Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Sunday, October 24, 2010
Death … by ladybug.
They’re everywhere. Before I close my eyes, I try to count how many have taken residence on the ceiling. There’s no real logic in this. It’s one of those “enemy you know” scenarios, like when one counts rabid sheep. My subconscious tells me that if I’ve tallied thirteen, my next morning won’t suck if the same baker’s dozen are still there, and in the same place. It seldom works this way; ladybugs don’t keep the same hours.
You’d think I’d be happy to find them gone. All that does, in truth, is make me fret less about where they were, and a great deal more about where they now are. If they’re not above the bed, my brain tells me, they must be in the bed, and that does little to help me ignore the snooze button.
So I count.
There are, of course, those few lone wolves who skitter across the ceiling, left to right, front to back, shells rattling out an erratic symphony best described as ewww. They do this, making me restart my count over and over, before they come to a full stop in a tight formation directly above my head. I can’t help but think this is by design.
“One, two, three…hey, get back there! One, two…”
These rogues fear no magazine and no vacuum. They may know they’re tempting fate, but they take comfort in knowing they would die with dignity—as I hope I will, when the huddled mass of cowards in the corner (out of reach of the Dyson’s wand and too numerous to measure) swoop down and strip my bones clean while I chase butterflies and unicorns.
Then, as I watch the biggest of the spy-bugs stretch and yawn above me, I begin to worry that, before the full wave comes, an advance party will crawl into my open mouth and do a little Chorus Line, one singular sensation across my taste buds. I don’t know much about ladybugs, but I have read they bear an unpleasant taste.
How, I wonder, does anyone know this?
I’ve never seen Bobby Flay gush about Ladybug Tartare as an appetizer before a main course of Beetles à la King (“The key here, folks, is to maintain a high heat, so they don’t skip around so much, and turn them only once.”) I know not a single ladybug cuisine enthusiast, even though you might expect I would, given I live not far from counties where hounds are considered peers.
Perhaps I’m not adventurous enough, but when I see a vulgar insect, I don’t imagine how appetizing it would be on a toast point with a garlic aoli and a sprig of thyme.
“Patty, you have to try this. It's divine. Just remember...the antennae are garnish.”
I don’t want to eat it. I want to kill it before it kills me. I don’t want my last seconds on earth to be plagued with the realization there’s at least one thing I abhor more than brussels sprouts. So, with few other logical options, I wake Patty. After she clears enough fog from her eyes to feel confident in her you-insensitive-bastard glare, she grumbles, “What?”
I stay silent, but let my wide eyes drift from hers and up toward the heavens.
“Shh-shh-shh. “Look. Up there.”
Her eyes ease up at first, and then leap from what-now to what-the-fuck in a nanosecond, just as they do when she comes home from work and finds I’ve left the toaster on the counter, a skin flick in the DVD player and a tuna-salad-soiled knife in the sink. But this moment is much juicier and preternatural. I’m shitting bricks, to be sure, but she’s shitting townhouses.
The bug nods and waves an armor-clad wing, the insect equivalent of, “Good on ya, love!” Patty does not wave back or exchange any such pleasantry. She’s a turtle now, and the paisley comforter is her cotton shell. I feel her racing pulse in my pillow.
From under the blankets, I hear, “Please, Brian … please get rid of him.”
“Him? How do you know it’s a male? It’s not like he’s pointing at us with a penis and doing a cabaret number.”
“Whatever. Get rid of her.”
“How do you know it’s a girl? It’s not like she’s…”
“Stop! Just get rid of it. Please!”
My vision’s not great, but I think the bug—boy or girl—looks wounded by her remarks.
And this is where I could be brave. I could be my wife’s Russell Crowe, her gladiator. I could grab a candle holder and squish the interloper against the ceiling with a macabre, “Hahahaha.” But another would soon take its place, and then another, and I’d spend the better part of the night naked and stretched out from mattress to ceiling—not one of my better looks. It would also mean I’d need to keep wiping the orange guts from the white paint, and I’d forget my count and have to start all over again.
No, I won’t deal with the ladybugs. I’ll hide under the sheets and hope they won’t rain down upon me, or find a way to squeeze into my eardrum. Let them host a convention to help sort out the ladybugs from the fellabugs. Hell, they can have a no-holds-barred orgy up there. I don’t care. And if, as the prayer goes, I should die before I wake, I’ll at least have better-than-average odds to shed this mortal coil from a sound slumber. I can now sleep, and sleep well, because I now know Patty will not.
Thursday, October 21, 2010
After several lazy afternoons scanning online sites of famous quotations, searching for that one quip that would so fully encapsulate my experience as man, husband and father I could spare myself the hassle of coining my own, this nugget gave me pause. What stopped me wasn’t the message. No, all I could think was, “Wow, how angry was his father? What monster would curse his kid with the name Pubilius?”
Was it common practice in first-century BC to dole out names that sound queer both as a whole and in any shortened form? Pubilius? Why not Marcellus, which leaves its owner the option of being just “Mark”? Or John, which, because it tangles the tongue, some pronounce “Jack”? Or even “Billy”? No, scratch that—it sounds stupid, like something you’d call a one-hit-wonder country singer.
Life on the arid Syrian schoolyard could not have been a picnic for young Pubie. Still, as I digested this quote, something moved me.
An angry father is most cruel towards himself.
What kind of ridiculous shit is that? Why in god’s name would I target myself for malice when I spend every waking hour with a figurative “kick me” sign on my back? We’ll never know what the Syrus kids slipped into dad’s wine the day he penned this twaddle—perhaps just more wine—but I like to think he meant to write this:
“Only a masochistic dunderhead would be most cruel towards himself. A smart and angry father prefers to be cruel to his kids.” – Brian O’Mara-Croft
As a parent of five, I have been angry—very angry. Oh, the many flavors of rage I’ve savored. The veins in my forehead stay bulged and throbbing in mere anticipation of my next tirade. When I’m in this state, slapping a mosquito on my forehead would launch a fountain of gore. I love my children with all my heart. I just abhor the way their minds work.
Who stashed the milk next to the cookies in the pantry? Sure, I get it that Oreos and two-percent enjoy a perfect marriage, but are memories so short these items need to be kept side-by-side to recall this? Is a deafening argument in which every third word is “idiot” and every sixth word, “fuck”, really so compelling it can’t wait until I wrap up my speakerphone call with an important client? And what on earth possesses the lot of them to burst, five-wide and unannounced, into our bedroom just as I’m making my best love?
“I’m busy here! GET OUT!”
“But why are you and Mommy nakee? And why are you shoving her? Is she stuck?”
“A little. Now close the door.”
My own father was no stranger to moments of fury. He exercised the option, as did others of his generation, to position a “Board of Education” in plain view on the kitchen wall. It may well have been an idle threat, but none of we three boys dared cut in line to snatch top spot in the pecking order. He never used the paddle—although once, when the hockey stick I left on the garage floor launched the car’s side mirror, in dozens of pieces, down the driveway and into the street, I watched his hands tremble toward it.
Today, a parent merely mentions the word “spanking” in the abstract—as in, “If I don’t spank you now, I’ll always wish I had”—and a kid’s finger hovers over the first speed-dial button, a direct line to DCFS.
Just try me, old man.
At times I have been cruel, if only by accident (or, as the more particular might propose, from negligence). I’ve flipped my kids over my shoulder—“Wheeee!”—only to miss the catch on the other side (“Whoops.”) I’ve rushed their delicate noggins headlong into awnings, car doors and picture frames. I’ve led tender bare feet across lava-hot pavement. I’ve tossed baseballs and Frisbees toward their hands—and into their faces.
