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.

“Careful.”
“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.”
“Careful.”
“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.”
“Fine.”

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?”
“ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz….. “
“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.

“Yeah! GO, JAMES BROWN!”

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.”
“Okay.”

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?”
“No.”
“Well, if they’re not all dead, I think you’re going to like them.”
“Wooooo! GO, JAMES BROWN!”
“Yeah. GO, JAMES BROWN!”

Learning

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?”
“Sarcasm.”
“Sarcasm?”
“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.”
“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.