A-to-Z Challenge: General Motors

The last car my grandfather ever bought my grandmother was made by General Motors. I remember this because the seat belts–which I was required to wear to protect the windshield from my head–were imprinted with the letters GM. I can’t remember the specific model, but it was a deep maroon with red fabric upholstery. Not-quite velvet.

It wasn’t just a grown-up people’s car.

It was a real live, genuine old people’s car.

Old people do not have children. They do not have plastic seats, and their feet go all the way to the ground.

What old people have instead of children is cars, and specifically, this car. Don’t let the fact that it seats six fool you. That extra space is for other old people, and possibly groceries, but certainly not children.

In the event that children are allowed in the Car:

  1. They go in the middle, over the hump… where they will be sitting between two supervising adults, or… where the driver can at least see them. (Rear view mirror adjusted accordingly)
  2. They go to the bathroom before they get in the Car.
  3. They keep their feet off the upholstery.
  4. And they always, always, remember that the Car is very, very important to Grandma. It is the last Car Grandpa ever gave her. There are no other Cars available on this side of Heaven.

Most of my memories of that car involve holding something so that it cannot spill and never, ever eating anything.

Anyway, one day I was sitting in the back seat. On the hump. In the middle, where the driver could see me. Both feet firmly off the upholstery. And holding a bag of Kentucky Fried Chicken. (Because fun grandmothers do drive-throughs, and my grandmother was a fun grandmother.)

As soon as that bag was on my lap–and it was summer, so I was wearing shorts–it began to leak. Hot, viscous gravy slowly burning its way through paper and oozing onto my bare legs.

You know.

Near the Car.

So, I clamp my legs together in hopes that no gravy will escape onto the upholstery. And it burns all the way to the house.

And then… I’m really not sure how you get out of a Car with a lap full of gravy without spilling. Maybe it’s possible, but I didn’t manage. And the gravy hit the upholstery.

After a good scrubbing, there wasn’t a stain, exactly… but there as a texture. A rough patch in the not-quite velvet–that stayed there forever.

This year, my inspired Alphabetical Challenge theme is “The Letter M”. I’m working my way through the alphabet, one M word, M, person, or M place at a time. No, I don’t have any idea what my Muse was thinking on this one.

If you want to learn more about the A-to-Z Challenge, or join in, the website is here.

Maybe That’s Where Trappist Monks Come From

Tomorrow marks the beginning of Lent. I had to look that up. Not being from a liturgical background myself, Lent comes and Lent goes, and mostly what it means to me is yummy fish tacos and 40 days of my Lent-ing friends being in vile moods ranging from I gave up sugar to I gave up serial murder and cocaine. (Wait… you mean my friends didn’t give up serial murder and cocaine?!!)

In my childhood, Lent was something that just existed on TV. Something that either showed piety, or got laughs. You know, like Corporal Klinger giving up atheism for Lent? It’s not that we didn’t have Catholics and Lutherans… it’s just that they existed in their own schools over there, somewhere. And in the event that there was mixing, you were much more likely to be talking about Girl Scout cookies and camping than religious dogma.

So, I had the abridged, television explanation: Lent was the time leading up to Easter, and you gave things up for it. And then–when the Lent-ers ran out of private school in 9th grade and we wound up in school together–Maybe don’t offer to trade sandwiches, and don’t eat that chocolate in front of them. You know… it’s a tradition, and it’s good they’re doing it.

So, I was quietly supportive. You know the drill. “You can do it” and keep my mouth shut about the fact that I’m not doing it.

Oh, yes, I was ever so appropriate and supportive until…

One day I ran into a friend who had given up smoking for Lent, and there he was… cigarette in his teeth, doing his best imitation of a chimney.

Well, screw quiet support. I liked the guy. I liked his kids. And frankly, children deserve a father with pink lungs and an intact aorta.

What are you doing?

Well, panicking, obviously. He knew he’d been caught. And by the way, I’m not even slightly fooled by that look of confusion on his face. Cheater.

I thought you gave up smoking for Lent.

And that confused look just stays there. Like he doesn’t have the slightest idea what I’m talking about. Lent’s over, he said.

What do you mean, Lent’s over?

To be honest, until that moment, it hadn’t occurred to me that people gave things up for Lent temporarily. It never crossed my mind that after Easter, they all got to go back to drinking, smoking, and serial murder. I mean, if a thing’s a sin, isn’t it a sin all year around?

Nope. What they really meant was, I gave up smoking for the duration of Lent.

And fine. I admit that giving up smoking for a month is better than not giving it up at all. That probably is one to think about giving up permanently.

And maybe I really hadn’t thought much about it. I mean, if people give things up for Lent, and never go back, shouldn’t there be a bunch of really old Catholics running around living off water and oatmeal after a lifetime of Lents, and griping that this year, it’s down to the oatmeal?

