Buzzed Shopping is Drunk Shopping

Diana and I went out to eat last night. And by “last night,” I mean 4:00 in the afternoon. In many ways we are walking stereotypes of old people, our only saving grace being we didn’t go to a Lums, Village Inn, or Cracker Barrel. No, it was a nice, little, locally-owned pizza joint. Diana ordered some kind of fruity, alcoholic drink and talked me into ordering the same one. As soon as I tasted it, I knew it had whiskey in it, which is anathema to me. You don’t mix fruity crap with whiskey; that’s why God invented rum. Whiskey is an introvert and should be alone in the glass. Anyway, after Diana finished her drink, I casually swapped her empty glass with my full one. She didn’t seem to notice.

After dinner, we hopped in the car to head back home. Diana doesn’t drink very often, but, when she does, she goes through several stages which I tend to think of as her “Seven Dwarfs of Inebriation”: Happy, Horny, Shoppy, Clumsy, Scrappy, Nappy, and Hungry. Often these stages will come in rapid succession. I’ve seen her go through all seven in the space of an hour.

Once in the car, Happy was is complete control.

“I love you so much, Darling. Thank you for taking me out on date night.”
“You’re welcome. I love you too.”
“I love it here. I love our life.”
“Yes, we’re very fortunate. Do you need anything while we’re out?”
“Well, we could go home and have Sexy Saturday… or we could go to Target.”

It’s not often I get to choose the dwarf, so I weighed my decision carefully. First of all, I was full of pizza, as was Diana. By the time we got home, Nappy would most likely have taken over, and Diana would be snoring on the couch within minutes of our arrival. On the other hand, Shoppy tends hang out with Clumsy and Scrappy, making Target an entertaining option.

“Let’s go to Target.”
“Okay, we need bread. I love bread.”
“Me too. Target it is.”

I parked the car at Target and hopped out to go around and open Diana’s door for her. Date Night Rules stipulate that I open and close car doors for Diana. These rules have only been in effect for a few years, but I try to abide by them. When I got to passenger side of the car, the door was already open, and Diana was bent over, kind of halfway out the door.

“You okay?”
“Yes, I’m just tying my shoe. I thought it would be easier to do it here than out in the parking lot.”
“Good thinking.”
“Okay. Let’s go.”

As soon as we entered the store, Diana grabbed a cart. She always gets a cart. When I go to a store, I will haul everything I want around the store using just my two arms like a circus clown doing a juggling act. Diana will get a cart just to push her 80-lb rucksack of a purse around, even if she only came in for one item.

“I thought we were just getting bread.”
“I might see something else I want.” // WHAM // “Oh, man.”

Diana banged her cart into a display corner. She proceeded to do that at regular intervals as we shopped.

“I’m okay. Hang on. My shoe’s untied.”

Diana bent over to tie her shoe as her cart continued rolling down the aisle. I grabbed the cart and waited for her to catch up. We walked around the store just looking at things and banging into displays.

// WHAM // “Oh, man.”
“I’m okay. Hang on. My shoe’s untied.”
“You should put a knot in it.”
“I know how to tie my shoe.”

Eventually, we passed the bread aisle. Diana didn’t notice and kept cruising right past it.

“Honey. Bread’s down that aisle.”
“No it’s not. The bread is down there by the vegetables.”
“I think you’re thinking of a different store.”
“No, I’m not.” // WHAM // “Oh, man.”
“The aisle sign says it’s down this aisle.”
“Well, the sign is wrong… and stupid.”
“Look, Scrappy, if you want to throw down with a sign, I’ll back your play, but you need to know that at some point I’ll be asking for a copy of the store security footage.”
“You wouldn’t.”
“I absolutely would. Look, I can see the bread from here.”

Diana found the bread and then proceeded to squeeze every loaf (including types we never, ever eat, like multi-grain) while checking the date on the bags to insure she got the freshest loaf in the store. After about 10 minutes of this, I decided to nudge her along.

“Honey, if you don’t stop molesting that bread, it’s going to need hours of therapy before we can eat it.”
“Yeah, but it will be fresh.”

