Absurdity

The Inadvertent Symbolism of Aprons

1962-sept-29-joan-nelson-setting-the-table-pittsburgh-pa

An apron-wearing Joan, almost 12, learning the domestic ropes!

In our last blog post we talked about the mysterious “holes” problem—you remember, right? We ruminated about those tiny holes that mysteriously appear on the bottom front of blouses and tee shirts. Maybe it is just one hole, or two holes, maybe a mysterious pattern of multiple small holes—like the crop circles of the apparel world. Where do they come from? Who made them? Well, as we decided in our last post, we are the culprits! We make these tiny holes most of the time by trapping the fabric of our clothes between the edges of counters and the buttons of our jeans. So, the pressing question is—how to avoid them?

Searching the internet yielded some solutions, including a few advocated by domestic maven Jessica Hewitt. You can avoid the holes by adopting one or more of the following simple strategies: wear high heels when you work, wear pants with no buttons, tuck your shirt into your jeans, or wear an apron.

Let’s take each of these in turn. High heels? Let’s just say that this is not an option in our household. In a text exchange about the holes with our middle daughter Kristyn (who also suffers from this mysterious malady), Joan explained that wearing high heels was a solution we had discovered during our inquiries into the topic.

Greg, however, interjected, “I can see you and Mom doing housework in heels…not!!!”

“Yeah ain’t going to happen LOL” was our daughter’s reply.

Pants with no buttons? We just don’t see Joan in pants with an elastic waistband if they aren’t pajamas. Also, Joan is passionate about jeans (in the same way Imelda Marcos was passionate about shoes). Hello, my name is Joan, and I have a denim problem. Her collection of jeans is all one specific brand (Levi’s, yeah you guessed it) and only certain numbers—numbers that have some arcane meaning to her. The collection is curated carefully, let’s put it that way, and has mostly been assembled from “Goodwill Hunting.” Joan looks for the correct size and specific Levi Strauss number (505, 512, 515 or 550, the number she claims as her work jeans).

So, if it is a choice between the jeans and the holes in shirts…well shirts are cheaper, especially those purchased through careful coupon use and Goodwill purchasing.

As to tucking a shirt in? Well, possibly, but Joan has yet to do that and frankly, it’s not her style.

So that leaves aprons—a very sensible solution indeed. Those of us who came of age in the sixties remember a time when mothers and grandmothers routinely did their housework in dresses protected by aprons and sometimes in heels as well. (Those holes were certainly going to be held at bay.) As forty some years have since passed, the practice of wearing aprons has declined—but not entirely disappeared—the apron is not extinct and still roams the American cultural landscape. Food service workers have continued to wear them, and aprons are certainly sported by grillers at outdoor barbecues. Aprons even seem to be making a comeback in American homes, as evidenced by the “retro’ and “vintage” aprons popular on Etsy and Ebay. A variety of aprons are even available now at stores like Kohl’s and Walmart.

For we baby boomers, however, aprons evoke a plethora of mixed emotions. We get a warm fuzzy feeling when we think of the dear women—mothers, grandmothers, aunts—in our lives serving up comfort foods like meatloaf, pot roast, or one of Joan’s childhood favorite dishes “tuna spaghetti.” In our mind’s eye they are wearing aprons—bib aprons, pinafore aprons, and, of course, waist aprons. They are plain and frilly, patterned and plain, and almost always a bright, colorful testimony to the palettes of those decades.

1967-christmas-mom-aunt-helen-wearing-aprons

Christmas 1967: Mom Nelson and Aunts Helen and Evy

Television, newspaper, and magazine advertisements featuring women in aprons sold everything from foods, cleaning products, and detergent to kitchen appliances. We remember fondly our most well-known television “Moms”—June Cleaver in “Leave It To Beaver,” Margaret Anderson on “Father Knows Best,” and Donna Stone in the “Donna Reed Show.” They were the cultural exemplars of apron-wearing domesticity from our long-gone childhood, emulated to greater or lesser degrees of success by our own mothers

As a young girl Joan’s first sewing machine project was to make her own apron. It was a waist style made with pretty blue-flowered material. It had a useful pocket (something many dress pants don’t have!) and a fanciful bric-a-brac trim. She had forgotten about this apron for decades, but in 2005 when we had to sell the home her parents had lived in for almost fifty years, she found the apron nestled comfortably in a box along with her mother’s aprons.