So, happy Lent, everyone, and if you’re giving up something truly unhealthy, please think of your lungs and aortas–and hell, your erectile function–and maybe really do give it up confused-teenager style.

**this story may have been edited for dramatic tension and coherence.

Other Peoples’ Hobbies and Me

I can kill a plant just by looking at it.

My grandmother–the amateur botanist–spent most of my childhood reassuring me that I was not cursed, and sending me home with various clippings to start plants of my own. In my time, I’ve killed day blooming cactuses and night-blooming cactuses and African Violets (which, admittedly, had no chance to begin with), wax plants, spider plants, plant-plants, bromeliads, and even philodendrons.

I did the best with outdoor plants. I can do roses, and sometimes crocuses, and my forte, Kentucky Blue grass. (I have thousands of Kentucky Blue grass plants, most of them doing quite well, thank you.)

Ultimately, though, I’m just not good at gardening. I’m the person who spends all spring watering, and fertilizing, and hoe-ing, and winds up with that one tiny strawberry about the size of your fingernail, and mostly still green as the over-ripe parts start to rot away.

I got to spend plant-time with my grandfather, too. He didn’t actually grow anything, but he’d settled neatly into his role as head-procurer of manure. This is an especially honorable and important role in the household of a botanist who does not own a farm or ranch of her own.

I carried the bag on long treks through the pastures, while my grandfather picked up the chips for, well… whatever gardeners use cow chips for. (No, I never got that far.) I don’t remember talking about anything in particular, but I do remember the words to the cow-chip song. Those odorous cow-chips. Those hash-cooking cow-chips.

They arrived with a trunk load of gifts, and they left with a trunk load of cow chips and sand.

Isn’t that what all grandparents do?

Booksellers, Men, and the Cabinet of Sin

We sold pornography at the bookstore where I worked. Not a lot of it, and nothing that would compete with Jugs, Jugs, Jugs down at the local Kum&Go. Sex-positive, consent-positive, feminist, GLBT, fetish stuff. Non-violent. It lived in a cabinet behind the counter, and if you didn’t know it was there… well, you wouldn’t know. Strictly a word-of-mouth kind of thing.

The cabinet of sin was about four feet wide and three feet tall. Double doors. Opaque. And, if you happened to find a group of Booksellers gathered around it, there’s a pretty good chance we weren’t analyzing the latest Haruki Murakami. Hands down, it was the most open and accepting set of co-workers I’ve ever had.

Oh, and then, there were the customers…

You got to recognize that Look, eventually. The Please, Miss… might I trouble you for something from the Cabinet of Sin Look. The… Please, I’ve read this high-quality gift book about garden gnomes three times because I’m just that nonchalant Look.

So, you’d wait for the other customers to go away. The women, and children, that attractive, but is-he-or-isn’t-he guy, the older couple who look pretty much just like anybody’s grandparents. And then… only then… You’d “notice” him standing there.

Can I help you?

Oh, no. Just looking.

Well, fine. I believe you. Besides, what am I supposed to say? Oh, you are not. I know you want something from the Cabinet of Sin, and since I put away today’s shipment, I’ve got a pretty decent idea of what you want?

Moving on.

Noted. One of the unwritten rules of masculinity–apparently–is that whenever possible, you buy your porn from other men.

Or, possibly, female Booksellers are just that terrifying.

Or innocent-looking, or wholesome, or … something. Maybe I sold their kid a copy of One Fish, Two Fish the week before. But the script was always more or less the same. They’d loiter until some man showed up to sell them a magazine.

And, as it happens, most of the time, I did just happen to have a spare man just lying around. Well, not so much lying as laughing his ass off behind a partition. (The unwritten rules of masculinity–apparently–do not apply to SuperBookseller.)

In the end, SuperBookseller always had to sell the–whatever it was–and he was the king of straight faces.

Oh, yes… The women tried to be approachable. We tried to look understanding. We tried all kinds of things:

  • Putting things away in and/or organizing the Cabinet of Sin.
  • Sympathetic smile.
  • In a rush and much to busy to notice, even if someone tried to buy 3 kilos of cocaine and a baby elephant.
  • Sitting on the Cabinet of Sin.
  • Sitting on the Cabinet of Sin while eating a cookie taken from the Cabinet of Sin. (Yes, there are cookies in the Cabinet of Sin. Stop judging.)
  • Sitting on the Cabinet of Sin while eating a cookie and reading a paperback copy of deSade (Yes, the one with the picture.)

None of them worked. Once a guy decided he was not going to buy porn from you… well, mostly his mind was made up. He’d be there for hours, just… waiting… if you let him.

What are you going to do?

SuperBookseller, HELP!!!!

That’s why I named my vacuum cleaner after him.

