Confessions of a Soup Collector

nablo13daytwentysevenThe first step in recovery, as every little schoolboy knows, is admitting that you have a problem. What I’m about to say may come as no surprise to those who know and love me: I AM A SOUP COLLECTOR! (Really, I’m a bit of an everything collector, but we’ll just concentrate on one thing at a time for now, okay?)

As I sit here, awaiting the mattress delivery people (who have conscientiously called three times to tell me they are “on their way”!), it occurs to me that even with all of the purging that has gone on here at the hovel over the last (almost) year since I embarked upon this decluttering/redecorating/madness-inducing exercise in what often seems like a never-ending cycle of moving things from one place to another before they wind up, ultimately and finally, out on the curb, that I still have entirely too much crap.

My husband, the much put-upon, Fang would agree. He calls me “ridiculous”. I often find myself in the position of defending my hoarding tendencies, but, I fear, that he may be right about me. I’m not wild for being called “ridiculous”, but I’m sure that I’ve been called worse.

All the time, money, and energy that has been expended in the “hovel purge” and I’m still surrounded by more junk than I can shake a stick at. And, I haven’t even fully hit the closets yet. Sure, I’ve done a little reorganizing in those areas, but a little is not nearly enough. Not by a longshot.

I’ve decided that I want to be one of those people who has one black sweater, five paper clips, and a pencil. I no longer want to be the person who hoards toilet paper. Although, truth be told, Fang is the toilet paper stocker-upper up around this joint.

How I’m going to become this person? Well, that’s going to be harder than I thought. Breaking Fang of his “twelve rolls of toilet tissue at a time” buying habit will be relatively easy in comparison to me trying to shed my own compulsive behavior. I think, though, that I need to start with soup. (Hopefully other canned goods will follow.)

That’s right, I said I’m going to start with soup. I’m what you might call a “soup collector”. In the interests of full disclosure, I will own up to currently having somewhere in the neighborhood of two dozen cans of soup stockpiled in the cupboard. In other words, I’m ready for the zombie apocalypse or, barring that, a blizzard of epic proportions.

We do, those of us who live here in the northeastern United States, have to be prepared for such things as blizzards, hurricanes, ice storms, and the odd tractor-trailer accident that takes out the electrical transformer — leaving us powerless, stranded, and hungry. Provided I can find the can opener in the dark, at least we’ll have COLD soup, which, I suppose, is better than no soup at all. At least that’s what I tell myself when I can’t resist the allure of the 2/$4 monthly special our grocery store entices me with on the large cans of Progresso (Chickarina’s my favorite!).

Don’t even get me started on their fiendish plot to make me buy six tubs of peanut butter at a time. But, at 2/$3 (limit 3 offers!) who can resist? Not me, I’ll tell you that. We go through buckets of peanut butter in this house. Buckets!

That I have no place to keep all of these things? That doesn’t even cross my mind when I find myself in a buying frenzy. Not ever. I do the same thing with items unrelated to food, too. If I like a sweater and it’s a bargain, I’ll buy one in another color. (Okay, okay, sometimes even two more, but that’s where I draw the line!) Tell me you wouldn’t buy THREE cashmere sweaters if they were on clearance for $20 each. Tell me you wouldn’t and I’ll call you a LIAR. (Liar! Liar! Pants on fire!)

I have to stop, though. I know I do. The full extent of my mania hit me today when I went to make myself some soup. I had a bit of a “light bulb moment” when I discovered that I have three cans of “Sirloin and Roasted Potato” soup. I cannot even imagine what would have possessed me to buy such a thing. I cannot even fathom eating a variety of soup with either sirloin or roasted potatoes in it, let alone ones in which they are the main ingredients. Unless someone is sneaking into my kitchen and placing canned goods into my cabinets, I must have purchased it. Also, no one else here buys anything food-related outside of the odd bag of chips or a package of cookies. (And they NEVER buy the cookies that I like, either!)

Odds are that I bought the stupid soup. I was the culprit. And now, as a result of this foolish behavior, I am in a position to examine not only my buying habits, but my husband’s assessment of me. Sure, I’d like to stumble across a forgotten or mindless purchase of, say, a pink cashmere turtleneck. Who wouldn’t? But “Sirloin and Roasted Potato” soup? Even I have to (grudgingly) admit to that being “ridiculous”!

I am going to take a deep, big girl breath, discard the “Sirloin and Roasted potato” madness, force my family to eat the other varieties of the soup that makes up my “collection”, and resolve NOT to let my cabinets burst at the seams ever again with the results of my bargain shopping.

Eating soup every night for a week won’t be so bad. Ridding the cupboards of the other canned goods will take some creativity, though. I’ll let you know how that meal of Beefaroni, red cabbage, and wax beans goes over.

Closet Cleaning

nablo13daynineHere’s some information that I feel is worthy of passing on: Every decade, or so, you need to apply a critical eye to your closet. You just do. Otherwise, you’ll end up like me, which, in this case, is not a good thing to aspire to. (I say this in the event that there are hordes of you right now, at this very moment, aspiring to such a thing. Hey, it could be happening. What do I know?)

