The Valley of Malls

My family has many holiday traditions. Some are fun like watching A Christmas Story 400 times, some are challenging, like baking 800 cookies, and some are straight up worse than a root canal, like going to the mall. My dad insists on this last one every single year. No matter what I do to try to make his shopping easier, he somehow drags me to the mall. The Old Man is not a great gift giver, but he thinks that if he goes to the mall, the world’s greatest gift will somehow find him. I have been playing this game with him for over twenty years and I have yet to see a gift fly out of a store and beat him over the head, but I am hopeful that I will be there if it ever happens.

This year he called me asking “what do you think about those glasses that let you walk down streets in New York City and see the Sistine Chapel?” My first thought was that my mom doesn’t do so well with technology, so virtual reality glasses are about as useful as a unicycle (my dad’s gift to my mom, Christmas 1971). In all fairness, he did know the name of the oculus glasses and told me all about them. At the end of his explanation I said “they are owned by Facebook? No, just no. You may as well ask me to make a purchase at Walmart. Not happening.” My husband also made a very valid argument against such a purchase. He pointed out that my mom fell in a hole without anything on her head obstructing her view. I have to admit, I have watched my mom fall down more times than I can count and have seen her knock things off tables with her purse. We have a running joke in my family about my mom running into things. I can only imagine her trying to navigate a room while thinking she is somewhere else entirely. Unfortunately, my dad had to ask “is this idea up there with the unicycle?” to which I had to inform him yes, it was.

He did have a few other ideas that were actually good, and as it turns out, I could actually order said ideas online while on the phone with him. Unfortunately my dad declined my offer to do so stating that he wanted to touch the items before purchasing them. Apparently his sense of touch is far better than his sense of sight, or judgement for that matter. I searched online until I found a local store to purchase one of the items that was not at the mall, so we drove the 11 miles to the store so my dad could manhandle the gift. After wandering through the store for 20 minutes, we were informed that the item we wished to fondle was only available online. We proceeded to the parking lot where I ordered the gift online on my phone. My dad still claims we purchased the gift at the store to keep his purchasing record clean. I’m fairly certain he believes there is a reward for the effort of shopping in person.

One of the things my mom specifically asked for was a chair. She has a queen anne recliner at their lake house that is just her size. My mom in an average size recliner looks much like Lily Tomlin as Edith Ann, but this small, stiff chair fits her just perfectly. She loves the chair, and asked for another one in a different color, which is kind of a theme for my mom. If one is good, two is better, and you can never have too many chairs. She apparently found one online for $300 and told my dad about it. Unfortunately, she may have been shopping on because we were unable to find a decent chair for twice that amount at any of the many furniture stores we perused in person (including Macy’s at THE MALL). We eventually found one that I declared too ornate, my dad declared too uncomfortable, and my mom declared too expensive, so it was clearly the perfect chair. It will arrive in 4 months. Happy Easter mom!

I thought I was free and clear after walking through more stores in a few weeks than I have in six months, but I was mistaken. On our way home from what I thought was our final trip my dad declared that he forgot all about her apple pencil. Apparently when he bought my mom her iPad two years ago he also bought her the pencil to go along with it. She tried to use it once and when it didn’t work, she set it aside for two years. My dad decided it would be a good idea to take the pencil back to the apple store at the mall to replace it. When we arrived, we were informed that this was not, in fact, a good idea at all. The security guard who stopped us at the door told us we should go home and take care of it online. I barely contained my smirk as I repeated his instructions like shopping online was a novel idea. 

By the time my dad had completed his shopping, every item he purchased was being delivered. This was clearly not going to suffice, so one last trip to the mall was necessary, this time with mini-me to assist. We walked directly to a store with lots of sparkly things where the Old Man immediately pointed at the same thing he bought his wife last year and said “do you think she would like that?” to which I replied “well, she liked it last year…” The child walked him around the store pointing out the items he had already purchased and moved him directly to a display of new merchandise. If only she had been born in the 90s when he bought the same earrings two years in a row and I was too stoned to realize it. We exited the store a half hour later with gifts for my mom, including one from the child that she didn’t even have to pay for, and my kid carrying a brand new fur backpack that she also didn’t pay for (or shoplift). Apparently my father is grooming her to take over my shopping duties by bribing her with free stuff. It took him long enough to get sick of listening to my commentary while fondling mall wares. That man has a high threshold for mockery.

