Playing House

Our grandson, Gabe, is back visiting us from Indiana, bringing with him all the “what the fresh hell?” that only a 7-year-old can deliver on a daily basis. Within a day of his arrival, our neighbor girls, Vera (8) and Amelia (9), were ringing the bell off the door.

“Hello, ladies.”
“Hi, Mr. Dave. Is Gabe here?”
“He is. How did you know?”
“We saw his mom’s car, so we knew he was back.”
“Ah, very clever. He’s in the basement. Go on down.”
“Okay.”

I hadn’t seen much of the girls this summer. They’ve been busy with “summer activities,” which is parent-code for “I can’t take 16 hours a day of your annoying crap for the next three months until school starts back.” I’m not sure what passes for summer activities these days, but when I was a kid there was only one summer activity: “go play outside!” Okay, we also had swimming lessons one year, but mostly it was “dammit, you kids go outside and play!” This was for our own protection as Mom was not averse to throwing something heavy or sharp at us after we had meticulously frayed the edges of her sanity in the two hours between our initial dragging out of bed and the MMA match in the kitchen over who was going to get the Frito Bandito pencil topper eraser that came in whatever sugar-based breakfast cereal we were eating that morning.

“Ooooooh, Frito Bandito eraser!”
“Hey! That’s mine!”
“No but it fell into my bowl so it’s mine.”
“No but you got the flying ‘copter from the Capn Crunch box! It’s my turn!”
“No but if it falls in your bowl, you get to keep it. That’s the rule.”
“No but the flying ‘copter fell into MY BOWL!”
“No but it was my turn.”
“Give it!”
“No!”
“Moooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooommmm!!!!!!!”
“Dammit, you kids go outside and play!”

Not that the the girls haven’t been over to visit. A few weeks back they helped me wash my car… and by “helped” I mean “sprayed each other (and me) with the hose while waiting for me to wash something they could rinse off.” Their dad later said he was glad someone else could benefit from his daughters’ unique brand of assistance for a change. I can understand why. I declined the girls’ offer to help me hang my new backyard gate, and settled for their helpful hints and supervisory skills. During the gate-hanging process, Vera cheerfully informed me she had been constipated for two days. Nothing passes through Vera’s brain that does immediately come out of her mouth.

The kids played down in the basement completely unsupervised for some four hours, broken only by the occasional intrusion upstairs for something to drink or a Band-Aid. After Vera and Amelia went home, Diana, Amanda, Gabe, and I decide to go downtown to the Old Market in Omaha. On the way, I wanted to find out how the kids got on together after not seeing each other in over a year.

“Well, Gabe, did you like seeing Vera and Amelia again?”
“Yes, we had fun.”
“What did y’all do?”
“Played house.”

Oooh. Played house. Yeah, in my day boys never admitted to playing house. Oh we did it – make no mistake – but it was normally only out of sheer boredom, or because we were hitting on that cute girl in kindergarten and would do pretty much anything she told us.

“Here. Eat this booger.”
“Okay.”

Of course, I would eventually ruin everything by pretending our pretend children were monsters or German storm troopers and then pretend to mow them down with my pretend machine gun.

“That’s not how you play house! You’re the daddy, you have to be nice to our babies!”
“They’re getting into the bunker! I have to save the platoon! Brrrrrrrrrrap!!!!”
“I’m not playing with you any more… here, eat this booger.”
“Okay.”

Gender roles having blurred somewhat since I was a kid, I was curious as to what constituted playing house among the current crop of young’uns.

“So, you played house. Were you the daddy?”
“Yes, and Vera was the mommy.”
“What about Amelia?”
“She was our daughter.”
“What did you do?”
“Well, Vera bossed me around a lot and Amelia was being a bad baby.”
“So it was just like a real family, then.”
“Yeah… until the bomb went off and the ninjas attacked. Then they didn’t want to play house anymore.”
“Were you hurt in the bomb blast?”
“No, because I was a vampire dad.”

Yeah, that’s my boy.

 

 

 

 

Buried Treasure

After I retired from the Air Force, Diana and I moved to a little farm house in Kentucky. I went back to college to get a degree in elementary education in the foolish belief I would be able to deal with 10-year-olds on a daily basis, while Diana began working for a local bank.

One day, a couple of years after we had settled in, Diana came home from work with one of those huge, canvas bank bags. She looked a little nervous.

“You stealing money from the bank again?”
“Not quite.”
“Then what’s in the bag?”
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
“Try me.”

Diana shot me a guilty grin and opened the bag to reveal the largest collection of what were known in the olden days as ‘marital aids’ I had ever seen. There were probably 20 or 30 motorized latex penises in that bag, along with a wide assortment of other items I couldn’t readily identify – all seemingly brand new and in their original packaging. Yes, Diana had literally brought home a bag of dicks.

