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Toto, I have a feeling we’re not…
Never mind.

These days, I find myself regularly traveling to exotic destinations like Krum, Texas, and Haughton, Louisiana, to watch my eldest and most expensive daughter compete in equestrian competitions.

How she developed her mania for horses is a mystery to my wife and me. Neither of us has a background in rural livestock, and my past experience with horses mainly involved riding the coin-operated carousel at the entrance to Walmart — and that was a full month ago.

Horse shows are typically all-weekend affairs during which my daughter actually sits atop a horse for approximately 45 seconds. The other eight to 16 hours of my time is usually spent trying to find something to eat and locating the men’s room. If I’m lucky, I might also find an old phone book to read.

Recently, we had to travel to Bucyrus, Kansas, for one of these events, which took us from East Texas up along the Indian Nation Turnpike through Oklahoma. We drove past towns like Hoot Owl, Big Cabin, Bushy Head and Big Tussle. (Obviously, these communities are named after professional wrestlers.) For some reason, I imagined that I might see evidence of Native American culture throughout our journey. Instead, the most interesting sight I witnessed, other than a couple of bored-looking llamas, was a pontoon boat covered in mildew and being pulled by a John Deere tractor. Besides being disappointed that I didn’t see a single Native American on the Turnpike, I also found myself paying a toll every 100 feet, apparently to help Oklahoma buy more llamas — and tollbooths.

We did experience some excitement at a roadside gas station in the Creek Nation. Upon entering the bathroom, I noticed a warning sign indicating that any damage to the restroom would be considered a federal crime. Although I knew those convenience store egg rolls I had in Hugo could cause me trouble later, I had no idea that they might put me at risk of federal prosecution!

When we finally arrived at the horse show in Kansas, I naturally headed for the bathroom and immediately recognized the main feature of the Kansas landscape — wind, and since we were at a horse show full of animals that aren’t housebroken, it was as if the entire state needed a massive dose of Gas-X. Like all horse shows, this one featured a small selection of portable toilets (two, to be precise) for about 900 people, and the one I chose appeared to have hosted a mud wrestling match earlier in the day. Despite their filth, these were fairly modern porta potties, and after about my third visit, I discovered that the sink was actually a urinal!

During one of these pit stops, gale force winds began jostling the potty from side to side, and I turned my attention from the architectural advances of outdoor commodes to avoiding a swan dive into the blue water. This was no small feat as I was attempting to maintain my balance while clenching some new Thinsulate gloves in my armpits. (In case you wondered, each horse show is intentionally scheduled to coincide with the next polar vortex.) Although I did manage to stay dry, my armpits proved less coordinated than I had hoped, and the unthinkable happened to one of my gloves. I then did the unthinkable and pretended I was retrieving the One Ring from the lava in Mt. Doom. Of course, I spent the rest of the horse show proudly wearing my toxic glove and threatening to touch my wife with it. (Hey, I wiped it off a little, first!)

After surviving Hurricane Johnny, I managed to find a seat in the one area of the horse show venue that didn’t include a foot of manure, and as a bonus, it was near the snack area. I was hungry, and I was hoping to sink my teeth into a burger, hot dog or something else to get my mind off of the smell. Imagine my shock when I approached the counter and realized that the snack bar special of the day was pasta salad! Really? Was the intention of the show organizers to starve all of the dads into submission so that they would resign themselves to spending a fortune every other weekend on an activity specifically designed for teenage girls to live beyond their parents’ means? Unable to bring myself to face a paper plate full of disappointment, I bought a king-size bag of Cheetos and went, dejectedly, back to my seat. It was only after eating the entire bag and sticking my finger in my mouth to lick off the magical Cheeto dust that I realized I had forgotten to take off the glove.

In the end, the horse show was a rousing success for my daughter and her teammates. They won reserve champion, and I couldn’t have been prouder. It was in the midst of my rejoicing that my wife reminded me that the victory meant the team would advance to yet another competition in the next couple of weeks. As she patted me on the back, she promised to pack me some Cheetos, pasta salad, and my favorite phone book.

