THANKFUL I’M STILL ALIVE

I was awakened this Thanksgiving to a hovering helicopter circling with a policeman yelling through a megaphone. “Beware of twenty year old bald male with a neck tattoo. Dark hair and dark jeans. Stabbing suspect. You know who you are. Surrender yourself immediately.” It’s not every day that I hear a vocal distribution from the sky waking all the holiday sleeper-inners while frightening us. That went on for about an hour into my thankfulness. It just fit in nicely with all the other startling suburban scares.

Then of course there was that power outage the night before, taking my part in global warming that affected my refrigerator. So along with the traditional holiday feast, I also served thawed fish, pork chops, ground beef, and melted ice cubes. I have not cooked a Thanksgiving dinner since the Kennedy administration. So I started around 5am to make sure the turkey was on the table no later than midnight. I was doing fine until I attempted some simple microwaving. I had a container in the freezer half full of leftover chicken broth. You know, those cardboard containers with the spout that substitutes the can. I needed to liquidize the broth for my stuffing, so I placed it in the microwave not realizing it was lined in foil. Next thing I see is sparks lighting up the kitchen like New Years Eve in Times Square. I lunged towards the electromagnetic device vehemently with the mobility of Road Runner, pulling out the flaming container. My daughter who was visiting said, “So how’s it going Betty Crocker? Burning the house down before we get a chance to taste the giblets?” She started to humor me by drowning out the sounds of the smoke alarms by playing the Talking Heads and picking the song “Burning Down the House.“

Very funny.

She would have helped me with my meat and five side dish multi-tasking, but she’s allergic to labor. So I put her on KP cleanup. Flaming anything coming from a kitchen does not have a desired welcoming effect. I’m such a compromiser though. I can substitute grape nuts for kitty litter in a pinch. I can also substitute chicken broth for water, or whiskey. Guess which one I chose. I only get upset on two occasions. When a tiny fly starts swimming in my shot glass, and when the house smells like charred packaged chicken broth. Oh yeah. And when samplers are standing in the kitchen the whole time I’m cooking. My perfect pumpkin pie was decorated with fork marks long before dessert was served.

I don’t know how Emeril does it. Restauranteur, television personality, chef extraordinaire, super sauté-er. Flies through the kitchen with the greatest of ease. Was even chosen by Nasa to improve their food supply. Generates a hundred and fifty million in revenue for cooking turkeys, when I have to do it for free. Not fair. Of course I didn’t work in a Portugese bakery as a teen where I mastered the art of pastry making. I was partying like a rock star. Luckily I’m still alive to talk about it.

We were all doing fine at our feastly dinner until we watched Reversal of Portion. I contracted something known as breastorexia. A condition in which no matter how full a person’s plate is, it’s never enough. You bet my sweet potatoes I went for seconds, and thirds. I had been looking for a way to pack on ten more pounds and I found it. They’ll make amazing progress in the field of dieting if they remove all fowl from the planet. But I began feeling sappy when I was eating the beautiful dead bird. I couldn’t have felt more saddened if someone had gunned down Kris Kringle.

I was ready to take that whiskey a little more seriously. The rest was a bit of a blur. All I know is that I started buttering my napkin instead of my bun. I either needed my glasses, or a confirmed Dementia diagnosis. I remember some of the stimulating conversation. The weather, work, our rights to bear arms, how the rain in Spain stays mainly in the low lying areas. Replaying all my yearly mistakes, my parenting mistakes, my gravy mistake. But as I always say, the deadline for all complaints was last week. Hopefully I said I was grateful for my guests. Sorry I took that quick nap during dessert. I just hope I thanked my Creator, and my yoga instructor. I know I was thankful for the Chatty Cathy doll I received for Christmas…. in 1958.

What normally takes fifteen minutes to clean the kitchen now takes six hours, and every Tupperware container in the house. I’m still doing dishes. And they will be completely finished when I get done doing the mambo and the mashed potato, and finishing the rest of the whiskey. Which by the way I forgot to add to the eggnog that’s still standing in the fridge. I just hope no bald twenty year old in dark hair and dark jeans interrupts me while I’m taking out five bags of trash, complicating my general Black Friday contemplation of all the things I can make with turkey, and eggnog. He just may leave me for dead, or force me to fork over my leftovers. But I must add, that this level of fearfullness does not require any threatening homo sapien riding around in a chopper, but rather two great big bullmastiffs. Maybe there’s a massive Black Friday sale at the pet store.

(P.S. Gratitude goes to my darling daughter Hannah for doing all the dishes without really being asked, and for my wonderful extended family Dianne and Peter for sharing the special day with us)

I REMEMBER MAMA

My mother had a way with words….

