Chicken-playing toads: a suburb under siege.

It was only a matter of time before hubris caught up with the sassy red fox who roamed the dimly lit cul-de-sacs of my sleepy little neighborhood. About this time last year, said hubris took the form of what you might call a ‘horseless carriage,’ out on the main road leading into town. Maybe you wouldn’t call it a ‘horseless carriage’, but if you lived here you might. It’s just that kind of quaint.

It may have been the fierce desire to maintain the quaint, sleepy sanctity of the  ‘hood that had the cul-de-sac’ers up in arms and running for their torches when the sassy red fox started strutting around in the middle of the day.

“Rabies!” some cried.

“Menace!” hollered others.

“Who keeps stealing my Wall Street Journal?” wondered those who hadn’t actually seen or heard about the fox and whose passions lean  more toward global concerns, such as lack of reading material to accompany their morning Joe.

Finding their thirst for fox blood unquenched despite repeated calls to Animal Control, those defending the home front went straight up the chain of command, tracking down everyone and anyone in county government who had a phone number and a pulse. In some cases, the pulse was optional.

Then one day last fall, there was Sassy, splayed out on the pavement, like some floor covering  called  “Dödräv” over at the Ikea. I like to imagine that if Sassy had to meet with such a cruel fate — the splaying, not the faux Swedish name — it was at least a county car that did the deed, delivering local citizens their tax-funded poetic justice.

I don’t know that this was the case, but I don’t know that it wasn’t the case. What if it was a Volvo? Wouldn’t that, too, be poetic? These are the kinds of things I think about instead of texting-while-driving.

Maybe there was more than one red fox lurking about. I have difficulty telling one fox from another. So for all I know,  there was Sassy and a bunch of Sassy look-alikes. I doubt it, however, because since Sassy’s demise,  the place has been hopping with an exploding toad population.

Rather, a toad population that is exploding. Exploding toads are another thing altogether. I’m pretty sure they’d have to bring in the federales to deal with that.

Call it a leap of logic, but I suspect a correlation between the decrease in fox sightings (to zero) and an increase in toad sightings (to 2.167 bajillion, give or take). I am given to this sort of dot-connecting and keen, insightful analysis.  You might say I’m practiced in the art of deduction.

Whether the toads were there all along and were just keeping a low profile during Sassy’s reign or toads are the snack of choice for foxes and Sassy was single-handedly keeping the toad population in check, I cannot say. I’m just saying it doesn’t take Aristotle to formulate a theory based on the following: “Fox = No Toads” and “No Fox = Toads. Lots and lots of toads.”

Exit fox. Enter toads. I think.

I’m telling you these are toads when I do not in fact know this for certain, for two reasons:

  1. There is a tragic deficit in my formal schooling when it comes to knowing the difference between frogs and toads. I must have been absent from school when they covered this, maybe for my tonsillectomy or maybe when I was faking a stomach-ache to get in a little binge-watching of Gilligan’s Island re-runs. (Before there was Netflix, there was UHF.) I have lived a more-or-less normal life despite this deficit, and I think I have a general idea, owing to my keen powers of deduction. Nonetheless, in a face-to-face encounter with small, hopping creatures of an amphibian nature, I experience an anxious intellectual discomfort much like that some of you might feel in anticipation of having to distinguish a gerund from a participle .

    Well, sure. The striped bell-bottoms are a dead giveaway, but it's much harder to tell the difference when they're not wearing clothes.

    Well, sure. The striped bell-bottoms just scream “Frog.” It’s much harder to tell the difference when they’re not wearing clothes.

  2. I suffer from a tragic combination of astigmatism and vanity. I endured the taunts of a boy named Tony (his real name, because it is seared into my soul and he deserves no anonymity) for all of fourth grade when I was first sentenced to life without clear vision or — at the time — contact lenses. Now I wear my glasses only for important things such as driving, reading, or watching golf.

Before you helpfully offer this, let me say that I know they make contact lenses for astigmatism now. I’ve tried them twice. I much prefer going through life seeing everything through a soft Diane Sawyer-filter to having things floating around in my eyeballs.  

Now throw a little gullibility in the mix: a frog could walk right up to me and say, “Hey, I’m a toad,” and, unable to tell warts from wartless,  I’d believe him/her.

In passing,  others have mentioned the burgeoning knot of toads in the neighborhood. I see no reason to doubt them. I mean, who would say something like “burgeoning knot of toads” if they weren’t knowledgeable and serious?

So, for all intents and purposes,  they’re toads.

And they like to hang out just as darkness is setting in, lying in wait for some astigmatic dimwit passing by so they can hop across the sidewalk in a twisted toad mashup of Chicken and  Frogger.

One of these people grew up to run off with a notorious biker group. The other knows a gerund from a participle and, in retrospect, is probably lucky not to have been beaten to a pulp every single day of fourth grade. This is what happens when you're raised in a home with crazy flower wallpaper and striped upholstery.

One of these people  knows a gerund from a participle and, in retrospect, is probably lucky not to have been beaten to a pulp every single day of fourth grade. This is what happens when you’re raised in a home with crazy flower wallpaper and striped upholstery.

The toad under the street lamp.

As the days grow shorter and my work days get longer, getting in my 10,000 daily steps means venturing out after dark. The street lamps in the neighborhood are bright but spaced far apart.

You might think it would be wise to use a flashlight, but given the vigilante nature of the neighbors (see Sassy’s story), it’s probably safer to push on through the patches of near-darkness, which is what I was doing a few weeks back at a pretty fast pace when a toad made what I assume was a poorly timed  leap across the sidewalk just as my foot was passing.

It landed on top of my shoe and then, with the force of my foot’s momentum, went sailing through the air, landing — on its feet — about 10 feet ahead, just inside the ambient light circle of the street lamp on the corner.