— Jason Graves

Jason (Jase) Graves is a married father of three daughters, a lifelong resident of Longview, Texas, and a Texas A&M Aggie. He writes about home and family issues from a humorous perspective in his blog. Other than writing, his primary hobby is sleeping as late as possible.

The war of pranks

When I was growing up, I loved monsters.

My dad and I spent time watching black-and-white classic movies as well as building, and meticulously painting, classic Universal monster models. We would read stories by H.G. Wells and H.P. Lovecraft. When reading the latter, my dad would frequently consult a dictionary so that we both understood and benefitted from the textured obtuse vocabulary. That stretched my imagination with imagery comparing, for example, a hillside to the gigantic toe of a corpse.

Our shared enthusiasm for the fantastic and grotesque unwittingly got us into a war of pranks.

This began on an overcast day while he was driving the family to play tennis. The tennis courts were situated next to an old Spanish monastery. As he was pulling into the dark driveway among the moss-covered trees, my dad began, offhandedly, to recount a legend the locals told about a little goblin-like creature who had haunted the monastery for generations. It was said that this creature had been a monk who had fallen from grace, shrunken with malevolence and pulled unsuspecting people into a pit as they walked the grounds. I was only half-listening as my dad elaborated on his tale. Driving into the shadow of the estate, I stayed engrossed in the gloomy atmosphere of the crumbling building, and curtains of Spanish moss, which I seemed to see for the first time.

Unbeknownst to me, my dad put the car in park, slipped out of the driver’s seat, and crawled on his hands and knees around the car just outside of my door. When I stepped out of the car, he leaped at me with his hands by his face, crying out in what sounded like a Spanish curse. Of course, I screamed. My dad felt bad but he couldn’t help but laugh.

Thus, began our decent into madness. After work, a few days later, my father threw his briefcase into the air as I shrieked behind the front door as soon as he opened it.

That weekend, the family gathered in our Florida room to watch “Something Evil,” a made-for-TV horror movie starring child actor Johnny Whitaker, who played Jody on the series “Family Affair.” Johnny played a young boy who became possessed by a demon who lived in his Pennsylvania farm house. The movie was more frightening than the usual thrilling fanfare we were used to. During a commercial break, I left the Florida room and made my way towards the bathroom. As an unseen hand racked my hair, from the back of my skull to the front of my head, a shadow flashed before my eyes.

I stood there, on the edge of fainting as the world became blurry around me. Forcing myself to look down, the quarterback Joe Namath slowly came into view. It was a pack of football cards. My dad, sitting in a white recliner closest to the television, later regretted his inability to refrain from laughing. He said, not in a million years did he think he would have been able to throw my deck of cards from the angle where he was sitting.

That week, I placed my Charlie McCarthy ventriloquist doll in the same white recliner where dad had thrown what I had sincerely felt was a demon coming to claim my soul, across two rooms. Into my doll’s hand, I taped a small golden revolver-shaped cigarette lighter. Around the trigger, I tied a small string which I elaborately attached to a tape recorder, and another string which I could activate from under the nearby couch. Across the room, I placed a flashlight that shone off Mr. McCarthy’s plastic monocle.

My mom helped me turn off all the lights in the house from the fuse box. We both waited, giggling from under the couch waiting for my father to come home. My sister came home, took in the whole tableau, rolled her eyes and went to her room shaking her head. Finally, dad came through the door, asked what the hell the lights were doing off when he was arrested by a voice that sounded like the actor Sidney Greenstreet saying, “Welcome home Sidney.” There was then a flash of flame from the revolver shaped lighter, punctuated by howling laughter from under the couch.

“What is the matter with you?” My dad asked my mom as she realized for the first time, that we might have killed him. I am so grateful that my dad has a stout heart.

My dad conceded defeat and called for a truce. We went back to being allies and throwing the football in the front yard like normal folks. I never remained “normal” but credit my dad for enhancing my creative approach to life. Thankfully, he is still alive, a celebrated veteran from our war of pranks.