One night, I loaded my infant son into a “baby backpack” to join me on a winter walk. Although the air was frigid and the wind stiff, I worked up a steady sweat. My son did not. When we returned an hour later, he had to relearn the ability to walk. If you closely examine the face of this same son, now a 20-year-old survivor of my questionable parenting, you may detect a subtle shift in skin tone as you scan from left to right. Who knew sunlight beaming through car windows could permanently flash-fry an infant’s cheek?
Like baby sea turtles, some of my children may not see adulthood. Thankfully, I have spares.
Take my youngest son, Connor. Years ago, in a supermarket, I asked him to help me transfer groceries from the cart to the checkout conveyor belt. This, I thought, would both expedite the process and allow me to bond with the five-year-old. I lobbed him a box of raisin bran, and then a package of extra raisins. I tossed a tub of ice cream.
“Good job, little man. Nice snag.”
Upping the ante, I flipped a loaf of bread around my back, and a sack of Cheetos up from under my leg. He caught all with a flourish, and alley-ooped each onto the belt.
“Wow, you’re good at this. Feel like a challenge?”
He nodded and scrunched his eyes. “Bring it.”
I grabbed the next closest item —a bag of some vegetable—and split-finger-fastballed it in Connor’s direction.
Everything moved in slow motion. When this happens, you know things won’t end well. I see every movement as clearly today as a decade ago. The bag pinwheeling through the air. My son’s eyes opening wide in eager anticipation. Tiny hands snapping forward to make the grab. My wife Patty’s eyes also growing wide, her lips following suit with a dramatic “Brian!!! Noooooo…..” Connor’s fingers closing around the bag. These same digits falling back as the look of glee gives way to a mask of stark terror. The bag dropping to the floor with a dull thud. Two screams—one from him, another from Patty. An utterly dumbfounded look on my face.
I’d never bought fresh artichokes before. I had no idea they were Mother Nature’s version of throwing stars. When at long last I stemmed the steady flow of tears—and ventured a tepid reply to Patty’s legitimate query about what the hell was wrong with me—I fished out the Cherry Garcia and passed the whole tub of apology to Connor.
He recoiled in terror—presuming, I’m sure, it would pop open and shower him with broken glass and starving rats. Then he pouted.
“You hurt me.”
When I removed the lid and nothing vile beset his now fractured sense of trust, he at last accepted my peace offering.
“Here…this is for you.” I looked at him, pleading. “Please don’t write a tell-all.”
He’s fourteen now, and so far has shown no interest in learning how to sign his name, let alone inscribe bitter tirades about child abuse disguised as harmless fun. He’ll even eat artichokes. I’d dodged a bullet.
On those occasions when I reflect upon my win-loss ratio as a parent—usually when there’s nothing on TV and my relentless petitioning for a midday slap-and-tickle has fallen yet again upon deaf ears—I wonder what the sum-total of my efforts will be.
Will my heirs gaze fondly on my portrait, a giant, tacky, gilt-edged monstrosity dwarfing the fireplace below? Will my descendants be known not by their given names, but as Son of Brian, or Grandson of Brian, or Second Nephew Thrice Removed—also of Brian? Or will I recede in memory until I’m no more than an insignificant skid mark on an otherwise vibrant fabric of life and the living?
Will my children ever quote me to their children or grandchildren from stories I’ve left behind? I like to imagine they’ll boast, proudly, “You know…your grandfather penned great tomes about playing with himself!” Or they’ll ask, “Can you guess how many times Grandpa violated Grandma? No? Why not read his books?” Oh, what a glorious and mysterious legacy my namesakes will inherit.
I, like all fathers, do hope my kids will take away something positive when my mortal coil unravels like every Slinky I’ve ever owned or touched. My father, I’m sure, once said to my mother, “I’ll never do that when I’m a parent.” And I once promised, “Because my parents did this, I’ll never have children. I may even lop off my penis. You just watch.” In turn, my kids will rework the parenting rules to suit their needs and circumstances. None will get it quite right; no one ever has.
Still, with any luck, they’ll remember the choices I’ve made along the way, and will learn from my mistakes. They won’t freeze, cook, bash, maim or threaten their offspring. They’ll lock the door before they go at it like minks. And, with any luck, they may gently pass artichokes into their kids’ hands, rather than hurl the entire brood into a shrieking, bloody nightmare.
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Most times, we happen upon tiny but quaint communities untouched by the hustle and bustle of urban sprawl, places that have instead adopted a more laid-back charm as their definition of progress. These villages boast wine shops, antique stores and gift boutiques, nestled among mom-and-pop office supply and shoe shops that have miraculously survived the megamall age. I'm a small-town boy, so visits to such places often inspire moments of nostalgia, and serve as a refreshing change from charmless suburbia.
Some stores offer handmade jewelry and knick-knacks by local artisans. With Patty on board, these villages cost us a small fortune, because Patty is stronger than most at finding something unique we just can’t pass up lest it be lost to us forever.
This past Saturday, we stopped at a small town where being literal was apparently the order of the day. Railroad Street ran directly parallel to the Amtrak tracks. Center Street and Main Street, running in opposite directions, divided the town. I looked on a local map, and felt no surprise to find Church Street as one of the main routes. I did feel some surprise to find no street named “Liquor Lane”, because the number of pubs in town was surpassed only by the selection of places of faith. For just a moment, as I did a tally of the saloons, I thought, "I could live here forever."
After Patty satisfied her shopping urge by picking up a pair of earrings ("We have to buy something, don't you think?"), I suggested that we stop into one of the town’s bars for a drink. She agreed. We selected one and walked through the door. We didn’t immediately realize we’d also walked through a portal into the past.
As we received our drinks, in plastic cups (which immediately made me think this was one of those places where glass is frowned upon, “just in case”), I scanned the patrons. The man beside me, who kept regaling the bartender with stories about his son—to whom he referred not by name but as “M’boy”—sported a bushy mustache that obscured both his upper and lower lips. I whispered in Patty's ear.
“Check it out. Does anyone have just a mustache anymore?”
Before she could reply, a cursory scan down the bar provided an answer. Yes. In this town, mustaches were not only acceptable but, it would seem, required. All of the men had them. I felt out of place. I felt even more conspicuous when I reached into my backpack (which caused everyone in the bar to cast a disapproving look, as though I was fishing through a Louis Vuitton purse for my lost lipstick) and pulled out my cell phone (the appearance of which inspired looks that suggested all present considered me “high-falutin’”).
At the end of the bar, two men—one with hair to his waist (and a mustache) and the other with no hair at all (other than a mustache)—entertained their female companion, who had no mustache but whose hairstyle harkened back to the rock videos of the early 80s. The less hirsute of the two kept the woman giggling with a loud demonstration of how many pot-smoking terms he knew, which he presented as an uncategorized list:
“Blunt. Mary Jane. Reefer. Bong. Spliff. Doobie. Munchies.”
He paused only long enough for her to look up and admire the expanse of arm clearly visible below his wife-beater shirt. Said shirt bore the name of yet another local bar. Another scan of the room revealed that everyone was content being a walking billboard for a vice of choice--a bar, brand of cigarettes or variety of beer.
I turned to the man next to me.
“There’s a lot of bars in town, huh?”
“Well, they come and go." He reeled off an impressive list. "Oh, and there used to be a place over on Center Street, but it wasn’t very busy, and then it burned down.” He said the latter without even a hint of suspicion. “M’boy likes the Silver Saddle.” He then turned back to his beer in a way that suggested that since I insisted on carrying a purse, future conversations were not encouraged.
I suggested to Patty that, if she was amenable, I'd be content to chug my drink immediately and hit the road. She agreed. Before we left, I stopped into the bathroom. It was designed for one person, and provided the choice of a urinal or a toilet. I chose the urinal, but looked over at the toilet just long enough to notice that another patron had opted against the urinal because doing so would mean he’d be unable to pee all over the seat. I decided we really needed to get going.