You read that right.

I drop-kicked a toad.

We both froze for what seemed like  . . . seconds. I know at least one of us was thinking, “Did that really just happen?” I don’t think I could have done that if I were trying. Not that  I would. Nor would I advocate trying it. I imagine the toad was thinking the same.

Then the toad hopped away and I continued walking, trying to stay on a more well-lit path.

Now every few days as  I pass by the brightly lit street corner near where the toad landed, there is a toad standing under the street lamp.  Is it the same toad? I don’t know. I have more trouble telling one toad from another than I do telling frogs from toads.

Is he keeping an eye out for me? Trying to send me a message? Warning me to stay away by cracking his knuckles and shrugging his shoulders? Do toads have knuckles? Do they have shoulders? Do frogs?

Does he have county officials on speed-dial?

I’m beginning to know how Sassy felt being labeled the neighborhood menace.

I’m not really a pumpkin juggler.

In the final analysis, the pumpkin probably had it coming. As for me, I fully accept responsibility for my role in the whole thing. Mistakes were made. I can’t say I didn’t have fair warning.

What I have heretofore and/or hitherto considered the agendized propaganda of the anti-pumpkin lobby turns out to have been uncanny insight into the malicious, nay diabolical intentions of autumn’s iconic decorative vegetable. Or edible front porch adornment. Adjust — and maybe sprinkle liberally with nutmeg — to suit your own personal belief system.

Did I listen to these people, these sage seers, these pumpkin-haters? Of course, I did! Their message, however dire, was entertaining.

Did I join their cause, vowing to squash the brewing Pumpkin Revolution? No. I did not. And that, my friends, is where my story begins.

Existential exposition and awkwardly inserted foreshadowing.

It may be worth noting that my confrontation with a heavy-duty Thermos ™ travel mug earlier in the week ended in a draw. The mug came away with a busted lid, and I came away with two broken fingernails . . . and no coffee mug.

Looking back, I think I came out slightly ahead in that one. I got to the coffee and that’s all that really matters.

Ok, maybe that wasn’t worth noting, but now that it’s out there, there’s not much either of us can do to un-note it.

I guess what I’m trying to say is life is a struggle, a struggle that often involves restricted access to caffeine and the resulting collateral damage to the feminine aesthetic. Nietzsche wrote that.*

Occasionally that struggle involves being assaulted by pumpkin, and that, my friends, is also where my story begins.

Sweet potato baby food: a gateway to pumpkin? You decide.

In the course of a lovely lunch with some groovy people, the conversation found its way, naturally, to pumpkin. You know how it goes: someone mentions sweet potato baby food and then someone else’s mind quantum-leapfrogs from orange mushy baby food to pumpkin and then takes another quantum leap to pumpkin spice latte. Here’s how it went down in real time –

Groovy person: [World's most adorable baby] likes sweet potato baby food. . .

Quasi-hippie, with sudden alarm: I haven’t had a pumpkin spice latte yet this year! 

Real time-lapse: About five seconds. And I wonder why my conversations often end with the other person staring at me incredulously.

I feel bad about that. I really do. I mean the quantum leap to pumpkin spice latte thing. Not the incredulous stares. Those I’m used to. And they’re perfectly justified.

A funny thing happened on the way to Starbucks.

All this talk about orange mushy food inspired me, naturally, to stop on my way home at a local pumpkin patch run by a volunteer organization raising money for a worthy cause. Even as I write that, it occurs to me that you don’t see many people selling sweet potatoes for a worthy cause. I wonder why that is.

(You’re staring at me incredulously, aren’t you?)

Fortunately for me, it’s still a little early in the season, so I roamed freely and at a leisurely pace — no need to knock crybaby toddlers out of my way** — in search of MY perfect decorative vegetable/edible porch adornment.

A nice man offered to carry any pumpkin that was too heavy to my car, and the conversation turned, naturally, to the long stems the pumpkin harvesters had left on these particular pumpkins, how they looked like handles.

Pumpkin in its natural state and in its caffeine-infused state.

Pumpkin in its natural state — except for the broken stem — and in its caffeine-infused state.

Despite having somehow avoided ever taking a physics class, I knew somewhat instinctively, if not by virtue of my own unpleasant dealings with gravity, that lifting a heavy pumpkin by its stem was probably not the best idea.

He wandered off. I found the perfect pumpkin and, by virtue of my fiercely independent nature, I decided to lift the 25-pounder on my own. Here’s how that went down in real time –

Me, inside my head: Bend at the knees, lift with your legs. . .steady. . . stand. . whatever you do, don’t drop . . .

What is it about negative thoughts that makes them so much more easily manifested than positive ones?

You can sign up for a marathon and think to yourself, “I am going to win this marathon!”  Chances are, by merely thinking it, you have not increased the odds of winning that marathon.

On the other hand, as soon as you think things such as “Don’t trip over that cord,” “Don’t mess this up,” or “Whatever you do, don’t drop this 25-pound pumpkin and then try to stop its momentum as it tumbles, thereby rolling it over so that it lands on its perfect faux-handle stem and, on its way down, breaks three of the eight fingernails that survived the coffee mug fiasco,” — you’ve significantly increased the likelihood of that very thing happening.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, if you’re training for a marathon, consider thinking repeatedly, “Whatever you do, don’t win this marathon!”

If you try this, please report back to me.***

In the best interest of everyone involved, the nice man carried my pumpkin to the car. We had a good laugh at how the stems probably weren’t meant as handles and how maybe using the seat belt would be in the pumpkin’s best interest. Looking back, I suspect the pumpkin was laughing, too.

