Circa 1998

The Fight at Snakewater Gulch

Under the blue western sky, where the mountains meet the prairie, lies the old dusty town of Snakewater Gulch. Excitement there gets stirred up easily. Everyone had come to see the fight between Billy Bob and Ravenous Bull. The fight started with Miss Melody.

“She’s my girl!” Ravenous Bull hollered.

“Well, I’m afraid you’re downright wrong,” stated Billy Bob matter-o-factly.

“I think we’ll take it to the streets,” Ravenous Bull said smugly.

“I believe we will!” replied Billy Bob.

“Billy Bob, no!” Miss Melody said.

“I’m afraid I’ll have to go,” said Billy Bob.

The two rustlers scuffled out to the streets, the hot sun scorching their sweaty backs. The air was muggy and tense. Folks lined the streets, a hushed silence fallen over them, except for Ravenous Bull’s scruffy gang who called to their leader in worried tones “Watch out! He’s a tricky one!”

Sherrif Barlington began the count: 1…2…3…4…5…6…7…8…9…10! Billy Bob and Ravenous Bull quickly turned and Ravenous Bull fired. Billy Bob’s quick reflexes were a help and he swiftly dropped to the ground.

Before Ravenous Bull could fire a second time, Billy Bob called to his horse, One-Eyed Buck-Eyed Pete. The great mustang came galloping faster than lightnin’ and made the earth tremble so that Ravenous Bull missed his shot. The horse’s powerful hooves kicked up a tornado which carried away Ravenous Bull and his gang.

Before the tornado could drift away, Billy Bob yelled “Don’t come here again lookin’ for trouble you old Belly Bloater!”, and with that the tornado drifted away. Billy Bob snatched up Miss Melody and rode into the sunset with Miss Melody sighing contentedly. No one ever saw Ravenous Bull or his gang again, but it’s said that during a tornado or strong wind you can hear their wails and howls.

The End. A fifth grade homework assignment, all grammar and spelling preserved as graded, and clearly inspired by the book of American folktales and legends gifted to me only the Christmas before. You can absolutely tell that Pecos Bill was my favorite, though I suspect there’s a piece of Silverado in there too.

“All I did was kiss the girl.”

“That’s what you said in Turley. Remember how that ended?”

“What’s the matter, Paden? You afraid I couldn’t get those two behind me?”

Today’s homework assignment, circa 2019: research into historical emigration patterns into Montana and a cursory look into Rocky Boy folklore. And technically only 148 words added to Pine&Meyer, though those 148 words took forty-five minutes. This entire chapter is going to be a fight.

Trunk Those Treats

Naturally, this terrifying ghost has a story. She was eaten by her own car. In fact, you can still see the remains of her legs, only half-digested among the candy. I made the kids reach in and pick their piece, warning those who lingered too long over the decision that the car would get them too (despite, as one of my trunk-or-treat neighbors pointed out, my car’s severe overbite).

I’d like to claim that the entire theme of the car and the costume was intentional, but, truth be told, when I first signed up for trunk-or-treat at my church, I spent three weeks complaining about having to come up with a costume for my car. I finally googled ideas and picked the toothy example because it looked cheap and easy.

The rest of it fell into place out of my continued ingenuity for spending as little time, effort, and money as possible. That bed sheet has been falling apart at the corners for a good couple months now, and Halloween finally gave me the push to buy a new set. Same with the shoes. About a week and  a half ago I discovered (while doing leg presses, of all things) that I could actually poke half my right foot out of the gap between the sole and the toes. Shortly after I bought replacement tennis shoes and bare seconds before I ran downstairs to dump the old ones in my apartment’s dumpster, I realized I could could give them one more run.

The only real effort went into cutting even holes in the bed sheet. Surprisingly annoying. I nearly poked my eye out with a purple sharpie while trying to mark where my eyes were while under the sheet, but it was worth it. You can’t beat a classic.

It was also much scarier to the kids than I was expecting. I forgot how powerful imagination can be when you’re four. A handful of toddlers had to be shown the towel stuffed into the pants and the shoes that kept the whole ensemble together before they’d dare approach, and there were a decent number of older kids who weren’t so much afraid of the legs as they were the possibility that a real person might actually be hiding in them, ready to pop out.

The closest I got to purposefully scaring any kids was this:

See how terrified they are? Of course what really makes this picture is the fact that the eye-holes slipped down to my mouth, unawares. I look like a bush league dementor. Come give your auntie a kiss, kids.


It’s odd, the things that stick with you. I walked past a poster the other day about an event going on in Mississippi, and my head immediately went to the elementary school chant that still informs the way I spell this state. “Em-eye-ess-ess-eye-ess-ess-eye-peepeeinmypantsEYE!”

THESE ARE THE JOKES. I still have the cadence down in my head, which is a fast but military-perfect rhythm right up until you get to the p’s, at which point you say “in my pants” as quickly as possible, like if you fit it into the half-second beat of silence that should exist between the last two letters of the word you’ll slip it past the censors. I also still have the spelling of the word “aardvark” drilled into my brain, but I can absolutely blame Arthur for that:

That one’s for you, Boonder.

