Tuesday, June 26, 2007

"If You Pay More For Everything, Then Life Is Better, Right?"

Every town has its unique features--those little lifestyle elements that contribute to the feeling of the place. Such features are often taken for granted by longtime residents, but, man-o-man, are they noticed by the newbies and visitors.

For example, as has been intimated in previous posts, when I first moved to Austin, MN, more than a decade ago, I noticed (a tame term for something that was more of a physical recoil coupled with violent gagging) the smell of the SPAM cooking at the Hormel plant. I also filed away the sound of the pigs heading into the kill line, literally Auschwitz-style on a train chugging into the compound of the plant, in my Permanent Sense Memory files. Even though I've now been seven years away from that town, I still remember the frantic squeals.

Earlier than Austin were my years in the panhandle of Idaho, where lifestyle consisted of an unthinking respect of guns, even when shot at children during the Ruby Ridge incident, Another facet of lifestyle up there was a belief in White Power. Goooo, um, white folks with guns. If you own't fight for your liberty, how will you ever enjoy equality?

Long before that, even, I lived in my hometown in Montana (Idaho's kissing cousin), a place typified by gun racks hanging in the cabs of pick-up trucks--and these in the parking lot of my high school. There was nothing like hearing the bell ring at the end of the school day, slamming my physics book into my locker, fluffing my bi-level hair and enormous shoulder pads, and heading out to the parking lot to admire who had the most firepower on wheels. Then I'd head home to eat a pound of beef straight from a cast-iron skillet.

Suffice it to say, I'm a lifestyle connisseur by this point, always inventorying what makes a place tick. In my current hometown, one I chose on purpose, there is a clear sensibility, one that is built around kayaks, canoes, Subaru Outbacks, black labs running wildly off-leash, and ore ships. As I harken back to my upbringing surrounded by the arid Rimrocks in Montana, I can hardly reconcile the sound of a foghorn that permeates so many of my adult days. Startlingly, I now live in the midst of a water-obsessed cabin culture.

Thus, when I'm on vacation, as now, you can slap your chaps with complete confidence that I'm taking stock of the vibe of each place. And here in Boulder, in Colorado, my work is easy.

Because, you see, Boulder is a loud and proud lifestyle city.

For a million bucks, you can buy a shack. For five dollars, you can buy a candy bar. It's all rather New York, eh? What's so fun and trippy about Boulder is that the dominant feeling is "we're hippy-dippy and have tattoos on the napes of our necks hovering just above our yoga-toned arms which are highlighted by our $60 tank tops while we're out running the trails in between trips to the oxygen bar." The place, purely and simply, is about living deliberately and embracing health and sun and skiing and two hundred dollar dinners, all of which are, in turn, punctuated by buskers on the walking mall singing "Peace Train" off key.

Even though it's all so very high maintenance, I dig it. And it will be okay to leave it in a few days, too.

Let me present you with this case study as evidence of Boulder life: we are staying in the home of dear, dear friends of mine this week; they currently happen to be on vacation with their two daughters, but they are generously letting us stay in their empty home. I yuv them.

At the same time, I can tell tales from their cupboards--stories about the Spirulina Powder, the Vegan Vanilla Rice Protein Capsules, the Whole Psyllium Husks, and the Bio-Cleanse Capsules. If these were the only things in the kitchen cupboard, I would be scared of my own friends.

Reassuringly, though, they also have delicious and toxic Cheez-Its in the cabinets, and the house is littered with stores of Happy Meal toys (our kids stumble across them and shout out in recognition). Really, if we took away the Spirulina Powder, the Vegan Vanilla Rice Protein, the Whole Psyllium Husks, and the Bio-Cleanse Capsules, it would be just like home.

Except a hell of a lot cleaner. They have a cleaning woman, you see. In Duluth, we just call that a "Jocelyn."

Cheaper, at any rate. And we do find we get what we pay for.


So do tell, readers: what are the lifestyle trademarks of your town? Gertrude Stein famously said of Los Angeles, "There's no there there." What puts the there into your place?

Thursday, June 21, 2007

"Dharma Bums"


I'm a human shoe tongue. Leathery. Dessicated. In need of a good tug to straighten out my wrinkles.

For the love of high heat indexes and mind-altering altitude, could someone just pass me some moisturizer? And then, so long as you're in motion, dump a 64-ounce Slurpee on me?

