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This book is dedicated to my wonderful family. especially because not one of you is planning to sue me…right? . You’ve put up with me all of these years and provided so much great humor material. I love you all.
Where’s My Son? The Loose End and the Laundry The Desperate Dad’s Guide to Getting Some Tips for Tool Men On Top of Spaghetti The Shirt The F Word The Potty Predicament Fruit and Fannies Crime and Punishment True Grit Soapy Situation Stylish Skivvies Chewing on Chores 1 5 9 13 17 22 25 28 30 33 37 40 43 47 50 53 v .Table of Contents Introduction Days of Derangement Dude.
Days of Derangement Spring Cleaning Busy. Busy The Hound from Hades Gums and Games The Tell-Tale Hamster Crimes of Crookedness Boot Camp Horses on Porches The Most Wonderful Time of the Year Shopping Shangri-La Teens in a Tree Testosterone Trouble Towel Tyranny Bathing Suit Blues To Do or Not To Do Resistance is Futile Space Time Turmoil The Power of Pigskin The Hairy Truth Driving Drill Instructor LBD Conspiracy It’s Over Bee’s Knees The B and B 57 59 62 66 70 73 76 79 83 86 89 92 95 98 102 105 108 111 114 117 120 123 126 129 vi .
Barbie Body Hair Fashion Forward Blackberry or Bust Plumber’s Pants Bikini Babes Trivial Pursuit Hard Times for Humor Drive-Thru Dilemma Llama Drama Beauty Shop Dropout The Rock and the Hard Place Got Flax? 132 135 138 141 144 147 150 152 155 158 161 165 168 171 174 177 181 183 186 190 193 197 200 203 vii .Table of Contents E-nnoyed by Emoticons High Maintenance Woman Pity the PTA Germ Warfare Pull My Finger Backpack Black Hole The Pedometer A Man’s Job Rocky Beautiful People The Grill General Thanks.
Days of Derangement Silence is Golden The Five-Second Rule There Should Be an App for That Minivan Mentality The Trail Ahead Picture Perfect Of Boys and Bunnies The Garden Room The Pig Story Pirates and Packers Cooler Online Beware the Bingo Wings Adios Internet Column Creation Couch Potato Confessions Ladies Room Rebel Fake Brain Football Goes Feminine Weighty Matters The Big Wee My BFF Aunt Bea Goes Bonkers Turbulence Hail Britannia 206 208 210 213 216 218 220 222 225 228 232 235 237 239 242 245 247 250 253 256 259 262 266 269 viii .
Table of Contents The Scariest Costume Costumes for the Craft-Challenged Of Mice and Martha Plunging into Thanksgiving Things For Which I Am Thankful ‘Tis a Few Weeks ‘Til Christmas All I Want for Christmas Is Me Cruise Control Rover Resolutions Holiday of the Heart Survivor for Sweethearts Midyear Resolutions Mother’s Day Manifesto About Jackie Papandrew 272 275 278 281 284 286 289 291 294 297 300 303 306 311 ix .
t all began with a bunch of dirty laundry and a newspaper editor who needed an immediate answer to her question. “What do you want to call your column?” Your column. Boy, did I like the sound of that. I grinned and squeezed the phone in excitement, staring at the sweaty socks, unclean unmentionables and assorted other dirty duds I’d managed to sort into piles on the living room ﬂoor but couldn’t seem to get around to washing. It would be just my luck right then for my mother-in-law to stage one of her “spontaneous” visits to check out the condition of my house. You’ve got to love the woman. “Umm…how about Airing My Dirty Laundry?” I asked, thinking that title was a good ﬁt for all the stories I wanted to tell about myself and my family. And with that, my career as a humor columnist and spinner of sudsy, if silly, stories was born. But before that, I gave birth to a couple of really good sources of loopy life material (one male and one female), and we acquired some other, utterly insane sources of the canine and rodent variety. And before that, I married the son of the Not Really Spontaneous Drop-by Queen.
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So you could say it all began—as so many things seem to in the world of women—with a man. That man has given me so much humorous material that I dubbed him Funny Man and started writing stories for my column about his amusing ways. If you’re a woman, you’ll probably recognize similar traits in the men in your life. I also began writing stories about my daughter (naturally labeled Funny Girl) and son (Funny Boy), as well as our crazy relatives and wild animals (sometimes, I swear, one and the same thing). And I hung out to dry on that ﬁgurative clothesline tales about my own goofball psyche, with the hope I’d discover I’m not the only one out there with a full hamper. Judging by all the readers who wrote to me with their own dirty laundry, I know I’m not. So now I’ve put many of the stories from my column into this book. There are also never-before-published stories here. They are presented in no particular order, simply all jumbled together the way they are in my head and in my heart. Funny Boy and Funny Girl are now in college, and they are still embarrassed by me. That’s OK. Funny Man and I are older, plumper, with more gray hair. Well, he has more gray hair. I have an ongoing relationship with a bottle of hair color to ward off the gray. Hopefully, we are also wise enough to be able to laugh at ourselves. I have a feeling you’ll see yourself and your own family members in these pages. But if your life and your brain aren’t quite as loopy as mine, I hope you’ll still laugh off a certain posterior part of your body reading this book! If you’d like to read more of my stories or get in touch with me, check out my website, FunnyJackie.com. Or you can join
Hope to see you there! Thanks for reading! Jackie Papandrew 3 . where I post funny stuff every day.Introduction the rowdy folks laughing it up on my Facebook page.
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or quite a few years, I had teenagers living in my house. If you are at all familiar with this irrational and often irritating species (homo smartaleckus), you know these creatures are embarrassed by the very existence of their parents. This is perfectly natural. I can remember, as a teen, thinking my parents were utterly clueless idiots. But my folks never provided me with the proof of parental derangement that I regularly bestowed upon my kids when they were growing up. Take the day I managed to humiliate my daughter (hereafter known as Funny Girl), without saying a word. See, I’d read in a magazine about a nifty makeup trick. Apparently, if you take an eyebrow pencil and draw a line down each side of your nose and then blend the lines in with foundation, even the most crooked nozzle takes on a straighter appearance. Having always disliked the shape of my nose, I was eager to try this. So one afternoon, just before I was due to pick up Funny Girl from school, I carefully drew two black lines down my malformed muzzle. Then, before I could cover them up, I was distracted by a phone call. And with a mind withered down by
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motherhood and approaching menopause to only a few functioning memory cells, I naturally forgot all about the artwork adorning my snout and walked right out the door. When you are a teenage girl, simply having your mother appear in public during daylight hours is mortifying. Having to acknowledge a mother sporting what appear to be miniature railroad tracks running down her nose causes chagrin at levels previously unknown to modern adolescence. When she saw me walking amiably toward her, Funny Girl’s face froze in horriﬁed disbelief. She spun around and quickly sprinted away, leaving me to be informed of my error by a guffawing group of her friends. There’s also the time I wore a dress to church and underneath, I wore only pantyhose. If you are a woman, you will instantly recognize my motivation for this. I wished to avoid even the possibility of that dreaded fashion faux pas known as VPL (visible panty lines). If you are a man, no amount of explanation will help you understand the socially disastrous consequences of a VPL manifestation, so never mind. Anyway, midway through the service, I went to the restroom. Unfortunately, I failed to notice upon my return that the back hem of my dress had become entangled in the waistband of my sheer hose. As I made my way toward my family sitting near the front of the sanctuary, the faithful ﬂock got an eyeful of a body part that, especially on me, really should remain covered up. I’m pretty sure I heard several people cry out for divine mercy, probably beseeching the Almighty to wipe the sight from their memories. But I, blind to my bared backside, didn’t realize I was the cause of all the distress until one merciful woman caught up
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to me and whispered in my ear while yanking my hem down. I don’t remember anything that happened the rest of that day. There was also the infamous “mountain pee affair” as my kids still refer to it. We went camping in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. At ﬁrst, things went well. We decided to go hiking. We drank in the beauty of the outdoors as we walked along a trail near our campground. The sun was shining through the trees. The air was crisp, cool and dry. So dry, in fact, that I emptied my water bottle within the ﬁrst couple of hours of the hike. And soon, I felt the need to answer nature’s call. Being a descendent of pioneers, I did not panic, even though we were a long way from the nearest toilet. I explained the situation to my loved ones and then went off to ﬁnd an appropriate place to do my business. Our campground was crowded, and I was concerned about other hikers coming down the trail. Each bush and tree I examined seemed either too short or too thin to provide the necessary coverage. But I ﬁnally found just the right spot, well hidden from the trail, and proceeded to do my business. What I failed to realize was that there was another trail just above me which merged into our trail a little further on. And that I was fully exposed to this other trail. I found that out when, squatting in my secluded spot, I heard a highly amused young voice quip, “Nice view.” And he wasn’t talking about the mountains. I whirled around, yanking my pants up at the same time, and found myself staring at a group of college-age hikers, all of them male and every one of them grinning from ear to ear. Without responding, I ran, absolutely mortiﬁed, toward where my family waited. When I told them what had happened,
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they laughed so hard I thought they were all going to need medical attention. Naturally, I became the butt of many family jokes after this. My children pretty much stopped appearing with me in public. Maybe when they have kids of their own, they’ll understand.
Dude, Where’s My Son?
This story has gotten more reader response than anything else I’ve written. It’s about that heart-wrenching moment you realize the sweet child you gave birth to has morphed into something entirely different. Mother Nature is providential. She gives us 12 years to develop a love for our children before turning them into teenagers.
hen my son (hereafter known as Funny Boy) turned 13, the last traces of that sweet little boy who thought I hung the moon seemed to vanish overnight. In his place stood a strange, slouching creature with a pencil-thin mustache and adolescent angst oozing from every pore. The moody extraterrestrial I once called ﬂesh and blood was suddenly intent on bungee jumping from that rickety bridge connecting a child with adulthood, and he apparently planned to drag his rapidly aging mother along for the ride. A drastic language change was the ﬁrst indication of alien infestation. The rosy-cheeked cherub who used to run to me,
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eyes shining with adoration and shouting “Mommy!”, began to address me (and everyone else) as “Dude.” At 13 months, he was a sponge, joyfully soaking up new words, becoming more communicative every day. At 13 years, the hormones surging through his body had cut a swath through the speech center in his brain; his mouth, when it spoke at all, produced mere shrunken shreds of complete sentences apparently understood only by other members of his species. “S’up” was a perfectly acceptable, all-purpose phrase in an adolescent’s world. “Mom, I love you,” on the other hand, would have burned his monosyllabic lips like acid and permanently corrupted his coolness. Communication with this high-tech yet illiterate generation was fraught with frustration. Funny Boy, who couldn’t utter two intelligible sentences to me, would air his gripes by texting. One day, a message ﬂashed on my cell phone in fractured syntax designed to torture my English-major soul. “i no u h8 me. i try so hard 2 b good. y r u mad @ me?” Cave men scribbling on walls were more eloquent. Then there was the alteration in appearance. While I tried desperately to avoid bags and sags, the long-haired Neanderthal living in my house embraced them as fashion. Wearing gravity-defying pants slung low across his scrawny backside, he looked just like a baby with an overly full diaper. When I helpfully pointed this out, I got the text message equivalent of a scream.
Dude, Where’s My Son?
Adolescent males seem to lose all capacity for living like civilized human beings. My boy constantly raided the refrigerator but couldn’t manage to close a door, took 30-minute showers but could never hang up a wet towel, stuffed freshly laundered clothes back into his hamper rather than putting them away. I’d ﬁnd sticky cereal bowls in his closet because he was too lazy to return them to the kitchen, and the lunchbox he claimed he lost growing whole colonies of bacteria under his bed. I began to understand why some animals eat their young. The child who begged me to read to him daily would roll his eyes in disgust when I suggested we turn off the video games and pick up a book. The angel who proudly showed me off to his kindergarten classmates pretended not to know the deranged woman waving to him in the middle school hallway. My fall from grace, seemingly overnight, left me depressed, bewildered and prone to emotional excess. “You could cut the apron strings without slicing through my heart, you know,” I whimpered in one of my calmer moments. “Mom,” Funny Boy mumbled in that teenage tone of voice, “why can’t you just act normal?” Normal is, of course, a relative term. Someday, he will surely realize I’m not so strange after all. At least I hope so. In the meantime, I’m going to hang on to those severed apron strings. I may need them to strangle him.
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The Loose End and the Laundry
Anybody who watches three games of football in a row should be declared brain dead.
y some strange twist of fate, I gave birth to a football fanatic. My son is one of those creatures whose very DNA, I’m convinced, has a pigskin membrane. Unfortunately for him, he has a mother who wouldn’t know a touchdown from a hoedown. For the life of me, I can’t understand the appeal of the game—a chaotic mix of men pushing, shoving and bellowing, slobber and obscenities ﬂying. And that’s just the fans. But my boy was hooked from an early age, spending countless hours watching, playing and dreaming about football. He consumed whole forests of paper drawing intricate plays marked with Xs and Os. And I grew tearful remembering other Xs and Os my sweet child long ago scribbled on construction-paper cards, right under the words “I Love You Mommy.”
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I tried, occasionally, to ﬁght back. Once, I suggested he end a six-hour football fest and read a book. But Funny Boy has the same regard for reading that I have for cellulite, and his withering response cut me to the quick. “Print is dead, Mom. Nobody reads anymore.” “There is no way,” I wailed, “no way you came from my loins!” He gave me a blank look. “What’s a loin?” By the time he reached adolescence, Funny Boy’s football ﬁxation had reached a fever pitch, and when he made the high school team, his ecstasy knew no bounds. He even ﬁgured out how to combine his pigskin passion with the only other thing that really captured his interest. The kid who could barely ﬁnd time to do his homework or hold a meaningful conversation with his mother nobly volunteered to coach his school’s powder puff football team, a fact that seemed to ﬁll his father with pride. “It is a great way to meet girls,” Funny Man said, his chest expanding. I just shook my head. Realizing it was a losing battle, I decided, reluctantly, to embrace the madness. I boned up on gridiron lingo and proudly spread the word to all my pals about my boy’s performance on the team. Unfortunately, most of my friends don’t know any more about football than I do, and they failed to point out that I’d gotten his position slightly wrong. I found that out when I went to pick him up after a powder puff practice. Approaching a pack of puffs on the sidelines, I smiled warmly. “My son is your coach,” I said. “He’s a loose end, you know, on the school’s team.”
The Loose End and the Laundry
For some reason, the group of girls began to giggle. Bafﬂed, I had to let Funny Boy know that some of his puffs were not the sharpest knives in the drawer. “They were laughing at me for no reason,” I told him. My son’s face acquired a look of dread. “Mom,” he said slowly, between gritted teeth, “what did you say to them?” “I just said you’re a loose end on the team.” He grabbed his head with both hands as if he expected it to explode and wanted to catch the pieces. “I’m a tight end!” he practically screamed. “Not a loose end!” “Tight end, loose end,” I shrugged. “What’s the difference?” He avoided me like the plague for several days after that. To redeem myself, I invited some of his friends over to watch a game on the enormous new television the men in my household had insisted was vital to our existence. I’ve noticed that when you combine big-screen and TV in a sentence, it induces a Pavlovian response in males of any age. Sure enough, my son’s buddies began to salivate at these words, eagerly agreeing to come. I gained some yardage right off by offering snacks. Then, perhaps overconﬁdent, I attempted to lose my rookie status by tossing out lingo I’d learned, words like blitz, ﬁ eld goal and third and long. But then I fumbled by mentioning how attractive I found the teams’ costumes. Funny Boy’s mouth compressed into a scrimmage line of fury. “Mom,” he muttered, “stop it!” Feeling unwelcome, I retreated to another part of the house, where my eye fell on several baskets full of clean clothes in need of folding. Figuring I might as well take advantage of the
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idle hands in my living room, I placed a basket in front of each boy. You’d think, by the looks of horror on their faces, that I was experiencing a Janet Jackson-style wardrobe malfunction right in front of them. “You want us to fold during football?” one gasped as nacho cheese dribbled down his chin. Funny Boy was speechless, emitting only strange noises that made me fear for his sanity. “Never mind,” I sighed, retreating. That’s when I understood that football and I could never be allies; we’d have to remain wary competitors, sharing the love of our loose end. Then I went to fold my laundry.
The Desperate Dad’s Guide to Getting Some
A few years ago, Funny Man and I were talking about sex. Well, he was talking about sex. Actually, he was complaining about a lack of sex. I was talking about cleaning. Actually, I was complaining about a lack of cleaning. In Funny Man’s mind, the two had absolutely nothing to do with each other. In my mind, however, the enthusiastic performance of the one is directly proportional to the enthusiastic performance of the other. If you’re a woman, you know exactly what I mean. If you’re a man, you are in luck, because that discussion inspired me to write a helpful primer, The Desperate Dad’s Guide to Getting Some, that would make the issue clear for my husband and other men. OK, it was actually a humor column. Being a humor columnist, I tend to use everything in my life as material. If you’re a man, you’re feeling sorry for my husband right now. The Desperate Dad’s column prompted a ﬂood of reader responses, including some from men who didn’t quite catch my tongue-in-cheek tone and assumed I was a professional sex therapist. (Boy, did Funny Man laugh at that idea!) Many of
Days of Derangement these men sent me questions of a very, um, personal nature that I was deﬁnitely not qualiﬁed to answer. But I was inspired to write yet another humor column based on Funny Man’s obvious need for enlightenment: Tips for Tool Men. I hope both stories will make you bust a gut. The man who never in his life Has washed the dishes with his wife Or polished up the silver plate He still is largely celibate.
odern moms, it seems, are just not in the mood. Pummeled by children and chores, exhausted by careers and carpools, once hot mamas are now too whupped for whoopee, too crabby to conjugate. I hate to say it, fellas, but at day’s end, we’d often rather curl up in the baggiest pair of granny panties we can ﬁnd and hit the hay without ya. Coincidentally, scientists have been shocked recently to discover that women are much more genetically complex than men. It turns out the female’s double X chromosomes operate on a far deeper molecular level, which explains why we are able to pick up our socks and throw out pizza boxes in a timely manner. Hmm. Could our lack of libido and your genetic simplicity be related? For all you befuddled bearers of the Y chromosome (AKA men), I offer a short Honey Do and Don’t List that just might help you get some X-rated action tonight: DO the windows. And the dishes. Scrub the sink, clean the toilet. Choreplay is foreplay, baby.
Forget any grainy videos you may have seen of surgically enhanced women who appear to enjoy having sex under these conditions.The Desperate Dad’s Guide to Getting Some DON’T promote pain. Really. DO turn into a tool man. Do not automatically chalk it up to the vagaries of menstruation. where we are bound to be impaled by an errant toy. on the other hand. No. Corral the children and keep them quiet. If we seem annoyed. My husband stubbornly clings to a belief that he has a 10-minute window of opportunity between the time I ﬁnish my wine and the time I am blissfully asleep. This would include ﬂoors. They are being paid to fake it. DON’T blame the hormones. Professional help is available. A 19 . hairy arm across our chests a microsecond before you begin snoring. DO let us sleep in.) He calculates every activity so that we are back in the bedroom within the required time frame. are faking it for free. Then bring us breakfast in bed. assume it is your fault. Cheerfully take on home improvement projects. You have to do more than sling one heavy. This severely limits our culinary opportunities and makes me mad as a hornet. at least not yet. This will release passionpromoting endorphins all over our bodies that by nightfall will have us convinced you are Brad Pitt. (I don’t know where he got this idea. DO take a cuddling class. We might even slip into that negligee you bought years ago. DON’T follow formulas. and we require a soft stage on which to perform. Doing so will ensure long cycles of celibacy. not that kind of tool. and walls. Do not try this at your home. We. where we will feel like concrete on the wrong end of a jackhammer. Try not to suggest surfaces for sex that are likely to cause discomfort. the one with the price tag still on it.
” This is a wise and undoubtedly well-satisﬁed man. AND FINALLY DON’T threaten the children. X and Y shouldn’t even be on the same keyboard. And don’t throw anything at the poor tot who wonders why Daddy brought his drill to bed. Funny Man was once foolish enough to point out that I seemed to be developing a beer belly. If you are a victim of coitus interruptus caused by a wandering child and an unlocked door. and will make us think we should post an hourly rate on the back of the door. Leaving your socks on feels quick and dirty. DON’T make stupid comments. 20 . Unlike ebony and ivory. and swiftly yank up the covers. DO remove your socks. with no audible obscenities. Gracefully ﬂip on your back. avoid yelling at the youngster.Days of Derangement friend of ours built a laundry room for his wife in hopes of “getting some good sex out of it. (I was obviously temporarily retaining water!) It’s at times like this that I realize God has a wicked sense of humor.
The Desperate Dad’s Guide to Getting Some 21 .
my column promised sureﬁre results if the men would only follow my simple choreplay plan. These tips encouraged the guys to perform stimulating activities—such as cleaning the bathroom. which probably dropped right on to the ﬂoor and made a puddle that their wives had to clean up. and his 22 . scrubbing the dishes and vacuuming the rugs— designed to make their wives feel frisky. My advice was deﬁnitely meant to be tongue-in-cheek. —Samuel Lichtenberg I once wrote a column in which I offered men some practical tips they could use to procure from their wives certain physical privileges on a more regular basis. but marriage restores its sight. saying he’d done lots and lots of choreplay. One poor man then wrote me in despair. and that’s how most readers took it. But some of my male readers failed to catch the article’s dripping sarcasm.Tips for Tool Men Love is blind. bless them. Like those middle-ofthe-night infomercials. doggedly set out to follow my pointers in the apparent belief that I was to be taken seriously. These readers took my tips to heart and.
I meant that men should cheerfully take on home improvement projects designed to make life easier for their deserving wives. now I have guilt!” I wonder if those infomercial hosts ever feel that way. of course. And never leave town in the middle of it. “getting some good sex out of it. be sure to ﬁnish the job. inquire as to the outcome of this venture because it’s none of our (or your) business. I could hear in the background glasses clinking in toasts and happy people talking and laughing as they ate real food while the kids and I ate yet another drive-thru dinner. When he’d torn apart the kitchen so that it was impossible to actually prepare food there. as further proof. As proof why this is a bad idea. but another 23 .Tips for Tool Men wife was still not interested. Not the clever laundry-room Lothario. Then. “Great. However. But I’ve seen the lovely laundry room he built. my man announced he had to go out of town on a business trip. Fired up with enthusiasm. No. Funny Man decided one year to do some “minor” ﬁxing-up in the kitchen. So I added this piece of advice: If you turn into a tool man. And then. I began to feel obligated to add to my previous words of wisdom. he had the gall to call me from a restaurant where he was being wined and dined by a colleague. I cited the example of a friend of ours who built a laundry room for his wife in the hopes of. while on this business trip. one of the things I suggested in the column was that deprived guys should try turning into tool men. As we talked. I pointed to Exhibit B—my other neighbor. as he told my husband. Anyway. and I believed our neighbor was a wise and well-satisﬁed man. after I wrote that column. not that kind of tool.” We did not. As the dinosaur character Rex in Toy Story said. I offered up Exhibit A—my husband.
I should have done an infomercial. 24 . I’m laying odds that she was not in the mood for many nights thereafter. When this hard-working neighbor called his wife. I’d made it as clear as mud how to proceed. So those were my tips for tool men.Days of Derangement home-improvement dropout who lives near us and who also left his house (and his wife’s sanity) in shambles and then left town on business. he actually told her to hold on so he could place his drink order. who was trying to keep four young children from smearing spackle all over the place. Like the IRS.
Being a very curious child prone to over-analyzing things. sneeze-propelled meatball. those of you who still have functioning memories remember it fondly. full of the groovy gooﬁness that deﬁned The Sixties. I spent a lot of time puzzling over the logistics of the spaghetti song. Well. How could a sneeze be powerful enough to knock a meatball off its pasta perch and send it all the way out the door. it’s a time you remember fondly. But for many of you old-fogy ﬂower children. I used to sing aloud that fanciful ditty from the 1960s—sung to the tune of On Top of Old Smokey—about a mountain of spaghetti and a wayward. W hen I was a kid and apparently had far less to occupy my time than kids do today.On Top of Spaghetti On top of spaghetti All covered with cheese I lost my poor meatball When somebody sneezed. For a young whippersnapper like me. The Sixties is a historical period. practically ancient times. I 25 . What a great song that was. The rest of you are busy searching for your lost meatball.
With the passage of time and my discovery of TV. springing out of my mouth like a mushy meatball. but at the time. but I guess it’s like riding a bike. I credited the song. Unfortunately. I gave up singing that song and pondering those timeless questions and devoted myself to more worthy pursuits like ﬁguring out how to meet and marry The Fonz. And when they got a little older. “On top of spaghetti. too. But apparently. And why had I never seen one of the trees described in the song. He was probably just stunned at his poor genetic luck in being born to such a weird woman. the song reappeared one day out of nowhere. Whenever I sang it.Days of Derangement wondered. We all laughed at the idea of the stupendous sneeze and the miraculous meatball. The spaghetti song was forgotten. I didn’t say I was a smart one. it remained somewhere in my head. And when my son was a crying infant. and I was desperate to soothe him.” I warbled. and they were still innocent and thought I was the greatest thing since sliced bread. The baby started to cry and once again. he would stop crying and gaze at me with rapt attention. my kids would sing with me. It had been a while since I had to entertain a baby. Those were good times. The spaghetti song once again burrowed its way into my memory banks. “all covered with cheese…” The baby stopped crying and looked at me in amazement. growing meatballs and tomato sauce? I said I was a curious child. My own kids covered their ears as if they were in pain. 26 . until one day when I was taking care of my neighbor’s baby. my kids turned into teenagers and lost interest in cheesy melodies. It worked wonders on my son. I started singing the spaghetti song. I sang it to her. When my daughter came along. becoming a moss-covered relic of the past.
” she said. Somebody should have spit in her spaghetti. the way only a teenage girl can. “There is absolutely no way.” Saucy kid. “Don’t you remember me singing this song with you?” I asked them. 27 . crestfallen that they didn’t seem to recall those happy days.” Funny Girl tossed her head in disgust.On Top of Spaghetti “Mom! What are you doing?” they protested. “You used to love it. “that I ever liked a song as stupid as that.
And the shirt’s laughing ladies aged rather dramatically. there would be about a 98-percent chance he would come to the door wearing that shirt. That shirt became his favorite. That was on a T-shirt I gave my dad as a gift years ago. Fish Fear Me. Underneath the words was a picture of a happy-looking man in a ﬂoppy ﬁshing hat. It was washed so many times (at my mother’s insistence) that it eventually ended up being half-shirt and half-hole. all of whom appeared to be having a grand old time.The Shirt Trust not the heart of that man for whom old clothes are not venerable. the ﬁsh pretty much disappeared except for a section of tail ﬁn and an alarmed-looking eye. their buxom parts stretched out and saggy. kind of like what happens in real life. If you stopped by my father’s house unexpectedly. holding up a large ﬁsh and surrounded by smiling buxom beauties in bikinis. —Thomas Carlyle W omen Want Me. In fact. If you happened to visit during one of those two-percent times when the shirt had been wrestled off my 28 .
when my dad found it and yanked it out in a rage. sopped up liquids that dripped from his drinks and provided a comforting (if airy) covering when he napped. And so the shirt survived another day. 29 . But I don’t know if I’ll be able to part with it. “Woman. spent cleaning rags and used tissues. But nothing was as well-used and well-loved as that shirt. stuck in a drawer. He still has it. the shirt decayed to the point that not even my dad wanted to wear it. It was once actually in the trash can on garbage day. He says he wants to be buried in it someday.The Shirt dad’s body so that it could be washed. lying there crumpled amidst the coffee grounds. but it did the job in a pinch. especially the part about women wanting my dad. My kids used to get a big kick out of the shirt. cradling the beloved bit of apparel with a crazed look in his eye. All of the other gifts I gave him through the years were no doubt appreciated for the thought. Fish Fear Me shirt spent a great deal of its time pressed up against my dad’s beloved easy chair. he would have greeted you wearing his backup T-shirt that proudly proclaimed I’m In No Shape To Exercise. how can you even think about throwing this shirt away?!” he yelled. And the large hole that allowed a certain part of his chest to show through left them shrieking. The Women Want Me. That would make them roll around on the ﬂoor laughing. “Oooo…Grandpa’s got man-boobs!” My mom—a practical woman who does not hold on to clothing that is riddled with holes—tried several times to throw the shirt away. where it caught crumbs falling from his mouth. The backup shirt only had a few holes and a smattering of stains. though. Inevitably.
Taking great umbrage became a specialty of mine over the years. no video games. 30 . no!” they’d cry out. The ingrates I gave birth to always responded with great groaning and lamentation. I’d say the word in a honeyed. reverent tone to convey its importance: Family with a capital F. It was Family Time.The F Word E very year when my kids were teenagers and football season was ﬁnally over. as I had many opportunities to practice it. “Mom is using the F word again. I saw it as a time for us to bond with one another. no hand-held whatchamacallits of any kind. I’d announce grandly to my children on our ﬁrst football-free Sunday. to cast aside the technological gadgetry that separated us and look deeply into each other’s eyes. no computer. That meant no TV. Family as the bedrock of society.” I took great umbrage at this. I would usually try to enforce in my house a no-screens rule for Sunday afternoons. There was even some weeping and considerable gnashing of teeth. “Oh.
“I just don’t understand why you don’t want to be around us anymore.” I would say with withering disapproval. This is not a new technique. I know. “We had Family Time last year.” Then I’d shake my head sadly. All those raging hormones stuff their heads with what I call Charlie Brown cotton. It’s enough!” So I hauled out my ultimate weapon—the threat of public humiliation. we are also pretty darn good at spreading it around when need be. While we moms often wallow in guilt.The F Word “I can’t believe you refer to Family as the F word. “Mom!” they’d groan impatiently.” I’d make my voice tremble. Cave moms who simply wanted to spend quality time with their stubborn cave kids around the ﬁre probably had to threaten to go along on 31 . You know how all the characters in the Peanuts cartoon only hear the words of adults as “wa wa wa wa?” That’s Charlie Brown cotton. I could lay it on pretty thick. But they were unmoved. I’m good at it. Why else would they not have wanted to spend time with people as fascinating and fun as their mom and dad? To pierce this foolish fog. it used to work quite well. and I’m sure that’s what clouded the judgment of my own cast of characters. And when my kids were younger. But teenagers seem to develop immunity to parental opinion. Yes. my face downcast. I would usually pull another arrow out of my maternal quiver and ﬁre off a good helping of guilt. The delivery of withering disapproval was another one of those manipulation methods at which I excelled. “It breaks my heart.
So I informed my kids that if we didn’t have Sunday afternoon Family Time. At that point. Most times. Only the locale has changed. After several moments of awkward silence.Days of Derangement the next adolescent mastodon hunt to get them to comply. This is what my daughter always referred to as “social suicide. Funny Girl would have pronounced herself bored. Before you knew it. But I usually ended up looking forward to the start of another football season. where we wasted time arguing over which game to play.” and my children would do almost anything to avoid that. we’d move on to board games. And before we’d even had a chance to ﬁnger Colonel Mustard for the crime. I would use the F word again the next Sunday. we’d be enjoying some screen-free Sunday Family Time. and Scrabble seemed too much like school. Funny Man would give me one of his looks and ask. 32 . So we usually settled on Clue. Monopoly took too long. I would suggest we start off by simply talking to each other. and Funny Boy would’ve been caught text-messaging his girlfriend under the table. In a place where their friends were sure to see them. Hee hee. In public. “Are we having fun yet?” Although our bonding had been a fairly painful experience. we’d have it on Friday night.
the potty was transformed into a nagging symbol of intergenerational warfare. It was one of the colorful. in my husband’s underwear drawer. It served as a playpen for stuffed animals. not wanting to place unrealistic expectations on Funny Boy. but he’s still giving me gray hair… I bought a potty for my son before he turned two years old. I kept the commode in the closet for a few weeks. under my bed. I started planning how to spend the money I’d save on diapers. The ﬁrst skirmish—over positioning—raged throughout the house and left me exhausted and demoralized. a front-loading plastic bowl and sure-grip sides. Over the next few months. I would place the potty in the bathroom. the child seemed delighted.The Potty Predicament This is my very ﬁrst attempt at humor writing. even once ﬂoating in the birdbath. only to return later to ﬁnd it missing. was colored on and used to collect 33 . however. deluxe models with removable parts. The boy who inspired it is all grown up now. The potty’s various parts turned up in the closets. in the backyard sandbox. When I ﬁnally placed it in the bathroom.
My son became bored. I ventured into singing—his favorite was John. Jacob. He really liked doing that. Eventually. My voice would careen around the words. His second birthday came and went. First. But he sure didn’t ﬁll it with anything else. Schmidt. as if I could create some kind of gravitational force that would pull down his little posterior. “Do you want to be the only two-year-old you know who’s still in diapers?” I asked. I took this as a hopeful sign and launched a campaign to wear down his resistance. No luck. Then my boy discovered he could ﬁll the bowl from the bathtub and carry it around. hoping to challenge his competitive instincts. I won the battle by attrition.Days of Derangement various toys. slowly draining it in a trail of carpet-soaking spots. I tried literary inducements to get him to sit on the potty. faster and faster. Reluctantly. so I ﬁlled the potty with water and then dumped in half a bag of Cheerios. But it didn’t work. I played my trump 34 . I caught him scooping the soggy circles out with his hand and cramming them into his mouth. and I began to lose sleep. That’s when I invoked the dreadful specter of peer pressure. I’d read his favorite stories over and over. speaking in an animated tone designed to capture his attention. almost weeping at the prospect. even feminine hygiene products carelessly left within reach. now looking like a fourth-generation hand-me-down. Jingleheimer. remained in the bathroom. One of my well-meaning friends insisted that boys need a target to aim at. Next. picturing Funny Boy at his high school graduation in Huggies. books. despite my inadequate strategy. the kid was impervious to public opinion. size XXXL. The potty.
The Potty Predicament card—bribery—promising him candy for each successful use of the potty. When my son informed me that he needed to be changed. he’d emerge. this strategy succeeded in exactly two days. I deployed my ﬁnal weapon. His eyes gleamed with sweet anticipation. In a few minutes. feet astraddle as if he were water skiing.” I’d let out a heavy.” he’d say. As soon as it was on. “I pooed. The demon seed I’d previously considered my son started using the toilet as if he’d been doing it all his life. Next I’d hear a series of grunts. quite literally. pained sigh and shake my head as if he’d just confessed to crimes against humanity. After all those agonizing months. He would have in-depth conversations with himself (or maybe it was an imaginary friend) while he was in there. the fruit of my womb wouldn’t give in. he’d slip quietly into his room and close the door. but he. I cried along with him. with a telltale aroma trailing him. shame-faced. I became truly depressed about my failure. I peeked through the door to see what he was doing. ranging 35 . He began to have terrible stomachaches because he would not allow himself to have a bowel movement. and I saw Funny Boy upstaged by other. never once even mentioning the toilet and its uses. I put away the potty and bought a large supply of Pull-Ups. younger children who pranced proudly to the potty. but still. I started putting a Pull-Up on him every evening at the same time. He’d place his hands on the foot of the bed. Despondently. It wasn’t too long before I couldn’t get him out of the bathroom. “Mommy. continued to hold his own. Once or twice. I acted deliriously happy. Worried that he was poisoning his insides. As the three-year mark approached.
I heard him say. I continued down the hall. wondering what I’d created. Walking by the bathroom one day. “Would you like to see what a penis looks like?” Dazed.Days of Derangement from a soliloquy on the makeup of the solar system to what sounded like a verbal tour of his more interesting body parts. 36 .
S. it refers to a very intimate female body part. I was rushing around getting ready for the day. I poured Cheerios into a large bowl—what my dad (a Beverly Hillbillies fan) would call a Jethro Bodine bowl—and then ﬁlled it up with milk. One morning. But to paraphrase a line in that tasteful movie Blazing Saddles. 37 . So I set my bowl on the kitchen counter and ate standing up while also doing leg lifts AND checking email on my iPhone. I couldn’t just sit down and eat my breakfast. I don’t need no stinkin’ scientists to tell me that. It is said to be dumbing us down and driving us crazy.Fruit and Fannies After this story was published online. Let’s just say that in the UK. however. Awkward… Multi-tasking: Screwing everything up simultaneously S cientists regularly warn us about the dangers of multitasking. Being a marvel of multitasking. readers in the United Kingdom began to contact me to ask if I realized that the word fanny has a different meaning in the UK than it does in the U. All I have to do is look down into my cereal bowl.
