Thursday, December 31, 2009

Traveling Salesmen

Okay here's something I love about my husband: he used to be a traveling insurance salesman.  I didn't realize until I met him that anyone actually knocked on people's doors trying to sell them stuff anymore.  If a stranger knocked on my door I'd probably lock myself in the bedroom and call the police, nothing good could come from someone who is obviously unable to use a phone or email.  But he did it, and he was good at it.  By the time he was about 23 he was one of the top producers in the nation for his company.  He doesn't do it anymore, for one thing because I think these companies now realize that the days of the traveling salesman have died with the people who actually lived in the days of the traveling salesman, and also because it was stressful, putting on an act, a different act, for every house you entered and trying to guess the right act as soon as the door opens.  But like I said, he was good at it, and I now reap the benefits both in a slowly dwindling renewal check and more and more exaggerated stories. I sometimes try to get him talking about his sales days.  The other night I asked him how he would sell this charity stuff over the phone, like I have to try to do every day.  We talked and laughed for hours.
Justin and his partner Jerry and Marshall and Justin's dad and there are others whose names I hear regularly in the stories always worked in groups.  They would travel to small towns together, stay in cheap hotels, get breakfast in the morning and head off in different directions down the street, planning to meet back for an early lunch.  They sold life insurance and cancer policies mainly to older people to whom letting strangers into the house was not so frightening and weird.  There was always friendly competition going on and they would sabotage each other every chance they got.  Jerry came to lunch one day talking about the woman across the street who he had just called on.  She was sold.  He just had to get the papers in order and head back over there to get them signed.  At that point Marshall stood up flipped his plate onto the table, food and catchup flying and walked out the door.  Nobody payed much attention as Marshall was given to these little outbursts they went back to eating. They watched as he walked out the front door and as he started dodging traffic making his way across the busy street.  Jerry straightened up in his seat, leaned forward, put his hands on the table, and as it dawned on him what was happening, he started gathering his stuff.  He was calling for the waitress, fumbling with his wallet, trying to make change and finally running out the door.  The others followed behind and stood on the sidewalk laughing and watching Jerry dodge the traffic as Marshall walked out the front door of the woman's house grinning.
As Marshall walked down the steps he said, smiling, "it's okay Jerry, she's taken care of. You don't have to worry about her anymore, if anything happens to her, her family will be provided for."  That's not the worst of it though.  One time Marshall broke Jerry's finger.
Another day when they met for breakfast Marshall went up to Jerry saying "I bet I can break your finger."  Again, nobody payed too much attention because Marshall was always joking around, but given the nature of the two stories I'm writing I don't know why nobody payed attention.  
"Here, let me see your hand."  And Jerry handed him his right (policy writing) hand. Marshall wove his fingers between his, set it on the table and slammed his other hand down on top of it.  Jerry yelped and pulled his hand away, finger obviously broken.  "See, I told you I could break your finger."  And to this day Jerry's finger is all bent up from that. 
It occurs to me that the way I've told it, Marshall seems like a really bad guy.  That's not the case.  The Marshall stories are always the most crazy, but everyone loved him and he was always making people laugh, and all these guys were like him, to some degree.  They made their living on commission, that is on being likable, charming, and witty and it became an art.  I can't figure out if when they were not selling they were caught in the "on" mode and just trying to be funny and entertaining to each other, or if they were so "off" that they completely let loose and did what they wanted to do, or maybe it was both, maybe in that life it was the same thing.  One of my favorite things is to get Justin talking about those days.  A lot of the humor is lost when you're reading it and not listening and seeing it.  Someone out there ought to make a documentary about these old traveling salesmen.

Monday, December 28, 2009


I don't want to talk about it.  Give me a few days, guys.  I'm trying to think of something positive to say.  Bear with me.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Emergency Room

