Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Walter the Second

Like most people, Walter Hubbard did not remember his own birth. Neither did his parents. The fourth child of nine, Walter was born to Richard and Athena Hubbard, of the Tucson Hubbards.
“The lovely Mrs. Hubbard!” friends would say. “Adding to the troupe again, we see. How you glow when you are with child, how many is this dear?”
“Old mother Hubbard, more like,” she would respond with not a little exhaustion, her brood of mini-Hubbards dancing around her like demons ready to burn their mother at the stake. “I believe this is number seven.”
“Eight, mother! This is number eight!” Walter would correct her.
“Are you quite sure dear? I was certain we were only on number seven. Let me see, there’s Winston, Warren, Walter, Wallace, Wanda, and Wendy…so yes, this should be number seven.”
“Yes, mother, but there are two of us.”
“Two of who?”
“Two Walters? You must be joking. Why would we have two Walters?”
Indeed, our Walter was born exactly two years to the day after his older brother, Walter. Walter the second was welcomed into the world rather unceremoniously, and a worn out Athena signed the birth certificate with little ado in her groggy post-partum state.
The naming mishap was only the first of hundreds of incidents which would render Walter the second (a man who would be largely forgettable even if he had been given his own name) a perpetual shadow in the memories of those who knew him. Regardless, Walter the second never realized he was constantly being forgotten until well into college. He always had a birthday party (though it was thrown for his brother Walter…he just thought there wasn’t enough room on the cake for two names) and somehow in the mix of nine little devils leaping around the cramped household, Walter always had a bed to sleep in and food to eat.
What Athena Hubbard did not know (aside from the number of children she already had) was that she was pregnant with numbers eight and nine. The birth of the twins Wilbur and Eunice was quite eventful in the Hubbard household. Athena was caught off guard without a name for the little girl. She considered the name Wanda but realized, almost too late, that she already had one of those…so the child was named after the almost blind nurse who caught her as she slid out into the world on the heels of her brother.
“How are we going to house eight children, Richard?”
“Nine, mother. You just had number eight and nine,” interrupted Walter the Second.
“Nine? Impossible, I’ve only been pregnant eight times.”
Ten year old Walter decided to leave that one alone.
“You’re quite right, Athena,” said Richard, ignoring his son, “We have no more room where we are now. We are going to have to find a larger home.”
And so it was decided. The burgeoning Hubbard family, with eight or nine children decided that they were too numerous for Tucson, and moved to Tempe. A stranger might argue that it was fate that brought them there. They might argue that it was an uncharacteristically rainy night in Tucson when the children were in bed that Richard Hubbard and his wife Athena conceived twins, causing the family to have too many children in a small house which prompted them to move to Tempe where there was a larger house perfect for a family their size and where the second child of theirs named Walter would grow up, fall in love, and marry Alice Snogbottom and one day encourage her to have an affair with Stan Meierhoffsteinschmidtberger which would lead to that man's unfortunate death at the bottom of Pickler Ravine which is why, to this day, there is no Tasty Freeze in Flagstaff, and why we can blame almost everything on the weather.

