Category Archives: Crisis DuJour

The Return of the Puzzle Prince and Possibly the Magic Box

 

Part II of a fairytale nightmare follows the harrowing saga of promise and betrayal in the health insurance industry. If you missed last week’s episode, you might want to catch up here. For everyone else, join us now as our intrepid heroine embarks on a battle royal…searching for a deserving backside to stick something sharp and pointy into.

*

A widowed mother and her son enjoy a Wish Come True in the form of a very expensive magic box that talks. They scamper to the Free Bed of Mary for training.

The speech therapy Wizard warns them:

“This device is written in a new kind of language—it is not just pictographic but also location based. Terms are organized so that the mind will find them by remembering the pathways of communication.”

“Huhn?” Says the widowed mother.

“You have to learn how the box talks before you can use it. Start with simple words and repeat finding their location. Core words will never move.” The wizard points out the many wonderful features.

“What does this button do?” The widowed mother points to a square on the programming page.

The wizard looks for a long second at the screen.

“That one erases the system.” The wizard says at last.

“Why would anyone put a button like that on the board? Why?” The widowed mother cries, shaking her head.

“Let’s just lock the prince out of that part, shall we?” Says the wizard.

The widowed mother and her puzzle prince go home dragging the heavy magic box with them.

*

Slowly the words come. Many requests are heard:

“I want balloons…” The magic box demands.

“What’s the magic word?” The widowed mother prompts.

The puzzle prince deftly plunks on the keys and the magic box answers…

“Please.”

And so life continues, until the fateful, blustery day in March a drone from the Print-Me Promise magic box factory phones. Unfortunately, the widowed mother was steering the royal blue coach on a busy highway when the call came in.

The widowed mother fumbles for her phone:

“Hi, uh, I’m driving. Can I call you back in about ten?” She says.

“It’s the Print-Me Promise hive calling,” says a drone on the other end. “The WoodNorth Elves are denying your claim.”

SCREeeeeEECH!

*blue coach narrowly avoids merging traffic to take an exit*

The widowed mother uses some inappropriate language before saying,

“Hang on. I’m pulling off the road.”

The widowed mother scrambles to take notes on the back of an envelope while the drone, named *Jin,* rattles off information as if in a race to get to the end of a sentence.

“According to the WoodNorth elves, your son’s policy was retro-terminated November 30, 2016 back to February 29, 2016 and a new policy was made effective March 1, 2016 through December 31, 2016.”

Jin stops to take a breath and the widowed mother seizes her opportunity:

“I’m sorry, Retro-whatted?”

“Retro-terminated.” Replies the busily buzzing drone.

“What does that even mean?” The widowed mother scribbles indecipherable notes.

“I don’t know. I’ve never seen that language before myself!” Admits Jin-the-long-suffering-drone.

“Sounds like an attempt to weasel out of paying for the speech device.” The widowed mother says.

Meanwhile, the puzzle prince, aggravated by the loss of his promised car ride, gets cranky.

“Kerride! Kerride! 3232!” Shouts the puzzle prince.*

Jin the Drone is undeterred.

“According to our records, we have a ‘single-case agreement’ and a ‘binding contract’ approving the speech device.” Jin asserts—no doubt with a decided chin nod. “I think they are stating that, at the time the requests for the device were made, a new group number was in place and the benefits had changed.”

“Kerride! Ball Ons! 3232.” The puzzle prince is getting louder by the second.

“Let me call you back.” Says the widowed mother. “I have to stop and buy a kingdom’s worth of bribes.”

*

20 balloons later…the widowed mother calls the hive back and learns that her son’s magic box may not be so string-free as believed.

Jin scrolls back in time to review notes—hunting for the elusive insurance snipe to explain what went wrong where and when. After several minutes she concludes:

“…We resubmitted the request for payment on March 21, 2016. The insurance company indicates that the plan your son is currently under requires that you meet the maximum out-of-pocket before pay-out. You owe $843.00.”

“Hang on.” The widowed mother interrupts. “We had met our deductible last year. The magic box should be covered 100%!”

Before the widowed mother can totally lose it, Jin the drone hurries on. “Let me see if I can talk to the head elf over at WoodNorth and call you back!” Jin rings off.

*crickets chirping interlude music*

As the story is flagging, a plot twist must be introduced. This seems a good time for the Puzzle Prince to fall ill with plague…so he does. The puzzle prince hits the floor with a thud and stops moving. Surprisingly, the widowed mother notices.

“Come on honey. Let’s get you to a med center.” Croons the widowed mother, nudging the mound of blankets with her toe.

The Fairy God-Doctor’s office does not have any openings, but they recommend another fairy practice in a neighboring village.

“The Wye Moaning office has openings at their branch!” Chirps the Fairy God-Doctor’s staff. “Will that be okay?”

“Yeah. That’ll do.” The widowed mother grabs her key and drags cajoles her collapsed child to the coach.

It is at the counter of the clinic that the widowed mother discovers that she has five difference insurance cards in her wallet. Apparently the insurance company had sent updated cards at some point!

“Well, well, well…” The widowed mother finally hears the retro-proactive shoe that dropped, somewhere in February, or May, or possibly November of 2016. “I guess they did change the plan…and never told me.”

“Ack. Hack. Cough.” The puzzle prince curls in a ball and mimes dying.

A Fairy God-Doctor in a long white robe is summoned. Samples are taken. A $30-dollar co-pay later and the results of the spit test are in.

“He has a virus.” Says the white-coated one.

“A mutant super-virus that has turned him into a sputum-spitting scourge?” Asks the widowed mother with a fearful glance at her green-faced child.

The Fairy God-Doctor restrains an eye roll.

“Give him Benadryl if he gets wheezy.”

The Fairy God-Doctor backs out hastily as the coughing prince attempts to leave a phlegmy gratuity on the doc’s shoes.

*

Several mucous-filled days pass. The puzzle prince recovers just enough to demand constant attention. Life is getting back to as close to normal as it ever does when the widowed mother decides she’d better attack the growing problem of the magic box head on! If she had known how vigorously she was going to be charging the beast, though, she surely would have peed first.**

Donning her battle armor and carrying only her cell phone and clipboard to defend her, the widowed mother tackles the WoodNorth elves first.

Confronting the Elf2

Dialing with digital precision, the widowed mother marches symbolically up to the red tape factory and pounds on the iron-studded door.

An elf appears carrying a particularly fat scroll. She doesn’t even look up from scratching notes to say ‘Hi.’ Instead, she busily scrawls a note and barks,

“Yeah? Whatcha need?”

So accustomed to angry callers, the elf doesn’t even flinch with the spittle starts to fly.

“My son’s magic box claim was denied even though we had authorization! The Printme Promise hive, who makes the speech device, says that, because his insurance policy was retro-terminated, I owe hard-earned gold for re-application in 2017 when the magic device was already authorized in 2016 when the out-of-pocket had been met.” Seethes the widowed mother.

The elf holds up a hand when the widowed mother pauses to take a breath. Spinning the scroll of paper and humming under her breath, the elf asks for the policy number.

“Ah ha. Yes. I see. Mmm Hmm.” The elf mutters.

The spinning of the scroll is hypnotic; its magic is intended to lull the unsuspecting attacker into a catatonic state. The widowed mother recognizes the magical tactic and cracks the seal on a diet cherry Coke to keep her wits about her. She’s mid-swallow when the elf stops the wheel of paper.

The elf pokes a spot on the page and a Gordian knot of red tape springs from the roll. Flapping segments slither out and form a corona of hissing serpents which coil around the elf’s perky green hat. The elf now looks like a red-headed Medusa on a particularly bad hair day.

“I can see the denial and the two account numbers you mentioned. The WoodNorth Elves Union 484 thank you for your patience as we untie the red tape binding your documents! But everything you’ve said does appear to be what happened.”

“Dishonor! Calumny! Malfeasance! And…and…uh…poppycock!” The widowed mother tries to hiss fire, but all she can manage is heavy breathing into her phone.

The widowed mother sums her outrage up in three words: “I demand justice!”

“Okay.” The elf is all agreeableness. Glancing up from the never-ending scroll, she asks, “Whatcha want me to do?”

“Um.” The widowed mother is nonplussed; she hadn’t expected cooperation. “Could you send me copies of the paperwork?”

“What’s your fax number?”

Tucking an errant snake of red tape behind her ear, the elf taps a few places along the scroll before looking up and saying. “Done!”

