For the members of the audience who were concerned for my safety after reading some of my earlier posts—and for those whose concerns have been exacerbated by the gaps between posts—rest assured, I am alive and well. That said, recent news reports have me thinking about my future and the need to take some unusual–if not bizarre—steps in the interest of my continued existence.
For starters, there is the case of Steven Johnson of St. Paul, Minnesota. According to CBS affiliate WCCO, Mr. Johnson confessed in January of 2013 to shooting his wife, dismembering her body with a saw in the shower, placing her body parts in storage bins, and hiding them in a friend’s garage.
Since reading this article, I have decided to establish new rules pertaining to the purchase of storage bins by members of my household and determined that all bins, regardless of size, must be transparent. That way there is a reasonable chance the neighbors will notice my bloody/mutilated body parts as they are being loaded onto a vehicle or sitting on a shelf in their own garage. Meanwhile, friends and neighbors are asked to be on the lookout for any container coming out of my house that you cannot see though—including bottles and jars. Coolers are exempt from this advisory since the Jarhead likes his Yuengling® too much to let it get warm and he’s a tad too thrifty to consider replacing his trusty Coleman®. Small bins, on the other hand, should be met with extra suspicion since, let’s face it, the only way anyone could carry my corpse anywhere would be in pieces or with the help of a forklift.
Next, I direct your attention to John Warren Gibson, Jr., who in February of 2013, led police to the body of his girlfriend, Amanda Foster. According to the report posted on 2/1/2013 by Southern Maryland Newspapers Online, Gibson admitted to stabbing Foster, placing her in a trash can, loading it into her truck, and hiding it in the woods in St. Mary’s County.
From this story I learned that outlawing opaque bins and warning my neighbors to watch out for violators may not be going far enough. With that in mind, I have decided to petition township officials to replace our solid brown and blue trash and recycling receptacles with clear or translucent ones. This may not prevent the Jarhead from putting my body in a trashcan, loading it onto a truck, and driving it out to the woods, but it should make it harder for him to conceal it and, therefore, make the idea seem less attractive.
And finally we have David Viens, the Los Angeles chef who on 3/22/13 was sentenced to 15 years in prison for killing his wife, Dawn. According to several reports, Viens admitted in 2011 to using a slow cooker to get rid of his wife’s body after he found her dead of unknown causes at home in 2009. In that confession Viens said they had fought, and that she had tried to leave, but that she was under the influence and he did not think she should leave home in that condition, so he tied her to a chair and left the house, only to return later to find her dead.
From this report, I have decided that our house will never be home to more than one crock pot, stock pot, or roasting pan. Moreover, any pot, pan, or roaster that enters our home will hold no more than three pounds of meat. That way, the Jarhead can expect it to take several weeks to cook me down, which will, again, make the task more challenging, thereby rendering the idea less attractive. (Bonus points for the reader who emails me to complain about the bad pun.)
Meanwhile, I caution folks to be on the alert for anything else that may appear suspicious, by which I mean anything of a cloth or plastic construction that could be used to wrap a body and prevent it from being seen through transparent bins or trash receptacles. Also, if you witness someone buying a bunch of slow cookers but no meat—or if someone you know suddenly develops an interest in crock pot cookery—you may want to mention it to someone who has the legal authority to find out why. Likewise if you witness someone buying a gigantic, solid color plastic bin or several smaller ones.
And, finally, if a large and/or solid-color dumpster disappears from your driveway or neighborhood, do NOT go looking for it. Just report it. I may be paranoid, but I think it's best to leave the discovery of decomposing body parts to the experts.
Friday, May 3rd, 2013
You might think from that heading you were about to encounter something relating to Willa Cather's Great Plains trilogy, or something historic and educational. Or at least something about pioneers. But no. As usual, I'm going to talk about myself. I suppose technically I will be talking about pioneers, but I only intend to do so insofar as they relate to me.
As a kid I was fascinated with American pioneers and captivated by tales of their experiences. Traversing across this vast land of ours in search of opportunity, they seemed so strong. So ambitious. So determined. I would gobble up books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, and imagine all the adventures I would have if I lived on the frontier. Okay, mostly I imagined how I would murder Nellie Oleson, avoid prosecution, escape from a frontier prison, suck up to Miss Beedle, or devise something better than a bag of straw to sleep on, but sometimes I actually pictured myself sewing, making soap, and finding a way to eat the same thing over and over again--or doing the same thing day after day--without losing my mind. It would not have been an easy life.
Later, after I had read My Antonia and Caddie Woodlawn, seen a few John Wayne films, and watched almost every episode of How the West Was Won, Grizzly Adams, and Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman, I realized something very important: I am not cut out to be a pioneer. Or a pilgrim. Or a settler. Basically, I'm not cut out for life in any time except the present. To belabor the point: When it comes to centuries, I prefer the 20th and the 21st.
Notwithstanding the fact that the entire continent of Europe would have had to have been on fire or sinking rapidly into the ocean for me to have boarded a boat that would take a month or more to reach its destination. And never mind the mice, fleas, rats, lice, seasickness, and food borne illness that would have passed for entertainment back then. Just imagining myself effectively stranded at sea with no hot shower, no microwave, no Kindle, and no computer to help me while away the days, I know I would never have survived. I know this because I know myself, and although I might have had a Bible, a hymnal, and even a wooden bench to bang my head against, there aren't enough Bible verses, inspirational songs, or concussive head injuries to keep my mind occupied for three weeks or more. No. In less than fourteen days--I believe they called that period a fortnight--this gal either would have died of boredom, or staged a mutiny or committed suicide just for the sake of amusement.