Walter Hubbard loved his wife more than his own life. It was unfortunate for her that he had tried to commit suicide no less than three times, possibly more. And now, as Mr. Hubbard comforted the love of his life while she wept in grief over the lost love of another man, he considered how difficult it would be to bury himself alive. Granted, he might need some help tossing the dirt back onto his bound up body…he could pay someone to do that…but would that count as suicide? He’d be perfectly willing to dig the hole himself, right in his own back yard, if need be. But those nasty laws of the universe (especially the one where you can’t be two places at once) prevented this plan from developing into fruition. Happily, he realized he’d already been digging his own grave for 17 years, it was just a matter of time before someone else took pity and helped throw a little dirt on his face.
“Oh darling, I loved him so much, and now he’s gone, gone forever and he’ll never come back to me, never! Oh, what’ll I do!”
And there it was.
Walter remained as comforting and as loving as possible through the whole ordeal. The ordeal had, in fact, been of his own orchestration…an ordeal he foolishly thought would bring his wife back to him. One that would make her see how much she needed him, how much they needed each other. It took him months to convince her to ask Stan Meierhoffsteinschmidtberger out to dinner.
“You silly man! Why on earth would I do that?” she declared.
“Darling, if it’s a matter of hurting my feelings, have no fear. I want you to experience the sort of freedom we missed out on by marrying so early.”
“Oh, it’s not that, Walter…”
“Then what is it my sweet?”
“Women can’t ask MEN out. It’s against the rules. I would never ask him out first. If this is going to happen, I need to have a plan. I need to lure him in, not corner him. If there’s anything I’ve learned from fifteen years of…marriage, it’s this: men feel threatened when they’re trapped. No offence.”
“None taken.”
“So what I need to do first, is go shopping. I’ll need new shoes and a killer dress if I’m going to get Stan to ask me out. Give me the credit card.”
“Anything, my love.”
Okay, so it hadn’t taken months to convince her. But Walter liked to think that she would have held out longer if Stan hadn’t told her himself that very day that he would be moving to Flagstaff in two months time to open up another Tasty Freeze franchise. And so it began. Walter Hubbard knew that it would not take much for his darling wife to attract the attentions of another man, if she hadn’t already.
She was quite a beautiful woman, by any man’s standards. Her hair was a tall sort of floofy arrangement of peroxide curls sprayed into place by some not insignificant amount of hairspray each morning. When Walter looked at it, he liked to think of it as a slightly yellow cloud sitting upon the bold brown mountains that were her eyebrows. And, he always loved the way she scraped away excess red lipstick in the mornings with her well manicured French nails. Yes, she was quite beautiful. And Stan Meierhoffsteinschmidtberger was just the sort of man Walter knew would treat his wife with the sort of respect a married woman looking to have an open marriage would deserve…and then be out of town by August. He never thought for a second that she would fall in love with him, or that her love would be the beginning of the end for the Meierhoffsteinschmidtberger line.
Walter looked at Alice Hubbard now as she leaned over her knees, one hand covering her face, one digging into the clear plastic covering on their brown velvet sofa that was their first purchase together after their honeymoon. It was quite a good deal at the time, really. The custom plastic covering cost almost as much as the couch itself. In fact it may have cost more. Walter made a mental note to check the receipts that were still tucked safely under his bed.
Walter suddenly realized two things. First, he realized that this was only the second time he remembered his wife sitting on the couch in their living room. And second, he realized how lovely she was as she sat there sobbing over the death of Stan Meierhoffsteinschmidtberger, the owner of the Tasty Freeze, and the most eligible bachelor in town…until recently.

The Grill Fire

I started drinking this afternoon at 12:30. And later, I'll probably have cake. And I'm okay with that, because this morning, I almost died. Now, I'm going to tell you a story about how my roommate Jessie saved my life, but it's not going to be one of those trite "Near death experience stories" because I already have one of those. And it's not going to be one of those "carpe diem" stories or "don't go one more day without telling that one person you love them" stories because, really, we've all seen Dead Poets' Society and if you are seriously holding back from expressing love, then you have some issues that are not going to be solved by reading an email. But this email is going to make a difference in your life. Maybe. And I am going to tell you about why I would make a great 18th century farm wife.

Now, I want to start off by telling you that two minutes after I woke up at 6am this morning, my roommate Jessie saved my life. But to tell the story right, I have to back up a bit.

I have a new job.

For those of you who don't know: I have a new job. I'm still working at Vroman's bookstore in Pasadena, but my new job is in the Promotions department where I get to host events for authors to come in to discuss and sign their books. Usually the events are pretty fun and interesting. Mystery writers, or authors of childrens' series, sometimes big name authors like David Sedaris or Salman Rushdie....we get them all...and last night we had a panel of writers from a local writing group. Amateurs, mostly. Like me. And it was terrible. I spent a large part of the event text messaging my sister from the back row.

Me: "Shoot me now."
5 minutes later: "Or slit my throat, whichever is faster"

Most of the authors really were awful. They talked about divorce, depression, war, wrote bad explicit poetry...almost all semi-autobiographical first person narratives...and really, I think it's silly to mis-label group therapy as a writers' club. It's not fair to the rest of us who expected interesting literature.

