Tales From “The Annoying Bar & Grill”: The “Tip Slip”

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No doubt many of you have heard of the “nip slip” made famous by none other than Janet Jackson (and repeated frequently by other attention-grabbers) . In the restaurant business we have something called a “tip slip”. It is the copy of your credit card receipt that is meant to be left AT the restaurant FOR the server. I have very little experience in the area of the “nip slip”, but I can speak with some authority on the “tip slip”.

I can do next to nothing about celebrities exposing their nipples either accidentally or on purpose, but I would like to take steps toward educating the general public about taking the wrong copies of their credit cards home with them. Do what you want with your nipples, people, but I am here to beg of you to PLEASE LEAVE THE “TIP SLIP” AT THE RESTAURANT! Please.

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Some of you or, as I like to think of you, the dopey few, do this because you are not paying attention. I do not call you something worse because I, too, made this mistake once as a result of allowing my mind to wander and my hand to pick up the wrong copy of the credit card slip following what was a wonderful meal at a very nice restaurant.

The difference between me and the countless other dopes that do this is that I understood the consequences of my actions. For any of you that might find yourself in a similar situation, there is a way to rectify it. It is fairly simple and requires only the use of a telephone. Please avail yourselves of this handy piece of equipment in the event that you discover that you have done the dopey thing and taken the wrong copy (or both copies) of your credit card slip when you next dine out.

The minute I got home and realized what I had done I called the restaurant and confessed to being an idiot of the highest order — I will admit to having blamed too high an intake of tira mi su for my momentary senselessness — and made sure that the server was given the tip that I had meant to leave for him — the one that was on the copy that I had mistakenly taken with me while reeling from a sugar high.

Had I not done what I did, my server (who I in no way held responsible for the escalation of my blood sugar) would have been out a very generous tip. And that, my friends, would have just been wrong. And, considering my line of work, some very bad karma.

It is disappointing that while I am a big believer in karma and, as a result of my superstitious tendencies and my firmly held belief that the universe is always hard at work seeking stasis, I, myself, constantly get screwed over by the dopey few or, worse, the cheapskates that have learned to play the system and deliberately take both copies (or leave the unsigned, tipless copy for this tough-out-of-luck server).

There exists no remedy to the server by his or her employer when, whether by mistake or by design, you go on your merry way without leaving the proper copy of  your receipt for the person who broke their ass waiting on you for two hours of his or her life. None.

Restaurant managers and owners do not conclude that you were meant to get a tip. They will not add anything to your credit card slip after you leave without your consent. You either have to call or return to the scene of your stupidity to resolve the issue. The onus is upon you, the person who enjoyed a five-course meal and seven hot water with lemon refills.

Please, for the love of all that is holy, make every attempt to erase your error. Because, and I do not know if you know this, when a diner leaves no tip it actually costs the person who rendered the service money to have waited upon you. Yes. That is true. And, yes, it is perfectly legal.

The people that are tipped out by your server — bartenders, buspeople, etc. — are tipped out based on the server’s total sales, not on the tips that they received throughout the course of the shift. The federal government also figures what they are owed based on this same information. In other words, everyone gets their pound of flesh except the server who you held hostage an hour after closing because you and your long-lost best friend, Sally, who “hadn’t seen each other in YEARS!” just could not wrap your heads around the fact that lights on/music off meant that you should pay your check and skedaddle.

The fact that you held on to the check book and chose to skedaddle in the one moment that your server went into the kitchen to roll her eyes, bang her head on the counter, and lament the fact that you needed to get a clue makes me slightly suspicious about whether or not your leaving the wrong copy was purposeful, but I am willing to give you the benefit of the doubt and place you into the category of the “dopey few”, but please, please, take a moment to call the restaurant and fix your mistake.

While I am very happy that you and Sally found each other again through the modern wonder of social media, I would think better of the both you and be oh, so very grateful, if you could please call and make sure that I get the gratuity that I earned (on your $110 check!). I am sure you meant to leave it for me, right?

If, indeed, it was deliberate, perhaps Sally stealing your husband is in your future. (Frankly, I wouldn’t put such a thing past Sally. She seemed less enthusiastic about the rekindling of your friendship than did you. Plus, I overheard her asking quite a few questions about John.) While I certainly don’t wish this upon you — or, to be fair, upon John (Sally did seem like kind of a bitch) — the universe does have a way of righting wrongs.

For the sake of your marriage, I urge you to do the smart thing. Use the telephone.

I Know Who Will Catch Me If I Fall

iknowwhowillcatchmeI was out to dinner with a friend the other night. She was recounting a story that had to do with vomit in the workplace — her vomit, her workplace. It was hysterical. It was also unexpectedly heartwarming.