Horrifying Gifts for the Holidays

If your family is like mine, it’s big, and ungainly and the truth is, you just don’t know each other well enough to buy each other anything but an Amazon gift card. This will, of course, in no way stop you from wanting to play Happy Families, so you will spend a massive amount of money to say “Look, I bought you a Gift.”

In general, the rules for these Gifts are simple:

  1. The Gift must be something durable enough to result in the on-going ownership of something the recipient does not want, or  the awkward disposal thereof.
  2. Recipient will, of course, feign gratitude and acceptance of said Gift, even if Giver has had a lifetime to notice that she/he does not use __________.
  3. Anaphylaxis in no way excuses you from rule #2. Eat another nut bar.
  4. Gift will most likely be identical to Gifts given to every other family member of your Rank and Gender. (ie: Female Cousins, Uncles, etc.)
  5. In the event that Pansexual Nymphette is the Giver, you MUST maintain the pretense that Gift is as G-Rated and Family Friendly as Possible. Do NOT say “figging oil” when you could say **ahem** “massage oil” or better yet, “gourmet cooking oil.”

There is, of course, an unspoken 6th rule: Gifts given to people other than yourself will be even more inconvenient to you.

Your Grandmother will be given a photo-calendar made from a picture of you taken at a Ballroom Dance exhibit. She’s not going to throw it out. That would be hurtful, both to you, and to the relative who gave it to her.

Nope.

She’s going to drive a new nail so it can hang prominently in the living room all year long.

You will spend the entire year fielding questions from random acquaintances about a dance partner you don’t even perform with regularly.

No. We’re not getting married.

No. He’s not special… well, I guess his wife and kids might think so.

Yes, his wife knows we dance together. That’s her on the left.

Yes, I’m sure he’s not special!

No, he’s not Gay. Pretty sure his wife would have told me. And no, I will not introduce you, Steven.

No, We are NOT GETTING MARRIED.

No, you do not get to meet him. No, he’s not with his family for Christmas this year. He’s with them for Hanukkah.

What? You got all six of my great-aunts the very same calendar? In smaller sizes? Oh, well, then…

Fuck it. What’s his name and I are getting married. It’s just more convenient.

I’m sure his wife will understand.

If I didn’t Want You To Be Happy, I Would Have Married You.

So, today is one of my ex’s birthdays.

I haven’t seen him in years, but he was my first real, serious, this-could-end-in-actual-marriage-and-eventual-death boyfriend. Obviously, I was terrified.

He, on the other hand, was not terrified. He was full-speed ahead, I have a schedule to keep, and it is time to get married ready.

He’s the perfect person to think of once or twice a year… uhm… From another state.  He deserves to be happy, and that’s the way I picture him. Wife and kids. A dog, maybe two. Baseball games and camping.

Apart from the kids, the dogs, the baseball, and the camping, it’s not a bad life.

I had the chance to ask a while back. Ran into his father.

I didn’t ask.

I think I know. There’s just enough overlap in our social groups that now and then, I get a whiff of something through a friend, or a newsletter from a shared organization. The most recent update said North Dakota. And a career. It didn’t mention the wife or kids. And it probably would have, if they were there.

He was not cut out to be in a relationship with a creative.

He found my art-folders, once. You know, those big manila things with the plastic handles? No, not really polished enough to call a portfolio. I had two, and naturally, he had to see the one that was labeled “dirty.”

Charcoal dust everywhere.

I’m smiling, but I’m not going back.

And I’m wondering… If he saw me, now. Neck-deep in a day-job, still chasing dreams I’m not even I ever told him I had… revising the novel, collecting the rejections… You know… Would he perceive me as happy?

The Slowest Day of the Whole Year

I know everybody’s out shopping and watching football, but I didn’t really expect the day after Thanksgiving to be quite this slow on my blog. I may be slightly impatient, since I’m turning into a slothful statistics addict. I’d probably be sitting in the corner, convinced I’m a tea cozy by now, except that I’ve been away from the wi-fi almost all day.

So, by the dawn’s early light, yesterday… we went out and took one last look at the Verruckt water slide in Kansas City. The soon-to-be-former world’s tallest water slide is a little over 168 feet tall. It’s taller, apparently, than Niagara Falls (barely) and looks (quite frankly) a little like a ready-mix concrete plant.

I would know. Once upon a time, a boyfriend took me on a date to a ready mix concrete plant.

I never got to ride the slide, which is scheduled for demolition following a fatal accident.

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I would probably point out the fact that there are a couple of smaller slides in the back ground, but since they’re basically invisible, I won’t. If you look closely, they’re under Verruckt’s smaller hump in the top photo.

You look at something like this–the slide, not the accident–and you have to be impressed. The time and resources invested into this thing… The sheer size of it… The fact that so many people can take a day off and do absolutely nothing beyond running around a water park.

It’s enormous. And it was never meant to last forever.

I’ll skip the obvious commentary and add that we also went to Waffle House.

