Attack

At the beginning, they came slowly. I noticed the first one near the front steps, slow-moving yet deliberate, it’s eyes still adjusting to the relative brightness. A life spent in groundwater hadn’t prepared it for even the overcast grayness of the day. I ran for the bug jar.

Captured and under the intense scrutiny of a kitchen halogen spotlight, it froze, squinting at the kaleidoscopic view afforded by the curved glass of its Ball mason jar prison. It seemed harmless enough, although a thorough search of Field Guide to Insects and Spiders failed to yield any clues to its identity. Curiously, it appeared to have grown slightly larger during the time I was scanning my bookcase for a copy of Pond Life. I released it near the back door, snapped a couple of photos, and went in to start cooking dinner.

It was fairly late and I was a bit groggy when I headed out to do the barn chores. The day’s drizzle was continuing and the night was black when I returned, and then suddenly I saw them: five or six of the same strange creatures, grouped together and moving slowly in the direction of the house. Stifling a scream, I raced past them and through the door to safety.

Sleep came with difficulty. Visions of pincers, round staring eyes, backs that resembled decorated armor, wings – all these haunted me and filled my heart with fear. There was also a strange new rustling sound cutting the night air, soft but audible, emanating from someplace near the well.

In the morning, all of my fears were realized. Just as Hamlin was overrun by rats, so was my front yard inundated with lobster-like bugs. They clambered from the well, scuttled across the flower beds, mounted the house walls and beat their pincers upon the window panes. I Googled for help but none came. I emailed the local public radio station’s host of “Natural Selections” and she in turn emailed her biology professor co-host, and finally came the answer: “Oooh, neat-o! It’s a Giant Water Bug; they can fly and they do travel between lakes sometimes. Don’t pick it up, though; they stab you with their piercing-sucking mouthparts = mega-OUCH.”

And then around 10 o’clock, more quickly than they had arrived, they all took wing and vanished, leaving me to ponder whether the professor is right. Yes, I suppose they could have been Giant Water Bugs, but my suspicion is that they were giardia lambia. They came from my well, they attacked me… Surely if a beautiful monarch butterfly can emerge from a chrysalis, then these strange creatures could be the incarnation of microscopic giardia beasties. Life is sometimes stranger than fiction.

What Would Elvis Do?

I saw Elvis today. He was changing a tire in the WalMart parking lot. I tried not to stare because that is such a dumb thing to do when you see a celebrity, but it was hard to turn away, so I didn’t, and when he returned my gaze, I spoke. It’s not every day you get to talk with The King, and besides, he’s a southern boy, and I’ve been wishing for someone to explain what people from down in those Red States are thinking.

I started with some chit-chat, hoping to break the ice in a friendly sort of way. “How’ve you been?” I asked. Elvis sneered a little, but it was a kindly sort of sneer, then he told me how hard it’s been to find a decent job. He’s worked the fast-food places and now WalMart (where his part-time shift had just ended). The problem was health insurance and retirement, but he said he prays it’ll all work out and he buys lottery tickets, and it is nice to work with other retirees who are also trying to make ends meet. Anyway, he thought we all should have to sacrifice when the country’s at war.

Emboldened, I asked what he thought about that war. “I’m all shook up,” he replied, “but we gotta take the war to the tarists or they’ll take it to us.” I handed him a lug nut. “Are you worried about North Korea testing a nuke?” I questioned. “Are they near Iraq?” he responded.

There was a bit of dust on his blue suede shoes, and his hip seemed to swivel half a turn as he stood up, sun glinting off his flag belt buckle. My focus shaken, I fumbled for words but finally blurted out, “Why’d you stop singing?” He stared me in the eye, this time the sneer a bit more menacing. “I’ve got family values now,” he snarled. “What do you think would happen if I got up in front of people today and did the moves I used to do? Gays’d be all over me. My mama didn’t raise up no fool. A-wella-wella-wella what would Jesus do? I’ll tell you: he’d get a job at WalMart and he’d be sayin’ God bless America.”

And with that, Elvis turned and got into his Chevy. He’d have roared away, but he forgot to lower the jack.

What Would Elvis Do?

Monday, October 09, 2006

I saw Elvis today. He was changing a tire in the WalMart parking lot. I tried not to stare because that is such a dumb thing to do when you see a celebrity, but it was hard to turn away, so I didn’t, and when he returned my gaze, I spoke. It’s not every day you get to talk with The King, and besides, he’s a southern boy, and I’ve been wishing for someone to explain what people from down in those Red States are thinking.

I started with some chit-chat, hoping to break the ice in a friendly sort of way. “How’ve you been?” I asked. Elvis sneered a little, but it was a kindly sort of sneer, then he told me how hard it’s been to find a decent job. He’s worked the fast-food places and now WalMart (where his part-time shift had just ended). The problem was health insurance and retirement, but he said he prays it’ll all work out and he buys lottery tickets, and it is nice to work with other retirees who are also trying to make ends meet. Anyway, he thought we all should have to sacrifice when the country’s at war.

Emboldened, I asked what he thought about that war. “I’m all shook up,” he replied, “but we gotta take the war to the tarists or they’ll take it to us.” I handed him a lug nut. “Are you worried about North Korea testing a nuke?” I questioned. “Are they near Iraq?” he responded.

There was a bit of dust on his blue suede shoes, and his hip seemed to swivel half a turn as he stood up, sun glinting off his flag belt buckle. My focus shaken, I fumbled for words but finally blurted out, “Why’d you stop singing?” He stared me in the eye, this time the sneer a bit more menacing. “I’ve got family values now,” he snarled. “What do you think would happen if I got up in front of people today and did the moves I used to do? Gays’d be all over me. My mama didn’t raise up no fool. A-wella-wella-wella what would Jesus do? I’ll tell you: he’d get a job at WalMart and he’d be sayin’ God bless America.”

And with that, Elvis turned and got into his Chevy. He’d have roared away, but he forgot to lower the jack.

The Gift of the Betty Crocker Magi

(a very short piece of fiction based on a number of actual events)

They arrived en masse late one afternoon. The kitchen was a mess, and a plumber was trying to coax water from the faucet into the sink full of yesterday’s dirty dishes. Dinner wasn’t showing any sign of materializing out of the clutter.

They had trouped into her house á la surprise party, carrying paper plates and a chocolate cake. “How nice!” she exclaimed with false enthusiasm. Their purpose was to spread the joy that Christians know, but as far as she was concerned, the only thing spreading was crumbs. She thought about how she liked cake with ice cream rather than piety.

She’d had some experience squashing rapture. Once many years ago, her first husband invited two Mormons to their house. It was the holiday season, and besides loathing proselytizers, she was busy. The three wise men sat in the living room discussing Jesus; she wrapped Christmas gifts on the dining room table, tolerating the visitors until one of them gave her husband a knowing, sympathetic smile.

“You have no idea who or what God is,” she announced loudly to the followers of Joseph Smith. It wasn’t as immediately effective as if she’d proposed to slip into something more comfortable and break out the martinis, but they soon headed for the door, convinced there was no likelihood of diverting her from the road to Hell. The thought of that evening always amuses her.

“I don’t really like your chocolate fucking cake,” she said sweetly. (Like them, she believed in the power of The Word).

The Betty Crocker Magi fled more hastily than the Mormons had, just as the plumber announced, “There!” and water began to flow into the sink.

While washing the dishes she decided to have peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for dinner. She wasn’t really very hungry, but she would say a prayer of thanks to her god for this food, and she would smile.

Amen.