With my crooked little grin

“You’re doing it wrong!”

Clearly, the 15 year-old in me wants to kick my ass. I stopped listening to her years ago, but every so often she rears her little Sun-Inned head to scoff at what I choose to indulge, or eschew, now.

This is, of course, the same “me” who was arrested in high school. I’d like to say it wasn’t my proudest moment, but let’s face it: a police escort at 15 gives a suburban chick an edge in certain circles.

I fancied my own edge like my denim jacket: frayed, undeniably cool and something of a badge of honor, and I wore both with equal pride. My jacket, which was covered in autographs from the rock stars I loved, I could pull off. The edge? Not so much.

For starters, I wasn’t so much arrested as I was detained. And it certainly wasn’t for anything as “cool” as smoking in the park after curfew (I tried – and had an asthma attack) or defacing school property (I tried – and broke the tip off my only pencil).

My grasp on anything cool was shaky at best, which made being a freshman only slightly better being a captive at a North Korean detention camp. And if you went to my high school, the distinction between the two is a fuzzy line.

Most of my early rebellion was culled by watching my friends, who probably didn’t know any better than I did, but lacked my reserve. They’d all learned to ditch class by their second week of school, and by the end of the first semester had detailed routes to make it to Garden Market, the local between/after class hangout for the cool, without being caught by the resident school narcs.

I envied their daring but hesitated to follow suit. Consequences were important to me even then, and I had to find the right motivation before I’d commit a teen crime.

That motivation came in the form of music, or, more specifically, musicians. I was very new to the music scene then, and hadn’t yet developed my knack for conning my way onto a tour bus under the guise of journalism. Instead, I relied on meet & greets to accost my favorite stars with teddy bears and teen adoration, and when I learned that a band I worshipped would be signing autographs at a local record store one afternoon, I had just the incentive I needed to launch my life of cool crime. I quickly made a plan to skip sixth and seventh periods and walk to the store.

Leaving the school grounds was easier than I thought, which made the upset stomach I’d been suffering from all day seem all the more embarrassing. My anxiety often took physical tolls on me, usually in the form of a hot blush or nervous cuticle picking. That day it spiked to all new highs, and I probably could have had the nurse send me home legitimately had I not been so determined to see my delinquency through.

I covertly dashed through a side door and through the back alley to Garden Market. Rather than take the obvious direct route to the record store, which would have had me walking down a main thoroughfare, exposed and likely emitting a neon glow that screamed “Truant!” I decided to cut through the park and take side streets.

The park, of course, was a haven for delinquents. They’d camp out on benches smoking and sneering at children on the playground, and would eventually head to darkened woods to make out. Needless to say, the park was routinely patrolled by local police.

None of this occurred to me as I giddily danced my way through the woods and onto the park’s sidewalk. I was confident I was in the clear, and instead fantasized that the lead singer of the band I was about to meet would ask me to coffee to talk about poetry. (Yes, there may have been a picture of a unicorn hanging in my locker, if that’s any indication of my naïveté at the time.)

“You there! I need to see your ID now!”

The loud voice jarred me out of my fantasy and sent me into instant panic mode. An actual police officer was standing behind me and he definitely didn’t resemble the last officer I could recall seeing in person, that being the “stranger danger” policeman who spoke to my kindergarten class.

My school ID was back in my locker, along with my senses and the bottle of Tums I desperately needed. I lied and told the officer that I had been legitimately excused for a doctor appointment. The feeble excuse carried no weight, and I was promptly deposited in the back of his police car while he radioed the school admin office.

The back “seat” of the car was hard molded plastic and murder on my bony freshman butt. Murder was the first thing on my mind then – it was what I assumed my parents would do when they learned of my arrest, and what I planned to do to my school-ditching friends who neglected to warn me about the truant sting set up in the park.

The officer started the car, and rather than taking me to a police station or home, drove me back to school. There, he released me from the car, grabbed my upper arm as though I was anyone other than a very lame girl in over her head in the cool pool, and escorted me through the school and to the admin office.

Classes were letting out right then, making my police escort a public display. Eyes widened as my classmates saw The Law dragging me through the hall, and rumors quickly spread about what I could possibly have done.