Well, let’s just say, for starters, that while I don’t really know a lot about anything, I know a little about a lot of things. The one thing that I know next to nothing about, though, has to be closet cleaning. I am a complete and utter failure at closet cleaning. Frankly, judging from the recent inventory I’ve been taking of this storage area, I’m not a very good closet filler, either. While engaged in an effort to become better at the former, I’ve made some disturbing discoveries regarding the latter.

For a heterosexual woman, I own an inordinate number of down vests. And flannel shirts. And Doc Martens. I could go on, but I’ll stop there, as even I am beginning to wonder if I am, in fact, a heterosexual woman. I will not even tell you how many pairs of men’s Levi’s or how many white V-neck t-shirts are tucked away in my bureau — let’s just say that it’s a fairly large number and leave it at that! (A note on the men’s Levi’s — just so you don’t judge me too harshly — I have NO curves on the bottom of my body, my waist and my hips have the same EXACT measurements. Always have. It’s just the way I’m built. Men’s jeans fit me better!)

Power tools do NOT belong in the bottom of the closet. (That’s what shelves are for!) The bottom of the closet should be reserved for things that go on the bottom of one’s body. Like shoes. In my case, I would need a closet the size of Rhode Island to house all of my shoes — my flip-flop collection alone could inhabit the square footage of Providence. So, that’s not really going to work for me, is it? I’ll have to come up with something, though. The shoe thing is a little out of hand.

On a positive note, I did find a stash of foundation garments — some of which still have enough elastic in them to do an adequate job of keeping the girls up and the stomach in. Like any good secret, they were buried in the deepest recesses of the closet. I bought most of them when I was 30 lbs. heavier, so there’s every chance that they are no longer up to the job, but I may just hang on to them anyway. You know, as a reminder of who I used to be.

I suspect that I won’t be alone when I reveal that the undergarments were not the only oversized/ill-fitting articles of clothing that I stumbled upon while attempting to gain enough room on the rack to hang up my coat. It’s psychological, I suppose, the act of holding on to clothes that are too big for us anymore. Part of it, I think, is the fear that we will need them again. (I hope I don’t, but you never know, do you?)

Ultimately, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with keeping ONE pair of the largest size pants I’ve ever worn — particularly if their only purpose is to serve as a reminder to “STEP AWAY FROM THE DOUGHNUTS!”. What I probably don’t need, however, are 18 pairs of pants that run the gamut from the size I currently wear through all of sizes that I’ve EVER worn. Really, what I should do is frame the giant pants and hang them near the refrigerator. Talk about your cautionary tales!

Unlike the pants that are taking up prime real estate space in my overcrowded closet, pants that I am resolved to dump in the charity bin, there is one outfit that I cannot seem to dispense with. I don’t wear it anymore. It’s likely I’ll never wear it again — in whole or in part. The skirt is too big for me now and the jacket is outdated — truthfully, it was probably outdated when I wore it last. Even if it did fit, even if it was fashionable, I probably wouldn’t wear it. Nor can I bring myself to get rid of it.

The last time I had occasion to wear it was at my mother-in-law’s funeral. Every time I see it — it still hangs together — I am reminded of her. For some strange reason, the outfit doesn’t evoke bad memories — memories of her accident, her illness, or even of her death. Instead, it reminds me of HER — the good HER, the alive HER, the person that she was before fate dealt her a bitter blow.

I like stumbling across it now and then. I think I’m going to keep it. Once I get rid of all those pants, surely there will be room for one outfit that serves a better purpose than just covering up my body. Certainly I can reserve a space for something that, odd as it may sound, conjures happy memories. A little rod space in my closet seems a small enough price to pay for that. I’ll just throw my coat on the chair — it’s usually what I do, anyway.

photo credit: closet

related posts: The Hovel Purge Posts

The Tangled Webs I Like To Weave

spiderwebI have filled many a blog post telling you about how frustrating my work can be. What I don’t speak enough about is how much of a hoot it can be — about how opportunities for shenanigans and tomfoolery abound. More importantly, I don’t write enough about how I take advantage of such opportunities. Today, though, all that changes!

I don’t spend much time on the telephone when I’m at work. Because I’m a bartender and a server, being on the telephone, thankfully, does not feature prominently in my line of work. It’s one of the things I absolutely LOVE about my job. I almost NEVER answer the blasted thing — the ringing telephone is someone else’s responsibility.

That “someone else” is usually a member of the host staff. By and large, the host staff in any restaurant is comprised of the young and the inexperienced. It’s the place that most future servers and bartenders begin their restaurant careers. Think of it as the chorus line if you like.

As a result of their youth and their inexperience with the ways of the world in general and the restaurant industry in particular, they are sometimes confused, stymied, or even overwhelmed by a caller’s request. That’s when they call in the big guns — I am one of the “big guns”.

The other day I was tasked with fielding, as I often am, a phone call of a somewhat sensitive nature. As it turns out some of my co-workers aren’t all that responsible when it comes to paying their bills — on time or EVER — as a result, their credit card companies, car financing agencies, or, in some cases, their bookies (hey, it’s Jersey!) attempt to track them down at work — via telephone.

