Games People Play

Apparently nothing is safe from the trawling creepers.

My oldest daughter got me into playing Words with Friends. Since i am a tireless Scrabble player from way back, it made sense to add this app to my repertoire. It took me a while to get used to the changes in rules and features in the web-based versus board-based, so in the beginning, i only played my daughter and a couple of close friends. Once i started getting the hang of it, i added in suggested players. It got to be great fun, if still a bit of a time-waster.

Then WWF added in a new feature: Messaging. Seems like a cool thing. You can give your competitor kudos for an exceptional play. Complain about having nothing but vowels for 3 turns in a row. Maybe even get to make a friend. I enjoyed the additional perk until recently.

A few days ago, i received some new game requests. The first came with an immediate message. It was an introduction, which seemed innocent enough. The man appeared to be about my age and said he was in Idaho. I responded with a polite introduction. As he continued on, i noticed a few things:

  1. Judging by his vocabulary and syntax, he was not likely to be a native English speaker – Rather odd since his name and picture screamed “middle America”
  2. His hours of play made more sense for someone in a time zone 5 or 6 hours ahead of me, not 2 behind me.
  3. He became overly familiar very quickly. Questions about occupation, etc, rapidly gave way to questions about location and other specifics (That i would never hand out to a stranger)

I decided to have a little fun with him. I made up some fairly ridiculous answers to his questions. He didn’t catch on to the unlikelihood of the responses and kept asking away about the personal details of my life.

In less than 6 messages, he was asking for my email address. Uuuuuhhhhhh… Nope. But i kept on replying with complete and utter ridiculous fabrication, just for my own amusement. And when he finally got around to asking if i was married, i replied, “I married Jesus when i took my vows.”

I haven’t heard back from him since.

Mind you, i am not in any way knocking or mocking nuns. I think their commitment is a wonderful thing. But i guarantee it wasn’t what the trawler wanted to hear. And i do hope the sisters would enjoy the humor in using that line to put him in his place.

The second gentleman was a bit more relaxed, admitted to me he was from one of the more cosmopolitan areas of Africa, and has not asked nearly as many invasive questions as the first man. In fact, his first handful of contacts were about the game itself. Then came the inevitable “You are so beautiful!” bit. He went on and on about my insanely good looks (To note, while i am certainly not the bad side of a tram smash, i am in no danger of being mistaken for a fashion model. My profile pic on the app isn’t even a particularly good one. So excessive use of phrases like, “You look like a movie star!” reek of fresh horse shit.) I think he sent half a dozen messages about my sparkling appearance and the probability that i had a great figure before the eventual “Are you married?”

This time i replied, “I was before my transition.”

To his credit, he replied “Ok,” and has continued playing the game – Albeit with no more small talk.

(Again, this was not to place any harm on the transgendered. My response was solely crafted to be something he would not expect, especially if he was only trawling.)

The third player got to the “Are you married?” on message 2. Not even a formal introduction first. (Apparently he didn’t read the national bestseller, Miss Manners’ Guide to Social Media Trawling.) I went left field on this one and sent a rambling rant on how marriage is the creation of the patriarchy, meant to keep women down, “Screw the establishment!”, reasons why men should be cut up and used as shark bait, and, hey, my coven throws a big shin dig for Ostara – It would be great if you could come!

No response yet, but the night is early.

True, i could just not respond – But where’s the fun in that?  Besides, i’m kind of angry, and my passive-aggressive solution helps me to feel better.

Yes, i realize that social media is full of trawlers, and by joining anything that has messaging capability, i effectively take the blame for it. A handful of times a few years ago on Facebook i would get similar messages… And back then i made a game of seeing how long it would take them to ask me for money. I’ve had similar things on other sites as well. But good grief – This is Scrabble! It’s a game, not true social media. It’s supposed to help my brain stay agile as i slide down the splintered pole of middle age, not inundate me with fake men fishing for money. But then again, i suppose creating all these stories to thwart them probably does at least as much for my brain as the game does.

