CAUTIONARY TALES

My beau and I are doing everything in our power to stay alive. We might increase our chances considerably if we never leave the house. Sometimes we sit in front of the television taking one anxiety attack at a time when watching commercial ads that try to sell us supplements for our aging bodies that might just result in dangerous disparity as well. With all their product liabilities and my atrocious luck, I’d probably choke to death trying to swallow their publicized pills. Those ads certainly don’t let us sit very comfortably when they are warning: Don’t take if you’re a marmot, pregnant, almost pregnant, have been pregnant, prone to sudden bursts of tears, or have moles. And, at the first sign of paralysis, call your doctor immediately. My mate asked how he could possibly make that call if he’s paralyzed.

As we sit in quiet bemusement, we can’t help but wonder what’s the worst that could happen if we took these questionable capsules? I would probably find a forest and lay on the ground exploring the stars and the deep dark galaxy, in broad daylight, during bear mating season. The last time I took something that had significant side effects was about eight years ago. I was walking down the street where saw a sign on a building and swore it said Do not enter or trespassers will be prostituted. I wasn’t sure if I should be an example to others and not go in, or prove to myself that my body was still worthy. Because the heavier side effects that day could have been tricking, possible prostitution, jail time, and loss of family and close friends. That was one excited corner of crowded onlookers who were hoping I would drop everything and play strip poker or dance the hip hop boob and fanny flop. Meanwhile, my boyfriend at the time didn’t take anything and still experienced side effects. Just viewing a picture of Jessica Alba in a bathing suit resulted in uncontrollable manliness. I needed to find something that would settle his horny self down.

When you think about it, there are impending dangers to everything. I refrain from jogging because according to every episode of CSI, there’s a big chance I’ll run across a dead body. And with all the child protective warnings, it would have been easier just to get rid of my kids. When my middle daughter was small, I was very much aware of warning labels. For one of her playdates, I bought that moldable silicone based substance called Silly Putty which comes in original, glow-in-the-dark, glitter, and four bright colors. Yet the stuff contains colorants that could cause serious side effects of staining, and direct contact can make it stick to hair, batten down eyelashes, and be used as permanent ear and nose plugs when dried. Of course during that lovely little incident, my daughter’s girlfriend’s mother came over and saw what my darling did to her child. She had been a delightful woman in the past, until she asked if my daughter was a demon. She also inquired what I fed her child for lunch. She gave me the full facts and folklore about hot dogs claiming the meat is simply manslaughter. Little did she know the girls washed their weenies down with 100% healthy fruit juice.

To calm this woman’s nerves, I offered her a 100% hefty glass of fruit stomped juice known as wine. But she said the Surgeon General insists that if we drink violaceous substances, to be prepared for headaches so bad that we will want to scoot directly to the hospital for a brain scan. She went on to tell me the other un-dietary side effects that include devouring copious amounts of bar nuts, besides poisoning the bloodstream and explaining all the seventy made up reasons why country singers chant about love gone wrong. I almost drowned myself that day from the goblet filled tsunami of fermented relief. I turned to her teasingly and warned her, “Don’t try this at home!” After they left, I ended up reading a book to my daughter about Alice’s titillating Adventures in a Wonderbra. She read one to me called Are You My Mother?

Some memories still come so vividly to me. Many moons ago I housesat for someone who left whimsical warnings throughout his manly shack. The comical and jocose gentleman must have had a jolly time writing me those notes. I went to use the bathroom and found one near the toilet that read, This area might be lethally hazardous. But zip-a-dee-doo-dah zip-a-dee-ay, just walk away and have yourself a wonderful day. I should have married the guy. Not for his poor cleaning skills, but for his farcical talents. The gun owner even made his own warning label that read, Not only will this weapon mame you if you mess with it, it’ll hurt the whole time you’re dying. Even the washing machine had the warning, Nothing over fifteen pounds. Only a moron would try to wash the dog in a front loader. The next note was far less convincing. I proceeded to do his wash and a shirt label advised, For best results, wash in cold water and tumble dry on low heat. If I had been a laundering extremist, I would have been going for the worst results by tying the garment to the top of my car and driving it through the car wash, then drying it by speeding through town at two hundred miles per hour. But doing that could easily cause injury, frivolous lawsuits, or early onset mortality.

What if we are all forced to wear warning labels? I’m fairly certain mine would caution that I’m known to spontaneously combust and spew liquids, and I shouldn’t be left unsupervised under a full moon… or with Italian men. God forbid if I ever have a suffocation warning attached to me that says: Keep this bag away from babies, pets, and alcohol.

WHEN YOU WISH UPON A STAR

In an unexpected moment of devotion, my doting boyfriend came up to me and said, “I love you.” I asked “Why?” He responded, “I don’t know. I haven’t figured that out yet.” I don’t always whimper. But when I do, questionable fondness is probably involved. But I am convinced that this man adores me so much that he would never use me as bait on a safari if it were a choice between him and me in a tiger attack. I like to be the reason he smiles when he knows he’s going to get eaten alive. Here is another endearing phrase he uses. “Every breath you take, every move you make, I’ll be watching you.” But the relationship will continue to grow and prosper and mutually benefit both of us if he doesn’t stand over me with a pillow and a gun when I snore.

Speaking of such profound adoration, both my Dad and my boyfriend think Sophia Loren is simply the sexiest woman ever. I have often wondered out of the millions of women on earth, why Sophia? Is it the curvaceous figure? Or the fact that she wows a crowd with her movie star glamour? Is it the charcoal winged eyeliner she so pointedly paints above and below her eyes that extends almost to her earlobes and screams Here I am boys? People may not recognize me anymore once I start penciling in wickedly black and lengthy enhancers. But I suspect the good Lord did not intend for men to ogle over just one woman.

