Idiot two men in bar

“I’ve just been sitting here thinking.”

“Yeah? A bar’s a good place for that. Are they deep thoughts?”

“Sorta. The older I get, the more my thoughts turn to the past and all the stupid things I’ve done. I guess it’s an age thing. You know what I need?”

“What’s that, besides another round?”

“A big red stamp that says IDIOT! I could use it on so many of my memories. Maybe if I stamped ‘em, I could forget ‘em. Pretty sure I’d need an extra ink pad, though.”

“What did you do that was so bad?

“I wasn’t a criminal or anything like that. I was just an idiot. Still am, I guess.”

“Give an example.”

“Well, the first idiotic thing I remember doing was back in first grade. I became convinced that the girls’ bathroom must be really special. We all lined up, boys and girls, for bathroom breaks, and the boys would file into their bathroom, and the girls into theirs. I wanted to see what those snotty little girls were up to in their private bathroom, so I sneaked into the girls’ line. Caused quite a stir, screaming and all. Little girls sure can scream.”

“I see what you mean.”

“I started young, and that was just the beginning. I have a genius for being stupid. There was that time in high school when Izod shirts were the rage. My parents thought it was a waste of money to pay extra to wear some guy’s trademark, so I drew crocodiles on my shirts with a green felt-tip marker. They looked pretty good, too.”

“Hmmm. How’d that work out?”

“The marker ran in the wash; everything I owned was green. That’s why people who knew me in high school still call me Croc.”

“That’s only kid stuff, though. No reason to be so hard on yourself.”

“Like I said, just the beginning. It got worse. There was the time I introduced my wife to my boss, but I called her by a former girlfriend’s name. And once I went to a party in cut-off jeans and flip-flops because I thought the Dressy in Dressy Casual meant women wore dresses and men were casual. That was before I got married, needless to say.”

“We’ve all done something like that. Women think up those codes to trick us.”

“I don’t shy away from the classics: I’ve walked into a job interview with toilet paper stuck to my shoe, fell in public and broke my wrist, but was so embarrassed I pretended it was funny, ‘replied all’ with insulting comments about one person on the distribution list…Oh, my God, there’s no end to my need for the IDIOT! stamp!”

“You’ve got me thinking now. I remember when I’d had maybe one or three too many and told my priest a really dirty joke. I thought, in my inebriated state, he’d find it hilarious because it began with, ‘A priest, a minister and a stripper walked into a bar.”

“He didn’t think it was funny?”

“He invited me to come to confession.”

“I got into a stranger’s car that looked just like mine and then couldn’t figure out why my key didn’t fit. I was still puzzling over it when he opened his car door.”

“You think that’s bad? I walked an entire parade route with my zipper down.”

“Well, I sat on a woman in a dark movie theater.”

“And I asked directions from a blind man.”

“Top this: bit my dentist.”

“On purpose? How old were you?”

“Forty-one. She hit a nerve.”

“I asked my mother-in-law how she was doing with her sensual tremors. She said, ‘It’s essential tremors.’ I never knew a voice could be so icy. Things haven’t been quite the same between us since.”

“Tough to beat that, but how about this: I gave my wife a vacuum cleaner for our silver anniversary.”

“Oh, yeah? Well, I went through the car wash with the back window down. In my wife’s car. I was going to surprise her. She was surprised.”

“Okay, hold my beer. Here’s one you’ll never beat. You know how I always carry little zip-lock bags and pick up after my dog when we go on walks?”

“Yeah, you’re a good citizen. Bartender! Gold star for this man.”

“Yeah, yeah. So one day I put a bag of poop in my coat pocket, just until I got home.”

“Uh oh.”

“Forgot to take it out, wore the coat to church. Reached in my pocket for a couple of bills, pulled out the bag instead and dropped it in the collection plate.”

“Really, there’s nothing you could say to explain that one. What happened?”

“I got invited to confession, too. And my church doesn’t even have confession.”

“Gotta admit, that one was the winner.”

“Yep. The worst thing is, being an idiot can’t be fixed and it seems to get worse with age. Hey, where you going?”

“Gonna stock up on red ink pads. Want me to pick you up a few dozen?”

stamp for Idiot






Moving Day

moving day boxes

Moving house. How casually it is undertaken in youth, when friends with pickup trucks and free Saturdays are utilized. How mortally wounding in old age, when moving feels like being upended in a storm, like ancient oaks sprawling with roots exposed.

Carla thought about that more than once as she sorted through the accumulation of forty-five years spent in the same house. They’d come as young parents, bringing along their first-born, then welcoming his brother and sister. The children’s height was marked on the laundry-room door, inches ticking off the years. Now those children were measuring their own children’s life in inches.