Yes, i will feel badly if it turns out that any of these people is for real and just looking for a friend. Just as i feel badly for the people who take the charlatans seriously and fall prey to money scams. But more than either of those, i’m disappointed that it took such a short time for such a relatively innocent pastime to become just another way for lowlifes to fleece people by preying on their insecurities and sympathies. If they spent half as much effort trying to do good for people, i can’t imagine all the wonders they could accomplish.

But we all know that isn’t going to happen. There have been cheats for as long as there have been humans on this Earth. And there is little i can do to stop it. What i can do is stop allowing the fact that i am a common target of trawlers make me feel bad about myself. I am not pitiful, insanely lonely, or stupid; and i am most definitely not going to follow someone into a metaphorical unmarked van for flattery and a piece of figurative candy. Instead, i will entertain myself by having them fish for the figments of my active imagination. For my stories. I will waste their time as much as they do mine.  In fact, i already have a plan for the next one… I’m going to (Appear to) fall for it, hook, line, and sinker, and ask so many specific and personal questions in return that i creep them out as much as they do me!

C-o-u-n-t-e-r-i-n-s-u-r-g-e-n-c-y. With the triple word scores and the double letter scores…. I’d say i win the game.

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Kick It To The Curb

Aaahhhh…. It’s that time of year  – The new year. Fresh starts, new leafs, clean slates. For so many, it brings celebrations complete with fireworks, champagne, and general overindulgence. For others, it is feasts of black-eyed peas and other lucky foods, and time spent with family. All different kinds of traditions all over the world. But for me, the new year means one thing…

REORGANIZING!

I love sorting things and getting them all settled into an orderly fashion. I like little drawers and buckets and boxes and new coat hangers. And i LOVE getting to throw away things that do nothing but clutter my space. To my way of thinking, it is best not to bring last year’s garbage into the new year. The coming year will have plenty trash of its own.

Yes, yes… I know that if i were a better woman, i’d have thrown all the crap away as it appeared and not waited til the day i hung the new calendar. But i’m not. And i didn’t.

No one has ever accused me of being Nellie the Neat Freak.

So this time, every year, i go thru the house with bags to hold the garbage and bags to go to charity. I clear everything out that needs to go. Expired medicines and makeup. Clothing i hate or haven’t worn in a year. Accumulated magazines. Any Tupperware without a lid. And the bags of reuse/recycle items that i had craft ideas for that never panned out. And then i go back through and sort everything into new and better containers. Pretty baskets, decorator boxes, expandable shelves… You get the idea. By the second week of January, i am Martha Stewart’s rightful heir.

Come next season, it’s all right back to Clutter Central.

Throughout the year i will go back through and do a smaller version of the purge, but nothing like the High Baptism of the New Year’s Shedding of the Past Year’s Shit.

Seriously – This New Year’s ritual is my own personal day of rebirth.

For the record, i make no resolutions other than the one i always do – To be a bit better this coming year than the last. And each year, the cleansing of my house and head last a a bit longer than the one before. (Nothing like a resolution that you can keep!) It’s unlikely i’ll live long enough for the organization to last all year. I’ll keep doing my best and falling short, and the Grim Reaper will be tripping over stacks of books and craft supplies the day he comes to find me.

Unless the Hindus and Buddhists are right, in which case, i will die on December 31st of the year i finally keep my closet in order for a full 12 months.

At my current rate of improvement, that should put me somewhere around 200 years old when i finally leave this Earth.

This year’s purge is a little more complex, as i am starting to double down and really work on the house as a structure. I have lots of big plans for my little beach cottage in the woods… And the funding to complete about a third of it in the coming year. Not ideal, but it’s a start. And because i have all these plans that might actually come to fruition, i’ve had to cull even more than usual. Because trying to rehab a house that’s full of excess crap is like decorating a Christmas tree with green bows… Unhelpful and unnoticeable.