But this; good heavens this:

This one’s for all three of the von Schultz family singers when we were children, because we had this ear worm of a refrain burrowing into our skulls for weeks. Every time one of us thought we’d finally gotten rid of it, one or the other two would come into the room going “Aaaaalphabet JUUUNgle…duh-dundundun, duh-dundundun” (I have no idea now why we added the drum noises, but we did) and the agony would rinse, recycle, and repeat.

And remember kids, the temptation to sing “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” is always just a whim away a whim away a whim away a whim away.

So now that I’ve taken a sharp right turn off the port bow, let’s get back to the original point: things that stick in your craw.  At the beginning of my senior year of high school, I actually had summer homework (blech) to turn in on the very first day of class for all of my AP courses. Our English teacher, when she returned our papers to us a week later, complained that many of us had forgotten how to use quotation marks correctly. About half of the class had used apostrophes around our citations, rather than actual quotation marks. STOP THAT, she told us.

It was odd that we had lost our minds en masse. I actually remember writing that paper, and hesitating over whether it was single or double marks (and thus properly mortified later by the fact that I had picked the wrong one). What stuck with me — bothered me, even — was the fact that I wasn’t the only one. You can’t brush that off as a collective brain fart. None of us were cheats, besides the fact that there hadn’t been much of a chance to pass off bad habits to one another over the long summer months. There was, presumably, no reason for it.

Apparently it haunted me. Because a couple of days ago, sitting in my glider as I read a romance novel from England, I finally figured it out. We’d picked up British style quotations.* And why would a bunch of American kids suddenly and inexplicably start using the British style, without even knowing that’s what we were doing? Because we’d had to read a bunch of books for both AP English and AP History, half of which had been written by Brits.

Boring mystery solved. Only 14 years after the fact.

That still makes me feel accomplished.

Per British style uses single quotes (‘) for initial quotations, then double quotes (“) for quotations within the initial quotation.

So Mote it Be (or, There and Back Again, a busrider’s tale)

So. We meet again, Bus No. 666. I’ve just spent eleven hours sitting in the Minneapolis terminal and am on my way to another eight in Chicago if we miss my connection like I’m fully expecting. As to the mark of the beast, I’m pretty sure the unnamed creature in Revelation is a greyhound.

I missed the connection in Minneapolis by 12 minutes. The bus was scheduled to take off at 12:55 am, and we made it through the doors at 1:07 am according to their own clocks. To add insult to injury, the bus assistant working the Jefferson Line bus from Billings to Minneapolis (with a connection-ruining half hour layover in Sioux Falls in which they make us all get off the bus for reasons I cannot comprehend) assured us as we were driving into downtown Minneapolis that they were holding the bus for us. There were about twenty of us expecting to make the bus to Chicago, which explains why she disappeared the second the doors opened in the bus station and it was clear that the parking lot was otherwise empty; just enough people to form a mob.

The security officer working the inside of the station apologized sincerely enough that I believe he legitimately felt bad, even while explaining that dispatch told him the bus was forty minutes out and he couldn’t hold the bus that long. This will be the refrain for the Greek Chorus over the next 24 hours. From what I can tell, Greyhound is the overarching parent company that coordinates the regional bus lines throughout the United States, but they hold the umbrella with a feeble grip. Every employee from the baggage handlers on up will explain how my problems originate from some other company. Adam comes to mind, shifting blame in the Garden of Eden: “Well, the woman you gave me…”

My first four and a half hours in Minneapolis are spent in the front desk line, because their ticket agents don’t start work until 4:30 am. The first one shows up at 4:45 and reissues tickets to one and a half patrons before the computers go down. They’re up and running half an hour later, and the moment I’m at the front of the line she disappears, shouting for someone named Elijah. By now there’s a second agent and I am absolutely certain the first agent legitimately has other work to do, but I am just bitter enough at 5:30 in the morning to not appreciate the sound of her and Elijah’s laughter in the back.

Tickets reissued for 12:15 pm. We’re in a bad part of downtown, in a section of the city where the homeless gather, which explains why the benches have been designed to discourage sleeping. Somehow I find the one seat pair that does not have a metal armrest welded between them, and I manage a few winks. I’ll brush my teeth in the bathroom later, splash water on my face, and then reapply my eyeliner in a partially successful attempt to look like the quick rather than the dead.

In honor of my first bus journey, Dad made me watch “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” over the break, which is why I recognize Del Griffith the moment he sits down in the seat next at the bus station. This is the skinny version, short and terrifically pungent; clearly one of those rare humans that literally cannot smell their own body odor*. I am not entirely certain I believe any of his stories, though I have to admit he does look like the sort of fellow who was first surprised by a mountain lion then bitten by two rattlesnakes on the same day while hunting in the badlands**. He’s unemployed but suing his employer for wrongfully withholding his earnings, has a friend who will be in jail for the next fifty years for accidentally murdering a man during a B&E (apparently the homeowner unexpectedly popped up from around a corner, surprising Del’s friend into stabbing him with the knife he happened to be holding at the time), and he’s heading to Rhode Island to visit friends with the increasingly hopeful realization that Greyhound won’t search his luggage and find the buck knives stored among his underwear.