“Holy hell, Darling! Something you want to tell me?”
“Okay, you remember Theresa from work?”
“Honey, I have no idea who you work with.”
“Well, she hosts these parties for women only.”
“What kind of parties?”
“Lingerie and… uhhh… intimate stuff.”
“Like Pampered Chef only with rubber dongs.”
“Exactly.”
“Did you ever go to any of them?”
“No. She invited me, but I didn’t think I’d feel comfortable sitting around with a bunch of strange women, drinking wine and looking at corsets and vibrators.”
“Sometimes that’s all I think about. Do they do demos? You need to score me an invite.”
“I don’t know what they do, but it’s too late – her husband got orders, and they’re moving. She’s getting out of the business, so she brought me what was left of her inventory.”
“Why did she do that?”
“I have no idea, but I didn’t want to hurt her feelings by refusing.”
“Yeah, that Southern politeness. You’re incapable of turning down a gift, even if it’s a bag of sex toys. Anyway, you do give off kind of a pervy vibe.”
“Really?”
“Yeah, it’s why I married you.”
“So what are we going to do with all of this stuff?”
“First we need to go through it and see what all is in there.”
“Okay, go lock the doors and close the blinds. I don’t want want any of my family walking in on us.”

We then spent the next hour looking at all the products, laughing, and trying to figure out the less obvious devices.

“What’s this?”
“I have no idea.”
“What’s this for?”
“Yeah… I’m stumped.”
“What are these?”
“No clue. Are there directions on the box?”
“I don’t see any.”
“Check inside, there may be a users manual.”
“Oh, hey, there is.”
“What’s it for?”
“Here, you read it.”
“Oh, that doesn’t sound pleasant… or hygienic.”
“No, it doesn’t. Hey, what’s this one?”
“I think that would be for me.”
“What does it do?”
“Not entirely sure, but I remember putting rubber bands around my fingers when I was a kid and they turned purple and went numb. I’m not putting anything on Mr. Happy unless I can be sure I can get off again without a trip to the ER.”
“I don’t blame you. What are these?”
“They look like steel ball bearings.”
“What are they for?”
“Don’t know, but I think I’ll save them. You can never have too many ball bearings.”

After going through the inventory, we were left in a state of confused amusement. Clearly, we were not as worldly as we thought we were. Diana sighed and smiled:

“We are such rubes. We really need to get out of the house more.”
“Obviously.”
“Well, what are we going to do with all of this crap?”
“Get rid of it… just as soon as I figure out how.”
“Just throw it in the Herby Curby.”
“Not a good idea.”
“Why not?”
“We can’t throw it away in the bank bag – someone will open that for sure looking for money. Our fingerprints are all over it. And we can’t risk throwing it away in a big trash bag.”
“Why?”
“Suppose the bag falls out and busts open while they’re picking up our trash. Most of these things have batteries already installed. Can you imagine 30-odd latex vibrators dancing all over Highway 117 like a swarm of ferrets?”
“People would talk.”
Yeah, they’d talk. And if any of them made it into the corn fields, we’d never catch them. They’d be halfway to Herndon or Gracey before their batteries ran out.”
“Okay, then take them in town and drop them in a dumpster behind a grocery store or something.”
“Too risky. As soon as I got them out of the trunk, a cop would pull up:”

‘Sir, what’s in the bag?’
‘Ummmm… a portable meth lab. You should take me in for questioning and have the bag destroyed immediately without opening it because of the toxic chemicals.’
‘Open the bag please, sir.’
‘Fine. Here.’
‘Uh huh.’
‘Am I getting a ticket?’
‘No, sir. Any man who has that much trouble satisfying his wife doesn’t need any extra grief from me.’
‘Thank you, officer.’
‘God bless you, son. Good luck.’

“So, how do we get rid of them?”
“I don’t know. I’m going to hide the bag up in the attic until I figure something out.”
“Okay, just don’t forget it’s up there.”
“I won’t. If we die together in a car crash, that’s not the sort of thing we want our kids to have to deal with while sorting through our stuff.”

‘Dang, Mom and Dad were stone freaks.’
‘Yeah, they were.’
‘What should we do with this?’
‘Craig’s List.’
‘Cool.’

I stowed the “big bag of angst” in the attic – and then completely forgot all about it.

A few years later, I had finished my education degree and began teaching 4th grade at a local elementary school. I lasted six whole months before realizing I had made a terrible career mistake. I loved the kids, but was completely unprepared for the myriad other tasks and stressors that educators have to deal with on a daily basis. I was too old a dog to learn new tricks.

After I resigned my teaching job, I managed to get on as a civilian contractor with the Air Force in Nebraska – basically teaching airmen to plan and execute the same reconnaissance missions I flew when I was still on active duty. I moved up first to secure the job and a house, while Diana stayed in Kentucky to pack up our things. Right before she came up, I went back to help finish the packing. As I was doing a last check of the house, I looked in the attic to make sure we hadn’t forgotten anything. There I saw the bright yellow canvas bag.

“Shit!”

Diana yelled up from downstairs:

“David, did you say something?”
“The bag of dicks is still up here.”
“Shit! Honey, you were supposed to get rid of that! We’re leaving tomorrow for good.”
“Yeah, I know. Don’t panic. I’ll get rid of it.”
“How?”
“Just leave it to me. I’ll figure something.”

