Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Flying Cat

In every home I own, I have an executive command seat. Said seat must offer clear sightlines to monitor the misbehavior of children, proximity to the television to keep tabs on ball games, and quick access to my Diet Pepsi stash. On Sycamore Street, my seat was at the end of the dining room table. Books and computer were close at hand, the TV was clearly visible so I could censor MTV, and the kitchen was steps away.

One evening, when I was in the middle of a particularly good murder mystery, the children's pitiful cries for food finally penetrated my reading fog. I debated between chopped up hot dogs in 1)Spaghettio's or in 2)Kraft Mac and Cheese. Then Ruthie the cat flew by my right ear.

My brain does not always respond quickly to the unusual or bizarre. In this case, the internal dialogue went something like this: "The cat just flew by me. She's circling the table. Cats don't fly but she's 3 feet off the ground. She's not flying like Superman, though. She's vertical, not horizontal. So how is she doing this?"

My eye followed her from tail to head as she rounded the corner. And there, clamped between her (apparently) strong jaws, was a bat. As a librarian, I often shared with the children the wonderful contributions that bats make to our ecology. I have even shed a tear over the beauty of books like Stellaluna and The Bat Poet. But in my heart of hearts, I hate bats and they scare the hell out of me.

So being a mature, confident parent, I screamed, "There's a bat! Bat in the house! Run! Run outside! BAAAAAT!" The children, genetically being 50% me, raised their little arms above their heads and pounded down the front stairs, alternating screams with wet sobs. They barelled out onto the porch and huddled together, wailing.

Meanwhile, I was upstairs trying to formulate a rescue plan for the poor cat. With each circuit around the room, she grew more frantic. Her eyes were bulging, her fur was standing on end, her tail twitched in rhythm with the bat's wings. But her brain was the size of a pea and she just couldn't open her mouth and drop to safety. While she flew around the dining room, I prepared for battle.

My armour:
Pink crocheted hat (with fetching flower) to protect me from the dreaded "bat in hair." I've been told repeatedly that's an old wive's tale but why take the chance?
Sunglasses to protect my eyes from, oh I don't know, bat venom?
Heavy jacket to protect torso and limbs.

My first choice was a broom, but that was in the kitchen behind the kitty aviation show.
My second choice was a tennis racket. Ditto.
So I grabbed the umbrella and headed into battle.

In the end, after a few futile swats with the umbrella, I settled on a tug of war technique. I pulled on the cat, the bat dropped to eye level, I screamed and let go, I pulled on the cat again, the bat dropped to eye level, and so it went. Finally, the bat, the cat, and the warrior were so damned tired that the cat let go or the bat flew out. I wasn't clear how it came about; it was probably a mutual agreement. I grabbed the hissing cat and locked her in the bathroom.

Now I had to deal with the bat in my dining room. I stepped in, umbrella raised, and the bat dive bombed me. To be fair, if I saw a plump middle aged lady in that rig, wielding an umbrella, I would be tempted to dive bomb as well.

I did what any warrior might do in the heat of battle. I screamed, wet my pants a little and made a hasty retreat to the front porch. I joined my Children's Greek Chorus and my sister, roused by the riot on the front porch. She was incredibly calming and helpful. "My god, what if it has rabies?" she shrieked. Suddenly, Ruthie the cat's very life hung in the balance. We suited her up (she had a broom) and made another assault. The bat, by this time, was so exhausted he had moved to the back porch and was just hanging on the wall. But try as hard as we could, he just wouldn't fly into the box I had to capture him.

So we did what women have done for untold generations. We called a guy. My future brother in law arrived with twin tennis rackets. Within seconds, the very dead bat was boxed, ready for a rabies autopsy. As our conquering hero, our Julius Caesar, our George Patton, swaggered by me, he leaned in and murmured, "Nice outfit."

I heard on the news the other day that our local bat population is being attacked by a fungal illness and is in danger of extinction. In my head, I care. In my heart, I'm relieved.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Mother attempts to transform her ugly duckling

Possibly as a response to their daughter shedding her drawers on the cafeteria steps, my parents caucused in their bedroom one night. They were apparently unaware that their daughter was awake at 1 a.m., reading a book under a .2 watt bulb in her nightlight. After bemoaning the fact that I was painfully shy, clumsy, and disinclined to "fix myself up," a plan was formulated. Daddy had recently joined the Masons and he thought their adolescent female branch, the Rainbow Girls, would be just the ticket. Mama was skeptical until he pointed out that the girls all dressed up once a month for the formal meeting. Mama practically hummed with excitement: an opportunity to teach her daughter how to look good. Before I finished my book, they enrolled me.