It is not too often that a story involving a close friend vomiting in her office all over her boss (yeah, there was that, too) would simultaneously make me laugh until I cried (and, yes, I may have peed a little bit, too) and then cry actual tears, but it did. Trust me, it did.

Of course she was embarrassed, so embarrassed that she wondered if she could ever go back to work. Who could blame her? She worried that her boss, who had not only caught her vomit, but also caught her as she passed out, might not see her in the same light ever again.

Would she still be the competent assistant? Or was she now and forever more the woman who had thrown her guts up — and then proceeded to pass out — all over the place? Those “places”, by the way, included this dapper gentleman’s custom-made suit and expensive Italian shoes. Later on, because covering him in her vomit and then losing consciousness was not enough, she would also spray what was left of the contents of her stomach all over his luxury car. Oh. My. God.

The story took some humorous twists and turns, as a story involving vomit in the workplace and a luxury car often will. The finale, though, and this is where the tale took a heartwarming turn, is that my friend woke up in the hospital to find this kind gentleman, still wearing parts of the suit that had remnants of her breakfast (Greek yoghurt) and of her lunch (turkey on rye with coleslaw and Russian dressing, of all things!) stuck to it. Oh. My. God.

He stayed by her side not only because he was concerned for her health but also to assure her that she need not be embarrassed by the events of the late afternoon. He was there to let her know that he expected to see her, once she received a clean bill of health, back at her desk. He paid her for the day and for the days that she subsequently missed as a result of what was, luckily for her, a simple stomach virus — even though she had already used up her sick days for the year.

I quit my part-time job the very next morning. I had been thinking about doing it for several weeks. It was not a rash decision, but one made far easier after having heard my friend’s story.

After receiving word from the restaurant owner that my schedule was changing for the third time in as many months, I gave some hard thought as to whether or not I wanted to work for this person anymore — whether he was the type of person who would catch me (or, God forbid!, my vomit) should I be stricken and pass out on the job. I decided that he would not; that he did not value me like my friend’s boss valued her.

I am not saying that he would step over me on the way to the cash drawer, although I wouldn’t put it past him, but I could not picture him (or, outside of one person, anyone else there) waiting by my hospital bed to make sure that I was out of danger. The people at my other job, though, they would be there for me in my time of need — frankly, they have been there for me in many times of need. Fortunately none of those times involved vomit or losses of consciousness. Still, they have been supportive. There I am made to feel that I have value.

While I am not looking forward to the grueling physicality of the 40-hour work week that I must return to, which is the reality of life in a corporate restaurant, I know that I will be happier to be home. Workplaces that house the people that care about you are like home. Regardless of the hours, it is going to be awfully nice to, once again, be among people who care about me, among people who will catch me if I fall. I know who they are.

No Translation Required

no circleI am currently working on ways to say “I do not care” in languages other than my own native tongue (which, for those of you who may be wondering, is, in fact, English). Learning this phrase in as many languages as possible is not just my attempt to mix it up a bit, but is something that is actually integral to my job. That it may come in handy in other aspects of my life is just a bonus.

It would be far easier if it were only necessary to have “No me importa” roll trippingly off of my tongue, as almost all the kitchen help here in North America “hablan la lengua Espanola” — they speak the Spanish — but, that just doesn’t seem to be enough to convey to them how much I actually do not care.

So, I am going to try it in several other languages, to make a point. Whether or not they will get the point that I am trying to make — that I do not care — well, we will have to wait and see about that. That is, as they say, en el aire (up in the air), which is appropriate, as this is frequently where I would like to send them — up into the stratosphere — courtesy of my big old size nine.

Tussling with the cooks, actually putting my foot up their asses, is not my preferred method — nor should it be anyone’s — of conveying information. That it may one day come to that is in the realm of possibility, but I would like to at least try to exhaust all other possibilities before resorting to something so caveman-like.

What, you may be wondering, is it that I do not care about? Truthfully, in my work life, just about everything. Mainly, though, “no me importa” that the cooks have to chop onions and parsley so that some loser can enjoy them — on the side, of course — with his broiled trout. I imagine that this is the way his mother used to serve it.

I get it, cooks of the world, this is more work for you. The way I look at it though is that you only have to listen to me explain it to you. Trust me, you are getting the condensed version. You did not have to stand there looking interested as the customer described in painstaking detail what he wanted, which amounted to raw diced white onion and minced parsley in a monkey dish. I broke it down for you in as few words as possible. You’re welcome!

While you should be grateful for the fact that you did not have to listen to five minutes of a guy describing what raw diced white onions and parsley is and how he wanted it served on the side, not ON his trout, I get the distinct impression that you were something less than grateful. Your response should have been “Gracias! No Problemo!”. You should have been thanking me. You should have been telling me that it will not be a problem. Of course that is not how this works, that is not how any of this ever works.

