It Ain’t Easy Being Cheesy

In my last post, I wrote about an episode of Little House on the Prairie where Pa has to take a crap job. Refresher:

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Note that his job is to hold the drill while somebody else swings the sledge hammer. This would have made a great arcade game – Whack-A-Pa.

I have never had a sledge hammer whizzing by my head, but I do have some cred when it comes to undesirable jobs. I worked in a plastics factory where my job was to get burned by plastic cups coming down the line. I have cleaned up excrement left behind by strangers. I have hauled rocks on a makeshift sled while cows stared at me. I worked at McDonalds during the Beanie Baby Happy Meal craze, where it was not uncommon to witness adult customers descending into grief and madness upon learning that the monkey beanie was all sold out and all we had left was the crab.

worstjobBut the worst job of all, the job out of all the others that I hated the most, the job where if you told me that I had to go back and work it, I would be so displeased I would probably toss you in a vat of acid so that I could pretend our conversation had never happened, that job would be….

Chester Cheetah. That’s right, the cool-guy cheetah and mascot of cheese-flavored puffed corn snacks. My fate crossed paths with Chester’s when I was hired to be him for the grand opening of the Super Walmart in my hometown. My job description:

  • Wear Chester Cheetah costume
  • Dance around, greet customers, and promote an atmosphere of celebration
  • Hand out free  mini-bags of Cheetos to any children who weren’t scared of me

Based on those details, it’s a total dream job. However. That costume was hot as balls.  I had to wear a furry, long-sleeved, footed-pajama getup, clown shoes, gloves, and a headpiece that fully engulfed my own head. This was in August in Kansas, where it gets so hot and muggy, the heat waves are sweating. Right now it’s August and here is what noaa.gov has to say about today:

forecast

Sure, I was inside the Walmart, but I was stationed in the entryway where the outside’s 100-degree heat billowed in every time the automatic doors opened, which happened all day long. Grand opening of Super Walmart in a small town = endless stream of shoppers. The air conditioning didn’t stand a chance against those odds. There was a little fan inside the Cheetah’s headpiece, but it conked out early on.

Gumby was also there that day, and the guy inside that costume mentioned a few times how his fan was working just fine. Jerk.

No fan, weak AC, and having to dance around meant that I was wretchedly hot all day long. I have never sweat that much in my life. My hair was soaked, my clothes were drenched. There were smells coming off my body that I didn’t recognize; possibly…it was the stench of human flesh being steamed alive. It seemed the day would never end and I lamented the fact that I wasn’t overheated to the point of feeling ill. Heat exhaustion would give me a legitimate reason to hang up the Chester head early.

Then an idea occurred to me. I could feign heat exhaustion and pretend to faint! I nixed the thought immediately, though. You are not the kind of person who fake-faints, I scolded myself. I had to agree with myself; I had more pride than that. But heat and sweat and an excruciating stream of Adult Contemporary music on the loudspeaker can break a person. As time failed to wear on, I started plotting out the Big Swoon. I’d wait until there were enough people around to see me drop, but not so crowded that nobody would notice. I would wave at a group of shoppers, do a dance move like the Mashed Potato or perhaps the Walk Like an Egyptian. Once I had their attention, I’d pause, raise one costume-bound wrist to my forehead, and then collapse. I figured that the inherent cushioning of the outfit would allow me to fall realistically and safely. The shoppers would rush towards me, pry the Chester head off me, and I’d pretend to regain consciousness. “Water,” I would whisper. Somebody would help me stand up and the crowd would break into applause. I’d wave at them as I was escorted to the back room, where I’d be honorably discharged from the costume and maybe even given a popsicle to help me cool down. The hypothetical popsicle might have been what pushed me over the edge. I decided to carry out the plan.

The first time a good moment to faint presented itself, I chickened out and afterward decreed that that was just a practice round and that the next time, the next time,  I would really go through with it. To make it easier, I decided to skip the theatrics and go straight for the swoon.

Tensed and ready for action, I watched and waited for the right moment in the same way a batter holds for the perfect pitch. My home-run opportunity eventually came. The store was experiencing a lull and there were cashiers and cart wranglers standing around, and a small group of people had just come through the door. It was a ripe opportunity that had to be timed just right – the customers had to be close enough to see me, but if I waited too long and they passed me, all would be lost.

