Here’s What Happens When You Ask Junior High Kids to Compliment Each Other January 24, 2013

Growing up as a Generation Xer, I had to take my compliments where I could get them. There were no medals for participation or small trophies for taking eighth out of eight competitors. We had to earn our praise, damnit.

However, sometimes that praise had to come from our peers. And that didn’t always work out so well.

First example: Sixth grade, December, 1985. My teacher, Sister Marion, had this idea where we’d all make paper stockings and write our names on them. Then everyone’s stocking was passed around the room for people to write on. Everyone was supposed to write something nice about that person on his or her stocking, such as “funny” or “good at basketball” or “best Bobcat Goldthwait impersonator.”  At least that was the idea.

So the stockings went around the room and we all got our feedback from our classmates. I don’t really remember much about my own stocking because the whole exercise was overshadowed by “The Donald Incident.” Somehow word got back to Sister Marion that Donald’s stocking had a not-so-nice word on it. I think Donald clearly knew it was a joke, but Sister was not amused. (By the way, the word was “d*ck”, which still makes me giggle. Because here you had this stocking with all these kind adjectives written on it, and then right smack in the middle was “d*ck”. What can I say? Sixth-graders are quite eloquent.)

The obvious guilty party was Shawn, Donald’s close friend as well as the only fifteen-year-old in the sixth grade class. It was his writing, it was his brand of humor, and it was just his style to do this. This was the kid who was perpetually stuck in “Observation Row”. That is, if you missed some assignments or otherwise screwed up, your desk would be moved to this separate row of desks by the teacher where you would “observe” the other well-behaved children – and thereby strive to get out of embarrassing observation row. Shawn was out of observation row for approximately two days out of the entire school year. And yet he still was allowed to get his temporary driver’s license. In sixth grade.  (And on a side note, can you imagine something like Observation Row existing today? The parents would probably sue the school for public humiliation and distress.)

We all had to post our stockings on the bulletin board for everyone to see, and now Donald’s had a big scribbled blotch in the middle where d*ck was blackened out. It was basically Ken-dolled, if you will. Every day we’d walk by that stocking as if it were a registered sex offender, trying our hardest not to stare at it while still catching a glimpse. That stocking was legendary. Only I doubt that Donald’s parents saved it for the scrapbook. (Side note: If I were those parents, I totally would have saved it. These are priceless memories, people. And note to self: Contact Mastercard with new idea for their “priceless” campaign.)

Needless to say, Sister waged an extensive interrogation to find out who had written the nasty word. We were each called into a separate room where she would look us in the eye and ask “Do you know who wrote the word on Donald’s stocking”. (Me: “No.” Sister: “Do you?” Me: “No.”) And then my knuckles were rapped and I was forced to eat cafeteria Shepherd’s Pie until I gave her a name.

Okay, not really. But to this day no one ever confessed; it remains one of the great mysteries of St. Joseph Middle School. I’m still waiting for the DNA evidence, and I’m pretty certain that Shawn has already supplied that to the authorities on several occasions, given the path his life was headed.

Another time this same compliment-fishing exercise was performed, it was more successful yet still personally disappointing. My eighth grade year I was taking Spanish at the high school. My Spanish teacher decided that we would make paper hearts for Valentine’s Day, then we’d (you guessed it) pass around the hearts so others could write a kind adjective on them. And the adjective had to be in Spanish of course. Now this was exciting. Not only could I get compliments, but maybe some cute boy would be so inspired by the romantic holiday and write “muy bonita” on my heart.

Of course all the girls in class were hoping for a juicy compliment from the one super popular, super cute boy in the class who also happened to be a senior. It turned out he was going to be part of an exchange program in Colombia, South America, after graduation, so he was quickly enrolled in our class in order to learn some Spanish, pronto. (Side note: that trip never happened; he was later caught drinking and was kicked out of the program. And then I think he was accepted into another more “lenient” program where he was likely shipped to that place where the cast of The Gods Must Be Crazy lived.)

The day of the Valentines exchange, I waited with bated breath to see what kudos I would receive. There were a lot of “inteligentes” (boring) and “simpáticas” (again, boring). A few “bonitas” from friends whose handwriting I recognized. A “bonita” from a gross boy (again, I knew the handwriting). And then there it was…the word from the senior boy was…”Colombia”.

