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The Hairbrushing Floggaraptor

09/11/2010

My Momma always told us kids growing up that we weren’t allowed to go outside with wet hair. This was specifically directed at the winter, but did pertain to late fall and early spring as well. As a result, I have had an ongoing war with my magnificent tresses. Magnificent? Yes. Because they are winning the war and I am helpless to fight.

I have this Thing about long hair. I’m not too crazy about towheads but a long, streaming coif of dark strands has always given my toes an extra tingle. I have personally done abominable things to my hair, a lot of which I’m not proud of, but it makes for good wisdom on the matter. About two years ago, I decided on Natural. This means, I don’t color it, I don’t perm it, I don’t blow dry it, and I certainly don’t curl it. I have cut off the last remaining traces of light brown hair dye number 46. All that remains is my hair as nature intended it. It’s long, nearly to the middle of my back, with a healthy dose of natural wave. It has a dark red tint to it and is soft and tolerably thick. It is beautiful. Absolutely. And some days I hate it and want to do nothing more than shave my head.

I went to one of those Wal-Mart Smart Styles and was going to get my hair bobbed off. I let my braid out and let it cascade down my shoulders as the stylist scrutinized it with a careful eye. Then, she shook her head and said, “I won’t cut it. It’s too pretty.” I was flattered and agonized at the same time. I took my salvaged fifteen-dollars-plus-tip and bought myself a headband, a ringlet of ponytail holders, a bottle of merlot and some chocolates. I let myself relax and think, but was concerned with the mass on my head. I used to be able to count the grey hairs on one hand and remove them if necessary. Now it’s easier to remove the dark ones and put on a hat. When did hair get to be such an issue?

To make matters worse, my beloved husband has a mane that I would be envious of if I didn’t have one myself. I adore it, spending time brushing it out in all of its wavy splendor or just braiding it before he goes to work. When I relayed my story about Wal-Mart, he gave a little jump and said, “If you cut your hair, I’m going to cut mine.” Well, that was out of the question. I’m stuck with the stuff.

Today was a particularly rough hair day. Usually, I wash, dry, wide-tooth comb, and ignore it until my next shower. Yesterday, while riding around with the wind in my hair (I knew better, I swear), my beautiful tresses twisted and turned and wrenched and clutched one another until when I stopped and felt my head, I was aghast. Have you ever given your three-year-old a spiral brush in hopes he would brush your hair for you? How long did it take to get the brush out after he curled it for you? This was worse. I swear I saw a bird fly out of my rat’s nest. I grabbed my wide-tooth and started to gently tug at the ends, much like how I was taught when caring for the elderly. They have sensitive scalps. It usually took me about half an hour to do it right, for them. As rough as my knots were, it was going to take a pickle fork and a pair of needle-nosed pliers to straighten it out.

I decided my scalp wasn’t that tender and went to work trying to rip my hair back into its usual tidy mass. I discovered several things today. One, I most certainly am tender-headed and will be for about four days. Two, never let your child watch. This has nothing to do with the slew of obscenities, but rather the unorthodox and belligerent manner in which one treats a part of their body. My hair became cursed, damned, slathered in excuses and promises, and finally I was reaching for the scissors when I sat down and tried to calm down. My hair hadn’t been this big of a mess since my boy splashed sorghum into it. With a deep breath, viciously held, I tugged and pulled my head in whichever direction until I could run my fingers through it. Satisfied, I pulled it back so it wouldn’t get tangled and started to leave the bathroom. I stopped.

I should really be gentle. Really. I wasn’t, and as a result my sink and tile floors looked as though a yeti had come in and shaved his back. I cleaned up a pile of hair that condensed into the shape of a golf ball. I was concerned I was going bald (jeez, yes, most likely I will now!), but more concerned as to how to prevent this particular episode from ever occurring again.

Honestly. I was back to my old dilemma. I wanted to cut it. I wanted to shave it. All of it seemed like more of a mess than I was willing to clean up. For you, ladies, I offer you this: hair is our finest feature. It is the one part of our body we alter the most to appeal to everybody. Between the dollars spent with extensions, braiding, perms, waves, color…and then all of the accessories that are required to upkeep it, doesn’t it just stand to reason the only real items anybody needs in their haircare repertoire is a nice pair of Conair Hair Trimmers and a bar of Ivory Soap?

