Thank you for joining me for the summer redux series. I will be re-posting stories you may not have read, in the fashion of a summer re-run. We’ll get back to our regular posting schedule in a few weeks. The original “KENNEBUNK ME.” posted back in April 2012. It’s been embellished a little since then.

*  *  *

Spring changed in Western Washington from drizzle and wind with regular dollops of thick fluffy fog to the undecided battle between rain and sun like the half-hearted honker on the freeway. Clothed in clouds of guilt with sun breaks highlighting the slip-up. The mercury bobbled near 50º F.

The sun highlighted a small brown and gray ranch house in Gig Harbor, Washington.

*  *  *

My husband, Richard Cranium, his long lean frame hunched over our antique dresser, which matched our sleigh bed. He rummaged through the drawers looking for something.

“Fannie, what’s this supposed to mean?” Richard asked, lifting a small, dark-blue sweatshirt out of the drawer. “Is there something I should know about you?”

“What are you talking about?” I asked, walking out of the bathroom for a closer look.

“This,” he said, holding up the sweatshirt so I could read it.

“Oh that,” I said, smiling. “I’ve never told you the history of that shirt?”

“I think I would remember something like that.” Giving me his are you kidding me look.

“It’s steeped with family history. Are you sure you want to know?” I asked, grinning.

“Are you going to tell me or not?” Richard asked, throwing the shirt at me.

“All right, I’ll tell you.” I said, catching the sweatshirt. “Aunt Verla and Uncle Carl brought it back for me from a trip to Maine when I was in college.”

Richard looked at me with the kind of look meant to X-ray my brain for the truth. “So?”

* * *

Aunt Verla and Uncle Carl drove down the slow moving street filled with cars and people walking on the side walk. Large leafy trees swayed in the gentle salt water breeze. Seagulls squawked, jockeying for position when tourist dropped food on the ground. An old Chevy pick up pulled out of a parallel parking space.

“Carl, pull in there, we’ll only be two doors down from cousin Sylvia’s shop.”

Uncle Carl swung the rental car into the open space.

Walking down the sidewalk, Uncle Carl said, “Doesn’t this make you feel like you’re in a Norman Rockwell painting?”

They entered the shop in the middle of the block labeled Sylvia’s Souvenirs and Custom T’s. Large display windows filled with souvenirs filtered the sunlight. The smell of fresh popcorn filled the air.

“Verla, Carl, I didn’t expect you so soon,” Sylvia said, walking around the counter. Hugging her cousins, she said, “I thought you’d be in closer to closing.”

“Our plane arrived early and the drive up from Boston was lighter than we expected,” Uncle Carl said.

Aunt Verla step toward the counter wearing her signature brown summer pant suit. “Besides, Sylvia, this will give us a chance to get our souvenir purchases out of the way before we settle in for a visit,” Aunt Verla said, adjusting the brown scarf holding her Suzanne Pleshette wig in place. “Since my father was born here, I thought it would be a great idea to get each of our boys and each of Velverlorn’s girls a souvenir custom shirt.”

Sylvia picked up a pad of paper and a blue Bic ball-point pen from the counter. “What do you want them to say?”

“Kennebunk, Maine.” Aunt Verla smiled.

Sylvia pointed her pen at a rack on the far side of the store. “We have a sale on sweatshirts right now, they’re less expensive than the T-shirts. Did you want to pick out one for each of them?”

Aunt Verla and Uncle Carl selected five sweatshirts from the rack.

“Sylvia, how much is the lettering going to cost?” Aunt Verla asked, handing her the shirts.

“It’s twenty cents a letter including the punctuation.”

“Well we have a problem then. I didn’t quite budget for that. I’m going to be short sixty cents,” Aunt Verla said. She looked at Uncle Carl.

“Well, then somebody gets an abbreviated shirt,” Uncle Carl said. Turning to Sylvia, he said, “just pick one of the smallest shirts, problem solved.”

* * *

Two weeks later Aunt Verla boxed each of the shirts. Mailing them to her boys and her nieces.

The thrill of finding an unexpected package from home eclipsed anything else in the day.

The box from Aunt Verla contained a note which read, ‘Fannie, your uncle and I had a great time in Maine. We bought you this sweatshirt. It was made by cousin Sylvia. We choose the town where your grandfather was born and where cousin Sylvia’s shop is located. Love, Aunt Verla. P.S. I ran out of money so we had to abbreviate Maine on your shirt. Enjoy.”

I unfolded the navy blue sweatshirt. Printed in white fuzzy letters across the chest, ‘KENNEBUNK ME.’

Why is the only question is "How"?

Why is the only question “How”?

My roommate walked into our dorm room as I held up the shirt. She looked at the shirt, looked at me, and asked, “How?”

“Oh great, most people have probably never heard of Kennebunk, Maine.”

“It’s supposed to be a place? I thought it was some sort of kinky invitation,” she said, winking. “You realize people are going to fight over who gets to wear that shirt, don’t you?”

“You’re kidding.”

“Oh no. Just wear it to class tomorrow and see what I mean.”

At 7:56 a.m., seated in the front row of the auditorium, I sat with my friends waiting for Professor Montcalm to arrive. The tan beret with tuffs of blond hair protruding, bobbed just above the sea of heads. His matching smock billowed out behind him. Piercing blue eyes gazed over the room. With a flourish he put his notes on the podium and stepped to one side so the class could see him.

“Bonjour, Messieurs et Mesdemoiselles, aujourd’hui nous parlons français,” Professor Montcalm said. He surveyed the class, his eyes resting briefly on me. Pointing to the board behind him with questions and answers written in English, he said, “Repondez aux questions suivantes selon le modèles en français.”

