Stories on Demand: Part Three by Courtney Mehlhaff

Submitted words: dilettante, Rastafarian, pissed, librarian, shell, confession, gangbanger, myrrh, bingo, luminous.

Harvey ran his hands over the words several times, just to make sure they were real. Cellar door. Did it qualify as vandalism if it contained no profanities and made no sense? He pictured the time it would have taken someone, lying in the dirt, to etch each letter into the stone. It certainly hadn’t been a group of slightly bored gangbangers who’d gotten pissed and decided to leave their mark with painstakingly tedious gravesite graffiti.

There had to be more. Pulling aside the small tufts of grass at the base of the headstone, he scanned each inch. Bingo. At the very edge was a small arrow pointing to the right.

He carefully surveyed everything in that direction. There was nothing. Not a tree, not another grave, not a suspicious clump of sod suggesting that something had been either deposited or removed. There was only the hill and the luminous reflection of a now-brutal midday sun off the town beyond.

He rocked back on his haunches, the stitches in his pants screaming. Was it a prank? A few furtive glances assured him that he was, as usual, alone, free to talk or weep or offer any manner of confession to the deceased without judgment. The wind seemed to quicken with his breath.

Harvey was not a learned man. He didn’t claim to be an expert in anything or even a dilettante. He had a set of skills that earned him a decent living, one of which was being able to follow directions. So the arrow seemed simple enough.

Sweat was pouring off his face by the time he coasted back into town. Once there, however, he found himself unsure where to begin. A search of cellar doors could take ages in a community established in the 18th century. After wheezing a few moments in a patch of shade, he decided there was only one place to go.

The librarian was a stout woman with a lisp who was all business.

“Thellar door, hmmm?”

She accepted the challenge as seriously and humbly as if he’d presented her with frankincense and myrrh instead of an apparently amorphous phrase that was potentially total bullshit.

“I’ll be right back.”

Harvey stretched his arms across the large table and waited, content to feel the cool wood through his damp shirtsleeves. Because he also put his head down, he didn’t see the tall Rastafarian approach. He heard only the soft clink of the man’s necklace, a colorful mix of beads and shells.


Stories on Demand: Part Two by Courtney Mehlhaff

Submitted words: catechumenate, apoplectic, joy, nefarious, hemorrhoid, cellar door, plethora, facetious, caterwaul, implied vulgarities.

Chiquita seemed like the perfect pet name for his late wife (as she was rather diminutive), but the general public understood that it was bestowed in the same spirit as calling a hefty man Slim. Although she may have been tiny, her temper was larger than life. Passionate and volatile, she was prone to dramatic outbursts and fits of apoplectic rage, one of which had proven quite literal and left Harvey a widower three years earlier.

There had been few attendees at her funeral, and no one had anything especially glowing to say. Even the priest officiating fought the urge to describe her as “eight feet of trouble in a five foot body,” and he’d known her since her catechumenate.

Harvey, for his part, found Chiquita exciting. He rode out her wild mood swings as others might ride a roller coaster – both hands in the air and screaming. He emerged from each encounter disheveled and perhaps a bit dizzy, but thrilled.

He assumed she took equal joy in their exchanges, though he never asked directly. She could unleash a plethora of insults at the slightest provocation. Rather than calling him a pain in the ass, she referred to him as a hemorrhoid that she simply could not get rid of. She often hurled this invective at him when they were running errands together in town. Believing her to be facetious, Harvey seemed oblivious to the stares.

Most people who knew her heaved a collective, albeit guilty, sigh of relief when this nefarious little woman went into the ground. The more immediate neighbors gave silent thanks for an end to the frequent late-night caterwauling. And Harvey, bereft of any dynamic influences, settled into a predictable life free of both implied vulgarities and companionship.

He visited her monthly, without fail. While others seemed more than willing to forget her, Harvey worked hard to remember. He found it comforting to see her name etched carefully into the headstone. “Beloved wife” proved that she had, in fact, walked next to him for a time; he liked to trace the words before leaving.

On this visit, however, his finger encountered a new pattern of grooves. Scratched faintly into the stone just below the dates, barely legible, were two words: "cellar door."


Stories on Demand: Part One by Courtney Mehlhaff

Submitted words: stalker, fantastic, omelet, Chiquita, sphygmomanometer, Branagh, strenuous, pompadour, luminescent, hypothetical.

When Harvey Branagh left his house that day, he had no idea that he would never return. Nothing about the morning’s events indicated that things would be any different than usual. 

He woke before his alarm, showered, shaved, fixed himself an omelet and ate it standing over the stove. Another person might have considered cooking in the nude a tad dangerous, but he was careful. It was eggs and vegetables, after all, not weld spatter. And if a neighborhood stalker wanted so badly to see his junk, he supposed he oughtn't disappoint.

He didn’t squeeze into his suit until the last possible minute. Although threadbare and a bit snug, it matched his shiny pompadour as woefully out of date. People passing him on the street couldn’t tell whether he was being ironic or simply behind the times, but he gave the impression that he thought he looked rather fantastic.

Well, there was something to be said for self-confidence.

You’d think that a large, impressively coiffed man the wrong side of 50 grinding up a hill on a 10-speed bike might draw some attention, but you’d be wrong. Passersby witnessing this strenuous effort were accustomed to the spectacle. It was the first of the month.

He was red-faced and huffing when he reached the top. To his eternal relief, the ground leveled just as he felt his heart would burst from his chest. He knew he was not the picture of health. His doctor, brandishing a sphygmomanometer, had recently informed him that he should be wary of exerting himself this way. Regular, low-impact exercise was the first step, he’d said. Start slow, he’d said. But he had to press on. He was late.

After another mile and a quarter, the cemetery slid into view. He wound down a narrow path, his tires slotting expertly into the grooves they'd worn in the grass.

Though the grounds were overgrown with weeds, there was one well-tended headstone in the northeast corner. The plastic flowers lent a splash of color by day, and the solar landscape lights bathed the plot in a soft, luminescent glow at night. He'd stayed till dark after he installed them, just to make sure.

Leaning his bike carefully against a nearby tree, Harvey paused to collect himself. Hypothetically, this should be getting easier, not harder. He pressed his palm onto the warm granite.

"Hello, Chiquita."


When TMI Happens to Good People by Courtney Mehlhaff

Today's word: overshare. We all know what this means -- someone tells us more than we ever wanted to know, and it's usually embarrassing for both us and them. Typically during an overshare, though you may be uncomfortable, you should probably keep nodding and smiling to avoid being impolite. But this requires ignoring the voice in your head that is just screaming, screaming, screaming, "Please, God, make it stop!"

