The problem with having a local business is that it’s often frequented by enterprising locals, all hoping to sell their wares.
Utopia was no different.
Now Sister Madly had heard tales of these free-range entrepreneurs but thought them as mythical as the Sasquatch- that is, until the winter when they descended upon Utopia in droves, pitching products from handmade jewelry to glass-blown bongs suggestive in their design, to local music unsuitable for human absorption. Sister Madly obtained an extraordinary amount of patience in those years, listening to horrific demos while dogs howled from the alley.
But even this did not quite compare to the brainchild of the wayward Fashionista, whose poorly executed British Accent* pitched her personal line of sequined handbags. These bags, each the size of a cigar box, seemed normal enough- that is, until the Fashionista flipped the purse around to reveal the small compartment containing a live, and rather surly, Betta Fish.
* Like many Americans attempting a British accent, the Fashionista could mimic nothing better than southern Alabama.
Now Sister Madly is all for chasing one’s dreams; she herself has aspirations that border the utterly insane- like one day eating a salad- but not one of those dreams include strutting along Bourbon Street with a Betta Fish in a Sequined Handbag. Clearly, her face reflected the WTF that she was thinking, as the Fashionista went on to emphasized certain selling points, including a self-contained LED light (with multiple twinkle settings) and the fact that almost any freshwater* fish from goldfish to guppy could be substituted for the Betta.
* This was blatant discrimination against all saltwater creatures- after all, what femme fatale wouldn’t want to tote a halibut with glowing pride?
Being a humble clerk, Sister Madly was no more authorized to make wholesale purchases than she was to dispose of bodies in the company’s dumpster- and she campaigned for both during her employment. In fact, Management rarely purchased anything local, preferring rather back alley transactions and mysterious shipments from China * to the dubious wares of the native psychopaths.
* Sister Madly eventually gained the confidence of Management, who assigned her the task of ripping the labels off all shipments from China in an attempt to conceal the identity of their suppliers. It was useless, really- the return addresses were written in Chinese.
After the regulation We-Don’t-Want-Your-Wares-Weirdo-But-It-Sounds-Like-You-Have-A-Chance Spiel (which Sister Madly delivered most diplomatically,) the Fashionista said something quite lovely in British-Alabamian, smiled in this same language, and sashayed her glamorous self out the door- leaving handbag behind as a ‘sample.’
Make no mistake, Sister Madly likes presents; she likes finding books on the side of the road, or lotion samples in the mail, and has been known to dine quite handsomely toothpicked meatballs at the market. But all these are a far cry from being saddled with a surly Betta Fish by a Fashionista with a bad accent.
Then again, if Sister Madly can properly care for a Betta Fish, she would be prepared for the day the Humane Society drops off a sample Corgi. She would be the first civilian sought to test-ride a luxury Zeppelin cross-country, and would be the prime candidate to care for the sample case of premium Hard Cider expected to arrive the following week. It wouldn’t be long before Sister Madly proved herself worthy of a galaxy or two, with unlimited dimension-traveling privileges.
In the meantime, Utopia now had a Betta Fish who, judging by its disposition, did not like the poky accommodations of the Handbag Aquarium- and Sister Madly knew all about the unhappy conditions of poky accommodations.
So she transferred the surly Fish to a shiny, new, Tibetan Singing Bowl.
But new digs meant little without nutrition in terms of survival; so Sister Madly took it upon herself to feed the Surly Fish and even went so far as to do it with a smile.
But what does a Betta eat? Aside from giving her the evil eye, it’s been rather uncommunicative, and try as she might, Sister Madly did not speak fish. Taking into account the dietary lifestyle commonly found in poky accommodations, Sister Madly assumed (quite correctly, no doubt) that a Surly Fish would enjoy the same fare.
So she bought the Betta two large pizzas and some olives, knowing her coworkers would assist in finishing what the Fish could not consume as to avoid unnecessary waste. Her coworkers were most resourceful when it came to all things edible.
She also bought a small canister of Fish Food- you know, just in case.
RUSTIC CHICKEN STOUT STEW
- 1 onion, chopped
- 3-5 garlic cloves, minced
- 4-6 chicken thighs, cubed
- 3-4 cups chicken stock
- 1½ cups stout, divided (1 cup + ½ cup)
- bacon, cooked and crumbled (opt)
- pearl onions, peeled
- mushrooms, sliced
- carrots, cubed
- 2 TBSP Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tsp ground mustard
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tsp thyme
- ½ tsp sage
- ¼ tsp nutmeg
- ¼ tsp cayenne, or to taste
- salt/pepper, to taste
- heavy cream (opt)
Sauté chopped onion in bacon grease/oil until translucent; 8-10 min
Add garlic; sauté 1-2 min
Deglaze with 1 cup stout; 2-3 min
Mix in spices; 30 sec
Add vegetables; stir to coat
Add chicken; stir to coat
Add stock, Worcestershire, and remaining stout; mix
Bring to a boil
Reduce heat; simmer 1-1½ hour
Add cream (if using); simmer 10 min
Remove bay leaf; garnish with bacon before serving
THEME SONG: Dream On, Aerosmith
It was a common sight that summer, the old refrigerator box moving upright across the lawn.
To the untrained eye it was a free-spirited box, pouncing upon puffball mushrooms and chasing fireflies with unmistakable good cheer. But what the untrained eye did not realize was that this wasn’t just childhood whimsy; this was a mission of the highest caliber, one that demanded both stealth and discretion.
You see, Sister Madly was utterly convinced that her neighbor, Harry, was a Russian spy.
It was not an easy conclusion to reach as the classic signs of Russian pride were absent, such as fur hats and vodka parties, and bowls of borscht on a Saturday night. But there was no mistaking the subtler signs, the ones sadly overlooked by the federal government: the mowing of the lawn before 7 AM; the cans of fruit cocktail he gave to children on Halloween; the disapproval when Sister Madly’s hula hoop got stuck in his tree ‘yet again.’ Yet the incident that all but confirmed Harry’s Soviet sympathies was the night questionable music drifted from the shed tucked away behind his house.
A song that referenced alien abduction.*
* Come Sail Away by Styx
All the music that ever mattered could be found at the roller rink, sandwiched between Roxette’s Joyride and the closing anthem of We Are the World. But this little ditty which encouraged extra-terrestrial naughtiness was nowhere to be found at these skating parties, leading Sister Madly to the obvious conclusion that the song was a code to be deciphered.
Even though the word ‘alien’ never appears in the song, by simply mentioning a starship, the aliens are implied- which was a clever move on the part of the Russians. The ‘alien’ was without a doubt Harry as he proved himself a stranger by strangely suggesting that Sister Madly was not using her hula hoop properly since she kept getting it stuck up in the tree.
As for the starship, there was no such craft parked in his driveway, nor on the street in front of his house. Obviously Harry had the craft hidden away, which could only mean that the starship was inflatable. Yes, somewhere on that property there was a zeppelin stuffed into a coffee can, ready to be inflated and deployed at a moment’s notice- and that moment was approaching. Clearly this was the message hidden in the song. A brilliant lot, them Russians.
And just as Sister Madly was congratulating herself on the cracking of this code, there came a polite knock on the side of her box.
But it wasn’t Harry; it was her dad. And it seemed that after days of watching the refrigerator box amble through it’s many misadventures, he managed to work up just enough curiosity to ask what it was that Sister Madly was doing.
Maybe she should tell him about Harry- after all, when it came to fighting international spies, her dad was probably a bit more capable than she.
To her surprise, the Pater Madly did not seem particularly threatened by the Russians; in fact, he seemed to imply that his greatest foes were a bit little closer to home- the bats living in the chimney, for example. And the wasp’s nest.
Sister Madly had to admit that she did not know which country was currently #1 on the International Espionage Watch List. Perhaps Russia was so last Tuesday. Perhaps another nation was now a greater threat, someplace mysterious and largely unfathomable- like Paducah.
But just as it was with Russia, the badges of Kentucky pride were absent, such as silver spurs. Harry didn’t wear silver spurs, not even with his comfy, tasseled loafers. But he did whistle now and then, to prove his good cheer. Yes, Paducah was a possibility.
Not only was her dad remarkably unconcerned, he was amused, which made Sister Madly wonder if he was a spy as well. After all, he made ice tea in the old apple juice jars, and in the refrigerator one couldn’t tell the difference between the two. Because of this, Sister Madly was often given ice tea ‘by mistake’- which is just the thing a spy would do, in her opinion.