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Confessions of a Thrift Store Junkie

09/11/2010

“Our house is cluttered,” my husband told me this afternoon. “We have too much junk.”

Junk! Junk, he calls it! I prefer memorabilia. Keepsakes. Treasures of the heart.

Yeah, that’s pushing it a bit too far. But I don’t consider my house to be cluttered. Rather, it has a distinct, lived-in feeling, and it’s all my personal creation.

I used to hate shopping. Buying groceries every couple of weeks became more of a mandatory ritual rather than any real necessity to eat. I could front my mother on this one: she is, and will remain forever, a professional Yard Saler.

When we were kids, my mother would insist on checking the weekly paper for sales, much to my father’s displeasure. We lived twenty-five miles from the nearest town, and though we only frequented it on a bi-monthly basis, somehow she had a permanent map of the entire city drawn, labeled, and carefully lettered within her head. My father would drive slowly down the main roads, until he heard her yell, “There’s one!” He would slow down so she could speed-read the sign. “412 Maple. First left and two rights, should be next to the church.” Sure enough, there it would be.

My father would park the car near the side of the road and my mother would power-walk to the confetti that littered the target house’s yard. With a glance, she would know if the seller was a dealer, and she would walk back to the car. “It’s all junk. Next house.” And the process would start again. She let out her familiar screech once and my father obediently slowed down. “I can’t read it.” A little closer to the bright yellow sign as traffic stalled behind us, then she released a depressingly solemn sigh. “House.” “Yard Sale?” My dad asked. “No. House for sale.” I’m surprised she didn’t stop to give it a glance. She once saw a box labeled “Free”, so she took the box. Left the junk beside the curb.

This was the start of a long, downward spiral towards the trinkets and moth-eaten clothes that would eventually lure me in. I used to help her when she started her own business as a Professional Flea Marketer. I inherited the eye. I could tell from six booths down if the shimmering glass on a table was Carnival or Drinking. It should serve as no surprise that the beginning of this year, I started volunteering at the Family Resource Center Thrift Store.

I took control of the place, having been given full reign on how items should be priced and first look on new items coming in. My town is a bustling, rich-kid college city during the term. During the summer it dies, with all of the students dropping off everything from Tupperware with last month’s pizza still festering in it to an authentic Vera Lang sweater. The prices stay the same, no matter what the presumed value, and it was then that my eyes started to shine.

I developed an odd collection hobby: I can’t afford real china, so I started buying the single plates and odd cups that came in. I own real china! Every time a new plate with an interesting design comes in, I jump at the chance to add it to my waiting collection. Do we eat off of it? No! It’s china. I’m saving it for Christmas and it’s strictly for looking at.

Thus far, I have managed to add a yellow, crusting picture of somebody’s dilapidated barn, an iridescent nightstand that nobody ever sees, and a three-wheeled antique truck with the name Alex written on it in permanent marker to my peculiar household. Somehow, all of these items match the strangeness of my house. I always manage to find a place to put my distinctive debris. If I don’t have room, I make some. If I can’t find a shelf, I wait until one comes up on sale.

We sell absolutely everything at the thrift store. It was no real surprise when my boss wheezed his way through the door lugging a massive stainless steel sink. “Price this for ten dollars,” he puffed, nearly dropping it between a red leather lamp and a fake potted fern.

I admit it. I was tempted. But where on earth would I put it? My mind teemed with ideas.

Outnumbered

09/11/2010

I live with two males. My needs are usually neglected, but there are a few rules I hold dear. First, leave the sponge in the sink. Is it because they are squishy? Is it because they make bubbles? I don’t know, but somebody has been stealing my sponges. Second, eat in the kitchen. “When the vittles is ready, y’all worsh up and put a shirt on!” Nothing, but nothing, overrides supper in my house. A tornado could come and sweep our mini-van away, and we would all be watching with wide eyes and mouths fulla beans and biscuits. Third, and this is the most important: Leave the seat down. I’m not a hypocrite. I leave it up when I’m done. I even keep it clean, because Lord knows that if I left it up to them a parched dog would turn his nose up at it.

This third rule is big issue anywhere. It’s the real reason why they made separate his and hers bathrooms in public areas. I’m surprised they haven’t started to build the seats into the bowl. These sort of intimate dilemmas have induced the creative people of the world to create urinals, bidets, and other peculiar devices that nobody likes to talk about. Women’s rooms aren’t lined in velvet and the toilets don’t run with rosewater, any more than when you walk into a men’s room you find a foot of soft dirt and a half dozen carefully pruned trees.