I've not been to the "emergency" room many times, so I don't know if a five hour wait is typical or if the hospital here is a little understaffed or maybe there are just a lot of hypochondriac alarmists around, or maybe there are a lot of people like me who just don't want to go to work that day and know if they think up some type of emergency they'll be tied up all day in the ER waiting room.
Justin and I have had to go to the emergency room a disproportionate number of times, in my opinion, to the years we've known each other for everything from things as exciting as venomous snake bites and car wrecks to boring old ear infections (Google, don't post a bunch of ear fungus ads all over my page).  They get you in much more quickly if you've been bitten by a water moccasin or put a car in a ditch.  Ear infections, as far as the emergency room is concerned, are not real emergencies. 
One night Justin's ear infection got so bad we had to go to the hospital.  When these ear infections come on I pester Justin constantly about going to the emergency room, early in the mornings, on weekdays, times I calculate not many other people will be having emergencies. Friday and Saturday nights, nights of the waxing moon, when Mercury is in retrograde, if there's a storm coming, or if the cows are laying down I try to avoid the emergency room.  It was a Wednesday night so I figured that it wouldn't be too busy.  I didn't check my lunar charts or pass any pastures on the way and that was my mistake because the waiting room was packed.  
As soon as you walk in you sign in with the receptionist who immediately takes you into a little room full of official-looking medical equipment which gives you hope that they're going to treat your emergency with the urgency you believe it deserves.  She takes your vitals and sends you out into the large waiting room full of people who look like they've just crawled in off a battlefield somewhere, dashing every hope of quick relief that you might have had.
The first thing to do is scan the room and take inventory of both the number of people and the severity of their ailments.  "She doesn't look that bad, she should be quick.  Oh, LORD, do you see that oozing out of his leg, why is he out here with the rest of us?"  Then you sit.  They have a TV on set to either the home shopping network or the weather channel so as not to offend or entertain anyone.  The best thing to do is be very quiet and listen to the conversations around you.  You can hear some tragic stories and also gauge how long of a night you're in for because eventually everyone will comment on how long they've been waiting.  Sometimes you flip through magazines and pray that nobody gets in a car wreck or comes in with something like a gunshot wound, although depending on where they were shot they may get seated next to you in the waiting room with a plastic sheet or something to protect the upholstery
About hour three your true colors start to shine when a three-year-old comes in who has just run a knife through her hand.  Normally I really like kids and I can't bear to see them hurt.  In the emergency room, she's just another road-block to relief (for Justin) and to getting out of there (for me).  "Arrrggggh, GREAT!" you moan, dramatically throwing your head back and exhaling noisily.  "That looks bad, watch them try to take her back there before us!"  And they do and despite your humanity you begrudge her for it.  It is an awful place.
Eventually they'll get you in and you'll wonder what took so long when you see a perfectly sterile, calm staff walking (not running) here and there, when for hours you've been imagining panicked nurses and terrified doctors rushing through hallways lined with bleeding, moaning, screaming patients on stretchers.  The doctor will come in and listen to you very well, taking notes and running tests and you realize that they're just being thorough back there and you don't think about all the other people in the waiting room, you only think, "I deserve it!"
We've not been to the emergency room in a long time, for us.  We almost had to the other morning when Justin accidentally kicked the dresser in the dark and slammed the rods sticking out of his toes up into his shin, but he soldiered through.  Our next trip though I'm going to find a venomous snake to bite Justin before so we can get right in there, he'll already be in pain, what's a little bit more in the name of efficiency?


Thursday, December 10, 2009


Here's something you don't see in the city: people who turn their yards into a business venture.  It's probably just because people in cities don't have yards and therefore, although they've probably thought of the idea, don't have the means to act on it.  There are a few houses I see every once in a while when I've failed in my attempt to plan my driving route so that I make as few left-hand turns as possible while also making sure that the ice cream is bought AFTER the trip to the video store so that it doesn't get too melty and I end up in some neighborhood with all these houses with all their stuff in the yard.  I've found myself in this place a number of times since it's where I always get confused about what makes the most logical sense, gas then grocery store, or groceries then gas?  (I would normally get gas then groceries so that the ice cream meltiness is as minimal as possible, but I get a discount on gas if I spend a certain amount on groceries so I have to figure out what I'm going to buy and there's a lot of math involved...)  
Anyway, the first time I saw this I thought maybe these people just ran out of room in the house and started moving some furniture out to the front yard to make room.  Maybe they were just getting it out closer to the dumpster so they would be ready on "big trash day."  The next time I drove by it was raining and there were tarps over the stuff, as if to protect it, so it obviously wasn't your everyday trash.  It finally clicked (yard sale!) the third time I drove by, a Saturday, and there were people out front looking through it, as if this were just another yard sale full of unwanted baby clothes and starburst clocks that would be packed back into the house later that afternoon.  Only these particular baby clothes and starburst clocks would still be there that night under their protective tarp, only to be unveiled again on Sunday, and Monday, and everyday until some young mother with a taste for kitch and an extra $2.25 (if she talks them down) takes them home.  
These people had taken the idea of the once-a-week yard sale and turned it into an every-day-of-the-week business.  I guess they thought "everybody likes a yard sale, right?  And nobody likes setting them up, or taking them down, or Saturday afternoon when all the good deals are gone the sellers are packing it in, why not eliminate all of that, de-clutter the house and make a few extra bucks in the process?"  And whomever they were saying this to said "why didn't I think of that?"  I guess when they get something new they just take the item being replaced, slap a price tag on it and set it outside. They probably have the most organized houses once you get through the front door.  
It sounds like I'm making fun of these people but I'm not.  I'm wondering why this doesn't happen more often.  It seems so logical. If you've got all this stuff you don't want or need, why not get it out of the house and try to make a little money off of it instead of throwing it away? Apparently a few people have caught on, but not as many as I would have thought.  I think people here place a lot of importance on their yards, so maybe the extra stuff to mow around is what is dissuading people.
I've never seen such an entrepreneurial spirit in a people group as I have since I've moved down here.  It seems like everyone, even people who don't mind filling their front yard with what is for all practical purposes, trash, is always thinking about finding their niche.  Maybe that explains JB Hunt, Sam Walton, and Don (is it Don?  I know it's not Mike, I'm not going to make that mistake) Tyson, all Arkansans.  I'm trying to find mine, but so far I think I'm stuck with writing about other peoples, and that doesn't pay as well as selling your old Christmas ornaments on your front yard.  I wish I had more stuff in this house I wanted to get rid of.  

