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Paranoid

Pat GardnerI’m just not going back to that drugstore where they think I’m a shoplifter.

At first I thought my husband was the suspect. We tend to go around together, and we were both there when the drugstore’s public address system started blasting accusations.

My husband  doesn’t look any more like a shoplifter than I do, but I was an actual customer. I was looking for a particular brand of lip balm — a kind not many stores carry. Being almost 68, I’m even more sensitive to dry lips than when I was younger and will go to a store just to get the lip balm. (I rationalize the cost by remembering that I cut my own hair.)

I was completely surprised by the public address system giving a warning just as some stores say “Welcome” or something like that.  The warning was not a general one about shoplifting. I guess they know that mostly everybody considers it a bad idea. The voice from overhead was addressing a  shoplifter perusing a certain part of the store.

The floor was empty except for my husband and me, so I was horrified to realize that they must have thought  he was a shoplifter. While waiting for me, he was walking around the store, probably picking up objects and looking at them. Of course, he would put each item back before moving on, but maybe they thought he was warming up to keep something.

By that time I had found my lip balm, so I grabbed it and rushed to the checkout. Quickly I paid a nice young man and motioned to my husband, some distance away, that I was leaving.  Standing outside, waiting for him to catch up, I wondered if they thought we were some kind of team of shoplifters.

Probably nobody had ever wondered that about us before. Certainly we are considered eccentric. (After all, we are both retired English professors.) We must seem respectable if not boring, though. Were we attracting attention because we were not in a hurry like most people? The drugstore is in a rather upscale shopping center, so maybe my haircut made us both suspects.

Whatever had been going on, we returned to the same store the next time I ran out of lip balm. That time I knew where it was, but I wanted to look around at nail polish first. Knowing how jumpy the management must be about shoplifting, I kept both hands clasped behind my back as I strolled the aisles. That time, when the voice from the ceiling barked its warning, it identified the shoplifter as being in the cosmetics section. I was the only one there. I rushed over to the lip balm rack and grabbed two pots of it so I would not have to return anytime soon.

The young man who checked me out was as nice as the previous time and offered me a “favored customer’s card.” Did some camera set off the warnings about a shoplifter, without a human being activating anything? Was the perpetual warning why the store seemed not to have any customers but us?

I was not always this paranoid. The condition progressed in me at about the same time that I became two inches shorter. I was my full 5’6″ when I did my doctoral work. Often I would stay in the university library so long that I forgot about one of the books I was carrying belonging to the library.

As I started to walk out, a buzzer would go off. Immediately a work/study student would appear with a form for me to fill out. I was supposed to write an explanation of why I had tried to walk out with the book. The form would be sent to my dean.

I knew him from church, and he obviously found me bewildering. Each time I filled out the form, I would write a long, rambling explanation designed to make him think I was downright weird. Even after all these years, I enjoy imagining a whole file of my forms somewhere in the dean’s office. Probably some younger person serves as dean now and just knows that the folder was marked “Save.”

It is also reassuring to look at the youthful photo on my  university I.D., something I was supposed to return just before graduating. Instead, I slipped it out as a souvenir.

— Pat Gardner

Pat Gardner, a retired academic, lives with her husband and their half-spaniel dog Baggins. She enjoys meeting outrageous people in places like grocery stores.

Late

Christine AntusI never used to be late anywhere. I was always at least 10 minutes early everywhere. I also didn’t have kids. Which means I had a clean house and pillows that never wandered away from the bed or couch — I used to think pillows were kind of like kids, right?

These days I have to start getting everyone ready at least an hour ahead of time. Even then, we’re still late and it’s usually because:

I have to wait for my two-year-old to put her pants on because, “Mommy, I do it!” First, both legs in one leg hole. Then, one leg in one leg hole and the other leg in a leg hole that was inside out. Then, both legs in the opposite leg hole. One leg in a leg hole and one leg in a shirt hole. Sometimes she’ll wave a leg hole, indicating surrender, and let me help. Other times we leave with her wearing her pants in a way only Lady Gaga can appreciate.

