Stop the ride. I want to get off.

If you ever want a heart attack, go to Vegas and ride the “Insanity” at the top of the Stratosphere Tower. Dangling 1,100 feet over nothing but certain death, you’ll be spun around so fast that the sound of your hysterical screaming won’t keep up with you. (Depends™ are highly recommended).

The fiction writer’s goal is to suspend disbelief. You don’t want the reader to say, “this is a load of crap” when he reads about how the hero fought off a grizzly using only a roll of toilet paper and some dental floss (mint flavored).

Lately, my life has been such a thrill ride that if I wrote it down, my readers would say “liar, liar, pants on fire.” Short version: divorce, marriage, injury, illness, and career meltdown. These things happen, but they usually don’t gang up on you like a Barry Manilow song you can’t get out of your head.

Strangely, I’ve been able to laugh off a lot of weirdness for my family and myself. Most distressing is a Great Dane who adopted me into his family three years ago. Maverick was 170 pounds of puppy-like joy, playing tug, pouncing on toys, and galloping around my back yard. In the last two weeks I’ve held my friend’s hand as she watched her beloved five year-old dog waste away, the victim of heart disease.

Not a day went by in the last two weeks, when we didn’t think Maverick might pass away during the night. He’s dropped 30 pounds in the last month, and is as weak as a kitten. I would deeply appreciate your prayers, as we try yet another heart medicine. I don’t know if I could bear to lose another four-footed family friend.

I don’t like roller coasters, but I’ll ride this one to the end, because true friends are worth the trip.

Lock and load

On a whim, yesterday, I checked out the price on a pot roast (something I hadn’t seen since Jesus walked on water). Once I finished hyperventilating, I hustled off to the dry goods aisle. There, I was met by the nemesis of all senior citizens: legumes.

If you’ve read my blog before, you know where I’m going with this. You would be wrong (mostly). Yes, I know about Beano, but if I can’t afford various edible parts of the cow, I can’t afford to buy Beano. I’m used to dirty looks in the checkout aisle at the grocery store, indignant glares at the bus stop, and (my favorite) carefully avoided eye contact in elevators. Materially, this is nothing new. ‘Nuff said.

So what’s my beef? Yesterday on my morning walk, I started counting eviction notices on doors. In one circle around the block, I counted six. I’m fussing about my colon while hard-working people are losing their homes. The obvious question is, how do people afford smart phones when they can’t pay the mortgage (oh, and that whole political debate about how to avoid long lines for free government cheese)?

My wireless provider (which rhymes with horizon) is itching to give me a free smart phone. In their benevolence, they are allowing me to pay $30 to renew my contract. I see no need to load up on apps that will allow me to send porn to my grandmother. I also see no need to pay $140 per month (special promotional offer for preferred customers). In this economy, I’d rather wear Spanx to an all-you-can-eat buffet than jump on something like that.

Why do people do it? Obviously, they want something to occupy their time while waiting two hours for the doctor to finish his round of golf.

Apparently, there are people who can afford to put away vast sums of money for retirement. They frequent the natural food grocery stores, where it’s cheaper to buy a crab boat and catch your own than to purchase snow crab legs. I wonder if they get gassy in crowded elevators. But I digress.

The evil providers are pressuring the people who can least afford it into loading up their phones. They lock these people into contracts, which require snow crab legs and a pot roast to break. I’ll stick to beans. Maybe I’ll find a goose that lays golden eggs.

The invasion of the ankle biters

I don’t want grandchildren. I know, I’ll probably get my ass kicked by every woman with a wallet full of photos of Aiden (one of the 10 most popular names for boys: really people, get a grip) making mud pies. My resolve was reinforced yesterday, when I was put in charge of a two year-old boy for 15 minutes of hell.

We were in a public building, and Mom and Dad were busy filling out paperwork. They put me in charge of their sweet little bundle of attention deficit determination. Within seconds, I lost track of him and turned around just in time to see him pulling letters off the board that read, “Please keep children supervised at all times.”

I used every parenting trick I could remember to keep him from flinging himself down a grassy slope and into the duck pond. What does the bee say? What does the cow say? What is the square root of 139? (Trick question: it’s a prime number.) All the while, he trustingly took my hand and dragged me through bushes, up and down stairs, and into the men’s bathroom. The kid has a good grip.

