Bright Lights, Big Cacti

Arizona through the Eyes of a Native

Category: Humor

Light Up My Life

I have been very worried for the last few weeks.

As I may have mentioned in the past, I’m a bit of a hypochondriac — and maybe a drama queen. When I was a child, my parents had to take me to the hospital after a fall. I was certain death was waiting to collect my soul, and proceeded to play out a death scene to rival Melly’s in Gone with the Wind. Needless to say, when a doctor tells me I need to come back for “additional tests,” I immediately assume the worst. I try not to play out death scenes these days, but I’m sure my expression sends the message loud and clear.

Last month, Dan and I went for our eye exams. Everything was fine until the doctor said, “I’m seeing some cupping in your optic nerve. I want you to come back to be tested for glaucoma.”

How my brain translated this: Glaucoma?! Holy shit! I’m 42 years old! I’m going blind at 42! I’m a writer! I own an engraving company! I can’t go blind!

I burst into tears, because this is how I react to bad medical news. The poor doctor felt compelled to comfort me. If she’d had a lollipop, she probably would have given it to me. I pulled myself together long enough to leave the office with an appointment for December 4th. That’s right — the optometrist gave me bad news then sent me home to stew about it.

For the last month, every time I enter a room (particularly since my husband has an obsession with turning off lights) I have been certain I was on the verge of going blind. Rooms seemed too dark and my eyes seemed unreliable. I studied my pupils to see if they were opening wider than they did when I was young and healthy. I practiced saying glaucoma without crying — I even got pretty darned good at it!

Today was the appointment. The nurse led me to a small room where she sat me in front of a machine to test my peripheral vision. I could feel my eyes drying out as I tried to focus and see the random dots of light flashing around the screen in front of me. I swear, I could almost feel the blindness latching onto my corneas! We moved to a second room where the nurse administered another test that involved nearly touching my eyeball. Finally, she moved me to the examination room where I waited patiently for the doctor to deliver the bad news.

But she didn’t. It turns out I wasted all that worrying. Yes, I have risk factors — borderline-high eye pressure and a thinner-than-average cornea (great — the one part of my body that wants to be thin) — but I passed the peripheral-vision test with just one missed flashing light. She told me that, at this time, there is no sign of glaucoma. Halle-frickin’-lujah!

So, at least for the next year, if a room is dark, I’ll just turn on the light.

I'm looking at you!

They (whoever they may be) say that if you don’t have anything nice to say, you should say nothing at all.

This is a lesson that has been lost in our current world, probably because we generally have at least two screens and many miles between us and whomever we seek to harm with our words. Just as a mechanical war removes us from bloodshed, so a war of internet words removes us from the damage we inflict with them. We say things on Facebook and Twitter that we would never say to another person’s face — at least not without expecting to be slapped. I try very hard to only say things I would say to someone I was eye-to-eye with. It’s the least I can do.

But I have collected a few of Shakespeare’s best insults. Try to read them with a sugary-sweet voice:

  • highly fed and lowly taught
  • light of brain
  • mountain of mad flesh
  • not so much brain as ear wax
  • long-tongu’d babbling gossip
  • thou art a boil, a plague sore

Have a great week.



Garrison Keillor Made Me Miss Grandpa John

An Ole and Lena joke:

Ole was on his deathbed when he caught a whiff of rhubarb pie. Wanting nothing more than one more bite of his favorite dessert, he pulled himself out of bed and made his way down the stairs to the kitchen, where his wife Lena had left it cooling on the windowsill. Despite his weakness, he got a plate and a knife and carefully moved the pie to the counter to cut himself a piece.

Just as he was preparing to slide the knife into the pastry, Lena appeared and slapped his hand, scolding, “That’s for the funeral!”

My Grandpa John used to tell me Ole jokes all the time. I’m not sure now if he picked them up from listening to Garrison Keillor or if they were simply imprinted on his brain at birth (he being a Minnesota Swede), but he knew a ton of them. He also recited poetry at the drop of a hat. Sitting in the audience at Garrison Keillor’s show last night, I was transported back to a time when I lived with my grandfather and listened to his never-ending monologues. I remember being annoyed back then — I wish I hadn’t been.

Keillor appeared on the stage in a rumpled suit with red sneakers and proceeded to talk non-stop for 90 minutes or so with no apparent goal in mind. He told stories about his youth, lamented that his life had not been tragic enough for him to become a serious poet, joked about the heat of the desert and what it does to the mind, and gave some sound advice. My favorite bit was that we — all of us — should be cheerful. He pointed out that cheerfulness is not connected to happiness. Cheerfulness is a choice that we make each day, whether we are happy or not. I think I’m cheerful most of the time…but I’m going to strive to be more consistent.

