Friday, September 30, 2011

Language of Friendship

     I have attempted to write this one piece for the last hour.  I write one, single, solitary word and Buttercup comes in the room.  “Mama, need help.”  So far, she’s asked for permission to eat the snack I personally made and handed to her, a refill on her drink, praise for her art, and help with putting her box of modeling clay back on the shelf, edges parallel.  I’ve retied a shoe, stitched a button back on a shirt, and cleaned a doll’s face to remove an offending smudge that will resign her to a garbage dump fate if not immediately and completely removed right this very second.  I wonder how on earth I’ll ever get anything written.  I wonder how well Twain, Fitzgerald, and Dickens would have fared in their masterful writing careers had they been mothers.  I wonder if Pocahontas is home. 

      Pocahontas is my best friend, but she lives a thousand miles away.  We’ve designated Alexander Graham Bell as our patron saint since our friendship has been cultivated through countless telephone conversations and commiserations.  We understand each other and have developed a sort of “language” over the years.  If I try to explain, I will probably lose your interest, so I present to you a short transcription of a typical conversation:

      (phone rings)

      Bertha: “Grizzly Residence.’

      Pocahontas: “Girl, if my kid keeps this up …”

      B: “I hear ya!  Mine’s the same today.  Buttercup!  Stop that! Are you trying to die young?”

      P: “I’m so glad somebody else is having the same … Blondie!  I don’t care if he is cute.  We do not bring reptiles in the house!  Are you getting this, Bertha?  I need a vacation in the worst kind of way.”

      B: “What part of ‘sharp knife’ is confusing?  Put it down!  I know what you mean … Maui is calling and I’ve never even been there.  I think it’s time for you to take a nap, little miss.”

      P: “I’ve never been to Maui either and if you don’t put that disgusting animal back out side, the consequences may have something to do with boarding school but I’m sure it’s a nice place with adult beverages and ocean sounds.”

      B: “Maui or boarding school?  Haha, just kidding, I know what you meant.  Do you think insurance will cover a trip for mental health?  Because I think I’m starting to repeat myself are you trying to die young?”

      P: “Boarding school.  That’s all I’m going to say is boarding school it’s a stretch but they might be willing to cover it if we explain the situation.”

      B: “Or if we just drop Blondie and Buttercup off for a few days, they’ll be paying us to come back home and take that sharp knife in your eye if you start running and trip don’t you know that?!  Put it down!”

      P: “I said take it outside, not feed it to the cat!  Boarding school, Blondie-boo, I really think we should check on the price of tickets to someplace exotic.  I don’t know, maybe Hoboken?  That’s exotic to me at this point don’t let that cat in this house!  Do they have nice hotels in Hoboken?  Or maybe a sleeping bag in a church basement.  That’s fine with me at this point shut the door Blondie!”

      B: “I don’t know how exotic the church basements are in Hoboken, but I’m willing to try Buttercup NO!”

      P: “Blondie!  Shut the door!  Hoboken it is.”

      At this point, you are either suffering a headache or laughing because you understand.  It is impossible to do anything with children.  Again, I think of Twain, Fitzgerald, and Dickens … and I start to get irritated.  How dare they wave their successes in my face!  How dare they make their mark on society while I’m still trying to find the time to scrub marks off my wallpaper.  They know nothing of the struggle to finish a conversation with a friend while saving children from destruction, let alone trying to write anything.  Show me a mother publishing a coherent sentence, and I’ll show you a multi-tasking marvel in desperate need of a vacation.

      Later that night, I called Pocahontas for a short, adult conversation before exhaustion took over.  We decided that we did, indeed, need a vacation but that a church basement in Hoboken probably wasn’t the best idea.  She agreed that Twain, Fitzgerald, and Dickens were definitely not mothers, but their contributions to the literary world were pavers for frazzled types like me.  I thanked her for her gentle chastisement and for bringing me back to reality.  We laughed, we talked about our love for our daughters, and we agreed to face tomorrow with the same determination we faced today.  We watched a little TV over the phone together (our trademark) and said goodnight.  In my exhaustion, I said something about using a protractor with the modeling clay on the shelf, and she just laughed.  What I said made no sense whatsoever, but it didn’t have to.

      We speak the same language.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Bertha’s Alphabet™: The "ABC's" of Marriage (N-Z)

N is for “No FREAKIN’ Way!” As romantic and surreal as your engagement and wedding seemed at the time, you wake up one day and realize that the dream lover you married has bed head, morning breath, a grumpy disposition, and some really stupid ideas.  Considering that you probably have your own bed head, morning breath, grumpy disposition, and really stupid ideas, the likelihood of a squabble is inevitable.  “No FREAKIN’ way!” is going to be the answer to several brilliant plans: forgoing Christmas presents so we can buy “us” a new lawn tractor, converting the garage into a potpourri-scented craft room, selling the dining room furniture to make room for a new foosball table, going to a blender demonstration instead of that lame football party … well, you get the idea.

