The “Old Man Card”

Lately, I’ve been working on cleaning up my yard.  If you’ve read this column for a while, you might remember that last January the G.P. (my Dad) dug vast trenches across my half acre back yard trying to ferret out a busted gas line.  The pits are filled in, but there’s a pretty serious rubble problem – I’ve seen less rutted wheat fields. Also, since this is Corpus and the soil is evidently made of clay, salt and driveway cleaner, nothing except especially hardy bind weed seems to grow.

Some weeds needed whacking, so off I headed to my parents’ house, intent upon borrowing the devil device.  Dad was loathe to hand it over because he and his next door neighbor were locked in The Great String Trimmer Battle of Passive Aggression.

“He doesn’t think I edge enough,” said the mortally offended G.P.  “That bastard offered to let me use his trimmer.  I’ve got four of the things.”

“What a jerk!  Can I use ONE of them, though, Dad?  The yard looks like I’m trying to create a habitat for wayward cheetahs.”

“I may be an old man,” he replied, “but I can still do that job a whole hell of a lot better than you can.”

The argument was unstoppable, but not because it was particularly good or logical.  It’s very true that the G.P., with his approximately 300 years of both actual and genetically engineered farmer experience, is much better at weed whacking than I am. However, when I was a small child, he was infinitely better at walking than I was.  I’m pretty sure it was still important for me to learn.

“I won’t get better if I don’t keep trying, Dad.”

He snorted and walked back into his office.  He knew I couldn’t win.  Like a house cat, the G.P. doesn’t enjoy playing with a dead mouse.

He came over  and worked on my yard that afternoon.  The weeds in the easement behind the fence are taller than I am, so he didn’t get too far.  He mixed me up several gallons of Round-up and sent me off on a mission of murder.  I crawled into the thicket and liberally basted everything I could reach and carpet bombed what I couldn’t.

A couple of days later, the Round-up hadn’t killed anything – some stuff may have actually gotten bigger.   I went back over to Dad’s to address the problem and gather more tools.  I’m building planters out of the boards that were left after the G.P. cut my large back deck in half (the gas line was evidently more difficult to find than Nemo), and I needed a circular saw and a drill.  Dad was in a rough mood that morning.  He had capitulated and edge trimmed his front yard – a brutal defeat.

“Dad,” I yelled, as Stadler and I barreled through his front door, “the stupid Round-up didn’t work.  Should I make some Napalm?”

My family knows to take my threats of chemical deforestation very seriously.  The G.P. practically ran out of his office and into the living room, probably expecting to see me holding a can of gas and some Styrofoam.  Relieved at my apparent lack of flammable ingredients, Dad listened to my admittedly ambitious solution to my yard problems.

“I’m an OLD MAN, AB!  I can’t be the family’s pack mule anymore!” he exploded, stormily retreating to his sanctum, barely sparing a backwards glance to make sure I wasn’t arming myself with old batteries.

“Okay, Dad,” I said, feeling awful about asking for more than he could give.  I wanted to crawl into a hole and die for making my heroically indomitable father admit any sort of weakness.  I slunk away home.  This time I was beaten badly, even though I left with the tools I’d come for.

Twenty minutes later, I was outside scrubbing the remains of my deck, berating myself for being an ingrate.  Then, I remembered that just 5 months ago my father spent weeks single-mindedly digging up my yard like a gopher loaded on high quality methamphetamine.  “OH MY GOD,” I thought, “It’s a freakin’ gambit!”  I laughed aloud, realizing that while my father may getting old, he’s still a far better card shark than I’ll ever be.

“The Old Man Card”

My father is hilariously sly —  always,  so it comes as no surprise that he’s figured out a way to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, without any argument from the rest of us. Excited, I posted my new theory on Facebook:

“’The Old Man Card’ is by far the most powerful in the familial deck.  It trumps every other card, inflicts maximum damage, cannot ever be used by any other opponent, is only applicable to one turn, and returns to the wielder’s hand directly after each use. The only conceivable drawback is that you have to BE an old man to throw it – but only for the one turn.”

“Har, har, har,” the G.P. replied.  “We may be shriveled shells of our former selves, but we still have the ‘Old Man Card.’”

I wasn’t buying it.

“…and that’s how you play the card, Methuselah. In an hour, you’ll be Thor again.”

Behind the poker face

My father is my favorite person, and bears responsibility (along with Star Wars and badgers) for my sense of humor.  He earned his “Great Provider” nickname when he decided that our demise was imminent due to the Rev traveling to Washington, D.C.  Off he went to the grocery store, reappearing in the kitchen 30 minutes later juggling 3 watermelons and two bursting sacks full of frozen bean and cheese burritos.  “WE WILL SURVIVE!” he crowed, “…but it could get a little stinky.”



