Tuesday, July 29, 2008


Here in Southern California, we just had another earthquake. It was a respectable size, a 5.4, but far enough away (Chino Hills) that there was no physical damage around here, just northwest of Los Angeles. Still, it lasted about 20 seconds with lots of swaying, long enough for me to consider installing seat belts in my couch.

It's hard to explain earthquakes to people who've never witnessed them. We tend to take for granted that the ground below us is solid, unmoving. You should never ever feel that your living room floor has a tide rolling underneath it, or see telephone poles sway like masts on a boat, or ponder that the concrete foundation under your house is essentially dirt pudding.
There are different kinds of quakes, each with its own personality. The Northridge quake, in my opinion, was the nastiest, most vile beast ever belched from the bowels of the earth. It was a shallow, sharp shaker, much like ice cracking quickly across the surface of a pond.

For the uninitiated, imagine Cerberus, three-headed dog from Hell, grabbing you by the ankles and smacking you around like a chew toy. Imagine, as you're flipped about, that you hear your building creaking and quivering loudly, calling out to you, each nail in the timbers groaning as it's torn from its resting place.

Then it stops. Then it starts again. Then every few hours, or days, it sends you a shivery reminder of what happened, until you're absolutely sick of picking up shards of broken potted plants, and you naturally avoid standing near the armoire for any length of time, lest it fall over again. This is also the kind of event that makes you sleep fully clothed, zip quickly beneath freeway underpasses, and seriously consider donning a hard hat in your work cubicle.

The one we just had was a far cry from Northridge. It was a bit deeper in the ground, one tectonic plate greasily wiggling past the other. Kate Hutton, spokesperson eternal for CalTech, our local earthquake guru-center, called it an "oblique flip on a thrust fault." While it sounds like an Olympic-level move on the pommel horse, it's actually a good thing. Keep those plates sliding - it's like a bran muffin for dear ol' San Andreas. If something gets stuck, there could be trouble.

We're now in the post-strike mode, when bands of roving 'live' reporters wander the hills in search of chaos and ruin, pausing beside any misplaced cinder block to inquire whether it is 'quake-related' damage. We're also vulnerable to any burp of noise being considered an aftershock. The anticipation of the next jiggle is nearly as bad as the main event.

Why, do you ask, do we live here? First of all, it's rather rude to ask such a question at a time like this. Our nerves have just rattled right along with the china cabinet. Secondly, I'm in no mental condition to be thinking logically about such things. Third, check in with us in January, when you're shovelling snow while we're wearing t-shirts and shorts (and seat belts) at the Rose Parade.


One of the more interesting things about living in the country is the abundant variety of fauna. Just when you think you’ve met every possible critter on the block, another one shows up in the darndest place. When all is said and done, you may end up with a stitch or two, but usually there’s a fun story to go with it. With a little luck and several years of therapy, eventually you get to chuckle at it.

Just last year I went back to visit my parents, still living in the house they had built years ago. It was late August, hot and humid. I had my two sons with me and as usual, my parents insisted we all stay in the house instead of getting a hotel. My dad took me aside and said, “Have the boys sleep in the living room. You can take your old room.” There was a weird look on his face.

“Why?” I asked.

“We’ve had some issues,” Dad squirmed.

“What kind of issues?”

“Snakes,” Dad whispered, in case they were listening and trained to come when they called.

“How does this have anything to do with where we sleep?” As I said it, I realized the issues were coming from inside the house.

“Last Tuesday I got up in the middle of the night to watch TV. As I sat there, a snake slithered across the floor toward me.”

“In the living room?!” I asked.

“They must be getting in through some hole from under the house.”

They?!?” The hair on the back of my neck was starting to rise. Like tiny little snakes.

“Have the kids sleep down there. They’ll sleep through anything.”