I had the distinct displeasure of working with an oversharer when I lived in Japan. One of my fellow teachers, who was about my age (early 20s at the time) used to give me detailed updates about her "lady days." I don't know why.  I never asked or ventured to discuss my own. Maybe she was showing off her English skills.  Maybe she thought it would bring us closer. Maybe she'd been watching too much Sex and the City and assumed that's how all liberated American women talked to each other. 

Whatever her reasons, she decided early on that we would be gyno-buddies, and I never figured out how to dissuade her. And I couldn't really afford to offend her and lose someone who could converse in my language, even if those exchanges invariably included more information than I wanted about her womanly cycles.

But an overshare doesn't have to be verbal. Sometimes it's just visual. There are few things more entertaining or uncomfortable than people who read self-help books in public. A lady on my bus the other morning was earnestly devouring something like "When Things Fall Apart," and I simultaneously wanted to look hurriedly away and hug her. Because isn't reading that stuff openly just a big cry for help? Isn't it putting all your secret insecurities on display?

I guess what worries me is the regular riders on my route. There are several people I see every day (and have seen every day for the past three years) whose names I don't know. I might have an idea where they work and can guess at where they live judging by their stop, but otherwise, if I'm going to refer to them, I have to make something up. Usually my names are attached to something they always wear, or some celebrity they resemble, or a defining characteristic. Here are a few of my favorites:

Blue Hat Guy (self-explanatory), Land's End Guy (because he looks like a silver fox catalog model), Drunk Girl (not because she actually is drunk, but because that's how she sounds), Bad Mom (because she's consistently mean to her kids), Ewan McGregor (again, self-explanatory), Mini McDreamy (because he looks like Patrick Dempsey but about 3/4 his size).

So, if I'm in the habit of boiling people down to highly superficial caricatures, I can only imagine that others do this to me. Perhaps Yellow Coat Girl, or Sleepy McSleeperton. If I'm sitting there reading "I'm Okay, You're Okay," how long will it be before I'm Crazy Chick or Desperate Housewife or Fragile McGee?

Incidentally, here's a great game to play on the bus when you're bored.  It's called "If I Had To." Here's how it works. You wait until the bus is packed, and then you make note of all the men on board, and you decide who you would sleep with if you had to. If the person you picked exits, you have to have a backup. (Of course, you can never tell him he's your second choice, but a girl's gotta be prepared). Let me tell you, the pickins are slim some days. Land's End Guy starts to look pretty good after Mini McDreamy pulls that stop cord.

In any case, the visual overshare was painfully obvious to me last week, when I happened to look forward and there, over the shoulder of the girl in front of me, was an open spiral notebook with what appeared to be a heartfelt but anguished letter. To whom? I have no idea. Why you would write something like that on public transportation, I don't know either. But my eyes traveled over the phrase, "I don't claim to be a saint or even a good person. I don't feel like I've ever belonged anywhere or with anyone . . ."

Normally I'm not above surreptitious sneak-reading, but that little snippet was just too personal to invade. The devil on my shoulder whispered, "Go ahead, this is going to be juicy!" but the angel on my other shoulder stole his pitchfork and stabbed me in the neck with it till I turned my head in the opposite direction. Which is what effective angels need to do, sometimes, in the interest of avoiding the overshare.

52-Card Throwup by Courtney Mehlhaff

Today's word:  little slam.  Definition:  The winning of all tricks except one in bridge.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and assume that this refers to the card game.  And then I'm going to go even further out on that limb and admit that (please don't judge me) I hate cards.  Yes, that's right.  If I'm ever at your house and you suggest a rousing round of this activity, perhaps after we've consumed a lovely meal and are enjoying a glass or two of liquor, know that this sentence will strike a bit of panic in my heart: "Let's play cards."

Ooooh, yes, let's not and say we did.  It's not that I think card games are stupid. On the contrary, I believe there's a great deal of skill in playing them well.  Skill that I do not possess and have proven myself incapable of acquiring. I've been shown how to play poker and hearts and whist, you name it.  Nothing stuck.  When it comes to strategy and playing the odds and figuring out how much to wager and learning all the rules and all the hands ... well, I just don't get it.  My brain doesn't work like that.  I'm pretty much an idiot, and not in a Rain Man sort of way.  If it's not solitaire or spoons, forget it ... definitely, definitely forget it.

So cards, not so much.  But I'm all about board games.  Love 'em.  Anytime I can get a group of people together to shout out words or roll dice or draw pictures while an hourglass runs out, I'm a happy camper.  

This joy, of course, does not apply to the game "Sorry," which is just pure evil and designed to make you almost punch your best friend's husband, and "Monopoly," which lasts too long and frankly has never once ended well in my experience.  In gradeschool my sister and I finished a heated game by hurling the pieces at each other across the living room.  The houses and hotels I could take, but that little Scottie dog smarted.  Do not pass the emergency room, do not collect your copay.

My absolute favorite board game is one called, simply enough, "The Barbie Game."  I grew up playing with my mom's original set, circa 1960.  It's based on the doll, and it goes thusly:  You have four main requirements.  You must earn money, buy a dress, become a member of a school club, get a boyfriend and go steady, and finally, the ultimate goal ... become queen of the prom.

I'm guessing that this embodied the pinnacle of what your average girl thought she could strive for in 1960, so I'm not knocking it.  There was some strategy involved.  For example, don't blow all your money on the Solo in the Spotlight dress.  You can get by well enough with a cheaper one and be on your way to the malt shoppe quicker.  Also, you definitlely want to date Ken.  He's the hottest of the four boyfriends.  Tom has a Clark Kent quality about him that's mildly appealing, and Bob will do in a pinch, but you don't want to end up at the dance on Poindexter's arm.  No, that simply won't do.

Two years ago on Christmas Eve, my sister's friend Tyler came over (as he does every year, since his family is Buddhist and doesn't care that he's getting his Santa fix).  As we always do, we drank heavily and ate all manner of sweets and played a game.  We chose "The Barbie Game," largely because my dad was pouring us shots called Grandpa is Alive, I think. 

Tyler was a good sport about it.  But he apparently felt so emasculated that he found it necessary to pretend not that he was a high school girl purchasing a dress, but a pimp, buying up women and blinging them out.  This seemed to work for him, and I thought it was probably an aptly updated version.

As I recall, his strategy worked, and he did indeed become Queen of the Prom.  Or, in his case, King of the Playa's Ball, depending on how you look at it.  In a way, he achieved a kind of "little slam," winning all tricks except two -- my sister and I, who were left with only our memberships in the Scholarship Club and the Music Club, doomed to pursue terribly boring lives in academia rather than cherishing a tiara. 

But I didn't care. I had Ken.  And not only were we going steady, but I had mom's car and an extra ten bucks.  Screw you, Solo in the Spotlight.  You wouldn't have made it past first base anyway.