Reams of paper whiz out from behind the elf. Unspooling cataracts of incomprehensible insurance bibble babble disgorge in a surging mound in front of the bewildered, widowed mother.

The elf quickly backs away, dragging her scroll and the red-tape snakes toward the factory door.

“Uh, thanks for your…help?” The widowed mother shouts to the retreating figure now mostly hidden by the mountain of paperwork.

The elf offers a sly grin that seems to say “Be careful what you wish for!” before ducking into the factory and slamming the door.

Hanging up. The widowed mother is daunted but not discouraged by the task before her. With a sigh, she raises her pen and clipboard and wades in to tackle the massive amounts of data.

She slashes at facts that try to take a bite out of her ankles. Stomping down the irrelevant notes from the speech language wizard’s epic spellwork, she climbs until her arms are tired and she is cross-eyed from reading acronyms and codes in microscopic print.

“It would take an army to wade through this mess!” Sighs the widowed mother.

Hey.  There’s an idea! She thinks

“Not an army…but a hive!” The widowed mother crows triumphantly.

She dials the drones at Printme Promise. Cutting to the chase, the widowed mother makes the same request of the undersecretary to the Queen Bee.

“Paperwork?” The buzz from the other end of the line hums in interest. “Heck yeah. We’ve got paperwork.”

Shortly thereafter, a buzzing squadron of bees descend from a cloud dropping sheets of wasp-wing-thin, honey-gold paper. Before long, gossamer layers wrap the very top of the mound until a point forms. Alternately stabbing with her pen and carving away with her clipboard, the widowed mother makes it to the top of the pile.

Attack the Hive 1

The uppermost crust of the now-hive-shaped structure peels off in her hands. Neatly scratched into the sheaf is a line-by-line detail of what happened and when in easy-to-read annotation.

The widowed mother shouts up to the buzzing horde who constructed the data for her.

“Oh, thank you sooo much! This makes so much more sense! I could just kiss you!”

The bee closest to her stutters mid-wing and nearly drops out of the flight pattern.

“Uh, no thanks are necessary. Especially not that! We’re allergic to humans!”

With a dip of their wings, the drones return to the hive post-haste.

Fortified by data, the widowed mother is much rejuvenated. Now she will be able to confront the Blue Insurance Fairy!

But first…a royal privy break!

After a refreshing pit stop, the widowed mother tightens her armor and dials the enchanted castle. BIF picks up on the third ring.

“Hello, welcome to the Blue Insurance Fairy call center. How can we make your dreams…?”

“I want to speak to the fairy in charge of appeals and grievances.”

The widowed mother cuts off BIF mid-enchantment. Hah! The widowed mother thinks. That’s showing ‘em who’s boss!

“In order to fulfill your dreams we will have to review your dream policy and check your dream out-of-pocket and that requires a boring recitation of every dream call you’ve made in the history of your dream policy! Hold please while I bring up your account!”

“Nooooooooooooooooooooo!” The widowed mother cries, but she is too late.

She bangs her head on the nearest hard surface to the beat of the Muzak now belting in her ears.

♫“… When I’m drivin’ in my car, and the man come on the radio

He’s tellin’ me more and more about some useless information

Supposed to fire my imagination

I can’t get no, oh, no, no, no, hey, hey, hey

That’s what I say

I can’t get no satisfaction, I can’t get no satisfaction

‘Cause I try and I try and I try and I try

I can’t get no, I can’t get no”♬

After weeks of trying to understand what happened, calling and badgering to little avail, the widowed mother snaps.

“That does it!”

The widowed mother storms the Blue Insurance Fairy’s castle, shaking her cell phone at the gates, shouting,

“I am not getting off this phone until I get some satisfaction!”***

Suddenly, BIF appears along the crenellated battlement. She is now wearing the battle helm of a grievance fairy—it’s extra pointy. BIF faces the widowed mother who brandishes a clipboard shield in one hand and her pen poised to stab in the other.

BIF wings fiercely along the ramparts as she explains the mysteries of insurance. After a long conversation which repeats much of what the widowed mother already knew, BIF concludes by pointing at the base of the turret—there a green beast snores, its snout whistling, curls of smoke waft with every exhale.

“Blame the Market Place Dragon. They changed your policy.” BIF hisses in a stage whisper—as if she too is afraid of waking the sleeping giant.

“So the dragon changed my son’s policy and didn’t tell me. The application that went in under the wrong policy number somehow got approved…and the error isn’t discovered until March of this year?” It’s enough to make a widowed mother cry. “Is there anything I can do?”

“You could wake the dragon.” BIF says with a doubtful look at the enormous reptile. “Or you could wait until the second claim goes through and we can file an appeal after it is denied or approved and payment is requested.”

The widowed mother doesn’t think twice. She waves her cell phone at the fairy—a pink flag of surrender.

“Talk to you again in a few months.”

And so our adventure ends on an anti-climax. For now. Nothing is resolved. Nothing is certain. The magic box may be theirs free and clear–or like many fairytale promises–it may come with a hidden price to pay. All we know for sure is, there will be many more car rides before our heroes see an end to this tale. And balloons. Lots and lots of balloons

Asterisk Bedazzled Footnote:

*The puzzle prince is not allowed the magic box while in the coach. It weighs over three pounds and is framed by reinforced steel—the box, not the coach. It may be indestructible, but the widowed mother’s head isn’t.

**I’m about to boil down approximately nine hours of phone conversation into a semi-coherent and as-entertaining-as-possible-without-pharmaceutical-aids metaphorical journey. You might want to take a potty break too.

***She might have been singing that last bit.

The Puzzle Prince and the Magic Box

A Cautiously Optimistic Tale of Victory Over Health Insurance Bureaucracy…Maybe

*

Once upon a time, there was a widowed mother who lived with her boy in a small hovel near a grand village. Her son—a prince under a puzzling curse—could not speak.*

One day, his widowed mother decides to ask the Blue-Insurance Faerie if, maybe, just maybe, the puzzle prince qualifies for a magic box that will talk for him.

The Blue Insurance Faerie—we’ll call this entity ‘BIF’ for short—is all for it.

“Just have your Fairy God-Doctor write a referral.” Says BIF. (August 2016)

After contacting her son’s Fairy God-Doctor, a referral is written for a speech evaluation. (Sept 6, 2016)

You see, even though everyone in the kingdom agrees that her son cannot speak, someone with a magic decree in speech therapy has to write a scroll in the arcane tongue of long-dead medical professionals so BIF will be able to open a magical case.

The Fairy God-Doctor assures the widowed mother and her son, the puzzle prince, that all is in hand. But she warns them,

“This paper is only good for sixty days. Be sure to get the pumpkin back to the castle before the deadline at midnight!”

The widowed mother, who is trying to keep the puzzle prince from climbing the walls, absentmindedly nods her thanks.

A wizard is summoned from The Free Bed of Mary. (Mary is accommodating that way.)

The wizard examines the prince.

“Tell me the way to your home, my child!” The kindly wizard asks.

“Kerride! Baaaall On! Piper!” Says the puzzle prince.

“Where is the place of your living, my child?” Asks the Wizard, this time poking at a magic box to show some options for answers.

The prince types his reply into the box:

“Car Ride. Balloons. Paper.” Says the magic box.

“Well, at least he knows what he wants.” Says the wizard.

The referral is granted. The kingdom rejoices.

“But wait!” Says the Speech Wizard. “Now you must pass through the dangerous authorization process. There be dragons in them thar hills!”

Or, to be precise, there are elves and worker drones to negotiate with.

“These elves don’t make cookies! They make red tape!” The Speech Wizard warns. “And sometimes, they make trouble!”

“We’ll cross that troll bridge when we come to it.” Says the widowed mother.

Red Tape Elves (2)
I couldn’t stop laughing. Red tape has never been so funny! Artwork by Rob O’Neil

 

Once the Speech Wizard makes the recommendation, BIF leaps into action. And by this, I mean, the blue insurance fairy writes a spell to summon the third-party insurance providers who evaluate claims for durable medical equipment. These industrious elves live in a crooked tree which is hidden in the Wood in the far North.**

BIF asks the WoodNorth elves to authorize a magic box for the puzzle prince.

The WoodNorth elf is happy to help.

“I will send a fax spell to the magic box makers and beseech their aid!” The WoodNorth elf says.

