Space invaders

I got bored watching a teenage comedy last night, so I switched to the Science Channel. (Hey, I’m multi-faceted). I napped through microorganisms living under harsh conditions on other planets. Yawn, snooze. I woke up in time to hear about radio communications from space, foretelling an imminent alien invasion. How did we get from primordial goo to a superior race? Why wasn’t I told about this? Man, I hate when that happens!

Since we may be getting visitors, I decided to spruce up the house a bit today. This included packing away the manger scene left up from Christmas 2009. My aversion to dusting meant that baby Jesus was buried under dust bunnies the size of fully loaded Volkswagen Beatles.

While I was digging out the wise men, I pondered the age-old question. Why aren’t UFOs visiting the Big Apple or Rodeo Drive? Instead, they frequent places like Couer d’Alene, Idaho, (motto: bring your own toilet paper). Do aliens even use toilet paper?

I figure that since I live in Stixville, South Carolina, conveniently located near the Hell Hole Swamp (no, seriously), my house should be a prime target for the impending invasion. I don’t get company very often, so I’m hoping that I can pull off being the proper hostess to the hordes of socially superior life forms.

As an ambassador for the human race, there are so many considerations. Will country music paralyze their nervous systems? Will they feel threatened by my collection of garden gnomes and plastic pink flamingos? I’d hate to be vaporized over a simple misunderstanding.

If the end of the world does come about this year, I hope it’s not because of angry aliens with an allergy to dust bunnies.

Ten days too many

I’m on an odyssey to find the Malibu body of my dreams. The hype is that I can lose a dress size in 10 days by following a simple program. I think I’m making good progress.

Day one: Do the 45 minute total body workout, followed by 3 glasses of water and 4 sprigs of parsley. I checked the scale six times and turned sideways in the mirror every 15 minutes.

Day two: Got dragged behind a 120 pound hyperactive Doberman for 45 minutes. Ended up chasing two cars and a very worried looking teenager. Ate two pretzel rods, a head of cauliflower, and three fat free pudding cups. Checked the scale twice and looked in the mirror sideways (sucking gut) once.

Day three: 45 minute workout, followed by a diet soda, 3 cigarettes, and a peanut butter and pickle sandwich. Stepped on the scale once, looked for the most flattering angle I could find in the mirror.

Day four: 45 minute crawl, which included one run like hell to flee the scene of the crime after the dog lost his breakfast in a neighbor’s front yard. I later drove back to clean up what felt like 40 pounds of yark. Bought a half gallon of raspberry sherbet, and looked for the biggest spoon in the kitchen. Avoided scale and mirrors.

Day five: Squeezed into a pre-menopausal exercise outfit. Got permanent lycra imprints on my thighs. Decided to skip the workout due to a constricting top and lack of oxygen. Polished off the raspberry sherbet.

Day six: Snuggled up with the dog to nap on the couch. Slept through an infomercial for the total body workout. Had a McGreasy burger for lunch and a porterhouse at the local steak house for dinner. Threw away the scale.

Day seven: Packed up the pilates chair for a speedy return to the manufacturer. My odyssey ends with regular trips from the computer to the refrigerator.

Oddly, I didn’t lose a dress size, only my sense of humor, and will to live. I think my next odyssey will be to Ye Old Ice Cream Shoppe. Sure, you have to deal with brain freeze, but no pain, no gain.

They really like me

Don’t you hate it when people get recognition and then get all braggy about it? Yeah, me too, but that’s not going to stop me from tooting my horn, patting myself on the back, and generally be annoying. Yesterday, I learned that Box of Rocks won 2nd place for mysteries in the 2012 Reader Views Awards. It’s not a Pulitzer, but it’s enough to make me feel like other writers, reviewers and the academy really like me. Of course, if not for you readers who have encouraged and supported me all the way, I may have packed it in on this whole writing gig long ago. You all deserve an award for putting up with me.

How to talk “grown-up”

First, those of you who haven’t yet read Box of Rocks can go to Smashwords and download it for free for the next few days. The book can be downloaded for any version eReader. Just look at the top right corner of the webpage to get the coupon code when you order. The blog for today includes an excerpt from my upcoming humor book, I Never Drove a Bulldozer. It’s due for release in early April, at which time there will be a great fooferah, and cookies. Rest assured that I’ll be thinking of all of you as I eat the cookies.

The following includes a short excerpt from I Never Drove a Bulldozer.