My heart pounding, I lurched forward, bent my knees, and…froze. I stared at the floor tiles and urged myself, “Now, go, do it! Fall, you chicken, fall!” It’s a strange moment, when you find yourself giving yourself a  motivational talk in order to fake-faint. I looked at the shoppers coming toward me, nondescript people who just wanted to see the new Super Walmart and who were oblivious to the Chester Cheetah mini-drama that was about to transpire right in front of them. I just couldn’t do it. With a sigh, I straightened my legs, did a Michael Jackson twirl, and gave them their free Cheetos.

Nice thing was, all that scheming made time go by a teensy bit faster and my shift finally ended. And even though it was a one-day job, to this day it feels like I was there for 40 years. I would love to know, what is the worst job you have ever worked? Can you top Chester?

Little House on the Prairie S1E3: The Hundred Mile Walk

Oh, butterballs. It’s high time I got back in the Michael Landon groove, a groove from which no one should stray too far from in the first place. And speaking of straying, the next  episode up is The Hundred Mile Walk, where Pa strays from the homestead to work a doozy of job.

More on that in a minute. First we have to talk about how the beginning of this episode was very emotional for me. It wasn’t because of the heavy rains that destroyed Pa’s wheat crop and also the hopes and dreams of the whole family. No, I was upset because it was supposed to be a grasshopper plague that ruins the harvest.

How distraught was I over this omission? Remember in Poltergeist when all hell is breaking loose and Craig T. Nelson is screaming at the greedy land developer for moving the headstones and not the bodies? That’s how I felt. I wanted to grab NBC by the lapels and say, “It was supposed to rain grasshoppers, you sonsabitches! It was supposed to rain grasshoppers and not water!

From On the Banks of Plum Creek (Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1937):

The cloud was hailing grasshoppers. The cloud was grasshoppers. Their bodies hid the sun and made darkness. Their thin, large wings gleamed and glittered. The rasping whirring of their wings filled the whole air and they hit the ground and the house with noise of a hailstorm. (194-195)

You can’t read that shit as a child and not have it stay with you forever. One minute you’re reading about little girls jumping off haystacks and what Ma wore to church, and then all of a sudden a raging grasshopper swarm blots out the sun.

Laura tried to beat them off. Their claws clung to her skin and her dress. They looked at her with bulging eyes, turning their heads this way and that. Mary ran screaming into the house. Grasshoppers covered the ground, there was not one bare bit to step on. Laura had to step on grasshoppers and they smashed squirming and slimy under her feet. (195)

Freaky! The grasshopper chapters were so strange and unexpected, it felt as though Laura Ingalls Wilder decided to throw down some speculative fiction in the middle of all her prairie goodness. Who would have guessed that the grasshopper invasion was a real thing? I didn’t know we lived in a world where such things happened.

But happen, it did. The grasshoppers were actually Rocky Mountain Locusts and they tore up Minnesota and other Great Plains states starting in 1874. There were so many of them, they wiped out fields and stopped trains. Chickens gorged on them (the way I would stuff my face if there was ever a mashed potato swarm), and then when it came time to cook and eat the chickens, they tasted all funny… all grasshoppery. Then cold weather came and the grasshoppers died, but not before laying their eggs and setting up the sequel: Son of Rocky Mountain Locust Plague, which debuted the following spring. 

The cartoon below, drawn by Kansas artist Henry Worrall, illustrates the formidability of the grasshoppers. 

Also worth noting, Henry Worrall is attractive, in a bowtied, Marquis de Sade kind of way.

I suppose I understand why the grasshoppers were left out of the TV show. A crushing horde of grasshoppers probably would have been out of budget for NBC, not to mention ecologically unsound. Still, they could have figured something else out, like filming it in stop-motion. Imagine it, a claymation pestilence. My heart is breaking all over again.

