Sunday, July 27, 2008

Thriftomania. Try it! You'll like it!

Published July 27, 2008
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

As a big fan of the study of psychology, it seems I’m always on the lookout for new and exciting disorders that can explain away a few of my weirder quirks. When I can’t find anything official, I make something up, trademark it, and wait for the psychiatric community to catch up. I guess you could say I’m a bit of a psychological hypochondriac with some delusions of grandeur mixed in for flavor.

I’m calling today’s disorder Thriftomania. It is defined as a pathological need to save money.

While I’ve always known my impulse to save a buck bordered on ridiculous, I didn’t consider it pathological until last night. On a break at work, I stood before a vending machine and faced the kind of decision that makes you question your internal wiring.

At some point during the day, some poor soul had wanted some sausage. The sausage had decided to stay. There it was, wedged between the glass display and a package of coconut sprinkled, mini donut “gems.” I surmised that if I were to buy the donuts, the weight of the package falling from its slot would most likely dislodge the package of sausages, and I would be the lucky recipient of an accidental two-for-one deal. Sounds reasonable, right?

Here’s the kicker. I don’t particularly care for vending machine sausage, by which I mean that I think it’s a dry, over-spiced mixture of fat and entrails wrapped in inedible plastic and in no way resembles food. The only thing I like less than a vending machine piece of sausage is a donut sprinkled with coconut. I went to the vending machines planning to buy a soda from the machine on the right, but met with a choice between spending money on something I want and saving money on something I don’t, well, let’s just say that when pathology and taste collide, pathology wins with a one two punch to the taste buds.

I ate the sausage and the donuts, then stared wistfully at the soda machine, my mouth dry and my pockets empty. I took a long hard look at myself and thought, I have a problem.

It doesn’t only happen at vending machines. I go to the bread store planning to spend $5 and end up spending $10 in order to pick a free item from the baker’s rack next to the cash register. The rack is usually full of the same loaves of bread I’m purchasing, so I’m spending $5 to save 90 cents. (In my defense, sometimes the rack has bagels.)

One time, I bought a pair of sneakers that were a size and half too big because they were on sale for only $3. I wore them for over a year, flipping and flopping everywhere I went, retying them here and there to kind of force a good fit. Sure, that was annoying, but they were brand name sneakers for THREE DOLLARS, people! THREE DOLLARS! Who would pass up a deal like that?

Before you judge, consider how hard it is to live with a disorder like this. I’m not crazy. I just need some help. Someday, there will be treatment options for people like me. Someday, some pioneering pharmaceutical company will develop a drug that will help me think before I save.

I’ll buy it in Mexico, of course. You don’t expect me to pay U.S. prices, do you?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Crazy cat ladies aren't so bad...

Published July 20, 2008
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

Every now and then, I believe the universe gives us a glimpse of what is to come. I had such an experience while my kids were visiting their grandparents. For one month, I became an “empty nester.” Yes, folks, the little chicks spread their wings and flew to New Mexico, and I stayed back, quiet and depressed, pecking and scratching around my ridiculously large collection of twigs and leaves and string, trying to find some meaning and purpose in my newly chick-less existence.

Okay, so I’m being a bit melodramatic. But only by a very little bit. My empty nest experiment was painful, to say the least…in part because I missed the kids so much, and in part because I didn’t know what to do with myself if I wasn’t wrangling, feeding, bathing, hugging, or scolding my little brood. I began to wonder what in the world I’ll do when they actually move out of the house for real.

It was while watching the stage production of Bye Bye Birdie last month that I found the answer to that question. There was a character, a mother, so overbearing and wrapped up in her son that he was paralyzed to move forward in his life. The actress playing the part hammed it up and made it hilarious, constantly stepping on his every decision and coming between him and his love interest. She wasn’t a very lovable character and the audience roared with laughter and cheered when her wet noodle of a son finally put her in her place.

That is to say, everyone in the audience except me. All I wanted to do was rush the stage, wrap my arms around her, and say, “I KNOW WHAT YOU’RE GOING THROUGH! You’re not trying to hurt anyone. You just want to be close…involved…meaningful in some way. Is that so much to ask?”

This does not bode well for my children.

If I consider their feelings and put forth a herculean effort to avoid the overbearing mother role, I could easily take the other route, and by easily, I mean I’m probably halfway there already. With three cats, each rescued from homelessness, I’m a prime candidate for “Crazy Cat Lady” status. Yeah, I know how she feels too. She’s not really crazy. She just has a big heart and a need to nurture…85 homeless cats…in a 900 square foot house.

It makes sense. When you don’t have kids around, cats do start to feel like your children. There’s even a little cat ESP communication similar to the communication a mother has with a newborn. There’s one meow for “Outside,” another for “My food dish is empty,” another for “Love me? Gonna pet me?” and still another for “Gimme some special stuff! Spoil me rotten! Some milk! A can of tuna leftovers! Anything! I’m dying here!” Yes, I talk to my cats and believe they talk back. What’s so crazy about that?

I guess it’s not really a choice between two black and white extremes. There is a third road I could take. I could be a healthy empty nester who keeps in touch but enjoys a life of her own. I could stay active, hike, write, travel, go back to school and get my PhD, set up a foundation for crazy cat ladies…anything’s possible, right? I’ll do all those things!

As long as the kids live next door, come by for dinner every day, and bring me every collar-less cat they find wandering the neighborhood.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Fluffy, cuddly, heartless carnivore

Published July 13, 2008
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

Today, ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to tell you a story of daring and heroism, a story that will surely earn me a medal of some kind from the Audubon society. I, Sarah Clark, mild mannered newspaper columnist, saved an innocent, defenseless bird from certain death in the jaws of a terrifyingly cruel monster the likes of which no weak-willed individual could ever contend.

