Voicemails from my Mother

Below I have transcribed the best voicemails my mother left for me in 2014. Happy New Year!

 

 

“Hey Tasha it’s your Mom! The TV just fell off the wall, if you can believe that. I just called your Dad. It’s unbelievable. Missed Bart by a hair! He came screaming into the kitchen. And I was on the phone with a new provider trying to get information for Noah and you can imagine what I screamed. I’m sure she has special notes in her folder about how I need mental health referrals too. Oh my God! Oh my God! Unbelievable! It’s still playing smooth jazz, but the whole front, I mean there’s no cracks or anything, cause it bounced off the dog bed, BUT everything is a color grid. So I’m sure it’s like totally totaled. Your dad is having a fucking fit, as you can imagine. I missed your call last night cause we were out to dinner! We went and, um, opened a bank account, got a safe deposit box, you know, very close to the house and then we went to this Prime Cuts place that’s crowded all times of the day, every day of the week, and it was excellent, absolutely excellent. But I’m at the dog park now and there’s nobody here for Bart to bully so I thought I’d call and chat. A Cane Corso just left the other fenced in area and him and Bart were going at it through the fence, it was giving me a heart attack. And this woman was on the phone the whole damn time! These people with dangerous dogs show up and they’re on the phone the whole damn time, it just makes me crazy. But, my dangerous dog is like by himself with his brother, the poodle, so that’s the only reason I’m calling you. Just want to clarify. Bye!”

October 24, 2014 9:46 AM

 

 

“No!… Tasha, I need you to hashtag or tweet number sign boys sade and type in Delvin, because I don’t know how to do that and they’re eliminating my two favorite stars which is Delvin or Sassandra! Please do it quick! Bye!”
May 6, 2014 8:59 PM

 

 

“Hey Miss Natasha, it’s your mother and I was calling to go over this San Diego information with you. There’s a couple things I know your dad would really like to do. One I think we should drop him off and go somewhere else but Old Town is mentioned throughout so I’m sure if that’s where you live that’s cool. Um… what else… Oh, what was the name of the place that starts with a ‘B’ and has a bunch of museums and stuff? You can just call me back, maybe we’ll talk this weekend. It’s about a quarter to nine here and I’m exhausted so I’m gonna be going to bed soon and um I’ll let you, You probably heard that our second offer on the house, our counter offer, was accepted so we got a really good deal and Bethlehem is a great area to be in. So, I think we’re very fortunate. Um, that’s it. I don’t have to go back up there on an emergency house hunting trip, put the dogs back in the kennel. So I cancelled again! She’s gonna think I’m insane because I just begged her to take them this morning, thinking I had to go up there and look at a half dozen more houses. So, we are done, we will have the closing done the week of the 22nd, the week before we leave to come out to you. Hopefully we’ll um I’ll be moved in by mid-September and this will be listed by the beginning of October. But, I can purge happily! The garage door is broken and I can’t get out or get the trash out to the curb. I mean it really could have injured me today. It came right out of the ceiling, the entire frame, and Wow. Um, luckily Weasley was already in the car and I wasn’t standing where I usually stand when I push that button. But anyway, I couldn’t get back in once I got out and shut it so, um, hopefully the fix it man can fix that tomorrow. That’s it! Have a good evening. Hugs to Murphy. Hugs to Josh. Goodnight! (long yawn).”
August 7, 2014 8:45 pm

 

 

 

 

“Hi, it’s me just feeling sorry for myself because everybody’s at Ludfest, but me! WAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH. Goodbye!”
August 8, 2014 8:09 PM

Murphy Comes Home

Last fall Josh and I welcomed a puppy into our lives. It was my idea, having had a hankering for a dog since I went to college and found myself without one. In college, I knew that I was not responsible/structured enough for a new puppy and my parents refused to let me relocate my elderly childhood dog, Honey Bear, to my apartment. I ended up with my cat Merlin, who I love dearly, but it just wasn’t the same.

Case in point, one day I came home to our apartment and Josh was running erratically around our circular floor plan.

“What’s going on?”

“Playing a game with Merlin” he huffed, switching directions suddenly and jogging backward, knees to chest. This was clearly some sort of muscle memory from a football practice of yesteryear.

I scanned the apartment. Merlin was sitting on the back of the sectional sofa, watching Josh with a grave disinterest.

“Babe, I don’t think Merlin is playing.”

Josh stopped and surveyed the room, “He was a minute ago. He was chasing me.”

“Ok.”

“He was,”.

“You really need a dog.”

Yikes.

Yikes.