I left the house with the yellow, canvas bag and came back in 30 minutes later still carrying it.

“I thought you were going to get rid of that.”
“I did, but I want to keep the bag.”
“But the zipper is busted, that’s why the bank gave it to Theresa.”
“I can fix it.”
“What did you do with the stuff inside?”
“Tossed it down the well out front.”
“In the WELL?”
“Yeah, I panicked and couldn’t think of any place else to dump it.”
“Oh, honey, all those…. things… will clog up the water lines or the pump.”
“No, they won’t. It’s an old cistern well. It’s just a concrete tank in the ground. The only thing it’s connected to is that rusty pump on top of it, and that doesn’t even work. Your dad’s been saying for months he’s going to fill it in so no one falls into it.”
“But won’t whoever fills in the well see them floating around?”
“No, I double wrapped them in trash bags with a couple of bricks. Sank right to the bottom when I chucked it in. They’ll bust up the concrete cover and dump the pieces into the well, then fill the rest of it in with dirt using the front-loader. Everything will be buried.”
“So no one will ever find it?”
“Oh, someone will. Thousands of years from now, some archeologist is in for a big surprise.”

‘HUGE CACHE OF ANCIENT FERTILITY SYMBOLS FOUND DURING EXCAVATION IN WESTERN KENTUCKY’

“At least they won’t know who they belonged to.”
“Yes they will. I put a card with your name on it in the bag so they can put it on the exhibit in the museum. People will think you were some kind of shaman or fertility priestess.”
“I hate you.”
“Really?”
“No, but you make me mad sometimes.”

 

 

Etiquette

Once when I was in the 5th grade, three of my friends and I were helping to set up for the Christmas program in the cafe-gym-atorium at Gladden Elementary School in Belton, Missouri. Basically we were roadies moving things around for the benefit of all the kids with actual talent who would be performing that night. I would be in the pageant too, but I was consigned to the back row of a couple of ensembles with all the other kids who made the music teacher wince whenever we tried to sing. We were instructed to just “mouth the words,” which was fine by me. My parents wouldn’t know the difference, and I could play “Who’s going to fall off the back of the open bleachers first?” with my talentless, trouble-making friends.

The stage crew job was really just an excuse to get out of class for a few hours by volunteering, which the four of us (and our exasperated teacher) normally took advantage of any chance we got. There wasn’t much to do, and we soon found ourselves goofing off in the hallway. The halls had colored tiles that formed two-way traffic lines for marching kids to and from class, and we were blocking one of them, when a teacher came up behind us with a line of 1st graders and politely asked us to make way.

“Excuse me, boys. Would you move please so we can get through?”

We all started to move, but I could not resist looking sidelong at one of my friends and saying under my breath, “No. We can’t.”

Well, apparently it was not entirely under my breath as I discovered when out of nowhere a pair of talons latched on to my earlobe and yanked.

I have known pain in my life. I have been kicked in the groin numerous times, broken my arm, separated my shoulder, and shredded my anterior cruciate ligament, but I have never experienced blinding agony equal to that of the basic “ear pull.” Mom regularly used the ear pull on me and my brother in church whenever we would play the “What Song am I Playing on My Zipper” game (where one of us would zip the fly on our pants up and down to a rhythm of a particular song, while the other tried to guess the song):

Zip zip zip… zip zip zip… zip ZIP zip… zip-zip…
Jingle Bells?”
“Yep. Okay, what’s this one?”
“Zip zip zip zip zip ZIP zip, zip zip… Zip zip zip zip zip ZIP zip, zip zip zip…
The Immigrant Song?”
“No, you goof! It’s In-A-Gadda-DaAAAAaaaaaastopmompleaseohgodI’msorryahhh!!”

Through trial-and-error, Mom eventually discovered just the right pressure to effect instant compliance while still protecting the people in the surrounding pews from our blood-curdling screams. The teacher currently locked on to my ear was completely unconcerned with such niceties. I was now a teaching tool for the other students; the louder – the better.

The next several seconds were a blur as the teacher swung me around by my ear while lecturing my friends on general politeness and civic responsibility. Of course she was forced to speak up in order to be heard over my shrill girl-shrieks, and every time she turned to address a different person, she dragged me right along with her as I flailed around on my tip-toes trying to reduce the pressure on my ear.

By the time she released me (and the entire event probably only lasted a minute), I was totally broken – both mentally and physically. I am of the firm belief that instead of waterboarding, interrogators could get more information from their prisoners by threatening them with an elementary school teacher:

“Where is the bomb, Vladimir?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Do you want me to bring in Miss McGillicuddy again?”
“Locker number 403 at the train station. Bottom row, third from the right. Cut the green wire to disarm it.”

Anyway, after I had dried my tears of shame in a corner, we were soon back to the sort of jerking around at which 5th-grade boys excel: thumping knuckles, trading shoulder punches, and sword fighting with our pencils until one of us got a piece of lead broke off in his arm. Boys forget traumatic pain much like mothers forget the agony of child birth… only quicker. We did stay clear of the hall for the rest of the day.