Anyone who has ever had any experience with bill collectors (or bookies) can confirm that they are relentless. They call every day, sometimes three, four, or five times a day to make contact with their clients — people who, for the most part, are doing their level best to avoid speaking to said bill collectors. I’m not defending the miscreants with whom I work, I wish they would just make some type of arrangement to pay what they owe, but I have no control over that. I also have little to no patience with the constant phone calls.

Mostly, the debt collectors call for our cooks. These gentlemen like to instruct the hosts to tell the callers that they are not in. I suppose that worked for a while, but now the collection agencies are on to them. The jig, so to speak, is up. And so they call. And they call. And they call some more. They harry and harass an already overworked host staff. And, for the record, they are NOT nice.

Neither am I — which is why dealing with them has fallen largely upon my shoulders.

I’ve been using these opportunities to work on various accents. I’m happy to report that my Pakistani is coming along nicely — it’s kind of a high-pitched mix of upper class British and sing-song. Basically, it’s delightful and lilting. My adventures in mimicry put me in mind of some of my more creative childhood adventures.

My sister and I, when we were old enough, used to ride the bus into Bloomfield Center, which had a better record store than could be found in our fair city. To combat the boredom of the bus ride, we took to speaking to each other in various accents — mostly Irish, Scottish, or British. Inevitably, people on the bus, no doubt to combat their own bus boredom, would ask us where we were from and why we were here. We would, often on the fly, create some crazy back story to satisfy their inquiring minds. (We were “on holiday” from outside of London! We were in from Belfast for the funeral of a much beloved uncle! We were Scottish exchange students!) Whether or not, by the end of the conversation, anyone believed our tales, I couldn’t tell you. We, however, took great pleasure in weaving them!

Call it lying. Call it role-playing. Call it what you will. I call it fun — with a capital “F”! I absolutely love pretending to be someone I’m not — and it’s a whole lot easier over the telephone than it ever was on the bus. In person you are limited by how you look — no one would ever believe me to be Pakistani — that’s why my sister and I had to stick to the British Isles — we were handcuffed by our appearance — well, that and the fact that we just couldn’t pull off Dutch or German with anything nearing the confidence we felt using the brogue or the burr.

Given the circumstances and the nature of these phone calls, I have discovered that not only can I use whichever accent I am in the mood for, but that I can also lie at will. I can say anything that I want to say — and no one can do anything about it. I have, in fact, told any number of these collection agents that the person they are looking for has been deported, is missing, is currently incarcerated for reasons I am not at liberty to disclose (this requires me to speak in a VERY hushed tone — like it’s our little secret), and, finally, that they are dead (again, tone matters here).

The other day, after spinning one of my more creative tales, the guy on the other end of the phone told me that it was a felony for me to lie to him about the whereabouts of whichever miscreant he was in search of — at which point I damn near reverted to my “Jersey girl” accent and demeanor, which, as everyone knows, is peppered with expressions like, “Go f*@k yourself!” Instead, I maintained the brogue and expressed to him, as any nice Irish woman would, that he could just go ahead and grab his cuffs — that I would be outside awaiting his arrival. I told him that I could really use a rest. I explained that “three hots and a cot” sounded like a splendid idea. Splendid, indeed.

What can I say? Sometimes I like to get up to a little no good. It’s good for the soul.

photo credit: spiderweb (

Things that are worth holding on to

86 mets photI could fill a very large file cabinet with things that would fall into the category of “seemed like a good idea at the time”. Let’s make that a virtual file cabinet, though, shall we? I’ve spent the last month hauling garbage bags and ugly furniture down the stairs. The last thing I need to be tripping over is a file cabinet filled with bad decisions. Decisions that, by the way, span years and run the gamut from cutting my own hair to driving drunk, from piercing my own ears to buying a white couch, from being unkind to running with the wrong crowd.

For the most part I’m happy with the decisions I’ve made regarding the more important things in my life like, for example, who I married. And that’s a big one. Don’t overestimate the importance of that one, folks. Sure, he gets on my last nerve sometimes, but he comes in handy for things like hooking up HDTV’s. Also, he’s game for tearing up outdated pleather couches armed only with a hammer and a steak knife. He doesn’t bang on about fancy meals, either. That’s a plus. As long as I keep coffee and peanut butter in the house he’s a relatively happy camper.

Insofar as we choose our mates based on qualities that we deemed were important at, in my case, 19 years old (HA!), it’s no wonder the divorce rate is so high. Either I was very smart at 19 (again, HA!) or, more likely, very lucky indeed. What first drew me to him was that he had a car and a job, which, in hindsight, seem like relatively frivolous things. What I came to realize, mostly while riding in that car, was that he laughed a lot and he did so easily, which made being around him enjoyable. He still does, it still is.

The hovel purge has been hard on him. I’ve been hard on him. Let’s just say that there hasn’t been a lot of laughing. This weekend, however, it seems that he (and we) rounded a corner. He actually stopped fighting me and began to embrace the changes that I’ve been trying very hard to make happen here. He even got into the spirit and threw out a couple bags of his own junk; junk that has been clogging up my bedroom for years. I saw him wrestling with whether or not to keep the ’86 Mets World Series official photo. He was on the verge of tossing it when I stopped him. Though I cannot imagine where a framed 8 x 10 photograph of a bunch of guys in orange and blue will fit into my décor, I didn’t have the heart to make him get rid of it.