Now let's just say, for the sake of argument, that I was born in one of the colonies, and did not have to suffer that hellish journey across the Atlantic to settle somewhere in North America. And let's say, for the sake of argument, that I was the wife of someone who wanted to go west. Wanderlust or not, I would have gotten about as far a the foothills of the Appalachians because I would have taken one look at the mountains--and our covered wagon filled with all our worldly possessions, and another two or three looks at the mountains, and four or five more looks at the covered wagon--and decided I was more of an East Coast sort of gal. Because even if I thought I had the mettle to climb those mountains or the time, energy and patience to find a short cut through them, all it would have taken was one glance DOWN the mountain, and I would have been paralyzed with fear. Not of falling, mind you. Of landing. Hard. At which point I likely would have decided I was more of an introvert than an explorer, and would have headed for the nearest cave or hollowed out tree to live on my own until I starved to death.
Now lets say, again for the sake of argument, that I was born in one of the colonies, and was transported through the mountains and across the rivers as, say a child or a fetus in the comfort of a horse-drawn wagon and/or uterus, and arrived safely in the big woods, or a prairie, or Kansas, or any other part of the Great Plains. Under those circumstances--and barring a catastrophic accident or an outbreak of tornadoes, measles, or small pox--I would have had a slightly better chance of surviving the experience since I would have grown up there and, owing to the fact that there were no books, movies, or web articles on the subject, I wouldn't have known yet just how bad I had it.
Thursday, April 18th, 2013
As the Jarhead and I get older, I’ve begun to think about age-related illnesses and conditions, and how they may affect us. Words like presbyopia and arthritis have already crept into our vocabulary, just as ibuprofen, antacids, and reading glasses have replaced the Midol, condoms, and tampons in my purse, the medicine cabinet, and the center consoles of the family vehicles. We talk in mostly joking tones about these changes and what other geriatric maladies may befall us, but personally I don’t find this trend the least bit humorous.
Two other topics that I find decidedly unfunny but which nevertheless feature prominently in our comedic exchanges are presbycusis—aka age related hearing loss—and cognitive decline. And with apologies to those who are currently affected by either of these conditions, I can’t help but wonder: If my beloved Jarhead were to develop dementia, how would I know?
I ask this, in part, because even before we started checking the 41 to 50 box on surveys, questionnaires, and the like, the Jarhead displayed a strong propensity for memory lapses. For example, he forgets where he puts things, forgets to do things, and forgets that he has already done things. He also forgets that he owns things, forgets he’s given or thrown them away, and—odder yet—forgets that he has already replaced them.
At times, he also forgets to say things. I’m not talking about things like apologizing when he offends or upsets me, or wishing me a pleasant birthday or anniversary. Happily, he is a pro at making amends and has plenty of high tech gadgets to remind him of key dates. Instead, he forgets to respond to comments and questions posed to him in the course of an ordinary day, such as, “Did you bring the dumpsters up from the curb?” In such situations he will walk right past me without a word believing he spoke his answer aloud when in fact he only heard it in his head. He has also been known to sit waiting for an answer from me to a question he never spoke except in his head. I won’t even know it’s happening until I notice him staring at me expectantly and am moved to ask, “What?”
Other times, he will give an answer that doesn’t fit the question, and I won’t know if his answer is off topic because he didn’t hear what I said, or if it’s because his brain took a wrong turn and refuses to stop and ask for directions. When this happens, I will have to ponder the possible reasons he is talking about tires when I asked him about apples, and try to determine whether he thought I said something that sounded like tires, or if the word apples made him think about Walmart (where we have bought apples) which reminded him of the auto center (where we have also happen to have bought tires.) Failing that, I’ll have no choice but to interrupt and politely ask, “What exactly do you think I said?”
The issue of whether I will know if and when the Jarhead’s brain stops firing on all cylinders is further complicated by the fact that I change my mind a lot and will, occasionally, forget having done so. Like when I asked him to bring up from the basement freezer a pack of bagels I had planned to have him put there but which I later decided to stash in the crisper in the fridge. All totaled, it took us fifteen minutes to find the bagels, and another fifteen to figure out what went wrong—and how.
Also contributing to the problem is that I sometimes say things I don’t mean. I’m not talking about calling names or flinging accusations (although I’ve done my share of both, nine times out of ten it is intentional) but about my tendency to speak words that are somehow related to or similar in sound to those I intend to say, but which are just different enough to confuse the recipient of my message when I say them. Like when I ask him to put something in the oven when I mean the dishwasher, or to bring me a pair of socks from my desk when I mean my dresser. In addition to supplanting words with terms that sound similar or have a similar purpose, shape, or function, I also have issues with mathematical terms which cause me to say thousands when I mean hundreds or tens of thousands; weeks when I mean months, years, or days; and minutes when I mean hours or seconds—and vice versa.
I don’t know if this is an age thing or not. I don’t recall it happening in my teens or twenties but that doesn’t prove anything. Which leads me to wonder: If I were to develop dementia, how would the Jarhead know?
Friday, April 5th, 2013
I have a confession to make: I love John Boy Walton.