Saturday, December 5, 2009

If You Ain't Got No Cocaine, You Don't Party With Jim Dandy

Arkansas has a number of celebrities to its credit.  Mary Steenburgen, Billy Bob Thornton, Johnny Cash, Bill Clinton, and most recently Kris Allen have all left this state to get famous, some even came back. One man left to get famous but only out of necessity and he didn't go far, just to Tennessee.  Never one to forsake his home state he named his band Black Oak Arkansas, in honor of the town where the band was formed, and he was Jim Dandy.
According to Wikipedia Jim "Dandy" Mangrum started the band in 1965.  Their first PA system was stolen from a local high school, a crime for which they were charged with grand larceny in absentia and sentenced to 26 years in prison, a sentence which was later suspended. Apparently nobody had the heart to condemn the artists of such works as "Hot and Nasty" and "I Want a Woman with Big Titties" to 26 years among common criminals; after all, their crime was committed in the name of their art.
Black Oak Arkansas returned to Arkansas often for parties and concerts and once in a while, living here, you'll hear of friend's of friends and friend's parents and friend's of parent's friends who have been to those parties.  In their prime Black Oak Arkansas would rent out entire hotels and cocaine was the most prominent guest.  The father of a friend was at one of those parties.  Jim Dandy was in true form and as the place got over-crowded he ambled to the balcony of the hotel and yelled out to the crowd "if you ain't got no cocaine, you don't party with Jim Dandy" in that rough, deep voice and he enforced it.  The way it's told that stipulation didn't thin out the crowd too much.
I never really listened to Black Oak Arkansas, and this story is really all I know about Jim Dandy, that and what I read from Wikipedia, but as short as it is I thought I'd share it.  Come to think of it, it's not really a story at all, just something interesting one person tells to another, in person.  Maybe it was the way it was told that made it so good.  Sorry guys.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Change of Heart

We put up our Christmas tree on Sunday.  Not only is this the earliest I've ever gotten the tree up, it's the ONLY time I've ever gotten the tree up.  I never saw the point to putting a lot of effort into something that is not functional or productive in any way.  In the past I thought we should just get like a Christmas ficus or something that we could conceivably enjoy the rest of the year if we didn't rip all the leaves off trying to take down the lights.  We didn't even do that. A ficus is more expensive than you might think, plus our house was to small even for a nice potted plant, and Christmas with the kids was always spent at the grandparent's house so there was really no need to decorate anyway.
This year we have a new house with central heat, a second bathroom, and an actual hallway. We have a one-year-old who has never had a Christmas tree and an 11- and 13-year-old who have their own rooms to sleep in on Christmas Eve.  So despite my distaste for pointless work, such as putting up and taking down a whole tree in one month, we got one, as in received one from my mother-in-law. It's one of those really nice six-foot tall pre-lit things with the wire branches.  The lights are red, yellow, blue, and green.  I got some of those cheap plastic ornaments in red and a nice sparkly red star for the top.  
The kids came out and helped put the tree up.  Helped like Hayden plugged in the lights, Holly fluffed up some of the crushed wire branches and then they played with Story in the box the tree came in. I think that was better than actual help because keeping him busy is the best help I could ask for.  I moved the tree from one side of the room to another trying to get it into a place that would allow someone driving by to see it from the window while also allowing the TV to still have cable that we could watch in front of the tree so that people could also admire our happy family as they drive by.  Once I maneuvered the tree into a practical and attractive place I had to get the tree, which looked like a wet cat with all the branches mashed down, fluffed up and decorated.
I thought, mistakenly, that ornaments came with hooks.  I didn't realize that ornament hooks were actually a product, I thought they were just like the straws that come with juice boxes.  I guess the juice box people thought "well, you can't drink the juice without the straw, heck, let's just throw the straws in for free!"  Not the Christmas ornament people.  They'll take you for everything you've got.  Christmas is so commercialized.
At about 7:30 pm I had to drive out to Dollar General, the only place open in Dover after 7:00 pm and get hooks.  I guess when they package them they just gather them up off the floor and cram them into a box because once I got a few separated the hooks were more like just thin wire strings that I had to bend back into hook shape.  I managed to get the ornaments hung and they look really nice.  I'm really proud of my tree.  Thank goodness for plastic ornaments too because Story just learned the word "ball."  He removes every ornament he can reach, says "ball!," throws it, picks it up and places it in his Tonka truck to push around all night.
Like I said I'm not much for form without function, but now that I've got the tree up I really like it.  I like that Story likes it, I like that the kids had fun with it, or the box anyway, and I like that when I wake up before the sun comes up I can sit in here in its rainbow light and do my Bible reading (Proverbs, finally!).  I might start doing all kinds of pointless things now, things that only have cosmetic value like taking my car to the car wash or painting my fingernails.  I might even leave the tree up all year round I enjoy it so much.  

