Charlotte

Charlotte was dark with large eyes and long legs. When she walked, she held her head up high. She was also fiercely jealous – becoming enraged whenever anyone came into close proximity to my father. When my parents went for walks and held hands, Charlotte would barge between them, causing their fingers to separate. She would proceed to press her body against my father’s leg, pushing him away from my mother.

Charlotte was a Nubian goat, the kind with long floppy ears. She was actually very pretty … for a goat. Her coat was made up of blacks, browns and whites. When my father brought Charlotte home to our little farm, my brother named her Charlotte after his favorite book Charlotte’s Web.  

But our Charlotte was nothing like the kind, demure spider E.B. White created. She was aggressive with a rather sadistic streak. Whenever my father would let Charlotte out of her pen, she would scan the lawn for me, lower her head and charge. More than once I had been obliviously playing, minding my own eight year old business, only to be whacked by Charlotte ramming her head into my body. (Thank goodness she was de-horned.) Another time she sniffed my hair before proceeding to grab a mouthful and pull it out by the roots. I was scared to death of her.

When not occupying herself with terrorizing me, Charlotte enjoyed showing off for my brother. It was as if she sensed testosterone was near and was suddenly overwhelmed with circus-like energy. Charlotte would run up the side of the barn and do a backwards flip, which resulted in much clapping and yelling from my brother. This would encourage her to do more tricks.

As much as Charlotte adored my father, her sentiment was not reciprocated. Her purpose was for breeding and not as a pet. This meant she was loaded into our Jeep and we drove her to a farm where she could have a “date” with a male goat. This did not go over well. Even though Charlotte was technically in heat, (meaning, she was fertile and should have been in the romantic mood) she did not approve of the male goats that were presented to her.

The male goats did their male goat thing: peeing on themselves. Snorting. Charging. These wooing tactics usually work like a charm for other female goats, but not our Charlotte. Her standards were higher. She wasn’t interested in any of the huffing, strutting, urinating bucks. For an hour we watched Charlotte dodge one frustrated male goat after another. Even I – who truly had no affection for Charlotte – felt bad for her.

In one last ditch effort, my father tried having a male goat visit Charlotte’s pen. Like a horrible blind date who just won’t leave, Charlotte had an obnoxious suitor in her pen for two days. This was also a disaster. Finally, the rejected buck was sent back to his farm and my father decided Charlotte needed to find another home as well. If she wasn’t breedable – he had no use for her.

Finding a home for a female goat who wasn’t interested in male goats, and could be aggressive, was difficult. But after several weeks, Charlotte was loaded back in the Jeep and we drove her to her new residence. I sat in the back seat, terrified she would rip more hair out of my head. The ride seemed endless. At last, we pulled into the driveway of Charlotte’s new home: a farm that used animal’s blood for medical research. Every day, someone would take a vial of Charlotte’s blood and use it to develop medicines.

I watched as one of the lab personnel attempted to drag Charlotte away from my father. She resisted – her long ears standing parallel to her head. Suddenly, she looked up at the man who was pulling her and all at once she relaxed. Without giving us another glance, Charlotte walked alongside the man, her head held high. She had replaced my father … or she was eyeing this new guy’s hair and planning her next scalping.

 

 

 

A TV Evangelist and A Woodchuck

Everything was yellow: the exterior vinyl siding, the front door, the walls in every room, the furniture and even the shag rug on the living room floor. For a moment I suspected a humongous bottle of French’s Yellow Mustard had exploded, drenching the 1950s Cape with its contents. But no – it was simply the house of my most recent Hospice patient.

Her name was Connie and she was in her seventies. I knew her terminal disease was a slow going one, unlike some of the illnesses that stole the lives of our patients before we even had an opportunity to form a relationship with them. I also knew I could not – under any circumstance – visit Connie between the hours of eight and ten in the morning, and two and four in the afternoon. Those four hours were strictly off limits to any Hospice workers.

“What’s going on between eight and ten, and two and four?” I asked Connie’s Hospice nurse before my first visit.

She laughed and shook her head, “That’s when Steve is on.”

“Steve?”

“Steve Brock.”

“Who’s he?”

“Some TV evangelist.”

“No way! Really?”

“Really. She’s like, crazy about him. Everything stops when he comes on. Once she made me go home and I wasn’t even finished with my evaluation.”

As I followed Connie’s voice through the house, I found her sitting in a recliner chair that was positioned in front of a huge television. Her hair was a mess of white curls and she was wearing make-up. For a Hospice patient, she looked pretty spry. Her eyes narrowed when I entered the room.

“Which one are you?” she barked.