One more Ole joke:

Lena decided that she and Ole needed a bit of culture so she bought tickets to the ballet. That evening, after watching the performance for about thirty minutes, Ole leant over to Lena and whispered in her ear,
“I don’t see why they dance on their toes. Why don’t they just get taller dancers?”

What I imagine Ole and Lena look like…

Vacuum Tricks

Dan and I recently purchased a new vacuum for our house. To be perfectly honest, this is probably the first vacuum I have ever purchased from a store. All previous vacuums have been hand-me-downs because — as mentioned many times before — I am not a great housekeeper. If it’s a choice between a weekend getaway or a new appliance, I’m generally choosing to travel. However, our old vacuum, which didn’t work all that well to begin with, recently threw a belt and no free replacements seemed forthcoming.

For the last few years, I have been coveting a Dyson vacuum, mostly because of their stylishly cool commercials. There’s just something about a man with an accent talking about vacuums that suddenly makes them sound sexy. (I can’t guarantee it, but I’m thinking if Dan used an English accent when asking me to cook for him he’d actually get a lot more home-cooked meals.) In any case, I talked Dan into buying a Dyson multi-surface vacuum. Let me tell you something: that thing sucks. No really…I mean it sucks dirt in from inches around it! My floors have never been so clean! And it’s easy to maneuver, transitions smoothly from carpet to tile, and generally make me happy when I use it. I highly recommend it.

Now, here’s the real reason I’m telling you about my vacuum:

I’ve had uprights forever. I don’t like canister vacuums because I find them bulky and annoying. In all those years, I have dutifully wrapped and unwrapped the cord around the two prongs they always provide for the cord storage on upright vacuums. It was an annoying but necessary task. The other day, I was showing off my brand-spanking-new vacuum to Fuzzy. She wanted to see it work, so I began unwrapping the cord. Looking at me like I was an idiot, she reached over and flipped the top prong upside down, thereby releasing the entire length of cord in half a second. “Didn’t you know that?” she asked with a half-smile.

No. No, I did not. I am a housekeeping moron. But at least I’ll know it for the second half of my life.

My first new vacuum.

What’s in a Name?

Did you know there are people naming their children after heroes of the Third Reich?

The first thing I saw this morning was an article about the family who named their child Messiah. A child-support magistrate changed the baby’s name because she believed Messiah wasn’t a name — it was a title reserved for Jesus Christ. Um…no, not exactly. The messiah is the Old Testament term for the prophet who would save the Israelites. Christians believe it refers to Jesus, but I’m thinking Jewish people have a different idea. In any case, what was that judge thinking? You can’t rename a child just because their given name offends you. That mightily oversteps the boundaries of someone whose job is to make rulings on child support. I’m wondering how she deals with babies named Jesus. All’s well that ends well though: another judge has overruled the bossy magistrate and little Messiah reigns once again.

Unfortunately, this first story led me to half a dozen more stories about questionable names. One man, in particular, has had eight children with four wives. At least five of them carry names meant to show their parents’ support of white supremacy. Who does that to a child? Isn’t that a form of child abuse? Apparently, New Jersey thinks so. Four of the children were removed from the man and his third wife because of the names — but the children’s names have not been changed. I don’t know that I agree with removing the children if the only evidence of parental abuse is in how they named their children, but I sincerely hope little Adolf and his sister Aryan Nation are being fostered by peace-loving, granola-eating types who are teaching the kids that all races are the same.

This is why I shouldn’t surf the internet.

Let’s hope the name works out better for little Adolf than it did for this guy.

A Most Unappealing Camping Site

I may have mentioned before that I’m not exactly a fan of RV travel. My parents dragged me on way too many long driving trips when I was a child. For a while, they owned a motorhome in which only two of the seats faced forward. Before that, they had a truck with a camper on it with bench seating along the sides. Riding sideways makes me nauseous; therefore, these vehicles only succeeded in making me dislike camping even more. As an adult, other things have kept me out of the woods: namely, Lyme disease, bubonic plague, and West Nile virus. Why anyone would purposely go where the carriers of these diseases are known to live is completely beyond me; yet, my parents persist in their RV-ing ways.

