Don’t you just love that word? “Howdy”? Probably not, but maybe I can change your mind. My mamaw always used that word in greeting. “Howdy, Steph,” she’d say with a grin, in her warm, gravelly smoker’s voice. Steph. She just had to call me Steph. Hell, everyone did. I don’t know why it bothered me so much. But when Mamaw said, “Howdy, Steph!,” it didn’t matter.
I loved it. Some people teased her for it, but she kept on saying “howdy” anyway. And so I adopted it, early on. But I mostly only greeted her that way. Mostly.
Until she passed.
And now I say it at work, lots. “Howdy, Gary!” “Howdy, Richard!” “Howdy, y’all!”
People laugh, as though the joke’s on me for being weird. And I’m okay with that. Because Mamaw. I tell them about her when I can, but mostly I just grin and let them go on wondering what sort of weirdo says howdy anymore. And in those moments, I’m smirking with Mamaw and feel all warm and wistful.
So there. Howdy Peopleaneous!
An Adventurous Musical Meet & Greet
It’s been ages since we’ve done a Meet & Greet, so let’s do it! You know I like to mix music into them, so if you want to participate on that front as well it would be superduper! I’m thinking the theme for this Playlist Party slash Meet & Greet should be Adventure – Moving On – Starting Over. I need a playlist for songs like that – any genre is welcome. Even if it’s country, I’ll try not to cringe and call you names. Any genre, any time/decade. I’ll start us off in a minute.
But first, the Meet & Greet! Let’s see. These things usually need “Rules,” but I don’t like Rules. So let’s call them Meet & Greet Ideas:
Give us a link to your about or a favorite post of yours or both – and tell us a little about you if you’d like!
Give us a link to a blog you’re crazy about, or a post that touched you in some way, written by someone else – let’s spread the love!
Share a song about adventure or starting over. (If you don’t have a song idea, you’re still part of this Meet & Greet!)
Reblog or link to this post – let’s see how many new people we can meet y’all!
So let’s see. Lemme start us off by following the “rules,” myself:
My favorite recent post of mine: The Wallpaper. This one’s deeply personal to me, but I was also proud of and surprised by how it turned out.
A favorite blog of mine: Stupidity Hole. Go. Clicky. Now. I’ll wait. Waiting. Have you gone yet? Good. Are you back yet? Good.
Dude is awesome, and his writing and photography are fun, unique and fucking gorgeous. Check out this post where he talks about his photography, and make sure to check out his shop as well.
I own some of his prints, and they’re gorgeous. I’m frustrated as fuck that I can’t hang them yet. Soon! I’m keeping them protected until PNW. Then I can use them to start decorating my new pad. Word.
Now. Music. I’ll kick us off with a few jams about Starting Over, Moving On, Adventure… you get the idea.
To Starting Over
Promise, by Hey Rosetta!
Float On, by Modest Mouse
Time to Move On, by Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers
The Getaway, by Leisure Cruise
Road Trippin’, by Red Hot Chili Peppers
Ramble On, by Led Zeppelin
There are so many, but I don’t want to list a couple dozen songs. I’d rather see what y’all come up with!
So come on. Share your blog links – tell us why you kick ass! Share someone else’s blog – tell us why he or she kicks ass! Share some music – tell us why it kicks ass!
In other words…come kick ass with me! Let’s see how many blog links we can generate this time!
This post brought to you by:
Asses, specifically those that kick or even those in need of kicking.
Stupidity Hole, because every ass needs a hole. Wait. No. That’s not the best way to introduce him. He’s more than just a hole. Lemme try again.
Brought to you by Stupidity Hole, because Pensive Pug. And also because he said I have to post something today. So I dragged his ass into it!
So I’m getting ready for work this morning. Or attempting to. About halfway through my shower, I realize I had thrown out my razor yesterday. (I use disposable razors. I know. Environment. Anyway.) So I climb my soaking wet ass out of the shower, crossing my soapy fingers that I don’t slip and break my neck. What? Would you want to explain that to the paramedic? Anyway. I digress. I open the cabinet under the sink and commence to rummaging around for a new razor. Much to my chagrin, I’m all out. How could I have overlooked this?! HOW?
I stood on the purple bathmat, shook my dripping fist to the heavens (or to my horribly tiled ceiling) and cried out, “What about my armpits?! HUH? WHAT ABOUT MY ARMPITS?!”
Grumbling a stream of expletives, most of which most assuredly included some iteration of “fuck” or “sonofabitch,” I climbed my angry ass back into the shower to finish.
Here’s the thing. My armpits aren’t that fucking bad. I mean, there’s a super faint just barely there stubble. But I’m paranoid about that shit. I always have been. I’m wearing a short-sleeved shirt today, and I’m hyper-conscious that I haven’t shaven my armpits today. Like, the fucking world is going to end if I raise my arm and someone sees the microstubble! Quelle horreur! I will be the talk of the water cooler. Just what I’ve always wanted.