It seems that some things, even things that are old and outdated, are worth holding on to.

My Celebrity Crush

bozotheclownIf you believe my mother, and I don’t know why you would — she’s a notorious revisionist historian — my first “celebrity crush” was on Bozo the Clown. I was, to hear her tell it, quite obsessed with his shenanigans. Hmmmm —- Perhaps in writing this I’ve managed to unlock what in years of therapy and self-examination I could never quite put my finger on. Could my exposure to Bozo, at the tender age of three, be the root of my shoe addiction or my affinity for brightly colored sweaters? Maybe. It just goes to show you that, given my mother’s complicity in the matter — I couldn’t have turned the television on myself! — the genesis of my mental problems are, in fact, my mother’s fault.

As I matured and, I would imagine, grew tired of Bozo’s clowning around, I had a brief fling with Bob McAllister of Wonderama fame. Oh, yes. He could certainly whip a group of grade-schoolers into a frenzy! While he enthusiastically mastered the ceremonies of a very silly kiddie program, Bob was really the anti-Bozo. He wore sedate plaid sport coats and sensible shoes. This attire was most probably obtained from the very same places my father shopped, places like Ed Hall or Thom McAn. That Bob bore a resemblance to the father’s of his audience members was, I’m sure, a calculated decision made by the Wonderama producers.

While Bob may have looked like everyone’s father, I daresay he didn’t behave as such. bobmcallisterwonderamaHe adopted personas, such as “Bert Beautiful” and “Chuck Roast”, distributed cans filled with spring-loaded snakes to audience members (one lucky can would hold fake flowers!), led games which featured things like stacking coffee cups and picking up bagels with a dowel, and encouraged exercise (if memory serves, Bob was fond of the jumping jack). He was spirited and energetic. Oh, and he really seemed to like kids. (In a good way. Not in a creepy Uncle kind of way!) For three hours every Sunday morning (we were Saturday night mass Catholics, thank God!) I got to indulge my crush on one Mr. McAllister.

It was my dream, of course, to be an audience member. To go home with a bagel necklace that spelled out my name (MY NAME IN BAGELS — hello! I would have been THE COOLEST kid in the neighborhood if I’d had one of those!) The show was filmed in New York City, so it was certainly not out of the realm of possibility that I could have been taken there to participate in a live performance AND given the aforementioned bagel necklace, but I never was. My father, unlike Bob, just didn’t have a taste for this type of adventure nor did he have the time or the wherewithal for Bob McAllister’s brand of tomfoolery. His daughter owning a bagel necklace AND, thereby, becoming THE COOLEST kid in the neighborhood, wasn’t, I guess, at the top of his list of “things that are important in life”. (My father often referred to this list when I was denied something on my “things that are fun in life” list.)

donnyosmondwithhatJust as “Little Jackie Paper” would eventually abandon “Puff the Magic Dragon”, I abandoned Wonderama. Bob, as it turns out, was no match for one Donald Clark Osmond. Sure, Bob was cute in a “Daddy” sort of way, but Donny Osmond was cute in a more age-appropriate way. Bob sang a bit, he would launch into the occasional ditty about good news and exercise, but these songs couldn’t hold a candle to classics like “Puppy Love” or “Go Away, Little Girl” (I was certain Donny would sing this one to me, as ours would be a May-December romance). I was crazy for Donny. Crazy. I even wore purple socks under my navy blue cable uniform socks, an act which earned me many, many demerits and countless minutes in the chair outside of Sister Maria Michael’s office. (Where I was sent by the insufferable Sister Agnes Ann, who had taken to doing a heretofore unheard of “sock check” when she got wind that I might just be “out of uniform”.) Sister Maria Michael was a good egg, though. My minor sock infractions usually resulted in a simple stern warning “not to wear them again” (a rule that I broke over and over again, which resulted in the aforementioned demerits). Occasionally, but not always, she would actually make me hand them over to her (she always gave them back, though!). In retrospect, I guess she really had no place to store smelly contraband socks in her neat little office. These exchanges, between Sister Maria Michael and myself, always included the dispensation of a few of the ever-present cherry Lifesavers that the good sister carried, along with her beautiful mother-of-pearl rosary beads, in the right pocket of her sensible skirt. I always felt a kinship with Sister Maria Michael. She was always kind to me. I got the impression that she, too, had a rebellious nature. Unlike my nemesis, Sister Agnes Ann, who had, it seemed, made it her life’s work to break my spirit, Sister Maria Michael just wanted me to dial it back a notch or three.

