My Treat

Two grey haired women sat across from each other. They arrived to the café just a minute earlier and were shown with their many bags and layers of clothing items to a quiet table in the corner with a vase of plastic flowers in the center.

“And now I hear you have worms. How delightful,” the first woman said to the second.

The waiter arrived with a notepad in hand. He pulled a pencil from behind his ear.

“Can I offer you a cup of tea or something to snack on?”

“The worms can wait,” the second woman replied and pulled out a pair of bright red reading glasses from one of her many pockets.

The waiter pretended not to hear their private conversation, while the women stared at their menus, intently studying the options.

“So many delicious things to try,” the woman mused over the list. “I do believe I’ll have a cup of stink bug tea,” the first woman said.

The second woman commented, “Excellent choice, I’ve heard it helps with worm-anxiety and improves sleep.”

“I’m a simple woman with simple tastes, unlike some people.” She gestured with her eyes to the woman sitting across from her at the table.

“Just water and a piece of burned toast for me, unbuttered, please.”

“Ladies, I am sorry to disappoint you but those things are not on the menu. Maybe you would like a fresh cup of coffee and a croissant?”

They both looked up at the man and narrowed their eyes at him and his obvious lie.

“Not interested,” the first woman said.

The second woman chimed in, “Try again.”

“Actually, we might have what you are looking for,” the waiter said after a thoughtful pause.

The women looked over the table at each other with crooked half smiles.

“Hot water, two mugs,” the first woman called out after the waiter. “That’s all we want.”

She pulled out a small plastic container with holes poked in the top and said, “My treat.”

The container was filled with live stink bugs, crawling and clamoring over one another, equally as eager to leave and live as the woman was to make her special tea.


Twists and Braids



Mama stopped to twist a lock of rough hair to match the others, all reaching up like the tentacles of a sea anemone. Her older daughter, Gal, continued her halting walk forwards. She was in charge of Baby and had to make sure the little girl didn’t run out into the street or eat glass, but that was the extent of her caregiving ability or desire.

Gal matched her steps with Baby’s; Step, step, rest, step, step, rest. It wasn’t a quick way to travel, fortunately, the three didn’t have far to go from the bus stop.

They stopped in front of a heavy set of doors. Mama straightened out her tank top and ran her hands back over her hair. Baby toddled off of the sidewalk and plucked a bright, red bloom from a mass of red flowers in a big, decorative pot in front of the building.  She brought it over to Gal who had lapsed in her duties of watching her liege to pick at her dirty and chewed nails, still bearing the flecks of bright pink polish that refused to be flicked off.

“What?” Gal said without looking at Baby and swatted away the little fist that reached up to her with the fragile gift.

“Girls, it’s going to be different this time,” Mama said standing up tall.

Her older daughter raised her thick eyebrows in doubt and continued to pick at her nails.

“Don’t start, Gal.”

“What? I didn’t say nothing.”

“And don’t start. Keep your mouth shut and let me do the talking.  You watch after Baby and don’t let her cry.  People don’t like crying babies,” Mama spoke in a hushed voice with an urgent tone.

Gal knew the routine. Someday, it will be different; she thought and followed Mama through the doors, dragging Baby and the impossible load of psychological baggage behind her.

Water, water, everywhere,

And all the boards did shrink;

Water, water, everywhere,

And not a drop to drink.

Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Samuel Coleridge




“Are you sure you want just one?”

The kindly old woman wore a traditional frontier woman’s garb: bonnet, wire-rimmed glasses, a home-made dress of rough material, ankle boots and all. She stood on her tiptoes to reach the top of a clear glass jar filled with purple liquid.  As she plunged a wooden ladle down into its depths, displaced purple pickling juice rose in the jar.  Liquid threatened to spill over the sides just before the woman withdrew the ladle and produced a perfect purple-tinged pickled egg.

“One is hardly enough.”

On bringing the dripping orb into the light of day, the old woman grinned with more pride than that of the egg’s original hen-mother.

“All I have is this much,” the dirty-faced girl said as she laid down a wrinkled $1 bill on the counter. She wore faded jeans and scuffed tennis shoes with loosely tied laces that were unraveled at the ends.  Her thin hair was pulled back into a greasy pony tail.  After relinquishing the money, the girl stuffed her hands into her pockets and looked longingly at the jar.

