Trouble in Texas

Picture 1Here’s a peek at chapter one (rough draft) of my new book. Fingers crossed you like it! 

 Chapter One 

Is there anything more hygienically foul than an airport? Hell no. That’s why I’m sitting at Southwest Airlines Gate 44 dual wielding antibacterial hand gel and giving both my kids the crazy eye if they touch anything without doing a Lysol disinfecting towelette wipe down. I’m in no way one of those germaphobe psycho moms’ that you see at Target with their whole family in a latex glove lock down. But, there’s just something about airports that makes me feel like I’ve dived head first into a simmering Crock-Pot of E. coli. Maybe it’s all the fleece pajamas bottoms. When did people start treating air travel like they were going to a slumber party at a Chuck E. Cheese in foreclosure? And what’s with the “Pillow People,” those pitiful individuals that drag their bed linens with them to the airport? It makes me first-trimester-of pregnancy nauseous when they plop their pillows down on the TSA conveyor belt so it can get a rolling massage by the bacteria of travelers past. They might as well be French kissing the bottom of their airline seat tray table. Do these obviously mentally fragile individuals not realize that these pillows they tote with them are like airport Swiffers, or in scientific terms, mobile feces collectors? The fiber-filled lumps they lug and hug are filled with every enemy combatant pathogen known to man. Each time they fondle their pillow they’re releasing a disease cloud into the atmosphere. The whole thing should be classified as an act of terrorism.

Truth be told I could be using the whole germ thing to distract myself from a bigger problem. I’m going home to Texas to see my folks and I’m nervous. I’ve been hearing stuff from friends who live in my hometown (and by that I mean people I haven’t seen in twenty years but we both took 10th grade Algebra with Mrs. Wiethorn, so that means we’re Facebook buddies till death do us part) that my mom doesn’t seem her “usual self.” When I ask for more details they just say, “I don’t know. I can’t really describe it. She’s just different, way different.”

“Different how?” I anxiously inquire and no one can really explain what they mean. I’ve talked to my dad about it and he just laughs and says, “Nothing’s wrong with your mom. You know she’s a pistol.” Which is how he’s always described my mother. I’ve talked to my mom and she seems the same bossy, opinionated, stubborn woman she’s always been. But I can’t shake this feeling I have that something is wrong. By the way, never do a WebMD search with the phrase “aging parent seems different.”  It will scare the crap out of you.

I’ve said nothing to my kids, 13 year-old Clay, a super nova geek who co-edits a peer review journal called Robots As Our Overlords It’s Only a Matter of Time and nine-year-old Grace, the nosiest girl in the 48 contiguous states (she’s been very slow, almost remedial, to embrace the concept of minding your own business) that I’m worried about their grandma. There’s no reason they should think anything is amiss. The three of us go to Texas every summer. My husband Sam says nowhere in our marriage vows did it state that he would have to experience triple-digit Texas heat, 99% humidity, and my mother, all at the same time. Which means he takes a pass on visiting my family in August. His excuse, of course, is work and that he’s taking care of our two dogs. Whatever. I know the real reason is he’s scared of being forced to attend my mother’s family reunion. I can’t really blame him for that. My dad says the state prison in Huntsville, Texas draws a better class of people.

It doesn’t really matter if Sam goes to Texas because in all honesty I need a break from my husband. You know those couples who coo about never spending a night away from each other since they were married? Well, all I have to say to them is, “I’m so very, very sorry, because that must be God-awful.” Everyone needs a little distance now and then from their significant other. I’m not talking an active husband avoidance campaign, but a week or two away wasn’t going to make either of us need a box of Kleenex. Sam might be a cutie pie city planning attorney with ridiculously gorgeous brown eyes that twinkle. I’m not kidding they actually have a happy gleam to them. But he’s also a real Goodie-Two-Shoes, which loosely translates to “he can be a big pain in the ass and right now that pain in the ass is a tad put out with me.” He thinks I have I have a problem “letting things alone.” He accused me of getting a thrill out of mixing it up with people. Like, it’s my drug or something. Which couldn’t be more stupid. Anyone who knows me is very aware that Diet Coke, fountain only, not the lame can version, is my drug. I suggested he might want to reach way back there and pull the big ol’ stick out of his butt and quit going all Vacation Bible School on me. You know the bible verse, Golden Rule stuff, not the fun crap like the crafts or snacks. Which has just made me think of Tang. God, I miss Tang. Remember Tang? The classic Vacation Bible School beverage. It’s that orange powdery stuff that you would mix with water. We drank it out of Dixie cups, preferably the ones that had riddles on them.