And this is how the idea took hold. Initially, having never had a dog himself, Josh was enamored with two large, muscly powerhouse breeds. He wanted a Cane Corso. He wanted a Pit Bull. The debate began, and in time my main points won, the most major of which being that there are breed restrictions in apartment living on those breeds specifically and we are not homeowners.

So we set out with a fairly open mind. I really wanted to rescue. We spent weeks visiting shelters around the Baltimore, MD area. No exaggeration, ninty-percent of the dogs were pit bull mixes. I just really couldn’t take the risk of having trouble finding housing when I knew it would be many years before I had a home. And, to be honest, I don’t think they’re cute. And I don’t want a dog that other people are afraid of. I wanted a poodle mix. I love fluffy dogs.

We applied to rescues. We rarely heard anything back, and when we did living in an apartment always seemed to be a significant snag. For all the desperate urgency these organizations claimed to have they appeared to only be adopting out to married families with yards. I was really frustrated.

l-golden-doodle-v.-teddy-bear.So, we branched out. In a perfect world I would have Goldendoodle or a Labradoodle. The cuteness factor. So cute. So endlessly adorable. However, a Goldendoodle puppy proved to be as much as two thousand dollars.

“That’s insane. It’s just totally insane.” Josh stated as he scrolled through the links of breeders I had sent him.

“I know, but a pet is like a lifetime investment… someone has got to have a reasonable litter, I don’t care about papers or anything, I just want a healthy puppy.”

My parents, crazed animal enthusiasts themselves, gifted us a few hundred dollars toward the purchase as an early Christmas present. As if by magical intervention, I found two ads for doodle puppies for less than five hundred dollars while my mom was visiting. The homes were all in rural Pennsylvania, a few hours away. I arranged for an immediate visit at the closest one, in Lancaster.

The three of us boarded my mom’s Subaru, Josh captaining the voyage.

“Listen kids, we need to pay attention to which dog is the most outgoing and confident,” my mom began.

“Well I’ve never seen an awkward puppy.” I replied. This wasn’t a middle school dance.

“No, seriously. And you definitely want a male puppy. Bitches are petty, they’re always challenging you.” She stated, flipping her blonde hair over her shoulder. Backstory: my mom runs a small dog walking and dog training business.

“Bitches are petty? Mom, what are you talking about! Honey Bear never challenged us. She wasn’t petty!” I couldn’t believe the slander.

“Not Honey Bear, neccesarily. Although, she wasn’t perfect.”

“Oh, because she had a little incontinence? She was fourteen years old and had a botched spaying procedure. You said so yourself!” I was teetering, clearly still hypersensitive about my deceased dog.

“Didn’t you say you wanted a boy puppy? That’s what I want,” Josh intervened, squeezing my hand.

“Yes, yes I do.”

“Well then!” Mom threw her hands up in the air and looked slightly upward, as if commiserating with her audience stage right.

Josh delivered us into Amish country. The buggies and the beards and the quilts were everywhere, roadside shops cropping up more and more rapidly as we approached.

“Oh we should stop! Get some jam or something!”

“Eh, no thank you.”

“What! Why?”

“It’s vaguely cult-ish. They’re isolated, ostracized, don’t have access to a lot of outside resources.”

My mother looked befuddled.

“There are patients who got out of cults at her job,” Josh offered.

“Ohhhhhhhhhhh”, Mom tipped her head back in an exaggerated nod. My job working with trauma horrified her.

“You know, we could be headed to an Amish farm right now,” Josh stated, raising his eyebrows.

Mom slapped her knee enthusiastically, laughing with glee, “Maybe they’ll even have a possum for you Tasha!”.

After a minor trauma in childhood, I have a fairly serious possum phobia.

“Oh stop. I don’t have like a prejudice against them I’m just saying I don’t find it charming. I don’t want to, like, pull off the road and submerge myself in it. We don’t have time. Besides, they had an ad on the internet, so.”

“Look around you, that’s all I’m saying” Josh said, gesturing to our scenery.

Finally, we arrived at a spacious housing development and pulled into a large driveway.

“Oh, I’m so excited!” I bounded out of the car, and hurriedly rang the doorbell.

howell-walker-laughing-mennonite-woman-carries-buckets-of-strawberriesA woman in a light gray dress with her hair pulled into an extraordinarily large bun peeking out of her bonnet answered the door. I heard my mother suck in air quickly behind me.

“Hi, we called earlier about the puppies! We’re here to look at them.” I smiled.

The woman nodded, “Sure, Natasha? I’m Annalee,” she extended her hand to each of us, “Just let me get them rounded up,” she yelled behind her, “JONAH! THE DOGS! GET THEM READY!”

