Friday, December 30, 2011

Bertha’s Bakers Dozen ™: Conversation Starters That Don’t Help

     There are as many different conversation styles as there are people in the world, but some elements are universal: the art of exchanging ideas, the transfer of information from one person to another, the tone of voice that indicates mood and intent … these are the elements we can easily identify.  But what about those people who resort to pat sentences meant to ease difficult situations?      

     Well, Letterman has his ten; Bertha has her Bakers Dozen … and this time, it’s the Conversation Starters That Don’t Help list:

13) “We need to talk.”  A classic, but it still sucks.  Don’t scare me like that.  If you need to talk, then start talking.     

12) “You may not like this.”  Thank you for warning me in advance, but I would really prefer to make up my own mind.  

11) This isn’t easy.”  How difficult you perceive the delivery of the message to be is not going to lessen the severity of the bomb you’re about to drop in my lap.  

10) “Before I say anything, just know I love you.”  If what you have to say is so horrible you feel the need to preface it with reassurances of fondness, you are probably wasting your breath.

9) “You know how much I love you, but …”  This one is similar to the last one except worse because it ends in “but”, and in case you weren’t aware, “but” has a tendency to undo everything that came before it.       

8) “Thank you for _______, however …”  This one usually comes in the form of a letter or e-mail from someone too chicken to say it to your face.  “Thank you for the candy you spent $55 and 6 hours making, but I’m allergic.”  “Thank you for your book submission, however we have no intentions of publishing the rants of a quasi-nutty college dropout.”  “Thank you for your brilliant idea to raise money for our church, however we think an octogenarian beefcake calendar would not be in the best interest of our parishioners.”       

7) “OK, here’s the thing.”  Grammatically, linguistically, this means nothing.  But in our culture, it is usually the precursor to excuses bordering on the bizarre. 

6) “I’m not sure how to say this.”  What you have to say is so unpleasant you can barely find the words?  This would be one of the rare times I would rather be surprised.  Just blindside me, I’m begging you.       

5) “I regret to inform you …”  Usually there is very little “regret” involved.  Either you have absolved yourself of all emotional responsibility, or you were sent by someone else and were therefore never emotionally involved to begin with.     

4) “Just hear me out.”   If you have to warn me in advance that what you have to say is so terrible/complex that I might be tempted to interrupt, I seriously doubt you could stop me. 

3) There’s good news and bad news.”  Another classic that still sucks.  The good news is never good enough to outweigh the bad news, so let’s just skip this insipid little preview and move right to the feature, shall we?     

2) “Don’t get mad.”  At this point, you’re probably too late.      

1) “You’re gonna laugh at this.”  Yeah, don’t count on it.   

© Bertha Grizzly 2011.  All Rights Reserved.  No duplication or distribution.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Great Takedown

     If you ask 100 people the question, “What do you find to be the biggest pain in the butt?”, you will undoubtedly received 100 different answers.  For my best friend, Pocahontas, it would be anything remotely connected, related to, or dealing with cooking.  For my fellow “old soul”, Georgia, it would be organizing the basement she has lovingly christened the “Dungeon of Doom”.  For me, it’s taking down Christmas decorations.  It’s not that I feel depressed or let down after the holiday season of cheerful festivities; far from it.  I see Christmas as the culmination of a year’s worth of planning and see December 26 as the first day of planning for next year.  I just find the task of un-decorating to be daunting at best.

      You see, The Yankee keeps the boxes in his garage. 

      I don’t go in the garage unless it is an absolute dire necessity.  Don’t misunderstand me.  The garage is not messy, cluttered, or dangerous in any way.  Au contraire.  It is a well-organized, neatly arranged, modern marvel of order and symmetry.  It is orderly, neat, pristine, untouched, undisturbed, clean, and sterile ... and it drives me crazy.  Every tool has its place and is neatly aligned in size order on a pegboard wall.  All implements are neatly sorted in color-coded bins ready for the next project.  (Since he is averaging one project every 27.46 months, those implements will be stewing in their color-coded loneliness for a while.)  The upper cavern of the garage is a haven of boxes.  Every box that ever housed a tool is neatly arranged in alphabetical order with the warranty and original receipt enclosed in a plastic bag and affixed to said box.  It is among this maddening maze of order that the Christmas decoration boxes are housed. 

      I would go looking for them on my own, but something growled at me one time. 

      Last year, I removed a hundred yards of garland that The Yankee had wound around every fixed fixture in our yard during the mindless haze of his yearly “Christmas fog”.  I took down the lights from the windows, the giant red bows from the curtains, and the stockings from the mantle.  I was ready to put Christmas to rest for another year so I said, “Could you go get the boxes from that horrible attic of yours?”  He looked offended.  “Horrible?  How can organization be horrible?”  I rolled my eyes, “Organization doesn’t bother me.  Super-duper-I’m-a-nut-job-with-color-coded-bins-for-the-tools-I-rarely-use organization bothers me.  I’m not going in there so if you want this Christmas crap out of the house, you must be the one to make the trek to the garage and pull the boxes in the house.”  He says, “I’ll do it when I get home from work.” 

      Well, work got busy, overtime racked up, and our Christmas ornaments began gathering dust.  We invited Tip and Georgia over for a late-January dinner party and I cringed when they walked past the Christmas tree to get to the dining room.  “Well, Bertha,” Georgia said in her Southern drawl, “do y’all still have your Christmas tree up, darling’?”  I was mortified.  “No,” I said, trying to maintain a sense of humor.  “We just put ours up early this year.”  After they left, I looked at The Yankee with eyes of flaming irritation.  “You will get those boxes out of that horrible attic, or I’m picking up the Christmas tree and laying it under the covers on your side of the bed.”  He just smiled.  “I’ll do it when I get home from work.”