The WoodNorth elf holds a scroll of ancient words up to a branch of the tree, waves a wand, and shouts:

*FACSILIMUS TOTALIS!* (September–something–2016)

Sadly, the makers of the talking box—we’ll call them “Print-Me Promise”—have a shield around their hive and the spell is repelled.

Weeks pass.

The WoodNorth elves are happily certain that the magic fax was received. So they leave the puzzle prince’s case to molder.

The Print-Me-Promise hive, which incorporates many worker drones to make equipment intended to survive being thrown by giants having a tantrum, has no clue a spell is expiring outside its fortress.

The prince is left to rot by the widowed mother who is trying to keep him from breaking into the neighboring castles or melting down their hovel by setting the microwave on fire.

Time passes. Nothing happens. The WoodNorth elves get curious…they use a magic nut to contact the Print-Me-Promise drones.

“So…what is the status on the fax we sent?” Asks the WoodNorth elf-in-charge.

“What fax?” The drones reply. “We didn’t get any fax. The fax queue shows nothing in our log.”

“Sigh,” says the WoodNorth Elf. “Let down your barriers and we’ll try again.”

“Buzz, buzz.” Says the drone…which the elf translates as, “Go ahead, make my day.”

Meanwhile. The magic paper that the Fairy God-Doctor wrote at the beginning of the tale dies a quiet death and no one notices.

“Ack. Argh. Gurgle.” Says the magic paper.

With me so far? Excellent, it’s about to get worse

Before long, the Print-Me-Promise drones read the magic paper, realize that the deadline has expired, and notify the widowed mother that they will request a resubmission from the Blue Fairy God-Doctor…or maybe the elves…the widowed isn’t sure. She is busy prying a screw driver away from the prince who has disassembled his desktop computer monitor—a sacrifice to the gods of curiosity.

Hive
“Buzz, Buzz, Buzz.” Not translated, but I’m sure you get the gist.  Artwork by Rob O’Neil

“Someone is to blame but it isn’t the Print-Me-Promise drones, that’s for sure.” Said the hive representative. “We’ll ask for another magic paper. Don’t you worry.” (October 5, 2016)

“Sigh.” Says the widowed mother.

“Kerride.” Mumble-shouts the prince.

“Zapp, Pow…Kersquitch!” Says the microwave, before dying dramatic death.

A second magic request is sent by the Blue Insurance Fairy to the drones at Print-Me Promise. (Apparently the elves are bypassed entirely this time.) (11-9-2016)

The snows begin to fall. Much revels overtake the kingdom. A turkey avoids the slaughter because everyone in the house prefers chicken for the Giving of Thanks.

The elves and the hive are quiet.

The widowed mother becomes nervous as the time of lights approaches. If the magic box isn’t approved before the year’s end…she may have to pay a price to the Blue Insurance Fairy—and the out-of-pocket deductible is $1,500 gold coins.

In alternate messages with the Elves and the Drones, the widowed mother is told:

“It’s the fault of the elves…they didn’t get the request to us before the first paper expired.”

“It’s the fault of the drones. We sent them a second referral.” Say the elves.

“Just fix it.” Yells the impatient, widowed mother.

“Bacon, Bacon, Bacon!” Yells the puzzle prince, who grows an inch-a-day when he eats the deliciously meaty ambrosia.

(Strangely, ‘bacon’ is one of the few words the puzzle prince enunciates perfectly. Go figure.)

As the tree-of-green is placed in their hovel and blue lights are strewn upon it, the industrious elves and the equally frantic worker drones are swishing magic pieces of paper back and forth trying to appease the deadline ogre in the Blue-Insurance Fairy’s dungeon.

Finally, the ogre living in BIF’s basement roars:

“Enough! Just give the blasted prince a box and leave me in peace!”

Just before the bells of the new year ring, a magic box is promised.

“Your wish has been granted.” Says the WoodNorth elf.

“We have a binding contract!” Say the drones. “A magic box is on its way.” (December 28, 2016.)

“We’ll call when the magic box comes in.” Says the wizard from the Free Bed of Mary.

Puzzle Prince and Blue Fairy
In reality, the prince looms over the widowed mother, but we had to keep him in frame, so he’s kneeling in this picture. Artwork by Rob O’Neil

As the snows melt to reveal a strangely dirt-encrusted January, in the grand village, the happy puzzle prince pushes a few buttons:

“Car ride. Car ride. Car ride.” Says the magic box.

“Sigh.” Says the widowed mother, who grabs her coat and keys.

Their blue coach backs out of the driveway and travels to many magical places each time the magic box asks nicely.

The prince and his widowed mother and the magic box live happily ever after….

Or do they?***

 

Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:

*And, apparently, his mother can’t type. I spelled it ‘speek’ the first time.

**Names of agencies have been cleverly changed to protect against lawsuit.

***To Be Frustratingly Continued…

The Dungeon, The Escapee, and Occidental Fudge

Just after posting my celebratory hurrah about our South Haven Adventures last week, I get home and decide to compound my success by being a ‘good parent.’*

“C’mon son. Let’s go for a walk.” I say.

I’m thinking of a brisk stroll, fresh air, and then getting back to the house to tackle some work. It is a good game plan.**

As I have mentioned before, my son is a runner. He would explore a lion’s den given half a chance. Like Austin Powers, his middle name is “Danger”. Unfortunately, this evening is no exception. As we walk, he keeps pointing out buildings he would like to ‘visit’ and even writes house numbers down on his papers when I don’t seem to pick up on his subtle signals when he tries to drag me to the front door.

The night is turning colder when I spot the Grand Villa in the distance. This is a local restaurant which goes by the nickname “The Dungeon” because of its subterranean locale. If I had seen their website beforehand, I might have taken heed of the warning they post in their tagline:

“THE DUNGEON IS WAITING FOR YOU”

Teeth chattering, I haul my child away from the housing complex he is lunging toward—a nondescript giant block of apartments in what once was a large family home. Seeing as my son is now 5 feet 6 inches tall and weighs as much as an overindulged Great Dane, this takes some effort.

I lure him in with the promise of chocolate milk.

Twenty minutes later, warm again and well quaffed, we gather our things to go. Then I consider the nearly mile-long walk back to the house…in the cold…and decide the bathroom should be our first stop. I send my son into the men’s room and wait for a few seconds…before deciding I’d better make sure myself and pop into the ladies.

I swear I peed in less than a minute and was back out to wait for my son. A MINUTE.  That’s all it took.  My clever, devious, Machiavellian boy was gone.

You can pretty much predict the rest. After a frantic and futile search of the area, I’m on the phone with 911. While talking with them, I see a police car pull up alongside the road. I hail them while I’m on the phone with the operator.***

Now I’m babbling at two different sets of people—neither of whom can understand me—when someone calls out:

“We’ve found him!”

Another police officer escorts my happy, oblivious-to-the-chaos-he-causes boy to my weeping embrace.

My son is returned safe and sound and, though he had broken into a home, no one is hurt. A few papers are stolen and have to be retrieved. He’d even had time to scribble calendars on the back as a memento to the family he invaded. I hope they frame them.

In those interminable minutes he is out of my grasp, I imagine enough scenarios to make my heart stop a thousand times. I am honestly surprised it doesn’t kill me.

Once home, my child goes to bed with no complaints. I think on some level he recognizes mommy has had it. I turn off my phone and tune out the world and spend the evening overwrought and shaking.

The next day, I find the energy to call my mom.

“Hey, mom…Little Man is okay, but I have to tell you something that happened last night. Understand, I can’t take any comments about what might have happened. I still feel so emotionally raw I can barely breathe.”

My mom knows about loss. I had a sister—Robin. She died of crib death before I was even born. As a result, mom has had a super-charged paranoia about any dangers we faced as kids and I think this has multiplied exponentially for her grandchildren.

I re-live the night before as factually as I can without breaking down. She lets me vent. It is what I need—a shoulder to cry on without judgment. It is phone call catharsis at its best. Mom says she’ll check in on me later, but she has something to do first. I ring off feeling a shade lighter than before.

My mom stops by that afternoon, carrying a cooler. I unpack it while she tells me a story of her own. When I get to the table with a warm bundle wrapped in a towel, she is drawing me a map as she talks:

“When I was a little girl, my father took me to the ice cream shop at the Occidental Hotel in Muskegon. It’s torn down now, but it was located between Clay and Webster Street downtown—it’s in the same area the Frauenthal Theater and the culinary school are now.”

