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Tiger in Your Tank (PG-13)

the pig

Yesterday, touring Alabama after a morning well-spent writing, we had to stop for gas. I didn’t notice until the needle was in the red, and we were rocketing down a kudzu soaked two lane highway. My windshield was painted yellow from driving through so many plants in full-on orgy mode. A gratuitous number of plants, already, making more more more more more.

Lydia: Look! A gas station!

Me: Yes, but it is Tiger Themed. Creeps me out. I read Prince of Tides too many times. I look at that and I think, Callanwolde! Callanwolde! even though I know it’s because the owners are Auburn fans.

I hold down my iPhone button to get Siri to tell me if there is another gas option close, but Siri tells me she is not available. Siri doesn’t even exist yet, I realize as we exit. We have driven into 1982. If there is a grocery store here, it will be The Pig. If we turn on the radio, we will hear Cyndi Lauper.

We pull off onto a narrow, crumbling road into a piece of Alabama that is still inside my childhood, the asphalt so old it is a soft, chalky-pale grey.

The tiger place has a threatening, stripey awning and smells strongly of diesel outside and boiled peanuts inside. They carry RC Cola. They carry Moon Pies, and not with the kind of Hipster Irony of the Ace store near my house or the nostalgic Old Timey fond remembrance of the Cracker Barrel we passed earlier.

These Moon Pies sit in dusty glory next to other old and dusty snack cakes, with no subtext at all. They are as sincere a product as the motor oil or the Snickers.

We wait by the single locked unisex bathroom for a worryingly long time. We hope no one is pooping in there, especially since we have each separately tried to enter, rattling at the door. I always feel so sorry for anyone who has to poop in a gas station toilet and comes out to find a line. Pooping in a gas station toilet implies some kind of extremis. Perhaps the person does not have a home. Perhaps they are very very sick from eating wrongful meats. It is somehow a shameful thing, I feel bad when the person has to exit and walk past me, as if I am witnessing a human downfall.

More time passes. Now we hope no one has died in there. It finally occurs to me: We need a key.

A woman with bangs pulled directly from 100 photos in my high school yearbook chews a cud-sized gum wad and regards us phlegmatically.

Me: Is there a key to the bathroom?

Her: Yuh-haw. S’ryechere.

I take the key and walk off and Lydia, who was raised in Detroit and who now lives in Virginia, says in earnesty, “What language was that?”

I say, “Alabanglish.”

I speak Alabanglish. Fluently. Yaw-huh is yes, the natural opposite of Nuh-uh. S’ryechere lands cleanly in my ears as, “It is right here.”

The bathroom is all brown and khaki and browned-out orange: Lino from the seventies, a khaki-colored toilet and a sink stand in harvest gold and brown. There is a condom machine on the wall with three varieties. The first boasts that is has “Hundreds of rubber stubs, for her pleasure!” The second promises to “surprise her” with one of four exotic flavors. Including Blue Raspberry. I do not know a woman who thrills to the idea of hundreds of “rubber studs.” I know no woman who wants to be surprised by a Blue Raspberry penis. The third has some sort of terrible attachment that looks in the illustration like a foamy hedgehog or some other rounded, odd, headless animal. It’s like a wad of spongy spikes near the open end. I do not see how this would be effective at making sex more pleasant OR contraception.

They all cost 75 cents. With a CENTS sign, you know? The c with the line it in it. In 2015, nothing costs cents. Even if they do, they are marked with a dollar sign and a decimal, like $.75. Right now, for example, I cannot find a cents sign on my 2015 keyboard to show you.

A printed sign on the wall says: Please wash hands after using the bathroom or any other probable contamination.

I do not want to think of what the other probable contaminations are, but it is hard not to, what with the sign right by the condom machine.

Not four miles later, the kudzu and the trees abate, and all at once we are in the Alabama of The American Now.

There is a Shell station, a Krystal Burger, a Kroger store, even a Home Depot.

Two middle school-aged teenagers sit on the bench outside the grocery, peering deep into their phones, waiting for a mother. One is wearing Chucks. They have choppy layered haircuts, definitively un-Mulleted and current. They are probably texting each other or settling some argument via Google.

It is disorienting. Here we are, and yet old Alabama is alive in shady hollows, secreted in pockets all around us.

Back in ‘Bama

at the lake
This is the actual lake where I am writing my actual book. It’s truly going now. I am finding the voice. It helps that it is 1982 here. Lydia says I am wrong. She says it is feels more pre-1978. Maybe, yeah. This is the American South where I came of age. It still exists.

There are meth houses with rusted metal Confederate flags planted in the yard. A BEWARE OF DOG sign advertises the inevitable pit bull. He is always chained to the porch. He has a pendulous ball sack and an alligator mouth. Just down the road we come upon a cluster of tidy, vinyl sided Mee-maw houses. One has a pansy bed. One has heart-shaped cut outs on the shutters. You KNOW that inside that one, someone is making jam. YOU KNOW.

It is beautiful and full of nature. We have seen geese (6), fat fuzzy bees (2), a fishy splash that may have been a turtle(1), a shadow that may have been a deer (1), entitled ducks(3, all mallards), and we have heard but not seen sex-obsessed springtime perverted frogs (Umpty). The murderous sex cannibal count is still at 0. SO FAR.