Enough about the grasshoppers though, let’s talk about TV Ingalls. I talk a lot of trash on Pa, but I understand what he was going through in this episode. Not that I have ever experienced a failed crop just a few days short of harvest, but, like Pa, I have felt the sting of not getting money that I have been counting on. For instances, I have my lottery winnings completely spent in my head, but have I won yet? Not even a half pence. Have I ever actually played the lottery? Again, no, but that is also part of my lottery-winning fantasy – I just get handed the money, without actually having to figure out how to fill out that little card that looks like the answer sheet for a standardized test. That’s the dream, man. 

That’s not a perfect analogy because the big storm in this week’s episode is pretty much the opposite of winning the lottery. It ruins the livelihoods of all the Walnut Grove farmers and they come knocking on Mr. Hanson’s (the town miller) door to beg for loans. One guy says, “I’ll even pay you interest!” Mr. Hanson tells them, and I’m paraphrasing here, “Leave me alone, you broke-ass fools.” I mean, he says it as nicely as possible and then explains how they are all screwed, not just the farmers. I felt sorry for all of them, especially the guy with the sick wife and five kids. On the verge of tears, he tells Hansen that he has no idea what he’s going to do if Hansen doesn’t lend him the money. I thought to myself, “Yikes, what is he going to do?” But then I cheered up somewhat after it occurred to me that at least there is always prostitution. He could hook his way through the lean times. Right or wrong, that’s what cheered me up.

To make enough money for the family to get through the winter, Pa decides to set out on foot looking for work. The fam makes a big to-do about Pa’s boots being in bad shape, but Pa thinks they’ll hold up. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t.

The next scene gives us brand-spanking new characters, another family hit hard by the grasshoppers storm. The dad, a sassy ginger, is also setting out to get work, and the mother, a sassy ginger, is not pleased about it. Although the job itself is not revealed, she makes the work sounds dangerous. Foreshadowing abounds when the father says, “I’ll be coming back to farm for the rest of my life.” Clearly, this dude is going to die.

Pa and Ginger Dad meet each other on the road and they become instant besties. Later they show a little kindness to another traveler who just so happens to be a boot maker and just so happens to be carrying around a pair in Pa’s size. How coincidental! These are nice boots, too, like the kind you can buy at the Renaissance Festival. They bond around a campfire and Ginger Dad tells them he is headed to a place where jobs are available, but the work is hard and dangerous. Pa and Bootsie don’t have any other job prospects so they decide to along. 

The employment ends up being at a rock quarry, where Pa and Bootsie land the positions of Human Jackhammer Associates. They form a “Double Jack” team, where their job is to drill holes in big rocks. so that dynamite can be put in the holes to blow the rocks into smaller pieces. The workflow goes like this:  one man crouches and holds a drill (the chisel? the wedge?) in place while the other hits the drill with this enormous sledgehammer. They switch places so that the swinger can take a “break” by holding the drill. As Ginger Dad explains it, the man wielding the hammer needs a good eye, and the man holding the drill needs strong nerves. If the man with the hammer misses, the man holding the drill will “have to pick his nose with his elbow.” Somebody gets these people some automation, please! jobs The show gleefully demonstrates just how appalling this job is, and then draws out a bunch of tension when Pa and Bootsie go up to bat. Even though I knew that Pa isn’t going to lose his hands over this job, I was still in suspense. I made Brent watch this scene and he said that it looked like the actors were really doing the double jacking.

Bootsie hesitates when it is his turn to swing the hammer, but then Pa winks at him and that Michael Landon magic gives Bootsie the confidence he needs to do the job. They go on to become the top team and even win the cash prize in the Double Jack (ahem) Off. That is, a competition among the double jack teams to see who is the best.

After the Double Jack Off, Ginger Dad unsurprisingly gets blown up by dynamite. No spin-off for him.

The subplot was Ma trying to salvage the wheat crop. She rallies the other farmer ladies and comes up with a system for hauling the wheat in and beating it with brooms to dry it out. She works hard in this episode, too, but  we’re never told what happens with Ma’s harvest. Yo, LHOTP, Ma’s work is just as important as Pa’s.

This episode was meh. No grasshoppers, I was not moved to tears, the subplot was not resolved, and there were way too many shots of armpit sweat.

Dog Park Point

In my house, invoking the words dog and park will cause hysteria among the canine population. You mention the words and they run in circles, wiggle, whine, jump on each other, jump on me, and follow me from room to room like ducklings.

