Sunday, December 27, 2009


People acquire reputations for all kinds of crazy things: the number of days spent camped out in a tree; the unlikelihood of delivering eight babies in one sitting; the variety of women willing to appear naked in your magazine. I've yet to hear of a "name" acquired by the number of times you get hit by a ball.

The Wills family does have a ball reputation of sorts--trophies and medals won by hitting balls with a racket, smashing balls with a wrist, slinging balls over water, slamming balls against a wall. No medals have yet been won by offering one's body as a pelt spot. However, this is about to change; I demand that personal impact be recognized as an official event.

My unique sport began innocently enough when I stood near a railing at my grandson's ice hockey game. First time I'd ever personally witnessed this game--and to add to my uncanny luck, other family members stood beside me. But only I was singled out by the puck that ricocheted off the ice and found its target on my upper arm. It was Chris, (standing next to me), who noted, "Of course, Mom, you were the one that got hit." How he recognized this tendency so early, is difficult to imagine. But let's just say his statement was predictive of future events.

Once Dane became fully invested in volleyball, Rob and I attended most of his matches. The Anaheim Sports Arena contains some twenty volleyball courts. Unlike other spectators, I've been hit by balls flying out of at least ten of those courts. Balls from courts behind me smash against the net and find my back. Balls from warm-up smashes clunk off my head. Balls from near-empty courts find me as I head for the cafeteria--and one managed to knock off my glasses. In fact my glasses alone have been tweaked three times. Other parents noticed and began saying things like, "You do seem to have a bulls eye painted on your body." "You need to arrive wearing a helmet." "Don't sit by her--she gets hit every time."

Once a ball from a nearby court followed me down a narrow hall and nailed me as I entered the ladies room.

The gold-medal moment actually occurred in a high school gymnasium. Like other spectators, I was sitting innocently in the bleachers when it happened. A ball from the court in front of us sailed down the length of the gymnasium, hit a side wall at the end of our bleachers, and flew like a homing pigeon straight for my head. Dozens of other heads were available, of course, but obviously none of them qualified.

Aware of my propensities, this year 23 members of our family spent Christmas Eve trying to hit me with an under-inflated beach ball. They gave themselves great credit for originality and timing--howling with glee when they connected. Only at the end did I assure them they hardly qualified for "best shot of the year."

That came a few weeks earlier when, with my granddaughter, I visited a tiny tots birthday party. Like grasshoppers, some ten three-year-olds leaped and frolicked across a small living room, chasing little toys and pinata candies. Among the objects on the floor was a tiny ball. To my astonishment, a miniature boy took a mighty swing with his miniature toe, caught the ball just right, and sent it cascading into my face.

The man sitting next to me said, "Oh! Are you all right?" He probably didn't believe me when I said, "Well, that was certainly the smallest of my assailants. You wouldn't know this, of course, but I do have a national reputation--as a target."

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


My husband, Rob, has a THING about burning down the house. "Don't leave the teakettle on, Babe. You'll incinerate our place." The other night he rousted me out of bed at midnight. "What? You left the clothes dryer running? Probably oughta shut it off. By the time the smoke reaches our bedroom, the house will be gone." Once he even closed down the oven when I wasn't looking. "I turned it off. You weren't in the room."

"I was in the bathroom."

"When something's cooking, you have to be in the kitchen." Before my eyes he turned deaf when I tried to explain that ovens are DESIGNED to function when you're not physically present. For Rob, the most logical man I know, the logic has to arrive when he asks for it--from a source that's more exotic than a wife. As to the house burning down . . . apparently he wants me right there, watching, when flames start licking out of the oven.

This same Rob has few problems with stenching up the house. One evening, two weeks ago, he stuck a bag of popcorn in the microwave and set the timer in the dark. Exempt from the watch-the-oven rule, he hobbled back to his chair, using a cane because his knee hadn't quite recovered from its eighth surgery.