We checked out and made our way back to the car. After I helped Diana into the passenger seat, she looked at me with a serious, almost sad expression.

“I have a problem.”
“What is your problem?”
“I got my shoestring all knotted, and I don’t think I’ll be able to untie it.”
“I promise I will get it untied.”
“Thank you, I love you.”
“I love you too.”

We drove back to house, hitting several red lights along the way.

“What was that?”
“What was what?”
“Did someone behind us just honk at us?”
“No, Diana. The light is still red. No one is honking at us.”
“I will JUMP out of this car… “
“Simmer down, Scrappy. No one is honking at us.”
“They better not.”
“No, I guess they better not.”

At the house, Diana sat down on the couch and started waving her hand in front of her face like a fan.

“Are you hot? It’s hot in here. I’m hot.”
“No, I’m fine.”
“I HATE hot flashes. Normally when you get hot it’s because the heat’s on the outside and works its way in through your skin. But when you have a HOT FLASH, you burn up from inside. It’s horrible.”
“Is there anything I can do for you?”
“Sweet dreams, Nappy.”

Diana slept deeply for a couple of hours. I knew at some point she would wake up and then watch television half the night because she wouldn’t be able to sleep. Eventually she opened her eyes and smiled.

“Good morning, Sweetheart.”
“Did you have a nice sleep?”
“I did.”

Diana’s eyes narrowed and her smile turned shrewd.

“You know what I want?”

Hmmmm… pick a dwarf, pick a dwarf. Horny? Possible, but better play the odds.

“You want a winter PBJ.”

A winter PBJ is a regular PBJ, only it’s on toast and I butter the outside of the toast. It’s a little greasy to handle, but the butter hits your mouth first and turns it into a completely different sandwich. Basically it’s just one of many “butter delivery systems” we employ in our house, and I normally make them in the winter because they are warm – hence the name.

“That’s EXACTLY what I want.”
“Okay, hang on.”

Content on the couch, winter PBJ in one hand, TV remote in the other. Diana settled in for the rest of her night. I gave her a kiss on the head.

“Goodnight, Darling. I’m going up to bed.”
“Goodnight. I love you.”
“I love you too, Happy.”
“Who’s Happy?”
“I am.”


Mother’s Day

Last Friday, I received a Mother’s Day gift from Diana. I know it should have been the other way around, but when it comes to creative thoughtfulness regarding commonly-recognized marital celebrations, I am the absolute worst. I have always envied (and hated) those people able to pull some hot-tub-Champaign-and-chocolate-covered-strawberries-hot-air-balloon-ride out of their ass in order to surprise their significant other for a birthday or anniversary. As usual, it was up to Diana to arrange her own celebration for Mother’s Day.

On Wednesday, Diana called to tell me she had gotten us two tickets to see Kansas live at the Ralston Arena the Friday before Mother’s Day weekend. Now, I had a ton of crap to get done at work that week, and we were already committed to going camping that weekend, so I was a little aggravated that she had heaped more onto that. But I wouldn’t for the world intentionally hurt Diana’s feelings, and I really did want to see Kansas again, so I put on a brave face.

“That’s awesome, Honey. What made you decide to get tickets?”
“Well, I remember they were one of the bands you liked when we first started dating.”

And that is true. In the big, brown vinyl box of 8-track tapes that rode shotgun with me in my car in high school, Kansas dominated the section I classified as “Smart Rock” or “Brain Rock” (I had yet to hear the term “Prog Rock”). I had seen Kansas live in 1980, and naturally assumed at the time that everyone loved them. But, over the years I have discovered that there are actually only two types of people in this world: those who like Kansas (such as my friends Lucy and Rex who have an obsessive serial-killer shrine built to them in their basement), and those who think they like Kansas, but really only like Carry on Wayward Son and Dust in the Wind (like Diana, whose one and only rock album was Queen’s News of the World). And that’s fine. Hell, I know it’s heresy, but the only song I like by the Rolling Stones is “Paint it Black,” and I will turn the station if one of The Who’s CSI-coopted songs comes on. People like what they like, and I’m cool with it.

