Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Village of the Damned, Part 3



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  I squealed into the parking lot in front of Lou’s Hallmark, careening into an available slot and nearly sending myself through the windshield when I was overly enthusiastic and yanked on the parking brake before the car had even come to a halt. I leaped out, slammed the car door, and raced toward the entrance.

  Just a few paces before the actual front door, I made myself slow down and appear casual, as if I had merely been strolling through the neighborhood on my way to an art exhibit concerning the work of someone French when I managed to stumbled upon this quaint little shop.

  I pulled open the door and was nearly beheaded by a giant bell as it swung wildly, clanging away and announcing my arrival. This thing was huge, and it put some actual church bells to shame. Apparently Lou or one of his or her employees was hard of hearing, or perhaps they spent a lot of time in the back room of the place, doing whatever it is that the people of Duncanville might do when bored in their retail establishments.

  In any case, I sauntered in, not wanting to appear too anxious, on the off chance that Lou had some natural predatory instincts and would be able to smell my desperation and need if I wasn’t careful. One and a half seconds after stepping into the store, I realized that no one in this store would be able to smell anything other then the overwhelming sickly-sweet smell of flowery candles designed to entice elderly women on their way home from the Ladies Auxiliary luncheon at Cracker Barrel.

  With the right humidity and wind strength, that stench could take a life.

  “Hello,” said a female voice, from the direction of what appeared to be a centralized check-out area. There stood a very squat woman, with a dyed mess of unnatural blonde hair teased and jacked to the ceiling in that small-town Texas manner, pausing to look my way and greet me in the midst of her fiddling with a bit of ribbon on some foo-foo knick-knack lying on the counter. “Can I help you find something?”

  And I responded with that universal lie that some of us always use, “Oh, I’m just looking around, but thank you” which roughly translates as “I am one of those people that does not want sales clerks hovering in any way while I review the merchandise. Do not approach me unless I give some indication that I need assistance or it appears that I may have injured myself and require medical attention.”

  She smiled primly in a manner that indicated she did not think my response warranted a smile at all. “I see. Well, then. If you have any questions, just let me know.” Then she picked up the knick-knack and relocated to the opposite counter in her little square box of operations so that I was no longer in her direct line of sight. I had been dismissed.

  What the hell was that? I hadn’t been overtly rude or anything, but apparently she thought so.

  Just then, there was another near-decapitation at the door , and in clattered a woman sporting Exhibit B in what was quickly becoming an impromptu review of jacked-to-Jesus hairstyles. “Lou!” screamed this overly-coiffed new arrival. “How ARE you, honey?” (Ah. So now we had an ID on Lou and her gender.)

  Back at the counter, Lou tossed aside the lame ribbon thing without a second thought. “Betty Jean! What are you up to today?”

  Betty Jean sashayed her way to the counter, and clunked down a purse that sounded like it contained spare car parts. “Oh, honey. I was about to take a covered dish over to Delilah’s house, see how she was doin and all, then I thought, why, I better get her a nice card.”

  Lou immediately selected an obviously fake expression of sympathy, but other than that she was clearly now engaging in one of her favorite sports: Gossiping with town folk about OTHER town folk. “Poor Delilah. It’s such a shame, what happened. I know her heart is heavy. I prayed for her just this morning.”

  “Oh, I know, I know,” oozed Betty Jean, leaning in conspiratorially. “I have been prayin non-STOP, I tell you. Lord. You think you know people and then they go and do something like THAT.”

  “Oh, honey, I was SO surprised to hear about it. Myrna called me the second she heard. I could not BELIEVE it.”

  And at that point, honey, I quit listening. I’m from a small conservative town. I know this type of conversation. It’s not WHAT they are talking about that’s important, it’s the fact that they HAVE something to talk about concerning other peoples’ lives and not their own. It didn’t matter if Delilah had an awkward death in the family, had a son that got caught being friendly with a sheep, or if Delilah got kicked out of Prayer Circle because she let slip that she thought that the Democrat that moved in over on Parker Road was really kind of nice.

  But their conversation did serve a purpose in that it reminded me of small-town protocols. There are certain ways you act, and certain ways you don’t. 

  When I first strolled in the guillotine door, and Lou greeted me, I should have acted like we were best friends even though we had never met. This is in the handbook. You are supposed to shoot fake pleasantries out your ass even though everyone knows you don’t mean it. It’s just what you do, like going to church on Wednesday or pretending to hope that your neighbor’s daughter  really does win Butter Queen at the fall festival instead of your own slutty offspring.

  By not following the rules, Lou (and Betty Jean, just as soon as Lou could whisper it to her in a shocked but hushed tone) knew that I was not from around here. Their instincts alerted them to the fact that I was most likely a hooligan from Dallas, that City of Sin to the northeast. As soon as they finished whispering, and were then pretending to be interested in a Christian air freshener (smells just like a Disciple!), they both began to eye me with their primitive and na├»ve observational skills.

  Which really made me feel welcome, of course. There’s nothing quite as refreshing as being closely observed by primates that still think the world is flat, scanning my arms for signs of tattoos and needle marks, convinced that I am here to do the Devil’s work and that the children of Duncanville were in danger of being coerced into a life of evil and non-Republican values.

  I was ready to walk out the door. I fully understand that people will have differences of opinion concerning moral conduct, societal interaction and the evolution of mankind. What I can’t stomach are people that have no understanding of the details surrounding those three topics yet insist on acting as if they do. Hypocrisy in a Small Town. I could blog on that topic the rest of my life and still come up with something fresh every day.

