- Date your friends. (You won’t have to divorce a stranger down the road.)
- Don’t burn your bridges. (It makes them awfully hot when you have to cross them later.)
- One day you won’t even remember his/her name. (You’ll just remember he/she was a jerk.)
- What goes around, comes around. (Sadly, this may take a while.)
- Wear sunscreen. (You will one day discover that you are not immortal.)
- A woman should dress her age. (Only two-year-olds are as young and cute as they think they are.)
- Be nice to old people. (With luck, you’ll get there soon enough.)
- Treat others as you would like to be treated. (Or you’ll likely get just what you deserve.)
- Think before you speak. (Saves lots of groveling later.)
- Chocolate never hurt anyone. (Recent big-money studies back this up.)
- Thank-you notes are important. (Every note you don’t write will be remembered.)
- Life isn’t fair. (And it’s a crying shame.)
Have you ever had a week where every appliance in your house breaks down, gets struck by lightning, or just seems to inexplicably and suddenly become contrary?
I’m having one of those weeks. The appliance bodies are piling up for the landfill. It’s like there’s something viral being passed along the electrical circuits in my house, just waiting to fry every appliance we own. Now that I think about it, I don’t ever remember a time when only ONE appliance died. It’s ALWAYS more than one, as if something as contagious as the plague is lurking in our vents just looking for a way to cause trouble and force me to write big checks. This time, so many appliances have died that it feels like Monopoly money I’m doling out.
To start the week, an obnoxious, ill-mannered man creamed one of our cars, while it was parked in the Target parking lot. I was shopping and didn’t discover the damage until I came out to find an off-duty cop leaning against my car with his arms crossed, clearly determined to prevent Mr. Bad Manners from scampering away. God bless that cop.
The next morning, I awoke to the sound of my middle child screaming, “It’s raining over my bed AGAIN, Mom!” as if this was somehow my fault and something I had chosen to happen as a way to screw with his day. Just for the record, we re-roofed two years ago. This shouldn’t be possible. We’re aware there’s a leak. We’ve called the man. He’ll come when he can. In the meantime, I scrambled to find my gumbo pot to position it in the best spot to catch the deluge. Classy.
Next, I jumped into my husband’s car because it was parked behind mine (We live in an old house. No garage. The driveway was built for one small motorcar at the turn of the century—not a 14-year-old Suburban and three other old cars) and backed down our steep driveway to take my daughter to school for an early-morning practice. That’s when a bucket of water rained down on her from the leaky sunroof. She got soaked. This ruined her carefully straightened hair. She would have preferred to face the day with a broken leg. She was not a happy camper, and she was vocal about it.
“Why is everything we own so old and broken?” she demanded.
“Easy answer, sweetie: Three kids, college, sports, cheerleading, show choir, summer camp, braces, 4 cars, groceries, insurance, medical bills . . . but what it comes down to is—choices. We’ve made choices about our family budget. We’re trying to be good stewards of limited recourses,” I said.
I have to admit it: I feel her pain. I’m sick of the old cars, too. The turn signal in my old Suburban has been making that annoying blinking sound off-and-on for seven years. The locks don’t work. Before I climb in after shopping, I check to make sure no one is hiding in the car. No kidding. Everything we own is a little bit special. It’s tiresome.
“Well, I think we need new cars,” she retorted.
“Me, too,” I responded.
After dropping her off, I came home and opened my freezer to dig out a roast for dinner. That’s when I discovered it wasn’t working. Thus began a massive freezer clean out in order to salvage as much as possible. I began frantically cooking what I could and packing the rest into coolers. By 6:30 am, I had baked a ham, a roast, and made homemade Chex mix. I marinated chicken breasts; I defrosted an assortment of sweet rolls and breads on the counter, and I briefly considered throwing a pizza party for the neighborhood kids for dinner to get rid of a stack of soggy pizzas. I can’t bear waste.
I shoved the melting ice cream into blenders, made milk shakes, and thrust them into the hands of my teenager and his friends as they headed to school. Honestly, my son looked fairly pleased with how the freezer demise worked out for him.
My kitchen looked like we were packing for a hurricane evacuation. It wasn’t even 7 am, and I was already tired and teary.