I was at a public swimming pool once with my brother. I heard a boy exclaim, “I need to go!” as he pulled himself out of the water. He moved about four feet from the water, two feet from my shoes, and gave my shoelaces a drink. I was appalled and deeply mortified. I left the swimming pool and never returned. I didn’t know if I should commend him for not urinating in the water, but with all of the other kids there, for three hours it was pretty amazing that he was the only one who needed to go.

I secretly yearned for a girl when I was pregnant. I didn’t know how to explain the mechanics of the male body to a little boy. With girls, the whole process is “sit”. No aiming required. By the time they are a few months old, every child knows the meaning of the word “sit”. It’s “stand” and “stay” and “Not on Mommy’s shoes!” that they don’t grasp until they’re about twenty-five or so. It really is a lot like paper-training a puppy.

We only have the one bathroom. That became an easy-to-solve issue. My husband would take my boy outside and together they would water a tree. Sometimes they would get lazy and just do it off the side of the steps. That was usually alright, in the summer. Except, in the winter, my sister-in-law would come around to do laundry in the utility room and there was no mistaking the yellow against the blinding white. I tried to cover up the snow with more snow, but when that failed I started to try to dilute everything with water. We no longer a few stray letters of the alphabet on my sidewalk: now we had bare spots. Bare spots I was okay with.

To cover the bare patch when spring came, I set a plant I had been gifted with in the middle of it. Within days of the discovery, I noticed my plant looked rather wilted, so I watered it generously. It looked as though it were rapidly dying. I realized then that my plant had been defiled by my boys, so I set it off to the side a bit further, out of reach of crying bladders.

Within a week of the placement, my potted plant had been reduced to nothing but a mere pot. Everything inside had died and fallen to the ground. About the time I started to gather the will to properly mourn my plant, my little boy came outside with a desperate call to answer. At first aim, he missed the pot completely. I felt a soft sense of relief; he couldn’t have possibly killed my herbal companion. But then, in a burst of inspiration, my son wiggled his hips and brought about a Time Warp that would’ve made Dr. Frank N. Furter smile in liverish approval. Direct hit.

Since this incident, I have removed all potted plants from my house. Whenever my husband brings home three roses in a vase, I put it on a high shelf just to be safe. My family will probably never know what exactly happened to all of the leafy greens that used to decorate my house. I am trying my hardest to reinforce the toilet upon them, because honestly, I have no idea what I would do should the tree in my yard fall.

They’re People, Too!

09/11/2010

I got my first (and only) speeding ticket when I was around twenty years old. I was driving through Searcy and didn’t see that the magical limit had dropped from fifty-five to thirty-five. I was almost safe! Nearly to the interstate! And then, the mark of doom, the thing that makes everybody look down at their speedometer and curse out loud: the police car in front of me did a u-turn and pulled up behind me, lights flashing.

My first instinct was, “Maybe he’s pulling over someone else who is going twenty miles over the speed limit.” No such luck. I pulled into the Wal-Mart and sat there trembling. He took an eternity to get out of his car (I wonder if he had some leftover paperwork that he was catching up on?), then stepped out of his vehicle, adjusting his trooper’s hat with a brisk flick of his wrist. I was terrified. To make matters worse, another police car pulled up beside him. I could only imagine what people were thinking when they saw it required two cars to pull me over! I was mortifed and unsure of what to do. I knew better than to get out of the car. I rolled down my window and put on my Model Citizen face.

He sauntered over to me, his face a contorted expression of pain and anxiety. He looked as though he were holding in a bad bout of gas he wasn’t sure about. Before he could say a word, I pushed my license, registration, and everything else in my wallet that looked important towards him. He accepted these things wordlessly and returned to his car. I figured, quite possibly, he would ask me the standard questions from the cop shows–“Do you know how fast you were going?” “Do you know what the speed limit is?” “Would you mind opening your trunk?” (I popped the hatch to be safe.) It was a hot summer day. I was shaking and sweating profusely.

