“And Lava Will Come Out Oozing All Over the Volcano”

There’s an episode of The Brady Bunch when Marcia becomes a high school freshman and joins every afterschool club in hopes of becoming popular. There’s the scuba club, the drama club, the ceramics club, the booster club…the list seemed endless. (This is also the episode when Peter builds a volcano on the patio and claims, “There’ll be little puffs of smoke and lava will come oozing out all over the volcano.”)

After my marriage dissolved, I felt much like Marcia did, lost, alone, a new face in a strange new land, in search of friends and popularity. So, relying on the life lessons I learned from 70’s Sherwood Schwartz sit-coms, I tried the Marcia Brady approach to gaining popularity. I joined EVERYTHING.


After one month, I learned that I hated:


Country Line Dancing

Yoga, and most especially Hot Yoga (I can sweat and fart without prompting, all on my own, thanks. And for free.)

Wine, as in Wine and Cheese

Book Clubs and reading books

Live Music of any genre


Canoeing—which is totally different from kayaking, but equally as unpleasant. When canoeing, you worry about tipping over; when kayaking, you worry about flipping over. I’ve done both and hate both.

Walking on the Beach


Bird Watching, Whale Watching, Dolphin Watching

Watching Animals in General

Astronomy—actually this activity triggered a reaction much stronger than hate—panic. After an evening of star gazing with the local Astronomy Club, I had the biggest panic attack of my life. I lay in bed, contemplating the universe and the afterlife and how very small I am and how is there infinite anything and is there God and will He remember the good me, when I was young and when I wanted to be a nun, not the bitter, bitchy red-headed me of the now? And if there really was a God, why aren’t all animals vegetarian? (I speak in earnest for every unlucky wildebeest caught while following its herd across a river and directly into the mouth of an enormous, mostly submerged crocodile. I also speak for every bunny rabbit—the designated furry pelted chew toy for all mammals, birds, and reptiles in the Northern Hemisphere.)

And, why do we fall in love only to have those people taken away from us? And why do we have to die and who was the genius who thought that up and why couldn’t it all be Benjamin Buttony, so that we get younger as we age and get better looking and have more fun??? It was a long night.

Frustrated and weary, I gave up all efforts to meet people and resigned myself to the reality that I was going to be alone for the rest of my life. I went out and got a dog, two boxes of Entenmann’s chocolate covered donuts, a book of brain teasers and bravely accepted my fate (wearing a milk moustache.)


New Jersey Housewife Makeover

As a gay friend of mine recently said, “Every woman should have a housewife.” How true. I am fortunate to have not merely a housewife–but a New Jersey Housewife at that.

Following my separation from a husband of nearly 24 years, I spent four months wearing black, covering all the mirrors in my house and avoiding activities like exercise, socializing, applying make-up, and sunlight. (Luckily, I am a teacher at a Quaker school, so avoiding these activities did not make me stand out from my co-workers.) And so, as I always do when faced with crisis or change, I traveled to New Jersey– land of my birth– to visit my sister. This is the sister who sports a third breast (though much smaller than the other two) from having lived so close to the chemical wasteland that is Elizabeth.

As I pulled into her driveway, my sister’s first words to me were–oops I take that back…Her first words AFTER she said, “I better not see him or I’ll f****ing kill him,” were, “Megan, just because you work at a Quaker School doesn‘t mean you have to look like a Quaker.” (No offense intended here to my Quaker friends–I’m inspired by the Quaker philosophy of simplicity–specifically, no makeup and especially no clothes that flatter the human form. Quakers invented the muumuu–though originally it only came in black.) And thus began the New Jersey Housewife Makeover.

Starting from coloring the crown of my head, (ouch) and continuing on to the French pedicure, the entire make-over took three solid days of work–from 8 am when I was forced to lie out in the sun, taking only a 30 minute lunch break to afternoons of shaving*, waxing and dipilitating (debilitating) to early evenings of finding my “color palette” (is puke considered an actual color?) until well past Desperate Housewives reruns.

*A word about Megan and shaving: Now shaving for me has always been an unpleasant task. I am told my family is descended from the “dark Irish” hence our darker complexion and hair color. I am more inclined to believe that based on the amount of body hair I have, I am actually descended from an Irish Wolfhound. Okay, so I hadn’t shaved in a while. Okay, so the fabric of my black stretch pants hadn’t actually come in contact with skin in 120 days–but I hadn’t caught a cold or had the flu either–the furry pelt I sported successfully kept me warm and sniffle-free.