There was a telephone and answering machine in the entry hall. They must be a Mennonite family.

“Just a moment,” Annalee shut the door.

“Ok, they are obviously Mennonite’s like cousin Tara’s friend who was in her wedding, and I don’t care. I really don’t.” I spit out as quickly as I could before the door opened again and the woman returned with her son. My mother just widened her eyes and crossed her arms in front of her, smiling. I had once admitted to my family  in high school that dwarves also made me uneasy, following a warped Haunted House experience, and that tid bit had morphed into Natasha hates midgets, really hates them! 

I had to stay ahead of this.

We followed the two around the side of the brick house, into the backyard. There was a giant metal dog kennel where the yard bordered a field. My heart sank.  I couldn’t get on board with this. There were three separate “lanes” within the chain link separating the dogs. A large yellow lab, a cocker spaniel, and a German Shepherd stared back at me.

“These are our moms!” the woman said. Her son slipped into the first lane, with the lab, “Take out the boys!”

Giant puppies exploded into the first lane from the closed tin roof shelter, bounding into their mother. They were almost red, and shockingly large. I had wanted a small, soft, cuddly baby but these puppies were monstrous and had a visible stink, like Pig Pen in Charlie Brown.

Pig-Pen

“How old are they again?”

“Twelve weeks, they were born on… July 17th” she said, glancing down at her paperwork.

I squeezed Joshua’s hand, that was three days before our anniversary. Meant to be!

“My birthday’s the 18th! Are those their papers? Who’s the stud?” Mom asked, reaching for the stack.

Josh and I chose two puppies to come out of the kennel and play in the yard. One of the puppies was fluffier than the other, and also more exuberant. He raced around the yard, crashing into us intermittently for pets, with a giant smile on his face.

“That’s a wild one.” Mom said, appearing at my side, “Look the stud is an apricot Poodle! He’s gorgeous!” she lowered her voice, “Although this really isn’t a good situation here,”

The crazed puppy boomed past us and jumped directly into a shallow creek at the edge of the property. The water splashed over him and he turned and looked at us with a giant smile. He jumped directly up into the air and came back down with another large splash.

Josh rumbled with laughter, “Wow,”.

“He’s so happy! I want him. He’s definitely a Murphy.”

Josh nodded.

“JONAH, TOWEL!” the woman commanded.

Her husband appeared in the horizon on a riding lawn mower. He was wearing two tone denim and chewing on straw. As he approached a sinister energy entered the yard, my intuition prickled.

“This dog is staying, huh?” He said as a greeting as he swung the second puppy we had asked to be released into the air. The gesture was reminiscent of the way one handles livestock, holding the animal by it’s limbs.

I felt a sudden pang of guilt. The puppies were getting older, what would happen to them if they couldn’t be sold? This kennel was clearly used for breeding multiple breeds of puppies, and did not have room to spare for any additional animals growing into adults. A dramatic vision of the scowl faced lawn mower cowboy shooting all the puppies and making poor Jonah bury them sprang to life in my mind. I glanced around, could there already be unwanted puppy graves here?

amishgun

I whispered my worries into Joshua’s ear only to be met with absolute horror, “Stop yourself,” he commanded.

“This is the country, people do things like that!”

“Stop yourself.” he repeated, cracking a laugh as he shook his head. This is a phrase that Joshua says to me often.

Jonah returned struggling to carry the wiggling puppy in a blackened towel, “What are you gonna name him? I named him Riley when he was born.”

“Oh, Riley is cute, but I think we’re gonna go with Murphy”.

“Hmm. Ok.” Jonah didn’t approve, and patted Murphy on the head without sentiment before returning indoors.

Annalee smiled, “He loves to name them. This litter had all R names.”

We headed to the garage to look over the paperwork and wrangle the puppy into a collar. The one we had brought was too small. Annalee disappeared inside, citing she would send him off with some of his food.

“He’s definitely a Murphy,” Josh said.

“He’s filthy. God. He’s probably never had a bath.” Mom surveyed the puppy with disappointment.

“Mom… none of his vaccinations are up to date. Apparently he had a hernia or something? The doctor wrote that he needed to be seen again,” The paperwork was dirty and wrinkled and filled with concerning information.

“Oh, this is not good Tasha.”

“I can’t leave him here. I really can’t. It’s too awful.”

“He could be sick. You might have to deal with worms, which are totally disgusting, or even Parvo.”