Vandalism was the biggest rumor, accompanied by vague whispers of drug sales and fights. Wisely, I kept my mouth shut about the truth and accepted my subsequent detention like a pro.

I’ve since ceased caring about cool while simultaneously growing more adept at ditching. Of course, it’s now called “blowing off work,” and it’s what I was doing the other night when 15 year-old me felt the need to chime in.

I was standing on the VIP deck at what was once called World Music Theatre and is now named after some random bank. More than 40,000 people stared back at me – the most I’ve seen at this outdoor theatre since the 80s. The only thing separating me from the main stage was a railing, and for all practical purposes, the night was perfect … despite the fact that I was at a country concert.

My former self whined in my ear, annoyed because my guy and I had, just a few weeks before, turned down the opportunity to hang out with the same band I had been “arrested” for skipping class to see. I had stopped caring about that band long ago when their music ceased being good, not that 15 year-old me cared. A country concert? Where is the cool in that?

Priorities change with age – as does the definition of cool. I’ve managed to figure them both out finally, and while the concert may not have been rock n’ roll enough for me at 15, it most definitely rocked for me now.

And now, a few summer pics:

A view from our VIP seats

The Grimm Taylor gang
My guy's band Grimm Taylor at Summerfest
Going hillbilly for the NASCAR show
Just us. Together.

lovely

Good times never seem so good

I’m finding that as I get older, it’s best to not leave me to my own devices – I simply can’t be trusted to not initiate a chain reaction of stupidity. There once was a time when I could pass my fumblings off as the quirks of a writer. And they were cute then, really: I could spend an afternoon running errands, never noticing the giant tear in the back of my pants that exposed skull and crossbones-adorned panties and legitimately claim I was just caught up in my head mentally writing my book.

Sure, people giggled and pointed, but more indulgently than maliciously, much the same way you do at the zoo when a baby giraffe falls over or a monkey bellyflops out of a tree.

Nature, sadly, is no longer a suitable excuse for me. Which leaves me to assume I’m either losing IQ points (likely the result of watching too many episodes of The Girls Next Door) or my motor skills are deteriorating with age.

I certainly don’t blame alcohol. Not that I credit it for setting me on any straight path, but it does pour more color into my life. In fact, a recent trip to New Orleans found my guy and I at an absinthe bar on lower Decatur Street in the French Quarter one night, sampling various imports from France.

The bar itself – Pravda – offers a murky nod to communism and Bolshevik Russia with its deep red walls, gothic décor and random propaganda scattered throughout. Locals can be seen skulking in the corners, while the few tourists who wander in are typically eye-rolled out after ordering flames on their American-brand absinthe.

The good stuff is hidden below the bar in a few dusty bottles that are brought out only after expressing genuine interest and saying a few unofficial magic words. Once the curtain was lifted, so to speak, my guy and I found ourselves being served lushly aromatic imports described as “lyrical” with “nice opacity.” After two glasses each, we danced our way to Jackson Square where I suddenly found myself taking close-up pictures of wrought iron fences and wanting to lick the sky.

Clearly, alcohol is not the problem for me.

Yet here I sit with a giant bandage on my ass wondering where I went wrong.

It’s all my fault, of course. I’ve had a penchant for men’s razors for the past 10 years or so, when I got sick of trying to shave my legs through protective grates and islands of sticky foam. Sure the pink handles and pictures of the mood goddess are nice and all, but I’ll forego all the girly trimmings in favor of rows upon rows of exposed blades with names like “mach turbo skin razing force.”

Consequently, my legs are always silky smooth. This time though, my ass somehow got in the way.

I still don’t know what happened exactly. I let my razor-clad hand drop from my leg that was propped on the edge of the tub, I twisted, I leaned, I dragged a four-bladed razor across the supple skin of my ass and suddenly there was more carnage in my shower than in Ed Gein’s living room.

It was like one of those ridiculous “As Seen On TV” commercials where a spokesperson demonstrates how their product will solve the challenges of daily living. Countless times I’ve bellowed things like, “WHO has that much trouble cracking an egg?” and “Is it THAT hard to clip your nails?” and nestled into the couch secure in the knowledge that I way far too smart to ever be the moron with a gaping ass wound.

Once again my guy had to ingest his laughter when I came to him, this time dripping and bleeding and pleading for help in dressing a wound there was no way I’d ever be able to hide.

