Thursday, October 15, 2009



Of late, crappy has become a favorite word of mine, as in, “I’m crappy at housework.” Or, “That piece for the newspaper turned out really crappy.”

The former, of course, is a truism. Being crappy at laundry, and dishes, and other regular tasks of womandom has been a defining characteristic since I was old enough to wade through the clothes on the floor in order to sleep with a pile of books.

The latter is specific, and depressing. Happened to me one Tuesday in June. Felt like the green eggs and ham guy. I do not like it, Sam-I –Am.

I called my husband, Paul. “It’s just not good, “ I said, wandering around the deck, thirty minutes before my deadline with a local newspaper. “But I have to turn it in anyway, because I said I would, and I don’t think you can not do what you say you’re going to do just because you did it badly.”

I was reminded, in that moment, of a favorite G. K. Chesterton quote: “Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly.”

That is small consolation when your poor doing is public knowledge.

Paul tried, but was no match for this elixir of self-loathing. I headed inside, sent the crap down the chute to my unseen editor, and hopped on Facebook. Earlier in the day I had taken a quiz to discover what crazy writer I am most like. I returned to the quiz, trying to console myself in facts, drown my sorrows in the details of my assigned compadre, Hunter S. Thompson.

Thompson, Hunter S. said Wikipedia. The father of Gonzo journalism. Someone had capitalized Gonzo. Is that right, I wondered? And then the phone rang: my neighbor, Ren.

“Whatcha doing?” she asked.


“Oh, well,” she said. “You should be working on one of your great articles.”

“Yeah, it’s deadline day,” I said.

“Yep,” she said.

Everyone I know knows which day is my deadline day. It must be something I blather about incessantly, like an elderly aunt with her sciatica. Crap. When will I learn to shut up?

“Finished, but it’s not great. Crappy,” I said.

“Oh, I’m sure it’s not . . . “

So nice. So wrong. “No, it’s crappy. Trust me. I was just telling Paul. I know everyone has bad days at work, but mine go into the paper.”

“Okay, well,” she said. “I guess you’re the writer.”

This is weird. I am the writer. Yikes.

“Do you have a minute?” she said.


“I’ve done something,” she said. “And I want to show you what I’ve done.”

For a minute, I wondered if it was something evil.

“Can you meet me outside?” she said.

Who could resist? I shut off the computer and headed out the door.

The door is up on the second story above the garage. It leads out to our deck, which wraps around to stairs that spill out onto our driveway, where Ren was already standing, hand on hip, grinning at me.

She warmed up with the quote of the day from T-, our littlest.

“I so enjoy your kids,” she said. She meant it. “Do you know what your daughter said to me today?”

“Oh no, “ I said. T- is almost 4, and comes up with some stuff.

“She said, ‘Aunt Nay, I’m never gonna get undressed in front of the cops.’”

Ren waited. I lost it.

“Letting her watch a little too much CSI, Laura?” she smirked.

I couldn’t stop laughing.

“Out of the blue she said it,” Ren repeated the line. “I’m going to keep that one forever.”

Ren moved toward my dirty Ford Taurus and leaned up against it. She looked like some teenage hoodlum, a common loiterer.

What is not to love about this woman?

She started in with the real story.

“Now, you know,” she said, with the conspiratorial tone used by only the best gadabouts, “that when I turned 52, Mimi took me out to get me a tattoo.”

I nodded. Mimi’s her daughter.

“Well, it was supposed to be a daisy, but it looked like, well, it looked like an anemic dandelion. So yesterday, I decided to get it fixed up.”

She stood up and flashed the new ink. I came over for a closer look. Strong lines, and more color than I remembered. She kicked the tat leg forward and propped her other foot against the door. Leaning. Leaning seemed like the only way to have whatever conversation we were having, so I joined her.

I was never a big smoker. I bummed a cigarette or two back in the day, but never bought a pack. Regardless, once in a while, having a smoke just sounds good. Blame my past, the stress, the power of Facebook and Hunter S. Thompson, but this was one of those moments.

