive-aggressive bitch,” and kissing. The latter was rumored to cause everything from pregnancy to hiccups that would never go away. Ever. However, my resulting avoidance of kissing had nothing to do with my prevailing fear of never-ending hiccups, but the punishment doled out by Vice Principal, Mrs. McCranie. A meaty woman with cold, squinty eyes emphasized by her metal, cat-eye glasses, I’m pretty sure her sole responsibilities at the school involved yanking students away from the water fountain by their collars if they drank too long, and wielding The Paddle. A medieval torture device carved from wood and drilled with multiple holes in order to ensure that no amount of oxygen could wend its way between it and the bared butt of a young child, The Paddle was discussed only in hushed tones. Tales of surviving Mrs. McCranie and her paddle were legendary. Those who returned to class from her Chamber of Horrors office, often became mute for months, staring vacantly at the wall with the eyes of someone who’d looked death in the face – and now wanted only to behave and graduate on to a nice office job, perhaps in accounting
Third Rule: Avoid the boys who practice the art of “picking and sticking” – a.k.a. the removal of one’s boogers with one’s fingers from one’s nose and then the act of sticking said boogers onto the exposed skin of the nearest female student. Without a doubt, the list of infamous “pickers and stickers” was crucial, memorized, then chewed and swallowed. Why? Because Michelle told me to and she was a Ms. Bossy Britches. Still, to this day, you’ll never catch me anywhere near John Nealy.
Despite my burgeoning friendship with Michelle, my efforts to chummy up with the rest of my classmates were largely rebuffed. The only exception was a fat boy (I really wish I could say he was just chubby or husky, but that would be a corporal offense) named Ronald who made a habit of deliberately missing his school bus once he laid his eyes on my mother. Back in the day, she was a hottie; if not a prude when it came to her daughter’s attire. Poured into a pair of skin-tight cut-offs and a tube top, Mom was a long, tall drink of Southern iced-tea in a pair of platform heels. Tanned the old-fashioned way with waist-length, Marsha Brady hair and the face of a fashion model, she was the center of attention the second she arrived in the pick-up line, driving our sparkly purple dune buggy. Ronald was a goner. Once he discovered that we lived nearby, he began missing the bus regularly and pawning rides off my mother, who allowed him – much to my dismay – to sit in the front seat, where he had an eagle eye view of her golden-brown stems. This mutual affection for my mom – though mine was based not on transportation and sheer lust, but on a desire to be fed, bathed and clothed at appropriate intervals – served as a sort of bond between Ronald and me for the next four years. And despite the fact that Ronald’s primary interest in me was as a source of information about my mother and her likes – her favorite color, her favorite number, her favorite television show – it was still interest.
Which brings me to the ominous day that I became a liar. The afternoon had begun inauspiciously. I’d inhaled my cheese sandwich, thrown my apple into the garbage as I always did, and relished my Tupperware bowl of chocolate pudding. After recess, Michelle and I had returned to our seats in the classroom – mine directly behind hers – and we’d begun our studies in mathematics, focusing on the whole adding and subtracting phenomena that was to eventually captivate the nation. As I stared inattentively at the alphabet chart strung above the green chalkboard, my jumper skirt inadvertently slid upwards, revealing the lacy hem of my slip. Behind me and to my right, I heard the boys, chuckling. Someone hissed, “Yeaaaay,” under his breath. Glancing around, I realized that at least six pairs of eyes were focused on my thigh and my exposed bit of nylon. Finally, a taste of what my mother experienced every day of her life – the admiration of the male species. Except, I didn’t particularly care that they were boys; I just wanted attention. Ignored for several weeks now, I craved to be the center of anything.
Realizing that it was the bright whiteness of my nylon slip against the starkness of my pristine jumper that was causing the ruckus, I casually crossed my legs and allowed my elbow to rest against the starched plaid fabric. Shifting my arm backwards a bit and sliding my jumper with it, I allowed a few more inches of my slip to glow in the flickering, overhead lighting. More snickering. More eyes – some of which now belonged to girls whose mouths dropped open in delighted, faux shock. The boys exhaled a collective sigh. Like my mother, I was incredibly naïve. Apparently, I thought my teacher was both deaf and blind – in my defense, she was pretty old – and wouldn’t notice that my skirt was slowly easing its way up towards my hipbones, at the encouragement of the entire class. Except for Michelle. Directly in front of me, she was clueless as to the shenanigans going on behind her.
“Now, who can tell me what four plus four equals?” Mrs. Cupman asked, turning her kind, lined face towards her pupils. As she scanned her students’ faces, she slowly realized that their attention was not on addition, but on subtraction – namely, the subtraction of my uniform from my sexy, lacy slip. “Cristy Carrington!” she shrieked, her face taking on the wailing, pained quality of the figure in The Scream. As her hands clutched at her cheeks, she demanded to know, “Are you showing your slip to the boys?”
It was a question for which there was only one obvious answer. I didn’t hesitate. I didn’t think. “No!” I replied. “Michelle did it.” In the split second it took for me to become a liar (No!), I also became Judas betraying Jesus with a kiss (Michelle did it.). I was Abigail Williams in The Crucible accusing Goody Osborne of witchcraft, when I was the one who had danced naked around the fire in the woods and communed with spirits. I can’t explain it. I can’t justify it. My gut reaction was to deny, deny, deny, then attribute blame. I’m willing to bet I could have been admitted to law school on this act alone. In the single moment it took to be accused of the crime, I had realized that Michelle and I resembled one another. Perhaps the near-sighted, Mrs. Cupman would believe that Michelle had committed the dreaded sin of slippery, instead of me, I’d thought. My best friend became a mere pawn in my sophisticated game of deception – one to which I might have been new, but one which I inherently understood. Michelle was my scapegoat, and to this day – I swear it happened in slow motion – as if my treason had somehow hindered Time itself. Michelle’s long hair splayed out, fan-like, as she whirled around to face me, confusion in her blue eyes. Behind her, Mrs. Cupman’s head shook back and forth slowly, as if she’d never encountered such a villainous Jezebel. And such a dumb one – considering I was the only girl in the class wearing a slip.
As the realization dawned on me that my lie, coupled with my false accusation, had only worsened my situation, I dropped my eyes from Michelle’s steady, injured gaze and into my lap. I slid my plaid skirt towards my knees. My slip was no longer in sight, but Mrs. Cupman’s vision was also no longer in question. I’d been caught. And if kissing was a capital offense, certainly showing the entire class your slip – something that was, in the Seventies, considered part of your underwear – was worse. Much worse. I half-expected that the black and white linoleum flooring would open up to reveal an escalator headed only one way – down – to Hell. The other half of me was worried that my class would suddenly erupt in a harmony of hiccups that would last much longer than my friendship with Michelle.
In the end, it was my rear end that suffered the most. Pentecostals love their corporal punishment. Mrs. McCranie made short work of my poor Granny-panty clad rump. Had my parents been sufficiently angry – the note from my teacher that accompanied me home didn’t help – my butt would have been thoroughly tenderized and ready for roasting. Luckily, as I was a generally honest child, my parents’ bought my story: the slip incident was an accident. I simply hadn’t realized that my skirt was bunched up around my waist. It happens. To prostitutes. And girls on Spring Break. And as I’d never been accused of a school infraction in the past, I’d made a mistake and tried to place the blame on someone else. I regretted it. And I really did.
Though Michelle and I remained friends, it wasn’t forever and it was never quite the same. Not that it mattered. My ballsiness earned me the respect of my classmates and I enjoyed their friendship for the next four years. Yet here I am – thirty-seven years later – relating my guilt surrounding this event to a friend from the blogosphere. For me, the lie isn’t nearly as bad as the betrayal. Michelle, if you’re out there, I’m sorry. Then again, if you’d also been wearing a slip, I probably would have argued that you were the trollop of Mrs. Cupman’s first grade class until the end, challenged my teacher’s vision, and requested a change of venue based on the fact that Mrs. McCraine was biased as she had pulled me away from the water fountain only one week prior using a hank of my hair instead of my collar. Clearly, I would one day become a lawyer and, soon thereafter, would feel really guilty about it.
In Miami, it’s practically impossible to grow up surrounded by anything but diversity. My family moved there when I was six, but I first discovered I wasn’t in Kansas (okay, Sarasota) anymore when I noticed that many of our neighbors in our new apartment complex had nailed skinny, metal plates with strange lettering painted on them in their doorways at crooked angles. The OCD side of me wanted badly to straighten them, but they were clearly meant to be that way. Either that or they’d all hired a handyman with balance issues to hang what I later discovered to be their mezuzahs.
Until we moved to Miami, I’d never known a Jewish person. I’d known two midgets – both of whom had appeared in The Wizard of Oz, a dwarf and a girl who’d worn braces on her legs, but that was as interesting as it had ever gotten for me. No black people. No Latinos. No Asians. No Indians (dot, not feather). I didn’t eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich until I was fully five years old. Clearly, I’d been sheltered. Of course, having been raised in the Assemblies of God church, I knew of Jews. Theywere God’s chosen people. As far as I was concerned, the Jews received all kinds of special treatment from God, while us “Born Agains” were the red-headed step-children of the world.
Of course, it took some time for me to discover that these nice people with whom my parents socialized and with whom I played in the pool, were different from me in any way. They looked the same. Except for the occasional foreign-sounding word, they sounded the same. In fact, they spoke more like me than my German grandmother, who peppered every sentence with words like hündchen and danke schön and bitte and auch du liebe. Unlike Grandma, all of our adult Jewish friends read The Miami Herald, rather than a newspaper written in a foreign tongue. Not to say that I didn’t pick up a little Yiddish. In fact, I was the only first grader at Westwood Christian School who, when something went wrong, often shrugged her shoulders and said, “Oy vey.” With a New Jersey accent, courtesy of Mrs. Schwartz in 3B.