I began smelling a smell. Not a good smell. Tentatively, I peeked into the microwave, and quickly slammed it shut. Smoke had already collected into a black, stampeding ball, just waiting for some fool to let it out. "The popcorn's burned!" I shouted toward his chair. "The microwave is full of smoke. I don't dare open the door!"

"Just wait, Babe," he said calmly. "It'll go away." Well, he was right. Some of the smoke escaped without anyone's help. Out through seams and cracks that only a demon could find. Our kitchen took on an overlay of evil. This wasn't your ordinary smoke--it was the kind of chemical effluvium that seeps out of dangerous labs, forcing people to grab gas masks.

Unprotected, I ran around the family room and front hall, opening outside doors, propping them open. The cats were bewildered. She's letting us come and go--at willl? I turned on the attic fan in the hall, which sucks in air from outside. I switched on the fan over the stove. Nothing helped. The foul air grew worse, crept over to Rob's chair.

He said, "You'd better remove the popcorn. Grab it quick and throw it outside." He made it sound easy, but the job actually required preparation. First I ran to the back door, grabbed a lungful of clean air, and holding my breath, I darted to the microwave, grabbed the popcorn, and flung it out toward the garage. Eventually I allowed myself another real breath. But not in the kitchen.

For the rest of the night, our kitchen and family room remained toxic. Unless you stood in an outside doorway, breathing seemed a dangerous option. Inevitably, a question ocurred to me: WHAT did they put in the popcorn? I said to Rob, "Surely you'll never eat THAT again!" And Rob, who would abandon a wheelchair for a penny in the gutter, said, "Well, there's only one more bag." Implying that even one bag of poison was worth saving.

We could only escape the fumes by going to bed.

The next day the two rooms were still alive with odor. A rag dipped in Pinesol and swabbed around the microwave's interior removed a horrible, yellowish layer of scum, but in no way interrupted the smell. A second swabbing was equally useless. Some odors simply can't be overcome. We'd have done as well with the residue from a skunk.

At last, one week later, the kitchen was once again breathable. But not near the microwave. Our appliance survived a bad encounter with popcorn, but now it has putrid pores and bad breath, and so do parts of the family room. You don't have to burn down a house to destroy it. You can actually accomplish the same thing by stinking it to death.

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Thursday, December 3, 2009

Running Through the UCLA/SC Game in my Underwear

I just re-read a funny article on author book tours by the L.A. Times writer, Al Martinez. It was a comforting article, actually. Makes me feel like I'm not alone. He talks about accompanying the famous writer, Irving Wallace, to a signing in San Francisco --a disaster in which Wallace sat in a San Francisco book store for a full hour gazing at fifty white plastic chairs--with not one person sitting in them. As Martinez says, "Absolutely no one came to buy a book." Wallace was so incensed he never did another signing.

Then Martinez talks about his own signing--where he only faced 25 white plastic chairs . . . with the same dismal results. Nobody ever sat down in any of them. He claims he did sell five books, however--three of which he bought himself. He thought he'd sold another one to a man in overalls who stood for some time thumbing through the book--then made a sour face and put it down. Martinez says, "It's just as well. I don't sell to men in overalls." He admits he stays for the whole hour, "amusing myself by humming and scratching and reading what I wrote and trying to figure out why I wrote it."

The last chapter in my book, "A Clown in the Trunk" is called, "The White Plastic Chairs." And it's all about all those chairs nobody ever sits in, and how, unlike Wallace and Martinez, I'm willing to pursue people around the book store, striking up conversations designed to entice them into opening their wallets. My husband says, "I suppose you put them in a choke hold." Well, not quite. But I thought of it.

But now that a certain blonde bimbo and her husband have attracted worldwide fame by breaking into a White House dinner, they'll probably get a book deal--and sell loads of books. As for me, I've considered running through the UCLA/SC football game in my underwear. Has any grandmother ever done that? Would it give me a big enough name to sell books? I'd love to consider it. But first I'll have to lose a few pounds.

Anyone out there have a better idea??