Moments later, we were back in the truck, on a freeway, with a new set of earrings and my backpack-purse, heading back to what we, in the suburbs, define as civilization.
Thursday, September 16, 2010
On one such return visit, my parents informed me they had offered up the use of the sofa in my new pad, free of charge, to the daughter of an acquaintance.
"You did what?"
"We told her she could stay with you. It's only for a month."
"But why?" You should imagine a whine here.
"Because it seems like the right thing to do. Besides, her family has always been good to us."
"Dad, you are a customer in her father's restaurant. A paying customer. No, wait...a regular, paying customer. Getting a good breakfast that you paid for doesn't really qualify as a debt owed."
My arguments fell on deaf ears. My parents paid most of the cost of my apartment, so it was mostly their space to loan out to any near-strangers for whom they felt the slightest affinity. Besides, they pointed out I could get rides home on weekends from my new roomie, who owned a car. I might have offered more of a protest but, well, my mom intimidated me. She still does.
Pat (not her real name; okay, I’m lying, it was her real name) moved in early the next week. At first, I wasn’t completely averse to the idea of having a companion. My apartment was a 90-minute transit ride from my school, so none of my fellow students wanted anything to do with visiting me. I had been spending most evenings (a) sitting in a chair watching television and chewing my nails, (b) playing with myself, (c) pretending I had no laundry and a surplus of friends, and (d) waiting for my landlord to go out for the evening so I could steal some of the weed he stashed under his sofa cushions.
On top of this boundless excitement, having a living, breathing person around didn’t seem horrible, although it would put some constraints on (b).
"Okay, Dad, she can stay...but just for a month."
He looked at me the same way I now look at my kids whenever they refer to our home as "my house".
"You're doing the right thing, son."
Within a week, I discovered that I truly could hate a person more than I hate sauerkraut or laundry. Allow me to explain.
First, the rides home. Pat liked to smoke cigarettes, but didn’t buy smokes.
"I'm not really a smoker."
This meant that any cigarette I lit became a community smoke for smokers and non-smokers alike. I wouldn’t have minded so much were it not for the fact Pat was what we called a “juicer”. This meant that the dry cigarette I passed to her returned seconds later as a hot, spit-saturated sponge caked in lipstick. The shoulders of highways across Southern Ontario became littered with half-finished cigarettes thanks to yours truly. My lung capacity began to improve.
The worst part of living with Pat, though, was her immediate comfort in my space. Case in point: she enjoyed talking on the phone. My phone. Nobody could reach me. For all I knew, every person I had ever known could have died and been buried and I wouldn’t have had a clue. I seethed, but said nothing.
I said nothing because interrupting any of Pat’s conversations—all of which were, apparently, of national importance—caused her to toss me that subtle, “And what the fuck do YOU want?” glare. Besides, interrupting her calls would mean going into my own bedroom, which had largely become off-limits except when she decided I could sleep. I didn’t want any part of that space, because Pat apparently felt all calls were somehow enhanced if she took them while sprawled, face down, on my bed, in an oversized sweatshirt…and undersized panties. Sounds kinda hot, right? Not so much.
I blame my frustration for my judgmental nature. Really, a kinder person would describe my roommate’s posterior as “voluptuous”, “generous” or “Rubenesque”. I was not such a person, so I recalled it to friends (and the strangers I was soon hitting up for conversation) as “Jesus, that is one huge dimpled golf-ball of an ass”. Below said Titleist were ample legs that resembled balloons from which air was slowly escaping. Until I saw my first Vermeer painting years later, the term “milky white” brought no positive images to mind; all I could think about were Pat’s limp, cellulite-clad limbs. (In case you were wondering, I was bitter.)
For the month Pat stayed with me, she proved to be long on promises and short on delivery. Every day I heard about the cases of beer and countless food items that would soon be clogging our fridge. I heard about the good times we’d share visiting parties and bars. Instead, for weeks, I stayed thirsty, hungry...and out of my room.
When Pat finally left, I spent an entire evening stretched out on my bed, taking long, satisfying (and deliciously dry) drags on one cigarette after another, dreaming of beer and food, and relishing my new-found independence.
My brother moved in a week later.
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Of course, you and I both know she’s being irrational (yet another of her delightful quirks). However, in the interests of
- I absolutely will not enter a bathroom with anything in my mouth, with perhaps the exception of cigarettes (which, because of a medical condition—uncontrolled addiction—I require at all times), and my tongue, teeth and uvula, and only because I haven’t figured out a safe, temporary way to remove them for the duration of bathroom visits.
- I have a Chicken Little complex. If it’s especially sunny outside, only dusk convinces me the day won’t end with the world as a giant, glowing fireball, upon which the only things that will survive are me, thousands of cockroaches, a heavy winter coat and a boxed set of the Twilight books. Everything that happens over the course of my daily comings-and-goings bears ominous overtones, most of which seem certain to lead me to (a) poverty, (b) incarceration, (c) erectile dysfunction, (d) a slow, painful death, (e) all of the above, or (f) all of the above…on a giant fireball.
- If I’m upset with someone, I will not make eye contact with them. I will address all comments during any dispute to either the television or my cocktail glass. If someone asks me to look at them while we’re talking, I simply blur out my vision and pretend I’m focusing on them, even though I'm basically blind. To seem less rude, I conduct most arguments from adjoining rooms, from which I can yell my side of the argument and pretend not to hear any retorts.
- I rarely use the appropriate utensils when preparing and/or serving food. My preferred tool for almost everything is the wooden spoon, which means that any soup I prepare takes 45 minutes to move from pot to bowl and contains no more than 10% liquid (which is, incidentally, how I prefer my soup).
- I cannot follow a recipe without adding at least three ingredients not listed. This fierce sense of individualism has, on more than one occasion, been catastrophic in the culinary sense. So, although I believe both onions and garlic are delicious elements in almost everything, they have proven to change the overall flavor of, say, apple crisp.
- I am incapable of going to the store and returning only with what I went out for. If I was sent out to replenish our milk supply and went to a store that sold only (a) milk and (b) Brussels sprouts, I would buy both, even though I abhor Brussels sprouts.
Friday, July 2, 2010
I have two Facebook pages. One is my personal page; to put it gently, it’s boring as shit. My second page, which I use to promote my book, is an endless obsession. Every time the number of “fans” (or “likes”) drops by even a single number, I freak out. “What did I say/do/not do? Who left? How can I get them back? Do I smell bad/odd/like death? How can they smell me? Why am I such a stupid, stupid, stupid person? If I updated my Facebook in the middle of a forest, would a tree fall on me?”
I look at the ratings of my “post quality”, and wonder what I have to do to make people more engaged in the content (the more they respond and share your stuff, the better your rating.) Oh, and at least once a week, I find a way to use the words “vagina”, “penis” or some derivative, because, at heart, I’m an oversexed thirteen-year-old boy who still giggles at farts. Just this past week, I enjoyed a spike in fans based on my discussion of how killer whales can be masturbated (hint: it involves a water-filled cow vagina and a steady hand).
Still, in spite of my addiction, I do have limits. I have no interest in how many sad llamas, treasured golden mystery eggs or sacks of high-quality cow shit my grammar-school classmate will share, nor do I care how many other pals my pals have dispatched to secure their vaunted ranks in the mob hierarchy. I’m too competitive. If I started playing those games, I would play for keeps. So, in the interests of not losing real-world friends because I stole their imaginary “party duck” or rare collectibles, I refrain.
I will NEVER use “LOL” or “ROFL” or “ROFLMAO” in any discussion. I may find something hilarious, but not enough to make me tip over and writhe on the carpet. Sorry. Besides, how compelling is this sort of chat session?
Them: Hi Brian.
Them: What are you doing?
Me: Oh, nothing.
