Are You Married to a Birthday Moron?

When it comes to birthdays, there are two kinds of husbands. The first type delight in giving fabulous birthday gifts. The amount of thought that goes into these birthday extravaganzas implies planning has taken place months in advance. Gifts include (but are not limited to) treasure hunts, weekend getaways, breakfast in bed followed by a full day at the spa, and surprise parties. These enigma gentlemen must have Pinterest accounts or peruse discarded Real Simple magazines.

Then – then there are the other half. This group falls somewhere in between the categories of, “Wait. Is her birthday the third or the thirteenth?” and, “Crap. Today’s her birthday? Maybe I can get something in the gas station on the way home from work. My tank’s on empty.”

These less than impressive gift givers aren’t bad guys. In fact, many of them are incredible human beings. They just fall short – really short – every 365 days. For whatever reason, when their spouse’s birthday comes creeping around the calendar, something bizarre happens to their brains. Science has yet to explain it, but the evidence is there: these men turn into Birthday Morons.

Listed below are the types of birthday that ladies who are married to Birthday Morons have experienced. This list proves they’re not alone. The next time they hear of some gal’s husband making a special dinner (and doing the dishes) while she takes an uninterrupted bubble bath, they can refer to this list for comfort and solidarity. They can think, “Ahh, she too is married to a Birthday Moron.”

The Absolute Forgotten Birthday – you wait all day, knowing deep down he has forgotten your birthday but hope prevails that maybe, just maybe, he has a surprise planned. You make dinner. You clean up. The sense of dread and disappointment is intensifying. You peek in his closet, then his car trunk. No gift. Not even a card. There will be no surprise. He forgot.

The Last Minute Birthday – These birthday gifts are a tad better than the Absolute Forgotten Birthday, but not by much. They involve a hearty “Happy Birthday” greeting or text (yay!) but that’s about it. Your present is usually a,

“How about I bring you to the mall and you can pick out what you want?”

This lackluster offer to drive you to the mall proves there was no planning, or thought, whatsoever. Some women will jump on the invitation and buy the most expensive thing in the mall out of spite. Others are simply too exhausted, and they just want to get in bed and have a good seething cry. They also vehemently promise to never have sex with their Birthday Moron again.

The Hasty Birthday – Damage control people! The Hasty Birthday is when he looks at his desktop calendar and utters a, “Oh %&#$!. Today’s her birthday?” The Hasty Birthday knows an offer to go shopping at the mall won’t fly, so he stops on his way home from work and buys the easiest thing possible. Flowers from the grocery store with the price sticker adhered to the clear cellophane, and a gift card randomly chosen from a gift card kiosk. You tell yourself, “It’s the thought that counts,” but here’s the thing: THERE WAS NO REAL THOUGHT.

The Backpedal Birthday – There is no card, gift, or celebratory outing. His reason?

“Remember how we went out for dinner and that movie two weeks ago? That was your birthday gift.”

If only you had known! You would have ordered an appetizer and asked the waiter for a free piece of cake.

The Self-Serving Birthday – These birthday gifts are complicated. The guy remembers your birthday, but the gift is more for him than you. You unwrap your present only to find a book on massage and massage oil. Meanwhile, he has removed his shirt and is pointing to his left shoulder.

“Could you get right here? My trapezius? It’s been sore for weeks.”

Other Self-Serving Birthday gifts include lingerie, tickets to watch his favorite sports team, or a power tool. The Self- Serving Birthday Moron has also been known to be sneaky. These gifts involve jewelry, a day at the spa, or dinner at your favorite restaurant. The magic quickly evaporates when you realize your Birthday Moron is expecting sex later that night, or he is hoping you won’t be angry when he announces his fantasy football losses.

The Clueless Birthday – Similar to the Self-Serving Birthday, these birthday gifts are tricky. The Birthday Moron remembers your birthday and made time to purchase a gift, but all consideration (and common sense) left the brain as soon as this Birthday Moron entered the store. Clueless birthday presents have been known to include hand held vacuum cleaners (“but you’re always cleaning!”), salad spinners (“since you make salad every night”), and bedroom slippers two sizes too big. The Clueless Birthday also involves an offer to make dinner, only to be served hot dogs or Kraft macaroni and cheese.

There is hope for Birthday Morons. Legend has it that one or two have morphed into those great gift giving husbands – the ones who love to plan, and have no secret agenda hidden in their gift giving. But until then, the wives of Birthday Morons can unite and commiserate. They can hope that next year will be better.

Kale Causes Cancer

Kale causes cancer. Well, not yet. But it will. It’s only a matter of time before a national study reveals that this esteemed leafy green vegetable is wreaking havoc on our bodies. Just look at fish! For decades we have been told to “eat more fish!”, “fish is good for you!”, “fish has healthy oils for your brain!” Then along comes this pesky neurotoxin called mercury – which has apparently infested our fish.