For us, and maybe for you too, that apron is a symbol of a domestic world long gone. It harks back to a time when using a sewing machine was a skill taught only to girls in the family, and an apron was the perfect first sewing project. Naturally, a girl would need to wear it in her own kitchen some day.

mother-margaret-anderson-serving-her-family-in-father-knows-best

Mother serves…and Father knows best.

For those of us who emerged changed from the sixties, altered in mind and attitude in so many ways, a woman in an apron wasn’t just an avatar of our mothers but also a template for what we were expected to become. This once unobjectionable protector of clothing became a symbol of inequality, a marker of diminished choices and the constraints of domestic identity. A woman’s place was not in the workforce or the boardroom, or even, apropos to this year’s election, in the Oval Office. Her place was in the home: cooking, cleaning, and caring for children, with a husband as the sole and undisputed breadwinner for the family.

When Joan left home and left the sixties, she firmly put her apron-wearing days behind her—in a box, with her mother’s aprons. While Greg was in graduate school, Joan worked full-time and came home to a dinner prepared by Greg. When one of Greg’s many apron-wearing aunts found out, she chided Joan gently, “You let him do that?” It was almost unthinkable to one of our parents’ generation for a wife to “let” the husband do the cooking.

Even though economic and family circumstances changed later, and Joan took over cooking responsibilities and major household chores after almost two decades in the workforce—the decision to do so was her choice—made in order to stay home with the children and create a home life that she hopes they now fondly remember. It was not a decision made easily and without misgivings, but one she in no way now regrets. We are certainly aware that this choice is not always available to either partner due to economic or other circumstances.

So, let’s go back to the question at hand. Would Joan wear an apron to prevent those holes? No—probably not, for reasons both fashion-related and intimately entangled in the identity crises of many women of our generation.

Joan, ever practical, simply works in shirts that have already sprouted holes. But maybe, just maybe, as an ironic half-wink to who we were and who we are now, if she is ever in the kitchen with good clothes on, she might, just might, pull out that old bric-a-brac apron—the one that doesn’t have holes in it.

What’s up with those holes in my shirt?

Holes in Joan's tee shirt--just above the bottom hem

Holes in Joan’s tee shirt–just above the bottom hem.

You might know immediately what we’re talking about, or might know someone this minor problem has afflicted. Maybe you haven’t a clue what we’re referring to—if you are clueless, or, as the case may be, “without holes” read on to be edified!

For some time now Joan has noticed tiny holes appearing in the bottom front of many of her shirts. She would see one hole, two holes, maybe a pattern of multiple small holes. We have had cats—sometimes multiple feline friends—for almost our entire married life, so Joan never thought the holes were much of a mystery. Cats have claws. Said be-clawed cats pounce on us, knead on us, and snuggle (often with claws unsheathed) in our laps. Occasional holes in one’s clothing are just a part of the deal—an inter-species tradeoff—when cats are members of your household (see our previous post about our cats https://sixtysixtyblog.wordpress.com/2014/11/30/constant-and-faithful-companion/). Joan never gave the matter much thought or mentioned it as a matter of interest to anyone.

However, two years ago, after we lost our sweet cat Muffin and became a cat-less household, Joan began to notice that her new (post-Muffin) shirts were continuing to manifest the distinctive little holes. They weren’t random and seemed always to appear in the same area of the shirt: just below her bellybutton on her abdomen, close to where the button of her jeans would lie beneath. Cats were apparently not the problem after all!

This sweet little cat was not the culprit

This sweet little cat was not the culprit!

Curious, she asked Greg about it. He claimed not to have ever had the problem at all; he couldn’t remember ever seeing the kind of holes Joan described on his own clothing. This absence seemed quite strange. We both wear tee shirts and jeans most of the time, and the shirts are pretty much made out of the same material, aren’t they? Why would one member of the family be afflicted, and the other escape this couture calamity?

Now we were faced with a minor, but intriguing mystery. What in heaven’s name was creating those pesky little holes? Joan isn’t one to ignore a burning question (even if a relatively minor one) until it is answered. And if Greg is to have any peace during an information quest, he has to assist in finding a logical explanation.

Further, we found it strange that we had never heard of anyone having this problem while we were growing up. If our mothers, fathers, aunts, and uncles had this problem, we certainly didn’t hear of it. Was it possible that the “little hole problem” is a modern-day phenomenon? And if so, why? Or did this happen to our elders, but, absent the internet and its blogs and tweets and posts discussing the mundane inanities of life in great, endless, and unimportant detail, we simply had no way to hear about it?

