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Thursday, April 29, 2010

My GPS is (Vindictively) Trying to Kill Me

I'm not the most technologically savvy person in the world. In fact, technology views me in much the same way animals do - I'm an easy target. Countless credit card swipe pads at stores have broken while I was attempting to use them. I can't work a remote control more complex than the standard ones you see nailed down in cheap motels. I want a cell phone that can make phone calls and send text messages - and nothing else. All those other features just confuse and irritate me. I quickly get flustered when the computer doesn't do exactly what I want it to (which really only consists of connecting to the internet, and using the internet. With an occasional word or excel document in there for good measure), and my gut reaction is to violently throw my computer out the window. Husband usually intervenes and solves the problem within 20 seconds, but my reaction is fairly standard. God help me if my car needs something more than gas, air in the tires, or an oil change. If technology doesn't work flawlessly with the minimal amount of user instruction, I'd prefer not to have anything to do with it.

So I was feeling very conflicted when Husband brought her home. GPS Lady. He was so excited to "know how to get places." I was, logically, skeptical. The first few times I tried to program the thing, Husband had to talk me down from holding her out the window of the car as we flew down the interstate, threatening to let her go flailing to her shattery death. But eventually, I got the hang of using it. Then I started to actually LIKE having it. Then I started to rely entirely upon it - I couldn't drive to the Walmart we could see from the house without her calm, reasonable directions.

Then, I, stupidly, started to trust her.

We have the GPS set to a British accent, because the standard American accent was so nasally and frantic, it stressed me out to make a simple right turn. But the British lady sounded so calm and peaceful as she guided me around town. We started referring to her as GPS Lady. We'd have conversations with her about where we were going (and how the kids were doing, the weather, etc). And she sat there, suctioned to my dash board, biding her time until I let my guard down, and she could go in for the kill.

She's tested me on countless occasions. Tested my unfailing reliance on her and obedience to her. Even when I KNOW where I'm going - if she told me to take another road, I would. This has, multiple times, resulted in extreme frustration on my part. Once, driving through Dallas, I saw the road I knew I needed to get on, but she said not to. I listened. And I ended up sitting in a traffic jam on an on-ramp for 30 minutes, as I longingly watched traffic speed down the road I should have taken. Another time she made me late for a doctor's appointment by intentionally waiting till we were 1/4 mile past our exit to tell me to exit. Again, I ended up sitting in traffic. And just yesterday, she told me to head straight through Austin in morning rush-hour traffic. It took me over 20 minutes to go just 3 miles. I kept thinking I could hear a soft British chortle amid the rumbling engines and honking horns.

In the 13th hour of my 14+ hour drive yesterday from San Antonio to Husband's parents in northeast Arkansas, I got my revenge. A new extension of a highway was recently completed, cutting out over an hour of driving on terrifying backwoods two-lane highways. GPS Lady is unaware of this new road. I laughed to myself as she, flustered, tried to direct me from what, to her, was clearly the middle of a swamp.

"Make an immediate u-turn," she calmly instructed me. "Haha, NO! You can't make me!" I was loving my brief moment of supposed superiority. "Proceed to nearest road and turn left," she sternly suggested. Again, I laughed in my defiance. "Make a u-turn. Turn left. Proceed to nearest road and turn left. MAKE AN IMMEDIATE U-TURN!" I could hear the anger rising in her computery throat. And I just laughed.

"You don't know where we are, you stupid GPS Lady. Thinking you're always so smart and better than me. Well, how do you feel about me driving in the middle of nowhere?" I was thoroughly enjoying my triumph. But my victory was short lived.

After just 12 miles of finally driving where I wanted, the new highway connected to the backwoods highway system again, and we were back in her territory. By now, it had grown completely black with night - there are, of course, no street lights on backwoods Arkansas highways.

She quickly composed herself (tucked her fallen strands of grey hair back into her beehive, no doubt), and that's when she decided things had gone far enough. She knew I had no other choice but to, once again, rely fully on her for instruction, and she was going to be the final victor.

We drove a short distance, and she told me to prepare to make a left turn. I slowed down significantly, straining my eyes to see the road she wanted me to take. As I started to turn the wheel, still unsure of the exact location of the road (but it was right HERE! It had to be HERE! I could see where I was on the map on GPS Lady!), my eyes finally focused and I realized she was trying to steer me into a swamp - not a road at all!!

"Oh, you stupid GPS Lady," I quickly brushed off the offence, thinking she must just still be confused. Little did I know.

And on we went, deeper into the terrifying black depths of the swampy Arkansas backwoods.

