Sunday, October 26, 2008

Time for the annual Cider Story

Cider is evil. Did you know that? Sure, it looks innocent, a rich, brown nectar sitting there on the shelf in clear plastic jugs, beckoning the unwary. But deep in its dark soul lurks dastardly and terrifying plots!

Okay, maybe not. But I am paranoid about cider, as everyone who works with me comes to find out each fall when the yearly pallet of Louisburg Apple Cider arrives in the store. But there is a reason for my paranoia, and it is this:

The first autumn I worked at Walmart I spilled 47 gallons of apple cider.

Actually, I didn't spill it. It spilled itself at me. I just got to clean it up. In the Walmart "spills and hazardous waste training module" it says that "spill in excess of 10 gallons are considered too big to be cleaned up by store employees". Don't you believe it! See, it happened like this:

We have a walk-in produce cooler that's about eight feet wide and about twelve feet deep, with wide steel shelving lining both sides. When the shelves are full, the excess is stored on wooden pallets down the center of the cooler, and there is almost always at least one pallet full of freight in the cooler. (Sometimes there are as many as three. If we get slammed with more than that we have to take over the meat prep room which is unpleasant because then we have to kidnap Glen, who bitches about it, and tie him up in the Culligan water softener cage. We'd take over the deli cooler, but those deli girls are just scary!)

Well, the first fall I worked produce we had a pallet full of cider against the back wall. The cider was stacked seven cases high with four one-gallon plastic jugs per case and we were down to two rows of cider with other things on the front of the pallet. None of us were aware that the bottom cases had gotten wet and that the only thing holding up the cider stacked against the wall on the left side was the stack in front of it. I took the cider from that stack out to fill the floor display, came back and the entire stack had collapsed. The cooler floor was littered with busted jugs, sopping cardboard and approximately 24 gallons of apple cider.

Obviously, I couldn't clean up the mess with the pallet in the way. I got a pallet jack (sort of a manual fork lift) and very carefully pulled the pallet out into the produce area in front of the door. I successfully maneuvered it past the floor drain right outside the cooler, swivelled it slowly and set it down ever so gently.

And POW! Another stack of cider went over!

That's how I spilled 47 gallons of apple cider. Two years have passed since then with no other major mishaps (we did have a couple of jugs explode last year, but that's only to be expected). I still don't trust the stuff, though. I know it's just sitting there . . . watching . . . biding its time . . . .

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Obama, in St. Louis, speaks before historic building

Today, presidential candidate Barack Obama spoke before massive crowds (estimated at 100,000 people) on the lawn of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, MO. In the background and, so far as I have seen in news stories, unremarked, the Old Courthouse watched history unfold yet again.

In the background of the picture at the top of this news story: look for a white building with a patinaed copper dome. This is the Old Courthouse. It is a white, Federalist-style building with two wings flanking a rotunda capped with a copper dome based on the Basilica of Saint Peter in Rome. Built in 1827, it served as a center for law and order in what was then known (to some) as the last civilized city in the west. In 1947 the County of St. Louis deeded it to the Federal Government and it is now listed on the National Historic Registry and is home to a museum.

It is uniquely fitting that this building should bear witness to Obama's historic run for the presidency, for it was here, in 1847, that the Dred Scott anti-slavery case was first heard. After a series of appeals and counter-suits, in 1857 the Supreme Court ruled against Dred Scott and his wife, who had sued for their freedom. The case was a landmark because it established that no one of African descent was considered a citizen of the United States and that, not being citizens, they were not entitled to bring action in a court of law. It also struck down the Missouri Compromise, which made northern parts of the Louisiana Purchase "free territories", by ruling slaves to be property which could not be taken from their owners without due process, even if their owners travelled to places where slavery was illegal.

This ruling angered northern politicians and abolitionists, polarizing the opposing factions on the question of slavery and quite possibly hastening the onset of the Civil War. Ironically, the Scotts' owner, a widow, had re-married to a congressman who was an abolitionist and he arranged for them to be freed shortly after the Supreme Court ruling was handed down. Sadly, Dred Scott had but scant time to enjoy his freedom. Just nine months later he died of tuberculosis.

And today, within sight of where Dred Scott and his wife were first found by the law to be property subject to the fifth amendment, 100,000 people of all races turned out to hear a charismatic black man speak of his very real aspirations for the presidency. I'd like to say here that I, personally, support Barack Obama, not because he is black (or in spite of the fact that he is black), but because I am impressed by his intellect and his achievements and I believe he is the best person to guide our nation through these troubled times. But it is nice to look across this massive crowd to the green copper dome of the Old Courthouse and reflect on how far we've come in 161 years.

Incidentally, I have to confess that I didn't notice the Old Courthouse in the background because I am a super-savvy historian (alas!). The Old Courthouse is one of the locations that appears in my as-yet-unpublished murder mystery, The Reenactment.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Dear Mr. Hillerman

First, allow me to say how much I enjoy your Navajo mysteries. Please write more. Now.