Many women will wax on about wanting intimacy in their relationships. To these empty-headed bims intimacy is snuggle time, and cooed terms of endearment after boxed wine and a romantic comedy. To me, intimacy is letting my poor guy help apply antibiotic gel to my self-inflicted ass gash.

Clearly, living with me is nonstop fun.

My “to-do” list for the day now includes purchasing a girly pink razor with protective coating and grates and staying away from my stapler … God only knows what I could inadvertently affix to myself.

And now, a few pics from New Orleans…

Jackson Square at night

Photography under the influence

Pre-absinthe
Burbon Street
Along the river after Cafe Du Monde
Every moment in NOLA is amazing.

Nothing else seems to matter

I could almost smell the Sun-In and Doritos.

The sweetly noxious scent of my ‘tween years poured from my car radio as Janet Jackson’s “When I Think of You” played. Buddy Holly has the same effect on my dad, though he tends to recall grass clippings and gunpowder. I envy that in a way; he can revel in the scent of adventure at the sounds of a  rock n’ roll pioneer whereas I’m forced to inhale naïve desperation every time a ridiculous synth-pop song plays.

Damn the 80s, and XM radio for forcing me to remember them. Tthere is very little about that decade that could ever be so refreshing to remember, least of all my youth.

I spent the summer of ’86 slathered in Coppertone oil, my nacho cheese-stained fingers eagerly flipping through Seventeen magazine. That’s where I got the idea to start using Sun-In, and at the time it seemed a good one. Rarely did I leave the house without multiple spritzes singeing my scalp and it wasn’t long before Yahoo Serious decided to capitalize on my look. I guess it didn’t help that I also took a crimping iron to my hair on most days.

It could have been worse, I suppose. I could have given in to the temptation to get a perm, or I could have cut my own bangs. My friend Renee did both that summer, and the result was unfortunate. We spent an entire afternoon at the drug store near my house searching for a barrette, a bow, a headband – anything to wrangle that nightmare into place. I talked her into buying a bottle of Sun-In as well. Needless to say, we’re no longer in touch.

My efforts might have been somewhat misguided, but you can’t say I didn’t try. I layered neons, cuffed my Esprit pants, flipped my pink Izod collar and I somehow still came out looking as though I’d been run over by a street sweeper.

It forced me to dread my family’s annual 4th of July trek, not because I didn’t want to go, but because I had a litany of fashion-related fears. My family was about to pack up the car with burger-making supplies, brownies, pies, blankets, bathing suits, explosives, and liquor to head to a place I knew only as “the country,” and all I could do was panic.

Seventeen never really explained how to actually live in your clothing – white pants were definitely not made for bike riding; there was no way my hair was getting near lake water, no matter how rapidly it dehydrated; and I seriously doubted my teal mascara would hold up under regular misting of mosquito repellant.

Not that I had anyone to impress, of course. “The country” was several acres of nature-ridden land my grandfather owned somewhere south of Chicago. He built a four-bedroom house off the lake, fashioned a beach, and opened it to the extended family of aunts, uncles and cousins for regular gatherings.

We’d all grill and hike and go for rides on the back of my grandfather’s giant lawnmower, and at night my cousins and I would sneak wine coolers out of the icebox while my dad blew things up. I had no idea how I was going to do any of that under the weight of what I considered my fashion responsibility. My mother likely regretted ever buying me that first copy of Seventeen as she tried desperately to get me to put on a pair old shorts before we left that morning.

I was a ‘tween. I didn’t have words for the confusion, the wild urge to be “cool” or the conflicting impulse to be a kid. All I had was a page ripped from my current fashion bible with a picture of the girl I longed to be. Even if it meant wearing leggings, a denim skirt, oversize button-front shirt and ropes of fake pearls into the woods on a 100-degree day.

My mother relented to my pleas, but only with my agreement to a compromise: That I pack a bag with shorts and a t-shirt “just in case.”

Fair enough. I added my Walkman, a couple magazines and a bottle of Love’s Baby Soft perfume and was on my way.

My cousins were already running wild when we arrived. Their eyes widened as I gingerly navigated my way across the gravel driveway to the house. It was the farthest thing from a runway as I could get, but I maintained what shaky composure I had until I made it to our bedroom, where I threw my bag on the bed in frustration.