“LOOK BEFORE YOU LEAP”

“A LEOPARD DOESN’T CHANGE HIS SPOTS”

“CURIOSITY KILLED THE CAT”

It occurred to me over the course of my childhood that mama may have given birth to cheetahs. And we never quite understood her meaning behind BITE THE BULLET when we were without front teeth and a pretty potent anesthetic. I sure don’t remember ever hearing YOU’RE THE APPLES OF MY EYE.

Apparently we weren’t like the Macintyre kids. Mom wished her productions would grow up to be peerless examples of perfection. That was after she saw us playing ping pong with spatulas and blueberries on her treasured buffet table. I’m sure that was the moment she wanted to forego feeding us and flee to the Greek Isles where she could indulge in such Turkish delights as intestinal mutton sausages, that spleen serving tradition. Her gastric glands wouldn’t have cared what she ate as long as she didn’t have to cook it, at home, for us. I think I overheard her say once, or maybe even several times, “Make another meal? I did it yesterday!” Maybe she wanted the stove to have time to cool down.

With ongoing pregnancies, she did enough baking in her oven that I’m surprised we didn’t come out well done. The more our household grew, the more plots thickened and provisions were scarce. We grabbed dinner table contents as if it was the Last Supper, and mom’s words were “GOD DOESN’T HELP THOSE WHO OVERHELP THEMSELVES.” According to us food foragers and famished experts, if we didn’t get second helpings the first time, there wouldn’t be enough to sustain us past puberty. It was hard getting a piece of the pie. But our lunging techniques ceased at the cluster of Brussels sprouts. We also feasted on the gourmet goodness of tuna casseroles, something I stay away from today. That was a slight deterrent in becoming corporate chef mama myself and birth mother to a herd. Yet I’ve learned to make recipes regularly, tripling the amount of alcohol needed that every single recipe calls for, besides my glass. I believe mama may have tried some calming agents herself. Like soaking the french toast in eggs, warm milk, and a few Samuel Adams, making a multiple beer batter before browning the bread. I think she even spiked the beverage bowl at a few family parties. All I can say is that we kids had a grand afterparty. Which made us PLEASED AS PUNCH.

More fun was filling the bathtub with bubbles and four of my siblings as we treaded water, battling the currents. That’s where all of our talent as film makers began. I remember mama imploring, “DON’T THROW THE BABY OUT WITH THE BATHWATER!” I knew better than to pull the plug and watch my youngest sibling being sucked into the drain. Mom’s idea of fun was to correct us by saying “MONKEY SEE, MONKEY DO” then retreat to a fallout shelter with a holy cross and carafe of Chablis. What better way to be reminded of our blunders than seeing my mother wear rosaries as charm bracelets, reciting the Lord’s Prayer while confessing, “I THINK I BIT OFF MORE THAN I CAN CHEW!”

Mama’s common phrase was “PUT A SOCK IN IT.” I thought she meant the washing machine. I was curious as to why only one sock and not a pair. She wanted me to collect my clothes and wash them every week, not every other month. Collecting eventually paid off though. Right now I have a case of carnauba wax, twelve lint rollers, and four hundred pounds of Rapid-Gro in case I want to fertilize Forest Lawn, or every lawn in every neighborhood in every county, or all of Nebraska.

We weren’t allowed to stay in bed, even on weekends. Mama believed that those who get out of bed at noon may be better rested, but also may miss out on breakfast, possibly lunch, dinner for sure, and going out to play for possibly a week. She tried to stimulate a household movement that would mandate the war against “borrowing” each others stuff. Yet mom got them back come HOOK OR BY CROOK. No way could I say to her, “IF THE BROOM FITS…..” I would never have made it outside my door that year. I was good at doing certain things ahead of time, except chores. I made mama a plate of brownies for Mother’s Day. Once she washed away the mold and was told I forgot the sugar, it exceeded their appeal. She ate one TO THE BITTER END.

Just because my parents insisted on a tightly packed gender arrangement of rascals didn’t mean I had a desire to meld into the madness. We had more people watching than the airport. I wanted a PARTING OF THE WAYS when days required taking a turn arguing for bathroom space. If another sibling was next in line to take a shower, mom would shout, “HOLD YOUR HORSES.” Of course my comeback was, “How can I when you never bought me any!” She’d tell me to be careful or FACE THE MUSIC. I was sent to my room where I blasted the phonograph. It became a risky expression to say, “excuse my french” after describing my home life. I was careful not to have anyone hear me that would result in getting my mouth washed out with soap.

My maker alternated between sayings and tongue twisters. Her favorites were PETER PIPER and SHE SELLS SEA SHELLS BY THE SEASHORE. I did wonder who was selling the shells, and who would buy them when we got them free on the beach. But I guess there was some smart n’ savvy surveyor searching the sand stockpiling shells from a soaked shoreline in the sizzling sunshine and sold them to the highest spender.