I suppose it could be argued that pumpkins don’t laugh. I don’t know how we can know this for sure. So why bring it up?

Maybe because Laughing Pumpkins would be a good parody band name.

Pumpkin vengeance

It was just a short while later, as I waited in line at the nearest Starbucks for a grande cup of spicy-sweet, hot, fresh caffeine, that I noticed the true extent of injuries sustained in the Great Pumpkin Tumble, which I now suspect may have been real-time revenge on the part of the decorative vegetable/edible front porch adornment: an open wound.

That’s right: the wounded pumpkin had fought back and only one of us was bleeding.

In the final final analysis, I’m calling this one a draw, too. With the aid of a little antibiotic ointment, some rubber cement, and a few toothpicks, we’re both on our way to recovery.

Then again, maybe I come out a little ahead in this. I got my pumpkin spice latte. That’s all that really matters.

And in a few weeks, only one of us is going to become a jack-o’-lantern and/or pie.

 

Rubber cement and toothpicks figure prominently in a disproportionate number of my personal memoirs.

Rubber cement and toothpicks figure prominently in a disproportionate**** number of my personal memoirs.

 

*Or  not. I make things up. But if he’d had to shell out $40 a pop for a manicure, he would have written it. 

**I probably wouldn’t do that.

*** Don’t try this. I’m not really a sports psychologist. 

**** “Disproportionate” unless you’re McGyver. Rubber cement and toothpicks  figure prominently in his stories, too.

I’m not really a tourist.

This really happened.

I know I say that a lot, and I’m not sure why I would think that you wouldn’t believe me. In this particular case, I’m not sure I believe it myself.

But, as far as I know, this really happened.

On Friday I walked over to the White House to get in one last glimpse before they board the place up following GateGate.* The whole area was abuzz with tourists, protesters, security personnel, construction crews, and others like me, out for a lunchtime stroll.

Pay no attention to the crane behind the curtain.

Pay no attention to the crane behind the curtain.

On my return walk, I approached the corner of 13th and Pennsylvania still processing the image of a woman I’d just passed who was sporting jeggings and a skimpy top with exposed undergarments, along with a traditional religious headscarf, which she stopped to remove after leaving the White House grounds.

It’s no secret that my mind wanders into “There’s A Story There” territory more often than it should, yet I struggled to come up with hers.

And so it was that I was lost in that state of perplexion when I realized that there was a man standing next to me waiting to cross the street. Contrary to instinct, I looked in his direction, probably hoping he’d bear witness to what I’d just seen.

But, no. It was even better.

At first glimpse I thought, “I know him.”

My mind searched its memory banks for a name to put with the face. Then I realized I didn’t know him. I knew the face: it was President Obama’s face.

I don’t mean he was a tall, thin black man with distinguished greying hair.

I mean that I was looking into the face of  The.Spitting.Image. of the Commander-in-Chief. (Let me be clear: he wasn’t really spitting. That’s a figure of speech. I use those sometimes. They get me into a world of trouble.)

I know what you’re thinking because it’s exactly what I was thinking. Why on earth would President Obama be standing on a street corner?

Gone was my confusion over the jeggings-wearing headscarf woman, whose story no longer held any interest to me. Not after finding myself face-to-face with a mom-jeans wearing doppelganger of the President of the United States. (Let me be further clear to avoid casting fashion aspersions toward an innocent impostor: I don’t know for sure that they were mom jeans. I’m still processing the whole event.)

He looked back at me as if to say, “Yeah. I know, right? I get that a lot.”

Then, and I swear this happened, he jaywalked north across Pennsylvania Avenue, then west toward the White House, leaving me staring dumbfounded at a disappearing swagger in brown sports jacket and jeans. There’s a story there. I still don’t know what it is.

It was without a doubt the craziest lunchtime walk ever. I can’t wait to go back on Monday.

* I wish I had thought of “GateGate” myself, but it’s plagiarized from someone whose name I don’t know, who cleverly pointed out that eventually it would come to a scandal named GateGate. 

Better times.

Better times.

Thou shalt not take the tweets of God in vain.

In retrospect, intervening in a Twitter fight between God and Ricky Gervais was probably not one of my better ideas.

In my defense,  it was bound to happen. Either it was predetermined that I would log onto Twitter on that fateful Sunday morning, or free will was at work. Whenever free will is involved, nine times out of ten, “not one of my better ideas” is the result.

And so it came to pass that I was destined — whether by virtue of fate or poor decision-making — to peek in on Twitter while cleaning the bathroom and converting my office to living space for an out-of-town guest.

I often forget about Twitter for weeks or months at a time, but knowing that I’d be without access to my desktop for a few days led to a last-minute social media binge. Whereas it had been ages since he’d crossed my mind, suddenly I had an urgent need to know what Honest Toddler was up to.

While the computer fired up, I did a precursory scrub of the shower, planning to do a quick peek in at my social media world, and then hop in the shower for the final scrub and rinse.

In retrospect, hopping in the shower was probably not one of my better ideas.

And so it came to pass that I was destined — by virtue of fate or a light-hearted tweet gone awry — to find myself lying on the bathroom floor, gazing toward Heaven, which looks surprisingly like those popcorn ceilings that were popular in the mid-to-late twentieth century, thinking, “So this is how it ends.”

Heaven (dramatization).

Heaven (dramatization).

And also, “Owwwwwwwwww.”

I know. Pretty lame last words, especially for someone whose pasty white corpse was going to be discovered in a most unflattering position. So I attempted to class it up a bit.

“Rosebud,” I offered up to the beckoning light, which, I might add, looks surprisingly like one of those solar tubes installed in window-less rooms to offer natural light.

“No, not Rosebud. Inigo,” shot back the comically concerned canine visage hovering over me. “Uh, how long you think you’re gonna be down there? Because, you know, lunchtime? Tick tock. Tick tock.”