This is a buncha bullshit!
Yeah. I began to wonder, as I applied deodorant to my freshly shaven armpits, where this fixation came from. Was there a starting point, from whence I adamantly believed that the key to good hygiene and social acceptance was an armpit as smooth as a baby’s ass? (Preferably one without diaper rash. Rashes are the worst.) And it hit me! I had my light bulb moment. The clouds parted, angels sang, baby unicorns frolicked and wept.
Jennifer. This is all Jennifer’s fault. I even remember her surname. But I’m not going to tell you. No! That wouldn’t be polite.
Jennifer was like this 8 foot tall third grader. Was it third grade? I don’t remember. I only remember the school, so it was definitely somewhere between second and fifth grades. She was poor, wore hand-me-downs and giant, too large for her face, pink spectacles. Worst of all, she had terrible hygiene. I’m talkin’ bad breath and B.O. I felt sorry for her then, because people made fun of her. On the regular. She was an okay girl, awkward, a bit too loud, but really just desperate to be liked. She was sweet. And kinda smart, too.
I remember one day she had forgotten her pencil. Or the lead had broken on hers. Something like that. No one near her wanted to lend her one. So I offered her one of mine. And it was then. My armpit fixation began right then and there in that elementary school classroom. Because as Jennifer leaned over and extended her arm over to me, all the armpit hair in the world spilled out from the short sleeve of her top and reached for me. I swear a burst of air from the AC set it to wriggling and waving in the breeze. It waved at me…
Of course, I realize now that she was too young to be shaving and had hit puberty before the rest of us. Or else she was older and repeating grades. I’m honestly not sure which. I also realize now, which – to my credit – I had also realized then, her hygiene problems were not her fault. But I’m also strangely thankful to her for the complex she gave me that day. I – and all of my coworkers – should be thankful to her for making me aware of good hygiene practices. (Not that there’s anything actually wrong with a woman having unshorn body hair. But that’s a topic for another day.)
For now, thank you Jennifer. We all thank you.
P.S. This is the third post I did, well including the weirdass ranty “about” one. Way back on September 8. (I know, it’s been like soooo long. Ohmygosh. *flips hair*) And I’m being a lazy bitch and using it for filler since my brain is numb from Too Much Work Drama. Anyway. I thought I’d use this one, because I clearly haven’t told enough of you about my armpits. You’re welcome.
Sometime this weekend, I had a little music fest with Andrew. I reminded him of U2’s song, “Bad,” and he reminded me of this Dylan gem:
Dylan has always been a favorite of mine. Even though old fuckers liked to tell me he was before my time, and I was too young to appreciate him properly, I still loved him. And fuck them for being exactly the kind of person Dylan would criticize.
I had the good fortune to see him in concert – alas, I was a teenager, and I’ve forgotten most of the concert. But the memories I do have are irreplaceable. I remember riding shotgun in the boyfriend’s car after work – he had just picked me up. I was…seventeen, I think? We were listening to the radio, and the DJ said Dylan was playing at some little theater in Mississippi. We looked at each other, eyebrows arched, silently questioning. And fuck yeah, we headed straight to the sound shop, bought tickets and drove to Mississippi.
It was a long drive, so we were late and missed the first song or so. And we got lost – had to stop and ask directions from a cop. (Good thing he didn’t search the car. He would have stolen our pot.) It was the first concert I’d been to where they kept all the lights on. It was bright, and we could look around at the rest of the concertgoers. We were definitely the youngsters. Those old fuckers were openly smoking pot, passing it around, dancing and singing, and just feeling good. It was an intimate concert. We were in the balcony cheap seats, but Dylan was right there.
I remember thinking it was sad that Dylan couldn’t sell out a tiny theater like that anymore. But I was also grateful, because it means there was still a ticket available for me. It’s a night I hope I never forget.
I hadn’t heard this particular song in years. And my god, I feel like I’m hearing it for the first time. In some ways, I am, because I was a pre-teen or teen when I first heard it. And while I was far more mature than I should have been in those years, listening to this song now, I can see why it’s having a bigger impact now than it did then. It has shot up the ranks of my Dylan favorites and now rests comfortably at the top. (For now. This is always in flux for me, particularly with Dylan.)
“It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” was released on Dylan’s 1965 Bringing It All Back Home. This is Dylan at his finest: the social justice poet, filled with anger and righteous indignation. He’s frustrated and pessimistic. The song is a bleak condemnation of the society he was living in (and his society will sound awfully fucking familiar to us): rampant consumerism, crooked politics, never-ending beating of the war drums, etc.
Look how he breaks it down (I started to bold some of my favorite lines, but quickly realized I was about put the whole fucking thing in boldface):
Darkness at the break of noon
Shadows even the silver spoon
The handmade blade, the child’s balloon
Eclipses both the sun and moon
To understand you know too soon
There is no sense in trying.