So, after three days filled with tweezing, bleaching, and tanning, my worst night mare began. The “shopping” experience was brutally painful–trying clothes on, taking my shoes off, then putting them back on as we search for the skirt that makes my ass “look so yummy,” dressing room after dressing room…
“No we don’t buy pants here, we have to go to another store for those.”
“I wouldn’t be caught dead in the shoes they have here, but isn’t that the cutest halter top ever?”

AAAHHH, my shopping experiences of the past 4 months had consisted only of trips to 7-11 to buy Ben and Jerry pints–necessary for maximum viewing pleasure of the hit show “The Biggest Loser.”

The make-over was capped off by a visit to a tattoo parlor (but I ask you, really, is any visit to New Jersey complete without one?) For those of you who as yet are unfamiliar with this ancient, sacred ritual of viewing the human form as a canvas and stabbing the skin with a needle injected with dye, let me tell you: it frigging hurts.

At last, I was deemed “ready.” Ready for what, you might be wondering?…Ready to have my photo taken–(other moms know that when you‘re raising a family, you are the official photo TAKER–memory MAKER and probably the last decent picture someone took of you is in your wedding album.) Okay now, I know I said that shopping was my worst nightmare–I lied, having my picture taken is worse. I said shopping was the worst because in terms of sheer woman hours shopping is endless–like labor for your first child. Having your picture taken is more like having a rectal exam–relatively quick, but painful AND embarrassing.

Okay, so my photo was taken in the garden, on the porch, in the mirror, in the house, right side, left side, full face, face up, face down, (As Mitch Hedberg said, “Looking slightly to the left”) behind the garden, on the trampoline–pensive looks, happy, smiling looks, smiling with teeth showing, smiling with no teeth showing, grinning (And since I interpreted grinning as the same as smiling with no teeth showing, “It’s not the same thing at all!! You can imagine how this was going) smirking (“Look like you know a secret.” “Hey fellas, wanna know my secret???? I hate having my frigging picture taken.”) The endless changing of the outfits–my sister called them “poutfits” because I kept complaining every time I was asked to put on a new one.

3,250 photos later, we found two, yes two, I kid you not, that were acceptable. I’m not photogenic–in my next life I’m coming back as a vampire* so I don’t have to deal with this photo crap again. One of the “acceptable photos” was of me, in the garden, with a “knowing smirk.” The other was an ‘inside the house shot, looking left, donning a pensive, yet knowing grin that showed only my bicuspids’.  Awesome!

*Vampires, typically do not photograph or have reflections in a mirror.

My adventure was deemed a success. I now was the proud owner of blondish, reddish hair with lowlights and highlights (Why both lowlights AND highlights? Couldn’t we just do lowlights and then my regular color would step up and “act” as the highlights? Or else could my hair be reinterpreted as a lowlight counter to applied highlights? Folks, I’m a simple caveman here, help me out. ) My hair was teased up so high it touched the interior roof of my car. I had nail tips (Press On!) with French manicure, matching toes (I did say “stop” when my toenails were next up for nail tips.) A form-fitting outfit that was so tight, I had to unclip my seatbelt any time I wanted to inhale. Now, please do not think me ungrateful. My New Jersey Housewife worked tirelessly for three days to help me attain the status of “okay to be seen in public.” As I loaded my car with the many boxes and bags filled with clothes, cosmetics, razors, shoes and faux tanners, I was also given a special parting gift– a handbook of “rules” for living well in the next chapter of my life: I’ll spare you all the rules, but here are the top three:

1. Imagine that if you leave your house without applying a full face of make-up, you will spontaneously combust (though in NJ speak– it really read “…you will f****in’ blow the f*** up.”

2. Imagine that if you leave your house wearing sneakers, sweat pants or any other item of clothing that includes an elastic waistband, you will … “f***in’ blow the f*** up.”

3. Imagine that if you leave your house without having plucked, shaved or waxed all hair that falls outside “the lady lines” (these were lines my sister had drawn on my body using permanent marker–outlining my bikini, underarm, moustache, and legs–including upper thigh areas) “you will…” Well, you get the idea.

I was on my way…

…Next up…Match.justshootmeplease or “Rejected by the Guy in the Beanie” or “Just How Many is a Few Extra Pounds?”

Saddle Shoes and Mary Janes

As a child, I had wide feet–very wide feet.  I wore quadruple E.   That’s E-E-E-E.  The school I went to allowed girls   to wear only saddle shoes or Mary Janes. This was very convenient for me  because those were the only shoes they     made wide enough for my feet. I think my parents sent me to that school  so I      wouldn’t get a complex about my feet. I tell you, after 14 straight years of      wearing nothing but saddle shoes and Mary Janes, a girl can get pretty  disgusted with life.

