Sunday, September 27, 2009

Dog Whispering in Reverse

Several years ago, I pulled into my driveway to find approximately twenty pairs of my husband’s underwear in the front yard. The dachshunds were playing tug-of-war with a pair and engaging in what came to be known as the Great Doggy-style Tighty-whitey Orgy. I asked them what the hell they were doing with the scattered skivvies, but being dogs, they only wagged their tails.

After I found out my husband was cheating on me, this is what I imagined they were trying to say to me that day:

Hey, girl, you know we love you. You’re the one who actually feeds us and takes the time to learn that, although we eat anything, our absolute favorite food on the planet is fried eggs. You’re a good gal, and you really don’t deserve all the crap this dude is pulling behind your back. That condom you found in his pocket last week? He didn’t buy it as a joke to encourage his friend to ask the pretty girl at the bar out. We heard him tell you that and couldn’t believe you bought it. But hell, we’re just dogs, and we can’t just come out and say, “You’re husband’s cheating on you.” So maybe if we literally air his dirty laundry in the front yard, you’ll catch the metaphor.

But they should have known I wouldn’t – or couldn’t – hear their message. After all, they’d tried to warn me about the affair before it ever started. We pulled up in our driveway one afternoon to find that they had intercepted the FedEx guy and shredded an employment contract offering my husband a heinous amount of money. The company was in Nashville, and he would be commuting during the week. He actually had to call the company and tell his prospective boss that the dogs ate his homework. Interestingly, he took the job, and that’s where the affair began.

We tried to warn you. We sniffed trouble the minute that FedEx guy stepped out of the truck. Shredding the papers was Laverne’s idea. She was trying to save you a lot of trouble, but instead we got in a heap of trouble. Since it cost us several mornings of fried eggs, we decided to open the package of sweet potato pancake mix when it arrived. It was delicious, but the bloating? You might have warned us we would be wobbling for a week.

My husband confessed that first affair, and I forgave him for several different reasons, the most important being the fact we had three children. But three years later, I should have known he was cheating again. Laverne and Shirley tried to warn me this time by chewing up their bed.

Again, it’s a metaphor, dumbass. We’ve torn up our bed, knowing you’ll say, “Well, you dumb dogs, you’ve made your bed, and now you’ll have to lie in it. Oh wait, there’s no bed for you to lie in because you’ve torn it up!” Don’t you get it? Your cheating husband has torn up your marriage bed, and you need to let him feel the consequences of the mess he’s made. He needs to sleep on the cold, hard concrete until he straightens up.

I filed for divorce. And one might think that would be the end of the subliminal dachshund messages. But I pulled up in my driveway one day after a weekend trip to find an assortment of my shoes, the kids’ belongings, and about 70 yards of toilet paper scattered over the front lawn.

It could only be the dachshunds.

In my haste to get to the airport on time, I’d failed to make sure the door from the house out to the garage was pulled tightly closed. Since we were only going to be gone overnight, I’d left the dachshunds with plenty of food and water and left the garage door open by about six inches, enough for them to squeeze under to get into the garage to sleep at night.

While the kids and I were gone, they figured out the door wasn’t completely closed, and they managed to push it open. Then they proceeded to have a party while their parent was away.

They had gone in my closet and pulled out one shoe from every pair. Some were in the living room, and some were in the laundry room. The most expensive ones, however, were chewed just enough to render them useless to me, and they were lying on the front lawn.

They had found Lauren’s candy stash and had opened ten or twelve red hot fireballs and then licked them on the white carpet. Red dye dotted the carpet in every bedroom.

They’d had great fun unrolling every toilet paper roll in every bathroom and dragging it through the house and out to the front yard. It looked like we had actually been rolled by a group of midgets who couldn’t reach the trees.

They found the 20-pound bag of dog food in the pantry and dragged it out of the house and into the yard, leaving a trail of dog food through the kitchen and laundry room. Ants were enjoying the trail of food, and I can imagine how many neighborhood dogs feasted in our yard while I was gone.

And of course there were piles of dog poop all over the house.

Hey, don’t be too mad! It’s another metaphor. Yeah, we know the cheating husband is gone. We’re just giving you a (short) leg up on the fact that your kids are almost teenagers. This kind of party could happen while you're away. Consider yourself warned.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Gag Reflex

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Christian circuit produced a teacher who, by some accounts, was the second coming of Christ.

A short, soft-spoken man in his forties, this self-appointed shepherd of God’s flock attracted literally millions of believers to weeklong seminars in which he spoke using only an overhead projector for a prop.

The seminar delved into the basic causes of conflict in life, and he spent an awful lot of time talking about teenagers.

He used words like “temporal values,” and “moral impurity.” For example, he spent several sessions on how rock music alters the brain waves of teenagers, thus inciting them to moral impurity. Along with that moral impurity, a “temporal value system,” that is, placing value on things that don’t last -- like Gucci, money, cars, and Prada -- leads to massive conflict in one’s life.