The G.P., Christmas Day, 2016.

Dad isn’t perfect, but he has given me many wonderful gifts.  He taught me about survival and self-sufficiency, and, in that way, he has saved my life many times over.  He showed me how to swim, and taught me how words work and why thinking matters.  But the greatest of my father’s gifts, as the apostle  Paul so aptly noted, is love.  He gave me not only his love as a father, but inspired my love for nature and music.  When I was most hurt, he revealed that there is a great glow that is the sum and center of us, and he has never once let me forget.  At Christmas dinner this year, my Dad stared out over the quiet sea and said, “I may be old, but I still experience moments of profound joy almost every day.  That’s what makes everything so worth it.”
I hope he lives forever.

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If the Shoe Fits

Last Saturday, my nephews Jovanni (age 10) and Avery (age 6) arrived to spend a month with the Rev and G.P. (and, by association, me).  This is a great thing for my family because the boys are for the most part well behaved and super fun.  We have some childcare problems, however.  Mom and I both work, and no one trusts Dad alone with the kids for more than a couple of hours due to an unfortunate incident a few years back.  The G.P. took the boys to the park down the street.  As they were returning home, toddler Avery started running, and tripped on the sidewalk. Dad (who missed the whole incident because he was looking at a plant) heard the crying child, and rushed to assess the injury.  Jovanni (then 7) was leaping up and down in joyous excitement beside his prone brother.  “AVERY DID A WHOLE FLIPPY, GRANDPA!” he whooped.  Aside from a dented forehead (which mostly popped back into shape), Avery was okay, but the Rev decided Grandpa Daycare left something to be desired.  This time, In order to make sure the children don’t die, Mom has arranged for them to attend art camp.

Yesterday, Pops and I went to pick them up.   The road construction downtown caused the city to resemble the more bombed out parts of Baghdad.

“Do you think they spent all winter figuring out how to mess up traffic as much as possible?” asked the G.P.

“That would represent the only concerted and effective civic planning event in Corpus’ history,” I noted in response.  I spent six months last year witnessing the city’s efficacy in areas of improvement.  I was unimpressed with anything other than how green the grass was when they finally moved the porta-pooper out from under my crepe myrtle.

Forty-five minutes later, we arrived at the Art Center.  Avery’s teacher, a small, strict woman with a long black braid, told me that he couldn’t wear his flip flops the next day.  A little afraid of her (and kind of wondering if I should start checking the sky for plummeting real estate), I said okay without even asking why.

Avery tugged on my hand, “Ab, I can’t wear my shoes.”

“Why, Avox?”  I asked.

“Because they cut my feet!  We put on Band-Aids AND extra socks, but it still hurts.”

I looked at the poor kid’s ankles, and sure enough he had little lesions on both heels.

Avery shoe RGB We delivered they boys, and informed the Rev of the problem.  She showed me Avery’s Converse sneakers were designed in the most child chopping way possible. The medium high tops bent in towards the ankle at approximately a 70 degree angle.  They were also definitely too small.  New shoes were in order. I decided to brave Burlington Coat Factory, hoping that the crowds wouldn’t be too bad at 4 p.m. on a Monday.

“You need to take him with you,” said my Mom.

“No WAY!” I replied, fearing further kid transportation, especially since I’d just fed both kids large amounts of a frozen sugar syrup they called ‘Slushies.’  “I’ll just take one of his old shoes and find a slightly bigger replacement. It’ll be much quicker.”

“Not if you have to go twice,” replied the Rev, doubting my genius.

To the trenches

I made it to BCF in record time, and rode the escalator up to the children’s clothing department.  I was pretty positive that this whole endeavor was going to be a huge success, despite the Rev’s warnings to the contrary — right up until I hit the children’s shoe section.  What the crap, you guys?  Avery’s old shoes were a size 12.  I thought I needed to find a 12.5 or a 13. Wrong! For some strange, untenable, mysterious reason children’s shoes loop from a twelve to a 1.  I only figured this out because I developed a “trust nothing” attitude when the numbers didn’t work, and just started measuring Avery’s old shoe against every single new one.  After much cussing and confusion, I finally found a pair that looked like it would fit, and took it to the register.

“Hi,” I said to Valerie, the clerk, “um…do you have kids?  Because I’m not sure about these shoes.  Is size one bigger than size 12 here?  I mean, it looks bigger, right? What’s with this numbering system? Is it a freaking clock?  Is this some kind of guy thing, where if you’re lost in the wilderness you can tell time by your weird shoe size? Why don’t they just start at zero and go UP?  You know, like ALL OTHER SIZES EVER IN THE ENTIRE HISTORY CLOTHING.”

