I can walk in slow-mo, too

Screenshot of Matrix screen
You know how it is when you do a little research on a subject and then all of a sudden all your friends see you as an expert?

It happens to me all the time—why, I don’t know. Just one of those amusing little foibles of human nature, I guess.

BONNIE: Yup. (examines fingernails) I just installed two PLUGINS on my WEBSITE.

CARPOOL MOM: You have a website?

BONNIE: (nonchalantly) Oh, it’s nothing. Really.

CARPOOL MOM: That reminds me! Did you see Oprah today?

BONNIE: Um, no. But I did take a look at her website’s SOURCE CODE and did you know she actually uses TABLES for FORMATTING? Ha! I don’t know who her designer is, but—

CARPOOL MOM: (frowning) I don’t remember Oprah doing any shows on designer table coverings.

Yes, I have quite a geeky reputation amongst my friends. And I get tons of requests to help people with their websites, too. TONS.

BONNIE: Let me do your website for you! Please, please, please?

FRIEND: I, uh, oh, I don’t know…

BONNIE: But I’m ever so cheap! In fact, I’m free! A free website! Just for you!

FRIEND: Uh…

Being a webmaster is an important responsibility, as you might imagine, especially if you’re doing it for a friend. So I frequently check my friend’s site just to make sure all is hunky dory. And on Monday morning—yowza!

Her site was trashed. Completely unreadable. She had been hacked!

Of course, I handled this crisis as calmly and authoritatively as any level-headed webmaster would.

BONNIE: (running around the living room, arms flapping) We were hacked! We were HACKED! WE… WERE… HACKED!

I searched through all the files and in a few of them found strange snippets of code that did not belong—code I’d never seen before—with phrases like “ERROR_REPORTING” and “base64_encode”.

And when I finally figured out how to translate all this base64_encode stuff, I discovered it contained a URL! A URL that pointed to… A ROMANIAN WEBSITE.

BONNIE: (running around the living room, arms flapping) We were hacked by ROMANIANS! We were HACKED BY ROMANIANS! WE WERE… HACKED… BY ROMANIANS!

What the Romanians wanted, I don’t know, but they really messed up the site. And how they got into the files in the first place, I don’t know, either, but it took me some time to find all the little bits of code they added. At one point I just gave up and uploaded one of my backups. Now the site loads perfectly.

And of course, all my friends are dying to hear about this online adventure.

BONNIE: (sniffs modestly) Yup. Spent most the day cleaning up some website files. HACKERS, you know.

SWIM TEAM MOM: Huh?

BONNIE: It was nothing, really. Just one of my websites. Got HACKED. By ROMANIANS.

SWIM TEAM MOM: Romanians? Say, didn’t Nadia Comaneci marry an American gymnast?

Yup. That foible of human nature thing—you gotta love it.

Okay, let’s talk about that snack bar

Here in North County San Diego, there are certain standards for hosting a swim meet, standards based on the oldest rule in the Good Book:

The Book of the Swim Meet, Chapter 1, Verse 1:

Thou shalt shew an excellent snack bar unto thy guests, otherwise thou wilt be known as “Losers” all the days of the swim calendar, and no one wilt ever cometh to thy meets again.

As you can imagine, running a snack bar is therefore considered to be a really important job. So why’d they pick someone like me to run it? I mean, I barely know what I’m making each night for dinner, much less what I should sell at a snack bar for a whole weekend.

And writing up menus and shopping lists is just the beginning! Snack bar managers have to make all sorts of important decisions that determine the success or failure of a food concession—important decisions I found difficult to make without several outside opinions…

BONNIE: On one hand, those mini Pringles cans sell really well. They may cost more, but then we can charge more. On the other hand, the little chip bags are cheaper and there’s less waste in the landfill. And there are more flavors, too, especially if we get those big variety packs.

GROCERY CHECKOUT CLERK: So… um… was that paper or plastic?

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not a total snack bar loser. I was just majorly stressed about the other half of the job I’d been recruited to do: a job called “Hospitality”.

The Book of the Swim Meet, Chapter 1, Verse 3:

Thou shalt provideth Hospitality for all thy coaches and volunteer officials for lo, they must stand in the sun all day. And Hospitality shall include nice breakfasts, lunches and dinners for them so none may say, “Nay, let’s not go there, they only ever giveth us burgers and dogs.”

