Pay attention. I am not kidding. Really.

Month: March, 2016

THE Lamps, Part 2

photo of old, used hatchet, much like the kind Lizzie Borden might have used

Have you heard of the infamous Lizzie Borden?

(If you haven’t read Part 1, best read it. Otherwise, you won’t get the full force of humor in this Part 2, and you don’t want to miss that, do you?)

Having just found The Conquistadors behind my van seat, I grilled our two sons who had watched Brother-in-Law loading those monstrosities. “WHY didn’t you tell me these were behind my seat?!” They responded “Mom, we thought you wanted them; you do bring home some weird stuff,” which was true. I did. Still do.

At this point, I was too vexed by my in-laws’ deviousness to take time to lecture our sons on the subtle difference between the words weird and ugly. I quickly calmed down, though, when Hubby reminded me that Little Sister and her family were planning to visit her parents a few days after our visit with them. How VERY convenient. That gave us a full six hours to plot our cunning revenge.

At my in-laws, we added more Ugly to The Conquistadors – as if they weren’t ugly enough – by gluing out-of-style, yellow ball fringe to their shades. We boxed them into a whopper of a box (culled from Safeway’s bin in the middle of the night), wrapped it with deceptively nice wrapping paper, placed a cluster of lovely bows on it, said (what we sincerely hoped would be) our final good-byes to The Conquistadors, and lovingly placed our “present” near my in-laws’ Christmas tree. It looked like a real gift which, of course, was the whole point of all this vindictive busyness. Here’s an uncharacteristically early pay-attention tip: for maximum effectiveness, revenge needs to be gussied up to look like something else, something nice.

We traveled back to our home in Colorado. Days passed. Weeks passed. With no response to our clever retaliation, we forgot all about The Conquistadors, thinking they would no longer play a relevant role in our lives.

Wrong. Oh, SO wrong.

The sad saga

One balmy summer evening (EIGHT MONTHS from our retaliation), there was a knock at our front screen door while the boys and I were in the living room. I answered the door, fully expecting a friendly face. Instead, I found The Conquistadors, sitting quietly and expectantly on the porch, with not a human in sight in the black night. As they were beginning to take on an eerily human personality, my first thought was, “Did they walk the 800 miles to get here ?” Nah, the more obvious and painful explanation was that my in-laws had found a fellow conspirator right in our own city, no doubt someone we naively called “friend.”

Really! You have to wonder at the lengths to which SOME people are willing to go just for a little short-lived revenge. Whoops, that sounds a little hypocritical, doesn’t it? When Hubby returned home, he thought it was hysterical. But then he didn’t have to find a place to store the four-foot-tall Conquistadors.

As it turned out, neither did I. The next morning, I invited the widely traveled Conquistadors out to our sandstone patio where I ambushed them (à la Lizzie Borden). Using my trusty hatchet, I hacked those cursed Conquistadors to gold plaster dust and chunky smithereens. I ripped off the ball fringe. I cut the shades into strips. I yanked out the sockets. I yanked out the harps. I pulled out the cords. 

It was immensely satisfying.

But not quite satisfying enough. I meticulously swept up their shattered gold plaster bits, wanting NO reminders of their unwelcome visit. I neatly coiled the fringe and lampshade strips, tied the harps together, and wrapped the cords neatly around each other. I pulled out a huge piece of paper and, in a blaze of literary genius, wrote that short but unforgettable ditty about Lizzie Borden, written by Michael Brown and released in 1961 by the Chad Mitchell Trio.

Shut the door,
and lock and latch it.
Here comes Lizzie
with a brand new hatchet.

Kinda warms your heart, in a grizzly sort of way, doesn’t it?

I cut that little paper ditty into a primitive, six-piece, jig-saw puzzle and packed one piece in each package of:

plaster smithereens,
gold ball fringe,
lampshade strips,
sockets, and

Whipping out my calendar, I carefully timed their mailings to be received one week apart for the next six weeks. The Conquistadors had miraculously morphed into the gift that keeps on giving.

It turns out that their non-response to our Christmas “present” was a precursor to my in-laws’ habit of being sore losers. They would not concede that I had trumped their long-distance delivery of Conquistador Ugly. No, they wouldn’t even give us the satisfaction of an acknowledgement of having received any of my SIX “presents.” These people were experts at delivering revenge because – another pay-attention tip – the most effective response to revenge is, of course, NO response.

After waiting patiently for weeks and weeks, I decided, Oh well. I’m done with all that nonsense. I forgot all about The Conquistadors and that sorry lot of sore losers I’d apparently married into.

So what’s
the pay-attention point
to this revenge-filled part
of THE Lamps saga?

