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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Part One: Awoken by a Cat; or I Hope My Insurance Doesn't Hear about This

I’m pretty sure I’ve closed my eyes for just a moment.

“Pearl.  Psssst.”

Huh?  What?  I jerk awake.

The cat is sitting on my chest.

Liza Bean Bitey, of the Minneapolis Biteys, symmetrically striped stealer of dreams and small-pawed liberator of earrings, pens, and unattended cash cards peers down at me.  Her eyes narrowed to gleaming slits, she looks as if she’s suppressing a smile.

I move my own eyes to the left, to the right.  The TV is on, murmuring something indistinct about what we may expect in the way of side effects.

I stare up at the cat.

“What,” I say.

“You were snoring.”

I shift slightly, and the cat hangs on to her dignity – and her position as chest-sitter – by extending her claws.

“Why,” she says, “don’t you go to bed?”

“Huh?”  I pull my glasses off, rub the bridge of my nose.  “What time is it?”

The cat raises her left paw, checks the inside of her wrist.  “2:30.”

I sit up, knocking the cat backwards. “What are you talking about,” I say.  I feel, somehow, defensive.  “It can’t be 2:30,” I say.  “I have to work tomorrow.”

The cat jumps to the coffee table.  “What nonsense you talk,” she says dismissively.  “It certainly can be 2:30.”  Liza Bean yawns delicately.

I catch a whiff of something – and wake up just that much more.  “Let me smell your breath,” I say.

The cat covers her mouth with a tiny, larcenous paw, stifles a small smile.  “You have some strange habits, Pearl.  Don’t ever let anyone tell you differently.”

I frown at her, consciously reach up to smooth my brow.

The lousy cat is giving me wrinkles.

“I’m serious,” I say. 

“Oh,” the cat says, laughing.  “I’m sure you are.”

I lean forward, but she is too quick.  Dancing backwards, she evades my grasp.

“Did you take my car again?  You did, didn’t you?!”

Just a week ago, the cat had taken my car, returned it with a full tank of gas – and a half-eaten bucket of bait in the back seat.  At the time, it hadn’t seemed all that important.  I mean, a kitty’s got to eat, am I right?

And a tank of gas – well, you’ve seen the price at the pump.


“Liza Bean,” I say.  “Did you take my car again?”

The cat smiles, leaps up to the top perch of “cat condo” in the corner of the room. 

“I didn’t,” she said, “but we did.”

I reach back into my sleep-webbed mind.  “Juan Diego…”

Liza Bean Bitey, of the Minneapolis Biteys, nods.  “Juan Diego de la Patas Oro,” she says.

And with that, the cat curls up and closes her eyes.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

And to My Son, I Leave My Sense of Humor

Originally posted in 2010.  Enjoy!

People say to me, Pearl? Where’d you get that sense of humor; and once you got it, what have you done to try to get rid of it?

And I tell them: I inherited it. There’s really nothing I can do.

My father, the King of Clean Jokes – the man who carried around a little wooden coin inscribed “TUIT” just to present when someone said that they would do something, just as soon as they got “a round to it” – was and is my primary influence.

The first joke he told me was on my way to kindergarten.

“Man walks into a bar,” he says to me, at five. “He sits down, he hears the man next to him tell the bartender, “I’ll have another Waterloo.” The bartender gives the fellow a tall, well-iced drink, then asks the newcomer what he would like to drink. This new guy, he’s thinking the other man’s drink must be a specialty of the house, right? So he says, “I guess I’ll have a Waterloo.” The bartender gives him the tall, well-iced drink and the customer takes a big drink. “Hey,” the new guy says, “this isn’t any good. It tastes just like water!” The man next to him looks at the bartender and says, “Well, it is water. Right, Lou?”

That Dad. What a card.

He told clean jokes when my friends came over, causing me to nip at the heels of my friends in hopes of pushing them out the door. “Hey, Pearl! Stop me if you’ve heard this one, but there’s a guy at the community pool –“

“OK. Stop.”

“Oh, no,” a friend would say, “I don’t think I’ve heard this one.”

“So this guy is at a community pool, right? And he gets kicked out by the lifeguard for peeing in it. “Hey,” says the guy, “get real. Everyone pees in the pool.” And the lifeguard says, “Yeah, but from the high dive?”

General chortles all around.

I swore, of course, that I would not do such a thing, tell jokes to my child’s friends.

But we know what a liar I am.

The Boy had some friends over the other day. They were talking about dogs. I couldn’t resist.

“Did I ever tell you guys the one about the talking dog?”

They laughed. They think I’m funny anyway but now I’ve got a joke.

