May 31, 2013

Stick Figure Family Values

 "Speed up," I tell my husband. We are closing in on a silver mini-van. I push the imaginary gas pedal from the passenger side, hinting that my husband is driving too slow. "We are going to lose them."

   He speeds up and soon we are neck and neck with the van, both cruising towards a red light. Bingo!

   As both vehicles idle at the light, I turn to check out the other driver. It's a round woman with too tight ringlets in her hair and a dour face. Her cheeks are flushed and her mascara is running. She looks pissed off. Maybe it's because we've been chasing her down for the last ten minutes. She doesn't look at me, even though I'm waving cheerfully out the window. She has two young children in the backseat, who appear to be arguing. As soon as the light turns green she hits the gas and speeds off.

   "Well, that was a disappointment," I tell my husband, who pulls into the McDonald's drive through for an ice cream cone.

   "It generally is," he agrees.

   What initiated our car chase was the stickers on the rear windshield of her mini-van.  It was a set of those cutsie, white, stick-figure families. There was daddy stick figure in a chef's hat. Mommy stick figure, a lean woman with a big smile and a briefcase. Two children's stick figures, one with pom-poms and one with a football. And Doggy stick figure, sitting obediently by an empty bowl.

   I had been desperate to find out if the people in the van matched their stick figure counterparts. But once again, I came up empty.

   "Why do you think people do that?" I asked my husband, who was driving with one hand and holding his ice cream with the other. "I mean, why lie about your life?"

   "Maybe they see things differently."

   "Maybe," I agreed. "Or maybe they just want to present an image to the world that isn't accurate. Maybe they think that if that's who they present themselves to be in fantasy-land, that's how people will perceive them in reality."


   I have chased down many stick figure families in the past year, desperately trying to reconcile the fun families on the window with the tired, unsmiling families that are usually in the car. During this time I've noticed a few things:

  • Daddy stick figure is always first. Even though it's most likely mommy's car as she is usually the one driving.
  • Mommy stick figure is always thin. And happy. There are no flawed figures or under eye circles in stick figure land.
  • Kiddie stick figures are always playing sports. They are never fighting. None of them are wearing baggy pants or skirts three inches too short.
  • Pet stick figures never do a no-no on the back windshield. It just doesn't happen.

   When I see vehicles with the friendly stick figure families I am immediately reminded of the parents who put the 'my kid's an honor student' bumper sticker on the back of their car. Sure, it's nice. But is it necessary? Does everyone need to know that my kid is better than your kid? And why do we feel this incessant need to advertise how swell our life is going

   I would love to see a more accurate representation of the world, such as:
  • Mommy stick figure has a swollen belly and dark circles under her eyes from trying to work, get the kids to school, and still have time for daddy. She stares absently ahead from lack of sleep.
  • Daddy stick figure comes with a remote control in one hand and a beer in the other.
  • Kiddie stick figures are armed with Smart Phones and Ipods, and they sit on the other side of the windshield, ignoring everybody.
  • Doggy stick figure begs for food while trying to mount the family stick figure cat.

   I thought about buying my own cutouts, just to place on my windshield for shock value. I was going to put a Mommy stick figure surrounded by seven Daddies. Every daddy would have a different role, attending to mommy's every need. In this scenario mommy's smile really would be warranted.

   But as I proceeded to pay for the stickers I chickened out. Who knows what someone with an inflated sense of morality and no sense of humor would do to my car? It's the same reason I won't put the fish with the little legs on my vehicle.

   For now, I'm content to just chase down these mini-van billboards hoping that someday, the image will mirror the reality. The first time I see all five members of the family, in their corresponding gear and with happy smiles pasted on their faces, I will shut up about the whole thing.

(Decal above available on Amazon)

May 30, 2013

Head Games

"I have an idea," I said to my husband last night after dinner. "Let's play a game."
"Yeah?" he asked, one eyebrow raised hopefully while the other managed to arch in an 'uh-oh' sort of way, unsure of the direction this game would take.
"Yes. Let's play: If you had to name the top things that drive you crazy about your spouse what would they be?"
"I'm out."
"Because this has train wreck written all over it. Remember the last game we played?"
"That was a fine game until you messed it up," I informed him. The game had been if you could sleep with one person again, who would it be? We were both supposed to write that person's name on a slip of paper and trade at the designated time. Of course, it was an unspoken rule that we would write each other's names on the papers, laugh, kiss, hug, agree, and have a beautiful evening. My husband of course, wrote the name of some woman I had heretofore never heard of, whose name began with the letter Y.
"You can't be serious!" I said, throwing the slip of paper at him. "You were supposed to write ME."
"How was I supposed to know that? I thought you wanted the truth."
"I did want the truth. So long as your truth matched my truth."
I spent the night in the guest room, dreaming of big breasted women named Yolanda.

