Armadillo Terminator

A number of years ago, my beautiful wife Kendra’s magnificent Aunt Fran was a recruiter for Hardin Simmons University, situated in majestic Abilene, Texas. Her own three sons having attended Hardin Simmons, Aunt Fran was the ideal woman to tell their story of superior educational opportunities.

Aunt Fran loved her job, mainly because she believed wholeheartedly in their mission and purpose. But, as with every vocation, there’s always a downside. In Aunt Fran’s case, it was all the driving. Her position required that she tool all over the great state of Texas (and to parts beyond) to spread Hardin Simmons’ good news. She had this teeny little car. (I believe it was an Isuzu Impreza or some such, but honestly, it could just as easily have been a Toyota or Mazda. The point is, it was small and efficient, and apparently a joy to drive.)

One day, Aunt Fran was blasting somewhere through the Texas panhandle, across a desolate no-man’s-land populated primarily by mesquite. Oh, and also small critters. As is typical of that region of the State That No One Should Mess With, she hadn’t seen another car for probably 30 minutes or more.

She was barreling around a long curve, pretty much at full bore, when suddenly she locked eyes with a desperate creature: A lone (star) armadillo was standing, dumbstruck, smack in the middle of her lane. She only had an instant—not really enough time to swerve. And even if she could have swerved, it would not be possible to ascertain whether the creature had been appropriately trained by its armadillo momma what exactly to do in such circumstances anyway.

(I suspect armadillo madre likely smoked a little “wacky weed” with special rolling papers from time to time—or at the very least engaged in some other miscreant behavior—having never had the good sense to teach her precious armadillito that it was sheer folly to stand in the middle of the highway in the first place. In fact, if my own life experiences with armadillos offer any indication, I find it highly unlikely she was even married to her offspring’s daddy. Not that I’m judging.)

But all of that is I suppose irrelevant. Whether it was mommy’s lack of parenting skills or his own stubborn rebellion which placed him in that most unfortunate situation, results are all that matters. And the immediate result was that Aunt Fran plowed right over him at circa 70 MPH—although honestly it’s impossible to know for certain her precise velocity at the time, as she was mercifully slamming on her brakes.

She came screeching to a halt. Slowly, with great sadness, she lifted her eyes to check his condition in her rearview mirror. What she saw was a little gray ball rolling for several moments in slow motion, until his body finally came to a full stop, limp, arrested there in the center of the highway. Saintly Aunt Fran sat panting, her heart still pounding within her chest, her eyes locked on the motionless crumpled heap. And then it moved.

It wiggled just a little at first. Then he fully unfolded, clearly bewildered, and began staggering drunkenly toward the side of the road. Her heart sank. He was wounded. He was suffering. And she felt responsible. So she did what any merciful human being with the love of Jesus fully alive in their heart would do:

She cranked that little car into reverse, threw her arm up on the passenger seat, turned so she could see out the back window, hammered the accelerator, and plowed clean over the top of him again, this time going backwards. It was the right thing to do, of course. It was pure mercy.

Wha-bam-FWUMP! Thump-thump-thump-thump-thump!

She screeched to a stop again and watched out the front windshield, waiting. Again he rolled. Again he fell limp and lay still. For much longer this time. And again he twitched. Again he unfolded. Again he began to stagger. Only this time more desperately. With greater conviction. Very likely wracking his tiny armadillo brain, thinking,

“My…God! Who IS she?!? What did I DO?!? She’s trying to KILL ME!”

Did he owe her money? Was she part of the Jackrabbit Mafia who controlled this region of the panhandle? Was she being initiated into a gang? “Why, God? Why?!?”

And of course Aunt Fran knew: “The poor little thing! He’s just going to suffer and suffer and drag himself off somewhere into the mesquite and die a horrible, painful, long death… Unless…
I can get to him first!”


And she steamrolled right over him a third time, mashing the brakes once again as soon as she had cleared him…checking the rearview.

