Saturday, May 23, 2020

Part 5: Chip Overplays Her Hand

The story thus far: While Miss Irene has been organizing Pleasant Glen's virus-relief efforts, we've been temporarily sidetracked by the story of how Muffy became head of PG's face-mask sewing efforts. In order to proceed, we need to back up a sentence or two and get a running start:

Ehh-vry-one's who's ehh-ny-one is talking about it,” Chip said.

Muffy imagined she saw Chip's eyes roll back, like a shark preparing to attack. “Shark Week” was “Must See TV” for Muffy, and she knew that a quick bonk to the snout was (sometimes) enough to repel such an attack.

Oh that old news,” Muffy said in a bored voice. “I thought you had something new and interesting to share.”

Chip flinched, then circled again, still probing for a weak spot. “I heard Miss Irene's meeting with the mayor this afternoon. I heard he's giving her the key to the city. Again.”

Muffy sneered, revealing razor-sharp teeth of her own. The mayor was her second cousin, twice removed, and in Pleasant Glen, family gossip spreads even faster than community gossip. She knew all about Miss Irene's attempts to blackmail (Muffy's opinion) the mayor for his toilet paper hoarding (reported in Part 1 of this series).

Oh, I seriously doubt that,” Muffy said. “In fact, the mayor and I were just discussing how I would handle relief efforts much differently.” She had actually called him to commiserate about TP-Gate – since she, too, had been caught with extra rolls – and to assure him that she hadn't been the whistle-blower. (At least, she hadn't been the first to snitch on him, a point which she thought cleared her of all guilt.)

You?” Chip said, incredulously. “But you're . . . lazy!” The mayor had reacted the same way. Muffy's usual mode of operation was to steal someone else's idea, graciously accept the title of chairman before it was offered, then humbly select a co-chair to actually do the work and take the blame.

The temperature inside the small car dropped rapidly. Poppy and Bitsy leaned as far away from Chip as they could, which, given the size of the back seat wasn't far. What Chip said was true. Even Muffy knew this. All of the women knew it was true . . . of each of them.

But it was one thing to say this behind someones back (which they did frequently), and quite another to say it to their face.

The silence in the car turned awkward. Chip, realizing she had been cast adrift, did the only thing she could do: She led the sharks to weaker fish.

Did you see the picture Mitzi Finderstien posted on Facebook from her granddaughter's second birthday party last weekend? Definitely more than 10 people in that tiny yard of hers. No social distancing. And a pony ride!”

Are you sure that picture was from this year's party and not one of those 'Memory' posts?” Poppy asked. “Didn't it rain all weekend?”

I wouldn't know,” Chip said haughtily. “I was inside all day, self-isolating and sewing face masks.” She held up a sad scrap of fabric held together with safety pins and good intentions as evidence, then quickly stuffed it back into her purse.

In fact, Chip didn't know when the picture had been taken. Unless the post featured a cute kitten or a nearly naked fireman, Chip scrolled right on past it. She had only noticed Mitzi's post because the man leading the pony had a tattoo of a kitten on his well-formed bicep. “What does it matter? It's people like that who are putting the rest of us in danger.”

The women eagerly took the bait and began discussing other photos they'd seen on Facebook which may or may not have been taken during the shutdown.

Muffy ignored the frenzy. Seeing Chip's poor excuse for a face mask had given her an idea....

To be continued. 
For more stories about life in Pleasant Glen check out my novel "Scout's Honor" and soon to be released "Scout's Redemption."

Friday, May 8, 2020

Part 4: The Making of a Mask Maven

The story thus far: Miss Irene, Julie's 90-year-old landlord, is assembling a crack team - some more cracked than others - to provide pandemic relief services. So how did Muffy become the Machiavelli of Masks? Read on...

Muffy Smith wasn't Miss Irene's first choice to head the Pleasant Glen volunteer face mask sewing group. She wasn't even in the top ten.