The officer returned to my car, passing back the license, registration, and my birth control prescription. “Mmkay, do you know how fast you were going?” I blinked at him. I had heard many different versions of the southern accent, but this was beyond my comprehension. He sounded, to my gibbering mind, like Mr. Mackey from South Park. I didn’t want to open my mouth for fear of laughing, so I bit my tongue. He repeated his question, adding, “Ms. Phillips, speeding is bad, mmkay?” I could feel the terror melt off of me. I did the only thing I could do. I nodded.

“Mmkay, well, in Arkansas, we have a point system, mmkay? And we don’t like y’all to be speeding in the middle of town, mmkay? So here’s what we’re going to do…” and he proceeded to explain my ticket to me in great detail, with great accent. I had been shaking from fear before. I could only hope he couldn’t detect the difference now. I wound up having to go to court and paying a two hundred dollar fine, about a month later. I don’t recall ever returning to Searcy after that.

I have always been intimidated by the police. I’ve never done anything wrong. I just have a natural, awe-inspired respect. When my best friend was attacked a few years ago, I went into my first police station. I couldn’t speak. I’m only glad I was there for moral support, rather than to testify. When people I know tell me they have a friend who is a cop, I regard them with an expression similar to if they had just told me they were considering getting an artificial penis implanted on their forehead. It makes no sense! And neither do they.

Driving through town here, after the college students leave, the police get bored and follow people around trying to scare them into breaking the law. When one is behind me, I would rather wrestle with a rutting bull than forget to put on my signal or put my hands on ten-and-two (in case they have x-ray vision; I heard they do). I follow the law, the speed limit, and have never come to a rolling stop at a stop sign.

Where I work, there are often the rough-type who frequent the area. There are trailer parks where sleazy business goes down. I prefer not to think about it. I am there in the daytime, so it is easy to convince myself I am safe. I’ve seen my share of shady characters, including a teenage girl who was so doped up on pain meds she spent three hours at the store playing in the mulch. She came in, hit on me, hit on my son, then was finally escorted away by a few official-looking people. I haven’t seen her since, but I know her type is around.

Today, an unmarked pulled up across three parking spaces and an older man, fully uniformed and loaded, walked into the store. I glanced around at my customers (two of whom left quickly and quietly), but nobody said a word. I smiled politely and greeted him.

“How’s business today?” he asked. Very friendly. A little too forced, in my tensed mind. I played coy and showed him the register tape. “Not too busy,” I responded, “but we’ve had a few.” What was he here for? My mind gibbered and my mouth babbled, telling him about a pair of red patent leather shoes we had received. He looked disinterested and glanced around the store, so I shut up. I started to move to the other side of the counter, but he held up his hand.

“Do you take donations?” The relief splashed across my face. Was I going to say no? I nodded eagerly, reaching for the bag, but he declined with a wave of his hand.

He came around the side, lugging a white trash bag next to his carefully pressed pants, and dropped it beside me. “There’s two shirts and some shoes in there.”

“Thank you for your donation,” I said cautiously. I wasn’t sure that was what was in the bag, but I accepted it with good grace. I wasn’t about to touch it now, now that I had seen it. It was lumpy and stuffed, and possibly! it held shoes. I’d let one of my minions sort it later.

He stood there stiffly, his badge twinkling in the artificial light. I began to fidget, then grow embarrassed. Why was he staring at me? What had I done wrong?

“Could I have one of those sheets to sign off for taxes?” I nearly leaped over the counter in my haste to grab the clipboard and held out a pen. He filled out his part while I filled out the records, and realized a sudden dilemma: I couldn’t read his writing. I couldn’t decipher his name! In a burst of inspiration I scribbled down everything from his official, and very shiny, badge, then passed it to him. He gruffly passed the clipboard back to me and turned to walk out the door. I lost twenty pounds in letting my breath out. Then he stopped.

“Is this bicycle for sale?” he demanded, pointing. I knew which bicycle he was referring to; we had just gotten the pink Schwinn in that morning and I had slapped a seven dollar price tag on it. Oh my God, my mind chortled, it was hot! A hot bicycle! I was re-selling a stolen girl’s bicycle, and what’s worse, I was selling it for cheap! I resisted the urge to to cover my face and stood there proudly, explaining the bicycle to him.