Everyone in my house moves at 0 miles per hour.

• The child who doesn’t have his jacket on decided this is the moment to put his train set together.

• The child who doesn’t have a shirt on decided this is the moment to look for a toy we don’t own.

• The child without shoes on is sitting on the kitchen stairs with a shoe in the mouth.

• No one is near the car.

I can never find my car keys. Let’s face it, I haven’t been able to find my brain since the birth of my first child. If my keys are not in the ignition, on the key hook, or taped to my forehead, I’m not going to find them.

I have to go back home for a “second.” On the way, someone realized they forgot their favorite bear and the fabric of the universe was going to tear if we didn’t turn around right now. Of course, once we got home, no one remembered where it was. Six hours later, here we are — minus the bear, which somehow got lost in the car on the way. Which means we might be here for another five-and-a half-hours, just so you know.

My kids forgot where the garage is. Except when we don’t have to go anywhere. Then it becomes a magical room full of things that don’t belong to them.

Everyone has to go potty.

• The first one didn’t have to go.

• The second one did have to go, but needed privacy. Then needed the step stool. Finally, needed more toilet paper because whatever was left on the roll was now on the floor, in the toilet and wrapped around the child.

• On the way back to the car the first one did actually have to go potty.

• Once I got everyone in the car, the baby had a blowout.

I have spit up in my hair. I didn’t notice right away but found it when I had to clean out the syrup. You can’t just wipe the smell of sour milk out of anything with a wet wipe, so it took a careful and creative way of using the right amount of shampoo and water to spot clean.

I have to change because I had poop on my shirt. You’re welcome.

Someone got hungry. Because no one ate breakfast. They were too busy playing in the garage and trying to creatively put their legs through the correct pant leg holes.

I forgot you were having a thing. I never remember what day it is anymore. Most days I don’t even remember to brush my teeth until 9:30 p.m. You’re lucky I can remember who you are because on a good day I can’t even keep my kids’ names straight.

So, now that I’m here, and your thing is over, we can call it coffee or a playdate. I know you don’t have kids, but you have a few pillows. Those are kind of like kids, right?

— Christina Antus

Christina Antus is the senior editor at Mom Babble. She lives with her husband, three kids and two cats who still haven’t caught the red dot. When she’s not neglecting laundry, or avoiding the grocery store, she’s writing and making mediocre meals for her family. You can find her overthinking things on her blog or on Facebook sharing dinner recipes and house-cleaning tips. Just kidding. It’s mostly a lot of nonsense and nothing useful.

Lost in translation

Lee GaitanIf you’ve ever been offered baked goods made “from scratching” or asked if you give hard “testes,” there’s a good chance you teach English as a Second Language (ESL).

Our crazy language is a minefield of unintended consequences, just waiting to ambush new learners. One seemingly insignificant change in spelling or pronunciation can affect meaning in a very significant way. I had the same experince a few years ago when I changed one teensy little vowel in Italian and instead of asking for my room key ended up inviting a hotel clerk in Florence to have sex with me. In the most explicit terms possible. (Not that I was opposed to it, mind you, but I still needed my key.)

Those teensy little changes will get you every time. That’s all it took for one of my favorite students to become temporarily — but hilariously — lost in translation. Olga had only been in the U.S. a few weeks when she enrolled in my adult ESL class. One evening she came to my room about 15 minutes early and we began chatting. She wanted me to know how hard she was working outside of class to improve her English. She had started reading the newspaper in English, she said, and as a result, she’d made an important life decision.

“I read an article about how is good for the woman to have the condom,” she told me with great certainty. “So, I decide I want buy the condom.”

As diet Coke was shooting out of my nose, she quickly reassured me of the wisdom of her plan.

Si, si, Lee, I think is very good idea,” she insisted, nodding her head vigorously. “You have the condom, Lee?” she asked.

“Well, not on me,” I said, a little flustered. “I don’t really, I mean, my husband had a vas—. Um, never mind. No, I don’t have a condom.”