My grandmother used to say, “See, Miggin? (For some reason, pronouncing the long e sound for the first syllable of my name was just a tad too overwhelming for my grandmother–hence–Miggin.) “Miggin, That’s what happens when you don’t wear the slippers Nanny buys for you for Christmas.” (Grandparents always refer to themselves in the third person.) “If you don’t start wearing them slippers pretty soon, you’re gonna have to wear the boxes that the slippers come in.” I had nightmares about this…me, at my senior prom, beautiful dress, long, flowing hair, and these gigantic shoe boxes tied around my feet with barbed wire.

My elementary school years were spent (imprisoned, really) at Sacred Heart Catholic School in Jersey City. From Sister Vincent VanGogh in first grade (FYI–Never trust a woman with a man’s name–except Michael Learned–you can trust John Boy Walton’s mother) who had a propensity for eating glue out of the jar (remember that thick white stuff that smelled like toothpaste?) to Sister George Foreman, who you might imagine packed quite a wallop when wielding her iron ruler or left jab. Toss in the various “lay” teachers–(I discovered early on that “lay” was short for “lazy”) it was an interesting education, to say the least.

For those of you so unfortunate as not to have received a Catholic school education, you may not realize that “our” curriculum differed greatly from “your” curriculum. Whereas you may have taken classes such as: Math, English, Science, History, Phys. Ed, and Geography, our school day consisted of: Phonics and its role in the life of a good Catholic, Religion and its importance as preparation for the afternoon, and Jesus and the true meaning of after-school activities. Oh, and there was also Math. Math in grades 1 through 4 consisted of nuns walking up and down rows of desks, having each student recite the next fact in the addition and subtraction tables from 1-12. If you were so unlucky as to incorrectly guess the answer to your math fact–there were two courses of action: 1. Public Humiliation and Onset of Carpal Tunnel Sundrome by having to go to the chalkboard and writing the math fact correctly 500 times, or 2. Having the shit whacked out of you–usually on the leg (but they did love hitting those bad boys on the backs) with the wooden stick, pointer or whatever other long, wooden object they’d been carrying around during math to scare the crap out of you.

Gym class was once a month on a Friday afternoon. It featured thirty fat girls, dressed in plaid gym suits hitting each other with a medicine ball–in between bouts of prayer and discussions of “Religion and the Serious Athlete.”

Science and History were No-Nos, due to the fact that the theory of evolution might come up. The school’s “no-frills” sort of education did have its advantages, though. For instance, I was the music program. Starting when I was in third grade, every Friday I went around to all the classes from 1st through 8th grade and taught the kids how to sing. I remember hauling my father’s oversized guitar–too big for me to press down any substantial number of strings to form a chord. It was my first taste of performing and I loved it.

I performed at every school meeting and function. My first professional “gig” was for the school’s PTA. I was eight years old, onstage, in front of a microphone, two hundred people in the audience and I was ready to give it my all. I remembered what my Dad had taught me–“You gotta get their attention-right away. Lead off with something upbeat and catchy.”  I started with, “What Do You Do With a Drunken Sailor?” and sequed right into the classic Irish saloon sing-along, “The Wild Rover” (complete with phony Irish accent, I might add.) The final melody line–“Will I play the Wild Rover…No never, no more!” resounded through the hall. I waited for the applause, the standing ovation, the looks of awe and sheer amazement at the talents of this precocious eight year old. I waited. I heard a gasp, a few throat clearings–nothing more. Sister Humphrey Bogart quickly came up onstage and asked the audience to give me a nice round of applause–they did. But, I never quite understood why she needed to ask them to clap. Hey, I was good–in fine voice, my fingers pressed a damned good many strings and though my “How many Irishmen does it take to…” jokes didn’t go over that well, I was pleased with my performance. Soon after, Sister Julius Irving presented me with a thank you gift. It was a book of easy to play songs, titled, “Songs that a Young Catholic Girl Should Learn to Play and Perform, Rather Than The Raunchy Barroom Drinking Songs Her Father Taught Her.” I was a hit from that day on.