“It’s worse than that!” I gasped. gurgled groan as Cheerios and milk ran down my chin. Funny Man. Horriﬁed. who was just getting out of the shower. Standing there holding my iPhone and with a mouth full of Cheerios. I naturally had to twist around to look at my own bottom and try to ﬁgure out what fruit it was shaped like. I accidentally let go of my electronic idol. and it splashed right down into the bowl. And when I did that. 38 . “I dropped the iPhone in my cereal!” Funny Man gave me the kind of look one gives a teenager caught doing something really. but have moved up the ofﬁcial Fanny Fruit Scale to the larger Tomato Tush category. heard the sound and came running naked into the kitchen. ﬁshing out the phone and cradling it like a drowning victim while I reached frantically for a towel. The article said scientists have discovered that a lot of women must be eating out of Jethro Bodine-sized bowls because the majority are no longer sporting a peach-shaped rear end. this article helpfully included a close-up of Kardashian’s famous tomato-shaped derriere. really stupid as he grabbed the phone away from me. I let out a loud. In compliance with a federal law stating that one out of every 10 news stories must be accompanied by a picture of Kim Kardashian.Days of Derangement I opened an email—with the Subject line YOU’VE GOT TO READ THIS—from a friend and clicked on a link to a news story revealing some earth-shaking news: women’s butts are changing shape. thinking I must be suffering some kind of medical emergency.
Unlike my fanny. 39 . however.Fruit and Fannies “Why were you eating breakfast standing up? And why were you holding the phone over the bowl? Why can’t you just do things the way a normal person would?” “That would be boring. “Hey. what fruit would you say my fanny is shaped like?” I can’t print his answer in this family-friendly book. Let’s just say it was not complimentary. my iPhone survived its milk bath.” I responded. On the bright side. I guess Apple is one fruit in ﬁne shape. Then I turned so my back was toward him.
insisted I come along to the hockey game. If you are nodding your head in dweebish accord because you feel my pain. I don’t care how cool you are. —Stockard Channing E very once in a while when my kids were growing up. I arrived at the game knowing only one thing (thanks to that famous joke from Rodney Dangerﬁeld) about hockey—that 40 . So I did. bringing a book with me to ward off certain boredom.Crime and Punishment Everyone’s a nerd inside. I’d realize—in a blinding moment of clarity that fortunately didn’t last long—that they thought I was utterly insane. contact me later. We went to a hockey game. Call me a dork—my kids still do—but I have never been interested in watching sports unless my children were participating. If you are shaking your head at anyone nerdy enough to bring a book to a hockey game. My family. perhaps thinking they could redeem me. seemingly trivial object. We dorks need to circle the wagons and stick together. you know just how my loved ones were feeling. Such a moment occurred when we gathered to watch a group of males armed with sticks ﬁght over a slippery.
my head down. and so I’d brought along the great classic. it could happen. the fans started screaming encouragement to their players and heaping insults. we made it to our seats without incident. I was at that time in my Dostoevsky phase. my shoulders hunched. The men battled each other valiantly. Crime and Punishment. enabling everyone to see each act of disorderly conduct in vivid detail.Crime and Punishment it tended to occasionally break out in the midst of a brawl. our team had scored a goal. Hey. Surprisingly. When the game began. I looked around at the enthusiastic crowd. Large video screens hung over the rink. losing myself in 19thcentury Russia. Apparently. It was exciting stuff. many of them wearing team jerseys and happily drinking adult beverages. There was a great deal of pushing and shoving. So I entered the arena primed for violence. and the ear-splitting sound was 41 . hacking away with their sticks at a tiny black speck (evidently called a puck) on the ice. my beloved book clutched close in case someone tried to snatch it and begin reading. when I was jolted back to the present by a very loud horn that made me literally jump out of my seat. As I tried to focus on this great work of literature in the midst of the maelstrom all around me. No one else appeared to be holding a book. I decided to delve into my book. I managed to read for quite a while. most of which involved allegations of insufﬁcient manhood. It turned out to be a ﬁtting title to be reading at the game. elbows frequently ﬂew into faces. and bodies were slammed against the sides. After watching this riveting spectacle for several moments. on the opposing team. I began to wonder if I’d committed a crime and this was my punishment.
Courageously. the unexpected jolt caused me to drop my book. My family decided then and there that I would no longer be allowed to accompany them to sporting events. Somehow. though. not have it spilled all over your seat by runaway Russian literature. and it tumbled from the nosebleed seats down on to a frenzied fan below. you are going to want to drink your adult beverage in celebration. 42 .Days of Derangement necessary to commemorate the event. knocking his beer out of his hand. The fan grabbed my beer-soaked book off the ﬂoor and looked up in a way that made me think I’d be safer if I was that little black puck on the ice below. I hid behind my husband. I managed to survive the game. If you are a happy hockey enthusiast whose team has just scored a goal. The crime was deﬁnitely worth the punishment. I even got my book back. Sadly.
and they managed to convince my mother to come along. We arrived at the stables. a rugged symbol of America itself. my hair streaming out behind me as I raced across the plains. were presented with numerous pages of legalese assuring us that riding a horse is a dangerous activity and that we. where Wayne rode tall in the saddle. In my dreams. I had an opportunity. I wanted to be like the girl in True Grit. with my family. riding at breakneck speed alongside the hero. I’d never even been near a horse. as I found out one summer when my kids were preteens. my fantasy fell ﬂat when confronted with actual horse ﬂesh. The only problem was that in real life. she hadn’t been on a horse in more than 40 years. I was a ﬁne rider. It’s amazing what people will do for their grandchildren.True Grit When one is on horseback. My children were excited. as suicidal 43 . Although my mom grew up on a farm. to go on a two-hour trail ride. I was fascinated as a child by the westerns. and times being what they are. —George Herbert I grew up on John Wayne movies. he knows all things. In reality.
were crazy to want to be placed on hooved hazards for the express purpose of inﬂicting upon ourselves serious injury or. “we best just get on outta here. This perfectly described the creature. it took both wranglers— who each did an embarrassing amount of grunting as if it was back-breaking work—to shove me into position. The young whippersnapper called me Ma’am. But as a John Wayne devotee. I found myself thinking that John Wayne would never have signed such a statement. In deference to her age. Unfortunately. could not be held responsible. they apparently assumed someone of my relatively young years ought to be able to hop right into the saddle. you gotta kick him. more likely. RIP refused to move. therefore. As soon as the ride started.” I said to the horse. a slow and painful death. “Ma’am. but had no discernible effect on RIP. I knew exactly what to do. prepared to mount our trusty rides. “Giddy up. Pilgrim. “Giddy up. “Well. I was on a horse named RIP for Rest in Peace. the two young wranglers who would accompany us brought my mother a step stool. Wrong. even the ﬂies on his neck seemingly frozen in place. and having dispensed with the legalities. After I made several clumsy attempts to pull myself up and over what seemed like the world’s tallest horse. he was already practicing for the time when he assumed room temperature. The Duke would have horse-whipped him.” said one of the cowboys. The stables.” We signed on the bottom line.Days of Derangement idiots. 44 .” I repeated.” he’d have said. This appeared to greatly amuse the wranglers. I was sure I could hear tiny ﬂy laughter. though. RIP stood perfectly still.
“Now Napoleon.” I pointed out. twisting around in the saddle.True Grit Nervously.” My mother has an annoying habit of assuming she is always right. “His name is Navajo. she got his name wrong. Back in the day. mister. “you get yourself back on the trail this minute or you’ll be hearing from me. Being faced with the equine equivalent of a problem pupil. she mustered all her teaching techniques to subdue him. my 5'1" mother was an elementary school teacher who could strike fear into the hearts of misbehaving students with just a glance. I gave RIP a few timid kicks.” she snapped. Why would anyone in America name a horse Napoleon?” 45 . he said Navajo. “I think I know what my own horse’s name is. And as sometimes happens when teachers meet a student for the ﬁrst time. which caused the slightest ﬂicker of an ear on my one-foot-in-the-grave ride. my mom had been placed on a more lively horse named Navajo. “The guy clearly said his name is Napoleon. who was supposed to be following RIP but who kept leaving the trail to munch on grass. Meanwhile.” “Napoleon.” she said in her strictest schoolmarm tone.” “No. The wrangler then gave him a resounding whack on the rear.” “Mom. a character defect that she fortunately did not pass on to her daughter. jerking on the reins as Navajo/Napoleon moved further away from the trail.” “Mom! Can you just once admit you’re wrong? I am absolutely positive he said Navajo. as my kids say. and the half-dead horse ever so slowly started down the trail.
is true grit. Navajo/Napoleon completely ignored her. Our two-hour ride had stretched to three by the time we returned to the stables. until the wrangler approached. This is how the whole ride went: RIP kept refusing to move in the face of my most gallant giddy ups and Navajo/Napoleon. “Serves you right. The overworked wranglers were grumpy. of course. Pilgrim. And that. happily noshed on every blade of grass within reach. But we’d managed to stay astride our stubborn steeds. Then she continued to lecture her horse.Days of Derangement I turned back around just in time to get slapped in the face by a tree branch before RIP stopped yet again. Maybe we weren’t up to John Wayne’s standards.” I heard my mother chuckling. Then he ambled along for about a minute before once again heading for the grass. despite my mom’s expert educational methods. 46 . but I was kind of proud of both myself and my mother.
The sales clerk explained that a woman’s skin is intelligent. ou think you know everything there is to know about a person. Now this wasn’t any ordinary bar of soap. I explored the shop in awe. so does insanity. Y 47 . You love him for better or worse. Of course. honest and pure. And it all started with a bar of soap. smelling each handmade concoction and imagining its gentle ingredients caressing my skin. That’s just what happened to me. It’s one of those delightful places that pull women in like a pied piper and make men believe they’ve lost their manhood just by walking through the door. You spend years sleeping next to him. listen patiently to all his stories. pick up his underwear. and that it needs soap with the same qualities. I’d discovered a wonderful little soap shop.Soapy Situation Marriage means commitment. You raise his children. You love him through thick and thin. Then that person does something that leaves you wondering if you ever really knew him at all. You love him even when his head has a whole lot less hair on it while his nose and ears have a whole lot more hair in them. See. natural.
When I’d ﬁnished bathing. girly soap! The soap I paid big bucks for! The soap that’s going to do wonders for my skin!” “Oh.” Well no wonder my skin hadn’t been looking too good lately. I’d been washing it with horrible man soap. and I felt tingly all over. “Did you use my special soap?” I yelled. “If you insult its intelligence. shortly after Funny Man had showered.” “That was my special. Consumed by guilt. Funny Man had the gall to look confused.” Naturally. grinning. I brought my high-class suds home and promptly took a bath. I was horriﬁed to ﬁnd my womanly washing material in the shower. “No wonder it made my butt feel so soft. thrusting the bar at him. Instantly. I had to throw that particular bar in the trash. covered with suds. looking forward to using it again the next day.Days of Derangement “A woman shouldn’t be using a man’s soap. lathering my suffering skin. my skin began to look smarter. pure. The rest of my special soap is now kept in an undisclosed location. “What special soap? The bar that was in there was getting too small. But when I went into the bathroom the next morning.” she said.” he said. then grabbed my soap and went in search of my spouse. I made the kind of growl a mama grizzly makes when her cub is threatened. The pretty store paper was lying crumpled on the ﬂoor. I ﬁlled a shopping bag with scented soaps that set me back a pretty penny. I just pulled out whatever was in the drawer. your skin will rebel. homemade. 48 . I carefully re-wrapped my special soap in the pretty paper from the store and put it into a drawer.
Soapy Situation under lock and key. 49 . my skin will start to look utterly brilliant. I only use it when I’m alone in the house and can enjoy taking an undisturbed bath. Any day now.
those are words that should be banned—on pain of a slow and torturous death—from being included in the same sentence.Stylish Skivvies This morning when I put on my underwear. And yet. I could hear the Fruit of the Loom guys laughing at me. We have items in our house that can still be called underwear only in the theoretical sense that they once performed the traditional services of a pair of skivvies. They then have the choice of either allowing me to buy for them (not a popular 50 . —Rodney Dangerﬁeld S tylish men’s skivvies. Victims of this ailment believe that underwear never needs to be replaced. it almost takes an act of Congress to get my hole-y he-men to go to the store and buy new knickers. I usually have to resort to throwing out all the threadbare boxers and briefs while my husband and son are out of the house. They’ll hang on to a pair of drawers until there’s nothing left but an elastic waistband and. I belong to a family of men suffering from a genetic mutation called the underwear overuse gene. If you ask the men in my family. See. one frayed leg hole surrounded by fragments of fabric. possibly.
“They’re trying to turn men into…into…women!” In order to get the job done. Sounds an awful lot like padded bras to me. men’s undies have become a whole new fashion segment. I guess the men are just catching up. But nowadays. And forget about traditional cotton. “I can’t buy any of these.” Next to that there’s usually an entire display of enhanced undies promising to further ﬂatter the male physique. Getting my men to purchase. Spandex and various microﬁber synthetics. colors and patterns. They come in a variety of silhouettes and rises (low. Now there’s also Lycra. It’s enough to make a man with the underwear overuse gene cling even more tightly to his decaying derriere covers. In the end. going shopping with me or going commando. as well as in a cornucopia of ﬁt options (relaxed or slim). “This is an abomination!” Funny Man says. new boxers or briefs has always been difﬁcult. and then actually wear. “Whatever happened to good old-fashioned tighty-whities?” my husband always moans.Stylish Skivvies option since the time I came home with boxers covered with cute little palm trees). including padded and “proﬁle-enhancing” briefs. 51 . “I’m not wearing any of these!” Funny Boy will declare. high). holding up a pair of plaid briefs with buttons—buttons!—in the front. I always have to inform my skivvy-skittish spouse and son that we aren’t leaving the store without some kind of covering for their backsides. And that’s exactly what my men try to do. mid. That’s how we periodically end up in the men’s section of a nearby department store.” Funny Boy will stare in horror at packages of underwear that claim to “sculpt and support muscular movement.
Days of Derangement we usually ﬁnd a bin—stuck way back in the corner of the underwear section—containing the kind of safe. Maybe someday they’ll feel bold enough to explore all their underwear options. 52 . But I doubt it. staid Y-fronts that make my men comfortable.
displaying a newfound interest in agrarian life.Chewing on Chores M y daughter. chores would be fun. “Why can’t we live on a farm?” Funny Girl asked.” she said. and the carton depicted blissful-looking cows reading Thoreau. struggling to get the word out of her mouth.” I said. “They wouldn’t be like regular chores. but you certainly got the idea from reading the carton that life in this bovine boudoir was pretty darn good. This from the child caught more than once ﬂinging the dog poop over the fence into the neighbor’s yard instead of disposing of it 53 . “Farm ch… ch…. Well. I could feed the chickens. was sitting at the kitchen table eating her favorite brand of sugar-in-a-bowl and reading the back of the milk carton. the one who at age 10 diagnosed herself with a severe allergy to the vacuum cleaner. And milk the cute little cows. “There are a lot of chores to do on a farm.” I watched her shudder at the dreaded word. “People have to work hard on a farm. It was organic milk. crippling pain in her legs when asked to take out the trash.” This from a kid who always developed sudden. maybe that’s a slight exaggeration.
“I know. “The cows can’t wait. have long been an expert in farm life. I remembered thinking the cows should have to milk themselves when they acted like that.” she countered.” I told her. It was so easy for Ma Walton and Ma Ingalls to do everything right. Then she brightened. And sometimes. “I’m sure the cows wouldn’t mind waiting until a more reasonable hour. Clearly. having watched endless hours of Little House on the Prairie and The Waltons when I was young. I informed her that cute little cows like to be milked very early in the morning. Funny Girl appeared to chew this revelation over carefully. The conversation got me thinking about children and chores and TV shows that leave me chewing my own ﬁgurative cud. “It doesn’t work like that. I attempted to enlighten my delusional city slicker. much like an organically fed Daisy Mae would chew its cud. she didn’t understand the reality of life in the country. Their children did chores happily. “You could milk the cows. since you like to get up early anyway. I could pick crops and stuff like that. at an hour she only saw when she stayed up all night at a sleepover. ecstatic at being able 54 . on the other hand.Days of Derangement properly.” she said.” I distinctly remembered this happening to John Boy and his siblings on many occasions. they even kick over the bucket of milk just when you’ve got it ﬁlled.” This from a kid who never willingly picked up her own socks off the ﬂoor. I.
Ma Papandrew. on the other hand. always chasing my TV-created ideal. Come to think of it. and he dangled the carrot in front of the donkey but just out of its reach. I was always the donkey. That’s a pretty accurate picture of me. I offered allowance money and took away privileges. I issued dire threats and made dark predictions about the fate of those who failed to do their chores. It so happens that the original carrot-and-stick metaphor referred to a boy sitting on a cart being pulled by a donkey. That’s why my daughter’s vision of picking crops made me laugh. Every day. pick up their dirty clothes. But my carrot-and-stick approach simply didn’t work. take out the trash. I initiated elaborate incentive programs that would rival a political candidate’s election platform in complexity (and uselessness).Chewing on Chores to contribute to the family. The boy held a long stick to which a carrot had been tied. was never very successful at getting her young’uns to cooperate. my children and their chores. right there on the TV. I still had to remind them to make their beds. wash their dishes. No wonder Ma Walton and Ma Ingalls were always smiling and baking and making quilts. It’s not like I didn’t try. I had job charts and task wheels complete with stickers and brightly colored posters. 55 . They had so much more time on their hands. I know this was true because I saw it for myself. maybe I belong on a farm. As the donkey moved forward to get the carrot. My kids wore me down. it pulled the cart—and the boy—so the carrot always remained just out of reach as the cart moved forward.
Days of Derangement 56 .
and speaking of pushing. so I went to the garage for a broom and came across my long-neglected bike. so I pulled out a hose and began washing it. which lately has had more bad days than good. so I rushed inside to start a load. which reminded me I’d been intending to exercise since sometime before the last millennium and. I realized I had no clean socks because I failed to ﬁnd the time all week to do laundry. but when 57 . but then I remembered that I sorely needed a pedicure. but then I saw the mop right there next to it and that got me thinking about my hair. which reminded me that I really wanted to do some serious shoe shopping. since there’s no time like the present. I pulled the creaky bike out to the driveway. where my eyes fell upon my very dirty automobile.Spring Cleaning O ne ﬁne spring day. I suddenly wanted to read the newspaper to ﬁnd out what kind of hooey those humble public servants in Washington are pushing. and so I thought I’d make an appointment for a haircut. I realized I should get back to the garage to grab that broom. but this got my sneakers wet. I decided to make my mother proud and embark on a vigorous cleaning program. and speaking of loads. only when I pulled off my socks to examine my foul feet.
and I really love to read and thinking about reading caused my brain to take a philosophical turn. Mom. but then I was jerked back to reality with the realization that I’ve never actually owned a squeegee and therefore could not properly clean my windows. and she’s undoubtedly right. I hung up the phone and gathered a tub full of cleaning supplies with which to attack the job at hand. which is why I decided to lie down for the day and put off cleaning until the next spring. only to notice the deplorable condition of my windows so I went in search of a squeegee and while I was looking. any other kind of cleaning is not morally justiﬁable. and if one likes words as much as I do. which it has a habit of doing whenever cleaning is on the horizon.Days of Derangement I picked up the phone. so I rushed outside. which reminded me that I’d left the bike in the driveway. Sorry. but then she asked if I’d begun my spring cleaning and so. remembering this. I started thinking about how much I like the word squeegee and then I started thinking about how much I like words in general. who feels I should call her more often. which often leads to reading. and I’m pretty sure that it was Plato who said that if one cannot correctly clean one’s own windows. 58 . but seeing the tub made me think of the word tubby which made me think of my stomach. one naturally loves books as well. I recalled the irate conversation I’d just had with my mother.
very busy—doesn’t that really mean no one is busy? After all. We’re a society bustling with busyness. Busy Beware the barrenness of a busy life. You’re like those all-circuitsare-busy multinational corporations that have an unending supply of sales people to take our money and exactly one employee who is frequently either out to lunch or clipping his toenails. I would ponder it myself but I’m far too busy with more important things. am truly busy. agitated by all our activities. 59 . —Socrates I have a philosophical riddle for you to ponder. I. can we? And yet everyone I know. No one has time to do anything because we’re all so darn busy. I could see your busyness bet and raise you a bundle. everyone I read about or hear about. too busy to take our calls when we need service. Even the ﬂeas on my dog are busy. Busy is the new black. claims to be frantically busy. The problem is that a lot of you are busyness bamboozlers.Busy. In poker terms. Even my dog is busy. on the other hand. The riddle is this: if everyone is busy—very. we can’t all be busier than everyone else. You’re just pretending to be busy.
yeah. If you are a size 2 and everything automatically looks great. after all. You’ve got people running around all over the place claiming to be busier than everyone else.) There would.Days of Derangement If I had the time. but when it comes to determining who is a bona ﬁde busy person. so I’m proposing a national rating system to separate the truly busy from the bogusly busy. What about shopping? If. have to be safeguards in place to prevent corruption of the high standards of the Busy Brigade. And that’s dangerous. of course. who frequently seem to have too much time on their hands. We live. We have numerical tables to tell us if we’re thin or not-so-thin. Of course. including the very powerful Bureau of Unmotivated 60 . (And. I hate you. you are deﬁnitely not busy. in an age in which everything is measurable. rich or not-so-rich. to serve on a committee which would establish busyness benchmarks. and most of them are lying. However. This must be stopped. by a host of special interest groups. I do want credit for my superior state of busyness. you are deﬁnitely busy. as our new committee should be called. we’d have to engage in a national debate about what exactly counts as being busy. I’d tell you what I’m doing to make me so busy but it’s not really any of your business anyway. We have cholesterol levels and credit scores. by the way. I suggest we appoint the members of Congress. you have to go from store to store trying to ﬁnd something that makes you look slim. Unless you are—like my daughter—only working out your thumbs through too much text-messaging. like me. Britney Spears hitting every Starbucks in a 10-mile radius? Not so much. tall or height-challenged. A single mom (or dad) working two jobs to make ends meet? Busy. we’re on our own. Does exercise merit a mark on the busy meter? Oh.
and it must be a difﬁcult rank to achieve. But I honestly believe it would be worth it. 61 .Busy. Constant complaining or channel surﬁng—regular activities in my household—would not count. Busy Men (BUM) to which several members of my own family belong. Being labeled as ofﬁcially busy must mean something. I anticipate years of lobbying and litigation over this issue from the lazy.
The Hound from Hades A t some point. a cat—should pass by and require an ear-splitting round of 62 . but somehow we found ourselves one day at a shelter—an animal shelter that is. almost all parents are expected to enhance the childhood experience with a pet. It began with a tot’s tiny plea. If you remember your Greek mythology (and who among us doesn’t). We tried to resist. which built over time into a full-blown nag. We picked out an abandoned Labrador mix boringly named Blackie and upgraded her to the more elegant Ebony. My life would never be the same. Ebony would use all those heads to simultaneously chew my furniture. That’s what happened in our family. Whenever my back was turned. which eventually swelled into a swirling. raid the trash cans. tear-fueled Category 5 caterwaul. her behavior didn’t follow suit. It soon became obvious that this Hound from Hades had relocated to my house. you’ll recall that the underworld was said to be guarded by a dog with many heads. steal food right off people’s plates and maintain an ever-vigilant patrol near the front windows in case another dog—or on really good days. Unfortunately.
And did I mention that she started early? Five o’clock in the morning. I know this because she always launched her lick fest—complete with loud slurping and popping sounds—right next to my bed. I tried moving her bed to another part of the house. who swore up and down they would clean up every bit of it. She’d scratch and whine all night if necessary until I opened it. Then. she’d duck under the dining room table and manage to look both guilty and absolutely unrepentant at the same time. at the Canine Olympics. Naturally. She licked like there was no tomorrow. No single derriere could possibly have produced the copious amounts of doggie doo that littered my backyard after Ebony’s arrival. Eb started every day with a vigorous session of self-licking. There should be a congressional investigation into the millions of phony poo-pickup promises made by generations of dog-desperate kids. Ebony bolted away from me and raced around the yard. It’s a national scandal. shot through the open back door and began to run circles in my living room. the task of bathing the furry ﬂea bag also fell to me.The Hound from Hades barking. The dog is a master licker. She’d come lie down next to me on the bare ﬂoor. if there was such a thing. And my children. She could earn a Golden Tongue award. developed an amazing variety of excuses for avoiding the job. frantically rolling her freshly cleaned body in every bit of dirt she could ﬁnd. 63 . where she insisted on sleeping. I soon became convinced that. to be exact. The ﬁrst time I gave her a bath. the mutt had a high number of heinies. in addition to multiple mouths. gleefully grinding her grime into my pink (PINK!) carpet. I even tried shutting my door. Then she made a beeline for the house. when I yelled at her.
The bowl momentarily stayed put. sometime in the afternoon. which involved getting her bowl ﬁlled up with dog food. This was a very effective way to get me out of bed in a hurry. attempt to subliminally communicate the fact that she wanted to be fed. I abandoned subliminal communication for something more direct. psychological ploy. She’d start with the stare-down. Then. Ebony did her best to ensure I didn’t turn into a lazy slugabed by licking me right in the mouth with the same tongue that she used to lick every part—and I do mean every nasty part—of her body. and I used it just like I used my children’s full names when I was communicating my displeasure with them. she has a full name. and by never taking her eyes off me.Days of Derangement Most mornings. using her full name. would take a nice. Ebony would place herself right in front of me and. bleary-eyed and cranky from lack of sleep. But that was just a clever. knowing full well that it made a lot of racket. Eb. “Ebony Joyce Papandrew!” I’d shout. she’d wake up with a blissful sigh and a sumptuous stretch and move on to the second part of her day. After a few quiet minutes and with dastardly doggie daring. long nap. There I’d be at my computer. “Stop it now!” Yes. That’s when she’d move into the next phase. Eb would then hook her paw under her unﬁlled dish and actually ﬂing it through the air so that it landed with a great clatter on the 64 . and the house would go silent. And while I was retching into the bathroom sink. I subliminally communicated the fact that I didn’t care by totally ignoring her. Being bleary-eyed and cranky and knowing just who to blame for that. She began pushing her empty metal bowl around the kitchen. having successfully completed her morning tasks.
And when I was feeling depressed or anxious. This would propel me out of my chair. she utterly adored me.The Hound from Hades kitchen tile. 65 . muttering curses I wouldn’t want my mother to hear. she’d press her face against the door and whine until I let her in. I’d realize the Hound from Hades was actually my best friend. she would shudder with delight. she’d instantly appear and place her body against my leg. even if I didn’t want to admit it. When I put her outside. she seemed to know it. rather than engaging in normal dog activities. She might even go out for a walk with her utterly submissive human. both literally and ﬁguratively. She’d place one paw on my knee or on my arm and gaze at me with unconditional love. At times like that. she would devote her evening to catching crumbs of people grub that fell from the counters or perhaps engage in an energetic round of barking at a neighbor’s dog. Once. After ﬁlling her stomach. Ebony would contentedly settle down for another nap. following me from room to room. She was nauseatingly needy. on a particularly tense and frantic day when I’d tried to shave my legs too fast and managed to cut myself in several places. in a moment of weakness. The thing about Ebony. When she again woke up. content just to be near me. the very worst thing. was that from the day we brought her home with us. straight to the cabinet that held the dog food. I’d pet her. When. she showed up as soon as I got out of the shower and proceeded to carefully lick my wounds. When I sat down somewhere in the house.
a body has a mind of its own. She put a cute little bib under my chin and informed me I was overdue for a periodontal workup. Once you hear the words gums and receding in the same sentence. with a smooth face no one would be tempted to mark with Xs and Os. —Bette Midler M y midlife crisis was triggered by yet another birthday and inﬂamed by a comment from my teenage son. This procedure would measure how far my traitorous gums. You know the kind of creature I mean. she’s a trophy wife in her off-hours. a whole tic-tac-toe grid under your eyes. Then I arrived at my dentist’s ofﬁce for my regular checkup. and I was ushered in by The Happy Hygienist. you have passed the point of no return. “You’ve got. Undoubtedly. The gums are the middle-aged 66 . have pulled away from their assigned teeth.Gums and Games After 30.” Funny Boy said. “Woa. peering at me closely. baby. young and chipper. like.” It was probably just such a remark that led to the creation of boarding schools. Mom. seeking to disassociate themselves from my aging body.
oh my…. Miss Perky did her best. stand in front of your open refrigerator. My dental inspector propped open my mouth and began to probe my periodontal pockets. very good!” She praised me in the exact tone one would use to train a puppy. “Oh. it’s not pleasant. In a moment of medical masochism common to women my age. signaling to the other organs when it’s time to start heading for the hills. calling out numbers that identiﬁed the depth of my deterioration. For those who have missed the pleasure. The well-endowed among us probably don’t have too much of a problem with a mammogram. 67 . an obvious affront to the over-40 crowd. here’s a three. The mammogram was clearly invented by a man. possibly one who spent his youth in a boarding school after saying something stupid to his mother. I’d scheduled a mammogram for the same week. too weighed down by my new long-in-the-tooth status to notice that my wallet was considerably lighter. an insufferably cute girl barely out of her teens (or so it seemed) with a personality that could only be described as perky. like me. I departed soon after. But if. “Four millimeters…. mangling my mammaries in a most professional way. This delightful experience was delivered by a close cousin of the hygienist.Gums and Games body’s bellwether. and I responded in kind with a line of drool that soaked my bib. Then ask Hulk Hogan to slam the door as hard as possible and lean on it for good effect. Then her voice brightened. Insert some particularly sensitive part of your body.ﬁve millimeters. you are a private in the bosom brigade.” she shook her head in grave concern.
absolutely gorgeous. Glum over the prospect of a steady slide into decrepitude.” I joked through gritted teeth. My mother pretended not to hear my question. Mom?” I couldn’t resist. “Don’t worry. Telling stale jokes is. My destiny was now determined. I would not go quietly into the night. If I was only 20 years younger…” “Really. learn to ride a Harley. She just rolled her eyes. “He didn’t try anything with me. because I was deﬁnitely worried about that.” she assured me in all seriousness. She shocked me by describing her new. caused by dragging one foot that was already in the grave. right behind truant gums. I had a pronounced limp.” I added lamely. the second symptom of impending geezerdom. “Only 20 years younger?” Suddenly. trying to add some comic relief to the situation. By the time I got home.” “Good. “I haven’t been squeezed like this since I went to the high school prom with a boy named Bubba.” Sometimes I lay on the sarcasm so thick that it drips right out of my mouth and makes a puddle on the ﬂoor. who had been trying to tame her aches and pains with massage therapy. tackle my tic-tac-toe lines with shots or surgery. apparently. Maybe I’d even turn into a cougar. I decided to ﬁght back. “I guess you’ve heard that one before. I’d join the Peace Corps. If my mother 68 . 25-year-old male masseuse as “gorgeous. I paused in my planning to take a call from my mother. Desperate times call for desperate measures.Days of Derangement compressing each between two cold plastic plates until I felt one of us should propose marriage. I felt all kinds of aches and pains of my own that could deﬁnitely be eased by a hunk’s healing touch.
Gums and Games happens to be around. When we’re not under the same roof.” The pole threat is one of her most common. Especially if I kept my game face to the ground.” I said absent-mindedly. Even if he didn’t. she’ll actually try to make me clean it up. for some reason. 69 . maybe I would have better luck. put the moves on my mother. “You’ll have to get up on a stool to even reach my knees. I was still thinking about the manly masseuse. she has to resort to threats. Mom. “I’m going to beat you with a pole the next time I see you. and I responded with one of my standard answers.
am I mad? —Edgar Allen Poe A fter launching a successful campaign consisting of much begging. When archaeologists of the future sift through the layers of our lives to try to understand how we lived. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I fully expected Sunset to also 70 . they will undoubtedly be bafﬂed by our penchant for raising rodents. I had to pay a pretty penny for all the paraphernalia necessary for today’s hip hamster—a colorful. vitamin drops and chew sticks. my daughter talked us into getting a hamster. multilayer habitat with towers and tunnels and a state-of-the-art wheel. pine-scented bedding. she decided that Sunset must surely be a girl. Without any evidence to the contrary.The Tell-Tale Hamster Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I was puzzled by this myself as we drove home with the golden-hued creature Funny Girl affectionately named Sunset. then. an igloo to sleep in. …How. an exercise ball. a considerable amount of whining and periodic bouts of pouting. lush. It didn’t take long for this furry bit of ﬂuff to drive me to the brink of madness.
While the much larger dog worked herself into a frenzy. you would probably have seen beady black eyes shining with satisfaction. She apparently also invested a lot of time and creativity into ﬁguring out how to distribute her waste in as wide an area as possible. First. She must have pressed her furry little bottom right up against the cage and aimed for the walls. Then there was the noise. Ebony. the little lab rat stayed serenely in place. Sunset spent most of her time shoving the bedding out of the cage and onto my ﬂoor. howling. who was covered with additional fuzz from the underbelly of the fridge. Our dog. pacing in front of the fridge and repeatedly trying to shove her nose under there far enough to actually open her mouth and consume what she apparently thought was a special treat we’d brought home just for her. If you looked under the fridge. Pet brain size must be inversely proportional to body size. Someone forgot to remind me that hamsters are nocturnal. scampering across the kitchen and under the refrigerator. Before we even got the ungrateful creature into her luxurious new digs. Despite living in a spacious Hamster Hilton. Sunset liked to party hearty all 71 . and I breathed a sigh of relief. went wild—barking. But I soon came to wish she’d stayed under the refrigerator. there was the mess. she made a bid for freedom. Sunset was placed in her cage. no doubt enjoying the chaos its presence had caused. I found poo pellets in places that no poo pellets have any business being. We had to put Ebony in the back yard and were ﬁnally able to coax out the reluctant rodent.The Tell-Tale Hamster demand deed restrictions to keep rodent riff-raff out of her neighborhood and a complete schedule of social activities.
Days of Derangement night in her exercise wheel. And then she died at a ripe old age. I realized that Sunset had grown old right before our eyes. often barely able to climb the ramp from one level to another. Sayonara Sunset. I tried moving the cage to another room. In the middle of the night. And squeak. Initially. I’d wake up and hear it squeaking. naturally. And squeak. my sanity threatened by the incessant squeaking caused by a tell-tale hamster. My kids had lost interest in her. One night. But then. Now the exercise wheel is silent. I caught the horrible hamster licking it off. I began to feel sorry for the creature. I was reminded of Poe’s short story—The Tell-Tale Heart—in which the narrator is driven mad by the sound of a beating heart. I set aside a shoe box to be used for a quick burial and began to look forward to the day the sun would set on our rat-like pet. the squeaking. I guess none of us can ask for more than that. She was no longer using the exercise wheel and was moving around the Hamster Hilton much more slowly. Until one day. this wasn’t a problem. But the rodent lived on and on. hearing the high-pitched noise grow louder and louder. the worthless wheel began to squeak. I tried putting cooking oil on it. 72 . I swear I can still hear it. I wondered if I faced a similar fate. We buried our fuzzy family member in the backyard—at sunset. But sometimes in the night. Still. as they often lose interest in aging pets and aging parents.
much less get married. as we simultaneously began having children and exercising our right as Americans to own no means of 73 . gentler souls like me who take a more contemplative. But I was unaware of the great stock my man placed on parking proﬁciency until we’d passed through the sappy initial phase of matrimony that’s about as realistic as professional wrestling. there are those rigid. During that sweet time. —Rita Rudner I believe every man and woman considering marriage should ﬁrst undergo counseling to determine if they are spatially compatible when it comes to parking. See. Then there are kinder. it would have saved me much marital strife. If I’d known this many years ago. Never the two should meet.Crimes of Crookedness I love being married. less linear approach to auto positioning. But then. anal-retentive individuals such as my husband who adamantly insist that vehicles must always be left in perfectly straight lines. It’s so great to ﬁnd that one special person you want to annoy for the rest of your life. Funny Man apparently found my creative car placements rather endearing.