The Pater Madly, however, did nothing to deny – or defend – his ties with Russia (or those with Paducah, for that matter.) Instead, he simply informed Sister Madly that he had gotten her hula hoop out of the tree.
And on the advice of her father, Sister Madly did her best not to get the hula hoop stuck up in Harry’s tree- if her dad was doing his part to improve relations with Russia, she might as well do hers.
She got it stuck on the roof of the garage instead.
THEME SONG: Come Sail Away, Styx
4) Paula Strahan
Sophistication can be tricky, especially in the art of deciding whether to arrive to an assignation on time, or fashionably late. But what is apparently quite unacceptable is the in-between tardiness that results from staring at a giant mushroom.
It wasn’t that this tardiness was found to be thoughtless or even rude, but unnatural. Delays involving traffic, bees, and runaway steamrollers have all been overlooked, but the fungus was deemed inexcusable as the Professors seem to be biologically opposed to all things mushroom. In fact, they didn’t seem to believe that Sister Madly saw the mushroom at all, which resulted in a frustration she hadn’t felt since Christmas Eve, when no one believed that Elvis was sitting on her neighbor’s balcony.
So after much discussion, the Professors came to the logical conclusion that Sister Madly would greatly benefit from a week-long retreat at the Trappist Monastery.
To begin with, Sister Madly doesn’t like how this particular monastic order contains the word Trap. No doubt that name exists for a reason, and she’s not too keen on finding out why. Besides, it’s not like she ate the mushroom, although she did form a bond with a hookah-smoking caterpillar over their mutual lack of height.
The Professors cheerfully overlooked these misgivings, determined that Sister Madly would embrace the simple life once she was not only aware of all the thrills…
“You can make creamed honey-”
…but moments of sweet meditation.
“-and fruit cake!”
Yes, very few graduates today realize that all of life’s predicaments can be rectified with a bakery and a beehive, as Monastic Fruit Cake Philosophy is only available on a PhD level. Sister Madly herself was ill-equipped upon finishing high school, facing the world with nothing more than knowledge of how to add and subtract papayas, that throwing tea into a harbor results in warfare, and that battery acid eats through shirts.* Had she furthered her education, she might not have been contaminated by Giant Mushroom Awe.
* The understanding of battery acid came about in a household setting rather than the classroom.
(Sorry about that.)
But why a Trappist Monastery? What about the monks who make cider? Why can’t she spend a few days with those fine gentlemen?
The Professors thought the reason was obvious enough: the Monks Who Make Cider live in a little place called The Other Side of the World, which was a wee bit outside of their ‘stay-for-free-but-donations-are-accepted’ budget.
“Besides, Trappist Monks are known for their silence.”
Well, that’s a comfort: the monks will be unable to tattle on Sister Madly when she engages in some very un-monastic rituals, such as swimming in the baptistery and putting toothpaste in the fruit cake. Surely nothing is more infuriating than a gossipy little monk.*
* Or a gossipy tall monk, for that matter.
But wait- would she also be bound by this vow of silence? Not that she’s a chatty little supernova, mind you, but Sister Madly has been known to talk to, with, and amongst herself on occasion. And of course, she simply must reply; not responding to oneself when speaking to oneself is most impolite. But this mandatory silence would be like giving herself the cold shoulder, and Sister Madly might take offense and not speak to herself for days.
“It’s not completely silent; after all, there is a confessor.”
If that is not the essence of ingenuity! No need for the monks to tattle; Sister Madly will be required to tattle on herself! Then she will sulk and call herself names, which will escalate to rumor-spreading and hair-pulling, after which Sister Madly will vow to never tell herself another secret again.
Well son of a biscuit, Sister Madly- you just uncovered the Trap of Trappist! This whole ‘retreat’ is just a ruse on the part of the Professors to thwart future high-jinks and delicious skullduggery, all of which takes a great deal of planning amongst yourself; the Giant Mushroom is just an excuse to implement it. They’re trying to make you just like them, all responsible and early-to-bed. You need to put a stop to this wicked agenda at once!
Professor- did you do something with your hair?
That’s what she thought.
THEME SONG: Enjoy the Silence, Depeche Mode
What I am looking for is a blessing not in disguise. ~ Jerome K. Jerome
Aside from the occasional fortune cookie, Sister Madly is rather inexperienced when it comes to magic. She sulks when the stars refuse to tell her anything specific, like how to replace the spark plugs in her car or which market is having a sale on her favorite cider. Yet the practitioners she encountered at Utopia back in the day had either less knowledge of the craft than she, or proved to be one noodle short of a darling chow mein- like this fellow.
So when a plucky pagan lad dropped by with a homemade candle asking if Utopia would allow him to ritually ‘bless the store,’ Sister Madly wasn’t quite sure what to do with him. Even the employees weren’t that dedicated; they routinely had to be bribed with a paycheck just to show up.
Management utterly adored the idea of such a ritual- after all, it was the grand opening of Utopia in its new location and they clearly could use all the supernatural aid the universe could spare. But even in their starry-eyed giddiness did Management retain enough wisdom to take measures to ensure that the Blessing did not result in a Blessing in Disguise by assigning Sister Madly to stand guard over the candle while it burned.
Typically, a votive candle has a lifespan of 8-10 hours. That means Sister Madly will be spending the better part of her day making certain that neither the clientele, the building, the city, nor the Utopian Sweetheart -Sinner*- caught on fire. This Sister Madly was perfectly able to do; she just wasn’t looking forward to it.
*A cat. A fat, lazy cat.
It rather generous of the lad, calling that scent ‘Tahitian Vanilla;’ ‘Burnt Toast’ was more like it. As for the Blessing… well, Sister Madly isn’t too familiar with pagan rituals, but she was almost certain that what the lad was doing around the candle was not so much ‘magic’ as it was ‘Pilates.’ However, once he began chanting in a cryptic and, in Sister Madly’s opinion, nonexistent language, she began to suspect that the Plucky Pagan was a card-carrying member of Club Psych Med- in fact, his entire ritual looked like something he picked up from watching far too many Hammer Films.
And Management just gave him permission to play with fire. Precious.
Now existential thoughts are inevitable when staring at a candle for hours on end, such as contemplating the meaning of life and wondering if it is possible to make Sake out of Rice-A-Roni. Breaking into such thoughts can be just as hazardous as waking a sleepwalker, yet Management risked it all by interrupting her thousand-yard stare.
“Do you think you can hurry that up?”
And just how does one hurry up a Blessing? If Sister Madly knew how to do that, she would be the most well-to-do complex organism in the local galaxy. One cannot hurry along a Blessing anymore than one can ‘Get a Life!’ or ‘Grow Up!’ on command. On the other hand, it is only a candle, and a questionable one at that; and while there are those who swear by Pilates, the practice is hardly magical- what repercussions could there possibly be?
Let’s start with coming face to face with THIS:
Yes, no sooner did Sister Madly snuff out the Burnt Toast Candle that the Lion appeared, with little regards as to who (Sister Madly) or what (the wall) was in his way. No doubt it was like the legend of Bloody Mary, where one can summon the spirit by chanting her name three times while looking into a mirror; thus when one snuffs out a Burnt Toast Candle, one summons a Dancing Lion from some Chinese New Year Celebration of days gone by- which was all fine and dandy, but what was Sister Madly to do with a Dancing Lion?
While those in attendance found the Lion Dance fascinating, the same cannot be said for Sinner who, at the start of the performance, launched himself from the counter via Victor’s open container of guacamole, onto the stroller of a terrified toddler, whose shriek sent Sinner straight into a display of creepy African Masks where he overturned several trays of beads.
Many, many beads…
This is because of the candle, isn’t it? Due to her insufficient understanding of Burnt Toast Candle Rituals, Sister Madly rendered the Blessing null and void by snuffing out the flame early. The Grand Opening Celebration would be forever be remembered as the day Sister Madly let a Blessing go awry, immortalized by photos of a Dancing Lion, green paw prints across various antiques, pillows and children, and a fat cat who refused to climb off the bookshelf until he had finished licking his feet.
Indeed, Utopia missed out on a Blessing that day…
But Sinner has liked guacamole ever since.
*The Lion Dance was planned weeks before by Management; they just neglected to mention it. To anyone.
THEME SONG: Dance with the Dragon, Jefferson Starship
All Images via Pinterest
Crows have been known to build fake nests in order to fool predators. Sister Madly intends to utilize this strategy the next time she goes camping by pitching a fake tent to fool her friends.