The fact that you behaved as if I were going to be the one snacking on raw diced white onions and parsley and, as such, you felt as if you could ignore my request by behaving as if you did not understand (“no comprendo”). Well, that was just not going to fly — with me or with the Mama’s boy in the dining room. As tempting and delicious as that side dish sounded and, regardless of what you told yourself, I did not suggest it nor was I the one who wanted to consume it. Further, you did understand.

You fully understood. You just did not want to do it. Well, guess what? I didn’t want to spend five minutes of my life that I will never get back listening to the whack job with a penchant for root vegetables and herbs tell me that he couldn’t eat his trout any other way. Unfortunately, it is my job to do so. And, unlike you, I couldn’t snarl and adopt an attitude of disdain while I pretended to listen intently. No! I had to smile and nod my head while I listened to his riveting description of onions and parsley. I did so knowing full well that I would be spending the next five minutes of my life (also time that I will never get back) arguing with you about doing something as simple as dicing a white onion and throwing some parsley on top of it — and, of course, putting it into the all-important side dish.

The fact that you put it ON the trout? I know that you did it to be a pain in the ass. I hope that you understood me when I said, “Gracias! No me importa!” as I scraped it into a side dish. I can only hope that I communicated to you in a language that you understood how grateful I was, in that moment and the many others we have enjoyed together as a team, for all of the pains in the asses that I must deal with on a daily basis. The fact that you, my co-worker, falls into that category is, by the way, a crying shame.

I also hope that you understood that bit of sign language I used as I left the kitchen with the ramekin of raw diced white onion and parsley that you worked so hard to screw up in order that I might have to expend minutes that I did not have as I dealt with a full section of needy guests. That particular sign, I think, is universally understood. Thankfully, there is no translation required for the middle finger in the air. After all, nothing says, “No me importa”, “Je ne suis pas de soins”, or even “Interesseert Me niet” like the high sign!

Thanksgiving Sausage Stuffing: A Recipe (And a Story)



I know. I know what you probably thought when you saw the title of this post, “Jeepers! Halloween is barely behind us! Why do we need a Thanksgiving stuffing recipe? Why are people like her always trying to rush the season?” I get it. I sympathize. I often feel the same way when I see Christmas decorations around Labor Day. Frankly, I think there should be a national registry of some kind to alert us to ANY store that puts out so much as a Christmas Tree-shaped piece of candy prior to Black Friday. Let the boycotts begin!

Don’t even get me started on the neighbor who, while wearing a tank top and shorts, puts his Christmas lights on his house in August! This may be how they do it in South America, but it’s not how we do it here! Here, in the Northeastern United States, possibly as a result of our Puritan ideals — ideals on which this country was founded — we believe in suffering. This guy surely needs to get with the program or, you know, read a history book!

I get it. It’s cold here in our neck of the woods come December. It’s not sub-zero, though. Do you think that our Puritan ancestors grabbed their flip-flops round about August 15th and decided, because it was easier, to ready their homes for Christmas in the summer? Heavens, no! These people eschewed ease. They wore ruffled shirts before the advent of spray starch and electric irons.

Put on a coat and hat after Thanksgiving and put up the damn lights. Donning foul weather gear while decorating your house for Christmas should be a required component of the game, shouldn’t it? Watching him engage in this activity in August does not make me think, “Oh, what a smart idea Mr. Guinea-tee and sandals had across the street! He’s a real genius, that guy, getting a jump on Christmas and all!” It does not. It makes me want to participate in my own little project, which would include, but might not be limited to, creeping over there in the dead of night and cutting the wires. At the very least I’d like to arm some neighborhood hooligans with a few dozen eggs. If any house in the neighborhood deserves a good, old-fashioned egging, it’s his! How’s that for a little Puritan ingenuity?

It’s never too early to start thinking about Thanksgiving, though — that most Puritanical of American holidays. Because it’s all about the food. And giving thanks. It’s my favorite holiday. No gifts. No cards. (Really, NO cards, people. There’s nothing I like LESS than a Thanksgiving CARD! Because, really, they’re stupid. If you insist on buying me one, don’t think I’ll be reciprocating. Bring some dessert or a nice package of dinner rolls. But, please, NO cards! ) I’ve come to believe that every time a Thanksgiving card is purchased a Puritan rolls over in his or her grave. Just think about THAT while you’re at The Hallmark Store!

