Thursday, January 19, 2023

No, All Of That Scrimping Will Not "Save" You

I keep running across articles about smart ways to save despite inflation. That’s fine.

But, no, these will not truly “save” you. 


I was born in 1973. The year everything “broke.” There are too many to list but here are a few highlights…

            ⁃          Watergate

            ⁃          Dollar devalued by 10%

            ⁃          Gas shortages 

            ⁃          Unemployment 

            ⁃          Vietnam

            ⁃          Airline terrorism

            ⁃          Arson

            ⁃          Bombings

            ⁃          Assassinations

            ⁃          Kidnappings

            ⁃          Bank robberies

            ⁃          Heroin/opioid epidemic

            ⁃          Global political and market destabilization


And…THE GREAT INFLATION which technically began in December 1972, but would kick into high gear in January 1973 and carry through the rest of the decade into the 80’s. 


It was with me from the very beginning and throughout my growing up. And it has clung to my bones. Seeping into the marrow of my being. Brought on by the boxing up of our belongings and move out of state to:


Perry, Iowa - for 8 months 

Huxley, Iowa - for 6 months 

Charles City, Iowa - for 2 months…where we lived in a motel.


Until my father had finally reached his limit with the relocations by this finance company he worked for, brought on by all of the defaults…


One night at the A&W drive-in, just trying to have dinner without a kitchen, in temporary digs, after his third relocation in 16 months, where each of the previous had promised to be his last; his toddler daughter running up and down the back seat and his newborn son wailing away, with root beer and French fries everywhere and the possibility of yet another relocation on the horizon…


There was one last spill and with a “Son of a bitch!” the window tray slammed to the pavement just before his squealing tires tore out of there back to the motel, heaving the bags into the back and hightailing it back “home” to take a new, more stable job, with an oil company.


A solid industry. Much more reliable than finance. A sensible decision. 


But…this oil company, Skelly, was somehow rolled into another. Who relocated us just 2.5 years after moving “home” when I was in kindergarten.

This time, the move was to Kansas. Where, over the next 7 short years…


-       Skelly was finally fully merged into the Getty Oil Company.

-       The Getty family fought over the entire company to the blows.

-       It went up for sale

-       Was approved for purchase by Pennzoil

-       Was fought over by Pennzoil and Texaco.

-       Was purchased by Texaco

-       Who was sued by Pennzoil

-       Landing Texaco in bankruptcy

-       And my dad “downsized”


My dad was suddenly out of that “stable” job and found himself loading barrels on a dock for minimum wage. I was in junior high, throwing newspapers and babysitting like crazy. Mom was caring for other people’s kids in our home, baking, sewing, and whatever else came along. And they owned two rental houses that now, with the economic downturn from all of this crap taking its toll on the community, sometimes covered their costs…that my parents couldn’t get rid of because there was no one left to buy them.


The job finally opened that he had been promised if he would hold on and load barrels, but not the way he was originally promised. It would still be his…if we relocated. So we packed up, with 3 unsellable houses listed in Kansas, and moved. Again. To where the work was. Not “home.” But Iowa.


And the houses FINALLY sold. In my Freshman, Sophomore, and Junior years. At a loss. 


And it has all stuck with me. All of it.


But I don’t see anything in articles on “smart ways to save” that would have made a difference. 


Turning down the heat doesn’t prevent corporate takeovers.


Buying in bulk doesn’t keep people from defaulting.


Bargaining for an extra $50 off of a mortgage a month doesn’t stop downsizing.


The common thread of everything above and the most base element it all boils down to? GREED. 


Greed is not good. It makes a great soundbite, but greed has consequences. Human consequences. And there are not enough coupons you can clip to combat it. It’s all a mirage. How do I know?


Because those consequences rarely land on the greedy themselves, who will gouge and grab and boast of bootstraps…and then demand a bailout. I have never once seen any of them whip out a burgeoning booklet of spit slathered S&H Green Stamps to cover their losses, even in those decades these self-proclaimed smart savers have been lauded to have “survived.”


I do not have all of the answers, but these are not them. And just like these people, I was there. Through all of it. And it’s still with me. Forever.

Friday, April 15, 2022

A Second for Second Grade

This yearbook page popped up in my memories today. It got me smiling about 2nd grade…probably one of my most influential years ever.

- My teacher was new and had her master’s degree. I had never, in my little life, met anyone who wasn’t a doctor or a priest who had one of those!

