"With the certitude of a true believer, Vellya Paapen had assured the twins that there was no such thing in the world as a black cat. He said that there were only black, cat-shaped holes in the universe."
-- Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things

Sunday, June 30, 2013

How to Get Great Service at Torchy’s Tacos... and Other Things I’ve Recently Learned

 Things I’ve Learned About Solicitors Offering Me Bug Extermination Services:

1.  If you say “We don’t have a bug problem” or “We don’t need exterminators” or “We don’t really mind the bugs”, the person at the door will argue with you and tell you that EVERYBODY has a bug problem and that you may need exterminators more than you even KNOW (suggesting that perhaps you have termites in the attic or a giant wasp nest* or gremlins).  But if you smile and phrase your refusal this way—“No thanks, we live in peace with our bugs”—the solicitor will smile back uncomfortably and say okay and tell you to have a nice day before backing off your porch.  (I can only assume he thought we were Buddhists or something and had nothing in his salesman’s kit to combat religious objection.)

*This is something we may actually have but are afraid to find out.

Scorpion, trapped under a glass,
with cat hair stuck to its tail.
2.  If you decide to humor the guy at the door and let him give you his spiel—“Well actually, yes, we have seen twelve scorpions in our house in the past month and we are slightly concerned that one half of our attic is nothing but a giant wasp hive”—and if you engage his attention with friendly banter long enough, he will eventually tell you things that his boss probably does not want him to tell you.  Such as…

Me:  “I’m definitely not going to buy anything today (or ever) but you can leave me your contact info if you want (so I know what company not to hire).”
Him:  “Ok, but I’ll only be here until August 15th, so you need to decide by then.”
Me:  “What do you mean?”
Him:  “I don’t live here, I’m from Utah.”
Me:  (Ah-ha, your summer job is to go to Texas and sucker people out of their money, huh?)  “We have better bugs than you do in Utah, right?”
Him:  “You definitely have MORE bugs!  My job is easy down here, I don’t even have to BS people!”


And, for the record, I am not purposely protecting this guy or his company.  I accidently recycled his info and can’t remember who he was.

3.  Despite the fact that it is sometimes fun to reveal solicitors as idiots, I have decided henceforth to stop opening my door to strangers.  Though (and this is a real piece of advice from the police and everything) I will also not take the coward’s way out and pretend to not be home, because that can tell the solicitor-burglar hybrid that it’s ok to kick your door down and rob you.  So from now on, I will say, “Who is it?!” And then if it’s not a friend or a neighbor or a pizza or a puppy or Google Fiber, I will say, “No thank you!  Go away now!”

Things I’ve Learned About Baby Screech Owls:

1.  They are adorable.

2.  They are born with only one emotion:  SURPRISE.

3.  When they are first learning how to screech, they sort of sound like a mockingbird with a cicada stuck in its throat.  Or maybe a cicada with a mockingbird stuck in its throat. *

* In the absence of a video of baby screech owls screeching, I instead offer you this fifteen-second video of a goat at the Capital of Texas Zoo.

Things I’ve Learned About Doing Research For My Writing:

1.  If you are writing a short story with a Chihuahua as a character and you are trying to find out whether or not to capitalize the word “Chihuahua” (the answer is yes) when it is referring to a dog breed and not the place (still yes) and you do a lot of Googling about Chihuahuas, Facebook will decide that you really love (and need lots of) Chihuahuas and will show you several ads like this:

2.  If you decide to mess with Facebook by Googling poisons for fifteen minutes or so (clicking on such links as “10 Poisons Used to Kill People” and “The Deadliest Poisons in History and Why People Stopped Using Them”), Facebook will stop showing you Chihuahuas and will instead start showing you sunglasses and jewelry and Toyotas and swimsuits (all things you have never shopped for online) because Facebook is worried about you and these are the things Facebook thinks might make you happy and pull you back from the brink.  Because people who drive Corollas while wearing swimsuits, sunglasses, and earrings never want to poison themselves or those around them.


3.  If a scene in your short story takes place in Torchy’s Tacos and you decide to have lunch there in order to do “research” and you spend your whole visit jotting down notes on a pad of paper, you will get the BEST service anyone has ever gotten at a Torchy’s Tacos ever.

* Number of times an employee asked me, “How is everything?”  =  3

* Number of times an employee asked if they could throw away my trash for me  =  2

* Number of times an employee gave me a nervous smile  =  4

(I was not trying to give the poor guys an anxiety attack—I was just too wrapped up in my note-taking to realize they thought I was a restaurant critic until after I left.  Rest easy, Torchy’s.  I enjoyed my green chili pork taco.)