I don’t love him the way I do, say, the Jarhead or hot caramel sauce on chocolate ice cream—but it’s a pretty close race.
One reason I love John Walton, Jr. is that, like me, he was a writer. In fact, right after Erma Bombeck and my high school English teacher Lois Julsrud, Bill Bryson, Jane Austen, and three or four authors whose names I recall from either my freshmen English syllabus or a deck of children’s playing cards, John Boy is perhaps the biggest reason I became a writer.
Now some may infer from this that the reason I’m writing and not engaged in some other more lucrative line of work is that I was too busy watching The Waltons in my younger days to develop any useful skills. But I assure you that my choice of career has less to do with how much time I spent watching TV as a child than how much time I wanted to spend in my pajamas as an adult. Either way, John Boy deserves some of the credit—or blame, depending on your perspective—for the fact that you are reading this column instead of working, exercising, or reading the newspaper. And for that—to quote Daniel Tosh—I thank you.
As I write this, it occurs to me that in addition to influencing my job goals, my admiration for John Boy may have had something to do with how I wound up married to the Jarhead. Especially given their many similarities, the theory has merit. For example, like John Boy, the Jarhead grew up in the country, has a slew of brothers and sisters, served in the military, and—as evidenced by the fact that we’re still together after nearly three decades—has the patience of Job. Granted, the Jarhead grew up on Pig Tail Ridge instead of Walton’s Mountain, and lacks John Boy’s blue eyes, blonde hair, spectacles, and suspenders; but while they differ in terms of geography and their outward appearance, they are practically twins when it comes to temperament and intelligence.
Despite its many Emmy nominations, The Waltons was not without its critics. Some, for example, felt that the show was unrealistic; that its characters were impossibly virtuous people, especially given their circumstances; and that poverty in real life is rarely so sweet or lacking in dysfunction. That all may be true, but what kept me from buying the whole premise of the show is the ease with which John Boy wrote in his journal. The fact that we never saw the man using an eraser, scribbling anything out, angrily ripping a page out of his tablet and crumpling it up, or setting his entire body of work on fire induces me to wonder: Was he really that good of a writer, or just that generous of a critic?
Maybe I’m the outlier here, but I couldn’t write anything publishable—or legible for that matter—in long hand if my life or the future of the human race depended on it. (Those of you who would argue as to my ability to write anything publishable in ANY hand are invited to reread my previous posts—especially those on bullying.) In fact, the previous sentence alone took me three edits to get right, and there will likely be fragments left over from all the cutting and pasting I’ve done when I finish when I finally finish it.
Thursday, March 21st, 2013
I love the Jarhead the pieces and enjoy spending time with him. But there are some things the two of us will never do together. Ever. (For those of you whose mind went right to the gutter, I’m sorry to disappoint, but this is not that kind of column.)
I’m not talking about boring things like competitive bird watching or icky things like traveling to a foreign land to sample latest recipes involving beetles and grubs. Rather, I’m referring to certain sports and outdoor activities that, frankly, I would be more inclined to do with a complete stranger or a mortal enemy than with the man who promised to love me until death do us part.
The first thought that comes to my mind is rock climbing. This is primarily because of that blasted commercial where the woman proudly tells us how she and her significant other spent their credit card reward points on equipment to scale a giant tower of sandstone instead of buying a diamond. I saw that spot and thought, well that would be fun—for the one who comes back to a pile of insurance money.
I feel the same way about activities involving open water. I have no problems with the idea of a trip that involves the two of us cheerily casting our lines from shore at a bustling campground, or dropping a line from the end of a dock surrounded by plenty of witnesses. But there is no way I’m going out on a lake or the ocean—be it on a yacht or a cruise liner—with the man I love when the only thing standing between him and freedom is a railing.
I know what you’re thinking: That woman is paranoid. Although I prefer to call it precautious, I also know what I’m like to live with and that some days, even in the face of hard evidence, a jury might be inclined to acquit.
I am also wise to the fact that if he really wanted to get rid of me there are plenty of ways he could do it right here at home and without breaking a sweat. Things like poison and acid come to mind (well, maybe not to yours; but I’m a fan of Breaking Bad, so, there you have it) as do murder for hire and a seemingly random but ultimately diversionary sniper attacks (thank you, John Allen Mohammed and Lee Boyd Malvo.)
But what’s great about poison, acid, contract killings, and sniper attacks is that they generally look suspicious and, therefore, tend to arouse the curiosity of law enforcement. This, I’m given to understand, is a big deterrent for those wanting to get rid of someone without having to experience any unpleasant consequences like lethal injection or lifetime incarceration. Thus, I feel pretty safe in my own home and going about my daily business.
Things like fishing and rock climbing, on the other hand, are different. Because they already carry the element of danger—and because accidents really DO happen—if you want to get out of a long term relationship without looking like the bad guy, they’re practically doing the work for you.
“But the Jarhead doesn’t have reason to get rid of you,” you might be saying to yourself. “And he’s a good guy, so you can trust him.”
Yep. And I’ll just bet that’s about what Scott Peterson was banking on when he invited his wife to get into that boat—assuming she did so of her own accord. And I’m pretty sure all the other men and women who have ever died at the hands of their own ostensibly loving spouses were under the exact same mistaken impression.
