Professional Help

“You need to see the shoe doctor,” the man said in a constricted voice.  “Have you been to see the shoe doctor? You need to go,” he insisted.

“I heard you, Chris.   I have not been to the shoe doctor, but thanks for your concern.”

He shook his head in disapproval and clenched his jaw.  This conversation, like so many others, was upsetting to him.

I looked down at the scuffed brown loafers on my feet; the penny slots were void of their currency, not worth the metal.   The shoes have solid rubber soles attached in all areas, free of holes and unpleasant smells.  Good shoes in all respects aside from their esthetic value in which they were sorely lacking.

He was right.  As much as I hated to admit it, maybe it was time for some professional help.

Somehow, my style sense had retrograded into a full blown social services look.  Ankle length khaki pants, sensible shoes, a variety of shirts and sweaters salvaged from consignment stores or the Goodwill are what I regularly modeled down the “runway” (hallway with dirty, stained carpet and bright fluorescent lights that flicker and illuminate the water damage overhead) of the non-profit where I work.  True to its classification, it is a place of much work and no profit.

Perhaps a contributing factor to the wardrobe crisis of 2016?

It is a sacrifice that I gladly make as the work gives so much more; the work gives me meaning and purpose at the cost of style, travel, and fancy furniture; the work gives me the opportunity to do something that matters and only asks for all of my time, energy and earning potential in return.

Gladly, I say with all seriousness to myself.

I write out a sticky note, “Take shoes to doctor.”

I show Chris who nods and leaves with a reverse threat.

“You won’t be sorry.”

Again, I think he’s right.

The Last Time


The last time I had hives, I also turned orange.

I was six years old, small, and always on the prowl for sweets.  My mother was baking carrot-cake muffins for my kindergarten class, or that’s what she planned to do before I ate the entire bag of carrots.  They were those little, sweet, baby carrots no bigger than a child’s finger. Each crunchy bite released a burst of au naturale sugar, just enough to make me want to take another bite.

I’m not sure how my mother didn’t notice that the carrots were disappearing one by one. Or why she didn’t stop my gluttonous child-self from disaster if she did notice. My memory won’t let me see where she was at the time, but most likely she was nearby half-watching, while weaving a basket or meditating on life.

She took free-range child rearing seriously and intervened only when necessary and/or convenient.  The two do not always intersect as one might expect.  Once, I accidentally pepper-sprayed myself; darkness overtook my eyes and a terrible burning fire spread across my face and hands.

I screamed, “Help, I’m going blind!”

She stood nearby and responded by asking with what I had to imagine due to the temporary lack of vision was an amused smirk, “What did you learn from this experience?”

Of course, it was difficult to form words with my swelling tongue to explain that I was just looking for candy not a learning experience.

Insert Kelly Clarkson’s lyric here, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger…” to be mentally played in the background for the rest of this post.

The fateful day of the carrot-cake muffins was no different.  Without any other more accessible sweets or increased impulse control, I stood on my tip toes and reached up onto the counter.  I grabbed a carrot and then another and another.

Maybe I shared the loot with the dog or my little brother, this detail is also unclear but it didn’t take long before the entire bag was empty and my stomach was churning. It turns out that carrots are a great source of fiber.  No one else turned orange so the primary guilty party seems obvious.

In retrospect, they were definitely not the right ones for the recipe.  She should have used the adult carrots that have to be peeled and scraped.  They look grotesque in the bag with dirty roots like hairs, manly vegetables compared with their baby counterparts, and better suited for baking.  I was much more of a help than a hindrance by saving the muffins from the wrong type of carrots on that colorful day.  Funny how I never realized it until now, thanks to the therapeutic power of blogging.

When I started to glow a special orange and itch all over, the fun was over.  As the hives developed on my young arms and chest, legs and torso, I realized a few things: that carrots were not a nice treat. Carrot cake muffins would never be my preference.  And as for my mom, it was time to be a parent and call the doctor or poison control for the carrot overdose, right?

Or just call into the school while handing me a bottle of Calamine lotion.

“Hi, yes this is Puney’s mother.  She won’t be making it in today.  She’s a little under the weather, probably something she ate…”


Interesting fact, carrots although grown and eaten worldwide since 3000BC per the website, they were not used in American dishes until after World War 1 when solders brought home seeds and stories of European cuisine.

Another interesting fact from (who knew they were experts on carrots, too?), Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs Bunny, reportedly hated carrots.  Hard to believe, right?

Burning Questions


Before the fire, I wanted to be a real writer. I wanted to write stories and books, essays and poems. I wanted to move readers with my words into action and compassion. Now, I just want to free myself of the words and be done with them.

“I’m bleeding,” our neighbor screamed as he burst through the front door.

Bright, red blood was splattered over his face.  It dripped from his hand and arm, which he held away from his body at a strange angle. An old dog trotted out next to him, faithful and endlessly loyal to his panicking owner.

This would be the perfect way to start a short story if it was fiction, if real smoke didn’t follow him out of the house in rolling waves. His girlfriend emerged from the dark smoke in bare feet and flimsy pajamas. She ran across the street with a pet carrier and set it down on the sidewalk.

She gasped for a breath of fresh air and yelled, “Call 911. The house is on fire!”

Without waiting, she ran back to the house and a cat started to wail from inside of its tiny prison. A small white paw poked out from one of the holes of the carrier and disappeared back inside. The wailing continued and then suddenly stopped. I understood the cat’s pathetic cries, an innocent victim of its humans’ actions..

It was how I felt at being left with the chubby babysitter of my youth or forced onto the school bus, taking one big step after the other, away from safety and towards the unknown. I wailed back then, just like the mangy cat on our sidewalk.