Anyway, the point of all this housecleaning is that it becomes symbolic – As my house is, so is my head. By clearing all the cobwebs, dustbunnies, and unused hand lotion samples; i am clearing my head of the same. Unused hand lotion samples become any leftover grudges and head smacks as they hit the trash bin. Dustbunnies become those things that i beat myself for daily, even tho they’ve been under the couch so long that everyone has forgotten them but me. And the cobwebs become… Well, truthfully, they’re just cobwebs. And the older i get, the more of a pain in the ass they are in both my house and my brain.

So here’s to those of us who shun parties in favor of self-improvement. While it’s true that we may not get to keep our OCD award for more than a month or two, we are setting ourselves up to start the year with a literal clean slate. Well, if we have a slate. I don’t. I’ll be starting with a clean closet. But i don’t think there’s a euphemism about closets that applies in this situation. Although i suppose it could to someone else. If they cleaned their closet and then came out of it. I think. Maybe. But being in the closet when there’s already so much clutter in there… I can’t imagine.

And there i go, weaving another cobweb.

No matter how you celebrate the new year, i hope it starts you off right: With Love, Light, and Laughter, and faith in a year that is better than the last. I wish you all the sweet things that life has to offer… And just enough salt to remember how sweet the good stuff is. And i wish you a rebirth and the chance to make yourself all you can be… Even if you fall short and there are still dustbunnies under the couch, your effort is not in vain. Any bag of garbage that makes it to the curb is a good thing, both literally and figuratively.

Let the purge begin.

 

My Bleak Midwinter

In my bleak midwinter i sit,

The grass dead and trees barren,

My breath like the fog on an abandoned pier

In a Bogart film.

Grey and opaque.

My bones are shaking from the chill in the air,

Or my past,

I know not which,

And they make a frosted mug that holds

The slush of my bleak midwinter soul.

The cracking of dead limbs as they drop to the ground form percussion.

The whistling wind sings both melody and harmony

While the squirrels make the bass lick of the shortest day.

My Bleak Midwinter Suite, first movement.

Final movement.

Cold and shallow.

Cold and shallow and yet

Beautiful still.

The cheers of cardinals over the sound of the empty landscape,

The crunch of little paws on frost covered leaves over the mush of mud semifreddo,

The smell of hickory smoke overlaying the metallic scent of the cold ozone.

There is still beauty to please my eyes and ears and nose

And to feed my soul.

For even in the bleak midwinter,

A stone will warm in the sun.

And once heated, radiate and

Warm everything that it touches

Just a bit.

Just enough

To stave off the victory of my bleak midwinter.

Would that i will be that rock,

Warmth in the midst of cold.

Would that i will be the cardinal,

Color in a sea of greys.

Would that i will be the sun,

The eventual vanquisher of

All bleak midwinters

Starting with my own.

 

 

“I’m Weeing in the Rain, Just Weeing in the Rain…”

SiriDog hates the rain. Like most small dogs, she’s a bit of a diva, a bit daft, and she doesn’t like getting her fur wet or being cold. So when we woke this morning to some near-freezing rain, and i took her outside for her morning wee, i was treated to full-on Dopey Diva mode.

First she goes to the side stairs of the porch. One step down, she realizes it is raining and comes back up. Then she goes to the front porch stairs, and like usual, seems surprised and peeved to see that it is raining there, too. She looks at me as if to say, “Now what do i do?”

She trots over to the side stairs again. Sure enough, it’s still raining there. So she goes back to the front side again. Yup. Still raining. Back and forth one more time, just to be sure.

“How do you expect me to pee? It’s raining everywhere!”

“Siri, we are not going back inside until you pee.”

She starts down the front stairs. Two stairs down, she gets hit with a big drop from the eave and runs back up. She scoots around my legs like they’re a box on the highway and plants her tookis at the front door.

“Nope. You gotta pee first.”

She barks at me in her annoyed voice.

“But i’ll get wet!”

“Too bad. Go pee.”

She stares at me.

“Siri… Now! It’s too cold out here to be playing this game!”

“Exactly! Now let me back in! I’ll just go in there, where it’s warm and dry.”

She wags her tail.

