Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Piano Lessons With Cats

For as long as I can remember, and even a bit before that, I took piano lessons. My mother determined that I needed a habit more irritating than many of my sister's irritating habits, which included talking nonstop at a high pitch, staring unblinking at people for hours at a time, and having a bladder the size of a walnut. At least with the piano, my sister's squeals would be drowned out by the lilting toils of rickety, pensive scales played eighty-seven times in a row.

My piano teacher was Mrs. Bartagas, an elderly widow who lived alone. If you could call living with forty-three cats living alone. It was more like living with moving, breathing, angora stealth-pillows with claws.

My mother would drop me off at her house and I'd knock on the front door. The cats lived inside, every last one of them, and as Mrs. Bartagas opened the door to let me in, a swirl of cat hair would rise in the draft. The cats would scatter into the shadows, kicking up more hair and throw rugs as they went. I could sense their eyes shining at me from the nooks and crannies of many years of accumulated furniture. I half expected Rod Serling to appear with afternoon tea.

Forty-three cats is a rough estimate. I was never able to line them up for an actual head count. Cats don’t cotton to counting. Once in a while I’d spot one I thought might be new. “Why, yes, that’s Oliver,” Mrs. Bartagas would reply. “He’s new.” Then I’d ask her how many cats she had now. The answer was always, “Why, forty-three, dear,” as if she was surprised to hear such a silly question.

Mrs. Bartagas had a lively past that she loved to share. Since this meant less playing time I was all for it. She had somehow been affiliated, in reality or fantasy, with Doris Day. There were pictures everywhere of Ms. Day, some even signed. It was hard to make out the signatures because cat hair blanketed nearly everything.

She would launch into a story about the olden days, and I'd keep an eye out for attack cats. There were a few that liked to bite my ankles, especially when I pressed the piano pedals. I was convinced that one day I’d be playing a tune and hear an irritated 'meowrr!' from deep inside the piano as I smacked some misplaced feline with a felt piano hammer. The top of the piano would fly open, and the angry cat would leap out and attach itself to my jugular. In a hostile territory such as this, Clair de Lune can become a dangerous enterprise.

The air in the house was pungent, thick. While I loved all animals, I was allergic to cats. Attempting to play Beethoven’s 5th whilst sneezing one’s fool head off was difficult, however the adrenaline rush produced by the cat-claw assaults on my ankles helped clear my sinuses enough to get by. Every once in a while a kamikaze kitten would wipe out the clicking metronome on the top of the piano. The constant drama kept me alert and terrified. Looking back, my visits were probably the highlights of their little feline lives. When I left I’m sure they had some tall tails to share.

The keys of her piano were real mother-of-pearl - worn, wavy and opalescent, much like Mrs. Bartagas' fingernails. I tried not to notice the similarities, but when she'd show me how to play something, her nails clacked on the keys. Ebony, ivory, and geriatric cuticles all blended to form a hopefully once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Her hands were incredibly quick and lithe on the keyboard, which was good because if they stopped for any reason, I couldn’t help but stare since they were, well, ancient. Veins, arteries, and tendons arched and mingled like a city map. I did my best to listen to her instructions, but my mind was fixated on the freeway interchange just south of her pinkie and ring finger.

In a pasture in front of the house lived Mrs. Bartagas’ white horse. When I was leaving, he’d come over to the gate and bob his head at me. Mrs. Bartagas would often ask ‘Bob’ what she should have for dinner. He’d whinny something unintelligible, at least to sane people, and she’d head back to her house of cats. He’d look at me and bob his head, so I’d pick some grass and feed it to him. Then I’d leave before he started telling me things I was better off not knowing.

When my mom picked me up, I’d be sneezing my head off and bleeding about the ankles. But I was humbled, happy to see my mom, and thrilled to be going home. I’m guessing that’s why she sent me in the first place.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Down on the Snake Farm, Chapter Two

(Note -if you're new to this story, you might want to read Chapter One first, located just below this blog post. If you're afraid of snakes, please don't read this at all, unless you enjoy being frightened out of your mind.)

My brother loaded the containers into the car and I drove them down the road to the Montfort Reptile Institute. When I took a turn a bit too quickly, the containers rolled about on the passenger side floor, their contents hissing and wiggling. If a lid came undone, I was completely prepared to leap from the moving vehicle. Nothing in the world could get me to even touch the containers, for fear of feeling the skritchy movements of the varmints inside. When I reached the Institute, I rang the doorbell and told Mr. Montfort that I had some snakes for him.