But Kansas has never truly been your basic Top 40 band. Imagine Handel and Rossini having a love child who learned to the play the electric guitar and violin. Their music is technical and complicated, and their lyrics rival any 20th century poetry I’ve ever heard. You kind of have to invest some thought into their music. So, while I knew Diana would enjoy seeing Kansas play Dust in the Wind, I wasn’t quite so sure how she would handle a 15-minute live version of “Miracles out of Nowhere” (and the accompanying five-minute Baroque organ solo in the middle). Then there was the opening band to consider.

“You remember correctly, Darling. I DO like Kansas. Who’s opening up for them?”
“Some band called Winger.” (Oh, hell) “Have you heard of them?”
“Yeah, late-80s/early-90s heavy-metal-ish. Glam metal, maybe? Is that a thing? Umm… anyway, they’re not really what you’re used to. Might be a little loud.”
“I’ll be okay. I’m kind of excited about this. I’ve never been to a rock concert.”
“Well, I’m excited too.”
“I’ll plan everything out.”
“Of course you will.”

And, she did. When I was 17, my concert plans consisted solely of working two days bailing hay or cutting tobacco for gas money, getting someone’s older brother to buy us a couple of six-packs of Stroh’s, and making it to the Nashville Municipal Auditorium at some point during the opening act without running my parents’ 1970 Custom Cruiser station wagon into a ditch near Clarksville. Diana’s plans were a little more thought-out and, well, Diana-y:

  1. Get to the venue two hours before the doors open to find a good parking place where we can just pull out without having to fight traffic (and make as few left turns as possible).
  2. Eat supper at some shady Kino joint right across from the venue because it’s right across from the venue. Also, they have good hamburgers.
  3. Sit in the car until the doors open and talk about how excited Diana is to see an actual rock concert. Other topics of discussion could include: how poor we were when we first started out, how glad we are our kids don’t live in our basement, and how pissed off Diana still is that one of my ex-girlfriends keyed her car in high school.
  4. Go inside the venue as soon as the doors open so we’ll have plenty of time to buy a T-shirt, order a margarita, and find our seats while it’s still light enough to see.
  5. Sit down and drink for an hour before the show starts and talk about how excited Diana is to see an actual rock concert and how she still can’t believe that bitch keyed her car (seriously, the woman holds a grudge).
  6. Watch the concert.
  7. Get home before the sun goes down and all the teenagers start coming out.

Which is EXACTLY what we did… well, except for getting home before dark. Once we got through the doors, Diana saw a couple of people checking IDs and handing out wristbands.

“What are those?”
“Age verification, so you can buy alcohol.”
“Oooh, I want one.”
“I know.”

Diana got her wristband. I declined as I was driving and would be making all those tricky right turns out of the parking lot. Then she wanted a concert shirt. I bought her two. Then she wanted a margarita. I bought her two. Then we found our seats, which was pretty easy as we were the only people there yet. We sat and talked while Diana drank her margaritas.

Now, we don’t drink a lot. We have nothing against alcohol, it’s just not a big part of our lives other than an occasional beer for me or glass of wine or fruity-slushy drink for Diana when we eat out. So when Diana does drink in any significant amounts, it tends to affect her noticeably. Fortunately, on a scale of one-to-Disneyland, Diana is the happiest place on earth when she’s drinking. These were strong margaritas, so by the time Winger began their set, Diana was ready to go.

As we waited for the show to start, I watched people file in. Old people. I thought, “What are all these geezers doing at a Kansas concert?” Then I remembered I WAS these geezers. It was strange because I have known for some time I was getting old. For several years now I’ve had this uncomfortable feeling I really couldn’t put my finger on. The logoed t-shirts I wore in high school were suddenly showing up in Target as “retro-cool.” The hair in my nose needed trimming more often than the hair on my head. Grocery store and dentist office music shifted from Henri Mancini and Elvis Presley to Foreigner and Loverboy. You know you’re getting old when you start playing air guitar in your local Kroger.