— Ira Scott Levin

Ira Scott Levin blogs at Stream of Light, reflections spotlighting those making the world a brighter place through their dedicated benevolence and creative caring. His blog appears frequently at Thrive Global.

Love at first listen:
I’m crazy about a dog who doesn’t exist

I had no idea I would become so emotionally involved. I kept reminding myself, “It’s fiction!” Nevertheless, after weeks of laughter and suspense, I was devastated.

It all started at the library one afternoon as I cruised the audio book section for something to keep me company on my exciting drives to and from the grocery store, the gym, CVS, the gas station and other exotic destinations. There they were: eight books by Spencer Quinn, featuring private investigator Bernie Little and his faithful canine companion — partner really — Chet. Together they operate the Little Detective Agency. I was intrigued by the fact that Chet narrates the books. He doesn’t actually talk to anyone; he sort of thinks the story to the reader, or something like that.

I don’t have a dog, but I am owned by a cat. And I have a thing for talking animals, or animals who share their thoughts. Remember Black Beauty? If it’s a movie and the lips move through the magic of CGI, all the better. Babe is a favorite. I also love the two Dr. Doolittle films featuring Eddie Murphy in the title role. I watch talking animal videos when I need some cheering up. Check out the “Pets Add Life” guinea pig interviews. Someone recently introduced me to the TV series “Downward Dog,” starring an adorable pooch discussing his concerns about his relationship with his owner. He talks like a millennial dog; every other word is “like.”

I started with the first in Quinn’s series, Dog On It. It was love at first listen, and I quickly went through the rest: Thereby Hangs a Tail, To Fetch a Thief, The Dog Who Knew Too Much, A Fistful of Collars, The Sound and the Furry, Paw and Order and Scents and Sensibility. A narrating dog and such fabulous titles!

Quinn has imagined a dog’s thoughts so vividly that when I find myself with a friend’s dog I can’t help but think that he could communicate if only I were smart enough to understand. I imagine them talking like Chet: “That’s the way we roll, me and Bernie. No doubt about it.” “I felt a breeze behind me and realized it was my tail.” “This case would end up like all the rest, with my mouth around the pant leg of some perp, who’d soon be breaking rocks in the hot sun wearing an orange jumpsuit.” When I pull over in my car to greet my neighbor and his husky, the dog jumps up, filling the window with his huge head and paws. Just like Chet, I say to myself. I wonder what he’s thinking: Hey, Ann, you still into cats?

Chet and Bernie live on the edge of a desert in Arizona, where they roam when they’re not on a job. Chet has some memory issues, but he picks up on things we humans would miss with our feeble senses. He can determine multiple smells at great distances, including a wide array of illegal drugs and the various components of a pizza. If someone has a dog biscuit in his pocket, Chet knows as soon as he jumps from the shotgun seat (his favorite spot) in Bernie’s car. When he discusses how superior his sense of smell is to that of humans he adds, “No offense.” Chet sometimes solves a crime before Bernie. If only he could talk!

In Dog On It, Russian thugs trap Chet. He’s caged, muzzled and starved. I found that tough to listen to. Yes, I know it’s fiction, but so what? Rough stuff happens in more than one book. Bernie gets his head banged during several adventures, but it didn’t bother me as much.

Bernie has difficulties with finances, to Chet’s dismay. When Bernie puts a client’s check in his shirt pocket, Chet is fit to be tied because sometimes the checks fall out. “No Bernie! The pants pocket! Not the shirt!” Chet sympathizes with Bernie’s yearning for more time with his son Charlie, who lives with Bernie’s ex-wife and her new husband. Chet and Bernie consult with their police buddies (Bernie was once on the force), often in the parking lot of Donut Heaven, where Chet gets his fill of crullers. These meetings stimulate Chet’s memory of failing the police dog test some years back. “Something to do with a cat,” he recalls, but tries not to think about it. In a delicious plot twist mid-series a mysterious puppy appears in the neighborhood, bearing a strong resemblance to Chet, who vaguely remembers a good time, but that’s it.