This “cool” thing was not easy. The entire family was outside readying gear to go fishing, leaving me to roam the house alone. Seventeen could cure my pimples and instruct me on eye shadow application, but it offered nothing to cure my loneliness.

I wandered into one of the bedrooms in back. We never really used the house during the winter months, and over the years it began to serve as depot for the entire family’s excess stuff. That particular room was overrun with boxes and with nothing better to do, I started rummaging.

Most of it was junk – stuffed animals, old clothing, the usual surplus from growing families. One box on the dresser caught my eye. Piles of magazines spilled out, their glossy covers beckoning to be opened. I brightened a bit; there was nothing like the thrill of discovering a new magazine to make my day.

I grabbed a stack and stretched out on the bed with a bag of Doritos at my side. They were the Snack Food of the Gods as far as I was concerned, and I never read anything without them. Something about the combination of a magazine and the salty tang of cheese and crunchy corn equaled bliss in my little ‘tween world, and for the first time all morning, I had hope that the day might improve.

A few pages past the cover and I knew instantly that this was not the typical fashion magazine. My biggest clue, of course, was that none of the women were wearing clothing. Fate had indeed smiled on me that morning, because I had inadvertently stumbled across an expansive collection of Playboy magazines from the ’60s and ’70s.

What shocked me most about the magazines was not the lack of clothing – I’d been watching grade B horror movies for years before then, and topless women were nothing new – it was how relaxed, comfortable and happy the women all looked.

Each page held something different to marvel at. Look! There’s a woman on a bicycle – and she’s wearing shorts! Look! There’s a woman fixing a car – she’s getting dirty and she’s happy about it!

Obviously, the concept of erotica was lost on me.

I only saw gorgeous women doing everyday things without any fashion hindrances. No labels, no hang ups, just fun. And in one unforgettable instant, Playboy magazine taught me the most important lesson of my burgeoning life: That less is most definitely more.

Cheers from outside interrupted my page-turning. My cousin had just caught a fish and was holding it up with pride. Suddenly, that bag my mom had made me pack seemed less distasteful. If the women in Playboy could run around outside without the layers of clothing and still look beautiful, so could I.

With my makeup washed off, hair in a ponytail, and last year’s gym uniform on, I ran outside to join my family. They never knew what inspired the dramatic change, but on that particular day, there were no complaints.

It’s funny now how much impact that day had. Eventually I gave up my bottle of Sun-In, learned to temper fashion with reality, and to this day I still forgo most makeup.

Admittedly, I do still love Doritos and a good magazine, and may now have an uncontrollable (though not inexplicable) lust for lingerie, but of all the challenges the 80s threw at me, I guess that’s not such a bad fate after all.

Viva Las Vegas!

I miss Vegas. Mornings just don’t seem right without a mimosa, palm trees, and learning I’m an “Instant Spin Winner”. Sigh.

Needless to say, the Vegas trip was a success! A few notes:

1) To the staff at the Maryland Parkway Barnes & Noble: Thank you for all your help in making the book signing a tremendous success!

2) To my new Michael Kors purse from the Forum shops at Ceasar’s Palace: Had that sparkly “super scatter” reel not magically spun in my favor, we would never have been brought together.

3) To the Deal or No Deal slot machine at the MGM Grand Casino: Why did you turn on me? Why?

4) To my bank: Can I propose a new slogan for you? You can be the Bank With a Heart … if only you’ll have a bank error in my favor. Could you maybe just forget all those withdrawls? Please?

5) To my guy: I hope your thumb heals in time for NOLA.

And now, a few of my favorite pics:

Morning Neurosis book signing at Barnes & Noble Vegas.
My handsome man and I.
Me and The Purse.
Dinner at Mesa Grill.
New York New York, our hotel.
Relaxing after a long morning of mimosas and slots.
Us and the strip.

Walking on sunshine

I miss Jazzercise. It’s ridiculous and stupid, I know, but I have a soft spot in my heart for workouts from the 80s. Were my gym to launch a “Sweatin’ to the Oldies” style class, I’d be in the front row.

Sure, Richard Simmons is more creepy than kitschy at this point, but I’ve yet to see anyone quite so enthused about bouncing around to pop tune knock-offs in the name of physical fitness (aside from Christian Bale, of course).