I don’t remember that teacher’s name, but I would like to thank her for what my Dad always referred to as a “character-building experience.” She did not cure me of my smart mouth, but she did teach me a very important lesson about volume control, a lesson which has served me well over the years in my marriage.

“David, if you’re going upstairs, would you get me a drink?”
“Do you have polio?”
“What?”
“I said, ‘of course I’ll get you a drink.'”
“Thank you. I love you.”
“Oh yeah, you do.”
“What?”
“I said, ‘I love you, too.'”

Sounds Like a Plan

Diana walked into the living room on Sunday. She wasn’t exactly bristling with wrath, but I could tell there was definitely tension under her surface demeanor. She wasn’t mad, yet, she was just waiting for the right words to set her off. I conveniently provided them.

“David?”
“What?”
“I was just upstairs and saw we had a message on our answering machine.”
“Well, who was it?
“Eddie. He called yesterday to confirm what time Zach’s wedding was.”
“Oh.”
“Oh, what?”
“Oh, shit.”
“You need to start making sense real quick.”
“I think our Godson’s wedding was yesterday.”
“You think? Did we get an invitation?”
“Yeah… well… there was a problem with the invitations.”
“How do you know?”
“Lori told me when she invited us. She messaged me all the info.”
“Did you tell her we’d come?”
“Sure I did. I told her I’d show you the message, and then it would be a ‘done deal.’”
“Oh… my… God. I can’t believe you ‘sounds-like-a-plan’-ed Lori.”

Many of my Air Force friends will understand the sounds-like-a-plan reference, however an explanation of it is probably in order for the rest of you. During my years in service, and especially during my later flying career at RAF Mildenhall, I was known primarily for two things: 1) strange, rambling stories about my gonads, and 2) painful social awkwardness. My social ineptitude manifest itself in a number of ways. First of all, I was an absolute ninja at quietly ducking out of social events whenever I got tired:

“Where the hell did Porter go?”
“Don’t know. I just saw him standing over there two minutes ago. Must have ghosted on us again.”
“Dude is like the wind.”
“Yeah, we should call him Col Flagg.”

… Which some of them actually did. I acquired a number of nicknames over the years: ghost, willow, badger… some less savory ones. Secondly, I picked up a reputation for agreeing to attend social events and then not showing up. I even had a standard phrase when responding to the invite: “sounds like a plan.” This wasn’t my fault. If I didn’t want to do something, I said so. But some people refuse to take “no” for an answer, and eventually I would agree just to get them off my back.

“Hey, Porter. We’re having a pub crawl for Buzz’s going away party. You coming?”
“No.”
“Yeah, you are.”
“No. I’m not. I got other stuff to do.”
“You’re coming.”
“No.”
“Dude, you’re coming.”
“I don’t know.”
“Come on. He specifically asked me to ask you.”
“Man, I’m too old to be throwing up on my feet at four in the morning in the bathroom of a Medieval public house.”
“Buzz wants you to come. Just do it.”
“Okay. Sounds like a plan.”

I still remember a very inebriated-sounding Buzz banging on the door of my bungalow in the early morning hours and saying, “I know you’re in there, Porter! I can hear you breathing!” in that thick, North Carolina accent of his. It got to the point that whenever I used the phrase “sounds like a plan” in conversation, everyone would roll their eyes and laugh, “Aaaahh sounds like a plan. That means you’re not going to do it.” This is not something I’m proud of, but I felt it was necessary context to the current story. So, anyway:

“I did NOT ‘sounds-like-a-plan’ Lori. I wanted to go.”
“Really?”
“Of course not. What man ever wants to go to a wedding? But I knew you would want to go, and that I would have to go with you.”
“Then why didn’t you TELL ME?”
“I meant to. Honestly, I really did. Lori messaged me the invitation information at the end of December saying that there was a problem with the invitations but that we were invited and the wedding was on January 17th… which my brain interpreted as ‘the end of January’. After a couple of days, ‘the end of January’ somehow became ‘sometime in the vague and distant future.’ This is how my brain works. You know this. Then, secure in my knowledge that I had possibly six to twelve months to relay the information to you, I promptly forgot all about it.”
“What is wrong with you? Were you dropped on your head as a kid?”
“Several times.”
“We are the worst Godparents ever.”
“I know. You’d think at some point people would stop asking us.”
“They HAVE stopped asking us.”
“Yeah, I’m pretty sure we’re on some kind of ‘bad Godparent watch list’ at the Vatican. Zach probably put in for an annulment from us years ago.”
“We suck.”
“Yes. Yes, we do.”
“Well? What are we going to do? You need to fix this.”
“I think we should get a clever wedding card and stuff it with hush money.”
“First you have to apologize to Lori… to everyone.”
“You don’t understand the concept of ‘hush money’ at all, do you? If I pay them off, I don’t have to apologize.”
“You will apologize.”
“Okay, I will.”
“I mean it.”
“I know.”
“And no funny crap on Facebook either. This isn’t funny. You do it straight.
“I will.”