And so it goes that I will not be taking any fishing or rock climbing trips with the Jarhead any time soon. Nor will I be joining him on any hunting trips, or caving expeditions—that is, unless we go with a group and I have made absolutely certain he doesn’t have the financial means to have paid them ALL for their silence.
Friday, March 15th, 2013
Like many people—especially the folks at the Clio Awards, which recognize innovation and excellence in advertising—I am a big fan of television commercials. I am particularly fond of television commercials that make me laugh, include an addictively catchy jingle, or feature Betty White or Aretha Franklin.
On the other hand, there are several commercials I simply cannot stand and that will prompt me to change the channel immediately upon hearing their opening lines or background music. These include—but are not limited to—ads that contain images of third world poverty, abused or neglected animals, or military service personnel who surprise their mothers by turning up unexpectedly for Thanksgiving. It may sound heartless—especially for a cat-fancying military spouse with two beautiful children—but the people who come up with such ads are wasting their time and talent because, in my view, they are far too touching, depressing, or conscious-raising to watch.
Maybe things would be different if we lived in a world with only four channels and no remote control, but why would I sit through a guilt-inducing lecture from Alyssa Milano, or look at pictures of half-starved dogs when I can click over to HGTV and gawk at the Property Brothers or Scott McGillivray? Seriously.
If these people want to keep me tuned in long enough to convince me to do something about third world poverty or animal cruelty, or to buy a certain brand of coffee, they should run an ad that will actually hold my attention. I won’t go so far as to say they should be funny, or use addictively catchy jingles, or feature Betty White or Aretha Franklin. All I’m asking is that they not make me want to cry, gag, or open a vein.
The poverty and animal cruelty folks could start by taking a cue from some of the other advocacy groups like those behind the Above the Influence ads and anti-bullying campaigns. They are thought-provoking and impactful but aren’t likely to drive me into the arms of a bar of dark chocolate or put me in the fetal position for two weeks.
The coffee people, meanwhile—and others who are bent on reaching out and touching someone—could learn something from my current Favorite Commercial of All Time, which has held the title for more than six months. Specifically, I refer to one in a series of recent ads for Florida Orange Juice featuring an individual seated at a table surrounded by the people he or she expects to encounter that day, who then take turns describing the perils that will befall him or her over the course thereof.
All of these ads are clever and amusing, but the one that never fails to make me laugh out loud—no matter how many times I see it—involves a man at a diner whose companions include a woman who says, “At eleven I’ll call crying because you haven’t updated your relationship status.” “After one date?” he replies with bewilderment. “Yeah,” she responds in a chillingly serious manner. Later, when the guy utters the tagline, “At least I have my orange juice,” she adds, “And me. You have me.” Hilarious. (To judge for yourself, click http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZXbCrInQLW4 )
My previous favorite was a commercial for GEICO whose narrator asks, in response to the question of whether switching to GEICO can really save you fifteen percent on car insurance, “Does a former drill sergeant make a terrible therapist?” The spot goes on to show the ALWAYS amazing R. Lee Ermey mocking his patient and calling him a crybaby as he throws a box of tissues at him. Hysterical. (To judge for yourself, click http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=APwfZYO1di4 )
It bears mention here that the GEICO spot would still be my favorite—or at least a co-favorite—if the powers that be would just air it more often. Or every day. Preferably on HGTV. And, if it’s not too much trouble, during episodes of Property Brothers or Income Property—which is when I’m usually having my coffee.
And speaking of coffee...I have a bone to pick with Maxwell House, whose ads declare it “good to the last drop.” While the phrase may be factual, it does lead me to wonder: Does the coffee industry have a problem with certain products losing their flavor as they are consumed? If so, how severe and widespread is this problem? Does it happen at a specific time after you’ve poured it or vary with temperature? And what, if anything, can be done???
Thursday, March 7, 2013
BILLIE'S BULLIES - PART VI (TO READ PART V, CLICK HERE.)
I first encountered Mary on my first day of ninth grade as she was sitting outside the school griping about freshmen and how annoying they were, and how if one of them got assigned a locker next to hers she was going to slam it in their face every chance she got. This turned out to be a recurring theme for Mary—one verging on unnatural obsession in my book—who was ranting about annoying and immature freshmen virtually every time I saw her, which was often since she was three levels above me on the volleyball team; she was a teaching assistant for the instructor who taught my PE class; and because she occupied a locker barely a dozen feet down the hall from mine.
To those who know me and are familiar with my tolerance for asses, twits, and morons, it will come as no surprise that I soon grew weary of Mary’s voice and her constant harping about my fellow classmen. It will be equally easy for you to believe that at one point—on the activity bus on our way to a game in Glencoe, I believe—that I took it upon myself to prove to Mary just how immature freshmen could be by placing my thumb on my nose and waving my fingers in her direction.
I should take a moment to point out that, in addition to being a senior, a skilled volleyball player and a bit of a b*tch, Mary was a body builder. In fact, the same year she was grousing ad nauseam about her least favorite group of underclassmen, she also broke some school record for weight lifting. I don’t recall the specific amount of weight involved, but the woman apparently could bench press something in the neighborhood of 130 pounds—and she was barely five feet tall.
So to say my actions were a tad reckless is akin to calling Warren Buffet comfortable or accusing Charles Manson of being an oddball.
