Monday, February 28, 2011

Warning Belles

After one has been an attorney for a while, one gains this ability to pick up on little nuances and clues that they likely would have missed in their early years. 

For example, when I am in a district court criminal trial and the judge says, “Mrs. Council, you don’t have a closing argument, do you? 

I could have a closing rivaling the mythical Atticus Finch, but I will take that cue, save the argument for another day and plant my butt firmly in my seat while answering, “No, your Honor.”

If I didn’t pick up on the judge’s meaning, I would only serve to piss the judge off as I continued to run my mouth.  There could even be a situation where the judge intended to rule for my client, but my clueless head and reckless mouth served to sway him or her the other way.

Another example of the necessity of reading between the lines occurs when a prospective client comes to meet with me about taking on their case.  If the client has been through more than one attorney prior to landing in your office, warning bells are going off all over the place.  In 99.999% of the cases where another attorney has been involved, one of two things has likely happened:  (1) The attorney got fed up with the client’s unreasonable (imagined or real) demands;  or (2) The client fired the attorney because they couldn’t meet the client’s demands (reasonable or not).

Regardless of how the aforementioned attorney/client relationship ended, I can be sure of one thing:  The file the I take on will be chock full of things being done that shouldn’t have been done, things that should have been done not being done or things only half done at best.  Did you follow that?  I didn't.

When one is a young, starry-eyed lawyer, one takes on cases where another attorney has been involved with the delusion that all ills could be cured and pitfalls avoided.  When an attorney gets a little more experience under their belt, they know that they might be able to hold things fast for a week or two, but those aforementioned ills and pitfalls always come back.

The most important clue an attorney will ever learn to catch involves court appointed District and Superior Court criminal cases.  When I am assigned to a case, I will get a notice of assignment in my courthouse file.  On the very, very, very rare occasion, I will get a telephone call from an Assistant District Attorney wanting to talk to me about an appointment that I didn’t even know I had yet. 

That is bad.

So, I speak with the ADA and she informs me that I am the ninth attorney for Defendant A because he is combative and unreasonable.

That is pretty damn bad. 

Next, I show up for Court and mention the Defendant’s name and everybody—the judge, the assistant district attorneys, the clerks, the court reporters, other defense attorneys and even a couple of folks in the audience all do that quick intake of breath, say “Ooooooooooh” and shake their heads.

That is catastrophically bad.

By this point, all of the little nuances and clues I was talking about are screaming at me to run, change my name and start a new life as a Wyoming ranch hand.  Seriously, Oliver Wendell Holmes would shit a chicken at this point.

Of course, I am at a complete loss as to how to go about my client predicament, but when all else fails, use your manners.  I decide to “Southern Belle” him.  If for no other reason, I could at least comfort myself by saying that I started off being polite. 

I won’t go into gory detail, but seeing as I was called “Satan’s Unclean Servant” from the moment I met with him and gave him my prizewinning Garden Party Smile, I decided to take those oh-so-unsubtle clues and hints that were thrown my way and head off for the proverbial sunset.  Motion to withdraw:  Granted.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Belles and the Academy Awards

The South is certainly unique, but it does have one or two things in common with the North, East and West and everywhere in between:  Wonderful, weird, adorable and confounding children.  Children that make you want to want to hug and kiss them while simultaneously banging your head on a wall and pulling your hair out.  Children that make you delirious with joy and delirious with sleep deprivation.  Nose pickers.  Cookie crumblers.  Varmints.

As all of you know, I am the mother of two little girls, so I certainly don’t claim any learned insight into the rearing of little Y chromosomes.  From what I can tell through observation, boys seem to be much more physically active and rambunctious.  They are competitive.  They are also pretty straight forward when it comes to their feelings.  If they are happy, they laugh.  If they are sad, they cry.  If they are angry, they kick something. 

On the contrary, girls are a little quieter at playtime, but—oh my good and merciful Lord—their emotions are a catastrophic quagmire of swamp goop.  If they are happy, they cry.  If they are sad, they cry.  If they are angry, they cry and kick something.  Any attempt by an adult to address the situation makes them cry louder and harder. 

Many times the waterworks are infuriating: 

Baby Belle 1 has an amazing knack for throwing speed bumps into any situation with a prolific use of tears and it never fails when I am in a hurry.  The correlation is as follows:  The greater the hurry I am in, the slower she goes.

Surely most of ya’ll have seen Gone With the Wind seeing as you’re reading this blog.  Do you recall the part where Sherman is burning through Atlanta and Melanie has the misfortune to go into labor right at the same time?  Scarlett sends Prissy to get the doctor.  When Prissy goes home after striking out with the doc, she’s just ambling along the road, singing to herself and running a stick along a fence.  The flames of the burning Atlanta are visible on the horizon, there is a life and death situation at home and she’s just piddling along without a care in the world. 

Baby Belle 1 is my Prissy.  I’m rushing around to get to work, school, church or whatever else and I have to tell her a bazillion times (actual mathematical number) to get her shoes on or get her glasses on or go potty or whatever and it’s like I am talking to a wall—a curly-headed, brown-eyed, pint-sized, adorable wall. 

Okay, so I might get a little bit snappish as the situation drags out past the point of absurdity, but I am rapidly approaching a Catch-22:  One too many huffing noises or a slight raise in the inflection of my tone and the dam breaks irretrievably.  Baby Belle 1 stops mid-stride, in the middle of the floor or wherever she might be at the time, her face gets red and her little nose wrinkles and it’s off to the Oscars.  She has to hand me her glasses because she is “getting tears on them.”  I have to plead, wheedle and bargain with her to even get her to resume the glacial pace she was previously taking. 

Sometimes the waterworks are baffling: 

Baby Belle 1 became a posthumous fan of Michael Jackson.  I’m not thrilled about it.  Granted, the man was talented (I respect his music even though it isn’t my cup of tea), but I really don’t want to explain to my child the oddities of his personal life—real or imagined.  

