THE REAL LJ IDOL: Troll Bridge–Stop: Pay Troll

“Stop! Look! Listen! But we’re not at a train bridge (trestle). It’s a TROLL bridge!”

Trolls . . . often called Wishniks . . . not to be confused with Rat Finks . . . are fun! They have fuzzy hair sprouting from the tops of their flat heads! They’re always smiling! They have really big ears and are sometimes called “Wingnut.” (They hate that.) You hardly ever see them wearing drop earrings, because most drop earrings are longer than trolls are tall.

Some trolls live in the forest. Or in old-timey woodcarvings or engravings.

My trolls came from old dime stores. TG&Y, Woolworths, Ben Franklin, and the late and much-lamented (but dirty old 1951 linoleum and walls store) Sun Rexall Drugs.

They have a Troll House in the woods under our big oak tree.

They enjoy it.

They have friends over often. Tinky bakes Troll House cookies in the hollow tree.

It’s cozy inside, like a hobbit-hole.

Some say most trolls are Druids or Pagans, but at least one of mine believes in Santa!

What? We weren’t supposed to write about Trolls? But I thought. . . .

Oh . . . looking at that topic definition again, it’s about when you’re “going somewhere knowing that you will be stirring things up/causing trouble in someone else’s personal space–IOW, trolls.”

Well, I always end up doing THAT, even when I don’t intend to.

But this week’s topic sentence is given as: “Who’s that Trip Trapping Over My LJ?”
It’s a reference to the fable about “The Three Billy Goats Gruff” and the troll who lives under the bridge and that “trip-trap trip-trap!” sound effect that you’re supposed to make while reading it aloud.

Still, the topic was really intended to be Internet trolls.

Oh . . . you mean those mean old people who try to bait you and mess up the online discussions all the time?

In the immortal words of Emily Littella:

“NEVER MIND!”
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If you enjoyed this entry, you can vote for me here, ***NOW!*** [edit] *grin* I actually made the top 25, and so that’s kind of surprising/fun. The fellow Sartorias knows dropped out this week so he could work on his Real Work, which is what I should *probably* do, but I’m having too much fun getting people to read the entries. With the poll to rank them, it’s even a two-way street. Fun!

Still, I *am* finishing the mystery that I’m going to send off at the beginning of July. Anyone want to see the opening chapter or so posted? It’s a cozy starring Ari French. It’ll be a prequel to the other book that I’ve already sent around without success. I suspect this will work well, leading into the second book (which was written first.) But I always get all optimistic like this and it turns out to jinx me, so I’m not being optimistic. No. Just pretending. Nothing to see here, jinxes!

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THE REAL LJ IDOL: IN SOMEONE ELSE’S SHOES

For The Real LJ IDOL: IN SOMEONE ELSE’S SHOES

“These are NOT my shoes,” announced Blinky. She toed the heels of the muddy blue Grasshoppers until they fell off her feet. “See that blister? These are definitely not mine.”

“Well, don’t look at me. I can’t wear nothin’ except these backless slides.” Pinky sank back on the garden bench, pulling off her muddy gloves and tossing them into the birdbath. (I quickly retrieved them and hung them over the side of a nearby bucket. My birds deserved better than to have to wade in her potting soil with Perlite and WonderGro.)

[Yes, once again Mama’s “Stitch-and-Bitch” Gin Rummy Occasional Players were meeting at MY house. Today we were in my garden on the stone patio. Blinky took a seat at the umbrella table, Stinky and Pinky sharing the porch swing–the metal 1950s kind with its own base that goes back and forth, so no worries about them pulling out the eyehooks overhead, since there are none–and Nod hopping into our hammock in the shade.)

“I’d know if I got on the wrong shoes right away. I got custom foot-doctor insoles. Cost a small fortune.” Stinky moved to pull off her steel-toed boots, but Mama quickly stopped her. Probably recalling the last time Stinky took off her shoes in public. (Patients with lung disorders suffered immediate attacks. The general area had to be evacuated. Homeland Security was notified.)

“How could you get the wrong shoes on?” Mama inquired, reasonably enough, I thought.

“Took ’em off when you were sprayin’ that hose at ‘Full Power’ instead of ‘Gentle Mist’ setting. Whole side yard is a loblolly of mud now. Wanted to keep from ruinin’ another pair of good shoes. I washed my feet in that there wadin’ pond.” Blinky gestured towards my Pomeranian’s little sunflower-shaped wading pool, which we’d used earlier to cool him off. “Get that at Dollar General?”

“Yeah, last year. Isn’t it a shame that Wal-Mart bought ’em and is closin’ ’em down?” Mama sighed.

“You’re kidding!” Stinky’s cigarette fell out of her mouth.