Most of the cases involve the Little Detective Agency’s specialty, missing persons. (Chet and Bernie do divorce work, too, although they hate it. It helps pay the bills.) Things get dangerous at times. People get killed. Sometimes the pair is separated and each is worried sick about the other. Never mind how much I worry! Their investigations include the disappearance of a dog show champion (Chet finds her snooty, but eventually they become friends) and her owner, a missing circus elephant (with whom Chet strikes up a friendship) and his trainer, and a movie star with a dark secret who owns (shudder) a cat named Brando.

Along the way Bernie falls for Suzie Sanchez, a reporter for the local newspaper. The romance continues through the series. Eventually she’s hired by the Washington Post and moves to Washington. Their ensuing long-distance relationship is hard on everybody. By book #7, when Chet and Bernie visit Suzie in Washington, I began to wonder if Bernie would follow her there. Most important: how would Chet manage the relocation? Would D.C. be too urban for him?

The eighth book, Scents and Sensibility, opens with the theft of a saguaro cactus from the Arizona desert, quickly followed by a murder. The feel of this book is different. Suzie is offered yet another job, this time with the Post’s London bureau. She wants Bernie and Chet to join her there. I could feel the tension. Could Bernie have a professional life in London? Would London be a tough adjustment for Chet? Chet is hurt in this book, and their trusted vet asks Bernie if it’s fair to expose Chet to danger so often. “Yeah, Bernie, listen to her,” I said to my steering wheel.

As the case is solved, Bernie collapses from injuries incurred fighting the bad guys. I’m driving with groceries flying around in my trunk, and the next thing I know Chet is describing how everyone is crying — the ex, the girlfriend, Bernie’s friends on the force and Charlie. Chet tells the readers he is “going out of my mind.” As Bernie lies unconscious in the hospital, Chet is let into the room. He hears a person ask, “Where’s the ventilator?” Someone shakes his head. As the book ends, very abruptly I might add, Bernie’s hand reaches out to touch Chet. A glimmer of hope? And then it’s over! I hear someone yelling, “Hey! No! It can’t be!” It’s me.

I rushed into the house fuming. Is Quinn trying to be unpredictable? How could he do this to his fans? I scoured the internet and found Chet’s Facebook page, where a fan asks whether or not there’d be another book in the series and if Bernie survives. The answers seem to be in the affirmative. I was so relieved I was surprised at how relieved I was. Now I’m on Facebook with Chet so I can know when the next book comes out.  I know, it’s nuts. It’s fiction. I don’t care.

For now, I wait, dreaming about possible titles: A Tail of Two Cities. The Canine Mutiny. Barking Up the Wrong Tree. Dog Quixote. Or, for something different, The Great Catsby. Mr. Quinn, I hope you’re writing!

— Ann Green

Ann Green is a freelance writer, editor, PR consultant and tutor.

New relay events for summer Olympics

As you no doubt have heard and internalized, the International Olympic Committee signed off this week on a proposal to add a new swimming event to the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. There will be the first-ever-in-the-Olympics mixed gender relay.

Details so far are sketchy. Last time I checked, the IOC had not spelled out which strokes the men and women will swim or if they will mix things up depending on political and sociological factors. Nor it is crystal in my mind who the United States is now strategizing to put on that team.

Phelps?

Building on this new event trend, I hereby submit the following additional relay proposals to the IOC. It’s early — three years before the Games — but now is the time. As you know, in swimming timing is everything.

Here are the proposals:

The Busch Gardens Relay

If you’ve ever been to the Busch Gardens Water Park in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, you no doubt remember the automatically engineered waves that ripple over the swimmers every five minutes. What’s unsettling is you’re never quite sure when the next big swell is going to erupt like the Loch Ness Monster.

The Busch Gardens Relay will feature those same artificially created pool waves. The waves will be 10 feet high and 50 feet wide and break every 10 seconds. Why so frequent? The relay will be four swimmers from each team doing the 200 meter butterfly.