I do have one question for you, though. You have said more than once that Sergeant Jim Chee believes that having a cat as a pet is like having a human slave. While I can't help but agree that this is an apt analogy, I wonder. Does Chee realize that the human is not the master in this relationship?

My cat Layla prefers me to sleep on my left side with my left arm under her head and my right arm cuddled over her back. If I try to sleep on my right side, she slaps me until I roll over.

Slavery indeed!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Stolen Items

I've been debating for three days whether to write about this, the decision postponed by rampant paranoia and sleep deprivation, but today I decided to set it out in visible form. Late Thursday night (or, rather, early Friday morning) I got home from work and my house had been burgled.

The first thing I noticed was the front door, which was not quite closed. That puzzled me, as I'm very careful about checking the door each time I leave, but I only thought I must have slipped up. Then, coming into the living room, I saw that things were in disarray. Okay, I have cats. Things are often in disarray. Even when I found an old CD clock radio sitting in my desk chair, my initial reaction was to try to think where it could have been that the cats might have knocked it down.

Then I saw the empty shelves around the computer where I kept all my favorite DVDs. After searching frantically for them, in defiance of the obvious fact that they had been stolen (maybe I put them in the filing cabinet and forgot about it! Maybe they got knocked off and they're all on the floor under the sewing maching! Maybe . . . ), I ran out to the car, got my purse and my cell phone and locked the car. Then I came back in and called the sheriff's department. As I was talking to the dispatcher I heard a loud thump and the dogs all started barking. At the time I was certain that it was someone going out the upstairs window and being chased down the hill by the dogs. On reflection, I think perhaps it was something or someone who was already outside.

I really want to believe that it was something outside! It was after one in the morning and I live alone in the middle of nowhere.

In any case, the person was gone by the time the deputy arrived and there was nothing for him to do but take a report and give me a hug. (The hug is not normally part of the emergency services bit, I don't think, but in this case the deputy who responded was one of my nephews.) After that, well, I called in to work and sat up all night, listening for strange noises. About six in the morning the dogs started barking frantically again and I called out another deputy, but she didn't find anything either.

The thieves got away with a random assortment of DVDs including most of my collection of old TV shows. Of all the things they stole, what hurts most is my four boxed sets of Emergency! DVDs. It was my favorite show and I bought each one as it was released and watched them often. They also took a carrying case with almost every CD I owned (I only had a few -- maybe twenty?), a brand new mp3 player that was still in the box, my Word 2000 disc that I've misplaced the authentication code for (I'll probably find it now), and my desk calendar. I had also just gotten a new computer -- a low-cost emachines that came without a monitor. When I set it up, I just took out the tower and left the rest in the box, because I already had a mouse, keyboard, etc. They took that, box and all, probably using that box to carry my other stuff.

In monetary terms my losses weren't huge. Maybe $500 to replace everything? And, yes, it could have been much worse. But, for me, it was a lot. I don't make enough money to splurge very often on things like DVDs and it had taken me years to accumulate even the modest collection I had. And, besides all that, it was mine damnit! The injustice of someone else profiting from it makes me seethe.

I've told this story about fifty times now and people always ask the same questions, so I'll go ahead and answer them now.

Was the door locked? No. I've lived on this hill since I was three and we've never even had a lock on our front door. There's a lock on it now.

Do you have a gun? Nope. I've never even fired a gun, barely even touched one. I've been offered a couple in the past few days and had people try to sell me pistols. I will admit that, in light of these events, it has been tempting. I doubt I will get one, though. They say that if you have a gun, you have to be prepared to use it. I'm not certain that I could.

Where were your dogs? Probably hiding. They bark ferociously at anyone coming up here, but they won't confront strangers unless I'm here. Once someone starts to leave, now, they're fair game, and anyone who runs from them is asking to be attacked. Also, if I'm out in the yard and a stranger comes around, SallyJane (my rotti) stays right next to me and is extremely protective. She even growled at Joe (another of my nephews) the whole time he was putting the new lock on the front door, and Sally knows Joe.

What are you going to do now? What can I do? This is my home. I'm not going to be chased away. I'll lock the doors now, lock up my car when I park it in the yard, leave more lights on. I've given the police as detailed a list as I could come up with of what was taken and I've been calling all the pawn and second-hand shops, asking them to be on the lookout for my stuff.

I'm sure that, in time, the nerves will ease up and things will gradually get back to normal. But I look around. The dogs are on edge, barking at any strange sound and every passing car. The cats sit in hunched bundles, staring out the windows and flicking their tails with tension. As for me, I have taken to sleeping fully clothed with the car keys in my pocket and my purse and cellphone beside the pillow. And it occurs to me that there's something I left off that list of stolen items.

Peace of mind.

Monday, June 23, 2008

R.I.P. Rufus!