She was looking at me quizzically when suddenly — pop—the light bulb flipped on for her, but not quite all the way. “Oh, Lee, I know what you think. You think I am crazy. Is so much money for buy the condom.“

“No, it’s not that,” I said, puzzled.

“No worry, Lee,” she continued. “Is cheap for me because I no buy new condom. I only buy used!” She dramatically drew out the word “used” for about three syllables.

I couldn’t even speak. All I could picture was a clothesline with a little row of freshly laundered condoms pinned to it, just a-swinging in the breeze.

In my head I was screaming, Oh, dear God, here’s 10 bucks—please splurge, buy new!

Then suddenly — pop — the light bulb again flipped on, but this time for me and, I was pretty sure, all the way. “Olga, what do you think a condom is?” I asked.

“Uh, is like apartment,” she answered with a casual shrug of her shoulders.

“No, my dear Olga, it is most certainly not like an apartment,” I said emphatically.

I then filled her in on the difference between “condo” and “condom.” One teensy little letter.

I don’t believe I’ve ever seen the particular shade of red her face turned. When the blood, shock and laughter finally receded, she shook her head and said, “Ah, si, it is like you say in the class. One little letter makes the big difference.”

Ah, si, indeed it does. And in this case, adding one teensy little “m” could be the difference between using that spare bedroom in your condo as an office — or a nursery!

— Lee Gaitan

Lee Gaitan is the author of two books, Falling Flesh Just Ahead and My Pineapples Went to Houston — Finding the Humor in My Dashed Hopes, Broken Dreams and Plans Gone Outrageously Awry. She also has written a chapter in the bestselling book, The Divinity of Dogs. Her work has appeared on The Huffington Post, Better Over 50, Mothers Always Write, Midlife Boulevard and The Good Men Project.  She lives in suburban Atlanta with her husband and dog and blogs at Don’t Just Bounce, Bounce Back. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

The good, the bad and the ugly

Amanda ElderI know that time is fleeting. I know that I’m going to get through my mountain of dishes, put the rag down, and my children will be grown.

That is why I am trying to be present. I am trying to enjoy these precious moments with my children, but sometimes that is just way harder than it should be.

My three-year-old pretty much mirrors a teenager — the way he stomps his little a** away and slams a door every time he is told something he doesn’t want to hear. He gets so offended when I tell him to please stop screaming “butthole!” in the baby’s face. As if I’m being the offensive one here…

He is a short list of reasons my darling son got pissed off today:

1.) I mixed his yogurt. Same way I do everyday.

2.) He didn’t go fast enough on the slip n’ slide. Never mind the fact that he pretty much had a splash park in his yard.

3.) Batman’s cape got bunched when he sat on his Bat Jet. And I refuse to cut off Batman’s cape.

Did I mention it is only 10:30 a.m.?

I need wine and a babysitter.

— Amanda Elder

Amanda Elder is an elementary school teacher-turned-stay-at-home mom to two boys. She relies heavily on coffee and wine — and stays up too late blogging about the good, the bad and the ugly of motherhood.

Focus pill

Anne BardsleyI’ve heard of focus groups, but never a focus pill.

My husband suggested I take one daily. Just this morning before he left for work, he said, “What are you going to do today? FOCUS,” he reminded me!

I assured him I absolutely would focus. I immediately began to ponder what I should “focus” on. The dogs needed baths. I needed a facial. The floors needed a good cleaning. I had a doc appointment and a hair appointment. I needed to find a website designer. I think I volunteered for something, but I don’t know what, where or when.

So, this focus thing is going to be a challenge. Oh, did I mention a friend bought a little houseboat? I have to go see it. Focus, Anne, focus! I can do this. For the love! We are out of creamer again. Who the hell is gulping the half and half? Add it to the grocery list that I was focused on last night. Where is the damn list? I open the refrigerator and there next to the empty half and half container is my grocery list. I left it there for safe keeping.

Who was the genius who said, “A busy mind is a healthy mind?” That ranks right up there with some other fancy saying that I can’t remember because right now I just had a flash that we need lettuce.