What prompted me to publish the recipe that follows, along with what I hope was a handy primer on “The Remnants of Puritanism in 21st Century America”, was when Mindy Klapper Trotta over at Betterafter50.com sounded the alarm for holiday recipes for the webzine’s upcoming issues. Just like weird neighbor guy who begins to think about his winter holiday decorations while the rest of us are enjoying watermelon and fireworks on The Fourth of July, web magazines plan well in advance for their holiday issues — hey, at least it’s not because they don’t want to put on shoes!

It’s just not Thanksgiving without turkey. Unless, of course you’re my brother-in-law, whose motto is, “Let’s drag folks up to Massachusetts — the place where Thanksgiving was invented (!) — and hoodwink them into eating pork roast!” (Even my brother-in-law, anarchist that he is, knew enough to serve stuffing with the foolish pork roast on that most regrettable of Thanksgivings!)

While it would make me happy to think that, to get into the spirit of things, you are sporting earmuffs and and a cozy cableknit sweater while you are reading this, it’s not absolutely required. Although, really, would it kill you to throw on a scarf? Or, at the very least, a flannel shirt?



Thanksgiving Sausage Stuffing

This recipe was passed down to me by my mother, Karen Tierney, who got it from her mother, Eileen Callaghan, who, more than likely, took it off of the package of frozen sausage or found it in the pages of a women’s magazine in the 1940’s. It should be noted that my skepticism regarding the provenance of this recipe is not unfounded — these are the same women who hijacked the Hellmann’s mayonnaise macaroni salad recipe and insist, to this day, that they created it! (Neither of them has ever gone so far as to accuse the good folks at Hellmann’s of stealing it from THEM, but, you know, there’s always tomorrow!)

This recipe makes A HONKING amount of stuffing — enough to stuff a 25-lb. turkey AND extra that can be cooked in a casserole dish on the side. What can I say? There’s never enough stuffing for my family. We’re Irish. We like our carbs!

3 – 16 oz. “tubes” frozen “mild” pork sausage, raw (You can find it in the case with the frozen breakfast sausage; my family uses the “Jamestown” brand, but that may not be available nationwide. I’m sure Jones or Jimmy Dean has an equivalent

3 – large yellow onions, finely chopped (If you want to get fancy, you can probably substitute shallots or Vidalia onions, but I like it made with your basic, no-frills yellow onion

6 – sticks of butter (If you’re health conscious, I suppose you could substitute margarine for the butter, but who are you kidding? If you’re making this stuffing, you’re not worried about your fat intake. So, really, just use the butter. It tastes better

6 – loaves “stuffing” bread or white sandwich bread, crumbled. (“Stuffing” bread is just unsliced white bread. I don’t recommend making this with the stuffing that’s sold in a bag — that product is more like croutons than it is bread and they’re seasoned, which I don’t like. Also, they don’t soften and, therefore, they don’t absorb the liquids as well as the bread does. But, who am I to tell you what to do? I’m not eating it. Do what you like. I can’t stop you!)

1-1/2 c. boiling water (More may be required, boil 2-1/2 cups to be on the safe side.)

3 – tablespoons (or more) Bell’s Turkey Seasoning (I have NEVER used anything but Bell’s when making turkey or stuffing.)

As you can see, this recipe is easily divisible. You can make less (or more!) depending on the size of the bird you are stuffing and/or how many stuffing aficionados you are serving. If you need to make more, I’m coming to your house next Thanksgiving. You’re my kind of people!

A note on the casserole dish — the one that you will cook the “extra” stuffing in — the stuffing for the next day’s sandwiches, for example —  what would be the point of a leftover Thanksgiving turkey sandwich without stuffing or a couple of decent slices of rye bread? — this dish should be shallow, like a 9×13 baking dish. DO NOT butter it! The sausage has enough fat to keep it from sticking. DO cover it with foil and place it on the top rack of the oven — it WILL burn on the bottom rack. I usually stick it in when the turkey has about an hour left to cook. Temp it with a thermometer or taste it to make sure the sausage is thoroughly cooked. (160 degrees Fahrenheit is the proper temperature for safely cooked pork sausage, and sausage just tastes better when it’s cooked.)

In a large pot — like a lobster pot if you have one or, if you’re Italian, the Sunday gravy pot will be perfect! — if you do not have a lobster pot or a Sunday gravy pot, use the largest pot that you DO have and hope for the best, or make it in stages. It doesn’t take long to make — melt the butter over medium heat. Turn down the flame and add the onions (you want the onions to soften without burning the butter). Add half of the Bell’s seasoning. Stir frequently.

While the onions are cooking, boil the water.