O is for Over and Over. Don’t be surprised at the number of times you have to repeat yourself or the fact that you’ll have to remind him 346,922,810,675,519,248 times that you hate onion rings.  You’ve hated onion rings since you were 5 years old.  You’ve hated onion rings since the day he met you.  You’ve hated onion rings every time he’s begged/forced you to try one.  You will hate onion rings until the day you die.  You are seriously considering getting a tattoo of an onion ring with a line through it.  And the next time he acts shocked to “discover” that you hate onion rings you’ll be better prepared now that I’ve warned you.  (Did I mention that I hate onion rings?)

P is for Poverty. Ahh, adulthood.  Nothing lets you know you are fully grown like an empty bank account and a boring Friday night at home with the TV and a bowl of cereal.  To get through this time, refer to the letter “L”. 

Q is for Quality Time, and the violently differing opinions on what that means exactly.  You think it means holding hands over a romantic dinner before he takes you in his arms and tells you that you are the most beautiful, amazing woman God ever put on the earth.  He thinks it means snoring in the recliner while you cook his biscuits and gravy. 

R is for “Really?!” That word you’re going to say at least a hundred times as you discover unfortunate, bizarre, and downright hair raising factoids about your spouse over the next umpteen years. 

S is for Silence.  It’s amazing how when you’re dating, silence is something horrible you avoid like the plague.  Now that you’ve been together for so long, you can actually sit in the same room or the same car in total silence and it’s OK.  He knows you’re there.  You know he’s there.  And if you have nothing to say, the world is not over. 

T is for Tunes.  You will never, ever, ever agree on music.  You think Queen is the best rock group in history and he has the nerve to think Kurt Cobain and his depressing, minor key durges rule.  And, I’ll have him know, Elvis is NOT over-rated, Louis Armstrong CAN sing, and … sorry, that’s a sore wound for me.

U is for Underwear.  The longer you’ve been married, the uglier the underwear gets.  Honeymoon equals brand new skivvies.  Ten year anniversary equals comfy old reliables you won’t get rid of until they get at least 3 more holes.

V is for Valentine’s Day.  That over-rated stinking holiday that husbands forget about once the ink is dry on the marriage license.  Besides, who needs stupid diamonds, dark chocolate, love notes, or a sexy slow dance? 

W is for “We”. You will find yourself saying this over and over throughout the years.  “We love this house.”  “We can’t stand that restaurant.”  “We had the best time!”  And, weird as it sounds, you’ll be right most of the time.

X is for eX-girlfriends who scarred him for life.  “Don’t microwave popcorn!  Annie used to do that before she had one of her panic attacks!”  “You’re getting up early to go to a farmers’ market?  Monica used to do that before she would cheat on me.”  “You know I hate cake.  Tiffany wrote, ‘We’re done, Loser’ on my birthday cake.”  My favorite response to that is, “I’m more sane than Annie, more faithful than Monica, and apparently, more desperate than Tiffany.”  Snaps him back to reality like that.  

Y is for Years that crawl and fly by at the same time.  Someone says, “How long have you been married?”.  When you answer with “10 years”, it won’t feel that long.  But the next time he washes a snow white shirt in the dark load because it has a dime-sized navy flower on the collar, you’ll scream “I’ve been telling you for 10 YEARS to leave my laundry alone!” … and it will feel every DAY of 10 years.

Z is for Zzzzzzz … the sound you’ll hear when you’re in the mood and he’s exhausted from working on the car all day.  Get it?  Exhausted?  Hahaha … ok that one deserved some zzzzz’s of its own. 

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

Friday, September 23, 2011

Bertha’s Alphabet ™: The “ABC’s” of Marriage (A-M)

A is for Acclimation.  Also known as “getting used to the other person’s crap”.  Just saying ...

B is for Built-in Date.  You will never have to wonder who is going to go with you to the next boring office party.  You may have to wonder how your “plus one” is going to behave, dress, or get you fired, but you’ll never have to wonder who it is.

C is for Clandestine.  The only way you will ever get any time to yourself.  Or sneak a Christmas present into the house.  Or find out what really happened to leave him with that scar on his arm.  Hmmmm ….

D is for Dreams.  Throughout your entire marriage, you will dream together.  “When we retire, we should live over a café in Paris.”  “When we win the lottery, let’s buy a new roof for every church in town.”  “When the kids are able to take care of themselves, let’s take a weekend trip somewhere that doesn’t involve animated characters.”  Those dreams give you something to shoot for; a goal you want to reach together.  Hold on to that in the lean times and you’ll be more apt to attack your problems rather than each other. 

E is for Eyes.  The new method of communication you will adopt within the first few years.  One look can mean, “Let’s get out of here” or “Don’t go there” or “Come hither” or “If you make fun of me again, I’ll hurt you in ways not usually visible to the general public”. 