Wait. I open the fridge and add toothpaste to the grocery list.

Let’s get back to “Focus” now. Breathe in. Breathe out slowly. I attempt a yoga pose on the floor, and I can feel myself slowing down. Jump up and run to fridge to add toilet tissue to the grocery list. Back to the floor to continue my Zen-like thoughts. As my breathing slows, I can feel my shoulders drop as I slip into a relaxed state. My eyes pop open and I jaunt back to the fridge once more to add peanut butter to the grocery list.

While I am there, I notice a piece of coconut cream cake. I swear it called my name. I only ate half of it before I returned to my Zen state. More breathing. It can get boring after two minutes. By now I realized that I should not have eaten that cake. I should have had ice cream instead. I grunted as I got back up again to be sure we had ice cream in the freezer.

My husband called to see how my Focus day was going. I told him it was a great day so far. I bragged about my breathing experience and relaxed shoulders. I think he was actually proud I was taking his advice. He said it would be great to see me more relaxed. Then he asked if I’d mind picking up his shirts at the dry cleaner. When I said, “Hold on I’ll add it to the list in the refrigerator,” he hung up.

How am I supposed to focus after that?

— Anne Bardsley

Anne Bardsley lives in St Petersburg, Fla., with her “wrinkle maker” of a husband and two spoiled cockatoos. She’s still recovering from raising five children. She is so happy she didn’t strangle them as teenagers as they’ve given her beautiful grandchildren. She is the author of How I Earned My Wrinkles: Musings on Marriage, Motherhood and Menopause. She blogs at Anz World.

Out of the way!
Poop to deliver

Jennifer Louise Diaz“My stomach hurts.”

The complaint was a recurring one, uttered by my 5-year-old for the past year. We’d been to the pediatrician, endured several rounds of bloodwork and a three-month wait to see a specialist.

At our appointment, the doctor informed me that he wanted to perform some stool tests. I returned home with a document that highlighted the need for a frozen sample, in addition to one that was required to be delivered to the lab within 60 minutes of collection.

Time-sensitive poop. Fabulous.

Apparently, there is a proper way to retrieve a specimen. The first step was to line the toilet with plastic wrap.

You’ve got to be kidding.

Here’s a fun fact about me. I detest plastic wrap. I can never rip it off the roll without the piece adhering to itself, forcing me to angrily wad it into a ball and start over. I, in fact, do not even allow it in the house. I shoved all four kiddos into the car to purchase a supply, in case the 5-year-old suddenly felt the urge to go.

I arrived back home, armed with my clinging antagonist, and the waiting began. Every time my daughter rounded the corner, I pounced.

“Do you have to poop?”

“No!” she replied, each time a little more exasperated than before.

Day turned into night, and the sun rose again. My 5-year-old had now taken to hiding on the floor of the house where I was not. Finally, I heard her yell, from two flights down, “Mom, I have to poop.”

It’s go time!

I leapt down the steps, three at a time, breathlessly shouting, “Just keep holding it!” I grabbed the box of wrap and pulled out a generous supply, which, you guessed it, clung to itself. I vowed to burn this roll of ridiculousness as soon as the exercise was complete. I managed to get the plastic applied, the collection bowl in place and balanced the 5-year-old precariously on top.

By now, an audience of siblings were gathered around the door to observe the entertainment.

You could hear a pin drop as we all waited for the magic to happen.

My 5-year-old let out a tiny toot and giggled.

“Sorry, don’t have to poop, but I do have to pee.”

The instructions specifically cautioned that urine in the container would contaminate the sample. I really hoped these directions weren’t crafted by a lab intern who thought it would be funny to add absurd steps, just to mess with mamas everywhere.

“Don’t pee in the bowl. Wait!”

I scrambled to remove the insert and the plastic wrap, which of course clung magnificently, while she danced in urgency beside me.

The wait continued, but later that same day, the spirit moved, and a successful specimen was collected. Sixty minutes on the clock.

