Category Archives: humor

DREAM JOB

            I’m on the air, standing alone in front of a small TV audience. I’m with my Bluebird or Brownie troop (depending what I was at the time, possibly even a Cub Scout), visiting the Heck Harper television program in Portland. This was the time when TV was new, black and white, and kids traveled with youth groups to the stations so their parents could see them on television, which for most kids would be their only 9 minutes of fame as they stood paralyzed by the lights and cameras, squirming or shoving fingers up their noses.

            Heck Harper, the local television cowboy (every station had one) with his white Stetson, thrusts a microphone into my face and asks, “And what do you want to be when you grow up? A nurse? A teacher?”  He’s thinking I’ll say “A mommy” or “a housewife.” But I know the answer to this one.

           “I want to be a Project Manager.”

            Heck looks at me blankly and moves on swiftly to the next kid. It’s a reaction I’ll become familiar with.

            From the time I was small, I had one ambition in life: Project Manager. This was confusing to my mother who, because she worked on Portland’s “Film Row” at the branch offices of MGM and later Universal, encouraged her daughters to seek careers in the film industry. I believe Mom envisioned for my beautiful red-haired older sister the life of a movie star, and me, possibly a Grip, Best Boy or Boom Operator.

            But I’d had a vision of “Project Manager,” and I was determined this was The Way.

            When little friends of mine played dress up, with Joan costumed as a princess, Margaret a cowgirl, and Ricky a Ballerina, I carried a clipboard, pen and a sheet of costly wide-lined bond paper on which I drew a work breakdown structure. I couldn’t tell you where this idea came from because, like the “Project Manager” vision, incredibly not one person in my immediate or extended family had shown the persistence, diligence and fortitude to work in the nonexistent field of Project Management.

            My high school counselor, Miss Settee, tried to discourage me about careers. “It’s almost impossible for a woman to be a journalist, a lawyer, or a corporate manager,” she said, looking out her office window at a fresh-faced blonde-haired youth pouring soap powder into the school fountain.

            Enthusiastically, I shook my head in agreement.  

            She finally looked at me. “So what do you want to put down on your college applications as your career choice?”

            “Project Manager,” I said.

            She wrote down “Home Economics Teacher.”

            I was admitted to UCLA, but they didn’t have a “Project Manager” major. I decided I could live temporarily with a popular major—Political Science.  Years later, people who’d majored in any social science quietly changed their majors on paper to impressive ones like Pre-Med, Pre-Law, Pre-Social Welfare, and Pre-Eclampsia.

            By the time I finished UCLA, I wanted to apply to graduate school. Once again none of the schools across the country offered a “Project Manager” major.  Meanwhile, since I had to pick something, I studied to become a social studies high school teacher and later a lawyer, both excellent careers to sharpen up one’s skills in public speaking and reading the “Want Ads.”

            The closest I came to my dream job was when computer dating became a reality and I filled out an application claiming to be a “Project Manager.”  At last I could come out with my career of choice. I sincerely believed the computer dating service when they insisted they would match me to men who would respect my Project Manager career goal. And in fact several potential dates on their applications claimed they were “open to new experiences” and “willing to meet a woman whose career goal was Project Manager” especially since, as one wrote, “I have nothing against bisexuals.”    

            Over the decades I searched repeatedly for a job opening as a Project Manager. When I got married and raised a family—though not with a computer date—I put aside the career dream.  Eventually I concluded that my two sons were probably not going to prison and I could resume looking for my elusive Project Manager job. A computer I acquired promised to make my job search easier and it did.

             However, to my astonishment there were now at least 42,000 Project Manager jobs on CareerBuilder, 1,000 Project Manager jobs on Monster.com, and 36,000 Project Manager jobs on Indeed! One site estimated there would be a need for 500,000 Project Manager Jobs in the near future! Project Manager jobs—MY original job of choice—-were everywhere!!

            Now there were too many people calling themselves Project Managers. I couldn’t get through the door for an interview.  Some Project Managers had to have such absurd backgrounds as contractors, architects, computer nerds, engineers, and MBAs. All to clog up the simple field of Project Management so they could remind everyone they’d aced Algebra 2, Calculus and Trig in high school. Other Project Manager jobs that required specific Project Manager experience were listed as available at nonprofits like poetry societies, nursery schools and cat-sitting services.

            I had no chance.

            Desperately, I went to the local state employment office where a career counselor administered several career assessment tests.

            The results were clear. The best two choices for me for a career?

