I have amazing fans. I really do.
Some of them point out the stupid mistakes I make, saving me from eternal embarrassment and career-killing moves. I love them for it.
Some of them shower me with compliments like, “Wow, that made me cry.” Or, “Gosh, wouldn’t I love to see that on Netflix.” Or my favorite, “Are you okay? I mean, that was creepy. Are you okay?”
And I love them for it.
Some of them buy what I write. What a gift! I love them for it. Each and every one.
And a few folks gift me with the tangible. Notebooks. Pens. Unicorns… I love them for it. So much fun to grow the collections!
My aunt read Life Along the Way, and as she came across anything that I mentioned I was fond of (and that could be safely sourced in a global pandemic), she stuck it in a box. She surprised me with Kraft brand macaroni (really, folks, don’t get the generic on that one). Reese’s, Lindt, and Ghirardelli were gleefully unpacked and hidden around in various hidey holes. Bubble Wrap and Saran Wrap (seriously, head on over and grab a copy, and you’ll understand). A yogurt container full of dimes also made its way into the box. What fun manifestations of ideas mentioned in that silly blog book.
This same aunt keeps me in full supply of copy paper and printer ink. What joy! (I have an office supply fetish, and I’m not ashamed of it.)
Now, friends, here’s where I’m gonna get in real big trouble. You see, I can only have one Number One Fan. With the capital letters and all. Just one.
This title was officially grabbed early on, a couple of years ago.
My dear Hubs wanted that title, reading all my stuff and encouraging and putting up with me. But he’s not my Number One Fan. Love him. Bless his heart.
My dear mother would like that title, seeing as she’s known me the longest of anyone on earth, like when I was only two cells old. Supportive and encouraging as she is through thick and thin, she was a bit too late to claim the capitalized version of the title. Love her. Bless her heart.
That dear aunt, encouraging and supportive as she is, missed it by inches. Love her. Bless her heart.
And let’s not bring Gma Lois into the mix, God rest her soul. I can only write this now because she’s passed, or she’d have gotten into a fistfight over the whole idea. Bless her heart.
The Number One Fan title goes to a dear friend who I’ve known for over twenty years. We’ll call her Miss L for short.
Miss L sent me with luggage tags, notebooks, heart scarf, and lots of love and prayers to Vegas, though the love and prayers would’ve been enough. Bless her heart. Miss L also snuck hankies and encouraging notes into my suitcase. Just in case my heart was to be broken into a million pieces while facing a panel of professional editors scrutinizing my short stories.
I’m surprised I didn’t open my case to find Miss L had stowed away.
And, just weeks before my dear aunt gifted me with that giant box of goodies, Miss L chases me down with a package and a shy little smile. Gobstoppers and Ghirardelli!
Miss L accidentally spilled a glass of water on Life Along the Way. I told her no worries — I’d gladly give her another copy. No. No.
This lady dried the pages, stuffing socks here and there to soak up the moisture. She then smoothed the book out, and put a dresser on top of it to flatten it. A dresser. “Good as new.”
I don’t think I have any book in my possession that I’d be that dedicated to when Amazon is just a click away…
One day a few weeks ago, I got a couple of texts and what seemed to me like a frantic phone call from Miss L. “I need to see you tonight.” My heart dropped a little, as usually when one of our family ladies calls like that, it’s bad news. After she assured me she was fine, I relaxed and kept my hind end home that evening to see what was up.
She brought in a package all wrapped up. About the size of a six-month-old, but lighter (the package, not Miss L). Grinning from ear to ear.
We sat at the table as I unwrapped it.
And out popped Little Miss Muse. In all her purple glory. Hair everywhere. Cape.
“Miss L, what have you done?” I was totally gobsmacked. There she was, my muse. Manifested in tangible form. Sitting in my lap like a small child.
“Well, I woke up at midnight and decided to make Little Miss.” She said this as if it was nothing. Just like that. Idea in head to idea in real, touchable form.
I sew even worse than I cook, so this was a mighty feat in my eyes. She sewed the doll’s body and clothing. She fashioned the magic wand. She put each individual strand of hair on Little Miss Muse’s head. An artist friend of hers painted on the facial features.
What a gift!