Pausing, he smoothed his pointed blond beard and began to pace. Clearing his throat he pointed to someone in the fifth row. “Monsieur, repondez vous à la question, ‘Is the work necessary?’” he said, glancing at me. He continued to pace. Smoothing his mustache, he waited for the answer.

“Oui, il est nécessaire.” The male voice deep and commanding.

“Très bien.” Glancing at me again, he pointed to a student in the seventh row. “Mademoiselle, repondez vous à la question, ‘What time is it?’” Before the she could answer, Professor Montcalm stopped in front of me. Leaning toward me, he asked, “I can’t take it any more, what does your shirt mean?”

A moment of silence followed. He stared at me.

“It’s the place where my grandfather was born,” I said, my voice quavering, “Kennebunk, Maine. My aunt couldn’t afford the three letters to complete the spelling of the state.”

The auditorium erupted with laughter. Professor Montcalm turned three shades of ‘rouge’.

*  *  *

“Now that’s funny,” Richard said, laughing. “There’s no question what was on his mind. So did very many people ask to borrow it?”

“Oh yah. But that’s not all,” I said. “I went on a road trip to San Francisco with some friends that summer. It was chilly the last day. I accidentally packed that sweatshirt, so I wore it. Walking out of a pawn shop onto the street an older couple from Connecticut stopped me saying, ‘You’re a long way from home.’ By the time we reached the crosswalk, twenty feet farther, five people asked, ‘How?’”

“If it’s that much of a nuisance, how come you’ve never gotten rid of it?” Richard asked.

“Sometimes you need a good laugh. And for sixty cents more, none of this would ever have happened,” I said, winking then folded the sweatshirt and put it back in the drawer.

*  *  *

For more information on Kennebunk: Kennebunk, ME

(Please note: It has been years since I’ve studied French, I apologize if my grammar has deteriorated from lack of use. Merci.)

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Ever Wonder Where The Edsel Came From?

Fannie Cranium:

Meet the Ford Edsel and Edsel Ford. This month’s contribution to the Blog of Funny Names.

Originally posted on The Blog of Funny Names:

The good, the bad, the car with a name which will live in infamy: The Edsel.

You should never judge a car by it’s cover or buy stocks from someone named Madoff—or Ponzi for that matter.

But what if you were one of the big three automakers trying to re-establish yourself in the post WWII market place. You do the research, add the features, give it a nifty secret name: “E Car,” create an ad campaign something on the order of a 1957 “Blair Witch Project”, never test market the goods, which are ahead of their time, because you know from investing with Bernie Madoff that past performance guarantees future results.

Then you name it after the founder’s only child, Edsel Bryant Ford, president of FOMOCO (Ford Motor Company) until his death in 1943. Edsel’s oldest child and then president of the company, Henry Ford II, argued against the name…

View original 403 more words

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The Advent of Toe-Pourri—Redux

Thank you for joining me for the summer redux series. I will be re-posting stories you may not have read, in the fashion of a summer re-run. We’ll get back to our regular posting schedule in a few weeks. The “Advent of Toe-Pourri” originally posted back in July 2011.

* * *

My mother, filled with sage advice, once warned me about the failings of men.

She said, “No matter how wonderful they seem when you are dating them, no matter how elegant their manners, it is a fact of life, men fart.”

In her mind it summed up all I would ever need to know about the mysteries of men.

With four women in the house, my father survived in an estrogen-rich environment. Out numbered, out maneuvered and always on his best behavior, a testament to his stamina and ability to maintain the mother-perpetuated man-myth.

After Richard and I married, I did what any normal, naive, red-blooded newly-wedded woman would do. I went shopping.

With fragrance-coordinating potpourri, the essential melange oil for refreshing said potpourri and the decorative baskets for holding the potpourri which coordinated with each room in our apartment, how could I go wrong?

Richard went along with all of this.

Never again would I worry about any occasional lapses in Richard’s manners, my guest would never know.

When I returned home with all of my parcels, Richard helped me place them around the apartment, discussing the locations best suited for camouflaging any mild indiscretions.

A couple of years later, Richard and I watched a comedian on television.

He said, “Potpourri is the ultimate duping of the masses. Only naive people would be dumb enough to spend money on dried out, fragranced, yard waste because you couldn’t sell yard waste to smart people.”

During this performance, Richard clipped his toenails.

I noticed.

Instead of placing his toenail waste into the supplied tissue for proper disposed in the trashcan, he tossed each one into my carefully maintained potpourri.

I vomited.

My reaction mystified him.

He said, “It is my duty as a husband not to throw them on the floor that would be messing up the apartment and the potpourri is the ideal receptacle. It’s convenient. I don’t even have to get up from whatever I am doing to clean up after myself.”

Upon careful inspection of the now renamed “toe-pourri”, I discovered dental floss, scabs, naval fuzz and items I could not identify, nor did I want to know.

Since I kept refreshing the original scent, they never developed any unusual odors.

“Besides,” he said, “I figured, what you didn’t know wouldn’t hurt you. The only one I never added to was in the bathroom because it’s sealed in a glass jar making the trash can more convenient.”

I donned my cleaning gloves and grabbed the gallon-sized plastic baggies.  Sealing each basket in an individual baggy, I placed them in a trash bag and took the trip to the dumpster.

Richard, a little disappointed, soon got over it.

Traumatized over the whole affair, I switched to candles.

In the end, Richard used a hole in the cat tree perfecting his targeting skills, but that’s a different story . . . .

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Forget Everything but the Epsom Salts—Redux

Thank you for joining me for the summer redux series. I will be re-posting stories you may not have read, in the fashion of a summer re-run. We’ll get back to our regular posting schedule in a few weeks. The original “Forget Everything but the Epsom Salts” posted back in November  2014. It’s been embellished a little since then.

