June 29, 2014


I spoke at a high school career day yesterday.
Can you say, “disaster”?
Trust me, this is not an activity for the faint of heart, if you expect to leave feeling good about yourself.
Here was the bill:  a doctor, a lawyer, a pro basketball player, the CEO of a large company, a spokesmodel, a chef, a politician, and, with a barely perceptible nod to the creative sector, me…a lowly writer.
Now, I never considered writing for a living to be a “lowly” profession prior to that day.  The ability to communicate effectively with one’s own kind seemed an important mission.  Being able to entertain humanity enough to, in the vernacular, “get big laughs” had previously struck me as a rather noble calling.
If the results of that grueling day were any indication of majority opinion, we all might as well chuck our pens, paper, and computers in the bin and take up playing guitar at Grand Central Station instead.
At any rate, we were set to speak in groups of three, but there was a cancellation at the last minute, so the groups became 3-3-2.  OK.  So far, so good.
First onstage were the doctor (from a trauma unit), the lawyer (a prosecutor), and the CEO (from Remington Firearms).  This was one tough bunch!  The procedure was for each of us to do quick individual presentations about our occupations, then throw the floor open to questions from the auditorium full of high school seniors.  The first three went out while the rest of us waited in a green room in the auditorium wings.  Since it seemed to be soundproofed, we didn’t hear any of the initial round presentations or questions.
After forty-five minutes, doctor, lawyer, and CEO tottered back, scrabbling for their coats.  They were mere shadows of their former robust, confident selves.  Pale and trembling, they inquired about the location of the nearest bar, then sprinted out the door and left an inch of rubber behind them in the parking lot.
This didn’t bode well for the rest of us.
Next, the pro basketball player (from the Bulls), the chef (from Brooklyn), and the politician (from hunger).  Again, another tough group.  Same procedure, then questions.  This time, I opened the door and listened.  I expected to hear the beginnings of a riot on a par with Attica, but no.  The students were quiet and respectful.  What was going on, then?  Presentations complete, the question-and-answer portion began.  I couldn’t hear any of the questions, so I closed the door and resumed my seat.
In ten minutes or so, the door flew open again, and again, when the two women and one extremely tall gentleman took their leave, it was clear that they intended to join the first group at the corner bar immediately, if not sooner.
Now it was our turn…the spokesmodel’s and mine.  This particular paring didn’t give me a great deal of confidence going in.  As we walked onstage, I was thinking that this woman was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen.  Being merely an “OK” looking female, I definitely felt like a 3 tagging along with a 10.
Then she opened her mouth, and it became instantly clear that, though she had a body by Rodin, she had a brain by Mattel.
