Disfigure Skating

Each year my wife and I have three daughters’ birthdays to celebrate, and instead of following my suggestion that the girls are too grown up for parties (and gifts), we manage to make these events increasingly elaborate and expensive.  This year, my middle daughter, Anna (the one who plans to shop for a living), informed us that she wanted to celebrate her thirteenth birthday by taking a few friends to the Galleria in Dallas, Texas, to go ice skating.  That didn’t sound too bad.  The girls would get some exercise and enjoy an activity similar to my Skateland days on Saturday mornings down at the roller rink- where my big brother and I would spend half a day eating Pop Rocks, drinking “suicides,” playing pinball, imagining what it would be like to talk to an actual girl, and when we got bored enough, roller skating.  My wife and I should have guessed that ice skating was simply Anna’s ploy to get herself into a position to browse three shopping malls stacked on top of each other.

The Galleria (which, incidentally, sort of rhymes with “diarrhea”) is similar to other malls, the difference being that along with the typical houses of dad-horror like Claire’s, Justice, Aeropostale, and Hot Topic, there are scads of designer shops with Italian names that I can’t pronounce without sounding like someone from the supporting cast of Swamp People.  It’s probably one of the few places on earth where it’s perfectly acceptable to peruse the fashions at Gucci while wolfing down a tub of Auntie Anne’s pretzel nuggets.  Naturally, I spent most of my waiting time posing as a trashcan monitor in the mall concourse trying to guess whose hair was real and spot people who looked like Pokémon characters. “Look!  It’s a Squirtle, and he’s wearing yoga pants and a ‘Make America Great Again’ cap!”

Once the girls had finally exhausted their allowances (and mine) on unicorn keychains, stuffed animals, choker necklaces, stuffed animals, flavored lip gloss, stuffed animals, friendship bracelets, and stuffed animals, we headed down about forty-eight escalators to reach the Galleria Ice Skating and Public Humiliation Center.  The skating rink is the centerpiece of the mall and sits at the bottom of a massive atrium that ascends to a roof made of glass so God can join the hundreds of Galleria shoppers laughing at you while you skate. The rink area is surrounded by restaurants, presumably to remind you of what you’d rather be doing than ice skating.  When we had rented our skates that smelled like hair plugs from a shower drain (and I would know) and walked in them like crippled zombies to the rink entrance, I noticed that above the muffled strains of bad pop music, I could hear screaming.  These were not squeals of delight coming from overjoyed children, but actual cries of terror.  I would soon find out why.

I had been ice skating before during another moment of suicidal dementia, so it didn’t take me long to get my balance.  I remembered that the proper novice skating position is to lean forward slightly in a shallow squat with the feet shoulder width apart,  like you’ve just spent too much time at a cheap Chinese buffet.  In other words, I was practically an expert.  I did get overconfident a few times and eventually had a visit from the dreaded Skating Monitor-an arrogant teenager whose job is to watch you fall down and ask, “Are you ok, sir?” without laughing.  One of these embarrassing episodes involved my sliding into the ample back legs of a rather robust young lady who looked like Kim Kardashian- if Kim Kardashian was an offensive guard for the Pittsburg Steelers.  She was accompanied by several guys who looked like the rest of the Steelers’ offensive line-only bigger and more menacing.  The woman proceeded to cushion her fall by sitting in my lap.  Amid my horrified torrent of apologies and fears that this incident might lead to a police action, her strapping male companions burst into laughter and pulled us up.  Apparently, I had helped them win a bet.  (One even offered me money.)  The woman was really sweet about the whole thing, and she asked me to keep her updated on my physical therapy.

After I had recovered from this disgrace, I spent some time helping Abbie, our youngest and least talkative daughter, learn to master an activity that she’s likely to participate in a whole once every ten years or so throughout her life. (If only I could help her with her math homework).  When Abbie got the hang it, she skated close behind me like a barnacle on a spastic humpback whale.  To steady herself, she repeatedly grabbed and yanked the seat of my blue jeans, which had already started their daily trip to Plumbersville.  This meant I would spend the rest of my time on the ice trying to balance myself with a pant load of ten-year-old girl while hiking up my britches to my armpits.   It was like a performance of Geeks on Ice.

