Saturday, November 12, 2011

Laundry Aversion

Eric pushing little me around the house in a laundry basket. This is from the era in which they were actually nice to me.

Many laundry baskets were employed in our house: Five people, three of whom were extremely spill and mustard-squirt prone, makes for a lot of dirty clothing that needs to be cleaned. We had a green square basket with leaf-type cut outs on the sides, a mustard yellow rectangular number (hello 1970s!) that had vertical-bar cutouts, and I think there may have been a white one in the mix among other lesser-loved baskets. We were partial to the green one and the yellow laundry totes, though.  The green one was taller and able to hold more laundry (or more little sister depending on the situation), and the yellow one allowed the little sister to stretch out her legs a bit. You know, if you're into hanging out in laundry baskets, which this little sister very much happened to be.

I loved the laundry baskets, despite the fact that sometimes they were used against me. Actually, they were often used against me. More than once the green one was flipped upside down over top of me and became my foliage-themed prison. The yellow one was also an apt cage as Kenny and/or Eric sat on top of it, effectively locking me in. My only saving grace was the laundry baskets were not soundproof, so while the Twins could curb my spastic dancing or flights across the living room interrupting their TV viewing, they could not shut me up. Ever. My prison sentence was usually short lived, because let's face it, a little girl squawking for freedom at a very high pitch can only be tolerated for a very short period of time.

Why did I love the laundry baskets? I mean, really, why did I do anything when I was young? I was easily amused, oftentimes concussed, and definitely flat-out dumb. And because sometimes Kenny and Eric would offer me rides in them, and that was just plain fun; a game the three (or at least two) of us could enjoy. I would settle into the laundry basket, and if they were feeling especially kind or I was planning ahead, I'd get a folded blanket to line the bottom of the basket for the ensuing ride. It was a primitive form of shock absorption we liked to call IBS (Independent Butt Suspension). Didn't really soak up the rough jolts to the ol' spine, but really the ol' spine was pretty young and flexible then so I could take a lot of abuse and keep on rolling. My laundry basket rides often involved the two flights of stairs in our house. I had many brother-propelled rides down the stairs, and while that may sound sketchy, at least I had a plastic cage around me (which is safer than when they rolled me up into a human bowling ball and just threw me down the stairs all willy-nilly). I'd usually arrive at the bottom of the stairs in one piece, and then they'd commence pushing me around the first floor of the house in the basket. This garnered enough static electricity to give me a decent shock by the time we reached the kitchen. Fun!

The Twins recognition of the laundry basket as a form of devilry didn't end with the stairs (they were nothing if not overachievers in jackassery). Kenny and Eric started bringing me, in the laundry basket, outside where the confines of walls would not inhibit their rambunctious mischief. I remember Kenny tying a jump rope through one of the handle holes of the yellow basket, and then pulling me around the backyard. There was no butt buffer in the basket this time around, but I wasn't concerned because this jaunt started off as a leisurely tour of our property. The summer breeze, the sunshine, the green grass – it was all very enjoyable at this relaxing pace. But we know that's not where it ended.

Boys have a need for speed, and a thought process that doesn't register true "fun" until the half a second before someone gets hurt. Kenny picked up his pace, effectively ending my sightseeing tour as he launched me unwillingly and immediately into the "terror zone." On the first lap around the house, I was a bit petrified, but I must admit watching Kenny jog seemingly for my gain was enjoyable. My basket slid behind him, trying to find balance on the slick grass. I had no way of steering or balancing on my own. Kenny started to run faster, and as he trotted in front of the basket, the jump rope pulled taut and yanked me behind at the same pace. It was a bit herky-jerky at first because the basket slid on the grass a little quicker than Kenny was running, so sometimes I passed him a bit until he retook the lead and pulled me forward again.

This is how it went for a few minutes. I started to get dizzy by the time we rounded the house for the 24th time. Kenny was getting bored with the fact that he was exerting all this energy and no one had gotten hurt yet, so instead of running around the house in a linear pattern he started zigging and zagging, making my laundry basket lean on one edge. Things were getting unsteady, so naturally this egged Kenny on with the promise of chaos and injury. The more haphazard and unpredictable, the more fun (according to my brothers) we were having. I, on the other hand, was not so thrilled with this development. I was holding onto the lip of the basket on either side, trying to skooch my butt over to whatever side was lifting off the ground to replant it in the grass. I felt that either liftoff or getout was imminent.

Kenny ran as fast as he could, jerking me behind him violently. As we rounded the back corner of the house closest to our neighbor's house (within a few feet of their concrete steps and landing), things got dicey. The corner of the basket closest to our house lifted as Kenny shifted direction 90 degrees, and I could do nothing but fall over on my left side. Neither the basket nor the brother stopped. Kenny continued to run, the basket continued to slide on its side, and I was getting a close up of grass smacking me in the face as I lay on my side inside the laundry basket of doom. The slats in the side of the basket allowed all the rocks, grass, sticks, pine needles, and whatever else was in our yard smack me around as I rode sideways. Most of my weight was on my left shoulder, and in those few seconds of my toppled tour, I realized that, hey, this hurts. So I tucked, I rolled out, and I lay there on the grass, exasperated, and watched my brother peel out and whip the empty basket around the front corner of the house and disappear. I had grass stains on my purple sweatshirt. I had grass and pine needles in my hair. I had only the thought of retreating back inside the house and far away from the basket and the Kenny.

I dizzily wobbled my way back inside, where Kenny was already plopped down on the couch trying to catch his breath. He and Eric both laughed at me as I walked past them with my newly acquired hair "don't" and beat up sweatshirt. I didn't care. I was going to play with My Little Ponies.

When I got to my room, I surveyed the damage. My shoulder still hurt, but it wasn't bleeding so I considered the laundry basket excursion low on the totem pole of "worst case scenario" that was my young life.

The rest of my day was pretty uneventful. I played. I ate dinner. I talked my mom into letting me skip taking a bath since it was a Friday (though she did insist on brushing out my foliage-infused hair). I went to bed. The next morning I woke up, still in my comfy and beloved purple sweatshirt, and went to have breakfast. Mom was in the dining room with our neighbor, who came over on Saturday mornings for coffee and to get her hair done by my beauty-school-trained mother. I was always lurking, listening to them gossip about people around town and watch the rollers go in and out of the neighbor's hair. Their conversation stalled momentarily, and mom turned her attention toward me.
"Why don't you go change out of that dirty sweatshirt?" she asked.
"I can't," I stated plainly.
"What do you mean, you can't?"
"I can't get the sweatshirt off. It's stuck."

Mom stopped back-combing the neighbor's silvery-blonde hair.
"Huh? Is it too tight or something?" she asked.
"No, it's just stuck to my shoulder. It won't come off."
"It's stuck? What do you mean?"
"Well, Kenny pulled me around the house in the laundry basket and then I fell over and now my sweatshirt won't come off." I explained.

My mom stood there for a moment, absorbing the story that to most would be a disjointed bunch of nonsense words. Unfortunately for the both of us, it all made perfect sense to her.

