Captive Audience by Courtney Mehlhaff

Some friends of mine live about four blocks away from me, and tonight they dropped off a set of keys so I can watch their house while they're on vacation. These friends have had a copy of my keys since last year, when I proved I was not trustworthy enough to be left alone in my own home. Here's what happened.

I was cleaning out the basement, which had been left fully stocked by the previous owners with all manner of junk -- wobbly shelving, used paint cans, old lamps and mirrors, carpet and linoleum scraps, and about 100 ft. of coaxial cable for some reason. But they'd also left a wardrobe-sized storage cabinet that was in decent shape, and I decided it would serve me well in the laundry room, which was on the opposite side of the basement.

I also decided it would be a good idea to move this large piece of furniture all by myself. After all, I'd been manhandling everything else on my own, and if I waited around for someone to help me, it might never get done.

So I did what all foolishly ambitious people who live alone do. I rocked that bad boy back and forth on its bottom edges all the way across the basement. But when I got to the laundry room doorway, I made a fateful decision: I went in first, intending to pull the cabinet in after me.

You know what they say about the road to hell.

In a few short seconds, the cabinet was hung up on the baseboard lip, with about an inch of clearance on all sides. It was really wedged in there. And I was stuck. I'd purchased my first home and then immediately trapped myself in my own basement. Like an asshole. With a mortgage.

I'd like to think I get marginally smarter with each passing year, but sadly that's not always the case. Self-administered booby trap notwithstanding, I was bright enough to take a thoughtful pause to reevaluate my situation and regroup. I sat down and assessed my options.

There were no windows I could use for escape, but there was a utility sink, so I had water. My phone was also in my back pocket, although all my doors were locked and/or security-barred, so any rescue attempt would involve a B&E. 

There was only one thing to do. I attacked that furniture with renewed vigor and all the desperation of someone who fears having to explain themselves to first responders. Did I get the cabinet out? Yes. Did I break it? Of course. Did I pull an insane number of muscles in my chest and back in the process? No surprises here.

It's one of those stories you debate not telling anyone. But I'm glad I did. Because after I related it to my friend from the neighborhood, she said, "Yeeeeeeaaaahhhhhh . . . we're gonna need a set of house keys from you."  It was a nice way of volunteering to save my dumb ass the next time I miscalculate, which is a very neighborly thing to do.

Cap and Pwn by Courtney Mehlhaff

Last night I was sitting around a backyard fire roasting marshmallows with some friends and their kids. They were kicking off their summer vacation by throwing all their homework from the past year into the flames. This is what I asked an 11-year-old, and the conversation that followed.

ME:  "Hey! I heard you gave a speech at your school. What did you say? Something inspirational?"

BOY: "Yeah."

BOY'S FRIEND: "I thought you were going to talk about different stuff."

BOY: "Like what?"

BOY'S FRIEND: "I don't know, like video games."

BOY: "It was a fifth grade graduation ceremony. Why the heck would I talk about video games?"

BOY'S FRIEND: (thoughtful for a second) "I guess maybe that would be a way not to graduate."

Blown Out of Proportion by Courtney Mehlhaff

When I was in high school, I worked at a drugstore. Part of my job was delivering prescription medication and other supplies to people who weren't able to leave their homes. This frequently included transporting full oxygen tanks and returning with empty ones.

Now, the only thing my boss ever told me about O2 tanks was, "Don't bang them together or they'll blow up," which, as you can imagine, made quite an impression. But even though it felt like I was piloting a load of active bombs, I didn't have any good way to secure them in the delivery van other than seatbelting them into individual seats.

One day, I must have stopped a bit short at an intersection, and one of the tanks slipped out of its straps. I heard it hit the floor, followed by a loud hiss, and my 16-year-old brain immediately thought, "This is it. This is how I go." And I fucking bailed out of that van right in the middle of the street. Luckily I threw it in park before diving for safety.

I don't know how long I stood there cowering before it dawned on me that I had not been consumed by an apocalyptic ball of fire. I also don't know how long it took me to realize that nothing had actually exploded -- the valve at the top of the tank had simply twisted open, and air was shooting out. 