At any rate, and to my surprise, Mary did not rise from her throne near the wheel well and pound me to pieces. Nor did she grab me by the hair, shove me to the floor and kick me to death. Instead, she stopped talking—which alone made my actions worth taking even if the effect was short lived—cast her eyes meaningfully in my direction, and informed her fellow upperclassmen that a certain blonde freshman was asking to get her fingers broken.
You know what they say about honor among thieves? Well it doesn’t apply to immature freshmen volleyball players. I know this because instead of nodding in solidarity and vowing to back me up, my two best friends, Gwyn and Lisa (not the same Lisa who objected to the exuberance with which I play kickball, by the way) immediately informed me that I was both stupid, and entirely on my own.
Knowing what was coming, I decided during the Junior Varsity game to bite the bullet and get it over with. With that in mind, I strode into the locker room where the varsity players were seated on the floor having their pregame powwow, picked up my backpack, and headed back toward the door. I had just grabbed the handle when Mary motioned for the others to be silent, and addressed me.
“You think you’re pretty funny, don’t you?” she asked as her cohorts stared into the periphery like a herd of White Tail deer on high alert.
“Not really,” I replied.
“Then you obviously have a death wish.”
“If you say so.”
With a shrug that belied my terror, I opened the door and went back to the gym where Lisa and Gwyn marveled at the fact that I had all my body parts, and not one of them was bleeding or broken.
“She’s all talk,” I sniffed as the adrenaline coursed through my immature freshmen veins. “She just wanted me to be afraid of her, and I just proved I’m not. I doubt she’ll bother me anymore, and I’m guessing she won’t have as much to say about freshmen, either.”
To my intense surprise—I was right. And I didn’t even have to relocate to avoid a beating this time. In fact, we stayed in Eden Prairie until 1982 when we moved to Rushford where I would meet the Jarhead of my dreams. He wasn’t a Jarhead when I met him, but…well that’s another story.
Thursday, February 28, 2013
BILLIE'S BULLIES - PART V (TO READ PART IV, CLICK HERE.)
Thanks to Eden Prairie’s status as one of Minneapolis’ most desirable suburban communities, it was only a matter of time before I was no longer The New Kid. New students were arriving on what seemed like a weekly basis at Central Middle School, and by the time seventh grade rolled around there were enough of us eating at the outcast table for us to qualify as our own clique. This included the first African American girl and the first two Asian girls to attend CMS, as well as two girls who had lived in Eden Prairie all their lives but for various reasons decided to ditch their old gang to join our band of misfits.
One person who never spent a moment at the outcast table—despite arriving to CMS after I did—was Kirsten H. (I use her last initial to distinguish her from the other Kirsten—Kirsten Q—who seemed to have a surplus of self-esteem, but who was way too decent and ambitious a person to jeopardize her spot on the Student Council by violating the CMS code of student conduct.)
The absence of Kirsten H from the outcast table probably had something to do with the fact that she spent part of the day at the high school down the street studying German and taking advanced classes of some kind. For a while—and for reasons you will soon understand—I derived a sort of sick comfort in the idea that, as a seventh grader among all those high school students, she probably sat alone at her own version of an outcast table before returning to CMS for pedestrian classes like PE and Home Ec.
It was during one of these pedestrian classes—PE to be specific—that Kirsten decided to rip my pants in half. It bears mention here that these weren’t just any pants. These were brand new burgundy dress slacks that I had bought—along with a matching tunic and scarf—with my very own money. As one of the oldest kids in the apartment complex, I was making what I considered big bucks babysitting five to seven nights a week and spending it on clothes that would help me achieve my goal of not standing out like a poor, sore thumb.
In any event, for whatever reason, Kirsten didn’t want me to have those pants. Maybe their color or their texture offended her. Maybe she thought they’d been made in a Bangladeshi sweatshop by three year-old kids. Or perhaps she was just an evil witch. It’s difficult to say.
What was abundantly clear is that she did it. I may not have seen her do it but I did see her go to the locker room after class had started, and I saw her slink back out a couple minutes later. And she had seen me—and blushed—as she came back through the gym door, which told me something was up. So I went back to the locker room where I found my brand new pants ripped completely in half and hanging from the door of my gym locker.
Unwilling to undo all the progress I’d made in terms of fitting in since my encounter with Gretchen and Lori, I decided not to report the incident. Instead I had a chat with the gym teacher, who granted my request to be excused to the Home Ec room; asked me if I knew who had done it; and, upon hearing the suspect’s name, all too happily agreed to keep it between us.
I had just finished stitching my pants back together and fixing the zipper when the members of the next period Home Ec class—which included Kirsten H—started to arrive. I allowed myself the luxury of giving her one dirty look and then spent the next two days pretending she didn’t exist. Sitting in class and looking right through her day after day, I felt like Hester Prynne herself, quietly bearing my burden with dignity and grace. Unlike the Puritan adulteress, however, I wasn’t guilty of anything, and I wasn’t trying to redeem myself or induce anyone to have mercy on my soul. I was teaching Kirsten something about money and class—and driving her insane with every moment that passed as she waited for the other shoe to drop. It was delicious.
It got even more delicious when she approached me before gym the following Monday and in a voice barely above a whisper, confessed. Evidently she’d told her mom what she’d done to my pants and, as penance, offered to pay for them. I responded by thanking her for owning up to it, and telling her to keep her money. I wish I could say I did so to reward her honesty, but the sad truth is I thought taking the money would make her feel better—and I wasn’t quite ready to let her off the hook.
