The Plague of Cicadas & The Senior Prank

locusts, but will have to use it for the cicada blog post

One of my nightmare scenarios came true yesterday when I read the story out of Florida about the gnarly flying cockroach that crawled into a woman’s ear while she was sleeping, and the grotesque details of the procedure and follow up of the removal of this disgusting bug. I can’t tell you how much I loathe cockroaches and want to vomit every time I see even a picture of them.  Those hellish buggers are one of my phobias. You can read about my encounter with these gross creatures and other creepy crawlies in a previous blog post here. Also, if you’re interested in losing your last meal, you can read the nasty news story I mentioned above here.

After reading and grimacing through that news story, it prompted a memory from my teen years.

It was late spring in 1987 in Fairfax, Virginia, and the year of the horde of the 17-year cicadas. They descended upon my city with the audacity of a shameless celebrity, blanketing tree trunks and back porch screen doors, emitting the most haunting, deafening, echoing tunnel humming I’d ever heard. I was a junior at Robinson Secondary School, which housed 7th-12th graders. The juniors alone were a thousand students that year! The main hall that stretched from one side of the enormous building to the other  spanned the area of a football field, at least that’s what it looked like to my teen eyes. The gym was the size of three regular elementary school gyms. I could go on, but you get the point.

So, I avoided going outside as much as humanly possible to shield myself from the black-bodied, red-eyed creatures drilling me in the head or landing on my shoulder. They were around two inches in length and an inch in width. HUGE, ok? Each day, my mother would drive me and pick me up from school, which was just over a mile away.

17-year cicadas

One afternoon after school when the speckles of sunlight shown through the curtain of cicadas on our back porch’s screen door and their humming had become background din, Mom opened the sliding screen slowly, stepping onto the porch in her button-up, long-sleeved shirt and jeans. She grabbed a pair of bush clippers and disappeared on the right side of the house to trim the hedges. Minutes later, she stepped back inside the den where I sat on the couch, cringing.

“I can’t believe you went out there,” I said.

She smiled, smoothing out invisible wrinkles in her jeans. “It’s fine.”

“The cicadas could have crawled all over you.”

“Naw.  Don’t be silly, Dorothy. You’re overreacting.” Still smiling, she shook her head.

A second later, she said, “Oh!” and bent over, pulling on the collar of her shirt and shaking it, until one of those hard-shelled vermin dropped out from her back onto the floor.

I screamed, “Kill it! Kill it!” I stood up on the sofa, about to have a heart attack at 17.

Mom managed to throw it back outside.

During these horrid weeks, a news report surfaced about a man driving in a truck that was attacked by a legion of cicadas that had flown through the driver’s side window, blocking his view of the road, causing him to veer off the road and crash. It was like something out of a horror flick.

The end of the school year was approaching. I gathered my clothes and backpack in the locker room and then crossed the shiny gym floor toward the doors leading to the main hall. Just before I pushed the doors open, a chorus of screams came from outside the gym. I headed toward the mob scene that was the main hall, which was how it always looked during changing classes. I moved toward the two-story 11th and 12th grade sub school straight ahead with its balcony off the second story 12th grade area that faced the main hall. The screams lessened as I fell into the haphazard flow of kids. A few kids (mostly girls) were yelling that the seniors had dumped cicadas from the balcony onto the juniors below them only a few minutes ago. My heart nearly stopped. I saw the evidence of these ugly creatures flitting about and some lying lifeless on the floor, people crunching them under their sneakers or stepping around them squealing. Relief of missing this death-inducing event washed over me.

Some senior prank. They couldn’t have just TP’d the classrooms or punctured the front lawn with a bunch of plastic forks like the seniors did at the local high school in our town here last year? No nasty bugs, just tedious plucking of utensils from the grass for clean up.

forks in lawn

So the rest of the day, the ugly suckers flew up and down the gaping main hall. One fellow student in Spanish class thought he’d be funny and had placed one of the cicadas on my back without my knowledge, of course.

He said, “Hey, Dorothy.”

I turned around to look at him–a little guy who sat behind me.

“Look,” he said, pointing at my back.

