Category Archives: Awfully Funny

Wal-Mart with waterfront view

Crossing the Do-Nut Belt

On January 27, I was driving from Dallas, Texas to St. Marys, Georgia on backroads. I collected all the funny bits for my sister, as a belated birthday present.

Junk-food Mardi Gras cape
All hail the Krewe of Junk Food
The Gulf coast visitor’s center had a display of sequined Mardi Gras finery. My favorite was the one featuring hot dogs, hamburgers, and popcorn containers.

In one small town: “Not Your Mother’s Tavern”
In another: “Mom’s Bar”
In a third: “Mother Clucker’s.”

Baton Rouge has a place called “Schlitz & Giggles: Silly Name. Serious Pizza.”

I usually get a kick out of church signs. When I did a Google search, I realized many of them are not original. The fact that they come from, rather than from God himself, takes the fun out of it.

Donuts. Did you know the US has a Do-Nut Belt? Shipley’s Do-Nuts says it’s Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas and Tennessee. As I drove, I noted dozens of hole-in-the-wall places with no pretentious hyphen in “donut”: Dee Dee Donuts, the Donut Palace, Donut King, and my personal favorite, the Texas Donut Ranch.

I didn’t succumb to either donuts or Do-Nuts.

But it was touch-and-go when I saw a roadside sign saying “Original Homemade Sausage Jalapeño Cheese Bread, one mile,” with an arrow pointing left. I will always regret not stopping.

I will never regret stopping at Ozzy’s. I got love in a takeout container.

Strangers Have the Best Candy at the Russell Stover factory
Strangers Have the Best Candy at the Russell Stover factory

Dick took my picture at the Russell Stover Factory. I know you’ll roll your eyes at this. That’s why I didn’t buy you any.

There was a big green interstate sign for Baptist Pumpkin Center. Without punctuation, I have no idea what that means. Where is the Methodist Pumpkin Center? And the Buddhist Pumpkin Center?

Next Left: Dead Man Road. Followed by a smaller sign saying “Cemetery.” Dunno who else would want to live there.

On any given day, along Interstate 10, thousands of people see the memorials to Buddy, Amanda, Ben, Brian, Wesley, and the Dobbins family. Their descansoes, or roadside memorials, feature lettering large enough to read at 75 mph.

At a slightly slower speed, I drove for five minutes past acres and acres of stored FEMA trailers. In the past decade, they have been replaced by manufactured homes, and there are many businesses that thrive on such things: “House Moving, Lifting, and Leveling.” Fueled by donuts, no doubt.

Speaking of housing, did you know you can buy a whole acre of residential beachfront property in Pascagoula for only $159,000?

Wal-Mart with waterfront view
Looking north, looking south

Just down the road is the most incredible view I’ve ever seen from a Wal-Mart.

Another pretentious sign: “Mississippi Gulf Coast: A Certified Retirement Community.” Certified by whom? Evidently, I’m not the only one to ask that question. Even the Wall Street Journal has a sense of humor about such things as ticks, chiggers and snakes.

One last comment: Even if Cretin Homes is named after the company’s owner, I’d change it.

Candy for the Stranger

Bribing My Way to the Top

This piece was originally titled, “Bribing the Fourth Estate.” After I posted it, I discovered, to my distress, that few people know the fourth estate refers to the press.

Here’s a tidbit that most people don’t know: A newspaper’s masthead is not their name on the front page. That’s the nameplate. The masthead is inside, often on page 3, and identifies the publisher, editors, and contact information for a newspaper.

Last week, I carefully tore the address of the Stranger from their masthead. I put it in my book bag and tossed the rest into the recycle bin. My father-in-law doesn’t normally read the recycling, but he needed some newsprint to protect a surface on which he was painting.

He wasn’t completely scandalized. Just curious, and surprised at what I was reading in my husband’s absence.

The advertising in the Stranger is scandalous: Recreational cannabis delivery, escort services, and an underwear ad where the woman’s hands are inside her panties. (She was right above an ad with the heading, “Sex Offender Registration Got You Down?”)

Yet, like Playboy, the Stranger has a reputation for excellent journalism. In addition to winning a Pulitzer, it’s where Dan Savage got his start, as the editor-in-chief and as the writer of a blunt and often-shocking sex advice column, “Savage Love.”

What I love about the Stranger is that they take the news seriously, but they do not take themselves too seriously.

On Friday afternoon, I braved Seattle traffic, and drove to the address on the masthead. If you’re from Seattle, you probably know the block, the one we call the-Value-Village-where-REI-used-to-be (they moved in 1996). It’s super-hip, brick and trendy, around the corner from the Century Ballroom.

There was no sign, only a newspaper box full of Strangers beside a tall, unmarked door. The door was incongruous, a piece of modern metal art on an old brick warehouse. A couple of men occupied the sidewalk, blatantly ignoring the law against sidewalk-sitting that’s intended to keep homelessness at bay. The entryway with the newspaper box reeked of urine. Inside, my spidey-senses were tingling, because there was no one in the foyer, just a dimly-lit dead-end corridor with an elevator.