Them: Hahaha. Me too, LOL. Nice day, LOL.
Me: Yes. Nice. Great day to do nothing!
Them: Okay, LOL, talk to you later, LOL.
On the plus side, Facebook does help make the world a more intimate, accessible place. In the past few weeks, I’ve reconnected with a handful of childhood friends. Every time I find one, I feel like I've discovered a cure for cancer or a way to boil a perfect hard-boiled egg. Of course, one soon realizes that over the course of say, thirty years, some of us have changed, and the catching up may be more work than fun.
Them: Wow, long time.
Me: Yeah. So what’s new?
Them: LOL…you mean over the past three decades, ROTFL?
[Brian is offline.]
Thursday, June 17, 2010
Just wanted to depart from the norm and share some exciting news with you. My first book, LOST IN THE HIVE, will be launched in grand fashion tomorrow night at Old Towne Books & Tea in Oswego, IL. Like all first-time authors, I'm plagued with insecurities about the whole thing. For example, what if it's like one of those birthdays where you invite all your friends and nobody comes? What if people read the book and hate it? What if they read it and hate me?
I put my heart and soul (as much as I have left after all those deals with you-know-who) into this book, so I hope you'll consider picking it up and giving it a go.
Thanks to all for your ongoing support; I couldn't (and can't) do it without you.
P.S. If you will in fact consider giving it a go, please order a copy from http://www.publishingworks.com/.
Saturday, June 5, 2010
This past Thursday night, I also learned that when a clown of a neighbor threatens to call the police, said clown becomes even more agitated when you beat him to the punch. Allow me to explain.
Three neighborhood kids (including my youngest son) and a sleepover guest were outside playing Ghost in the Graveyard. At some point during the game, one or more of the participants decided to make a slight adjustment to the rules. Under new game play, instead of hiding or seeking, they upped the ante and urinated on a neighbor’s bushes and lawn. The neighbor, who (a) wasn’t invited to play, and (b) as mentioned previously, is a clown (or, if you prefer, an idiot), decided he didn’t like kids peeing all over his property.
On the surface, I agree with this gentleman-slash-douchebag. I would prefer my lawn to be just that—a lawn—rather than a toilet. Having said this, if a young kid or two peed on my bushes, and I caught them in the act, I might do something drastic like—oh, I don’t know—open my door, and say something pithy like, “Hey kids. Stop peeing on my bushes.” If they persisted, I might even be inclined to pick up the phone and say to the kids’ parents, “Forget to pay your water bill? Need a plumber?” As for my own kid, I would make him water all the plants and flowerbeds for weeks to come, since he'd shown a related interest. In the scheme of things, though, I wouldn't act like the sky was falling.
Not Mr. Douchebag. To him, this was the greatest offense man has ever perpetrated against his fellow man. Before long, I received a knock on the door. Another neighbor’s kid said to me, “Hey, someone wants to speak to you.” Immediately, I started wondering if I owed anyone money or if, in a drunken stupor some other night, I had placed my first-ever order for an eight-ball. Not so. I walked down the driveway to investigate.
“Yeah, hi. My name is Nutly McMoron [not his real name]. I just caught your son and a couple of his LITTLE FRIENDS [condescending fuck] with their dicks out, pissing ALL OVER my bushes. I should call the police for damage to my property.” I wondered what he imagined was in the kids’ urine…sulfuric acid? Weed-B-Gone? I thought of a good answer.
“And if you don’t deal with them right away, I’m calling the police.”
“Oh. Well, if my son did that, I will certainly deal with him.” (Most likely by saying, "Don't do that, dum-dum.")
“Okay. I appreciate that. Cause they had their dicks out.” Yeah, I caught that. I thought about telling him that most human males who pee, unless they’re freaks, find this to be the preferred approach. I didn't, but was glad he reminded me they had the technique down.
What I didn’t realize was that Mr. McMoron planned to linger in the neighborhood for several hours until he could claim his pound of flesh. My wife Patty and I wandered over to our friends’ house to strategize. En route, the idiot yelled out, “Don’t take their word for it. They’ll lie.” Wow, a kid might lie to stay out of trouble? Unheard of!
After talking to the kids, who denied involvement in the desecration of the precious bush, we started home. The idiot was waiting outside. We ignored him and went inside. Twenty minutes later, I walked outside to hear the neighbor still ranting to another neighbor about the travesty of which he was victim. Again, he was ranting on and on about calling the police.
So, being the good neighbors we are, we saved him some trouble. We called the cops. When they arrived, one officer spoke to the man, who raved and gestured and cast aspersions not only on the local children, but also on the community at large, the police and me.
As a gesture, I suggested to “my” officer that if it would make my idiot neighbor feel better, he could come to my house and urinate on any bushes of his choice; after all, his dog pees on them daily. I even proposed that he could pee on my leg, if it would make him go inside and shut his cakehole. The officer disagreed with my suggestion, but while my neighbor flipped his lid, I quietly talked the officer into attending my book launch in a couple of weeks.
Ultimately, the cops put a little fear of god into the lads, we instructed the kids to never go near this man’s property again, and things settled back into some semblance of normalcy.
I’m thinking about building a fence—nothing major, just something modest and about twelve feet tall, with a crocodile-infested moat around it. Good NEIGHBORS make good neighbors; a good fence keeps the idiots out.
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
The guy, who looks like Leonardo (daVinci, not DiCaprio), but who clearly was no Renaissance man, opted against the traditional forms of protest—for example, asking nicely—or other alternatives, like cooking his own damned food or ordering in.
Allegedly, his dinner was important enough, and her failure to provide it egregious enough, that he set their home on fire. Nothing sends a message about unsatisfied expectations like a good four-alarm blaze, I always say. I bet next time she’ll have his fucking meat-and-potatoes on the table when he gets home from the bar, dammit!
In Montreal, another man was arrested for setting fire to his house after an argument with his wife. No details were provided about whether or not he’d eaten…but my guess would be no. I’m no expert, but I find it hard to believe any man would burn down his house on a full stomach. I know I wouldn’t.
I know what you’re thinking. Big deal. Who hasn’t threatened to torch their house during a tiff from time to time? Just the other night, Patty was wrong about something, but wouldn't accept that I'm almost always right. So, to make my point, I retrieved the gas can from the garage and set it on the kitchen counter with a note that said, "Care to rethink your position? All my love, Brian. P.S. Make me a sandwich?"
Still, I see your point. If everyone who set their house on fire justified a blog entry, there’d be blogs on that subject alone. Fire, schmire. Okay, I’ll go one better.
An overwrought pilot (and I have to weigh in with the opinion that “overwrought” and “pilot” are not a great combination) recently sent an email to his girlfriend, threatening to crash a passenger jet if she didn’t get back together with him. Again, no information on whether she’d forgotten to bring him his lunch.
Ladies – why must you make our lives so difficult?
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
It’s even in the job interview.
“Good morning, and thanks for coming in. Wow, your scores at the Academy are off the charts. You look like you’d be a fine protector of what’s right and just.”
“Thank you, sir. I did my best to stand out.”
“Very good. And that brings me to my first question—purely routine, but they insist on it upstairs. Been messing with that penis at all?”
“Have you been working on enhancing your, er, little fella?”
“It’s a simple question, son. Have you wrapped your pecker in gatal-gatal leaves? Made it all inflamed and puffy to impress the ladies and intimidate the boys in the change room?”
“ANSWER the question!”
One wrong answer…"Oh, I guess I might have wrapped it in a leaf or two, but just the one time"...and the dream dies.
Much of Papua is governed by various tribes who for many years have sought independence from both the official bureaucracy and the constraints of what the good lord gave them. The more sensible recruits stay away from the leaves of the gatal-gatal (or “itchy”) tree, which apparently makes one’s member look as though it has been stung by a swarm of bees, and instead sport a koteka—or, for the less culturally evolved, the common penis gourd. It’s fancy, more than a little impressive (available in various sizes, shapes and angles) and doesn’t lead to hours of wailing and screaming.
