Thursday, June 7, 2012

"Souvenir Rocks"

When I was in high school, I had a friend tell me, "Hillary, you're kind of smart, and kind of dumb."

I took no offense. I knew exactly what she meant. As I never make a habit of arguing with the truth, I didn't deny it.

I think the best example of my special view of this world is demonstrated by what I said on a trip into the Idaho countryside with my parents when I was about 17. I believe we were on the way to Cascade or Council, and we were passing lush fields of mint and grain. Mountains provided a magnificent backdrop for lonely farms and ranches where huge irrigation sprinklers, big as hay bales, oscillated their enormous jets of water across the crops. Miles of fence abutted the road. I was watching the passing cows, crops, horses, and barbed wire as I sat cross-legged in the back seat of the car, and I began to notice something exciting every dozen feet or so along the fence line.

I saw and interpreted what I saw, and then my heart swelled with the knowledge of these lonely ranchers' hospitality for the traveler, for regularly along the fence posts were barbed wire buckets filled to the brim with rocks of every size and color.

"Mom, Dad - look!" I said. They turned their heads, and I pointed excitedly. "Isn't that nice of them? Souvenir rocks!"

Immediately, the laughter broke forth in a cacophony that washed over me without mercy. I had been greeted with such phenomenon before, so I sat it out with little protest even when my parents jabbed each other in the ribs and pointed at me, shaking their heads. My mistake, I doubted not, would be revealed to me when the mirth subsided.

Finally: "Hillary, those are to keep the fence posts grounded!" bellowed still-laughing Dad. "In case of a storm!"

And I was hoping we could stop and pick out a couple to take home. Those are the disappointments in life waiting for someone who doesn't quite understand reality.

But disappointments are also waiting for those who have to live with me. A few years ago my kindergartner came home on a late fall day and presented me with his plain red sweatshirt.

"The teacher says we have to put our initials on our jackets and sweatshirts," he said.

"Oh, alright," I answered and went off to find a Sharpie. When I had my black permanent in hand, I spread the sweatshirt across my lap and carefully wrote my son's initials in big broad letters on the left breast pocket.

I handed it to my son, and he stared at his initials dumbstruck for several moments before looking up at me.

"Mama," he said, mortified. "On the tag..."

Oh sure, now you tell me.

"Wear it anyway," I advised him.

He didn't like that advice, so he showed the shirt to his Papa when he came home.

"Babe, what'd you do?" demanded my Man.

"I initialed it, so it couldn't get lost."

"You're supposed to put it on the tag!"

"I know that (now), but I wasn't thinking."

"No kidding! He can't wear this. I wouldn't wear it," he added, seeing the look in my eyes. "Kids will make fun of him. We'll have to buy him a new one."

Sigh.  Kids made fun of me. I survived.

For instance, there was that occasion in high school when even I wanted to kick myself royally for my stupidity, because it cost me a pretty penny.

Having stayed after school to work on the school newspaper one late afternoon, I was getting a snack of peanut M&Ms from the vending machine to fuel my brain for whatever column I was writing. With hungry eyes I watched my healthy snack move to the edge of the metal precipice, shift, pause...and stop. I tried everything to convince that yellow bag to surrender to gravity and the pull of my own voracious appetite for it, but no; it insisted on playing hard to get even when I kicked and punched the machine. In wild-eyed desperation, I waved a dollar bill high above my head and turned to face the small crowd watching my spectacle.

"I'll give a dollar to anyone who can rescue my M&Ms from this machine!" I hollered.

Immediately, a young man emerged from the crowd. He approached quite calmly, and I eyed him narrowly, wandering what his tactic might be - karate chops, the headbutt, or the oft employed shake and rattle? I was genuinely surprised to see him reach into his pocket, but when he drew out his own dollar bill and slid it into the machine, I began looking around for my fool's cap and a convenient corner to stand in.

One small delicious bag submitted to the monetary command, and the second soon followed. Completely lacking in chivalry, with no mercy for the ravenous, dim-witted damsel in distress, the little bastard held out his hand for his reward. I smacked my money into his palm with a grunt of disgust, only to see out of the corner of my eye that his friend was attempting to make off with my own costly bag of junk food. Two bucks shot with nothing to show for it? Simply was not going to happen.

"Those are mine!" I cried desperately as I dashed after him. The smug smirk on his face as I wrested the bag from his hand said plainly that I might have saved my M&Ms, but my dignity was lost, and I'd always be kind of dumb.

Well, my friends and readers, I argue that that is simply a risk of the human condition. I, at least, get the satisfaction of writing about it. That's one of the things that makes me kinda of smart. So there, haha, and neener, neener, neener.

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