My heart thumping, I peeked into the elevator and saw a scrap of paper that said “The Stranger” beside the third floor button. At least I was in the right place.

Alone and unmolested, I rode the elevator to the third floor, where I found the receptionist. He was a young man behind a bulletproof glass window, eating what looked like pie. I breathed a tiny sigh of relief. He had a sweet-tooth.

He held his hand over his mouth, embarrassed, and mumbled “Can I help you?” around an extra-large bite. I took a deep breath and remembered what I had rehearsed in my head.

“I’m on a mission,” I said, cozying up to the counter and the little opening in the bulletproof glass. “I need to know which of your staff members is most susceptible to bribery.”

His eyes widened as he swallowed his pie and asked, “What kind?”

At this point, I opened my leather briefcase and took out a baggie of candy. It happened to contain Hershey’s kisses, Reese’s peanut butter cups, and three Strangers Have the Best Candy cards. My hand was trembling with fear as I pushed it through the little slot.

“Candy,” I said, and watched him break into a grin at the cards. I reached into my bag a second time, and pulled out a copy of the book. “You see, I have this…” I pushed it through the little opening.

He looked at the title, made the connection, and started laughing. “I can give it to our book guy,” he said. “He’ll probably want this, too,” I said, pushing a third item through the little slot, a copy of my press release.

He carefully assembled it all into a package, putting the press release inside the pages of the book and the name of the book guy on a post-it note on the outside. I watched as he clipped the candy bag to the cover.

“Do you think it’s enough?” I asked. “Oh, yeah,” he said, patting the parcel. “Are you going to give it all to him?” I continued. He nodded earnestly. “Of course,” he said, as if I’d challenged his integrity.

That’s when I pulled out a second bag of candy, and pushed it through the opening in the glass. “Then this one’s for you!” I said. “Have a great day!”

I was still shaking like a leaf as I got into the elevator and fled back to my car. I’ve never tried bribing the Fourth Estate before. But I had to try. I simply had to give Candy to the Best Stranger.

Update on my bribery attempt, June 16, 2014:
At the Georgetown Carnival this past weekend, I gave a “Strangers Have the Best Candy” card to a young man in the crowd. He laughed so hard, I went on to say, “I even tried to bribe The Stranger with candy!” His eyes grew wide, and he looked at me seriously. “How did you know I worked there?”

“I didn’t,” I responded. Serendipity.

He wasn’t in the newsroom, though. “I don’t have any influence there. I’m in the tech department.” He went on to tell me, “Paul Constant is the book guy. He has stacks and stacks and stacks of books on his desk.” He held his hand at shoulder level to indicate how high the piles were.

My face fell. I was discouraged. Then I thought about what I’d done, and I cheered up. “GREAT! By paper-clipping a lumpy bag of candy to the cover, I have made it impossible for Paul to simply stack another book on it.”

In other words, I’ve bribed my way to the top, where I hope to stay until Paul Constant reviews Strangers Have the Best Candy!

Margaret Meps Schulte
Margaret Meps Schulte

Margaret Meps Schulte is the author and illustrator of Strangers Have the Best Candy.

50 Happy Spots

551 Happy Spots

Numbered lists are ubiquitous. From the best-selling book, Fifty Shades of  Grey, to Martha Stewart’s “11 Whoopie Pies,” everything published these days is counted, quantified, and numbered. As always, I have waited to jump on the bandwagon, afraid of being trampled by the herd mentality and lost in the crowd. (“Three Metaphors Bloggers Should Never Mix”)

I can’t wait any longer. It’s time for me to jump into the fray and start numbering my writing.

3 Small, Lumpy Parcels and 551 Happy Spots

Happy Spot card
Meps’ Happy Spot card

I give Happy Spots to everyone I meet, strangers and friends alike. Last year, I had 250 printed, and I ran out. This year, I doubled my order. Just after my 50th birthday, I received a small, lumpy parcel from VistaPrint. In addition to orange Strangers Have the Best Candy business cards, it contained 500 Happy Spots. Each one is guaranteed to bring dozens of smiles.

Happy Spot
Happy Spot from Dad

Around the same time, I got another small, lumpy parcel, full of birthday gifts from my Dad. One of the items inside was a 1963 Doris Day movie about Happy Soap, “The Thrill of It All.” He’d wrapped the DVD in pastel paper and decorated it with a Happy Spot. It made me smile to think I now had 501 Happy Spots!

A week later, one more small, lumpy birthday parcel arrived. This one had traveled across the USA, was returned to sender, then traveled across the USA again (“See the Amazing Gift That Traveled 7,214 Miles”). I recognized the handiwork of that super-artistic quartet of geniuses, the Miller family of Columbus, Ohio. You may remember them as the creators of the one-of-a-kind board game, Meps’n’Barry-opoly.

Inside, I found three small bags, each containing 50 pieces of candy. I suspect that as soon as I eat one, I will instantly become one year younger. I think I should wait until Barry comes back, so he can watch.

This third parcel also contained 50 of the goofiest, most original Happy Spots I’ve ever seen. This brings my Happy Spot total for May to 551, as you can see by the photos below. The number of smiles is exponentially larger, far exceeding the number of Whoopie Pie recipes on Martha Stewart’s website.