The escapade in the yard apparently pulled a few layers of skin off my shoulder as I rode on it through the grass. Overnight, the patch of raw skin had leaked some sort of skin-regenerating ooze and fused the fleecy lining of my purple sweatshirt right into my wound. I could take the sweatshirt off 99 percent of the way, but that patch was holding a swatch of my sweatshirt hostage. I took off the sweatshirt for her to see the garment dangle from my shoulder.

My dear, sweet mother and the neighbor both looked concerned and mildly disgusted at the nasty peeled off patch of skin and the purple sweatshirt that was being incorporated into my DNA. They both surveyed the situation and after trying a warm soaked washcloth to loosen the scab that was devouring my shirt, they decided the only real way to remove it was to cut. My mom grabbed the kitchen scissors (probably a good call on not using her hair-cutting scissors in front of the neighbor) and carefully clipped away at the purple fuzz that was attached to me. I was extremely concerned about the wellbeing of my purple sweatshirt, but I was given the ultimatum that I could either wear the purple sweatshirt for the next three weeks straight as the scab healed, or she could take care of it right now. It wasn't really a choice for me to make. That sweatshirt was coming off.

My mom made a series of little snips, and soon the weight of the sweatshirt transferred from my shoulder to the floor. She did a good job; both child and sweatshirt were only mildly traumatized. I had purple fuzz in my shoulder, and the shoulder of the sweatshirt was a little thin on fleecy lining, but no holes. It took a few weeks, but eventually the scab healed and I no longer contained any sort of purple fuzz.

I should state for the record that this did not mark the end of my laundry basket riding career. It was the most eventful ride, though. I went on a few more rides, I'm sure getting bruised somewhere along the way, but never had any sort of clothing morph as a result. I consider that progress. Or luck.

I blame my current aversion to laundry on Kenny. Why? Because it's convenient and sounds better than just admitting I'm lazy. It's obviously his fault I can't sort whites, pre-treat stains, or fold stuff immediately upon removal from the dryer because of his penchant for hurtling his baby sister around in a death trap disguised as a meek laundry basket. Now if I could just conjure up memories of terror with other household items, maybe I could write off housework altogether.

Yesterday, as I was doing laundry against my better judgment, I walked into the laundry room and tried to kick the green laundry basket (different one – the original didn't survive the '80s). I missed the intended target and my little toe caught the edge of the door frame and bent back with a tiny little cracking noise. I am going to say that breaking my toe doing laundry was even more painful than the shoulder incident. My only regret is that Kenny lives 3,000 miles away and cannot be blamed for my trauma. I hate it when it's my own fault.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Candy Bullets

photo from

Only one thing strikes fear in my heart as Halloween approaches every year. It's not ghouls and ghosts, it's not battery-powered holiday decorations propped innocently on front porches waiting for the unsuspecting to trip their motion sensors to scare the bejeezus out of skittish people, and it's not hordes of high-school kids scouring the neighborhood for pushovers to give them candy for their lame costumes (Seriously, you're a lumberjack? Because you have a flannel on? And you're using a pillowcase to collect the candy you just scammed out of nice people? Whatever.) The only thing that truly and honestly scares me on Halloween are those hideous peanut butter kisses.

I may be dating myself because I don't even know if they sell peanut butter kisses anymore. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if they stopped production on that evil candy around 1973. The packaging looks like it was designed well before WWII, and those orange and black wax-paper-wrapped bits of hardened taffy, even rolling off a production line somewhere in the bowels of hell, I refuse to believe, were ever "fresh."

Thinking of those hardened bits of peanut butter tar filled with the driest, most flavorless peanut butter ever to have existed, brings me back to childhood...and that's where the fear comes in. I remember going out into our nice, friendly neighborhood as a youngster, all dressed up in my Madonna costume or my Daffy Duck ensemble (I had eclectic tastes) in search of candy -- any candy except those peanut butter bullets.

After a few years on the Halloween circuit, my friends and I had a pretty solid idea who were the givers of the good stuff, such as M&Ms and Starburst, and who gave out little baggies full of 10 cents worth of pennies and, God forbid, mini boxes of raisins. There was a row of really nice houses just outside our immediate neighborhood that were known to give out full-size Hershey or Nestle Crunch bars. Full size! Those were the houses we aimed for. But despite the random house we walked up to, with every knock and gleeful shout of "Trick or Treat!" we had dreams of gobs of good candy. Then, suddenly, our dreams would shatter (along with our teeth) when a seemingly friendly house would open its hell chasm and launch peanut butter kisses into our happy-face plastic pumpkin buckets. We were then forced to smile and thank the clueless old lady, who probably had stockpiles of those horrid things somewhere in her basement, and retreat quickly to warn others to avoid that address at all costs.

We'd then ponder the great questions of our time: Who were these nice grandma-type ladies who thought these peanut butter bombs passed off as candy in this decade? Were their sons struggling dentists and they figured they'd stir up some business by breaking the neighborhood childrens' teeth? Did they even eat this crap, or were they simply phoning it in with their chosen treats? It's a dire situation when a collection of young kids agree they'd rather have a baggie full of pennies than those monstrous peanut butter kisses. Those candies were pure evil in supposedly edible form, and my friends and I all knew what had to be done.

When the evening of Trick or Treat merriment was over, we all retreated back to our respective domiciles to sort through the heaps of candy we collected. My mom always wanted to help look through all my candy to make sure that everything was on the up-and-up...the frenzy over people placing needles in kids candy was the hip thing to panic about in the '80s, so she played the Sweet-tooth Sleuth and dug through everything I had received as a treat. My brothers also like to "help" sort through my pumpkin full of sugar, but they were rarely in it for goodwill. Mostly they just wanted to take their share of my candy as a toll for putting up with me the other 364 days of the year.

When I was given the mom-approved go ahead to carry on with my sugar binge, I separated my candy into things I liked to eat, things I would eat when all the good stuff was gone, things I would eat because any candy is better than no candy, and then the junk that would sit in the cupboard for the next four months untouched until my mom got sick of moving it out of the way and would finally throw it out (it's a very complex filing system that took years to perfect). A lot of my friends had younger siblings who they would graciously bestow their "extra" candy to (the stuff they wouldn't dream of ingesting), but I just had Kenny and Eric. In my pile of "Here, take this as I pretend to be nice and give you candy and ignore the fact that this is utter and complete crap," were every single one of those peanut butter icks. I believe I was in second grade the year that my brothers, for some reason, took the peanut butter kisses excitedly. I felt a very smug sense of satisfaction; I knew something that my big brothers didn't know. What a bunch of dummies, I thought, to take those petrified pieces of peanut butter taffy. I envisioned them biting -- or trying to bite -- into one of those peanut-butter-scented rocks and realize that, indeed, teeth are fragile.

Much to my dismay, Kenny and Eric knew exactly what they were doing when they accepted those peanut butter pellets.

The day after my charitable holiday donation to the twins, on what is mistakenly called "All Saints Day," my brothers stood atop our garage and reeked havoc upon the unsuspecting neighborhood kids. If you rode your bike within arm's shot of our garage, you got pelted. If you walked down the sidewalk, minding your own business, you got hit. If you tried to go to the church office next door, heaven help you because you were going to be assailed with peanut butter bullets. They had impeccable aim and dreadful intentions, a dangerous combination when it comes to Kenny and Eric's entertainment. They stood up there for hours, patiently, and when the time to strike arrived, they rapid-fired those damn fossilized hunks of peanut butter sap into the soft, squishy flesh of kids unfortunate enough to share our zip code.