      Valentine’s Day came and went.  President’s Day came and went.   St. Patrick’s Day came and went.  I served him candy canes for dinner.  I started blasting “Jingle Bells” over the stereo every time he came home from work.  I finally said, “All I want for our anniversary is a Christmas-free house.” 

      Finally, one glorious Saturday, I was spring-cleaning while Christmas cookies baked in the oven when I heard a happy noise.  The garage door opening.  Rustling through the attic.  Thuds as boxes hit the floor.  Dragging as boxes entered our living room.  Jingles and twinkles as ornaments and bells found their place in each box.  I cried tears of joy as my flip-flops slapped the deck while I helped him haul boxes to the garage.  “You know,” I sniffed back tears as I fingered a beautifully blooming rose in the yard, “I think this is probably the nicest Easter I’ve ever had.”      

© Bertha Grizzly 2011.  All Rights Reserved.  No duplication or distribution.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Have a Good Christmas

     It’s finally quiet in the house.  Buttercup is fast asleep and The Yankee went to bed early claiming some sort of middle-aged ailment.  (From the blue light I see flickering under the door, I know he’s really watching that science fiction show that makes my eyes quiver and my teeth itch.)  I’m sitting on the couch, watching the twinkling lights on the Christmas tree, listening to Bing Crosby on the stereo.  I open an e-mail and see that someone wishes me, “Have a good Christmas”.  In my current state of quiet reflection, that phrase strikes me in an unusual way. 

     What makes a “good” Christmas?

     I’ve been hearing, “Christmas is so commercial” since I was a little kid.  Christmas trees go up for sale before Thanksgiving is even here.  Wrapping paper is on the half-off clearance table by December 10th.  By December 18th, the Christmas ornaments and wreaths are being cleared out to make room for pool chemicals and beach towels.  I’ve often imagined some poor woman opening her gift from her procrastinating husband, finding a pair of flip flops and a bottle of sunblock and looking at him with a questioning frown.  “You waited until the last minute again, didn’t you.”  He’ll look sheepishly at her at say, “But it’s SPF 45!”  (But don’t be too hard on my poor dad.)

     I hear of people setting aside a $5,000 budget for their Christmas celebrations and it sends shockwaves through my heart.  I don’t spend $5,000 on my entire family, all my friends, my coworkers, and the Christmas dinner spread out over 5 years!  I’ve had friends who received cars and diamonds from their husbands and tried not to sneer when I happily showed them my new loaf pan I got from The Yankee.  My girlfriends threatened to send a posse after him when I received a box of kitchen items on our first Christmas.  I threw my hands up and yelled, “But I gave him a list and he actually listened to me!  How many of you can say the same for your husbands, huh?!  Some people paint, some people shop, I cook.  You should know that by now!”  They called off the posse, but they thought I was weirder than ever. 

     I think back to the Christmases of my childhood and the years we spent with practically nothing.  The year I was 16, I got a CD and a discounted, framed picture from the clearance bin to go in my hope chest.  Our Christmas dinner was a small, roasted chicken and a few side items from a food pantry.  We watched Christmas movies on our old VHS player and drank hot chocolate.  From what I remember, THAT was a good Christmas.  Our gifts were meager, our dinner was less than a feast, and our entertainment was lame by many accounts, but it was a warm environment.  I think the reason was that we loved each other.  And no, I don’t mean in that cheesy, Hollywood way where too skinny, too wealthy, too beautiful people solve their problems by the end of the script.  I mean people who truly care about the welfare and happiness of another individual.  Our circumstances were uncertain and our future was a question mark, but for that day, for those precious hours, we had each other.       

     I think about the Christmas when Buttercup was a toddler.  We had just moved into our first house three days before Christmas and she was not feeling well.  While we unpacked boxes and tried to make the house look more like a home than a war zone, she looked worse and worse.  Finally, her lips blue and her breathing shallow, we rushed her to the emergency room where she was admitted for pneumonia.  A phone call later that evening revealed that The Yankee’s uncle had died during Christmas dinner.  Our checking account was overdrawn, my parents had the flu, and our insurance company was asking if it was really necessary for a 4 year old to receive so much oxygen for a little bout of pneumonia.  Needless to say, there was no Christmas tree, no gifts, and not a smile to be seen, and yet, it still was not a bad Christmas.  This particular hospital has some surprisingly astute and kind nurses, a doctor whose opinion of himself was not of deity proportions, and a benevolent soul brought gifts to the children in the pediatric unit.  The Yankee managed to smuggle a tiny bottle of bourbon into the room, poured it into tiny paper cups he pilfered from the water cooler, and we drank a toast to health and love by the light of Buttercup’s oxygen monitor as she peacefully slept for the first time in days.  We had survived, we had managed to support each other, and we refused to forget it was Christmas. 

     Many Christmases have come and gone since those years that I was an impoverished teenager and a worried mother in a hospital unit.  The Yankee and I have been granted the health and love we toasted so long ago.  Each Christmas is a reminder of the love of family, the loyalty of friends, and the true meaning of a Gift so perfect even a stable couldn’t tarnish His glow. 