I headed home. Weary from an afternoon of bad literature and no vodka. As worn out as I was, I still looked forward to coming home to a house full of people. Our weekly Sunday dinner was on, and in full force. There were new friends and old friends and people I just call friends because it's easier than saying we pretend to dislike one another. I'd sent out a text earlier in the day letting people know to bring something to BBQ… so when I got home at 8:30, the grill was on and the kabobs were almost ready and twenty people were prepared to eat.

Four hours later, the last guest had departed and I was sound asleep in my bed. Still fully clothed in my black dress complete with earrings. I may have still been wearing my shoes.

I woke up to a faraway sound. Mmmm…rain. I rolled over in bed and glanced at the sky. Gray. Comfort. Sleep again.

But the noise outside my window kept growing, and it wasn’t a familiar rain sound. Reluctantly, I roused myself up again. Hail? I tried to focus my eyes on the sky…tried to adjust the way you do when you’re looking at one of those magic eye pictures where you cross your eyes and you see a penguin riding a motorcycle. I searched the sky for the hail I heard on the porch, tried to find the definition of clouds and the shadows between them. Brushing the sleep from my eyes, I looked again. The sky was still gray, but clear, not overcast from hail or rain or clouds, but pale from no sun. Confusion kept me awake for a moment or two, but I wanted so badly to fall back into that perfect pocket of blankets still warm from sleep.

Looking up and out my window I saw a red glow, more intense than sunrise, reflected on the eve above. Suddenly, pieces started falling into place. I shot up onto my knees and looked at the porch below. The red glow wasn’t sunrise, but fire. And the sound that woke me up wasn’t hail or rain, but the plastic bits of our grill boiling and popping in the heat.

The next few seconds were fueled kindly by a shot of adrenaline …because 6am has never been kind to me.

I hurdled out of my bed, opened the door to my room and screamed to wake up my roommate “JESSIE! FIRE!” Her response, as she tumbled down the stairs “I KNOW!” was punctuated immediately by a nice solid “SHIT!”

I’m pretty sure that’s about when our roommate Lexi woke up, but I was back in my room, buried in my closet looking for a suitable blanket to smother the fire. As I dug around, I started trying to calculate how much each second of my search would cost us. I threw one shoe aside as I imagined the destruction below, “There goes my basil plant!” some more popping outside and I tossed a dirty shirt over my shoulder, “That has to be the umbrella over the patio table. Dammit, that was new!” Finally, I found a large green microfiber blanket my sister had given me for Christmas a few years ago.

“Yes, this is perfect” I thought in relief, “If I wet this, it should be heavy enough to put out the fire.”

With the blanket bunched up in my arms, I skidded down the stairs. Jessie had opened the front door, but I was too focused on getting to the fire to wonder what she was doing. I could see the grill from the living room through the sliding glass door and the scene was terrible in its beauty. Red flames longer than my arms flirted with the overhanging limbs of a dry tree from the neighbors’ back yard. Glowing bits of melting plastic knobs dripped and dropped themselves around the charred propane tank below. Left over bratwurst grease popped as it spilled onto the patio and boiled away the paint on the fiberglass floor. The wheels were, at this point, little more than rubber puddles. It took me about one second to run from the stairs to the door leading out to the deck. It took Jessie about half a second to go the same distance…damn her long legs!

Turning to Jessie, I outlined to her my flawless plan: “Okay, I’m going to go warn the neighbors and then throw this blanket over the flames.”

At this point, I have to pause and applaud Jessie for her wherewithal and practicality at such a rude hour for a household fire. She looked at me calmly, assessed my plan and very matter-of-factly dismissed it.

“No. No you won’t. Let’s try this first.” and she pulled the pin out of the fire extinguisher in her hands. Jessie can usually be described using the word “statuesque” because of her height and imperturbable countenance. But in that fraction of a second she looked positively intrepid. In about two swift movements, the pin was out, the screen door opened, and the fire was out in a cloud of white fire extinguishing glory! Go America! I felt a surge of patriotism and love for the genius who thought to himself (or herself) “YES! We shall package and distribute metal containers full of a pressurized white powdery substance and this will indeed save lives! Methinks it will but save our country. Nay! Mayhaps it shall yet save civilization as we know it! Yea verily!”