All in all, I think the Old Man did okay this year, as long as all of his purchases arrive on time. I don’t have any faith in the postal service since they have been holding several of my packages hostage in the vortex called “in transit” for a month now. And suddenly I am beginning to see why he likes to do all of his shopping in person. Maybe that old guy is actually onto something.

**After hearing Mariah Carey at the mall and wanting to gouge my eardrums out with a chop stick, I found it necessary to listen to some good old fashioned Christmas songs about sex changes and killing people.**



Don’t Mess With Me

I have had more scam calls in the past month than I have over my lifetime. And let me start by saying, I am the worst nightmare for these people. I learned from a man who made a sport out of telemarketing calls. I have been listening to my dad mess with telemarketers since I was a small child. He kept a New York Times salesman on the phone for a good ten minutes telling him how the paper would be useless in our house because the entire family was illiterate. He talked this guy’s ear off about a cousin who went all the way through school to the 10th grade and then argued that the 10th grade was the end of high school, not the 12th grade. So when telemarketers call me, I usually do my best to keep them on the line as long as possible so they can’t annoy someone else.

Last year I had a guy call and tell me they were coming to arrest me. Since at least ten reasons popped into my head for why this could be accurate, I listened. Apparently my tax preparer didn’t file my tax return, which is weird since I’m a CPA and all. He even ended up swearing at me at one point so I grabbed a whistle and blew it in the phone as hard as I could. I then proceeded to call him back repeatedly blowing the whistle until the line was finally taken off the hook. I can be a little mean if they catch me in a mood. I have told several of these idiots that I am sorry they made such bad life choices that scamming people is their only form of income or I wonder if their mothers are proud of their career choices.

A few weeks ago I got a call from my “computer’s support team” telling me there was suspicious activity on my Amazon account. I asked if I had paid extra for the support team or if my computer just came that way. Strangely, the guy did not understand sarcasm, which seems to be common with these calls. He walked me through downloading a file onto my computer to resolve the issue. I tapped on my keys pretending to follow his instructions and then finally said “okay, I’m all done. I can’t wait to see what your virus does to my computer. Oh, and by the way, I don’t have an Amazon account, but my husband does. Do you want his phone number?” All I heard in response was a click. Luckily for him, I did not have my whistle handy.

Yesterday I received another call who sounded almost identical to the amazon guy. He was also from my computer’s support team, and said I definitely had a virus. He must have heard from his buddy that I downloaded the file! He asked if I had noticed anything unusual and I said that my granny porn had been really slow to load. When he asked what my desktop looked like I told him I had no icons and asked if I should. He said everyone had icons so I must have done something to make mine disappear. I think he just wanted to know if I had any of the granny porn loaded on my desktop. Maybe that question is the scam caller’s equivalent of “what are you wearing?” When he asked me what browser I used I said the blue one because it was way faster than the red one. He still didn’t catch on that I was toying with him. We had been on the phone for at least five minutes when he told me to press the function key along with another key. I asked him what a function key was and he tried to explain as I continued to ask questions. He was trying to describe the layout of a keyboard while I was saying things like “space bar, is it a bar in outer space? I don’t understand what you mean.” He was clearly becoming exasperated so when he said “do you see the key with the Fn on it? It’s right next to the key with Ctrl on it” I almost started laughing, feeling his head ready to explode. Instead I said “OH MY GOD, that key is not there. There is a blank spot. Do you think the virus stole it?” And again, all I heard was a click. 

** I knew this album was in my head for a reason. **

Going Postal

I spend a lot of time at the post office. Between my CPA practice and my Rodan + Fields business, I have a lot of packages going out. I normally go directly to the self-serve kiosk. The lines inside are usually rather long and the postal workers are usually rather crabby. I often wonder if there is some secret torture chamber in the back room that makes the staff behave as if they are being held hostage. I mean I get that they have to deal with a bunch of geniuses that can’t fill out the proper paperwork or tape a box shut, but they are governmental employees which means their benefits should be enough to keep a smile on their faces for the half days they work.