Since burgers and dogs aren’t an option, and since we don’t have a kitchen at our pool, the team moms who did the snack bar before me always got all sorts of donated restaurant meals for Hospitality.

Even those ultra-busy moms, the ones who had full time jobs, five kids, sparkling clean homes, successful small business startups and several published novels under their belts… THEY always managed to get PLENTY of donated meals.

I was never one of those moms.

BONNIE: And your generous donation to our non-profit booster club— (fumbles with a folder) … uh… will allow us to spend our limited cash reserves on financial aid, sports equipment, and airfare to travel mee— (drops several papers) Oops! Sorry! Where was I?

RESTAURANT MANAGER: About to purchase three giant lasagnas?

BONNIE: Oh, yeah! Thanks! Where do I sign?

But wait, there’s more!

I not only had to buy meals for coaches and officials, I had to guess how many might show up, based on previous meets—because snack bar leaders just don’t know how many coaches and officials are going to show up until, oh, perhaps the day before the meet.

RESTAURANT MANAGER: You did say three lasagnas, didn’t you?

BONNIE: Yeah, but maybe I should get SIX, just in case. Uh, no! Make that THREE, because it’s probably best to have too little than too much. Yeah, THREE. No, wait! Let’s go with FOUR! No! FIVE!

This is why my snack bar will probably be known forever as “The Most Expensive Snack Bar Our Team Ever Had.” Actually, there are several more titles that would accurately describe my snack bar, including:

  • “The Snack Bar That Never Had Any Brewed Coffee So We Had to Walk to Starbucks”
  • “The Snack Bar That Advertised Nachos But Lied,” and my personal favorite,
  • “The Snack Bar That Served Four Giant Lasagnas Just as the Swim Meet Closed Two Hours Earlier Than Scheduled”

The Book of the Swim Meet, Chapter 1, Verse 6:

Thou shalt not ever thinketh of getting thee hence to hide out in Mexico, either, because swim team board members haveth ways of tracking thee down.

My no good, very bad day

6:20 am: Tiger and I are in our van, hurtling toward our carpool pickup spot. When I look into the rearview mirror I see that my hair has frizzed due to the high humidity. I look like I stuck my finger into a light socket, only less alert.

7:00 am: I drop off Tiger and meet Joanne at Starbucks to discuss the status of my upcoming swim meet snack bar.

As I wait for my grande, I imagine that Joanne will offer to take over the snack bar, giving me a much easier job to do for the team, like extracting impacted molars from giant crocodiles.

7:40 am: Our snack bar business has concluded and sadly, I’m still in charge of the snack bar.

8:00 to 10 am: I work on my snack bar shopping list. It’s hot and muggy and my t-shirt sticks to me.

I imagine working the snack bar on a hot and muggy day like today, but things are bad because I ordered hot chocolate instead of Gatorades and bottled water. Swim meet participants are dropping all over the pool deck from heatstroke!

That’s when a crew of parents attacks me with swim fins and snorkels for ruining their kids’ best chances for a Zone time, and I imagine trying to climb up the lifeguard’s chair to escape but the lifeguard beats me back down with a flotation device.

LIFEGUARD: My kid sister coulda had a ZONE TIME!

10:05 am: I leave to pick up Tiger from the carpool pickup point. Micki is late picking up her daughter so I call her. She’s stuck in traffic on the I-5. Just then a hit-and-run driver plows into Micki’s car. BAM!

She’s okay, but she’s going to be late. Joanne offers to hold on to Micki’s daughter and I race off with Tiger. We carpooling women are nothing if not flexible.

10:25 am: Tiger and I are late to his community service appointment. As we pull in to the parking lot the car makes a strange sound.

10:30 am: Tiger and I pick up coolers containing meals for homebound seniors. The odd car sound gets louder and turns into a grinding noise. It sounds like something evil is chewing up the car’s engine compartment.

I wonder if the car will die on me on the I-5. I imagine getting out and pulling up the hood, only to have something evil with wings fly out and attack me, but spit me out because I’m so sweaty and stinky.

EVIL THING WITH WINGS: And you never called back that sub sandwich place about donations, either!

10:40 am: I call the community service headquarters from the auto mechanic’s waiting area. I ask for a substitute driver.