I looked at the puppy licking Joshua’s face. These people did not care about his health, the paperwork clearly outlined the dates he needed to be seen again, but the appointments were never kept.

“I can’t leave him here.”

Annalee re-entered the garage, “We don’t have a printer, but here’s another picture of the stud. Big guy, ninety pounds”.

I asked about the hernia, and the other medical concerns, already knowing her answers wouldn’t change my mind. In the end I gave her just two hundred dollars for my Murph, which, in hindsight, was totally appropriate given the vet expenses we would accrue shortly. Spoiler: Murphy was full of worms.

I sat in the front seat and Josh lowered the puppy, still in the towel, into my lap.

“Hi, Murphy! Your name is Murphy now! Hello! I love you!”

As the Subaru rumbled to life and took to the road, Murphy scrambled around in my arms, howling and crying. His nails burrowed into my skin.

“Guys, this hurts.”

“Poor thing, he’s never left that yard you know. Probably scared out of his mind.”

“I can’t breathe, God he smells.”

Josh rolled the windows down to ventilate the car. Murphy scrambled to exit the car through the window. This continued for thirty minutes. My arms were now bleeding. I would have to wear long sleeves to work.

“He doesn’t want to be with us! He won’t stop crying!” I was starting to question our rescue mission. Maybe we should have driven the extra hour for the other puppies?

“No, Tash, this is totally normal. When I brought Weasley home he cried the whole way too. Pull over Josh, we’ll put him in the back.” Mom tapped Joshua’s shoulder and gestured to a small store coming up on the right.

Once placed in the hatchback area of the subaru, which was separated from the rest of the car by a metal gate, Murphy’s howls just grew louder and more desperate. For brief periods he would quiet down and curl up on the blankets, then would abruptly let out a few hysterical hiccups and begin again. We were all silent, our faces leaning into the whipping fresh air.

We pulled into a PetSmart and deposited Murphy in the grooming salon. He appeared to be in an absolute panic as he was carried away, but it had to be done.

A cheerful groomer reported he was twenty-four pounds!

We spent the two hour waiting time loading a shopping cart with puppy supplies, trying to anticipate what we would need. We painstakingly landed on a beautiful wooden crate, that Murphy would eat, plush adorable toys, that Murphy would eat, and charming food bowls, that Murphy would eat. We spent twice as much on supplies in that day alone than we had paid for Murphy!

We loaded the supplies in the hatchback and returned to the lone bench in the grooming salon.

“Well kids, this had been a very long day.” My mother stated.

“I really, really need a shower.”

“We all do.”

Finally, the door swung open and Murphy bounded toward us, dragging his groomer behind him. Visibly lighter in color, and still smelling vaguely awful, he propelled himself directly into my arms.

And in that moment, I loved him enormously, forever.

 

Our first picture together.

Our first picture together.

And my favorite picture of us together, on day two.

And my favorite picture of us together, on day two.

There went the neighborhood

It’s time to talk about my neighbor, “Bessie”. She moved in across the street around the same time as us, at least that’s what I assumed when I witnessed her drag stained, ancient carpet we had ripped out of our house into her own home.

There were other red flags. Our moving truck backed into one of her many cars lining the street and she demanded $500 cash to repair the already beaten vehicle. Her grandchild is at least eight and when I met him he was running up on top of cars one right after the other in his under-roos. Their backyard is clearly the island for misfit toys and semi-broken playground equipment. Most haunting, however are the windows of her home.

Each bay window, typically made into a bench seat or treasured focal point of most homes, Bessie has stuffed with victorian dolls. Naturally, the big bay windows can only accommodate around twenty dolls. So the smaller windows have had her remaining collection pressed against the glass in a single file line. Every window has been dressed in this fashion, which begs the question… can she see out of her own home? From inside does the world look like endless planes of young girls facing away from her?

Are there more dolls inside the house? Does she have them in boxes, as “collectors items” or do they roam free–coming alive at night to tell scary stories of their era to the little boy in his under-roos?

One of my first conversations with Bessie transpired as she approached in her mini-van and called my name with more command than a friendly request usually summons.

“Natasha.”

“Yes? Hi…”

“Are you back from college?”

“I’m visiting for the weekend, yes.”

“What are you studying?”

“English, psych…” I was standing on the passenger side of her van and a dog was hanging out the window. As I reached to touch the golden head I had a horrible realization. The dog was stuffed. She had a taxidermied animal riding shotgun, positioned to be joyfully sticking his head out the window.

“Good for you.” She said, seemingly unaware in the change in my expression as I backed away, muttering some sort of goodbye before scuttling into my home.