  But, to give this whole situation a fair shake, I kept wandering around the aisles of Lou’s Golden Hallmark, delving deeper into the store, fighting my way past glass cases full of Precious Moments figurines (blech!), hand-crafted religious artwork composed of barbed wire and gun parts (are you SERIOUS?), and a whole section devoted to God’s Fruits of the Month.

  I could go so many ways with that last bit that I won’t even try.

  Then I turned a final corner and found myself up against a wall of shelves running the entire length of the eastern edge of the store. Every inch of these shelves was crammed with countless boxes of Department 56 buildings and accessories. An entire wall, people. Riches as far as you could see in either direction.

  I grabbed a random box off one of the shelves and reviewed the price tag. It was 40 percent off. 40 percent off a Department 56 product, BEFORE Christmas. This just didn’t happen in real life. I was in another dimension, thanks to the kind, insightful words of a fabulous woman with amazing lipstick skills.

  There was a clang from the guillotine door as Betty Jean moseyed out to offer pretend condolences to whatever Delilah or a family member may have done. Then I heard pitty-pat footsteps as someone approached my location in the store.

  Lou, and her jacked-up hair, peeked around a corner aisle. “See anything that you like?”

  Oh really? You’re going to be nice to me, now that I have actually touched one of your products and might actually make a purchase instead of just destroying the morals of your entire community? So commerce trumps all? Great. Get ready to negotiate, Clairol Number 57. I ain’t scared a you.

  “Well, I don’t know. What else do you have?”

  Lou smiles sweetly.  “Follow me.”

  Aw hell. What have I done?

  I have to remain calm. I was already in a frenzy with what I had seen on eastern wall. I could be quite happy picking from that fruit. If she was going to show me something even more enticing, I might lose my mind. And I certainly didn’t want to do that in Duncanville. I have my standards.

  We meandered across the store, weaving in and out of the aisles, because there was no such thing as a straight shot in this place. They purposely design the layout to be as confusing as possible so that you will resort to buying something just to get directions to the front door.

  As we stomped through a section devoted to Mary Magdalene etchings from famous churches, we encountered an amazingly tall woman dressed in black and apparently determined to avoid makeup or accessories of any kind. She was fondling a Mary sketch and looking around furtively. I was slightly scared of her for a reason I couldn’t quite define. I just know crazy when I smell it.

  “Why, hi there, Virginia,” chirped Lou. “How’s the goiter? Don’t forget, the Mary sale ends tomorrow. Don’t wait too long.”

  Virginia? Of course she would be named that. No man would ever dip his wick in that mess.

  Then we were plowing our way through a lamb farm of some kind. Lambs made out of cotton and tongue depressors. Lambs made out of corn husks and twine. Lambs made out of sausage casings and spent gun shells. Holy cow, people in small towns sure had a lot of time on their hands. You’d think they might spend a few minutes educating their children beyond the eighth grade, but I guess it didn’t cross their minds.

  Finally, we turn a last corner, and we’re standing at an apparent spare check-out counter that hadn’t seen any financial activity since Nixon was in office. Instead, the counter was piled high with Department 56 boxes. As well as the floor in front of it. Actually, “piled” is too weak of a word for this situation. There were mounds and mounds of precariously-stacked boxes in all directions, many of them faded with time.

  But they were all Department 56, some of them with box designs that hadn’t been used in twenty years.

  How could this be real?

  Lou simply smiled at me, with just a touch of wickedness in the tiny corners of her devout and Christian mouth. “I’ll just head over here for a bit. You let me know if you see something that catches your eye.” Then she trottled off to make sure that Virginia still had an intact hymen in the Mary Magdalene aisle.

  She had snared me the second I walked in the guillotine door, and she knew it. Damn her.

  I cautiously approached the nearest stack of boxes. There was a bit of dust here and there, but you could tell that most of the items had been pawed many times over the years, as people pondered purchasing these treasures or making their house payment.

  I randomly grabbed a box and studied it. It was a replica of a 1950’s McDonald’s restaurant. Being a Department 56 obsessive, I knew that this thing had not been on the market for twenty years. Yet I was holding one in my hands.

  There was a small notation written on the box, either by Lou or one of her Christian servants. “Small chip on corner. Chip still in box.” And the price was marked down 50 percent. Emboldened and slightly delirious, I opened the box to inspect the damage. The chip was tiny, just a smidge of exposed inner porcelain, and the smidge was enclosed in a cute little baggy. Easily fixed with a bit of glue and you would never know the difference.

  This woman was a professional.

  I checked another box. This was the “Rollerama” skating rink that hadn’t been seen in at least 15 years. Pristine condition, 40 percent off. My mind was turning into jelly at all these wonders.

  Just then, there came a clang from the guillotine front door as the presumably still-virginal Virginia made her exit. “Praise Jesus!” screeched Lou, back at command central in the middle of the store.

  So now I had to make a decision. Should I give in to my lust for Department 56 and financially support these warped people with their backward ways and ability to create Christian symbols out of feminine hygiene products and glitter, or do I save my money for more progressive establishments, which would be the right thing to do?

  Then I suddenly noticed a man standing right beside me. I don’t know where he came from, he was just there. The front door hadn’t opened recently other than to allow the Black Virgin out, so he had to have been in the store for a while, or he lived here. Not sure.

  He smiled at me. “That’s a real nice piece you got there.” This startled me for a moment, until I realized that he was talking about the Rollerama and not anything more personal. “Been wonderin when that one would finally go.”