“Um….I don’t have any kids,” replied Valerie (age 16), clearly unsure whether to laugh or cry.  “Would you like to give me your phone number in case you need to return them?”

“Okay,” I replied, for the first time in my life not rattling off the digits to the dial-a-prayer hotline.

Fleet Feet FLASH Bonus Pack

Because I am a terrible person who absolutely did not want to have to try to figure out the demonic Dewey Decimal System of children’s shoe sizing a second time, I decided to make an enormous production when presenting Avery with his new shoes.  I put the shoes on a sofa cushion, mimicking that hyper-intelligent Prince who decided true love was (at least in part) based upon the proper fit of footwear constructed of profoundly stupid materials. “Avox,” I called, “Get in here and try on your NEW SHOES!”  He ran through the door and hopped on the couch. I pretended to put the shoes on the Rev’s much bigger feet. The kid didn’t get the Cinderella reference, and was impatient to try them himself.  I gave up on fairy tales, and shoved his feet into the shoes.  Thinking fast, still trying to prevent an “I HATE THESE SHOES” outburst, I said, “The lady at the store sold me an upgrade for these puppies. It’s a FLEET FEET FLASH BONUS PACK.  She said it will make you go 200% faster!  Better try it out!”

Avery’s eyes lit up.  He leapt from the couch.  “I’M GONNA RUN NOW!” he yelled, generously insuring that Rev and I didn’t miss a second.  Off he went, chugging like a locomotive across the Rev’s slate tiled floors.

“You’re so fast!” we yelled.

“It’s like you’ve got rockets attached to your butt!”

Avery continued to run circles around my parents’ great room.  “What if they’d been too big?” the Rev asked?

“Avery did another flippy?” I responded.

It looks like the G.P. isn’t the only watcher who needs watching.   Wish the Rev some luck.


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Graphically Speaking

Dearest Readers: This was set to be my column this week, but it was declined for being too graphic.  Just changing the word “pecker” to something less offensive wasn’t enough of a compromise to get the article published, so I wrote something else and elected to publish this only here for you loyal few.   I hope you like it, oh best beloveds.

For many years, I worked in marketing and advertising as a professional graphic designer.  In fact, I’m the schmuck who does the layout for your weekly Island Moon Newspaper.  It’s really not a big deal. Graphic Design is a job with ups and downs – just like any other, but folks seem to have some very incorrect ideas about my profession.  There is a definite perception out there that we’re all super talented, and that our jobs are utterly romantic – involving wearing all black haute couture clothing to gallery openings where rock stars casually converse with the ghost of Andy Warhol.  This concept is pretty far from the truth.  Back in art school “real” or “fine” artists would shout insults like, “SELL OUT!” at poor Graphic Design majors trying, slavishly, to conjure attractive 3-D packaging concepts out of pasteboard and a glue we affectionately called “elephant snot.”

“At least I’ll have a job, you stupid ceramicist,” was often the response.  Even at our most idealistic – we knew we were essentially the cost accountants of the art world.

Graphic Design, like all other art forms, is fundamentally about communicating ideas and emotions.  However, most of the time, graphic artists aren’t telling our own stories.  We make other people’s thoughts look good by using rules that are the equivalent of psychological hacks.  What we know is how color, text and spacing have impact on visual dialogue, and that’s important if you only have two and a half square inches to sell a product.  However, since we’re rule bound, primarily about marketing, depend upon client approval, and since we have to start every project focused someone else’s need to tell a story, we don’t get the prestige of “fine artists.”  Fewer of us starve, though.

People often ask me about being a “creative.”  “It must be so cool to make stuff all day long!” they exclaim, looking at me like I don’t deserve such a “fun” career while they have to slave away at being a “financial consultant for a mid-range investment firm” – whatever that is.  What they don’t understand is that my profession is just as limiting as theirs.  I had a client who hated the color blue – not just royal or Prussian or aquamarine, ALL blue and every secondary color involving blue (every green and purple).  After I spent two days designing the day spa logo, trying to keep things calm and natural, I gave my presentation.  “Oh,” the owner responded, “I hate brown, too.” Logo work can get expensive.

Once, while getting a haircut, my stylist got literally teary eyed in admiration.  “It must be so amazing,” the nearly twenty year old exclaimed, wiping her face with the back of her hand directly before tackling my bang trim.

“It’s nothing of the sort,” I said, trying to save her from her illusions, “unless you think those chicken benches at bus stops are the height of beautiful functionality.  Somehow, I don’t think Frank Lloyd Wright is too worried about his legacy.”

“What are you talking about,” she asked, distractedly snipping.

