Saturday, December 27, 2014

100 Word Increments: Growing Old is Mandatory.

Next week is my birthday. I’ll be 32.

“Does it make you feel old?” my mother-in-law asked me after Christmas dinner.

“Not at all,” I said. “I’m aiming for thirty five. After that, I’ll celebrate the anniversary of my thirty fifth birthday every year.” I told her about my favorite Oscar Wilde quote: “Thirty-five is a very attractive age. London society is full of women of the very highest birth who have, of their own free choice, remained thirty-five for years.”

“Wonderful!” she said. “I enjoyed being thirty five for about twenty years.”

We had a good laugh about that.


When I was five years old, I decided being a kid was awful. No one listened to my opinions on world events. I couldn’t buy my own toys or set my own bedtime. I had zero say in what was for dinner.

Worse yet, I was bad at being a kid. I was bad at playground games and making friends. I was bad at being stupid and impulsive.

However, I was brilliant at self-denial, planning ahead, and budgeting my allowance.

I just knew I’d be good at being old, in a way that I was never good at being young.


One day in November, as I entered the Goodwill store, several vibrant signs proclaimed, “Senior Day: Twenty Percent Off for Senior Citizens”.

“Are you eligible for our senior discount today?” I heard the cashier asking a tiny black woman who was very obviously eligible for the discount.

“Oh, no, honey,” the tiny woman said. “I’m only 39.”

Lady, are you kidding me? Pride is one thing, but twenty percent off is something else altogether! If you’re not going to take the discount, at least give it to me! For crying out loud, I could have saved, like, three whole dollars!


As we drove to the art museum earlier this month, my grandmother regaled me with descriptions of the delightful senior’s luncheon to which she had escorted an older woman she knows from church. “It was great!” she said, then hastened to add, “I wasn’t old enough to go, of course. It was all for Dottie.”

“Of course,” I said, motioning for her to continue.

I wisely refrained from commenting when, upon arriving at the museum, grandma bought herself one senior admission, and didn’t pay until after checking with the girl at the counter to be sure her discount was applied.


“It’s great getting old, because you don’t have to pretend anymore. You can say whatever’s on your mind. People expect you to be cranky at my age, so I get away with it,” an older friend from work told me not too long ago. As she finished speaking, she ran her fingers through her hair and came away with hair on her fingers. She ‘tsked’, as if the situation, while disappointing, was not unusual. “Just FYI,” she said, catching my horrified gaze, “when you get old, your hair falls out. Wouldn't want you to be surprised.”

“So noted” I said.


Last week, Randi lamented that, while she was stocking up for our New Years Eve party, neither of the liquor stores she visited carded her. “How many bottles of wine do I need to bring?” she asked sadly. “I have three, but I would kind of like to drink one tonight.”

I winced for her but I’ve never been carded myself. As someone who was bad at being young and impulsive, I was at least twenty-eight – well past the point of carding – before I ever bought anything at a liquor store.

…I wonder if liquor stores have senior citizen discounts?

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Bunnies Must Die

The article came out in December of 1996. I know this because I ripped it out of the National Geographic magazine and kept it in a file. I still have it. It was the picture that did it, you see: two men standing in front of a truckload of dead rabbits.  

No, literally. There was a truck. The bed of the truck was loaded end to end with expired bunnies.

The article explained, very briefly, that Australia had a severe rabbit problem and that hunters like those in the picture killed millions of rabbits - a nonnative, invasive species - each year in an effort to save the native Australian animals that the rabbits were eating out of house and home. Now, scientists were creating rabbit-specific viruses in order to protect the Australian environment, but were subsequently putting such hunters out of a job.

I couldn’t stop thinking about it, such controversy over so small (and fuzzy) a thing. Seriously, rabbits? Who knew?

Not long afterwards, I discovered a different magazine that had more to say on the topic of Australian rabbits. Apparently some clever Aussies, realizing how hard it is to look good while killing small defenseless rabbits, were trying to rebrand themselves as the savior of the adorable, rabbit-like, 100% native-to-Australia Bilby. There was even a petition to replace the Easter Bunny (with an Easter Bilby, of course). This article, too, with its headline that read simply “Bunnies Must Die!”, was ripped from its magazine and placed in a file.


Sometime later, my tenth grade English teacher made an announcement: we were starting our nonfiction unit, which would culminate in a research paper. We were free to choose any topic we wanted.

Oh, I could not wait.  

