Saved by the Birthday Cake

 

Layce and I were having coffee and red velvet cake—a newly discovered southern delight for me.

cake

 

“Did you know that a German chocolate cake once saved my life?” I asked.

“I did not. Do share,” Layce said, taking a bite of cake.

“I’m glad it wasn’t a red velvet cake,” I said.

“Because?” She had that knowing look that said this-is-going-to-be-a-tangential-conversation. Luckily, the red velvet cake made her a captive audience. I knew she wouldn’t leave as long as there was cake on her plate.

I thought about that “captive audience” thing. Was that always taken in the context of a good thing? The writer had a captive audience. Maybe the audience didn’t have a choice. How much confidence does a person have to have to get up in the middle of any performance and walk out, ostensibly saying, “I do not like this and I refuse to be part of a captive audience. I have free will. I was endowed with free will. It’s in the Constitution. I do not have to be held captive.”

“Now about that cake saving your life,” she prodded. She was down to three bites of red velvet. If I was going to tell my tale of life and death I better get on it.

“Oh, right. Well I was six years-old and in the back seat of the big Ford station wagon. You remember the ones where the back seat was big enough for five small children, two dogs, assorted toys…”

ford-ltd-station-wagon-07

“Yes, I remember,” Layce interjected.

“And when the no-seatbelt, no under-60-pounds booster seats, no seatbelts for dogs…”

“Yes, I remember.” She was down to two bites. I hadn’t even started in on my cake. I would be eating alone.

“I was in the back seat with no seat belt and we were late for the party. I’d had a wardrobe issue.”

“I’m sure.”

I didn’t know where she was going with that. I admit to having worn up to six outfits in one day depending on activities and the weather. Just yesterday, I started out in my pajamas. Then I changed into my Under Armour work out shorts. The weather turned cold so I had to put on my wind work out pants. I haven’t worn them all summer and I discovered that one side of them had shrunk or the liner was doing something funny because they were tighter. It could have been a weight issue except that it was only on one side. I checked them out in the mirror. Yes, it was definitely only one butt cheek. It was a wardrobe malfunction. This facilitated a wardrobe change. I finally came downstairs in my hiking windproof pants.

We went to the farmer’s market. When I came home we decided to have a reading day because we couldn’t go hiking as planned. The house was cold since we hadn’t turned on the heat yet—it not being that cold, so I changed into my flannel lounging pants. Then it warmed up so I was back to the shorts. I’d spent more time changing that doing anything else.

“The story of about the life-saving cake?” Layce prodded.

I tried to focus. “So we were late and my mother took a corner fast. The back door flew open and me and the cake went sliding out.”

“Oh, my God,” Layce said.

I had her attention now. “I might not have been here. I might have suffered a BLUNT TRAUMA to the head. We’d never have married and I wouldn’t have been a parent and we never would have written two books together and made all those people laugh and realized our dharma of being the Johnny Appleseed of dopamine.”

“And…”

“My head landed on the cake. I was dressed in lederhosen head-to-toe, a last minute wardrobe change. I wanted to be German since we were having German chocolate cake, so there was minimum road rash.

lederhosen

 

My mother never had a problem with my wardrobe changes after that. It was like I was the Cassandra of Troy knowing what to wear for each potentially life threatening event.”

“What happened next?”

“We were late for the party,” I said.

“That’s IT???”

“Well, we had to go buy another cake and there were some first aid issues and my mother had a minor break down. I think being late was to be expected.”

Layce exercised her constitutional right to not be held captive.

I ate alone.

 

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The Tea and the Tupperware

Was I going crazy and they weren’t going to tell me? It would be an act of kindness on their part. But wasn’t I going to find out sooner or later? Insanity kind of crept up on a person and made itself evident eventually. I rummaged around some more. It had to be here somewhere. I hadn’t imagined going to Bentonville, standing in the tea shop and getting honey, ginger and rosehips tea, and hippy ginseng and green tea. Or had I?

The kettle sang. Crap. I made an executive decision and chose the youngberry and orange tea. That was in a canister I could find.  I put it in the tea ball, (I found that, no problem), and the ball into the teapot, (which I also found, thank God), on the tea tray that was strangely still around. Had I traveled somewhere into a parallel Universe where my tea did not exist?

