Saturday, January 28, 2017

A Rift, Ajar

There’s a dimensional rift in my kitchen floor.

I found it by accident (as one does).


I was emptying the dishwasher. Among the clean dishes was an empty jar that had once contained olives. I go through quite a few olives - they are one of my favorite snacks - and for reasons only a packrat would understand, I save the jars, because, hey, free jar. You never know when you’ll need a jar. This one was special, pristine: the label had come right off, unlike all the others in the cupboard that still had bits of sticky paper around the middle.

I set the jar on the countertop because the cupboard where I store them is the one above the dishwasher, hard to reach when the dishwasher is open, even harder for a short person like me. But like the clumsy heroine of a young adult novel, when the other clean dishes were put away, and the dirty dishes from the sink loaded up, and the dishwasher was closed once again, before I could put the jar with the others in the high cupboard, I clipped it with my elbow. It slid soundlessly across the countertop and fell to the unforgiving tile floor, exploding in a shower of sparkling shards.

I sighed. I just swept this floor, I thought. When had I done that? Last week? The week before? Sometime this month, surely. Barefoot, I stepped carefully around the broken glass, like a cowardly and unmotivated John McClane, toward the broom and dustpan in the laundry room. Yippie-ki-yay.

Some minutes later, having swept the entire kitchen twice over, I dumped the contents of the dustpan into the trash. I remember thinking at the time that it seemed like an inordinately large amount of glass for one little olive jar.


The next day, an ordinary Thursday, I heard an extraordinary noise. It was 11am, and I walked through the house in my pajamas, having a lazy morning before my afternoon shift at the library. The noise was coming from the kitchen: a whispering, scraping sound, such as might be made by a man with a hook for a hand terrorizing young folks in their cars at night, or by a hungry xenomorph moving through the over-sized ductwork that (it should be noted) my home does not have.

I walked fearlessly toward the noise, like the heroine of a young adult novel might, but also rather like the people in horror movies who die in the first twenty minutes of the film before the audience ever gets to see the monster. The only monster I found was Wraith, my tiny spitfire of a cat, batting something across the floor beneath one of the kitchen chairs.

“What have you got there, kitty?” I asked, worried now, for this was the same cat who had at various points in the past presented to me, in my own house, a rodent (fatally menaced), a snake (dead), and a spider as large as her face (alive, and angry).

She sat back, proud of her catch and waiting for a pat. Between her paws was a curved chunk of glass, nearly half of the bottom of the ill-fated jar.

I took it from her before she could cut herself on it and threw it away, wondering all the while how I could have missed such a large piece the day before. I pulled out the broom and swept again, confident that, this time, I had got it all.


Two days later, I heard the noise again. I was in the living room with my laptop and my morning coffee, still in my pajamas at 11am because that’s what weekends are for. I ignored the sound at first, comfortable on my couch even if there might be killers or aliens or killer aliens to contend with, but it went on and on. When I could take it no more, I investigated, only to find the same cat, beneath the same chair, batting around what seemed to me to be the same shard. When she sat back, purring, making the same face she had made the first time, I patted her in the same way I had before, and carried the shard to the trash. There’s a glitch in the matrix, I thought, grabbing the broom.

Perhaps I had died, thoroughly savaged by xenomorphs, and the agents had rewritten the code to bring me back, on account of my status as a heroine in a young adult novel. Regardless of what might have happened to cause it, the fact remained: I could not possibly have missed a piece of glass that size, not twice.


A week passed without incident before I found I had to sweep my kitchen again. Company coming, people to impress: the whole dog and pony show must go on. I dusted, I lit scented candles, I opened the curtains to let the sunshine in, and I swept.

I paused to admire the way the sunlight glittered over the contents of the dustpan: nestled among the dirt and debris were dozens of flecks of glass, no larger than grains of sand. Pieces of the olive jar.

Where did they keep coming from?

More importantly: where had they gone? Those other times I had swept the floor, where had they been hiding? Why were they reappearing now? What message did they bear from that place beyond this one?