There are so many questions which rampage through my mind as I try to confront this. Was this a beloved pet? Does she always keep it in the car, or does she move it around with her? Does he come alive at night, like the dolls, and provide a little whimsy to the grimness of her grandson’s day to day life? Or do the dolls dismiss him, being a mongrel beneath their pedigree?

Furthermore, if she is so attached to this animal why does she have a such a severe lack of affection for the living dog tied to her back porch? Ever since I met him I have referred to this dog as “Junkyard”, not merely due to his surroundings but also because of his unimaginable breed, callous demeanor, and general tramp quality as he hides from the elements under the porch. No matter the season, during the day Bessie keeps him tied to the porch. Upon closer inspection I have multiple times noted that his water is frozen. A fact I repeatedly mention on all my calls to animal control/humane society on his behalf. Once night falls he is released to roam our neighborhood. Assumably, hunting for his food.

Often I am confronted by Bessie as I come home from work. Her voice calls to me from the cluttered maze of her porches. She is always on a fact finding mission and I try to answer her as briefly as possible; never quite sure where in the mess her voice is originating. This morning was no exception, but she was easy to spy as Bessie has now died her wiry locks magenta and her pink head shone through the piled furniture she had burrowed within.

Much like communist domino theory I worry that soon other houses will fall to the magnetism of crazy hoarding renter on an otherwise upstanding block. In five years will Junkyard have his own gang? Only time will tell.

Good fences make good neighbors

It’s been several weeks since our family dog bit me (On letting sleeping dogs lie.) and yes, my relationship has changed a little bit with Rocco. I have a history of trying to maintain relationships with people who have hurt me, thus there is a certain loosely constructed pattern which has emerged as my response to such events.

The Path of Passive Aggressiveness

1.. I will talk to everyone but that person about how hurt I am. I will want to discuss what specifically I found hurtful, and why this action hurt me on this level, that level and another level. Furthermore, what could have possibly motivated their actions to do this? Theories will be constructed. Feedback will be noted.

2.. I will ignore this person entirely. Sometimes blatantly, other times with sly avoidance. OR I will be nice to my aggressor, under the reasoning, then they won’t hurt me again! Both options here are clearly maladjusted.

3. In due time, granted I am not assaulted again during this process, we will have a heart to heart during which I will confess that I was mad before but I am no longer mad and we can be best friends forever again! One or both parties will likely be intoxicated when this forgiveness transpires.

So far,

I have blogged about the experience with Rocco. I think he may be developing dementia or canine distemper. However, the general feedback has been that Rocco is an old dog, he didn’t mean it, he was probably sleeping with his eyes open. If he had intended to hurt me I wouldn’t have a hand left at all, yadda yadda.

I ignored Rocco for about a week, except when I was referring to him as Cujo to the rest of the family. Since, I have shared some food with him. He really likes ham. I have let him put his giant slobbery skull in my lap far longer than I normally would, ruining my outfit entirely.

I couldn’t depend on Rocco to get hammered and break the ice for our heart to heart. He’s in recovery. Before we rescued him he was a shameless booze hound. At least that’s sort of what the rescue society told us about him. He couldn’t keep a roof over his head, sounds like addiction to me! Anyway, since it was up to me I confronted him when I came home from the bar,

Rocco,

I could never stop loving you, but I’ve been a little afraid of you lately. I’m so sorry if I’ve seemed distant. I’m sorry I called you Cujo for awhile too, that was rude.

I know that normally I let you sleep in my bed when your mother is out of town. I just can’t do that anymore. It’s sort of irresponsible at this point… and well, I’ve learned a lot about the importance of boundaries over the years. Good fences make good neighbors and all that. Surely, you understand?

I’m just worried about you! You seem a little agitated lately? Do you know where you are right now? You’ve lived with us for four years now. It’s me, Nat. I give you ham! I am not supposed to give you ham, but I give it to you because I love you, Rocco! And I care about your happiness! And then you went and bit me! (at this point I began sniffling) How could you do that to me? I let you sleep in my bed and give you ham! Well no more bed! And if you bite me again there will be no more ham! Good fences, Rocco! Good fences!

Rocco wagged his tail and licked my face. I tripped up the staircase and ordered him to escort me to the attic, where I live.

We’re best friends again :)

YOU’RE A TOAD! A TOAD!

After Brit’s birthday party with her family, which was just the cutest, I headed to the tea room for pearl family dinner. I, naturally, was running late and found Michelle, Mara, and Rachel waiting.