The children in our immediate two-block radius had little circular welts on their bodies for a week after the barrage of stale, pain-packed treats were unleashed upon them. All the neighborhood felt the wrath of the wax-paper-wrapped nuggets of doom that were detonated by the mischievous good aim of Kenny and Eric. As with most stories involving my brothers and the neighborhood, a lot of moms were briefed on the shenanigans of the Clawson household. I had to start playing with the kids at their houses, away from the plotting and projectile-launching of my brothers.

I learned some invaluable lessons that Halloween. First, if you give someone something that is very bad and they are excited about it, be suspicious. Very suspicious. And most importantly, if a certain candy hurts your teeth, its pain potential is magnified tenfold when sent rocketing towards you by the throwing arm of a teenage boy. Life lessons to live by, my friends.


Monday, October 3, 2011


Let's get this straight right out of the gate: I was never fearless. But, I don't think I was particularly scared of anything when I was young, either. There was a time in my very early youth when I could put a blanket over my head without worrying about the hot, unbreatheable air underneath it. There was a time when I could sleep in my bed all tangled up in blankets with my body pressed up against the wall. There was even a time when I could put a constricting shirt or dress on over my head and not being able to immediately take it back off wouldn't send me into a heated, panicky terror. That was until my brothers started "experimenting" with my coping skills.

The first instance of total freakoutedness that I can recall came on a cold but calm day in the middle of winter. (The middle of winter in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan was usually somewhere between February and May, FYI.) It seemed as though we got a lot more snow when I was younger, but that may be because I was little and the snow banks always loomed ominously over me. My brothers made it a practice to make snow forts in the front yard of the church that we lived next to. It always had the biggest snowbanks in the neighborhood...perhaps because of favoritism, or perhaps because the church didn't have its own kids to ravage their snow banks.

My brothers' forts were always elaborate -- complete with a number of "rooms" and a network of tunnels connecting them all. Narrow tunnels. Tunnels that were barely big enough for a small kid to shimmy through with the minimum amount of winter outerwear on. Tunnels that, I'm guessing, were not up to any sort of code and would not have been awarded the appropriate permits from the official Snow Fort Department of the local government.

As always, when my brothers were digging these tunnels, I was never too far away. I was often seen rolling the bottom of a snowman in our front yard; a snowball so big that there was no way I could get a proportionally slightly smaller snowball on top of it for lack of upper arm strength and my inability to see a project through. Instead I would finish the first snowball and then give up, resting on top of the giant snowman third with my belly pressed against where his should be and my arms and legs dangling down. I would then decide instead to build a fort of snow bricks around it. My brothers had these red plastic brick makers that worked in sand or snow (and where we lived, they saw a lot more of the latter) and I would attempt to make a protective wall around the bottom of my never-to-be snowman. But those stupid brick makers never worked right and always had a chunk of snow stuck inside them, making lopsided bricks. So again, I would give up and inevitably end up lumbering in my 47 pounds of winter gear over to my brothers' construction site.

I would hop around them, my words making frosty patterns in the air.

"What are you guys building?" I would ask nonstop until they answered. I knew what they were doing, I just needed an opening line.

"What does it look like, dingleberry?" was not an uncommon retort.

"Can I help?"

"No...wait, yes. You can help by going away."

I knew this game. If I stood there long enough, they would have one of two options: Get so irritated by my presence that they'd eventually turn from what they were doing and beat me up, or find a way to let me in on the fun. Either way, I got their attention.

"Hey, you know what Cass?" one of them said after a few minutes of my overly stuffed winter wear prancing. "We need someone to check the tunnels. We think we're too big, so why don't you do it?"

Oh, happy day! My brothers needed my help for something. Something they couldn't do themselves. I was not only useful but I was needed. It was truly a season of miracles! I was entrusted to verify the integrity and width of the inner structure of their snow tunnels. I was honored as Kenny and Eric hoisted me up by my legs, my torso rising to the sky triumphantly, before they turned me 90 degrees and stuffed me straight into their snow tunnel.

With my arms stretched out before me, my upper half was stuck in the snow. I could feel my brothers' grip around my knees, and then I could feel them pushing the bottom of my pink and silver moon boots to help force me into the far-too-narrow tunnel. It was bright gray inside, as I recall, and it was cold. And narrow. With every breath I exhaled, I felt like the tunnel was hugging me a little tighter. I flailed my feet and tried to yell for help, but my voice was muffled by the encroaching snow walls. Then I felt my brothers kicking the bottom of my feet as they tried to fully wedge my body inside the snowbank.

I was officially stuck. I couldn't move an inch. This is when I started to panic. Then the tunnel in front of me started to fall in a bit from all my squirming. Cue full-on freak out.

As I flailed my legs and feet to alert my brothers to my discomfort, Kenny and Eric pulled me out of the collapsing tunnel. They yanked me out the same way they stuffed me in: abruptly. They set me down on the sidewalk with a thump, and I stood there panting as I tried to breathe as much air as possible and get some strength back in my legs, which had gone fairly limp. I had viewed my own demise in that collapsing gray snow, and my short life didn't provide a very fulfilling montage. I don't remember what exactly I did after that, but I can assure you that I did not hang around their snow fort for any longer than it took for my weak legs to work again.

So, the tally was: Me 0, Claustrophobia 1

Some time later, maybe a couple of months or so, I had another intimate interview with my growing paranoia. Claustrophobia hadn't set in completely yet, but it was lurking about -- apparently in our first-floor bathroom.

Kenny and Eric were whispering to each other in the living room. Nothing good comes from them whispering, and they did this a lot. Being twins, I believed that not only were they connected mentally, they actually shared a brain. One brain. A small one. I kept this theory to myself, though, because a comment like that would get me a collection of sizable bruises, an arm twist, and an hour or so of dodging my brothers elbows and feet (which I failed at more often than I would have liked).

I walked into the room and their eyes lit up and they smiled at me. I should have run, but I hadn't figured it out yet that whispering plus eyes lighting up plus smiling at me equaled very bad things. They were about to be way too nice to me.

"Cass, c'mon, we're gonna try something," one of them said.

"Yeah, it'll be fun!" the other said.

"Okay," I agreed.

They seemed excited and it was contagious. I didn't know what we were going to try, but as always, I was oblivious and optimistic. I just wanted to play with them; I wasn't fussy about what we did or too specific on finding out what we were doing before it happened.

Kenny ran out of the room and down into the basement, and Eric escorted me into the first-floor bathroom. He opened the tiny linen closet door at the back of the bathroom and he and I stepped inside. Eric peered down the laundry chute that emptied in the basement and asked Kenny if he was ready. Kenny shouted the affirmative and Eric turned to me. I was peering down the laundry chute, too.

"Are you ready?" Eric asked me. "I'll hold onto you and then Ken will catch you once you slide down." I was still looking down the laundry chute at the cement floor and the wimpy wicker laundry basket at the bottom. Then I looked at Kenny's thin body and scraggly arms. "Okay, Cass?" Eric asked. I traded staring into the basement for staring at Eric. My eyes were asking him the question I couldn't form with my mouth.