I got down on my hands and knees, looking for a crack in reality, ears alert, not for hissing xenomorphs but for the prison guard aliens from Doctor Who, telling me, “Prisoner Zero has escaped.”

It was time to up my arsenal. I put the broom away and fetched the vacuum cleaner.


I kept finding them, fragments of this interdimensional jar. They would catch my eye from across the room, sparkling with inexplicable energy as they waited smack in the middle of the kitchen floor, or hiding beneath the kitchen chair when I sat down to breakfast in my bare feet, never large enough to cut anyone, only to be noticed.

“Where are they coming from?” I said, holding one up to the light after I found it in front of the cabinet where I keep the tupperware.

“What?” my husband asked, busy at the stove preparing carbonara.

“I broke this jar a month ago and I keep finding pieces of it,” I said.

“Hmm,” he said. “Speaking of jars, do we have an empty one where I could save this bacon grease?”

“Check the cupboard above the dishwasher,” I said. “Top shelf.”

He looked where I pointed. “Ah, perfect,” he said, pulling down an empty olive jar: pristine, with no trace of a label.

I’m sure it wasn’t there before.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Avengers: The Musical

I woke up in the dark and began my morning meditations: who am I? Where am I? Do all my limbs work? Satisfied with the answers to these deep questions, I attempted to go back to sleep. Suddenly, Matt's alarm sounded: it was 5:45.

“That time already?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said.

I burrowed deeper under the blankets beside him and pawed at his shoulder, gently scraping his skin with my fingernails, indicating there could be a back scratching going down right now if only he would turn over.

He took the hint and rolled onto his side. I immediately glommed onto him, scratching enthusiastically. It was a symbiotic relationship: he got his back scratched, and I got to be the big spoon - mutually beneficial, as evolution intended.

“How did you sleep?” he asked.

“I had the weirdest dream.”


It was finally happening: Avengers the Musical, and tryouts were local. My sixteen year old niece Kaci and I were ecstatic. I was trying out for the role of Black Widow. Kaci, who likes all those genderbent cosplays that are so popular lately, was shooting for Hawkeye. It was going to be glorious.

The line wound out the doors of the generic dream auditorium and into the street. Kaci and I were at the end of it. Many of the people in front of us, serious actors, were practicing deep breathing, doing simple stretches, and melodically reciting vocal warm-up exercises like “Me Me Me Mo Moo”. Standing in line, doing none of those things, I began to feel woefully unprepared. I looked toward my niece; she was focused on her phone, casually playing Trivia Crack against grandma, who was stomping her.

“I’m not sure we thought this through,” I told her.

“Yeah,” she said, not even looking up, in the unconcerned attitude of teenagers everywhere.

I tried to remember everything I knew about auditions. My limited acting experience consisted of one year of drama in high school more than fifteen years ago. They would probably have us do a cold read of the script – I could do that! I’ve always been good at reading out loud – and we might have to recite a monologue. No problem there, as I have most of the first Avengers movie memorized; there was bound to be something in there I could use.

As I was mentally playing the movie in my head, paying close attention to the scenes I figured would look best recited loudly and with feeling on stage, the line moved along. Kaci and I were finally inside the darkened theater. I squinted, letting my eyes adjust to the lowered lights.

Only the stage was well lit. On it, a man in hipster jeans and ironic glasses sang a sad, slow song. People in the front row made notes on clipboards as he sang. The line snaked down from the side of the stage, through all the people doing their stretches and vocal exercises, to Kaci, who was still on her phone, checking Tumblr by now, and then to me. We were still the last people in line. No one had joined in behind us.

When the gloomy hipster finished, another man took center stage, this one well-groomed and in a tailored suit. He exchanged a few words with the judges in the front row, words I couldn’t hear from the back of the hall. From somewhere, a song began to play, a show tune I didn’t know, and the man on stage sang with gusto.

And that was when it hit me: this was a musical. Monologues were no good here. I would have to sing for my audition. “Kaci,” I said.

“Hmm?” she said, still not looking up from her phone.

“Have you ever auditioned for a musical before?”

“Not really.”

“Did you know we’d have to sing something?”

“Makes sense,” she said.

