Saturday, April 28, 2012

Operation Irascible Owl

This week, Chuck Wendig provided a link that generates funny military operation titles. Each click generates five random titles. The challenge was to create a story of no more than 1000 words, any genre, using one of the titles. I was sorely tempted by "Indulgent Cougar." Seriously, that's an awesome title. I might still write that story! But ultimately, I went with  "Irascible Owl." A piece of my eldest son's artwork got the wheels turning. He has graciously allowed me to publish it with my story.

Operation Irascible Owl

Artwork by Sean Owens

Rafa stopped his troops at the fence.

“Archer! Go, no go?”

“Archer is a go.”

“Wrangler! Go, no go?”

“Wrangler. Go.”

“Ninja! Go, no go?”

Esme rolled her eyes. “Ninja. Go.”

Like any of them would wuss out now.

“Head Man is a go.”

Wrangler, otherwise known as Stu, stifled a laugh at their leader’s call sign. Though not a native English speaker, Rafa was skilled enough to disguise his accent. Unfortunately, he still missed some of the nuances of the language.

He knew when he was being mocked. 

“Maintain your bearing, soldier! Radio silence begins now!”

Nevermind, they didn’t have radios.

Rafa was an asshole, but he was also the best strategist in the game. Esme put up with his theatrics because his team always won. Strategy was mission-critical this round. Professor Gerrity, anthropologist, primitive artifact collector, and all-around creepy dude, would not give up the prize willingly.

“Operation Irascible Owl is a go. Wrangler, you’re up.”

Stu produced wire cutters and cut a hole in the fence. He slipped through and exchanged the cutters for a ziplock bag. He whistled low and opened the bag.

A rustling in the bushes was followed by a chorus of growls that made Esme’s hair stand on end. A pair of German shepherds burst into the clearing, their dark coats invisible in the waning light, so they appeared all teeth and crazy eyes. Stu didn’t flinch. When the dogs were within 20 feet, he tossed the meat out of the bag and slipped back through the fence.

The dogs skidded to a halt in front of the hamburger and swallowed it in three bites, then trotted to the fence and sniffed with interest. The growls and gnashing teeth subsided, and Stu hand-fed them pieces of steak. He slowly pulled the fence apart and allowed the dogs through. Esme slid behind them and crawled to the other side, followed by Rafa. Frank lowered the rifle at his shoulder and came third. Stu stroked the dogs and continued feeding them until they both lay down and went to sleep.

“Good work, Wrangler!”

“Radio silence, Head King.” Esme murmured, just loud enough.

“Head Man!”

Stu snorted again, and Frank grinned. Esme shrugged and headed into the trees. Night had fallen, but Esme was at home in the woods. Even Rafa deferred to her skill.

Ten minutes later, Professor Gerrity’s house appeared. Esme stood in the treeline and scanned the back of the gothic structure. Few lights were on which was helpful. Their prize was kept on the third floor which was not.

“First floor. Far left,” she whispered to Rafa.

“Archer, eyes on Irascible Owl. Library, far left.”

Frank peered through his scope and nodded. “Got him.”

He dropped to the ground and low-crawled across the back yard until he was within 30 yards of the library. Professor Gerrity was reading in a large wingback chair facing the window.

“You’re up, Ninja.”

“Ay, ay, Head Job.”

“Head Man!” Rafa hissed. “This is not hard to remember!”

Esme nodded, poker-faced, as they low-crawled side by side, past Frank, to the back wall of the house. The motion-activated lights wouldn’t trigger on anything 36 inches or lower because of the dogs. Esme stopped just to the left of the library window.

Professor Gerrity’s collection of primitive artifacts was a source of controversy because he chose to display it in his spooky house in the middle of nowhere instead of the university gallery. The gallery’s collection was nothing to sneeze at, but it paled in comparison to the creepy old coot’s private collection.

The centerpiece of the collection was Gerrity’s Zulu walking stick. Four feet tall and carved from a twisted piece of wood, it was whispered to have supernatural power. The red dye splattered across the knob and streaking down the length of the stick fueled the legend, as did Gerrity bringing the stick to his classes and pointing it at students he deemed slackers. Reportedly, one such student had wrecked his car after class. Another had contracted chicken pox.

That stick was the grand prize this year.

