Tag Archives: Manners

Surprise! Happy Birthday! You’re a Jerk!

Since the day we married, my husband and I have struggled with my birthday expectations.

Whereas his family trained him to point out the exact item he wanted, my family’s gifts were always a surprise.  I got everything from underwear from my two aunts, to broken toys given by a little brother.  Somewhere in the pile of gifts wrapped in Sunday’s comics I’d come across one or two that not only surprised, but delighted me.

I expected that when I married, the tradition would continue.  For some strange reason, when my husband married, he expected his tradition would continue. Weird.

So, after years of receiving gifts such as a belt clip to hold my cell phone and a calendar from our health insurance company, I surrendered. “Just don’t get me any gifts – ever!”

This year, two weeks before my birthday he said, “I was going to surprise you, but–”

“WAIT!” I shouted. “Dont’ say ‘But’.  I want to be surprised!”

“But…you might not like it.”

“Well, duh. That’s pretty much the definition of a surprise birthday gift.”

“But…it’s expensive and it doesn’t make sense to waste that money.”

Sigh. “Go ahead. What is it?” I asked.

“A hot air balloon ride.”

“Are you kidding?” I screamed. “That would have been a PERFECT surprise birthday gift.”

In his defense, he had scheduled me for the sunrise ride which would entail me being awoken at 5:00 am.  That would not have been a nice surprise for either of us.

After all the fuss, the hot air balloon ride was cancelled due to high winds. Feeling a bit sorry for myself, I awoke the day after my birthday in a foul mood (okay, I felt more than a bit sorry for myself.)

Husband and I were sitting in our sunroom reading when he said, “I thought we’d go to dinner tonight to make up for the balloon ride.”

I immediately perked up. “Great! Where?”

“The mexican place down the street.”

“No. I’m trying to eat healthy.”

He set his stubborn jaw and said, “Well I want to eat Mexican food so that’s where we’re going at 6.”

“You’re a jerk!” Okay, I didn’t say that out loud but I thought it.

At 5 o’clock my stomach started growling. “Hey, lets go now,” I said. “I’m hungry.”

A repeat of the stubborn jaw look. “Well I’m not hungry yet so we’re going at 6 like I said.”

You’re a jerk! my petulant child thought and I climbed onto the couch to kill an hour watching some bad tv. When Husband sat down next to me, I scooted to the other side of the couch.

“What’s that about?” he asked.

Wrasser, frasser,” I mumbled.

We waited out the hour in silence. At precisely 6 pm, I climbed into the driver’s seat of our car and honked. We made it a few blocks away when Husband said we’d have to turn around because he forgot something.

“No way,” I said. “I’m starving. Whatever it is, you can’t possibly need it right this moment.”

Stubborn jaw. “I do need it.”

Tires screeched as I made a U-Turn and raced back to the house. He returned to the car carrying a grocery sack. Great, I thought. He got me a gift from the grocery store.

When we arrived at the restaurant he told the hostess, “I have a reservation.”

My mouth dropped open and I stared in disbelief. Really? A reservation? Do you know how many hours I’ve spent at restaurant bars nursing a diet coke waiting for our table because he refuses to make reservations?

“Okay,” the hostess responded. “I have it. For eight, right?”

Eight? Why would it be for eight?

By now, you’ve all figured it out, but clueless me was still too cranky for anything logical to enter my brain. It wasn’t until we walked to the table where I discovered two of my brothers and their families.

“Surprise!” They shouted. “Happy Birthday.”

Husband reached inside the grocery sack and removed a luscious chocolate cake that was placed in front of me.

While they sang the Happy Birthday song, I said to myself, “you’re a jerk!”


My brother, Larry, and I were taking the long subway ride home to Manhattan from Queens when I realized, there should be a list of rules for novice subway riders.


Larry and I jump on the train and, after standing for a stop or two, manage to squeeze into two seats in the middle of the car.  Immediately my eyes begin their midwestern trait of looking around.  This is not, as my brother has told me many times, a good idea.

I look directly across from me, where I discover the most impressive Dolly Parton breasts I’ve ever seen.  I stare (much longer than appropriate) at the woman’s massive cleavage and eventually raise my gaze to her, quite angry, face.