For instance, could it be moths? We ruled that possibility out immediately. Moths would have affected other items of clothing and fabric, certainly. And many of the affected items were not likely to be attractive to moths—made of synthetics. Not all of Joan’s clothes were affected, and Greg’s clothes showed no holes at all. And moths surely wouldn’t choose just the lower front area of a shirt and leave the rest of the material alone. Our “little holes” weren’t at all likely to be the result of hungry little moths. There was a pattern here—but what was it?

This was also not the culprit...at least not of these holes

This was also not the culprit…at least not the perpetrator of these holes!

Joan resolved to pay close attention to the domestic activities she did during the day in hopes of discovering the source of the problem. Does the old rough wooden laundry cart in the basement catch her tee shirt when she leans over it to retrieve clothes? Do the bobby pins or hair clips on her lap poke a hole or two into her tee shirt fabric when she’s pinning up her hair? Speaking of modern causes, what about working on a laptop? Joan often works on her MacBook Air for hours at a time doing genealogy (an activity that surely benefits from her single-minded pursuit of unanswered questions and trivial mysteries). Could the edge of the laptop bottom be thinning the material in her shirts making them more liable to develop holes? Observation seemed to indicate that none of these innocent possibilities appeared to be the likely culprits. But over time, and with more diligent observation, a couple of telling clues began to emerge.

Clue 1: Joan noticed that the phenomenon occurred only in shirts she worked in around the house. None of her fancy tops, blouses, shirts and chemises, worn for “good occasions,” going out to restaurants, for example, seemed to have developed any holes. The cause of the holes, it seemed, was a domestic one.

Clue 2: Joan started asking members of our family about whether they had noticed little holes in their shirts. Our oldest daughter didn’t notice any holes. Our son didn’t have any. Greg, as we’ve already reported, didn’t exhibit any.

She texted our middle daughter one day: “Random question – do u get small holes in ur tshirts near ur waistline?”

Our daughter’s response was rapid and decisive: “Yes I do!! What is up with that? I always get those holes! I always thought it was the kitties who made the holes.” (Note: our middle daughter has two cats and academically researches feline behavior).

Joan felt a little relieved that she wasn’t the only one after all. “So I’m not crazy! This isn’t happening only to me!” As it turns out (from this small and quite unscientific sample), the height of the shirt-wearer seems to be a significant variable. Greg, our son, and our oldest daughter are all at least five inches to ten inches taller than Joan. But our middle daughter is only about an inch taller. Hmmm…were shorter people somehow more likely to accumulate these holes? We were perhaps onto something here.

When no other useful clues emerged after the height discovery, we decided to let the subject rest a while—but still keep out a watchful eye out for new holes and the conditions under which they might develop. While vacationing in the Shenandoah Mountains with two good friends last summer, we happened to broach the subject over dinner (God knows why!). Turns out our friends were also no strangers to the mystery. Although Dave didn’t have a problem with the little holes, Brenda was, like Joan, a victim. This added some credence to the “height-related” hypothesis.

This was a topic our friends had discussed with some of their own circle of friends, and they suggested that if we googled the problem, we’d probably find lots of explanations. They weren’t kidding! What we found were endless speculations and tentative explanations.

Several online sites noted that material sold in today’s world is cheaper, thinner, and poorer in quality, making holes more frequent. This could support a “modern phenomenon hypothesis.” Maybe the clothes from our younger days—we are after all sixty-something—were simply of better quality. Problem is, that explanation doesn’t really account for why most men and taller women today don’t seem to have the holes.

Some claimed the problem stems from wearing belts. Another theory is that it comes from standing at a kitchen or bathroom sink where you come into contact with cleaning solutions that weaken the fabric of your shirt. Someone suggested a correlation between the appearance of holes and the new HE washing machines that don’t have agitators. On another website one woman claimed that holes only started appearing in her clothes, but those of no other family members, when she moved into a new house with a walk-in closet. Some of these explanations seem unlikely to us. After all, for instance, tall men wear belts and don’t complain of the little holes. It isn’t clear why the absence of an agitator would create holes! One might expect, logically, the reverse. In fact, we still own an agitator machine.

Nope, also not the culprit

Nope, also not the culprit.