…Endowed by Their Creator with Certain Inalienable Rights…


Thanks, Thomas Jefferson, I couldn’t agree with you more.  Having recently reached the half century mark, I do believe I have acquired “certain unalienable rights”:

1.  Being able to refer to myself in the third person ( “Megan wants a ham and cheese sandwich.” )

2. Having grandchildren while I still look too young to have grandchildren

3. Tisking at young, inexperienced adults as they attempt to parent their children in the grocery store, mall, or park

4. Sending food back to be reheated/cooked more/re-seasoned/or totally removed from my plate when dining out  (this also includes while being a guest in other people’s homes–hey, I’m dining out, right??) while exclaiming loudly, “What are you trying to do, KILL ME?”

5. Hushing young people in the movie theater

6.  Complaining that the sound is too loud/not loud enough in the movie theater

7. Demanding that the room temperature be raised/lowered while at a movie, club, concert, assembly or another’s home (regardless of whether I’m wearing removable layers or toting a sweater) while exclaiming loudly:  “What are you trying to do, FREEZE ME*?”

8. Receiving pounds of unsolicited mail ftrom AARP each week (though in fact I’ve been receiving mail from them since the ripe old age of 16 )

9. Offering unwanted advice to grocery clerks, nurses, store managers, waiters, cashiers, postal workers, mechanics, bank tellers, and countless other people who couldn’t give a rodent’s rear about my ideas for how to “really make things work better.”

10. Beginning 70% of all my sentences with the words, “Well, when I was your age…”

11.  Beginning the remaining 30% with the words, “You know what you should do…”

12.  Incorporating the following words into my daily conversations:  whippersnapper, rapscallion, missy,  sonny, and young’un

13. Additional peppering of said conversations with outdated “cuss” words, such as: confound it, consarn it, and dagnab it

* Or in the case of the room being too hot, exclaiming loudly: “What are you trying to do, GIVE ME HEAT STROKE?”

Please consider this a personal invitation to all of you in the “50 and Above” age category to join me in claiming your inalienable rights–especially the right to be a huge pain in the ass from this day forward…

Just When You Thought it was Safe to Eat the Spaghetti

Mmm-mmm-GoodI can’t count the number of times I’ve gotten food poisoning from eating my grandmother’s food. Wait, “Gotten” is not the right word–”been given” is more accurate. In her Stegasauric-sized brain, my grandmother was convinced that my allergy to mushrooms was, she claimed, “All in your goddamned head, Miggin.”
Countless times at family dinners at dear old granny’s, she’d serve spaghetti with sauce or gravy (or whatever the hell you want to call it.) Countless times, she’d swear there were no mushrooms in the sauce. Countless times–she lied. Countless times I’d spend the dessert course of her meal puking in her toilet. Puking even harder from smelling that nasty toilet hanging thing…..

My Sister: Nanny, did you put mushrooms in your spaghetti sauce?
My Grandmother: Yeah, I did. Miggin ain’t allergic to mushrooms. It’s all in her goddamned head.
Me: (vomit sound)

The following month:
My Sister: Nan, don’t put mushrooms in the sauce, Megan’s allergic.
My Grandmother: She ain’t allergic—she just don’t care for mushrooms is what she said.
Me: (vomit sound)

It was like a cartoon–me, as Charlie Brown, her as Lucy, telling me she wouldn’t pull the football away if I wanted to kick it. “Don’t fall for it, Charlie Brown,” come the cries from everyone. “Trust me, there ain’t no mushrooms in that sauce,” says Lucy with pin curls and dressed in a muumuu. “If you can’t trust your Nanny, who you gonna trust?” Good point. Hence, my lifelong mistrust of everyone.
My grandmother was about 4 IQ points from being labeled “special,” and one mushroom-laced, poisonous pot of spaghetti sauce away from being labeled a murderer.
I got my cooking skills from my grandmother. She had several simple rules:
1. Boil everything before cooking it—especially meat. It seals in the “flay-vahs.”
2. Leave food out at room temperature for several hours before serving, just so no one burns themselves eating.
3. If one clove of garlic is good—-52 cloves of garlic must be “bet-tah.”
My grandmother had a language all to herself. She referred to herself in the third person. “Get Nanny a beer.” Also, in my grandmother’s world, subject/verb agreement was optional–especially when contractions were involved.
I don’t, You don’t, He, she, it don’t, They don’t

Double negatives were fair game—encouraged even–the more, the bettah.
Sample: I ain’t got no books.
And the even more confusing: He don’t never come here no more. (Don’t even bother to try and figure it out.)

