Friday, September 24, 2010

Nothing Says I Love You Like a Dead Squirrel

My dog Sweetie just brought me a dead squirrel, and I thought back to this essay I wrote a few years ago. Eat your heart out, New Yorker, for not publishing it.

I can sniff out an urban legend or an asinine chain letter from a mile away. When I walk in the woods, I don’t worry about porcupines getting scared and hurling their quills at me, nor do I fear being rendered unconscious in parking lots by robbers wielding ether-filled perfume bottles. My life got no better or worse when I deleted instead of forwarded an e-mail from his Holiness the Dalai Lama with his “Instructions for Life.”

So this latest yarn had a big stink: a woman takes her almost-new car to the dealership, and the mechanic tells her that squirrels have chewed through the engine’s wiring and she’s lucky the car didn’t catch fire. A day and a big fat check later, she steps out of her car at home and a rogue band of squirrels viciously attack and gnaw her ankles almost down to the bone.

I didn’t believe it for a minute and was amused by the vision of the attacking squirrels – it sounded so Monty Python-ish. It wasn’t quite as funny as the one about a company called ManBeef, from which you can order succulent human flesh, but few can top that one.

Now here’s the really funny part: This is not an urban legend, it’s my life. I perhaps exaggerated the squirrel attack on my ankles, but the ruthless rodents did chew through the wiring of my wagon, costing me $791.94. I don’t have hidden cameras in my engine so I can’t say for sure that squirrels did the damage, but it’s a good bet.

My saga has so many funny parts that I don’t know where to start. The first is that this happened less than two weeks before Christmas, which really put me in the holiday spirit. After I yanked down our Christmas tree, I hacked off the limbs and began clubbing squirrels to death in our front yard until my kids came out of the house crying. Little do they know that I’m taking a long, hard look at Boo and Chester, our resident gerbils. Their beady eyes are a constant reminder of my pain and empty wallet.

I am suspicious by nature, so even though the guy at the dealership told me that this is a fairly common occurrence, I immediately did a search for “squirrels and car wiring.” The first hit of 160,000 was Squirrels Ate My Wiring! I read all sorts of ways to get rid of the vermin, including moth balls (which I bought) and something called Shake-Away PACKS FOR SQUIRRELS, the main ingredient being eau de fox urine, which I also purchased.

Then there was calling in the claim, the equivalent of “Squirrels peed on my homework and ate all my books.”

And here’s the icing on the cake, the bees’ knees, the summit of Everest: the engine light came on in our old car, so I dropped it off at the dealership and drove the SquirrelMobile home. Sure enough – I get a call about an hour later saying the squirrels had once again done their dirty deeds, but they didn’t do as much damage. However, in one of those hilarious curveballs that life throws at us, the intake valves were apparently plugged and damage was estimated at $900. And you’ve got to love this: I had to call in a new claim and tell them “the squirrels ate my parents.”

It’s all so comical that I’m laughing all the way to the bank. With Xanax and a muscle relaxer and wine (good for my heart!), I’m already able to look back and laugh. Hysterically. My husband and kids fail to see the humor, though – they keep knocking on my bedroom door and asking me if I’m okay. I think they just want me to fix dinner for them. To distract myself, I envision how the girls will talk about this later in therapy, whining about he Christmas when they received nothing but socks, moth balls and fox glands in their stockings.

Although things have been bleak, I was proud of myself for using my arsenal of moth balls and pee to take out the enemy before they take me out. Then I received the following email from my girlfriend Kristy:
I can certainly sympathize with you regarding the squirrels. If you recall, I spent 6 years fighting squirrels in my old house until it burned down. Considering all the effort and money spent trying to eradicate them, I took lots of flack from people accusing me of burning down the house just to get rid of the squirrels. I’ll never forget the day Jim H. and I went over there to get some antique hardware off a door. We went into the burned out husk of my home and discovered there were no longer squirrels in the wall chewing up everything….they had built their nests smack in the middle of the den!

Nasty little beasts! Be careful with that chewed wiring. It could cause your car to burn! I can also attest to the fact that nothing…I mean nothing I tried worked. I remember the time I was told to put moth balls in the soffits to prevent them from chewing holes to access the house. I learned that day they are very tidy little creatures. I had nice little stacks (like little cannon balls) of moth balls on the ground under every single hole they chewed into my soffits.