- The girl who sat next to me had a Bee Gees lunchbox, which lead me to discover the delightful decadence of DISCO!

- During reading time, I went, on a special grant my teacher wrote, to a playwriting class and it was everything I never knew I really wanted. It made my tiny heart sing!

- My baby brother was born halfway through the year, I brought him for show and tell.

- My teacher’s husband and toddler were in a terrible car accident, during the school day. I remember the look on her face when they came to tell her. And her matter of fact, straight forward explanation to us about why she needed to leave in that moment. She told us the truth, nothing more than what she did or didn’t know, and that being the exact moment when it truly and thoroughly sunk into my 8 year-old skull, clear down to my soul, that all of these adults around me had whole and complete lives beyond these bricks and mortar that bound us together during the day.

- Carter and Reagan went head to head….and I knew it was a big deal, but I really didn’t get it.

- I saw 9 to 5 at the drive-in and danced to the theme song in costumes, mine was a candy striper, for our class’s PTO (Parent Teacher Organization) performance. I fell completely and totally in love with Dolly Parton…still am. 

- We had a class newspaper 

- We made butter 

- We made paper

- I wrote a poem about flies that I still have memorized to this day.

- I met and made my best friends.

- We walked home “alone,” together, for the very first time that year. We would continue to do so, in one combination or another through the summer of 7th grade, when we moved to a different neighborhood, before moving completely away right before I started high school.

- I got my first scrapbook. 

- I saw my first live performance of a play.

- I got my first diary.

- I had my first crush.

- My mom cut my hair and made almost all of my clothes. She was pretty good at it. My aunt made me a dress and I had a hand-knit confetti sweater with a tie belt and matching yellow double knit pants made by a neighbor lady. (I’m wearing them in the photo at the bottom. My back is turned to the camera). It was the last year I really wore very much that was homemade. Life got busy. I wish I had appreciated it more.

- I wanted to be a writer and a teacher and a nun and an actor. My true self is somewhere in that mixture.

- I went by my middle name, Teresa. She’s still in that mix somewhere too.

- And life was magical and terrifying and changing and good and awful and wide and wonderful and all just waiting to be tried. And it is probably the year of my childhood that I remember most, thanks in large part to the people pictured here that made it so.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Press Release From The 10th Circle of Hell


For Immediate Release: VANITY NOW A VIRTUE NOT A VICE!

To: All Members Of The Christian Faith, The United States Of America

From: The Office of Public Relations
10th Circle of Hell
666 Lake of Fire Dr.

Dear Church,

On behalf of the other nine circles of hell, let me begin by telling you what a great pleasure it is to announce, that after a centuries long review, it’s finally official: VANITY IS NO LONGER A VICE!

We must admit, we were originally disappointed, when vanity was not catapulted to the pinnacle of prominence as one of the original seven deadly. It just flew under the radar, simply slapped on as a sub sin in the category of Pride. But in the long run this has been an unanticipated benefit for those of us who never saw social media coming.

So, after centuries of struggle, we now submit to you that this vice has been promoted to virtue. And please trust us when we tell you that this declaration needs no higher scrutiny, for as we have observed over the past year, you have personally proclaimed yourselves as the highest possible authorities in existence, and for this we cannot thank you enough.

It’s beyond our wildest dreams to see you finally fully embracing the false notion of your own infallibility. Publicly proclaiming, in post after post, how absolutely right you are. And should someone find fault with something you’ve said or shared or done or chosen, you simply point out someone else’s wrongdoing, magically transfiguring the current culpability and all future failings. Cleansing at least your conscience, if not your soul.

And let me further applaud your efforts at crafting a Christ trademarked in your own image. A very American Messiah tested and tried against the gospel according to your gut. Who coincidentally only supports your worldviews and wants. Which you are happy to prove by dipping into doctrine, dragging out dollops and shaking loose any context or culture that could make it mean anything other than what you want. After all, the Bible sounds so much better in sound bites, don’t you think?

Guilt free gods yourselves able to worship what you please, be it political party or patriotism or self-preservation or appearances. After all, America first! And believe me when I say you have our full support in this because who needs all that hooey about “no other gods before me.” I mean how vain is that?

Thus proving our point that vanity is a virtue! See how convenient scripture snipping can be?

But we especially want to thank all of those who have remained relatively silent. Who have spoken little out of fear of rocking the boat with your fellow American Christians. Who’ve exchanged pleasantries in the pews to help keep up appearances. Your vanity in this area has been the greatest gift of all. And we owe you more than we can ever express. Your quiet compliance has helped make all of this possible.