I pull up my computer to help in the search for yesteryear landmarks. We have a doozy of a time since mom—who has a much better sense of direction than me—apparently can’t reorient her mind to the north-on-top directionality Google maps insists on presenting.

Map to Occidental

“Anyway, they had a famous hot fudge sauce that I absolutely loved. We didn’t go out very often so it was a big treat to go there. So I made this for you!”

As mom is saying this, she’s unwrapping the towel to reveal a small Corningware casserole dish wrapped in plastic wrap with a band of duct tape for extra insurance. (She’s not messing around with spills!)

“After you told me about your adventure, I thought you could use a treat.” Mom says.

She makes me sit down with a big bowl of ice cream and a dollop of the chocolaty, silken sauce melting over the white caps of vanilla-y goodness.

She then tells me more about our connections to the famed hotel with the equally famous sauce.

“Do you remember the lamp your father brought back when they sold off the property and its belongings?” She asks.

I would have been eight in 1975, and home furnishings weren’t a high priority in my experience, so I shake my head and take a bite. I swallow her memories with each taste.

“It was a heavy iron lamp and we put it in your room with the flowered Crosscill bedspread and curtains—you remember those?”

I had loved that frilly bedroom set up until I left for the Army. It was gone when I got back home four years later and I truly mourned its loss. I nod and lick the spoon. No words are necessary when you have hot fudge. Mom continues to wax nostalgic about the past:

“I was nineteen in 1959. I remember going to a Valentine’s dance there once–sponsored by the Elks, I think. A boyfriend, Jack Boles, took me to a ball at the hotel when we were dating. Do you remember the beautiful dress you borrowed for school that was stolen?”

This I distinctly remember. It was my first experience with theft. I borrowed it for a theater skit for a character in the show. It was gorgeous red dress of some kind of stiff but silky material. I have never quite forgiven myself for losing that dress.

“It was a play, Mom. We were performing at the elementary school. The dress disappeared from the prop and costume boxes before we finished the shows.” I interject. I’m apologetic—it’s a script we’ve enacted whenever we rehash the event.

“It had a square bodice and the style was so grown up. The sheer overlay matched the underskirt perfectly. Do you remember the fabric?” Mom holds her hands out as if measuring the width of a belled skirt.

“It had a swirly pattern—nothing distinct, like paisley, but more like the swirls you see when oil floats on water.” I say.

[A hunt online produced similar styles but nothing exactly like what she had:]

Now it’s her turn to nod.

Yes! I wore it when I was in the beauty contest at the ball—you’ve seen that picture, right?”

It is a small, black-n-white snapshot of three women in ball gowns. Mom was the first runner-up. In the photo, she stands to the left of two other women—all dressed up and carrying bouquets of now, long-dead flowers. It was a night of beautiful memories.

Mary Moeller - Beauty Contest3
Left to right: Mary (Mom) Benson, Joan Wachovia, and Sharon (last name unknown)

 

The fudge sauce is slowly disappearing as we reminisce. We look online trying to find a photo of the ice cream parlor that existed before The Occidental Hotel was imploded in 1975 to make way for a parking lot. But all we can find are details of the implosion. The article is an epitaph for a leveled landmark torn down in pursuit of a mall that would later close of its own fiscal demise.

The ice cream is gone and I scoop up the remains of the cooling, lava-like gooeyness to store in the fridge.

“Be sure to hide it from the boy or he’ll eat it all!” Mom warns before giving me a hug goodbye.

It’s after she’s gone and I’m cleaning up that I realize what she’s done. It is what all mothers do—try to make it better. When you skin your knee, she offers a kiss. It is a little sugar to take away the bitterness that life sometimes hands you. I may be an adult, but I am not immune to the sway of childhood remedies or memories—be they mine or my mother’s. The sweetness cannot stop the pain, but it can make it better. And when those remembrances come with chocolate sauce—it surely does.

Asterisk Bedazzled Footnote:

*Being a Good Parent—a laudable goal that, when I try to do it on purpose, results in immediate failure.

**Life is out to get me most of the time and rarely needs a good reason. Still, I thought, in light of my good intentions, the universe was being a real shit not to reward me.

***No matter how many times I have called 911, I do not improve with experience. I am just as hysterical and useless each and every time. I owe sincere apologies to the people who man those phones…and probably a fruit basket.

 

———–You read this far bonus—————–

I just had to include this photo. It is the entire line up of contestants from that long ago Valentine’s beauty pageant.

Mary Moeller - Beauty Contest

Voyeuristic Adventures – Ending With A Twist

green-pepper-smorgasboard
Bell Pepper Orgy

 

The oily sheen is what gets me. Just within reach, prodigious produce entices vices. I’m checking out at check-out; I ogle the goods less taken. Griping the cart handle with sweaty hands, I think, “Oh man, I wish I’d picked up a green pepper to call my own.” If only I were brave enough to snatch it when nobody is looking. My fingers itch. In my heart of hearts, I’m already legging it to my car with the shouts of “Stop that woman—she’s got my pepper!” ringing in my ears.*

*

I’m standing in line one day, loading my groceries onto the black sander belt that drags them to their plastic-bagged doom, when I find myself looking at what the schlub behind me has selected.

“Hmm, they have just as much produce as me. But, look, they have a collection of processed snacks made with asbestos and nuclear orange, cheese powder. I win!”

I’m awash with self-satisfaction, when, suddenly, it strikes me, I am a grocery conveyer voyeur. I feel superior to the guy with the Lipitor prescription and deep-fried pork rinds. Are those Twinkies? Outrage! There is no Twinkie defense! If you buy canned soup, be prepared to be judged! What does it say about my nature that I have to compare my worth in such a way? Am I alone in this? Am I a solitary, smug-worthy opportunist or is everybody guilty of shopper’s gloat?**

I decide I need to find out. I make a Facebook announcement to my friends and family requesting images and receipts. The idea I have is to see if, given a task to shop and knowing it will be posted online, would people change what they buy? What I discover is random journalism is really hard to organize and people are even harder to define. And sometimes, you find out something shocking.

[To maintain everyone’s dignity privacy, I am using cutesy nicknames to identify each respondent.]

After getting the receipts and photos, I asked each participant this multiple-choice question:

If you take a banal activity like shopping and turn it into an assignment, would this effect the activity and make it:
A. More exciting?
B. More of a chore?
C. Influence what you bought in any way?
D. I forgot about it until I was at checkout!

I wasn’t sure what I would find. But I definitely got more than I expected.

I wait a week to get enough responses. I receive some photos texted to me along with a few receipts from various states. In answer to my multiple-choice question, I get varied answers.  My Philly Friend is the first to respond; she also is the only participant to answer “D”—meaning she forgot about it until she reached the cashier. She sends me a text of the items and her receipt. I’m looking at a motherlode of snacks; I have to ask the question:

Me: “If you had remembered this was going public, would you have shopped differently?”
Philly Friend: “If I’d seen it earlier I might have made different choices – although I really was planning on getting the crackers, nuts and raisins – might have skipped the Cheetos. LOL”
Me: “Hah! Is that a Cheeto-in-Chief concern or just the utter lack of nutritive value embarrassment?”
Philly Friend: “Heehee! total junk food, no the DVD was a total last minute addition, too – on sale for less than $4! Wooooo!!

We chat a bit longer, but mostly about the merits of the DVD she purchased. We agree that Cloud Atlas was fantastic—if Tom Hanks was a bit hard to understand at times.

Me: “I think the only disconnect was when Tom Hanks spoke with the odd, futurist dialect and it was so hard to understand him.”
Philly Friend: “Yeah really! Took a bit to understand all that, but that’s why I often use subtitles nowadays. I’m OLD.”

We are the same age, but I suspect the fact that I have both bi-focals and a hip replacement clinched my geriatric status years ago. I am in no position to argue that fifty is the new thirty. (Hah!) I will feel slightly superior about not letting Cheetos touch my lips in nearly twenty years, though.

donnas-groceries
Obviously the idea of letting the world know she’s a junk food junkie bothers Philly Friend not at all.

The California returns are a little slower in coming. One respondent in sunny San Diego provides a mostly-honest consumer profile.  She remarks that her haul is a ‘light’ shopping expedition. Sunny D spent approximately $87.00 on thirty-four things. I smile when I realize the most expensive item is $12.99 for whey protein beating out the price for actual steak. Also, it turns out a fresh Del Monte pineapple in California is more expensive than it is here, in Michigan. My father would have been pleased to point this out—and then he would have bought ten of them to increase his savings.

christines-groceries
The hamburger buns do look lonely without beer beside them.