None of this creeps me out (I know the breed; he looks and sounds like a hunter, with the hunter’s penchant for exaggerating his stories), until he tells me that I was really restless throughout the bus ride from Sioux Falls, clearly unable to sleep. “You just couldn’t seem to get comfortable,” he informs me. When he asks if I have family I say yes, knowing full well that he now thinks I’m married. In answer to his follow-up question I admit that I have no children (yet), and am already making up a boyfriend I hope is the one if he pursues his questioning any further by asking why I don’t wear a wedding ring. He doesn’t, so I get by with lying by implication.

He follows me onto the 12:15 bus out of Minneapolis. I dodge his company by saying I hope we all have our own two-seat spread to ourselves, and do not mind when the seat next to me is filled by a large young lady who asks politely if anyone is sitting there, even though we share hip-contact until she gets off in Madison. Honestly, Del’s more entertaining than anything, but there are no vomit bags to read*** and I don’t want to mm-hmm all the way to Chicago. Or – more importantly – smell him for the next ten hours.

We leave fifteen minutes late. Par for the course, and anyways I’ve got a 45 minute layover in Chicago. Five minutes later we’re parked on the side of the road, because one of our tires is flat, showing 0 psi. I finally start to laugh.

Fifteen minutes later we’re off again. The 0 psi warning beeps incessantly for about half an hour before giving up. The guy at the 1-800 number our bus driver called (apparently Greyhound bus mechanics have their own special line with which they answer questions and laugh between calls) thinks it’s just a faulty sensor since the bus can still move. “Hopefully we won’t break down on the way,” the bus driver announces over the intercom. He is full of these optimistic maxims, as I will find out.

Somehow I have picked the one bus seat with a window that fogs up and ices over. Either I am seriously hot stuff, or the weird shape of the window (I only notice after I sit down that I’ve picked a handicap seat) is to blame. Either way I’m put in mind of a character I have living in the back of my head – a kid who, when given two bad choices, always picks the worse one. Today he is autobiographical. I sleep with my pillow and half my head smashed against Plexiglas, washing the bottom half of the window with my hair.

Come to the conclusion that the bus driver (Jim, he introduces himself) is actually a decent man, just meticulous and pessimistic. Unfortunately, I am used to the meticulous pessimists in my life also being efficiently fast, and that he is not. I disparage him on the phone to my father, but unfairly; when the airbrakes fail to release after a thirty-some minute break in Eu Claire, he starts another bus that happens to be sitting abandoned in the parking lot of McDonalds just in case we have to switch buses. The new bus has a faulty door that needs to be chained shut while on the road, so we’re all relieved when the airbrakes thaw twenty minutes later and our original bus starts to roll. Jim has to get out to turn off the other bus, which elicits a groan from two seats back: “No! Keep moving!”

I secretly apologize to him while still on the phone with Dad, hoping he hasn’t overheard me complain about his decision not to start moving luggage while the new (and now unnecessary) bus warms up. He’s doing his best – apparently these buses are notoriously finicky in the winter. A couple miles down the road Jim informs his passengers that the throttle is sticking, undoubtedly having iced up during the break. Fortunately, I’m used to him by now and the words mean nothing. I’m never making my connection tonight, which is its own relief. Now I don’t have to stress about trying to make it.

Que sera, sera. Or, more like: que es, es. At this point, 37 hours into my bus trip, still 500 miles from my apartment in Fort Wayne, and regretting the Egg McMuffin I’ve just eaten, what is, is.

UPDATE: By the grace of God and a bus driver willing to bust a move, I made it to Chicago by 10:15 pm, and well in time for the 10:45 bus to Fort Wayne. I like my half hour experience of Chicago a whole lot better this time around.

*I have both scientific and anecdotal proof of this phenomenon. I read a study years ago, when I heard about one of my brother-in-law’s college roommates. He was stinky, unaware of how stinky despite four years of listening to his roommates’ incessant demands that he take a shower, and eventually married a woman with the same deficiency; they live together in blissful unawareness, compounding their body odors.

**Apparently Sheriff Woody (yes, really) shot it with a shotgun; Del and his buddies had previously tried to scare it off with three Rugers when it leapt on the mountain goat in front of them. It shrugged off the cannon fire and walked away unharmed.

*** “You’re no saint. You got a free cab, you got a free room, and someone who will listen to your boring stories. I mean, didn’t you notice on the plane when you started talking, eventually I started reading the vomit bag? Didn’t that give you some sort of clue, like hey, maybe this guy is not enjoying it? You know, everything is not an anecdote. You have to discriminate. You choose things that, that are funny or mildly amusing or interesting. You’re a miracle. Your stories have none of that! They’re not even amusing accidentally! ‘Honey, I’d like you to meet Del Griffith, he’s got some amusing anecdotes for you. Oh, and here’s a gun so you can blow your brainsout, you’ll thank me for it.’ I-I could tolerate any, any insurance seminar, for days. I could sit there and listen to them go on and on with a big smile on my face. And they’d say, ‘How can you stand it?’ And I’d say, ‘Because I’ve been with Del Griffith. I can take anything.’ You know what they’d say? They’d say, ‘I know what you mean. The shower curtain ring guy.’ It’s like going on a date with a Chatty Cathy doll. I expect you have a little string on your chest. You know, that I pull out and have to snap back. Except that I wouldn’t pull it out and snap it back, you would. GAH, GAH, GAH, GAH! And by the way, you know, when, when you’re telling these little stories, here’s a good idea. Have a point. It makes it so much more interesting for the listener.” (Neal, “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.”)