The ducks are irked because I am off grains and have no bread. They cluster around the dock, making disapproving tutting chuckle-y sounds low in their throats. I like the musical duck-muttering, though if I spoke duck I am pretty sure they would be calling horrifying curses down upon my breadless house, yea unto the seventh generation.

Me: Maybe we should give them some lunchmeat.

Lydia: Would they eat that?

Me: Ducks are omnivores, I am pretty sure. I feel like they eat bugs and minnows and such. Once at a duck pond in Atlanta, I saw a duck sidle all innocent toward a picnic and then run off with a piece of fried chicken, but it upset me.

Lydia: Yeah. I was thinking we could give them the fat off our rotisserie chicken, but then that upset me, too.

Me: It’s a little too cannibal-y.

What if we fed the ducks the chicken skin, I am thinking, and one of them LIKED it. What if one of them…OVER-liked it. He might look at his relations and make the same connection Bagel made between the wildlife of my yard and That-Which-is-Delicious. He would begin preying on the other ducks, unable to help himself. What if he ate HIS BEST FRIEND? WHAT IF HE ATE HIS MOTHER? He would be the saddest, sorriest duck cannibal in Alabama. I don’t want to carry that, you know?

We put the chicken skin in the trash.

ASIDE TO YOU I SAY: I know I am blogging a lot about cannibalism and other instances of eating inappropriate things, Oh my Best Beloveds, but I am on a new food regimen trying to create for myself something like a immune system. I am HUNGRY with this specific cookie-wanting HOLLOWNESS that all this God-forsaken, blighted #&^&$)#&*@@_#ing FRUIT I am poking down gullet is not going to fill.

My LORD, but I love this state. This LANDSCAPE! The greens of Alabama are the greenest and most lovely greens. The dirt is black with old blood, it smells rotty and loamy and feels like crumbled velvet in my hands. It almost makes me want to garden, this Alabama dirt, and you know I hate gardening. Gardens are where they keep the bugs.

But this land makes me want to till. I want to dig and gauge and turn this rot that makes the lushness rise up.
Every time I come here I know that I am home, but I could never live here. I would need SO much therapy. Rural Alabama is the beating heart of my ambivalence about my homeland. When I come here, I am inside a double pulse of love and despair.

It happens so fast. Yesterday we pulled into this gravel drive. I got out of the car and breathed in, and it started. Later, I paused while unloading the car. I knelt and put my fingers in this dirt, and I knew —I still know — that the book is here, both in the decay and the green smell of new things rising.

This is NOT the Cabin Where I Will Be Murdered by Sex Cannibals

Greyowls cabin ajawaan lake

This is not the cabin where I will be murdered by sex cannibals.This is just a picture of a cabin by a lake that I found on Wikimedia Commons. However, it does look an awful lot LIKE the actual cabin where I will be murdered by sex cannibals. More on that in a minute.

First, I want to say that you guys are the best. THE BEST. That’s just a true fact of science.

Let me clarify, on the skunk thing. I am not SAD. I am not drooping. I am ridiculously blessed. My ears are still up and I am very…interested. Interested in the narrative.

But yeah, as lot of you pointed out, my kids are becoming fully realized adult humans, and they own a lot of the stories that are happening in my family now.

Also, I think my voice has changed because—well, I am in the second half. Things change in the second half. One key change is, people start dying. Not “shockingly dying way too young,” not dying in tragic accidents as anomalies and aberrations, but just dying in their due course. Dying as a regular part of The Big What Happens.

In the first half, it was all rushing about meadows, making babies, building careers, accumulating goods. It was a good part. This half is all about launching things, releasing things. This is a different part, but all the parts are good.

The main thing making me sad today is that I am going to die in a lakeside cabin, probably by Tuesday, which will make this a VERY short second half.

Lydia Netzer and I are going on writing retreat, and I chose a VERY VERY small, very very WELL RESEARCHED Alabama town.

I wanted to go to a place that had a population of less than 3,000, but more than a dozen churches. A real, small Alabama town, not near city center, not secretly a suburb. The small town south has changed from when I was growing up in the 80’s and 90’s. Back then, the “real” Possett felt like it was still in 1965. I just need to get the smell of it back in my nose for this book I am writing. I wonder mainly about what the internet has done. What parts will now be like 2014, homogenized, regular American, and what parts are Old South? There are some wonderful parts to the old south, and some absolutely horrifying parts. What’s still alive? I am going to find out.

I did a BUTT TON of research. I started with about twenty towns and narrowed down and narrowed down, and finally CHOSE one, picked a nearby rental and PAID for it. Non-refundable.
Then yesterday I stumbled across a MIND BOGGLING statistic, buried on an obscure website. This particular town? THE ONE I CHOSE? Has one of the highest PERCENTAGES of REGISTERED SEX OFFENDERS IN THE WORLD. The ratio is crazy. Practically every other person we see is BOUND to be a sex offender. And as Lydia pointed out—THOSE ARE JUST THE REGISTERED ONES. So.