A favorite metaphor of Mr. “Shepherd” was God’s “Umbrella of Protection.” According to the teaching, when a couple marries, the husband becomes the “umbrella.” The wife and the children are under his “umbrella of protection,” and when the devil throws his fiery darts at them, those darts are deflected by Dad’s umbrella.

So prevalent was this teaching that, almost thirty years later, when my friend had to replace the roof on her house, her mother (also a preacher’s wife) actually said to her, “You DO know why your roof is leaking? It’s because you’re sleeping with your boyfriend.” Never mind the fact that a catastrophic hailstorm had pitted the shingles on every house in her neighborhood. No, that roof was leaking because at age forty-five she had ripped some serious holes in her metaphorical umbrella by sleeping with a man outside of marriage.

I told her the only solution is to find a new boyfriend. If having sex causes leaky roofs, she needs to be sleeping with a roofing contractor.

Incidentally, seminar attendance took a nosedive in the mid-eighties, around the time God Himself revealed a new insight to the teacher. The “quiver full” principle stated that God commanded Christians to give up all methods of birth control in order to rapidly multiply and produce more conservative voters. My dad, to his credit, realized the guy was off his rocker and terminated our attendance at these seminars.

My friend and her boyfriend broke up a few months after the roof was replaced, further cementing in her mother’s mind the connection between the two. Sadly, it also meant that her mother was forced to find another affliction to use in her attempts to control her adult daughter’s behavior.

But isn’t that what we all do? We must attach meaning to maladies. Someone is diagnosed with lung cancer, and we immediately say, “He’s a smoker.” Cirrhosis of the liver – “drank too much.” Because if we can point to a character flaw in another that is causing the problem, then we can insure ourselves against ever having that problem.

Yesterday, it happened. My friend spent a great part of the day enduring tests to figure out why she coughs like a lifelong smoker every time she eats. The doctor thinks it’s acid reflux.

I can hear it now. Her mother will say it’s "the consumption,” the antiquated name for tuberculosis, which, during the early part of the twentieth century, was thought to have been caused by masturbation. Maybe she should find a new boyfriend and take her chances with a leaky roof again.

Personally, I think she’s probably just gagging up all the rules other people keep trying to cram down her throat.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Marshmallow Magic

Not long after I bought the house in St. Augustine, I took my twin nieces, who have earned themselves the dazzling nicknames of Amazing Grace and Faithilicious, out to the beach for a wart-removal ceremony.

Actually, my mother had promised the girls a Moon-Rising Marshmallow Roast out on the beach. So Mom, her mother, the twins, and I carried the little hibachi grill and a bag of marshmallows out to the beach one evening just as the sun was beginning to set.

Faith showed me the wart on her toe as we sat around waiting for the fire to get hot.

I explained that wart removing involves a very precise ritual that must be followed perfectly in order for it to work. Luckily, the best time to perform the ceremony is in the presence of the full moon. Eager to be rid of her wart, Faith agreed to follow my instructions, and we began our preparations.

Honestly, I had no idea what I was doing. But over the years, I've heard stories about everything from garlic to apple cider vinegar to good old duct tape being used to get rid of warts. So I figured what would a little marshmallow and wet sand hurt?

First, she needed some wet sand. As the girls ran to collect the sand, Mom worried aloud that clouds on the horizon might block our view of the moon as it first came up over the water.

The wet sand had to be rubbed on the wart and then rinsed off in the ocean, I told the girls when they returned. They glopped as much sand on Faith’s foot as they could, and she hopped on one foot back down to the water to rinse it off.

Lightning flashed from the clouds just about the time she stuck her foot in a tidal pool, and my 82-year-old grandmother, who had been watching the entire ritual with great amusement, said, “I imagine getting struck by lightning would remove a wart.”

It was time for the girls to roast their marshmallows. Lightning flashed again and again as the girls twirled the marshmallows on their sticks to brown them evenly. Mom looked at her watch and said, “The moon should be coming up over the horizon in just a minute or two.”

Faith took her marshmallow out of the fire and began blowing on it to cool it off. When it was cool enough, I instructed her to pull it apart, rub half on her wart, and then eat the other half while saying the magic words, “Marshmallow make the wart go away!”

As Faith smeared the marshmallow on the wart, Mom yelled, “Look! There it is!” A huge orange moon began climbing toward the stars.

Lightning flashing, moon rising, marshmallow rubbing, and twins murmuring, “Marshmallow make the wart go away!” It was a magical moment. And I hoped to God that wart would magically disappear, because if it didn’t, those girls would never let me hear the end of it. As we made our way back up the boardwalk, I told Faith that she needed to say the magic words three times every night before she fell asleep, knowing full well that she would forget, which would be my disclaimer if my remedy failed.

The next night, Faith fell off her scooter, and the asphalt scraped the wart completely off. It never came back.