Mr. Montfort was thrilled. "What cute babies!" he exclaimed, as if they were kittens. He pulled a couple of the hissing, coiling vipers from a container and let them wrap around his fingers. Their heads were triangular shaped, like pit vipers, with nasty little turned-up noses like my friend Allison. They were speckled like rattlesnakes but arched up and flattened like cobras about to strike.

Feeling lightheaded, I backed my way toward the car, muttering something about being glad to return his poisonous snakes to him. “Oh, no, these aren’t mine,” he said. “Nor are they poisonous. They’re Hognose snakes - they act poisonous but really aren’t. They fake it to survive.”

He kissed one on the back of its hissing, flattened, speckled-leather head. “They’re the clowns of the snake kingdom!” I was never a fan of clowns, especially when my sense of humor was tucked up neatly under my bladder for safety.

Mr. Montfort was so delighted with them that he insisted on giving me a behind-the-scenes tour of his snake farm. I recall attempting to say "No, thank you," but his offer knocked the wind out of me and the words stuck in my throat. Mr. Montfort was already starting the tour, and I was raised to be polite, so....

"Have you ever met a caiman?" he beamed, waving me through the door. A caiman is a slightly smaller, slightly more unattractive version of an alligator. Gators and crocs get all the good press and choice leading roles. As a result, caimans resent this, working harder to be feared like their bigger, prettier relatives.

Mr. Montfort hopped into the cage to wake up the caiman and put on a show for me. The caiman didn’t care much for this, spinning around and hissing at him. I agreed with the caiman. No introductions were really necessary here.

The issue with getting a behind-the-scenes tour is that it is usually just that -behind-the-scenes. In this case that was a bad thing. Much like a mullet, this place was business in the front, party in the back. Regrettably, not my kind of party. Many of the safety features designed to protect everyday visitors to the institute were on the front sides of the cages and displays. Backstage, not so much. One wrong step and you could end up with a rather grumpy reticulated python as a roommate.

Our crazy neighborhood herpetologist continued, proudly showing off his collection of lizards, snakes, and things most sane people avoid at all costs. He had all kinds of snakes, many I’d never even heard of, many I’d meet again in my nightmares, but his pride and joy, our final stop on this wonderful up-close-and-personal tour, was his King Cobra. "This is what your hognose wants to be." The viper stared motionless at us through the glass. "But your hognose is quite a bit slower than this fella."

What a surprise - Mr. Montfort was going to demonstrate to me how fast his cobra could strike. “See this stick?” he put a long stick in front of me. “No marks on it, anywhere, right?” He opened the rear of the snake’s case with the stick. I heard a thwack but didn't see the cobra move.

“Now look,” he said, putting the stick quite close under my nose. There was a nasty, new gash in the stick along with a small blob of what I believe was, depending on your point of view, either snake spit or deadly cobra venom. “Pretty wild, huh?”

I steadied myself against what I thought was a shoe box, stacked on a shelf about head high. I felt something rustle in the box. "DANGER - TIMBER RATTLER" said the label. If I fainted I’d fall and knock open that box, or maybe a different box with a different slithering, killing machine, or maybe multiple boxes of slithering death, so I did everything I could to stay upright and breathing.

“I feel bad taking all of these. Are you sure you don’t want to take a few home with you as pets? They’re not as common as they used to be around here and they’re excellent mousers.”

I shook my head no. I meant to say something but my lips had dried to my gums and my tongue was hiding behind my tonsils so nothing came out.

“Hmmmm… You gave me eight babies. Hognose lay eggs in groups of 10 to 15, so there are probably a few more out there. You might want to look around. They usually don’t stray too far. You might get lucky and find the rest of them.”

“Urrrgh,” I replied.

“Then there’s Momma Hognose. She’ll be laying more eggs soon enough. They’re territorial, you know.”

I, on the other hand, was no longer territorial. I was moving. At the earliest possible opportunity

P.S. - if you're insane interested in seeing how an Eastern Hognose imitates a cobra, here's an excellent video:
Photos from the top are:hognose, cobra, cobra, and hognose.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Down on the Snake Farm, Chapter One

One of the nicest things about growing up in the country was having our own pool. Forty feet long, it sat sparkling in the middle of our front lawn. (Keep in mind this was the country – we baled our front lawn.) However the sparkling only occurred if we cleaned it daily, vacuuming the bottom, skimming bugs off the top, and retrieving thirsty but clumsy mice, frogs, and snakes.

