I started this post about ten days ago…but caught the flu so bad, I couldn’t finish writing it. I kind of collapsed instead. I am finally crawling back up on my personal hobby horse–the bedeviling holiday traditions that trap you in a tinsel choke-hold and won’t let go!
I won’t say that I am single-handedly keeping Hallmark alive, but of my entire family, I am the only one I know who sends holiday cards because I have to and despite the fact that I lost all religious affiliation years ago.
I have never been diagnosed with OCD (?Overly Cheerful Demeanor?), but it’s the only explanation I can find for why I put up a Christmas Solstice Tree, bake and decorate a bajillion festive cookies and, of course, send out the ubiquitous holiday cards.
It’s a sickness really.
I waited too late this year though. The holiday came and went (a Day Early) and I had yet to write out a single card. You’d think this was a sign! Maybe this year would be the year? Can I break the cycle?
Turns out…no. I can’t.
Four boxes of holiday cards at the ready—espousing nicely generic season greetings—printed family photo montage highlighting 2017 high (and low) points ready to go, festive stamps at hand, I sat at a table and manically wrote out a personalized greeting to everyone on my list.*
Did I mention I was suffering the worst plague at the time and, maybe, started hallucinating about half-way through the pile?**
To say some of my cards were a bit weird…well…I really wish I had taken pictures of some of the better entries. Fortunately, friends were willing to send me a few as proof of
madness friendship. Seeing them now, they don’t sound nearly as weird as I thought they were at the time.
But, I do remember a few choice comments I wrote:
Please remember on New Years Day to toss a roast beef out your front door before heading out. This is to feed the dragon perched on your gables. It need not be cooked—many dragons prefer a raw gift—but a nice sear is also appreciated.
Do not forget to watch for acid-spitting lizards though. They are much more temperamental and you’d be advised to crawl out a side window to avoid them…”
The longer I wrote, the more like a cry for help some of the cards started to resemble:
Dear Chicago Friends,
“I do not understand why or how this tradition started?! Nobody writes physical mail anymore! What is the point? This is going to reach you well past the New Year and, honestly, I’ll probably have babbled ten times equally dull daily complaints on Facebook. Maybe next year I’ll just do that. I’ll Tweet my greetings! Except, that I am a Luddite, and eschew Twitter. Not just because a certain member of our government has made it his bilious verbal diarrhea playground…but because I have standards. Dammit.
I practically accused my California cousins of outright smugness in their choice of vacating Michigan winters for the dubious joys of living on the San Andreas Fault:
Then there were the feeble attempts at humor involving the likely contagion I was spreading this season:
Dear Philly Friend,
“…can you catch depression when you catch a cold? Mostly it’s the fact that I had all of my cookie rolled, cut, baked and nearly all frosted when this cold happened. As a result, I didn’t dare send them to anyone…for fear of spreading the contagion…
Apparently, I’m less circumspect with card distribution. Don’t lick this card. You’ve been warned. Probably too late though. You’ve already licked it haven’t you? Sigh. Oh Well, swift recovery to us both in 2018!”
Then I hit the wall I always hit after about four hours of writing inane holiday greetings (interjected with subliminal pleas for the madness to stop–see below). I start doodling to fill up the dreaded white space:
I have a list of about sixty people to whom I send cards. I had enough holiday stamps for about half of the list…after that, you got a Wonder Woman or Star Trek stamp depending on your likeliest affiliation. When in doubt, I used one commemorating the eclipse!
The later on the list your name appears, the weirder the card entry you’ll likely get. Also, the more my dyslexia and spoonerisms would crop up.
I can only imagine what the person getting this one thought of it all…
I have no choice. I have to send them. Then again, THEY have no choice, poor people, but to accept them. And secretly, I hope they like them and send me one in return. It is the obsessive compulsive gift that keeps on giving!
In the end…only Hallmark really wins.
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes*:
*I cannot send a blank card. Really. Unless I am at death’s door, so a few of you may have one of these rare creatures. When I hit that marathon writer wall, I autographed a few and called it good. I’m still shuddering from the absence of ink though.
**I started to feel a little human, but the persistent cough worried me. So I went to a med center and caught a completely different virus. If this piece is unfinished, I probably died mid-sent…
I have been off for a while now.*
NaNoWriMo had me in its greedy grip. I barely won the 50,000 word marathon which took two intense days of non-stop writing (no bathing or socializing) to catch up the nearly 15,000 word deficit as I fell behind.