Two Christmases ago, she got a couple of MJ concert videos and music.  About a month and a half later, Scott and I were sitting at the kitchen table reading the Sunday excuse for a paper when Baby Belle 1 comes into the kitchen with tears streaming down her face. 

I couldn’t imagine what was wrong as she came in and sat on my lap.  Had she been bitten by our possessed Chihuahua?  Was she clipped by a falling ceiling fan?  Was Jason Voorhees in the house?  It took her a minute to get her to talk, but once she was finally able to get the heaving sobs slightly under control, she said, “Michael Jackson died!”

Well, I was a bit confused.  The death of Michael Jackson certainly wasn’t news to her.  To this day, I don’t know the catalyst for that swell of emotion.  From time to time, the girl will just kind of spontaneously burst into tears—at least Michael Jackson isn’t the cause every time.  She can call upon her tears with the ease of a great actress of stage and screen.  Heck, maybe Baby Belle 1 will be a famous actress and I can actually retire...point to ponder...

On occasion, the waterworks are adorable:

Yes, Baby Belle 1 can drive me bat shit crazy with the drama, but sometimes she just so darned cute about it that I actually find my own self a touch misty. 

During Baby Belle 1’s kindergarten year at St. Mary, I volunteered in her classroom during “center time.”  Center time usually meant that I was helping with coloring, doing crafts (i.e., making an unholy mess) and even running the occasional Bingo table.  I was there at least once a month—sometimes more than once. 

Why would I feel the need to tout my volunteerism, you ask?  I tell you this so you understand that the sight of me at the school wasn’t all that uncommon. 

Several months into the school year, I was helping out in the classroom.  I looked over and saw Baby Belle 1 quietly crying while coloring.  I walked over and asked her what the matter was and she looked up with eyes sparkling with tears and said, “I’m just so happy you’re here!”


As for Baby Belle 2, she's only two years old, so she hasn't quite got the grasp of the crying thing.  Of course, she's learning at the hands of the master, so I am very likely screwed six ways to Sunday.  She can already throw ber bottom lip out so far that a person could nearly trip on the thing.

Heaven help me.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

That Damned "Counselor" Crap

While suffering through law school, I was constantly reminded that attorneys aren’t just courtroom pit bulls—thus the reason for the moniker “Attorneys and Counselors at Law.”

Here’s the problem:   Although I strive to be a well-mannered Southern Belle at all times and in all situations, most anyone who knows me will tell you that I suffer from a nearly terminal lack of tact.  I pride myself in giving it straight to my clients—they aren’t going to stand with me at the defense table and act all surprised about the turnout—but while my reasoning is valid, my “No Nonsense Rule” also really suits my personality.  I’m not one for talking people off of the ledges of tall buildings. 

Ah yes, honesty.  Ain’t it refreshing?  Yep, I sleep with a clear conscience every night.  The only thing is that, on occasion—when the necessary stars and planets are a touch askew—there is one wee tiny little hiccup:  Every now and again, a client gets a little...psychotic.  That’s when the “talking people off of ledges” ability would come in handy.

Let’s talk about the dear lady who escaped a locked down mental health facility to come for a chat in my office.  The precious dear’s medications worked wonders...when she took them.  All it took was a couple of missed doses and she started thinking that she was Jean Claude Van Damme.  I had at least five open assault cases for her and the hope was that she would go away for a bit, stabilize and come back to deal with the swath she’d cut through the downtown bar scene.

So, there I was:  Seven months pregnant in the middle of the summer.  I was testy to begin with.  My paralegal (who lovingly guards the door to my office like a pit bull) ran to lunch and I waddled back into the kitchen to get to get some water.  When I waddled back up, Miss Thing was sitting in my office in slippers and a fetching terrycloth ensemble holding a purse and a shower cap.

I was a bit taken aback to say the least in light of the fact that—by my quick mental calculations—she’d stayed exactly two days of an intended one month “Journey of Restful Reflection” as it was billed in the brochures.  I eased behind my desk making very sure that I didn’t employ any sudden movements.

She was talking to herself rather rapidly, so I was left with the dilemma of whether or not to be so bold as to interrupt her.  I decided to sit still and quiet for a second to see if she felt like including me in the conversation.  As it happened, keeping my lips zipped (a true challenge for me) was the prudent thing to do.

She looked up, registered my presence and immediately started talking about conspiracies, people watching her because she was telling the truth and the chip that “they” put in her head causing headaches and diarrhea—the standard insane ramblings, really.  The alarming part was that she got more and more agitated as she talked.  I smiled and nodded and made sympathetic noises while feverishly scrolling through the tattered files in my head, trying like hell to come up with something that I could engage her on.

Oooh!  Diabetes!  (It’s a really bad day when you get excited about Diabetes.)  I remembered noting in her file that she blamed her blood sugar levels for the fact that she went ape shit all over anyone who rubbed her the wrong way.  I cocked my head in a concerned fashion and said in calm and even tones, “You seem a little shaky.  How’s your blood sugar?”

Of course, I have no idea if low blood sugar is associated with the shakes, but—when it comes to psychotic hypochondriacs—there’s nothing like planting a little seed of suggestion.  It only took about a minute or two before she started worrying.  I thoughtfully suggested calling an ambulance because it couldn’t hurt if we had the EMT’s stop by just to “check her out.”  Better safe than sorry, you know! 

Well, being the thoughtful gal that I am, I called 911 for her:

911:  911.  What is the nature of your emergency?

Me:  Hi!  My name is Ashley Culbreth Council.  I have a lady sitting here in my office who is diabetic and she might be having problems.

911:  Problems?

Me:  Yes, problems.  Ummm...problematic problems.

911:  Okaaaay.  Is she in insulin shock?

Me:  I’m not sure, but for safety’s sake, I think it would be a very, very good idea for you to send someone.  I don’t want there to be any more...problems.