How do you mark the passing of a great comic when one of his most famous routines was on the euphemisms we use for death? George Carlin went into the hospital yesterday afternoon complaining of chest pains, experienced a terminal episode and expired last night.

The world is a less funny place today. Story here:

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Questions! I get questions!

A few days ago one of our new associates, a young man who works as a cart pusher, asked me shyly if he could bother me for a second. Silly question! I'm working. He can bother me for HOURS!

Anyway, he had a problem. He needed a zucchini for class the next day (I'm hoping cooking class and not, say, sex education, but I didn't ask). What's a zucchini? I know he felt silly having to have a common vegetable pointed out to him, but he really shouldn't have. That is FAR from the silliest question I've heard or heard of since I started working retail.

One of my friends came to Warsaw from Warrensburg, where she worked in the Walmart fabric and crafts department. One time someone asked her if they had any more of a certain kind of fabric and she told them brightly, "I'm sorry! I don't think the elves are making any more of that kind today." They stared at her in dismay and said, "well, can you go ask them?"

A few weeks ago my friend Matt answered a call that came to the deli. The caller wanted to know if the bakery had any fresh brownies. Matt told them that our store doesn't have a bakery to which they replied, "well, can you go look?"

Some years ago my friend Mitch was working in a large grocery store produce department somewhere in the city. He was at a counter coring pineapples and had a large stock of pineapples next to him, a coring machine in front of him and a goodly supply of packaged, labelled, cored pineapples on his other side. A customer came up and asked, "do you guys carry cored pineapple?" Mitch, incorrectly assuming the man was joking, said, "no, I'm sorry. We don't have any pineapple." The customer turned away in disgust, speaking into his cell phone. "We're just gonna have to go somewhere else, Mable. They don't carry it here!"

And just a few weeks ago a trio of teenaged boys, looking lost and confused* as teenaged boys often do, came up and asked me if we had any plums. I pointed them towards the plums and in a few minutes they were back with a bag of fruit.

"Are these peaches or pears?"
"They're nectarines. I thought you wanted plums."
"Yeah . . . these aren't plums?"

I guess I can't blame it all on retail madness, though. After all, my crazy uncle Lawrence did once call my mother up to ask her what her phone number was.

*Drunk and/or high

Sunday, May 11, 2008


I didn't read my horoscope for yesterday, but I figure, if it wanted to be accurate, this is what it should have said:

Saturday, May 10 -- One star (at best)

This is going to be an annoying day. You will be inconvenienced by another's lack of consideration.

Woman I barely know sends me a little email newsletter thingie with not one, not two, not three, but four ENORMOUS JPEG attachments. It took an hour to download via my dialup (only thing available here) and completely wiped out my morning online time. I think, from glancing at the letter, they were pictures of baby goats. They were so big you had to scroll to see them in the OE preview screen and mostly they seemed to be trees and sky. I didn't take time to open them -- by the time they downloaded I was running late for work. I almost cancelled the download and skipped the mail for the morning, but it could have been Janet sending me a book contract, you know. If it had been, say, a FIVE star day instead of a ONE star day . . . .

You will find what you need is out of reach and will be stymied by modern technology.

Walmart, in their infinite wisdom, has switched to a cheaper toilet paper that is roughly the same consistency as fog. As long as the roll is more than half full it is impossible to pull any off, because the weight of the roll is greater than the tensile strength of the paper. The result, of course, is that people both use more and waste more. If you try to pull some from a full roll, all you get is a little swatch the size of your fingertips (this is why the restrooms now are littered with little piles of paper snow under all the dispensers). The only way to get any is to spin the roll with one hand while pulling on the paper with the other, an awkward prospect at best.

Also, several years ago Walmart switched to automatic-flush toilets. There is a special place in Hell for the person who invented automatic-flush toilets. If you're lucky enough to be unfamiliar with these fiendish devices, they are electric-eye operated toilets that flush themselves, basically, whenever the hell they feel like it. They're supposed to flush when you stand up. Often they flush when you sit down. They flush if you move slightly, if you sneeze or -- and this is the really obnoxious bit -- if you reach for toilet paper.

Also, the genius who designed our particular Walmart built it with just one stall in the front women's restroom. This means that there is almost always a line, especially on busy holiday weekends.

So this is me yesterday using the facility. The closest roll of toilet paper was empty, but the holder holds two rolls so there was another, almost full one at the point where I could just barely reach it.

Roll. Rip. Damn! Flush. Little girl hopping up and down outside the stall. "Mommy! I have to go pee!" Roll. Rip. Damn! Flush. "Mommy! I have to go pee now!" Roll. Rip. Damn! Flush. "Why is the lady taking so long?"

A lack of attention to detail will set ill with you.

On lunch, in a hurry, I grabbed a cheap package of instant noodles without reading the ingredient label. Ate more than half of it before I decided to look and see why it tasted weird. Chicken fat and chicken broth. It's making me sick just thinking about it. I've been a vegetarian for 28 years.