Monday, November 30, 2009


I've never liked dogs, except when I was seven and demographically required to.  My parents got me a little beagle mutt, whom I named Ariel after the little mermaid.  When our contractor was doing some work on our farm house back then he used to bring his German Shepherd, Butch.  When the work was done he couldn't face taking his dog back to his apartment in the city so he asked if we could keep him on the farm. Then we were a two-dog family.  Ariel followed Butch's lead and looked up to him as to a father.  Little did we know at the time that once you have two dogs, a third always comes along, just to make a complete family.  Athena, some kind of golden-colored, long-haired dog, started appearing more and more often and just as Butch and Ariel decided that she was the right fit to be "mom," her owners came and asked if we minded if she stayed.  We didn't.
Over the years they became more and more family-like, learning their respective roles, and they never aged.  Ariel never became an unruly teenager, Butch never stopped teaching her new things, and Athena never grew tired of the two of them leaving her behind.  
When Butch and Ariel hunted, Athena would sit on the porch and watch for the rabbit or squirrel or field mouse or whatever run by and if it did she would start yipping like crazy to let them know where to find it.  And here they'd come racing by while she wagged her tail.
Athena was the first to get sick.  She never really let on.  She just went up into the woods one day and didn't come back.  We thought maybe she went back to the home where she'd come from.  Butch and Ariel weren't quite the same though.
One day we looked out the upstairs window and saw something on the edge of the cornfield.  We thought maybe it was a deer but when we went out to inspect it was Athena.  She had indeed gone into the woods to die, but Butch and Ariel would not have her out there all alone.  They went and found her and brought her home.
The next day Mom and I took her and gave her a proper burial not too far from the house, and Butch and Ariel came along.  I guess once they knew where she was they were okay because they never bothered her again.
Butch got sick when I was in high school and he had to be put down.  I remember Mom crying about that.
When we moved from that house we asked the new owners if they wanted to keep Ariel since we didn't have anywhere to go with her.  They said yes and the last time I saw her was a few years after we had moved and I went to see our old house.  The owners weren't home but Ariel was asleep inside, and was fat.  Maybe she was going to be a momma and have her own family.
Now I've got my own family.  We have two black labs.  Big Dog, who is big, and Sue, who is my nemesis.  There are a ton of dogs who keep showing up around here.  They're everywhere and I can't stand them.  Pulling into the driveway is like parting the seas.  There's barking and hair and jumping and wet noses all over me as soon as I get out of the car.  I keep trying to find something I like about any of them, but only Big Dog has endearing qualities but they don't make up for the hair I sweep up daily.
I think Big Dog and Sue are looking for their Athena.  Maybe once their family unit is established things will calm down a bit, but I'm not counting on it.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Secrets and Stuffing

At every potluck or backyard barbeque there is a turbulent undercurrent of competition. Every spoonful of ambrosia salad taken by an oblivious man is being closely monitored.  Every chip dipped and double dipped by an unashamed child is a star by the name of its maker.  And she who goes home with leftovers is less the woman for it.
In some circles a woman's worth is based on her recipes.  A good one is like the housewife's equivalent to the philosopher's stone, turning a can a mushroom soup and hamburger meat into pure culinary gold. They are to be guarded and protected and only passed on to blood relatives.
Justin loves his mother's stuffing.  It's very good.  Of course it's not MY mother's stuffing, but it's good.  He was bragging today about how this recipe was passed down to her from her mother.
His Grandmomma was a good church-going woman, and very much a part of the circle of women whose recipes define them.  As I hear it, she was an excellent cook, and her pineapple pie was the envy of her peers.  One of her friends asked her for the recipe and she kindly obliged, but for some reason the pie she baked just didn't turn out as well.  
"Grandmomma was known to forget ingredients when she was giving someone a copy of her recipes," Justin said.
As he sat eating his stuffing with this gravy that has hard-boiled eggs in it (also a family recipe) he talked about how much he loved his mothers stuffing but, he said, "it's still not quite as good as Grandmomma's."
Even as the words came out of his mouth his eyes widened and he turned to me.
"She gave Mother that recipe before she died!"
Some recipes are so good that the creation must die with the creator.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Day in the Life: A Thanksgiving Story