Vote for your favorite Happy Spot by leaving a comment!

Lucky the Goat

Marina mascot

“Is there a place to do laundry here?” I asked, as Barry presented his credit card to pay for our night’s stay at Osprey Marina.

“Yes — there’s a laundry room, right over there,” said the woman behind the cash register, Lynn. She pointed out the door of a clean but nondescript room with a row of washers and dryers and a small table. At least, it was nondescript at the time. Later that night, you might say it was pretty “descript.”

We’d stopped at Osprey marina because after four days on the water, anchoring out, it was time for hot showers, diesel, and laundry. A couple of years earlier, in one of the email dispatches known as “Malla and Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” our friend Ted had gone into uncharacteristic rapture over the place, once named the best marina in the country by Marina Dock Age Magazine.

As Ted led us to expect, the place was small, reasonably priced, and very friendly, with excellent facilities for doing a memorable load of laundry.

Lucky the Goat
4 days old and cute as a kitten

What made it memorable was that at 5 o’clock, when the office closed, Lynn moved a baby goat into the laundry room.

The morning we arrived, the goat was the only topic of conversation. There was a small herd of them on the 180-acre property, and this one had been born four days earlier, on February 23. At first, everything looked fine, but after three days, his mother died.

Just a few hours before Barry and I arrived, the little orphan was tucked among warm towels in a small cooler and moved into the marina office with the heat cranked up. Everyone who came into the store stopped into the office to coo over the tiny brown-and-white floppy-eared creature who spent his time sleeping, eating, and occasionally bleating in a way that sounded like a human baby.

At the end of the day, there were plenty of volunteers from the various boats to help care for him overnight, which is why he ended up in the laundry room with all his paraphernalia — milk, bottle, printouts from the internet on how to care for an orphaned goat, a feeding schedule, and notes about his care and condition. Plus a sign with his name: Lucky.

While I was cooking dinner, Barry offered to carry our load of laundry ashore and put it into the washer. He didn’t come back, and dinner and I were waiting for him when he finally returned. He admitted that he had gotten into a conversation in the laundry room with a boater named Sharon, who was goat-watching. I couldn’t blame him, because I was dying to go up and play with the goat myself.

Sharon and Barry in Lucky's nursery
Sharon and Barry in Lucky’s nursery

Later that evening, as Barry was getting ready for bed, I announced that I needed to use the shoreside facilities. It was a ruse — we have a perfectly good head. I went straight to the laundry room, where a couple was just leaving after feeding the goat. We had a nice chat about — what else? — boats and goats, and then they left me alone to enjoy Lucky’s company. I got him out of the cooler and set him on the floor, where he wobbled on his toothpick legs and promptly piddled on the floor. Lucky was innately “cooler-trained” and would not mess up his bed.

For a four-day old creature, he was very rambunctious and curious. He wanted to explore the laundry room and when I turned him away from hidey-holes where he might get into trouble, he complained. He was an adorable playmate, about the size of a small cat.

We were enjoying each other’s company when Sharon returned and caught me trying to capture the fast-moving little guy with my camera. “Oh, good! I was afraid he’d be alone,” she said. “Here, let me take a picture of both of you.”

I was supposed to be in bed a half hour earlier, but I couldn’t help hanging out and talking with Sharon. It had been over 20 years since I played with a baby goat, and who knew when I’d get my next chance? I happen to really like goats.

The next morning, our alarm went off at 5:20 in order to catch some early favorable current in the Waccamah River. I’d promised Sharon that I would check on Lucky, because that would be between his 3 am and 6 am feedings. But when I entered the laundry room, there was Sharon, sitting in a plastic chair.

Sharon snoozing with Lucky
Sharon snoozing with Lucky

“Don’t tell me you stayed here all night,” I said.

“OK, I won’t tell you,” she replied.

“But you did.”

“Yeah, I did. I got some sleep when other people came in to feed him. His bottle’s over there in the sink — go ahead.”

I picked up the bottle and crouched down to the cooler, where Lucky was nosing his head around the towels as if looking for something. I gave him what he was looking for, and he sucked contentedly for a while. I hadn’t fed a goat since we lived on Hill Farm in Portland, Oregon, and it brought back fond memories.

Eventually, Barry came looking for me, intent on getting Flutterby underway, but he, too was captivated by early morning goat-feeding. We finally said our goodbyes and slipped our lines at 7 o’clock, 45 minutes later than planned.

Lucky seems strong and healthy enough to survive, but his future is unknown. Will he be adopted out to a family or local farmer, or just nursed long enough to return to the Osprey herd? Is Lucky even a he, or a little she?

Meps holding the goat
Meps and Lucky the Goat

There are a lot of boaters with dogs and cats aboard, and even a few birds. One thing is certain, though, which is that none of the boaters so eager to take their turns with Lucky in the laundry room want to adopt him. He may look adorable and be fun to play with, but already the laundry room is taking on a certain “goaty” odor. He is not a close-quarters pet, and I doubt that Osprey Marina, with its reputation for being one of the top marinas in the USA, wants to jeopardize their highly-prized standings with such an odiferous, albeit adorable, mascot.

