Monday, February 22, 2010

3-The Sixth Sense

© 2010 David’s Harp and Pen

I have a dog. His name is Bernie and he’s a Saint Bernard (no, I’m not very creative). Bernie’s been a faithful, although at times unpredictable, companion to me. He had a rough puppyhood and, as a result, is slightly lacking in social skills. Okay, to be honest, he’s the neighborhood menace and would most likely have met an early doom had it not been for me. The problem is he doesn’t like anyone except me. And the mailman. Well, not really the whole mailman, just his ankles.

I’ve heard it said before that animals have a sixth sense about things, that they can size up a person when they first meet him or her. If that’s true, then according to Bernie, everyone I know is evil. I don’t discount there’s some truth to it all, I just don’t know how much. It must be nice, though, to be able to read someone like that and size them up in an instant. I’m not very good at reading people. Or, maybe I am, but don’t have the good sense to heed the red flags when I see them. To Bernie’s credit, he’s successfully scared away many a dysfunctional man before I had the opportunity to get entangled. One night not so long ago, though, Bernie’s perceptive powers proved to be indispensible.

That night, my car was in the shop, so my friend Bruno agreed to drive me home from Bible study. Bruno is the second component of my power trio of male friends. Bruno is 33, Italian, a New Yorker, and a cop. He’s one of those brutally blunt people. In fact, when I told him he could catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, he told me he could catch the most flies by holding fly swatters in both hands. Now, before anyone asks, no, there was nothing going on with Bruno and me. When Bruno was in his early 20s, and before he was a Christian, he went to Vegas for the weekend, got drunk, and somehow ended up married. He stayed married for a year, which is a long time by getting-drunk-and-married-in-Vegas standards, but the whole experience ruined him towards marriage and women forever. In fact, I don’t know why we’re even friends. The only thing I can think of is he was sent to me by God to keep my self-esteem from getting to a dangerously healthy level.

So anyway, the other night, after Bible study, Bruno drove me home. Ryan was with us because it was Bruno’s turn to host Ryan. No one said much during the drive. I didn’t think Ryan would ever want to speak to me again after the whole hand-in-the-car-door fiasco. I know I wouldn’t speak to me after what I did to him. The poor thing got a crash course in American healthcare by spending five hours in the emergency room, stitches, and three weeks with his right hand in a cast. Now, for reasons I still can’t comprehend, his medical expenses were covered by my car insurance. It didn’t seem right, but considering the colossal amount of money I had shelled out over the years for emergency medical expenses, I was not about to look a gift horse in the mouth.

When we pulled up to my driveway, I saw, to my dismay, the gate to the backyard open, a pizza box that had been torn open and deprived of its contents, a pizza delivery man on the ground with a dazed and frightened look on his face, and no Bernie. I jumped out of the car and into my house to grab a leash. When I came back outside, Bruno was attending to the pizza guy.

“Make it stop! Make it stop!” the pizza guy moaned in pain.

“Excuse me, sir. Oh, I’m so sorry about…well…this. Did you see which way my dog went?” I asked.

“That wasn’t a dog. That was a werewolf!” the pizza guy shouted angrily as he tried to get up.

“Here. Let me help you. Do you need an ambulance?” Bruno asked as he helped the pizza guy to his feet.

“Beer! I need lots of beer!” Pizza Man replied. Out of the side of my eye, I saw Bernie turn the corner to the next street.

“Ooh! There he goes! Sorry. I’ve got to run after him before he gets too far. Tell the pizzeria to send me a bill!” I yelled to Bruno and the Pizza Man as I ran down the street. By the time I got to the corner, though, Bernie was completely out of sight. I yelled his name several times, but no response. I was starting to worry.

“Did you see where he went?” Ryan asked.

“Aahhhhh!!!!!!!!” I screamed, right into Ryan’s ear. I didn’t know he had followed me. Oh crap! First I mangled his hand, and then I made him deaf.

“Oh, I’m so sorry. I didn’t know anyone was there!” I said apologetically.

“I’ll be sure to announce myself first next time,” he said, rubbing his left ear with his left hand.

“No, it’s my fault,” I started to ramble. “It’s all my fault. I should’ve gotten a lock on the gate like Bruno’s been saying all along. If I had gotten a lock, he never would’ve gotten out, and the pizza guy would be okay, and my neighbors would have their pizza, and you’d still have your hearing. Oh, Bernie gets so disoriented when he gets out of the yard. Now he’ll get lost, or kidnapped, or killed, or worse, and it’ll be all my fault. I am such an airhead some times. Stupid, stupid, stupid…”

“Stop slamming yourself like that,” Ryan interrupted. “It’s not attractive!”