As I discovered our differences, it became immediately apparent that they were minor. Some of our holidays were different, but it didn’t stop us – kids and adults alike – from dressing up for Halloween every year or celebrating one another’s birthdays. The introduction of Matzo ball soup into our diet was no stranger to me than I’m sure the butter and sugar sandwiches – a nod to my mother’s European heritage – was to them. The only truly distinguishing characteristic I could make out between my family and our Jewish friends was the fact that they seemed to possess no interest in converting others to their religion. Jews, apparently, didn’t recruit.
Protestant Christians make the U.S. Army look like amateurs when it comes to recruiting. “Be All That You Can Be” just can’t compete with “Become A Christian Or Burn In Hell For All Eternity.” Sure, the Army’s got the GI Bill and on-the-job-training, but compare that to eternity in a mansion encrusted with diamonds and precious stones and streets paved in gold surrounded by angels playing harps, and, suddenly, free college tuition in exchange for risking your life for several years doesn’t seem like such a bargain. During chapel at school, we were urged to share the gospel with our non-believing friends because we didn’t want them to spend an infinite number of years screaming from the pain of hellfire and brimstone raining down on them, now did we? Born with an innate sense of guilt that any Jewish mother would have been proud of, I bore the weight of the world upon my shoulders on a daily basis as it was. To add the fate of my friends’ immortal souls to that mix was unbearable. I had to lighten the load.
At the time, my closest friend was a pretty, raven-haired girl, we’ll call Simone. Half Jewish, the future of her soul concerned me more than some of my other friends in the apartment complex because her dolls were always naked. Barbie – naked. Even worse, Ken – naked. Absolutely shocking, Donny and Marie – naked and sometimes lying on top of each other. It’s not like they didn’t have clothes, she just didn’t choose to dress them in them very often.
Playing dolls at her apartment was like witnessing the Biblical Sodom and Gomorrah over and over again. When we’d play Barbies, in my head, my Ken doll – his red bathing suit having never been removed since it was delivered to me factory-fresh – was Lot, Malibu Barbie was his wife, and Skipper and the Bionic Woman were his two daughters. Once poor “I’m-a-little-bit-country” Marie Osmond had been mounted by one of several paramours, including her brother and The Bionic Man, my dolls would turn their backs to the plastic orgy, climb The Twin Bed Mountain and wander off into the wilderness of Simone’s Wonder Woman bedspread. Being the Christian that I was, I didn’t even allow Malibu Barbie to glance back longingly at the brimstone falling down on the heads of her comically-proportioned, nude girlfriends. I mean, she was my best Barbie. It would have done none of us any good if she’d turned into a pillar of salt. Of course, back then I didn’t realize that Lot’s two daughters later got him drunk so that they could have incestuous relations with him. They didn’t teach that part of the story in Sunday School.
Though I was now seven, I had not yet developed the savvy conversion techniques possessed by our pastor. However, I’d listened carefully in church and I knew what selling points had worked on me. Still, this would be my first attempt at witnessing as they called it. What if I flubbed it? Would Simone give me a second chance to win her soul for God’s army of Christian soldiers? Inexperienced as I was, I became determined to save my friend’s precious, immortal soul. After all, if I didn’t, who would I play naked Barbies with in Heaven?
One afternoon, as we sat in front of my wooden dollhouse amusing ourselves with my Barbies (dolls that were between nine and thirteen inches high, plastic and not of the baby variety were collectively called Barbies then), all of which were fully-clothed (my apartment, my rules), it became apparent to me that I couldn’t put it off any longer. Simone, despite my warnings, undressed Malibu Barbie, presumably so the doll could take a bath in the pink whirlpool tub my parents had given me for my birthday the year prior. Making the situation even worse was the fact that the tub was located on the third floor of the dollhouse – in the master bedroom. And who do you think was seated in that room, on the bed, his head turned so that he stared directly at the plastic, jetted bathtub? Ken. Who’s mouth was practically salivating in anticipation of seeing Malibu Barbie’s uncovered boobies and hoo hoo? Ken. Who was being corrupted by a seven-year-old Jezebel intent upon bringing sin into my dollhouse? Ken. Poor, fully-dressed in a winter coat in the middle of April, celibate Ken.
As Simone plopped the naked and voluptuous blonde into the tub, I handed her a miniature bikini. “Put this on her,” I said firmly.
“But she’s taking a bath.”
“No, she’s soaking. Our parents don’t get naked in the Jacuzzi.” I could feel my nostrils flaring and my chest turning splotchy and red, a signal that I was becoming uncomfortable.
“That’s because the Jacuzzi’s outside,” Simone said, a smirk overtaking her perpetually-tanned face. “This one’s inside their bedroom.”
Oh. As if that explained everything. As if nakedness was okay just because it was confined to the walls of a plywood room intended for sleeping. Simone had a lot to learn and there was no time like the present. God forbid she should die in a horrible car accident the following day; certainly she’d end up sitting on the right hand of the devil, little horns sprouting through her shiny, dark bob and a long, red, spiked tail emerging from you-know-where and curling around her ankle. So, right then and there, I shared my secret with her.
Blinking back my tears, I confided, “Simone, I’m very concerned about you.”
“Why?” she asked, discarding the blue and white bathing suit I’d handed her moments earlier into a pile of doll-sized clothes.
With two fingers, I plucked from the mess of clothes, the red one-piece that Malibu Barbie had worn the day she arrived under my Christmas tree two years prior. Tossing it at Simone, I casually said, “Because if you continue on this way, you’re going to burn in a lake of fire in Hell for all eternity.” I looked pointedly at the crimson bathing suit, now resting on her thigh, and then at the naked doll, who I’m sure was mortified to be stared at by Ken in a way that must have made her feel objectified.
The young girl’s forehead creased and I swear she snickered. “No, I’m not.” Snatching the bathing suit up, she folded it into the palm of her hand and tightened her fingers into a fist, before releasing her grip and allowing the crumpled bit of nylon to fall back into the pile from whence it had come. Clearly, fear-mongering wouldn’t work with this one. I doubted she’d ever become a Republican.
Okay, I’d take another tack. “Yeah, you will. But that’s fine. I mean, I just thought you’d like to hang out with me in my mansion.”
One eyebrow cocked skeptically, Simone retorted, “You don’t own a mansion.” But she hesitated. She waited. I’d caught her interest.
“I will. When Christians go to Heaven, they each get one,” I said, conveniently leaving about the part about dying first.
“Says who?” Simone was as tough as a vanilla wafer that had fallen between the sofa cushions and remained undiscovered for months.
Rolling my eyes as though the answer were obvious, I answered, “Jesus.” The name prompted a blank stare from Simone. “You know, the Son of God.” This earned me a half-hearted shrug of her sun-kissed shoulders. Sighing deeply, I dutifully recited: John 14:2. ‘In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.’ I was so certain and dogmatic in my belief system as a second-grader in the Seventies, I’m glad I wasn’t born in another place and at another time – like Russia during the Bolshevik Revolution. I’d have been running around handing out pamphlets and quoting The Communist Manifesto.
“Huh?” Simone said, her eyes widening. I’m not sure if her confusion was because another seven-year-old was quoting scripture or if she just had no idea what I was talking about. Looking back now, I realize that they only thing separating me from Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction at that particular moment was the absence of a gun and an afro. Perhaps it wasn’t confusion in her eyes, but terror.
“It’s from the New Testament.”
“What’s that?” she asked, her eyes never leaving my face. I’m also pretty sure scooted back a little, putting a good foot of green shag carpeting between the two of us.
“It’s part of The Bible,” I said incredulously. “It’s the sequel to the Old Testament.” Finally, Simone’s head nodded in recognition. “Anyway, that’s not important. What’s important is that when Christians go to Heaven they each get a mansion and the streets are paved with gold and there are diamonds and rubies and sapphires, like, everywhere. Even the gates are made completely of pearls.”
My friend’s eyes grew even larger and her lips formed a perfect “O.” Fear had been replaced with good old fashioned greed.
“And you get crowns. Jeweled crowns.” I vaguely remembered the pastor saying something about crowns. “And princess dresses and a pony.” Now I was just making stuff up, but deep in my heart, I was certain that God wouldn’t give me diamonds, yet refuse me a Shetland pony. What kind of Heaven would that be? And He sure as heck wouldn’t make me run around in my blue plaid parochial school jumper. That would just be cruel.
“Crowns are for boys,” Simone insisted, folding her arms tightly against her chest. “I want a tiara.”
Of course, she did. All girls want a tiara. “That’s what I meant,” I added quickly. “The boys get crowns and the girls get diamond tiaras.” C’mon. I was so close. Simone was salivating more than Ken with his prime time view of Porn Star Barbie. I could see the wheels in her head spinning; I could practically hear the whirring and clicking of the gears in her brain as she processed this new information about Heaven and how it might benefit her to give Christianity a go.
“I want one with sapphires. That’s my birthstone,” she said, her eyes narrowing. I smiled and nodded, indicating that it was a done deal. “Okay.” Simone shook her head. “What do I have to do?”
As simply as I could, I explained that she just had to believe with all her heart that Jesus Christ was the Son of God – the Golden Ticket that would magically open up the Pearly Gates (still leaving out the minor you’ve-got-to-be-dead-to-go-to-Heaven component) so that she could gain entry to her new life as a jewel-encrusted, Lady of the Manor – and that he had died on a cross and rose from the grave three days later. That’s when the fear crept back into her stare and she slid backwards another foot on the carpet. I’m pretty sure she had a really bad case of rug burn by the time this whole ordeal was over.
“What do you mean he died on the cross?” she asked. For some reason, a guy nailed to a wooden cross, a crown of thorns cutting into his scalp, who’d been stabbed and was going to eventually croak was a bit traumatizing for her. The happy, shiny Heaven story had suddenly turned into an Edgar Allen Poe tale of murder, with a ghostly apparition rising wispy and fog-like from a cracked gravestone.
In homage to my future legal career, I hurriedly glossed over the carnage. “Oh, it’s no big deal. He comes right back a few days later. And He’s fine. Just a few scars.” I pointed to my hand with my finger as though a hole clear through your palm was the equivalent of a pockmark. Still, Simone’s face remained doubtful. “Look, Jesus is up there with God in Heaven right now. Their thrones are right next to each other’s.” I painted a cozy picture of father and son, plopped down in adjacent recliners with their feet propped up, watching an episode of Sanford and Son together and laughing every time Redd Foxx fakes another heart attack or argues with Ernestine.