It occurs to me that my dog is getting used to my vertically challenged nature.

A lot goes through a person’s mind after a backwards fall out of the shower onto the terra-cotta flooring that took days to pick out. Things such as, “Can I move my legs? . . . Do my children know that I love them?. . . Why did I think it would be fine to hold out until the deadline to sign up for health insurance? . . . What will the authorities find in my browser cache?”

Eventually I arrived, as I usually do, at “Why me, God?” and that was when the epiphany came to me.

This could very well be an act of God. Or an act of Ricky. One of those.

Direct and swift retribution for my final tweet, the last words I would utter via social media.

When I’d logged on to Twitter, I noticed that God was riled up again over something Ricky, a passionate atheist, had tweeted.  His Eminence was throwing down the gauntlet, including calling Ricky “Muppet Boy.”  (The tweet has since been removed, supporting evidence to those who’ve theorized that Disney might be more powerful than God Himself.)

Here’s where I probably should’ve minded my own business and gone about cleaning the bathroom. You remember what I said about free will, right?

So I playfully tweeted, “It’s Sunday morning. Shouldn’t at least one of you be in church?”

Heh, heh. Ha. Um. Yeah.

It was a joke. Really! You know, a little good-natured ribbing. I mean, God and I, we go back a long way. We talk on a daily basis.  I figured he’d know I was just playin’.

Ricky and I aren’t quite as tight, but we have met, sort of. I’ve been to exactly two tapings of The Daily Show and Ricky was the guest both times. That can’t be coincidence, right?

It’s been about a week and a half since I lay on that cold, hard, stylish terra-cotta floor, wondering which of my dead relatives would arrive via solar tube to take me Home (and, no doubt, to lecture me on the vices of the Internet).

I’ve been writing this post since Saturday, five or ten minutes at a time, either lying flat on the bed with my laptop up in the air, or sitting or standing for a few brief moments. I was able to sit on the couch for a while today. Not only is that progress, it adds Ally McBeal binge-watching to the recuperative process.

So as I get better, I’d like to apologize to God and to Ricky and to the Muppets and to Disney and to anyone involved. Whoever it was, your instant karma skills are impressive.

Bygones.

February 43, 2014: the siege continues

Just a quick hello because I’m sick as a dog, tired as an old dollar bill, and in the middle of writing lesson plans on figurative language (next up: idioms and cliches). I wanted to let you know that I’ve been thinking of you because — and isn’t this always the case? — the most blogworthy things happen when I don’t have time to write about them. Here are just a few:

  • I’ve spent much of the past couple of weeks hanging out with the gym teacher and a group of students who were not taking a state-mandated test, while the test was being administered in my classroom. We alternated physical activity and quiet activity. While basketball and juggling are not my sports, I was aces at word searches and hangman.

Interestingly enough, Words With Friends hasn’t really taken off with middle schoolers, nor do they appear to be aware of the basic Wheel of Fortune strategy of guessing R,S,T,L,N and E. In five consecutive games, they guessed the letter Z, so in the sixth game, the teacher took it easy on them, and the puzzle came into play thusly:  TAR__AN. They tried TARQAN, TARWAN, TARXAN. This time no one guessed Z.

  • On a related note, you wouldn’t believe how many jokes I’ve heard about balls in the past two weeks. You wouldn’t believe how many of them were up inside my own head.
  • Also on a related note, I’m starting to think like an 8th grade boy. Everything sounds like a dirty joke. I am not proud of this. I like to think of it as a survival tactic enabling me to think two steps ahead on anything that’s going to set off the rabble-rousers. Not that it helps much. At this point, I doubt we could recite the alphabet without madness and mayhem ensuing.  (…L,M,N,O,P, BWAHAHAHAHA, Ms. Cahier said “Pee!”).  Future Bloggers of America.
  • This really happened: during a planning meeting discussing an upcoming mandatory test, an administrator popped in (possibly right after a parent conference) and reminded everyone not to use sarcasm in the classroom because students at this level are not capable of processing sarcarsm — their thinking is literal at this age. Then we went back to discussing benchmark measures on figurative language and curriculum planning for achieving them. Sensing I was the only one who found this amusingly ironic (probably because my paycheck isn’t on the line), I kept my giggle to myself.
  • The school is in a rural area. The building was closed one day this week for what can best be described as an Act of God. Death and destruction were involved (non-human). In the more suburban, cosmopolitan area where I used to work, the rest of the week would have been dedicated to post-traumatic stress counseling, homework would have been canceled while students processed the horror, and a parent task-force would have mobilized to find somebody, anybody to blame.  Country kids and their families just roll with it.  It was wild. It was a day off. We came back and it was over. After all, there were ball jokes to be made and a scandalous alphabet to recite.
  • Lest I give the impression that I’m loving it, let me state emphatically that I am not.  I’ve met a number of really great kids and nice parents and absolutely fabulous teachers. Unfortunately, the small group (of students)  that always has and always shall exist to perpetuate chaos is louder and more disrespectful and defiant than ever.

It breaks my heart that I can’t get to know the good kids and teach the fun lessons I’m preparing because of all the noise. They walk around the classroom at will. They sit where they want. They do what they want. They say what they want. They tell you they hate you (it’s not that I’m here to be liked, but it makes me sad that they’re capable of ‘hating’ someone they don’t even know) . . . and worse. They pretty much dare you to try to stop them. My goal for however long I’m here (possibly the rest of the year) is to somehow keep enough peace for the respectful kids to have a relatively decent day.  Such a waste for all of us. The good news for me is that this is exactly what I wanted to know before committing to the expense and steps necessary to reactivate my teaching certification. Most likely I will not.