I sighed. Typically, social workers were the duds of the Hospice team. Unlike the nurses who brought comforting medicines, the volunteers who provided respite for the caregivers, or the aides who cleaned and cooked, the social workers were the “talkers” and, generally, our services were deemed unimportant and intrusive to most patients.

“I’m the social work intern.”

Now it was my turn to narrow my eyes. I had noticed the excessive number of picture frames scattered around the room, and they all seemed to contain pictures of the same man. Connie followed my gaze.

“Go ahead,” she said, her voice instantly warming.

I reached and took one of the frames, and then another. They were all Polaroid photographs, and it appeared the pictures were of … Connie’s television screen. Or a man on Connie’s television screen. I blinked. She had taken a Polaroid picture of a man on her TV screen and framed it. And not just one, but dozens.

“That’s Steve,” Connie explained.

“Steve Brock.”

“Yes! You know of him?” Connie sat up straighter in her chair.

“Yes, actually.”

I put the picture frames back in their place and pulled a chair next to Connie. Her eyes were closed, reminding me of a teenage girl swooning over the music of a rock band.

“Tell me about Steve.” I prompted.

Connie’s eyes fluttered open. “He’s so strong and handsome! And you should hear his voice. When he sings I get chills. That’s why I send him money every time he asks … and he writes back!”

Before I could respond, Connie reached into a basket that was half hidden under a folded blanket next to her recliner. She handed me a pile of papers.

“Read them,” she urged.

Carefully, I unfolded the first letter. It was a standard “thank-you-for-your-contribution” letter with Steve Brock’s signature stamped at the bottom. When I raised my eyes to Connie’s she was looking at me expectantly. To her, these were personal communications. She thought this TV evangelist had thanked her personally – many times – for her money.

“These are … lovely,” I stammered.

My freshly minted social work brain knew I was supposed to be doing something social worky. I should ask her about her husband! That’s it! Maybe there was some link between her deceased husband and this intense infatuation with a man on television. Or perhaps her father! What about him? What would make this dying woman latch onto – and give her money away to – some lounge singer sounding, dyed brown haired TV evangelist?

“I have a pet woodchuck,” Connie said, suddenly.

“Excuse me?”

Quickly, I shifted gears from the TV evangelist/dead spouse/father link to a pet woodchuck. I looked around the yellow room, expecting to see the rodent lumber in and sit by my feet.

“I have a pet woodchuck,” Connie repeated, somewhat exasperated, as though she were growing annoyed. “His name is Chucky.”

“I … I’ve never heard of having a woodchuck as a pet,” I stammered.

Connie raised an eyebrow. Clearly, she deemed me a moron.

“He doesn’t live in the house. He lives outside.”

“Oh!”

“Aren’t you going to ask me how I know Chucky is male?” Connie asked.

This visit was not going as planned. I hadn’t even approached the topic of her illness. I could envision my supervisor, shaking her head in disappointment. When would I learn?

“Um … how do you know Chucky is male?”

“I checked and saw Chucky didn’t have nipples.”

Whoa! What have we here? Connie was checking woodchucks for nipples, after giving her money away to a TV evangelist whom she believed was writing her personal thank you notes in return. Either her disease was affecting her brain or she had a history of mental illness – but her medical history didn’t state either. She was simply quirky.

I sat back in my chair and smiled. 

“Tell me about Chucky.”

And she did.

Eventually Connie was discharged from Hospice because her illness stopped progressing. She seemed indifferent to the news she wasn’t going to die within six months, and relieved Hospice would no longer be traipsing through her home several times a week. We left her exactly as we found her: swooning over her TV evangelist, with a pet woodchuck named Chucky.

For all I know, she is still sending Steve Brock her money, cherishing his letters, and checking woodchucks for their gender.

Young Shakespeare

After reading my post THE TRUTH ABOUT SHAKESPEARE, I received a request from a reader asking that I write about Shakespeare’s great grandson updating Shakespeare’s manuscripts for the sake of today’s teens.  

Chad Shakespeare hated his last name. It seemed he couldn’t make it through one single day without someone asking,

“Wait. Shakespeare. Are you related to the Shakespeare?”

“If you mean the Shakespeare, as in William Shakespeare, then yeah, I am.”

And the flurry of questions would ensue. Do you write? (No.) How are you related to him? (He was his great, great, great et cetera grandfather.) What’s it like being related to the greatest writer in the English language? (What’s it like being related to some dead relative you never met?)

Chad considered changing his last name. Chad Shake. Chad Speare. When he mentioned this idea to his mother, she clutched her throat as though she were choking. (At first Chad didn’t notice. He was in the middle of playing Grand Theft Auto and his mother had to bang on the coffee table to get his attention.) Changing his last name would kill her, she announced. Forget her high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes! Those were no threat compared to the notion of removing the beloved Shakespeare name from the family. That would put her in the grave quicker than any stroke.