Saliva filled the urchin’s mouth as the old woman patted the excess liquid from the egg.  After a second of hesitation, the woman scooped out another dripping purple-tinged egg and dropped it next to the first egg.

With a wink, she whispered, “It looks like you could use it.”

“Thank you,” the girl whispered back to the woman, taken back by her generosity.

Finished with the business of egg-buying, the girl carefully took the eggs in both hands and stepped out of the line. She looked back half-expecting the woman to demand the second egg be returned, but no such thing happened.  Instead, a man took her place and ordered lemonade and a pickle on a stick.

“No, make that an iced tea. Is it already sweetened?”

The man badgered the kindly old woman with questions about the sweetener and if he could have a drink of half lemonade and half tea. Patiently, ever so patiently, the woman listened and answered his questions, while trying to keep an eye on her last customer whom she had aptly named, the hungry urchin.

As the girl stepped out of line, it became clear that she was not alone. A little boy stepped out with her, following in her shadow.  The boy wore a grungy grey sweatshirt with his thumbs sticking through the holes at the wrist of the sleeve.  He was a head shorter than the girl but had an equally grimy face and messy hair.  The girl handed him the second egg.

“Here,” she said. “It’s just like Granny used to make.”

The pair walked off, down the dirt path, past the other booths and vendors. Each slowly ate their delicacy, one nibble at a time, savoring the acquired taste of pickled egg and wondering what they would eat next.

A knock-knock joke


The doorbell rang somewhere between seventeen and thirty-two times.  I knew who it was, especially after the thirteen harassing text messages and phone calls went unanswered.

As I walked out of my office, I considered moonwalking out of the situation and back into the safety of my nook but stopped myself with a pep-talk about facing my fear of insanely angry and mentally unstable men.  It will be a healthy challenge and good for personal growth and conflict resolution, I tried to trick myself with positive self-talk.

Sure enough, it was Randy, the next-door neighbor, my long standing nemesis, peering in through a fingerprint smudged glass pane of the door.  Long, greasy strands of grey hair fell over his skinny shoulders as squinted his eyes to see inside and pounded at the doorbell.  He was relentless in hitting the button, over and over, like a rageaholic in front of a punching bag.  Perhaps he was in the finger Oympics in a past life and was overcome by a distant training memory, but I doubted it.

Truly, one ring would have been enough, I still wouldn’t have answered until I gathered up enough guts to face the irate man.

Then I did the responsible/irresponsible thing and answered the door.  In reflection, I should have called the police or at least grabbed a pair of scissors for protection or an impromptu hair-cut, depending on the direction of the conversation.

Surprisingly, he was not there to tell me a knock-knock joke.

“Puney, we have got a real problem here.”

I took a deep and centering breath before I agreed with him.

He stopped in mid-speech and narrowed his eyes in suspicion.

“It’s time for you to go and take a hike, for nature and the birds and fresh air.  You work too hard at this warlord-curmudgeon business.  Let me handle the harassing of the residents who live here.  I will take it upon myself to fight for your imaginary solo rights to the shared driveway with the property owner, city council and the program director.  Please, let me take this on for you so you can get out.”

“Wow, I guess I do need a break,” he gratefully accepted my offer with a smile as I tried to remember that quote about the danger of monsters and forced myself back to the reality that waited for me on the other side of the door.

“Whoever fights monsters, should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.  And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.”  Nietzsche

Words of a baffling father

Baffling is the father who declares his undying love for his son to every stranger, but neglects to mention how he lost custody and refuses to seek treatment or change. He blames the system that conspires to separate his family and sets his jaw with grim determination in his crusade to right the wrongs done to his clan by others.

He would give anything, including his right hand, to bring his boy home. He explains this to the judge when asked what he has been doing to rehabilitate over the past few months.

“That’s not what I asked,” the judge says.

The baffling father clarifies, “I would climb Mt. Everest or swim in shark infested waters if that would prove my dedication to bringing my boy home.”

The judge shakes his head with sadness. Frustration left him years ago for a level of acceptance just before apathy.  He has seen this case before and will see it again many times before he retires and takes up deep sea fishing in Florida. Sometimes the thought of riding in a boat over the open sea, smelling the salty, fresh air and feeling the spray of warm water and sun on his face is the only thing that gets him from one moment to the next.

“A boy’s place is home with his parents.”

The judge wants to laugh as he scans the room for the boy’s mother, already knowing that she is not to be found. The baffling father is alone in his battle with the state while his partner is out on streets, engaged in a fight of her own and losing on a daily basis to her demons.