Eventually, though, I got over it and Kirsten H and I learned to peacefully coexist. Likewise, middle school eventually came to an end and we both moved on to Eden Prairie High School, where I would meet my arch nemesis, Mary.
BILLIE'S BULLIES - PART IV (TO READ PART III, CLICK HERE.)
Eden Prairie sounds like paradise. A haven if you will. And paradise it was for most of its residents—at least until the late Seventies when the government decided to slap down a low income housing project at the intersection of Preserve Road and Anderson Lakes Parkway.
Being only eleven years old and having attended rural schools for most of my life, I was not aware of the impact high density housing—and government housing in particular—could have on the value of privately owned, single family dwellings, or of the impact that falling property values could have on upper-middle class homeowners. Nor did I anticipate how the resentment that some upper middle class homeowners felt toward high density public housing could influence how their offspring treated the children who lived in high density public housing. Personally, I was just glad my dad had finally found a place we could afford, and hopeful that I wouldn’t run into another Lisa, Maria, or anyone with the last name of Gilmer.
To be fair, both Eden Prairie and our apartment complex in particular seemed like a haven to me, too, at first. Our ground level unit smelled of fresh paint and new carpet, and discounting the house we built when my dad married my first stepmom, it was the nicest place we had ever lived. With the apartments being part of a development called The Preserve, we had access to two swimming pools, four tennis courts, a golf course, and miles and miles of bike trails. Since it was winter when we arrived, I was unable to take advantage of these amenities right away, but the promise of enjoying them with all the new friends I would make before summer came left me blind to the possibility that, despite its heavenly name, Eden Prairie was home to wicked creatures, and those creatures attended Central Middle School.
I learned of these creatures on the bus ride home from school on my first day. My dad had driven me in that morning or I probably would have encountered them before I even made it to homeroom. As it happened, though, I retained my hopes and dreams of making new friends through all seven periods of class that day—thanks, in no small measure to a girl named Sheila whose best friend Gidge had recently moved away and who seemed eager to find someone to fill the vacancy. (Although I didn’t get the job—owing no doubt to my inability to impress Sheila’s wider circle of friends with my polyester pantsuits and general lack of sophistication—I will be eternally grateful to Sheila for the chance to audition.)
Anyway…things only seemed better from my perspective when eighth graders Gretchen and Lori abandoned their seats near the rear of the bus to pay me a visit at the front. From the way they smiled and inquired about my old school and complimented me on my hair and clothes, I thought I was about to make two new friends. That is, until they decided to give me a make-over.
I was naïve enough at first to think they were actually going to style my hair and apply eye shadow and mascara. It was only when one of them took the gum from her mouth and squeezed it into a section of my unsuspecting tresses that I realized what they were up to. Having been caught off guard and with no means of escape, all I could do was sit there as they reached down and gathered handfuls of gritty, muddy, midwinter slush from the floor and smeared it all over my head and face.
Thankfully, we were only a couple of blocks from my stop when it happened. And thankfully, when the principal called Gretchen and Lori into his office the next morning—after my dad stormed in and told him what had happened—neither of them denied it. (Note to prospective bullies: If you’re going to pick on someone, don’t choose a kid who has an eidetic memory, and for heaven’s sake don’t introduce yourselves—especially using your real names. That goes double if one of your names hasn’t cracked the top 100 for baby girls in over a century.)
Suffice it to say that my dad’s actions—however well intended—did little to enhance my experience as The New Kid, and did even less to increase the rate at which I made friends. And so it was that I opted not to tattle, but to take matters into my own hands the following year when I became the target of the lovely and talented Kirsten H…
BILLIE'S BULLIES - PART III (TO READ PART II, CLICK HERE.)
Unlike the Gilmer Girl, I received no forewarning about Lisa and Maria. On top of that, I thought I was immune from persecution. I wasn’t technically The New Kid, after all since I had attended kindergarten in Onamia six years earlier, and I knew or remembered almost everyone in both sixth grade classrooms. We all had taken the same bus to kindergarten, and I would see or hear about many of them whenever I visited my cousins who lived and attended school in Onamia all their lives. Plus, as sixth graders, we were the top of the heap at Onamia Elementary. I should have been safe.
But none of that made any difference to Lisa and Maria. They hadn’t attended kindergarten with us, and they weren’t acquainted with any of my cousins. That didn’t strike me as a problem at the time, so I went on about my business, which in addition to learning, included chatting with my friends and obsessing over Abel, Chris, Kent…
Anyway, Lisa and Maria weren’t that bad at first. Especially compared to the Gilmer Girl, whose reputation had preceded her and whose appearance, sadly, reinforced it, these two seemed fairly benign. Apart from the way they would stand together in the hall or cafeteria and stare at me menacingly, they didn’t actually DO anything that scary. And even that didn’t seem all that frightening since they looked more like a pair of ghoulish ghost girls from a bad horror movie than a couple of Midwestern bad asses.
What I failed to realize was that, while they were staring at me, they were also biding their time and waiting to catch me alone. Which they did one day after a spirited game of kickball that ended with me lying in a puddle of mud after racing to catch a pop fly that had whizzed past second base into a low area in center field. After getting up and turning around to give the rest of my class a chance to admire my mud covered back and dedication to the game, I had jogged back to the building and up to the girls' lavatory to get as clean as I could since there were still forty minutes or so left in the school day, and going home to change was not an option for kids who lived in the country.