     Have a good Christmas?  Oh, I will. 
© Bertha Grizzly 2011.  All Rights Reserved.  No duplication or distribution.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Perfect Tree

     When I was growing up, I always thought our Christmas tree was beautiful.  Twinkling colored lights, red velvet bows, a serene, holy angel gracing the highest peak - it was the epitome of Christmas wonder.  There was just one problem.

     Our ornaments were dumb.

     I dreaded having people admire our tree because I knew they would inevitably move in for a closer look.  Mom would proudly answer questions and show off her most special mementos.  As I cringed in the corner, Mom would exclaim, “Now this one is so sweet.  Bertha cut a lopsided little circle out of a cereal box and then wrapped some yarn scraps around it to make a wreath.  Isn’t it adorable?  She used one of her hair ribbons as the bow!  I just love it.”  I grimaced with every re-telling. 

      This went on for years.  Slowly, Moose, Wolverine, and I all moved away but the Christmas tree has remained unchanged, frozen in time.  I never understood how on earth Mom could become so attached to my efforts with cardboard and aluminum foil, which ended up looking more like the ruins of Sputnik than the Star of Bethlehem.  It, and countless other atrocities of elementary art class, seemed to be the highlight of her Christmas decoration bin.  Could she not see how horrible they looked?  How their garish colors and sloppy splotches of streaky glitter paint clashed with, well, everything?  It was just pitiful. 

      As I started my own household, I made a point to collect the most beautiful, the most heartwarming ornaments the store or my craft stock could produce.  Mine would be a tree of unparalleled perfection.  My friends, my family members, my children would marvel at this gleaming, sparkling tribute to the glory of Christmas, and no “ruins of Sputnik” would ever spoil the view. 

      Until Buttercup started preschool. 

      She has always been very small for her age, thanks to her birth status as a micro-preemie, so my heart is very protective of my precious, petite, steel magnolia.  As she bounced in from preschool at four years old, her eyes shining and her size 24-months dress emphasizing her tiny frame, she proudly handed me a wreath she had made. It was a paper plate (yes, the cheap picnic variety) that had been relieved of its middle, sponge painted a streaky green, and decorated with construction paper “holly” leaves and berries.  A bit of yarn at the top served as a hanger and a dash of glitter haphazardly sprinkled in two small spots served as a decorator’s flourish.  It was gaudy.  It was streaky.  It was just the kind of thing I had criticized my mother for loving. 

     It was the most beautiful wreath I had ever seen.

     Over the years, my tree has slowly given way to the crafty creations of a petite steel magnolia with a flair for all things artsy.  I no longer scour stores for the most beautiful, the most heartwarming ornaments, and I suddenly understand my mother’s tree and the dumb ornaments she treasures.  Where I see the ruins of Sputnik, she sees a 5 year old mini-Bertha hiding behind her bed in secret, working at a furious pace with blunt-tip scissors and library paste to finish a gift for her mother.  Where I see a crooked, butchered cereal box covered in stupid yarn scraps, she sees a treasured hair ribbon, sacrificed for a wreath no catalog could ever match.  She sees living memories of her children, now grown with homes of their own.  She still feels the love, the pride, the immense effort of unskilled, clumsy hands trying so hard to create beauty.  I think of Buttercup and how she’ll react to the paper plate wreath when she gets older.  “Oh, Mom,” she’ll sigh, rolling her eyes, “That stupid wreath is so tacky.  Let me buy you a real one.”  I gasp at the horror of my own daydream.

      If she so much as touches my paper plate wreath …

© Bertha Grizzly 2011.  All Rights Reserved.  No duplication or distribution.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Christmas, 50% Off

     I read a new article this week that left me speechless, scratching my head, sad.  Blaming the economy, more and more people are “postponing Christmas” in order to take advantage of After-Christmas/New Year’s bargains.  A silent Christmas Day.  Barren, empty trees.  Cold ovens.  A day like any other.  My heart sank as I read of people using the day to catch up on e-mails and television programs. 

      Whatever happened to a collective celebration of peace, goodwill, and the best birthday on earth?

      Maybe it’s the creative genes of my DNA.  Maybe it’s because Christmas is my favorite holiday and, like Bob Cratchit, the joy of the season is in the forefront of my mind all year long.  Maybe it’s my unshakeable belief that Christmas is and always will be a birthday celebration.  Whatever the root cause, I cannot fathom the reasoning that Christmas is about gifts.  After a quick search on the Internet, I have understood the meaning of the word “gift” to be “something one person voluntarily gives to another”.  Nowhere in my search for the definition of “gift” did I see the phrase, “The true meaning of Christmas”.  Nowhere did I find that a gift is, “That which is demanded by the recipient and accepted only if the name brand, color, features, and manufacturer are deemed worthy and acceptable by said recipient.”  I don’t remember seeing any wording that a gift can be described as, “A pacifier begrudgingly shuffled to the custody of a screaming, demanding individual to avoid disappointment and possible verbal abuse”.

      It’s appalling, really.

      This year is a difficult year for a lot of people, and I am no exception.  Job loss, unrelenting bad luck, and cars I can’t wait to shove over a cliff have rendered this year one of the toughest I’ve known in a long time.  The Yankee and I have no money to shower our friends and family members with gifts as we would love to do, but I’ll be darned if I’m going to wait until January.  I’ll be darned if I’m going to look my family members in the eye and say, “Thank you for the lovely gift.  So sorry I have nothing for you.”  No.  I refuse to be that person.  I am using my brain, my creative genes, and the bits I have around the house to make sure everyone has something special. 