Soon, her forehead uncrinkled and she agreed to move forward. Then I helped Simone kneel and instructed her to pray to Jesus, asking Him to forgive her for all the sins she’d committed and informing Him that she was now accepting him as her personal Savior. When she was finished, I’d expected her body to convulse with a jolt of Born Again power. This is what always happened at church. The wicked sinner would kneel before the pastor, say the prayer and then the pastor would touch the new Christian’s forehead, causing him to fall back, shuddering, as if he’d been shocked with an animal prod. When Simone remained upright, I tentatively touched her brow with my finger tip. Nothing. Next I tried pushing her backwards using a tad bit more force, but either the Jesus Juice wasn’t flowing through her loins quite yet or she had figured out what was expected of her and was resisting. Frustrated, I finally flicked her hard – just below her hairline – with my thumb and finger, prompting her to wince and yell, “Ow.” Okay, it wasn’t a convulsion, but it was something.
“You’re done,” I announced, digging the tiny, red bathing suit out of the clothing pile and handing it to her. Without another word, Simone quietly removed Malibu Barbie from her bath and slid the one-piece onto her plastic body.
A week later, Mr. Adams, Simone’s non-Jewish father, cornered me by the public bathroom at the complex’s community pool. Dripping wet and chilled, I stared up into his contorted, angry face, and shivered uncontrollably as he launched into a diatribe that would have frightened a Mafia Don. I was emphatically informed that despite the fact that Mr. Adams was a Christian, Simone was being raised Jewish and I was to never try to convert her to a different religion again. As I cringed before this man twice my size, I thought of missionaries who’d been murdered in the rain forest for trying to save the souls of indigenous tribe members. What horrendous fate would I suffer in the name of spreading the Gospel? Before I could imagine myself being burned at the stake or my severed head dangling from the fist of a savage, pagan head hunter, it was over. At least, I thought it was. Mr. Adams had turned away, taking his shadow with him, leaving me panting from the adrenaline rush in the bright sunshine.
Suddenly, he twisted around and hissed, “And don’t you ever tell Simone that she’s going to burn in Hell again. You got that?” I nodded silently, my heart pounding in my throat.
Hah! I knew it. Simone had been scared shitless at the concept of swimming in a one million degree lava lake. I’d sold her from the beginning, but she’d held out for a sapphire tiara. Maybe she’d turn out to be a Republican after all.
As I open the condo door, I immediately notice that the space is flooded in darkness. One arm outstretched to prevent my clients from entering the unit and breaking something that would best remain unbroken, I feel around blindly with my left hand, my fingers searching the wall for the light switch. Click. A vintage fixture with warty bumps spread across the surface of its milky glass – likely original to the Kennedy era with its our-President’s-so hot-we- should-buy-a-place-at-the-beach attitude – flickers brightly for a moment overhead, then dims slightly, casting the foyer in a jaundiced glow.
My clients’ eyes travel the arc from hall closet to ceiling lamp to light switch, unimpressed. “Did you see that flicker, Josh? We should have the home inspector take a look at the wiring, don’t you think?” Marlene blinks at me several times, apparently waiting for me to agree.
“Absolutely,” I say. “That’s, uh, what a home inspector does. If he thinks there’s a problem with the electricity, he’ll definitely recommend that we bring in an expert.”
“Expert?” Marlene echoes, frowning. Now Josh is staring at me, his head cocked like a supermodel who just heard another two syllable word she couldn’t comprehend.
“Yeah, an electrician.” I nod. No response from the Peanut Gallery. “You know, an expert. On electricity. An electrician.”
Josh’s neck remains bent at a perfect 30 degree angle. Pursing her lips, Marlene finally asks, “Well, then why are we paying for a home inspector? I mean, if he can’t fix it…” She turns to Josh. “Am I right? For three hundred bucks, he should be able to fix a stupid wire.” Returning her gaze to my face, she blinks again. And again. And again. How can one person blink that often? You’d think her eyelids would tire and close from fatigue. “So why can’t he fix it, Cristy?”
“Because he’s a home inspector, not a home fixer. He’s going to check out everything: the A/C, all the appliances, the plumbing, the windows, the roof, the electricity. Everything,” I reply, resisting the urge to say: Because he’d have to be a goddamned genius to be able to repair all the things he inspects, and geniuses cost a hell of a lot more than three hundred bucks an hour. I find myself blinking in time with Marlene’s eyes. It’s contagious. Like yawning. I hope our periods aren’t also synching as we stand here in the friggin’ doorway. “Why don’t we head inside? I’m sure you can’t wait to see the place again.”
Leading the way, I begin the ceremony of turning on the air, clicking on lights, and opening curtains and blinds. Sunshine streams through the windows, illuminating the fact that the faux-bamboo dining room set that was long ago painted yellow and speckled with brown paint to give it that chic Seventies antique finish is hopelessly ugly. And not the least bit antique-looking. More like freckled. Why would anyone want a freckled set of furniture? Just looking at it reminds me that I need to make an appointment with my dermatologist. “Like I mentioned before, if you want to get top dollar as far as rentals go, you’ll want to go ahead and update the decor.” And the flooring. And the cabinetry. And the appliances. And the – oh, just gut the damn thing and start from scratch.
Crossing her arms against her chest, Marlene shakes her head of bouncy dark curls. “Oh, I don’t think it’s so bad. And the rental figures looked pretty good to me. Am I right, Josh?” Her husband nods. Clients never listen. Yeah, the numbers aren’t bad, but they could be fantastic. But these people are cheap. And stupid.
For what it would cost to buy some new furniture, they’ll hire a photographer to bring in professional lighting and snap fish-eyed pictures of the rooms so that they appear wider and brighter. He’ll avoid close-ups of the artificially pigmented chairs. With Photoshop, he’ll texturize the matted, rust-colored shag so that it looks like a high-end, stained concrete floor or, maybe, custom terra cotta tiles. His kitchen shot will be taken from a boat floating in the middle of the bay, so that he can get far enough away to disguise the fact that the cabinets are made of cheap, peeling formica, and that their brass handles are rusted and have taken on the patina one usually only finds on Greek coins discovered in shipwrecks. Oh, and the dishwasher is avocado, but the refrigerator is not. Think Harvest Gold. Think disco.
Of course, my clients will get suckered into paying for a Virtual Tour, a travesty of the technological age designed to make one both dizzy (from the circular spinning motion originally intended for rides involving flying elephants) and thirsty (from the tropical, steel drum beat that accompanies the tour and subliminally instructs the viewer to make themselves a frozen drink doused with half a bottle of rum). Apparently, head spinning and drunk, the viewer will inadvertently hit the “Rent” button on the Virtual Tour and won’t sober up in time to take advantage of the 12-hour cancellation policy. The problem with this scheme is that my clients won’t garner many repeat customers. Once a tenant discovers that the full bay view can only be seen by leaning over the balcony railing and craning one’s neck while holding a mirror, he or she is unlikely to return, especially when the décor screams Three’s Company.
I wave my hand, signaling my clients to follow me. With the hard heels of Marlene’s designer sandals already clicking and clacking on my last nerve, I head towards the smaller of the two bedrooms – the one I call The Green Room. Interestingly enough, the only things in the room that color are the sheer drapes. If it’s possible for something to be both translucent, yet saturated with a color so intense, it’s hypnotic, then such greatness was achieved in the manufacturing of these curtains. Looking at them is much like staring directly into the bottom third of a traffic light – that’s as bright as the sun and only five inches away from your nose. Even though you feel your corneas melting, you can’t peel your eyes away. Shielding my own peepers with my hand, I quickly whip the sheers apart and yank the blinds upwards. As the light hits the curtains, the room bursts into color, the walls, the bedding, the lamp shades, the dresser all drenched in an electric lime shade that won’t be quelled by anything but the blackest of nights – or a blow torch.
“I really think the curtains should go,” I suggest firmly. Hearing no response, I spin around to discover the Manescos transfixed, irises aflame. At least Marlene has stopped blinking. Physically, I turn them around and steer them towards the closest bathroom for cold compresses and a few out-of-date Tylenol I discover in the mirrored medicine cabinet.
I leave them admiring the Land Rover-sized walk-in closet (the one thing a vacation rental doesn’t need) in the master bedroom with its I Love Lucy double beds, as I return their water glasses to the kitchen. It’s then that I realize I’m in trouble. Earlier that morning, my rather sensitive stomach had thrown a tantrum, as troubled, misunderstood organs often do. Having calmed it with Rolaids and positive affirmations (“What a good tummy! No one digests better than you. You have the strongest enzymes I’ve ever seen.”), it was now acting up again, except this time it recruited my intestinal tract in some sort of digestive system mutiny.
Some people cry prettily. Some people look fabulous the moment they wake. Some people can experience abdominal distress with no apparent outward symptoms. I can’t do any of the aforementioned. If even one miniscule tear dares drip its way down my cheek, my face reddens, puffing up as though I’d eaten a bucket of peanuts while subjecting myself to a thousand bee stings simultaneously. Moreover, my eyes swell shut, so not only am I temporarily blinded, but I resemble Sylvester Stallone after he’s had the shit kicked out of him – or so I’ve been told. I couldn’t see myself in the mirror to confirm this fact. It’s dangerous for me to watch a film as benign as The Notebook since strangers in the theater have been known to rush me to the emergency room against my will, claiming I’m suffering from anaphylactic shock and or that I’ve just lost a prize fight.
So as I stand here in the kitchen, rinsing the glasses in the chipped enamel sink, I know I will not be able to hide this problem for long. Much like Jim Carrey’s seemingly-elastic face, my abdomen has the ability to stretch at will, distending itself to the point that I am, once again, often rushed to the emergency room by complete strangers who insist that I’m either about to give birth to sextuplets, or I’m the whitest and most malnourished African person they’ve ever seen. Either way, they’re certain I need a doctor. The strain of my rapidly bloating tummy against the unyielding waistband of my skirt is becoming painful. I can feel the fabric cutting into my flesh and hear my abdominal muscles snickering in front of my back: Wish you’d done a few crunches now, dontcha Flabby?
