Click any letter for a look at my prize-winning essay from the 2010 Erma Bombeck Writing Competition. You don't even have to buy a vowel.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Checking Out

This morning, as my head was sinking toward my desk with a no-sleep hangover and I was trying to figure out a way to booby trap the door to discourage walk-in traffic, I thought back to the weekend.  After a 3-day conference, my husband and I checked out of the hotel and, driven to the brink of angst, Captain Courteous stopped to register a complaint at the desk.

“I need to talk to someone.”

“Yes, sir?”  Winning smile.  “Can I help you?”

“Yes.  It has come to our attention that everyone here is nice.”

The two desk clerks exchanged a look. “Yes, sir?”

“I want to know what you plan to do about it.”

“Do?”

“Yes. Every person in every shop, in every restaurant, even the bus drivers and the TSA at the airport for God’s sake. They were all nice.  I’d like to file a report.”

“You want me to report the entire city?”

“Yes. Do I need to fill out a form?”

Furtive glances to see if we were packing inappropriate weaponry such as soft drinks with high levels of sugar and caffeine. “Why don’t you give me your room number?” 

“622.”

“Got it.”  If they also had protective services on speed dial, they weren’t letting on.

“Let’s get this straight. You are upsetting all my stereotypes. We’re from the South. We’re supposed to be the nice ones.  Yet everyone here has been positively cordial. ” At this point he was plastered to the counter like a rash on a weekend camper and his voice began to crack.

“Yes, sir. You seem. . .intense yourself.”

The Mullises display Southern charm

“Well, yes. We try to keep a positive attitude.”

“Yes, sir. It shows.”

“So. What do you do if you have a bad day? Hold the door open for an old lady?”

“Not exactly.”

“So what then?”

The clerk leaned forward with a conspiratorial air.  We leaned in to discover their secret.

“We find somebody having a worse day and try to make it better.”

“Well, if you don’t want to tell us, just say so.” He turned away.
 
"Have a safe trip!"
 
"Now you're just rubbing it in." 

I followed him to the door and looked back just in time to see the two clerks bump fists and make an imaginary tally mark in the air.

Well played, Ohio. Well played.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Make My Day

I first posted this column in November of 2007 when I embarked on an ill-fated mission to buy a pair of blue pants at the mall. This weekend, against admonishments from the fashion police, I tried it again. . .with similar results. From now on, I'm wearing sweatpants everywhere.

Due to a recent flurry of incidental gunplay at the mall, there’s a new policy calling for youth under 18 to be chaperoned on the weekends while conducting the teenage business of flirting and attempted murder. The idea is to cut down on youthful shenanigans and gangland activity. I’m sure the mall management people mean well and have every intention of securing the safety and happiness of the great community of man, early Christmas shoppers, and vacationing tourists with large amounts of traveler’s checks. The trouble is that they’re policing the wrong group.

They need to keep their electronic eye on people like me.

If I have to try on one more pair of black latex hip hugger pants, they’re gonna have a lot more than warring gang members to contend with. I didn’t bear the regulation two children to be confronted with sixteen racks of clothes designed to show not only my stretch marks, but my emergency C-Section, and the scar from the unfortunate hot burrito incident.

And since when are hipbones considered fashion accessories? I’d like a little warmth around the navel base now that winter is on the way. When there’s a frost warning, I want to worry about my plants, not my pants. And at this point in life, my love handles are far too similar to bungee cords to be considered cute.

I know they make clothes for mature women, clothes where coordinating trousers (with clever under-the-armpit fit) and tops hang together conveniently to allow for ease of selection. When the women in my community visit the mall, they come home with shopping bags full of the same outfits. When they get together, it looks like league bowling night at the Star Lanes. I’m not quite ready for polyester pull-ups. All I ask for is a pair of pants that doesn’t make my behind look like a levee.

So the bright minds at the mall had better think a little more about the ammunition they’re selling instead of the fire power that’s coming in the door, because the next time I’m confronted with 72 tiny pairs of jeans with pockets the size of age spots, I just might lose my control panel.

And Mallers, unless you want trouble, don’t even think about starting swimsuit season early. I don’t want to see an ocean-going outfit until I get the pumpkin pie off my thighs. But if you’re feeling lucky, go ahead. Make my day.

 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Gonna Fly Now (The Tickets are Nonrefundable)

*This first ran when I contemplated hopping across a few states to drop in to the Erma Bombeck Writer's Workshop.  But now, as the saying goes, the tickets are nonrefundable.)

I’m contemplating taking a trip.  It doesn’t look that far on the map.  A few states up, maybe a little to the left, give or take a few fast food restaurants and a national monument or two, but stopping short of making a pass over scary bodies of water if you don’t count the restrooms on the Interstate.

But I’d have to fly.  I’m not afraid of flying; I did it in quite a carefree manner before I got married.

In 1982.