See, as of today, we're outside of Boulder, Colorado, and I--get this wisdom in action--decided that temperatures over 100 degrees and complete exposure to blistering sun would make a fine backdrop to my daily run. So I headed for The Mesa.

Sure, I got to listen to some Joe Jackson ("Is she really going out with him?/Is she really going to take him home tonight?") on random local radio, but the fact that all dewiness was gradually being leeched out of me overcame the tunes. I slogged along, admiring the Flatirons to the West, keeping a wary eye out for rattlesnakes, coyotes, and yucca.

And eventually, my dehydrated shell staggered back to the house here, where only half a pizza and two mixed drinks could revive me (jot that down as a homespun cure for dehydration; never mind what the "specialists" say).

Outside of this run...oh, okay, and yesterday's run, too, in the mid-day inferno that folks in Lincoln, Nebraska, call "noon in June," the trip has been an easy toodle across the Great Plains. Do you suppose this heat, coupled with the thigh-high prairie grasses, could explain why early homesteaders didn't run marathons? Before the last two days, I just thought they were pussies.

So we left Duluth four days ago and spent the first night with one of the Friends of My Life, a woman who lives in Austin, Minnesota. We exited the car there, and Girl wrinkled her nose, sniffed a bit, and asked with great disgust, "What's that smell?" Well, dear Girl, it's the smell of all that's evil in the world being violently reduced into an aspic, canned quickly, labeled brightly, and then shipped out to places of war and/or Hawaii. There, poor unfortunates crack the tins and choke down the food called SPAM, giving themselves a thimble full of nutritionally-questionable energy.

Look at how I bring the world to my children, would you?

Since my Austin friend happens to be 70, and our young Niblet happens to be 4, these two, with liquid ease, found they held in common an avocation: dressing themselves, and others, in costume. Thus, in my friend's basement, Hijinks--and their lesser-known cousin Chuckles-- took roost:

The next morning, our true identities restored, we tore out of Austin, made quick work of Iowa, and crossed into Nebraska. And there, due to the hallucinations induced by two nights of restless sleep in KOA Campgrounds (conveniently stocked with barking dogs, ant hills under sleeping spots, and late-night drag racers) I made a break-through:

**Although I don't think seditiously at all, really, President Bush and Your Blog-Watching Minions (I mean, er, "Freedom of Information Fighters"), it was revealed to me that Nebraska is the actual seat of power in this country, and, were it crippled in any way, the U.S. would grind to a halt.

First: the East/West highway running through that state is actually an Unbroken Corridor of Semi Trucks, where all food and goods for our millions of citizens are transported at high speeds on eighteen wheels; why, even when I attended the How Many Semi's Can We Fit Into a Church Parking Lot Rally in Rugby, North Dakota, some years back, I never saw the like of that Nebraska highway. Bumper-to-bumper Wal-Mart and Home Depot trucks rule the asphalt, playing chicken with their loads of toasters and drills.

Second: Paypal is housed in the Council Bluffs/Omaha area; without Paypal, would any of us have a collection of Star Wars figures (still in box) in the upstairs closet, just awaiting eventual resale when our children's college educations need financing? Paypal is the true president, if we're talking about a daily, effective presence in citizens' lives.

Similarly and thirdly: Google is on the verge of opening a Server Farm in Omaha, an automated location that will handle all Google queries; and if the town that can answer "What Website contains the most information about lobster panties?" isn't the seat of modern democracy, I don't know where the power rests.

Fourthly: language in Nebraska captures the human condition like no other American locale; today, a tour guide actually exclaimed to me, "...and then, in the face of all those trials, they had to think, 'Isn't that just the berries?'"

Oh, yea, and finally, Nebraska is the repository of our finest history and arts, from sod houses...

...to buffalo statues made out of 4.5 miles of barbed wire fencing...

Wisely, Niblet shied away from this here bison, preferring instead to head back to the mini-van, where he tried on clown wigs, admiring himself in the rear-view mirror.

Such are the freedoms afforded to Americans, wherever they may roam.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

"Time After Time"

I'm currently the bologna in a Colorado sandwich.

I'm aware makes no sense, so don't scrutinize it too closely. Cutting through my nonsense, what I'm saying is that I'm currently in Minnesota, having recently come back from a kamikaze weekend in Colorado. And tomorrow, the family and I are taking off for, you guessed it, Colorado.

Compared to my opening statement, that makes lots of sense, right?