Since I was already filthy from mopping up the car and cleaning out the freezer, I decided to hit the treadmill. After the first mile, I heard, over the “Hallelujah Chorus” blaring in my ear buds as a little pick-me-up, the unmistakable crunching sounds of the treadmill shredding important metal parts. Then I smelled the burning motor. Pulling the emergency stop cord, I abandoned that sucker like it was a sign from God not to exercise.
Going along with my I’m-already-dirty theme, I decided to mow the small patch of yard we have in back. I’m not a yard work kind of gal, as I talk about in my books, so this was a sign of how desperate I was for distraction.
You know what happened, right? Yep. Broken lawnmower. I left it parked next to the grill that broke last month.
I wondered, briefly, if I would be considered an alcoholic if I poured a mimosa just for myself before 10 am. Fearing that I would drink the entire bottle of champagne if I opened it to make one drink—to avoid waste—it was a tough call. Then I pulled up a bar stool and dialed my husband’s cell phone. I felt the need to spread the joy around.
“Do want the good news or the bad news?” I asked him.
“Good. Definitely the good,” he answered quickly, recognizing my tone and proceeding with caution, “Have you been drinking?”
“Yes, I have. Don’t worry about it. Good news is: You won’t have to mow the lawn for a while,” I said, taking a big swig of mimosa and laughing hysterically.
The wind was really gusting when I pulled off the interstate at a gas station to fill up my tank on my way to an out-of-state speaking event recently. I was dressed in my usual comfy leggings and a long tunic, which, unfortunately, acted like a huge mainsail and inflated almost instantly the moment I exited the car, literally sweeping me off my feet.
I grabbed the hem of my tunic in a panic to avoid flashing innocent bystanders. My hair flew around my head like the snaky locks of Medusa caught in a windstorm created by a ticked off Mighty Thor. (I swear to you that not a week goes by without someone comparing my curly locks to Medusa’s coif. This is not exactly a compliment. Do you remember her story? That wench was scary.) Mythology metaphors aside, the wind was epic.
While I tried to keep my clothes on without spilling gas, the credit card I’d just scanned flew out of my hand and started rolling, skipping, and cavorting its bad boy self away from me at a startling rate. I gave chase. This was a highly entertaining sight judging by the ear-to-ear grin on the face of the man filling up his tank in the wind tunnel next to me. I lost a few precious seconds giving him the evil eye, but he wasn’t fazed. He just shook his head, laughed out loud, and went right on with his business—nary an offer to help retrieve my plastic.
Every time I got close to my fleeing card, reached down to snag it with my fingertips or stomp it flat with my adorable new Kate Spade flats, another big gust whipped by, and the card danced further and further away from me. I swear I could hear it laughing in the wind.
I turned back to my gas tank in disgust, sealed the sucker up, and returned to the great credit card pursuit. Unfortunately, my credit card was no longer visible on the horizon. It was gone. Outa here. Nowhere to be found. I made eye contact with the hero still filling up his ridiculous, oversized Hummer (no big surprise there, right?) to see if he’d seen anything. He shrugged. Yes, indeed. That man was some woman’s grand prize.
I began walking the parking lot methodically, searching in earnest. I no longer felt the least bit playful. Fifteen minutes later, I was ready to scream and take out my frustration on a giant bag of peanut M&Ms. A quick glance at the station revealed three heads peering out at me in fascination. Clearly, I’d been entertaining the afternoon shift for quite a while with my credit card drama. Marching to the storefront, I tugged hard on the door, felt it catch and fall open dramatically in the wind, and I headed in with a full head of steam.
“I need some help finding my credit card, please,” I announced in no uncertain terms.
“Did you check the card slot?” one helpful worker asked, “People leave them in there all the time.”
“I watched it blow away,” I explained.
“Why’d you do that?” she asked, baffled.
“No telling where it is by now,” another employee muttered.
“Didja check your purse?” the next bright bulb asked.
“Here,” I said, slapping my bag on the counter. “I already looked. You double-check me while I look outside again.”
“You want me to go through your purse, lady?” the attendant asked, clearly scandalized.
“Yes. You look honest, and I’m in a hurry,” I replied.
Another worker busy stacking decided on some personal initiative:
“I’ll help you look outside,” she volunteered.