“We mostly work on marketing campaigns for small businesses.  I often design advertising for bus stop benches.  Right now, you’ll see a lot of pictures of fried chicken.  Sometimes, I  get to do billboards for strip clubs.  It’s a noble trade.”

Honesty may not always be the best policy.  My bangs ended up looking like an emergency room doctor cut them in order to stitch up a head wound after a car wreck.  The truth isn’t always popular.

Newspaper design is new to me.  Although I’ve been with the Island Moon for a little over a year, I’m still learning. The Moon office is great fun – but it lacks the elegance that is so often (erroneously) associated with my job.

Here’s a look at a Wednesday two weeks ago at the Island Moon:

I went in to work at 8:30 or 9 a.m.  Wednesday at the Moon is press day, which means we build 18+ pages on deadline.  Jan and Dale Rankin (Publishers/Editors/Sales Directors/Bookkeepers/Computer Technicians/Writers/Photographers) usually arrive at around 10 a.m. with the office dogs (Greeters/Alarm System/Crumb Vacuums), Lizzy and Sugar.

Dale has long since succumbed to the regular dust storms from the Great Sahara Development across the road.  He coughs and honks like a goose in distress every time the wind comes up.  The resultant cacophony sounds like cold and flu season in the COPD ward.  It’s awesome.

Jan, my office mate, has decided that she’s going to have an aneurism after falling off the side of her pool onto the other side of her pool.  In truth, the left side of her forehead does look a little like a cantaloupe that got dropped off of a roof.  She is deeply concerned and has been spending a greater portion of her day than usual on WebMD researching aneurisms.

“Mary, look in my eye and tell me if my brain is going to explode,” Jan begged Dr. Mary Craft, Optometrist – who was occupied, at the time, with writing the Moon’s Business Briefs.

“Jan, I CAN’T SEE YOUR BRAIN THROUGH YOUR EYE,” Mary firmly replied, trying to figure out when Dragonfly’s happy hour was.

“THAT’S NOT TRUE, MARY!  YOU TOLD ME YOU CAN SEE TUMORS AND STUFF!” Jan forcefully argued, waving her finger in front of her own face, following it with her eyeballs, trying to trick Mary into an impromptu examination.

“I think it starts at 5,” Mary said calmly, continuing to type as Jan made strange faces, testing for hemorrhage.

Dale coughed and wheezed his next door, diligently checking our first proof, and ignoring the panic attack coming from our side.  He may be immune to our antics at this point (very strange snippets of conversation  float his way for most of the day — I imagine the air in his office heavy with wafting questions like, “How much to do think a monkey brain weighs?”)

“Do we really want to put in this picture of a horse with his pecker out?” Dale yelled (hoarsely).


All “elite” and off to work.

“What are you talking about?  It’s not like he has a boner,” Jan yelled back, one hand over her left eye experimenting with her homegrown “stroke check.”

“Would you like me to fix it in Photoshop?” I yelled back.

“Yeah, just get rid of that,” said my valiant editor-in-chief.

I scrawled the words “pecker edit” on my little yellow legal pad and went back to trying to spit clean a ketchup stain off of my Admiral Akbar t-shirt while minutely adjusting the kerning in an ad for air conditioning repair.

Some days, I can hardly stand all the glamour.



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Jogging: A Cautionary Tale

This is dedicated to my dear friend and comedy hero, Teri Geahlen who nearly requested it.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve been working pretty diligently to get myself into shape (I’m going for something other than “ovoid”).   My body is a sneaky, uneducated hoarder whose sole desire is to spend its days intermittently interrupting nap time by cramming processed “food” and Miller Lite into its pie hole.   I spend many hours strategizing like a general, applying formulas stolen from “The Art of War” to diet and exercise.  Still, my body pines for potato chips, covets cheese and has tantrums for tacos.  Despite my immaculately executed tactical assaults, my weight loss often stalls, and I have to return to the battle council to find another way.

I hate running with the desperate passion most people reserve for fascist dictators, broccoli and Kelly Rippa.  If someone pointed a gun at my head and said, “Run or I’ll shoot,” I’d probably respond by saying, “Ok, but give me a minute.  I gotta work up to it.”  Ironically, nothing takes the pounds off me faster than jogging — probably because my extreme hatred microwaves the fat cells right out of me like homemade laser liposuction. Last spring, I had about 10 pounds left to lose in order to hit my first goal, and I thought that I could probably handle adding the activity for a mere couple of weeks.  “I can do anything for 14 stupid days,” I thought to myself, willfully ignoring the fact that there are a great many things that I can’t do for that long (holding my breath comes to mind).