Bus Route 666

What does is say that I’m doing another of these*? Especially considering that my travel woes once again involve Chicago.

I’m inclined to believe that this correlation is causational and not incidental. Chicago is a central hub in the Midwest, but unlike a roundabout that’s designed to keep people moving, it’s a mess of roadways, skyways, train stations, and bus routes manned by people whose greatest boast is giving even less crap than the employee lounging in the break room with them. I say “manned” because nobody runs anything in Chicago; they count on Chicago to run them.

Admittedly, my impressions of the city have all been bad, gleaned during the bleakest watches of the night while stuck in a customer service line with too many customers and too little service. There may well be things worth seeing in Chicago, but my only other experiences have been with a tollbooth on my way to Fort Wayne and the utterly quotable move, “The Fugitive” (“Well, think me up a cup of coffee and a chocolate doughnut with some of those little sprinkles on top.” “The guy did a Peter Pan right off of this dam, right here!”**) Even with the Hollywood treatment the city manages to feel grungy.

So now that I’ve spent two hundred words complaining about The City That Doesn’t Work, here’s some context: I lost my mind and decided to take the bus back home to Montana for Christmas. I’ve never traveled by bus before, and considering how much plane tickets cost this time of the year, I figured it would be worth it to find out if Greyhound was a viable travel alternative.

The bad news is that I’m currently three hours into an unplanned thirteen-hour layover. The good news: I’m not only still pleased about how much money I’ve saved traveling this way, I also have my answer.

No. Absolutely not, no way, thanks but no thanks. Don’t call us, we’ll call you.

Highlights (and/or Lowlights):

  • Arrive at the bus station (the city-line hub) half an hour early.
  • Sweating bullets an hour later, still sitting in the city bus station while a mom snaps at her crying children to knock it off, knowing I will never make my connection but still clinging to the impossible hope. For some reason, someone shoots off professional-grade fireworks about half a block away during this stint. They last two minutes, and I still have no idea what they were celebrating. Definitely not the efficiency of bus travel.
  • The line to Chicago finally arrives on hour late. The bus driver tells me the Friday bus is always this late, like I ought to have known. When I start crying silently he asks me what’s wrong and I manage something about missing Christmas. No idea if he catches any of that, because I’ve already turned away, embarrassed because I can’t stop.
  • Cry halfway to Chicago. My seatmate – an Asian man with an accent – offers me the window seat during one of our stops. I waffle (“Are you sure?”) and he says yes, you’re doing this, and mimics the neck-bobbing move of napping without head support. I take him up on the offer.
  • Later asks me if there’s something wrong with my sinuses. It takes me a second to figure out what he means. Conversation goes like this:
    • Asian man: “Something wrong with sinus?”
    • Me: “Sinus? You mean my…nose?”
    • Him: “Yes. Allergies, or something?”
    • Me: “…oh. No, I was crying because I’m afraid I’m not going to make it home in time for Christmas.”
  • He spends the next 45 minutes telling me not to be depressed, that everything will be all right, that all I need to do is relax, Greyhound will take care of me when we get to Chicago, and that his mother is in heaven with Jesus. I believe him.
  • Partially calm myself by thinking of ways to get out of Chicago, even if it isn’t by bus. Hit by the brilliant thought that I could rent a car for the six hour drive to Minneapolis in order to make it in time for the 6:30 a.m. departure to Sioux Falls.
  • Eavesdrop on a conversation between the driver and a woman my age, trying to make the same connection in Chicago to Minneapolis. Bus driver eventually transforms into the heroic figure of the night. He takes real pride in his work, which makes me like him on instinct; turns out he told me they’re late on Friday not to accidentally make me feel bad about scheduling a tight connection on a Friday night, but because he’s proud of the fact that his route is always on time except for Fridays. He’d like dispatch to change the schedule, because it’s a known fact.
    • (He is absolutely the reason I don’t spend the night sitting in a chair in the bus station at 630 W Harrison St, Chicago, IL.)
  • The Chicago station is overwhelmingly awful at 11:30 p.m, and in no uncertain terms does not exist in conjunction with car rental services. It’s small, packed with people, and employs three travel agents buried behind a line a hundred people long. Nothing on the travel board for Minneapolis until 6:15 a.m., and no announcements come over the PA.
  • Quietly panic. Find that girl also headed through Sioux Falls and quietly panic with her. She’s been on the bus since Thursday night, and this is apparently par for the course. I watch her luggage so she can find our driver, who’d told her that they were holding a bus for the people headed to Minneapolis.
  • It not only turns out this is true, he goes and finds the bus for us. Neither of us kiss him, but it’s a close thing.
    • (I should’ve gotten his name. Someone rain down accolades on this man’s head for caring about his passengers.)
  • Bus takes off for Chicago. I cry with relief on the phone with Mom. Laugh when she says Dad looked into car rentals. I must have been raised by these people.
  • By the time we hit the I-94, the sudden release of tension manifests as a headache. (That triggers a distinct memory: the first time this happened I was eleven, and had misspelled my way out of the city spelling bee.) Don’t even care, especially when the handsome young man sitting in the window seat next to me gets off in Milwaukee and the entire two-seat spread becomes mine.
    • (My own, my precious.)
  • I navigate through piles of unconscious people at the stop in Milwaukee. One guy has his legs spread into the middle aisle, obviously dead asleep as people knock his knees back and forth in passing, though my favorite sleeping position has to be the girl with the top of her head smashed into the seat in front of her, arms hung limp and heavy to the floor, her hair a curtain around her face. I work my way up front to talk to the driver about our chances of making the next connection.
  • Bus driver says that we’ll definitely make it in time for the 6:30 a.m. bus from Minneapolis to Sioux Falls. I believe him in the same way that I believe my stuffed animals are real, and simultaneously know that they aren’t.
  • I take off my shoes to curl up in the seat, never mind the “no shoes, no shirt, no service” sign back at the first station. This is my second act of deviance tonight – I have metal cutlery hidden in the bottom of my snack bag, despite the fact that we’re only allowed plastic. I have no idea what they think I’m going to do with a metal spoon that I couldn’t just do with a disposable one.
    • (As I side note, I do keep the shirt on.)
  • Belief in the promise of temporal salvation begins to falter forty-five minutes later, when we’re still sitting at the stop we should have left fifteen minutes ago. Especially when it turns out we’re stuck because our driver doesn’t know how to release the emergency break. In his defense, this is a new bus.
  • Against him is the fact that our driver doesn’t know how to release the emergency break on his bus.
    • (The prosecution rests.)
  • Break releases. By trial and error? By magic? We’ll never know. Check the driving directions on my phone between naps, comparing driving times on Google’s navigation app with our progress. Maybe we’ll make it anyways.
  • I’m not even sad when we don’t. I’m cried out and – by 6:40 a.m. with no city in sight – resigned to my fate. At 7:50 we’re in Minneapolis, long past departure for the bus to Sioux Falls.
  • Find a few more tears anyways when I’m on the phone with Dad, reading out the details on my ticket. They only run two buses out to Montana each day, and the next is at 9 p.m. tonight.
  • But lemons make lemonade, right? Because I will make it home in time for Christmas Eve services. As a courtesy they’re keeping my luggage locked up in the security office, so here I am, spending a day in the Minneapolis Public Library. My Saturdays often look like this anyways.
  • And I am not in Chicago.