Most of my time at Rainbow Girls was spent sorting out who exactly these girls were. Instead of saying "Hi, I'm Susan" they would refer to themselves by their titles. In quick succession I met Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet, Faith, Hope, Charity, and a variety of flag bearers. I never did learn their actual names and never, ever saw them in school. I suspect there was a secret Rainbow Girl High School somewhere. I spent a great deal of time in meetings trying to figure out why the officers, all dressed in white, kept marching around the room. We'd open the meeting with marching, then sing, then there would be more marching, then a recitation, then more marching.

I was sitting on the sidelines, daydreaming as usual, when the Worthy Advisor ( a rather severe older lady who supervised the troops) announced that I had just been elected AMERICAN FLAG BEARER. My (probably rigged) election had two important consequences: I would be marching on the floor and I would be dressed in white. My parents were ecstatic. Daddy was sure that 1) I was very popular and 2) I would quickly be elevated to the upper ranks. Mom began planning my "look" for the installation ceremony.

On the day of the big ceremony, Mom seated me at the kitchen table and began work on my hair. She pulled my limp locks up to the top of my head with a rubber band so tight that my eyebrows rose up under my bangs. The resulting topknot was teased with a rattail comb. Then the whole mess was divided into 6 segments and each segment was pinned into my scalp. The poof was a thing of beauty. The entire creation was sprayed with half a can of hair spray. When I moved my head, I could hear the lacquer crackle.

The makeup section of the project was a blur. I know it involved foundation, powder, rouge, blue eye shadow and red lipstick. Fetching on a red-headed girl with a lot of freckles and not very much skin pigmentation. Then it was on to the white dress. Mom had selected a white brocade sheath (very flattering to my big hips) with a matching coat. It was very Jackie Kennedy. The ensemble was completed with Mom's white pumps, which were a half size too small for my feet.

As I minced my way to the front door (those shoes HURT), my mom beamed with pride. She handed me a little red umbrella to protect my hair from the drizzle outside. I stepped out on the front porch. My father was waiting impatiently at the bottom of the stairs. I opened the umbrella and the spokes got tangled in my topknot.

"Oh no!" my mother shrieked. I panicked and began to yank at the spokes, pulling out lacquered hunks of hair and hairpins. Continuing to struggle with the offending spokes, I spun around in my too tight pumps and... fell down the front stairs.

The silence lasted a long time. Finally, my father muttered "Jesus" under his breath and helped me to my feet. My stockings were shredded, my dress was soggy, my shoes were scuffed and my hair was sticking up in all directions. My deflated mother, standing at the door, told me to go to the meeting and clean myself in the bathroom there. Then she firmly shut the door.

When I arrived at the meeting, I pulled off my stockings, patted the hair down into a shape resembling a used SOS pad, and prepared for the Grand Procession. Rounding the first corner of the march, I turned too quickly and I dropped the American flag. The second profound silence of the day occurred while I scrambled around on my hands and (scraped) knees to retrieve the fallen flag.

Thus ended my Rainbow Girl career and my parents' dreams of an vivacious and elegant daughter. I went back to being a shy bookworm with limp hair and no clothing sense. And my parents got used to it.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

My war with underwear Part 1

My war with underwear began in earnest when I was twelve. I'm sure there were some small skirmishes in my early years: wedgie battles, droopy drawers, the occasional raggedy bloomer worn to church. But when I was 12, things got serious.

My junior high school assistant principal, who had spent a lot of time in Germany during the war, had a fondness for whistles and marching. As we exited the cafeteria each day, the general would blow his whistle once to indicate it was time to line up: boys on the left, girls on the right. Two toots meant march in place; he growled out the pace in true army fashion. Three toots signified a precision march down the stairs and out to the playground. On two toots, I began to pump my chubby legs in my off-rhythm version of a Sousa march. I was apparently so enthusiastic one day that the elastic in my underpants snapped.

As three toots sounded, my underpants dropped to my ankles. Hundreds of adolescent bodies were surging forward and I really had no choice if I didn't want to be crushed. Yes, dear reader, I stepped out of them and kept marching. As I reached the bottom of the stairs, I risked a sideways glance up to the assistant principal. There he was, calmly holding my underpants and reviewing his troops. A quick visit to my gym locker netted a pair of gym shorts to cover me up for the rest of the day (the concept of commando was not in my vocabulary yet).

We continued to march throughout junior high school. But I certainly detected a slower pace to the “hup, two, three, four.” I suspect the poor man did not want to retrieve any more discarded underwear from his troops.