Recently my beau and I stayed in a Hollywood hotel where every elevator is plastered with actual size movie stars. You walk into one and cannot help but become enchanted by the famous highnesses of Hollywood who have you mesmerized when they stare into your eyes. After a night of moderate drinking, we proceeded back to our hotel where Casanova and I entered one of the big square hoists and he immediately zooms in on the female stars. “Hey girls,” he says followed with, “Nevermind.” As if they weren’t exactly the girls he wanted to flirt with. I asked him, “What about Marilyn?” He answered, “Nope. It’s gotta be Sophia Loren.” We walked down the hall to our room that was lined with more photographs of classic stars. I mosied by each one pointing out Greta Garbo, Montgomery Clift, Veronica Lake, and Lawrence Olivier. Then I yelled, “No way! They placed Sophia Loren right next to OUR room?? What are the odds!” I’m not normally a jealous woman. But I was in star hell that night having to share my beau with a classic Italian pin-up actress, listening to the kind of coquetry carried on by my lover and the sexy Sophia. Her smirky smile threatened to reduce me to something very much like a creature from another planet. Is it a coincidence that I brought along my current reading material Why Men Die First? I’m sure there are chapters coming up about crushes, homewreckers, infidelity, and bloodshed.

Sure, it could have been the three glasses of wine. But I had to explain to my sweet sugardumpling that when a woman wants a guy, first she has to make sure he isn’t with another woman. Then she should catch his eye and hold his gaze for five seconds. I’d say the sultry Sophia was holding his gaze for the entire time we stood there talking. Then a woman is supposed to flip her hair and walk away. I tried telling mister stud muffin that women who can’t flip their hair and walk away are needy and can clamp onto a guy like a bloodthirsty parasite. I’ve done more research on domestic intelligence than the FBI, and sometimes the smallest step of reassurance can activate the mightiest of miracles. I wondered if the aging star suffers like I do from memory loss, and if she too disguises her midriff. In fact, I wanted to go home and look into the dilapidated factors of other famous women. I tried gaining his attention back by laughing at his sleek Casanova impersonation, and restructuring the conversation towards something a little more intriguing like the Louisiana Purchase. After all, I’m no stranger to wine’s magical powers myself. I was almost sure I heard the urbane actress offer my guy a lovely lap dance.

No wonder my beau was so amorous that night. He burst into the room and grabbed me passionately. He claims it’s not about sex with Sophia. It’s more about sensuality. Even though I knew our love would burn stronger than a wired tungsten filament in a see through bulb, I wasn’t born yesterday, or the day before that. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t stay awake that night wondering about the women he dreams about. At about 4 am I told him, “Honey, it’s been three years now. I think it’s time we seriously thought about cutting ties to past loves.”

Women want trust, loyalty, affection, and no gaping at other gals. Then we will do most anything men want, except move to a remote fishery in the Yukon. As we left the room to check out, my fella said, “I’m walking right by her since I only have eyes for you babe.” That was special. I think crazy girlfriends are the best because you never know what you’re going to get. You might get eight hours of solid sleep yourself, or be awakened by a slinging of catcalls by your mate who swears she is Batwoman but looks more like a disheveled Lizzie Borden on some mission to murder somebody. I usually need seven hours of healthful beauty sleep. Ten if I’m deplorable.

According to Sir Jiminy Cricket, when you wish upon a star, it makes no difference who you are and your dreams come true. I thought maybe the rapturous Sophia was going to come down off the wall and have her way with my man. If that had been the case, I would have been searching that wall for Cary Grant.

OUT OF THE MOUTHS OF BIGGER BABES

I consider myself a babe sometimes, especially since I’m an older gal who still has guys looking at me. If they are gawking, it’s more likely I am carrying around a trail of toilet paper that is stuck to my panties. Then I find myself acrimoniously muttering four-letter words and in the next breath, coming back to civility by saying, “Your patience during my time of venting frustration is thoroughly appreciated.” Never mind the more colorful stuff that comes pouring out of my mouth when I’m pulling out said soft thin toitee layers while twenty other people are staring. Sometimes I just don’t think before I speak. I do the same exact thing when I’m being passed on the freeway by some overzealous Nascar drivers. Or when I have spilled oily foods on my freshly laundered clothes. My swear jar could probably finance the entire Department of Molecular Medicine. I realize it’s unladylike to curse. After a long day gone, I also have this indelicate desire to be flop free and whip off my bra through my shirt sleeves before I even reach the front door. I may be one of those ladies in the nursing home who gets kicked out due to cursing and creating chaos.

In our house growing up, we got our mouths washed out with soap for swearing. Now when I’m happy, I sputter off innocent words. But when I’m upset, I use the Lord’s name in vain, hoping He has a sense of humor when I turn into a foul-mouthed name dropper. I’m not sure where this came from when I was a church going purist who was taught better. In my past I would have said, “Dangit. There’s a piece of toilet paper stuck to my behind.” Now, I’m exerting every effort to sound off irreverently about whatever experience is annoying me. In order to curb such enthusiasm, I looked into this disturbing characteristic. Seems I have Lalochezia, the emotional relief gained from using vulgar language. Then I’m mad at myself and proceed to walk around and do something else that’s dumb, experiencing life at the rate of several more profanities per minute. I don’t often use big words. Not when a singularly linguistic expression can satisfy my immediate need.

Of course not all females swear. But I have witnessed quite a few using grandiloquent language. The last time I was on an airplane, that lively pedestrian promenade that has people watching at its finest, I thought I would be zenning out when in fact I ended up interacting with a collection of female cussers. I sat next to one gal and immediately said to her, “I know it’s against code and all, but if we experience any sky diving, I’ll adjust your oxygen mask after you adjust mine.” She rolled her eyes and started spouting off at me as if I was some kind of self-centered gamine with wicked charm. But I stayed wildly optimistic that she would save my life in case of a dire emergency. She began describing her dislike for airplane food, complaining that it tasted like “f-ing cardboard.” Whereas I told her, “There’s always peanuts!” Some cheered me on. Although I’ve known others in my life who have wanted to gag me from day one. She started mumbling a bunch of sentence enhancers that would have made a sailor sound like a saint. It brought to light my own iniquitous and foolish practices of profanity use.