I peered over my shoulder and saw two red beady eyes staring at me. Inside I was freaking out, but I stayed calm on the outside knowing if I freaked out, he’d enjoy that too much and prolong the cicada’s lounging on my back.

“Get it off,” I said calmly, smiling as if I got the joke and didn’t care.

The student and his buddy next to him laughed, and he then removed it.

Obviously, I never forgot that day.

Having seen greenish-colored cicadas here in Pennsylvania in smaller size with “regular” eye color (I just know they weren’t red!), they didn’t look so bad.  In retrospect I feel a bit sorry for those cicadas at my high school. They were brought inside unable to do their mating, which is why they had dug themselves out of the ground after 17 years. They had no food sources and died by the next day. I never thought I’d see the day when I’d feel sorry for these bugs, but I do now. Ah, how your perspective changes some thirty years later. 🙂

 

~*~*~*~

 

 

 

 

My Short Play Making it to the Stage (Video Included!) & My Short Story Making it in the Finalist Category in a Writing Contest — All in One Week!

Book. Opened book with special light. Education

This week has been an amazing blessing from God.  I am so thankful for the gift of writing He has bestowed in me since childhood, that has been able to grow more than thirty years later.  As I have mentioned in past blog posts, I wrote a play for my creative writing class in 2015 when I was in my first year of online college at Southern New Hampshire University.  I had never written a play before.  It was really a screenplay at first.  I had to write something and had absolutely zero ideas of what to write.  I didn’t want to write something overdone, regurgitated too often, and for me, that meant a love relationship or some dire storyline.  But I couldn’t pull anything from my gray matter.  It sat there, lounging, out to lunch, not wanting to be present for this assignment.  So, I decided there was nothing else to do but to just start writing whatever came to my mind, no matter how stupid or incoherent.  Hey, it’s best to just get a gaggle of words down on the paper and worry about order and lucidity later.  In this process, I wrote ten pages of a play about nothing.  I named it “Falling Up Stairs” — the topic of the discussion in the play.  Ninety-eight percent of this play was written from a stream of consciousness, which tells you a lot about my brain’s functioning power to come up with ten pages of nothing.  The other two percent was making sure it made sense.  And lo and behold, it did.  What a relief!

I turned it in the week it was due, and shared it on the discussion forum the week after and got positive feedback from both my fellow students and professor.  They found my story funny and enjoyable.  This was good to know, not only grade wise, but that I was able to pull off a play that made some people laugh.  What a joy that is!

Fast forward to this past December when the director of artistic programming after several emails with me, set up a night for actors from the local theater in which she worked to read my two plays, “Falling Up Stairs” and “The Tricker’s Treat.”  Both plays came to life through these readings, and were enhanced by these actors’ brilliant jobs of reading with such animation and emotion.  I do hope that “The Tricker’s Treat” will come to the stage next fall.  God willing…!

And from that point, I signed up for the theater’s Open Mic night that was scheduled for January 20, 2018.  If you’ve ever seen the movie Noises Off with Michael Caine, Carol Burnett, John Ritter, and Christopher Reeve, you’ll understand me when I say I felt like Michael Caine’s character, Lloyd, the director of the play.  Yes, my nerves were just about as bad as his, worrying how the play would go down in front of the live audience, and wondering if the actors had their lines completely down.  I’m an anxious sort of person, so this wasn’t unusual or surprising.

Noises Off pic of Caine taking valium

Well, I fretted over nothing (which is usually the case).  My play was performed by these three fantastic actors to a receptive audience last night (January 20, 2018).  I couldn’t have been more proud of them and their great work, or more pleased.  I am so grateful to them for having agreed to act out my play, and I thanked them both verbally and with a small gift for their effort.  You can watch the performance on the video below.