I managed to put a big dent in the driver’s side mirror. This led to an almost nightly exchange between my husband and me that went something like this: “You parked crooked. I was offended. I found him angrily painting a heavy black stripe down what he claimed was the center of the garage ﬂoor. Then he painted another one on the minivan side. upon reversing. “All you have to do is park between these lines.” “Did not. But even there. I tried to comply with his unreasonable demands by parking as close to the wall on my side as possible.” he told me in the same exasperated tone I had used when house-training our very dense dog. Funny Man started to complain. I again tried to conform to his ridiculous demands. It wasn’t my fault that. I was then ordered to abandon the garage and park only in the driveway. my van refused to cooperate. Not long after that. Naturally. our marriage entered the sobering Eyes Wide Open phase.Days of Derangement transportation smaller than a tank. I can’t even get into the driveway. he complained that I took up too much space in the garage. several inches from the wall. First.” “Did so. continuing to park itself in crooked lines.” “Did not. scraped up the side of his prized pickup. But in the interest of family harmony. So then I parked closer to Funny Man’s truck and. when I attempted to back out.” 74 . Again. the back end of my van refused to align itself with the front. And suddenly. for some reason.
Crimes of Crookedness Our children came to accept these mature conversations as a routine part of the evening and completely ignored us. Funny Boy came down with a serious addiction to Yo Mama jokes. I’d like to say we soon reached a compromise and started acting like adults. I’d just shake my head and smile serenely. my son would be compelled to shout: “Yo Mama’s so fat she has to iron her pants in the driveway!” Getting no response. he’d say it several more times until he found himself on the receiving end of a wedgy. Until. As any parent of a Yo Mama-afﬂicted child knows. Upon hearing that word. trying to convince me of the error of my ways. that is. almost any word can trigger an outburst. In our case. knowing I could win by attrition. And sure enough. it was driveway. but Funny Man and I continued to provide comic relief to the neighbors for quite some time. Sometimes. Funny Man eventually gave up. 75 . he’d pull out a tape measure or a piece of chalk. sighing heavily as he re-parked my vehicle each night and muttering about the differences between Mars and Venus. dickering in the driveway over my alleged crimes of crookedness. Good thing they’re not parked close to each other.
Then I waited for the blubber to be gone. 76 . as I discovered when I tried (and failed) to ﬁnd a bathing suit that would render me somewhat more attractive than a whale. paying the membership fee and buying an adorable workout outﬁt. I really need to get in shape. Thanks for the memories. So I joined a gym to ﬁght the battle of the bulge. I turned to televised exercise. there’s more to it than that because my body continued to balloon. when my roommates and I wasted valuable study time watching Jane Fonda prance around in leg warmers while encouraging us to feel the burn. Jane. Although we rarely actually did her workout. though. we deﬁnitely toned our young tummies with all our hearty laughter at poor Jane’s expense. So. I have fond memories of TV ﬁtness from college.Boot Camp L ike many people entering middle age with an everexpanding midsection. unwilling to actually show up at the gym. Apparently. I still can’t listen to Jimmy Buffett’s Changes in Latitudes Changes in Attitudes without experiencing a strong urge to do buttocks tucks.
Boot Camp Being older and wiser now. Yes. And I found her in the form of a ﬁtness show called Boot Camp led by a woman in stunningly good shape named Cathe. I decided to seek out a new queen of calisthenics to show me the way. pumping. that’s Cath and then an e that is set off from the rest of the name. italicized and gussied up. thinking I was going to sail through Boot Camp. We spent what seemed like an hour on spine-popping stretches. I was elated.” Cath and her energetic e would chirp. feeling the pressure. Cath and her e looked pleased. wishing Cath and her fancy e would wear leg warmers and put on some Jimmy Buffet. jumping. ready to give it my all. But they stayed clad in teeny. I spent about a week watching Boot Camp from the comfort of my couch. Then they’d rather arrogantly respond to their own question. tiny shorts that wouldn’t go past my knees. This kind of name conﬁdence impressed me. and surely this military-style Jane could whip my ﬂaccid form into shape. I put down my chocolate. shoulderknotting arm swings and thigh-cramping knee bends. never giving me time to think it over. “Are you ready for this?” they’d ask at the beginning of each show. when 77 . “and that is YES!” Eventually. with a tummy in need of more than laughter. “There’s only one answer. Cath and her e were relentless in urging me to end my inertia. Surely that e stood for exercise. pushing and crunching their way to muscular perfection—all to the frenzied beat of some disturbing technosweat music. put on some sweatpants and stood in my living room.
Even her buttocks tucks would be better than Boot Camp. Cath and her drill-instructor e were by now openly dubious. I collapsed on the carpet. Cath and her sneering e seemed to threaten a court martial. If I could just ﬁnd some leg warmers. That’s when I decided to dig up that old burn-feeling video and return to Sweet Lady Jane. quivering like mutinous mounds of Jell-O. those faithless ﬂabby regions turned traitor during the ﬁrst cycle. but I pressed on. After the warm-up. making it through an awe-inspiring two cycles before succumbing to exhaustion.Days of Derangement Cath and her slightly sadistic e announced that the warm-up was over. I decided to try again. my children had sensed an opportunity for amusement and gathered around like vultures to watch. I barely survived Cycle Two before my arms and legs went AWOL. Worn out. but seemed willing to give me another chance. cruelly eating Cheetos and Oreos in my presence and placing bets with each other on how long I could last. refusing to soldier on. A few days later. Unfortunately. I gave myself a good week or two to recover before making another attempt. they explained that we’d be doing eight cycles of training designed to strengthen my heart and tone problem areas. My numerous problem areas protested. but I assured them that my problem areas and I were united in the cause. 78 . By now. Cath and her increasingly annoying e looked skeptical.
Kinfolk are dangerous individuals who can recite all our embarrassing faults. They huddled together for 79 . once we’d grown up and escaped. F amily reunions are a charming phenomenon. who’s driving the nicest car. We subtly assess each other. those who are at our end of the gene pool. We like to occasionally get together with our kinfolk. we would never go near these people again. trying to gauge who’s gained the most weight. who can provide blackmail material to our children. That’s when everyone is on his or her best behavior. lost the most hair. The ﬁrst is the meet and greet phase. all a little hesitant. And based on my attendance at several such events. But many of us are drawn to cousinly confabs like moths to dysfunctional family ﬂames. I’ve determined there are ﬁve phases to the typical family reunion. We all confess astonishment at how fast the kids are growing up. a little shy. most of the kids were teenagers who looked horriﬁed at just being there. If we were smart. awash in warm feelings and cold sweat. At my last reunion.Horses on Porches Every family tree has some sap in it. who know about every youthful transgression.
even a couple of great-grandparents—huddled together too. my family began discussing religion and politics. That left those of us in the middle—we of the sandwich generation who would eventually get around to talking hormones and hot ﬂashes—to focus on the food. First names of presidential candidates were tossed around as weapons and then someone brought the Good Lord into it. quickly getting down to discussing pressing physical matters involving hemorrhoids and heartburn. He’s the one we all cluck our tongues and shake our heads over. At our last reunion. we moved into the Remember When phase. many reunions degenerate into a third phase: church-state squabbling. At this point. And he’s still rebelling.” That set off a merry round of Joe-centered Remember Whens in which my crazy cousin denied doing what we all knew he’d done. and things got heated. begging to be rescued. frantically sending text messages to their friends. but secretly admire. This is the phase that causes the teens to actually writhe in agony. True to form. It’s always the best part of our reunions. from-scratch dishes made by grandmas who still remember how to cook. and as everyone started to relax. his wife told how she’d had to pay $400 to bail him out of jail after he refused to sign a ticket given to him by a highway patrolman.Days of Derangement protection with their smart phones out. I remember experiencing agony myself at earlier reunions. The oldest generation—the grandparents. You gotta love Joe. 80 . And with the food. but now I enjoy the Remember Whens. Joe’s simple explanation: “I didn’t do what he said I did. Many of our most colorful memories include the family rebel. we consumed a few adult beverages. my cousin Joe.
This creature has a habit of standing on the front porch of their rural home and pointing his posterior toward the house so that when Joe’s wife looks out the front window. apparently sensing a soul mate in this rebellious horse. The men go one way and the women go the other. on the other hand. though. When the women at the reunion heard this story. The men’s conversation. will devote hours to dissecting the failings of their men. segregation of the sexes.” All of the other men nod their heads in agreement. we were all instantly sympathetic to her. Unfortunately. One of them sighs heavily.Horses on Porches “I’ll pray for you. So his wife. and usually. This happens at every reunion I’ve ever attended. before things really got out of hand. Although most of us no longer live in the 81 . one of the rocks bounced up and shattered the front window. At our last reunion. and my cousin had the gall to be upset with his wife. only lasts about 30 seconds.” said one on the right side of the political spectrum to one on the left. unable to coax the horse off the porch. “You need all the help you can get. and then they move on to something more important like sports or ﬁshing. started gently (or not) pitching rocks at its feet to encourage it to comply. shrugs his shoulders and says a single word weighted with all the necessary meaning: “Women. she gets an eyeful of an equine end zone. we moved into the fourth phase. My cousin. The ladies.” Wisely. we allowed Joe’s long-suffering wife to go ﬁrst. She described a problem she was having with one of their horses. has refused to discourage its behavior. instead of being able to see the glories of nature. the groups start out by complaining about each other.
The ﬁnal phase comes when we are emotionally waterlogged from swimming in the gene pool and—our family ties strengthened—we say our goodbyes. the reunions will become part of our Remember Whens. But.Days of Derangement country. the teens will be the middle-agers. Hopefully. given my family history. Before we know it. and I’ll be one of the old fogies. Soon. I’m probably doomed to repeat it. we all have our own version of the marital horse on the porch. 82 . I won’t talk about hemorrhoids.
their imaginations ﬁred by boundless freedom. Coyote. Sweeter words were never spoken. rediscover the innocence of youth. watching the Road Runner never fail to foil Wile E. I made a stupid decision. I decided that my little darlings needed a slacker summer. You know the kind of summer I mean. gleefully tossing in school supplies as his dejected children follow glumly behind and The Most Wonderful Time of the Year plays in the background. One year. perhaps dip into Tolkien or even Tolstoy (it could happen). I envisioned euphoric days where my children. in the calm quiet of my house before my kids got home from school. would write their own plays.The Most Wonderful Time of the Year M y all-time favorite commercial is the one where a father with an ear-to-ear grin is pushing a shopping cart through a Staples store. an unstructured one spent running through sprinklers. 83 . I wanted them to savor their summer before it slipped away like a melting scoop of ice cream. lying in tall grass deﬂowering dandelions. “They’re going back!” the announcer tells us.
By the time August came around. would come to pass. where they somehow summoned the energy to ﬁght over the TV remote. I congratulated him on his staunch adherence to his faith. still deeply in a delusional phase. But I.Days of Derangement That was in May. recommitted myself to giving my kids a season of sloth. unencumbered by a schedule. In June. we went on vacation. managing—while still lying down—to punch. the bloom came off the rose just a bit. enjoying round-the-clock togetherness as we attempted to bolster our family bonds while simultaneously blowing our budget. I was determined that my fantasy of summertime fun and creativity. Even our Labrador seemed nearly comatose in those dog days. my children were deﬁnitely slothful. With school out. They slept until noon. the lazy days of summer had begun to really drive me crazy. then stirred themselves just enough to move to the couch. kick and bite each other without ever assuming a vertical position. Only it didn’t quite go as I planned. My kids became deeply involved in endless. And they showed some true creativity there. They argued over the color of the sky or which one of them was 84 . Oh. banal bickering. our family bond had been bolstered to such an extent that it felt like an iron collar around our necks. went back to work. his face wearing the liberated look of an escaped convict. My son—the one destined for a career as a comedian or possibly a member of Congress—informed me that his religion forbade any activity between sunup and sundown. when I clearly had too much time on my hands and would appear to have been smoking something. My husband. but they did read the words on Popsicle wrappers before tossing them on the table. They didn’t dip into either Tolkien or Tolstoy. By the end of the month.
The Most Wonderful Time of the Year the biggest brat (dead even. they chose Dad). And the next summer. 85 . poor things. They were too weak. all the annoying inertia came to an end. “Mom!” they’d wail from the living room. they went to camp. fortunately. to even feed themselves. where they had actually become part of the furniture and needed dusting. They went back to school. apparently storing up fat for the winter by barely moving. I’d say) or whether Mom or Dad had more wrinkles (wisely. “We’re hungry! Can you bring us food?” Finally. They became hibernating bears.
one of those crammed occasions when I’d meet myself coming and going. I gave my slumbering husband a kiss and a whispered lie about returning soon and headed out the door. I’d be racing down the aisles like a NASCAR driver. In my case. On an ordinary day. I pulled out a shopping cart and savored the sensation of placing my purse.Shopping Shangri-La The quickest way to know a woman is to go shopping with her. —Marcelene Cox E arly on a Saturday morning when my kids were young. rather than a squirming child. drinking in the well-organized ambiance of everyday economics. I was a-tingle with excitement. There are times in the often frenzied life of modern motherhood when we could all use a little retail therapy. unencumbered by children. As I pulled into the parking lot of my local Target store. I felt like I’d hit the big-box bonanza. when I could walk alone through those beckoning doors. my careening cart festooned with some rowdy rug rats. in the seat. 86 . making a beeline for the big red bull’s eye. I started out slowly.
I even got up the nerve to check out the bathing suits and spent precious moments pretending I’d soon be losing weight. I ignored it. Next. ensuring I would be well-coiffed. I went to lingerie and frittered away the day among slinky silks and polyester imposters. feeling free and festive. Eventually. empowered in this emporium to ﬁnd that deﬁnitive pair of panties. hiding like an adolescent playing hooky from a truant ofﬁcer. I put dozens of items in my cart. There. I spent almost half an hour mulling which shade of eye shadow to buy. feeling drunk with pleasure. I explored every kitchen appliance. I studied rolls of wrapping paper as if they were literary classics and read about a hundred greeting cards. Hesitantly. just because I could. where I grew weepy at the opportunity to sift at a snail’s pace through scrapbook supplies. I grabbed a scarlet shade of lipstick that would likely win my mother’s disapproval. I waxed ecstatic over dishes in bright shades sure to soothe my soul. Finally. Soon. I ambled over to the craft area. debating for long. I received 87 .Shopping Shangri-La But now. I headed for the home section. I moved to the shoe department. the ﬂoodgates open. I strolled to the clothing section and moved among the racks like a famine victim suddenly given a steak dinner. Then. which I’d set to “vibrate. if over budget. I sauntered with sweet anticipation to my favorite part of the store—personal care products. delicious intervals which ones to purchase. I selected a sea of hair products. After a while.” had been buzzing every ﬁve minutes. The bedding aisles claimed what felt like a wonderful eternity as I considered different designs. everything a woman might need to feel smooth and sexy. Although my cell phone. where my toes touched dozens of shoes. Next.
Soon. I sashayed over to cleaning supplies and experienced something like a spiritual awakening when I beheld the mop of my dreams surely capable of cleaning even the dirtiest house. accompanied by ominous punctuation and vague threats: “When are you coming home????!!!!” “I know you’re ignoring me!!!! ” “The kids are driving me nuts!!!!” “You are SO going to hear about this!!!” I stashed the phone in my purse and pressed on. “Really NOT funny!!!!” “how can u do this 2 me?” “AAAARRRGGGHHHH!!!!!!!” At checkout.Days of Derangement a series of text messages from my husband. determined to make the most of my temporary status as a lady of leisure. But my shopping Shangri La had been well worth it. I’d have to go home to face the music. I unhurriedly unloaded my cart with a consequences-be-damned attitude. I breathlessly spent several minutes admiring it. 88 . ingeniously designed with a curved handle and biodegradable cloths and so environmentally friendly even Al Gore would use it. My cell phone had by now been buzzing so much that it had nudged my purse from one side of the cart to the other. It was a wet/ dry mop.
And I knew I could survive it. I’m a veteran of those wrongly named events where very little actual slumber occurs. her birthday. I’m fairly sure I would never get on an airplane again. But using my extraordinary powers of perception. Who invented slumber parties anyway? It’s difﬁcult enough to get your own kids to go to bed. namely. it was. that’s the scenario that popped into my head not long after the movie came out. Whoever thought it was a good idea to bring in other people’s children and attempt to persuade them to go to sleep at a reasonable hour? I’d like to have a word with that person. Oh. But I went along with what my daughter wanted. For some reason.Teens in a Tree I ’ve never actually seen the 2006 movie Snakes on a Plane. that a bunch of snakes invade a plane and cause bedlam in the skies. I knew she’d probably want to have a slumber party. It wasn’t exactly the way I expected to celebrate my daughter’s 14th birthday. when I was faced with a situation perhaps not as lethal. after all. but still scary—a slither of shrieking teenage girls stuck in one of my trees. 89 . If I did. I get the gist of the plot.
Then several other girls decided the tree would make a good hiding place. the girls decided to go out and play manhunt. each scream building exponentially on the others. There were numerous rounds of nail painting. each girl then decided she could not come down the way she’d gone up. No amount of persuasion from me could get them down. spreading oak tree. trying to suppress their giggles as the “hunter” began looking for them. like so many oversized kittens. There were secretive sessions of Truth or Dare which would mysteriously cease the moment Mom walked in the room. and the music now came courtesy of an iPod rather than an LP. despite the fact that it was well past dark and cold outside.Days of Derangement At ﬁrst. the wind picked up about this time and something—maybe a bird or a squirrel—stirred up there in the dark. Soon. But then. the slumber party ran its expected course. except that the obligatory crank calls were now made by cell phones instead of antiquated land lines. and sigh-ﬁlled talk about celebrity males they wished they knew. up in that tree. It was all pretty standard slumber-party stuff that could have happened when I was a teenager. Naturally. The giggles turned to screams. They headed across the front yard toward a large. One girl got a boost from another and scrambled up into the tree. They were stuck. They inched higher and higher in the tree. makeup application and hair braiding. 90 . all accompanied by intense discussions of the attributes and faults of various boys the girls knew. Teenage girls tend to shriek in tandem. Unfortunately. the whole neighborhood was reverberating with the sound of a manhunt gone manic.
He arrived. was any more heroic. 91 .Teens in a Tree It was probably Eve who ﬁrst asked the question we women have been asking ever since: Why is it there’s never a man around when you need one? The males in my family had made themselves scarce that evening. giving me one of those “why can’t you handle this?” looks. Climbing up into the tree. battling all those hissing serpents on the plane. I doubt Samuel L. to hang out with other men and do whatever it is men do at such places. But I’ll bet the snakes were quieter than our teens in the tree. and immediately fetched a ladder. Jackson. he gently coaxed each girl down to safety. I was able to summon him home to play ﬁreman. But thanks to the magic of cell phones. Funny Man had retreated to a local sports bar.
indeed. That’s what I thought.Testosterone Trouble or every woman. As she walked past our table. they allow girls to grow up blissfully ignorant. when I found myself in a restaurant with my father and my new husband. Like it or not. They were polar opposites in personality. it’s been the same. Then along came a wellendowed woman in a low-cut blouse. she must face the fact that every male in her life is a walking testament to testosterone. But mothers don’t tell this to daughters. years ago. and I loved them both. In a conspiracy of silence designed to ensure the survival of the species. created equal. I gazed fondly at these two men in my life. my men’s heads whipped around in identical fashion and all four ogling eyeballs locked like missile radar on the ta-ta F 92 . thinking their guys are different. From the time the ﬁrst man-like creature crawled out of the primordial muck and used his newly developed hands to grab the remote and put up the toilet seat. These creatures unable to pick up socks or discard over-used underwear are doomed to forever repeat hormonal history. there comes a moment when she realizes that all men are.
Unfortunately. “If she’s a nuclear physicist. On a dare. Take my husband. my own dear father cracked. Cleavage may just be the world’s last. “That woman could be a nuclear physicist.” I said indignantly. he had snorted wasabi sauce. high-ﬁving and breaking into loud. This intelligent activity is apparently the highlight of a movie called Jackass. and apparently trying to impress a nearby group of girls. it seemed to be working. But when he turned 13. We should have long ago harnessed the unifying power of the hooter and used it to eradicate intractable problems such as war. Shocked and angry. crime and Paris Hilton. then run screaming through the halls swatting at his inﬂamed nose. obnoxious guffaws.” Without missing a beat. a lifetime bond cemented by a set of knockers. which I think pretty much says it all. to get a 93 . best hope. after a mere 10 years of consideration. “But you’re treating her like a sex object. I attempted to get their attention. Women have clearly failed in their duty to humankind. for example. Although disillusioned. I got a call from the middle school principal. He decided.” Then the man I called Daddy and the man I called Darling made complete boobs of themselves. When my son was born. ﬁnally kicking them under the table. I was determined to go on.Testosterone Trouble target. who told me that the Neanderthal to whom I’d given birth was sitting in detention and whimpering about the agony in his nasal passages. I was convinced that I could reverse the macho march of his life with my humanizing inﬂuence. I’d like to see her reactors. adolescent behavior in the human male extends far beyond the teen years. for all you know. At ﬁrst.
When a man undergoes a vasectomy. all his friends will deliver countless cutting remarks about the expected failure of his masculinity. The urologist who performed the procedure happened to have a son on the same soccer team as our son. endlessly amused in the same way that younger males never fail to ﬁnd humor in their own bodily processes. with far less hullabaloo. 94 . Funny Man fell right into this pattern.Days of Derangement vasectomy. this highly educated doctor would gather the other fathers on the sidelines to exchange jokes about the alteration of my husband’s nether regions. It took a good year before we could get through a game without some reference to the silly snip. It was then I realized testosterone will always triumph. alone in the woods. and Funny Man would join right in. on the other hand. I gave thanks that it was over. but men are the life of the party. Women can turn to other women for honest opinion and concerned counsel. They’d all slap each other on the back after every goofy gag and double over in laughter. but somehow still managed to go under the knife. assuring him his life as a he-man is history. Week after week. A woman could give birth to triplets. Men. take great pleasure in throwing their friends into turmoil with derogatory comments designed to undermine a buddy’s manhood. Women may be the bedrock of society. How wrong I was.
As neither my children nor my husband avows any knowledge of how they got there.Towel Tyranny I ’ve decided I must be the victim of towel tyranny. hanging like hoodlums off the shelf or brazenly bunched up in the corner. I can only conclude the troublesome towels themselves are trying to stage a takeover. appearing unfolded all over the place in varying stages of cleanliness. I’ll ﬁnd towels in a tumultuous state. If I open the closet door. And since every other member of my family denies any responsibility for them. Towels that earlier were well-behaved are suddenly mingling with sheets and pillowcases on unauthorized shelves. So I painstakingly fold the towels right out of the dryer. I give them crisp contours and place them lovingly on their assigned shelves. I am apparently the only person in our house capable of the feat of folding. I have to assume the terrible towels are in revolt. And how do these ungrateful bolts of blotting material repay my hard work? By running rampant in my linen closet. It’s a burden those of us born with greater abilities must bear. 95 . Those rectangular household items seem to have taken over my home.
And none of my family members ever does touch them. I ﬁnd them lying. look-but-don’ttouch decorative soaps. Sometimes.Days of Derangement There’s also the matter of moisture. they chose to throw themselves over the hamster cage and somehow ended up frayed and chewed. 96 . amassing smelly spores and funky fungi. in serious need of rehab. are the elegant elite—the decorative towels. they’ll have hardened into crustily creative origami. soaking wet. for some unknown reason. Then. which even get matching. still-presentable cloths assigned to dry the skins of their owners. stained fragments of fabric consigned to sopping up spills or drying the dog. I have their sworn statements on that. The lowest caste belongs to the torn. at the top of the heap. Another time. They will leap off the hooks on which they have been faithfully hung (and my family members always hang them up). So the pretty towels must be acting on their own. One time. Our towels have a strange mania for mildew. Then they’ll lie on the ﬂoor for hours. By then. I discovered them disgracefully hiding out on the back patio. where they evidently decided to clean a stinking pair of soccer cleats. The towels in my house adhere to a certain hierarchy. It’s truly diabolical. Instead of staying put in the guest bathroom. have the enviable duty of just looking good. The middle class towels are those ordinary. These privileged pieces. they will even ﬂing themselves into closets and under beds where they will be unlikely to be discovered for days. No one is allowed to soil their softness with actual use. in the ﬂoor or in the sink.
97 . Oddly enough. I became so traumatized by the behavior of my traitorous towels that I decided to put them all under lock and key so I could closely monitor their behavior. my family members did not like this at all.Towel Tyranny At some point. But it seemed to tame the towels.
Almost every woman. Look for something you’ll feel comfortable wearing. Allow for room to grow. Now. We can only be persuaded to try on new ones each summer because—as with childbirth—we forget the agony endured during the experience. I hoped to be considered bodacious in my bathing attire. even those with enough back hair to weave a small rug and a beer belly of sufﬁcient size to be a walking Budweiser billboard. on the other hand. This seasonal amnesia allows us to set out once again on a search for the sublime suit. The rules are the same. I envy that kind of conﬁdence. having a middle-aged mom midriff untouched by a surgeon’s 98 .Bathing Suit Blues People shop for a bathing suit with more care than they do a husband or wife. Every man thinks he looks good in his bathing suit. —Erma Bombeck I have to admit I admire men’s indifference to bathing-suit reality. the one that will leave us looking like a supermodel. When I was younger. believes she resembles a Teletubby in her swimsuit. I too was seeking a supermodel suit.
we’d likely take out a second mortgage to buy every bathing suit in stock? 99 . you can now re-create yourself online by entering your measurements. Upon further inspection. I thought I’d found the ideal answer with the Virtual Model.Bathing Suit Blues scalpel. Unfortunately. My high-tech suit solution having shriveled. Not only was I not a hot mamma. but I will spare you the details. The virtual you maintains her shape even as the real you adds another 10 pounds. On the virtual me. I was then forced to drag myself down to the department store and enter the psyche-smashing chamber of horrors known as the dressing room. I’m content if my beach body fails to cause vomiting or retinal damage. I found them cowering under my armpits. On the real me. certain appendages intended to nourish babies had provided a pleasingly perky presentation. I begin my spandex search every spring. Then you can try on computerized bathing suits in the privacy of your home while eating an entire carton of Haagen-Dazs. It doesn’t get any better than that. when I attempted to stuff my real skin into my virtual suit. The virtual me turned out to be quite a hot mamma and I eagerly anticipated the arrival of my online bathing suit. So with these modest goals in mind. I wasn’t even warm. I was sorely disappointed. See. The spectacle was even scarier in the lower regions. said appendages seemed to have vanished. Why do retailers insist on equipping their ﬁtting rooms with 200-watt ﬂuorescent lighting and three-way fun house mirrors? Don’t they realize if we could view our bodies via candlelight through frosted mirrors (and perhaps after a couple of martinis).
I’m going to pay another visit to that vixenish virtual me. which gives you the illusion of a two-piece but with the promise of greater coverage (a bikini with beneﬁts. 100 . was a deﬁnite non. I left empty-handed. The tankini tanked as my ﬂesh oozed out of its assigned areas. I armed myself with an assortment of the latest in swimwear styles and colors: the tankini. Maybe I’ll feed her some Haagen-Dazs. I’m considering spending my summers in a burlap sack. Nothing made me happy. The maillot. checked suits and some with polka-dots. I struggled into a skirted ﬂoral number that made me look frighteningly like Hyacinth the Hippo. a one-piece that. just by virtue of having a French name. For a couple of hours. is bound to bestow a certain sexy je ne sais quoi. despite its French connections. Sadly. the maillot. dubbing my quest a dismal failure. I stood in front of those blasted mirrors under those blinding lights and tried on suit after suit. none of them met even my humble expectations. First though.Days of Derangement Determined to face the task at hand. skirted bathing suits supposedly capable of camouﬂaging cellulite and sarong swim attire meant to minimize the midsection. I wrapped myself in a striped sarong that was deﬁnitely not right. I squeezed into suits both black (which conveniently matched my mood) and colored. so to speak). Now. In the end.
Bathing Suit Blues 101 .
madness lies… —William Shakespeare W hen my children look back over their childhoods. I’d call out after them: “Parting is such sweet sorrow!” My children would roll their eyes and groan in the pained yet patient way young people do in the presence of crazy relatives. When it was past my kids’ bedtimes. This was a phase in which I’d quote The Bard extensively.” When my daughter was whining about something.” And when my darlings would head out the door to school in the morning. or as extensively as my Cliff Notes knowledge of him would allow.To Do or Not To Do O that way. I’d say sarcastically as I gagged at the odor wafting from them. I’d announce that “the lady doth protest too much. 102 . perchance to dream. I’d order them “to sleep. I hope they’ll forgive me for my Shakespeare phase.” When I had to pick up my son’s stinky sneakers. “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
with my to-do list not even close to being done. During my obsession with The Bard.” I wrote at the bottom. when I hadn’t actually accomplished anything on my list. It covered an entire page and then spilled over on to a second page. I couldn’t resist embellishing it with bits of Will’s wisdom. This gave me the feeling of organization but with a smidgen of rebellion thrown in. I called it my To Do or Not To Do List. Some people can properly manage their time. After a few days. “Oft expectation fails. By the end of the week. though. I decide I no longer want to function like ﬂotsam. my notes to self became slightly more pessimistic but still poetic. Periodically. disgusted letters right across the list. my to-do list was grandiose and unrealistic.” I scrawled in large. I decided to involve them in my time-management activities as well. carried helplessly by the tides of tardiness until we are broken up by the rocks of regularity and washed on to the shore of scheduling. Naturally. Just what I wanted. In true Shakespearean spirit. though.” I scribbled encouragingly to myself in the margins. I wrote each of them 103 .To Do or Not To Do My Shakespeare phase coincided with one of my occasional attempts at time management. thy name is frailty. Sadly for my family members. I took to writing a daily to-do list. At ﬁrst. “Woman. I was deeply annoyed with myself. and so I try to establish some habit that will help me tame my time. Others such as me tend to ﬂoat along like ﬂotsam on the sea of time. where we lie as limp and exhausted as an overworked metaphor. “Be not afraid of greatness.
and then I encouraged everyone to get up early on a Saturday morning so there would be plenty of time to get everything done. I beg his or her pardon” I’d say with true Cowell attitude. And before I knew it. what light through yonder window breaks? Time to get up!” My kids covered their heads with their pillows and moaned. the timemanagement urge had passed.Days of Derangement a to-do list. At least he has his own TV show. “Mom. After that. I went happily back to being ﬂoating ﬂotsam. “If there is anyone here whom I have not insulted. I also got over William and moved on to quoting yet another witty Brit. “No one cares about Shakespeare! He didn’t even have his own TV show!” The illogic of this statement left me so stunned I momentarily forgot about the to-do lists. “Hark. so I barged into their bedrooms spouting another Bardism. Simon Cowell. you are so weird!” my daughter said. of course. 104 . They ignored me.
Picard would. and the galaxy would be safe for another day. we’d curl up together on the couch and watch a rerun of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Essentially. except that it didn’t slam doors or wear low-slung pants that showed its many pairs of 105 . That’s the Star Trek show in which the elegant Capt. Each night. I’d send my own crew out with the more humble mission of getting ready for bed with the same command. the Borg was one giant. and they didn’t want to be. in his rich. a race of aggressive. my family went through a time of serious Trekkiness. Picard’s space-alien-butt-kicking crew would comply. command his crew to “Make it so. One of our favorite series of Star Trek episodes involved the Borg. delivered in a phony English accent. They were not individuals.Resistance is Futile W hen my children were younger.” No matter how daunting the task. souped-up teenager. technologically enhanced beings—part human and part machine—which had a collective consciousness. “Make it so. When one was cut off from the Collective. the ﬁrst thing the poor drone would notice would be its own loneliness. When the show was over. Shakespearean baritone.” I’d say as I sent them to their rooms.
Eventually. She could whip up a comely 106 . And I’m not really one to talk. She could select different frostings and decorations. My husband and I make our living by way of the Web. and I like it. and an assimilation battle would rage throughout the house that would continue until someone screamed “I am Borg!” and ﬁnally succumbed to the Borg identity. my children would take on its robotic personality. I’m not sure my mate knows where he ends and his Crackberry (Blackberry) begins. We are all becoming part of the cyberspace collective. What the Borg did was ruthlessly assimilate all other life forms into its Collective. but no one is autonomous. For days after a Borg episode had aired. I’ve developed a serious addiction to Googling myself. and the Borg went away where no man has gone before. And we carry it with us at all times. in the form of the Internet. Sometimes. those were good times.Days of Derangement underwear. Or so I thought until recently. just like teenagers do. just to see how many times my name comes up. willingly shedding our individuality to become one with the great external mind. with virtual friends. when I realized that the Borg have secretly stayed among us for quite some time. Our children play virtual games. My daughter saved up her money to buy a computer game that allowed her to “bake” an online cake.” the Borg would intone without mercy to all its victims. our Trekkie phase passed. And we adults are just as bad.” I’d intone without mercy each time one of my children tried to avoid going to bed. “Resistance is futile. “Resistance is futile. Ah. in virtual rooms where everyone can be anonymous. I am an online organism.
no reality. Funny Girl was devoted to the game. Even though there was no taste. I’m baking. no cold glass of milk to wash down this lifeless computer cake.” I’m pretty sure that resistance is futile. And she could share her cake with other online bakers. “Mom. she answered impatiently.Resistance is Futile confection with the click of a mouse. I’m busy right now. 107 . When I asked her to help me make a real cake. We are Borg.
B eing a recovering Trekkie who once had a serious crush on Captain Kirk. And most of the time. the unwritten rule of the universe is that older generations get to embarrass the younger one. For example. There were several times when my kids were growing up that I was pretty sure that crazy continuum had gone and done it again.Space Time Turmoil The rate at which a person can mature is directly proportional to the embarrassment he can tolerate. we went out to eat one time with my in-laws. three generations bonding over a good meal. My mother-in-law. who is a little hard of hearing and tends to speak loudly. See. always getting runs in it that throw everything into turmoil and require humans (or half-humans in the case of Mr. I’ve always been attuned to the possibility of a warp in the time-space continuum. you know the space-time continuum is about as reliable as a cheap pair of pantyhose. If 108 . If you’ve watched as much Star Trek as I have. Spock) to perform heroic feats to save the day. It’s been that way since time immemorial. noticed that Funny Girl was eating calamari. our family followed that hallowed tradition.
She could also see past him into his room. unfortunately. And in that split second when he saw the girl’s face on the computer screen and she saw him standing there in his towel. 109 . But I went right on with my meal. Except that she didn’t say tentacles. my kids turned a deep shade of red and appeared to be trying to get under the table. knowing all was right with the world. operated (and still does) on a different timetable than the rest of us. dressed only in a towel. Funny Man had already taken a shower. Knowing this. and so she saw my husband walk in. She used another word that sounds very similar to tentacles but actually describes a very private part of the male anatomy. Funny Boy. my husband. everything was turned topsy turvy. What he didn’t know was that Funny Boy had recently installed a webcam and was using it to communicate with his girlfriend. Sometimes. walked into my son’s room to lovingly (or not) suggest the kid should get moving. Through the miracle of modern technology. not long after that. As several restaurant patrons turned to look at us. our dog—who has often enjoyed a game of snap-the-towel with my husband—decided to get the game going by yanking the towel off with his teeth. My husband and son were getting ready to go out. So my mother-in-law innocently made a loud comment about the joys of eating tentacles. However.Space Time Turmoil you’ve eaten it. he could see her and she could see him. you also get fried squid tentacles that look like little spiders ready to scamper right off the plate. you know that calamari is just squid dressed up with a fancy Italian name and often served fried in little rings. never actually starting the process of getting ready until about ﬁve minutes after he was supposed to be somewhere.
110 . Spock is available to ﬁx it.Days of Derangement leaving Funny Man standing there with his dignity exposed and our son’s girlfriend probably in need of therapy. something is wrong with that old space-time continuum. I wonder if Mr. Clearly.