Blinky whammed her fist on the table. The umbrella shuddered. “Nope. That woman, richest in the world, she ain’t happy bein’ one of the biggest stores. Has to be the ONLY one. I hate that. Why’n’t they leave some of the business for somebody else? They got enough.”

Pinky, finished examining her blood-red oxfords, raised a finger. “It’s not Wal-Mart buyin’ them. It’s those people bought Safeway.”

“No, it’s not. I read it in the Morning Snooze.”

To head off an endless “Yes, it is,”/”NO, it ain’t” match, I said, “I hope that isn’t true at all. I love Dollar General.”

“Well, the manager of the big new one over on Coit–you know, where Colberts used to be–told me they’d been bought and he was losing his good insurance. So take that as you will.”

“Damn!” Stinky shook her head. “They ruin everything good.”

“Can’t blame the guy for selling. Probably got a lot of money and now he can retire.”

“I wish I was in HIS shoes,” Blinky said. “I’d fix things right up.”

“No, you wouldn’t. You’d be true to your original mission of creating a national Dime Store. Now that Woolworth’s, T G & Y, and the other greats are no more.” Mama looked out over the meadow wistfully. The pond splashed at her elbow, and she took the last seat on the old metal chair off of Auntie’s 1950s front porch. Nearly all of its original green enamel finish was missing, but we still used it. “One of these days I’m going to paint this,” she added, rubbing her thumb along the curve of its arm.

“I just can’t understand why somebody would give up the store, though. It was doing so good.”

My Pomeranian frolicked over to me and jumped into my lap, exhausted from barking back at the squirrels. A strip of blue canvas dangled from the corner of his mouth, and I suspected I knew who had found Blinky’s actual shoes. I thought better of saying so and blathered forth in illustrative literature instead. “In ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ Atticus explains to Scout that ‘You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.'”

Blinky sent me a withering look. “In somebody’s skin? That’s just creepy.”

“But it isn’t literal. It’s about gaining a new perspective. We are all prisoners of our own points of view. To escape that for a few minutes and really experience life as it might be for someone on the Other Side of whatever divides us . . . it’s a gift from the Universe.”

“I’d rather win the lottery, if the Universe is inclined to gift me.”

I sighed. But I’m stubborn. “Remember the old song, ‘Walk a Mile In My Shoes’? Think of it that way.”

Nod woke up long enough to murmur, “Walk A Mile In My Shoes”–recorded by Joe South and The Believers, written by Joe South, peaked at # 12 in 1970.” She’s kind of a walking jukebox like that about popular music of that era.

Stinky frowned. “Wasn’t there a similar song eventually done by Elvis?”

“Whatever.” Pinky waved it aside. “Before you pass judgment on me, first walk a mile in my moccasins.” She was getting it.

“I hate moccasins. They’re like having your feet in cantaloupes–that raw suede.” Stinky shuddered. “That’s creepy, too.”

Pinky stuck out her tongue. “That’s not the point. To walk a mile in my shoes means learn to have empathy, not just sympathy, for others. I want to feel what they feel. Not just parrot, ‘I feel sorry for them. That situation must be terrible.’ All while I’m a-sittin’ in the catbird seat.”

My Pom perked up and started looking for the cat/bird. I scratched behind his ears.

Blinky considered. “Well . . . maybe it’s not ALL terrible to be on the Other Side. There must be merit even in being a Republican, or God wouldn’t have created them.”

Stinky scowled. “God didn’t create Republicans.” She glowered.

Nod popped awake again. “What–the Devil can create stuff?”

“No! That’s not what I meant. I meant, somebody else made up being a Republican. You can be one because God gave us free will, but He sure didn’t intend anybody to really Become one.”

“Must be some good ones out there,” Blinky mused. “I liked President Reagan. And Abraham Lincoln, there’s you another one.”

“That was my POINT . . . that if you were in their position, you might act exactly that way.”

“‘Cause I wouldn’t know any better.” Stinky stubbed out her cigarette in my strawberry pot. I made a note to cruise around getting those things out as soon as they left.

Blinky inclined her head, as if to allow that this could be one of the explanations. “Or you sincerely believe in what they’re saying.”

“If they sincerely believe all of that rot, then bosh. They need to walk a mile in THESE.” Stinky offered her feet up. Her surplus-store Army boots teetered. Everyone covered their noses. “Quit that. I’m not gonna take ’em off.”

“It’s not that politicians actually believe all that stuff they say,” said Blinky. “I think some of ’em just hate Hillary Clinton so much that they’ll vote opposite of anything she says.”

“Well, maybe if they saw ol’ Hilly through my eyes, they’d see her differently, shallow Hal.” Stinky fired up a new Tareyton.

“Everything’s a matter of perspective. Frames of reference. . . .” I trailed off because I knew better than to get into Einsteinian relativity. “As I told someone the other day, I like to see someone’s paradigm shift and then hear them go ‘Ah!’ as they suddenly step into those other moccasins. Some people have never realized they COULD go into another POV like that and understand it. After the first time, they figure out how to do it for themselves. Sometimes. Sometimes they don’t.”