* See UA 666

** “And don’t let them give you any shit about your pony tail.”

Requiem for a missed chance: The Weird Singing Draculas

Somehow I let Friday the 13th go by without comment. To rectify the gross oversight, here’s a short story, written in October of 1995 (that’s 22 years ago, for the folks who don’t like math):
‍‍‍‍‍‍ ‍‍
The Weird Singing Draculas
By Andrea Lynn Schultz
‍‍‍‍‍‍ ‍‍
Once upon a time, there were these three Draculas, who wanted to sing. Their names were Weirdo, Dodo, and Idiot. One day, they went to somebody’s house. The other monsters said they’d be back for them. At night the Draculas started singing the scariest thing they knew. It was “We will, we will, rock you, sock you, pick you up and drop you.” The person in the house got so scared he ran away. The Draculas laughed and laughed and laughed until they cried. One day the man came back. At night they started singing “We will, we will rock you, pick you up and drop you.” The man ran away again.
‍‍‍‍‍‍ ‍‍
It was finally Halloween night. Finally the guy came back. He had a plan to get the Draculas out of his house. He dressed up as Frankenstein and went into his downstairs bathroom and waited for them to start singing. When the Draculas started singing the man came out of hiding and started singing “I will eat you when I’m ready. I will give you one second to run away from me.” Right at that moment the man’s black cat came running downstairs and hit a fake witch on a broomstick. The fake witch hit a switch that turned on a big Halloween set! There was a goblin, a vampire, and another witch! The vampire’s head hit a bucket with a gooey monster, covered with slime and it fell out. That ruckus made the fake ghost and bat make noise. The pumpkin was lit so it had red glowing eyes. The Draculas remembered what the other monsters said when they left. They got so scared that they fainted. When they wake up, they ran so fast that all that you could see of them was a blur! The man was so glad, but the real monsters came and they ate him. The monsters take over the house. So that’s that.
‍‍‍‍‍‍ ‍‍
The End

There is no entry in Microsoft Word’s thesaurus for the word “snot”

They didn’t even try to offer me the word “booger.”