      Don’t misunderstand me.  I am not saying for a moment that gift giving is a shallow exercise; far from it.  I thoroughly enjoy the entire process and would miss it if it were not a part of our celebration.  I am, however, emphasizing that Christmas is not about what packages are under the tree.  It is, first and foremost, a celebration of those we love and the reasons we love them.  It is a time for us to shower our loved ones with our affection and gratitude.  If this means lovingly handmade paper dolls for little Shannon, a newspaper kite for Billy, and a cup of hot tea under the Christmas night sky with your sweetie, then so be it.  I am merely questioning what priorities we have allowed ourselves to worship when a handmade gift or a meaningful conversation is “not good enough”.  So what if your Christmas dinner is a tuna-noodle casserole?  What if the only gift you can offer your children is a day of your undivided attention?  What if the diamonds you wanted to give your wife have now been replaced by a heartfelt love letter outlining every reason you can think of why you love her?  Throw in a soft, slow dance in front of the fire and she’ll brag about you to her friends.  What if the surround sound system you wanted to give your husband is now a handmade candy from his childhood?  Bald head and crows feet or not, he’ll have that look of a happy little kid that somehow makes the winter seem a little less frozen.

      For me, Christmas is a celebration of a birthday.  It is the joyous remembrance of the greatest Gift the world has ever received.  It is a day to put aside our differences and relish the time we have with each other.  It is the opportunity to solemnly vow to improve the world around us a little bit each day.  It is a time to cherish those we still have with us and remember those who have gone on before us.  It is a sacred, holy, honorable holiday full of love and gratitude.  It is a holiday of epic, eternal significance.  

      It is Christmas.  And I defiantly refuse to wait until it goes on sale.

© Bertha Grizzly 2011.  All Rights Reserved.  No duplication or distribution.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The 12 Fails of Christmas

     (Sing to the tune of “The Twelve Days of Christmas”) 

On the first day of Christmas, my in-laws gave to me, a sweater that’s 3 sizes too small.

On the second day of Christmas, my in-laws gave to me, a coat ’cause I’m hot-natured, and a sweater that’s 3 sizes too small.

On the third day of Christmas, my in-laws gave to me, rooster-printed dish towels, a coat ’cause I’m hot-natured, and a sweater that’s 3 sizes too small.

On the fourth day of Christmas, my in-laws gave to me, some books I’ve never heard of, rooster printed dish towels, a coat ’cause I’m hot-natured, and a sweater that’s 3 sizes too small.

On the fifth day of Christmas, my in-laws gave to me, YARD SALE UNDERWEAR, some books I’ve never heard of, rooster printed dish towels, a coat ’cause I’m hot-natured, and a sweater that’s 3 sizes too small.

On the sixth day of Christmas, my in-laws gave to me, used unscented candles, YARD SALE UNDERWEAR, some books I’ve never heard of, rooster printed dish towels, a coat ’cause I’m hot-natured, and a sweater that’s 3 sizes too small.

On the seventh day of Christmas, my in-laws gave to me, Zamfir pan flute 8-tracks, used unscented candles, YARD SALE UNDERWEAR, some books I’ve never heard of, rooster printed dish towels, a coat ’cause I’m hot-natured, and a sweater that’s 3 sizes too small.

On the eighth day of Christmas, my in-laws gave to me, psyllium fiber capsules, Zamfir pan flute 8-tracks, used unscented candles, YARD SALE UNDERWEAR, some books I’ve never heard of, rooster printed dish towels, a coat ’cause I’m hot-natured, and a sweater that’s 3 sizes too small.

On the ninth day of Christmas, my in-laws gave to me, orthopaedic sandals, psyllium fiber capsules, Zamfir pan flute 8-tracks, used unscented candles, YARD SALE UNDERWEAR, some books I’ve never heard of, rooster printed dish towels, a coat ’cause I’m hot-natured, and a sweater that’s 3 sizes too small.

On the tenth day of Christmas, my in-laws gave to me, hot pink lawn flamingos, orthopaedic sandals, psyllium fiber capsules, Zamfir pan flute 8-tracks, used unscented candles, YARD SALE UNDERWEAR, some books I’ve never heard of, rooster printed dish towels, a coat ’cause I’m hot-natured, and a sweater that’s 3 sizes too small.

On the eleventh day of Christmas, my in-laws gave to me, advice from Bernie Madoff, hot pink lawn flamingos, orthopaedic sandals, psyllium fiber capsules, Zamfir pan flute 8-tracks, used unscented candles, YARD SALE UNDERWEAR, some books I’ve never heard of, rooster printed dish towels, a coat ’cause I’m hot-natured, and a sweater that’s 3 sizes too small.

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my in-laws gave to me, a Peace Corps application, advice from Bernie Madoff, hot pink lawn flamingos, orthopaedic sandals, psyllium fiber capsules, Zamfir pan flute 8-tracks, used unscented candles, YARD SALE UNDERWEAR, some books I’ve never heard of, rooster printed dish towels, a coat ’cause I’m hot-natured, and a sweater that’s 3 sizes too small.

© Bertha Grizzly 2011.  All Rights Reserved.  No duplication or distribution.

Friday, December 9, 2011


     Talents, personal strengths, and stereotypes aside, there is plenty of fodder for the war between the sexes.  You can argue nature versus nurture all day long, but it is undeniable that there are fundamental differences between men and women.  Differences so deep, so universal, so vast they can only be explained by DNA.  Don’t believe me?  Still hanging on to your obsessive convictions that differences are taught?  Ask my parents for directions. 