F is for the Flu.  Sooner or later, the two of you will catch the flu, a virus, or some raging tropical disease at the same exact time.  This will require understanding, teamwork, and two separate televisions.  He will get sick of “rom-coms” and you will get sick of cartoons, tool shows, and hair band reunions. 

G is for Glamour.  Setting up house can seem glamorous on the surface.  I mean, you’re picking out a new house or deciding on a china pattern or dreaming of the days when your grandchildren will want you to buy them candy.  Seldom do we consider real life in all that.  “Real life” as in the mouse in the kitchen, the vomit somebody has to clean up as soon as possible, the horrendous flatulence that sends your spouse heaving to the back deck for fresh air, the bounced check you’d rather forget about, the hideous hair-raising screaming match about crown molding … makes the glamour of Ward and June Cleaver seem like a badly written romance novel, doesn’t it?

H is for Honesty.  And it is so over-rated.  Yes, his hair looks like something Don Knotts sported back in the day.  Yes, that fish he made for dinner was dry and hard to swallow.  Yes, his funny joke is the same one he’s told you twelve times.  But is it worth being that honest?  Not really.

I is for Inside Jokes.  After you’ve been married a while, you’ll have little inside jokes that mean nothing to the rest of the world.  Who else could look across a room, say, “There’s a wall there” and have your spouse dissolve in laughter?  No one else gets it … and that’s precisely the point.

J is for Jealousy.  I told myself I was above such things and, really, jealousy is so childish.  I was wrong.  When The Yankee was a groomsman at a wedding and the bridesmaid he walked down the aisle was a size-4 blonde with more hair than my entire family put together, I felt the twinges of jealousy burning.  I just kept telling myself, “She probably can’t boil water.  She probably can’t pronounce ‘croque monsieur’.  She probably has that un-fresh feeling.”

K is for Kin and Kith (that means “friends and family”).  Those ever-so-helpful people who have plenty of advice to offer when you’re first starting out but run for the hills when the REAL crap falls on your heads years down the road.  (At the engagement party): “Never go to bed angry.”  “Let him have a boys night every one in a while.”  “Remember to send flowers, Dude.  Chicks dig that stuff.”  “Don’t let the little things get you down.”  (Six years later): “Oh, gee, your kids have pneumonia, the company is downsizing, your house lost $25,000 in value, the dog bit a cat lover, and the pregnancy test was positive?  Golly, I’d love to stay and chat but I’m late for my, umm, uh, golf game … yeah, that’s it.”  Don’t worry about these people.  The ones who matter will be there for the good times AND the bad.  Lean on each other and then take evil pleasure in erasing the nincompoops off your Christmas card list …

L is for Laughter.  The oxygen of a marriage.  If you forget to laugh, you will remember to fight. 

M is for “Money”.  That magical green stuff we all need, want, and desperately hate at the same time will somehow disappear faster than fried chitterlings at a bluegrass hoedown. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Simple Pleasures

     Anyone who knows me is aware of the fact that I start Christmas shopping in April.  I’m not sure why everyone grumbles and rolls their eyes when they discover this particular tidbit, but it happens all the time.  Someone actually asked me how I could think of Christmas when it was 95 degrees outside.  I said, “Easy.  I don’t think of Christmas.  I think of the person and what would make him happy.”  That answer is usually met with either disbelief or a nodding head.  This seems to be happening more and more often and I think I know why.

      People have lost the art of simple pleasures. 

     When I am out at a store, whether it’s the middle of April or the day before Christmas Eve, if I see something that a dear friend or loved one might need or enjoy, I get it.  By the time Christmas arrives, I have everything I need for gift giving, all thoughtfully purchased, all just waiting for a festive wrapping.  I have no debt to worry about in January and everyone always says, “How did you guess I wanted/needed this?!”  It’s the process that I enjoy: thinking about the person I love, imagining how much they’ll love what I’ve chosen, wrapping it with a loving flourish, and then drinking in the joyous look on their face when my idea proves successful.  It’s a small thing, but I like simple.   

      I’ve been teased for my simple pleasures.  The smell of Buttercup’s hair when she was a baby was about the most heavenly thing I could think of, but whenever I would kiss her little head and inhale her sweet scent, there was always someone there to say, “Did you just smell her hair?”  Why, yes I did, thank you.  I also said a prayer of thanks that the sun was turning the mountains purple as it set in the sky, because purple is one of my favorite colors.  I paused to marvel at the tiny blade of grass that had somehow summoned the courage to peek through a crack in the concrete even though that guy with the cigar laughed at me.  And I even ignored The Yankee when he said I was weird for reading the dictionary and being excited over some new word I discovered. 