Yes, of course it made sense. How silly of me.

The line moved slowly forward. On stage, one hopeful after another belted out show tunes I didn't know (which covers everything that isn't from Phantom of the Opera). When we were halfway to the stage, a man with the theater company, whose Captain America shirt barely covered a sizable paunch, handed us a list of suggested songs, none of which I recognized by name.

Kaci looked at the list as well then looked at me, eyes worried, shaking her head. She didn’t know them either.

“Maybe we’d know them if we heard them?” I said, pulling out my own phone. Together, we frantically tried to google our way through the list. Almost none of the songs had videos. The videos we did find wouldn’t load: we both had next to no signal so deep inside this thick-walled auditorium. I found articles about the songs, though none jogged any memories for me. Kaci found lyrics, none of which were familiar. Meanwhile, the line moved up and up. We were nearer the stage now.

“I can't do this!” I said. “I've never had to perform under such pressure before! I don't know these songs!”

A stage manager overheard me and took pity on our plight. “Don’t fret, dears,” she said. “You can sing whatever you want. It doesn't have to be a song from the list. It’s just that we don't have a lot of background music for anything else.”

“What else have you got?” Kaci asked.

The stage manager pointed toward the corner, where an old karaoke machine sat collecting dust, more or less ignored by everyone else. Kaci and I ran toward it, finding a few tattered, stapled pages – the machine’s song selection, containing nothing more recent than 1988.

“Quick!” Kaci said. “It’s almost my turn!” She snatched up the crumpled pages and glanced over them just as a stage manager called, “Next!” She thrust the pages back at me and ran toward the stage.

I didn’t know if she’d found something. I didn’t have time to care. I quickly checked the list for something I could use. The only song I knew was Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing”.
“I’m saved!” I thought. “I can karaoke the crap out of that song!”

Just then, on stage, my niece began crooning about a small town girl taking the midnight train to anywhere.

“Damn it!” I screamed. I checked the list again. There was nothing else. I would have to sing something a cappella, something I knew off the top of my head, something from my shower-singing repertoire. If only I had brought my guitar, I thought, and I vowed that I would bring it every time I auditioned for a musical from now on.


“So what did you do?” Matt asked.

“I’m not sure. ‘Oh Danny Boy’, I think, but then I woke up. I don’t know if I got the part or not!”

Matt reached up and grabbed the hand I’d rested on his arm, linking his fingers with mine and pulling my arm around him. “Let’s just assume you did,” he said.

“I did?” I asked.

“Yup,” he affirmed.

“Gosh!” I said. “What a wonderful dream!”

And he let me spoon him a few minutes more before we both had to get out of bed.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Nerd is the Word

“Check out this butterbeer I found!”
No, wait, that’s not right. 
I had been on the verge of hitting the send button on a text to an old friend, complete with a photo of the butterfly from my yard, when I saw what autocorrect had done to my otherwise bland statement.
It certainly made my life seem more interesting, I’ll grant you. But it was decidedly untrue: I was not sitting in the Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade. I would not be heading back to my job as a charms professor at Hogwarts afterward, because Hogwarts isn’t real and I don’t work there. There were no butterbeers to be had and I could not magic one into existence with my nonexistent wand.
“Phone, why?” I asked, correcting the imaginative change.

Later, it happened again. When my husband was returning from a business trip, he texted to say he was about to board the flight for the last leg of his journey home.
“Text me when you land,” I replied, or I would have done, if my phone hadn’t autocorrected it to “Lannisters,” which is the family name of some characters from Game of Thrones.
“What? ‘Text me when you Lannister?’ Phone, that doesn’t even make sense,” I thought, making the correction before I hit send.

When I started volunteering at the aquarium, I texted my friend Melanie. “Every time I try to text someone about it, my phone wants to auto-complete ‘volunteering’ as ‘Voldemort’. I don’t know what this says about my life choices.” How boring does your life have to be before your phone decides to turn it into a fantasy novel full of magic and dragons and He Who Must Not Be Named? I thought.
“That’s actually pretty funny,” Melanie replied. “What part of the aquarium are you Voldemorting in?”
“Over by the grindylows,” I said, dripping sarcasm.