      Go on.  I double dog dare you.

      My mother gives excellent directions and I follow her perfectly.  I asked her how to get to the new pottery she had told me about.  “Oh it’s easy,” she said.  “Take the north-bound interstate to Exit 300, which will put you on Jimmy Boulevard.  Go through 4 traffic lights and turn left at Eddie’s Bait and Tackle.  It’s less than a quarter-mile on the right.  You can’t miss it.”  Clear.  Concise.  Landmarks.  I totally get it and I will find it with no problems.

      The Yankee is confused.

      “Jimmy Boulevard.  If memory serves me, I think that’s actually Route 4912 which curves around and becomes Route 4812B.  Now, do we follow it east or west?”  He closes his eyes and turns his body 40 degrees to the right.  “OK, here is True North,” he says, pointing in front of him,” so would we follow Route 4912 east or west?”  Mom sits, motionless.  “That depends,” she answers.  “Which way did you come off the interstate?  If you come from our house and get off on Exit 300, it’s one way so you don’t have a choice.”  As he furrows his brow, Dad steps in. 

      I click my heels together in a furious tattoo: “There’s no place like home there’s no place like home there’s no place like home.”  It doesn’t work.  I’m forced to endure this. 

      “It’s easy,” he says with confidence.  “Travel on the north-bound interstate, driving south in the west lane.  When you get off on Exit 300, travel east to the southwest, which is Route 2960 North.  Drive 2 miles south, due east until you get to the intersection of Route 2991 and Old Route 2995J.  Turn east in the south-bound lane and travel north until you see the overpass to New Route 2995J.  The pottery is due south.  You can’t miss it.”  Mom and I stare at each other.  “What the bloody CRAP did all that mean?!” I shrieked.  “And how am I supposed to tell which way is ‘due south’ anyway?”  Dad and The Yankee elbow each other and laugh.  “Use the sun!  It’s worked for thousands of years!”  I was not impressed.  “You both think you’re so brilliant, but I am going at night.”  They laugh all over again and break into a rendition of how simple it is to find “true north” by using a discarded napkin and a gum wrapper like MacGyver would have done.  I look at Mom and we start speaking to each other in sign language, which irritates Dad and The Yankee because they have no idea if we are planning dinner or calling them a monkey butt. 

      To be honest, north, south, east, and west don’t help me at all.  I’m OK with the legend on an atlas, but N,S,E,W does me no good in the middle of downtown.  The way I see it, north is above us, south is below us, and west is on the left.  Mom totally gets it.  Dad and The Yankee, on the other hand, still talk to each other like Boy Scouts of a bygone era.  Like Lewis and Clark out in the middle of nowhere.  Like, well … men.

      I still have no clue what they are talking about.  Not a clue.  Does that mean their way of getting around is wrong?  No.  Is it insanely different to the point they could safely discuss the hidden location of a body in front of me?  Absolutely.  By the same token, however, my way is not wrong either.  I think this is where many needless fights are started. Do I find the concept of travelling east in the south-bound lane on Old Route 2995J dumb and irritating?  Totally.  But this is how Dad and The Yankee find their bearings in the world.  This is what makes sense to them and they are entitled to feel that way without ridicule … just as I am more comfortable with left, right, and landmarks and deserve to be left alone. 

      I’m not saying directions qualify as the crux of all male/female differences, but they certainly do prove a valid point: you keep doing what you do best, I’ll keep doing what I do best, and we’ll meet in the middle once in a while for dinner and dancing. 

      For me, middle is a left turn at the living room.  For The Yankee, it’s north in the east-bound lane, due south.  

© Bertha Grizzly 2011.  All Rights Reserved.  No duplication or distribution.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Artificial Intelligence Equals Real Stupidity

     My cell phone and I have a love/hate relationship: it loves to be a royal pain the rump and I hate it.  I love that this particular phone was free because I’m too frugal (read: cheap) to buy one outright, but I hate that it’s the exact opposite of a smart phone.  To be blunt, my phone is an idiot. 

      One of its most endearing features is a voice-operated command center that often hears what it wants to hear.  For example, yesterday I tried to place a call to my best friend, Pocahontas.  I pressed the magic voice command button and my invisible, electronic concierge sprang to life.  “Please say a command,” it beckoned me.  I spoke clearly with exacting diction, “Call.  Pocahontas.  Home.”  My concierge paused, processing my request.  “I’m sorry,” it apologized, “please try again.  Please say a command.”  Slightly irritated, I repeated my request.  “Call.  Poc-a-hon-tas.  Ho-muh.”  Certain I had delivered my command with the forceful presence of a true leader, I put the pone to my ear.  “Did you say, ’Call.  Poker Haunted House.  Oklahoma?’”
      Oh, it is on, you piece of crap.     

      Irritated, I huffed loudly.  “No, you travesty of aluminum foil engineering, I said for you to call my best friend, Pocahontas, at her home.”  My friendly concierge was un-phased.  “Did you say, ‘Call Mexican Hacienda, Rome?’”  Now I was just mad.  “What part of ‘Mexican Hacienda, Rome’ sounds anything like, ‘my best friend Pocahontas, home’?”  I paused as my concierge process this tasty tidbit.  “Did you say, ‘Send Message to Wolverine, cell phone’?”  I screamed in indignant frustration, “You can’t handle this, can you?!”  Quick came the reply, “No listing found for, ’Anvil, Danube’.  Please try again.” 