I struggled daily to write anything coherent because…
mY SoN HaS sTOpPED SlEePInG
This doesn’t sound like the terrible thing that it truly is. It sounds innocuous and a charming reminder of the sleepless days when we first brought baby from the hospital without a clue as to the insomnia bomb we’d actually welcomed into our home…willingly.**
I’ve been planning on writing about
stealing…no, liberating… uh…adopting, yeah, adopting a pet rock. I even have pictures of the day we unearthed it from a public park and lugged it home.
Too tired to share.
The visit to a restaurant in the middle of nowhere that just has to be experienced to be believed.
Can’t find the energy (or typing skills) to write that one either.
Then there was the whole time I nearly chopped my finger off. (Always with the exaggerations is this one…oh, my, that sure is a lot of BLOOD!)
So, instead, I will stumble like a drunk back onto the blogging stage and beg your forgiveness.
Until the doctor figures out the right tranquilizers***, I will be the babbling mess you are enjoying right now. Unfiltered and unedited and mostly unhinged.
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:
*I’m tempted to leave my post at that comment and call it good. But, I am just not that succinct.
**Now, whenever someone tells me they are having a baby, I have to muffle my snickering when I wish them well.
***Go to Amazon and search ‘Elephant Tranquilizers.’ It’s amazing what they offer as an option. Or go to the following link for one of the recommendations they gave me:
[While Kirizar is gallivanting in the back of beyond reveling in freedom…enjoy this rare glimpse of short fiction written for a contest that never wrote back to offer praise or accolades. The bastards.]
I was supposed to write it down. She told me to write it down…
“I’ve got it,” I protest. “Eggs, half and half and ham. I can remember three items.”
“There are four items! You forgot the shredded cheese. Cheddar…not American. So write it down or you’ll forget.”
She repeats the list while I scribble on the back of the junk mail I’d grabbed. I have half an eye on the Greenbay game while she’s nattering about the block association meeting.
“I’ve promised to bring quiche tomorrow. We have got to do something about the insect infestation…and who knows what kind of toxic spill cause the red fungus…”
Suddenly, she’s snapping her fingers in front of my eyes.
“Hurry, Fritz, or I won’t have time to make them tonight. Go!”
And then she’s shoving me out the door.
I’m halfway to my car when I glance down and see what I added beneath the word ‘Ham’:
‘Be Warned. It is coming. Prepare for midnight.’
The foreteller signed it with a cat’s paw. I don’t know why. Maybe the cats dictate to her? Why she can’t be bothered to get a cell phone like normal people…
But then, she isn’t normal people.
These thoughts chase me all the way to her bungalow on the fringe of a suburb suffering urban blight.
I climb out of my Ford Fiesta, which looks like a drunken frat party held a kegger in it, and march up the steps to the door with a gargoyle knocker. I nearly trip on the ubiquitous cats; the striped tom stares at me out of his one good eye and growls a warning. I repress the urge to snarl back.
The door opens.
I don’t even have a chance to speak before my mistress yanks me in. I have just enough time to scoot through before she slams the door shut in the tom cat’s face. And then she’s barking instructions while I’m still scrambling for a quill and parchment.
“Get the moss from a dead oak and circle the graveyard twice before returning.” She shakes a finger at me. “And don’t forget the toadstools. The prophylactic potion of the apocalypse is quite specific. You don’t want the world to end because you forgot!”
I am half-bit by bugs when I finally leave the swamp. The graveyard is not far from the Stop-n-Go. The augured apocalypse isn’t for three more hours; I can spare fifteen minutes to run in. No problem!
After delivering the spell supplies, I race home to watch the post-game highlights. I’m just getting comfortable when I hear the shriek from the kitchen and a loud thump.
What now? I know I got everything on the list!
It’s only when I find my wife collapsed beside a pile of entrails that I realize my mistake.
Oh well…maybe there’s such a thing as a quiche of the apocalypse?
Life is funny. And tragic. Sometimes it’s both. But mostly, it’s a fight to the finish.
Bathos Theater in Conjunction with the Below-the-Belt Boxing Federation Presents:
“A Low Blow”
Announcer: “In this corner, weighing it at 8000 pounds pressure per square inch, the reigning champion: LIFE!*
[LIFE bounces around in the corner wearing hardened leather gloves. Shiny, red satin shorts jiggle as the mammoth boxer warms up.]