“Yes, sir, just got her in this morning. Comes with a little ah-oo-ga horn and training wheels, a fine bike for any girl just learning to ride!” I gave him as many details as I could from the whole hour it had been in my possession, including a description of the woman who had donated it (I knew she looked suspicious in her capris and sailor shirt). The policeman grew more and more anxious, nearly fidgeting, and I knew the time had come for me to shut up and let him speak. Instead, he began to prance, bouncing off of his toes and grinning like a five year old at Christmas.

“My granddaughter would absolutely love this bike! And at seven dollars, with training wheels? This is fantastic!” he looked at me, finally, and I could see the power switch positions. “You wouldn’t mind selling it to me, would you?” His eyes pleaded and suddenly I was in control.

“Absolutely.”

I rang him up, then helped him carry the bicycle out to his car. By now a small crowd from the main building had gathered, scattering like birds when we came outside. The whole time he gushed to me about his Little Princess and how she was learning to ride, and how much she would love Grandpappy when she saw it. I nodded, chatting with him like we were old friends, and when he pulled away he waved back at me with a beam.

When I returned to the store, I could feel weights upon me suddenly lifting. The few customers who had disappeared cautiously returned to complete their transactions. A fellow who works outside approached me with a look of awe in his eyes.

“That was the police chief! I had a heart attack when he pulled up. What did he want?” I nonchalantly explained the bicycle and the donation as though he had been an ordinary customer. He hung on to every word as though it were gospel, then shook his head. “That takes guts. You’re above the law, girl!” He clapped me on the shoulder and returned to work.

There is concrete evidence that states I should respect the law when it is personified, and I do my best. I hold no grudge against them. An hour after I sold the bicycle, the woman who donated it called. “I forgot to give you the chains.” Chains? “The bicycle has no brakes, so please don’t sell it until I get there.”

Shit.

Supper with Mother

09/11/2010

Dining out is a luxury.  At least, it used to be.  Fifteen years ago, the only time my family ever ate out was on 27-cent hamburger Tuesday at McDonald’s.  My dad would order three for each of us (a skinny slab of meat on a squished bun) and we’d wait at the drive-through for half an hour while the window attendant tried to convince the fry cook that we really wanted eighteen sandwiches.

When I finally graduated from high school, I was introduced to a whole new world of pizza, cheeseburgers, and burritos.  Fast food on a college budget was convenient.  Even when we couldn’t afford to eat out, my small, distinct group of friends would scrounge up a dollar in change and we’d head to Perkins for a cup of coffee that we shared between six people so they wouldn’t kick us out.

For the first eighteen years of my life, everything I ate was home-cooked and made with tender love by my mother.  Somehow, she managed to feed six people a meal every night with only a bag of flour and the remnants of a chicken.  One memorable winter when we were snowed in and had no food, she defrosted every animal in the deep freezer.  Some of the meat was very old and over half of it was unidentifiable.  Viciously dubbed “Disney Stew”, a huge pot of deer, rabbit, squirrel, and cow simmered on the wood stove for most of that week.  Nobody wanted to eat it, but we survived.

Whenever I came to visit my family on the weekends, my mother always had something cooking.  Sometimes, it was just Chow Mein from a can, but other times we went out for dinner.  Buffets were plentiful.  My mother, thoughtfully considering her favorite cat back at home (coincidentally, the cat’s name was McDonalds), would make one last trip to the buffet table.  Upon returning, she carried a plate stacked high with sliced cheese and cookies.  She would then surreptitiously stash each bundle in a wad of napkins and stick it in her purse.  If she ran out of room, then my sister and I surrendered our spare compartments to the cause.  We grew so used to it that we didn’t think twice about our mother slipping food in our purses.  The only problem was, if we weren’t careful, we’d discover a slice of moldy pizza carefully wrapped and wedged next to our checkbooks.

My mother predicted, right before I left for college, that one day, my siblings and I would reunite with her for a Thanksgiving dinner.  She described the turkey, browned and lightly seasoned, the smashed potatoes, the biscuits and butter.  She mused to me, “It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if one of you started a food fight.  Your brother would be covered potatoes and I’d have to send you to bed without dinner.”  She cackled delightedly at this vision.

In her mind–in any mother’s mind–we’ll always be children, her babies, and never “grown-ups”.  Our family has scattered in many directions in recent years.  I keep picturing this dinner my mother planned ten years ago and wonder when our schedules will be cleared enough to call her on it.  Would my sister storm away from the table, with bits of turkey plastered to her sophisticated bob?  Would my brothers start the war, one armed with a spatula of creamy potatoes and another with the gravy ladle?