At the martini bar I knew what I wanted to try, the candy cane martini! The description sounded just so delicious! Rachel and Mara felt the same way, but Michelle went rogue with some sort of tropical concoction. Oh, my regrets! As the waitress delivered our drinks the first red flag was that the candy cane martini was completely clear, from the description I had expected it to be, well, red. Or at least have red sugar on the rim! Second red flag was that the stentch of stark mint liquor that was radiating away from our glasses,

“Oh, those smell great!” Michelle sipped her tropical paradise with great bemusement.

We three leaned into our drinks and gingerly sipped the concoction. Choking coughs exploded. We flagged down our waitress,

“Hi, um, these aren’t very good.”

“Yeah, people don’t really seem to like them.”

“Really? Because they taste just like listerine.”

“That’s what I’ve heard.”

“Well, we’d like something else.”

“I’ll try and see if I can get them taken off. I can’t promise anything, but I’ll see.” She walked away, indifferent to our collective dismay.

“You know you’d think she may have mentioned that when we were ordering…” I began.

“Well, I’ve got news for her, I’m not paying for that drink.” Racheal stated.

We simmered at the ghastly thought of paying ten dollars for an acid de menthe martini while Michelle joyously drank her paradise tropical heaven. Life was so unfair! Luckily for everyone involved the waitress reported that we did not have to pay for our drinks. Mara and Racheal both have had the occasional temper, so the waitress really dodged a bullet there whether she knew it or not. Little did we expect that it was my temper that would flare as the evening progressed.

Rach retired for the evening and the rest of us trudged on to none other than Altos! Brit and Chris arrived, my college parents, Erica and Carbone joined us! My lucky stars! I had so much to brag about to them. Guess how early I get up in the morning now Mom and Dad? Before noon! Guess who is clean and sober now? My son, Merlin! Guess who hasn’t over drafted their bank account in months? NATTY! It was a gleeful reunion.

Things did, however, take a turn. There was a certain bartender we’ll call Andy, whom used to be a lowly patron like the rest of us but in my absence has become a bartender. One of the many mysteries of the world given his disrepute among some in the bar’s inner circle. Nevertheless, he was now an employee at the altar of Altos at which I worshipped and when he pointed out I had not paid my eleven dollar tab the night before (I had left in a whirlwind), I was more than happy to have it added to my current tab. No, Andy wanted cash. Why would Andy want cash? I have every reason to believe Andy wanted to put that cash in his pocket, especially since he was whispering.

I refused, I said, “It will have to be added to my current tab.” I wanted no part in defrauding my favorite dive bar with that Judus! The rest of the night when I ordered “Tall Jack and Coke” I received a glass of ice with two drops of Jack and a splash of coke. I wish I was exaggerating, but I wasn’t the only one who noticed this gross travesty.

Simultaneously, a situation erupted at our home table. A giant man, being around seven feet tall, has inserted himself at our table. He was blonde. He had a shrunken head. I wish there was a more politically correct, medical term I knew to describe his appearance, but the best way I know how is to say this man had a shrunken head. I would later learn that when he joined our table he had asked Chris which one of us women folk was “his”. When Chris claimed Brit he unknowingly threw Michelle and I to the wolves.

He sat down between us. I’m unsure how the conversation started but before I knew it, he was talking about doing drugs in his van in the parking lot. How tempting!

“Oh really? You have drugs in your van? What kind?” These are the kinds of things I say that further conversation with crazy people when I should be running away.

“Dro. I got purple weed.”

“Oh, I can’t smoke weed. I’m job hunting, sorry.” I shrugged.

“What do you do, girrrrrrrl?” He smiled, and his little eyes in his little head seemed to get even smaller.

“Do you have any fentanyl lollipops?” I couldn’t resist. This could be my chance to finally try them!

“Whaaaa?” He looked baffled. This was not my chance. Which is probably good, given he was a weirdo with a van in the parking lot. I went back to the bar for more whiskey water. When I returned there was a dispute between shrunken head and Michelle.

“No, no, I’m a scorpion! You’re a toad! It’s in my nature! I will hurt you!” Michelle was emphatically gesturing as if she had a stinger.

“I’m a scorpo.” he replied with a smile, as if this was the only thing separating them from a night of bliss in the van.

“Scorpion,” I interjected,”with a stinger,” I hooked my arm over my head erratically.

“I’m a scorpo!”

“You’re a TOAD!” I had lost my patience, “She’s a scorpion! You’re a TOAD!”

Michelle joined in, “You’re a TOAD, a TOAD!”

The man began shaking his head, clearly thinking to himself, these stupid stupid drunk broads, and fished out his driver’s license. He showed us his birthday, “I’m a scorpo.”