The whole time, the spirit of Little Miss Muse bopped around the table, flopping from one of my shoulders to the other. Balancing on my head, her toes digging into my scalp. “Let me see, let me touch. Let me taaaakkeee.” We struck a deal that she’d keep her sticky mitts off my doll for six packs of grape bubble gum, a new pair of heels, and a cape. Now she wants a cape that glitters as brightly as the doll’s does. She swears her original cape is starting to dull. Muses are such fickle and picky creatures.
The doll of Little Miss sets on the mantel up out of reach of curious kitty claws and the actual Little Miss Muse’s rants and rampages. The photo doesn’t do her justice at all. She’s simply stunning.
Never would I have dreamed that anything I wrote would bring folks to laughter. To tears. To insomnia. To the stores. To the craft table. It’s a huge blessing to me. So whether I have only the handful of fans I do now, or whether that number grows to the thousands, that properly capitalized Number One Fan title can only be held by one Miss L.
Love her big.
Bless her heart!
And the Story Grows
Oh, how I wanted to introduce you all to a new (well, not new, but newly materialized in a touchable, tangible form). But I’m traveling, and the photo I snapped of this wonder-filled character doesn’t do it justice, so we’ll have to wait another week or so until I can do a proper photo shoot.
I’m in Tennessee. Morel hunting with my Uncle. For those who may not know what a morel is, it’s a wild mushroom that only pops up in springtime here in the Midwest. It’s the only type of mushroom I care to eat (those button-top things are clones and are nowhere near the delicacy that people think they are. Hold all mushrooms of the clone varieties off my pizza and out of my omelets, please).
Anyway, I grew up hunting morels with my grandparents and parents, aunts and uncles, and we’ve all but lost our private hunting spots in Indiana. Those sweet, sweet honey holes (or glory holes as they’re known to the serious ‘shroom hunters), now belong to others. I hope they see the value of their properties, the magic hiding under the debris on the forest floor and at the field edges…
But I digress.
The bad thing is morels are picky little buggers. They require just the right soil composition. Just the right soil temp. Has the sun shone at just the right angle for just the right number of hours? Have the nights been warm and the days been rainy? As you scan and grid out your search area, are you holding your tongue between your right top and bottom molars while your nose twitches to the left? Is your truffle pig ready, primed, and bribed?
In spite of all this, there are springs where we found them by the pound, and oh, the joy! And we’ve never, ever sold them, though they could bring up to $75 per pound depending on the year and who’s desperate enough for a taste of the earthy gems. We’ve always fried them up or given them away to those who appreciate the flavor experience and can no longer traverse the terrain themselves.
This year, Tennessee seemed our best bet, and we could visit family at the same time. Uncle has a couple of private property spots where he found them last year.
But that was last year.
This year? The weather hasn’t been ideal by anyone’s standards. A week or two before we were to visit, Uncle sends a video of a flash flood stream/creek/river rising through this yard in a matter of seconds. It’s now the middle of April, and frost still tickles the grass tips.
To complicate matters, evidence of the brown and round biological sort pointed to a heavy presence of deer, wild turkeys and goats?? These discoveries caused phones to emerge from many a back pocket, LCD screens glowing in the dusky forest light, and frantic Google searches for “Do [fill in the blank here with mammal name] eat morel mushrooms?”
Of course, the answers always returned in the affirmative—and who could blame the creatures? They know high-end dining when they sniff it.
The only good news is that these critters’ digestive tracks don’t necessarily digest the spores, and they’re passed along somewhere else. Another property. Another county. For another season. One can only hope that all the droppings we saw contained spores from other parts of Tennessee, and one year soon, a new colony of mycelium and up will spring the wondrous treasures.
Come to think of it, I wonder if that’s how shiitake mushrooms are propagated? (Can’t take credit for this dad joke — that’s all Uncle…)
We trampled and stomped and traipsed through acres and acres of forest, finding nothing of the edible mushroom sort, but all the while enjoying the other finds.
Dogwood blooms, bright blue birds, impressive rock formations, and babbling streams.
Then we explored a few more acres.
It was great to be outside and unplugged.
Then it happened. Finally.
“Found one!” Uncle spotted the first one.