      Now, it’s mocking me.  Toying with me to see how long it takes for me to crack.  Well not today, you stupid recycled toaster, not today.

      I press cancel and start the process over again.  And before you say anything: yes, I realize that the amount of time I have spent on this fight could have been spent dialing Pocahontas’ number, talking to her, hanging up, going grocery shopping, and getting a wax job, but this is war, my friend.  Wars are not won by giving up.  I plunge forward into a battle stance worthy of a medal.

      “Please say a command.”  I use my most calculating voice, “I’m on your side, you know?  I believe together we could accomplish great things, but greatness is in your shaky, ill-prepared, linguistically-challenged hands, so here goes.  Call.  Pocahontas.  Home.”
     “Did you say, ‘Send Message to General Patton’?”
      “Now you’re being stupid.”
      “Did you say, ‘Call Rufus’?”
      “Even you don’t believe that.”
      “Did you say, ‘View Tweed Hat’?”
      “If I toss you in the river, how long before you short out?”
      “No listing found for, ‘Liver. Port. Stout.’”
      “Raw oysters, pork fat, flat tire, alley cat, hippopotamus, welcome mat, corn dog, wart hog, pecan log, morning jog, ring-a-ding-a, flim-flam, hither dither, alacazam!”
      “Did you say, ‘Call.  Pocahontas.  Home?’”
      “Calling.  Pocahontas.  Home.”

      I screamed in jubilation!  I won!  By George, I freakin’ won!  Pocahontas will love it!  I’m on top of the world!  I can’t wait for her to pick up!

      “Hi.  This is Pocahontas.  Leave me a message and I’ll call you back.  If this is Bertha, hang up now.  I’ll see your number on the Caller ID and I’ll call you back.  You have fried your last voice mail box.”

      Oh, the humanity.
© Bertha Grizzly 2011.  All Rights Reserved.  No duplication or distribution.

Friday, December 2, 2011


     It’s the beginning of December.  Thanksgiving is over, Christmas music is floating out of every store, and it’s time to put up the Christmas tree.  I like this time of year.  Dragging out the decorations and remembering where each family ornament came from give us a chance to reconnect with the past while dreaming of the future.  It’s magic.  It’s wonderful.  Except for one thing.

      The Yankee loses his mind. 

      I’m not sure why it happens, or even when it started, but Christmas decorating does something to him and this year is no exception.  After discussing the general layout of the decorations, he went to the garage to retrieve the requisite boxes, carefully packed and waiting since last year.  I shifted furniture as he hauled the boxes in one at a time, loading up the dining room table and floor.  It was a glorious sight and I was feeling the Christmas spirit already. 

      That’s when it started. 

      I unpacked a few boxes and wondered which job would be best to accomplish first, so I posed my query to the resident electrician, “Would you like me to start untangling lights or assembling the tree?”  Not looking up from his tool box, he muttered, “Sure.”  Sure? I asked a multiple choice question, not a yes or no question.  What kind of an answer is sure?  Painful experience has taught me not to press the issue when his head is buried in the tool box, so I just started assembling the tree.  And on a side note, yes, my tree is fake.  Proudly, loudly, unapologetically fake as George Hamilton’s tan.  I grew up with real trees and they are a nightmare.  No store-bought product, folksy wives-tale remedy, or “expert” cure can salvage a tree that is on its way to becoming firewood.  Humidifiers, more water, less water, no water, “Magic Tree Moisturizer”, moist toilettes, woodland fairy incantations … it doesn’t matter.  NOTHING works.  Within four days, that tree is a crispy, crunchy, rocket shaped fire hazard with ornaments.  One misplaced candle and KABOOM … Christmas gives way to the Fourth of July. 

      Anyway, I went about assembling my fake tree with strains of Bing Crosby’s golden voice filling the air.  I finally finished arranging the fake branches on the fake stump and stood back to admire my work as Buttercup declared it “beautiful”.  The Yankee came around the corner, eyebrows furrowed, and grunted slightly as I showed him the finished tree.  I decided even he could not dampen my holiday cheer, so I offered to help with the jobs he usually take upon himself.  “Would you like me to untangle lights now? Or should I work on decorating the windows?”  Without making any eye contact, he grunted, “Yeah.”  Grrr.  I hate it when he does that.  Well, it was starting to get darker outside so I decided to decorate the windows.  He drags the ladder out of the garage to hang lights on the house.  I tried to tell him that it was getting dark outside, but he kept walking.  Two hours, five boxes of icicle lights, and a tripped breaker later, he had the roof outlined in lights. 

      He walked back into the house, his mental fog barely lifted.  I saw his hand and gently touched his shoulder, “Umm,” I began, “Where did the blood come from?”  He shook his head a little as if clearing the remainder of the fog away, “Gee, I don’t know!  Hmm, son-of-a-gun, wonder how that happened?”  I gently smiled.  “You’ve been in your Christmas fog, so ripping flesh probably didn’t phase you.”  He looked up at me with a puzzled expression.  “Huh?  It’s not foggy, Bert.  Geez.  Wake up a little.” 

      Taking a deep breath, I look at my lovingly hung wreaths, my fully decorated tree, and the little drop of blood on the floor from The Yankee’s hand wound.  It’s Christmas.  I’ve decided to let him live to see another one. 