That recipe, by the way, is not patented, so feel free to use it. Just make sure you don’t use those hideous chocolate marshmallows. They look like dog shit when roasted, and I imagine that cure would most likely be worse than simply living with the wart.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

An Ongoing Affair with a Jeep

One chilly December morning seven years ago, I went for a walk with my mother. We casually discussed the morning news, Diane Sawyer’s new haircut, and my crazy uncle’s latest attempts to open his own winery. He had sent my parents a bottle of his port -- Pork's Port -- that had exploded in their kitchen, permanently staining their pickled wood cabinets. Then, after a long and thoughtful pause, Mom mentioned that she had met my husband’s new assistant. Turning sideways to face me, she grabbed my arm and said, “She’s cute, and she’s very thin.” She then proceeded to tell me I had better “watch it,” because she suspected he was having an affair.

At the conclusion of our walk, she asked me to come inside because she had a gift for me. And this is not a lie: the woman handed me a diet and exercise book titled Look Great Naked. The implication, of course, was that if my husband was having an affair, I could fix the problem by losing fifteen pounds.

I was devastated. My mom thought my husband was cheating, and she had also just called me fat.

Four months later, I found myself in a twelve by twelve room of a rehab facility and listened as my husband read aloud the following statement, written in his own hand:

“I have struggled quite a bit with alcohol the past year, but what you don’t know is my behaviors that led to my drinking. Last summer, I became involved in an affair with a coworker. This affair has been ongoing and very difficult for me to break off, even after repeated attempts. The magnitude of this addictive relationship is such that I have even had contact with this person while in rehab.”

I heard nothing in this statement after he admitted to an “ongoing affair with a co-worker."

“Ongoing affair with a co-worker.”

Ongoing affair with a co-worker.

Ongoing affair with a co-worker.

What does “ongoing” mean? Is it still going on?

I knew who the co-worker was. I’d known it when my mom handed me the book about looking great naked. Deep down, I’d known. And now, on top of everything else, I felt stupid for not “knowing” until he confessed. In that moment, I felt as if I would never, ever be able to breathe again.

I also felt incredibly fat. That day, I quit eating. I lost seventeen pounds in one month by illogically reasoning that if Mom was right, I could win him back by losing weight.

And I began playing mind games with myself, games that I had no hope of winning. For instance, the “Co-worker” drove a black Jeep. I’d never paid much attention to Jeeps, but suddenly every other car on the road was a damn black Jeep. Every time I spotted one, my heart began pounding, and I suffered a slight panic attack. Every black Jeep was her. She’s on her way to see my husband. No! She’s following me. And I’m half-crazy, so they’ll get my kids. That bitch is going to steal my kids!

That affair eventually ended, but it was followed by several more, the most ridiculous of which was with a twenty-seven-year-old shot girl he met in a strip club. The great irony is that I finally looked really, really great naked, what with all the weight loss, but he kept right on cheating.

I finally mustered the strength to stand up for myself, realizing it wasn’t anything about me – my appearance, my flaws, my imperfections, even my crazy ideas about what kind of cars his lovers drove – that caused him to cheat. After several excruciating years of thinking I could fix him by fixing myself, I realized his affairs weren’t about me. And that’s when I filed for divorce.

My insane aversion to Jeeps lasted for nearly four years, though, until the day it dawned on me that I’d always liked Jeeps; in fact, I’d liked the “Co-worker’s” Jeep before I’d discovered my husband was sleeping with her. So the Jeep wasn’t the problem. It was the meaning I attached to her Jeep – and eventually all other Jeeps – that caused my pain. Further, if I could attach new meaning to Jeeps, and then to his affair, and even to the Look Great Naked book, I could change how I felt about them and, perhaps, even grow from those experiences. Confirmation that I was on the right track came when I discovered the following poem by the Sufi poet Rumi:

This being human is a guest house.

Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,

Some momentary awareness comes

As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!

Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,

Who violently sweep your house

Empty of its furniture,

Still, treat each guest honorably.

He may be clearing you out for some new delight.

Black Jeep was doing me a favor all along; I just hadn’t been able to see it. At that moment, I decided that, rather than cringing every time I saw a Jeep, I would say to myself, “It’s clearing me out for some new delight.” Over and over, Jeep after Jeep, I repeated the new mantra: “Clearing me out for some new delight.” Eventually, I even began to look for Jeeps, to search them out, like every Jeep I spotted was a clue that something good was just around the corner.

In fact, I’m secretly hoping that when my new delight shows up, he’ll be driving a Jeep.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Mentoring the Mistress

Not long after I filed for divorce, I took a trip with my sister and her twins, Faith and Grace, who were four at the time. My job, riding shotgun, was to keep the Disney movies playing. Since my children are out of the Disney stage, I’m a little out of touch with the current animated superstars, so they attempted to educate me. My sister described the little fish Dory in Finding Nemo.

“What did Dory say, girls?”

“Just keep swimming, just keep swimming!” they yelled in unison.

Just keep swimming. It’s the perfect divorce mantra.