  • What I mean to say by that bummer of a paragraph is this:  this week I morphed into Heisenberg. I mean, I didn’t start a meth lab or
    I wonder if Walt spits in chemistry class.

    I wonder if Walt spits in chemistry class.

    anything. I just went mean, only I didn’t do it in that calm and deliberate, “I am the danger” tone. I was loud. I’m never loud. I reached down inside myself to that place that does not like to yell and let it out.  It was the only way to stop things from escalating to a point where they were going to start throwing furniture. They laughed and pointed out that I spit when I yell.

  • We’re expecting more snow tomorrow night, which may be the universe’s way of giving me another day to get this spitting thing under control.
  • On a brighter note, yesterday was Pi Day. My classroom is next to a math teacher and across the hall from another.  One loves Pi Day and made a big to-do. The other wanted no part of it.  So I decided to remain Switzerland.  Here’s my post from a couple of years ago on the subject.
  • Today is (theoretically) March 15, but if you ask me it’s more like February 43.  Beware the Ides of March. . . and watch out for spitting teachers.

Peace out,

Heisenberg  (“Spitball”) Cahier

I’m not really an actress.

One of my Ally McBeal reveries involves sitting across from James Lipton, humbly relating poignant stories about my fascinating life, bemused by the fact that anyone would care to know.

James, on behalf of America’s enquiring minds, wants to know what makes me me.  I, on behalf of me, quietly share mysterious tidbits, demurely grinning at James’s curious probing.

Inside, though, I anticipate the questions that I know are coming — James Lipton’s Famous 10 Questions — with the enthusiasm of a high school senior the day yearbooks come out.  What will I say? How will I choose just the right words to convey the real me . . . for eternity? 

I know the questions, so you’d think I’d be prepared. But I also know myself.  Consistently inconsistent.

I tend to approach life the way John Gorka approaches a set list:  controlled chaos.  All the answers are there. It’s just a matter of how they arrange themselves in any particular moment.

As with most of my Ally McBeal reveries, there’s usually a That Would Never Happen clause that brings me back to the mundane reality of sitting in traffic at the intersection of workday and errands.  This particular scene comes to a close when I remember that to be seated across from James Lipton, one must be, you know, an actress.

Today I was greeted with the opportunity to answer Mr. Lipton’s questions without setting foot on a stage.

No auditions, no makeup and wardrobe. No step-and-repeats or red carpets.

No pretending that I’m not dating George Clooney just because we have a movie coming out in six months.

So, here it is. My controlled chaos approach to the ten questions James Lipton asks of his guests on Inside the Actor’s Studio.  I reserve the right to change my answers. In ten minutes.

1.What is your favorite word?  Grace. Big G, little g. Grace Kelly, Amazing Grace. As far as I know, there isn’t a sense of that word that I don’t love.

2.What is your least favorite word?  Goodbye, in any language.

3.What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?  Authenticity.  I don’t happen to believe, by the way, that everyone who puts it all out there in the name of “just being themselves” is necessarily being authentic. A lot of those who do that are just competing to be heard above a crowd of boorishness, which, granted, is an authentic endeavor. I think it takes a lot to figure out what is truly authentic about yourself and then allowing yourself to be that.

4.What turns you off?  Exactly the opposite of authenticity.  I’m a vibe-y person and sometimes I just feel it about someone. I worry about that making me a judgy kind of person, so I try to give the benefit of the doubt. Often, in fact, I’ve gone too far to give someone who didn’t deserve it the benefit of the doubt. Much of the time, my

Hell's Bells?  You kissed your grandmother with that mouth? (photo via Wikipedia)

Hell’s Bells? You kissed your grandmother with that mouth? (photo via Wikipedia)

first vibe turns out to be correct.  If you’re not for real, please don’t waste my time.

5.What is your favorite curse word?  Hell’s Bells.  Ok, that’s two, but when Richard Gere got this question, he declined because he’s a better person than I am.  So, I’m taking Richard’s word.  Both of my grandmothers were Southerners and the attic of my brain is cluttered with their expressions.  Hell’s Bells is one, but I hear it with my grandmother’s gentle frustration, not AC/DC’s screech.

6.What sound or noise do you love?  Laughter, especially children’s laughter. I loved Antonio Banderas’ answer to this question, but he already gave it.

7.What sound or noise do you hate?  That sound that styrofoam packing makes when two pieces of it rub together or when you break it. Anything to do with styrofoam packing.  *shudder*

8.What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?  I’m on record as wanting to be a tambourine/eggshaker girl and/or a bookstore/patisserie owner, but — and I swear I am not making this up — lately I’ve been thinking it would be interesting to be a WordPress editor, coming up with creative ideas and watching what other people do with them.  Reading all sorts of things, choosing good ones to highlight, making someone’s day.  And, in my Ally McBeal impression of that job, there’s no commute.

9.What profession would you not like to do?  Publicist, handler, spokesperson, personal manager. See “authenticity,” above.

10.If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?  Well, Hell’s Bells, c’mon in. Your grandmother said you’d pull it out in the end, but I admit I had my doubts. See “grace,” above.

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Daily Prompt: Inside the Actor’s Studio. On the interview show Inside the Actors’ Studio, host James Lipton asks each of his guests the same ten questions. What are your responses?

Halloween for bloggers: how to be sexy spam

Today is October 31, All Hallow’s Eve, a day to celebrate . . .something. Death, blood, monsters, witches, chocolate, pumpkins, pretending to be someone or something you’re not, checking apples for razor blades — all wrapped up in the sexy.

This might be a good time to revisit my blanket disclaimer that if you’ve come here looking for homework answers, you should probably move along.  That definition of Halloween isn’t going to land you on the honor roll. I make stuff up.