            Project Manager.  Baptist Minister.

            The rueful career counselor said, “Look, you need to be realistic. Pick a traditional job—like sales—where your only competition is every recent college graduate and everyone in their 20s and 30s. But at least that narrows the field. Or pick a field that was formerly oversaturated and now occupied by only a few people. A field where you don’t need to go back to school, your college major doesn’t matter, you hardly need work experience, and your decades of unemployment won’t count. Best of all, a field where your business card alone will impress hell out of everyone.”

            Suddenly, it was clear. A bright future lay ahead. We both knew if I couldn’t be a Project Manager, there was that one job just tailor-made for me.

           “You’re right,” I said. “I’m going to be a Consultant.”

CABBAGE HEADS

At the holiday season, I’m giving out gift cards to children to use at our local Barnes and Noble. This is the greatest present I can bestow because in this age of tech toys, nothing is more important than introducing a child to over-used public restrooms such as at Barnes and Noble, and how to survive them.

Our local B&N is my favorite hangout, but even during other times of the year the state of the women’s room could be most kindly described as “messy,” “dirty” or perhaps “decayed.” From reading all the paranoia-inducing news articles about bacteria and viruses invisibly crawling all over the restroom, I’ve developed protective methods to maneuver my way around the various deathtraps, like stall door handles, sink tap handles and worst of all, the handle of the door exiting the restroom.  Similarly, it’s not enough for children to learn to wash their hands after using the toilet. They must be shown how to use their feet to flush the toilet, how to grasp paper towels to turn off the taps, and how to pull down their sweater or coat sleeves to open the door handle of the exit door.

Most difficult of all is showing them—-where insensitive store personnel have not provided a waste basket next to the exit door—- how to hold the exit door open with a foot block (to avoid touching the door handle) while twisting the torso sideways to lay up and shoot the wadded roll of used paper towel into the towel waste dispenser that’s generally 50 feet away. This is a difficult maneuver for all ages and is a diagnosis known to physicians as PTSD [“Paper Towel-induced Shoulder Dislocation”].

Despite these precautions, it’s almost unavoidable when using a restroom, for one to step in small remnants of floor urine. I’ve heard repeatedly I shouldn’t worry about that because, as some annoying person will always insist, “Urine is sterile.” If that’s not comforting, consider that cabbages, tomatoes and other food we eat may have been treated with human urine.

How do I know that? A few years ago researchers at the University of Kuopio, whose most famous discovery was that Kuopio is in Finland, grew cabbages treated with conventional fertilizer, no fertilizer, or human urine. Result: The urine-treated cabbages grew bigger than the other groups and carried fewer germs. The university scientists then made sauerkraut from the cabbages, and while noting differences in flavors among the three groups, they liked all three equally.

You have to ask yourself how Finland, rated by one organization as having the finest education system in the world with all teachers earning masters degrees and 66% of students going on to college, is now best known for proving that human pee grows better crops? How would that be expressed by the Nobel Prize people? I’m quite concerned because pee for crops doesn’t seem to fall under the Nobel Prize for Physics or Medicine or Economic Sciences or Chemistry or Peace. That leaves Finland’s researchers at the University of Kuopio—-a name that emphasizes the “pio” and not long ago changed out of embarrassment to “University of Eastern Finland”—to accept the Nobel Prize for Literature for its contribution to Urine Studies.

I want to believe the Finns are intelligent and well-meaning, even if they want our farmers to urinate on our crops. In truth the only Finn I remember personally was Huckleberry. But my opinion of the Finns skyrocketed when I read how they treated the ice skating defenseman of the Dallas Stars, Stephane Robidas, who went to Finland to play with the Finnish League. Robidas said his playing “wasn’t as good as I would have hoped.” So how did the Finns make their American guest feel better?

“….I ate a lot of local food,” Robidas said. “I had reindeer, and it was unbelievable. They serve it with cranberry sauce, and it was so tender.”

This is the most outstanding contribution by the Finns.  Every year, the tireless, cooperative reindeer fly on Christmas thousands of miles around the world from Lapland, Finland where Santa lives. When the Big Trip is finished, they look forward to being recycled as pot roasts. To be served with potatoes, carrots, lutefisk and a casserole made from “scientifically grown” cabbage.

There’s one Finn I’m personally trying to get in touch with, especially at this holiday season of the crowded stores and squalid restrooms—–Nea Makala, the 6’2 star basketball player from Finland who’s burning up the courts at Northern Michigan University. She’s promised to show me how to sink a jump shot…..using a ball of wadded paper towels while blocking a restroom door with one foot.