I look up from my spot in knee-deep briars, still struggling with the bifocal issue, and there he stood above a ravine twenty feet high—the ravine, not the Uncle or the mushroom.
Then he wasn’t there anymore, but his echo of “Here I go” bounced off the cedars and elms and ash.
Yup. There he went. Toppled right down the side of the ravine.
“Did you fall on that mushroom?” (Don’t judge. I have my priorities: rare fungi status first, amazing Uncle status next.)
“No. Don’t think so.” I rushed to the sound of his voice, careful of my footing lest I step on the only mushroom south of the Ohio River and lest I, too, skid down the side of the cliff.
I mean ravine.
“Are you okay?” (See, I asked and would’ve gladly sat next to him until the EMS could fish him out from the bottom of this forty-foot crevice if the need should have presented itself.)
When I reached the edge, Uncle was standing and the bottom of the ravine, grinning. “I tripped over it.”
“I can see that.” This ‘shroom was growing sideways out of the bank about three feet down. Three inches tall and dried up, clearly many days past its prime—the mushroom, not the Uncle.
“Pretty strong mushroom to do that.”
“Grabbed my ankle.” He bent and rubbed his leg. “Threw me right over the edge.”
“I see that.”
I eased my way toward the mushroom and waited. That’s what you do; you don’t pick the first one. You let all members of the hunting party see the fungus in its natural surroundings so their eyes can pick up on the pattern and the colors… I called over the Kid. (19, but he’ll always be a kid). Kid came close and—tripped and rolled right down the side of the sixty-foot cliff.
“Hey, don’t land on the mushroom!” I warn as Kid slid sideways through leaf debris and briars, landing at the base of a cedar tree.
“No worries.” Kid said. Uncle went to help Kid up but became distracted by a rogue bass fishing boat stuck out of the side of the ravine just down from where the guys landed.
I took a step back, lest the mushroom sense what’s about to happen. My fingers reached for the base of its stem to pluck it from its perch high above the ravine and high above my two guys down in the valley, but as I bend, Kid shouted, “Hey! Look what I found!”
Temporarily blindness paralyzed me for a moment.
Turns out, Kid found a tactical flashlight at the base of the cedar. Despite years of being in the elements, the light still worked, obviously, and my new bifocals magnified the beam, searing my retinas. Eye Guy would be proud of him. Evil devil lights…
The mushroom saw its chance. Its fungus-y fingers gripped my wrist—and down it threw me, a hundred feet to the bottom of the canyon. But not before I plucked its cheeky stem from the bank.
“Don’t roll on the mushroom!” the boys yelled in unison. (See? Everyone in the party had perfectly positioned priorities.)
And I didn’t roll on it. Held it up above my head as I went skidding to the bottom.
“Look! It’s still in one piece!” I stood proudly at the base of the cliff, amazed as I looked up at the edge that none of us had broken bones from that hundred-foot fall.
The guys cheered. While I was busy fighting the morel out of the ground and rolling down the hill (it took forever to reach the bottom — two-hundred-feet worth of territory to cover), they had busied themselves securing that aluminum bass boat. It’s best to have reliable transportation when exiting canyons of such magnitude.
I situated the mighty mean mushroom in my front shirt pocket. Then Uncle with his walking stick and Kid with his new-old flashlight helped me aboard, and we sailed off into the wild blue yonder with a single morel and not a care in the world.
Mother Nature may not have grown the mushrooms in them thar woods, but, boy, can we grow a story! I’ll leave it to you, dear reader, to untangle reality from fantasy…
A few weeks ago, I mentioned the difficulty I was having bringing my Web Guy back the right answer for updating this website.
Turns out, he had to do the footwork on that because I’m technologically illiterate.
Good news is, though, that the security certificate for bapaul.com is all good now. You should see a little padlock up in the browser bar from here on out. If that thing ever comes unlocked or you get an exclamation point, or perhaps a baboon hyped up on caffeine, shoot me a message, and I’ll forward it to Web Guy…
Now, onto the problem-of-the-moment.
Well, he’s not the problem. I’m the problem. Just like Web Guy wasn’t the problem before. I was the problem. Just like dear Hubs is NEVER the problem. Ever.
Tag, I’m it.
Always… (can you tell I’m mini-ranting?)