Then again, heading up the volunteer sewing group wasn't Muffy first choice either. Her first choice would have been Miss Irene’s job as head of all Pleasant Glen's volunteer virus-relief efforts. It wasn’t that Muffy didn’t think Miss Irene was capable, or that Muffy was fond of doing anything remotely resembling work, she just preferred to be the center of attention – not orbiting slightly off center.

Muffy was meeting with her clique (Bunny, Poppy, Bitsy and Chip) when she first learned of Miss Irene's efforts to organize donations and resources to help those affected by the virus and resulting closures. Prior to that, Muffy's only virus-related concern was locating a manicurist and beautician who would make house calls. She found the restrictions to be quite inconvenient and thought the governor was going overboard with some sort of personal vendetta against her.

Case in point: before the pandemic, Muffy and friends met each Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning at Coffee Olé, Pleasant Glen's combination coffee shop/Mexican restaurant. (Tuesday mornings were reserved for Pleasant Glen Women's Religious Council meetings, Thursdays for beauty shop appointments.) From their booth in the cafe's front window, the women could observe the comings and goings at the shops surrounding the town square and pass judgment on it all: the unfortunate clothing choices, disastrous hair styles, and the frequency with which certain people visited PeeGee's Bakery.

When businesses closed because of the virus, the women were forced to get their lattes to-go, and sit in Muffy's Camero coupe. Although it was small, it was new-ish (Muffy's son “gifted” it to her when he defaulted on the payments) eye-catching and sporty, and it made them feel almost like they were back in high school (except for the difficulty they had climbing into and out of the backseat). Sitting in the car had other advantages, too: they didn't have to pretend to hide their bedazzled flasks (Bailey's Irish Cream Mondays, RumChata Wednesdays, Kahlua Fridays), and they could linger as long as they wanted without being pressured (which they ignored) to move along.

Their parking space on the town square put them right in the middle of the action, providing an edgy thrill – like the shark tunnel at the aquarium. Unfortunately, there wasn't much action to be a part of, or to comment on. In fact, by the end of the first week, the whole situation was losing its appeal. Ridiculing the few shell-shocked citizens still out and about was like shooting fish in a barrel. That didn't mean Muffy and friends didn't try: “I can see her split ends from here.” “Spandex is a privilege, not a right.” “Only a man would consider that six feet of distance.”

But Muffy could tell their hearts weren't in it. Between snarky comments, the women would sigh and twirl the ponytails protruding from their Lululemon caps (a necessity now that the salons were closed). Muffy knew if she didn't chum the water soon, they would turn on themselves. While she was willing to sacrifice any one of them, she couldn't run the risk of mutiny. She was about make them walk the plank when Julie drove by on The Scout, the sidecar filled with grocery bags.

“Well! That seems like an excessive amount of groceries for a single woman living alone!” Muffy said, her eyes lighting up at the scent of fresh prey. “Looks like 'Miss Goody Two Shoes' is Pleasant Glen's biggest hoarder!”

“She's probably just doing deliveries for Miss Irene,” said Chip, not bothering to temper the boredom in her voice.

“Deliveries?” Muffy watched Chip in the rear view mirror closely. In her experience, the quiet, bored ones were the most dangerous.

Chip, sensing a weak spot in Muffy's leadership and – as Muffy expected – hoping to improve her position in the food chain, sighed and flipped her ponytail before continuing. “Ehh-vry-one's who's ehh-ny-one is talking about it,” Chip said.

Was it Muffy's imagination, or did Chip's eyes roll back in preparation for an attack?

To be continued.

For more stories about Julie and the gang, check out my novel "Scout's Honor" and the soon to be released "Scout's Redemption."

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Part 3: Irene In Charge

The story so far: Miss Irene, Julie's 90-year-old landlord, is using her shelter-at-home time to organize relief efforts for Pleasant Glen, Iowa,  residents hardest hit by the virus outbreak.

Miss Irene was the perfect Pleasant Glen Virus Relief Czarina. Big George said she had moxie. J.J. said she was bossy. She had money, she had brains, and most importantly, she had connections.