I don’t really get Halloween. I know this doesn’t add up: I’m a big fan of chocolate. I’m a big fan of creativity.

Walking up to someone’s door and begging-slash-extorting them for candy was just never my idea of fun.  Granted, no one in my neighborhood  thought the sweet little girl in the store-bought majorette costume was going to strong-arm them if they didn’t deliver the Hershey’s. Still.

Even if you’re not a fan of the holiday, it’s hard not to be aware of it, beginning now in mid-August when the candy, decorations, and costumes hit the store shelves.  The influence has slowly seeped into my brain and I’ve been thinking about costume ideas, even though I’m a little . . . tall . . . to be trick-or-treating and I haven’t been invited to any Halloween parties.

Great costume, but he didn't get the sexy memo.

Great costume, but he didn’t get the sexy memo.

I got to thinking about a classic post I once read about sexy Halloween costumes and I challenged myself to come up with costume ideas that would be difficult to convert to sexy.

You wouldn’t believe the images  in my Google cache on searches of “sexy” plus oddball things such as “rock” or “plumbing fixtures.”  You also wouldn’t believe the things I can’t unsee.

While I’m sure it’s not an original idea, I’ve decided to be spam for Halloween.  But not just your run of the mill spam. It’s Halloween, after all, so I’ll sexy it up.  Plus, the best spam doesn’t come right out and TELL you it’s spam. The best spam, like the most savvy of trolls, is sexy, seductive.  Think Catherine Zeta Jones (CZJ) in a black bodysuit.

Here’s the plan:

Dressed like CZJ’s character Virginia Baker, from the movie Entrapment, I’ll wander into whatever Halloween parties I feel like wandering into. Invitations are for sexy nurses. I’m Spam! I can go anywhere!

Trick or treat!

Trick or treat!

I’ll walk up to a group of sexy vampires in conversation, maybe about the weather or politics or the latest blockbuster movies — no matter — and say, “When the music group is this : pulled off, going to be the surface skin body cells and going to be the facial/nose hair utilize them.”

They’ll probably ignore my fascinating banter at first, but I’ll press on: “But despite it being printed on the back of a Trivial Pursuit card, it’s simply not true.On Clive Hills Road a resident reports that someone entered an unlocked 2009 Buick Enclave and rummaged through the glove . Once again, the price range was WAY too high for me, so I ended up just walking around, enjoying the holiday spirit.”

Maybe they’ll turn away. Maybe they’ll ask me to leave.  Whatever.

I’ll just mosey on over to a group of sexy zombies  in the other corner, talking about their vacation plans or renovating a house, and I’ll cheerfully join in,Hi everybody, here every person is sharing these experience, thus it’s good to be at this party, and I used to pay a visit this party everyday but it’s not as good as it used to be. What happened?”

If anyone questions who I am or why I’m there, I’ll just pretend I’m not from around here: “Lub ów szczyl w autobusie, przy stadionem Legii, proazek z piętnaście lat, ogolony makówka. Wykrzykiwał z.”

Undoubtedly at some point  I’ll be filtered from the party, so I’m planning on leaving with one last poignant shout out: “Get rid of the plug by hand and be careful with the rush of scorching oil. Sporting gloves is really an excellent concept.”

While it isn’t my thing, I don’t have any major issues with Halloween. I hope those of you who love it have a wonderful time. Happy Halloween!

I mean,  “Toddler web masters!!”

If you’re reading this after October 31, the comment references to my gravatar are to my Halloween “costume”. 

To complete the holiday spirit, I “dressed up” like Catherine Zeta Jones for the day. . .

My Halloween costume, 2013.

My Halloween costume, 2013.

Your spirit of adventure leads you to read this.

Maybe you have one of these where you live, too:  a modest house situated on the cusp of the town’s business and residential districts, the place where Madame Flora or Mrs. Miller and her relatives run the family fortune-telling empire.  In my town it’s a cute little pink cottage near a  busy intersection, cheerfully  lit by the welcoming glow of white Christmas lights at varying times of the day or night.

This pleasant beckoning might tempt even the staunchest skeptic to stop in, if only out of curiosity.

At some time in the past couple of years, while I wasn’t particularly paying attention, a new Madame Flora moved in or Mrs. Johnson took over for Mrs. Miller or something happened at the fortune-teller cottage and business is now booming.  I think whoever’s in charge might be the real deal.

The place used to have the appearance of a business past its prime, with a weather-worn clapboard exterior and overgrown shrubbery, and most telling of all, a

Shouldn't they know I'm coming?

Shouldn’t they know I’m coming?

prominently displayed notice that services were BY APPOINTMENT ONLY.

All that’s changed now.  The sign is gone. The cottage exterior is fresh and appealing, the landscaping is tasteful and inviting, and most interesting of all, the hours seem irregular.

Some nights I’ll drive by near midnight and business is brisk.  Some Saturday afternoons, nothing.  They truly do know when you’re coming and they’re there for you.

I’m not normally the type to visit a fortune teller/crystal-palm-tarot card reader.  I’m pretty sure that one sleepover in tenth grade, when we disobeyed house rules and snuck in a Ouija board, is the root of all misadventures that have befallen me since. Was it really worth a lifetime of bad luck to know if Jeff thought Cindy was cute?

No.

It was not.

Particularly since Ouija’s answer was something like E-Y-N-R-S-Q and Jeff never so much as offered to carry Cindy’s books to class.  Stupid Ouija board.

I do keep a decorative dish near my door full of the little slips that come in my occasional weekly Chinese take-out, but those are strictly for entertainment purposes.