I tried to picture us all as we would have been in 1979: long hair, bell-bottom jeans, shirt collars large enough to shelter a family of 12 under in a windstorm, but I couldn’t. We were all too far gone for that. Inside, though. Inside I was wearing stacks and combing my non-receded hairline with an afro pick… even though I didn’t have an afro… because afro picks were cool.

Finally, the lights dimmed and some local radio jock introduced the opening band. I was never really a fan of Winger, but to give them their due, they brought the ruckus. Six stacks of Marshall amps pointed right at us in an arena the size of a large high school gym created a wall of sound that made my brain ring. On a positive note, I finally found something louder than my tinnitus. I turned to look at Diana. She was grinning and bopping her head. I yelled at her while making some kind of impromptu sign language with my hands.

“You like it?”
“YES! I want to do the devil horn things.”
“The devil horn things?”

I cocked my head inquisitively, and she flashed me the University of Texas hand signal. Meh, close enough.

“Well, then get up and do it, man.”

She did. I know, like most people now days, I use the word “awesome” far too often for far too many things which are not, in fact, awesome. But she was awesome. Drunk and awesome. I just sat there because, well, Winger. But I fell just a little bit more in love with Diana right then.

Winger finished their set and Diana sat down to recover.

“I think I peaked too early. I’m beat.”
“You’re okay. They still have to set up for Kansas.”

Diana got another margarita.

The roadies began to move Winger’s equipment offstage and lowered the backdrop with their band logo on it. Then the crew for Kansas brought their equipment and raised a different backdrop.

“Ooooh, I like that picture.”
“It’s called ‘Bleeding Kansas’ It’s part of a mural in the Kansas State Capitol building.”
“I love that you know stuff like that.”
“Do you know who the guy is in the picture?”
“No. Whoseisit?”

Diana was slurring a bit at this point.

“John Brown. He was an abolitionist before the Civil War.”
“Wooooooo! GO, JAMES BROWN!”

Meh, close enough.


Kansas came out. I know the line-up had changed some, but, man, they were incredible. I won’t belabor it. They were on their 40th Anniversary of the release of Leftoverture tour. If nothing else made feel old, that did. Still, I was amazed at how good they sounded and how many memories they brought back. Finally, they finished their set, thanked the audience, and left the stage. Diana turned to me with a sad look.

“Are they done?”

I grabbed both of her shoulders, got right up into her personal space, and looked her dead in the eye.

“Listen to me very carefully. If you stand up right now, and start going ‘WOOOOOOOOOO,’ they WILL come back out and they WILL play ‘Carry on Wayward Son!’”
“Are you serious?”
“I have never been more serious in my life. But you have to do it now, and you have to believe… like clapping your hands and saying I DO believe in fairies in Peter Pan.”
“Are you going to do it?”
“Can’t. It only works once and I used all my power in 1980 to make Cheap Trick come back out and play ‘I Want You to Want Me.’ This is all on you, Darling.”

Diana got up and started yelling WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Eventually Kansas came out and played “Carry on Wayward Son.” It was the best rendition I have ever heard. After they left the stage, Diana smiled.

“I did it!”
“Yes, you did. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. Now, let’s get the hell out of here before the traffic gets bad.”
“Anything you say, Rocker Chick.”

A few right turns later, we were safely on our way home. Diana was in her quietly-happy place.

“Thank you for taking me to my first rock concert.”
“Well, thank you for buying the tickets.”
“I can’t believe we’re out at 11:00 at night.”
“Yes, very not-us. What’s gotten into you lately? Eating out all the time. Planning trips to other states. Buying tickets to concerts.”
“I don’t know. We were married so young, and I never really got to do things like this.”

And she was right. By the time she was 19, Diana had a husband, two kids born within a year of each other, and all the adult responsibility many people don’t see until their mid-to-late twenties or thirties. We never could figure out where all the kids were coming from, but it probably had something to do with all the crazed-weasel sex we were having at the time. It’s not that we regret anything. We raised two good human beings who don’t hit us up for cash every month. Giving up partying and concert-going in order to do that was a no-brainer. Totally worth it. But now. Now I think I owe Diana something a bit more than riding into our golden years on the cushions of our couch while binge-watching Netflix. I think I owe her some new experiences she should have already experienced. I glanced over at her.