Mama has left me with lasting memories. And her tongue twisters get even trickier now after a couple of cocktails.

(Posts can be found in the weekend editions of THE PARSON’S SUN newspaper in Kansas)

ABSURDIA

I’m not sure which was worse. The buzzing and stinging, or the backlash from neighbor’s congregating on my lawn while they crushed my finely cultivated greenery.

It all happened one Michigan morning twelve years ago when I climbed on my roof to touch up the paint on the garage. And like most masterminds, my work is best done before noon, or during happy hours when I formulate brilliant plans on cocktail napkins. Although, the napkins haven’t made me a million dollars richer so I can hire people to do touch ups. My duties are done between 5 and 9. Am, not pm. I’m pretty much toast after breakfast. So I was on a mission. But early birds don’t necessarily catch worms.

I hadn’t noticed the nest of wasps hidden in the slat of the louvered window opening. Before long I’m covered with them, and screaming loud enough to wake the people still sleeping in Australia. It did bring my daughter abruptly out of her coma. Then I heard my next door neighbor, the concerned and caring person that she was. “Harry, get the can of Raid. There’s a wasp on the screen. Then go help the nut next door that climbed to the peak of her garage and is getting stung by about a hundred more.”

Two minutes later, my screeches brought a few more neighbors over. All I wanted for Christmas was my two front Freesia to still be standing once the bystanders got done pushing them out of proportion. And there was more buzz below me than the buzzing around me. So much for the focus on moi. The neighbor across the street strongly suggested that my eaves needed painting to enhance my home’s value. I never knew he was a home appraiser. I wondered if my swollen hands were able to handle holding the brush awhile longer to make his wish come true. My hands would have handled a punch to his nose. One highness of horticulture told me that my grass needed fertilizing, and way better care than what I was providing. Harry, who was holding the can of Raid, wasn’t moving quite as swiftly as I hoped. I wanted the slow Secretariat to step it up a bit. But he stood there trying to unclog the spray tip. Another gal yelled up to me, “Did you get your shorts at Target? I almost bought them in blue!” I did wonder what they were all doing at my house when Regis & Kelly were on. Within five more minutes I had an insatiable longing for solitude, new blue shorts, one of those wasp suits, and flat ground. God didn’t have to create numerous kinds of distractions. But unfortunately for me, He did.

People are strange, even when you’re not a stranger. One neighbor came over carrying a casserole before I ever got down from the roof. Come to think of it she was dressed in black. Maybe she thought I’d die up there. I know I didn’t have a death wish, but I overheard some of the neighbors say I did. If I had suicidal tendencies, I sure wouldn’t use my roof for it and leave a huge mess. I would have climbed one of theirs. What was otherwise normal suburbia seemed more like Disturbia. Only it was me who wanted to go on a killing spree. But I wouldn’t have been content under any house arrest.

Meanwhile I’m still waving away parasitoids like a madwoman. Where was a wasp killing ninja when you need one? I had my heart set on someone offering to climb up to help me, but I could see that wasn’t going to happen. Then again somebody would fall off and sue me. I had this visual of my house being set up like the scene in ET when they finally removed him from the home, and all of us were robed in head-to-toe moon suits. The difference being, I wouldn’t cry when the wasps left. I wasn’t about to shed tears when the neighbors left either. I remember some faint instruction from my dad who once told me I shouldn’t try to balance on steep surfaces unless I liked the idea of free falling and never walking again. Like a dummy, I never listened to my parents. Just about the time I was feeling leery about my chances of survival I said, “Could someone please hold the ladder while I get down? I’ll gladly pay someone Tuesday for an exterminator today!”

So, how many neighbors does it take to hold a ladder? One couldn’t. She was holding the chicken casserole. Harry ended up spraying himself in the eyes with Raid. The home appraiser was walking around assessing the rest of my property. It was my daughter who came to my rescue after she phoned the Fire Department.

Once I arrived to safety, I waited for the exterminator, but had to ask if anyone even made that call. From what I experienced, I figured someone would get around to it by spring, 2015. It was just a good thing I wasn’t having a baby. One finally arrived and made me spend an extortionate amount of money. He was paid aptly enough to hire Sting to come sing at the wasp wake. But before I paid him, I was uniquely diligent in using bartering as a business arrangement. I tried telling him I’d remove all the bug stains from his outfit with a lifetime guarantee. It’s amazing what a little Oxy and can of sealer can do to clothing. And when stains don’t come out, there’s always dying the thing black. An hour into negotiations, I found out how grouchy exterminators can get.

The only way to interrupt the whole absurd neighborhood bonding ceremony was to tell them there was a fire at The Johnson’s, or a yard sale. When it was time to say good-bye, I don’t recall experiencing any separation anxiety.