Blushing, I shift my eyes to the left, toward a young man playing an accordion.  I then break the one unwritten rule I’m aware of: Do not make eye contact.  Beads of sweat break out on my forehead as I realize he is headed my way, ready for a private serenade.

Whipping my head to the right, I focus in on a pile of filthy rags resting on a bench seat, entirely free of any passengers.  The rags are moving back and forth, rhythmically and I realize it is a man.  My eyes focus in on the Picasso-esque structure as I try to sort it out.  There’s his leg, his arm, but where’s his hand?  ACK!  I realize the rhythm of his movements coincide with an exercise my mother said was certain to make me go blind.  Involuntarily my eyes meet his and he grins.

Sweating and blushing, I scrutinize the ceiling of the train, where I read each and every advertisement, attempting to polish up my Spanish by comparing it to the English language advertisement beside it.

I breathe easier now, knowing I’ve figured out the correct subway stare.   My gaze leaps from the signage on one side of the door to the other and lands on a smile so bright I have to blink to keep from being hypnotized.

The handsome young man, who obviously stepped right out of an Abercrombie and Fitch ad, expands his smile and nods his head.  I feel like we’ve made a connection and we’re quietly laughing at all the kooky people on the subway.

At the next stop he lets go of the overhead bar and walks my way.  Mesmerized by his teeth, I flash him a smile which quickly turns into a frown as he moves one step past me, to talk to my brother, Larry.

I spend the rest of the trip staring at my shoes wondering if I’ll need to polish them before I go home, and compiling a list of rules for a novice subway rider.

Rules for the Novice Subway Rider.

  1. Step onto train and grab pole in middle of car (ignoring your OCD instinct to imagine how many other sweaty palms have been there before you.)
  2. Do not yet sit down.
  3. Quickly, without letting your gaze linger, size up the members of the group you will be riding with.
  4. Scope out the people collecting their things, making ready to leave at the next stop, then check out the people on either side of them to look for signs of Crazie.
  5. Slide into empty seat and immediately (IMMEDIATELY, I SAID) stare directly at your feet.  Avoid letting your gaze wander past the tips of your shoes.
  6. Never ride the subway sitting next to your cute brother.

And, here’s a rule that pretty much applies anywhere in life.

If you see a pile of Picasso-esque brown rags – move in the opposite direction, before you go blind.


On the right side of this page is a picture of my new book.  Click on it, and then, maybe buy it?  I’m trying to earn enough money to taxis the next time I’m in New York.

Patience is a Virtue – Just Not One of Mine

No resemblance to me whatsoever.

Patience:   Creating a sense of peaceful stability and community rather than suffering, hostility and antagonism.

“Do you have a reservation?” The airport parking lot attendant asked me.

“No,” I said rubbing the face of my watch, hoping to erase a few minutes.  “I don’t have a reservation.”

“Well.  You’ll have to do valet.”

I cringed at the thought of how much that would cost me but, looking at my watch again, I realized I was out of options if I was going to make my flight.  (Actually, if I was going to be an hour early for my flight – which I have to be, because I’m a freak.)

I pulled over into the Valet lane and got out of my car.  While I tapped my foot impatiently, a conversation waged in my head.  If this is going to cost twice as much as regular parking I should at least be getting special service.

And then I waited and waited and waited.     —  I’m going to pay three times as much for Valet and waiting longer, that doesn’t make sense.

I got back in my car to check the time stamp on my ticket against the current time so I could be justified in my impatience.  Valet’s going to cost me more than my flight did!  Man, they’re going to get a piece of my mind. 

The bus finally arrived and I stomped on and then slumped into my seat.  If I’d been a cartoon character, the other passengers would have seen smoke coming out of my ears.  I made it off the bus without murdering anyone, but stewed and fretted about it the whole trip.

My return flight landed at 10 pm and by the time I got my luggage and climbed on the parking bus I was tired and cranky.  But, as we pulled into the parking lot, I brightened.  After all,  I was a VIP Valet Parker, I’d be the first one off the bus.  Oh yes, all that money I was paying would be well worth it.  Hee hee.

He stopped and let someone else off first.   “Excuse me,” I politely said.  “I’m a valet parker.”  I smiled condencendingly at the rest of the bus.

“Yes, I know,” the driver said.

