Monday, June 28, 2010

Dear Abby

Some obnoxious kids compulsively tap their pencils (future drummers), and some obnoxious kids compulsively read (future bloggers). For me, learning to read was akin to acquiring a super power and my prowling little eyes devoured every word in their path. No billboard, TV Guide, or back of a cereal box was safe. The first thing I remember learning to read was The Cat in the Hat and the second thing was Dear Abby. I discovered Dear Abby early in my elementary school career because the first part of the Greenville News my mom always opened in the morning was the crossword and comics page, and she left it on the kitchen table for my consumption along with my honeybun. Abby's column floated imperially over the horoscopes and word jumble- she owned page 6D of the Lifestyle section. And I read her EVERY MORNING.

Dear Abby had a profoundly formative influence on my budding literacy and social awareness. I vicariously learned the ways of the world through the familial, marital, professional, and etiquette-related dilemmas of others. I also learned about Alcoholics Anonymous, 10 Signs of Domestic Abuse, and all sorts of holidays I never knew existed. On any random day Abby would close her column with a direct address to a specific population that went like this:

"Confidential to my Jewish readers: Happy Purim!"
"Confidential to my AARP readers: Happy Armistice Day!"
"Confidential to my Christian readers: Happy Easter! Remember, it is unwise to give small animals (bunnies, chicks, etc.) to your children as presents. Pets require an investment of time, attention, and money, and unless you can fully care for this new member of your family, it's advisable to just visit your local zoo."

In retrospect I should have clipped that last directive upon each reprinting, highlighted it, and glitter-glued it to my parents' bathroom mirror because this important message obviously escaped them. This oversight resulted in our possession of an immortal rabbit called Pepper. Any takers?

I had a friend in third or fourth grade and her house had a laundry chute! At my behest, we used the chute to rig up our own version of Dear Abby. We tied some sheets together and tied a bucket to one end. From my station in her bedroom, I would lower the bucket through the laundry chute to my friend, stationed in the basement. From there I instructed her to write me, Dear Abby, a letter, which I would answer and return via laundry chute express mail. She was ok at playing Dear Abby, but had trouble coming up with any interesting problems beyond "Dear Abby, what color nail polish should I choose? Pink or red?*"

One early school morning I sat down with my toaster strudel and reached for the paper only to find one of the Dear Abby letters neatly clipped out of the page. My mom had cut out half the column before I had a chance to read it!!! Her reasoning? "It was totally inappropriate. I can't believe Abby would print something like that." I was enraged at my mother's censorship. Almost as enraged as I felt (and continue to feel) every time Abby wasted valuable column inches by printing a stupid-ass letter saying something smug and stupid in response to some of her advice. Such as:

"Dear Abby,

When Birthday On A Budget In Boise wrote you in search of thrifty ideas for her 5-year-old's birthday party, you forgot to mention Pin-the-Tail-on-the-Donkey! Duh, Abby! Kids and parents these days just forget all about the good old-fashioned games that used to make America great. Do you think teenagers would be dying their hair blue and getting pregnant out of wedlock if they'd had some good old common-sense fun at their birthday parties? Well I'm here to tell you they wouldn't, mark my words.

-Remembers the "Small" Things In Wapakoneta"

All that's missing from this example is a Paul Harvey quote. Even at seven years old, these types of letters infuriated me because of their blatant irrelevance, clueless self-righteousness, and worst of all, the obligatory failed pun in the signature. I LOVE puns and loathe to see them done badly. Moreover, letters like this one, with no problem of any consequence, defile the very intent of an advice column while cheating a truly needy letter-writer out of his or her rightful space in the column. If I'd wanted to read something boring and short-sighted over breakfast, I would have turned to the Greenville News editorials page.

And so, Dear Readers, to honor my first favorite writer and to make reparations for her occasionally misguided printings, I would like to officially open up Hungry Lion to all you advice-seeking folks out there. This means you. Wondering what to do about an office romance? Want to quit smoking or manage your anger or come out to your parents? Or maybe get rid of your neighbor's yappy dog once and for all? Hit me up! Be warned, my guiding principal for future advice-giving will probably be "If this were a movie, what should happen next? What would provide the most interesting conflict for me, the viewer?"

But really, what do you have to lose? Here's some advice: For a truly multi-faceted approach to a situation, write to me AND Dear Abby. You'll be the judge of whose advice is superior, but both points of view will come from an opinionated individual with your best interests at heart. And you can take comfort knowing at least one of them has great hair.

*Even in the imaginary world, she was limited by her parents' "pink or red nail polish ONLY, until you're 16!" rule.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Hey Oregon!

This summer I packed all my worldly possessions in a covered wagon and headed out West. Actually, I flew Continental, who charged me $35 to check a bag. If that's not highway robbery I don't know what is. But when I alighted in Ashland, OR, I discovered not a Deadwood-style camp, but an impossibly lovely town of coffee shops, farmers' markets, mountains, and, of course, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. The wildest features of this Western town are the lush gardens surrounding every house and quaint bed-and-breakfast. And, I suppose, the senior citizens Shawn and I spied dancing to the beatboxing of a white, dreadlocked performer called Cornflower at a a local art festival last week.