After a few more miles, she prepared me to make a right turn. Up ahead, I could see an old, worn out pick-up pulling out of the street she wanted me to turn on. It was rusted all over and coughing on its own exhaust. The type of truck a backwoods Arkansas inbred would drive? As I neared the street, I slowed down to a crawl, scanning for the road and signs of danger (after all, she HAD just tried to steer me into a swamp). Finally, I could make out the corners of the road. It was an old, gravel road, and I could only see about 15 feet or so of it, stretching back into the pitch black woods.

I had come to a complete stop to investigate this "road" she wanted me to turn on. As I scanned the part of the road I could make out, I realized it came to an end shortly past the 15 feet I could originally see - it faded into the unmowed grass. My eyes started darting around the area. And there is was, looming in the blackness just to the right of the road. The only way I could have missed seeing it before was due to the extreme level on concentration I was focusing on finding the road.

The massive wooden structure beckoned me horribly from its shadows. I could make out the crumbling old curved roof and the jagged broken glass windows. The boards making up the sides of it were curling away, as if they, too, were disgusted by the building. The tall grass engulfed the lower three feet of it, whispering evilly as it danced in the breeze.

Clearly, this was a Rape Barn.

And GPS Lady was trying to lure me in through my naive gullibility and blind trust. She was trying to kill me.

I slammed on the gas and sped down the (paved) highway. I could feel the cold wisps of my near-death experience whirling around me. Chills ran along my spine and sent goosebumps down my arms. Thankfully, the Rapist had just left in his truck, or I likely wouldn't have been able to escape so easily. His inbred Deliverance families' hungry eyes had been staring out from the broken windows, I was just sure of it, and their haunting gazes followed my taillights longingly into the dark.

I reached up and pulled GPS Lady from her all-seeing post and unceremoniously threw her into the middle consul. I thought I could hear a vague trace of disappointment as her muffled British voice told me she had lost satellite contact.

After several more miles, I finally came along a single street lamp and a sign pointing the way to Jonesboro and telling me it was only 5 more miles. I sped the rest of the way, and rejoiced as more and more street lights appeared on the horizon, and the death-forests receded back, giving way to civilization.

Never again will I blindly trust GPS Lady. Although I know I'll still use her, I will err on the side of caution, relying on my own instincts to override her calm British demands. But next time you get in the car and type in a destination to your friendly GPS, just keep in mind, they know where they Rape Barns are.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Day a Dog-Monster Ate My Childhood

I've always had a knack for picking just the right name for things. Not only do I have an affinity for naming everything I own, but I've always been good at choosing just the right, most fitting name.

For example, my favorite childhood stuffed animal was a little sherbet-orange colored teddy bear with the most perfect, shiny, jelly-bean-esque nose. I thought long and hard for the ideal name for him. He was such a loyal friend. Always there for me, in the basement, in my room, we'd even go outside together. After much consideration, I decided the perfect name for him would be simple. Catchy. One that really spoke to his true nature both as a bear and as my life-long friend.

I named him Orange Bear.

Oh, how I loved Orange Bear. I even loved him after his perfect, shiny, jelly-bean-esque nose fell off and rolled under the water heater, never to be seen again. He was disfigured, and I still loved him. Now that is a true testament to our lasting relationship.

One day, my parents decided to have a picnic for us in our backyard. I'm not entirely sure why, or what purpose it served, but there we were, sitting on a quilt in the middle of our wide-open yard, enjoying the sunny day and each other's company.

At the time, we were living in South Dakota, just outside the city limits of Sioux Falls. We lived in a small development, but right past our street there were huge, loping grassy hills with a vast expanse of nothing but raceway for the terrible South Dakota winds. You could see these plains from our backyard, and it gave the feeling of really being out in the country, not immediately on the other side of a busy highway (like we actually were).

So there we were, minding our own business, in our own backyard, having a joyful picnic. Just my parents, my older brother, me, and, of course, Orange Bear. Suddenly, my dad looked up just in time to see a monstrously-sized black dog bounding toward us. Its hand towel-sized pink tongue lolling sloppily out the side of its mouth between sparkling white, dagger teeth. Its gigantic paws hit the ground with each running step like horse's hooves, pounding the dirt and sending chills down our spines with each deep vibration of the Earth's crust. The bottomless blackness of its murderous eyes cut through our very souls. It was headed directly for us.

In a panic, my mom tried to get us children into the house. "RUUUUUN!!" she'd screamed, convinced this clearly rabid buffalo-sized dog was about to consume her children in one gulp.

But we were frozen on our spots. Minds entirely blank from awe and the impending, undeniable black death that was closing in on us.

Closer and closer the black demon dog from Hell came. In a matter of seconds, he was upon us. I could hear nothing but the deafening pounding from my own heart making my ears throb, and the bone-chilling panting breaths of the dog-monster as it closed in on me.