—George Will E very fall. of touchdowns and testosterone. and all his rowdy friends could come over and make me appreciate the game. I doubt even Hank Jr. all would be right with the universe. and each man would have to 111 . By the time my dad’s friends arrived to catch the kickoff. My father was gripped by gridiron giddiness. Yet every year. the air was electric with excitement. It started. If the Sooners did well. And I realize all over again how much the power of pigskin has shaped my life. I ﬁnd myself so not ready for another football season. if they fumbled and failed. I ﬁnd myself deeply embedded in the season of beering and cheering. in childhood. as most psychologically traumatizing things do. and most of his mania was focused on the University of Oklahoma Sooners. and my papa and his pals would be bursting with pride. a deathly pall would hang over the house. Game days were serious business around our house. If they did not do well.The Power of Pigskin Football combines the two worst things about America: it is violence punctuated by committee meetings.
produced a miniature Madden man of my own. One of my dad’s friends actually once punched a hole in the wall. Then I went to college (at OU. We talked about everything under the sun. and I was shocked one Saturday to ﬁnd this fellow that I’d fallen for screaming shirtless in a stadium. and they’d sing a mockingly modiﬁed version of the Texas ﬁght song that ended with a rather rude suggestion involving biting and backsides. even football toilet seat covers. and we all know that love is as blind as. All over a silly game. When my skinny son reached high school. by some terrible tragedy. If you’re a Sooner or a Longhorn. But I was in love. naturally) and there. I just didn’t get it. the loathsome Longhorns won the game. we spent our Friday nights watching him in constant danger of being turned into a football version of Flat Stanley 112 . his face and body painted crimson for the team. our hopes and dreams.Days of Derangement ﬁnd his own way to deal with his distress. philosophy. I’d have run away as fast as I could. art. literature. So I foolishly married the man. On the day of that granddaddy of all games for the diehard Sooner fan—OU versus Texas—my father and his mates would do a happy little dance around the room every time their team scored. a great number of football referees. and beer would be necessary to drown their Sooner sorrows. football posters on the walls. I met a handsome. I ended up living in a house inundated by pigskin passion. you know exactly which song I mean. unable to contain his outrage at the calamity that had befallen the team. on a bright August day. things would be gloomy. If I was smart. But if. We had football bed sheets. seemingly normal man. judging by fan reaction. and in time. But then came September.
When our extended family gathered to give thanks. onion dip. During this silliest of seasons. interrupted only by endless rounds of neckless men in nice suits discussing those games and the gladiators who play them. beer and chips that fell from lips that had to stop eating and scream at the idiots who were letting the victory slip from their very large hands. the televisions in our house broadcast a perpetual stream of games. Our living room carpet suffered from football-mouth disease.The Power of Pigskin by what looked (to me. It was enough to make me want to throw up. anyway) like giants on the opposing team trying to tackle him. Or punch a hole in the wall. 113 . But usually I just grabbed some of my rowdy friends and went shopping. caused by a constant assault from nacho cheese. three generations of football fanatics would genuﬂect before the gridiron god. The holidays were also hamstrung by this crazy sport.
Oh Lord. Being the daughter of a HIM. my friend. And if—like me—you have a mother with thick. on top of that.The Hairy Truth W hen I reach the Pearly Gates. however. Why. That’s because he is a man and. You. A HIM spends even less time thinking about his hair than wondering if his jeans make his butt look big. did you give me my dad’s hair? This may seem to you like a ridiculously shallow question to be asking at such a moment. have not had to live with my father’s follicles. being a HIM is a real blessing. Those faulty follicles have not been a problem for my father. beautiful. but that’s because you have not had to spend nearly ﬁve decades attached to a stringy substance that has resisted all attempts to mold it into something attractive. he’s a HIM (HairIndifferent Man). I already know what it’s going to be. can be a curse if—like me—you are unfortunate enough to have inherited his calamitous coif. bouncy hair who dropped the genetic ball at your conception and allowed your father’s lackluster gene to beat her 114 . If you have problem hair that just lies slouched across your scalp as sluggish as a teenager in the summertime. and I am allowed to ask one question. A HIM does not care about his hair.
and eventually just taking the matter up with the Creator himself. “No. The hairy truth is that stylists know things we mortals just don’t know. What they do doesn’t look hard.” So decent. “It’s just that my hair looks decent for once. My co-workers ask if I’ve had a face-lift or maybe some liposuction. Strangers on the street treat me with more respect. you may have enough Oedipal issues to keep any therapist busy (and wealthy). That should have made me happy. people were still talking about my hair a week later. even after I’d gone back to my familiar ﬂat-as-a-pancake look. in fact. If I could. I’d tasted life as one of the hair fortunate. Of course.The Hairy Truth good hair gene to the punch. Whenever I have my hair done at a salon. Personally. try it yourself 115 . I would also need a full-time stylist to ﬁx my “do” every day. I plan on skipping the shrink’s couch. “Can’t you learn to make it look good yourself?” my HIM husband asked. In the meantime. It was a bitter pill indeed to return to my helmet-hair existence. but instead I was melancholy. given my follicular disability. along with expensive styling products with French names that will surely make my hair look better just by virtue of being French. I’d spend that much on my hair alone—perms. cuts and coloring. and my normally limp locks are temporarily looking good.” I say. It was like getting a glimpse of the Promised Land and then having to go back into the wilderness. I patiently tried to explain that hairdressers are like golf players. I feel like I’ve beaten the genetic odds. I have to confess I understand why all those wealthy divorcees demand thousands monthly in alimony for personal upkeep. though. that after my last salon visit. and yet.
The only solution is to get a divorce and spend every penny of my alimony to keep a hairdresser at my beck and call. 116 . dear. of course. I’m just kidding. Really. I simply cannot get my hair to look the way it does when my stylist does it.Days of Derangement and see what happens. Thanks a lot. Mom. Even using the same products and appliances. I should have been born a HIM. I’m just kidding.
I looked forward to my turn as the parent in the passenger seat ever since my own teenage driving debut many years ago. I was eager to carry on the family tradition. My dad took his place beside me. I learned to drive in a bright yellow Volkswagen Bug with manual transmission that I affectionately called The Egg Yolk. My parents worked in tandem to instill in me the appropriate levels of fear and loathing necessary for success on the road. T eaching a teenager to drive ranks right up there with potty training as one of parenting’s ﬁnest experiences. Learner’s 117 . the little car would buck like a bronco. and my mom sat in the back. and my father would simultaneously yell “Clutch!” This happened over and over until I was a shaking bundle of nerves requiring years of therapy. my mother would shriek as if she were in real danger. Each time I tried to smoothly shift into gear. So we went to our local Department of Motor Vehicles ofﬁce. But when Funny Boy was old enough to get his learner’s permit.Driving Drill Instructor The best substitute for experience is being 16.
” I said sarcastically.” she told him sternly. “Before you turn 18. alas.Days of Derangement Permit is far too innocuous a term for a document that puts a pimply person with a mouthful of metal in control of several thousand pounds of steel with an accelerator. Next. and I gave the government guardian angel a grateful look. When it was time for his ﬁrst lesson. We had high-decibel discussions about the meaning of words such as slow and stop. “How about we start out with both hands on the wheel?” It all just went downhill. already feeling my blood pressure rising. Now that’s a true public servant. Not a good sign. so to speak. My son’s apparent need for speed led me to point out that it wasn’t 118 . her warning went in one teenage ear and out the other. from there. The trip from our driveway to the nearest intersection was fraught with the kind of nail-biting nausea common to stressful situations. “I’ve got an idea. reminding my junior joy rider that his driving destiny legally rested in the hands of his loving parents. The kind soul at the DMV did her best to lay down the law. and we got into a screaming match over the proper enactment of that rule known as Right on Red. my son emerged from the house wearing a T-shirt that said Easily Distracted. But. he proceeded to check his hair in the mirror. You got that?” Funny Boy nodded his head as if in total agreement (he was faking it). reset all the radio buttons and casually drape his left arm out of the open window. “your mom and dad can take away your license for any reason—maybe because your grades slip or maybe just because you don’t keep your room clean.
” I maintained a death grip on the handle above the passenger door and found myself wishing I’d left this particular task to my husband. By the time we returned home. 119 . “Oh. of course. I know. But I felt a deep satisfaction knowing I’d fulﬁlled the familial obligation to be a driving drill instructor. I had twice been called a terrible teacher.” Funny Boy responded in all seriousness. One day. that he could drive more slowly. Funny Boy will thank me for it. still miraculously alive. I meant. “You can go ﬁve miles over without being stopped by the cops.Driving Drill Instructor necessary to always drive the speed limit.
with his airplane in the background. and the ﬂight suit would require some alternations if he wanted to wear it now (sorry. dear). but I know my Tom Cruise clone still sees himself as that studly single man.LBD Conspiracy I t’s funny how one’s self-image tends to stay frozen in time. He keeps a picture of himself—I call it his Top Gun picture—from those days. this frosted fantasy is more than 20 years old and revolves around his bachelor days when he drove a little red sports car and spent his weekends logging hours as a private pilot. The car and the plane are long gone. and it goes through some kind of freezing process that crystallizes this warm memory into a mental ice cube tray where you can periodically pull it out of the ﬁgurative freezer of dreams and lick it with the symbolic tongue of delusion just to make sure it’s still there. For my husband. Or something like that. Your mind picks out a moment when you looked your best. handsome and dashing in a ﬂight suit. sometimes a moment that occurred many moons (and many pounds) ago. 120 . He’s leaning against that sports car.
And once a woman has felt beautiful in this essential item of apparel (a la Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s). I refused to try them on. For a woman. “how could you?” My mom.LBD Conspiracy My ﬂash-frozen picture of myself occurred about the same time. one that should have every woman in the country up in arms. trying to be helpful. as my size-zero. 121 . “Oh. yet timeless LBD. is removing fabric from the fundamental fashion frock and skewing the sizes. tiramisu. Someone. the dresses in my size failed to ﬂatter my ﬁgure. These people have a lot to answer for. began bringing me LBDs in larger sizes. back in my skinny season. So with this assumption ﬁrmly in mind and having not worn an LBD for quite a while. one of the most important items in her wardrobe. In fact. But for some reason. I tried on dress after dress in what I thought would be a quick quest for a trendy. It’s a canvas on which she can showcase her stylish self. probably the same folks adding lead to children’s toys. she tends to assume she will always look good in it. when I ﬁrst wore a Little Black Dress. soonto-be-disowned daughter snickered and rather cruelly implied that my love for a certain Italian dessert could have contributed to my size shrinkage problem. the size that has ﬁt me for years. each terribly tight toga refused to go much past my knees! I was astounded. I started. I had my daughter and my mother in tow.” Funny Girl said mockingly. with the size that I know ﬁts me. naturally. And I stumbled upon a shocking scandal. and then annoyed. the LBD is far more than a piece of clothing. Someone is sabotaging the LBD. I went shopping one holiday season for a new little black dress.
pointing to one of the discarded dresses. That’s when I realized I was the unwitting victim of a vast LBD conspiracy. But I won’t give them that satisfaction. These people are trying to make me look fat and send me into the little black dress doldrums. I’m calling my congressman. I want my original size back. 122 .Days of Derangement “That’s my size and I’m sticking to it!” I said heatedly. A warm ﬂush of embarrassment began to spread over my face and threatened to melt that icy illusion in my head.
and I didn’t even notice it 123 . throwing up his arms melodramatically. He made this declaration the ﬁrst time an attractive young woman called him “Sir. Being a full six months younger.It’s Over And the thoughts of youth are long.” “It’s over!” he lamented. That’s because I found myself in a long and serious conversation with my dad about the attributes of various high-ﬁber breakfast cereals. “It” is usually something precious and irretrievable once lost. I liked to point out that not a single hair was sticking out of my nose.” Funny Man moaned when he stood in front of the mirror with his trimmer. such as youth or life or sanity. long thoughts. An interest in ﬁber is a sure sign of impending geezerdom. —Henry Wadsworth Longfellow F unny Man regularly declares that it’s over. “It’s really. I used to laugh at my geriatric spouse. He said it again the ﬁrst time he had to buy a nose hair trimmer. But I stopped laughing after I celebrated yet another birthday on the wrong side of 40. really over.
It will give him or her a greater appreciation for the ﬂeeting Cap’n Crunch phase of life. (OK. 124 . to look over the selection of nose hair trimmers. I assumed Father Time had put my bladder on the fast track to incontinence. I also picked up an anticipatory package of Depends. Apparently. I was alarmed when a warm feeling spread across my backside. we got a new car.Days of Derangement until I saw the looks on the faces of my children. I might have forgotten about our ﬁber forum if I hadn’t gotten freaked out when it appeared I needed to add adult diapers to my shopping list. I’m not quite as long-in-the-tooth as I thought. Even so. which was equipped with those new-fangled seat heaters. As I was driving to the drugstore to get some Depends. I’m going to quote another great poet. I was almost weak with relief when I got out of the car and discovered that my pants were dry. though. Yogi Berra: It ain’t over ’til it’s over. I began to have some of those long. I know they’ve been around a while.) When I placed my purse on the car’s console. I did head on into the store. At least not yet. the next time my husband announces that it’s over. See. but I’d never had them before. Not realizing this. long thoughts of youth mentioned by Longfellow (who seems to have had the perfect name for such nostalgia). I want to be prepared for the inevitable. Every teenager should have to sit through a discussion of the digestive delights of eating a cardboard breakfast. it apparently pressed the seat heater button.
It’s Over 125 .
126 . you can mortify them merely by appearing in public. that precious period now has shrunk until it’s as short as a bee’s knee would be (assuming bees actually have knees). I deﬁnitely can remember thinking my parents were the bee’s knees or. And when they are teenagers. —Phyllis Diller L ife just moves too fast nowadays. you actually can make them nauseous by using old-fashioned phrases involving insects and their theoretical body parts. But tragically. take that wonderful window of time during which your children idolize you and think you’re the bee’s knees. The little ingrates start to roll their eyes at our actions almost before they learn to ride a bike. For example. Today’s parents only have until their kids are about 6 before they become a source of embarrassment to their offspring. By the time they are on the cusp of adolescence. at the very least. That golden period used to last about a decade. the cat’s meow. It’s all so unfair.Bee’s Knees Always be nice to your children because they are the ones who will choose your rest home. until I was 11 or 12 years old.
even if I usually listen at a much lower volume than I once did. “I wanna rock and roll all night. to a classic rock station that helps me remember I’m still young and hip. Hearing Rock and Roll All Nite brought back a lot of memories. Funny Girl was standing there. I get an unfortunate urge to change the station to one playing easy-listening songs. 127 . I used to tear around town in my yellow Volkswagen Beetle with my friends. Halfway through the second stanza. I heard the radio start playing Rock and Roll All Nite by that band of upstanding citizens known as KISS. I suddenly heard the van’s door being yanked open. I made up the last one. blasting KISS tunes at unhealthy decibel levels. Occasionally. The radio was tuned. a groovy rock groupie a long way from easy listening. “And party every day. I ﬁght it by cranking up my classic rock station and letting such young and hip (replacement) rockers as The Rolling Stones shore up my devotion to rock ’n’ roll.Bee’s Knees I was pondering this great injustice one day while waiting for my daughter in the car line at school. In the car line that day before the ﬁnal bell rang. I turned it way up and there in my very hip minivan began to bob my head and gyrate to the music like the carefree kid I used to be. A group of amused-looking teenagers stood behind her. I began to sing along to the music. When I was a teenager. her face about as white as the makeup the members of KISS used to wear. as usual. And because the windows were rolled up. I even started playing a pretty impressive air guitar. geriatric name such as The Dove or The Breeze or The Snooze. (OK.” I warbled loudly.) When I get that disturbing desire to change the dial.” I was lost in the ’70s. my eyes closed. Easy-listening stations generally have a gentle.
I just hope when she does I’m still young enough to remember it. Someday. a middleaged mom who should probably start acting her age.” I said sheepishly. 128 . she’ll look back on this incident and laugh.Days of Derangement “Mom! What are you doing?!” “Just listening to music. turning it down. I’d been abruptly thrust back into the 21st century. trying not to be seen. get us out of here!” Funny Girl slumped down in the seat. “Hurry.
more civilized time. the B and B apparently brought his dear. “It’s quaint and picturesque. I decided—to wrap up our family visit to Colorado by leaving the kids with their grandparents and sneaking off to a little town nearby. however. We decided—OK. I couldn’t wait to cuddle up there with my husband. 129 .The B and B The difﬁculty with married life is that we fall in love with a personality. When I told my husband where we were going. delightful with doilies and pretty teacups—would be the perfect spot to celebrate our 19th anniversary several years ago. one rich in history and character. —Peter De Vries I thought a bed and breakfast—a place oozing with charm. I booked a night at a “Victorian-era” inn that described itself as quaint and picturesque. romantic images of an elegant. he looked doubtful. The very phrase bed and breakfast evoked for me soft. but must live with a character. departed grandmother to mind.” I pointed out. It wasn’t exactly the atmosphere I’d envisioned. For Funny Man.
tucked under the sloping roof. In the summer. “Just leave the window and door open. this would have been just ﬁne. you unromantic schlub.” Funny Man snorted.” He gave me one of his obnoxious I-told-you-so looks. it’s really not so bad. fanning himself. my man expressed even greater doubts. “It’s as hot in here as my grandma’s house used to be. There was barely enough space for a bed.” On top of that. her smile fading a bit. I was thinking. “Just like the beds at Grandma’s house. it was deﬁnitely a problem.” “That will make for a very romantic night. but which would be mighty close quarters for two people of our well-fed proportions.” he said. I was eager to arrive at our lacy love nest.” Funny Man said.” she said breezily. “It’s lumpy. In a Colorado winter. 130 . When we pulled up to the house on a sleepy side street. “It looks just like my grandmother’s old place.Days of Derangement “That means old and broken-down. lying down on the bed. “Oh. then added disparagingly.” Wondering if I could possibly get that lucky. “they probably don’t even have ESPN. I asked the hostess why I wasn’t told about the heating problem when I reserved the room. But I just shook my head as a smiling woman showed us up the creaky stairs to our room at the top of the house. the room was very warm. And it was a bed in which Tom Thumb and his wife would have been comfortable. Our hostess explained the house had an ancient heating system that unfortunately could not be shut off. Are you sure you wouldn’t rather get a hotel room?” Not on your life. Room is a generous word to describe this slightly oversized closet.
“There’s not one. We quickly packed our things and headed for a hotel. That’s when my mate realized the situation was even worse than he thought. “Your mama’s got her back up. Finally. my father would say. “if you bring up your grandmother again. The hostess left. I broke down and suggested that we leave. Isn’t it great?” “Just like Grandma’s house. and we began to unpack our clothes.” he said sorrowfully.The B and B When I was growing up. my dad was the reason for my mom’s spinal contortions.” I told him in a syrupy voice. 131 . “Darling. “Where’s the TV?” he asked. I was too uncomfortable to keep my back up any longer. We had a nice enough dinner.” The evening kind of went downhill from there. The I-told-you-so look Funny Man sent me put my back right out of proportion and made me stubbornly determined to spend the night in this balmy B and B. After a while.” Most of the time. ESPN never sounded so good. you’re going to be seeing her much sooner than you expected. I am deﬁnitely my mother’s daughter. and my mother would get upset about something. where we drank champagne and toasted our marriage in an ice-cold room on a king-size bed. but then returned to our stuffy little room and stared at each other across the lumpy bed.
Semicolons. I can wax ecstatic over an exclamation mark. if inserted sensibly. but most of the things they make it easier to do don’t need to be done.” If you’ve spent any time at all on a computer. You just called me a weenie.) That’s why my knickers have long been in a knot over a serious threat to the purity of punctuation. are beautiful things to behold. Poor little punctuation marks—the workhorses of the written word—are being improperly pressed into service to convey emotion online. It is the insidious infection known as “emoticons. (I heard that. 132 . —Andy Rooney A s an English major and therefore (according to my kids) a certiﬁed weenie. Periods and parentheses provide pure pleasure. I have a thing for punctuation.E-nnoyed by Emoticons Computers make it easier to do a lot of things. Commas make me jump with joy. while their cousins—the comely colons—leave me more in love than ever with language. you’ve no doubt seen them polluting e-mail and Web sites.
Actually. Snooki—are no longer good enough to express our sentiments. you have to view it at a 90-degree angle. My text stood on its own. I thought I was immune to emoticon creep. But I fear our mother tongue is still in peril. Sometimes. something you never have to do with words. didn’t you?) But one day.E-nnoyed by Emoticons By combining the words “emotion” and “icon. a dash is even forced to stand between the “eyes” and the “mouth” to indicate a nose :-).” some cyber geek has given us this Frankenstein of feelings. standard spelling is falling out of fashion. As if words—the medium of artists like Shakespeare and Wordsworth. Words are wasting away. to add insult to injury. Is there no end to the indignity? I know this blight upon language has been around for a while and that many software programs can now create emoticons—even animated emoticons that move e-nnoyingly around on your computer screen—without sacriﬁcing the lives of priceless punctuation. I am. We may be in real trouble here. There. The most common emoticon is that sickening smiley face made with a colon for eyes and the right parenthesis as the smile : ). I stopped in horror. not to mention that great author. beautifully transmitting my feelings without any assistance from stupid symbols. Of course. just when I was about to hit Send on a routine e-mail to an acquaintance. back to a world where man crudely expressed his thoughts with hieroglyphics. It’s as if we are moving backward in time. folks. now that I think about it. at the 133 . after all. an English major. hieroglyphics were a lot more sophisticated than the smiley face. Until recently. (You called me a weenie again.
I could only shake my head in disgust.Days of Derangement end of a perfectly adequate sentence—“It was nice seeing you last week”—I had actually typed not one. Shakespeare must be rolling in his grave. but two obsequious smiley faces. Even the word-weenies like me are gradually being worn down. : ( 134 .
The rule says that women get triple the time and space in the bathroom as men. The ﬁrst picture showed two simple push buttons. A wise and reasonable man would resign himself to this timeless reality and use another bathroom. The caption on this picture: Men. every woman and every man should have her and his own bathroom. The obvious implication was that women are a high-maintenance sector of our species. knobs. one labeled On and the other Off.High Maintenance Woman For marriage to be a success. This would allow the I 135 . my mate refuses to accept the Rule of Triple Reciprocity that has been in place ever since Eve needed more time at the bathing brook than Adam. —Catherine Zeta-Jones once received an email containing a couple of pictures that pretty much sums up the difference between the genders. I think about those pictures every time Funny Man and I have one of our regular conversations about access to the master bathroom. levers and gauges in a dizzying and complicated array. See. The end. The second picture showed dozens of buttons. and was labeled—you guessed it—Women.
of course. like the one I married. rapidly steaming up the place and fogging the mirror. Phase 1 is taking a shower. That’s when things get dicey. But a woman’s shower ritual requires numerous wash cloths. Each phase in this process is divided into a series of tasks. I’ve developed a multi-step system for getting ready every morning. It’s usually during this phase that Funny Man. A woman’s shower.Days of Derangement wife of such an admirable man to enjoy her God-given right to bask in the boudoir. vitamin-enhanced shampoo. A man might think this is a simple and quick procedure involving a bar of soap and minimal scrubbing. honeysuckle shaving cream. fruity face soap. Phase 2—the after-shower—includes applying various lotions and oils designed to smooth and perfume my body. herbal-infused conditioner and. Over the years. pumice stone. That leads directly into Phase 3. loofah. means that my hair will fail to 136 . and each task is absolutely essential for me to be ﬁt to face the world. The timing between Phase 4 and Phase 5—the all-important hair styling step—is crucial. An unwise and unreasonable man. cannot be rushed. This threatens to stall Phase 4—the application of makeup— and usually leads me to lovingly suggest that my man should exit the premises without further delay. Any kind of unexpected setback. when I momentarily leave the bathroom and enter my closet to decide what to wear. sneaks into the bathroom and jumps into the shower. especially my shower. employing guerilla warfare tactics. such as if my husband turns stubborn and stays in the shower. would insist on throwing a monkey wrench into the convoluted process that is necessary to keep his wife looking like her lovely self.
and I will be cruelly condemned to a Bad Hair Day. 137 .High Maintenance Woman achieve its desired fullness. I’ll get it. A Bad Hair Day wipes out all of my hard work and leaves me grouchy as a grizzly. Maybe someday. I’m a high-maintenance mama bear who needs her own bathroom.
I dutifully joined PTA when my oldest child started school. I cast my memory back to that childless period that my husband calls BK (before kids). God bless the parents who donate their time and talents to the schools. But in the fullness of time. we became fruitful and multiplied. But the group has a serious ﬂaw in its screening process. we sent them to school. the acronym PTA stood for pizza takeout activities. That’s when my adventures with the Parent Teacher Association began. thrusting a sheaf of volunteer sign-up sheets my way. a group of relentlessly energetic moms surrounded me. Don’t get me wrong. proven by the fact that it allowed me to join. It started with the best of intentions. At open house. Back when. and lo. and I obediently scribbled my name on sheet after sheet. We were young and ignorant then. The PTA is a very worthwhile organization. I inadvertently managed to sock it to my local unit. And that’s when I realized I’m probably not cut out to be a PTA mom. In a few short months.Pity the PTA S ometimes. we brought forth fruits who needed to be educated. I don’t think the PTA ladies have yet recovered. for all we knew. And so. 138 .
anxious to impress. So I tried to be a stereotypical PTA mom. I was a walking festival of kitsch. There are those who “pop over” without warning and those who know better. I ﬂushed in embarrassment. but invited her in. I felt my parental conﬁdence ebbing away. I was eager to prove my maternal mettle. crushed Cheerios adorning the furniture. In December. I became an aide-de-camp to the homeroom mom. I opened my door to an unexpected visit from the PTA president. I obviously needed to do more. By the time she left. and good old guilt setting in. She was clearly an uber-parent. bungling the carefully planned projects and snickering at all the seriousness. volunteering in the classroom while wearing a school bus sweater in September. I put on a saccharine smile and covered myself in cute. Those treats turned literal when they actually fell into the sink as I tried to juggle a cookie-laden plate and a 139 . But I proved to be severely craft-challenged. wrestling with felt and fabric. Her dismayed eyes swept over my domestic disarray. I’d been conscripted into her volunteer army. I was assigned to crafts and gamely did my best. but she continued her recruitment speech. and never the two should meet. Naturally. partially folded laundry on the table. bent on marshaling her troops for the task at hand. swathed in yuletide apparel. I cooked a soggy spinach quiche for a teacher breakfast and Kitchen Sink cookies for the ﬁrst PTA meeting.Pity the PTA Soon after. glue and glitter. a candy corn necklace in October and a turkey broach in November. And the new puppy had just pooped on the ﬂoor. I really did. holding up the walls while she ran the show. a well-coiffed woman in sensible shoes. my house was a disaster: dirty dishes in the sink. So I was moved to food.
That’s when Madame President transferred me to fundraising. I tried to redeem myself at Christmas. the Parent Teacher Association and I parted ways. my hands trembled. I kept nervously touching my pants zipper. and I began to giggle. and membership plummeted. But my lack of enthusiasm must have shown. convinced my ﬂy was open. Madame and her cabal of Super Moms were not amused. Plus. schlepping shoddy merchandise and tacky trivia in the name of education. (The rash of reported illness among parents the next day was a mere coincidence. Clumsy and barely competent. So I was switched to membership. instructed to bring turnips (turnips!) to the class Pilgrim feast. forgetting the spoons for the Chili Cook-off. They couldn’t have picked a worse spokesperson: my voice squeaked. but my cupcakes collapsed into a gooey mess. They were slightly damp. Audience members gave each other alarmed glances as they headed for the door. the patrons of the PTA think that’s just ﬁne. I managed to fall short at every turn. knocking over a display at the Book Fair and spilling the soda at the Fall Festival. I was a round soul trying to ﬁt into a square PTA. So by mutual agreement. because the sales numbers were lackluster.Days of Derangement crying child at the same time. I gave it my all. I discovered that I can be a better mother by marching to my own drum. I was clearly an abomination to the bake sale set. And as long as I’m moving away from them. 140 . By Thanksgiving. but still perfectly edible.) My giant Jell-O monster at Halloween was more funny than frightening. My job was to get up at school functions and community events and beg people to join. I was a conﬁrmed bottomfeeder.
just a rack of magazines for parents and a few more austere publications like Time. germladen toddlers strolling about. I can still remember walking into my pediatrician’s ofﬁce. There were the usual suspects: young mothers with newborns clutched close. knowing the endurance test that awaited. The room. Newsweek. even a stray copy of Scientiﬁc American. 141 . was deceptively bright and cheery. thinking this doctor must have a strange sense of humor. two sick toddlers in tow. lined on all sides by irritable-looking adults and hordes of (literally) snot-nosed children. There were no toys or children’s books there to spread infection. I remember staring at it. its walls were papered with smiling clowns holding balloons. I’d shiver. then settle for a speck of wall next to the magazines. scowling to hide their embarrassment.Germ Warfare T hey don’t call it a waiting room for nothing. curious. even a few slouching teenagers. We’d amuse ourselves for the ﬁrst ﬁve minutes by staring at everyone else in the room. I’d look around for a seat.
Since my children cultivated ear and sinus infections faster than my yard sprouted weeds. “Mommy. pint-sized germ carrier with a big loopy grin encircled by caked-on mucus. Funny Boy would say. for the ﬁrst hour. Then someone unable to ﬁnd a seat would choose to stand directly in front of the screen. the door to the inner sanctum would open and we’d be summoned. Finally. But it did seem to pacify some of the children. “What’s your name?” I’d pull my children close and wonder how I could discreetly repel the threat. This set off a chain reaction of whining that put the screen-blocker in real danger from a group of adults who couldn’t be more on edge if they were undergoing a mass ﬁngernail extraction.000 times. an outgoing. It played one animated movie over and over. A surreptitious trip? A quick jab in the stomach? But a cold shoulder seemed to sufﬁce. She’d come closer. this one with the doctor’s name in a framed picture. each letter formed by those *!&#?$%@*! clowns. I’d had the pleasure of seeing it at least 5. 142 . I can’t see!” And then he’d say it again and again and AGAIN. loudly. spewing viral droplets all over my kids and then reaching out with the most terrorizing weapon of all: a well-lubricated ﬁnger. we’d be approached by The Infector.Days of Derangement The room’s one concession to the amusement of children was directly across from me—a big-screen TV. There’s one in every pediatrician’s waiting room. We’d be ushered into another waiting room. At some point while we were waiting. including my own. The movie was changed approximately every six months. “Hi!” this biological time bomb would say. The germ warrior would move on to the next victim.
nose. failed to lift my mouth. “Come on. I’d straighten up. writing something in the chart. then stare up into the little mirror over it. ears. The knob turned.” I’d sigh to the kids. having atrophied. “Give ‘em plenty of ﬂuids. I’d splash water on my face at the sink in the corner. But I knew better. lungs. and there he was: THE DOCTOR! “Long time no see”. I’d reel off a list of symptoms and watch as he conducted a quick exam: eyes. my kids promptly started to ﬁght over positioning on the examination table. Funny Boy and Funny Girl would stop pummeling each other and come to attention. I’d try to smile back. like an ice cube in July. See you next time. extra rest. 143 . seemingly prancing on the walls in spiteful celebration of my plight. he usually joked. They’ll be ﬁne in a few days. “Just a cold this time. Suddenly. we would hear an authoritative voice just outside. I’d console myself with the thought that any serious injuries they inﬂicted on each other would eventually receive medical attention. but my facial muscles. Children’s’ screams echoed up and down the hall. the door opened.” he’d say briskly.” And with that he was gone. throat. convinced I’d developed several new wrinkles since I arrived. That’s when I would catch sight of THOSE CLOWNS.Germ Warfare Once inside. heading for the exit and vowing my children would have to exhibit signs of bubonic plague before I darkened the doors of this place again.
“Your columns are too funny.” he wrote. suggesting I must employ the services of a male ghostwriter. “And women aren’t funny. Then. These people share a common trait—they openly admit to being men. 144 . —Bill Kelly A s a professional columnist who writes on matters of national importance. retrieved my goat and put him (or her) back in my mental barn. I did a little research on gender differences in the appreciation of humor. Turns out. One such brazen fellow once contacted me to let me know that he did not believe I actually write my columns. I sometimes have to deal with difﬁcult people.Pull My Finger After God created the world. But after I’d calmed down. He invented humor.” This reader’s chauvinistic comments really got my goat. He made man and woman. it has been scientiﬁcally proven that men and women process “funny” differently. to keep the whole thing from collapsing.
They like one-liners and sucker punches that come with a sting. If a woman has something funny to say. he may be skeptical that it was written by a woman. a joke. And that is why men don’t think women are funny. I really am a girl. well. man thinks. I frequently try to think like a man. “Oh.” man laughs because. But it renders the XY side of our species (AKA men) incapable of appreciating more sophisticated female funnies. Men are humor primitives. you should probably grab a seat because the punch line isn’t coming for a while. They consider bodily noises an art form. from the perfect armpit fart (which I’ll admit does take some skill) to the loudest burp. But in order to further my comedic career and appeal to the widest possible audience. Man hears joke. In the world of wit. Men. on the other hand. we occupy different planes of existence. This ability to be easily amused is a wonderful quality for members of your audience to have if you are in the business of trying to make people laugh. it’s a joke.Pull My Finger Women think a bit more about whether or not they ﬁnd something amusing. if one of my male readers actually laughs at one of my columns. like making fun of everyone. and they don’t do crude. They don’t have the attention span or the desire to wait for the rib-tickling to begin. 145 . Women laugh more at themselves. Women like sharing narratives that create a bonding moment. Pull my ﬁnger. guys. as a professional humor columnist with a duty to tickle as many funny bones as possible—regardless of gender—I often write about simple things. and I really do write my own material. That’s why. We’d never ask someone to pull our ﬁnger. It’s also why.
Days of Derangement 146 .
There’s an attraction at Disneyland called the Indiana Jones Summer of Hidden Mysteries. That’s because it suddenly showed up at my house. In May of each year. never in my house for too long. The intrepid explorer may have had to face a pit of snakes and various other vermin. I am the one who paid for it after all. But as long as it was coming and going daily during the school year. but that’s child’s play compared to the task that awaited me at the end of every school year. of course. the school district would temporarily abandon its attempts to educate my children and deposit them back with me. along with all their educational 147 . and I didn’t have to travel to Disneyland to experience it. about the existence of this book bag. overstuffed sack with fraying stitches. a stinky. I’d known all year. however. its various substances emitting sulfurous fumes that are probably banned by international treaty. Ignorance is bliss. and I needed a lot more than a whip and a fedora to do it. But Funny Boy always gave me a beginning-of-summer hidden mystery.Back pack Black Hole I ndiana Jones has nothing on me. I could block out the evidence of its steady deterioration. I had to clean out my son’s backpack.
one on its way to being civilized but not quite there yet. Some of the bag’s dignity was lost. though. Below that ﬁrst level of compaction. it did not smell. This is when the gloves came in handy. And. an actual book. I considered applying for federal assistance. empty water bottles covered with what appeared to be chewing gum. but it was still recognizable. There was even. Funny Boy’s backpack. by some miracle. importantly. Wearing thick rubber gloves. and scribbled on with cutesy messages and smiley faces from her friends. It would probably qualify as a toxic Superfund site. I felt just like an archeologist digging through the life layers of a primitive group of humans. Indiana Jones would do no less. Funny Girl’s book bag still appeared to be an item designed to transport knowledge.Days of Derangement paraphernalia. It was festooned with glued-on sequins. things got murkier. There were a few stray pieces of paper left inside and a motley collection of school supplies rolling around on the bottom. but it was still a book. It was without a cover. perhaps. bore only a theoretical resemblance to the device that started out slung over his shoulder way back in the fall. The top layer contained still-recognizable items—crumpled up sheets of notebook paper. naturally. There they sat for several days. folders and binders in varying states of decomposition. The backpacks were ﬂung joyously into a corner and instantly forgotten. She’d attached a collection of fancy key chains to it. but then decided to tackle the cleanup on my own. a couple of fast-food containers sporting dried-up French fry fragments. It was full of funky-smelling and largely unidentiﬁable things. I reached in and gingerly extracted various moldy objects that might once 148 . on the other hand.
Things went into it. It looked just like that fake vomit you can buy as a gag gift. but nothing had ever come out of it.Back pack Black Hole have been part of a school lunch but were now deﬁnitely a biological hazard. except that it smelled like the real thing. I wised up and just threw out the bag at the end of the school year without looking inside. I was amazed at how the molecular structure of the slimy material appeared to have changed. becoming part of the bag itself. Eventually. On the bottom of the backpack was a thick. I should have sold it as an attraction. 149 . Come to think of it. Digging deeper into the crud. solidiﬁed layer of goop that I had to pry off with both hands. It was clear to me the backpack had become a black hole.