My affection for Donny Osmond lasted a good, long time. Longer than it should have, really. While other kids had moved on, discovered the allure of, say, the Mick Jaggers or the David Bowies of the world, I was still pining away for Donny. But that all changed the day I heard “Love Needs a Heart” by Jackson Browne. The minute I heard the line, “Baby, the hardest thing I’ve ever done/Was to walk away from you.”, Donny was done for. I fell, and fell hard, for Jackson. I took my babysitting money and bought “For Everyman” and every other Jackson Browne album the store had in stock. I was pleasantly surprised to discover (the music store carried posters!) that my newfound love was also, in my estimation, a beautiful creature. (The long nose! The chiseled cheekbones! The full lips! The silky black hair!). When I returned home and while shelving my newfound treasures, I discovered that my father actually owned the first album. Frankly, I felt a little betrayed by this. My father was always trying to shove Cat Stevens, Linda Ronstadt, and The Rolling Stones down my throat — in a fruitless effort to cajole me out of my Donny phase. Why had he held out on Jackson? Unforgivable.

My father had an extensive and pretty impressive record collection. It also bears mentioning jacksonbrowneincarthat when I was 13, my father was only 33. It came to pass that we shared, as I grew older, similar musical taste. While my mother was stuck on Sinatra, Aznavour, and The Four Seasons, my father’s tastes had evolved to include a dizzying array of genres. It was from my father that I received my first album, at the ripe old age of six, which he won for me (or so he claimed, I suspect he really won it for himself) on the boardwalk in Seaside Heights, New Jersey. The album? Tapestry by Carole King. Why? Because I loved “I Can Feel the Earth Move”. I wanted to play only that song, over and over and over again, as six-year-olds are wont to do, but my father had other ideas. He forced me to listen to the album in its entirety. He explained to me who Carole King was and what she had managed to accomplish in her musical career. Remember my father’s “things that are important in life” list? Music made that list.

Jackson wasn’t my first, my last, or my only crush, but, with the exception of my father, he’s the man that’s been in my life the longest. My relationship with Jackson predates my relationship with my husband. I’ve had my dalliances over the years. I won’t lie. There were brief interludes when I flirted with the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Eddie Vedder, Adam Levine, and Dave Grohl, to name a few, but I have always returned, often with renewed enthusiasm, to my main man.

There have been some disappointments along the way, but that’s to be expected. All long-term relationships have their ups and downs. I’m not the only one who doesn’t like “Lawyers in Love”. I would argue, though, that any album that gave the world “Tender is the Night” is worth a listen.

Having a crush on a singer/songwriter had hidden benefits. How many people can say that their “crush” showed up on their wedding day? Not in person, of course. That would have been downright weird and, quite frankly, Jackson would not have been warmly welcomed by the groom. Who could blame him? I wouldn’t want to be overshadowed on my wedding day by someone Time magazine described as “The Poet Laureate of Rock and Roll”? Would you?

daddystunelyricsMost women wouldn’t choose “Daddy’s Tune” (from “The Pretender”, 1976) as their father-daughter dance, but I’m not like most women. Nor is my father like most fathers. Ours is a unique relationship. In many ways my father and I grew up together. He was young. I was precocious. We were close, but like most parent-child relationships, it wasn’t always smooth sailing. My adolescence, difficult as it was for me, was, I daresay, harder on my father.

We share similar personalities, my father and I, which didn’t always serve us well. We are both headstrong. I learned from him to temper this quality with compassion. In other words, forge ahead, but do so with as much tact as you can muster. I often applied this lesson very successfully — with other people; not so successfully with the man from whom I learned it. As a result we had our fair share of knock-down, drag-outs.

Given the nature of our relationship, “Daddy’s Tune” was an appropriate choice for us. For those of you unfamiliar with the song, it is, essentially, an apology from a child to a parent. As such, it was, in a word, perfect for us. Choosing this song, rather than something more traditional, like “Daddy’s Little Girl” or “Sunrise, Sunset”, was my way of offering to my father the proverbial olive branch; agreeing to my unorthodox song selection was how he accepted it. Jackson said better and far more eloquently what needed to be said. It was in that very moment that the adult relationship that my father and I now share began. Jackson was there to usher it in.

And so it was that the three most important men in my life came to figure prominently in one of my happiest and most lasting memories. I think it’s fitting to wish a very Happy Valentine’s Day to my father for providing the framework in which forgiveness can occur, to my husband for his almost limitless capacity for accepting, understanding, and loving an often difficult woman, and to Jackson Browne for providing the music and lyrics in what has been the soundtrack of my life.

Photo Credits
Bozo the Clown
Bob McAllister
Donny Osmond
Jackson Browne
“Daddy’s Tune” sheet music

This piece was written for the GenFab blog hop… see these other stories!

What passes for normal on an ordinary Saturday

ektorploveseatandchaiseI’ve been in a bit of a “I hate everyone and everything” funk of late. This mindset, combined with my new addiction — Candy Crush Saga (damn you Level 91!!!!) — has kept me away from reading (my apologies) and posting for a bit. Also, I’ve been purging the hovel. To be honest I haven’t done much in the way of any actual purging, but I’ve been strategically planning for the purge. (Every good general knows that you don’t go into battle without a plan — and make no mistake about it, ridding myself of twenty years’ worth of junk is akin to a battle!)

Fang and I finally decided on a couch, which is somewhat of a minor miracle given the fact that the last time we bought a couch it took two years for us to come to something resembling an agreement (we didn’t really — he broke me down and I got stuck with the ugly ass thing that currently resides in my living room). Once again I have compromised, but at least this time I’m happier with the compromise. (No leather. No microfiber.) It’s not the gorgeous velvet settee that I had my eye on. Alas, I had to grudgingly admit that while the settee is both beautiful and charming, it’s doesn’t meet our needs.