And in the blink of an eye, it was over. The black dog-monster was past us, running back in the direction he had come from. The direction of Hell.

We all looked at each other as nervous laughter escaped. What a close call! And to think, we were scared of the dog! It just wanted to say hi! And here we were. Everyone was fine and dandy. As good as new! Mom and Dad smiled knowingly at each other - they'd successfully averted a disaster. What good parents they were! Brian and I shared in their joy - what obedient and well-behaved children we must be to have escaped the clutches of such a terrible dog-monster from Hell! I turned to share my joyous relief with Orange Bear. But to my absolute horror, Orange Bear was missing. His spot on the quilt was entirely and infinitely empty.

I started screaming for him, "ORANGE BEAR! ORANGEBEAAAAAR!!" Once again, my dad's keen eyes served us well - he caught a glimpse of orange hanging out of the dog-monsters mouth, just as he turned the corner and was gone from our sights for good.

Devastated and frantic, I screamed at my parents that we had to get Orange Bear back. My life would never be complete again without him. What kind of a life was worth living in an Orange Bear-less world, anyway?

Once again, my parents sprang into action. They calmly and rationally told me that we could go around and ask the neighbors if they know who the black dog belongs to. Clearly, this was not a satisfactory answer to me, as that black demon monster from Hell couldn't belong to a HUMAN. It's from HELL, you guys.

After picking up our picnic paraphernalia, we headed out as a family to track down the dog-monster's owner (or his demonic master of torture and all things death). Fortunately, the first house we stopped at believed they knew where the black dog lived (duh, Hell). We headed over to the house she had pointed to and continued our search and rescue efforts.

A kindly-looking older man opened the door and welcomed us inside. He was pleasant enough (for a Dark Overlord from the Pits of Hell). He told us that he did, in fact own a black dog (Warrior of Satan). But unfortunately, he hadn't seen any stuffed orange bear. The dog had come home not too long ago, and he hadn't noticed that he'd been carrying anything.

The man offered us a drink, and my parents sat down to chat with him pleasantly enough. I, on the other hand, was dying inside. While we were sitting here chatting up this stranger (a possible Dark Overlord), Orange Bear was out there somewhere. Probably being tortured by Satan's minions to reveal all his deepest secrets. The devastation at the realization that I might never see Orange Bear again began to wash over me.

But then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw something that made my heart stop and my blood run cold. A tuft of sherbet-orange colored hair. Sticking out from under the bench of a seat in the next room.

The realization came rushing to me all at once. This man. Was. LYING. He HAD Orange Bear! He was being held prisoner in a wooden bench!! His mouth was probably covered in duct tape, or he'd have screamed for us so we knew he was there. The man was trying to fool us into believing his feeble story by offering my parents coffee. His plan was flawless. Except for Orange Bear's sly attempt at communication. The man must have not seen how Orange Bear squeezed just his one tuft of fur under the cover at the last second. Genius, Orange Bear, simply genius!

I hurriedly whispered to my mom, "There's Orange Bear! I see him!! IN THE BENCH!!" At first she tried to hush me; after all, she was trying to enjoy her bribery coffee and misleading chitchat. But my urgency got through to her. She looked over and recognized Orange Bear's fuzzy butt flare of desperation.

"Um, excuse me," she peeped in quietly, "I hate to be nosy, but my daughter" (thanks for the betrayal, Mom) "thinks she sees her teddy bear over in that bench there. Do you mind if we look?"

Embarrassed, the man stands up and rushes to the bench (all his evil plots unfurling at his feet), throws open the lid, and there, in all his nose-less glory, is Orange Bear. In tact. It looks like we got there just in time to save him before the rigorous torture sessions began.

"Oh dear. My wife must have gotten this from the dog and put it in here without telling me! I'm terribly sorry." A likely story, Mr. Blown-Cover Overlord!! Where is this convenient "wife" of which you speak now?! Oh, she just HAPPENED to run to the store after locking Orange Bear in a dungeon and "forgetting" to tell you? The coincidences are stacking up against you, sir!

As he handed Orange Bear back to me (seemingly reluctantly), I thought I could almost hear his Dark Overlord thoughts drilling through me, "this isn't over yet, girlie. My black Dog-Monster of Doom knows where you live - and we know how to get the answers we want!"

I clutched Orange Bear to me and held him tight. I'd never let him out of my grasp again. At least not till the next best friend stuffed animal came along. But who could possibly replace Orange Bear in the ranks of loyalty and trust? He hadn't even spilled our secrets to the Dark Overlord or his Dog-Monster of Doom. And yet... Blue Panda and Brownie Dog have their good qualities, too... and they both still have their noses.