Despite the all of the falling and public near-disrobing, everyone had a really good time, and Anna is still talking about how much fun she had for her birthday.  Abbie has even been asking when we can go back and skate again.  I just hope she realizes that next time, I’ll be wearing more appropriate attire.  I hear Gucci is having a sale on yoga pants.

 

 

The Family Road Trip

On the last weekend of my Christmas vacation before I returned to work, I decided to distract myself from my depression by joining my wife on a family road trip with my in-laws to visit her aunt, uncle, and grandmother who live in Fouke, Arkansas.  Each time I travel to Fouke, I look forward to the possibility of glimpsing the legendary Fouke Monster.  Apparently, the Fouke Monster is the Arkansas version of Bigfoot, the difference being that the Fouke Monster wears a Razorback jersey and works part time at Wal-Mart.  Unfortunately, though, the closest I’ve been to seeing the Fouke Monster so far turned out to be a well-bearded man in Carhartt overalls carrying an obese pit bull terrier.

Included in the travelling group were my three daughters, two nieces, and a nephew. Naturally, all of the children were assigned to my vehicle.  This meant lots of whining, complaining, and other annoying noises, but everyone did their best to put up with me.  On the way to Fouke, the group decided to stop for lunch at a non-descript Mexican restaurant in Atlanta, Texas, called Amigo Juan.  The food was delicious, and I ate my usual cargo container of chips and hot sauce.  The problem emerged on the second leg of our journey when we realized that we all had taken on the odor of the grease traps in the kitchen of Amigo Juan.  This made my eldest and most dramatic daughter, Ally, declare that she felt sick and might throw up-or die.  This announcement was followed by all of the children in the car sharing in detail the last time they, or one of their pets, threw up.  My wife put a stop to this discussion when I described the time Ally spit up in my mouth when she was a baby and I was holding her up over my head.  I actually think it’s the most adorable story involving vomit I’ve ever heard, or told.

Once Ally’s life-threatening tummy ache subsided, our next incident involved my youngest and quietest daughter, Abbie, dropping a treasured microscopic plastic toy she had purchased from a coin-operated junk machine at Amigo Juan between the seats of the car and into the most inaccessible crevice imaginable. (My kids always complain when I call it “junk,” but I mean it in the most affectionate way possible.)  I’m convinced that auto manufacturers are in cahoots with chiropractors to design family vehicles with these miniature black holes on purpose because reaching them always requires the dislocation of at least one appendage.  Abbie would never ask me to get the toy, but her innocent eyes could melt any heart-even one already on fire after a large Mexican dinner.  Retrieving the toy involved the searing pain of stretching from the passenger’s seat (I’m only allowed to drive short distances), over the console and into the floorboard behind the driver’s seat.   Amid stale Cheerios, broken crayons, and a crusty, brown wad I couldn’t identify, I found the toy and proudly presented it to Abbie.  Feeling like the father of the year (despite a torn ACL), my glory was cut short when Abbie quietly informed me that I had found the wrong toy.

Once we had arrived at our rural destination and visited awhile, I decided to take the children for a walk down the winding country road where Susan’s relatives live.  I think it’s important for kids to be outside to experience the splendor of nature-as long as they don’t bring any of it back in the house or the car.  I was a little hesitant at first because the last time we visited Fouke and went for a walk, one of the first splendors of nature we witnessed  was an amorous donkey attempting to seduce a much taller horse.  It was like watching a drunken man try to climb a slippery extension ladder while carrying an armload of pool noodles.  The hilarity of the situation was only matched by my horror at the presence of my daughters and nieces, who immediately  engaged in an extremely awkward line of questioning.  Since I believe in being completely honest with children, I simply answered by saying that the donkey was confused and we should keep walking so we didn’t embarrass him.  Luckily, this time we were spared the sequel to 50 Shades of Bray (see how I did that?), but we did see a couple of mules and a paint pony. (Maybe the donkey was successful, after all.)  I was hoping we might find some interesting rocks and minerals, or even an arrowhead along the side of the lane.  Instead, we found a frozen dirty diaper and a discarded pair of Jack Skellington adult footed pajamas.  Ah, Arkansas, The Natural State!

