January 31, 2012

Terror in the Neighborhood

One of my shorter pieces (500 words) originally published on The Short Humour site.

“They’re coming!” Sam yelled from his station at the blinds. Sam had been sitting there all morning. Waiting. “Positions everyone.”

“Do we have to do this again?” His son Billie asked. “I’m so tired, daddy. Maybe we should…”

“This is not a drill!” Sam snapped. “Now get upstairs and hide under your bed.”

Sam exchanged glances with his wife Cindy as the sound of weighted footsteps made their way towards their front door. “No matter what happens, I love you.” He pushed his wife into the den. “Now be still. Don’t even breathe.” Cindy nodded and obeyed.

Knock. Knock. Knock. Slow, heavy pounds erupted on the door. Sam could feel his heart racing. “Why won’t these bastards give us any peace?” He whispered, reaching for Cindy’s hand.

“Sam…” Cindy said, trembling. For a moment Sam felt selfish involving his family like this. But they were all in it together now, and it was his duty to protect them. He listened intently. The intruders were leaving.

“We haven’t fooled them.” Sam said, emerging from his trench. “They know we are home. And they will wait.” Sam’s wife and son slid out of their hiding spots and joined him in the main room.

“That was close,” Billie said, peeking out the window. “Daddy, I’m scared.”

Sam cradled his face in his hands. “We can’t hide forever. They will catch us...someday.”

“They watch me when I go to school, daddy. Once, they even chased me.”

Sam looked up, white-faced. “But, that’s against the law!”

Cindy opened the front door and removed a piece of paper. Their house had been marked. “Honey, in case you haven’t figured it out...these people are the law.” Cindy dropped the paper onto the coffee table. “Maybe it’s time we move on. We’re on the run, Sam. We can’t raise a boy like this.”

Sam stumbled to the sofa and plopped down. “I just don’t know what to do.”

“I’ve got an idea,” Billie said, looking down at his feet. “We could just… mow our lawn.”

Sam looked at his son, horror-struck. “But where does it end? We mow the lawn today. Maybe even clean up the oil spills on the driveway and pick up the dog poop in the front yard. Then what? Maybe next they will expect you to clean your room.”

Billy’s knees shook and Cindy went to him. “It will be alright.” She said, stroking her son’s hair. “Mama won’t let them get you.”

“Maybe we should go.” Sam said reading the note on the coffee table.

Twenty-Five Dollar Fine: Weeds

The fourth notice they had gotten in a week.

“We must stay,” Cindy said, looking at her husband. “Without us, our neighbors are doomed.”

Sam sighed. “You’re right. Someone has to have the worst house in the cul-de-sac.” Sam brightened. “Maybe we should really fight the power. Leave our Christmas lights up until August this year!”

Cindy leaned down to give her husband a kiss. “Now that’s the man I married. We’ll do this…together.”



Gone with the Pins

I hate bowling.

Why my husband thought it would be a good way to 'make me feel better' after an incredibly awful day is beyond me. I imagine the thought process behind this. "Hey! I know! What April needs on this already bad Monday is to put on a pair of clown shoes, hose herself down with Fabreeze,  and eat a hot dog that's been sitting under the heat lamp for 12 hours. That will make everything better."

I guess I'm being overly cynical. I don't hate bowling. In theory its an alright game. I just hate the idea of me bowling. My husband, of course, is a great bowler (which I just found out). We played 2 games and he managed a strike or a spare every round while I'm struggling to knock down two pins with one ball. "We're not competing," he says, when I glower at him. He's lucky I'm not strong enough to chuck the ball at him. It's a well-known fact that only people who are good bowlers say things like 'we're not competing.'

I look around me at the other bowlers. The old ladies in the lane to my right have managed scores doubling their collective ages. The guy in the wheelchair to my left swings a mean Grannie shot, whomping all down all ten pins with a single throw. These people seem to possess no great physical or intellectual skills. And yet...they can do it. I just didn't understand.

"I think my ball has a warble," I say, turning it over in my hands. In truth, I have no idea what a warble is, and I'm hoping he doesn't either.

"Your ball is fine. You're up."

I close my eyes and hurl the ball down the lane, waiting for the sound of impending gutter. My ball somehow bounces out of my alley and into the next lane, scoring 6 points for some not-so-grateful family.

"See! You're getting better,"

"No, I'm not."

"If we come every week, we will both be better!"