She grabbed the mike, while I, ensconced in one of the uncomfortable metal folding chairs that seem to dwell exclusively in schools and funeral homes, thought, “Let the games begin!”
“Hi there, kids!” she cried, in a voice that proved conclusively that Howdy Doody did, indeed, have siblings.  This female was either a spokesmodel who promoted things to deaf lip-readers, or she was one of those “point and smile” types, while someone with more mellifluous pipes did the voiceover.  The fact that Minnie Pearl would have been a vast improvement pretty much tells the story.
“My name is Laverne Monroe, and I’m a spokesmodel for ‘Vibrator Heaven,’ a sex toy shop…”
That was as far as she got.  The principal and two math teachers suddenly appeared from the wings and hustled her off the stage.
It would have been funny if it were not for the consequences.  There were now twenty-five minutes left to fill, and only little old me…neither gorgeous nor provocative…to fill them.  Add that to an auditorium full of hormonal teenagers who were more than a little upset about “Miss Sex Toys’” abrupt departure, and you have a resultant fiasco of such magnitude that it would probably register on the Richter Scale.
“Ahem.  I’m Carson Buckingham, and I’m a professional writer.”
You could have cut the ennui with a backhoe.
I outlined my various accomplishments, which I’m sure weren’t as interesting as Laverne’s…both to the audience and to me.  Then I threw the whole catastrophe open for questions, and the worst possible thing happened.
Nobody asked anything.
There was complete, scornful silence.
Finally, a faculty member took pity on me.
“Ms. Buckingham?”
“Yes?”  Good.  I was sure to get a decent question I could kill a few minutes with from a teacher.
“Are you related to Lindsey Buckingham?”
The students glanced at each other with expressions that shouted, “Who?
Not too many Fleetwood Mac fans in that audience, evidently.
My left brain was mightily disappointed by such an inane question.  However, my right brain sprang into action, slapped me upside the head and shouted, “It’s a life preserver, you moron!  Grab it or it’s Titanic time, baby!”
 “Yes, I am,” I lied.
“Oh, my, are you really?” she gushed.  Apparently, most of the faculty members at least recognized the name.  Hands flew up like Birnham Wood on its way to Dunsanane.
I spent the balance of my onstage time discussing everything I had ever read on the backs of album covers about Mr. Buckingham and his career, and making up what I didn't know.   I think I pulled it off.  As a matter of fact, I ran twenty minutes over.  I wrapped it up to a standing ovation from the faculty and a snoring ovation from the student body.
As I left the auditorium, after promising Lindsey’s autograph to at least thirty-five people, I found myself walking behind two teachers who were discussing me.
“Wasn’t she wonderful?  I had no idea she was related, did you?”
“No, I didn’t.  I’m glad Marge asked her.  What was her career, though? Do you remember?”
“I think she’s Lindsey’s publicist, isn’t she?”
“Oh, that’s nice…keeping things in the family, I mean.”
I guess “celebrity” beats “cerebral” every time.