Rafa gave Esme a boost, propelling her lithe body high enough for her to grab the second-floor window sill. She swung her legs up, used the arched window frame to climb to the point at the top, and stood on the façade to reach the third floor sill. Her cutting tools made short work of the window. No alarms sounded, confirming Rafa’s intelligence that the dogs comprised the bulk of Gerrity’s security system.

Esme ignored the garish masks and odd carvings, going straight to the display case in the center of the room. A silver plate contained two words.



A shiver passed over her like someone stepping on her grave. She shook it off and opened the unlocked case. She grasped the stick, expecting…something, but nothing happened. She lifted it out of the case and went rigid.

Distant barking, getting closer, and then silence.

She darted to the window. Rafa was still in position below, plastered against the wall, staring across the backyard to the woods beyond. She followed his gaze. Frank was hauling ass to the treeline. She couldn’t see Stu.


Rafa looked up and she dropped the stick. He caught it, hit the ground, and made like Frank to the trees. Esme threw her legs over the sill in time to see a muzzle flash directly below her. The shot sounded like cannon fire in the silence, and the yard lit up like the outfield at Yankee Stadium.

Gerrity stalked over to Rafa.

“My property, please.”

Rafa raised the stick. Gerrity reached, then clutched his neck and crumpled to the ground. Frank stepped out of the treeline.

“Irascible Owl is down.”

Rafa removed the dart as Esme jogged over.

“Nice work, Head Man.”

Rafa grinned slyly. “Would you like to hold my stick?”

Esme glanced from the grotesque prize to the understanding in Rafa’s eyes.



“Nope. I’m good.”

Friday, April 20, 2012

Running on Empty

I updated all the apps on my phone a couple of days ago. Today, I discovered a new feature on my running app when my music dropped out and a robotic female voice informed me that I was running REALLY SLOW.

What she actually said was, “You have been running for 13.13 minutes. Your distance is 1.0 miles. You are running at a pace of 13.13 minutes per mile.”

I might have responded with something like, “Shut up bitch! It’s been a long week. I KNOW I’M RUNNING SLOW!”

She didn’t answer and that pissed me off even more. Her silence felt as accusatory as her snide announcement that I was running at a turtle’s pace. So I walked her through my litany of woes (in my head this time because I’m pretty sure a guy watering his lawn thinks I called him a bitch).

My dog almost died on Saturday.

She is diabetic, and went into hypoglycemic shock. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you it was one of the scariest things I’ve ever seen. She seized twice at home and again at the vet’s office. My 17 year old son had to carry her rigid, 90 pound body to the car. He held her, stroked her, and crooned softly in her ear while I drove. When she went into full seizure for the third time in the vet’s ER, he knelt on the floor next to her and openly sobbed.
These are my babies when my son was 10.

They stabilized her, brought her blood sugar back up, and kept her overnight, and today, I’m happy to report she’s almost back to her normal self. But emotionally, the whole experience felt like being run over by a truck.

So yeah…I’m running slow.

(Side note…I know that technically, I should say “slowly” but I’m ignoring that green squiggle under “slow” because I’m intentionally using the vernacular AND because I’m tired of computers telling me what to do.)

Sunday, I had to do the stinking taxes. Yes, I know Sunday was the 15th. Don’t judge me. My first career was as an accountant, and honestly, at this stage in my life, I’d rather have my fingernails pulled out slowly than do taxes. The software downloaded wrong, and I spent two full hours on the phone with tech support. So that was fun…if your idea of fun is installing and uninstalling the same program 3 times and then thinking you’ve lost the whole return you spent all day preparing.

So yes, it’s a 13 minute mile! STFU!

Four days of school done this week, and I’ve lost my planning period for three of them because of state testing. Losing your planning period SUCKS for reasons too numerous to list. The biggest? You don’t get any time to catch your breath without kids in the room.

Don’t get me wrong. I like the kids. I love my job, but I am human. I need that hour to not only grade papers, return emails, plan lessons, meet with parents, meet with my department, and a hundred other things that come up, but also to breathe. On any given day, the pregnant 16 year old in my freshman English class might tell me she wasn’t even f’n texting when I ask her to put her phone away. Zen is critical in a situation like that. While reading Shakespeare, I might have to answer the smirking kid in the back of the room when he asks what a girl’s maidenhead is. When ten other smirks turn my way, I can’t afford to be rattled.