I’ve already given you two, but here’s the main pay-attention point: revenge seldom works out the way we’d hoped. I thought I could get even with Brother-in-Law and Little Sister, knowing full well getting even is a nasty habit. This time, with no gratifying response, I made my peace with it and decided to call it something else, taking my cue from (as you’ll see below).

The second time? Apparently, I wasn’t paying much attention to how poorly revenge had worked out for me the first time. Learn from my mistake and pay attention! In Part 3 of THE Lamps, I demonstrate incontrovertibly that the game of Revenge is like the game of Monopoly; it can go on forever.

© 2016, Teresa Bennett

red box with white text: “I don't like to call it revenge. Returning the favor sounds much nicer. “ –

Don’t you just love the game of Semantics?

THE Lamps, Part 1

artwork of three version of a Spanish conquistador

It’s true: sometimes, these guys escape history.

Have you ever found yourself in a sticky situation, which dictated that you say something tactfully uplifting, yet the plain-as-the-nose-on-your-face truth was that there was just no good way to put credible lipstick on that pig?

This blog post and the next five are a sad saga of my trying to do just that and the unintended consequences that followed. What thanks did I get for gamely trying to put the best face on an awkward situation? NONE. What I received instead was years’ worth of harassment for my good deed – harassment that slowly spread through my husband’s family, eventually engulfing the lot of us.

The Story Begins:
Christmas, 1984

(Pay attention: just so you know, this saga starts out serious but – good news – ends not so serious.)

Husband’s Little Sister and her family suffered a house fire December 6, 1984, that burned their home to its foundation and everything in it – in one short hour. A wicked combination of a furnace problem combined with a wicked Nor’wester wind, it was devastating, as you can imagine.

They were well-insured, so the long-term prognosis was as good as it could be in situations like that. In the short term, though, they needed everything – pronto. On Christmas break, we visited them to do what we could to encourage them. By our arrival, they’d been thoroughly encouraged by their friends and the entire community in one of those quintessentially American, feel-good stories. They’d been quickly settled into an empty rent house, and their little community had poured out its wallets and donated home furnishings, household supplies, clothes, even Christmas-gift replacements.

Now, pay attention, because right about here is where it gets messy. It’s something you already know: some people’s idea of what is beneficial to people in this situation can be slightly out of kilter. One might be tempted to say they were looking for a way to offload their junk, but we won’t go so far as to say with certainty that’s what happened to Little Sister and her family. We’ll let you be the judge.

While we there, Brother-in-Law showed me an enclosed porch, stuffed with donated household furnishings. Some items were in good shape and could be useful. Others? Not so much. The pièce de résistance in the “others” category was a pair of the absolutely ugliest lamps I had ever seen or I ever expected to see. (With hindsight, that was most assuredly misguided optimism.)

A good four feet tall, they were banged-up gaudy-gold, Spanish conquistadors who had escaped their era, much like Time Bandits, and come to live right on the edge of The Deep South, of all places. Complete with crested shields and swords, they were even wearing the pointy helmets those fellas liked to wear. It was hard to imagine sane people saying to each other forty or fifty years prior, “Oh dearest, won’t these just make our new Colonial Spanish decorating scheme?” – and sincerely meaning it.

But there they sat, conspicuously adrift in time, amongst the other donated detritus. My brother-in-law, with what I now know to be his perverted sense of humor, pointed them out and said ever so gratefully and seriously, “What do you think of our new lamps?”

Ooo. Land mine ahead. Remember, they’d just lost everything and had been overwhelmed by the community’s generosity. Losing everything is very, very serious business. Being flooded with good will is humbling. Lots of emotions flying around that little rent house. He did seem truly grateful, and it didn’t seem the moment for raucous humor about how U-G-L-Y Ugly those lamps truly were.

So I took the high road. Skirting the entire Ugly Issue, I allowed they were a trifle large, and perhaps he could salvage the sockets, harps, and electrical cords. Having rewired a few lamps myself, I secretly gave myself an A- for a vague, yet helpful, answer to such a loaded question at such an emotionally charged time. In an uncharacteristic fit of tactfulness, I was desperately trying to be NICE.

The next morning, we packed our van and took off on the next leg of our journey, a six-hour drive to my in-laws. Barely half a mile down the road, we stopped so I could rearrange items making annoying squeaks. As I climbed past my captain’s chair to the open area in the middle of our converted van, there sat The Conquistadors right behind my seat, all settled in and excitedly looking forward to their new home.

So much for the high road.

What’s the pay-attention tip in this saga, at this point?