She might even make use of a papier-mâché Sister Madly decoy, which no doubt will go unnoticed for the first 36 hours.*
* Possibly 40, if special mushrooms are involved.
In a rational world, there are many reasons that one would camp out in the wild: to get out of the city, to go on an adventure, to hide a body, or to simply experience nature.
Oh there was nature, all right, in those outdoor adventures of yore…
Professor- was that a peacock?!
While the Professors heard her question, they apparently did not hear the distinctive, prehistoric squawk as their only response was a look suggesting that Sister Madly was treading dangerously close to butterfly-net territory. It would seem that not one of the Professors’ credentials included a PhD in birds.*
* Or anything useful, for that matter.
Furthermore, the Professors must have assumed that Sister Madly not only hallucinated the Peacock’s Song, but did so out of hunger as she was handed a bag of vegan cat treats.
For those unfamiliar with the species, ‘cats’ are those cuddly creatures that purr when happy and strategically hack hairballs into your shoes without the slightest bit of shame. There are kitties in the wild, this much is true: but they are awfully big kitties, Professor- seriously, are these Treats for the cougars?
“For the… Peacock.”
Now Sister Madly’s parents didn’t raise a fool- a darling rapscallion with latent psychopathic tendencies, perhaps, but not a fool. She was well-aware that when the word Peacock was spoken, it was italicized. So they didn’t believe there was a Peacock in the vicinity; so they were merely humoring her like a dim-witted child. So Sister Madly, in return, humored those hollow smiles by indulging in the Cat Treats herself.
However, it seemed that the Treats were intended for the Italicized Peacock after all, for no sooner did Sister Madly start munching on the Treats that the bag was snatched out of her hand with a serious reprimand.
“If you must eat, Sister Madly, then eat this.”
‘This’ turned out to be a most luxurious lump of something akin to the color grey, of which even the Italicized Peacock would be jealous. As the Italicized Peacock was unavailable, Sister Madly had the luxurious lump- which she ritualistically drenched in ketchup like a petulant 2 year-old- all to herself. The ketchup, however, was all in vain as the lump tasted like a near-death experience.
‘This’ was not something she should be eating. ‘This’ was something she should be playing Jacks with while sitting on the sidewalk, and Sister Madly became very depressed that it was in her mouth.
Sensing her dissatisfaction in the second-hand lump, the Professor engaged in a lofty dissertation on how oysters are a source of vitamins this and that, antioxidants, iron, zinc and oh, they can make pearls, Sister Madly! Isn’t that one of your birthstones? Aren’t you just tickled pink?
Sister Madly couldn’t help but be skeptical of any nutritional advice coming from someone whose daily serving of fruits and vegetables had, until recently,* consisted of whatever was garnishing a cocktail glass. But when she heard that oysters are also said to be aphrodisiacs, she began to suspect that the Professors had ulterior motives.
* This Professor had been a pescetarian for 4 days at this point, and would continue to be one for another 6- because, bacon.
But that’s ridiculous; when one is out of one’s element, one tends to be skeptical of anything unfamiliar. No doubt the Professor accidentally packed the Cat Treats instead of trail mix, and the oyster was simply overcooked. Of course the Professors had no ulterior motives; they were in it strictly for the adventure- that is why they insisted on that rugged fundamental: individual foot-baths infused with salt, rosemary and mint.
Face it, Sister Madly: there are ulterior motives at play. You are secretly being seasoned- what other possible explanation is there? Not even a pampered city slicker would insist on a salted rosemary and mint foot-bath out in the wild- isn’t all the sweat, dirt, and funky foot aroma part of the primal allure?
This suspicion was confirmed by the horror displayed when Sister Madly absolutely refused to washed her feet, and no amount of cider could make her comply. It doesn’t take a genius to pick apart your dastardly plan, Professor: a trail of Cat Treats leading from the woods to a rosemary and mint-marinated Sister Madly* smorgasbord, thus satiating the cougar appetite and calling a truce between the civilized world and the wild.
* A free-range Sister Madly, of course.
“Those aren’t Cat Treats, Sister Madly; that’s eggplant and tofu jerky. It’s been marinated in beer. Aren’t you allergic to hops?”
Eggplant, tofu, and hops.
Eggplant and Tofu…
Definitely utilizing that papier-mâché decoy during the next camping trip.*
* The Italicized Peacock agrees.
Imagine, if you will, the utter joy of waking up one morning to find that a White Castle Sign had blossomed in front of your house overnight.
It almost happened, you know.
Every now and then, Sister Madly has a birthday; and while some pass quietly into the void, others arrive at the insistence of certain friends and family members who wish to observe the day in the most average way possible, such as the time her Ex surprised her by taking her to the skeletal remains of the last White Castle in the state.*
Oh, how you spoil her!
*18th birthday. Possibly even 19th. But definitely not 20.
Surely here was a place of romance, with its crack pipes and graffitied walls; no doubt many a young couple met fate here in the form of the Zodiac Killer. A leisurely walk through the overgrown parking lot proved to be the highlight of the evening as it led them to where the White Castle Sign lay broken and abandoned amidst the prairie grass.
“And that, Sister Madly, is for you!”
This her Ex said proudly, as though he, himself, had hunted down the elusive White Castle Sign while on safari. Yes, this dedicated young man whom Sister Madly was dating, who stood victorious over that shattered carcass, was nothing more than a Big Game Fast Food poacher at heart.
“The Sign is your present! Happy Birthday!”
Surely her parents would find no fault with this! They were rational individuals after all, of logic and sound mind; that’s why the gargoyle was banished from the house.
See, this was not the first such gift from her Ex. Over Christmas, he presented her with a dismal little gargoyle, the sight of which brought about a fit of laughter from her mother upon encountering it the following morning. Things took a dark turn, however, when her mother decided that the little beast was straight from the devil- things had a habit of becoming evil once her mother had time to think it over. Oh, but Sister Madly could keep the gargoyle- she just couldn’t keep it in the house.
So the winged Yoda was banished to the outdoors, where he would reside under the porch (thus meeting her mother’s ‘out of sight’ requirement) for the next several years.*
*The gargoyle would make a lovely comeback later in life, in which he would be painted gold and used as a trophy for a Murder Mystery in a Box Game.
Her Ex sincerely apologized for having to bring Sister Madly to the White Castle Sign, instead of surprising her with it when he picked her up earlier that evening. In fact, the only reason her Ex did not bring the gift over to her house was that he could not come up with the means to transport such a large Sign at short notice.
But what was more important to her Ex than the gifts themselves was the method with which they were obtained; he believed that the story and heroics therein made the gift all the more valuable. His original intention was to steal a gargoyle, but the gardens around town were mostly populated with gnomes and those critters scared him silly; now he was stealing for her a White Castle Sign.* Her Ex was certainly generous with things that did not belong to him.
*Sister Madly is aware that pointing to an object and declaring ‘Mine!’ isn’t technically stealing, not until said object is illegally removed. She does some understanding of the law.
Now Sister Madly doesn’t mean to sound ungrateful- make no mistake, somewhere deep inside that psychotic little snickerdoodle was a sense of wonder at these shameless attempts of deluded grandeur. She sees no harm in re-gifting a present if you believe someone would truly enjoy the gift, but one does not typically re-gift someone else’s property.
But more importantly-
WHY WOULD SISTER MADLY WANT A WHITE CASTLE SIGN?!?!
“Because you like Medieval things.”
Okay… Sister Madly understands that Medieval history is not everyone’s pint of cider, thus not everyone is attuned to the finer nuances of the Era. However, just as one can’t put wings on Yoda and call him demonic, one can’t write the word ‘castle’ on a post-it note and call it Medieval poetry!
Yet, he was so proud…
And so Sister Madly declined the gift, saying there was no place at the house to put the Sign and her parents would outright murder her if she tried. But she did promise to visit the Sign whenever she got the chance, perhaps even pack it a lovely picnic lunch of Pop Rocks and Pixy Sticks.*
*About 3 weeks later, her Ex informed her that someone had removed her White Castle Sign, which “wouldn’t have happened if you had taken it home.”
Amazingly, this relationship did not work out.
When it comes to the general public, the most dangerous plant on the face of the Earth is not a mutated Venus Flytrap, nor is it Poison Ivy, Poison Oak, or a Cactus.
No, it is this thing:
Because those compelled to obey the Mistletoe are never the ones you want to heed the call.