What’s more, if you remember to leave your gourd at home on interview day, you may just become a Papuan boy in blue one day.
NOTE (for the gents, and the gals who love them): I checked. Apparently, gatal-gatal leaves are not readily available in North America. Dammmmmmmmmmmmiiiiittttttt! However, you can order five-packs of koteka gourd seeds from Amazon for $3.99. Only five more packs are in stock (actually, four, now), so don’t delay.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
1. A person or thing that is believed to bring bad luck.
2. A condition or period of bad luck that appears to have been caused by a specific person or thing.
I am fast coming to the disturbing realization I am a living curse to any sports team I support. Let’s look at the evidence:
I love the White Sox with a passion. I read anything and everything about them, even during the frigid months of winter. I could wear White Sox clothing every day of the week without donning the same item twice. If my wife cried out, “Oh, Mark Buehrle!!!” during a round of slap-and-tickle, I’d beat my chest with pride. I own White Sox furniture, for God’s sake.
On the first day of the season, I paced through my home for hours before the first pitch, and forced Patty to endure about 300 text messages with every play of the game (and most of the opening ceremonies, through which I cried a little bit).
So far this season, the Sox own a 4-9 record, their worst in 13 years. I’m starting to think my beloved team may finish with a 4-158 record. Why? Probably me.
I’m a Toronto Maple Leafs fan. They haven’t made the playoffs in five years. For as long as I’ve been a fan, they’ve either sucked or mostly sucked. Even diehard fans refer to them as the “Laffs” or the “Make-Beliefs”. I sometimes refer to them as, simply, "Those motherf***ing, good-for-nothing, piece of s*** a**holes." Aloud, I leave out the asterisks.
Before I was born, the Leafs won the Cup twelve times. Since then? Once—two months after I was born—when I was too busy refining my diaper-filling technique to care about hockey. With the Leafs out of things (again), I’ve started to root for the Blackhawks in the playoffs. Sorry, Chicago.
I cheer for the Chicago Bears. I did not cheer for them in 1985. Lucky them.
I didn’t really follow the Bulls this year, so they made the playoffs. I tuned in for a few minutes of the first two playoff games—and the Cavaliers are up two games to zip. Ta-daa!
I, like the teams I root for, suck. The only comfort I can take in my ongoing sports nightmare is that the Cubs—for whom I hold no special warmth—aren’t doing much better than the Sox. Now that I’ve said that, though, they’ll probably win the World Series, the only good aspect of which will be my ability to find better White Sox gear on sale at T.J. Maxx.
Life’s funny that way. Why am I not laughing?
Monday, April 5, 2010
This time was different. I clearly heard Patty end a sentence with “French kissing”. I turned down the TV (I had cranked the volume just seconds before in hopes of drowning out their voices, so Patty was actually yelling “FRENCH KISSING!!!”...which made it even hotter.) I asked Patty to put the call on speakerphone.
Cindy’s voice flooded the room.
"You're saying there's dozens of Facebook photos of your kid and his girlfriend making out? Ewww...”
“Dozens. Maybe hundreds. If the photos of them slobbering all over each other weren’t enough to make a mom cringe, get this: there's a bunch of pictures of them kissing the dog. And each other, while they're kissing the dog.”
Patty: "Yep. Kissing. The Dog."
Me: “On the dog's lips?”
- With a little elbow grease and the right products, one can remove poop from wood floors, carpets, walls, ceilings and mattresses
- People everywhere find countless varieties of “unknown” poop in their homes
- Insurance companies will sometimes pay a claim if you have a poop explosion in your house
- One should not eat poop (of any variety)
- Parents aren't fond of pictures of their kids making out with pets, or each other
- Poop sticks to parakeets’ feet
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
My attention had drifted away from Patty’s conversation with her sister and brother-in-law. For the past half-hour of our visit to their home, all I caught was “nothing, nothing, Brian, nothing, you’re not, nothing, listening.” I missed nothing. This juicy rodent-shaped morsel beckoned me back.
Already, the seeds of a kids’ story were taking root in my brain. For a working title, I chose The Ferret Fancies Sally. This rolled off the tongue with greater ease than my initial idea—Mr. Ferret Bores an Angry Hole Through a Tiny Head—which seemed a touch wordy for a children’s title.
Patty added, “It’s true. Ferrets will just gnaw straight through.” Kathleen then added, “I bet a lot of parents don’t like to keep ferrets around because of this.” I was glad she tacked this on, because it’s the sort of anomaly that catches one by surprise—like, “Good moms don’t let toddlers play with food processors,” or “Two of three dentists agree it’s unwise to clean a loaded gun with your mouth.”
We were half-watching Fatal Attractions, a new show about animal lovers who convinced themselves tigers and giant lizards made good stand-ins for lap dogs, and later had "Oops...who knew?" moments. I had little desire to watch TV, but after my sister-in-law tossed out the farm-themed tablecloth in which, on a previous visit, I pointed out numerous dildos disguised as grain silos, I lacked ready conversation starters.
(I’m not a betting man, but my guess is my brother-in-law sprung for a new tablecloth rather than eat his dinner each night on a sea of provincial but prosthetic dongs. Mission accomplished. So we watched TV while I tried to conjure other ways to make my hosts insecure about their home accessories. But I digress...)
These true-life stories are heart-rending and tragic—but in a nice way. To my mind, if you think a black panther is a more trustworthy companion than a golden retriever, you (a) have a gambling problem, and (b) are blog-worthy. In my upcoming book, I started a chapter by fondly recalling the violent death of Timothy Treadwell, who did the world a huge solid when he tried everything short of bathing in beef broth to make sure grizzly bears saw him as lunch. It worked.
I paid attention to a particularly harrowing segment about a woman so ripped up by a chimp that police thought she was a ripped-up man. Through the screams of both chimp and man-woman, the caller shrieked to the 911 dispatcher, “Kill him. It don’t matter. It don’t matter.” On the screen, subtitles mirrored this message.
My sister-in-law gasped. I also gasped. I said, “I know, right? She should have said, ‘It doesn’t matter.’ Silly goose.”
A victim of another chimp attack removed his latex nose from his face (his real nose in the stomach of said chimp). This was cool, but I wondered where he had purchased his new “nose”, which in no way matched his skin tone. If a chimp munched off my schnozz, I’d have fun with my predicament. I’d buy something from Party City, like a clown’s nose or crocodile’s snout. That way, I could entertain young children who, upon pulling the nose away, would scream themselves to sleep every night through adolescence. After this, just TRY to tap the little gaffer on the nose and say "boop". Priceless.
I laughed and laughed at the funny people and their dangerous pets— and then came the part about genitals.
It would seem that chimps, when attacking, peel off the victim’s face, then hands, then feet. This, I believe, is unfortunate. The chimps then rip off and consume the genitals. This, I believe, is most unfortunate, especially since Party City doesn’t sell good stand-ins other than balloons, which would seem like showing off.
A short time later, as we said our goodbyes, I made a mental note. On my next visit, I would present my sister-in-law with my undivided attention—that, and a shiny new, conversation-provoking tablecloth.
Friday, March 19, 2010
Friday, March 12, 2010
As you might expect, Kelly responded to my call for her to “wrap things up” by:
1. coming up the stairs;
2. going to the kitchen freezer;
3. grabbing a tub of ice cream;
4. heading up to her room;
5. setting the late-night dessert next to her bed; and
6. falling asleep for seven hours.
Kelly is a somnambulist—which I believe is the formal name for one who, with no knowledge of her actions, steals ice cream I planned to enjoy but now can’t because it’s “room temperature cream”. Kelly is now a bad, bad daughter. She’s also a sleepwalker.