My CHEERFUL theory is that there is a peaceful gentle hippie-dippie nudist colony nearby and a nudist-hating judge is in a war with them—kind of like FOOTLOOSE with wieners instead of dancing. My LESS CHEERFUL theory is that Lydia and I are going to a place populated wholly by murderous sex cannibals who specialize in The Dismemberment and Cooking of Ladies of a Certain Age.

I’ll let you know how it turns out, assuming I am not baked into some kind of Saucy 50 Shades of Casserole.

This is a Metaphor. A Gross, Upsetting Metaphor

So you know the tale of An A Bunnies, circa 2008. And you know that here in 2015, just minutes before 12 people showed up at my house for dinner, Bagel-Dog discovered a skunk living under the garden shed and took a big blast of Smell right in his face.

Here is what you do not know: Between 2008 and 2010, Bagel enthusiastically caught and held 3 or maybe 4 more An A Bunnies. We would hear Ansley trumpeting out triumphant barkings, and we would run to the yard to see Bagel standing mystified and weirded out with a rabbit in his mouth.

The rabbits were to a Lapin all fainted and damp and sure they were dead. We would go peel the moistened little fellows out of his face, and they would blink and drunkenly hop away, not understanding how they were alive. They were like the rabbit versions of THIS guy:

But. Alas. Then. One day. During the “snatching up An a Bunnies in his maw” part. The Inevitable happened. Bagel accidentally…pierced one a little.

Now, Bagel is literally the stupidest animal alive. Inside his head is white noise and joy, and that is all. He is like moss with feet.

But when he accidentally pierced the an a bunnies, he came to understand that the running thing he’d felt so compelled to chase and grab was actually a form of very fast food.

This was just a TERRIBLE discovery. TERRIBLE.

I remember the first time Ansley came panting and foaming and capering and leaping to the back door, barking and wagging, SO PROUD. In dog whole body language she was saying: I PROCLAIM THE MIGHT AND WISDOM OF MY ALPHA! FOR HE HATH CAUGHT THE RUNNING FOOD, AND LO, IT IS FOR EATING! SOON IT WILL BE MY TURN! COME AND SEE THE GLORY, THE GLORY OF BAGEL.

So we went out to see what had Ansley all lathery and smug, and the scene the flashlight picked out of the darkness was of course very terrible. One bad part was the dear and stupid worried face of Bagel. He was absolutely PANICKING. And GUILT SOAKED.

HELP ME, his desperate face said. HELP ME I CAN’T STOP EATING THIS AND SOMEHOW I KNOW IT IS WRONG TO BE EATING IT HELP ME I CANNOT STOP. All the while, Ansley capered and gibbered around him OUT OF HER TINY MIND with delight, completely unrepentant and eager for a go. I shall draw a veil over this and simply tell you that I went inside. Scott helped him stop eating it.

Now I will provide you with some information, mercifully using NO imagery, with NO attempt to paint a word picture. It is simply a single sentenceworth of information that you someday may find useful, though I hope for your sake and the sake of small furry innocents everywhere that you never need it. Ready? Here it is:

IF your dog eats the better part of a yard rabbit, then right around three am, you can expect to see said rabbit—or parts of it, anyway—appear IN YOUR BED and ON YOUR PERSON in a new and horrifying form. Here endeth the information. Do with it what you will.

I never TOLD you this for a very simple reason—It’s awful. This story begins with dismemberment and ends in SPECTACULAR diarrhea. Who wants to read that?

Worse, once Bagel learned that the an a bunnies was A FOOD – well. He understood that ALL yard animals are for eating. Rabbits, squirrels, deflated little moles, he has caught and killed and eaten UMPTY of them. A month or so ago, I watched him dash across the yard, take a twisting leap, and EAT A WHOLE SMALL BIRD right out of the air. It was like the dog version of THIS:

But—other than making sure his shots are VERY up to date—what can I do? It is his nature. He can’t NEVER GO OUTSIDE. Outside is where he poops, best case scenario. And, on nights when he eats a fat yard rabbit, the yard is ALSO where he sleeps.

I tell you this awful story now for two reasons.

First, so that you know how the skunk story ended. I solicited your advice, and indeed, we were going to call a skunk whisperer to relocate the fellow. But. Well.

Bagel— who is too stupid to have learned anything from having his face near-blasted off by foul gland fluids in his first skunk-encounter—relocated a goodly portion of the skunk to his belly and the rest of the skunk to various locations in and around the yard. It was terrible! Terrible! Terrible! on MANY level, not the least of which was that the skunk managed to thoroughly re-soak the dog in Smell as a protest.

Second, it’s a metaphor for why the blog has been so quiet thepast few years. As you have gathered, my life has been a little fraught with skunk stories. I have had more skunk stories than miraculous An A Bunnies stories, that’s for sure. I feel like in some ways I have lost the voice of the blog. There is a giddiness, an optimism, an odd certainty in the older FTK entries that I think may well be over now.

I am not sure how to find that voice again, or even if I should. Maybe the blog needs to evolve? Maybe it’s okay for the voice to change? Or maybe it should be a less frequent blog that I write when I CAN find that old voice, to try and preserve it? I am not sure, but I am open to responses.

I can tell you that I miss being here. I miss hearing from you, Oh my Best Beloveds.