Nocturnal Admissions by Courtney Mehlhaff

Today's word: dreamcheater.  Definition: I don't think this is actually a word, but it should be.  One who engages in imaginary romantic affairs in their sleep, despite being attached in their waking life.

OK, so halfway through today I remembered that I had a great dream last night about George Clooney.  I love it when I don't recall things like this until mid-morning.  It's like Christmas.  Only instead of a crappy holiday sweater, I got to unwrap God's gift to women.

Unfortunately, it wasn't a steamy dream.  Here's the scenario:  I was outdoors, I saw his adorable little dog running wild, and I snagged it off the sidewalk so I could return it to him.  I'm pretty sure this was premeditated; although I am a dog lover, I loves me some Clooney even more.  Anyway, I then got to lounge around on his couch with him while he thanked me and flirted with me.  Dammit, even in my dreams I'm not easy!

You know, I have a happily married friend who dreamcheats all the time.  It's unbelievable.  And it's not even with movie stars or made-up men .. it's with actual boyfriends from her past.  I'm not passing judgment.  As long as these guys confine themselves to REM, more power to her.  I'm just disappointed that, as a single girl, I rarely take the opportunity to get freaky even when I'm asleep.

Of course, my dreams are freaky in all sorts of other ways.  I dream every night, without exception, vividly.  I may not always remember every moment, but I never wake up without having undergone what felt like hours and hours of either an adventure or an ordeal.  I dream in color.  I have recurring dreams.  I can still remember ridiculous dreams I had as a kid.  And though I'm 31 years old, I cannot seem to dream about any house other than the one I grew up in.

Sometimes I have nightmares.  But this, I think, you'd have to expect.  Take the bad with the good.  If I get to occasionally wake up actually laughing, I have to pay my dues by jolting awake short of breath, my heart pounding through my shirt.  My nightmares typically revolve around being chased, and wouldn't you know it, I can never run at a normal speed, because my legs feel like they each weigh 200 lbs.  I'm just glad I don't have my mom's recurring nightmare of being in someone's house, though you know you're not supposed to be, and hearing them come home.  Shudder.

So what do they mean?  Beats me.  I don't think that subconsciously I'm trying to run from a haunting past or that my mom is secretly a cat burglar . . . although she does own a suspiciously large amount of silver and ski masks.  I'm not sure there's too much value in deciphering the junk our minds spit up and play around with at night. But it sure can be amusing.  Here's one of the funniest dreams I've ever had (I've never been able to tell this story in person without crying laughing, so I hope typing it goes better.)

Sidenote:  I had this dream while living in Japan, and you'll understand the references soon enough.  It occurred about five hours after having a horrifyingly slimy and gelatinous meal with all the teachers at my school, and about a week after watching "Jurassic Park" on English TV.

The dream:  I'm in a shopping center, and Godzilla is attacking the city. (I'm not making this up.)  Everybody is screaming, and I head out of the mall to run for my life, but not before pausing to convince two teenage boys to stop looting an electronics store and run for their lives.  I burst out into the street and look up, and there's Godzilla, looking suspiciously like the T-Rex from Spielberg's movie.  And then, right in the middle of all the chaos, he sweeps his head down low over the hordes of shrieking people, and he growls very loudly and slowly, "Motherfuckers!"

I don't know what's funnier -- that he can talk at all, or that it came out like a roar, or that of all things, that expletive most perfectly expresses his feelings at that exact moment.  Whatever it was, this dream was similar to my dream last night, in that I didn't remember it until halfway through the next afternoon.  Everyone looked at me funny when I started crying while laughing in the teachers' room at school (for no apparent reason), but then again, they looked at me funny most of the time.

Isn't it crazy how dreams, or just the sense of them, can stay with you?  Sometimes you get up and go to work and just feel weird all day.  It's even worse when you've dreamed about someone from work.  And it's downright awkward if you've had a sex dream about them.  It's also strange to still be mad at someone for something they did in a dream. My sister once couldn't talk to me for two days because I'd done something unforgivable in her subconscious ... completely made up and entirely untrue, but unforgivable.

But we can't help it, can we.  They seem real, our feelings are real.  We have no control over what pops out when we shut our eyes. If we did, I'd be flying all night every night.  With a layover at George's house. Pun intended.

Dance Party Us by Courtney Mehlhaff

Today's word:  lazy.  Definition: me.

I didn't actually look this one up, since ... well, I'm lazy.  Not all the time, but in select moments, shockingly so.  For instance, about two minutes ago I was lying here on the couch, and something caught the corner of my eye, and I looked up to see a gigantic spider scurrying down the wall, just as fast as its eight enormous legs could carry it.

And I did nothing.  Granted, I am lying on a heating pad, having done something inexplicable and annoyingly painful to my hip, and killing this thing would have required cat-like reflexes that I simply do not possess at the moment. But it unnerves me a bit that not even the threat of that same brazen arachnid scurrying over my bare feet within the hour could induce me to get up.

Because that's what they will do, surely.  It is our greatest fear.  Those creepy creatures that inhabit our homes always -- yet are only sporadically driven into the light, much to their embarrassment and our horror -- harbor a secret desire to do only one thing:  crawl on us.  Their secret agenda is to dance across our skin, preferably in the middle of the night, when we cannot feel their multiple feet tap-tap-tapping away, like a little Fred Astaire with an exoskeleton.

Otherwise, why would we be so scared of them?

There's nothing worse than attempting to kill a bug and failing.  This means that, not only is it still lurking somewhere in your bedroom, but it saw your face as you tried to squish it.  And now it's pissed.  This is why I'm a fan of sprays rather than shoes as weapons of death.  You can't really "miss" with a spray. Plus, you don't have to hear anything crunch.  As an added bonus, nothing escapes the tissue and scurries across your hand as you screech like a schoolgirl.

Which I have done, despite psyching myself up and trash-talking whatever's hanging on my wall. I don't know why I turn these encounters into a battle royale, as if I'm playing out a confrontation foretold in an ancient legend.  I half expect whatever it is to turn to me with a steely glare and growl, "It's a good day to die."

Sometimes, with spiders, I live and let live, depending on their proximity to my pillow.  There are moments when I hope they will cry out "Salutations!" and spin a delightful web with the words "Some Pig" in it.  I should stop doing this, assigning insects human traits. It would make flushing their bodies so much easier.

Centipedes are another story.  I am literally distraught if I miss one of those bastards.  Cockroaches?  That's a whole other blog and likely a lifetime of psychological counseling.

For now, I'm going to pretend that I never saw that spider.  I'm going to let it go.  And against all my better instincts, I'm going to assume that I will not wake up at 3 a.m. with tiny dance cards strewn about my sheets.


Turning Trix by Courtney Mehlhaff

Today's word: mediatrix.  Definition: A woman who is a mediator.