On Thursday, January 18, I received an email from a publishing company who had ran a writing contest online back in November 2017.  I was informed that my short story, “Summer Memories” had been chosen as one of the twelve finalist pieces that they will include in their anthology of short stories for this year.  I can’t tell you how incredibly thrilled, but at the same time stunned, I was that my story had been chosen.  This past November had been the first time I’d entered any of my stories in writing contests. I entered three of my short stories in three different contests, and one of them was selected.  It’s nearly impossible to express the elation I have felt from this.  My work has been recognized by editors at a publishing company.  My work that I’d edited myself and submitted thinking I may have a chance, but if my work wasn’t chosen as a finalist or didn’t win, that was all right, too.  It was a great learning experience and helped me to overcome my fear of putting my work out there for people to read and examine.  The catalyst was turning my plays over to the director at the theater.  This was the first time I’d let those in a professional field (in this case, play related) read over my work.  It broke the huge wall of fear I’d constructed for the past two years.  This fear paralyzed my ability to make headway in my writing until last October when I sent my plays to this director who was so supportive and encouraging.  Things changed rather drastically after that.  It was as if God had opened the doors and windows ahead of me as I walked this path of mine, the writing path, the path I’d been given the gift to trek.

I now wait to work with this publishing company through further correspondence on what comes next for my short story in their anthology.  I look forward to it.

The video is under eight minutes.  Please share your thoughts after watching my play on what you liked about it, and if it made you laugh.

 

~*~*~*~

 

From Arcade Antics to Estes Escapades

sports balls

If you read my previous blog post, “Two And a Half Years of Foosball Mania,” you’ll know that I grew up a tomboy, and I loved to play soccer, arm wrestle, and at times, get into tussles with boys.  Therefore, from our first blind date until we reached our early forties, my husband, Troy and I have contended with each other in the realm of sports.

On this first date, we met at a mall and after strolling around there and discussing foosball and pool, Troy drove us to a nearby arcade/pool hall to show each other what we were made of.  We both showed our competitive natures in battling on the foosball table, with which I had had previous experience, and Troy had little.  I won.  Then, we moved to the pool table and shot the cue ball around, knocking it off of striped and solid balls.  This time, he had more experience than I did, and he won.

pool table with balls.jpg

In between visiting each other’s churches at the time, we found another opportunity to wrangle with each other at my church’s pool party.  There was a badminton net in the patch of grass by the pool, and the rackets and birdies were there waiting for us.  Mind you, we were twenty-six years old, and puberty in my early teens had feminized me to where I had to shower every day, doll myself up everywhere I went, and attending the pool party was no exception.  But as soon as I picked up the racket and birdie and eyed Troy through the red net, the excitement of playing the game and beating him coursed through my veins.  It was as if the girly in me took a hike, and I was now the powerful, unstoppable badminton freak.  Never mind the diving to the ground for the shuttlecock, sweat pouring out of my head and body, I had to hit that blasted bird over the net!  While I was scurrying around my side of the grassy field, Troy was doing the same, scooping the birdie here, swatting it over there.  At times, though, he missed, and I giggled with glee.  But then I’d actually missed a few, and he snickered from his side.

badmitton rackets and birdie

I’m not sure who won that because we both mirrored our misses and hits, but we came away from that short-winded with grins on our glistening faces…well, one of us was glistening.  Troy always had the genes or advantage (whatever you want to call it) to not perspire in huge, salty drops down his face like I, unfortunately, do.  Let me tell you, I didn’t feel fresh or dry after that game, and it was in the middle of summer in northern Louisiana.  Yuck!

Flip the calendar to the summer of 1998 in Dayton, Ohio, in which we’d been married over a year.  Troy’s son, Stephen, came for a visitation, and we decided to head out to the nearby ball park to play some baseball.  It started out well enough, with each of us taking turns batting and catching and pitching.  By the way, Troy knew I could hit the ball because we’d played baseball in one of our rare non-competitive games while dating.  Stephen was in the infield waiting for the ball to come his way.  Troy threw me a nice underhanded pitch, and I swung the bat, making contact with the ball.  It blazed straight back at him–a line drive.  It slammed him in his chest.  He huffed, the wind knocked out of him, and I froze for a moment, wondering if he was going to keel over and die!  I walked over to him, afraid of what I’d done.  I asked if he was all right, and he nodded while rubbing his sore chest, and managed to say that he was okay.  Well, that ended the game for the day!

Baseball Equipment Laying on Grass

Later on, Troy showed me the round, black, blue, and green spot on his chest where the ball had hit him.  It missed his heart by inches!  Lord, have mercy!  That moment always freaked me out, but any time he would tell that story, he’d relay it with a smile and with pride on how well his wife could hit the baseball!