Looking forward to what this week has to teach me…

Thursday, June 13, 2013

My Neighborhood is Writing a Horror Story

My neighborhood is writing a horror story.  I don’t mean that a bunch of people are getting together over finger foods and cocktails and collaboratively penning a piece of pulp fiction.  (Although that sounds kind of awesome so if anyone wants to do that, email me.)  No, I mean, the neighborhood itself seems to be acting out some sort of horrific tale of terror, and I’m upset because A) it’s kind of scary, and B) it’s better than anything I’ve come up with lately.

Most of you are probably going to tell me that I’m overreacting.  Fine.  Go ahead.  I don’t care.  I need to say this, regardless of what you think, in a “cover my butt” sort of way.  I need to go on record with my observations just in case something is actually going on here.  That way, when a monster comes up out of the sewer and devours all of us, you can point to this blog and say, “Huh.  I guess someone should have listened to Carie.”  And before I begin, may I remind you that, despite how crazy Tom Hanks appeared, he turned out to be RIGHT in The Burbs.

The first two unsettling incidents are actually rather sad. I promise not to be graphic, but simply stating the facts could cause some upset, so read at your own risk.

For over five months, a little male cardinal lived in the bushes between our house and our next door neighbors, and he… well, he wasn’t quite right in the head.  He became infatuated with my neighbor’s blue van.  Day in, day out, hour after hour after hour, he would peck at its side mirrors, windshield, and back window, leaving little trails of bird poo down the sides and scratching up the finish.  He was attracted to other cars too—their black SUV, if he had access to the garage, even our cars would do if the blue van was gone.  I also saw him ferociously pecking at our attic window a couple of times, and one day he flew full speed into our glass front door, but survived. 

The little cardinal did not bathe in the birdbath, nor did he mate and build a nest, and I never saw him eat an insect or heard him sing a pretty song.  All he did was peck the van or closest-to-van alternative.  He was a sad, strange, deranged little bird and he drove us all crazy, but after awhile we got sort of used to him and his antics. 

Two weeks ago, the owners of the blue van moved away.  Two days later, I found a pile of red feathers and a small mangled carcass in our yard.  The crazy little cardinal was no more.  I assumed he’d been killed by a cat, but I secretly wondered if the loss of his beloved blue van was the real cause of the little guy’s demise.

Ok, that was to ease you in.  This next one’s worse.

One week after the little cardinal died, I walked Uno up to the park in the center of our neighborhood, and we found the remains of a dead cat in the field there.  Beyond from the usual upset of seeing a dead animal, this concerned me for two reasons.  One, it was only half of the cat.  And two, it was half of a cat I knew.

He didn’t have a name, or if he did I didn’t know it.  He was a stray, a mangy black tom with long white “socks” on his two back feet.  He had been prowling this neighborhood for longer than I’ve lived here and he was tough.  I’d seen him stalk birds (in fact, it was this cat who I assumed killed the crazy cardinal) and chase down other felines, intent on more than a playful romp if he caught them.

His violent death is a mystery.  So far, we are attributing it to a coyote—they live in the greenbelt behind our house, but we have never seen one in the neighborhood.  I don’t like to think of them being in our park.  Whatever it was, it was sad (and gross) to see that old ‘White Socks’ had somehow met his doom.

Ok, the sad stuff is over.  But there is plenty more weirdness.

For instance…

If you read my Facebook posts, you know that Mark and I have seen an increase in the number of scorpions in our house lately.  There have been four sightings in the past two weeks.  And they are larger than usual.
Ok, not THAT large, but still pretty big.

We have also started spotting big furry tarantulas in the neighborhood, and every time we’ve seen one, it has been traveling in the middle of the street, moving fast, seemingly with a destination in mind.  But I have never seen one of the holes where they live, and this confuses me.  When I was growing up in Richardson, we had tarantulas in our yard (one fell off the screen door onto my neck in the seventh grade, but that’s a horror story for another time) but they all lived in easy-to-spot holes in the ground, next to sidewalks or under rocks.  And when we saw the tarantulas, they were usually sitting next to their holes or walking nearby, never “hurrying” down the middle of the street.

That is Mark's brave hand.  If this photo had
audio, you would hear, "Take the picture!
Take the picture! Take the picture!"
There have been an increased number of “For Sale” signs in the neighborhood this month as well.  Off the top of my head, I can think of nine houses that are currently on the market.   So maybe I’m not the only one noticing these creepy incidents.

