Tuesday, October 25, 2011

11-Close Encounters of the Lavatorial Kind by Sharon Lurie

© 2011 David’s Harp and Pen

So there I was, standing outside the men’s room at the mall waiting for Zechariah and Jonathan to finish up in the men’s room, hoping it would be incident-free, since so far, I had been unable to get through the day with my dignity intact. After a few minutes, Zechariah came out and just stared at me.

“What? Where’s your brother?” I inquired anxiously.

“He’s having trouble. I think he needs you to wipe his butt,” Zechariah answered. (Jonathan was still not quite potty trained, and he couldn’t tidy himself after making number two.)

I gritted my teeth, covered my eyes, and inched my way into the Men’s Room. I slowly opened my eyes, and thankfully, there weren’t any men using the urinals. I looked at the bottom of the stalls for Jonathan’s little feet, but there was no sign of them. So, I yelled, “Jonathan, honey, do you need some help?”

I then heard two different adult male voices laughing. One of the stall doors swung open, and a late 20-something man, seemingly normal but giving off a creepy vibe, stepped out, walked right up to me, and said, “I’m sorry, Baby, but the kind of help I need, you can’t give me.”

“Excuse me?” I asked him, confused.

“Hi!” he retorted. “I’m Jonathan.” He extended his right hand to me, but given he had just come out of the toilet, I thought it best not to shake his hand.

“That was awesome!” Said the other voice, which belonged to his friend who was in the bathroom with him. When I turned around to see the face that went with the voice, Jonathan’s friend snapped a picture of Jonathan with a huge grin on his face, and me with a look like someone has on their face when about to be led to the gallows.

“I’m gonna post this on All About Me,” the friend announced with laughter, quite pleased with himself, apparently.

“I am so sorry, sir,” I said, blushing. “I’m babysitting my friend’s little boy, who is also named Jonathan, and his brother said he needed some help.”

“No worries, Luscious,” Jonathan answered. Luscious, an innocent enough word in and of itself, took on another, dark, insidious meaning when being applied to a woman in a public men’s room. “You’re cute.”

I all of a sudden felt very nervous, those two strange men and me in there.

“Eh, my name is Margaret, and thank you, but I’m really rather plain, and ubiquitous,” I answered. I felt the need to back up towards the door, but hesitated, because I didn’t want to leave without Jonathan (the small, non-evil one).

“Don’t be so modest,” big, evil Jonathan answered. “Do you have any plans tonight?”

Big, evil Jonathan and his cohort began to move towards me. I found myself tongue-tied. My mind began scramble. Even though I had been taking martial arts lessons and felt quasi-confident I could defend myself against one man, I felt zero-confidence in my ability to fend off two. Also, I couldn’t for the life of me remember the defense from an unwanted lip lock.

“Margaret? Are you okay?” asked an all-too-familiar voice. It was Ryan. I was both relieved and scared that he was there. Jonathan and his buddy, who were both a good six inches shorter than Ryan and nowhere near as ripped, immediately backed off.

“Sorry, Man. No disrespect,” Jonathan said nervously to Ryan. Then he turned to me and asked, “Why didn’t you tell me you had a boyfriend?”

Before I could answer, Jonathan turned back to Ryan and said defensively, “She didn’t tell me she was with someone. Typical woman, right?”

The elder Jonathan and his friend quickly washed their hands and headed out the door. Ryan looked at me with that usual unreadable look of his.

Don’t be embarrassed, Margaret. I thought. You did nothing wrong. Just make it into a joke and go with the flow.

Ryan finally broke the silence and asked, “So, looking for a date for later tonight?”

I let out a skittish laugh and started to say, “For your information, I can tell a lot about a man by the way he…” Then I stopped myself, but there would be no backtracking from that one. I saw the words, like carrots in front of a horse, dangling in the air in front of me, but no amount of reaching on my part could ever take those words back.

“No, Margaret! By all means, finish your thought,” Ryan stated, looking both deadly serious and also like he would burst into laughter at any moment. “What is it about a man you can tell a lot of by watching him in a public lavatory?”

I hemmed and hawed, straining my brain ferociously for something clever to say, but finally gave up. “You know, I really didn’t think that whole comment through before I started to say it, and…”

I decided it best to not even explain any further. Ryan began to laugh so hard I thought he would hyperventilate. At that moment, Zechariah and Brittany walked in to see what was going on.

“Where’s Jonathan?” Brittany asked. I then remembered why I had gone into the men’s room in the first place. I started to push open all the stall doors looking for the youngest of my charges, trying to forget all that just happened.

Oh, God! I prayed silently. I am trying so hard, but humiliation seems to chase me down wherever I go. I pray Ryan will overlook that I am spacey and regularly accidentally say things that could be construed as morally reprehensible in light of the fact that I am so good with children.

I pushed open the stall door on the last toilet in the room. There sat poor little Jonathan, quiet as a mouse, with poo smeared all over his face, hands, and the walls, with toilet paper crinkled up and overflowing out of the toilet. He looked like a little cherry sitting on top of a giant chocolate poo sundae.