It’ll be no surprise when kale is considered deadly. First, it has a rough, rubbery texture, which is nature’s way of saying, “hands off!” Second, it’s bitter. An acquired taste? Or similar to the bad taste that bugs excrete to keep predators from devouring them? Lastly, it has an ornamental look to it, implying it should surround our steak and potatoes, not be in lieu of them.

People are very proud when they eat kale, as though they have just saved someone from drowning. Smoothie establishments offer drink concoctions that contain kale as a main ingredient. Women – wearing yoga pants – brandish these smoothies in their hands, feeling good about themselves, when in reality it looks like they are drinking the contents of someones’s stomach after an intestinal virus. These smoothies also contain a variety of other fruits and vegetables, which are supposed to add to the smoothies’ nutritional content. But we all know what is really going on: they’re just trying to cover up the taste of the kale.

Facebook and Pinterest are full of kale recipes. Soon there will be kale coffee and kale cupcakes. That is, until it is announced that kale causes cancer. Then everyone will breathe a sigh of relief and admit they never liked the vegetable, that they always found it bitter and disgusting – how they pretended to like it because it was cool. They never should have dressed little Sophia up as a kale leaf for Halloween, or made Simon eat dried kale chips for snack everyday.

Support groups will form, and not because kale has given so many people cancer, but because there is now a vacant spot – a rift – in their lives.

“It’s that feeling I miss … the pride of having something so healthy in my grocery cart. Nothing quite matches the euphoria of another grocery shopper glancing at my groceries and seeing my kale, while they were buying nothing but cheese doodles and soda.”

“Mmmm … I hear what you’re saying. And how about you, Sue? What are you feeling right now?”

“It made me feel smart. Like, I was playing a trick on someone. Why else would I eat something so awful? But I knew it was supposed to be good for me. So I ate it. But without kale, I’m just boring. I’m like everyone else.”

“Those are very strong feelings, Sue. Thank you for sharing them. How about you, Stephanie?”

“I’m really regretting naming my daughter Kale. I should have gone with Emma.”

People will wander around the produce section of grocery stores. Spinach may gain some new attention, like an ex girlfriend who suddenly seems appealing again. Others may briefly try broccolini, only to find it’s been around too long, they’re familiar with its taste, it doesn’t feel like it’s doing anything.

In time, another vegetable will be heralded as the “nutrient packed”, “immune-boosting”, “cancer fighting” food that kale was once considered to be (before it was discovered that it causes cancer). Everyone will breathe a sigh of relief and rush to ingest that plant. Until, of course, it is announced it causes heart disease.

Milk is Ruining My Life

I pour the creamy, white liquid into the glass. I’m just about to take a sip, but then freeze. Wait. Wait, just one minute. Did this milk come from a cow treated with artificial growth hormones? Is this milk lactose free? I wonder if the cow was injected with resistant building antibiotics. Was the cow humanely treated? Did it enjoy being milked – or did it feel violated?

How did such a benign substance become so risky all of a sudden? When we were children, we were told to drink milk because it was good for our teeth and it kept our bones from snapping in half. But now everything seems so complicated! Fat free milk, skim milk, 2% milk, whole milk. Milk with DHA added.

Should we drink pasteurized or unpasteurized milk? Supposedly, unpasteurized milk has not been meddled with, and contains more nutrients and healthy fat than pasteurized milk. On the flip-side, because of the pasteurization process, pasteurized milk doesn’t harbor pesky deadly bacteria that is more likely to be found in unpasteurized milk. Hmmm … healthy fat verses dangerous bacteria …it’s a tossup.

I grab my keys and drive to the grocery store. I’m relieved to find they have an entire section devoted to milk substitutes. Thank goodness! Problem solved! Or so I thought.

The first option is rice milk. This looks like a great choice, until I remember it was just all over the news that arsenic was found in rice products. (I need to consume arsenic like I need a hole in my head.) And rice is a grain, right? Isn’t there this whole paleo diet movement? The diet rage that says we shouldn’t eat grains because our ancestors didn’t eat grains and they lived to be nine hundred years old, so we should abstain from grains too, so we can live to be nine hundred years old with no teeth and incontinent and yell at our children because they never visit us.

I scan the shelves. How about soy milk? Oh. Estrogen overload. Well, then. What about almond milk? Hmmm … Not only am I not a fan of almonds, but what if I develop a nut allergy? What if I’m standing in my kitchen, enjoying a nice cold glass of almond milk, and suddenly my throat swells shut? There I am, gasping and writhing for breath because I need an epi-pen in order to breath. (Which I don’t happen to own since I’ve never had a nut allergy prior to this whole milk dilemma.) I drop dead on the floor all because of a glass of stupid almond milk.