Yes, one of the hazards of the great outdoors is that animals tend to live there. Cute animals as well as gnarly, nasty, legless lizard-types.

One afternoon, after vacuuming, skimming, etc., I decided to take a nap on a chaise lounge next to the pool. It was hot so I wore my bathing suit, hoping to erase a bit of my farmer’s tan. I was dozing off when a small, skritchy sound awakened me. It was coming from directly beneath my lounge chair, so I leaned over to see what it was.

“HISSS!!!!” screeched a herd of tiny snakes, swarming in the shade of my chair. A couple of them coiled and puffed up, rising like itty bitty cobras. I’d never seen anything like it, and would have preferred to continue not seeing anything like it. But there they were, at least five hissing, puffing junior vipers, within inches of my bikinied bottom.

More were coming out from under the edge of the pool and heading for the shade. My shade. Apparently a momma snake had laid a clutch of eggs in the cool dampness next to the pool liner. I was, unfortunately, welcoming them to the world.

I froze. The snakelets settled. I waited, hoping they’d leave. They settled some more. “Shoo!” I waved my hand at them. “HISSS!!!!” they replied. This was beginning to look like a very long day.

They settled down again. More newly hatched vipers joined their older siblings. Maybe if I extended my leg really, really far from the lounge chair I could manage to leap away from the chair....


No such luck. Somehow this sort of thing only happened to me. Somehow, someday, it would all make sense. Either that or some universal entity was bored and messing with my kharma just for kicks. Getting attacked by a chicken was one thing. Getting chomped by a swarm of angry mini-cobras was entirely another. Please God, don’t make me have to explain this at school.

I yelled for my brother. “Help!!”

“Hissss!” came the chorus from below.

“Shut up!” I yelled at the snakes. “For newborns, you’ve got a lot of nerve!” Some of them were rather large. I wondered if they could slither up the chair leg.


“Hissss!” By now there were quite a few of them milling around down there. Maybe I was dreaming. What kind of snake puffs up and rises like a cobra anyway? I knew all the local type snakes –black snake, garter snake, Ray-the-cowboy-wanna-be, water moccasin, and puff adder. The last two were poisonous, but none of them acted like this. Strange.

Then I remembered the snake farm down the road.

The Montfort Reptile Institute was a quirky place. Mr. Montfort collected snakes and icky, crawly things. He milked poisonous snakes and sold their venom to places that made anti-venin from it. We met him when our cows broke through our fence and were grazing in the field behind his place. As my siblings and I gathered our herd for the trip home, my mom apologized for our cows trespassing. “We’re so sorry our cows got out,” she said in a voice you might use to apologize for spilling tea.

“Don’t worry about it,” said Mr. Montfort. “Happens to me all the time with my snakes.”

In my entire life, I never left a field quicker.



I was going to die here, in my bathing suit, fifteen years old, chewed up by a swarm of teeny, weird, poisonous snakes. I’d become another local legend, like Mitch the mechanic who thought he could fly, and Mrs. Bartagas, my piano teacher with forty-three cats and a horse that told her what to make for dinner.

Stupid brother – where was he? What did baby snakes eat, anyway? I guessed they weren’t vegetarians.



“Tommy, heeelp!” I promised myself I’d never be mean to him again. I promised to never tickle him until he peed, or make him laugh while he was drinking milk, or any of the other mean things I had planned to do but hadn’t gotten around to yet.

“Hisss!” The sun was setting. I was shivering and the snakes showed no sign of leaving. Hopefully they weren’t looking for a warm place to spend the night.

“Whut?” My brother, irritated, poked his head around the corner of the house. “What’s your problem?”

“Get down here!” I shrieked at him, relieved but remarkably, still a bossy older sister. “Get down here now! There are snakes everywhere! Snakes! Now! Here!”


“Whut?” Tom mumbled again. What part of my screeching did he not understand? At least he was finally meandering down to the pool. And starting to realize there might be something wrong. For the first time in my life, I regretted depriving him of oxygen as a child.

“Snakes!” I hissed. “Everywhere. Look!”

He started to come over and stopped. “Whoa,” he remarked. “There are snakes under your chair!”

“Get something to get rid of them before they hurt me.” I bit my tongue and added, “Please.”

“Wow,” Tom continued. “They’re hatching by the pool. There must be at least fifteen of them. They look like they’re poisonous.”

“If you get me out of here,” I stated slowly, “I will give you a chocolate bar. Real chocolate this time. No Ex-lax.”