What does meet our needs? The Ikea Ektorp loveseat with attached chaise. (Pictured above.) In white. That’s right. I’ve decided to become the sort of person who throws caution to the wind (and slipcovers in the wash on a fairly regular basis) and purchase a white couch. It’s the right size. It’s the right price ($499!). Most importantly, we can get it up the stairs without the help of five burly men. It comes in boxes. Boxes! You put it together right where it’s going to live. Conversely, it can be taken apart when either it or this apartment has outlasted it’s usefulness. You’ve gotta love that!

The sticky wicket in all of this “getting my shit together”, throwing stuff away, and trying to live, as Fang likes to say, “like ‘normal’ people” is removing the old couch. (Do you know any normal people? If so, how do they live? I’d really like to know. Fang’s pretty big on being “normal”. Me? Not so much.) What I’d really like to do is to take a chain saw to the goddamn thing, throw it out the window in pieces and be done with it. Apparently that’s not how, according to Fang, “normal” people dispose of unwanted furniture. (Again with the “normal”!) To which I say, “What the fuck is the difference how we get it out of the house? As long as it’s gone, who cares?”

I went so far as to suggest a ceremonial burning. This idea appealed to me until Fangette intelligently pointed out that setting leather and microfiber afire (“who knows what that shit’s made out of?”) might not simply present a health hazard. She seems to think that doing so might also, in fact, be against the law. Normally I’m all for being a law-abiding citizen, but I was willing to make an exception in this case. (Because sometimes you just have to decide to do something just for the fun of it! Nothing says “Fun” quite so much as a fire in the driveway!) In the end, it wasn’t the illegality of the thing that caused me to abandon the idea. I mean, sure, if it is indeed illegal, what’s the worst that could happen? I don’t imagine I’d be thrown in jail. If I did I’d have to make up a better crime than “couch burning” for when my fellow inmates asked me the inevitable “What are you in for?” question. I suppose I could say that I did it as a form of protest. Protesting shoddy workmanship and lack of style might garner more respect from the prison population than the old “it seemed like a good idea at the time” explanation. Of course, the more likely scenario is that I would get slapped with a fine. Ultimately, it wasn’t out of concern for the health and welfare of my neighbors or even the possibility of a fine that deterred me from engaging in a bit of pyromaniacal anarchy. It was the idea that we could find ourselves in the “police blotter” section of the local paper. We live in a small town. Not much happens here. Lots of people have scanners. I know some of these people. They listen to them all day. People who purchase police scanners purely for their entertainment value are nosy Parkers. I daresay a leather and microfiber bonfire on the property of the former PTO President and Board of Education member would be pretty big news.

And I know what’s newsworthy in this town. Because we made it into the “police blotter” section and onto the police scanner several years ago. It’s not something I would care to repeat. We found ourselves at the mercy of what seemed to be a rabid raccoon who had taken up residence atop the grape arbor that was installed above our back door. Not only was this thing wobbly and hissy, it had also managed to gather quite a few large tomatoes from my carefully tended garden. (They were not yet fully ripe, but just try dispensing culinary advice to a rabid raccoon!) When we arrived on the scene, fresh from our trip to the grocery store, there were a large number of neighborhood children running hither and yon on our driveway. It seems our raccoon friend had amassed quite the stack of half-eaten tomatoes and was proceeding to use them as projectiles. He was launching them, in a missile-like fashion, at anyone who dared to breach whatever perimeter he had deemed “safe”.

Not one to let ice cream melt or milk sour on the driveway, I decided to forge ahead. I underestimated the raccoon’s aim. And his agility. And, possibly, his love of tomatoes. As I approached the end of the drive and the beginning of the grape arbor, this creature skittered along the wood and vines and, tomato in hand, proceeded to hang off the top, spit in my face, and plunk a tomato directly onto my head. I found myself eye-to-eye with an armed nocturnal animal in the middle of the day who had, it would seem, decided that our grape arbor was his home and he was going to defend it at all costs.

I would like to tell you that like a mama bear protecting her cubs I hissed right back at him. I would like to tell you that I took a stand. I did not. Sensing that there might be real danger with a run-in involving a clearly deranged woodland creature, I ran. In the opposite direction. I did so screaming like a girl while flinging the bag containing the milk and the ice cream directly into the garden where once there had been a plethora of nearly-ripe tomatoes and where now stood nothing but mangled vines.