My first opportunity to make fun of my little girl for something out of her control came years before, when we lived in an apartment. Kelly strolled into the room, rocked on her heels a few times, and then blurted words that made no sense. The specifics elude me, but let’s just say the conversation went something like this:
“Daddy, will you always be a responsible parent?”
“Honestly? I doubt it, sweetie.”
“Okay. Can I have ice cream?”
“Maybe in a few years.”
My wife Patty, who at bedtime snores but never strolls, pointed out that, in speaking to Kelly, I was wasting my breath. I cast a knock-it-off glare, made a shield for my lips, pointed at Kelly through my hand and then mouthed, “Honey, I know…but she’s right here.”
“No, moron. She’s fast asleep.”
Unconvinced, I walked over to Kelly, waved my hand in her face and stuck my tongue out—nothing. I then poked her in the forehead with my index finger. Apparently, this gesture approximated pushing a Go-Back-to-Bed button, because she then turned and left. I smiled at Patty.
“Wow. That was really cool.” And then, “Let's make her do it again.”
Of course, this wasn’t my first exposure to sleepwalking—which, according to the National Sleep Foundation, afflicts up to 15 percent of the population. As a child, I dreamed I was a firefighter. No blaze was too big for me, the world’s all-time #1 hero. What snapped me back to reality was my father’s angry question:
“Brian, why are you peeing in my night table drawer?”
I had no good answer. To be fair, had a fire been blazing in the drawer, it would be out.
Poetic justice came calling many years later, when I was a father to a two-year-old. Devin, who to that point only ever went to his mother should he awaken at night, walked right past her, came to me and extended his arms. Of course, this painted the dopey “awwwww” look on my face. I pulled him up to my chest, snuggled my head against his, and adored him like never before. And then he drained his bladder on my T-shirt.
I believe this was the only time I ever referred to a child as a “little fucker”.
For some, sleepwalking is benign. Those afflicted do little but walk around, carry on conversations with floor lamps and steal things that—not to put too fine a point on it—aren’t fucking theirs.
Others kill everyone in their home.
I’ll miss the ice cream but, in the scheme of things, I’m ready to let it go.
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
This morning, as I sat to relate my brazen efforts to promote my upcoming book, I recalled Patty's story, and it made me think.
I call myself an author. But, until Lost in the Hive hits shelves in June, I'm really just "Theethil" reborn—a notion of an author, an author-to-be.
The folks at PublishingWorks encourage me to keep up the ruse. For Lost in the Hive to sell, people need to know about the book, even though it's not yet a book—and know about the author, even though I'm not yet officially an author. If nobody knows ... nobody buys.
As a new author, I lack a solid "platform". This is editor-speak for, "You're no David Sedaris." For most authors (and especially for those insane enough to write humorous personal essays, as I do), a lack of platform translates into a lack of a writing future. To survive, I must pull a P.T. Barnum, a Houdini. I need to create buzz based on a promise, to craft clever smoke and mirrors that will draw potential readers to the edge of their seats, yearning for the eventual reveal.
What have I been doing so far to move myself from unknown to über-author, from Cecil to Sedaris? Well, I'll tell you. Will these things work? Only time will tell.
1. I flirt with "real" authors
With few exceptions, most writers struggled to get their names and their books known. The more compassionate in this group recall this fresh hell and, like parents (at least those without crack addictions), wish a better life for those who follow. So, before the ink dried on my contract for Lost in the Hive, I started reaching out to other authors (mostly on Twitter and Facebook). Most have been happy to share advice and/or horror stories, will introduce me around and talk me up, and will even find ways to include me in activities and events in which they're participating. These favors come with an unspoken understanding: (a) since they've scratched my back, I may one day be called upon to scratch theirs, and (b) if I'm one of the lucky few to make it big, those backs will itch like a sonofabitch.
2. I make fun of myself
For the past several weeks, I've been directing clips for a YouTube trailer to promote Lost in the Hive. My book is self-deprecating and humorous (I hope), so my angle is to take shots at both the book and myself. I'm opting for a faux-testimonial approach, where "readers" share accounts of how my book changed and/or ruined their lives.
The advantages of a tongue-in-cheek video trailer are: (a) online videos are viral—like STDs and nasty rumors, they get passed around; (b) if you employ friends as "actors" in your video, they want their family, friends and friends-of-friends to see their star turn, so they pass the video around; and (c) even people who aren't avid readers enjoy movies, so they may buy your book on a whim before they realize, "Hey, I never read. He tricked me." Think about it: while most books are better than movies based on those books, a great many books were unknown until the movie version came out.
3. I'm a social media whore
Like iPhones and ill-fitting pants, I'm everywhere. I'm active on my personal Facebook page, and comment on the walls of other authors and comics. I maintain a Facebook fan page for Lost in the Hive. My generous friends use the "suggest to friends" feature on the page to tell their friends, who tell their friends, and so on. Some will even post a message on their personal Facebook wall, encouraging others to become fans and to pass the word along. Will all of these visitors and fans buy my book? I don't know. But, at a minimum, they'll know it exists, and that's a start. How did I get friends to do this for me? First, I'm a real friend to them (my backyard is full of bodies). Second, I asked.
I spend a lot of time—too much—on Twitter (omara_croft) and TweetChat. I follow many writers, booksellers, publishers, agents, comics and actors. I retweet their comments (a great way to seem funny or sharp by stealing others' material with their blessing), and reply with comments I hope they too will retweet. Most times, nothing happens; once in a while, something does.
On TweetChat, I participate in various discussion groups, like #bookmarket and #litchat. I make evocative comments, and some participants follow me (not as many as I'd hoped, but I keep plugging away). Most people want to know you if they think you have something to say (especially if it's about Twilight).
4. I steal others' ideas
If you're an author (published or aspiring) who doesn't know me personally, you chose to read this not because you love me or find me especially attractive, unless there's something very wrong with you. You're reading because you hope I'll share something you can use to promote yourself. Please, go ahead; use me. I'd use you. Along the way, I've picked up many good ideas from others.
On Twitter alone, I follow SMforWriters, AuthorTech and bookmarketer, all of whom offer wonderful tips, tricks and links to get your name and work out there. For example, a quick scan of SMforWriters' Twitter page this morning yielded a goldmine:
- How blogging can help land a book deal
- How writers can use Twitter to maximize efficiency
- How to use social networking without losing author mystique (whatever that is)
- How writers can build a "brand" on search engines
5. I seduce readers of my genre
If you're a writer and you haven't joined Shelfari, take a quick break now and join. I mean it. Don't worry…I'll still be here when you get back. Avid readers love talking about what they've read, and also love hearing about good books they might read next.
On the site, I study members' positive reviews of books by authors who write books similar to mine. I then invite the reviewers to be my friends. I include a note like this: "I enjoyed your review of Magical Thinking by Augusten Burroughs. I, like you, am a fan of his writing. His work inspired me to write my own upcoming collection of humorous essays, LOST IN THE HIVE. I'm hoping to connect with other readers and writers who enjoy this genre. If you're curious about my work, please take a peek at my blog at lostinthehive.blogspot.com. Thanks for being my friend."
This isn't trickery. I believe people who enjoy these authors will also enjoy my book. If they don't, I'll look like an asshole and they'll tell everyone. (Hmm…should I be doing this?)
Within days, I had more than 100 friends. By looking at what they're reading, and studying what they liked and disliked, I learn a lot about what types of stories hold the greatest appeal, and can use this information to improve my own writing. What's more, I can keep my new online friends up-to-date about my upcoming book release.
6. I blog...a lot
I maintain a blog (lostinthehive.blogspot.com) that shares a name, and irreverent style, with my upcoming book. I write as often as I can. On occasion, I post a timely or relevant article on some issue I hope will appeal to a large audience—like, er, this one.
