Arkie Mama: Miss Julia

So this weekend at Duck Duck Goose I met a woman who reminded me of an old source I had while working in a Beaumont, Texas, newsroom.

So — I’m reposting a 2007 entry from my old blog because Julia — well, she deserves to be remembered.

Miss Julia was, by far, the most faithful source I’ve ever had in this profession. Well, except for this one Junior Leaguer, who single-handedly brought down a huge nonprofit agency after it failed to pay the band for the Junior League’s biggest fund raiser of the year.

(Warning to any unscrupulous people living in the South: Never. Piss. Off. The. Junior. League.)

Anyway, while Julia was not Junior League material by any stretch, she was … well …. memorable.

I met Julia while reporting for the Beaumont Enterprise in southeast Texas. Her husband, Al, had once worked at the paper, covering City Hall.

Julia called me every day at 4 p.m. That would be at the height of deadline for a small-town newspaper reporter. Still, I couldn’t ignore her, even though she talked FOREVER, because every so often, Julia offered absolutely priceless news tips.

One afternoon, after I had seriously contemplated not picking up the phone, Julia informed me that she had been listening to her police scanner — which she loved just about as much as the dozens of stray pets she took in — when she heard that a county commissioner had been blasted off his bulldozer by water from a firehose after he had tried to run over some firefighters.

The firefighters were there to put out a fire that the commissioner started while clearing brush on the job — despite a county burn ban being place.

Which, it turns out, had been secretly lifted by the county judge, who happened to be a good friend of the bull-dozing commissioner.

And now flames were shooting up past the towering pines and the firemen were livid.

Of course, I raced out there. (Firefighters! Yum!)

And it was all just as Miss Julia had said. Trees were scorched, neighbors were agog and the commissioner had been taken to the hospital to make sure he wasn’t injured.

So you see why it didn’t pay to blow off Julia.

Twice a year, for Christmas and her birthday, I dropped by Julia’s house with a card or gift. She wouldn’t let people in her house, so we’d sit at the foot of her driveway in lawn chairs. Julia always offered a leafy branch of … some plant or another … which we would use to swat away the mosquitoes.

The one thing Julia didn’t talk about was her marriage to Al, which of course, was what I was dying to hear about.

Newsroom legend had it that Al once caused a security guard to just about pee his pants after finding Al sleeping in a darkened area on the deserted third floor of the newspaper. Supposedly, it was Al’s vampirish sleeping position — hands crossed over his chest — that spooked the guard. From then on, the guard refused to go up there after hours. He said the prospect of stumbling across Al was just too unnerving.

By the time I met Julia, Al was long dead. Supposedly, the pair had split up before his passing, but when Al fell ill, Julia cared for him, a bit testily, but still…

I remember asking Marie — the editor’s assistant who hailed from Cajun Country and longtime friend of Julia — about Al and Julia’s relationship, but Marie just smiled mysteriously.

“Has Julia ever told you what she did with Al’s ashes?” Marie asked.

Again, that cryptic smile.

I begged. I fell at Marie’s teensy feet and groveled. I promised to never again make fun of her for that time she took home the leftover margaritas from the newsroom party and arrived at work the next morning with her soft, gray hair dyed a glossy ebony.

But Marie wouldn’t budge.

My imagination ran wild. Knowing Julia, she could have done just about anything with her ex-husband’s remains. And who knew what Mr. Vampire might have specified in his will?

It became a quest, to find out where those ashes were. By then, my fellow reporters were equally intrigued.

What if Al’s ashes were stashed somewhere in the newsroom?

One night, after Marie stood on a chair and tipsily sang along to that well-known David Allan Coe song at a local bar, I took advantage of her condition and asked about the ashes.

She told me. And for the next hour, I was the only person to know what became of Al.

Then I got snockered and by next morning…

… the long-sought revelation had been wiped clean from my brain by alcohol.

No amount of pleading could wrest the information from Marie again.

I have this nagging hint of a memory involving Al and a bag of dog food. But then I tell myself that surely, even given all her eccentricities, Miss Julia wouldn’t have gone that far…

I don’t think.

Arkie Mama: What are the Ting Tings saying?

I can’t tell you how many mornings I’ve heard the Ting Tings sing the birthday song on Noggin. The only words I’ve ever been able to make out were “happy birthday” and “wombat.”

Today, I finally looked up the lyrics. Turns out “wombat” is actually “hot bath.”

And now I must ask. What the hell are they singing about? Who — or what — is in the cupboard with her birthday cake? Who are “they?” And what does a hot bath have to do with a birthday and mysterious creatures hiding in cupboards? Does anyone understand this song?

Happy birthday happy birthday
Happy birthday happy birthday
Happy birthday happy birthday.

Happy happy birthday in a hot bath
To those nice nice nights.
I remember always
always I got such a fright.

Seeing them in my
dark cupboard with
my great big cake.

If they were me, if they were me
And I was you, and I was you
If they were me and I was you
Would you have liked a present too?

Happy happy birthday in a hot bath
To those nice nice nights.
I remember always
always I got such a fright.

Seeing them in my
dark cupboard with
my great big cake.

If they were me, if they were me
And I was you, and I was you
If they were me and I was you
Would you have liked a present too?

Happy birthday happy birthday
Happy birthday happy birthday
Happy birthday happy birthday.