When I turned away, I observed a couple who was obviously on their anniversary trip since he was presenting her with a wrapped box. She wanted one with diamonds in it, but he surprised her with a gift certificate to Victoria’s Secret. Every strand on her mood swing snapped, and she possessed a demeanor that suggested she was unsatisfied with his sexual gift. It sounded like they had a successful relationship when I overheard something about four children, five grandchildren, and ten thousand days of togetherness. And I assumed there were zero stabbings during that lengthy time period. But that moment was forever captured with quite a blasphemous retort from the wife that ended with a wonderful exchange. One that almost made me want to be married.

Not fifteen minutes later, a boy was kicking the back of another woman’s seat. Meanwhile, the man next to her decided to take a reclining snoozer by taking up two seats to nap. She was not a happy-go-lucky beam of flourishing sunshine. I suppose she began swearing because beating the hell out of two humans is illegal in most states. I cannot repeat what the woman said. I can only say that the younger mister adorableness was a sponge, and that those vocables do not vaporize so quickly. Her words packed a serious punch and he could have repeated them. It was bad enough he called her “meannie head.” She erupted again, correcting his comeback while verbally bashing the man next to her with more smuttiness. This might be what happens when you don’t pay close attention to your espresso intake. Or I came to another epiphany that maybe she was menopausal and someone messed with the airline thermostat. I do believe that women with that sort of influence usually live longer than men who mention it.

My body language doesn’t always say what I’m thinking. But watching this babe told me that she was probably prepared to use a closed fist on both of them while spouting off indecencies. People in the down under know how to react to things like this. Aussies would tell the woman, “That’s a bit crikey ya wanker!” Which is the clean way of saying, Oh my gosh you idiot. This prolonged stay in verbal punishment prison made me want to chant, Stop, in the name of love… besides stopping my own profanity use. I knew it was a good day when I didn’t need to unleash my own flying innuendos. And I could have, since there is usually a screaming toddler on board, or when you’re hedged between two tedious talkers with horrid breath, or when the lavatory is being overly occupied by sex driven couples. Vulgarities could have easily erupted when the young girl in front of me decided to free her forever flowing hair by letting it drop behind her seat and onto my tray table where my food was resting, not to mention covering my in-flight video and totally blocking those Jerry & Kramer shenanigans. The man on the other side of me recommended that I not point my finger and try to arrange safe words when describing my angst. Lucky for Rapunzel I wasn’t carrying any hair cutting shears. I did wonder if the airplane masks that dropped down carried something else besides oxygen.

I have used the “F” bomb, trying fiercely to change it to “fudge.” The problem with that is, I think about food then run to the store for Fudgsicles and whatever else has crystalline candy and saturated fats in it. As I get older, I realize I should take up other hobbies like knitting. Or muzzle wearing.

TWO SCENTS WORTH

Now that I’ve become a keen sharpshooter, no one should be nervous. If I see something crawling up your leg, the Annie Oakley in me can take out the dreadful creature in half a second. Although it’s your leg you might want to worry about. I had to learn how to shoot since we have a lawn invader whose rank presence would make even a garbage truck veer away. Just call me the crazy skunk lady. My neighbors did when I aimed straight at them.

One of the foul-smelling scoundrels comes to visit us every night. And believe me, they are nothing like Ipanema girls parading in who are as they say, tall and tan and young and lovely. These varmints are short and partly pale and older and much wiser and repulsive. It doesn’t do me a darn bit of good to stop and smell the ranunculus in my garden when there’s a strong toxic scent lurking around them. At first, my boyfriend and I looked at each other wondering who passed this strange sort of gas. We did eat something that night for dinner that made the rapid release of some powerful methane and sulfur. What was worse was having a bigger stinker trailing the yard. Wildlife removal and animal control are never around when you need them. So we decided to take matters into our own hands before being at risk for skunk psychosis.

We began plotting our skunk trapping strategies wondering which artillery methods to wield, without resorting to firing off a few hundred flares then basically bombing our back yard. There would be a lot of damage repair and the reinstallation service of laying new sod and planting shrubs all over again, not to mention the spray that would occur during the obliteration. If we use a simple slingshot, chances are that we would miss the piss-cat and snip off some of our cherished blossoms. I thought about borrowing my friend’s dog and have a sleepover for scaring purposes. We could bait the black and white weasel with food, but then we’d have a slew of other unwanted guests. Or we could simply trap him in a cage and play some funky music till he died.

There are fifty states, 3.8 million miles of land mass, and one skunk still willing to walk through our valley of death. We opted to go with Plan W. Whip out the BB gun, sit on the patio with a glass of wine, talk in low monotones, wait for the little mephitis to show up, and mame him till he waddles away and warns the rest of his species never to show up at the Walton-Clark household again. In the corporate world, they pay you big bucks to think this way. What we didn’t count on was the fact that we ended up drunk as the skunk. When I watched Cape Fear, I didn’t think about the unparalleled suspense. I thought about the same vulnerability from the feeling of being dominated, wondering how I would handle that predator. But something told me it wouldn’t be near the same type of situation. I’d probably have to kiss my arse goodbye.