As Ryan and I cleaned up Jonathan and the stall, I tried very hard to keep my mind from obsessing and compulsing. I had to get my mind off myself and how I looked and sounded, but I didn’t know how.

No sooner had we all left the men’s room than it began to thunder, lightning, and rain with a fury uncharacteristic even for middle Tennessee during the rainy season. Next thing we knew, the lights in Palucci’s were flickering. Jonathan pulled on my hand and reached up his arms for me to carry him. Jonathan hated storms. I was about to pick him up when I felt a small tap behind me.

“Mommy!” cried Toddler X. I turned around to see him reaching his arms up to me as well.

Slightly aggravated, I picked him up and asked him, “Where are your parents?”

The question apparently confused him greatly. He then pointed to the gun range game and exclaimed, “Wifles! Boom!”

I could see I wasn’t going to get a straight answer out of the kid, so I carried him to the front counter and handed him off to the manager. As I turned to rejoin Ryan and the kids, a huge flash of lightning lit up every open window and sky light, and all the electricity in the place went out. As the subsequent sound of thunder blasting ensued, and every child in Palucci’s let out a single, collective, ear-piercing cry that rose up to Heaven. After the screaming died down, I heard from the direction of the front door the sound of heavy, labored breathing. I discovered, to my concern, it was the kid at the door in charge of stamping hands and making sure the kids who come to Palucci’s leave with the right grown-ups. Concerned, I walked over to the door to check on him.

“Are you alright,” I asked, then glanced at his nametag, “Neil?”

“Hate storms,” he answered in rapid-fire fashion, fidgeting as spoke. “Hate ‘em, hate ‘em, hate ‘em!”

“I’m sure it’ll be fine. We’re used to storms like this here,” I said in an attempt to sound reassuring.

“It’s not fine! Can’t you see we’re all going to die? How can you be so calm?”

Ooh! I prayed. This would be perfect time to talk about You to him, wouldn’t it be, God?

“Well,” I answered Neil, “if I die, I know where I’m going.”

Neil looked at me oddly and asked, “Where are you going?”

“Oh, sorry,” I answered. “Well, if I die, I’m going to Heaven. To be with God. Forever.”

“Oh, great!” he sneered. “You’re one of those, aren’t you? I can’t believe in the present age of knowledge and intellect there are still people stupid enough to believe something that’s nothing more than old wives’ tales!”

“My faith is not an old wives’ tale!” I protested.

“No, of course not! It’s true because your mommy told you it was, right? I don’t believe in stupid-stitions. I believe in science. I believe in fact. I believe in logic.”

Another blast of lighting and thunder came through Palucci’s, even stronger than the one before.

“Oh, Sweet Jesus!” Neil screamed like a little girl. As he ran to hide under the front counter, he cried, “I’m too young to die.”

I stood scratching my head as he disappeared from view.

Oh, God! I
prayed. I don’t think that went very well at all. I don’t think I said the right thing at all.

God replied, It’s not about you. Are you willing to look bad so that I can look good?

God, I don’t know what You mean. I didn’t know what You meant all the other times you said it today
, I prayed in protest.

Suddenly, the electricity came back on, and life at Palucci’s quickly proceeded as normal.

“Margaret!” Brittany yelled as she ran up to me, interrupting my silent debate with God. “Come with me to the finger-painting class! Please!”

Before I could answer, she grabbed my hand and pulled me to the craft room at Palucci’s. Besides all the games, Palucci’s had a craft room where they would have a class with fun stuff like painting or drawing. I jumped into cool babysitter mode and threw myself into finger-painting with her. I worried about Brittany more than the other two, mostly because I knew it had to be hard for her being the only girl in the house. I wanted to be a good role model for her. As the class went on, my lack of sleep from the previous evening finally overtook me. I put my head on the table to shut my eyes for a second, and that second turned into forty winks.

I woke up moments later to the sound of ever-increasing laughter. As I lifted my weary head, I saw strange faces jeering at me everywhere I looked. I felt something on my face and in my hair, so I grabbed my compact out of my purse. I was covered in paint. My face had been painted white, with large black circles around my eyes, purple streaks on my cheeks, and giant red lips. My hair had been doused with orange and red paint. I looked like Ronald McDonald, except not quite as classy. I stared at myself in shock. Then I heard the sound of Ryan and the boys chuckling at the door of the craft room. I felt so goofy and so ashamed, but before I could say anything, Brittany tugged on my arm.

“Do you like it, Margaret?” She asked sweetly. “I love playing make-up and dress-up. I did it all the time with my last mommy, but they won’t let me bring my make-up with me when I visit her in the prison.”

All of a sudden, I felt ashamed for a different reason, namely my self-consciousness. Then I remembered what God had been saying to me all day, and it finally clicked. It wasn’t about me. I had to look bad so a little girl could feel loved and special and know that God wasn’t the indecisive nut job who had thus far been erroneously presented to her.

I bent down to Brittany, looked her in the eye, and said, “I love it! I have never looked or felt lovelier than I do at this very moment. Thank you!”

I kissed her on the cheek as she hugged me super tight around my neck.

“I’ve never seen you look lovelier, either,” said that voice I loved from the get go. I turned to see Ryan grinning at me.