Last night, I decided to surprise my husband for dinner. Let’s see, I could serve him dinner naked, or for once I could fix something he likes and I don’t. We’re trying to save money on heating, so I decided that “naked” is not attractive when your teeth are chattering and your skin is a stunning shade of blue.

With a flourish, I brought out the fresh asparagus and channeled Vanna White showing off the new car you just won on Wheel of Fortune. He grunted. I’ll just put that in the “win” column.

I haven’t really had much experience cooking asparagus, so when it came out of the steamer basket and was still green, I figured that was good enough. My husband made little happy noises while he ate it, and I even tried a piece. “Eww, how can you eat this stuff? It doesn’t even have any taste.”

My husband looked at me sheepishly and said, “Actually, I don’t really like it.” He was glad to be able to drop the pretense that it was orgasmicly good.

My husband can solve the New York Times crossword puzzle, but he has never been big on verbal communication. Over the years, I’ve learned to differentiate between a “yes” grunt and a “no” grunt. Once your kids are grown, it’s kind of hard to morph from discussions on curfew, to debate over the affects of global warming. If you insist on talking to one another, my advice is to start small:

“Which brand of chicken soup is the best?” My husband asked.

“How should I know?” I suddenly realized he was trying to start a conversation. Since this might lead to a deeper connection on a spiritual level, I didn’t want to blow the opportunity. “I guess it depends on what kind of chicken soup you mean. Are we talking chicken noodle, chicken and rice, chicken gumbo, or cream of chicken?”

“There’s a coupon in the paper, but there’s no point in using it if we don’t like the brand.”

Aha! Now we were getting somewhere. Quick, think of something he can relate to. “Brand loyalty is like a football game. If the offense is lining up in the shotgun, the defense shouldn’t go five in the secondary.”

“I don’t see the connection between the two; and since when do you know anything about defense?”

(Cricket, cricket, cricket …)

“Women have a more complicated bathroom routine than men, so there should be more Ladies rooms in stadiums!” 1

My husband stood and walked out of the room without another word. What could I do? When the big moment had come—I’d choked.

Opening with any more substantial topic than soup (for example, asparagus) would be like working without a net your first time on the trapeze. If you find working the trapeze less intimidating than trying to make clever conversation, you and your spouse could later talk about the rising cost of health care … while you’re in the emergency room.

                                                          

1. Men, if you want to avoid this subject, never say, “What kept you?”

My life of crime

One of the unsung heroes of the police department is the meter maid. They save the loading zones of the world from the riff-raff who would take advantage of the system. My most recent brush with the law involved parking between two “No Parking” signs near the beach at Sullivan’s Island. I trudged back to the car just in time to find the local gendarme writing up the ticket.

I briefly considered leading him on a high speed chase through downtown Sullivan’s Island (motto: we have Dippin’ Dots). With my luck, his golf cart would have been the Crown Vic of all golf carts, able to max out at 20 miles per hour, and perform a pit maneuver that would scratch the paint on the fender of my new Jeep.

As I value my paint job, and wanted to avoid the media circus that would have been a trip to traffic court, I decided to bite the bullet, sign the ticket, and go to the courthouse (open every other Wednesday) to pay my ten dollar fine. I managed to get away before the news crew showed up. Few people are able to rock the coat-over-the-head look.

Have you ever gotten away with the perfect traffic crime, or been in a gas station restroom clean enough to eat off the floor? Neither have I. Have you ever discovered a diarrhea waterfall coming out of the baby’s car seat when you’re in the middle of nowhere? Check. My Funny books is looking for side-splitting stories / activities / poems, etc. about road trips. I’m attempting to make a road kill crossword puzzle for the book. Other activities may involve quizzes, silly sing-alongs, or car games.

This is a great opportunity to get your work published, get some free publicity, and build your writing platform. Go to http://myfunnybooks.biz for submission guidelines. We’re looking forward to hearing from you.

Count to 10

So, I’m snuggled into the couch with my dog, watching whatever inane thing happens to be on TV. Normally this causes me to lose consciousness faster than a brick to the skull. Maybe it was because I was rummy from lack of sleep the night before, but I came to my senses as I was dialing the 800 number to order a Malibu pilates chair. Damn Susan Lucci and all the before and after pictures.

Even though I was on hold, I felt committed to the 30 day trial. For the last three days, I’ve been staying in my box, tucking my tush (which is a bit too bootylicious), and engaging my core. My core and I, by the way, have set a date, even though I know it’s been sneaking out with potato chips and caramel corn behind my back.