“Promise?” he asked.

“Yes, yes, yes! Go get a broom, please.”

“Even better,” Tom grinned, “I’ll get the shotgun.”

“Tom, if you blast a hole in the pool, Dad will get mad.” I didn’t bother mentioning any potential damage to me. He might think it worthwhile.

He threw a beach towel over the end of the lounge chair, so the snakes couldn’t see what was going on. Then, wearing thick boots, he scooted closer, reached out, and grabbed my hand, pulling me off the chair.

“Hisss!” as the chair wobbled, empty above them.

He swept as many as he could into some big storage cans and sealed the lids. The cans rocked back and forth as the snakes puffed, snarled and coiled about inside them. I changed my clothes and took the snakes down to our friendly neighborhood reptile institute. I wanted to know what they were. But first I gave my brother the biggest chocolate bar I had.

To be continued….

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Bust a Mooooove - Duct Tape

The other night I was esconced in an elite social club/corner bar when tragedy struck. A friend's jeans, perhaps stretched beyond suggested torque limits, split wide open across the back pocket. They were her favorite pair, but years of stress and strain had taken a toll, and now a fair slab of skin was peeking out. A weaker woman would have run for the door in tears, but not my friend.

She held her ground, and her pants, for she had... duct tape.

I was so proud. Whipping out her Hello Kitty Leatherman, she deftly sliced a piece of tape off and bridged the gap. "No, no!" cried another friend. "You must put the strips vertically. It's much more slimming." She was right, of course, and we quickly corrected the fashion faux pas. Bursting with pride, but not enough to burst my britches, I offered to add a few pieces to my own Wranglers as a fashion statement of solidarity.

Functional yet attractive, the shiny stuff worked in a country/grunge sort of way. It gave guys an easy opening line with my friend, i.e. "What the heck is that on yer pants?" After which they'd spend entire songs discussing some of the more unique uses of the miracle adhesive. Instead of going home early and alone, she got to stay out and twirl her reflective keester about the dance floor a while longer.

There are certain sounds that, when heard, automatically create a mood- cats love can openers, my dog loves the music of the passing ice cream truck, for some - the croonings of Barry White....I was wondering if, in the right setting, the sound of ripping duct tape could be inspiring.

Next week I expect to walk in and see a whole bunch of copycat, duct-taped girlies eagerly following our lead. Hipper than a mullet and with more staying power, this duct tape thing has legs. I'm working on a line of jewelry, starting with bangle bracelets and a matching studded choker. My friend attempted a mini skirt which, although a painful failure, led her to discover that the stuff is a very effective body wax.

This has been your most-recent Dating Data Update. Thanks for reading this far.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Election Results

Today, in our living room, my two boys held an election. About twenty stuffed animals ran for mayor. They were quickly whittled down to four finalists, mostly by our terrier running off with some of the losers. (Isn't that always the way?)

The final four consisted of a chicken, a fish, a dog, and a gorilla. Each gave a speech. The fish, being out of water, had a bit of trouble and died of asphyxiation at the podium.

The gorilla started out smoothly but lost his composure when he had an inconvenient itch that just couldn't wait. It was a bit of a turn-off and, if it isn't already, is sure to be a hit on Youtube.

The chicken clucked something unintelligible, flapping her wings like the sky was falling. Most of the audience didn't speak chicken so they didn't understand. Too bad, since she might have made sense if she could reach them somehow.

The dog napped through the other speeches, spoke last and promised everyone cake. Sadly, that was all it took.

My question to Scruff, the worn, old dog who won, was this - how could you promise everyone cake when food isn't allowed in the living room? How could you make such a promise when you knew from the start that you couldn't deliver?

As a stuffed animal, Scruff wasn't talking. He appeared angry and a bit creepy. Maybe he was missing his nap.
I'm guessing he hadn't thought his actions through this far. Just get through the campaign, promise what you need to, and fix it all once you're in control. Arf.

I'm sure we'd never let that sort of thing happen, right?

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Candidate Who Came to Dinner

The same blizzard that welcomed John F. Kennedy to our highest office welcomed me to this world. At the time, people worried that putting a Catholic in the White House was a huge mistake. Washington would be controlled by Rome, and Kennedy would be nothing more than the Pope’s pawn. Pretty soon we’d all be packing Rosaries and banned from eating meat on Fridays. This silliness amazed me.