Arkie Mama: No playing on the playground

Among the playground rules for students at my daughter’s elementary school:

No climbing to the top of the monkey bars.

No hanging upside-down from the monkey bars.

No pushing other people on the swings.

No jumping off the swings.


First, I’m wondering what, exactly, one is allowed to do on the monkey bars? I mean, isn’t climbing to the top or hanging from them kind of the whole point?

And what’s with the no pushing other people on the swings?

Over at Free Range Kids (LOVE that site), Lenore recently offered a pointed — and dead-on — rejoinder to a USA Today story about the safety, or lack thereof, of playgrounds.

She writes:

What kind of world are we waiting for before we declare it safe to live in and enjoy? A world where the playgrounds are 100%  safe? (No running, skipping or frolicking, please.) Where the ground is 100% soft (no concrete, please!), but not made of wood chips (which have arsenic), or rubber chips (which may contain trace elements of toxins, even though we seem to ride around on rubber tires every day and you don’t hear a lot about THAT). Where the ground is not covered by those twin dangers actually cited by the article:  “dirt or grass”?

Playgrounds shouldn’t be built on GRASS??? That is what the article quotes a “safety commission” as concluding!

AMEN, sistah!!

Lenore ends with this:

This is pretty much  our view of everything where kids are concerned now. No route to school is safe enough. No bus stop is safe enough. No toy or bottle or crib is safe enough. And no playground is safe enough, even if the kid is there with mom, dad and the National Guard. And they brought along a big swatch of shag carpeting to play on. “Microsize risks” look giant to us because we are shrunken with fear. Until we see them for what they are, we will fear  everything:  trees, air, grass and dirt. Not to mention swings.

I think the reason my daughter’s list of playground rules bugs me so much is that I work very hard to control my helicoptering, over-protective tendencies. Last weekend, I was very proud to be the only parent sitting on a playground bench, rather than shadowing my child as he/she climbed, slid and jumped off swings.

(What is with the “No jumping off swings” anyway? How can you swing and not jump off? It’s like telling a former teen of the 80s not to rollerskate to I Love Rock & Roll.)

I guess I should be grateful they apparently will be using the playground.

Last year, every time I drove by the school during recess, the kids were milling around on the asphalt parking lot. (No, running, chasing or roughhousing, per the rules, of course.)

“Don’t you ever play on the playground?” I asked Tootie.

“No,” she said.

“Why not?” I pressed.

“I don’t know. We just don’t.”

At the next parent-teacher conference, I asked her teacher about it. Mrs. H., whom we loved, explained that if there weren’t enough parent volunteers at lunch and recess, the kids couldn’t use the playground. I could tell from her tone and expression that she thought the children needed to be on the playground, rather than congregating on blacktop.

My first reaction was: Why is the school so dependent on parent volunteers for lunch and recess duty in a day and age when so many families have two working parents?

I’m sure what all this boils down to is a fear of liability.

Clearly, schools now feel compelled to cordon off yet another fundamental part of childhood.

Makes me wonder when they’ll ban recess altogether. I mean, who knows when some willful child will decide to skip across the asphalt and skin a knee?

Arkie Mama: An exercise in self-torture

I already had a crappy day, so I figured, what the hell, why not watch Fox’s ridiculously melodramtic Octomom: Unseen.

OK, first — unseen?

Oh, Fox. You crack me up. Really.

So here’s what I’ve learned thus far:

Nadya thinks her house is haunted.

Yes, by your endless fantasies involving unscrupulous fertility specialists, sweetie. What’s that? You’re scared of your storage closet? EVERYONE is scared of their storage closet, especially if they’re married to a packrat spouse. *ahem*

My favorite part? Nadya tells the film crew that she no longer uses a certain haunted bathroom because once, right before she, you know, went, she heard a child’s voice saying, “Mommy.”

Has anyone present used the bathroom in the past decade without hearing “Mommy?”

Because if that’s the big indicator that your house is haunted — well, I’d best start preparing for the swiveling-head vomit scene right now.

Oh, yeah. Been there done that. Heh. Ever clean up after a kid with Rotovirus?

Back to Nadya: Her parents clearly think she’s demented. OK, well, her mom thinks Nadya has issues. Daddy, well … either he’s really medicated or he has even more probs than his seriously wacko daughter.

Mother’s Day at Nadya’s place? Wow. Sexually active teenagers should be forced to watch this portion of the show. I’m breaking out into hives rightthisveryminute.

Commercial break: Can anyone tell me why Old Navy’s talking mannequins pant? Every time I hear the beginning of this ad, I flashback to those stupid Showtime soft-porn movies that junior high boys used to snicker over. Come to think of it, I think mannequins starred in those as well. Hmm. Creepy.

Oops. Sat on the remote. Have missed part of the super-exclusive Octomom birth video. Still, I’ve managed to ascertain that the medical staff hated Nadya’s camera person. For good reason. When told to get out of the way of bustling nurses, the camera person replies, “You are very antagonistic.”

Much arguing follows. Just what you want during a C-section involving eight babies — a standoff between those delivering said babies and a belligerent videographer.

Am now listening to the screams of Octomom’s eight infants. It’s been three years since I last nursed a baby, but I could swear I’m lactating right now.