“No. The pads are not supposed to be your primary pee spot. They’re for times when i’m not home. Besides, you miss it a quarter of the time. I’M COLD! WILL YOU GO PEE ALREADY!?!?!?!”

She sniffs in my general direction and then heads back down the stairs at the speed of an elderly sloth. She wees about 6 inches from the bottom stair and then trudges back up, scowling at me like i made her eat brussel sprouts.

She is still sniffing. Not sad sniffs, mind you, but the sniffs of an overly-powdered aging socialite who is forced to fly coach. She is inconvenienced. She is wet. And she is mad as hell.

We go back inside, i give her a biscuit, and she forgets she had to pee in the rain.

Then i got to thinking… SiriDog and i aren’t really so different. How many times in my life have i taken a slightly different approach to the same old same old, essentially just changing stairwells to the same yard, and been surprised to find that it is still raining. And when confronted with that reality, shouted indignantly to my Master/God/Goddess/Universe, “How do you expect me to do what You ask? I will never make it! And it’s gonna take too much work!” because i feel like i’m expected to pee in the rain.

Kind of humbling, since i generally consider myself smarter than a chihuahua.

But it is also true in that we can both be distracted from anger and misery by a small treat. So i suppose it isn’t all bad. I rather like that quality in myself.

I don’t dare compare myself to the way she humps her toys before she tears them apart. If there is any commonality there, i’ll let my therapist deal with it.

********

And now, in the relaxing part of the afternoon, we are sitting together on the couch. Me in my slippers with a nice cup of tea, her buried under her little throw blanket and snoring. We are companionable. Compatible. Sympatico. But i do like to think that i’m not as much of a diva. And that i don’t snore as badly. (However, i know one of those things is definitely not true.) In any case, there are worse things in the world than sharing some traits with my dog. I think dogs, in general, tho simpler minded, are more pure and loving of heart. And like every other human on the planet, my jaded heart can use a little purity and loving.

It does make me wonder, tho, if SiriDog thinks of me the same way.

 

 

 

Turkey and Gratitude

I realize that Thanksgiving descends from a terrible and evil time in our history. The beginning of an effort to eradicate an entire race by choosing to ignore the fact that they are people. (Oh, how history repeats itself over and over again…) And tho i certainly don’t condone what has happened to our native peoples, i choose to celebrate the mythical intent of the season. Just like there was no jolly fat man riding on a sleigh at the birth of Jesus, our Autumn holiday has evolved into something more generic. But to its credit, it has not become a holiday of extravagant gifts. It has become a holiday of simple gratitude.

That’s part of why it is my favorite.

The commercialization that has befallen some other holidays hasn’t disrupted Thanksgiving. It remains about sharing and communion with friends and family. Being thankful for all that we have, all the blessings that the Universe has bestowed on us. And food. Oh. My. The food.

Roasted bird. Squash coated in nuts and marshmallows. Potatoes loaded with butter and cream. And heavenly desserts whose scents have become synonymous with the glory of autumn.

I have been through some desperately lean times in my life, but we always managed to have a good meal on Thanksgiving.  A good meal and laughter. So much laughter.

From the year my then brother-in-law kept topping off my drink when i wasn’t looking (And i still somehow managed to win the Euchre tournament), to the year when i nearly tossed a full water pitcher across the dining room by accident (My weedlings still joke when i am carrying drinks that the table looks a little dry…) Oh, and we can’t forget the year when someone brought a Trivial Pursuit game and i drew the question, “What mates with a peacock?”

In the interest of common decency, i’ll refrain from telling you my answer.

This year, a lot of the laughter revolved around a Bill Pullman-a-thon. Independence Day followed by SpaceBalls. For much of both movies, there was a lot of line recitation and bad acting. We all knew both movies by heart. Listening to a group of people quote a movie in unison is always fun. And, come on, SpaceBalls. You can’t NOT laugh. Plus the usual barrage of funny stories and comically roasting each other. That kind of evening can’t be beaten.