Once the onions are soft, begin adding the crumbled bread (you can cut it into cubes if you prefer). I don’t pre-crumble the bread. I find it’s just as easy to “crumble (or cut) as you go” (who needs to dirty another bowl on Thanksgiving morning, for heaven’s sakes!). You can add some hot water and begin to stir the butter/onion/seasoning through the bread to make room for more bread! Be conservative with the water. You want to really spread the butter mixture throughout the dish. When all the bread has been crumbled and the butter mixture well incorporated, if the final product seems dry, add more water. When the consistency is wet, but not mushy, add the remaining Bell’s seasoning and give it one more thorough stir. That’s it!

You can make this a day in advance, just be sure NOT to stuff the bird until you are ready to put it in the oven! I would recommend taking the “extra” that needs to be cooked separately out of the refrigerator at least one hour prior to putting it in the oven. You will want it to be room temperature before putting it in the oven for two very good  reasons (learn from my mistakes, people!):

Very good reason #1: A cold, glass baking dish CAN explode either in the oven — a glass-encrusted turkey will ruin everyone’s day! — or upon removal from the oven, which, of course, is preferable to the in-oven explosion, but still not ideal. I mean, you’ll have a great story, what you won’t have is any extra stuffing!

Very good reason #2: Even if you plan to avoid the potential for disaster by using a metal pan, (what? you think I didn’t try that?) the cold pork will not cook through without the bread portion burning and drying out. Again, no extra stuffing.

You’ve been warned!

Regardless of the murky and possibly dubious origins of this recipe, it is, hands down, THE BEST STUFFING you will ever make! If you agree, let me know. If you disagree, let me know, I’ll put you in touch with my mother. Her mother would be a tad difficult to contact, as she passed away many years ago. I’ll bet she still misses eating this stuffing. She LOVED this stuffing!



NOTE: Like Mark Knopfler who “can’t do a love song like the way it’s meant to be” (Romeo and Juliet, 1980), neither can I write a recipe like a normal person. I don’t know, I kind of think it’s more fun this way, don’t you?

Ten Points to Nitwit!

footindoortenpointstonitwitSo, you slid in under the wire, did you? You managed to stick your foot in the door at 10:59:59, did you? You certainly are a slick one, I’ll tell you that.

I’ll tell you what else you are, just in case you are not aware of it. Consider it a public service. You, my friend, are a nincompoop. Of the highest order. Do I even need to tell you that I, and the rest of the serving community-at-large, have no patience for nincompoops?

If you are an overachieving nincompoop, one who wants to, say, graduate to nitwit in a relatively short amount of time, here are just a few of the behaviors that you absolutely must engage in should you seize an opportunity to be seated in a closed restaurant.

You’ll need ten points. Walking in the door just as it was being locked? You’ve already earned one point! I suspect that collecting the other nine won’t present a problem for a nincompoop like you!


Promise to “be quick”. (1 point)

Because this is the battle cry of the latecomer, it is only worth one point. Still, a point is a point.

Ask at least two questions pertaining to salad. (1 point)

It’s salad. What more do you need to know? Sadly, every nincompoop we come into contact with DURING OUR REGULAR BUSINESS HOURS asks ridiculous questions about salad. You don’t get extra points for your late arrival. For those of you who cannot even formulate a question, but are still stumped by salad, let me give you a head start. Try the most ridiculous question first: “Does it have lettuce in it?”

Comment on the noise level. (2 points)

WHY, YES, IT IS LOUD IN HERE! This may be the result of you being the only human occupying such a cavernous space. This one is worth a whopping two points because only a nincompoop with zero grasp of elementary school science would be surprised by this. Consider these points a gift and a testament to my compassionate nature. I do feel terrible for someone who barely made it out of the fifth grade.

Require an explanation of meat (or poultry). (3 points)

Chicken comes, oddly enough, from chickens. The other two choices that are available at most American restaurants — beef and pork —  are a little trickier, I’ll give you that. Still, even a nincompoop who is well on his way to becoming a nitwit, such as yourself, should be able to work through this one. If you can’t, though, good for you! It’s worth three whole points. Cows provide us with beef; pigs with pork. It is a crying shame that you cannot, at your age, identify the animals which have given their lives to sustain you — a person who wanders through life in such an oblivious manner. If there is such a thing as karma, and I am optimistic that there is, you can look forward to death by stampede. Yee-Ha!

Ask what is “fresh”. (3 points)

We are CLOSED. Nothing is “fresh”. Frankly, nothing was “fresh” when we opened. Did you see a vegetable garden when you pulled into the parking lot — a parking lot that borders a major highway? How about a pond? Or a corral? The only thing “fresh” is going to be your server if you don’t snap to it and order already!

Order everything “well done”. (4 points, plus 2 “bonus” points for sending it back because it is overcooked!)

