Power to the old people

I read an article yesterday in the Huffington Post promoting senior empowerment. The writer argued that we torpedo ourselves by living up to senior stereotypes. She further claimed that self-deprecating senior humor causes our self-esteem to recede faster than our hairlines. Phhht!

Seriously, ageism is a crappy deal. A lot of seniors struggle against discrimination in the workplace – and I’m talking about the newly old. I’ve seen the system fail people that I love, but anger and righteous indignation (while frequently justified) polarizes us.

I just don’t think that schooling ourselves to be politically correct about aging is going to empower us. Trying to avoid stereotypes is like ignoring the elephant in the room. We’re all getting older, and it’s scary. I believe that fear is what really robs us of our power, and humor helps to combat the fear.

If you go to the “About Me” page on this blog, you’ll find my mission statement:

“As a humor writer, my goal is to use laughter to diffuse the anxiety of aging; challenge others to bring humor into their daily lives; and prove that there is joy and laughter to be found at every stage of life’s journey.”

When I’m going through shit, finding others who have been through it is very healing. When we relate to each other, we accept our human condition and find that we’re not so very different, regardless of our age.

I may exaggerate and look for the ridiculous in life, but my goal is always to embrace the underlying truth. Facing our fears takes away their power and gives it back to us.

Double down

My friend has been on the hunt for Knorrs Leek Soup for several months now. Very few people (not in rehab) would pursue an activity to the gates of hell or insanity, but for the perfect clam dip, my friend would. She called Knorrs’ headquarters IN GERMANY, to find out why they don’t stock the soup mix in the U.S. anymore. There was no small amount of rejoicing when we found it at a local Piggly Wiggly.

This gives rise to the delicate issue of double-dipping. My mama told me horror stories about how when saliva is introduced into the dip, it starts to break down. This could turn a perfectly good thick paste into a slightly thinner paste. *Shudder* Since then I’ve taken great care not to be the cause of a sour cream state of emergency. I can only hope that others sharing the bowl are equally vigilant.

My distaste for separation of dairy products seems rather odd in light of the fact that I have a cat, ergo my kitchen counters are crawling with e coli. Fortunately, I know this, and knowledge is power. I have carefully choreographed food preparation routines to avoid serving litter box juice to the ones I love. It’s the least I can do.

People are not going to fess up to double dipping, so it’s the not knowing that makes a communal bowl of dip a thrill-seeker’s paradise. “Hey guys, let’s go base jumping then share some clam dip.” When I finally get up the courage and scoop, inevitably there’s breakage from somebody else’s chip. A half-soggy chip crumb is now hitching a ride on my chip. Gaaah!

I grew up playing with snakes and eating dirt (long story). I’m a staunch supporter of the five second rule. I’ve swapped sweat at the gym, grown up with the community bathhouse, shared bottles of soda, and have been known to French kiss. I don’t know why throwing dairy products into the mix puts saliva on a par with weasel snot.

Fortunately, God has genetically engineered clam dip to taste good enough that it’s worth the risk. I may not go base jumping anytime soon, but break out the chips and dip, and I can feel the adrenaline pumping.

Break out the wide-angle lense

Hi, group. My name is Karla and I’m a closet mocker. I started watching a reality show (which will remain nameless) because the average IQ of the contestants was barely above sea slug level. Even though I didn’t voice my opinions, I’m not proud of my snooty attitude.

What I learned from the show is that in order to take a good portrait, your eyes have to look like there’s actually a thought in your head. That wiped out half the competition. You also need to be aware of angles–bad news for me. I have a body that looks best head on, and a face that doesn’t.

In the unlikely event that the press will think I’m newsworthy, I’m updating my press kit. This means having a photo taken by a real payment-due-in-advance photographer.

This will involve plucking eyebrows, dying gray roots, and applying enough industrial strength concealer to paint the Taj Mahal – twice. More importantly, it means I will be practicing making faces in the mirror. When I smile, it sends my cheeks on a collision course with my eyes. I try to open my eyes wide while smiling, and it looks like I just found out that Sarah Palin is running for President. It’s that moment of shock before your brain registers the situation and you start projectile vomiting.

That's not a squint - it's cheek encroachment

Getting back to the angles, I need to make sure that the light doesn’t emphasize my gut or my nose. I have never been a delicate little thing, and the camera adds about twenty cheeseburgers (give or take a few pickles). Perhaps that’s why the photographer suggested that the light would be best about 9:00 PM for an outdoor shoot.

I guess I owe it to the IQ impaired to go through with this photo thing. They can be proud of their beautiful portraits while they’re pasting my nose all over the internet. Karma’s a bitch!

(That’s my buddy, Barry Parham and me at the Briarpatch for a book signing.)

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.

Living small with a drawl

How do you measure success? Does the one with the most toys win? I use the toilet bowl method. The fewer I have to clean, the more successful I am. Since my kids left home, I have been downsizing to the point where I have one bed, a couch, and a few mouse droppings. The mouse is living more lavishly than I am.

When they laid the concrete pad for my house, I could walk across it in a few steps. Now that I have to negotiate walls, baby gates, and dog chew toys, it takes a couple extra steps to get from point A (my bed) to point B (my refrigerator).

My bed and refrigerator are both located in the south. I moved to South Carolina five years ago for a) the lower cost of living; b) warmer weather; and c) cheaper cigarettes—don’t hate me because I smoke. I discovered a land of rare beauty, and people who aren’t (contrary to popular opinion) idiots—until they get behind the wheel.

I’ve been here long enough that I drink sweet tea, call strangers “hon,” and have a growing contempt for the condescending attitude of northerners. We put our camouflage hunting pants on one leg at a time just like you do.