Because there will be no way any swimmer will be able to avoid all the waves; the fastest swimmers in the world take at least 19 seconds to finish an Olympic race.

To participants, the race will feel like all waves all the time. As they pull their heads out of the water to breathe, they may, depending on their timing, be swallowed by the 10-foot breakers. It will be tough for swimmers to time their times to come up for air for when the waves aren’t breaking.

The Jet Ski Relay

If you have ever watched the New York City Marathon, you know that throughout the 26.2 mile journey a motorcycle driver rides along close to the lead runner. This same scenario would play out in the men’s 4 x 800 meter medley relay.

Picture Michael Phelps in Lane 4 diving into the pool for the butterfly leg. In Lane 1 there would be a jet ski painted red, white and blue and white stars. Envision the American flag. Only seven countries would be allowed to participate because the one lane would have to be set aside for the machine.

The ski would stay at the same speed as Phelps for the first lap. At the turn, however, things would start to turn. Phelps would do his famous underwater whale/dolphin/shark — the one we have seen him do the past four Olympic Games that catapulted him to more than 20 gold medals.

The jet ski couldn’t do a flip turn because it’s a boat. A boat can’t go underwater, do a flip, kick off the wall, and come out 30 feet from the wall and raise its head.

The ski would have to be navigated in a narrow lane. The ski driver would have to touch the wall; you always have to touch the wall in swimming or the lap won’t count. And after that the boat would have to be turned around. Because jet skis are almost as wide as a swimming lane, Phelps will take a three-body-length lead.

To catch him the jet ski driver would have to rev the accelerator and that would spew liquid gas into the pool. Eventually the ski would catch Phelps near the end of the second lap. But the same problem would have to be addressed at the next wall. Live repeats itself often. Phelps would do his Zeus underwater turn while the jet ski would have to be twisted around and face the other direction again.

The jet ski relay will be a gas, gas, gas.

The Underwater Charlie Brown Event

There are devices that enable swimmers to listen to music as they swim with their heads plunged under water. This race will take this underwater fetish to a deeper level.

Four broadcasters will be stationed on the bottom of the pool, one in each corner. For each race all four will have to make at least one comment. Imagine Katie Ledecky swimming the anchor leg of the women’s 4 by 100 freestyle relay. The broadcasters will take turns, in a disciplined sequence, saying something about the race.

They will speak into microphones that are impervious to, and immune from, and disassociated with, water. Most of the time the TV viewers will hear something that sounds like the voice of Charlie Brown’s teacher: wa wa wa wa wa wa wa waaaaa waaaaaaaaaa wa. It will be garbled gabbing. You might think you hear one of them saying something like “Katie Ledecky is swimming fast.” But that will be your imagination.

Charlie Brown’s teacher never spoke words that were decipherable.

— Sammy Sportface

Sammy Sportface is possibly America’s best blogger. He is only mildly interested in the truth. To read his new book, Wipe That Smile Off Sammy Sportface, go to Amazon.com.

Oak Brook

A book can make a wonderful gift for a child. When a mother takes her daughter into a bookstore to help her choose her first chapter book, it can be a lovely occasion for both of them.

Unless you’re talking about a mother and daughter that I know. For them, the occasion wasn’t so great. The girl was nine. The mother chose a book, and the daughter complained. Oh, how she hated the looks of it. She told her mother the cover was hideous, the pictures were boring, and the whole thing had too many pages. She griped. She vowed that never, as long as she lived, would she ever read that awful “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”

The mother bought the book anyway. She was a wise woman.

They continued their errands through the Oak Brook Shopping Center and after a while, found a bench to sit on. The mother set down her packages, took off her tan coat, and told her daughter to look at that book while they rested.

To the girl’s surprise, the first page was pretty good. The next page made her laugh. Before she knew it, she was engrossed. She read two chapters while she sat on that bench. In three days, she had finished the whole book.

By the time the girl turned 10, she had read the book all the way through again — four more times.