We decided to settle on the explanation that fit best with the clues we had already unmasked and well, frankly, made the most sense. Here we have to give credit to Jessica Hewitt, author of a parenthood blog called “Five In Six.” In her post, “Those Tiny Holes at the Bottom of Shirts – The Culprit & The Cure,” Jessica concludes, “The small holes at the bottom of shirts are caused by the shirt repeatedly rubbing between a pants’ button and a hard surface…” You can read her blog for yourself here: http://fiveinsix.com/2014/02/tiny-holes-at-the-bottom-of-shirts.html.

Jessica tested her theory by purchasing a new, hole-free shirt (Jessica bravely took “one for the team on this one”). She wore her new shirt with jeans for four days straight but kept the front of her shirt tucked into her jeans the entire time. Outcome? No worn spots at the bottom of her shirt. No holes!

Jessica’s conclusion matches perfectly with the clues we uncovered. Joan only gets holes in the shirts she wears working around the house. Do the holes appear at the spot where her jean’s button presses against the kitchen counter? She stood against our hard granite kitchen counter, and sure enough, found that her tee shirt’s holes and jean’s button hit the granite at precisely the same place. And this was not the case for Greg, who is quite a bit taller. The height of the jeans/shirt wearer—which is positively correlated with gender in most cases—seems to account for the variability in who is afflicted and who is not. Greg’s jeans button, simply stated, is higher than the counter. No “fabric sandwich” ever happens.

When you wear tops with jeans and come into contact with a hard surface like a kitchen countertop, the fabric becomes sandwiched between the jeans and the hard surface. This causes friction, rubbing the fabric of the top repeatedly against the metal button of the jeans—the result, over time, unnoticed and unbeknownst to the wearer, is a pattern of tiny holes! It can likely be any hard surface: a counter, edge of a desk, or maybe even where a seat belt comes into contact with the shirt material over the jeans button.

The culprit!

The culprit!

Mystery (at least to our satisfaction) solved! But the trick, of course, is figuring out how to prevent getting any more of the pesky little holes. In our next post, we look at some of the solutions—with a generational twist and a nod to the domestic apparel of an earlier age—to this pervasive but, admittedly, trivial problem!

 

Lil Bub Goes Postal

Lil Bub in the mail!

Lil Bub going postal!

We have posted about the vagaries of the US Postal Service before (see Theo Theokitos, Valued Feline Postal Service Customer http://wp.me/p4uyM6-I and Mr. Gregory Shreve, Official Starfleet Officer http://wp.me/p4uyM6-F ). In this post we return to the topic of the USPS, an organization that can, apparently, engender a multitude of amazing stories for us to recount. We come to you now with a new fable, an absurd adventure of misdirected packages, wandering mail carriers, disinterested postal supervisors, gracious neighbors, and a vanished internet feline.

The story begins with Joan. As you read in our last post, we are currently without a (real, live) cat. This has led to some adjustment problems on our part (including the disconcerting habit of seeing apparitions of dearly departed felines around the house out of the corners of our eyes). One particularly difficult adjustment for Joan (which we can label “cat on the bed syndrome”) has been going to sleep at night without a cat lying nearby or, preferably, snuggled close.

While it is, of course, obvious that no home should be without a cat or two or more, we have decided, for the time being, that bringing a cat into our household would be difficult. Now that we are both retired, we are traveling frequently. Just in the last four months we have traveled to Eastern Europe, South Carolina, Oregon, and the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa. At this point in our lives, we would find ourselves leaving our cats alone for long periods of time.

With no real cat to comfort her at night anymore, Joan began sleeping with a large stuffed tiger by her side who goes by the name of Jade, a gift from our children years ago. However, Jade, a giant among its kind, is at least three feet in length and threatened to dispossess the bed of its other long-time occupant, Greg. When she would awake in the middle of the night, Joan would find, much to her annoyance, that Jade had mysteriously been removed from her side and placed at the bottom of the bed. A smaller bed companion apparently had to be found.

There were requirements for this new companion: portability, suitability for cuddling, softness and general, all-around, cuteness.  These are requirements that Greg, in all honesty, does not fulfill (although he claims other compensating virtues).

While trying to locate a birthday gift for our middle daughter, a felinologist at Oregon State University, we ran across a plush toy imitation of internet sensation “Lil Bub” at http://lilbub.com/ and purchased one from the site’s online store.  After holding our daughter’s plush avatar of Lil Bub, Joan decided that having one was the best possible cure for her syndrome.

We ordered a Lil Bub for her on December 28, 2014. Response to the order from the folks at the Lil Bub website was fast and efficient. Lil Bub shipped on December 30 and was expected to arrive around January 2nd. We should have known, however, that something would go wrong when we read the following message in our Lil Bub shipping confirmation:

Your Lil Bub order has shipped via United States Postal Service!