Highlights from the move:

  • Getting my sister-in-law to admit that she loves me too.
  • Stopping on the edge of Nowheresville, SD. My sister and brother-in-law’s dog greeted me like the prodigal son, but only because I’ve spent years ingratiating myself to her with daily walks along the railroad tracks. I also picked up a cold on the way out the door (likely from the four-year-old, who’s shirtsleeve was streaked with snot by the end of each day; my brother-in-law’s disgusted but ultimately resigned attempts to get him to use a Kleenex ended in failure), but it was well worth it for the long weekend at their house.
  • One of the joys in my relatively frugal life is cable while I travel. I’ve never paid for it myself and likely never will, so the first thing I do when I get to a hotel is turn on the TV. I stayed up until 12:40 in the morning, waiting for something good to come on. I gave up in the middle of a documentary on the murder of Laci Peterson, after looking up the ending on Wikipedia. (The husband did it.)
  • My stuff took up a grand total of seven linear feet in the moving truck, but you have no idea how much this is until you live in a second floor apartment. Thanks go to Dad and Mom on one end, and the volunteers I somehow conned into helping me on the other. The TV cabinet I inherited from my grandmother wasn’t nearly as heavy this time around, getting to watch someone else haul it up the stairs.
  • There are 8,000 stores to shop at, and possibly twice as many restaurants in Fort Wayne. I have already gotten the rundown on which Walmart is the crappy one and which one is the good one, and – having been to the megastore every day for four straight days – I can tell you they were right. Also, I stood in front of the TVs for half an hour on day number four, talking to my brother on my cell just because I missed the sound of his voice.
  • I love store-bought frosted sugar cookies, but I should probably eat something else for breakfast. Fortunately, my sister packed me two of the pasties we made on Saturday, and a quart Ziploc of homemade caramel popcorn.
  • Still not actually breakfast, now that I think about it.
  • Sitting on the glider in my living room while I type this, I’ve only just noticed that my DVD holder (a book stand) prominently displays the movies at the end of each shelf. One of those movies is “High School Musical 3,” another is “Transformers,” and I am officially shallow enough to tuck those back into their respective piles and replace them with two of the three dramas I own, just in case anyone stops by.
  • I’ve set my cat’s water and food dish on the porcelain window seat in my bedroom, and for some reason this confuses the snot out of her. After I dump the food in the bowl, Harper continues to follow me around instead of jumping up on the ledge to eat, meowing like I’m hoarding her kibble in some mysterious place I have yet to reveal to her. Once she figures out the new system I’m thinking of moving the dishes somewhere else, just to see how long it takes what I formerly thought was an intelligent kitty to adapt.
  • Walking back from the Redbox at Walgreens, I noticed an office building that houses “Your POS Stuff.” I am almost certain this doesn’t stand for what I kind of hope it stands for.
  • A lot more than the above has happened, but that’ll do, pig. The rest of this week’s update will go largely unseen – unless you look for it. I’ve rewritten my “About Author” page on every site I exist on, updating it to reflect my new job and state.
  • And finally:
  • The Cat, lording it over her one subject. She insisted on the apartment with the loft and spiral staircase, undoubtedly for this reason.

A little bit of this, a little bit of that

I wasn’t sure how to categorize this post (besides under the label “late”) because I have a lot of little bit of nothing to say about everything. I’m also simultaneously watching/listening to Fatboy Slim’s “Weapon of Choice” (the one with Christopher Walken sitting/dancing with his hands in his pockets/flying) because I thought the chorus went “Little bit of this, little bit of that, little bit of this, little bit of that.” Apparently, it is actually:

You can go with this
Or you can go with that
You can go with this
Or you can go with that
You can go with this
Or you can go with that
Or you can throw with us*

Who knew?

So let’s do this in order:

  1. I know, I know: Monday updates. Even better, the only person to bug me about the missing post wasn’t either of my two (related) watchers, but a third unrelated watcher. Good heavens, I’m moving up in the world.
  2. My excuse: I was packing. Whether or not the delay was also motivated by a distinct lack of motivation is up for debate.**
  3. The second proof for “The Bump Under the Bed” showed up on my font porch this morning. We are almost up and running, folks! I’ll have an advertisement video out later this week, though possibly only on Facebook depending on the amount of media file storage space I have left on this website. While you can certainly run out and buy a copy through Createspace — the company that actually prints the physical copies of the book — right this second, the approval process for Amazon will take another 3 – 5 business days.
  4. And finally, Part 2 of “December/Christmas 1995,” in as short of hand as I can manage:

My conscience ate at me. Every night after bedtime prayers I’d lay awake while the sin of both writing the note and letting Sean take the blame for it grew to nightmarish proportions, assuring myself over and over again that by the time I was in fourth grade the guilt would have faded. I couldn’t bear the thought of anyone knowing I had done such an evil thing. If I could last out the guilt, surely it would stop bothering me. No one would ever have to know.

Months of this went by before I broke down. I could forget about it during the day, but every night it was there with me, filling the silence of nighttime with the awful weight of I know what I’ve done even if no one else does. I made no plans, just got out of bed one night, crept quietly up behind Mom and Dad (either sitting in the living room or watching television downstairs) and confessed all. I couldn’t live with it anymore.

I wasn’t there when they told Mrs. Anderson what I had done. Afterwards, when I asked how she responded, they simply said, “She was surprised it was you.”