June 23, 2014


         I hate dealing with banks, don’t you?  I hate them so much that this is the second blog posting I've written about them.  (The first one--DON'T BANK ON IT--can be found in the July 2013 archives if you care to read that, as well.)
At any rate, my husband, Stij, had a major run-in with Bank of America this morning.
He’s lying down now, with a tumbler of Jim Beam on an adjacent table and a cool washcloth on his head.
The reason? This morning, he got a notice that his account ATM card…his BUSINESS account ATM card…had been frozen due to “suspicious activity.”
Stij called them.   It went something like this:
STIJ:  Hello.  I have a question about my account.
BB (Bank Bimbo—the blonde with 100 pounds of hair, a perpetual rictus, the latest fad design in fingernails, and a brain by Mattel):  Let me put you through to our Accounts Manager.  One moment.
While on hold, Stij listened to the entire Beatles catalog—twice.
TLTYTMAMWVHCY (The Latest Twelve-year-old They Made A Manager, Whose Voice Hasn’t Changed Yet):   What can I do to…I mean FOR you today?
STIJ:  You might tell me why you froze my business account ATM card.
Then, the kid made the nearly always fatal error of trying to be funny when Stij is upset:
TLTY: (Chuckles) But surely you know that nothing ever freezes in Arizona!
STIJ:  Don’t call me ‘Shirley.’ (He’d been waiting for the opportunity to use that line ever since ‘Airplane’ came out.)
TLTY:  Why would I call you ‘Shirley?’  You say your account has been frozen?  Gimmie the number and I’ll look it up for you, dude.
The TLTY is too young to even get the joke.  Fade back in pissed off mood.
Stij gave him the number and was put back on hold to listen to, ‘The Ride of the Valkyries’ many, many times, followed by The Complete Works of Emily Dickinson, translated into Chinese and read by a 100-year-old constipated employee at a one-hour dry cleaners.
TLTY:  According to our records, your account isn’t frozen, man.  Oh, and do you also go by the name of ‘Buster Lifshitz Horowitz?”
STIJ:  Not now, not ever. You must have mistyped it.  Try re-keying the number, please.
TLTY:  Oops, sorry, my man.  Just a sec.  Partied kinda hard last night, y’know?
STIJ:  No, I do not know.  I work my ass off ten or twelve hours a day to put money in your bank in order for you, Mr. Party Boy, to tell me that I can’t have it when I want it!
TLTY:  Yeah, I know—bummer, man, huh?  But you really need to take a chill pill, babe.
STIJ:  Listen, you human cabbage, just find out what’s going on!  I have lumber to buy today and I need that card!
TLTY:  Wow, man, sounds like you didn’t get much sleep last night.
STIJ:  I am coming down there—right now!
TLTY:  Hold it, there, Hondo—your account just came up.  Stij?  Is that right?
TLTY:  Your account’s frozen.
TLTY:  Says here ‘Suspicious Activity.’  Been doing anything suspicious lately?
STIJ:  Nothing unusual—just depositing and withdrawing money.
TLTY:  Oh, well, there’s your problem right there.
TLTY:  The withdrawals.  I see here you withdrew nearly $100 over the past week.
STIJ:  I have a business.  This is a business account.  I needed the money to buy building materials! Let me ask you something--why do you never consider DEPOSITS suspicious?  They could be from people selling drugs or stealing cars and reselling them, or…FROM ROBBING BANKS!  You could actually be laundering money and not even know it.  What about that?
TLTY:  Uh…let me find out about that…hold on…”
STIJ:  Nooooo, not hold ag…
Now it’s Slovenian folk dancing music, followed by Rod McKuen reciting from Stanyon Street and Other Sorrows, followed by Richard Nixon singing the Carpenter’s greatest hits.
Now Stij hated the British, Wagner, the Chinese, Slovenia, poetry, and Richard Nixon—singing ANYTHING!  And to top it all off, there was somebody at the door.
It was the police, who arrived to arrest Stij for threatening to rob Bank of America; but they left without him when they came in, saw the kitchen half-melted and smelled the chili I was attempting to make for lunch.
I guess they decided he’d already been punished enough.