For some reason my mouth betrayed me and I squeaked out, "Okay."

Eric picked me up around my thighs and then flipped me upside down. Blood rushed to my head and kick-started my brain. At first, amidst all the excitement, I thought this might be fun. When it actually started to happen, though, I formed a contrary opinion. Eric inserted me into the rectangular metal laundry chute and I immediately pushed my arms and hands against the sides of it to prevent any further downward progress. The sweat on my palms squeaked against the metal as Eric tried to push me down. I was closer to Kenny's face now and I could see the mischievous pleasure in his smile. His ready arms were stretched out and he said, "C'mon Cass, don't worry. I'll catch you. I promise."

Then Eric chimed in with, "Cass, let go of the sides. There's nothing to be afraid of. Ken will catch you." Yeah, I thought, and if he doesn't then I'm going to be in the hospital with my skull split open. The air became suddenly unbearably hot in the laundry chute. Then it felt like there was no air at all. The homemade claustrophobia crept into my lungs.

"No. NO! Let me out! Help!" I yelled, followed up by a series of ear-drum-piercing shrieks. Thankfully there is nothing more blood curdling than the high-pitched screech of a little sister, especially when amplified by a long metal laundry tube. I used all the air I had in my lungs to voice my displeasure in the situation. I gulped for fresh air, but couldn't find any. I started to panic and squirm, which probably wasn't the best idea. Eric gripped my knees tighter as I flailed around, and as soon as he secured his grip, he reluctantly hoisted me back up to the first floor. Kenny left his post in the basement and came back to the living room, and the two of them regrouped, disappointed, and then disappeared to their bedroom. I avoided them for a while, which in little sister time is about 15 minutes. When it boiled down to it, I liked their attention more than I feared it.

Tally: Me 0, Claustrophobia 2

You'd think I would've learned. You'd think I'd become wary of my brothers' cockamamie ideas that involved me. But oh no, I didn't. Maybe it was the temporary lack of oxygen to my brain at various points in my life that slowed my ability to figure out that if Kenny and Eric were excited about a plan, it probably wouldn't be exciting or fun for me. But I was young and willing to do just about anything to hold my brothers' attention. And I was stupid. Just thought I'd throw that out there in case you haven't caught on yet.

The weekends at our house meant sleeping in the living room on the pullout bed in the couch. My brothers and I would beg our mom to let us sleep downstairs, and she always agreed. Sleeping in the living room meant TV, mounds of pillows and blankets, and me getting the short end of the stick and sleeping either on the floor or on the loveseat. Fun!

One Saturday morning, my brothers and I were watching cartoons on the pullout bed. They were eating their cereal; I wasn't allowed to eat cereal on the bed because I had an internal gyroscope malfunction that didn't allow me to hold a bowl filled with food and milk without spilling it all over. After their breakfast was finished and after the good cartoons gave way to the crappy early afternoon shows, my brothers became restless. Mom was at work and wouldn't be home for another 20 minutes. What kind of trouble could they cause in 20 minutes?

Kenny and Eric started being real sugary-sweet to me. "Do you want to try something fun, Cassie?" one of them cooed.

"Sure," I said innocently. I promise this is the last time I trusted their "nice" facade.

"Lay down on the bed horizontally," one of them instructed me. I had no idea what horizontally was, but they threw me around until I got there. I was on my stomach, and was about to become very close friends with my claustrophobia.

Kenny and Eric then started to fold up the pullout bed. The first fold rested the bottom half of the bed against my back. I could still see out the picture window above the couch, and I could still breathe fresh, cool air. It was fun, so far. Then they made the second fold the bed. This one flipped me over and had me totally immersed in the shiny, blue mattress. Light failed to reach my eyes directly and pressure started to bear down on my body. Still, I wasn't panicked. Kenny and Eric's final fold had me deposited inside the couch. I could hear their muffled guffaws and felt the gentle thuds of the couch cushions being placed on top of the mattress.

I was inside the couch. It was dark. I couldn't move. I took short little breaths of hot air, and my lungs began to tighten. I concentrated on inhaling and "out"haling. I knew Kenny and Eric couldn't leave me in there for long. I tried to pretend that it was fun, that I was on a mission. My mission involved being folded up in a hide-away bed in a couch for some unknown reason. I guess my imagination was suffering from lack of oxygen.

Minutes passed.

More minutes passed.

I convinced myself it was kind of enjoyable, in a life-threatening, mentally scarring sort of way. If I were to make a pie chart of fun, being folded up in the couch would have a respectable sliver of three percent. I didn't scream or try to move because I knew that it would just lead to panic, which would lead panicking, which would lead to my brothers' sheer delight in torturing their sister. I didn't want to encourage them any further.

After about 15 minutes, I told myself I was fine. In fact, I didn't even mind being the girl in the couch after I talked myself into it. I daydreamed about people paying admission to see the couch I was in and I'd yell out muffled things for them to hear, like "Beware of the Terrible Twins!" I started to enjoy being folded up in the couch, in a sick, twisted sort of way. I could hear my brothers mumbling over me, which let me know they hadn't abandoned me.

I was fine until I heard the kitchen door open and close. My mom's voice sounded close and far away at the same time as she entered the living room. I couldn't make out all of it, but I heard her ask where I was. That's when I started to get scared. I wanted my mom to know I was the sideshow girl inside the couch, and that I was trapped. When she sat down on the couch after some prodding by my brothers to do so, she found out quickly where exactly I was located. My mom sat down and immediately felt her seat pulsate as I pushed up on the mattress with my feet. I yelled as loud as I could so that my muffled words could reach her ears. She jumped off the couch and began screaming, "Get her out of there right now!"

My brothers scrambled to disassemble the couch cushions and pull the mattress back out from the depths of the frame. As they unfolded the bed, the uncovered their sweaty, scared, claustrophobic sister.

Final verdict: Me 0, Claustrophobia 3

After catching many breaths, I tried to laugh off the incident the best I could so my brothers wouldn't get into trouble. I don't know why I was worried about them getting punished. Maybe it was sibling love, or more likely it was the fear that if they got into trouble because of me, I would have to endure much more painful moments in the near future.

My mom went upstairs to "relax" (which probably meant go have a small breakdown before dealing with the next inevitable catastrophe that was sure to befall the house before the end of the day), and I went to my room to play alone.

I still can't stand to have too many blankets wrapped around me or over my head, and I sure as heck haven't volunteered to be mummified inside a foldaway bed since.

Monday, September 19, 2011

What Goes Up Eventually Smacks Somebody on the Head

Believe it or not, these two were rarely the sufferers of head trauma. Shocking, I know.

Today's lesson is about head trauma. Pull up a chair, get your reading glasses if necessary, and maybe have a helmet nearby just in case.

People spend a significant portion of their lives avoiding head trauma, but growing up in our home, avoidance was futile. It would find you, whether you slumbered or hid, whether you tensed up a nanosecond before impact or just let the pain rain down upon your noggin. My skull has more bumps, ravines, waves and flat areas than the entirety of the West Coast. I've heard people joke about being dropped on their heads when they were infants as an excuse for doing stupid things. I don't have to joke about such things. I am a card-carrying member of the "I have a valid excuse for stupidity, dunderheadedness, and forgetfulness due to severe cranial injuries" club. We should probably think of a shorter name for the organization, because IHAVEFSDAFDTSCI is a tough acronym to remember for anyone.