The drive home was mostly uneventful, other than the occasional game of Who Ate Too Much At Amigo Juan And Is Now Trying to Suffocate All of Us In A Crowded, Enclosed Vehicle With The Heater On?  Obviously, I won. We were also assailed with requests to stop and go to the bathroom and get something else to eat.  After the gorging at Amigo Juan and its aftermath, the bathroom made sense, but I couldn’t see how these children could bring themselves to eat anything else, except maybe a light snack-like the four large bowls of Cap’n Crunch cereal I had when we got home.

Even though I may gripe a little, I really do enjoy these outings with my family, and I’m glad Susan is able to visit with her grandmother and Arkansan relatives.  I just hope they don’t mind the fact that I no longer really believe in the Fouke Monster.  I mean, how could such a famous figure of American folklore be a Razorback fan?

New Year’s Retribution

I’ve never been one to make New Year’s resolutions.  In fact, I usually scoff at the very concept of suddenly making a decision to change some aspect of one’s life, especially on a night that, for many folks, involves staying up too late and drinking beverages made of fermented organic matter.  I mean, really, the most important decision these people should be making is how to navigate their way to bed without ruining the carpet.  But this year is different.  I’ve decided that at 46 years of age, it’s time to make some significant changes in my life.  And why not share them with people who have nothing better to do than to read a blog written by a guy still in his pajamas at 12:56 PM on New Year’s Eve?

Speaking of pajamas, my first resolution is to clean out my underwear drawer.  We’ve all been there.  It’s 6:00 AM, our bodies and minds are barely functioning, we are in a pit of depression at being up at that hour, and we just grab whatever’s  on top in the drawer where we think we crammed our clean underwear that last time our wives made us put them away and stop getting dressed in the laundry room.  It might be a pair of underwear that has so many holes I’ve contemplated using it to strain pasta. (Try getting that image out of your brain.)  It might be that pair that I’ve had since my senior year in high school and now fits like a giant pressure bandage.  It might be the pair that is extremely comfortable, but the fabric is now so thin it has gained the quality of complete transparency. (There’s another image for your brain.)  Or it might be the pair whose waistband has lost any semblance of elasticity and by the end of the day becomes an extra pair of socks.  Life is just too short to wear underwear that I don’t like, and by golly, if I had to choose, I’d rather wear none at all. (One last image for your brain.)

My next resolution involves the way I spend money.  In 2016, I spent far too much money on animals.  Now don’t get me wrong; I love animals.  In fact, when I was a kid, my hero wasn’t the Six Million Dollar Man, The Fonz, or one of the Duke boys. (I did kinda like Daisy.)  No, for me, it was a toss- up among Grizzly Adams, Jacques Cousteau, and Marlin Perkins.  They were my 70’s “Dream Team.”  Sure, they were all old, weird, and made questionable fashion choices, but they all loved animals-and I did, too.  But that’s no excuse for how I’ve allowed my finances to be affected by various costs associated with animals this past year-with purchases involving a horse, a dog, a cat, hedgehogs, hamsters, mice, and my daughters.  I never dreamed that I would be spending this kind of money for the privilege of constantly handling poop of various sizes, and it simply has to stop.  In 2017 I am resolved to avoid acquiring any new creatures that aren’t already trained to use an actual toilet and spend their own allowances to make purchases- without whining about it.

Next, I resolve to be more realistic about the condition of my own body.  I try to do some kind of exercise each day, and other than maintaining the current contours of my love handles, it seems to have little effect.  It’s about time that I resign myself to the fact that no matter how much Jazzercise I do, how many Sweatin’ to the Oldies videos I watch, and how many reps I do on the Thighmaster, I am simply not going to look like Jason Momoa, The Rock, Joe Manganiello, or even that guy who starred in the latest crappy Tarzan movie.  Instead, I think I’m destined to look more like a close relative of Ed Helms.  Rather than a washboard stomach with a six-pack, I’ll settle for a belly that resembles a package of deli meat-not too fatty, not too tough, and full of sodium and other delicious ingredients.  Caring for one’s physical condition is important, but not at the expense of a trip to Pizza King.