Monthly poisonings and bad grammar aside, my grandmother was good to me. I always had presents at my birthday and Christmas—-though if there was any sign of misbehaving by my brother or me after October 1st, we were constantly threatened, “And Santa ain’t comin’ to give you no gifts, ‘coz he don’t like bad kids.” My grandmother–Eleanore “The Threat” Muller. She did, I suppose, the best she could with the hand she was dealt. I suppose. I think I would have folded and asked for a re-deal.


A friend of mine–a much younger and hencely, DUMBER friend, recently suggested that perhaps it was time for me to join a dating site that was more appropriate for my age. “One that’s for–” I watched as her infantile brain searched for the right words that wouldn’t offend me.  She searched in vain.   She spoke slowly, ” You know, like, Megan, like, a dating site that’s, like, for–OLD PEOPLE–like you.”  Yep, this embryo said, “OLD PEOPLE.”

After sneaking seven tablespoons of Metamucil in her sippy cup*, I realized that my former friend was right; I needed to find someone my own age.   I had grown weary of scrolling through dozens of winks on Internet dating sites from 19 year old mountain men named Cletis, or Otis, or Eustis.  Most often, Cletis, Otis/Eustis’s profile picture featured my potential beau dressed in a flannel shirt, no pants, and a well-worn pair of brown work boots. In one hand, a can of rolling rock (nip-sized, thank you,) the other hand resting lovingly on a gutted deer hanging from a tree in front of his cabin.  On his face, along with a healthy dose of  “mountain man morning face fur”,  was a sleepy, “come-hither” look mountain men have first thing in the morning, you know,  before they’ve finished their AM six pack, and had a good b.m. in the backyard.

*BTW–does anyone under the age of thirty drink out of  glasses or bottles or cans anymore?  I coach a high school girls’ basketball team and during the time-outs, the athletes look like baby lambs being bottle fed by one of Old MacDonald’s farmhands.

If you’re single, you may have noticed that type-specific dating sites have sprung up everywhere on the Internet. Whatever kind of love you’re in search of–it’s out there.  Spend a few minutes and you can find sites for Divorced Christian Love, Black People Meet, Big Fat German Bakers, Middle Child.Match, and Macular Degeneratives Seek Love.com, to name only a few.  So, I was pleasantly surprised at the number of dating sites out in cyberspace suitable for “OLD PEOPLE.”   There is an abundance of companies willing to cater to-a.k.a. prey on- those of us who spend much of our remaining time contemplating our own mortality, the meaning of life, regretting decisions made, opportunities lost, and years wasted. (Side note–on the Internet, there’s a site called the “Death Clock” which calculates– based on your health, family history, and emotional stability– how much time you can assume you have left to live.  My death clock holds a permanent place in the upper right hand corner of my computer screen…a subtle, but constant reminder to CARPE DIEM.) Yes, these geriatric dating sites know who we are, what we’re scared of, and aren’t afraid to pounce on our fears; the biggest one being that no one will lie on their deathbed, and while gasping, rattling, and raling toward the heavenly gates, in their last breath call out our names,  like Napoleon crying out, ” Josephine…”**

**A little bit of historic trivia for you–it is reported that seven years later, on her deathbed,  Josephine’s last word was, “What?”

I found: “Senior Time–Or do you really want to die alone?”  and “Join Gray Panther Love–because it’s later than you think.”   I eventually settled for an online site called, “Crotchety Old Fart Mingle.com” because of the marvelous membership package they offered.  For only $39.95 a month,   I received a free portable defibrillator and a pocket guide entitled: “Ten Signs your Date is Having a Stroke,” autographed by George Hamilton–indisputably, the oldest eligible man in Hollywood.  But, my favorite freebie had to be my medic-alert bracelet that read:

I’ve Fallen — in love–  and I Can’t Get Up.

There was also an in-depth questionnaire to fill out.  I was asked questions like:

1.)  At dinner, your date begins to discuss his most recent bowel movement.   You:

a.  nod understandingly, but quickly change the subject.

b.  hope he’s going to give a power point presentation.

c.  can’t wait to show him the stool sample you carry with you at all times in case of an unexpected visit to the E.R.


2.) With 1 being most important and 10 being least important, rank the following qualities you seek  in a potential mate:



a full set of teeth

a hefty pension

a love for animals

a sense of adventure

a sex drive

a driver’s license

a waist

a double digit IQ

In addition to the questionnaire, all dating sites have a list of rules you must agree to before you’re accepted as a member.  For instance, the list of rules for “plenty of assholes in the sea.com” is fairly simple and straightforward:

1.  Members may not wear sunglasses in their photos (presumably so potential suitors can detect the tell-tale “666” sign of the devil reflected in the iris of your eyes.)