Last week I had a stack of letters that appeared to be about the same size but varied in content. Some were a few pages while others were a dozen pages. When I walked into the post office I bypassed the kiosk and headed straight inside. I wasn’t about to weigh and post forty envelopes by myself, especially when you have to answer about 100 questions and pay after each transaction. Twenty minutes later when I finally was called on by a cashier, I walked up to the counter and set down my stack of envelopes. The cashier looked at me and said “you want me to run ALL of these through the machine?” with annoyance. I stared back at him with a smirk thinking to myself “well isn’t that kind of your job?” I mean this man was sitting behind the desk at the post office and was annoyed with me that I brought him letters to mail out. He ended up weighing about half of them and said they would all only require one stamp. As he was rifling through books of stamps ready to hand me a bunch to affix myself, I told him I had stamps at home and took my letters back.

At the bottom of my pile was an envelope I had received that was addressed to someone who lived in our house prior to us buying it over seven years ago. We have been receiving mail for about ten individuals over the last seven years and every envelope we receive I send back to the post office. I had written on the front of this letter “return”. He took it from me as if I were handing him a coconut with confusion on his face. I stated that the person it was addressed to did not live at our address to which he responded again with a blank stare. I said “Don’t worry, you don’t have to run it through the machine” as I left.

Today I got the the letter back in the mail – the one I wrote “return” on. So I wrote “return to sender” to make it a little clearer and put it back in the mailbox. Maybe the destination designation of “sender” will help accomplish the task. As long as nobody has to run it through the machine!

I wrote this blog while listening to The Descendents


My daughter was looking through some of my old yearbooks last weekend. As I flipped the pages and looked at pictures of my class, I was a little shocked at how few of my classmates I remembered. I was also shocked that when I saw the picture of one particular girl I was brought right back to being a twelve year old girl and wanting to rip someone’s head off. Not so shockingly, it wasn’t even the girl, it was her mother.

I went to a very small school. There were less than 15 students in my grade and most of us had been in school together since we were very young. One girl that I was good friends with wore glasses the depth of the bottom of a glass soda bottle. Of course when some of the other girls teased her the words “Coke bottle” were often used. These are the words that I heard come out of the mouth of a girl we will call “Judy” that initiated my feelings of ill will toward her mother.

Judy was the kind of girl who defined herself by her looks. Her entire self worth was wrapped up in the emblem on her popped collared shirts and pink headbands. She spent more time in front of a mirror than a book and her school supplies consisted of glosses and powders rather than leads and paper. Looking back, I can’t really blame her for this, it was how she had been conditioned by her mother who was a walking Ralph Lauren advertisement. I think Judy’s mom was pretty, but it was hard to tell what she really looked like under all the mascara and hairspray. Sometimes her insides showed through which is exactly what kept her in the pageant runner up category. She would never be beautiful with all of her insides making an appearance like they did. She was full of gossip and snarky comments. It was no wonder Judy only felt good about herself when she was making others feel badly about themselves.

Judy never picked on me the way she did my friend. I think she knew better than to enter a battle of wits unarmed. Twelve years of smart assery had left me a relative wit warrior. Having an overly healthy self-esteem, her words would have been like paper airplanes attacking me. I threw grenades. And after she called my friend “Coke bottle” that day, I threw a pretty hefty grenade. I don’t recall my exact words but the message was that even the strongest braces were not going to fix her enormous buck teeth. Although I was a skilled verbal swords woman I was also a prepubescent girl so my natural reaction was to go directly for the jugular. She had no comeback for me other than to scream “BITCH!” which was, unfortunately for her, overheard by a nun walking down the hall. We were both taken to the headmistress’s office and our parents were called. I don’t recall any punishment. I do remember that our mothers had a telephone conversation that night.

In that conversation Judy’s bumbleheaded mother informed my mom that Judy was forced to call me a bitch. My mom asked if I had held her down and made her recite the word. I don’t think Judy’s mom understood what “personal responsibility” meant when my mom used the words and she certainly didn’t understand what my mom was getting at when she was trying to find out how I had coerced poor little Judy into swearing at me. Judy’s mom finally let her insides show and said “maybe if you stayed at home with your daughter these things wouldn’t happen…” My mom is a better person than I am. Where I would have said “maybe if you didn’t spend so much time with your daughter she wouldn’t know what a bitch was”, my mom remained calm and continued the conversation until they finally agreed to disagree and hung up. My mom has told me many times that there is no fixing stupid.

