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."

Map of the Star by Courtney Mehlhaff

I'd like to think I'm not overly impressed by anyone's "celebrity" status, but I haven't really met any famous people.

I did see Stevie Wonder at a hotel once. And no, just to head this next joke off at the pass, he did not see me.

The one time I found myself in a room with a movie star, I was out for dinner with a large group of friends at a Thai place in Minneapolis. Shortly after we arrived, someone pointed out that Josh Hartnett was sitting at a table at the far end of the restaurant. He was in a chunky sweater and a baseball cap, trying his best to be inconspicuous. Bear in mind, this was around 2003.

Now I don't know if, for the native Minneapolis dwellers, the idea that somebody the caliber of Prince could literally pop up anywhere at any time had desensitized them to being starstruck . . . but nobody in my group batted an eye at this discovery.

What we did instead was simple -- we used him as a navigational tool. For the rest of the evening, whenever anyone asked where the bathroom was, we replied, "Down the hall, and hang a right at Josh Hartnett."

While his performance as signpost earned him no major awards, it was definitely powerful. And effective.

Woke Up and Smell the Coffee by Courtney Mehlhaff

A couple weeks ago, I ventured out on a very blustery, snowy afternoon to meet a friend for coffee. He chose a small, independently owned shop near his house that I'd never been to before. 

I arrived first and approached the front counter, where a tall, not unhandsome graying gentleman stood sorting through some receipts. 

"Good afternoon, miss," he said without looking up, in a thick accent I couldn't quite place.

I said hello and was surveying the menu board when I noticed him give me another glance -- or, rather, a thorough once-over.

"Who are you? I've never seen you before."

The inquiry rode such a fine line between accusation and genuine curiosity that I couldn't help laughing. "Well, this is my first time here."

"Oh! Welcome!" He threw his arms wide, and it was clear that behind his demanding tone was simply an owner keeping tabs on his regular customers. He asked was I hungry, did I want a meal or a snack, would I please check out all their wonderful pastries (one recipe was his grandmother's), what could he get me to drink?

As he rushed efficiently to full my every request, the questions continued. How had I found the place? Where did I live? What were the roads like outside?

I replied that they weren't the worst I'd ever seen in a snowstorm, but they weren't fun.

"I just got back from Tennessee," he said.

"And how was the weather there?" I asked.

"Oh, you know, like heaven," he said. "But I don't think Tennessee is for me."

I agreed. I didn't know why he'd been there, so I didn't tell him that, as a general rule, I try to stay out of the Confederacy. "I don't think the heat is for me."

"Well, it's not just that . . . " His eyes lit for a second on the Black Lives Matter and All Are Welcome Here buttons pinned to my purse strap. He gave me a careful stare over the top of his reading glasses. "They're forty years behind down there."

Then he handed me a frothy mocha and a thick slice of banana bread, served with a side of truth.