This one is worth a lot of points because it is already behavior befitting a nitwit. Of course you want a well done 30-ounce slab of beef. Of course you do. Without fail, and every server on the planet sees this coming, it will be “too” well done for you. Congratulations! Please reward yourself with two bonus points. Well done!

Order dessert. (5 points)

Only a nincompoop just points away from being a nitwit would order dessert from a server and a kitchen staff that they are, effectively, holding  hostage an hour-and-a-half AFTER said restaurant has closed for the evening. We were ready for you, though. There’s a piece of cheesecake that we’ve been trying to unload since 1995. That baby has your name written all over it. Bon Apetit!


Those ten points weren’t too hard to earn, were they? You sure are on a roll! Why stop at nitwit, though? Especially now. If my math is correct, and I’m fairly certain that it is (I’m NO nitwit!), you are already well on your way, following tonight’s shenanigans, to becoming an asshat. I’ll have to check the paperwork, but I think you’ll need fifteen points for that one. It sounds like a lot, but I think you’re just the nitwit for the job.

Let me get you started by making the following helpful suggestion: Be the first one at the Starbuck’s tomorrow. Arrive at 6:48 AM. Make sure you bang loudly on the door to alert them to your presence. (Encountering a newly-crowned nitwit is every coffee shop workers dream at the crack of dawn!) I daresay that your local barista will be delighted to award you bonus points for pressing your nose up to the glass and miming that you want coffee. She’s probably never seen that before!

I’ll alert the asshats to get your membership card ready.

Packing Up The Old Hobo Bag

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Sometimes I dream about running away. Packing up the old hobo bag and taking to the road. It’s likely I wouldn’t get far. I mean, let’s face it, your average bandana tied to a stick doesn’t hold much. It probably wouldn’t even be large enough for all of my cosmetics. And at my age I NEED my cosmetics.

The last time I ran away I wound up two blocks away at my best friend’s house. I hadn’t even had the forethought to take my credit card, let alone fashion a hobo bag. I realized the error of my ways when we, fancying ourselves an updated version of Thelma and Louise, took to the roads. We made it as far as the local Target where, much to my disgust, I had to choose between spending the $20 in my wallet on something extravagant — you know, to make A POINT to that rat bastard I’m married to — or to use some of it for a hot dog value meal at the snack counter.

I must have been hungry because I’m pretty sure I had a deluxe dog, french fries, and a large soda. I toyed with purchasing a set of Legos that were on clearance, but decided, if memory serves, on a small shelf. My husband hates when I buy shelves. I’m sure that I thought that returning home with a new shelf would make more of a statement AND more of a noise than slamming a set of Legos on the dining room table ever could. Plus, what would I have done with Legos once I got them home?

Now that I think of it, I have no idea whatever became of the shelf. It’s probably sitting at the bottom of the hall closet with all of the other shelves that I’ve purchased, but never installed, over the years. Yeah. I like buying shelves, I just don’t like hanging shelves.

My husband will have nothing to do with shelves. He’s suspicious of them. They make him nervous. In his words, he “doesn’t trust shelves”. He has deep-seated psychological issues regarding shelves. Perhaps, some time in his youth, he was standing underneath one when it fell on his head and knocked the manliness out of him.

Yes, I said “manliness” because I’m sick, sick, sick of doing all the dirty work around here. For the record, ALL of the shelves I’ve ever purchased are NOT languishing in the bottom of the hall closet. Some of them have been installed — by ME! Outside of taking out the garbage and attending to the recycling, I do everything else around this joint.

I used to do trash duty, but I could never get the schedule right. My husband took over after hearing — from the neighbors — one too many stories that involved me racing down the street chasing after the garbage truck. These folks may or may not have been exaggerating when they described in fits and starts, through snorting guffaws, the various states of undress and shoelessness that often accompanied my failure to catch the DPW guy. I could be wrong, but I think he took responsibility for the trash more to save himself the embarrassment that these stories produced than because he wanted to lighten my load.

I even do things that send most women running for cover — like killing bugs. The only exception to this rule are bees — and that’s only because I’m allergic. Lord knows no one in this house wants me laid up with swelling or, God forbid, hospitalized with anaphylaxis. Because then who would kill the mice?

Certainly not my husband. Certainly not the teenager daughter. Certainly not the cat.

Yes, we have another mouse. I discovered our uninvited houseguest this morning, as I was bleary-eyed and coffeeless, but suddenly, upon happening upon it in the middle of the kitchen floor, wide awake. There’s nothing like coming face-to-face with a rodent at the crack of dawn to get your heart pumping, I’ll tell you that.

That I was up at the crack of dawn on a Saturday morning was because I was required to attend one of our all too frequently held staff meetings at work. I’ll bet the executives who are employed by IBM or members of The National Security Council have fewer meetings than we do. I’ll bet their meetings are a damn sight more interesting, too.