You don’t say dog park unless you mean business. If you’re going to talk about the dog park but not actually go, you have to call it the D.P.

Going to the D.P. makes me happy, too. There is a scenic spot with a tiny waterfall.

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Lawrence, KS dog park

Lawrence, KS dog park

It took me two years of going to the dog park to even find the water, and now that I know where I’m going, I feel like I’m in the know.  No, even better, I feel like I’m at The Point. Let me explain the wonder and mystery of the Point. When I was middle school/freshman age, all the cool kids swam at this watering hole somewhere in the woods near the public pool. You’d hear them casually mention swimming at “The Point” as they called it and then you’d jump in and ask for exact directions and they’d just give you an enigmatic shrug and walk away.The Point was an elusive devil, a symbolic representation of popularity and ‘cool kid’ status.  I could never reach it, despite multiple attempts. Possibly the Point was a mystical dimension and I simply was not hip enough for it to reveal itself to me.

But now I have my own Point, thank you very much. The Dog Park Point. Now play in your head the opening chords of “Bad to the Bone” and you’ll really get the picture of me being cool at the D.P.

Here are some pictures from a recent dog park excursion.

pug, dog park

 

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Swoozie is such a good little model; she will always stop and pose for me. I’m not so lucky with the other two. Upon exiting the car, Mertle loses her mind and is physically unable to stop running around long enough for a picture. She’s like the Hyper Hypo on SNL.

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Then there’s Ebby, who is constantly in the state of pooping. That is no joke. I have so many pictures of Ebby deucing it up at the dog park that I would probably end up on a Poop Perv watchlist if the wrong person ever got a glimpse of my hard drive.

Ebby hates getting his paws wet, but if everyone else is wading in the water, Ebby will follow.

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I can see why Ebby might not feel like swimming for fun. According to his Facebook page, he’s always fighting ocean crime and patrolling the waves in his Water Ferarri.

lobster

Sometimes, though, he’ll get in the water without the lobster getup. Either way, he’s pretty cute.

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Ebby’s Facebook page is here, and he needs friends! In case you’re wondering, Ebby’s FB comes heartily endorsed by Art Linkletter.

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You can’t argue with Mr. Linkletter. Trust me.

No More Swirlies

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So, I’ve got angst.

I can’t go into too many details just yet, but suffice to say that this is real-world, big-time goings-onsesses. This isn’t me being bummed because I watched the scene in the Neverending Story where Artax drowns in the Swamp of Sorrow. Or the scene in Who Framed Roger Rabbit where the cute little cartoon shoe is dipped slowly to its death in the acid bath. Even though both cause me a great deal of anguish.

My deal isn’t life or death, though. My loved ones are all healthy and safe. Brent and I are cool, especially after our big talk where I told him I don’t like it when he pokes his finger in my belly button. For years, I’d just squirm away when it happened, but I finally grabbed his pointed finger just as it was about to enter the button zone and said, “You know what? I don’t like the belly button swirlies. People die from such pokes. And, it’s kind of rude when you smell your finger afterwards.”*

It took a few times of telling him this for the message to sink in, but now my belly button is blissfully free of Brent’s finger. My home life is happy. Brent and I hang out on the loveseat with our 50 billion dogs and life can’t get much better in those moments.

A wise cross stitch pattern once asked God to grant it the serenity to change some stuff and accept other things and so on…and you can see where I am headed with this. There are certain aspects of my life that I have no control over. I will always be the best Dr. Mario player in the world. I can’t help that. I also must accept that my nose is like a leaky faucet when it comes to snot, which I believe is a consequence of a youthful phase I went through where I was constantly making myself sneeze.

I think I’m going to start cross stitching. http://shop.subversivecrossstitch.com/collections/all-kits/products/bitch-please

As for the things that I have the power to change – well, I don’t always follow through. Like my hair, which is is looking like the crazy-hair wigs worn by movie actors who are playing cavemen. I know it looks all smooth in the picture I posted, but that was awhile ago. Of course, I can change my hair. But with easy tasks like that, I just think, “Eh, tomorrow I’ll make an appointment.” And maybe that is what I do with everything. Just put it off until it either goes away or becomes enough of a problem that action must be taken.