I do remember looking around to see if anyone had witnessed my vehicular panic attack. As luck would have it, there were no bystanders to tell the tale of a delivery run that ended not with a bang but with a whimper.

Duct and Cover by Courtney Mehlhaff

There's a piece of gray tape haphazardly slapped over the camera on my work laptop. Here's how it got there.

I had to call into an online meeting one morning, and since I was the first person to log on, the web service somehow recognized me as the current host. It took this recognition literally by activating my camera and projecting video of my face onto the screen.

Did I mention I was working from home that day? And had literally rolled out of bed and switched on my computer? So the image staring back was my disheveled self, complete with bed head and in full pajamas, like a real sleepy weirdo just slouched on my couch.

The instant that feed from my living room went live, I hit the deck as if shots had been fired. I couldn't get back onto my keyboard to remedy the situation, so I crawled across the floor army-style and fetched the quickest fix I could think of -- and indeed, the best fix for many of life's problems -- duct tape.

But in order to apply it, I had to sneak up on my computer from behind like a frickin' assassin and stick it over the camera before I could safely sit down again, in all my groggy glory. 

Fool me once, WebEx, shame on me. And tape on you.

Someone to Watch Over Me by Courtney Mehlhaff

Last night, I met a friend for dinner to discuss taking a vacation together. After we finished eating, we decided to meet back at my house to continue the planning.

I arrived before she did, and set about doing some outdoor chores while I waited. I was watering flowers when I peered around the corner and saw her pull up. She stopped the car and started scrolling through her phone, and I decided this would be the perfect time to send the following text:

"Hi. I'm looking at you."

And it might have been mildly funny . . . if I'd sent it to my friend in the car, and not accidentally to another friend, who was minding her own business in the privacy of her own home, and understandably confused and alarmed by the message. 

To make matters worse, I didn't know I'd effed up the recipient for a full five to ten minutes, during which I received the following replies but was unresponsive:


"From where?"

When I realized what I'd done, I apologized profusely. Five misplaced words made her question her personal safety, and made me an unintentional creep. Which is a new one for me -- here's lookin' at you, kid.

Ant Misbehavin' by Courtney Mehlhaff

Well, against all odds, and following a late April snowstorm that buried us one last time just to show us who's boss, it's finally spring here in Minnesota.

Which means I spent part of last weekend spraying my house for bugs. It took me so long to dismantle the Spider Kingdom when I moved in last year that I don't want to open the door for a surprise coup now that the weather's nice.

But my real concern this season is another creature. Because last year I went down to do laundry and saw what I thought was a pile of dirt in the far corner of my basement . . . it turned out to be a huge mound of ants. Hundreds and hundreds of them, thankfully all dead, though that fact was also a bit disconcerting. It looked like a tiny insect Jonestown, minus miniature cups of Kool-Aid scattered about.

As I stood there horrified, I noticed one little ant still wriggling slightly. And I couldn't help leaning over to whisper, "Buddy . . . what HAPPENED here?"

Alas, there was no answer, and thus no explanation for the massacre, so it remains a creepy crawly mystery that I quickly hoovered up. Then I fought the urge to burn my vacuum cleaner.

Somehow "kill it with fire" doesn't seem the most practical go-to solution now that I own this pile of bricks.

Time Keeps on Sippin' by Courtney Mehlhaff

This past weekend, a friend of mine threw a surprise birthday party for her husband. One of his coworkers was in charge of first taking him to happy hour, and then steering him toward the venue where we were all secretly gathered.

Keeping the husband on track to arrive as scheduled proved to be more difficult than anticipated. The husband, oblivious to the timeline, was eating and drinking too slowly. So his quick-thinking coworker faked biting into a hot pepper and reached over in "desperation" to drain the rest of his friend's beer.

This genius move also solved another potential problem, which was making sure the husband didn't drink too much prior to the main event. I raised this issue with my friend, recalling a time many years ago when I arrived at a pre-wedding outdoor BBQ to find her husband very happily standing by a grill, flipping burgers. I was late, and the beer had clearly been flowing freely for quite awhile.

When I asked him what time it was, he glanced down at his wrist and then shot me a goofy grin.

"I don't know. I can't read my watch."

That's when I knew he was three sheets to the wind. Because I replied, "It's digital."