I didn't throw up, but it was a near thing for several hours.

Your judgement is poor today; You're all wet.

I sat on the bench under the overhang for about ten minutes waiting for the rain to let up before heading to my car which, being as I work there, was parked all the way at the far end of the lot (uphill, of course). I timed it just perfectly to get caught half way in an enormous downpour. Good thing I have an umbrella. Too bad I left it in my car. I got there dripping wet, rain running down my back from my hair, my clothes soaked, heavy breathing steaming up the car windows (which is really no fun when you're alone!). Within two minutes the rain quit completely and didn't start again so far as I know.

Tonight: Back to nature.

The road from Warsaw to my house is a narrow, twenty-mile long ribbon of hilly, twisty pavement that is unwise to travel too fast on windy, foggy nights. It is also a road which, at ten o'clock on a Saturday night, has not a single open business with a public restroom. Fortunately, the last few miles run down gravel and dirt roads bordered by cow pastures. Cows are curious creatures with no manners about staring, but at least the bushes don't try to flush themselves and I think the less said about that, the better!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

What a deal!

Okay, so my eyesight's getting bad these days and maybe I was hallucinating, but I could swear I saw a sign last night advertising a new release of the Indiana Jones movies that said, "special packaging with purchase!" OH MY GOD! They're kidding! You mean, if we buy the DVD, we get the box TOO?!!!?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Bad Luck and Trouble (Not the Lee Child novel)

Did you hear about the woman who got struck by lightning and blown into the path of a semi while diving to get out from under a meteorite that had been chasing her for three blocks? In the rain?


Well, if you do, it'll probably be me.

My car broke down.


This time it went belly-up in the middle of Mile Long Bridge. Just before midday. In a construction zone. I finally got it started again but it died twice more. The last time I couldn't get it going so I pushed it into a ditch and walked the rest of the way to work, getting there only ten minutes late.

I'd started an hour early so I could eat breakfast.

That was Tuesday. It's still sitting where it finally ended up (on the Walmart lot, fortunately, after I got a call from the Sheriff's Department!) waiting for my nephews to be free to either fix it or help me haul it to a shop (the water pump has apparently come out of the closet and realized its lifelong ambition to be a fountain instead). They were going to help me this morning, but last night their step-father had a stroke.

The curse affects everyone around me!

My brother-in-law is going to be okay, fortunately, and tomorrow the boys are going to help me fix my car, barring unforseen complications (which, frankly, I foresee). Actually, fixing the car is my second choice. My first plan, which I'm still rooting for, is for one of the jets flying training missions out of Whiteman to accidentally drop something big and heavy on it and then for the government to buy me a new car.

Of course, with my luck if they DID drop something, they'd probably miss the car and hit *me*.


Monday, April 21, 2008

I'm Drunk

"I taste a liquor never brewed" as Emily Dickensen had it. After a long dry spell, I'm writing again. Yesterday I finished the second chapter of the book I'm working on and today I think it's quite likely that I'll write the third. I can see at least the first third of the book with a clarity that had been eluding me. Words flow again. I'm getting scenes and passages that don't feel forced and emotions that ring true.

I've also started a short story featuring one of my characters and several of my older short stories are demanding a good edit and airing. I have two other books in my head with complete plots and breathing characters and I'm getting a glimmer of a plot for the third book in the series I'm actually working on.

Oh, to have four more hands and two more keyboards! And time!

Writing is a glorious thing!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The "F" Word

Last week Janet Reid had a post about a writer whose publisher dropped him because they got tired of him sending them "F-you" emails. Naturally, all her good little clients got on the comment board to reassure her that we would never do something like that, and for the most part I suspect we were all telling the truth.

It occurs to me, on reflection, though, that there was one time in my life when I did actually swear at someone. It happened like this:

Many, many yahrens* ago when I was a junior in college, an administrative error left a couple hundred of us without housing. After a couple of months in a temporary dorm where nothing got fixed, it wasn't a good idea to unpack because you didn't know how long you'd be there, and my roommate kept locking me out so she could have sex with her boyfriend, I wound up sharing a tiny apartment with three women I barely knew. Sherri and Monee I got along with fine (though they couldn't stand one another), but Lillian and I hit it off like bleach and ammonia.

Lillian was deeply-repressed fundamentalist Christian and a rabid conservative. The first thing we clashed over was homosexuality. She told me one day, very sanctimoniously, that she didn't believe gays were actually evil, they were just sick and needed to be cured. I have a half-brother and some very good friends who are gay and so I took exception on their behalf. She thought that I was probably a lesbian myself but wouldn't admit it to her. I thought she was probably a lesbian but wouldn't admit it to herself. She thought I was a dangerous, bleeding-heart liberal. I thought she was insane.