I don't know how the rest of you like pretending your lives are better than they are on Facebook or MySpace or your resumes, for instance, but I enjoy the challenge.  Being a mother, daughter, wife, and secretly ultra-hip genius of art, science, history and trivia is difficult.
I wake up every morning before the sun comes up.  For someone who cherishes sleep as the perfect drug that's difficult.  At about 6 am I cuddle up in my chair with a blanket and space heater to read my Bible and say my prayers and thank God for giving me the type of attitude and sense of humor that allows me to get out of bed at that ungodly hour, then I get dressed in clothes that I don't like. For some reason I'm totally incapable of getting the right size of pants when I'm at the store. Despite how fashionable and tailored they seem when I decide to purchase them they're always either too big or too small or too stupid looking for daily life as soon as I get home.  I like to look nice-I really do, for those of you who see me on a regular basis and might question the sincerity of that statement, I just can't. I can't wear makeup because I feel like I would look like the kind of person who wears makeup, and I'm not that.  I'd also like for my hair to look nice, but I'm one of the rare types who were born with hair that defies a brush, is at times spiteful in fact, and a curling or flat iron just makes me look like the kind of person who cares a lot about what their hair looks like, and I'm not that either.  I have a nice necklace that I wear sometimes and some shoes that I'm told are pretty cool, but I think it's really expecting too much from those two items to carry my whole "nice-looking" image.
Every day I wake up thinking I'm going to do something special today, really dress up and look good, and once I fail totally at that after all my half-effort I wake Story up and dress him like trash too.  I head off to work.
When I'm driving to work I like to daydream about minor fender-benders (of my own) or major accidents (of some other person-I've got Story in the car after all) that require me to stop and help that would prevent me from having to show up at my job.  When that doesn't happen I drop Story off at daycare and think I've got a few miles left to drive along which there may be some kind of catastrophic event that would end my suffering but, alas, I always make it to work about ten minutes early.
I spend my day calling people on an actual phone that I have to actually hold to my actual ear and asking them to give me money for charity.  Based on what I get paid I would probably make more money calling people asking them to give me money.  Lately we've been calling in Michigan, you know, of "Roger and Me" and bankrupt car manufacturer fame.  I have to say things like "just because they're disabled doesn't mean they're unable" and "their demands are small but their love is enormous," which seems kind of condescending to me, but what do I know, they've got the best of the charity-raising script writers telling me to say it.  
After four to seven hours of that, depending on when they send me home for not raising enough money, I pick up Story and come home to clean.  I think it might just be me being self-critical but I don't know any family in the world who makes such a mess on a wood floor.  I sweep and mop constantly and the floor will not get clean.  All of our socks are ruined.  
About 6 pm I start watching the clock, counting down to bedtime.  I try to occupy myself with things like Facebook and the fabulous lives of all my former peers who seem to have done very well for themselves and are not daydreaming about fatal car accidents on the way to work or cleaning obsessively to make up to the lack of control in other areas of their lives.  But the time moves so slowly and Story is so wild.  I close all the doors that I can in the house and try to keep the destruction contained to just the living room with it's sparse furnishings, but there are still two chairs, a TV, and a bookcase that has a glass front.  Justin is terrified of Story because of his post-knee-and-toe surgery state.  I'm terrified of him because he's stronger than me, and I think he knows it.  
Finally 8 pm rolls around and I place him in his bed where he likes to undress and fall asleep so that I can come back in around 10 pm, wake him up and put his diaper back on.  I brush my teeth, which I like because I get to use the good Crest with the miniature breath strips in it instead of the Sensodyne that I use in the morning because my teeth are so messed up.  I take my bath, put on my pajamas, and sit in bed thinking about all the exiting things that I'm going to do in my lifetime, which at this age have been slowly whittled down to things like trying out one of those Dyson vacuums that turn on a ball instead of "four fixed wheels," or getting the curtains hung because they would make the living room look so nice, or landing a job that may be just as mindless but might pay more.  It is with these hopes for the future in my mind that I finally fall asleep, ahhhh, sleep, only to wake up too early and do it all again the next day.
All that being said I'm thankful for the life that I have, for facebook so I can keep up with my friends, because I love them.  I'm thankful that the sun does come up and that I am able to sleep, that I have clothes, and they are nice clothes even if they don't always look it on me.  I'm thankful that I do have a job because I know that many people don't these days.  I'm thankful for my bed and having a house that has a door to the kitchen and toothpaste with mini breath strips.  Most of all I'm thankful for my healthy, happy little boys and my family, both here and in Chicago and everywhere else across (or up and down, in this case) the country, and for the change in me from my former self that allows me to be thankful for all these things that would have destroyed me.  Thank you God for making me who I am and for giving me these gifts and for making a way for me to tell everyone who may be reading this Happy Thanksgiving!  It's all going to be okay.  