For the record, in addition to the mothballs, the home “recipes”, poison traps, cayenne pepper, poison corn, and sound devices don’t work either Maybe if you just clip a 660-volt charger to your engine block when it is parked in the driveway…
Upon hearing this, my husband ordered Wrist-Rocket slingshots for the girls for Christmas and a shotgum and hunting license for himself.
My first idea, to both recoup our losses and get rid of the filthy tree rats, was to invite squirrel hunters to the house, where they could shoot as many squirrels as they wanted, drink as much beer as they could hold AND get a ride home, all for a reasonable price.

Since I was pretty sure he wouldn’t go for that idea, I am putting my next plan into action: I am working on a heartfelt letter to send to my family, best friends, close personal friends, backup friends, former friends, acquaintances and co-workers: they are to send a minimum of $10 to the P.O. Box I rented and forward the letter to at least 10 people OR risk their next holiday being even more jinxed than mine.

(For the record, the last time Sweetie brought me a dead animal, Sugar (below) had actually killed it, which is amazing since she has a bum leg and who knew she could outrun a rabbit. She knew everyone saw her, so only lingered over her kill for a few minutes before Sweetie grabbed it and proudly presented it.)

Epilog: I posted this earlier today. When John came home at noon, I told him the dead squirrel was on the deck, but it was gone when he went out to check. A few minutes ago I saw it from the corner of my eye -- all I noticed was that it wasn't in very good condition. I flew downstairs yelling, "the squirrel is in the house!" From my voice, he thought it was hanging from the ceiling or something, ready to attack. I said "I don't know how it got in here," and he said "Sweetie ate it," adding that "our dogs aren't even smart enough to let us keep our presents."

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Please Join Me for the Celebrity Blowup!

My horoscope a few weeks ago:  "You are powerful - everyone senses it already. In fact, you are in danger of overpowering the room. A bit of humility will help others feel comfortable. Your graciousness will set a tone for the rest of the crew."

I felt irritated and bitter, both by the horoscope and things in general, but not the least bit powerful. My graciousness was approximately the level of Paris and Lindsay when they are drugged up and chew out the help for not vacuuming the cocaine from their purses. Instead of being humble when dealing with people, all I did was complain about my lot. Poor, poor pitiful me. Unemployed and raising teenagers -- play your teensy little violins for me. I'd feel vaguely guilty for not inquiring about the lives of friends to whom I incessantly bitched, but then would get caught up in beating myself up for all my faults and start wallowing in self pity again.

Later, I realized that I am indeed powerful:  my family are very unhappy but too frequent guests at my pity parties. When I'm in a dark mood, the atmosphere at home is charged with tension. My dogs endure indifference from me, the worst form of punishment. My friends suffer, usually of the "I wish she'd shut up and blow up" variety. For those of you not familiar with that phrase, do a search on "SCTV Farmville Celebrity Blowup," in which John Candy and Joe Flaherty, dressed in overalls, interview fake celebrities, who then blow up real good.  It's much funnier than it sounds.

When I say things like "Nothing's wrong; I'm just tired" instead of "shut up and blow up real good!" it's a sign that the family unit is in trouble.

I lecture my girls about a lot of things, including grace under pressure. I tell them how anyone can be gracious when things are going well; champions display it when things fall apart. I tell them to treat everyone with respect, to follow the Golden Rule, to demonstrate compassion. My words crumble under their own weight when I can't find joy in a loving family, a good home, fabulous friends and neighbors and good health.

I love the feeling of having something restored that we take for granted: electricity after a storm, a hot shower and warm, soft bed after sleeping on a deflated air mattress while camping, everyone making it home safely after the roads turn icy.

Much of my reflection has come because of the lightness I feel after having something else restored: I was offered a job today. I took a few years off to spend more time with the girls, do volunteer work (both very satisfying) and to try to make a modest living at freelance writing (fulfilling, but I could have made more money panhandling). I wasn't working then. I took another job that I loved and lost, and I was in a whole new ballgame: I was unemployed.

Remember Whoopi's infamous "it's not rape-rape" that Roman Polanski committed?  What a stupid comment, which has no relevance to my circumstances except it still pisses me off. I've had way too much time to think about dim-witted comments like that and the galaxy between not working and being unemployed.  I felt a bit weird at first about my husband supporting me when I wasn't working (especially since I never did really clean the house). But he cheered me on; I felt good about myself and what I was doing. Being unemployed sapped my energy and strength; I had the summer to spend with my girls but I ruined so much of it by obsessing that I'd never find work again. Because unfortunately, obsessing and worrying are core competencies.

However, I'm going to try to learn something from my madness. When my girls come home, I'm going to loudly tell them to shut up and blow up. We're going to dinner to celebrate, and hopefully I won't get too choked up to tell my family how precious they are to me. I'm getting all choked up thinking about it, so if you are in a Mexican restaurant in Little Rock tonight and see a woman blubbering, please stop by and blow up with us.