There is only one way to prevent my clients from demanding to know how I became impregnated with multiples in the short time it took to walk to the kitchen and rinse their glasses. No, I can’t stand behind the sofa or carry a large briefcase in front of my belly for the rest of the season. I don’t own a briefcase, my purse is the size of a Hershey’s Miniature, and the sofa’s one of those nubby vintage numbers that only comes up to my knees. One solution exists. What is that? As my Aunt Kay likes to say, “Better out than in.” I have to release the pressure. Yes, I’m going to fart.
No biggie, Cristy, I tell myself. Just let one rip right here in the kitchen and no one will ever have to know. The Manescos are way on the other side of the condo, holding cold washcloths over their eyes while oohing and ahhing about all the bathing suits their guests will be able to hang in the walk-in closet they can only see with the tips of their fingers. I know I’m right. Pavarotti could come back from the dead right this moment and belt out “Nessun Dorma” from Puccini’s Turandot in front of the Harvest Gold refrigerator, and Marlene and Josh wouldn’t hear a thing. But then I remember The Morning Incident.
Earlier in the day, when only my most pwecious tum-tum was rebelling, I had also passed a little gas from my ass in order to zip up my plaid skirt, so I could jump in the car to head off to meet my clients. To say that the impact of my decision to float that air biscuit was devastating to not only my olfactory nerves and the glaze on the bathroom tiles, but fatal to my window herb garden, would be an understatement. I say this because I sprinted from the house as though it was ablaze and I haven’t been able to fully assess the damage yet. I can’t even let myself think about Fluffy. Stop it! Don’t think about her sweet, formerly-whiskered face singed beyond recognition. Seriously, cut it out! They’ll grow back.
Needless to say, the stench from The Morning Incident had been incredible – a combination of rotting eggs, Limburger cheese, skunk spray, wet dog, sulfur and Egyptian-era toe jam, tinged with a straight shot of shit and Cool Ranch Doritos. As my husband likes to say, “What crawled up your ass and died?” Don’t think about Matt! I’m sure he made it out in time. He can hold his breath for several minutes. There is no way I can be flatulent in this kitchen without my clients being exposed to the toxic odor and, possibly, suffering irreparable neurological damage – if not worse. And I’m pretty sure my Errors and Omissions insurance doesn’t cover death by butt burp.
Suddenly, it occurs to me that a solution exists. I need merely to make it outside. Though the fetid fumes will likely linger even in the open air, they can easily be blamed on car exhaust, nuclear disaster or a recently discovered open grave filled with thousands of rotting corpses just down the street. Waddling past the pantry and down the hall as fast as my bulging belly will allow, I realize this may be a mistake. Though hot air typically rises, in this case, my tightening waistband is acting as an intestinal tourniquet. That, combined with my rapid side-to-side movement, has made farting no longer a kind choice on my part, but an immediate order issued by a not-so-benevolent dictator, a.k.a. My Digestive Tract. And at this particular second, My Digestive Tract is making Hussein, Mussolini, Stalin, and Gaddafi look like a bunch of little girls with blond ringlets whose worst offense is burning ants with a magnifying glass.
Tightening my sphincter and squeezing my butt cheeks together as tightly as possible, I hurry my steps, the front door finally in sight. As my fingers brush the rounded knob, I feel a sense of relief pass over me. I made it. I can relax now. Oops. No, I can’t. Not just yet. But it’s too late. Out it comes. There’s no need to describe the birth of this particular fluffer doodle. One need only know that it was born with cloven hooves, fangs, talon-tipped wings and horns that could gore the fastest and strongest of matadors. Silent, but deadly, it clawed its way from its anal womb and immediately soared around the foyer, spreading its evil scent throughout the room in the same way a tomcat marks its territory. Don’t think about Fluffy!
Before I can open the door, wave my arms and scream, “Napalm attack. Everybody run for cover!” I hear the sound of footsteps. In particular, the distinctive click of Marlene’s Jimmy Choos on the tiled hall floor. There’s nothing I can do.
“I don’t know what Cristy is talking about,” comes Marlene’s distinctive whine. “Green is perfect for the bedroom. Such a soothing color. Conducive to sleeping. Am I right?” Though I can’t see him yet, I imagine Josh nodding – then gasping for breath and scratching at his throat with his fingernails as the gas burns through his esophagus, slowly suffocating him. The only reason I’m still alive is that I’m somewhat immune, having been exposed on many previous occasions.
A moment later, Marlene and Josh round the corner, the first, blinking once again, and the latter, nodding wearily. I can’t believe it. No reaction whatsoever to the fog of Agent Orange hanging in the air like a veil of pungent death. Perhaps I’m oversensitive. Perhaps Marlene has her own digestive disorder and has developed a similar immunity. But wait. No. There it is. The wrinkling of Marlene’s prominent nose. The grimacing of her glossed lips. “What’s that odor?” she shrieks. “Omigod! It’s awful. Am I right, Josh?” This time, Josh doesn’t nod. Instead, his head rears back like a panicked horse who’s just encountered an angry diamondback rattling its tail less than a foot away. Except the rattlesnake is my barking spider.
Go ahead. Say it. It smells like a goddamned fart. Say it, Marlene. Ask the question you’re dying to ask.
She sniffs the air. I must admit that she’s braver than I thought. Taking a few short steps toward the closet, she inhales another whiff. Thrusting out her hand, she yanks the louvered door open and sniffs again. The woman deserves a medal. And then she asks the question. “Is there something wrong with the A/C? It smells bad. Like sulfur. Am I right?”
Okay, that wasn’t the question I was expecting. I was thinking more along the lines of: “Did you break wind, Cristy?” Yeah. I may have also broken a few light fixtures in the process. And your lungs. “Umm, I don’t know, Marlene,” I respond hesitantly.
“Oh, God. You don’t think there’s mildew or something in the HVAC system, do you? I’ve got really bad allergies, you know.” Her forehead creases and the blinking commences. “You’ll have the home inspector look at it, won’t you?” she asks, her eyelids suddenly fluttering so fast they’ve turned invisible like a hummingbird’s wings. There’s now an oddness to her face, but I can’t quite place what it is.
“Of course.” Is this woman serious? The tragic photo of the young, naked Vietnamese girl running, arms outstretched, after being severely burned in a napalm attack is more along the lines of what I was anticipating, but Marlene’s only concern is whether or not there could be mold in the air conditioning system. “I don’t think it’s mold, though. It doesn’t smell like mold,” I say. “Mold smells – you know – moldy.”
Then it occurs to me that, perhaps, Marlene has never farted. Apparently, there are people who simply have never experienced anal acoustics. Considering that Josh is the most passive-aggressive, hang-dog man I’ve ever met on this planet, I doubt he’s ever served Marlene up with a Dutch Oven while in a playful mood. If he had, she’d have ripped his eyes out with her sharpened, two-toned, acrylic nails, then shrieked, “How dare you? I’m not some common trollop who’s interested in your sexually deviant behavior! What are you gonna do next? Pee on me?” But there is a real beauty to her ignorance.
“Well, something is definitely wrong. I don’t know, Josh. First, the wiring. Now the A/C. Maybe this is a sign. A sign from God.” Yeah, I sign that I shouldn’t eat Cool Ranch Doritos and bean dip before bed. Hands on her hips, Marlene shakes her head as though she just can’t decide what to do. Josh, on the other hand, knows exactly what he wants to do. Run.
Pushing past Marlene in perhaps the boldest move he’s ever made, Josh elbows me out of the way, jerks the door open and dashes into the open air, breathing deeply. You’d have thought he just finished the Boston Marathon by the way he’s leaning over – hands clenching the skin just above his bent knees – and sucking in oxygen like we’re scheduled to run out of it by tomorrow afternoon (actually, we’ve got at least another week).
Marlene doesn’t budge an inch. “Josh!” she calls after him, a note of irritation creeping into her voice. “I was talking to you. Do you think it’s a sign? Do you think we should back out of the deal? There’s somethin’ funky with the A/C, I’m telling you. It didn’t smell like this when we first walked in. Am I right?” Josh merely waves a hand in her direction – a signal that could mean anything, but I suspect it means, Fuck off, Marlene!
I have to do something quick. I can’t allow these people to lose their opportunity at second home ownership because I blew the butt bugle. “Umm, I just remembered that I turned the air on when we came in. It’s been off for awhile, so that’s probably why it smelled just a little. Happens all the time. Trust me, it’s no biggie.” I smile brightly, confidently. All the while, I’m jealous as hell of Josh – who’s outside, inhaling fresh air.
“Really?” she asks. “But you’ll still make sure the inspector checks it out?”
“And he’ll bring in an expert if there’s anything wrong with it?”
“Yep.” And that expert is known as a gastroenterologist.
“Alright.” Seemingly satisfied, Marlene strolls out the front door and waits with Josh while I lock the place up.
On the elevator ride down, Marlene turns to me and, making a strange twitch with skin above her right eye, says, “I still think it smelled like mold.” That’s when I realize what seemed odd about her face earlier. Her eyebrows are gone. Completely singed off. Makes her look like Eugenia, my neighbor, before she draws hers on in the morning with a brown pencil. “Am I right, Josh?” she asks.
Her husband leans back against the wall of the elevator, arms folded against his chest. His eyes travel the length of her face, taking in the absentee eyebrows. Calmly, he says, “No, you’re not, Marlene. You’re not right.” Then he closes his eyes, inhales the clean air deeply and smiles to himself.
When I met my husband over eight years ago, we each had two cats – mine were female and his were male. We fell in love and, upon combining our households, became the feline version of the Brady Bunch – except I had slightly better hair than Carol Brady and our backyard wasn’t covered in astro turf. Like the Brady’s, our kitties bunked together, fought frequently over who got to use the clubhouse, and shared a single bathroom.