2.  Children may not be in your picture (an obvious deterrent to pedophiles who have mistakenly strayed from the IAMTHE LOWESTFORMOFHUMANLIFE.COM site created expressly for these perves.)

and, that’s it.

Crotchety Old Fart Mingle.com had its list as well:

1.  There is to be no correspondance after 6 p.m.  This rule was strictly enforced.  Crotchety Old Fart Mingle.com actually closes from 6 p.m. until 5 a.m. each day.  Though admittedly, they relax the curfew on Saturday nights, when members can troll until the ungodly hour of 8 p.m.

2.  Members should post photos featuring only one chin. Remind me someday to tell you about the curse of middle age and its effect on one’s “chinage.”

3.  Members must post a recent photo.  The folks at COFM.com were very lenient with this rule.  After scanning through several member profiles, it seemed that as long as your picture was not a daguerrotype, they were willing to look the other way.

4.  Members may not schedule dinner dates for after 4 p.m.

5.  Members may engage in no activity that increases one’s heart rate beyond 20-30% of one’s maximum target heart rate.  This roughly translates to 220 minus your age minus twice your shoe size.  So, we’re talking nothing more taxing than a heady game of Parcheesi.

Now, I’d love to spend more time writing to you today, but it’s nearly 4 p.m. and I’m off to meet my latest Crotchety Old Fart for the early bird buffet at China King Palace…Geez,  I hope I get to try out my new defibrilllator….


All in the Name of Science

The fact that my Catholic Elementary school did not teach Science  (conflict of interest–you know, the whole Adam and Eve– Intelligent Design*– Theory of Evolution debate. )  did not stop Sister Charles Nelson Reilly and the other nuns at Sacred Heart from hosting an annual “Science Fair” each spring.

*Though in recent years, the Folks Who Brought You Intelligent Design have upped the ante with their new “Garden of Eden” Theme Park in Alabama.  One particularly popular display features Cain,  Abel, and Esau as young lads riding on the back of an Apatosaurus.

During grades 1, 2 and 3, I unsuccessfully attempted to create a barometer using a mayonnaise jar, a piece of waxed paper, a rubberband and half a straw.  Since I had no idea what a barometer was or what its function was, it was extremely difficult to create, hard to explain and even harder to win first prize.  By nature, I like to win–If I’m going to bother to make something, I want full recognition for it–like a prize or a trophy or a piece of candy.  Today, I am called “results-driven” and “goal-oriented.”  As a child, I would have been labeled  (if there were such a thing as labeling in the 60’s) as OCD with a heavy on the C.

In fourth grade I decided to take a sabbatical from the world of meteorology and climate prediction and plunge into a world much more interesting and far more relevant to urbanites–people such as myself and Sister Nipsy Russell.  My new science fair project was titled: POLLUTION–How it is Sneaking Up on Unsuspecting Citizens in Our Fair City.  This is the title I remember.  It was more likely titled:  Pollution–Not Good.

Armed with a bag of cotton balls and Scotch tape (which until I had wrapped 40,000 Christmas gifts the year after my oldest was born, I never realized had a plaid logo-hence the “Scotch” name )   I went around to different streets in my neighborhood and taped cotton balls to trees (Wherever I could find ones healthy enough to support the additional weight of the cotton ball.  Remember, I lived only a few miles from the Airborne Toxic Chemical Capital of the World–Elizabeth, New Jersey.)  I imagined my finished project would feature dozens of pollution-riddled cotton balls adhered to a piece of poster board (or as we called it in the old days–oak tag)  Each cotton ball would be labeled with its pollution collecting location, the number of days it was left out in the elements and the type of pollution it contained.  I imagined the wild shrieks from my classmates–“Eww, that’s gross!”  The more hideous the project, the better my chances of winning the coveted First Prize trophy.

I spent my entire Saturday (a huge show of scientific and scholastic dedication on my part)  going around the neighborhood, taping cotton balls to trees.  The following Saturday (again a display of my commitment to humanity and the world of science)  I went to retrieve my fuzzy harbingers of mankind’s downfall.  As I strolled through the neighborhood, I imagined those cotton balls would propel me into notoriety–on a level with, say, Nostradmus.  People would praise my ability to predict human extinction before anyone else on earth.

To my dismay, the three cotton balls that had not fallen off the trees or been stolen, remained pristine and snowy white.  The Science Fair was in two days.  What would I do? ?? I had to have a science fair project in less than 48 hours or I was sure to be tag teamed by Sister Haystacks Calhoun and Sister Eddie Guerrara.