I tell the auto mechanic receptionist all about the evil noise coming from my car. She writes: “check evil noise” on the estimate sheet. Hopefully they won’t charge extra for this.

11:00 am: Tiger just got off a 2-hour swim practice and is hungry. My brain turns off and I offer to walk him down to Alberto’s in downtown Encinitas. When we arrive at Alberto’s, I remember: I left the community service meal coolers in the mechanic’s waiting area!

Community Service Credo:

Never leave the meals behind!!!

I gallop past a storefront window on the way back to the auto mechanic. My reflection reveals a head of frizz; I look like an albino version of Foxy Cleopatra, only lots chubbier.

Foxy Cleopatra

11:10 am: Tiger catches up with a diet Coke for me, which I gulp down. The substitute driver arrives. He doesn’t know the route and asks us to go with him.

Tiger and I pile into this guy’s tiny car. He rolls up his window and tells us he never uses the air conditioner and he’s not even sure it works. He turns it on. Hot air blasts out.

11:15 am: It turns out he was pushing the heater button. My frizzy hair now reaches for the ceiling of his car interior. Soon, it may start lunging at strangers.

12:30 pm: The mechanic calls just as we finish our route. Our van needs new brakes and new rotors.

$800.

KA-CHING!

I resolve to make Hubby a really nice dinner tonight and tell him after he eats, but then I remember I won’t be able to get groceries today, so I resolve instead to make a really nice dinner out of leftovers.

12:45 pm: The substitute driver drops us off at our house. It smells funny inside and I see odd-looking splashes on the floor and walls, reminding me I forgot to put cleaning supplies on my snack bar shopping list.

I follow the trail of splashes as I imagine how my snack bar sends 50 people (maybe more!) to the hospital with food poisoning.

CENTER FOR DISEASE CONTROL: The woman responsible for this snack bar will be put behind bars!

The splashes lead me to Mojo, who’s in the middle of an impressive diarrhea attack.

12:46 pm: The day pretty much went downhill from there.

Snack bar sacrifice

Volunteering to run a three-day swim meet food concession is like volunteering to throw yourself into a volcano: the rare individuals who make such offers rarely last long enough to do it again.

And then there are those who get talked into volunteering: clueless souls who never even notice the volcano part of the job until they’re sailing into the crater.

“You should never answer your phone,” Abby said. “I stopped answering mine last year. I screen all my calls.”

I considered this and then lit up. “But you always pick up for me!”

“You nut! Of course I pick up your calls. You never ask me to do anything! It’s only a few swim moms I have to avoid.”

Abby was sharing her Swim Team Volunteer Avoidance Secrets with me in case I survived the snack bar long enough to be shanghaied into doing another meet. So far, her tips also included hiding in the car when picking up a swimmer—but only if a booster club board member was nearby.

“You don’t have to avoid ALL the moms,” she explained. “Just the board members. They’re dangerous. You stop for a quick chat and the next thing you know you’re next year’s meet manager.”

“Yikes!” I said.

“Look at me,” said Abby, jabbing her thumb at her chest. “I volunteer when I want, where I want. I choose the job. That’s because I can spot a board member a mile away and I screen all my calls. And I don’t let myself get talked into anything I don’t want to do.”

These insights were extremely informative and I probably should’ve been taking notes, but I was already thinking about how to properly phrase my next question.

“So,” I said, in what I hoped was a non-board memberish fashion. “Are you free on—”

“Forget it. I’ll work Hospitality for you Saturday afternoon, but I don’t ever work the snack bar.”

“You’re on!” I said gratefully, and wrote her name down.

I may be sailing into that crater, but I can recognize a good food concession volunteer when I see one.

On bosoms, Chihuahuas, and free car washes

I was digging through my pocketbook for my “One FREE car wash!” card when I heard the kissing.

“Mwah! Mwah! Mwah!”

It came from the woman ahead of me in line. I could only see her back, but she was tanned, curvy and blonde, wearing a white babydoll t-shirt and short-shorts. I immediately forgot the free car wash and considered instead 1) the freedom of sportswear a really good figure can give you, and 2) whether or not this gal was wearing any underwear.

Just then the blonde threw a Chihuahua onto her shoulder. For a quick moment I thought she was going to burp it, but she only kissed its neck several times.