I’m not sure why I imagined that person saying “yea verily” especially with an exclamation point following it…but that was the picture in my brain. And there was much rejoicing.

Jessie and I regarded the near-cataclysmic disaster we had avoided. And we stood there for a few more seconds while our adrenaline highs started to fade…and we collapsed. I fell onto the couch, still clinging to the blanket, curled up in the fetal position. Jessie fell into a nearby chair, still clinging to the fire extinguisher, curled up in the fetal position.

Jessie started laughing first, the way you do when you realize how ridiculously close you teeter on the edge of controlling or not controlling your world every day. Actually, maybe that’s not what she was laughing at. I think maybe, perhaps she was just laughing at me and the ridiculous plan I hatched to save our lives. “You know,” she mentioned by way of encouragement, “your plan to extinguish the fire with a big wet blanket and warn the neighbors was really very good…it would have been very useful if you’d been a farmwife in the 18th century.”

We both laughed then. How drastically different we are. How absurdly practical Jessie was to remember we have a fire extinguisher right outside our door…and HAVE had it there for as long as we’ve lived in this apartment. How downright ridiculous I was to think I could throw a microfiber polyester blanket over six foot flames and return with any of my own skin.

As we sat there, recovering, I started to worry about the grill and any flare-ups that might happen again. The propane tank sat there staring at me, all taunting and ticking-bomb-like. I imagine if this particular propane tank could speak, it would probably have some bizarre, haughty French accent. “Ha ha ha!” it would chuckle, gutterally “Approach me againe you naughty leetle ‘uman! Mais, oui: I will only liquefy you like thees tires beneeth me.”

It would probably have a stupid handlebar mustache and greasy hair too. Stupid propane. This is not the alcohol or the cake talking, neither. This is pure hatred for that trash-talking aluminum mistake that I so kindly brought in and gave shelter to for so long. And this is how the petit bastard repays me! By taking advantage of my early morning daze and anthropomorphizing itself! I think not!!! So I decided to take action. I called the fire department.

This was when I realized I was still in my black dress from the night before….so made the phone call, explained that there was no longer a fire but we were dealing with a verbally abusive French tank of gas. Fine, I left that part out, but as soon as I let them know there was no fire, but a danger of a re-flare-up, I ran upstairs and changed into pajamas so the brave firemen of Sierra Madre wouldn’t think they caught us in the middle of some early morning lesbian walk of shame since I appeared to be wearing clothes from a previous night’s soiree.

Eight of Sierra Madre’s bravest appeared about five minutes later and as I sat on the couch and watched them kick away bits of plastic that could now only be used for some poor modern art exhibit, I couldn’t tear my mind away from one little thought. If I hadn’t woken up this morning, if Jessie had been out of town or hadn’t had the wherewithal to get the fire extinguisher in time…I might have died. And my last night in this earthly existence would have been spent listening to VERY poor literature.

Zen 20

Dear The Tooth Fairy,

How have you been? It's been, what...sixteen, seventeen years since you've been to visit? I was just thinking about you one morning last week because I found some loose change under my pillow. At first I thought maybe I'd lost a tooth in my sleep, but they were all still in my mouth...thank goodness. Then I thought maybe I was ABOUT to lose a tooth and you just jumped the gun on the ritual "tooth for coins" exchange we established years ago. I finally realized it was just a quarter and a dime that had fallen out of a pair of jeans I'd taken off and thrown on my bed the night before.

Now that I think about it, you've got a hard gig, The Tooth Fairy. How did you get into your line of work, anyway? Maybe you were too small and flighty to be a dentist or dental hygeinist and now you're working the graveyard shift snatching sugar-rotten teeth from under the noggins of slumbering children. AND you have to pay them!

I was wondering, actually...has the price gone up? For teeth, I mean... because when I was losing my teeth, I think the going rate was twenty five cents per tooth. But with inflation and all, I bet it's somewhere up around fifty or sixty cents by now. I'm just wondering because if times get tight, I'd like to have something to fall back on. Also, I have other things you might be interested in purchasing. I trim my fingernails about once a week, and my toenails once a month (I think they grow slower) and I was thinking each set might go for a dime each (one cent per trimmed nail) which would be an extra fifty cents in my pocket per month...again, only if you're interested...I don't know if there's much of a market for toenails these days.