“No, seriously,” he said with a smile, “you look great.”

“Thanks,” I responded. “I feel great.”

It’s not about me! I prayed silently. It’s not about me. Thank You, God, that it’s not about me.

The time was coming for us to leave. We brought all our tickets to the prize desk and traded them in for this humongous, life-sized, stuffed Palucci. When we were done, we walked out to the parking lot. I pressed my keyless entry to open the sliding doors and hatch on my minivan. By this time, the rain was pouring down fiercely, and we wanted to get out of it as soon as we could.

“Brittany, Sweetie, would you please get your brothers into their car seats?” I asked.

Brittany fought with her brothers to get them strapped in while Ryan and I tried our darndest to get Palucci to fit in the rear hatch. After a few minutes, we admitted defeat and squeezed him among the rows of the minivan, even though it was an awkward fit. Ryan slammed the hatch closed, we each closed a side door, and then we took off.

When we left, the rain was falling even harder. I had paint streaming down me, but I didn’t care.

“You seem content,” Ryan said.

“I am,” I replied. “You see, it’s not about me.”

“Really?” he asked. “Do tell.”

I was about to tell him my little discovery for the day, but I was interrupted by the sight and sound of police sirens, which had quickly overtaken us.

“I wasn’t speeding, was I?” I asked, confused.

As I pulled over, Ryan looked in the back of the van and asked, “Eh, Margaret, how many kids did we bring with us to Palucci’s?”

“Three,” I answered with a reasonable degree of certainty.

“Then why do we have four kids in the van?”

My heart stopped before becoming lodged in my throat. After I had stopped the car, I turned around to see Toddler X climbing out from underneath the middle row of seats.

“Mommy!” He screamed with delight.

I felt a terror unlike I had felt since high school. I scrambled for my purse to get my driver’s license, then the glove box for my registration and insurance card.

“How did he get past the Neil kid at the door who stamps everyone’s hands?” I asked frightfully.

“You mean the guy who kept ducking behind the prize desk every time he heard thunder?” Ryan retorted.

The next hour was a blur, to be perfectly honest. I vaguely remember the kids crying, police officers with guns drawn, accusations of kidnapping, and being handcuffed. One of the cops radioed back to dispatch that he had found both the child and the woman matching the physical description of a “deranged Indian chief.” As Ryan and I were put into different police cruisers and the kids were taken off in an unmarked car, Ryan looked at me, almost as if he was in pain, and said facetiously, “Honey, we should’ve stopped after one.”

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

10-A Thousand Shades of Red by Sharon Lurie

© 2011 David’s Harp and Pen

For those who have never been, Palucci’s is like one giant, noisy, grease-oozing, carb-laden, token-sucking babysitter. Theoretically, one could leave one’s kids there for years without the children ever noticing their parents were gone, unless, of course, the kids ran out of tokens. They make the most fattening and flavorless pizza money can buy, but the kids don’t care, because it’s pizza and kids love pizza. Besides, what child cares about culinary excellence or nutritionally sound fare when there are video games, skee ball alleys, and a ball crawl bigger and deeper than most moon craters to contend with? Kids love the place because it’s endless fun. Grownups love it because, after a few hours, the kids are catatonic and in cholesterol coma and will often sleep until of they are of legal drinking age. Brittany, Zechariah, and Jonathan would always beg me to take them to Palucci’s, so as often as I could, I would.

Brittany went on her way to the giant Etch-a-Sketch machine and the boys headed to the skee ball lanes. Ryan and I got a booth and sat down to talk.

“They seem like great kids,” Ryan said.

“Oh, they are. They really are. They just need some TLC,” I answered.

“How many times did you say their dad was married?”


“And he’s been a Christian the whole time?”

“I know, right? I don’t understand it. You wouldn’t believe all the single Christian dads I’ve known over the years who just jump from relationship to relationship, rushing out of one bad situation into an even more disastrous one. And of course, it’s always God who told them to go looking for women online, through the mail, blah, blah, blah. The thing is though, especially with Arthur, his kids now have this totally screwy concept of God! I mean, it’ll be a miracle if they escape with any kind of sense of right or wrong whatsoever.”

“Eh, speaking of right and wrong…” Ryan said as he pointed to the skee ball lanes. I turned and looked, to my horror, to see both Zechariah and Jonathan picking up the skee balls and physically walking them down the lanes. Zechariah had a stream of award tickets shooting out of the skee ball lane a mile a minute. I darted over to the skee ball lanes to set the boys straight. Ryan followed me.

“What are you doing?” I accused, my voice getting squeakier as my temper flared. A large, elderly, nanny-looking sort of person walked up to me with consternation on her face.

“I was wondering when you’d come along. What a reprehensible example they’re setting for the other children here! What kind of mother are you?” she accused.

“I’m not their mother,” I answered defensively.

“Okay. What kind of grandmother are you?”

I was speechless, both from the accusation and the fact that Ryan had heard it. I could hear his suppressed chuckling behind me, and my personal campaign against embarrassment had been dealt another crushing blow.

“It’s interesting, Margaret,” Ryan observed in what I thought was a detailed and methodical manner, “when you get embarrassed, your cheeks turn about a thousand different shades of red in no time flat. It’s like watching twin volcanoes erupt simultaneously.”