Pointed threats, they bluff with scorn
Suicide remarks are torn
From the fools gold mouthpiece
The hollow horn plays wasted words
Proved to warn
That he not busy being born
Is busy dying.
Temptation’s page flies out the door
You follow, find yourself at war
Watch waterfalls of pity roar
You feel to moan but unlike before
That you’d just be
One more person crying.
So don’t fear if you hear
A foreign sound to you ear
It’s alright, Ma, I’m only sighing.
As some warn victory, some downfall
Private reasons great or small
Can be seen in the eyes of those that call
To make all that should be killed to crawl
While others say don’t hate nothing at all
Disillusioned words like bullets bark
As human gods aim for their marks
Made everything from toy guns that sparks
To flesh-colored Christs that glow in the dark
It’s easy to see without looking too far
That not much
Is really sacred.
While preachers preach of evil fates
Teachers teach that knowledge waits
Can lead to hundred-dollar plates
Goodness hides behind its gates
But even the President of the United States
Sometimes must have
To stand naked.
An’ though the rules of the road have been lodged
It’s only people’s games that you got to dodge
And it’s alright, Ma, I can make it.
Advertising signs that con you
Into thinking you’re the one
That can do what’s never been done
That can win what’s never been won
Meantime life outside goes on
All around you.
You lose yourself, you reappear
You suddenly find you got nothing to fear
Alone you stand without nobody near
When a trembling distant voice, unclear
Startles your sleeping ears to hear
That somebody thinks
They really found you.
A question in your nerves is lit
Yet you know there is no answer fit to satisfy
Insure you not to quit
To keep it in your mind and not forget
That it is not he or she or them or it
That you belong to.
Although the masters make the rules
For the wise men and the fools
I got nothing, Ma, to live up to.
For them that must obey authority
That they do not respect in any degree
Who despite their jobs, their destinies
Speak jealously of them that are free
Cultivate their flowers to be
Nothing more than something
They invest in.
While some on principles baptized
To strict party platforms ties
Social clubs in drag disguise
Outsiders they can freely criticize
Tell nothing except who to idolize
And then say God Bless him.
While one who sings with his tongue on fire
Gargles in the rat race choir
Bent out of shape from society’s pliers
Cares not to come up any higher
But rather get you down in the hole
That he’s in.
But I mean no harm nor put fault
On anyone that lives in a vault
But it’s alright, Ma, if I can’t please him.
Old lady judges, watch people in pairs
Limited in sex, they dare
To push fake morals, insult and stare
While money doesn’t talk, it swears
Obscenity, who really cares
Propaganda, all is phony.
While them that defend what they cannot see
With a killer’s pride, security
It blows the minds most bitterly
For them that think death’s honesty
Won’t fall upon them naturally
Must get lonely.
My eyes collide head-on with stuffed graveyards
False gods, I scuff
At pettiness which plays so rough
Walk upside-down inside handcuffs
Kick my legs to crash it off
Say okay, I have had enough
What else can you show me ?
And if my thought-dreams could been seen
They’d probably put my head in a guillotine
But it’s alright, Ma, it’s life, and life only.
If you dig the song half as much as I do, it should rocket to your favorites. Enjoy.
So I believe Part 1 left off with mere Attempted Squirrelicide. Today, dear readers. Oh, today we get right into the thick of it. Attempted is for weenies. We’re talkin’ full-on Squirrelicide now. Don’t even bother hiring a detective, because I’m about to confess.
Squirrelicide in the First Degree
I was sixteen or seventeen when I went on my first hunting foray. (I may as well go ahead and tell you it was also my only hunting foray. Consider that a preview on how things went.) I didn’t care about hunting, but being out in the woods early on a weekend morning sounded lovely. So, even though I thought camouflage was stupid (still do – suck it), I donned someone’s spare camo and tagged along with my boyfriend. He wanted to go squirrel hunting, and he wanted me to go with him.
Sure, let’s do this thing.
We get out into the woods, and he’s being all manly protector and shit. I’m walking along the well-trodden path when Mr. Boy Scout practically unhinges his arm to stop me in my tracks.
Snake. There was a snake. Not a venomous snake, mind you, which he himself acknowledged. No matter, his girlfriend’s life dignity was at stake.
So he murdered the snake.
And I cried.
That was sign number one that we should have turned back.
About halfway through our trek, we come across a deer stand. He told me what it was and who it belonged to. I pointed to the knee-high mound of food and asked what it was. “That’s deer feed,” he said, “to lure the deer.” I’m sure you can guess my reply: “Are you fucking serious? That hillbilly dickwad motherfucker LURES them here?” I even quoted My Cousin Vinny. The part about the happy little deer putting it’s little deer lips to the cool water to drink, and:
Oh yeah. Then he explained the stench I was smelling came from the deer musk/urine sprayed all around the place to lure them and mask the scent of humans.
I was livid. And though he was highly amused,
That was sign number two that we should have turned back.