I've never thought about this before, but I'm guessing that the suffix "trix" can only be added to words that end in "tor."  As in "dominatrix" is a female "dominator," and "terminatrix" is a female "terminator."  This is a shame, really, since adding "trix" makes everything sound so much more badass.

For example, if I told you we were going to resolve our differences with the aid of a mediator, you would think, "Okay, fine. A calm, unbiased third party will help us gain perspective."  But if I told you our session was being conducted by a mediatrix, you might assume there would be whips and chains involved.

Because of course "trix" has gained the scandalous reputation as being associated with sado-masochistic sexual appetites and conjures images of a leather-clad seductress in stilettos spanking a submissive.  At least it does for those of us who had cable growing up.

I think it would be interesting to combine mediatrix and dominatrix as a profession, and to send this woman in to broker the vote on healthcare.  I'm willing to bet we get an acceptable resolution much faster if the threat of being hog-tied and doused with hot wax looms large over the senate chambers. Would "death panel" be a good safeword? Then again, we are talking about Washington, which seems to be a veritable breeding ground for disturbing nocturnal extracurriculars, so maybe this effort would backfire.

I once heard the phrase "With great power comes great libido," and I wonder if that's true.  It seems to be.  It does appear that the "L" in "election" immediately transforms into an "R" the minute the polls close.  But I also wonder if we would be equally shocked, if not more so, to learn what our neighbors do behind closed doors. 

Not that I intend to pry.  I really do think I'm better off not knowing -- ignorance is bliss when it comes to learning embarrassing secrets about people you need to talk to every day.  I will probably have a difficult time interacting with you if I automatically picture you in lacy underwear. Especially if you're a dude.  That's a keep-it-to-yourselfer.

Here's another example.  When I was in college, my friends and I lived on the top floor of our dorm, and the antennas on the roof often interfered with any electronic equipment.  Stereos, computers, you name it. They sometimes went on the fritz.  For a few days, this phenomenon affected my friend's cordless phone, and she could pick up other people's conversations.

One night, she happened upon two people who were ... how shall I put it ... enjoying each other verbally.  Toward the "end" of the conversation, (let's call it the climax, for lack of a better word) the man took it upon himself to call out the woman's name.  Her FULL name.

a.  Who does that?

b.  Why did it have to be someone I knew?

c.  Why did I have to sit next to her in Biology 110?

These are all valid questions, I think.  Suffice it to say that I found it hard to share notes without inquiring if it was good for her.  Maybe we could have been lab partners with the help of a mediatrix.

Judy, Judy, Judy by Courtney Mehlhaff

Today's word: oreodont.  Definition: Any of various extinct sheep-sized ruminant artiodactyls of the family Merycoidodontidae, widespread during part of the Tertiary in North America.

Cross-referenced sub-definition for those of us who understood nothing after sheep-sized:  artiodactyl means a hoofed mammal that has an even number of toes on each foot.

I'm was trying not to get hung up on the "oreo" part of this word, since I dwelled on doughnuts in my last post, but I've really been on a kick lately with "milk's favorite cookie."  Oreos hold a special place in my heart, largely because I spent every Saturday morning as a kid with a huge stack of them, a cold glass of milk, and Muppet Babies on TV.  

I'm a bit of an Oreo purist -- I don't do double stuff or mint or peanut butter or golden or whatever the hell else they have out on the market these days.  I like 'em simple and I like 'em a little soggy, and I especially like 'em in ice cream.  Every time I go to Dairy Queen, I intend to try something new, and inevitably I walk out with an Oreo Blizzard.  If I could have one of those and a mocha frappuccino every day, I'd be in heaven. I'd be 400 lbs. and broke, but I'd be in heaven.

So there's the first part of "oreodont," but I should probably address what it means.  I don't know much about sheep, other than I've heard they're super dumb and just will not stop screaming, despite rigorous analysis by institutionalized cannibalistic psychopaths.

But my first memory is actually of a sheep, a stuffed lamb that someone gave to my sister when she was born.  It might have been the fact that she was ill that cemented this memory in my head, because I also remember the little oxygen tent and standing on our driveway when my dad came home from the hospital.  Is 2 years 11 months too young to have a memory?  

In any case, getting a sister seems like as good a time as any to start remembering things, although I don't recall walking into her room while she was sleeping and flipping on the light in protest.  Evidently I was quite the little shit those first few months. Apparently I told my mother I was going to lock myself in my bedroom until I got a brother.  I would still be there.

The story my family and friends love to tell about me, and the one I will share with you now, involves me wanting, and I quote, "a little black baby named Judy."  I don't know where I got this idea, but according to my parents, when anyone asked them what our new family addition was going to be, I responded with this phrase. This declaration must have seemed perfectly reasonable to me, and I proclaimed it joyfully to whoever would listen.  (I talked early and coherently ... and I talked a lot. I'm quite sure I'm getting several motormouthed offspring in retribution.)

But alas, when delivery day arrived, out popped yet another white kid of German-Russian heritage, to be named not Judy but Meghan and who would never sprout an afro.  I, on the other hand, would rock the 'fro from second grade until seventh, courtesy of bad perms.

I'm not sure this dream of mine has completely died, however, since I've always wanted to adopt children and would be delighted if they were of a different ethnicity.  And I'm not alone.  I was recently talking with a friend about how beautiful multi-racial kids are, and she confessed that she's always wanted an African-American baby ... with apologies to her husband, who is as white as she is. Since they plan to conceive the old-fashioned way, I asked her husband what he planned to do about that.  His reply: "Work late?"

I don't think my dad spent too many neglectful nights at the office, judging by the fact that my sister looks just like him, and I look just like my mom.  My sister and I look nothing like each other, and though I've always been curious about how it would feel to be instantly recognizable as siblings, I've never truly lamented the fact that we each have our separate identities. (I've also never held a grudge against her skin color, which would have been an instant conversation-starter for awhile there.)

In the end, what binds us together isn't eye color or bone structure -- it's knowing someone who's known you since the beginning, the person you made your first memories with. Mine started with a lamb.

You Blinded Me With Pastry by Courtney Mehlhaff

Today's word: tokamak.  Definition: A doughnut-shaped chamber used in fusion research in which a plasma is heated and confined by magnetic fields.

Okay, you had me briefly at "doughnut," and then you lost me.

I'm the first to admit that science is not my strong suit.  My strengths lie in the verbal region, not so much in the quantum physics area ... or maybe even basic chemistry.  Wouldn't know, never took it.  Avoided physics like the plague.  I can't read a periodic table for shit, but I can knock you out a quality limerick in about five minutes:

There once was a girl with a blog

Who kept her kind readers agog

With quick random thoughts

Some not quite for tots

Her daily life became a log

There you go.  Is this a useful talent?  Probably not.  I'm not going to discover a cure for cancer via wordsmithing, and I haven't yet been able to turn these skills into anything remotely marketable or profitable. 