The neighbors kept running into their smoke filled house in search of the rest of their pets. Logic was overridden in their mad hunt for the frightened cats that did not want to be found. Sirens pierced through the summer air, deafening our pleas to the couple to stay out of the house. Help was on the way, if only to drag the fools out of the burning house.

In the meantime, the old dog flopped onto the sidewalk next to its sorrowful feline companion, patiently waiting for its master to return, being blind and deaf has its occasional perks.

Fortunately, the fire was put out quickly and the bleeding was stopped at the hospital. The pets were eventually reclaimed and all of the nosy neighbors returned to their respective homes.

Unfortunately, the night of the fire, I read an essay by Joan Didion. It was unusual for me to read non-fiction and a surprise how much I enjoyed it until I got to the last paragraph which stopped me cold turkey, dead in my tracks, (insert your favorite cliché here).

“My only advantage as a reporter is that I am so physically small, so temperamentally unobtrusive, and so neurotically inarticulate that people tend to forget that my presence runs counter to their interests. And it always does. That is one last thing to remember: writers are always selling somebody out.”
― Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem

Words have never chilled my blood as quickly.  They spoke directly to my mind and heart and left me with questions that demanded to be addressed, especially in burning light of the neighbors’ home.

What am I doing on here?  When does story telling cross the line? Is there a way to write something decent and not sell anyone out?  Who have I already sold out and at what cost?  I am left wondering as a writer and a person, now what?

I clearly have some thinking to do.

Oh, the humanity


Circling the parking lot outside of a doc’s office, I grumbled at all of the sick people. Still no legit spots in sight after two loops so I parked in a handicap spot and ran inside. I considered adopting a temporary limp but felt that would be even worse. I had to pick up a packet of paperwork from a nurse; I expected to be in and out. A limp would take extra time.

Please, I begged the universe, don’t let me get towed or a ticket although I clearly deserve it.

The waiting room was filled the sick people who owned the bothersome vehicles. A man in a dirty white t-shirt had crutches leaned against his chair, another man wheezed as he ate a sandwich in his wheelchair, a woman with a tiny bun of thinning hair was surrounded by bags and coughed into a ball of ragged Kleenex. Briefly, one woman looked up from her cell phone when I rushed in and returned to the tiny screen with complete disinterest.

The room was filled with people and their problems. If I had a little mask, the kind with an elastic string, I would have put it on with great haste in hopes of preventing the spread of desperation.

I tried to remind myself that I am not a bad person.

These were the people who needed the handicap parking spot in the front of the building. They were here to find answers to what was wrong with them. I wanted to clue them in that it’s everything. Life can be wrong and unfair but it goes on. I wanted to help them to reframe the situation. Let’s not think about what’s wrong with your aching joints or lower back, why you have that cough, or distended belly.

Let’s focus on what’s right with your life.

You are at a doc’s office, so that’s a start. The sun is shining. We have fresh water and clean air. The streets are paved. Education is free and so are we, for the most part excluding freedom from debt and government rule.

Leaving the office with papers in hand, I let out a great sigh of relief. I had been holding my breath without realizing it as I traveled across the waiting room. The germs, my sensibilities screamed. The bugs, my unfounded fears yelled. The desperation of living on the fringes of never having enough, my inner voice quieted down overcome with reason, truth, perspective, and finally gratitude.

The humanity, oh the humanity.

Dinner and a show


A stream of patrons wearing cut-off jean shorts and tank tops or oversized t-shirts and sweats flowed from the restaurant. They shuffled and limped as was customary for the diners of this fine establishment but today it was with a noticeable bounce from the excitement of witnessing something unusual.

“Enjoy the fight,” a woman without any upper teeth lisped as she walked past us and cackled.

Her gang joined in with knowing nods and a chorus of raucous laughter, “Yeah, enjoy.”

Taking no heed of this, we marched onwards towards the glass doors from which the motley crew had just emerged. It was Father’s Day and we were celebrating in classic Indiana fashion at an all you can eat buffet.

It was the type of place where it was unheard of to leave more than a $3 tip and rude not to accumulate a stack of plates with bits of chicken skin, rib bones, green beans in juice from a pineapple slice and the remnants of a piece of carrot cake on the edge of the table. The dress code was less than casual and strictly enforced most days.

Once we were assembled inside, the hostess looked up and down at us and shook her head in disapproval. City folk, I could almost hear her saying. She narrowed her eyes but allowed us in anyways.

They made an exception for us because they were dealing with a much bigger issue.

The staff huddled around the hostess stand, drawing safety from numbers.

A large, unkempt man a patchy beard and dirty t-shirt bellowed, “It ain’t right. I been here 45 minutes and want my mashed potatoes. It ain’t right to take a man’s money and not give him a regular part of the meal.”

The manager approached the angry man and spoke so quietly that the crowd leaned closer. He used his hands to emphasize his words and pushed the tense air down with open palms, saying, “Just calm down.”

Generally, this is one of the worst things to tell an irate human. It’s the same as telling a sobbing woman, don’t cry. Things get worse.

“Give me my money back and we’ll call it even,” the man demanded and stepped closer to the manager who was a foot shorter.  The man puffed his flabby chest up like an overfed, dirty rooster with patches of missing feathers preparing to fight for barnyard justice.

I wanted to look away. I knew it was wrong to stare but this was eye candy, the sticky kind that pulled out your fillings. The man disgusted and intrigued me, demanding mashed potatoes after he had been there for close to an hour.  Undoubtedly, he had filled his quota of heaped up plates leaving behind only greasy chicken bones, cast off vegetables, half eaten rolls and a bite of tuna salad.

“He just wants a free meal,” one of the servers said in a loud whisper.

Her comrade shook her head in disagreement and with a sly smile said, “No, he just wants his mashed potatoes.”


“You shall love your crooked neighbor, with your crooked heart.”

-W.H. Auden