Kale Meets Yorick. Alas!

Kale-Bundle

So yesterday I went out for lunch at a Mexican place in a strip mall. The kind with combo plates, you know? Like 1 burrito, 1 enchilada,1 taco with rice and beans, and the sodas come in big red nubbled transluscent plastic cups and they stealth calorie you to death with an endless chip basket. You have been to this place or its clone, I am sure.

The food is inexpensive and good, but NOT innovative or surprising in any way. You know the guacamole will come in a little fried corn basket made to look full via a tired slice of tomato and some shredded iceberg. A place like this cannot, by ANY stretch of the imagination, be described as HIP or HAPPENING or NOW or ON TREND. It’s just lunch.

So when I tell you that the lunch special was a Kale Quesadilla, you know instantly that kale is officially over. It’s like 2002, when the PTA president came to gardening club in a toe ring, and suddenly you realized toe-rings were mom-tastic. Only people with minivans really sport them now.

Kale is like that. It has reached maximum cultural saturation and will now begin to disappear from high end restaurants and fancy-pants grocery stores, cool-trickle-down will happen in reverse, and in a few years, kale will be as a leafy-green fever dream that happened in the early parts of the 2000’s.

Upside: You can now eat it all you want without looking like you are trying for The Food Cools. Yes, my fellow dorks and other brands of regular humans, it is open season on kale for non-hipsters.

Upside two: The other day at the YMCA farmer’s market, where I was buying, yes, KALE—-

DIGRESSION: I needed it to make this truly awesome crustless quiche thing with ricotta and artichokes from Kalyn’s Kitchen. Two thumbs up, will make again. END DIGRESSION.

—-I ran into a hipster who had not gotten the KALE IS OVER memo, and she cornered me by the kale basket and smugtured* for a good four minutes about how kale requires one to MASSAGE THE LEAVES to release the OILS and TAME THE BITTERNESS, and as she smugtured, she proceeded to rumple at the leaves of my kale in this creepy way that was both condescending and WEIRDLY SEXUAL, so that as soon as she looked away I swapped out my defiled kale for an unmassaged bunch from the kale basket. I NEVER WANT TO SEE THAT AGAIN, and if Kale is over, then I likely will not.

Downside: I really LIKE Kale. It is very delicious to me. But at the strip mall lunch place, I could not escape the knowledge that in six months, Wendy’s will have a Kale Burger, and by 2018, you won’t be able to find it anywhere except The Rainbow Food Collective for Hippies Who Don’t Care About Trends and Just Want to Eat Things That Are Vegan and Macrobiotic.

Kale is going the way of prosciutto wrapped figs. Remember 1994, when you couldn’t STEP into a restaurant without tripping on a prosciutto wrapped fig? And now you can’t find a prosciutto wrapped fig ANYWHERE. Or – I am trying to think of more food trends, but they slip out of the culture and I forget.

I REALLY should have a 90’s food trend pot luck, to remember the hip foods of yore… HELP ME THINK OF SOME! What used to be THE eating thing, and now it is gone, baby gone?

*Smugtured = Smug + Lecture.

From April 16, 2008: The Near-Tragic Tale of An A Bunnies

I can has Dog Punch?

Who, me?

Today is a day for a Backdate Quaint. Clever folks who read Wednesday’s blog about the Very Smelly Not A Bunnies may realize that this particular Backdate Quaints is preparation for News…

It seems like a weird title, but there is no singular form of the word bunnies at my house. When Sam was little, he called all rabbits, A Bunnies. In honor of his long gone babyhood, we still call single rabbits “A Bunnies.” Groups of rabbits are ALSO called A Bunnies, and the phrase is like FISH. It can be 1 A Bunnies or 75 A Bunnies, it is all still A Bunnies to us.

A, you understand, is part of the proper name, not an article, so it is grammatically correct to say, “Yesterday, we saw an A Bunnies in the yard.” Or if more than one, you say, “We saw some A Bunnies in the yard.” We would never say, “We saw a bunnies in the yard.” That would be like saying “We saw tractor in the yard.”

Last week, my dog told me a lie. This is unusual, first because his brain is made of four separate cells that sit too far apart in the darkness of his skull cavity to ever be rubbed together, and I did not know the dog had the intellectual CAPACITY to lie. It was also surprising because Bagel is SUCH a diffident animal. He doesn’t have an alpha dog bone in his body. I suspect his spine is made of taffy.

He practically genuflects when my one-eyed massive pirate cat walks by, and he is SO submissive that when we FIRST brought him home, he had a healthy, “SIR, YES SIR!” style respect for a large wrought iron pig that sits on the hearth by the fireplace. He would run through the den and as he passed the pig he would go all LOW BELLY and shoot it a worried glance as he slinked and bobbed past it. He wasn’t sure if the pig was ALIVE, but just in case it decided it WAS, he wanted to make absolutely sure the pig understood its authority was not being challenged.

But the KITTEN, Boggart the Dreadful, is another matter. The wrought iron pig has seniority, clearly, but Bagel was here BEFORE the kitten. He sees the kitten as a peer and they REALLY enjoy each other’s youthful, sproingy company as they bound through the house and wear each other out playing fun games like, “Let’s Ruin All the Furniture!” and, “Can This Be Eaten? (Yes!)”