So keep up the “good” work with all of your statuses and selfies and self-centered worldviews. Or by saying nothing at all. Because when you look good you feel…well at least everyone will think you’re good. Because after all, you’re an American Christian. And vanity is now a virtue.

Monday, December 14, 2020

I Don’t Want Anyone To Die For Me, I Just Want A Barbie


From the archives 2016

The moment my Dad lined the three of us up along the lip of our harvest gold and walnut couch, I knew it was a trap. I may have been seven years old, but I was savvy enough to see through “Do you know what Christmas is really about?”

“Jesus!” I proudly parroted, certain I had just saved myself and siblings from the ensuing spiel. And then he turned to my six-year-old brother. 

“Do you know what Christmas is really about?”

Come on! Come on! You can do it! It’s a trick question. You just heard me say the answer.


Oh, thank God!

But then he turned to the toddler.

“Do you know what…”

“Santa Claus!”


I caved into the cushions as he launched into a lengthy lecture, one with too much information for my age and stage, that completely crushed that cute little Christ in a crèche and left me a very sinister second grader who had savagely slain someone with her sin.

When it was over, my brother and sister happily hurried off blissfully oblivious to their offense after becoming completely lost immediately after the opening bit about the babe in Bethlehem. However, the gravity of my guilt settled on my shoulders as I made my way over to the console TV where my mother had placed our nativity set, as she had done every year, ensuring we all would see it.

I surveyed the ceramics from Sears. There were the wise men still way off in the corner of the console working their way west for the Epiphany. The shepherd who carried his sheep for some reason rather than letting it walk. The ox and ass, who through stifled giggles allowed me to say “ass” at church. The angel with a clipped wing that had chipped when she slipped from her nail and crashed where the cradle should have been. And Mary and Joseph, all staring expectantly into the blank space where my youngest sibling would reach her chubby little fingers in on Christmas morning, to place the baby, ceremoniously signaling the start of our festivities.

All awaiting the arrival of Jesus, just so I could kill him.

It was a good thing I had been preparing to make my first confession in a couple of months. We had really only covered the venial sins in my Baltimore Catechism. You know, the little ones, like fighting with my brother and not making my bed. The stuff that would still let me into purgatory where I could be on a payment plan of penance. Nothing so dire it deserved damnation. But it turned out we should have been covering the mortal ones, because I was unwittingly a murderer!

Mrs. Johnson, my Wednesday night CCD teacher, had mentioned the mortal sins as a category not to concern our elementary school selves with because those were really big ones like killing someone…which I had apparently already done! And the only way to get a mortal sin off of your soul was to go to confession. So, I would have to sit and stew in my sinfulness until that Saturday in spring when I would finally be capable of confessing to this capital crime and cleanse it from my conscience. I was going to have to be extra careful not to take any unnecessary risks to ensure I survived until then!

Over the next several days, at recess, I stayed off of the ice my friends were so gleefully gliding across and sat on the steps. I skipped going to my best friend’s house after school. And every time we got in the car, I secured my seatbelt, even though this was 1980 and seatbelts were completely unnecessary unless we were on vacation and even then, I am pretty sure they were only required to keep us from climbing all over the car and driving my parents crazy on cross-country car trips.

I didn’t go out and play in the first snow of the season. I skipped sledding and stayed safely inside watching the neighbor kids out the dining room window. And this is when my mother was sure something was amiss.

“I know that Santa is watching, but it doesn’t mean he doesn’t want you to have any fun.” And then she winked.

Mom was well aware I knew who was what. I had known since Kindergarten. It started with suspicions about The Tooth Fairy, then barreled through the Easter Bunny and snowballed right on over to Santa. I had always been an over-thinker and in a matter of minutes my five-year-old mind had managed to decimate the magic, much to my mother’s dismay.

But it stayed our little secret. She knew that I knew that she knew that I knew. But ne’er a word was said about it since that day more than two years earlier.

However, it wasn’t “Santa” that concerned me. It was that other guy in red. The one whose name also started with an “S.”

And as my worries piled up just like the snow outside, I finally could take it no longer.

“I don’t want anyone to die for me, I just want a Barbie.”

And then there were tears.

And a very simple response.

I don’t remember exactly what she said, only that she pointed out how very much she loved me. And if she could love me that much, to just think how much more God must love me and that Christmas and all the rest of it, in its simplest terms was about that love. And yes, there was a birth and a death, but there was a lot of living in between…and after. And so much living and loving for all of us to do as well.