In high school and college, the girl would move on to read other novels, but nothing would ever grab her the way that Charlie book did.

Now, the girl is a teacher. She’s reading that book aloud to her third graders, and they love it, too. Every day after recess, she reads two chapters. She buys 26 copies of the book, one for each child.  Her students are putting on a play about the chocolate factory. They’re dressing in costumes. They’re drawing a giant mural of their favorite scenes.

One evening after school, the girl calls her mother on the phone. She tells her about the fun she’s having with her class. She reminds her that she was the one who started it all, back at Oak Brook, when she bought that book.

But the mother doesn’t remember that book. Or the Oak Brook Shopping Center, or even that her daughter is a teacher.

The daughter listens on the phone as her mother tries to remember. Many things are hard to recall now, the daughter is finding out, even the most important things. Even that lovely, favorite book that she gave to her youngest daughter.

It’s really alright, though, the daughter decides, because the mother has still done something wonderful, hasn’t she?

She once bought her daughter a book she adored. And she never once told the girl to, for Heaven’s sake, read something else instead of that same old chocolate story over and over again. She gave her child a wonderful gift, and she never looked back.

A wise woman knows that loves goes forward. She plants a seedling, and helps it grow. She knows she’ll never sit under the shade of that tree.

The shade is all for me, and my 26 fans of the chocolate factory.

— Frances Peacock

Frances Peacock lives in Indianapolis.  She is a teacher and a freelance writer. She is a four-time attendee of the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop and a two-time recipient of Honorable Mention in the EBWW Writing Competition. She blogs at essaysfromateacher.com. She’s starting her countdown to next April in Dayton!

Boys will be boys

As a guy who for almost 40 years has been pretty much the lone source of testosterone in my immediate family (which has included one wife, two daughters, two granddaughters, two dogs, three out of four cats and countless goldfish), I was thrilled recently to meet my infant grandson, Xavier, with whom I plan to form a bond based on such important masculine benchmarks as whoopee cushions and the Three Stooges.

For expert advice in the fine art of corrupting male children and appalling the women who love them, I spoke with my buddy Tim Lovelette, who has two sons and six grandchildren, the last two, both born in the past year, boys.

“First off,” Tim said, “you have to buy Xavier stuff you would never buy for your granddaughters.”

That means, he added, shopping with the Johnson Smith Company, whose catalog features such timeless products as joy buzzers, squirting flowers, plastic teeth, remote-controlled tarantulas, X-ray glasses and, of course, whoopee cushions.

“Where else are you going to get fake dog vomit?” Tim noted. “Or a carbide cannon? Did you ever see one of those things? They’re awesome. They shoot water and make a really loud noise. Women aren’t going to buy this stuff for them. It’s up to us. We have to keep the guy thing going.”

That includes introducing boys to the Three Stooges.

“It’s our solemn responsibility,” Tim said. “Men love the Stooges and women hate them. It’s a law of nature. Listen,” he continued, “this is not about your grandson. It’s about your relationship with him. You have to exercise your lack of maturity. All these women have matured over time. We haven’t. And we can’t let it happen to our grandsons.”

What about Tim’s sons, Marshall and Brendan?

“They had a very odd upbringing,” Tim said. “That’s because I’m their father. But I taught them all this stuff.”

And now he’s ready to teach it to his grandsons, Marshall III and Emmett, whose middle name is Timothy.

“There’s something wrong with anyone who would name a kid after me,” Tim said, adding that his wife, Jane, and their daughter, Amy, are never surprised by anything he does.

“They’re waiting for this stuff to happen,” Tim said.

But his daughter-in-law Sara, who is married to Marshall, and his son-in-law, Mel, who is married to Amy, the parents of Tim’s grandkids, sometimes are surprised. So is Brendan’s wife, Christie.

“I’ll tell them, ‘What, you didn’t expect this? You knew what you had on your hands when you married into the family.’ They still don’t believe it,” Tim said with no small amount of pride.