    I like fine quality, beautiful things, and entertainment as much as anyone else, I suppose, but not to the point of panic at the thought of being left to my own devices.  I will agree that a power outage is a miserably inconvenient occurrence, but I am not crippled by it.  It is difficult being a writer when a computer is not functioning, but this gives me a reason to pull out my oil lantern, paper, and pen.  The writing flows differently when the hand pens more slowly than the fingers can type, but I welcome the break, even if it is forced by a tree falling over onto the power lines down the road from my house.  Perhaps it is nature’s way of forcing us to slow down, take a look, and delight in the simple — something I do on a regular basis anyway.  Is it possible to be built that way, or is there some sort of training involved?  Are some people naturally drawn to the simply exquisite while others require flashy entertainment at all times?  After the ridicule I’ve encountered over the years, I’ve often pondered this thought. 

      I think Mom is the main person responsible for cultivating this love of finding happiness is small things.  She is the first one who pointed out the beauty of a sunny yellow buttercup growing in a field of emerald green grass.  She showed me that writing a thank you note by hand was one way to bring pleasure to others.  She taught me that the scent of clean sheets could rival any perfume.  In the same way that she showed me how to relish the joy of the oft-overlooked, I am teaching my Buttercup.  Honestly though, Buttercup is an easy child to teach about simple pleasures.  She is the one who notices a stray fleck of glitter on her clothes and marvels at how beautiful it is in the light.  She holds up a loaf of freshly baked bread and beckons me to “smell the delicious pretty” with her.  She thanks me when I wear makeup and tells me that my eyes are “beautiful with color on them”.  She inspires me. 

      Yep, I Christmas shop in April.  I guess I’m just built that way. 

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

Friday, September 16, 2011

Bertha’s Bakers Dozen ™: Tips for Drivers

     Driving is like cooking: we’ve all attempted it at one point or another.  Some of us have a real knack, some of us get by, and some of us shouldn’t be allowed within 10 feet of trying.  Fabulous, mediocre, or just plain inept, driving is one of the unavoidable facets of our lives that we just have to learn to deal with.   

     Unfortunately, our own safety, blood pressure, and punctuality often depend largely on the skill or ineptitude of others.  Well, Letterman has his ten; Bertha has her Bakers Dozen … and this time, it’s the Tips for Drivers list:

13) Taking corners on two wheels is stupid but so is slowing down to the point your speedometer is forced to display in fractions.  Two wheels = jerk.  Fractions = senile jerk.   

12) Slamming on the gas when I put on my signal light to change lanes is not only rude, it also wastes gasoline and puts you at your destination a mere .0000000004 seconds sooner.  Happy now?

11) The left lane is the passing lane.  It is not a mobile billboard for you to tout the über-righteousness of your rigid, never-speeding, compulsively law-abiding credo. 

10) If you have to talk, text, eat, apply makeup, change your pants, and drive all at the same time, you need to seriously loosen up your schedule there, partner.  You are not the wonder of a multi-tasker you think you are so just stop it before you hurt somebody. 

9) Yes, I realize the bambis and bunnies hang out on this side of town, but driving 35 mph under the speed limit so you can see them is a) pointless, b) rude, c) selfish, d) outright dangerous to humans.  Speed up or give your car to the poor, swear off bathing, and go live among the woodland critters.

8) Your car is running on fumes.  Guess what!  So is mine!  We have so much in common we should have lunch sometime!  So how come when I pull up behind you at the gas station, you stop at the first pump?  You couldn’t even pull forward 8 feet for me?  I thought what we had was special. 

7) Just because you have one hand on the wheel and one hand on the cell phone/GPS/kids’ DVD controls does not in any way excuse you from pretending your signal light is missing.   

6) I think it’s amazing you spent 4 months of child support payments on a stereo system that is worth three times as much as your car, and if you would like to be dependant upon hearing aids by the time you are 40, that is your business.  However, the fact that the bass is making the plastic, fiberglass, and loose mechanics of your pitiful car buzz and vibrate is not only irritating, it lets people know how little money you truly have.   

5) Don’t have GPS?  That’s OK!  Not familiar with this road?  Fine by me!  Not sure where you’re supposed to turn?  I totally understand.  PULL OVER to the shoulder or stop in a gas station for directions.  Slowing down to 11 mph while you swerve from lane to lane is rude, dangerous, and endlessly aggravating.

4) The speed limit on this highway is 70 mph.  I’m driving 77.  So why are you so far up my butt I can actually see your blackheads in my rearview mirror?!  Huh?!

3) Parking lots have “lanes” just like a regular road.  Do not cut the corner, turn into the lot, meet me head-on and then glare at me like I’m in your way.  Move over Grandpa!  The NERVE!!  And if you honk your horn, oh it’s just over.

2) I realize your 100 year old granny has a bad hip.  I understand she’s too proud for assistance so you have to let her out at the door.  But you, with your able-bodied legs, are perfectly capable of parking and walking to the door.  So why do you find it acceptable to park yourself in the fire lane, block traffic, and wait?  I bet you have a toilet paper wand because you’re too lazy to wipe your own rear end, don't you?!