Now there's an idea. As if bi-annual humiliation isn't enough. I hurl the ball again and the entire alley erupts in applause as three of my pins are knocked over at once. Get me out of here.

I could practice on the sly, I think. Build an alley in my backyard. The engineering has to be similar to the slip and slide I made last summer. But with wood and less water. A blind man two lanes over gets a strike and I want to slither home.

"We don't have to come back." My husband says. He is sincere. And as always my heart melts a little. So, I suck. So what if the shoe-giving teenager behind the counter offers to include the 'free bumper service' when he sees me coming. I can endure it, right? This time together is making my husband happy. He endures 'dance nights' with me even though his moves have not progressed beyond the 'Caddyshack-Gopher' Shuffle. I can do this for him.

I smile. "No, it's okay. I think I am getting better." I look up at the scoreboard. I bowled a solid 53. That's at least nine points better than my last game. The only person I need to compete with, I realize, is myself.

January 26, 2012

Run, April, Run

I ran for thirty minutes yesterday. Straight! That is the longest, continuous run I have ever done without being chased. Of course my husband, 'he-who-runs-twenty-miles-because-it's fun-, was slow to grasp the enormity of this accomplishment.

“Thirty minutes!” I announced for the fourth time, hands on hip and drenched in sweat. “And there weren’t even any dogs after me.”

"Oh, that's awesome babe. Congratulations." He finally said when he realized the remote clicker wasn’t going to work until I moved out of the way of the TV.

Truth be told, I hadn’t set out that morning with the intention of running. Exercise, in general, isn’t my thing. I would rather be sitting safely on the couch sipping Coke Zero and reading about nature than walking in it. I don’t get endorphins the way some people do. I get shin splints and plantar fasciitis. But recognizing that my body will eventually turn into the giant pile of mush an ex-boyfriend predicted,  I get my wiggly butt out there and move. I dance. I walk. I will even skip on occasion if the sun hits me just right. But I don’t run. Running is for the blue ribbon kids on Field Day, not us ‘participants’.

While I may not be an athlete, I am competitive - especially with my husband. He had already lost two of his ‘holiday pounds’ while my own body stubbornly guarded the four I had gained since the great cookie decorating fiasco. He is walking around with his jeans buttoned and I’m breaking out the shoe horn to fit into mine. I knew I had to step up my game. So I loaded up on chocolate protein bars and went for a walk. Maybe, I thought, I run for just a few minutes just to help move the belly budge along and bring my pulse rate up to something beyond slovenly.

“Okay, body, run!” I commanded it, getting ready to move full steam ahead.

Run? Are you serious? Sounds horrible.  My mind answered on behalf of my body. Let's just ditch this whole workout thing and watch last night's episode of The Soup instead.

“Bad Brain! Bad!” I scolded it. "You're supposed to be helping me. I’m going to ground you from all TV if you don’t behave." My brain simply shrugged knowing that I would give in as soon as the next episode of Dance Moms aired.

“Move it”, I said again.

But you’re afraid of running. It makes your heart and lungs hurt. People mock you from their cars. And you look ridiculous. The memory of a carload of adolescent boys laughing at me when I had tried to jog years before came up. My brain was offering me proof.

You have stumps for legs. It kept on. Your knees are bad. And I’m pretty sure you are developing flat feet. I did my best to ignore it, practicing the same zone-out technique I used on my mother when she was telling me about her lady problems.  But my brain was relentless. In Junior High you used to invent illnesses to get out of running track. You were the only student in Clark Middle School to come down with the gym dyslexia. REMEMBER?

“Shut up!” I kicked my legs harder. “Why do you have to bring up the past?”

We’re linked, the past and I.  Remember that time you passed out on the treadmill at the Senior Center? All those old people standing around gossiping. Didn’t you learn your lesson then?

“I’m not listening.” I pumped my arms and moved further ahead. If I ran fast enough maybe I could leave my brain behind. My brain didn’t rule me. Sure, it helped me with reading, and writing, and sometimes balancing my checkbook. But it was fallible. It had talked me into far too many bad relationships to tell me it couldn’t be wrong. “You don’t know everything.” I said, pulling up a picture of the trivia game I had recently lost because it gave me a series of incorrect answers. “Go away.”

And with that it shut up. Perhaps I had offended it. I’m not sure. But minute by minute, leg kick by leg kick, it stopped telling me what I couldn’t do. It found some quiet closet to wait in, a closet I never knew existed. And the quieter it became the more my body moved. Thirty minutes later I made it home.