I think the source of my angst – my angst hole, if you will – is all about inaction and, I don’t know, not being all that accountable or proactive. This is not the internal ache of depression; instead I feel alert and ready to make stuff happen.

Maybe in the near future I will be able to be more specific, but for now you are welcome to speculate. I’ll give you a hint. Rocky Horror Picture Show. Just kidding, that’s not a real hint.

*Footnote time, or else Brent is going to be like, “Why didn’t you tell them about some of your annoying habits that vex me?” And I would respond, “Because this isn’t about your angst, Brent, it’s about mine.” But I’ll throw Future Brent a bone here. A couple weekends ago he told me that he feels like he is always cleaning up after me. My stellar comeback was, “No way because I’m always cleaning up after you!”  He asked me to give him some examples and I couldn’t think of any but I knew there were at least 7. I set forth cleaning the lower level of the house in an indignant manner. I figured this would jog my memory and provide me with plenty of examples of his systematic slovenliness. Unfortunately for me, the list I came up with was paltry. I had to stretch yogurt cups and yogurt lids into two entries. Same with coffee beans and coffee stains. This was not the comeuppance I had hoped to deliver. The list was so disappointing that I had to add PUBES just to make myself feel better.

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Little House on the Prairie, S1E2: Country Girls

2l5Yikes, Michael Landon Monday has turned into Michael Landon Next-Next Monday. I better get a move on with Episode 2: Country Girls. Lots of stuff going on in this episode. Not only is this Nellie’s first appearance, but we also get a heaping spoonful of Oleson family dynamics. So delicious! Oh, and Laura performs a most impressive…shall we say…improvisation at the school program. More on that later.

There was a surprising lack of Pa in this episode. I guess Michael Landon needed a break after having huge roles in the pilot and 1st episode. And I forget to mention this last time, but he also directed the first episode. In Country Girls, he mostly hung out in the background and gently encouraged the womenfolk to do the right thing.

One such instance was convincing Laura to go to school. It’s Laura’s and Mary’s first day of school ever and Laura is nervous about it. Pa basically tells Laura that yeah, it sucks that she has to go, but Ma has this notion that the girls need to do some school learning. Throwing Ma under the bus like that is half messed up, half awesome. I wish I was that good at influencing people. As far as persuasive techniques go, sometimes I’ll throw out a little of the reverse psychology that I learned from that one Baby Sitters Club book. but that never works. Now I’ve got another tactic in my toolbox: Ma Blaming.

Let’s talk about Ma for a moment. The show mentions that Pa made a promise to Ma that Laura and Mary would get an education. This also happened in the books. I like this aspect of the story because this is one of the rare places where Ma is not acquiescent to Pa’s BFE wanderlust. She doesn’t complain, but then again she’s a taciturn person. A dutiful person. When she insists that the family settle in an area where the girls can attend a school is an unexpected blast of girlpower. Thanks for keeping this in the TV show, LHOTP Czars (i.e., Michael Landon).

But let’s not get too grateful here. This episode was a strange mix of women standing up for themselves (good, good) but also Pa treating Ma’s problems with condescension. At one point, while she is ruminating over a nasty encounter with Mrs. Oleson, Pa starts to play a sad song on his fiddle in jest. Because womenfolk problems are SO silly!

Meanwhile, Laura and Mary’s first day at school is the worst, starting with the schoolyard scene. Good lord, this is harrowing. Laura walks up to the children and makes a joke that pisses everyone off. The children then descend on her and Mary like a pack of jackals. And not the good kind of Jackyls, who play the chainsaw as a musical instrument. They circle Laura and Mary and mock them, chanting in Lord-of-the-Flies, Kill-the-Pig fashion, “Snipes! Snipes! Long Legged Snipes!” These little assholes are making fun of Laura and Mary’s skinny legs, which are prominent because Laura and Mary are outgrowing their dresses and the Ingalls can’t afford new dresses all the damn time.