911:  Ma’am, are you in danger? 

Me:  I’m not going to rule it out. 

911:  Yes, ma’am.  Fire, EMS and WPD are on the way.

Me:  Thank you so much and I hope you have a wonderful day!

It wasn’t even a minute before the siren wail of the cavalry could be heard up the street.  I got up and waddled in the back to “get her some juice” while silently waving at everyone to get their asses back to the kitchen and/or shut their office doors.  I was mid-waddle from the kitchen back to my office when some seriously hot firemen came through the door.  (Hey, pregnancy hormones, what can you do?) 

I quietly conveyed the situation to the ones that stayed out in the hall and they took the situation from there quite professionally.  Yep, everything was wrapped up and taken care of.  The EMT’s loaded the lady onto the ambulance while she jovially waved me goodbye after securing her shower cap to her head.  There wasn’t a thing to do when the police showed up FORTY-FIVE MINUTES LATER.  (I was sorely tempted to “lose” my donation to the Police Fraternity that year, but two wrongs don’t make a right and I am better bred.)

So, what did I learn from all of that?  Well, in addition to adopting the policy of chaining my paralegal to her desk so that she can’t go to lunch and leave my office door unguarded, I learned that there really is some merit to being a counselor at law.  Little did I know that I would have to employ my newfound skill set a few months later while dealing with a ragingly homicidal client who had sharpened his teeth into points, but that’s a story for another post.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Jimmy Buffet, My Dad and the Mullet

It has been said that the only people who like Jimmy Buffett are frat boys and drunk chicks from the South.

Hmmmm...interesting.  How do I respond?  Let’s seeee...okay, how about:  Kiss my perfectly sober Southern female tookus.  (I’m well bred, but I don’t shy away from a harsh response if the situation calls for it.  I am a lawyer after all.)

With the possible exception of the late great Bob Marley, Jimmy Buffett is my favorite singer of all time.  I’ve listened to his music for as far back as I can remember.  I know how it goes:  People either love Buffett or hate him and there is little middle ground.  Fine.  I don’t judge you for your closet ‘N Sync addiction or your Milli Vanilli poster collection, so I’ll go about my way and you go about yours, thankyouverymuch.

As a matter of fact, I am such a huge Parrothead that, when Jimmy fell off the stage at his concert in New Zealand, I had about 12 people call me to see how I was doing.  Sniffle. 

Buffett concerts are difficult to describe to the uninitiated, but it has been said in the past that they are a lot like Grateful Dead concerts.  They are a pilgrimage to say the least.  I can’t even tell you how many of his concerts I’ve attended—seems to me like I’m nearing the 20 mark if I haven’t already surpassed it.  No, I can’t remember every single concert but there is one that I will never forget:  My first.

It was the end of my freshman year at Peace College.  Buffett was playing Walnut Creek and I wanted to go so bad I couldn’t stand it.  My mother doesn’t particularly care for Buffett—she says he sounds too “twangy.”  Jimmy wasn’t anywhere near the great Willie Nelson as far as my father was concerned, but he liked Buffett well enough and—since my parents didn’t particularly want me going without a chaperone—Dad took me.

We sat in the lawn and—if you’ve never been to a concert at Walnut Creek before—the lawn is about $90 less a world apart from the seated section.  The lawn gets crazy.  Crazy.  Of course, seeing as it was our first time attending a concert at that venue, Dad and I had no idea what was in store for us.

We arrived at the parking lot and walked through the maze of cars adorned with shark fins, folks wearing coconut bras and hula skirts (girls and guys included in that category), beer and tequila of a magnitude so prolific as to overcome you by the fumes alone, folks grilling “Cheeseburgers in Paradise” and loads of miscellaneous revelry. 

We waded through the masses once we got inside the arena and found what we thought would be a pretty decent plot of land from which to enjoy the concert.  We stupidly spread out our little towels thinking that we were going to sit down. 

The crowed was worked up into a lather (drunk and otherwise) before the concert even began.  Folks were throwing hundreds of beach balls all over the place and then the little dudes came out with their t-shirt cannons.  Of course, beach balls weren’t the only things being thrown.  Once or twice I saw the aforementioned coconut bras go flying and then I looked directly over my head and saw a UFO. 

All I could tell was that it looked small-ish, round, dark and it more than likely wouldn’t feel too good if I got hit with it.  With self-preservation in the forefront of my mind, I quickly stepped to the side without a thought as to warning Dad.  Of course, Dad saw me looking up and looked up as well, but it was too late to do anything by that point in time and he got nailed right in the middle of the forehead.  It made a very impressive percussion-like sound when it hit.  It was an empty snuff can and—for those of you inclined to try it at home—I can tell you from the level of cussing that it hurt like a sonofabitch.

Finally, Jimmy came on.  Of course, he was totally awesome.  The problem was that the drunken fools surrounding us obviously just wanted to party, drink and pass out.  Kenny G could have been playing and they probably wouldn’t have noticed a difference.  Then, herbs were added into the mix.

I can honestly tell you that I have never, ever, in my entire life tried pot.  The smell alone is too vile to make me even contemplate the thought.  Dad and I were apparently the only ones in the whole joint (pun intended, obviously) whose olfactory senses were offended.  About three quarters of the way into the concert, things were getting rowdier by the minute and I had a headache from hell thanks to all of the pot fumes.

I told Dad that we needed to go or I was going to throw up.  I hated to do it because the music was awesome, but we had to.  We gathered our stuff and started weaving through the drunken masses toward the walkway which would carry us out.  The walkway was in our sights when a finely mulleted fellow with jeans, no shirt and bare feet stopped us because he was sure that we’d knocked off his hat. 

It was his favorite hat.

Let me assure you that neither my father nor I came anywhere near that fool’s hat, but Captain Mullet didn’t believe us.  He held us up while he searched our belongings and the inky black perimeter for his security hat.  As his drunken search crept on without success, he became more and more irate. 