The recollection of an event that has yet to pass is strange, though familiar.  Time has had a hand in it and played its part perfectly.  Sometimes, while I’m out for dinner with my husband and son, and one of them playfully throws a grape across the table, the nostalgia overwhelms me.

Someday, very soon, I hope to collect my siblings and meet my mother for a surprise supper, complete to the last detail of her imagination.  I don’t even care if it’s canned turkey with rice.   I fully intend to greet her at her door with a mischievous grin and a bowl of warm gravy.

The Centerfold of Good Housekeeping

09/11/2010

How clean is your house?

If it’s anything like mine, you have a sink of dishes needing washed, at least two baskets of laundry needing folded, and every floor needs either a vacuum or a mop.  I am deeply ashamed of myself.  I’m sure my life is an open book as to why housekeeping and I do not mesh.

I am the firstborn of four.  When I was little, it was only one mess for my parents to clean.  Of course, they did it.  They weren’t tired.  They were young and energetic.  I was the firstborn.  Nothing was too good for me.  I could dump over a pot of spaghetti sauce and sure, I’d get reprimanded, but they’d clean it up.  When my brother came along, it was more of a handful, but still, they were relatively youthful.  Only a few gray hairs had sprung up between Child One and Child Two.  Dad wasn’t on nitroglycerin yet.  Poof!  Out pops another girl!  Whoomp!  Out pops another boy!  Four children under the age of seven?  I’m pretty sure this is why we all went to public school.  From seven until four five days a week, there was nobody in the house but them.  They needed that rest for when we became teenagers.  It was a lesson in endurance and stamina.

I shared a room with my sister.  We tried the tape-across-your-half bit.  We often argued about who got the side with the door, because that area was always mostly clean.  I tried to be fast so I could watch TV or read a book.  The moment I left the room, my sister would notice something on  her side of the line was just slightly over myside.  This made it my mess and was pushed over with a foot.  Anything attached to the item went with it.  I often wondered just how long the sleeves of her sweaters were.  The only thing that ever saved me from not having to clean her side of the room  was the fact that since she was younger, it took her a bit longer to realize in order to make it look like her side was clean, she had to throw stuff around my side of the room.  Not put it into nice, carefully arranged piles right next to the line.  Unfortunately, more often than not, to “lead as a good example”, I’d have to clean the whole room anyways.  It wasn’t a problem until my brothers, who always were more observant than they let on, watched the antics of their sisters.  I would have been impressed if they had followed in our footsteps and brought out the masking tape.  One day, after I left the room, I came back to my youngest brother methodically move heaping handfuls of clothing, toys, and trash from his room to ours.  To add insult to injury, he dumped it on my side of the room.

When I was in college, whenever I’d visit my parents on the weekend, I’d clean house for my next-door neighbor.  It was a small chunk of change and there’s always something so intriguing about invading someone’s privacy.  The neighbor would leave with the specific instructions of “clean”.  She lived in a modified small farmhouse.  I’d clean the kitchen, including organizing the shelves and refrigerator.  I’d tidy up her living room, not limiting myself to polishing her silver tea set and alphabetizing her movies.  By the time she got home a few hours later, I’d be up in the attic, wondering how to get the vacuum and mop bucket up there.  I even scrubbed the algae off of her unfinished patio.  She would give me ten dollars and I’d go home, feeling proud of myself.  I never knew that wasn’t enough money for the work I had done.  Hell, I’d been cleaning my house for free!  When my youngest brother took over my job with her and she gave him a five dollar check that bounced, I knew my days of cleaning for other people were over.

Until I started dating.  A specific instance that crosses my mind was when I was dog watching with a friend of mine.  I was about eight months pregnant and didn’t feel like cleaning up after that spoiled rat terrier the third time it got into the trash.  The dog came bounding into the living room, where we were watching television, and promptly snuggled itself up against my friend.  My meticulous and nesting eye spotted a large sticker, like the kind that comes off of a tub of Cool Whip, plastered to the floor next to my friend.  I didn’t want to get up, but I was the closest to the trash can.  I tried to prey on pity and asked my friend to throw the sticker away, so I could have some peace of mind.  My friend looked up from the remote control, glanced at the sticker, and pulled it up.  With the vague interest of someone who has something stuck to their hand, he tried to flick it off with his thumb and forefinger.  He then picked up the dog, smacked the sticker down right on its left haunch, and said in the sugariest voice I’d ever heard, “Go on, puppy!  Go get her!  Get snuggles!”  The terrier bounded over to me expecting love and hugs, but instead I pulled some fur as I had to rip off the sticker and put it in the trash.  My friend and I don’t talk anymore.