The following night, I sorted my contemplation by importance, comfortableness, and my boyfriend’s point of view. So in the general relativistic sense, we both found that patience and not raising a stink ourselves was the best way to prepare for the showdown. I was confident that we could handle being local trappers, as long as the thing didn’t score a direct hit from fifty paces, rendering us temporarily blind and useless. I had to practice hitting the deck in case this happened. But if there’s one thing I know about striped animals, they don’t really come when you call them. My boyfriend reassured me that the long lost and possibly rabid intimidator would want to search our lawn for grubs sooner or later. We sat the next night waiting again while I practiced soberism along with my shooting, trying to keep my trigger happy self under control. I didn’t want to sing, really. Singing leads to dancing and possibly spooking the skunk, dancing might lead to me falling and missing out on the actual annihilation, and the skunk might spray me and I’d have to remove all my clothes. Falling might lead to hurting myself whereas paramedics would show up and smell my body that would be more noxiously fragrant than a septic tank. Not to mention they would see me naked. After all that Einstein-ish brain activity, the stinkpot decided to take the night off.

We still haven’t caught the odorous animal. But we haven’t given up. We have a whole new plan of attack tonight, unless the fur handling auction committee that I called comes to take him away. I was hoping to reveal a fun and final chapter to our skunk saga. Instead, I can only reveal the story my beau told me about another time when he dealt with a similarly sly little bugger. His mother lived with him and at the time, urged him to get rid of the critter that was hovering around their house. Trying to stay incognito since the police station was one block away, he grabbed his shotgun, proceeded out the back door where he targeted the perpetrator, fired the carbine and massacred the unpleasant munchkin with a bang that was heard for miles, ran back into the house and laid down the gun, then nonchalantly walked out the back door again yelling, “What the hell was that?”

THE OTHER WOMAN

Recently I scanned a complete manual of things that might kill you. Listed was a stack of trappings that included ovarian cancer, fairground accidents, eating apples from a manchineel tree, and having a mother-in-law. Just kidding. But most of the time when someone wants an unsolicited opinion, they can get it from the reluctantly related woman who has given birth to your husband. And if there are children involved, some say that co-parenting with a sociopathic troublemaker is a special kind of hell where you are constantly thinking up a viable exit strategy. I was one of the lucky ones. Mine would never have been cast for the movie Monster-in-law since she was not manipulative or vindictive in any way. I was worried though, when they had just named a hurricane after her.

Lemoncholy was probably the word that most described how I felt about partnering with this lady, which left me downing a coupla citrusy Arnie Palmers that facilitated some deep concerns about sharing my husband. And I felt the intense pressure to produce offspring when she was around. Maybe it was the cutout magazine ads for Gerber. Or the fact that she watched me draw and paint pictures when I should be nursing or diapering. I felt her silent stares one day as if she were to say, “Now walk away from that artist’s easel and go start making me some grandchildren.” So I did, after she went home of course. It wasn’t long before she was one happy lady who held onto my postpartum belly for nine months and showed up in the delivery room ready to grab my daughter the second she slid out of the birth canal. But that was okay since I couldn’t get up or anything, and the man I married was gravitationally challenged and basically needed smelling salts. That was a good bonding experience, especially after she viewed my privates. Then I was twice blessed with having a baby that inherited every last one of my in-laws traits. My infant didn’t look anything like me except for a few eyelashes. It was also an odd coincidence that my kiddo was the spitting image of the hunkish teen who mowed our lawn.

My MIL wanted to get my first baby’s ears pierced at the budding age of six months. It may have been a hopeful experience that might have changed my whole attitude towards the usefulness of nose, nipple, and naval rings. But I wanted my teensy tot to be old enough to handle the responsibility of caring for those ears all by herself. My daughter would have probably loved to go bungee jumping as well. But that wasn’t going to happen either. My newly kin folk said the piercings could be done by an insightful and caring staff that uses high quality jewelry. If it weren’t for my MIL, I would never have known the luxury of owning cashmere. So I wondered if the earrings were coming from Cartier. And if so, I could surely get mine done instead.

Thankfully I didn’t have to reach for love potion number ninety-nine when my MIL was around because she was a delightful creature who didn’t make me resort to drinking. I didn’t get Cartier earrings, nor did my daughter. But she did teach me how to keep my babes away from undetectable poisons or being mauled by unsuspecting characters. She helped me when I had no functioning brain cells after being up all night with feverish and restless children. She supplied plenty of hugs and conversations with my babies in the wee hours of the morning and let me sleep. I couldn’t be sad having her around. Not when Pottery Barn should hail her as the reigning queen of tablecloth usage since she let my toddlers run around with my fine Belgian Flax linens that doubled as capes. She also taught my kids how to dial her phone number. That’s why my outlandish phone bills had misdialed calls to foreign countries. But with grandmothers around, toddlers don’t ask for an apple, then refuse the apple, then ask why the apple was cut up, then cry because the apple was in wedges instead of cut into giraffe shapes. Kids are just happier people. It was the marriage that turned out not so successful.

Come to find out, there are lots of people out there who are crammed into crowded corners of their own homes jockeying for cabinet positions with a hurricane of troublesome MIL figures. One of my friends commented about the days his smother-in-law visits. I thought she may have been a sea serpent since he always used the phrase, “Thar she blows.” His otherwise silent mouthed cries for help are met by the discerning eyes of this woman who supplies a large amount of condescending tutorials. Supposedly she possesses a demeanor that suggests Hitler is in the house, knowing if he acts on his feelings he will either go to prison or be separated from his wife within a matter of minutes. He added that she most resembles a bat whose body is covered with hair and leathery skin. And in order to keep such wildlife under control, he makes a special place in the rafters in the garage where her highness can hang upside down to sleep. He also leaves out lots of almonds and cashews because whatsherface has nut allergies. He calls her a dirtwater fox because her real name often escapes him. But out of respect for his wife, he calls her Duchess.

Now it’s my turn to be a mother-in-law. I suspect that any man who treats his woman like a princess is proof that he has been raised by a queenly matriarch. I can only hope for a jovial companionship where the jokes are small and the love and laughter are plentiful. But if I go to my son-in-laws house for my birthday, and he has bought me a chair containing straps with electrical wiring and is waiting for me to sit in it so he can plug it in, I’ll know something’s wrong.