Dad was way past niceties at this point and it didn’t look as though we were going to be allowed to leave if Monsieur Mullet’s chapeau didn’t magically reappear.  I was seriously close to throwing up as the result of my contact high and, if we weren’t allowed to go on our merry way really damn soon...well, if he was upset about his hat, he most likely would not be pleased about being vomited on. 

Mr. Mullet 1992 got up in Dad’s face and that’s when it happened:  Dad handed all of his stuff to me and I knew exactly what that meant.  I’d seen Dad make that same move one other time at the Fulton County Stadium when a dumbass drunk stumbled and knocked me several rows down.  That time, Dad was trying to make sure that I was okay and the drunk...well, kept on being a dumbass.  At the stadium and at Walnut Creek, Dad handed his stuff off because he needed to free his hands up for a “Good Old Fashioned Country Ass Whuppin’.”  (Yes, that is exactly what Dad called it.)

I wish I could tell you what happened next, but trauma, a snoot-full of Mary Jane and the passage of time have dimmed my memory.  I somehow prevailed upon the parties involved—likely by threatening to spew all over them—to let bygones and trucker hats to be bygones.  Dad and I went on our merry way.  I remain convinced that there are stoned-out revelers from that very concert looking for their cars in that vast Walnut Creek parking lot to this very day.

As the years have passed, Scott and I graduated to the designated seating section for concerts.  Of course, numbered seating doesn’t guarantee class:  We saw an elderly couple get into a shoving match with another elderly couple the year I waddled up from the parking lot eight months pregnant.  I’ve seen things that you wouldn’t believe in your wildest dreams, but that first concert with Dad vs. The Snuff Can and Dad vs. The Mullet is the one I will remember for the rest of my days.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Hookers, Cocaine and Amy Vanderbilt

Southern Belle training is a rigorous endeavor that should not be undertaken lightly.  Fluency in polite conversation and manners is a must.  Every situation—from fantastic to categorically bad—should be met with calm and grace.

Yeah, it’s never been an easy ride, but there’s an extra little kink in the chain these days:  The world has changed.  The role of women today is almost unrecognizable compared to the barefoot and pregnant deal of way back when.  Women today find themselves outside of the home considerably more often than inside the home.  Women run Fortune 500 companies and hold high political office.  How does a Southern Belle adapt to these new opportunities?  Well...with calm and grace...hopefully.

The problem is that some jobs really don’t gel well with adaptation.  Let’s take a look at the life of the criminal defense attorney:

By this point, I hope that I have been able to convey a sense of the insanity of my job.  Every day is truly an adventure and I can assure you that you will never hear the statement “I’ve seen it all”  pass my lips in conjunction with my chosen profession.  Surprisingly or not, I don’t really mind the unexpected twists and turns I face daily—it keeps me on my toes—but I’m damned if I know how to respond to them in a manner befitting the Southern Belle I’ve been raised to be.

For example, what do you do when you are mistaken for a hooker?  Right after I first started practicing law, I was walking though the back hall of the courthouse and doing something that I should never, ever do:  Multi-task.  Yes, I was walking and reading at the same time and I was entirely too clumsy for the endeavor. 

I furthermore feel the need to interject that I was dressed in an entirely appropriate fashion.

The bailiffs were transporting an inmate from the courtroom back to the cells and I ran slap dab into them.  The fella that they were moving was either off his meds or on recreational pharmaceuticals or a healthy mix of both.  The second his eyes lit on me, he got all agitated and started calling me Wanda.  From the charming oratory that followed, I gathered that “Wanda” was in his pool of working girls and that he expected me to follow orders and bail him out forthwith. 

The bailiffs justifiably started snickering and my face got so red that you could have fried an egg on it.  Had that interaction occurred today, I probably would have played Wanda and messed with him a bit, but I was still so wet behind the ears that I ducked and ran.  I also had to endure the bailiffs calling me Wanda until a new rotation came in.    

What exactly are you supposed to say in that situation?  Ms. Post?  Ms. Vanderbilt?  Hello?

Try this one on for size:  Once upon a time—again, early in my legal career—I had to depose a thoroughly unpleasant individual—thoroughly unpleasant to the point that I had security with me.  Good thing, too:  A pat-down of the “gentleman” upon his arrival revealed a Glock 19 in his waistband.  

We didn’t get very far into his testimony when he claimed the need for a potty break.  We broke, he did his business and we picked up where we left off.  We were about ten potty breaks into the deposition before I really started to wonder what in the hell was going on.  Granted, the guy appeared to have a pretty miserable cold and, if he hadn’t been such a first class asshole, I might would have mustered up the energy to feel sorry for him, but we were past the point of ridiculous. 

After arriving at the fourteenth request for tinkle time (a mere three hours into the deposition), I insisted that we push through to the end.  At that point, every question I asked was met with the room-trembling bang of the deponent’s head on the table.  I was torn between wanting to ask if he was okay and ignoring him as a parent would overlook an attention seeking temper tantrum from their toddler.  I opted with the “overlook” method.

We somehow managed to get to the end.  I quite frankly expected either the conference table to be cracked or the deponent to be concussed or both, but everyone was conscious and the furniture was remarkably unscathed.  After Mr. Precious mounted his Harley and went on his merry way, I mentioned his nasty cold to one of the security officers and he started laughing so hard that he eventually had to bend over.

After being forced to stand there like a dumbass for what felt like days, someone got the breath and the nerve to tell me that the “sinus condition” was a result of the enormous amount of cocaine he was shoving up his nose.  Every time he had to go to the bathroom, he was snorting up a storm.  To this very day, if someone has the sniffles—regardless of whether they are 8 or 80—I start taking furtive glances at their nose looking for telltale signs of white powder.

So, how exactly do you deal with that, Amy Vanderbilt?

