Monday, January 26, 2009

Of Submissions and a Mission

Welcome to one of my good ideas that showed up just south of Timely. Regular readers know that the path toward my nearly-completed master’s degree has been strewn with so much lost writing time: blog posts that never made it to cyperspace, articles that were never pitched, an entire novel’s worth of characters with fates hanging in the balance—the literary causalities are as numerous as they are grim.

Still, in the midst of the academic frenzy in which I’ve been embroiled, I’ve never forgotten that I’m a writer. And four months from now, I plan to delve deep back into my chosen profession. In the meantime, I’ve signed up for a writer’s conference to get back into the game (and take advantage of free student admission!). Like many good conferences, this one includes a contest. Not having the aforementioned writing time to craft new material especially for the event, I’ve decided to dip into the archives and submit some unreleased material that’s been distilling for a couple years. Which bring me to my slightly tardy idea.

For the rest of the week, I’ll be posting prospective contest entries here on the site—partly because this gives us a week of guaranteed posts, but also because I’d like some feedback about what piece to enter. So what makes me wish I had this otherwise win-win idea two weeks ago? The deadline is 5 PM Friday. So let’s get busy and don’t be shy—let me know what I should submit or just let sit!

Here's our first contender:

A Tiger on a (Suicide) Mission

What is it about stuffed animals? Little more than wadded cotton encased in plush and adorned with thread and buttons, these faux friends find their way onto the guest list of life’s meaningful moments. They show up at baby showers and hospital visits, on Valentine’s Day and at graduations. And they are always welcome. So why the perennial welcome mat for these cloth clones? My husband blames Sesame Street. Spending our formative years in the presence of friendly bath toys, charismatic letters, and well-spoken pieces of home furniture, it’s no wonder our society is predisposed to animate the inanimate.

PBS or not, I am a grown woman with a collection of stuffed animals dating back to the Carter administration. Parting with them would seem too much like betrayal. Yes, I realize that I’m the stuffed-PETA equivalent of those crazed animal hoarders occasionally exposed on the 11:00 news, but I’m also willing to bet there’s trusty plush friend or two in your personal archives.

In general, we’re loyal to our childhood stuffed animals because they’ve always done their job. They share our secrets. When squeezed, they don’t scratch, bite, or offer unsolicited advice. They are for us whatever-- and whenever--we need them to be.

My home, then, became a safe haven for stuffed animals, not unlike a no-kill animal shelter.

At least until my two ill-behaved Labradors assigned themselves the task of tackling the nasty business of the overpopulated stuffed species. It began with some isolated outbreaks, most notably the rabbit winnowing of Y2K. Mocha, the brown one, went on a rampage one morning and bit the faces off every stuffed rabbit in the house. Just rabbits and just faces, executed with frightening precision.

Hippos were targeted next, although more out of fond fascination than menace. As a training gift, my daughter, Allison, had given Mocha his own green hippo, which he apparently adored. He carried it everywhere, including muddy romps. Finally, the hippo was nothing more than a mass of filthy threads and had to be disposed. The next day Mocha went into Allison’s room, plucked a blue hippo from her collection and carried it around with a lone green sock. Time passed without further incident, and we began experimenting with tentative indoor privileges for the dogs when we’d leave for short periods of time.

Then came a Bad Day for elderly tigers.

A box top mail in prize from when I was three, Tony of cereal fame had come out of semi-retirement in my storage loft and had spent the night in the family room. Rain prompted a spur of the moment decision to leave the dogs inside alone while I took the kids to school—a decision I never considered being of consequence to Tony, until I returned to a horrific sight. Tony’s face was split and his innards had been strewn in what I pictured as a gleeful romp.

No doubt our cockatiel, Casey, had squawked in warning: “Dangerous! Dangerous predators!” as he’s prone to do at the sight of canines or wanton destruction. With no one home to hear his pleas, however, the labs put some snap, crackle and pop into their morning and left Tony not looking so g-r-r-r-eat.

Tony spent a week with his tail tentatively sticking out of the wicker trash basket in my bathroom, but when push came to shove on garbage day, I hastily pulled him out and transferred him to a laundry basket. In an effort of be helpful, my husband later dumped a freshly laundered load into the basket. And then another. And, possibly, another. Many days passed.

One morning, on a Bad Writing day, the computer wouldn’t work. Frustrated, but determined to accomplish something, I decided to exercise, but, for want of a hairclip, my workout simply didn’t. So I took a shower only to discover that I couldn’t find a pair of what my saintly mother would call "unmentionables." Even in the triple load basket where Tony, sole witness to my subsequent rantings, lay forgotten at the bottom.

Flinging clothes across the bed, I suddenly hit a pocket of spongy, burnt orange stuffing. Tony stuff began to fly around the room.

“Dangerous! Dangerous!” Casey squawked as I pulled out the vacuum and aimed the hose at airborne bits. Hurriedly, I jammed the hose into the laundry basket in an attempt to stop the spread of Tony bits at the source when: whoosh!--something from the basket shot up the hose and into the canister.

My vacuum gives one the benefit of viewing the captured dirt swirling inside the canister as it accumulates, so I quickly looked to see what had been sucked into the wind tunnel. Amidst the general sea of compressed dust and in stark contrast with the occasional wad of crumpled white tissue were flashes of silky black fabric. Although my mother will be mortified to learn that I’ve found it necessary to mention the unmentionable twice already—there they were, orbiting the eye of what my vacuum’s literature proudly references as the "whirlwind."

I quickly turned off the vacuum and noticed Tony staring up at me from his unseemly state at the bottom of the basket. Disapproval. I definitely saw it on both sides of his split countenance. I suddenly realized how unfortunate it was that Tony, whose only mission in his artificial life was to provide me joy and comfort should come to such a miserable end, insides spewing forth into my laundry and listening to me say things I can’t mortify my mother by writing.

Then I finally understood. Life is too brief to lose sleep over bad writing or not to be outrageously thankful that I even have hair. And what a terrible waste it would be to miss the humor in seeing my unmentionables swirling around in the vacuum canister.

I popped the canister open, shook out the offending fabric and laughed uncontrollably.

Tony’s expression changed. It was admittedly imperceptible, but I caught it. After all, who can crack a half smile better than a tiger with a fissured cranium?

Tony left me on a high note, stoically keeping my secrets, gently exposing my childishness, and reminding me that it was time to grow up.

He did his job well.


Jen said...

Hilarious! I loved it! (However, I do often wonder if I find your stories so funny because I know you and your family so well.. I can imagine every bit of it.. right down the face you probably made....) Hilarious!

Melissa said...

I would writing my vote. i mean this just doesn't happen everyday! It is a great story. I like this one.

Anonymous said...

Unmentionables aside, Tony gets my vote. You left me hanging, I had forgotten that Tony was saved. Prejudiced though I may be, I love your writing, you are so funny.

Denise said...

Awesome, totally funny.


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