And it got even better. I’d actually settle for walking myself a little less fat. I ﬁgure I perform the functions of a couple of custodians and several restaurant workers (cook. On most days. Heck.000 steps a day burns up to 3. while custodians take nearly 13. I liked the sound of that. But at some point. I realized I was already taking the requisite daily steps and didn’t even need additional 150 . Funny Man once gave me a pedometer for Mother’s Day. It claimed walking 10. I realized the pedometer might just come in handy in my ongoing quest to walk myself thin.000 steps a day doing their jobs. I obviously need to get the word jewelry tattooed on my forehead as a subtle hint. I’d be content just to pound the pavement enough to allow some guilt-free eating. I put it up on a shelf next to the blender I received for Valentine’s Day.000 steps.The Pedometer I n one of those “What was he thinking?” moments that frequently seem to afﬂict men. That’s a lot of pumpkin pie and Christmas cookies. So I eventually got the pedometer out of its box and read the accompanying brochure. The brochure pointed out restaurant employees walk those 10.000 calories a week. busboy and dishwasher) combined. waitress.
Then I went grocery shopping. Other shoppers gave me alarmed looks. Then I dashed to the curb with the garbage that no one else can remember to take out before hurrying back to the bedrooms for a Get Your Rear End Out of Bed Right Now wake up call. where I accidentally knocked the pedometer off my waist while reaching into the frozen foods. Maybe it was damaged by its foray into the freezer. Discouraged. sure I’d already taken at least 5. I tossed the pedometer on the couch. At home. Maybe all I need is a tattoo artist. The word jewelry would look very nice on my forehead. Sadly. I logged more steps dashing around looking for my car keys. I made six separate trips carrying in groceries and logged more steps putting them away. Then I collapsed on the couch and checked the pedometer. I had to climb almost all the way in to retrieve it. Or maybe Funny Man had given me a defective device. the pedometer was not working properly. Once I ﬁnally got the kids out of the house. It landed in the green bean section and then slid toward the back of the freezer. I clipped the pedometer to my waistband ﬁrst thing one morning. coming to rest among the corn. My hips and thighs would melt away under the power of positive thinking. Obviously. 151 . To prove it to myself. I just needed the knowledge. took the dog outside and went to the laundry room in hopes of ﬁnding a clean pair of socks. I had not even hit 500.The Pedometer exercise. I walked into the kitchen and made coffee.000 steps that morning. trotted into the kids’ bedrooms to gently wake them up for school. slightly less gentle wake up call. Then I went back to the bedrooms for a second.
before the other side of the bed was even cold.A Man’s Job I ’ll admit I’m a hypocrite when it comes to the division of labor between men and women. And no man—say. I discovered it 152 . happily chewing on what appeared to be the carcass of an animal that had no business being dead on my property. he went to China. courtesy of our dog. “a far piece” from our home. horriﬁed inspection. But that’s just what Funny Man did a while back. for example. nearly dropped my dentures (assuming I had any). It is risking a fate worse than death for a male in my house to suggest any task is “woman’s work. to use another colorful phrase from Grandpa. I was presented with a doozy of a man-job. I was going about my highly productive day when I looked out on the back patio and. as my grandpa would say. There was Ebony. which is.” But I’m convinced there are some things only a man should do. Sure enough. Upon further. Ostensibly on a business trip. the one I married many moons ago—should be allowed to shirk his duty by conveniently being out of town when one of these man-jobs needs doing.
And I woke him up. in an incredulous and unnecessarily hostile tone.” 153 . I’ve perfected a series of guilt-inducing sighs. “You called me in China to tell me this? In the middle of the night? In CHINA?!” Over the years. “You can handle it. the love of my life responded. I called my man. So I took the obvious course of action.” I told him breathlessly. Something had to be done right away. that dogs are not really that far removed from their wolf ancestors. Women are very good at the delivery of sighs. I chased her away and stood there. as if her behavior was perfectly normal. Finally. “and Eb has already eaten its head!” There was a long pause. But for some reason—probably due to the long distance it had to travel—the sigh did not produce the desired effect. How was I supposed to remember the time difference when I had the body of a once-cute cottontail on my mind? “There’s a dead rabbit on the patio. I let out one of my best. You forget they aren’t just furry.” Funny Man said. each expertly crafted to elicit a certain emotion. on the verge of panic. Even my man in training was at school and wouldn’t be home for hours. “You’re not going to make me feel guilty about this. You forget. I know you can. Here was a major man-job.A Man’s Job was a rabbit and what remained of its head was actually hanging out of the mouth of our lovable family pet. Ebony wagged her tail at me. staring down at the bloody rabbit bits that remained. sometimes. In China. and I had no man around to do it. Feeling the time was right. four-legged humans who don’t like baths.
I turned to my neighbor. Grandpa was a ﬁrm believer in gender work separation. too. If my granddad was here. As long as Ebony doesn’t get there ﬁrst. I also brieﬂy considered bribing the UPS man to have the decapitated rabbit delivered to his hotel in China. 154 . I guess the truth is I want to have my cake and eat it. It would have been worth the cost. And he would have laughed at my squeamishness. he would have performed the man-job. a retired gentleman who valiantly disposed of the critter.Days of Derangement I hung up the phone in a not-so-gentle manner and began to make a mental list of all of my husband’s faults. but that just doesn’t work for me. But in the end.
we fell in love with Rocky. Ebony was unable to provide the full canine experience our family apparently needed. we greatly enlarged our family’s canine repertoire to include pretty much every known dog behavior. So we went to the animal shelter and almost instantly. 155 . For instance. assuming that child is very hairy and spends a lot of time licking itself. we added another dog to our family. With our new pup. She’s also mastered a technique known only to dogs—Bath Aroma Neutralization—whereby she releases smelly secretions all over her skin so that within hours of a bath. which is very much like adding a new child. Ebony is an expert at standard dog activities such as barking for no apparent reason. her malodorous mongrel scent is restored. Rocky.Rocky W hen Ebony was about eight years old. But as skilled in doggy tricks as she is. I think she’s always been proud of that particular talent. raiding trash cans and sticking her nose into inappropriate places on the human body. joining old Ebony. A shepherd-border collie mix with soft.
Every day. I’m pretty sure Rocky will be the one to do it. It was while he was digging in the backyard that Rocky happened to look up and ﬁnd his reason for living—the destruction of the Demon Squirrel. waiting for the squirrely intruder to appear. who in human years is old enough to collect Social Security and drive 50 miles with the blinker on. We discovered right away that our new pet should probably be renamed Silent But Deadly due to a certain unfortunate gaseous habit he has that can quickly clear a room. apparently convinced that one day he will actually be able to reach his enemy and rip him or her to satisfying shreds. Rocky sat calmly in his cage. and Rocky soon began to expose us to those doggy deeds that Ebony had left undone. If it’s possible to make it all the way to China. We were hooked. smiling at us (I swear he was smiling) and waving one paw in the air as if to invite us over. I don’t know if the squirrel that darts back and forth on the electric line above our fence really is demonic (although Rocky is convinced of it). That’s because I’ve watched the squirrel torment my dog. He leaps wildly into the air over and over. Ebony. but I’m pretty sure it is sadistic. 156 .Days of Derangement shiny black fur. So we took him home. And when it begins to saunter across the electric line—clearly enjoying itself—Rocky goes into full attack mode. Now. He barks and snarls. Rocky stands guard. I don’t have the heart to tell the poor creature the truth. just lies in the sun and gazes at the younger dog with the same expression I wear when gazing at those adolescents who wear their pants down around their knees. Sometimes I’ll sit down next to her. and together we’ll watch Rocky carry out his daily battle. We also found out that Rocky is a champion digger.
the squirrel will tire of the game and scamper away. Rocky. We humans should be so lucky. 157 . exhausted.Rocky Eventually. clearly satisﬁed with his efforts for the day. will drop down next to Ebony and me and go right to sleep.
” (For those of you without country sensibilities. This great injustice means that instead of getting to earn a living as an ofﬁcially designated Beautiful Person—spending my days posing for pictures—I’ll have to stick to my day job as a professional humor columnist. that would be raisin’ as in a slang term for upbringing.) 158 . Although it’s not quite as glamorous as being a Beautiful Person. with good old-fashioned country sensibilities. shriveled snack food. It’s my sad duty to let them know. I am shocked to once again not ﬁnd myself on the list. I often receive email from people who want to know how they too can become columnists.Beautiful People E very year when People magazine comes out with its annual list of the 100 Most Beautiful People. you might even be shaking your head right now and saying—as my grandma often did—“Jackie. not the tasty. don’t get above your raisin’. being a humor columnist is an important job. that only an elite few of us possess the skills needed for such a prestigious occupation. as gently as possible. If you were brought up in the country. You non-columnists may scoff at such a statement.
even if I didn’t regularly make unbelievably stupid comments or ﬂaunt body parts to the whole world that probably should be kept private. namely. So today. And generally. Maybe someone will decide. You’d think the ﬁrst step would be to come up with a cute column idea. doing everything in their power to be amusing. I move to step two. the ﬁrst step is to clear the house of distractions. Occasionally. In my case. after reading this. though. husband and our two dogs. I will usually have a plethora of brilliant column ideas. It’s a sacriﬁce we’re willing to make. 159 . like they do on Keeping Up with the Kardashians. But if they don’t. I’m sure lots of people would watch such a show.Beautiful People But I am not getting above my raisin’. That’s why all your top columnists are overweight insomniacs. highly caffeinated concentration in my chair. After several hours of intense. except sometimes in the case of the dogs) and ordering them to “either do something funny I can write about or leave.” Generally. They could call it Keeping Up With The Comical Columnist or something like that. they even succeed. I begin early in the day by throwing some breakfast at these distractions (not literally. the dogs choose to stay. my children. to turn my life into a reality TV series. I’d like to give you a behind-the-scenes peek at the laborious process involved in writing witty words. All your top columnists do this. my children and husband choose to leave. It’s just that I know how difﬁcult writing a humor column can be. putting the dogs in the backyard and settling into a comfortable chair with sure-ﬁre brain fuel: coffee and chocolate.
It’s what all your top columnists do.Days of Derangement If not. and I usually have to go inside to get some more sure-ﬁre brain fuel. none of us are part of the beautiful people. The scouring process often ends up in front of my favorite coffee shop. I move into the next phase. 160 . And for some reason. which involves actually leaving my house to scour my surroundings for inspiration.
only one of those brave bearers of the Y chromosome also known as men can possibly tame the open ﬂame. As everyone knows.The Grill General That outdoor grilling is a manly pursuit has long been beyond question. I usually cannot resist the temptation at the beginning of each summer to rile my king of the 161 . The man who won’t touch the stovetop in our kitchen for fear that it might infuse him with estrogen is somehow an expert on cooking in the great outdoors. After more than 20 years of marriage. after all. is a man’s job. If this wasn’t ﬁrmly understood. where only testosterone is allowed to roam free. Even though I know this. Woe to the woman who tries to tell him how to grill. —William Geist. Grilling. you’d never get grown men to put on those aprons with pictures of dancing wienies…and messages like ‘Come ‘n’ Get It’. I’ve come to expect this annual transformation. a tyrant with tongs who must not be questioned. the man who promised to love me for better or worse morphs into the General Patton of the barbecue set. New York Times Magazine D uring grilling season.
When he is ready. I go inside to set the table. “Woman. mentally summoning his forces for the task ahead. do not tell me how to manage my grill. Meanwhile. I ﬁx a tasty dessert. his chest swelling with pride. Maybe they were blinded by their beer cans. I prepare the salad. vegetables and baked beans. Then I take it out to The General. who is lounging beside the grill. I buy the food.Days of Derangement crackling cut of meat at least a little bit. I usually do this by suggesting that he needs to clean his grill. After this. a beer in hand. lavishing him with praise for his efforts.” he grunts in true Patton fashion. we fall into an unvarying routine. I also prepare the meat for cooking. the act that only a member of the male species can competently pull off: HE PLACES THE MEAT ON THE GRILL! The other men stand by. 162 . Whenever we are going to have a barbecue with friends. something that seems to have escaped the attention of all the grill groupies gathered around the ﬁre. and place it on a tray with all the necessary utensils and sauces. Old Blood and Guts receives their adulation as his due reward. He is also being counseled by the other beerswilling men in his backyard brigade on the latest in meatsearing strategies. Then I go back outside to inform my boss of broiling that the meat is burning. The General performs the most important part of the process.
I enjoyed it very much. General.” 163 . beaming with satisfaction. “Maybe you should go clean the grill.” “Oh. During the meal. Upon my return with his second beer. he grandly announces the grilling process is complete. after I’ve washed the dishes.” I say. he asks me how I enjoyed my “night off. “Huh?” “Never mind. I bring all the food to the table and summon everyone to come and eat. Then he performs the next amazing feat: HE FLIPS THE BEEF OVER! His fellow ﬁre-conquerors offer oohs and aaahs at his meatturning prowess.” I mutter sarcastically.The Grill General “Woman. Then he hands me the charred main dish. I can see that for myself. Later. again acknowledging their rightful admiration. The General is congratulated by the other men on a job well done and thanked for all his hard work. commanding me to bring him another beer to drink as he deals with the sizzling situation. and he nods and grunts at them.” the General growls.
Days of Derangement 164 .
I grew up to dream of having a much larger bust measurement than that. Barbie S o Barbie and I are nearly the same age. She made little outﬁts for the dolls that matched the ones she made for me. The blond bombshell and I have had a roller-coaster relationship. My mother was concerned I’d grow up thinking the perfect woman was 12 inches tall with a four-inch bosom. When I was a little girl. my mother stopped worrying and grew quite fond of my Barbies. while mine have gone in a different direction. I played with a whole bucket of Barbies. But I am apparently more upset about this fact than Mattel’s plastic princess. My favorite was a purple sheath mini-dress. and I’m about to hit that milestone myself.Thanks. even though she will get her AARP card before I get mine. I have a picture of myself in that dress. Eventually. I idolized her. She celebrated her 50th birthday not too long ago. Not that dreaming about it did me much good. my knobby knees sticking out 165 . But she needn’t have worried. and my mind was never narrowed by doll dimensions. standing barefoot in the grass. Maybe that’s because all of Barbie’s body parts have remained toned and pleasingly perky through ﬁve decades.
I became embarrassed by the matching outﬁts. military ofﬁcer and Madame President. with a specialty in head reattachment. no amount of soap could erase the contamination of female undergarments. I would sneer at her various manifestations—doctor. By the time I was a teenager.Days of Derangement under the hemline. just as I did. teacher. In the picture. 166 . I’m holding a purple-sheathed Barbie in each hand. only one of the busty beauties in the photo has a head. and my ardor for all things Barbie began to cool. And my son carried on the family tradition of dismemberment. The day that picture was taken. My kids have moved on from Barbie. and now I have only that picture. effectively depriving him of the toys forever. After a while. I once found a whole family of my daughter’s dolls hanging naked and legless in one of our trees. astronaut. That’s because my little brother had a disturbing desire to decapitate Toyland’s most famous female. I retaliated against my brother’s Barbie butchery by hiding his Legos in my mother’s underwear drawer. My children have their own Barbie memories. The purple dresses somehow disappeared. That’s probably an issue that should have been addressed with Funny Boy in therapy. Sadly. I apparently had only one intact doll left and was probably waiting impatiently for Dad to get home from work. and he succeeded often enough that my dad became quite an experienced Barbie surgeon. In his cootie-fearing mind. My daughter played with dolls of every color and career. but it’s too late for that now. to name just a few.
In fact. I still wish Barbie the best. predatory felines. Barbie Today. But that’s OK. When I turn 50. she was a trailblazer. she’s sporting tattoos and looking like a cougar. In her own perky way.Thanks. she’s still going strong. And I thank her for the memories. And in her 50s. however. 167 . I have a new appreciation for the platinum icon. I very likely will not be sporting any tattoos or reminding anyone of sexy.
shut off the dryer and glared at Funny Man. —Benjamin Disraeli “H ow much underarm hair is too much on a man?” That’s what Funny Man shouted at me one morning as I stood hunched over in the bathroom. “It is just way too early in the morning for me to have to deal with your body hair issues. I dry my hair upside down in the forlorn hope that this will infuse it with volume and leave me with bouncy. under his arms. As I said.Body Hair It destroys one’s nerves to be amiable every day to the same human being. beautiful locks. But my man has been driving me crazy lately with his concerns about hordes of hair accumulating in places where just a little hair had been before. staring at himself in the mirror. Places like his ears and his nose. I straightened up. OK. who was standing with his arms raised. so it wasn’t my ﬁnest moment as a supportive spouse. apparently. 168 . And now.” I said. it’s a forlorn hope. drying my hair upside down.
and the dryer’s hot coils scorched his rear end. “Hey.) Funny Man continued to contemplate his armpits while I turned the dryer back on.” he sighed. lowering his arms. “but lately mine has gotten much bushier. and learn to love each other anyway. I suddenly remembered a day back in our honeymoon phase when I was again drying my hair upside down. leaving a red ring on his butt and prompting him to start telling everyone we knew that I’d tried to brand him. I wonder if I should trim it?” He sighed again and added sadly.” I said. Playfully. and you don’t care about where hair might be growing because you can’t see it anyway. realizing I was running out of time to make my own hair look decent. (He’s still telling people about it. “remember when I branded your butt?” I turned the dryer toward him. I guess we’re somewhere in one of those stages.Body Hair “Men are supposed to have hair under their arms.” I said.” 169 . I stuck the dryer under the towel to give him a little shot of hot air.” A few years ago. In between are some nitty-gritty stages during which you develop a realistic view of your spouse and yourself. just to take your mind off all that proliferating body hair of yours. ranging from the honeymoon phase right on through to that golden phase when you sit happily together in rocking chairs on the front porch. “I’m getting old. But I pushed it in a little further than I intended. we attended a marriage retreat in which we were told there are different phases of marriage. “Would you put your arms down! I don’t need to see it.” “I know. and my husband was shaving in front of the bathroom mirror with a towel wrapped around his torso. “I could do it again.
“I’m too old for that. 170 .” We’re deﬁnitely out of the honeymoon phase.Days of Derangement “Don’t you dare. walking out of the bathroom.” he said grumpily.
though. Was there a precise moment. when you fell in love? Or fell out of love? So when. 171 . I’ve been wondering. Often it can only be recognized in retrospect. did I fall out of fashion? It’s not like I was ever a true fashionista. Pinpointing the exact moment of transformation can be tricky. one of those people who look like a million bucks just stumbling out of bed. for example. —Erma Bombeck I am not sure exactly when it happened.Fashion Forward It’s frightening to wake up one morning and discover that while you were asleep you went out of style. I have morphed into a fashion frump. for goodness sake. Yet somehow. that good taste and I were once at least acquainted with each other. Most of life’s transitions are like that. without even realizing it. I like to think. One reality gradually turns into another the way ice cream gradually turns into cellulite. I’m far more interested in wearing comfortable clothes than in being fashion forward. I used to wear spandex and leg warmers. I’ve never been a woman on a ﬁrst-name basis with good taste.
I hate the woman. This made me sound hip and trendy. I have a friend with a ﬁnely calibrated fashion sense who wouldn’t be caught dead in a pair of mom jeans. I used the word ensembles to describe these outﬁts to my annoyingly fashionable friend. So I invited her over and started pulling some very fashionable outﬁts out of my closet. curled her lip. At least I thought I did. Before long. she manages to always look stylish and put-together in her size 6 designer jeans.” I heard myself snipe in sour Sophia style about a woman my age who was wearing a mini-skirt. My friend. But I ﬁgured she could help me ﬁx my style shortcomings. Even after having three children. The Golden Girls. however. “She’s about 20 years too old for that outﬁt. how long have you had these clothes?” she asked in the same tone one would use when inquiring about distasteful failures in personal hygiene. These outﬁts have been with me since those days when good taste and I would at least nod when we saw each other on the street. I’ll soon be so far out of the game that being a fashion victim would be a step up. the perpetually cranky character played by the late. “Uh. And I looked hip and trendy when I tried on my 1980sera outﬁts. Polyester dresses with forgiving elastic waists are surely in my future. great Estelle Getty on that classic TV show. In fact. clunky.Days of Derangement I just can’t be bothered anymore with being stylish. things I hadn’t worn for a while. 172 . And that is making me feel old. orthopedic shoes will undoubtedly be more appealing to me than high heels. I’m starting to remind myself of Sophia.
Fashion Forward “For about 20 years. She clearly doesn’t know what she’s talking about. for Pete’s sake! You need to buy some new clothes. “They’ve got shoulder pads. “But they’re really high-quality clothes. 173 . I hate the woman.” “No. and they’re timeless. I’m going to start wearing those chic ensembles at the ﬁrst opportunity. I’ve probably got some leg warmers in there somewhere. they’re not!” she snapped.” I said.” Like I said. hearing a defensiveness in my voice. And I’m going to do a little more exploring in my closet.
This mighty mountain was one of the landmarks seen by settlers as they made their way across the prairie. I mean camping in the civilized way practiced by middle-age city dwellers with tender backsides and uncompromising hygiene standards. gear in reverse and window down. and we were required to back in to our assigned spot.Blackberry or Bust Life was much easier when Apple and Blackberry were just fruits. That’s how my family camped one summer. To accomplish this task. W hen I talk about camping. there was the peril of parking. For starters. stopping in the shadow of Pike’s Peak. we faced our own challenges on the ﬁrst day. renting a recreational vehicle and heading out across Colorado. And while early pioneers had to contend with problems such as hunger and disease. Many of them painted “Pike’s Peak or Bust” on their canvas wagons. He stayed behind the wheel. We set out with a similar sense of adventure in our modern-day covered wagon. 174 . Funny Man and I assumed the traditional vehicle reversal gender roles. Mountains have an annoying lack of level space.
He started obsessively checking his signal strength before we’d even hiked a mile. dropping off precipitously on one side. Striding along in the lead. Our teenagers. eventually degenerating into an ugly exchange that began with my husband questioning my navigational skills and ended with me snarling. baby!”) to dejected (“How can I only have one stinkin’ bar?”) as we followed the trail around the mountain. his Crackberry. which resulted in a series of loud crashes inside the RV. The woods seemed to close in on us. The terrain grew steeper. I thought of pioneer tales I’d read about attacks by packs of ravenous wolves. My husband saw nothing of the glories of nature until nature took a hand and steered him right into a tree. he complied. I carried water bottles and ﬁrst aid supplies. and I squinted into the blinding sun. But he pushed too hard on the gas pedal. “Why don’t you learn how to drive?” Then. barely able to see the trail.Blackberry or Bust while I stood outside ready to guide his efforts. which caused me to screech “Stop!” which caused him to press too hard on the brakes. That’s when 175 . And Funny Man had his Blackberry. Then we came to a clearing. slipping the portable pestilence into the holster on his belt. armed themselves with iPods. We slathered ourselves in sunscreen and insect repellent. calling out the number of bars on the device in moods that ranged from ecstatic (“I’ve got ﬁve beautiful bars. “Put that silly thing away!” I snapped as he rubbed his bruised forehead. This cycle was repeated over and over for about an hour. “We’re camping!” Reluctantly. we prepared to encounter nature. determined to salvage our recreational experience. or as I affectionately call it. expecting to be bored hiking in the great outdoors.
I opened one eye and looked down at a friendly German shepherd whose owners were just catching up to him. with pointy ears and. with every intention. they inquired about our welfare. of rescuing his damsel in distress. I could have sworn. but I could still hear the satisfying sound of a shattering Crackberry. I’m sure. Funny Man didn’t say a word. pointing at the dog now disappearing with his owners down the trail. Nervously.” I stuttered. we headed back to our motor home in strained silence.” He just shook his head. 176 . a pair of fangs. to regain their composure. I assured them we were ﬁne.uh. “In the sun. So I did what any self-respecting woman would do. my husband was frantically searching the ground for his fallen Blackberry. We’d had quite enough nature for one day.Days of Derangement I looked into the furry face of death—a menacing form ahead. he stopped and swirled around. After an appropriate period of mourning and after allowing our children. I mean Blackberry. I closed my eyes. Abandoned to my fate. But suddenly. only stared mournfully down at the broken pieces on the rocks below. Just as I was undoubtedly about to be ripped to shreds by razor-sharp teeth. it looked just like a wolf. “Wolf!” And Funny Man scrambled up the trail toward me. too traumatized to speak. “I’m sorry about your Crack. who’d collapsed in helpless laughter at their parents’ expense. “Wolf!” I screamed. clutching at his waist. Noticing our ashen faces. Then he glared at me. Then I felt a cold nose touch my hand.
(You stick-insects know who you are. That’s what happened one fall when my son was playing high-school football. I go out and buy something stylish. I inadvertently tried on a pair of those low risers. I should have put back the low risers and gone 177 . moving away from low-rise jeans. But occasionally. the cause of countless sightings of “mufﬁn tops” (that very attractive fat that bulges over the waistline).Plumber’s Pants T he plumbers are taking their pants back. I follow fashion about as often as a politician tells the truth. the kind that only look good on female stick-insects who survive on lettuce. See. It seems the fashion world has ﬁnally raised its standards just a tad. I know this because I am an avid follower of fashion. and I couldn’t be happier. (NOT!) Actually. Usually. But occasionally. girl love handles and whale tails (also known as thongs). I am seized by a desire to look slightly less frumpy. I just lie down and wait for this unfortunate urge to pass.) As soon as I realized my mistake. and dozens of people who attended a game are still in therapy trying to get over the sight.
As I climbed the stands looking for a seat—my gut sucked in to prevent stomach spillover—I was feeling high on life in my hip huggers. I don’t want to get too personal here. a woman who looked hot enough to be oh so cool. I didn’t see a mom who’d consumed too many mufﬁns and was now oozing enough doughy ﬂesh over the waistband for a good baker’s dozen. I like to be comfortable. and when I looked in the dressing room mirror. shocked at how far my waistband slid down my fairly broad backside. but I’ll tell you that I was sporting my usual. If you wear low-rise jeans. Hey. I had not yet sat in my trendy trousers. At least I wasn’t going commando. See. But I was experiencing one of my rare passion-for-fashion moments. Until I had to sit down. when I sat down in the stands. So I bought those jeans and. Anyway. I had failed to consider the underwear issue. Then they would have been exposed to some serious butt cleavage and that might have 178 .Days of Derangement in search of some mom jeans. the poor fans behind me got an eyeful of my less-than-stylish skivvies. running late as usual. I saw a woman who looked pretty darn good standing there in her posh pants. Instead. I quickly slipped them on just before walking the few blocks to my son’s high school to watch him play in a football game. you need to wear low-rise undies. I popped right back up. the roomy kind with waistlines that almost brush your collarbone. but sufﬁce it to say da Nile ain’t just a river in Egypt. that night. Psychiatrists have a medical term for such delusions. When I did sit. high-waisted bloomers.
the jeans hung unworn in my closet. telling people I was just too excited about the start of football season to stay seated. I just didn’t want to give up my good ol’ granny panties. As much as I wanted to be fashion forward. I won’t be wearing any more low risers. (Yeah. After that. for that matter. Plumber’s pants should only be worn by plumbers. You’d have probably heard about it on the news. 179 .Plumber’s Pants caused mass retinal damage. I spent the rest of the game standing along the sidelines. right). Or eating mufﬁns.
Days of Derangement 180 .
When we go to the beach or any other location likely to attract babes in bikinis. despite having the musical ability of a duck. Whatever happened to American ingenuity? This should have happened no later than Season Two. I only have to look within my own household for an example. My other question is this: Are there any men out there who can think straight in the presence of a hot body in a bikini? That last question is purely rhetorical. First. you’ll remember a young woman auditioning in Season 8 who showed up wearing nothing but a bikini. got a golden ticket to Hollywood based on the votes of the two male judges. of course. —Joey Adams I f you are an American Idol fan. And you’ll remember that Bikini Girl. It protects the property without obstructing the view. This raises a couple of questions in my mind.Bikini Babes A bikini is like a barbed-wire fence. as I already know the answer. my husband wears a pair of very dark 181 . why did it take eight years for someone to think of auditioning for the show in nothing but a bikini? This is a sure sign our country is on a downward slide.
trying to take in all the bathing beauties walking by without getting whacked with a bottle of sunscreen by his wife or girlfriend. Today’s men can’t always count on excessive eyebrow hair to solve this problem (although there are exceptions). In reality. his eyes are rolling all over the place behind those glasses. I think that’s what happened to my man.Days of Derangement sunglasses. babes. Poor Funny Man. never moving as he seemingly stares far out to sea. 182 .—and the cave men were forced to invent devious methods of leering at them. Sometimes. Otherwise. so they invented sunglasses. of course. This is a classic man trick developed way back when people lived in caves and wore animal skins. Some of the more attractive cave women wore well-tailored fur bikinis— just like Raquel Welch in One Million Years B. You won’t be surprised to know these researchers were male. the cave men were hairy enough to simply pull part of their eyebrows down and peer out surreptitiously at the B. He wants you to think he is having profound thoughts about the need for world peace. He’s still trying to pry his eyeballs loose from their respective sockets. someone actually got paid to conduct this research. His head seems to be frozen on his neck.C. You can always tell when a sunglasswearing guy is trying to stare at bikini bodies without getting busted. Fortunately. Yes. The good news is that recent research indicates men exhibit improved cognition and creativity after exposure to pictures of good-looking women in bikinis. a poor sap will overdo it and wind up with a severe case of Exhausted Eyeball Syndrome. the poor men might get whacked with mastodon bones by their cave wives and girlfriends. I think they need a good whack with a mastodon bone.C.
the hiding place I’d chosen for the remotes was so good I forgot where it was. You may need to grab hold of a heavy object in case you feel faint. ﬂipping through hundreds of channels and pausing only when they spot a show featuring Y 183 . And so the beloved remotes were missing in action in our house for two whole weeks. Hours can slip by as they wear out the buttons on the hand-held hazards. I once hid all of our televisions’ remote controls.Trivial Pursuit Why don’t men do laundry? Cause the washer and dryer don’t run on remote control! ou men reading this. prepare yourselves for what I’m about to tell you. you already know that remote control reverence has gotten out of hand. unable even to cross the living room to change the channel. Wars have been waged with lesser cause. Sadly. But wait. Men whose ancestors tamed the wilderness through backbreaking labor now ensconce themselves on the couch. Let me explain myself. If you’re a woman. It was a measure of last resort. it gets worse. I did not take this action lightly.
Then I tried the Silverware Slam. feeling very clever.Days of Derangement either a sporting event or scantily clad women (or. I’d sigh heavily and shake my head in obvious disgust. Search parties were formed to look high and low. I put the game in the top of a closet. intending to retrieve it after a short time. I was left with little choice. making my sighs louder and windier each time. I’d loudly slam it into the drawer. there was a lot of lamentation over the lost devices. until I eventually needed an oxygen tank just to keep it up. but Funny Man simply increased the TV volume. I initially tried a diplomatic solution to the problem. the men who have been on the couch long enough and have grown large enough can avoid even the minor effort involved in placing the remotes on a table. Every time I was putting away the clean silverware. Annoyed by all the undone chores around my house. You’d 184 . hoping to send a message. I tried this for several days. both). They can simply let them fall from their hands and rest easy knowing the devices will be caught and securely held until needed by the folds in their bellies. on really good days. First. Predictably. This had absolutely no effect. So when no one was looking. You’d think this would have done the trick. I used the standard Sigh And Shake Protocol employed by legions of women before me. Thus. When they actually want to put the remotes down for a brief period. Then. I slipped all the remotes that run our lives inside a game of Trivial Pursuit that was sitting on the coffee table. I decided to make war on this object of worship. Whenever I passed the living room and saw my man stretched out like a slumbering sea lion.
I confessed to hiding the things. I forgot where I’d put the remotes. But I think I made my point. For two long weeks. I searched. my man actually got some of the chores done. I’ve promised to never again pull such a stunt. I suddenly remembered—after hearing someone on the radio use the phrase trivial pursuit—where I’d put those blasted pieces of plastic. And after suffering a few days of acute remote withdrawal. after leaving him in agony for a few hours. I was the one in agony because everyone in the family was mad at me for ruining TV time. Then I informed him they would remain hidden until at least some of the items on my long-delayed Honey Do List had been accomplished. But because the Trivial Pursuit game was not one of my usual hiding places and because the old memory ain’t what it used to be. You’d think I was missing. 185 .Trivial Pursuit think a precious gem was missing. assuming Funny Man would look as fervently for me as he looked for those remotes. I even scheduled a service call with the cable company to obtain new remotes since our TVs require devices that only a highly trained cable guy can program. I was even mad at myself. And then. But before the cable guy could come. Finally.
it is the best of times and the worst of times. 186 . Now though. Everybody could use a good laugh these days. And we’re having to dig much deeper for our jokes. Soon. Texas tea for those who were only marginally witty. rib-tickling humor has never been higher.Hard Times for Humor I n the ﬁeld of funny. Unfortunately. it is also the worst of times because the supply of high-caliber comic relief is getting harder to come by. It used to come bubbling up from the ground like oil—black gold for even the borderline funny. professional humorists like me will have to drill for droll in places no comedian has gone before. thanks to society’s rabid appetite for amusement and a restriction of humor supplies by the grumpy but powerful Organization of People Expecting Calamity (OPEC). unless we can develop new sources for our laugh lodes. It’s the best of times because demand for real. only the most committed pun providers remain in the ﬁeld. Mirthful material used to practically fall from the trees like leaves in autumn. Anybody could be a humorist.
I felt an obligation to mothers of said boys to continue to provide this service. now requires a surcharge based on the amount of work I have to do to deliver it. this stuff is easy to get. Besides. Low-grade humor consisting mainly of references to bodily functions and Paris Hilton/Lindsay Lohan/Kim Kardashian jokes—the kind necessary to entertain adolescent boys—remains free of charge. It’s practically lying around on the ground. especially in business attire. Being a civic-minded person. just as many industries have been passing on skyrocketing energy costs to their customers. Slightly more sophisticated humor. If. Guffaws garner an additional charge. deep thinking in order to produce a column. Not even OPEC seems to want it. I have to do any reading or. A fee is levied for every laugh-out-loud line provided in one my columns. charges go up dramatically. who are grateful for the attention. I had to impose a new fee schedule on my column.Hard Times for Humor Therefore. Additional fees are incurred by any reader who fails to realize my column is not to be taken seriously. however. and anything that causes genuine belly laughs is assessed at the very highest rates. Ditto for any humorous bits about my dogs. Readers who wish to challenge these fees have to provide proof that they did not so much as snicker. Stories about my kids still come relatively cheaply as my offspring provide plenty of material. however. Kind of like the airlines and the phone companies have been doing. And if I have to leave my house. my readers are nickel-and-dimed to death. I was forced a couple of years ago to do the same. And those charges are doubled on readers who believe I can offer valid advice on 187 . heaven forbid.
Days of Derangement their personal lives. I accept cash or credit cards. Any reader who praises me lavishly to friends or even strangers on the street receives a Laugh Offset Loan (LOL) that can be used against future levies. 188 . If you’ve read this far in the book. you’ll realize that you’ve already racked up some serious charges. And any reader who tells all their friends about me and uses terms to describe me such as “genius” and “should receive a Pulitzer Prize” gets a year’s worth of free laughs. my friend. This type of reader has to pay me the same hourly rate charged by real therapists. You’ll be glad to know that I do offer some discounts to help with these humor delivery charges. Anyone who can bring himself or herself to say that I’m gorgeous and that I have a better butt than Kim Kardashian gets a lifetime’s supply.
Hard Times for Humor 189 .
packed for every possible contingency. —Dave Barry E very summer. our family’s road trips are always more calorie-laden than I’d envisioned.Drive-Thru Dilemma And that’s the wonderful thing about family travel. despite my best intentions. I am determined. As we 190 . I will have planned meticulously. naturally. and ward off any additional weight gain. We are going to eat up the miles on our minivan migration. when I realize we’ll have to hit the drive-thru for coffee. We begin late. That resolution lasts about ﬁve minutes into the trip. It provides you with experiences that will remain locked forever in the scar tissue of your mind. loaded to within an inch of our axles. that wonderful elixir of life for mothers and road warriors alike. Determined to save time and keep down costs—and having usually just seen myself in a new bathing suit—I bring along a cooler full of healthy food and drinks to prevent any drive-thru excursions.
despite the silence-inducing wonders of DVDs and iPods. Then. In a desperate attempt to preserve the peace. and chaos descends. the ﬁrst dreaded Are We There Yet? is launched. That resolution lasts about three hours. and all my carefully prepared provisions have already assumed a tepid room temperature. 191 . As we pull back onto the road with a heavenly smelling bag of grease cleverly camouﬂaged as a snack. That resolution usually lasts about three hours. I resort to burger bribery. followed shortly thereafter by several high-pitched volleys of He’s Touching Me and an equal number of the obligatory Am Nots. I warn my family in the strictest terms that we absolutely will not be going through another drivethru on the trip. I again warn my crew. I command my husband to pull into the nearest drive-thru and order everything on the menu. As we pull back onto the road with a heavenly smelling bag of grease disguised now as lunch. That resolution lasts about two hours. my children typically gird themselves for war. Grievances are aired in violent fashion. I assure my brood that we will probably not be doing the drive-thru run again. Snarling from stress. until we discover that someone (usually me) has forgotten to add ice to the cooler. until the inevitable accusations of secretly unleashed ﬂatulence began to swirl through the charged atmosphere. At that point. in a slightly less ﬁrm tone. I’m proud to say. that we will deﬁnitely not be doing that again. gathering discarded french fries and spitball-delivering straws to use as weapons.Drive-Thru Dilemma pull back onto the road with a heavenly smelling bag of grease disguised as breakfast.