I’d guess they discuss things of importance, like new technologies and what the hell to do with that crazy guy in South Korea. We, on the other hand, are expected to listen attentively on subjects like golden beets and quinoa. It just feels silly.

I found it difficult, given the anxiety-producing events of my morning, to concentrate on new menu items. I’ll have to pretend to be excited about grilled watermelon, tilapia, and corn on the cob another day. I’d like to think that under normal circumstances I may have been able to muster up some enthusiasm for the fried green tomato, but I had other things on my mind.

Things like, for example, where could I lay my hands on some steel wool? I know this stuff will seal the small holes around the heating pipes. I had previously tried Target and the grocery store to no avail. I called my husband and asked him to take a quick trip to the home improvement store. I told him to get steel wool. I counseled him against purchasing Brill-O pads. I explained what I needed and why I needed it. I advised him, in the event that he became baffled in the vastness of the home improvement store, to ask someone roaming around in an orange apron about their steel wool inventory. I found it necessary to give these very specific instructions because I know my husband quite well.

It turns out, sadly, that my lack of faith in his ability to purchase some steel wool was not misplaced. I came home to discover that he had gotten stainless steel scrubbers. Do I even need to tell you that stainless steel scrubbers are NOT steel wool? Do I even need to tell you that my husband didn’t ask anybody in an orange apron anything.

Up until then, the highlight of my day had been waiting on the family who let me know that they were “in the business” and then insisted upon using five coupons, ordering children’s meals for their teenagers, demanding seventeen water refills each, and enjoying three courses for less than forty bucks. I’m not sure what “business” they were in, but I can assure you that it wasn’t the restaurant business. Still, I suppose dealing with them wasn’t so bad considering that prior to their appearance on the scene I thought that the crowning achievement of my workday would be all the fun facts that I had learned about kale.

Undeterred, even in light of having the wrong supplies and of having spent my day in the trenches over at The Annoying Bar and Grill, I was prepared to soldier on — to continue waging war against the furry, beady-eyed enemy or, I suspected, enemies, that were, no doubt, lurking under the appliances and the baseboard in my kitchen. Frankly, I had visions of pulling out the stove to discover a gaggle of mice sporting party hats and throwing confetti.

It was at this point that I sat aside of my husband and asked him to help me to formulate a “game plan”. I should have known by the look on his face that he had no intention of grabbing a mitt and getting into any game — even one that didn’t include rodent participants. I chose to ignore both his disinterested look and what I would characterize as mild harrumphing. In the midst of what was shaping up to be my version of the “St. Crispin’s Day” speech from Henry V, he looked me in the eye, much as the mouse had done just that morning, and told me that he wasn’t getting involved in anything of this nature.

As calmly as I could, in my best cajoling tone, I reminded him that I am, as he well knows, slightly mouse-phobic. My fear of mice in party hats under the stove notwithstanding, he flat out refused to help me embark upon Operation: Rodent Removal. Flat. Out. Refused.

When I asked him if he had a better plan, he told me that he was just going to wait until the cat took care of it. Seriously. That’s his plan. He’s going to rely upon our elderly, overweight feline to rid our living space of rodents. An elderly, overweight feline that doesn’t exactly have a stellar track record where hunting mice are concerned, let me just add.

I feel like I may as well look to hire The Pied Piper of Hamelin. I know that story is a fairy tale. So is my husband’s belief that our cat will somehow, uncharacteristically rise to the occasion and solve our mouse problem.

My game plan is to give up. I’m plum tuckered out. I’ve located a bandana. Now I just need a good stick. I’m packing my hobo bag and getting the hell out of Dodge.

This post also appeared as part of a “Best of 2014” blog hop over at Midlife Boulevard!

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“The Pencil Story”

pencilstory

My daughter recently attained adulthood, at least in the eyes of the law. Personally, I won’t be conferring that status upon her until she learns to pick the wet towels up off of her bedroom floor. Still, this milestone in both of our lives has given me reason to reflect upon how my idea of successful parenting has changed in the intervening years.

If I’d been asked eighteen years ago what my parenting goals were, it is very likely that I would have responded, in much the same breathy, heartfelt, yet misguided, way that every “Miss America” contestant discusses how she wants to “make the world a better place for the children”. I would have said that I hoped to raise a kind, confident, happy person. As scary, not to mention overly optimistic, as this may sound, I would have meant it. I suppose those young pageant-y types mean what they say, too. Never mind that none of them have any real chance of achieving the very lofty goals they were foolish enough to share publicly.