Mama was studying her feet, having slipped them out of my jeweled slides (she didn’t ask before borrowing them, and now they’d be all stretched out of shape.) “I have duck feet. They’re splayed out and EE wide. I wish I could wear those high heels, but I never could.” My shoes teetered on the edge of the pond. The koi eased halfway out of the water to sniff them in case they were food. “My feet are fat like my daughter’s.”

“Your feet are fine. So are mine.” I snatched my shoes away before they could fall into the pond. “I enjoy walking in my own shoes, down my own path. I believe that the universe is unfolding as it should. Difficult as that might make my path seem. It’s still my path, and that’s my destiny.”

Blinky slammed the pack of cards down on the umbrella table. “Oh, shut up and deal.”

(If you enjoyed this entry, you can VOTE FOR ME HERE.)
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“I’m descended from a very long line my mother once foolishly listened to.”–Phyllis Diller

“It’s like magic. When you live by yourself, all your annoying habits are gone.”–Merrill Markoe

“After you’ve dated someone, it should be legal to stamp them with what’s wrong with them so the next person doesn’t have to start from scratch.”–Rita Rudner

Vote for Me, or not . . . whichever; and The Usual Crap

You may have read my LJ Idol Competition entry about The Great Spelling Bee Flap . . . if you’d like to help me stay in that competition, feel free to vote for me on ballot #2. (That link will open in a new window so you won’t lose your place in your friendslist.) It’s also fine if you don’t do polls and memes and thus won’t do it. Thanks for all your support!
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Yesterday was a difficult day on all fronts; my mother has had a lot of pain in her back and legs and a worsening of her breathing problem, and asks you to pray or send positive energy. She’s in full sulk mode at me, which happens when I stand up for myself in any way instead of letting her run things. I took her to three places to try to get her something to eat that she could stand, but nothing suited her, and I made the mistake of saying that I could never please her. *sigh*

Hubby didn’t help me at all by coming home in a “ranting” mood (because of something or another at work that eventually turned out in his favor, as demonstrated by an e-mail he got around 11 PM) and following me back here to the computer room to rave on about how my mother needs one of those insurance policies . . . you can probably guess the kind . . . and he really showed that he has changed a lot in the last few years (says he hates this house and its floor plan, that if he hurts someone’s feelings or makes a mistake he doesn’t care and doesn’t second-guess himself as to whether he has been fair, that he doesn’t expect me to ever have any kind of success, that he resents working and he doesn’t feel he should have to do ANYthing around the house even if it’s his home too and I can’t get up in the attic to change the A/C filter, and so forth.) He’s had a lot of anger and resentment since his parents died, and withdraws into his WoW and other online games to shoot things, which is bad but is not something I can change for him.

Got three rejections from agents who’d seemed interested at first.

I did get a nice Boston fern when I stopped by the Home Depot to replace that toilet seat that cracked, but this did not make up for anything.

I tried to write the chase through the desert for Ari Book 2, but decided to make Dennis write it for me, because I am no good at action scenes. So at least there’s still one person on this side of the Veil whom I can take advantage of–and of course there’s my dog, who was really sad all day knowing that I was taking a beating on all fronts and kept giving my mother sad worried looks because he didn’t understand why she was sulking and angry. Poor little dog–if only he could talk, he would straighten us all out. He understands people-speak perfectly well, but doesn’t have the vocal equipment to talk back.

Wasn’t yesterday the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing? And I don’t even want to talk about Virginia Tech’s tragedy on Monday, because it could have been prevented, IMHO, and it’s just too depressing to think about any more; we watched that coverage all day Monday and Tuesday, and by Tuesday PM we simply could not take any more and turned it to the classic movies station. I also escaped by writing the chili cookoff scene for Ari Book 2. Ari’s going to get an opportunity to (as so kindly puts it) “get laid,” and I think she’s going to make the mistake of taking it. That should screw her up even MORE. Why should SHE be happy? *grin*

P. S.
(1) Authors are required to make their characters suffer, so this is kosher passing-it-along behavior on my part.
(2) There will still be no explicit sex scene in the book. So it goes.

LJ IDOL: My Transformation (Entry for Week Something-or-Other)

(After reading the early entries for this round, I figured we needed a little humor.)

This post is a flash fiction for The Real LiveJournal Idol, round something-or-another. Not to be taken seriously. Do not expose to open ridicule. Close cover before striking.

My Metamorphosis
(with apologies to Franz Kafka)

The other morning, I awoke from a restless sleep bookended by unsettling dreams to discover that I had turned into an iPod.

A Fifth Generation 30 GB, shiny silver, personalized video iPod engraved on the back with “Klaatu barada nikto, Gort,” loaded with music and fully charged, but still.

At first I lay motionless under the heavy covers, the sunlight through the window blinds glinting off my huge screen–through which I had the power of vision as well as hearing–and speculated on who might’ve slipped the hallucinogens into my pizza last night. I knew I shouldn’t have ordered the Ultimate Supreme Deep-Dish–it masked the psychedelic taste of mind-bending drugs too well.

A podcast of “Weird Al” Yankovic singing “Don’t Download This Song,” with video of Al bouncing wildly around the stage, flickered helplessly on my color screen.

“What the frell?” I said aloud. Only it came out as a song.

There happened to be a song in my catalog with precisely that title, by the Texas HeckRaisers, and it was as though I had moused over and selected it. It began blaring from both speakers.

Speakers? I appeared to be plugged into the clock radio on the nightstand by a Y-cord.

“This is bullshit. . . .” I attempted to say, but ran straight into an ERROR that knocked me out for a moment. ***ACCESS VIOLATION*** My 2.5-inch (diagonal) color LCD screen went dark, but after a moment of sheer panic at the thought of the abyss, it lightened.

Apparently, I was rebooting.

As Kafka writes in “The Trial,” “Waking up is the riskiest moment of the day.” We tend to take it for granted that what we were the night before, we will be the next morning. *bzzzt* Fooled ya!

But anyhow, this was like some kind of nightmare. Daymare. I hadn’t dropped any tabs of LSD or smoked pot or taken mushrooms . . . well, I did have mushrooms on my pizza the previous night, but they weren’t THAT kind of ‘shrooms.

No, I had to be in some kind of waking dream.

Perhaps it was some kind of Phildickian alternative reality. Things were not as they seemed. I was having a schizophrenic break/interlude.

“Crazy,” I muttered.

Naturally, the strains of Patsy Cline’s rendition of Willie Nelson’s genius song came through the speakers. I couldn’t help but sing along, as I *was* the music.

Now how in the hell was I supposed to get to work and teach middle school math to my classroom of shiftless slackers?

Bobby Darin’s song “Multiplication” began playing as I stewed and turned the problem over in my mind. Or was it actually in my random access memory . . . my available virtual memory . . . whatever.

I couldn’t be fully awake. This was one of those waking dreams like the ones in which you’re paralyzed or move in slow motion through the quicksand as the jackals gain on you.

I decided to go back to sleep, and then when I woke up, maybe I’d wake up for real. But I can’t fall asleep unless I’m on my left side. I couldn’t get myself to stay “on edge.” No matter how hard I threw myself onto my side, I always flopped right back down onto my back. Chrome is really slippery.

It was chilling to realize that I could’ve just as well toppled over on my face–on my screen–and maybe even onto the hardwood floor. Then I really would’ve been in trouble. And I’m so easily scratched.

“Help!” I cried.

The Beatles’ “Help!” began to play. Rather loudly, but I needed more volume in order to attract someone.

The dog started to bark from the foot of the bed. Apparently I no longer emitted that comforting mammalian smell. And I was noisy. My click wheel hurt. Don’t get me started on that itchy center button. I couldn’t bear my ports one more minute.

Hubby strolled in. “What’s the trouble, boy?” he asked the dog. Puppy isn’t even a pointer, but he pointed right at me. Hubby looked at the bed, then did a double-take.

He scratched his head. “Where is your mama, dog, and what is this huge overgrown iPod doing here?”

“It’s me!” The song “It’s Pat” came on, from that old SNL feature about the androgynous actress. Well, close enough.

“I don’t know a Pat,” he mumbled in confusion.

I never realized that “Weird Al” had recorded a song titled “Why Does This Always Happen to Me?” until I started playing it.

He looked at me, then at the dog. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”

A rap song, titled “@$#!@@&%^$” with several lightning bolts implied, blasted from the speakers. I found a directory with still photos and displayed a recent shot of me raising both fists in the air and baring my teeth.

“What?” He stared at the image. “You’ve gotta be kidding.”

“No Kidding, Vern, It’s For Real” by Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys came through the clock radio.

“Okay, let me think. Calm down. Take a chill pill.” He reached over and selected “Sailing” by Christopher Cross from my playlist. It was really off-putting for someone else to be handling my controls without even asking. “There, now. Don’t you feel better?”

While I was searching for songs with the lyric “NO NO NO NO NO,” he unplugged the speakers. “Now it’s quiet,” he remarked to the dog. “Now I can think.”

I found my “Video Playlists” menu and started scrolling through. I settled on a protest march from the 1960s, for lack of a more specific image to show. Although it was silent, he got the message. He plugged my cable back into the radio just as I segued into Engelbert Humperdinck’s classic, “Please Release Me.”

“So you’ve turned into an iPod.” He shook his head. “I told you not to spend so much time playing with electronics. What do you want me to do about it?”

I played “Save Me” by Queen off their Greatest Hits album.

“Well, I don’t know how.”

Janis Joplin’s “Try (Just a Little Bit Harder)” came on without my even trying.

“Let’s figure out why this might have happened. Maybe it’s what you were worrying about. What were you supposed to do today?”

I showed a still photo of the school and played a few bars of “Hot for Teacher.” It was the best I could do.

“How are you going to teach? Do you have appropriate podcasts?”

I couldn’t very well do it, unless I could find appropriate podcasts. And how was I supposed to locomote?

“I don’t know why this happened, but try to enjoy the experience. It’s all fodder for the writer’s mill, as Hossie always said. Maybe at midnight, you’ll turn back.”
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It has been a few days now, and we don’t try to guess when or whether I’ll turn back. He carries me around and listens to music and podcasts, and I get to see where he goes during the day. It’s interesting, in a passive sort of way.

I suppose this is all part of the great Learning Experience of life.

And it could be worse. I certainly wouldn’t want to be a white video iPod playing Green Day, unless it were March 17th. And I could’ve been loaded with all hip-hop . . . or with all the podcast episodes of “Prairie Home Companion.” Talk about a nightmare!

But why would this happen? I suppose it’s all a metaphor for society’s treatment of those who are different. Or it’s about the loneliness of being isolated. About alienation and the fear of failure of a life’s mission. Maybe just the absurdity of existence in general.

But frankly, it’s difficult to say who has experienced more of a metamorphosis. Other people now reach for me . . . they like me. They talk about what a great invention I am. It’s pretty different from when I was a people.

Still, hubby takes me for granted even MORE now. If I get dropped–there goes the disk–so I’ve noticed he’s a little more careful. But it’s pretty stifling inside his jacket pocket.

It has been a few hours now since he took the jacket off, in fact, and I think he has forgotten I’m in here. I feel strange. Light-headed. Uh-oh; I’m totally discharged–my screen is fading. Plug me into a USB port, dummy!

I’m trying to shout, but my output isn’t connected to anything.

Fading . . . hello? Is there anybody out there?

The music spirals into the Grateful Dead’s “‘Til the Morning Comes,” and the song and I spiral on down endlessly in a parade of colorful teddy bears, forever and ever, amen.

LJ Idol, Week 10: I can’t believe I. . . .

For The Real LJ Idol: “I Can’t Believe I Did That!”

I can’t believe I . . . actually allowed my seventy-something mother to have her Stitch-N-B*tch Coffeeklatsch afternoon over here at my house the other day.

Well, yes, I can: she lives with us, and normally this group meets every week or so, but they haven’t met for almost a month because one or the other of them has been sick or out of town. Anyhow, I thought, it’ll make ’em happy, and they’re nice, harmless little old ladies . . . what’s the worst that could happen?

(Never ASK that. The Universe hears. It obliges by showing you.)

No one would expect a group of 70-ish-year-old ladies to bring CHILDREN to the Stitch-n-B*tch coffeecake party. Yet Mama’s little group of weirdos pride themselves on being nonconformists.

Pinky brought her granddaughter. An adorable tot of around three or four. Long blonde hair with ribbons in it, big round blue eyes, enchanting smile. And Of the Devil. Her plan, starting when she entered my house, was to get her grubby paws on my ceramic unicorn collection and tenderly shatter each one in turn, swallowing the horns (that gives her more Unicorn Power.) I distracted her with a stuffed Easter bunny out of my centerpiece and turned the kitchen TV to cartoons as I got the “ladies” settled, but knew I was in for a couple of hours of watchful watching.

Somebody’d brought a cake with pink frosting. Mama had made one of her inimitable Lemon Pound Bundt cakes. Cookies with unidentified lumps (which turned out to be candies) were arrayed on plates. I pulled some frozen Thin Mints out of the freezer and let ’em thaw. With coffee and diet cola, that made a feast for those with teeth (most of these ladies have at least SOME teeth. *GRIN*) I chewed grimly on a MediFast Chocolate Mint Meal Bar as they clinked away with forks on my good dessert plates (Mama got them out while I wasn’t looking.)

Pinky had brought a Sudoku magazine and the latest TV Guide collection of crossword puzzles. She pulled a crossword out of her purse and announced that she was needing help. (These magazines don’t have the solutions in the backs; they’re in NEXT month’s issue, which is a sneaky clever crafty solution for the publisher, I think.) As everyone dug into cake and coffee, she held up the page. “This clue is crazy. ‘In ancient Greece, she turned into a spider.’ Seven letters.”

“What the hell kind of damn clue is that?” asked the ever-saintly Blinky. “Got any letters yet?”

“No.”

“The Greek goddess Athene turned the mortal Arachne into a spider as punishment for weaving more beautifully than the gods,” I said, ever the show-off know-it-all.

“Spell that.” She counted it off against her boxes, then filled it in. “Fits.”

“Smartypants,” mumbled Blinky, winking at me and pulling out her ever-present knitting. It looked as if she were halfway through a garden gnome–a soft one out of multicolored yarn, not a sturdy outdoor one out of concrete, although if anyone could do the latter, it would be Blinky. The gnome’s hat waved at me as she got her needles in position.

“That gives me several other words, in fact. Thanks.” Pinky scribbled across and down, then looked up. “I always wondered–they’re constantly using Greek gods in these damn puzzles. Were all those Greek gods real?”

“Hell yes,” said Stinky, sneering, in a don’t you know-nothing voice. “They exist all right. Ever’ last one of them. ‘Course what they are is, they’re fallen angels. Demons. Going to Hell if you have anything to do with them,” she said, as if that settled it.

“Really?” Blinky dropped a stitch.

“Certainly,” agreed Nod, nodding. “The Romans believed in them after the Greeks. Think how many pagans that was.”

What *that* had to do with it . . . unless Noddy was an existentialist or believed that the more people who worshiped an entity, the more power that gave the entity . . . made it more real, like a Velveteen Rabbit or the American Idol contestant who gets the most votes . . . but she doesn’t think in that kind of depth. Unless she hides it exceedingly well.

I checked on the Little Monster, who was engrossed in trying to pull out the stuffed bunny’s facial features. I retrieved it before the poor thing needed Lasik or an implant and substituted a set of soft blocks that I keep in the wet bar for such emergencies. She started stacking them as tall as she could, then gleefully kicking them over and shrieking with laughter. The cartoons were still playing something that she glanced over at regularly, so I figured we were OK. I expected to hear something about a cookie soon, but so far so good. She occasionally eyed the dog, but he was safely ensconced in Mama’s lap.

Conversation turned to Stinky’s ex-son-in-law, who had deserted her daughter. “High and dry,” she said. “Bast*rd left her and those kids high and dry. Already has some other woman who’s let him move in on her. Probably not paying her a cent either, but he tells Che-Che he’s broke.” She stated her opinion of his parentage and character in a few succinct cusswords. Everyone made noises of commiseration.

This gave Stinky a second wind. “I told her not to marry that jack*ss. His fingernails always have little crescents of sh*t underneath them, and he never washes his hair. I can’t believe any woman would have anything to do with him, unless she was some kind of skank.”

“Unless she were a skank,” corrected Pinky, ever the proper grammarian.

“Is she?” asked Blinky, reaching for another slice of pound cake. “Or are she?”

“What’s a skank?” piped up Sweetness, a gleam in her eye that said “Mama will hear all about this as soon as I get home.” “Is it like a skunk?”

“Yes,” said Blinky, “except the colors are reversed–the stripe is yellow. And the whiskers go the wrong way.”

They all laughed uncontrollably, except for the kid.

“Can I see one?” She ran over to my bookshelf and started pulling encyclopedias down. I hurried over to distract her with more cartoons, but the program she’d been interested in was over. Nothing was on but “Two Stupid Dogs,” which she said she hated. “I want a skank!” She stomped her little pink sandals on my pathetic white-ish carpeting. “I want to see a skank!”

“You’ll be going home to your mother later this afternoon, dear,” said her grandmother, implying that this would be a perfect venue for skank-viewing. She reached into her purse and produced one of those handheld games. The tot landed on it, tore it out of her granny’s claw, and began pounding buttons. The device sang, whistled, and flashed lights at her soothingly. They bonded as the grown-up talk turned to Dubya and the Television and Film Annual Dinner thingie that I blogged about yesterday.

Blinky had been impressed. “I never heared that man say nothin’ funny before–I mean, except where he says something funny without meanin’ to. Like when he says Noo-Ku-Lur wrong.”

“He talked about that Nancy Pelosi and then implied his mama was cranky. I bet Bar-bar was none too pleased with that.”

“But Big George probably laughed.”

They looked at Nod, who had apparently dozed off momentarily. Her eyes flew open, seemingly feeling the weight of all their gazes, and she nodded. “Well, that was funny.” She dug in her purse for her pink pills, and I slipped her a can of Jolt Cola.

“After that, though. Them two idiots and the skits they did –and the dance . . . that was somethin’,” said Blinky, neglecting to specify exactly WHAT kind of something.

“I didn’t get it,” said Stinky.

“Get what?” Sweetness wanted to know, on the alert for any possible gifts.

“Nothing, dear,” said Nod absently. “Play your game.”

Seemingly noticing the goodie table for the first time, the child climbed on my mother’s lap. (My dog scurried to safety under the sofa.) “I want a cookie,” she said sweetly.

“We’ll have to ask Nana, dear,” said my mother the diplomat.