As my brain scrambled for the proper reply, Jonathan walked up to me and asked, with that cute little lisp characteristic of all three-year-olds, “Mawgwet, why does Zechawhyah have maw tickets den me?”

“Because, Sweetie, he’s cheating,” I answered.

“But I’m cheating, too!”

“I know, but when Zechariah walks the balls down the lane, he drops them in the hoops, which gets him points. You walk them down the lane and drop the balls in the gutter, which really defeats the whole purpose of cheating in the first place.”

“Will you show me how to trow da ball in da hoops, pwease?”

“Of course, Sweetie!” I answered, hoping to salvage at least some of my efforts to appear motherly.

Now, I knew no more how to bowl properly than I knew how to pilot a Cessna to Ireland, but I couldn’t let Ryan or Jonathan know that. At the time, though, I thought throwing the skee ball down the lane would be pretty straightforward, without much margin for error. I grabbed the ball, reeled my arm back, and was about to release the ball, when I felt a tugging on my shirt. A little boy of about four years of age had walked up to me and was adamant about getting my attention.

“Mommy!” he cried out to me, most convincingly.

I was so shocked; I didn’t pay attention to where I was aiming the skee ball. I let her rip, and it shot straight for the metal edge of the plastic rim over the hoops, bounced off said metal, and hit me full force in the forehead. I fell flat on my back, and for a moment, the rest of the world faded. I looked off into the ceiling, not sure if I was alive or dead.

“Mommy!” The little boy, who I’ll refer to as Toddler X, since I never found out his name, screamed at the top of his lungs as he grabbed my hand to pull me up. Ryan grabbed my other hand and brought me to my feet.

“Stay here. I’m going to take him to the front counter,” Ryan informed me. Then he walked off with Toddler X in an attempt to find his real parents.

God, I prayed silently, this isn’t going well. I’m trying to get through the day shame and embarrassment free, but considering it’s me we’re talking about here, maybe it’s not possible.

It’s not about you, Margaret. Are you willing to look bad so that I can look good?
answered that Still Small Voice inside my head. As I pondered what God meant, Ryan returned.

“Your son is a handsome little man!” Ryan said with a little snicker in his tone.

“Yes. He gets his blonde hair and brown eyes from me,” I answered as I batted my blue eyes and ran my fingers through my dark brown, almost raven hair.

“Good one! Say, why don’t we work on that throwing arm of yours?” Ryan asked.

Ryan picked up a skee ball and put it in my hand.

“Jonny, pay very special attention. This is how the pros do it,” Ryan said to Jonathan in a cute, fatherly fashion.

“Do pwos have to use quawters?” Jonathan asked.

“Pros get unlimited tokens, which is why you want to be one. Now, some people will argue that a good throw is all in the shoulder, but I say it’s equal parts shoulder and wrist. Like this,” Ryan explained. Then he stood super close behind me, put his left hand on my left shoulder, took my right hand in his, and threw the skee ball down the lane, landing it square in the million point hoop, the highest-point hoop there was. More tickets streamed out of the skee ball console as Jonathan squealed with delight.

“Yay! Do it again,” Jonathan exclaimed.

“Yes, do it again,” I whispered.

With his hands still on me, Ryan made a second bowling demonstration, landing another skee ball in the million-point hoop. I won’t lie. Having him that close to me made me feel slightly euphoric, and him being so close probably wouldn’t have happened had I not knocked myself out in the first place.

Wow, God!, I prayed in my head. He’s so understanding, and nothing I do seems to scare him off. He likes kids, he knows how to relate to them, and he knows how to bowl! Not only that, but he smells fabulous! Would it be too forward of me to ask him what cologne or aftershave he’s wearing? It smells so musky and woodsy, like he’s some gorgeous, rugged outdoorsmen who lives on the side of a mountain, and he spends all day splitting logs, hunting bears, chasing rainbows, and…

“Margaret?” Ryan interrupted my little fantasy. “Are you alright?”

I felt my twin volcanoes erupt again. I opened my mouth to speak, but nothing came out, except carbon dioxide.

“I lost you again,” he said with a concerned look on his face.

“I’m sorry. I…” I tried to respond, but again, I couldn’t speak.

“No, it’s just that sometimes you seem to go to another place, even though you’re here.”

“I’m sorry. You’re right. I do. Go to another place.”

“It’s alright. Next time you go there, take me with you. It must be fantastic!”

“Oh, from your mouth to God’s Ears!”

God, I prayed in horror, did I just say what I think I said?

Ryan burst into laughter, confirming my fears.

God, perhaps I could avoid most of the embarrassment I feel if I could just keep my mouth shut, I prayed.

God answered, It’s not about you.

Oooh, how I hated it when God repeated something I never got the first time!

About an hour had passed since our arrival. The kids got loaded up on pizza and soda and were wiping up the arcade and casino floor and earning a whole Amazon rain forest’s worth of tickets. Toddler X made another appearance, insisting I was his mommy. Ryan and I deposited our charges in the ball crawl and returned to our booth when my phone rang. It was Arthur.

“Hi,” I answered. “What’s up?”