1) You do realize your car has clear glass windows, right?  So why for the love of all that is sacred do you dig in your nose like a sino-nasal spelunker on a dare? 
© Bertha Grizzly 2011.  All Rights Reserved.  No duplication or distribution.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Green-Eyed Monster

     After being married to The Yankee since shortly before the invention of electricity, I’ve learned quite a bit about his mannerisms and what they mean.  Looking to one side as he inhales deeply means he thinks something or someone is stupid.  Slower blinking while his mouth is set in a crooked line means he is being stubborn.  And rocking his chair back on two legs while he drums his fingers means he has something to tell me if can summon the nerve.  This is precisely what I saw at supper one night last week.  We were finishing our meal and I could see his chair slowly rocking backwards as his fingers drummed.  My heart sank a little as I imagined what news he was dreading telling me.  Had he lost his job?  Had he found a problem with the car that would cost thousands to repair?  What was it?  The suspense was killing me, but I’ve learned not to press the issue.   

      “Umm, I had this weird thing happen yesterday,” he began slowly.  “Oh really?” I said, trying not to sound anxious.  “Yeah, umm, one of my clients introduced me to his daughter.”  I paused for a moment, carefully measuring what I should say next.  “Why is that weird?”  He swallowed his drink before he continued, “Well, she kept smiling at me and trying to sit next to me, and she touched my arm a few times.”  I was confused by all this but I let him finish.  “Then my client left the room for a few minutes and his daughter asked me if I was married.”

     Ahh HA!  Now we get to the juicy part.

      “I told her yes and hoped she would just leave it at that, but she went on.”  I sat in silence as I pictured this woman, sidled up to my husband, her blonde hair ever so slightly covering one eye a la Veronica Lake, her slender, manicured fingernails “accidently” touching his masculine arms, her perfectly tanned legs peeking out from a size 0 pencil skirt.  I must confess, the mental picture was unnerving.  My heart was pounding but I remained mute as he told me his story.  “She couldn’t just take the fact that I was married and forget about it.  She had to ask me if it was a happy marriage.”  I do not consider myself the jealous type, but this was too far!  “The nerve!” I gasped.  “What did you say?”  “I said ’VERY’ and took a gentle step backwards.”  I’ve never been so proud of The Yankee in my life.  He continued his thought, “She stuck her lower lip out in a pout and said, ’Well, if it’s ever not happy, call me.’  It made me so uncomfortable.”  Shocked by my own jealousy and concerned for his discomfort, I tried to put him at ease.  “What did she look like?”  He slowly inhaled, “She’s short, about 45 years old with frizzy, dyed-red hair.”

      This did not fit my mental picture of Veronica Lake at all.

      He continued, “She weighed about 400 pounds, but it was mostly in her rear end so when she sat down, she was actually taller than me.”  I was so stunned, I couldn’t move.  “Umm, and, uh,” I could barely speak, “This was the woman who was asking you if your marriage was happy?”  He nodded, “Yeah, I felt bad for her.  I mean, she seemed lonely especially after she told me the state had taken away most of her 47 cats.”  My hand flew to my mouth as I stifled a snorting laugh.  Thankfully, The Yankee didn’t notice.  “She had on this sweatshirt with a picture of one of her cats she called Fluff-Fluff.  He was ugly but I didn’t tell her that.  I was too busy wondering how someone can get blackish-orangey flaky nail fungus on all ten toes and then wear flip-flops that are a size too small so her toes hang over the ends of the shoes.” 

      I couldn’t hold it anymore.  I laughed until I nearly threw up.

      “Well I’m glad you find my misery so hilarious, Bertha.”  Through my tearing eyes, aching ribs, and convulsing shakes I squeaked, “But I do!  The Yankee was not happy.  “I can’t believe you’re laughing at me!  She smelled like an ash tray!  That woman freaked me out, especially when she told me that I had ‘cute little ears’ just like her kitty named Mr. Pickle-Meyer that the state took away to the shelter.”  I laid on the dining room table, tears flowing into the scraps of my dinner plate, as I writhed in laughter and hoped I didn’t wet my pants.  By this time, The Yankee stands up, throws his napkin on the table and marches to the kitchen.  “I don’t have to take this, Bertha!  I thought you’d be supportive, but this is too much!  I’m going to work in the garage.”  I wiped at my eyes and tried to stop snorting as I called out to him, “But, but, Mr. Pickle-Meyer!  Don’t you want to stay and tell me more about Veronica?”  He poked his head back into the dining room as I struggled to stand up without my knees buckling in more hysterical shrieking.  “Her name is Fanny-Faye Snerdly, thank you very much.”  Well, there went my knees. 

      It’s going to be a while before I stop calling him “Mr. Pickle-Meyer”.   