PARENT TRAP

It began when one of my daughters remarked, “I have a brilliant beyond brilliant idea! Let’s go to Universal Studios.” Once again, I had fallen into the parental tourist trappings of another theme park adventure. Participants included two scheming daughters, two precocious granddaughters, and one not-so-happy-to-oblige sluggish woman (moi) who is always trying to avoid exhausting funfairs. The kids called it their fun place. I called it a magical arena full of more toys than I could afford for eight hours while pretending I could still think straight.

The granddaughters were dressed and ready to fly through the fairyland. The daughters and their mother needed to be catapulted to the park, and were then espresso energized by way of Starbucks. I needed enough caffeine and carmelized sweetener to walk that communal event. I was one of those sluggish people who appreciated coffees invigorating significance, which probably explained my electricity while dancing with my ten month old granddaughter, asking nothing in return but frequent pee breaks. Eight cups of water per day and I’m a casual bathroom visitor. Yet one cup of coffee and there are abnormal changes in the urinary system and the need to pee is intensified by a million. I turned into a speed demon, wanting to use the mommy had an accident excuse to forge forward in bathroom lines.

We proceeded to the world of Harry Potter where we entered the main amusement ride that holds a high level of screaming activity. What looked like the cloaked headmaster of Hogwarts approached us and my twelve year old granddaughter became breathlessly besotted. For a minute there, I thought Hallie Parker was my grandchild when she proclaimed, “I’ve dreamt of meeting you my whole life and I just hope that one day you can love me as me, and not as the person my mother thinks I am.” She isn’t the same freckled-faced drama queen as she is a comedic charmer. The caped wonder provided us with information about baby swap whereas we were able to use a password to skip ahead in line and take turns on the ride. We passed people who were fixated on us with such sisterly betrayal as if we were no doubt, the lowest most awful creatures on the planet. Regardless, we still had to wait in line amongst murderous stares and with my urgency to release a stream from the front faucet yet again, if you know what I mean. And I thought a constantly weeing baby was bad. Either way, large amounts of incontinence is hard to ignore.

With my kids right behind me, I told the ride operator, “It’s me, or them. Take your pick.” He took my kids first, probably because he didn’t want to deal with projectile vomiting from a panicked elderly person who ends up freaking out on this drop tower of perpetual terror. Little did he know I needed to get on and off that thing rather quickly before it was necessary for my bladder to lower its water level again. I swear my kids were so happy to go ahead that they turned into a couple of Elvis impersonators when they told the guy, “Thankyou, thankyou ver much.” I’m sure both my daughters would have liked to disclose, “She’s never had one cup of triple espresso her entire life and she shows up today totally stimulated.” I could have added some spice to their non-verbal commentary by adding, “It was a little too robusk for a cup of coffee if you ask me, but then again I’m impartial to being supersonic.”

Once my speedy body was on the rapid rotating track, I felt my organs floating inside me, not to mention my leaky drawers. Any respectful carnival goer would have visited the restroom first so not to lubricate the seats of amusement rides. Flying high above the Hogwart castle, my eyeballs were practically forced into the back of my head. I called out to the person who was handling the contraption at the far end of the wild ride, but he couldn’t hear me above my gasping or the ten million other shrieking occupants. Thankfully no kids could hear my swearing. The young male attendee watched me exit in such a way that he most surely expected me to go weak in the knees and fall into his arms and sob hysterically. Okay, I did cry hard, and tears fell down my legs. My trembling frame staggered off looking pale as school chalk with vessels bulging in my forehead, and with wet panties. Holding it in was just as hard as trying to control the bamboo in my yard. I’m sure the other riders thought I was the bloody incontinent ghost of Christmas past. Nothing would have pleased me more than to say, “Being older and incontinent is not a crime you know.”

I wasn’t prepared for another landing. Once three o’clock rolled around, I was jolted away from the coffees potency and very close to collapsing. I ended up flat on my back in line at the Simpson’s motion simulator ride where it was open season for the frenzied whir of bypassers. It was time to go home to a glass of something that would relax me. When I did I told my girls, “Here’s to you. May your lives be far less complicated than mine.”

Let me sum up this theme park adventure. I had a great time. I now have a new loan to pay. Next time I’ll be wearing something for the weak end, or make my bladder gladder by not going at all. And I’m writing this from my bed because I still haven’t recovered.

EXPOSURE

Beneath this aging exterior beats the heart of once lovely woman who is now marred by body changes and also saddened by the separation of mind and memory. So what if I have a beautiful pancreas. No one is going to see it. They are going to see fleshy folds and my minds meandering. It’s hard having confidence with the skin I’m in when a mirror is calling attention to obvious deficiencies. It’s an image meant to move well beyond the initial gaze and stay embedded in my brain. Quite noticeably, sugary confections have been my drugs of choice. I’d like to personally thank Ben & Jerry for the lasting results from their every lovin’ scoopful.

When drying off after a shower, I am forced to view the magnitude of transitions in my reflection. I do this only in the dark because once those lights are on, my image appears much more distinctly and flabby furrows mysteriously form making my very own coffee cup holders. During modes of presentation, I also find that my frontal mounds can no longer serve as a sturdy place where birds can come to build their nests. They have clearly fallen and cannot get up. Heartbreak and onions aren’t the only things that make me cry. I usually turn away and run like I’m wearing red and just saw a bull. Cemented in my heart is a cavernous, alarm-initiating inconfidence that God would never let me look like this. Every day I perform the rousing rendition, Oh where oh where can my body be? The Lord took it away from me! I hate to pass any kind of acumen onto our almighty creator. After all, He made me. He just didn’t need to supersize my thighs and diminish my memory the minute I turned sixty.

