Monday, October 26, 2009

Going Batty--Part I

I used to be afraid of bats because I thought if one bit me I'd get rabies and have to get 27 shots in my belly.  But a few years back, I got a blood clot and had to get 10-12 shots in my stomach anyway so now bats don't scare me so much.

Me and bats go way back.  They  used to get in our house in Huntington through our barn fan.  I'd be having sweet dreams, lying in my French Provincial bed, which sat on lime green shag carpet, safe inside my four Baby's Breath Pink walls.

In the middle of the night, my three older brothers would come tearing down the stairs yelling, "Bats!  Bats!  To arms!  To arms!"

I'd get my hamster Houdini out of his cage and take him under my percale sheets and quilt.  "Don't be afraid," I'd whisper.  "The Bat Busters will protect us."

The boys would then race down the stairs to the basement.  Our dog, Holly, a Beagle/Spitz mix, would follow them, doing the Beagle howl with great passion.  Dad would bring up the rear, grumbling and taking the Lord's name in vain.

In the basement the boys would don their Bat Buster regalia--winter coats, boots and gloves.  "Don't leave any skin showing," Dad always said.  "Those little flying rats will sniff it out."

The boys would each grab a paper grocery bag from behind the stand-up freezer and cut holes for their eyes and mouth.  After they put the bags on their heads, Dad would hand each of them a Wilson tennis racquet.  Back up the stairs they'd gallop, carrying their racquets and making a racket.  "En guarde!" they'd yell, stabbing the air with their racquets.  "Touche!"

Before they went back to the second floor, they'd call out to Mom and me.  "Women and children!  Abandon ship!"  We'd don robes and slippers and scurry towards the front door.  I always took time to clip a leash on Holly because I worried that all her howling might attract the bats.  Mom would grab her lighter and cigarettes so she could have a quick smoke during the bat break.

The boys would run up the stairs and back down, whooping and hollering and swinging the racquets.  I don't remember them ever killing a bat though one time one of the boys did sustain a minor head injury.

I'd stand outside on the front walk with Houdini in my robe pocket and Holly by my side.  Mom would stand on the other side of me, blowing smoke rings over our heads.

"Don't kill the little guys," I'd yell.  "Just shoo 'em out the front door." 

Mom would put in her two cents.  "Make sure you scare them good, so they don't come back."

Dad would stand in the hall, between the two bedrooms, giving orders.  After all, he had served in the Navy in World War II.  "Men, there's one in the corner above you," he'd shout.  "Swat it!  Shoo it!"

After all the fuss and fury was over, the boys would come out and fetch Mom and me.  Even with their winter coats on I could tell their skinny boy chests were puffed out a little bit.  "Everything's fine," they'd say in deeper than usual voices.  "The coast is clear now.  You all can head back to bed."

Mom would tuck her hand into the loop of a son's arm and look back at me and wink.  "I feel so safe having all these strong men in the house, don't you?"

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Warped and Twisted

Jake and Wilbur lived in the same dorm, on the same floor as me, my sophomore year of college.  I'll cut to the chase and tell you right now, they were real sickos.  I may not be speaking the truth in love but I promise you this, I am speaking the truth.

Some folks thought they were brothers because they both had buzz cuts the color of straw.  Jake was taller though, his eyes the color of blue copier paper.  Wilbur 's face had known acne and his eyes were the color of a puddle.

When Jake and Wilbur were bored and/or drunk, they'd drive around Morgantown, looking for roadkills.  They kept a coathanger in their car at all times.  Whenever they saw a roadkill they'd pull over and get out of the car with the coathanger and a camera.  Wilbur would lift the roadkill as best he could, using the coathanger, and Jake would get a picture.   There was a corkboard on the door of their room and it was covered with roadkill candid camera shots.

It was for this reason I renamed Jake and Wilbur.  I called Jake Warped and Wilbur Twisted.  The names stuck.  Pretty soon, everyone in our dorm was calling them Warped and Twisted.

One day, Warped and Twisted turned their attention to me.  I don't know what got into them.  Not sure if they did what they did because they liked me, or because they didn't.