I’ll bet you didn’t know that raccoons, much like their human counterparts, enjoy dessert. Well, as it turns out, they do. Following a large feast, raccoons too get a hankering for a nice, sugary dessert and a couple of gulps of milk. Yup. Spying the ice cream, which was at this point hanging out of the grocery bag in the middle of what used to be my garden, he scurried down the arbor, grabbed the container and opened it with his claws (which was pretty impressive, I have to say). He then stuck his face in it. (Raccoons, not unlike the majority of my customers, aren’t all that concerned with table manners!) After he had polished off a good bit of the ice cream, he spied the jug of milk. In yet another show of speed and agility, he grabbed the milk by the handle (!) and scampered back up the grape arbor. With refreshment in hand he, once again, took up residence aside his stockpile of ammunition and pried the top of the milk jug open with his teeth. And then he drank it. Like any teenager on a midnight raid of the fridge, he didn’t bother with a glass. The kids, Fangette included, thought this was hysterical. I, on the other hand, couldn’t help but think that the presence of a rabid raccoon hopped up on sugar, guarding my back door, was not going to come to a good end.

I toyed with the idea of making a path to the bushes with some crumbled up chopped meat, but my husband, whose cheapness nearly always outweighs the safety of his family (he wasn’t the one who rushed the back door, just in case you didn’t notice), admonished me by screaming, “No! He already drank the milk, ate the ice cream, and decimated the tomatoes!” (I’m giving Fang a much better vocabulary than he actually has. I’m fairly certain he did not say “decimated”. I’m actually pretty sure that, even at gunpoint, he wouldn’t be able to define the word “decimated”. To be fair, he could probably work it out in context. He is cute, though. And he’s nice. He’s been a good husband and a great father. Life is full of trade-offs.)

Instead of fishing out the ground beef from the grocery bags, I found myself engaged in a “what normal people would do” argument with Fang. I wanted to try luring Mr. Raccoon with some raw meat, he wanted me to call the police. Far be it for me to stand in the way of our being “normal”. I called the police. They advised me to call Animal Control. They even, very helpfully, gave me the number. The problem with Animal Control is that they only control animals during business hours. Business hours, as you all know, are Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. So, if you are lucky enough to notice that you have a rabid raccoon in your yard on, say, a Wednesday at 10 a.m., the folks at Animal Control will probably be of some help to you. The Fanganini’s have no such luck. The “raccoon incident” (as we have come to refer to it) occurred on a Saturday afternoon.

So. There we were. Engaging in a battle of wits with a raccoon. And the raccoon was winning. Of course.

Again, I wanted to lure the critter with some meat, but my husband convinced me that “normal” people would just leave this sort of thing to the professionals and convinced me to give the police a call back. I explained the problem with Animal Control and added, for emphasis, that I was unwilling to live in the car until Animal Control arrived at HQ on Monday morning at 9 a.m. The dispatcher seemed reluctant to send an officer out on a raccoon errand. So, I told him that, on second thought, we could probably just remain in the car as we had just returned from the grocery store. So, we had enough food. I asked him to send someone with a can opener, plastic cutlery, and some paper cups and plates. I advised him that if we got those things, we could hunker down until either Animal Control was available or the raccoon skedaddled, whichever came first. He sent an officer. We’ll call him “Mike”. (Mainly because that’s his name.)

Mike didn’t have paper goods or a can opener when he arrived on the scene. What he did have was a theory. Oh, and a gun.

He put forth the theory that we had a pregnant raccoon on our hands, not, as I had suspected, a rabid raccoon. I had known Mike, at this point, for several years. As I said, this is a small town. Everybody knows everybody. Mike is a sweetheart. And he will strike you as such upon meeting him. He’s the nice officer that stops you for having a taillight out and let’s you go with a warning even though you’ve got an overdue inspection sticker. Mike’s a gem, but he wouldn’t strike you as the sharpest tack in the box, nor, upon meeting him, would you think, “Now, there’s a guy who’s probably well-schooled in animal husbandry!” Mike, however, was married to his pregnant raccoon theory. (I think it was more about the amount of paperwork that might be required if, in fact, the raccoon turned out to be rabid. Who needs all that pesky paperwork at the end of a long shift?) While my own knowledge of animal behavior is limited at best, I was fairly certain that no normally nocturnal creature would be reeling and hissing on top of my grape arbor in the middle of the day because it was hungry. Or pregnant. I’m not sure why, exactly, Mike decided the coon was pregnant. We never got to that.

Because the next thing I knew, Mike was unholstering his gun. On my driveway. On a Saturday afternoon. In front of what can best be described as a growing number of onlookers, most of whom were children. Young children. Including my own young child. Before I could stop him, I heard the gun go off. In my driveway. On a Saturday afternoon. In front of young children. I nearly had a heart attack. Fang and I were, simply put, astonished. The raccoon, however, was unfazed. Before I could properly flip out on Mike for shooting at (and, thank God, for missing) the foolish raccoon, he looked at me and said, “Blanks”. Just like that. “Blanks.” Okay. But only he knew that. And the kids? They had no idea what blanks were. Plus, they were all screaming and running for their lives.

After coaxing the children out of the various hiding spots they had retreated to following the onslaught of gunfire, I reassured them that the gun was only for making noise, not for killing anything (or anybody). Holy shit.