As soon as I have my steaming cup of morning plasma I attempt to dress, forcing my legs into pants by squatting five times and feeling the seizure in my back as I struggle to pull them up. Sometimes I can’t trust the wood flooring when I slip in my socks, only to fall and ask myself two days later, “What caused these bruises?” I’ve been known to put my bra on inside out and have gotten very good at opening child proof caps with a crowbar. Sometimes I ponder on thoughts that might make me cheerful, like calling Pakistani officials to talk about suicide. They would probably tell me to start brandishing some sort of annihilating weapon. If any weapon can wipe out wrinkles, it just might deserve deep consideration.

In public, I don’t think much about all this physique stuff unless of I run into someone who is ridiculously good looking. It happens a lot at the beach when I’m seeing naked bodies, those younger sites of imagined sin. My bod is no longer a vessel of sexual pleasure, turned instead into a port of judgment and suffering. Every woman wants to be babelicious. Not have jiggling jello and assorted visages of flesh pouring out of our Maidenforms. There are a zillion pygmy bikinis out there that make me go into self-loathing. Exposure to thongy swimwear causes sudden outbursts of angst and spontaneous hiding of flabbiness with a beach towel. Not to mention what damages the optic nerves. The only way to get my boobs that high again would be to tie helium balloons to my nipples, or have permanent shelving attached underneath to hoist them up. Home Depot should stock something for such womanly needs. I mean how much wood can a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck bosomwood? Then I wouldn’t be ignored wandering through the vast cluster of cheeky sandlubbers. There was a time when I sat in the sand wrinkle free. I didn’t have to spend ten minutes contouring my cheeks with blush to look young like a sun baked beauty. And I surely didn’t need a pound of concealer. Now I’m considering a closed casket so people don’t stand and stare at my eyebrows thinking I had a lighter fluid accident.

As my boobs stand now, subjection can lead to immediate evacuation to my wine decanter, that serviceable substitute for whatever ails me. I do this right before and after such unpleasant stimulus. Of course there’s always that impression that I might have a drinking problem as well. I cannot promise what my hands will do after I’ve had a few and I drive my car into a building full of skin care specialists who promise to stop the aging process with all their overpriced products. I worry about the future, wondering if I will use the common utterance of crassness in conversations or wander off during a full moon. Let me point out that moon phases affect human behavior and the body holds roughly sixty percent water. My bladder started rumbling the minute I began writing this. I suppose I should manage those few pints of vino I consume each night. Although it’s something that has way more credence than tap water, for hydration and sanity. If the moon can affect ocean tides and causes bulges in the earth’s crust, surely it affects people. You’ll know it’s affect on me when I walk the streets carrying my precious cargo of cabernet, or run off with a mariachi band.

Since just about everyone except my baby granddaughter has a tattoo, I could rationalize staying young by having something branded on my backside. I have already endured other pains in the ass so why not beautiful flowers and colorfully etched words? Or have Shamu spread considerably across the surface of my hiney since behemoths are bloating entities as well. I might pay the guy a little extra for a lovely bum massage. But if he says, “Nah, I’m good,” it could lead to another psychotic mood swing.

I know I can’t go around moping for the rest of my life. Meanwhile, my value is determined by how much terror I can endure. I can either go into a state of stony withdrawal, or go to the beach and make myself useful. I’m sure there are those prettyful babes who will need someone to scare away starers and hold drinks for them. I’ve got just the flesh carved out for such practicality. And just so you know, I can go from being depressed to livening up a crowd in about three minutes. It’s been a rough couple of years admitting the truth about my torso. But at least I’m not taking my teeth out and leaving them on the nightstand quite yet.

I YAM WHAT I YAM

In high school, I wanted to be just like Ann. I loved the way she looked, charmed, and innocuously lured all the boys to her yard. Ann however, wanted to be like Lynn. There was something about Lynn’s charisma that intrigued her. Lynn on the other hand was impressed with Jennifer. But Jennifer had a hero as well. She wanted to be like me. Turns out, all I had to do was be myself. Yet a girl had to wonder. If human cells are replaced every seven years, I never knew who the heck I was going to be.

Growing up, I spent a lot of flourishing identity time idolizing famous women. Agatha Christie. Farrah Fawcett. Betty White. Betty is splendidly humorous. Farrah had a hot bod and great hair. And Agatha could write. But the teen years yielded unidentifiable results. I was forever trying to find myself, sometimes behind the locked bathroom door facing my reflection. “Mirror mirror on the wall” was my standard questioning while my siblings stood outside practically wetting their pants. But dad said that port-a-potties would just depreciate the property value. Thankfully the time spent evaluating my entity wasn’t caught on some hidden camera. People wonder when I began talking to myself. I was about three when I started all those facial aerobics. I should have been either a physiognomy contortionist, or a cartoonist.

I wasn’t an exclusive arbiter of mirror watching. My girlfriends did the same thing. One day a playmate decided she wanted to be me and I agreed to be her. So we took on the devilish act of disappearance, with both our parents being completely incognizant of our switching places. I pulled it off by blending nicely into her brood of eight. She on the other hand, came running back to her house yelling at me for not doing my homework or cleaning my room, and demanded that we change places again immediately. So much for a shared friendship. If she had been a devout replacement, she would have picked up my clothes and solved those hard trigonometry problems for me.

Hanging out at her home was no different than being at my house with my own renegade brothers. One minute her male siblings were terrorizing me with worms and the next, calling me chicken for not daring to jump off their roof. I didn’t know if I was fish or fowl. It was a clear case of mistaken identity confusion and I found myself sticking my tongue out and yelling to those rascals, “I know you are, but who am I?” I knew who they were. I narrowed the list down to a pack of halfwit hotshots. I had this nutty theory that in the course of this adventure, their mother would slap them upside the head. But she was used to having rapscallions. She also never bothered to look at faces at her dinner table. Assuming I was her daughter, she asked when I dyed my hair blonde and started biting my fingernails.