Another incident of competitive tussling in the same year was around Thanksgiving time when Troy’s mom, sister, and his mom’s boyfriend were visiting.  We were renting a house in a nice neighborhood in Fairborn, Ohio, when Troy was stationed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.  The house had a basketball pole and net cemented into the end of the driveway to the left of the one-car garage.  Somehow, while we were out there talking with his mother, et. al., the basketball surfaced, and there was immediately the pulling on shirt sleeves and collars and stumbling around the driveway, half dribbling, half committing holding fouls, as we tried to score two-pointers.  I think my mother-in-law thought we were nuts by the look on her face.  After some wrestling with the ball and running out of steam, Troy put the ball away, and we limped inside the house.

basketball and hoop

Between 1998 and 2008, there were skirmishes fought at the local skee ball and basketball hoop machines at fun centers.

Lastly, it was the summer of 2008 in Estes Park, Colorado.  We’d lived in Colorado Springs at that time.  We’d taken a four-day weekend to spend it in the majestic Rocky Mountains.    Our sons, Nicholas, was nine, and Christopher was six at the time.  On one of the afternoons, we all decided to go play miniature golf, ride the go karts, and then take several swings at the batting cages.  When we’d finished the uneventful miniature golf, we climbed into our go karts–Troy and Christopher were in one, Nicholas was in his own, and I was in my own.  This was one sport that we didn’t feel the need to contend, so we drove around the race track with ease, enjoying the experience.

Nicholas rode around the loop like a Sunday driver, relaxed, both hands on the wheel, pleased as punch.  Troy and Christopher rode around with a bit more zip and exhuberance.  I followed this pattern, although I was more concerned with keeping my kart from hitting anybody else’s.  But apparently, I’d accidentally hit the side of the track and someone bumped into my kart’s rear, and the next thing I heard was the PA speaker crackle on, and a male voice tell my kart number to not run into other karts, and if it happened again, I’d have to leave the track!  Well, you can imagine my irritation considering I’d not tried to hit anyone, so I carefully finished the last couple of laps when the male voice droned into the loud speaker that the ride was over.  Good!

mario kart

Troy and the boys climbed out of their karts when I did, and we walked toward the batting cages, in which the boys had zero interest.  Only Troy and I saw it as an opportunity to beat each other’s batting averages.

The boys wandered outside the batting cage, partly watching us gear up and enter ones next to each other, and partly pawing and studying the bats by the fence.  Before we’d put the quarters in to start the pitching machines, we did notice the huge gray storm clouds that had gathered and were looming over us, but that didn’t phase us.  Not even when the lightning, thunder, and rain began to gently come down.  Nicholas walked over to our cages as Troy and I continued to swing, telling each other how many balls we’d hit thus far.  He’d said something like, “Mom, Dad, it’s raining, and look at the lightning!”  We mumbled something back at him like, “Yeah, it’s fine.  We’ve got to finish up our balls the machine is pitching us.”  Nicholas and Christopher took cover under an awning near the batting cages, watching us with frowns.  As we held the “lightning rods,” as Troy likes to say with a laugh in the years that followed, we kept on swinging, twisting, and huffing, our aluminum bats hitting the balls with a loud PING! … until…

…The lightning got closer, the rain fell heavily, and the thunder let out a BOOM next to our cages.  Well, then, we decided we’d better hang it up, call it a day in the hall of fame of batting averages.

lightning 2

If it weren’t for back problems and carpal tunnel issues, we’d still be jostling today.  Cheers to those many years of marital vying in the sports arena!

~*~*~*~

 

 

A Christmas Household of Many Different Tongues

Christmas scene of front door and tree

 

It was Christmas Day, 1980, at our home at Rhein Main Air Base, Germany, when a handful of my mother’s friends from all over came to visit and stay a couple of nights.  I was eleven years old at the time and brimming with excitement over the gifts from Santa and my parents.  But it only grew in fun and warmth through these wonderful people who stayed with us.  Below are the people who stayed with us around Christmas.

Bill:  A World War II veteran and friend of my mother’s (and eventually my father) before they married.