Thirty years ago we didn’t have to take our shoes off to get permission to board the plane.  As a matter of fact, we didn’t have to take ANYTHING off to board the plane.  We checked our luggage for free and got clever little bags of peanuts for a snack at naptime.  It was better than kindergarten.

The nice people at the gate set my pocketbook on a little conveyor that ran through a box that looked like a tiny carwash without the water or me screaming where nobody could hear me, and sent me on my way.  They figured out I had no money or authentic signed Elvis photographs and wished me well.  We parted as friends.

These days I’ve heard so many horror stories, I’m afraid to approach the airport without hiring Chuck Norris to serve as my personal bodyguard.  If I can’t get Chuck, I could make do with my husband before he's had his morning coffee. But that seems cruel, although not unusual.

I’m not afraid of flying, I’m afraid of TSA.

I’ve heard ugly stories about patdowns, and I don’t want to get my Spanx in a wad over how much Preparation H I’m bringing on board. Beauty pageant contestants use it to tighten the skin on their assets and I might need more than the allowed amount to look my best.

Also, I have trouble with shoes.  Sure, it’s no problem to kick off my orthopedic oxfords in the spirit of goodwill to protect our national safety, but at my age it could take the entire Olympic gymnastics team and a couple of off duty Air Marshals to get them on again.  Here agility is the key.  Even terrorists can’t increase flexibility in something that hasn’t exceeded a twenty-five degree angle in 35 years.  These hips don’t lie.

All in all I’m a trooper about anything that will keep folks safe.  But the fluid limitation is going to be a problem. Everyone is allowed a quart-sized carry-on baggie to hold personal items totaling no more than 3.4 ounces of fluid. I’m 54 years old.  I retain more water than that when I brush my teeth.

And if I’m going to have to bend over to tie my shoes, somebody needs to be holding something larger than a quart-sized baggie.

Those Interstate restrooms are looking better all the time.

 

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Sleeper

Pets are good for a heart-warming snuggle when you want to thread all the world through the backyard chipper, for sharing their body heat when you stay in to watch a movie on a cold winter’s night, and for the destruction of your Great-aunt Betsy’s heirloom comforter. 

If you make your selection carefully and pick a dog or cat with say, claws and fur, you’ll find they are capable of widespread mayhem and do not limit themselves to the linens.

Take my Karastan, for instance, and you are welcome to take it if you have a vacuum with enough force to suck Superman from flight.  This rug, when blue, coordinates all the colors in my living room with the quiet confidence of a designer’s touch.  However, it is only blue on alternate full moons after the third Tuesday following the equinox.  Any other time it is a cunning mixture of yellow Labrador and calico housecat, which, in my experience, coordinates with nothing at all. 
 
On the positive side, I can track anyone in the house by their footprints through the fur.

Lately, I’ve given up on grooming the carpet in favor of an all-out effort on the couch.  It’s a sleeper couch in the true sense of the word. I secured it for the unlikely price of “I can afford it” from a local consignment shop.  It doesn’t fold out into a clever but uncomfortable shape that’s supposed to be a bed, but is the sort of couch that pulls you into the depths of its cushions like grandmother snuggling you in her arms and lulling you to sleep even when you’re supposed to be occupied with something important like watching Oprah.

Add one Diva Dachshund.

As a member of the privileged set, Lady Lucy views the couch as her personal domain.  She polices the boundaries and attendant pillows with vigor and errant claws, producing pulls and loops in the loose weave suitable for making Velcro or hanging myself. In a flash of brilliance, I solved the problem by cutting the loose strings.  And discovered an important fact.

Looseweave fibers are not much for teamwork.  Now the couch is unraveling at the rate of speed usually reserved for mating porpoises. 

In this case, I’m afraid we’re faced with long division instead of multiplication.

I hate to see the after-math.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Designer Dud

“What color is that – toxic waste?”

My Son, who shall remain numberless because I promised not to tell people I was wearing his clothes, was not happy with his prize, a T-Shirt earned in a promotion at work. On the other hand, Son Number Two wouldn’t notice the shade of his shirt if you attached dollar values to the color wheel.

I held up the offending cotton blend.  “I kind of like it.  That neon green color is in style.”

I got the Eyeroll Plus Package in return.  A complete 360 with accompanying snorts and retching sounds. I also got the shirt.

“You’re sure you don’t want it?”  This is not a guy who wears designer clothes. His fashion choices vary with what’s at the top of the pile that day.  Meanwhile, I was planning to hit my Zumba workout where it hurts with new workout duds.

“It’s horrible.”

“So you’re offering me this shirt? With no conditions? Is this the same kid who wanted to change schools because I came to the office wearing his old gym shorts?”

“That was different. I wore those shorts.”

“I had to park three blocks away to pick you up the rest of the year because I wore used clothes?”  I looked down at my jeans.  I operate on the theory that washing jeans too often breaks down their unnatural fibers.

“Do you want the shirt or not? I don’t have all day.”  