I don’t want to be amazed like that anymore. Now we have a woman and an African American running for office, and some people running to cover their ugly, deep-set fears with flimsy excuses. Look deep - if you’re voting against (or for) someone simply because of gender or race, you need therapy, not a voting booth.

Honestly, I don’t want to know what a candidate does at home, how bad a bowler he is, or whether she can kick back shots with the guys. At what point do we finally say, “I don’t care if the next President of the United States is a transgender mandrill – somebody give me a shot at a decent life?”

The candidates confuse the issue more by pandering to our base commonality. “I’m one of you,” they purr. No, you’re not, and we’re happy about that. We could never survive the rat race that is Washington. We’re hoping one of you can.

Sometimes private choices give you a peek at what a candidate's future intentions might be. For instance, did they marry for money? If that’s the case, maybe that candidate will marry big oil. Gas is quickly approaching $4 a gallon – at what price ignorance? But at least he’s white, you may think, if not say. If we decide one of the most critical elections using racist or sexist bias, we deserve what we get. If we can’t look beyond looks, we are most certainly doomed.

Has it really come down to which is less worse – a woman in the White House, or a black man in the White House? Are we really that shallow? This is the part where you yell, ‘No!’ Unless, of course, you're uncomfortable with a woman telling you what to do. If that's the case, I hope you enjoy cereal for dinner, because after paying for gas, that's about all you'll be able to afford.

False issues cloud the real deal like so many messy snowflakes. But I will tell you one thing -this candidate WILL be coming to dinner. The next President will decide how often you have a nice steak, or have to settle for a cheaper cut of meat. Picking the President based on primordial fears may be the cut that gives you indigestion.

Choose wisely– you may have to eat your vote. And that's no bologna.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

You See a Dear, I See 'Bimbo'

You know how perfectly decent guys will pretend to fall for bimbos just to make you jealous? It's a cruel but common game. Usually the anger of the moment precludes a woman from taking selective action, but I'm going to give you a few tips on how to effectively counteract this snide move and still minimize your parole time.

Since guys are single-celled orgasms (sick), they can't keep up with our plethora of multi-tasking activities. They know that and try to downplay this fact. Hell, they downplay every disadvantage they have. They just have to do it one disadvantage at a time.

Let's say, for example, you're at a club, and you know he's interested in you because he keeps peeking over at you and drooling. This goes on for several beers minutes. Finally, he walks toward you and instead of doing something sane, like saying 'hi,' he asks a bimbo to dance, right in front of you.

You have several options, most of which will end with you incarcerated or at least with a broken nail. Let's look at some of the kinder ones. You can:
  • stare daggers at him
  • find a loser to dance with like he did
  • carve your name in his leather seat (not necessarily the one in his car)

  • test her fake bimbtits as flotation devices in the men's room toilet

These are all moves he expects of you. As Queens of the Multitask, we must be better than bitter.

First of all - disappear. Move. Go hide a weapon in the bathroom again, whatever. Just get scarce and don't be where he expects you to be. He'll be looking for your reaction. By the time he can't find you, you'll have your scope focused and a bullet in the chamber.

Part of the key to the 'disappear' move is the amount of time involved. Between alcohol and bimbos, guys don't remember much, so you can't stay away too long.

Keep in mind that when the song ends, he won't have another move lined up. Guys can't think that far ahead. You can. Let him hang like a limp booger on the dance floor a while. It's a humbling experience that will help him appreciate you more later.

If you've got a prop-daddy handy, use him. Walk back to your spot with a fresh drink, giggling with your prop-daddy. By this time your target will have forgotten what he was up to and will just see you with alcohol and another guy.

At this point, give your target the long, slow, sloe-eye. Yes, the Bambi what-were-you-thinking-by-wasting-time-with-a-flotation-device-trollop look. Then, back to prop-daddy. By now you have his attention and his family jewels in your side pocket.

You can take it from here - whatever your style is - pouty, cute/angry, etc. Now, go git 'im, girls!

This has been your most recent Dating Data Update. Thanks for reading this far.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Stone Cold Turkey Goes Unwired - My Forty-eight Seventy-two One Hundred and One Hours Without the Internet

“Whaaaaaat?”My voice echoed in the distance as if I were watching my body from above, floating in a transcendent state somewhere between suburban reality and Lucifer’s tech support.

“The next available appointment we have is Wednesday between 10 am and 12 pm. Is that a good time for you?”

“Wait. Wait.” That falling feeling was back, the one with the trippy seventies music and cheap spiral effects in the background. “No,” I stammered, grabbing at neon swirlies in my mind. “That’s NOT a good time for me.”