The other day, as I was innocently perusing the Internet, I stumbled across the most horrifying use of an RV yet: assisted living. That’s right: if you are so inclined, there are assisted-living facilities  where the “residents” simply pull their RV into a space and enjoy three square meals a day and basic care for about $1,200 per couple. I know some people — including my mom and dad — who actually think this sounds like a good deal. However, I have a few concerns:

  • Is it really a good idea for elderly people who need assisted-living services to be climbing in and out of trailers? Let’s face it — most of them are probably pretty brittle. One false step and *wham!* broken hip. Of course, maybe they get a referral fee from the local hospital. If I were an orthopedic surgeon, I’d put a billboard where the residents would see it everyday.
  • Is it wise to allow Alzheimer’s patients to live in a home that can literally be driven away? Does the facility have some kind of guard at the front gate to stop them from leaving?
  • What about the cramped living conditions? I understand that most RVs these days have slide-out features that make the interior space larger, but you’re still looking at less than 500 square feet of living space in most cases. A few months of that and most couples would be certifiably stir-crazy. I would hope there are a lot of psychologists nearby. Maybe one of them could split the cost of the billboard with the surgeon.
  • One of the few advantages of RV travel always seemed to be the ability to pick up and move when you got tired of a place. Parking your RV in what is more or less a permanent position within a park begs the question: why are you still living in an RV?

Then again, I guess I would always be skeptical of the benefits of this sort of retirement. If I were to go to Hell, I’m pretty sure Satan would send me on a never-ending RV road-trip up that region’s version of Kilimanjaro. Oh…and I’d have to sit sideways.

Satan probably likes to camp.

On the Run

When I was young, I ran away from home.

I clearly remember plotting my escape: secreting clothes into a small overnight case I had, imagining a different life somewhere far away (probably California), and forcing myself to wake up early since my mom always slept late. If my plans weren’t exactly well developed, at least I have an excuse: I was probably nine or ten at the time. So, one morning, I snuck out of the house with my bag and started walking.

I don’t remember exactly why I wanted to run away. Maybe I had read Huckleberry Finn or seen something on television that made running away seem like an option. It’s not like I had a bad childhood. I didn’t have any siblings to annoy me. There was a pool in my backyard and I always had more than enough books to read. My mom and dad were, and still are, good parents. I just wanted to start over.

I only made it to Campbell’s, a small convenience store less than a mile from the house. The sun was coming up by then and I had started to worry about how my mom would feel if she woke up and found me gone. All of the triumph drained from me as I thought about her crying in my room, becoming more and more panic stricken by my absence. I turned around and practically ran back. I let myself in quietly and tiptoed back to my room. I’m pretty sure Mom was still sleeping; as far as I know, this will be the first time she hears that I once ran away. And that’s probably a good thing, since I’m now much too big for her to spank. She’s probably going to freak out at the thought of her young child walking down the street with an overnight case, just begging to be abducted. Calm down, Mom. I was probably five-foot-eight and a hundred-and-thirty pounds. And we lived in the middle of the freaking desert — not too many cars out there.

That may have been the first time I thought I wanted to run away from home, but it certainly wasn’t the last. I still wake up some mornings and wish I could just get in my car and drive. Of course, these days I’d have to pack Dan and our dogs with me. What keeps me from running away…  Actually, what keeps most people from running away is the inescapable shame of disappointing those we love and respect most in this life. Running away is the easy route; staying and taking your share of responsibility is the mature, adult route.

Someday, though, when there’s no one left to disappoint…I am so running away.



A few months ago, my sister-in-law asked me if she was in any of my novels. I answered, somewhat cryptically, that everyone I know shows up in my writing somewhere.

“Where?” Crista demanded. “Which book? I want to read it.”

“Nowhere specific. Little pieces of you are probably in everything I’ve written.”

She glared at me in frustration.

“Would you prefer that I create a character exactly like you and call you out by name?”


Crista has been a part of my world for a number of years now, though we only started growing our friendship within the last six months or so. I admire her for a number of things, not the least of which is her initial choice to date my brother-in-law in the first place. You see, Dan and I live next door to his brother Dave. In a lot of people’s books, that’s just one crazy-town step away from living at home — and everyone knows you shouldn’t date anyone over 25 who still lives at home. Honestly, it might have given me pause if Dave had been Dan’s neighbor when we first started dating. But she knew a good guy when she saw one. She’s also the best hostess I’ve ever known personally. She makes me look like a rude b*tch…okay, probably not that difficult, but still.