It was almost dark.  Seems like most bad stuff happens when it's dark or pert near.  I walked off the elevator and into the common area and there they were, waiting for me.  They were not in their usual attire--jeans and flannel shirts.  That day they were both dressed in camouflage gear, like they were going hunting or something.  They had a weird look in their eyes, like the zombie dancers in Michael Jackson's Thriller video.

Without speaking, they positioned themselves on either side of me.  They each grabbed one of my arms, firmly but not gently.  They led me over to, then down on, a chair they'd placed nearby.  Using electrical tape, they secured me to the chair.

Next they sprayed me in the face with whipped cream.  When I opened my eyes I could see little white puffs on my eyelashes.  Then they shook bottles of beer and opened them, using their teeth, a favorite party trick of theirs.  As soon as the beer started spraying out, they pointed the bottles at me and doused me from head to toe.  I felt my flesh pop out in goosebumps as the cold beer soaked into my clothes.

I decided early on that stillness was my best strategy.  I didn't think I was in danger, per se.  My guess was they just wanted to do a real good job of humiliating me.  If I whooped and hollered for help, it would attract a crowd which was probably what they wanted and definitely not what I wanted.

Warped knelt down and fished a string of Christmas lights out from under the sofa.  Twisted laughed but to me it sounded like a donkey choking.  Warped walked around me, wrapping me in the Christmas lights.  I looked at my knees.

Warped and Twisted then pushed me across the floor of the common room.  I kept waiting for the chair to hit a crack in the floor or a snag in the carpet. I envisioned the chair falling forward.  There would be a loud thunk as my head encountered the floor.  Surely my nose would break and blood would spray everywhere.

Warped and Twisted continued inching me in the direction of their goal.  I looked from under my whipped cream lashes and saw they were heading towards an electrical outlet. My broken nose concern was replaced by the possibility that fluids and electricity might kill me.  Snap!  Crackle! Pop!  Smells like chicken! 

They plugged me in and I waited.  Twinkle, twinkle!  Sparkle, sparkle!   I picked a spot on the ceiling and stared at it.  Would my death be fast or slow?  It was neither.  Something, God's hand maybe, spared me.

Warped and Twisted weren't finished  yet.  They pushed me back across the common room and onto the elevator.  My broken nose fear returned with each jerk of the chair.  The guys leaned down and in and grabbed the underside of the chair seat.  I could smell beer and chili dogs with raw onions on their breath.  I held mine and shut my eyes tight.  I will not cry.  I will not cry.

"Uh, uh, uh," came out of Warped.  On the third 'uh,' they lifted me up and into the elevator.  They held me for a minute, a foot off the floor, then dropped me.  My teeth made a snapping sound.

Twisted kept his finger on the open door button.  Warped produced the roadkill coat hanger from his back pocket and handed it to Twisted.  He stepped backwards off the elevator and reached into the cargo pocket of his pants for his camera. 

"Lift her up," Warped said.  Twisted hooked the hanger into a beltloop of my Levis.  He pulled up, using both his hands.  The waistband of my jeans cut into my belly.

"Smile," Warped said.  He grinned, showing big yellow teeth.  I turned my head as far as I could to the right.  Flash!  I blinked several times, trying to get rid of the spots on my eyes.

Warped and Twisted started laughing--a choking donkey and a goose on coke.  The guys pointed at the floor under my chair. 

"Looks like she wet herself," Warped said.

I wondered if I had, then realized it was beer dripping off me.

Warped stepped back on the elevator.  He leaned across me and hit all the buttons--G-9.  We rode up, the door opening at each floor, people staring, and we rode down, the door opening at each floor, people staring.  Then we did it again.

The whole whipped cream, beer, Christmas light,  elevator nightmare made me appreciate Jesus because like him, I was abused, mocked, stared at and not rescued.  People looked away so they wouldn't have to be responsible. Some even laughed.  And me, I remained silent.  Lamb led to slaughter, no sound does it make, silent.

Monday, October 12, 2009

My Best Friend Buried Barney Fife All Wrong

Watching the Andy Griffith Show was my best friend, Karen Lambertson’s, and my favorite way to pass the time besides creek walking and riding bikes in the graveyard.