Maybe I should have concentrated on the sciences in school.  I did enjoy biology, but that was largely because my high school teacher showed us controversial videos and conducted a class urine lab, before which my friend Josh's sample leaked in his shirt pocket. And also because my friend Rachel danced her fetal pig across the table for me just before we dissected it.  Good times.

In college, I took the bare minimum science requirement, putting it off until spring semester of my senior year.  In fact, I ended up taking it with my sister, who's two years younger.  Just before our final exam, she tried to persuade me to put in a long study session with her.  I chalked this up to sophomore zeal and, suffering from a terrible case of senioritis, did the one rebellious thing of my liberal arts career and blew off preparing for it. 

The next day, as I paged through nine terrifying pages of test, realizing that I knew almost none of the answers, I glanced over to find a tiny smile on my sibling's face as she breezed through it. She aced it -- I passed.

Despite those two hours of panic, I don't necessarily regret that decision.  Honestly, if I had college to do over again, I would have blown off more study sessions and had a bit more fun.  As it was, I worked my ass off for four years, and none of it was easy.  Well, except for "Shakespeare: The Movie," which was perhaps the greatest class ever invented.

But you have to go with your strengths, right?  I mean, I'm reasonably intelligent and have a pretty decent memory, so I'm fairly confident that I could have prepared for a completely different career path and been at least competent in my field. Case in point:  I'm not good at math, but I pulled straight A's in high school simply because I went in 45 minutes early every morning and got help from Mr. Smart ... who was, indeed, very smart, although Mr. Patient might have described him better.

Would every day be torture if you weren't doing what came naturally to you?  Maybe.  But it might be the kind of torture that comes with a much higher salary, and that would make up for some of the pain.  Don't get me wrong -- nobody is more surprised than me that I can actually make a living with an English degree.  Excerpt from every career conversation I had during college:

Small-minded person:  "What are you majoring in?"

Me:  "English.  With minors in history and religion."

Small-minded person:  "What are you going to do with that?"

Me:  "Correct your grammar, remind you that all this stuff has happened before, and debate whether there's anyone up there who actually cares."

(Sidenote:  I never correct people's grammar.  I find it insulting and pretentious.  Just so you know.)

So I guess we take the talents we're given, even if they seem as minuscule as fixing misplaced modifiers and run-on sentences, and we run with them, and hopefully spin them into something we can stand to do for 8 hours a day and sometimes beyond. We all have our little niche. Some of us are ridiculously amused by misspelled words, and others geek out over doughnut-shaped tokamaks.  But we shouldn't try to pretend we're something that we're not.

Mmmmm ..... doughnuts.

Deep Woods On by Courtney Mehlhaff

Today's word: mosquito.  Definition: If you don't know what a mosquito is, please visit Minnesota in July for a complete and painful education.

I have to go on record here by saying that, luckily, I am one of those people who don't attract these little buggers in droves (much like single straight men as well, evidently). In fact, I just read an article that was devoted entirely to the study of why mosquitoes are attracted to some people and not others.  It might be chemicals, or hormones, or pheromones, but some of us can gallop through a field at dusk and come away with just a few nibbles, while others can wave an arm out the car window and pull it back covered in red welts.  My dad is the latter.

If my dad even thinks of venturing outside in prime mosquito season, I'm convinced that's the signal for the half-dozen rogue insect agents who have been hiding inside the house to attack him.  Nothing works to keep them at bay, but he has found a product that eases the irritation following the assault.  It's a skinny white tube called Skeeter Stick.

I don't know what's in this magical medical wand, but whatever it is, it's strong enough to nearly knock out a full-grown poodle when sniffed.  How do I know this?  I plead the fifth.  And before you cry animal cruelty, you should know that that dog suffered no long-term ill effects and lived to be 17.

So my father spends the better part of the summer girding his loins and every other part of his body against creatures whose only purpose in life is to feed on human blood.  You know what else does that?  Vampires.  

And yet, somehow we don't romanticize mosquitoes in the quite the same way.  I have yet to pick up a series of teen novels that feature handsome, brooding, misunderstood mosquitoes who are hopelessly attracted to the lonely, edgy girl in school and can't help embroiling her in the mayhem of evil ticks and fleas.

I really don't get this vampire obsession that has sprung up in the last year or so.  Sure, it's sexy to fall under the spell of someone irresistible who wants nothing more than to devour your neck . . . as long as they don't also intend to drain you of life-sustaining fluids and transform you into the undead.  Leave a hickey if you must -- I can fix that with a turtleneck.  But nothing they sell at Old Navy will cover up an eternity of insatiable thirst for human blood.  

Maybe I'm simply too old to swoon over the delicious danger of cavorting with parasites, even if they do look like Robert Pattinson.  But I guess if Hollywood can romanticize vampires, it could probably work similar magic with West Nile.

Eight is Enough by Courtney Mehlhaff

Apologies. The last two weeks have had me working overtime at the job that actually pays my bills, and I haven't had enough mental energy left at the end of the day to post.  What's that?  Yes, I think I would like some cheese with my whine.  Here we go.

Today's word: octosyllable.  Definition: A word of eight syllables.

First thought: Isn't it odd that the word octosyllable only has five syllables? 

Second thought: How many words out there really do have eight syllables?

Like any person today with a healthy amount of curiosity, I naturally pulled up my search engine and typed in "eight syllable words."  Here are some that I found:  unconstitutionality, electronegativity, (you can keep on counting them on your fingers, I know you're doing it) unidirectionality, autosuggestibility.  I'm not sure whether these are actual words, although they seem legitimate enough.  I would have opened yet another tab to check, but I was stopped by the following suggestion to the eight-syllable question on Yahoo Answers.  

Yes, Yahoo Answers, that bastion of intellectualism (in-tel-lect...damn, only seven) that beckons to the desperate and downtrodden.  This was an "answer" (we didn't say they would all be right, now did we) posted by someone:  antidisestablishmentarianism.

Now, I don't know if I should be comforted by the fact that this "answer" (I have to keep using quotes, because the term is so loose) received zero votes on the site, presumably of confidence in the future of mankind, or if I should be even more disturbed by the fact that someone out there either doesn't know what a syllable is or mysteriously has twelve fingers on which to count them.

But really, shouldn't we expect to receive some ludicrous responses when we essentially ask thousands of complete strangers to weigh in on our issues? You'd have to imagine you'd get a cross-section of the population, which includes morons, dimwits, and your general idiots. 

We don't do this in real life.  When I have a question or a problem, I don't think to myself, "Who's the dumbest person I know?  Let's get that perspective.  Yeah."  No, I go to someone with either expertise in the subject or life experience, someone whose opinions I respect or whose views are valuable. This is not to say you might not find a similar guru on Yahoo Answers ... but the law of averages says that most of the really quality minds are busy elsewhere.

Unless, of course, your question is potentially embarrassing, in which case, the Internet would seem to be the greatest invention ever.  One of my friends recently told me that there's nothing sadder than going into Google, typing in "can you" and seeing what autopopulates to finish the question.  Go ahead, do it.  It's an interesting window into what's foremost on the minds of America's youth. 

If you're not up to it, let me summarize by saying that there are countless young girls out there who are unnecessarily confused by all the ways in which a person can and cannot become pregnant.  I couldn't help but be reminded of a conversation I overheard on the bus about six months ago between two girls.  I'd estimate their ages at about 16.  It was slightly dramatic and vulgar, and the end went like this:

Girl #1:  "I ain't worried bout gettin' pregnant, cause I'm on the pill."

Girl #2:  "Girl, the pill don't keep you from gettin' pregnant.  It just kill yo baby."

I don't know what was said after that, because my ears were bleeding from the sheer ignorance.  I was engaged in an internal debate about whether to turn and correct them when I almost missed my stop.  At the time, I wasn't sure it was my place to intervene.  But in light of the internet question forum phenomenon, which dictates rightness by popular opinion, maybe I should have.  Perhaps we've been leaving them to Yahoo Answers for too long.

Witchy Woman by Courtney Mehlhaff

Today's word: water witch.  Definition: One who claims to be able to find water by means of a divining rod; a dowser.

I thought this word was super appropriate this afternoon, since it was raining when I got off the bus.  I felt my mood go from "You know, work was pretty good today . . ." to "Motherf*#king rain!"  This reaction wasn't because it feels like all it's done this fall is piss down water, and it's not because I feel like we got cheated out of autumn leaves, when it's my favorite season.  It's because, for lack of a better term, I think I could rightly be called a water witch.  

Meaning, in an altered definition, that as soon as I get rained on, I become ill-tempered and slightly hostile.  There are very few things I hate more than being wet and clothed.  Aside from just feeling generally icky, my wavy hair responds schitzophrenically to moisture and it's difficult to navigate through raindrop-splattered glasses.  One of the most miserable two hours of my life was the morning I got caught in the rain at the Twin Cities Marathon, waiting for my sister's shitty boyfriend to run by and cursing, cursing, cursing myself for being too much of an idiot to bring an umbrella. Completely my fault, of course, I'm not saying otherwise.  I only wish she'd broken up with him before the race and not four months after.

I'm typically a good sport about most things.  I go places and do things I'm not super jazzed about, I eat places that are "meh," I rally from being dog tired, all because the people I'm with want to do stuff.  I hope my friends would say that I'm not a complainer.  But the only times you'll probably encounter a rather grumpy version of me is when I'm wet.

Or cold.  For as much as I'm cat-like in a downpour, I'm almost reptilian in my inability to regulate my body temperature.  One of my friends once told me, "We could wrap you in a buffalo-skin robe and set it on fire and you'd still be cold."  It's true.  I'm a shiver bunny.  My family claims that I was never this much of a wuss until I spent a very long winter in a bone-chilling 34-degree house in Japan. All I know is, if it's below freezing and you've planned an outdoor activity, count me out.  I went to the winter carnival about six years ago.  It was 15 degrees outside. As I watched the deliriously happy ice skaters, I could barely restrain myself from yelling, "What's wrong with you people!?"

It's not that I don't admire the hardy Minnesotans that surround me on all sides.  I do.  And it's not that I don't like snow.  I do.  But I like snow when it's outside and I'm inside, warm and toasty with my free heat, drinking a hot chocolate, curled up in a blanket with a book.

When people ask me which I would rather be, too hot or too cold, I always choose hot.  Because although I sometimes feel angry and a bit crazy when it's sweltering, when I'm cold, I lose all hope that I will ever, ever be warm again. (By the way, have you ever noticed how much people swear when it's freezing? You rarely yell "Dammit, it's hot!" But walk outside in the middle ofFebruary and I dare you not to shout "F*#k it's cold!")

So evidently we've established that I have about a 10-degeee window of physical comfort. Maybe that makes me a snow witch in addition to a water witch.  Or maybe an ice queen.  If you want to bestow frigid royalty on me, I'll take it.  Just don't make me live at the ice palace.

Personal Problems by Courtney Mehlhaff

Today's word: personally.  Definition: 4) In a personal manner, took it personally.

I'm inclined to think people take themselves a little too seriously these days.  Maybe it's because the world is becoming increasingly bent around our individual convenience, and technology is designed to "belong" to us in increasingly smaller and more responsive forms.  Maybe it's because everything sleek and cool now starts with "i."  Or maybe it's because everyone has more of a voice online and can create exactly the life they want to present virtually -- Facebook profiles that are all about "me," Twitter updates every four seconds detailing the most inane snippets of daily life, blogs where anybody can write whatever's knocking around in their head and send it out for public consumption.

Author's note:  Yes, I realize I just lambasted the medium I'm currently typing in.  I can't deny it, and I can't even say that this blog is an exception, because that would be taking myself a bit seriously, wouldn't it?

But I think it's this warped sense of self-importance or entitlement that causes people to take ridiculous things too personally.  In the interest of full disclosure, here are two ridiculous things I take personally.

1.  Traffic.  Well, not traffic in general.  I don't assume that the universe is out to make me late to an appointment or that the road construction is some kind of punishment from God (although it feels like it sometimes).  It's not these larger concepts I'm concerned with; what I take personally is mano y mano ... when someone cuts me off or honks at me.  Irrationally, I assume that this person has somehow singled me out to pick on me, and that from that moment, we'll be engaged in a not-so-friendly give and take of vehicular tag.  

Of course, I don't act on this thought, partly because I think road rage is unbecoming, but mostly because I have no desire to get shot.  I remember that, in reality, that person has already moved on (literally and figuratively), and beyond being momentarily annoyed with something that may not have even been my fault, they will not be stewing over the incident ten seconds from now.  This doesn't apply to the time someone roared past me and gave me the finger out their window the ENTIRE length of the Mendota bridge, but I had just moved to the city from a town with three stoplights, so they probably had a valid point.

2.  Movies.  If anyone knows me even remotely, they probably know that I love movies.  I don't mean in a common, casual, "Oh, yeah, I think I saw that one" way, because if you can't remember it, there is either something wrong with you, or you weren't in the theater.  I'm not saying my attention to storyline and detail makes me a better person, I'm just saying that for me, movies do exactly what they're suposed to do: transport you to a world of their creation.  

So in my mind, movie viewing is serious.  It takes some effort (and silence) to stay engaged.  Therefore, it absolutely blows my mind when people talk during a film.  I don't care if you're in a theater or sitting at home with the latest from your Netflix queue ... if you have a comment or thought, keep it to yourself.  We're all still going to be here when the credits roll and discussion time begins. IMDB will be available to answer your burning questions about the last place you saw that actress. If you think the movie's too long or too boring or too stupid, maybe just leave.  But don't sit there and complain, ruining it for the rest of us. To me, that is the height of rudeness, and few things you do will tick me off more.

Naturally, those rules don't apply if we're watching something silly that we've mutually agreed to trash all the way through.  Oh, you didn't know the rules?  That's because they're crazy, just like all the things we get worked up over when we're taking things too personally.  I'm as guilty of it as anyone.

The problem with taking things too seriously is that by doing so, we're assuming the universe gives a flying rip about our personal issues, which seem enormous to us but are rather infinitesimal on a cosmic scale.  None of the things that happen to us are truly earth-shattering -- very few are even ironic, despite what Alanis Morissette would have you think.  (Rain on your wedding day?  Coincidence.  Rain on your wedding day when you're marrying a meterologist who predicted 75 and sunny?  Ironic.)

So next time I'm getting a horn blast on the interstate or resisting the urge to shhhhsh someone at AMC 14, I'm going to give that person, and the cosmos, the benefit of the doubt.  Most likely, neither of them intend anything malicious.  I guarantee they're not giving me even a fraction of the attention I'm giving myself.

Beelzebud by Courtney Mehlhaff

Today's word: devil's advocate.  Definition: One who argues against a cause or position simply for the sake of argument or to determine the validity of the cause or position.

Is there anything more annoying than people who find it necessary to constantly play devil's advocate?  I'm not talking about those who interject in a helpful, well-meaning, "Hey, but think about this ..." kind of way.  I'm referring to the people who are compelled to just be contrary, no matter what the subject is -- the people who might secretly agree wholeheartedly with whatever is being said, but who would never in a million years admit it.  

Why not?  Who knows.  Maybe they don't like the person who came up with the idea.  Maybe they need to appear smarter or more worldly than everyone else.  Maybe they automatically resist anything mainstream. Or maybe their underwear's too tight.  I'm not a mind reader; all I know is it drives me crazy.

And yet, I have to admit, there have been one or two people in my life who have unintentionally brought out this quality in me.  For whatever reason, I felt compelled to disagree with almost everything they said.  I knew I was doing it, but I couldn't help myself.  Call it passive-agressive if you must.  I grew up South Dakota Lutheran, we practically took lessons in it.

However, I'm generally a very agreeable person.  I'm even-keeled, I'm pleasant, I'm empathetic, and there are shockingly few things that I have strong enough opinions about to dive into arguments that would lose me friends.  Sometimes I think I'm even too "live and let live, to each his own."  My dad once said to me, in all seriousness, "I hate to break this to you, but you're what many would consider a liberal."  If by that I'm labeled as someone who recognizes that everybody's just trying to get through this world the best they know how, then I suppose that's true.

Almost more than any other quality, moodiness really bothers me.  I don't like not knowing what I'm going to get every time I see someone.  Because then I have to adjust my life to accommodate their mood, and I don't think it's fair to make everyone around you suffer because you're angry or tired or insecure or whatever. I'm not saying people have to be all sunshine and puppies all the time, but I could do my best to help you out if you'd just give me a heads up about what's really going on.

What bothers me is that, when I played devil's advocate with people in the past, I was becoming the thing that I hate ... and I hate that. Don't they say that the qualities that trouble us in others are really our worst qualities, the ones we aren't willing to admit we possess?  Is that what makes it so easy for us to recognize them in others?

I guess, in the grand scheme of things, being slightly grumpy and disagreeable isn't the worst thing I could have done.  I mean, I wasn't really advocating for the devil.  Come to think about it, that's probably one of the few issues that I would feel strongly enough about to make or break a friendship.  

Because if someone actually came up to me and said, "Have you heard all the wonderful things about Satan?" ... well, I would still be an agreeable person.  But I would be an agreeable person running like hell in the opposite direction.

Bamboozled by Courtney Mehlhaff

Today's word: offset.  Definition: There are more than you'd think, but I'm going with 5) Botany  A shoot that develops laterally at the base of a plant, often rooting to form a new plant.

The first thing this definition brought to mind was my ailing curly bamboo plant, which I've had for the last six years and, after thriving unbelievably for all that time, has now begun to wither.  The leaf tips are steadily browning, and it hasn't grown any new shoots, and I have no idea what to do about that.

I've grown quite attached to this plant, not just because it looks super cool, and not just because I bought it right before I moved to the Twin Cities on my own, but because it's the only plant I've ever been able to keep alive. I think the reason for this success is the fact that bamboo requires two main things:  keep it out of direct sunlight, and don't over-water it.  Oh, and you only need to water it about once a month.  That's a very big plus in my book, since I tend to forget to water greenery and only notice it when the leaves start dropping off.

(Case in point:  one of my coworkers went on furlough for a month and left me a note asking me to water his plants.  I put this note directly above my computer screen so I would see it every single day.  I finally gave those plants a drink eight days before he returned. They are still alive, but they all have PTSD.)

This inattentivness used to bother me a bit.  After all, it doesn't reflect well on my abilities as a caregiver for my as-yet-imaginary future children. I mean, I had an obligation toward another living organism that involved grabbing a glass, going to the tap, walking ten steps to the table, and pouring liquid on it, and I failed to do these four very simple steps on a consistent enough basis to meet that organism's basic needs.  But to those who would declare "Irresponsible!"  I say this:  Plants don't cry.

But what if they did?  And what if they cried all the time, for reasons unbeknownst to us?  Would we put up with a constantly weeping begonia?  Or what if they could express other emotions, and we were forced to live with calla lilies that laughed hysterically, or hostas that shouted obscenities?

I'm not saying it's logical, people.  I'm just saying think about it.

One of my favorite "Deep Thoughts" from Saturday Night Live goes something like this:  "If trees could scream, would we be so cavalier about cutting them down?  Maybe, if they screamed all the time, and for no apparent reason."

Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately, if you somehow ended up with a manic depressive African violet) plants do not cry, and I am reassured by this in relation to my parenting skills.  To be fair, you cannot forget to feed a kid for 20 days without hearing at least a small grumble.  I don't want to deter any intelligent single men who may just be my as-yet-imaginary future husband by revealing this personal fault.  So I will say that I'm reasonably certain I could make a pretty serious commitment to providing regular sustenance for our child. I find a good deal of comfort in that, and I hope they do, too.

Because I will probably want a partner in crime, so to speak, in order to acquire that imaginary future child.  Unlike plants, I can't just produce an offset that roots in next to me and magically springs upward out of the soil, ready to rock and roll.  But what if I could?


Think about it.

Fowl Play by Courtney Mehlhaff

Today's word (and I'm not making this up): bushtit.  Definition: Either of two small long-tailed birds of western North America having predominantly gray plumage.

So, besides the fact that this poor bird has been harnessed with a spectacularly embarrassing name, what else can I say?  Well, I guess nobody ever thought Barack Hussein Obama could be president with his moniker, either, so there's hope for the bushtit yet.

Interestingly enough, I had a chat about birds on the way home from the bus with my friend and fellow apartment building dweller Greg.  We live very close to a nursing home complex that features a pond, where you can find 20-30 ducks on any given day in the fall.  I told him that last week I walked out the front door to find about 15 enormous Canada geese blocking my path, which freaked me out.  As they stared me down, I momentarily thought there was a waterfowl rumble scheduled that I wasn't aware of.  And I knew, instinctively, that if they decided to rush me I was going down in a hail of feathers and profanity, and I was probably taking at least one of them with me.

Luckily, they waddled off peacably when I walked into their midst, and I didn't have to resort to ridiculous posturing, as I did at my last apartment, when I encountered a giant raccoon at the garbage dumpster.  It was dark, I wasn't paying attention, and I didn't see it until I was about 10 feet away.  I froze.  It froze.  We both stood there, suspended in time, as I thought through my options:

a.  Turn around slowly and climb three flights of stairs back to my apartment, with my garbage.

b.  Drop my garbage and back away.

c.  Keep moving forward and risk rabies.

In the end, I went with d. Lunge forward dramatically while roaring.  Yes, I roared.  I yelled something akin to "Raaaahhh!" and hoped it would be gangsta enough to show the little robber that I was no Jack Hannah.  It worked, if only because, well, who saw that coming?  Not me, I guarantee you.  But you do what you gotta do.

And I'm not alone.  Greg told me that one morning, while tending his garden just behind the building, he was attacked by a turkey.  Out of nowhere.  Granted, they're delicious, but prior to basting I hear they're really mean. So now I have this image of my neighbor, who is a 6'+ man in his 50s with dreadlocks down to his knees, a very imposing fellow with a gentle smile, battling Thanksgiving dinner in the backyard.  For those of you who aren't good at reading context clues, I'll end the suspense:  he survived.

Do we react this way simply because, as city dwellers, we are caught off-guard by wildlife?  Are we animal lovers until we're ambushed?  Would I be wrong to underestimate a bushtit based solely on its name?  Because if gradeschool taught us anything, it's that kids with weird names need an extra thick skin and maybe some karate moves if they're going to survive. I'll let you know if I ever take a roundhouse kick to the face courtesy of today's word.

A New Leaf, A New World by Courtney Mehlhaff

All right. I'm consistently disgusted with myself at my inability to post on a regular basis ... not quite as disgusted as I am with the fact that I've had a novel in progress for three years and am on page 80, but still, pretty ticked off. So I've decided to make this blog more of a writing exercise, in the hopes that the two failures are somehow connected, or at least that they might feed off of one another if I get on a roll.

Here are the new rules. Every day (yes, every day, part of my brain that would prefer naps or TV!) I open the dictionary randomly and stick my index finger down. I'm using a real dictionary, not -- they still exist, although I believe this one used to belong to Macy's, much like 40 hours of my life each week and my 401k.

Whatever I land on, I have ten minutes to think about. I then have twenty minutes to write about it in a semi-intelligent way. When those twenty minutes are up, I'm done. No cheating. It's a jump-start, not a marathon. That was a mixed metaphor, but I'm moving on. See? Not deliberating endlessly and tweaking and refining as I go, but just hitting period return.

Today's word: George III. To be honest, I briefly considered discarding this one as a trial run, because it pretty much blows. But since I'll no doubt be sending even suckier ruminations out into the blogosphere, let's roll with it. Definition: King of Great Britain and Ireland (1738-1820) whose policies fed American colonial discontent, leading to revolution in 1776.

So this is King George, the big kahuna, the one who touched off this whole crazy and beautiful thing we call America. I say beautiful because, for all its faults, it was a country founded on ideals and created in one of the ballsiest, most brazen ways possible. You have to admire the huge middle finger George III saw floating back at him across the Atlantic, along with his tea.

Which brings me to the recent "tax day tea parties" and the voicing of dissent in this day and age. I don't necessarily agree with those groups' rhetoric, but they deserve to be heard just as much as I do. That's what I love about America, and what most people take so for granted that they really should be ashamed: if you're unhappy with something, you can say so. You can shout it in the streets, and nobody's going to knock on your door in the middle of the night and drag you away to rot in a political prison. Unless you did your shouting from 2000-2008 and Dick Cheney happened to overhear you, which, given the wiretaps, he probably did.

What? A little liberal humor, you say? Get used to it. I'm a midwestern chick with a very open mind and a very low tolerance for bullshit.

Here's the problem with free speech, though. It's all or nothing. You can't put restrictions on it, even for groups like the KKK, whose sole mission is to espouse hatred (and boy, do we need more of THAT floating around these days!) Because who decides what's acceptable and what's not? I mean, besides the majority, and what if you're not in the majority?

That, I think, is what many people fail to consider. What if your party wasn't in power? What if you didn't grow up with food on the table? What if you couldn't afford an education, or health care, or housing? Forget being born a different race or gender or sexual orientation, I'm talking that fine line of chance that divides the haves and have nots. If the recent economic crisis taught anybody anything, it might have been how close the fortunate are to being "unfortunate" ... often just one paycheck, just one step off the path, and we find ourselves heading in a direction the world chose for us, sent on our way powerless and hopeless.

But that's when it's most important to have a voice. When nothing else can speak for you: not your money, not your status, not your job or your connections. The Founding Fathers gave all Americans that voice. Of course, they also gave all Americans AK47s, according to the NRA, which also get messages across pretty effectively. So really, guys, you're 1 for 2, and thanks again for being so vague.

If I can quote Jerri Blank in every episode of Strangers with Candy: "I got somethin' to say!!" And it's true. Everybody has something to say, and thanks to modern technology, they can say it ... 24/7/365 ... even if it's stupid or offensive or just the most effed-up thing you can imagine (she typed, realizing she was adding her own two unsolicited cents to the cacophony). And while this is certainly no giant middle finger protesting injustice to anyone in particular, I've said my piece.

Now I'm laughing, because I just imagined George III logging onto the internet (in a very humorous, anachronistic way), and reading thousands of angry comments left by the colonists at his website:

ps. Editor's note: I just spent an hour on this, so we're going to have to revisit that 20-minute rule.