Dad and his three-pack-a-day cigarette habit to the rescue.  That afternoon, my father willingly sat and chain smoked–blowing smoke into several dozen cotton balls.  During the next two days, each was painstakenly labeled (fraudulently,  of course–Hey, this WAS New Jersey) and taped to my oak tag.  I listed samples of car, truck, and factory pollution.  Only I would know that every cotton ball contained tar and nicotine deposits made by my dad–who made each one unique by altering the  force with which he blew his exhale into the cotton ball.   Aah, success!  By Sunday night, I had put the final finishing touches on my project–a little glitter here–a scary skeleton head and cross bones done in crayon there and last but not least, the title of my project.  “Job well done, ” I congratulated myself. I slept soundly, dreaming of speeches given while clutching my first place science fair trophy.

While walking to school on Monday (yes, we walked–no bus service, no Mom’s taxi) a few of the cotton balls fell off the poster, without my knowledge.  So by the time the project found itself in the school cafe-gyma-torium next to the dozens of other displays, mine looked a bit worse for the wear.  A bit like my chenille bedspread which after numerous washings had lost a good many of its pompoms.*  But, I wasn’t worried;  the physical display was only one part of what we were judged on.  My project was a warning to the scientific community–an urgent wake-up call.  In a nutshell, I was telling the world to stop horsing around with this cancer research bullshit and get to really important things, like….cotton balls taped to a piece of oak tag.

* All my life, I have used the word “pompoms.”  Very recently, I saw the word spelled “pompons.”  Have you ever, in all your days heard someone say the word ‘pompons’?  No, I think not.  Maybe the French say it that way…

That year, Roland Herbanker won first place for his project entitled, “Macular Degeneration in Albino Mice.”  Obviously, Roland had had some public schooling in his educational history.

The following year, I was inspired by an article I’d read regarding a new field of science and life after death:  Cryogenics  (which I believe is from the Latin, ” freezing for later on”)   Cryogenics was in its infancy and people were signing up to have their bodies frozen in hopes of being resuscitated at a later date.  The big rumor was that Walt Disney had been cryogenically preserved and once a cure for cancer had been found, they’d thaw him out, cure him and the world would once again enjoy his animated films featuring forest animals with tight, cute little derrieres  (this, apparently was one of Walt’s curious fetishes.)

As I read more of the article, I was convinced it was a sure thing to win that year’s science fair.

I was unsuccessful in trying to coerce my 6 year old brother to volunteer as the second person to be cryogenically preserved.  (No, he didn’t buy the “you’ll be famous, wealthy–and have an unlimited supply of snowballs.” )  He took my proposal quite badly and ran to my mother, crying that I wanted to kill him by freezing him to death.  I was sent to my room until I was able to explain that the experiment was “all in the name of science” and had nothing to do with the fact that my brother recently found my secret stash of Halloween candy and had eaten everything but the Good ‘N Plenty.

The thought of playing God was titillating.  Megan could destroy and create life at will.  As far as I knew, up until this point in time, only Jesus had done this–so I was on the short list.  I reminded myself–only use your powers for good, Megan.  All in the name of science.  I searched the house for suitable subjects.  My eyes fixed upon the glowing light coming from the living room.  I carefully retrieved three unsuspecting guppies from the family fish tank; placing them in a mostly clean soup bowl filled halfway with tapwater.  I read on–the subjects needed to be frozen at a rapid rate to minimize tissue damage.  Okay…the freezer would do nicely.  I placed the bowl on the bottom rack of the freezer–right alongside the two foot high pyramid of grape ice pops (the grape ones tasted like cough medicine) and the chewy remains of a half gallon of Neapolitan ice cream.  Every few minutes I would check the freezer and found the guppies swimming slower and slower as the water turned to slush.  I was kind of feeling sick to my stomach a bit, but I knew the guppies would eventually be revived, so my guilt aside, I left the bowl in the freezer overnight.

The next morning, I had frozen guppies.  My brother screamed when he saw them and of course, told my mother.  “Mommy,  Megan killed our fish–she frozed them to death.  I hate her, I wish she was frozed.”  Again, I was sent to my room.  Again, an explanation–The guppies were not actually dead–they were in a state of suspended animation.  When I thawed them, they would be right as rain and quickly returned to their home in the living room aquarium.   I wondered if Jesus had to waste so much time explaining things to the unenlightened–my mother acted like she was an idiot.  “You honestly think, Megan, that when you thaw out the fish, they”ll be alive?”  “M-o-o-m, they’re alive right now.  They’re just in a state of-”  “Yes, Megan, I know, suspended animation.  I get it.”  Okay, reading on…the frozen subjects next had to be revived, “thawed out” if you will, at an equally fast rate.  I placed the bowl on the radiator in the kitchen.  It being mid-May and the radiator not operating at full capacity–I moved the not-so-living, living specimens to the oven.