There’s coconut milk, but isn’t that high in fat? Or is coconut fat considered good now? I keep losing track. I’m fairly certain that coconut fat is considered healthy fat … or was that avocados? Maybe avocado fat is good to consume – and not coconuts – but I can’t find avocado milk. Maybe they’re making that next month.

On the shelf under the coconut milk is … hemp milk. Hemp milk? Hemp milk? Is that even legal? What would hemp milk even taste like? Sucking on a wet, burlap bag?

Not to mention, all of these non-milk products come in a variety of options. Organic, non-organic. No-sugar added. Sweetened and non-sweetened. Vanilla. It feels eerily similar to when I’m in the milk aisle.

I storm out of the milk substitute aisle and pass the frozen food section where gallons of milk sit innocently lined up for those who don’t know the dangers of drinking milk from another mammal (and yet another issue). I grab a bottle of soda – suddenly the safest choice – and head towards the cashier.

 

 

 

 

 

Express … Or Just Less?

Many businesses now seem to have the word express in their title. While the definition of “express” can mean precise and exact, the word is more commonly used to imply speed. (Take the “express lane” for example.) As schedules grow busier and people have less time, the idea of getting things – even difficult things – done quickly is appealing. The result of this is “express” being inserted into the names of certain businesses. But let’s stop and really ponder this idea of having services done expediently.

There is the Holiday Inn Express*. What makes this Holiday Inn different from the other Holiday Inns? Are their patrons awakened at 5 am by a Holiday Inn employee banging on their hotel room door shouting,

“Wake up! This is a Holiday Inn Express! If you wanted to sleep in you should’ve stayed in a regular Holiday Inn. Up and at ’em! Let’s move it along!”

Express Scripts is another well known business with express in its title. For the costumer, this name should evoke the idea of receiving your medicine quickly. No waiting. However, I can’t help but imagine a room full of pharmacists frantically filling little prescription bottles.

“Uh-oh.”

“What?”

“Did you just drop Omeprilstatin?”

“No. I just dropped Methatrypophane. Why? Did you drop Omeprilstatin?”

“Sure did.”

“Crap. They look exactly the same. They’re both white and round. I can’t tell which is which. Now what?”

“I dunno. But the buzzer is about to go off any second and we need to have these boxed up. This is Express Scripts you know. ”

“Eh … what does it matter. It’s Express Scripts. NOT “You’re Getting The Right Medicine Scripts”. Let’s just pick them up off the floor, ship them out and hope for the best.”

Massage Express or Express Massage businesses have been popping up in various cities (typically in malls), which are basically poor quality massages given by individuals who have zero massage theapy training. What better way to relax, heal and unwind than to have a speedy massage given by a person who has no idea what they’re doing. But hey, it’s express!

On a local level, there is a business around here called Express Pools. I assume this is geared for people who – in the middle of August when they can not stand one more second of New York humidity – decide they want a pool and they want one now. Based on its name, I’m guessing a pool is quickly installed in your yard. However, haste makes waste, and I can’t help but picture people frolicking in their pool before pausing and saying,

“Wait. Wait just one second. Is it me, or does there seem to be less water in here?”

Express may mean fast, but it doesn’t necessarily mean quality. McDonalds or Burger King can promise you food quickly, but you’re not about to have them cater an important event. Five million tourists stare in wonder at the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling every year. Had Michelangelo been slapdash with his paintbrush,  it wouldn’t be considered the magnificent work of art it is.

Certain businesses know not to use the word express in their title, despite how much business it may potentially garner. Thankfully, I have yet to see Express Cardiothoracic Surgeons. I certainly wouldn’t want to drive over a bridge constructed by Express Bridge Builders, or fly on an airplane made by Express Made Airplanes. Lastly, call me picky, but my children would never attend Express Elementary School.

 

*So what exactly is the difference between a Holiday Inn Express and a regular Holiday Inn? The Holiday Inn Express is geared toward business travelers and has fewer amenities, such as an in-hotel restaurant or spa. They really don’t wake guests up at 5 am because it’s an express hotel (unless, of course, you want to be woken up at 5 am with a complimentary wake-up call).

 

 

What Dogs Think About Humans

“I’m a bit concerned,” she said.

The dogs sat on the couch. Talking dogs. Seriously. I had been asked to interview four talking dogs on a rather delicate subject matter. They wanted their voice (non-barking) heard, and they thought my blog would be the best venue. (Who knew canines read The Underground Writer? Who knew, for that matter, dogs could read?!)

“About what?” I ask.