And then yesterday…

When I walked Uno to the park yesterday, I noticed some suspicious holes under the roots of one of the big oak trees there.  I thought, Ah ha!  Maybe this is where all the tarantulas live!  (That would be really weird because it’s nowhere near where we have actually seen the tarantulas, but whatever.)  Then I noticed that the ground around the tree was littered with enormous dead beetles.  These things were brown, about the size of a walnut, HEADLESS, and sucked dry.  Yeah.

Uno and I backed away slowly and went home and locked the door.

Although the tree-of-death scared me, I was curious about it.  Was there really something living in those holes that feasted on huge beetles?  Also, I didn’t have my camera yesterday and was worried no one would believe me.  So, being the good little investigative blogger that I am, I went back today with my phone so I could take a picture of the holes and the carcasses.  

What I found out is this:  The thing that lives in the hole IS the giant beetle!  I saw a couple of live ones crawling around in there.  There was a big one near the entrance but he wasn’t in good light for a picture so I poked him with a stick and made him angry.  So angry that he GROWLED AT ME.  No kidding.  Here is a 25-second video of the giant beetle growling at me.  There is no narration because I was honestly too startled to speak.

So now the question remains, why are their dead HEADLESS brethren lying around outside the holes?  Was there a mass suicide?  Or an attack on the tree by something larger and creepier?  Or have the giant beetles turned on each other?  I didn’t stay around to find out.  I high-tailed it back home and dead-bolted the door.

Like I said before, I know some of you will say I’m crazy.  I’m blowing this whole thing out of proportion, bah, blah, blah.  Fine.  Maybe nothing creepy is going on.  But the way I see it, right now we’ve got people flocking out of a neighborhood where birds and cats are turning up dead, scorpions and tarantulas seem to be on the move, and something is decapitating the giant GROWLING beetles that live underneath a tree in the park.  If that’s not the plot of a horror story, I don’t know what is.

There.  I’ve gone on record.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Bringing Home the Bacon

My husband is currently the bread-winner in our household.  I used to win bread too, but then I quit my bread-winning job to write.  So now I mainly consume the bread.  The hubby is happy with this arrangement, because even though there is less bread in our house, the house is cleaner and more cheerful.  In short, the bread we do have tastes better. 

Ok, enough with the bread metaphor.  Moving on to bacon.

Being content with our current lifestyle does not keep the hubby from bragging about his ability to provide for our little family.  He regularly tells me as he leaves for work that he's "off to get the bacon" and sometimes when I ask what he did at work, he responds with "made the bacon".  If I cook (actual) bacon for him, he often suggests that I should thank him for bringing it home.

And that is why I am proud to announce that I recently brought home a little bacon of my own.

In January, I earned (hold onto your hats for this one) ONE DOLLAR (!!!) when my poem “My Moment of Weakness” was published on the Every Day Poets site.  (Check it out here.)  I’ll admit, that little accomplishment went to my head and I frivolously spent all of my earnings on gum.

Then, in May, one of my haiku was chosen for publication in Dos Gatos Press’s 2014 Texas Poetry Calendar, earning me a free copy of this gorgeous book: 

Get your own copy here!
20% off until the end of June.
And five of my poems won awards in the Austin Poetry Society’s annual contests, earning me $95 in prize money.

My sonnet, “Lost”, won 1st place in The Neill Megaw Memorial Award and will be printed in the Austin Poetry Society’s anthology.
My untitled limerick won 2nd place in The Jilted Award.
My pantoum, “Uno”, won 2nd place in The Animal Passion Award.
My free verse poem, “Old Soul”, won 2nd place in The Loyalty Award.
And my free verse poem, “View Crossing Mansfield Dam”, won 3rd place in The Mary Oliver Award.
Now that's a decent amount of bacon.
About 20 pounds if my math is right.

Speaking of bacon, the rules for The Jilted Award called for all poems to be in limerick format on the subject of rejection.  My FICTION piece (which won second place) was this:

In a delicious little nightgown of red,
I presented him breakfast in bed,
but my heart was achin’
when he chose the bacon,
leaving me alone, hungry instead.

My husband did not know of this poem’s existence until he was seated next to me at the awards ceremony, where all first place poems were being read aloud to the audience by the poets.  He was quite content with my second place prize in this category.  The judge's comment on my poem was, "Bacon?  He chose bacon?  The man is clearly an idiot."  =)

And last but not least, this month, Dark Moon Digest has been kind enough to publish my very first short story in Issue #12, earning me a free copy of this beauty.  (To own your own paperback or ebook version, click here.)

I'm considering framing both covers
 side by side, for contrast.
My piece tells the story of a clown in a jack-in-the-box toy that sends messages to a little girl grieving over a loss.  Fun for the whole family!

So there you have it.  I’m a contributing member of the household again.  If I continue at this rate, our taxes next year are going to be very confusing.