The south is a wonderful place to simplify your life. There’s no work—simple. It’s too hot to leave the house in the summer—simple. I enjoy the simple pleasure of napping during a football game, although the people in the sports bar look at me pretty funny. Maybe it’s because I wake up with my head on the table and barbecue sauce in my hair.

I would highly recommend South Carolina to all you Yankeelanders who want to escape the rat race that is Bismark, North Dakota. You’ll find a warm welcome, a glass of sweet tea, and a mouse in your garage.

Tidings of lactose and soy

In preparation for a brilliant late-life writing career, I spent 30 years writing the annual Christmas letter. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of making your life sound more interesting than it is. Unless you invented a cure for herpes last year, you’ll need to find something compelling to grab your readers’ attention. Your friends and family are just going to skip over the story of how you found a dead lizard in your shoe.

This year, I have two strikes against me in my effort to entertain and inform. 1) My kids have moved out and are making up their own misleading letters; 2) I have no cute grandchildren doing cute grandchildreny things. This calls for drastic action, in the form of extensive lying. Face it, nobody wants to hear about how you developed lactose intolerance and had to switch to soy milk.

I’ve listed some do’s and don’ts for getting your Christmas letter to the top of the rubbish pile of cherished holiday missives.

Do: Include a photoshopped picture of you with Carrot Top. This is a classic ice-breaker, which will peak the reader’s curiosity. No one can look away from a train wreck.

Don’t: Talk about your dog, unless he rescued midgets from a burning building. Your friends will not be impressed with his ability to eat stuffed animals and then knit sweaters in his rectum.

Do: Use spell check. It’s just plain embarrassing when you misspell Ponzi, or leave the silent “C” out of “indictment.”

Don’t: Talk about medical issues. Let me be brutally honest: your friends don’t care if your bones can snap in a strong wind. They will perceive your ____________ (insert random –ectomy here) as a shameless bid for attention.

Do: Trot out your accomplishments. Maybe you didn’t get a personal invitation to go to the space station (I got mine yesterday). You can still impress your friends with your mastery of Swahili, ballroom dancing, and taxidermy.

Don’t: Gossip. You don’t want Uncle Trevor’s affair to eclipse your own news, unless you were the other woman in question.

Remember that Christmas letters are a marathon, not a sprint. You can brag about your new baby seal fur coat next year. So get your creative juices flowing, and remember that I have dibs on solving world hunger this year.

Revenge of epidemic proportions

This is a public service announcement from the Center for Disease Control.

To the cranky looking representative at the DMV:

You know, yesterday, when I felt like crap: I didn’t drag my bronchitis-  riddled self to your establishment just so you could lose my paperwork somewhere between counter seven and the camera. I’m hoping that the woman with the walker sitting next to me had her flu shot, because I hacked up enough sputum in your establishment to have the CDC descending on the place with boiling bleach and haz-mat suits.

To the teller who insisted on putting a three-day hold on my check:

You probably don’t want to know how many snotty Kleenexes I was handling with the same paws that handed you the check and my driver’s license. It was a lot.

Unfortunately, the world does not stand still when you’re sick. The good thing about working from home is that I no longer have co-workers walking by my desk and macing me with Lysol as they pass. At home, I can chug down enough codeine so that I don’t remember whether it’s standard time or daylight savings time (help me out here, folks) and nobody will be the wiser.

I have about a two day limit of patience for listening to people whine when they’re sick, myself included, so I try to space it out. Yesterday, I indulged in a full day funk. I was pouty, impatient, and petulant: the trifecta of annoying. If they had put the damn whipped cream and a cherry on top of my chocolate milkshake, I probably would have spontaneously combusted right there in McDonald’s.

So my apologies to Ms. Cranky-pants at the DMV. I wasn’t in the best of moods myself while I was snorting phlegm at your counter. Today I don’t have to drive, so I can stay at home, chug my codeine, and avoid exposing others to contagion and misery. Although, Ms. Bank Teller, you put a hold on my check: you kinda had it comin’.

Twenty rubber chickens

Yesterday I joined a regional booksellers’ organization and attended their trade show. Conversation with the exhibitors went something like this:

Exhibitor: “What store are you with?”

Me: “Um, I’m not a bookseller. I’m a publisher.”

Exhibitor: “How long have you been in business?”

I look at my watch.

While the ink was still drying on my articles of incorporation, I found myself in a room with the likes of Harper Collins, Simon & Schuster, Penguin, and Random House. They had tables groaning with free copies of their latest or soon to be released books. I felt a little out of place, carrying a bag full of freshly printed business cards, three books, and 20 rubber chickens. Long story.

My daughter can read a novel in the time it takes me to shave one leg. I read three paragraphs and my eyes start to go numb. Naturally, I took her with me to help me pimp my books and fledgling company. She didn’t get the memo. She filled two shopping bags to the brim with free books, then turned to me, her eye’s brimming with tears. “Thank you, Mom for being a publisher,” she whispered in awe.

Well, at least somebody was impressed. I can’t believe I put on mascara for this.

You see, I’ve kind of taken up the cause of bringing more good bathroom reading to humanity. In all the thousands of books at the trade show, I only found one humor book. This left me with many questions. Is it not fine literature unless it’s riveting, poignant, or filled with the bloodsucking undead? Are people too jaded to enjoy fine humor anymore? Will my husband be offended that I picked up a free Grilling for Dummies apron for him?

The Lone Ranger had really good PR in an age without telephones and instant messaging. When someone asked, “Who was that masked man?” there was always someone in the crowd to say, “Why, that was the Lone Ranger.” Where he would leave his signature silver bullet when he rode out of town, I left people holding a rubber chicken. “Who was that weirdo?”

One day, when people are on the crapper with their pants around their ankles, they will read one of my books and say, “God bless the Mascaraed Marauder.”