I ask her whether the assignment affected her attitude:

 

Me: So, how would you answer the multiple-choice question?
Sunny D: “C definitely C but just a tiny bit, I told [husband] he could not fill the cart with beer! And I had a coupon for the Kleenex and then the store had a buy 6 and save sale so I had to stock up 🙂 ”***

I speak with another California participant. I’ve dubbed her LaLaLand—although she lives outside of Hollywood proper—she’s just a bullet’s ricochet away from the famed city. Her multiple-choice answer is ‘A’; she feels that shopping with a mission is more exciting. She sends the prettiest picture and, since we’ve been roommates in the past, I am not surprised by her haul.

laura-salazar-groceries
LaLaLand must be an artist – look at that yummy palatte!

Me: “Did you shop for anything differently?”
LaLaLand: “Well, I kind of thought, ‘Would Kiri like this?’ I was shopping for you.”
Me: *blush* “Aww, gee. Thanks.”

 

I don’t let her attempts at flattery stop me from asking the hard-hitting questions:

Me: “Was this because you didn’t want people to know what you typically shop for?”
LaLaLand: *laughs* “No. My life is an open cart.”
Me: “That would make a great book title.”

LaLaLand makes a few non-committal remarks before blurting a small confession:

LaLaLand: “Sometimes I look at people’s stuff in line and think, ‘Somebody is going to have a party!’ based on what they’ve got there.”

I suspect she isn’t referring to an excess of cake and balloons.  We exchange laughs at our shared voyeurism and then she says something more serious:

LaLaLand: “No, mostly when I’m shopping, I am thinking how much is this gonna cost me and can I afford it?”

Our conversation swerves to the topic of finding low-priced food in a state as expensive as California. LaLaLand is originally from Michigan, so I am surprised to find she is daunted by having to drive to get her groceries to save money. She does have her standards, however. While there is a nearer Walmart, she pooh-poohs that idea outright.

LaLaLand: “I don’t like to shop for groceries there.”

Her opinion is final and immovable in the face of economic need versus personal preference.  Apparently, it is worth going a little further afield to avoid Wally-World. My next interview brings the issue of economic necessity to a head with a whiplash-inducing, 180-degree veer off the conversational cliff.

It’s Monday, I’m compiling the scraps of my data seeking a theme for the post. Comparing the lists and wishing I had a few more participants, I check Facebook for inspiration and send a private message to one of the people who’d said they were interested in taking part. Periwinkle is a fellow parent in the autism community and, though I do not know her well, all autism families share a pool of similar experiences that makes for an immediate bond.

I try for the breezy-but-I’m-not-needy approach:

Me: “Periwinkle – Hey, just checking to see if you had the chance to get to the store and take a picture of your groceries.  No worries if you didn’t. K”

After a few minutes, I get a reply. It’s short and it knocks me on my metaphorical butt.

Periwinkle: “I didn’t forget – I thought I was going to get some money to be able to buy food but am unable to buy food for my family currently.”

If instant messages came with crickets—fields would be chirping to fill the void of my initial lack of response. The crickets continue to chirp while my mind races to process what I just read.

“…can’t buy groceries…?”

I’m ashamed to admit, my first thought was, “How am I going to write a humorous article knowing that?” The answer is, I can’t. There is absolutely nothing funny about people struggling to get by. The only way we can function in real life is we don’t actively know someone is in need unless we ask. Well, I’d asked.

Over the next hour, we exchange instant messages that are frank and, on her side, a mixture of embarrassment and fear. Her typing is awkward and a little hard to read. She  injured her wrist recently and it is difficult to do everything with one hand. I can just imagine trying to cook this way! Periwinkle’s husband needs surgery and is seeing a doctor on the seventeenth of this month.   You wouldn’t think you could read emotional distress in a typed message, but it comes through in staccato phrases. Periwinkle admits it near the end of our discussion–she’s reached a point of despair.

Me: “I know my questions are intrusive, so if this is hard to talk about, I can respect that.”
Periwinkle: “Sorry I just unloaded on you – I’m very frustrated.”
Me: “I would be beyond frustrated. I would be scared and worried.”
Periwinkle: “….I don’t mind. I feel like I’m drowning so it’s nice to share a little…. I am scared and worried and honestly quite done with existing.”

I may not know much, but I recognize a cry for help. I’ve had that kind of moment myself, not for the same reasons, but that empty sense that the world is going on merrily around you–unaware that you are drowning.

We exchange a rapid-fire series of messages identifying ways to get food in the local community. I suggest she set up a Go-fund Me page for the current financial stress and need for groceries. I check my cupboards and admit to myself my impulse shopping in bulk might have finally paid off.  I have groceries to spare.

I promise to bring a few bags by after I’ve taken my boy to his oh-so-reluctant music lesson. As we leave the center where he has therapy, the snow, which had been gracefully wafting as we went in, is now swirling madly as if dancing to a demented waltz.

Driving is dizzying and the roads are slick. At one point, I see a car make a sharp left at a corner and drive straight into a building. Fortunately, the driver had been crawling through the intersection, but it forced me to reroute from our destination. I’ve never been so grateful to make it to someone’s house.

Periwinkle waves her uninjured arm from the door, but sends her older son to grab some of the stuff. I admit when I hand mine off to her, “If I hadn’t already promised to come, I would have saved this for tomorrow.” I indicated the near-blizzard swirling around us. She thanks me, but we are both a little awkward and make quick goodbyes to get in out of the freezing cold.

I have no great end to this bizarre, journalistic turn of events. I began this article with lighthearted intentions—before I spoke with Periwinkle. I have no illusions about my acumen as a reporter; I just know that there are some things I can’t ignore. I prefer to write about laughter and whimsy—it is my cure for the dark that tends to lurk. But, I can’t stand by when someone else is drowning. Can you?

*

If you want to help Periwinkle, here is a link to her GoFundMe

Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:
* I’m the covetous bad girl at the Lane 6 register.
**Feeling superior because of other people’s poor food choices, would the German for this be ‘Schaden-Foodie?’
***Sunny D lives in California where, apparently, emoticons are used instead of punctuation marks.
____________________________________________
You’ve read this far bonus:

green-pepper2
“Come to me, you naughty, naughty veggie!”

 

 

The Lure of Vegetation
By  A. Voyeur

Glistening skin
Polish shining like wet frogs
Deep green, tightly stretched and crunchy.
Bulbous stem jutting up,
Curling a beckoning finger.
Call me Peter Piper sans the pickle
GREEN PEPPER!

Squirrel Theater and Fridge Freak-Outs

 

squirrel-image-1

The neighborhood squirrels had something juicy to gossip about this weekend. I invite you to consider how it went–I imagine it looked something like this:

Bushy-Tailed Theater Presents:

One Nut Too Many

Squirrel One: “Chitter chitter, chitter chit…(hang on, translation matrix is running slowly)…there…she’s at it again. First, she brought the plastic bags filled with yummy goodness to her giant not-a-tree house and then she moves it all back to the smaller not-a-tree house.”

Squirrel Two: “It’s about damned time. I can’t understand why she stored the food in a place so close to where she sleeps! Doesn’t she know that’s the first place other humans will look for food?”

The squirrels watch for a few minutes as the human wheels more and more bags filled with yummy goodness to the smaller not-a-tree house to feed it to the white beast living there.* They watch as she attempts a game of Tetris—trying manically to shove all of the stuff into a place too small to fit it.

Squirrel One: “What is she doing with it now?”

Squirrel Two: “Putting it in the white beast that hums in the smaller not-a-tree house…hmmm, she is terrible at packing nuts. She is doing the human equivalent of a bushy-tailed dance of frustration…what do you suppose ‘sonofabeak’ means anyway? Humans don’t have beaks!”

Squirrel One: “Who knows with humans? She’s obviously got too many nuts. She should get rid of a few.”

Squirrel Two: “Well, you can forget about getting any of the sweet snow. The human boy is eating it straight out of the carton for dinner. We’ll be lucky to get to lick the leftovers when the trash goes out six suns from now.”

Squirrel One: “He can have it.  I tried the yellow kind once and it was terrible.”

snowy-goodness-for-dinner
Ahh…sweet, snowy goodness!

 

What the squirrels do not realize is that the human—me—is very shortly going to realize that the not-humming-any-more white beast in the house—the refrigerator—is not actually broken. But I won’t find this out until the next morning. Someone who shall not be named unplugged it in a genius work-around of the “Do not turn the dial in the fridge to off!” rule.