When we first got Boggart, he was about the size of Bagel’s left ear-flop. NOW he is about the size of Bagel’s head, so he plays with Bagel as if the head were the entire dog. Sometimes he plays with Bagel as if the TAIL was the entire dog, but he doesn’t ever try to take on all 50-some pounds worth of hound. Bagel, chock full of good stupid goodness, agrees to forget the existence of whatever portion of himself the cat is not using for the sake of not accidentally killing my kitten.

THEN LAST WEEK, Bagel told me a lie. The lie was, “I RILLY NEEDTER GO TER THE BATHROOM.” Usually when Bagel needs to go to the bathroom, he creeps up to me sideways and, in a sorrowful and apologetic manner, makes the canine equivalent of a gentle throat clearing. It is a barely audible whispery ahem noise in the back of his throat, coupled with sad down-tilty hound eyes that telegraph how VERY sorry he is to be a bother. He repeats this endlessly until his bladder explodes and he dies, or until someone notices and takes him out to use the lawnly facilities.

Last week, he came tearing up and LIED TO MY FACE that if I did not take him to the bathroom IMMEDIATELY, me and my carpet would suffer many vile indignities. I was in the middle of drafting a scene in the new book, but he lied with SUCH vigor, threatening all manner of indoor biohazards, that I hit save and marched him forthwith to the backdoor. The NANOSECOND I cracked the door, he EXPLODED out of it, banging me out of the way and tearing down the deck stairs.

from http://cheezburger.com/8063111680

from http://cheezburger.com/8063111680


That was when I saw an A Bunnies was in the yard. It was a small brown A Bunnies, with its slump shouldered little back firmly toward us, eating up the long grass in the center of the yard. It heard the clatter of dog nails on the wood, and it looked behind it, and it saw 50 pounds of A Bunnies Destroying Befanged Evil bearing down upon it like a slavering train. ALL A Bunnies had to do was run under the back gate, not 20 feet away, but Alas! POOR A Bunnies lost its total crap.

A Bunnies panicked. It took off in an entirely incorrect direction, trapping itself in a corner of the tall fence. I then lost my total crap, picturing my backyard as a R’abbitoir: I saw four of the world’s most luck-free paws scattered to all the main points of the compass, a detached ear flopped into the azaleas, the head mysteriously golfed away or eaten, red entrails making a gruesome Christmas in the long green unmowed grasses that had called poor A Bunnies in the first place.

I started screaming, “NO BAGEL NO BAGEL NO BAGEL NONONONONONO.”

Bagel was deaf. Bagel was blind to all but an A Bunnies trapped in the corner. Bagel did not slow nor did he veer. He charged straight up to poor, paralyzed an A Bunnies, and, gentle reader, I am sorry to report, he MOISTENED it.

See, this is the world’s most diffident dog, and he regularly plays with a kitten about the same size and shape of an A Bunnies. He basically scooped up an A Bunnies in his cavernous, maw, careful not to bite down, and joyfully SUCKED HIM LIKE A LOZENGE for a damp moment before gently rolling an A Bunnies across the lawn.

There was a brief frozen moment where an A Bunnies, ABSOLUTELY SURE that he was dead, sat in a saliva-coated, unharmed heap. And then he realized he was FINE and he went leaping away, in the correct direction this time, and goozled under the back gate and was gone.

Bagel came bounding back to me with fur breath and asked to go back inside. I said, “You are a big liar pants. You did not EVEN need to go to the bathroom.” But by then he had already forgotten the whole thing and had NO idea what I was talking about. He also had NO idea why I gave him an ENORMOUS lick of peanut butter off a spoon, but I know why. It’s because he is awesome.

I Saw Something Nasty in the Woodshed

See the double fold of neck flesh under Bagel's chin? We call that his Throat Butt.

See the double fold of neck flesh under Bagel’s chin? We call that his Throat Butt.


THE SCENE: In about fifteen minutes, a dozen people are descending upon my house for dinner. I love all these people, but I am a nervous hostess. I tend to over-do. I panic. I froth. All my upholstered furniture has cat-shreds on the corners and I have no true gift for domesticity and I am sure this says terrible things about my character. I would say I was at def con 4 except I am not sure how many def cons there are and if they are bad when they go up or bad when they go down.

I better do Old School Trek: I was on Yellow Alert.

Digression: I never understood Red Alert. The captain would order it, and a God-awful, nerve-tearing, WHONK! WHONK! sound would begin. Immediately, a whole slew of panicky looking red shirts and big-eyed yeomen would gallop up and down the corridors of the Enterprise, each in a separate lather. HOW DOES THIS HELP?

All I learned from Star Trek was, when things get bad, I should run in circles screaming until Spock fixes it. (The good news is, I MARRIED a Spock, so at my house this is an effective solution a shocking percentage of the time.)

So, back to the scene: the oven is preheating, the pans of lasagna are sitting on the stove-top, and it is juuust about time to put them in, my house is as clean as it EVER gets. Good? Good. And THEN (cue ominous music) from the backyard, Bagel the Big Dog makes his polite throat-cleary sound that means he has completed his business and wishes to come back inside.