"Okay," I agreed. "Maybe that wasn't the best game. Let's try this one. Please?"
My husband looked at me skeptically, then pushed his hands into his pocket. "Okay, fine."
"I'll go first," I said. I had a long list I wanted to get through. "I hate the way you throw your dirty socks almost into the bedroom hamper but they don't quite make it. They land, one right in front of the other, as if they are trying to walk their way to the hamper, but they just can't get up the speed." I crossed my arms and thought about it. Yes, that was a good start. "Your turn."
"Well," he asked, cocking his head uncertainly. "I hate the way there's writing stuff all over the house. Papers, laptops, research books, pens. But it's also what I love about you. So I guess I don't really hate it. There, I'm done."
"That's it? That's all you got?"
"Sorry, yes. You're up."
Now I was the one feeling like I was walking into a trap. But he was probably just testing the waters. I had to go for the big guns, get him to retaliate. "You scare the hell out of me when you drive. I have to close my eyes every time we merge."
"I've noticed."
"Doesn't that make you want to change the way you drive?"
"Not really."
"Well, does it bother you at all? I know a man's masculinity can be tied up with cars and such."
"Oh." I furrowed my brows, disappointed. I thought this would at least incite a conversation. He would tell me that he was sorry for the way he weaves through traffic like he's in an episode of COPS and promise to never do it again. But not a word of penance was uttered from his lips. "Your turn," I sighed, turning it back over to him.
"I only had the one pet peeve and you've heard it. I'm out."
"You're joking."
"No. I can't think of anything else you do that drives you nuts. You are just so adorable, scattering your things around the house like a little kitten."
"Okay, that's another thing that drives me crazy. The way you call me things like 'little kitten' or 'cute little mouse'. Or sad little puppy' You make me sound like I belong in a pet shop."
"Noted. No more animal metaphors. Got anything else?"
"Yes!" I then described the way he couldn't scramble eggs, turned up the volume way too high whenever Van Halen was playing on the radio, and never called my mother just to say 'hello'.
"All noted," he said, studying me, his face calm, serene, and amused. I was sure my face looked more like Yosemite Sam's. "Got all that out of your system?" he asked.
"Yes," I said, suddenly embarrassed. This had been my idea so why was I the one feeling bad?
"You know," I said, pouring him a diet coke, "I may not love the way you drive but I appreciate that you do it. I hate driving."
"I know, honey."
"And at least you get your socks kinda close to the hamper."
"I do my best."
"And don't lose the animal metaphors. They've kinda grown on me."
"Noted." He squeezed my hand. "You're a mess, you know?"
"I know," I said. "How come I don't drive you as crazy as you drive me?"
"Maybe I just love you more."
"Or maybe you're just getting better at playing my games than I am."

May 29, 2013

The Road Back from Costco

I was driving home from a Costco trip, kinda bummed because I had spent way too much money (as always). As I approached the last intersection before my house, I was stopped by a red light. Two men crossed in the crosswalk, both on bikes. I assumed by their dirty, bedraggled appearances that they were homeless. This assumption was further fueled by the collection of bottles and bins and bags they had taped and secured around their bikes.

The first man crossed, pedaling fast and hard, trying to make his way before the stop light changed and the rain that threatened dumped on him. The second man crossed, taking a more leisurely approach, peddling slower, his rosy face aimed towards the sun that was trying to peek out among the clouds.

I watched the second man. Although I have always had a soft spot for the homeless this was the first time I saw a man in this situation, not as he is now, but as he might have been years before. I imagined him as a twelve year old boy racing his bicycle down the road with his friends. Maybe they'd be delivering newspapers or perhaps trying to get to school before the first bell rang. His hair would be darker, his face would be cleaner, and there would be optimism in those blue eyes as he thought about the future ahead of him. This thought made me immeasurably happy because to me, he was no longer nameless or faceless. We had both shared a common historical thread; we had just wound up in different places.

I continued to watch. He smiled into the world; a beautiful beam of peace that preceded his slow peddling. I smiled too. He caught me. Normally, I would have turned my head, not wanting to make him feel like a spectacle. The lessons of my elders always play in my head, "don't stare, and don’t point." But this time was different. I just continued to watch, my head following his path, that trace of a smile sticking to my face. He seemed so happy and content, even though he had nothing and I had a carload full of Costco goods.

As he pulled out of my sight and onto the sidewalk he turned to me, saluted, and shouted something I couldn't hear. I rolled down my window, certain he would ask me for a dollar or tell me that I had blown a tire. Instead he said, "Thank you for that beautiful smile. It made my whole day." Then he tipped his worn hat to me and rolled away.