For those keeping count, the game stands:

Autistic Child – one. Clueless Parent – zero.

 

squirrelly-hijinks

The squirrels do not know what to make of the human’s reversal of the previous night’s move.

Squirrel One: “Chitter, chitter…screw it…Hey, Frank get over here. She’s back.”

Squirrel Two: “What? I was watching the boy human create a nest. He is really marvelous with his use of scissors on various media. I wish I had opposable thumbs.”

Squirrel One: “Never mind that, I’ve seen that episode before. It ends with the mother human yelling at the boy human, making him clean it up…and then the boy dumps it all out again when her back is turned. No, you want to watch and see what she’s doing now.”

Squirrel Two: “What…hey!…didn’t she just move all that stuff yester-sundown? Why would she move it all back to where she stored it in the first place? Was the smaller not-a-tree house invaded?”

Squirrel One: “Nah. At least, not on my watch. She just wanted to repack it all, I guess. She gave the white, humming beast in the big not-a-tree house a bath. She was very tender and loving toward it. Though, she didn’t lick it or anything. She cut the monster into pieces and washed each section in the small silver lake in the food room.”

Squirrel Two: “Was it some kind of human magic? Was she trying to prevent a curse?”

Squirrel One: “No…but maybe she was trying to inflict one. I heard a lot of cursing going on.”

Squirrel Two: “Who was she trying to hex?”

Squirrel One: “The boy human, I think. She chittered at him on and off all sun-time. Though, I don’t think they speak the same language. He kept indicating he wanted something to eat and she just kept making him help bathe the giant humming beast that’s hogging all the food. She’s only encouraging him to try and kill it again later, from what I can tell.”

Squirrel Two: “Humans are weird.”

Squirrel One: “Like I said, there’s one nut too many in that place.”

__________

Asterisk Bedazzled Squirrely Footnote:

*I don’t care how labored the effort is, I find squirrel speak hilariously funny. Be grateful I limited it to household descriptions.

__________________________________________________________________

Please admire my newly-cleaned beast…er…refrigerator, someone should considering how many hours went into its production:

white-humming-beast-cleaned
So clean you could lick it! But don’t.

Driving With Sushi

california-rolls
Warning: Contents May Be Deadlier Than They Appear

 

Sushi may be a finger food–it’s small, compact and easily consumed coming as it does in bite-sized portions–this does not, however, make it an appropriate fast food for road trips. Let me explain.

Driving to Chicago Friday, we get a late enough start to greet not only the oncoming rush-hour traffic but this also forces us to face the blizzardous conditions which everyone and their mother knows is heading this-a-ways.* Not to mention, I manage to miss lunch in favor of haphazard packing and random dithering. This is why, when I make a final stop at the Meijer store to pick up the kid’s medication, I grab an impulse carton of veggie sushi to nosh on while motoring. This will prove to be the most ill-advised snack choice ever.***

I am smart enough to set up my sushi before putting the car in gear. (What kind of idiot would want to open a soy sauce packet with one hand, after all? Ha ha ha.) So, the giant rectangular clamshell lays spread-open next to me–half filled with happy little California sushi rolls, the other half swimming with a brown pool of Kikkoman joy.  Child in tow, snack in hand, we set off.

The car slithers out of the parking lot.  I snack and squint trying to see where I’m going between the swirling snowflakes that take up 90% of the visual spectrum.

As I tentatively nose out into traffic, I’m dipping a roll into the soy juice as a car going at least 60 mph in the parking lot tries to barrel past us. I slam on the brakes. And even though I am going turtle speeds, the flotsam and jetsam clogging the front seat undulates forward in a sluggish lurch. Most of it is stopped by all of the other stuff packed there. Yay. Not, however, the sushi.

Fun Fact: Do you want to know the Number Two Reason why sushi isn’t a travel-approved snack food?  It is round. Round = bad!

My sushi flies, joyful little bobbles, skittering all over the seat.  Fortunately the soy sauce only threatens to overturn onto my purse where it has fallen to the floor. I’m madly scooping the runaway snack food while I simultaneously managed to avoid the collision and get into a lane. I do not whip the other driver the bird, but only because I don’t have a free hand. I do curse them soundly. My son is learning many important life lessons, no doubt; I’m just not sure what they are.

After this I keep a fixed eye on the windscreen, inching our way to the interstate. The sushi will have to wait. My stomach growls its disapproval.

My hockey puck of a car joins the highway and I sigh with relief. Settling in, I crank up the book on CD. We have four hours of cautious, but ultimately safe, driving ahead. From here on out, it should be smooth sailing. (Cue ominous music.)

I reach for a congratulatory, slightly smooshed, ball of rice and vegetables. Here I discover the Number One Reason sushi is not recommended as a mobile food source. I blindly grab a roll, dunk it with my growing expertise into the soy sauce, and pop it in my mouth.

It is right at this moment, I am reminded what else they put in the standard sushi setup. If you don’t know, grocery stores pack this Japanese delicacy with tiny accompaniments of everything you could want: twelve decorative food objects come with soy sauce and a tiny plastic fence blockading a swirl of pickled ginger and a daub of mushy green stuff. I had forgotten about the mushy green stuff. You should never, EVER forget about the mushy green stuff. The fence is the guard rail of the food tray; it is put there for your safety. The sushi had crossed the fence!

I manage not to steer the car into a ditch while scrambling to suck down the entire 24 ounces of mixed regular and diet cherry Coke I had lugged from the same store as the sushi. Fire appeased, victory is mine. Sort of.

driving-with-sushi-snip

I survive Driving With Sushi with a greater appreciation for ginormous beverages and an improbable will to live despite eating an entire glop of the dangerous green paste.  Learn from me, children: Do not eat wasabi while driving. Wasabi is the killer food equivalent of texting. Perhaps sushi in cars should be avoided altogether. It appears I am not alone in this opinion!

On the upside, my mouth stayed warm all the way to Chicago.

Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:

*My mother in particular. She made a point of warning me to beat the storm. I suspect latent childish resistance to following her advice correlates to our delayed departure.**

**This is where I find out if my mother actually reads my blog. Don’t feel the need to tell her.

***Most people would say I was mistaken to purchase supermarket sushi just because it was SUPERMARKET SUSHI. Congratulations. You were proved right. Happy?

The Diarrhea Diaries

*Warning, graphic and disgusting content follows.*

 

Dear Diarrhea:

You are ruining everything! I was supposed to be having fun, staying up late, writing a novel for NaNoWriMo.  Instead, I’m seeing how fast I can go through a mega pack of toilet paper and finding out exactly how dehydrated one has to get before you have nothing left to give.

I hope you are happy.*

Sure! You let me have a Halloween party, but then you show up and knock me on my ass!

For days I was too tired to even whine. Did you read that? TOO TIRED TO WHINE!*

I threw away CUPCAKES because of you. I, who may or may not have eaten cake which had been left out for days in my past, threw away perfectly good—well, let’s be honest, my kid ate all the candy pumpkins off the top and it looked like tiny orange homicides occurred in the remaining frosting—cupcakes. They were tossed–much like cookies.*

I have only managed to eat the Jello brains leftover from the party and chicken soup. Four days of chicken soup. Bkwawk. I suspect I have started to cluck.*

My son has run amok in my absence. I actually had to chase him once when he escaped the house. You of course followed me and made my life hell.

You can imagine that phone call to the police department:

Dispatcher: “9.1.1, what is your emergency?”

Me: “My son has eaten a truckload of candy and is running amok. He’s dressed as Robin Hood and breaking into people’s homes. I’m in danger of shit running down my leg any second. I’m dressed as Dolores Umbrage—you’ll find me squatting in the nearest bushes.”

Dispatcher: “Ewwww.”*

No thanks to you, I found him before they had to be involved…and I was arrested for indecency and polluting a public place.

The house is a mess. My son is officially out of clean clothes. And the basement…I don’t even want to describe what he has done to the basement. Suffice it to say, there will be Lysol in the old house tonight.

I’m sorry. But we have to break up. And let me be frank. It isn’t me—it’s you! I just can’t put up with your shit anymore.*

Asterisks Not So Bedazzled:

*A graphic representation of how frequently I have been interrupted while writing this post. You can only imagine why.

___________________________________________

And because I suspect you think I’m making this up…here’s photographic proof. 

OF MY COSTUME!  What? You think I’m posting pictures of my toilet???

What kind of person do you think I…? Oh…right.

img_3669-2
Before the curse of Salazar Slytherin struck.

Going nuts? Just ask a squirrel.

squirrel-therapy

Depression is contagious.  Fortunately, there are now squirrels for that!

*

I read an article today by a mom who describes herself saying, “When Did I Become Broken?” As she lists, point-by-point, her mental health challenges, I find myself lifting an imaginary glass saying, “Amen sister!”* After summing up the depressing qualities of life as a single mom with autism flavorings, I am thoroughly gruntled.

But, like the mom above, I too am enjoying the thrills of DBT Therapy.  I decide to do a homework assignment and galump outside—grumbling the entire way, thinking “f*ck positivity” and dragging behind me a thick cloud of despair like a cloak of wet cement.

As I practice breathing–inhale, hold breath for a few seconds, breathe out–my eyes close and I felt the sun hit my face like a welcoming benediction. I muscle past the pain of echoed despair and drift toward the nearby farmer’s market.

On the way, I pass the same corner house I always do–the one with the scraggly white fence and a host of plants trying to escape through the wide, chipped painted slats. An enormous maple tree dominates the front corner and I am further distracted from my gloomy funk by the chittering of a familiar friend.

urban-squirrel
I call this “Urban Squirrel with Cracker Not Giving a Fu…uh…Fig.”

High in a crook of the tree, the squirrel gives me a concerned look–the kind that just invites you to start talking to him.

“Look at you! So brave. So bold. Not bothered by me in the least.”**

The squirrel is all nonchalance, flicking his head up and back down to me as if he has pressing things to do and I’d better cut to the chase.

I’m admiring his calm when the dog in the house intrudes on our conversation:

“Bark bark, barkety bark bark… woofity, woof, woof.”***

No doubt the dog is letting me know I am in imminent danger of doggy justice…just as soon as he figures out how to use the doorknob. I think he also told off the squirrel, but I might just be imagining the eye roll the squirrel gave me.

“You are certainly braver than me.” I tell the squirrel. “I know he’s behind glass and I’m still scared of that dog!”

The squirrel gives me the bush-tailed equivalent of “What Evs” and scampers away.

I make my way to the farmer’s market which is closing up its stalls slowly enough I am able to grab an impulse cabbage and a bag of reasonably priced Honey Crisps.  Just before I leave, I snatch up a tiny pumpkin for 75 cents.

Back at the office, I place my orange gourd du season on the desk and realize, I’m feeling better–not fixed 100%–but definitely better. I have to wonder that no one has figured out a way to use squirrels as therapy animals.

therapy-squirrel2
Stolen from: evilsquirrelsnest.com where they did a much better job.

So, if you haven’t heard from me in a while, don’t worry. I’m working through some issues. And if anyone asks, I’ll be with the squirrels. Apparently, it’s all the rage:

 

Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:

*All beverages quaffed on this blog will be imaginary unless otherwise designated. They also will come with tiny umbrellas and fruity names like: “Divine Intoxication Infused with Chocolate Dreams.”

**No, I did not say “Squeak….squeak…chitter…squeak.”  I do not speak squirrel.  What kind of idiot do you take me for?

***Or words to that effect. I don’t speak dog either. But I can recognize “Fuck you and the horse you road in on!” in many languages.

 

_____________ You Read This Far Bonus_________________

You want to read more about squirrel potential? Great!  Look no further than a nomination for president to be found at:

Evil Squirrel’s Nest

I highly approve the furry-tailed candidate’s promise to make therapy squirrels available to everyone! The no-parole until they graduate stance on children’s education might be a mite rigid. But, his nutty stand on gun control will at least make you smile.

Tea with Tornados

 

On the heels of my last post “Tempest in a Teapot, ” today follows the story with an introductory Haiku—poorly crafted poetry that tries to sum up a day in seventeen syllables:

As tea steeps, rain weeps

Water fills both bowl and sky

Prepare to drink deep.

I leave the Japanese Tea House buoyed with happiness and a certain sense of rightness with the world. It doesn’t last long.*

Kiri in the Rain

I take my complimentary shocking-yellow umbrella from our Meijer Garden’s guide—I almost bow from recently-acquired habit—and pause to pose in front of a font for a photo. (Hit *like* if you love alliteration.)

As I am leaving, the guide casually mentions that a ‘storm’ is headed this way and I should make sure to head in by 2:00.

Bridge in a Storm

I scramble around the larger Japanese Garden to admire the lush-to-the-point-of- heaving-bosoms blooming flowers in the rain. I ‘Cecil B. DeMille’ a few of them with dew-laden close-ups. I might have asked a few of them to “Come on, show a little stamen and pistil.”**

I stalk the Bonsai garden—a human sequoia in a land of miniature conifers. I took several snaps of the plump, if bruised, pear growing on its tiny parent. It struck me funny that I was giving produce the paparazzi treatment when I pass it up with barely a blink at our local grocery store. (I am high on centuries of tradition, what can I say? I am a wild woman.)

The rain is steady–not too heavy but definitely a presence. My shadowy, wet companion. At one point, I am juggling the umbrella and trying to photograph the Korean Hornbeam*** when I drop my iPhone. Fortunately, it hits the rocks glass-side up, or I’d be crying in the rain.

Korean Hornbeam
Infamous Hornbeam – Destroyer of Cell Phones.

 

I stop in the rock garden on my way out. The nearly invisible poetry etched into the massive boulders is made visible by the downpour.

RAIN FALLING IN SPRING

AND I AM SORRY

NOT TO BE ABLE TO WRITE

 

Rain Haiku
My new excuse for not writing – Rain Delay.

 

 

I’m eating lunch in the Meijer Gardens’ café, surrounded by raindrop streaked windows and Chihuly glass installment on the ceiling, when I turn my phone back on to check for messages. There is a mildly alarming inquiry about my son from the babysitter, so I call to check on him.

That’s when I get the news…they are in the basement…there is a tornado alert for the area. I should seek shelter.

We exchange a few frantic words before I head to the front desk.

“Uh, are you all aware that there is a tornado alert?” I whisper this as if I’d cause a stampede if overheard.

The huddle of women with grey-to-frosty-white hair helmets look up from an iPad and confirm they’re tracking its progress.

“Don’t worry. We’ll let everyone know if we need to move to the shelters in the basement.”

I shrug, I’ve done my part. But in my head, I’m thinking. “Don’t tornados move pretty fast?” I make my way to the basement to grab a seat before anyone else does. Because…priorities!

Pretty soon, everybody else with an iPhone or other device is making their way down there ahead of an official announcement. If there is ever another mass extinction it will be because someone decided to wait until they were sure disaster was heading in their direction before taking action.

It’s getting crowded and suddenly all of our phones are going off announcing the approach of the storm. The officials finally make it official and start herding people into the area that is the ‘actual’ storm shelter. (Apparently they don’t consider a need for access to plumbing with the same level of urgency I do.) A service door leads to an unfinished concrete cavern filled with twists and turns and lots of unused equipment and staging material. We are urged to move as far back in the space to make room for everybody. I’m surprised by how calmly everyone is taking this. Inside I wonder if we really ought to be more concerned.

I spy a few of the people I ran into while walking the garden. I’m glad they made it back—but I do wonder about the second tea ceremony that was supposed to start at 2:00. There is a really evil part of me that whispers “Aren’t you glad you signed up for the first showing at 11:30!”

I pass members of a wedding party, one of the women is still holding a glass/candle concoction which would be an excellent thing if anyone wanted a light. (I see a future market for wedding planners —decorative flourishes that function as emergency provisions in the event of a disaster.)

I finally choose a spot that circles back to a secondary exit. There is light spilling in from the corridor so it isn’t totally scary if it is a bit cold.

Across from me a family—two grandparents, a family friend, and two children—are trying to get comfortable on the floor. I look around. Nearby there are folded chairs and a huddle of employees who, by their uniforms, work in the kitchens upstairs.

“Would it be okay if we got out the chairs?” I ask one of them. I have to repeat myself because it appears the young man isn’t used to actually talking with the visitors to the Gardens.

Minutes later, our area is much cozier with scattered seating. I quash any guilt I might feel because the woman across says, “Oh, that’s so much better.”

We exchange a few pleasantries before settling into a tense wait-and-see. The children are scared. You can tell by the way they clutch the toys they’ve brought with them. I honestly don’t feel that much fear—probably because I have no clue what kind of damage a storm like this can do. You see…

I am a tornado virgin.