And because you never know where the Mistletoe is going to turn up, like in a Quonset-Hut-turned-Chinese-Bar at the annual gathering of The Creepiest People on the Planet; or at the Blue Moon, where Sister Madly once danced with South American, or at the Professors’ Chanukah/Solstice/Christmas Fusion Party. As to which holiday was being celebrated at said party, that all depended upon to whom that question was directed.
So it was with the usual desperate holiday cheer that the Professors blasted Sister Madly from her lovely, toasty, velvet cocoon of a bed that morning, with a message informing her (or as they insisted, reminding her) of the aforementioned party a mere 30 minutes before Sister Madly was expected to be there- with a smile, hopefully, but that part was negotiable.
Due to the Professors’ unease of her questionable culinary skills- specifically, her penchant for blue mushrooms and purple potatoes- it was determined long before Sister Madly even knew there was a party that she would be in charge of the decorations thus eternally banished from the kitchen. Any and all pre-party snacks were to be slipped to her beneath the door for the duration of the pre-party preparations; those treats that were lost to the cats in the process were regarded as inevitable sacrifices to the cause.*
* That last part made sense to her at the time.
It was also requested that she not set fire to the German Pinwheel thingy this time around.
Thus Sister Madly arrived on the Professors’ doorstep as requested, all big-haired and bleary-eyed, armed with cider, Mistletoe, and not one blue mushroom or purple potato. She even went so far as to tuck away her German Pinwheel Pyromania in the back of her car- out of arm’s reach, surely, but still within the vicinity should the night call for it.
Now there are times in which Sister Madly feels that, amongst the Professors, her presence goes largely unnoticed while her absence is never quite forgiven. Perhaps this is why her unladylike thundering about was overlooked that day as she proceeded to hang Mistletoe in every doorway, in every non-doorway, over every available chair, over the designated snack table (which she quickly removed, as Sister Madly wanted unrestricted access to this location) over the bar, even over the most strategic location in the bathroom.
Her Mistletoe masterpiece, however, was reserved for the basement:
So while the Professors were upstairs blissfully drinking and cooking (but mostly drinking) amongst the cupboards of painted birds, Sister Madly was gleefully transforming the Enchanted Forest of Happy Little Trees below into a Magical Wonderland of Latent Kisses. Yes, shrubbery… shrubbery everywhere.
Why Mistletoe, you may ask. To begin with, one must understand the mistletoe folklore in Western Culture: while a man is permitted to kiss any woman standing beneath the mistletoe, bad luck would befall any woman who refuses his kiss- which is why Sister Madly will be hanging out on the front porch with a case of cider. Alone.
Mistletoe is also associated with fertility- another reason you’ll find Sister Madly out on the front porch with the cider. Alone.
So why mistletoe?
Because everyone deserves a chance to be kissed.
Because everyone deserves a moment of magic.
Because it was quarter to 11 in the morning and a grumpy, sleepy-eyed Sister Madly was in need of holiday decorations pronto.
It was just after 6 when the Professors, with their mulled wine and their wassail and cheese cubes on a stick, first found themselves gazing upon the Magical Wonderland of Latent Kisses, with looks of either awe or utter horror at the fact that, no matter where they stood in that basement, they were within a few inches of a kiss.*
* It was horror, no question about it.
This work of art Sister Madly likes to call A Thousand Kisses Deep.
And that was when the first group of guests began to arrive.
THEME SONG: A Thousand Kisses Deep, Leonard Cohen
The trouble with being a god is that you’ve got no one to pray to ~ Terry Pratchett
It was a day like any other when Yanni came to town. At Utopia, three employees had emerged from their usual Wednesday night hangovers, Victor had fallen victim to the oil and muck puddle as he took out the trash, and the resident cat – Sinner – was having trouble hacking up his weekly hairball.
To the envy of all, Sister Madly had arrived sober, clean, and hairball free- but this, too, would not last. She was selected for the Wearing of the Green, that all too important job of trying on rings and bracelets to see how long it would take to look like Swamp Thing. Some nights she would come home with so much green around her wrists it looked like she spent the day chained up in the basement with Igor- which of course wasn’t true. Igor was fired months ago.
The point of the Wearing of the Green was to see whether or not the most recent merchandise was truly sterling.* Sterling Silver is an alloy consisting of 92.5% silver and 7.5% other metal, which makes the silver suitable for daily wear and is indicated by the number .925 engraved somewhere on the piece. Fine Silver (99.9%) is much too soft for jewelry, and often results in unhappy customers demanding something called a ‘refund’ – loudly.
*Green is the result of a chemical reaction between copper and the acid in sweat, which forms salts that leave a residue on the skin- the only alchemy of which Sister Madly is capable.
When dealing with reputable vendors, this low-budget test method is not necessary; but when one’s dealing with independent peddlers who sell things out of their trench coats in the back alley (a common Utopian practice) one just might wind up with merchandise that is merely sterling-plated.
In no time, Sister Madly looked as though she had been luxuriating in the local bayou, the sight of which prompted Management to make a cheeky reference to the employees being the latest rejects of Fraggle Rock. This, naturally, would have made no difference to Management had they not been made aware of one Yanni arriving in town.
Now Sister Madly had heard of this Yanni, thanks to the ill-gotten Pure Moods CD’s of her teens. She also remembers not being too impressed with whatever song was on said CD, thus not giving him a second thought- which, it would turn out, is more thought than most of her coworkers had ever given him.
However, it seemed that membership was down in Club Yanni, thus his accompanists took to the streets to recruit disciples by giving away free tickets. Management was particularly susceptible to this type of evangelism, and were not only immediate converts, but immediate authorities on the man they hadn’t heard of a mere hour before.
And as new glow of euphoric propaganda coursed through their veins, Management began to wonder if Yanni, himself, would show up at Utopia… because shopping for incense and fertility gods is exactly what Yanni would do less than 90 minutes before show time. Management went on to demanded that they be informed the moment Yanni stopped by the store.
There was some concern amongst certain Utopians regarding this request, as they did not know what the Man Known as Yanni looked like. But Management graciously responded with this all-too-detailed description:
“Just be on the look out for someone who looks like Jesus!”
“Jesus? Like the guy who sells melons on the corner?”
“That’s pronounced Jesús, Victor, and those are mangoes.”*
*It was well-known to everyone but Victor that the man behind Mangoes by Jesús was in fact an Italian named Giuseppe, who drove a vintage Mustang and spoke better English than the lot of them. But then, Victor smoked a lot of illegal plant-life.
It was a few moments before closing time when it happened: that beam of light that broke through the clouds, and the angelic choir that accompanied the silhouette that stood majestically in the doorframe…
…which was the precise moment that Sinner, in a spectacular display of vaudevillian theatrics, not only coughed up his mutant hairball, but proceeded to basked in the glory of his regurgitated masterpiece- all at the feet of the Man Who Could Have Been Yanni…
But alas, the silhouette was merely the pizza boy.
THEME SONG: Anything by Yanni, as long as it’s interesting (Good Luck)
“Why is there a jawbone on the side of the road?”
One could not help but notice the slight accusatory tone in the Professor’s question.
A few moments earlier, the Professor came upon Sister Madly poking at something on the ground. Now Sister Madly doesn’t pretend to know a thing about anthropology, but she does have teeth, and that bone fragment clearly had a healthy set of chompers. Thus one did not need much of an education to realize that what they were looking at was jawbone. And while Sister Madly cannot speak for the rest of her species, she herself is biologically programmed to wonder about jawbones just lying on the side of the road.
Professors, however, are created without any such curiosity.
“Whatever you do, don’t eat them.”
Don’t eat… Do you think that Sister Madly just picks random bone fragments off the road and puts them in her mouth? She’s not 2, you know- hasn’t been for years.
“I was talking about the mushrooms by the tree.”
Apparently, the Professor was more concerned about Sister Madly’s fungal-eating habits than the fact that she just found a jawbone on the side of the road. People are forever warning her about mushrooms.
You know, Sister Madly, one couldn’t help but notice the Professor’s lack of curiosity at the jawbone; perhaps it is the remains of a ne’er-do-well who was done up good and proper by the Professor after particularly cutthroat round of Settlers of Catan…
Oh, who are you kidding? Settlers of Catan never gets more interesting than a yawn. Besides, this would not explain how the ne’er-do-well went from fresh corpse to jawbone without detection. One would like to think that Sister Madly would have noticed a body decaying on the side of the road at some point during the last few months.
Thus, the only conclusion left to draw is that it must be the Jawbone of the Cheshire Cat, who passed on when he was nothing more than a smile. Probably from eating one of those mushrooms the Professor warned her about.