Finally, a chance to tell my classmates about this topic that had been so much on my mind for so many months! One cannot (or could not in those days) simply walk up to one's friends and say, “So have you heard this thing about the rabbits in Australia?” It just wasn't done. Now, I could lay it all out for my peers and foster a genuine discussion.

On the one hand, I loved animals, and rabbits were animals, and hunters were killing them in droves! On the other hand, I loved animals, and koalas were animals, and the rabbits were killing them in droves too! Plot twist: rabbit hunting created jobs, jobs easily attained by aborigines and unskilled laborers, while government-created rabbit-specific super-viruses not only killed defenseless rabbits but also destroyed jobs!

This would be the most thought-provoking paper of all time!


When it was time to present my report to the class, I was ready. I had an essay. I had sources. I had pictures. I felt that my cause was just and that my ways were justified. I volunteered to go first.

“And so, as you can see,” I said, “when you consider the research costs and the potential for dangerous mutations, these viruses aren’t the answer. Keeping the hunters employed is better for the economy. Either way, the bunnies must die.” At the conclusion of my report, my classmates and teacher stared at me in wide-eyed astonishment.

“Well, that was certainly interesting,” said my teacher as I took my seat. “Thank you, Tori. Who's next?”

That was it. So anti-climactic! No discussion, no questions, no arguments. Total silence. And into that total silence, my friend Ryan, who sat behind me, whispered, “Oh my God, Tori! Do you have any idea how heartless you sounded just now?”

“No. Why?”


“Rabbit killer,” they called me.

For weeks, I couldn’t sit through lunch in the cafeteria without saying, “No, you don't understand! It's only the ones in Australia that matter!”

The idea that you have no interest in killing ALL rabbits, only those in a specific geographic region, is apparently too broad of an idea for most 14-year-olds to grasp. Pictures of adorable bunnies showed up in my locker like fluffy accusations. One vegetarian classmate refused to speak to me at all. My best friends thought the situation was hilarious and cackled with glee as they chanted, “The Bunnies Must Die!” in their best maniacal voices.

I fumed, and I seethed, and I waited for the whole mess to go away forever.


“So can we talk about this thing with the rabbits in Australia?” a classmate asked before school one day.

“Oh, can we not?” I said, rolling my eyes.

“It’s just that I saw this and thought of you.” She held her hand out to me. “Blue’s your favorite color, right? Go ahead, take it. I got it from one of the prize machines at the grocery store.”

It was a lucky rabbit’s foot.

“Thank you,” I said, tying it to a zipper of my backpack. “I’m, uh…” I fumbled for something suitable to say. “I’m really not a rabbit killer, you know?”

“Oh, sure,” she said. “Just the ones in Australia. I get it.”

And that was the last I ever heard of it.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Santa Claus Incident

Scrolling through Facebook one day, I noticed that my fifteen-year-old niece was upset with a TV show. “Dang it Attack on Titan... Whyyyyy would you do this to me?” her status said. She had just watched episode 5, where one of the main characters dies dramatically. “They ripped my heart out!” she said, posting a picture of herself in full ugly-cry mode.

“I recommend you get used to it...” one unsympathetic friend commented.

“Really??? Your kidding?” she replied, with a cavalier approach to grammar.

“It gets a lot worse...” said another.

“I don't think I can prepare for more,” she lamented. “I mean, this is worse then Game of Thrones...”

Oh, you sweet summer child, I thought, laughing as I wondered how she’d react to the rest of the show, in which almost everyone dies horribly.

But when my laughter subsided, I sighed. I was being unfair: this might be a Santa Claus incident.


When I got home after second grade one day, my mother asked how my day had been and I told her about the argument between my classmates. Half of them had decided they were too cool to believe in Santa Claus anymore, while the other half clung to their beliefs with a zeal that could have rivaled the Spanish Inquisition. The argument had eventually spiraled out of control, derailing the math lesson for nearly half an hour while the teacher sent the chief instigators to the office and calmed several other children down.

“And which side were you on?” mom asked me.

“Oh, neither,” I said. “I read a storybook while they talked.”

Mom nodded solemnly, then took me out for ice cream so that she could soften the blow of telling me Santa Claus was not real. “Since your classmates are talking about it, I wanted you to hear it from me,” she said. “Your daddy and I are the ones who put out presents on Christmas morning.”

I took the news rather calmly. “Okay,” I said, and I really was okay with it. My older brother had already hinted at as much, and I had decided that Santa Claus could be not real if he wanted to be, as long as I still got presents.