Marilyn:  A sweet woman from Belgium (lives in Greece) (her father was from Belgium and mother from Greece) who speaks French and Greek and only a few English words here and there.

Frida:  An energetic woman from Switzerland who speaks German and French and English.

Chantal:  Daughter of Frida who speaks German and French.

Anthoula & family:  A family from Greece that speaks Greek and German and lived in Germany when we were there.

*FYI: My mother is from Greece and speaks Greek and English.

Everyone got along splendidly.  The languages of French, German, Greek, and English  were like a symphony to my ears.  It stoked a special joy and magic to the Holy Day.  I only speak English and did my best to communicate with our guests.  They were all very kind to me, and all of them felt like part of our family.  So, you can imagine the conversations going on between Marilyn and my mother in Greek, Marilyn and Frida and Chantal in French, Frida and Chantal and Anthoula and her family in German, and Bill and my family in English.  My sister and I tried to chat with Marilyn (early 20s) and Chantal (approximately late teens/early 20s) as best as we could.  Gestures helped out a lot.  And I remember Marilyn spoke a few words in English that were enough for me to grasp what she was talking about.

foreign languages heart

As the large dining room table filled up with delicious Christmas foods, I was in the kitchen watching my mom running in and out of the kitchen to the dining room table to set out the dishes.  She looked frantic because, with the except of the turkey (mom had no idea about how to cook turkeys being Greek!) cooked up by my dad (which was always delicious), she did all the rest of the cooking and most of the preparing and serving!  Anyway, I don’t remember my question, but I asked her something, and she looked down at me with one of the dishes of food in her hand and responded to me in Greek!  I said something like, “Mom, I don’t understand what you said.”  Haha!  She then spoke to me in English.  🙂  With all the different languages floating inside the house, it was only natural that at least once, someone would lose track of to whom they were speaking.

BEST. CHRISTMAS. EVER.

Best Christmas 1980 in Germany

(Our gathering at the table for Christmas dinner. I’m on the left closest to the camera.)

What was your best Christmas memory?

~*~*~*~

 

Two And A Half Years Of Foosball Mania

foosball table

 

Between the ages of 18 and 21, I spent my evenings and weekends hanging out at a groovy place called Funtronics, where delightful arcade games, like pinball machines and foosball tables littered the linoleum floor, and the jukebox blared the latest pop rock of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Attached to the arcade was a record store that sold vinyl records and cassette tapes. Compact discs were making their way into the stores at the time, but the tape cassettes were still dominant, at least in Budget Tapes and Records, which was the name of the store. The man who owned both the arcade and record store later became my boss. I ended up working at his Budget Tapes and Records in the Parker, Colorado location. That position was simply the most laid back and fun job I’d ever done in my life, but sadly, reality hit a year and a half later that told me I couldn’t support myself working part time at that place.

Funtronics was a flashing light, noise-filled, stimulating wonderland. The foosball tables interested me immediately when I first visited the building and watched a couple of guys in faded jeans, t-shirts, and ball caps chewing on tobacco standing over the table, holding the bars of black and yellow men, snapping their wrists, sending the waxy, orange, little ball across the soccer field, ricocheting off the sides of the hard boards with clunks and hollow taps. These guys were austere in their engagement with the foosball. Their eyes never left the soccer table, and the lamps that dangled above them shed harsh yellow light that etched shadowed lines into the natural creases of their sober faces.

I decided I’d like to try it out. By the third game, I’d gotten a complete handle on how the game was played and how to shoot, block, and score. Having grown up a tomboy, I never feared playing against boys in sports. As a child, I was very competitive and loved to play soccer and arm wrestle with the boys. They accepted me when they saw I was able to play the games well, and that I could hold my own. My competitive nature did not diminish through adolescence and adulthood. At eighteen, nearly nineteen years old, having gone through puberty a few years back and feminized in the process, I still loved to play certain sports, and this foosball was quickly becoming a favorite pastime of mine.