Dear Lori, Zach, Madison, and everyone else,
I am truly and sincerely sorry we missed your wedding on Saturday. It was entirely my fault. I’m not actually a very good or very bright person, but Diana is, so you should forgive me for her sake. In a couple of months, when I think it will be safe to do so without getting stabbed in the eye, I will show her all the wonderful pictures everyone posted from the ceremony. Seriously, she hasn’t been this furious with me in decades. Hush money is on the way just as soon as a find a clever card.

Again, I’m very sorry.
Dave

They Don’t Look Like the Picture at All

When I was 7 growing up in Mississippi, my best friend, John Briscoe, and I ordered some sea monkeys off the back of a comic book (pretty sure it was Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos). We had toyed for awhile with getting the X-Ray Specs, but really didn’t understand what the advantage of having them would be. That insight wouldn’t form until I was about 13 or so.

The thing is, kids are idiots. It’s not their fault, they lack life experience. The reality of life has yet to beat them into quivering heaps of angst, cynicism, and dull rage. And that’s a good thing. Some, like me, never stop being idiots. The world runs on industries developed to take advantage of stupid people. Whenever I saw comic book ads for a 7-foot Polaris nuclear sub with real torpedoes and a working periscope for only seven bucks, I had no doubt if I could scrape together $7.00, I’d make a fortune selling submarine rides to my friends in the pond behind our house. When we ordered our sea monkeys, I truly believed they would be exactly as depicted in the ad.

Anyway, we sent off the order, and, after what seemed like a year, the sea monkeys arrived in the mail – sort of. The kit included a tiny plastic “aquarium” and lid about the size of a drinking glass as well as a packet containing our monkeys. John opened the packet.

“What are these, man?”
“I don’t know. Monkey eggs, I guess.”
“They don’t look like the picture at all.”

The picture on the front of the packet showed what appeared to be a family of happy, smiling, naked creatures – more human than monkey in form. Since all the monkeys had crown-like head protrusions in the illustration, we assumed they were descended from royal bloodlines.

“Well, put them in some water and let’s see what they do.”

Figuring the provided container would be much too small for our giant family of aquatic primates, John decided to dump the contents of the packet into an actual aquarium in which we were already keeping three baby turtles we had caught about a week earlier. John said that once the sea monkeys grew to their full height (which we assumed to be about a foot and a half) they could ride the turtles around like horses. John dumped the contents of the package into the aquarium…

… and all hell broke loose.

As with most 7-year-old boys in the Deep South in the late 1960s, John and I were masters at small game trapping (turtles, frogs, lizards, cotton mouths) but absolutely lousy at keeping them alive once he had them. You would have thought that fact would have encouraged a liberal catch-and-release policy on our part. You would be wrong. Playground law was firmly fixed in the precedent of Finders/Keepers vs Losers/Weepers. If we found it – we kept it.

Pretty much everything we caught was put in a jar, box, or cage, ogled at for about 5 minutes (the absolute maximum limit of our attention span at the time), and then set in a cupboard or closet somewhere to be promptly forgotten until our respective mothers smelled the odor of decaying flesh and ferreted out the source. I received more than one beating (usually administered with a wooden spoon or section of Hot-Wheels track) for putting a small animal in my closet and forgetting about it for several weeks. Sometimes, the carcass would actually fuse into the carpet before the smell would give it away.

As you may have figured out by this point, our three captive turtles had been flapping around the aquarium for a week without food. I would not actually hear the word “ravenous” until some years later, but when the sea monkeys were introduced to the aquarium, I received a terrifying introduction to the concept behind the word. When John dumped the contents of the packet into the water the turtles went absolutely berserk. We stood there, mouths hanging open, eyes bulging in abject horror, as they flapped around and gorged themselves wholesale on our sea monkey eggs.

“Shit! They’re eating our sea monkeys!”
“Get ’em out, get ’em out, get ’em OUT!”

John managed to scoop out a couple of the eggs, which he put back into the original container with some water… at which point we promptly forgot all about them. The surviving eggs may have hatched eventually, but since we were expecting ocean-going chimpanzees rather than a species of brine shrimp, we never even noticed them. And although it is still a painful memory to me, I do take comfort in the thought that the turtles gave our sea monkeys a swift and painless death, sparing them the slow, excruciating starvation they would have otherwise experienced once we realized they weren’t monkeys at all.

Water Witch

Diana and I were watching night three of the History Channel production, Hatfields & McCoys, when in one scene Sally McCoy predicted a future attack on their cabin by the Hatfields. Diana turned to me and said, matter-of-factly:

“She’s got the sight.”

Diana had such a dead-pan look on her face that I couldn’t help but burst into laughter, which I should know by now not to do when she’s being serious.

“What’s so funny?”
“She’s got the what?”
“The sight. She can tell the future.”
“Does she got the rheumatiz too? The palsy? Maybe she needs a poultice or a mustard plaster.”
“Don’t you mean-mouth me.”
“You really believe in that stuff?”
“I don’t know. But just because you can’t explain something, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Remember, you used to not believe in water witching.”

She had me there. After the first 10 years or so of our marriage, I figured I knew everything there was to know about my charming southern bride. Over the years we had heard all the stories about each other from our respective families. Parents generally enjoy dropping a dime on the their children to their children’s spouses about what shit-heads they were when they were little. It’s small payback for all the crap the kids put them through growing up. Diana’s family had taken great relish in telling me about the time she and her cousin, Robby, started their own recycling business.

Up the road from their farm stood an old hardware/military-surplus/general store called the Country Boy Store. It was out in the middle of nowhere and sold a little bit of everything. If one day you woke up and decided, “dadgummit, I really need a shotgun, a claw-foot bathtub, a WWII pup tent, an old lawn mower, a cane fishing pole, a baloney sandwich, and a grape Nehi,” the Country Boy Store was your place. I could spend hours in there when I was young. It was the only place in the county I knew of that sold gas masks and jungle boots.

Diana and Robby had figured out that they could return empty, glass, soda bottles for money at the Country Boy Store. Money could then be exchanged for candy. So you can imagine their delight when they discovered whole crates of returnable bottles stacked behind the very store in which you could effect this magical conversion of glass to sugar.

After several trips from the back of the store to the front, Diana and Robby soon returned to Diana’s house, pockets bulging with their ill-gotten gain. Of course, they didn’t make it five minutes before one of the adults had noticed this bounty of treats and had wrung the whole story out of them. Soon the two of them were sweating the half-mile walk back to the scene of the crime, bellies aching from a sugar overdose, in order to apologize to the owner, Mr. Golladay, and make reparations.

Did they consider the moral implications of their introduction to supply-side economics? I doubt it, because, well… candy. That sort of thing is best dealt with at Saturday confession.

“Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. It has been a week since my last confession.”
“What are your sins, my child?”
“Predatory Entrepreneurial Capitalism.”
“Are you sorry for your sins?”
“Not really, because, well… candy.”
“Yes, well God forgives you. Make an act of contrition and say three Our Fathers.”
“Cool.”

All I knew was that I had something else to put into my ammo pouch should I need it later.

“David, I ate one of the cupcakes but left you the other one on the counter.”
“I don’t know. Can I trust you not to eat mine too, you little thief? I’ll bet there are still wanted poster for you and Robby all over Newstead.”
“You know, you’re a jerk sometimes.”
“I’m a jerk all the time, you just don’t always notice.”
“I notice.”

And, of course, Diana had heard all about my foibles as a child from my family, none of which bear repeating here.

The point is, I thought I knew my wife. But, an any relationship, there is room for the occasional surprise. During one of our vacations from England back to visit family in Kentucky, Diana’s Dad walked into the house with a Y-shaped tree branch and told Diana he needed her to do some water witching.

Now, you have to understand, I am a skeptic. I am Skepty McSkepticalface von Skeptinhoffer… the Third. When it comes to the invisible world and the supernatural, I require proof. I require science. If you come at me with a story about chupacabras, astrology, karma, ghosts, aliens, or how brown-eyed people are more loyal than other, recessive gene types, you damn-well better also be toting several Cambridge studies and a favorable Snopes review that backs your position. Incidentally, chupacabras? Coyotes with mange. Every. Damn. Time.

Coyote.

Mange.

Not a chupacabra.

Learn it. Know it. Live it.

So when it dawned on me that Diana’s dad was wanting her to dowse for water, I opened my mouth to crack wise about it. But Diana has a special look for me that she reserves for emergency situations, and since she only uses it when necessary, I almost always respect it. She threw me the ‘this-is-not-the-time-to-be-a-wise-ass’ look. I shut my mouth. Now, I was curious.

Across the road from the farm is a depression in the landscape that was once a nice spring-fed pond. Diana’s father was thinking about bringing the pond back and was wanting her to find the underground spring so he could tap it.

I followed them across the road. By that time I had gotten enough courage to start voicing my skepticism. Unfazed, Diana’s family began explaining the science of dowsing to me. According to their lore, every family has at least one person who is a water witch. Branches from fruit trees work best – peach tree if you have one. You aren’t allowed to take money for your service, otherwise you might lose the ability to perform it. I watched in fascination as Diana walked a rough grid pattern, holding the tree branch vertically, one end in each hand. I expected her to hold it horizontally like I had seen in the movies, but apparently there are varying techniques.

As she crossed a certain point along the depression, the branch would swing to one side. After a couple of steps, the branch swung back forward. It always swung the same direction no matter which direction Diana was walking. Diana’s dad explained that it pointed to the direction the underground spring was flowing. They set out marker stakes along points where Diana indicated there was water.

Once we got back up to the big house, I began making dousing jokes, so Diana walked around the house and found all the water lines running to it. At one point, her older sister (who is NOT a water witch) walked the same path as Diana holding the same branch, but nothing happened. Then Diana walked behind her with her hand on her sister’s shoulder. When she did that, the branch swung over the underground water lines just as it had when Diana walked it. To be honest, it was a little spooky.