Daisy is a mixed-breed. A cross between a Boxer and Pittbull. She shakes her head – her dog tags clicking together.

“My humans. My ownersThey’re … getting … strange.”

“Not mine!” the Golden Retriever interjects, “my humans are the best.”

“Well, of course you would think so. You think everyone is the best. All Goldens do.”

The Golden Retriever is suddenly distracted, his snout raised in the air, sniffing.

“Do you smell bacon?” he asks.

Daisy raises a furry eyebrow at me and leans forward, her front paws sliding on the slipcover.

“As I was saying … my humans adopted me from the animal shelter, which was great! I love them, really, I do. But now … but now they’re acting like they’ve saved the world! All over their minivan are bumper stickers that read ‘Rescue Dog Mom’ and ‘I Rescued My Fur Baby’ and ‘Don’t Breed – Adopt.’ As though taking me into their home has made them better people.”

Daisy glances at Trixie – a Yorkie who has started gnawing on an old running shoe.

“Then there are my humans,” Ace – a Siberian Husky – says. “Bought me from a breeder. Paid a fortune, I might add. Now it’s like I’m their kid. I have to go in their car all of the time. They call it ‘car rides.’  They’re always taking my picture with them. ‘Smile Ace!’ they say, ‘smile for the selfie!’ Apparently I even have my own Facebook page – whatever THAT means.”

“I love going for car rides!” says the Golden Retriever, “My humans have a bumper sticker that says their dog is smarter than your honor student … what does that mean?”

“So what exactly is the problem?” I ask, “Daisy, you would rather have been left in the animal shelter? And Ace? You have a problem with being so loved?”

The dogs (except for the Golden Retriever, that is now licking his genitals) all shake their heads.

“I told them not to hire The Underground Writer for this!” Daisy hisses.

“You’re right,” Ace whispers, “she is a little slow.”

“The problem,” Trixie says, after she has swallowed a tattered shoelace she managed to dislodge from the running shoe, “is how the humans view us. My great grandpa Oscar used to tell me about sleeping outside on the back porch, or eating table scraps. Now I sleep on some fancy thing called a ‘dog settee’, and my human buys me organic dog food.”

“Speaking of food,” Ace interrupts, “have you seen what they feed us? What happened to meat? I like to eat out of the garbage can whenever I get the chance.  And if it’s really smelly, I like to roll in it. Now, my humans feed me froufrou stuff they think will taste good.”

As if to prove his point, Ace nods towards the packages lined up on the table next to the couch.

photo 1 - Copyphoto (3)photo (2)

“Pumpkin and Berry flavor? Gluten free? I just want a bone with some ham still on it!” Ace starts to drool, his saliva forming little pools on the slipcover that is now coated with dog hair.

“What’s with the vanilla sandwich cremes? I’m a dog for crying out loud! And apple cinnamon flavor biscuits?” Daisy asks, “why can’t they make stinky fish flavored biscuits? Or steak flavored?”

“Ohhhh! I LOVE stinky fish!” the Golden Retriever sighs.

“It’s like … humans are trying to make us human,” Trixie says.

“Human are trying to make dogs … human?” I repeat.

“Yes!” Trixie, Ace and Daisy say in unison.

“Don’t get me wrong,” Trixie continues, “I do love my humans, especially the kids. But sometimes I think the adults forget that I’m a dog.”

“Just look at the picture my human bought.” Daisy turns and looks at the picture hanging on the wall behind her.

il_570xN.306804771

“I think that’s great,” the Golden Retriever says. He is scratching his left ear with his hind paw. “I can’t wait to teach my humans how to fetch, and sniff stranger’s crotches, and beg for apple cinnamon flavored biscuits.”

Daisy, Ace and Trixie exchange looks.

“Exactly.”

 

Photo Credits:

Froufrou Dog Treats – Underground Writer venturing into the crowded pet food aisle of local store.

“Everything I Learned In Life…” picture: Google Images/Etsy.com

Really Bad Romantic Ideas

Really Bad Romantic Ideas

Romantic getaway. What comes to mind? Is it snuggling by a crackling fire in a cozy bed and breakfast? Perhaps it’s strolling, hand in hand, down a beach that has sand as fine and soft as baby powder. Or, if you’re my father, it’s taking your wife to a tractor museum in upstate New York, or to a rustic lodge in the Adirondacks that serves such fine delicacies as locally caught possum and squirrel.