“What?!” I said, looking at the clock. “I did it!” I had conquered my fear of running. And I had an epiphany. Without my brain there to tell me what I couldn’t do, I might be able to do just about anything.

Of course, my brain couldn’t remain quiet for long. It was like the co-worker who wouldn’t help you with a project but was there to share in your success. We were marvelous, weren’t we? Did you see the way I periodically offered up pictures of you in a bikini for inspiration?  We’re a great team. Maybe we can enter a marathon or something. I’ve been coming up with some great visuals of you crossing a finish line if you need them.

“Yeah, we are a great team.” I agreed. But somewhere deep inside I learned a universal truth. There is a place deeper than thought; a place where the soul resides. We are more than a collection of thoughts and experiences. When the light shuts off in the brain another light turns on. A light that can guide us to do anything, because in that light there is no fear. It just is there…lighting the way.

January 12, 2012

Goodbye Tree

A tree fell on my house yesterday. A very big tree. In one triumphant crash it announced its demise, taking an eave, a rain gutter, and several shingles with it. The boom was so loud that I thought for sure Armageddon had come. I was already plotting how I could stuff 9 boxes of Loriel's Home Highlights into my backpack (the person who invents the  Beauty Apocalypse Bag is going to make a fortune) when my husband informed me that it was just  a tree.

Just a tree?

Yes. But it was my tree.

Having spent most of my life in the Southwest I purposely sought out a piece of property with trees where I could watch the wonders of nature, up close and personal, without having to live in a log cabin. Though we had both reached adulthood when we first met, we were not done growing. We watched each other’s lives unfold through my kitchen window: budding, blooming, painting ourselves, and throwing away all that we had worked for to start again. There was an understanding between me and this tree that I might never have with another human being. She was my little piece of nature, something to keep me calm and settled, nestled in the middle of suburbia. I may not be Thoreau, venturing into the woods to live deliberately, but I could visit it a little in my own back yard. Even in her older days, with her gnarled branches like witch’s fingers, I loved her.

Maybe I was naive in thinking this relationship could go on indefinitely. Again, I'm from the southwest and cactus live forever. I guess I thought that all plants with any fortitude did too. Pets might get lost, children grow up and leave home, and parents pass, but trees...they are supposed to be ancient and eternal. As the chaotic events of my life unfolded there was always the constant of something as simple as a tree in my back yard. But nothing escapes the hands of time. Not even a tree.

She gave me all she could, every leaf to jump in, every sliver of shade she could muster, and then said goodbye in a thunderous boom. Do you weep for that? Or do you say thank you to nature for the chance to feel connected to her, even in the smallest of ways. Maybe you do both. Joyce Kilmer got it right when she wrote I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree. I might be able to write about my tree but I can never do it the justice it deserves. This is humbling.

My backyard looks bigger now, emptier. Maybe I will plant a sapling in her honor one day. I'm not sure yet. Spring will come and I can decide then. For now I will just look out my kitchen window and smile at the memory.

January 10, 2012

What's In A Name? Your Soul.

Ooh....Today's the day I change my name on my driver's license to the one that matches my marriage certificate. It's taken a year. But I think I'm ready. Provided I have a good hair day and the spray tan holds.

But beyond the self-esteem deflation which I am sure will be committed by some sadistic DMV photographer, I am worried about the emotional ramifications of the event. I have never changed my last name before. In less than two hours I won't be me any more. A surrender of the past for the promise of a future. Scary stuff.

Some people have asked me why this is so difficult as, oddly enough, the last name I have is not the last name of the man who gave me life. Back in the day (about the time the Bible was written) my mother fell in love with one man, though unfortunately she was married to a different man at the time. She got the baby bump and fled the state, divorced her husband, but gave me his last name to 'avoid scandal' (sorry mom if I'm letting the baby out of the bag). So I technically shouldn't even be this person. But I am.  It's me. It's my identity. And it's pretty frightening to give it up.

My biological father and I eventually had a very wonderful relationship and about ten years ago he asked me to change my last name to his. "Dad, I'm an adult. I can't do that." I told him. My dad's heart was a wee bit broken but I couldn't reverse years of who I was to fix him. As much as I loved him, I couldn't give that up.

In addition, I've been married before. Still, I kept my name. I'm sorry for this. It breaks my heart a little that I couldn't surrender that then. I guess it should have been a sign. But the name was mine. Someone could borrow my spirit for awhile, but not my soul. And I do believe the soul resides in every letter of your name.