This is what is known as a quandary. Do I let my children sleep where there are known sssserpents ssssurfing sssatellite TV, or do I send them to safety and assign myself to a week of sleeplesssssnessss? And as I got to know more about how my dad functioned, I wondered how I ever survived childhood.

Send a kid out first to see if it’s safe. We’ve got four of them. We can get by with three. Suddenly certain childhood memories became much clearer.

The first night was rough. I made the mistake of going online to learn more about black snakes, the kind that had visited with my dad. While they’re not poisonous, they are aggressive, nasty biters, and can climb. As in onto a couch. Not a wink of sleep for me. I cowered on the couch, lights on, with a big stick. Every once in a while I’d pass out for a moment, only to startle myself awake, flailing my stick at the empty air.

Needless to say by daylight I was a zombie. I didn’t tell my boys why they were sleeping in my room. However, once they figured out that I insisted on sleeping downstairs, they suspected they were missing something and pushed to find out what it was.

Tommy: I need to sleep downstairs. Bobby snores.

Me: At least that way you know he’s still alive.

Bobby: Mom? Is there some reason we can’t sleep downstairs?

Me: I’ll tell you later. Would you like a candy bar for breakfast?

The boys were sleeping in my old room. Every once in a while we’d hear buzzing coming from inside the wall, near the window. Nothing on the outside of the house indicated anything unusual. I couldn’t find any holes. I suspected a raccoon had settled in, entering through the attic, but in August? Unless he had figured out how to pick up the satellite television feed and was watching daytime television, there was no reason for a coon to be inside. Between my snake stakeout and lack of sleep, I was already maxed out on worrying. Whatever was in the wall was staying in there, hopefully until we left.

I slept during the day by the pool, instructing the boys to wake me only if it was absolutely necessary.

Bobby: Mom, c
an I sleep downstairs tonight?

Me: You woke me for that? No.

Bobby: How come you get to have all the fun?

Me: How about a nice candy bar for lunch?

Bobby: Mom, it’s almost four pm.

Me: Would you like Snickers or Milky Way for dinner?

Once we left, I told my dad about the weird noises in the wall of my old bedroom. He investigated and found it to be a huge nest of wasps. The buzzing we heard was the wasps stabilizing the temperature in the nest. Or fighting over the television remote.

Through the years, other varmints that made it inside the house included:

Mice - One of my earliest memories was seeing a grey blur skitter under the couch with my mom in hot pursuit. This is probably why we got Princess, Tomcat Extraordinaire. And once Princess was gone, the rodents were kept out by the Leno-loving black snakes.

Bats – Pamplona has the Running of the Bulls. We had the Barrage of the Bats. Usually confined to the attic, every once in a while they’d swarm, skitter, and bump through the kitchen and living room. It got so bad that we kept a few tennis racquets handy, ready to take a swing as they made the turn into the hallway. Someone would casually call out ‘Bat!’ and everyone would grab a racquet. My hand-eye coordination greatly improved. Plus I was able to ‘accidentally’ hit my brother a few times. Oops.

The bats eventually left our home. My mother observed that they left for good at the same time I went off to college. Could I be the Pied Piper of winged rats? I often felt like that when I went out to nightclubs.

Squirrels – When my parents went away on vacation, leaving the house empty, a squirrel crawled down the chimney and house-sat for them. He eventually ran out of Chex Mix, got bored, and couldn’t get out. No matter how many window panes he gnawed on, how many curtains he ripped, it was hopeless. He eventually got stuck inside a vent in the fireplace, creating a stink worthy of a Republican at a no-host bar. Never, ever let a squirrel house-sit for you.

Moths – These were the B-52s of moths - huge, hulking, grizzle-suede, cargo bugs. They were slower and clumsier than the bats, and there seemed to be millions of them, swarming whatever light was lit. Nothing like sitting down to read a good book on a quaint, quiet, country summer evening, only to have your light source knocked over by flying lint buckets the size of your fist. I wanted to buy a bug-zapper and put it inside the house.