So Sister Madly did what any wide-eyed, little moppet would do: entertained delusions of grandeur (Indiana Moppet and the Jawbone of Belmont Street, y‘all!!) while hiding the bone fragment in a flower pot up in her kitchen.
But lying in bed later that night, she couldn’t help but overhear that little voice that she pretends is not in her head:
Sister Madly, do you realize that you are keeping a jawbone in a flower pot on your kitchen counter? There’s a word for people who do that: psychopath. Unfortunately, you’re not competent enough to live up to the title, but those who are will not like you imitating them in such a sloppy fashion and might try to do something about it- is that a smile lingering the corner?
The last thing she wanted was to he haunted by the Cheshire’s Smile for the rest of her life. So she threw the bone into the garbage.
But ten minutes later…
Sister Madly- there’s a jawbone rotting in your kitchen trash. This is how horror stories always begin: with the improper disposal – or flat-out disrespect – of body parts. Poltergeist comes to mind… do you want to spend the remainder of your life trapped inside the TV? And is that a Smile hovering outside your window?! Just try to tell yourself that is the moon. Everybody knows that the Cheshire’s Smile becomes the moon, and the moon his Smile.
It’s not that your imagination is running away with you, Sister Madly; it’s running away from you. Even it doesn’t like the thoughts that are going through your head. And without an imagination, there is no way you can pretend that moon is anything but the Cheshire’s Smile.
While all legends require the Adventurer to return the artifact to the place where it was found, Sister Madly decided that the dumpster behind her building was close enough. Sure, she had a little remorse for disposing of the Cheshire’s Smile in this manner, but it was his fault for eating the Professor’s mushrooms in the first place. Besides, the dumpster is 20 ft from her apartment, far enough away to ensure that she will not be haunted by the Cheshire’s Smile for the rest of her life.
Yet, not ten minutes later…
* Should you find Sister Madly’s imagination, please return it ASAP. Reality is a nice place to visit, but she doesn’t want to live there.
THEME SONG: Bones & Pearls, Peter Murphy’s Carver Combo
It began around 5 AM, when Sister Madly was awakened by this cryptic message:
“Err n and I want to ws ‘ll err I’m here to westv xxx and bj ask.”
Apparently, auto-correct couldn’t be bothered to interpret the Professors’ fantastic twaddle- that or, as Sister Madly suspected, just didn’t dare.
As it turned out, the Professors wanted to lay out itinerary for the day, consisting of a leisurely salad, followed by an advanced yoga class, after which they would be hitting up every Happy Hour between the studio and the drunk tank.
Yeah, Sister Madly doesn’t quite understand the logic behind the Professors, either. To begin with, Sister Madly does not do this thing called ‘salad’- in fact, the very sight of a leafy vegetable is enough to send her into fits. As for yoga- she has this thing called a spine, which is determined to prevent Sister Madly from bending herself into a pretzel.
Besides- yoga poses are for mountain tops.
But she’s totally down for the Happy Hour part.
As she was politely declining the salad and the yoga (i.e., Salad? Hello, have we met?!) there came a knock on her door, which she decided to confront while wrapped in her leopard-print bed sheet (not as sexy as it sounds.)
There are few things more terrifying than finding a man in a HAZMAT suit at your door. This post-apocalyptic missionary’s message was regarding the upcoming window-replacement that afternoon, and how Sister Madly was to vacate the apartment for the duration due to something called ‘Lead Paint.’ Apparently, it is not the most nutritious substance to inhale.
Society is always warning us of the dangers of inhaling substances other than air- even water has gotten a bad rap. Surely these fears are greatly exaggerated!
Take, for example, the first time Sister Madly tried cooking with wine: she got quite a buzz just standing over the skillet. Seriously, inhaling the steam was almost more fun than drinking the wine- almost. But she made it through the incident without much damage to body and soul, and ended up writing a very lovely email to a friend. What if it’s the same with Lead Paint? It could be the key to unlocking one’s creative genius! Yet Sister Madly will never find out; no, she’ll be whimpering through salads and sprawled out dead on a yoga mat while the HAZMAT Missionary returns home and paints some masterpiece worthy of Michelangelo.
After being shooed from her apartment, Sister Madly began the death march towards the Leisurely Salad- and was waylaid by a cackling crow, who pitched a dead bird at her from the tree branch overhead.
For heaven’s sake- what did Sister Madly ever do to you? Not only was this act deliberate, it was executed with force. And yet the incident wasn’t a total surprise, for she had recently come across a crow in the most peculiar way: having found a Tarot Deck in a free bin nearby, Sister Madly was naturally curious as to what this deck was all about.
And the first card she drew was The IX of Dead Sticks.
Ok, so ‘crow’ wasn’t the first creature
that came to mind…
It’s said that there are different methods of interpreting Tarot cards, one of these being intuitively. In retrospect, Sister Madly’s intuition had revealed that The IX of Dead Sticks meant that even though she would be flirting with a vegan lifestyle, the crows would not fooled by this pretense will pelt her with the corpses of their kin.
This is why The IX of Dead Sticks never turns up in horror stories: such a plot would only sell on the West Coast.
You know, Sister Madly, Leisurely Salads and Yoga are only in your future if you permit it. You are at liberty to change that future if it’s heading in a direction you don’t wish to go- maybe that’s what The XI of Dead Sticks is really trying to tell you.
And so Sister Madly informed the Professors that she will not be participating in the pre-Happy Hour Vegan Extravaganza; she’ll be eating dumplings and General’s Chicken* at the Chinese Restaurant, the one with the palm trees painted willy-nilly on the walls.
* With a fork, which caused the Professors to have a meltdown.
Fortunately, they do not know where that is.
The IX of Dead Sticks. Sister Madly is not fooled; she knows exactly who’s behind all this:
THEME SONG: Black Crow, Peter Murphy’s Carver Combo
Two types of people laugh at the law: those that break it
and those that make it ~ Terry Pratchett
There are times when the normally angelic Sister Madly cannot help but turn maverick, shunning the law by ripping the tags off mattresses, and defiantly parking in the loading zone 3 minutes before 6 PM. This is no life for a coward, for one runs the risk of unpleasant consequences.
Take, for instance, last winter. The Professors were outside, doing whatever it is that Professors do out in the cold, when what appeared to be a Fireball was launched heroically out the kitchen window and into the night. Further investigation revealed this nuclear supernova to be a flaming bag of microwave popcorn.
Earlier that day, the Professors’ succumbed to a domestic desire to make a popcorn garland for the Xmas tree. After some discussion, it was decided that little harm could come of Sister Madly microwaving this popcorn while the Professors went outside to do whatever it is that Professors do out in the cold.
After a horrifying search through the pantry (Why are you stockpiling Spam, Professor? And not just any Spam, but Teriyaki!) Sister Madly came upon a package of ‘Organic’ Popcorn (You’ve got 12 cans of Teriyaki Spam, Professor- this healthy pretense isn’t fooling anybody.)
It was here that Sister Madly made the fatal error that defeats a maverick every time: she read the directions.
Do NOT use popcorn button.
Well, son of a biscuit! The Popcorn was getting ideas above its station! Just when did it assume the authority to tell her what to do? The microwave sacrificed one square inch of personal space to provide the world with an easy, make-all-your-popcorn-dreams-come-true button, and Sister Madly was going to utilize it!
But this Popcorn was clearly in the pay of her enemies, refusing to pop into its glorious destiny of faux-buttery goodness like a stubborn teenager. It knew that Sister Madly had implemented the Popcorn Button, disapproved of her doing so, and proceeded with the admonishment to NOT Reheat.
Why must you pretend to be wiser than the rest of the world, Great Popcorn? Soon you’ll be re-writing the moral codes in every Batman comic, declaring yourself Chancellor of a vague yet menacing government agency, and telling Sister Madly how to do her hair.
But a tyrant is only as powerful as the people who support him, so know this, impertinent Bag of Popcorn: Sister Madly will be reheating you with the same one-push button that she was advised against using- and without the slightest hint of remorse.
Little did she know that she was flaunting her feathered boa in the face of the Grim Reaper.
You see, in reheating the Popcorn, Sister Madly discovered something that could not be realized in any other manner: Popcorn is a magickal life form capable of committing both genesis and genocide simultaneously, popping itself into an edible sustenance even as it bursts into flames.
Apparently, reheating Popcorn is the fastest way to summon Zeus, and Sister Madly missed the What to Do When Zeus Invades Your Microwave 101 lecture down at the Learning Annex (she overslept.) As the Professors left no brochures regarding this subject on the kitchen table, Sister Madly merely hoped that if she just ignored the fire, it would go away.