Doug came into the bedroom where Carla sat contemplating a stuffed closet. He flopped full-length on the bed.

“Don’t mess up the…oh, well, I guess it doesn’t matter,” Carla said.

“Good thing, because I’m nearly dead. You can just roll me up in this bedspread when the undertaker comes.”

Carla shivered. “Not funny.”

“Are we sure we want to do this?” It was a question they’d asked each other a hundred times.

“I’m sure I don’t,” Carla said, “but the damn stairs. If we just didn’t have so many stairs.”

It hadn’t been a concern when they bought the house. They’d run up and down three flights like mountain goats. Now, with treacherous knees and spines like spun glass, they clung to the double banisters and took one step at a time.

“The new house will be better for us,” Doug said. “I mean, let’s look on the positive side. No stairs, not much yard. That will be easier.”

“Yes, and no laundry room door.”

Doug didn’t have to ask what she meant. They’d been married a long time.

“Well, we couldn’t change our minds now even if we wanted to,” Doug reminded her. “We’ve got two houses on our hands, and the sooner we move into the new one and sell the old one, the better.”

Carla reached into the closet and pulled out a pair of ancient suede high heels. They’d been in there so long they had whiskers. “I might need these…” she began.

But Doug stopped her. “You won’t, hon. Toss ‘em.” She did.

She tossed the box of kids’ drawings and letters home from camp. The leftover porcelain tile from the kitchen back-splash. The scraps from two carpets ago. Favorite clothing that no longer fit.  Unidentified cords and converters and keys to who knows what, saved “just in case.” No case could be made for keeping them now.

It was supposed to be liberating, this out with the old and in with the new, but Carla found it deeply depressing. It’s my life I’m discarding – the best years of my life, she thought, but she didn’t say it. No point whining; downsizing had been a mutual decision reached after much thought, and Doug was right; it was too late to change their minds now.

Finally, everything was sorted and discarded, donated or packed. The kids came and took what they wanted, items for which there was no room in the new, smaller place. Some things nobody wanted and Carla watched the Goodwill truck drive them away. She walked through empty rooms that echoed with memories of family life. She felt angry and exhausted and sad, and…and…she didn’t know what all she felt.

The movers came, loaded up the neatly labeled boxes – guest bedroom, kitchen, master bathroom –  and trundled them off to the new house. Carla and Doug followed, muscles and hearts aching. They sat in the car at the curb, obedient to heavily emphasized warnings from their children: DO NOT PICK UP EVEN ONE BOX! LET THE PROFESSIONALS DO IT! THAT’S WHY YOU’RE PAYING THEM! Darkness had fallen by the time the last load was deposited inside and the van pulled away. The crew left lights burning in every room, and the little house glowed like a jewel. It looked pretty. Homey.

“Maybe it won’t be so bad,” Carla said. “We’ll get used to it, I guess.”

Doug got out of the car, came around and opened her door. “Mi’lady,” he said, bowing creakily and holding out his hand. They walked up the path to the front door. She wouldn’t have thought he had it in him, but somehow he swung her up in his arms and stepped across the threshold. They were both breathless with laughter when he set her down in the tiny foyer.

“You’ll have a heart attack carrying on like this,” Carla scolded, but she was beaming.

“My heart still beats for you, my love,” Doug said. “We’ll make this house just as much a home as the one we left. If I can find the griddle, would you rustle us up some grilled cheese sandwiches?”

“I will,” said Carla, and it was a renewed vow for a new day.



nympholepsy nymph

“So, are nymphs, like, a thing now?”

Poor Rob never could keep up with his wife’s fads. She was a Pinterest fan and in addition to her online virtual bulletin boards, she kept boards around the house. She’d pin up items currently capturing her interest. Today, the kitchen board was full of pictures of nymphs. At least that’s what Rob thought they were:  bedraggled maidens in various forms of pastel undress pouting at the horizon.

“Don’t even bother to act interested,” Teresa said, not pausing as she mashed the potatoes for supper. “I’m just thinking of maybe redecorating Jenna’s room and these are some ideas.”

“Does Jenna like nymphs?” Rob asked.

“Jenna’s four. She likes purple sparkles.”

“Then why?”

“You’re right. Maybe I’ll redo our bedroom instead.”

The thought of all those despondent creatures staring at him while he slept was creepy, but Rob had learned that discretion was the better part of valor. With any luck, Teresa’s attention would be caught by something else before she got around to their bedroom.