Whenever I wonder what the next hour to day-and-a-half will hold, I’ll pull out a slip, as if I’m calling bingo numbers or something, and decide whether or not I care for that fortune.  If I don’t think it suits me or my particular desires in that moment, I put it back and try again.

I prefer to choose my own destiny.

One of my friends mocks this little ritual. That doesn’t stop him from casually sneaking a slip out and taking a peek when he doesn’t know I’m watching.

I’m considering replacing all the slips with new slips, all of which say, “Your thinning hair will soon be gone,” or “You enjoy home-baked chocolate chip cookies. Perhaps too much, Pudgy.”

The problem with fortune cookies lately, as some of you well know, is that they don’t so much predict the future as make some over generalized statement, such as one I get  frequently:

“Culture and customs of China attract you.”

Ya think?

Ya think?

This revitalized fortune-teller cottage is the only positive indicator I’ve noticed in an otherwise dismal psychic industry lately.

Along with the Ouija’s sensitivity to wishful thinking and heavy hands, and the increasing mediocrity in fortune cookie slips, I’ve given up on an astrology website that used to be a fun end-of-the-month check-in.  Used to be it was interestingly accurate to read at the end of the month and compare to what had actually gone on.

Then I started to notice it wasn’t so accurate, right around the time I started to notice the astrologer started telling personal stories illustrating examples from her own life.

When the moon is in the seventh house, and Jupiter aligns with Mars, you are prone to broken bones,” she would write. And then she’d go on, “For example, in 1997, when the moon was in my seventh house, I fell down the stairs and ended in a full body cast.”

Once, maybe twice, I could see this happening. Eventually I came to feel sorry for this poor woman’s tragic life. And then it occurred to me: she’s an astrologer. How are all these things that she’s cautioning readers about happening to her . . . repeatedly? When Jupiter aligns with Mars, shouldn’t she know to stay home in bed?

And then THIS happened.

A woman in my office has an online fortune-telling business, along with a jewelry business she’s pitching to QVC, a real estate empire that requires frequent trips to landlord court, and a recently incorporated travel agency.  With all this going on, she barely has time left to deal with all the accident claims and traffic citations she seems to rack up. But somehow she manages.

It’s the fortune-telling business that’s germane here.

Because.

A few weeks ago, I made the usual, casual workday greeting, “How are you today?”

To which she replied with a story that amused and fascinated me beyond levels I could have imagined upon mumbling the initial greeting.

She was happy this day to have finally finished traffic class. And it had been easier than she thought.

I was happy for her, noting that I hadn’t been aware of her traffic class, to which she responded that she didn’t belong there. It was the psychic’s fault.

“What psychic?” I inquired, suddenly more than casually fascinated. I thought the scandal that was about to break would reveal the true source of her fortune-telling prowess. Was I about to learn she’s been outsourcing to China, just as she had with her jewelry designs?

So much better:

Her latest traffic violation carried a potential fine of $125.  In an attempt to avoid paying the fine, she visited a psychic to ask for advice.  The psychic asked what she wanted the outcome to be. She told him.

So, for a modest $50, the psychic promised her that the ticketing officer would not appear in court for her traffic hearing. She paid her $50 and went to court, assuming the officer would be out with a toothache or groin injury or mild apoplectic seizure. Whatever honorable psychics are able to accomplish for a mere $50.

I’m willing to bet that you, dear reader, regardless of your psychic abilities, are able to predict what happened in traffic court that day.

My favorite part of her story was the cliffhanger: she was so angry  that the ticketing officer appeared in court, sound of body and mind, that  she was planning to make a return visit to the psychic and demand her money back.

I haven’t asked how that turned out yet.  I predict that one will bring a good chuckle.

Everyone should have a theme song.

If you caught this week’s Major League Baseball All-Star game, you may have seen the touching moment when Mariano (“Mo”) Rivera was brought in to pitch during the 8th inning in his final appearance in an All-Star game.

This is what Mo does, usually a little later in the game: he comes in to save the day, sort of like Superman or a home-improvement reality show star who manages to pull off the impossible surprise renovation just in the nick of time.

When he does it in his team’s home baseball stadium, Metallica’s song “Enter Sandman” blasts through the stadium. To honor his final appearance and his career accomplishments,  the other players (except his catcher) stayed off the field as the song played and Rivera took to  the pitcher’s mound for his warm-up pitches.

It was poignantly awesome, even if you’re not a fan of the New York Yankees. Or baseball. Or Metallica.

I rather think everyone should have a moment like that in their lives even if just for a minute or two, to be recognized for something, whatever that thing is, while their theme song plays to a standing ovation.

I like to be prepared, so  I’m working on picking my theme song.

You never know.

I’m not really sure what my moment will be, although I’m fairly certain it won’t be a stroll in from the bullpen to the pitching mound.

About the only thing I do regularly to some degree of personal success is make my way  through Washington DC traffic twice a day.

Until a recent rear-end collision at the corner of 16th and K, I had an accident-free record that might one day have led  to my moment being a solo ride down Pennsylvania Avenue, with no other cars, taxis, or buses and the sidewalks teeming with pedestrians and bicyclists giving me a standing ovation for my lifetime achievement in traffic navigation.

(Note to self: Add  Traffic Jam to the theme song short list.)

 I’ve been trying to decide on a theme song for months now.  Turns out, it isn’t as easy as I’d thought.

I started shopping theme songs several months back when a friend posted a simple Facebook question:

What song would you like to have played every time you walk into a room?

Oh, did I love that question! Thinking of my answer entertained me for weeks.

It just happened that when my friend posed the question, I was preparing to give a presentation to a few dozen serious-minded people in a sophisticated,  state-of-the-art conference center. I instantly envisioned my entrance to be something like this, cape and all:

Of course, that idea was just a cape-adorned  flight of fancy. I needed to choose my own song and since you never know when your moment is going to arrive, I needed to get to work.