“I don’t believe it!” Arthur shot out. “I finally got through to Suzanne. Do you know what she had the nerve to say?”

I was sure I already knew, but to be polite, I asked anyway.

“She said I was smothering her!” Arthur answered, and he sounded genuinely confused when he said it, too. “She said I was moving too fast, and that I was draining her emotionally! Can you believe it?”

“Ummm,” I hesitated before finally answering, “yes! I can totally believe it!”

“Whose side are you on, anyway?”

“Yours! I wouldn’t tell you you’re an idiot if I didn’t care!”

“A true friend will stand by me and support me no matter what!”

“And I do! But I’m not going to keep saying, ‘poor baby’ as you keep making the same stupid mistakes over and over again, Arthur! It’s like you have no identity outside of a woman. When you have a woman, you’re okay, or you think you’re okay, and when you don’t, you lose all ability to function. Girls don’t like guys who are clingy and needy and, well, girly!”

“You don’t understand, Margaret. When I love a woman, I love her with everything I have. And if I know that she’s the one, I don’t see any need in waiting.”

“But you should. A girl with any sense isn’t going to make a lifelong commitment to a man without a chance first to test and observe his character. The fact that Suzanne got scared says a lot of good things about her. Any good woman, a woman you would really want to marry, would be scared off by getting a proposal after ten days when you hadn’t even met in person!”

“You don’t understand, Margaret! You’ll never understand!”

“You always say that, Arthur, and yet you keep coming to me for advice.”

“I’m going to hang up now!”

“Hey, before you go, don’t you want to know how your kids are?” Before I could finish the sentence, though, he was gone. At that point, I found myself so angry that I was growling like a grizzly bear.

“What is this man’s problem?” Ryan asked.

“You tell me,” I shot back, still fuming. “I don’t understand, Ryan. I really don’t. Maybe, since you’re a man, you can explain it to me. I have known so many Christian men through the years, particularly single dads, who just jump from relationship to relationship with no forethought whatsoever! They can’t live without a woman, but then when they have one, they don’t seem to fare any better! And they always make it sound like it’s God’s will for them to hook up with whatever girl happens to be there at the moment. Then, they get their hearts broken, but they turn around and do the same thing again and again! The problem here, though, is that Arthur’s kids now think that God is the One that keeps leading their dad into bad relationships, and they want nothing to do with Him!”

As I finished my little tirade, all the sleep deprivation from the night before began to catch up with me, and I feared I might have exerted the last bit of energy I had left.

“It’s a funny thing, Margaret. Most of us can talk a good line about being a Christian, but a lot of these men, by the way they live, are just practicing atheists. They don’t give God a chance to meet their needs. They don’t give God a chance to fill their hearts the right way. It sends a horrible message to his kids. It sends a horrible message to the world, too. What do unbelievers think when we talk about God being our All in All, but live our lives as if He’s anemic, stingy, and powerless?”

After talking to Arthur and listening to his childish talk about love and marriage, it was such a relief to have a grown up conversation with a grown up Christian man. He was making so many good points, and I wanted to make some good points, too, except I was getting very tired very fast, and in my attempt to sound spiritual, I sounded…not.

“You’re right,” I acceded, my voice getting louder as I continued talking. “But you know what the funny thing is? They say they can’t wait for whatever, that God wants them to be happy, yaddy-yaddy-ya, but then when they take matters into their own hands, they’re even more miserable. They’ve got a woman, but they argue all the time, the situation in the bedroom tanks almost instantaneously, and they’re scratching their heads and asking God what He did wrong. I’m sorry, but if I’m a Christian, and God didn’t spare His only Son for me, then shouldn’t I have more joy than an unbeliever? Shouldn’t my relationships be better and last longer than some unsaved person? If the God who lives inside of me is the One who created marriage and romance in the first place, shouldn’t I be having better sex than Joe the Pagan who lives next door?”

For a split second, there was dead silence. It was as if every eye and ear in Palucci’s was trained on me. I could feel my cheeks, AKA “Mount Saint Margaret,” about to blow any second. I turned my face away, because I didn’t want to see Ryan’s reaction. However, I happened to turn in the direction of a pair of very offended grandmothers.

“Blasphemous!” scolded Grandmother Number One.

“As if God has anything to do with sex!” exclaimed Grandmother Two.

I closed my eyes to avoid the women’s glares. As I did, I heard the sound of Ryan’s laughter. I wondered how many stupid things I could say and do in front of him before he realized just how hopeless I was really was. After a moment, I felt his finger as it tapped my shoulder. As I slowly opened my eyes, I beheld, for the second time since I’d known him, him on his knees in front of me as he raised and lowered his arms and chanted, “I’m not worthy.”

“Brilliant. Eloquent. A tour de force!” He said, tongue in cheek.

Pretty soon, it was time for Palucci to make one of his regularly scheduled appearances. All the kids loved Palucci, especially Zechariah. When he came out and began to walk around the play area, the kids came to our table and stared at him in awe. Palucci had all the qualities that children love in a fictional character: largeness, a good sense of humor, furriness, and lots of video games. No one really knows if Palucci is animal, vegetable, or mineral. He’s not human, or not entirely, but we’re not sure if he’s a mammal or even some kind of alien. He’s a bit like Goofy, Mickey Mouse’s friend. Zechariah began to bounce up and down and squeeze my hand in excitement as Palucci made his rounds. However, when Palucci got near our table, Zechariah suddenly got shy and buried his face in my side.