So that’s what we did. Step by step, we searched the tall weeds in the vacant lot next to the gas station. We looked like people frantically searching for Easter eggs or CSI bodies.
Eventually, the employee-with-a-little-something-on-the-ball held up a small plastic rectangle and shouted downwind:
“Are you Mrs. Thompson?” she asked.
“Yes, indeed! Thank you so much!” I replied.
A few seconds passed as she mulled over my identity confirmation. Then a light bulb went off over her head. I watched it happen.
“Do you write funny books?”
“I’ve read two of your books!”
“Can you wait here for a few minutes while I go home and get my books? You can autograph ‘em for me,” she asked.
“Well . . . I’m already a little behind schedule, but . . . ”
We did a deal. I gave her signed cards for her books. I keep a supply of those in my purse. She was happy. I was more than ready to hit the highway.
Life lesson: Book fans are everywhere! Hallelujah!
Don’t let 22 pounds of blubber fool you. This cat isn’t sweet.
Yesterday, I was booked on a live radio show from 4-5 pm. This is not my first book promotion rodeo. I was ready to rock. I taped a note to the front door warning all comers not to knock or ring the bell. I cooked dinner early for the ungrateful wretches I gave birth to, and it was in the oven ready to be plated. I stuck post-it notes on my teenagers’ doors with dire warnings about homework, the state of their rooms, and miscellaneous bossy instructions to get them through two hours without my direct supervision. I had the usual spread across the floor: speaking calendar with dates and times for events in different cities, reading glasses, my social media addresses ready to recite on the air, and copies of my books with pages marked to read for different time constraints. (You can’t believe how often interviewers ask about specific pages or quotations in books I’ve written—as if I have all 4 books memorized or something. Who does that?) I was ready for drive time callers.
As soon as I started speaking, my adopted, born-under-an-abandoned-house, his-daddy-was-his-brother-was-his cousin, Hemingway-pawed ball of contrariness attacked. Full-on frontal. When I shoved him away and refused to focus my attention on him with the adoration he expects from the humans who share his space, he went nuts. By the time he came at me from my flank, my arms looked like I’d been juggling knives.
I couldn’t lock in him in another room because past experiences have taught me that he will raise the roof, bang on the door with his giant mitten-paws, knock over anything valuable that will crash with a big noise, and generally continue his feline tantrum until he gets what he wants. MEANWHILE, I was forced to continue chatting with an interviewer several states away and entertain callers as if nothing in the world was going on. Someone commented later that I had a “breathy” quality to my voice that was appealing. Yeah. I was breathy all right. I was totally out of breath. All out war will do that to a girl.
- Hold her hand voluntarily in public without looking embarrassed about it.
- If you really want to go for broke, turn her hand over and press a kiss on her palm. She’ll swoon in your arms. I guarantee it.
- Ask her if she’d like you to beat up somebody for her. Don’t worry. She won’t actually ask you to do it. It would just be nice if someone would occasionally offer.
- Just once, instead of the usual perfunctory peck on the lips before you leave town for a few days, grab that woman by the waist, pull her up against you, and plant a kiss on her lips she’ll remember to her dying day.
- Start the car one cold morning so that it is unexpectedly toasty when she climbs in for the first foray of the day. Leave a note on the windshield—not a Post-it reminding her to buy milk—a LOVE letter. It doesn’t have to be a Shakespearean sonnet. A hand-drawn heart and your initials can reduce even the meanest matron to a weepy puddle of sloppy sentiment.
- While she finishes cleaning up the kitchen, run a bubble bath for her. Light candles. Put a magazine or a trashy book by the tub for her to read. Lead her there with her eyes closed before the water cools. Smile at her. Kiss her on the lips. Then leave her alone to enjoy it.
- Bring her a guilty pleasure for no reason at all: a banana split, cheese straws, milk chocolate, or whatever you know really pots her plant. If she doesn’t like those things, bring them to me. I do.
- Take her on a date. PRETEND. The date cannot involve work clients, church functions, children’s activities, or any other mundane life events. CHOOSE to spend time with her. Woo her. You’re older now. You should be better at it. She might surprise you and woo you right back.
- Before she falls asleep one night, tell her about your favorite memory of her—extra points for details. Caution: make sure you get the details right. If your favorite memory of her turns out to actually involve a former wife/girlfriend, things could get ugly.