Turns out, fires don’t just go away, nor do they negotiate. But they can make Popcorn smell funky- and upon discovering just how funky that scent is, Sister Madly flung the smoldering Bag out the window and at the feet of the Professors, who were doing whatever it is that Professors do out in the cold.
Woe betide he, Professor, who heeds not the counsel of the Popcorn.
THEME SONG: Who By Fire, Leonard Cohen
Some years ago, Sister Madly found herself employed at Utopia, a bazaar of sorts that was once described as ‘a bunch of weird people doing weird things.’ While slightly out of place in an ultra-conservative town, at times Utopia seemed more characteristic of that friendly desert community where the sun is hot, the moon is beautiful, and strange lights pass overhead while they all pretend to sleep.
It was at Utopia that one’s interest in primitive blow darts went largely unnoticed, that phenomena such fertility gods popping off the walls was common, and it was here that Sister Madly discovered that she can watch a burning stick of incense – Patchouli Forest – for hours and be completely happy. Make no mistake, there were weird people at Utopia: Sister Madly called them ‘Customers.’
She should have known that something was up that day when her boss pawned off one of these customers on her, but Sister Madly was not yet attuned to the subtleties of that class known as Management. No doubt the boy had a question that Management deemed not worthy of their attention.
He had a question, alright: the boy wanted to know the magickal properties of every quartz, crystal and gemstone in the joint, which was no small feat. Amongst other things, the walls of Utopia were like a rock quarry with pendants, beads and other jewelry all bearing natural stones. And no, the boy wasn’t looking to purchase anything: he just wanted information.
In a manner most dramatic, the boy pulled the chain out from under his collar to reveal a Star of David.
“I’m a Wiccan!”
Now let’s not jump to conclusions, Sister Madly; perhaps he is near-sighted and picked the wrong star out of the box this morning. Surely he is not mistaking a Jewish symbol for a Pagan one.
“For my Book of Shadows!” upon which he had painted another Star of David.
Nope, not near-sighted. Just dumb as a rock.
Star of David ~ Pentagram
A single line makes all the difference
Without being asked, the boy went on to explain how his mother stumbled upon him practicing witchcraft. He was in the garage casting a spell – a shape-shifting spell, if you must know – when she barged on in, crossed herself, picked up his stone altar and tossed it out the picture window. She then set fire to all his spell books and pentagrams, and told him to stop playing his Metallica so loudly. The neighbors are complaining.
Allow Sister Madly to ask the question that is on everyone’s mind: is there a picture window in the garage, or did his mother haul the stone altar into the living room for the sole purpose of chucking it out the window? And if this mother actually did pick up said altar and pitched it out the picture window, perhaps she is the one from whom to seek assistance on all things magickal.
Some say that everything happens for a reason, that there are no coincidences. Perhaps this is the moment for which you were created, Sister Madly: perhaps you can prevent him from further alienating the Pagan and Jewish Communities by converting the poor sap to Pastafarianism, to the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (bless his noodly appendages.) In turn the new disciple, still basking in the glow of new-faith euphoria, shall honor the Flying Spaghetti Monster (Parmesan be upon him) by supporting the struggling Italian Restaurant down the street with his patronage.
Or you could just make up magickal properties on the spot.
Sister Madly opted for the latter:
- GARNET ~ invisibility
- ROSE QUARTZ ~ whitens teeth
- OCEAN JASPER ~ protects against gluten
- MOONSTONE ~ turns any rug into a flying carpet
- ONYX ~ telepathy
- LABRADORITE ~ turns thine enemies into pickles
- BLOODSTONE ~ guarantees a conveniently located parking space every single time
- TURQUOISE ~ summons ladybugs
- AMETHYST ~ fertility
- SODALITE ~ protects against diet soda
- JADE ~ leads you to the lost treasure of the Templars, then kills you immediately after
- MARCASITE ~ will make you beautiful in the eyes of anyone named Marc
- ADVENTURINE ~ immortality
- ASPHALT ~ makes you the god of another planet
With his list now complete, all he had to do was obtain some candles, see which of these stones he could find at the gravel pit, “…and tonight, I shall do something I have never done before!”
“Cast my spell by Ozzy!”
Good. Metallica would have been a dead giveaway.
THEME SONG: I’ve Told Ev’ry Little Star, Linda Scott
Image 1) fangoria.com
It was some years ago that an adolescent Sister Madly attended the youth group at a local church. Wednesday night ice breakers in this particular denomination ranged from TP-ing the pastor‘s house to passing a marshmallow around the room, using only the toothpicks clenched between their teeth. Perhaps it was that last one that inspired their youth leader to make certain they were all familiar with the Facts of Life.
And in order to allow for brutally honest discussions, the boys were to be separated from the girls.
Now Sister Madly, along with the rest of the girls, already knew about the Facts of Life; what they really wanted to know was the secret workings of teenage boys from the viewpoint of teenage boys. They wanted to know what boys talked about when not in mixed company, other than their tendency to belch a little more enthusiastically than appreciated.
So what better way to accomplish this than with a secret recording?
Not only did Sister Madly have a tape recorder, she had a wicked deploy, simultaneously pushing record and play like a warrior queen. Someone else would have to supply the cassette, however, as Sister Madly used those to secretly record – heaven forbid – rock music off the radio and was in short supply. She was quite fond of power ballads at the time.
It didn’t take much stealth that night to find that the girls would be meeting in the church office while the boys met in the kitchen- which was so unfair, because the kitchen was notoriously stocked with a variety of treats. It was also unfortunate, as the most convenient place to hide a recorder of that size was on top of the refrigerator under a bag of candy – Dum Dums, come to think of it.*
*Who knew that this particular candy would one day figure so largely in her life?
The next 45 minutes were the longest any of the girls had ever endured. Sister Madly all but devoured the curtains waiting for the moment the tape recorder would give itself away upon reaching the end of the cassette. Fortunately, their apparent lack of cool was attributed to the girls reluctance to talk about the Facts of Life, as was the speed with which they made their getaway at the end of the hour, cramming into that rusty heap of a hatchback. Actually, that last one probably raised some questions…
And just what do teenage boys talk about when uninhibited by their coeds?
Why, they talk about the Pope’s Mitre, of course! Yes, Coming of Age boys will develop an unholy fascination for Papal Couture. Before long, they will be singing hymns and bathing in the baptistery while trippin’ out on communion wafers. If parents don’t talk to their children about the Pope’s Mitre, who will?
That would be Kevin, of all people: inexperienced at basically all that life had to offer, 22-year-old Kevin was the last person the girls wanted leading a frank discussion on the secret workings of boys. Sister Madly found the man, if he could be called such, as annoying as a smoke detector in hell.
But even worse was the fact that every word on that tape after the Great Mitre Debate turned out to be completely unintelligible, from Kevin’s incessant droning to the boys’ refusal to articulate. They might as well have been speaking with a mouthful of marbles. Sister Madly couldn’t have gained more insight on boys if she had spent the evening cooing at the moon.
This indecipherable droning was interrupted by the sudden, soul-sucking cacophony of plastic, indicating that a disembodied hand was fingering its way into the bag of Dum Dums. It was a moment of major suspense for the girls, waiting for some indication that their crime had been discovered; the retrieval of the recorder and subsequent escape had been accomplished with ninja-like precision, with no one sticking around to find out if they were actually in trouble.
Their patience was soon rewarded, as a few moments later the refrigerator kicked on, serenading them with a 15 minute duet of appliance humming and plastic rattling- which, admittedly, was more entertaining than Kevin.
That is where the tape ended.
Based upon the evidence, Sister Madly was able to conclude that raging hormones of teenage boys lead to meaningful discussions about Vatican Fashion over fistfuls of Lollipop Treats.
And there you have it: the answer to the Great Mystery of Teenage Boys. So, so disappointing.
Now, who wants to talk about soybeans?
THEME SONG: Forever Young, Alphaville
I Sit Here Thinking
How Much Courage it Takes
To Live an Ordinary Life.
~ Colum McCann
1) Arthur Tress
2) Sonjia Lautner
Should you ever find yourself having to describe the act of ‘Thinking,’ do in fact think before you speak. There are better ways of describing it than as ‘a voice inside your head.’
Sister Madly found that one out the hard way.
There was no indication that the day would one of great peculiarity- that is, until she woke up. In the midst of her Good Morning Stretch, Sister Madly, who had been sleeping in a manner most angelic, came to realize that a familiar face was hovering nearby, watching her sleep.