He countered with an incredibly asinine assertion that I have a “psychological dependence on revenge.” I countered his counter with, “What, because I believe in upholding the whole freedom, liberty and pursuit of happiness thing I’m now crazy? I’m ground zero for the underdog. I’m their voice, their mentor. Yeah, that’s right I am a mentor! That’s not crazy. It’s a freaking calling. You can’t say no to a calling. Bad things will happen. It will create unhappy karma. Do you want unhappy karma in your family? Do you?”

Sam laughed and said, “Have fun saying that when you’re in jail one of these days.”

I swiftly came back with, “What, like you would let your wife go to jail? That’s the kind of man I’m looking at?”

He smirked and said, “You never know.”

I raised his smirk to an arrogant chuckle and said, “Have fun, while I’m sitting in jail watching reruns of The Golden Girls, trying to load the dishwasher, pack lunches, do a science fair project and master a wave French braid on your daughter, all at the same time buddy.”

Then he laughed again and snorted, “It’s probably a good thing you’re getting out-of-town. God knows you need to lay low for awhile.”

I had zero to say to that because he couldn’t have been more accurate. There are some people, a neighbor to be exact, who is just a little bit annoyed with me. Okay, more than just a little bit. The cops were called in over an incident that involved her grass. My caddy corner, six times Yard-of-the-Month winner neighbor Barbara Martin is an evil, exceedingly well-groomed troll. She terrorizes the neighborhood with her demands for a “seamless community landscape” which includes everyone mowing their lawn in a crosshatch pattern and not letting your fescue exceed 3.25 inches. Well, to make a long story short, I challenged the leader of the Yard Gestapo and it led to an all-out turf battle that ended with Barbara growing grass, you know weed, the kind you smoke, in her yard. Except she didn’t know she was growing weed. Someone, not me, (because I am nothing if not a law-abiding citizen) planted it (although I might have been privy to the knowledge that it was being planted) and by that I mean full-grown Cannabis sativa plants in all their seven leaf glory and then someone, maybe me, called the police about Barbara’s yard weed. It ended up with Barbara threatening to sue me for trespassing, destruction of property and possession and cultivation of a controlled substance. Which makes no sense at all. The weed was in her yard, not mine. She also vows to go after the police department for harassment. Let’s just say it’s providential I’m putting about 1,500 miles between us.

Just for the record, none of it was my fault. Can I help it if I, Wynn Butler, a woman who has seen 39 in the rearview mirror, yet still has some very lush hair, (I’m not bragging here, I have the follicles of a 20-year-old) deeply feels the need to right wrongs? No. It’s who I am. The good Lord may not have not given me thin thighs (or anything resembling thinness and I’m still a mite ticked off about the gift of cankles that were bestowed upon me) but in his wisdom he vested me with a life long mission to venture forth and offer up a little pay back to all the sanctimonious idiots out there. It would be dishonorable, right, to not use this gift, like giving God the middle finger or something, if I just refused to fight for truth, justice and if that doesn’t work revenge on daily basis? I was raised as a Texas Methodist which my mom says is much nicer than calling it what it really is, Lazy Baptist or Baptist Lite. You get to drink and dance and don’t have the whole being dunked in a tank thing when you get christened. Something my mom categorizes as a “hairmageddon.” (Just for the record, my mother’s other theology musings include calling Episcopalians “lazy Catholics.”) My spiritual upbringing was one based on fear (and grooming tips) which explains my anxiety attacks, that can only be alleviated by self medicating with a sleeve of Girl Scout Thin Mint cookies, if I don’t think I’m doing all I can to please the higher power upstairs. This is why I, on occasion, find myself fleeing to a location that is not within the legal jurisdiction of my suburban police department.

My daughter suddenly jostles me out of my trip down arrest warrant lane by touching my shoulder and saying, “Mom, mom, I think they’re going to start boarding the plane. Look, everyone is lining up and most of the people seem angry. That’s the sign the plane is finally here right angry people?”