South Carolinians don't really think about Oregon, or believe it actually exists. When I informed my family of my summer plans, they said, "Wow! Well, have fun in Washington state!" I don't know if this is proof of OR's existence, but here's a sampling of local Ashland businesses. You may notice a theme:

Salon Juliet
All's Well Vitamins
CD or Not CD
Anne Hathaway's House
Shakespeare's Sister Moon Boutique

Last night I attended a "community, all-levels" yoga class. In any other locale, this would have been called a "VERY STRENUOUS, even if you're a running/cycling/sprouted-grains-eating type" yoga class. Which, for the record, I am not. Granted, after the class I could have walked off some excess tension in the rock garden labyrinth on the studio's front lawn. Instead I chose to walk home (because everyone walks everywhere around here) and dive into some huckleberry ice cream.

I spent my first week in Ashland pestering small businesses with desperate requests for employment. All of them, from the brewery to the shoe store to the grocery co-op, included, "socially responsible," "organic," or "hemp" in the title. Finally I landed a position at Noble Coffee Roasting, where the sustainably-sourced coffee is roasted on the premises and then French-pressed. It turns out my position is more bus-boy than barista but it's a start. I plan to spend all my earnings at the 8728345 used book stores and the 9478274 precious little bakeries in town.

I asked Shawn if he wanted to attend the above-mentioned yoga studio's "Celebration of the Sacred Tantric Dance of the Divine Feminine" workshop with me. This caused him to look up from his iPad for the first time in days and say, "No. Haven't you seen enough middle-aged women with hairy armpits in this town already?"

I said, "Want to go to Yogurt Hut?"

So we did. Yogurt Hut is an amplified version of the kids' dessert section at Ryans, but with frozen yogurt instead of soft-serve ice cream. So it's healthy! After you pump yourself as much fro-yo as you could possibly want, you load it with candy and fruity toppings from the buffet. A cashier then weighs your creation and charges you accordingly. Mine cost as much as a steak dinner and was just as satisfying. I proposed a toast: "To a wonderful summer in your home town!" Shawn and I clinked our massive bowls of yogurt and headed home on foot, sidestepping a barefoot, pony-tailed backpacker gawking at the sunset.

Sunday, June 6, 2010


My sister said it best when, at the learned age of five, she informed our grandmother that "Some people's trash is other people's treasures." These wise words convinced Gramma to U-turn the pickup, head back to the dump and collect that football-shaped plastic trunk Jaci had fallen in love with. To this day it sits in our basement, housing pipe cleaners and broken camcorders. The point is, Jaci nailed the central tenet of my favorite suburban institution, the Yard Sale. Trash, treasures, and more importantly, the prospect of getting rich make yard sales every crafty kid's dream.

For starters, there's the sheer popularity factor of yard sales. For that one special Saturday, between the hours of 7:00am-noon, your house is the buzzing social capital of the neighborhood. Friends, family, neighbors, and hungry-looking strangers flock to your lawn and admiringly paw through your belongings. As a child I would, of course, hawk lemonade, luring in customers with my hand-painted signs and my "I'm the Big Sister!" t-shirt. I would also display my artwork, which included woven potholders, Jazzy Jewelry, and construction paper cut into snowflakes. I charged people coins for lemonade and bills for artwork.

And my enterprising little self didn't stop there. As I grew older and more persuasive, I commandeered the kids in the neighborhood to aid me in planning carnivals, plays, and concerts for profit. These events rarely panned out, because some people don't understand the necessity of rehearsal and can't take direction to save their lives. But my venturesome spirit lives on: when entertaining, I always set up a Bargain Table and cover it with household stuff I don't want any more. I charge party guests 50 cents for each item they take, thereby effortlessly (and shamelessly) ridding my house of unnecessary debris and making enough extra money to cover my library fines.

Visiting yard sales was equally thrilling in a less-entrepreneur, more-voyeur kind of way. I loved sifting through old toy collections, drawing conclusions from them about the sullen teenager inevitably peering out onto the lawn from her bedroom window. Play-Doh Spaghetti Factory- hardly touched, I would observe. But the Suzie-Pees-A-Lot doll was missing an eye and a clump of blonde curls from so much handling. I would don discarded dance recital costumes and test-drive Barbie cars while my parents weighed the merits of a chipped vanity versus an air hockey table.

Yardsales are totally kid-friendly because it is every kid's dream to run around a stranger's property and touch all their stuff. However, the yardsale's uppity cousin, the Estate Sale, is definitively NOT. While I would leap out of bed at 6:00am, wake my parents, and demand we set out for a yard sale on any given Saturday, I would throw a shit-fit at the mention of an estate sale. Unlike my parents, I had no interest in "finally seeing the inside of that big old farmhouse with all the land at the edge of town." The hosts of estate sales hate children and want to cut off their fingers even before they reach for Grandma's diamond clip-on earrings. And try hosting a mini-tea party with Aunt Edna's carnival glass china, just to see how it feels, before you start convincing your parents to buy it. Never have I been thrown out of a stranger's dining room so quickly. The words "silent auction" still make sweat with boredom.

Look, if you're into old-looking junk (and believe me, I am), skip the estate sale and head to the Pickens County Flea Market. On Wednesday mornings in the summer this place becomes a veritable nation of goods and services. In addition to estate sale-type crap, you might just leave the flea market with a clap-on, clap-off dolphin lamp, a peach tree, five pounds of okra, a handmade bird house-mailbox-sprinkler, some Third Reich paraphernalia, and a large Styrofoam cup of boiled peanuts! Livestock available includes free kittens, cockatiels, bunnies, rottweiler puppies, and peacocks, and most vendors accept Confederate money.

The real lesson to be gleaned from yard sales, estate sales, and flea markets is that most of the time, some people's trash is just destined to become other people's trash. When it's acquired in style, though- say, with a reluctant offering of petty cash, outdoors, on a 90° summer morning- I'd definitely qualify that as treasure material.