Unfaithful abs notwithstanding, I’ve committed myself to 30 days of walking, pilateing, and oatmeal (steel cut). Consult your doctor before beginning any exercise program. Phhht! I’m more concerned with finding a pair of shorts big enough so I can bend over and breathe at the same time.

It seems like pilates come in sets of ten. Ten minutes, ten reps, ten days to lose a dress size. I think they should add “count to ten before taking an axe to your pilates chair.” Swinging an axe works the biceps, triceps, and abs (if you engage your core).

In my Lamaze class (somewhere in the last millennium) they were careful to refer to labor as “discomfort” rather than “pain.” I can assure you that my arthritic knees, my abs, and my left big toe (figure that one out) are about to give birth. I’m expecting some alien to pop out as I’m panting and blowing.

My stubborn nature and desire to get my money’s worth of shipping and handling is what spurs me on to day four. When I told my husband what it would cost to keep the chair, he spouted some invectives that could peel paint off the walls. I expect that when I graduate to the full 45 minute workouts, my enthusiasm and pain tolerance will drop dramatically. I’m counting on gaining enough strength from the exercises so that by day 29 I’ll be able to hoist the sucker onto the counter at the post office without putting myself into traction.

Seek professional help

“Are you out of your mind?”

As a matter of fact, yes. I take a combination of medications to keep my mood “stable,” and insure that I don’t hide in a clock tower with a fifth of Vodka and a high powered rifle. A person would have to be crazy to practice do-it-yourself psychiatry, which often turns out to be the case. Trust me, nobody is going to care that your ink blot looks like an aerial photo of Abe Vigoda’s left testicle unless you pay them enough to build their own space shuttle.

Since IRS agents a) don’t provide you with ink blots during an audit, and b) are notoriously lacking in anything resembling a sense of humor, taxes are also a situation where do-it-yourself can have disastrous results. For several weeks now I’ve been mired down in forms, circulars, and schedules, trying to make sense of the 1650, 1125-A, M-3, and V-8. I swear, the instructions for the 1650 say, “This will take two geological eras, anti-hallucinogens, and faith in a higher power to complete.” This is what I’ve got so far.

I stubbornly refused to consider shelling out money for somebody else to prepare my returns, until yesterday. I pulled an all-nighter and went through three pink gum erasers and a case of Red Bull before conceding defeat. Still buzzing with artificial stimulants and performance enhancers, I walked into the office of a CPA with a rather unfortunate last name, evocative of body odor and old socks. In the time it took me to apologize for my questionable skills on Quickbooks, he had amortized three loans and balanced the national budget.

Before I left, $600 poorer, he commended me on my passable accounting skills. At least I’m finally able to crawl out from under a stack of papers that would crush a lesser person’s skull (mine is extra thick). Is it too much to ask for a world where tax instructions are not written in ancient Sanskrit? It galls me that the idiot bureaucrats who write the tax code are being paid to give Joe Taxpayer an ulcer. (Report medical expenses on schedule H). Maybe someday they’ll print an illustrated instruction booklet, complete with a picture of IRS agents with rubber hoses performing a tax audit on some hapless small business owner. I hope it comes with ink blots.

Crash and burn

My husband used to cannibalize old computers to build new computers. To wit, we have a garage full of adaptors, cables, motherboards, fatherboards, wysywigs, and whatnots. Last weekend he got to put his rusty skills to the test when our internet virus protection software (which begins with N and ends with ton) lapsed. Warning: graphic descriptions of nerdy stuff ahead.

Early Saturday, I turned on my computer to find the message, “dia*3marrymeRoger/666.exe cannot start.” It then flashed dire predictions of Trojans, kiddy porn, worms, viruses, rabid gorillas, global destruction, and IRS audits. I think it was trying to get my attention. These came with obnoxious sound effects, like goats strangling on cheese balls. I immediately woke my husband so he could spend countless hours of frustration on a Saturday.

A local man made the news when he popped a couple caps into his daughter’s laptop after she posted a smassy comment about him on Facebook. The local jurisdiction considered this justifiable cause for discharging a firearm in public. Too bad I didn’t have a firearm.

When my husband’s efforts failed, I decided to do the computer equivalent of hitting it with a hammer. I unplugged my laptop and removed the battery. I should mention, that my husband poo-pooed this idea. Fortunately, it worked, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to write this rant about the evil, pernicious, software makers who just want to bully you into hitting the “buy my stuff, or else” panic button. Ironically, we had already bought their update, but their spanking prevented us from uploading the stuff.

Fortunately, I can now get back to the excruciating exercise of completing my company taxes. If you hear a loud bang, it’s just me popping a cap into Quickbooks.