- 10. Make a sacrifice for her—of time, money, patience, or real blood. Women are biologically programmed to fall for strong providers and protectors. Use basic biology to your advantage. Real men are willing to take a bullet for the women they love, and nothing is more attractive to a woman than a wounded warrior.
* Want more? This list is an excerpt from my 3rd book, I Love You–Now Hush. My co-author for that book, Morgan Murphy, has a hilarious accompanying list, “How to Romance a Southern Man.” It’s my favorite thing in the book!
I know what you’re thinking.
- You’ve never seen me wear a t-shirt. True enough. I don’t often wear them because it’s not a good look for me. The truth is that I need a few layers between me and the rest of the world to be happily attired.
- I don’t seem like a woman who would wear a preachy t-shirt. Also true.
- You’re betting I won’t wear this t-shirt because it has a grammar error on it. I do not play when it comes to grammar.
Of course, I see the mistake. I’m not blind. This t-shirt should read, “God is much bigger than I.” I admit it bothers me. I’m a big enough person to confess that. Because I love the coach who gave it to me, we’re going to say that this error is by design. I’m going to declare it a charming colloquialism, an attempt to convey a message informally for maximum effect.
Just so you know, we’re going with that excuse today ONLY. Only Coach Steve Sills could give me a shirt with a grammar error on it and expect me to wear it while running on the treadmill. I wouldn’t do that for anyone else in the world. It may actually hurt. We’ll see.
Coach Sills and I are unlikely friends. He’s young enough to be my son. That’s irritating enough. He’s a coach. I say unflattering things about coaches all the time. He’s a former athlete. I wash athletic uniforms, work concessions, and feed the team. He’s male, a dad to two adorable little girls. I’m a mom to three teenagers, and I can barely remember when my kids were that little. He’s black. I’m white. He calls me Ma Thompson. I boss him around without compunction. When I found out he had not finished the work for his teaching certificate, for example, I hounded him mercilessly to finish that up.
I love him fiercely, and so does everyone else who knows him. He’s something of a community celebrity where I live. He’s hip, cool, and a good role model. He is eternally optimistic. I’m known on the home front as Negative Nancy. Kids follow him around like he’s handing out free homework passes. If I worked in a public school, kids would run from me like Medusa with the snake-locks. Coach Sills is deep into philanthropic projects. I’m just trying to raise my three kids without bouncing a mortgage check. He’s deeply religious, completely comfortable with public demonstrations of faith. I’m Episcopalian, and I’m not even comfortable with the word “evangelism.”
Bottom line: I’ll wear the t-shirt with the grammar error, which is positively self-sacrificing, as far as I’m concerned, because Coach Sills is the kind of man I hope my boys grow up to be. That’s what I wrote when I autographed a copy of my last book for him. His response is now my favorite prayer: “May God bless everything you lay your hands to.”
Today’s life lesson: On rare occasions, when you give someone a little grammar leeway, you get pure poetry.
I’m not making this story up. It’s important to state that for the record, I think. I haven’t changed the names in this essay to protect anyone’s anonymity either. I quit doing that a long time ago. What does it matter? I write G-rated humor, which is always at my expense, so even when I look like the world’s biggest idiot, everyone else looks like Albert Einstein or the Dalai Lama.
A couple of weeks before Christmas, I opened a two-for-one insert in my December issue of Real Simple magazine, my favorite monthly publication on the planet. I savor every page. Each issue is useful, interesting, and can be counted on for good writing, thrifty tips, and quirky lists. What’s not to like? I’ve been a long-time subscriber and a Real Simple groupie for years. I’ve even submitted work to them.
Usually, I order everything possible online—lipstick, vitamins, even Chinese food. Since Christmas was right around the corner, however, I decided to order the old-fashioned way, with a telephone call. I located my landline underneath a stack of recycled wrapping paper, blew the dust off, and dialed a 1-800 number which was answered half the world away in India.
How do I know an operator in India answered it, you ask? I asked, of course. The accent was a dead giveaway, honestly. I enjoy a bit of colorful cultural interaction in my day. It’s fun. It never ceases to amaze me what a small world we share. Here in Alabama I can talk to someone in India about my magazine subscription. Wow!