An Ode to BS

In honor of today being my big brother's 29th birthday, I decided it would be apropos to write about him. Oh, brother...

I believe we had a typical childhood relationship. We're 21 months apart, so close enough to play together all the time and fight like riled up roosters in a cock fight, but far apart in age enough to have some of our own interests. I didn't realize it at the time, but in retrospect, I think I wanted to be just like him. I did everything he did - soccer, swim team, piano lessons, playing in the school band, then marching band (yes, we were dorks), and tech crew in high school (a small disclaimer here: at our school, tech crew was not the thing super dorky kids did - evidently, that's how it is at other schools, but for us, tech and drama seemed to be the cool kids - even the football team captains and cheerleaders tried to get into the drama scene, and all the techies were best friends with the drama kids, etc - or maybe I'm just projecting to try and feel like less of a total loser...).

But my brother was a genius. He never tried at school and always got perfect scores on everything. He had to start taking college-level math outside of our high school by the time he was a sophomore, because he'd already finished all the math our school could provide. I, on the other hand, did every assignment, studied for hours every night (in retrospect I wonder how I even found things to study for hours every night in high school), and made close to perfect grades, but just not quite as good as his. He could play any instrument without learning - just picked it up, messed around on it, and suddenly, he knew how to play the trumpet. Or the saxophone. Or guitar. (Although, he was also known as "the cancer of the band," because he had a terrible work ethic (I later learned it was due to an injustice committed by the director and a resulting lack of desire to try) and would "infect" those who sat in a growing radius around him) I, however, struggled through 14 years of flute lessons and never got above a mediocre skill level. In our parents' eyes, he was flawless - the perfect kid. He'd go out on weekends and get drunk, but they were oblivious to that. I stayed home on weekends and lamely attempted to practice my flute or study more for that up-coming physics test. But to them, he could do no wrong.

Clearly, this made me hate him.

In an irrationally thought out plan to make us get along, my parents decided that, when he got his first car (a beat-up '92 Pontiac LeMans, fondly known as the "LePimp"), he would drive me to school every day. This wouldn't have been too much of an issue if we were normal kids, but, of course, we weren't.

Remember, I have the anxiety disorder. Part of that is a physical inability to be tardy. I am ALWAYS at least 15 min early to everything. Even arbitrarily established timelines for myself - like grocery shopping. I'm always 15 min early to the grocery store. So every morning in high school, I was up 3 hours before school started, with plenty of time to get ready, eat breakfast, study some more, and... wait. Anxiously, I'd sit at the bar in the kitchen, on the verge of vomiting, as the minute hand ticked closer and closer to 7:55 (the time the first bell rang). I'd BEG my mom to go make sure he was awake. By 7:45, I'd be running in and out of the bathroom, dry heaving, while she casually made her way downstairs to try and get him out of bed. FINALLY, he'd come upstairs. At 7:53. AND THEN HE'D WANT TO EAT BREAKFAST.

At this point, I would be having a complete mental and physical breakdown, holding back tears, hyperventilating, shaking uncontrollably, sometimes even throwing up. By the time he got into the car and drove us to school, we inevitably ended up pulling up right as the second bell (the TARDY bell) rang. I'd run frantically to my classroom, choking back sobs and apologizing profusely to my teachers, trying to explain that it wasn't my fault. He, on the other hand, would saunter in casually, likely getting high-fives and pleasant greetings from his teachers, who all also thought he was the greatest thing on Earth.

After about six months of this, every single day, my mom finally agreed that the 20 lbs I'd lost through these daily panic attacks was enough. She demanded that he get up earlier and get me to school on time. He seemed willing enough to cooperate.

Little did I know, he had a revenge plan.

As if it wasn't bad enough to be carted around in the LePimp. He had used duct tape to write out "Le PIMP" across the back windshield. He'd torn out the floorboards to re-wire the car so he could string Christmas lights along the doors, windows, hood, and trunk. He built a gigantic sub-woofer box that took up the entire backseat. The key was broken off in the ignition. The passenger side window didn't roll down. The back hatch didn't really close all the way. Everyone in town knew the car. He was proud of it (wearing his "picnic tablecloth" shirts - the most God-awful bright plaid shirts imaginable - the school had a dress code and you had to wear a button up collared shirt - no color requirements, though, unfortunately - to school every day). I was just mortified.

But no. His revenge came swiftly one morning. We got in the car (at 7:40!!), and he pulled out a tape to stick into the tape deck. He had the hint of an evil grimace on his face, as if to say, "she thinks she won. Little does she know." The tape started.

INFORMER! YaknowsaydaddymeSnowmeagonnablame

Okay, I thought, I can handle a mixed-tape. Is this all he's got??