192 . When we ﬁnally reach our destination. just stuff every wonderful morsel into my mouth. weighed down with bag after bag of grease. I say nothing.Days of Derangement As we get back on the road. we buy bathing suits in larger sizes and ditch the cooler. Drive-thru dilemma resolved.
The ﬁrst part of my research took place one summer while I was hiking a part of the Colorado Trail (in Colorado. was engaged in a strenuous tug of war with a man who looked like he’d rather be undergoing a root canal. and they’re not going to take it anymore. with an indolent expression and an undulating throat. as I haven’t personally communicated with all the world’s llamas. loaded down with camping gear. We came across a very annoyed llama. —Hilaire Belloc T he llamas are spitting mad. The llama was having none of it. This man was pulling on the reins. 193 . I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch. oddly enough) with my father. The llama. but based on my own expert research. That may be a slight exaggeration. like an unsuccessful literary man.Llama Drama The llama is a woolly sort of ﬂeecy hairy goat. trying to get the llama to cross a log bridge.
He ignored me as well. had obviously shifted into the Wife Interpretation and Management Phase (WIMP) and was nodding at her vigorously while totally ignoring what she said. who was now sweating profusely. and he continued to tug on the reins. pointing out what he was doing wrong and what he should do to successfully lead the llama. He abruptly threw up the reins and announced he was heading home.” he whispered to my grinning dad. “This is only our ﬁrst day. I offered my suggestions to the llama-challenged man before me. “and we don’t know anything about llamas. I clearly heard the cranky creature spit out “SNORRRBAH!” as it dug in its heels. She was in full Wife Advisory Mode (WAM). thrusting his head in his wife’s direction. Because my husband was fortunate enough not to be there.Days of Derangement Although I’ve had no formal training in llama language. “This was all her idea. right!” The man. unnecessarily. He was assisted in this effort by his wife. Her husband.” The llama issued another “SNORRRBAH!” which this time sounded liked “No kidding!” and again dug in its heels. who stood next to him on the trail. 194 . and I understood this to mean “Yeah. He explained the couple had come from Maryland and rented the llama to carry the gear as they communed with nature for several days. Although my experience with llamas has been limited to watching them in Disney movies. I couldn’t help transitioning into sympathetic Wife Advisory Mode.” he moaned. giving another tug on the reins and adding. but being subjected to a double dose of wife advice must have been too much for him. however. did not speak llama.
“SNORRRBAH?” it asked. That’s when I discovered I have somehow missed a major part of our culture—the Naked Dancing Llama. 195 . as it is known. and we all knew what that meant. I typed the word llama into Google. This intriguing encounter led me to the second part of my research. Millions have followed the antics of this virtual camel’s cousin. Well no wonder the llamas are livid. self-respecting llama would ever run for President. My dad is still laughing about it.Llama Drama The llama looked confused at this sudden capitulation. The NDL. When I returned to civilization (meaning to a computer). It’s even worse to have all these humans believe any live llama would parade around without its fur. Before the llama could make a break for it. doing the tango across the Web in its birthday suit while offering advice and running for President. my dad—a farm boy who has a way with animals—quickly led it across the bridge. has apparently been around since the early days of the Internet (the 1990s). There’s only one thing to say about that: “SNORRRBAH!” And we all know what that means. We wished the couple (and the llama) well with the rest of their camping trip and continued down the trail. It’s bad enough having to bear the burdens of camping city slickers. however. But it must be intolerable to have anyone think a sane.
Days of Derangement 196 .
sources of instant intimidation—at least to me—too often populated by women with great hair and prominent cheekbones. —Henny Youngman T he salon is a sacred place for many women.Beauty Shop Dropout She was at the beauty shop for two hours. The hairdresser is not to be questioned. I’ve been to a fair number of beauty shops in my day. cleverly colored and skillfully styled. I hate these women. a little more self-assured. One customer at a 197 . One chair. Most are. a little younger. You enter it ugly. That was only for the estimate. like high school. So I thought I’d found the ideal solution when I started going to a hairdresser who works solo. The hairdresser is an authority ﬁgure. You leave it looking good—cleanly cut. These are the women who always seem to be at the salon at the same time that I emerge from the shampoo sink looking like a starved dog after a night in a thunderstorm. with a bed head that looks like it got tangled in a spinning ceiling fan. a sorcerer with scissors who can make us feel a little prettier.
If you are a man. Soon. with sprouts of hair sticking up all over and a stinging scalp. If I was single and allowed to notice such things. she insisted on using The Cap. No one to see my transformation from drowned. but my hairdresser was adamant that The Cap was still the best. The problem is that this hairdresser still operates in the styling stone age. I resembled Pig Pen. I know there are other ways to lighten my locks. And because having a hairdresser is often like having a husband— you tend to stick with them for better or for worse—I’d always been reluctant to go elsewhere. I’d tell you that this neighbor is a ﬁne-looking man. dig through the circles and pull a few strands of hair—those destined to be plied with peroxide—through the cap. wishful thinking on my part). Men should not be permitted to walk into salons when women are there being beautiﬁed. graying rat to frosted blond bombshell (OK.Days of Derangement time. you are wishing I would just stop whining because—as every female knows—it is better to look good than to feel good. This wouldn’t have bothered me too much except for the fact that this neighbor has the audacity to be a man. Then my hairdresser would take a crochet hook. The plastic cap. which is covered with small colored circles. you are wondering why on earth I would put up with such torment. This is a tool that could have been found in a medieval torture chamber. was tied around my head. hair standing straight out and basting in bleach. with very nice hair 198 . except that I was far less attractive than Pig Pen. Or at least I was until the day when I was once again in the styling chair. and in walks one of my neighbors. To bring out my inner blonde. the stinky character from the Charlie Brown comic. If you are a woman.
I’ll just tell you that I was beyond mortiﬁed to have this particular person see me looking like Phyllis Diller on acid. I considered going natural. But that didn’t happen.Beauty Shop Dropout that was apparently in need of a cut. As I’m happily married (and my husband may be reading this). And for a while. 199 . forsaking my quest to be comely and giving Pig Pen a run for his money. I found a new hairdresser. My handsome neighbor is probably still trying to recover from what he saw that day. I haven’t been able to look him in the eye since then.
between a rock and a hard place. For men. where all the rules have seemingly changed. this is a nightmare. And if they are 200 . like the typically bafﬂed Homer Simpson. blood pressure to rise and the lips to pucker. Take the dilemma of dating.The Rock and the Hard Place Love: a wildly misunderstood although highly desirable malfunction of the heart which weakens the brain. hard-wired for complexity. S ometimes—when I haven’t had to put down a toilet seat or listen to several rounds of a burping contest for a while—I begin to feel sorry for today’s men. but in truth. Except for the ones that really have changed. These befuddled beings are caught. cheeks to glow. for example. simple creatures who can’t faithfully follow a grocery list. all the rules remain pretty much the same. those just on the cusp of the real world who don’t have a clue what they’re getting themselves into. especially the young ones. For women. causes eyes to sparkle. this convoluted courting process is no problem.
this was a harsh reality indeed. “I already bought her ticket. though. they would often probably like to dive under that rock and pull the hard place down like a fortress around them. The ﬁrst time it hit him upside the head was on the morning of his high school’s Homecoming Dance. And it was dangerous territory for a boy who once spent a week impersonating the ultra-logical and emotionless Mr. What color is her dress?” When “Huh?” was his only response. That’s how it was when Funny Boy had a girlfriend for the ﬁrst time. when suddenly faced with the harsh reality that. yanking the covers off the bed. Rousting him out of bed that Saturday morning at the ungodly hour of 11. “Why would I need to buy some stupid ﬂower?” “She’s probably going to spend several hours getting ready for the dance. full of furtive phone calls and ﬁerce feelings. I asked him what color corsage he’d ordered for his sweetheart. even in the 21st century. I knew we were in trouble. And when the girlfriend’s birthday rolled around a couple of weeks after that. pulling the covers over his head. the guy is usually still expected to pay on dates. For a kid whose only income was a weekly allowance (assuming he did his chores). “She needs a corsage that matches her dress. My young Vulcan got quite emotional. I waited until the day before her birthday to 201 . a Scrooge-like youngster who once gave a set of eight coasters as Christmas gifts to eight different people (one coaster per person).The Rock and the Hard Place newbies in the land of love and utterly unfamiliar with the world of women. It was a sweet. I wondered if the bloom would soon fall off this romantic rose. harmless little relationship.” he said crankily.” I told him. Spock from the ﬁrst Star Trek series.
I found him lying on his bed. “Can’t you go in and get it for me. When she asked him how much he wanted to spend. his answer (“As little as possible”) made me pity his poor girlfriend. “Christmas is right around the corner.” 202 . where he dithered at the entrance for many minutes. I had to actually push my reluctant Romeo into the shop. Finally. Funny Boy survived the birthday and came out undeservedly smelling like that proverbial rose. apparently fearing that his mere presence in such a prettiﬁed place would render him unmanly. So. It was time for the boy to bite the bullet and enter the arena alone.” I said. I heard the store clerk offer to help. When he groaned as if he were in real pain. kiddo. The next day. gazing up at the ceiling with a self-satisﬁed smile on his face. But he ﬁnally emerged with an acceptable gift. where I pointed out a store full of appealing but inexpensive baubles sure to warm a young girl’s heart. thanks to me. I refused. a smile that collapsed like a house of cards when I brought him crashing back to earth. I ordered him to accompany me to the mall.Days of Derangement ask my son if he’d bought her a gift. “Better save your money. and I’ll pay you back?” he pleaded.
that your thighs seem to be swimming in cellulite. you have plenty of reliable medical research to validate all your worries. using forces like gravity and your love of things like gravy. Fortunately. You suddenly notice that even your knees have wrinkles. that your tummy seems terminally tubby and. being a crotchety old lady with creaking joints. if you’re a woman. So. —James Broughton O ne of life’s little ironies is that at the same time you are sharing a house with people who think they will live forever—people otherwise known as teenagers—Mother Nature begins to help you realize you might not even make it into next week. she smites you with self-doubt. Ma Nature. And as bad as your body looks on the outside. decides that your middle-aged self no longer has any business thinking like a jaunty juvenile.Got Flax? I’m happy to report that my inner child is still ageless. you begin to worry even more about what’s going on among your rapidly aging innards. Groups of white-smocked scientists 203 .
a hard-charging and healthy professional fueled by ﬂaxseed. which combines the ﬂavors of sawdust and straw with the piquant aftertaste of sand. Not that I like the taste of ﬂaxseed. But ﬂaxseed is supposed to be good for you. to pay the piper of the palate. I blended it with some blueberries and yogurt until it looked like something my dog might regurgitate in the yard after chewing her way through the trash. went right into a meeting with other business types who had probably stuffed themselves that morning with deathinducing donuts. coagulated into globs of deadly goop in your arteries. But for some reason. business-type ofﬁce. you realize. at this point you will morph into an overnight convert to the church of the changed diet. Then I. but besides writing witty columns about canine regurgitation. the others seemed to be snickering under their 204 . And that’s just what I did one morning not long after I’d begun drinking my smoothies. So I started preparing a ﬂaxseed smoothie every morning. It’s time. business-type person. Because I was running late.Days of Derangement get together regularly and publish studies that advise you to be afraid. turning into a fan of ﬁber and fruit. very afraid. and growing giddy over whole grains and vegetables. All that heavenly tasting junk that you’ve eaten for years has now. I rebuilt my personal food pyramid. I brought my smoothie in the car with me and drank it while I was driving to my very busy. That’s just what I did. at least according to those sadistic science types. You may not have realized it (and you may not believe it). I should have had the upper hand. I often put on business attire and go out into the world pretending to be a very busy. according to noted medical researchers. I also developed a friendship with ﬂaxseed. If you’re like me.
And then. blueberry-colored. I was annoyed and wondered why she didn’t put some ointment on that lip. ﬂaxseed-speckled mustache. Then I went in search of some donuts. lay a thick. I wiped off my mustache and went back. I looked like one of those celebrities in the Got Milk? ads. One woman kept rubbing her ﬁnger across her upper lip while staring urgently at me. business-type mouth. There. I excused myself and went to the restroom. above my busy. to my meeting. 205 . somewhere in the recesses of my busy business brain. except that I looked like a complete idiot. a dim light began to burn. red-faced. where I gazed into the mirror.Got Flax? collective breath.
Recently. simply tune them out. verbal or otherwise. that will allow annoying noises to be switched off. the patter of pint-sized feet. the priceless peals of our children’s laughter. sweet silence. usually in response to some disturbing sound. soon to be available. Sure. for instance. this remote control gadget sends a signal to two little buds that users stick in their ears. we’d still need to hear certain things. on occasion. from the awesome (“I love you” coming from a grateful child) to the alarming (“Watch me ﬂy” coming from the roof). though. But do we always need to perceive the blare of sibling bickering? Say. when 206 . Called The Mute. We’d still be able to savor a baby’s comforting coos. we could. I am very excited about this. All you do is point The Mute at the reason for the racket and voila!—sweet. Consider how it could revolutionize the often high-pitched job of parenting.Silence is Golden T ell me I didn’t just hear that… I used to ﬁnd myself saying that just about every day. emanating from one of my children. I read about a new device. But as those precious bundles of joy get older and somehow morph into little nuggets of noise with dirt on them.
This could have profound philosophical and ﬁnancial implications. 207 . Because sometimes. Or when the ﬁrst sound waves of shattering glass resulting from a baseball thrown into a whirling ceiling fan begin to lap against my auditory antennae. I could act quickly. Point.” followed by a frantically whispered “Don’t tell Mom” (even worse when it is preceded by the sound of a toilet ﬂushing). click…serenity now. Imagine all the parents. If a teenage girl slams a door and screams “I hate you!” and her parents don’t hear it. do you really have to feed him? Imagine the heightening of harmony in homes inhabited by teenagers across our nation if we could mufﬂe their decibeldevouring music. ignorance is bliss.Silence is Golden a worrisome set of crashes. And I could sure do without that ubiquitous (at least at my house) phrase “Uh oh. living life in peace. The marvelous Mute would become even more valuable as our children reach adolescence and develop the desire to torment us acoustically. did it really happen? Or if no one notices when an eternally hungry teenage boy stands in front of an open refrigerator stuffed with $300 worth of food and complains loudly “There’s nothing to eat in this house!”. You may say I’m a dreamer. I could just point and click Mr. stiﬂe their sounds. cover up their cacophony. It’s easy if you try. Mute. and silence is golden. thumps and bangs reverberates through my walls as fratricidal force is deployed over access to an Xbox. but I’m planning to have The Mute surgically implanted in my ears as soon as it’s available.
You know. all of them men) also believe in mannerly microorganisms. because I somehow managed to get through almost three decades of life without knowing about the ﬁve-second rule. I discovered that he seemed to have been born knowing the ﬁve-second rule. Turns out that germs are apparently polite enough to count to ﬁve before they attach themselves to goodies. It certainly comes in handy for an enthusiastic eater with butter ﬁngers like my boy. 208 . I must have led a very sheltered—or at least a very clean— existence before I got married. the rule that says it’s OK to eat food dropped on the kitchen ﬂoor as long as you pick it up within ﬁve seconds.The Five-Second Rule The Five-Second Rule has many variations. but I found out later that a lot of people (oddly enough. Who knew? I naively assumed my husband was the only person crazy enough to buy this theory. including The Three-Second Rule. And when I had a son. The Seven-Second Rule and the extremely handy and versatile However Long It Takes Me to Pick Up This Food Rule.
209 . I had to drop the delectable little cake down the garbage disposal to prevent my Troll eater from inhaling it. you are so mean! A little dog hair’s not going to hurt anybody. where dropped food items usually resemble those Troll dolls with hair sticking out in all directions when you pick them up. especially in our two-dog household. but it nearly happened one day with a Twinkie. He was actually moving it. I just can’t believe you!” I don’t know how the kid would survive without me. “Five-second rule. Then. “What do you think you’re doing?” I asked in a horriﬁed tone. Mom. now enhanced by a whole colony of dog hair. as if explaining the obvious to an idiot. and that was clearly all the reason Funny Boy needed to invoke the ridiculous rule after he dropped the golden snack item on the ﬂoor. he added “It’s the last one!” as he lunged toward the hairy Twinkie and tried to grab it back.” he said. He was not appreciative. “Mom. toward his mouth when I grabbed it. It was the last Twinkie in the package. dog hair and all.The Five-Second Rule Now I have to say that I still have no faith in the ﬁve-second rule. How anyone could stick such an item in his mouth is beyond my comprehension.
There Should Be an App for That Lo! Men have become the tools of their tools. there is an app to let you go around making cow sounds. I’m pretty sure I don’t want to know any of those people. 210 . which I suppose would come in handy were you trying to communicate with our bovine brethren. There is also a game app that lets you score points by licking your phone’s screen. I happen to know that an ‘app’ (short for application) is a nifty little cell-phone program you can use to do things you wouldn’t even have thought of doing if there weren’t an app to make it possible. Being technologically savvy. For example. I can’t imagine any circumstance under which I would want to do this. but that’s beside the point. I also like to think I look like Angelina Jolie. —Henry David Thoreau I like to think I am technologically savvy. but apparently many people have downloaded this particular app.
Why anyone would want people to think such a thing is beyond me. and there’s an app for that. it’s a free country.There Should Be an App for That Another hugely popular app lets you emit loud bodily noises normally considered unacceptable in polite society. And I would have loved to have had a Chore Completion Assistant app that at my command would disable all the electronic devices that always seemed to prevent my kids from doing their chores. hey. This program would automatically shoot a high-pitched. Hundreds of thousands of apps already exist. I’d also like to have a Bug Zapper app that could send out some kind of radioactive signal that would fry every creepy crawly or ﬂying insect in my vicinity. And I wouldn’t mind 211 . For instance. when my kids were growing up. But I can think of a few other apps that someone should invent right away. There’s also an app that teaches you how to say dirty words in a variety of languages. there is even an excuse generator app. there will no doubt be a dozen more. This app magniﬁes the sound so that people will think you have serious gastrointestinal issues. And for those of us who are frequently late for work and in need of a convincing excuse. but. and developers are working feverishly every day to create even more. Just in the time it takes you to lick your screen a couple of times and try out a few foreign phrases that would make your mother wash your mouth out with soap (if only she knew what you were saying). I could certainly have used a Teenager Tune Out Terminator app. impossible-to-ignore sound into the ears of certain adolescents who regularly claimed not to have heard me tell them something.
Days of Derangement having an app that would talk sense into me when I’m about to try on a bathing suit. There should deﬁnitely be an app for that. I could take a picture of the suit with my phone. which would usually sound something like this: “Honey. 212 .” I’d call that my Girlfriend App. and then my app would give me an honest assessment. Get Real.
I was having a hard time with it myself. We traded it in for a mid-sized SUV. After I explained that my liberation from the mom-mobile had transformed me into a groovier parent—a cool and deﬁnitely with-it individual—they ordered me. When I told my children that. But a couple of weeks into our relationship. in horror. my new vehicle was sleek and. for a few days. always slightly disapproving of my driving even after I’d morphed into a mother myself. and I immediately felt hipper. spotless. Apparently. Oh. they assumed. for some reason.Minivan Mentality Y ou can take the mom out of the minivan. 213 . At ﬁrst. to be honest. After 15 years. She was even equipped with a state-of-the-art navigational system that I nicknamed Nancy. it was rather pleasant to have Nancy telling me—in her disembodied voice—where to go. my SUV-inspired chic hadn’t sunk in with them yet. But you can’t always take the minivan mentality out of the mom. to never leave the driveway. she began to remind me of my mother. And. I’d said “hippier” and suggested I cut back on the carbs. I ﬁnally stopped driving a family truckster.
a handle on the back of the driver’s seat.Days of Derangement “You missed the turn! You’re driving too fast! You’re going to get us killed!” OK. Nancy was really starting to get on my nerves. “I am recalculating the route. maybe Nancy didn’t say those words speciﬁcally. the congealed essence of childhood. I also missed the way the minivan smelled— that bouquet of old french fries. but that’s what my mind heard. non-talking minivan. the dents and scratches made by a wide assortment of balls and even a couple of bicycles. hanging on haphazardly after one kid tried to pull it out and use it as a weapon against another. Even when everything was cleaned out. she sounded a bit snippy. and all mingling with the nauseating odor of dog vomit that we never could completely eliminate. I think I actually missed the old. Believe it or not. sugary drink known to mankind. rotten bananas. Every time I deviated from her dictatorial directions. with its factory-fresh scent. a variety of stains inside courtesy of every colorful.” she’d say with the same peevish inﬂection I used when inquiring which member of my household stuck an empty milk jug back in the refrigerator. The new auto. And it wasn’t just the Nazi-like navigational system. the van still retained its distinct aroma. Nancy’s turn-by-turn instructions took on a nagging quality. seemed sterile and devoid of the debris that made the minivan kind of a family scrapbook on wheels: the faded bumper stickers that touted the kids’ accomplishments. all left to heat up year after year in the sun. I missed all of those things. sweaty soccer cleats and fetid football jerseys. stale milk in sippy cups lodged under the seats. And I 214 . clean carpet and unmarked exterior.
Minivan Mentality thoughtlessly gave it away. Somewhere. someone else is hurtling down the highway right now with a minivan full of my memories. 215 . You’ll always know where you’re going.) Whoever you are. (They’ve probably got the windows open. I want those memories and that cruddy old minivan back. you can have Nancy and the stylish SUV that encases her. I want to remember where I’ve been. In exchange.
But it didn’t really hit me until a few days later when our family began its annual summer hike in the Rocky Mountains. Grandpa remembers a pair of osprey that 216 .The Trail Ahead A few years ago. I watched my oldest child cross a stage. We’ve been hiking the same stretch since my children were preschoolers. and accept his high school diploma with a brilliant smile. One of us recalls stumbling into an ice-cold stream and then walking for hours in wet shoes. I’m sure all the other parents were as stunned as I to suddenly be standing at the closing bookend of childhood. We’ve hiked that trail so many times now that certain trees. In fact. and every family member remembers details the rest of us have forgotten. unable to keep up. streams and boulders are infused with memories. mortarboard perched precariously on his head. Another remembers eating lunch on the trunk of a fallen pine tree until an attack by ravenous ants. I don’t see how this is possible as it was just yesterday he crossed a stage with another mortarboard on his head and ﬂashed a gaptoothed grin at his kindergarten graduation. I have pictures of both kids being carried on the shoulders of their dad and grandpa.
We lay back on a large. he’ll understand why. crossed ahead of me. watching the birds swoop down to catch ﬁsh for their hungry offspring. captured in pictures. curving out of sight. Sadly. as I always do. talking over each other as they competed to give Sid’s life the juiciest details. My husband and I share a favorite location—a log bridge over a rushing stream. Someday. The trail from the bridge leads off into dense woods. This year.The Trail Ahead nested in a tree overlooking a beautiful mountain lake. all grown up and soon headed off to college. not realizing my chosen spot could be seen from another part of the trail. The ﬁrst time each of our kids clambered across that bridge unassisted was a momentous event. We spent a couple of hours after we ﬁrst found the grave amusing each other with stories about Sid’s imagined adventures on the trail. sunny rock. The dog’s owner had erected a simple wooden marker on which he (or she) had painted a heartfelt epitaph: Sid—World’s Best Dog. My daughter remembers our yearly pilgrimage to the grave of a beloved dog who was buried just off the trail. I am not. Grandma’s memories of the trail center on which boulders and tree trunks provided the most privacy for the inevitable call of nature. then turned to look back. Funny Boy. 217 . I can still clearly hear my kids’ high. then had to sit down on a rock to compose myself. I snapped the shot. the trail with its unseen destination stretching ahead of him. My son’s favorite hiking story is about the time that I. though. Grandma is an expert at picking out secluded spots. exposed my backside to a group of college students. I stopped to take a picture of the bridge. eager voices.
It’s nothing personal. expecting her to say something soothing to boost my self-esteem the way today’s helicopter parents always strive to do for their children.” Mind. John? MIND?? Of course not. I am. I’ve noticed that your picture hasn’t changed in several years. 218 .S. I hope you don’t mind me saying this. Really. I just think it’s kind of like false advertising. I happened to mention this email to my mother. —Ralph Waldo Emerson I once received an email from an eagle-eyed reader named John who apparently had nothing better to do with his time than send me the following message: “As a longtime reader of your columns. But my mom is old school. I’m thrilled that you were paying such close attention to the status of my photo.Picture Perfect Pictures must not be too picturesque. Don’t you think it’s time to update your photo?” Then thoughtful John added the coup de grace: “P. She prefers the Kick ‘Em While They’re Down parenting philosophy popular during the rough-and-tumble pioneer days.
For some reason. what I’m trying to say here is this: Thanks. I have a long face and small beady eyes. they throw up all their little camera parts in disgust when they are pointed in my direction.” she said. Now. and I haven’t changed a bit since it was taken.” Ouch. thanks a million for taking the time to notice that my picture is obsolete. but I ﬁgured no one needed to know that. Out of desperation. I hate those people. and every camera in existence has conspired to exaggerate those features. OK. They demanded an actual photo of my actual face. though. I’ll also have you know that it has always been very difﬁcult to get a decent photo of myself. How rude. Boy. Through the magic of modern technology that included hours and hours of state-of-the-art retouching techniques. dear. So when I started writing a humor column. I ﬁnally got a picture that did not cause people to cover their eyes in horror. “That picture is at least six years old. You know how the camera is said to love some people? Well. 219 . I engaged the services of a highly skilled professional photographer. it wasn’t actually a picture of me. that’s my picture. my rotten editors did not believe I look just like Angelina Jolie.Picture Perfect “He’s right. Cameras not only don’t love me. It is not a pretty sight. and I’m sticking to it. So anyway. sweet John. was I happy. But by golly. I faced the terrible prospect of having to provide a photo of myself to go with my columns. It really is false advertising. making me look like Eeyore with Winnie the Pooh eyes. I’ll have you know my picture is no more than ﬁve years old (give or take a year or two). I sent my editors a really gorgeous picture. I really appreciate it.
Maybe I was a little biased. So did I. and we were driving home—I got to thinking about his ﬁrst day of preschool. Funny Boy got out of the 220 . I remember praying silently on that drive that he would like school and that the other kids would be nice to him and that his teachers would be smart enough to see how utterly special this blue-eyed child was. But only a little. He kept rubbing his ﬁnger across Malcolm’s head. On the short drive to the school that day. “It makes Malcolm feel better. and tried to be very brave. something he did often to comfort the rather emotional rabbit. head and shoulders above any other kid in the school or any other kid in the world for that matter. When we arrived at the preschool. a stuffed bunny he’d inexplicably named Malcolm. He didn’t look convinced.” he’d once explained to me. he’d clutched his favorite toy. I think it probably made my little man feel better too. “You’re going to have a wonderful time!” I remember saying too cheerfully.Of Boys and Bunnies W hen my son started his freshman year of college—after I’d made enough of a blubbery scene to thoroughly embarrass him.
way back behind the boxes of video games and soccer trophies. and his fur looks matted.” When we got home after dropping him off at college. 221 . “You stay here. I reminded him that Malcolm would have to stay with me. “Only people can go to school. sounding again like Mister Rogers. I’ll be back soon. way too cheerful. stroking the bunny’s head one last time. The top of his head is bare in several places. and pulled out an old stuffed bunny. worn down to the fabric by a little boy’s ﬁngers. the seams in his body are visible. then placed the rabbit back in the car. I rubbed his head several times. I think it made him feel better. I sounded like Mr.” I said.Of Boys and Bunnies car with Malcolm tucked under his arm. “Hi Malcolm. Malcolm. as he lovingly strapped the little rabbit into the car seat. I still remember watching. You’ll be OK.” I said. those blue eyes brimmed with tears. I went into his room and reached into the top of his closet. The bunny’s ears are frayed now. He rubbed Malcolm’s head several times to reassure him.” he said. “Long time no see!” I sat down on Funny Boy’s bed and just stared at Malcolm for a while. Rogers. “He’ll be right here waiting for you when I pick you up. through my own brimming tears. For a moment. I promised to take good care of him.
we painted the whole structure white and added more stenciled ﬂowers—red roses this time—all over the bench. together. We painted the walls pink and hung lacy little curtains at the window.The Garden Room We’ve had bad luck with our kids. The bench and its fence were secured to one of my daughter’s bedroom walls. So did some of mine. and the ﬂoral theme in her ﬁrst “big-girl” bedroom delighted her. I nailed a small wooden bench to a section of picket fencing. —Christopher Morley he called it her garden room. Then. She was four years old then. We decided to leave it that way. they’ve all grown up. We wove fake ivy and silk ﬂowers along the fencing to complete the look. We used stencils to paint dainty ﬂowers on the pink walls. as if the ﬂowers on the wall were blowing in a gentle breeze. S 222 . bordered with glued-on ivy and still more silk ﬂowers. and a mirror. She held the brush and proudly created a few of them all by herself. Some of her work went outside the lines. stenciled edges. was mounted above. Colorful smudges took the place of the intended clean.
Sadly or not—depending on your perspective—the garden room is no more. So we ﬁnally updated it. she’d play dress-up in front of the mirror. fuzzy friends. cuddling her crew of stuffed animals. a Mary Quite Contrary who had long been embarrassed by her blooming bedroom.The Garden Room Funny Girl would sit on that bench in her garden room. These were formal affairs at which I was expected to wear a pretty hat and conduct myself in a manner beﬁtting my lovely surroundings. At that moment. but often—too often—I was so preoccupied with the day’s must-do tasks that I failed to fully enjoy the garden party. I’d ﬁnd her curled up on the bench asleep. Some days.” she said simply. She also wanted black. Sometimes I succeeded at this. she would carry on the party with her faithful. I could smell them too. We painted the room lime green—yes. wearing a lovely hat adorned. naturally. Mommy. Once. with ﬂowers. Occasionally. We removed the prettily painted shelf with its daisy-shaped knobs underneath that held trophies and ribbons and other childhood memorabilia. My ﬂower child grew into a willowy teenager. lime green—because that’s the color desired by the girl whose legs were now longer than the quaint bench she used to nap on. her head resting on them. I walked in to ﬁnd her breathing deeply. and she would pretend she was in a real garden. Many days. Later. And she plastered the walls with posters of young male actors and rock stars who look like they could use an attitude 223 . after I’d excused myself and rushed out. “I’m just smelling all of my ﬂowers. I was invited in for tea parties. We took down the bench and its fencing and put them in the garage. functional-looking furniture with nary a ﬂower to be found.
she informed me I’d turned into an old fuddy duddy. What I wouldn’t give to attend one more tea party. She was right. I stood in the garage and stared at the still-beautiful little bench.Days of Derangement adjustment. a journey that seemed to have passed in the blink of an eye. The day we ﬁnished the room makeover. symbol now of a line crossed in the inevitable journey out of childhood. And what amuses me is that I’m OK with that. When I told her that I preferred ﬂowers on the walls. 224 .
renowned for his ornery ways. Over the years. Local residents knew to steer clear when they saw Old Man Gibson coming. weaving from one side of the road to the other. he’d insist on driving his battered pickup along the dirt roads near his home. that make its oration a work of art. Even when he was in his ninth decade. my dad has been telling The Pig Story.The Pig Story E ver since I can recall. For as long as anyone around there could remember. (And this was before Viagra!) My grandfather was a local legend. the two men had fought 225 . Over the years. delivered at just the right moment. he’s perfected a series of coy pauses and soft smiles. much younger wife. It’s a tale of how. with fading eyesight. in a more simple time. my father procured my mother’s hand in marriage for the price of a couple of hogs. I’ve heard The Pig Story so many times that I could recite it in my sleep. born when her father was in his 70s and married to his third. My parents grew up on farms several miles apart in southeastern Oklahoma. My mother was the youngest of 10 of my grandpa’s children. He tells it with great ﬂourish. my granddad had been feuding—Hatﬁeld-McCoy style—with his nearest neighbor.
One day my father. announcing loudly to the trespassing pigs that they would soon draw their last breaths. over a defunct moonshine still tucked way back in the woods that each man claimed to have operated in his younger. and late in the afternoon. When he thought he’d spotted the neighbor’s porkers trampling his plants underfoot. the old man would fall asleep in the truck with the shotgun slung across his lap. He’d stay there awhile. But as my grandpa was unable to chase them down or shoot them. watching for signs of porcine invasion. waking occasionally to ﬁre a random shot before resuming his nap. One summer. the pigs would tire of the game and make their way home. But by the time they were each around 90.Days of Derangement over property lines. he’d swear up and down. the neighbor started releasing his pigs into the ﬁelds where my grandpa still grew corn and cotton. my grandpa would look out over his crops. park his pickup under a couple of sweeping oak trees at the edge of the pasture and start ﬁring wildly in the pigs’ direction. unable with his poor vision to actually hit anything. if still rancorous. cursing his enemy and expressing great surprise that anyone could commit such a vile act. Both men had spent short spells in jail when things got too heated and the sheriff wanted to calm them down. For several mornings in a row. chicken-thieving dogs. Invariably. And eventually. Then he’d grab his shotgun. even. the two old warriors had settled into a fairly harmless. rowdier days. who was a high school senior at the time. happened to be driving by during one of the scattershot 226 . my granddad would do the same. for bragging rights. stray cattle. routine. the pigs didn’t seem to take him too seriously.
my dad quickly caught the pigs and put them in the back of the old pickup. as my dad always adds to universal groans. He stopped and asked my grandpa if he needed help.The Pig Story shooting sessions. The rest. They’ve been living high on the hog ever since. My grandpa was so pleased at this unexpected triumph over his nemesis that he invited my dad to come over that night for supper and there. he introduced him to his 16-year-old daughter. They would provide quite a few tasty meals for the family. is hogstory. 227 . They were married a year later and recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. When told of the situation.
Despite the fact I wouldn’t know a touchdown from a hoe down. well-paid men run around chasing a piece of pigskin. An NFL event is a reassuring example of the strength of our capitalist system. hot dogs and soft drinks while having the pleasure of watching hefty. I wanted to be part of this patriotic process.Pirates and Packers The reason women don’t play football is because 11 of them would never wear the same outﬁt in public. So I begged my family to let me come along. I was forced to undergo 228 . And the NFL realizes a handsome proﬁt in the bargain. —Phyllis Diller I decided one day in the fall to take a break from worrying about whether the American economy is heading for a hot place in a hand basket and go to a football game. Because I brought a book to the last professional sporting event I attended (a hockey game) and embarrassed my children. Not just any football game: an NFL (Not For Low-incomers) game. You get to invest extraordinary amounts of your personal capital in things like tickets. It’s a win-win situation all around.
I had an upclose encounter with one of these chunks of cheese when its bearer bent over to pick up something. pirate-like bellows (Aargh!) with beer-propelled belches worthy of the most fearsome buccaneer. But surprisingly.Pirates and Packers an airport-style security screening before we left home. I was joined in this belief by many Buccaneer fans. especially the ones directly behind me who showed their support by combining loud. The fans behind me provided a running commentary on the mental and physical capacity of each player (“You’re an idiot!” or “My grandma can run faster than that!”) 229 . Unlike the visiting team. And it didn’t much matter that I don’t understand the ﬁrst thing about football. That made it even more special. Because the stadium is thoughtfully crammed with more seats than one would think possible. The ﬁrst thing I noticed was that many fans were sporting large yellow pieces of synthetic cheese on their heads. the home team was named after a group of plundering pirates called buccaneers. there was plenty to capture my attention. I was a little upset. but the cheese head was charmingly apologetic. I was sitting among fans of the home team. So I got another drink and took my seat just as the game began. I could smell them too. This seemed to me like a good omen for the home team. and it’s hard to be churlish with cheese. and the cheese knocked over the soft drink for which I’d just paid more than the average day’s wage in some Third World countries. which was named after men who once packed meat into little cans. I could actually feel these belches on the back of my neck. The paperback I’d hidden under my shirt was conﬁscated. Pirates could surely beat Packers. and so I arrived at the game betting on being bored.