So, I began playing the two guys, and one other guy was my team member. We ended up beating our opponents.  Immediately the jokes started with my team member making fun of the two other men, while all three of them were admittedly both embarrassed and pleasantly surprised by my ability to play the game. They were surprised because I had tricked them (which I admit I’d gotten too much pleasure out of it) into thinking I had no idea what I was doing, and I would tell them I wasn’t that good, so it wouldn’t take too long. This got me into the game, and well, after that, I became a regular with the guys at the foosball tables. There were two other girls that would play once and a while in a few tournaments with their boyfriends or husband, but in most cases, it was usually just me, and I had no problem with that!

gripping the foosball rods

Foosball was a serious business at this arcade. The owner had tournaments usually Friday or Saturday nights. Dedicated foosball players from around Castle Rock, the Springs, and even Denver, would gather at Funtronics and pay their entrance fee. You’d get matched up with a partner through the picking of names folded up on pieces of paper in a box. There were prizes for first, second, and third place. There were actually really nice trophies for first and second place (when the owner had them available), and ribbons for third. First place also received cash.

In the evenings in the summer especially, a gaggle of foosball addicts, including me, would be crammed inside the arcade with its nonstop thumping music, blinking lights, and buzzing machines. Hunched over the soccer tables in the harsh yellow lamplights, sweating, tensing, and gritting our teeth, we’d compete against our opponents with the aspirations of a shiny, gold and marble trophy and several bucks at the end. This money came in handy in feeding it to the quarters machine to play more foosball tournaments and practice in the subsequent days.

Everything revolved around the game. The scrappy, sticky, orange ball became our North Star, and we followed it when we watched our fellow players spank it with their black and yellow figures with their smooth helmet heads and chunky, pointed spade feet.

foosball men close up

One dry, warm night, I got paired up with one of the best players—one that traveled down from Denver with his wife. A laid back man, Dave had shaggy brown hair down to his shoulders and an epic beard. He looked like a cross between Santa Claus and Grizzly Adams. A really nice dude, and so was his wife. She was a small, thin woman with long, straight dark blonde hair who always dressed in jeans and t-shirts, as did Dave, and both resembled the flower children of the 1960s.

peace sign with flowers

There were usually about seven teams that would play, and through the process of elimination, you’d get down to the last two who’d persevered. Dave and I faced the Anderson brothers who were fast with their shots and superb in their passing to their rod of men to set up the chance to score.

Being the front man, Dave held the five-man bar in the middle of the table and the two-man rod (or 2-bar) that is both for defense and for lining up, shooting, and scoring. I, as in every tournament, was delegated to the goalie position, but I didn’t mind because it made sense. I had neither the lightening fast speed, nor scoring moves that matched Dave’s or the Anderson brothers’. When they scored, you never saw the ball go into the goal. Their speed was phenomenal. So, playing defense, although nerve wracking, worked for me. Thankfully, I was young then and had no problems with carpal tunnel syndrome, and could grip those rubberized handles and twist and snap my wrists effortlessly and endlessly!

I remember how my whole body would tense up, as I slid my 3-bar-goalie rod slowly back and forth, a few inches to the right and a few inches to the left, attempting to anticipate where Chris was going to aim and slam the ball towards my goal. I did have an advantage of having seen on many occasions his two set up strategies for scoring. So, I knew he would either push the ball to the left or pull it to the right. Most of the time, Chris pulled the ball from the left to the right and slapped the ball somewhere in the middle of the goal space, or to the right of my goalie.

foosball toes holding ball

But that night, when he pounded the ball toward my goal, I moved my goalie with a smart skip to the right and felt the thwack of the orange ball against my goalie that sent a vibration through the bar. I quickly punched the ball up the left side of the field toward Dave’s 5-men-bar, in which one of the men’s spade toes caught it and passed it to his 2-men-bar, ready to set up a winning shot.

After the ball had left my area, I’d relaxed my grasp on the rod and let out the breath I’d unintentionally been holding.

Dave lit into the orange ball.  It slipped passed Randy’s goalie and into the goal with a modest CLUNK!

We won that night. We each received $10 and a first place ribbon because the owner didn’t have any trophies that night, but in other tournaments, I did win a few trophies—three all together.

The days of foosball and its exciting, climatic tournaments were fabulous, and I hope to never forget them!

~*~*~*~