Snow's Informer came to an end, and I was excitedly curious to hear what came on next. That's really not a bad song. Kind of annoying, and it has a way of getting stuck in your head (an ear worm, as the Germans so graphically describe it) for days on end, but the next song might be catchy enough to prevent it from sticking.

INFORMER! YaknowsaydaddymeSnowmeagonnablame

Oh no. What's going on? Okay, surely he just made a mistake and put it on there twice. He's not very technology-savvy (a clear attempt at denial, since he is, in fact, the most technology-savvy person I know).

INFORMER! YaknowsaydaddymeSnowmeagonnablame

Oh dear Lord. Somebody just kill me now.

Yes, he'd done it. He'd made an ENTIRE mixed tape with ONLY Snow's Informer on it. Both sides. So we could listen to it non-stop on the way to and from school, every single day. And as if that weren't bad enough, thanks to the catchy rhythm and my inability to understand any of the words, every second of every day NOT spent in the car was still spent mentally stumbling through the song. A LICKY BOOM BOOM DOWN!!

This went on for months. At least three months. The only song I heard while in a car was Snow's Informer. His revenge had been exacted, and it was sweet indeed.

At some point, we came to an understanding. He woke up a little earlier and got me to school before I was late. And I didn't whine to Mom every day about him. Although we never spoke a single word to each other in the car, we didn't try to kill each other, either.

And finally, for my 16th birthday, my parents got me my own car. Well, technically, they got my mom a car and gave me the old '93 Nissan Altima. My brother was beyond angry about this (the Altima WAS a pretty awesome car, after all), but once again, he came out on top. He got a brand new '00 Jeep Cherokee, exactly how he wanted it, when he graduated from high school, because he was such a genius and dozens of colleges were literally throwing money at him to go to their school. I drove that Altima over 80,000 miles, in spite of it being totaled twice, until 2008. As soon as I had my own car and was able to drive myself to school (on time, no less!), we instantly became friends. It was like there was no reason to hate each other anymore. That was probably the best birthday present I ever got - not because it was a car for my 16th birthday, which is clearly an awesome present, but because it meant the beginning of a real, healthy, adult-like friendship with my brother.

Here we are, years later, still getting along. So Brian, on your birthday, I just have one thing to say to you:

INFORMER! YaknowsaydaddymeSnowmeagonnablame

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Day My Mom Threw Walnuts at the Neighbor Kid

I spent a portion of my childhood living in a small suburb north of Baltimore, MD called Bel Air. My perspective on the town is a little skewed, because we moved there when I was 7 and left when I was 13, so my impressions are probably drastically different than they would be now. But for a kid my age, it was an awesome town. Especially our neighborhood.

There were kids everywhere - so many, in fact, that we started a street hockey league. We had four teams and an actual rotating game schedule, complete with championships, etc. It was awesome. There were always other kids to play with everywhere. It was literally impossible to be bored in that neighborhood. For the most part, I got along with everyone in the neighborhood (probably more out of a fear of confrontation than anything).

With one exception. My next door neighbor, Kevin Konzowski (I changed his name slightly so if he does a google search for his name, he can't find this and get angry all these years later - but he had a good, classical Polish name that started with a K. I've always found that childhood stories are significantly more funny if you remember the kid's name). He was a whiny, chubby little blond kid, a year younger than me. He did musical theater. And I hated him. He did not participate in our street hockey league, and he was an all-around disagreeable child. He was one of those kids that already acts like a lame 40-year old (enforcing rules when it's not his place and tucking his collared shirt into his pleated-front pants, in spite of the considerable gut protesting this fashion decision), even though he was just in third grade.

One day, my good friend Courtney came by the house to show off her awesome new bike. In fourth grade, a new bike was the equivalent of winning several million dollars in the lottery. She was fashionable, stylish, could probably ride faster than any of us, and she was on top of the world. We all envied her and her outrageous fortune. I remember it was teal and white. It probably also had some other colors, and it probably had some other kind of features, but clearly this shows what was mostly important to us.

So there we were, admiring her beautiful new bike as it rested regally on its kickstand. Then, looking over my shoulder, Courtney said, "go away." I could see the glint of blond hair reflecting in her eyes. I spun around and came face to face with my neighborhood arch-nemesis. Kevin.

"This is Courtney's new bike. YOU can't touch it." I said smartly, turning my back on him once more. Courtney and I were fourth graders. It was SO uncool to be seen near a third grader, let alone one as un-hip as Kevin. In retrospect, I would like to think he had no intention of touching the bike in the first place, but was lonely and just wanted to have friends. But I don't believe it. If that were the case, he wouldn't have been Kevin.