*  *  *

The fall season changed in Western Washington from mythical sunshine to drizzle and wind with regular dollops of thick fluffy fog. Fog thick enough to write your name with a Starbucks swizzle stick. The mercury reached 50º F. The indigenous population celebrated by pulling out their rain skis, because no sane Washingtonian would consider snow skis in November or they’d have to cancel their REI membership.

* * *

Fog wrapped it’s arms around, the fishing village of Gig Harbor, Washington, the gateway to the Olympic Peninsula, in the shadow of Mount Rainier, forty miles south of Seattle. The Sunday afternoon sun loosing the battle to the fog.

My husband, Richard Cranium and I cleaned up the front yard of our brown and gray rambler after the passage of another successful Halloween celebration. I surveyed our progress with satisfaction. Richard carried a string of lights inside the house for repair.

Nineteen-year-old Zack Taylor ran up our street. His strawberry-blond curls bobbing in pace. Riley, his two-year-old, black Labrador retriever at his heels.

“Hi Mrs. C.. I see you almost got all your Halloween decorations put away,” he said, panting in rhythm with his dog. Their breath blending with the fog. He wore a black Metal Church t-shirt from the 1990’s. It stretch across his chest. It was meant for someone a size smaller.

“I see you stole your mom’s t-shirt again,” I said, laughing, running my fingers through my short brown hair. If he knew what his mom did to get that shirt, he might never wear it again. Think earning beads during Mardi Gras.

“She finally gave it to me,” he said, with a fist pump.  “Do you want some help with that?” he asked, pointing to the life-sized zombie staked to the ground.

Riley wandered around the yard. He sniffed the moss, ferns, rhododendrons, fir and cedar trees, Oregon grape, and rocks. Leaving his mark on the non-existent grass and anything suspicious.

“Sure,” I said, pulling out the last stake holding the zombie upright.

Zack caught it mid-fall. It forced him backwards. Riley barked. The fur on the back of his neck rising.  “Down boy,” Zack said. “It’s not real. See.” He made the zombie dance in front of him.

Riley sniffed the air. He inched toward the zombie.

Zack yelled, “Boo,” and thrust the zombie forward.

Riley jumped back. His tail went between his legs. He whined, crouched, and circled us. A low growl for accompaniment.

“Zack, that’s enough,” I said, realizing I live-channeled my mother’s official “Mom” tone, “stop teasing your dog.” Ouch.

Zack stared at me. Surprise flickered across his face. “Sorry, Mrs. C.,” he said, contrition flooding his voice. Lowering the zombie, he asked, “Where does this go?”

“Follow me,” I said, leading him into the double car garage. “He should fit on top of that shelf,” I said, pointing to the empty top shelf labeled “Zombie,” just above the shelf housing the candles and stemless wine glasses. I moved my white step ladder out of the way.

Zack tucked the zombie onto the shelf. “How do you get that up there by yourself, Mrs. C.? No offense, but he’s bigger than you are.”

“I may be short, but I’m scrappy,” I said, pulling up the sleeves of my black and white striped rugby shirt.

Richard walked out into the garage. He wore his favorite gray sweat shirt, the sleeves shoved up to his elbows. His tall, lean frame towering over me and Zack.  He shook Zack’s hand. “So what brings you over?” he asked, eying Zack’s t-shirt. His devilish grin spread across his lips.

“Riley and I were out for a run.” Riley laid at his feet. His head popped up. His tail wagged. “I spotted Mrs. C. picking up the last of your yard decor,” he said, shoving his hands in the pockets of his navy blue sweatpants.

“Zack helped me put away the big zombie,” I said, smiling.  Tapping my lips with my index finger, I said, “He also told me his mother finally gave him that t-shirt.”

“I see,” Richard said, nodding his head. The depth of his voice conveyed a double entendre which sailed over Zack’s head. “Well, since you’re here, you can help me shelve the last of these tombstones.” Richard handed him the Ogre Yoga tombstone.

Zack stared at it for a minute. He mouthed, “Tired of munching on human bones all day.” He looked up. “I have very fond memories of this tombstone,” he said, running his fingers across the white painted board with black lettering.

“You mean, like the time you lifted it from our yard and wired it to the back of your dad’s car?” I asked, winking. “And he drove to Seattle and back never knowing.”

Zack fair skin produced a pale shade of red. “Something like that.” He looked back at the tombstone. His head popped up. Hope spread across his face. “Can I have it?” he asked, the pitch of his voice left the basement and headed for 13-years-old.

“Zack, I’ll tell you what,” I said, glancing at Richard. “You graduate from college and it’s your graduation present. I’ll even frame it for you if you want.”

“You’re on Mrs. C.,” he said, clasping the board against his chest with his left arm. He shook my hand with enough vigor, I thought my teeth might fall out.

Little Black Kitty, the neighborhood vermin assassin, trotted into our garage. He carried a dead mole in his mouth. He froze when he saw Riley.

Riley sprang to his feet. He lunged for the cat.

Little Black Kitty leaped six feet up. He landed on the top shelf with the zombie.

Riley charged. Jumping at the shelf and hitting it with his body. Bouncing backwards—falling to the ground with a grunt.

The shelf tottered. It tilted forward.

We yelled, “NO,” in unison, and lunged for the shelve. Little Black Kitty dropped his mole. He leaped onto Richard’s work bench, knocked over the bags of Epsom salts and alfalfa meal sending them onto the floor, and raced out of the garage.

Riley sprang to his feet. Before he moved two steps down the driveway, Zack grabbed his collar and held him back.

Gravity over took the shelf.

Richard and I jumped backwards. The shelves crashed. My heart slammed into my dry throat looking for an exit. The boxes housing the wine glasses burst open spraying glass shards, sending echos down the street.

Richard threw his arms around me, spinning me out of the way. Pieces of glass grazed his left hand and arm. A curved piece of glass embedded in the back of his hand. Riley barked and dragged Zack down the driveway.

Colorful euphemisms flavored the air.

“Richard, are you all right?” I asked, my words ending in a squeak.

Blood trickled down Richard’s hand. It dripped from his fingers.

“We need to get you in for stitches,” I said, my voice quavering. My stomach churning a two-and-a-half somersault with a twist.

“No, Fannie, I’ll be fine,” he said, the color rising in his face. “I’ve had worse and you know it.” The inflection of his voice slamming the door behind him.

Zack walked into the garage, Riley at his heels. He stared at Richard’s hand. “Whoa, Mr. C., you really need to go to a doctor.”

Richard’s eyes flashed. “I’m not going to a doctor, and that’s final.” His voice smoldering on the border of anger. Leaning forward, cradling his bleeding hand, and speaking with a slow, deliberate pace, emphasizing each word, he said, “I’ll tell you what. I’ll get this to stop bleeding, you start cleaning up this disaster.”

Zack stiffened. Riley whined. I felt the hairs on the back of my neck salute.

*  *  *

Two days later Richard walked into the house carrying the mail.

“Fannie, would you look at this?” he asked, his voice carrying wonder. He held up a hand-crafted, thick, blue-gray envelope with our address handwritten on it in Clarissa’s, Zack’s mom, artistic cursive. “It’s from Zack,” Richard said, handing me the envelope.

The envelope contained a letter on matching stationery and a $100 gift card for Pier 1.

In Clarissa’s handwriting, ‘Dear Mr. and Mrs. C, I want to apologize for Riley’s and my part in destroying your Halloween decorations. Please accept this gift card as payment toward replacing the wine glasses.’ Followed by a scribble meant for a signature and a post script in slightly better scribble, ‘P.S. I hope you haven’t changed your mind about the ogre tombstone.’

Our eyes met. Laughter poured from every orifice.

“Looks like we’ll be making a trip to Pier 1 this weekend,” Richard said, catching his breath and rubbing his hand.

Taking his hand, I asked, “Are you putting Neosporin on these cuts?” The mildly red, puffy cuts on his hand not healing well.

“Yes, I am,” he said, pulling his hand back. A defensive tone colored his voice.

* * *

I entered the house a moment ahead of Richard Thursday evening after work. We walked into the bright yellow and white kitchen. On the end of the yellow linoleum counter sat the white cordless phone. The indicator light on the phone flashed.

I pressed the button.

“Fannie, it’s Dr. Malarkey. I’m making a house call,” he laughed like Santa. “Okay, you got me, I’m calling your house. Velverlorn called. Give me a call back. And forget the Neosporin, get out the Epsom salts.”

I met Richard’s eyes. They darkened slightly. His lips pressed into a straight line. He drew in a deep breath, puffing it out his nose. His shoulders tightened. “Fannie, I thought it was a crank call until he mentioned your mother. Who is Dr. Malarkey?”

The words rushed out of me like they were running from a fire. “He used to practice here in Gig Harbor before he retired. He’s practically family. He grew up in George and Bunny’s house across the street. And he even delivered me when I was born.”

“And why does he sound like the Uptown Santa?” Richard drummed his fingers on the yellow counter top.

I put my hand on his arm. “You’ve already met him. He is the Uptown Santa. I didn’t want our pictures ruined if you found out he was a doctor. Richard, he’s really good—and not a pill pusher.”

“Is Malarkey really his name?” he asked, skepticism crept into his voice.

“Is Richard Cranium really yours?” I asked, my right eyebrow forming a pyramid on my forehead. “You didn’t corner the market on unbelievable names yah know,” I said, trying to squash my sarcasm. “His dad lost a bet to his uncle and had to name his first born, Phul O’ Malarkey. I’m sure YOU can imagine what he went through growing up.” I took a breath. “You should hear the story he tells about going before the medical board and receiving his M.D.,” I said, laughing.

Richard’s shoulders softened. “All right, call him back,” he said, the tone of his voice radiating doubt tinged with irritation.

YES. I gave myself a mental high five. I dialed Dr. Malarkey’s number.

“Fannie, you’re mom filled me in about you know who and the you know what,” Dr. Malarkey said, his voice filled with jovial conspiracy. “It’s one of the oldest cures in the book, forget everything but the Epsom salts.”

“Epsom salts, we use those in the garden. How do we use it?” I asked, glancing at Richard who sat on the kitchen bar stool next to me listening to the conversation. His face a stone mask—the New Zealand warrior kind, except he hadn’t stuck his tongue out at me yet.

“You’re gonna heat up enough water to fill up your 9” x 13” glass pan, cause with the size of Richard’s hand, the 8” x 8” I usually prescribe won’t work here,” he said, laughing with a tinge of Santa thrown in. “Put two tablespoons of Epsom salts into the water and stir until it completely dissolves. While the water is still hot, but cool enough to soak his hand in it, soak it for five minutes. Repeat this four times a day until the redness disappears.”

“That’s it?” I asked, surprised.

“Well, don’t drink the water, it’ll have small particle of puss floating in it,” he said, in doctor speak. “Although, if you do accidentally drink some, don’t drink too much, or you’ll quickly be performing a scene from ‘Colonoscopy, the Musical,’ IF you know what I mean.” He laughed: Ho, ho, ho—snort.

Richard chuckled.

* * *

Richard parked the Love Wagon—a red Ford F150, with disco ball and futon in the back—next to a late model, silver Mercedes C-Class coupe with a personalized license plate, ‘BON VIN’, in front of Pier 1 Saturday morning.

We walked into the store. Sunlight filtered through the clouds and filled the front of the store with muted light. One customer shopped on the far side of the showroom. Four clerks dusted and stacked inventory.

The clerk closest to us, about my towering height of five feet tall, wearing a black apron, asked, “Can I help you?”

“Yes, we need a lot of stemless wine glasses. Do you have any in stock right now?” I asked, looking toward the glass wear on the left side of the store.

“Follow me,” she said, with a smile. She lead us to a wall covered with dark-stained wooden shelves. They supported a myriad of glass ware. Above my head, two shelves displayed stemless wine glasses in a variety of sizes.

Richard said, over the top of me, “We’ll take ’em all.”

The clerk faced him. Her eyes wide. Her tongue thrust just through her lips. “All of them?” she asked. She licked her lips.

“That’s right. I’ll help you carry them,” Richard said, a smile spread over his face.

She looked at me.

“He’s not kidding,” I said, shaking my head. “Do you have a basket or some boxes we could fill?”

“Okay, I’ll be right back,” she said, over her shoulder, her voice conveying resignation. She disappeared into the back of the store.

Richard found a couple of baskets. He handed one to me. We made our first trip to the counter. The store manager cleared a space for us. She pulled out a large box of gray wrapping paper. The clerk met us back at the shelves.

On my second trip to the counter, a slender woman in her late fifties—with a perfect silver wedge hairdo, diamond stud earrings, platinum bangle bracelets, an enormous solitaire diamond ring on her left hand, a platinum, champagne-bottle broach with diamonds for bubbles pinned to her jacket lapel and her nails manicured a soft lavender to match her outfit—stood at the counter.

I set my basket on the counter about a foot away from her.

Making eye contact, she said, in a warm, friendly voice, “Our daughter got married a few weeks ago. One of our friends gave her several stemless wine goblets like the ones your purchasing.” She waved her hand toward my basket. “So when they got back from their honeymoon, they invited us over for their first meal in their new home. We brought a couple of bottles of Verite La Joie to celebrate.” The smile lines around her eyes made her eyes glow. Her lips spread into a joyous smile. “What a generous gift you must be giving someone,” she said, her gray eyes dancing, complimenting her hair color.

Richard walked up behind me with the last box of glass wear. “Oh, these aren’t for gifts, they’re to put in our yard.”

The woman stiffened. Her chin shot up. Her nostrils flared. She set the items she held on the counter. She slid her purse up over her shoulder and straightened the lavender-color jacket of her suit. She marched out of the store, and climbed into the silver Mercedes. The engine started. The tires squealed in reverse.

Richard set down the box he carried. He put his hand on my shoulder. “What do you suppose got into her?” he asked, the tone of his voice full of amazement.

Scratching my head, I said, “I don’t know. Maybe she forgot everything but the Epsom salts?”

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Hiring the Neighborhood Assassin—Redux

Thank you for joining me for the summer redux series. I will be re-posting stories you may not have read, in the fashion of a summer re-run. We’ll get back to our regular posting schedule in a few weeks. The original “Hiring the Neighborhood Assassin” posted back in August 2011. It’s been embellished a little since then.


*  *  *

Northwest Profile: Gig Harbor Cat Lady.

She understands thirty-seven different nuances of meow. This connoisseur of cats knows the joys of feline felicity. And she employs their catlike complicity.

She married a dog lover to the horror of cat lovers—everywhere.

He’s still learning to adapt.

*  *  *

My husband, Richard Cranium, walked into our bright white and yellow kitchen. Three generations of my family created history in this little brown and gray rambler. My aunt, Verla, and uncle, Carl, chose us over my cousins and my siblings for the next custodians. We take the job very seriously.

“We have a pest problem,” said Richard, his tall, lean frame towering over me.

“What are you talking about?” The pitch of my voice taking the escalator up a level.

“Fannie, rats moved into our backyard.” His shoulders sank.

“Seriously, rats?” The hair rose on my head. I smoothed back my short brown hair.

“We’re not just talking squirrels anymore,” said Richard, he straightened his shoulders, “it’s time to think about hiring an exterminator.”

“No honey, I’m sorry, but that would kill more than the rats.” I may be short, but I make up for it with a look for every occasion. Look number 74: Looks can kill just like poison, we’re not using poison.

Richard took a step back. “Well, what do you want to do?”

“I’m thinking nature offers us the best solution. How about we put a few of the neighborhood cats on the payroll.”

“The payroll?” asked Richard, a wild fire of confusion spread across his face.

“Yeah, they work for food,” I said, “or didn’t you know that?” A true dog lover, when we got married he promised to love me, love my cats. He’s still working on the cats.

“This is crazy.” He licked his lower lip.

“No, trust me, this will work.” I said. “If you feed them, they will hunt.”

Throwing his hands up, “All right, we’ll give it a try,” he said, his voice resigned.

Taking two bowls from the kitchen cupboard, Richard filled one with water and the other with cat food. I opened the sliding glass door for him. He carried the bowls outside.

“Well, where do we put it?” asked Richard, surveying the patio.

A weathered-gray potting bench nestled up to the wall of the house to the left of the sliding glass door. On the right of the door sat a dark-brown, wood-box beverage cooler. A barrel style barbecue lived on the far end of the patio. A hot pink wooden picnic table with benches sat in the center of the patio underneath a wooden latticed arbor.

We wanted to re-paint the table my aunt and uncle left us when they moved—to the original deep red. We gave the color chip to the new clerk at our local hardware store.

The computer color-match malfunctioned. We never inspected the final paint. We didn’t even think to ask. When Richard opened the can, we laughed. It birthed the phrase, ‘It’s pink, get over it.’ We painted the table and a tombstone in it’s honor.

It's Pink TombstoneI looked around the patio. “How about on the potting bench.” I cleared the pots from one corner.

Richard arranged the feeding station. We stood back and admired the retaining fee.

“So, do you think any cats will find this?” he asked.

A Stellar’s Jay landed on the bench in front of us. It gulped three kibbles, looked at us, and flew into the trees.

Laughing, I said, “If the cats don’t notice that, they don’t need to be on the payroll.”

* * *

Two of the neighborhood strays expanded their territory into our yard.

The most promising applicant, lost part of one ear and his bones showed through his jet black fur. Lacking all originality, we called him Little Black Kitty.

After each meal, he leapt onto the wooden cooler, pressing his head up against the sliding glass door until Wicket or Sadie, our ginger tabbies, noticed. He pressed both front paws against the window, stretched, yawned, sat down. He bathed giving our cats the one-legged salute. And for the grand finale, he turned around three times and sacked out. One paw over his nose.

Whenever this occurred, Wicket, our male cat, threw himself against the window, howled and growled and yowled. He tried digging his way out. Bottle-brush bristly orange fur clothed his taunt body. Hissing and spitting and missing, he vented his fury on Sadie.

She hid.

Little Black Kitty gradually gained weight. The sun shimmered on his black fur.

* * *

After two months, Little Black Kitty attempted his first and last home entry.

Richard opened the sliding glass door balancing cat food and fresh water. Little Black Kitty dashed between his legs.

Wicket woke from a sound sleep. Leaping from his perch in our office, he charged down the hallway. Reaching maximum speed, his tormentor in sight.

Little Black Kitty froze. The whites of his eyes shone. In taunting Wicket through the sliding glass door for the last two months, Little Black Kitty never considered Wicket’s near Maine Coon size.

Thwack. Thud.

Wicket removed fur from Little Black Kitty’s left haunch while slamming him into the door frame. Little Black Kitty bounced off the frame and scrambled for the safety of the great outdoors.

Ignoring his own safety, Richard threw his leg between the cats. He grabbed Wicket by the scruff, preventing further pursuit. Four orange wooden legs swung in mid-air. Sabers extended.

Richard brought Wicket back inside. He locked the door.

Little Black Kitty sat on the far side of the patio for 30-minutes, facing the house—recovering.

 * * *

A few days later, Little Black Kitty and I talked.

“Now that you are on the payroll, I expect you to keep up your end. We have a pest problem that I want you to eliminate for us.”

Richard sat at the picnic table listening. Hugging himself, he laughed so hard he snorted. He slapped his hand against the table. When he caught his breath, he said, “Fannie, all that cat hears is blah, blah, blah. Do you really expect anything other than he will keep eating the food we put out for him?”

“Richard, just trust me on this one.” I pulled out look #1 from my mother’s arsenal: Mother knows best.

Richard wiped the tears from his blue eyes. “If you say so.”

* * *

A week later, Richard and I ate dinner in the living room, watching a movie.

THUD. THUD. THUD.  Cats shrieking in staccato. Claws scraping against glass.

We ran into the family room.

Wicket and Sadie—acting like berserkers—launched themselves into the window, rebounded onto the floor, then launched again.

Outside the window, Little Black Kitty held a limp, brown and gray rat by the neck.

When he spotted us. He dropped it on the ground, holding it in place with one paw.

Richard’s mouth fell open, hitting his chest.

Chasing the cats away from the door, we scooted outside.

“Great job,” I said, petting Little Black Kitty.

Little Black Kitty rubbed against my legs, winding his way between them. He stood on his hind legs, resting his front paws against my thigh.

Petting him, I said, “If you want to stay on the payroll, I expect to see more of this.”

Richard moved in for a closer look at the limp form on the patio. He turned green, grabbed his stomach, his eyes watered. He took two unsteady steps backwards.

Laughter shook my body like a cheap motel bed and one to many quarters. I took a deep breath. This is not the time to laugh out loud, Fannie. My voice wobbled. “Honey, don’t worry about it. There are friends who help you move, and then there are friends who help you move the bodies. If you’ll take care of the spiders, I’ll take care of the bodies.”

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The Speedo Tool Belt—Redux

Thank you for joining me for the summer redux series. I will be re-posting stories you may not have read, in the fashion of a summer re-run. We’ll get back to our regular posting schedule in a few weeks. The original “Speedo Tool Belt” posted back in June 2012. It’s been embellished a little since then.

* * *

The winter season changed in Western Washington from heavy rain to rain with an occasional bought of sun breaks. The mercury rose to 50º F. The indigenous population celebrated the warmth by stowing their mental umbrellas, because no sane Washingtonian would use an umbrella or they’d have to surrender their wool socks and sandals.

The fishing village of Gig Harbor, the gateway to the Olympic Peninsula, in the shadow of Mount Rainier, forty miles south of Seattle, no exception.

* * *

Richard and I missed out on our honeymoon because the sale of the company Richard worked for forced him to go to Omaha the day after our wedding or loose his job. We promised ourselves we would make up for it by going to Northwest Trek, a wildlife and adventure park near Tacoma. We’ve been trying to go for three years.

This drizzly Sunday morning was the day we would finally cross Northwest Trek off our bucket list.

* * *

“Fannie are you ready to go?” Richard asked, waiting by the garage door.

“I’m almost ready,” I called from the bedroom, pulling on my wool socks.

The telephone rang in the kitchen. Richard answered the phone.

“Richard, I’m so glad I caught you before you left,” said Aunt Verla in a rush, her clipped tones loud enough Richard held the phone away from his ear, “we need help and quick.  Uncle Carl is out in the garage trying to drain what’s left in the hot water tank.  Our garage is flooded and we need as many hands as we can get. When can you and Fannie be over here?”

Richard said, his voice determined, “We were just leaving for Northwest Trek, Verla.”

“I know. You can go to Northwest Trek anytime. We need you here now. The rest of the family is on their way,” Aunt Verla said, taking a breath. “Oh, and bring as many rags as you can get your hands on, we’ve got one heck of a mess.” Click. The phone went silent.

Hanging up the phone, Richard said, “Fannie, our plans have changed. We’re going over to Carl and Verla’s. Their hot water tank burst.”

“That’s not good. But did you tell her we were going to Northwest Trek?”

“Yes, she said she and Carl needed the help now.” Richard said, walking into the bedroom, his voice resigned. “The rest of your family is on their way.”

“We’ve waited this long, we’ll pick another weekend and try it again.” I said, exchanging my sandals for boots. “Let’s go see how we can help.”

The February drizzle fell from the sky as we approached Aunt Verla and Uncle Carl’s dark brown condo. A hot stream ran down the driveway from the garage. Each raindrop causing steam to rise.

Uncle Carl, soaked to the knees of his tan polyester slacks which clung to his slightly sagging muscular frame, held the hose attached to the drain valve directing the water away from their garage. Aunt Verla, her Betty White wig slightly askew, wielded a push broom, chasing water out of the garage like a demented garden gnome, only she was a bit taller than a gnome.

Richard parked the Love Wagon next to the driveway behind Uncle Carl’s silver Buick Regal.

“Hi Uncle Carl, Aunt Verla,” I said, walking up the driveway, my short arms loaded with rags. Unlike my aunt, I just scratch five feet tall.

Aunt Verla trotted out of the garage. “I see you brought the rags. Help me move the boxes from the shelf over here and we can start drying up this mess.”

Richard and I moved the boxes to the only dry spot in the garage. My parents drove up in the mobile land yacht. My sisters, Eleanor and Lenora Jane with her husband, Steve, in the back seat. My sisters and I share about a quarter inch difference between us. No one wore heels today.

“Fannie, Richard, what are you doing here?” my mother asked, annoyance creeping into her tone, “I thought you were finally going to make it to Northwest Trek.”

“Aunt Verla called and said she needed the extra help,” I said, setting the box down, pushing my brown bangs off my face.

My mother wheeled around on Verla, her younger sister. She rose to her full four feet ten inches, towering over her sister by one massive inch. “Verla, you’ve got more than enough family here to help and you know darn well they’ve been trying to go to Northwest Trek for three years now. They didn’t get a honeymoon and now this?”

“Velverlorn, we needed the help,” said Aunt Verla, her back stiffening, her hands on her hips. “What’s done is done.”

The drizzle subsiding, my cousins, Butch and Bud, drove up and parked behind my parents’ car. Watching from the safety of Butch’s Chevy pick-up as their mother squared off with mine.

“Well, let’s get this mess cleaned up then shall we,” my mother said, surveying the silent crowd. “And Verla, you may want to straighten your wig.”

Aunt Verla’s hands flew to her head, color rose to her pale cheeks.

Butch and Bud, the taller, huskier version of my uncle, unloaded the new hot water heater they picked up from the back of the pick-up.

Thirty minutes later Uncle Carl finished draining the tank.  We, the women of the family, finished mopping up the garage.

“Bud, would you throw the circuit breaker to the hot water tank?” Uncle Carl asked, “we don’t want anyone getting a shock.”

Bud opened the control panel. Running his thick finger down the list, he located the breaker for the hot water tank. “We’re good to go.”

Butch and Bud removed the old hot water heater after Richard, with his towering lean frame, disconnected the fixtures on top. My father, brother-in-law Steve, and Richard moved the rest of the boxes out of the way.

Butch lifted the new tank onto the metal stand. Looking over his shoulder, he said, “Richard, hand me those straps, will you?”

Richard handed Butch the metal straps. Bud held them in place as Butch screwed them into the wall. Bud and Butch moved out of the way. Not needing a ladder, Richard connected the wiring and plumbing.

“Okay, shall we test the system folks?” asked Uncle Carl, throwing the circuit breaker.

We held our breath for a minute as Richard check the circuit.  “It’s working.”

“Conrad, since you’re next to the water valve, would you do the honors?” Uncle Carl asked, my father with a flourish and a bow.

My father, his gray horseshoe hairline damp from the drizzle, turned the valve. The water flowed through the pipes and splashed into the tank.

Bud examined the tank. “I don’t see any leaks.”

“Well, it will take a while for the tank to fill and the water to heat up,” Uncle Carl said, “who’s interested in a little lunch? My treat.”

*  *  *

The seasons changed in Western Washington from rain to less rain with an occasional bought of sunshine. The mercury rose to 74º F and the indigenous population complained of the heat wave when they morphed into gelatinous goo.

*  *  *

Richard woke up. The sun rose in a cloudless sky. “Fannie, wake up,” he said, shaking my shoulder, “we should go to Northwest Trek today. What do you think?”

I opened one puffy eye. Looking at him through the fog of early morning, I said, “give me one more hour of sleep and you’re on. Whatever you do, don’t answer the telephone. I really want to go this time.”

Two hours later we walked out of the house. Richard climbed into the cab of the Love Wagon, a red Ford F150 with disco ball and queen futon in the back. I grabbed the bar on the door frame and pulled myself in.

“Are you ready?” I asked, buckling my seat belt.

Richard gripped the steering wheel. “Yes, are you?”

“As ready as I’ll ever be,” I said. Butterflies danced the Hokey Pokey in my stomach.

Leaving the Olympic Peninsula we crossed the Narrows Bridge heading for the Interstate. The closer we got to the freeway, the more cars joined us. The interchange between Highway 16 and Interstate 5 filled to capacity as we inched our way toward the exit for Highway 7 and freedom.

“Did you expect this kind of traffic at this hour of the morning?” I asked, We exited the collector-distributor onto Highway 7.