 “When will you and Kristina arrive?” I started to ask Benjamin when the two of them were scheduled to spend the weekend with me, except that “Kristina” auto-corrected to “Kraken”.
“The Kraken is not coming for a visit, phone. The Kraken is 3000 feet beneath the ocean, and Oklahoma is landlocked,” I said. “Nice try, though.”

Sarah, who texts me all the best library stories, concluded her most recent tale with “And the patron said, ‘Ohhhh, nonfiction!’”
“Haha! Love the silly patrons,” I said.
But my phone changed it to “Silmarillion patronus”, because the Harry Potter references weren’t getting the job done, apparently, and we had to drag Tolkien into it as well.
“Seriously, phone? This is a sickness,” I said.

The phone persisted.
“Matt went on a hog hunt this weekend,” I typed, to tell a friend about the loads and loads of pork chops that now resided in my freezer, but instead, no, my phone decided Matt had gone to Hogwarts.
“Fine, but he still has to do his charms homework. I don’t give extra credit,” I said.

When I texted my mother of my plans to spend the weekend “planting rose bushes”, my phone corrected it to “phantom rose bushes.” “Are they invisible roses? Or are these the roses the Phantom of the Opera leaves on all of the posters?” I asked, but my phone shed no light on this inquiry.

“Grandma and I are taking an architeuthis,” which is the latin name for “giant squid”.
“Really, phone?” I said, overwhelmed by curiosity. I checked my contacts, but I don’t know any squids, giant or otherwise. “Where are we taking it? I thought we were taking an ‘art class’, but if the squid wants to go with us…”

Later, when I tried to text my friend Jentry that I was “On my way” to meet her for coffee, I ended up in “Omnia”, which is not only on Terry Pratchett’s Discworld of all places, it’s also on the unfashionable side of the Disc's Circle Sea.
“Phone, we’ve discussed this: My dream Discworld vacation is the beach in Quirm. Even the Omnians don’t like Omnia!”
My phone retaliated by deciding that every word that began with “D” was obviously supposed to be “Discworld,” and (unlike the Discworld) my phone and I went round and round on this issue for three days.

When I texted grandma to say I was so very tired of “winter” my phone decided to send me to “Winterfell,” a place where I would probably die at the hands of George R.R. Martin.
I shrieked, “I take it back, phone! I’d rather go to Omnia!”

“I can’t this weekend,” I texted my boss at the library. “I’ll be at the castle,” because I also work at the renaissance faire, and that was honestly true. But it wasn’t good enough for my phone.
“Phone? For real? ‘I’ll be at the castle’ is the nerdiest thing anyone can ever say with a straight face! ‘Castiel’ from Supernatural has. Nothing. To do. With. The ren faire. Like. At all.”

I texted my niece to “Check out this rainbow!” with a picture of said rainbow.
“Phone! It’s a freaking rainbow! It is not related to Ravenclaw! Or any other Hogwarts house, for that matter! You are SO getting extra charms homework if you keep this up.”

Responding to a funny text with a “hehe” almost became “beheadings” but certainly became shock and bewilderment.
“WTF is wrong with you, phone? Who hurt you?”

Dinosaurs are a safe topic, right? Surely I can text Benjamin about dinosaurs without my phone changing it?
“Dinobots,” said my phone, trumping my nerdiness levels yet again.
“Bull shit,” I said in reply.
My phone changed it to “Bull shark.”
“You can remember my favorite exhibit at the aquarium, and yet every time I type the word ‘aquarium,’ you change it ‘Aquaman’?”
“Your move,” said my phone, or it would have, if it could actually speak.

When I texted my husband with a couple of “questions” about an upcoming vacation (alas, not to Quirm), my phone decided I was going “questing,” like an adventurer out of a storybook, and when I asked Jentry if she was “willing” to lend me a book she’d been telling me about, my phone wanted her to make a “Will Save” because D&D? Like my friend is going to have to roll some twenty-sided dice to see if she's lending me the book?