  Then he leaned in and said in a conspiratorial whisper: “Don’t mind Lou. Half of that is for show. She ain’t bad.” Then he grinned, and instinct told me that he was married to Clairol No. 57. And that HE was the one who had saved the McDonald’s chip. And then he winked.

  Birds of a feather? Maybe.

  I was released of any moral obligations, or so I thought, and was ready to buy out the entire store. And I could fudge things a bit if I needed to.

  “Lou!” I screamed out. “I think I found something!”

  She was instantly by my side, ready to assist in any way.

  Yes, I felt a little bit dirty.

  But I really wanted that McDonald’s.

  Word.


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Monday, December 21, 2009

The Village of the Damned, Part 2






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The standoff at Kohl’s continued for some time. No one was willing to take a risk and be the first to trust that the rest of us would be kind and decent human beings and not rip into their stash the second they walked away.

And why SHOULD there be any trust? It was a full two months before Christmas, and yet everyone of us was crammed into this tiny Holiday Section, fully determined to get started on our Christmas villages TODAY. Clearly, we were not right in our heads. Therefore, common decency was way down on our list of priorities.

In the end, we decided to pool our ready cash and pay this nice but very large and muscular Brazilian to watch over our remaining things while we were in transit. Of course, we only gave him half up front, to ensure that he would fulfill his duties and properly slay any rogue interlopers who might possibly attempt to impede our mission.
With our booty hopefully secured, we then raced to the checkout counters with the first load of houses.

Where we then waited in line for ungodly amounts of time. What is up with the checkout people in Kohl’s? Are they all anemic? Why is it such a tremendous struggle to lift a crouton and drag it over the little scanner device? Did you not understand that you would have to do such things when you took the position?

And what’s with all the conversation? We don’t need that. You people are here for one thing and one thing only: your job is to quickly and efficiently scan my purchases and get my ass out the door. I don’t need to hear about your bunion that magically appeared in an unusual location. I couldn’t care less that you’ve had bronchitis for three years. And the bank that is trying to repossess your ridiculously over-sized pickup truck currently taking up three spaces in the parking lot?

Two things on that last subject. Number one, you work at Kohl’s as a cashier. I’m sure you’ve got some very nice benefits and your co-workers are pleasant. But you can’t possibly be making enough money to afford the monthly payments for a vehicle that costs more than my house.

Number two, you don’t NEED a vehicle capable of hauling a 5-ton payload. When are you ever going to require that kind of horsepower in your entire life? You don’t live on a farm where you might possibly need such a thing, you don’t transport heavy machinery, and you are not pulling smashed boats out of a harbor after the latest hurricane. You live in an apartment, and the biggest load you will ever carry is a fresh shipment of diapers for the seventh child you just produced as a result of someone breaking out the tequila during a Cowboys football game.

Why do so many of these Texans insist on having a truck bigger than Rhode Island?
It just amazes me.

Anyway, we all finally got past the Bunion Lady, raced into the parking lot where we shoved our purchases into our various cars, then thundered back into Kohl’s for the remainder of our village pieces. We paid off the Brazilian, laughed at the losers who were still circling the area from a discreet distance, made a final run through Checkout Hell, and then we were free to proceed with our lives in whatever manner we saw fit.
I zipped home and dragged my purchases inside. Time for some analytical village planning.

Now, ground zero for the village is in the “formal” living-slash-dining room of the house. It’s an oddly-shaped room, something like 12 feet by 38 feet, positioned at the front of our dwelling. This space actually has two entrances, both of them pocket doors, which were apparently really hip at some point, probably around the time that Mamie Eisenhower was serving apricot sorbets in the White House.

This is where we keep our classy stuff like the hugely-long dining table that can seat about fifty, a jelly cabinet (yes, that’s a real thing, look it up) where we store fancy serving ware that we never need, a pie cabinet (also real, keep googling) with more useless but pretty items, and a massive storage facility designed in the manner of a giant apothecary cabinet, an immense piece of furniture that can hold something like 1,200 music CD’s in its many drawers. And it’s completely full. That thing is so heavy we haven’t been able to move it a fraction of an inch in seven years.

And for the most part, we never even enter this room unless we’re looking for a Madonna CD that we haven’t heard in a while or we haven‘t seen the cat in a few days. It’s kind of sad.

On the flip side of this neglect is the fact that I can use this room as a staging area for whatever holiday is in need of tribute. I do a pretty aggressive Halloween thing, with tons of cobwebs and creepy lighting and battery-operated thingies that gurgle and howl. We also stage Easter egg hunting competitions at various times of the year. (An odd thing we do, I’ll save the details for another blog post.) But mostly, this is the Christmas Village room, wherein I completely transform the room for months at a time.

In the initial years of the Village, I only made use of a few occasional tables. As the number of houses grew, I slowly enlisted the aid of other pieces of furniture. One of the most creative inventions was learning that I could push two matching waist-high cabinets closer together, take this huge four-part painted screen of Paris at night, fold it in half, and lay it across the two cabinets. Voila. A huge chunk of land had now been re-zoned for municipal use.

I was very proud of this accomplishment. I proclaimed this area the new “downtown”, even though it was technically outside of the previous city limits and did not make any sense. But logic is not important when it comes to villaging. After all, we’re dealing with miniature houses with low-wattage light bulbs shoved up their ass. This is not a reality-based hobby.

The downside of my creativity was that it became very clear that any piece of furniture in the room could somehow be transformed into a foundation for village expansion. In essence, I now had infinite space to work with, and could therefore buy untold units of housing and truly create an empire. Which leads to my second of many sins during the notorious fourth season of the village.