My final resolution relates to my family and spiritual life.  This next year, I am resolving to act a lot less like Donald Trump during a Twitter outage toward my wife and kids when something doesn’t go my way-like when I have to go to work, mow the yard, or go to Wal-Mart.  I have a tendency take out my frustrations on my family when I am in a bad mood.  This usually takes the form of requiring (and not in a sweet voice) that my daughters promptly go to their rooms with a back hoe and hazmat equipment, and begin cleaning, or I will immediately put all of their pets on eBay.  I then complain to my wife, who handles our banking and laundry, about the fact that I don’t know how to write a check or find my favorite pair of underwear (see above).  Instead of engaging in these unpleasant outbursts, I will stop and pray.  And I don’t mean pray in the King James version, differentiating between my “Thee’s,” “Thy’s,” “Thou’s,” “Thine’s,” “Yee’s,” Yay’s,” and “Yeehaw’s,” but pray in my own words and about my real issues.  I trust that when the Lord is finished rolling His eyes and making jokes with His friends about all of my petty complaints, requests, and weaknesses, He will help me adjust my attitude according to His will.  I just hope that if He decides to send me on a mission somewhere, it will be a place with hot showers, air conditioning, king-size beds, and Tex-Mex.  Maybe He will be impressed by the fact that I capitalize His pronouns-but probably not.

Along with all of my own resolutions, I truly wish a blessed new year to all of my family, friends, and readers with nothing better to do.  I’ll close with a traditional Irish blessing for 2017:

“May your pillow always be on the cool side;
May your server always keep your chips and salsa refilled;
May your Saturday mornings be free of children’s birthday parties and sports competitions;
May your checkout line at Wal-Mart be free of sales-ad Nazis,
And may you find this blog funny so that I will continue to feel good about myself.”

Amen, and Happy New Year!

One of those Christmas Card Letters

Dear Friends, Loved Ones, and Random People Who Are Bored Enough To Read This,

It has been an eventful year in the Graves household.  One major change is that we have all aged several months since last Christmas, and we have all grown in various directions.  Susan and I continue to pretend to stay in shape by depriving ourselves of sleep several nights a week while riding a recumbent bike and wallowing around on an exercise mat in our bedroom-regrettably, not together.  Our nightly futile exercise regime usually ends with both of us too exhausted to get up off the carpet and go to bed-and that’s after we put on our workout shoes.

Susan is thriving in her position as the CFO of a small telecommunications company amid my hopes that she will eventually earn a salary high enough for me to retire.   Until that happens, I am enjoying my fourteenth year at Kilgore College, serving as the Language Development Department Chair and proving to my dad that my English degree wasn’t a complete waste of my time and his money.

Susan and I also are still serving as Sunday School teachers of my daughter Abbie’s third-grade class at our church.  We have been teaching in the elementary department for several years now and had considered moving up to teach in the youth department with our other two daughters, but the church leadership decided that the elementary area was more suitable for my maturity level.  I’m looking forward to next week’s Christmas lesson when we will debate whether Joseph was willing to help Mary with diaper changing, or if he was too busy begging the Little Drummer Boy not to leave the drum as a gift for Jesus for when he was old enough to bang on it in the house.

We have also contributed many thousands of dollars to the American economy this year through the Wal-Mart corporation, Petco, Chick-Fil-A, Cracker Barrel, Starbucks (gross), Sonic, and any number of interchangeable establishments that serve free chips and hot sauce (our version of saving).  Another major expenditure has been the purchase of a pre-owned Ford Expedition-also known as mobile equipment storage unit for adolescent females.  I really wanted an brand new vehicle, but Susan assured me that buying one would require her to sell one of my kidneys.

Perhaps our most consequential purchase this year has been a horse for our eldest (and most expensive) daughter, Ally.  Yes, I bought a horse.  Until this happened, I thought it was linguistically impossible to string those four words together in a sentence.  However, since Ally was convinced that she couldn’t go on breathing (and spending my money in other ways) without one, we caved in to her dreams.  The name that came with the horse is Dos Equis, and after first balking at the price the owner was asking, and the fact that the horse is named after a brand of Mexican beer, I felt better when she assured me that he is the “most interesting horse in the world.”  Those good feelings were soon dashed, though, when Ally reminded me that the horse would actually require food, housing, and occasional veterinary care.  Suddenly, the black market organ trade didn’t sound that far-fetched.

While I’m on the subject of pets, we also acquired a puppy for my daughter, Anna. (See previous blog post.)  Despite all of my efforts, the puppy continues to eat and go to the bathroom.  How is it that in this age of technological advances, we have Siri, but we don’t yet have a live dog without teeth, or a digestive, intestinal or urinary tract?  I guess we’re actually pretty lucky.  So far the puppy has only destroyed two electric blankets, the legs of five bar stools, and the cord on a $100 flattening iron.