TALK ABOUT HIGH MAINTENANCE

I don’t consider myself high maintenance, even though I must have my nightly Dreyer’s double fudge brownie fix and if I don’t I will go into convulsions. Then I’ll ask a friend who lives an hour away if she’ll stop by a store to pick me up a half gallon and bring it to me right away. At least I’m not a Starbuckaroo. I don’t need to spend soaring prices daily on such controlled substances as gourmet Grandes and Venti brews. I need some other magic potion impairing my judgment, helping me to stay non-jittery, and that doesn’t turn me into an auctioneer when I have a conversation. There sure are a lot of people who refuse even a sip of Maxwell House. We are all picky about things. My personal favorites are the people sprawled over a dizzying assortment of M & M’s, pulling out only certain colors to eat when they all taste the same.

Having three daughters, I learned the magnitude of high maintenance. It started with one daughter marking up her baby sister with permanent markers while the tiny tot sat fussy in her bouncy chair during the challenge of keeping still. Needless to say the artwork was a bit scribbled given all the kinetic motion. Demanding and thirsty as usual, my artiste didn’t want to disrupt her creative consistency. That’s when I told her, “Better stop what you are doing and go get your own glass of Evian.”

If my wounded ones developed a minor cut, an artistically drawn smiley faced masking tape type band-aid wouldn’t do. They pleaded for the paramedics, and an ambulance ride to Chuck-E-Cheese for a cure all, along with only Hello Kitty adhesive strips. Christmas lists were the same as Santa’s scroll that fell to the floor with a bazillion items listed at three hundred dollars each or more. My kids were indescribably delicious until I diagnosed them with excessive imploration disorder. I told my teenagers to write their grievances and leave them in the suggestion box, which in reality was the wastebasket when they weren’t around. And why would they possibly pick up expensive items they already had on the floor when they could be princesses and ask for new ones? When I asked them to take out the trash, their rebuttal was “But it’s raining cats and dogs!” Or, “I’ll get my hair wet!” I took the Nike approach. “Until Noah is outside constructing an ark to house those cats and dogs, JUST DO IT.” They wouldn’t be nearly as concerned about whether their hair was dampened after going through my gale force wind.

My teens stayed in the shower till I ran out of hot water, shampoo, and conditioner, and then wondered why I didn’t buy any expensively priced products with enhanced oils. Not when I could easily add olive oil to all the boudoir bottles. Bathroom time expanded when their hair needed to reach a desired flat ironess, which was almost never. And if I dared to snatch some of the cotton balls, they were dusting the bag for prints and demanding that I replace them. I told them that due to the vast shortage and high cost of cotton balls, they’d have to go live with the McGregor’s. One of them cried a river when she ran out of the makeup removers, and then again over her empty Coco Chanel. I never wore such extravagances. I sprayed myself with Glade.

My girls reverence went to the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose name was Madonna. Since her sense of style was influential, I didn’t have that kind of purchasing power and took the opportunity to rename my offspring according to their namesake, which was Primadonnas. And eating out was expensive enough without having onerous guests order imported sodas at a mere mortgage payment per pop. They would reduce themselves to sniveling racketeers and condemn me by saying I was poor white and brash. I was quickly reminded of my mother’s words, “Poor poor pitiful you.” She figured I was making much ado about nothing. But I must have misconstrued much about something when I thought every girl should be able to shop every weekend from preschool through prom. She’d say, “Stop thinking about spending money and go for a walk.” I would have gone for a walk crossing the Mississippi if I knew there was money and a mall in Missouri. Back then, Disney didn’t have the Bibbidi Bobbidi Botique that capitalizes on fairy goddesses in training. That queen of high maintenance Leona Helmsley could have turned her tyrannical behavior into sharing caviar with homeless people. Plus, those trend setting spa filling high maintenance housecats in Orange County? There’s no taming certain shrews.

My hubby wasn’t very different. My maintenance man tried hiring others to take out the trash. And he wasn’t about to motor out for a quick 30 minute oil change and let anyone else fondle his drain plug washer. The do-it-your-selfer knew I would be his understudy and serve him snacks while trying to wedge myself underneath the car. I watched him use a Williams Sonoma funnel, salivate for only bottled beers, cuss about dripping oil dirtying his French cuffs, ask me for a torque wrench which took him forty five minutes to describe, then begged me to crawl under with him and hold the plate of nachos while he styled his hair. Then he willfully popped the big question. He wondered if I wanted to do some horizontal lubing that would involve a tailpipe and connecting rod because his engine power was ready for some internal combustion. I found I have quite an exhaust system.

I can be daffy, delirious, and a driveler. I can also be Ron Howardy when I’m Restless or my mind is Far and Away. But I’m not high maintenance. Although I do need a new pair of shoes. Some in the closet are getting dusty.

(Posts can be found every weekend in The Parson’s Sun newspaper in Kansas)