WHEN SCHOOL IS JUST A GRIND

‘Tis the season to celebrate, and no one is celebrating as much as the students at Harrison County, West Virginia high schools. Just last week, in a moment of rigidity, the Superintendent banned all high school dances because students were “grinding.”

Years ago my dentist accused me of “grinding.”  Then he made me a hard plastic mouth guard to prevent damage from grinding. That’s what those students need. Stopping a dance won’t prevent them from grinding. It’s possible students will still be grinding in classrooms, even in the presence of teachers and especially when they’re taking exams! But at least they’ll have protection from permanent dental injury.

I’ve been told that when students are grinding at a dance, they can be found slapping their pelvises repeatedly up against each other. Or one person’s pelvis collides with the back end of another (the “pelvee”) in suggestive ways. And young men experience a rigidity unrelated to school superintendents. These eyebrow-raising actions are purely the consequence of being a stressed-out, frustrated teenager.  Many grind at night in bed. At least a school dance affords the opportunity for students to grind in public, so they can share the experience and know they’re not alone.

The good news for the Harrison County high school students is that the Superintendant lifted the ban after realizing that grinding won’t stop just because students can’t dance. The Superintendant’s action does raise a critical question: In this day and age when the United States places 17th in the developed world for education, behind Estonia and Poland, what is more important to a student’s future—–math, physics, chemistry, or dancing? Yes, after years of educational neglect, dancing has finally been recognized as the key to a student’s socio-anthro-politico-psycho success.

Unfortunately, for decades “dancing” describes people on the dance floor standing separate from each other and bouncing, jumping, jerking, kicking, turning, twisting, kneeling, bending, but most important pretending they know how to dance. At Obama’s inauguration next month, Barack and Michelle, who will attend at least 10 official inaugural balls in one night, are having difficulty once again finding people to invite who—for the sake of international coverage—- can appear to dance together with arms enfolded around each other.

If you do not receive an invitation to the Obama inauguration, it’s because the 2010 census, which you probably refused to take, asked how many households know how to ballroom dance. It also asked if any members of the household have a problem with grinding.

Fortunately I learned to ballroom dance in the 8th grade. Our grade school, Duniway Elementary in Portland, Oregon, was blessed with a principal—M. Dale Schofield—who reputedly had been a dance instructor before developing a mental impairment and going into teaching. Every 8th grader attended his Friday night ballroom dancing class. We met in the school’s gym. Girls wore dresses, boys wore excessive perspiration.  After Mr. Schofield paired everyone up, we formed a large circle and, with Mr. Schofield in the center, we’d attempt to imitate his actions.

The first dance we learned was the Box Step, which is like writing an invisible square on the ground with your feet. I’d never heard anyone bragging about doing the “Box Step,” but Mr. Schofield said it was the basic step to learn other dances.  All of us newly-created partners practiced it repeatedly, our legs often tripping or blocking each other. Across the room a vinyl record player provided musical accompaniment with this song:

“Ricky Ticky Tay Ticky Tay”
“Ricky Ticky Tay Ticky Tay”
“Ricky Ticky Tay Ticky Tay”

Fortunately, there was another verse:

“Ricky Ticky Tay Ticky Tay”
“Ricky Ticky Tay Ticky Tay”
“Ricky Ticky Tay Ticky Tay”

In the weeks ahead I learned the waltz, foxtrot, tango and the swing. Eventually Mr. Schofield demonstrated the Latin American dances—-the samba, cha-cha, and rumba—for which we affably swung our hips while sultry music crooned on the phonograph:

“Ricky Ticky Tay Ticky Tay”
“Ricky Ticky Tay Ticky Tay”
“Ricky Ticky Tay Ticky Tay”

To ensure a variety of partners, Mr. Schofield introduced us to people-swapping devices like the Snowball. I was always happy to dance with the taller boys since I towered over a lot of my female classmates.  I didn’t like holding my arms down to partially engulf shorter boys especially since their heads barely cleared my relatively new chest.

When I finally could reasonably dance in the arms of my favorite lofty boys, I began to notice a peculiar rock-hard sensation against my thigh. I’d subtly glance down at our legs to see if my partner’s denims were particularly lumpy with rivets. Finding no explanation, I’d try to ignore this stony protrusion.  I’d never noticed that several of the boys’ denims had the same bulging design.