Don’t get me wrong. He’s a good kid, and no more hyperactive than the average two year-old … who’s just consumed three candy bars and a double espresso. I have no illusion of my ability to catch him if he made a break for it. No problem. Lately, small children seem to be attracted to me like flies to poop. They have an innate ability to corner the only adult in a crowded room who doesn’t want to pick boogers off their noses.

I hesitate to even write this blog. Parents and grandparents get rather miffed if you’re not delighted with little “Aiden.” I still enjoy visiting my friends who are up to their herniated disks in grandchildren, but even if you rescued me from a burning building, don’t expect me to repay the favor by babysitting.

My daughters have been kind enough to let their biological clocks keep ticking. Even though there’s no longer any need to clean cloth diapers in boiling bleach, the only bottom I want to wipe is my own. Am I a bad person because I don’t want to be around little ankle biters? Just rescue me from a burning building and find out for yourselves.

You load 16 tons …

… and what do you get? Another year older and covered in sweat.

Spiders: why did it have to be spiders? Last week I turned 56. No, please hold your applause. Coincidentally, I also helped my daughter move into a guest house, which had stood vacant for a year. When the former occupant moved out, the spiders and rats moved in.

I was on my hands and knees vacuuming spiders and rat droppings under the furnace, under the sinks, and under duress. Science lesson: birthdays are directly related to the pull of gravity. Kneeling, squatting, and sitting down are a snap. Standing requires an act of Congress and a rosary. Since Congress can normally only agree on naming November “National Turnip Greens Month,” you are likely to become well acquainted with every dust bunny on the floor.

When I finally managed to return to a vertical position, the same gravity caused fluids from my arthritic knees to migrate South. Leaking fluids from various body parts is also directly related to aging, but that’s a subject for another science lesson.

The upshot is that cleaning and many trips up and down the stairs of my daughter’s previous residence resulted in my feet swelling enough to necessitate the purchase of clown shoes. (Clowns: why did it have to be clowns?)

Years ago, we spent three years in Spain. While my friends were collecting Lladros (ceramic figurines for which you must sell two kidneys and your first-born child in the States) we collected slabs of marble. My daughter decided that she wanted the marble for her new home. This is where the title of this blog comes into play.

Where I once had the muscle tone of a gymnast, I am now able to successfully lift a box of toothpicks (as long as they don’t have the cellophane fluffy stuff on the end). I could always get a career making balloon animals. They’re much lighter than marble, and I already have the shoes.

Rising to the challenge

I’ve just completed my training at the Writer’s Police Academy—an odyssey of self-discovery. What I learned was … I’m short. You kind of get used to looking up at people all the time, but I’d say that the majority of the attendees were post-menopausal, osteoporitic, and vertically challenged. Put a group of us next to a strapping young fireman, and it looks like a munchkin convention.

When it was my turn to knee the tackling dummy in the groin, I had to jump up to reach it. Most assailants lack the patience to wait while you get a ladder. Fortunately, put a gun in my hands and I turn into a major badass. I managed not to shoot any innocent bystanders, but that’s only because my aim was off. I was firing at anybody who looked remotely suspicious. Hey, that blue-haired old lady was asking for it. My finely manicured trigger finger was flying. Moral of the story: don’t mess with a dwarf holding a standard-issue police glock.

I have a new appreciation for the police who have to stare down a knife or gun and make split-second decisions. I got to talk to bomb squad guys, canine handlers, divers, and motorcycle cops. Of course, as a writer, my hard-hitting questions were not exactly typical. “Does your unit have cadaver dogs? When recovering a body underwater, does it gross you out to know that you’re swimming in people soup? How do you pee when you’re on a stakeout?”

When you get the facts wrong in a mystery, people respond like rabid beavers on crack. Generally, that’s not a good thing, since you’re likely to get your ass chewed. I know more than I care to about dismembered, charred human remains, dripping with melted fat. The slide show featuring said body parts came right after lunch. Note to self: take the morgue tour on an empty stomach.