But we didn’t turn back. The rest of the trek was pleasant enough. Enjoying the cool autumn weather. The trees. The chirping of the birds. Learning to recognize animal tracks and hiding spots. It was a pretty cool morning, aside from the murder and mayhem.
We finally settled into a thick copse of trees, squatted down with our weapons and listened. Watched. Observed. Felt. So far, so good. I was cool with all of that, and was pretty good at spotting shit, too.
I had done some target practice a week or so prior – but it didn’t take much. I was actually really fucking good at it. I remember he was strangely proud of that – at least he wasn’t one of those weirdos who get jealous about that sort of thing.
So yeah, when I finally spotted a squirrel I deemed close enough, I didn’t even say anything – I just went for it. I was using this little .22, and I think I was too far away. (At least that’s what I was told in attempts to comfort me afterward.) After I shot, the squirrel fell from the limb he was on.
And we never found him.
We searched for hours, because I was insistent and at least mildly hysterical. But we never found him. I cried. Nay, I fucking sobbed. He was beside himself, first laughing and then desperate to calm me down. He swore the shot would have spread, and the squirrel was probably fine or we would have gone straight to him. But I was inconsolable; all that could be done was to leave and let me put it behind me.
But I never really did. Put it behind me, I mean. Though I was done crying by the time we emerged from the woods, I’ve never forgotten that day. And I’ve never believed that squirrel came out unscathed. He either died that day or ended up in hospice care.
I never forgave myself, and I never went hunting again.
The Three Stooges: A Shot at Redemption Ends in Triple Squirrelicide
That next summer – same boyfriend – he brought three baby squirrels home. The tree they were living in had been cut down, and the mother abandoned them. So he brought them to me. By now, he knew damn well what a bleeding heart I was. I was ecstatic! But I also had no idea how to take care of tiny baby squirrels.
I thought I did the right thing. I really did. I took them to a veterinarian. (I mean, I also used the Internet. What, Alta Vista at the time? Dogpile? But there wasn’t much information available.) The veterinarian sold me some kitten milk and an eye-dropper feeder (and a bottle for when they got bigger) and told me to keep them warm. Feed them every two to three hours, he said, and keep them warm with a rice sock heated in the microwave.
I was so careful with those little things. I had them tucked into a small box, with a fluffy towel and the rice sock. I always held it against tender spots of my skin first to make sure I wouldn’t burn the Three Stooges. That’s what I named them: Larry, Curly and Moe. And I fed them carefully and regularly.
Larry died first. First and fast. Almost right away, really. God, I was a wreck. I opened up the little box in the middle of the night, for a nighttime feeding and to re-warm the sock. And he was curled up there, lifeless. I was heartbroken. The boyfriend took care of burying him for me. I insisted Larry be buried.
Moe was next. He lasted a couple of weeks before giving up. He stopped eating, I think. I do remember calling the vet on his account. And he told me that all I could do was keep them warm and feed them regularly. Oh yeah, and I was also wiping them with a warm damp cloth to help them pass waste.
But it wasn’t enough. Moe didn’t make it. But I knew for certain Curly was solid. He made it several weeks. And he even got big enough to ride around in my breast pocket.
It just wasn’t to be. And I was absolutely shattered when I came home from work one day, and the boyfriend told me Curly had died. I know now that I should have sought the advice of another vet. But at the time, I trusted that particular one. He took care of the boyfriend’s dog, so he was like their family vet. But I know now that poor Curly was most certainly malnourished. He wasn’t large, not even fully juvenile. He was still a baby. But he had certainly graduated beyond the basic nutrition found in kitten milk.
I was devastated. And when the boyfriend found yet more baby squirrels some time later, he had the presence of mind to call me first. And I asked him to please not bring them home. I couldn’t go through it again.
So uhm. Yeah. That one wasn’t funny. My bad. But it did result in yet more squirrel funerals. It strikes me that I have a disproportionate amount of squirrel funerals in my life, as compared to…ahem…normal people.
And I can add Serial Squirrel Murderer and Stooge Slaughterer to my rap sheet. Oh hell, I got a rap sheet? Holla!
Additional Squirrellaneous Encounters
Far more recently (that shit happened when I was a teenager, remember?), I tried befriending my squirrels. The ones that live here. In my trees. And I love watching them play and roughhouse with each other. So I tried to befriend them.
Last year (that was last year wasn’t it?), I visited The Peanut Depot while I was checking out Birmingham, Alabama.
Seriously, if y’all are ever in Birmingham, you need to hit up the Peanut Depot. (And what the fuck is the matter with you if you’re grown and American and haven’t been to Birmingham? That’s an important city, and you need to go. You been told.)
Aaaanywho, I bought an assload of peanuts. The guy behind the counter flirted with me. I know, because I don’t get flirted with, and homeboy didn’t even try to hide it. But he also wanted to know just what the hell I was gonna do with all those peanuts. I bought a 2 lb. burlap sack of each kind (regular, salted and Cajun). And, he was right. What the fuck was I thinking?