Besides adding a puppy to her personal animal rescue center, our middle daughter, Anna, has decided to play on the basketball team at school.  Unfortunately for her, she appears to have inherited all of my natural athletic skills.  The benefit of having her play, though, is that we are learning together.  For example, we have discovered that bouncing the ball while running down the court with the ball isn’t optional-“dribbling” they call it. How ridiculous and inconvenient!

Our youngest daughter, Abbie, has experienced a year of medical drama.  Early in the summer, we noticed that her left eye was turning in.  I assumed it was a condition caused by her constantly rolling her eyes at me when I try to be funny.  But her doctor sent us to an ophthalmologist in Dallas who informed us that surgery would be required to correct it.  Once the paramedics revived me, we scheduled the surgery.  I’m happy to say that the procedure was successful, and after a couple of weeks of nurturing recovery, I’m doing fine.

Overall, 2016 has been great, and I’m looking forward to seeing what the new year holds for my family and bank account.  For those of you who have hung in there and made it to this point in my annoyingly long “letter,” I wish you God’s greatest blessings for Christmas and a new year full of chips, hot sauce, and a complete set of vital organs.

Sincerely,

Jase Graves (A Guy Who Was Bored Enough To Write This)

 

Thanksgorging

Thanksgiving this year began as it typically does in the Graves household, with everyone getting out of bed just in time to see Al Roker make his final insufferably corny joke at the conclusion of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade of Lip-syncing One-Hit Wonders.  We did manage to watch the Westminster Dog Show while I cooked two side dishes for whipped cream and Bluebell Homemade Vanilla ice cream, otherwise respectively known as pumpkin pie and pecan pie.  (These are two of the few menu items we are entrusted to contribute to my parents’ Thanksgiving feast, probably because they are almost impossible to ruin, and the only culinary skill they require is the adept use of a can opener.)  We spent most of the dog show trying to find a dog like our new puppy, but apparently they don’t include breeds from the worthless group.

Once my pies were done, my wife prepared a corn casserole that gives the illusion that we can actually cook something that can’t be made in an Easy Bake Oven. I suppose at some point we will be forced to consult some mysterious book of spells that will reveal the dark arts of cooking turkey and dressing, but as long as our parents are able, we’ll gladly stick to the Thanksgiving equivalent of heating Pop Tarts.  It’s at this point when we began our annual mad dash to get to my parents’ house before Thanksgiving officially expired and my dad accused us of personally putting him at risk of malnutrition. Unfortunately,  arriving anywhere on time with my wife and three daughters ranks right up there trying to split an atom with a popsicle stick.

Once we did finally arrive at my childhood home, we prolonged my dad’s agony by forcing my daughters to participate in a family photo session in front of the old magnolia tree in the front yard before they had a chance to soil their outfits with cranberry sauce and ketchup-yes, ketchup.  The whining and wailing that ensued when we mentioned taking photos probably made my parents’ neighbors suspect us of some kind of grave child abuse-like forcing our kids to pose for photos.

After the torture of the family photo session, we proceeded to the main event-Thanksgiving dinner.  The meal always begins with a prayer, which almost always (ironically) is my responsibility.  When I prayed this year, I thanked the Lord for my family, the food, and all of the other blessings He has given us.  Looking at the spread before us, though, I should have prayed for an IV drip of Pepto.  My parents prepared enough food this year to cause all of us to die of a gravy overdose.  They undoubtedly spent hours the night before and Thanksgiving morning cooking for us, so we felt obliged to test the capacity of our internal organs.  And still, when I pried myself out from between my chair and the dining table, my dad asked accusingly, “Is that all you’re going to eat?”  What choice did I have-other than to say, “Of course not,” and head for the pie.

I truly do have a lot to be grateful for this Thanksgiving.  My family is healthy, we have more than we need, and we get to sleep until noon for three days straight. The Lord has blessed us all, and I truly look forward to the day when I can host Thanksgiving for my own grandchildren and we can sit down together for a delicious meal of pie, corn casserole, and Pop Tarts.