For the last couple of years, I’ve been holding reading material further and further away from my face. Even my computer setup consists of a peripheral monitor waaay far from my nose. With enlarged print.
It got so bad in January, I thought about hiring that caffeinated baboon to hold my reading material ten feet away—I’d have had just as much luck deciding between it, is, and I’m. They all looked the same. So I guessed words… eeek.
Seriously though, in January, my arms could extend no more and reading and work on the laptop became more difficult. By February, I figured all hope was lost and called the Eye Guy. Who made me wait six weeks for an exam.
And it finally happened.
“You’re old,” Eye Guy says.
“I know this.”
“No. I mean, you’re gonna need help now.”
“Lots of help. More than a few clicks of help.”
(Eye Guy is actually very kind, and would never say those exact words. Even with my trouble reading, I could read between the lines—or behind his eyes—and know this is exactly what he meant.)
And we’re good buds. He’s kept my family legal to drive and operate heavy machinery—at least from a visual standpoint—for as long as I can remember. So if he says I’m old… Well, that’s that.
Bifocals, here I come.
So he measured my face. Then I paid him my salary for the year.
And I waited. For eight days. I waited in jubilant expectation. Because he held a page of text up for me to read in the exam. He showed me the text with my plain, single-vision prescription. Then he showed me what it would look like with bifocals.
Oh. My. Word.
I could actually see things!
Like periods, and commas, and dashes… Oh My!
And words said what they said, not what I had to image they said. Wow. (How I’ve remained employed or wrote anything that made any sense since this whole vision thing started is beyond me.)
“Ahem.” It’s Little Miss. “I don’t need glasses.”
She’s taking the credit for me not getting fired, so I’m ignoring her because she could care less about commas, and periods, and dashes…
The morning I got the text that my new eyeballs had arrived at the Eye Place, I dropped everything and went to snatch them up, sure that by nightfall I could pick a pimple off an ant’s butt three counties away.
The Eye Gal fitted the frames to my face. She gave me some pointers on how to adjust. And, as I was still seated there, she gave me a page of print. I could see!
Then I stood up. To go back to my life with my 20/20 enhanced old-person eyeballs.
Have ya’ll ever watched “Dr. Strange”? Remember how the universe turned in on itself? The floors and walls and ceiling all bending and collapsing? Amazing special effects in that movie.
Not so amazing in real life.
I’m telling you, when I stood up, the walls of the Eye Place did what no computer-generated imagery could ever master.
The wallpaper wobbled.
The floor grew a staircase right in front of me.
The checkout counter ballooned then shrank.
And that was before I ever walked across the parking lot (I’ll not tell you what happened out there or what I must’ve looked like to passerby).
I sat in the car for a moment and wondered if I should call someone to drive me home. My jubilant expectation turned to jaded aggravation.
I had it in my mind that I would adjust to my new glasses in a matter of seconds. That all would be well with my visual world.
It’s been more awkward than learning to drive a stick-shift on an icy road with an overbearing parent (a story for another day and the reason why I still can’t drive a stick-shift).
One minute I’m fine. The next, I’ve got my arms out like I’m walking a tightrope, sure the ground beneath my feet will swallow me whole.
I don’t know where to hold my book to get the best view (the print is crystal clear, there’s just a tiny window in my frames where this effect takes place). I don’t know where to hold my phone, where to place my laptop on the desk…
Once in a while, I step on a cat. Apparently, I’ve developed blind spots where I can’t tell the difference between floor and tails.
I could be cohabitating with a baboon, and if said ape were to stay in that cat-swallowing blind spot, who knows how long he’ll be here?
On the plus side, Little Miss is thrilled that my frames are purple. A few times she’s landed on my shoulder with a chubby thud and tried to see through my lenses from my point of view.
She doesn’t understand what the problem is.
Purple frames should be all I need. Purple anything solves all kinds of problems.
Who cares about the lenses?
Now, she’s smudged them up with her grimy, grape-soda hands.
Now she’s chasing the cat.
Or maybe it’s the baboon—they’re all off in that part of the room where the wall and the floor are doing jumping jacks.
It’s time to wrap this up.
Clean off the bifocals.
And hope when I stand up to check on the cat that I don’t fall down the non-existent stairsteps in my office…