“No, but it is our first decent weather of the summer and I think everyone has cabin fever,” Richard said, turning south.

Two miles later the car ahead of us slowed to a stop. A long chain of cars parked on the road ahead of us. Several drivers got out of their cars and walked around as we waited.  A police car, lights flashing, passed us using the sidewalk. Five minutes later a fire truck and aid car used the same route.

“Richard, would you turn on the radio?” I asked, “let’s see if they mention this on the traffic report.”

Richard turned on the radio.

“. . . and in the south sound, there has been a fatal car accident on Highway 7 near 176th St. E. The road will be closed for several hours while the State Patrol investigates. All of the side roads are congested and we suggest you avoid the area if possible. . .”

“Well, how about we turn around and head for home?” Richard asked, checking his mirrors.

“We’ve been sitting here so long it’s almost lunch time, why don’t we pick up something at the grocery store and surprise my parents on the way back?”

“Only if we can have chicken and potato salad,” Richard said his devilish grin spreading across his face. He inched the truck forward.

“You’re on,” I said.

The car ahead of us made a sharp right turn pulling into the empty northbound lane. It back up a few feet. Turning right again it drove out of the area. Richard followed.

Twenty minutes later we cleared the congestion.  We stopped at Safeway picking up a hot roast chicken, potato salad, and a few side dishes from the deli.

Ten minutes later we parked in my parent’s driveway. A neatly manicured yard surrounded a small white house with blue trim. I rang the doorbell.

My mother answered the door in her blue summer housecoat and slippers. “Fannie, Richard, what are you doing here?” she asked. A smile spread across her face.

“We tried to go to Northwest Trek today and didn’t make it,” I said, laughing, “since we were in the neighborhood, we decided to stop by for lunch.” I held up our picnic.

“That is so thoughtful of you.  Come in,” she said, opening the door for us. Leading us down the narrow hallway to the kitchen, she said, “it is so hot, I don’t know how you can handle it.”

“Where’s dad?” I asked, looking around.

My mom pointed with her thumb over her shoulder. “He’s in the backyard trimming the hedge. Why don’t you go get him while I set the table for lunch.”

Richard and I walked out to the back yard.  It sported a twenty foot long strip of grass bordered by 15 foot high Arborvitae. The yard empty.

“Maybe he walked around front to the garage,” I said, “why don’t you go that way and I’ll walk around this side of the house.”

I walked out of the back yard. Following the path on the side of the house I exited into the front yard. Richard met me in the driveway.

“Now that’s weird, did you see him?” I asked, looking back over my shoulder.

“No, do you want to try it again?”

“Sure,” I said, following the same route.

Meeting Richard in the back yard, I shook my head. My father, a stickler for project completion, never left a task before it was finished. He once made me remeasure the den with him three times before we installed wood paneling with the precision of an archaeological dig. If my mother said he was trimming the hedge, he was trimming the hedge.

“Dad, are you back here?” I asked, looking around.

The Arborvitae on the left side of the yard moved.

“I’m over here,” the disembodied voice said.

Scanning the hedge, I asked, “Where are you exactly?”

“I’m in the Arborvitae. Give me a few minutes and I will work my way back out,” he said, the plants rattling with a snail’s urgency in succession.

Richard and I glanced at each other.

“What are you doing in the Arborvitae?” I asked. The hedge shuddered.

“It’s so hot, I got worried about the fire hazard and nesting rodents,” my father’s voice said. “So I decided to cut out all of the dead stuff in the hedge. One thing lead to another and I ended up down here.”

My mother stepped out onto the porch, “what’s taking so long? Where’s your father?”

“I’m over here, dear,” my father said. He emerged from the hedge.

My mother gasped.

Richard and I took a step backwards. Laughter erupting from our bodies.

My father’s pot belly hung out over a red Speedo bikini, twigs and dirt clung to his skin. Sweat acted like an adhesive allowing the bikini to defy gravity. The bikini hung low supporting a hammer, a tape measure and two clippers.

“Conrad,” Richard said, gasping from laughter, “I must say that is the most creative use for a bikini I’ve ever seen.”

Laughter shaking my body like a cheap motel bed and one too many quarter, I said, “Oh my god, dad, I’ll be scarred for life,”

My mother’s jaw hung open.

“Hey, it’s hot out here and I wanted to be comfortable. I wouldn’t be out of place . . . say in Florida.”

“Conrad, you may have the perfect marketing idea for Florida, the Speedo Tool Belt, comfortable, fashionable, and versatile.” Richard laughed on the verge of snorting.

 *  *  *

Two years later I visited Northwest Trek with our neighbors from Texas, George and Bunny.

Richard and I still haven’t been there together yet, but the way I figure it, we will get there way before we get our honeymoon.

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Carew Papritz, Cowboy Author

Fannie Cranium:

This month’s contribution to the BoFN. Our first cowboy author, Carew Papritz.

Originally posted on The Blog of Funny Names:

There comes a time in every funny names aficionado’s life when you come across a person so well named, so compelling named you need to talk about it. This is one of those times.

I’m sitting in the Writer’s Cafe at a writer’s conference doing the “writerly-thing”—figuring out what session I’m attending next. Halfway down the the page, a session called “How Do I sell a Million Books and Never Leave the Author’s Cave?”

Score, I’m all over it.

Then I see the presenter’s name.

Meet Carew (pronounced cah-roo´) Papritz author of “The Legacy Letters” and a bona fide cowboy to boot. He’s no Alfalfa Desperado.

Carew introduced himself as a renaissance man in an age that lauds specialist. Wearing a cowboy hat, vest, large belt buckle on his blue jeans and cowboy boots, he spoke to our writerly souls—addressing a group of writers, an audience separated by large…

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