As the tea steeped I went back to rummaging. Where was that Tupperware container with the tea? It was at least ten inches long and six inches wide. Something that size did not go poof. I pulled out the plastic grocery bags that we have stored under the counter where the tea used to be. I felt one that had something in it. It was the TEA! What the hell? It was there but the Tupperware wasn’t? Something was definitely hinky.

I brought the tea tray into the living room and served. Layce sniffed her cup. “This isn’t the ginger tea,” she stated.

“I know. I couldn’t find the ginger tea so we’re having youngberry instead.”

“But I was looking forward to the ginger tea.”

“Well, the kettle was boiling and I had to make an executive decision. I didn’t find the ginger tea until after I made the other tea because by some unknown hinky event the Tupperware that the GINGER tea was in went missing. I found it in a plastic grocery bag that was in with a bunch of other grocery bags that you make plarn out of so God-only-knows when we would have found the GINGER tea had I not located it now.”

“What are you saying? That I’m falling behind on my plarn-making?”

“Well, if the shoe fits.” I sipped my tea. “Why was my tea in that bag anyway?” I eyeballed Layce. The nickels were being to go ching-ching. It wasn’t something Em would have done. I didn’t do it and the dogs do not have opposable thumbs.

“I put it there because that particular piece of Tupperware is for the freezer so I put the tea in a bag and took the Tupperware.” She sipped her tea that she wished was ginger tea but was not because she hid the tea to make me think I was crazy.

“Oh, so you put the tea in a plastic bag with a bunch of other plastic bags without telling me that we were playing the Purloined Letter and you put the tea where I would recall the Edgar Allen Poe story and find the tea after I ripped up the floor boards.”

“It was my freezer Tupperware.”

“And I was supposed to know this how?”

“All the stuff with blue lids are FREEZER Tupperware.”

“Well, why didn’t you mark it accordingly? Like put a Post-It that says ‘This is FREEZER Tupperware. Use it at your own risk,’ which in this case was the risk of insanity.”

“Insanity?” Layce said.

“I thought I had imagined buying that tea because I couldn’t find it.”

“Really? It would be that easy to drive you insane?”

Oh, no.

“You know what the moral of this story is?” Layce asked.

“The youngberry and orange tea was a perfectly acceptable substitute for the ginger?”

“Wrong. The moral of this story is keep your tea out of my Tupperware,” she said.

“You say that now.” I waggled my eyebrows.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

I smiled and waggled my eyebrows again, putting extra meaning behind the gesture.

“I don’t understand you. You’re driving me crazy,” Layce said.

I smiled. Turnabout is fair play. I sipped my tea.

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The Bank Job

I’m not one for banks. Bankers make me nervous. I don’t know if it’s the suits or the pinched look they get whenever you want your money in your pocket and not their vault.
“I’m going to the bank. You want to come?” This was a rhetorical question. Layce will go because they have a popcorn machine. She has actually gone in there just for the popcorn and if it’s all gone she waits until they make more.
“Of course,” she said.
We walked to the bank and on the way Layce explained her theory on banking. “So you give me your ball…” she started.
“What ball?”
“It’s a beach ball, okay?  And it represents your money.  So you give me your ball. You can have it anytime you want Monday through Friday nine to five, but not on weekends or federal holidays.”

beach ball

“But what about the ATM?” I said.
“You can’t get your whole ball, though. They will only give you some of your ball. A percentage. It’s no coincidence that a pie chart looks like a beach ball.”