I discovered a nearly-hidden treasure trove of discount Department 56 pieces. Such bargain opportunities usually do not happen. Most merchants keep these things at full price, year after year, taking advantage of the fact that there are idiots even more crazed than me out there, and they will happily shell out the equivalent of a car payment just to have a porcelain model of Alcatraz for their collection.

It started innocently. There I was in a Hallmark store, one of those “Golden” Hallmarks for those of you in the know, meaning they have a lot more to offer than just greeting cards and magnetized pink teddy bears that stick together at the lips. This one had a whole section of Department 56 housing, beautifully displayed and everything turned on. Seriously, I was ONLY there to admire and dream. My wallet was staying firmly in my pants. I could not justify the outrageous cost.

Then this woman noticed me admiring the display.

Perhaps I should really say, this woman noticed me drooling over an exact replica of the Empire State Building and she raced over to stop the acid content of my saliva from stripping the paint off the porcelain. In any case, after she had calmed me down and administered sedatives, she took pity on me, fully recognizing the warning signs of a true housing addict, and she whispered to me after glancing around to ensure that we could not be heard.

“Have you been to Lou’s Hallmark?”

Why no, I had not been to this Hallmark apparently owned by a person with a sexually-ambiguous name. What might I find there, pray tell?

Her voice got even lower, indicating that she truly had something remarkable to share or was actually a man. “She never sends any Department 56 back. She keeps it all. She’s got EVERYTHING. And…”

She/he looked around again to ensure privacy. I think I stopped breathing in anticipation.
“She marks things down. Sometimes half off. I am NOT kidding.”

I had a small orgasm right there. I tried to be discreet, but I could not control a few whimpers of pleasure and a trembling spasm in my left leg. A pinched-faced woman reviewing bible-quote bookmarks a few aisles over glanced our way with a sour look, then went back to pawing the merchandise and leading her life of denial and regret.

My new best-friend looked at me with an expression of “it’s okay, sweetie, Ambiguous Lou has hit my own G-spot many times. There is no shame in the bargain game. Would you like a tissue?”

I swallowed with difficulty, my throat suddenly very dry. “Where… where can I find this Lou’s?”

She toyed with me just a tiny bit, digging in her very hip purse for a tube of lipstick, and then applying a fresh coat without the aid of a mirror to prove that her talents were indeed immense and extraordinary. She clicked the tube closed. “Duncanville. Wheatland and Cedar Ridge. Go now.”

Then she turned on her couture heel, and the Angel of Wisdom and Villaging exited the store.

Thirteen seconds later I was barreling down the road toward Duncanville, that little burgh southwest of Dallas, my heart racing and the gas pedal mashed into the floorboard. If I caught the interest of local law enforcement, they were gonna have to use road spikes and stun guns to stop me now. In all this haste and wantonness, I failed to consider all the intricacies of my destination. I was headed outside the realm of the Dallas metroplex proper, and whizzing in the direction of yet another example of The Land That Time Forgot.


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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Village of the Damned, Part 1





  It all started out very innocently, as most addictions do. I had no idea that a simple purchase several years ago would someday lead to a never-satisfied hunger involving insane amounts of money and a severe emotional impact on both my lifestyle and my family.

  See, I had always wanted to have a cute little Christmas village like some folks do during the holidays, with those little porcelain houses and maybe a few accessories. Some tiny people that you can put here and there for a touch of humanity. Oh, and some fake snow, of course, gotta have that.

  But as usual, with my innate ability to lust for things beyond my justifiable price range, my eyes were rigidly fixed on the village pieces offered by a certain company known as “Department 56”. Those of you in the know about such things will instantly realize that my dreams were destined to be shattered, unless I had recently discovered oil in my back yard whilst trimming a pesky bush.

  Department 56 is expensive. And not just “wow, that’s a little pricey” expensive. They are more along the lines of “holy cow, what kind of profession could someone possibly have to be able to afford this ridiculously-priced line of porcelain products? Is this even legal?”

  One single house in their various “lines” of products can run you a hundred dollars. And that’s a mid-range price, some of the fancier items are even higher. A hundred bucks for something that just sits there and does nothing tremendously exciting other than the fact that you can turn on the low-wattage bulb inside and pretend that the house is lit up. It’s like an Easy-Bake oven, but there are no dings at the end of the cooking cycle and you don’t get anything to eat.

  I’m not paying a hundred bucks for something like that, especially if there’s no sexual gratification involved. Sayin.

  So I just assumed that I would never have a quaint little village to display in the house during Christmas time. Sure, there were a few really cheap knock-off lines that offered miniature holiday housing, but those items always looked like they were “hand-painted” by drunken howler monkeys during the peak of the mating season. I didn’t want any crap like that.

  So the dream was shoved to the back-burner. Perhaps one day people would recognize my immense worth to the global community and I would finally be financially rewarded in an appropriate way, thus allowing me to purchase wildly-overpriced trinkets without being forced to eat beans for an entire year. Maybe someday, not now.

  Then came that fateful shopping trip.

  I was in Kohl’s, that fascinating emporium of a department store where you can manage to wrangle a really good deal on some decent items as long as you stack your coupons just right and pay attention to the sales. (Never, EVER, pay full price at Kohl’s. It’s madness to do so. Wait for the sale. Yes, you run the risk of your particular item and size not being available when the sale finally hits, but that’s the chance you have to take. If you pay full price, and then see it marked down 75% two weeks later, you are not going to feel good about yourself and will need therapy.)

