Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Good Children! Clean Carpet!

We moved a lot as I grew up. I mean a lot, more than a little, much, many many times. Seriously.

My parents have owned and sold several homes. They also rented a few. One such rental was a horrible cookie cutter monstrosity in Florida. I don't have many fond memories of Florida, but this is one that made me laugh...after the fact.

We had lived in this home for less than a year before we had to move again. My family likes to leave homes better than we found them, so my mom bought some paint and we started repairing and repainting.

Yes, the carpets were that color. I'm telling you, the place was hideous...but it was home for a while. Funny how you get nostalgic over things you cared little about at the time. I remember laying on the back lawn watching the thunderstorms roll in until my mom freaked out and called us in. There is nothing like a Florida thunderstorm, lightning flickering in and out of clouds like the angry tongues of gods. I don't remember many reaching the ground, choosing to flash out sideways, thunderous canons as each cloud fought for dominion of the sky.

But...this story isn't about that. We had moved most of our stuff out and painted when my sister and I managed to knock over a full can of paint on the aqua carpet. I can't remember how we did it. My sister probably did something annoying and I chased her. I love her, but she was super annoying in Florida. I have another story about that later.

My sister and I were alone and decided to clean it up. I was a smart kid. I knew latex could be cleaned up with water, so I grabbed a pitcher, filled it up, added a few drops of dish soap, and dumped it on the spill.

It worked to thin the paint, but now we had two gallons or so of milky liquid to get out of the carpet. We got some towels and started massaging, trying to get it all out.

That is when the landlord walked in. I looked up...oh this was not going to go well.

This wasn't what I'd expected. My parents wouldn't have walked in on this and had that reaction.

He repeated himself.

Seriously. Did he not see the cans of paint? Did he really think we were shampooing the entire carpet by hand? Yes, yes he did.

He then wandered off to find my parents, giving us time to finish the clean up. Like it never happened.

That is when the "two dolla" started.

I am not inclined to make fun of people with accents. I have learned another language and it is hard work. Accents are tough to get right. It takes time, practice, immersion in the language, and a good ear. I am not making fun of this person's accent or culture...this is just how he said it and his accent served to highlight the ridiculous situation.

After the paint can incident, I thought his final inspection would go smoothly. The man was oblivious, won't notice anything, right? Wrong.

He spent the next hour or so poking and prodding everything while shouting out his deductions from our deposit.

He noticed every little speck. How was this the same man who thought we were shampooing the carpet? He continued, room by room, shouting out his two dollar deductions. My favorite part is when he came to the dryer. Instead of pulling outward to let the mechanism disengage and release the door, he pulled to the side.

My family still randomly screams "two dolla" when we accidentally break something.

Even to my 12 year old brain, it seemed easier to take a cursory glance at the place and say, "Due to some light wear and tear, we will be keeping 50 dollars from the deposit." And, how is everything two dollars? But, I am not a landlord and do not know the ways of landlordia.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Pills for Valentine's Day

I haven't finished a comic again for this week. I know...slacker, right? Sorry. I know I've let my blogging duties slide down the priority list. I've had a lot going on. What? Thanks for asking.

I built a playhouse for my sister and her kids. See. Bask in its awesomeness that flows from it in rippling waves.

Designed myself, insulated, solid, and pure awesome.

I also created four mini lightboxes for my wife to give to several girls who are graduating from high school. My wife teaches them at church, so she wanted them to have something unique and personal. I did little landscapes of the St George temple with Dixie hill in the background. That way they remind them of home wherever they go.

They were my first attempt to go cordless. These have batteries and an led. The back is frosted plastic so they can tape a picture to it and have that glow too. I like them, kinda retro modern. I hope the girls like them too.

I also changed out a toilet all by myself. Seriously, do you know how disgusting that can be? I only gagged a couple time, but managed to hold it together and get the job done. Here is my new dual flush space toilet that I picked up for just under a hundred bucks at Restore. It qualifies for a seventy-five dollar rebate too. I rock.

So, yeah, I've been busy. This isn't even counting all the hard work on my novel. That project is nearing completion and gets harder and harder to do the closer I get, like running a marathon uphill during a hail storm on the hottest day in July. No wonder most people who start a novel never finish. I will finish though, conquer, stand proud atop of the hill of my manuscript...and then start the rewrite process. Painful.

I also got a stain out of my wife's pants that she was sure would never come out. I am that awesome.

In place of a comic this week, I leave you with another bit of short fiction. I wrote this around eight or nine years ago. I know it is rough and lacks a lot of the elegant prose you have all come to expect from me...right? But, it is one of my first real attempts to get into the head of my character. It gave me chills as I wrote it and, in my opinion, nailed the voice down.

I don't want you all to think these bits of writing are in any way a consolation prize. I work hard on them too, often much harder than I work on my funny comics. This one is in no way funny, just to warn you.


Pills for Valentine's Day

I sit on the bathroom floor, head against the cupboards below the sink, feet against the door. The old, metal bends near the bottom, dented over the years by my pushing against it. I kick when I’m frustrated, but usually I just hold the world outside. This bathroom has always been my escape. I remember when I was little and had to lay down to be able to keep my feet against the door. Now I have to kick off my sandals or high heels to be almost comfortable.

I actually don’t know whether I’m holding something out or in sometimes. The first minute is always the worst, heart pounding as everything piles against the door. My legs shake and burn, but I have to keep them tight until the pressure against the door stops. Only then can I relax, feel sane, feel real again. Then I sit inside for hours, calmly breathing the cooled air as it slips over the cold ceramic sink.