Announcer: And in this corner, weighing it at… (looks down at card)… None-Of-Your-G.D.-Business, and facing the wrong way: The Czarrrrina of Pain!*
[Czarina looks down at pink Hello Kitty boxing gloves with perplexed bewilderment.]
Kiri-Czar: “Hey… there’s been some kind of mistake here.”
[Announcer walks to center ring, dragging reluctant Czarina along with him and holding a hand up to stop LIFE from plowing right over her before the bell rings.]
Announcer: (grabs dangling mic) “This fight will go ten rounds until one of the fighters is knocked out or their manager throws in a towel.”
Kiri-Czar: (looks frantically around) “Where’s a towel? Wait…where’s my manager? Somebody get me a manager…or a towel!”
Announcer: “Are you ready to RumbbbbbbbbBBBBBLLLLlleee?”
LIFE: (snorts like bull, nostrils flare) “AaaROOOOOoooooOOOOOO!”
[Bell Rings *DING*]
Kiri-Czar: (holds up Hello Kitty clad hands) “Wait! You wouldn’t hit a girl with glasses, would you?”
LIFE: (swings) “Snarl!”
Kiri-Czar: (ducks frantically) “I guess you would.”
[The next five minutes are a slap-stick routine where the Czarina runs around the ring trying to hide behind an annoyed announcer while LIFE tries to pin her to the ropes. Brace yourself, sports analogies are not her forte.]
LIFE: (growls, dances back and forth) “Stop running away!”
Kiri-Czar: “Stop chasing me!”
[The Czarina grabs an oar from an audience member and WHACKS! LIFE over the head with it! LIFE shakes head as tiny yellow birds tweet in a circle around LIFE’s head.**]
LIFE: “Oh, so that’s how you wanna play it?” (grabs tweety bird, throws it at Czarina) “I whip the bird at you then!”
Kiri-Czar: (ducks bird) “That’s not how you whip someone the bird…” (tries to whip bird…stares at boxing glove) “Oh…right.”
[The Czarina raises the oar once again as LIFE stomps toward her. She swings. Misses. LIFE snatches oar with dismissive snort.]
LIFE: (breaks oar over knee) “You can run…but you can’t hide!”
Kiri-Czar: (slips behind Announcer) “Oh yeah!? Watch me!”
LIFE: “I’ll find you in the end. You should just give up now.”
Kiri-Czar: “Screw that.”
LIFE: “Oh, I plan to!”
[LIFE doubles back, pushing the announcer aside, and advances on the Czarina. Czarina grabs a tent and camp stove—holding them in front of her.]
LIFE: “Where do you think you’re going?”
Kiri-Czar: “Camping. What does it look like?”
LIFE: (rears, one arm back) “Hah. I don’t think so…”
[SWOOSH. SMACK. THUD.]
Announcer: (Counting) “One Mississippi…”
[Czarina lies on floor, dazed, babbling about recent events.]
Kiri-Czar: “All I wanted to do was take him camping… he likes camping… ”
Announcer: (Counting) “Two Mississippi…”
Kiri-Czar: “Two nights, we made it two nights…and then…BAM! We are off to the emergency room at midnight.”
Announcer: (Counting) “Two-and-a-half Mississippi…”
Kiri-Czar (eyes announcer): “What happened to Three Mississippi?”
Announcer: “If I don’t count…LIFE gets to come over and stomp you until you get up again…”
Kiri-Czar: “What kind of crooked game is this?”
Announcer: “It’s the game of LIFE. Two-and-three-quarters Mississippi.”
Kiri-Czar: (scrambles upright) “Does that mean LIFE always wins?”
Announcer: “It means, no matter how you play, sometimes, you gotta lose.”
Kiri-Czar: “Well that’s just great.”
LIFE: (charges) “ROAAAARRRRRR!”
[Czarina drops to her knees and crawls through LIFE’s legs.]
LIFE: “Get back here punny human!”
Kiri-Czar: (stops to correct LIFE’s spelling): “I think you mean ‘Puny!’ ‘Punny’ would be like if I said I would called you a banana…except you have no appeal!”
LIFE: “PUN THIS!”
[LIFE lands a sharp jab—a sweet kiss to the Czarina’s glass jaw.]
Kiri-Czar: (staggers back, one drunken blue bird whizzing before her eyes) “Now, that’s a bird of a different color!”***
LIFE: (Feints left, crosses right) “That was a play on words. Not a pun!”