  So we’re meandering through Kohl’s on the day that changed my life, with me probably looking for some KitchenAid product, because THAT was my ruling obsessive-compulsive addiction at the time. (I could not rest until I had EVERY red utensil the company produced.) A wrong turn was made, and we were suddenly in the “Christmas section”, with twinkly things on fake trees and all that bogus pseudo-religious crap with sparkly crucifixes and angels that talked when you pushed a button.

  And in the midst of all this was a display of little porcelain houses, with the miniature people and the cotton-puff fake snow blanket. All the Easy-Bake ovens were on, and things were glittery and shiny.

  This stuff looked GOOD. Of course, it wasn’t Department 56 quality, by any means, but the dangling price tags let me know that you really shouldn’t expect that. This was villaging on a budget, but for once it really didn’t look that cheap. In fact, the houses were pretty amazing, considering the cost.

  The name of the product line, for those of you outside the world of rabid villagers, is “St. Nicholas Square.” Over the years, the line has had its ups and downs, but at that particular moment, the quality was top-notch for a budget line. This was not crap. This was sponge-worthy.

  I whipped out my currently-valid Kohl’s coupons (I’m serious, you have to keep on top of these things and plan accordingly), and realized that in some cosmic confluence of coupons and on-going sales, I could purchase these dwelling for half of the already-low price.

  I looked at my partner Terry. “Go get something to put this stuff in. Now.”

  He raced off (because he understands when I’m serious), while I began scrounging through the boxed-up houses behind the display. I selected several to my liking, and snatched up a number of accessories as well. By no means was I in the feverish mode I would have in years to come, but I was pretty psyched about the whole situation. Tiny bit of impending buyer’s remorse, because you are never certain about addictions when they are in the baby stage, but I was smiling at the moment.

  Thus began my twisted obsession.

  We raced home with my purchases, and I carefully set up a tiny little village. Maybe four or five houses. I’m not sure. I don’t even remember where in our home I set up this first village. That’s the distant past. In the years since then, that tiny little village has exploded into a metropolis of immense proportions. It’s now an overwhelming force of nature that descends on our home every November.

  That first year, I don’t think most of our friends even noticed the little village. Perhaps some of them may have made comments like “well, isn’t THAT cute” as they walked past the exhibit on their way to the cash bar. (Hell, I had to pay for the village some how.) To my friends at the time, it was just another example of me going a wee bit overboard during Christmas.

  Because I love Christmas. Really do. It’s not just about religion, although I understand and appreciate that angle. To me, it all goes back, way back, to a time when I still believed in Santa. And I don’t even mean specifically a man that wore red and depended on reindeer for navigation and transport.

  Of course I was young, but I do remember it very clearly, that time of complete innocence when you were giddy with excitement over the concept of someone giving you something extraordinary simply because you had been a good person. It was a magical feeling.

  And as I matured (yes, that accomplishment is certainly up for debate) and started going through the crapfest that life sometimes can be in the real world, it only intensified my memories of that simpler time. And every year, when I stumble upon my first lit Christmas tree of the season, I instantly go back to my happy place, even if I happen to be walking through Home Depot in September, wearing shorts and a tank top, when I see the first tree.

  Though the years, as is natural, I slid from being the boy who had hopes for getting something good to the man eventually able to afford giving those good things to others. And so I do. Not because I can but because I WANT to. All that scrambling from one end of town to the other in search of the perfect gift is completely worth it when I see eyes light up and a look of surprise come over a face. Joyous discovery, with a little sprinkle of magic dust that I’ve kept in my pocket for forty years. That stuff still works, ya know.

  To my peeps in the current day: Do you finally get me now about the Chistmas thing? So stop with the protests that I’ve spent too much and take your present home and put it somewhere nice so you can see it every once in a while and think, wow, that was really sweet of him. And then you can go watch a pleasant little movie on Lifetime, and for at least a little bit there are no worries.

  Anyway, back to this damn village that has taken over my life.

  The second year I set out my little holiday town, there was considerable expansion. Apparently the word was out this was a nice place to live, and adventurous folk were quietly snapping up property while the prices were still low. I think I added another ten or so buildings that year, most of them from Kohl’s and their wickedly low-priced “St. Nicholas Square” line.

  I already had enough buildings to actually do a bit of urban planning. I had a Main Street / Town Square thing going on, and a small park area, and enough residential houses to start a small neighborhood. Nothing fancy, really, though it was taking shape nicely. And I already had visions how sprawling this might become in the future. My budding kingdom.

  But I still wasn’t in the complete throes of addiction, where I would tear into Kohl’s the second the new crop of buildings became available at the start of the season, knocking over the slower shoppers and grabbing everything in sight, and then turning to face the crowd with a territorial growl. That wouldn’t happen until a later time.

  Like the very next year. Seriously, I had researched the whole thing online, and knew the exact date the village would be available in the stores. I practically helped the local store put up it’s display, advising on proper building placement (I already considered myself an expert) and nearly coming to blows with one idiot who thought it would be okay if he didn’t plug in the dairy barn because the cord didn’t reach the outlet. Oh no he didn’t.

  Then I purchased one of every new building they had in stock and all the new accessories (with stacked discounts, of course). I had to make multiple trips to the car. (By the way, what’s up with Kohl’s not having real shopping carts? Those stupid black bags only hold two buildings each, on average, so that makes my village retail experience a little too labor-intensive for my tastes. Hate them a little bit for that.)

  Explanatory note to those who aren’t familiar with, or really don’t care about, this villaging thing: St. Nicholas Square, just like Department 56 and most of the higher-end collectible companies, only have each building available for a certain time. Usually, the lifespan is about 3 or 4 years. But if a particular model has really poor sales, that puppy can be gone within a year.