I could hear his footsteps growing nearer to me, so I turned back around, on guard, ready to protect the precious new bike. But suddenly he struck! I had no idea a fat little whiny kid could move that fast! He darted past me, and in an attempt merely to touch the bike (explicitly disobeying my one command), he lost his balance and shoved the bike harder than he meant to. And in terrible slow-motion, we watched in horror as the beautiful new bike fell onto its side in the grass.

Too overwhelmed with shock, I stared blankly at Kevin. And that's when he hit me with his second attack.

"You look like a penis."

Again, before I could react (what's that even supposed to mean? How can a person even look like a penis??), he struck again - reaching out his sissy hand and slapping me across the face.

Now, I've never been a confrontational person, and, as I told you before, I've always followed a strict adherence to behavior rules and laws, both real and those invented in my mind on behalf of the unknown and infinite "authority." But Kevin pushed me over the edge. I pulled my arm back, and with all my might, I decked him as hard as I could in the face. He went running home screaming. I'd successfully given my first (and only) black eye.

But that didn't end things with Kevin. Not by a long shot. He spent the rest of the summer taunting me from the relative safety of his backyard fort. I didn't dare ever venture into his yard. But he must have feared the repercussions of coming into my yard, as well. He usually stayed hidden in his fort, but his annoying third-grader taunts would drift across the yards to my friends and I. I'd tell them to just ignore him and try to take my own advice, but the fury was building.

Finally, one day after weeks of unrequited taunting, he'd lost it. He wanted a war, and he was determined to get one. There was a walnut tree in between our yards, and many of the walnuts had fallen off onto the ground. If you've never seen a walnut off a tree, it basically looks like a tennis ball without the white seams.

Kevin's poorly thought out battle plan involved running frantically to the border between our yards, grabbing as many walnuts as he could, and launching them at us while we sat innocently ignoring him in our swing set. Most unfortunately for him, he had relatively good aim that day. He hit me with one on the back of the head, and he hit my friend with one right in the arm, leaving a giant red welt.

Little did he know, we had a secret weapon. And she was just as fed up with him as we were. My mom had been watching from the deck, and when my friend and I started yelling and trying to hold back tears, she'd had enough.

Now a normal mother would have likely gone to Kevin's house, rang the doorbell, and told his parents that he was throwing walnuts at us. But not my mom. Maybe she knew that Kevin's parents wouldn't have done anything even if they had known, or maybe she was really just as sick of that annoying kid as we were. But either way, she stormed down into the yard, grabbed a couple walnuts and began launching them at him while yelling something like, "not so fun to be the target, now is it??"

Luckily for Kevin, my mom has terrible aim. I'm not sure if she hit him (she was also throwing underhand), but I can only hope she did, at least once. He went running into his house screaming once again. But that finally ended the war with Kevin. He stayed inside for the rest of the summer (occasionally we'd catch a glimpse of him playing by himself in his backyard), and avoided us at all cost. And by the next summer, we'd all out-grown the old rivalries.

Years later, I asked my mom if she remembered this. Laughing, she said she did, and she felt bad for it. But then she told me that she'd never heard a word about it from his parents. Surely if your kid comes running into the house crying, screaming about the grown woman next door throwing walnuts at him, you'd want to have words with her, at the very least. But not in this case. Knowing how whiny Kevin was, we can't imagine he didn't tell them what happened. Instead, we like to imagine he did tell them exactly what happened, and his parents were secretly pleased that someone finally gave him what was coming to him.

The Mystery of Towels

I've always had an anxiety disorder. There are plenty of stories for other days, but at the heart of it, I have always believed in a set of arbitrary rules imposed by "authority" to dictate the way in which the world works. Not only do I observe a strict adherence to all actual laws and rules (I have a physical inability to jaywalk or cross at a crosswalk unless the walk sign is lit, for example), but I've grown up under the impression that the unknown and omnipresent "authority" has implemented various other rules for life by which I must abide. For example: dogs are not allowed to bark (although I observe on a daily occurrence that OTHER people let their dogs bark, this is against the "rules" and therefore not something I can allow my dogs to do), you cannot accidentally drive the wrong way down a slanted parking lot lane, you cannot wait until you get to the front of a line for ordering food to decide what you want, you cannot push tables together in restaurants or take chairs from other unoccupied tables without first asking, you cannot throw rocks into streams or lakes, etc. I realize most of these are things that pertain to common courtesy, but for me, it's not a desire to just be courteous to other people, it's a fear. An ultimate fear of... getting in trouble.

I don't know who would get me in trouble (other than the mysterious "authority figure"), but these rules and my intolerable fear of getting in trouble has dictated how I've lived my entire life. Which is to say, mostly in fear of getting in trouble.