On rare occasions we could glimpse the food chain in action – a moth, followed by a bat, followed by my brother with a tennis racquet. How did the moths get in? Builders beware – nook your crannies properly, lest you be destined to live in the House of Mothra and his bungling buddies.

Birds – They attempted to get in, but it wasn’t really their fault. In our massive bowling alley of a living room, we had a picture window running nearly the entire width of the room. It was beautiful, but since we lived on a ridge, sometimes low flying birds would attempt a shortcut through the glass. Ouch.

Besides the varmints we intentionally brought into the house, these are all the critters I’m aware of that made it inside without a hall pass. There’s the viable chance that others infiltrated our abode and our parents never told us for fear of frightening us. Or for fear one of us would write a book about it. Oops.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Raising a Barn...and a Family

Scenario - you've lived your entire life in New York City. Recently married, you decide to move to the country and start a family. You know very little about country life. Regardless, you decide to raise the stakes by:
  1. planting stakes and watering them

  2. having no money

  3. having a baby right away

  4. building your own home from scratch and some bricks

  5. building your own home with relatives and beer

  6. getting drafted

  7. all of the above

Tsk, tsk. Kids back then did such crazy things. To be fair, getting drafted was beyond my dad's control. As far as the other activities, you'll get no complaint from me. They all serve to heighten the tension in my story.

How hard could it be? To begin with, everyone you knew was yowling about wild, obstreperous Indians and the dearth of a decent deli. Perhaps all that Brooklyn barking was part of the reason my folks moved to the country. Peace, quiet, and a pristine lack of ‘How YOU doin’?’

As you know by now, my parents didn’t listen to the naysayin’ city slickers. They did eventually discover, however, that the country had its own minor drawbacks, such as:
· poison ivy
· poisonous snakes in the poison ivy
· ornery Dutch settlers
· ornery Dutch bugs
· 130% humidity
· -130 below zero winters (that’s in kilograms)
· severe thunder storms
· blizzards beyond belief
· no cable television
· no cable television even after it’s invented

I’m going to assume they were unaware of these. To know about them and still move would indicate cranial incapacities that boggle the mind. If indeed, your mind is still boggle-able.

My folks purchased a thirty acre plot of land outside of town. Very outside of town. Beyond-pizza-delivery outside of town. When they bought it, there was nothing on it except trees, bushes, grass, and the things that like to live in trees, bushes, and grass. Now there’s a lovely house on the property, and the things that liked to live in trees, bushes, and grass have discovered that they prefer living in a lovely house. Especially when it got cold. Or hot. Or rainy.

Fall is the season when all the critters that spent the summer outside begin their migration. Not south, but rather, inside. As in the basement, or attic, or, for the high-falootin’ critters, the living room. Why flap your wings all the way to Palm Beach when you can just peck a hole into the attic? While the ornery Dutch settlers didn’t welcome my parents, the local wildlife was thrilled to see them, especially when the snow hit the hill.

This all happened in Rhinebeck, a little town in Dutchess County, about ninety miles north of New York City. Well over 300 years old, Rhinebeck was founded by three Dutchmen from Kingston, not to be confused with the band by the same name. They opened a bar and the rest is history. Actually, so is this.

Anyone who moved to Rhinebeck in the past 200 years was considered a newcomer. To run for office or open a pizza parlor, you had to show proof of residency on a teeny, wilted, yellow map of the original Dutch colony of Neuuw Amsteurdauum. For many years, the town remained quite small, restricted by the obvious constraints of trying to live on a teeny, wilted, yellow map. Eventually the rules were relaxed to allow for settlement if you possessed a name with several odd, guttural consonants in a row, such as Pietr Fargenschvathing the Elder. Or a suspiciously trimmed name such as Kip.