I open the door. Ansley comes in. Bagel comes in. And with them…THE SMELL COMES IN.

The Smell is terrible. The Smell is terrible beyond description.

It is like if there were trolls and trolls had a butt and you had to go live there, in the butt. It’s like if you killed a whole room full of people, stacked a lot of unpasteurized French cheese on the corpses, and then left for a week. It is like if a fart became sentient, did a lot of evil, died, went to hell, rolled in sulphur and then clawed its way back up to earth through layers of poop. It is an oily, biological, pungent, evil ENTITY of smell.

In short, oh my beloveds, it was Skunk.

I have smelled Skunk in passing on the highway, a faint whiff of some poor hapless little fellow who wandered all entitled under the wheels of a noseless truck. ONLY noseless trucks would DARE to hit a skunk. The smell is so…immediate.

And Bagel’s WHOLE FRONT, his legs and chest, his shoulders and the folds of his throat were all sprayed and coated in that OILY, GLANDULAR Repulsifyer. And people were coming in 10 minutes, WHOLE CROWDS. And the Lasagna was not in.

So I went to red alert and ran in circles, the smell SO bad I was gagging on screams with my eyes bleeding. Spock was still on his commute, due to arrive at the same time as our guests.
So I SPOCKED UP and threw money and teenagers and Lysol at the problem. While I blasted all the air molecules with the scent of Fresh Linen, Sam and Maisy got Bagel on his leash and walked him up to PetSmart with my credit card and orders to ask them to FIX it.

kitty skunk

AND IT WAS FINE, except, ya’ll, there is a SKUNK. And he has moved in UNDER THE SHED and Bagel is as stupid as a noseless truck, Lord love him, and even just letting them in and out to pee, Bagel has already re-skunked himself. THAT time we cleaned him ourselves as professional deskunking costs a MINT and it was four gagging hours of my life I will never get back. We used SO MUCH hydrogen peroxide that Bagel is VISIBLY A SHADE BLONDER.

And yet I have no faith that he has learned ANYTHING. Bagel is SO dumb. Ansley gives the shed a wide, respectful birth because she is a genius, but Bagel…He does not associate ANYTHING with, well, anything.

Bagel lives in an eternal NOW. “Oh LAR LAR LOOKY! Thing under shed. Must get thing. Now a Smell is stunged me in my eye. Now a terrible endless bath is happen. HO DE DO! LA DE DA! LAR LAR LAR!” None of these events are connected in his 4 brain cells by even the remotest INKLING of cause or effect.

He WILL go see what that skunk is doing again. And skunks are SUCH entitled animals. They trundle along, secure in the knowledge that HELL RESIDES IN THEIR GALNDS and NO ONE is going to fuss with them.

And yet! I know my dearest, dumbest Bagel—-HE WILL. What do I do? How do I get rid of a SKUNK?

What I Want to Read

solace

I am VERY TIRED of books about awful people being awful to other awful people. I have read a rash of them. They were fun, but NOW I am hungry for something else. SOMETHING VERY SPECIFIC.

I want to read a book that fulfills ALL the requirements below. Not because the kind described below is the only kind of book I like, but because I am so hungry for this kind right now. It is like — when you are CRAVING PIZZA, the best quiche in the world can leave you cold. SO. Here is what I seek:

1) A NOVEL. No non fic, memoir, bio even if it “reads like a novel.” No short fiction. No plays; I want a novel.

2) It should be character driven, and the drivers should be complicated characters with both serious flaws and strengths who are chasing goodness in some vigorous way. I want to read about people who are trying to connect, who love and hope in this broken world, or who seek the divine. Even though it is about goodness or the search for connection, I can NOT manage anything remotely sentimental or smug. NO SYRUP! No kittens in the snow on Christmas with a thorny paw. No good good people and bad bad people with clear, clean lines. I want the real dark world, and to be shown what is light in it. Bad things can (should) happen, but I need the grace notes to be SO beautiful.

3) I want it to have a PLOT. I want there to be movement and interest. Beauty and hope is not enough. SOMETHING SHOULD HAPPEN.

4) The writing should be good, of course, but a specific kind of good. I don’t want invisible, commercial prose (even if it is impeccable) or DENSE fudge-y writing with sentences like almost-poems (even if it is impeccable). I don’t want a great story that is poorly or plainly told, or great writing so layered and nuanced that it overshadows story. I want interesting, unexpected images or a rich, specific voice-i-ness. Let the writing lean into literary territory. Heck, it can lean HARD into the literary, but it should stop WELL SHORT of being Henry James.

5) By the end, I want to have laughed out loud, cried, and remembered why I like humans.

If nothing comes to mind, here are some well known novels that I think do all these things “brightly, brightly and with beauty.”

Howard’s End
The Dog Stars
The Sparrow
Water for Elephants
The Gods of Gotham
Shine Shine Shine
The Solace of Leaving Early
Room

Read anything like these? PLEASE TELL ME. I am book-hungry.

Moo-ey. The Christmas Cow.