Towels fall into their own set of rules for conduct.

When I was a kid, we had plenty of towels in the house. But they were all older, and my parents never bought new towels for as long as I could remember. Most of them were just plain, simply colored towels, but there was one that stood out among the rest. A white towel with green lettering across the top: Holiday Inn.

For some reason, in my little kid mind, this was interpreted to mean that ALL towels came from hotels. Which means, my parents had STOLEN every towel we owned. I didn't have a problem with this aspect of towels, though, because, clearly, that's how everyone obtained their family towels.

The fear truly arose when it dawned on me that one day, I would have to move out of the house and live on my own. And somehow, I would have to have towels of my own. I knew that stealing was wrong, though, and somewhere in the towel-fear was the underlying truth that stealing was against the rules (legitimately this time), and someday, I would have to break the rules, too. Now THAT is a nauseating thought.

This thought taunted me for years. How would I ever stay in enough hotels to get even half as many towels as my parents had? I was seven, and I'd only stayed in ONE hotel in my life (and we didn't even keep ANY of the towels from them!). At this rate, I would be towel-less forever. The worried nagged at me. You couldn't be a successful housewife without enough towels. Would my husband travel a lot? Would we have the money to stay in hotels? How would we steal towels without getting caught? How would we dry ourselves off before we had ever stayed in our first hotel?

One time, when I was about 13, my mom brought home new bath towels. How could that possibly be? She hadn't stayed in any hotels recently! But no - she found a loophole in the towel rule system. They were over-sized towels. Possibly, they could even be considered beach towels. And clearly, beach towels were an exception to the rule. You could buy them at Sam's Club. Everybody knew that.

Over the years, I learned another exception to the rule: you could get towels as a wedding present. I didn't think through the logistics enough to wonder where the gift-givers got the towels (likely, it was an expensive wedding gift because it cost them the price of an overnight stay in a hotel, at the very least!), but I knew that this was the answer to all my fears. I would simply ask for towels for my wedding. And nothing else. Then the pressure would be off - I wouldn't have to worry about staying in hotels, ever.

The summer before college, my mom took me to Target to help me find stuff I'd need for my dorm. I had given thought to the towel dilemma before, but I assumed my parents would be okay with lending me a towel or two from their collection (after all, they had more than enough - think of the amount of money they must have spent on hotel stays before we kids were born!). She marked the items off the list as we loaded them into the cart: sheets, comforter, pillows, laundry basket, etc. Then she said the most startling thing, "do you want to get towels next?"

What's that, Mom? Towels? But we're in Target! Wherever would we find TOWELS?! To hide my confusing (and sudden curious fascination - how was she going to get herself out of THIS mess without looking like a fool?"), I mumbled something in the tone of agreement. Then she led the way to the next aisle over.

I was greeted by the most glorious sight. An entire aisle, dedicated solely to... towels. Every color towel you could imagine. They lined all the shelves, from the very bottom to the very top! With matching wash cloths and hand towels! Oh, happy day! I stared dreamily at all the towels, slowly turning circles of awe as I made my way down the aisle. Here was the solution to all my worries. My fears had truly been relieved. My mom, having spent the last 18 years with me, must not have noticed the way an entire weight of towel-fear had been lifted off my shoulders. She probably thought I was just being weird and doing a towel dance for the mere sake of dancing for towels. Regardless, we quickly picked out some pink towels and ended the shopping trip without any further mind-altering realizations.

I like to try and give myself a little credit and say reasonably that I must not have thought about towels and towel purchases for a good portion of my life. After all, my family had all the towels we needed - it was only when I looked to the future that the dark cloud of towel-accumulation-fear would rear its head. I prefer to think that I just didn't think about it. Surely if I had given it any thought, I would have assumed you could buy towels in a store. Why had I never seen a towel aisle before?? However, as much as I try to build up childhood me, the fact remains that I wasn't fully aware (at least on some kind of a conscious level) that you could buy bath towels in a store until I was 18 years old.

And you thought I was a reasonably intelligent person. :)

The Day I Met a(n O)Possum

Yesterday, I saw an opossum. For most people, this would entail little more than the thought, "oh, there's a possum. Wonder why it's out during the day?" And then they'd return to their normal (probably significantly more productive than mine) day. But not for me. Seeing a possum is a world-view-altering experience. I'm still feeling high off the excitement of seeing the possum.

We have terrible dog owners for neighbors. Not only do they leave the dogs out all day and night (every day and night), but they are also impervious to the incessant barking of the dogs (a lab and two basset hounds). Even at 3:45am, while the dogs bark for 20 straight minutes, these people don't hear them. The rest of the neighborhood does, but not the only people who could stop the incessant barking. They sleep blissfully on.