Our experience definitely confirms one thing about Osprey: Their reputation for being the friendliest marina around is well-earned. They’ll be good to you, providing excellent facilities and plenty of free snacks. Even if — especially if — you are an orphaned goat.

Kolumbus Kosmic Krismas Sillyness

Wish you could be here to spend Christmas with our nutty nephews. In the meantime, enjoy these photos — they should give you a great belly laugh!

(click to enlarge each photo)

What’s on TV?

Yesterday, I was riding in the back seat of my friend Donna’s car, gazing out the window at Amish farmhouses and rolling eastern Pennsylvania hills. Since Monday is washday, almost every farm had somber laundry hanging on the clotheslines, accented with a few pink child-sized blouses. Donna was telling us how the Amish had begun raising some interesting livestock. “You mean, like llamas?” I asked.

“No — look,” she said. Across the field was something much less common than a llama. It was a camel! We drove a little further, and suddenly there were baby camels almost close enough to touch. I rolled down my window to look, and Mike said, “Watch out that they don’t spit on you.” I quickly rolled it back up again.

Like the camels, I find many things curious and incongruous about the Amish lifestyle. For example, at night, the old-fashioned buggies are lit with newfangled LEDs. And when you pull up to a gas pump here, you often find a pile of steaming horse poop in front of it. What’s inside those mysterious horse-drawn contraptions that needs gasoline?

After our camel experience, we turned down a busy road and found ourselves behind a horse-drawn farm wagon that clop-clopped placidly at about five miles per hour. We had to wait our turn to pass him, and when we did, I noticed that his load consisted of eight little Amish children sitting on hay bales. The boys were all in the back of the wagon, and the girls were up front, as far away from the boys as they could get. All the children wore black anachronistic clothing, the boys’ outfits topped with charming straw hats.

A while later, we arrived at our destination, Donna’s mother’s home. While the others unloaded the groceries, I sat down in the living room to catch up with Odessa, who lets me call her “Mom.” We’d just started to chat when she looked over my shoulder and said, “What have we here?”

I turned around, expecting to see Donna, Mike, or Barry. To my surprise, it was a group of black-clad Amish children. “Would you like us to to sing to you?” the oldest boy said to Odessa. His English was clear but heavily accented. “That would be fine,” she said, sitting back in her chair.

As the eight children arranged themselves into three groups around their songbooks, I recognized the group from the farm wagon. The man driving, the father of several of them, had dropped them off and gone on an errand while they entertained Odessa with traditional Christmas songs.

“Seventy-nine,” said the tallest boy. They turned to that page and began to sing a Christmas hymn, a very unfamiliar tune. Their voices were high-pitched and their Pennsylvania Dutch accents gave a slightly nasal tone to the music. When they finished, one of the girls said, “Eighty-three,” and they launched into another one.

During the second song, I noticed something strange. The older children were gamely singing away, but their little brothers and sisters were having trouble focusing on the music. After a while, one of the little girls gave up singing completely and stared with her mouth hanging open. Her silence had its effect on her brother, who also lost his concentration and stared, openmouthed, at the corner of the room. The others faltered a little.

Odessa had muted her television, but she hadn’t turned it off!

As the Amish children labored through about seven different songs, it became evident that the television, though silent, had the power to mesmerize them completely. The older boys, who stood with their backs to it, couldn’t stop glancing over their shoulders to see what was happening on the tube. They got confused, repeating some verses and skipping others. The younger children, who unfortunately were facing it directly, leaned on the arm of a chair and stared, unabashed, at the lively, colorful pictures on the screen.

There were two earnest girls whose singing carried the concert, probably because they couldn’t see the TV from where they were standing!

At Odessa’s request, the children sang Silent Night, and then finished with “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” The oldest boy said, earnestly, “If you’d to hear more singing, you can come to our school on December 22nd.” I think he was embarrassed at their performance and wanted a chance to show that without the distraction of TV, they can sing much better.

As the little group left through Odessa’s kitchen, Donna gave them cookies. I was laughing silently — and sympathetically — at their predicament. I haven’t had a TV in 30 years, so I get mesmerized by the darned things, too. But that afternoon at Odessa’s house, the Amish children were so different from anything I’d experienced, watching them struggle with the pull of the television had me completely mesmerized.

A punky reggae party

I’m goin’ to a party
And I hope you are hearty
So please don’t be naughty
For it’s a punky reggae party (Bob Marley)

Flutterby's neighbors in Vero Beach
There goes the neighborhood... Flutterby in front of Vero Beach's posh homes

From Flutterby’s mooring to shore is about 150 feet. It’s a lot farther, if you measure it in dollars.

Tonight, there’s a birthday party at one of the houses on shore. The lawn is full of dressed-up people, and they’ve got a live reggae band. What I can’t figure out are the two chickens in the yard. I’ve never noticed those before. Perhaps they were a birthday present. Perhaps they’re serving really, really fresh chicken for dinner. Or maybe that’s the backup singers.