Since I knew that I disliked running, I decided that I’d try to make it easier on myself and my poor knees by purchasing proper equipment.  My friend, Bethany-who-sometimes-jogs, was the greatest authority I could find on the subject, although I did consult Wikihow.  She hauled me to Academy and made me try out shoes by running around the store.   The newness of the insoles made me feel like winged Mercury as I bounded through the hiking boot section.  Bethany laughingly tried to tell me that I looked like an idiot, but I was happily jumping about, pretending the benches were an obstacle course.  You really can’t take me anywhere.  I eventually bought some new shoes, and decided I’d start my amended routine on the following Monday.

So often in our lives, expectations don’t match reality.   I pictured myself, gazelle like, cruising gracefully in front of the sea, my loyal black lab Stadler flowing alongside me as we sailed to the land of skinniness where you can have all the cheese and margaritas you want.  Visualization is not all it’s cracked up to be.

The morning of our first jog, I awoke excited.  The weather was chilly, so I threw on a pair of yoga pants and a sweatshirt.  I keyed up some music, put on my brand new shoes and started stretching.  Ten minutes later, Stadler and I were out the door on our way to Ocean Drive.

Everyone always says, “Once you lose the weight, you’ll get a whole new wardrobe.  Won’t that be great?!?”  No one ever remembers that getting skinny is a process.  There are a lot of sizes between a sixteen and a six.  Who wants to spend a bunch of money to buy clothes that won’t fit in two weeks? Not me.  I  despise shopping.  I started wearing all my too big clothes tied on with a bit of rope, Jethro Clampett style.  It wasn’t a great look, but it worked – for the most part.

I strode out of my house that morning wearing yoga pants that were four sizes too big.  In my defense, they didn’t feel that way when I donned them, fresh from the dryer.  They were skin tight!  As I ran, however, they stretched becoming looser and looser with each thudding stride.  I reached back with the one hand that wasn’t occupied with the leash, and pulled them up.  It helped for a second — then disaster struck.  My pants fell all the way down to my ankles, causing me to trip and fall toes over teakettle  to the sidewalk, my enormous purple polka dotted panties clearly visible to all the drivers on their morning rush hour commutes.  Stadler valiantly tried to “help” by tangling both of us in her leash and then by standing on my shoulders poking her nose in my face to see if I was dead.  I finally got the dog off me and stood up.  Stadler ran joyous victory laps around my ankles, tangling us three further times before I screamed her into submission and finally raised my poor puddled pants.    There was much honking.  One guy laughed so hard he had to pull over and park in the bike lane for a few minutes to get himself together.  I stormed past him towards our house, the back of my pants gathered in my right hand, holding fiercely to my dog and the remains of my dignity.

I was so furious at my failure that I couldn’t give up, even though my knees were skinned and my palms were raw.  I charged into my house and put on a pair of pants that had a draw string at the waist.  I choked that sucker up as far as it would go, and triple tied it in a knot from hell.  Even the smallest microbe wouldn’t have been able to slide between fabric and skin, it was that tight.  Stadler and I set off again, this time on quieter street.  I no longer cared about the view.  I plodded down the road, flat footed and miserable.  As I trudged, I felt something strange happening inside my new bottoms.

My underwear was falling down.

I stopped mid-plod, and quit.  Stadler and I sat on a curb for a minute.  I caught my breath and cussed while Stadler rested her head on my shoulder, and gave my cheek a consolation lick.  Eventually, we started the walk of shame back home, panties tragically sagging the whole way.

Since then, I have purchased many new pairs of pants which all feature belt loops.  Stadler and I rarely run now, but when we do, I wear compression jogging tights and we go in the deepest, darkest night to hide our shame.  I still hate every stinking minute of it.

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Bee-ing and Dogginess

Last week, the G.P. (Great Provider) decided he was going to head out to the annual Kerrville Folk Music Festival.  Dad has been a “Kerrvert” for many years, and wasn’t about to miss the opportunity to play guitar and sing songs about boobs (and folksy topics like shipwrecks and the more depressing aspects of trains) with his friends.  The downside is that dogs aren’t welcome at Kerrville due to the face that every single person would bring at least one pet, and the festival would rapidly disintegrate into an all-out Mad Max style canine free for all.  Provisions had to be made for Dad’s shovel-headed tank of a dog, Rowlfie.


This is Rowlfie’s “can I get up on that couch with you?” look.

Rowlfie and Dad are best friends, and the pup is used to going practically everywhere with the G.P.  When he’s left at home for even an hour, Rowlfie takes on a mien of tragic desolation so severe that even delicious beef basted dog biscuits are no consolation.  The G.P. is a diligent dog walker, and poor Rowlf is convinced that if he isn’t allowed his swaybacked stroll for at least five miles/day, he’lll flat out die.