June 16, 2014


These days, with the economy in the state it’s in (Rhode Island, I think), I am doing my level best to find multiple uses for everyday items in the home in order to save money and make my husband, Stij, realize what a clever wife he has and how lucky he is.
And you know, I think I’m doing pretty well at it.
For instance—homemade jam.  I grow grapes in the back yard and this past season I was able to put up a quart and a half of grape jam.  I’m sure it’s delicious, but I managed to overcook it to the point where the seven packets of pectin I added just said, “Oh, fuck it,” and vulcanized the entire batch.
However, being the inventive person that I am, after scraping it out of the pot with a crowbar, I discovered a myriad (don’t you love that word?) of other uses.  For example, after a mere hour of blowtorching, I found that I could reshape the jam into intriguing sculptural forms; that is, until Stij came in, demanding to know “…what that horrific smell is and why are there 127,000 fire ants on the counter?” just prior to his donning oven mitts and chucking the whole thing into a trash can--which he then threw over the wall into our neighbor’s yard.
“He’ll never know where it came from,” Stij said confidently.
All right, so the multi-use jam didn’t work out too well.  But how about brownies?  Brownies can be used for a lot of different things, too.
Recently, I made a quadruple batch of them, but forget to add the eggs.  After employing the crowbar previously used in the jam, and cutting the hardened sheets into pieces on Stij’s band saw, there were enough of them to glue to the concrete slab by the front door in a really attractive herringbone pattern.  While debating whether or not to paint them, Stij walked by and told me that if I put any more of my failed baked goods outside that the fire ants have threatened to eat the tires on his truck—just to get rid of the taste.
So much for that.
Well, how about taffy, then?  See?  I don’t even need to write anything; you’re already laughing.  Why bother?
All right, since I screwed up the stuff anybody can make, I reasoned, “I guess they’re just too simple—maybe I should try something more challenging.”
Oh, don’t ask ME where I get this logic—just roll with it.
I tried baclava, which ended up tasting like a balaclava.  However, if carefully sanded and polished to a high gloss, it makes a really interesting sound when it hits the garbage can—ask my husband.
Another thing I made that had multiple purposes, which was the original premise of this column—remember?—was pancake syrup.  I figured, no problem, I’ll go outside, tap a tree, and do it the old fashioned way.  So out I went with my peg and bucket and my drill.  I drilled an appropriately sized hole, affixed the bucket hanger and adjourned indoors to watch “Jeopardy.” 
When I went back out, the bucket was full of milky white sap.  I hauled it in and dumped it into a pot on the stove to begin boiling it down.
It didn’t boil down.
It boiled over the pot, ran down the side of the oven, and onto the linoleum floor, where it proceeded to eat right through to the foundation.  The fumes alone were removing the paint, sheetrock, and framing.
It is to Stij’s credit that when he walked in on Armageddon he didn’t just kill me and toss me over the wall to keep the garbage can company.  When we finally got everything back under control, we assessed the wreckage.  We had exactly half a house left.  Why it stopped at half, I’ll never know.  Maybe the doorknobs gave it indigestion.  All I know is that Stij managed to stuff it all into his refuse trailer and drove it off to the landfill, after first saying a Novena that they would take it when he got there. 
He was underwhelmed upon his return three hours later.
“What happened?  Did they take it?”
“Eventually,” he said.  “When they asked me what it was, I said, ‘pancake syrup,’ then they got all pissed off because they thought I was being a smartass.”
“So what happened?”
“I explained your culinary exploits.  Two of them have wives who cook just like you do.  We cracked a couple of beers and traded stories, and here I am.  What I want to ask you is this—which tree did you tap?”
“That huge Rubber Tree out back.”
“That is NOT the kind of tree you tap for syrup.  You tap a MAPLE tree.”
 “Oh, I know that.  I just thought I’d add some maple flavoring to it after it was boiled down.  Sap is sap, right?  Your face is really red—are you having blood pressure problems again?”
“High blood pressure is the least of my worries lately.” 
“Well, then, what do you want for dinner?”

        “A paid-up life insurance policy.  Since we only have half a kitchen left, we’ll be eating out—for the next five months, probably.”
Now see that?  Multiple uses.  Beyond its usual use, pancake syrup can also be used to get your house remodeled, give your husband the opportunity to make new friends, and get you taken out to dinner.  It also makes a great fire ant killer.
I’ll be releasing a cook book later this year, dear reader, so watch this page!