Here's the deal:

Last weekend, a good friend of mine from college who lives outside of Boulder, CO (she's in the sassy orange halter top in the photo here) was the recipient of a suprise 40th birthday party. Her husband, knowing how wiley she is, threw the party six weeks before her actual birthday; in addition to that, he went through all sorts of machinations, created tangles of lies, and even went so far as to fake a phone call or two in her presence...and if that isn't the definition of a loving relationship, I don't know what is.

Because my college years were a floodlit time in my life--when everything seemed heightened and special and life changing and full of promise--making the trip to Colorado for a patio-top restaurant party to honor this friend seemed well worth the effort. Of course, since I was so busy being all floodlit and stuff, I ended up majoring in English in college and then becoming a teacher, which means I now don't make enough money to pay for such a boondoggle weekend myself. Enter My Benefactress (the brunette in the photo--and if you want to say anything about her like "nice rack," go ahead. She can take it), the pal who funded the trip. In my defense, I would like to stress that, although she paid for plane fare, car rental, and hotel room, I did shell out on a $6.00 toll road, thus carrying my weight.

The party was gratifyingly fun, the after party back at their house even more so. Stir in some good meals, a lovely run up Boulder Creek canyon one morning, and my introduction to a new drink called a Dark and Stormy (check it, cocktail fiends: put some ice in a glass, squeeze some lime over it, toss in a shot or two of rum, top it with ginger brew [non-alcoholic...kind of a ginger soda pop, available at co-ops or organic food type shops], and, if you've got it, mash up some fresh ginger and stir it in, too), and the weekend was outrageously happy making.

I also considered it a scouting mission for the upcoming family road trip. Yup, we're leaving on Monday, the 18th, and will be driving a huge loop around the West for almost three weeks. First, we'll head down to Austin, MN, where I used to live, for a visit with a sainted friend; then we'll head through Iowa into Nebraska, where we'll stop over in Lincoln for many hours of play in the tremendous children's museum there (seriously, this is the third time we've worked that museum into our trip plans), eventually meandering into Colorado, where we'll see all sorts of friends in Denver and Boulder (including my sister, freshly back in Denver after her two years in Guatemala); after that, it's up through Wyoming, stopping to see my great-aunt in Cody, and then heaving over, bravely, for a glimpse of boiling mud pots in Yellowstone Park; after all this, we'll drive to Billings to help my mom clean out her storage locker there (she's now a Californian) before we hire a trailer to help us haul our storage locker spoils across North Dakota and back to Minnesota. At that point, we'll collapse in a heap and stare at the new furniture in despair, as it's not like we actually have room for it. But how very fun to go get it!

Indeedy, I've just been to Colorado, and now I'm heading there again. I do so love the shortness of breath and leathery skin I get while there, you see.

So I'll be trying to post from the road and check in occasionally. But my trolling through your blogs, which has already taken a hit this summer since I'm never in my office, which is where all the best computer loafing takes place, may suffer even more.

However, I have little copies of each of your avatars framed and hanging in a shrine in the corner of my dining room, and I'm hiring a neighbor kid to come light the candles and incense in your honor twice a week, so I'm certain you'll still feel the lurve, even in my absence.

Gotta go get the motor runnin' now.

And, even though I do intend to keep posting with my usual regular irregularity, if you start to miss the feeling of Jocelyn Holding Forth, just come here and gaze upon this photo

The sight of me, mid-monologue, is certain to quash any wistful pangs you might be feeling. I'm here for ya like that.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

"If You Get My Drift"

As a teacher of writing, my life is full of unexpected chortles; sometimes, I get to chortle when students with visible thongs and bra straps complain about not being taken seriously. Other times, I get to chortle because students write crap without thinking about what they're putting on the paper.

I've documented this phenomenon in a previous post, but them students, they just keep coughing up new gems for me. And now that I've been on summer break for a few weeks, I've gotten all melancholy and find myself pining for some crap writing (y'all bloggers aren't doing the job for me, so tone down the polished rhetoric, would you?). At such junctures, I breathe deeply, do a couple yoga poses, and then take a look at the cover of my gradebook, which is littered with phrases from student papers, jotted down as I wipe tears of chortle from my eyes.

For your edification, then, I offer up three student dookies:

On a final exam, one fine young 17-year-old wrote: "My grandpa is Norwegian, married to a woman who is half-Norwegian, so every Christmas we have lutefisk and Swedish meatballs..."