“Ok,” the plastic-happy voice on the phone chirped. “How about Friday afternoon, between 2 and 4?”

“Whaaaaaat?” My cheap spiral effects were beginning to wobble. My precious lifeline was fading even further away. “Nooooo!”

“We’re sorry you’re having trouble with your service,” the words bubbled off Ms. Chirpy’s tongue like a well-traveled song. I wondered how many times she said it and how often she went to confession. “Is there anything else I can help you with today?”

Is there anything else she could help me with? I had started this long, strange trip at 10 am. It was now past noon on Monday. I believe it was the same Monday that I had called tech support, but after 5 transfers, several countries and a handful of dropped calls, I couldn’t be sure.

“Yes,” I said. “You can start by telling me what you’ve helped me with already. Because I don’t know what that is.”

“Well,” she burbled, “I scheduled you an appointment for Wednesday between 10 am and 12 pm. Would you like me to change that for you?”

Lovely Ms. Chirpy had a dark side. Beneath all her effervescence, she was obliquely threatening to lose my appointment. Speak softly and carry a big schtick.

“Please….no,” I begged. “I’ll be good!”

Thus began my trek across the desert wasteland of the unwired – no email, no blogs, no instant messaging, no life.

Some of the side effects are positive- I weed the yard, organize my closet, pick out my wardrobe for the entire week, make several four-course meals for my sons, clean out the junk drawer in the kitchen, repair a broken toilet, and give both dogs pedicures. And this is all by Monday night.

My fingers are shaking from lack of typing. I decide to lift weights to sap the energy from my idle limbs. I get the punching bag up in the garage and work out. But while my muscles ache, my brain is underworked. It’s buzzing and bored, ready for mischief. I snap at my kids, who hold a quick conference together in the next room before returning cautiously. “Mom,” they ask, “When will the Internet connection be back up again?” I tell them we have another day and a half to go. Their faces fall as they return to the other room to discuss their best options for survival. They head for bed a little early. I find out later that they planted motion-sensor stuffed animals in their doorways to alert them if I trespass.

I watch Law & Order reruns and do stomach crunches, hoping to eventually pass out. Frightened, both dogs sleep in another room. Around one am I turn the television off, but as I stare at the blank screen I envision my email inbox piling up. At 2:30 I hear the morning paper hit the driveway and consider going down to get it to catch up with the news. I decide that’s too pathetic and opt to stare at the ceiling instead. At six am the news comes on the radio. Desperate for mental activity, in my head I’m rewriting the morning dj’s schtick.

My beloved laptop is not at the breakfast table with us this morning. I try to fill the void by talking to my children, but that only frightens them. My oldest tries to lighten the mood by telling me I look nicer without the lcd glow on my face. They’re both ready to go to school half an hour earlier than normal.

Facing an entire day without Internet access, I begin to acquire new respect for the sturdiness of the pioneers. Instead of checking online, I actually have to go outside to see if it’s a nice day. I apply Windex to nearly everything on the first floor, then go out to the garage to box the punching bag again. Free weights and two loads of laundry follow, then a couple of phone calls to friends to see if the Internet has crashed without me. It has not.

While running errands, I’m stuck in traffic next to a cable-tv-phone-Internet technician van. I try to make eye contact with the driver. I give him my best ‘come-hither-and-hook-up-my-modem’ look, but he’s obviously trained to expect this. He averts his eyes.

A friend of mine has the cutest service technicians and delivery drivers on the planet. Now I realize why – they’re coming to our rescue, bringing order to our chaos, restoring access to online shopping. They are modern day knights in shining armor.

Only when mine arrives, he doesn't shine so much. Sweat yes, but no shine. He's new and has never seen this type of modem before, so he fumbles for quite a while. (I'll resist the obvious analogy to dating younger men.) Finally, after two and a half hours, a new modem and another tech guy, I'm back in the saddle. They leave. Of course my Internet connection immediately dies.

The next round consists of two more techies - older, more experienced, with more tattoos. They discover that the first tech team had inadvertently linked me into a neighbor's wireless connection. Oops. After an hour and a half, they blame my router and tell me to call the router manufacturer's tech support. Oh, and have a nice day. I return to the garage to beat the patootie out of the punching bag.