When Dad leaves, it’s my job to provide daily walkies.  Keeping dogs in fantastic physical condition is a double-edged sword.  On the one hand, they’re super happy, more obedient and tend to live longer.  On the other, they’re incredibly strong with insane amounts of stamina.  Stadler (my pup) is used to running 8 – 12 miles per day, towing me along on Gertrude (my bike) while I cling like a lamprey and scream things like “NO KITTIES” at appropriate intervals.


The major problem with double dog duty is figuring out how to exercise them enough without killing myself.   My solution was to try to walk them together.  I own a leash made specifically made for this purpose.  Essentially, it’s a glorified waterski tow cable with two lines coming from the handle rather than one.  It seemed ideal.

Walking two extremely strong dogs on the same lead presents some physical challenges.  You have to sit on your heels and haul backwards with both arms to resist the drag, and it takes miles to tire them out. Additionally, Rowlfie has declared total war on all cats, and sometimes will hit the end of the leash with what the G.P. calls, “just a hell of a jolt.” It’s a tough gig.   I don’t know how dog strength translates in terms of horsepower, but I’m pretty sure they could pull my car.  I’m considering starting a really cute towing service – “Puppy Tows.”  It might solve a lot of problems.

I swim a couple of miles at the YWCA most days, so every Sunday, I treat my poor chlorine fried hair to a rosemary and coconut oil mask.   It seems to help, and it smells nice.  Because I didn’t want to waste water, I decided to take the dogs on their evening walk with the tonic still on my head.  Two showers seemed excessive, and acting as the equivalent to a parachute slowing down a space shuttle causes me to sweat like a stevedore.  The walk started out normally, 158 lbs. of dog dragging me, my heels leaving dents in the hot asphalt.  However, as the 90 degree day warmed the oil under my old black ball cap, things got appreciably worse.  My forehead began to drip grease, which I wiped away with my hands. The leash handle became slick and difficult to hang on to.  After half a mile, I was basted head to toe, plus the rosemary oil reeked like I distilled an entire field of the stuff and then swam in the result.  That’s when the bees showed up.  At first, it was just a couple of adorably bumbling scouts — then a cloud of apian curiosity.  I walked slowly, desperately trying to control the dogs, who sensed that my grip had weakened and were focused on dislodging me. The Rev’s house was close – only about two blocks away.  Sanctuary!  The slow procession continued with the forced decorum of a funeral where no one really liked the dead guy.  Finally, we reached the Rev’s cool, shady porch.  I rang the doorbell.  No answer.  Her car was gone.  I tried to call her.  Nothing.  We had to turn around and walk the half mile home in a bee vortex.

It took almost 45 minutes to make it back.  I didn’t lose my grip on the dogs, but it was a near thing.  We got into the house, oozing through the door to prevent the insect invasion — I still had to shoo a few more determined bumblers out with my cap.  I ran to the shower, and stayed under the lukewarm water for close to 40 minutes – totally eradicating any environmental good I might have done by only bathing once.  As soon as I emerged, my phone rang.

“What did you need?” the Rev asked.

“I needed you to drive us home because I was being attacked by bees for reasons.”

“What reasons?”

I hemmed and hawed and finally hollered, “Because I had rosemary oil in my hair and they smelled it and it was a disaster!!!”

My mother started laughing – and not a cute, charming, ladylike laugh, but the serious fall-down-on-the-floor guffaw of a drunken cowpoke. When she finally calmed herself, she helpfully pointed out that she “doubted they were Africanized” (killer bees are the Rev’s generation’s zombie apocalypse – she’s been worried about them since the Carter administration), and that she hoped I “felt a column coming on.”  I hate to admit it, but I hung up on her.


Stadler’s Aunt Teri calls this her “two pillow sulk.”

We’ve got another week before the G.P. returns from Kerrville.  Lessons have been learned.  I’m now exercising the dogs individually, despite the sulking and fits of jealousy.  It takes 3 hours a day. Suffice it to say, both Rowlfie and I really miss our Daddy, but only one of us is hiding under the bed pouting about it.  The dog may soon have to make some room.

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Mighty Hikers

A few weeks ago, my friend Mel B. asked me to go hiking.  She is an aficionado of the sport, traveling long distances to beautiful places just to walk all over them.  Mel loves hiking to the extent that she often quotes hiking blogs and carries a snake bite kit in her purse – even if she’s only going to Starbucks.  Stadler and I are not in her league, but we do love walking, especially if we can hunt Pokémon while we’re doing it.  Too often, I imagine myself and my dog wearing pith helmets and parting tall savannah grasses in pursuit of a duck in a wizard hat.  “Shhhhh, we’re hunting purple ghosty things,” I whisper to Stadler, channeling Elmer Fudd.  Stadler usually expresses her disdain by attempting to jerk my arm out of its socket to fake pee on a suspicious blade of grass.  We do not always share the same objectives.   I happily agreed to the trip.