I was taken aback for a second and I just stared at him. How dare he…well, he hadn’t insulted me, really. He was telling me not to insult myself. Still, he…hmmm…I wasn’t used to being told to treat myself better. I was going to have to think about how to process that.

“C’mon. We’re going to need Bruno’s car if we’re ever going to find Bernie,” I said. I didn’t say anything as we walked back to my house, mainly because I was too nervous.

When we got back, the pizza guy and his car were gone. Bruno was standing outside his car with the usual disgruntled look on his face.

“Oh, Bruno! Can we please drive around in your car and look for Bernie? I don’t know where he went and I’m really worried,” I whimpered.

“Ryan, would you excuse us for a moment, please?” Bruno asked.

“Sure,” Ryan answered and got into Bruno’s car.

“Now, Dr. Doolittle,” Bruno started as soon as we heard the car door shut, “what did I tell you the last time I helped you chase that mongrel through the neighborhood?”

“That Bernie was a public nuisance and it was your duty as a civil servant to put Bernie out my neighbors’ and my misery?” I answered sheepishly.

“Do you know what would happen to you and Bernie if we were back in Brooklyn?”

“What? Would you make me sleep with the fishes?”

“No. I wouldn’t do that to the fishes,” Bruno answered and got in the car. I followed timidly, wondering if my dog or I would ever see sunlight again.

We drove around for the next 45 minutes, circling my subdivision and the adjacent ones looking for Bernie. Each time we thought we had caught up to him, he’d take off. I still don’t know how he was able to outrun Bruno’s old police cruiser. Maybe Bernie had bionic legs or something. Meanwhile, inside the car, the tension was so thick I could’ve cut it with knife. Bruno was furious with me, I was scared for my dog, and Ryan…well, I couldn’t tell what was going through his head, except maybe that he finally understood why Europeans think so little of Americans. He finally broke the silence and asked, “So, what’s the deal with the dog?”

“That’s not a dog. It’s a demon with fur. Devil dog!” Bruno shot back.

“I take it you don’t like the dog?”

“Oh, I love devil dogs. They’re really tasty dipped in milk.”

“Go easy on Bernie, please,” I pleaded. “He had it rough as a puppy and he’s never quite recovered.”

“What happened?” Ryan asked.

“I found him one night when I was driving home in the rain,” I replied. “He was limping, he had cuts all over him, he was infested with fleas and ticks, and it looked like he’d not eaten in weeks. There wasn’t a collar on him, so I brought him home. I took him to the vet the next day to get checked out. The doctor said Bernie was lucky to be alive…”

“Lucky for who?” Bruno interrupted.

“Anyway,” I continued, “it took a long time for him to get well, and he didn’t trust me at first. After all the feedings with a baby bottle, rubbing his wounds with Vitamin E oil, and a thousand bucks for the vet and gourmet puppy chow, he realized I was okay, and he’s been my dog ever since.”

“That’s a lot of effort to put out for a dog,” Ryan said.

“Well, I couldn’t bear the thought of him dying starving and alone like that,” I said defensively.

“Hey, there he is! Going into that back yard,” Bruno yelled. I hopped out of the car and ran after Bernie into what had to be the creepiest piece of property I’d ever seen. I wasn’t quite sure where we were, but I was confident the address was probably 1313 Mockingbird Lane. The house had a weird Addams’ Family feel to it, and I fully expected winged vampires to start dropping out of the sky. I looked straight ahead of me, and nuzzled next to a large, dilapidated oak tree, was Bernie. I approached the tree quietly, attempting to be as quiet as possible. I almost had my hand on Bernie’s collar when the inevitable happened.

“Margaret, you forgot the leash!” Ryan yelled to me. Bernie shot up and began to charge at Ryan.

“Oh no!” I thought. “This is it. I busted his hand, deprived him of his hearing, and now my dog is going to finish him off. The Irish Republican Army will invade America in retaliation. It’ll be World War III and it’ll all be my fault!”

Bernie reached Ryan, but instead of goring him, like he’s done with every other human whose path he’s crossed, he jumped up and put his two front paws on Ryan’s chest as Ryan patted him on the head. Ryan got the leash on Bernie, who then jumped off and began to ram his head into Ryan’s legs. I didn’t understand. Bernie didn’t like anyone except me. Perhaps…maybe…did Ryan have “the gift?” No sooner did I finish the thought than I stepped backwards with my right foot and heard a loud metal clank. An agonizing pain shot through my ankle. I looked down and saw my right foot caught in a steel bear trap. At first, I was too much in shock to make a sound. Ryan and Bernie ran towards me. Wow! Ryan looked positively mesmerizing in the moonlight.