In retrospect, I believe my unfortunate teenage dance partners at the time, coping with acne, sweaty palms and b.o., were grinding. Even those who wore bite plates and headgear were gnashing their teeth and holding me, well, stiffly. If Mr. Schofield was aware of this phenomenon, he didn’t let on. And being the wise man he was, he sure didn’t cancel any dances.

VOTING FOR DUMMIES: the fun and easy way to fill in the little ovals

             I’m getting pretty tired of Bill Clinton calling me.

           Also California Governor Jerry Brown. I get e-mails from Senator Sherrod Brown, Nancy Pelosi, John Kerry, Dick Durbin and I don’t recall who else except for President Obama. He and Michelle are constantly e-mailing me and while I’m flattered they contact ME, I only hear from them and the others when they need money. Where were they when my family needed an invitation to a Thanksgiving dinner, or I needed my overtime parking ticket excused, or when someone turned over my Do-Not-Call phone number to the Telemarketers of the World Association?

            But I hope after this week, the political giants will stop calling, writing and e-mailing me.

            I hold that good thought as I turn my attention to voting, and particularly voting in California, the effect of which is listed as a clinical disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).  I come from Oregon, birthplace of the Initiative and Referendum, where ballots had several straightforward issues such as Measure 1496:  “Do you want lumber companies destroying more forests?” and Measure 7209: “Should Bumble Bee Tuna label continue to show, considering the certain ecological damage,  a small bee with a chef’s hat?”

            At least when you go online for help understanding these types of ballot measures, my native state provides sites such as Oregonballot.com that immediately advises you on Oregon’s issues:

California Prop. 32
Real, Tough Campaign Reform That Cleans Up Sacramento
www.ReadItForYourself.org

            But we can’t go back to the past when times were simpler, and like many California voters, I must try to understand this election’s 11 important issues, called “propositions,” that are helpfully numbered Proposition 30 through Proposition 40. Apparently, the first 29 Propositions do not appear because of ballot space limitations.

            California tries to help voters understand the propositions by mailing out sample ballots and a simple brochure (“Official Voter Information Guide”) of 143 pages. The Guide includes an analysis of each of the propositions including its background and fiscal effects. This is followed by arguments in favor of the proposition, arguments against the proposition, then the rebuttal to argument in favor of the proposition, then the rebuttal to argument against the proposition, followed by counter-arguments to the rebuttal in favor of the proposition, counter-arguments to the rebuttal against the proposition, then the refutation to the counter-arguments to the rebuttal against the proposition and the refutation to the counter-arguments to the rebuttal in favor of the propositions. It’s that simple.

            For further clarity, each of these arguments may contain attention-grabbing capital letters  (“ELIMINATE THE LOOPHOLES,” “CREATES JOBS,” “SAY NO TO HIGHER TAXES,WASTEFUL SPENDING,” “YOU LIE!,” “SALE ENDS NOV. 30.”)

            As a tool to help California voters understand exactly what they’re voting for, however, the Guide falls short. Fortunately, after living in California 23 years, I’ve learned a fool-proof method so I can avoid reading and re-reading the propositions and stressing out:

            First, I rely on the Easy Voter Guide provided by the League of Women Voters, since the League studies many of the issues, but much more important, the Easy Voter Guide is 12 pages and in color. They also use the formal Roger Ebert/ Gene Siskel Thumbs Up and Thumbs Down Voting Icon. Then, when I’m in the voting booth, I apply the Anti-Obfuscation Rule: (You have five minutes here to look up “Obfuscation.”)

………………………………………………………………………………

……………………………………………………………………………….

            Now that you realize the problem, here’s the key to voting on the propositions:

         A YES vote means you don’t like the current law.

         A NO vote means you want to change the current law.

        That’s it—–Ninety percent (90%) of the time, the phrasing of the proposition will be the exact opposite of what you think it means.

            Also, you must vote even for those unknown candidates running for jobs you didn’t know existed, such as “Community College Trustee Area No. 11,” “Republican Central Committee Member,”  or “La Trene Sanitation District.”  If you leave these positions blank, your failure may cause Barack Obama or Mitt Romney to lose by one vote. This will require the Presidential election to be handed over to the current United States Supreme Court which will be the deciding body that declares the winner to be Al Gore.