On the same trip, we made the requisite toy-store stop at one of those outlet mall junk stores that sells the toys the big guys can’t unload. Grace picked up a Barbie doll called “Erica,” the spitting image of the other woman, the one I'd dubbed the "moderately intelligent Latina" after I discovered my husband's AdultFriendFinder stating he liked Latinas and that intelligence was only "moderately important" to him. Erica even had the same waist-length kinky, streaked hair.

I tried talking my niece out of Latina Barbie. I offered to buy her the store, but she was hung up on “Erica.” So I grudgingly paid for the trashy doll. We got out of the store, and Erica’s clothes promptly came off. And then I was ordered to put her dress back on. Great, I get to see Erica’s Latina titties. I was happy to note that they were better than the set my husband’s new hottie possessed.

“Now brush her hair,” Grace ordered.

“Oh, sweetie, I hate to tell you, but her hair’s tangled. I’m going to have to rip out a few chunks.”

Of course, Erica’s at the bottom of the closet by now, facedown and naked. Her hair’s been cut off with a pair of fingernail clippers. She’s wondering what happened to all the love and attention she was promised at the time of purchase. And Ken’s busy writing his next AdultFriendFinder ad.

A couple of weeks after Erica, I stumbled across a book on the paperback table at Barnes & Noble. Becoming Latina in 10 Easy Steps sounded like the self-help I certainly did not need, but a morbid sense of curiosity mixed with a demented sense of humor demanded the purchase. The author’s recommendations: date Mexican men, learn to cook Mexican food, and mentor an at-risk Latina.

I suppose I could go out with a Mexican man (Rafael Nadal is Latin, would he count?), and I already cook a mean fajita. The suggestion that caught my fancy, however, was the mentoring.

Suppose I meet and mentor my husband’s Latina. I could introduce her to my three teenagers, the crazy dogs, the parasite-riddled cat, the pet snake, and the Lithuanian exchange student. Then I could show her the toenail clippings he leaves on his nightstand for me to discard. I could teach her how to change the sheets when he comes in so drunk he wets the bed. And then she could retrieve his underwear from the front yard after the dachshunds pilfer through the gym bag he left in the garage and literally air his dirty laundry in front of the whole neighborhood.

I could set her alarm for six o’clock every morning to make the kids’ breakfast and pack nutritious lunches. Meanwhile, his ass is still snoring . . . and most likely not in her bed. He’s been out all night with some other little Latina who’s the backup to the backup gal.

I’d say she qualifies as an at-risk Latina. But I'll pass on the mentoring and the attempts at becoming Latina. Being me is good enough for me.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Different Kind of Conversion

Last year, I bought a used six-seater golf cart to keep at the beach house for the purpose of hauling stuff out to the beach. It’s carrying capacity has been pushed to the limit, and that limit is two surfboards, a large cooler, five beach chairs, and five people. And while I love that my golf cart is vital to our beach enjoyment, that’s not the vehicle’s best feature. My favorite thing about the golf cart is that it’s the vehicle I can freely plaster with every funny bumper sticker I come across.

I have one proclaiming the title of my friend Hollis Gillespie’s book, Bleachy-Haired Honky Bitch. It’s on the top of the windshield, and when my sister’s kids are in town, we fold the windshield down so they can’t see the bad word. I have a Darth Vader sticker asking “Who’s Your Daddy?” I have one posing the question “What Would Scooby Doo?”

But my favorite is one I found several years ago at the Orlando Margaritaville with a line I’ve heard Jimmy Buffett say many times, one I think is profound. It says, “There’s a thin line between Saturday night and Sunday morning.”

My son, Hunter, said to me the other day in regards to that bumper sticker, “Mom, that’s like in the Simpsons movie when everyone thought they were going to die. The people in the church ran to the bar, and the people in the bar ran to the church.”

And that reminded about the story of my uncle Wierdie, my mom’s brother. His name is Ed, short for Edward. Years ago, his siblings kindly changed “Edward” to “Edweird,” which got shortened to “Wierdie,” and the name stuck.

Wierdie is sixty-two years old, and he’s never been married. He’s a former military sharpshooter who lives on ten very secure acres south of Griffin, Georgia, with his dog, Sambo, who happens to love turnips. In fact, Wierdie rewards his dog's good behavior by saying, “Sam, go dig yourself a turnip.” And Sambo will run to the garden, dig himself up a turnip, and eat the whole thing.

Sambo also loves beer. In the late afternoon, Wierdie will pour a beer into his dog’s dish, then pop the top on his own beer, and the two will watch the sun go down together over a couple of cold ones.

But Sambo hasn’t always been Wierdie’s drinking buddy. He used to have a crowd of friends at his favorite bar, Doug’s, until Doug sold the place and the new owners closed the bar.

Doug sold the place to a church. So Wierdie’s bar, his home away from home -- his sanctuary, if you will -- has been converted into a place where he doesn’t feel quite at home.