Let's move on now to the meat of our story about...whatever it is I was going to write. Um. Wait. Don't tell me... Oh yeah, head trauma.

Unfortunately for me, objects (such as tables and my brothers' flying feet) seemed magically magnetized to my dome. There were many instances of things falling, hitting or being placed forcefully upon my head. Some were preventable, but most were unavoidable. I guess more were avoidable than I'm willing to admit, but my brothers had a way of talking me into things that turned out badly for me. Like the time they turned me into a human bowling ball. Hindsight and wisdom has shown me that was an avoidable catastrophe, but there's nothing I can do about it now. I was young and foolish and so very eager to please my brothers, and for some reason, their ideas always seemed good when proposed. I can remember hearing my heart beat loudly in my ears as my brothers rolled me up into a ball and pushed me down the double flight of stairs in our house. Tumbling down the stairs would've been bad enough for me and my noggin, but I didn't factor in how I was going to stop when I got to the bottom. Don't worry, the freestanding and solid coat closet my dad had built took care of the stopping. I never, ever forgot that coat closet was there after that.

There were some completely unexpected head traumas. I awoke one morning, just like I've done every morning of my life (which has gone on far longer than early estimates would've suggested) and attempted to sit up in bed. The funny part was that I wasn't in bed, but underneath it. Eric had slipped in before I awoke, picked up my dead weight body, and put me under my bed. I woke up to the sound of my mother calling my name in search of me. I was going to sit up to let her know I was right where she left me the night before, except that I couldn't and I wasn't. I pushed myself body up, head first, right into the slats that held my box spring. I remember that goose egg on my forehead fondly. We spent the better part of five days together.

Despite all the knocks to my lid, I can recollect clearly a warm and sunny afternoon playing in the backyard of our house. We had a lilac bush off to one side, parallel to the big maple tree, and it was so fragrant that even now when I smell lilac I think of childhood summer afternoons and the sudden thud of a plank of wood on top of my head: two conflicting yet forever intertwined responses.

My talented and loving brother Eric was outside one afternoon. I'm going to guess and say I was seven, which would mean he was 16. I often entertained myself in the backyard, because 16-year-old brothers rarely want to entertain their seven-year-old sister. I watched him as he made his way into the garage and reemerged with a two-by-four piece of lumber that my dad was probably saving for some household project. Eric walked to the middle of the yard, equidistant between the house and the tree, and called me over. I, being the cool and collected girl I was, didn't want to seem too eager to jump when he said my name. But let's face it -- I'm neither cool or collected. I jumped up before he finished the second syllable in my name and ran over to him.

Eric told me to stand facing him about three feet away. I obeyed, giddy with the possibilities of whatever the fun thing was we were going to do. (I was as naive as I was just plain stupid, in case you haven't picked that up yet.) Eric took the two-by-four and gracefully lifted it up and over his head, bending his elbows back so that the board was behind him. He slowly pulled his arms up and over his head and the board glided gently through the air and stopped when his arms stretched out in front of him. The board came to a halt just above my young, malleable skull. He repeated this swinging motion several times, gaining momentum and gusto with each swing.

I giggled every time the board paused above my head and retreated. This was fun. Eric was smiling. I was smiling. I wasn't being hurt. I believed Eric, who could and did hurt me on occasion, wouldn't dare hit me on the head with a two-by-four.


I dropped like a rag doll being tossed off a four-story building. My knees buckled, my arms gave out, and I found myself with a mouthful of grass and saliva and little white lights dancing around my field of vision. Eric had just played "Whack a Mole" with my melon and won. He dropped the weapon and knelt next to me with half concern on his face. He picked me up off the lawn and asked me if I was alright. I assume I said I was, but I don't really remember. I do remember the words, "My wrists gave out on me," and "Never meant to hit you on the head" coming out of his mouth. And though I was but a young child, I could smell the B.S. that wrapped itself around those sentiments. To this very day he maintains his innocence, and still no one believes him.

I could have held a grudge about the whole "heavy piece of lumber violently interacts with my cranium" incident, but I didn't. I chalk that up to the head trauma. I could barely remember being hit, let alone work up enough brainpower to be mad about it. Most importantly, this one and only time, karma or fate or whatever "righting of wrong" power there is out in this big universe of ours paid Eric back without any thought (obviously) or planning on my part.

Not long after my noggin got nailed by a piece of wood, Eric was again enjoying the backyard. My mom had one of those folding lounge chairs in the yard where she would take a few quiet moments worshiping the sun and avoiding whatever calamity was most definitely occurring inside the house at any given moment. It folded up into three sections, had that groovy white with orange and green and yellow plastic weave going on, and was not the most stable piece of furniture ever to be designed. So, there was the lounge chair, lounging in the sun, and Eric wanted to take a break from whatever it was he was doing outside. He attempted to sit at the foot of the chair, but due to its length and ricketyness, the chair wasn't cooperating.

Eric would put his weight at the foot of the chair, and the head of the chair would pop up like a see-saw. Eric skooched back a bit, sitting where a reclining person's calves would hit, but still the chair reared up like a wild bronco. He sat at the end of the chair but off to one side, and found himself teetering as the chair tottered. It wasn't for a lack of trying to sit on the chair that it didn't's just that Eric didn't really think the whole physics of the chair through. He tried, unsuccessfully to sit on that damn lounge chair and finally got fed up. He was going to show that stupid chair who was boss.

Eric disappeared into the garage, where all tools and implements of destruction and/or despair were to be found, and came back into the sunlight with a brick in his hand. He put the brick on the end of the chair where mom's head would rest as she soaked in the sun. He then returned to the foot of the chair and plopped himself down again, this time assured that he'd be able to sit down without any more trouble from the pesky chair. He sat down with a little too much force, though, and not enough common sense. As he dropped all his weight on the foot of the chair, that brick launched off the head of the chair and landed perfectly on top of his head. Eric's comeuppance had been officially served, and I'm not going to lie, I was pleased. Still am, really.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Cabbage Caper

It had been a routine slumber party: dying our hair with food coloring (red, blue, and green only, because yellow never really worked), staying up until 4 am for no good reason, and listening repeatedly to my 45s of "Nasty" by Janet Jackson and "Walk Like an Egyptian" by the Bangles. When we had finally worn ourselves out, my friends and I were all comfortably snuggled into our sleeping bags with our Cabbage Patch Kids by our sides. What we awoke to was a much different scenario.

Eight fourth-grade girls, in goofy pajamas and with even goofier hair, opened their sleepy eyes to find a startling scene of death and chaos.

My friends and I weren't prepared for what we found scattered around the house that morning -- not that anyone ever could be. I was awestruck and sickened as I took in the carnage that lay about us: Cotton-filled bodies, complete with yarn hair and Xavier Roberts butt tattoos, were strewn all around the first floor of our house...dead.