pie chart

“Okay, but where is this going?”
“Let me finish. You can play with your ball but I will ultimately want the ball back. And I’m going to charge you to hold your ball and sometimes if you take you ball out to play too often I’m going to charge you for that too. Also while I’m holding your ball I’m going to charge you for doing it and I’m going to make money off your ball but I don’t give you any of that money. I keep it.”
“Why are you so focused on this ball thing? And what kind of ball are we talking about? A rubber ball, a volley ball, a bowling ball…”
Layce cut me off. “I just think it’s interesting that we’ve been trained to willingly hand over money to this institution that makes lots of money off our money and doesn’t share it with us and has the audacity to charge us for the privilege of keeping our money,” she said.
“Maybe I should just bring you home a bag of popcorn,” I suggested.
“Why? We’re almost there.”
“Because I’m sensing some hostility here.”
“I’ll get a sucker too. That’ll keep me quiet.”
The bank employee entrusted to help us was named Dusty Rose. Layce whispered to me, “Is that her stripper name? What sort of a mother names her daughter that?”
I wondered if bringing Layce along was such a good idea. She seemed to be in a mood. Perhaps it was the ball thing again.
Dusty Rose, the bank lady not the stripper, asked for my identification and then Layce’s because we have a joint account.
“I don’t have my ID on me. I just came for the popcorn,” she said, almost belligerently.
“That’s okay,” Dusty Rose said. “I think I can vouch for you since you come in here a lot.”
“So how much is a safety deposit box?” Layce asked after Dusty finished up with my direct deposit form.
I wondered where she was going with this. Did she want one to put her ball in?
Dusty handed over the price list and took us to the vault to show us the available sizes.
“Can anyone other than me get into my box?” Layce asked.
“Like who?” I asked. “The IRS, the FBI, drug lords, or aliens?
“I just want to know how safe my safety deposit box is,” Layce said.
“Nobody but you can get in, but it’s not FDIC insured,” Dusty Rose said.
“And why not?” Layce said.
“Because we don’t know what you put in it so how can we insure something we don’t know about,” she replied. She glanced over at me as if to say “Is there something wrong with your friend?”
“So can I visit my box whenever I want?” Layce asked. “I mean during business hours of course and not on federal holidays or weekends.”
“Certainly. We also have these climate controlled rooms where you can spend quality time with your box.”
“I find it hard to believe that nobody knows what’s in my box. Are you sure nobody goes through the boxes at night when nobody’s looking?”
“No. Nobody,” Dusty Rose said.
“How do you know?” Layce asked. “You’re at home watching TV or sleeping, right? How would you know if the bank manager doesn’t come in and take out everyone’s valuables and play with them?”
“Play with them?” Dusty Rose said.
“We should go,” I said.
“I’m just saying,” Layce added. “That’s all. You can’t be one hundred percent positive what happens to these boxes when you’re not here. Right?”
Dusty Rose shrugged. “I guess so.”
“Okay, we gotta go now. Thanks for all your help, Dusty,” I said, taking Layce by the wrist and led her away. “What’s wrong with you?” I hissed.
“I just don’t like banks,” she said, snagging a second bag of popcorn on the way out.
“I gathered that,” I said. I decided that my attitude towards banks did not hold a candle to my joint account holder’s animosity. “I think I’m going to get you a popcorn maker for your birthday.”
“Why when we can go to the bank and get free popcorn because they are charging us to keep our money. It’s my passive aggressive way of getting even,” Layce said.
I threw my hands up. Maybe there was a very good reason people kept their money under their mattresses.

The Little Turd that Could

 

I have a fear of public restrooms but my bladder doesn’t care. So when it was intermission at the Art House theatre and the bladder said we had to go—I lined up with the rest. My date was quicker than me and was third in line. I was number ten in line with at least fifty people behind me.  It was an old building and the women’s restroom only had three stalls.  While I waited I pondered why it takes women so long to go to the bathroom.  What are they doing in there – meditating?

So you can imagine as I finally got a stall how relieved I was.  I sat down, but couldn’t go.  My bladder had performance anxiety. I plugged my ears and hummed Frere Jacques. That worked.  I stood and flushed.  The toilet made a funny noise. I looked in the toilet bowl and there was a floating turd.  It wasn’t an enormous turd but evidently a big enough turd that when the person who left the turd flushed, it didn’t go down.  Maybe I’d have better luck a second time.  I crossed my fingers and flushed again.  The turdlet bobbed around like a sturdy little boat determined to weather the storm.