Track your package!

But, we were confident. The United States Postal Service, respected branch of our federal government, had custody of our little cat. They would take care of her, surely. Our fears were more than allayed when we read from the tracking application that Lil Bub had been delivered securely right to our front door on Friday, January 2nd as promised! Exactly at 2:43 pm! We went outside to gather her in and tuck her into bed with Joan. Except, except—she was nowhere to be found. Not on the front porch, not on the side porch, not laying in the yard, or on the back stoop. She was gone, vanished.

Delivered! (or not?)

Delivered! (Or not?)

Thinking she might appear miraculously over the weekend when our mail carrier discovered her fallen behind a bag in his truck or neighbors discovered her mislaid on their front steps, we waited. And then we waited some more. Finally on Tuesday, January 6th Greg drove hopefully to the Kent, Ohio Post Office to inquire about our wayward feline.   Once there he waited some more.

Here Greg must digress and indulge in a small rant. The Kent Post Office is like the anteroom to Hell. Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here. There is almost always a wait to buy stamps, ask a question, or procure meaningful postal service of any kind. The wait is engendered by some sort of local policy that prevents the Postmaster from staffing all three of the postal service counters at the same time. One is always closed, even when the line of customers reaches back to the doors. But, as said, this is a digression. We return to the main narrative.

After an unnecessarily long wait (45 minutes according to the time stamps from text communications between Joan and Greg), a postal clerk shunted Greg to a supervisor with the words “you’ll have to talk to a supervisor about that.” The supervisor (who shall remain nameless, and deservedly so) deigned to appear after another unnecessarily long wait. He took the tracking information, disappeared again for a while and then returned to indicate that “according to scans” (apparently mail carriers have to check in during their rounds and indicate where on their route they are at a particular time) the mail carrier had not been on North Prospect Street where we reside at the time in question, 2:43 pm. He had been on our street some two hours earlier. This begged the important question: where was Lil Bub actually delivered? The supervisor had no answer, offered to quiz the mail carrier as to Bub’s whereabouts, and said that if she didn’t appear in a few days to submit a postal claim. Greg left with little hope of any resolution.  The postal claim might (or might not) produce a refund but would most likely not produce the missing cat!

The next day, while blowing snow off the sidewalk, Greg happened to see the mail carrier and raised the issue of the missing package. The mail carrier claimed no specific knowledge and said that the supervisor had not spoken to him about the misdelivered package—but did say, vaguely, that he “might have seen a note about it.”  The carrier did say that at 2:43 pm he was most likely on Park Avenue, the next street over. Greg asked him to look for the package but noted a distinct lack of commitment for resolving the problem in the carrier’s response.

Then Joan, the one with the memory in our family, brought it to our attention that several times in the past mail had been misdelivered to a house with the same number as ours, but on another street, Chestnut. Maybe the package was there? With hope in our hearts we went to that house and knocked on the door. No packages visible. No answer to our knock.  We were stymied again.

Another several days passed. Finally, about a week after the supposed delivery, we decided that Lil Bub had gone postal and disappeared forever. Greg ordered a replacement Lil Bub, this time from Amazon since The Bub Store online was temporarily closed for revamping. Our plush would appear, as scheduled, two days later on our doorstep (United Parcel Service) with no problem. The saga of Lil Bub was over.

Or so we thought.  On Sunday January 11, about nine days from the botched delivery, we decided to go grocery shopping. We turned out of our driveway and proceeded to the intersection of Prospect and West Main. We turned right. A car following us turned right. We went down to the next street, Chestnut, turned right and decided to take another quick look for our missing package. The car following us turned right with us. We passed the house where we suspected our package might be, slowed down, looked, but saw no one at home. We then proceeded to turn right on Bryce. The car behind us turned right on Bryce. Quick on the uptake, we realized were being tailed! Several worst case scenarios flashed through our minds.

Greg asked, “What is that car doing?”

Joan replied, “He’s pulling alongside, let him pass!”

Greg stopped the car, suspicious and wary. The car behind us pulled alongside and then stopped in the middle of the street. For a brief moment puzzled glances were exchanged with the stranger. The stranger then rolled down his window and asked:

“Do you live at 167 North Prospect?”

Still puzzled, we nodded in the affirmative.

“I think I have something of yours.”