Michelle and I blinked and looked at each other. We realized what he meant. The age-old fable of the scorpion and the toad was lost on him. He thought we were talking astrological signs. He was a scorpio. Clearly, it was time to close my tab. I wrestled back into the bar line. Andy handed me my tab. Fifty-one dollars. Eleven from last night and forty for my four whiskey waters? At a normal bar, I admit, this would not be unheard of, but at Altos? I was outraged! I could not believe I was paying this much at Altos when  I could still walk in a straight line unassisted! I did not put up with shrunken heads to pay normal prices! It was robbery!

I went back to my table and announced what had transpired on my receipt. Immediately my friends bubbled with unflattering antecdotes and defamations of Andy’s character.

“I’m a sister wife! I just can’t!” Michelle shrieked, I turned and realized she was still battling her toad at the end of the table. Not to be distracted, I continued scribbling my letter to Andy on the back of my receipt,

Andy, you are manipulative and untrustworthy and no one trusts you. You make terrible drinks. You tell lies. I don’t trust you.

I waved my receipt in the air, “I wrote it! I wrote it!”

“You don’t know what my husband is like! I could never be with another man! The sisters would never allow it!”

“You’re right! We wouldn’t!”

“He’ll kill her for sure!” Sometimes the lies we tell at Altos become more of a game. Bar improv, if you will.

“Wives? Your husband got wives?” We had lost shrunken head in translation again.

“Polygamy! I’m a polygamist! I have a husband who has lots of wives! I have no rights! I can’t do drugs in your van! I’m a scorpion!” Michelle was throwing everything she had in protest.

“Go give Andy your letter!” Brit encouraged.

“Absolutely!” I walked toward the bar, rereading my defiant masterpiece, but then… I changed my mind. I ran to the jukebox, I looked over my shoulder, I slid the letter/receipt onto the top of the jukebox ever so slightly and ran outside. The following day I would be exposed to many of Michelle’s impersonations of this action.

I’m sure that my receipt and my message are still on the top of that jukebox for the taking. Just as I’m also certain, the man with the shrunken head will forever remember Michelle as the polygamist scorpo who got away.

Vice Vacation, Day 3

Friday afternoon Brit returned from a day of job interviews at about two o’clock. I was relaxing in her living room, judging all of the Real Housewives when she announced, it is time to drink! The day of so profesh behavior had frayed her nerves, so we hopped in the welfare wagon and headed to the shanty. The Shanty is around the size of a double-wide and everybody knows your name. We love it. We arrived at three o’clock. The bartender working was a friendly-middle aged man we’ve befriended through our patronage and it wasn’t long until the free shots started flowing. House specialty shots of the pineapple or cherry variety, jaeger… by four we knew we couldn’t make it to dinner with Brit’s boyfriend, Chris. He had intended to make us shrimp alfredo, but alas, it was not to be.

There was an elderly African-American vet drinking in the afternoon as well. At one time or another both Brit and I had altercations with this man. He tended to be a little too friendly. Today was no exception. He sauntered over and greeted us both with wet kisses on our necks. He told Brit to stop cutting her hair. He then told me I had beautiful hair. I agreed, and we all returned to our free shots, insulting remarks be damned!

Throughout the evening he pointed at me from across the bar, gestured to imaginary long locks on himself, then gave me two thumbs up. Each time he did this I awkwardly laughed out of discomfort and took another shot. This, naturally, led to a very drunk state which drove me to “break the seal”. On the way back from the bathroom he caught me and started babbling. Early in the day he is difficult to understand, by this time it was nearly impossible. At some point in his speech I realized that he was referring to Brit, my dear zucchini, as my “old lady” and told me I shouldn’t “go back to her”! I responded with, “WHAT!” and almost blew the most convenient protection ever. I almost corrected him, but common sense stepped in and I responded with, “but I love her very much!”  Thank God for mislead preconceived notions and total density since my “old lady” was sitting beside her boyfriend!

Other highlights of the night include Chris showing up at the bar, having been led to believe we had just stopped in for a few drinks before dinner to find Brit and I completely shnockered before even eight o’clock. I consider this phase one of his hazing process. Around this time I also started calling people in the area and demanding they meet me at the bar. The general response was something along the lines of “How drunk ARE you?” and “Geez, Nat, what time is it even?” to which I recoiled and hissed,

THIS IS MY VACATION!”

At one point a patron walked in who I was somewhat embarrassed to run into. Did I greet them like a mature adult, saying hello and returning to my seat? Nope. I crawled underneath the bar and sent Brit on a mission to confirm their identity. Turns out it wasn’t who I thought anyway! It was someone totally different I was embarrassed to run into! Silly me!