June 9, 2014


       We had the misfortune to spend three hours at a Bar & Grill in Surprise, Arizona recently, and it’s not a mistake we’ll ever be repeating, unlike the food.
       This joint is the 19th hole of the golf course at a retirement RV Resort.  Stij and I were doing some remodeling work at one of the homes over there, and because the restaurant was close by, we stopped in.
The place was deserted, so we figured we could get in and out quickly, as we had a great deal of work to do at the site.
“Let’s just get burgers—those will be quick.”
We sat.
We waited.
And waited.
And waited.
Finally, a 120-year-old waitress tottered over to our table, plunked down menus and tottered away to fetch us some ice water while we gave the bill of fare a once-over. 
We both wanted cheeseburgers.
We put the menus down.
And waited.
And waited.
And waited.
Just before we turned to stone, Methuselah’s wife managed to find her way back to us to take our order. She didn’t ask us how we wanted our burgers cooked, and we chalked that up to E Coli fears.  Perhaps they cook them all well-done as a matter of course, we reasoned—some places do.  We normally like them cooked medium, but better to avoid E coli.
So, we waited.
During this wait time, I was able to recite every poem that Poe, Coleridge AND Wordsworth ever wrote.
Finally, the waitress appeared in the distance, headed our way, orders in hand.
“If she moves any slower, people are going to come by and start harvesting her organs,” Stij said.
She put the plates down, then went off to get our French fries.
The burgers were so charred that it seemed more appropriate to pray and scatter their ashes than to consume them.
“How are your burgers?” she asked when she brought the fries.
“Suitable for filling potholes,” I replied.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” she said, “Do you want to send them back?”
“Yes, we do, but we’ll just have to eat them.  We don’t have another 45 minutes to wait for replacements.”
“Oh, well, I’m sorry,” she said, shrugging her shoulders and wambling off.
“I certainly hope they’re going to adjust our bill—I’d almost rather eat my socks than this.”
“You may want to,” Stij said through his first bite. “You’d like them better.
I took my own bite. “Oh, God!  Pass the ketchup, mustard, relish and anything else I can use to kill the taste.”
Keep in mind that we were paying for this.
Next to visit our table, the ‘chef.’
“Was there a problem with your food?” she asked.
In answer, Stij opened his bun and displayed the blackened hockey puck within.
“How did you want them cooked?” she asked, like this was the only normal way to have them.
“Cooked, yes, cremated, no.”
“Did you tell your waitress how you wanted them done?”
“No, and she didn’t ask.  We assumed that you did everything well-done, not well-beyond-the-pale.  Well-done ought to still have moisture and flavor, yes?”
“Well, sorry.”   Clearly angry, she left.
Apparently, the ‘chef’ then gave the waitress a talking to, because she appeared next.
Please, if you want your food cooked in a certain way, you need to tell me!’ she exclaimed in an exasperated tone, then huffed away.
I looked at Stij.  “Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t SHE supposed to ask if we forget to tell her?  And if she doesn’t ask, isn’t the ‘chef’ supposed to send her back to find out, rather than take a wild guess that burned shoe leather would be the way to go?”
“Yep.  Apparently, this is all our fault.”
“What’d we ever do to them?  Jesus, if our experience is any indication, they seem to hate their customers here, don’t they?”
“Evidently, we interrupted their nap time and everyone is a little bit cranky,” Stij said. “We just won’t come back here again.”
“I don’t even want to drive by here again!”
Next, we got the bill.
No adjustment. 
We paid $20 for awful food that would be reminding us of the experience for the rest of the afternoon and into the evening, until we got home and slugged down some bicarb.
While we watched a movie that later that night, Stij said, “I’ll say one thing for that restaurant, though.”
“Really? And what's that?”
“It makes your cooking look pretty damned good.”
I’d have smacked him if it hadn’t been true.





June 3, 2014


More Stupid Questions Answered


Why do doughnuts have holes?
So rats can use them as life preservers after they chew through the water main beneath the doughnut shop.
Why don’t people get goosebumps on their faces?
To keep from frightening little children
Why do some places use salt and others use sand to treat icy roads?
Because some places actually want to melt the stuff and other places want to give you a brief sense of security just before you hit the ice under the sand and crash into a tree.  In the latter locales, you will always discover that the police chief’s brother owns the town auto body shop.

When lobster tails are sold to restaurants, what is done with the rest of the lobster?
They are fitted with little platforms with wheels.  You’ll see hundreds of them protesting outside any Red Lobster restaurant. 

Why is the scoring system in tennis so weird?
If you don’t get it, stop complaining and go play baseball, already. 

What is the difference between a kit and a caboodle?
They are both in Cahoots—a small town in Wisconsin—go there and ask them. 

Why is the sky blue?
So we know where to stop mowing. 

Whatever happened to pay toilets?
You could ask me any question and this is the one foremost in your mind?  

Why are all the executions in the USA held between midnight and 7:00 AM?
So the executioners can get in a little overtime 

Why do some ranchers place old boots on fence posts?
Because there’s a guy in town with a wooden leg that they’re all making fun of. 

Why do many Arizona exterminators wear hard hats?
If you saw the size of the scorpions and tarantulas down here, you wouldn’t have to ask.

Why are there 18 holes on a golf course?
So that there can be a 19th hole, without which golfers would be very sad.