Since my parents didn’t boast such a meritorious lineage or even extraneous vowels in their name, they settled outside of town, beyond the pale, as it were. In the pre-cable TV days, villages protected themselves from Indians, wolves, and Jehovah’s Witnesses by building timber-pole walls, or pales. Over time this pale distinction has changed from being a protective barrier to the line of demarcation for pizza delivery. Either way, a status symbol of survival.
My parents opted for a breezy parcel of land, choosing a high ridge upon which to build their home. I knew this was the highest point around because electrical storms zapped our house endlessly. Either the elevation was to blame, or God was aiming for my sister.

While there were several homes already built in the area, they were infested with the ghosts of lost pizza delivery guys, so my dad decided to build his own. House, that is. Although we could have used a pizza guy, too. Having no money, he enlisted the help of his dad, brother, uncle and any other relatives he could lure up from Brooklyn. Beer worked. So did all these guys. Hard, if not always smart.

My dad’s brother, Bob, was a high-steel union worker from New York. So of course he managed to fall through the roof of our two-story house-to-be. Luckily the wooden balcony broke his fall. Luckily he hit his head and doesn’t remember this happening or we’d still be running from his union boss.

My dad’s dad, Bob, was the consummate Irish stereotype – drinking, smoking, happy-go-lucky leprechaun with the evil grin and twinkling eyes. He also worked his tail off. Somehow he made everything look so easy, whether it was driving a coal truck in Brooklyn for puny wages, or motoring up to Indian country to pound nails with his son. He took it all in stride with a wink and a smile. Which, of course, drove his wife, Bob (kidding), completely nuts.

A sidenote regarding family names – you may notice a motif repeating throughout my family’s story – a few names, such as Bob, Tom, and Ann, are used over and over, sometimes slightly changed to prevent confusion, sometimes slurred to add to the confusion. No reason except tradition, and besides, if they were good names, why throw them out? It also saves on stationery. At times it’s bewildering, so middle names were thrown in the mix, as well as the ever-popular ‘Hey, you!’ which meant everyone came running.

My dad’s uncle, Tom (yup), was a plumber, so at least some construction was done properly. Recognizing the situation for what it was, he managed to build the pipes strong enough to support the house and the snow which piled on it in the winter.

When the Cuban missile crisis hit, Dad was drafted (again) and reported to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where my brother, Tom (yup), was born. The birth cost a whopping $12. My dad still wants his money back. Meanwhile the foundation of the house lay open to the elements all winter. Needless to say the raccoons, squirrels, snakes, birds, bats and other sundry varmints weren’t too pleased to have their living quarters unfinished. A few of them wrote threatening letters to Castro, who eventually calmed down and backed off so we could all get back to work.

Eventually the house was finished, more or less. I say more or less because in the rush to beat the winter snows, some nooks and crannies were never properly nooked and crannied, leading eventually to lots of visitors from Mother Nature’s extended family. A red-brick, split-level monster, our home had a huge fieldstone entryway with a rounded, opera-style staircase. Most of it featured hardwood floors. The living room alone had space for a massive fireplace, television, pool table, piano, several couches, and, as we found out later, various varmints.

Monday, July 7, 2008

All You Can Eeeeeeew!

Our local baseball team offers All-you-can-eat tickets. I've never eaten a ticket so I can't vouch for the taste. Although I have snacked on the paper my 401k was written on, and that wasn't too bad. Had to get some sort of return on it, even if it's only indigestion.

Yes, the Los Angeles Dodgers of Chavez Ravine have converted one section of right field into Chowhound City. Now, for the advance price of $35, you can eat all the hot dogs, nachos, peanuts and popcorn you want. Soda and water are also included. Beer, ice cream and Tums cost extra. Hopefully the bathrooms are free of charge.

To be fair, with the sky-high prices of food at Dodger Stadium, this is probably a deal. I just couldn't handle watching the gluttonous piggies around me getting their money's worth and then some, filling the Kiss-cam as they smooch their Dodger Dogs.