Every week we’d sit in her living room or in my basement and whistle the theme song, marvel at the size of Don Knotts’ Adam’s apple and comment that Andy Griffith was pretty good looking for an old guy. When Karen got a hamster, it was only right that we would name him (Deputy) Barney Fife. His eyes after all, were rather buggy, just like Barney Fife’s.

“You did his burial all wrong,” I told Karen when I got home from church camp.  You see, by that point in my life I was pretty much a pet burying expert and Barney had gone to hamster heaven while I was at camp down in the southern part of the state.

“How’d he die?” I asked as we walked out the back door of her house.

“Last week he was running so much on his exercise wheel, I had to put him in the basement so I could sleep.”

“Could’ve tried some WD-40 on his wheel,” I said, as we went down the back porch steps.

Karen snapped her fingers. “Ah man. I didn’t think of that.”

“Maybe he had a hamster heart attack,” I said. “When did you figure out he was dead?”

We stood in the back yard. “Mom noticed it when she was switching a load of whites from the washer to the dryer.”

“Did he have rigor mortis?”

“Who’s Vigor Morris?” Karen said.

“Rigor mortis,” I said. “It’s when their legs stick up in the air.” My oldest brother was going to be a doctor when he grew up. He taught me all kinds of cool stuff.
Karen shook her head. “Nah, he was flopped over on one side.”

We went into the garage and Karen got a shovel and handed me a spade.

“Should be fairly easy to dig him up since it rained all morning,” I said.

Karen closed the garage door behind us. We stepped into the grass and I sniffed. “Fresh cut grass and rain on blacktop. I love the way summer smells.”

We walked out to the apple tree. Karen pointed to a round spot of fresh dirt clods at the base of the tree. She put her foot on the right side of the shovel back and pushed down hard. The soil was West Virginia clay--rusty in some spots, the color of Velveeta cheese in others.

I dropped my spade, bent down and grabbed a handful of dirt. It stuck together like pie crust dough. “We could make some cool pinch pots outta this stuff.”

Karen nodded, turning more soil over.

“You know why we gotta do this, right?” I said, throwing the clay ball up in the air and catching it.

“’Cause we don’t want to eat Barney in our applesauce next summer,” Karen said.

“Yep. Too bad you buried him in cardboard.”

Karen leaned the shovel up against the tree. She bent down and put her hands into the small grave. She pulled out Barney’s coffin. It was floppy with ground moisture but still recognizable as a Hartz hamster food box.

I held my hands out. “Give it to me. You go in the house and get something else to bury him in.”

She turned to go.

“Get a Cool Whip container or an old Skippy jar,” I said. Back in those days, peanut butter came in glass jars. Glass jars are the best thing to bury dead critters in, the small ones any way. Glass lasts forever in the ground.

Karen held up a Jif jar and a paper Big Bear bag as she came out of the house.

“That’ll do just fine,” I said.

We sat criss-cross, applesauce on the ground beneath the tree. Karen laid the grocery bag on my lap and I placed Barney’s burial box on top of it.  I was a bit freaked out about seeing him. What if there were worms coming out of him?

Not to worry. There were no worms and he didn’t smell like death yet. He smelled like wet hamster food. His nose was pointier than usual, having been smooshed into the corner of the box for a week. The white places on his body were multi-colored because Karen had wrapped him in the Sunday comics.

“I thought it would keep him warm underground.”

I leaned forward and wiped a tear from her freckly cheek. “Ah, Karen. That was sweet of you.”

She looked down at him. “He kinda looks like he was just born, doesn’t he?”

“Yeah, the way he’s slimy from the underground moisture, that’s like placenta.” I said. We both sighed.

 “Poor little guy,” Karen said.

I tried to think of a way to cheer her up.  "Remember how he used to flick his poop?"

Karen smiled.  “It always stuck on my wall and looked like polka dots.”

I found my clay ball in the grass and squeezed it.

Karen started to giggle. “Remember the time we were mad at Chucky and we put Barney poop in his Coke bottle when he wasn’t looking?”

I laughed. We sat in silence for a little while. 

I glanced at my watch. “I have to go home for supper soon. Did you get a rag to wrap him in?”