Shall we presume she thinks Norwegians are Swedish? Even further, I'll bet she thinks Canadians are Americans who live in a region with better beer and more talented improv comedians.

Final exams also yielded this unproofread delight:

"I spent a lot of time in my swimming suite..."

...leaving me certain that I have been rooked my whole life; I mean, every time I've gone swimming, there has been only one measly pool--okay, maybe with a hot tub on the side (aka Bacteria Stew)--but a whole suite of pools? With valet and room service and a minibar? And really fluffy towels? And thick Turkish robes? And 148 channels? And a blow dryer? And how dangerous and futile is that: blow drying one's hair whilst in the pool? Can I just swim all night, from pool to pool, marveling at how the children are asleep in one pool, but I'm still awake and watching Weeds over in mine?

Lastly, I was sorry to read that the family of one of my students is imbued with a thread of obsequiousness:

"My uncle Roger is syncophantic."

Interestingly, this student's paper, up until this point, had been about her uncle's struggle with hearing voices, suffering from depression, and waging a war with mental illness. But suddenly, with spell-checker plugging in its guess at how to spell something like "schizophrenic," her uncle's problem became more benign; at worst, he was crippled by the illness of being an overly-attentive "yes" man.

Ah, I'm feeling much better now, having reviewed those. It's possible I might now find the heart to go outside and drink a mojito in the sunshine. And if I ever write about that experience in a composition class, I'll be sure to tickle the instructor by typing about "how affective a German drink can be for relinquishing in a lounge chere."

Sunday, June 10, 2007

"The New Meth...Wait, No, Even More Addictive Than That: The New Chocolate"

About fifteen years ago, I took up cross-stitching for all of two months. Single and childless, I was looking for a hobby, and the idea of handiwork tapped in to my desire to share pursuits, outside of grinding corn and sitting in straight-backed chairs in my whale-bone corset, with my colonial ancesors. So I got a hoop and some floss and started making all those little X-s into pictures.

After two months, I had a moment of awakening: I didn't actually have a need in my life for little stitched pictures to--what?--frame. Plus, sitting inside under artificial light with my head bent in the height of summer struck me as one of my dumber notions, as well.

I decided it was time to lift my head and venture out into the sunshine. Whilst under the rays, shading my eyes, I peered around for a new hobby.

For awhile, I occupied myself with lacing a pair of snowshoes. Again, though, my head was bent, my neck was sore, and who can watch the Oscars in their full glory that way? So then I made a lot of mixed tapes. Inside. In the middle of the night.

From reading to handiwork, my natural hobbirific inclinations have always taken me back to the world of dim lights and head-bent posture, which leaves me feeling I could have been one hell of a hooker.

The good news is that I have recently decided to ride an entirely new hobbyhorse, and this time, I can keep my head held high and throw my shoulders back--drawing in the daylight--as I slap the reins and dig in my heels.

Friends, I've decided to use my spare time to become litigious.

Yes, I know there are plenty of lawsuits out there already. But they are often frivolous, ultimately effecting no great societal change. I aim to come up with real challenges to the law, the results of which will overthrow our current ways of thinking. I am a revolutionary.

Instead of buying hoops and embroidery floss, my new hobby requires only imagination, the faintest acquaintance with the law, and a burning desire for undeserved money. I have all three.

Having sent in my dues and registration to the national organization, The LSS (Litigious System Suckers), I am ready to roll.

Specifically, for my first project, I will be suing Universal Studios, the parent company (read: having the deepest pockets) overseeing the production of the current television show Battlestar Galactica. My beef is this: one episode at a time, the writers and actors of this program are giving me an ulcer. As the groom and I lurch through the first season on DVD, I find my stomach in knots, clenching, releasing, flopping over. Universal should be held financially accountable--do we not all agree?--for not only the ulcer developing in my stomach but also, perhaps more importantly, for my lost sleep (which then affects job performance) and shredded cuticles (a lifetime's supply of free manicures at the spa of my choice seems a fair settlement).

Universal, your show is killing me. Even worse, you've made it so addictive that I am beyond helping myself. My ailments have become your responsibility, so pay up. And if you won't, I'll turn my attentions to the Sci-Fi channel, which airs the show. Short and simple: someone is going down.