Today, a student told me I seemed edgy. Nevermind that he had just randomly asked me why women didn’t lactate all the time. Yesterday, we discussed the fact that the nurse had indeed “nursed” Juliet as a baby, but he asked the question today in the middle of a discussion about Mercutio. AND NO! He didn’t use the word “lactate” in his question. The question was not artfully worded. My reservoir of Zen was low, and YES! I was edgy!

So excuse the hell out of me and my 13 minute mile!

There’s more, but really, do you want to hear it? Probably not. The stupid robot woman in my phone wasn’t interested.

I hit the mile and a half mark and realized I was sprinting. Uphill. Where was the snarky bitch now? I kept the pace thru all of the Eminem song blaring through my headphones, and when I hit two miles, she informed me I had increased my pace to just under 11 minutes.

I would have been triumphant, but my sustained sprint left me sucking wind. I staggered home short of the distance I had intended to run.

I’m not blind to the fact that the new feature did, in fact, make me pick up the pace, but I wasn’t smart about it, and I missed my distance. I’m self-aware enough to know I have to play mind games with myself to meet my running goals. Until Johnny Depp or Kiefer Sutherland’s voice gives me distance and pace, I’m turning that sucker off.

Friday, April 6, 2012

To cut or not to cut; that is the question

I got my hair done today. Nothing drastic. My awesome stylist, Sheri, touched up the color and trimmed up the ends, gave it a little shape. My hair is fairly long now, the longest it’s been since I was a child. That pic over there in the corner is 3 years old. I should probably update it. Several times, I’ve thought about cutting my hair short, and then, the day of my appointment comes and I don’t.


Midlife crisis? Maybe.

Fear of appearing old? Maybe.

Too lazy to do anything besides blow it dry? Definitely.

I had a conversation with a close friend this morning before my appointment, and I asked her if my hair was getting ridiculously long “for a woman my age.” She was indignant.

“For a woman your age! NO! Meryl Streep had long hair into her sixties!”

Well, there you go. If anyone is the definitive model for appropriateness, it’s Meryl, and I’m a long way from sixty. (It might be fair to note that my indignant friend is exactly the same age as me.)

Meryl’s example notwithstanding, where is the line? At what point do I stop looking like a fun-loving woman in the prime of her life and start looking like an aging hippie or a Pentecostal matron? I’ve never identified as either a hippie or a Pentecostal, so I hope the answer to that question is never.

A better question might be at what point will long hair stop being appropriate for me and my lifestyle? Perhaps a list of pros and cons is in order.

Times when long hair is awesome:

  1. At a Foo Fighters concert when you want to bang your head in solidarity with Dave Grohl.
  2. On the dance floor when you want to wave your hands (and hair) in the air like you don’t care.
  3. When your bff snaps pics of everything and you don’t want your face in another pic where you’re doing something stupid.
  4. When you’re nervous/bored/agitated/deep-in-thought and you need something to do with your hands.
  5. In the winter, when your neck is cold.
  6. When you’re a sibling in my family. My little brother’s hair has been longer than mine since he was 18 or 19.
  7. When you’re riding in a convertible with the top down. It’s carefree!

Times when long hair is a pain:

  1. When you’re riding in a convertible with the top down. It’s a rat’s nest!
  2. When you close it in the door of the car. OUCH!
  3. When you’re brushing your teeth.
  4. When you’re eating a taco.
  5. When you’re sick. Sure, we all have a friend who will hold our hair after the party, but where are they when you have the stomach flu?
  6. When you’re in a fight. I’ve never actually been in one, but from what I’ve seen in the halls at school, when girls fight, they go for the hair.

The data is there. Let's break it down.

The convertible thing is a wash, and I can use a clip when brushing my teeth and eating tacos. And of course, I can wear a scarf in the winter, but then I'd close that in the car door. My hair will never give me the aura of laid-back cool my brother enjoys. So what is the answer?

Well...Since I’m not finished going to concerts and dancing and doing stupid things and since I rarely get sick and never get into fights, I think my long hair still works. And I have faith that the day I start to look like an aging hippie or a Pentecostal matron, one of my friends will tell me.