If you had asked the boys in school what they found beautiful about me, the dedicated voyeurs would have said my breasts. Even so, mine didn’t look as good as Deborah’s. Not everything in life is framed by beautifully rounded hydrangeas, so I had to light up lives with an eclectic bevy of other characteristics. Long nails didn’t define me unless I was prepared to date Edward Scissorhands. I tried plumping my hair to look like Farrah’s. But without the styling help of hair professional Jose Eber, my mane always appeared as if there was no gravity.

It was bad enough I couldn’t find myself behind the massive amount of metal in my mouth. But I found that I could generate attention through some awfully luscious lip gloss with two simple ingredients. Vaseline, and peach pulp. Inner beauty is great, but I figured a little mouth seductiveness just might bring all the boys to my yard instead of Ann’s. Yet I learned from experience that long hair and a pound of lip gloss was a struggling combination in a wind, or when fans were blowing. So was my mother and any boy who came near me. She was always the abrupt reminder that sex was to remain precious, and never performed on her premises. But like any girl, I was curious. My parents did catch me getting ready to go out in outfits that didn’t befit my innocence. They told me the less I encouraged provoking male libidos, the better. They wanted me to be a nun, and must have thought we were the Von Trapp family when I overheard them saying, “How do we solve a problem like Maria.” I knew darn well they were referring to me. I suppose I could have gone on to make an expensive hourly wage as a floozy. But I was the least of their worries once the rest of my siblings entered the world and fraught them with difficulties. I think I turned out okay considering I’m prayerful, and drink alkaline water daily to stay as pure as possible.

No one ever knew exactly who I was on a resume either. I was an overachiever with a boat load of inaccuracies that made me look stupendous. I may not have looked great in person, but I looked ridiculously good on paper. Most of the time my name was Patty, but on occasion Pinocchio, with a slight variation to the nose. I kept being congratulated for having been head of the class and homecoming queen, four times. After toiling tremendously with an identity crisis, now I know exactly who I am. I’m the queen of Home Goods spending, a real hell on heels, but more of a cursive and often cursing post traumatic parochial attendee with the gift of jab and a blood flow of vintage grapes. I’m also intelligent enough to figure out that one and one is two, in a crisis any wine will do, and if I could just find the right hairdo, I would feel thoroughly complete… and what a wonderful world it would be.

BUGGED

I had a near death experience when my grown children came to visit and brought to my attention the expired dates on certain refrigerated items. All of a sudden I was hosting a thoroughly observant couple of killjoys, and contemplating my fate. Then again, they care about me. Maybe they care more about what happens to them if I feed them decomposing food products. I can still hear the tutelary deity of edibles to whom I owe my health and happiness. “The mayo was best used before last September. And the soy sauce expired in May 2013.” I don’t necessarily take on the rapid involvement of watching for expirations on groceries I have stored. Right before bedtime I couldn’t help but tell my fellow protesters, “Sleep tight. Don’t let the food bugs bite.”

I’d just like to say that if I die, I would like some of footballs cutest linebackers running to my rescue by taking turns doing mouth to mouth trying to resuscitate me. It stands to reason that if my kitchen contents can make people deathly ill or cause stray animals to come from a five block radius, I suppose I should toss noxious substances. I’ve had milk clogging the carton because of curds clumping heavily and cereal sliding out of the box in a solid block. I suppose I stand a better chance of surviving if cheese doesn’t show green fuzzy stuff and potatoes don’t grow foliage after leaving a long standing stench. Yet there are much bigger threats to worry about than my highly conspicuous consumptions. Like the danger of a communistic takeover of America. It’s a well known fact that human guts are filled with bugs and bacteria containing a highly diverse microbial community. Just to be clear, I’m not exactly enchanted at having anything roaming around inside me that will hatch and feed off my organs and central nervous system.

A cheerful enchantress like myself can surely turn into a grumbling kitchen examiner if I have to inspect ingredients in exchange for some pancakes or freshly baked muffins. My dad made the most amazing first meals of the day. And my mother was the ultimate hostess, serving up several of her gourmet goodnesses. I never once saw either of them investigating cupboard or refrigerated contents before cooking. What I saw was two people mumbling vulgarities when there wasn’t enough eggs or milk in the fridge to cook with unless the recipes called for cracked oval embryos or only a pinch of pumped moo extract. There was never the peril of food perishing when their ten offspring had wet tongues roosting only inches away from their plates and devoured Aunt Jemima and Oscar Mayer the minute they appeared at mealtimes.

It forced such inquisitorial dogma onto a ten year old when I had to ask my Dad, “When can I start learning to cook?” Now if it were me, my answer would have been something like, “Well sweetie, let me pass on what my parents told me as a child, thus sustaining sturdy evidence that cooking developed with the emergence of the extinct hominids, who a million years ago began rubbing sticks together when they became ravenous.” But since it was dad talking, he replied, “You can start cooking when your sleep deprived mother isn’t able to and you don’t use the smoke alarms as background music.” At the time, I’m sure he thought I would be a fine contributor to family safety if we simply went out and bought doughnuts. He didn’t mention that I had to watch for weevil Knievel’s doing crazy stunts inside the pantry.

In the interest of keeping a husband, I figured I should learn to champion the methods of menu making. It was better than polishing his hubcaps. But I never thought I would encounter food infestations. The first time I made a citrus salad with dinner, both male and female fruit flies interceded. Their genders were obvious when the male ones rested on the double cheeseburger, and the females landed on the steamy romantic paperback I was reading. My spouse immediately grabbed a butcher knife and heaved it towards his nutritional entree. I remember it clearly because I felt the breeze as it sliced a few hairs off my fake eyelashes. What can I say. Back then I had the look and bod of Twiggy and the brain of Peg Bundy.