OK, that’s enough about the chickens. I must be hungry. I wonder what kind of people can afford to hire such a professional-sounding band for a birthday party?

No boring ol’ farts, no boring ol’ farts
No boring ol’ farts will be there
Singin’ no boring ol’ farts, no boring ol’ farts
No boring ol’ farts will be there (another verse from the same song)

My curiosity sends me to, where I look for information about our shoreside neighbors. The house with the party is just over a million dollars, but it’s not for sale. The one that is, though, is even closer; it’s the one whose windows we look right into. It’s a 3-bedroom, 2-1/2 bath rambler with a swimming pool. You can buy it for just over a million dollars. Or rent it for $7500 a month.

Or sit out here on a mooring and look into the windows, for $400 a month.

Turn your lights down low
And pull your window curtains…
(from another Bob Marley song)

It’s a good thing I like reggae, and the birthday party band in particular. I’m sure everyone over there is shouting, unsuccessfully, to be heard over the music, like this:

John: “Blah-de-blah-de-blah chicken?”
Mary: “No, I don’t want to dance with your chicken.”
John: “I said, blah-de-blah-de-blah CHICKEN!”
Mary: “You want me to to remodel your kitchen?”

Out here, we can’t turn the music off, but we can easily talk over it. It’s like our own private dinner concert (no boring ol’ farts here!). Because this is Vero Beach — known as Zero Beach to the younger set — the music stops at precisely 9:30 pm. I’m disappointed.

I once had a business trip to Semiahmoo, a stunningly beautiful resort near the Canadian border in Washington, with two coworkers. When the desk clerk handed out room keys, two of them faced the water, and one faced the parking lot. The two other women looked at me in consternation. I had the most seniority, so they were certain I’d claim one of the waterfront rooms, leaving them to fight over the other one. Instead, I picked up the parking lot room key, saying, “Enjoy the view. I’m going sailing tomorrow, and if you count both sides and the transom, I’ll have over 75 feet of waterfront property all weekend.”

That comment comes back to me as I listen to the reggae-chicken birthday party. Tonight, they’re  enjoying their waterfront property and sharing it with their friends. But they are paying an awful lot just to be looking at us! And we are not paying very much to be looking in their windows, enjoying their music, and laughing about their chickens.

Let me tell you, it takes a joyful sound
To make the world go ’round
It takes a joyful sound
So come a come and rock your boat (one last verse from Bob Marley)

A little dinghy

What's that white thing on the dock? A shoebox, a bookshelf, or a boat?

On the big day, when we launched Flutterby, I didn’t pour all the champagne over the bow. There was some left in the bottle, so a bunch of us went down the dock to where a little wooden shoebox, about six feet long, sat waiting. Kris and Barry picked it up and dangled it down to the water by its painter, letting it down with a  splash. Way, way down there in the water below the high dock, it looked for all the world like an abandoned piece of furniture. Somebody tossed a couple of wooden oars into the shoebox-bookshelf, and then they all turned to me, expectantly.


There it floated, nine years in the making, waiting for the builder to test it. I felt like the ancient Roman bridge designer who had to stand under his bridge when the first load went across. What if I was too heavy? What if it flipped, or worse yet, slowly sank? I could hear the blub-blub-blub in my imagination. But it’s amazing what adrenaline and an audience can do. White-knuckled, I climbed down the ladder into the tiny vessel that I had given birth to from a pile of plywood.

I was still hanging onto the ladder with a death grip when Barry handed me the bottle of champagne.

It felt like a toy boat, something that should be christened with Kool-Aid. But I wanted the gods of the sea to take this thing seriously, so I poured champagne over the “bow.” (Since the boat doesn’t have a pointy end, it’s a little hard to tell which is the front and which is the back. It would probably row just fine sideways, if I mounted the oars that way.)

“I christen thee Flutterwent!” The name was Kris’ idea. It rolls off the tongue better than Flagondry or Rockcoach, two bug-based Spoonerisms that sound a lot worse than Flutterby.

Before I knew it, Barry was climbing off the dock to join me in the boat, I think because I had the bottle of champagne. Or maybe because he wanted to swamp it and go swimming. Surely this thing was not rated for two adults, was it? Thank goodness the Coast Guard wasn’t around to see the open container in an overloaded vessel with no lifejackets.

But she didn’t ship any water when he climbed in. We sat there, facing each other, grinning, and passing the champagne bottle back and forth. Meanwhile, the current was carrying us away from the dock. Whoops! Time to do something about that!

Using ridiculous 7-foot oars as giant paddles, we paddled through the marina and over to the ways, where Flutterby awaited us. The scariest part was getting back out again! I didn’t know how stable it was, but I knew how stable I was — not very. I guess the adrenaline got me out of the boat as well as into it, although by now most of our audience had lost interest and wandered off for happy hour. I was already plenty happy.

You might be wondering, why would anyone use such a strange-looking, tiny dinghy? Normal cruisers go back and forth from their boats in stock gray inflatables with stock outboard motors. Why not the Flutterbies?