I remember it vividly. It was the gasps of my friends that shook me from my all-too-short slumber that horrific morning. I forced my eyelids open to survey the sun-soaked living room, noticing my Cabbage Patch Kids weren't snuggled against my body where I had left them. It's not that my Kids weren't in their designated sleeping area that bothered me -- it was the fact that they had all been grotesquely and brutally murdered sometime during the night.

"Oh my gosh. What is going on?" I said loudly to my best friend Stefanie. She didn't have an answer.

The first dead body I identified was Stef's Kid, who was stuffed cruelly into the bench of my piano with just his pale, lifeless head sticking out. His airway was blocked by the weight of the bench seat pressing down on his tender little cotton neck. Pam, another "punk slumber party" attendee, found both of her Kids hog tied with twine and dangling from the bookshelf. All of my friends shrieked as they discovered their babies mangled in creatively gruesome ways. Mine were no exception.

My first-born Kid, Nessa Ronnie, was hanging from the hanging lamp in the corner of the living room by a crudely-tied noose. Her body twirled in the soft breeze that carried the stench of doll death through the house. I fought the lump of scream swelling in my throat, knowing I had to be strong for my friends and for my other Kid who hadn't yet been found. He might still be alive.

As we rescued our beloved from the un-living room massacre, I apprehensively walked into the dining room where I found more death. Another one of Stef's Kids was hanging from the light fixture over the table, strangled, with his pants pulled down just far enough to bare his creator's mark. I called Stef in to claim her Kid and turned my eyes away. I promised her that the sick jerk who perpetrated these murders would suffer greatly. I swallowed the onslaught of saliva that was filling my mouth -- you know, the kind you get right before you throw up -- and stepped into the kitchen.

Lying on his back on the kitchen counter was Reece Royce, my second-born Kid. A trail of Extra-Strength Tylenol streamed from his mouth, over his blue sailor suit, and surrounded his fragile body. I had warned him about the danger of to many pain relievers, but Reece was a rebel. I stood there for a moment before feeling a warm hand touch my shoulder. It was Steffie coming to comfort me in my time of need. She spun me around and told me we had to do something to avenge these deaths.

Stef and I walked back into un-living room and I announced that all kids were D.O.A., and DNA and toxicology reports were pending. We began formulating a crack team of investigators, including all the girls in attendance and any imaginary friends we had floating about, and set out to find the monster responsible for these heinous acts. I told my friends that these murders (totaling a dozen) were suspiciously like that of a criminal who attacked my aunt's Cabbage Patch Kid only one month prior.

My Auntie Carolyn and her Kid Archie survived two attacks in their home. One night she returned from work to find Archie hanging by a piece of string from the kitchen light. Luckily, she got home just in time and was able to resuscitate Archie. A few days later, she found Archie on her bed. Auntie Carolyn thought nothing was amiss until she walked a bit closer to his little body and discovered Archie had a trail of white pills from his mouth to the bed and an empty Excedrin bottle on the pillow. After a few months of hospital care, Archie made a full recovery but was haunted by the two attempts on his life.

Our investigation team began to speculate on the connection to both crime scenes. Either the criminal struck again, or we had a copycat killer in our midst.

Murmurs of conjecture arose from the group. We pondered who among us could be a crazed serial killer. And if not one of us, was there a malicious outsider targeting our offspring? Was he or she still in the house? Or was there some sort of secret pact among our Kids to take their own life -- a Cult of Cabbage? Our hearts sank at the thought of it.

Perhaps our Kids were tired of being pulled around by their delicate yarn hair. We discussed the instances of neglect in which we let them sit in the blistering hot car, practically melting their soft plastic heads, while we gallivanted around the grocery store with our moms. We each relived painful moments and made revealing confessions of times when we were less than loving parents, leaving our Kids face down in the dirt, losing their shoes and socks and not noticing for days, and even cruelly throwing our Kids up in the air as far as we could to see if we were able to catch them (we usually couldn't or didn't).

We thought that maybe we had caused their deaths somehow. It was a possibility that they banded together after we had all dozed off and planned their own demise, preferring the sweet release of death to a life of terror at the hands of their parents. After a few minutes of discussion, we decided that if they were so terribly unhappy, to the point of contemplating mass suicide, at least one of our Kids would have spoken up. We ruled out the hypothesis altogether and went back to the original theory that there was a madman in our midst.

Carefully, we searched the bodies of our babies for fingerprints. We realized quickly that cotton bodies don't really hold fingerprints.

Then we just started jumping to conclusions and rattled off a short list of suspects.

Stef said, "Maybe it was one of your brothers, Cass."

"Maybe," I said, half-heartedly. Could my brothers be so cruel? Well, duh. But I thought they had better things to do than toy with our dolls' lives. Other suspects, such as the mailman, every single boy in our fourth-grade class (who were no where near us at the time), and the priest next door were quickly ruled out.

Just as we had exhausted our list of potential suspects, my brother Eric came bouncing down the stairs from his bedroom. He walked into the un-living room and found my group of friends, with messy multi-colored hair, lamenting over a lineup of dead dolls. His face strained as he tried to suppress his laughter. I saw a glimmer of pride in his eyes just then, and that's when I knew. Who else but a cold-hearted serial killer would scoff at multiple deaths and grieving parents?

Stef was right. Eric was the perpetrator.

It only took a second for me to convict Eric of the Cabbage Patch Atrocities. There was no Miranda reading, no lawyer provided, no further investigation needed. All Eric got was me shrieking, "HE DID IT!"and instantly a pack of rabid nine-year-olds were out for his blood.

Eric ran into the kitchen, pursued by a flock of screaming girls who looked like they belonged in a miniature version of a sleepy British punk band. He escaped through the kitchen and out the back door. We followed. He was nine years older than us and quite a bit faster, but we relied on outnumbering him and mimicking his movements, even if we were quite a few steps behind, to catch my slimeball sibling.

The perp ran around the large pine tree in the front yard and then up the driveway toward our garage. My group of disheveled friends watched and yelled as Eric scrambled up the side of the garage and perched himself on the roof. He was out of reach, but he was trapped. We all began shouting instructions to each other.

"Go get him!"

"He's up on the garage. Climb up there!"

"Don't let him get down!"

I don't know who we were ordering around, because we all seemed to be commanders and none of us wanted to do the grunt work of actually climbing up there to get him. Eric probably figured he could sit up there and wait it out; eventually we'd get tired of yelling at him. But he figured wrong.

Two of the braver girls got the nerve to climb up after Eric. I stayed safely on the driveway, assuring myself that my place was to watch Eric intently and not challenge gravity or the motor skills of my body (both of which had bit me heartily in the butt before).

We cheered as the girls got closer to Eric. We felt that his arrest was close at hand and justice was about to smack him upside the head. Instead, being the sly criminally minded bad guy that he was, Eric leapt from the roof of the garage and landed with a heavy thud in the backyard. The girls on the ground, including myself, pursued him again. The two brave girls, who had finally reached the rooftop of the garage, began the laborsome process of climbing back down. They eventually caught up with the pack.

Eric had some stealth moves: He darted behind the playhouse in our backyard, ran toward our neighbor's house, and then climbed the big maple tree in the center of the yard. He was out of breath but sitting just out of our reach, safe from the wrath of our little fists. We couldn't reach the lowest branch of the tree, so there was no hope to climb up after him. Instead we came up with an alternate punishment.

