Cheeseburger in… Paradise?

Growing up, my parents weren’t much for amusement parks. They considered them to be beneath us, and every time I begged to visit one of those stop-n-drop carnivals set up around the outskirts of town, they shuddered notably and gave me a long lecture about how unsafe these things were. Considering the most hardcore attraction was a merry-go-round, I didn’t quite buy the bullshit. I don’t think I visited a Great America until I was in my early 20’s and when I did, I was horrified. The throngs of people, half of whom looked as if they’d slithered out from some rock somewhere were everywhere: peeing on things in public, pushing me out of line, and screaming at their children using words I didn’t even know existed. The five dollar, ten ounce cup of lukewarm Diet Coke hardly seemed worth the price until I realized there were no drinking fountains in the park appeared to have been sexually molested by one of those old dudes who troll around in the Child Napping vans, slowly creeping by playgrounds at 0.5 miles an hour. Half an hour into my first trip to Six Flags, I agreed with my parents – amusement parks were TOTALLY not my thing.

Which is what makes it all the more shocking.

A couple of weeks back, I got a call out of the blue from my mother. Immediately assuming someone had died, I answered the phone, panic rising.

My mom: “Hey Rebecca*, Dad had an idea.”

My father, now retired, is rife with ideas, such as “let’s organize the books in the house using the Dewy Decimal system” while my mother watches, mouth agape in horror.

Me (groans): “Yeah?”

My mom: “How would you like to take the kids to a water park?”

Me (looks outside): “Uh, Ma, isn’t it a bit… WINTER for that?”

My mom (laughs): “We were thinking of an INDOOR water park. There’s one up by Great America.”

Me: “Um, okay. I bet the kids’ll love it.”

And so the grand plans were hatched. Being a moron, I didn’t bother to ask my parents WHAT particular water park they’d intended to take us to, so when we got there, a few short weeks later, I was completely taken aback. The place was a sprawling monstrosity, the parking lots abutting it reminded me of a litter of piglets nursing a particularly ugly mother. I’d prepared myself for the very-real likelihood that one of us, at the very least, would walk away from this trip teeming with worms and other Oregon Trail diseases. Secretly, I’d been hoping to get a tapeworm from the trip, whom I’d already named Sally, because of COURSE you name something that’s slowly killing you from the inside out, but that’s neither here nor there.

For all the packing I’d done, for all the times I had to reassure my kids that this would be happy! happy! fun! time! nothing could’ve prepared me for what lay inside.

Armed with bags and blankets and backpacks and stuffed animals (the kids are on a stuffed animal kick – it’s almost like they can sense my dislike of those creepy fucking things with the eyes that watch you everywhere you go and probably sneak around the house when I’m asleep, stealing socks and pants and peeing on things), we trudged through the falling snow and grey mushy sleet inside. It was like walking into hell. Jimmy Buffet sang loudly about drinking margaritas and whatever it is that guy does besides drink margaritas over the constant din of shrieking and splashing, the chlorine in the air so heavy I was nearly bowled over. Everywhere I turned, it was flamingo shirts, gaudy “island” decor; fake tropical flowers dripping from every possible surface, squalling children who did not come from my crotchal area weaving in and out of my legs, parents nowhere to be seen. It was like a gaudy tropical resort threw up all over a large hotel in the Midwest.

I was not prepared for this. I was never going to be prepared for this. Ever. I simultaneously regretted and applauded my lazy decision not to turn to Dr. Google for the name of the water park. I couldn’t have prepared for this.

Neither, I should add, were my children, who stood in shock flanking my sides. Alex looked up at me, eyes wide, as he grabbed my leg and held on for dear life. Mimi, the more brave of the two, took a moment to gauge her surroundings before she buried her head into my guts, nearly knocking me over with the force of a terrified five-year old. My father soon joined the three of us, still standing in the entryway, the sound of the automatic doors whooshing open and shut barely audible over the cacophony.

Never one to pass up a Clark Griswold moment, he broke the silence with, “What the fuck is this place?”

We just stared at him, eyes wide, the sound of pseudo-reggae raping our ears as the chlorine choked our throats. Slowly, I shook my head.

“I…” I started, looking around as though blinders had been lifted from my eyes, “I don’t know.”

And with the chords of “Freebird,” starting up against the wall of noise, began our first family vacation.

———————–

*My parents loathe the name “Becky” and refuse to address me as anything other than “Rebecca,” which means that every time I hear it, I assume I’m in trouble.

Part II on Monday!

Guest Post: Tales of an Unemployed Male Web Designer

If you have an awesomely hilarious and/or ridiculous guest post you’d like to post, email me! becky.harks@gmail.com and we’ll get ‘er done.

Unemployment can cause crazy things to happen in a person’s life. Sometimes, you get lazy and sleep all day and do nothing. At all. You’re just so down about life kicking you in the ball (I only have one) that you don’t really even wanna try looking for another job. You just wanna a suckle of the government tit and hope for the best.

Sometimes people end up having crazy relationships with their pets. I’ve found myself in this predicament. Every. single. day. I talk to my dog. All day long. Not like you’d normally talk to a pet, like “good boy” or “sit, doggie, sit,” or even “no! don’t shit on the couch!”

