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“I’m making a grocery list,” my husband Brian announced.
I raised my eyebrows. Brian rarely does the shopping. I paused to consider how I might best encourage him to continue this behavior.
“Hello,” he waved a hand in front of my face. “Did you need something from the store?”
“Sorry, I spaced out for a minute,” I replied. “There’s a list on the kitchen counter and we need more catnip. Seti ate all of what we had.”
“You just bought that container,” he exclaimed shaking his head.
“What can I say,” I asked. “The cat needs his treat.”
“The cat needs an intervention,” he retorted.
Later he returned with the groceries and I helped put them away.
I spied something in the bag and froze. “What’s that,” I demanded. I backed away slowly.
“What,” he asked confused. “The Halloween candy?”
“You bought Halloween candy on October tenth,” I shrieked.
“Yeah,” he replied still unsure of what he’d done wrong.
“You can’t buy Halloween candy before Halloween,” I yelled.
“Halloween is in two and a half weeks,” he said perplexed.
“Two and a half weeks,” I repeated. “Do you know how much of that candy will be left in two and half weeks?”
“None,” I shouted. “There will be exactly none left. Do you know why there will be none left? Because I will eat it all! You know I’m trying to lose weight. How could you do this to me?”
I burst into tears.
Brian stood rooted to the floor in disbelief, a carton of fresh catnip in his hand.
“You could just not eat it,” he started.
“If I could just not eat it I wouldn’t need to lose weight,” I shot back.
He wisely avoided expounding on that idea.
“I’ll hide it,” he offered.
“Thank you but it won’t help. I’ll sniff it out like the dog looking for crumbs after dinner,” I’m not too proud to admit that I can smell out the candy in a room.
“Maybe you need a new hobby,” he said laughing.
“What can I say,” I grinned. “I need my treat.”
“You need an intervention,” he retorted. “You and the cat both.”
Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. It isn’t because I love horror movies; I don’t. It’s not because I love candy; I do. It’s because I love to dress up and perform. It is the ultimate holiday for anyone who loves to act.
My first brush with the theatre occurred in my grandmother’s living room when I was five.
The “Children’s’ Christmas Play” was an annual occurrence in our family. I was one of fifteen grandchildren. There were enough kids to put on a full-scale Broadway production but we settled for something a bit folksier. By folksier I mean we wrote it ourselves.
It was 1983 and I was making my acting debut as a sheep. I pointed to the top of the Christmas tree and announced, “A star in the east.” To date, it was one of my better performances.
I found the caste system that pervades high school confusing until I discovered the “drama freaks.” In this group of weirdos, I found my home. I threw myself into this role with as much gusto as I threw myself into Fairy Number 2 in our production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” or Vampire Number 3 when we did “Dracula.”
I wasn’t ready to relinquish my love affair with the theatre when graduation day (finally) came. I left home, moved to Los Angeles and joined a theatre company. This is my mother’s version of Halloween: her eighteen-year-old daughter on the opposite coast with a whole company of weirdos and no health insurance. Those were the days!
The only real downside to pursuing acting as a career is the pay. The breaking point came for me when I stood in a grocery store with a bottle of shampoo in one hand, a bottle of deodorant in the other hand and just enough money to buy one. Which do you choose?
I choose to return home and earn a college education followed by the very lucrative career choice of becoming a writer.
These days the only make up I wear is street make up and some days I don’t even bother with that. But once a year, I get to tap into my inner drama freak, don a costume and remember how much fun it is to dress up and pretend to be someone else, even if that someone else is a sheep.
Today is the five year anniversary of this event. Some of you have seen it as this is a repost but in honor of the anniversary and the holiday, I thought it merited a spot on the front page.
“He’s stuck!” my husband shouted.
Through the fog of sleep my maternal instincts kicked in, a decent accomplishment since I am not now, nor ever have been a mother. I could hear a commotion from the other room and I roused myself rather respectably considering I’m a deep sleeper.
The paper shopping bag that housed the Halloween decorations had sat, minding it’s own business, for a month in our junk room. That night, Halloween in fact, our youngest cat, Smidgeon, had gotten his back leg stuck through the handle. Rather than nipping in annoyance at it as Earnest, the Maine Coon would have done, or just stepping out of the little loop as Mimi or Piddy, our other two cats, would have done, Smidgeon launched into a full-tilt panic, thrashing and leaping and succeeding not at freeing himself, but at twisting the paper handle more tightly around his upper thigh.
My husband who was awake at the first sign of Smidgeon’s distress beat me to the scene. He reached for the cat and got a nasty bite for his efforts. Being a crazy cat lady who’s worked with animals professionally for years, I knew better than to reach blindly into the fray. I slid on my knees till I was in reach of Smidgy, waited for the right moment and with the speed and precision of a striking cobra, scruffed the flailing cat and pinned him to the floor.