I think it was at this point that Mike suggested that I clear the children from the yard so that he could actually shoot the raccoon (while he wouldn’t admit to it, I think he was beginning to buy into my rabid raccoon theory). My response was something like, “Are you crazy? No matter where I put the children, for their own safety, how would I explain the presence of a bloody, lifeless raccoon on the patio? I think they’d put two and two together.” A brief and civilized discussion ensued regarding alternative methods of raccoon removal. He didn’t have access to nor did he know how to operate a tranquilizer gun. So, that was out. He was too far away for a Taser to be of any use. To his credit, he actually tested the Taser theory, but was scared off by the raccoon’s display of hissing and spitting. Mike scored points for trying there. Other approaches were considered. (I liked the idea of using the garden hose, but was voted down.) One of the older children helpfully suggested tear gas. (Alas! Mike was without his riot gear.)

I felt it was the right time to revisit the chopped meat solution. And so it began. Three grown adults balling up wads of hamburger meat and throwing them at a stupid raccoon who, by the way, had excellent eye-hand coordination. He didn’t miss a morsel, God bless him. Once he showed an interest in the tasty raw meat treats, we began to line up the crudely fashioned meatballs in a path that led to the bushes. He went for it. Without the shedding of any raccoon blood, we managed to extricate our furry friend from the grape arbor. I cleaned up the garden, sent my husband back to the grocery store, and thanked God that I was not “normal” people. The so-called “normal” person, the professional that my husband insisted we involve, wanted to employ the use of firearms to solve the raccoon problem. Thanks anyway, but if that’s normal, I’ll stick to being abnormal!

Avoiding the “Vague Idea”

crucifixMen are not really equipped for the whole shopping gig. Yes, I know. This is both sexist and promotes a certain stereotype. Sometimes, though, stereotypes linger because they’re true. For example, I’m Irish. I used to drink a lot. Many Irish people drink to excess. Not all, but many. That’s how it became a stereotype. Because it’s true. Perhaps you know a man who is not challenged by a shopping trip. Good for you. He’s a keeper! If you are not, however, involved with the exception to the rule — a man who has the shopping gene — don’t despair. All is not lost. They can be trained. Ultimately, what must be avoided is anything resembling the “vague idea”.

In our early years together my husband was fond of purchasing me jewelry. The problem? I don’t really wear a whole lot of jewelry. Well, at least not the jewelry that he was choosing. In an effort to indulge the obvious pleasure he got from shopping for jewelry, I started to drop hints about jewelry that I might actually like to own. (Enter the “vague idea”.) They were, I thought, fairly straightforward things. I mentioned items such as, a cross pendant, “X” earrings, or a simple gold chain. How could someone screw that up? Fairly easily, as it turns out. The small, elegant, understated cross turned into an elaborate filigreed crucifix that might at one time have belonged to Madonna. For those of you who don’t know, there is a difference between a cross and a crucifix. A cross is a modified “T” shape; a crucifix has a sculpted and bloodied man wearing a crown of thorns affixed to the “T” shape. I like Jesus as much as the next gal, but I don’t want four gruesome inches of his death hanging from my neck. Too flashy and overtly religious. Definitely NOT me.

The “X” earrings? They were large enough to partially obscure my cheekbones and heavy enough to stretch my delicate earlobes. When I returned them I think they put them back on the branding iron from which they had been removed.

A simple gold chain? Try a quadruple herringbone. Cleopatra probably sported something smaller. It gave me a neck ache. I also imagined that it might catch the eye of some ne’er do well who would garrote me while attempting to tear it from my tender neck. Again. Not for me.

Those jewelry store clerks definitely saw my husband coming. He fell, hook, line, and sinker, for the old “bigger is better” adage. And he fell hard.

Obviously I returned all of this craziness. (And made a handsome profit, I might add.) Following the quadruple herringbone disaster (he really could not understand what could possibly be wrong with something so obviously expensive and well-made — and in Italy for crying out loud!), he vowed never to buy me jewelry again. Obviously his inability to select something appropriate was all my fault. He stayed true to his word, though, and steered clear of the jewelry stores when my birthday, Christmas, or Mother’s Day rolled around. I began to receive things like candle snuffers (designed for taper candles, which I do not own a one of), snow boots (bright pink and two sizes too small), scarves (mostly “medallion” prints, I’ll likely drag them out when I’m 80), pajamas (flannel and sized to hold at least one other person — and, no, not because he had any kinky ideas — because he operates under the assumption that my feet are petite, but my ass is at least two sizes larger than it really is), and, of course, the inevitable robot vacuum cleaner (he does the vacuuming, so I guess that one worked out for him).

More than twenty years of well-meaning, yet still not quite right, gifts forced me to adopt the bold strategy of asking for exactly what I want. No more hints. No more leaving dog-eared magazines or catalogs lying around (like the ones he used to look quizzically at finding atop his pillow). No more candle-snuffers, cleaning-related products, or stage-worthy jewelry for me! Last year he even relaxed his “No Jewelry” policy and agreed to buy me the small Tiffany “Love” ring that I’d had my eye on for ages. This year I asked for AND received a new pair of chocolate brown UGGS mini boots (in the proper size!). Let me not leave you with the impression that my husband is perfect, though. No. He’s still working out the kinks with the whole “Christmas pajama” tradition. This year they weren’t flannel nor were they completely ludicrous. They would have been great if it weren’t for the see-through white top that accompanied the XL bottoms. So, while there’s always room for improvement, there is no substitute for proper training.

photo credit: crucifix