Her family said every well on the farm had been found by dowsing, and at least one of them by Diana when she was a kid. Later, when my Dad heard about it, he had her come out and see if she could find all the water lines around his house – which she did, and the septic tank. I still refused to acknowledge the reality of my wife’s ‘gift’ for many years after that , and would bust on her about it at regular intervals. Then we moved back to Kentucky after I retired from the Air Force and occupied a nice, old farm house on the family compound.

One day I discovered we had no water in the house. This was before we had county water, and everything ran off a well. I went out to the well house, but couldn’t find anything wrong with the pump. I figured we had a broken water line and did not relish digging up the yard trying to find it. There was no surface water indicating where the break had occurred, so the pipe must have been buried fairly deeply. Having no other options, I swallowed my pride and went to find my witch.

“Our water’s out.”
“Did you check the well house?”
“Yeah, everything’s working fine.”
“So what do we do?”
“I think there’s a break in the line to the house.”

Diana smiled her sweetest smile.

“Well, good luck finding it. Do you want me to call Daddy to come out and look at it?”

No, I did not. It was tough enough being a townie among a bunch of mechanically-gifted farmers. Shortly after moving back to Kentucky, Diana had bought me a big, John Deere, zero-turn-radius mower with a 5-foot deck. The first time I went to sharpen the blades on it, I couldn’t budge the nuts holding them to the mower deck. I went up to the farm shop to ask Diana’s Dad’s advice. He went to the back of the shop and returned with what looked like a length of iron pipe.

“Here. Stick the end of this over the handle of your socket wrench. You should be able to turn it then.”

Thinking this was some special John Deere tool, I asked her Dad what he called it. He smiled and said,

“Well, around here, we call it ‘torque.'”

Turned out it was actually just a length of iron pipe. Thereafter, any chance I had to avoid looking like a complete idiot in front of Diana’s family, I normally took advantage of. It was important to me to show them I was both handy and manly, and to not go running to Diana’s dad every time something went wrong with the house.

“Yeah, ummm, no… I was thinking…”

Diana’s smile grew broader and even sweeter.

“Say it. It’s okay.”
“Hhhhhh… dammit. Would you help me find the where the water line runs to the house?”
“There. That wasn’t so hard, was it?”
“Yes it was.”
“Of course I’ll help you, Darling. Go down and get me a branch off of one of Daddy’s fruit trees.”
“Okay.”

I returned with a nice Y-shaped peach branch. Diana walked a grid between the house and the well while I staked out points where the branch swung to the side. Suddenly, Diana stopped.

“Here’s where your break is.”
“How do you know that?”
“I just do. You’ll save a lot of time if you dig here first.”
“Fine.”

After she finished, I got out a shovel and started digging where she told me. The line was buried pretty deeply, but eventually I got down to it. Sure enough, there was the break in the old, galvanized-iron pipe. Instead of trying to fix the old pipe, I ended up digging the whole line up and replacing it with PVC. After that, I don’t know that I completely believed my wife could find water in the ground, but I didn’t make fun of her about it either. To be honest, I was a little scared of her, and decided not to argue the merits of precognition as it applies to historical television dramas.

“I’m sorry, honey. You’re right. Sally McCoy clearly has ‘the sight.’ I should know by now not to doubt you.”
“You’re forgiven.”
“After all, it takes a witch to know a witch.”
“I’d quit while I was ahead if I were you.”

I did quit. When you are married to a sorceress, it’s unwise to test her powers until you’re absolutely certain what those powers are.

Your Favorite

Last Friday, Diana and I went to Sam’s Club to return some embarrassingly undersized lounge pants she had purchased for me. From time to time, she will buy something for me that I don’t want, but that she thinks I want (and because it’s on sale), and I must tread a fine line between discouraging the behavior and hurting her feelings.

“Look, David, I bought you this nice V-neck sweater that was on sale at Kohl’s.”
“Thank you, it’s nice… but…”
“But what?”
“Honey, I really don’t like V-neck sweaters.”
“What do you mean? They’re your favorite. You have three or four V-neck sweaters.”
“Right, and how many times have you ever seen me wear them.”
“Well…”
“Exactly.”
“But, when I bought you the first one, you said it was nice.”
“You were so excited when you showed it to me that I didn’t have the heart to tell you I didn’t want it.”
“But you would look so good in them.”
“Not if I don’t wear them… which I won’t… because I don’t like them.”
“Well, why didn’t you tell me?”
“Because of the face you’re making right now.”
“What face?”
“The ‘you-just-killed-my-dog-and-ate-him‘ face. Besides, I figured if you never saw me wearing the first one, you’d make a huge withdrawal from the First National Clue Bank and not buy any more.”
“Well, I’m sorry you hate it. I’ll return it. I just really thought you’d like it.”
“Honey, I don’t hate it, I just won’t ever wear it.”
“No, too late.” I won’t buy you anymore V-neck sweaters.”

The thing is, her heart is in the right place, and she really is just trying to make me happy (and dress better). I don’t know how she gets into her head that something is my “favorite,” but, once she does, she has a tendency to smother me with it.