For years, Barry wanted to build a 34-foot sailboat with me. This terrified me, because I was afraid of power tools. I’d had an accident in college with a bandsaw and nearly ended up eight-fingered Meps.

In 2001, our housemate, Sharonne, signed up for a beginning woodworking class. For the first four weeks, the students built toolboxes using a table saw, joiner, planer, biscuit-cutter, and sander. For the remainder of the class, they worked on their own projects. At the end of ten weeks, Sharonne proudly brought home the toolbox and a tall bookshelf that she had built with her own hands.

I signed up for the next session and built the same toolbox. Then the teacher sat down with the class and told us we were free to start on our own projects. He went around the room and asked each person to say what they wanted to build. “A CD rack,” said one. “Toys for my grandchildren,” said another.

I never checked to see if the toolbox would float. It would make a great dinghy for the dinghy.

When he reached me, I said, “A boat.”

“A toy boat?” asked the teacher.

“No, a real one.”

The rest of the class stared at me.

“This is Woodworking One. You can’t build a boat on Woodworking One,” said the teacher, with a smirk.

“Don’t you remember Sharonne, from last term? She built a bookshelf. I promise my boat will be just like a bookshelf.” He rolled his eyes and made me stay after class to convince me that I couldn’t build a boat.

The following week, I showed him the plans. Phil Bolger’s Tortoise dinghy looks a lot like a floating bookshelf, so he reluctantly permitted me to start. A couple of months later, Barry and I loaded my plywood dinghy on top of Peepcar and brought it home. I’d done the final assembly in Woodworking Two, with a more encouraging instructor.

The good news was, I still had all my fingers. (So did the instructor from Woodworking One, who’d nearly run his hand through the table saw helping me cut the framing.) The bad news was, it wasn’t a boat yet.

It was a thing of beauty, constructed of luan plywood with pine framing and copper ring nails. For the first year, it sat on our back porch. For the next five, it hung in my in-laws’ garage.

I was proud of my accomplishment, so I told people that I’d built a boat. But whenever Barry heard me say that, he’d correct me. “No, you didn’t. It’s not finished.”

In 2008, I painted it with epoxy resin to protect the wood, and we tied it on top of the Squid Wagon. We drove from Seattle to Flutterby in Beaufort, North Carolina, via San Diego, with that tiny, funny-looking boat on top of the van.

The ant and the elephant along the California coast (April 2008)

It looked like an ant on top of an elephant. All the way across the USA, we got reactions like the guy with the toothpick in his mouth who sauntered over to Barry, not noticing me nearby. “What is that?” he asked. “Some kind of storage pod?” “No,” said Barry, “It’s a boat.” The guy looked more closely and said, “Oh.”

Then Barry added, “My wife built it.” The guy cracked up laughing. He thought it was the punchline to a really funny joke.

The epoxy wasn’t UV-resistant, and by the time we crossed the country, it already needed sanding and painting. We didn’t have anywhere to store it out of the weather, so we rented a 5×7 storage unit and stuffed it inside, using it to store other items — just like a bookshelf!

For another two and a half years, when I said, “I built a boat,” Barry said, “No, you haven’t.” I’d glare at him. Couldn’t he just shut up?

That was getting really irritating, so last summer, I took the poor neglected dinghy out and put it under Flutterby. It was time to finish it, a job only I could do. If I let Barry help me, then, when I said “I built a boat,” he’d still have an excuse to correct me. “No, you didn’t. We built a boat.”

My sawhorses sat on some turf with boatbuilding history. Between 1983 and 1995, Bock Marine built and launched over 30 boats in that spot, including the 122-foot White Dove Too. Like the WDT, my dinghy was brought from another location and completed on that hallowed ground. But there are some differences. Their ships were steel, launched using a dramatic side-launching technique (this is a hilarious photo of people running from the splash) instead of our painter-dangling end-launching technique. I calculated the ratio of length-to-time-under-construction: At 6.5 feet and 9 years, Flutterwent’s ratio was 505. Knocking out a couple of 85-footers a year, Bock’s was 2.1.

I finished the dinghy in the heat of the summer, using all the woodworking, epoxy, fiberglass, and painting skills I learned on Flutterby. While I was working, I wore headphones and hearing protection. Not because of the power tools, but because I was tired of all the men in the boatyard wandering over to stare. I was tired of explaining that I was not building a hard dodger to cover the companionway.

When I was done, I said to Barry, “I built a boat.” Then he hugged me instead of correcting me.

It still wasn’t completely done, having no means of propulsion. But it’s past midnight, and I am done for tonight! Tiny boat, big story. I’ll put the photo essay below and save the rest for another time.

Barry and Kris drop the dinghy into the water, stern-first. "Yikes! Who's got the painter?"
With nerves of steel, I step into the floating box. Ted, who has launched many dinghies, was there to help, and Barry had the painter and the champagne.
You can tell from my hand that I am afraid to move, for fear it will sink or tip over.
Margaret Meps Schulte christens her Tortoise dinghy
I haven't sunk yet. And I have the champagne. So I'm smiling.
Oh no! Here comes Barry to see if he can swamp my dinghy.
As the current carries us away from safety, I say, "You want some of this?"
Giggling, we pick up the oars and paddle into the sunset. She tracks like a shoebox instead of a soapdish.
Getting out is trickier than getting in. Barry made sure the champagne bottle was safe, but I think it was empty by now.
Barry and Meps with Meps' Tortoise dinghy
Whee! Barry has fun scooting under Flutterby's bow line. At 6-1/2 feet long, the Tortoise dinghy is just long enough for a nice nap.