“Omigosh!” Ryan exclaimed as he looked at my foot. “What happened?”

“I don’t know,” I answered as I began to get slightly delirious. “I mean, he doesn’t like anyone except me. I can’t believe Bernie didn’t try to…”

“Not the blasted dog! Your foot! I can see your bone and all!”

“Oh. Yeah. Right. My ankle,” I replied. Suddenly, I remembered that I had metal jaws of death trying to amputate my foot. “AAAAARRRRRRRGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!”

Saturday, February 6, 2010

2-The Irish Invasion

© 2010 David's Harp and Pen

It was the thirteenth anniversary of my last relationship. Things didn’t end well, and I sort of liken it to the anniversary of the destruction of the Hindenburg blimp. He seemed like such a great guy. He went to church with me and we prayed together all the time. Next thing I knew, he dumped me for the local woman of ill-repute and was arrested for selling marijuana out of the trunk of his car. I’d be lying if I said the whole thing didn’t scar me a bit.

So how, one might ask, does a girl in our relationship-crazed culture avoid romantic entanglements for so long? Chocolate! Inordinate amounts of it. In fact, when I entertain my monthly visitor, my refrigerator is filled with nothing but peanut butter cups. Not for my benefit, keep in mind, but to appease my wrath so I don’t try to kill every man in sight. Another way of averting potentially harmful entanglements is having an extremely overactive imagination. I still say, until now, my best boyfriends have been the imaginary ones.

When I went to church that night for worship team practice, I had pretty much resigned myself to think that there were worse fates than to die a virgin and childless, such as to be buried alive in a box, or eaten by worms, or, like in my recurring dream, to be forced to repeat my senior year of high school forever simply because I could never remember to attend gym class. Then everything changed.

I walked into the practice room, as I always did, and sat next to Shane. Shane is part one of my power trio of male friends. Shane is too gorgeous for his own good, and women glom onto him in the same way zits glom onto my face every time I need to get a new driver’s license photo. Now before anyone asks, no, there was nothing between Shane and me. He’s a recovering gigolo and has dedicated his life to God, prayer, and finding the perfect hair gel, one with the perfect balance of movement and secure hold. He’s basically a Guido without the Italian heritage or New Jersey accent. He’s also quite charming and gregarious, two more reasons the women can’t stay away from him.

“Hey, Mags,” he said. “So, how did you spend your anniversary?”

“Lying on the floor clothed in sackcloth and ashes, mourning the loss of my youth,” I replied.

“Good. Good. So, did you hear there’s going to be a cattle call audition for the new Mel Gibson movie they’re going to film here? My agent says my chances are really good.” And that’s how my conversations with Shane usually went. We’d talk about me for about 30 seconds, and then promptly move on to him. It was okay, though. I’d gotten used to it.

“Oh, by the way, we’re on babysitting duty tonight,” Shane said. “There’s some guy in town who’s shadowing the worship arts intern program. We’re supposed to hold his hand and answer all his questions.”

“Wow! This is the third person in two weeks. Have you met him?”

“Yeah. Oh, here he comes now. Don’t tell him about being in mourning. Grief is unbecoming to a woman of your advanced years.” Shane and I stood up, and I turned around to lay eyes for the first time on our charge for the evening.

“Ryan O’Loughlin. Margaret Sims. Margaret Sims. Ryan O’Loughlin,” Shane said as I looked at the stranger in front of me. Now, I know some other things were said at that moment, but I don’t remember what they were, because I all of a sudden had a weird sensation like Keanu Reeves did right after he swallowed the red pill. All grips on reality were lost as I stared at the vision of loveliness in front of me. Ryan was well over six feet tall, with jet-black hair and slate blue eyes, the kind of eyes that, if I stared into them too deeply, would bore holes right through me. Luckily, I had Shane there to snap me back to reality before those eyes turned me into Swiss cheese.

“Is she alright?” Ryan asked with what had to be the most heavenly accent I’d ever heard.

“I don’t know,” Shane replied as he snapped his fingers in front of my eyes. “I’ve never seen her like this before.”

“I’m sorry. I…” I tried to talk, but Ryan was way too distracting. “I was…eh…I was…I’m sorry. What did you say?”