Thought so.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Solidarity Belles

Boys and belles, I hate to do it, but I feel the need to rail against the system.  Polite Society is governed by a set of very strict set of rules and I normally don’t have a problem with most of them.  I’m not the most extroverted individual on the planet and I’m usually more than happy with a set of rules—or blueprints, if you will—to deal with social situations.  “Yes ma’am,” “No sir,” “thank you” and “please” are just super damn fantastic and you’ll never hear me speak a word against them.

The problem I have is with the lack of gender equality in the rules of Amy Vanderbilt, Emily Post and all of the extrapolations therefrom.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind having my door opened for me or a chair held while I sit down.  We are Southern Women and we at least deserve a little bit of deference, but there has to be a better way to raise little boys and belles where the rules aren’t stacked.  I freely admit that I don’t have an alternative plan to offer—I certainly wouldn’t turn down any suggestions.

There is an honest to God infuriating speed bump in the path to gender equality in etiquette and I guess the best way to describe it is through my experience:

While I was growing up, I had a curfew.  It was usually 10:00 or 11:00 PM and I was told more than once that the locks would be changed if I was so bold as to be late.  Furthermore, I practically had to submit a “Field Trip Proposal” for any evening outing.  What time was I leaving?  How was I getting there?  Who was going with me?  Where were we going?  Why?  What exactly was going on at our point of destination?  What was the anticipated roll call at said destination?  What was the phone number?  How long would I be there?  How was I getting home?

On many occasions, there was also the time honored traditional question of:  “You’re wearing that??? 

I wasn't a wild child in the least, but I had a curfew for prom.  When I went to college, my parents signed a form available at the time that forbade me to go off campus in the evenings.  College...COLLEGE I say!

Now let’s talk about my brother.  Ethan is four years younger than me.  Please bear the aforementioned plethora of questions in mind when you read the dialogue that took place upon Ethan announcing his evening departures:

Ethan:  [Walking through the house without breaking stride]  I’m gone.

Parents:  [To Ethan’s exiting back]  Where are you going?

Ethan:  [Still walking]  Out.

Parents:  When will you be back?

Ethan:  When you see me.  [Cue slamming door.]

That was it.  No fussing.  No fighting.  No grounding.  They didn’t even so much as issue the threat about the locks being changed on the doors.  Zip.  Zippo.  Nichts.  لا شيء,.  Ничего не.

I can barely envision myself in Ethan’s place, but when I do, I picture convents, secured boarding schools and undisciplined child hearings in New Hanover County Juvenile Court.  It just wasn’t my character.

A couple of years before the arrival of the Baby Belles, we were out with friends and I recall railing against the inequality of rearing the genders.  I cited the perceived inequality of my situation and vowed most solemnly that, if I was ever blessed enough to have children and had a boy and a girl, the disparate treatment would not be tolerated in my house.  Daughters would have the same curfew as sons.

Immediately after my bold declaration, someone said, “Well, then I guess you want to be the world’s youngest grandmother.”

What the hell?  Girls have to be kept in a pin or outfitted with a GPS chip because they might get knocked up?  Perhaps someone who makes such an ignorant statement hasn’t been keeping up with the scientific advances of the 5th Century B.C. where it was definitively proven that it does, in fact, take two to tango.

I’m not the brightest bulb on the shelf, but I’m pretty sure that if my son got a girl pregnant that I will also be a grandmother. 

I can also whole-heartedly assure you that my make-believe son would have his hind quarters tanned six ways ‘til Sunday and what was left of him would be chained to a coal mine earning a living for his brand spanking new family with the occasional furlough for OB visits, the actual birth and 3:00 AM feedings.  Also, having actually been in labor twice in my life, I can confidently tell you that the theoretical son o’ mine would still have it comparatively easy, so I would furthermore consider attaching a hog shocker to his testicles and giving the controls to Baby Mama so that she could zap him every time she felt a contraction. 

I’m a fair person and I think that sounds perfectly reasonable. 

As fate would have it, I had girls and I couldn’t be happier.  They will be taught that they deserve the same respect as boys (if not more).  I still don’t have a solution to my equality dilemma, but—for now—I think that their prospective suitors will have to be contractually engaged to be in their own homes no less than fifteen minutes after they drop my babies safely at their door because it's only fair.  Either sign on the dotted line or Zip.  Zippo.  Nichts.  لا شيء,.  Ничего не.


Friday, February 18, 2011

Itty Bitty Taco Belles

Chihuahuas run in my family.

Yes, I have lost my mind.  In my defense, there wasn’t all that much to lose anyway.

Before the little stinkers became vogue as the result of Hollywood airheads toting them around in their Louis Vuitton bags, they were the official lap dog of older Southern women. 

Yep, close your eyes and think of a front porch draped in hanging baskets and carpeted with fraying astro turf.  It’s about 98 degrees and there is an older lady sitting in a rocking chair sporting a house dress, slip-on terrycloth slippers, cat eye glasses secured to her person by an eyeglass necklace and poufy white hair.  The smell of fried chicken is wafting out through the screen door.  Okay, now take a look in her lap. 

What is that satellite-eared ball of fur?  Is it a bat?  It doesn’t have wings.  Is it a meerkat?  Eh, those are more likely spotted in Africa instead of the Southern states.  Is it a Gremlin?  Well, you’re getting warmer, but I do feel duty-bound to tell you that Steven Spielberg’s little varmint creations are still—thus far—believed to be the imaginative characters of a creative mind. 

It is a Chihuahua.  It’s probably as fat as a little sausage with either snaggleteeth or its tongue hanging out the side of its mouth as the result of missing teeth.  If you mustered up the courage to look the thing in the eye, you would notice that it is quite bug-eyed with the eyes likely shooting off in different directions.  Ten to one odds that it also snorts when it breathes. 