My fellow fans rated each cheerleader on whether she was “hot” or merely lukewarm. The Bucs fans happily went home singing yo-ho songs. In the end. the cheerleaders wore outﬁts that looked just like pirate eye patches. and even the cheese heads didn’t seem too upset. I was amazed to realize that I had a great time. and debated which ones should be given the privilege of dating the manly men behind me. the Buccaneers did indeed beat the Packers. except that pirate patches cover more skin.Days of Derangement and on the quality of the coaching (“You’d better be ﬁred after this game!”). These guys really helped me grasp the ﬁner points of the game. I felt so sorry for the ladies who were denied such an honor. the various attributes of the Buccaneer cheerleaders. Maybe that’s because cheese does for them what chocolate does for me—makes everything better. I didn’t even miss my book. 230 . the beer boys would discuss. in their outside voices. During breaks in the action on the ﬁeld. In keeping with the team theme. Even the performance of the referees was analyzed (“Are you kidding me?!”).
Pirates and Packers 231 .
you look at each other’s pages and post comments. Just in case I am the next-to-last person in the world to join Facebook. I’m cooler online. which my charming children pointed out ofﬁcially made me a loser. you post an actual photo of yourself rather than someone far more attractive that you try to pass off as yourself. you also post truthful information in your proﬁle. You also can announce what you are doing at any given moment and send it out through cyberspace for all your friends 232 . Yeah. and you are the last. —Brad Paisley song I joined Facebook a while back. You send messages to others on the site asking them to be your friend. and after much effort. In theory. In theory. That means not much has changed for me since high school. If they agree. let me tell you how it works: You sign up and create your personal page with photos and a proﬁle. except that now I have a few more friends. Then you begin to amass your Facebook friends list.Cooler Online I’m so much cooler online. I managed to accumulate 10 online friends.
In this brave new world of social networking. If you are the kinky kind. I’ll 233 . I have a couple of Facebook friends who regularly send me super pokes. if you’re one of those people who likes to live on the edge. you can “super” poke them.” and all 10 of my friends will feel better knowing this. and so on and so on. I can type in something like. My 10 friends will be so impressed with my literary ﬂair that they will tell all their other friends about me. I would never do this to one of my friends. You can send your friends truly useful things like a virtual glass of wine or. But that would mean my friends list wouldn’t even reach double digits. This is what I’m going to do. Or. which I suspect is not quite as good as the real thing that involves actual arms.Cooler Online to see. Lest you think Facebook is just a frivolous way to fritter away time keeping your friends updated on routine bodily maintenance activities. of course. “Jackie is clipping her toenails. But then. But it gets even better. I can’t take the humiliation. This has left me feeling like a voodoo doll. I only have 10 of them. virtual hot cocoa. You also can show off your intellectual bent by recommending books and pretending you’ve actually read these books. I’ll have so many friend requests. and I’ve been tempted to “de-friend” these people. you can even spank your friends or throw thongs at them. let me assure you it has true social value. and those friends will tell still other friends. You can join online groups and causes and invite friends to come along. in cold weather. You can even send them an online hug. So. you can deliver a virtual slap or bite. If one of your cyber friends has stepped out of line. Soon. you also can poke your friends.
Days of Derangement have to start screening people. If you were my friend. you’d get to hear all about it. I have to go now and clip my toenails. Maybe I’ll even start a Facebook fan club for myself. 234 .
in an effort to look cut and ripped or some other painful-sounding adjective. You may think I’m lifting weights for cosmetic reasons. and I raised my arms to lift something from an upper shelf. Lifting two weights at the same time was a little too ambitious for my longdelayed return to ﬁtness.Beware the Bingo Wings I’m 36 years old. but what difference does that make anyway because everything in my life sucks. and all my house plants are dead. wings. I’m actually just hoping to avoid inadvertently taking ﬂight in a strong gust of wind. my friend. Yes. OK. This is a normal. That’s because I’ve apparently grown wings. shifting it from one hand to the other. So I’m starting out slowly. —Laurie Metcalf o I’ve started lifting weights. I didn’t even know I possessed bird-like qualities until one day when I was standing in my kitchen. kitchen-type S 235 . and I’ve got ﬂabby arms and a pelican neck. I’ve actually lifted one weight. But you’d be wrong. You may think I’m hoping to be considered a sleek and sexy cougar on the prowl for a younger man. and no one loves me.
But this time. covering her eyes as if she couldn’t bear to look at me. especially women who play Bingo?” “Older women? Arm fat? Bingo?!” I sputtered. And then you stand in your kitchen with ﬂabby. You sacriﬁce time you would undoubtedly have spent doing pushups if you weren’t driving them from one activity to another. I’d like to point out. “But you could clean off a chalkboard with those bingo wings of yours.” “Bingo wings?” I asked. were sitting nearby eating food prepared for them by the person they were about to insult. older women get. You pay for their college tuition. I beg your pardon. I got a ﬁgurative punch in the gut from my own children who.” You carry them through nine months of pregnancy. as I said. Mom. and you watch the ingrates snicker at you behind their hands. And as long as I hold on to this weight. “You’ve got some serious bingo wings there.Days of Derangement activity that I’ve done many times before. I’ve started lifting weights. Well. I’ve started lifting weight. uh. “Whoa. But I may soon send those kids of mine airborne. This weight weighs a whole 10 pounds. careworn arms that could be used as cleaning implements by a school janitor. I can lift it into the air and then bring it back down.” said Funny Girl. So. You labor in agony to bring them forth into the world. Now I know what she meant. 236 . “Nothing personal. I never promised you a rose garden. you know that arm fat that. as my grandma used to sing to me. You lose sleep for years worrying over every aspect of their lives. Mom. put down your arms. “Yea. I’m pretty sure my bingo wings won’t lift me off the ground.” Funny Boy chimed in.
and that might be an insult to the mosquito. I have the uncomfortable sense that the Internet is tinkering with my neural circuitry. down where complex thinking and unhurried contemplation still reside (at least I hope they still do). Socrates started what may have been the ﬁrst technology scare.Adios Internet My mind is going. people have been bemoaning the negative consequences of technology for a long time. I can feel it. reprogramming my memory. Believe me. as he invented the darn thing. Naturally. But it’s deﬁnitely for my own good. rarely diving into the depths of the sea of information. possibly even sabotaging my soul. —Supercomputer HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey ’ve reluctantly decided that I need to resign from the Internet. My brain skims along life’s surface. I’m pretty sure that my online time has shrunk my attention span to the size of a mosquito’s. While I’ve greatly enjoyed my years in cyberspace. In fact. lamenting the I 237 . this has not been an easy decision. I blame Al Gore. Granted. The problem is that I just can’t seem to focus anymore.
But as bad as TV has been for our mental fortitude. And we lurch from site to site. By the end of the 19th century. Actually. the invention of the telegram was blamed for triggering an outbreak of mental illness. encouraging us to incessantly peek at our email. From now on. I’m also going to spend tons of time sitting around thinking deep thoughts. So I am walking away from the Web. we waste the day away on eBay. When the printing press came along. which he thought ruined the memory.Days of Derangement invention of books. Imagine what the old guy would think of Twitter. 238 . the cast of Jersey Shore. I’m going to give up television as well. there were those who complained that it ruined the eyes and made the ﬁngers ache. constantly craving the ﬂeeting pleasure of new information without ever digesting the old stuff. now that I think about it. The Web makes it so easy to interrupt ourselves. I’m pretty sure Socrates would be deeply impressed. And let’s not even talk about the detrimental effects of television on our minds. We fritter away vast amounts of time on Twitter. Imagine how much smarter we would be if we’d never sat around watching the antics of all those Californiabased Kardashians or their high-IQ counterparts on the East Coast. I’ll be spending my time reading classic novels in pretentious cafes where I’ll be available to discuss them with anyone whose nose is not buried in a laptop (if I can ﬁnd such a person). assuming I don’t fall asleep ﬁrst. I am convinced the Internet has been even worse. update our Facebook status and check out our friends’ statuses.
especially when a family member or friend does something I can ridicule (this is why I spend a lot of time alone). I love having written. The ﬁrst step in the process is to come up with a topic.Column Creation I hate writing. My witty and brilliant brain is always on alert for possible topics. however. How do you write such witty and brilliant columns each week?” I’m sure there are many more of you out there who wonder the same thing. so I’d like to take you behind the scenes for a look at how I write a column. that the making of humor columns resembles the making of laws and sausage—it’s not always a pretty sight. OK. —Dorothy Parker A s you might imagine. I often receive email from adoring fans. I get genuine fan mail. Sometimes topics are so plentiful—like when I go to a class reunion or listen 239 . Let me warn you. But occasionally. which typically goes something like this: “Dear Jackie. most of them are people in Nigeria who have $10 million they need to deposit into my bank account or people who want to sell me some Viagra.
as you’ll recall. I invest a lot of time in sleeping. I have a ﬂexible ofﬁce space that moves around to meet my needs. So I left the economy in the hands of the ﬁnancial geniuses who’ve been running it so far. though.Days of Derangement to a presidential debate—that they practically hit me upside the head. Writing can be a grueling. I gave it my best shot. I can’t quite begin writing. I am often driven to the edge of madness in my quest for perfection. which is conveniently placed in front of the TV to allow me to keep up with world events. When I’ve slept enough to come up with a humdinger of a topic. To be the very best humorist I can be. I awaken and head to my home ofﬁce to begin writing. even painful. Other times. Like many a great artist. Being a columnist on the cutting edge of the whole work/life balance thing (as all your best columnists are). and I returned to my easy chair. The best such research occurs while I’m asleep. Those needs are usually best met in my favorite chair. cut off part of his own ear. but my deprived fans soon demanded I resume writing witty and brilliant columns. Not long ago. and sometimes she doesn’t show up. A prime focus lately has been the unwanted hair that’s suddenly appearing in places no hair had 240 . So I spend some time considering my physical imperfections. DC to try to ﬁx the economy. endeavor. I was forced to suspend my column-creation campaign and ﬂy to Washington. It is essential I keep up with events in case I am called to participate in them. My muse is fairly ﬁckle. but I have been known to pluck stray chin hairs while I wait for my creative muse to strike. That’s when. for example. even with a killer. I have to conduct in-depth topic research. Van Gogh. sleep-induced topic. I haven’t gone quite that far.
That’s probably why Van Gogh cut off his ear. Maybe I could write a column about that. It’s tough to be witty and brilliant when faced with such a problem.Column Creation gone before. he saw hair growing out of it. 241 .
And ideally. high-energy people who never play potato. I’ve spent many lazy hours catching Zs (while pretending to be doing something productive) on a variety of couches. you need the right kind of personality: starchy. I’ve got that in spades. While the main accessory for being a couch potato is. a couch. run-of-the-mill sofa spud. 242 . vegged-out and prone to napping. with no danger of the dreaded pretzel twist. The best receptacles for couch-potato champions like me are long enough to accommodate the entire body in a horizontal position. Couches should be soft and wide enough so you do not feel as if you’re going to fall off.Couch Potato Confessions I ’m ashamed to admit that I’m a couch potato. they should be positioned so they are not visible from other rooms of the house. I’m a connoisseur of couch-potato technique. of course. just in case you’re living with one of those fanatic. there are other essential ingredients. And I’m not just your ordinary. First.
if someone unexpectedly interrupts your snoozing. you can at least appear to be doing something when you’re in horizontal heaven. If someone—say a man’s wife—asks him to do something annoying such as take out the trash. That would indicate a premeditated intention to spend disgraceful periods of time as a potato person. you need a TV. But you don’t want to use your regular bed pillows. That way. you can quickly sit up. You need those cute little decorated sofa pillows that are designed to stay on the couch. and no one will be the wiser. if someone stumbles upon your spudly snooze. Then. to have educational TV programs playing on the set. Other accessories are also helpful in attaining the ultimate in couch-potato comfort. are a dead giveaway. A blanket is also an essential element of today’s successful lounge lizard. (Just remember to hurriedly smooth your tell-tale bed head. being actual bed accessories. however. you can casually throw your covering across the arm of the couch as a decorative accent. Then. I prefer. Many men like to have sports playing on the television while they snooze away the hours in non-productive loaﬁng. You need pillows. I can pretend to be improving my mind while indulging my lazy body. wipe the drool off your chin and nod intently at the educational TV program you were obviously using to enhance your brain power.Couch Potato Confessions Next. But blankets. naturally. That’s why you need to use a blanketlike device such as small coverlets or those granny-knitted afghans—the ones that often smell like mothballs—to cover yourself during surreptitious naps.) 243 . That way. a sofa-spud spouse can legitimately claim to be watching a very important (and very long) game.
you may think I have too much time on my hands. Not at all! In fact. 244 . I’m feeling a bit drowsy right now. Actually. Pass me that afghan.Days of Derangement Because I know so much about being a couch potato. I often come up with great column ideas during my couchpotato periods.
That’s how it was when I was in an unusually long line that snaked past the men’s room. I like to kill time when I’m there by making frequent trips to the concession stand. are none too comfortable.Ladies Room Rebel I was recently compelled to attend yet another professional sporting event. Actually. where there was no line. however. As someone who would almost rather undergo a root canal than attend such events (I said almost). To wash down all the junk food I’m eating. 245 . I spend time standing in a line of women waiting to get into our designated comfort station. Not surprisingly. Where there is never a line. Most of us. We had to watch dozens of males stroll in without encountering any delay in doing their business. That’s the place where the team owner charges almost as much for cellulite-friendly food as my dentist charges for a root canal. legs are crossed and eyeballs beginning to ﬂoat before we even make it to the restroom door. We waiting women began to glare at the men and seethe at the injustice of it all. I drink more than a few beverages. In some cases. this means I also spend quite a bit of time in the ladies room.
” And due to certain personality differences. Our ladies’ room rebel had to enter the arena alone. “Bigger bathrooms! Yeah!” So must have begun the American experiment with democracy when the Founding Fathers. But still. “spend a penny. we had one.” she announced. as the British say. lining our lips and talking about feelings and other things I cannot disclose here. we also need extra time in the loo (another British term) to stand around powdering our noses. She stepped forward. 246 . The rest of us—ladylike lemmings afraid of the sight of urinals—continued to toe the line. “Why isn’t the women’s bathroom twice as big as the men’s?” Why indeed. was fortunate enough to have followers to back up his brave bid for freedom. men need far less space than women to. “I’m using the men’s room. “Yeah!” we shouted in agreement. So much for revolution. That’s why we need much larger public restrooms. Due to certain anatomical differences. All we needed was a leader. however. standing outside the ladies’ lounge with my legs crossed.Days of Derangement Finally. as the line inched forward only slightly. who probably never had to wait for a toilet stall. They might have been a little more eloquent about it than we were. a tall. It was like watching George Washington crossing the Delaware River. expressed similar outrage over inequality. conﬁdent-looking woman in stylish boots. Washington. one lady posed aloud the question we’d all been asking ourselves. “I’m not waiting in this line any longer. I sensed that revolution was in the air.” She strode purposefully into the male inner sanctum as we gasped in admiration. And suddenly.
—Pete Lindstrom I t’s good to be a researcher. for example. and shockingly. they really did spend serious scientiﬁc time studying this. we are not becoming a nation of idiots because half of us don’t realize the other half have faces. You might also be surprised to ﬁnd out these two studies are not linked. 247 . especially if you are a researcher studying topics crucial to the well-being of humanity. who will undoubtedly need to do follow-up studies. Apparently. I feel really good knowing that such scientiﬁc knowledge is out there to assist future researchers. But you may be surprised to ﬁnd out I’m more interested in another recent study which concluded that we’re all becoming a nation of idiots. There’s too much fun going on out there on the Internet.Fake Brain The lesson here is you can’t expect users to learn. a recent study from “experts” at a university in New Zealand who bravely took on the task of studying whether men stare at women’s breasts. Take. these experts discovered that a majority of men do indeed gaze at the girls when they ﬁrst meet a woman. Yes.
but most of my reading has been done in little snippets of time I would steal here and there for the printed page.Days of Derangement It’s because of all the time we spend online. My mind wanders after a few minutes of sustained reading. at least. Then I could ofﬂoad all the worthless information clogging my head into the artiﬁcial brain and reserve space in my real brain for important things like reading good books. we could be in real trouble. I’d never actually given up reading books altogether. Smart people used to put worthwhile information in them before all those smart people were recruited to conduct research on boob boys. Now. If everyone else is like me. but it is at least relaxing. I don’t know whether reading for an hour a day is making me smarter. I’m especially interested in this. because I have recently embarked on an experiment in which I try to read a book for one hour each day. where we tend to skim through a lot of trivial data instead of actually absorbing worthwhile information. I’m ﬁnding it very difﬁcult to concentrate and absorb all the knowledge so painstakingly amassed by those primitive. such as checking out the latest in silly scientiﬁc studies or reading the newest SPAM email in my inbox. I had missed the leisurely experience of immersing myself in a book. I make a concerted effort to sit down with a book. folks. I think what I really need is an artiﬁcial brain that is attached to my faltering real brain so that I can’t go off and leave it in the grocery cart. and I feel a strong urge to ﬂip over to something else. But I can tell that my once sponge-like mind has been marred by my Internet habit. pre-Internet people. You remember books. Or maybe I should store all the stupid stuff in my real 248 .
249 . Then I wouldn’t have to worry about what my face looks like.Fake Brain brain. which is probably past repair anyway. and turn over all important thinking to the fake brain. I might as well install other fake body parts as well. Of course. if I get a fake brain.
watching enough football to make even Hank Williams Jr. (Please insert a pan under this column to catch dripping sarcasm before it makes a mess. you absolutely love football.) 250 . And say that.) If you are such a woman.Football Goes Feminine S uppose. that’s exactly what I do during football season. I’ve spent several years wallowing each autumn in every minute of televised football I can get my eyes on. Actually. (Time to change the pan. you undoubtedly spend your fall weekends in front of the television. concerns such as spreading cellulite. middle-of-the-night victim of a toilet seat that was left in an upright position. having been an average middle-age woman for quite some time now (except. you are an average middle-age woman with the everyday concerns typical of your kind. for the sake of discussion. Because I am such a woman (except that I don’t have even a smidgen of cellulite). let me remind you. like any average middle-age American woman. and his rowdy friends a little sick of the sport. I have no cellulite). a shrinking bank account and the possibility you will be the soggy.
followed by more beer commercials. The commercials are going coed. and by this point. I counted a gourmet coffee commercial. very manly pickups. You’d have several minutes of football. You’d watch another commercial where very manly men (even the ones who weren’t so large) drink beer and stand around doing things only men who drink that particular brand of beer can do. I’ve been thrilled to discover in the last year or so that the auto commercials are now pushing not-so-manly features like fuel efﬁciency and family friendliness. for a change of pace. The advertisers are targeting you. and you’d watch very large. That’s right. average middle-age woman. very manly men drive very large. Then the TV would cut to a commercial for a pickup truck. Fully clothed women and children ran amuck in these commercials. like grill burgers or leer at women in bikinis or scratch themselves in public. you’d have several more pickup commercials. It wasn’t that long ago that football commercials pushed only two products: beer and pickup trucks. 251 . But all that has changed. you—the average middle-age woman—were starting to feel left out. very manly men wearing lots of padding would run around chasing a ball while thousands of screaming people encouraged them to rip each other to shreds. which protected them so well they did not need padding. Next. as well as one pushing sandwiches with organic roasted vegetables and one for a credit card featuring people buying theater tickets.Football Goes Feminine And I’ve noticed something interesting. during which very large. The beer commercials tout drinkability and a reduction in calories.
there will no doubt be half-time commercials promising to wipe away cellulite.Days of Derangement And the only men to be seen were older and much smaller men who looked thrilled to be offered medicine to lower their cholesterol and conquer those enlarging prostates. 252 . at least a bit metrosexual. Football would appear to be going. Not that I’ll need it. Soon. if not feminine.
I don’t need to bribe the judge. we’ve had to settle for whichever one of our children needs to get on the parental good side. Naah. As everyone knows. celebrating every time a stalk of celery took the place of a plate of cookies or bag of chips. there is only one Right Way to Weigh Yourself. however. You would think this would mean that we’d be very supportive of each other. with ample parking in the back. And I’ve done this while adhering to my spouse’s terribly unfair weighing system. I’m usually winning the weight competition. presided over by an impartial judge who is supposed to record our weight each morning and ensure there is no cheating. Funny Man has actually resorted to attempted judicial bribery. waxing ecstatic over every lost pound. As we are short of impartial judges willing to come into our bathroom. We’re actually in a cutthroat competition to see who can get svelte (or maybe just slightly less lumpy) the quickest. M 253 . y husband and I regularly try to lose weight.Weighty Matters My body is a temple. That means we have to have a daily weigh-in. because.
4. 254 . who is late getting ready for school. so much the better. however. lift the other foot and put it ever so gently on the scale as well. and this judge. Or. fails to notice that you have not yet let go of the towel bar. Go to the bathroom. being careful not to swallow any water. including your underwear. grip the towel bar tightly. the overage will increase exponentially with every pound. 5. Look down at the dial and note your weight. very slowly. Exhale. 9.Days of Derangement a highly sophisticated method that has worked beautifully for generations of women. 8. If you need support during this transition. Take off all of your clothes. if the needle rests slightly below the zero as this will just cancel out weight unfairly added by variables such as wind direction and humidity (even in the bathroom). This weigh-in procedure consists of the following steps: 1. If it is even one hair’s breadth above the zero. It is OK. Calibrate the scale. Let go of the towel bar very. if you have an impartial judge there to write down your weight. Every ounce counts. 2. Wake up. 3. Place one foot on the scale and slowly transfer your weight from the ﬂoor in a calm but deliberate movement. When the ﬁrst foot is in place. Brush the crud off your teeth. 6. 7.
And I sure don’t need that. 2. This foolish procedure consists of only two wildly risky steps: 1.Weighty Matters Unfortunately. 255 . my man adheres to The Wrong Way to Weigh Yourself. This dangerous way to weigh has been known to startle a scale into adding ﬁve or 10 pounds to a woman’s real weight. medical ofﬁces and other places in which women hate to be weighed. an imprudent process practiced at health clubs. Get on the scale. Note your weight.
The Big Wee But I learned that there’s a certain character that can be built from embarrassing yourself endlessly. while your boot and ski simultaneously become lodged in the lift. and the pictures 256 . you decide to go skiing. But now. for example. and you hop aboard the chairlift. Unfortunately. You arrive at the resort fully clothed. Before we all became entangled in the Web. only the people who were there that day would have the pleasure of seeing you in such a predicament. it malfunctions. those people would take pictures of you with their cell phones (assuming they could stop laughing long enough). causing you to slide through a gap between the seat and the chair back. —Christian Bale T he Internet has changed everything. as most skiers do. your pants are pulled down. As you slide. thanks to technology. Say. there’s not much else that can really get to you. If you can sit happy with embarrassment. leaving you—bare-bottomed—dangling helplessly upside down.
That’s because I consider myself an embarrassment magnet. Although I’m about half Sven’s age. But I hadn’t gotten there yet. I was the oldest one in the class except for the instructor. Sven was originally from Sweden. a hale and hearty man named Sven. I kept thinking about this unfortunate fellow. This actually happened a couple of years ago to a man in Colorado. those sane individuals who’ve never before put long. Then everyone on the planet would have a chance to chortle at your chapped cheeks. I was part of the “never ever” class. it could deﬁnitely happen to me. I could only creep along like a crab.” 257 . But Sven. On the way. ﬂat devices on their feet and attempted to slide down a mountain on top of massive amounts of snow. I looked nervously at the chairlift that was taking people to the mountaintop. I didn’t see anybody dangling upside down with bared buttocks. Sven showed us how to stop by pointing the tips of our skis in a V. And when I agreed to take a ski lesson. and he was 80—80!— years old. pronounced it “Wee. If the chairlift butt exposure incident could happen to someone else. And having my dangling derriere gracing websites worldwide would not be a pretty picture. So I was quite concerned as I walked in my unfamiliar skis—like a bowlegged cowboy—from the ski shop to the “bunny slope” where I would begin my lesson. being Swedish.The Big Wee would appear online before you’d even had time to warm up your freezing rear end. I know this because he kept reminding us as he clambered like a kid up the gentle incline of the bunny slope and then encouraged us to follow him.
to the chairlift. This caused me to childishly giggle. The Internet is certainly better for it. Each time Sven said it. I was sufﬁciently adept at making a big wee that I was taken. after many hours of effort. Eventually. 258 .Days of Derangement “Just make a big wee.” he kept shouting as I continually chose an alternative method of stopping—falling over. safely in place. trembling. until I—with my middle-age mom’s bladder—was in danger of making a different kind of wee than my instructor intended. You’ll be pleased to know I made it to the top of the mountain with my pants. I’d giggle some more. and my dignity.
In the sweet summertime. consulting with the rain.My BFF Lots of your friends want to ride with you in the limo. (If I only had a brain.) Getting away from it all is just what I like to do in a cabin in rural North Carolina. I sometimes have the privilege of going on vacation with my friend Kathy and her family. we are BFFs (best friends forever. is that it gives you the opportunity to get away from it all and reconnect with family and friends. Kathy and I have been pals since our children were babies. conferring with the ﬂowers. —Oprah Winfrey W hat’s nice about the summertime. at least until they bite you. In modern parlance. when the living is easy (that would make a great song lyric). which is about as friendly a place as you’ll ﬁnd on this earth. In North Carolina. I’d turn that into a catchy tune. even the insects seem friendly. you can while away the hours. for those of you who still speak 259 . but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down.
I suggested we go for a walk in the woods. As we sat there in the ﬂickering candlelight.” Kathy said glumly the last time we got together. I noticed that my own wrists still looked pretty darn attractive as well. Then we moved on to lesser matters like how quickly our children have grown up and how scary a place the world is getting to be. Kathy and I—being BFFs who know pretty much everything there is to know about each other—can dispense with the usual pleasantries and get right down to talking about what truly matters while sitting in a couple of rocking chairs on the front porch. On the walk. I noticed on the drive up here that they’ve gotten very wrinkly. My wrists still look great! Notice how young and skinny my wrists are!” And lo and behold. and we spent another half hour lamenting the increasing force of gravity on our various body parts. who didn’t even seem to notice that we’re all getting older. “They’ve fallen down past my knees. listening to the storm above us and clutching our loved ones close. Kathy suddenly nudged me and pointed ﬁrst at her bare legs and then at mine. How did that happen?” I nodded gravely. Before we got too depressed.Days of Derangement actual English). holding out her arms for me to see. and we had a great time conferring with Mother Nature.” she said excitedly. That night. “I’ve discovered something I still like about my body. complete with a power outage and warnings of a nearby tornado. We found ourselves taking shelter in the basement of some friendly neighbors. Kathy made a heartwarming discovery. 260 . “I absolutely hate my thighs. “Hey. And speaking of my knees. we got even closer to Mama Earth when she brought a raging thunderstorm our way. When we get together.
“Down here in the dark. 261 . I’ll still want to share a front porch with my friend Kathy. That’s why.My BFF “Hey.” she said. She’ll always help you look on the bright side. our thighs look really good. when even our wrists no longer look young.” That’s what is so wonderful about a good BFF.
The world was a sweet. And there was no person sweeter in Mayberry than Aunt Bea. comforting and pillowy soft. Chocolate is. a community that proudly 262 . She was warm. OK. And it was all Opie’s fault. the real Aunt Bea and Opie were. simple place in Mayberry USA. Watching that program as a kid was about as good as eating warm-out-of-the-oven cookies washed down with cold milk. far more reliable than a man. —Miranda Ingram I saw Aunt Bea go a little bonkers. I always wanted to climb up in her lap. Love is a substitute for chocolate. let’s face it. well. NC.Aunt Bea Goes Bonkers It’s not that chocolates are a substitute for love. ﬁctional TV characters on that beloved old sitcom The Andy Grifﬁth Show. On the show. Aunt Bea was Sheriff Andy Taylor’s aunt. and she could cook up a storm. so it wasn’t the real Aunt Bea or the real Opie. it gave you a nice feeling all over. The make-believe Mayberry was based on Grifﬁth’s reallife hometown of Mount Airy. When I watched the show as a child. As everyone over a certain age knows.
As you might have guessed. 263 . and it’s an even better thing for women. Opie’s also has many different kinds of chocolate.Aunt Bea Goes Bonkers promotes its favorite son. Along Main Street in Mount Airy. warm smile and pillowy soft frame. Fortunately. when denied her nostalgic nourishment. I had a childlike urge to climb into her lap. Chocolate is to women what beer is to men. So I completely understood when an Aunt Bea look-alike walked into Opie’s Candy Store while I was there one day and. Chocolate is life. you can visit Snappy Lunch and eat the same famous pork chop sandwich that Andy ate as a boy. For a moment. Squirrel Nut Zippers and Big Hunk candy bars. a particular form of chocolate is wrapped up in our minds with a special memory. This is a good thing for children. chocolate sings. I have many of my own special memories bound up in chocolate. Chocolate is nature’s Midol. She really did look like Andy’s aunt—upswept hair. you can get a trim and shave (assuming you are a man or a very hairy woman) in the real Floyd’s Barber Shop. And often. Opie’s Candy Store is a walk down memory lane that offers old-time goodies some of you more seasoned citizens loved when you were kids—things like Mary Janes. Chocolate single-handedly sustains the vital control-top panty industry. a relative newcomer to the street. had a chocolate-triggered meltdown. I came to my senses before I ended up in the Mayberry jail guarded by Barney. Right beside Floyd’s is Opie’s Candy Store. While money talks. I am quite fond of the cocoa bean. where the real Andy got his hair cut before he moved to Hollywood and had to pay a lot more for it. Next door.
“I had them years ago when I was here with my children” she told him. The real Aunt Bea would have done no less. The other customers clutched their candy closer. she said it yet again. but the other female customers gently guided our suffering sister out the door. Aunt Bea began to tremble and. 264 . then approached the clerk and asked where to ﬁnd the chocolatecovered caramels. “And I’m in menopause!” The clerk looked bewildered. And again. “I’ve never forgotten how good they tasted. Her face took on a crazed. kindly informed her the store was temporarily out of that item. When he returned. She ordered the clerk to check in the back for more caramels. Then she said it again. beaming. “I came speciﬁcally from Florida for Opie’s chocolate-covered caramels!” she said loudly. empty-handed. shockingly. “I came speciﬁcally from Florida for them!” she told everyone in the room. to sweat profusely. Then she added the kicker. distinctly non-Aunt Beaish look. a young man apparently unaware of the dangers of depriving a woman of her desired form of chocolate. giving her an understanding pat on the arm.” The clerk. her voice forlorn.Days of Derangement Aunt Bea’s clone looked around the store several times.
Aunt Bea Goes Bonkers 265 .
Franklin actually reminded his fellow signers that the cantankerous King George III would not be happy with their declaration. It was a moving experience. “Give me good potato salad or give me death!” OK. most assuredly. like the fact that the youngest signer of the Declaration of Independence was 26 and the oldest—acclaimed kite-ﬂyer Ben Franklin—was 70. we shall all hang separately. 266 . We had an enthusiastic National Park Service guide who gave us all the salient historical details and then threw in some interesting tidbits. “We must all hang together. always throwing a wet blanket on the festivities.” Good old Ben.Turbulence I had the honor of being in Philadelphia at Independence Hall one July Fourth not too long ago. The guide also reminded us of Franklin’s stirring comment as he added his signature and anticipated all the Fourth of July barbecues to come. I made that last part up.” Franklin famously said “or.
Sure enough. which he ignored just like my own children always did. “Turbulence!” he yelled happily. Our horse was 267 . making everyone jump in their seats. everyone was aware of this child because he was loud and boisterous. After several more outbursts. we took a horse-drawn carriage ride around historic Philadelphia. but a few minutes later. pointing excitedly at the airplanes. but as she walked away. I was tired that day and feeling about as cranky as the king. Standing in the hallowed room where that document and the United States Constitution were signed. His tired-looking mother tried to shush him. He was about eight years old and dressed in patriotic garb. the ﬂight attendant came by and admonished him. he made his own little declaration of independence. waving his ﬂag and shouting every sentence. Before we even boarded the ﬂight. he exploded. shortly into the ﬂight. I kept thinking about a boy who’d been on our ﬂight into Philadelphia the day before. He grinned appealingly at her and nodded as if he would comply. He carried a small American ﬂag and wore a plastic derby hat festooned with stars and stripes. he did it again.Turbulence Our guide described the turmoil swirling around Philadelphia in July of 1776 as the Continental Congress debated the Declaration. “Turbulence!” I turned around and gave him my most severe maternal look. “Turbulence!” After touring Independence Hall. so I was royally perturbed when this young ﬁrecracker sat directly behind me on the plane.
Anyway. As we ended our ride and got out of the carriage. Spot had a bag placed strategically below his business end. who should arrive for the next ride but the brash boy from the ﬂight. “Turbulence!” Franklin would probably have loved that kid. Naturally. I suppose that’s why the founding fathers wore those high boots and why the founding mothers insisted the boots be removed before entering the founding houses. 268 .Days of Derangement named Spot. still wearing his hat and waving the ﬂag. and our driver was Ben. there was only one thing to say as we passed him. who even in old age was apparently quite a ﬁrecracker himself. Ben the driver regaled us with the exploits of Ben Franklin. and Ben pointed out this innovation was not in use in Revolutionary times.
If only they’d learn to drive correctly and speak the language properly. Spelling is handled haphazardly. as one member or another of my family did repeatedly. It calls potato chips crisps and French fries chips. It labels what is clearly a cookie as a biscuit and what is brazenly a biscuit as a scone. This is their way of paying America back for that little matter of a tea-party tantrum. the Queen’s loyal subjects will then do their best to make you loopy with their lingo.Hail Britannia I ’m a big fan of the English. Despite having been native English speakers for quite some time. They are highly civilized. Every time one of us Yanks looks the wrong way when crossing a road over there and steps into oncoming trafﬁc. and I’m sorry to report that her inhabitants still insist on driving on the left side of the road. the Brits have a chance to pick off yet another descendent of those ill-mannered colonists. with the letter u added to words—like colour and honour—that have no 269 . they’d be a perfect people. If you manage to survive this drive-by assassination attempt. England has apparently failed to develop along appropriate linguistic lines. as well. My family went on a trip a few years ago to Merry Olde England. rich in culture and history.
the ubiquitous Brown Sauce. popularly known as a Beefeater. We heard exciting tales of monarchy and mayhem. Turns out. But I assured my crew that. 270 . We went to palaces and castles. We trembled with terror at the thousand-year-old Tower of London as we listened to stories of long-ago torture in the dungeons.Days of Derangement business with a u. Black Pudding is a sausage made by cooking pig’s blood with a ﬁller until it is thick enough to congeal when cooled. kings (like a certain multi-wived Henry and the cranky. Then there is the bizarre nature of British food. Our mouths fell open with wonder as we checked out the crown jewels and marveled at the majesty. circular breakfast item deceptively named Black Pudding. the English are a lovely and lively bunch. as my children took to calling it. This was served with what is apparently used to ﬂavor all food in England. almost spoiled our appetite for exploring the Sceptre’d Isle. paintings and sculpture far older than our own country. The Pig’s Blood Affair. On our ﬁrst morning in London. museums and galleries. A colorfully dressed Yeoman Guard at the tower. It’s enough to keep an American on the other side of the pond. We gazed upon statues. we each bravely ate a dark. They were simply seeking more tasty cuisine. No wonder these poor people tried to colonize the world in earlier times. while re is used to spell words that everyone knows need an er. And an extra e is sprinkled into all sorts of words that would be far better off without it. And so we set out to savor the civilization that produced both Shakespeare and the Spice Girls. colony-losing George III) with too much power and ravens who even today rule the roost on the Tower grounds. of queens who lost their heads. in spite of a few foibles.
after all. very strong beer in pubs with names that start with Ye. the pub. The English spend a great deal of time drinking very dark. wasn’t built in a day. Rome. We also paid a call to that most iconic of English institutions. You’ve got to love the British. If she could only give up the Black Pudding.Hail Britannia cheerfully reminded the uncouth Americans in the crowd that if we’d simply paid our taxes. all the culture and history at which we were agog could still be ours. 271 . And Britannia may yet rule the waves. But maybe we just need to give them some more time. This explains their legendary jolliness and also explains why they haven’t gotten around to correcting their driving or spelling systems.
was deﬁnitely not headed to her grandmother’s house. I thought. But when I went costume shopping with my family. And Goldilocks. sporting thigh-highs. with a few adult modiﬁcations. I searched through dozens of costumes. with her plunging neckline and platform 272 . Little Red Riding Hood. and the princesses are parading more than their tiaras. and a deviant housewife ensemble that seemed ill-suited for mopping ﬂoors. There were naughty nurses with uniforms so low-cut they could induce heart failure. Or maybe I’d reprise my polyester princess phase.The Scariest Costume O ne year when my kids were still young enough to care. that I’d dress up for Halloween. I promised them. after much begging on their part. Maybe. I found that the hags have turned to hoochies. The witches were wearing very little. I’d continue my longtime childhood role of witch—one of those wonderfully hideous hags with a pointy black hat and hooked plastic nose complete with wart. all of them offering a shrink-wrapped style that ranged from sexy to slutty to skanky.