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

Friday, September 9, 2011

Freud Chicken

     I’ll admit it: I’m a foodie.  A dyed-in-the-wool, totally engrossed, completely immersed foodie.  I love everything there is about food, cooking, and the culture of eating.    There is nothing like the thrill of a perfectly executed roulade or helping a stranger in a grocery store understand that avocados, aspic, and artichokes are not even remotely related.  It made me a nerd in high school and college, though.  While all my friends were learning the facts of life in the basement of a fraternity house, my dateless self was at the library reading everything I could find on cuts of meat and the secrets to perfectly flaky pastry.  It was my hobby, my passion, and I thought everyone liked to eat. 

     I should have known better.

     It’s nice to be known as the “food guru” in your own social circle, but the fun is somewhat diminished when you are alone in your excitement.  Take The Yankee’s dad for instance.  Harmon is the opposite of a foodie.  Of the nine foods in our solar system that do not send him to the men’s room for two hours at a time, there are at least eight of them that he prefers to be absolutely ruined beyond repair (burned, dried out, overcooked, etc.).  He and my mother-in-law, Ursula, came to visit before Buttercup was born.  Having grown up in a household where extravagant hospitality was heaped upon every guest, I was eager to show Harmon and Ursula the highlights of our little spot in the South East USA.  Taking our meager newlywed purse, we showed them the local sites and restaurants.  Not only did Harmon refuse to go anywhere that didn’t have a men’s room strategically located every 10 feet, he insisted we take him to restaurants willing to serve a cheeseburger at all times.  This cheeseburger must be cooked for at least 45 minutes so that any trace of flavor, moistness, or recognizable texture would be a dim memory by the time it reached his plate.  The burger, now in its hockey-puck glory, must be coated in American cheese: the cheaper, greasier, and more yellow, the better.  Condiments would be limited to mayonnaise and mayonnaise alone, thank you, and if you DARED introduce a gaseous, revolting vegetable on his burger, his plate, or the real estate bordering his plate, he would retreat immediately to the port-a-potty we stole from a construction site and tied to the back of the car. 
     I decided I didn’t like Harmon.  Not one bit.

     Maybe Ursula would be a better companion.  After all, she seemed the type who might enjoy the subtle nuances of resin-y rosemary present in the perfectly al dente Chanterelle Risotto.  WRONG.  Ursula disliked all spices, flavors, and … well … food in general.  She gagged at the mention of pork, declared our tap water “too spicy”, and snarled her lip at the horror of a freezer devoid of frozen macaroni and cheese (which she pronounced “chee-see mee-yack”).  No meal I could prepare, no restaurant I could take them to would satisfy Ursula’s underwhelming palate.  When I excitedly presented a dinner of The Yankee’s favorite fried chicken, Harmon cut into his chosen portion and threw his fork across the room.  “This chicken has WATER in it!” he cried.  “There’s no water, Harm.  I assure you it is just the natural juices of the chicken because I didn’t overcook it.”  As he packed his bags, Ursula hastily chewing an antacid thanks to my “spicy” tossed salad, he continued to rant.  “Chicken is supposed to be CHEWY!  It’s supposed to be crunchy to the bone and you put WATER IN IT!!”  Ursula popped another antacid, “And you don’t even have chee-see mee-yack in your freezer!”  They slammed the door, squalled tires out of the driveway, and never looked back. 

      That was 10 years ago, and we haven’t heard from them since.

      I learned a lot about food that weekend.  Food is more than the substance we ingest for the purposes of physical survival.  If that were the case, science could have invented a replacement pill a long time ago.  It is the substance of tradition, the pathway to bonding, the litmus test of a relationship.  Were Harmon and Ursula generally disagreeable in other aspects of life?  Absolutely, but their ungrateful attitudes, their hateful xenophobia, their outright disdain for adventure was never more evident than it was at the table.  I guess that’s the other side of being a foodie that attracts me; foodies are often amateur psychologists.  We can tell a lot about people by their habits.  The control freaks who have to have even numbers of ice cubes in their glasses.  The daring lovers of life who will try the hot sauce with the devil on the front of the bottle just for the fun of it.  The kind soft-hearts who generously compliment whatever you put in front of them out of sheer gratitude for the effort.  It’s an interesting perch being a foodie, and I love every second of it.  But not as much as I loved sending a port-a-potty coffee mug to Harmon for Christmas. 

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

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Up and Down

              English is a wonderful language.  One word can have a dozen different meanings and spellings, depending on the context in which it is used, and every state, county, neighborhood, and household can have its own dialect making conversation into a serious guessing game.  Confused yet?  Let me enlighten you.