I reassured my mate that a little extra meat wouldn’t hurt him, but he insisted that I make him something else. It was a problem since Jimmy Dean, Angus, and T-bone weren’t around as substitutions. While my chowhound waited, I pulled out the box of Bisquick to make some perogies and found little moths flying about. My newlywed grabbed a beer, and while ale companies don’t bother with expiration dates since they are never going to make it that far, I couldn’t help but sing, “Ninety-nine little bugs in the flour, ninety-nine little bugs…” The hubs joined his indignant songstress by concluding, “Take one down while there’s larvae around, there’ll be two thousand little bugs in the flour!” Then off we went to Denny’s, the most beloved name in fine dining. I had to wonder if they housed fruit flies and moths as well.

Caution to anyone else who comes visiting. If you get a hot dog hidden behind ketchup, mustard, relish, onions, and sauerkraut, there might be a slight chance the wieners are spoiled, all because I didn’t give the efforts of food watching the same enthusiasm that I give to gardening or sweepstakes entering. I might make funny faces, the kind of goofiness expressed when a woman is waiting for gag reflexes and a home inspection report. Children think they can rely on adults for protection and nourishment. Not to kill them. I’ve already asked Santa if he would bring me an automatically eradicating refrigerator this year. I might want to add muzzles for the kids, pending their re-entry and thrills of new expiries. Especially when they find out that I supply some loss in fluoride stability, since the toothpaste perished a year ago.

ARTSY FARTSY

I have done a lot of artwork in my day. It started very young, although I don’t recall my drawings ever being displayed on the refrigerator. I thought they were good. But I suppose they weren’t refrigerator good. Some of them must have been garbage good when I found a few in the trash. Of course I did have a rather active imagination. But If I had been a horrid artist and even horrider child, I would have been drawing skulls and crossbones on doors instead of flowers and people on paper. I asked my mother about my many missing popsicle stick and elbow pasta project pieces. She squirmed delinquently. I’m sure it was very itchy and painful to have to fess up to the fact that she fed the landfill with my fine works of craftsmanship.

Mom must have asked me a million times to brush my teeth. Eventually she told me that I didn’t have to brush all of them, just the ones I wanted to keep. This is how artistic I really was. She found me in the bathroom brushing but declared snidely, “Nice use of watercolors, but you were assigned to brush with toothpaste.” I could have really made her mad by brushing my teeth with glitter or food coloring. I should mention the time I was sentenced to four hours of cabinetry crayoned removal service. That night at dinner, she mentioned the benefits of joining art classes in Singapore. She couldn’t lose me to another country, not when I became the teen who decorated all the placecards for her dinner parties. I wanted to calligraphy hangover cures, but basic etiquette told me not to. As did my mother. I thought I was being very creative and helpful the times the doorbell rang when nobody was there, and I drew a pretty sign and sat it outside our front entrance that read: Doorbell ringers and runners will be executed to the fullest extent by the dog, and the boys who reside here.

Think about this. My mother had ten children. Multiply that by crayons, paints, pastels, glue, and palettes of paper. Being left alone to create something with all these things is a pretty strong indication that a gaggle of kids are going to draw, tint, or use stickum on something they aren’t suppose to. It was just my rotten luck that sibling six leaned on a paint tube sending the splattering colorant all over sibling four. And sibling five cut and glued the tablecloth. We were blissfully unaware that my mother was hovering nervously from the doorway. Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen. Just because I was oldest in the birth order and so depended upon, she shot a look at me like she might be interested in homicide. Funny, but after that she still continued to bring more children into the world. She’s lucky that my baby brothers sagging diaper contents that smelled like the Denver Arapahoe Disposal Site didn’t end up being handpainted all over her furniture. But there were several crepe paper rolling Rembrandts running through the house. As a result, Mom ended up being quite skillful in several languages. English, sarcasm, mockery, and profanity. Usually with the eldest, there’s a spectacular scrapbook saved with many original memories. The youngest is lucky if there’s even a hand or footprint from birth. In my case, I don’t have anything to show for my work, when my youngest sibling has enough to practically fill a museum.

Creativeness also came with stumbling blocks. In one grade school class, we were supposed to draw a feathered dinosaur. I became mystified when the head needed to emphasize reptilian scales. Then I drew feathery arm flaps but became mentally challenged with the dinosaur’s beak. More importantly, how was I going to visually convey the variation from warm-blooded to cold-blooded? The worst part was when someone ran off with my pencil sharpener.

I was painting my nails artistically long before salons made it fashionable, which was a very calming and prolific way of expressing myself. Mom would tell me, “Gee, I see you’re awfully good-natured today. What medium do I owe that pleasantness to?” I told her that she should be colorfully artistic herself by having all of our names tattooed on her body. But she said that she already had a multitude of tattoos in the form of stretchmarks.

The day came when I told my parents that I really needed to focus on my art. They wanted to send me to Pratt Institute, one of the leading colleges of art and design. Yet they couldn’t afford to feed me much less send me to a prominent school in Manhattan. I sometimes wonder whether it was me, or if I heard my mother snickering while saying that she’d rather jet me off to boarding school. Who knows if Pratt would have turned me away saying, “We really love your work, but…” Heavily encumbered with my mental collegiate defeat, I was staring down the path of burger flipping, wondering how I would handle the pressure of people who needed something from me when they asked, “Can I have two large fries please?” Instead, I have become extremely well educated in perseverance, child rearing, and figs. I found out there are quite a number of things you can do with figs. Better to know extensively about aggregate fruit than become a burger and fry eating blimp, or possibly a crack whore.

When I lived in Michigan, there was a period when I made chairs out of cut wood and washed up branches from the Lake Erie shore. I must have built fifty of them. But there were emotional stages of furniture assembly, and it was always when I was in the worst mental states that I cranked out my best artwork. Sometimes I turned a thicket of trees into goddamn sawdust. To think I could have been a carpenter. I never produced anything that Michelangelo or Leonardo Da Vinci might look at. But being creative now keeps me from sitting around aimlessly or taking on other more disreputable hobbies. Like prank calling people I don’t know, or choking on big cigars.