How does someone eating a hot dog in Los Angeles affect you? Much like the proverbial butterfly on the other side of the world affects the motion of the earth, only this butterfly weighs in at a hefty 325 pounds. They don't have to run over your toe with their motorized wheelchair to have an impact. We’re all forking over health dollars to pay for these people’s diabetes medications and heart operations.

According to a recent article on msn.com, What If No One Were Fat?*, the savings of a leaner, meaner country would add up to a whopping $487 billion. That's almost 3.5% of gross domestic product- key word ‘gross.’ The savings on health insurance, food, etc., would give each of us $4,270- enough to buy a home gym, or a few gallons of gas.

Of course this is all wishful thinking. But if we considered overeating much like we consider littering, perhaps we'd all be a bit better off, health-wise and financially. There's a reason chubby butterflies don't make it. The other butterflies get tired of pushing their wheelchairs around.

Next up - the Marlboro ‘All-you-can-puff’ NASCAR veranda, coming soon to a pit row near you.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Logistics of Converting Livestock to Pets

There's an old adage in farming that it's harder to eat an animal after you've named it. Lots of farm kids attempt to salvage a steer, goat, or pig by giving it a cute name. Sometimes it works. For instance, we named my sister and we ended up keeping her.

But most times it doesn't work. The first couple of steers we owned, Larry and Suzy, were downright evil. Yes, I'm aware 'Suzy' is a bizarre name for a steer, but they wouldn't let me name him 'Rose' after our Nana. This gender-bending of a name may have played a part in his poor attitude, but that certainly didn't give his buddy, Larry, any excuse to be rude.

Names alone were not enough to save those meanies from becoming veal parmagiana. They once chased our mother up into a tree and kept her there all day. After that, I never saw Mom tenderize beef so thoroughly. We kids soon realized that if any of our animals were going to live long enough to collect Social Security, we were going to have to take the name game a bit further.

So we not only named our farm animals, we tried to turn them into pets. For instance, we taught several of the cattle to hang out in the yard like big dogs. They learned not to cross the road or chase cars, and how to take the lid off the container of grain in the garage. My pet rooster, Chump, liked to be scratched behind the ears and would come when you called him. He wasn't quite housebroken, but his table manners were impeccable (sorry).

This pet project didn't always succeed. We often fed table scraps to the horses and cows. It's one thing to have your dog drooling patiently by the table. Quite another to have a herd staring in your kitchen window at your dinner plate-

Horse: Whinny! (You done with that?)

Cow: Moo! (Dibs on the potatoes au gratin!)

Chicken: Cluck!(Herb, is that you? Oh, my God!)

Nevertheless, we continued our furperson conversion, hoping to make them all members of our family. My dad knew exactly what we were up to. One day as I worked in the front yard, Ralph, our Black Angus steer/dog, walked by sporting chalk lines all over his body. As I looked closer, I realized the dotted lines followed the cuts of meat under his black fur. Today, Ralph was our oversized Labrador, but tomorrow....

One of my favorite moves was to sneak a steer into our house. And once we had done that a few times, we decided to up the ante and attempt the second floor. There were several key degrees of difficulty, all of which made this stunt even more exciting to pull off:

  • Mom - usually in the kitchen, but wary of any strange noises. Also wary of no noise at all, since that's when we were usually doing the most damage. Sometimes a sibling was bribed to launch a distraction. Sib-bribing was dangerous in its own right, though, since now the sib had a chance to snitch on you if the need ever arose. A creative counter-story and the threat of a noogie were needed just in case someone blabbed.

  • Front entryway- chosen because it was the widest and furthest from eagle-ear Mom. It was difficult to keep both the screen door open and the main wooden door open whilst rustling cattle through them without something going wrong. If the steer got hit by the door, it would usually reverse gear and attempt to fly out the nearest exit, usually located over your body. Any cowboy who's operated a loading gate at a cattle ranch has similar issues, except when they get run over, they don't also get grounded by their mom.