It turned out he was too new to the class to really know any adjectives, so he just ended up writing “Colombia” on everyone’s heart.


I guess that’s what happens when you ask adolescents to compliment each other. Disappointment and d*ck jokes.


Is My Town Like Walnut Grove? January 9, 2013

One of my all-time favorite shows has got to be Little House on the Prairie. I loved watching the adventures of the Ingalls family. Pa was always so strong and wise; Ma was calm and reassuring; Mary was smart and pretty; and Laura was a feisty tomboy who eventually wins the heart of the hottest farmer in town. Karri was just sort of there, all messy and babbly, while dumping Ma’s clean laundry all over the dirt ground.

By the way, does anyone know what happened to Grace? She was a toddler and then she just kind of disappeared. She must have done something shameful…or maybe she was just too boring? Back then there was nothing like Real Housewives to show those people how to drum up some drama for their characters. Grace could have learned something from those ladies; then maybe she would have become a more prominent member of Walnut Grove society. Who knows, maybe that drug addiction story line would have gone to her instead of that Ingalls family wannabe, Albert.

But getting back to the show. I loved rooting for the Ingalls family. Would Pa’s crops be ruined, therefore forcing him to take a dangerous job out of town in order to support the family? What kind of nasty trick would Nellie Oleson pull this week? Would Laura then get her revenge on Nellie, and would Ma tell her to instead turn the other cheek? Personally I always liked it when Ma would suddenly go ballistic and give someone like Mrs. Oleson a good tongue lashing. Ah, those were sweet episodes.

And then there was the little white school house. Not only was it a school, but it was also a church, a town council meeting place and a roller rink on Saturday nights.

So it got me thinking: My town of Ripon has a very similar little white schoolhouse (where the first meetings of the Republican Party were held) ,plus we’re also a small Midwestern town. But do the similarities stop there? Just how much is Ripon like Walnut Grove?

I’m sure this would make a fascinating (and unnecessary) case study. For one thing, just how warmhearted is Ripon? Do neighbors help each other out like they do in Walnut Grove?  If some seedy stranger came to town, would we all meet at the Little White Schoolhouse to discuss how to drive him out of town so he’s never seen in another episode…er…Village Green concert? Would we make a special shoe for Olga with the short leg, or would we just sit back and watch her run funny? I for one believe we would do the right thing. How do I know this? Because just the other week I witnessed a very noble act among our townspeople.

The scene: a local watering hole. (What, you were expecting church?)

My friends and I notice that not only is the place pretty packed, but there is only one bartender. This guy is sweating like crazy to keep up, and we feel pretty bad for him. Yet there is nothing we can do, since we are mere thirsty townsfolk without bartending licenses.

But then…as fast as schoolchildren can help a pregnant Mrs. Wilder after she collapses from heat stroke in the fields…in walks a bartender from another bar. Sweet relief! A few minutes later it happens again. Another bartender that we recognize from another local bar comes in the door, rolls up her sleeves and starts taking drink orders like she owns the place. We were saved! If we were in an 80’s movie, someone would have started a slow clap.

I wasn’t sure how this happened, but I imagined it was some sort of universal bartending distress call. A giant mug of beer projected in the sky, perhaps? Whatever it was, this guy got the instant help he needed.  That’s not something you see every day, and it would probably be unheard of in larger cities.

Okay so maybe Mr. Ingalls wouldn’t have been too impressed, but I’ve got to believe that fun-loving Mr. Edwards would appreciate our spirit.

We are so like Walnut Grove.



This Year I Resolve to…Avoid Wal-Mart January 7, 2013

According to what the self-help gurus tell me, I’m supposed to make my New Year’s Resolutions public so that I am more accountable to them. No problem, I say. Not only will this help me keep my word, but it gives me the perfect opportunity to rant about one of my least favorite places: Wal-Mart.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m all about capitalism and all, and I don’t hate big corporations. My hating Wal-Mart has everything to do with it being nastier than a Chris Brown Twitter rampage. (Oh and p.s., I am also boycotting Chris Brown and Rhianna in 2013 because they both suck.)

Yes, I have more “noble” resolutions…like using reusable shopping bags. It’s better for the environment and all, but it’s mostly because the cabinet where I store all my plastic bags is looking like George Costanza’s wallet. I am one plastic bag and a swift breeze away from it exploding all over my house with the force of Colon Blow cereal. However I’ll be damned if any one of those bags will be from Satan’s vacation home, otherwise known as Wal-Mart.