It was there that they cornered me. “That’s what you get for thinking you’re so cool,” Lisa informed me as she and Maria moved toward the sink where I was wiping off my clothes with wet paper towels.
As if, I thought. Maybe Lisa and Maria would have been embarrassed to wind up covered in mud after running like mad to catch a ball and stop the other team from scoring, but I sure as hell wasn’t. In fact, in my mind landing in the mud only highlighted how far I was willing to go for my teammates, which in turn had rendered my actions—and, therefore, me—that much cooler.
Apparently they did not agree, as evidenced by the diatribe that followed about knowing my place and not showing off, which they delivered as they continued to edge closer. Although I’m sure I looked scared, it wasn’t a beat down I was worried about. I was tall for my age and a tomboy, and I was fully prepared to defend myself. What I wasn’t prepared to do was get caught fighting in the bathroom and be sent home. Or, more to the point, to have to call home and tell my Auntie I’d been suspended.
So I did the only thing I could do, which was to storm past Lisa and Maria and pray they wouldn’t trip me or knock my teeth in. They didn’t, and I survived, and they never bothered me again. Of course, they didn’t really have a chance since I moved away a week later—first to Fridley, where we stayed for three months, and then to Eden Prairie where I met Gretchen and Lori…
BILLIE'S BULLIES - PART II (TO READ PART I, CLICK HERE.)
Having just moved to Milaca (in the middle of the school year, of course) I didn’t know about the Gilmer Girl—or about her fondness for terrorizing anyone younger than her who was dumb enough to cut through the park on the way to or from school—until I had taken the risky trek several times.
Fortunately I learned of the fiendish fourth grader before I actually met her, thanks to a couple of curious classmates who asked me where I lived and how I got to school. I had barely gotten as far as ‘the park’ in my story when their faces all went white, and they started telling me about the dreaded Gilmer Girl and why the park was to be avoided at all cost.
Having moved three times in as many years by then—and having survived the death of my mother two years earlier—I had learned to charm my way into the heart of almost anyone in my vicinity and naively ignored the warnings of my concerned compadres. Instead I decided to continue crossing through the park and resolved that if I encountered the Gilmer Girl, I would talk her out of harming me, make her my friend, and perhaps even convince her to change her evil ways.
I’d like to report that my plan worked and that the Gilmer Girl and I became best buds who still correspond today. I’d like to say she turned over a new leaf and now runs a charity that benefits the elderly or small animals. But that would be a lie.
In truth, I have no clue what happened to the Gilmer Girl. Judging from her reputation and our single encounter, I’m guessing she’s in jail—if not as an inmate then perhaps as an employee. I can just imagine her patrolling the halls and barking orders at the residents to keep them in line, or sporting a fancy orange jumpsuit and extorting cigarettes or contraband from the other members of her cell block.
All I can say for sure about the Gilmer Girl is that she was not interested in making friends. She may have been a person in pain who only needed to be understood, but that was not apparent on that cloudy, cold morning when she hopped off the bench and stormed over to block my path to school.
I can still feel the quiver in my voice as I explained how she didn’t have to beat me up; that we could work things out; that we could be friends. And I can still hear the growl in her voice when she asked, “Why would I want to be friends with you?” Knowing even at the tender age of six the difference between a rhetorical question and a genuine interrogatory, I didn’t try to make my case. Instead, I did an about face and ran as fast as I could to the edge of the park and all the way up Central Avenue to the uniformed crossing guard—and never cut through the park again.
Although we left Milaca for Mora part way through second grade, and moved from Mora to Pine City and back again the following year, I managed to complete third through fifth grades essentially unscathed.
Unfortunately, the summer before sixth grade we moved again—this time to Onamia, which is where I met Lisa and Maria…
I listened with interest this past Tuesday as Princess Primrose told me about an anti-bullying project she was working on for the PR course she’s taking this term. I say ‘with interest’ not just because I’m her mother and, as such, that is my mandate, but also because I consider myself somewhat of an expert on the subject of bullying, and was anxious for her to conclude her thoughts so I could share some of mine.
Now when I use the word 'expert' I don't mean to cast myself and an authority. Nor do I claim to have devised some new means or method of managing bullies or assisting their victims. Rather, I'm simply stating that I have had a few run-ins with bullies in my day and have survived, as evidenced by the fact that I'm still here--at least as of the date of this entry.
I don't know if it's typical for bullies to prey on kids of their own gender, but in my case all of my tormenters were female. As I type this I can almost hear the Jarhead saying "Of course they were. Girls are twice as vicious as boys are." And I'm not saying he's wrong--or that it has nothing to do with hormones--but clearly PMS alone does not explain it or we would not have any male bullies.
Apart from their gender and shared goal of making me miserable, the girls who bullied me over the years had little in common. Although three of them were in my own grade at the time, the other four were all older than me by a couple years. At the same time, two of them came from poverty stricken homes, while the other five were girls from--as one principal put it after expressing his surprise--good families.
Now you may be asking yourself several questions at this point. For example, you may be wondering where I lived and why there were so many bullies there. You may also be wondering what kind of school I went to, and why the faculty did nothing to stop it. On the other hand, you may be wondering what the hell I did to cause seven different people to hate me over the course of one short childhood. Then again—and especially if you know me—you may be wondering how it is that I wasn’t routinely harassed and hounded by a dozen or so more.