How, just how did the Effigy make its limbless way from on the fridge to the lamp beside the bed? This wasn’t just a trick of the heartless sunshine, but one of malicious intent, who delighted at the sight of Sister Madly engaging in an acrobatic struggle to free herself from the tangled sheets. Indeed, there was malicious intent- yet, she could prove none of it.
You see, Sister Madly has a habit of leaving things conspicuously out of place as a reminder that there is something of importance pending in her life. The reason for this is so that she’ll ask herself why in the name of Kermit the Frog did she hang a shoe from the ceiling fan, thus tracing her reasoning back to the fact that she needs to pay rent. Logic would therefore dictate that she had intended for there to be a utility bill or a note attached to the Effigy, but Sister Madly does not live in a House of Logic.
Besides, why would Sister Madly want THAT face to be the first thing she sees in the morning?
There is no doubt that the Effigy was assuming liberties beyond his humble station on the refrigerator, even going so far as to wreck havoc upon her dreams. Obviously, the only proper way to deal with the Effigy was to implement the most exquisite example of machete justice ever to be seen.
Only… where is the machete, Sister Madly?
One couldn’t deny the glaring white wall against which there once rested this magnificent weapon; but for just how long has it been this way? The rest of her arsenal seemed to be in tact; but the machete… that appeared to be on holiday.
Sure, she may have misplaced it. History is full of examples of ne’er-do-wells mislaying their machetes in their sparsely furnished, one-room domiciles, only to find it years later with all the missing argyle socks. It’s the classic American Love Story.
But what should have worried her more was the latest fun she’s been having with the Effigy:
Now, what would your great-grandmother say, Sister Madly, after bootlegging and moonshining her way first through Prohibition, then the Depression, only to be defaced by the Effigy and… that other thing? And just what is that other thing? Some sort of demented kumquat? It does looks like a sort of thing the Dodo would marry-
Don’t go there, Sister Madly; don’t do it.
But that’s just the thing she was thinking about later that night; she might have even been making faces while doing so. Of course, she couldn’t tell the Professors this; evidence suggests that they might be on his side. Come to think of it, Sister Madly- how do you know that they aren’t responsible for the Effigy’s cross-studio levitation in the middle of the night? They’ve already threatened to knit a sweater for your car, and everybody knows that is one step away from Effigy Moving. All the oracles say so.*
*They do so!
So when they asked about her obvious lack of interest in anchovies, Sister Madly told them that she was just thinking- a response that was met with confusion, as though such an activity was a foreign.
Yes, Professor, thinking; you know: the voice inside your head…
There was just no taking that one back; there was no use even trying. Perhaps it’s time for you to go home, Sister Madly; better yet, call yourself a cab- and when it arrives, just step out in front of it.
POST’S THEME SONG: The Enemy Guns, DeVotchKa
Her mind, indeed,
Works like a clock ~
And like a clock
Often goes cuckoo.
A story doesn’t have to change the world.
Which is good, because this one certainly will not.
The other night, Sister Madly turned down an evening with the Professors, but for a good reason: she planned to spend the night in the tub with a glass of wine, mood lighting and music, and did not wish to be disturbed.
Yeah, Sister Madly- the rest of the planet wishes you weren’t disturbed, either. But that‘s no reason to hide a Romance.
Romance? You thought that she was speaking of romance?
Allow Sister Madly to dispel all of your starry-eyed notions: the lighting was a result of a burned out bulb that she’s too short to reach; the music? Lemon Jelly‘s Nice Weather for Ducks, irritating but too far away for her to do anything about. Indeed, she was in the tub- fully clothed and engaged in a battle of wills in an attempt to unclog the drain with something called a ‘Zip-It.’
But there was wine.
Now the Zip-It is merely razor wire disguised as a zip tie, whose diabolical origins can be traced to the Dark Ages. The term ‘Death by a Thousand Cuts’ is what inspired the design- even the package warned that she should wear her protective onion-chopping eyewear during the application of this device. Seriously, had the Inquisition employed the Zip-It, they could very-well have achieved a one world religion.
After declaring a cease-fire, Sister Madly, now thoroughly battered and mangled, succumbed to the thoughts that typically run through the mind of the dying:
For heaven’s sake, Sister Madly, just how long have you had that bruise on the top of your foot? How does one even accomplished something of that magnitude unawares? Or is that even a bruise? Maybe it just ash- because you are always walking barefoot through some ash…
Fie Chicory– yeah, that’s a bruise.
Well, dear one, since you are now maimed thus confined eternally to the bathtub, would you care to explain to the faucet about Fie Chicory? You know it’s going to ask one day- you’ve seen enough Twilight Zones to know this to be true…
Speaking of the Twilight Zone, why do you suppose that you were unable to pull anything out of the drain? Either you are just really bad at this whole Zip-It thing, or there is something far more sinister at play- like North Dakota, or the Dodo, or Cthulhu…
Aw, man- she forgot all about the Great Old One. Not too long ago, Sister Madly removed the corkscrew from her wall and gave it back to Dicky J Loweman– with apologies- and now Cthulhu has escaped and sought refuge in her drain without the decency of eating her tacky neighbor (who is not Dicky J Loweman. For your FYI.)
Though a worthy device against all things fleshy human, the Zip-It was most likely no match for the Great Old One. So Sister Madly made her wine-infused way down to the dumpster in an attempt to find a hefty wire of some sort. She felt certain that the gods were smiling upon her when she found a coat hanger woven into the chain-link fence in an attempt to secure the fence to the pole. Security measures on a $2 budget.
Yes, the gods were, indeed, smiling; in fact, they were laughing their ever-loving eyeteeth all the way to that wretched little Pancake House across the street. Not only did the hanger not dredge up any hair, North Dakota or Cthulhu, it got snagged on the T-Bar at the bottom of her drain for the better part of the night.
Sister Madly is, by all accounts, a professional screwer-upper; do not try this at home.*
*At least, not at Sister Madly’s home.
After waving the white flag, Sister Madly figured that she might as well take her chances with the Fortune Cookie that she had
forgotten about been preserving at the back of her cupboard for the better part of a year:
Sister Madly has no picture of the fortune.
So here’s the same quote, with a candle.
Sister Madly stopped up her bathtub that night. If there is a lesson to be learned at the bottom of the drain, Sister Madly is doing her best to see that it never happens.
POST’S THEME SONG: Nice Weather for Ducks, Lemon Jelly
“I was thinking about Brussels Sprouts.”
While Sister Madly appreciates those individuals who speak their minds, she finds that there are some things better left unsaid.
“You are joining us for the game, aren’t you, Sister Madly?”
Many, many things better left unsaid…
February has always been her least favorite month- so why not start it out by spending an evening playing Settlers of Catan while giving a bowl of Brussels Sprouts the evil eye?
“It’s the Seahawks, you know.”
So why not start it out by passing a bowl of Brussels Sprouts around the table while playing Settlers of Catan with the Seahawks?
“The Super Bowl, Sister Madly. Don’t tell me you forgot.”
It’s not that she forgot, so much, as she didn’t give a hill of beans. Sister Madly is biologically programmed to tune out most sportscasts; the same also goes for commercials, bad music, politics and warfare not involving medieval weaponry. Besides- does Sister Madly look like she watches the Super Bowl?*
*Apparently, it is impossible to tell if one watches the Super Bowl based on appearance alone.
“At least come by for the commercials,” the Professor said. “Do you like calamari?”
For those of you who are not in the know, calamari is the stuff they use to make Subaru tires. The world may try to tell you that it’s an itty-bitty squid, but this is false information. Read 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea; squids are big and mean and harbor a vendetta against all mankind.
Thus Sister Madly decided early on to go to the necessary lengths as to not be hungry when attending this soiree, therefore she would not be tempted by the Subaru tires, nor by the forbidden fruit.
Oh sure, Sister Madly, as if a serpent could tempt anyone with a Brussels Sprout. They are nothing but pretentious little cabbages that taste like dirt- hardly the cause of Original Sin. Then again, it was not the fruit, itself, that was the Sin; but the tasting of it. And while artists depict the fruit as an apple, no one really knows for certain- and Brussels Sprouts grow on stalks, which could easily be mistaken for a fruit by one who does not know any better.