Dare to fail

There’s a difference between trying to do something good and missing the mark, and picking a horse named Slo-Mo in the 2nd race at Pimlico. This could be a heart-warming blog about encouraging people not to let fear of failure hold them back from trying new scary stuff. It’s not.

One of the leading causes of sudden death is stupidity. Every year, glorious failures are compiled and reported in the Darwin Awards. One would think that removing idiots from the gene pool would leave us with a highly-evolved race of super-geniuses, but the sad truth is that humans score well above lemmings as the morons of the animal kingdom.

It’s probably best not to engage me in a conversation about the presidential primaries. I’m squarely on the fence between outrage and apathy on this one. Fortunately, I have a note from my doctor excusing me from learning about the candidates and issues, as this could lead to strokes, seizures, and generally poor life choices. I still have the scars from flinging myself off the roof last election year. In any election year, it’s important to be an informed voter, so without further ado, please meet the four candidates for the 2011 Darwin awards:

Our first candidate hails from Australia, where the “sport” of planking has become very popular. The successful planker will hold his body stiff as a board in various odd locations. One young man decided that the rail of his balcony would be a dandy spot to pretend that he was a 2 by 4. He apparently was unaware that balconies are the number 1 cause of gravity-related Darwin awards. Unfortunately, planks can’t fly.

Our second nominee gets the award for irony. It’s not an unusual story, the young man simply took a header over the handlebars of his motorcycle … in a rally to protest the New York state helmet law.

Candidate number three apparently can’t read the “Danger of Death” signs at high voltage power transfer stations. The story doesn’t go into detail, but this young man was trying to steal copper wire when he learned the startling truth about electricity—it hurts.

Are you into zombie flicks? A young well known stripper in India was having an engagement party, when a man broke into the room, lurching around and threatening the guests. The woman was outraged by the intrusion, and the man’s stench. She removed her four-inch stiletto, and smacked the intruder in the temple, effectively dispatching him. Unfortunately when she put her infected shoe back on and accidentally stepped on her sister, the young woman lurched about and attacked the stripper, who immediately started lurching toward the photographer. He knocked both sisters out with his tripod. Guests were fleeing the party like, well, lemmings.

There you have it. Four people who made the annals of one of the least coveted awards in history. My vote is still for the man years ago who stuck his privates in a ball washer at the golf course. Although he survived, he will not be adding to the population.

This has been a public service announcement to help you feel better about those times when you didn’t hit a home run, make CEO of your company, or figure out how to get the blinking light on your DVD player to stop.  You’re welcome.

Out of my mind

Stories are supposed to suspend disbelief. I’ve seen figure skaters leap into the air, twirl around multiple times while filing their tax returns, and stick the landing. (Extra points are awarded for itemizing your deductions). I find it hard to believe that this is physically possible, since I get dizzy when I stand up after a Dirty Jobs marathon. If reality is so hard to swallow, what’s left for the storyteller?

Anyone can write, but it takes a gifted storyteller to spark the reader’s imagination and convince him that a pig’s breath smells like onion and lemon drops. Of course, that particular imagery is a bit trite and overused, especially in romance novels and poetry. There are some fantasies that can’t be sold to the average reader. Nobody’s going to believe you if you write about a Republican presidential candidate who doesn’t suck.

It’s my privilege to know some amazing storytellers. If you haven’t visited Terri Sonoda’s website, you’re missing a real treat. She’s currently writing a serial story called Sara’s Sleep that is just phenomenal. In a few paragraphs, she can conjure up characters and images that will super glue themselves to your brain cells.

If you like Sci-fi, I’d recommend Mike Saxton’s 7 Scorpions. For a fascinating romantic suspense story that combines science and spirituality, look for Norma Beishir’s Chasing the Wind. For action, adventure, political intrigue, and “the very bad thing,” stay tuned for the release of William Kendall’s book, Heaven and Hell.

I have to admit that I use props when I write. I have a tool kit filled with rock collecting gear, and a geological map of South Carolina. I’ve called coroners, visited police stations and correctional institutions, crawled around on old-time sailing ships, and done a science experiment that involved dry ice and a can of tuna. Don’t ask. The point is, I don’t just want to make the story believable—I want to believe it myself.

I will never do a triple salchow (pronounced “sow cow,” because skaters like to mess with your minds), but I appreciate the beauty and athleticism. As a writer, I’m so impressed with people who can take stories rattling around in their heads and create inspiration, emotion, and escape. Now if they could only file their taxes at the same time, and stick the landing, I would give them extra points.