Once I got home and realized the error of my ways – I mean what on earth was I gonna do with sixteen zillion peanuts? I tried to share them at work, but who wants peanuts? Though, I did keep a small nutsack of my own in my drawer. (Hehehe, this woman told me about her nutsack at work. I totally should have called mine that. If you haven’t made her acquaintance, you should. She’s delightful.)
So, I hatched a plot to befriend my squirrels. First I laid peanuts around the trees in the front, like little Easter eggs. It didn’t take long for them to find ’em. I’d peer out my window at them, watching one chow down and the other stuff his furry little cheeks and haul ass up the tree. Probably plotting to use them as soggy, nutty projectiles. No matter.
After a few days of this, I began sprinkling them in the yard. And then leading a path to the porch. I spied the two regulars munching on the porch a couple times. But this didn’t last. Oh no.
Because those fucking bastard assholes tore up my yard!
I told those motherfuckers I had enough peanuts to last a lifetime of winters. But nooooooooo, they had to dig! And you wanna know how I found out? Hmm? I couldn’t see the holes because of the copious amounts of pinestraw. But I was out there one day, feeding the sons of bitches and twisted my ankle in a squirrelhole!
So, like the Soup Nazi, I shouted (seriously, I shouted) NO PEANUTS FOR YOU! (I’m sure my neighbors find me positively delightful.) Then I called them bastards. No good dirty rotten scoundrels. I shook my fists at them up in the trees. They didn’t dare mock me, not til I went inside. But never again would I spoil those little bastards. Now they’ll have to be content with munching on acorns and my roof. Assholes.
I’ve had lovely encounters with the mountain squirrels of Washington, Montana, Wyoming…they liked to climb on me and check my pockets. You know what? That does it! Fuck these local squirrels. I’m moving! I know, I know…it’s only a matter of time before even the mountain squirrels turn on me.
It’s time for me to bust out the water hose and tear some ass up.
Oh my gosh, this is how it all began. Mr. Smith’s struggles were real. I see it all so clearly now. I’ll fight them in your honor, Mr. Smith! I’ll take no prisoners!
Wannabe Intro to My Squirrelstory (Like History, but Better)
As I sit at work today, pretending to be a productive employee while scratching my head in hopes of breaking loose a thought or three worthy of a post, I find myself pondering squirrels. And it strikes me that I just may have a particularly curious connection with squirrels in my life – at least compared to the average person. I mean, just how many squirrelly encounters have you had, dear Peoplleaneous? And I don’t mean that time your Uncle Bubba made you lick one for good luck. (Don’t worry, that totally didn’t happen to me. And if it happened to you, you’re a disgusting freak and can’t be my friend anymore.)
Y’all don’t believe me, do you? I’m telling you, homeslices. I have a weird history with squirrels. And I’m gonna tell you about it. As soon as I can figure out how to end this wannabe intro. Fuck it, consider this wannabe intro over.
That Time My Brother tried to Resurrect a Squirrel in the Bathtub (Holyfuck, that heading just spoiled the plot. Who comes up with this shit?!)
I think this one is less of a memory and more of something that has been implanted through countless retellings, because I believe I was like two when this happened. But since it’s the earliest “memory” of squirrels in my life, it must be told and it must come first.
My brother is a few years older than me, and depending on who tells the story, he was somewhere between five and eight. But given my age at the time, he had to have been at least seven. (“Why didn’t you just say seven to begin with and have done?,” is your logical query. To which I shriek, “I thought you knew me!,” and dissolve into a heap of tears.)
Anywhoodles. We’re living at my mamaw’s house, right? (She had this weird, awesome floor that you could pluck these little wooden tile thingies from. Pluck. Pluck. Slide back in like a funky puzzle piece. Pluck. Pluck. Man, I loved playing with that floor.) Well. Apparently B (Ima call him “B” for brother, aight?) had a soft spot for animals back then. (I say back then, because he sure as fuck doesn’t now. But don’t worry about it. This is a happy story.) So mamaw catches him waddling into the house, in nothing but his He-Man underwear. In his arms, he’s got this squirrel. His arms are wrapped around it, and it’s dangling down the length of B’s little body. It’s stiff and crispy – it had been burnt to a crisp when a transformer blew – and B’s sobbing and waddling into the house with the squirrel’s tail dragging between his legs.
Mamaw, naturally, freaks right the fuck out. “B! What the hell are you doing?! PUT THAT SQUIRREL BACK OUTSIDE!” B chokes out through the snotty sobs, “But Yamaw…*sniffle choke*…I have to give him a bath!” (This is why B was in his underwear. He had stripped down outside after formulating his plan to bathe the squirrel back to life.) B was dead serious, too. He really thought he could soak the squirrel in the tub and make everything right again. “Yamaw, yamaw, he needs a bath and everything will be okay!”
It took much pleading and coaxing to convince B to let mamaw pry the squirrel from him. (Who knows what she did with it – that’s never been included in the telling…) It took ages to calm him down and dry his tears; mamaw said it was the most pitiful thing she’d ever seen.
And no, B didn’t become a taxidermist. Or a faith healer.
Smile though Your Heart is Aching
The next memory I have is the infamous Squirrel Funeral. And no, it wasn’t even for the aforementioned crispy critter. As memory serves (mine and others’), this was a couple of years later, but it also took place at mamaw’s.
This time, my aunt found a dead squirrel in the yard. (What’s the deal with all the dead squirrels at mamaw’s? Kinda creepy, really.) And she decided that we needed to have funerary services to see the squirrel off into the afterlife. She was super serious, yo, solemn and dramatic as ever.
She and her father fashioned a coffin out of a cigar box, and we – me and my siblings – were ordered to prepare remarks and dress for the occasion. My aunt would deliver the eulogy.
We all gathered in the alley behind mamaw’s house. Just us kids. We dug a hole and set the squirrel’s box beside the dirt mound. We fashioned a cross of twigs and berries (shut up, pervert) and planted it in the ground at the end of the hole. Then we stood in a circle, holding hands. My aunt said a prayer and delivered the eulogy. I know we named the squirrel; and I swear it was something like Edward. (Y’all are right – something about me and “Ed-” names.) Each of us kids took turns saying our parting words to Edward and delivering him unto the earth. Y’all, this was some super solemn shit. And while I don’t remember things that were said, I do remember making shit up – about what a good squirrel Edward had been. How he was a good friend and playmate. Pretty sure we even made up a wife and kids that he was leaving behind. Some pretty creative and morbid shit.
With all of that finished up, we lowered his tiny King Edward cigar coffin (holyfuck, THAT’S why we named him Edward!) into the leaf-strewn ground and buried him. As soon as the dirt mound had filled the hole, the others went about their business. And I don’t remember many specifics, but I do remember lingering behind by myself. Crying. I cried for Edward the squirrel. And, in what was perhaps one of the earliest instances, I remember contemplating life and death and the finite-ness of our corporeal existence.
Depressing, no? Don’t worry, it’s not all like that. (It totally kind of is, though.)
Know Thyself, and Know Thy Enemy, or Devil, Thy Name is Squirrel
Another tale from mamaw’s house (years later, same mamaw, different house). In this neighborhood, the squirrels were vicious. A warring faction emerged, overthrowing the peaceful nut hoarders and challenging the humans for dominion. At least, that’s how Mr. Smith saw things.
Mr. Smith was a neighbor of mamaw’s, and while his wife was perfectly sane, Mr. Smith was in the throes of Alzheimer’s, dementia, and who knows what else. And for some reason, perfectly docile Mr. Smith one day became the archenemy of the neighborhood squirrels: specifically the ones who dared trespass into his beloved tree.
Mr. Smith adamantly argued that the squirrels started it. That they stood atop the branches of his trees and taunted him with their racket and turned acorns into weapons, hurling the tiny projectiles at lightening speed toward his shiny pate. This was the squirrel of Mr. Smith’s waking nightmares:
Naturally, Mr. Smith launched a series of counterattacks. His two weapons of choice? The waterhose (affixed with a jet spray nozzle and the force of a firehose) and a wheelbarrow of bricks. Mr. Smith could (and did) spend countless hours outside, launching brick after brick into his beloved tree and spraying them with the waterhose of doom. And this otherwise godfearing man, hurled vicious swearwords up to those “NO GOOD BASTARD MOTHERFUCKERS! I’LL KILL YOU! GET OUTTA MY TREE!”
And while his poor wife was forever lamenting this new side of Mr. Smith, some of us who witnessed it were delighted. I was old enough to be aware that I was witnessing the cognitive decline of a human being. So while I was torn between sorrow and amusement, I’m ashamed to admit that Mr. Smith’s War on Squirrels has provided many hours of laughter in my life.
But I swear, y’all. Perhaps the years have colored my memories a bit too much. But I swear sometimes those squirrels really did mock him with their loud squirrel gibberish and the occasional rain of acorns pelting the poor bastard. (And, by the way, I was Team Squirrel all the fucking way. I know. I’m a terrible person.)
Sometimes Mr. Smith would finish gathering all of his bricks back into the wheelbarrow and start toward the house when one of those little fuckers would let fly a squirrelfanity, causing Mr. Smith to slam on the brakes, wheel around and launch another brick.
He never did catch one. For all his effort, his aims never found purchase. And one day, well. One day he just stopped coming outside.
I said this was a happier tale. Damn y’all, what’d you go and make me cry for?
I have more squirrel tales to tell, so I’m going to end this here, as Part 1. I have at least three more mini-tales to go, but this is already quite lengthy so I’m breaking it into two parts. I’ll have the rest ready for you tomorrow!