He exited his car and handed a package containing one plush Lil Bub in through the window and into Joan’s waiting arms. She had indeed been delivered to the house that Joan had suspected all along, but to the rear of the house and not the front. We had knocked on the wrong door earlier. Lil Bub’s savior had thought the package was his daughter’s and had put it aside until she came home after the New Year. Mystery solved (although why this never occurred to our mail carrier is beyond us).

Lil Bub came home with Joan. That evening her twin, the replacement Lil Bub, also appeared. We now had a surfeit of Lil Bubs. Interestingly, this overabundance of Bubs seemed not to bother Joan at all. Quite the opposite.

Both now reside in and on our bed and have been renamed Lille (Norwegian for “Little”) and Katt (Norwegian for “Cat” in honor of Holly Golightly’s feline friend). All is right with the world. What was lost is now found, thanks to a gracious neighbor and good fortune. No thanks to the United States Postal Service and our local Post Office who had, quite obviously, been content to let Lil Bub go postal.

We encourage you to visit Lil Bub at http://lilbub.com/ to read about this real-life precious cat. A portion of all purchases at The Bub Store goes to a fund for special needs pets. It is a site worth supporting.

Mad, Bad Squirrels of Kent, Ohio

Art by Anthony Russo

Art by Anthony Russo

If you live in Kent, Ohio or went to school at Kent State University, you know about squirrels. Not just any squirrels, but black squirrels. These sable rodents are everywhere in the community and on campus. The black squirrel is, in fact, the unofficial mascot of Kent State. The official mascot is a “Golden Flash,” a stylized lightning bolt, but it is quite clear that town and gown alike find the ubiquitous furry squirrel more suitable as an urban icon. Every September the university holds a Black Squirrel Festival in its honor.

Black squirrels are, as Wikipedia says, a “melanistic subgroup of the eastern gray squirrel” Sciurus carolinensis.They aren’t native to Kent, but are recent interlopers, having been introduced to the campus by a grounds superintendent who imported them from Ontario, Canada in 1961. Details of the introduction of squirrels to Kent can be found here: http://www.kentohiohistory.org/squirrel/black_squirrel.html

Now, what is important to our story is this. Our little tree-dwelling creatures are not all cute and fluffy. Oh no, not at all. Ours, apparently, can be a bit aggressive, domineering, and territorial.  As Wikipedia reports Kent’s black squirrels have “driven out native squirrels in many areas” of Northeast Ohio.  Wherever black squirrels are introduced, they seem to thrive and establish growing populations. Indeed, in Battle Creek, Michigan they were introduced as rodent ninja assassins to “destroy the local population of red squirrels.” They’ve even crossed the Atlantic and invaded Britain: (http://kikistrikeny.blogspot.com/2009/01/black-squirrels-take-over-britain.html

Are all black squirrels mad, bad invaders?  We can only report from personal experience that they do, indeed, seem to be a rodent to be reckoned with. A few years ago Joan, making one of the few errors of judgment in her life, decided to feed the squirrels that live outside our Kent home. She decided on this course of action based on some soft-focus, sentimental memory of her Swedish grandmother. Joan fondly remembers her grandmother standing in her Indiana backyard, holding an apron filled with crumbs, surrounded by a semicircle of squirrels who are lined up and waiting patiently for their boon of bread.

Joan, channeling her adored grandmother, began to toss bread out to our squirrels. All went well at first. The rodents soon got the idea and began to show up to be fed. But one squirrel began to be insistent, pushy, and rude. Soon Joan wasn’t appearing on time, or often enough, or the bread wasn’t the requisite quality. He would approach closer and closer and be more demanding. Finally, the Swedish grandmother scenario collapsed entirely on the day Joan went to the side porch where she fed the squirrels and was confronted by a large, angry, and quite possibly demented, squirrel hanging spread-eagled on the screen door.

Not content with simple assault on our screen door, our local population is also adept at breaking and entering.  One particular episode comes to mind that occurred in the 1990’s. In our family we refer to it as the “Mega-Squirrel” story (AKA the “squirrel on steroids” tale, or perhaps we should spell it “tail”?).

One afternoon Joan ran downstairs to find Greg and exclaimed, “there’s a squirrel in the bathroom!” Greg, a dyed-in-the-wool empiricist, needed to see for himself, not (obviously) trusting mere hearsay. He entered the bathroom in question, looked around, saw nothing, and went back to what he was doing, announcing definitively, “there’s no squirrel in here.” Joan has encountered this skepticism on several other occasions, such as when there have been bats or birds in the house.