“OK. So a guy walks into a bar. Tells the bartender that he’s got a talking dog and if he’ll just front him a beer, he’ll get the dog to talk. So the bartender gets him a beer, the guy downs it in one gulp, turns to the dog and says, “What’s that up there on top of the house?” and the dog says “Roof!”. Bartender says, “Oh, come on…” and the guy turns to the dog and says, “What’s the texture of sandpaper?” and the dog says “Rough!”. The bartender’s getting upset now, feels he’s been cheated out of a beer. The guy can see this and turns to the dog one more time. “Who’s the greatest baseball player that ever lived?” The dog says “Ruth!” “That’s it!” screams the bartender, and kicks the guy and his dog outside. The guy stands up, dusts himself off, the dog looks up at him and says “DiMaggio?”

And I saw the look on my son’s face: bemusement, love, perhaps a touch of resignation; and I recognized the look as the one I wear myself when my Dad tells jokes.

Turns out I’m a carrier.

Not everything we pass on to our children is in our DNA or trickled down to us in a will.

Some of it is far more serious than that.

Monday, April 21, 2014

No One Here Looks a Day Over 30

As is required, Easter dinner is ham-centric, cheesy potatoes and dinner rolls orbiting the bone-in delight like little side dish satellites.

And there is, of course, wine.

“I don’t know,” my sister says.  “I mean, look at us.  We’re getting old, right?”

As the oldest, I feel it my duty to stare at her.

“Seriously,” she says.  “I’m 50.  Do you know what that means?”

Fully two years older than she is, I reach over, jab a particularly juicy morsel of ham on her plate.

“Pearl,” she says.  “I’m 50.  Is that old?”

I grin at her, push the ham into my mouth.  “Yes.”

My father – salesman, catamaran captain, ex-crop duster and pilot, former drummer for an all-lesbian country-western band, holds a hand up.

“Old,” he says, hazel eyes dancing with barely hidden mischief, “is always 15 years older than you are.”

My mother takes a sip of wine.  “Bear in mind,” she says quietly, “that your father will be 75 in two weeks.”

Karen looks at me, jabs at my plate, liberating me from a spear of asparagus.  “Did ya hear that?  The old guy at the head of the table says that 90-year-olds are elderly.”

She holds her glass up, and I lean forward with my own.  Clink.

“Damn right,” my father says.  He holds his plate up.  “Mumma?” he says.  “We got any more of that delicious ham gravy?”

My mother sighs, rises anyway.  “It’s on the center island, Paul,” she says.  “Right where it was 10 minutes ago.”

My father winks at me.  “She likes to keep busy, your mother.  Keeps her young.”

My mother returns to the table with the gravy boat.

“I heard that,” she says.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Crouching in the Dark

I grew up in a trailer.

We moved once a year, sometimes more than that, one dirt-road court after another.

“It’s harder to hit a moving target!” Dad crowed.

The lack of sustained contact influences one, as you would suspect it would; and I compensated by developing a rather dangerous habit.

I became a Peeping Tom.

Don’t get me wrong! I wasn’t the peeping-in-the-bedroom type, and I wasn’t the I-hope-I-catch-you-showering type.

That would be wrong.

I just stood outside of people’s living rooms, looking in.

No big deal.

At the time, I told myself that those people wanted to be seen. Why else would they leave lights on, drapes open, in a trailer park? In hindsight, of course, they could hardly have been expecting the child that crouched in their bushes.

I just wanted to know the people around me.

But I would not be in any park long enough to know any of the people in it.

And I would not be remembered.

Who were these people, these new neighbors of mine? I watch in the waning light of an autumn evening as the bikers two trailers away from ours pull a mirrored tray out from under the couch as they cut straws in half.

The windows were open.

“I used to use Burger King straws,” said the dark-eyed one as he slid a driver’s license up and down the mirror. “But I find they lack the finesse of your McDonald’s straw.”

“What’d he say?” asked the girl lying on the floor in front of the TV.

The blond one answered. “He said he finds that the BK straws lack finesse.”

The girl rolled on to her back and lifted her legs toward the ceiling, her hands at the small of her back. “What’s that? What’s binesse?” she said.

The dark-eyed biker put an index finger to one side of his nose, closing off a nostril, and used the straw in question to snort the line he had just laid out.

“It means – “ he stopped short, and his eyes went to the living room window. He lifted a finger, motioned to the front door. The man seated on the stacked beer cases rose quietly.

Heart pounding, I slid out from under the bushes and ran down to the darkness of the creek that ran behind the trailers.

The screen door slammed as I flew into our living room.

My mother called out from the kitchen. “Where have you been?”

“The bikers two doors down prefer McDonald’s straws to Burger King,” I panted.

“Discerning,” my mother muttered. “Wash up for dinner.”

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Willie Suffers

My husband’s calves are the size of a Sunday roast.

He comes from a long line of large-legged people. His father is large legged, his brother is large legged, and his mother? Her legs appear to be one solid bit from calf to foot, a feature known colloquially as a “cankle”.

You may safely conclude from this description that his mother and I are not close.

You may also conclude that the size of Willie’s calves have been the subject of many conversations.