No.

I have long conversations with my dog about applying for jobs. I mean, he’s one of my best friends so he knows me well, right? So we have long and meaningful conversations about life. He and I have started discussing how he’s going to react when my wife and I adopt a child. He’s okay with the idea, as he was himself was adopted. He’s just worried that when the baby arrives, he’s going to be put on the back burner; he doesn’t think he’ll be relevant anymore. I assure him that everything will be fine but he says he’s going to wait and see what happens when the baby actually arrives.

NORMAL STUFF, right?

I’ve started to watch or rewatch TV shows. But, as I started watching some of these shows I noticed that I didn’t want to be reminded of being unemployed and I didn’t want my entertainment to be kind of a downer. So I suggested to my wife that we watch her favorite show. The one show that I always said that I wouldn’t watch again… EVER.

FRIENDS.

What man would say “I want to watch FRIENDS” without a gun pointed at his head? Well, I remember watching it back when it was on TV with my mom and thought it was funny. It still has to be somewhat funny right?

It is. I’m shamed to admit that I’m highly enjoying watching this show. I kinda feel I need my man-card revoked. My wife and I have plowed through two seasons already and are not showing any signs of slowing. Yes, it’s a sitcom. There is a laugh track and the jokes are predictable but right now? That’s what I need. I need something I know is going to be good during this time of uncertainty. I don’t wanna spend two weeks watching Battlestar Galactica and have every single muscle in my body tensed up when Starbuck shows back up on the show. Spoiler, I guess, but if you haven’t watched it, I’m well outside the statute of limitations on spoilers for shows that have ended. So suck it.

All I want after a hard day of sending off resumes, going to interviews, and laying around the house trying not to be lazy is a good solid hour and a half of funny friends having crazy, predictable, funny stuff happen to them. Hence, Friends.

Also, this blog was going to focus more on conversations with my dog, but through our conversations, I found out that he can kind of be a dick. I didn’t want to give him a bad reputation.

————————

ED NOTE: JASON, I NEED YOUR BIO! Until then,

Jason is an unemployed web developer who likes to ride unicorns and shit gold in his spare time. He likes to have deep and meaningful conversations with condiments and always enjoys wrestling in a vat of baked beans. You cannot find him here or here. No seriously, he’s not here at all.
 

Ding Dong

Working in Chicago (as opposed to NOT Chicago), I tend to see a lot of weird shit. Like the circulating saw blade out in front of my office next to the rusty razor blade, which I took one look at, thought “Someone should do something about that,” realized that there was no way in hell I was going to be that somebody and went about my day. And the strange pattern of tweens attaching stuffed animals to their backpack confounds me – are they storing meth in there or something?

I work in a building full of former lofts that was probably once a sweatshop back in the days of wine and roses… *looks wistfully into the sunset* While my office is the one of two on the floor, the floor above me is home to one huge office that I’m halfway convinced trains elephants and reenacts historic Civil War battles.

Since I have to commute about 45 miles to and from the office, my journey begins at the ungodly hour of six in the morn’ (did you know that there’s a six in the morning? ME EITHER). By the time I’m in the office, I’m either so jacked up on caffeine that I’m vibrating or I’m nodding out from my train ride so I probably wouldn’t notice if the floor above me began to reenact famous battle scenes in my own office.

I was practically nodding out on my way in last Wednesday; so out of it that I’d tried repeatedly to enter an office down the block (which turned out to be a home) and nearly tweeted something about how I heart Justin Bieber.

Yeah. I know.

Through the sleep in my eyes, I punched the door code and stumbled into the foyer of the building, eyes on the prize. Or, in this case, the elevator. As I approached I noted that I was not alone in my desire to ascend floors and groaned inwardly. Not because I hate people but because I was fearful I might blurt out “Blergy-poo-Lady-Gaga” in response to “Good morning!”

We stood semi-quietly waiting for the elevator and the gentleman struck up a conversation with me. He’s one of those guys you can’t help but like, all smiles and witty banter, and I instantly forgave him for speaking to me before I had my coffee* because he was just that awesome. We chattered and chittered our way upstairs where he wished be good luck on my day as I bid him farewell.

It was then that I noticed what was probably the awesomest thing EVER to be carrying around.

There, nestled in his arms was not a backpack or ottoman. It wasn’t a bird, plane, or Superman. No.

It was a life-sized bendy-looking model penis. Complete with balls. It wasn’t – I don’t believe – a dildo, it appeared to be intended for use as a teaching device, but I couldn’t be sure. I mean, how do you say, “NICE DONG!” to someone you’ve just talked about sparkly Uggs with?

I spent the rest of the day feverishly wishing I’d had a model penis to lovingly carry around with me. It could be my new friend! We could go on adventures together! I’d call him Stampy and we’d be the very best of best friends! It was a beautiful daydream ripped apart by learning that those types of teachable penis models do not come cheaply.

But hey. At least I learned that they’re probably not reenacting historic battles replete with cannons upstairs.

They’re probably recreating all the light saber scenes from Star Wars.

With model penises.