Eric was sentenced to sitting in that tree for almost an hour listening to the harshest words our fourth-grade brains could muster. Words like "dummy" and "jerkface butthead" spiraled out of our mouths and up the tree. "I hate you. I'm telling mom," was overheard. "I hope you fall down and get hurt," was said. Someone yelled, "Booger!" and I'm not sure if it was a declaration of Eric's lameness or a discovery of another sort, but whatever. It was pretty strong stuff for fourth graders. We felt the circumstances justified the punishment.

After Eric had paid his debt to society (or when we got bored of yelling at him and hungry for sugary breakfast cereal), we let him out of the tree. He did receive a few light punches as he returned to solid ground, but nothing too hard because we didn't want any back.

My friends and I left Eric to his first bit of quiet as we went inside the house to have our fill of Cap'n Crunch and Cookie Crisp. After our bellies were satiated with enough sugar to give an African elephant a buzz to beat hell, we got down to the business of tending to our Kids bodies. There were arrangements to be made, shoebox caskets to decorate, and eulogies to be written.

Our Kids were lined up on the couch, just like we had left them. And as we stood in front of them, we made our second astonishing discovery of the day: Our Kids had miraculously regained consciousness! We were relieved to know that our lifeless dolls were now...well, still lifeless dolls, but alive in our imaginations. Oh happy day!

By lunchtime, all of us -- dolls and girls -- were back to our old selves. We hugged our babies and told them how much we loved them. We promised to take better care of them from now on. We promised to make sure they never lost another shoe or hair ribbon. And we promised not to throw them up in the air as far as we could. At least for a little while.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Ill-Planned Sabotage

My brothers very well could have been the youngest recruits ever in the history of the CIA. They could’ve been spies or covert operatives bent on destruction and sabotage. They could’ve made enemies of the State cower in fear, rue the day they committed a crime against the U.S., and beg, whine, and cry for mercy. But the CIA paid no attention to Kenny and Eric. The twins, alternately, could’ve been like McGuyver, saving folks with the help of common household items such as sandpaper, a belt and zipper, and mustard. But instead of an official mission, or one worthy of a TV show, my brothers just unleashed their special brand of terror on family and friends…and random acquaintances…and complete strangers…and bats…and inanimate objects.

Case Number 1: My dad once had a red truck. It wasn’t the greatest red truck in the world, it wasn’t the shiniest, but it was his pickup truck. From what I understand, a man and his truck have a special, unbreakable bond.

My brothers had some sand paper. It wasn’t the toughest sand paper in the world, it wasn’t the best, but it was their sand paper. I think they found it somewhere in my dad’s shop in the basement where he kept all his tools. From what I understand, my brothers and their sand paper had a special, evil plan.

Kenny and Eric sanded my dad’s pickup truck.

My dad was a strict disciplinarian back then (he's softened with age, but I still wouldn't advise sanding his truck). He was a police officer by day and the first and last word in law at home. He came home from work one day in his police cruiser and found my brothers in the driveway sanding the door of his pickup truck. I’m sure there were some touch-and-go moments in which no one knew if the boys would make it to see tomorrow. I wasn’t born yet, but I can imagine it was a fun and lighthearted day in the Clawson household after that little event. Actually, I’m surprised they survived.

Case Number 2: Probably the greatest and best-documented day of sabotage in the lives of Kenny and Eric was their kindergarten class photo. They were five years old, and they were already expert saboteurs. You’re probably thinking, “C’mon, they were five, how could they ruin their class photo?” Well, let me tell you. Better yet, let me show you…

My mother fielded a handful of calls from concerned mothers after this photo was distributed to the class. The other women accused my mother of “planning” to have my brothers adjust themselves in the photo, claiming she had a hand in this debauchery. My mother explained numerous times that my brothers needed no direction in devilry and that they very much acted on their own. As you can see, right smack dab in the middle of the front row, Eric adjusts his belt as Kenny zips up his pants. I’m sure their underlying intentions were good, the execution was fine, but it was just a case of hilariously poor timing. Their outfits are pretty damn funny, too, but that has more to do with the fact that it was 1973 and my mom liked to dress them alike but in different colors. Groovy. Oh, and if you look closely, you’ll see a kid behind my brother Kenny who was rubbing his eyes. Apparently he was crying at the time of the photo. (I’m sure this was a great day for that poor photographer—kids crying, adjusting their pants, and having to hand out crappy black plastic combs to top it off.) If you look closer, you’ll see that the crying kid behind my brother has been “stabbed.” At some point, Kenny and Eric decided they didn’t like this kid, so they took a tack and stabbed the photo so the kid’s face no longer exists.

Case Number 3: After I arrived on the scene in the mid ‘70s, I became an unwilling accomplice to their ridiculous, ill-planned sabotage. At the age of one, I was framed for the infamous “Mustard Explosion of ’77.” My mom took a part-time job after I was born to help the family financially, so she was at work. She cooked at the county jail, so she’d only have to leave the house for about two hours at a time to prepare each meal for the inmates, and since money was tight, she left my brothers to watch me. Oh, and it was Christmas day.

We had restaurant-style plastic ketchup and mustard bottles in our fridge. My mom would transfer the condiments from the store-bought containers into these brightly colored Tupperware bottles for us to use. I don’t really know why, it just seems like an extra, unnecessary step, but she loved us and she showed it in many ways; I guess one being the fancy plastic condiment bottles. Anyway, after she left the house to go to work, my brothers, finding her absence a perfect opportunity for sabotage, took the mustard containers out of the fridge. I was in my little roller-seat-bouncy thing (that’s the technical term for it, I’m sure), which acted as a place to seat me for meals, entertainment, and for the occasional jaunt down a flight of stairs or two (at the hands of my brothers, of course). Please note that they were going on 10 and very mobile, I was one and drooling on myself (don’t worry, I have almost grown out of that).

Some things happened that day. I don’t remember them. There were no other witnesses. My brothers won’t confess.

All that we know is my mother returned from work on Christmas afternoon to find a mustard-covered dining room, kitchen, and living room. It was the ’70s and mustard yellow was all the rage in home d├ęcor, but decorating with actual mustard was generally frowned upon.

When my mom demanded to know what happened, my brothers threw me under the metaphorical bus (if there were an actual bus to throw me under, they probably would’ve tried to push my little bouncy roller thingy under it. I tended to steal their thunder because I was a cute little baby that everyone wanted to see and hold, whereas they were nine-year-old hellions that, like rabid tigers, people learned to admire at a safe distance). Kenny and Eric told my mom that I, sweet innocent little me, had gotten the mustard out of the fridge and went on a squirting spree. She grudgingly believed them because I was wont to steal the ketchup bottle from time to time to get a good healthy dose of the condiment. I would actually suck on the bottle of ketchup...frequently. I don’t know why, I guess I was concerned with my intake of Lycopene. Or maybe I was just weird. Maybe both. Who knows. Ok, I’m just weird. Let’s move on to the point.