Many, many times have I stormed out of Wal-Mart and declared, “Never again!” And it’s even worse when I’m tired and hungry, so technically going to Wal-Mart makes me spend more and eat more. Because the last time I went I had to go through the Culver’s drive-through just to calm myself down with some pot roast sandwich goodness. Then when I got home I had to bust open the glass on my emergency dessert.

But this time I am never going back. Here are my reasons why, in no particular order:

1)     The Parking Lot.

Trash is everywhere, and don’t even get me started on the garbage. I can barely navigate my car down the narrow aisles because apparently everyone went to the Marcia Brady Freak-Out School of Driving. And tell me, was it Plow King or Mr. Plow that Wal-Mart hired to do a sh*tty job plowing its parking lot?[1]

2)     The People in My Way. All the Time.

How much are oblivious, slow-walking people drawn to Wal-Mart? Like gay men are drawn to the One Direction pop-up store. Like sixty-five-year-old women are drawn to PT Cruisers. Like Japanese tourists drawn to the size zero rack at the outlet mall. Like old men are drawn to those little cans of sliced mushrooms at the off-brand grocery store. (Trust me. They are.)

3)     The Nasty Grocery Section.

I recently entered the grocery section to find a dark deli and several scattered buckets which were apparently catching raindrops from the ceiling. Or maybe they were there to collect my shame – I’m not sure. Unless you’ve got a hankering for “REAL tomato ketchup, Eddie?” I’d stay away from the perishables.

4)     The Lack of Customer Service.

Recently when I found my hands were full, I searched in vain for a shopping basket. I then asked a worker if there were any baskets around, and she said, “Apparently not, but you can leave your stuff here and go get one at the entrance.”

Deep breaths.

Okay this never would have happened at Target. First of all, the Target worker would have gotten a basket for me. Secondly, Target has strategically placed baskets around the store for your shopping convenience. You want to encourage more impulse purchases? Make it easier for people to carry that Sham-Wow and Ove Glove they found on that “As Seen on TV’ endcap.

5)     The Lack of Check-Outs.

There were three check-outs open, and all of them were full of people with totally loaded grocery carts. The rest of us suckers with only a few items had to deal with the self-checkouts. I’m not eighty and I know how to use a self-checkout, however that does not make it any less annoying. This “cost saving measure” will still think that I’m stealing something when it doesn’t recognize that I just placed a five-pound object in a bag, so someone will still have to come over and help me…which kind of defeats the whole purpose, no?

6)     The Customer Service Counter.

Good luck navigating your way to the counter; you’ll have to dodge about six carts piled high with returns and scratch and dent groceries. You’ll then have to deal with the “friendly” customer service person who wants you to go away. The last person I dealt with looked like “Faces of Meth” times 100. Forget about taking teenagers to prison for that show “Scared Straight” – just take them to Wal-Mart to see this lady and they will clean up their lives real fast. One look at her multiple long chin whiskers and they’ll be cracking open those GED study guides in no time.


Here’s to Wal-Mart-free shopping in 2013!!

[1] Bonus points if you caught that Simpsons reference.


I Spent Christmas in Vegas January 4, 2013

Yes, the holidays were a bit unconventional this year. After spending a weekend celebrating Christmas with my family, my husband and I jumped on a plane for Vegas on Christmas Eve. Not only was the price right (a $25/night resort hotel room!) but I could hit the after-Christmas sales while my husband hit the poker tables. If I was lucky maybe he would slip me a twenty for some extra dance lessons with Johnny Castle.

Now I must preface this by saying that I love Vegas…so overall the trip was a success, and I would do it again. The decorations at The Venetian and The Bellagio were particularly wonderful, plus the food, shopping, entertainment, etc. kept us busy.

But who am I kidding; you don’t want to read about that. You want the juicy Vegas stories. Now I am too old and too married to wake up with a tiger in my room, and most of my Vegas “sinning” involves overeating and overshopping, but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t taste some local flavor.

Okay but first, church. (Just bear with me here, please.)