A lifelong resident of Pleasant Glen herself, Miss Irene's family had been among the first settlers and were instrumental in the establishment of Farmers’ Bank of Pleasant Glen (later Pleasant Glen Savings & Loan). Under her father's tutelage she had risen through the ranks from teller to vice president (while completing college and raising six children on her own) and was still a member of the bank's board of directors.

Rumors of her personal wealth, in addition to her association with the bank, put her at the top of the potential-member wish list of every philanthropic organization in town. Once she agreed to become a member, her work ethic and unparalleled accomplishments kept her there. She had years of experience working on both the fundraising and distribution sides of community charities.

Miss Irene was also a savvy business woman. She had gone on to earn an M.B.A., backed up with practical experience from working at the bank and her role as the (not very) silent partner in Pleasant Glen Cycles and Motors.

Perhaps most importantly, she was a key member of the Pleasant Glen gossip grapevine.

In addition to her previously mentioned sources of contact, each of her six children (seven, if you included J.J. – and everyone did), had been outgoing, with legions of friends (and parents) who were fond of (and occasionally cowed or indebted to) her. Although Miss Irene's children had all left Pleasant Glen, she still stayed in contact with those friends (and their parents), and by extension, their children (and sometimes grandchildren) who made up the current crop of PG's business owners, employees, and the town's movers and shakers.

Miss Irene and the cadre of other mothers along the grapevine knew how to apply just the right amount of diplomatic arm-twisting, guilt, or fawning to extract vital information from the youngsters who spent every day working on the front lines. With just a few well placed phone calls, Miss Irene was able to find out where and when shipments of much needed goods – like toilet paper – would be delivered . . . and more.

The manager of the local discount grocery store – who had once had a crush on Miss Irene’s eldest son – was more than happy to share with her mother (who shared with Miss Irene) the names of the people who had bought up cartloads of toilet paper when the first wave of panic buying hit.

The hoarders themselves were less enthusiastic about sharing their stash. Eventually Miss Irene was able to wheedle enough donations to include a couple rolls in each of the care packages delivered to the town's elderly shut-ins. And, after reminding the mayor that it was an election year and (mis)quoting the Lash proverb: "Give (ill-gotten toilet paper) cheerfully with one hand you will gather (votes) well with two," the food pantry was restocked with TP as well.

But for every #toiletPaperGate Miss Irene sidestepped, other problems arose. Take, for example, the near mutiny amongst the mask making volunteers . . . .

To be continued.

For more stories about Julie and the gang, check out my novel "Scout's Honor" and the soon to be released "Scout's Redemption." 

Monday, April 20, 2020

Part 2: Dinner at Miss Irene's

The story thus far: The virus has hit Pleasant Glen. Julie, worried about the health of 90-year-old love birds Miss Irene and Big George, plots with J.J. to convince them to stay safely at home. Miss Irene and Big George plot to make Julie and J.J. think they've convinced them to stay at home. A family dinner has been called ….

Before the pandemic (B.P.), it had been a challenge for everyone to clear their schedule for Miss Irene’s once-a-week, mandatory family dinners. (Julie became an honorary family member the moment she moved into the apartment above Miss Irene’s garage.) Everyone – particularly Trey, who was a senior at Pleasant Glen High School – had been busy with meetings, classes, concerts, sporting events and work (Pleasant Glen Cycles and Motors was open until 8 p.m. on Thursdays). When they did gather together, the dinner table was abuzz with gossip and stories about their daily adventures.

After social distancing and stay-at-home recommendations, they found their social calendars empty. “The boys” all moved to Miss Irene's sprawling Victorian home, making it easier for her to fret and cluck over them. The once-a-week, mandatory family dinners became nightly, by-necessity family dinners. Between the lack of outside contact and Miss Irene's “no virus talk at the table” rule, conversation dwindled.

Even so, it was quieter than usual around the table that night. Each person was lost in their own thoughts, weighed down by secrets and schemes none of them were used to keeping from the others.

Julie wondered how angry Miss Irene and Big George would be when she and J.J. asked them to curtail their already limited outside contact even more.

Big George wondered if Miss Irene, who he affectionately called “my little bull in a china shop,” knew the meaning of the word “subtle.”