Mwah! My baby!” she crooned as her dog quivered and trembled. “Don’t be nervous! Mwah! Mwah! Mwah! It’s just an old car wash!”

The line moved forward, prompting me to start digging around for my card again. All kissing and lack of underwear aside, who wants to pay for a car wash when they have a perfectly good free pass in their pocketbook… somewhere?

Just then the blonde whipped around, stunning me with one absolutely perfect bosom, barely contained within an ultra-low scoop neck.

“Do you own dogs?” she asked.

I hoped I’d averted my eyes quickly enough. “Yes!”

“Aren’t they great?”

“Oh, yes!” I nodded emphatically. “They’re great!”

She grinned and turned to face the cashier. “Pump No. 3!”

The cashier’s eyes widened until they looked like the cup lids by the soda machine. A man in a suit who was looking over the road map display also seemed transfixed. Both watched as the blonde struggled to open her handbag while holding her dog.

“Darn!” she said. She put down her handbag, pulled open the neck of her t-shirt, and tucked in the trembling pooch. The Chihuahua gave a contented sigh, echoed faintly by the cashier and Mr. Suit.

“He was cold!” laughed the blonde, handing her money to the cashier.

“Aw-w-w,” the cashier said hopefully.

“He gets cold so easily!” the blonde told Mr. Suit.

“Poor little pup,” sympathized Mr. Suit. “A Chihuahua?”

She laughed. “Yes! He’s a Chihuahua! Aren’t you, baby! Mwah!

The cashier gave her a receipt, no doubt cursing his inability to make canine small talk. The blonde turned to Mr. Suit.

“Wanna pet him?”

The cashier and I froze. Mr. Suit’s mouth fell open, but he recovered quickly. Or at least, his hand did. It popped up, hovered briefly over the dog’s head, then moved in.

“Nice doggy,” he cooed, finally connecting with a pat on the pup’s head. “Nice, nice— doggy!” The Chihuahua made a little rattle, like the noise you hear if you hold the toaster lever down too long.

“Oh!” laughed the blonde. “He’s so protective! Mwah! Mwah! Mwah! Aren’t you, baby?”

She waved good-bye and sailed out of the lobby, the dog still tucked into her bosom, a hairy figurehead secured to the prow of a well-built schooner.

Mr. Suit wandered dazedly out the other side of the lobby. The cashier jumped when I pushed my credit card into his open hand. He completed the transaction and chuckled as he asked me for my signature, and I chuckled as I signed it.

In fact, I kept on chuckling until I sat down to wait for my car and realized my free car wash card was still in my pocketbook. Somewhere.

The Curse of the Kitchen Island Cooktop

Picture of a singed container of yogurt, victim of our fire
YOGURT TELLS OF ORDEAL: “It was horrible, horrible!”.

Our kitchen island ought to be studied by world-class scientists of gravitational theory. Really, it should, because at any time you will find all sorts of stuff that’s mysteriously landed on it; stuff that no one ever remembers putting there!

We’re talking cell phones. Bookbags. Briefcases. Water bottles. Cold medicine. Swim trophies. Geometry homework. Snorkels. Baby wipes. Library books. And even pencil sharpeners! You name it, it arrives on the kitchen island all by itself, rarely leaving room for anything that might actually belong, you know, in a kitchen.

How or why this happens, I don’t know, but I’m confident it has absolutely nothing to do with my housekeeping skills. Rather, I feel very strongly it’s the result of some kind of curse.

The Curse of the Kitchen Island Cooktop

Once upon a time, a kitchen island cooktop rudely told a troll that his messy desk was a sign of a cluttered mind. So the troll cursed all kitchen island cooktops to be clutter landing pads forever and ever and ever. The end.

As a result, Hubby found no room on the kitchen island for his grocery bags when he came home from the store. A little peeved, he plopped everything down on the cooktop instead, not realizing he accidentally turned on the gas burner at the same time.

He didn’t notice anything burning because he immediately left to get more groceries out of his car. Our fire alarms didn’t clue him in either, because even though they’re really good at waking us up at 3 am to announce that their batteries need changing, it turns out they totally suck at reporting an actual fire.

The good news is that he came back in time to discover the flames before they burned down our kitchen island. The bad news is that his sushi was on fire, which, when you think about it, kind of defeats the whole purpose of sushi.