[SMACK, SMACK, KA-POW! THUD.]
[Announcer looms over Czarina, counting while LIFE gloats.]
LIFE: “Just for that, your son gets chronic constipation and an addiction to popcorn.”
Kiri-Czar: (aghast) “Noooooo!”
LIFE: “Plus you have to give him this medicine for three days until he goes ‘Pop!’”
Kiri-Czar: “Don’t you mean poop?”
LIFE: (*evil smile*): “You’ll see.”
Announcer: (wheezing) “Two and ninety-nine-one hundredths Mississippi…”
Kiri-Czar: (staggers to feet) “That’s it. Go ahead. Pick on the little guy!”
[Wildly swinging, the Czarina advances throwing haymakers as she goes. She lands a glancing blow to LIFE’s bread basket.]
Kiri-Czar: “How do you like that, you…you big bazooka?”
LIFE: “Do you mean ‘Palooka?’”
[Czarina continues to piffle away at LIFE throwing more dope than rope. LIFE holds her off with one leather glove pushing against her sweaty forehead.]
Kiri-Czar: (winds up and swings): “Whatever! I’ve had it. I go canoeing. I go camping. And wherever I go, I get no peace. There is always this counter attack waiting to knock me down, every damned time I step in the ring. I’m beginning to feel like a punching bag. When am I gonna get a break?”
LIFE: “You want a break?”
Kiri-Czar: (Hello Kitty balled fists on hips) “Yes. Yes I do!”
LIFE: (shrugs) “Okay. If you say so.”
Announcer: (bellows into mic) “LIFE feints left and then crosses with a right hook to the head. Czarina’s glasses go flying. She’s blind now, ducking a barrage of punches. Hello Kitty gloves are no defense against LIFE. LIFE isn’t pulling it’s punches anymore. LIFE delivers a damaging blow to the kidneys. The injustice! There’s no Marquess of Queensberry here, folks! Next, the Czarina dodges a jab only to walk straight into an uppercut. Oooh, the Czarina’s on the ropes. The blows are pounding her like hail on a Kansas wheat field. LIFE is raining down. Rain is raining down. LIFE switches to KickBoxing and the Czarina takes a roundhouse to the noggin. The Czarina’s on the ground. She’s taken a beating, ladies and gentlemen. I don’t think she’ll be back up again for quite some time. I’m calling this fight. The Winner by KO and Ultimate Fight Champion of the World is…LIFE.”
[LIFE dances around the ring, both arms raised, pumping the air in victory. Stops to stand over the inert form of the Czarina sprawled on the floor. In the distance, the final bell *DINGS*.]
LIFE: (shouts) “Get the cutman…we’ve got a bleeder!”
[The crowd departs, LIFE raised on its shoulders. The loser is left in a pile on the floor, the white towel of surrender shrouding her face.]
Cutman: “C’mon, let’s get you patched up.”
Kiri-Czar: (wakes confused) “What…what happened?”
Cutman: “It’s 3:00 A.M. LIFE dropped a tree on your house and took out your electricity. Your kid is on the power laxatives for two more days. You get to stay home and wait for the shit to stop pouring in.”
Kiri-Czar: (jaw drops) “WHAAAAAT? You’ve gotta be kidding me!”
Cutman: “You asked for a break from the routine chaos, right? You were tired of everything you’ve been dealing with, yeah?”
Kiri-Czar: “Uh…yeah. But, I didn’t ask for…” (looks around, gestures to the dark and utter chaos)… “THIS!”
Cutman: “LIFE’s tricky that way. You asked for a ‘break’…it gives you a ‘break.’” (points to tree on roof, shakes head) “You just gotta be grateful it wasn’t your leg! Or worse.”
Kiri-Czar: (holds ice to black eye) “Right…just, ask LIFE…no more breaks for me for a while, okay? Please?”
Cutman: (packing up gauze, tosses loose pinecone to the Czarina) “I can’t make any promises. But let’s agree…we won’t be complaining about ordinary LIFE so much after this, right? That’s what LIFE gives you…perspective. It can always be worse.”
Kiri-Czar: (raises pinecone in disbelief) “If life gives you lemons…you make lemonade. What’re you supposed to make with pinecones?”
Cutman: (looks around and the devastation/deforestation) “I don’t know…Pińa Coladas, maybe?”