*I fired my Thermos for poor job performance

Apparently, I Did Not Put The Lotion In The Basket

When my daughter was a toddler, she and I had a lot of problems with her frequent over-usage of soap and lotion. Well, her fascination with all things cleansing and moisturizing has reached an entire new level. A level so embarrassing that I might be shunned by the entire Mommy Community after I tell its tale, but tell it I shall, because I have no shame.

This one might take the cake though.

The other day, as I was getting ready for work, my daughter came into the bathroom rubbing her hands in her usual mirthful way. Yep, lotion again. As my temperature began to rise, I asked her where she had obtained said lotion. She replied, “By the bed.” Funny, I thought. I don’t remember having any lotion by the bed. Then it hit me.

Wait for it.

Wait for it.

You guessed it…

My daughter had coated her hands in lube. Hi, My name is Julie (Hi, Julie) and I may have accidentally committed a sex crime against a two-year-old.

Now, before you get your spanx all in a bunch and think my husband and I are some kind of sex perverts, hear me out. The “lotion” (I am going to keep referring to it as “lotion” because the word “lube” really freaks me out) she had found was actually a bottle of Pre-seed fertility lubricant, not a 20-gallon bottle of Astroglide. This particular “lotion” was used to help conceive both of the kids, not for hot, stinky monkey love. Regardless, I was mortified.

I immediately took her to the sink to wash the “lotion” off her hands, though there was no amount of soap that was going to wash off the crimson flush that had taken over my cheeks. After I cleaned her up (a remarkably speedy process, given the presence of the “lotion”), I sent her on her way to play. No “No more soap or lotion” talks, no scolding, no nothing.

Just a hope and a prayer to the big man above that she would not tell her friends at school about the incident and that the sex crimes enforcement agency wouldn’t be visiting me at work that afternoon.

Julie is the wrangler of a little girl who wears glasses and a fuzzy pink eye patch and a little boy who does neither. She also writes nonsense at I Like Beer and Babies. She is OK at Facebook and sucks at Twitter.

Adult Ditch Day (Or My First Snow Day)

Back when I was a kid living in, you guessed it, Chicago* winter was full of the awesome. That is, until January hit, you’d successfully squeezed out every magic drop of Christmas present goodness – hell, you’d even made “my monkey butler Mr. Snappy” out of the boxes your presents came in – and you suddenly remembered why you loathe winter. Because it’s ass piled on ass, snowing ass, and your boogers freeze when you step out the front door.

The moment school’s back in session after Christmas Break (no, we weren’t so weirdly PC back then) it began. Every day, you’d call some random number listed by the phone called “time and temperature” and they’d tell you the forecast.

See kids? We DID manage to live without an iPhone app that alerts you about all the weather-related things that might affect you – like somewhere on another continent, a brush fire has broken out and OMG DO SOMETHING even though it’s glaringly obvious to anyone with half a brain that there’s no way you’re going to travel to some country you can’t pronounce with a bucket of water – the TSA has banned water along with breathing, smiling, and hope.

Most of the time, some grainy-sounding, vaguely female voice would inform you what you already knew – it was ass cold. It would be ass cold at noon and ass cold when you went to bed.

One of those rare moments, though, you’d hear from the equally grainy voice that WEATHER was going to happen and it was PROBABLY going to be BAD! As adults, we groan and think about how this is going to make our toes physically freeze and fall off our body into wee toe Popsicles while we commute to and from work. As kids, though, this was the beginning.

The beginning of the feverish prayers for a snow day. For me, it’d go something like, “Dear God, I think this is how I pray or something. Can you please make it snow tomorrow so the schools are closed? And, can you make the person on the radio with the boring voice swear? Thanks, Jesus Christ, Amen.” As though God had better things to do than to make it snow so some random Midwestern child could avoid school.

Then, the questioning began. Because I wasn’t raised by helicopter parents, my own parents always looked semi-shocked when I walked into a room, like, “Wait, who IS this chi…Oh right, we had another kid.” But when a possible SNOW DAY was MAYBE GONNA happen, my parents couldn’t help but pay attention to me. Mostly because I badgered them at least every three minutes to “call the school” to see if it had been cancelled yet. Didn’t matter if there wasn’t a single flake of snow falling or if the front yard had suddenly turned into a tropical paradise, I’d pester them just the same. My shrill cries eventually gave way to this conversation:

Young AB: “Mooooooooooom, can you call the school now?”

My Mother: “Rebecca**, I called ten minutes ago. Nothing has changed since then.”

Young AB: “How ’bout now?”

My Mother (doing her best to ignore me)

Young AB (determined to NOT allow my mother to forget my existence for a single moment): “MOOOOOOOOOOOOOM! PLEASE CALL THE SCHOOL! I MIGHT NOT HAVE SCHOOL TOMORROW!”

My Mother: “Not-so-subtle method of getting me to call, huh?”

Young AB: (smiles proudly)

Eventually my mother broke down and gave me the number so that I could call and listen to the tinny voice tell me that school was, for now, still on. And the next day, I’d wake up, hopeful that I’d get to spend the day drinking cocoa and relaxing by the fire on a bearskin rug while my (box) monkey butler, Mr. Snappy fed me grapes. Didn’t matter that I both loathed cocoa and we didn’t own a fireplace OR bearskin rug and that Mr. Snappy had gone through too many incarnations of box creations to even resemble cardboard.