I have never lived through any major storm—beyond the huge snow storm of 78’ when I was a child. And all I remember from that week was the isolation—school was canceled and we were unable to leave because the roads couldn’t be plowed. (One of the joys of living rurally.) I do recall my brothers and I deciding that the four-foot drifts were an invitation to jumping off the roof and sinking over waist deep in snow. We had to swivel back and forth to worm our way out. Oh, I’ve had to hide in a few basements on occasion, but they had always turned out to be false prophecies. So, I had a cocky optimism that this time wouldn’t be any different.

Minutes creep past. The littlest girl across from me is crying with that suppressed sob-hiccup combination that can be so cute even when they are earnest tears. I can’t make out what she is upset about other than it involves someone or something called…Balthazar?

So, I ask. Partly to hopefully distract the child and, well, because I am curious.

“Who is Balthazar?”

The little girl blinks tear drenched lashes and utters a nearly incomprehensible string of words:

“I…I…he’s…I left him…and…he’s in danger. I…I…what will…I do…if…” She trails off with more tears and no doubt a snuffly nose.

Her grandmother brushes a strand of hair away from her flushed pink face and leans toward me.

“It’s her toy…I think it’s called Bulbasaur. Or something like that.”

“It’s Bulbazar, Grandma!” This comes from the second little girl ensconced on the other woman’s lap.

A discuss pops up about the pronunciation, but Grandma shakes her head.

“No, I think it has S.A.U.R. at the end—like a dinosaur.”

“What exactly is a Bulbasaur?” I ask.

If I had known the torrent of information that was about to rain down on me, I might have tried to save myself. But then, again, there was no Wi-Fi signal and there really wasn’t anything else to do. So, I took an unscheduled course in Pokémon 101. The little redhead across from me apparently had a masters if not a doctorate.

At one point, she tells me her name is “Kay”

(Names changed just because.)

I tell her, “My name starts with a ‘K’ too!” She beams at me; we are now friends for life.

She points to her sister, “That’s Dee.”

“I recognize that is Pokémon.” I say, pointing to the yellow pillow-type thing Dee is holding as if someone were threatening to take it from her. Then I point to whatever lump is in Kay’s hands. “But what is that?”

Kay giggles. She holds up a lumpy, terry-clothed thing.

“It’s a towel! ‘Cause I did a ‘Dee’!”

And then she plops the thing against the side of her head.

Of course. This make perfect sense. No doubt my expression says as much.

Her grandmother laughs and explains. “She bumped her head earlier and they got her a cloth with ice in it.”

Kay holds back her bangs to reveal nary a bruise. The ice must have done its job or the strawberry hair is hiding the evidence. Kay is now picking through the washcloth and slips a sliver of ice into her mouth with her grandma none the wiser.

Grandma smooths the bangs again, adding, “Anytime we bump our heads, we say we are doing a Dee because she used to run into all sorts of corners and things when she was little.”

Kay pipes up again and points to her sister. “Yeah she bumped her head a lot! So we say ‘We did a Dee.’”

Everyone is nodded and smiling. Then Kay adds, “And when we fart we say we did a ‘Kathy’. Because Grandma farts a lot!” And she points back at her grandmother, who is now laughing—though a tiny bit mortified by this announcement.

Grandma Kathy murmurs something about maybe sharing too much information but she isn’t really mad and her granddaughters know it because they are both laughing, snuggled safe in loving arms.

Kay pops back up from this to launch into a detailed explanation of Bulbasaur’s relationship to Pokémon.

I learn there is something called the Rocket Team—and they are definitely bad guys. And someone named Ash who spends a lot of time in the gym.

The grandma throws in a comment to clarify a point Kay is trying to make with hand gestures that look like something is exploding.

“The Pokémon can evolve.” She says.

But into what is never clearly explained. I picture something like a Transformer—which is my cultural experience with toys that are more than meets the eye—but rounder and cuter.

I learn that the Pokémon can fight. That Pikachu has a secret weapon—something called a ‘Thunder Shock.’ And here, Kay puffs out her cheeks and demonstrates:

“His cheeks blow out really loud and he says, ‘Pikachuuuuuu!”

Apparently this devastates his enemies.

The girls are laughing and chatting back and forth when all of our phones go off at once.

Some of the alerts are voiced announcements notifying us of a Tornado alert in our area and to seek shelter. There is something really unnerving about the shrill cacophony of notes chiming throughout the cement block room. No one is laughing now.

There is a human instinct to huddle. To crouch low as if to make a smaller target. I find myself looking at the little girls across from me shrinking back and arms that had been holding them loosely now tightened. Reassurances are whispered and Grandpa is a stoic figure who rarely says a word but is a calm presence in the face of the unseen.

I try to comfort them, knowing I am helpless to be there for my own son tucked in the basement with a babysitter who definitely deserves more than I pay her.

“So, the alarms are like the ‘Thunder Shock’ Pikachu makes. It’s just a reminder to be careful.”

Then a little girl in a frilly dress toddles past and loses a bow. The pink ribbon falls near my feet and I seize the opportunity.

“Look she lost her bow. That’s a bow alert!”

Kay is delighted by this idea. When an oblivious little boy in an adorable suit trundles through bumping into nearly everything in his path, she calls out, “Baby Alert.”

Soon Kay is reciting once again the episodes and even an entire theme about her favorite TV characters. She sings some sort of anthem—it went on for about seven verses—and it is too fast and her voice is too high for me to do more than pick out one word in ten.

I’m reminded of the scene in Finding Nemo where Nemo’s dad is listening to the baby sea turtle explain the way to get to the East Australian current. After the pipsqueak voice winds down, Marlin says:

“You know, you’re really cute, but I don’t know what you are saying! Say the first thing again.”

For whatever else I miss, I understand that this language is helping Kay and Dee to deal with a frightening situation. No one can call out. All attempts to text and get replies are blocked by the surrounding concrete cocoon that keeps us safe from tornados as well as causing wireless signal fatigue. So, while we sit and try not to worry about the ominous thumps we occasionally hear overhead—we share our stories to distract each other.

Dee Kay
Thanks to ‘Kay’ and ‘Dee’ who made sitting through a storm a lots of laughs.

 

Instead of spending our moments anticipating whooshing air signifying imminent destruction, we find the strength to laugh, to find the humor and our humanity in the darkness.

Eventually, the crowds that had been loitering near raw plywood and collapsed tables usually only seen fully clothed with the ruched skirts to protect the legs’ modesty, start to part. People drift away and cheers go up as we realize the danger is past. With very little fanfare, the crisis is over.

I say goodbye to the girls and soon the crowd separates us. We are all ready to be done with the claustrophobic space.

The wedding party is making its way back to their celebration. I spot a woman who is still clutching her slice of wedding cake. I can’t help but comment on her foresight.

“Well, I didn’t want to miss out if it was gone when we got back!” she says with a smile.

“I am just surprised you didn’t eat it while waiting.”

“I didn’t have time to grab a fork,” she replies.

I laugh, “A little thing like that wouldn’t have stopped me!”

Before we part, we agree, this is a wedding no one is likely to forget!

Outside, there is little evidence that a major storm front has gone through.

“Another much ado about nothing!” I think.

It’s not until I am nearing home that I spot the devastation. Trees that had survived sixty to a hundred years of bad weather were torn and scattered on front yards and crushing cars and houses like giant match sticks dropped by a careless hand. I’m not even a mile away from home and it suddenly strikes me how close it came. How violent the winds had to have been to snap oaks and other hard wood like dry kindling. I later learn this was a weak system–only a category EF-0. I don’t want to ever see what something stronger could do.

My house and family are fine–two city blocks west of the path of destruction. I pay the sitter and she shrugs off the seven-hour ordeal caused by our separate vigils in the dark. Thankfully, my son was totally oblivious of any danger.

I didn’t really face the dragon—but I felt his breath on my neck. I survived his reign of terror and I can imagine how differently things could have turned out.

Thus ends my tale. The only thing left is an appreciation for Japanese culture which creates a tea to feed the soul and a Pokémon to calm the tempest in the pot.

I leave you with a final haiku:

Trees dance and bow low

Thunder applauds with fierce claps

Making dancers fall

 Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:

* It never does

**Floral porn, take one—“Come on, you know you want to bee pollinated!”

***You were expecting a dragon ala Harry Potter, weren’t you?