Something had to be done. When Chad asked Kelly, a coworker at Moo Burger, out for a date, she wrinkled her nose and said,

“Umm, no thanks. I’d rather not go back to your mom’s house and play video games.”

Chad quickly realized he needed to use his last name to his advantage.

“How about going back to my place and you can read some of my Grandpa Shakespeare’s sonnets instead?” he asked.

Kelly paused, her hand suspended over the Moo Burger cash register. “Grandpa Shakespeare? You call him Grandpa?”

“I mean Grandfather. Would you like to read some of my Grandfather Shakespeare’s sonnets? We got all of them, since he was my grandfather. And all of his plays. Those too.”

Kelly studied him for a moment. “No thanks. I can read his sonnets anywhere. Plus, I’ve already read most of them.”

Chad’s shoulders slumped. He had been hopeful that Kelly would have agreed to the date after she helped him refill the ketchup containers earlier in their shift. He could have sworn she purposely brushed her wrist against his when they were stacking the paper Dixie cups into towers. But of course she had read the sonnets! Who hadn’t? That was the whole reason it was such a big deal being related to the old fart. Everyone loved what the guy wrote.

That night, Chad took one of the Shakespeare Sonnet volumes down from the bookshelf in his den. By looking at it, he would never have known he was related to the author. The pages felt brand new and were adhered to one another as though they had never been touched. In fact, the book still had the price tag stuck on the back (bought at a discount store, by the looks of it). Chad flipped through the pages and skimmed the words.

Whoa! What have we here? Faults by lies we flattered be? Forbear to glance thine eye aside? And thous shalt find it merits not reproving? What the hell was he reading?

Chad lowered the book. Chicks dig this stuff? Kelly had read all of these? Chad’s eyes flickered up to the portrait of Shakespeare hanging over the mantle. Suddenly Shakespeare’s eyes seemed taunting. Chad could almost hear his voice whisper,

“I can get the girls but you can’t” (though even Chad, in his confusion, knew Shakespeare would probably say, “I get the wenches whilst thou get nary!)

That did it. Chad stood and walked over to the desk. Pushing the household bills his mother had left in a muddled pile over with his elbow, Chad snatched a pen and flipped open the book of sonnets. He began to write. As his Bic pen touched the pages, images of Kelly punching the keys of the Moo Burger register danced in his mind. This was his inspiration. Every now and then Chad would pause and look up at his Great, Great, Great (et cetera) Grandfather Shakespeare and give him a triumphant grin.

Kelly was wiping down the Holstein cow patterned tables when Chad approached her the next day at Moo Burger. She straightened, cleansing cloth in one hand, cleanser in her other. Chad looked disheveled. His hair was greasy and he still wore his Moo Burger uniform from the previous day. He also smelled like Moo Burger from the previous day. Kelly took a light step backwards.

“Look,” Chad said.

He was holding a large book, and when he opened the pages Kelly could see text crossed out and words written in the margins.

“Since you read all of Shakespeare’s stuff , I thought I’d change it. Make it more modern.”

“Change it? Make it more modern? What do you mean?”

“His stuff, like, doesn’t make sense anymore. It’s all gibberish. With the ‘thous’ and ‘thines’. Who talks like that?”

Before Kelly could respond, Chad balanced the book on his knee and pointed to a sonnet with his finger.

“Like, listen to how much better this sounds now.” Chad cleared his throat. “Sonnet eighteen. You’re like a summer day. All nice and hot. It’s almost like you’re summer forever, which is pretty cool. Because then there’s no school. So, as long as dudes are alive, you’re hot. The end.”

He flipped the pages and started to read his next revised sonnet.

“Sonnet hundred sixteen. Two smart people shouldn’t get married. Things shake and there’s a star and a dog barks. Love changes ’cause the dude works a lot, and she’s got rosy cheeks and lips. And then there is doom – like this really bad ending. The end.”

“Or this one – I made this one a LOT better: sonnet one hundred twenty four. The kid didn’t have a father and looked like a weed instead of a flower. He also didn’t shower. But then he got into some bad stuff, like robbing banks.”

When Chad looked up at Kelly that perfect nose of hers was wrinkled again. She chewed on her bottom lip a moment before saying,

“That was interesting, Chad. But … um … I don’t think Shakespeare’s work needs any updating. That’s the beauty of it. So fare thee well in thy travels.”

“Huh? Travels? You going somewhere?”

And with that, Kelly turned and walked into the Moo Burger kitchen.

Special thanks to Stephanie Lewis for this creative request. Click HERE to read her wonderfully written confession on being an eavesdropper. 