And that was it. She chose not to tell either Ostrich Boy or my scapegoat, undoubtedly because it had been, you know, months since it happened. The enormous burden was not only gone, it had been long forgotten by everyone involved. The only real consequence came at the end of that month, during prize time. Mrs. Anderson had a number of prize boxes for her third graders; the more stickers you earned on your chart by the end of the month, the better quality prize you got to choose. She drew our names at random to determine who would go first, and that month my name was pulled from the box last. I’ll never know for certain whether that was purposeful, though it seems a good guess. At the very least, it was a relief to receive some sort of punishment. It felt wrong to choose a prize from the grade-A quality pile anyways, but I did so, though I couldn’t look at her when I walked past. I hid the small toy at the bottom of my backpack, ashamed for her to see me play with it.

As for me, for the next couple of years I became a confession junkie. Between Luther’s Evening Prayer and the Choosing of The Stuffed Animal (I was afraid of showing favoritism towards my stuffed animals — and thereby inadvertently making them feel bad — so I asked Mom or Dad to pick the one who got to sleep with me at night, sidestepping the emotionally scarring experience by using the arbitrary hand of a higher authority), I’d run through every sinful act I could remember from that day, unburdening my soul. I’d learned how good the sweet relief felt.

Years later I found out that, before starting the reformation, Martin Luther did much the same to his own confessor, Johann von Staupitz. He’d confess for hours, running through every sin he could think of, afraid of missing any his own mind had tried to hide from himself. From the 2003 movie “Luther:”

JOHANN VON STAUPITZ: You know, in two years I’ve never heard you confess anything remotely interesting.

Poor Mom and Dad. No wonder I’m a Lutheran.

*Or alternately “You can blow wit’ this/Or you can blow wit’ that” depending on which lyric site you’re perusing.

**It was.

December/Christmas 1995

Ostrich Boy sat two seats over.

I was aware of this because I hated him, with every bit of little goody two shoes that I was. We were making Christmas ornaments and I was busy spooling yarn around a cardboard square, making a sheep for the family Christmas tree. I acted like you’d expect (I lived in mortal fear of disappointing the adult figures in my life, and cried whenever I earned less than an A on any of my assignments), but I had a streak of stubborn independence; it seems appropriate that I chose to make a black sheep on this particular day, rather than a white one. My hands were sticky with glue from my tissue paper wreath, yarn fuzzies coating the pads of my fingers, but my mind was five feet back and to the left, where Ostrich Boy sat coloring (very badly, I thought) the back of his own wreath. That wasn’t even the assignment.  I watched him from the corners of my eyes, scribbling hard with a colored pencil.

I thought of him as Ostrich Boy because he’d used the description himself. Born at two and a half pounds with something wrong with him (I remembered the two and half pounds but not the something wrong, because he’d brought in a licorice bag for show and tell that weighed as much as he did when he was born, so he said), he wore leg braces and said that he ran like an ostrich, which was true. He had gumption, but also one of the most manipulatively sniveling personalities I’d ever met. He was not the good little boy that I thought disability kids were supposed to be. He laughed at the expense of others, joked to be cruel, and I’d once heard him actually curse. Yes, curse. To my eight-year-old ears, this was the pinnacle of bad kid behavior.

But the worst part – worse than any swear word, worse than the grin, than the leg bracings that gave him a free-pass to the former – was how he used tears to his advantage.  As the youngest in my family I implicitly understood that crying for effect was a deeply unfair strategy. That was dirty pool. You only cried if you meant it.

Earlier that week he’d called Jessie four eyes. Jess was popular because she actually deserved it, wore glasses and a kind smile, and the insult had been pathetic. Four eyes was the cop-out insult. But then his insults always worked like that: innocuous on one level, mean-spirited anyways. He had grinned, the boys at his back had laughed (idiots), and Megan had jumped to her defense. She was a four eyes too and Jessie’s best friend, so it was her fight for the taking.

“You’re stupid.”

As retorts went, this was bad. Still, we were all good girls and in the middle of the hall, so no one dared to actually say “a butthead” where a teacher might hear it. I backed her up with a mean laugh (it was supposed to sound mean, to let her know she had done good), and Megan cocked her hip and smiled.

His eyes welled immediately. Unbelievable, except that it worked.

Megan dropped her hip and quite suddenly I was in a hall full of doves, all cooing their condolences.  Tim (big, athletic, and sometimes a jerk; I nearly wore him down while playing tag once – with two older siblings my endurance was something to behold – but he called time-out a couple of inches before I tagged him and used it as a breather before simultaneously shouting “Time in!” and sprinting away; another height of criminality in the third grade) pushed off the wall to see what was wrong.

I saw it in their faces. Here was this poor kid, two and half pounds at birth, runs like an ostrich, and suddenly we were all remembering that his life was unfair. With his eyes pricking red, it became an easy thing to forget that he called Jessie four eyes, squinted when he smiled (like a rat planning something), and laughed when other kids tripped.

When the consolation session had finished, when he turned back into his usual, wretched self, he swiveled on a braced leg, caught Tim’s eye, and I know – I know – I heard it, said, “They are so damn stupid.”