 

LIVING A LIE: DARK SECRETS FROM MY YEARS IN THE SCOUTS (AND OTHER YOUTH GROUPS)

            The startling release of Boy Scout sexual abuse files by an attorney from my home town, of Portland, Oregon prompted me to review my own history as a youngster with youth organizations.  I recall certain experiences that caused profound psychological effects, possibly leading to what in the 80’s was popularly called “An Identity Crisis.”

            It’s difficult to imagine a kid wrestling with an identity crisis at such a young age, but I exhibited this possibility when, as a very young child, I planned to succeed cowgirl Dale Evans as Roy Rogers’ partner or be the next Lois Lane at the Daily Planet.  (In fact, for most of my life, I’ve lived a Walter Mitty existence. I’ve also imagined myself as Walter Mitty.)

            But the more significant psychological torment began when my parents told me I was to attend kindergarten at Portland’s new Meriwether Lewis Elementary School. Although this sounded promising, the Portland School Board at the time apparently lacked confidence in Lewis or perhaps its new students, since classes only went up through the 4th grade.

            The following year after kindergarten, which I aced, the school boundary changed. I was placed in first grade at Duniway Elementary School, ten blocks in the other direction from my house.  I attended first and second grade at Duniway, an assuring stability, since I was assigned to the same kindly teacher for both grades, a Mrs. Vera Smith. She only punished me once by writing my name on the Utter Humiliation Board when she learned I’d been asking kids returning from receiving polio shots if the injections hurt. This offense was discovered after another student—Judy Cary— ratted me out. (I am hoping this disclosure and your sending this column to at least 100 people, will finally “out” Judy Cary as an informant.)

            When I was eligible for third grade, the school boundary changed again and I was enrolled once more in Lewis School. I attended for two years since Lewis tentatively began adding one new grade level a year.

            For fifth grade (you know what’s coming), the school boundary changed and I was back at Duniway School. I was there for four consecutive years, possibly because of the rumored assassination of the School Boundaries Clerk.

            This see-sawing of school attendance at different locations might have caused identity crises for many children, but I always knew I was either a Lewis student or a Duniway student, depending on who was asking. I also recognized the advantage of knowing more people I’d later see or avoid at the magnet high school. (For the record, I attended one year at that high school and then, maintaining my consistent pattern, attended another high school across the Willamette River in downtown Portland.)

            No, the identity crisis arrived because every time I changed schools (not counting high school), I needed to join a different youth organization.  In second grade at Duniway, my parents signed me up for Bluebirds, the youngest age group for what was then the Camp Fire Girls. Bluebirds wore cute uniforms—navy vests and skirts, baseball hats, blouses with Peter Pan collars.  As supervised by a stay-at-home mother, which 95% of mothers were at the time, our group mostly did small crafts like little leather coin purses “stitched” with shoelaces.

            Years later I began to notice most of the small crafts I’d made mysteriously disappeared, although my parents assured me my artwork was packed away for safekeeping. These were the same parents who assured me my duckling Peeper had been sent to a farm family for safekeeping. (For further information on Peeper’s fate, see the online San Francisco Chronicle, “Pet Birds, They’re Not What’s For Dinner.”   http://www.sfgate.com/homeandgarden/article/Pet-birds-they-re-not-what-s-for-dinner-2514578.php.)

            Back at Lewis School in third grade, I was compelled to enroll in the Brownies, then the youngest group of Girl Scouts. The Brownie Scout Handbook—–all youth organizations had handbooks—–showed little girls cavorting outdoors and inside, wearing light brown uniforms with beanies. Mostly we did small crafts under the guidance of a stay-at-home mother. (Please re-read last paragraph.)

            The following year at Lewis, I was formally invested (as the term was used) and became a Girl Scout, with a new green uniform and sash. I met the requirements of the Tenderfoot Rank and later the Second Class Rank, which sounded demeaning but allowed me to begin earning proficiency badges. I learned one particular life-long skill—-emptying a tuna fish can, filling it with paraffin, lighting a string attached to the paraffin, putting the tuna can inside an empty upside down 46-oz Hawaiian Punch juice can and cooking a small pancake on top. This is one of the skills I’d always list on college applications and computer dating forms.

            When I was back at Duniway, the predominant youth group was Camp Fire Girls. I didn’t dare reveal I’d been in the competing organization. For Girl Scouts I’d had to memorize the Girl Scout Promise, the Girl Scout Laws, the Girl Scout Motto, history of Girl Scouting, and the salute and handshake.  Now I had to mentally dismiss all that and immediately memorize the Camp Fire Girl lore and requirements, including  a progression of earned certificates—–Trail Seekers, Wood Gatherers, Fire Makers, and Torch Bearer.