In April, she and I went to Disneyland, sans husbands. The Bennett boys aren’t exactly Walt’s biggest fans. Crista had only been once, long before she met Dave. We had a great time (I wrote a bit about it here). Recently, when I was visiting Mom in the hospital after she broke her second arm, I ran into some friends of my parents — a couple who have known me since I was a child. Apparently, the wife had spotted someone who looked like me in Disneyland, but I was with “some Asian chick” she didn’t recognize instead of Dan. She put it down to a doppelganger until my parents mentioned I had recently been there.

Excuse me? That’s no Asian chick — that’s my sister-in-law!

So there you are, Crista — called out by name. Happy Birthday, “Coach.” Love you lots.

She's the one in the middle, if you're confused.

She’s the one in the middle, if you’re confused.


When I was fifteen, I took a driving trip across the country with my mom and her mother. I realize now that Grandma Millie was, in fact, making a final pilgrimage of sorts: she would be gone in less than a year. Grandma Millie was a devoted letter-writer, a habit I sincerely wish I had picked up. In addition to writing a letter a week to her mother, she also corresponded with several other relatives and friends. She hadn’t seen some of those friends in thirty years, but still she wrote. The ultimate goal of this trip was to see a woman I knew as Aunt Rose — my grandmother’s best friend — who lived in International Falls, Minnesota.

A few days into the trip — I can’t tell you exactly where we were because I honestly don’t remember — Grandma spotted buffalo in a field. “Look, Susie! Buffalo!” she said excitedly, no doubt rousing me from what appeared to Mom and Grandma to be a sound sleep.

“Where?!” I promptly sat up and looked out the window, excited to see an animal that I’d only read about in books.

For some reason, Grandma found this very amusing and infinitely entertaining. A few hours later (I’m sure I was asleep again), she said it again: “Look, Susie! Buffalo!”

Again, my eyes popped open and I scanned the flat lands surrounding our truck for the animals. There were no buffalo, though — just rolled haystacks. Grandma laughed like a lunatic. From then on, and for the rest of the trip, Grandma would regularly awaken me with “Look, Susie! Buffalo!” And right down to the last time she said it, I couldn’t keep myself from at least checking to see if she was telling the truth. In all the years since then, I have never seen another one, until very recently.

Dan, of course, has heard this story. So, a few weeks ago as we passed through Texas, he thought I was kidding when I said, “Look, Danny! Buffalo!” Just like I had all those years ago though, he looked. And there it was: a single buffalo in the middle of a field.

Grandma Millie is probably laughing her butt off right now.

Look, Grandma! Buffalo!

On Vacation

As Dan says, I’m not afraid of flying — I’m afraid of flying coach.

I promise I’ll be back with a longer post on Wednesday. In the meantime, enjoy your Memorial Day weekend, and be sure to remember those who came before you and made your life possible.


Saturday Morning

Saturday morning and it’s growing light.
I look out my window and remember the night.
The story is starting and this story ends
And I feel like I need you again.

The verse above is from the song “Saturday Morning.” This is the song that’s playing on a loop in my head today. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s just been that kind of a month — a month when I am missing people who are no long accessible to me. (And yes, I am a huge Harry Chapin fan, despite the fact that he died a few years before I even discovered his music.)

One of those people I am missing is a youth minister named Jerry. He and I once lived together — along with half a dozen other people, including my first husband. No, it wasn’t like whatever you may be thinking, unless you are imagining a really crowded house filled with some of the funniest and best people I know. Scott and I had our own bedroom, but I don’t actually remember where Jerry was sleeping. The living room sofa? The bedroom that was eventually used for Ella’s baby? I just don’t know. Anyway, at some point Jerry realized that I couldn’t walk past the chess board that sat atop on old piano in the dining room without straightening the pieces. After that, he made it his sacred duty to give me something to straighten, just so that he could laugh up his sleeve at my OC tendencies. One evening I came home late to find everyone in the dining room eating dinner (or playing a board game — I can’t remember for sure). One of the pieces on the chess board was on its side; naturally, I stopped to correct the problem. Everyone burst out laughing, since Jerry had guaranteed them that I would stop and straighten the chess pieces. I’m sure I must have blushed when I realized that he was right — I couldn’t leave a chess board messy. After that, I averted my eyes from the board whenever anyone was around.

Jerry has been gone for years now. He left a big hole in the lives of those who knew him. I’m starting to recognize that every death leaves a hole. I’m worried that I’ll feel like Swiss cheese in a few decades.