“I got you blueberry Special K.”
“Oh, uhhhh…. thanks.”
“I thought you liked the blueberry.”
“It’s okay.”
“But blueberries are your favorite.”
“When have I ever said blueberries are my favorite?”
“But you like them.”
“They’re okay.”
“But you always get excited and buy that stupid BooBerry cereal when it comes out around Halloween.”
“That’s different. That is pure nostalgia. Plus, I’m pretty sure no actual blueberries are used in the cereal-making process.”
“Well, I’m sorry you hate it. I won’t buy any more. I just really thought you’d like it.”
“Honey, I don’t hate blueberry Special K. But that’s all you’ve bought for the past year. Some strawberry or regular Special K would be nice once in a while – maybe some Apple Jacks or Captain Crunch.”
“No, too late. I won’t buy anymore.”
“Hhhhhhhhhhh… ”
“Did you just sigh?”
“Maybe.”

Same thing with the lounge pants. I don’t wear lounge pants. They’re too much like pajamas and I feel vulnerable when wearing them. If I have to go up against an intruder in the middle of the night, I don’t want to be wearing pajamas. This is why I normally sleep in BDU pants. Also, I have bad memories associated with pajamas.

When I was in my teens, my next door neighbor, Brad Boaz, and I worked our way through most of a fifth of Old Grand Dad while sitting in his Camaro in the driveway. Then we wandered down the street to a friend’s house who was having a party because his parents were out of town. Things got pretty fuzzy after that, but I do remember at one point frantically trying to force an entire serving of pasta I had just thrown up into the drain of one of the bathroom sinks. Judging by the new nickname I received the next week – “Spaghetti” – I’d say I wasn’t completely successful in the effort.

The next morning, I woke up feeling like crap with no memory of the previous night. I looked down. I was wearing pajamas. That wasn’t right. I hadn’t worn pajamas since I was nine. Something bad had happened. Something very bad. Apparently, I had taken the scenic route home, because Mom later said I stumbled through the house covered in mud. Things didn’t go well after that – things that included a shower and pajamas. Ever since then, I have always associated pajamas/lounge pants with pasta and memory loss. Weird, but there you have it.

But I was willing to accept the lounge pants in order to avoid hurting Diana’s feelings, as long as they fit. They didn’t.

“What size are these?”
“Medium.”
“They’re not going to fit.”
“The tag said 32-34 waist, and you’re a 33.”
“I don’t care what the tag says, they won’t fit.”
“Well, try them on.”

I tried them on.

“Oh you’re right, those don’t fit.”
“If I try to sit down, I’m going to cut off what little supply of testosterone I still have left.”
“Well don’t do that. Take them off and I’ll return them for a large.”
“Or…”
“Or what?”
(Or we could just take them back and return them for shop towels or a socket wrench set) “Nothing, that sounds great.”

We went back to Sam’s. After we got out of the car, Diana grabbed my hand. Even though I’m in my 50s, I’m still kind of embarrassed to hold a girl’s hand in public. It’s probably some leftover teenage notion of it not being cool. I was never public-display-of-affection guy, but I always take her hand because it makes Diana happy. A young lady in her late teens passed us.

“OH MY GOD! You two are SO ADORABLE holding hands.”

I immediately started trying to shake off Diana’s hand, but she had a death grip on me, so we ended up looking like we were doing some kind of 1980s, break-dance, arm wave. Diana laughed and looked up at me.

“Oh, no. We’re that couple.”
“What couple?”
“The cute, old couple.”
“I don’t want to be the cute, old couple. I want to be the hot, young couple that does it on the kitchen table.”
“Darling, I don’t think our kitchen table would hold us.”
“You’re probably right, and we can’t afford a new table right now.”

Once we got inside the store, Diana grabbed a cart and let go of my hand so she could turn her full attention to shopping. When she is in “shop mode,” she loses all sense of situational awareness. I have to spend most of my time running out ahead of her, screening and protecting other patrons so she doesn’t run them over. When Diana shops, she’s the only being in existence.

“Honey… Diana… Stop. There’s a four-year-old right in front of you.”
“Well, where did she come from?”
“She was standing there when we first turned down the aisle.”
“Oh, I never even saw her.”
“I know.”

Diana found a larger pair of lounge pants in the clothing section. I turned to head toward the check-out since we had clearly accomplished the purpose of our trip. I wasn’t quick enough.

“Oh, Honey, you would look so good in this. You always look good in fall colors.”

I turned around, and Diana was holding up a browny-orangy thermal shirt… with a V-neck.

“Ummm… it’s nice… do they have them in crew-neck?”
“I thought you liked V-necks.”
(Oh, for the love of…) “Well, V-necks are good on sweaters, but I think with these I’d rather have the crew neck.”
“Okay, fine, here’s one.”
“Thanks.”
“We also need some cereal. I saw they had blueberry Special K on sale.”
“Well, blueberries are my favorite.”
“Yes, I know.”

Later, as we walked back to the car, I figured that if the worst problems in my life were V-neck sweaters, a wife that won’t let go of my hand, lounge pants, and an overabundance of blueberry Special K (and those really are the worst of my problems), I don’t have it so bad.