These are the same demons that plague the baffling father and the same ones that brought him to this place, alone in a room full of people.

In just a few minutes, the judge sets a date for the next hearing, straightens out a stack of papers and prepares for the next case. He has heard more than enough.

Pleased with the power of his convincing speech, the baffling father discreetly slips out back to the parking lot where a man wearing dark sunglasses waits inside of a blue pick-up truck with tinted windows. The baffling father walks around to the passenger side and hops into the vehicle. An efficient transaction takes place; few words are needed for their business.

He returns inside after all of the morning cases are completed to pick up his paperwork from the clerk, his eyes are glossy and his pupils have taken on a black-hole like appearance, massive and destructive.

Wanda, the clerk, purses her lips as she stamps and staples his papers.

Baffling father excitedly exclaims, “I am so close to getting my son back, I can feel it in the air.”

In truth, he is feeling the benefit of air conditioning on a hot day and the rush of whatever just travelled up his nose or into a vein. Apparently, the combination can feel like the false hope of a man in denial about the reunification process.

Fragile are the hearts and minds held together with a wad of pink bubble gum.


Party in the Park or Time is Relative


Hotdogs and hamburgers sizzled on the grill over a pile of red hot charcoal. Bags of chips lined up on the picnic table like soldiers in a parade.  They fell in order with the potato salad and deviled eggs, between a glass container of sweet relish, ketchup and jar of spicy mustard.  Bottles of soda huddled together on the next table, keeping the patriotic cupcakes and a mountain of cookies in good company.

Red, white, and blue balloons bounced in the wind, tied to the corners of the covered pavilion.

A handful of people in matching red shirts milled around the food, nervously glancing between the dark sky and their watches or phones for the time. Few people wear watches anymore, and even fewer do it for the sake of keeping time any more.  Now watches are used to track steps, count calories and deliver messages; telling time is an afterthought with all of the new more interesting functions and features of other technology today.

In any case, I still wear an old fashioned watch that can only tell the time and date, and occasionally still glows in the dark but will never flash a text message or take an incoming call.  Although, the crystal face is scratched to the point that my mother saw it and gasped that I should be ashamed of wearing that old thing, I still faithfully wear the watch on a daily basis.

I looked at this tried and true keeper of time on my wrist and back at the empty picnic tables with a sinking feeling. The party was five minutes underway and not a single guest had yet to arrive.  Two already texted their lame excuses as to why they would be unable to attend, which left 32 RSVP’d and unaccounted for bodies that should be filling the space under the shelter and starting to eat all of this food.

Clouds gathered overhead and drew closely together, like sheep in a corral chased by a nipping dog. They blocked the bits of blue sky that previously peeked through their fat, fluffy cloud bodies and a light drizzle started to fall against my protests.

I paced and continued to avoid eye contact (chalk it up to social anxiety mixed with preference to avoid conflict/disappointment) with the volunteers who so graciously gave up a Saturday afternoon for this event. It was either going to pour rain or no one was going to come or both.  There were no other options, I catastrophized in my head that which clearly was not a catastrophe.

Then, the sky broke and the sun shone over the first of the party guests who suddenly appeared from around the edge of the park. Party goers began to emerge from every direction carrying umbrellas, babies and one soccer ball.  Someone brought a bag of chips to join with the others on the table and another person produced a bag of grapes from their backpack to share with the others.

Soon everyone was there and I stopped looking at my watch.

Time is relative, especially for a group that doesn’t care much for appointments or punctuality. What matters is the quality of experience, not what time something starts or how long it lasts.  After all, a late start is better than never beginning.

I left the park with a bag of cubed watermelon, a handful of cookies, exhausted and with a full heart.

My party guests showed up.



It is Wednesday morning and I am called down the hall by a man’s voice.

“Puney, Puney, down here.”

He sounds weak and hurt; the noise registers in the same place of my brain as the baby mouse caught by a sticky trap last week.

“Just come in,” he says as I raise my hand to knock on the door.

It’s eerie that he knows I am just outside of his door. I pride myself on my quiet and cat-like footsteps.  When I was a kid, for one reason or another, I thought I was actually a Native American descendent and naturally practiced the silent walk of my people through the woods, grocery store, mall and all other places a delusional 7 year old might find herself.  In spite of that intense practice, I am coming to the realization that my footsteps may not be as cat-like as I once believed.