I listened as my mother explained how heartbroken she had been as a child when she learned Santa wasn’t real, how she wanted more than all the world to spare me what she went through. “Just remember that Santa Claus is always real in your heart,” she said, choking back tears.

“Okay,” I said again, staring at my ice cream.

I felt bad for not feeling bad about it.

You see, for my mother, learning the truth about Santa Claus was an incident. For me, it was not.


My Santa Claus incidents, and there have been several, have not been about Santa Claus at all.

Do you have any idea how upset I was as a child to learn that Muppets were not real? We’re talking nuclear grade devastation. No amount of comforting ice cream was going to smooth this tantrum over. I was a wreck for weeks. To put it in the modern parlance, four-year-old me just “could not even”.

And can we talk about how I mourned for Optimus Prime? “Oh, honey,” parents and grandparents said. “The Transformers aren’t real, so he isn’t really dead.” This is surprisingly unhelpful, but thanks for trying.

There have been books I’ve literally thrown across the room because they didn’t end the way I hoped they would, leaving me feeling both traumatized and betrayed. Critics say, “It had to end that way for literary reasons!” Screw them.

There have been TV shows the left holes in my life when they were cancelled. “What am I going to do with myself at 7:00PM on Tuesdays?” I asked. “Just watch something else,” people said. IT ISN’T THAT EASY, YOU UNFEELING WRETCHES!

These are Santa Claus incidents. Not the big things, the real things like deaths or divorces or house fires, but the grief for things not real. Did anyone think to take you out for ice cream when Superman died? Did anyone lovingly comfort you after “The Reichenbach Fall”? No one did for me, but it would have been nice if someone had thought of it.


So I called my niece. “I saw your Facebook post,” I said. “Are you okay?”

She sniffled. “Yes.”

I made a mental note to buy her ice cream later.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

A Letter to Benedict Cumberbatch

Dear Mr. Cumberbatch,

I recently moved back to my hometown in Oklahoma, having spent several years as a librarian in south central Kansas. Most people know about Kansas from The Wizard of Oz, but, although we do often get tornadoes in this part of the country in the springtime, I’m reasonably sure none of them have ever carried me away to a magical realm. I say “reasonably sure” because it is apparently possible that such a thing has happened and I have forgotten. I am assuming I have you to thank for that.

You see, Mr. Cumberbatch, as I was working at the library one day, I came across this DVD:

And one item in particular grabbed my attention:

Namely, my name.

Now, to the best of my recollection, I have never been on a sailing voyage – or even a pretend sailing voyage! – with you. I am quite certain this is the sort of thing I would remember even if I were not known among my peers for my excellent memory (which I am). There was nothing for it but to watch this movie and see where I fit in, in the hopes that it might spark a remembrance.

Sadly, it seems all of the footage featuring me ended up on the cutting room floor (only to be expected, I’m afraid, as I am a terrible actor). Try as I might, I was unable to dredge up any memory of this nautical-themed period of my life or the adventures we had!

At first, naturally, I was devastated! How could I have forgotten our time together? The witty conversations, the high jinks on the high seas, the abiding yet entirely platonic relationship we very definitely had (I am happily married and doubtless you were a perfect gentleman at all times)! Why, if only this DVD had never come to my attention, hinting at all these things but shedding light on none of them, I could go back to my old life in peaceful obliviousness like Donna Noble at the end of season 4 of the new Doctor Who when the Doctor had to block her memories of him in order to save her life…

And that’s when it hit me:

You’re a Time Lord!

Yes! It’s so obvious! You’re a Time Lord and are currently living under an assumed name, cleverly disguised as an actor. Because, let’s face it, when it comes to names invented by aliens who haven't quite got the hang of human aliases, “Benedict Cumberbatch” is right up there with “Ford Prefect”.

(Yes, yes, I’m quite aware of your claim that you received this impressive name from your “parents”. “Parents” who are both actors, who have even – it begs pointing out – played the part of your “parents” on TV. I may not be as clever as an immortal Time Lord, but trust me when I say that no Earthling is going to fall for that.)

Of course, I’ve seen Doctor Who: I know how this works. Whatever you’ve done to block my memories of our time together is certainly for my own good. You miss me, I know, but while I may use the occasional Sherlock marathon to indulge in a bit of wistful sentiment for what could have been, I have no regrets, and neither should you.

Be strong.

You needn’t reply. I just wanted you to know that, while I may not remember any of it, I do know it happened.