“Have you ever heard of the band Parliament?”
“Well, if they’re not all dead, I think you’re going to like them.”
“Wooooo! GO, JAMES BROWN!”


Our grandson, Gabe, and I were emerging from the basement yesterday, when Diana cornered us.

“Hi, Grandma!”
“Hi, Gabe. What have you and Grandpa been doing?”
“Teaching each other.”
“Really? That’s nice. Grandpa, what did Gabe teach you?”
“Well, Gabe spent the last two hours telling me all about his Super Smash Bros video game and it was SO AWESOME! He showed me EACH character and explained ALL of their moves – including their special moves! It was great! Then he told me he had beaten this level or that level, but that was back at his house in INDIANA, so it wasn’t saved on OUR game system, but he really DID beat those levels! Then he told me HOW he beat each and every level! I’m telling you, I have never enjoyed learning about something so much as Super Smash Bros! Super Smash Bros is the COOLEST! My favorite character is Princess Peach! Seriously, this may be the BEST DAY of my ENTIRE LIFE!”
“Wow. That sounds awesome. Gabe, what did Grandpa teach you?”
“Yeah, it’s when you say you really, really like something, like a video game, but you really don’t.”
“I don’t think Grandpa should be teaching you that.”
“Grandpa is good at it.”
“I know.”

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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.’

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.


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.”
“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.”


“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.”
“No, but you make me mad sometimes.”




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?”
“I said, ‘of course I’ll get you a drink.'”
“Thank you. I love you.”
“Oh yeah, you do.”
“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.

“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, 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?”
“Yeah, you are.”
“No. I’m not. I got other stuff to do.”
“You’re coming.”
“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.”
“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.

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.”

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.



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.”

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.”

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.”
“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?”

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?”
“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 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.”
“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.

Stuff That Happened Long Ago

My best friend growing up in Starkville, Mississippi was John Briscoe. John was missing one of his big toes which made him the wonder of the neighborhood. He claimed it got cut off in the spokes of his bicycle, and I believed him. Shoes were strictly for church and school, not bicycles. John had an easy, gap-toothed grin and was one of those kids I classified as “having tongues too big for their mouths.” You know the ones I’m talking about: no matter what they are doing, part of their tongue is poking out of their mouth because there just isn’t enough room for it inside.

This unusual combination of ridiculous incisor spacing and overdeveloped tongue allowed John to do the one thing I wanted to do more than anything else at the time: spit long streams of saliva through his front teeth with pinpoint accuracy. John seemed to be able to produce a whole mouthful of spit at will, and nail any target of opportunity within a 15-foot radius.

Although we fought like cats and dogs, John and I were inseparable. I don’t know if it’s still done these days, but in the 1960s mosquito control came every week to our Mississippi neighborhood in the form of a fog-spewing DDT truck. When you are six years old, there are few things in the world cooler than instant fog. Honestly, the DDT man drew a bigger crowd of kids than the ice cream man did because DDT didn’t cost you anything.

John and I would lie in wait for the fog truck and then fall in right behind it on our bicycles for the entire length of Maple Drive. The object was to get as close to the DDT outflow (breathing in as much insecticide as possible) without rear-ending the truck and leaving thirty percent of our skin glued to the road. At some point hypoxia would shut down our brains causing us to break off the pursuit, though we were usually able to follow the back-trail of our own mucous and saliva to my house.

Even when we didn’t chase the DDT truck, we would still run out into the street after it had passed and dance around like idiots in the noxious vapors. I have waited for years in gleeful anticipation of the super powers I was sure I would receive as a result of my overexposure to a chemical now banned in even the most malaria-ridden parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, but these have been slow to materialize. There were a couple of times as an adult when I thought I had changed the TV channel just by using my mind, but it actually turned out to be my wife sitting on the remote. Still, I’d think twice about pissing me off, if I were you, as my ability to levitate you into the next county could show up at any time.