I said that my wife, Sue, and our daughters, Katie and Lauren, have come to expect stupidity from me. But even though my sons-in-law, Dave and Guillaume, are also conditioned to it, they’re occasionally taken aback by things I say or do.

“You’d think they would be used to it by now,” said Tim, whose granddaughters are Anna, Camille, Colette and Lydia. Mine are Chloe and Lilly.

But it’s Marshall III, Emmett and Xavier we want to get under our influence.

“You have to take Xavier out to lunch and order grilled octopus,” Tim told me. “Or take him out for a cup of coffee. When you come back, tell the women the two of you had cigars. See how they react. You can’t do this stuff with girls. The women in my family are trying to condition my grandsons before they’re released into my custody. But I have every intention of corrupting them.”

And when the boys are older, said Tim, they can repay us.

“By the time Xavier is 8 years old, he’s your technical department,” Tim said. “Buy a TV and he’ll set it up. And you don’t have to pay him. You can save the money for beer. He’ll be too young to drink it anyway.”

For now, however, it’s vital that the seeds of masculine immaturity are planted.

“The whole war effort depends on you,” Tim said. “And if you run out of stupid ideas, call me.”

— Jerry Zezima

Jerry Zezima, who served on the faculty at the 2010 EBWW, writes a humor column for the Stamford Advocate that is nationally syndicated through the Tribune News Service and regularly appears in the Huffington Post. He’s written three books, Grandfather Knows BestLeave it to Boomer and The Empty Nest Chronicles. He has won six humor-writing awards from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and was named EBWW’s Humor Writer of the Month twice. He is the past president of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.

Stupid deer.

The deer members of Club Critter in my back yard are stupid.

There’s one doe in particular who’s not exactly the sharpest point on the antler rack. My husband named her Clarice, like Rudolph’s girlfriend.

Clarice is a regular at my popular social venue, stopping in throughout the day. I thought deer were nocturnal — sleeping during the day and foraging for food at night. But Google says deer are actually crepuscular, meaning they are most active at dawn and dusk.

Clarice doesn’t know she’s crepuscular. I see her at the club in broad daylight, grabbing a snack at my all-you-can-eat garden buffet and lounging in the shade.

A smart deer would be more careful. Humans are predators, after all. I don’t happen to own any deer-hunting weapons more deadly than a broom. But for all Clarice knows, I could be a gun-totin’ sharpshooter just pining for some venison stew for dinner.

If Clarice had half a brain in her pointy head, she would at least try to blend in with the wood fence or a tree trunk. But, no, she prefers the green grass where she stands out like a lawn ornament. Or a target, more obvious than a red-nosed reindeer.

There’s another thing that shows Clarice is two hooves shy of a six-pack. She devours plants that she’s not supposed to like. Google and all the other wildlife experts say unless deer are literally starving, they won’t eat certain flowers and shrubs.

Well, I shut down the deer dessert bar at Club Critter, getting rid of every single gourmet menu item. All that’s left are essentially tofu burgers. The woods behind our house offer a much tastier smorgasbord. But what does Clarice eat? The garden equivalent of napkins and silverware.

The biggest indicator that Clarice is dimmer than dirt is when I try to boot her out of the club. When I throw up the window sash and yell “Go away, Clarice!” she just looks all innocent at me, wagging her white tail as if to say, “How’s it going, girlfriend?” And when I run into the yard in my pajamas, waving my arms and yelling “Git!” Clarice calmly looks up with a mouth full of foliage like I’m the one who’s stupid. I have to get really close and a bit crazy before she finally trots away.

And then, Clarice got sneaky. As I was in the middle of writing this blog, she showed up with Bambi.

He was tiny and downy with white spots and saucer-sized innocent black eyes that made me realize where the term “doe-eyed” came from. He had spindly, wobbly legs that barely kept him upright as he silently pitter-pattered around Clarice in the grass. Bambi gazed up at Clarice and she bent down to lick his head all over, smothering him in deer kisses.

When I saw the pair, I didn’t throw up the window or run out into the yard or yell. I just watched, mesmerized, as they nuzzled and nibbled before they tip-toed back into the woods.