“I don’t know what to tell you, phone,” I said to it, sincerely and from the bottom of my heart. “My life isn’t a magical fairytale. These words just don’t come up in the real world that often! I wish they did, but it’s simply not so!”
A chime indicated a new text. It was from Melanie, saying “Look what’s on sale at Reasors right now!” along with a picture of the grocery store shelves, full of cases and cases of delicious butterbeer. She had as good as said, “Check out this butterbeer I found!”
My phone, for all that it can’t make any expressions, radiated smugness.
I glared at it.
Then I said, “Don’t think for a minute that this is going to get you out of that extra charms homework.”

Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Anti-Mouser

In the shadows under your bed, a monster gnaws at the edge of reality. Do you hear the munching sound?

It is the anti-mouse.

Every mouse killed by poison could become one. Most mice are quite simple creatures: they eat because they're hungry. But a very few are bad mice: they eat because they can.

You see, it is only with cleverness that the capacity for good or evil exists. Dumb beasts destroy because they don't know any better, but when the clever ones destroy something, you can be sure they do it with intent. And sometimes that intent lives on after them.

A clever mouse dying of a poison trap dies slowly and painfully, and he has time to think. He thinks about how unfair it is that he should die while so many others live. He thinks about how much he hates you for killing him - oh, yes, he knows. He is clever after all.

And when a mouse is clever, he thinks about eating the whole world.

After the mouse has died, and you have carried the small furry body to the trash heap, the cleverness stays behind, and with it, the ill-intent, and it flows together and forms a mouse-shaped hole in the universe. Thus is born the anti-mouse.

See how he's nibbled away the night just there, unraveling the corner of that pleasant dream you were having? They really will eat anything.

Given time - and what else do dead things have, really, but time? - they will eat everything.

Oh, you cannot stop the anti-mouse. Not you, and not I. That takes cats. But not just any cat will do.

All cats are born to hunt. Not only mice, but anything they can catch. It's in their nature, and in their form - the shape of their teeth, the spring in their legs, their lithe and twisty bodies, these are the hallmarks of a predator. Every cat is a little lion, and every cat knows it, until we convince them otherwise.

It is a cruel thing we do, to keep them as pets, as cruel as any cramped and confining cage, no matter how many cat treats we offer, no matter how many scratching posts we provide. The wildness in them grows fat and content and they forget what it is exactly lions are for.

Sometimes we can make it worth their loss, but only a very great love can do this. When a cat knows that you would move the moon and stars for them, it makes a minor inconvenience like the loss of their identity seem quite tolerable, for a while at least. All cats think they have nothing but time, you understand. That is why they sleep all day, and laze about, and move with such unhurried grace. And a cat who is loved - who is petted and praised, whose owners tell him sincerely and often how perfect he is, how beautiful he is, and what a clever boy he is (Ah, do you see?) - well, such a cat will think, "I shall enjoy this attention for now. I will have time later for the whole predatory thing."

But only the dead have that kind of time.

And when such a cat dies, a new thing emerges from the cat-shaped hole they leave in your heart: a little lion with all the time in the world, who finally remembers what he was born to do.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Story About the Bird

While texting Benjamin about current goings-on, I said, “Remind me to tell you about my harrowing experience with the bird. It’s too much to type on mobile.”

“Aww, did you try to save a dying bird?” he asked, immediately thinking of the sweetest possible scenario.

“No,” I replied. “It was out for blood.”

“I’m pretty sure birds can’t become vampires…” he texted back.


Honestly, we thought it was a bat at first. We'd have a nice dinner out, get home late, walk up to the front door and this... THING... would shoot out of the eaves and fly erratically away. “Should we install one of those bat houses?” we asked ourselves. “Nah,” we said. “It's probably a bird.”

It's definitely a bird. Let me tell you how I know.

This is not a story about me bravely overcoming adversity and heroically facing my fears. This is a story of cowardice of the worst kind.

So, given that it’s coming from me, all of you should be used to this sort of thing by now.