I was set up to take the fall for the mustard spree. My poor mother, after making a meal for 22 prisoners at the county jail where she worked, came home to a different kind of imprisonment—that of three children who always managed to make a holy mess. She took off her work apron and set to cleaning mustard off the walls, the chairs, the ceiling, the fridge, the floor, the table, me, the windows, the curtains, etc. Silent Night? Hardly. After she cleaned all the noticeable mustard spots, she walked upstairs to gather dirty laundry to wash. Her work, literally, was never done.

As she dug clothes out of the hamper in the upstairs bathroom, something was amiss…mostly that there were clothes in the hamper. Kenny and Eric had a penchant for leaving their stinky socks, grass-stained pants, skid-marked underwear, and every other type of clothing item everywhere but in the dirty clothes hamper. In fact, my mother became so disenchanted by picking up their dirty tube socks off the coffee table in the living room on a daily basis that one morning she actually put their dirty socks in Kenny and Eric’s cereal bowls. That didn’t go over so well with my brothers. My mom set out cereal bowls for them every morning, and since the bowls had dirty socks in them, my brothers were unable to eat cereal…because they would either have to A. wash their bowls out or B. get new bowls out of the cupboard. Neither of those were options for the twin terrors. They went to school without breakfast that day, and boy, my mom caught an earful from them when she came home from work that afternoon. She actually felt bad.

Where was I? Oh yeah, clothes in the hamper. As my mom fished out the dirty laundry she was shocked to find some of my brothers’ clothes there. As she dumped the articles of clothing into the laundry basket, she noticed that two of their white t-shirts were turned inside out. As she flipped the shirts the right way, she discovered that these white shirts were caked with mustard.

My mom realized that her little one-year-old daughter in her rolly bouncy seat couldn’t have launched excessive amounts of mustard all over Kenny and Eric’s clothes. Either the twins were lined up, execution style, blindfolded and restrained, while I squirted them continuously with yellow condiment or there was more to the story. Better yet, there was an entirely different story. She confronted them about what really happened, and then the proverbial mustard hit the fan. She totally busted them because, even though they were masters of shenanigans, they were terrible liars.

The punishment she dished out did little to dissuade them from being mischievous in the future, though. She was not an adept disciplinarian, probably due to her sweet nature and utter exhaustion due to work and family duties. Mostly she just shook the drawer that held all the cooking utensils when my brothers were misbehaving, hoping that the empty threat of digging out a wooden spoon and smacking them on the bottom with it would stop them from whatever it was they were doing. The wooden spoon threat was as empty as the mustard container was on Christmas night.

Honestly, I don't think there's anything she could have done on the right side of the law to keep them from hatching more cockamamie sabotage. And I’m willing to bet there’s still mustard crusted somewhere on the walls of that house.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Language Barrier

“Dubba dubba duck” is total gibberish. I know this, you know this, and Webster’s dictionary knows this. I’m glad we can all agree. It’s a known fact that twins often create their own language when they’re young and my brothers were no exception. To Kenny and Eric, that nonsense phrase meant plenty. "Dubba dubba duck" inspired them to get up from their seats at the dinner table, do a lap around it, and then reseat themselves. Sometimes they sat down in the same spot and sometimes they switched seats, depending on the entree and side dishes. If Eric didn’t like an item that was forcefully placed on his plate but his brother liked it, they would switch so that the offending food wouldn’t have to invade the pallet of the disliking brother. Sometimes they just did it because they had short attention spans and dinner could get boring.

As my brothers grew, their vocabulary did, too. Thankfully their own language took a backseat to English, which is the official and recognized tongue of the Clawson household. There were some growing pains, however. English didn’t come easily or without questions that were tough to answer. For instance, my mother had to find a way to explain to Kenny and Eric that she didn’t own the Miami Dolphins. It was a far more difficult task than you can imagine.

While watching Monday Night Football, my mom said she disliked the Miami team (and by using the word dislike, I’m sugar-coating the fact that she absolutely despised the Dolphins for reasons no one, not even her, could explain. She just hated them. That’s all there is to it. Hate. Miami. Just because.) My brothers repeated the fact that mom didn’t like the “Your-ami” Dolphins. My mom looked quizzically at the twins for a moment, and then she realized what they were saying.

After about ten minutes of a “Who’s on First”-type conversation, my mom gave up. She repeatedly told them, “No, it’s not MY-ami, the word is Miami.” My brothers then retorted, “Yeah, Your-ami Dolphins.” My mother then offered, “No, not MY-ami, they’re not mine. I’m not saying MY-ami. The name of the town is Miami. M-I-A-M-I. Miami, Florida.” My brothers insisted that they, indeed, understood. They knew that the Your-ami Dolphins were playing and that mom hated them. Who’s on First? Well, certainly not my brothers since they couldn’t even figure out how to get out of the dugout.

Exhibit B in the case of “English vs. Kenny and Eric” is a holiday word that Eric struggled with. During the Christmas season, a business in our town mounted a giant, lighted "NOEL" sign atop their building. Waiting at a stoplight in front of the building one December afternoon, Eric asked what “Noel” meant. My mom, the official English to Twin-ese translator, explained that Noel was a word that encompassed the Christmas spirit. I’m sure her explanation was adequate, though it was shut out by Eric’s brain. He was focused on not the meaning of the word, but the pronunciation.

“Noel?” he questioned.
 “Yes, Noel,” my mother reassured him.
 “But there’s some 'L' in there. It’s right at the end,” Eric said.

My mother tried to explain that the word was pronounced Noel but that had nothing to do with the fact that there was an “L” in the word. Nope, Eric would have none of it. There was some “L” in the word, right there, all lit up in colored bulbs. Some L. End of discussion.

At the Christmas Eve service of the Holy Trinity Episcopal Church that year, the congregation may have heard one triumphant if not misguided voice raise itself in song. While all the unenlightened parishioners sang “The First Noel,” my wise and all-knowing brother Eric sang “The First Some-L” as loud as he could. No one followed.

So Miami and Noel tripped them up. Big deal, right? Sure, it’s funny, but every kid has their moments when they don’t fully understand the language. Even I had problems at times, like when I was singing “Alex the Seal” by the Go-Go’s or when my fourth-grade self thought the term "Mo-Fo" (the meaning of which I was completely ignorant) would be funny to say at the insurance agent’s office while waiting for my mother. But this isn’t about me. The apex of Kenny and Eric’s fight to fully understand what they were saying came during an actual fight, which took place at my aunt’s house.

Kenny and Eric were wrestling outside. My brothers always wrestled, and it always started out as a friendly, fun-loving match of brother against brother. It always ended in a full-out brawl and a forced separation by my overworked mother. Inevitably during their wrestling match, something would happen—a foot would kick a kidney, an elbow would press on a neck, a knee would jab a groin. Some sort of ever-changing physical line would be crossed and the harmless wrestling bout would turn into an all-out grudge-match smackdown.

Outside my aunt’s house, with my cousins watching in awe of their sheer dedication to beating the ever-loving crap out of each other, my brothers set off on a fight of epic proportions. My mother came outside to break it up. The boys were separated and then one of the twins (they won’t confess who said it) screamed out to the other, “Oh yeah? Well I don't like your face! You're ugly!”

Did I mention my brothers are identical twins?