A few minutes passed. Joan reappeared and declared, a bit more urgently, “THERE’S A SQUIRREL IN THE BATHROOM!”  The capitalization is intended to denote a certain tone of voice whose purpose was to indicate to Greg that his previous pronouncement had turned out to be quite mistaken.

Greg returned to the bathroom, superior in his knowledge that no squirrel indeed inhabited the lavatory. Much to his surprise he found a door to the bathroom barricaded. A chair and a chest had been shoved against it.

“What’s this?” he asked.

Joan replied matter-of-factly, “It’s to keep the squirrel out of the bedroom.”

Greg, smiling indulgently, wondered what kind of rodent could provoke such defensive action. He skirted the barricade and entered the bathroom to find—wait for it—a large, frantic, and, frankly, frightening black squirrel sitting in the bathroom sink. A large hole in the ceiling tile pointed unmistakably to his point of ingress!

Well, to make a long story short, after a harrowing chase, some near misses, and a trap involving a large garbage can, the intruder was removed from the bathroom. What remained behind, however, is the story of mega-squirrel and the memory of Greg’s transgression of the bounds of marital trust when he failed to believe Joan’s claim that a squirrel was in the bathroom. There is apparently no expiration date for such mistakes.

So, here in Kent, Ohio we do, indeed, have mad, bad squirrels. We don’t mess with them. We should not mess with them. However, in New Mexico, when they were introduced there, they couldn’t best the fox squirrels. They were killed by them shortly after being released into the wild. Maybe we need some fox squirrel enforcers here in Kent. But, given our experience with demented squirrels so far, maybe that isn’t such a good idea.

Note: All Wikipedia references from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_squirrel.

 

Theo Theokitos, Valued Feline Postal Service Customer

Theo Theokitos

Theo Theokitos reading his junk mail. Courtesy of The Seattle Times, November 11, 2009.

There aren’t really any proven ways to achieve immortality. Various religions propose myriad means for achieving some kind of life after death, but no one has returned from beyond the veil to confirm or deny their efficacy.

We do believe that one can achieve a pseudo life after death using the capacious and apparently un-forgetting databases of the various commercial enterprises, charities and political parties that use the United States Postal Service – also the topic of yesterday’s blog!

One of the weirdest things about mail is that even death can’t keep it from being delivered to you at “your last known address.” We have experienced this phenomenon first hand. Over the years we have handled a variety of affairs for Joan’s dad, mom and brother, using our home as an official address. As a result we have continued to receive mail in their names, although they are now deceased. No amount of phone calling, emailing and letter writing can dissuade an alumni organization or a charity that their intended communicant is, in fact, an ex-communicant.  Our loved ones continue on in a kind of postal shadow life receiving letters and requests they can never answer.

The mail does not discriminate in its attempt at resurrection; all life forms are eligible for postal preservation. Some years ago there was a cat named Theo Theokitos who started receiving junk mail at his home in Wenatchee, Washington in 1992. His owner had submitted a rebate for cat food in Theo’s name. Once the marketing industry had Theo’s name and address, immortality was assured. Theo became a target for junk mail, mail that kept coming long after he died in 1999. If you’re interested in Theo’s story, here’s the link:

http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2010245957_junkmail11.html

Junk mail is, indeed,  a proven form of life after death.  If only Theo could have left a forwarding address!

 

Coffee at Wendy’s

Wendysmenu

Yesterday’s blog post brought back another memory from our repertoire of absurd experiences. Ordering coffee at Wendy’s.

We were on the way home from Kentucky in 2011. Running on fumes and exhausted, we decided to grab some coffee at a Wendy’s off of I-71. We don’t usually order coffee at fast food restaurants but make exceptions when, well when we are desperate. This was such a time.

We went inside the restaurant instead of using the drive-thru for reasons that should be obvious to anyone who travels. We’re not sure our experience ordering coffee at the drive-thru would have been any more successful than ordering in the restaurant. But we are jumping ahead of ourselves.

Greg was planning to order real coffee. He was driving and really needed the wake up. Joan decided to get decaf. Although also pretty tired, sometimes too much caffeine makes her sick. She figured the psychological effect of a hot drink would be the better choice.

After waiting patiently in line Greg told the young woman working at the Wendy’s counter that he wanted a small regular coffee. You might not believe that what happened next was true, but we swear it did!

“We don’t have coffee,” the young woman told us.

Greg pointed up to the menu on the wall behind her and said, “Your menu says you have coffee.”

She didn’t say anything for a moment.  “I’ll be right back,” she muttered as she left to go into the back area where food was being prepared.

When she returned, she said without explanation, “Yes, we have coffee. Do you want anything else?”

“One small decaf coffee.”

“We don’t have that” was her response.

Greg again pointed to the menu. “Your menu says you have decaf.”

Without a word the young woman left us standing at the counter to apparently consult (again) someone in the back food prep area.  This time, however, she returned with 2 coffees. Problem was there was no way to tell the regular cup from the decaf. No marking with a “D”, no depressed lid, nothing at all.

“Which one is the decaf?” asked Greg. Unable to answer, our young woman disappeared again, this time returning with a man who appeared to be the manager. He pointed to one of the cups.

“This one is the decaf,” he told us with a tone of certainty.

Greg countered with the logical response, “How do you know?”

“This is the decaf,” he repeated without further explanation. We decided it wasn’t worth our time to argue and left, grabbing some creamers on the way out. Joan typically drinks her coffee black, but Greg always uses cream.

As we got back into our car, we laughed about what had happened. But we were also wondering if Greg got the decaf and Joan the regular by mistake. We figured we might only know for sure after drinking the coffee. But then again, maybe not. We were both fully awake after our amusing experience.  Before we pulled out of the parking lot, Joan proceeded to pour a couple of creamers into Greg’s cup.

“Gross!” she exclaimed. Globs of creamer were swimming at the top of his coffee. The creamers were obviously curdled.

Yes, we could have gone back into the Wendy’s to return the coffee. But some battles are not worth the trouble. Greg grabbed his cup and threw it into a trash can outside the Wendy’s restaurant.  As we continued to travel another long stretch of the interstate, we shared Joan’s black coffee. To this day we aren’t sure if it was regular or decaf.

Pecan-stuffed Pancakes Topped with Bananas

You can’t live sixty-odd years without experiencing both the good and bad that life has to offer. You can’t escape loss, and only if you are lucky will you escape tragedy. But life rewards us, too, with unimaginable joys. The birth of a child. The breathtaking fjords of Norway.  Flying over Siberia in the dead of night, mesmerized by the ghostly stillness of the ice and snow thousands of feet below.

But it is also true that you can’t escape the absurdities of life. Here is one example from our repertoire of absurd experiences, the story of the “pecan-stuffed pancakes topped with bananas.”

One morning not too many years ago, the two of us decided to go out for breakfast at a local eatery. Joan ordered chocolate chip pancakes, and Greg ordered the “pecan-stuffed pancakes” topped with banana slices. When the order arrived, the chocolate chip pancakes were as advertised, but the “pecan-stuffed pancakes” were a no-show. Instead the waitress served Greg a plate of plain pancakes topped with walnuts and banana slices.

“This isn’t what I ordered,” Greg said politely to the server.

“What do you mean?” responded the waitress, confused by the question.

These pancakes WERE NOT stuffed with pecans!

These pancakes WERE NOT stuffed with pecans!

“I ordered pecan-stuffed pancakes, but these pancakes are only topped with nuts, and they aren’t even pecans. They are walnuts.”

At first, the waitress seemed perplexed, but after a second explanation by Greg, said she would take the pancakes back to the cook. When she returned, her reply was:

“The cook said that this is the way we make them.”

Greg showed her that the menu had advertised “pecan-stuffed pancakes” not pancakes topped with walnuts. The waitress returned to talk to the cook. When she came back again, she apologized and said that they didn’t have pecans, didn’t make the pancakes that way, and would shave a few dollars off the bill if Greg was willing to eat the pancakes topped with walnuts and bananas. Greg decided to drop the issue and eat the pancakes. That settled the matter. Or so we thought.

When it came time to pay our bill, Joan pulled out a coupon (of course) that gave us some money off. But the waitress told us we couldn’t do that because we had already gotten money off of Greg’s pancakes. Huh?

Greg asked to see the manager which required a run-through of the whole he “ordered pecan-stuffed pancakes” scenario. Greg argued that the money off the pancakes should have nothing to do with using the coupon for the whole order.

And so Greg won. We got to use the coupon and get money off for what was basically receiving the wrong order — which, by the way, tasted fine.  He had just hoped for those “pecan-stuffed pancakes.”

The restaurant, however, had the last laugh. On the cashier’s receipt was written: “Customer didn’t like the pancakes!”