Lost at Lost Pines

Occasionally, I am invited by  to travel to a conference to develop myself professionally.  Most of this involves the development of my patience as there tends to be lots of sitting and wondering what they’ll have to eat next.  Sometimes these buttock-callousing events take place in exotic locations, like Baltimore or Atlanta, but this time I journeyed to a remote hamlet in Texas-somewhere between Texarkana and Brownsville-called Bastrop.  The main claim to fame for this locale, other than the vast Lost Pines Resort where the conference was held, is that there is a Buc-ee’s convenience store nearby.  (At least there wasn’t shortage of jerky or pork rinds.)

The actual conference took place at a palatial complex nestled in a thicket and accessible only by an incredibly long and winding road through woods so dense that I expected a hillbilly assault at any moment.  I feel certain that this isolated location was chosen to deter conference attendees from being distracted by more cosmopolitan temptations, like Chick-fil-A.  The only apparent diversions available at this resort involved exercise or eating.  One out of two ain’t bad, I guess.

Eating at most professional development events is an adventure-at best.  The featured dinner entree is usually conference chicken with seminar sauce, accompanied by green beans that taste and feel like they came out of a Hasbro kitchen play set.  Imagine my surprise when the first plenary supper included a medley of blackened redfish and fillet mignon.  Unfortunately, I soon discovered that the fish seemed to be seminar chicken wearing a fish costume, and although the steak was edible, it was about the size of an eyeball.  Thankfully, I could console myself with the gelatinous chocolate cake made out of raw brownie mix that had sat uncovered in the fridge too long.  At one of the conference lunches, I actually got really excited when out of the corner of my eye, I saw a display on the buffet table that read, “Burgers.”  Once again, though, my hopes were dashed when I got in line and realized that it was a vintage metal sign used only for decoration.  The actual menu consisted of deep fried conference chicken and the second string fish that sat on the bench the night before.   I guess the theme of the display was “Things you wish you were eating.”  The only other notable menu item was at breakfast on the final day of the conference.  They were serving roasted potatoes mixed with chunks of smoked brisket.  At any other time of day, this combination might be tolerable, but if I ate that at 7:30 AM, I’d have to go back to bed immediately or make life miserable for the person sitting next to me at the conference for the rest of the day.

In addition to the culinary excitement of the conference, I did attempt to participate in the only other available resort activity to avoid my mealy hotel sheets for the night-exercise.  I decided to go jogging.  In other words, I decided to avoid running while still being able to claim that I had worked out.  When I went out into the muggy Texas night wearing my Nike shorts to make me feel more athletic, I noticed a thick fog in the air that reminded me of something from a horror movie.  Pushing such childish thoughts aside, I bravely began my jog and was abruptly halted by something truly terrifying-a small herd of deer.   On every patch of grass surrounding the jogging trail, there were at least two of these wild-eyed creatures glaring at me through the mist.  I had always thought deer were skittish animals that would bound away at even the slightest scent of a pair of Nike shorts (especially mine). Apparently, though, these were the deer that bullied all of the other deer into giving up their milk money, and I appeard to be their next victim.  Needless to say, my workout ended prematurely.  After all, I had already jogged about 100 feet, and I didn’t want to harm the local wildlife.

When the conference ended, and I was trying to avoid falling asleep in the car with my head back and my mouth hanging open, I reflected on what a real privilege it was to be asked to attend a conference at such a beautiful facility, and I really did learn a lot.  I’m  actually looking forward to my next trip, and this time, I’ll be packing my DVD copy of Bambi.

The Haunted House

In our family, we’ve always tried to focus on the fun, lighthearted aspects of Halloween.  Imagine Charlie Brown and the Great Pumpkin, or Winnie the Pooh going trick-or-treating with Piglet.  Our Halloweens have been filled with candy treats, cute costumes, apple-bobbing, pumpkin carving, etc.  And occasionally, Susan has convinced me to allow our three girls to join in.

This year, though, I discovered that, upon turning thirteen, there is some kind of unspoken requirement that a child be allowed to attempt to scare herself to the point that she reverts to jabbing her kneecap into her father’s kidneys as she wallows in her parents’ bed all night.  Yes, Ally, my eldest and the drama queen of the group (wonder where she gets that from?), took advantage of my main weakness-my inability to say “no” to anything that doesn’t clearly violate one of the Ten Commandments-including the local haunted house.