I've been called a lot of things by the men in my life...gypsy, unsettled, always looking, never satisfied, has the wanderlust...and I told "S" before we got married that I doubted I could take his name. It's the only part of me no one could steal. And he said okay and kissed me anyways.
With that kiss the spell was broken. He wasn't trying to steal anything. I knew, in that moment, that he would let me be me - no chains attached.

Yes, I've had my bouts of wayfaring, unable to remain in one place or with one person for very long.  I used to think I wasn't cut out for it but now I know...deep inside me I really know. It wasn't that I was always trying to run. It was that I was always on the search for someone like "S" who wouldn't cage me but would give me his full blessing to be me in any shape or way I needed to be me. And with this blessing I've hung up my maps and told the caravan to take a hike. I may be a gypsy at heart but I've set up a permanent camp. And that's just beautiful.

I hope that when I present my new driver's license to my husband today he understands the gift I'm giving him. It's the biggest gift I have ever made to any person. He gets every piece of me, 100%. And I'm willing to stake my name on it.

Now to go fix my hair.

January 6, 2012

Confessions of a Nudi-Phob

I admit to being one of those squeamish types in the dressing room of my gym. If there's a place where I can change in private - a cubby, a restroom, or even the shower - I will find it. I get a lot of teasing for this little phobia of mine. "They're all just women," I've heard more than one well-meaning nudist say as I'm slinking towards the towel closet. "They aren't going to see nothing on you they haven't seen before."

"Unless I'm an alien-earth hybrid with only one breast and a giant belly button," I retort. That usually shuts them up.

I'm just not a huge fan of public nudity. The naked body to me is like a birthday present...not so exciting once the wrappings have been peeled away. Real naked people don't often look like the naked people in the movies. Real breasts tend to flop and hang. Booties are riddled with cellulite. And tan lines are all too visible. I have yet to see a naked body that couldn't be improved with some designer jeans and a really cool jacket. This is probably the biggest reason I've never found naughty movies enticing. While other people are aroused by the sight of naked bumping bodies I'm wondering if the  actress knows her stretch marks are showing.

I give kudos to those people who love their naked bodies, especially if they arent perfect. But I'm just not one of those people. Nudity is areminder to me about the thief called TIME. Nowhere else can you see the circle of life so completely as in the workout dressing room; from the baby girl nursing on her mother's breast to the octogenarian who just finished her water aerobics class. And it scares the bejeezus out of me. I'm not proud of this, but I'm honest. Time marches forward and in the gym I can see the parade of stages I will pass through.

As I age I will be able to dye my hair, paint on eyebrows, and put in my teeth. But my body...there is not much I can do to erase the evidence that time is passing and life is short. And so I cover up and stay in my little curtained nook of denial, undressing and dressing as fast as possible, ignoring the lines, scars, dimples, and pouches that have accumulated on my body over the years. I know they are there but I can pretend. I've made a pact with myself. I won't tell my body it's getting older until it just falls apart one day. It's been through enough already. I don't need to traumatize it with this little bit of information as well.

January 5, 2012

No Recipe for a Perfect Life

This whole Zen thing is a lot more complicated than I thought. Ive tried everything. I even wrote up a list of things I wanted to accomplish this week and declared that once the things on that list were done, I would devote the rest of my time to 'just being'. Clearly a flawed system right from the get go. Only, I didn't see it. I was simply trying to fit this Eastern philosophy into my Western life.

Besides having a list (totally unzen I bet) I realized that there really is no 'end'. I cant simply cross things off a list and then spend the rest of my time in mindless bliss. There are always more things to do. As soon as I finished my list (on Tuesday) I thought of 40 other things that should go on the list and manually wrote them in. Now, I'm stressed because my list is longer than I am. I may have to buy taller refrigerator to post it on.

Which brings me to an interesting revelation about myself. I enjoy doing things. I like to get up and work out and write and clean and visit and shop and see my husband and play video games and...and...and.

And surprisingly enough, when I am doing these things I am in my 'zen' mode. I am happy and present and living life. But when I am thinking about what I should do to make my life more meaningful I am countering all that I am working towards.I've learned that I don't need to resent all of the activities that infringe upon my life because that is my life. Life doesn't have to be a certain, prescribed way. Life is just life.

My husband took me to lunch today (right after we worked out together) and I was thinking of all the things I still needed to do. His mind, however, was on the present. He took my hands across the table and said "Wow, isn't life good?"

