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.

Glutton for Punishment by Courtney Mehlhaff

No good deed goes unpunished.

I was reminded of that phrase recently when thinking of a friend who noticed his neighbor's house was on fire and ran up their back steps to alert the residents of danger. In the process, he slipped on a patch of ice and broke his hand.

The phrase also flashed in my mind when I encountered what appeared to be a homeless man lounging in the stairwell of an event center as I left work. The walk to my parking garage took me past people like this on a semi-regular basis, and because there were several vending machines nearby, I often returned with something for them to eat or drink. Sometimes it was as simple as leaving a bottled water and a banana for a man curled up sleeping on a window ledge. But in this case, there was a conversation.

The guy in the event center took me up on my offer to get him a soda, and then began demanding that it be Sprite. And even though my first instinct was to think "Beggars can't be choosers," I also thought, "Well, sir, you're sprawled in a stairwell and wearing a full application of bright red lipstick, so you've definitely had a harder day than me. Like, you're really going through something here." So I told him I'd do my best to get him a Sprite.

Of course there was no Sprite in the vending machines. I can't remember what I got him instead, but it involved one machine breaking entirely and the other refusing my credit card swipe, and by the time I returned, the man was gone. So I took the soda home. And forgot it in the car. And because it was winter, it froze and exploded in my front seat.

No good deed.

But we keep doing them. Because the smallest acts of kindness accumulate; they keep the scales from tipping toward the negative. And sometimes they mean the world to just one person.

When I moved into my house a few months ago, I brought with me a sign that reads "Hate Has No Home Here" in several different languages. I hung it on my front door and hadn't given it much thought since.

A couple weeks ago, I ordered food from a delivery service, and when I opened the door to greet the driver, he didn't respond right away. I was puzzled until he said, in broken English, "I was just reading your sign."

He handed me my food and I thanked him, and still he stood for a few moments longer. Then he looked at me as if he were about to cry and said, "I really like your sign."

I said something like "Oh, I'm so glad," when what I wanted to do was just hug him. And I don't know if my sign balanced out the house down the street, whose cars are plastered with gigantic Trump decals. But I do know that even if this guy saw their message first, he saw mine, too.

Flipper Flopper by Courtney Mehlhaff

One of my sister's friends was telling her once how much she loves dolphins. She mentioned that she'd be going on vacation soon, and that one of her dreams was to swim with these playful creatures.

My sister, fresh off seeing a couple documentaries, warned her friend away from this activity. "Don't support those places. They mistreat the animals and sometimes have to give the poor things anti-anxiety meds because they're so stressed out."

Her friend considered this for a moment. Then she said, "Wow. That does not make me want to swim with dolphins . . ."

My sister breathed a premature sigh of relief.

". . . ANY LESS!"

Holy High Roller by Courtney Mehlhaff

My family and I attended church in my hometown this past Christmas Eve. Since the regular pastor had recently moved away, we had an interim pastor conducting the service. He was an older, no-nonsense fellow who gave the impression there wasn't much he hadn't seen.

When it came time for the children's sermon, a rather large group of kids gathered around him. Part of the sermon involved Bible story books, which the children in attendance would be receiving as gifts. 

However, partway through handing them out, the pastor realized he didn't have enough to go around. He did a quick headcount and seemed momentarily flustered. I wondered if he would incorporate this conundrum into his message somehow, perhaps as a lesson in sharing or generosity toward your neighbor.

"I'll tell you what," he finally said, matter-of-factly. "If you didn't get a book, see me afterward and I'll give you a buck."

Never has preaching been more practical.