“Angry people are indeed the universal sign that our plane is finally here” I say while I smile at Grace and Clay, squeeze some more antibacterial gel into their palms and hand them their boarding passes. “This is it kids. Ready or not Trask, Texas here we come!”

Will this plane ride ever end? We’re only thirty minutes into a two-hour flight, but I’m already thinking of causing the women directly across the aisle from me some bodily harm. I’m not kidding. I have to keep my hands very busy by repeatedly inserting them into a box of Cheese Nips to stop me from reaching out and strangling this one chick. The woman who looks to be about my age, but with some very unfortunate “homemade” bangs (never underestimate what a huge mistake it is to cut your own bangs – it takes a certain amount of artistry to get it just right and this woman’s bangs look more Etsy than museum quality) is reading David Copperfield. Do I have a problem with classic literature? No, I do not. It’s no US magazine, but to each his own. What I have a ginormous problem with is that she and her two elementary-age-looking daughters also with homemade bangs (please is there not, at the very least, a Super Cuts in her neighborhood?) are taking turns reading out loud and (this is a big AND so prepare yourself) are using English accents. What the hell? Who reads aloud on a plane? And much, much worse, who reads aloud while trying to recreate a 19th century London dialect? Plus, it’s like they went to the Shrieks R Us school of vocal projection. Forget about noise-canceling headphones. You could be sitting outside on the wing and hear these three. They have to be stopped. You can tell everyone is annoyed and I’ve seen at least four people (not counting me who expressed displeasure three times to two different Southwest employees and if I would have been allowed to I would have been all over having a one-on-one with the captain, pilot, co-plane flyer, air marshall or someone with supreme plane authority) complain to the flight attendant who much too gently suggested the Copperfield trio read “more quietly.”

This is where that calling I was telling my husband about comes into play. It always seems to fall on my broad, almost NFL’esque defensive tackle shoulders, to find solutions to these kinds of problems. Weary is the head that wears the crown of dealing with jackasses, my friend. I take a deep breath, slowly and regretfully remove my hands from inside the Cheese Nip box, and prepare myself to begin Operation Shut the Hell Up.

See, the thing is, I am intimately acquainted with this kind of woman. You don’t make it through one complete tour of duty of elementary school and not spend time with the Smug Unplugged Mom. I saw this woman giving me superior looks as we waited for our plane. My kids had headphones on and were deep in the technological clutches of their iPad and iPhone. My son was doing God-knows-what and my daughter was playing some sort of fashion game while Smug Unplugged’s two kids had brought an arts and crafts bag and were aggressively folding paper with pre-serial killer precision. You should have seen them creasing and bending that paper. Fast forward a few years and they’ll be de-boning a corpse with a spork. I’m sure Smug Unplugged thought I was admiring her fully engaged, gadget-free family, but what I really was doing beside FBI profiling them was gagging that she was allowing them to sit on the floor of an airport as they constructed what the mom was calling “elevated origami.” I now must use my knowledge of this mom for the betterment of my fellow passengers. So, here I go, taking one for the team – again.

“Excuse me,” I say to the mother, jarring Daughter Number One out of her cockney accent recitation. “So sorry to interrupt, but I just have to share with you how impressed I am with your daughters’ reading levels. David Copperfield at their age. Wow! Their Lexile scores must be off the charts, like pretty close to 2,000. Isn’t that the highest score?”

That’s all it takes to shut down the David Copperfield of it all and open up the maternal floodgates of over sharing. The Smug Unplugged grins at me, brushes her homemade bangs out of her eyes, licks her lips and says, “My girls are in the third and fourth grades and already have college level reading aptitude. I’m sure by the end of the summer they’ll be at Post-Doc.”

“I have no doubt about that. They are extraordinary readers and such expression in their voices! Loving the English accents, by the way.”

These comments fuel the mom into a chitchat frenzy. The key word here is Lexile. It’s conversation starter rocket fuel. Until your kids start taking their college aptitude test, the go to number for parental bragging rights (besides the Holy Grail of a gifted and talented designation and early I.Q test) is their kid’s Lexile score, which measures a child’s reading ability. Think of it as a baby SAT. This Smug Unplugged mom is thrilled to share her kids’ scores, school achievements, her tech-free parenting creed (which sounds appalling and would cause me to be on a psychotropic cocktail administered via IV 24/7.) and a variety of other information, plus some not-so-subtle jabs at my kids. She calls them “tech zombies and screen slackers” and labels me a “gadget pimp” and “iEnabler.” “Guilty as charged,” I tell her. Her litany of super momming continues for the reminder of the flight. All I have to do is the nod-and-sometimes-smile routine.