I know those words cut my mom. I know she often felt guilty about being a working mom in a land of stay at home moms. I know this because I used that guilt as a weapon on many occasions. Again, I was a prepubescent girl so my natural reaction was to go directly for the jugular – mother or not. Plus, I was kind of a manipulative little asshole. Those words actually provoked me to be a little more like my mom. I was pretty certain that Judy’s mom truly was a bitch and it was probably because she was miserable with her life decisions. I had always thought that my rebelliousness came from my dad, but I realized then that my mom had been bucking the system my whole life.

Little Trouble Girl

When my husband and I were first married we lived in a little house in a neighborhood that was headed into economic hardship. We lived directly across the street from a condo complex that included government subsidized housing. There lived little old ladies, single moms with gaggles of small children and our favorite resident who we called “Cracky”. She was a middle aged woman who rarely left her front porch but had many visitors. She spent most days – both warm and cold – sitting in her front yard with a tumbler full of booze in her right hand and a cigarette in her left. Mullet and mustache sporting men moved in and out monthly, some leaving in handcuffs and at least one in a body bag.

Cracky was a regular source of entertainment for us during our first few years of marriage. We watched as she drank her days away, hosting parties with loud classic rock blaring from her front windows. We had little choice in watching her antics since she was always louder than our TV and there were always some form of lights or fireworks illuminating the front of her home. When we heard sirens in the neighborhood, there was never a question of where they were headed. We saw at least three bodies removed from the house in black bags, mostly by ambulances, but one in an unmarked minivan. I had no idea the coroner’s office employed outside contractors. Maybe she found a discount service.

She had a grown son who lived with her on and off. One day we watched him pack a bunch of camping equipment and head into the complex. We saw him return every so often after that, but he never stayed long. We made up stories about him moving to the woods and living off the grid in pure paranoid stoner fashion. We were pretty sure he only came home once  a month to bathe.

A lot of hard work and a little entertainment

Occasionally Cracky got social while drinking on her porch. She came across the street to chat with my husband and dad as they installed a paver walkway from the driveway to the porch one morning. My dad commented that he thought she was drunk at 10 am. He didn’t know Cracky like we did – she had been loaded since half past 8. She spent twenty minutes hitting on my dad while my husband tried to ignore there was a drunken, half-clad woman tripping all over our yard. I think she finally noticed my dad’s wedding band or her drink was running low because she headed home pretty quickly. Later that day our neighbor told us how he had woken up from a nap one day and she was swimming in his pool – uninvited. I made a mental note to lock our gate.

She returned the following summer when we had a garage sale and offered me a nickel for every item for sale, even a leather jacket with a $10 neon orange price tag attached to the lapel. I offered her a nickel if she would remove herself from my driveway and stop scaring off potential customers. It was again before 10 am and she could barely keep her body above her dollar store flip flops. That was the first and last garage sale we even had.

We once put a couch at the curb that had seen better days. I don’t know when those better days were since it had passed through at least four houses before finding it’s way to our basement. It was worn and ugly and had been around the block more times than the ice cream truck. It sat at our curb for approximately 10 seconds before Cracky recruited her son and another dude from inside her house to drag the entire sectional across the street. Apparently a twelve year old couch is cause for a celebration. The couch sat in the center of her front yard as party guests arrived over the course of the afternoon. A bonfire was lit, the coolers were opened and we heard several very out of tune guitars playing “Smoke on the Water” until the sun came up the following morning. We thought the party was over, but apparently a white trash celebration over a dumpster find lasts longer than a Hindu death ritual. Luckily the last guitar string broke within the first day and they resorted to the classic rock radio station for their listening entertainment. It took a summer thunder storm to break up the party. We watched as the guests stumbled over themselves trying to drag the soaking wet piece of furniture into the house without spilling their beers. A few weeks later I came home to see the couch sitting in Cracky’s front yard. This time it was closer to the sidewalk with a giant sign on the front that read “FOR SALE”. I guess she had to pay for her Five O’clock Vodka and Marlboros somehow. I walked over and offered her a nickel.

It’s been awhile since we have moved from that old neighborhood, but I like to think that Cracky is still sitting on her porch, drink in hand, listening to some Sabbath. I’m guessing she is slinking around today, swimming in some poor sap’s pool while they are at work and digging through their garbage for little trinkets to sell to passersby on her sidewalk. I have yet to find a neighbor even half as colorful as Cracky in our new neighborhood.