J.J. wondered how he could keep the “new” used car he was buying Trey for graduation a secret if they were together all the time.

Trey wondered how he could avoid letting his father know he knew about the “new” used car he was getting for graduation if they were together all the time.

Miss Irene wondered if Big George would think her “Naughty Nurse” costume was in bad taste given the current circumstances. What about the “Frisky Firefighter” costume? 

Unable to bear the silence any longer, Julie cleared her throat and gave J.J. “A Look of Some Importance,” complete with eyebrow wiggles and head nods, telepathically urging him to start the conversation.

J.J., who had been a single father for nearly 16 years, was unused to reading female nonverbal cues and mistook this for the “please pass the salt” look. A swift kick to the shin and some more emphatic head nodding from Julie brought him up to speed.

“Uh, Dad? Miss Irene? . . . Julie has something she wants to tell you.”

Julie gave in to the inevitable. “Well, you see . . . the thing is . . . .”

“You are absolutely right,” Miss Irene interrupted, her need to control the situation trumping her desire to let Julie think she was in charge. “The support system in Pleasant Glen is in a shambles. I've already been in contact with the food pantry, hospital and Meals-On-Wheels. We have our work cut out for us.

“Big George and I will set up a command center here in my home office. I'm sorry, but that will leave all the outside work to you kids. Julie, since your party planning business is on hold, you will be our pickup and delivery girl. J.J., you can provide backup when things are slow at the shop. And Trey, you're going to help your granddad with remote repairs by phone. Think of it as an experiment in  telemechanics.”

Trey, J.J. and Julie stared at Miss Irene in stunned silence.

“Very subtle, dear,” Big George said with a wink.

Miss Irene colored slightly. “That is, if it's ok with you kids.” They nodded slowly, still trying to process their marching orders.

“Alright then, let's get to work! J.J., I need you to set up a card table in my office for your dad. He can be my receptionist when he's not working on repairs.”

Big George helped Julie and Trey clear the dishes from the table, but hung back as they slipped through the kitchen door, whispering furiously. As he passed Miss Irene, Big George stopped and planted a kiss on the top of her fluffy cloud of white hair.

“Does this mean I get to wear the sexy secretary costume?” he asked.

Miss Irene grinned. Maybe there was an up-side to this pandemic after all, she thought.

To be continued...

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Part 1: The best laid pandemic plans

The virus hit Pleasant Glen like an Iowa summer thunderstorm.

At first, the angry red blob hopscotching across the radar on the other side of the globe was dismissed with a healthy dose of Midwestern skepticism. “Those forecasters aren't right even half the time,” they said.

As black clouds roiled on the horizon, people gathered on porches and in parking lots and cast a doubtful eye. “Can't be as bad as the winter of 19--,” they said. “Can't be as bad as the Spanish Flu.”

They smelled rain in the air – cases confirmed on either coast – and buried the metallic taste of fear under a veneer of Iowa stubborn. Plans were made to make plans . . . eventually.

When at last the storm hit, it brought the thunderous rumble of businesses shuttering their doors, and lightning strikes of homeschooling frustration. The winds howled with the fury of middle-aged women forced to miss hair color appointments. A tidal surge of panic swept shelves clear of toilet paper, hand sanitizer and Busch Light.

Julie's first concern was keeping Miss Irene safe. Julie realized that her 90-year-old friend and landlord was more healthy than most 45-year-olds, but she was also more social than most 21-year-olds and more headstrong and harder to restrain than a two-year-old.

Miss Irene had a kind heart and a strong sense of civic responsibility. There was rarely a charity or relief project that took place in Pleasant Glen that she didn't endorse or – more likely – organize. And where Miss Irene volunteered, Big George, her beau of 50 years, was sure to be dragooned. (Not that he was any less benevolent.)

But with older adults being at higher risk for complications from the virus, Julie thought this was one battle Miss Irene and Big George should sit out – or at least observe from the (relative) safety of their home.