When we married five years later, we decided against breeding (kids, not cats) after weighing the pros and cons of Kids vs. Kitties. The Kitties won and here’s why:
1) Fur hides bruises better than makeup. (No, I don’t beat my cats. I find whisking makes them fluffier.)
2) Though socially unacceptable in the United States, it’s not illegal to kill and eat your felines if facing starvation. Do that with your kid and your nickname in prison will be Donner Daddy.
3) Annual cost to raise a child: Approximately $13,000. Annual cost to raise a cat: Approximately $700. You do the math. For the amount it takes to raise a kid, you could adopt well over a dozen kitties and gain yourself an official title: Ailurophilia. That’s Greek for “cat lover.” Of course, there’s the unofficial title that the neighbors will call you: Crazy Cat Lady. And if you go overboard, you’ll end up in a shit-filled hovel that serves as a giant litter box for your zillions of kitties and the star of the next episode of Hoarders. So stick with just a couple of felines and buy yourself a nifty sports car instead.
4) Annual day care expenses for infants and young children can range from $4000 to $10,000 per year. Cats, on the other hand, are self-sufficient. Their day care looks something like this:
5) If one of your cats mysteriously disappears, people will say this, “Awwww, so sorry Fluffy ran away. You must be so sad.” Not this: “M’am at the time of Fluffy’s disappearance, do you have an alibi for your whereabouts?” Or this: “Neighbors reported hearing you shout, ‘Bad kitty!’ several times the night before Fluffy disappeared. Were the two of you having relationship problems?”
6) When your cat is whiny and uncontrollable in the car, you can lock it up in a cage. Apparently, this practice is frowned upon in at least 47 states when children are involved. No matter what Boost Mobile says.
7) Cats are unable to verbalize their complaints about what all the other felines in the neighborhood are allowed to eat, watch, play with, or how late they’re permitted to stay out. Though they may attempt to do so by crying, “Meeeooow, meeeeowww, mow, mow,” all we hear is “Meeeoow, meeeeowww, mow, mow.” Sorry, don’t understand a single word. Not one.
8) Kids beg for expensive sneakers, video games, designer purses and cars. Cats beg for that little piece of gristle that you spit out onto your plate.
9) Pot is illegal. Catnip is not. Likewise, it is illegal to get your kid high in order to give them an “attitude adjustment.” Not so with felines. Adjust away.
10) If your teenage cat gets knocked up, you can just give the kittens away. No paperwork. No red tape. No DNA testing to determine which of her boyfriends is the father. No arguments from your cat that she’s a grown up and that she and the baby daddy are gonna raise little Moonbeam on their own – right after they score a little catnip.
11) Euthanasia. Is. Legal. For. Cats. Note to cats: Don’t be expensive. No cat is THAT cute.
12) If you pet your kid for a half hour straight, you’re a pedophile. If you pet your cat for a half hour straight, you’re just a person covered in cat hair who clearly loves and adores their kitty.
13) With children, there’s no way to really use and enjoy all the skin and hair they shed on a daily basis. Ed Begley, Jr. would call that a waste of natural resources. A cat’s fur, on the other hand can be culled, woven into yarn, then knitted into a lovely sweater that leaves a nearly invisible carbon footprint paw print. Moreover, it only takes about 24 cat skins to make a coat, which means that Mr. Buttons can live forever…on your back.
14) Cats rarely cry, but when they do, it is for very specific reasons. They are either hungry, thirsty, in pain, locked in a closet or desiring attention. Unlike babies, however, once said need is met, they stop crying. They. Stop. Crying. This is HUGE.
15) Cats don’t attend college or technical school, nor do they take dance classes, gymnastics, or piano lessons. Cha-Ching! Likewise, they don’t play team sports. This means no after school car pools for you, nor will you be forced to spend your weekends watching little Jimmy miss the hoop again. And again. And again.
16) If you’re an ounce overweight, your teenager will be the first to let you know. “No, you can’t borrow my scarf. You’ll totally stretch it out.” The bigger your lap and belly, the happier your cat.
17) Unlike children, cats don’t hog the television. You will never have to listen to a purple dinosaur sing songs about loving everyone, nor will you learn what an Elmo is, why it talks so much and why you have to wait in a line outside of Wal-Mart on Thanksgiving to acquire one for your child. No Hannah Montana. No iCarly. No Suite Life on Deck. Family television is for suckas! Let’s watch Showtime!
18) Cats don’t watch porn, so keep yours lying around if you like. Your friends probably already know that you’re a perv.
19) Cats won’t steal your Vicodin and Valium, but make sure you don’t leave the lunch meat out on the counter. Honey-cured ham is like crack for kitties.
20) Because cats don’t attend school, you don’t have to help them with their homework. Of course, this means that you will forever be dumber than a fifth grader since you won’t be relearning all that stuff you studied in grammar school.
21) Can’t cook? That’s okay. Friskies has done all the work for you. You can open a can, right?
22) Kids have been known to steal money from their parents. It’s called an allowance. This is a foreign concept in the cat world. Kitties don’t wear pants and, therefore, they don’t have pockets. Thus, there is nowhere for them to hide money or carry it to a mall to make a purchase. A cat’s only currency consists of bouncy balls, mousies, toys involving a stick, a string and a collection of feathers, and a small stash of catnip. It is acceptable (meaning: preferred) for a cat be naked throughout the day. It is illegal for your child to run around in the buff once he or she is in grade school, so don’t try to avoid the whole allowance thing by refusing to buy your kid pants.
23) Kids start out as babies and, during this time, expect to be fed every few hours – regardless of the time, the fact that The Walking Dead season finale is on, or that you’re just sick to death of letting them suck on your sore, shriveled tit. Cats are fed once or twice a day. You set the schedule. Your breasts should NEVER be involved.
24) Sick of hosting ALL the parties at your place? Feel like it’s time for someone else to shoulder the burden? Guess what? Up to 25% of people are ALLERGIC to cats. The next time you’re asked to host Superbowl Sunday, your response can be, “Wow! We’d love to, but we recently adopted Whiskers and Puffball – and I just heard that George and Larry are allergic to cats. Man, who knew?” Apparently, there are no known allergies to children; though kids are often irritating to adults, it’s apparently not sufficient enough to cause a rash, sneezing or watery eyes.
25) To date, no cat has ever murdered its entire family in a hate-fueled rage. I’m not saying that they don’t think about it, but the lack of opposable thumbs makes it impossible for them to wield a weapon. That said, if you die in your home and are not immediately discovered, a cat may dine on you instead of reporting your death to the proper authorities.
26) Unlike young children, cats bathe themselves. In fact, if you try to aide them in this activity – particularly using soap and water – they will become extremely agitated. In addition to being self-sufficient in this area, they are also exceptionally diligent – spending up to a third of their waking hours grooming themselves. Compare this to a child who spends approximately a third of a minute grooming himself.
27) Average cost for a funeral for a human: Approximately $7500. Average cost to bury a cat: Free. Unless you don’t own a shovel, in which case, the cost goes up to about $25.
28) Your teenager practically never wants to curl up in your lap, rub his face against your calf or nuzzle your cheek. If he does, he’s probably retarded. Sorry.
29) Purring has been known to induce sleep in insomniacs. Your teen’s favorite music vibrating through your bedroom wall has not.
30) The jury is out on whether or not having children increases your lifespan, but studies have proven that owning a cat can ensure that you spend another two or more years on this planet. Granted, they’ll probably be the most unpleasant of your life since you’ll be an old codger who’s sick, wrinkled and craps your pants – plus, your friends with cat allergies won’t visit you – but you’ll be here!
31) A cat will never beg you to buy it a puppy.
32) Cats won’t drink your vodka while you’re away and then fill the bottle up with water to hide their deception.
33) It’s often difficult to convince a child to go anywhere near a bug or lizard. Cats don’t have this fear. Not only will a cat capture any small creature that wanders into its territory, it will also toy with it, kill it and then leave it in a convenient place for you to find for disposal purposes. Granted, that convenient place might be your pillow, but at least you won’t be surprised by a cockroach running across your toes in the middle of the night.
34) Unlike kids – especially teenagers – cats don’t like clothes. Period. Or costumes. Or reindeer antlers. Or fancy, frilled collars made of colorful fabrics and bells. This will save you hundreds, if not thousands of dollars a year. Unless you’re one of those cat owners. You know, the kind who insists that cats enjoy wearing silly outfits. The kind who thinks that cats want to walk on leashes. The kind who thinks your cat can read your mind. The kind who is hoarding canned food and weapons because he thinks the world is going to end on December 21rst.
35) You don’t have to carry a kitten around in your belly for nine months. Plus, if you wait until the kitten is weaned, the hardest thing you’ll have to do is teach it to use a litter box. No breast pumps. No nipple pads. No sagging. No pregnancy weight gain. No stretch marks. No morning sickness. No maternity clothes. No labor. No telling your husband, “I fucking hate your guts for doing this to me. There’s a goddamned alien inside of me that is ripping my vagina completely apart. I’m never letting you touch me ever again!”
36) If your cat overhears you and your partner having sex, it won’t scar them for life. Nor will they tell all their friends at school, your neighbors and your in-laws that Mommy likes to call Daddy her “Throbbing Horndog Stallion.”
37) You can leave your cats alone for the weekend without worrying that your lawnmower will be resting at the bottom of your pool when you return.
38) You can’t castrate your randy teenage boy – as much as you’d like to. This practice, however, is encouraged among cat owners. Here, kitty. Snip. Snip.
39) If your teenager is pissed at you, the retail therapy involved to keep her from moping, whining and complaining for the next week could be expensive. If Tabby is ticked off at you, you need merely to open a 99 cent can of tuna fish and the purring will commence.
40) There are two things every parent dreads: (1) having The Talk with their kid, and (2) teaching their kid how to drive the family car. These are moot issues for cat owners. First, there is no Talk. Sex is instinctive for cats. Breeding cats is easier than Ashton Kutcher garnering Twitter followers. Also easy: ensuring that your cats don’t breed. And no, condoms are not involved. Second, cats are too short to drive. Unlike teenagers who have stupid laws on their side that permit them to drive if they reach a certain age and pass a test, the smartest cat in the world is prohibited from operating a motor vehicle. And with good reason. What? You’ve never seen Toonces the Driving Cat?