The shocking reality is that I went to nine different schools in the thirteen l-o-n-g years of my elementary and high school education, and thus spent more than my share of time as The New Kid—or, literally, a moving target. I attended three of the nine twice—meaning I moved away and moved back, once within the same grade—so I didn’t have to deal with being The New Kid every time my family relocated. On the other hand, in sixth grade I attended three different schools so it all kind of evened out.
I encountered my first bully when I was six years old and a first grader in Mrs. Roehl’s class at Milaca Elementary School. I was a walker—meaning, I walked to school. From the Key Row Apartments at 4th Street NW, to the old Elementary School building on Central Avenue S, it was about a nine block walk (which is a much greater distance than you would let a six year-old go by herself today; but this was 1973) and you could save some time and energy by crossing through the park between 2nd and 1st streets over to Central Avenue.
That is, unless you came face to face with the Gilmer Girl...
Not long ago I found myself standing powerlessly by the front window waiting for a technician to arrive and ascertain the cause of my electrical outage. I was still working at the time and had been required to take the morning off so the tech could gain access to the house, if necessary, and in between listening for the power to spontaneously return, I found myself muttering one of the oldest clichés of all time: Patience is a virtue.
I was speaking ironically, of course. In truth, I think patience is not a virtue but a vice—peddled by those who would have us all calm down, r-e-l-a-x, and forget that other people are wasting our time and controlling our lives. While it may be helpful in small doses, like the roast I let sit in the oven one evening as I waited for the Jarhead to unchain himself from his desk, patience can be grossly over done.
In fact, I would go one step further and say that IMPATIENCE is more virtuous than patience. For without impatience, many of our technological advancements and modern methods of living and doing business would not exist.
Take for example the instant camera. Were it not for the impatience of its inventor Samuel Shlafrock, we might still have to wait weeks—even months—to share pictures of ourselves on vacation, our cousin’s wedding, or the golf ball size hail from last summer’s thunderstorm. Ditto—and then some—for the invention of one-hour photo printers and digital photography.
A similar argument could be made about the work of Alexander Graham Bell, who clearly lacked the patience to await news by telegram or post, and Percy Spencer, father of the beloved apparatus that lets us thaw, cook and reheat entire meals in under ten minutes and allows us to soften butter for cookie dough in 25 seconds flat. And don’t get me started on the inventors of the fax machine, the personal computer, or the Internet or we’ll be here all day.
Now some might say that were it not for the patience of all these gift individuals, none of our modern appliances, tools, and other devices would exist.
But we're not going to go there because it would completely unravel my thesis.
Friday, January 4, 2013
My kids exist for several reasons, not the least of which is because I wanted children and my husband (hereinafter referred to as the Jarhead) couldn’t make a convincing argument as to why we shouldn’t have them. And although the impact their existence will have on the U.S., North America, and the universe are as yet to be seen, they have already made significant contributions to the world and my understanding of it.
For example, together they have helped to disprove the validity of astrology. Being both born Virgos and yet having NOTHING—and I mean NOTHING—in common in terms of personality, taste, interests, or temperament, they are living proof that the positions of the stars and planets at the time of one's birth has not thing one to do with who you are or what you can or cannot accomplish. Although they are both sharp and funny (I am their mother, so you can take my word for this, of course) and a touch moody, these similarities probably have more to do with genetics and the home they grew up in than with which of the twelve houses Saturn was in when they came down the chute, as it were.
On the other hand, there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that the circumstances surrounding one's conception may play a role where the heavenly bodies do not.
Case in point: Our eldest (hereinafter referred to as El Noble) who was conceived after nearly a year of careful planning, temperature tracking, and hand wringing, is deliberate, disciplined, and methodical to the point of obsessive. He keeps lists, tracks every dollar he makes and spends, schedules when he will clean his shoes, and has a white board in his room laying out his goals for the day, week, month, and beyond. To say this kid is organized is like calling Stephen Hawking a smart guy or Stephen Colbert a funny fellow. When he says he’s going to do something, you know he’s going to do it, as well as when, where, why, and how. And whereas one might assume from this that he is also uptight, unfriendly or inflexible, in truth the guy is easy going, warm and gregarious.
Meanwhile our youngest (hereinafter referred to as Princess Primrose) who was conceived about five years later when I was obviously paying more attention to my college coursework than I was contraception or hormone cycles, is dynamic, dramatic, and disorganized. She has nine thousand pens and drawing pencils in her room in case she loses or gets bored with the one in her hand or the thirty in her kit; keeps piles of sketch pads, legal pads, and note pads for ostensibly more than sentimental or ornamental reasons; and goes on writing, drawing and gaming benders that can last for days. Her room is a disaster; the car she drives is a fire hazard; and if one were to gather and hang up all of her clothing, you would swear on a stack of Vogue magazines that it was stolen from the closets of four different people from four different planets. She has held a job for over a year with the same company and is doing well there, but that’s about all the structure the girl can handle at once.
Okay so maybe the circumstances of their conception had little to do with how these creatures turned out. Maybe if I could’ve talked the Jarhead into having a couple more we’d have wound up with a disorganized kid who was painstakingly planned or a structured kid who came as a total surprise. Or maybe we would have gotten more of the same.
Either way, I would not have been disappointed—or any less amused.