On BlogCatalog.com, I discuss my blog, the issues I explore on my blog, and the process of blogging; if I say the right things, people pop by for a look, and some stay. I re-posted one of my blog stories on Broowaha, an online newspaper made up of blog entries. I let people know, via my Facebook fan page and Twitter, that I've posted a new blog entry. When I send emails to people, I include the information about my blog (and my book) in the signature line. When I visit others' blogs, I leave comments that are outrageous, and drop subtle hints about my blog. Everyone does this; nobody seems to mind.
7. I thrive on symbiosis
I live in a small suburb of Chicago. Oswego is small enough to boast only one independent bookstore, and not big enough to attract a big-box store like Borders. I know Joe and Leah, the owners of Old Towne Books & Tea, quite well. I participate in their Writers' Club. I've been working with Joe on a podcast interview.
I use the skills from my day job—graphic design—to help them out with branding and promotional items. I do this for free—well, almost for free. In exchange for my services, I include a blurb for my book on most materials I create. Joe knows I'm looking out for myself. He's looking out for himself. And if in the process of looking out for ourselves we can look out for each other, even better. If you have a skill outside your writing, think about ways you can apply that skill to help your book promotion efforts.
8. I'm shameless
Yeah, I said it. I'm shameless. This is my dream, and I don't want it to die. I have two other books in the works that yearn for happy futures.
Carol, the VP of marketing at my publisher, told me, "You should be willing to jump through a flaming hoop of dogshit to sell your book." I agree. I would jump through a flaming hoop of gasoline to sell my book. I will blog, tweet, chat, email, perform, debate and proffer sexual favors (okay, maybe not) if it means more people will help my writing journey.
Now that the secret about my shamelessness is out, I would also ask you, as you read this, to "Stumble" this story, follow me on Twitter, become a fan on Facebook, and tell your friends. All of them.
Oh, one more thing: would you please buy my book?
When it exists, that is.
Note: If you would like a formatted, PDF version of this blog post, please leave a comment or email me at email@example.com. And yes, in case you were wondering, I will be saving your email address so I can let you know when the book comes out. That's just smart promotion.
Monday, March 8, 2010
“We all hate our jobs, you big dumb dishwasher!” What my barrage lacks in finesse it makes up for in bile. “What makes you so special? Is your agent ignoring you?”
A path opens between manic writer and computer. Everyone here knows, when obstructed, I will shove. I click on the inbox. The title of my new message—“More and More Times a Night Fornicator Kleptomaniac Consecrated Admissibility”—sounds nothing like my agent’s voice. I make a note to read this message later.
“You’ve got mail.”
The path re-opens. I click on the inbox again and, this time, my agent’s name appears. I stare at it for a moment, in case it’s a clever ruse.
I know what it says. She'll gush, “You’ve done it! You’ve made me fall even more passionately in love with the English language, Brian. Or should I call you Mr. New York Times Bestseller Guy?”
I open the message.
The first word, “Brian”, feels encouraging. The second—“No!!!”—feels less so. I presume the humorous punch line hides in the next lines, so I read on.
“You’re not getting it. In your stories, you CANNOT make fun of how your wife’s memory is full of holes because of her various traumatic heart procedures.”
She then mocks my memory. Her words sting—and, trust me, this I won’t forget.
“Perhaps you missed the hint when I sent back your story about babies. I said ‘Writing about punching any infant—even a plastic one—won’t play well with any audience that cares about human beings.’” She adds, “Now you’re punching a whole new baby.”
My first impulse is to go all Salinger on her and the rest of our politically correct world. I vow I’ll never again write anything for public consumption. I like to write about what comes to mind, not what makes people feel safe or happy or comfortable. The world has pimples; I want to squeeze all the gorgeous pus of human frailty out of each and every one.
So, to show my indignation, but knowing this a battle bigger than me, I bid a forceful goodbye to my latest work—the first strands of a witty thesis about how Tourette’s can sometimes be fu-fu-fucking hilarious. I close the Word document without saving.
Thursday, February 25, 2010
“Well, we can’t just leave him on the patio.”
With the tip of her blood-spattered Harley boot, Maureen nudged the fast-cooling meat that had, moments before, been her kid brother Martin.
"He’ll be sure to attract attention. And flies.”
She batted the air around her auburn-gray tresses (a dreadful failed home dye experiment) as though bestowed with strange powers of foreshadowing. Imagined insects in any quantity struck me as the least of our concerns.
“Tell me, then. Where would you have me put him?”
To my mind, my wife’s choice left her not only as author of this most awkward problem, but accountable for part of any solution. I didn’t open his skull with the rusted poker from the fire pit. Nor was it I who silenced him mid-sentence. In truth, I was hanging on his next words, the ones after his last. He exited on an awkward fragment—“But you don’t…”
Even he deserved better than that.
“It had to be done, and that’s that.”
I could debate this. What irked me was her cavalier tone, as though discarding human remains—of a sibling, no less—was a mere line item on our to-do list, between "fix leaking bathroom faucet" (this with three exclamation points) and "pick up cream cheese at Saul’s." What’s more, she was a wisp of a woman—just enough to her, apparently, to execute a steady swing, but not enough to transport the evidence. My to-do list was burgeoning.
“Why, Maur, why?”
“He would have ruined us. We’d be paupers, if we let things go on.”
“I don’t see how. You could have just asked him to leave.”
Her laugh lacked mirth.
“Oh, sure, I could have asked him. Listen to yourself. He wasn’t leaving. He wasn’t going anywhere.” She nudged again, this time hard enough to convey a soft ripple across the crimson halo surrounding Martin’s imploded skull. “He was moving in.”
She was right, of course. None of our subtle entreaties—Don’t you have pressing business in the city? Need a lift to the bus station tomorrow? Thinking about leaving anytime soon?—had borne fruit. His ample bulk was becoming as permanent a home accessory as the deformed fire tool that now rested next to his more-or-less detached right eye.
Now, unless I could devise a sound solution—or one whopper of an alibi—he was sticking around for good. It wasn’t like I could heave him over the fence and feign utter surprise when someone found him there.
“Her brother, you say? In the woods, just there outside our property? Now that is peculiar.”
As was so often the case, something about Maureen’s actions struck me as a tad hasty, a trifle much. For one, she didn’t need to hit him as many times as she did; I lost count at thirteen. Nobody ever accused my Maureen of doing a job half-way.
Sister and brother had nursed an uneasy peace throughout the long summer. He’d lost his job managing Aces High, the upscale gentleman’s club on the north side, when the owner walked in to find Martin auditioning the new talent on a clutch of spreadsheets. The interviewee left without a job offer and with an angry gash across her otherwise pristine right buttock, courtesy of an ill-placed staple remover.
Martin lost the apartment above the club, an approved perk of the job. His last check (reduced by the price of utilities and his new friend’s trip to the walk-in clinic) would make nobody mistake him for one to the manor born. At first, Maureen seemed glad to open our doors to wayward kin. Of course, she made sure everyone in her book circle and lunch club knew she had martyred herself for his well-being. She was his savior, Saint Maureen O’Shea of the Church of Brotherly Love.
The scent dropped away from the rose within a weekend.
The water glasses started the ball rolling. Martin was so thirsty all the time. I suspected type II diabetes. Maureen, who fancied herself an expert on all things, including those medical, said he was fine, and insisted he was merely trying to drive her insane.
“One glass I could live with. Two, even. But he keeps a half-dozen glasses half-full of water on the edge of the sink every day. Who does that? Does anyone?”