What? You don’t talk about body parts?



“If we were flying over the Andes, and the plane went down –“

“Oh, God,” Willie sighs. “This isn’t the we-eat-your-calves-first conversation again, is it?”

“No! No! Of course not!” It is. “But I’m just thinking that in the future we may want to pack snacks when we fly. You know, things like carrots and onions and potatoes, maybe packets of salt and pepper –“

“There might be something wrong with you.”

He doesn’t mean it.

There’s also my theory on the nomadic nature of his ancestors.

“Hey, Willie.”

Willie sighs heavily. It is clear that he suffers. “Yes?”

“Where do you think your people were from?”

“The Netherlands.”

“No, I mean, like, don’t you think hundreds of thousands of years ago your people were bounding up and down mountain sides, locking their legs around the necks of saber-toothed Big Horn Sheep or something?”

“Or the necks of their wives.” He pauses, feeling this needs softening. "Ha ha," he adds.

He keeds, this one.

We all have our physical distinctions. I, for example, seem to have a flat spot on the back of my head. Sure it’s strange, but it’s also handy for sleeping on the floor. My mother denies that she strapped me to a board as an infant, but she’s a shifty one. I have my suspicions.

Flat head. Monster calves.

Ah. Life’s rich pageantry.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Someone Called and Asked for "Happy Pants". You Know Anything About That?

“Hey, Stinky.”

“What up, Stumpy?”

I’ve called Mary early this morning – too early, apparently, for us to be concerned with calling each other by our real names.

It is one my personal downfalls – an area where I have the opportunity for growth, some might say – being quite bad with names. I blame it on the number of times we moved as children.

My brother, too, has this hole in his social education. We hear/remember what we deem to be important and leave the rest.

“Hey! Pearl! I saw that guy again the other day.”

“What guy?”

“Oh, you know. What’s-his-lips. The guy with the teeth.”

“And the finger?”


The best part of that conversation, of course, is that I could repeat it to my sister and she’d say, “Oh, yeah! DuWayne! How’s he doin’?”

DuWayne, by the way, is doing fine; and while he’s still missing that finger, he’s thinking of getting front teeth.

And so while I am very good at remembering faces/dance moves/musical preferences, I’m pretty bad at names.

I’m not alone.

Mary’s Jon refers to anyone he can’t remember as “Fuzzy”.

“Mary! Did Fuzzy call?”

Heavy sigh from Mary. She suffers, this one. “Which Fuzzy?”

“Fuzzy Number One. The big Fuzzy.”

She rolls her eyes at me, a smile on her lips. She shakes her head ever so slightly. “Jon, so help me, I’m gonna come over there…”

He winks at me. “Fuzzy! The Fuzzy with the 2002 Chrysler Sebring bumper cover in our living room.”

Jon, a man in blurring, dizzying motion, has hijacked their tiny living room with a replacement bumper cover for one of his many automotive-repair clients.

Mary manages to laugh and threaten him at the same time. “Oh, my God, Jon, I’m gonna kill you. I’m gonna kill you, then I’m gonna make you supper, and then I’m gonna kill you again.”

Jon laughs.

And you can almost hear him thinking:

What’d she just say about supper?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

He's Still a Good Little Eater

Dinner is at 5:00.

He holds his fork up, a piece of chicken at the end of it.  “What is this?”


“What’s it made of?”


Dylan, three, almost four years old, looks at me sideways.  He was born an old soul, and he scans my eyes for signs of deception.

“Chickens?” he says.  “Bok bok bok?  Chickens?”


He looks at the meat thoughtfully.  “I’m so sowwy,” he says.  He kisses it lightly, then continues his meal.

The next night is more of the same.

“What is this?”


“What’s it made of?”


He points out the window, over the county road that divides our home and the farm across from us.  “Cows?” he says.  “Moo-cows?”


He looks down at his hamburger steak, pushes the onions and mushrooms off.  “I’m so sowwy,” he says.  And he leans over and kisses it.  I cut it up for him, and he kisses every subsequent bite, something I find equally amusing and disturbing. 

He eats it all.

The third night, there is a slice of ham each.

Dylan spears one of the pieces on his plate.  “What’s this?”


“Yeah,” he says, “but what’s it made of?”


He takes it in and is silent for a moment.  “These animoes,” he says.  “We kee-ew them and eat them?”

I nod.  “Well,” I say.  “We don’t.  Farmers raise them, then they’re killed and cut up and sold to us in stores.  Remember?  We bought it at the supermarket.”

Dylan stares at the ham on his fork.  Blink.  Blink.  

“You know,” I say.  “There are lots of people who don’t eat meat, ever, not just on the days they can’t afford it.  They don’t eat meat because they feel it’s wrong.  We could do that, if you want.  We could stop eating meat.”

Dylan looks at the ham , looks at me, smiles.

“No, that’s aw-wight,” he says, taking a bite.  “I like meat.”