I’ll just have to content myself with writing about crime rather than fighting it. They don’t have standard-issue police ladders, and the gendarmes are not likely to issue me a glock anytime soon. Those kids should really learn how to duck and cover.

Full House

I do not have a poker face, although I’ve been told that I look upset when my mind is a complete blank. This only becomes a problem when I’m driving, writing, or doing long division. You need only look at me to know exactly what I’m thinking, which usually involves the quantity of new gray hairs on my head. Rarely do I think about Quantum Physics or clowns.

Lately, my face is showing a state of chaotic happiness. I have well beloved house guests, and the hostessing skills of a Marine drill sergeant. There are no Martha Stewart sheets on the beds, no bouquets of flowers in the guest rooms, and the bathroom is BYOS (bring your own soap). If my guests actually want to eat, I have crackers, dry cereal (Cheerios: no milk), and canned corn.

Fortunately they put up with my lack of social graces. I have, however, had to make some new arrangements. The new bed blocks one side of the double doors to the spare room. I had to put up a sign to remind myself which door to use. Hey, I’m old, and I get confused easily.

Please use other door

Don’t make me break out the hand puppets

Little things get magnified, but with a lot of love and understanding, things work out OK. That said, I’m running away. Honestly. I have my out-of-town workshop this weekend, so guests are on their own for 4 days. I trust them not to have wild parties or herd buffalo through the kitchen. Sometimes, self-deception can be a wonderful thing.

Being surrounded by the people you love is such a blessing. If you want to come by, the welcome mat is always out. Just try to avoid stepping in the buffalo chips on the kitchen floor.

Recipe for disaster

Later this month I’ll be attending the Writer’s Police Academy. For those of you thinking of breaking into my house while I’m away, please note that it is protected by an intricate security system of ninjas, tiger traps, and a sumo wrestler nicknamed “The Hammer.” Just sayin’.

All attendees have to sign waivers in case we break our necks when we (inevitably) fall off the zip line. You can probably imagine a middle-aged woman with osteoporosis, arthritic knees, and stress incontinence trying to run an obstacle course. All this after consuming a cheeseburger (no onions), potato salad, baked beans, a power bar, and the obligatory donuts. I’m looking forward to the Krispy Kremes workshop.

I’ll be hiking out into the woods to examine a shallow grave, learning how to identify blood spatters, dusting for fingerprints, and watching my partner’s back in the firearms training simulator. My apologies in advance to my soon to be virtually deceased partner. That friendly fire incident is going to haunt me forever.

Yes, I’m going to suit up for a high risk entry into an actual residence. I will then cry, when they have to break out the extra large SWAT gear for my not-so-ripped physique. (Too many Krispy Kremes.) I’ll get to learn the techniques for take down, restraint, and handcuffing. C’mon, people. Get your minds out of the gutter.

I’ll be taking notes on how to turn macaroni, gold spray paint, glitter, and pipe cleaners into a dirty bomb (or an ashtray). Oh, the humanity! Honestly, this is going to be serious hands-on research of crime, law enforcement, and emergency services.

In the quest to add realism to my not-so hard-core crime writing, I am even willing to make the ultimate sacrifice and wear ugly gray sweat pants. They serve the dual purpose of wicking moisture away from the skin, and hiding the fact that I soiled myself waiting for my turn on the zip line. If anyone takes my picture thus attired, they may have a real live crime scene on their hands.

What I didn’t do on my summer vacation

School is back in session, which for old farts merely means getting stuck in traffic behind the school bus that stops at every corner. Apparently, kids can no longer walk further than one block without being crushed under the weight of a backpack, tenor saxophone, and a $400 graphing calculator.

While drumming my fingers on the steering wheel until they bleed, I feel inspired to consider alternate routes, mindless of sidewalks, mail boxes, ornamental shrubs, and the occasional garden gnome. If you live on a bus route, you can kiss your plastic pink flamingos goodbye.