Things started out a bit rocky when I attempted to attend midnight mass. I decided that since we were in Sin City, it couldn’t hurt to earn some extra credit. So we attended services at a huge cathedral complete with the Bishop of the Las Vegas Diocese presiding. If anyone has seen extra sinniness, it’s this guy.

Now if you know anything about Catholic mass, you know that Christmas celebrations are usually around 90 minutes. But when the bishop is involved, there’s a whole lot more pomp and circumstance and even costume changes (i.e. Bishop Beanie vs. Bishop Mitre, for example). Tack on another fifteen minutes for incense swinging alone. It took 45 minutes before we got to the Gospel, and I was ready to pass out. Apparently a day of dehydrating flights and a stuffy, packed seat in the balcony do not mix. Faced with the possibility of falling unconscious into the mothball-laden fur coat in front of me, I chose to leave early for some fresh air and water. Not a good start.

Thankfully, things picked up the next day. After rehydrating and getting a good night’s rest, my husband and I hit the strip for a 3-mile run. The sights and decorations on the strip were enough to distract me from my heavy breathing, plus the “adult literature distributors” were not out yet, eliminating a huge obstacle. Usually there are about fifteen in a row, so that would have been tricky. Good for my mileage (and my Spanish usage), but tricky.

Now onto Fremont Street.

The first Fremont Street performer we encountered was a bikini-clad man dancing to Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Even though I am from a small town in Wisconsin, this was not shocking to me. After all, I love me my drag queens. The Drag Queen Bingo episode of Sex and the City alone made me want to move to Manhattan immediately. Those gals are bee-yoo-tiful and can teach me a thing or two about concealer. However, this was no RuPaul. Instead, he looked exactly like the super creepy serial killer transvestite from The Silence of the Lambs. I was relieved that the fur shrug he wore was actually a real garment and not a little dog named Precious. He had nice legs though, I’ll give him that.

After swiftly making it past Buffalo Bill, we decide to spend our $10 meal credit at the swanky café at Binions. I was about to bite into my BBQ beef when in wheels Mr. Gangrene, proudly displaying his infected and smelly foot for all the diners to see. He was soon removed due to several complaints from patrons. He obviously had some mental problems and probably a good case of diabetes, so I felt sorry for him. On the other hand, I could not feel sorry for another man I encountered.

I’m talking about The Flosser.

As in “I just had a meal of corn-on-the-cob, popcorn and Butterfingers, and this may take a while, so I am going to get all of this gunk out of my mouth by flossing in the middle of the street.”

The real kicker was, he wasn’t by himself. And it’s not like he was with some other disgusting slobs or a strange band of dental hygiene enthusiasts. He was with his wife and two kids, and they just stood there while Dad took care of business, as if it was the most normal thing in the world. And by all accounts they looked like a normal, non-Honey Boo Boo type of family. Who apparently thinks it’s okay to chuck food particles from your mouth onto the street.

Lastly, what would vacation be without a little embarrassment?

Now if you know me, you know that I hate being the center of attention…unless my hair is perfect and I’m wearing a really hot outfit, then it’s okay. Thank goodness for the pretty dress, otherwise a stunt person would have been nice during my wedding. I don’t want to be that person pulled on stage for a private dance at the Chippendales show. I don’t want the stand-up comedian talking to me; I am an audience member, and I prefer to stay invisible, thank you very much. I did not fork out 20 bucks to become part of your act; I paid so you could entertain me.

So imagine my horror when suddenly my husband becomes part of the pre-show entertainment at Cirque du Soleil’s Mystere. Since I was sitting next to him, the huge auditorium spotlight also shone on me, so in my book this still counts as personal mortification.

I knew we were doomed when the French “street performer” took one look at my husband (from 10 rows down) and said, “Ah, zere he ees! My friend!” and then promptly booked it up to us. My husband must have some sort of audience participation appeal; he was also chosen to be the “enemy spy” on board at the Star Wars ride at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. (And by the way, he loves seeing stand-up comedians and would probably also love talking to one during a gig. It figures.)

Well I will not ruin the surprise for you in case you ever see Mystere, but let’s just say it involved lots and lots of popcorn and the entire audience laughing at my husband. All I could do was sit there and say, “Wow. I am really embarrassed for you.”

As for the rest of the week…I am just sorry we had to leave before we could see MC Hammer and Tone Loc perform together at the Riviera. That would have been sweet.