While tractor museums and lodges that serve animals typically scraped off the interstate as road kill would be at the bottom of most Romantic Getaway lists (or, for that matter, at the top of the Worst Romantic Getaway lists), there are several places that challenge my father’s idea for inciting romance. So, without further ado:

The Underground Writer’s Worst Romantic Outings

1. The Museum of Bad Art – Never mind strolling the majestic halls of the Museum of Modern Art in the Upper East Side of Manhattan. To un-romance your gal, bring her to The Museum of Bad Art in Boston, Massachusetts. The MOBA (and I quote) “is the world’s only museum dedicated to the collection, preservation, exhibition and celebration of bad art in all it’s form.” Most of the art is found in thrift stores and garage sales. Some is even donated by the artist themselves. (I suppose bad publicity is sometimes better than no publicity?) Nothing will kill the mood faster then gazing at a floating head in a tornado vortex (at least, that’s what they think is going on in the painting – they’re not quite sure since the painting was rescued from someone’s garbage) or musing over the demon-possessed mother-daughter self portrait. (www.museumofbadart.org

bad art

Aliens? Or a hypoxic mother with severely (and I mean SEVERELY) sunburned, green haired daughter?

2. The Kansas Barbed Wire Museum – For those who have an insatiable curiosity for barbed wire, take your lady to La Crosse, Kansas where there is a building devoted solely to the history and varieties (over two thousand!) of the “Devil’s rope.” Couples can mosey past displays of … well … barbed wire, and see various historical tools used for … barbed wire. If still awake, visitors can peruse the Barbed Wire Hall of Fame, and perhaps pick up a trinket at the gift shop. From their website (www.barbedwiremuseum.com) it appears all of the wire is behind glass. This is for a reason. Wives are prevented from attacking their husbands with the very barbed wire used in the museum’s exhibits.

3. Bible Themed Mini Golf Course – Putt your way through the Old Testament, New Testament and miracles in Lexington, Kentucky. Just don’t slice your ball into the “water to blood” river, or stymie your sweetheart’s ball on the green of Calvary. Hopefully a lover’s quarrel won’t erupt by the time you reach Jesus’ Tomb hole. Nothing sours a date quicker than an out-of-bounds shot into Jonah and the Whale hole … or bringing your date to this place. (www.bibleminigolfcourse.com)

IMG_2877

“Jesus feeds 5,000?! Maybe we can get a free meal too!”

4. Idaho Potato Museum – Don’t spuds deserve a museum to call their own? Probably not. But nonetheless, Blackfoot, Idaho thinks so. Have your picture taken alongside the World’s Largest Styrofoam Potato (take THAT Eiffel Tower!), before stroking the burlap tuxedo worn by the very first Potato Commissioner (be careful not to swoon). If you and your date haven’t passed out from excitement by this point, you can view the World’s Largest Potato Chip before purchasing novelty foods that contain (you guessed it) potatoes as their main ingredient in the museum’s gift shop. (www.idahopotatomuseum.com)

5.  Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix Plant – Want to really depress (and not impress) your date? Bring her to Chelsea, Michigan to visit the Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix Plant. Schedule (yes, reservations are required, believe it or not) a tour of their factory. You and your partner will watch an informative video, receive a product sample, and visit the packaging plant. After this, your relationship will be over in a jiffy. (www.jiffytours.com)

jiffy mix

“This is riveting. I can only imagine where we’re staying tonight.”

The Underground Writer’s Strange/Terrible Places to Stay

1. Dog Bark Park – Un-romance your lady in the stomach of a 30 foot wooden beagle. Cottonwood, Idaho is home to Dog Bark Park, the first and only (for a reason) motel room in a building shaped like a dog. When weary of relaxing in the gut of the hound, couples can scurry up the ladder to the beagle’s snout and enjoy the Idaho views. (www.dogparkinn.com)

Dog_Bark_Park_Inn

“Is it me? Or does this place smell like a wet dog?”

2. Budget Inn – Booking a night in a motel with the word “budget” in the name is never, ever a good thing. Take a break from frugality for a moment, please. Budget Inn, located in Parsippany, New Jersey, should really be called Disaster Inn. Reviews on Tripadvisor.com included such comments as, “musty odor”, “stay away” and “straight out of a horror film.”  You know those seedy looking motels you drive by and wonder, “who would ever stay there?” The Budget Inn in Parsippany, NJ is one of those places. (www.budgetinnparsippany.com)

3. Wigwam Motel – Sleep in a Wigwam? Cool, right? Think again. While the outside of these wigwams (located in Holbrook, AZ) may seem kitschy, the inside? Not so much. The novelty of spending the night in a mock wigwam ends once you unlock your wigwam door. Per online reviews, wigwam rooms are said to be in need of a good scrub, one guest was concerned about her safety (wigwam doors are not the strongest, and the wigwams are located near a main highway), and being approached by local riffraff  is not uncommon. However, (and that is a big however), the Wigwam Motel offers beds, and a bathroom, and shelter from the elements that only a wigwam can offer. Want to severely disappoint your date? Bring them here. (www.wigwammotelAZ.com)

Her: How adorable! Him (thinking): SCORE!