No good deed
goes unpunished

as nearly as I can figure. (I stole that, BTW; see below.) I really was trying SO hard to be upbeat and positive and tactful, and look what it got me: a PAIR of U-G-L-Y Ugly! I decided I was done with nice and would henceforth become all about revenge. In Part 2, you’ll see how well that turned out.

red box with white text: “No good deed goes unpunished.” – Clare Booth Luce

A famous US Ambassador, author, & politician

© 2016, Teresa Bennett

Boasting: Never a Good Idea

photo of fishing tackle box filled with lures

Boasting and tackle boxes just go together.

Remember that high school episode when a girl (who wasn’t the least bit cute) stole your boyfriend (the one you kinda took for granted, seeing as how you were cute and SUCH a catch) – and you didn’t even see it coming? What a shocking, tear-filled, angst-ridden experience that was!

Remember when you pulled an all-nighter for that college exam solely for the anticipated pleasure of setting the curve and a teensy bit of boasting afterward? Remember your roommate, that sorry excuse for a student (who never cracked a book) who beat you by ten crummy points on said exam?

Thought so. I’ll stop right there with my trip down Memory Lane. Like me, you probably have a host of memories like these that you cannot seem to expunge. Fortunately, most of us don’t dwell on them. We hardly ever think of them till some spoil-sport like me brings them up.

Fortunately, they’re pretty confined: they’re very personal experiences. Very few, if any, people in your current life know your old and painful stories. Thank goodness, because that means you won’t hear them endlessly retold.

Family stories, on the other hand, are property held in joint tenancy. Folks sharing the same twisty DNA strands all have “rights” to them. And most families do have stories they like to tell on each other over and over and over. Eventually (in most families), even the chump of the story is able to laugh after enough time passes. Read on for a superb example of family lore – with an easy-to-remember, pay-attention point, of course. Spoiler Alert: it has a most gratifying conclusion.

The Story:
The Surprising Variants
of Fishing Tackle

Once upon a time, there was a Big Brother who had been invited on a weekend fishing trip just far enough from home to make it an adventure. He was to fish on a trout river reputed to supply boatloads of trout to savvy anglers. Topping the imagined fish haul was the company he’d keep. He and his father would join his father’s friend and that friend’s son (also a friend of Big Brother). Four guys doin’ what guys do. Yessiree, it was shaping up to be a testosterone-infused weekend, with a cooler full of fish at its propitious end.

Big Brother had two sisters. The older of the two played it cool. Even though she, too, dearly loved fishing, she would not give proud Big Brother the satisfaction of knowing she would’ve loved to go, too, if she’d been invited and if it wasn’t so much a guy-bonding trip. By the way, this was an exhibit of wisdom-beyond-years: never enter the fray unless you have a decent shot at winning. She knew she had no chance of being invited on this fishing trip, so she did the wise thing: she kept her powder dry.

The younger of Big Brother’s sisters being all of six years younger, didn’t possess the maturity to be coy or wise. She could barely hide her ire that jerky Big Brother had been invited to go somewhere and she had not. She didn’t care that much about fishing; it was the irritating unfairness of it all that set her off. Big Brother got to go everywhere, and she NEVER got to go anywhere!

As big brothers are prone to do, this one boasted and crowed and then boasted some more. He boasted about the special restaurant meals they’d eat. (Restaurants were seldom in this family’s budget.) He boasted about how late they’d stay up. He boasted about how many trout they’d catch. He boasted about how yummy those trout would taste after being roasted over a campfire.

Little Sister silently fumed. She maintained her cool but only just. And then, a day or two before lift off, she suddenly flipped off the Cool Resentment Switch and flipped on the Syrupy Sugar Switch.

  • “I do hope you have a nice time.”
  • “Oh, I’ll bet the weather will be perfect.”
  • “Maybe you’ll catch bunches of fish!”

And on and on.

Mamma was mildly puzzled. Dad didn’t even notice. Big Brother was oblivious, being too full of himself to question the 180-degree reversal. Middle Child, though, quietly observed this new development but kept her theories to herself.

As the intrepid fishermen backed out of the carport, Little Sister stood beside Mamma and Middle Child to wave good-bye. Waving cheerily as they passed, she skipped back into the house to her dolls.

As the day went on, Mamma gave this scenario further thought and began to smell a rat. Pretty sure something had occurred that she might ought to be concerned about, she asked Little Sister, “And why are you so cheerful, Little Missy?” Little Sister innocently answered, “I’d sure like to be in that boat right about now” and continued playing contentedly. Family lore has it that she had that sweet glow of contentment that comes only with the flawless delivery of well-deserved revenge.

Meanwhile, in the boat, it was time to get serious about the manly job of fishing. Dad and his friend put their heads together to decide what the trout would bite on, given the time of year, type of trout, yadda, yadda, yadda. Big Brother and his friend imitated their fathers and opened their tackle boxes to find the same lures.