  • Front hallway - slate floor - loud and slippery, especially if you wear hooves. To muffle the sound, we made extensive use of throw rugs, carefully leading the animal so it wouldn't step on the loud floor. If we missed the rug, the hoof 'clank' on the stone floor would give us away. Imagine the game, Operation, but on a much larger and more physically punishing scale. To this day, when I see a throw rug, it reminds me of sneaking cattle down the hallway to the stairs. And I can still hear my mom calmly calling from the kitchen, "Get that animal out of the house." Yes, good times.

  • Staircase - wide, which was good, but cows are genetically stair-challenged, which is why you rarely see them in public libraries or performing in musicals. They're not keen on elevators either, but that's a story that I can't tell until the statute of limitations runs out. I can only afford so much litigation at a time.

  • 180 degree rotation- in the rare event we got a steer all the way upstairs and into a room without being detected, turning the animal around without destroying anything (and making noise) was dang near impossible. If you don't believe me, try it sometime. One errant tail flick and a lamp or table bites the dust. We once got Ralph turned successfully but he then flicked his tail against the bedroom door, making a loud, cow-startling noise, which in turn made him leap forward, until he got to the staircase, which he tried to skip altogether. Cattle can't fly, at least not indoors.

  • Return trip - what's harder than getting a cow upstairs? Getting it downstairs. Something about looking downward and the fear of falling. Or maybe it noticed how our beds were so much more comfy than the pasture and didn't want to go back. Cows are hinged differently from us - their rear knees are backwards - so a staircase is a mechanical challenge. Some of them tried to 'hop' down, gaining so much speed that they'd miss the turn to the front door and end up skidding into the living room. If we were lucky, the pool table stopped their forward motion. But the eventual 'thud' usually tipped my mom off that cattle were in the vicinity. At this point it was everyone for himself. Sometimes the cow was left alone to talk things over with my mom. I never had a cow rat me out, though, unlike my sister. Cows ratted her out all the time.

Fortunately we never had a steer have an accident on the carpeting. I don't know how I would've explained that one, except to blame it on my brother. Perhaps the whole holy-cow-I'm-in-the-freaking-house situation was enough for them to keep their tails tucked tightly to their bottoms.

Once a few of the steers had been successfully smuggled into and out of the house, it was time for a bigger challenge -Tara, my horse. She was young, but still the size of a young horse. Farm animals look deceptively smaller when they're outside. Get them inside next to the couch, or even better, on the couch, and you get a better perspective on size. And if caught, a better perspective on corporal punishment.

Tara was a quarter horse, called that because they typically consumed many Quarter-pounders -thereby making their rear ends the size of buses. I never realized how big she was back there until I tried to fit her butt through the front door.

Quarter horses are known for their explosive speed. This is because their back ends are composed almost exclusively of huge, explosive muscles. And a 426 HEMI. At short distances, a quarter mile or less, they are faster than thoroughbred race horses. In a doorway, they can shift from forward to backward in .008 seconds, with enough strength to tear the wood trim off a door and crush an instep. Fortunately, the blunt force was usually sufficient to throw you far enough clear of the alleged incident to make blame difficult to prove. "I couldn't have done it, Mom. I was way over in this pear tree, pickin' apples."

Like most quarter horses, Tara also possessed incredible maneuverability. Many times we'd be trotting along and she'd spy something horrifying, such as a maple leaf or blade of grass. She'd drop her head, spin her shoulder out from under me, and I'd be left hanging in mid-air like Wile E. Coyote. This happened enough that my parents finally brought in a professional horse trainer to work with her. The trainer couldn't stay on anywhere near as long as I could, and eventually gave up on taming any of us. I think my parents wanted to give up, too.

Quarter horses are also known for their brains and easy disposition. Tara was easygoing as long as she got what she wanted. Once her brain hit tilt, however, all bets were off. So the main challenge with getting her into the house was to keep her mellow. For Tara, that involved beer.