With more calm than I felt I assessed the situation. He was good and stuck; his blind panic had caused him to twist the handle roughly seven times. He’d have never gotten out on his own. I asked my husband to bring me scissors so I could cut the handle from around his leg. In the meantime, I was forced to keep the panicked cat firmly scruffed so he wouldn’t cause himself further harm. Plan in progress, I turned my attention back to the cat to try to calm him.
Unbeknownst to me or my husband, Mimi, our sole female cat, had heard the commotion. Believing one of the male cats to be up to trouble she’d done what she does best, sailed in to administer punishment for being a male cat. Unfortunately for me and luckily for Smidgy, my more than ample ass (the truth hurts) got in her way and when she leapt, claws drawn and teeth bared it was my bare naked flesh she contacted instead of the poor trapped cat I had scruffed.
Fire shot through my ass. Shocked I turned to see what on earth had happened to me. Calm and satisfied with a job well done, Mimi was sitting behind me. She beamed at me in pride. I had four deep puncture wounds and several claw marks that spanned my right cheek. Blood flowed freely and stained the carpet under me.
“What the hell!?” I shouted at her. Suddenly, she realized she was in trouble. Never before or since has she ever attacked a human. In fact, I’d say she’s the most trustworthy of all four of the cats on that count. Wisely, she made for the bed.
Luckily for her, it was still necessary to keep Smidgy pinned down so I couldn’t dive under the bed, drag her out and slowly murder her on the bedroom floor.
Scissors procured, I freed Smidgy from his prison and put the bag in a place where it couldn’t harm anymore cats. Luckily, I was up to date on my tetanus shot. For the next several days, I was forced to soak my ass in Epsom salts and apply a large piece of gauze covered with surgical tape to the wound. FYI, Neosporin with pain killers goes a long way to easing the discomfort of a cat bite.
Halloween ended with Smidgy free from damage and me cussing up a storm trying to find a comfortable position to lay in so I could go back to sleep!
“No,” I shrieked.
My husband Brian and our dog Starla looked at me in askance. The cat looked at me in annoyance. He dislikes loud outbursts.
“What now,” Brian asked.
I gestured to my cell phone. “I’m reading the news and this headline says, ‘Woman found a live, 3 inch leach in her nose.’”
“Eeeh,” he replied.
“It gets worse,” I told him. “Yesterday, a friend posted a story on Facebook about how doctors removed a live cricket from a man’s ear.”
“That’s pretty creepy,” he replied.
“If there’s ever a living insect inside me please shoot me,” I told him.
“How is that the appropriate response to the situation,” he asked.
“How is it not,” I retorted.
“I’m pretty sure I’d go to jail if I shot you,” he replied.
“I can sign a waiver or something,” I told him.
“I don’t think that will work,” he said. “I can hear myself now, ‘Well, your honor, I shot my wife because she had a cricket in her ear…’”
I interrupted with a shriek and a shudder and clamped my hands over my ears.
He ignored me and kept going, “See, she signed this piece of paper that says she wants to be shot in the case of crickets in her ear, leaches in her nose or, and I quote, ‘any other yucky insect climbs inside me, end quote.’”
“You don’t think that would work,” I replied with mock innocence.
“I doubt it,” he replied.
“Well, obviously we’d have it notarized, so that should help,” I told him.
“Or we could just go to the doctor and have it removed,” he suggested.
“I think you miss the point,” I said.
“I shouldn’t ask,” he muttered “but what is the point?”
“Once I’ve had a live bug inside me I don’t want to live. Simply removing it doesn’t solve the problem. There’s still cooties, insect cooties. You can’t wash those off with soap.”
“I knew I shouldn’t have asked,” he was still muttering.
“Plus,” I went on, “the cooties would be on the inside which is hard to reach with soap.”
He shook his head and tried to ignore me but ignoring me is difficult to do.
“It would be like a cootie infestation.” I kept going. “Thinking about that bug, inside you, crawling around.”
“Now you’re creeping me out,” he snapped.
“So you agree to shoot me if there’s a bug inside me?”
He shot me a look that suggested I might get my wish with our without a cricket.
I grinned triumphantly, “I knew you loved me!”
“Hello,” my best friend Lexie answered the phone.
“Arrrgggghhhhh,” I wailed in response.
“What is it this time,” Lexie asked. She was accustomed to my phone calls. “Did you lock your keys in your car? Break your toe trying on heels again? Run out of chocolate?”
She gets me.
“No, no and yes but that’s not the problem. At least it won’t be a problem until the four p.m. sugar craving kicks in,” I said making a mental note to pick up a candy bar on the way home.
“This arrgggghhhhh is about work,” I continued. “I’m giving a speech in twenty minutes and I dripped café mocha on my white blouse. I don’t have time to go home and change and the stain removing pen I keep in the car melted in last week’s heat wave.”
“I bet no one will notice,” she said encouragingly.
“Ha! Not likely,” I retorted. “There’s a big brown splot dead center on my right boob. They’re going to notice.”
“I’m sure it won’t be as bad as my last presentation to vendors.”
“What happened,” I asked.