So there you go. Before you jump into the world of breeding miniature humans, consider adopting a couple of kitties. C’mon. Do you really want to give up your freedom for the next 20 – 30 years? Don’t you enjoy going on vacation to a place uninhabited by cartoon characters? Giving up the booze and the smokes for a whole nine months is a LONG time. Still, I sense you’re not quite sure. Here…let me help.
This post is dedicated to Mariah Carrington Lewis. We love you, miss you and think of you every day.
As a full-time resident of the Sunshine State, I am heavily-medicated due to tolerate your presence for four to five months out of each and every year. During your visits to my hometown, I strive to be patient and even welcoming. After all, you bring with you a collection of used, wadded up tissues (can’t ever have enough of those), the endless fragrance of Bengay and cold, hard cash. Tourism drives our local economy and, because of your winter forays to our tropical oasis, there are theaters that can afford to stay open year round, some of the best medical care doctors can overcharge for, and a terrific selection of colorful canes and walkers in every pharmacy, hair salon, liquor store, veterinarian’s office, McDonald’s, strip club – hell, they’re everywhere. However, we need to set a few ground rules. If you would follow these orders written in the blood of octogenarian roadkill suggestions, not only would it be greatly appreciated, but it will increase the likelihood that I won’t run you over with my Camry as you take forty-seven minutes to cross the fucking street. Thanks!
1) Your car may not occupy more than one lane at a time unless you are in the process of changing lanes – and then, only for a second. Florida roads are not like the bank, where you can stand between two teller lines and refuse to commit to either one, preferring to hover in the middle until it is apparent that one line is moving much faster than the other. Here, you must select a lane and, preferably, stick with it until you reach your destination. If you refuse to choose a lane, I will pick one for you. Beware, if I have to select one on your behalf, you may experience a painful sensation in your neck, commonly referred to as whiplash. Opening your car door when you choose to exit your vehicle may also be extremely difficult or impossible.
2) When determining the speed at which to operate your motor vehicle, consider the speed limit an order, not a recommendation. When you drive twenty miles below the speed limit, I have the urge to ride your bumper like it’s George Clooney’s naked body – and not in a good way. Being stuck in traffic behind one of you old codgers is worse than watching Cowboys and Aliens – on an endless loop. I imagine that the road to Hell is packed with sinners driving uncomfortable Ford Fiestas – all of which have no air-conditioning and a radio that blares nothing but Judy Collins singing “Send In The Clowns”- and honking their horns at the guy in the lead: one old fart crawling along at 2.7 m.p.h., waving his fist out the window of his 1988 Chrysler Fifth Avenue, hollering, “Keep your shirt on. Why are youngsters always in such a rush?”
3) No one uses checks at the grocery store in Florida. If I see you pull out your checkbook, expect to have a zucchini inserted into an orifice that only your proctologist and freaky sex partner from half a century ago have ever seen up close.
4) Your Depends cannot be flushed down the toilet in public places. Likewise, please don’t ball them up and leave them in the corner of the bathroom stall, in a fitting room or under your seat at the movie theater. And despite the fact that they are made of plastic and paper, they aren’t recyclable, so pulling your used ones apart and depositing each half in the blue and red plastic recycling bins is punishable by life in prison without possibility of parole or lozenges discouraged.
5) Much like with a dangerous amusement park ride, there is a height requirement for driving in the State of Florida. If you can’t see over the wheel, take the bus. The fact that your blue hair can be viewed above the wheel by other drivers is insufficient. I must be able to see your eyeballs. More importantly, you must be able to see me, my bumper, your rear view mirror, me, your side mirror, your blind spot, me, traffic signs, pedestrians, me, traffic lights and the occasional indecisive squirrel. And me.
6) As you age, some things get better. Women stop menstruating and don’t need to shave anything but their faces. Men lose their hair and rarely have to deal with random boners. However, your farts don’t stink any less. Nor are they cute. No one giggles and says, “How adorable! Did you get a whiff of that old codger’s ass vapors? Makes me want to nuzzle his belly and give him a zerbert.” So don’t pass wind in public. You didn’t do it when you were forty and doubling your age doesn’t automatically entitle you to a “free gas pass.”
7) Just because your hearing isn’t as great as it used to be doesn’t mean mine isn’t absolutely perfect. Therefore, when you choose to watch television without your hearing aids inserted and/or turned on, you may be forcing others, namely ME, to listen to reruns of Lawrence Welk whether they (again, ME) like it or not. Personally, this can be irritating when I’m trying to watch – say, True Blood. Polka and vampires go together like Rick Perry and the number 3. Furthermore, if you find that you are constantly punching the upward facing volume arrow on your remote and, yet, the sound emanating from the television is not increasing, it’s because you’ve hit the volume limit. Which means your television is TOO FRIGGIN’ LOUD. So before you gingerly sit down in your Barcalounger with your glass of prune juice, all ready for a hot date with Andy Griffith and Angela Landsbury, do this for me. Charge your hearing aid batteries, insert said batteries into said hearing aids, position said hearing aids in your ears and turn them on. Then, once you’re all settled and comfortable, turn the volume on your hearing aids way, way up and the volume on your television way, way down. FYI, repeated exposure to the music of Lawrence Welk is the leading cause of psychotic episodes for people between the ages of 20 and 50. Don’t become a statistic.
8) Halitosis. Not sure what it means? Look it up and buy some mints. Not a small box of orange Tic Tacs, either. Purchase the jumbo megatron-sized crate of Altoids. Carry them with you at all times and – most importantly – use them. I don’t care how many times you soak your dentures every day, your mouth still smells like my grandparent’s bathroom – on the day the sewer backed up. No amount of Aqua Velva covers the odor of sulfur combined with day old Salisbury steak. My cat wouldn’t sniff your breath. Moreover, in the same way that your walker entitles you to additional personal space, your bad breath entitles me to more of the same when in your presence. Please stand at least a foot away when you speak to me. You never, ever have the right to lean in close and whisper to me for any reason. Even at a funeral. Unless you want it to be yours.
9) During Old Coot Snowbird Season, the traffic in Florida can get preeeettttty bad. For those of us with jobs, schedules and limited free time, it would be greatly appreciated if you would refrain from traveling on the roads between the hours of 7 a.m. – 9:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. – 6:30 p.m. I know what you’re going to say: But my Early Bird Special is between 4 and 5 p.m. Too damn bad! My husband’s right to get home within a reasonable time after leaving work is not superseded by your desire to save two lousy bucks on Surf ‘n Turf. And while we’re on that note, why do you insist on grabbing up all the early morning doctor appointments in town? You’re retired. You have absolutely nothing to do all day. Before you open your mouth, mahjong and bridge don’t qualify as things. I realize that 8 a.m. is mid-day to you, but people with J-O-B-S need those slots. So no appointments – anywhere – between the aforementioned hours. You’re not supposed to be on the damn roads anyway!
10) Don’t assume that people need or want to know anything about you, your former career, your military background, your children, your grandchildren, your great-grandchildren or “the good ol days.” If we are curious about such things, we will inquire. So how do you apply this information to your visit to Florida? Let’s say you need to drop off a prescription. Don’t give me that look. You geezers take more drugs than Charlie Sheen. So, you’re at Walgreens (Not “the Walgreens” – it’s just called Walgreens. No need to insert an article in front of the name of any store.). When the clerk asks if she can help you, the appropriate response is: Yes, thank you. Here’s my prescription. What time should I return to pick it up?” She will give you a time. You can thank her again as politeness is always appreciated, but nothing more need be said.
Seriously. Don’t utter another word. Especially this: Thank you. What’s your name, dearie? I can’t quite make out your name tag. I don’t know why they make ’em so small. How am I supposed to call you by your name? Isn’t that the point of a name tag? Hold on a sec. Just let me get out my readers. (Two minutes elapse as you rummage through your purse, locate your glasses, wipe them with one of those moldy tissues from the bottom of your bag and perch them on your nose.) Oh, my. You look just like my granddaughter, Mindy. And whaddya know – your name is Cindy. How funny is that? What are the odds? Harold, come over here! Doesn’t she look just like Cindy? And her name is Mindy. Their names rhyme. Oh, Cindy, I gotta show you a picture of her. No, okay. What time did you say my prescription would be ready again? You know, I never used to have to take blood pressure medication, but ever since I developed hemorrhoids, my doctor said I should take ’em. I guess he’s worried that I could strain while on the toilet and have a heart attack. But I take an aspirin everyday. You know, one of the baby ones…” Have you caught on yet? If you do this, particularly when there is a line of people waiting behind you, it could be dangerous. Codgers have been bludgeoned to death with their own walkers for much more minor infractions.
Now was that so bad? You probably thought I was going to be unreasonable. But I’m sure you can agree that these are simple orders that must be followed under penalty of death by firing squad requests. Following them will ensure that we all continue to co-exist in the Sunshine State peacefully. On a side note, Snowbird Season officially ends on Mother’s Day. Please make your travel arrangements to leave the state now. Right now. I’m not kidding. I’m holding a butter knife, you know. And I’m irritated. Are you dialing US Airways right this second? Good. Hurry. My neighbor’s been watching Lawrence Welk for the last three hours straight and I’m not feeling so good.
The Taller Than Average Woman and Pretty Much Everyone Under the Age of Seventy in the State of Florida
We’re all taught to be nice to others. To treat people as we would like to be treated. Bumper stickers proclaim “Mean People Suck” and “Mean People Are Mean.” And while not terribly eloquent and apparently created by four year olds, their message is dead-on accurate. Mean people suck. But without them, humanity will wither and, eventually, die.