Her: How adorable!
Him (thinking): SCORE!

Her: Oh. Him: It's a Wigwam, for crying out loud. What did you expect? Her: I get the bed on the right.  Him: Oh.

Her: Oh.
Him: It’s a Wigwam, for crying out loud. What did you expect?
Her: I get the bed on the right.
Him: Oh.

4. The Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast – I have previously written about this rather strange place (click HERE for my review). For those who love a good scare, or for the gruesome, you can sleep in the very room where Lizzie Borden is said to have hacked her mother to death with a hatchet. Forget chocolate dipped strawberries, a bottle of bubbly, or Barry White’s music to set the mood. Try an annual re-enactment of the slaughterings (if your date happened to book your stay during the anniversary of Mr. and Mrs. Borden’s bludgeoning), a tour of the house (“… and on your right is the room where Mr. Borden was napping when Lizzie whacked him to death”), and a gift shop that offers ax shaped cookie cutters, t-shirts, and mugs with photographs depicting the scene of the murder. Perhaps after a sleepless night (many guests absolutely swear Lizzie’s ghost still roams the house with her hatchet) you can visit the Museum Of Bad Art and look at terrible paintings through bleary eyes.

*All photographs are property of Google Images*

There Goes The Neighborhood

It took us awhile to figure out that something was a bit … off. Our house was lovely on the surface: a charming 1932 colonial with a white picket fence outlining the yard. Very Leave It To Beaver-ish. We loved our house. Our neighbor’s homes were equally sweet, with manicured lawns and picturesque front porches. Our neighbors were kind, hard working people and we all looked out for one another. We loved our neighbors.

And yet, the signs were becoming more frequent. More glaringly obvious. Eventually, we could no longer deny the fact: the neighborhood was changing.

At first we played cheerfully dumb.

“Will you look at this! Another empty pizza box was thrown on our front lawn!” I said to my husband, “but this time it had a skull cap next to it.”

Or

“Some of the neighborhood kids must be doing an art project! I just found an empty can of spray paint on the sidewalk!” I sang as I placed the spray paint can in our recycling bin.

But you can only look through rose colored glasses for so long. Soon, I started paying attention to our surroundings.

“Does your neighborhood park have its garbage cans chain linked to the trees?” I asked my friend who lives in Georgia.

“Um, NO,” she said.

“Huh. Well, I guess it doesn’t matter. Soon the kids will be able to read the graffiti, so we won’t be going there anymore.”

“You have graffiti in your neighborhood park?”

Oh geez. Then there was the issue of our paper delivery. When the paper delivery guy decided to actually deliver the paper, that is. (Delivery was always a bit sketchy.) On days he felt like giving us our paper, he would arrive after nine in the morning, and we could hear the muffler of his car long before he pulled onto our street.

William was another problem. During the winter, our doorbell would inevitably ring on snowy days. I’d open the front door to find William standing on our steps brandishing a snow shovel over his shoulder. (Sometimes. Once or twice he asked to borrow our snow shovel so he could shovel our sidewalk.)

“For ten dollars I can shovel your sidewalk,” he said.

I peered over his shoulder.

“But my husband already shoveled the sidewalk.”

“I can do it again.”

William would proceed to tell me how he needed the ten dollars for gas so he could drive to work. Always a softie (or insanely naive) I would give William ten dollars to shovel our already clean sidewalk. My husband put a stop to William’s visits, however, when he rang our doorbell late one night and asked for an advance on the next snow shoveling job. It was May.

After awhile, picking up garbage from my front lawn became tiring. As did calling the police on a regular basis, only to be told they were “swamped.” When our daughter came home from second grade and called out,

“Hey Mommy! Where you at?”

We knew it was time to move.

Three months later we sold our charming, beloved 1932 colonial and moved into a nondescript ranch in a quiet suburban neighborhood. The only menace are the herds of deer who trample through my flower beds and give me bored stares when I run outside, waving my arms, in a pathetic attempt to shoo them away.  If I find garbage on my lawn, it’s the mail I have accidentally dropped when collecting it out of my mailbox. Life is quiet and simple, and as much as I miss our former neighbors and the charm of our colonial, I recognize this is where we should be.

I also realize that part of the allure of living in our former neighborhood was the plethora of entertaining stories I always had on hand. Whenever there was ever an awkward lull in a conversation, all I had to do was mention the time I hid behind our fence and blew bubbles that floated over the street and surprised cars and pedestrians. And there was always Dave, our white, elderly mailman who had gangsta rap blaring from his mail truck.