The little stinker looks perfectly harmless—yet disturbing—as it lays curled up into a tight little ball in the lap of its mistress, but if you are interested in keeping all ten fingers, you’d best just let it lie. 

My Great-Grandmother Agnes had one of those little boogers when she was alive.  No one in the family can seem to recollect its name, but they remember the dog itself as though it was only yesterday.  Trauma tends to burn things into your mind.  Grandma Agnes would sit at her house in Inman, South Carolina with her little Chihuahua on her lap.  Grandma was known to flash a sly smile and say, “Oh, go ahead and pet him.”  When the unsuspecting victim got his or her hand within reaching distance of the little terror, it would immediately transform into this snarling and vicious devil that suddenly seemed a lot bigger than it actually was.  Grandma Agnes would just cackle.

So, Devil Dog was the Chihuahua on my dad’s side of the family, but there was a little precious on my mom’s side as well:  Wendy.  All you have to do is say Wendy’s name around Dad and he starts twitching and cursing a blue streak.  Wendy liked everyone—except Dad.  For some unknown reason, small dogs don’t take very well to my father.  Thanksgivings at my aunt’s house usually results in her two fluffy little white dogs attaching themselves to the hems of his pants and only detaching when he walks out the door.

Anyway, Wendy the Chihuahua would hide behind the couch when Dad came to pick Mom up for a date.  The second Dad got a foot in the door, Miss Wendy would shoot out from behind the couch, bite Dad on the leg with the apparent strength of a crocodile and race back under the couch so that she couldn’t be throttled. 

Dad loves to tell the story about the time he went to pick Mom up for a date only to find Mom in tears because Wendy was missing.  Dad had to spend his “hard earned gas money” driving around and looking for her.  To those of you who are mildly curious:  Wendy was located safe and sound.  Dad was thrilled.

Enter Desdemona Muffetts Council (Desdemona was one of the two women that Jimmy Buffett ever named in song and Baby Belle 1 said “Muffetts” instead of “Buffett”).  The little stinker is six pounds of fire and fury.  She barks at a pitch that should shatter glass and she barks at everything.  She barks when “strangers” come in the house and, if they leave a room and come back in, she barks like they were first walking in.  We blame her tiny little brain for its inability to store memory—the same reason we can’t seem to train her on an electric fence.  She is also very hostile toward dogs and doorbells on the television—and she loathes the Dog Whisperer with every fiber in her tiny little being.

As far as Desi is concerned, she is a 100 pound Rottweiler.  She chased a 6’3” UPS man across our yard and he was really running for his life in spite of the gardeners next door wetting themselves with hysterical laughter.  Our other dog, Lola (the second woman in JB’s songs) has at least forty pounds on Desi and, when the two of them get into a tug of war, Lola thrashes Desi left and right and a determined Desi dangles mid-air.  Desi always wins.

In one very traumatizing incident, Desi clamped onto my husband’s nose during a round of spirited play.  Desi looked Death in the face that day.

Desi drives me slap dab crazy and I will cuss up a storm about her, but the little booger has worked her way into my heart in one respect:  The Baby Belles.  As I’m sure you can imagine, Chihuahuas as a breed don’t particularly gel with kids.  Desi gets dressed in outfits, wrapped in baby burritos and toted all over the house and she’s never snapped at the girls once—she just gets this kind of resigned look on her face.  Additionally, when Baby Belle 2 joined the family, Desi was fascinated with her.  A pack of ill-tempered Dobermans couldn’t have guarded her bassinette better.

Hey, I recognize when I’m beat.  Chihuahuas:  South of the Border and South of the Mason-Dixon line.  

Endele and Yee Haw. 

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Belle + Wal-Mart = Therapy

Are you one of those folks who gravitates toward fun houses and haunted houses at fairs and amusement parks?  Are you a people watcher?  Do you get a charge out of watching “Cops,” Steven Seagal: Lawman,” “The Jerry Springer Show,” or “Cheaters?”  Do you spend your Friday lunch hours as a spectator in New Hanover County Domestic Court?

You do?  Well, please allow me to point you toward Nirvana:  The Smithfield North Carolina Wal-Mart.

Now for the caveat:  I in no way, shape or form, in this plane of existence or elsewhere endorse shopping at Wal-Mart.  I feel like a total failure if I can’t stretch out at least a year between visits.  My personal best was 3 years and I only broke the boycott because my godson needed something that was only available at Hell-Mart.  Furthermore, I am not a “Wal-Mart Shopper.”  I do not browse.  I take a surgical strike approach:  Get in, get what I need and get the hell out.

As far as I am concerned, Wal-Mart is the Evil Empire that is decimating the moms and pops in addition to the environment and I actually felt my soul being sucked out of my body one time in the parking lot.

As I alluded to in earlier posts, Scott and I moved to Smithfield, North Carolina so that I could go to law school.  To put it mildly, it was a nerve rattling, borderline catastrophic culture shock.  I am a beach girl who is used to a beach town.

In spite of the trauma of the move, there was one fantastic thing about becoming a Johnston County resident:  My Peace Sister and her husband who’d set up housekeeping about fifteen minutes away.  Oh yes, we had some fine times back then and, believe it or not, some of them were at the Smithfield Wal-Mart. 

As the result of wrapping up old employment and starting new employment, Scott had to stay in Wilmington a little longer than me, so our friends really helped us out with getting us settled in our new home.  We had to go to Wal-Mart for a couple of things we needed and I remember them taking me aside and telling me that I needed to put on my big girl pants and be brave for my inaugural visit to the Smithfield Wal-Mart. 

Mind you, I’d been to a Wal-Mart.  Just the year before, I’d stood in the middle of the Wilmington Wal-Mart at Christmas and threatened to call the Fire Marshall about all of the crap they had stuck out in the aisles, but I had no idea about what was in store for me.

Sweet.  Baby.  Jesus.