I’d scramble to the phone and punch in the coveted numbers only to hear a bored-sounding lady (I think it was the school secretary, but I can’t be certain) say the same thing. Which was, essentially, “School’s in session. SUCKER.” Okay, the SUCKER was implied, but you get the drift. School was on. No fireside chat with Mr. Snappy.

Ad nauseum.

I’d forget all about the ass cold and focus on more interesting pursuits like counting the piles of ice-encrusted poos in the backyard and determine if our dogs did, in fact, shit in patterns. (answer: no) Then, one morning out of the fucking blue, I’d wake up to find my mother staring forlornly at the phone. Groggily, I’d ask her what was wrong.

Choking back a sob, she’d reply, “You have a *weeps* snow day today!”

Suddenly I’d be wider awake than I’d ever before been and scrambling through the house to find pieces of my winter gear. I’d shove my legs into my snow pants, not caring that the pants had somehow eaten one of my beloved cute kitten socks, knowing I’d regret it later when my boot had filled with slush. I’d scuttle out the door, all “I can’t move my arms!” as the gang of neighborhood kids began to run out of their front doors.

*click* I’d hear as my mother locked the door behind her, still crying over the implications of a snow day.

I haven’t had a snow day since Jesus copied my math homework.

That is, until Monday. All week the week before, I’d heard various reports of a cold wave hitting Chicago on Monday – all with varying degrees of hysteria – and I promptly laughed. With varying degrees of sarcasm. Cold? In Chicago? In JANUARY? Why, I NEVER!

Until Monday. When it was -50 degrees BELOW zero. Because “death by commuting” seems an awfully pathetic way to go, I decided that I probably wasn’t going into the office. Neither was my coworker Lauren. Or Adam. Or Chris. Or Ryan. Or, quite frankly, MD, my boss.

The kids, trapped at my house until further notice also had a snow day. I’d hoped to miraculously find an adult-sized snowsuit in my coat closet so we could romp around in the snow together, but alas, there was nothing. Besides, it was so cold that the Weather Channel finally stopped reporting on the fish*** and started saying things like, “drink a gallon of water before going out doors,” and throwing around hypothermia like it was a hip new band.

So we stayed in. For two straight days while the world shut down. In fact, our snow day(s) could easily go on record as the laziest snow day(s) in the history of snow day(s) ever.

Also? The best.

*Motto: 4/5 governors impeached!

**My parents are the only human beings who call me “Rebecca,” which means that whenever I hear it, I’m instantly on guard, as though I’m in terrible trouble.

***Won’t someone think of the fish?
————–
Am I the only person who remembers snow days as lasting approximately 89 hours and filled with the most fun stuff in the history of ever?

I Had A Dream

Only because my links are sadly outdated, here are the answers to your questions:
 
To buy a Cancer is Bullshit tee, click here.
 
To buy an I Kicked Cancer’s Ass shirt, click here.
 
The rest of my shirts are here.

Before you click away, horrified that I’m about to launch into a detailed description of a dream I had about my cats going snowboarding, don’t worry, Pranksters. I know the painful retelling of dreams is second only to memes as “most annoying thing on the Internet*.”

In the Paleolithic era, when my inbred cousins were dinosaurs, I was a small child. Let’s call me “Young Aunt Becky,” because that makes the assumed familiarity sound a lot more white trash. My parents were hippies, hopelessly stuck in an era of Wall Street Boy Wonders snorting piles of coke of three thousand dollar an hour hookers, and mullet-ed Trans Am owners trying to get chicks in bikinis to lay on their car hoods while Whitesnake blasted in the background. Needless to say, they were entirely lost in this brave new world.

(pointless sidebar: weren’t we all?)

We we were a civilized bunch, if it killed my mother, we’d attend the ballet, the symphony, and the opera. While my friends visited Salmonella-infested water parks during their “family days,” my parents dragged us to look at the dusty rocks that had once resided in the pancreas of Catherine the Great. You tell me who won on “family fun days.”

And you can forget listening to Bret “I Have VD” Michaels croon about roses and thorns – that shit was beneath us. While the rest of the world fawned over Axl Roses’s mullet, we listened to public radio. All day. Every day. Most of the time, I tuned it out.

That was, of course, until the day I heard one of the commentators on NPR lose their fucking shit. See, for those of you not forced to listen to tragedies about billions of babies dying in a country I couldn’t locate on a map, public radio does their own ads. So instead of hearing Billy Mays screaming in the middle of a coke binge about my “whites getting even brighter!” It would just be one of the droning voices reading ad copy into the microphone.

And, I learned that day, it was live.

I couldn’t have been more than eight the first time I heard someone say the word “pube” on the airways. In fact, the word was so innocuous that I didn’t even recognize it for the comedy genius it is. There is no finer word in the English language than “pube,” my Pranksters. I continued going about whatever business it is that eight year olds have before I realized what was going on. My lizard brain recognized that something was gloriously rotten in the state of Denmark when I heard laughter – actual, real, laughter – emerging from the stereo. I dropped whatever I was doing and began to listen.

Did NPR REALLY just say a naughty word?