Striking resemblance to Grandmother Nellie

He then promptly let the next person off…and the next…and the next.  With each departing passenger my impatient, self-righteous indignation grew.

Finally, I was the last one off the bus — but before I snatched my keys from his hand, I asked in my haughtiest Grandmother Nellie voice, “Just exactly what are the special services that come with paying extra for valet?  Because I certainly haven’t experienced any!”

“Ma’am.”  He sighed.  “You’re not paying for valet.”

“But, but…” I sputtered pointing at the keys to my car that he held in his hand.

“We don’t even have valet service.  We just parked your car for you as a favor.  It’s the same price as everywhere else.”

So, cross off Patience from my list of virtues.  Obviously, we can also remove Chastity and may as well erase Humility.  I’m still hanging on by a thread to Charity, Kindness and Temperance.  But I’m keeping Diligent – because no one is more diligent then I am when it comes to impatience.


Speaking of impatience – I’m not sure how much longer I can wait for you to subscribe before I go all Grandmother Nellie on you.

I Can’t Believe She Threw Me Under The Bus

Running Away to Aunt Lorena’s House

I took a drive to Crazie Town last week to visit my Aunt Betty Lou in her nursing home.

Every few months her facility schedules a family care meeting.  It’s an opportunity for them to explain how their $7,000 a month fee is being used to make my aunt’s life better.  The meeting is good, because if you ask her, they use the money to find new and interesting ways to irritate her.

I walked into her room to find her sitting in her wheelchair, arms crossed across her chest and a major pout on her face.

“What’s the matter?” I asked.

“I told them I didn’t want to use the walker, so they deserved it,” she said.

“Uh, oh.  Deserved what?”

“That woman came in to help me to the bathroom and the whole time I was telling her I didn’t want to use the walker, but she said (and here my aunt scrunches up her face and talks like a baby) ‘Your family says you’re supposed to use the walker.’  So, I didn’t really have a choice, did I?”

Now my face was scrunched up.  “And what choice was that?”

“I threw my walker across the room.”

I chuckled.  I mean really, what’s funnier than a tiny old woman throwing a temper tantrum?

“Come on,” I said.  “We better get to the meeting.”  I let Aunt Betty Lou stay in her wheelchair (I’m no dummy) and rolled her into the conference room, which was filled with staff from the facility.  Immediately she assumed the arms-crossed, defensive position.

When we all settled in, the head nurse smiled at my aunt and asked, “How are you?”

Betty Lou snorted and then replied, “How am I supposed to know what day it is?”

“No.  I said, How ARE you?”

My aunt paused, looked at the ceiling and then lowered her gaze.  “I don’t know how old I am, but I was born in 1926!”

Aunt Betty Lou sat quietly through the rest of the meeting while they talked over her, telling me that “Miss Betty” liked movies but hated bingo, she loved having dessert with dinner then often came back later for a second helping and that she’d gotten into a bit of a kerfuffle with another resident when the woman had tried to cut in line for a manicure.

Flipping through pages and pages of documentation, the nurse noticed there was an item left blank on her form.  She leaned across the table and shouted, “Betty, do you brush your own teeth?”

Aunt Betty Lou paused and looked around the room in terror.  “Well…I, well…”  And then her gaze landed on me and her eyes lit up.  She reached out, pointed a crooked finger my way and said, “Teresa ran away from home.”

A room full of accusing eyes turned my way (well, except for Aunt Betty Lou’s.  Her eyes were filled with satisfaction.)  I couldn’t believe she’d throw me under the bus like that.

I was six-years-old and really mad at my mom, so I packed up my little suitcase – yes, family, I’m going to tell the truth  (for some reason, they love this part of the story) – I packed my suitcase with every pair of underwear I owned.  That was it.  No clothes.  Just underwear.

“I’m going to Aunt Lorena’s house,” I said.  “Because she loves me.” I stomped off, up the driveway and out onto the dirt road in front of our house.

I’d made about 10 yards when Mom came out onto the porch.

“You know,” she said.  “It’s a long walk to Lorena’s house.  Maybe you should eat some lunch before you go.”

I stopped walking but didn’t turn around.