Everyone at my gym is just so serious. Class titles include words like “strike!” and “power kick!” and “cardio attack!” to describe whatever punishing routine attendees are in for, and are lead by militant fascists whose limbs resemble knotted lengths of rope wrapped around tree trunks.

Having my ass kicked is not my idea of a fun workout. Give me an hour of grapevines, chasses, step-ball-changes, toe touches, hip rocks and knee lifts and I’m a happy chick. You can’t not laugh when you’re busting out jazz hands.

The closest my gym will come to channeling Denise Austin or Jane Fonda is their oxymoronic “salsa funk” class. It’s billed as delivering an intense cardio workout, core training, and basic salsa skills in a fun, welcoming setting, which, after poking my head into a class one evening, I have to doubt. The room was packed with people: half of them were desperately limping along as the instructor barked out instructions while the other half looked pissed off that their view to the mirror was blocked. I quickly hustled my way to the treadmills.

Life would be so much easier if I could just catch a thyroid disorder. The good kind, mind you – the kind that puts your metabolism into hyperdrive, not the kind that makes dark hairs sprout from your chin and adds pounds quicker than a deep fried Twinkie.

Not that any thyroid disorder is particularly “good”, I do understand that, but I’d be willing to accept things like an increased heart rate and jitters if they enabled me to bypass the scene at the gym.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy working out, I just resent the experience. My gym in particular takes fitness to Orwellian levels by offering their own blood lab where you can have your fitness level determined from the inside out. It’s especially creepy when the technicians, decked out in official-looking white coats, set up shop in the hallway and say things like, “Learn what your doctor won’t tell you,” and “Let your blood speak for you.”

I’m not sure what exactly my blood would say for me, aside from the fact that I’ve likely had too much whiskey, and I can’t say I really care to find out.

Despite my refusal to assimilate, I seem to be doing something right. My recent trek to buy a bathing suit for Las Vegas did not end with anyone in tears, from me, to my guy, to the sales clerks. I wish I could say as much for the woman in the changing room next to me: after 20 minutes of snapping, grunting, tugging, and cursing, she finally emerged wearing a neon yellow “tankini” that the salesgirl instantly proclaimed “Worth the effort,” thus winning my award for Best Euphemism of the Day.

Whatever works, I suppose.

As for me, I’ll be the one keeping my blood to myself and dutifully jogging away on the treadmill to the sounds of Katrina and the Waves and Huey Lewis, dreaming of the day when my gym resembles the set from the movie Girls Just Want to Have Fun, and I can don my legwarmers without fear of public ridicule.

PS – my Morning Neurosis “rowdier than the typical book signing” book tour stops in Las Vegas this Sunday, April 11. I’ll be at the Barnes & Noble on Maryland Parkway from 7-9 pm. Join me for rock n’ roll stories, and later, shots at the hotel bar!

Pics from the Borders signing

Hey all –

Thanks so much to everyone who braved the ridiculous weather to come out to the signing at Borders this weekend. I really appreciate the support, and had a blast sharing the “I grabbed Jon Bon Jovi’s butt” story. Posted below are a few of my favorite pics from the event.

Next stop on the book tour: VEGAS! April 11, 7pm at the Barnes & Noble on Maryland Parkway. Hope to see you there!

All photograph by Carolyn Marie Dimmick of Sunnshyne Photography:

I can see clearly now

I opened the sunroof on the car the other day. It was one of those perfect pre-Spring moments, when the sun feels as it should, breathing the air is inviting rather than painful, and winter anguish has melted away to reveal potential.

That was, of course, before this Midwestern pit of despair reared its desperate little head and dumped several gallons of chilly rain on us. No matter, though. The thaw lasted long enough to prompt my guy and I to head out for our first margaritas of the season and spend the remainder of the night hillbilly-style, camped out in lawn chairs on our driveway.

I’ve even gone so far as to break out the open-toed heels to welcome the new season. Perhaps it’s a bit premature, but frigid pools of icy run-off be damned! I’ll break these suckers in before the book tour hits Las Vegas (27 days and counting!) if it kills me, or hypothermia sets in, whichever comes first.