In the next instant, I consider the possibility that this is a trap and I am about to be separated from my beloved skin, Buffalo Bill style, but quickly ignore that pesky gut feeling and push forward. I enter the room to see the man sitting on the couch, holding his arm at a peculiar angle.

Dark red drops of blood escape from multiple cuts on his arms and legs. His eyes are unable to focus and his head wobbles back and forth on his chicken neck.

“I fell,” his voice cracks and there is dried blood on his lips.

His explanation saves me precious time to determine, with a great sense of relief, this is not a trap.

His voice drops to a whisper, “I just don’t feel right.”

In front of the man is a table with his medications, inhalers and tiny brown bottle of nitroglycerin on top. He grabs the tiny bottle and tries to twist the lid off while still cradling his other arm.  He is most unsuccessful.

I start to offer to help when he holds up the arm he has been cradling and I see for the first time the real problem. On the side of his wrist, a bluish-purple mass has formed around what appears to be the end of a protruding bone.  The mass is so big and unnatural, it seems unreal, I look for strings or tacks where the mass is externally connected.   I find none.  The mass is definitely an unfortunate part of his arm.

“I think ther’ is somethin’ wrong with mah wrist.”

A strange new accent emerges, perhaps released from a past life as the pain increases. Pain does all sorts of magical things to people; it transforms their personality, encourages new behaviors and habits, and reminds us that we are of the living.  Of course, it should be noted that the transformation is not necessarily good, nor are the habits and behaviors that are often pain inspired.

“Yep, that looks pretty messed up,” I offer my unprofessional and unsolicited opinion and dial 911 against his feeble protests and promises to ice it.

Brother, I might not be a doctor, but I do know there are some things that all the ice and Ibuprofen in the world won’t fix, starting with broken bones.

How is that for taking a fierce stance?

Official Diagnosis: Pretty Messed Up Wrist, no ICD9 code available.

Six Month Sentence

My mouth aches from the violent hands of a psychopath and my mind fills with questions.  Why do I allow this abuse to happen, over and over again?  How do I so totally forget about the pain of the last experience to sit in the waiting room without apprehension and allow it to happen all over again?

The assailant, Lashes, led me back to her lair and gestured for me to sit in the dental exam chair made of leather.  Such opulence for such a dark place of torture, it barely made sense. I would feel better on a plain metal chair, no frills allowed.  Mentally, I could be more ready by remaining uncomfortable and instead I sank into the plush chair and foolishly lowered my guard for what was to follow.

On my left, I noticed that Lashes was armed with multiple weapons, tiny daggers and swords for scraping, poking, and general destruction.  Not surprising, they were all perfectly sharpened and polished on a tray.  Lashes wore a paper mask and safety glasses, perhaps to make it harder to pick her out of a police line-up? It was a clever disguise.  Lashes looked just like the other female hygienists in their bright scrubs, crocs, and blonde hair tied up in ponytails.

Lashes stabbed and speared my gums with one tool after another.  She carelessly hopped from tooth to tooth like a flea on a cat’s back.  There did not seem to be a plan or a method to the woman’s madness.  Suddenly, she snapped off her gloves and shuffled a stack of papers; then she was back, pulling on another pair.

“Open up wider,” she demanded without an explanation.

“Not that wide, close your mouth halfway.”

“Ok, a little wider.”

There was no making this lady-demon happy.

I could see the concentration in her beady eyes through the plastic protective lenses as she continued to scrape and scratch in my mouth.  Not for the first time, I tasted blood during the appointment and felt tears welling up in my eyes.  I willed myself to endure the pain in silence with a reminder that this too would soon pass and checked my watch with the classic stoicism of a martyr.

Nearly an hour had passed; this was officially the longest, most excruciating cleaning I had ever experienced.  Simply doing a job that she either detested or loved, the passion that Lashes had for the work was apparent, but also quite unclear as to which pole it leaned.

Afterwards, I still wasn’t sure that I could pick her out of a lineup but knew the major difference between Lashes and every other human, was her preference for pain; the pain of other people, to be specific.

However, I suppose as far as torture standards go, she is quite good at her job so I naturally scheduled another appointment in six months.




The Cucumbers are Multiplying


The air has a chill to it this morning and the sun has yet to break through the darkness of night.  Fall is coming, slow and gentle, like it does every year to ease us into the misery of winter.  Soon it will be time to put away tank tops and shorts, swimsuits and flip flops in exchange for corduroys, sweaters and waterproof boots.