“What are you doing, Z?” I asked. “Palucci’s coming by! If you shake his hand, he might give you some tokens!” Zechariah shook his head violently.

“Why are you getting all shy now? You have no problem peeing on bushes for all the world to see but you’re too shy to talk to Palucci?”

Apparently, Zechariah saw my logic and decided to approach Palucci in all his genetically ambiguous and anthropomorphic grandeur. As the rest of the children rushed at Palucci, I sat back and took in the whole spectacle. Some of the kids were jumping on him. Some were just jumping up and down and screaming in front of him. All of the kids were indulging in silliness of the highest order, without reservation. It was both a heartening and convicting sight. My attention then turned to the sound of a coin being dragged across the table to under my nose.

“What’s this?” I asked.

“Penny for your thoughts. That’s still the going rate, isn’t it?” Ryan asked.

I sighed and answered, “Oh, I was just thinking about how when we’re kids, and we’re so free and uninhibited and unashamed of who we are and how we look. I wonder what it is and when it is that we become so wrapped up in appearances and such that we can’t do anything without asking ourselves a thousand times, ‘Will this make me look stupid?’ Is self-consciousness instinctual, or is it learned behavior?”

"It's probably a little of both. When was it for you?" Ryan asked.


"When was the moment when you became worried about how you looked? When was it that you lost your freedom?"

“Lost my freedom? You make it sound so, so…”

I made the mistake of looking into Ryan’s eyes, which were like optical sodium pentothal.

“Wednesday, September 16, 1981, 9:47 a.m.” I blurted out.

Ryan tilted his head to one side and widened his eyes, as often happened whenever I said something that caught him off guard, and said, “Interesting. You have total recall or something?”

Before I could answer him, Brittany came running to our booth, grabbed Ryan’s hand, and begged, “Ryan, would you please come to the ball crawl with me? I need you to protect me from the other kids.”

“Of course, milady,” he replied, switching to a British accent, like a knight in shining armor. “Your wish is my command.”

The two then ran off and jumped into the ball crawl. As I looked on, I saw two little boys already inside, dressed like space aliens, carrying play laser guns, and shooting up everything in sight.

Some time passed as I sat at the booth, alone with my thoughts. Ryan was right. I had lost my freedom. I surveyed all of Palucci’s. Everywhere I looked, there were kids and adults and space aliens and yet-to-be classified life forms having the time of their lives, playing make believe, screaming at the top of their lungs, and giving no thought as to how they looked to anyone else. Everyone there was free, except me.

Oh, Father, this is just silliness beyond silliness, I prayed. Every person here is having fun, totally unconcerned with appearances, or worrying about saying something that might sound stupid or embarrassing to those around them. I should just, I don’t know, let my hair down and have some fun!

No sooner had I finished the prayer than Zechariah and Jonathan approached me with ants in their pants.

“Mahwgwet,” Jonathan pleaded in pitiful fashion, “we have to go potty.”

I looked towards the ball crawl, but Ryan looked like he was having such a good time with Brittany, I didn’t want to disturb him. So, I decided I would take them to the restroom. Now, the restrooms in Palucci’s were closed due to some plumbing problem, so we had to use the mall restrooms. I had wanted to take the boys into the Ladies’ Room with me, but the two protested, saying they were big boys and could use the Men’s Room on their own. I compromised and told them they could go to the Men’s Room, and I would stand guard at the door.

I will never learn.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

9-The Young and the Clueless

© 2011 David’s Harp and Pen

“The humble cannot be embarrassed. When you start to feel embarrassed, it is because you are beginning to move in pride. Let embarrassment be a warning that you have departed from wisdom.”

This appeared in the church bulletin one Sunday. The church secretary said she put it in after reading it in a devotional. An extensive search on the Internet failed to reveal the phrase coiner, but as far as I was concerned, God had spoken it directly to me using a Jupiter-sized megaphone. I had always assumed that I embarrassed so easily because I thought too little of myself. Was the real culprit pride instead of insecurity? Or is it perhaps that conceit and insecurity are two sides of the same coin? All I was really sure of was that I spent too much time thinking about how I looked to others, which was a major time and energy waster. So, one fateful Saturday morning, I decided to start my day with the resolution to not get embarrassed, no matter what happened.

I chose the wrong Saturday to make that resolution.

It didn’t help that I began the day majorly sleep-deprived. I had been up most of the night with Shane, who was facing one of his greatest temptations ever. I won’t go into detail, but it was all I could do to keep him from wiping out the world’s chocolate supply in one shot.

After making my resolution, I went to my friend’s house to pick up his three kids. Arthur Collins was a single dad who went to my church. He wasn’t a member of the power trio because, first of all, if there were four men in the power trio, it would be the power quartet, and second, the power trio would not have him. At that time, I had started to see why. Arthur was about to close on his third divorce, and already, he was trying to line up a fourth wife. His first wife he met in Bible College. She was the mother of his three kids: Brittany, age 10, Zechariah, age 6, and Jonathan, age 3. After ten years together she left him and the kids because, according to Arthur, she said God released her from the marriage so she could marry their marriage counselor.