Kiri-Czar: (wincing) “Ugh…what a terrible pun.”
[With a flourish, the Cutman whips off the surgical mask revealing the grinning face of LIFE.]
LIFE: (taps Czarina gently on the chin] “Nuh Uh! It’s a play on words, not a pun! I think someone’s had just enough PUN-ishment for one day.”
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnote:
*Or, as my friend put it when she heard the news: “You’re some kind of shit magnet, you know that?”
**LIFE looks a bit like the HULK and MR. CLEAN had an angry, bilious baby.
***Look, coming up with sports-related puns was definitely not in my wheelhouse. And, even if it were, someone would probably drop a tree on it.
You’ve read the whole thing bonus:
I will be selling Roof Killer Pinecones at a reasonable price of $25.00. Drop me a line if you too want to plant this decimating conifer in your backyard.
And if anyone wants me, I’ll be at a cabin this weekend watching the campfire with a disturbing amount of pleasure as I watch the kindling burn. Burn baby, burn!
I wish editing were as easy as gardening.
*Does some actual yard work*
I wish editing were like hiring someone to pluck unruly overgrowth from your plot.
WARNING: Mangling of Metaphors, Shameful Similes, and Tree Torture Ahead—Proceed with Caution!
I have, on occasion, taken a side-long look at my collected literary efforts and sighed–gusts monsoons would envy. In those glances, I have seen the colossal effort it would take to shape them into something even vaguely resembling sense. Instead, each year I write a new, rambling incoherent piece like a prolific procrastinator of pandemic proportions. *
Do you remember my promise that I would provide the critique of my work following winning a review at last year’s writer’s conference?
Well, you are all still waiting. Because the biggest take-away from that evaluation is that my story is starting in the wrong place. Book one of a three-books-at-least series, is mis-planted. It isn’t a weed, exactly, but it is a sprawling volunteer in my literary garden. It is like the tree in my backyard–it is a moss-encrusted mess!
It isn’t a bad tree. Yeah, sure, it has oozing cracks running down two sides, but it is lush and otherwise verdant. It’s just planted in the wrong place and threatens to split in several directions. And like my over-grown novel, it has got to go.
Faced with massive edits and rewrites, I say: “Bring on the shredder and let’s make some confetti!”
It would be so much easier to chuck my writing aspirations and plot a life without creative expectation. To slash and burn every word I’ve placed in a holding pattern, using up the data of an entire computer until I have to buy a new one to store version 15.2 of the same damn novel. At least, that’s how it feels. It’s either that, or actually sit down and try and straighten out the mess I’ve created.**
Trees are unlike writing, as it turns out. They are actually pretty easy to dismantle. At least the guys from 1, 2, Tree made it look easy.
I watched them turn probably fifty-year’s worth of growth into so much mulch in less than three hours. I admired their editing talents greatly. ***
I did learn something from watching them. They didn’t start at the base of the trunk, trying to tackle it all in one go, but a piece at a time.
First a little here. Then a little there. And, before long, Cal, the stump man, was there grounding down what little remained.
There’s part of me that wants to do this. Instead of taking pruning shears to the 150,000-plus word opus, I’d chainsaw that forest of typographical nightmares and run-on story tangents and turn them into wordy wood chips!
But that isn’t what I want for my novel. I don’t really want to render its multi-syllabic magnificence into so much mulch. But, trim its excess maybe? To make sure it won’t crush my house in the next strong breeze to come through our neighborhood? Sure.
Now all I need is a studly team of guys on standby who will cart away the bits that fall away as I work.
A big shout-out to Jacob, Jeremy, and Mick at 1, 2, Tree for very considerately not dropping anything on my head while I took pictures! I’m sure the temptation was overwhelming.
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:
*I will also assault you with assonance.
**Looking at un-edited work without protection is like staring into the sun…while masturbating—you’ll go blind and you won’t have any fun while doing it.
***I so was NOT ogling them. I’m old enough to be their…well…aunt, at the very least. And an aunt does not ogle young men no matter how bulgy-their muscles are.
———————————–You Read This Far Poet-Tree Bonus—————————————-
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
—From “Trees” by Joyce Kilmer
I think that I shall never write fiction
That isn’t pruned of coherent diction.
—From “This Tree is Not a Metaphor” by Me
Aging ain’t pretty and, sometimes, it gets downright ugly. You are forced to evaluate yourself for flaws and failures. Blogs are no different from people in that respect.