While we were looking for a place to park, we witnessed a wreck between a person driving a cruck (El Camino) and a rust adorned Buick sedan sporting a bumper sticker that I can only assume was a response to the “What Would Jesus Do?” bumper stickers that were the  craze at the time:  “WWJD? Get the hell out of my way!”

Charming, n’est-ce pas?

When I took Scott for his first visit to the Hell-Mart, we were still in the parking lot when we saw a Whipett dog sitting in a car and wearing a full clown costume complete with the little pointy hat.  We also saw a 4 to 5 foot iguana sitting in the bed of a truck and wearing a leash.

After we actually made it into the joint, we fought among the masses to get the items that we needed.  As we waited in a checkout procession that was similar to the old bread lines in Russia, we witnessed an argument between a cashier and a shopper as to whether or not food stamps covered beer and NASCAR paraphernalia.  Yes, it was at that point where I burst into tears and Scott consoled me in front of the racks carrying The National Enquirer and Soap Opera Digest.  He kept murmuring, “It’s only three years.” 

Over our three years in Smithfield, we and our friends managed to make the Wal-Mart trips a bit of a game.  Between us, we had partied from Chapel Hill to Greenville and everywhere in between, but nothing proved to be as fantastic as our midnight trips to the Smithfield Wal-Mart.  Several times, we nearly ended up on the floor from oxygen deprivation as the result of laughing so hard. 

I think that Scott and our friends would agree about the prize winning midnight Wal-Mart experience:

It happened in the dairy section...

There was a lady shopping with her two children who appeared to be around 10 or 12 in age.  Of course, you can already make the argument that a woman dragging her children through a store at midnight probably isn’t a strong candidate for Mother of the Year. 

Nonetheless, one of the children was taunting her brother by speaking Spanish which he evidently did not understand.  His irritation grew as she only talked more and he understood less and less.  It was at that point when the young man appealed to the Maternal Justice System for a dispensation.  The Judge was on a short fuse. 

Right slap in the middle of the Wal-Mart, Mommy Dearest hollered like a fish wife:  “SHUT UP!” pointing at one of the children’s feet, “TIE YOUR SHOE!” directly addressing the little Spanish speaker, “YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU’RE SAYING!  WHAT ARE YOU SAYING?”

And they continued down the aisle in the Norman Rockwell-esque depiction of the wholesome family.

Scott and I haven’t been back to the Smithfield Wal-Mart since we’ve moved.  We’ve been assured by our friends that it has gotten even more...festive.  I think I’m going to live with the memories that I already have--my therapy bills are already expensive enough.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Belle, Gollum and "The Word"

So...the confessional about potty mouthed Belles really touched a nerve with folks.  Although I am admittedly fluent in profanity, I’m certainly not the first child to “colorfully” express their feelings and I’m quite sure I wasn't the last. 

Case in point:  My brother.  He was raised by the same family and, ostensibly, in the same way (he got away with a lot more stuff than me, but that’s another blog unto itself).  If Dad wasn’t able to cure his potty mouth for his adorable first born, there really wasn’t much hope that things were going to change for the second little Culbreth.

As a matter of fact, I would submit to you that thing got a little more colorful.  Ethan really was an angelic looking little thing:  White blond hair, cheeks ripe for pinching, big brown eyes and eyelashes that women would kill for (so unfair).  Of course, all of that was the case until he opened his mouth.  If you think that I call ‘em like I see ‘em, I sound like a Nobel Peace Prize Diplomat compared to my baby brother.

It’s not possible to adequately express in words how much my brother hated veggies when he was little and the lengths he would go to so as to avoid anything green.  Many a night was held up at the dining room table as none of us were excused until Ethan ate his damned vegetables.  When he did finally capitulate, he would choke them down and gag himself to the point where I often grew concerned that I was going to be showered in partially chewed peas.  He was a master. 

Brussels sprouts were particularly vile to Ethan’s palate.  They were the Joker to his Batman or Boss Hog to the Duke Boys, if you will.  I actually quite liked them, so Mom would make them with more regularity than you would probably see in any other household.  That particular night started off like every other night.  There was no foretelling what was about to take place. 

The showdown approached as Ethan (3 or 4 years old at the time) doggedly ate everything on his plate except for those sprouts.  Finally, three little balls of green were left on his plate and there was no way to put it off any longer.  Ethan sat there and stared at them as all sorts of allusions to High Noon popped into my head.  It went a little something like this:

Mom:  Ethan, I didn’t even give you that many Brussels sprouts.  You need to at least take a bite.

Ethan:  F*ck Brussels sprouts.

Silence.  Oppressive, ominous, painful, awkward and uncomfortable silence.

Of course, I’m sitting at the table right next to the Olympic Gold Champion Cusser of All Time and his wife who could keep up with him if the situation presented itself and what’s comes out of my parents' mouths?  “Where could he have heard that word from, Ashley?”

Are you f*cking kidding me?  To this day, I swear on a stack of Jimmy Buffett albums that Ethan never, ever heard that word from me because I never, ever said it and I can tell you why. 

Back in the day, I was on one of those awkward play dates with a girl who was several years older than me.  You know those play dates where children who have nothing in common are thrown together simply because their parents are passing acquaintances?  Yeah, fun.  Some of my most traumatic memories are from those damned play dates. 

Anyway, the girl with whom my lot was cast for the day randomly decided to test my cuss word aptitude.  As you might expect, she was seriously impressed with my advanced knowledge, but I left one word off the roster and she felt the need to educate me.  I’m sure you can guess the word of which I speak.  That was the first time I ever heard "The Word” and it was imparted with a caveat:  “Ashley, that is the worst word you can ever use, so you should never, never say it.”

Well, the girl was older than me and she was pretty remarkable in her Eddie Haskell-like ability to snow adults, so I figured she knew what she was talking about and I took her advice. 