A picture of Bucky, the Siamese Cat
BUCKY THE CAT WITNESSED EVERYTHING: “Heck, yeah, it was pretty funny watching him dance around that cooktop with it on fire and all.”.

Hubby put out the fire but man, oh man, was he ever cranky about it when we finally came home from piano lessons.

“Why,” he asked, launching into Lecture Mode, “Why is this kitchen island never clear of clutter?” This question never troubled him before, of course, but apparently gained importance when his sushi went up in smoke.

As he developed his theme (“Why Your Cooktop Curse Theory Needs Some Work”) I realized that our kitchen table—only three feet away from the kitchen island—was absolutely clear of any clutter. I also realized that if I’d brought in the groceries, I would’ve unloaded them on the kitchen table.

That’s when I knew only I could truly understand the power of the Kitchen Island Cooktop Curse, which could trick my poor man into unloading groceries on the cooktop rather than on the table!

Poor guy. He may have saved our house from burning down, but he’s proved himself completely ineffective when it comes to household curse management.

Tiger’s Driving Lesson

What I Said:

Hmmm, I’d say you need to practice backing-up a little more.

What I Thought:

Oooh, now THAT was a little scary.


What I Said:

Whew! That’s why we always slow down on blind curves. Don’t want to mow somebody down because we didn’t see them in time.

What I Thought:

Omigod! We almost hit that elderly pedestrian and his dog! He clutched his heart—I hope he’s okay! Wait a minute… where’s his dog? We DID miss the dog, didn’t we?


What I Said:

That was a bit of a rough stop, Tiger. Don’t worry… you’ll get better with practice.

What I Thought:

Will I ever get my teeth marks out of the dash?


What I Said:

Oh, my! Well, next time just remember: “SMOG.” Signal, mirror, over-the-shoulder, go.

What I Thought:

We almost pulled right into that bus! Oweee—is this what a stroke feels like? Yes, God, take me now! Don’t wanna die in a fiery crash!


What I Said:

Slow down a little, gently, gently.

What I Thought:

SLOW DOWN SLOW DOWN SLOW DOWN FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT’S HOLY SLOW DOWN!


What I Said:

Pull to the left, please. Quickly.

What I Thought:

We’re going to hit that parked car! MOVE OVER MOVE OVER MOVE OVER MOVE OVER OH LORD WE’RE NOT GOING TO MAKE IT!


What I Said:

Uh, do you see that oncoming truck?

What I Thought:

AIEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!

Little Wood Shop of Horrors

Mr. G’s classroom is filled with monstrous, hulking machines that look as if they could chew up teenagers as easily as my vacuum cleaner chews up Lego parts.

Needless to say, Mr. G’s Wood Tech class is one of the most popular electives in the curriculum.

Mr. G: … But if you’re wondering what’s the worst accident I’ve ever seen, I’d say, oh, it was the one caused by improper use of this machine here, the SIDE JOINTER.

(he puts one hand on the steel monstrosity known as the SIDE JOINTER and pats it fondly)

The kid who did it… well, he cut his arm wide open. A huge hole. There was no immediate blood loss to speak of, so we could see inside his arm.

(he puts both thumbs in his jeans pockets and smiles)

It looked like… shrimp.

This safety lecture is known all over campus as “Mr. G’s Death Speech,” the premise being that if students can visualize the kind of damage they can do to various body parts, they might be motivated to use the machines properly.

Kind of a “Scared Straight” approach, only with food metaphors.

Mr. G: This machine here…

(he indicates a slouching beast of steel hardware)

… is a JOINTER.

(the class leans forward to look at the JOINTER)

The blade spins this way … while you move the wood into it … this way. If you use any other procedure other than the one I show you, the wood will shoot out and hit anyone standing nearby. If that person is a boy… well, he’d be hit directly in the …

(the students hold their breath)

… TESTICLES…

(the students’ mouths make little Os)

… at the speed of oh, 108 miles per hour. At that speed, a block of wood could easily FLATTEN a set of testicles.

(the room is so silent you could hear a strip of first aid gauze drop into the sawdust on the floor)

FLAT. (he slaps his hands together and the kids jump)

As a PANCAKE. (he grinds his palms together to indicate EXTREME FLATNESS)

Mr. G delivers the Death Speech as dryly as a bleached out skull and crossbones, interrupting it only with long, painful pauses laden with the promise of trauma.