In my excitement for the trip, I even downloaded a hiking app to find the best/closest trails.  This app is now known as the Liar Liar Pants on Fire Application (L.L.P.F.A.), for reasons that will soon become crystal clear.

Mel B. and I are very different types of early risers.  Mel awakens chipper and happy – one pictures small birds and big-eyed forest critters helping her with her morning ablutions while she sings nonsense syllables at them in a warbling soprano.  At my house, I have to set the alarm on my phone to fog horn/gunshot/horror movie scream/falling over drum kit/tornado siren in order to dislodge myself from sleep.  Anything less (like lovely harp or babbling brook) and I’ll just snuggle up until it’s time for dinner.  Stadler is no help.  The dog might love to stay in bed even more than I do, and is immune to the morning cacophony, responding by rolling over onto her back, all four paws in the air, so she can hog the breeze from the box fan.  I head, one eye begrudgingly open, directly to the coffee, grumbling the entire way… “Lazy ass dog…gets to stay in bed…gonna sleep all day…dumb dog,” and am Ab the Terrible until the caffeine kicks in. People have grown to fear morning me, giving me the wide, careful berth normally reserved for hand grenades and trapped badgers.

Mel wanted to head out early – at 7 a.m. to be precise.  I was halfway through my coffee when she breezed through my front door, brandishing her snake bite kit as though it could cure everything from acne to Zika.  Off we went, following the directions of the L.L.P.F.A. to Port A, where the app insisted there was a beautiful five mile trail. The Google Lady took us straight to a parking lot that boasted no less than 25 small mobile homes in various states of disrepair and a few tents.  This seemed wrong.  “I haven’t heard of any hiking around here,” replied clerk at the Stripes after being cheerfully interrogated by Mel, and sourly stared at by me.  L.L.P.F.A. indicated that we were standing a mile down the trail when we were clearly in the potato-chip-and-weird-jerky aisle at the Stripes.  The only nature photographs we’d capture on this “trail” would feature beach goers rooting through the beer cooler.  “Let’s go to P.I.N.S.,” I suggested.  “There’s at least one trail out there. The L.L.P.F.A. says it’s 9 miles long!  That’s a great hike.”  A dark thundercloud of rage rolled across Mel’s beautiful brow.  “I. HATE. SAND.” She said, enunciating each word like her tongue was a gavel.  “The trail isn’t on the beach,” I replied, turning back on to the highway.  Mel’s eyes shot daggers.

Luckily, Mel was too excited to stay mad for long.  We got to P.I.N.S. and bought our day pass at the visitor’s center.  “Is there anything we should know about the trail,” I asked a ranger, concerned because 9 miles out and back is a pretty long hike.  He looked at me like I was a congressional level idiot and said, “It’s a little windy today.  You shouldn’t have any problems, though.”  Pride puffed out my chest as I strutted back to the car.  “He could tell we have hiking experience, Mel.  Otherwise, he totally would have told us to be careful.  We are MIGHTY HIKERS!”

We arrived at the well-marked trail head a scant ten minutes later.  It seemed that many people had the same idea, including an assortment of elderly folks with walkers and one guy in a wheelchair.  The beginning of the walk was neatly paved, and we set off in high spirits.  With 9 miles to go it had to get harder!  We strolled for 20 minutes, pausing frequently so that Mel could take pictures of cacti, and then rounded a corner.  The sign that marked the trail head was clearly visible.  We’d hiked in a loop for less than a mile.  There was nowhere else to go.

Furious (and feeling pretty stupid) we slammed into the car, driving until we saw a barbed wire gate with a sign.  It marked the last vestige of the great old cattle ranching on the Island.  We hiked in, only to find a rough trail surrounded by patches of strange and beautiful wild flowers.  As we walked further, I let Stadler off leash. She tried to join a herd of white tailed deer – happily dog bouncing right along with them.  They turned her down so forcibly that she sped back to us as though she was equipped with turbo.  Don’t buck with white tailed deer.

After the hike, which was still shorter than we preferred, but wilder than we dared hope, we drove home, cautiously content.  The second we passed the water tower, returning to the land of cell signal, I stopped and deleted the L.L.P.F.A., angrily stabbing it into nonexistence with my index finger.  “Are you done?” asked Mel, back to her normal, optimistic self.  “Yes,” I pouted, marginally humiliated by my phone rage.  “Good,” she said.  “Let’s fry up some snapper.”  And we did.  All’s well that ends with a good lunch.