For me, the barking of these dogs is comparable to being locked alone in a room made entirely of chalkboards with that guy from the Guinness Book of World Records with the longest fingernails ever. And he is a verbose hand-talker.

Anyway, the dogs went berserk yesterday as I was putting Boy down for his nap. My dogs started barking, too, so I knew something had to be happening, since my ubiquitous use of bark collars has terrified them into only barking when absolutely necessary. I came down to beat my dogs' spirits into submission once again with their red collars of imposed self-restraint. I assumed they were being taunted by the squirrels that run along our back fence - an occurrence that leads to at least one daily fit of barking. As I stormed outside, collars in hand, I saw her.

Sitting on the back fence, right at the corner of my yard and the yard with the bad dogs was the cutest possum I've ever seen. Granted, I haven't seen a lot of possums, so it wasn't a very tight competition. But she was cute.

I froze, torn between my inherent desire to run at her, flailing in excitement, grab her off the fence, put a tiny bonnet on her head, name her Posey Possum, and live with her happily ever after as the most adorable pet in the world while I parade her around in her lace-filled carriage and she waves graciously with her adorable possum hands at all our adoring fans, and the nagging of my sub-conscious, in the voice of my husband, telling me NOT to hug a wild animal. That's how you get rabies and die.

Eventually, the greatly deprived and much neglected logical part of my brain broke through the screaming battle of heart vs husband-voiced-subconscious. "GET THE CAMERA!" Of course! I ran frantically back to the house, grabbed the camera, and ran with an urgency I haven't felt since I was a child, running through the woods behind my house from the swamp monster that was surely coming to eat my soul. I got as close as I dared - about 10 feet away from her, with husband-subconscious screaming "RABIESRABIESRABIES" at my entire body. After a few tentative pictures, I paused to study her clearly rabid behavior.

From my mental archives of forestry fauna, I dug for any scrap of knowledge of possums (or is it opossums? Are they the same thing? Does this mean everything I think about about them is potentially wrong? Do I actually know anything about them?). Yes, no, probably, and probably not. But I did recall that they should be nocturnal (maybe?), so before I could build up my courage (and stifle husband's voice) enough to get closer, I dashed back in to the infinite knowledge of the interwebs.

As it turns out, (o)possums are, in fact, usually nocturnal. But they're also highly resistant to rabies, and mommy possums frequently come out during the day in spring and summer so as to forage more food for their babies. Considering in all this time since I'd discovered the possum she hadn't moved at all, I was beginning to suspect she might not be rabid, after all.

I made my way back to her (this time venturing within 5 feet, in spite of the incessant warnings of husband-subconscious) and studied her behavior for signs of rabies. Was she foaming at the mouth? No, but her adorable little pink nose was running. Was she aggressive? No, she hadn't moved since I'd seen her, even her head - she just stared at the bad dogs (who have been barking nonstop this entire time). Was she acting unusual for a possum? How the hell should I know what usual possum behavior is? Until two minutes ago, I didn't know if she was a possum or an opossum! Upon review, I decided she was most likely not rabid. I ventured closer to capture her on film.

Posey Possum - the Cutest Possum that Ever There Was

As I studied her adorable little possum hands and her precious little running pink possum nose, I was overcome with a desire to help her and save her from the bad dogs. I knew in my heart that she was a mother possum, and she was risking her life for her babies. We shared an understanding of new motherhood and mutual respect. Surely she would provide aid to me if our situations were reversed (flash to a world with gigantic possums living in our houses and me squatting on the top of a fence, shaking in fear with snot running down my face). Okay, maybe she wouldn't. Instead I opted for talking to her in a soothing voice and taking my dogs inside so as to grant her free and safe passage across my yard, if she so chose.

She sat on top of the fence for over an hour. Finally, for some reason, the bad dogs stopped barking at her (I suspect the neighbor called them inside to eat, because surely he wasn't bothered by the barking, as it had continued, literally without pause for longer than an hour - if it were going to bother him, it would have long before an hour), and she decided she could make her way safely along the fence once more.

As pleased as I was to see her go along her way, I rather regret it - she lacked a certain grace I assumed to be inherent to her as she stumbled awkwardly along the top of the fence, her creepy over-sized rat tail cocked crookedly and stiffly out behind her for balance. She lost a touch of her cuteness in that moment. But I can look past the fumbling - after all, I've been a new mom, and we share this universal and soul-penetrating commonality. We're in this together.

Husband-subconscious chimes in: "This is why animals in zoos always try to kill you. You think you have shared mutual understanding; they think you're an easy target."