            The language of the certificates reflected the organization’s interest in camping, but the stanzas contained formal, stilted verse. The Wood Gatherers’ pledge began “As faggots are brought to the fire firmly held by the sinews which bind them…” My sophisticated Las Vegas cousin had once used the word “faggots,” which he’d defined but perplexed me, so that I had a bizarre visual image whenever I said the Wood Gatherers’ pledge.  

            One of the goals of the Camp Fire Girls was to earn colored beads, each representing a different skill, such as a red bead for health, blue bead for nature, yellow for business, etc. The Camp Fire Girl Handbook was filled with pages and pages of activities you could do and the beads you’d earn. I’d confidently go through the handbook and, to the irritation of the other untalented girls, I’d check off most of activities in each section, confident I’d done them.

             The Camp Fire Group leader/mother was aghast at the number of my check marks, questioning my credibility. But I wasn’t deterred because I had visions of all the colorful beads strung and draping down my Indian ceremonial gown which my working mother would have to sew for me.

             The Camp Fire Girls helped establish early, in fact, my mother’s duty to perform sewing machine assignments not only for Camp Fire Girls, but also for my 7th grade Home Economics (Home Ec) class when there were only three sewing machines per class that were bitterly contested by my classmates. Oddly, my mother never thanked me for giving her the opportunity to buy a treadle (foot-pumped) sewing machine so she could, for my Home Ec assignments, learn to sew a zipper in a skirt, stitch a blouse, and ultimately get to complete the skirt, all skills she should have acquired years before.

            The only time I recall having a male youth group leader was when the father of a classmate, the former Duniway principal Dr. Patton, took us up one weekend to the regional Camp Fire Girls resident camp, Camp Namanu.  My sister had stayed there one summer and reported she’d had a good time.  The rustic forested camp contained a meadow and ponds, and bordered the treacherous Sandy River. With the usual Portland overcast gloom, our Camp Fire Girls’ group planned several indoor activities for where we’d stay, a two story wooden lodge known as Kiwanis that had been built in the mid-1930’s. Our bunk beds were located on the second floor with its fenced balcony that overlooked the main floor. 

            Looking back at that weekend at the sleepaway camp when a man conducted our program, I can safely say I was never the same because of what he did. On Saturday night, the night before we left, Dr. Patton told us to go to bed and after we complied, giggling and goofing off even as we lay on our beds, he began to talk. He spoke slowly from below us, downstairs, describing in an unusually somber voice about the legend of an animal, a beast that used to roam the forest near Camp Namanu. 

            I couldn’t see anything out beyond our balcony except for the few lights that were still on in the lodge’s kitchen.  

            There were a few nervous titters from the girls. Then “Shhhhhhhh!!” “Be quiet, you guys!” and “Shut up!” “Shhhh it!” More giggles.

            A Varmint, Dr. Patton continued, was the creature who roamed the woods, drawn to campfires and voices. The smell of food, but especially human flesh. The Varmint, once seen, was described as “sort of like a wolf on all fours, but also like a werewolf, and he could scurry around quickly, sometimes noiselessly unless he was trapped, and then he’d smash and crash till he could leap and tear his way back into the woods.”

            I sensed an uneasy silence that descended on the girls, but secretly I scoffed. I knew and could tell a lot of ghost stories. Like the Walking Bloody Hand. I’d whisper to friends how the Walking Bloody Hand could find its way to a house, the house where YOU LIVE. And then it comes up the stairs, slowly, slowly, slowly toward your room. Now it’s getting closer. And closer… And closer.

            “And the Varmint has been seen not long ago,” Dr. Patton said, “possibly drinking at the river and scurrying through the brush. A cook here thought she saw it when she looked out the window one late afternoon.”

            I tried to pull the sleeping bag over my head, but it won’t go any further. I burrowed down, remembering the Walking Bloody Hand. And now it’s outside your door. And now the knob turns slowly, slowly. And now it’s inside your room….and walking to your bed…..blood is dripping…..

            I don’t remember my sister telling me about the Varmint. Why did she leave this part out? Dr. Patton’s just making this up, I know. I’ve never heard of a Varmint animal.

            “What was that noise?” Dr. Patton sounded startled. Uneasily I looked up from my bed and tried to see downstairs, but there was only the yellow glow of the kitchen light. Nearby, girls lay frozen or crammed deep in their sleeping bags. One had a pillow over her head.