So, anyway . . . . After we'd been living together awhile a problem came up regarding the food we each brought in the house. Sherri and Lillian were both relatively well-off, going to school and living on money from home. Monee and I were poor as the proverbial church mouse, relying on scholarships, Pell grants and student loans to pay our tuition and scraping by on what we could make by working when we weren't in class. In Sherri and Lillian's eyes, anything in the kitchen was fair game, so that Monee and I, who could least afford it, kept coming home to suppers that were no longer there.

Finally we sat down and discussed it with them. At first they were both indignant. After all, they bought food too and they weren't telling us we couldn't eat it. Since we lived together we should be like a family? And, considering there were four of us and each of us despised one of the other three, they may have had something there. Still, that wasn't a solution either Monee or I was comfortable with. I'm not entirely sure why, but I think it may have been, at least in part, the fierce pride of the very poor. We were struggling mightily, but we were supporting ourselves. I don't need your food, thank you. I am able to buy my own. And for me, there was another complication. I'm a vegetarian, so if someone ate what I'd bought for dinner, there wasn't necessarily going to be anything among their groceries to replace it.

After a long discussion they agreed that we would each treat our groceries as our own and not take anything that didn't belong to us without at least asking. Sherri conceded gracefully, Lillian, less so. How much less so I was to discover a couple of nights later.

At the time she and I were the only ones home. I had been in class all morning, then worked all day, and I was trying to catch up with my homework so I could get up the next morning and do it all over. Lillian, puttering around in the tiny kitchen, decided to make popcorn.

"I think I'll make some popcorn, Loretta. Is this your popcorn, Loretta? Do you mind if I make some popcorn?"

I sighed. "No, it's not my popcorn. Do whatever you want."

"Of course, I'll want some butter for the popcorn. Is this your butter, Loretta? Can I use some of this butter, Loretta?"

"Yes, that's fine." I had transferred in from a junior college with an associate's degree that counted as the core work for my major, but my 8 AM art history lecture assumed that I had taken prerequisites that I had, in fact, not.

"Oh, and salt! Is this your salt, Loretta? Do you mind if I use a little salt, Loretta?"

"I don't know whose salt it is. Go ahead."

"I'm going to need a pan to melt the butter. Is this your pan, Loretta? Can I use this pan?"

"That's fine."

"Oh, and a fork to stir the butter too. Is this your fork, Loretta? Can I use your fork."


"And this is your popcorn popper too, isn't it, Loretta? Can I use that? Is that all right? Do you mind if I use your popcorn popper?"

At this point I put down my pen and said, "Lillian, I do not give a damn if you use the fucking popcorn popper."

She went to bed.

Turned everything off, went into her darkened room without a word and climbed under the covers with her clothes still on.

Guilt. Guilt. Guilt. Guilt. Guilt.

MAJOR guilt.

I was always taught to be kind to others. Don't hurt people's feelings. If you can't say something nice about someone . . . . And PROFANITY! Ladies don't swear! They certainly don't say the "F-word"! Strong language is the refuge of those who aren't intelligent enough to think of a better way to express themselves.

Finally I got up, went into her room and said, "I'm sorry I lost my temper with you."

In the glow coming in the window from the streetlights I could see her give me a smug, self-satisfied little smile. "I forgive you," she said very sweetly.

And at that point I very nearly cussed her out again, but I decided it wasn't worth the aggravation so I just turned around and went back to my books.

*For those of you who recognize the term "yahrens" I'd just like to be clear that this is a reference to the original BG and not to the popular but hopelessly bastardized modern version, which I refuse to even look at on the grounds that Starbuck's not a woman, dammit! He's a GUY! A really cute GUY! And when I was twelve I had a crush on him and a dog named after him and everything! So he's NOT a chick! Sheesh!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Mea Culpa

Sorry about the rotten weather, everybody. It's my fault. I took vacation days.

What was I thinking?

See, I was supposed to go to Scene of the Crime Conference in Kansas so I asked for time off. But the main reason I was going was to meet my agent in person, so when she changed her plans I decided not to spend the money. Since I already had the time off work, I figured I'd just relax and enjoy it.

After all, it's April in Missouri. It's spring! It's time for singing birds and blooming flowers and balmy breezes before the summer sauna sets in.

It snowed yesterday.

Don't mind me, lurking here by the fire pouting and being gloomy. I complain, but actually, I'm just glad that none of the tornadoes hit me personally.


Sunday, April 6, 2008

Reasons why I am . . .

SOOO not as psycho as Christopher McMannana.

Okay, so a while back I was telling my friend and co-worker, Christopher, about the time I drowned my sister. It happened like this: I had gotten into a fight with my sister Dorothy because she was trying to force me to get a haircut that I neither wanted nor could afford. I was working as a substitute teacher at the time (I realized I was not cut out for teaching when I found myself standing over a bleeding five-year-old with my hands on my hips saying, "what made that seem like a good idea?"). The next day I was supposed to sub in her granddaughter's class and Dorothy was afraid I was going to embarrass the little darling because I didn't look "cool" enough. When I tried to politely decline a trip to the beauty parlor she got hateful and insulting and told me that I dressed like an old woman. She said that long hair was completely out. I pointed out that she herself had long hair and she said, "yes, but when I go out I put it up!"