“I’m afraid not, baby. You know you’re allergic to wheat and you can’t have sugar.” Nana Pinky dug in her purse and produced a squashed box of yellow raisins. The child eyed them suspiciously, but accepted the box when it became apparent that no one was going to offer her any cake. Assuming from this example that fruit sugar was exempt, I found a juice box in the fridge. The kid enjoyed playing with the straw. Those grape juice stains are hell to get out of the carpet.

They finally got around to dealing some cards and playing what may have been five-handed canasta. Supposedly they don’t play for money, but I could swear I saw greenbacks passed from hand to hand between deals. The Child had settled in front of the TV again and was sneaking raisins to my dog, who accepted them just to be nice and then they fell out of his mouth unchewed. He had accumulated quite a sticky stack. I’m lucky he is such a picky eater. I snatched him up and cleaned the floor just in time for the grand finale of the last hand of cards.

“Gotcha!” yelled Blinky, gloating over a stack of cards. “I told you, whoever gets the red threes wins.” She leaped up and rushed out to jump on her Harley, roaring away.

“See you next time,” said Pinky, collecting her mini-me and following Stinky and Nod out the front door.

“At your house?” I called hopefully after her, but she was already climbing behind the wheel of her 1967 Impala. The land yacht backed unsteadily down the street and headed off on a side path, carrying the crowd away.

I turned to Mama. “Find out which one is going to host it next time. I’m going to borrow some children and come with you!”

(If you enjoyed this entry, you can VOTE FOR ME HERE.)

LJ Idol: A Failure to Communicate–or a success?

LJ Idol Entry: “The Hard Truths That I Have Learned, During My Time On Livejournal, About Myself and How I Interact With People”

YET ANOTHER POST ABOUT MY COMMUNICATION STYLE
Ah, yes. The Writer navel-gazing about how her words come across to others. Aren’t you tired of that schtick here on this journal yet? (“Aren’t you dead yet?”–Bette Midler’s character in “Outrageous Fortune” to Shelley Long’s character)

But this is the assigned topic, and it’s interesting, so you’re stuck (or press PAGE DOWN to read the next journal.)

What Have We Learned after nearly four years of standing on this soapbox preaching, musing, lecturing, or just shouting out loud in every direction?

We already know that some topics are best avoided for the most part, such as politics, which religion is the One True Way, and whether “chili” that has beans in it can still be called chili. (Not in Texas, it can’t. But I digress.) However, the larger picture shows us that far smaller details can get us into hot water with our readers. And we do NOT want to be boiled by the readership. They look like they’d enjoy a tough, fatty, stringy old broad boiled up for dessert, and so we want to keep them happy.

I have found that I must be careful with humor and with my tendency to generalize from the specific. People read too much into whatever you say and take it too literally *if* you happen to hit upon one of their pet topics, hot buttons, or favorite subjects (especially if it’s something they’re sort of an expert on–sometimes they will miss the sardonic tone completely and post a long response to set the record straight as to whether Chaucer wore knickers or bloomers.)

It tends to piss people off–generalizing. But it is a valuable and useful tool. We used to generalize all the time in school, and it’s part of the scientific method. There’s deduction and induction . . . both leading to generalizations that often are useful for classifying and categorizing, but which drive some people crazy because they’re often stated as Rules of Thumb (and the bad ones stick out like a sore thumb.)

The occasional generalization is useful. Some aren’t. Some are just plain wrong. Most of them apply “some of the time” or illuminate some other aspect of whatever-it-is. For example, if I say, “Shakespeare’s plays always have something in every few scenes for the groundlings,” I get it from every direction. “Groundlings are people too!” “In scene such-and-such, there’s nothing for the groundlings.” “Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare!” And so forth. I mean, you can’t win, any more than when you ask, “Do I look fat in this?”* so why not laugh?

* [You don’t want them to LIE to you and then have you parade all over town in that outfit looking like you are wearing grandma’s muumuu, but on the other hand you don’t really want to hear that when you walk in those jeans your butt looks like two pit bulls rasslin’ in a pillowcase, do you? So the person who is asked the question, “Do I look fat in Grandma’s muumuu?” is always screwed, no matter what answer (s)he gives. The best route is to begin choking, turn purple, and pass out on the floor. By the time the paramedics arrive and carry you to safety, you will have distracted the questioner sufficiently that you won’t have to answer, even if she’s so fat that she has to iron her jeans on the driveway.]