And so on the first of February, Sister Madly found herself back in the kitchen of freshly stenciled birds – and we all know how THAT came about! – with a box of books for the Professors to go through before she donated them to unsuspecting households around town- that is, those with brightly colored boxes in their front yards, containing books free for the taking. While some call these Little Libraries, Sister Madly has come to know them as Book Disposals: the ideal way to get rid of those books that did not tickle her fancy- under the guise of generosity, of course. Also, this is done only at night.
It wasn’t long before one of the Professors started sifting through her box. While she expected the usual commentary, she was not expecting the look of utter dismay when he came across Notes From Underground.
“Why are you getting rid of this?”
You’re absolutely right, Professor; she had fully intended for that book to end up in the dumpster, bypassing the Little Libraries entirely. Sister Madly may be impish in her ways, but she finds no reason to be downright sadistic to an unsuspecting public.
Yes, nothing says Party! like a dissertation on the Russian Masters over fried Subaru tires and bowls of Original Sin. The Professor said that Dostoevsky is one of those authors whose work he could recognize from a single passage- not only the by content, but by the individual syntax and style that is unique to the writer.
Are you saying, Professor, that you could name a book from a single sentence?
This Professor considered himself well-versed in the classics, and while he was confident that he could do just that from a paragraph, his gin and tonic said there was a good chance he could do the same from a single sentence.
And so Sister Madly pulled a book from the shelf- indeed, a classic- and read the first line she came across:
He laughed again.
The Professor did not answer, but rather stared at her with that dull incredulity that has become so familiar. No doubt this scenario went a whole lot better in his head.
Yes, even with Brussels Sprouts, you can still have a perfect moment.
‘He laughed again’- from Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. If you did not know this, you haven’t been studying your literature.
POST’S THEME SONG: It’s a Sin, Pet Shop Boys
The Professors seem to be under the impression that Sister Madly is constantly wandering off, getting lost, getting into trouble, or getting mixed up with psychopaths- in other words, completely incapable of taking care of herself. This is patently untrue; Sister Madly never wanders off- it is always deliberate.
She had a good reason this time: she dropped her keys in the toothpaste bush*, and wasted a few precious moments in their recovery.
*A bush that has an overbearing scent of mint and rosemary, despite the fact that it is made up of neither mint nor rosemary.
Well, they said. That was weird.
Oh, no. Nothing good ever seems to come from that phrase when these turkeys are involved. Unfortunately, Sister Madly couldn’t come up of anything that would be considered unusual even by the Professors’ standards- except that she was running. A typical Sister Madly does not run unless there is something running after her. Or if she just left some zucchini- or some other luxury- on your front porch. ***
(**For your FYI: October 9th was Moldy Cheese Day, in case you were curious about those other ‘luxuries.’ Just be glad that Sister Madly doesn’t know your address.**)
After a quick assessment of the last few minutes, Sister Madly came to the conclusion that this comment had nothing to do with her whatsoever.
But it always does.
What do you mean, what’s weird? Three streetlamps, in a row, went dark just as you approached them- didn’t you notice?
Well, of course she noticed! It’s next to impossible to be anything but aware of the fact that the world has plunged into complete darkness at the exact moment you drop your keys into the toothpaste bush. Sister Madly would have to have been an absolute idiot ten months dead to not have noticed that.
However, what she did not say was that this incident was not her first; in fact, it is something she has experienced now and again throughout her life. And just as she’s about to chalk it up to coincidence, some pattern will emerge that leaves her in awe, such as the time 6 in a row went dark, or the time it was every other light; then, of course, her favorite: a zigzag design down the highway. These were streetlights for the most part, but there has been others here and there- most of which, like the streetlights, turn on automatically once it gets dark and off again with the light.
Therefore, the explanation is a simple one: Sister Madly, at random and without realizing it, turns into a big ball of light.
The question has been broached as to what the
white flibbertigibbet in the above picture is.
Given the aforementioned explanation,
it could very well be Sister Madly.
While not a satisfactory answer, it was the best she could come up with at a moment’s notice. She would like to claim superpowers as much as anyone, but the fact of the matter is that this is not something that Sister Madly can do at will- that, and she’s seen it happen to many other people over the years, including a family member or two. It would be no fun having a superpower that is neither exclusive nor manageable.
Besides, such a talent would be wasted on Sister Madly. She sees no advantage in engulfing the city with momentary darkness one block at a time, not to mention the impractically of having to walk and/or drive past each streetlight in order to carry out this deed. And while it makes sense that she would make the world dark in order to seek vengeance upon the toothpaste bush, up until the moment she lost her keys Sister Madly harbored no ill-will towards the shrubbery.
In the end, that night had little to do with streetlights or the toothpaste bush and more with the fact that Sister Madly could use a narrator in her life, one of those all-knowing, disembodied voices who only meddles when called upon. You see, Sister Madly lives inside her head most of the time, so when she chooses to be out with her friends, goofy though they may be, it’s because she wants a break from herself. She doesn’t want anyone trying to get back in her head after she’s worked so hard to get out. A narrator could save her a whole lot of annoyance, and possibly even be able to explain the streetlight occurrence, which would be a bonus.
Of course, this isn’t always the case; there are moments when Sister Madly engages in meaningful conversation and actually enjoys people; this was just not one of those times.
POST’S THEME SONG: Where the Lights Won’t Shine, Psyched Up Janis
I don’t know why it should be, I am sure; but the sight of another man asleep in bed when I am up, maddens me ~ Jerome K. Jerome
They say that knowledge is knowing the tomato is a fruit; wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad. Sister Madly says that knowledge is knowing that you have a panic button on your key chain; wisdom is not setting it off at 3 AM.
Well, she had a good reason: she wanted to know what it sounded like, and Sister Madly never claimed to be wise.
For the past week or so, Sister Madly has been waking up at precisely 2:20 every morning, and staying awake until after 7 (except on Sunday, when she stayed up until 4 AM- while she may not be wise, she’s been known to outsmart herself on occasion.) A Sister Madly of very little sleep often results in a serious of misfortunes, some of them major, which can be difficult to remedy as naps on comfy department store display beds are generally frowned upon.
On the bright side, it is an improvement over her recent nighttime adventures in sleep paralysis. These always begin with the sound- or rather, the impression of a sound- of something running through the apartment, which would then rudely land on the bed down at her feet. The moment she remembers that she has neither a pet nor a roommate is the moment things start to go down hill. Fast.
Yes, everything is nice and paranormal here.
So it was after several encounters with the Rambunctious Shadow Kitty that Sister Madly decided, albeit unconsciously, that the best way to combat these episodes was to become nocturnal. Rambunctious Shadow Kitty never seems to show up during the day.
Well, you got your wish, Sister Madly. Now what? Late nights were all the rage in your teens, but now that you‘re at the tender age of Over 25- not so much. It was fun to stay up until sunrise in those days, or to sneak in past curfew; but now the most depressing sound in the world is the sound of those birds who start singing outside your window at the crack of dawn. So consider this: is it better to risk sleeping in the dark, or to be awake and wonder what’s inside of it? We all know the the logic that runs through your head at 3 AM.
While a Benadryl/Liquor cocktail has proven to be most effective in the past, Sister Madly all too often wakes up to bizarre scenarios and post-it notes scattered about the apartment, leaving her with many questions about the night before. Once, she had turned all her pictures upside down in their frames and hung them back on the wall (at least, she assumes that was her doing.) How different things are from the midnight adventures of her youth, such as the time Sister Madly & Company terrorized the hotel with a video camera and a lampshade.
Upon finding internal lectures on the evils of nocturnalness to be counterproductive, Sister Madly decided to take herself for a walk. She had somehow convinced herself that she would see the Northern Lights, or hear a late summer cicada, but Mother Nature had other plans- even Praline, the neighborhood cat who always approaches her for tummy rubs had called it a night. It was so unfair.
And there it was: her car, like the rest of the world, asleep and ridiculously happy in the moonlight. She didn’t want her car to be happy; its blissful dreams of winding mountain roads were mocking her, she could feel it- everyone was mocking her with their blatant sleeping. Why can’t Rambunctious Shadow Kitty visit them on occasion?
That’s when it occurred to Sister Madly that she had never in her life hit the panic button on her key chain. She didn’t know what it sounded like, and who knows? She may never get a legitimate reason to find out.* Besides, if Sister Madly’s going to be awake at 3 AM, she’s going to make sure the rest of the world is as well.
(*Again, Sister Madly never claimed to be wise. Also, it was 3 AM, the time when the Rationale sets in.)
And no, it’s not insomnia; Sister Madly is just selectively nocturnal.
POST’S THEME SONG: Curse the Night, the Raveonettes