Monday, November 23, 2009

Ode to ANO

Arkansas is the natural state, so naturally when they were looking for a place to build a nuclear plant Arkansas was right up there with "the Garden State" and "the Evergreen State." Northeast Arkansas already looks like it's been hit by a nuclear attack.  It's all brown and empty and flat, but here in the River Valley there are mountains and lakes and trees and things that could actually be destroyed in a nuclear meltdown, so there is great potential theatrical effect and possible post-meltdown before and after pictures that could make you cry.
It provides a lot of jobs and is good for the economy of the area, and it's always in view, a constant comfort in our mastery over the elements. There are a lot of nice houses on hills with gables and decks and a panoramic view of Lake Dardanelle and the concrete coolant tower with it's constant torrent of steam, or "the cloud factory," as one friend refers to it.  The view is like the opening to "the Simpsons."
They put it here because of Lake Dardanelle.  The lake water is needed to cool the reactor. It gets very hot, what with all the splitting of atoms and loose electrons flying around and that lake water filters through there and keeps the plant from literally melting down.  The pressurized steam from the hot water drives turbine generators which produce electricity that gets sent out all across the United States.  When the water is done it gets pumped back out into the lake.  I think that's how it happens anyway.  
I don't know a whole lot about thermodynamics but I imagine that the water would carry some sort of atomic residue after running through the reactor.  They claim that it doesn't but my ice maker can't produce an ice cube that doesn't taste like the freezer, so I'm just using my limited experience with water to conclude that that water from the nuclear plant has to have something of the plant in it.  The fish like it though.  They hang out there by the pipes all day long, and they get huge.  I'm not sure how they taste but they're probably great.  Catfish restaurants are big business here.  
Another benefit is that every year the Bassmasters come here for at least one of their major tournaments.  There are pictures of fishermen holding fish in the air whose tails drag the ground.  There are also stories, mainly from underwater welders who repair the pipes running from the reactor, of catfish who could eat a man.  It's from the warm water.  But I'm not sure a bassmaster has ever caught one of those.  
I'm not crazy about nuclear power because splitting the building blocks of matter into pieces seems dangerous to me, but I'm incurably addicted to electricity so if the Earth has to adapt and produce a few two-headed frogs, or in this case some man-eating catfish, for me to be able to watch Wife Swap that's a chance I'm willing to take.  I also like the clouds, Arkansas Nuclear One.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Sin and Science

Arkansas just recently lowered its high moral standards and joined the rest of the money-grubbing nation by starting a state lottery, which can be a lot of fun.  It caused a lot of uproar and petitioning and line-in-the-sand-drawing, but in the end the love of money defeated the fear of God, as it were.
Personally I have a weakness when it comes to $1 scratch-off tickets. I love them. I'm convinced that if I "focus my intention" and really concentrate, I'm going to win and I will, my powers just aren't strong enough yet.  It's like a kind of experiment, really.  It has a lot to do with quantum mechanics and Heisenbergs Uncertainty Principle and laws of cause and effect and the power of the human mind to affect change on an atomic scale, and training your mind to change physical reality.  It's very scientific.  My day is coming, it just takes time to develop the kinds of powers I'm cultivating.  Recently though I've started thinking that if I did win I'd probably just feel guilty about winning money raised by feeding on the desperation of other people like me who don't have it to waste on stupid scratch-off tickets anyway; I mean people like me who are in the middle of a highly scientific and challenging exercise on the physics of the mind.
People have won though, and when they do it's big news.  In the beginning when the news was covering the opening days of the lottery everyone was talking about what they'd do with the money if they won.
Justin and I ran into an old family friend one day and were were talking about the lottery.  He said that if he had all the money in the world, not just lottery winnings, but ALL the money in the world he'd probably pay off his debt and then whatever he still owed they'd just have to wait.
One guy won something like $100,000.  He was big news that day. About three days later he was back on the news because apparently he took his winnings and decided to buy a whole lot of cocaine.  He's now facing decades in prison.  Maybe the moral minority was right, nothing good could come from the lottery in Arkansas, just a whole lot of broken-hearted poor people, rich drug addicts, and scientists.