And most importantly, she assured me that I was not a murderer and that dying for someone was something else entirely. And she let me in on a little secret…the best news of all.

I was getting a Barbie.

Friday, December 11, 2020

Amish Underpants and All


From the archives 2017

“Are you at the good Denny’s?”

Three motels, one with its hourly rate proudly posted, and the adult bookstore directly across the street made it clear I was not.

I had been expelled from a closing airport and sent to spend Christmas Eve at the "bad Denny's" to be hit on by an aging gangster named Foot while sitting adjacent to Chardonnay, a stripper with a stack of singles and feather roach-clip earrings, wearing a black Santa hat emblazoned with the word "Naughty!"

“I don’t think so…but I need to reserve a cab pickup…”

“Ma’am, we don’t make reservations for pickups from Denny’s. Especially that Denny’s.”


All eyes turned to me, the pariah from the police car, who had just been plopped in the parking lot. I stood there, Delta Dawn incarnate, wearing an ill-fitting 17 year-old wool winter coat and ripped yoga pants, clutching a small suitcase.

Just hours earlier, I had been racing through an underground tunnel at LAX because the first leg of my flight had been switched and was suddenly being serviced by a completely different airline…in a totally different terminal…on the opposite side of the airport.

I made it, just in time to reprint tickets and tags and rush to the gate…where the flight was delayed. I had just set my carryon down and was readying to settle in when --

“Here, watch him!”

A complete stranger, not even bothering to make eye contact, shoved her son at me and disappeared…for half of an hour. She blew back in the same whirlwind in which she went, phone squeezed tightly between her shoulder and cheek, whisking him up as she hurried past and on off down the hallway hollering back to me without even glancing up, “Hurry up Helen! I can’t do this all myself!” No, she couldn’t. She definitely couldn’t. And poor Helen, wherever she was.

But now, I sat, plates piling high on the pressed wood table, ordering course after course from the menu to bide my time until the airport reopened in a few hours. I preferred paying rent on this sticky tabled booth rather than at the hourly motor lodge across the way where there was a good chance that the surfaces were just as sticky. I ordered $16 worth of food. $16 is an immense amount of food for a single person at Denny’s.

I swirled my straw through three dollars worth of strawberry shake.

“What you doin’? What you doin’ with that bad ass?”

I looked up to see a bandit-bandanaed-blonde-bombshell airbrushed across a black t-shirt just below some numbers and the letters “O.G.” sliding into the booth across from me.

“Foot” slurred a thick tongued introduction fragrant with fermentation as he extended his tattooed fingertips; a tinted motif that flowed up his forearm, then slipped under his sleeve unseen to later resurface, slithering up his neck and culminating around his eye in teardrops, dots and digits. He continued by unleashing an uninvited ode to my ass. That same, travel tired tush that was now respectfully tucked away in torn yoga pants under a large tunic.

The rip in the rear was the result of a snag from some stable doors set up in the sanctuary for Christmas Eve service. I was cleaning up the frankincense and myrrh when my derriere was detained by the doors just minutes before boarding an airport shuttle to make it to my original flight in the nick of time…before it was changed in every way possible. 

A flight that I was taking to catch up to my husband who had already headed to the Midwest a few days earlier. A flight I had to take solo because I worked at a church and Christmas Eve is, well, a workday. A flight that was supposedly a “connecting flight” that had just landed at a tiny airport that “doesn’t do connecting flights.”

“Ma’am, you’ll have to leave. The airport is closing. It’s Christmas Eve and everyone wants to go home.”

“But I’m supposed to get on a connecting flight in a few hours.”

“Ma’am there are no connections. This is the end of the road.”

I stood there wagging my tickets for the remainder of my trip. Tickets printed by an airline that doesn’t service that airport. Tickets that no one would even look at when I asked them to because it wasn’t their airline. Tickets that cost hundreds of dollars, but were getting me nowhere except kicked out of the airport because it was closing.

“Ma’am. How did you even get here? Who dropped you off?”

“I flew. I just got off of a plane a little over an hour ago.”

And then the walkie-talkie was whipped out and I was described as a confused lady in a red wool coat. A really old red wool coat. A red wool coat that I was wearing even though it was at least 70 degrees outside.

Two Novembers into our marriage, I had no winter coat nor the budget for a winter coat. But was surrounded by Iowa weather that required said winter coat. This was back before you could order things online, so we went shopping. 