Well, Clarice is dense if she thinks I’m not going to run outside in my pajamas and yell at her simply because she shows up with an adorable little fawn.

If she believes I’ll let her gobble up my garden just because she has another life to care for, she’s wrong.

She’s got another thing coming if she plans to win me over now that I see her as a momma, just like me.

I keep looking out the window, hoping to see Clarice and Bambi again. I wonder if they’re OK.

Stupid deer.

— Karen DeBonis

Karen DeBonis blogs about her wild adventures as a homebody, including writing (aka avoiding housework), meditating (aka napping) and serving a nightly smorgasbord to deer and other critters in her yard (aka gardening). She lives in a wonderfully emptied nest in upstate New York with her husband of 34 years.

Nostalgia for Boston accents:
Confessions of a language snob

On the way to my hometown of Quincy, Massachusetts, for a fundraiser, I waxed nostalgic about the Boston accent I once had.

Quincy is just south of Boston. As my daughter, husband and I rode along in my cah (car) I regaled them with examples of Bostonese, including hoss (horse), muthah (mother) and apahtmint (apartment). Also, makin’, fakin’ and takin’. Final Gs are a no-no, along with Rs in middle or at the end of a word. Many words are simply abbreviated or mooshed together, dontcha know. And on occasion an R is added, if you get the idear. Undahstand?

I didn’t so much lose my accent as choose to overcome it. I think it was in my collij (college) days that I stahted (started) to incorporate missing letters into my vocabulary. Depahtmint became department, ha ya doin’ became how are you doing, c’meah became come here, and so on. Maybe it was the exposure to uthah, I mean other, modes of speech that made me self-conscious. To be honest, I began to feel that Boston accents made people sound, shall we say, less intelligent (not smaht, certainly not the product of a Hahvid education). In other words, I became a language snob.

My daughter asked why I got rid of my accent, or, as I like to say, had my Rs implanted. “Would you feel confident with a doctah (doctor) who recommended haht (heart) surgery?” I responded. “Would you like to finish first in a race and be called the winnah (winner)? Or have your teacha (teacher) help you study grammah (grammar)?” And so on. As I discussed this, I began to feel that I was talking down to my origins. Does Bostonese sound ignorant to me? Too parochial?

I have observed that Hollywood does miserably with Boston accents. Mahk (Mark) Wahlberg, once known as Mahky Mahk (Marky Mark), being an exception as well as a Boston native. I’m told there was at least one character in the show Cheahz (Cheers) who did the accent well, but I nevah (never) watched it. Tom Hanks in the movie Catch Me If You Can and Kevin Costnah (Costner) in Thirteen Days failed miserably. (Ah my translations becoming’ tedious? Apologies. I just want to be shuah my meaning is cleah. B’sdies, doin’ this is habit formin’.)

The comedy troupe Mass Hysteria does a great shtick about Boston accents. A troupe member holds up a sign and challenges the audience to translate. It was a peeseacake (piece of cake) for me when we saw them perform a few years ago. Examples: Jeet? = Did you eat? No, joo? = No, did you? They also referenced the towns of Woosta (Worcester ) and Peebidy (Peabody). My foreign-born husband, for whom English is a second language and Bostonese a third language, was mystified.

Quincy, by the way, is pronounced Quinzy. It might be Quincy with a C in other states — there are at least 10 Quincys in the U.S. — but not in Massachusetts. Just ask John Quincy Adams.

So I have my generic accent with an occasional fall-back into R exclusion. There’s no going back. Neither of our kids has a Boston accent, although this is where they grew up. But there’s a loss here, of something funky and authentic. On that Sunday it was kind of nice to hear “How ah ya?” and “Nice ta see ya.” And yes many of these nice folks are wicked smaht.

These days I find Boston accents kinda chahmin’. And thanks to my brother Mahty for some idears for this ahticle.

— Ann Green

Ann Green is a freelance writer, editor, PR consultant and tutor.

Reflections of Erma