This lawsuit will not be completely straightforward, of course, as there are many subtleties beyond getting Universal to pay for my cocktail of ulcer medications (brain flash: maybe a cocktail would be just the medicine!). For example, my husband, normally a steady, calm fellow, actually imagined himself, as he ran a weekly trail race the other day, being chased by Galactica's villains: the Cylons. As Groom dodged amongst the birches and pines, slogging away in the mud, he envisioned himself in peril from those vengeaful robots, to the point that he finished the race wet and exhausted. We are, therefore, going to need for Universal to pay for the drycleaning of his running clothes, a new bar of green-tea-infused soap (okay, for me) to rinse the mud away, and, um, a new pair of running shoes while they're at it.

Oh, and, I, uhhhhhhh, have had to shriek sometimes during stressful scenes in the show, and so my, em, ears hurt. But if Universal were to give me a dazzling pair of diamond earrings, my ears would feel eversomuch better.

Plus, the show has engendered in me a strong desire to pilot a Viper or a Cylon raider, so flying lessons would seem in order. And maybe a trip to another planet (tourist class is fine). And, er, in a few episodes they drink some gnarly-looking green liqueur, so I'll need a bottle of that...and some expensive cigars labeled "Last in this Planetary System"...and maybe a few of those cute tank tops the CAG pilots wear. Oops, and Edward James Olmos has some seriously awe-inspiring skin going on; to allay my fears of experiencing similar acne scars, only a lifetime supply of Proactiv Solution will do.

But really, being a reasonable woman and realizing this lawsuit is only a hobby, that should do it. Oh, wait, I guess I could also use a telephone with a cord. I don't have one of those, but apparently they do once the universe has been colonized in the future. How modernistic it would be of me to have the only house on the block that contains a phone with a cord that hooks into the wall!

And if Universal agrees to settle out of court and save us all on legal fees, I'll be more than glad to return to my cross-stitching just long enough to produce a little something to hang on the office wall of the CEO of Universal Studios:

Clearly, cross-stitching this would be a complicated project, hard to fit in between all my new hobbies of getting manicures, taking flying lessons, and holding cocktail parties,

but no thanks are necessary, Universal;

it's the least I can do.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

"A Basic Civil Right: Being Scatalogical"

What is it about little boys?

Why are the colon and its emissions so profoundly, continually hilarious to wee males?

These days, my four-year-old (who, in his defense, is heavily under the influence of a cadre of neighborhood seven-year-old fellas) toodles around the house, absentmindedly singing a little ditty of his own composition:

"I'm a poopy head/I'm a poop-poopy-pooper/I'm a poopy head
Hey, Mom? / You're a poopy-pooper, too/We're all poop"

Sure, it's charming enough, and I'd wipe a quiet tear from my eye if Jordin from American Idol belted it out on her first album,

but, really? Enough with the fecal talk, okay?

There's just something about testosterone + humor that unerringly = da butt.

Case in point:

Last night, I was reading a book to the kids called Hello USA! It's a dumb Hello Kitty book, but we're stretching here in the house to meet our seven-year-old daughter's fascination with maps, continents, oceans--all things social studyish, in fact--and Hello Kitty has been workin' the geography for us this week.

The book goes through each of the 50 states (get this: PLUS D.C.! Bonus!), giving little factoids about each one. I now know that

the Mid-America Windmill Museum is in Kendallville, Indiana

the Brown Thrasher is the state bird of Georgia

the pop-up toaster was invented in 1919 in Stillwater, Minnesota

the world's largest buffalo sculpture is in Jamestown, North Dakota

the world's first alpine chairlift was built in 1936 in the world's first ski resort in Sun Valley, Idaho

and the octopi found in Puget Sound are the world's largest

The whimsical overview of Americana crashed and burned, though, when we got to Alabama. On that page, I no sooner read the words "Birmingham Civil Rights Institute" than I was interrupted with

"You said toot!"

Giggles ensued. And again, "Mom said toot!"

And again with the toot. And again.

Plus one more.

A few minutes after the intial joy and amusement, "institoot" permanently entered the family vernacular; see, each night, after I get the kids into bed, they holler out for their pappy (who is generally downstairs wilting some bok choy and broiling some marinated flank steak on skewers) that it is time for him to come upstairs for squeezes and smooches. Of late, the kiddles have decided to beckon him not with a resounding "DAAAAAADDDDY," but rather by calling out for him with some cool-sounding word. To wit, they have been heard bellering "Onomatopoeia" to get him to come upstairs these last weeks. However, as of last night, thanks to The Kitty of Helloishness, the Girl has started hollering--yes, quite fun--"Okefenokee." But the Wee Niblet?