But this time was different. He made it! She caught him in the mirror clawing desperately into the brush. Apparently, he had escaped her murderous intent. Or so he thought…

She backed up to where she thought she had seen him leave the road, got out, and searched all around for him. She says it was because she just felt so bad for him, and she couldn’t bear the thought of him suffering. I don’t know what she was thinking she was going to do. I mean, did she have a baseball bat in the trunk or something? Was she planning to just finish him off?

I picture him crouching under a mesquite bush nearby, still able to see her, tucked just out of sight, panting, bleeding, sobbing softly, trying to keep quiet, thinking,

“Ohmygod-ohmygod-ohmygod! Please-please-please-please! Why? Whyyyyyyyy?”

Fortunately for both of them, Aunt Fran never found him. She got back into her little car and continued on. And the question that haunts her—haunts us all, really—it is in fact the question that drives us:

If Aunt Fran had run over him just the one time, would he have survived?

DISCLAIMER: This is a story told from memory, without first conducting my usual rigorous interview process, which I routinely use to maintain historical accuracy and veracity. For this reason, I reserve the right to one day revisit this topic for corrections. I’m actually going to see Aunt Fran today, so I’ll run it by her and see how she remembers it.

What’s the most vicious, pernicious animal you’ve ever attempted to off with your car? (Let’s assume they had it coming.) Have you ever been to the Texas panhandle? If so, for the love of God—why? How do you think armadillos have survived the Interstate onslaught?

Make-Believe Girlfriends

Several years ago, an attractive young woman began working in our office. When I say attractive, I’m speaking in general terms. It’s not like we sponsored an annual beauty pageant or anything. But this story involves only this particular young woman. She was special, unique, for no other reason than because she inspired an idea—a movement, if you will—that has endured for the other men who still work there, long after I moved on. And I suspect the concept she inspired shall be passed down as a socially awkward and testosterone-fueled tradition for years to come.

This young woman was 100% American, although obviously descended of Asian heritage. I couldn’t tell you her name. Not because I’m a class act who wants to protect her identity, but because I don’t know it now, and in fact I never did. What I can tell you is that she had dark hair that fell just past her shoulders and was clearly professionally cared for in expensive fashion. She wore designer clothes that smelled faintly of money (which suited her). She was tall and thin, striding with that quiet confidence betraying a woman who always knows where she’s going and what she’s doing. She would place each foot methodically, toes down first, turned out slightly, in a manner hinting she had likely endured thousands of dance classes as a little girl. The softness of her presence brought a faint light into the the otherwise bleak grayness of our nondescript, industrial hallways and vast cubicle maze.

One day, I was walking down the hallway with several of my coworkers (all men). I don’t remember the precise nature of our errand, but because there was a large group of us together, I rather suspect we were headed out for a traditional fast food lunch: sub sandwiches, cheap tacos, or perhaps even Greek. She passed us going in the opposite direction. After she was well out of earshot, and we all remembered to start breathing again, one of my friends said simply, “Wow.”

Without thinking, I said, “Yeah… You know she’s my girlfriend, right?”

About eight sets of eyebrows raised, and shiny teeth displayed all around me. “Reeeeaaallly?”

I’ve always thought fast on my feet, and thus was borne the inspiration. “Well, I mean, she’s not now. She was, but we broke up.” I then proceeded to regale my friends with the concept and principles surrounding the make-believe girlfriend. Make-believe girlfriends are the best kind—and in fact the only kind—morally available to a principled man who also happens to be married…