It’s safe to say that the impending change of season has allowed giddiness to usurp my usual stabbiness for the time, and all I can say is – it’s about damn time. When I find myself Googling phrases like, “alternative uses for piano wire” and “what does lime do to a corpse” I know winter has gone on too long.

Fortunately, there are enough diversions and amusements during the days now to keep my wacky, “All work and no play make Juliette a dull girl” self at bay.

For example, three things that made me happy this weekend:

1. Stringing my guy’s bass unsupervised.
The key word being, of course, “unsupervised.” Deep down I know there are space chimps that could likely string a bass as well as I do, but I still get a thrill from being entrusted with the responsibility. I’ve even gotten good enough at it that my guy can hand me a pack of strings, walk away, and return to a perfectly strung bass. Of course, I might have downloaded a gig-worth of “bass teching for idiots” iphone aps, just to confirm I don’t break anything in the process, but my guy never needs to know about that.

2. Belting out backing vocals for my guy’s band in the studio.
When I accompanied my guy to the recording studio to watch his band record a track for the NHRA, the last thing I expected was to be tossed in the vocal aquarium. My tinny little voice is just one on many, many layers of phrases like “hot rod, hot,” but for a few minutes, I got to pretend I was a musician. There’s a “Yoko” warning light flashing somewhere, but I’m choosing to ignore it.

3. Free wine.
The only way to top off a nightcap of truffles and chocolate covered strawberries? A free bottle of wine from a friendly bartender at the best local winery in Illinois.

It’s good to have the alcohol on hand, actually, seeing as how I still need to prepare my talk for my next book reading/signing. I’m breaking with tradition and NOT actually reading from my book, but instead sharing stories from rock n’ roll past. Shameless plug: Don’t miss it! March 20, 2pm at Borders in Oak Brook.

After that, it’s on to Barnes & Noble in Vegas in April, movies at the drive-in, betting on horses at Arlington, and whatever else Spring may bring.

New review

Hey all,

A KILLER review of Morning Neurosis was just posted on goodreads.com – it’s the kind of review that makes me think, maybe – just maybe – I may someday be a good as Bukowski.

And hey – don’t miss me on my book tour! I’ll be at Borders in Oak Brook (IL) on March 20 at 2pm and Barnes & Noble Las Vegas (on Maryland Parkway) on April 11 at 7pm.

Goodreads.com
Review by Emily
(http://www.goodreads.com/user/show/2104845-emily)

Morning Neurosis is the rawest most real thing I have read in awhile. This biography/autobiography/memoir that is lightly fictionalized honestly sums up the inner workings of most 20-something women at some point in their life. Juliette Miranda’s first book had me nodding and agreeing so much with her thoughts, and we are in no other way alike besides the sharing of our female parts.

The book begins with Miranda having to make the tough decision to give up her LA fantasy life and move back home to Chicago for a paycheck. She has to take a job she despises, but with the economy, she lacks better options.

Miranda has a sea of former musicians for lovers and friends who are always popping back up in her life. The book describes them and she has attributed nicknames to each of them. She is a self-described rock slut and has many tales to back up her claims. The book jumps around a lot and I think that keeps it interesting. Much like this review. Ha ha.

Soon after returning to Chicago, Miranda meets Jon, another musician who really isn’t like the other musicians she tells him because he has a “real job” too. By the end of the book though, I would like to say that I think Jon was just like the other musicians with just as much baggage. Just better packaging skills.

The majority of the book follows the dysfunctional relationship Miranda forges with Jon and the many neuroses that come with being in a relationship and being female. I think women are forever questioning themselves and ever so passive aggressive in new relationships because we don’t want to screw them up and we don’t want to be tooo out there and we don’t want to be shot down. I know, I cannot be the only one to relate to the constant worrying that Miranda describes.

She does have a VERY smart friend named Dan who always talks sense and tells her the truth and great advice, even if she doesn’t always listen or follow through. I think we all have a friend like that, even when we hate them for being correct.

I would have to say that I liked this book way more than I ever intended on liking it, because originally I thought I wouldn’t relate and it would just be a quick fun read. Quick it was, but wow, very insightful. Miranda is hilarious, real , and hooks you in. Can’t wait to read what she writes next.