To be fair, I found the habit a bit strange. Still, we all have our quirks. I smell the back of my hand whenever I get nervous. My brother Jake has never eaten the last bite of anything. Maureen’s sister Norah, ever the flighty one, vanished without a whisper after the sisters shared a week at the family cottage on Marshall Bay. Maureen offered police two leads: either Norah had run off with the hot new gas attendant at the marina, or she was literally pushing up the Shasta daisies in her newly widowed husband’s backyard. Maureen found sister and husband hard to abide, what with their constant watering of those damned flowers.
“Are you listening to me?”
“Huh? What’d you say?”
“You weren’t listening. I said, why does he need to shower so often? He’s not dirty. You could eat a meal off him, for Christ’s sake.”
“He says it helps with his boredom.”
“And that’s another thing. How could he be bored? I’m here. You must understand I find that insulting. Just as I find it unconscionable that he insists on squirting drops in his eyes every half-hour. Aren’t people made of water? I, for one, don’t see how he could be running low.”
I'd kept silent. I’d seen the bills. Inside two months—the longest of weekend visits—both water and electricity had doubled. At first, Maureen just seethed. “The world will run dry before he’s done. We’ll all be swallowing spit to keep us from drying into mummies.” Soon, though, deeper malice crept forward.
“I could just cut him into tiny morsels.”
I’d laughed. I’d even revealed the growing frustration to Martin one night when Maureen turned in early to check out a show on the Science Channel—some documentary about the global water crisis. I swirled the brandy around the edges of the snifter, watching the play of the liquid in the firelight.
“You’re pushing her buttons, friend. You know how she gets about wasting water.”
“You don’t know the half of it. When we were kids, she’d go apeshit if she was the last to claim the bathroom. Sharon ran past her on purpose sometimes, just to fray her nerves.”
He fell quiet for a moment, as did I. Sharon, the oldest and the hands-down favorite, had drowned in that very bathtub. We all missed Sharon.
“Still, you know how Maur gets. Do me a favor. Keep the showers to once a day?”
He’d agreed, but, as was his wont, he didn’t change. I’m not a masochist, so I never offered Maureen my theory: I think Martin wanted to wash the shame of his life away, like Lady Macbeth.
And now here he was, centered in the biggest damned spot ever.
“I could wrap him in the bag we bought for the Christmas tree. As soon as the sun starts to come up, I’ll move him to Barrie Woods. It’s not foolproof, but it’s a better option than leaving him here.”
She waved at her head again, then threw her arms around me. “Now that’s my big strong man.”
“I quite liked him, you know.”
“Of course you liked him. I adored him. But sometimes, loving someone isn’t enough.”
For the next half-hour, I busied myself with moving the Christmas tree sections into a series of garbage bags, and tucking all of Martin into the much larger sack. I dragged him to the side and reached for the hose to clear away the clotting mess.
Maureen’s hand stayed my arm. “Don’t be hasty. They say it may rain.”
I dragged the bag through the house and into the garage. After I lowered the back seats and wrestled the bulk into the truck, I stopped. I ran back into the house, to the kitchen, and grabbed one of the half-filled glasses. Returning to the garage, I unzipped the bag and worked the glass between Martin’s rigid fingers.
“For the trip,” I said, surprising myself with how choked my words sounded. I pulled the glass away and finished the drink. “On second thought, I’ll bet heaven is just full of water.”
When I ventured back inside, I found Maureen on the phone with Jack, the last of her siblings (unless, against all odds, Norah came back.) She was asking if he knew where Martin was. No, he wasn’t with us anymore. He’d left in a huff one day. We’d heard nothing since. She was as cool as a cucumber in a bag of chipped ice.
I turned toward the family room to fix a brandy—in Martin’s memory—when Maureen called for me to wait. She covered the mouthpiece.
“You’re a mess. Don’t sit on that sofa. Get in the shower and clean yourself up.” A chilly smile crept across her face.
“Just be sure to keep it short.”
Monday, February 22, 2010
Something a little different today. I have another fiction piece for this blog coming soon, but before that, I just wanted to share the "blurb" for my upcoming book, LOST IN THE HIVE, from fellow author Adrian Colesberry, who wrote the spew-food-from-your-mouth-funny book, How to Make Love to Adrian Colesberry.
"If you've been in a relationship for more than five minutes you'll laugh out loud in recognition at Brian O'Mara-Croft's honest, self-effacing examination of his fatherhood and husbandship."
Thank you, Adrian.
For more information about my upcoming book, or to pre-order a copy, visit http://www.publishingworks.com/. Or mark your calendars for the book launch party at Old Towne Books & Tea in Oswego, IL, on June 30 (details to come).
Next blog entry coming soon!
Thursday, February 18, 2010
I couldn’t place the source. As you might expect, I started jabbing the air with my nose and snorting a ragged path around the room. I’m sure I looked very inquisitive and thoughtful, which I’m told many consider attractive.
My nose caught nothing. I returned to the sink and continued peeling.
The smell was coming from the egg.
And this surprised me. I’m not one who takes a sniff of something and then suggests that, as great as it now, it would be even better if just a touch more “eggy”. When I smell a hard-boiled egg, I expect a very specific odor. In the egg world, this scent may well pass as intoxicating; in the human world, it reminds one of a fair-to-middling (but hardly room-clearing) fart. Generally, the only farts I’ll happily endure are my own.
This egg was no ordinary egg. This egg smelled heavenly! This egg didn’t make me think of flatulence.
This egg made me think of roast chicken.
So, as is my wont, I started to worry. Questions flooded a mind already lulled by the empty promise of a juicy, egg-shaped chicken breast.
- If an egg smells of something one really enjoys and craves—be it chicken, bacon or blueberry pancakes—would eating it be a bad thing? Isn’t this like ignoring gold falling into your lap?
- How much does it really matter that eggs aren’t supposed to smell like anything but eggs?
- Would it be such a turnoff if a leftover piece of cod offered the bonus of a subtle hint of steak? Surf-then-turf, if you will? Or if radishes smelled like cheese?
As I pondered these questions, which seemed important and something I should share (no need to thank me formally), a new query that seemed even more pressing forced its way in. This one gave me pause:
- Just suppose an egg contains a chicken embryo, rather than your standard yolk and white. Is it logical to suppose a cooked chicken embryo might smell like roast chicken?
At first, it failed to occur to me that the mere presence of any egg white under the shell—which I had not only seen but pushed my nose against while chasing that good ol’ chicken smell—would suggest no embryo was present.
When this logic came to me, I felt no better. Instead, I came up with another question (you can understand that my mind was racing at this point, from so much raw science):
- If an egg contained half a chicken embryo, would one reasonably expect to also find half an egg? Is it possible that, by some good fortune, the portion of the egg I had already peeled was the lucky other half—the “egg” half of the egg/embryo mix?
For just a moment, I felt ill. That wonderful essence, the one that had teased my senses with thoughts of roast chicken, may have been nothing more than a freakish and redolent hybrid of egg-baby. Would I ever be able to enjoy chicken again? Or eat an egg?
I ate the egg. I arrived at this decision when I bore down and peeled the rest of the shell—all white. Drawing on my earlier insights, I reasoned that if a hard-boiled egg in no way resembled an embryo, it should be fine (or, at worst, not that dangerous). The fact it smells like something else entirely should be of little importance.
Sadly, the egg tasted just as it should.
Author's note: The previous is a true story. A few months ago, I was reading another blog I enjoy, Hyperbole and a Half. One night, Allie wrote a blog entry when she was drunk. At the time, I remember thinking: "What a great idea. I should try that sometime." So, tonight, after five cocktails and one shot (enough for a gentle buzz but not enough for a Canuck to ever admit he's drunk), I wrote tonight's blog entry.
Here's your challenge. You've read tonight's entry; read at least one other. Then tell me: should I write only when sober, or only when impaired? I trust your judgment; right now, I don't entirely trust my own.