Speaking of choking up, knowing that someone out there is listening to me rant and rave is the icing on the cake, the bees' knees, the whole enchilada. Thank you, loyal readers.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Queen for a Day

My youngest daughter now calls me Vlad, as in that Roguish Romanian Prince of the 15th century who decorated his palace with heads on spikes -- that's where we got the modern idea for food on a stick at county fairs.  That impish Transylvanian impaler was commonly known as Dracula and was also was a three-time Voivode of Wallachia, ruling mainly from 1456 to 1462. Interesting tidbit: Elvis originally wanted to sing "Viva Voivode" but was overruled by his agents, who said that Americans were just not that into Slavic titles.

The reason she calls me Vlad is that she refuses to call me by my preferred name, which is Queen or Your Royal Highness. This moniker came about last weekend when, after getting attitude from both daughters, I informed them that they are NOT living in a democracy in this house; this is a Monarchy and I'm the Queen. If I politely ask them to do something, it is not a request -- it is a demand that they are to obey immediately.

I even showed them how to leave a room when we're in it, backing up and bowing and scraping and doing silly things with their hands.

I've strayed way too far from my dad's patented method of Parenting through Terror. (My sisters' friends called him Terrible Tom -- this is true). It would never have dawned on him to ASK us to do anything; if he commanded me to dress like a monkey and play my accordion in the street for money, I was out there in a flash.

Other members of the family stood up to him; the consequences were often dire. As the youngest of five, I never subjected myself to his wrath -- I tiptoed through childhood, wanting only to stay out of his way. My kids can't imagine life where they're afraid of their dad or me. Like many kids, they seem to save their worst behavior for me: whining, arguing, throwing hissy fits. When I told my oldest daughter the other day that she can't miss homework assignments with the excuse "I forgot," she reminded me that I forget things all the time. And added, for good measure, that I was fired from my job (which is not the case, but we won't go into that).

My kids generally know where to draw the line - I'm a smart-ass and they come by it naturally. As an example, one of my sisters visited from Pennsylvania over the summer; we were in line to get snacks for "The A-Team" -- sophisticated humor runs through my family, as my loyal readers know.  I can't remember why, but my sister called my youngest daughter a big loser -- shock, gasps and dirty looks pointed in our direction. My daughter, of course, thought it funny -- she knows she's not a loser and that no one in the family thinks so.

However, the girls seem to have forgotten what a fine line it is between being funny and disrespecting mom. First their friend across the street told my youngest daughter "I can't believe you talk to your mom like that." Then my next door neighbor essentially said the same thing. Confronted with both of them not only crossing the line but kicking sand in my face,  I snapped -- they are lucky they only got a lecture; we seriously talked about hanging them by their thumbs in the garage. My youngest started calling me Vlad after things had calmed down -- that's the kind of sassiness I find funny.

Some tranquility has returned to the house, as much as it can for a household where mom's morning coffee contains less caffeine than anxiety, tension, nervous tension and constant worry. I'll admit, I've been a bit more on edge than usual. I've been unemployed since July. The girls have moved from a home school environment to a magnet school with about 1,500 kids. Both are pissed that I signed them up for the science house vs. the arts. I tell them they'll have plenty of time to wait tables in their lives; no sense doing it at 37 while waiting for their big break. Besides, I thought the chances of their getting into that school were pretty slim to begin with.

I sent a note to a friend today telling her that I'm surviving (because it is all about me). Actually, we're all surviving. I've been as hard on the girls in some ways as my dad was on us:  I found myself  pouncing on them as soon as they walked in the door from school, peppering them with questions, blowing every misstep way out of proportion, wailing and gnashing my teeth - acting like a martyr is one of my core competencies. (A special thanks to Vicki, Lori, Kristy and Sherry for responding to my crazy messages instead of un-friending me.)  At their old school, we took for granted that if they were doing okay, we wouldn't hear much from the teachers.  Now we can check online to see their assignments and progress: what a mixed blessing. I found myself acting Ike a teenager in love - checking obsessively to see if my boyfriend has posted anything there. 

Now I only check edline three times a day and my tongue has been bleeding at an alarming rate from biting it. I miss the days when they thought I hung the moon and knew everything. My oldest turned 14 yesterday, and sometimes I have to catch my breath when I see them walking away from me.

"Sixteen springs and sixteen summers gone now
Cartwheels turn to car wheels through the town
And they tell him 'Take your time, it's won't be long now
'Til you drag your feet to slow the circles down.' "

Joni Mitchell, the Circle Game