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*

The Dating Game

“Look at the singles waiting to meet YOU!” The advertisement reads as I check the local weather online. Several pictures of attractive people – all smiling confidently – float on my screen. They have great teeth, tanned skin, and perfectly coiffed hair.

“Something must be wrong,” I think as I scrutinize the photograph of a brunette, “Why would she be single?”

The reason she is single is because she has a tendency to stalk her boyfriends. At first, the guys she dates are flattered by her possessiveness. Not only did they manage to get a date with her in the first place, but she seems to want to spend every waking second with them. “When will you be home?” her text reads. He is thrilled, until he looks up from his phone and notices her car idling in the parking lot where he works. When he approaches her car, she grows teary. “I just miss you so much,” she whines.

I look at the picture of the blond. His teeth shine brighter than his blue eyes. His chin is chiseled and his shoulders are broad. “Heavens!” I think, “He’s out there?”

Oh yes he is ladies! Garret has no other woman in his life, other than his mother (whom he still lives with). It doesn’t matter that Garret’s unemployed because his mother pays all of his bills – including the car payments for that snazzy BMW he picks his dates up in. His mother hates all of his girlfriends and gives them icy glares whenever Garret brings them home. “Mom, what’s for dinner?” Garret asks. “We’ll be having London broil. I don’t know what she’ll eat,” his mom answers.

I scroll down to inspect the next picture. She has red hair and a round, wholesome face. “Awww,” I think, “I sure hope she finds someone. She looks so sweet.”

She’s not. She was recently incarcerated for stabbing her ex-boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend. While in prison, she was the leader of a gang called The Reds. Everyone feared her. Now that she is out, she is hoping whoever she meets online will give her a ride to her weekly appointments with her probation officer.

The last picture is of a man who resembles Cary Grant. His black hair is thick and his smile sultry. “Imagine getting to pick him!” I think.

Pick, indeed. This Cary Grant lookalike has a terrible habit of picking his nose, and at the most inappropriate times. Similar to a nervous tic, this guy has a nervous pick. Weddings, dinner parties, funerals – his finger goes up one of his nostrils. It’s this nervous pick on first dates that has caused this handsome gent to be perpetually single.

I sit back in my chair and shake my head. “Well, I hope they meet someone soon. They all look like great people.”

Old Men Making The Moves 101

Perseverance is an admirable attribute. Monarch butterflies migrate over 3,000 miles on their fragile wings – persevering through harsh elements and predators – to warmer climates. Men and women serving in the military persevere through long separations from their families. Cancer victims persevere through treatments that often make them feel worse than the cancer itself. And some old men persevere, despite the odds, at the pursuit of younger women.

Whether these men think they’re still desirable, or they just want to give it one last shot, remains a mystery. But their tenacity is commendable and the methods they use to seduce their prey are rather intriguing. The wooing tactics old men commonly utilize can be narrowed down to three approaches: creative, debonair and reckless.

The debonair approach is considered the most commonly used method by old men in their pursuit of younger ladies. The debonair approach tends to include an invitation of some sort; such as dinner or a cup of coffee. The debonair approach also handles any rejection with dignity. While grocery shopping one hot August day, my mother was approached by an old man wearing galoshes and a raincoat (it was sunny out). He asked my mom if she would like to return to his apartment after she had finished shopping. When my mother declined, the old man shrugged and said, “Figured it was worth a shot” before walking away.

Other old men are not quite as bold and use a more flattering technique. A friend of mine was recently in the cafeteria of the hospital where she works when an elderly gentleman greeted her.  “Excuse me,” he said, “But do you ever get tired of old men telling you how pretty you are? Because you are prettier than free fried chicken.” In this incidence the creative approach was utilized. Other analogies that have been used in the creative approach are “prettier than Ava Gardner”, “prettier than Niagara Falls” and “prettier than a car hop.” The problem with the creative approach is that along with it sounding a bit odd, it also tends to date the individual.

Some old men throw caution to the wind and make their move with gusto. This can be defined as the reckless approach. The reckless approach is the most disturbing for the female because it often involves physical contact. An example of the reckless approach is when I was a medical social worker and an elderly patient grabbed my arm and attempted to pull me in for a smooch. After I wrenched myself free, the patient proceeded to purse his lips and make kissing noises. The fact that I was clearly disgusted meant nothing to him.  Typically, those who resort to the reckless approach do so out of desperation (or dementia), caring only about the end result and not so much as how they arrive there.

While the perseverance of old men pursuing young women isn’t as noble as, say, medical school or Navy Seal training – their efforts must be commended. As Confucius said, “It does not matter how slowly you go, as long as you do not stop.”