The first truly frightening aspect of this haunted house was its location-out in the country, where there promised to be lots of dirt and a lack of proper restroom facilities.  Once we managed to find the entrance of the haunted house without an encounter with the local residents or even a single rendition of Dueling Banjos, we were confronted with the second scare of the night-parking.   The parking system consisted of a pasture and a couple of husky teenagers with flashlights, John Deere caps and enough snuff lodged behind their lower lips to start their own earthworm farms.  After Billy Bob Bubba directed me to squeeze my vehicle between a monster truck and an antique Capris that had a lovely primer finish, Ally and I found our way to the ticket booth where we were greeted by one of Ally’s friends and her dad, who seemed to be looking forward to this almost as much as I was.  At least I had someone with whom to commiserate.

Purchasing tickets constituted the next terrifying component of the haunted house.  With trembling fingers, I found myself handing over my credit card to pay $20.00 apiece for the privilege of being startled repeatedly by some guy wearing a pillowcase over his head and who would undoubtedly laugh at us later.  I actually had to stifle a small scream when I saw that I could pay $30 for a VIP ticket and be first in line at each of the haunted venues.  Naturally, I ran away in horror.

The first venue we experienced was the Haunted Cemetery.  The ticket puncher at the gate recited the rules in a contrived scary voice that sounded like an elderly woman who had smoked too many cigars: “No running, no touching the actors, no profanity, and no touching the props.”  “Darn!” I thought, “I was really looking forward to giving everyone in costume a hug.”  As we crept through the path of the pre-built cemetery, I was actually impressed with the sets that had been artfully constructed.  There were aged tombstones, a crumbling mausoleum, and even a well-dressed funeral director pricing caskets.   However, I soon realized that the second-string actors had been brought in tonight, probably because it was Friday, and every third person in East Texas was at Mecca . . . I mean a high school football game.  Most of the actors appeared to be under the age of 10 and were about as scary as my youngest daughter when she wears  her Hello Kitty blanket over her head.  Ally proceeded to ask each of the actors to be her best friend and told one that he had bad breath.  I felt sorry for the actors and told her just to play along.

The second venue we visited was The Haunted Manor.  Again, I was impressed with the set.  All of the haunted houses I had ever attended were actually old, abandoned houses that were actively violating every safety code in existence, but this one had been specially built to relieve me of my money.  There were several gruesomely decorated rooms and more than one floor in the house to navigate.  Again, though, it was amateur employee hour in The Haunted Manor.  Some of the juvenile actors even looked bored.  At any moment I expected one of them to ask me if I had an extra piece of chewing gum.  There was one moment in the Haunted Manor that did give me pause.  The kitchen was manned by a full-figured woman with a bloody meat cleaver screaming at us to get out of her kitchen as she chopped up something grotesque-like celery.  As we exited the kitchen and walked down a long, narrow hallway, I could hear her waddling close behind me.  I glanced back a couple of times, and she was still there-smiling at me.  What gave me the chills, though, was that it wasn’t an evil glare, but an expression that suggested she wanted to have coffee with me later.  I almost told her that I was married and the whole zombie scullery maid look just wasn’t my thing, but I thought better of it.  (I knew I should have made Susan come along.)

After The Haunted Manor, we mercifully found the final haunted venue, The Labyrinth.  There was a short line outside this venue, which suggested that, perhaps, there would actually be something spooky within.  Once again, however, I was disappointed.  Maybe it’s just that being in my late forties, the scariest thing I can think of is our new puppy pooping in the living room before I can get her outside.  (Last night, I saw her squatting to poop, and as I scooped her up and made my way toward the door, she turned into a tootsie roll dispenser-truly horrifying!)  But I digress.  At the end of The Labyrinth, I saw what all of the hubbub was about-scary clowns.  The room was decorated like a demented circus,  but the teenaged clowns were just wandering around aimlessly with noisemakers.  I’ve been dealing with scary clowns all of my life: Bozo, Ronald McDonald, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and every seventh-grade boy I ever had in my English class when I taught Junior High.  Now, seeing a clown just makes me hungry for a large order of fries and gives me the urge to grade a poorly-written essay.

Despite my jaded attitude toward the haunted house, Ally seemed to have a good time, and that was the whole point.  She even slept in her own room all night, which made me a little sad.  I guess my girl is growing up.  Pretty soon, she may not be interested in the fun of Halloween at all, which means that, once again, I’ll be bobbing for apples in my Winnie the Pooh costume all by myself.