So, I’m Learning a New Skill…

A while back, my favorite chair started bleeding yellow foam rubber. It’s an old chair, but probably not an antique chair, or anything particularly special. Probably something out of the sixties or seventies.I don’t think it’s valuable, or anything.  It’s just… Well, it’s the right size, so my feet touch the ground at the very same time my back is touching the back. And it’s not too rigid, but it’s not too slouchy, either. It has a slight Auntie Mame feel to it.

Well, you know. It’s my favorite chair.

So, I loaded it into the back seat of the car, and headed off to upholstery shoppes unknown.

This is a process, apparently. The first place I thought of went into retirement after the flood, and the next couple of places were either not open at all, or by-appointment-only numbers. Hard telling.

I got desperate. I went to a place I knew perfectly well was “a little expensive” but which held regular business hours in a regular, store-front type establishment.

I left the chair in the car, and went into… uhm… basically a storeroom full of fabric swatches. And a counter. (Also covered in fabric swatches.)

I was informed that the place is **ahem**  currently booking for March.

I admit I was a little dumbstruck. And I suppose the guy felt sorry for me. After all, I’m going to be chair-less until March, at this point. He came out to the car to look at the chair, and gave me an estimate.

Four hundred dollars for the labor. About. And another two fifty on the fabric. Five-ish yards of it. I can bring fabric in from somewhere else, if I want.

Huh.

Well, I’ll think about it. Not for very long, but I will think about it. Because it is my favorite chair.

And frankly…? I look at six-hundred fifty dollars and booked through March, and, well… I kinda wonder why I’m not doing it. Not just my own (probably non-antique, nothing-special) chair but… why am I not doing everybody else’s?

So, I’m going to try it. Worst case scenario, I wind up with an ugly (but still perfectly sized) chair and a good story to tell. Best case? I might actually have a viable skill going. So, off to the internet I go, and learn something new.

 

Halloween Ennui

The last year I handed out candy for Halloween was a long time ago. I spent most of the evening at home, and in the end, there were exactly two trick-or-treaters. Now, I like children dressed as devils and corpses as much as the next girl, but that does seem like a whole lot of boredom for two kids, and especially two kids I don’t even know, even out of costume.

Halloween,–even in my remarkably safe little town– has moved to the commercial sphere. The merchants hand out candy (and advertisements) and the whole affair goes downtown, or to the mall. The greedier parents dump their kids off in **ahem** take their kids to the “rich” neighborhood (not mine) and that’s about the end of it. (Driving through the”Rich” neighborhood on Halloween is like taking a truck through a cattle drive. But a whole lot more pink and sparkles.)

There are, of course, a few activities for grown ups. (Drinking. Also Drinking. You know… Like on Thursday.)

When I was in bigger towns… when I was dancing… it seems like I was in costume, dressed up as something every other week. Costume’s half the fun, you know. And once I started winning costume contests… well, you put the money back into the next costume, until you have your own little costume closet. And that’s been a while, too.

The thought that always comes to me around Halloween is the idea of dressing the candy bars up as books. (Not as my books, of course. Other people’s books. People who write for children.) Print the cover on one side of a paper, and a coupon code for the book on the other side of the paper, and glue the thing on a Hershey’s bar. (Or, you know… something good, if you happen to be in the “rich” area of town.)

I’m not one of those people who would give a sweet, innocent child a box of raisins–or a toothbrush–for Halloween, but a book?  That sounds like something healthy and fun. I could approve of that.

I fiddle around with the details, of course. The coupon codes would have to be set up in advance. It would have to be e-books to be cost effective, especially for a poor writer who’s paying for it, herself. And you might need separate bowls of candy for different age groups. I’m not sure. Different age groups would probably mean more than one writer.

And in order to get much traffic, you’d almost have to barge in on one of the businesses that actually gets trick or treaters, or buy a booth at the mall.

 

A Brisk Walk Through The Pouring Rain

I walked to work this morning. Then, I turned around and walked back from work this afternoon. I am not an exercise person. I don’t mind the fresh air and the nature, though. I saw a few wild turkeys, and took some pictures (Not of the turkeys. Those suckers move fast!) and someone stopped to ask if I was okay. That’s a new one. Usually, it’s Do you want a ride?  This was a straight up, Are you okay? So, I’m guessing that wandering around in the rain taking pictures for a blog is another one of those activities that… well… maybe city people do.

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Here’s my creek again.

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I could probably touch up some of those trees. A little more exposure would do them good.

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Yep. That road is every bit as long as it looks.

Not too bad for a bunch of pictures off a camera phone. It did eventually wind up raining properly. Hurricane dying out a few hundred miles inland?

I got in probably a little over six miles and a full day’s work plus early morning writing, and I’m still waiting for that “feeling good” thing to kick in. Right now, exhausted, and about to pass out is a little more accurate.