It's moments like this that put my life into perspective. How is it that we live on this planet full of people, yet continue to ignore those around us? Is it out of a desire to 'be nice' or out of defense? I will ponder this as I go about my day. And maybe I will smile at more people.


May 25, 2013

The Three Worst Things I've Seen on TV (This Week)

Now that I have finished the final draft of my novel I found myself with more free time than usual. So, I do what I always do when I have leisure time: I watch TV. Maybe it's been awhile since I've had some good TV time, but I couldn't help but notice that some of the programming (and commercials) have gotten really, really bad. Since I won't be doing any hardcore novel writing this summer, I thought I'd start a new column in my blog called: The Three Worst Things I've Seen on TV This Week. Here's your first installment. Enjoy!

3. A commercial for a penis vacuum.
I was watching a rerun of SNL on daytime TV when this came on. There was a smiling old man with a mustache trying to have sex with a woman who was just as old. He had a twinkle in his eye as he produced a penis suction tube for her approval. The woman beamed. With that, a wild night of old people sex had begun. I honestly thought this was a skit and I was waiting for the punch line (similar to SNL's Ooops I crapped my pants commercials). No. It was real. And, according to testimonials this thing will make you feel like you are eighteen again!

So, why am I horrified? Well, for starters its a tube. And there's suction. I'm thinking if a man is using it to get an erection why not just keep it there and finish the whole job?

Secondly, its portable. And men don't carry purses (as a general rule). Can you imagine opening up your boyfriend's consul to find this little gem?

Picture shown not actual pump advertised on TV
Finally, according to the commercials, most insurance companies cover it. Okay, I'm not a man. I will never know what it's like to not be able to 'get 'er done', but how is this a medical necessity? I could be wrong, like I said. I'm packing ovaries. But if the day ever comes when hubby can't do it on his own, I'm gonna use that opportunity to catch up on all the TV shows I've got DVR'd. You would think that women who've been married for forty years would welcome this kind of break.

And lastly, (yes I know lastly and finally are the same but so what) in this day when so many necessary things are NOT covered by insurance companies, I was surprised this made the, uh, cut.

4. Some ad for weight loss
These are always fun. If you haven't lost weight no matter what you've done before, try this new incredible weight loss secret for the low, low prices of...they never tell you. Sometimes they might give you their introductory fee, but usually you have to talk to one of the representatives who are standing by to find out what the cost really is. I'm guessing it's like buying a turkey; they charge you per pound.

What I found most compelling, and funny, about this ad (and forgive me, it was the middle of the night, I have no idea what company it was) is that not only is diet and exercise required in the small print that scrolled down the bottom of my TV, they added another little tidbit: compliance required.
Maybe it was my sleep deprived state but I kept staring at the screen wondering what sort of compliance they were referring to? My guess was that they lock you in the closet for three weeks and slice rice cakes under the door. When you emerge, voila, you are thin and beautiful. The  only other thing I could think of was that they forced you to wear an electric collar and whenever you took a bit of something you got shocked.

Either way, I'm not signing up.

1. Small Town Security
Note the location of the dog. Actual photo.
Someone, somewhere, made the executive decision to put this on the air. And probably thought it was a good idea. After seeing it spoofed on The Soup several times I gave it a go. Granted, my husband and I had just returned from a night on the town. I had been drinking wine. He was sober. We both TRIED to watch it, but it was too painful on the soul. The camera spent an entire 2 minutes focused on a lady who was either drugged up or constipated.
It should be funny.
But it wasn't.
It was about as entertaining as watching an oil spill cleanup.
Small Town Security boasts the most non-charismatic cast ever assembled. They should have called the show Purgatory, because that's where you feel like you've ended up. All the wine in the world couldn't have made it fun for me. But maybe I just caught them on a bad night.
At any rate it was so bad it's hard to even make fun of.
Yep. That's bad.

May 22, 2013

Enter to Win! Signed Copy of The Universe is a Very Big Place

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Universe Is a Very Big Place by April Aasheim

The Universe Is a Very Big Place

by April Aasheim

Giveaway ends June 30, 2013.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

May 14, 2013

Preview: The Witches of Dark Root

From my upcoming novel: The Witches of Dark Root (coming July, 2013)

       Sister House, by light of day, appeared despondent, like the face of a beautiful woman whose time had passed. But at night, especially beneath the light of a yellow moon, its fading beauty changed to a visage that was almost sinister; a small mountain of a house, obscuring and devouring the forest behind it, a forest that threatened to take it back. 
     One day, the trees seemed to say as they bobbed and dipped in the wind. One day that land will be ours again. Until then, we wait.


Meditations on The Shadows of Dark Root

I may have gotten a bit metaphysical during the creation of The Shadows of Dark Root. I always knew I wanted Maggie and her companions to j...