"I put mine up!" I objected. "It's up right now!"

She glared at me. "Yes, but you put it up wrong."

Anyway, by the time I got home I was steaming mad. Now, I don't know if you've ever played Roller Coaster Tycoon, but if not, it's a computer game where you build amusement parks and have to attract guests and make a profit. You get an operating budget and you can build rides and attractions and hire little guys who all look alike to be handymen, maintenance workers, security guards, or panda-suited entertainers. The main goal is to attract guests, which are also a bunch of little guys who all look alike (but wear different colored clothes). If you let the program name the guests it will give some of them women's names, but they all look like little guys. Now, I had discovered early on that it's possible to kill these little guys. I accidentally dropped Handyman 14 in the lake. He floundered around for a few seconds, then sank out of sight and a little alarm sounded and a message flashed across the screen that said "Handyman 14 just drowned!"

I was very sad for him.

In this instance, though, a good drowning was just what the doctor ordered. I went home, opened the game, found a really cranky little guy and named him Dorothy. It was a desert-themed game so I had to build a moat, then I dropped him in. He floundered around for a few seconds and sank out of sight. A little alarm sounded and a message flashed across the screen that said, "Dorothy just drowned!" and I pumped my fist in the air and said, "YES!"

(And then I put a swinging ship ride in the moat and named it the Dead Dorothy.)

Anyway, I was telling Christopher this story and he shook his head and said, "sheesh! And you call ME psycho!" Clearly this suggests that he thinks I am more psycho than he is, but I am not and so I'd like to take this opportunity to defend my non-psychoness.

Reasons I am NOT as psycho as Christopher McMannana:

1. I do not have a plan for turning everyone in Warsaw, Missouri, into a zombie "with just one drop of zombie serum . . ."

2. Nor a contingency plan in case someone else manages to turn them into zombies first.

3. I do not know how to film an exploding head.

4. I have never sighed and said, "you know, sometimes I really wish my [spouse] was a zombie!" (Granted I don't *have* a spouse, but even if I did that statement would still be true.)

5. I have never asked my teenaged son to let me shave off all his hair and eyebrows and paint his head white. (Christopher makes homemade horror movies, if you hadn't guessed.)

6. I have never plotted to kill Frozen Jason the Jason formerly known as Frozen. (Okay, so maybe I have -- who hasn't? -- but I was never serious!

7. I have never cut my kneecap in half with a chainsaw without noticing!.

8. I have never impaled myself on a tractor.

9. I have never cut the crotch out of the pants I was wearing with a chainsaw!!! (And keep in mind that Christopher is a guy. That adds extra exclamation marks to that statement.)

10. And finally and most conclusively, I have NEVER eaten a stale popcorn and Miracle Whip sandwich!

And on that note I rest my case!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Monkee Business . . .

. . . on the Wal-Mart Radio Network!

On the off chance that there's anyone in North America besides Janet Reid who's never been in a Wal-Mart, allow me to explain. The gigantic Wal-mart corporation, which owns a huge chain of retail outlets under the Wal-Mart name and a huge chain of wholesale outlets under the Sam's Club name and a growing chain of grocery stores under the Neighborhood Market name also runs three communication networks to connect them all. There is a company intranet called The Wire*, The Wal-Mart Television Network, which supplies content (heavy on the advertising) for the televisions located throughout the stores, and the Wal-Mart Radio Network, which supplies the music and ads you can hear anytime you are out of range of one of the TVs.

Wal-Mart radio is arguably the strangest radio station in the world.

It is perfectly normal to hear a sequence of music such as this: Buddy Holly, Rod Stewart, Garth Brooks, Boy George, Jose Feliciano, Uncle Cracker, Sons of the Pioneers, Johnny Cash, Def Leppard and Judy Garland.

Lately, however, I've noticed a new trend. Somewhere in the animal cages that hold the radio programmers, there is a Monkees fan. I'm something of a Monkees fan myself from back in the day**, otherwise I probably wouldn't have noticed. But for the past several weeks, almost every day I work, I hear at least one obscure Monkees song. I'm not talking Daydream Believer, Pleasant Valley Sunday or Last Train to Clarksville here. Yesterday I heard Mary, Mary. The day before that (well, the last day I worked before that) it was Sweet Young Thing and the day before that was Take a Giant Step Outside Your Mind. In the past couple of months I've heard She, Valerie, On The Day We Fall In Love, Auntie Grizzelda and I'm Gonna Buy Me A Dog.