            CRASH! BANG! BOOM! CRASH! CRASH!  Something was smashing its way below us, through what–? Pots and pans?– scrambling to get out of the building.

            Screams nearby.  My heart pounded. My stomach jumped into my colon.

            But Dr. Patton was still alive. I heard him laugh with gusto.

            Then I heard him reassemble and put away in cupboards the collection of pots and pans we hadn’t seen. He wished us a good night.

            When he turned out the kitchen light, I was deep in my sleeping bag, listening. That’s how I spent the night, listening.

            Decades later, re-reading about the Boy Scouts cover-ups of abuses, I’d have to say that the one male leader of my youth organization never laid a hand on me. But he still had a deleterious effect on my psyche.

            Proof? For one thing, from that night on, I always refused to wash any pots and pans.

 

SNOW JOB

            Fall is the time of year when a good friend, Virginia, occasionally asks me to accompany her to Lake Tahoe. In the past I’ve cheerfully thrown four suitcases together for the weekend trip and stayed at her luxurious home at a nearby resort called Northstar California.

            Virginia’s a talented lawyer, mother, wife, and Kiwanis-member who skis, swims, hikes, golfs, does mountain biking, zip lines and ropes courses, and when back home, sings in the congregation choir, plays the piano and cooks gourmet dinners. Her New Year’s goal is to climb partly up Mt. Everest and then serve an Asian-fusion lunch. In my opinion she could do a lot more, but she claims she has one bad knee.

            I used to be an athlete, as shown by with my 50-yard dash championship in elementary school, my summer camp plaque as one of the best all-around athletes, and the nickname “21-Point Trudi” for serving throughout an entire game of volleyball.  Nevertheless, because I am Virginia’s guest, I have to feign an impressive hobble and lack of stamina from a collection of ailments I conjured up from Merck’s Manual: hip osteoarthritis, a trick knee, ringworm, geographic tongue, IBS, peanut allergy, dropsy, vapours, and flaring adult acne. I could easily best Virginia in all her resort-related skills, but out of my desire not to humiliate her, I’ve downplayed my athleticism.

            I had this figured out the first time I went with her to Northstar where she walked me around the grounds of the resort, including the small thriving village reminiscent of Aspen, Colorado. (I’ve never been to Aspen, but Northstar looks like a movie studio’s reproduction of Aspen. This is all I have to say about reproduction.).

            Virginia stopped once on our walk to look up longingly at the ropes course, then realizing what she thought were my physical limitations, moved on to an activity she was certain I can do: Lifting weighty spoonfuls of a hot fudge sundae.

            One year she insisted encouragingly that we try the outdoor exercise course, following a path to exercises 1 through 20, short destinations that required sitting on sliver-ridden tree trunks, then stretching, standing, twisting, rolling into a ball and bouncing ourselves down the path. Virginia could dart from exercise to exercise. She’d pause to look back at me sympathetically while I feigned whole-body malfunction, including my tongue, which I stuck out sideways. I am certain I looked like a poster-child for any malady.  

            Finally Virginia figured the best she could do was take me swimming. I didn’t have to fake any illnesses or injuries for this. I watched her swim vigorously in the shallow lap lane next to me, and when she wasn’t looking, I took intermittent running leaps in the water to keep up with her. When she finally finished her laps, I paddled close-by, feigning exhaustion. She said she was impressed by how hard I’d swam, despite my physical limitations.  

            I had a sudden prickling of conscience. I wondered if prickling was a symptom of a real peanut allergy.

            Fortunately, Virginia never invites me to Northstar during winter since I’ve convinced her of my disabilities and she figures I couldn’t possibly ski. She’s right, but not for the reasons she thinks: Snow skiing was one of the only sports I couldn’t master.

            Growing up in Portland, I used to see kids at high school suddenly show up with crutches, casts, and canes, proudly reporting they’d earned their injuries by skiing at Mt. Hood.

            I was savvy enough to avoid the same outcome by sticking to summer sports. However, when I moved for a time to Denver, I feared I wouldn’t fit in, so I cravenly bought ski boots (which gave me a preview of walking with arthritic knees), skis (like walking with arthritic knees, legs and feet in slow motion), warm winter underwear and a downy pink ski suit that, when I wore it, resembled astronaut Neil Armstrong taking his first small step for mankind and falling down.