Facebook’s insistence that everyone in the world wish you a Happy Birthday resulted in people I haven’t spoken with in years contacting me last week when I became a quinquagenarian.*
In one exchange, an old friend asks me how I’ve been doing and I oh-so-subtly direct him to the wonders of my blog. His response?
“…Blogs are so passé…”**
I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I put my heart and soul into what I write. This off-hand dismissal of my craft resulted in the following poetic interlude—performed in the key of é.
Critique Not-so Enchanté
My writing is passé,
Or so you say!
Perhaps you are no devoteé?
Or maybe you are just a protégé without caché?
I may sometimes, How do you say?, write a hit out of the park!
Sometimes it’s a swing-and-a-miss—or manqué.***
My writing may even skirt the edge of cliché!
But always, I churn the brain frappé
To scoop out a little grey cell pâté.
A luscious, literary canapé!
No hard-boiled reporter am I, producing the latest exposé!
But I do not deserve to be roasted a lá flambé!
Mayhap you will reconsider your communiqué?
But as for me, I am très désolé.
So there you have it. A damning condemnation that not only am I unoriginal, practically staring down the barrel of obsolescence, but so is my writing medium. (Not well done!)
Turning half-a-decade makes a person stop and think! Where exactly am I headed? Have I missed my chance to reinvent myself when I haven’t even invented myself yet in the first place?
Have I’ve officially reached a plateau that says: “Nothing new, innovative, or fresh expected. Move along!!?”
Perhaps it is fatalism of creativity? Maybe I suffer ennui? But I will steal from a kindred spirit—a voice who calls from the realm of the dead. I will lick the pen of a poet and echo Stéphane Mallarme :
Je me mire et me vois ange! et je meurs, et j’aime —Que la vitre soit l’art, soit la mysticité— A renaître, portant mon rêve en diadème, Au ciel antérieur où fleurit la Beauté.
I can see my reflection like that of an angel! And I feel that I am dying, and, through the medium Of art or of mystical experience, I want to be reborn, Wearing my dream like a diadem, in some better land Where beauty flourishes.)
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnote:
*L is the new XL (I’m talking Roman numerals, people, not size!)
**My immediate response? “Oh yeah? Well…your face is passé!”
***I noticed the odd appearance of accented ‘é’ words and cleverly sensed a theme. When I saw Manqué on a list of words ending in é, I had to use it. And then, there is the neato twist: where the definition for manqué conveniently defines how it feels to turn 50!
Man·qué (mäNGˈkā/) adjective:
having failed to become what one might have been; unfulfilled.
You’ve read this far bonus:
For those of you who missed it before, here’s the CARROT CAKE RECIPE for the cake my mom makes.
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.
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.
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.
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:
The Lure of Vegetation
By A. Voyeur
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
Just so you are all aware. It is possible to write 50,000+ words in a month.
What remains to be seen is whether any of those words are worth the imaginary
digital page they are written on. Now crawling to bed.
If anyone is looking for me, I’ll be buried under this pile of pillows
Allow me to count the ways I love NaNoWriMo:
One – I wrote 5,000 words yesterday; I am still riding the high. There is a effervescence of spirit that comes from writing. Words arrive in a pell-mell rush which my brain regurgitates onto a screen. (Hopefully in a shape that vaguely resembles what I see and hear behind my eyes.) This is the honeymoon period after the storm of words and before the tempest that is self-doubt and editing—the halcyon days of loving your creation.*
Two – Yesterday I sent my heroine on an adventure. There was a horse, of course. And plastic fruit and a tragedy for the hydrangeas—though now I am thinking petunias might be a funnier flower.
Three – I brought frenemies together and then forced them to climb deadwood to safety—only to fall like tumbling blocks—spelling out embarrassment and trouble in their awkward landing.
Four – I have yet to release the monkey—but I am cackling in anticipation.
Five – Today I rest while Officer Dettweiler removes the thorns—one prick at a time.
Six – And I haven’t decided who is getting the spring-loaded trap the heroine left for her anonymous hero. Perhaps the busybody Mrs. Bridewell is going to get her just desserts at the Fudge Festival after all?
Seven – I have no regrets, except that this pace can only be maintained for so long. Sooner or later, something is going to explode—most likely the laundry room.**
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:
*At least, I think this is caused by the writing. It could be the lack of sleep and caffeine talking, now that I think of it.
**I plan on blaming the monkey.