I explained to them how we had of course met at work (not really). She was immediately taken not by my looks, but by my dazzling intellect, rapier wit, innate confidence and deep sense of life purpose (whatever). We had long conversations about books we enjoyed (except that I don’t enjoy books) and about the meaning of the universe (also not really). She liked the same video games I did (what?), the same music (not so much), all the same foods (nuh-uh), and she didn’t care that I was a sloppy dresser. (That last one is very likely true because I suspect she didn’t actually know that I existed, let alone what I wore.) Our make-belationship sadly lasted only a few months, as I soon grew very tired of her affinities for shoes and candles and also designer cheeses. Although she adored me (pffft), she would never stop talking about herself (the pompous windbag). So I unceremoniously threw her over. It was easy because (a) it was all her fault, and (b) she didn’t know, so there was no messy emotional entanglement, no big scene with her crying and swearing at me, etc. In our pretend break-up, I had to pretend-remind her that nobody even knew that we pretend-liked each other. (This is another part that is actually true—unless of course she did actually like me. But that would be her problem, not mine. Also, since she didn’t even know me, that would mean she was some kind of weirdo or something.)

I suppose it surprises no one that some guys occasionally imagine themselves in inappropriate fantasies with attractive women. Let me be perfectly clear: This is absolutely not like that and is definitively not what I’m talking about here. Our faux-riendship was pure in nature, entirely comedic, and in fact the make-believe girlfriend idea had never occurred to me about this girl or any other before that very moment in the hallway. So just let go of that notion if you have it.

The beauty of make-believe girlfriends is that in fact the same rules can apply to anyone you choose. I’ve since had dinner with Bono (he’s funnier in real life, fatter than I expected, and his jacket smells like chamomile). Michael Jordan and I once shared a delightful car ride between Oklahoma City and Tulsa during which we discussed primarily economic policy (he’s actually even taller than you’d imagine, his jaw makes this annoying little click occasionally when he’s speaking, and he curses not so much like a sailor as like a pirate). As soon as I can, I’m planning to visit with Michelle Obama because I want both to raise her awareness of human trafficking and also to get her mother’s recipe for seven-layer dip.

Do you have any make-believe friends—girlfriend, boyfriend or otherwise? (Remember, the rules state that you can’t count them if they know.) What would you ask if you had just one question? Dr. Joyce Brothers once said talking to yourself is a sign of very high intelligence. Do you think she just said that because she did it and didn’t want people to think she was, you know, cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs?

Midget Disillusion

Early in our marriage, Kendra taught third grade at a 99% minority school. It was important to her for me to come and visit her class at least a few times each school year. The picture below shows several of her kids from 1994 or so. (On the day this picture was taken, her other eight kids were in Lab.) Now, I’m gonna be honest: I had been reluctant to visit this particular school, mainly because it was so different from anything in my own experience. I was nervous how her students might receive me. But of course our relationship was really important to me—or at least I had convinced myself of something like that—so I promised I would come. Kendra started building anticipation, brainwashing them about how great I was.

Kids from Kendra’s Class

She kept hounding me: “When? Can you get some time off work? When are you coming? They’re crazy excited to meet you.”

I really just didn’t get it. It wasn’t like I was an astronaut or anything. I was just a completely ordinary guy with a completely ordinary job. (Extremely foxy, of course, but entirely ordinary otherwise.) And her kids knew pretty much exactly what to expect. She had already told them all about me. She even had a picture of us from when we were dating (below) prominently displayed on her desk. But she assured me that they were absolutely normal third graders. They just loved their teacher—everything about her—so they just couldn’t wait to meet me too.

Kendra and Brannon Dating PortraitSo finally I went. I had been to Kendra’s school before, during the days before classes started, helping her carry boxes of teacher stuff into her classroom. So I knew where I was going. Although her school was like every school—smelling of an unholy blend of industrial cleaning products, that fresh, woody smell of sharpened pencils, and various kid odors—I walked awkwardly down the green mile from the office to her room, feeling somewhat like a unicorn in Manhattan. I was totally out of my element.

When I was about twelve or so doors away from her room, a young gentleman of about eight years passed me in the hallway, sizing me up with a long, slow, menacing glare. I smiled back brightly. But my pleasantness apparently only disgusted him all the more. He went on, disappearing around the corner ahead of me.