Between giggles and guffaws, the commentator choked out a few words I did happen to recognize: “shit,” “it sounds so sexual *bwahahaha* just *gasps for air*” before someone interrupted and continued in the sober, drab, dull-as-dry-toast commentary I’d grown accustomed to.

That was my first experience with the miracles of naughty words on NPR. And it left me with the singular desire to have more, MORE! debauchery, more nasty, more gross, more AWESOME words on public radio. For years, I suffered through other people listening to public radio in my presence – some would cluck their disapproval when some far-away land experienced a life-shattering earthquake, while I, having spent my young life listening to these tragedies, played an eternal loop of Britney Spears in my head. Accused once of “not caring” about the “social injustice in the world,” I merely laughed – this coming from a slacktavist who worked at a garage door company. I was in nursing school at the time.

Still, I listened diligently. And still, I heard nothing. No “pubes,” no “shit,” no maniacal laughter when someone fucked the shit up on NPR. Not a single naughty word on NPR was to be had; instead, I had to listen to people who spoke through a mouthful of grogginess in a sleep-inducing lull. And nothing. I’d nearly given up my dream of listing for naughty words on NPR.

That was, until Thursday, when I was finally able to cross an item off my ever-implausible bucket list.

I stepped into a cab Thursday morning, dodging the icicles hanging precariously from the tall building, glinting sinisterly in the early morning sun. I announced my intended address to the cabbie and away we went. I stared out the window, trying to rattle my brain into coherency as we drove, halfway listening to NPR while trying to connect still-asleep synapses.

And there it was.

Completely detached and speaking through a mouthful of marbles, an NPR announcer made my dream come true without even realizing it. Barely listening, my ears perked up when she said in a dull monotone, “Poo.”

While it’s not the “motherfucker,” I’d been praying for since I was 8, it was a damn good substitute. Like most people, I find the word poo hilarious, in part because my hippie parents insisted we refer to bodily functions as they were named. We did not shit. We did not piss. We “urinated.” We “defecated.”

I’m not in the slightest bit ashamed to admit that the word “poo” still sends me into gales of laughter. Which is precisely what I did when I heard it in the cab. I laughed until a stream of saline spurted from eyes and rolling down my face. My sides hurt. My back ached. I pulled an intercostal muscle. And I didn’t care. The pain meant nothing.

I had finally realized my dream. NPR said naughty words to the sounds of my thrilled – yet cold – ears. And, my Pranksters, there is nothing sweeter than that.

Somewhere, my parents are feeling an intense pull of pride toward their only daughter…

…or not.

*I am the second-most annoying thing on the Internet.

Okay, Pranksters, YOUR TURN – what’s the most ridiculous have on your “I must do this before I die” list? (I overarching loathe the term “bucket list”)

It Puts The Guest Post On The Internet Or It Gets The Hose Again: Gym Class Zeros

Of all the new year cliches, none seem to be more true that the people who fill gyms, yoga classes and fitness centers on January 1st. I’m what you could call “a gym class regular”, not a hero, not a meathead, not even an enthusiast, but a dude who noticed his fitness joint when it opened, got on the ground level membership pricing, and goes enough to justify the amount that comes out of my checking account each month. I’m familiar with the treadmill, the yoga mats that I do push ups and sit ups on, and the bench press area. I know how to sweat and maintain my mediocre build of 43-year-old Campbell Soup Can. I put the stock in stocky.

It’s been three and a half years since I joined my gym and I like it. There are meatheads with gallon jugs of distilled water and a duffel bags full of stuff that I assume are Barry Bonds approved “supplements”, but I haven’t done any journalism to confirm. There are a lot of people who look like me, middle-aged, graying in the usual areas and proud of their one-hour sweat three or four times a week. I’ve even traded hellos, how ’bout them local sports teams conversations and dude, can I spot you on the bench moments with a few others.

When I walked into my local ligament pull this morning, January 1, 2014, I expected swarms of newbies. I mean I read Facebook, the Twitter, and Instagram. Everyone I kinda sorta know is going to change for the good and make 2014 their bitch.

The parking lot was full. I smiled, pulled into one of only two spaces available, scooped up my workout gear and went inside. You could smell the temporary enthusiasm. It was combination of the Target makeup counter and human mothballs from the last time people hit the mills and weights. The girl behind the counter checked me in. She’s my oldest daughter’s age, 18, and sarcasm is her co-pilot.

“Welcome to Jungle, for now.”

I laughed at her line and dodged two women dressed in clothes that cost more than my entire wardrobe then bumped into six different dudes trying to find a locker in the men’s area.

“Hey man, thought you’d skip this week, glad you didn’t. More tales to tell this way, huh?”

The gravely voice belonged to Pete. Pete looks like George Peppard when Peppard played Hannibal Smith on The A-Team. I’ve always assumed Pete loves it when a plan comes together. One day I’ll smoke a victory cigar after we take out some rouge military guys. I didn’t respond, because once you talk to Pete, you’re in for a ride that doesn’t let up for a while. I smacked his arm with my right hand and laughed then found my favorite locker, number 23.