It’s exceedingly painful to listen to this woman and I have to stare at her dreadful bangs, which I’ve discovered are hiding a unibrow. My hands are itching to get my tweezers out of my purse and go to town on that uni. All it would take is about eight strategic plucks and she would be a new woman. To get my mind off Smug Unplugged’s brows and her voice I go to my happy place – cakes and cobblers. I let my mind wander over to thinking about a peach crumble made with a candied pecan brown sugar topping. Oh, it is so good. Mmm, I can taste the warmth of the peaches mingling with the crunch of the pecans that have been bathed in a brown sugar whirlpool. If you top it off with vanilla bean ice cream it’s blissful. As long as I stay focused on the peach crumble I can do this. So much like some people think about sex, shoes or shopping in all its various forms I think about the peach crumble. I imagine it with milk and then whipped cream. I then move on to me slowly licking the whipped cream off an extra-large wooden spoon and then my Kitchen Aid spatula. I stay with that image for a while until my mind flits to peach crumble in alcoholic form. Oh my, a peach crumble martini. How amazing. Peach vodka, with peach nectar, and topped with a peach liqueur soaked pecan. Yummy.

When I run out of food visuals, I relay of the gratitude of my fellow passengers to make my sacrifice, sort of, worth it. People keep sending drinks over to me, including the flight attendant, who comped my Corona. As I guessed, listening to one mom blab about her kids is far better than hearing an entire family read out loud. The Smug Unplugged doesn’t even shut up when the plane lands. I quickly grab my kids and attempt to make a break for it. She tries to follow me off the plane, but mercifully is stopped by a handsome cowboy who is using his Stetson hat as a barricade to keep her and her bangs from talk-stalking me into the airport. God bless the cowboy hat. It makes a girl glad to be home.

As soon as we hit the security free zone, I see my parents waiting for us. They’re hard to miss. At six feet five inches my dad is always easy to find and it helps that he’s usually wearing starched khaki’s, a blue button down and cowboy boots. My mom’s hair has it’s own Google map satellite so once you spot the blonde helmet you know you’ve found her. Both kids run to their grandparents and when my Dad has a free arm he hugs me and asks,“How’s my Texas beauty?” He’s been calling me that for as long as I can remember, even though there’s not a shred of truth in the description. That’s just one of the many reasons I’m a daddy’s girl. Some might say I have daddy issues and they’d be wrong. I don’t have daddy issues. My father is the most wonderful, intelligent, amazing male on the face of the earth. That’s called daddy facts. Oh, I know it’s supposed to be bad for your marriage to think your father is better than your husband, but hell even my husband agrees that my dad is better than him, so what’s the problem?

My dad, G.C. Martin has a pretty big fan club. For almost forty years he was the sheriff of Trask County, Texas, and before that he was district attorney. It’s not that he didn’t like being a lawyer, but he said it was more fulfilling work being on the front lines of law enforcement. My dad is more brain than brawn. Over the years he earned the nickname “The “Professor.” Basically, he’s a nerd with a gun. Well, a nerd who’s really, really good with a gun. According to my dad it’s all about the mathematical equations of hitting a target, sort of the world’s most annoying geometry word problem overlaid with physics. A whole force x mass + the square root of an isosceles triangle = you’re a good shot or something like that. I don’t know. I never really paid that close attention. Math always makes me sleepy. Even though my dad retired four months ago, he’s still keeping busy consulting on cases all over Texas, which is a very good thing. It gives him breaks from my mom. She’s a woman best appreciated in small doses.

It takes a good three minutes for my mom and her hair to finally release my kids long enough to give me a kiss and the once over. Lord, she’s got the once over down. It takes her less than five seconds to go from head to toe, and in those five seconds she’s absorbed a wealth of information.

“Wynn, you’re looking good darling. I think someone new must be cutting your hair and I do believe your teeth look whiter. Are you using one of those tray things? Would you look at that, you’re in skirt. It’s so nice to see you in one. You know everybody appreciates a lady.”

I lean in to kiss my mom back, “Glad that you approve. As always, I live to please you.”