Karen pulled a cloth diaper out of her back pocket. She leaned over and rubbed it against my cheek. “Is this soft enough?”

“Yep. That’ll do.”

I picked up Barney’s cold, stiff form and placed it in the middle of the diaper. I folded the left side in, then the right. I brought the bottom half up, then the top half down. I put my hands on top to keep it from springing open.

Karen unscrewed the lid from the Jif jar. I pressed the Barney bundle to make it even smaller and slid it inside.

I took a miniature golf pencil and a piece of crumpled notepaper out of the back pocket of my jean shorts.

“Let’s both write a note so if anybody ever digs him up, they’ll know what kind of animal he was and that we loved him a whole lot.”

Karen nodded and wiped her snot on her wrist. “I like that idea.”

She wrote her note and I added my part under hers. She stood up and screwed the top on the Jif jar.

“Don’t put him in the hole yet,” I said, standing up. “I wanna say a few words first.”

We bowed our heads. Neither of us had ever been to a funeral but we’d seen them on tv.

“Dear Lord,” I said. “We’re gathered here to bury our beloved pet and friend, Deputy Barney Fife. He was a good friend and a great pet. We ask sir, that you and he would forgive us for the time we blew his cheeks up like a balloon. And we pray he'll forgive us for the many baths we gave him in my bathroom sink but he was so cute when he did the dog paddle.”

Karen tapped my shoulder and whispered. “Say sorry for the time we gave him a teaspoon of your dad’s beer.”

I nodded. “Yeah, Barney. We’re sorry about the beer incident even though you seemed to like it. It probably wasn’t the best idea.”

I ran out of things to say and we were quiet for a minute. “Oh, and please comfort Karen in her sorrow, Lord. We pray that her parents would let her go to Petland and get another hamster this weekend. We pray this in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.”

Karen crossed herself ‘cause she’s a Catholic.

“Amen,” we said.

Karen put the box in the hole and grabbed the shovel.  As she covered the box with dirt I looked at the setting sun through the apple tree leaves.  Without thinking I started whistling the Andy Griffith theme song. 

Karen smiled.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Of Roadkills and Such--Part I

As the weather chills, I have a chilling memory, more than one actually. I’ll dole them out like M&M’s in a Halloween fun-sized bag. One for you . . . one for you . . . and one for you.


I got in my car to drive to a funeral. I flipped the fan to high and waited for the air to turn warm. I rubbed my hands together. “Should’ve brought my gloves.”
It was my second stop of the day. The first had been to speak to a group of women. I was wearing what my husband calls my Johnny Cash outfit—head to toe black. There was however, the sparkle of a big, Madonna-sized rhinestone cross. It lay cold against my sternum.
Abe Lincoln said, “You can please some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time, but you can't please all of the people all of the time.” I thought of this as I drove I-68 towards town.

I was slowing down on the off ramp when I saw it—an almost roadkill, a squirrel. My heart made a trek from my stomach to my throat. I dearly love furry things, preferring them to be alive. I have a friend who says, “If you want to wear fur, don’t shave.” I agree.
On the exit ramp I pressed the brakes harder, trying to buy time to assess the situation. My eyes vacillated between courage and fear—looking, looking away. I tried to swallow what felt like a soggy wad of tissues.
I glanced in the rearview mirror. No one was behind me. I could take all the time I wanted to watch, and not, Mr. Squirrel’s demise.
As my car crept towards him, my brain fast forwarded to a conclusion. My knuckles turned white on the steering wheel as proximity confirmed my theory. My eyes and nose burned with soon to be tears.
Someone had just run over the little guy, but not all of him. A car had crushed him from his squirrel waist down. His top half seemed fine. In fact, his front end was running to and fro, but his back legs and tail were going nowhere fast.
I knew what I should do. I should get back on the interstate, circle around and come back and put the poor thing out of his misery. I should make his front end match his back. I didn’t though. I didn’t have the guts, pardon the terrible pun, to do it.
With tears streaming down my face I drove on to the funeral, on to more death. I hated my cowardice and prayed that someone braver and kinder would squash Mr. Squirrel and morph him from almost roadkill to roadkill for real.


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