It's so weird being at work and suddenly hearing these old songs, like a blast from the past. Some of them I haven't heard, I don't think, since I wore out the last of my Monkees cassette tapes twenty years ago! I'm not complaining! I still like the Monkees and I'm enjoying the novelty of hearing them again, and the variety. (Wal-Mart television is mind-bogglingly repetitive! You get the same segments about every three minutes. I can now talk like Paula Deen. This is not something I learned voluntarily!) The only bad thing is that every time I hear one (I'm still waiting for Zam and Zor, Going Down, Shades of Grey and Western Union) I want to run and tell someone.

And nobody ever understands.

*Janet Reid says I should watch The Wire for some great writing, but so far all I'm seeing is cleaning guides and official dress codes.

**Back in the day being the late 1980s, when The Monkees was on Nick at Nite in reruns, not in the mid 1960s. Contrary to what my nephews think, I'm not that old!

Friday, March 7, 2008

The Serpentine's Bite

Well, $60 something in lost wages plus $60 in car parts equals . . . erg. Math is bad.

I started to work at my normal time this morning, got as far as the bottom of my driveway and my serpentine belt fell off. I shouldn't complain. As it is, I was close enough to muscle the car back up the hill. If it had waited a few more miles I could have easily wound up stranded in the middle of nowhere.

The first thing I had to do was call in, which is something I hate. Funny thing, though. Today my manager didn't seem to give a damn. That worries me a little. I suspect it has nothing do with me, though. The rumor mill says that he's in for some serious trouble over something that I'm not involved with, so maybe he was just curt over the phone because I interrupted him in the middle of getting fired or something.

Anyway, with that taken care of I still had the little problem of getting my car fixed. I called around and finally caught two of my nephews just as they got off work. They drove out, looked it over, made "tut tut" sounds (you know? The ones that mean "this is going to cost you a lot more than you thought it would") and then started taking my car apart. It wasn't the belt: The belt wasn't that bad, although as long as we have it off we'd ought to go ahead and replace it now. What was bad was the tensioner pulley, a little thingie way down at the bottom of the engine. Taking it off involved removing the antifreeze overflow thingie (thingie is a technical term), pulling the right front tire, using six different wrenches from above and below, complaining about front-wheel-drive cars, and swearing a lot.

Once the bad part was off we had to go into Clinton to get a new one. The boys thought it was really funny watching me try to hoist myself into Joe's enormous truck. They actually called me old! I'm only three years older than Joe is! I wasn't having trouble because I'm "old"!

I was having trouble because I'm short.

Anyway, by the time we had the new part it was too dark to put it on, so Mark's coming out in the morning to do it so I can go to work and find out if anybody missed me while I was gone.

If they didn't, I might have to cry. If they did, I'll just wait and cry come next payday.


In today's world it's very important to be careful not only of what you say but of how you say it. One misplaced syllable or unguarded inflection and the most innocent comment can be completely misconstrued. Take yesterday at work, for example.

I was just wandering around the produce department with my little cart, stocking the fruit displays when a man whom I know only very slightly came in and just such a misunderstanding occurred. What I said was, "hi, how are you?"

What he apparently heard was, "tell me all about your wife's explosive diarreah."

People, trust me. This is not something I am ever, ever, ever going to ask.


I am not unsympathetic. If you or one of your loved ones is sick, then naturally I wish you well. I just don't need the details! Now, I could understand what was going on. Here was a man who is used to being cared for and cossetted by his wife and suddenly he found himself in the position of caretaker. Not only that, but the role had led him out of the safe confines of his living room into the scary wilds of a great big, huge, gigantic, incredibly-small-town Wal-Mart almost-but-not-quite Supercenter. He wanted recognition of this fact. He wanted to be patted on the head and told that he's a Good Boy. I can do that! The conversation goes like this:

Me: Hi, how are you?
Him: I'm good, but my wife's sick.
Me: Oh, I'm so sorry to hear that.
Him: Well, I'm taking care of her. I came to get her some medicine and things.
Me: Aren't you a nice husband!
Him: Yeah. What aisle's the chicken soup in?

And then I tell him and he finishes his shopping and I stock my fruit and that's IT! If he absolutely can't help himself he can ask me for directions to Pepto Bismal instead of chicken soup or even, if he MUST, Immodium AD.

I'd really rather he not ask about the Immodium AD, but doing so won't make me be mean to him in my blog. But that is the very LIMIT to what I am willing to be told about any infirmities suffered by himself or his family or anyone whose existence he is aware of.

I do not need to hear that she is "spewing out both ends like a volcano"! I do not need to know about the plastic trash bag she has to carry with her or that she "can't get off the pot without leaving a trail to help her find her way back"!

The banana girl does not want to know!

I do not discuss such things with my nearest and dearest*. If you are a relative stranger to me** then not only do we not need to talk about this, but the term "spewing like a volcano" should not ever, under any circumstances, enter any conversation we might ever have with the sole exception of if we are in fact talking about an honest-to-God actual volcano.