I silently cursed it.  I hissed, “Go away little turd.”  I flushed again.  The turd stared defiantly up at me.   Now people will think I did it because I had been in the stall so long.  I frantically scanned the stall for a plunger.  Surely, if the Art House had such defective plumbing they’d have supplied each stall with its own turd-removing plunger.  No luck.  I flushed again, holding then jiggling the handle.  I took the back lid off and stared into the innards of the toilet, fiddled around and flushed again.  Nothing.  Mr. Turd stayed right where he was.  I sat down on the toilet and tried to think.

Someone knocked on the stall door. “Is everything all right in there?”

“Yes. I’ll be right out.”  I refrained from screaming, “AS SOON AS I GET THIS FUCKING TURD DOWN INTO THE SEWER WHERE IT BELONGS.”   I hissed at the turd, “You miserable piece of motherfucking shit.”  I flushed again.  I whined and pleaded, “God, in your infinite mercy please make this turd go away and I will be the nicest and sweetest and most patient, kind and loving person on the planet.  I will end world hunger.”  I flushed.  No go.  I banged my head on the door.

“Ma’am do you need some help?” came the disembodied voice from the outside world.

There was only one thing to do – confess, tell the whole sordid tale.  I took a deep breath and opened the stall door.  Fifty sets of eyes stared me.

I said in the most confident voice I could muster, “There is a turd in the toilet and it is not mine.  I did not deposit it in the toilet and I’ve done everything humanly possible to send it on its way.”  I dramatically pointed into the stall.  “I will swear on a stack of bibles that it was there when I went in.  I apologize for the inconsiderate actions of my fellow man.  That is all.”  I ran out of the restroom.

I went back to my seat.  My date – this was pre-Layce – said, “What happened?”

“What gives you the idea anything happened?” I said, wiping my face with my sleeve.  I was sweating profusely despite the air conditioning.

“You looked kind of stressed, that’s all.”

I snapped, “Women are the most inconsiderate restroom users on the planet.  It’s all about them.  Once they finally lay claim to a stall they lose all sense of time and just sit there going la la la la la, imagining all the others waiting outside with bladders full to bursting and they don’t give a SHIT.  And to top matters off SOMEONE left a turd in the toilet bowl for me to deal with.  What sort of a person does that?”

My date colored. “It wouldn’t flush down,” she confessed. “I had no choice but to leave.  I didn’t think you’d get the same stall as me.”

I nodded sadly.  We watched the rest of the lesbian short films and when she dropped me off afterwards there was absolute silence as I got out of the car.  I nodded at her and she nodded back.  We both knew that turd had come between us before there had ever been an “us.”

 

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The Trivia Train

We were in the kitchen when it started.  It usually started when we were all together in a way that didn’t allow for an immediate exit—in the car, in the bathroom brushing your teeth, in the kitchen preparing dinner or doing the dishes.  It would begin slowly and grow exponentially until my mind felt like Munch’s painting of the Scream. This time I was setting the table for dinner.

“Did you know that hippo milk is pink?” Emma said.

I made the mistake of acknowledging the statement.  Layce shot me a look.  I’d forgotten the cardinal rule—do not engage the trivia train.

“Did you know there was this guy down south that they called the Phantom Barber and he would break into people’s houses and cut their hair at night.  We had this guy here who was the Phantom Pooper.  He’d go all over town and dump a load in the fast food restaurants so people wouldn’t go have lunch anymore and he wouldn’t have to wait in line at any of the places.  Did you see that sock in the street in front of our house?  It’s not any of ours.  I was looking at the tulips when I saw it.  Did you know the tulips have bloomed?”

She broke into song.  It was the refrain of a song from Alice in Wonderland that concerned flowers.  That done, she continued her monologue.

“Did you know that the can opener was invented 42 years after the can was invented?  How did they open cans?  Do you remember that time you (Layce) cut your finger on the can lid and Saxon had to get the Band Aids and you couldn’t look at your own blood?  But you looked at mine then I fell in the shower and cut my eye.”  She showed her scar.  I knew without a quick diversion The Map of Scars would be wheeled out.  Too late. “See this one…”

“Speaking of which, will you put Band Aids on the grocery list,” I said, trying to divert her.