The floor of the fitness center looked like those news clips you see of the Wall Street Stock Exchange. People were everywhere, like ants all up in a picnic. My gaze caught one treadmill open so I made a line for it. It was in front of a TV playing Fox News Channel. This was going to be a painful 25 minute rat race. I noticed the guest on Fox & Friends was an astrologer. I was amused. Someone forgot to tell their producers and hosts that their network didn’t believe in science, fake or otherwise. But the sixty-year-old woman huffing next to me on her treadmill seem totally engaged. I tweeted my thoughts instead of saying them out loud.

After my run, I noticed my usual workout wasn’t possible. Everyone was on everything I needed so I started people watching. I saw the trainer guy crash and burn flirting with two girls who were working out in full make-up and earrings. I noticed a female muscle head throw a minor temper tantrum when one of the newbies left weights on a bar. Every few minutes a regular would notice me, nod their head and mouth “this sucks” or “six weeks” or “kill me” and I’d laugh. I wondered how many would stick it out and become average, run of mill, regulars like me. I saw two guys with major potential for mediocrity. They were polite, about to pass out and apologetic for getting in the way. They were even cuter than the ones who’d be gone in six weeks.

The music being played signified the new school attendee. Top 40 ruled. Strong women with children mouthed the words to “damn, she’s a sexy chick” and “I’m sexy and I know it”. While out of shape dudes couldn’t help themselves to classic Lady GaGa or Pitbull.

By the time the bench press machine was open and I could do my four sets, One Republic’s Counting Stars played. That line, “everything that kills me, makes me feel alive” said it all. That was why I was here on January 1, 2014, trying to feel alive at 43-years-old. After I finished making my chest and elbows feel like they were about to explode, I started counting stars, those people who wouldn’t be around in a month. I hold out some hope my cynicism is dead wrong. But for now, I say 4 out of 45 will be there trying to make themselves look good for their significant other son Valentine’s Day.

Lance Burson is writer living outside Atlanta, Georgia with his wife and three daughters. He’s the published author of two books available on amazon for kindle and in paperback from Lulu.com – The Ballad of Helene Troy and Soul To Body.
His favorite exercise is full body massage followed by whiskey.

Another Year Over

On my eighth birthday, I remember slogging ass out of bed and down to the kitchen for a bit of toast before beginning the day’s activities. A late riser as well, my father happened to be sitting at the counter as I toasted my bread.

Always one to poke fun at what a she-beast I am when I first wake up, my father boomed a loud, “HAPPY BIRTHDAY, REBECCA! PUT ON SOME GODDAMNED PANTS!

Because I was eight, I rolled my eyes at him and grunted a monosyllabic “thanks” under my breath, hoping he’d shutthefuckup until I’d been awake for longer than 30 seconds.

“How’s it feel to be THE BIG EIGHT?” he twinkled, obviously enjoying my annoyance.

I thought about it while I gnawed on my toast. Did I feel any differently? Were things different today than they were last night when I went to bed? Have I developed boobs and gotten my first apartment? Did Vanilla Ice finally get all the fanmail I’d sent? Will he finally show up in his wicked ride to pick me up from school? Did I win the Nobel Prize in Awesomeness for sleeping?

No. I was, give or take the bleariness I tried desperately to wipe out of my eyes, the exact same person I was 12 hours before. I shook my head no and scuttled back upstairs to put on some pants.

The “goddamned” was implied.

I feel the same about New Year’s. I understand the need that some people feel to celebrate the ending of one year and the coming of the next the same way that I recognize that a monthly purge of my house makes me happy in the pants. I get it – it feels good to be rid of the baggage of the last year, or, erms, well, actual baggage.

If only it worked that way.

December 2012 was a dark, dark time for me. I don’t mean that as a pithy country song, I mean it was so damn dark I couldn’t tell my ass from my head. Days would pass before I’d speak to another person. I continued the job hunt that had consumed my life since July without any real hope I’d find something. Turns out, trying to eke out a career path after being out of work for so long isn’t as simple as throwing together a resume and watching the offer letters pile up on my desk as I sat back and evaluated which Fortune 500 company I’d opt to become president of. I’d been making ends meet by freelancing and selling off any of my possessions that had value, but my nerves were shot each month as I cobbled together enough money to keep the electricity on.

(PSA time!)

Hey kids! All of that bullshit your parents spewed in your general direction about learning to manage a household? Turns out – you kinda need to know it. And I’d made the cardinal mistake most married couples do – Dave and I had decided to divide and conquer. All of the things that he’d done for us? I never learned to do. And the converse.

I’d been managing for a few months, still sorta in that daze between what-fuck-just-happened? and this-is-my-fucking-life and once reality hit, I started to take stock of whether or not I actually needed to grace the earth with my presence. I’d try and come up with reasons that I should stick around for another year and usually came up short. Only reason I’m here typing this to you now, Pranksters, is because I knew that my kids needed me. And the thought that it would be days or weeks before anyone found me had my stomach heaving well before I’d realized that my cats would probably quite literally eat off part of my face before I was discovered as departed. No one wants to put that burden on another person.

I woke up January 1, 2013 and nothing had changed. Sure, I could’ve gone to bed and said, “Self, tomorrow, everything will be different! You won’t wake up in a jolt of anxiety like your no-no square had just been tasered! You’ll be gainfully employed! You’ll be happy! All because YOU resolved to do it!”

I’ve been around this planet long enough to know one divine truth: The Universe has far bigger things to worry about than my resolutions.

But things did begin to turn around – slowly. By February 1, I was gainfully employed in a job I really enjoyed. I couldn’t call myself happy, but I was too busy to notice the sad bits. The anxiety got worse before it got better. I quit that job and took another. And another.

And now I find myself gainfully employed at a job I love working downtown in the best city in the world (apologies, New York). I no longer wake with that squirming ball of anxiety rolling around my gut like the world’s nastiest bowling ball – most days. I’ve learned how to keep the electricity on and my phone bill paid – most months. I no longer worry about someone discovering my half-eaten body. While I’m not always bouncing off the walls with glee (which is, quite frankly, a good thing – it’d be more likely than not to get me institutionalized), I can say that I’m happy.

That can all change tomorrow. I may go into work and find that my job has been given to someone overseas or find that my office has been converted into fancy lofts in Lincoln Park. I may have to go without food or electricity for a spell. Depression may rear its ugly, lying head and tell me what a total piece of shit I am for thinking happiness could happen to someone like me.

I don’t know what tomorrow brings any more than the meteorologist on Fox News know what the weather will be like. Educated guesses. Life is a series of educated guesses.

Tonight, I can resolve to lose 395 pounds or wake up an heiress and still wake as, well, me – Your Aunt Becky. Life isn’t about empty promises or a guarantee of a happier tomorrow. Good shit happens to bad people. Bad shit happens to good people. Shit happens, usually on some idle Tuesday in the middle of the month when you least expect it. You can rage against it all you want, but I’d surmise that nailing Jello to the wall would be easier.

Instead, I will go to bed tonight knowing that while I may not know what will happen tomorrow, it’s another chance for me to make messes, get dirty, and have fun.

And that (NOT the Hokey Pokey) Pranksters, is what life is all about.

Guest Post: Getting More Science In The Classroom

Every now and again, Pranksters, I get pitched an article that’s worth sharing (not, obviously written by you – because I’m so bringing Guest Post Friday’s back. Email becky.harks@gmail.com if you have a hilarious story you think other Pranksters will dig) and I do it.
 
Also: given the overwhelming response to the idea of bringing back “Go Ask Aunt Becky,” if you look at the top of my blog, you’ll see that Go Ask Aunt Becky (link goes to the submission page!) is back! You can submit questions through that tab – easy-peasy. Once I have a couple of questions, I’ll start writing it again every Sunday. Because even though the Internet is closed on Sunday; SUNDAY, SUNDAY, SUNDAY.
 
Which makes me think of “sundae” which *drools*
 
Anyway – BRING ON THE SCIENCE!

The White House has instituted an annual White House Science Fair to focus attention on the importance of science education in the nation’s schools. The fair involves more than 100 middle school and high school students who display their inventions and projects for the president, education officials and the media. In his address at the 2013 fair the president linked the importance of science and technology to America’s future, as well as to his own educational policies. President Obama said “The belief that we belong on the cutting edge of innovation, that’s an idea as old as America itself.

You think about our Founding Fathers – they were all out there doing experiments – and folks like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, were constantly curious about the world around them and trying to figure out how can we help shape that environment so that people’s lives are better.

According to comparative studies American students score 23rd in science when compared with 65 other top industrial nations, behind countries such as Estonia, Finland, Hungary and New Zealand.  This, scientists and other educators believe, is unacceptable. The President’s own Council of Advisers on Science and Technology issued a statement which declared that “economic forecasts point to a need for producing, over the next decade, approximately 1 million more college graduates in STEM fields than expected under current assumptions.”

Science educators are thrilled to see the increased emphasis on K-12 science education. Many of these educators have banded together to create a list of suggestions that, they believe, will return America’s students to a top place in science education. These suggestions include:

*Concentrate on front-load STEM-related teaching. Tap into the students’ natural curiosity and integrate science education into the school’s curriculum as early as first grade. One Chicago school has shown considerable success in beginning science education in preschool by integrating it into story time, puzzle time, play time and just about any other time of the day.

*Include science education in teacher training programs. More science-knowledgeable teachers will feel comfortable with science and will be motivated and prepared to integrate science curriculum into the children’s daily lessons.

*Don’t segregate science classes from the rest of the curriculum. Schools that “specialize” in sciences shouldn’t be the norm – every school should see science as a subject that is as important to the students’ future as math and English.

*Find ways to adopt forms of scientific methods in the pedagogy of all classes, including building models, arguing from evidence-based facts and communicating findings. These techniques can help develop students’ critical thinking skills and make science into a comfortable and familiar way of thinking.

*Stay in contact with nonprofit organizations (such as Project Lead Way) that are dedicated to supplemental training of teachers in the sciences. Good teachers will be open to additional training and their curiosity will inspire their students. Students who take courses from a well-trained teacher will be more dedicated to their coursework and more interested in the subject matter than their peers who don’t have well-trained teachers. Lowell Milken, an educational leader, has notes that “The most direct and enduring way to reach the mind and imagination of the learner is through the mind, imagination and character of the outstanding teacher.”