Yea, he now just wails "Institoooooooot."

Go, Birmingham. Go, civil rights. Go, Da Butt.

Makin' Martin Luther King, Jr. proud,
I remain,

The Wincing Mother of a Boy

Oh, and hey, Jazz, this is reason 478 why you can be glad you didn't have kids.

And male readers? 'Fess up: you never have stopped finding this stuff to be the pinnacle of humor, have you? I mean, I shouldn't wait, with breath bated, for this "phase" to fade away, right? Realistically, the lad will be pretty much tuned into the poop channel 'round the clock for the next three decades, ja?

If that's the case, I have one word: crap.

Monday, June 04, 2007


(the only good mouse has a single testicle)

When I was in college, I sometimes had to miss class, and not always because I was hung over or because Hart to Hart was on tv (I loved the way Max the butler said, “When dey met, it was moida” in the opening credits).

Sometimes, I had to miss class because, while tripping along to the English building, musing about how Milton was a genius of a poet (or, more accurately, about how Chuck Woolery was a genius of a gameshow host), I would encounter a squirrel along the pathway.

And if there was a squirrel on the path, Milton and Chuck be damned. I was going no further. In fact, my body would switch directions fairly dramatically, as I hastened back to the dorm, away from Nut-Cheeked, Fluffy-Tailed Evil.

I have this little borderline phobia, you see. It involves all rodents and even a few members of the polecat family (watch this space for an upcoming post about my life with a ferret).

For me, this phobia works not only as a personal shriek-inducer but also as a general character-tester. Some people learn that I have this deep-seated and profound fear, and they think it’s funny—a chance to put me in situations where I come face-to-face with the thing that petrifies me most: “Hey, look, Joce, here in this shoebox full of fossils; it’s a mouse skeleton. Come hold the skull!”

Such people have no place in my life, and, due to their willful cruelty, I make certain my dense and chewy molasses cookies never cross their lips.

Then there are those who understand that fear is not a thing to be mocked, that fear does not have to be rational to be real, and that they don’t need to be the instrument of my gradual desensitization: “Hey, look, Joce, here in the kitchen. I’ve just let loose a mole for our mutual fun. Now, you try to catch it with this colander, and if you do, you’ll have faced your fear, thereby diffusing it, which means you'll never again have to avoid the hamster section of the pet store!”

Rather, the Wise Samaritans accept that a very specific fear is a part of who I am; they become my benign enablers, and they are amply rewarded with molasses cookies AND butter-rich chocolate-chip scones for their tolerance. In my worldview, fear, whether legitimate or irrational, deserves respect. Those compassionate enough to get that a magazine photo of a gerbil elicits in me weak knees, shortened breath, and choked screams, well, they get their laundry folded for life.

Don’t get me wrong—I hate to feel crippled by anything, fear especially. My intellectual mind is well aware that a mouse or bat won't really crawl down my throat while I sleep, and a rat won't actually swim up through the toilet hole while I'm, em, evacuating, but, as it turns out, my intellectual mind is very rarely at the helm.

In my better moments, those rare seconds when intellect has grabbed hold of the wheel, I have tried to get to the roots of this thing, to see if I can figure out why I’m petrified by small, timid furballs.


I remember when I was five, while my mom watched General Hospital in the background, seeing a fuzzy blur (“It’s a bumble bee,” I yelled) whip into a mousetrap that we had set in our house. The trap caught Stuart Little but didn’t kill him immediately, as it only snapped onto his leg, and for some moments afterward, I stood, rapt, as that mouse dragged the trap around behind him until finally petering out, tortured beyond any interpretation of the Geneva Convention, even an interpretation with the breadth and convenience of George W. Bush's. Moreover, to this day, I can never hear the surname "Quartermaine" without needing to whimper a bit with rodential anxiety (and I don't mean just because the actor who plays Alan Quartermaine is a total weasel).

As well...

I remember when I first started reading the Little House on the Prairie books, and I encountered the scene where Pa woke up in the middle of the night with a mouse gnawing at his hair, ostensibly gathering material for a nest (in actuality, this minion was planting an early pioneer version of a mouse GPS device into Pa’s scalp, so the Mouse King could track Pa’s every movement as he plowed; with such technology, the mouse kingdom would know the second the corn harvest was in, by Jehosephat). In the book, Pa roused from sleep and grabbed the busy mouse from his head and tossed it into the wall, where they found it, dead, the next morning. As Pa casually tossed the corpse out into a field, the Mouse King despaired of ever again finding such an easy target for his machinations. But then that simple Grace Ingalls came of age, and she was all new fodder for the Mouse King's evil plots (well chronicled in the tome These Happy Mousey Years).