It’s an effective speech, too. Mr. G had a perfect safety record that lasted over a decade—until it was broken last year.

By a Wren boy.

Mr. G: Now, the table saw over here…

(the students crane their necks as one)

…that table saw will take off your arm.

(several mouths fall open)

You can pick your arm up, wave it at your friends, and take it to the hospital so they can sew it back on.

(the class laughs, but weakly)

Mr. G: The table saw does a nice, clean cut. But the jointer, see…

(he points back at the jointer)

… well, the jointer is more like a… FOOD PROCESSOR. You stick your finger in there and it will suck your arm up to oh, (he considers the distance) about your elbow.

(the kids wince)

… But your arm’ll get ground up as it goes. Just like hamburger.

(all the kids go a little pale)

When Tiger returned to school after his little incident with the Sanding Machine of Doom, he became known as our high school’s version of The Boy Who Lived.

Mr. G took it kind of hard, though. So did I. And now, there’s something new to worry about, but it’s not another machine.

It’s another Wren boy.

Mr. G: One plate of hamburger, made out of your arm. Just like the stuff you get at the supermarket.

Kid in class: (gulps and whispers) Only with a lot more calcium.

Squirt: Sick!

Doesn’t the Freedom of Information Act apply here?

Plan A: Keep the Lines of Communication Open

“Just talk to your kids,” say the experts. “Be there for them. Listen to what they have to say.”

All righty then.

Bonnie: So, Tiger, your dad heard you say something about a dance.

Tiger: Eh.

Bonnie: Your dad’s not sure if you’re actually going to a dance, or if you were just mentioning a dance, you know, in conversation.

Tiger: Eh.

Bonnie: You know, if you are going to a dance, you’ll need transportation and a suit, or maybe even a tuxedo, and a corsage for your date….if you are going to a dance, I mean. If you are, just let us know.

(a moment of silence)

So, Tiger, are you going to a dance?

Tiger: Arrrgh! I feel like I’m being interrogated!

Note to the Experts: Keeping the lines of communication open with my firstborn is like keeping the lines of communication open with a rock. You can ask a rock whatever you want, but it’s probably not going to tell you anything. And if it were to open its mouth and share, the shock just might give you a heart attack.

Time for Plan B.

Plan B: Turn to Outside Sources

Hubby: Did the neighbors know anything?

Bonnie: They sure did! Didi says it’s a formal, so Tiger’ll need a tux and a corsage for his date. And get this—he and his friends are splitting the cost of a limo!

Hubby: A limo! (clutches his wallet protectively) But who’s he going with?

Bonnie: Didi didn’t get the gal’s name, but Tiger told her she’s nice. How about that? Tiger’s first dance! Who did you take to your first dance?

Hubby: (opens his laptop) I don’t remember.

Hubby has a very selective memory. He could never remember anything about his ex-girlfriends, even though we kept running into them when we first started dating. Let’s just say the rock didn’t fall far from the non communicative boulder.

(Bonnie’s evil eye finally bores through Hubby’s laptop screen)

Hubby: I think Tiger’s just being shy. That’s why he’s not telling us anything.

Bonnie: Well, he better get over it soon! We’ll need at least a week’s lead time to rent a tux. By the way, don’t you think it’s odd that all our neighbors know more about this date than we do?

Hubby: (shrugs)

Great. Well, Hubby’s ex-girlfriends were one topic I could overlook, but I haven’t been laundering Tiger’s underwear all these years just so I’d have to pry all the details about his first dance from the neighbors.

Time for Plan C.

Plan C: Internet Research

Bonnie: Who needs the neighbors when we’ve got MySpace.com! What do you want to know? It’s all here in the comments section!

Hubby: (perks up) Hello! Who’s the girl?

Bonnie: Her name is Sweetie Pie. She’s into sports and 4H Club…

Hubby: Excellent, excellent…

Bonnie: …and here’s her picture. Isn’t she cute?

As I filled Hubby in on all the pertinent details, I wondered what the experts would think of my methods. Maybe they’d think I was too nosy. Maybe they’d think Tiger’s first dance was none of my business.

Then again, I don’t see any experts helping me do my kids’ stinky laundry, so who cares what they think, anyway?