It is a problem that Midwesterners understand all too well, how to maintain two totally different wardrobes with only undergarments being seasonally interchangeable.  Residents of Hawaii, California and Florida, you have no idea what you are missing out on.  Unless of course, you escaped the weather of your home state after declaring to anyone who will listen, “This life of grey skies, chapped hands, and constant scarf wearing is no longer tolerable.”

I am nearing that state as my tolerance diminishes with each year.

Yet, I stay and dream of escape and an ocean breeze to cool my sun-kissed face, not ready for the change that a move would require.  And I work, like the rest of the sheeple that I know.  I work to pay utility bills and a mortgage, to buy food for my cats, husband, and self, and sometimes, I work just to get through to another season with the promise of better days.

As an offshoot of this working, I recently found myself as a defacto dog-sitter.

It started out as a one-time only situation, out of sheer necessity, and has since turned into a routine as natural as picking up the mail from the mailbox after work or taking out the trash on a Thursday night.  Whenever the owner of the hound leaves, he stops by the office with a leash and a bag of snacks.

“These are just in case she gets hungry.”

Gee, I thought they were a present for me.  I nod and wave the man off, I know the deal.  Take her out for a walk when she whines at the door, give her treat whenever she asks for one.  Easy.

The dog entrusted to my care is a mixture between Rottweiler and German shepherd and woe to the fool who messes with her.  Actually, she can’t be left alone without howling and trying to escape by hurling all seventy pounds or so repeatedly against the door which is how I ended up as her temporary custodian.  In summary, she is an emotionally dependent, fatty girl with missing teeth and bad breath, loyal to bacon strips and strangers who might be carriers of her beloved bacon strips.

Not that I mind her company.  After she gets dropped off, she flops herself down at my feet and patiently waits for a treat or for her owner to return.   The former always occurs before the latter.  When her owner does finally return for the beast, it is always with a generous payment in hand and gratitude.

Lately, I have been paid in cucumbers. Extraordinarily large, garden fresh cucumbers.

A worthy payment for services rendered and in the customary Hoosier spirit, he has given me more than I could ever eat.

Generosity: it’s one of the good problems that Midwesterners are all too familiar with, right after mastering the fine art of small talk about the weather.

On the Cellular Level

I have a not-so-secret love affair/obsession with my i-phone and technology in general. It’s the world in my hands and at my fingertips. If I want to find out how long to boil corn or how to change a flat tire, the rationale behind string theory or the number of monkeys in the jungle, it is all there waiting to be summoned from the mysterious depths of the internet.   As wonderful as it is to have access to endless information, it is not my main reason to constantly check my phone or computer.

For me, it’s for the sense of connection that texts and emails offer and the validation that a like via thumbs up or a star provides.  I constantly check and recheck emails and text messages and stats, giving too much time and value to the number of views or comments left.  A void opens up in my chest when there is no activity.  No calls, no texts, no views or comments.  I am alone in the world and my loneliness   is a black hole that threatens to swallow me.

Why do I allow myself to go through this torment over something that is as unreal and fleeting as phantasmagoria? All of it is smoke and mirrors, an intangible and impossible replacement for a real human connection and genuine approval.  Yet, it is to technology that I continue to turn for entertainment, comfort and interaction and my anxiety around real people grows.

I am quite certain that I am not alone in this. I went on a bike ride with my husband, a real person, last weekend. We rode through a town in which people were gathered on park benches, waited in line for a restaurant and were seated at tables with steaming hot plates of food.  Every single person on the benches had their phones out, they texted, played music and threw poke’ balls.  Almost every other person at the restaurant had their phone next to their plate or in their hand.  While standing in line, the people glanced at their phone or flipped through screens, some punched in messages or played games.

We rode onward and I felt a profound sense of sadness at the scene as it seemed like a fair representation of the greater population. There is a human desperation to feel a part of something greater, linked to others, approved and liked.  Through technology, we have the ability to be constantly connected, no matter the distance.  However, the closer the physical proximity, the less use or ability people have for a quality connection.

I am pledging to put my devices away for a bit and to appreciate the reality that surrounds me, to engage with other people, and to be present in my interactions. For the weekend, I will have to seek validation from within myself and connection with those in my household, on my block, and in my life.

Get ready husband and cats, we are about to have a seriously engaged weekend.


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