Four hours after his first divorce was finalized, Arthur married his second wife (in fact, I think the judge that signed the final decree for the divorce from his first wife was the same one who officiated the marriage to his second wife), but that marriage lasted only four months. She was sent up the river after setting up a charity and raising money for non-existent starving children in a non-existent third world nation.

His third marriage was, by far, the worst. They made it a whole year, until she was arrested for polygamy, with husbands all over the country. It turns out she had multiple personalities, and each was married to a different man. Arthur would say in her defense, though, that the personality he was married to was completely faithful to him throughout their marriage.

However, none of his wives had been nearly as scary as his girlfriends. His last girlfriend he met online on a so-called Christian dating website. He proposed to her after 15 days and sent her all kinds of money and gifts. Well, it turned out this beautiful, God-fearing woman in Russia was actually a creepy 63-year-old man in a trailer just outside Lincoln, Nebraska, who had scammed all sorts of men out of all sorts of money.

I frequently watched his kids and took them places because I felt sorry for all of them. I was getting to the point, however, where my sympathy for Arthur was beginning to diminish by leaps and bounds. That fateful Saturday was going to be the icing on the cake.

“Margaret!!” Brittany, Zechariah, and Jonathan yelled in unison as I walked in the door.

“Howdy!” I responded. “Are you guys ready to go to Palucci’s?” Palucci’s was one of those pizza places that had an arcade, kid casino, and mini-amusement park inside.

“I don’t know if I should leave Dad alone. He’s having a really hard time,” answered Brittany, who being the oldest and only girl, often wrongly took on the responsibility of being “the woman of the house.”

“What’s wrong, Sweetie?” I asked.

“His girlfriend just dumped him. He’s very depressed.”

“Where is he?”

“In the den.”

“Hmmm…why don’t you get your brothers ready and I’ll go talk to your dad?”

I walked through the unkempt living room to the even more unkempt den where Arthur was lying face down on the futon, groaning.

“Arthur? Arthur, what’s going on?” I inquired.

“It’s over. It’s all over. She said no. I feel so alone,” Arthur whined.

“Who? What? Why?”

“Suzanne! She said no! I can’t get a refund on the ring, either!”

“Suzanne? Didn’t you just meet her, like a week and a half ago?”


“And you already proposed to her?”

“Yes. God told me she was the one. Not only did she say no, she blocked me from her email and changed her phone number. Why does God keep letting my heart get broken?”

(By the way, Arthur tells EVERY woman he dates that God said she was the one. I want to state for the record, because I know someone will ask, no, there was never anything between Arthur and me, and, not to be mean, but if he ever DID say to me, “God told me you were the one,” I think I would have to go looking for another god.)

I knew I had to be firm with Arthur and talk some sense into him, so I took a deep breath and gritted my teeth.

“Ummm…Arthur, I hate to tell you, but I don’t think you can blame any of this on God. I mean, as long as I’ve known you, you’ve said God was the one who put you up to getting involved with all of these different women, and I really don’t think God is that fickle…or mean.”

“I’m a good man. Any woman would be lucky to have me. Why can’t any of them see that?”

“So, what are you saying? That it’s always been the girl’s fault that your relationships haven’t worked?”

“Well, to be honest, yes! Look at Suzanne. We had a great thing going, and she just threw it all away. And why?”

“Eh, maybe because you bought a ring and proposed to her after less than two weeks, and you hadn’t even met in person yet?”

“But that just shows I’m committed.”

“Or maybe you need to be committed.”

Arthur got up from the futon and looked at me with derision in his eyes.

“Who are you to lecture me about relationships, Margaret? You’re 35, you’ve never been married, and Clinton was serving his first term as President the last time you had a date,” he said snidely.

There it was. That feeling of shame and embarrassment with which I was so familiar. I reminded myself that I shouldn’t take it personally, that it was only Satan trying to push my buttons. I needed to stand firm, because Arthur’s impulsiveness, stupidity, and selfishness in relationships were taking a toll on his kids, and someone had to say something.

“Oh, so are you saying that because I have so little romantic experience that I don’t know what I’m talking about, Arthur?” I shot back. “Look, just because I’ve never been run over by an eighteen wheeler doesn’t mean I don’t have the right to say that getting run over by an eighteen wheeler is a bad idea! This jumping from relationship to relationship, and telling your kids and yourself that God’s been the One to tell you to get involved with all these women, is bad! Bad, bad, bad!”

“But God says it’s not good for man to live alone. Besides, there are some people, like me, who just do better being married,” he answered, not sounding like he was totally convinced himself.

“But, if you do better married, wouldn’t you, like, still be married? And not working on your third divorce?”

“And my kids need a mother.”

“Your kids have a mother. They don’t need any more wicked stepmothers. You can’t stand there and tell me God would tell you to get involved with all these women with such glaring character defects.”

“God told Hosea to marry a prostitute!”

“Yes. God did. So, what you’re saying is God told you to marry all of your wives and date all your girlfriends to symbolize ancient Israel’s unfaithfulness to God, idolatry, and child sacrifice, which resulted in their subsequent demise at the hands of the Assyrians and banishment to the four corners of the earth? How’s that working out for you?”

Arthur’s face turned red with fury, and he walked right up to me and said, “You’ll never understand my pain! You’ve never had the guts to love someone like I have, which is why you’ll end up old and alone! We are NOT going to have this conversation again.”

He marched out of the den to the boy’s bedroom, and as he walked, he yelled, “Have the kids back by six!”

And that feeling hit me yet again. I knew I was right. I knew I was making an important point. But as soon as I heard his “old and alone” comment, all that discomfiture came rushing back. I knew it was the Enemy (and Arthur) just trying to keep me quiet, because I was right, but I still didn’t know how to get past it, and I knew that the whole shame game was keeping me from being more effective for God.

Well, not the best start for today, but I shall not relent, I thought to myself.

I gathered up the kids and we headed for my minivan (I drive a minivan because of Bernie). As I looked overhead to the grayness of the sky and felt the chill in the air, my cell phone rang. I answered it as I tried to get the kids into minivan. It was Ryan.

“Hello?” I answered.

“Tell me!” He said, with the sound of mischief in his voice.

“Eh…tell you what?” I hated trick questions, especially first thing in the morning.

“What’s the plan for today?”

“Oh, I’m taking Brittany, Zechariah, and Jonathan to Palucci’s.”

“Who are Brittany, Zechariah, and Jonathan and what is a Palucci?”

“Oh, they’re my friend Arthur’s kids. I’m taking them out today. Palucci’s is a pizzeria with video games and a little amusement park for kids.”

“Great! Come get me!” Ryan exclaimed, sounding like a little kid himself.

“But what about the worship arts intern barbecue?” I asked.

“It got cancelled because it’s going to rain, and I’m glad, because I don’t want to be barbecued.”


“It was a joke.”

It took me a second to catch on. “Oh, I get it! Sorry,” I replied with nervous laughter. It was too early in the morning to even attempt funambulistics.

Don’t get embarrassed, Margaret. Not everyone gets every joke
, I told myself.

“Do you want to just meet us there? I’ll give you directions,” I inquired.

“Can’t. The car I’ve been driving is in the garage getting repaired,” Ryan answered.

“Okay, but, are you sure you want to deal with all the yelling, screaming, fighting, etc.?” I asked.

“Margaret, you’re really not that bad,” he answered with a note of sarcasm in his voice.

I finished my phone conversation, loaded the boys into their medieval torture—I mean child safety seats—and into my minivan, and off we went to get Ryan. Now, I was always happy to spend time with Ryan in any capacity. However, whenever I was around him, embarrassing antics always seemed to follow, more so than normal, and with a bunch of rambunctious children in tow, my resolve to get through the day abashment free was going to be surely tested.

I picked up Ryan at his host home. The ride to Palucci’s was, for the most part, uneventful, which should’ve triggered alarms in my head. I parked the minivan in Palucci’s lot and unloaded the kids. Palucci’s was at the end of a shopping mall, and on the outside the place was full of shrubbery.

“It’s really nice of you take the kids out like this,” Ryan said.

Omigosh! I thought. This is a test, isn’t it? I bet he’s going to be watching me to see what kind of mother material I am. I better be on my best behavior.

“Yeah, well, they’re sweet kids, and Arthur needs the help. I like to think I’m a stabilizing force in their lives. You know, showing them the ropes,” I said, trying to sound maternal.

Ryan pointed his finger towards Zechariah and asked, “Is that one of the ropes you showed them?”

I turned my head to see Zechariah as he peed in the bush next to Palucci’s entrance.

“Zechariah!!” I screamed.

Zechariah chuckled to himself as he redid his pants. I was so mad I could’ve spit. I walked over to him, determined to set him straight.

“What do you think you’re doing?” I yelled. “Couldn’t you have waited until we got into Palucci’s?”

Zechariah answered, “Dad said it’s okay for me to pee in the bushes.”

“Like hell he did!” I shot back, forgetting I was talking to a child.

“Ooh! You said h-e-double hockey sticks!” Zechariah teased.

Brittany, Zechariah, and Jonathan all pointed their fingers at me and chided in unison, “Margaret is a potty mouth! Margaret is a potty mouth!”

“Am not! Am not!” I replied, forgetting I was no longer a five year old.

Joining in the laughter at my expense was Ryan. He walked up behind me with a huge grin on his face. We gathered the kids together and began to walk into Palucci’s.

“You’re a woman, and I know it seems foreign to you,” Ryan whispered to me, “but it’s a man’s God-given right to pee on anything he pleases.”

“Really?” I asked, not sure if Ryan was pulling my leg again.

“Well, within reason, of course, but any kind of greenery is fair game.”

That certainly explained a lot. I started to feel guilty for all the times I scolded Bernie for treating my neighbors bushes like his own personal Port-o-Potties, when really it was just my silly conventions interfering with the natural order of things. It turns out my education for that day was just beginning.