The sillyness of Bill Brown

Bill Brown's mischievious grin
Bill Brown's mischievious grin

When Barry and I learned last week that Bill Brown had died unexpectedly of a heart attack, it knocked the stuffing out of us. We hugged each other and cried for a while. And then I imagined Bill’s voice in my head, saying “Enough sillyness.” We got back to work on the boat.

There were a lot of people who disliked Bill Brown, but he didn’t seem to mind. His abrasiveness was a test. If someone concluded the worst, that he was obnoxious, pigheaded, or rude, then he’d plant his tongue firmly in his cheek and do his best to earn that reputation by “yanking their chain.”

Me, I liked Bill Brown a lot. Probably enough to make up for all the people in the world who didn’t like Bill Brown.

Bill was outspoken, honest, and one of the most supportive friends I’ve had in my entire life. We shared our sailboat cruising dreams with him, and he never spoke a disparaging word about how we pursued them. Bill never once teased us about the length of the FLUTTERBY refit. He was not only tolerant of our breaks from the boatyard, he reveled in our land-based travels and told me my writing was as good as William Least Heat-Moon.

Bill made me laugh when he wrote, “Tolerance is learned. Living aboard certainly teaches tolerance. Living aboard in a boatyard has gotta be the postgrad course in tolerance.” It was his way of saying that he understood what we were going through. Tongue-in-cheek, of course.

Right now, I know I should write something funny for Bill. He loved my writing and once said, “You guys have one of the widest ranges of humor of people I know.” I’m not finding the humor in his untimely kicking of the bucket, but because he was so irreverent, he would denounce anything serious as, well, sillyness.

I went through Bill’s most recent emails and decided to have the last laugh. I’m just going to publish Bill — in his own words. Now I’m off the hook, and I can go burble and cry all I want. He’s sure to make you chuckle…whether or not you’re an engineer.