Since getting married and having a child who, inevitably, makes messes, I tried to be the good mother and keep everything polished, shined, waxed, or disinfected.  For the first three months of his life.  Lack of energy and motivation played a large factor in how much I cleaned or even moved.  I could imagine, for the first time in my life, just how rough my own mother had it.  I can’t train a spouse or son any better than I can train a puppy (though we do have less stickers on the walls around here).  There are always socks on the floor, dishes in the sink, toys in the microwave.  I have so much to live up to, now, though.

I have a meticulous sister-in-law who lives but a wall from me.  When there aren’t smells of something delicious cooking wafting up under the door, there is the scent of sandalwood or some other fragrance.  Once a week, I hear her cleaning the stairs with a bucket of water.  It startled me the first time I heard it.  Not because it was the distinct sound of a large amount of water splashing, but because she sneezed first.  If there is the suggestion of a hint that she might have visitors, she starts cleaning her space vigorously.  If I find out someone’s coming to visit me, I try to stall them.

I have, at the least, disciplined myself and my son to keep our house livable.  He empties the wastebaskets into the master trashcan.  He puts everybody’s shoes in order of size and frequency worn.  Sometimes, he even picks up his toys.  There are definite advantages to having children.  He’s only four and he already does as much housework as my husband.

I may never have a house that’s completely devoid of cobwebs and dust, and my couch may have marker and toothpaste stains on it, but I don’t worry about that as much anymore.  I am finally getting around to inviting people over on my own accord.  I give them cold drinks, snacky foods, and a clean sheet to sit on.  I am always between extremes.  Some days, I don’t want to clean the house.  Other days, if I know we’re getting a propane tank, you’ll find me under the bathroom sink, organizing toilet paper rolls.

the zombies of wal-mart

09/05/2010

I went to get an oil change today.  Where?

Where else?

The Wal-Mart Tire Lube and Express, of course.  The place where you go in with a purseful of dollars and dreams, and leave with a new purse and no groceries.  I used to haunt the place like a unsettled spirit desperate for one last sale.  I gave a friend a ride home once.  I had never been there so I had to ask directions.  He pointed and urged and finally said, “There, there, right across the street!”  I looked up and saw the familiar sign.  “Wal-Mart!”  I chortled.  “You live there, too?”  Actually, no.  He lived in the trailer park across from it.  But look at the location!

The people you meet there are often as far from ordinary as you could expect.  During the time I’ll fondly refer to as “The Harry Potter Phenomenon”, everybody was buying anything Harry.  You had the little circle glasses made of cheap plastic for twelve dollars, a realistic red tattoo in the shape of a lightning bolt scar, and everybody’s favorite, the White Snowy Owl, complete with cage.  Wal-Mart never misses a beat to rip off something wonderful and magical and turn it into something cheap and disturbing.  While I was working as a cashier one night, a woman came through my line with one of the less-expensive white owls.

Being one to always cheerfully comment on someone’s purchase, I admired the simplistic reality of the bird and said, “So, you’re a fan of Harry Potter, huh?”  The woman sputtered and choked in anger.  “Witchcraft is demonic!  We are a good, Christian family, and would never support those Hellbound heathens.”  I was at a loss.  Fortunately, she went on to explain, “We don’t want Harry Potter.  We just want an owl.”  She pointed out the blue “generic” Wal-Mart tag on the cage and stared me down self-righteously.  I didn’t speak as I rang up the owl, unceremoniously tossing it into a large blue bag.  I was surprised she could write a check with her nose so high in the air, but after a few pokes in different directions, the paper came to rest in my hand.  I looked down to verify the information needed was on it, not at all surprised she would have personalized checks with a fancy printed image.

Have you ever had to resist the urge to speak so vehemently that you bit down on your tongue and could taste blood?  This was the first time for me.  Up there with her Mrs. Jones signature was a picture of Toto, proudly proclaiming the anniversary of The Wizard of Oz.