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I’m not going to lie: I’m not the best housekeeper. I employ the ancient art of collecting lots of pretty baskets, throwing random junk in them until they get full, then purchasing additional baskets to handle the overflow. My whites come out barely whiter-than-black.  It doesn’t help that Stadler-the-Dog cultivates terrible smells so extensively that her resume should list “Stink Farmer” as her primary occupation.  Also, my beloved yard lizards have recently decided (evidently en masse) that they’d much rather be house lizards.  They keep sneaking through the dog door and stowing away in my orchids.  This has resulted in several dropped pots, and terrible evictions wherein both lizard and landlord caterwaul about the unfairness of the situation.  Todd, a reptilian recidivist who enjoys dog food, may actually have squatter’s rights by now.

This said, for the most part my home appears clean(ish) and reeks like “Kitchen Sunshine” (which in turn smells a lot like Lemon Pledge) wax cubes which can be purchased for a mere $2 at HEB. I am aware of certain filth pockets which I typically try to forget — out of sight and mostly out of mind until  some sunny Saturday in spring when I find myself precariously perched atop a step ladder, gangster rap blaring, dusting as though I channeled a tornado made of wolverines, and wondering how things could “possibly have gotten this bad.”  Prime examples of this blissful ignorance include filthy (possibly lizard-y) ceiling fans and tops of picture frames.

This week, however, my out-of-sight routine encountered a hitch.  My friend, Lena (yes, you probably know her) decided to drive to Corpus from Charleston, South Carolina with her giant dog, Scooter.  She told me her plan well in advance, giving me plenty of time to incrementally tear the house apart and clean all the grossness pockets.  Yeah, right.   I, of course, procrastinated.

I started cleaning the morning of the arrival.  Mistake #1.  By 10 a.m., my house was torn apart, only a little razor wire short of looking like a Latvian missile testing facility. I had dramatically careened into the stage-of-scrubbing-for-company where everything was much, much worse than when I started. Cleaning products dripped all over the kitchen floor. The freshly washed curtains created an inadvertent tent city, held up by my disassembled couch.   The bathroom was coated in bleach and Comet layers so thick that they resembled striations in antediluvian granite. Despite the mess, the front of the house was so quiet you could hear a lizard fart.   I had paused all of the above because I decided mid-stream that it was most important to focus on the spare bedroom.

Calling my second bedroom a ‘multipurpose space’ is a nice way of saying that it provides storage for various overflow problems that are too big for baskets.  My collection of shoes I don’t wear, but still like to look at is the worst of these.  Last January, the floor to shoe ratio in the spare room finally tipped to the “unfavorable to human survival” side.  Because the deadliness of five inch platform heels approaches that of a spilled bucket of Legos, I began referring to the area as “Shoe-ma-geddon,” and purchased a vertical storage rack.

When I’m involved, “some assembly” requires several distinct phases.

Phase #1: Build it backwards.  Figure out that project is backwards due to project falling on self/floor/dog/dinner/lizard. Start over.

Phase #2: Build correctly.  Project still falls apart and lands on head/dog/family heirloom/lizard because I had to take it apart with a claw hammer.  Phase #2(a): Throw project on floor in spare room and cuss at it every time I see it.  This can take months.

Phase #3: Super glue.  (The BAD phase).  I once glued my right foot to a carpet with Liquid Nails and had to cut myself out with scissors. I had a hairy heel for two weeks.

At this point, I was still only on Phase #2.  I either had to fix the rack, or throw it out and pile the shoes on the closet floor.  “That just won’t do for a guest,” complained my inner Heloise.  I took the hint.  Time to initiate Phase #3!  Amazingly, I got the thing glued/pounded together without sticking anything to myself.  However, the shelf had a gazillion parts, each of which must irrevocably stick to some other piece, or risk further total tower collapse.  Construction took hours, but I got it done at about the same time Lena was fighting her way through Houston.  “Ab, a city bus just crossed four lanes of traffic!  It almost took out some old pickup without tags going 28 in a 70.  We’re going to die for sure.”

“No way, Lena!  That’s just the Houston version of Tokyo Drift.  Quick, see if you can spot Vin Diesel’s counterpart, Van Weasel.”

“What’s that?”

“I don’t know, some weasly looking guy driving a windowless kidnap van?”

“OH!  I see four of those!”

The race was on.  Time was of the essence. I realized that I was never going to get things both actually clean and reassembled in the approximately three hours I had left, so I evolved into the final stage of housekeeping-for-company: “Flying to Phuket.”  Suffice it to say, that while every lizard I could find was forcibly evicted, and the house really looks clean, it’s all just as cosmetic as ever.  At any moment, a painting might shift, dislodging a deluge of filth (and possibly lizards).  Lena is a good person, though.  She may notice the dust, but I’m pretty sure she won’t write in it.  The jury is still out on the lizards.

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