When we conferenced in the morning Brit and I just looked at eachother and started laughing.

Day 3 of vice vacation, successful :)

Maria’s Hopes and Dreams

Last night I reunited with Kenzie! Kenzie is one of my favorite people on the whole planet. We have loose plans to live on the beach and write on rice for a living once she graduates. A degree is clearly essential. Did you know that people actually pay money for rice jewelry? It’s crazy, right?! I mean what could be more cush than setting up a kiosk on a boardwalk somewhere, and writing really tiny on rice while sipping pina coladas and wearing flip flops every day! It’s a pipe dream that’s close to my heart.

During dinner, another exciting business venture was proposed to us. Now, to be fair, outside the pub Kenzie recognized this crazy and warned me I was not to invite conversation with her AT ALL. Obviously, I was going to talk to this woman at length. It was inevitable.

From what I had overheard of the woman’s unsolicited conversations with other unsuspecting bar patrons during dinner she had mentioned the Reagan administration, her civil war connections, Clinton’s impeachment, and the amount of mercury in lead hats within a five minute time frame. I turned to Kenzie,

“Wow, she’s travelling through time and place pretty rapidly.”

“No shit. Do not talk to her Natasha!”

Though, talk to her I would! As I finished my tuna melt I noticed her making her way to our corner. The time had come. She was middle aged, had frenzied frizzy hair, and immediately started rubbing her stretchy nylon gloves across our arms,

“Hey girls! I’m ‘Maria’.”

“I’m Kenzie.” She continued to face forward, still hoping our dinner conversation could survive this intrusion.

“Natasha.”

“I think I’ve seen you before!” She looked at my friend with murky familiarity. Kenzie had been close friends with the woman’s son for eight years, ” Natasha! Who are you! Where are you from!”

“I went to school here but I live in Pittsburgh now.”

“Oh yeah? What do you do?”

“Sales.”

“Ohhhh. Look at these gloves girls. They’re about twenty bucks and feel how soft they are!” She pulled them up to her elbows. They

the spark

were formal looking gloves in terms of length and form, but blue green speckled and polyester. I couldn’t imagine purchasing them.

“Very nice!”

“Thank you! And when it’s twenty degrees out here I just hate the damn cold so I put these on! They’re so nice!” Maria was still showcasing them to us Vanna White stye.

That’s when she noticed my purse hanger Lindsey had given me  for Christmas. It’s essential for bar time, enabling me to bring my big expensive purse out without risking the dirt on the floor or getting robbed while it’s slung behind my chair. It really is a great gift, but Maria thought I had discovered electricity.

She wanted to know where I had gotten it. Since it was a gift, I suggested google. She asked if any stores in town had them, I said I didn’t know. That’s when the idea hit her… we were going to start selling them ourselves. She wanted to “import” them and sell them to the local stores, take a cut, and swim gleefully around in our profits like Scrooge McDuck.

She ran off to get pen and paper so we could exchange information. Kenzie and I discussed the level of awkward things were getting with our neighbors on adjacent stools. They were completely on the same page, having had the polyester gloves rubbed against their faces as well. We paid our checks and booked it out the door. We hadn’t made it an entire block when Maria burst out of the pub, bellowing,

“Natasha! Natasha! Sorry I took so long writing this down!” Now I felt like a total asshole, but I didn’t want the responsibility of having her information. I didn’t want her waiting for my email to get the ball rolling on this project. I have only worked in sales for two days! I don’t have the magic it takes to make a readily available product a smashing monetary success in the locally owned businesses of small-town hippie Shepherdstown! It was too much pressure!

She thrust a wrinkled paper menu in my hand and explained that she no longer had a phone, but this was her PO box, residential address, and email. Email contact would work best for her. She was excited to work with me.

Strawberry Shortcake Martini! Yum!

Immediately we headed to the Yorkshire for a change of scenery. I needed some martinis and a one on one process group to deal with the burden of Maria’s hopes and dreams. Kenzie shared our experience with her wide network of townie contacts who know Maria well. I was assured she would not remember to wait for my email.

Our conversation then returned to normal. We discussed the prospect of living our last year on Earth and the credibility of the Mayans. Personally, I’m pretty excited about the prospect of not having to live up to my potential. A complete and total apocalypse is such an easy out! Other topics covered: not being into sports besides Brian Wilson, bearded men, and all humiliating mishaps we had encountered since our last meeting.

Catching up with friends is so good for the soul :)