As I turned down that last hallway and forced myself the few remaining steps to her room, I drew in a deep breath. I cranked my charm up to eleven and strolled nonchalantly through her door. All eyes turned immediately to me. I heard an audible gasp—and then the room fell deathly silent. Only Kendra smiled, proudly introducing me and then telling me animatedly a little about each child. I could tell she was enjoying this rare opportunity to tease and embarrass them. Once Kendra was satisfied that I’d served my time, she announced that I had to leave. Their frowns clearly communicated that nobody cared. I thanked them for having me, lied that it was great to meet everybody, and left. If anything, the entire ordeal had been anticlimactic.

Even so, when Kendra arrived home that night, she seemed much more excited than usual to tell me about her day. She hugged me and thanked me again for coming to see them. She looked like she’d been smiling ever since I had closed her classroom door behind me. Then she related the portion of my visit that had unfolded behind the scenes:

Just moments before I had walked in, Eugene, one of her boys, burst into the room, returning from a visit to the bathroom, exclaiming:

“Miss GOH-den! Miss GOH-den! There’s a WHITE man in the hallway!”

(Eugene was the charming lad from the hallway who had stared me down.) All of Kendra’s other kids began chiding him, telling him he was crazy. Of course there was NO reason for a white man to be in their building…and then I walked in.

After I had left, all of her children were uncharacteristically quiet, only occasionally whispering to each other. Although Kendra at first enjoyed this pleasant change, eventually she was compelled to ask what was going on. Clearly, I had gravely disappointed them.

Aurelius finally admitted matter-of-factly:

“Miss GOH-den, we thought your husband was a MIDGET!”

Have you ever disappointed someone because you weren’t a little person? Have you ever been disappointed because you THOUGHT you were going to get to meet a little person—but then DIDN’T? Have you ever noticed that in every posed group photograph taken since 1982, at least one person feels compelled to throw up a made-up gang sign (usually a boy), and at least one other person poses like a Laker girl (usually a girl)?

All Skate

Today is a new day at Have you ever had one of those ideas that was so overwhelming, so huge, so magnanimous, so ginormous, that it was lapping at the very edges of that pan that’s underneath your brain that keeps it from spilling onto your garage floor if its drain gets clogged? (Or maybe that’s your hot water tank. I’m not good with analogies.) It’s like the boy who cried wolf when he flew too close to the sun and he saved a stitch in time. I presume you know what I mean.

That’s what the past two days have done to me.

It’s like learning that there’s ice cream. Then learning that there’s more than one flavor of ice cream. (In my case, specifically chocolate.) And then learning that there’s such a thing as Chocolate Chocolate Chip ice cream. And then Ben & Jerry’s New York Super Fudge Chunk® ice cream. And then Ben & Jerry’s New York Super Fudge Chunk Peace Pops, which basically contain all of the same deliciosity of that particular blend, only condensed and wrapped in a thick layer of chocolate, then jabbed with a stick to make it portable and therefore far easier to enjoy, only to be tantalized to learn that it is not available in the geographic region of the country where you live, only to learn later that it’s been canceled as a product, presumably only because the sheer awesomeness of its value to humankind has simply eclipsed all other products on the market to the point that all of the lobbyists in Washington, D.C., collaborated jointly to protest before Congress because no one would purchase their products as long as it existed. Sort of like that. But I digress…

I write…so you don’t have to. But so far I’ve just been writing whatever I feel like writing. Whatever strikes my fancy. Whatever mood strikes me. Whatever ideas and stories I already have in mind which contain “facts” which cannot (easily) be contested by the readers so that I can in fact say whatever I want and sometimes even make up parts and no one will be the wiser. But I have a different idea today, and I need your help and participation. Here’s how this will play out:

  1. I provide three (3) choices. They are deliberately vague—hopefully, teasingly intriguing.
  2. @reply to me on Twitter,
    Post on my wall on Facebook
    Simply reply to this post in the Comments below…
    With your vote for which topic you would like me to write for you.
  3. For this test run, you MUST select from the options I provide. No “made-up” submissions or alternative suggestions will be considered—at least not on this go-round. (Depending on how this experiment goes, I may open up other options.)
  4. You may invite your friends to submit suggestions and increase the chances of your topic being selected.
  5. Each person’s vote will count only once. Voting will close at 5:00 PM God’s time. (Most of you probably know this as Central Standard Time.) If you vote on more than one platform, and you vote for different selections, I reserve the right to choose which of your votes I shall count. Based strictly upon the popular vote—that is, whichever choice receives the highest number of votes—I will write that for you, and it will post on Monday.