She was a serial re-decorator, deeply attentive to the latest trends. Teresa read shelter magazines and watched HGTV. She gobbled up the latest ideas and spit them back out in their house. Rob was used to coming home to a changed landscape.

“I don’t mind as long as you don’t ask me to do it,” he’d say.

Which she did not. She preferred attacking the projects on her own and was proficient with miter saw and power drill. Rob did often get stuck with clean-up. Teresa said it was the least he could do. His mother said he was a saint. His father said he was a chump. Rob, who preferred peace at almost any price, shrugged and said nothing.

They’d lived with farmhouse, loft, beach cottage, and mid century modern decor. He’d seen accent walls, chalk paint and apron sinks come and go. Now there was this nymph phase. He figured he’d just wait it out. It would pass, like the others.

But this one seemed to have legs. Months later, when Teresa did get around to redecorating their bedroom, it was all nymphs, all the time. The palest pink wall paint, gossamer bed linens, and a gallery of nymph pictures made Rob feel like a big, uncouth interloper in his own room.

One picture had eyes that seemed to follow him no matter where he was. She was a naiad, a nymph of water. She floated among pink water lilies, her long dark hair streaming, her skin glowing like a pearl. Whenever he looked at her, she was gazing right back at him. It gave him the wim-wams at first, but then he sort of liked it. He read up on nymphs in Wikipedia and began to think of the one in the picture as Athena. It was a pretty name, and she was Greek, after all.

He began to feel he wasn’t the only uncouth interloper in their bedroom. Had Teresa always been so…large? So muscled? Her face was ruddy, her hair as springy as wire, her feet like big white boats. What a contrast with the diaphanous ladies on the wall. With Athena. He wondered what had ever attracted him to Teresa in the first place. She, with her booming voice and skinned knuckles.

How restful it would be to come home to someone like Athena. To float among water lilies with never a thought of the electric bill or that funny sound the car was making. To be reflected in the gaze of someone eternally young and beautiful. He thought about it more and more.

So when he saw Athena in the street, he recognized her immediately. Her dress was made of some kind of pale, floaty stuff that swirled around her legs as she walked. Her tiny feet seemed to skim the sidewalk. She wafted along as though propelled by a gentle breeze. Enthralled, Rob followed. When she turned, looked into his eyes and parted her lips to speak, he leaned forward.

“Stop following me, you perv, or I’ll call the cops.”

Rob gave up nymphs then and there. Teresa was surprised when he suggested it was time to redo the bedroom.




















I’m Not Alexa!

cell phone for Im not alexa

In a moment of self-loathing, I accepted a new number when I got a new cell phone. Trying for nonchalance, I said the number didn’t matter, any old number would do, but the real reason I didn’t keep my old one was that I couldn’t remember it. Numbers aren’t my thing, and my cell phone doesn’t take up much space in my head. I still have a land line. I can remember that number because I’ve had it for forty-five years. Cell phones come and go, don’t they? And who did I get the darn thing for, someone else’s convenience or my own? That’s what I say to myself. Rationalization is a wonderful thing, even when it doesn’t make sense.

Anyway, I was embarrassed to admit to the so-trendy millennial sales rep that I didn’t know my old cell number and thus couldn’t ask that it be imported to my new phone, so I got a “new” number. But it was only new to me.

It had had a very busy life before it came into mine. Somebody named Alexa owned it. Apparently, she’s a lively lady (young, I think), with a lot of sumpin’-sumpin’ going on. She’s still getting calls to what is now my number. Some of the callers sound desperate to reach her and have difficulty believing me when I say I’m not her, she’s not here, I don’t know her and please stop calling.

Calls come in the middle of the night, especially Friday and Saturday. My cell phone is set to ring with a loud, old-fashioned jingle. Since it usually lives in the bottom of my purse under my sunglasses and billfold, an obnoxiously loud ringtone is the only hope I have of hearing it at all. So when that ring shatters the nighttime quiet, I leap out of bed, race to my purse, dig through it to find the phone and discover it’s for Alexa. Again.

Ignore it, you say? I can’t; I must respond. Like Pavlov’s dog, I was conditioned in my formative years, back when midnight calls meant Big Trouble. Alexa’s callers are all male and they manfully swallow their disappointment when they discover they’ve reached me instead of the elusive Alexa. They apologize politely for bothering me. I appreciate that, I guess.

Then there are the text messages, most referring to activities on which the authorities would frown.

“The blunt is lit. Come on over.”

“Are you holding? I need something.”

“Want to smoke tonight?”