Did you know it was you who taught me? I bet you don’t know that, even though I told you so. You taught me so much:
how to smile through abuse
how to laugh in spite of pain
how to remain gentle in stormy seas
You sent me out into the world believing that it was worth enduring misfortune and pain, poverty and abuse. And so I smiled. I was such a happy child, even when my heart was heavy and I was stricken with fear and doubt. I had such a gentle and giving spirit, a ready smile for anyone. Everyone. You remember, don’t you? How I had such a hard time steering clear of strangers? It took me a little while to learn that people don’t mean well after all.
But wait, you didn’t teach me any of that, did you? When did you smile? When did any smile ever reach your eyes? When were you ever playful or joyful or ebullient? You weren’t, were you? And I forever battled your demons because you wouldn’t. No, you gave up ages ago. Before you even had us, I suspect. You know what you taught me?
how to keep it all in
how to withdraw from the world
how to lose faith
how to criticize myself and everyone else
how to hide my ideas, my mind
how to deny myself
how to submit
how to give up
Why are you so damn happy all the time?
Stop smiling so much. There’s nothing to smile about.
But we’re alive, aren’t we?
Who cares if we’re alive? Everything hurts. My back hurts. My feet hurt.
At least you have feet. (I meant it so sincerely when I said things like that to you. But you you hated it. You said it was cruel. That I was being intentionally cruel. That it’s useless to try cheering you up. Remember?)
Whatever. I’m sick to death of cleaning up after you people. I sacrifice Everything, and Nobody cares.
Whatever. Leave me alone. I’m going to bed.
I followed you to bed, putting my sister on my lap. I’m a ventriloquist now, and she’s my dummy. I used your eyeliner and lipstick to draw on her face to make her look the part.
We put on a show for you. I’m in full form now, laughing, cutting up, being a smartass. Telling jokes and making faces.
You’re laughing! It’s working! You’re crying… Oh no, now you’re crying again.
You’re so sweet. You were always so sweet. And funny. How’d you get to be so funny?
Leave me alone now. I’ll be okay. Don’t worry.
You better not have ruined my makeup. And wash your sister’s face.
(Rolling over in bed now, facing the wall.) Goodnight.
I hugged you and kissed you, anyway. And I begged you to be okay. Please cheer up, mom. We love you. Doesn’t that matter more than anything?
But I did tell you to leave me alone.
Wash your sister’s face.
How many days and nights did we repeat some variation of this until I gave up? I couldn’t fight your demons alone. I needed your help. How many times did you watch me sobbing for you, begging you to talk to me. Play with me. Read with me. You said I’d be better off just forgetting about you. How could you say that?
And how dare you for getting angry when I did give up trying to fix you. And how dare you for abandoning me. Yes, you taught me much.
I was such a happy little asshole. That’s what I was to you, wasn’t it? The little asshole thorn in your side who just wouldn’t quit fucking smiling no matter what life threw at her. Did you ever stop to think that I smiled for you? It doesn’t matter anymore. I was always the happy little asshole to you. The one who had the nerve to smile in the face of adversity. The one who dared ask you to be a mother.
Just do me a favor, would ya? Don’t come back. Don’t. I can’t do it again.
To the little girl that broke my heart and my nerve: do you know how long it took for me to work up the nerve to approach you? You looked so lonely and sad. And I was so shy. But we were both alone at recess, and I wanted to help you. I needed to make you smile.
Do you know how long it took for me to work up the nerve? How difficult it was? How my heart lodged in my throat as I approached you? How much courage it took for me to ask five little words of you in the softest voice? Will you be my friend?
Do you know what it did to me when you replied,
and walked away?
My little soul was crushed. I cried so very much. Do you want to know something else?
That was the last time I ever approached anyone. That was the last time I ever made the first move.
I know, now, that you were probably hurting at least as much as I was, if not more. But my little heart couldn’t see past the pain then.
To Marshall: I’m sorry I never worked up the nerve to approach you. To tell you that I knew it was you. I recognized your handwriting. On the Secret Admirer card. But I had already lost trust and faith in people. I thought it was a joke, you see. A scam. I learned later that I hurt your feelings, ignoring your gesture.
To the boy at the dance: I didn’t even want to be there. I had been forced to go. People were starting to worry…at my lack of friends and growing social anxiety. I had been made fun of far too much by now, and I couldn’t. I wanted to trust you, when you asked me to dance. But I couldn’t. I just knew it was a joke. So I went inside and stuffed my face until the party was over. That’s the first time I remember medicating with food.
Why did you ask me why I smile? Every day, at least once a day? You were a grownass woman in her forties. Why do you feel a need to rob a teenager of her smile?
Every day I smiled and greeted you with a happy countenance and hope for a good day. And every day, you shot me down. Confronting me in angry tones,
Why are you so happy?
I mean, really. Look at you. What do you have to be so happy about, anyway?