Some things to consider when choosing your theme song.

1. There’s only one Elvis.

 One thing about a good personal anthem is that it becomes distinctly  associated with one person so that no one else can use it. I’m willing to bet that if the supermarket music system played Also sprach Zarathustra / See See (aka C.C.) Rider, everyone in the store would expect to see Elvis. Several probably would.

For that same reason I ruled out Hail to the Chief and God Save the Queen, not that I’d expect the President or the Queen to show up at the Winn-Dixie, mind you. Be honest — if you were in line at the deli counter and one of those tunes started playing, you’d wonder if Her Majesty was going to jump the line for some liverwurst and swiss, wouldn’t you?

2. Go with your brand.

My friend’s question also came a time when I was brushing up on all things Oprah via her satellite radio station.  That day’s life class had included the reminder to set your intention before entering any room.

I like to think that I enter every room with the intention of bringing peace and love and maybe a little hyperbole. In a perfect world, my theme song would be Cat Stevens’ Peace Train, which I could have played up big and joyful for certain rooms . . . or played down quiet and meditative for other rooms.

The truth of the matter is that it isn’t a perfect world and there are some rooms I enter where people can smell that sort of intention coming and they will eat you alive.

My intention when entering such rooms is, well, not to be eaten alive.  Which brings us to  . . .

3. Go big even if — or especially if —  you’re not.

Elvis, the President of the United States, and Queen Elizabeth walk into a bar. What do their theme songs have in common? Majesty. Grandeur. Brass. Do these people know how to set intentions or what?

Professional sports teams know this as well.  Imagine the Pittsburgh Steelers entering the stadium to the booming backbeat of Muskrat Love.  Actually, even as I type this, I’m enjoying that image quite a bit. And now that I think about it, it might be an effective way to throw their opponents off their game.  But I digress.

A good theme song — especially for those hoping not to be eaten alive —  is loud and proud.  A nice marching band or symphony commands respect as does a good AC/DC or Van Halen blowout. Heavy metal or arena rock anthems are particularly popular for professional sports teams and they can work for you, too.

I’m not ashamed to admit that my short list of potential theme songs includes some Good Charlotte and Three Doors Down. You got a problem with that?

I’m still working on my list, searching from something between Nirvana and The Carpenters, something that says, “I come in peace. But you don’t wanna mess with me.”  I only hope I find it before my moment arrives.  Speaking of which, I need to get to work.

What about you? Do you have a theme song or a vision of your own moment?

I’m not really an advertising genius.

The other day  I was listening to Bloomberg radio when an advertisement recaptured my attention, which had drifted off to plans of s’mores and fireworks and a long-overdue period of lolly-gagging and dilly-dallying.

What caught my ear was the language of the ad. Roughly translated, the message was that this is a company you can trust because, “Hey, you might not have a clue who we are, but at least we’re not in a heap of financial trouble like our competitors. So,  there’s that.”

I found this approach somewhat refreshing and honest. I wish I could recall the company name, which is less a reflection of the ad’s effectiveness than it is  further evidence of the cognitive decline that has accompanied my own aging process.

Whatever the company’s name, the commercial concluded with the company slogan, or “tag line”: Acme Corporation: Solvent.

This reminded me of another refreshingly honest and not-understated slogan that I see all the time.

There are worse places you could live.

My commute crosses through Prince George’s County, Maryland into the District of Columbia and back again each day.  The welcome sign in either direction reads something like, “Welcome to Prince George’s County: A Livable Community.” 

Whenever I notice the signs, I read the message as “Meh.::shoulder shrug:: It’s livable.”

It makes me laugh.

As with Acme Corporation’s soft-sell on the virtue of solvency, Prince George’s County’s self-promotion seems to be a matter-of-fact acknowledgement that many drivers passing through are aware that the district has suffered some difficult times  since the departure of one of its most notable citizens.

Meh. It's livable. (Photo: collegepark.patch.com).

Meh. It’s livable. (Photo: collegepark.patch.com).

Some might be inclined to read “A Livable Community” with the subtext of “Sure, our last county executive is in prison for corruption, but that’s only because his wife was found stuffing the cash in her bra when the officers arrived. It was simply a matter of poor timing — she hadn’t had a chance to convert it to saline in the time-honored tradition of other political wives.

On the bright side, we’re not Detroit.”

A new trend.

Maybe  this is a new, pre-apocalyptic trend: a shift away from superlatives such as best, biggest, ultimate, ultra-, possibly influenced by the cynical irony and ennui of a hipster generation consumer. A return to a simpler, less pretentious branding.

Prince George’s County is, in fact, livable.

It has essentially the same  access to oxygen and other life-sustaining elements as surrounding counties and Washington DC. No further promises implied, no promises broken. Simple, effective, and most of all, true.  It doesn’t need to pretend to be the best place to live, just, well . . . livable.

I think I’m on board with this new trend of choosing one truth about your product or service, all the better if it’s something less true about your competitors, however miniscule, and making that your brand.

I’d like to pitch a few ideas I’ve been tossing around. Feel free to add your own . . .

Spirit Airlines: It’s a plane.

Whitman’s Sampler: Chocolate.

Shell Oil: Environmental catastrophe-free. So far. Recently. (Revised – thanks Linda.)

Sony: We used to be great.

Fiat: It’s Italian.

Hoover’s: We suck.

Oops.

Oops.

FedEx: Shorter lines than the post office.

Crossroads Diner: No confirmed reports of botchelism.

House of Pain Tattoo Parlor: We own a dictionary.

Joe’s Pizza: Two out of five Yelp reviewers didn’t hate it.

Boone’s Farm:  Gets the job done.