Unfortunately, the list was attached to the fridge by a magnet.  “Did John bring this magnet home from China?  Did you know in China they used to tie people down on top of a bamboo plant and the bamboo would grow right through them?  Do you remember John’s eyebrows?  He shaved off one half while he was fixing them and then he had to shave off the other side so it would match and then he went to China.”

I glanced over at Layce.  Her eyes had glazed over.

“Did you know that the widow of the gun guy Mr. Winchester made her house have all these mazes and weird hallways so the ghosts of all the people who died by the gun couldn’t get her?  That would be like the maze the church puts up on Halloween.  This year for Halloween I want to be a unicorn.  I could use part of my costume from last year.  I have a drawing of it right here.”

There was a knock at the door.  “Em, will you get that?” I said.  A distraction might derail the trivia train.  A stranger at the door was ideal.

“Who is it?” Layce called out as she put the pasta in pot.

“It’s a lady handing out pamphlets,” Em said.

“Why don’t you two have a chat out on the porch until dinner is ready,” I said.

“Okay,” Em said.

When the pasta was al dente, I stepped out onto the porch to retrieve Emma.  She was trivia-training the poor Jehova Witness lady.  The lady was catatonic.  She rocked back and forth and her eyes were glanced over.

“What did you do to her?”

“I told her every bible story I knew.”

“I see.  Well, tell her goodbye.  Dinner is ready.”

Dinner was a quiet affair.  Evidently the trivia train had run out of steam.  After dinner I went to check on the lady on the porch.  I was just in time to see two other Jehova Witnesses lead the catatonic lady off and into a waiting car.  She was mumbling something her cohorts, “Did you know…did you know…did you know… that it was a Blue Whale that swallowed Jonah and not a…”

They haven’t been back since.

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The Great Scheduler

 

“What are you doing?” I said, coming down the stairs.

“I’m thinking,” Layce said.

“We don’t have time for that and it’s not in the schedule,” I said, holding up a newly printed piece of paper.

Layce eyed me with evident suspicion. “What’s that?”

I handed it to her.  “Our new schedule.”

“Schedule for what?”  She glanced down at what I viewed as a masterpiece of time engineering.

“Our day.  I think we need more structure.  I’ve done it up in thirty minute segments except for writing for which I allotted three hours – but that includes breaks because of my medical condition,” I informed her.

I’d twisted my tailbone so I couldn’t sit for more than thirty minutes without a stretching break.  “You, of course, do not have a medical condition so you can keep writing or take one of the prescheduled break times if you’d like, but it’s not mandatory.”

“How generous of you,” Layce said.  She continued reading the schedule.

“So as you can see after we write then we exercise; then we have lunch; then we have a music appreciation hour but I’ve tied that in with the craft hour so we can multi-task; then we…”

She cut me off.  “God forbid we had idle hands,” Layce said.  She held the schedule like a used tissue.

“As you can see I did schedule in ‘alone time’ so you can get your business done.”

“What business?  You mean like book marketing?” Layce said.

“No, we do marketing in the late afternoon because people are at work and I don’t think we should encourage people to take valuable time away from productive work hours to shop online or use social media.  They can do that when they get home.  So if we market after 3 p.m. we’ll hit either lunch time or after work depending on the time zone.”

“God forbid anyone goofs off at work,” Layce said.

“I’m getting a hostile vibe here.”

Layce ignored that statement.  “So what’s this alone time thing then?”

“It’s so you can poop.  You always say when you go upstairs to poop that you need some ‘alone time’ so I scheduled it in which I thought was rather decent of me.  Most schedulers don’t figure in personal time like that.”

“You are scheduling WHEN I can take a shit????”

“It’s an efficient use of time.  I would also recommend taking the Writer’s Digest so you can bone up on the latest trends while you poop.  It’s another prime example of multi-tasking.”

Layce stared at me open-mouthed.  She evidently was super-impressed with my scheduling abilities.  “I know. It’s a marvel of time management.” I said.

She wadded up the schedule and threw it at me.

“Not a problem. I have more,” I said, calling out after her.

She opened the front door.

“Where are you going?” I asked.

“Someplace where they don’t have a schedule.”

“But that’s not in the schedule.”