He was invited to attend, of course, but he didn’t exactly want to be converted, just like he didn’t want his bar to be converted. Before, Doug listened with a sympathetic ear. Now, it’s a stranger telling everyone else what to do. Before, the place was open every day of the week. Now, the doors are open only on Sundays and Wednesdays. The bar itself has been replaced with a pulpit. Barstools are now pews. The pool table’s been replaced by a communion table.

The theme song from the old show Cheers expressed this truth about human nature: “You wanna go where everyone knows your name.” That’s exactly the reason why Wierdie loved Doug’s. And since no one at the church really wants to know his name, his real name, and never bothered to ask how in the world he came to be called “Wierdie,” he now drinks with his dog.

Jimmy Buffett is right about there being a thin line between Saturday night and Sunday morning. Because even though the bar is now a church, and everything about the place has changed, there’s one thing that has stayed the same. The sign out front still reads, “A spirit-filled place.”

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Paradoxical Princess

For the past two weeks, I’ve received at least two Facebook “Notifications” every day asking which Disney Princess I am. The urgency and frequency of the messages makes me think that I’m missing something in my life by not knowing which princess I’m most like.

Why do I need to know if I’m more like Snow White or Pocahontas? So I’ll know what condescending names to call the people and animals who live with me? Grumpy, Lumpy, and Dopey, or Thunder Mouth, Barks at Nothing, and Craps on Porch?

The thing is, I spent the day at Disney with four children, two teenagers, and my brother-in-law. My back is sunburned, even though I had on a dark shirt. I sweated in ninety-degree heat, then my hair frizzed up and my feet turned black in my flipflops when it rained. I got home late at night and was already in my pajamas when a member of my household began whining over some chafing in delicate areas and expressed a need for me to immediately throw a sweatshirt on over my pajamas and go to the 24-hour CVS for a tube of diaper rash cream. So even though I spent the day surrounded by little girls in princess dresses, I’m not exactly feeling the princess thing myself.

(And for the record, CVS does not keep the Boudreaux’s Butt Paste in the aisle with the diapers. It’s next to the toothpaste. Maybe it has something to do with the word “paste”? I realize that product placement in drugstores is not an exact science, but good God, diaper cream next to the toothpaste? Really?)

When my former husband was in rehab, the folks running that joint told me that the Disney model of princess meets prince and then lives happily ever after is what got me into trouble in the first place.

Huh? First of all, I was never a Disney princess. Ask my mom; I never dressed up in the Cinderella gown and said, “Someday my prince will come.” My pretend games were a little more realistic than that. I would force my little brother to follow me around pushing my doll in the stroller, instructing him that I was to be called “Mother” and he was “Dear.”

Where I got into trouble, I believe, was sitting for hours every day reading romance novels. Now, I grew up in a Christian home, so these were Christian romance novels. The characters didn’t kiss until they were engaged. But the formula for every one of these books was the same; the heroine is a needy, often shy and fearful, young woman who meets an older, slightly-flawed-yet-powerful man who treats her horribly at first. But it’s just his way of protecting a heart that has been almost mortally wounded by a previous love. Once he realizes just how sweet and perfect and good she is, he falls madly for her and can’t wait to marry her so he can treat her like the absolute princess she is for the rest of happily ever after.

Makes you want to vomit, right? But this is the kind of thing a young girl starts reading after a childhood of being taught she’s a princess in the Disney tradition. And these girls spin this fantasy in their heads long enough they begin to believe that’s how marriage will be. Sadly, reality can’t even come close to competing with this dream.

Look at Belle, the young beauty whose love is enough to turn an ugly, brooding beast back into a loving prince. Hell, marriage is almost the exact opposite, don’t you think? Those loving princes turn into brooding beasts about six minutes after the honeymoon ends.

Which leads me back to the question of my true princess identity: I've narrowed it down to Princess Bitter Bitch or Princess Chapped Ass. I know that someday my prince will come. He will take one look at my bad attitude and my cadre of uncontrollable dachshunds and will quickly become Prince Heads for the Hills.

As for the “happily ever after” dream? That’s a pretty big expectation. I'm shooting for happily ever after every once in a while. And despite the sunburn and the irritating night trip to CVS, the day I spent with people I love was a happy one.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Metaphysical Mutts

Having their pictures hanging in the local post office for biting the mailman just wasn’t enough for the dachshunds. The felonious little beasts are now on the county’s list of vicious animals, and they’re under house arrest, which in this case means they’re only allowed to leave the confines of our home under heavy security. Two leashes each.

Laverne and Shirley are the biggest little troublemakers on the planet. Well, Laverne is little. She’s eight pounds of pure badass, trotting her little self all over the yard as if every cat, dog, or person who passes should be terrified of her. And they should be. She bites. Not hard enough to break the skin, but it doesn’t exactly tickle, either.

Shirley used to be twelve pounds, until she ballooned to twice Laverne’s size. Last fall, gained four pounds in one month. That’s a twenty-five percent weight gain. In Oprah’s world, it’s enough to get your picture on the cover of several tabloids with the blaring headline “OUT OF CONTROL!”