© Bertha Grizzly 2011.  All Rights Reserved.  No duplication or distribution.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Thanksgiving Weekend with Fran and Stan - A story in three acts deserving of a show on Broadway - Part 3: Please Tell Me It's the Vanity Mirror Light

     After an exhausting, adventurous, and memorable weekend with Stan and Fran, we pack the car and drive home.  It’s Thanksgiving weekend and everyone else had the same idea, evidently, because the roads were at a standstill.  Miles and miles of taillights as far as the eye can see.  We somehow managed to make it home after a 7-hour car ride.  It’s after 9pm, Buttercup has to be on the school bus at 7am, and The Yankee has to go get the dogs from the sitter.  I rush to comfort an exhausted Buttercup and get her ready for bed while The Yankee takes the truck to fetch our ever-growing canine family.  I kissed a soft, rosy cheek, said prayers for a good day at school tomorrow, then rushed out to the car to start un-packing.  I hauled heavy suitcases filled with dirty clothes and Black Friday bargains and lit candles to make the house smell like home again.  I started a load of laundry then called to order takeout Chinese food.  The restaurant closed at 10 and if The Yankee didn’t dawdle, he could get there in plenty of time. 

     Then the phone rang.

     “Hello?”  It was The Yankee.  “We have a problem,” he said matter-of-factly.  “Great.  Don’t tell me one of the mutts bit the dog sitter.”  “No, worse,” he said in that tone that can be described by whatever word means the antithesis of comfort.  “It’s the truck.  I think she had a stroke.”  Oh no.  Not that.  “What’s wrong with it?” I dared to ask.  “I think the transmission is shot.  It won’t go in reverse and third gear is history.  I finally had all the dogs loaded up and the guy felt bad for me so he said I could just drive through the grass.  I think we might owe them a load of sod.”  My heart sank.  Even though my Black Friday bargains cost less than $150, I was still trying to figure out if there was a way to get any money back.  A new transmission for a truck is thousands of dollars … which was exactly a million more than we had to spare.  It was already after 10:00 by the time he called me, so I was worried about our Chinese food I had ordered.  I hurriedly called the restaurant and told them that we really did want it and they agreed to wait for us.  I am now a loyal patron of the Hunan Panda. 
     Still slightly panicked, and sick of unloading the car, I set the table for dinner and waited for The Yankee and our canine pack to arrive.  More unpacking ensues as each furry tail wags in excitement and kennels are transported to the laundry room, all the while our food is getting colder and colder.  I finally sit down for a bit of well-deserved nourishment when I hear, “Where are my keys?” 
     Oh.  Crap. 
     “What do you mean you can’t find your keys?  How did you get home?”  He rolled his eyes with that look of exasperation that only dumb people can get and said, “I keep my truck keys on one ring and the rest of the keys on another.”  Now was not the time to explain to him what a moronic idea that is.  I looked in the yard, in the dog kennels, under the truck, and in his jacket pocket.  He looked under the truck floor mats, in the mailbox, in the clothes hamper, and under the bed in the guest bedroom.  I guess panicked people don’t think clearly.  I finally determined that his keys were not going to be found this particular evening and my egg rolls were getting pastier by the moment.  I left him sorting through Buttercup’s toy box and flopped my exhausted, weary body in a chair.  As I ate my dinner, The Yankee paced through the house, getting more and more hysterical by the moment.  Between bites of lo mein, I could hear, “Transmission’s dead!  Can’t find my keys!  Traffic sucked!  I can’t use chopsticks!”  You see, boys and girls, this is why Mrs. Bertha has to write about her life.  Because otherwise, she would be a scary, crazy lady. 
     After a restless night of tossing and turning, we put Buttercup on the bus and headed to the car lot.  After finagling a low-money-down, “is-that-the-interest-rate-or-your-phone-number” loan contract, we arrived home in a used vehicle.  At least we would both have a way to get to work the next day … let the payments commence.  (I’m sure you’re wondering … we picked up the lost keys the next day.  They were in the dog-sitter’s yard.)
     So, here I sit today, remembering my first Black Friday experience with my cutesy-poo cousin, Fran.  I look out the window and see the “new” car and gaze lovingly at the Hunan Panda menu on my desk.  The phone rings and I hear a canary-like voice on the other end of the line: “Are you going Black Friday shopping with me again?!!!”   “What?!” I scream, “I’m going through a tunnel!  Can’t hear you!!”  Click. 
     Of course I’ll go, but I’m buying that girl a plastic tree.
© Bertha Grizzly 2011.  All Rights Reserved.  No duplication or distribution.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thanksgiving Weekend with Fran and Stan - A story in three acts deserving of a show on Broadway - Part 2: Why God Made Plastic

     A shower door closes.  A hairdryer blasts.  A dog barks.  The Yankee elbows me in the ribs, “I think the cacophony is your wakeup call.”  I didn’t know he knew what “cacophony” meant.  I wonder where he learned that word?  I float up to the Mountain of Knowledge and ask Elvis what he thinks. 

     “BERT!”  The harsh whisper wakes me from my dream.  “It’s 2 o’clock.  Time to join Camp Price Tag.”  I’m groggy and barely coherent.  “Where did you learn the word ‘cacophony’?”  “I have no idea what that word even means, but the troops are stirring.  Get up.”  I roll my exhausted self out of bed and head to the shower.  The mirror reveals a pair of eyes looking more like cinnamon candies atop a 3-piece luggage set, but there is a germ of life behind them.  I loofah my arms and legs with extra force this morning, willing the blood to flow faster.  I don my festive Christmas shirt and add enough makeup to my face so I look “not dead”, as Sgt. Fran had demanded.  I stagger out to the living room, tote bag in hand and say hello to Fran’s mother, my Aunt Kitty.  She is a dry-humored soul with short gray hair, thick round glasses, a pill for every ailment, and a surgery story for every body part God ever made. 