(Though “I know” is, admittedly, something of an exaggeration. He was quiet enough that I’m not entirely certain how the insult went. But I know I heard “damn,” even if I didn’t know exactly who are what he was condemning to eternal punishment in hell.)

“Did you hear that?” I demanded. There was a general outcry when I leaned in to Megan and explained in a hushed whisper (he said “darn” only the bad way, I swear I heard him), but the scandal settled way too quickly for my taste. I wasn’t hurt on behalf of the popular girls (I was friendly with them but not friends; I didn’t know how you got into that group and it wasn’t really worth it if you weren’t in automatically ), but I couldn’t stand injustice. It roiled up hard anger right at my forehead, deep behind my skull where most of my headaches start, because he manipulated everyone and I was the only one who saw it.

So I was sitting there, the day melted mostly away and the end of school ticking closer, watching his hand scribble, scribble, scribble, when brilliance struck me so suddenly it actually made my eyes twinkle.  Not that I had a mirror to see, but if smart aleck cleverness can show up on someone’s face, it had to have just showed up on mine.

The best part about being one of the good kids is that no one ever sees you coming. The third out of three golden children my parents had had the good fortune (or perhaps fortitude) to raise, I had come to realize that being good meant you got away with more. I rarely got in trouble; usually because I didn’t ask for it, but sometimes just because being smart was about being clever. I pulled out a piece of paper, hid it between my desk and my lap, and wrote the word “crybaby” with my left hand, disguising my handwriting. I could smell the glue from my fingers, several inches from my face as I kept my body scrunched as far into itself as possible.

“Oh!” Kelly said, leaning with remarkable and unexpected speed over my work. Her hair swept sharply forward, accusing me. “That looks really cute!”

I startled very quietly (a trick I’d learned growing up with a brother who liked jumping out at me from dark corners), and all the pencil did was punch a hole into the paper.  She didn’t see, which was good.  Friend or not I remained smart about this. I knew, even then, that the only way to keep a secret was to make sure I was the only one keeping it.

For a moment I couldn’t think of what to say.

“Thanks,” I finally remembered.

Fortunately, Kelly returned to her work, which involved pulling bits of red tissue paper off her fingers. She plucked at the green when she was finished, and I was safe to wait for opportunity to knock.

“Would you please pass me the—”

I pushed the glue over without looking, because I couldn’t bear to let anyone stop me. Sometimes sinning is as simple as keeping up your momentum.

Ostrich Boy stopped scribbling suddenly, and I became keenly aware of my own heartbeat. Not the beat itself, but the way it made breathing difficult. He looked at the result of his mess of an art project, and when he took himself and his purple pencil with an ostrich, ostrich, ostrich walk to the pencil sharpener, the time to make my move was officially nigh.

I followed him to the back, alibi in my hand (my own pencil, in case anyone asked what I was doing), and I made sure with a subtle side glance that no one was looking. Mrs. Anderson – wonderful, with blonde hair, a smile that crinkled her face with amusement, and a way of answering any question you could think of to ask – was nowhere to be seen. In truth I was watching for her, because the deepest shame I could imagine involved her finding some reason to be disappointed in me. Justified though I knew my cause to be, it would kill me to get caught.

I was very smooth. The note went into his desk as I passed, slightly crushed, but that fit the handwriting on the lined paper. I couldn’t look at him when we crossed, but I smiled at no one, pleased with myself. The sharpener made a scrumming noise that vibrated through my hand, and I went back to my seat. Nonchalant. Casual.

Ostrich Boy found it way too fast.

I sat down with all my organs in the wrong place. I actually had to pass him as he discovered what I had done. I hadn’t counted on that. I expected him to find it later, when I wasn’t around to smile or start or give myself away, but I still couldn’t stop the tugging of my mouth. Success (yes!), but I was still feeling my heart press my lungs to the front base of my throat.

“Hey,” he said suddenly, throwing up the note to Cody, who sat behind him. “Who wrote this?”

Eject, eject, eject, and my breath was crawling backwards into my esophagus. He was not supposed to show it to anyone. He was supposed to take the note to heart, feel bad, and then move on with his life. This was not how it was supposed to happen.

Cody took it, then passed on note and the question.  “Who wrote this?”

Tim took it. They were all gathering around his desk now, and my heart beat a hard ba-THUMP into my ribs, pounding as the boys passed my seat to get to his.

But my ploy had worked.

“It was Sean,” one of them decided.

Sean was actually meaner than Ostrich Boy, with the disadvantage that he had neither the guts to swear in school or the leg braces to make everyone his friend. He was also well-known as the worst kid in class. With the worst handwriting.

Shane let go a “hmph” of breath through his teeth, and agreed. “It’s Sean.”

Tim (and at this moment I couldn’t stand Tim), said: “It has to be.” Size meant authority and this, as much as the crappy handwriting, made it true.

Mrs. Anderson called them both to her desk, Sean claiming innocence the whole way, but no one believes the boy who cried wolf. I was clever; I was safe. They never saw me coming. Never even dreamed it might’ve been me.

And I felt the guilt start to coil deep and snake-like into my stomach.