After yet another unsuccessful attempt to buy toilet paper, Julie stopped at Pleasant Glen Cycles and Motors to talk to J.J., Big George's son.

“Whatever we do,” J.J. said, “it has to seem like it was their idea. You know how hard my dad will dig in his heels if we try to tell him what to do.”

Julie nodded in agreement. “The trick is to keep them busy, so they don't have time to think about being stuck at home.”

“Remember how Dad griped when I cut him back to 40 hours a week at the shop?” J.J. had taken over all managerial duties at PGCM long ago, but Big George remained the shop's top mechanic.

“You know he still works more than 40 hours, right?” Julie asked.

“And that's why he's back on salary. The overtime was killing me!”

Across town at Miss Irene's house, a similar discussion was taking place.

“Whatever we do,” Miss Irene said, “we have to make the kids believe it was their idea.”

Big George nodded in agreement. “The trick is to keep them busy, so they don't have time to worry about us.”

“Do you remember how pleased with herself Julie was when she thought she had convinced me to quit Taekwondo class?”

“I take it she didn’t find about your little agreement with the instructor?”

“I didn’t tell her, and you can sure as heck bet that Mister Ricardo didn’t tell anyone. Pffft," Miss Irene scoffed, "best four out of five.”

“It was nice of you to let him win that last match, dear. Good thing Chuck Norris threw in a few acting lessons when he taught you Chun Kuk Do.”

“Isn't it, though?” Miss Irene said, ignoring Big George's sarcasm. “Those skills will come in handy when we tell the kids we're self-isolating. Although it's going to require something a little more subtle than taking a dive.”

All four of them quietly contemplated the situation. Or rather, three of them contemplated quietly while Miss Irene, who found movement helped her thinking process, reviewed her taekwondo forms. After much consideration and a near miss with a floor lamp, schemes were hatched and a family dinner with mandatory attendance organized for that night.

“If all else fails . . . .” J.J. said.

“. . . we’ll tell them it was Trey’s idea,” Big George said.

Julie grinned. She knew that Big George couldn’t resist his grandson’s charm, and neither could Miss Irene.

Miss Irene kihaped loudly. She knew that J.J. was a pushover when it came to his son, and Julie was nearly as fond of the boy as the rest of them.

To be continued...

To learn more about Julie and the gang, check out my novel, "Scout's Honor." Coming soon: "Scout's Redemption." 

Sunday, February 2, 2020

And That's Why I Don't Wear Makeup

The other day I woke up looking a little haggard – ok, more haggard than usual – and since I was ahead of schedule – ok, not as behind schedule as usual – I decided to put on makeup.

I don't usually wear makeup because: 1. I'm lazy; 2. I'm not very good at applying it; and C. I usually don't have the time. Even though I have my makeup routine down to five minutes – ok, 3 minutes for the basic conceal and spackle – I figure I can use those 3-5 minutes for more important things, like finding a cure for cancer, writing the Great American Novel, or playing spider solitaire.

But that day, I was looking so haggard I decided to use what precious little, not-behind-as-usual, time I had to put on makeup. My decision may have had something – and by “may have had something” I mean “had everything” – to do with two recent incidents:

The first incident was when a friend said “Wow! You look younger when you wear makeup.” I'm not sure if that's true or not, because I see my face every day. I have tried different types of moisturizers, concealers and foundation, and I don't notice any difference. But they meant it as a compliment and I took it that way. (Besides, photographic evidence from that night does seem to indicate that I was looking – at a bare minimum – “not bad,” and maybe even “smokin' hot.”)

The second incident was when an acquaintance said “Wow! You have big feet.” I know this is true, because I see my feet every day. I have tried different styles of shoes – from rounded toes to high heels – but aside from avoiding shoes with extremely long, pointy toes, there's just no way to camouflage my flippers. They meant it as a statement of fact, but I was still taken aback. (Besides, I was wearing my normal running shoes, not my big-as-an-RV-but-more-comfortable Hoka running shoes.)