Lately I’ve been holding my past in and the springtime air out. Spring disgusts me. Everyone triumphs the renewal of life, ignoring how dirty this renewal is. Mold, rain, pollen, dust, heaving liquid filth, frolicking. I don’t ever remember frolicking or wanting to for that matter. Rot and decay start in springtime, winter is clean, without smell.

That and everything yells during spring, birds, cats, dogs, people. Twitterpation season. And what is the beauty behind a baby flying around, shooting people with poisoned arrows? Doesn’t anyone else know that Cupid rhymes with stupid.

I hate Valentine’s Day. Some people call it “Single Awareness Day,” but I don’t hate it for that. I always seem to have a boyfriend, just never good ones.

I once ate a whole bag of candy hearts, not the ones with words on them, nasty things made out of eraser dust, but the little, hot, red ones. I locked myself in the bathroom to hide from Momma holding her out with my feet. When the shaking stopped I crawled into the tub and ate the hearts one at a time.

The tub was dirty. If you squinted hard it looked like black ivy climbing all over. I chewed each heart for the first half of the bag, but my mouth was burning too much to chew the second half. I swallowed what was left one by one. I didn’t like them, they hurt, but each one made me feel real again. So, I kept eating them even when the tears came, making the ivy sway and crawl along the walls of the tub. Each little heart was a pill, making the numb go away for a few seconds, making me a normal little girl.

Momma’s current two-week to three-month boyfriend had been babysitting for a while. His name was Jake and he decided to “share something special” with me for Valentine’s Day. I ate a spicy heart and could focus on the heat gliding down my throat instead of the things he’d had me do. My tongue burned and my nose dripped into the filthy tub, keeping me alive inside until the bag was empty. Then I was forced to think again.

I puked fire onto the bathroom floor. The candy clawed its way out like each heart had hundreds of Momma’s fake fingernails. Twisted, sharp debris swam with whole hearts in a bloody lake on the curling, yellow linoleum. I covered it up with toilet paper and hid in a closet the rest of the day, until Momma found me. She beat me with a fly swatter, not the rubbery, swat end, but she turned it around to use the wire handle. I welcomed the pain that made me real once more. I thought I deserved it for what I had taken from her. She made me clean up the bathroom floor, but I cleaned the whole bathroom instead, tearing down the ivy walls. I scrubbed for hours, drowning myself in the chemical air.

Launa was smarter than me then, though she’s probably dead now. She ran away. I think she was fourteen or fifteen. She thought that by leaving she wouldn’t end up like Momma. Maybe it worked, I haven’t heard from Launa in three years.

Momma got herself beat to death about two years after Launa left by some new boyfriend. They found her in the trash behind a bar after she was missing two days. My sister came home from somewhere that spring to take care of me. I don’t know how she knew about any of it.

She disappeared four years later. I was completely alone before I even graduated from high school. Momma and Launa at least left me the suffocating house and, with it, my bathroom. So, sometimes, when things get numb again and I need to feel real, to feel sane, I sit on the clean bathroom floor, feet against the door, and trace a pink stain over and over again in the linoleum with my left hand.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Pickles, Macaroni, and Betrayal

My family loves pickles. I don't really know why, but we can eat tons of them. My wife finds them disgusting and reminds me of that often. She will also make a huge deal out of buying them for me, like I sent her to the corner to buy contraband and she had to run away from gun-toting psychos with the prize even though she despises them instead of just picking them off a shelf in the grocery store.

I remember loving them as a kid and eating them whole whenever I was offered one. I have cut back though. I eat a few slices of them on my sandwiches. Yes, I eat a dozen of the baby dills at Thanksgiving...and dilly-beans are like crack to me, but I don't eat huge pickles whole anymore. I blame my older sister for destroying my love of whole pickles. I'm lucky she didn't snuff out the joy of pickles entirely.

I was four or five. My sister who is around six years older thought it would be fun to play some pranks on her naive little siblings. She recruited my older brother as her minion. He was too young to know least he claims.

My sister would take a whole pickle out of the fridge and carefully bore holes into it. is when this gets gross. You squeamish people should not continue. She would send my brother to gather dead flies from the window sill.

My brother doesn't have a hump, but I imagine him with one as he obeyed my sister's orders, shuffling along like Igor as he plucked the largest of the dead or dying insects from the ledge. Legs twitched and red eyes glared blankly at the boy who held them in his hands. You can imagine where this is going.

My sister thought this was hilarious. Don't worry. I'm sure karma has big plans for her. I didn't find out until years later. Maybe the passage of so much time left me less sickened, let me keep my love of pickles despite the nauseating truth. I wasn't so lucky with mac and cheese.

A few years later, when we lived in Louisiana, I got a steaming bowl of mac and cheese for lunch. I was excited as any seven year old would be by mac and cheese.

I dug in with enthusiasm. Okay...this is even grosser. Look away now if you have a weak stomach. Several spoonfuls in, I bit down on something hard, not crunchy, just firm. I worked it forward in my mouth and pulled the foreign object out. I assumed it was a piece of cardboard that my sister had dropped in with the batch as she dumped the box out.

I assumed wrong. What I held in my hand horrified me and continues to haunt me. It was the abdomen of a cockroach. Yeah...I know. I gagged and refused to finish my mac and cheese. No one put it in there, just managed to make its way into the box. My family made fun of me forever.

"Charlie ate a cockroach!"

"At least I don't know what a cockroach tastes like!"

"Want some mac and cheese, Charlie? Extra crunchy?"

I can't look at mac and cheese now without seeing this:

Even writing about it now makes my stomach churn. My only consolation is my family ate their bowls without incident, but what they failed to realize was the cockroach I pulled out of my mouth had been in the box and the pan with their yummy macaroni. They ate its boiled remains too and that makes me happy.
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