She was fat and lethargic and mad as hell about it. God knows that if I gained that much weight in one month, I’d bite someone, too.

The vet determined that Shirley had a thyroid problem. After a few weeks on soloxine, her “Skinny Shirley” pills, she was almost back to her normal weight. And I have to say that, if it weren’t for having seen the Seinfeld episode in which Kramer helped himself to the canine meds and then started to act like a dog, I might have been tempted to pop a couple of those little pink pills.

The soloxine did not, however, temper Shirley’s temper. She’s like Mike Tyson on speed when a stranger enters our yard, especially a stranger she deems to be of questionable character. And somehow, she’s surprisingly accurate in her character assessments.

According to some of the New Age wizards, animals mirror the behavior of their owners. But whose behavior are my dogs reflecting?

Well, for starters, the dachshunds are extremely protective of our children. I can grab my son and playfully shake him, and within seconds, Luverne is hurling her body at me like a Kamikaze fighter. Protecting the kids – that’s like me.

I’ll take credit for the pancake batter incident, also. They once intercepted the UPS guy and opened a package containing five pounds of sweet potato pancake mix. I pulled into the driveway to find them lying in the yard, bloated and unable to move. I love sweet potato pancakes, especially with cinnamon syrup. And although I haven’t gained twenty-five percent of my body weight in one month, four pounds in thirty days can be easily accomplished with the help my friends Ben, Jerry, and Sara Lee. So the dogs’ eating habits are more like mine, although I don’t eat shit. Well, on second thought, I swallowed a lot of my husband’s crap without thinking twice.

But pushing little kids down and attempting to hump them? And rooting around in gym bags looking for dirty underwear to chew on is something I can’t say I’ve ever done. They got that from my former husband.

So they’re a combination of my ex-husband and me, I guess. Energetic mixed breeds. Metaphysical mutts, if you will.

Well, there is one more story I should tell, an incident that happened after the divorce was final which might tip the balance in favor of my being their reflective inspiration.

My property taxes went up. The county claimed that a “Change of Ownership” prompted the reassessment and that the higher valuation reflected the increase in market value.

Being a writer, I quickly fired off a letter that only marginally veiled my outrage. First of all, there had been no change of ownership. I had received the house in the divorce and had, upon the advice of my tax attorney, placed the ownership of my home in a trust, appropriately titled the Grace Adams Trust. The name was the same, I pointed out. Secondly, I reminded the Office of Tax Assessors that the housing market was in a serious slump. According to recent reports on “Good Morning America,” my home was only worth two thirds of its previous valuation. So either they could reduce that valuation to accurately reflect current market values, or they could just agree that no name change had ever taken place, and we would all just forget the whole unfortunate incident.

Well, the unfortunate incident got worse. They sent an assessor to my home, but nobody told me she was coming. Had I been warned, the dachshunds would not have been patrolling the perimeter of my property hunting squirrels, moles, and well, tax assessors. The poor girl had no idea that the cute little doggies wagging their tails while barking ferociously would actually bite. (Actually, their method of attack is quite sophisticated. Laverne barks the ferocious warning, and Shirley sneaks up from behind and draws blood from the thin-skinned area around the ankle.)

I actually felt sorry for a tax assessor.

County Animal Control came to my house and verified they were current on their rabies vaccinations. They put my dogs on the county’s list of vicious animals and a ten-day home quarantine.

And then the county put my home’s valuation right back where it had been in the beginning.

Barking and growling while wagging their tails. They got that from me. Then again, if your dog barks and growls and chases tail, it could be mirroring the behavior of a cheating husband.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Finding a Higher Power

Last January, I took a trip to Hawaii with my mother. Petras, our exchange student, plays for the University of Hawaii on a basketball scholarship, so Mom and I spent a week on Waikiki drinking pina coladas during the day and watching Petras play in the evenings.

The first morning after we’d arrived, we set out from our hotel on Kalakaua Avenue walking east toward Diamond Head. It was close to 7:30 in the morning, and as we power-walked through Kapiolani Park, my mother pointed out a group of twenty or thirty people congregated under the spread of a few large royal Poinciana trees. Some were sitting on their bicycles, some sat in stadium chairs they’d brought, and some stood. “I wonder what they’re doing?” my mother said.

“That’s got to be an AA meeting,” I answered immediately. And I was right. When we got within hearing distance, I could just make out the words of the man who was speaking. “Did you hear what he said?” I asked her. “’Higher power.’ It’s definitely some sort of ‘Friends of Bill’ meeting.”

I wish I didn’t know what it was, I thought.

In all my wildest imaginings, I’d never once thought I would have such intimate knowledge of what the Friends of Bill talked about when they got together or that I would even be able to recite the Twelve Steps. Somehow, it just wasn’t fair that a preacher’s daughter who had always followed the rules and tried to do what was right would be the family expert on Twelve-Step meeting. To my way of thinking, I should have been wondering what all those people were doing in the park at 7:30 in the morning, because that would mean I’d never been married to an addict. But here I was, both weary and wary of recovery programs, feeling a great deal of animosity over the fact that after spending $35,000 at one of the better treatment facilities in the country, my husband had come home blaming me for his problems. And on top of all that, I was so damn tired of the term “Higher Power.” What’s so hard about using the word “God?”