If your grocery list includes only the necessities: milk, bread, eggs, toilet paper, and Tootsie Pops, it would still exceed my list of accomplishments for the summer. In order to shed my status as a hopeless underachiever, I thought I’d share with you a small sampling of what I didn’t do this summer. I did not:

  • Spend the night in the emergency room with a gaping chest wound. I’m particularly proud of this achievement, since most accidents happen in the home. I’ve spent the better part of the last three months puttering around the house, laughing in the face of danger.
  • Collect commemorative plates depicting the Revolutionary War. My apologies to the Franklin Mint, but the Valley Forge plate was a little depressing, and I wouldn’t want to break up the set.
  • Gain weight. I still have my girlish figure: the one where my mother repeatedly told me, “It’s just baby fat. You’ll grow out of it.” Guess what, Mom. I grew back into it.
  • Get caught picking my nose in public. An acquaintance once asked me, “Do you pick your nose? You don’t seem like the person to pick.” Let me set the record straight, people. Yes, sometimes I even go up there with tweezers – but I usually leave the grooming implements at home.

Obviously, there are many more things I neglected to do this summer, some of which include avoiding work, clean underwear, and clowns. As long as there are hours in a day, even the most hardened of Type A personalities can fritter them away. If you’ll excuse me, I have some serious napping to do.

Goodwill hunting

I have very little objection to shopping in thrift stores, other than the smell, disorganization, and cootie concerns. I’ve held off on buying new clothes until I lose weight, at which point, my present wardrobe will be in rags. I never understood why people would spend good money for distressed jeans. I like my jeans looking crisp and new, but my current pair is on Prozac.

Every time I think we’re getting a handle on our credit card balance, some new and expensive disaster arises … an abscessed tooth, car repairs, and most recently, canine phobias. I went out last week and ordered an area rug. “Area” is code for the size of a circus tent.

You see, my dog has developed a morbid fear of my hardwood floor. He stalls interminably when crossing from the rug to the hardwood. He gets trapped on the sofa, waiting for a spotter to help him stick the landing when dismounting. I can only guess that he must have slipped and hurt himself, since this only started two weeks ago.

I figured that if I got the ugliest rug they had, it wouldn’t set me back too badly. I looked at Astroturf and rugs that would make any sane person vomit on the spot. I finally settled on a simple pattern that would only cost as much as two years of visits to the nail salon. I don’t take great care of my personal appearance, but I prefer fingernails that don’t look like they’ve been chewed on by wolverines.

Clearly, something on my budget would have to give. Since my jeans now have butt ventilation, I’m going to have to start haunting the thrift stores. Women generally flock to size middle-aged spread like a hoard of locusts, leaving size zero and size Marlon Brando for the rest of us.

If you see me at the market and I’m wearing the clown pants that nobody else wanted, you’ll know why.

My adoring public

I was horrified to learn that Terrell Owens would join my hometown team, the Seattle Seahawks. What were they thinking, hiring a man with an ego the size of the Titanic (and just as likely to self-destruct)? I don’t know from personal experience, but I’m reasonably sure that his poop doesn’t smell any better than the next man’s.

Unlike T.O., I’m kind of nervous about getting in the spotlight. I don’t think that I’d have any problem with public speaking if it didn’t involve public. Sunday, I was invited to join a panel of local authors for a program at the library. Other than a case of insomnia, some rampaging diarrhea, and an ice cream binge prior to the event, I was cool, calm, and collected.

I’m proud to say that I didn’t even pick my nose or scratch at my crotch once (consciously). I did panic slightly when the moderator started throwing out multiple-part questions. My fall-back answer to any quiz is “North Dakota,” which clearly wasn’t going to cut it in this instance. My fellow panel members were also on the mature side, so I can only imagine that they were similarly trying to remember if they closed the garage door.

Sometimes I need an ego boost, and this event did not fail me. I hear Mariah Carey requests $90 bottles of water before a show. Even better, they had peanut butter cookies for us. I was definitely feeling like a star. Come to think of it, maybe that’s why Mariah Carey can wear a size zero dress while I struggle to get one thigh into my Spanx.

Yesterday, I went to the beach with a photographer to get some shots for my next book cover. That brought it all home. That’s why I pig out on cookies at the library and squeeze into my Spanx … because I want to share something I created with others, and because I like peanut butter cookies.

I don’t think I’m in any danger of developing an over-inflated ego. Just remember that if I’m town, I like homemade cookies with enough saturated fats to melt in my mouth … and go straight to my Spanx.