A very un-Christmassy cow by Ernst Vikne

A very un-Christmassy cow by Ernst Vikne

This is a story I have never told on the blog, because Scott assures me it is funny to absolutely NO ONE but us, and that only because we are Deeply Troubled. I disagree. SO. You decide.

My parents live in the wilds of Alabama, and one year, when the children were very small, we were driving up to the little Methodist church in town to see the Christmas Pageant. The traditional one, you know, made out of children, with nose-picking angels and a baby doll for Jesus because Tiny Mary cannot be trusted not to drop a live one on his head. I LOVE this kind of Christmas Pageant. Makes me think of Herdmans.

On the way to this one, we passed cows.

Well, of COURSE we did. It would be much more remarkable to tell you we did NOT pass cows. Out near where my parents live, if you spit in a direction, you are likely to besmirch a cow with your spittle.

Now Maisy was about three and Sam was eight. And they were VERY attuned to Cow Passing. Sam’s first imaginary friend, Ontag-the-Cow, still loomed large in the family mythology. Anytime we saw cows, it was a good Omen, which meant going to rural Alabama was FRAUGHT with good omens.

These particular cows were scenically dotting a green hillside in a field that came all the way down to the road. Except one. One cow had come down the hill, almost to the fence, so she was VERY close.

The children were excited to see her. They started burbling joyfully and yelling to her and waving.

Now, I look at this cow, and it is INSTANTLY clear to me that All Is Not Right With The Lord here in this bovine situation. This cow is thin and rheumy eyed and trembling and her face is…askew. She is standing at an odd, drunken angle and swaying.

I say unthinking, to Scott, “Wow, that cow looks really—” and then I hear the silence and feel the weight of four small, bright, cow-adoring eyes in the backseat, heading for a pageant. “Christmassy.” I end. “That cow looks so very, very…Christmassy.” And here, oh best beloveds, you understand that Christmassy means “about to drop dead.” Scott certainly understood it so.

“Oh, yeah,” he said. “That is a Christmas Cow for sure.”

“Why is that particular cow a Christmas cow,” asked Sam. Sam at eight used words like particular and asked WHY in such long, long endless chains that his father would start making things UP, Calvin’s Dad Style..

“Because that is Moo-ey, The Christmas Cow, and it is her job to wait for Christmas,” Scott lied, smoothly, while I made alarmed eyebrows at him. I wanted to point the kidly attention to ANYTHING that was not a cow about to drop dead.

“WHAT DAT CHRISTMAS COW DO, DADDY?” Maisy peeped in her HUGE peep. Maisy at three had a high pitched little voice and a volume knob that was stuck at eleven. Eleven is one louder. Than ANYONE.

“Moo-ey just, um, waits for…Christmas,” Scott said, and here, oh best beloveds, you understand that “Christmas” meant, “Merciful death.”

SO we went to the pageant and it was great. So great I hoped it would eclipse MOO-EY, but on the way home, the children were VERY EXCITED to see Moo-ey again. As we approached, I saw that while we were at church, Christmas had indeed come over Moo-ey. Moo-ey had crumpled into a pretzelly, spraddle-legged, ungainly, completely dead heap at the bottom of the hill. INCHES FROM THE ROAD. Tangled into the FENCE.

The thing about a dead cow is, there is so MUCH dead cow. Huge. Looming. Horrifying.

“O, YAY!” I said, very loud. Louder than even Maisy. It was as if I had just discovered my volume knob went to twelve. “MOO-EY HAS ALREADY GONE TO SLEEP! THAT MEANS SANTA HAS LEFT! IN HIS SLEIGH! IT IS AN OMEN! WE MUST GET INTO BED VERY QUICKLY BECAUSE WHEN MOO-EY GOES TO SLEEP, YOU KNOW SANTA IS ON THE WAY AND LOOK! SHE SURE IS ALL THE WAY ASLEEP.”

“Dead asleep,” said Scott, dead pan, and it hit me in the right all kinds of wrong way, and I started laughing. And then Scott got tickled, too.

Why is that funny?” Sam asked.

“WHY YOU LAUGHIN?” Maisy peeped.

And so, to keep their eyes on me, and also because I am Deeply Troubled, I said, “HEY KIDS want to learn the MOO-EY THE CHRISTMAS COW SONG???” and they began clamouring to learn it, which distracted them from the horrible carcass as we passed.

So I sang a verse of it, which I invented on the spot. It genuinely has the most cheery tune to it, especially at the front The name MOOEY, especially, is sung all SPRY and gleeful, and then by the last line, it gets a little weirdly paced and eerie:

Moo-ey the Christmas cow,
Sliding down the hill
Waiting for Santa Claus,
Solemn… Silent… Still

That cracked Scott up, and so he made up the next verse,

Moo-ey The Christmas Cow
Waiting all night long
Quietly lying down
Not…singing…songs.

I regret to inform you that this went on for the whole drive home. We kept on making up verses that indicated in code to each other that a cow was dead via a ghastly little jingle that flew right over our children’s dear, dear, innocent little heads.

FOR YEARS. Years, ya’ll, The children would warble bits of the Moo-ey song when we passed whole crowds of perfectly alive cows at Christmas, and it always just SLEW US. Scott and I, we would laugh until tears were rolling down our faces, and our kids never got it. It was just THIS YEAR, at almost 13 and almost 18, that we let them in on the joke.