I got my answer from my little nephew, Joe. In July, I was at the beach with my sister and her children. We spent some lovely afternoons sitting on the beach, and one evening we drove to our favorite beach dive, the World-Famous Oasis, for their annual Christmas in July celebration.

The Oasis is managed by a good-natured little man named Hoover who, incidentally, drives a Hummer. When I say “little man,” I mean it in the sense of the television program “Little People Big World.” Hoover is about three feet tall, and the evidence of his good-naturedness is the fact he dresses up as a leprechaun for St. Patrick’s Day and as Santa’s Elf for Christmas in July.

To begin the yearly festivities, Santa and his Elf are transported by helicopter to a parking lot across the street from the Oasis, where hundreds of Santa’s constituents wait with their lists in hand. Santa and Hoover jump out of the helicopter clad in their respective red velvet Santa pants and green elf pants, Hawaiian shirts, and sunglasses. And they each have a gorgeous blonde on their arm.

My sister’s kids watched the proceedings with utter joy, and then we corralled them to a table, where my sister informed them that Santa would visit our table if and when they ate all their dinner and behaved while they ate.

Bless his heart, little Joe has an awfully hard time sitting still at the dinner table, and he has an even harder time eating all his food. He began horsing around and knocked over his Sprite. “Joe,” his mother warned, “You’d better be careful. You don’t know who’s watching.”

The kid looked up to the sky and promptly said, “God, please don’t tell Santa!”

And that’s when I completely understood Step Two: “We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” I’d always thought the term “Higher Power” was used by the program as a way for those who struggled with the idea of God to reconcile themselves to, well, God. But the word “God” is used throughout the other eleven Steps. What the program is alluding to, I think, is the fact that since we can't see God, sometimes a "higher power" exists in the form of a visible motivation to change our ways.

For Joe, it’s Santa.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Drowning My Soggy Basement Sorrows

In short, this has been the week from hell. I guess when you see a rattlesnake the size of a fire hose on Sunday, it’s possibly some kind of omen that later in the week men are going to be using extraction machines attached to fire hoses to suck the four-inch-deep water-swamp out of your basement. And that I’m going to have to act like a rattlesnake from hell with the insurance adjustor who can’t understand why the hardwood floors must be replaced. Because they’re buckling into six-inch-high teepees that trip me, dumbass? And that I might have problems with other long, hose-like objects later in the week, like maybe gas pumps that should have been replaced before I drove off from the gas station.

So I briefly – very briefly – considered getting myself drunk tonight. I kind of earned it. The house I was supposed to put on the market this week has over $50,000 worth of damage to it, and that’s not counting the furniture, exercise equipment, and stored items that are ruined. As a matter of fact, one of the few items that suffered no damage was the empty aquarium that was once home to a ball python, Hunter’s pet that escaped several years ago and was never found.

But getting drunk is not the answer to my problems, because although I’ve only been really drunk three times in my life, each time it did not end prettily. One of those times occurred while my whole family was in St. Augustine. My poor sister-in-law had to put my drunken ass (or “ash,” as I pronounce it when I’m drunk) to bed. I woke up in the middle of the night very, very thirsty. I tiptoed downstairs and was greedily chugging a liter of Pellegrino when I noticed a cat on my front porch eating from the dish I set out for Degas, the Siamese across the street who spends most of every day going door to door begging for food. Only it wasn’t Degas at the dish. I made my way over to the front door and watched the kitty eat. I wanted to go outside and pet the pretty kitty, but even in my semi-inebriated state, I remembered that opening the door would cause the alarm to beep, and I didn’t want to waken the entire household. So I stood and watched the cat eat while I finished my Pellegrino.

The next morning, I made my way downstairs in time to meet my family for breakfast at eight o’clock, proud of the fact I was not in the least bit hungover. Plus, I pointed out to my brother and niece, at two o’clock that morning, I’d even had the presence of mind not to open the front door and pet the kitty because I hadn’t wanted to wake them.

“What cat? Degas?” Beau asked.

“No. It was a different one. I’d never seen it before, but it was a really pretty kitty,” I said. “It was grey, and it had these cool black rings around its tail.”

After my brother picked himself up off the floor, he explained to me that the “pretty kitty” was, in fact, a raccoon who probably carried rabies – the ultimate in tainted pussies.