I could cover myself with foil marked as leftovers. But not salacious.The Scariest Costume heels. I realized that. I am 273 . In the end. the kind of eye candy that would spark my gang’s gratitude. Every morning. There’d be a Full-time Football button and a Constant Cartoons knob. It was all more strip club than storybook. Or I could pose as a giant red spoon with Betty Crocker scrawled across my forehead. in a way. For the briefest of moments. or perhaps soothing and sweet. Or maybe I could stick some toy tires on my arms and legs and masquerade as a minivan. looked ready to sleep in everyone’s bed. And. I pondered my predicament. But my vixen vanished when I saw the looks of horror on the faces of my children. with pieces of dirty clothing dangling from clothespins. I could get creative with the cardboard and felt and appeal to the stomach by appearing as a plate of nachos or a tray of chocolate chip cookies. actually mulled over the suggestion on the package of one costume that I channel my inner vixen. I could dress up as one of the most important items in our house—the remote control—with custom buttons designed to appeal to each member of my family. or maybe even slightly scary. Mom in a minidress was too monstrous an idea. I considered buying one of these outﬁts. I could include one they’d ﬁnd highly useful on occasion—Mute Mom. for laughs. I could remind them of all that I do. My Halloween attire would have to be homemade. I wear a disguise every day. something funny and familiar. Or. along with one labeled Law and Order 24/7. So. still in need of a disguise. I could cut a circle out of a laundry basket and insert it over my body. I went with something very simple.
Days of Derangement transformed from a bleary-eyed creature straight out of Night of the Living Dead into something resembling an attractive human being. 274 . I get dressed up in slimming garb designed to trick people into thinking I’m a treat. I paint my face. and I ﬁx my hair. So I decided to skip that step and stroll the streets as myself. And my kids thought that was the scariest costume of all.
And like me. 275 . but that’s what you hear because you are like me.Costumes for the Craft-Challenged O ne of the good things about watching your children grow into teenagers who are too old to trick or treat is that you no longer have a panic attack when you hear someone on one of those morning television shows say something like this: “Halloween is coming! It’s time for all you good parents to make fun and creative costumes for your kids. Otherwise. you have a deep. a craft-impaired individual who was not told before becoming a parent that part of the job entailed coming up with homemade Halloween costumes. your children will spend years in expensive therapy that you’ll have to pay for!” Maybe the announcer doesn’t say exactly those words. festering resentment of those Martha Stewart clones who’ve had the gall to get fruitful and multiply and are even now hunched over their dining room tables creating costumes for their children that require more time and effort than you spent planning your wedding.
Buy the costume and hustle on out of the mall. and all the Martha clones will want to be your friend. you costume-defective parent. For little girls you’ll have a selection of highly realistic occupational costumes (my personal favorite: the ‘Major Trouble’ military outﬁt complete with camouﬂage short skirt and heels) or some version of Barbie or the perennial favorite princess. And don’t think you can just throw together some half-baked costume like a bed sheet with a couple of poorly aligned eye holes. So get yourself down to the mall and buy your child a fun and creative costume made in a factory in China. For little boys. but it’s deﬁnitely there. Then you’ll be a hero to your child. No. and you’re going to have to do better than that. the way your parents did. you may choose some version of a licensed character that will not only delight your son but further enrich whatever multinational corporation owns the rights to that character. But no one will feel sorry for you.Days of Derangement This resentment is so deep that it’s in one of those places that people don’t talk about at parties. my friend. and when you hear those words on television. Parenting has become a competitive sport (soon to be an event in the Olympics). But do not think that you’re done. You’ve got to take your store-bought outﬁt to a seamstress who can personalize it so much that everyone will think that you actually made it yourself. You’ll have lots of choices. 276 . streamers of this resentment shoot up and cause considerable heartburn. so stop whining about your heartburn and focus on the task at hand.
I’m glad I could help. 277 . which will no longer cause you heartburn because everyone will consider you to be cool and crafty.Costumes for the Craft-Challenged Then you’ll be invited to those parties where people don’t talk about your festering resentments. There’s no need to thank me for this valuable advice.
goes my fantasy.Of Mice and Martha I invented ‘It’s a good thing’ before you were even born. We’ll be giddy with gratitude at Thanksgiving. Gone will be the snickers brought on by past disasters. no crush of time bearing down on us like a frenetic freight train. We’ll gather before a table tastefully turned out and groaning with good food. my mother-in-law will eat crow along with the succulent turkey I place on her plate. —Martha Stewart E very year at the beginning of November. saturated with a spirit of thankfulness and goodwill. 278 . I ﬁnd myself vowing. I harvest a new crop of hope that’s been watered by an abundance of denial. The cranberries will be expertly jelled. and the pies mighty with meringue. There will be no chaos this year. the green beans and sweet potatoes dressed up for the occasion. I envision a holiday season infused with peace. and I will bask in the awe accorded domestic doyennes such as Martha and me. Order will prevail in my world of good things and gracious living. Martha Stewart will be proud of me.
My joyfully jingle-belling children will make delightful decorations. By December. My mistakes will be of the classic variety: the cranberries will quiver. I’ll be walking on the dark side. If tradition holds. I’ll turn to Martha for help. and the beans and potatoes lie limp. however. Loved ones will gather near. It will truly be the most wonderful time of the year. She will perch on my shoulder. Some people excel at execution. My in-laws will leave with empty stomachs and wagging tongues. the rolls run amok with assistance from my brawling brats. My hopeful harvest will soon begin to wither. Failure will not be an option. There’ll be cookie baking and eggnog making. when pierced. are dreamers. there’ll be parties for hosting in my immaculately clean house. the meringue meander. 279 . marshmallows for toasting and chestnuts for roasting. whispering in my ear. others. those for whom the best-laid plans of mice and Martha almost always go awry.Of Mice and Martha At Christmas time. but I prefer to think of it as eternal optimism. will spurt ice-cold juices from the depths of his still-frozen interior. The piecrusts will pucker. The dogs will manage to knock over the Christmas tree almost every day. under the heat of seasonal expectations. consulting her books for guidance. The gifts I have purchased will be hidden away so well that they are forgotten. like me. And old Tom Turkey. a stylishly dressed angel of ambiance. I’ll burn the cookies and scald the eggnog. Psychiatrists have another term for such delusions. and hearts will radiate good cheer and glad tidings. Thanksgiving Day will dawn as gray and gelatinous as my gravy.
Martha. somewhere in the midst of all the un-Martha-like mayhem. Peace and calm will give way to panic.” they’d whisper.Days of Derangement and I will hurry out to buy more. now dressed in black—a Darth Vader of domesticity—will prod and nag and threaten until I am drowning in a sea of self-reproach. I’ll remember young and eager ﬁngers that used to tickle me awake. And still. I will crumple under her pressure like ill-conceived origami. My Christmas spirit will spring a leak. And that’s a good thing. and old Ebenezer Scrooge won’t seem like such a bad guy. I will suddenly have a much better understanding of the Grinch. promising her the world. “Mom. nothing else mattered. and breathless voices full of wonder from children who didn’t care that I wasn’t the queen of homemaking. 280 . she’ll want more. “it’s Christmas!” And suddenly. wondering how I can be so disgustingly disorganized. on Christmas Day. Yet.
to drink in the clear. hands and feet ﬂying. We salivated at the smell as we offered up our thanks. we gathered before a table groaning with good food. The women scurried about preparing the meal. The children sprinted around outside. And 281 . cold air and give thanks for all our blessings.Plunging into Thanksgiving W hat do you get when you take a dozen family members of varying ages and degrees of regularity. they stood around waiting to begin the traditional male holiday jobs of eating and sleeping. noses running. put them in the woods in a cabin with one low-ﬂow toilet and then stuff them to the gills with Thanksgiving bounty? You get. We were giddy with gratitude. We headed to the woods like modern-day Pilgrims. Everything began beautifully. a calamitously clogged commode and enough tension to earn a spot on the Jerry Springer Show. This is what happened to my family one Thanksgiving. The men did what men do on such occasions. When all was ready. to feast and frolic. of course. delirious with the joy of being out of school and unsupervised.
are far too well-acquainted with the plunger.5 gallons that swirled through our childhoods. And when we were bloated like beached whales. headed up the attack. I mean the sea lion’s scramble. every corpuscle groaning from the gluttony. as the patriarch. we gathered soberly around the overworked toilet. “The potty’s exploding!” There are few things less welcome at such a time than the words potty and exploding used in the same sentence. As it often does. and overworked digestive systems begin the Herculean task of breaking down all that food. He pumped vigorously with the plunger. The trouble began in the magic hour when men assume their positions on the couch to catch the kickoffs. History will record the ‘90s as the decade of the bum rap. and bladders threatened to burst.Days of Derangement then we ate. Grandpa. 282 . then gave a strong pull that sent him ﬂying across the room and left the kids helpless with laughter. when Congress mandated that toilets should ﬂush with a measly 1. we ate some more. deprived of the 3. We scrambled toward the bathroom to assess the situation. The men began the task of conquering the cranky commode. When we eventually arrived. Today’s children. The evidence of its rebellion was plainly visible and set off a round of groans and gags in the adults that made the kids giggle. And ate. By scrambled. Tempers rose. sloshing way every creature dragging more than a ton would scramble. the rolling.6 gallons of water. small voice. The youngest child emerged from the bathroom shouting excitedly. the terrible news came from a single.
where the call of nature got a grateful reply. the effort was ﬂush with failure. Legs and expressions were crossed. The latrine gurgled and grunted. watching all their hard work laid waste. did what moms do best.Plunging into Thanksgiving Each football-deprived man then took his turn as a toilet tamer. sadly. Sweating and muttering curses. and in-laws were made to feel like outsiders. and we headed for the nearest service station. Brooking no dissent. resurfaced as brother betrayed brother. The children eagerly took part in our vicious ﬁnger pointing designed to identify the guilty clogger. she ordered everyone into their vehicles. but. The family was falling apart. The men began to bicker over possession of the plunger. slights delivered years ago. daughters cast aspersions on mothers. each wielded it like a samurai sword as he took his turn in battle. but would not back down. Old insults and resentments. Accusations of tissue overuse were hurled. That’s when Grandma stepped in. 283 . The women. and sanitary practices questioned. we attempted to assign blame. and eyeballs appeared to be ﬂoating.
which—though seemingly as full of holes as Swiss cheese these days—is still intact enough for me to remember not to end my sentences with a preposition. My education relied heavily on old-fashioned. This skill makes it impossible for me to decipher my kids’ text messages. This grammatical giftedness is a result of my education. I like to consider the things for which I am thankful. I am also most thankful for ﬂexible. which allows me to do my Black Friday shopping online while I sip a steaming cup of coffee and enjoy wearing my warm and roomy pajamas. I am very thankful for the Internet. Speaking of loose and comfy PJs. another thing for which I am truly thankful. low-tech items called books. however. Elastic hides 284 . I am not immune. and for this I am again most thankful. to the beneﬁts of technology. which taught me a quaint skill called spelling.Things For Which I Am Thank ful A round Thanksgiving. I am thankful for my memory. forgiving elastic like the kind that seems to increasingly be found in the waistbands of my clothes.
luscious sauce that coats my taste buds and then goes on to coat my hips. a rich. I should sift it with thankfulness the same way my grandma used to strain her gravy. a fact for which I am deeply thankful as it means I won’t have to clean my house. It doesn’t get much better than that. Speaking of a multitude of ﬂaws. that warm.Things For Which I Am Thank ful a multitude of ﬂaws and is surely one of man’s greatest inventions. Perhaps then my life wouldn’t be as strained as this goofy metaphor I’m beating into the ground here. 285 . during the holidays. while I am deﬁnitely not appreciative of cellulite. those people will be going to her house instead of mine. In particular. it turns into a lumpy. Gravy is actually a symbol for my life. This is a much more profound statement than you realize. And every Thanksgiving. ﬂavorful stream of goodness. I am certainly thankful for the surface glories of good gravy. I am grateful for gravy. gelatinous mess in desperate need of a sanity strainer. I am thankful for those tasty substances that cause it. Perhaps when my life gets lumpy. Sometimes my life ﬂows along smoothly. who is a gravy grand master. speaking of gravy. I am thankful for my mother. Just about the only thing I’ll have to do is show up wearing my elastic pants. But I’ve come to realize lately that gravy is much more than that. Anyway. Other times. It doesn’t get the gratitude that it deserves. Perhaps I’ve said “perhaps” once too often. Perhaps you’re wondering what on earth I’m talking about. Perhaps you haven’t been paying attention. People come from miles around to sample my mother’s gravy.
there arose such a clatter. When out near my lawn. So sweet of her to do that… ‘Tis a few weeks ‘til Christmas and all through my house. 286 . she just had to call to check on his welfare. The dog chewed the stockings I left in her reach. I’m too seasonally stressed for even a short winter’s nap. I’m hoping St. I tripped over last year’s toys to see what was the matter. Not a gift has been bought. And me in my stained sweatpants. Nick will drop her off on some beach. with my hair in a cap.‘Tis a Few Weeks ‘Til Christmas I wrote this very silly poem after Funny Man had a little mishap trying to satisfy my mania for keeping up with the neighbors in Christmas decorations. My children nestle each night. snug in their beds While dozens of toy commercials dance in their heads. and I’m feeling like a louse. After the poem appeared in the hometown newspaper of one of Funny Man’s old girlfriends.
my children they came. panic mounting to the sky. my husband he ﬂew To the housetop with more lights. When they rush to the stores. and a bad attitude. Sliding off the roof. ‘til I felt very wary. 287 . more lights on the walls! We must impress the neighbors—now dash away all! As dry leaves that before the manic shoppers’ eyes ﬂy. I fell with a crash. But a bundle of lights he still held on his back And he looked ready to kill when he gave me that sack. His eyes. I knew in a moment our Yuletide décor needed a kick. Tore a hole in those sweatpants. from his head to his foot. Put up by my neighbor. awkward hoof. Slightly more rapid than turtles. So the next day. I heard on the roof The prancing and pawing of his big. how they glared at me. As I rushed outside and was turning around. at my bidding. in a manner so lively and quick. And then. my husband came with a bound. He was dressed in his grubbies. The moon on the tops of inﬂatable decorations below. When what to my weary eyes should appear. Now his clothes were tarnished with leaves and a root. When I whistled and shouted and called them by name.‘Tis a Few Weeks ‘Til Christmas Down hard on the ﬂoor. But a miniature plastic sleigh with eight phony reindeer. on my leg was a gash. Now Boy and Girl! Now Bad Dancer and Little Vixen! On Retailers’ Dreams! On Merchandisers’ Minions! Put more lights on the porch. too. in a twinkling. Gave a luster of true tackiness to my fake falling snow.
He spoke not a word. It shook when he moaned like a bowl full of jelly. I started to speak. He had a mad face and his little round belly. But I didn’t dare laugh at him then.Days of Derangement His cheeks. The frown on his face and the twist of his head Soon gave me to know I had something to dread. But I heard them exclaim as they dove out of sight. to the dog gave a whistle And the children scattered. he turned with a jerk. he’d given up on this work. if I valued myself. up to our bedroom he rose.” 288 . usually a jolly old elf. but he pointed his ﬁnger at my nose And shaking his head. His not-so-droll mouth told me his anger I did sow And I feared that his temper. “Poor Dad! He’s not going to have a good night. they were burning as red as a cherry. A stray piece of grass he picked out of his teeth. He fell into bed. like the down of a thistle. He brushed off the leaves circling his head like a wreath. With a hand on his sore back. He’s a bit chubby and plump. it surely would blow.
One child typically needs a little lifting up. You would think. But alas.All I Want for Christmas Is Me D ear Robustly Round Man in the Unﬂattering Outﬁt (formally known as Mr. Claus): All I want for Christmas is more of me. judging by the way I tip the scales lately. I need four or ﬁve clones. Santa. My body begs to be exercised. but it should beg to be exercised). You see. During the holiday season. and the other dog needs to come in. This is not as egotistical as it sounds. I need a clone. and the other child a little 289 . even the more-than-ample middle-age version of me can’t quite seem to ﬁll the bill. The laundry cries out to be laundered. (OK. Actually. that there would be plenty of me to go around. I need to write out Christmas cards and bake cookies and do my holiday shopping. I need to clean my house. One dog usually needs to go out. That way. I can successfully be in all the different places doing all the different things I’m expected to be doing all at the same time. that part is not true. I need to go to work.
and I am often missing a shoe. So next Christmas. if you would. That really would make it the most wonderful time of the year. My clones could cook and clean. I don’t think it’s too much to ask. They could smooth things over with my mother. cookie-baking and eggnogmaking. They could wash the clothes. Sweet Saint Nick. But don’t let me catch one of my clones kissing you under the tree. And my Mister Coffee gives up the ghost and leaves me uncaffeinated and in need of a strait jacket. The phone is always ringing. is more of me. and ﬁnally give my mother-in-law a well-deserved piece of my mind.Days of Derangement dressing down. What I need. 290 . you right jolly old elf. I don’t need another set of frilly pajamas or a soft new sweater. My husband can’t ﬁnd any clean socks (due to that crying laundry). Don’t bring me bon-bons or baubles. My car sometimes won’t start. with plenty of time for joyful jingle-belling. They would leave me free to enjoy the holidays. I’ll have to tell Mrs. I might even ﬁnd time for marshmallow toasting and chestnut roasting. And that is only one day. as well as go to work and hit the gym (better them than me). I sure don’t need another household appliance. The plants are usually wilting. answer the phone and water the plants. Santa. So. So get right on that. forget the fruitcake. My mother is sometimes mad at me. My mother-in-law is always mad at me. Claus. bathe the dogs. leave me a few clones on Christmas morning.
Naturally. we needed drinks to wash down all that “free” food. as the boat we came in on. So we must have been on a mission from God. in tonnage. Then we poured more money into the cruise line coffers 291 . The human psyche is a funny thing. We ate and we ate. Fortunately. It must have been divine compulsion that drove my family and a couple thousand of our closest friends to set sail one year on an after-Christmas cruise in the Caribbean. It’s not that we wanted to sail around the sea for a few days eating everything in sight. there were always smiling attendants nearby to bring us round after round of beverages that were deﬁnitely not free. And when we were bloated and seemingly unable to cram in one more bite. We certainly didn’t choose to arrive home after our gluttonous voyage weighing about the same. we fell to eating as if we were famine victims. we ate some more. Despite having inhaled enough calories during the holidays to keep Paris Hilton alive into the next millennium.Cruise Control I f the Good Lord had wanted us to eat sensibly right after the holidays. when presented with limitless amounts of food on board ship. He wouldn’t have invented the cruise ship.
That’s when the cruise director began to look for the “lucky” woman who would be required to select the best bushy chest. 292 . careful not to fall overboard lest we be mistaken for well-fed sea lions. many of which are accompanied by bald heads and very round bellies. er. every hair bristling with excitement. the ship’s staff roused us for a hairy chest contest.Days of Derangement by visiting the casino and the onboard shopping mall. Luck was certainly not a lady to me that day. I “won” the right to judge the shaggy strivers before me. and then my family and I headed back to the buffet. not a makeover. we stuffed our bodies into bathing suits and rolled on to the deck. not even at bingo. wriggling and jiggling his chest and various other body parts for my enjoyment. we’d worked up enough of an appetite to devour platefuls of food at the midnight buffet. After a few hours. The next day. An astonishing number of these. after a hearty breakfast. Each man was encouraged to strut his stuff. a dashing and slender man who gazed upon us the way I imagine Captain Ahab must have looked at his prey. It was almost enough to ruin my appetite. hunks took the stage for the contest. I never win anything—not the lottery. the great white whale in Moby Dick. But. we donned formal wear—leaving the zippers open—and went to meet the captain. you are bound to discover that quite a few of these friends are sporting furry chests. But I managed to select a winner. When you are cruising with thousands of your closest friends. just when we were beginning to feel hunger pangs. That night. and by that time. sure enough. where we sunned our globular ﬂesh.
293 . surprise—we sat down to a sumptuous dinner and shortly thereafter. Once we got home. who. for some reason. Funny Man foolishly took to calling me “Mom” for the rest of the cruise. I needed a larger portion of the bed. speaking between clenched teeth and glaring at my highly amused husband. he got to sleep on the couch. When we visited the ship’s portrait gallery the next day to order copies. we had pictures taken to commemorate our nautical adventure.” Each time. the young man who waited on us referred more than once to the picture of “you and your son. not only because I was mad at him but because.Cruise Control Then—surprise. I must point out. I corrected him. is six months OLDER than I am.
Surprisingly. decide to translate the goofy New Year’s resolutions of my two dogs. So without further ado. here are the Papandrew Pups’ Rover Resolutions. —George Carlin M ark Twain once suggested that the second week of January is a good time to begin paving hell with all those “humbug” resolutions we make on New Year’s Day. I resolved to be realistic. And he was right. if limited.Rover Resolutions Life is a series of dogs. thinkers (with an apparent appetite for alliteration). So one January. and I didn’t make any resolutions. These resolutions stay the same year after year. I did. as my dogs are still trying to achieve them: 294 . they are fairly eloquent. buoyed by research that shows that onethird of these well-meaning intentions don’t even last a month. however. I wasn’t going to be out there on the paving crew with the rest of you. Having lived with them for quite some time. I know just how they think.
leaving the humans to look at us as if we’re stupid. No longer will we openly 295 . the neighborhood cat who prances spitefully on our front porch right before our eyes. Better to stick to the malodorous males. We will win the war of the noses.Rover Resolutions 1. We will learn to imitate the subtlety of our foe. We will emulate the enemy. We will never cease and desist. We’ll devise a way to stick our snouts into areas requiring snifﬁng without being swatted. and he doesn’t appear at all upset if we smell interesting areas on his body. but we’ll try to remember not to be caught with our heads in The Trash when the often hysterical human female known as Mom enters the room. He doesn’t seem to mind if we get into The Trash. We will not attempt to smell the private parts of the crotchety human named Grandma. This includes the canine Holy Grail. and. we’ll do our trash trolling in the presence of the wonderfully clueless biped called Funny Boy. that delectable repository of delight the humans call The Trash. We will become more sophisticated combatants in the war of the noses. The repercussions just aren’t worth it. Instead. due to excessive use of a nasty people product apparently called soap. Grandma’s bouquet is very boring. 2. So we will borrow a page from the kitty playbook and cover our tracks so we don’t get caught. the clever cat seems to vanish into thin air. When we justiﬁably launch a blistering volley of barking designed to alert our family to this brazen intrusion.
296 . though. This is a perfectly normal act that is very effective in scratching annoying anal itches. best of all. Maybe that should be one of his New Year’s resolutions. All bets are off. a fragrant splotch of road kill. We’ll let him know. if we get a whiff of another dog. a cat or. We will take pity on the inferior joints of the somewhat heavy human known as Dad and go easy on him during our walks. But when Mom sees us doing this. a squirrel. she howls like our wolf ancestors and kicks us out of the house for unreasonable periods of time. We will think like a cat and be more subtle. And ﬁnally: 3.Days of Derangement drag our backsides across the carpet. Then we will be forced to wrench Dad’s arm out of its socket and twist his knees ’til they tremble as we lunge against our leashes in our attempt to investigate. We will do a better job of walking the man. This would not be necessary if our human was in better shape and could run with us.
and ends up on the ﬂoor staring at a full-page ad that mentions Valentine’s Day in a font large enough to be seen by the astronauts on the space station. It’s taken a mere 20 years of this type of subtle training for my sweetheart to remember to pick up something special like a kitchen item we already have or an exquisitely wrapped 297 . There’s a reason Cupid’s commemoration comes so soon after the Super Bowl. a light will begin to dawn. but it takes real lovers to be silly. My husband. women have to begin the arduous process of focusing their men’s attention on something far more important: Valentine’s Day. As he steps out. is no exception. It’s an obvious test of the depth of men’s romantic tendencies. sadly. He will not become aware that it’s time to pay homage to the holiday of the heart until he begins slipping on newspapers I place in front of the shower. it’s a test they fail more often than a Cosmo magazine relationship quiz. —Rose Franken E very year when football season is ﬁnally over. dripping wet.Holiday of the Heart Anyone can be passionate. and. God love him.
nothing gets a wife in the mood for love more than struggling to ﬁt into anything marked XL. Big. big mistake. But the worst was a pair of silk pajamas—size XL—that Funny Man brought back from a business trip to China. I received a bottle of stretchmark-treating cocoa butter clearly purchased last minute at the nearest 24-hour drugstore. consider yourself lucky) and created a lovely lamp that added a certain je ne 298 . however. always been so fortunate. Designed for the smaller Asian woman. I can tell you. I haven’t. One year. I’ve also received my share of ego-shattering lingerie.Days of Derangement collection of hotel toiletries. he’d written: Roses are red Violets are blue You want my body I know you do. Under his name. just after Funny Girl was born. Another time. Funny Man has also tried to be sweet with scent. Funny Man had tenderly tried his hand at poetry. This was accompanied by a box of Christmas candy with a 75 percent-off sticker and a card (sans envelope) featuring two kissing chimps. in a bid to impress me with his thoughtfulness. In an attempt to personalize the card. little bits of ﬂuff that would barely ﬁt the anorexic hips of a Victoria’s Secret model. he brought home a cylinder head from a World War II-era airplane (if you don’t know what this looks like. he gave me two sample-size bottles of the same perfume worn by his mother for the past ﬁve decades. One year. those damned PJs wouldn’t go past my knees.
I’m hoping that by our 30th or possibly 40th anniversary. In the meantime. or maybe the keys to a new Mercedes.Holiday of the Heart sais quoi to our living room décor. It took me weeks to arrange an accident that sent this romantic piece of wreckage back to the junkyard. my man will have progressed to the point where he’ll ﬁll a vase with a single rose and a diamond necklace. I’ll try not to lose heart. 299 .
many of them are in the proverbial dog house. they’ve just had to endure another Valentine’s Day. Take my son.Survivor for Sweethearts A round the end of February. he’d feel the holiday of the heart bearing down on him like a freight train. I once labeled a guy I was dating (who happened to be named Joe) “about as emotional as a park bench” when he sheepishly handed me a clip-on teddy bear with the price tag still on it after I’d given him a beautifully wrapped cashmere sweater. I start to feel sorry for men. We women can be particularly hard on our men at this time of year. those things just don’t bother me anymore. As a result. When he was in high school. with a girlfriend. And to add insult to injury.) 300 . wherever you are. I want that sweater back. The poor creatures are still mourning the end of football season. (Joe. I’m mellower in these matters now. There are probably no couples who sail through every Valentine’s Day with their relationship unscathed. Really. for example.
“I hate Valentine’s Day!” he groaned. on the other hand.Survivor for Sweethearts So my heart hurt a little as I watched my boy trying to navigate the treacherous rapids of romance. it’s just expected. Kind of like a Survivor for Sweethearts reality show. Cupid must be pretty smart. the little ﬂying man with the bow and arrow manages to make fully half of our species quiver with fear. But just like that hopeless romantic Sigmund Freud. however. quiver. “You don’t get credit for going to a nice restaurant or buying jewelry. he really wanted (I think) to make his lady happy. Just before V-Day one year. And if you do have a girl. In February. you’re miserable. not to mention broke. 301 . If you don’t have a girl. believe that what happens on Valentine’s Day will be an indication of how the rest of their relationship will play out for eternity. Like most males. he didn’t have a clue. you’re miserable. 14 as a trial-by-ﬁre day during which they try to stay out of trouble while not forking over too much money. staring forlornly into his dog-eared wallet. At least that’s what a married (and male) friend of mine told me. (Get it—bow and arrow. Funny Boy often found himself asking the age-old question: What do women want? And like Freud.” he said. I found him sitting on his bed. “Every guy hates Valentine’s Day. the most a man who makes it through Valentine’s Day can hope for is a wash. “Like paying your mortgage or showing up for work. Unlike the million-dollar winner on the real Survivor show. even though he apparently has never been able to get out of diapers. Cupid is so stupid!” Actually.” Many women.) That’s because men tend to see Feb.
Freud could do that. We really can’t expect them to be able to read our minds. 302 . Not even the brilliant Dr. I suggest that we cut them some slack and allow them to come out of their canine quarters. ladies.Days of Derangement That’s a lot of pressure we’re putting on our men.
Midyear Resolutions W hen the ﬁrst half of the year has been safely swept into the dustbin of history. glamorous goals made when the year was young. and it simply has to go. Speaking of love handles. after all. It is. and we were possibly inﬂuenced by too much champagne. So I always start with that diabolical duo of duties— exercise and eating right—that each of us swears to embrace in January. And as we’ve all really wanted to do those things 303 . It is time to roll out more modest midyear resolutions. 1 pledge on most people’s lists. middle-aged adult with love handles. Once the lean and vigorous New Year’s baby has aged into a less lively. That’s the No. the thought that counts. overly optimistic infant aspirations need to be trimmed accordingly. the whole ridiculous weight-loss resolution absolutely must be on the midyear chopping block. it is time to also throw out our New Year’s resolutions—those giddy. Who are we kidding? Our midyear resolution will be to merely have the intention of exercising and eating right. our annual.
I will faithfully take a shower every day. Here. even when I have to then dash naked and wet through the house in search of a clean towel. Been there. I will faithfully (and frantically) throw 304 . resolving to begin actual exercise very soon. Then I will faithfully spill coffee on my list. when I wake up with drool running down my chin and realize I’m running out of time. faithfully writing out a to-do list each day as I watch exercise videos while enjoying coffee and donuts. We can ﬁt pretty much anything inside them. The nice thing about slimming down our resolution roster in the summer is that we can add to it things we’ve already accomplished.Days of Derangement for months. Next on our midyear list should be a resolution to ignore our previous New Year’s Resolutions. Check. Then. and that’s the only real reason to have resolutions in the ﬁrst place. I will faithfully not look in any mirrors as I’m doing this. Midyear declarations—like middle-aged muscles—tend to be a little loose and ﬂabby. lest I regret eating all those donuts. They were utterly unrealistic anyway. done that. we can check that one off our list right away. I will be a master of multitasking. for example. rendering it illegible and making it impossible for me to do anything on that list. are just some of the accomplishments I’ve been able to add to (and check off) my midyear lists: I will faithfully watch exercise videos each morning as I enjoy my coffee and donuts. I will faithfully doze off when I am supposed to be writing inspiring works of great literary merit. This gives us a deﬁnite sense of purpose.
my friend.Midyear Resolutions together a humor column about something stupid like midyear resolutions. it is easy to escape the tyranny of all those New Year’s resolutions that never give us a moment’s peace. can live a productive and satisfying life by simply resolving to do what you’re already doing. Just make sure you have clean towels in the house ﬁrst. 305 . You too. As you can see.
It wasn’t always this way. the I Love You Mommy mug. irreplaceable gifts made by eager young hands: decorated pencil holders. in which I’d sigh heavily and say to no one in particular. starting in April. I remember the ﬂowered. I’ve received my share of those wonderful. picture frames studded with colored macaroni. 306 . I began to notice when my kids turned into teenagers that it always seemed to take them (and the man who helped create them) by surprise. the laminated footprints of a ﬁve-year-old. “I just can’t believe Mother’s Day is coming up so soon. handmade apron I got one year and the artful collage created with canned food labels that left me guessing at the contents of my cans for weeks.Mother’s Day Manifesto E ven though Mother’s Day is ﬁxed on the calendar.” Yet my family would still get up on that special Sunday and express astonishment—while trying to avoid the ﬂames shooting out of my eyes—that the darn day had snuck up on them again. So I began to use a subtle system of reminders.
And with the coffee. used to blot a spilled spot of jelly. 307 . the list was knocked off. The coffee should be of the traditional strength and consistency. after determining that it was not edible. when childlike sweetness sours a bit and honoring your mother can seem about as cool as elevator music. Naturally. Not thick as Mississippi Mud like you made for me last year or the weaker-than-water stuff I got the year before. I had to speak loudly to drown out the catcalls and boos coming from the crowd. 1: I want coffee brought to me in bed the moment I awaken. Realizing a more direct approach was required. lots of it. my well of homemade wonders suddenly ran dry. So one year. but never. I took matters into my own hands. actually read.Mother’s Day Manifesto But with the approach of adolescence. Begin practicing now. and I’d end up holding a wilted bunch of hastilypurchased ﬂowers and eating a pancake dinner at IHOP. Even the dogs. but I bravely persisted: What I Want for Mother’s Day No. I gathered my loved ones around me—actually. Bring me chocolate in every form known to woman. I wrote a list cleverly titled What I Want for Mother’s Day and put it on the refrigerator for everyone to see. stepped on. I stood in front of the TV they were watching—and began to recite from my mom’s manifesto. as far as I could tell. I want chocolate. had ignored it. I do not want to have to get up and wake you all up to remind you that it is Mother’s Day. The holiday was conveniently forgotten until the last minute.
one that requires an advance reservation and has no child’s menu. No. no kicking a sibling under the table. 4: I’d like to be taken to dinner at a nice restaurant. There will be no Victoria ’s Secret Specials. 2: I want a temporary cessation of all maternal responsibilities.” and you have to mean it. You are required to look pleasant and appear to be having fun. I want to have control of the television. No ESPN will appear on the TV that day. Not once during this glorious bath will anyone interrupt me with “Hey Mom. During the meal. And each of you has to say “I love you. no chewing with your mouth open. 308 . THE TV. And not a single word about bodily processes. where’s the sugar?” or “Did I mention I have a science project due tomorrow?” No. No eating with your ﬁngers. And I will allow myself the luxury of using a brand-new bar of soap. I’d like us all to go through family pictures together and reminisce about old times. I’d like my offspring to conduct themselves admirably. no cooking. That 52-inch high-deﬁnition behemoth in the living room. No surreptitious text messages may be sent to friends. not even any stuck-zipper zapping. I plan to take a very hot bath and read a very long book. no toy repair. Not even one teenage eye may roll in disgust. No. No cleaning. 3: After my bath. I will be watching every movie Brad Pitt ever made. 5: After dinner. no breaking up knock-downdrag-out ﬁghts. Mom. I’ll probably also eat some more chocolate.Days of Derangement No. no toilet unclogging.
” 309 . several groans went up.Mother’s Day Manifesto At that. ain’t nobody happy.” I told my gang. something ungrammatical but undeniable. “If Mamma ain’t happy. I folded the paper and ﬁnished with something my Grandma used to say. “Just remember.
.. as well as in newspapers such as The Cleveland Plain Dealer. She’s won a Neal Award from American Business Media. To ﬁnd out more.com. Jackie is a member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. 311 . KINDLE AND NOOK FORMATS.IF YOU ENJOY THIS BOOK. The Tampa Tribune and The Oklahoman. About Jackie Papandrew J ackie’s humor writing has been featured in several books. visit FunnyJackie.to/XVNYdi DAYS OF DERANGEMENT IS AVAILABLE IN PAPERBACK. America’s Funniest Humor Press and the Florida Freelance Writers Association. VISIT FUNNYJACKIE. as well as awards from the Oklahoma Press Association. PLEASE POST A REVIEW AT AMAZON. including the Chicken Soup for the Soul series.COM FOR DETAILS.COM: http://amzn. Parenting Publications of America.
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