Day five - I try not to notice the new teeth marks on the headboard. I floss to get rid of the splinters. Then I bypass the router, linking my laptop directly into the modem to contact Linksys support via 'live chat.' (If that last sentence made your mind numb, you're not alone.) I reach 'Nirmal', whose name reminds me of 'A.B. Normal' from Young Frankenstein. We have a lovely conversation and are getting along quite well. Suddenly Nirmal tells me to connect my laptop to the router instead of the modem. The router isn't connected to anything, which means the chat I'm on with him will disconnect. I realize that he's trying to end what I thought was a meaningful relationship. He recommends I call someone else. Sigh.

A quick break to scream into my pillow, and I make the call to Linksys support, utilizing an interactive communication tool called a telephone. After two hours, a few terrifying 'hmmm, I've never seen that before's,' and a beer, we get it working. It's now Friday afternoon. I've numb from the week, weak from the numbskulls.

What was wrong, you ask? It seems the router's finger-pointing device was malfunctioning, enabling the modem to acquire an IP address lower than Paris Hilton's IQ. By setting up a new network of unsupportive support personnel, we were able to delete an entire week of my life. If you want more specific information, you’re not Nirmal. And you should be happy for that.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Growing Up Green (Acres)

Every once in a harvest moon, a couple of city people get the wild idea that they would be better off living by a babbling brook with the pretty deer and some fluffy bunnies. Whether it's a genetic mutation, a Darwinian attempt at entertainment (hey, Einstein, hold my beer and watch this), or yet another attempt at a FOX reality show, every so often it happens.

My parents are from Brooklyn, a part of New York City whose name is derived from the Indian word for "arrow broken by heavy accent." When my parents married they decided, much like the nimrods from Green Acres, to move to the countryside. I blame this decision partly on the Dodgers leaving Brooklyn. A diehard Bums fan, my dad decided that once his beloved team headed west, he might as well hang it all up, get married, and move to the 'sticks,' because his life was essentially over.

Both of their families railed against the move. "Oh, my gawd, there are Indians up there!" howled Aunt Mary.

"You'll nevah see us again!" warned Uncle Frank. (This was the same Uncle Frank who would visit us and our pool every summer for thirty-five years.)

"Are you freakin' outta your freakin' mind? Did you even check to see where the nearest deli is? You will freakin' starve!" Uncle Louie murmured. Uncle Louie wasn't our real uncle, but Brooklyn Borough regulations stated that everyone had to have at least one relative named 'Louie,' 'Vinnie,' or 'Tony.' If you didn't have one, one was provided for you at a nominal charge.

Brooklynites live by a different map. First, there are the local neighborhood landmarks consisting of the deli, bakery, corner store, and butcher. All local places are on a first name basis, for instance, Third Street Delicatessen is called Vinnie's because it was owned by Vinnie Constantino. It doesn't matter that Vinnie died twenty-three years earlier - it is Vinnie's, dammit.

Travel is by bus and subway. Routes are referred to by the letters of the train or bus - take the 'A' Line to Rockaway- for instance. A big trip involves a 'transfer,' or multiple trains and buses, maybe even to one of other boroughs of New York City. Beyond the city is the frontier town known as Yonkers, then the wilds of Indian country where my parents ended up, then Canada. We learned quickly not to tell relatives that Indians didn't really live here, because if we did, they'd be up here all the time asking us where the nearest deli was.

City people do not use standard directions such as north or south. Instead, you're told to "go to Avenue D and hang a right at Vinnie's." If you don't know that Vinnie's is actually labelled Third Street Delicatessen then you must be from freakin' Yonkers and don't deserve to live anyway.

Countryborn, I learned to tell time and direction by the sun and stars. I gave valid directions to the citidiots that attempted to visit us, but sadly, they'd get lost anyway. For color, I'd throw in 'take a left at Jimmy Joe's turnip truck' knowing full well the truck wasn't there. Jimmy Joe was serving three to five for embezzlement and not selling turnips anymore. Hee, hee, hee. With no cable television, we made our own entertainment. Ain't no hatrack on my neck, suh.