              Let’s talk about direction for a moment.  Down is down; up is up; and off is the opposite of on, right?  Wrong.  “Down”, apparently, is a place.  Not just any place either.  It’s a place where we can go to take care of any business matter under the sun.  Wanna change your name? turn yourself in? open a savings account? Down is the place to go.  You’ve heard it before: “She went “down” and had her name changed.”  “He went “down” and turned himself in.”  “She went “down” and opened a savings account.”  Evidently, “down” is quite an important part of our lives.  This takes us to “up”.  The opposite of “down” perhaps?  Hardly.  “You owe me 20 bucks so “pay up”.”  “This kitchen is a disaster so “clean up”.”  “I know you stole the “I Shot J.R.” T-shirt out of my closet so “‘fess up”.”  Other terms of considerable interest also include “on” and “off”.  Spouting zingers to an offender is “telling off” while divulging a misdeed is “telling on”.  If one is “ticked off” might one alternately be “ticked on”?

          As if direction isn’t befuddling enough, there is also the matter of time.  Nobody agrees on what to call the recent past or the near future.  If today is Thursday the 10th, then “last Tuesday” was the 1st.  The 8th should be referred to as “this past Tuesday”.  Next Tuesday will happen on the 15th.  If you can’t remember the exact day something occurred, simply refer to it as “the other day” and no one will question you.  The same theory applies to quantity as well.  Not everyone is convinced that a “couple” consists of two and a “few” consists of three.  We Southerners have our own vocabulary of quantitative words including “passel”, “mess”, and “heap”.  Amazingly, we can accurately determine exactly how many fish are in a “mess” and much trouble constitutes a “heap”.  It can become most confusing, indeed, when one starts trying to describe time in quantitative terms.  “I caught a mess of fish the other day so we’ll have y’all over for supper next Tuesday.”  Now I’m starting to confuse myself.  Moving on.

           I am increasingly appalled by our country’s lack of knowledge about the English language.  When did English become a disposable subject like Music and Drama?  When was it emphasized that the grotesque abuse of the exclamation point is appropriate?  I received an e-mail that went something like this: “Hi!  How are you?!  I’m OK!  My car broke down!!!!  I ran off the road when the engine stalled but everyone is OK!!  I found out the next day that I am getting a small raise so that will help with the repair bill!!”  Is anyone dizzy but me?  How in the world could someone rationalize the necessity for such egregious enthusiasm?  Would I not have been equally as happy for the pay raise if the exclamation point(s) were absent?

Along similar lines is the ridiculous spelling mistakes that even manage to make it into literature from Corporate America.  My best friend, Pocahontas, called me one day and laughed while she read a headline from a newsletter.  It ready, simply, “CONGRADULATIONS!”  (In case you missed it, there is supposed to be a “t”, not a “d” in this word.)  It seems that emphasis on science and mathematics has turned my generation into illiterate computer geeks.  We refuse to learn our own language then misuse antonyms and have the effrontery to invent words to communicate our thoughts.  A sign in the office of Mom’s insurance agency reads: “Premiums do on the 15th of each month.  No acceptions.”  It has been hanging in full view of the general public for quite some time and no one seems to care.  Does anyone else find this as annoying as creeping underwear? 

Some of my favorite invented words include “irregardless”, “snuck” as the past tense of “sneak” (which has recently been added to the dictionary, but you’ll never catch me using it), and the possessive pronoun, “I’s” as in “There’s nothing but dust in David and I’s wallets”.  I’m also perplexed by the number of people who seem to think that just because a word ends in an “s” that an apostrophe is automatically mandated.  The Yankee and I were driving to church one Sunday and saw a sign on the lawn of a convenience store that said, “Pizza’s by the slice”.  Pizza’s?  What exactly do these “pizza’s” own?

Along with words frequently misspelled come words frequently mispronounced.  For the record, nuclear is pronounced “noo-clee-er” not “nook-you-ler”.  A public building full of books is a “lie-brar-ee” not “lie-berry”.  “Pamphlet”, the informational paper published on various topics, is pronounced “pam-flit” not “pam-plit”.
For me, English and the Americans who speak it will always be a paradoxical source of irritation and comic relief.  I know my English and writing style can be very casual, and that is fine!  I don’t begrudge anyone a few minor mistakes or even intentional grammar misuse in casual conversation.  I do, however, find it alternately amusing and embarrassing when egregious flaws are ignored on professionally published materials.

Eye wander how long this will go on B4 sum won gits up an putts a stop two it.

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

Friday, September 2, 2011

Bertha’s Bakers Dozen ™: What Marriage Is Not

     Hundreds of books hit the shelves every year touting the miracles of marriage.  What it is, how to get it, how to improve on it, how to keep it, how to let it go, etc., but no one ever seems to tell us what marriage isn’t. 