To this day, my parents believe that Ethan learned his little Brussels sprout commentary from me.  My only argument is that now, over 30 years later, I have no reason to lie.  Mom and Dad can’t ground me and they can’t take away my television privileges.  ETHAN DID NOT HEAR THE WORD FROM ME.  LOOK INWARD FOR YOUR CULPRIT.

As a matter of fact, I can remember the first time I ever uttered the word outside of my head.  It was my freshman year at Peace College and I was stuck in super-remedial double dumbass trigonometry—I flunked my college math placement test with the flare of Liberace in Vegas.  My professor, Mr. Ritchie (think Gollum from Lord of the Rings) decided to be the very personification of evil and throw a pop quiz the morning after State pulled out a fantastic win against Duke on the basketball court.  Several other Peace Sisters and I felt the need to assist the State students in their victory celebration on Hillsborough Street.  It was the polite thing to do.

As I sat in class, squinting at Mr. Ritchie with my less blurry eye, my heart dropped into my already unhappy stomach when I saw him whip out the canary yellow paper that he preferred for his tests.  The vocabulary filter in my head was disabled and, without another thought, uttered “Oh f*ck.”

At which Gollum smiled and said, “Yes, Miss Culbreth, I imagine so.”

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Belles and International Incidents

You’ve heard me talk about the Dynamic Duo of Grandma Willie and Aunt Louise.  Now let me tell you about the time that we took them out of the country. 

It was about 1990 and I was a junior in high school.  Grandma Willie has been a life-long anglophile (I got it from her), but she’d never actually been to the United Kingdom.  My parents set out to remedy that fact by taking a family vacation to London and Paris with her and Aunt Louise in tow.

Grandma and Aunt Louise were well prepared for the trip in one respect:  They’d heard all of the “horror stories” about English and French food and between them they had at least a suitcase full of Nabs.  None of us are particularly adventurous eaters and we come by that honest as well. 

In the beginning, we were all dipping into the Nab stash.  We hit London with some pretty serious jet lag and we were all starving, so we stopped at the first place we came to.   What we didn’t know was that we were at some kind of vegan/vegetarian/health food restaurant.  Over twenty years later, I can tell you exactly what was placed in front of me:  Pumpkin seed quiche.  I don’t have a clue about what else was in it and I can’t honestly say that I actually saw pumpkin seeds, but there was this clear, gelatinous goo oozing out the sides of it.  Peanut Butter Nabs, s’il vous plait!

We all managed London quite well after that.  One little hiccup occurred when Aunt Louise chatted with a couple from Amsterdam while waiting for the hotel’s breakfast room to open.  They asked her how she liked London so far and she said that it was great "except for all of the foreigners.”  The other little hiccup occurred when our stupid tour guide to Stratford-upon Avon let us ingest Yorkshire pudding before telling us how it was made and what was in it.  Ethan—who had two helpings of the stuff—barfed all over the bus and the very deserving tour guide.  I wished I could have done the same.

Paris was where things got interesting.  I fell in love with the city, but I at least had the advantage of a rudimentary ability to speak the language.  Mom also spoke a tad, but the rest of our party was cast into the wind.  Dad and Ethan were lost in the subway for hours only to finally emerge into the daylight and discover that they were only across the street from where they went in.  Of course Grandma and Aunt Louise went out on their own one time and it was the very definition of “international incident.”

The Dynamic Duo decided to strike out on their own for lunch.  I can’t remember the circumstances, but suffice it to say that a language barrier caused an accidental dine-n-dash.  If not for a forgotten item they would have gotten away scot free, but the ladies returned to the scene of the crime only to find the cafe owner in apoplexy and the police taking notes. 

The Duo innocently walked back into the store and a grand inquisition immediately commenced.  Finally, Grandma and Aunt Louise were able to escape their predicament unscathed but slightly poorer in their Monopoly money account.  (Both of them were very amused at the appearance of the British pounds and French francs and they loved to throw the bills up in the air while saying it looked like toy currency.)   

I would also like to add that the ladies decided very wisely not to mention the affair to my parents while still on the trip.  Actually, I think it was about a year later when they finally decided to come clean...and it was possibly longer than that.

The other little speed bump in the Paris portion of the vacation involved—yet again—food.  I have no idea whether or not the French still imbibe in the gastronomic delights of horse, but horse gourmet was a prevailing concern back in the day.  I’m not sure about Grandma’s feelings toward horses in general (I’ve never discussed them with her and I’ve never seen her around one) but she definitely took issue with the personal ingestion of horsemeat.  She was convinced that a chef or a waiter in one of those Parisian restaurants was conspiring to slip a little bit of Mr. Ed onto her plate when she was least expecting, therefore Grandma opted to be on high alert at all times.

Nearly every breakfast, lunch and dinner in France bore witness to this conversation:

[Waiter puts plate down in front of Grandma.]

Grandma Willie:  That meat right there never mooed in its life.

Dad:  Good God, Willie!  It’s not horse!  Horsemeat is expensive and there’s no way I’d spend that kind of money on you, woman!

[Cue children looking around in embarrassment and desperately scoping for a quick exit while Aunt Louise chuckles behind a menu and Mom all but bangs her head on the table in frustration.]

...aaaaaaaaaaand scene!  And what a scene it was.

I recall one incident where Grandma insisted on being allowed up to the counter so that she could literally point at what she wanted to eat.  Let me assure you that French waiters take their jobs very seriously and, had Grandma been a man, she probably would have been called to the back alley for a duel.  As it was, it was easy to tell that the waiter was using every ounce of willpower he possessed not to throttle her—and there were even a couple of times where Dad might have helped.

There weren't any Nabs left by the time we set foot on American soil.

That trip to Europe was great fun and full of fond memories—although I couldn’t envision the memories ever becoming fond at the time of their incident.  After long reflection on the matter, I’ve concluded that, had the Allies employed Southern Belles to storm the beaches of Normandy, every last soldier for the Axis would have given up in frustration and gone home.