“We’re having some of Betty Lou’s fried chicken and mashed potatoes,” Mom said and then I heard the squeal of the screen door as it opened and the sharp bang as it slammed shut.  Within two minutes I was back inside, sitting at the table on my chair stacked with telephone books, shoveling mashed potatoes into my mouth.

As I sat in the nursing home looking around at those accusing faces I thought for one second about throwing Aunt Betty Lou under the bus by bringing up the walker-tossing event.  But I realized that, much like a 6-year-old, an 86-year-old just needs to throw an old-fashioned temper tantrum once in a while.


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Operation: It’s All About ME

 A few years ago I wrote an essay about my trip to South Africa and it was published in the Kansas City Star.  Shortly after that, I received a call from the South African Consulate telling me how much they liked the story and asking me if my husband and I would attend their Freedom Day party.

“OF COURSE I WILL!” I shouted.

I may have been over excited, but it was because the night would be All About ME.  My husband is a politician, so I’ve spent years being “the spouse” at hundreds of events.  Some of the perks that come with being The Spouse are:

  • We arrive at a function and pick up our name-tags.  His will be printed in bold even letters, mine will be hastily hand-written.
  • People speak to me as if I’m in grade school – pasting a big smile on their faces and over-enunciating their patronizing words.  “I’ll bet you had a wonderful day of shopping while your husband was working, didn’t you?”
  • Or, I’m the one pasting the giant smile on my face while the two of them speak in some foreign language.  “I’m concerned about SB121.  Blah, blah, blah, motion to amend, blah, blah, blah, above the line, blah, blah, blah.”

But not this time.  This time, my husband would be the one standing around with nothing to say or do, a plastic smile plastered on his face.  The joy of Freedom Day increased with every thought I had about how miserable he would be.

We arrive at the event and the elevator doors open onto the first phase of Operation: It’s All About ME.  The name-tag table.  I’m embarrassed to tell you how giddy I was at the thought of having an actual printed name-tag and secretly hoping that his would be the one that was handwritten.  Yes, I’m dreadful.  I admit it.  Let’s just move on, shall we?

We walk up, and the assistant sitting behind the table jumps up.  “Oh!  Senator Vratil.  How nice to see you.  I have your name-tag right here.”  She hands it to him – neatly printed in Times New Roman.  As my eyes rake the table, searching for mine, I hear her dreaded question…  “And who’s this with you?”

All the color drains from my face and like a fish gasping for air my mouth opens and closes several times.  As hot, angry tears threatened to spill over my lashes,  I run to the bathroom where I pace back and forth, humiliated and enraged.  Sure, I’ve killed a mouse, I sputter.  Maybe even a few cockroaches, but I mean really, Karma?  Did I deserve this?

Pulling myself together, I finally return to my husband, who holds the vile hand-written name-tag in his hand.  I snatch the paper from him and rip it to shreds.

“Uh, are you okay?” he asks.

“Perfectly fine,”  I say, grabbing his arm and with my head held high, marching into the reception.

Since It’s All About ME, at first my brain only registered the humiliation I had just suffered by not receiving the golden award of a computer printed name-tag.  But eventually, even my ego had to shut up long enough to listen to the speakers.   They shared their stories of abuse and emotional struggles during apartheid and the joy they felt when democracy came to their country.

Sigh. I wish I could tell you that I had a complete change in attitude after those speeches.  I mean… it wasn’t like I was totally callous.  I did actually realize that in the big scheme of things, a sticky piece of paper with my name printed on it, is truly unimportant.

But at the end of the speeches, when they called my name and talked about the article I’d written, I have to admit that all I thought was… YES!  It’s All About ME!


Guess what?  I’ve been writing this blog for a year!  Amazing.  If this post made you smile, share me on your Facebook page and if you’re feeling really generous, click LIKE on my author’s page.  Then again, maybe it’s not such a good idea to  reinforce OPERATION:  IT’S ALL ABOUT ME.

Of Mice and Friends.

Too Late for Sorry

There’s nothing like a couple of close friends to smack you down off your high horse.

Kerry, Bob and I were sitting around, sharing our dislike of household pests.  Kerry and I agreed that spiders are evil incarnate and deserve all of our screeching and terror.  Over the years I’ve mellowed enough to understand they have just as much right to the world as I do, they just don’t have a right to cross my threshold.