            While in Denver, I tried three times to ski after exhausting several instructors, including a bunny ski instructor. At Estes Park aka Hidden Springs Ski resort, I went for my first run not realizing the ground was icy. Estes Park didn’t have chair lifts, just t-bars or rope tow that I timidly approached, desperately clung to, frequently fell off and frantically hurled myself back onto as it (theoretically) pulled me along and up the slope. By the time I reached the top, I’d virtually walked sideways up the slope for almost the entire length of the rope tow.

            For the remainder of this ski trip, I skillfully though unintentionally practiced the first ski lesson, learning to fall.  I resembled a cartoon character whose feet flail and skid repeatedly, then crashes to the ground, legs splayed. I finally relaxed by telling myself that lying on the snow for protracted lengths of time is still considered skiing. 

            Hidden Springs would close not long after I was there, the staff and tow-rope unable to withstand any more like me. My second ski trip was to Winter Park which at least had some prestige. When I was dropped off the ski lift (another new experience), I practiced snowplough stops and occasionally stayed upright. Finally I was schussing cautiously down the beginner’s ski run until I noticed that the run– covered in wet snow– was a series of vertiginous concentric rings. All around me newbies began dropping and disappearing as I skied by.  It was soon apparent to us that if we did not ski in continual circles, we would ski right off the narrow run, down off a significant cliff and, if we survived, into a forest bear’s lair where she’d be tending her cubs and unwilling to call the Ski Patrol.

            Clearly I survived that run since I’m unashamedly writing about the experience. I had one additional ski trip where I skied in a blizzard or white-out conditions that descended as soon as I hit the slope (literally).  I even considered tubing, but that ended when, as I began to climb up the  sledding hill, I watched a series of tubers (mostly children as well as potatoes) careen into me, the human bowling pin.

            All these life experiences suggest that despite my athletic prowess, I was never intended for the cold and icy. Except, perhaps, in a mocha frappaccino.   

A MOVING EXPERIENCE – TEN AXIOMS OF MOVING TO A NEW RESIDENCE

1. Whatever is the most important to you will be missing at the new destination.

2. If a previously-owned home, condo or apartment, on your arrival the following will occur: the sink disposal will not turn on or be defective and/or sound like someone getting mutilated therein; the garage light will blow out; the upper deck wooden rails will be loose and dangerous unless you want to practice arm curls; the back wooden gate will be impossible to open because of warping and/or a broken lock; none of the bedrooms will have a ceiling light so plan to work on/in them only until sundown unless you get ASAP lamps or torchiers; the refrigerator will be smaller than the last place (and diminishes each time you move); the stairs/stairwell, if you have them, will be narrow; pantries/linen/clothes closets may be nonexistent or smaller than the previous place (see “refrigerator” above); storage space, although appearing to be greater because of any high-ceilings will actually be proportionately smaller, requiring bottles and containers to be squished against each other and will always fall domino-style when you need to reach into (eg) a cupboard.

3. The daily newspaper will not appear despite a change of address.

4. All microwaves operate differently at each residence.

5. Half of all former residents seem to prefer the garage to be the laundry room.

6. Shower stalls will uniformly be from the original construction of the house or give a good imitation of that, including sufficient mildew/mold or rust [eg, door hinges] for your child’s Science Fair project on “Household Toxic Growth.”

7. In California kitchens must be smaller with each successive move. (See “refrigerator” and “pantry/linen closet” above.)

8. Toilets provided in the residence must be in size suitable for, and no taller than, a pre-school child. When an adult is seated, his/her knees will be well above the chest. The toilet seat itself will be designed for children under five and made of flexible plastic that bows on pressure to ensure near contact with water in the bowl.

9. There are no real “Garages.” There are only (esp. in California) large, separate, unheated rooms with concrete floors, spiderwebs, wooden boards and hot water heaters that are apparently for excess storage but mostly offer a couple of shelves and a vast central emptiness that will be filled with boxes of undetermined contents, empty boxes, boxes of old business papers or tax records, and miscellaneous tools, nails, screws, nuts, bolts, lightbulbs, arachnids and mud-covered garden implements. (See also # 5.)

10. Utilities: Your telephone, electric power (or gas), water or internet connection can’t be turned on because (a) a work order is required; (b) it’s a holiday/weekend/after 5:00 p.m. If you do have water, it’ll taste much worse with each successive house; if you have cable TV, your screen will show a blue screen with the writing– “One moment please.” “One moment please” will last for two weeks.

10(a). The axioms will be missing and no longer stocked at Home Depot.