Or, if you're only in the business for pre-used dental items, The Tooth Fairy, maybe you're part of a networking group of other types of fairies who make under-the pillow, is there a The Junk Mail Fairy, or a The Holey Sock Fairy? Because I have lots of those things. I did try putting some chocolate under my pillow for you last night, as a thank you gift for all the loose change over the years....but it was still there (and a little melted into my sheets) when I woke up in the morning. I thought a little more about it and I guess it was always my parents who let you know there was something waiting for you under my pillow at night. Maybe I'll call my mom and see how she used to get in contact with you.

Which reminds me...I don't really know how to address this I guess I'll send it up to the North Pole. There are a lot of letters headed up that way this time of year. I'm hoping Santa's mail room will be able to forward this to you. I bet they get a lot of mail for various modern day mythological icons....I've been trying to get in contact with the boogey man too.

In any case, feel free to stop by any time you're in the neighborhood. Don't be a stranger!

Laura Jane McGranaghan

Zen 19

I'm severely tempted to call in sick at work today. Things are not going my way.

It started before I even got out of bed. Sorta.

You know how sometimes, you'll have a fitful sleep and the sheets will be all bunched up around you and somehow, by the time morning rolls around you've found THE most comfortable position you've ever been in? And then your alarm goes off. Well, that was me at 8:45 this morning. I waited for a few seconds listening to my alarm, hoping it would turn itself off so I wouldn't have to leave the nest of pillows and blankets. Because you KNOW that once you leave the nest, there's no returning to that perfect spot. Finally, I gave in. I got as far out of bed as I had to in order to reach the snooze button and then returned as quickly as I could, in my half conscious state, to the nest of joy and wonder. Everything was going well as I fell back in: the blankets were still warm, the pillows were still in the right place, the sheets were still bunched up in such a way that they were welcoming in the middle...but as my face made its way back to the bed, something was different. I'd pulled the sheets just enough out of place on my way OUT of bed to turn off the alarm, that as I returned, the elastic part of the fitted sheet on the corner of the mattress was barely hanging on...and my face resting near that very corner of the mattress was just enough to pull it off....and that's how I woke up this morning, by being smacked in the face by an elastic band. I took that as a sign to get out of bed.

Jessie woke up around the same time I did (that MIGHT have had something to do with the fact that I'd left the alarm going for so long...sorry Jess) and instead of being mad (as would have been perfectly reasonable) she suggested we make toast and coffee and watch tv in our pajamas until we had to get ready for work...neither of us work until afternoon today. I thought this was a great idea and (after I re-created how my bed had kicked me out a few minutes earlier) I took it upon myself to start the coffee.

I did everything right. I ground the beans, I put the filter in the coffee maker, filled it with water and turned it on. It wasn't until a few minutes later that I realized I'd forgotten to put the coffee IN the coffee maker.

Awesome. I had some vaguely coffee-flavored hot water.

Do it again McGranaghan.

Oh yeah, and THEN, I got out the toaster and as I was setting it down on the counter I knocked over one of Jessie's favorite wine glasses and it shattered in the sink.

Now, I am FULLY aware that I excel finding myself in awkward situations...I would like to reference the Karaoke incident a few weeks ago, and the old man and the questionable photographs he wanted me to look at a few days ago, and (let's be honest) a lifetime of being perpetually flustered or giggling at inopportune moments (remember how you used to razz me about that, Andy?) but COME ON. I can't catch a break. It's not just that I'm physically clumsy and careless (though that accounts for the wine glass breaking and possibly even the elastic band in the face this morning) or that I'm forgetful and absentminded (though that covers the coffee making incident) but uncontrollably awkward moments just HAPPEN to me, without my instigating them.

I'm considering becoming a cloistered nun. A customer at work decided to tell me all about them yesterday. It makes sense, hole yourself up all the time and just pray. I mean...what harm could I do there? I wouldn't even be able to speak to my fellow nuns due to the whole vow of silence thing. Of course, I wouldn't be able to continue my work as an international spy, but the ratio of awkward to non-awkward moments would significantly drop...I should hope.