*Additional corporations and non-profits should be encouraged to donate towards enhancing teachers’ abilities. School districts and principals should make full use of these auxiliary institutions.

Ask any adult “Don’t you wish you had better and more engaging access to science education when you were in school?” The answer will almost always be: “yes.” With the proper attention and resources now America can make that wish a reality for today’s student.

The Last, Last Time

On September the 10th, 2005 at 11:15 in the morning, Dave and I were married in front of 150 of our closest friends and family. We drank sangria and danced with our loved ones until the wee hours of the morning, celebrating our union.

Today, December the 31st at 11:17 in the morning, Dave and I were divorced in a courtroom filled with absolutely no one we’d ever met. There are no cakes or balloons, no flowers and excited friends, no dancing, and certainly no sangria. No divorce party awaits me when I’m off work. Hell, I don’t even get a cookie for the years I put into the marriage.

Today, I woke up married and will go to bed divorced.

I don’t know if there will be tears or if I’ve cried them all out. For me, grieving the loss of the dream of a happy marriage began three and a half years ago (four?):

Me (rolling over, going to sleep): “I love you.”

Dave: (nothing)

Figuring he was asleep – the man could sleep through a tornado being serenaded through our house in by the world’s largest marching band – I wanted to make sure he heard me. “I love you” This time, a bit louder.

Dave: (nothing)

Jokingly, I said, “what, you don’t love me anymore?”

No,” he stated as flatly as if I’d asked him if I could pave the driveway with cheese. “I don’t.”

With that, he rolled over and fell asleep.

I laid awake, eyes wide in the dark, until the sun began to peek through the shades.

There it was, the awful truth, all wrapped up in absolutely no pomp and circumstance: my husband didn’t love me. As someone who’d already deemed herself probably unlovable, this crushed me. It was my fault, I guess, in that sense. He didn’t love me anymore. We (obviously) separated shortly thereafter. Turns out, there’s not a whole lot of places to go when the ugly truth is spoken.

I was, understandably, devastated. While I plastered a smile onto my face and went about my business as usual, there it was in the back of my head: “I should get the dishes unloaded and reload the dishwasher and oh yeah, Dave doesn’t love me anymore. Wonder when we’ll get divorced,” and “maybe if I pluck my eyebrows, I’ll look less like a sea hag and oh yeah, my husband doesn’t love me anymore. It’s probably time for a divorce.

I couldn’t escape those words and what they meant no matter where I went.

I’d try to talk about divorce to my married friends sometimes, which proved a lesson in futility. They’d either minimize it, “Well, you can be married without loving each other,” or avoid me like the divorce plague was catching. Not sure I blame them on that one. What do you say to someone who’s husband doesn’t love her? I don’t know. Like, “I just got divorced 12 minutes ago,” I don’t know that there’s much that can be said.

I don’t know what we intended to have happen during our separation. Maybe he’d somehow learn to love me again? Maybe we’d wake up one day and this would all be a dream? Maybe a separation doesn’t mean divorce? Maybe I’d be able to live with knowing that, at one point, my husband didn’t love me? Maybe things weren’t as bad as they seem?

They were.

And separation didn’t, obviously, help.

The D Word was thrown around. Dave had already made a “special friend” by the time I moved from the home I’d once jokingly stated I’d have to be pried out of with a crowbar on October 1, 2012. I now reside in my beloved tiny apartment a mere 6 minutes from the home I once tenderly loved my flowers, my children, my husband in. The family, the dream I’d desperately wanted, within walking distance – light years away.

I may no longer mourn what might-have-been’s but I can’t help but wish that I’d paid more attention to those last times. It’s funny, when you’re married, you begin to make presumptions about the future; there’s always time to make more happy memories, the last time is the last time for now, tomorrow is another day.

Like the last time you see your baby crawl before she starts walking like a big girl, you don’t know it’s going to be the very last time you see a child of yours crawls. You don’t know that the last time you make love to your partner of ten years is going to be the last time. You don’t know that the last time you sit, eating dinner and shooting the shit around the big table you spent weeks of your life polishing will be the last time. It simply doesn’t register as something that should carry any more weight than it did. You don’t think to memorize the details, the way the food tasted, the way his body felt, the giggles of laughter during conversations around the table. There’d be other nights, other dinners, other conversations.

Until there aren’t.

What I wish, more than all, is that I could go back in time and re-experience those memories. I’d watch my husband dance with our daughter before her surgery because, “he was her legs because she couldn’t use hers yet,” knowing that memory would be one I’d cherish for the rest of my days. I’ll never again laughingly serenade Dave with my best (terrible) Rod Stewart impression while he does the dishes. That’s over. Those were the last times. Ever.

Oh, how I wish I’d have taken the time to recognize those moments as fleeting, soon to be only a memory stored under “Happyness,” in my brain. There are always new good times to be had, for sure, but never again will I be able to be proud to call someone “my husband,” so excited, so proud to use that term for someone who had simply been “my fiance,” mere months before.

But today, for the first time in ten years, I can say that I am totally and completely a single woman. There will be no cakes or parties tonight, only a quiet recognition of the way things are.

Now.