Matt was out of town. I was cleaning up the house before video games and bed. I had cleaned up the dinner dishes, put away my yoga mat, and fed the cats. All that remained was to take out the trash. I didn't need a jacket, of course. Twenty degrees or not, the trash bin was all of ten feet from the door. How long would it take, right?

See, that right there is the sort of thinking that gets people killed in serial killer movies.

As I stepped outside, I startled the bird. It flew down from above the porch light, ruffling my hair as it passed. I cursed, watching it fly out into the night, and picked the trash back up, having dropped it to cover my head with my hands. “Hello to you too,” I said, crossing the driveway and depositing the trash into the bin.

The trouble started when I turned back toward the house, the bird having already done so. It swooped from it's perch on the light fixture and hovered, chirping, in front of my face. I, very bravely, did not scream like a little girl. “Oh!” I said (calmly, I swear). “Thought I'd be gone longer than that?” I waited for it to fly away.

It did not.

“Um, okay...” I said. “Shoo!”

“Screw you!” said the bird. “It's warm over here!” Or, that's what it would have said if birds could speak. I imagine. I mean, I don't speak bird.

I waited, afraid it would claw me in the face. “It'll fly off,” I thought. So I waited. And I waited.

“Okay, it's too cold for this,” I said, ten minutes later. “It's a tiny bird. It'll fly away. This is not a Hitchcock movie. I'll be fine.” I took a step forward.

The bird looked me in the eye and very deliberately turned tail and flew into the house.

Or, he would have if he hadn't slammed head first into the (closed) screen door and flopped pathetically to the porch.

“Oh my God, I've killed it!” I said, reaching out with both hands.

The bird, very much alive, was having none of it. Twittering, it rose from the cold concrete like a small and very fluffy phoenix, hovering two feet off the ground as it scrabbled at the closed screen door. “Maybe I can just slip through the door... If I'm quick enough, it won't fly in after me,” I thought. Meanwhile, the bird “thwopped” against the door with a soft sound, a quiet sound, like unenthusiastic applause or a teddy bear falling off a bed.

Just the sort of sound, naturally, that could pull the cats out of a sound sleep. They materialized on the other side of that screen door as if they'd been summoned from the bedroom in some sort of arcane ritual. The oblivious bird hovered before their eyes, like an angelic visitation.

Slipping through the door was right out, not without the cats rushing out and the bird rushing in.

“Okay,” I said to myself. “I'll go through the back door... which is locked. And I don't have my keys.”

Inside, the cats began singing enthusiastic songs of romance, inviting the bird to come inside for cocktails and a light snog.

“I'll get the blanket out of the car and throw it over the bird... Except the car's locked. And I have no keys,” I thought.

One of the cats reached a tentative paw toward the glass, as if unsure this beautiful, amazing creature really existed.

“If only I had something to wave at it,” I thought. “Something like a jacket, for example.”

And then, both cats stretched up in undisguised glee, their declawed front feet swishing softly against the door, which jiggled, unlatched, in it's frame. Their full weight would push it open any moment now.

“I'll just call someone to come rescue me...” I thought, “from a small, frightened bird.” This, my friends, is what they call a low point.

I was out of options, freezing, faced with the cats' imminent escape. Now was the time for action.


“What did you do?” my mom asked when I told my parents about it over lunch. “Did you scare it away?”

“Oh, heck, no! I waited for it to fly off on its own!” I said. “I didn't want it to claw my face or peck out my eyes.”

“Was it a swallow?” asked dad.

“No, it was a male house finch,” I said.

“How do you know?” said mom.

“I had plenty of time to survey the markings. I'm absolutely sure.”

So that’s the story about the bird.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

More Inappropriate Things

This very terrible trait I have, this tendency to say inappropriate things, where does it come from?

It’s not much of a mystery. I’m surrounded by friends and loved ones who say inappropriate things.


Benjamin and I listened attentively as coworker Stephanie described her course work to become a speech teacher. Although I had studied linguistics in college, I had never delved into speech language pathology. Apparently, it’s very deep.

“Fetuses? What does that have to do with it?” said Benjamin, after Stephanie said she had spent an entire class period looking at fetal development pictures and needed to write an essay about it.