  So if you are a completist like me, wanting to have every model they make (and I was already at that point by the third year, pathetic as it sounds), you have to snatch up the new ones as soon as you see them, because you might not ever see them again. I want everything, even if it’s a slightly ugly church and I already had 7 churches in my inventory. I was no longer interested in only the cute things. I wanted it all.

  I think it was that same third year when I broke the rules, even though I had told myself repeatedly that I would not do this: I actually paid full price for a house in one of the Department 56 lines.

  Yes, Department 56. It was 85 dollars. Not only was I breaking my marriage vows with St. Nicholas Square and seeing someone on the sly, but that someone was a high-dollar hooker with expensive tastes. I just couldn’t help it. The first warning sign of a deep addiction, when you will get your fix from wherever you can get it no matter the cost.

  But at least I was able to justify it in a way. The Department 56 piece was actually one that Terry and I had both marveled at one day in Foley’s (back in the day before Foley’s was sucked up by Macy’s). This little critter was a fascinating thing: a Krispy Kreme donut shop, complete with a rotating sign on top. Totally fun.

  I knew right away that I was going to get this. But how could I justify the expense? Hey, it was Christmas time! Bingo! I could get if for Terry and then lease him some property in my village. But I initially played it off as being way too pricey and we walked away, setting up the “surprise” part of giving that I enjoy.

  So I got the Krispy Kreme building for Terry, breaking my Department 56 virginity in the process, presenting it to him on Christmas Eve with all the love that I babbled about a few paragraphs ago. And it really is HIS, completely and totally. It just lives in MY village, and in the end that’s all that really matters. This is another aspect of the “surprise part of giving” that I really enjoy.

  It was the fourth year of the village when things finally spiraled out of control, moving beyond a hobby that I was slightly freakish about and into the realms of madness.

  That year, my sins were many.

  Obviously, I raced to Kohl’s on the opening day of the St. Nicholas Square new offerings. Even at that time, I was already familiar with other “first-day” obsessives, folks with the same lust in their eyes as mine. We broke through the doors at the same time, flat-out running through the store, taking risky short cuts and leaping over the ever-present ugly, crying children in order to get to the Christmas section first.

  Once there, it was every obsessive for himself. We each yelled out dibs on clear spaces in the area that we could use as holding pens for our purchases, then leaped into the St. Nicholas Square shelves with a frenzy, clawing and fighting. This was serious business. If you lost a limb in the process, then that was just the price you had to pay.

  I managed to grab a box for each of the prized new buildings and whisked them to my declared holding area, but just barely. (I did feel a little bad about having to elbow that one lady really hard in the ribs, especially when she started wheezing and had to pull out an inhaler, but honey, you have got to TRAIN for these things. Clearly, she was an amateur and shouldn’t have been there in the first place.)

  Stupidly, Kohl’s had not planned properly for this Day of the Rushing Obsessives Who Need More Realistic Goals in Life, and their stock was far short of what was needed to satisfy the angry mob in their Christmas section, with people thundering around and knocking over artificial trees with tacky ornaments. The empty-handed people were none too happy.

  It got a little tense. The loser vultures were circling my little pile of golden goodies, waiting for me to be distracted so they could lunge in and latch onto one of my newly-adopted children. They knew I couldn’t carry all of this to the checkout counter. Kohl’s doesn’t have shopping carts! They smiled evil smiles as they closed in tighter, drool dripping from their chins.

  But I was ready for the onslaught. I had strength-trained all week, had a huge breakfast, and was adequately conditioned to stand here the rest of the season, if necessary, until they finally went away. I was fully prepared to pee on the buildings if I had to, marking them as my own. But it didn’t come to that. All I had to do was whip out my Kohl’s charge card, worn to a razor-sharp edge on one end from years of swiping at the checkout counter, slash it through the air a few times and grunt, and the goons went racing off to see what was left in the Bedding department.

  This left a small set of victorious shoppers, a select group of obviously-skilled village worshippers who had triumphed over the weaker fledglings in this pivotal variant of reindeer games. None of us could carry all of these ginormous boxes to the checkout counter in one trip. At the very least, there would be two safaris through the Kohl’s jungle of crazed shoppers and misbehaving children.

  It was now a matter of trust. Could we depend on each other to do the right thing and not raid each other’s stash during the requisite multiple journeys? Could we act in kindness, respecting fellow citizens’ efforts to enrich their lives with holiday products? Could we believe that our intended purchases would be safe from disappointed customers returning from the Bedding department where there was nothing decent left to fight over?

  Hell no, we couldn’t. This was Dallas, where people will shoot you over a Snickers bar and not think twice about it.

  It was High Noon at Kohl’s, and Gary Cooper was nowhere to be found…


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Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Seventy-Sixth One: An Interim, Of Sorts, And Some Recycling

I realize that it’s been three days since the last post, and that I should therefore be beaten and shackled for my crimes. But things happen. Of course, the biggest thing happening is this mad rush up to Christmas, and all the insanity flying in the air.

I’ve actually had a few anxious people contact me wondering if the blog was now going to end since the Paris trip was over. Certainly not. The blog existed before Paris and, hopefully, will continue to exist for some time. I enjoy doing this. It’s what I want to do full-time if I can ever break away from the nameless behemoth corporation that is sucking the life out of me in my “day job”. But that day job has to stay in place for now. Gotta pay the light bill, right?