We got to the hospital about fifteen minutes late today, which did not seem like a big problem because for the knee operation we were about five minutes early and he still didn't get to surgery until about three hours later.  Obviously foot doctors are much more punctual than knee doctors because as soon as we walked in a mob of middle-aged, blue-eye-shadowed, nurses-who-could-just-have-easily-been-waitresses descended upon Justin with clipboards and needles and arm bands and everything else.
"That cow just wanted to keep on going," the curly-haired one said as she slammed one of their Computers On Wheels into the foot of Justin's bed.
Which prompted a whole conversation between the two about how one of the anesthesiologists was going to purchase some fake cow manure to put under the COWs because that would be funny, I guess.
"He is such a jokester!" the short one laughed.
"Jokester," that's an adjective I like to hear before "anesthesiologist." A jack of all trades.  The comic relief of the operating room.
After bumbling around the tiny hospital room and teasing Justin about not being able to get his wedding ring off because his fingers are so big for about half an hour, a younger, more capable-looking nurse came in to take him to surgery.
At a loss as to what one says to ones spouse as they're wheeled off to be heavily drugged and cut open I settled on "well, don't die," which is clearly not the script that the other spouses are following judging from the nurses response which could have been startled amusement or horror.
"He shouldn't feel anything, we're going to numb it," she said.  And then she left.
They'll numb it?  Well, yeah, like, he'll be ASLEEP right?  Turns out they had planned on just using local anesthesia, just kind of doping him like they do for a c-section.  
He said he didn't realize that until he got in there and they were explaining the operation to him.  He turned to the anesthesiologist and asked if he could just put him completely out.
Jokester that he is he went ahead and got that doctor good.  He knocked Justin out cold.
The knee surgery took all day so I was prepared with my book and my snacks and my computer and crossword puzzle and I had just started on my snack when the doctor came in and said he was done and everything went well.
Justin's foot is all wrapped up so we can't see his toes or the rods sticking out and Justin's been instructed not to remove the bandages himself (the knee doctor must have blabbed about Justin taking out his own staples).  I'm not sure what it looks like but he seems to be doing fine. So far tonight he's hung two mirrors, tried to wire a dimmer switch to the hall light (unsuccessfully), and is now re-re-organizing this mountain of little tiny tools and tool attachments which I expect will keep him busy until morning.  All is well.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Be Happy You're You

Years ago my husband, Justin, got into a motorcycle accident.  When the bike went down his leg slammed heel-first into the road.  Since then he's been having problems with bits of bone breaking off and floating around behind his kneecap.  Every few years he has to have an invasive and painful surgery to remove these bits of bone so that he can straighten his leg out. The most recent of these was a few weeks ago.  It took two incisions and eighteen staples (which, incidentally, are exactly like the staples that were in your third-grade teachers desk drawer only thicker) but he did get to come home with a little sterile container with about five or six pea- to quarter-sized bones that had been removed, but don't mention it to him because since then it got set on the bumper of my car after showing a friend and is now smashed all over Main Street and I'm not sure if the pain he still feels is from the surgery or from that loss.
Never one to follow instructions too closely Justin insisted on building a turtle habitat (that's a whole other story) in the utility room in the garage a couple of days after the surgery. There were tools and turtles and blood everywhere, but at least the turtles will not be spending another winter in my bathtub.  
Soon after that he decided that he would be in a lot less pain if the staples were just removed.  So here in our living room with wire cutters and needle-nosed pliers he took out all eighteen of them.  Again, tools and blood everywhere, not turtles though so that was an improvement.
He knee was doing much better and we were all prepared for a little break before his toe surgery.  I'll clarify: TOE surgery.  And this is not the first Justin has had.  Years ago there was a nearly-fatal golf cart incident that severed two of the little toes on his left foot (they were able to be reattached, although a little crookedly).  The upcoming surgery is on his right.  His pre-op appointment was last Friday.  Thursday night Justin was walking through the kitchen and stubbed his big toe (on the left, non-surgery foot) on one of the chairs.  I stub my toes a lot and it hurts, sometimes I even get a hangnail from the ordeal and that's even worse but I clip it and its sore for a bit and then it's fine.  Justin limped into the bedroom after stubbing his toe and said "look at this."  I looked and the nail was cracked all the way down the middle and there was this odd white fluid pouring from the crack.  "That's doesn't look right, does it?" he asked. Keep in mind he stubbed his toe on a chair, not a cement wall or the side of a building, not something immovable, but a chair which if struck with enough force to crack a big toenail down the center should, by all rights, have moved first.  Not for Justin though.
And no, it didn't look right.  So when he went to his pre-op appointment he had the doctor take a quick look at the oozing toe on his way out.
When he came hobbling in that night I asked, shocked, what had happened.
"I had surgery."
"On what?"
Well, it turns out that the doctor took one look at his toe and decided they needed to remove the whole toenail.  The proceeding explanation of this process seems like something from the Malleus Maleficarum and should never have to happen in this day and age of pain medication and lasers and those Google maps that show you a satellite picture, clear as day, of your location (from outer space!).  First they put up one of those surgical curtains like they give women who are getting c-sections so you can't see what they're really doing.  Then they take about four long needles and shove them as far under the offending toe as possible and pump as much anesthetic under there as you can stand.  When you're good and numb (of course "you'll still feel some pressure") they take some sort of instrument, which can't be a whole lot different from a pair of pliers, to grip the toenail and then just yank it off allowing blood and puss to squirt "all over the walls!"
His toe is healing nicely and there's even this little film, just a hint of a new toenail and now that he's had his physical with the family doctor to make sure his body will survive another surgery we're planning on the next toe operation this Friday, in which they break two of them, shave off some bone from each, sever the ligaments in two others and insert rods into all of them to straighten them out, that is unless something else happens before then that needs to be addressed.  Friday is a long way away in Justin-time.