Is all that perfectly clear?

*The small handful of people I can stand.
**Even stranger than my relatives.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Why I avoid politics

I was spoiled for political scandals at an early age, for I was a child of the Watergate era. I was seven when the congressional hearings blanketed the evening news and dominated the adults' conversations. A precocious reader, I had already progressed to adult novels such as The Haunting of Hill House and Sea Wolf. My tastes ran to mystery, even then, and I was familiar with Rex Stout, Erle Stanley Gardner and Ellery Queen.

Hearing the grown ups speak of "Watergate" in hushed and scandalized tones, I was fascinated. Surely here was a mystery of the first order!

I already knew what a watergate was. My second-grade class had studied the Panama Canal and seen pictures of the big locks raising and lowering enormous boats. Of the scandal itself I was ignorant, but I could -- and DID -- imagine. I pictured sinister men meeting in the shadows of a derelict barge, knives glinting in the muted glow of a tiny flashlight. I imagined blood spilled on the towpath at midnight and shallow graves dug in the black earth by the dark of the moon.

Anxious to learn (as Paul Harvey said every day on my parents' old kitchen radio) "The Rest Of The Story", I began approaching the various adults in my life and asking them to tell me about Watergate.

"Well," they'd begin, "there was a big hotel and someone left a door open . . . ."

As lurid beginnings go, this leaves a lot to be desired. Still, if everyone was talking about it there had to be something interesting going on. So I'd sit quietly, eyes glazing over, and listen to endless recitations about burglaries and lying politicians, about G. Gordon Liddy and Deep Throat and what the president might have known when. Eventually they would wind down and I would finally get to ask the all-important question that had inspired this conversation in the first place.

"But what happened at the canal?!?"

I got told to go play somewhere else a lot. And I came to the conclusion, by the time I reached my eighth birthday (two days after Nixon gave in and resigned) that political scandals were largely boring and fiction is a lot more fun.

Since then I have, for the most part, avoided being drawn into the various scandals. There's almost never a body and I have yet to hear a legislator say, on the floor of the senate, "you're probably wondering why I called you all here together tonight." And when something unavoidable erupts, I still seem to look at it from a completely different angle than the rest of the world.

With this current flap over Senator McCain, the first thing that struck me was the way they responded by slamming the New York Times. I read the article in question and while the suggestion of sexual misconduct may have been flimsy, the bulk of the story recounted instances of questionable ethics on the senator's part that seem to be a matter of record. I am reminded of A Christmas Carol, when the Ghost of Christmas Past tells Scrooge, "these are but the shadows of things that have been. That they are what they are, do not blame me."

The second thing that struck me was the wording of the McCain campaign's initial reply to the Times, which concluded, "there is nothing in this story that suggests the senator [misbehaved -- I can't find the exact quote right now. Sorry!] Anyway, if there's nothing in the story that suggests the senator did something wrong, what are they getting all upset about?

But the main thing that struck me about the whole business was a comment that a poster left at the end of a news story firmly declaring that the whole thing was a "temptress in a teapot".

A temptress in a teapot? Really. Surely he/she meant "tempest" in a teapot? Because a temptress in a teapot would be a whole 'nother scandal altogether, and probably a far more interesting one too. Certainly I would expect it to include blood spilled on the towpath at midnight and shallow graves dug in black earth by the dark of the moon.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Blame it on Mindy and the weather

For the past few weeks, every time I write my friend Mindy Tarquini a rude letter she responds that I need a blog. I've largely resisted the whole blogging trend on the twin grounds that (a) there are more than enough blogs in the world already and (b) I'm apt to get myself shot. An ice storm across west central Missouri kept me home today, however, and having a little extra time on my hands I have now given in and become a blogger. Since this is my first post, perhaps I should introduce myself.

Hi, I'm Loretta. Pleased to meet you!

I'm the evening produce stocker at the Warsaw, Missouri, Walmart. I'm also a writer. My first book is a murder mystery called The Reenactment, about a serial killer who is recreating nineteenth century homicides. The Reenactment is now in the hands of my agent and I'm working on the sequel.

When I'm not stocking bananas, of course.

I'm afraid I've also been decimating the local law enforcement agencies. Last year I asked a retired Kansas City cop, "if you find a body and it's obviously dead, can you say it's dead or do you have to try to revive it anyway until the coroner arrives?" (I had this kind of an image in my head of a police report reading, "efforts to revive the victim did not succeed, as we were unable to locate his head . . .") The officer in question kind of stammered out an answer and then moved to Arkansas.

Here recently I asked a Benton County Deputy, "if you're arresting a guy who's been shot in the nuts with a nail gun, do you read him his rights before or after they get him loose from the floor?" He kind of stammered out an answer and then moved to Utah.

Now I have another question. Anybody know a cop you want to get rid of?