There was a beautiful red wool coat, at Yonkers department store, that I loved. Then, there wound up being one functional coat at another place that was the only one that fit me and the budget. The store closed before I could go back and get it. I resolved to return the next day.

After work, I swung by home to change out of my bank teller’s uniform before heading out to make my practical purchase and there, lying on the bed, was the red wool coat. That red wool coat took extra hours. That red wool coat took giving things up. That red wool coat made me cry. And even though it has gone out of fashion and I live in the heat of Southern California, I still wear that red wool coat every year when I travel home for Christmas. It is the only winter coat I own. It may have been seventeen years old, but the intent and love behind it are still the same.

“Well, all of the cabs are gone now, and by the time one gets here, we’ll all be gone and it’s not safe to leave you standing outside alone. Is there someplace I can drop you until the airport opens again in the morning?” The airport cop had been summoned to deal with the confused lady in the red wool coat.

“Maybe a 24-hour restaurant like an IHOP?” I offered.

“I don’t know. A lot of things are closed.”

I checked my phone to see what I could find. I found a Denny’s. He said that was doable.

I climbed into his squad car with my carryon luggage in my lap, closed the door, and as the car pulled away from the curb, the questions began. Familiar questions. Questions we used to have on a list for a nonprofit I had worked for. Questions that were asked of mentally unstable people off in an alternate reality.

And according to my phone, we were not headed towards the Denny’s. Not by a long shot. I was headed to spend the early morning hours of my Christmas where those deemed “confused” who show up in old red coats at dead end airports with tickets for airlines that aren’t there wind up. So rather than starting at the beginning again. Out of desperation, I chose to start at the end. The destination. Rural Iowa. My mother and father-in-law’s house and how they would be waiting to pick me up, along with my husband.

And as fate would have it, this cop, way out on the west coast…had family…in the tiny town just one county over. And knew all of the places and even some of the people from my husband’s hometown. And at least for a moment, long enough to turn the car around, decided maybe I wasn’t completely deranged and dropped me at that Denny’s.

That Denny’s where I now sat across from a very large man, with very identifiable associations on his skin, as he wound up his ballad to my butt.

“I’d really like to kiss you.”

“Dad, leave her alone!”

And there he was, the son. Foot had a son! A son! A son with miraculous timing. A son whose face burned with embarrassment as he dragged his elder from my booth toward the door, apologizing profusely. A son who said he hoped his father hadn’t ruined my Christmas as Foot staggered back toward me offering, in his own way, to…keep in touch.

“For the love of God, Dad! Get in the car! Now!” And one kick to Foot’s own “bad ass” and they were out the door and into the waiting car.

I spent the next few hours in the booth next to Chardonnay and across from an autistic tree surgeon named, I kid you not, Gabriel. Who, from what I gathered, came in every night to sit on the same stool and eat the same thing. He would sit at the counter and talk about trees, to anyone and everyone, as loudly as he could.

He knew everything there was to know about trees! Their insides, their outsides, their bark and their bite. And how at this time of year, everyone loved trees. He got to string them with lights all throughout gardens and hedges. And shape them and tie them and make them look lovely. So of course Christmas was his favorite! And what better way to spend Christmas than with his favorite strangers and at his favorite place, Denny’s.

And he wished each and every one of us a merry Christmas and us him in return. And in those wee early hours while we were still in the night, all of us waiting for…something; the strays and the castoffs, the unwanted and wandering, the fringe and forgotten were gathered together and wished well and welcomed and given glad tidings of great joy from Gabriel, about his evergreens.

It was going to be okay. I had a place to be. I was warm and I had $16 worth of cold spaghetti and sides splayed out before me. I was pretty blessed and soon I would be with people who loved me...with or without underwear.

Yep. When I finally arrived at my destination, my luggage was lost…for five days. 

Despite everything, I made it back to the airport, onto an outbound flight and to my mother and father-in-law’s house. Where I finally replaced my ripped open pants with a pair of pajama bottoms I opened for Christmas because I had nothing else to wear.

And being Rural Iowa, everything was closed for the holidays. I eventually had to give in and buy some underwear from a Mennonite supply store just to get by. These behemoth britches came way up past my belly button and my husband and I called these sizeable, sexy specimens my “Amish underpants.” 

But I had made it to my destination. To people who love me, Amish underpants and all. And I know that I’ll never have another Christmas Eve like that one…

Because next time, I’m going to the “good Denny’s.”

Audio version available here produced by Medium Studios: