A Slippery Slope

It started with a dollar bill.img_20180312_2104110131

Growing up, it was always the same…

“But Mom, it’s only a penny!”

“It starts by picking up a penny. Next it will be a nickel. Then a quarter. Pretty soon, you’ll find a thousand dollars and won’t think twice about keeping it. It’s a slippery slope.”

I always thought this line of reasoning illogical, but this oft repeated refrain ingrained itself in my subconscious and kept me bypassing all that loose change for the last twenty years.

That is until I found the chair and ottoman on Craigslist.

Having recently moved into a new apartment, I was in need of furniture—an ottoman or coffee table to be exact. I had tried various furniture stores and shopping centers but couldn’t find anything within my budget that I liked. Taking a moment to scroll through Craigslist, I came upon a headline: “Chair and Ottoman – $10.” The color wasn’t ideal and the chair itself wasn’t gorgeous, but the seller lived nearby and the price couldn’t be beat. I exchanged emails with the seller and set up a time to see it.

As the evening rolled around, I decided it would be beneficial to be prepared with the money in case I decided to buy the chair and ottoman (C&O). Wouldn’t you know it? My cash stash was low. A $5 bill, three $1s, and some quarters.

That’s when I remembered…

For my thesis, I had checked a book out from my library. Flipping through it the night before, I had found a dollar bill slid in among the pages. I had planned to leave it there – childhood indoctrination after all – but then I wouldn’t have enough for my purchase. I faced a moral crisis.img_20180301_194348456

Flipping to the back of the book, I looked at the check-out dates. This particular book was old school. It was stamped with the previous readers’ due date. The book hadn’t been checked out since December 12, 1994 – 24 years ago. Would someone really miss this dollar bill? Is someone coming back for it? Taking a deep breath, I made my choice. I snatched the dollar out of the book and stuffed it in my wallet.

As the time for meeting my C&O person drew near, I had reasoned out exactly what the scenario would be. The chair belonged to a young woman who wanted to rid herself of this giant piece of furniture, but she lived on the second story and had no one to haul the chair away. Why else would she leave a rather ugly chair on Craigslist for a week and only be charging $10. I planned to stop by after work and check it out. If I liked it, I would come back to get it with help. If I didn’t, I could claim my lack of transportation as a means to extradite myself from the situation.

“Are you sure you want to go to this strange person’s house by yourself?” I was asked.

“No one who sells an ugly chair for $10 on Craigslist is going to be a serial killer. They would have something much more enticing than that chair.”

The time of the meeting arrived, and I climbed the narrow flight of stairs to apartment 612. Taking a deep breath and double checking my directions, I raised my hand and knocked. I stepped back waiting for C&O girl to answer. After a few moments, I heard the unbolting of a lock. The door opened.

Instead of my petite, brunette C&O girl, it was a 6’2, blond-haired gym-short wearing, white-shirted, 30-something-year-old C&O guy. He shook my hand, introduced himself, and opened the door for me to enter. I stood on the threshold, my mind quickly recalibrating to absorb this new information. Is this a wise decision, Angela? The guy’s cross necklace gave me a little reassurance so I took a deep breath and stepped inside. The door clicked shut behind me.

“This is the chair,” he said leading me farther into his living room. “It’s 5-years-old but still in good shape.”

img_20180313_190359539 I walked around it, running my hand over the suede fabric and feeling some relief that it wasn’t the burnt yellow color it looked in the picture. I sat and sank in. It enveloped me in the way that a comfy chair is supposed to.

“I’d like to get it,” I told him as I climbed out of the chair and inched toward the door. “But I’ll have to get someone to help me move it.”

“I have a truck,” he said. “If you’re comfortable with it, we could load it up, and I’ll drive it over to your place.”

I stood there blinking at him. Should I be comfortable with this? The fact that the question had to be asked made me wonder if perhaps I shouldn’t feel comfortable with it.

“Sure,” I drew the word out. I am not one who likes making spontaneous decisions but the convenience of having it over and done won out.

He told me it wasn’t very heavy, but I think he lied. After much huffing, straining, and knuckle scraping we succeeded in getting it out to his red truck.

“Do you want me to give you my address,” I said between gasps for air.

“I’ll just follow you home,” he said. “If you’re comfortable with that.”

That phrase again….making me wonder if I was doing something irrational and irresponsible. He gave me his address, I thought to myself. I suppose it is okay if he has mine.

We drove the five minutes to my apartment, and he followed me to my door. I began mentally checking off the state of my apartment. Laundry appropriately hidden…check. The onion smell from last night’s dinner mostly eradicated…check. Overall apartment clutter…at a minimum. The stuffed animals…in plain view but thankfully not set up on the couch facing the TV.

Unlocking the door, I threw it open, and we both entered making two trips to get everything inside. As we stood there alone in my apartment, I handed the tainted dollar bill to him. He said he was happy we could help each other out and headed back to his truck.

Locking the door behind him, I sank into my new chair with a sigh of relief.

I suppose in one way, my mother was correct. Taking that dollar bill did indeed lead down a slippery slope…showing up on a strange man’s doorstep, willingly stepping into a unknown person’s abode, inviting a young man I had never met before into my apartment unchaperoned. But on the other hand, I met a neighbor, discovered someone who owns a truck, and have a ridiculously comfy chair that was only $10. Perhaps I should reevaluate some of my mother’s advice after all.

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The Hole in Homeschooling

My name is Angela…and I was a homeschooler.

I will freely and enthusiastically praise this educational choice. It has equipped me to handle million dollar accounts in the business world, complete an extensive list of undergraduate and graduate school courses, and tutor people from all over the world. I view myself as a fairly well-adjusted individual, and if others think I am slightly peculiar, I generally take it as a compliment.

In my newest job at a university, I have come to realize that homeschooling has left me ill-equipped in one very important area. One skill exists that no matter how many C.S. Lewis books I read, how many levels of Age of Empires I conquered, or how many chickens I raised in my kitchen, I was not prepared for. That task?

Opening a locker.

Part of my job consists of setting up for special events in another building on campus. This is an obstacle course which requires great cunning and dexterity: load up the cart with all necessary supplies from the office, locate the right elevator which will lead to the automatic door, push said cart across cobblestone thoroughfare picking up the hand sanitizer, papers, and saucers that rattle off in transit, chase the fifty napkins that the wind whips across campus, carry the thirty pound table up a couple flights of stairs, frantically search for the Jason Deli’s caterer who was suppose to arrive ten minutes before, and try to regain some sort of professional composure before the special speaker and students begin to arrive.

At each stage of the process, a fearful voice keeps repeating: Please let me not need to open the locker.

LockerThe locker is a three number combination locker. It houses the extra supplies that we keep stashed in the other building in case of emergencies. It is also the most complicated contraption ever created.

Turn right three times to reset. Turn left to the first number. Turn right all the way past the first number to the second number. Turn left to the third number and apply pressure. The lock will release.

How many times, wild-haired and winded, did I try following those directions? How many times did I suction-cup my ear to the locker door trying to hear the tumblers clicking like the safe-crackers in Old Westerns? How many times did I slam my hand against the stubborn door and then look around hoping no one had seen me while also desperately wishing someone would appear to help? As thirsty students waited for cups, I had to decide whether to race across campus in heels and hosiery or beg my manager to open the locker for me.

“It’s just like any high school locker,” a student assistant told me one day.

How I wanted to grab fistfuls of my hair and scream in frustration:

“YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND! HOMESCHOOLERS DON’T HAVE LOCKERS!”

Instead, I took a deep breath, nodded vaguely, and pasted on my sweet “Of-course-I-know-what-you-are-talking-about” smile which has served me so well in infiltrating the world of public-schoolers. I promptly went back to my office and scheduled a time on my calendar to practice locker-opening.

Today, I am pleased to announce that I can now successfully open my locker about half of the time. My panic is subsiding and is better channeled into strategizing how to stack items on the cart so they won’t blow away, carry the water dispenser so I don’t slosh water down the front of my business suit, and exude confidence that I don’t always feel. I can now add locker opening as a skill on my resume.

So my advice is this: if you homeschool or have been homeschooled, consider this very important life skill. You never know when it will come in handy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stranded on the Shoulder

BAM! BOOM! SCREEEECH!

I sat white-knuckling the steering wheel of my Toyota Camry, my heart racing, my arms shaking, and my mind trying to catch up with what had just happened. I quickly assembled the following facts:car1

  1. What looked like a piece of rubber tread in the road was actually a piece of metal.
  2. My front passenger side tire was most definitely useless.
  3. I was stranded on the shoulder of 635 with cars whizzing by me at 70mph+

As my car came to a stop on the side of the road, I heard another bang and glanced back to see another car come swerving onto the shoulder behind me. Black liquid oozed out from under its hood.

Crawling into the passenger seat, I slithered out the door. The pavement of the bridge under my feet shook from the weight of four lanes of traffic. My hair whipped around as cars whizzed by 5 feet from where I stood. I knelt to examine the damage. The tire would have to be changed. And I wasn’t quite sure that my spare was functional.

car2After checking on the lady in the car behind me, I climbed back into the passenger seat and pulled out my driver’s license. I had heard that one could call the highway patrol number on the back and get roadside assistance if on a Texas highway. When an automated voice began prompting me to take a survey, I hung up and called 911. Two of us taken out by debris in the road would be a convincing enough case to send someone out to assist, right? The worst that could happen is that I would be told, “Lady, fix your own flat tire.” Thankfully, the dispatcher took my information and said he would send someone out.

Twenty minutes later, I was still sitting on top of my pile of school books in my passenger seat feeling the car shake from the passage of fast cars right beside me. Finally, a highway patrol truck with flashing arrows pulled up behind us. My phone buzzed.

“We received your call,” the police officer said. “You told us you were on the eastbound side of 635, but apparently you’re on the west side. We got stuck in traffic and are on our way.” Offering a sincere apology, I climbed out and met the repairman. (No dumb blonde jokes, please!)car3

Since I had the easier repair, the man said that he would fix my tire first. Of course, when are things ever easy? Problems:

  1. Spare tire is bolted into my trunk. Backup must be called in.
  2. Backup has to bust holes in plastic bolt until it breaks so they can free the tire.
  3. Spare tire is flat.

The typical ten minute repair job took about an hour, but they got me back on the road. Besides a new tire and still needing to find a place that can weld the hole closed in my exhaust system, I came out all right.

As I was standing on the side of the road after the two repair trucks and police officer blocked off the lane of traffic closest to me, I couldn’t help but grin. The day was a lovely 60 degrees and sunny with baby clouds floating through the sky. I had lived through something I had always feared, but it actually wasn’t too bad after all.

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Besides my pocketbook, the worst of the collateral damage.

A Heretic Among Us

Christmas had come again to my family home with my mother’s ever-growing collection of ceramic nativity figures, the Carpenters on the radio, and the smell of Pumpkin Latte hand soap coming from the bathroom down the hall.

As part of the Christmas festivities, I had the opportunity to host a Christmas party for my Sunday afternoon kids. At the beginning of December, I told them to be prepared; our next meeting was going to be a wildly epic birthday party for Jesus. As the date approached, I found crafts, cut out bingo tiles, made up Christmas cards, put together paper chains, and enlisted others to coordinate the decorations. The crowning pinnacle of the afterparty was a beautiful multicolored birthday cake. “Happy Birthday Jesus” was written proudly across its face.

The party was the next day, and everything was poised for the celebration. Leaving for dinner was my mistake.

As the grinding of the closing garage door came to an end, a pair of gleaming eyes peaked around the counter. She had been waiting for me to leave. Her tail flicked back and forth. She knew from eavesdropping that she had been forgotten this Christmas. The dog had a stocking with a gift inside, but she was neglected. This would never do.

I arrived home from the restaurant, flipped on the lights, and left my purse on the counter. I had almost made it into the living room when I saw it. Whirling around, a shriek erupted from my mouth: “THAT CAT!”

The beautiful cake had been squashed, squished, flattened, mashed, and mushed. It was as if someone had karate-chopped it with a well-placed chop. As if a dictionary had decided to belly-flop onto the plastic cover. As if a magnetic force from below had sucked the lid down only to release it a moment later. My beautiful birthday cake for Jesus had been desecrated beyond repair–and I knew exactly who had done it.

Jazmine, the Siamese cat, sat on the washing machine calling for her dinner. Her tail continued to twitch. She had gotten her Christmas revenge after all.

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Barricaded in the Bathroom

There I was…locked in the bathroom. Why do these things always happen to me?

The Tuesday had started off normal enough: no work, no school, and a lunch date with a friend. I had arrived at the Taco Joint a few minutes early and decided to stop in the restroom before my friend arrived.

Weaving my way through the booths and tables, I asked the lady behind the cash register where the bathroom was. She pointed down a long hallway. I followed her directions and came to a door with the word “Women” on it along with a large neon orange sign:

LOCK BROKEN. KNOCK AND WAIT FOR A RESPONSE BEFORE ENTERING.

I stood there for a moment in indecision. I didn’t need to go the bathroom very badly, but I didn’t want to sit in an empty booth playing solitaire on my nearly dead cell phone either. I decided to pursue my course a bit farther and knocked. No response. I opened the door.

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Not “the” bathroom, but this is how it was set up.

The toilet was the first thing I saw. It sat directly in front of the open door. There would be none of this holding the door or pushing it closed again that one can do in a normal stall. If someone decided not to knock, the door would open and there I would be for all the world to see.

By this point, I should have just walked away. I should have turned around, went back, and sat in the booth waiting for my friend. Then the thought struck: how broken is this lock?

I stepped into the bathroom and closed the door. The same neon orange sign was on the inside. Kneeling down, I ignored the sign and examined the lock. It was a handle lock with a button that you push in to lock the door and then push down on the handle to unlock it. It looked perfectly functional. I looked over my shoulder at the toilet. It was awfully far from the door. Could I trust the bustling mass of humanity outside to knock before entering?

If it’s broken, it shouldn’t lock, right? 

Standing up, I pushed in the lock. It engaged with a click. I wiggled the handle, and the nob popped out again. I let out my breath. I had been nervous for a second there. I pushed the handle all the way down and pulled.

The door remained closed.

I wiggled the handle again and yanked. Nothing.

Panic began to set in. I was legitimately locked in the bathroom! What was I to do? I banged on the heavy oak door and yelled:

“HEY! IS ANYONE OUT THERE!”

No one answered.

Stepping back, I tried to calm myself. The stark white tile, walls, sink, and toilet didn’t help matters. I sorted through my options. Should I keep yelling? Should I just wait and see how long it would take someone to come and find me? Should I see if my phone had enough juice to make one last phone call? I didn’t have the restaurant’s number so I would have to call the police. I could just imagine it.

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pixabay.com

Police: What’s the nature of your emergency?

Me: I’m locked in the bathroom of the Taco Joint.

Police: How did that happen? 

Me: Well, there was this sign on the door saying not to engage the lock, and I did it anyway. I think you’re going to need a battering ram ’cause this door is really solid.

All the customers would look up from their tacos in amazement as a troop of policemen stalked to the back of the store and broke me out. Perhaps they would even have to bring along a crew of firemen. Ten minutes later, they would lead me through the cloud of dust and debris of what used to be the door. I would hurry out of the restaurant red-faced as the manager yelled after me, “DIDN’T YOU SEE THE SIGN!”

Facing the door again, I took a deep breath. I would try it once more. Pulling the handle down, I pulled on it with all my might. Nothing. I sighed and hit the handle. Suddenly, there was a small click. The door swung open.

I left the bathroom red-faced, but not covered in dust and debris. I survived the experience with nothing more than slight case of claustrophobia, a new appreciation for bathrooms with stalls, and a strong desire to cross out the words “lock broken” and write “lock sticks” instead.

If I ever see another neon orange sign, I might need to take it seriously.

 

One Dark Halloween Night

Halloween night 2014. A cold night with a full moon lighting up the Dallas sky. Too old for trick-or-treating, my sister and I had decided to attend a Halloween party. An old wedding dress covered in yellowed lace made the perfect Bride of Frankenstein costume for me, and my sister dyed her hair in order to be Frankenstein. At 10pm, we pulled away from the safe confines of our house and into the silence of a sleeping subdivision.

The streets were deserted as we drove down one lane and up another. No children dressed as princesses or junior superheroes were out anymore. Respectable people’s porch lights were off by now. A group of loud teenage boys passed by with pillowcases full of candy.

Leaving the confines of our neighborhood, we ventured out onto the dark roads lit with the occasional street lamp and neon lights. The part of town we had to drive through was one that I usually avoided at night. A blue “CashNow” sign flashed beside us while a purple “Discount Cigarettes” lit a portion of the deserted parking lot on our right. My sister’s painted face and neck bolts were illuminated, and I could see my own haggard features in the rear view mirror.

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Don’t we look ferocious?

Pulling up to a stoplight, I tapped my fingers against the steering wheel cover. I would be quite happy once we finally reached our destination. Was it always this eerie in this part of town at this time of night or was it only my imagination since it was Halloween?

A black mustang pulled up beside us on this empty stretch of road. It revved its engine, and I cast a quick glance sideways at the tinted windows. I quickly fixed my gaze back on the light and pretended I hadn’t looked.

Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed movement. The passenger window began to roll down. Licking my lips, I glanced at the cross-street lights. When would they finally turn red so we could go?

Questions began to race through my brain. What hooligans were they that were driving around this part of town on Halloween night? Why were they rolling down their window? What would I do if they actually tried to speak to me? Stories of muggings and car thefts rumbled through my head. Stories of drunk parties and wild young people. Stories of Halloweens filled with tricks not treats. I prayed for the light to turn green quickly.

Suddenly, I heard the deep growling voice. I whipped my head toward the car as green light washed over us.  The tinted window was just rolling up as the other car screeched away into the night. I sat there a moment pondering what I had just heard. The words?

“I’m Batman.”

So you see, I really had no reason for worrying that night. Those streets really aren’t all that unsafe or unguarded. Batman keeps watch over Dallas on Halloween. I’m just usually not out late enough to notice.

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. Perhaps its the community aspect of neighborhoods and communities coming together through trick-or-treating, trunk-or-treating, or fall festivals. Perhaps its the abundance of leftover candy, pumpkin carving, and brilliant leaves that go along with October. Perhaps its the knowledge that the holiday season is coming along with all of its festivities. Perhaps its seeing the parents and their children dressing up in coordinating costumes and coming to visit. Most likely, it is element of fun that goes along with this time of year.

Just Like Dropping Marbles

The day was like many others that I had spent at my new place of employment. Get to work around 8 o’clock, putter about trying to stay out of trouble, head to lunch, do some more puttering, and head home for the day. Only one particular thing was out of the ordinary on this day, and it happened at lunch.

As was my custom, when the clock struck 11:55 am, I gathered up my packed lunch and headed to my designated area. While my company has a cafeteria chocked full of tasty goodies (though I have yet to sample any), my Dave Ramsey-ness has prohibited me from partaking. While $5-$10 entrees and sandwiches seem to be a good investment comparatively to Dallas food prices, I prefer my sack lunch that saves me a few dollars here and there. While I look listlessly at my wilting lettuce and hope the slightly rancid smell my lunch meat exudes doesn’t mean it has expired, I rest confidently in the knowledge that I am saving money.

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The lunchbox

This particular day, I avoided the busy cafeteria and headed to my quiet grotto. While some of my coworkers have lunch together, I usually pass on their invitation. Their discussions on food (which I’m too cheap to purchase), sports (Texas people are crazy football fans!), and former coworkers (who I’m probably glad I never met) don’t seem to relate to me. An hour spent reading a good book or staring into space with a dreamy grin on my face as I world-build does more to rejuvenate me for the second stretch of the day.

I found my spot at one of the high-tables and had to hop to land on the tall stool. Three other high-topped two-seaters and four low, four-chaired tables surrounded me and sat overlooking the escalators in my office. People, like me, who preferred reading, thinking, or (most frequently) playing on their phones joined the ranks of the lone lunchers.

As I stomached the last of my salad, emptied my fruit cup, and tried to decide whether to save my chocolate square or scarf it down immediately, I began to absentmindedly fiddle with my necklace. The black pearls were nothing more than costume jewelry, but they stretched my meager supply of ornaments. Spinning the large and small balls in my fingers, I gradually worked from the front of my necklace to the back.

Snap!

They went everywhere!
They went everywhere!

Without warning, my entire necklace exploded! Bead after bead cascaded down the front of my red button-down, hit my lap, and shot out from me in all directions.

I sat frozen, helpless, incredulous as the small black spheres continued to form a growing half-circle around me. Like dropping marbles on a cement floor, the pings continued unchecked.

In unison, a dozen sets of eyes turned to me. I just sat there as the last of the beads rumbled down my chest and oozed away.

“I guess my necklace had all it could stand,” I said with a frazzled chuckle.

The dozen pairs of eyes all swooped back to their forms of entertainment. Perhaps they thought that ignoring the problem would save them from having to help.

I hobbled off my stool, my pencil skirt restricting my movement. Slowly, I began the process of scooping up my beads. One lone lunch buddy, who I never spoke to before or after, helped me gather up my two dozen beads. Hurriedly depositing them into my lunch pail, I headed back to work with a bare neck and a lunchbox full of costume jewelry.

My quiet lunch hadn’t been so quiet after all.

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Safe and sound inside