I woke up this morning.
Would you rather I told you, “This is my mask, and it helps me get through the day”? I suspect you would have liked that, to know that I shared a fraction of your misery. But no, I was too busy trying.
It took me a couple of years, but I finally stopped. Smiling at you. You didn’t deserve my smiles. But then, one day, I started smiling at you again. Out of spite. Because fuck you, that’s why.
And again, I was the Happy Asshole.
Thanks, Marie. For reminding me of her.
Dear James and Everyone Else I hurt in Jr. High & High School,
You told me one day, later on in high school, that I had been a bitch to you. I’m sorry. I really am.
I was afraid of you. I didn’t trust you. I never did. And I still didn’t. Hell, I still wouldn’t. Even now. I had been bitten so many times by then, that I used meanness as a defense mechanism. To keep people as far away from me as possible.
But at least I started smiling again. Greeting you. Refusing to take my pain and inner turmoil out on you and everyone else.
Thank you, for being so honest with me that day. I needed that dose of awareness. It hurt to know that I’d been hurtful. I’ll never forget it.
Please allow me – and anyone else – the right to be down sometimes. Please don’t beat me with your happy stick and try to force your idea of happiness on me.
You see, I’m fighting really hard. No, I mean it. Really fucking hard. To lift myself out of this funk. It’s a daily battle, and a tough one. And while I’m thankful for words of encouragement and positivity, it hurts when you’re dismissive. As though I don’t have the right to be down because it offends you.
I understand now, why it hurt my mother for me to say things like, “well, at least you have legs!” But I was a child, and I didn’t realize it was dismissive of her pain. I thought I was being encouraging, but all she heard was “your pain isn’t valid.”
So be encouraging of each other. Be positive. But try not to be so fucking militant about it. Just as my depression isn’t an attack on you, your positivity shouldn’t be an attack on me.
Live and let live and Kumbaya, and all that.
You’re at risk of no longer being the Happy Asshole, but instead just an asshole. And if that happens, they win. Is that what you want?
So keep smiling at work. Keep saying goodmorning to the world and all its inhabitants. Keep telling off-color jokes and being a raging smartass. It’s fun. It makes people laugh, and it cheers you up to do it.
Don’t let them destroy the last remaining vestiges of you.
Cling to life. Cling to joy, even if you can only find scraps of moments here and there. Those scraps count. Those scraps matter. Those scraps are what keep you coming back for more.
You matter. You probably won’t think so in the morning. Or even an hour from writing this.
So keep reminding yourself. And try to believe people when they say nice things about you.
Don’t be an asshole. It’s no fun without the happy.
I watched “Project Almanac” last night. It was a decent little time-travel flick – got bogged down in the middle with too much focus on teenage love and party time. The flick was typical in that regard – clueless geeky boy pines after hot popular girl, eventually winning her over in spite of himself. But they made up for it with the fun, natural banter between the group of friends. What I really hated, though, was the found-footage hand-held camera filming style. It was hard to watch. Anyway, it wasn’t some cinematic treasure. It was a decent movie with an interesting take on the time-travel genre.
I mention the movie because it made me ponder: What would I do if I could turn back time? What would you do? Let’s put aside the simple and obvious answers like the ones demonstrated in the movie – going back in time to win the lottery or get the girl – I mean, let’s say we’ve taken care of any material needs so you can stop focusing on that. And let’s get into the meat of who you are and what you want. What would you do if you could go back in time? (We’ll also pretend there’s no such thing as impossible paradoxes and negative ripple effects, for the sake of this exercise.)
Okay. Super serious time. Here goes.
If I could turn back time…If I could find a way…I’d:
Go back and punch that bitch who made my life miserable in second through fifth grades. Fucking Other Stephanie. I’d be The Stephanie after putting her in her place. Wonder what that would have done for my self-esteem.
Encourage a certain someone to put more worms and bugs in her mud pies. Then encourage her to eat them. Would make me feel better later in life about the kind of adult she became.
Okay, okay. I’m being ridiculous. In all sincerity, my list would look more like this:
Insist on spending more time with my mamaws. Learn from them important things like: how to be a woman, how to garden, how to sew, how to think critically but without judgment, how to be graceful and gracious. Things like that.
Take school seriously in junior high and high school, times when, in reality, I totally dropped the ball and lost out on scholarships because of it.
Refuse to spend any time with him and not allow him to infect my life any more than he had when I was a child.
Figure out a way to stay in art classes when I was a kid, despite it being cost prohibitive for my family.
Pick a good major and stick with it, instead of switching and switching and settling on fine arts degrees that cost a hell of a lot more than they were worth.
Dance with that boy in fourth grade who probably did not have a sinister motive for asking.
Yeah, those are the sorts of things I would go back and change. Things that build good character and positive self-esteem. Things that would have made me a better person and more successful adult. A better human being. Things that would have made me less paranoid in my fellow man and more optimistic of my future.