I frantically stuck one sample directly into the freezer and a second one, on ice, into the only cooling container I could find, a kiddo’s lunch box. I shooed all the children into the car, amid grossed-out protests that they would never eat from that lunch box again.

Of course she had to poop during rush hour. Traffic was bumper to bumper and the stopwatch was ticking down. We screeched into the lab parking lot with 20 minutes to spare. My 4-year-old instantly unbuckled and sprang from the van.

“Out of the way,” he bellowed to those passing by. “We’ve got poop to deliver.” He began to walk determinedly towards the entrance.

“Oh geez.” I apologized to the lady exiting the car next to us and hurried after him.

With a great sigh of relief, I deposited the…ummmm…deposit onto the desk, and the technician began to log it in.

“Where’s the second sample?” she inquired.

“At home, in my freezer,” I replied slowly with a sinking feeling.

“Oh,” she chuckled. “We freeze it here. I’ll need you to run home and bring it right back in order to get these processed today.”

Time stopped. Words escaped me. There are some moments in life when you just need to laugh.

Filled with worry over a sick child, when everything surrounding you seems like, well, poop, thank goodness there is the rejuvenating gift of laughter to heal the soul and lift the spirit.

And, as I loaded the kiddos back into the car to spend another hour of our day transporting bodily waste, you better believe I threw back my head and laughed.

— Jennifer Louise Diaz

Jennifer Louise Diaz is a writer, ministry leader and motivational speaker. She has a degree in social work, and her years working in this profession have ignited her passion for helping women find their buried laughter, faith and joy. Jenn’s love of comedy, the written word and storytelling create an engaging platform to share her message, both online and in person. She writes a weekly blog called “Devo on the Go” that highlights the hilarious insanity of being a mama to four kiddos.

In the spirit of Will Rogers

Robert L. HaughtWhen Will Rogers died 80 years ago this month, the world lost a phenomenal figure.

The “Cowboy Philosopher” from Oklahoma was an expert trick roper, star of stage, screen and radio, book author, newspaper columnist, aviation enthusiast, goodwill ambassador and humanitarian. Authorities generally agree it would be difficult, if not impossible, to replace him. But his legacy is being kept alive, and writers have an opportunity to take part in this important enterprise through the Will Rogers Writing Contest.

During the month of August this wide-open competition will seek to identify individuals who can write in the style of the philosopher-humorist whose words are still alive as when he kept America laughing, and thinking, in the 1920s and ‘30s. Cash prizes will be awarded the three top winners of the contest, which is sponsored by the Will Rogers Writers Foundation. First prize is $200, second prize $100, third prize $50.

Robert Haught, foundation president, said the contest, which originated with the 2007 Will Rogers Writers Workshop in Oklahoma City, is being revived in observation of the 80th anniversary of Rogers’ death on Aug. 15, 1935 in a plane crash in Alaska.

Will RogersTo enter the contest writers will submit an essay of 500 to 750 words written in the style of Will Rogers. It may take the form of humor, commentary, human interest or briefs. The essay should be on a current (or timeless) topic. Essays must be in English, and must be original, i.e. written especially for this contest. Entries will not be returned. Entries must include the writer’s name, mailing address and email address. Telephone and fax numbers are optional. This information should be separate from the essay. It will not be seen by the judges. No more than three essays per entrant will be accepted, and each must be a separate entry. There is no entry fee.

You can find a world of information about Will Rogers at the Will Rogers Memorial website.

Contest entries may be submitted in one of two ways:

1) Mail to: Will Rogers Contest, P.O. Box 1582, Madison, VA 22727 or

2) Email to willrogersok@gmail.com

Entries must be submitted to reach either of the above addresses no later than Sept. 1, 2015.

— Robert L. Haught

Robert L. Haught is a former Washington-based columnist who writes a political commentary blog as well as articles for his online magazine at haughtline.net. He is a former board member and newsletter editor for the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and is coordinator of the Will Rogers Humanitarian Award program. He is president of the non-profit Will Rogers Writers Foundation. Haught is the author of a novel, Here’s Clare, and two humor books: Now, I’m No Expert on Cats and Other Mysteries of Life and The POTUS Chronicles: Bubba Between the Bushes.

Swamp thing film festival

Con ChapmanAt the impressionable age of 17 I left the small town where I grew up to attend college in the big city. There I learned that movies weren’t just a convenient occasion to feel up a girl and, if she turned you down, to blow into your empty Milk Duds box and make a fart noise.

No, they were “films,” a form of entertainment that, when molded by a master director — an auteur — achieved the status of art.

At my college there were film societies for foreign films, contemporary films, documentary films — you name it. The people who ran these clubs dressed in black turtlenecks and wore berets — indoors! They talked about “tracking shots” and “jump cuts,” which I thought was a passing route run by a tight end. I was woefully behind in my knowledge of le cinema, but I got up to speed as fast as I could on the road to becoming a cineaste.

I boned up on Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard. I watched the films of Indian director Satyajit Ray. I saw Orson Welles play Harry Lime in The Third Man, before Welles got so big the phone company gave him his own area code.

At the end of the school year I would return to my hometown to harvest fescue or haul ice. Believe it or not, I found it hard to squeeze my hard-earned knowledge of French New Wave directors into the conversation when we’d go out to lunch for chicken fried steak.

The contrast between the two cultures was striking — “decomboobulating” in the words of Bird Dog, a guy I worked with on one summer job. How could one live with such cognitive dissonance? And then came the epiphany — l’apercu — that helped give form to my summer leisure time. Why not apply the finely honed bullsh***ing skills I had picked up hanging around avant garde film fans to the Swamp Thing cinema that flourished all around me?

It isn’t easy to jump into the bog of Swamp Thing cinema. Like the early British films of Alfred Hitchcock, the prints have often deteriorated, and they are hard to find. Your local library or video store is unlikely to offer The Legend of Boggy Creek, whose heart-stopping slumber party scene ranks with the Rosebud shot in Citizen Kane: A gaggle of high school girls assemble in a mobile home for an evening of popcorn and cootie catchers, and are dreamily discussing who has cuter eyes, Joe Don or Gene Ray, when the hairy arm of the Boggy Creek monster busts through a window, spoiling all the fun!

But, you ask, what if my local adult extension school doesn’t offer a Le Cinema du Swamp course? How will I hold my own when somebody says “I found the denouement of The Swamp Thing Escapes anti-climactic, and the jute-and-epoxy costume unconvincing”?

Simple — take this quick and easy online Introduction to Swamp Thing Cinema!  It’s pass-fail — continuing education credit may be available in some states.

Swamp Thing Returns: 3 1/2 gatorsAs every aficionado of le cinema du swamp knows, Swamp Things never die, they merely withdraw into the muck to lick their wounds. When they recover, they come back madder than ever. In this fine debut flick Roger Nelson, who went on to direct It Came From the Compost Heap, lures you into the ultimate horror with a succession of increasingly larger victims, from a baby chick to a miniature French poodle.

Beauty and the Swamp Thing: 3 gators. “Unga” is a misunderstood Swamp Thing who is befriended by a young woman after he picks a tick out of her hair. A worthy effort, but the plot is overpowered by the soundtrack, especially “Swamp Thing’s Love Theme.”  The production numbers flag as the creatures flop their tails around a lackluster swamp set, giving the film a claustrophobic feel. I found myself wanting to hold my head under brackish swamp water until the film died a natural death.

Bride of Swamp Thing: 4 gators This romantic comedy sends an important message: if abducted by a Swamp Thing, make the most of it!  You may find love where you least expect it — the arms of a seven-foot-tall ape-like creature with day-old possum on its breath.

— Con Chapman

Con Chapman is a Boston-area writer whose works include The Year of the Gerbil, a history of the 1978 Yankees-Red Sox pennant race, 10 published plays and two novels, Making Partner and CannaCorn (Joshua Tree Publishing). His articles and humor have appeared in magazines and newspapers including The Atlantic Monthly, The Boston Globe and The Christian Science Monitor.

Reflections of Erma