So, to keep you at least somewhat entertained, here’s a re-post from one of my other blogs. (Did you realize I have other blogs? They are listed on the right, just scroll down a bit. Check them out if you haven’t explored them yet. Keep in mind that some of the blogs have been woefully ignored for the past few months as I focused on the Paris thing. In fact, a couple of them might be quietly put to rest. But most of them should have new blood very shortly.)

Anyway, this particular post is from the “Idiot Fondue” blog, wherein I offer extremely professional advice to those seeking guidance and wisdom for their various traumas and confusions. If you like it, check out the other posts on that blog. In fact, check out all the posts on all the blogs. Click like you’ve got an itch that cannot be scratched. Because I need the page hits. Seriously. To make it as a blogger, it’s all about the numbers. And before you know it, I’ll be pounding the keyboard and producing new material for THIS blog.

Promise.

Enjoy…

Case Study #13

And this little jewel arrived just this evening:

Dear Brian,

Why do people try to put round pegs in square holes?

submitted by Serena L.

Sweetie,

Fess up. Were you drinking when you sent this?

Not trying to be rude, but I always try to ensure that I understand all provisional elements which led to a patient’s submission. You clearly have issues, I would just like to make sure I focus on the signs of dementia that are most important to you.

And of course, there’s the legal angle. Should the authorities contact me after you, say, dance naked at the intersection of 4th and Main, or, you know, actually kill someone, I need to be able to provide them with professional guidance. “She knew exactly what she was doing” means admit you to the Psych Ward. “She was totally smashed” means throw her in the drunk tank and let her sleep it off. This distinction is critical.

But I suppose, to be fair, especially since I have vacation coming up and may not be immediately available should the police knock on my door, I really should analyze your query from both a plastered and non-plastered angle. Let’s do that, shall we?

Let’s choose sobriety first. After all, there are a number of organizations that use a similar slogan in their campaign materials, so they must be on to something. Even if that “something” is a hypocritical effort by right-wingers to stir up donations. I’d like it to work for ME, because I have bills.

So you’re sober, and you want to know why people try to put round pegs in square holes.

Well, from a purely physical standpoint, that round peg is going to fit in a square hole, unless it’s a really big round peg. So you’re not speaking in literal terms. Therefore, this is a euphemism that something else is going on in your life.

Ah, so we’re talking about sex. Hello. I should have gone there immediately, what with “pegs” and “holes”. (I’m really getting a bit slow as the years creep by. I need to speak to my pharmacist, or I should say DOCTOR, about a good vitamin regimen.)

You’re not happy about the sex that, apparently, you’re not getting enough of, or what you ARE getting quickly turns into complications, anxiety, and madness. This is not healthy. Things must change.

What’s a girl to do? Well, the first step you take is to sign into your PC, access your “love swap” websites, and immediately delete all connections where the gentleman caller does not give his full name and/or does not provide a clear, non-manipulated high-res photo of his tackle. You know what you want, why settle for second-best?

And while you’re at it, delete “friends” with User Names like “John Doe”, “Raging Stallion”, “Hunka Burnin Log”, and “Cellblock D”. These people will not make you happy at the end of the day.

Now go to all your main profile pages and make some updates. Remove any indication that you are desperate and will take a chance on anything. That photo of you lying in bed and looking sadly over at the empty space beside you? Very artistic shot. Get rid of it. The video you posted where you make a scrumptious home-cooked meal, waltz into the dining room with a steaming tray of goodies, and then burst into tears when you see only one place setting? High quality and well shot. Delete it.

Why was this necessary? It may come as a surprise to you, but the average straight American male does not exactly find it erotic when a woman waves the Needy flag from the get go. Have the “WUV ME” tattoo removed from your forehead. Take off the “Neurotic and Clingy!” panties and throw them in the back of the closet.

Once you’ve tidied these things up, turn off the PC, and walk away. Do not check your email for 3 days. If Prince Charming has really been searching for you for 30 years, he’s not going to be disturbed by a long weekend.

When an appropriate amount of time has passed, calmly sign back in, and SLOWLY review the entire contents of your inbox. Do not seize the first email from a male-sounding name and immediately begin making plans to have yourself Fed-Exed to him the next morning. If the gentlemen stupidly identifies his work location in the email, do not run to the phone and call his boss, trying to arrange some days off and a travel voucher for him.

Read each and every email with a healthy sense of caution, and carefully consider what each and every of his written words literally mean, rather than what you would like them to mean in your fevered and lusty mind.

And here’s a hint: Just because they respond at all, it does not mean that they love you. Word.

Okay, that’s one analysis. But the more I’ve pondered you query, I’ve come to the conclusion that you really were drunk when you mailed this, and I must go into THAT angle of the analysis. (It also means that I’ve wasted my time for several paragraphs of expensive counseling. You will still have to pay for it, of course, but perhaps you could tear off the top half of this and give it to your even needier friend who joined that “I Will Bang Anything With a Pulse” website.)

So this is what really lead to your question:

You were at Joe’s Crab Shack the other night with your best friend, Chlamydia, having cocktails and chit-chatting. Clam was doing most of the talking, as she always does, but you’re used to the sound of her incessant voice by now and it was actually comforting, soothing, like a tropical downpour.

You were having a bit of sidebar fun, flirting with the waiter and making sure your breasts were in the way each time he reached for your empty glass. You knew you really had his attention when he started trying to refill your water glass each time you took the tiniest sip. Things were heating up. Then you spied his mother bringing him lunch money, and she looked EXACTLY like you, so the plug was quickly pulled on that little adventure.

You vaguely looked in Clam’s direction, checking in, and discovered that she was only on Item 4 of the 10 things about herself she always brings up, so you had plenty of time there, she usually doesn’t stop for input until Item 7, glossed-lips flying. You turned back to the bar.