At this point is when Little Sister’s precocious insight into what winds up testosterone-filled boys had its intended effect. As cocky Big Brother confidently flipped open his tackle box to pull out the correct lure, he found something that didn’t look very lure-ish. At that precise moment, the air explosively escaped from his testosterone balloon. Little Sister, playing contentedly with her dolls 200 miles away, had just poked a big ole fat pin in that sucker.

Quickly whapping the tackle box shut and already sweating profusely, he nervously reviewed his options.

  • He could pretend to be sick and ask to be taken back to the motel. Nah. Dad, not known for empathy, was fixated on a full day of fishing and would just tell him to barf over the side of the boat and get over it.
  • He could “accidentally” dump the whole tackle box into the lake and ask to borrow lures from the others. Nah. Then he’d be minus fishing tackle from now on – not just for a weekend. Even in his panicked state, he realized that was a long-term solution to a short-term problem. It’d taken years and a lot of part-time-work moolah to accumulate his stash; it’d be dumb to throw it all in the drink.
  • He could inch the lid open, pull out the testosterone deflater, and surreptitiously throw it over the side of the boat. Nah. The dang thing would float, Dad would recognize it, and blab to the others.

Big Brother, knowing exactly who had placed the testosterone deflater in his tackle box, decided there was no rational escape from facing the consequences of his insufferable behavior toward Little Sister. He resolutely opened the tackle box, calmly removed Teddy (his trusty bear friend from his toddler years), gave Teddy the little bit of dignity he could by sitting him upright in the bottom of the boat, and acted as if this were perfectly normal behavior for a teenage boy on a guy fishing trip.

By all accounts, this was Little Sister’s stupendous coup de grâce. It gets even better when you start speculating on Big Brother’s explanation, as he feigned shock and surprise. “I don’t know how this got into my tackle box!” and “Of course, I don’t still sleep with a teddy bear!” (As he was an uneducated Philistine when it came to knowing Shakespeare, he probably hadn’t heard about “Methinks thou doth protest too much.”) We can only assume (since he’s not telling) that as he kept up his protestations of innocence, the other three guys in the boat became more and more certain they’d invited a colossal SISSY on their testosterone trip. 

You gotta love this kind of story. And as I’ve said before, I don’t make this stuff up (at least not the basic story outline).* I merely report it.

You’re laughing now, but I’m sure you’ve had similarly humbling experiences that you very much deserved. And you remember it’s never funny when you’re in the middle of it. In fact, just like Big Brother, not only did you fail to see the humor, you were probably just as devastated, mortified, and ready for revenge. The good news is that Big Brother, like most of us, learned to see the humor, tell the story on himself, and even laugh at himself.

What’s the pay-attention point? I should think it would be painfully obvious.

Boasting is a bad habit.
It never works out well
in the long run.

Family lore ends abruptly at this point of the story. Evidently, there were no serious repercussions for Little Sister. Everyone else in the family probably wished they’d thought of Tackle Box Teddy, and it’s highly unlikely Big Brother received “you poor thing” murmurings of sympathy from any of them.

Lacking familial sympathy, Big Brother was forced to learn a humiliating, pay-attention lesson. Even in his teenage, brain-dead condition, he’d worked out the simple truth of the matter by the end of the more-exciting-than-he’d-planned fishing trip. He’d received what he deserved for his incessant boasting, should forgo revenge, and leave well enough alone.

I, however, never leave well enough alone. (Borrrrring.) Once a year, I give Tackle Box Teddy a well-deserved place of honor under our Christmas tree. Yes, I’m Big Brother’s wife, and I drag out moth-eaten Teddy and dress him in a fluffy, estrogen-laced tartan bow. (I have to put something around the poor thing’s neck to hide the hole created by a botched tracheotomy from yesteryear.) Yes, Tackle Box Teddy is an excellent reminder for Big Brother that boasting NEVER, EVER pays off.

photo of worn teddy bear with large tartan bow

Isn’t Tackle-Box Teddy sooooooo cute?

It keeps him humble. Well, not really. Learning that boasting never, ever pays off turns out to be a slippery pay-attention lesson that slides away from Big Brother from time to time. Occasionally, Tackle Box Teddy has to make a between-Christmases visit to administer some much-needed comeuppance. And it works – for awhile. (One of my many comeuppances came early in our marriage.

red box with white text:

Here’s why boasting is such a very bad habit.

*A semi-admission of guilt: Seeing as how I wasn’t actually present at this party, some of the “facts” may be slightly embellished – or not. Who’s to say?

2016, Teresa Bennett


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