John and I each had an older brother who were of an age and hung out together. Usually they spent their days either trying to ditch John and me or beating the absolute crap out of us when we insisted on following them around (or any time they had nothing better to do). Every once in awhile, though, Bill and Paul let us in on one of their projects, the best one being construction of The Tree Fort.

I think an explanation is in order here on the naming conventions of pre-adolescents in the Deep South. We tended to name things simply – as we found them. For example, there was a small pond just across the barbwire fence in our back yard known as “The Pond.” Surrounding The Pond was a small area of woods we called “The Woods.” Starting to see a pattern here? Just down the street was a limestone leech farm called “The Creek.” And at the edge of The Woods was a giant maple in which Bill and Paul caught a possum in a mail-order trap. Every kid in the neighborhood knew where The Possum Tree stood.

A quick note on possums: they are the meanest, nastiest, hissiest, bitiest, snot-bearing, God-forsaken creatures ever put on this world. They only have two settings: 1) fake coma, and 2) honey badger. Catching one in a trap is a one-way ticket to the emergency room for a tetanus shot and possibly a course of rabies vaccinations, because there is no way you will be able to resist the six-year-old impulse to stick your finger in his cage and poke him… repeatedly.

You would think that one bite from a vicious, snarling snot-monster would be enough to cure the average six-year-old of the desire to further annoy the crap out of an already furious marsupial. You would be wrong. The same paradigm applies to box turtles, snapping turtles, alligator snapping turtles, red-eared sliders, baby alligators, wasps, hornets, yellow jackets, dogs, copperheads, cotton mouths, older brothers, parents and neighborhood bullies. More on six-year-old impulse later.

I don’t remember who came up with the idea of building a tree fort, but, once a scheme of that magnitude presented itself to the group, we immediately set to work without any planning at all. Planning was for adults. Kids don’t plan, they do. It’s why they end up in emergency rooms with missing fingers and toes. As the most gullible of the foursome, John and I were dispatched to “The New Addition” (where they were building new houses) to scrounge wood from the construction sites.

We walked right up to the first unfinished house we found, picked up an 8-foot 2X4 from off a stack, and proceeded to carry it off, all under the stunned gaze of the construction crew working on the house at the time. I think the sight of two kids walking up in broad daylight and boldly pilfering their building materials was so far beyond their experience that they didn’t know how to react except to watch in astonishment.

Being at that point in our young lives unfamiliar with the concept of “quit while you’re ahead,” we dropped the 2X4 off with Bill and Paul and went back for more. However, as any magician will tell you, a good trick rarely works more than once with the same audience.

As amazed as the workers were at our first daring theft, I think they were absolutely dumfounded that John and I had the balls to actually return for more. This time we were met by what was probably the foreman just as we were approaching the stack of 2X4s. Back then, any time an adult ever took the time to notice us, it was usually because we were in serious trouble. But you never ran away from adults in those days unless you had a damn good lead because they were allowed to beat you if they caught you. I saw several of the other workers grinning and nudging each other as the giant man hunkered down in front of us with a serious look on his face.

“Now, you boys shouldn’t be playin’ around these work sites,” he said softly. “You could get hurt around here.”

He looked down at our dirty bare feet.

“Why, you might step on a nail and run it clean through your foot. Do you know how bad that would hurt?”

I don’t think he was prepared for the vigorous, affirmative nods John and I returned in response to his question. Of COURSE we knew how badly it would hurt. We never wore shoes and routinely stepped on nails, thorns, shards of glass, pieces of barbwire, and metal propellers from die-cast toy airplanes. I once walked a good hundred yards and over two barb-wire fences to my house, not only with a nail stuck all the way through my foot, but also dragging the board I had just nailed it through before stepping on it. We also knew how badly it hurt when wasps and hornets stung us, but that didn’t stop us from throwing dirt clods or hedge apples at any nest we found.

So, yeah, we knew how badly it would hurt, but that was an acceptable risk and a fair trade in exchange for not having to take the time to think things through carefully before we did them. It was about that time I think that the foreman noticed John’s missing big toe and decided he might be barking up the wrong tree.

“Well, if one of these stacks of lumber fell over on you boys, it could kill you.”