So on this night, when I probably have every reason in the world to drown my soggy basement sorrows, I will not drink. Because as sure as I do, some creature from Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom will show up at my house. And with the way my week’s been going, it will be that long-lost ball python, now the size of a fire hose and hungry enough to eat a dachshund.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Measuring Intelligence

One evening in early November 2005, Morgan walked into my bathroom. I was sitting on the floor of my closet packing for my annual Christmas-shopping trip with my sister to the Mall of America in Minneapolis. Morgan was wearing an Abercrombie t-shirt with the words “Dependently Wealthy” on it. She crossed her arms over her chest, leaned against the doorframe, and with her eyebrows arched as high as they could possibly get, said, “Mom, I need to know one thing. Are you and dad planning on having any more kids?”

I laughed. “Why are you asking me that?”

“Just answer the question, Mom.” She cocked her head to the side and waited for my answer.

“Sweetie, you know the answer to that. Of course we’re not planning on any more children. Now tell me why you’re asking.”

My children were fifteen, twelve, and ten at the time. All three were in school, straight-A students, and could take themselves to the potty. A baby was definitely not in the picture.

Morgan had been using her father’s computer. She said, “I hit Dad’s favorites page, and you know what popped up? A vasectomy reversal site.”


But I didn’t say a word. I just sat there looking up at my daughter and letting the tears well up in my eyes.

Then she said, “Mom, how much more are you going to take?”

She left the room, and I sat there feeling like a limp dishrag. I couldn’t cry because that would mean I would have to explain to my husband what was upsetting me. Finally, I moved to the bathroom sink and was washing my face as my husband walked in. Now a budding developer who had applied for zoning permits to build a community of ranch-style condos in our town, he commented, “The county is giving me problems again. The Water Authority wants to put more conditions on the zoning approval I’ve already gotten.”

“You may have to sue them,” I said, and he agreed.

I continued the lather in order to hide my face from him, and after a moment, he left the room. Seconds later, he stomped back into the bathroom, threw his hands up in the air, and with his face twisted in fury, yelled, “You don’t give a rat’s ass, do you?”

“Huh?” I answered, looking up from the towel I was using to dry my face. Honestly, I thought I’d given him at least a rat’s ass worth of concern when I’d said he might have to sue the county. What, did he want me to go buy a posterboard and make a sign and picket the next Commission Zoning Meeting? The man was making it extremely difficult for me to keep my cool.

“My businesses are going bankrupt, and you don’t even care. But you’re going to care in about two months when I file for bankruptcy. And that’s when I’m going to know that you’re only married to me for the money.”

He turned and left the room. I heard the alarm beep, meaning he had left the house, and I knew that, just like every other night for the past several months, he would not return.

The next morning, I called a lawyer, and that afternoon I was seated in his office. I needed a divorce; of that I was certain. But he needed to know what I was seeking in the divorce, and I said, “Everything I deserve.” The problem was that if we were in the financial trouble my husband was claiming, I had no idea what to ask for. We left that section blank, my attorney assuring me I was entitled to half and that we would find out, in the process of discovery, just how much half was. He promised to have the petition for divorce filed and ready to serve him within one week. Fortunately, I would be at the Mall of America when he was served, and my children would be at their grandparents’ home, where they would be sheltered from seeing a sheriff at the door.

On the flight to Minneapolis, I remembered that he had always used his birthdate as his email password. When we landed, I went straight to the tiny business center in the Minneapolis Airport Hilton and logged onto his email, something I could have easily done all along. I spent the next two hours and $75 printing out emails. It may have been the best money I’ve ever spent.

There was an AdultFriendFinder alert. “You have three new flirts.” I clicked onto his profile to discover that my husband of eighteen years and the father of my children was single with no kids. Not only that, he was also a young professional in his early thirties (lie) who had never had time to commit to a relationship (a lie unless marriage doesn’t count as a relationship) because he was extremely busy in his professional life (half true). No children (lie). 195 pounds (huge lie). Additionally, he liked all things Latin – music, food, and women. In fact, he was looking for a Latin girl, and this is the God-honest truth, intelligence was only “moderately” important to him.

Another email contained pictures of what must have been the girl of his dreams. She was Latina, and, as proof that she was, indeed, “moderately intelligent,” she was gainfully employed as a shot girl in a strip club. In the picture, she was baring her boobies, and the pictures were courtesy of a professional photographer who was courting my husband’s investment dollars. Basically, the asshole paid for her Glamour Shots!

Hey, Einstein, you’re considering a vasectomy reversal so that you can have a child with a moderately intelligent woman. Did you know that vasectomy reversals are rarely successful ten years after the vasectomy? They’re going to have to stick a needle into your scrotum to suck your semen out. And they’re going to mix it in a little Petri dish with the eggs from a woman with the intelligence of blue-footed booby bird. Just for the fun of it, I took your picture and hers and put them into one of those cool computer programs that shows you what your children will look like. Your kid is going to look like your scrotum.

As crazy as it sounds, I felt a wave of relief in that moment. Knowing that the divorce was inevitable and that I’d only beaten him to the attorney’s office was absolution for a woman still trying to do everything exactly right. I felt better knowing I wasn’t the bad guy. But as I digested all what I had just found, I began to feel like the moderately intelligent one for not seeing what had been right under my nose for so very long.