Your choices are as follows:

  1. Aunt Fran’s Armadillo
  2. Midget Disillusion
  3. Make-Believe Girlfriends

If your choice doesn’t win first place, don’t lose heart. I promise I will tell all of these stories—perhaps even next week.

Let the chaos begin.

How are you doing today? Are you having a good hair day (so far)? Expressed as a percentage, how full would you say your car’s gas tank is at this very moment? What’s the best ice cream you’ve ever had?

Liquid Force

Fair Warning: Before you even begin reading what’s below, I apologize. I’ve done everything I reasonably can to keep today’s post from running over with bad taste. But the subject matter may be messy for some. It’s toilet humor. Literally.

My criteria for purchasing a toilet used to include force enough to flush an eight-pound ham in one shot. If that seems excessive to you, you’ve gotta understand: I’m a man over forty years old. And I’ve seen some things in all that living. Terrible things.

At my old workplace, the site manager was constantly stymied in a game of cat-and-mouse with a mysterious agent my colleagues and I began semi-affectionately calling “The Toilet Terrorist.” This stealthy bear-dumper managed to clog at least one of the toilets in the downstairs men’s room literally at least once every two weeks. (I’m not making this up.) The manager was even exploring the legality of setting up motion-sensitive cameras to catch the poopetrator. Needless to say, the laws covering privacy often trump the laws covering common sense. He was never caught—brown-handed or otherwise.

Most every (sensible) North American has a toilet plunger somewhere around their house. I like to keep mine within easy reach of the toilet. Certainly it’s not beneath me to flip it over and use the “stick” portion (perhaps you call yours a handle) to break larger waste into more manageable sizes.  (I’ve even sharpened my handle into a wedge shape to facilitate more efficient chunking. But you do whatever works for you.)

They say necessity is the mother of invention, and let me tell you: Unclogging a toilet can be a real mother. I think it was probably the fourth time (or fifth—they kind of run together) that my four-year-old had managed to compress a bowling-ball-sized wad of toilet paper tightly into the toilet’s “S” curve. I’d been elbow-deep in the stool for more than an hour, wrestling Jacob-and-angel-like with an augur, when the thought occurred to me: There has to be a better way.

And that was it. The moment when the simplicity, the beauty, the sheer grace of the solution just rained down on me in one brilliant instant, glistening like pristine porcelain: What every toilet needs, my friends… is a garbage disposal.

Now, bear with me here, and don’t freak out: Nobody seems to have a problem with a garbage disposal in their kitchen sink. But why not all the other appliances that have their drains connected to that very same “dirty water” system that removes waste from your house? (Toilets, dishwashers, washing machines, etc.)

A toilet garbage disposal avoids all kinds of problems. Although people I’ve shared the idea with have raised all sorts of objections and tried to poke holes in my logic, none of the arguments I’ve heard holds water:

“Won’t waste splash out?”

Why? It doesn’t splash out of your sink, does it? Same principle: A rubber “sleeve” to separate you-know-what from you-know-where. Alternatively, have you seen those electric pool covers where you flip a switch and it rolls out across the surface? Same principle. Flip the switch, the cover rolls across the top of the bowl and, once securely fastened, the shredder kicks in. It’s genius. Misunderstood genius, perhaps, but genius nonetheless.

You’re welcome, world.

What’s the best idea you’ve ever had that will never see the light of day? Do you have a better idea than mine to solve the problem of clogged toilets? What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever seen stuck in a toilet (that you’d be comfortable sharing, of course)?

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