Even further...

I remember being around age ten and wearing a pair of sassy bamboo flip-flops when I stepped out the back door of my friend Carol Darnielle’s house, right onto flattened mouse remnants that the cat had been playing with.

Oh, and to answer your question: YES, mouse husk does stick, quite determinedly, to the bottom of a flip-flop, even when you hop around on that flip-flop, screaming, for a few minutes before trying to rub the mouse off the bottom by scraping the flip-flop against the edge of a concrete step. When, at frigging last, the mouse jelly releases its grip, it is not, even in a famine, something you want to spread on your sandwich for lunch.

But wait...

I remember our neighbor Randy Rupert bringing his two guinea pigs outside one day in their cage and leaving them on the sidelines in the blistering August sun as we all played cops ‘n robbers. Some hours later, we discovered they’d gotten horribly sunburned—not pink, but red, piggies going “ouch, ouch, ouch” all the way home. And they did go Home, to the big guinea pig cage in the sky, later that night, when they died from their neglectful roasting.

You need more?

I remember taking on the flattering burden of hamster-sitting my next-door neighbor and great pal Lisa Mackin’s two fluffballs, while her family took off for a long weekend in Vegas. I did not love the hamsters, but I was still at a point where I could be in a room with them, if they were caged. And I was willing, for the friendship, to go to her house every day in her absence and throw food into their habitat. Much more than friendship was required, however, when I went over the third day, only to discover Big Hamster sitting and smirking inside the carcass of Smaller Hamster, wiping its bloody chops.


I'd never been gladder to have a big brother than that day, when mine did the clean-up for me, as I dry-heaved in our bathroom back home.

When Lisa came back from Vegas and tried to gift me with a stuffed animal from Circus, Circus (mercifully, not a hamster), I had to refuse, on the grounds that I was a Pet Killer and deserved no swag.

Honestly, this litany could go on and on. I could take you on a trip down my memory's Rodent Avenue and tell you tales of two white mice living in the wall by my waterbed when I was a teen...of me hovering under a dining room table, screaming with my cousins while my uncles shoeboxed a bat against the wall...of my dorm room freshman year (imagine me there, having skipped class, tuning in to Chuck Woolery on Love Connection in an effort to decrease my elevated "squirrel on path" heart rate), where my reverie was disrupted by a mouse in the garbage can...and I could take you back through this already-recounted story of calling the police when a bat flew into my house and started trying on outfits for the prom...I could take you to my aunt's house in South Dakota where mice run in the walls and perch on the edge of the bathtub...and I will take you, in a future post, into our kitchen, where a rat set up shop for some weeks, leaving feces in the drawer under the stove and developing an affection for bananas...

Summarized, though, my point is this: people have called this fear "irrational" or have acted dismissively towards it, and I get that, logically, a rodent ain't gonna kill me. But I would argue, dear Judge and Jury, that there is clear, comprehensive evidence that I am entitled to yelp, even cringe, when I see the cover of a Littles children book.

I have earned my fear.

And before I leave you to fret about every little rustling in your cupboards, let me tack on this post-script: I started writing this post more than a month ago, but never got back to finishing it or posting it. There was a reason--a new agitation yet to come.

Four days ago, it actually stopped raining, Praise Noah, for a brief period. So I jumped out onto the deck, eager to set up shop at the lovely glass table there. I would blog; I would sip a frosty beverage; I would lounge, at least for seven minutes until the next downpour. In full tra-la-la mode, I noted that the sun was actually shining and so ducked my head and torso up inside the closed patio umbrella, which is what it takes to open the huge thing. Wreathed inside it, in the darkness, I pushed on the innards, and the umbrella popped open.

It also took all of two seconds for my ennervated heart to pop open. There, on the table, having narrowly missed landing in my hair (becoming entwined there for all of eternity, gradually gnawing away at my scalp), was a bat. At first it crawled along the tabletop dopily, drowsy and bewildered, muttering, "Duh? Where umbrella haven go?"

Then Satan appeared in its eyes, and it gained focus and purpose

as it climbed into my open, screaming maw

and slowly crawled down my esophagus.