The point is, on the morning in question I decided to try and enhance my appearance by wearing makeup. Disaster struck early on, when an errant swipe of coverup covered up not only the steamer trunks beneath my eyes, but my wispy eyelashes as well (see #2 above “not very good at applying it”). I thought I could return a little definition to my eyes by applying eyeliner. Unfortunately all this did was make me look like I had drawn circles around my eyes. It did nothing to return my eyelashes.

I was now dangerously close to being “more behind schedule than usual” (see C. above “don't have the time”), so rather than washing it all off and starting again (see Appendix: “rarely does the sensible thing”) I got out the mascara that I only use a handful of times – ok, twice – each year. Despite my best attempt to apply an even coat of “non-clumping” mascara, I managed to glue together all seven of the eyelashes on my right eye (four on the top lid, three on the bottom lid).

While struggling to open my eye – which was weighted down with a 5-pound clump of mascara – I managed to pull an eyelid muscle and worked up a good eyelid sweat that washed a combination of concealer, eyeliner and mascara into both my eyes (the left eye watered in sympathy for its fallen brother).

So now I had bloodshot, smudge-ringed eyes, tear-streaks through my foundation, and a red, runny nose. And I was definitely behind schedule.

This is why I don't wear makeup.

I'm not sure if I looked any younger (although I did bear a striking resemblance to some drunken, after-hours, party-girl pics I've seen on Instagram), but no one said anything about my big feet.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Giving In To Google

I am not technologically savvy.

That is a gross understatment. I have, however, found a way to co-exist with technology. Or so I thought.

Until now.

Google and I have been involved in an escalation of hostilities that has me reaching for a white flag of surrender. I'm not sure who started it (Google did), but my own hubris (totally Google's fault) may have played a part.

I recently started using Google Docs and Gmail more and I thought we were getting along pretty well-ish. Life was good-ish. We were happy-ish.

My only problem was that I couldn't access my Gmail from my cell phone. I could pull up the Gmail log-in screen on my browser (Google) and type in my password – luring me in with a false sense of progress – only to be crushed by the pulsing blue line of death.

Then I discovered the Gmail app for my android phone.

The clouds parted, the heavens opened, and a chorus of angels sang.

I downloaded and installed the app.

I logged in to one of my Gmail accounts.

Then I switched to another.

Then I tried to log out.

Then Gmail told me I needed a lock screen.

So I added a lock screen.

And I tried to log out.

But I had to log in before I could log out. And I couldn't log in because Gmail told me I needed to upgrade my program. But I couldn't upgrade because I needed to back up my information first but I didn't have room to back up anything because I needed an upgrade which could only happen if I logged out and I couldn't log out until I logged in and . . . .

So I uninstalled Gmail from my phone.

Except that I didn't.

And it kept reminding me that I needed to upgrade.

And back up.

And add a lock screen.

And log out.

So I re-installed, lock screened, logged in, logged out, uninstalled and unlocked.

And then my calendar was wiped clean.

As in, all past, present and future engagements were gone.

All of them.


I can live without accessing Gmail from my phone. But my calendar? Most (all) of the time I can't remember what day of the week it is, let alone what I am supposed to be doing. Having an electronic calendar on my phone has been a life saver – especially since I figured out how to save appointments on it (usually).

I decided to try to access my Google account from my laptop to see if my calendar had been saved there.

Google told me I needed to add a new gmail to my account before I could do anything. But it can't be one of the FIVE gmail account names I already have (between part-time jobs and personal) because those are already taken. By me.

I lost my temper.

“Flock yourself, Google!” I said. Or something that sounded like that.

I'm sorry. I wasn't listening. What would you like me to do?”

The Voice-Activated Google Assistant on my phone – the same VAGA that can't understand me when I am speaking Slow. Ly. And. Clear. Ly. And. Di. Rect. Ly into the microphone – suddenly decided to answer me from across the room.

I nearly wet my pants.

It's the computer-buddy equivalent of “would you like to step outside and settle this?”

Rather than risk having my phone open a can of whoop-ass on me, I've decided to spend the rest of the day trying to sort out my various Google accounts.

It's not like I have anything else to do.

I mean, my calendar is clear.