Zen 18

Hey Kids, sorry it's been a while. I took a little break from the zen since (and I know this is hard for you all to believe, but) interesting things just don't happen EVERY day.

HOWEVER, there was this gem of an interaction that I had to share with you all. Sorry if some of you have already heard about this in person.

The other day at work, I was wrapping some gifts in the back room when I heard the bell ring at the Will Call window. I stopped what I was doing, turned the corner and saw an older man (at least in his mid to late seventies) standing at the window...barely taller than the counter. He had gray hair down to his chin, a bit of a scruffy beard, a hat and an army jacket. I asked how I could help him and he let me know that he'd ordered a book through our store that should be waiting for him, but he also had a book in his hands ready to purchase.

Shakily, he placed the book he'd picked out from the shelves on the counter. It was a book called "Sex on the Brain." I did a small (but hopefully unnoticable) double take before I asked for his last name so I could find the book we had special ordered for him. I found the book in our Will Call shelves and it was this giant coffee table picture book called "Naked Ambition"....The cover was a picture of two scantily clad women holding was a photo documentary of the Porn industry.

I hope you all can appreciate how hard I worked not to let any emotion or look of surprise surface on my face. I really tried.

As I handed him the coffee table book, he asked if he could have a few minutes to look at it while he decided whether or not he was going to purchase it. I said "sure, that would be fine, just let me know when you're ready and I can ring you up back here." It was at that moment I realized I needed to be careful and not say anything to this man that might be taken as a double entendre. He replied quickly though "No! That's okay, you can stay here, I'll only take a minute."

Of course.

So I waited patiently as this older man flipped through the large glossy pages of pornographic images... asking my opinion about a few of them. I really tried my best to avert my eyes. I promise you, I did NOT want any of those images burned into my retinas...

After what seemed like ten minutes (but was probably thirty seconds) the man decided NOT to purchase "Naked Ambition" but he did buy "Sex on the Brain."

All in a day's work, I guess. I should ask my supervisor if it's in my job description to look at porn with old men. I should get a raise.

Zen 17

Okay, the butter stories will have to wait. I was having fun today and had to share some of the results:
The following is a list of some popular Beatles song titles translated into Japanese and then back into English, courtesy of Google Translator. There's a key at the end if you get stumped...

1. Strawberry Fields Forever
2. Penny Lane
4. A little help from my friends
6. A day's life
7. Love is all
8. I am the walrus
12. Lady Madonna
13. Hey Jude
14. Revolution
15. BAKKUINZA ussr
16. While my guitar gently weeps
18. Return
19. Do not let down
20. The Ballad of John and Yoko
22. Here comes the sun
23. Together
24. Something
25. Octopus's Garden
27. The entire universe

Original titles:

1. Strawberry Fields Forever
2. Penny Lane
3. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
4. With a Little Help from My Friends
5. Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds
6. A Day in the Life
7. All You Need Is Love
8. I Am the Walrus
9. Hello Goodbye
10. The Fool on the Hill
11. Magical Mystery Tour
12. Lady Madonna
13. Hey Jude
14. Revolution
15. Back in the U.S.S.R.
16. While My Guitar Gently Weeps
17. Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
18. Get Back
19. Don't Let Me Down
20. The Ballad of John and Yoko
21. Old Brown Shoe
22. Here Comes the Sun
23. Come Together
24. Something
25. Octopus's Garden
26. Let It Be
27. Across the Universe
28. The Long and Winding Road

Zen 16

I had a few problems with the movie "300." I won't go into each of these points in detail, or bore you with any of them except one: There was no butter in that movie.

I happen to know, as a fact (because my high school history teacher told me this was true) that the real Spartans would, as a part of their preparation for battle, cover themselves in rancid butter. They did this for a few reasons. First, the smell is repulsive. Instead of an opponent thinking to himeself: "Grunt, huff, grrr...this guy's gonna die...that stupid Spartan! Charge!" he would be thinking to himself "Grunt, grr...huff! Huff? Sniff! Gross...something smells BAD! It must be that Spartan who looks like he's about to chop my head offfffff....." THud! And the opponent's head is gone! One for the team! and all because of the butter.

Second, rancid butter is slippery.

Tomorrow: other things you didn't know about butter.