Again he failed to make an impression on us. The average six-year-old in the 1960s had only the vaguest concept of death as an actual possibility except as it applied to very old people and German soldiers in episodes of “Combat” or “Rat Patrol.” This must have been apparent in our blank stares.

“And you can’t just walk up and take things off other people’s property, boys; that’s stealing.”

Oh, that did it. We knew all about stealing from our Sunday School lessons and episodes of “Jot” and “Davy and Goliath.” It’s not that we felt bad about stealing – hell, we stole from each other and other people all the time. Our neighbor down the street, Mr. Berry, was lucky to have a single duck decoy left in his garden shed. No, we felt bad because an ADULT was talking to us about stealing – that we had been CAUGHT stealing – and THAT, my friends, opened up the real possibility of getting a whuppin’ with the belt or serving hard time in one of the numerous chain gangs you could still see from time to time cutting grass along the highways in Mississippi.

I had only one defensive reaction: I started to cry. It was the only weapon in my arsenal and still works to this day on my wife when she catches me trying to sneak a new table saw into the garage that I picked up at Lowes while I was supposed to be getting some milk and bread at the grocery. It was an effective tactic because adults always assume tears to be a sign that a kid has learned his or her lesson and is sorry. Plus, adults (and wives) hate crying kids (and husbands) and want to get rid of them as quickly as possible.

“Okay, son, dry it up, now. You’re not in any trouble… this time. You can keep the board you took. What did you want it for anyway?”

Since I was still hitching and sobbing and smearing snot all over my face with the back of my arm, John explained that we were building a tree fort.

“A tree fort huh?” The man smiled as if remembering one or two tree forts he had built in his day. “I’ll tell you what: if you boys promise to stay off this lot, we’ll pile some scrap wood near the sidewalk, and you can take what you want from there for your tree fort… but nothing else. There’s going to be other scrap piles of stuff that you shouldn’t mess with, so only take from the one by the sidewalk. And don’t let me catch you around any of these other houses neither.”

We promised we’d stay off the lot. Of course we would have promised to climb Mount Vesuvius during an eruption if we thought it would keep us from getting in trouble. As we left I heard some of the other workers hooting and laughing and saying something about “makin’ that poor boy cry like that,” but I didn’t care. When we came back empty-handed, Paul and Bill wanted to know what happened.

John immediately piped up, “Some guys workin’ on the house caught us, but Dave cried like a little girl so they let us go.”

I pushed John into some nearby scrub where he lay cackling with his legs straight up in the air. Normally this would have been the cue for Bill and Paul to tease me mercilessly for being a crybaby, but they realized the important thing was that no parents had been called. Being the older brothers, they would have ultimately been to blame because John and I would have ratted them out faster than Sammy “The Bull” had turned on the Gambinos. “Bill told me to,” was my go-to defense back then (whether he had actually told me to or not). They eyed me for a second with what just might have been respect; possibly trying to think how they could work this apparent skill of mine to their benefit. I wasn’t a “made man” yet, but the potential was there.

“Okay,” Bill said. “We’ll go back and get the rest of the wood after they quit work for the day.”

Which is exactly what we did. Eventually we had enough lumber to start work, and there is little to tell of the actual building of The Fort save for a several mashed fingers, couple of bent saws, and a hammer left out in the rain to rust beyond all possible utilitarian redemption. The design was your basic three-tree-delta-shape fort consisting of an upper and lower platform. We had safety rails around each platform, and planned to put up real walls with gun ports and a roof to keep the weather out, but we never completed the project. At that age, you’re lucky if you can concentrate long enough to finish even part of whatever you initially set out to do. Our bedroom room was usually scattered with half-built plastic models and unfinished games of “Monopoly,” “Gnip-Gnop,” or “Mouse Trap.” All in all, though, it was a pretty sweet fort and an excellent spot from which to snipe each other with our bb guns.

“Owww, you shithead!”