When Tara was born, we all joined her and her mom in the pasture, basking in the glow of Mother Nature and the miracle of a new life on the farm. And the very first thing Tara did was line up my dad's Miller High Life, which was sitting innocently in the grass, and kick it over. Since then she's had a thing for beer. This would come in handy when executing the old livestock-in-the-parlor trick.

I gave her a sip or two outside, then placed the beer bottle in the hallway. Tara was not happy. I opened both doors for her and waited. She swiveled her ears, pawing at the ground. She could hear my mom in the kitchen making dinner, and she perked up at that. But she was still wary about going in the house. She shoved me, knowing I was up to something. Finally, with Tara watching closely, I went in and took a sip of the beer. Her beer. She started to whinny in protest, and I had to quickly shush her by grabbing her muzzle. She pushed me out of the way and lunged for the beer in my other hand.

I backpedalled into the hallway, aiming carefully for the throw rugs. Before I knew it, Tara was inside. I gave her a sip of beer. She dribbled shamelessly. While we had momentum, I headed up the staircase with my thirsty pony.

It's amazing what some asses will do for alcohol. By now all Tara saw was the beer. I was hoping that by the time she realized where she was, she wouldn't care. We made the turn at the top of the stairs and headed for my bedroom where I gave her a nice, long drink.

Success! At least halfway, anyway. We still had the return trip to navigate. Tara slobbered Miller all over my floor and looked about happily. The door to my balcony was open and inviting. She decided to investigate. Not a good idea, and she quickly realized that the grass in the front yard was ten feet down. The beer was gone, and Tara wanted out. Now.

I had to get her away from the balcony and turned around. I clanked the empty beer bottle, hoping to get her to follow. She glared at me, then turned her attention back to the view outside. I could see her gathering her legs for a jump. She didn't seem to consider that after clearing the railing of the balcony, she had at least a fourteen foot drop to the grass. I didn't understand her logic at all until years later, after attending a few fraternity parties.

Mom: Ann! Get down here and set the table. Dinner's almost ready.

At the sound of those magic words, Tara spun around. Thank goodness my horse ran on leftovers. The problem was that she was now headed for the kitchen. If she figured out where we kept the beer we were all doomed.

She lumbered down the hallway to the staircase. She stopped for a moment, then caught the scent of pasta wafting its way up from the dinner table. Angling her butt around, she sidestepped handily down the stairs.

To the left was the front door, to the right - the kitchen. Tonight, Tara was determined to sit at the table with us. I slipped in front of her and quickly closed the door to the kitchen. We stood, nose-to-nose. She outweighed me 6-1, but she had no opposable thumb to operate the doorhandle.

Mom: Ann? Come on, I need help setting the table.

Me: I'll be right there!

Tara responded to my mom, too, but I yelled loud enough to cover her whinny. I figured I had less than a minute to de-horse the house before my mom got suspicious.

I looked up to see my youngest brother, Bob, standing in the open front door, mouth ajar, staring at Tara's butt. To be fair, that's probably all he could see from that angle. I waved the empty beer bottle at him and whispered-

Me: Is this yours?

Bob: Wha- what? No!

Me: It is if Mom catches Tara in the house. Help me!

Bob stood there, face to face with a horse's ass, wondering how old you had to be to qualify for the witness protection program.

Me: Get some grass. Hurry!

Still stunned, Bob walked outside and picked some grass. Tara turned to see. She preferred rigatoni, but the grass was in sight. I shoved her toward the door. Bob waved the grass at her and she hit a trot on the slate hallway.

Mom: Do I hear a cow in the house again?

Me: No. I was just showing Bob my tap moves.

I tapped a quick version of a shim sham riff as Tara's butt cleared the front door. Bob closed the gate, er, front door, as Mom stormed in from the kitchen.

Mom: Quit horsing around and get in here!

I flipped my brother the international symbol for noogie-warning and headed in to eat.