Though some would disagree, many believe that people are becoming more pleasant. Particularly here, in the United States. The manner in which we debate politically evidences this fact. Our politicians actually sing, they’re so happy with one another. They call each other by cute nicknames like “Mitt” and “Newt” and “That Black Interloper in the White House.” One group of conservatives who seems particularly desperate to reach out to others calls themselves “The Tea Party.” Clearly, it’s an invitation. Come on over. We’ll talk tax cuts and why it’s nobody’s fault but your own if you don’t have health insurance, and drink a cup of chamomile (No English Breakfast Tea – they’re bloody Socialists, dontcha know?). I bet they’d serve cucumber sandwiches with the crusts cut off if you requested it.
This level of friendliness has also impacted the manner in which our country deals with other nations. When U.S. troops visit other countries – without their permission – and in large numbers, this is no longer considered an invasion or war, but an “Operation” – i.e. Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Desert Storm. We no longer kill our enemies, we neutralize assets using smart bombs and surgical strikes. I don’t know about you, but sometimes, I’m not sure if we’re running a war or a MASH unit or fixing kid’s cleft palates. The whole thing sounds so civil and professional and medical. Even when we lose one of our own, it’s often to “friendly fire.” Did the deceased soldier feel that the bullets or bombs that took his or her life were particularly amiable? He or she must have because, otherwise, a term like friendly fire would almost be insulting to the families those heroes left behind. And nice people don’t insult widows and orphaned children. It’s inherently NOT nice.
Overall, this may be one of the nicest decades in history. According to Steven Pinker, Harvard psychology professor and author of The Better Angels of our Nature, “Today we may be living in the most peaceable era of our species’ existence.” What? We’re less violent today, you say? That’s just crazy talk! We’ve got non-stop wars going on. We’re armed to the gills. Our ghettos are infested with gangs. Schools employ the use of metal detectors. Someone threw glitter at Newt Gingrich. Paula Abdul was canned as an X-Factor judge. Kim Kardashian has to travel with multiple body guards. Paris Hilton’s house is continuously burgled. Jimmy Fallon’s band insinuated that Michele Bachmann is a “lyin’ ass bitch.” It’s a cruel, mean world.
Au contraire, says TheNew York Times journalist, Nicholas D. Kristof, who recently examined the warm-and-fuzzy worldwide trend in his article, “Are We Getting Nicer?” Actually, he didn’t really say, “Aucontraire.” But he would – if he was here sitting next to me right now as I write this blog. Which he isn’t. He’d also say, “You know, it’s really late. Mind if I take a little nap?” What he did say is that in the 20th century, a time “notorious for world war and genocide,” only about 3% of all deaths involved “such man-made catastrophes.” By comparison, in Native American, hunter-gatherer societies, 13% died as the result of violence, and the 17th century’s “Thirty Years’ War reduced Germany’s population by as much as one-third.” Now either Kristof, like Bobby Fischer and David Duke, doesn’t believe the Holocaust occurred and is leaving out a whole lot of dead people in his calculations – or humans used to be much, much, much more violent. We were bad asses. A few centuries ago, “Oh, no she diddddn’t” was inevitably followed by the previously-referenced “she” person’s head being paraded around the town on a stick. Three hundred years ago, the Grimm brothers wrote fairy tales – for little children – involving cannibalism, the severing of various limbs, a talking dead horse head, kidnapping, murder, imprisonment in tall towers, and talking drops of blood. S&M wasn’t a sexual fetish; it was a religious conversion technique.
Further supporting the theory that society is becoming a kinder, gentler place is The U.S. Department of Justice’s 2010 report, Crime In the United States, which indicates a steady decline in violent crime over the last five years. Between 2009 and 2010 alone, there was a 6% decrease. And since 2006, the incidence of violent crime has dipped over 13%. If this is true, then surely – at this rate – we’ll all be dancing naked and banging drums around bonfires singing Kumbaya in another twenty years, and living in an Egalitarian society in which all food and goods are gifted to one another on the basis of need.
However, if you’re like me, you don’t trust the numbers. Former British Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, may have put it best when he said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.” Numbers can be manipulated and our country’s leaders are quick to point that out. For example, Rick Perry emphatically stated in his book, Fed Up!, that global warming and the science supporting it is “one contrived phony mess.” Likewise, fast-food expert Herman Cain recently weighed in on the same issue, calling the whole thing “a scam.” Granted, neither of them possess an actual background in climatology, but they’re wealthy men with good jobs – and they recognize manipulation when they see it. One of them has years of experience running a corporation in which lobbying, greed and corruption are not uncommon, so he’s familiar with collusion; the other is an expert in numbers manipulation himself, most recently with his 9-9-9 Plan (though I personally think he stole it from a Beatles’ song). Just as these political giants dismiss global warming, I’m certain they’d disagree with all these crazy statistics that claim our world is gradually becoming a nicer place.
Perhaps some anecdotal evidence would be more convincing. Halloween is a perfect example. Unlike the Seventies when children were encouraged to go strangers’ doors dressed in strange costumes and rudely scream, “Trick or Treat!” into homeowners’ faces on an annual basis, parents now shepherd their rugrats to the mall, where they now shout “Trick or Treat” into the faces of mall employees. Wait! Isn’t this evidence of the fact that parents are worried about their children’s safety because the world is NOT a nicer place? No. No. Not at all. This is merely indicative of the fact that parents have recognized the burden that Halloween places on the average person. How rude is it to allow your kids to bang on some old lady’s door thirty or forty times in one night and threaten her with a “trick” if she doesn’t give scary looking children (who, in her mind, might be demonic dwarves) candy that she really can’t afford on her fixed income? Especially when she’s trying to watch Hot In Cleveland. You can’t miss a second of that show ’cause Betty “Don’t Buy Me Green Bananas” White could go at an any minute.
By taking children to the mall instead, parents are attempting to mitigate the impact of Halloween’s expense and inconvenience on others. Unlike the elderly woman I mentioned, mall employees aren’t watching television, so the children aren’t interrupting them doing something important. And they’re paid to be yelled at. In fact, they’re hollered at regularly (though less than before, because we are getting friendlier) and they don’t have to bear the expense of the candy distributed to the ankle-biters to get them to run along and harass someone else. This cost is absorbed by Corporate America and I don’t care what anyone says, they aren’t people and I don’t have to be nicer to them.
Assuming the statistics and anecdotal evidence supporting the Amiable Argument, as I like to call it, are correct, how is this a bad thing? Won’t we, as a society, be happier? Isn’t this what we’ve been aspiring to as humans – evolving over the years into more civilized creatures capable of empathy and love? It looks as though we’re almost there. We’re right on the cusp of Utopia, ready to fall off the precipice into the gorge of universal peace.
Yeah, okay. Lemme know when you’re done huggin’ that tree and are willing to put the patchouli incense away. Please. It stinks. Oh, and that crystal you’ve been rubbing under your armpits – not working. It’s like being downwind of a pair of Larry King’s Depends first thing in the morning before his babysitter wife has changed him. Oh, and you – radical conservatives who doubt anything that God didn’t handwrite Himself in your translated-a-billion-times-over King James version of the Bible, I’ve got a question for you. If God created everything, then He created the metaphor, right? Why would the universe’s greatest super hero invent a linguistic tool, inspire one of the best-selling books of all time and not use a single metaphor anywhere in that very, very long book? C’mon – can’t we agree that maybe everything shouldn’t be taken literally? Maybe Christ wasn’t really a vine. Or a door. And maybe seven days is more like seven million years.
So back to why nice people will be the death of us all. Darwin. Natural selection. Oh, let me guess. That’s more poppycock, right? Darwin’s theories are up there with global warming and the Holocaust and the moon landing. Crazy talk! Fine, but the dinosaurs probably dismissed him as well and it didn’t turn out so well for most of them now, did it? No, I’m not saying that being amiable will be the catalyst for the natural disaster that will spawn another Ice Age – for which we are sorely unprepared.
What I’m saying is that when everything’s good, when everything’s easy-peasy, is when our DNA becomes complacent. Instead of developing opposable big toes like Beast in X-Men: First Class or the ability to communicate with one another almost entirely through pheromones like ants, we’re doing nothing. We’re letting our technology do our thinking for us, sitting in front of our computers all day while our muscle tone slowly dwindles, and our girths expand until width is the term used to describe one’s size, not height. I’m no wack-a-doo soothsayer, either. Pixar foretold this future a few years back in WALL-E.
Think I’m crazy? Visit any Wal-Mart or grocery store and see how many of those scooters are now available for shoppers. Twenty years ago, they didn’t exist. They were called wheelchairs – and you brought your own with you. Because you were crippled – not fat and lazy. One upon a time, heavy-set people just waddled up and down the aisles like the rest of us. For us, it was shopping; for them, it was an aerobic workout, but it was better than sitting on your ass because you might get a tad out of breath. Now you have to be careful where you walk at a theme park because you’ll get run down by someone who can’t be bothered to get off their butt (or just wants to get to the next ride faster – those friggin’ scooters have some serious horsepower). And this is bad for us as a species. When apex predators get fat and lazy, they get eaten by new apex predators.
Without mean people, the human race will lose it’s only predator. As apex predators, we are remarkably similar to sharks and crocodiles, neither of which has changed much since the K/T Extinction Event that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Still, a long time ago, both were quite a bit larger, but after being the big guys on campus for so long, they inevitably began to take it easy, evolutionarily speaking. Imagine an crocodile thinking to himself millions of years ago, “Wildebeest aren’t getting any bigger. I couldn’t probably lose a few inches of tail, spend a little less time at the gym and a work on my tan more often and still get plenty to eat. Same with sharks. For 14 million years, the 50-foot long Megalodon was, literally, the big motherfuckin’ fish in the big motherfuckin’ pond. Though some dispute that the Great White Shark is a descendant of the Megalodon and the reason for this monster’s extinction has never been determined, it’s possible that Mega Mouth just got tired of chewing (My husband often claims that it’s the most boring of activities) and filling its enormous belly. Maybe he thought, “If I dropped a good 35 tons, I could still rule this roost no problem and I wouldn’t have to feed all the darn time. I could take up Scrabble or write that novel I keep talking about.” And The Great White Shark was born.