I looked at him. He had a million things going on in his work world and was getting messages from his employees as we ate, but his mind was right there with me. He had it right. I squeezed his hands in return and said, "Yes, baby. It really is."

January 3, 2012

The Creative Universe

Yesterday, I had an interview to teach Zumba Fitness at a local club. Although I already do some private teaching the thought of teaching in a 'real' club - a nice one at that - got me pretty excited. I had been choreographing and practicing my routines for the last six months and I was ready to show the housewives of Hillsboro how to embrace their inner Shakira.

This all came about rather unexpectedly. On Tuesday I had asked the Universe to help me find a creative way to earn a few more dollars to pay off my student loan. Later that day I got an email from the fitness director of a gym I had applied to several months earlier. Her Zumba gal had left and she was wondering if I would be interested in taking over the class which ran 3 mornings a week. This couldn't have been more perfect if I had ordered it up myself. "You rock, Universe!" I said, giving it the sign of the cross over my heart. I wasn't sure what that meant but it was the closest thing I had to a Thank You card. Anyway, I was sure the Universe had gotten the gist.

The fitness director wanted me to put together a group of songs and audition them for her. Although I have done these routines hundreds of times, the thought of doing them in an empty gym while a lady with Reebok's and a clipboard graded me, was a bit nerve wracking. So I chugged a few sips of wine,  swallowed  half of a pill the dentist had given me over a year ago, and repeated the mantra "I embody health" until my chest hurt. Relaxed, I laced up my sneakers, put on my workout gear, and loaded my play list. I was ready to rumba.

I tried to reassure myself that it didn't matter if I got the job or not. It was only a few hours a week and the money wouldn't make or break us. I already had a pretty good gig going with my current group of ladies and if I got the job I'd probably have to give that up. It was a win win either way. Still, I practiced my peppy pose in the rear view mirror the entire ride to the club, flashing dimples and teeth, wondering if I would get extra points if I could pull off the Tony Little smile.

"Now, everyone, step-together-step-touch! That's awesome. You guys rock." I encouraged the make believe group in my back seat. I even offered an occasional thumb's up to bolster their morale.

As I pulled into the parking lot and saw the building once again - that great big glorious building with equipment that was actually built according to safety standards in this century- something hit me. To heck with Win/Win. To heck with teaching in my living room. I wanted to teach here! I began dreaming up  a scenario in which I was dining with an unknown lady in a hat. She would ask "Now April, what is it you do again?" To which I would reply,  "Oh, I write but my real love is Zumba and I teach at this amazing club. Really, darling, you should check it out." And we would giggle and nibble on our cucumber sandwiches.Resolute, I sleeked my hair into a long ponytail and parted my bangs to the side so that I would match the ladies who were exiting and entering the club. "Here goes." I entered the building.

I went to the main desk and asked to see Jen, the fitness guru who would be judging me. The girls behind the counter looked  perplexed. Jen? Who was Jen? This started a whole wave of people looking for the elusive Jen. Finally, I dug out my phone and showed them the email she had sent me. "See, she exists." All the counter gals formed the same pursed-lip gaze until one of them figured it out.

"Jen works in North Portland. At the Summer burg Center." She snapped her fingers in recognition. "I can get you her number. I'm sure she can push up your interview."

I looked up the address on my digital map and my heart sank. That area was almost an hour drive and in an area my husband referred to as 'unsavory'. The gas alone would hardly recoup the hourly wage they were paying me. My dreams of Shakiran housewives and finger sandwiches vanished in an instant.

"When I asked for a creative way to earn money, I was hoping you would keep it local," I scolded the universe as the automatic doors opened to release me back into my natural, ponytail-less habitat.

"How'd it go?" My husband asked as I slunk back into the living room. His face was so hopeful. I now knew what it was like to be a hunter who returned without a lion.

"It's their North Portland club." I said, flopping into the couch next to him. "It's too far."

"Too bad. You would have been great. Another opportunity will come along, babe. You're ready."

"But I wanted that one. The place had a spa in it."

"Yeah, I know. But think of all the good you are doing for the ladies you are teaching now."

"Not one of them wants to be like Shakira though."

"No. But a few of them want to be like April."

I smiled. "Do you think I'd look better with a pony tail?" I held my hair back for him to see.

"You do have a beautiful face, but I love your hair just as it is. Would you like to go get a sub sandwich with me?"

"I would," I answered. And I told them to hold the cucumbers.

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