I wonder about Alexa. Who is she? Drug dealer? Prostitute? Wildly popular girl-about-town?  It must be a major let-down for her fans to learn that the number she used to have is now held by a person of – ahem! – mature years who is no fun. No fun at all.

You’d think if Alexa’d gotten a new cell phone number it would have sifted through to her regular callers by now. But they obviously don’t know where she is and are determined to find her. What do you suppose happened to her?

I envision her going mainstream, shedding a life on the fringes as she shed her old cell number. Now she’s a brainy student at Georgia Tech, studying engineering. She wears big, black-framed glasses and pulls her hair into a pony-tail. Or maybe she got married and is the mother of newborn twins. She takes them to the park in a double stroller.  Possibly she’s studying for the ministry and volunteering in a homeless shelter on weekends.

I don’t want to go the logical route and think that my number-sharer might be looking at the world through a barred window. No need to be a slave to Occam’s Razor. Something unlikely could have happened.

Meanwhile, I just answered a video call from a polite young man with a lovely smile. I think he’s called before and didn’t believe me when I said, “I’m not Alexa.” This time he could see for himself. He’ll have something to tell the gang when they all toke up Friday night.

Guys, please take his word for it: I’m not Alexa!



silhouettes for Invisible

When Marigold was young, walking down the street was a misery. Men looked her up and down, made remarks and rude comments, whistled and yelled. No matter how she was dressed or what she was doing, it was the same. If she was in the right mood, she found it amusing. Other times it was annoying. Sometimes scary. Subconsciously she always felt on edge, like she walked a fine line between harmless boys-will-be-boys flattery and unacceptable harassment. It could be hard to tell the difference.

But a funny thing happened as she aged. She became invisible. Not only did she not attract attention in the street, she couldn’t attract it in stores where she shopped, at traffic lights when she had the right-of-way, or in meetings when she had something to say. It was disorienting, having been the object of one hundred per cent attention, to go to zero. To disappear.

Then it became liberating.

“Invisibility is my super-power,” she told her friend, Caro.

“Not just yours,” Caro said, “mine,too. I bet I could walk down the street naked and no one would notice.”

“It kind of gives us an edge, don’t you think?” Marigold said.

“Hmmm. What do you think we could get away with? Just for fun, of course.”

Caro tried an experiment. She walked out of a department store openly carrying an expensive, unpaid-for purse. Alarms sounded and several store employees converged on the area where Caro stood waiting outside the door. The purse hung over her arm, price-tags dangling, but no one looked at her. After watching the store personnel conduct a search of the area, she stepped forward.

“Oh, dear,” she said, “I seem to have walked out with this purse. I was looking at it, and then I remembered I was late for an appointment and I forgot I was carrying it. What should I do?”

“Yes, ma’am, I’ll take it. No worries, anybody could make that mistake.”

The employee still darted harassed glances around the mall, even while accepting the bag in question. Caro walked away smiling to herself.

Marigold was more daring. “The neighbor’s dog stays chained in their backyard day and night. They completely ignore him, and I hear the poor thing barking at all hours. I’m going to use my super power to rescue him.”

She knocked on the neighbor’s door. “Good morning. I was wondering if I might borrow your dog. I’m going for a walk and it would be nice to have a dog along for safety, you know.”

“Sure, Miz, er, Missus, uh,” said her neighbor, looking vaguely over her head. “Just clip him back on the chain when you return.”

The dog got his walk, all right, to a new home that Marigold had lined up for him, a home with a fenced yard and kids who couldn’t wait to meet him. Later, she noticed her neighbor examine the slack chain with an expression of puzzlement, then shrug and go  back into the house.  She smiled to herself. Being a thief was surprisingly rewarding.

Marigold and Caro knew the cloak of invisibility could be a real pain – when a waiting room slowly emptied out except for them, for instance – but once they learned how to work it to their advantage, they embraced it. No more worries about finding just the right outfit because nobody was looking. No more time spent fussing with their hair or make-up; it went unnoticed.

“I like invisibility now that I’m used to it,” Marigold said. “It’s relaxing to be able to come and go without a hassle. There’s a lot less pressure.”

“There’s still one group of people that can see us, though, and here they come.” Caro hurried to open the door, smiling not just to herself now but into the little faces turned eagerly up to hers.

“Grandma, Grandma, wait ‘til I show you what I made in school!”

“Did you bake cookies?  Can we make hot chocolate?”

“Hi, Miss Marigold, will you read to us? I brought my book about horses.”

“Oooh, I like your pretty pink sweater. Pink’s my favorite color.”

Marigold and Caro agreed it was sometimes good – very good – to be seen.