     As I walk to the kitchen, Fran comes around the corner, keys in hand, and I get a glimpse of her “festive” attire.  Her thick hair was festooned with felt antlers and a blinking Christmas-light necklace hung around her neck.  She waved her hand at me and I noticed one finger was completely covered with a “ring”, approximately the size of wall sconce, that was shaped like a little elf, complete with pointy-toed shoes.  We look at each other with equal disdain and say, “You’re wearing that?” at the same time, followed by a unison, “YES!”  I walk towards the kitchen as Fran says, “I already fixed you a ham bun for breakfast.  That’s all you’re getting until the restaurants open so toss it in the tote bag and let’s get in the car.  Bargains await.” 

     I would click my heels together, but I’m too tired.

     We get in the car and, of course Aunt Kitty’s knee is bothering her, so I fold up like a lawn chair and squeeze myself in the back seat.  Fran slams the door, starts the engine, looks at me in the rearview mirror and says, “Hang on to your bippie.”  I was about to say, “But I’m too sleepy to even find my bippie,” but I was too late.  She floored it, tires squalling into the darkness of her neighborhood, as I held on to the door handle and said prayers for every sin I’ve ever committed.  One coffee stop later, we’re at the door of Ritzy Retailer, waiting in line like every other goober who decided to join Club Price Tag in the middle of the night. 

     On and on we shopped, hour after hurried hour of deals, bargains, and Christmas cheer.  Fran sailed through the aisles like a pro, I ran behind her for dear life, and Aunt Kitty’s watch kept beeping to remind her which pill to take next.  We ate “lunch” at 9 am, got manicures at 10, and heard songs about roasting chestnuts at least 524,298 times.  By the time Fran pulled a parking job a la “Blues Brothers” in her driveway, it was 7pm and I was numb from the knees down.  We ordered pizza, listened to Aunt Kitty’s beeping pill watch, and fell asleep like drunk college kids at a pledge party. 

The next morning, I staggered to the living room, feeling somewhat rested but still sore from the 400 miles we had walked the day before.  As Aunt Kitty recounted in detail her most recent surgical procedure, Fran skips into the living room, her towel tied in a turban around her hair.  “Good morning, my lovelies!” she shrieked in that chipper tone I can only liken to a canary.  “Are we ready for our adventure?!”  My eyebrows narrowed, “What adventure?  “We’re going to get a CHRISTMAS TREE!!!”  I’m sure I turned pale, “Why can’t you get a fake one like everybody else?”  She looked appalled, “And miss the fun?!  The scent?!  The ADVENTURE?!  Oh Bertha-Butt, you are soooo funny!”  I was skeptical.  “And exactly where are we going to get this Christmas tree, Fran?”  She clapped with glee, “Lizard Gizzard Mountain!!  It’s over in the next state but it only takes about 3 hours to get there.  Then we climb up and pick the best tree we can find!  What’s wrong, Bertha?  Why are you crying?” 
     So, an hour later, we’re back in the car, flying up Lizard Gizzard Mountain.  The curves are so sharp, my motion sickness is kicking into overdrive while I furiously chew strong mint gum and hope I don’t throw up.  In one ear, I have The Yankee detailing every screw and chisel he saw on his Black Friday trip to the hardware store and in the other ear, Buttercup is having an autistic fit because the DVD player is skipping with each sway of the car.  Something like this: “And then they had this screwdriver set that was originally $55 and it was on special for $35 and if you bought a dozen gasket rings for the dishwasher, they were only $17 a piece and I know you said don’t spend more than about 100 bucks but they threw in a free hammer so I knew you wouldn’t mind.”  “Uh oh!  Oh no, oh no, oh no, oh no, DDD is bwoken, DDD is bwoken, DDD is bwoken, oh no, oh no, oh no, DDD is bwoken …” (*wave of nausea* Don’t throw up, Bert.  Just keep breathing.)  “So I went ahead and got the screwdriver set but they only had 11 of the darn gasket rings for the dishwasher, so I said ‘Well, heck, why don’t I just get a gasket ring for the dryer too while I’m at it’ and they went ahead and threw in a free hammer anyway …”  “DDD is bwoken, MAMA!! DDD is bwoken, oh no, oh no, oh no …” 

     This better be the best freakin’ Christmas tree the bloody world has ever seen.

     Three hours, two packs of Astonishing Mint Gum, and a bwoken DDD later, we arrive at the base camp of Lizard Gizzard.  Up we hike, carefully avoiding anything that looks like it might turn an ankle, until we find the best tree Lizard Gizzard Mountain has ever produced.  As Stan and Fran debated the virtues of height over diameter, I pondered the mysteries of Christmas tree hunting and came to the realization that God made plastic for a reason. 

     Stan, bless his heart, saw my green tinged face and decided it was time to go home for a relaxing dinner.  He took a longer, but less curvy, way home and I have since decided that I really love him.  We spent the evening swapping stories as we looked at the naked tree in their living room, looking exponentially larger inside the house than it did hanging off the side of Lizard Gizzard Mountain.  It had been a memorable visit, and that’s just the point.  This sisterly crap we do with each other is not always easy, but it sure is memorable.  I was a little sad we were leaving the next day, but happy that we would be going back home to peace and quiet. 

     How very wrong I was.