“Because most of these speech problems come from birth defects,” said Stephanie. “We had to look at like two hundred of these pictures!”

“Sounds exhausting,” I said. “And somewhat disturbing.”

“Aw, I thought they were cute! Such adorable little monkey fish baby things!"

Benjamin coughed in surprise. “Is that seriously how you’re going to describe the miracle of human life?”

“I’m sorry, but that’s what fetuses look like. Monkey fish baby things.”


The waitress had just placed our bowls in front of us, but after my phone buzzed for the fifth time, I couldn’t resist checking the screen. “Sorry! It’s all these birthday greetings! I don’t mean to be rude,” I said to my grandmother, who was treating me to lunch.

“Oh, no, sweetie! You respond to those birthday greetings! I understand,” she assured me.


“What is it?”

“It isn’t a birthday greeting after all. It’s Sandy and Randi messaging me about our upcoming New Years Eve party. Something about a choice between wine or Fruit Loop flavored vodka…”

Grandma nodded, sipping her tea. “Go for the vodka,” she said. “It’ll get the job done quicker.”


On Christmas Eve, we all sat around looking at family pictures together on the big screen, from a hard drive connected to Dad’s Apple TV. Matt got up to get more pizza and asked if I would like any. Before I could answer, I was distracted by the boisterous after-dinner conversation.

“And do you know how I learned to swim?” my brother Josh said, when the discussion turned toward the swimming pool in grandma’s yard, filled in a few years ago to make a garden when she and grandpa grew tired of maintaining it. “Dad was all like, ‘Go down the slide without your floaties on! I’ll catch you!’ And did he catch me? No!”

Everyone laughed, including Josh, who went on to say, “And you wonder why I have trust issues!”

“That’s just like how my brothers taught me to swim,” our other grandpa said. “They rowed me out to the middle of the pond and threw me in! And I’ll tell you what, the hardest part was getting out of that sack. After that, swimming was easy!”


“You mean to say you have no idea what your test will be about?” I asked Kristina who was freaking out.


“It’s not in the text book?”

“No, he went over the whole thing in class!” she lamented.

“Were you absent that day? Couldn’t you just borrow the notes from someone else?”

“No, I was there! But it was just so boring! So boring, and the room was really warm and the chair was really comfortable, so like I was fighting sleep the whole time and I have NO IDEA what he was talking about,” she said, slouching defeated in her chair. “After the first ten minutes, he could have been talking about how to make baby soup for all I know.”

I stopped short as her last sentence sank in. “Baby soup?” I asked.

She nodded. “Baby soup.”

“The whole world of provocative topics to choose from and you go with baby soup?”

“You need to know how comfortable that chair was!”


I had just rolled another gutter ball to no one’s surprise but my own. “I really thought I’d get it that time…” I said, sitting down with my friends as Matt got up to take his turn. Dave patted my shoulder consolingly.

“You’ll get it,” said Sarah.

“All we have to do,” said Alex, continuing a conversation I was late to join, “is gather them all up and put them on an island.”

“To what end?” said Zach.

“To their end!” said Alex. “Just get rid of the lot of them and never look back!”

Dave nodded sagely. “They’d all die off eventually.”

“You don’t think they’d just escape the island and come back?” asked Sarah.

“That’s the way with politicians!” said Dave. “They’d just keep delegating everything. Before they could search for food, they’d have to form a coconut finding committee, then the coconut picking committee, then the coconut preparation committee and the coconut distribution committee…”

“I mean, we’d at least leave them tools and things! No one would be able to say we left them all there to die!” said Alex.

“And waste perfectly good tools?” said Zach. “Oh, heck no!”


Board games in the Hamilton house are serious business, comparable to gladiatorial combat, as I was reminded over the family vacation last summer when, in a riveting game of King of Tokyo, Curtis’s tiny cardboard giant monster killed off all of our tiny cardboard giant monsters one by one.  Matt and I watched as it all came down to Curtis and Leann, son vs. mother.

And then Curt annihilated Leann with a single roll of the dice.

“Bastard!” she cried.