     Well, Letterman has his ten; Bertha has her Bakers Dozen … and this time, it’s the What Marriage Is Not list.  Whether you think of marriage as floating down the aisle in yards of white tulle or find the entire prospect an outdated waste of time, here is my list of common misconceptions about the mystery of marriage:

13) A ceremony.  How many times have you watched those wedding shows on TV and thought, “These people have no idea what they’re getting themselves into!”  The wedding ceremony is such a small part of the marriage, it’s borderline negligible.  I’m all for a personal, deeply spiritual, yet jubilant party to celebrate the union of two individuals, but going into a marriage with the feeling that you will forever be a bride, be greeted each day with flowers and expressions of love from a hunk in a tux, and an exciting adventure at every turn is just setting yourself up for disappointment.  There’s a lot of penny pinching and dryer lint between “I do” and “’til death do us part”. 
12) A partnership of equals.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again.  When you get right down to it, we’re all 12 years old at heart.  Immaturity reigns supreme when tensions are high and the door is shut.  It is a partnership of two people who like to think of themselves as equals but secretly vow to melt that “equal partner” if he or she even thinks about taking the last fudgy donut.
11) A romance novel.  You aren’t “Valentina St. John, the stormy, voluptuous damsel with hair like a glossy raven” and he isn’t “Demetrius Harmon-Davies, the stubborn, strong warrior with a chiseled jaw and a primal desire for the damsel who refuses to be tamed”.  Puh-leez!  Maybe you’re Hortense, the pre-school teacher with horrible eyesight and an oversized collection of dolls.  Maybe he’s Larry, the pudgy plumber with a comb-over and this stupid, annoying, totally made-up aversion to onions.  Maybe you’re both so weird, you have the perfect relationship.  Whatever your story, just keep it in perspective.  Valentina and Demetrius live in a fantasy world that will never know the horrors of spoiled meat, annoying in-laws, furniture dust, poo-poo, empty bank accounts, or body image issues. 
10) A dictatorship.  Whenever two people are together, one person tends to be a bit more dominant than the other.  This is fine as long as no one person takes advantage of it.  I remember once a girlfriend of mine yelled in the next room to her husband, “HEY! Bring me some COFFEE!”  I looked at her, dumbfounded.  “Aren’t you at least going to say ’please’?” I asked her.  She snarled her lip, “What for?  It’s only him.”  And she wonders why he looks for any excuse to head out on his boat.    
9) A ledger book.  Yes, you’ve washed a million loads of laundry and he’s done exactly zero.  Yes, you’ve taken the garbage out every night for 35 years and she doesn’t even know where the extra bags are kept.  Yes, this one earns more money than that one and that one stomachs dog poop better than this one … but the point is NO ONE should be keeping score.  A marriage is about working together for the good of the household; not working to fill some points bank and see whose account balance is higher.      
8) A disposable diaper.  Marriage is not for us to unload our miseries, nitpick the flaws of the other person, scream when we don’t get our way, and then toss it aside for a shinier, newer relationship.         
7) A competition.  People get competitive over the stupidest stuff.  Who’s wound hurt worse.  Who has uglier feet.  Who’s mother is the biggest complainer.  Who cooked more dinners, who brought in more money, who squeezes the toothpaste wrong.  The point is, the more competitive you become, the less “us” there is to cherish.
6) A career.  Marrying for money?  Are you kidding me?!  Why not just sell babies on the black market … there’s more money to be had and it’s almost as cruel.   
5) A romantic comedy.  Chances are: he’s not going to stand in the rain and tearfully scream his love for you in the middle of a crowd as he begs you to love him back.  She’s not going to give you a half-dozen strapping sons and one of her kidneys and still look like one of the Spice Girls at 55.  There’s no background music, no quirky neighbors to bring you to your senses, no heart-wrenching, whispered soliloquy to be overheard at just the right moment.  This is real life and it is comprised of the choices we make.    
4) A cruise ship.  Marriage is an adventure, yes, but moments are not planned out for you.  There will be moments of mind-numbing boredom and monotony so oppressive you’ll pine for the excitement of a long line at the DMV.  Expect those moments, plan for those moments.  Do not use those moments as “proof” that your marriage is doomed. 
3) A piece of paper.  This argument just makes me laugh.  How many times have I heard someone say, “Marriage is just a piece of paper.”  Baloney.  Marriage is a contractual agreement between two parties.  Besides the usual stuff like love, respect, and friendship, it is the glue that holds a marriage together.  And believe me, there were a lot of times when that “piece of paper” was the only thing that kept me from throwing my hands in the air and screaming, “FINE!!  You deal with it alone then!  I’m going on a singles cruise!”       
2) The end.  OK, I’ll grant you it’s the end of dating, the end of living for yourself, the end of being alone.  But it isn’t the end of adventure.  It’s not the end of fun.  It’s not the end of excitement.  If anything, you have another person there to help in a bind.  A shoulder to cry on.  A buddy to laugh with.  A second income should you lose your job.  Yes, there will be boring moments and difficult times, but they are far from “the end”.     
1) A bad idea.  It takes work.  It takes commitment.  It takes work.  It takes a fierce determination.  It takes work.  Did I mention how much work it takes?  It’s a hard job, but it is not a bad idea.    

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