You will, right?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Don't show your ass on Facebook

As of this writing, I have 223 friends on Facebook. Not a huge number when compared to some of my friends, but a manageable number. My newsfeed is varied and interesting, and even on my busiest days, I can easily scroll through and see what’s going on with everyone. I access FB almost exclusively through my phone, so I can check it anytime I have a few extra minutes. I have a Twitter account, a blog, and I read other blogs daily, a select few religiously, but FB is the social media form I touch most.

I scrolled through my list of friends and broke it down based on how I knew them. Some friends fell into multiple categories, so I placed them in the one where I knew them first.

Family members – 13
Friends from high school – 31
Friends from college – 13
Friends I met thru work – 62
Friends I met in my capacity as a football coach’s wife – 26
Friends I met thru my kids – 22
Former students – 36
Friends I met thru Jazzercise – 8
Friends who don’t fall into any of the above categories – 12

My friends fall all over the spectrum politically, religiously, socially, and culturally. My friends are old and young, male and female, black and white, gay and straight. They are in college, established professionals, stay-at-home moms, in the military, working odd jobs trying to find their way in life, and retired.

One of my favorite things about FB is the diversity of my friends. I love that I never know what I’m gonna see. One friend’s baby pic might be followed in my newsfeed by a pic of the margarita someone else is about to drink. An inspirational quote might be followed by a rant on the rudeness of people in traffic. Last fall, a status praising the example of Tim Tebow was immediately followed by a status mocking the example of Tim Tebow.

I rarely get bent over anyone’s political or religious views because I was raised to respect divergent points of view. I teach my own kids and my students to respect divergent points of view. I don’t choose my friends based on their political or religious points of view, but rather on the content of their character.

Unfortunately, nothing reveals the content of a person’s character like politics and religion. Most people are able to express a point of view reasonably, without shouting and vitriol. I know this doesn’t seem true based on what the media shows us daily, but think about your personal experience. Do your friends and co-workers rant like assholes on a regular basis? Mine don’t. But here’s the thing. Even a rant can be accomplished without showing your ass. I understand that sometimes, people feel so passionate about something or so disgusted by something that they need to rant. I get that. I really do.

The rant is by definition, emotional. You rant because you FEEL. The trick is to feel and convey that feeling without divorcing yourself from your rational brain. Passion is most effective when combined with reason. When passion overtakes reason, there is a significant danger of your ass falling out and revealing itself to everyone within hearing distance.

When your ass falls out on Facebook, “hearing distance” grows exponentially.

I have seen my FB friends’ metaphorical asses from time to time, and I’m aware that once or twice, I’ve shown mine. Mostly, I shake my head or laugh and move on because I realize that it’s coming from a place of exuberant youth, or drunkenness, fear, or loss. I can forgive those things because we’re human, and I’ve been there too.

What I will not forgive is willful ignorance and bigotry.

Last night, I had 224 FB friends. I was watching the NCAA championship and scrolling through the joyful posts of my friends cheering on the Cats. Right in the middle of the celebration was a post that made my jaw drop, a steaming pile of crap in the middle of a banquet table. It was so unexpected and out of place, that at first, I thought it had to be a joke and I somehow wasn’t in on it.

It wasn’t. I won’t repeat the status she posted, but it was ignorant. A mutual friend called her out on it in the comments section, but was drowned out by a chorus of voices who saw that one bigot had showed her ass and were now vying to get their asses front and center as well. My friend texted me and asked me if I thought the post had racist overtones. I said no. There were no overtones. The post was blaring racism through an air horn.

I unfriended her. The friend who texted me said she would unfriend her too as soon as her daughter showed her how. None of the bigots in the comments section who raised their heads like vile little gophers thinking the coast was clear were my FB friends. They never will be.

My former FB friend was not a former student or one of Bruce’s former players. Those young folks have more sense than that. She was not a friend from high school or college that I haven’t seen in ages and have very little in common with anymore. She was someone I thought I knew.

The whole incident made me feel sad and sick and slightly disillusioned. I’m not stupid or naïve. I’m too old for that. I teach public school for heaven’s sake. I guess it’s more that someone in her position would not only espouse such a hateful point of view, but express it publicly and inspire others to join in.

I can’t change the world, although I’d like to think I’m trying to change my own little corner of it for the better. I can absolutely change our friendship status, both on FB and in real life.

This morning I have 223 Facebook friends.