Sam thinks it’s hilarious. Maisy is moderately affronted, but affirms our choice to hide the cow’s demise from her.

SO. MERRY CHRISTMAS, and Who is right?

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The Bartina Redux

This is a story that got posted elsewhere, as a guest blog. It happened — and I wrote about it –years ago. Maisy was about 5. It never appeared on FTK, and I do not have it in my saved blog word files. I had to get The Way Back Machine to find it. I am reposting it to have a record of it, and ALSO because I am going to tell you about MOO-EY THE CHRISTMAS COW. And this story really explains the kind of human Maisy was, and why we did what we did re: Moo-ey. At 5 years old, Maisy looked something like this:

maisy 2008 1

On our 2008 family beach meet-up, we chartered a pontoon boat and spent a day toodling about the gulf with frequent pauses to wade and swim and shell hunt and snorkel and dig up hermit crabs and make elaborate sandcastles for them. In the late afternoon, armed with a box of tragic, chirruping crickets, we got out the poles and set about catching our dinner.

My son, Sam, immediately won the WEIRDEST CRAP DRAGGED FROM THE SEA contest by hauling up a VERY disgruntled Puffer Fish. The fish glared at us in a depleted and impotent manner, completely unable to PUFF without seawater around him.

Since neither my parents, nor anyone in my brother’s tribe, nor anyone in my family is a specially licensed Sushi Chef who has received the many hours of training needed to safely cut out the virulently poisonous glands in such a way that the first bite won’t cause excruciating death, we put him back.

After that, Sam and his two teenaged cousins each caught one or two disappointingly small catfish. We put them back, too, in the hopes that next year, when we returned, they would be a size worthy of the Fry Daddy and thus allowed to keep company with cole slaw and hushpuppies.

The only person who did NOT catch a fish was little Maisy, five years old, and, as the afternoon wore on, she became fussier and pink-eyed with fish-less self pity and exhaustion.

A mere minute or two before we were going to start up the engine and putt back to the boat docks, Poseidon smiled upon Maisy at last, and the pole she was holding bobbed and dipped in an unmistakable FISH ON THE LINE way.

With her dad’s help, she hauled up the most tiny spindly meatless catfish to ever get his mouth around a cricket. She was thrilled, and we all admired her specimen prodigiously. “Her name is BARTINA,” Maisy said proudly, and gazed with love upon the ill-named ugly whiskered teeny trash fish like it was made out of SUGARED GOLD. We took her picture with Bartina while Maisy grinned and said, “You are my best fish, and you picked me!” Then my dad carefully took out the hook and slipped Bartina over the side, where (s)he high-tailed it for the mucklands where too-small-to-eat catfish dwell.

He turned to start the engine, and just then, a hellish siren of sound arose, a soul-searing wail of total loss and misery. “BARTINA!” Wailed Maisy. “YOU THREW OUT BARTINA!”

“Oh, bunny,” I said, half laughing, “We didn’t throw it out. We let Bartina go HOME. Bartina can’t live on LAND.”

At this news, Maisy COMPLETELY lost her crap. All the way home, she bemoaned her lost beloved. “SHE WUH-WUH-WUZ MY BEST FRIEND,” said Maisy, and this had no basis in reality, obviously, but the exhausted little well of feeling behind the words were totally and disarmingly sincere. It was like watching the Little Mermaid come to understand that her prince could not inhabit her world, but instead of a prince, it was a buttugly runt catfish. It was the silliest sort of heartbreak, but from where she sat, the silliness was unapparent, and she was totally sincere.

For a long time after, weeks, even, we could not say the name Bartina without provoking a small flurry of wounded sorrow in Maisy. The loss, entirely invented, was VERY real to her. She could not explain why it upset her, so, but I got it. After all, she is five and I am forty, and so I recognized the impulse she could not define or name.

It’s part of growing up, learning not to become attached to things we hope for and dream in our heads, learning to stop recklessly pinning invented beloveds over some real world object or person, and then breaking against a hard surface when the thing disappoints us by being only itself. No boy ever broke my heart in high school. Instead, I broke my own heart against the wall between the actual boy and the one I made up. I think Scott was the first man I ever knew as himself before I loved him, and it took me a long time to figure out the difference, as I live so strongly inside my own brain. It took seven years of platonic best-friendship to figure out that he was my guy and had been all along.

Later on the night after we lost Bartina to the surf, I grabbed up the nets and the flashlights and my dad and I went out to catch crabs along the shoreline. The size of the crabs made up for the fish, and when we got back to our rooms, I set the clattery bucket of delicious blue-clawed fellows out on the porch. I didn’t bring them in and murder them and boil them and pick out all their delicious meats until Miss Maisy and her tender heart and her propensity to name the foods was safely asleep, innocence intact.

She will eventually learn not to love things that don’t have anything to offer in return. I’m her mother, and I know the only way she will learn it is by giving her heart away, and then getting back only pieces. But I saw no reason to help her begin the process that night. And I see no reason to help her begin tomorrow. There is time for all that later. Please Lord, much much later.

maisy 2008 2