Yes, I am thankful. For so many things. For the good food and laughter, yes. But also for my weedlings and the people they have become. For the rest of my family and friends and all the love they have given me. For the life that i’ve been blessed with – My own home, my travels, a job that i love. For the joys of life – The beauty of nature, of music, of art. For those things that make life just a bit sweeter –  Pets, Star Trek, perfectly made flan. For things that i vaguely remember but hope i might see again – Mornings without aches, uninterrupted sleep, sex with someone other than myself.

Hey, a girl can dream.

The point is, tho life is far from perfect, it has afforded me so many things that are greater than i ever imagined. To quote Steve Harvey, “God has given me a life far beyond anything I ever dreamed about. God IS, man. God is something else, man.” God, Goddess, Universe…. Same same. To me, at least. And i am grateful for all that It has given me. Loaned me. Allowed me to experience. Whatever the correct interpretation is. I’m thankful.

I know that your life isn’t perfect either. You have illness and bills and tragedy and a dog who gets terrible gas. I get it. Believe me, i do. Those things suck. But if we dwell on those things, we miss the goodness all around them. So enjoy the good things. Turn the garbage into compost. And be thankful.

To Break the Monotony

I didn’t write last week. And i almost didn’t write this week. Sometimes the daily drudgery gets so overwhelming that i forget my life hasn’t been filled with just earning a paycheck, doing chores, and raising children. It’s easy, at times like these, to think that maybe i have nothing of value to write at all. Because who wants to hear about today’s adventures in laundry? But then i get to thinking about what story gems i have in my head. Moments of excitement that the universe has afforded me throughout the years.

For example:

My oldest weedling and i were once almost arrested for taking pictures of subway art in Portugal. In our defense, the art was really awesome. And it was only the tunnel to the train… We didn’t think the tile walls and industrial lighting contained military secrets, so it didn’t seem improper to take pictures. And there weren’t any signs telling us not to. We couldn’t be blamed for wanting to document memories. The Lisbon police begged to differ.

I was also once chased by military police through an airport in Madrid… Because i was carrying a sword. When they came running after me, i got scared and ran too… Still brandishing the sword. It was a ceremonial replica, a gift for my husband at the time, and it never occurred to me that running through the airport with a sword held high was the reason they were chasing me. When they finally caught me, they seemed surprised i wasn’t drunk. In retrospect, it would have been less embarrassing if i had been drunk. Drunk is usually better than just stupid.

I once was publicly reprimanded by a sheik for calling out the ref (Who also happened to be the sheik) at a pickup basketball game in the United Arab Emirates. Well, the public reprimand was rather fake, to be honest. He knew my outburst was an accident – And it wasn’t like he was trying to hide the fact that he was terribly biased against my shipmates who were playing the locals. So he quietly told me i was making him look bad and to not do it again. Then he told me to cry so that all the people who were watching the game would think he had torn me a new one. Rather nice of him, as i’m sure he could have publicly flogged me or something. Instead, i got a true story that sounds like fiction.

I have a terracotta pitcher in my kitchen that i use to store cooking utensils. I won it in a hole-in-the-wall bar in Spain. It was the grand prize for being able to dance around a chair for an entire song with the pitcher on my head… While it was filled with sangria. Actually, i was filled with sangria too. That may have had something to do with it. Maybe. Probably. But i have been known to dance for less.

Just ask my weedlings. It’s the bane of their existence.

I’ve been in protests (Including quite a few “nurse-ins”) and served in a war. I’ve had varied careers and have equally varied college degrees. I’ve performed on stage, deejayed on the radio, and entertained foreign dignitaries at dinner. I have flown a plane, fired a weapon, and swum with fishes (As opposed to sleeping with the fishes, which i have not done, obviously. Thank you God!)

I have also slept on the ground, eaten cold beans from a can, and been so broke that i didn’t think i’d ever be anything but scrap-poor. I’ve made huge, mind-boggling mistakes. And i once took last place in a beauty pageant. Gotta have the downs to appreciate the ups.

I have had pasta and gelato in Italy, poutine in Canada, and bananas in the Central American jungle. I have also had Japanese food in Jamaica, Korean food in Panama, and Nepali food in Wisconsin.  Go figure.