It’s lucky that I set my goals privately — I didn’t report them to Regis on national television. Still, I had visions that I could turn out a person that had all of these qualities in spades, plus a bag of chips. That’s just the kind of Pollyanna I was back in the days when motherhood was more theoretical, when tending to my child’s physical needs were paramount and all-consuming. Her spiritual needs would have to wait until I was a more well rested.

What I failed to realize was that feeding and diapering an infant, taking a toddler to the park, or throwing a ball around to a youngster would be far easier, both for me and for her, than molding her into that kind, confident, and happy person that I was so convinced she could become. Having now been in the trenches and seen motherhood for what it really is — a series of pitched battles where ground is gained and lost, resulting, ultimately, in something that more often than not resembles a Mexican stand-off, I can’t help but wonder whether I set the parenting bar a little high when I was still cuddling a newborn.

Those “Miss America” contestants would undoubtedly agree. If, after having backed themselves into a corner with their idealistic vision of the world, they traded in their glamorous evening wear and their tiaras for khakis and bandanas — clothing and accessories more in line with hut building — and spent eighteen years knee-deep in mud fighting off killer mosquitos in some malaria-filled jungle only to discover that the very people they were trying to help were in no way interested in their silly project.

That realization would have to change a person, even if that person was a well-intentioned beauty queen, which I, most definitely, am not. I suppose I should be grateful that I didn’t have to come by my lessons by wielding a machete in some godforsaken rainforest. Having a great tan might have been nice, though.

Fairly early on I realized that I should have set less lofty goals for my child and, by extension, for myself. Qualities like kindness, confidence, and happiness are difficult things to measure, to be sure. At some point, when reality set in, I gave up the idea of building castles in the sky — or huts in the jungle — and contented myself, instead, with constructing things that were more in keeping with my skills — things like small Lego outbuildings.

I did manage to come up with one example where she demonstrated all three of these qualities. It was years ago, but I’m going to go ahead and count it anyway because, you know, it gives me some small comfort to know that somewhere inside the snarky young adult that I now share my life with, the one who shows a remarkable ability for towel littering, there once existed a kind, confident, and happy child.

While mine was never the kid who spent years growing her hair out only to have it shorn off so that wigs could be made for cancer victims, she did once return a pencil to a friend. I know this doesn’t sound like much on the surface, but the act meant a great deal to the friend — a friend who, to put it bluntly, had formed what I and many others, including the child’s own mother, considered an unhealthy attachment to said pencil.

Somehow, during what were, no doubt, some schoolroom shenanigans, the pencil managed to find its way into my daughter’s backpack or her pencil case or her pants pocket. Who knows? Who can remember? A siren call was put out by the somewhat embarrassed pencil owner’s mother for the return of the item. I gave (and still give) that woman a lot of credit for realizing the importance of the pencil to her daughter. Even though her child’s reaction to the loss of something as ordinary and easily replaced as a pencil was a tad south of loony, this mother went ahead and organized a search for it anyway. I don’t think I would have done anything of the sort. Perhaps if I had treated the loss of a pencil with such tenaciousness my daughter would have more respect for me now. Maybe she’d even pick her wet towels up off the floor.

As a result of the numerous phone calls made and emails sent by this tenacious and, let’s just be honest, a little high-strung mother, I required my child to search for the foolish pencil, which was nowhere to be found. And then one afternoon, weeks after the pencil in question went missing, my daughter discovered it somewhere among her belongings. She decided to return it all on her own, an act that I proudly attributed at the time to her emerging kind and caring nature.

I had very little doubt that her possession of the pencil was accidental, still it may have looked a little suspicious from another’s perspective. She could have just thrown it away. She was, after all, the one who happened upon it, not me. She demonstrated real confidence in this situation. So confident was she that her role in the disappearance of the much searched for pencil was innocent that she went ahead and returned it.

When I asked her how it felt to have returned the item to its rightful owner, she told me that it felt good. I asked her if it felt good because she had made her friend happy. “I guess”, she said, “Really, though, I’m just happy to not have to hear about the dumb pencil anymore.” It still warms my heart to know that she experienced happiness at some point in her life.

There have been many moments over the years when this incident and my daughter’s role in it has given me comfort. I have to admit that most of these moments have tended to occur while I am removing wet towels from one surface or another, still I am reminded that at least there was one time when my kid was kind, confident, and happy. It may not compare with the memories that other, possibly better, parents may be able to dredge up regarding how their kid gave all of his Christmas presents to the needy or stood up to a bully, but, like I said, I’ve learned to be more realistic in terms of measuring my success as a parent.

Now that I’ve sat down and thought about it, it’s nice to know that if anyone ever asks whether or not I’ve met my parenting goals I can answer in the affirmative. And, I’ve got “The Pencil Story” to prove it.