Some weeks later John was up in The Tree Fort while Bill, Paul, and I stood underneath it, lighting rolled-up pieces of notebook paper, trying to smoke them, and generally looking very cool. All of a sudden I felt a runner of liquid skip right across the top of my head. As Bill and Paul seemed to be missing out on this spontaneous burst of precipitation, I figured John was using my head for target practice. I looked up and the words, “Stop spitting on my head, Butthole!” died on my lips. John was not spitting on me. John was peeing on me. There he stood, tackle-out, grinning like an idiot as he criss-crossed his stream of urine over top of me in order to ensure even coverage.

I do not know why John decided to pee on me. What I do know is that once gripped by six-year-old impulse, it would have been easier for him to cut off his own head with a spoon than to resist that impulse. I, myself, had yielded to six-year-old impulse on numerous occasions.

Earlier that summer, my brother, Bill, and I were throwing darts outside. Bill had just finished his throw and had gone up to retrieve his darts, when suddenly I wondered if I could wing a dart right by his head and have it stick in the dartboard next to his face. How cool would that be? I even imagined the “thock” sound it would make and the surprised look on Bill’s face. My brain had barely registered this wonderful idea when it noticed my hand and arm had already acted upon it. I watched in horror as the dart flew straight and true… right into the back of Bill’s neck.

Surprisingly, my first feeling after the dart struck home was not fear, but rather disappointment that dart didn’t stick straight out of his neck like an arrow in an old western movie; It flopped down and just hung there. Instead of running for my life, I stood rooted to my spot in mute wonderment. Bill didn’t even bother to pull the dart out, he simply rounded on me and punched me right in the face. And even as the blows began to fall, I still couldn’t concentrate on my well-deserved shellacking because I couldn’t take my eyes off that stupid dart, bobbing up and down in hypnotic fashion off the side of Bill’s neck.

So, while I do not know why John decided to pee on me, I do not hold it against him… now. At the time, however, I was furious. I didn’t realize I was frozen with rage until I heard Bill and Paul consoling me by bursting into outright laughter. By the time I looked up again, John’s survival instinct had kicked in, and he was shimmying down the back side of one of the trees like a squirrel. John hit the ground running, but righteous, white-hot fury had given me the speed and dexterity normally lacking in my ungainly youth. Within five steps I had caught John, thrown him to the ground, and the fight was on.

Normally, Paul would have stuck up for his little brother, but given the circumstances, he was content to merely cheer him on. I knew I had to work fast, though, because retribution has a statute of limitations. Playground Law dictated that I only had a few minutes to hurt John. Eventually Bill and Paul would break us up, so my punches had to count. To this day I can still hear Paul’s battle cry to his brother:


To those who do not speak Mississippian, this translates to:

“Tally ho, John, old sport, he is only one grade higher than you.”

While it’s true I was a grade ahead of John in school, we were the same size and same age. It wasn’t my fault he got held back.

John and I were normally an even match, but I bloodied him up pretty good, and, in keeping with southern dueling custom at the time, rolled him once (just once) through the nearest fire ant bed. Bill and Paul finally broke us up, and I jumped into The Pond to wash off because for some reason cow piss was less offensive to me than human piss.

Even though John went home looking like he had walked face-first into a wasp nest and I went home soaking wet and smelling like a cow pond, neither of us got in trouble over the incident that later became known throughout the neighborhood as “that time John peed on yor haid.” Both families seemed to feel that honor had been satisfied. They considered this sound parental management and were content to let us settle most of our differences without the aid of attorneys or law enforcement.

The next day I was in the back yard plinking away at a duck decoy with my bb gun. John walked around the side of the house and sat down next to me, apparently unconcerned that I would take the opportunity to shoot his eye out or widen the gap in his front teeth with the butt of my Red Ryder.

“Sorry I pissed on your head, crybaby.” John said and started scratching at his ant bites.
“Sorry I bloodied your nose, butthole.” I returned, and grinned.

Of course neither one of us was a bit sorry. We knew we were a law unto ourselves as long as we flew below the parental radar. Generally, we managed to work things out just fine. I would like to say that I no longer succumb to the sweet siren song of six-year-old impulse. But, as anyone who has ever played darts with me could tell you, that would be a complete lie.

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