Initially, the call was answered electronically, with a thank-you-for-calling-and-holding-you-are-the-most-important-subscriber-in-the-world message, or something close to that. I idly updated my fan page while waiting to talk to the next available Indian operator who was, no doubt, thrilled beyond imagining to help a suburban American woman with her magazine gift subscriptions. (I imagined myself calling in to the station on NBC’s Outsourced television show, which is hilarious, if you’ve never seen it.)
Go ahead and imagine the accent. It will add local color to this essay.
Then I answered sixty-seven questions confirming my email address, my snail mail address, my full name, my parents’ names, the names of my children, my blood type, my credit history, who I think will win at The Oscars, and other bits of personal trivia that might be helpful for someone attempting to steal my identity from half the globe away.
Finally, it was time for business.
“Can I renew my own subscription and send a gift subscription to a friend using the two-for-one offer from my December magazine?” I asked.
“Yes, indeed, Mrs. Thompson. It will be my pleasure to help you with that today,” the operator answered.
We went over the particulars several times. My operator repeated, quite precisely, my order. We indulged in a moment of final pleasantries, and I went happily about my day, satisfied that I’d purchased a magazine my Aunt Joan would enjoy for the year and renewed hours of bubble bath reading material for myself.
You know what’s coming next, don’t you?
About a week ago, I receive a text from a friend thanking me for renewing her subscription to Real Simple magazine.
“So glad you like it!” I responded, baffled. I had, indeed, given my friend, Vera Britton, a gift subscription to Real Simple—last year, for her birthday. I had NOT renewed it in my recent international summit, darn it all.
How embarrassing! With a long-suffering sigh, I jotted down “call India” on my to-do list for the next day.
Of course, I got a different operator in my second intercontinental adventure. It became apparent immediately that I was living a real live Cool Hand Luke moment—what we had was a “failure to communicate.” The operator had excellent English-speaking skills. (I can say that because I used to teach ESL students. I know what I’m talking about.) That wasn’t the problem.
I don’t speak Hindi or any of the other twenty official languages of India—not counting about 400 regional dialects. His speech patterns were British upper crust tea-and-toast-points. In fact, what he understood from my softened, slurred Southern consonants may have been the real issue, but, regardless of the root of the problem, we achieved no customer satisfaction and no meeting of the minds in our conversation.
“What is the nature of your problem today, Mrs. Thompson?” he began.
“I have an error with a gift subscription I ordered on December 11,” I replied, still hopeful that the problem could be quickly resolved. “I renewed my own subscription and sent one as a gift to my aunt, Joan Peavy. In addition, a gift notification was sent from me to my friend, Vera Britton, in error.”
“Ah, thank you, Mrs. Thompson. I see here on my computer that you sent a wonderful gift magazine subscription to Mrs. Joan Peavy and also to Mrs. Vera Britton.”
“No, I did not send a renewal to Vera Britton,” I clarified. “ That’s the problem. I can see why this is confusing. I did send her a subscription last year for her birthday, but I did not renew it this year.”
“I am looking on the computer, Mrs. Thompson, and I see that you did, indeed, send one to Mrs. Britton on December 11th,” he argued.
“Yes, I see it here on my computer.”
“Well, then, Mrs. Britton called and renewed her subscription, and she has billed the gift to you. I can see that here on my computer screen now.”
“Do you no longer wish to give your friend this gift subscription? You are no longer friends with Mrs. Vera Britton? Is that, perhaps, the crux of the problem?”
“Ah . . . what?! No! Listen: you and I are not communicating well. May I speak to your supervisor or someone else?” I asked.
“Mrs. Thompson, there is no one else who can take your call at this time. I am here to help you. Do you wish to order more gift subscriptions for other individuals that you are still friends with today?”
“Please call again when I may be of further assistance to you.”
I felt like I was in the middle of a Saturday Night Live skit.
I suspect that my Indian operator was oblivious in Hindi as well as English. He also needs to work on his listening skills. In addition, I’m a little worried that he used his lunch break to sell my credit card number and personal information to the highest black market bidder.
I imagine: “Take this credit card number. Use it as you will. It belongs to a difficult American woman who reneges on gifts she has given to her friends. Make sure she never receives her Real Simple magazine again. Better still, send her pornographic magazines—many, many pornographic magazines that will trouble her no end.”