I have seen the sun rise over the Pacific, and the sun set over the Atlantic. (Yes, my fellow Americans, it can happen that way. I promise.)

I have done so many things that started out as stupid ideas, but turned out be amazing experiences. And i’ve had grandiose plans turn into snore fests. You never know where things will lead when you take that first step.

So as i sit here on the couch with SiriDog, staring at the dining room which needs to be cleaned, thinking about the work i need to do tomorrow, and making lists of the bills to pay tonight… Really, in a way, this is just a rest stop between the last adventure and the next. Time to start planning the next one!

Unfortunately, i still have to do the chores and pay the bills before i get there.

 

If Thy Country Offends Thee…

As usual on a Sunday afternoon, i’m on my porch with a mug of tea. It’s a beautiful fall day, slightly warm, and SiriDog is enjoying laying on the grass in the sun. The wind rustles the leaves, and my wind chimes tinkle. The spiders hung from the porch ceiling in honor of Halloween sway gently, looking a bit more real than my neighbors would probably like. And my American flag billows as if in a military newsreel.

My flag. If it were human, it would be crying.

Yet another mass shooting. In a synagogue this time. 11 people gunned down while in prayer. Earlier this week, pipe bombs showing up in the mail for prominent political figures.  My disgust with it all is making my tea rumble in my stomach.

The beauty of this country lies in direct opposition to the ugliness of some of its inhabitants. Self-righteous actions of the viciously close-minded are boils on the body of America. Festering, rancid, gangrenous boils. And yet, somehow, it seems against principle to cut off the putrid appendages before they take the rest of the body with it. We cannot become what we despise. Not as individuals, nor as a country.

Part of me wonders how we got this way: So intolerant to our neighbors and countrymen. How did so many people grow to adulthood without realizing that they weren’t always right? How afraid are they of their own lives that they instead spend their time weeding out others’? How arrogant are they who put their own beliefs, comfort, whimsy above the lives of others?

I want to rail against my country. Wag my finger like a nagging and pissed off mother and let them all know what i think:

That we have become a country of narcissists, unconcerned with anyone but ourselves.

That we care more about money than humans.

That we worry so much about our standing that we have lost our understanding.

That we have forgotten the four most important words in the English Language: “I could be wrong.”

I find i have to continually remind myself that most of us are not plotting against others. Most of us aren’t out to rid the country of those who are different from us. And while we do still take issue with some other groups, most of us want to help our country become a better place. We don’t shoot people we disagree with. We don’t set fire to buildings that don’t represent us. We don’t send bombs to people we dislike. I know some very strict Christian people who would still feed a transgendered person in need. And i know some far left liberals who would help rebuild a community church that was destroyed in hate.

But in this era of instant world news, it can be hard to remember that the average person isn’t represented on the newscast. The grumpy old redneck who faithfully mows the yard of the elderly black woman next door, without payment or fanfare… The punk-looking teenager who volunteers at the animal shelter… The Muslim woman who gives every week to the food bank… These people don’t get the ratings or clicks that mass murderers and supremacists get. Blood and hate trump kindness in the news. In fact, we seem to thrive on it.

I’m starting to wonder if Americans just like to be angry.

Well, some Americans anyway. Far too many of them, it seems. Call me a softie, or a mush pot, or a snowflake – I don’t care. No matter how angry i get at the state of things, i will not respond by destroying other humans. Or calling for their destruction. I will do my best to fight the hate with as much love as i can muster. I will do what i can to make things better. I will give what i can to who i can.  And i will vote, as i did earlier this week, for people who i feel might improve the current status quo.

Because i don’t want to hate my country. Or my countrymen. As i look out over my yard, and down the street at my neighbors’, i am content with those that surround me. I know a lot of really good people all across this country. I love the America that i believe in. Even if it seems incongruous with the one in the news.

So come sit with me here on my porch. I’ll make you a mug of tea. And you can tell me something good about your America. The America that you believe in. And maybe also we can share ways to make things better.