Stories about flower-eating deer don’t make people perk up and lean forward nearly as much as when I tell people about the time we were relaxing in our screened in porch, and someone drove by and threw a Boston Market chicken carcass out their window. Until deer learn to drive, the old neighborhood will always win.

A Guide To Gift Giving

The season of gift giving has arrived! As we elbow our way through crowded malls, ruminating over prices and searching for the proper present, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. What if she already has this? Would he be a large or a medium? Wait. Did she say she was or wasn’t allergic to peanuts?

While I certainly cannot provide assistance with all of these common shopping dilemmas, I can share some gift giving wisdom I have learned throughout the years.

1. If the gift is to be opened in front of a large group of people (say an office party, or a gathering of extended family members), avoid giving underwear. As a teenager, my grandmother gave me a pair of white brief underwear the size of Alaska. As I unfolded the underpants and held them up at arms length, an awkward silence filled the room.

2. Regifting is tricky. (Personally, I can’t help but feel the person who is receiving the regifted gift has been duped.) If you are a regifter (“not that there’s anything wrong with that”) remember to keep track of who originally gave you the gift. I know someone who received the gift she had given that person. That’s right: The regifter regifted the gift back to the original giver.

3. Gift Cards are safe, safe, safe. Somewhere along the way, gift cards developed the stigma of not having enough thought put into the purchase of them. Huh? Picture being in a store and someone handing you fifty dollars to spend in the store at that moment. How luxurious! However, just be careful and make sure the gift card is appropriate for the recipient. Giving a pacifist an annual membership to the NRA would go over like a lead balloon, as would presenting your vegan boss with a gift card to Omaha Steaks.

4. For those friends/family who have birthdays around Christmas/Chanukah, never, ever do a “this is your birthday AND Christmas (Chanukah) gift! Unless, of course, the gift is extravagant. (I’m talking new car extravagant.) Handing someone a tin of flavored popcorn while singing, “Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday!” makes the receiver feel a bit gypped. Trust me, by combining these two events, you’re not fooling anyone.

5. When buying gifts for children, decide who you want to like you more: the kid or parent. While practical gifts are generally despised by children (my husband still remembers sulking over the bathrobe he received as a Christmas gift when he was eight years old), they are very appreciated by parents. Toys that kids love – drum sets or life-like sounding fire engines –  can drive parents batty. Prior to purchasing a gift for a child, decide beforehand what you want to accomplish.

In conclusion, as much as we may think that we’ve received some bad gifts over the years, if we’re honest with ourselves, chances are we have given just as many bad gifts too. So we need not get indignant and hold grudges. Basically – don’t sweat it. There is always next year.

Eddie and Annie

It was a Thanksgiving unlike any other. Joining our family were two people from the soup kitchen where my mom volunteered.

My mother had decorated the table just as she would for any holiday: a linen tablecloth, her best dishes, lit candles and fancy napkins. Soft music played in the background. However, this year extended family did not surround the table. Instead, sitting at the table were Annie and Eddie.

Eddie wasn’t homeless, but I strongly doubted his home had running water. He wreaked of unwashed skin and filthy clothes. His fingernails were caked with dirt. Eddie had cerebral palsy and needed a cane to walk. His speech was slow and slurred, and often his words were so garbled they were unintelligible. Eddie was also fond of collecting items he found on the streets on his way to the soup kitchen. He would proudly display these trinkets. For example, when he visited our home, he wore a belt covered with bottle caps. People always knew when Eddie was approaching because they could hear his knickknacks jingling and jangling from afar.

Annie sat to Eddie’s right. Annie resided in a government subsidized motel. Even though Annie’s motel room had running water, she chose to douse herself with what smelled like gallons of inexpensive perfume – as though she were attempting to mask an unpleasant odor. Annie would also paint layers of makeup on her face, giving herself a clown-like appearance. Annie was also a scowler. If she enjoyed having Thanksgiving at our house, you would never have known.

The meal proceeded like any other, except for my trying to chew and swallow while holding my breath. At six years old, I knew Eddie was a kind man and I could tell he was absolutely thrilled to be having dinner in our home, but his body odor was overpowering. Annie’s perfume did nothing to mask Eddie’s smell. Instead, it made a rather nauseating combination.

Dinner conversation consisted of Eddie telling stories at painstakingly long lengths as he struggled to pronounce words. When he reached the the end of a story, Eddie would burst out laughing. My  parents, brother and I would exchange glances that read, “Did you understand that?” “No. I was hoping you did.” We would smile and laugh with Eddie, hoping he would never suspect our ignorance. Annie glowered and poked at her turkey.