This store seems to have it out for me.  I have received mothering advice (sorry, I meant smothering) from barefoot women toting a tot at each teat.  Yes, right in the McDonald’s snack bar!  I had an old lady tell me off for admonishing my child because he had just run the cart into her legs.  I guess she just couldn’t feel it.  I even had a young man offer me a shoulder rub, right in the produce section, and right where his girlfriend could hear.  He wasn’t the one in trouble.  She chased me down the frozen foods section with a Japanese cucumber.

It’s easy to understand how I could never want to go back into this store again.  When I asked if I could have the car today, my husband said, “Hey, could you take the car to Wal-Mart for an oil change?”   I love my husband dearly.  See, I would do absolutely anything for him.  I took the keys and headed there after I dropped him off at work.

It had been so long since I’d been to the Tire Lube Express that I didn’t remember the hours.  I pulled up and checked the sign, saw that I was well within the time limit, and parked my van against the outer wall.  After unholstering my son from his carseat, we walked to the entrance and saw a foreboding hand-lettered white sign in the window.  “The TLE will be closed from 2-3.”  I checked my phone to verify the time and saw it was exactly 2:02.  We had an hour wait.

We spent the next forty-five minutes at the Hallmark section.  We needed something to do, and I didn’t want to do the really fun stuff until after we were waiting for our car.  Armed with dollar greeting cards for Grandparents’ Day and a small bag of m&ms, we went back to the TLE to wait for someone to show up.  The garage doors were still down and the only person in the vicinity was a shady teenager working the gun rack in Sporting Goods.  At exactly 3:02, a mechanic tip-toed into the area and I immediately made a bee-line for him.  He stopped when he saw me coming and looked to either side, almost certainly hoping I was headed for someone else.  Finally, he asked what I wanted.  I told him, and he gestured for me to follow with one greasy finger.

He took me into the garage and started to collect my information.  At that exact time, his assistant began opening the doors.  Like a mass of flesh-eating zombies, parents lugging children by the twos and threes moaned their way towards the person I had already claimed for my own.  I saw cars lined up three deep blocking every entrance.  The man’s eyes widened in undisguised horror and he quickly turned towards me.  What’s your name?  What’s your number?  What’s the make and model of your vehicle?

That one got me.  We just bought our van in, um, May.  I didn’t know anything about our car besides it needing an oil change.  I pointed at it with a shaking hand (the zombies were eyeballing me with ravenous interest) and the mechanic walked over to it.  He took several minutes, with children squalling and parents growling.  Finally, I signed and gave him my keys.  I dared to ask a question.  “How long will it be before it’s done?”

“Well,” the man said warily, trying not to make eye contact with the other customers, “we’ve got a Bug that was in here that we need to finish, but since you were here first, I will say within an hour.”  I looked apologetically at the line of cars waiting to be serviced.  The man followed my gaze and said firmly, “You were here first.”

I doubt any of those parents had gotten there an hour before and spent part of that time in the waiting room inside the TLE, but each one of them suddenly shifted a child to a separate hip and glared me down as though I had just cut in line.  I had gotten there first.  What’s more to say, is that for each of their children that screamed and tugged out the last remaining strands of their gray hair, I had one son who was inside the waiting room, singing quietly to himself and coloring.  Until my car was taken care of and I was safely out of the parking lot, I was endangered.

True to his word, and with some satisfaction I must admit, the man took the keys from each parent in turn and then moved their cars to the back wall.  I watched my van get pulled into the front of the line and left, a mild smirk on my face.  I don’t mean to say I was happy those poor people had waited outside for ten minutes and expected to get their vehicles taken care of first because they blocked the entrance, but the scathing expressions that I was followed with for the next thirty minutes made every twitch of that grin worth it.

When I returned for my car, I found it parked where I left it.  There were zombies still wandering the area;  some were in the automotive department, looking for new pine trees for their mirrors, while others had approached the shady gunsmith and were gleaming as he placed brand new bolt-action rifles in their hands.  I collected my child and my car, then left.

I expect I may have to return to Wal-Mart again someday.  There are so many in this world that it seems inevitable that we may cross paths again.  However, unless they start selling human body parts and I’m in a desperate need of a new spine, there’s no way I’m going in there again of my own accord.  Unless, of course, my husband asks me to.  See, I would do absolutely anything for him.