“I said, ‘Ryan is going to be a missionary,’” Shane replied, perplexed.

“Oh,” I said, turning back to Ryan. “That’s great, because I need saving.”

“Oh, crap,” I thought. “I didn’t just say that.”

“Mags!” Shane exclaimed, horrified.

“Double crap!” I said to myself. “I DID just say that!”

“I mean, the world needs saving, and you look like just the man to do it,” I said, trying to cover my tracks and failing miserably. Ryan raised his eyebrows at me.

“Yes. So, Ryan is here from Ireland,” Shane said, trying to change the subject and, no doubt, protect me from further embarrassment.

“Ireland,” I giggled nervously. “I loved ‘Braveheart.’” Ryan cocked his head to one side and his eyes got really big.

Shane leaned over towards me and whispered, “’Braveheart’ was Scotland.”

I said, “Well, I know it took place in Scotland, but that crazy guy that was Mel Gibson’s body guard and who thought God was his best friend was Irish. In fact, he said he owned Ireland. And then there were those soldiers Longshanks hired to…”

Shane put his hand over my mouth and said, “And stop talking now.”

“Eh, where do I go for a slash?” Ryan asked. That didn’t sound good.

“I mean, where are the toilets?” He asked again.

“Through the double doors, then make your first right,” Shane, answered. Ryan then walked off, and I couldn’t help but watch. Next thing I knew, Shane was squeezing my arm and throwing me into a chair.

“So!” Shane asked with annoyance in his voice. “Did someone just have a stroke?”

“Mmm,” I mumbled.

“Okay. So, yes or no?”


“Alrighty then. I’ll see if I can find you some peanut butter cups.” Shane walked away and left me to my imagination again. Oh, Ryan was devastatingly handsome! I hadn’t felt anything like that since I’d watched “Superman,” when he took Lois Lane for that flight around the Statue of Liberty. Maybe Shane was right. Maybe I was having a stroke.

The rest of worship team practice went off without a hitch, which should have been my first indication that something was about to go horribly wrong. I walked off the platform to get my purse, and Shane skipped over to me.

“Ooh! I am famished. So, who’s paying us to eat out tonight, Mags?” Shane asked.

I was about to answer, when I felt “the presence” behind me. It was Ryan.

“You get paid to eat out?” he asked.

“When Margaret’s with us, we do. She’s the coupon queen,” Shane replied.

“How does that happen?”

“I’m pretty sure it’s illegal, but until someone can prove it, we shall eat, drink, and be merry.”

“Well, I’ll go to my car and see what I’ve got,” I said, excusing myself before I had the chance to say anything stupid. It seemed like the smart thing to do at the time. I headed towards the front door of the church and reached to open it, when someone opened it for me. I turned around. Again, it was Ryan.

“I hope you don’t mind me walking you to your car, but where I come from, we don’t let a lady out in a parking lot at night unescorted,” he said.

“Mmm,” I muttered, certain I was about to have another stroke. “And where is it that you come from again?”

“Ireland,” Ryan replied, with a slightly confused look on his face.


“What do you have to do to get restaurants to pay you to eat their food?”

“Oh. Coupons. I clip all the coupons in the Sunday paper, download some from the Internet. Then, I just combine them the right way so that our food’s free, or nearly free.”

“Hmm. I never heard of such a thing.”

“Don’t you have coupons in Ireland?”

“Not magic ones, like yours.”

“No wonder you left.” We both laughed as we reached my car. I unlocked the driver’s side front door and Ryan held it open for me.

“I’m not here permanently. I’ll be going back in eight weeks,” Ryan said.

“Oh, good!” I thought. “I don’t think I have any blood vessels in my head left to burst.”

I found my coupon box, got out of the car, and put my hand on the door, not realizing Ryan’s right hand was in the door way.

“This is my magic coupon box.” I said gleefully as I slammed the door shut…right on his hand.

“Omigosh, omigosh, omigosh,” he screamed in pain. I pulled the door back open and Ryan pulled his hand out. It looked a little mangled and turned all sorts of different colors.

“Oh no!” I screamed, dropping my keys and my coupon box on the pavement. “I am so sorry!” I bent down to get my things. Ryan, who I was discovering was the consummate gentleman, even in the face of great adversity, reached down at the same time to pick up my keys and my coupons, the result of which was our heads colliding, only adding to his pain and my humiliation.

“Arghh!!!!” I yelled. “I’ll go get help.” I ran back into the church. Actually, a stroke would have been really nice right about then.