“Leann,” I said meekly. “What does it mean when you call your own son a bastard?”

It means we all say inappropriate things.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Inappropriate Things

“Did you ever know (name redacted)?” said Kenzi at D&D one night.

“Oh, gosh, yes,” I said, recalling the socially awkward guy in question.

“Yeah, he got married. They have three kids now.”

“How?” I said. “Was it Stockholm Syndrome?”

Which was not at all what I intended to say.


Sometimes I say inappropriate things.

It’s not intentional. Mostly. Usually. Quite often really.

Honestly, I wonder if I might have some kind of brain damage that stops me from thinking before I speak.


When my friend Tiffany and I were training for a 5k together, we tried every tip and trick in the book (the book in this case being the most recent issue of “Runner’s World” magazine). We did intervals, ran sideways and backwards, stopped at park benches to do push-ups – basically, anything we could come up with that allowed us to actually run less. One day, Tiffany mentioned something new.

“Fartleks?” I asked.

“It’s a Swedish word,” she said. “It's a type of sprinting.”

Later, Benjamin asked us how the training was going.

“Very well!” I said. “Tiffany and I went fartleking after work and it was sooo hard and we were all out of breath and sweaty. Her husband's out of town, so she had nothing else to do, and mine's cool with it. But man, are my thighs sore!”

Benjamin opened his mouth as if to say something, then quickly shut it in a shoddy attempt to suppress wheezes of laughter.

“That’s… actually not as dirty as it sounds,” I said lamely.


One morning after a workout, Matt and I stumbled back home from the gym.

“I’m going to be so sore later, I can tell,” said Matt. “I’m tired now!”

“Tired? Don’t you mean virtuous?” I asked him.

He said, “Oh, sure. Is that what that feels like?”

“Of course! Being virtuous feels terrible! Why did you think it was so hard?” I said.

He chuckled. “That must be why all those virtuous saints and martyrs died horrible deaths...”

“Yeah, it’s true. Remember all those times as teenagers when we DIDN'T have sex because it would have been wrong? Remember how that felt? That was virtue.”

Matt grimaced at the bitter taste of truth. “Virtue is such a cockblock,” he said.

“No, wait! Virtue is supposed to be a good thing! Don’t listen to me!”


“It’s this great exhibit I saw once,” I said, describing Body Worlds for my coworkers. “There was like a mad scientist or something, and he took these bodies that had been donated for science and preserved them by injecting them with some kind of liquid plastic. They’re all posed in interesting ways to show how complicated the human body is.”

“It sounds disturbing,” said Benjamin.

“No, it’s great how all the organs in the torso fit right together! Like, God must be awesome at Tetris.” I said.

“I bet,” said Tiffany. “He's probably got the high scores. He totally rocks at Tetris.”

“Oh, not the high scores, surely,” I said. “He’s really more of a Sims guy.”


As I walked out the door, I gave myself the pat-down: checking each of my pockets in turn, to be sure I had my wallet, phone, and keys.

Quoting Austin Powers, Matt said, “’Spectacles, testicles, wallet and watch...’ So, do you have your testicles with you, then?”

I said, “Well, are you coming with me?”

“What’s that got to do with it?” he asked.

“Because anybody only ever needs one, you know. That's why you have two of them. You're meant to share.”


“It was terrible!” I said, after Tiffany and I finished our 5k. It had been around the city park in front of the library, so afterwards we had stopped in to apprise Benjamin of our experience. “They laid it out all wrong! At the three mile mark they had us circle the pond again instead of heading directly to the finish line. It was more than FOUR miles!”

“That’s silly!” Benjamin said. “All they had to do was follow the route the city uses for all its other races!”

“Right, but this one wasn’t sponsored by the city – the CITY would have put more than one water station in. Seriously, only one water station at the one mile mark! They could at least have put in another one if they were going to make us run FOUR FREAKING MILES!”

Tiffany sighed. “At least our entry fees went to benefit that little girl with leukemia,” she said, charitably.

I made a bitter face. “Yeah, well, I bet SHE didn’t have to run four miles!” I said, because sometimes I say inappropriate things.