“The presentation was really important. I was afraid I wouldn’t sleep well the night before so I took a sleeping pill but it only helped a little because Buster kept waking me up.”
Buster is Lexie’s eighty-pound Boxer mix who never grew up. He’s big, goofy and totally lovable.
“He was asleep next to my bed and he was dreaming. He was drumming his claws on the hardwood floor like he was running. The constant clicking kept waking me up. Then, he began barking in his sleep. You know the kind of muffled bark that they do?”
“I do,” I replied, “I’m never sure if they’re having a good dream or a bad dream.”
“That’s it,” she agreed. “He started barking and drumming his nails on the floor and I kept waking slightly but not all the way. Suddenly, he squealed.”
“It startled me fully awake,” she said. “I jumped to comfort him, spun and did a face plant on the headboard. I broke my nose.”
“No,” I gasped.
“Yes,” she retorted. “I woke with two black eyes. When I did my presentation, no one said a word. Feel better?”
“No, but you did solve one problem.”
“I didn’t know how I was going to open my speech,” I said. “Now I have a funny story to tell.”
“Glad I could help,” she replied dryly.
I hobbled to the physical therapist’s exam room.
I had a ruptured disc in my low back. It was painfully pressing on my sciatic nerve. I had not been able to sit upright for a month and movement was impossible without the aid of a walker.
I ate all my meals lying down and drinking required a straw since I could neither sit up nor turn my glass sideways without spilling.
The therapist was sympathetic. She too had coped with a similar back injury. Her empathy showed as she patiently talked me through her exam and explained what to expect from physical therapy.
When her exam was finished, she carefully explained her findings. She talked at length about my options, she detailed different options and she concluded with her recommendation. She prescribed a course of aquatic physical therapy.
I heard, “I have to shave my legs.”
Now I had a real problem.
I hadn’t shaved since my back went out four weeks before.
If I’m candid, it was four weeks and a few days. After all prior to my ruptured disc, we had that rainy spell when I’d worn jeans.
I considered my situation. I couldn’t sit, walk, drive or drink without a straw. The only time I looked at my legs was when I lay on my back, stuck them straight up in the air and pulled on a clean pair of pajama pants, usually with assistance.
Even that brief encounter with my appendages assured me that I badly needed a shave. If that weren’t enough, I would have noticed the length of the hairs once my cat started grooming them.
I don’t mind shaving on occasion and enough time had passed since I last picked up my razor to warrant a shave without complaints. The problem was that because of the back injury, I couldn’t reach my own legs.
Not only could I not reach my legs, I had no idea where I could shave. I couldn’t stand so the shower was out. I was able to crawl into the bathtub on a near daily basis but the tub caused me great pain. My baths lasted only as long as it took to wash my hair and scrub my armpits. Then I crawled back out to rest on the floor and let the pain subside.
The inevitable truth stared me in the prickly calves. I was going to have to ask for help.
I only had two choices: my husband or my mother.
“Mom,” I said as sweetly as possible. “I need a favor.”
Because only a mother loves you enough to shave your legs for aquatic physical therapy.
“Put on clean underwear before you go out,” my grandmother Maxine said “That way if you have a wreck you’ll be wearing clean underwear.” It was an adage she lived by.
My grandmother was a diminutive woman. By my ninth year, I towered over her. Yet her shortness of stature never slowed her down.
She often told me of the years she spent playing softball and she beamed with pride when she told me of the time she won a jitterbug contest. She was the church pianist and banged out up-tempo hymns on her home piano for my sister and I to dance to.
Of all the things she told me though, the charge to put on clean underwear was the one she repeated the most.
After she passed away we cleaned out her things. We found package after package of unopened underwear, fresh and ready for my grandmother to put on before going out.
In her lifetime, she never once had a wreck bad enough to require hospitalization but she and her underwear were ready for one, just in case.
Besides being spunky and cleanly dressed, my grandmother was very organized; so organized in fact that she planned her own funeral ten years in advance.
She asked her pastor to lead the service. When she out lived him, she enlisted his replacement instead. A friend from her gospel trio was to sing and she mailed sheet music of her selected hymn to a fellow pianist.
My mother and aunt drew clothing delivery and makeup duty. I was too young to be assigned a part when her funeral plans were first drafted though by the time the funeral actually happened I was in my early twenties.
My mother and my aunt were understandably nervous about their role in the funeral arrangements, a chore made no less daunting by my grandmother’s makeup routine.
Years before my birth, my grandmother shaved her eyebrows off. They never grew back. My whole life I knew her eyebrows as two thin lines, drawn onto her forehead with brown eyeliner.
Mom and Aunt Christie rallied together bravely to do their part. It helped that my grandmother made a list of what she was to wear upon her death.
They found her blue pantsuit, her leather flats, her favorite gold-plated watch and her “good” pearls, packed them up and drove to the funeral home.
It was at the service when my aunt leaned over to my mother and said, “Did you pack any underwear for her?”
“No,” my mother replied. “Did you?”
And so it was that the woman who had enough underwear to cloth a small nation met her maker while going commando.