People have their own issues and bring them to the table, so when they read your writing, they sometimes read stuff into it. It seems that a small number of people always want to play “NIGYSOB.” That’s an old Transactional Analysis game out of _Games People Play_ by Eric Berne. The initials stand for, “Now I’ve Got You, You SOB.” It’s all about some detail that you made an error on, and now you’re going to get it with both barrels, you ignorant slob who is trying to spread misinformation! Or some people just love “Let’s You and Him Fight.” They’ll write to person A to tell him or her all about your latest entry that simply SMEARS him or his work, and person A comes blazing over and fires the torpedoes and explains how he/she is Hopelessly Offended, because Helpful Type poisoned the well, and when A reads what you wrote, it’ll be SO APPARENT that you were absolutely libeling him or out to get him. (And it could be that you only mentioned him in passing.) Others prefer the game of “Uproar,” which in general gets fulfilled any time they start any kind of uproar. Thus LJ Drama in full flower.

You also have to be careful about little insider jokes or things that might sound insulting or bigoted if the humor doesn’t come across. Some people hate indicators such as *grin* and smileys; they say these are fourth-wall-breakers and shouldn’t be needed. They believe you should be Erma Bombeck or Dave Barry and just be able to signal that it’s humor through your tone, but you can’t always please ’em all. After all, a huge contingent of middle school stoners still believe that Jonathan Swift seriously advocated eating Irish babies in “A Modest Proposal.”

You just never know what’s going to light somebody’s fire.

When people assumed that I was a bad person because of some generalization that I mused about or tossed off, it used to cause Major Drama and copious weeping and wailing on this side of the screen. But eventually I figured out . . . I’m not perfect. As much as I strive for clarity, I’m going to be misunderstood or misinterpreted sometimes. I’m not always going to be able to get across the proper tone or signal that I’m trying to pull a Dave Barry. Now and then, I’ll end up clarifying or apologizing. It’s just the cost of doing business by text (or any other way, for that matter, except that when we’re not face-to-face, there’s no worry about belching or farting out of turn, now, is there?)

People are going to bring their own baggage. They have their own “hot buttons” or sensitive words/topics, and if you happen to step on that sore toe, you will get the blast. It doesn’t mean you offended all the world, but just that you picked the magic word and Groucho’s duck zipped down from the ceiling.

Some people are going to read into what you say whatever they want to hear . . . or if they’re playing NIGYSOB, they’ll say, “Gotcha!” So you have to proofread with an eye towards that. The occasional troll who deliberately pretends to misunderstand so they can go on the attack with their agenda will come along–or somebody will just hit a word that is their hot button and go crazy.

This isn’t just happening to ME; it’s endemic. Look what happened to Garrison Keillor–ol’ Dan Savage savaged him because he didn’t “get” the gentle winking tongue-in-cheek type of humor being used in the passages that he chose to go crazy over. Again, I think this was a case of pushing the fellow’s hot buttons. It wasn’t Keillor really saying any of those insults.

This kind of knee-jerk reaction may be fun to watch, but isn’t fun for the recipient; after posting one of these, you usually realize that you’ve overreacted, but then you think that the venting was good and that you DID make many good points, so you don’t go back and delete it. However, it just shows you don’t share the same sense of humor as the person who understood the piece to be satirical or funny. The comment threads are usually pretty evenly divided for and against you.

(I don’t want to be a Keillor apologist . . . I think sometimes his show is positively lame, and he featured a woman who COULD NOT SING on St. Paddy’s Day, doing a medley of three “songs usually reserved for Irish tenors.” She then made the reason for this obvious, and PLEASE LADY TURN DOWN THE VIBRATO/TREMOLO. However, I didn’t think that piece said what the offended fellow thought it did.)

“What we have here is a failure to communicate.”–_Cool Hand Luke_, Strother Martin’s character

You’d think that we’d all stay away from LiveJournal and other forums because of these minor glitches.

But on the other tentacle, I get so many points of view. My friends list points to MANY fiction writers, memoirists, et alia, but also to people of diverse religions–in diverse locations where there are different holidays and vacation areas. I belong to a few communities that specialize in particular topics: recipes for crock pot cooking, long hair care and nurturing, fat girls who love fashion, cranky editors, copy editors, and belly dancing. There are people who’ll teach you about horses, some who are scientists, and many who review interesting books and films. It’s a lot of fun to read bits and jots from here and there. . . and illuminating.

Besides, where else would I find a soapbox to stand up on? It’s fun. I always learn something from reading various journals. We’re learning every day how to improve our communication skills. It’s win-win.

And I always do learn something about myself. They say that’s one of the benefits of journaling–self-awareness and realization. So we must be doing *something* right.

Carry on!

LJ IDOL: Voting for me

If any of you do that sort of thing–I mean, take polls and vote on stuff and so forth–you might like to go over and vote for me here so I can stay in the LJ Idol contest. I have seven votes, and that might be enough, but there are fifty people in the competition, and they’re going to drop the one with the fewest votes. No problem if you don’t mess with that kind of stuff. Some weeks it’ll be limited to allow only participants to vote. This week, I think it’s any LJ user.

I’m seeing more people from LJ Idol reading here, though, and that’s good. Friending frenzy!