I don’t have a particular problem with mice.  Growing up on a farm we had our fair share of them.  I learned to enter the kitchen at night by first stomping my feet loudly and then turning on the light.  Occasionally I’d see a little shadow darting away but I never climbed up on a table screaming in terror.

I’ve even had some close encounters with a snake or two.  We once found one snoozing comfortably behind the encyclopedias in the bookcase.  And, in fact, the other day I stopped my car in the road so a snake could safely travel to the other side.

And then, Kerry attempted to top my stories of Earth Mother by telling us that her Zen-like husband had recently corralled a spider the size of a toaster that was living inside the drain of their bathroom sink.  He carefully carried it to the window and released it outside.

Not to be outdone in the Zen-like story department, I shared the following anecdote.

A few years ago my younger brother, Larry, and I rented a vacation home together.  As we sat at the table eating breakfast, a disturbing rustling sound came from under the sink.  We tiptoed over and with a long wooden spoon opened the cabinet door.  There we saw a very live mouse fighting to free his feet from a sticky trap.

“Poor thing.  He’ll starve to death,” I said.   We stood staring at the struggling creature and then I said, “We’ll have to drown him.”

I continued sharing my heroic story with my friends by explaining that we got a trash can and filled it with water and then picked up the little mouse and dropped him in. Unfortunately he landed in such a way that the sticky trap acted like a raft and he bobbed around on top of the water while Larry and I squealed stood quietly assessing the situation.  “We’re going to have to hold him under water,” I said.  And we did.

This is where I looked around the room expecting praise from my friends for my strength of character to put this poor little mouse out of its misery.  Instead they shouted their horror at my cruel behavior.  “But, what would you have done?” I asked.

“Step on him,” Bob said.

Step on him?  How is that better than drowning him?

“Peel him off the sticky trap,” Kerry suggested.

The whole point of the sticky trap is that you can’t peel them off.  I guess I could have cut the trap up, leaving little flip-flops for his feet, but unfortunately I didn’t think of that at the time.

So, here I sit.  Ready for your judgment.  Hero or Villain?  You decide.


If you liked this post – help me out and click SHARE  Otherwise, Kerry and Bob might, like George did Lennie, put me out of my misery.

I did a bad, bad thing

Pray for me

Pray for me. I need all the help I can get.

When I was a kid, my mom had a very strong opinion of RIGHT and WRONG.  I write those words in caps because, that’s the way I heard them.

“Teresa, this is RIGHT.”

“Teresa, that was WRONG.”

I remember a couple of really harsh lessons she taught.

One of them was after discovering my coat pockets stuffed to overflowing with stolen candy.  (“That is WRONG!”)  Taking a half-dozen kids to the dime store was no treat for my Mom, so when we arrived home and she came across my misappropriated sweets, I’m sure the last thing she wanted to do was The Right Thing.  But, she loaded us all back up in the station wagon, drove us into town and made me go in and apologize profusely to the manager of the store.

Another time my little brother, J. and I were riding in the back seat of our old brown station wagon.  When we were a half mile from home, he decided, against all previous indications of my mother’s hatred for people who litter (“That is WRONG!”) to toss his soda can out of the open window.  Mom yanked the car to the shoulder of the highway and screeched to a halt.  She demanded that he get out of the car and go pick it up.  While he was searching through the tall grass in the ditch, she drove away.  When he made it home, he apologized profusely.

These lessons made a strong impression on me, so, last week, when my neon-green hi-lighter flew out of my hand and hit the sleeping woman next to me on the plane, I knew my mother would have wanted me to apologize profusely.

Was it my fault that the woman didn’t realize what had happened?  Or, that she was unable to hear me apologize over the music blasting through her ear buds?  Or, that she ignored me and went back to sleep?  No, Mom, it wasn’t.

And yet, the words from my childhood continued to ring in my ears.  “Teresa, that is WRONG.”

Okay, so I…sorta didn’t give you the whole story.  The marker that flew through the air didn’t, uh…exactly, uh… have a cap on it and…when it hit the woman’s forehead, it sorta… left a neon-green bindi dot. And I let her walk off the plane without telling her.

Now I’m waiting for my mother to pull up in our old brown station wagon and drive me to the woman’s house so I can apologize profusely.