 

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Basics of baking

Bake, Bake, Let’s bake a cake.

I had been terrified most of the day. Emma and I were going to bake a red velvet cake for Layce’s birthday. Emma was under the mistaken impression that I knew how to bake a cake. I am a grown up after all. And grown ups know how to do every thing. I was not willing to admit in my newly acquired parenthood that I do not know all things. I was enjoying my “All-Knowing” status. I wanted to hold onto it for a little while longer. I just had to get through the baking thing. I mean how hard can it be to bake a cake? It comes in a box. With directions.
blog photos
Emma came home from school and she was super-psyched to make this cake. We donned our aprons. She got out the mixing bowls. Layce was eyeing us. I felt her stare on the back of my neck. I studied the box.
“You’ve made a cake before, right?” Layce asked.
“Well, of course I’ve made a cake,” I replied indignantly.
“When?” Emma said, expertly sifting the flour stuff into the mixing bowl.
Why are children forever interested in specifics? Okay, it had been a while and at the time there had been some issues.
“Yes, when?” Layce asked.

Ugh, this was proving more difficult than I thought. I couldn’t break the social contract and lie because telling the truth was imperative to preserving the very framework society was built upon. I hedged. “Well, I’ve never made a red velvet cake. That’s a down south kind of baking. Up north we bake different kinds of cake.”
“What, they have special northern cakes?” Layce inquired.
“Like what kind of cakes?” Emma asked.
“Oh, you know, linseed oil cake and huckleberry double layer cake,” I said.
“I’ve never heard of those kinds of cake,” Layce said.

“You need to crack the eggs. I’m not very good at it,” Emma said, handing me two eggs.
“Sure,” I said. “Not a problem.” I cracked the egg and put my thumb through the shell. Several chunks of shell fell into the bowl. We all looked down at egg in the bowl now flecked with shell.
Emma stared at me incredulous. “I could’ve done that.”
“How long has it been since you made a cake?” Layce demanded.
My skills were obviously in question. I did the math. “It had only been forty-six years. That’s a mere blink of an eye in a geological time. I mean the Rockies weren’t created in a day.”
“FORTY SIX YEARS???” Emma said, astounded.
“It seems like just yesterday.”
“Let me do the eggs,” Emma said. She carefully and expertly cracked the eggs and folded the egg mixture sans egg shell into the flour.
Layce beamed.
“Show off,” I said.

beaters

Emma must have felt bad for me because she offered me the job of beating the mixture while she greased the cake pan.
Now you put a little flour in the cake pan so after the cake had cooled it will come out easier,” Layce instructed. “Just a trick my mom taught me.”
“Know it all,” I said.
Layce shrugged. “Just saying.”
I snapped the beaters into the beater thingy. I tried not to remember what happened the last time forty six years ago that I held this particular piece of kitchen machinery. I was older now. I had better motor skills. Every thing would turn out fine. I took a deep breath and turned the fuckers on. They worked great.
“Aren’t you going to put them in the batter?” Emma asked, watching me holding the beaters in the air while they whirled.
“Of course,” I said, confidently. I turned them on high and stuck them into the mixture. Evidently one should immerse the beaters and then turn them on because when I stuck the high speed beaters in the red mixture all hell broke loose.
Red stuff went everywhere and I mean everywhere. The beaters got away from me and bumped around the bowl sending batter all over Emma, Layce, myself, and the dog who happened by on the way to her food bowl. I was confused and rendered senseless in this crisis. Layce took control of the situation and yanked the cord out. The maniacal beaters stopped beating.
“Is this why you haven’t baked a cake since you were six?” Layce said.
“Yes, last time it was chocolate. I was banned from the kitchen forever.”
“I can see why,” Emma said. She licked her arm. “It sure is tasty though.”
I grabbed the car keys. “Come on, Em.”
“Where are you going?” Layce asked.
“To BUY a cake like a normal person,” I said.
“You might want to wipe some of that red shit off your face first,” she said, throwing me a dish towel. “You look like an axe murderer.”
“No, she’s a cake killer,” Emma said.
They laughed uproariously. I didn’t find it funny in the least. Where’s a bakery when you need one?

 

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