After dessert it was time to bring Annie and Eddie back to their homes. I climbed into my parent’s Datsun, squished between Eddie and Annie in the backseat. The smell of Eddie’s unwashed clothes and body and Annie’s perfume was overwhelming, and I couldn’t wait for this Thanksgiving to end. I couldn’t understand why my mother would want Annie and Eddie at our Thanksgiving dinner. As far as I was concerned, the meal had been ruined by Eddie’s stench and dirty fingernails. Annie’s grumpiness hadn’t help much either.

Looking back, I now understand how my mom was able to see past Eddie’s unwashed body and soiled clothes. She saw a kind man who had no one to share Thanksgiving with, and if it weren’t for my mom, he would have spent Thanksgiving alone. For my mom, it was an honor to provide Eddie with a Thanksgiving meal and company.

As for Annie, my mom treated her unhappiness with love and warmth. My mom suspected Annie’s past was not an easy one, so she did not begrudge Annie’s lack of gratefulness. My mom didn’t need Annie to say the food was delicious or that she was thankful to be invited. Watching Annie (who was dressed in costume jewelry and her usual layers of makeup) eat meant more to my mom than any thanks Annie could have given.

We dropped Annie off at her motel room before driving deep into the woods to Eddie’s home. The night sky was brilliant, filled with stars brighter than any I had ever seen. Eddie’s house was at the end of a dirt road. It looked like something I would have seen drawn in a children’s Halloween book. There was no electricity and the front steps were leaning precariously to the side. They were also coated with ice. I sat in the car, watching Eddie slowly climb his front stairs poking the ice with his cane before cautiously taking a step. My father – who was following Eddie – paused to chip some of the ice off the steps before he and my mom made sure Eddie was safely inside.

When my parents returned, we immediately rolled down all of the windows to air out the car. Eddie’s smell and Annie’s perfume seemed to have permeated our noses and the vinyl seats.  We drove home silent and thoughtful – the brisk November air bathing our faces. While I couldn’t wait for that Thanksgiving to end, I still think about it thirty years later.

To Do: Find A Funeral Home

Please add Find Funeral Home For When I Die to your “To Do” list. Sound unnecessary? Perhaps you’re thinking, “Does it really matter where my wake will be since – technically – I’ll not even be there?” Think again.

For those of you who live in East Texas, there is a funeral home that resides in a former Taco Bell storefront. As if this isn’t awful enough, the funeral home has a casket on a pole advertising their services. Were the owners of East Texas Funeral Home concerned friends and family of the deceased would get lost en route to their funerals, and having a coffin in the sky would help?

“Stupid Google maps! I don’t see the road anywhere! Wait. Just wait one second! What is that ahead? A casket in the sky? Whew! We’re on the right street.”

And you thought I was exaggerating.

And you thought I was exaggerating.

After paying their condolences at the East Texas Funeral Home, hungry mourning guests may pop in next door to an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet.

“I still can’t believe Harry died! I mean, how old was he? Fifty – oh! Look! A Chinese buffet! I wonder if they have General Tso’s chicken. That’s my favorite.”

Now, I could very well be wrong. Perhaps you find the idea of your body being laid out in a former Taco Bell storefront with a coffin floating overhead appealing. But for those of you who live in East Texas, and don’t care for this decor, I strongly encourage you to find an alternative funeral home and remember to tell your family.

Another funeral home you may want to avoid is the Ahlgrim Family Funeral Home (click HERE for this oddity), located in Illinois. Mourners could be visiting your wake on the pretense of offering condolences, but what they are really itching to do is go downstairs and play 9 holes of mini-golf in the funeral home’s miniature golf course. There is also a game room for those of you who love a competitive pinball game. Note, however, the game room is never open during funeral services. (This may be a bit of a downer for some … more so than your death.)

Lastly, consider avoiding Drive Thru Funeral homes. Several are popping up along the country. This is exactly what it sounds like: your coffin is next to a window, and your loved ones can drive up to the window and pay their respects. (Well, sort of. I don’t know about you, but I find the effort of getting out of the car to be an integral component of  “paying respect”.)

Apparently, if you arrive before 6pm, you'll have to go inside. Dang!

Apparently, if you arrive before 6 pm, you’ll have to go inside.

Call me demanding or fussy, but when I exit this earth, I would rather not have my body displayed in a window.

“Well, there she is. Think we should turn down the radio?”

“Why? It’s not like she can hear it.”

“True.”

“So … now what? We just drive forward?”

“I guess so. Hey. Since we’re doing this whole drive-thru thing, can we head over to McDonalds?”

“Sure. Ya know, it’s too bad this isn’t the East Texas Funeral Home. There is an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet next door to that one.”

*Photo credits go to Adam J. Holland, of the Unorthodox Epicure, who braved the East Texas streets in order to provide the Casket On A Stick photograph. (Click HERE to visit his blog.) And Google Images for the Drive-Thru Funeral Home sign.*