Ren doesn’t smoke.

“Don’t think less of me because of this.”

I turned my head, and glanced at her like we were exchanging state secrets.

“Remember that I am a good neighbor,” she pleaded, pursing her lips.

I was waiting for it. She was letting me hang.

“I . . . Now you know my maiden name is Kuebler, right?”

That’s pronounced ‘Key-blur’, for the record.

“Oh no no no,” I said, walking away from the car.

She stood upright and came in for the kill.

“I got another tattoo.”

Shaking my head, laughing, coming over, I’ll be danged if it isn’t the finest likeness of Ernie the Keebler Elf ever tattooed on a leg.

“Did you get yourself liquored up and go to town?”

“Liquored up. No I did not get liquored up, but I’ll tell you what, when he was doing the outlining, I thought, boy I wish I had a Bud Light before I came.”

I pulled my cell phone out of my pocket. “Would you mind if I took a picture?”

Not at all, she said. Mimi did.

“Look at the detail,” she said as I focused, “his little shirt, and pants.”

I snapped the picture. “Good thing.”

She laughed, “Yeah, it would be a little weird without the pants.”

Then she said, “I asked G- (our oldest) if he recognized it. He said, ‘Yeah, that’s the cookie dude, right?’”

And she told me the whole story, how she went down there, and an old teammate of her son was there, and how he was so glad to see Coach Steve, her husband, who went with her to check the place out. Ren was going to get the tree, but Mimi thought this was more of a conversation starter, so . . .

Sounded like a lovely family outing at the tattoo parlor.

“Yep,” she said, “Scotty’s got the big sun on his arm, like the basketball player, and Carly’s got this horse scene, I mean it is beautiful, and Mimi, well, Mimi’s got,” she looked up, “five, now, but most of those you can’t see on her, and this,” she looked down at Ernie, “makes . . . four.”

She looked back up at me, her eyes bright. I was the obliging bluegill. She put her hands to her face and pushed back her bangs.

“Cause I got my eyebrows done,” she reminded me, lifting those light brown lines for emphasis. “So that’s four, the daisy, the elf, and these two.” She wiggled them again. “And these hurt, I’ll tell ya. But you know . . .”

She pursed her curled up lips, closed her eyes and nodded.

 “ . . . I always wanted eyebrows.”

Then she got going on the cautionary tale of her friend who unwisely went with dark lines, not thinking about her age, when her sliding door opened and Steve appeared.

Steve has thinning hair, a grey beard: he could be Burl Ives’ grouchy brother. He rides a motorcycle, likes heavy metal, and is the only one in his immediate family without a tat. Ask him how he is, and, every time, he’ll tell you: ‘Terrible’.

I love this guy.

He hollered, “You are in big trouble.”

“Me?” I said, but I knew it wasn’t me, because he would have said, ‘Red, you’re in big trouble.’ He gets a kick out of calling me Red.

He started talking all cute to Ren about her skeeter bugs. This clearly meant it was time to take the bike out, so Ren wrapped up by saying she hoped that the boys wouldn’t start asking for tattoos.

“I swear,” she said. “I never once used the word.”

I told her not to worry, Paul and I don’t care, right now the boys probably assume that she got her ink by soaking a piece of paper in water and applying pressure. Once they’re adults, they can do what they want.

I looked to Steve and he agreed, that’s how he always did it, and then once they moved out of his house . . .

“But she, “ he pointed and wagged his finger at Ren, “I still need to give her a talking-to. She still lives here.”

“Yeah, I saw it, “ I said.

“Oh, I told her - I don’t care, “ he said. “But she better keep it covered up. Some kid’s gonna think she has a cookie and gnaw off her ankle.”

With that, Ren went back to change. I called across the yard as she stepped onto her deck.

“Ren.” She looked back. I smiled. “You made my day.”

Pity Hunter S. Thompson. Had to do drugs - because he didn’t live here.

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