Regardless, these apex-predators of the oceans and rivers are in trouble. The Great White is now more endangered than tigers. In the United States, alligators were endangered for years and are now a protected species. Numerous species of crocodiles across the world are currently endangered. Why? Ultimately, because we are the Uber Villain in the comic strip called, “Earth.” We hunt them, we steal and pollute their habitat, we make awful films about gimongous versions of them. Except, as we get lazier, spawn fewer evolved children and destroy our DNA with crystal meth, the chimps out there are eating well, throwing poo (a sign of intelligence and one step away from learning to use an uzi) and are fashioning and using weapons. Whaaaaaat? Weapons? Yep. Santino, a chimp in the Furuvik Zoo in Sweden, began creating disks out of concrete and collecting stones – even after hours – to throw at annoying tourists while the zoo was open. Scared yet?
So keep it up, Nice People. If you do, Planet of the Apes could be your future. Mean People keep you on your toes. They pick on you so that you’re too embarrassed to ride around on that scooter, hogging the damn cereal aisle. They mind-fuck you at work to keep your synapses firing, and cut you off in traffic to keep your eye-hand coordination intact. They beat you up in the playground to teach you how to defend yourself, mug you in the alley so you understand when to fight and when to flee, and steal your girlfriend so you learn to treat the next one like gold. Mean people make your books and films interesting. Conflict is what makes the world go round…not conservation of angular momentum. That’s just more science poppycock. Back me up on this one, Rick Perry.
As with all As Seen On TV! products, I was blown away by the revolutionary new baking craze that is sweeping the nation. Bake Pops. Yes, I know. It’s mind-blowing. Cake on a stick. ON A STICK! Certainly, a nuclear physicist or Nobel winning scientist was behind this invention. What are Bake Pops, you ask? Seriously? You don’t know? Some of us clearly aren’t reading Wired, Newsweek, Time, Popular Science or Woman’s Day. Bake Pops are small round cakes with a stick inserted into them so that they can be dipped in frosting or chocolate and decorated to your liking.
No more eating cake off a plate. Talk about a nuisance. If I had a dime for every time someone turned to me at a party and said, “Cristy, I’d rather have a root canal than eat this slice of carrot cake off a plate with a fork. What a hassle!” To begin with, you’ve got to have napkins, forks, and plates available – and in an economy like ours, that’s just not a given. I can’t tell you how often I’ve simply fallen to my knees and sobbed upon discovering that Wal-Mart was out of plastic forks…again. Have you any idea how embarrassing it is to ask your party guests to eat cake with their fingers? Their nails become sticky with frosting and then they need extra napkins. Like you’ve got plenty of those to go around. It’s not like paper just grows on trees. Suddenly, you’re a friggin’ napkin ATM machine.
As a civilized society, we’re expected to multi-task – particularly at parties. Despite the fact that everyone – our families, our employers, our friends, our Facebook friends, our LinkedIn contacts, our fellow bloggers, our Twitter followers, our co-workers, our former co-workers whom we avoid because they left under less-than-favorable circumstances, and people we pretend to like at Starbucks, but just so they don’t spit in our pumpkin lattes – expect us to be able to do more in less time, we still only have two hands and ten fingers (unless you’re a carpenter, in which case, make that eight or nine fingers).
If there’s one thing there’s never enough of at parties, it’s chairs and tables. This is assuming you attend good parties. Now if the guy at work who picks his nose and keeps his boogers on a piece of notebook paper in his top desk drawer invites you to a party at his mother’s house, there is a chance that they’ll be plenty of places to sit and tables upon which to rest your paper plate. However, I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt, so the odds are that you’ll be standing around trying to juggle your plate, fork, and napkin in one hand, with your cell phone tucked under one armpit and a glass of punch in the other. And maybe Larry from down the street, slipped a little something into that punch. Wink. Wink. Nudge. Nudge. Which means you’ll be tipsy. Or sloshed.
As you know, this is when things spin out of control. Melanie, that fabulous hair stylist you’ve been dying to get an appoint with, is there and is willing to work you into her schedule. Scraping your cake to one side of your plate with your fork, you set your cup of punch next to it. Then, withdrawing your cell from your armpit, you attempt, one-handed, to enter Melanie’s contact information. But you’ve had more than a few sips of Larry’s mysterious brew. Your balance is a little off. The hand holding the plate shakes from the added and poorly-distributed weight of the punch glass, and the pink liquid splashes onto the freshly-mopped, tile floor. Your phone rings in the middle of entering the appointment date and time into your calendar and, as you struggle to answer it without having to re-enter the information, you slip on the spilled punch and fall. Landing on your back, you watch in horror as the plate flies into the air, then plummets towards your head. When it’s all said and done, you’ve got a plastic fork in your eye and your hostess is pissed off because of all the napkins you’ve used to sop up the blood. But thanks to Bake Pops, that will never happen again.
Nor will Granny break her good hip in the inevitable frosting slip ‘n fall accident. Every year, thousands of elderly people slip on icing at their grandkids’ birthday parties. Most will die in the hospital of pneumonia – a common complication. Is serving a cake the size of a coffee table worth Papa Joe lying cold and dead in a grave? Is writing out “Happy Birthday, Amber” on a pink cake with a unicorn theme worth the loss of fourteen more years with Nana Gertrude? I don’t think so. Preserve a future for your children with their rambling, incoherent and crippled elders by purchasing Bake Pops. You can dip them (the Bake Pops, not their elders) in pink chocolate and sprinkle them with silver (inedible) snowflakes for little Amber next year. It’s almost like the real thing. Not quite. But then, how will your children ever experience feeding their grandparents by hand – and wiping the baby food and spittle off their mouths – unless you convert to the new Bake Pops revolution? Would you deprive your parents of their second childhood? I think not.
Of course, every hostess is worried about one of her guests choking to death because, in an attempt to emulate the Man vs. Food host, one loser will try to cram an entire slice of cake into his mouth at once. Nothing’s worse than having to explain to the paramedics, the medical examiner and the dead idiot’s wife that the deceased inadvertently killed himself because he thought he could top the portly Travel Channel television host. “Watch me while I cram this entire cake into my mouth within the next two minutes!” he’d cried triumphantly. For the last time. Don’t let this happen to you. Why spend unnecessary hours being questioned by detectives, comforting the dead moron’s widow, and paying a cleaning crew to clean up the urine and other fluids that tend to ooze out of a body upon death when you can simply buy Bake Pops? It’s impossible for a drunken guest to squeeze an entire slice of cake into his mouth at once because Bake Pops are bite-sized.
In addition to preventing permanent disfigurement and death, this amazing new product will also help you avoid committing many of the dreaded, social faux-paux associated with cake serving and cake eating etiquette. For example, cutting the cake. Who does it? The birthday girl, the hostess, the guy with the Bowie knife in his sock? Do you begin cutting in the corner or, in the event that you’re serving the classic bikini cake, do you start with a nipple for the birthday boy?
How do you determine cake slice size? For example, do you give a translucent slice to the fat girl? What do you do if the fat girl passes her skinny piece to Nicole Ritchie (What? She doesn’t come to all of your parties? That’s ’cause you haven’t been serving Bake Pops!) and asks for the chunky, corner slice you’ve just plated – the one with all the frosting and three blue rosettes? If you were serving Bake Pops, this would never be an issue. Bake Pops are all the same size. Unlike cake slices, Bake Pops can be exactly the same. Not different, but equal. Yes, equal. If you choose, your Bake Pops can all be the same color, with the same sprinkles and the same number of rosettes. Or, if you’re planning a tea party, the vanilla Pops can be richer and taxed at a lower rate than the chocolate Pops…but that’s totally up to you.
A generous company, Bake Pops isn’t only committed to preventing blindness, saving lives and promoting portion-controlled diets, it is sincerely committed to recycling. In light of this fact, here are some other great ways in which you can use Bake Pops’s patented “stick” to bring even more efficiency, safety and enjoyment into your life.
1) Egg Pops: Tired of chopping your hard-boiled eggs using one of those uber-complicated, one step, egg slicers? Why not insert the Bake Pop stick into your egg instead? Save yourself all that sweaty, difficult, single-step slicing and let your teeth do the work for you! That is what your chompers were designed for.
2) Potato Pops: Try grilling these babies along with some New York strip steaks at your next pool party. Dip them in sour cream and chives – and your guests will be talking about them over the water cooler on Monday. Watch out! They can be a little warm in the middle.
3) Brussels Pops: Tell your kids that they’re cabbage-flavored lollipops – and serve them with plenty of butter. Kids love butter. And at their age, cholesterol really isn’t an issue, now is it?
4) Onion Pops: Talk about the perfect pre-date appetizer for your teens. No one’s gonna get pregnant at this Homecoming Dance. And no cooking required! Looking for a twist? Try it with a bulb of fresh garlic. Your eyes will burst into flames just trying to read a Twilight novel.
5) Poop Pops: For us dog lovers, we know nothing satiates our canine’s appetite more than another dog’s feces. Or, if your pooch is into the exotic, try using kitty poo – the litter tastes just like vanilla sprinkles to them! Don’t forget – nothing compliments an ass-kabob like a little au jus dipping sauce. Rover will lap it right up.
6) Soylent Pops: Looking to keep your carbon footprint as small as possible? Why not dine on your like-minded, green counterparts who, instead of dedicating their bodies to science, dedicated them to sustenance? To keep the cycle-of-life turning – and as green as possible – consider nourishing another human with your flesh and celebrate in the knowledge that no paper or plastic products will be used in the serving of your dead, cooked corpse.
7) Salt Pops: Why should a cow enjoy the ease of a salt lick whenever it wants, when you’ve got to concern yourself with seasoning your food or salting the rim of your margarita glass? Why rip open teeny tiny containers of salt or struggle with the hardened white mass stuck inside the restaurant shaker when you can carry your own discreet salt pop everywhere you go? What – you want to do shots? No problem. Lick your Salt Pop, slam that tequila and then suck on a slice of lime. Easily shared, Salt Pops will make you the favorite drunk at the bar.
For more information on Bake Pops, tune in to your favorite television station late at night when advertising is cheap or check out the demo on You Tube: Bake Pops Demo. Your kid’s eye could depend on it.