My cat, Isis… She’s cute. She’s fluffy. She’s cuddly. She’s a heartless carnivore.

When I saw the poor bird in the clutches of this furry villain, I leaped into action. Isis had dispatched another bird in our basement a week before, and I had been left to plug my ears and sing, “The Circle of Life” at the top of my lungs while she finished the job. I had no desire to repeat the horror of that experience. I lunged at her each time she dropped the shaken, but otherwise unharmed bird, only to have her snatch it back up and zip out of the room each time.

Getting smart about things, I closed off her exits and waited for my chance. Seeing her let go of the bird for a split second, I flew at the elusive cat, clamping my hands around her body while she fought to be free. I tossed her unceremoniously into my bedroom and slammed the door with a lusty, “NOT ON MY WATCH!” then opened a window and ushered the frightened bird outside to tell the tale to his birdie friends. It was when I went to release the beast from her makeshift dungeon that I realized my bedroom door was locked from the inside.

So, I’m standing outside my bedroom door, completely naked. Wait…did I forget to mention I was naked? I had been preparing to shower when the endangered bird caught my eye. (You’re all going to go back and reread the previous paragraphs in a new way, aren’t you? I’m deeply sorry for the visual.)

So, anyway, I’m standing outside my bedroom door, naked as the bird I just rescued, weighing my options. I have two brothers-in-law living nearby who can help me get this door open. I have no clothes. There are two able bodied men out there who know this house inside and out and have probably unlocked this door at least once. I have no clothes.

My situation became quite clear. I needed to leave for work in two hours and all of my clothes (and one very irritated cat) were on the other side of a locked door. Short of calling my husband away from his desk at work, I had no option but to take a good, hard look at the door and figure it out myself (my naked self…in case you had forgotten).

A girly hairpin to the rescue! After examining the knob, skulking nakedly around the house in a fruitless search for a mini screwdriver set, I found a sparkly hairpin I had worn the day before. Thank you, Bad Habit of Leaving Stuff Lying Around. (What a day to actually put my clothes in the hamper, right?) After a few unsuccessful tries, I managed to open the door with the kind of leap of triumph one should never attempt while bereft of clothing.

A blurry ball of fur rocketed out of the doorway in search of her lost prey. I watched her efforts, wondering if she would harbor bad feelings for awhile, but I was gratified to see her turn away from her search to rub against my legs, purring contentedly. Was she merely kissing up in hopes that I would share some of the bird I had no doubt stashed somewhere in the house? Probably. Will I choose to remember it as a sign of affection and gratitude for saving her from herself? Absolutely.

Hey, a medal would be nice, but delusion lasts forever.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

It's not easy being a bag of pheromones

Published July 6, 2008
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

The other morning I walked down the stairs to the basement portion of my house and found myself enveloped in the unmistakable scent of “hot guy.” My basement always smells like “hot guy” when my husband is taking a shower.

The scent is hard to describe, but it’s certainly pleasing to this columnist’s olfactories. Taking a powerful whiff of my husband’s body wash bottle, I can say it’s very clean, slightly spicy, extremely manly, and well…the embodiment of “hot guy” in a bottle.

I remember the first time I smelled “hot guy.” And the second. And the third. I smelled it every morning at work for more than two years. The “hot guy” label was placed on the scent by the teenage girls I worked with. They were always on the lookout for the, ahem, Hot Guy who had left his sumptuous mark on the hallway we passed through. The day they realized this mysterious Hot Guy was actually a mature man with grown children and a very clean, slightly spicy, extremely manly body wash was pretty hilarious, if I do say so myself. (And since I just did, I guess I do.)

Fragrances are a funny thing. I wonder…is it a fad like any other? How did people want to smell in ancient times? I mean, was “Tar Pit” the “Obsession” of the cave man days? Did people in Medieval times want to smell like “Moat Goddess” or “Essence of Knight?” I wonder what/who determines which scents are popular and why.

For some, science is involved. According to “the industry” we’re all just big bags of pheromones waiting to be signaled by the other bags of pheromones walking around. The cologne makers of the 70’s decided to cash in on the pheromone phenomenon by including “musk” in men’s cologne, claiming this would stimulate the pheromones of women and make the man who wore it nearly irresistible.

It’s interesting stuff until you realize musk is a secretion of the underside of a musk deer. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I’ve ever found a remote, endangered, wild animal of Siberia at all irresistible. Maybe my pheromones are broken…

According to evolutionary scientists, body odor is actually nature’s most potent agent of attraction. Believe it or not, body odor, particularly that originating from the underarm, is meant to signal a potential mate that one has passed the puberty phase and is now mature enough to bear offspring. Underarm hair is a means of trapping and enhancing the odor for maximum attraction potential and perpetuation of the species. It begs the question: If we eliminate and mask our body odor with fragrances we think are attractive, are we really just shooting ourselves in the evolutionary foot?

I don’t really want an answer to that question. Scientists be darned, I’d much rather smell like mangoes and pomegranates than B.O., no matter how mature the opposite gender might find me otherwise. I know I’m disproving my previous theory about musk here. I mean, is any man more attracted to fruit than I am to wild deer? Actually, I’m sure the answer to this is yes, and my reasoning lies in the “way to a man’s heart is through his stomach” idiom.

If they made a lasagna scented perfume, I’d be wearing it right now.