The guppies baked at 375 degrees for an hour.

My mother kindly suggested that I not “check in” on my experiment by opening the oven door every two minutes.  I explained that I thought it might be good for me to stir the water up a bit every once in a while–to baste them. “Keep the frigging oven door closed–we’re not trying to heat the universe.”  Dear Jesus, I know you’d understand.

When the timer dinged sixty minutes, I opened the oven door.  To my surprise and dismay, my guppies were not only NOT alive, they were stuck to the bottom of the bowl–I squinted at the three dried out, baked little bodies.  If only I had basted them once or twice–damn my mother.  Big sloppy wet tears fell on my oak tag as I worked.   I titled my project, detailed the steps to the experiment and then tenderly scotch taped the three guppies, looking  like the Gorton’s Fisherman rejects of the day to the display.  That night, I said a special prayer, asking God to forgive me for killing my guppies.  The next morning I woke to the sound of Lucky, the dog, happily chewing through the Scotch tape and crunching away on my guppies–like doggie-sized Mrs. Paul’s fish sticks.  My science fair display was titled:  Cryogenics–a Long Way from Reality.

Louise Mahoney won first prize that year.  She made a barometer.

She’ll Be Right, Mate.

I haven’t flown on a plane in more than twenty years.  Here’s why:
It was 1987, and in my post-partum delirium, I decided that my eighteen month old daughter and I would fly to Australia –yes, THAT Australia… THAT Australia…the one that’s on the other side of the world, Australia…the one that takes 20 hours of air travel plus 60 additional hours of layover time…THAT Australia.

I was taking my daughter to meet her grandparents for the first time.  Did I mention she had the galloping shits?  Yes, she had diarrhea worse than I’d ever seen–most likely due to the half dozen crayons she’d eaten the previous night.  Before we even left the runway, my daughter had blown through three of the six diapers I’d packed for the journey–screaming as each loud and extremely moist fart belched from her anus, gagging the nice couple sitting next to us.  It was going to be a trip they’d never forget.

At the end of the first of our seventeen leg adventure, I stumbled through the plastic tunnel that led to LAX (and, God I hoped, a pack of Pampers.) I felt as though a five inch hole burned clear through my head.  An evil, burning hole made by every set of eyes belonging to the other passengers onboard the plane–everyone around me and my screaming, shit-exploding, diaper-rashed, wet farting, crayon munching, red hot ass of an 18 month old daughter.

The other 14 hours in the air were much the same.  But this was not the aviary event that’s kept me out of the friendly skies for  so long.  After a nice visit in Sydney (and a quick run to the drug store for some industrial strength Kaopectate,) my daughter whose ass was now the color of a Bermuda onion and I hopped a short flight to Brisbane.  It was a ‘small’ plane, piloted by a friendly man named ‘Captain Rusty.’  Captain Rusty warned us that there were some storms we’d be travelling through, so not to worry if we experienced some turbulence.  (“She’ll be right, mate.”)  As we approached Brisbane, it was clear to all of us onboard that we were in the middle of a ferocious storm–later referred to as “The Mighty Monsoon of 1987.”  It also became clear to us that we were all going to die.  Captain Rusty reassured us that we’d land as soon as possible and for now we’d leisurely circle the Brisbane Airport.  After an hour of circling, which also included: rocking, twirling, and nosediving, Captain Rusty’s voice came over the speaker…here’s a little audience participation for you. Do your best Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin (God rest his soul) impression and say this outloud, “Alright, folks…We’re gonna give this landing a try…Hold on…”  I held on–if holding on meant ripping through the faux leather arm rests–I held on.  For what seemed like an eternity, we weaved, we bobbed, and flew nearly sideways– like an Indy 500 car going up the bank on two wheels.  There were screams, a few extra loud “CRIKEYS,” and my daughter was so scared, she actually stopped shitting for the first time in three days.  Finally, Captain Rusty’s voice, “Well, we weren’t even close now, were we?”  The flight ended several hours later, with a solemn vow on my lips–that when I returned to the USA–I was NEVER going on a plane again.