What’s so urgent?  Is he planning for early retirement? Negotiating a stock trade?  I know from experience he’s gonna spend the next twelve hours with a video game controller in his hand saving mankind from zombies.  It’s his mission and he takes it seriously.

Also, he’s discovered he can still eat snack cakes with one hand while he’s saving the world.  The executives at the Ho Ho factory were relieved to find that out.

I claimed the shirt, retreated to my room with my prize, and started searching dresser drawers.

Wonder where I packed away those gym shorts.

 

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Craftless

I make up for my lack of gardening skills with an amazing ability to annihilate craft projects.  You would think the Author of the Universe in his unbounded wisdom would have given me the glue gun talents of a sharpshooter.  This is not the case.

One sister tried to teach me to crochet. She said she never saw anybody crochet backwards.

My other sister tried to help me make a banner for Son One’s soccer team.  I sewed the thing to the leg of my pants.  Gold craft felt stitched into the inseam of extra-large stretchy pants in a series of festive darts and puckers is not a desirable fashion statement.

When I was in high school, my mother took pity on me (GOOD LORD, WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?!) and finished my home economics project.  Who would have thought zippers would be so hard to install?  I had more trouble than a presidential candidate trying to get the thing to stay closed.

My niece has a businesses creating hand-painted jewelry that people pay actual money for.  I painted the South Carolina crescent and palmetto tree on a pendant. It looked like a banana bush.



My relatives began to meet secretly to have crafting parties.  I happened to visit one Friday evening, and at my knock heard muffled voices and the sound of heavy furniture being shoved in front of the door.

“Hello?!”

The blinds shifted slightly. Whispering followed.

“I know you’re in there!”

The door opened a crack.  “We can’t come out.  We’re quarantined.”

“I’m so sorry. Can I get you anything?”

“Could you leave a pizza by the door?”

“What sort of disease do you have that you’re quarantined but want pizza?”

Silence.  Then, “Acrophobia?”

“You’re in quarantine because you’re afraid of heights?”

“Leave the pizza down low.”

“You people are making crafts in there, aren’t you? Let me in or I’m coming back armed with tacky glue and pinking shears!”

Furtive dialing.

“And no calling 9-1-1!”

I went around to the back door, entered through the kitchen and came up behind a group of my closest friends and relatives wielding cotton balls and tiny paintbrushes like they were heavy artillery.

“Can I at least water your plants?”

A mad scramble ensued, leading to a tangle of arms, legs, and cotton balls.  It looked like an Easter Bunny gangland rumble.  A glitter haze filled the air.  A paintbrush stuck through my sister's pony tail like a hairpin.

The good news is that the plants are going to be fine.  But the crafting group cemented themselves into a freeform sculpture.  They’ll be okay once we find an antidote for Gorilla Glue.

Meanwhile I’ve taken up scrapbooking.  Has anybody got a nail gun I can borrow? 

 

Monday, March 10, 2014

Creature Discomforts

When it comes time to ring the dinner bell, having two Labradors in the kitchen is a lot like standing in front of an out-of-control locomotive speeding down a mountain pass headed toward a village of unsuspecting lemmings.

As I picked myself up off the floor and pried random bits of dog chow-type shrapnel from under my fingernails, I realized two things. The first was that the Labs’ Pop was coming up the back steps, and their keen doggie superpowers had alerted them to the fact that he was laden with a cheeseburger plate and a side order of crinkle-cut fries.  And slaw.

Second, the sloshing sound of the tide going out, and a certain uncomfortable dampness in the seat of my pants alerted my keen superhuman powers that I had landed in their water dish.

I want to trade superpowers.

Sensing personal discomfort is over-rated. I’d rather clue in to the breaking cheeseburger news and leave the waterlogged underpants for the Scene at Eleven.

There’s nothing like a brace of dogs to remind you to watch your step as you go about your daily chores.  No task is too small to escape supervision.  After all, there is the possibility that at any second the broom will transform into a pillar of potato chips or the dirty laundry into basket of biscuits. I once tripped over a Dachshund while vacuuming because she detected a six week old Cheerio in the hose and was trying her paw at spelunking into canister.

Not long enough after my evening water bowl plunge, I woke one morning and ricocheted gently down the hall and off the kitchen appliances in a destination set for Coffee Pot.  With one eye open at half-mast to guide me, and that keen intelligence that comes when Daylight Savings time has just kicked in, but the body’s internal clock is still on snooze, it took several shuffled steps before I realized my course was plotted straight through the Little Friskies zone where Danger Cat was flinging salmon pate like monkeys fling poop.   There’s nothing like unidentified ooze between your toes to bring you to full alert status.

From uncomfortable experience, I’ve found that any unscheduled activity in the kitchen sends off a hint of impending snacktime that brings an avalanche of furry bodies barreling along a treacherous course to the refrigerator.  So, while swimming out of the water dish, scouting the floor for stray Cheerios, and computing the likelihood of the whole thing recurring like a coconut radio invention on Gilligan’s Island, I made an important life decision.

My next pet will be a garden gnome.