“Life is much easier if one doesn’t have to make sense all the time.”
“When in a Wal-Mart out of dire necessity, I feel like the Starship Enterprise at the edge of known space in one of those scenes where Romulan and Klingon vessels are all loitering about waiting for the other guy to do something stupid first. I do not belong in a Wal-Mart. But I could enjoy being a tour guide in them. Just keep your phazer on stun. Or perhaps a can of whipped cream would be adequate protection but only if you were wearing your clown suit. ”
“There is no such thing as ‘too much sex’. Technically, it is considered self regulating.”
“Burning Man has franchises? Imagine that. How are you sure you are at a Georgia Burning Man and not at a KKK event?”
“…a cookbook is essentially a survival manual. Look in any Bible. Right after Revelations, the last book, you will find the Book of Betty Crocker stapled right in there.”
“Across most of America until, oh, roughly Ohio, a proper tavern is defined by a jukebox that has two songs: anything by Buddy Holly and ‘Party Doll’ by Buddy Parks. Surely somebody has sought to map this? Maybe it’s my calling.”
“These are people who believe ‘published’ means print on paper as in a page you can dogear. No way on this planet do I want my computer students dogearing a flat panel display. I am the one they will bring it to to fix. I don’t want to even think about dogearing a CRT monitor.”
“Aren’t you glad epoxy isn’t toothpaste!”
“My spell checker … does not yet recognize the term ‘Obama’. It does recognize ‘Barrack’… It recognizes ‘Lincoln’, ‘Eisenhower’, and ‘Johnson’. Interesting is that it will recognize ‘Abraham’ and ‘Dwight’, but not ‘Lyndon’… It doesn’t matter which side of the political spectrum you stand. You can neither praise nor condemn without having to deal with this in your spell checker.”
“The crap we fill our brains with amazes me.”
“Only an engineer type can spell ‘equilibrium’ without rum as a spellchecker.”
“I had cause to see if our tax dollars were being well spent so I called 911 as little else civic was going on on a Sunday. Sure enough, they hurried right out and hauled me to the ER where I got to see all of the neat new toys we just bought for our hospital expansion demonstrated to (on actually) me. No problem says they … The toys were actually fun as well as good to have handy…”
Regarding a Mac G3 laptop: “There is a story here. How did you come into this toilet seat?”
“You are looking way too serious. Rum will fix that. Always has. Always will.”
“Mainliners, heroine users, know that cutting pure heroine with talc and all those other contaminants is bad form. Same with rum. You cut it with Coke and other contaminants and, well, you have a contaminated experience. Proper rum has no commas or conjunctions following it with a list of contaminants like soda pop. At least not unless you want the headaches and barfing that come with contaminants. This is not to be confused with solid nutrition being used to supplement rum such as oatmeal, chocolate, coffee, or stimulants such as other medicinal alcohols or sex.”
“I am well aware that hitting the forward button is the only social skill, the only social life some people have.”
“I’ve always said I go to my high school reunions to see what I’ve overcome.”
“Puny Anacortes? We are talking the gateway to the San Juans here, western portal to the fabled Northwest Passage, western terminus of all the great roads west, and all you have to do to get here is hitch-hike the last sixteen miles. We don’t want a great thing to be too accessible.”
“From memory of my travels in that area (southeastern Ohio), if you had just gone down the road a coupla more blocks and turned left, you’d have found the Bates Motel – quite quaint and quiet for a forties era clapboard motel as i recall. You’d have wanted to avoid the shower though.”
“The title of this book, or chapter, will be ‘How I spent my winter in the Great Pacific Northwest living in a storage locker sorting crap I really didn’t need but couldn’t let go'”
Killer Oatmeal washed down by a Coffee Herbie. Food of the GAWDS!”
“‘…squidwaggin’ ” as a verb sort of sounds naughty as if it has something to do with fallopian tubes. But we know it is just exquisite transportation.”
“Becoming single, Christmas became fun. BIGTIME! Single people have get togethers. Lots of get togethers. Go to interesting if cheap places. Gather our kids together in a big bunch. Do all sorts of things that we learn about might in some way be a Christmas sort of thing for someone. Theater, movies, tavern hopping, sailing someplace, sing our heads off, helping others as a group, the list goes on and on … I wondered why it wasn’t this way before. I guess it is because suburbia frowns on this sort of thing … Married again for some years now, this is still what we do… sort of.”
“Why can’t I make even a passable meatloaf? One of life’s great mysteries.”
“What (your boat’s name) looks like is not half so important as what it sounds like when hollering it on channel 16 as part of a mayday call.”
In response to my quip, “I should have just gotten into my birthday suit and stood on the foredeck with a bottle of shampoo,” Bill said, “Done this a few times in marinas. Only once, at Westview (Powell River) did anyone care. I had announced my intentions prior to doing so. When nearing the end of my disrobe, the genteel couple simply picked up their afternoon tea, stood, turned, and quietly walked to the the other end of their yacht. It was a very hot day, Sunday, which is the one day of the week in Westview that everything must be closed by local ordinance. That included the marina services including showers. Why else do cockpits have scuppers?”
Bill’s response to a limerick about toe amputation: “Hang 9?”
“To shinny is the only way to get a tetherball attached to the top of the tetherball pole. Free-climb does not even approximate the task. Free-climb is what you do on a walk to the top of Mt. Everest. You shinny a mast.”
“I really don’t have many good feelings about Wyoming. Being Dick Cheney hails from Wyoming, I’m not expecting any.”
Regarding a recent colonoscopy: “Frankly, I’ve had … many a drinking bout that ended far more dramatically. These passings, gas and otherwise, didn’t even earn bragging rights among those of a scatological bent … I’d had the fear that I was going to swamp the fifth wheel’s holding tank … Once again, we learn the awful truth. That the legend of The Great Hunt is really nothing more than a long walk on an empty stomach. So much for legends.”
“It’s not my place to whine and I’m not very good at it anyway.”
“My greatest reward is learning I caused an engineer to chuckle.”
“I’m not twisted. But I do think in ironious ways. The world about me, not being flat, is what is twisted.”

(After reading what Bill wrote to us all these years, I might add: And funny as hell.)

How to parlay an evening gown into driving a tractor

I just posted the pictures of #5 on Facebook. (No, you will not see any photos of #4) If you’re on Facebook and want to find me, got to Barry is at

I came up with a little list last night, during a particularly stubborn case of insomnia. It’s my list of the five things a woman may find useful when traveling cross-country alone:

1. A credit card. This is useful for food, lodging, and fuel, which are the only things you really need to make it across this vast country. There’s a big drawback to using it for fuel, though. You swipe the card, fill the tank, and don’t actually interact with anyone. That makes me feel lonely.

2. A roll of paper towels. Since there is no gas station attendant, you need the paper towels for wiping the dipstick when you check your own oil. Better lonely than dead, I think scrubbing the sad remains of a giant bug off the windshield with my paper towel.

3. An iPod. I use this for mood modification — I put polkas on it to cheer myself up, so that when I pull out of the gas station, I won’t feel lonely on the highway.

4. A black lace bra. Unseen by others, this is a secret confidence-building item. Once I have cheered myself up, I wear it into a rowdy midwest bar under a flannel shirt with jeans and sneakers.

5. An orange satin backless evening gown. This is the ultimate way to combat loneliness. Once you are brave enough to interact with the people in the rowdy midwest bar, you accept a dare that you won’t wear an evening gown into the bar. Everyone in the bar knows how tiny your car is, and assumes that you are joking about carrying an evening gown. One quick circuit of the room in that dress and you can pretty much get what you want. Specifically, I have always wanted to drive a tractor, so that is my goal for the exercise.

If all goes well, there may be a photo of #5 tonight. That’s more likely, and more interesting, than any photos of #1 thru 4.