And there he was.

You don’t normally go for cowboys, but something about the way he filled those jeans, standing at the bar with one boot up on the rail and talking to his buddy, sent a hormonal jolt through your body that nearly blew your toes off. You realized you were staring and were just about to turn away, when he looked right at you, gave a little tip to his hat, winked, and then kept talking to the buddy.

Oh my god.

You turned to Clam and kicked her under the table.

“What the HELL?”

“Sorry, sweetie. I love you, but I needed you to shut up for just half a second.”

“Well, you didn’t have to-”

“Yes, I did. You weren’t going to take a breath for twenty more minutes. Okay, don’t look right now, but there’s a guy at the bar-”

Her head immediately whipped in that direction.

“Chlamydia!”

Her head whipped back. Her massive hair did the same a few seconds later. “O-M-G. He is so fuc-”

“He’s mine, don’t even think about it.”

“He doesn’t even know you exist.”

“He winked at me.”

Clam paused, pouting, then “But that doesn’t mean he wants-”

“I am just telling you, as a friend, that if you do the tiniest thing to distract him from me, I will CUT you. And quit sticking your titties out.”

Clam sighed, then relaxed her shoulders. “Well, we’re gonna need some more alcohol to get through this. Where’s the waiter? Is it past his curfew?”

And so the seduction, and the serious drinking, began. You did all your attention-getting tricks, laughing loudly over nothing, flipping your hair, pretending to get margarita salt on your shirt and then jiggling things around.

Five rounds later, things were getting a little swimmy. You were having a hard time remembering Clam’s full name, and whether or not you were the person who drove tonight. Cowboy still hadn’t come over, but he hadn’t left yet. And you really had to pee.

So you fumbled for your purse, and then struggled to slide across the booth bench. (It sure wasn’t this hard getting IN here.) Wait, why are there legs at the end of the booth? You look up, and focus. It’s him!

“Hi there, pretty ladies. My name’s Brad. Mind if I sit with you a bit? My buddy had to get on the road, but I’ve still got some fight left in me, and you two been yukkin it up all night and havin a good time.”

You hurl yourself to the other end of the bench, squeezed up against the wall to ensure there is more room on your side of the booth than on Clam’s side. She’s in the same frenzy, throwing packages and crap over her head, but she’s slow out of the gate. He plunks down to your right. You quietly promise Jesus that you will go back to church real soon. Amen.

And he turns out to be completely charming, telling funny stories that have you busting a gut. Even Chlamydia is enraptured, temporarily forgetting to be a slut. But he keeps ordering rounds. You’re so lit that you can no longer understand everything he says, but it’s fascinating just watching his lips move, and the way his big hand rubs his chin every once in a while. But it becomes clear that something ELSE is about to bust if you don’t do something about it in the next five minutes.

“Sugar, could you scooch out a bit? I need to powder my nose.”

He scooches. As you slide over, you discreetly grab a shrimp fork and stab Chlamydia’s hand. (“He is MINE, bitch.”) Then you stumble toward the restrooms.

To find that the ladies’ room is packed, line out the door. Oh god. This is a serious biological moment.

Then your eyes spy the men’s room down the hall. Not a soul in sight. You’re drunk and clenching, and the decision is a quick one. You stagger that way.

You slam through the door. Still no one. Perfect. You beeline to the only stall and slam the metal door open, only to find that the toilet is broken and overflowing. How is this happening?

You turn around, and there are two urinals on the wall. One is very low to the ground, probably for little boys, and is out of the question. The other one seems awfully high, but it will have to do.

You approach the taller one, trying to work out the math. You’ve SEEN these before, of course, but you’ve never had to use one. The bowl doesn’t stick out far enough for you to just lift your dress and squat, there’s not enough room for you to spread your knees and try to get your business hovered over the water.

Maybe you can back into it? Yeah, that’s got to work. So you struggle getting your panties down (WHY do undergarments cause so much trouble when you’re schnockered?), then hike your dress up to your bra to keep things dry. You stumble backwards and feel the cold porcelain hit you in the upper butt. You stand on your tip-toes and are just able to clear the bowl.

When you sit down, your feet actually come off the ground, so you have to hang on to the flush handle for balance. It’s an odd sensation and position, but your body instinctively knows that it’s good enough, and here comes the pee.

While struggling to hang on, you think you feel part of the bunched-up dress get caught on something, but you’ll worry about that in a minute, can’t stop the flow right now, you’ve saved up gallons while flirting with the cowboy. There’s been so much pressure for so long, that the release is almost erotic it feels so good. You let out a small sigh. And relax.

And your hand slips off the flush handle. Suddenly you are plummeting forward and downward. Halfway to the floor, to your increased horror, you realize your dress IS caught on something and is in the process of ripping apart down your back and across your waist. The good side is that this somehow slows your fall, so that when your head hit’s the ground, it’s just a gentle tap.

The bad side, and it’s really bad, is that with the way the dress split, the upper half of the dress has your arms entangled and you can’t move them. The bottom half of the dress is keeping the bottom half of your body stuck on the urinal. You are hanging upside down, with your exposed lily-white ass aimed at the ceiling.

The door to the men’s room whacks open. Cowboy boots shuffle across the tile floor, and then pause. You hear the gruff, sexy voice you’ve been giddy about all night:

“Darlin, how’d you get your cooter caught on that there toilet?”

 

Please see Lanae at the front desk. I’m sure you’ll be needing more sessions.

Try to get some sleep,

Dr. Brian