Gwynn Crockett Martin, at five feet and a couple of inches (if you add her hair which is horizontally backcombed high enough to hide a couple of Capri Suns) is a soon to be septuagenarian hottie. She credits her appearance to the Lord’s eternal love, Frownies and mayonnaise. My mother believes that the road to the fountain of youth is spread thick with Hellman’s mayo. She uses it for everything from potato salad to facial masques to hair conditioner. She also embraces God’s holy trinity of beauty; the rat-tail comb, Aqua Net and Clairol hair dye #99, affectionately referred to as Lone Star Blonde. She might be on to something, because she looks amazing and she knows it. This reinforces her life’s true calling. My mother has never met a person she didn’t think she could vastly improve. Which is why none of her five children currently call Texas home.

My comment has her giving me her “Aren’t you the sassy one!” smile. She also adds in her signature wink and says, “If only that were true darling, if only that were true. You’ve always been your own person and not too keen in seeking the approval of anyone. That’s my side of the family’s Texas renegade spirit in you. Nothing to sneeze at, you know, having that in your blood.”

I smile back and laugh at my mother. She’s always thought she was descended from the kin of Davy Crockett and is a Texas history freak, specifically the battle at the Alamo. Well, let me back up a bit. My mother hasn’t researched her family lineage as much as she’s imagined it. It’s like instead of going to she went to There is not a shred of proof that she’s even distantly related to Davy Crockett, but that hasn’t stopped her from spinning some tall tales about her family heritage. Her shining moment of self-delusion was naming all of her five children after Lone Star state heroes. I have three older brothers, Sam (after Sam Houston), Austin (After Stephen F. Austin), Travis (after the commander of the Alamo) and a sister, Rebecca. (The name of Davy Crockett’s oldest daughter.) My mother named me Wynn. That’s right I’m named after my mom. Well, I’ve got 3/4 of her name. I always tease her that she didn’t think I was worthy enough to get 100%. She fancies herself not so much a Texas hero, but most definitely a tiny bit of a Texas legend and she wanted to make sure her legacy was carried on. No worries there. Her crazy gene is living large in all five of us.

“Stop that laughing. You know it’s true and don’t be disrespecting your historical lineage. I won’t stand for that,” my mother says as she grabs my daughter’s hand and raises it up to her lips to kiss. “Now let’s get your bags and get home!”

As we’re starting to walk to the baggage claim, my mom stops, turns to me and whines, “Oh Wynn, I hope you didn’t pack any of those track pants you’re so fond of. (I’m pretty sure my love of the Target track pant capri and full length is one of my mother’s greatest parenting disappointments.) You know I don’t cotton to women who wear elastic waist pants. It’s just not feminine.” (Except she pronounces it “femnin.”) “I’ve always told you and your sister the elastic waist pant is for lazy women and I didn’t raise lazy girls. (Lazy being one of my mother’s favorite topics to discourse on) Nope, I sure didn’t and I don’t have any lazy granddaughters either, do I Grace?”

My daughter looks down at her yellow, cotton eyelet skort, and smoothes it with her hands, looks up at my mom, smiles and says, “You sure didn’t, Grandma.”

“Let’s hurry y’all,” my mom energetically commands.  “I’ve got a Texas sized surprise waiting for the three of you.”

I look at my dad, who is listening to Clay talk about his latest robotic invention for some kind of hint. He just smiles at me and shakes his head. I get the feeling that something’s up and I’m not going to like it. Nope, I’m not going to like it at all.

If  you want to make sure you’re caught up on all the Snarky before the new book comes out be sure to read Snarky in the Suburbs Back to School (Click here for purchase information.) Here’s a little ditty about it: The Spring Creek Elementary School PTA board (a coven of Mean Moms dressed in Uggs, yoga pants, and dermal filler) is up to no good.  Wynn Butler (middle-aged, uncool, and not bringing sexy back) is determined to find out what’s going on. With help from her two kids, a Roomba vacuum turned mobile surveillance drone, and a few good friends, Wynn launches a covert investigation that leads to the “mother of all revenge capers” at the school’s annual Fall Festival.  If you’ve ever fantasized about smoke bombing the idiot parent who has yet to master the fine art of the school drop-off lane, or standing up and shouting, “Liar, liar, Botox on fire” during a PTA meeting, then this delicious tale of payback is for you.