Monday, November 16, 2009

If You Don't Like the Weather, Wait Five Minutes

I grew up (in Missouri, as you know) hearing all the time how crazy the weather was there and how-in Missouri-"if you don't like the weather, wait five minutes."  It was only when I started moving around a bit that I realized that people say that EVERYWHERE.  That's just how weather is, it has nothing to do with geography.
It's freezing here today.  The temperature on the Bank of the Ozarks sign said it was 50 degrees out, but I'm sure it couldn't have been higher than about 25.  What else could account for my constant shivering, my numb fingers, and my compulsion to have the space heater set to 85 blowing directly at my face?  I guess it's about time for it to start getting cold, but it didn't really start getting cold it just was cold. 
Last week I was ready for it.  Every morning I went outside to see how it felt and it was frigid.  I would bundle Story up, I even put a winter hat on him only to get him to school and find it to be about 75 outside.  Today, Monday, I wasn't going to fall for it again.  Only today it was kind of nice in the morning so I dressed him in unseasonably warm clothes as it could only get warmer.  Well by about 10:00 it was 50 degrees and the temperature peaked there.  So, weather, you win again.
The seasons have been a little off here this year.  For one thing it's been raining like crazy.  I don't think it stopped the whole month of October.  Justin was talking to an old family friend about the weather and he said that this was the first year he ever lost his garden to catfish.  I'm not sure he was joking.
Another thing is the allergies.  I never had allergies before I moved here and now I've got them non-stop.  Maybe all the rain made them worse but I haven't been able to smell nor taste my food since about August.  We're going through a lot of salt around here.
I keep waiting but the weather keeps coming up with something new that I dislike-every five minutes.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

A Lesson in Masculinity (or Something)

The Baptist church in town had a Bible study for men one year about manhood and how to be the way that God made you as men and all that.  The leader of the group, or the author of the book they were using talked about motorcycles as one of the ways that he indulged his manliness.  How the motorcycle allowed him to be free, feel powerful, all those things that men like (and I'm only imagining here since I have no idea, really).  During that study a number of the men decided that a motorcycle would be an excellent way to express their manliness as well.  So, in the name of manliness and expression they went out and bought the most manly bikes they could find, Harley-Davidsons.
A few years ago my husband, Justin, got a Harley.  Before that he had a Honda that I had ridden on a few times and, as it was my first time on a bike, I was impressed.  Not really with "the power" but with how safe it actually felt when I knew how easily I could die, or worse be mangled beyond recognition, or like in one of Justin's wrecks get "road rash" and have the doctors peel away burned-up skin from the palms of my hands in a hot tub every day for a week.  Anyway, when he took me on my first ride on the Harley I was impressed, this time it was with "the power."  Even I, a woman, a pacifist, a vegetarian sitting on the back clinging to the "sissy bar," was amazed by the power of that bike.  It was easy to see how easily one could get away from you, or in my case my husband who grew up riding motorcycles.
So when the men from the Bible study at the Baptist church mounted their bikes for the first time, heard the roar from the engines, backed their symbols of masculinity out of their suburban driveways, and turned that throttle they didn't expect what Harley had in store for them.  
"About half out them ended up in ditches, the rest damn near killed themselves," as the story was told to me by my husband.  God love them. 

The Land of Herders

Northerners don't really think a lot about Southerners.  I didn't and I grew up in Missouri.  I had no idea how close I was to a whole different world.  Malcolm Gladwell talks about it in "Outliers."  People in the North don't really think or care about other people, which is both a good thing and a bad thing.  Nobody will bother you when you don't need them, but they may not be there either when you do.  In the South people are always there.  Gladwell explains that people in the South are, for the most part, descended from "herders," which when people actually herded things meant that people could easily steal those things being herded, which meant that the biggest, baddest herder from a family of big, bad herders was the one who made a good living because he kept his flock.  "They were herdsmen, scraping out a living on rocky and infertile land.  They were clannish, responding to the harshness and turmoil of their environment by forming tight family bonds and placing loyalty to blood above all else," Gladwell says in "Outliers."  Northerners were mainly agriculturalists which meant that they tended to their own land, which is decidedly harder for a thief to make off with in the night and less dependent on cooperation with others.
In the South murder rates are higher among people who know each other, but property and "stranger" crimes, like muggings, are lower.  "The statistics show that the Southerner who can avoid arguments and adultery is as safe as any other American, probably safer," says sociologist John Shelton Reed in "Outliers."  Gladwell says that Southerners live in a culture of honor.  There is great respect for other people, as in "Southern hospitality," just don't question a Southerners honor.  It's taken very seriously.
It is into this "culture of honor" that I married and I'm struggling to keep up with the code.  Welcome to the South.