Green Acres was an amusing show. My childhood was amusing as well, mainly because I survived it. Unlike the television show, though, my childhood consisted of many trips to the emergency room. Even then it was entertaining, at least for the nurses and doctors attending to my injuries. They usually got a good chuckle out of my medical record, which included:

  • bitten by horse (stitches)
  • bitten by dog (stitches)
  • trampled by cow (contusions)
  • trampled by horse (lacerations, contusions, and a concussion if I remember correctly)
  • kicked by horse (cracked ribs & an impressive double horseshoe bruise/tattoo)
  • thrown by horse (severely bruised bottom and pride)
  • thrown by cow (massive embarrassment)
Once (thank goodness only once), I was in the henhouse gathering eggs when a chicken hopped off a rather high nest right onto my head. As she landed, she slipped and entangled herself in my hair. Naturally the birdbrain panicked, flapping her wings in my face as her claws scraped my scalp. I couldn't get a grip on her and the weight of her body hanging off my hair bent my head almost to the ground. Make a note- when you're in a henhouse, don't fall down. The floor is incredibly nasty and slippery with....stuff.

After several long minutes of flying feathers and torn follicles, I was able to unleash the beast. Since the giggling of the emergency room staff was still ringing in my ears from my last visit, I skipped reporting this to anyone. When an incident like that goes public in a small town, just try to get a date to the prom. Nobody wants to be seen with the owner of a Girl Scouts' Chicken Attack Survivor badge.

One morning before school my mom was out back feeding our massive herd of cattle, Larry and Suzy. Yes, two whopping head of Angus. How tough could that be, right? Larry, however, was still cranky about losing his Rocky Mountain oysters and, much like many cuckolded cowboys, was determined to prove how macho he still was without them. He pawed the ground and charged at my mother and her grain bucket. A tough redhead from Brooklyn, my mother refused to relinquish the grain, opting instead to head for the nearest tree, where she remained all through breakfast. Finally my siblings and I had to head for the school bus. My dear mother, still treed by Larry, gave us a lovely Rose Queen wave from a sturdy branch, warbling, 'Have a nice day at school!'

In Algebra class, a friend asked me what I was thinking about. By then I knew better than to share the embarrassing truth, so I made something up. Never, ever tell a friend that you're wondering if your mom's still stuck in an apple tree with a fierce steer named Larry waiting below. It took me years just to tell my therapist about it.

I watched Green Acres for years, waiting patiently for them to unmask the dark side of nouveau agrarianism, but it never happened. Arnold the pig never ended up as bacon next to Sunday morning pancakes. None of their cows ever ambled by with meat cuts outlined in surveyor's chalk on their bodies. They never addressed the problem of turning a horse around in your bedroom and getting her downstairs again before your mom found out she was in the house. Serious flaws in a sitcom, if you ask me. Reality, however, kept me in stitches.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Stinky Binky

Sometimes it's not easy to say goodbye.

This is Jake's binky. It's his favorite buddy. He snuggles with it at night, in a somewhat creepy way. He drags it about the house much like my little sister dragged her favorite dolly around when we were kids. Anyway, it's been stitched, washed, and duct-taped within an inch of its life. It is time for the nice trashman to take it away to live at Uncle Kevorkian's farm.

Jake has another binky, a much nicer, more presentable one, but he's passed it over in favor of this icky swamp-gas thing. We all make our choices, I guess. For whatever reason, Jake had been faithful to this old heap of smell. Taking it away from him wouldn't be easy, but its odor had begun to attach itself to the house, creating a stench entity that threatened to permeate the very beams of our dwelling. In other words, it stank.

Much like my ex-husband, its time had come to go. We planned some exciting entertainment to keep Jake preoccupied and happy. Events such as 'dinner,' and 'more dinner.' Eventually it would sink in that his stinky binky had gone to the great trash dump in the sky. Until then we'd be there to help him through this painful process.

With Jake, the main thing was to avoid laughing at him. Napoleonic runt-terrier that he is, he can spot a suppressed snicker from across the room. If anyone so much as smirks, he's in their face barking furiously. Last month, when the groomer shaved most of his body, except for his head and tail, he resembled a furry black Q-tip. Knowing he looked drafty and ridiculous, Jake would stare at us, searching our eyes for the first sign of a giggle. We would twist ourselves silly in an effort not to laugh in front of him, ducking eye contact, trying to make it out of the room before letting loose with a guffaw. I thought a macho sweater would help his drafty situation, but it sure didn't help us to keep a straight face.

Now his beloved, drool-soaked binky was leaving, and if we laughed at him he'd rip our lips off. And yes, I checked - the Dog Whisperer doesn't cover binky disposal in any of his episodes.

My sons put on hazmat gear (bicycle helmets, ninja swords and clown masks), sang some sort of quirky sea chanty, and deposited the binky in the trash can. I distracted Jake with food and his other somewhat less-offensive binky.

He's fine with it. Although he's requested more duct tape for his current binky. And a black leather collar with big studs in it. And a corvette.