Something is coming for you

(A retelling of one of my favorite childhood memories…)

There seems to be an inexplicable culture shift within the townhouse community where my guy and I reside. It’s a Slums of Beverly Hills kind of shift, where our good zip code is hovering closer and closer to a suburban wasteland of sloth and white-collar carnage.

Flower beds and raincoat-bedazzled plaster geese have given way to full trash cans “stored” at the edge of driveways and residual Halloween decorations left ready to ripen in the spring sun. An unnerving number of unmarked utility vans now crowd the street, and just the other day our recycling bin was stolen. I doubt it will be used for its intended purpose.

Mail service and UPS have also given up on our patch of receding affluence. I’ve been contacted by multiple entities for having mail returned as “undeliverable” despite my perfectly functional mailbox, and UPS, when they show up at all, tend to toss packages from their still moving trucks rather than collecting a signature at the front door.

Recently, in fact, my guy stumbled across two sizeable boxes UPS delivered to the middle of our driveway. Neither was for us; they were actually addressed to a house on the other side of our complex. But rather than making the block-long walk to bring the packages to the correct address, we kicked them into our garage and forgot about them for a few days. (I never said we were pillars of the community.)

My upbringing eventually got the best of me though, and one afternoon I decided we’d sat on the boxes long enough. Being a curious kinda chick, I couldn’t just drop the boxes on the appropriate doorstep though – I had to read the return address first:

Firechemicals dot com.

Fire chemicals? We have enough problems with bin nabbers and religious zealots in our ‘hood, the last thing we need is an arsonist.

Still, for as much as I was inclined to call a moving company right then, I was just as overwhelmed by the conflicting realization that this must have been exactly how my neighbors felt everyday living next door to my family when I was growing up.

We all knew my dad was a bit of an eccentric – that much was obvious by his job title alone. “Physicist” stood out amongst the doctors, salesmen and managers in a fuzzy, intimidating sort of way, and my dad certainly did everything possible to spark the distinction.

Where neighbors put jack-o-lanterns in their front windows on Halloween, my dad displayed his homemade Tesla coil. When fathers took their children to parks and mini golf courses, my dad took me to the drag strip and fossil digs with the Field Museum. And where any other rational person would call an exterminator, my dad mixed his own homemade dynamite.

If nothing else, my dad always knew how to deliver a solution. My neighbors just should have known better than to go looking for one when my dad was around. In all fairness, they did have a very large, and very active hornet nest in their shrubbery, and after getting stung repeatedly while walking from the front door to their car, complaining about it to a sympathetic neighbor was appropriate.

My dad just happened to take their problem as a personal challenge, and after vanishing into his workshop, emerged a half hour later wearing a camouflage jumpsuit and crash helmet. My dad never was in the military, and I never did get a satisfactory explanation where he acquired such a jumpsuit, but then again, I also never got an explanation on how he found the chemicals to create the giant dynamite tube he carried in his left hand. (It’s probably a good thing the internet didn’t exist then.)

Our “block” wasn’t so much a block as it was a dead end strip of land they just happened to build a few houses on, so it didn’t take much excitement to lure all the neighbors to the street. Kids and parents amassed for our wacky block party of the damned, and gave a collective gasp to see my dad unearth and light a flare from a tool box in the garage.

“You all need to stand back! Clear the way!”

I knew enough to heed the warning, but the others crept in closer as dad circled the hornet nest. Sensing imminent danger, the winged creatures mobilized into attack formation. Dad dodged the angry buzzing and in one fluid movement jammed the dynamite into the nest while simultaneously lighting it with the flare.

And then he ran.

He ran past the nest, past the neighbors on the edge of the driveway, and all the way down the street before bracing himself behind a willow tree. I’ve since heard plenty of loud noises – quarry blasting, buildings collapsing, the wail my mother made when I told her I was moving to Los Angeles to work in the music industry – but none will burst quite as loud in my memory as the sound that dynamite made when it blew up the hornet nest and the entire shrub it was housed in.

Problem solved.

It seems to me that a few well-placed explosives would make a considerable improvement in my neighborhood now. And with that in mind, I have collected the suspicious boxes and made a very special delivery.

I have a feeling it’s going to be an interesting summer around here.

Essayist, author, podcaster, and general misanthrope. Official blog of lightly fictionalized musings and general word vomit. Visit www.juliettemiranda.com for additional info.