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Watching this scene  brought back a traumatic schoolyard memory of my own. Granted, I was in my 20s, and my taunting adversary was maybe eight years old, but that just goes to show how mean children can be. Here is the scene: it was summer time and school was not in session, so the playground was a lawless place. A lone little girl sat on top of a jungle gym. On the other side of the fence, walking along the sidewalk that passed the schoolyard, was my friend Cyndi and me.

Little Girl: Hi, Bitch!

Me (stopping in disbelief): What did she just call us?

Cyndi: I think she called us a bitch!

Little Girl: Hey bitch. Ha ha. You’re a bitch! Bitch!

Me (to Cyndi): Can you believe that? When I was that age, I didn’t even know that word.

Cyndi (to Little Girl): You better watch your language, or I’m going to tell your parents!

Little Girl: Fuck you, bitch!

We gasped and then walked away quickly, lest the little girl come after us. She looked tough, like maybe she could take us both.

Bottom line – one kid cussing at you is a little scary, but a mob of cruel children calling you bird names is getting into horror territory. Luckily, the teacher (Miss Beedle? Beatle?) rings the bell before anyone gets violently killed. Although, let’s say that the jackal children had murdered Mary – LHOTP would’ve gone in a completely different direction. In his grief, Pa might have summoned a vengeance demon. But it would still be family-friendly, so all the murders would happen off screen, while onscreen, the Ingalls family would still learn valuable lessons about life and love.

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Fun fact: the boy who starts in with the snipe jive is Melissa Gilbert’s real life brother Jonathan. In the fictional world of Walnut Grove, however, he is the brother of…dun dun dun…Nellie Oleson. The first line she utters is gloriously judgmental. Queenlike, she looks Laura and Mary up and down and then in a voice full of disdain says, “Country girls!” I love it all. The ringlets. The snobbery. I hope she is in every episode from now on.

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Ma also has an Oleson run-in. Here’s what I don’t get about this family. Mr. Oleson seems to be fair and reasonable, so how did he get stuck with that wife and those kids? At the end of the episode, he says to Pa, “You’re a lucky man,” as he looks pointedly at his family. Mr. Oleson is a lovable character and all, but his statement strikes me as gross. He is probably the type who would adorn his carriage with bumper stickers like, “Don’t blame me, I didn’t vote!” Mrs Oleson’s bumper sticker would be “Out of my way, I’m PMS-ing!” That woman is a true villain.

Mrs. Oleson tries her best to demean Ma, but instead of backing down, Ma buys a bunch of the finest fabric at the store to make herself a dress. Take that, Oleson Monster! Later, Ma is mad at herself for spending so much money and plans to take the fabric back to the store and beg for a refund, but Pa reassures her that she deserves a new dress. That is kind of him.

Let’s fast-forward through some of the other details.

  • Pa gives the girls enough money for a slate. That is, one slate for the both of them to share. They get to the store and Mr. Oleson reminds them that they will need chalk (he calls it a slate pencil) to go with their slate. The girls don’t have the extra penny for the chalk and Mr. Oleson tries to give it to them, because he is nice and Mrs. Oleson is not around. The girls politely refuse, and then go outside to talk about their situation. Then, Mary suddenly remembers that she and Laura still have their Christmas penny that they can use to buy the slate! Damn, they’re poor.
  • Mary immediately becomes an ace student. Laura, not so much. She struggles with her reading…that was not an exciting scene.
  • Laura and Nellie get into a shoving match. Laura pushes Nellie hard enough to make her fall. Laura was definitely the victor there.
  • There is a big school program coming up, where all the children write compositions and read them aloud in front of their classmates and parents. Laura tells Ma that she’s afraid people will laugh at her. This gets Ma to thinking about that fancy fabric she bought.

This leads us to the night before the big school program. Ma stays up late, sewing the fabric. We think she’s making her dress, and that she will show up to the program all va-va-voomy and make Mrs. Oleson sorry. When morning comes, though, she has a surprise. Instead of a dress for her, she made two smaller dresses for Laura and Mary! Did I cry? Fuck yes I did. This made me think about my own parents and some of the extravagant things they’ve done for me, things that, in retrospect, I have to wonder how they managed to swing it. It must have required sacrifices on their part.

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Then comes the school program. As you’ll recall, Laura struggled with reading, but she gets up there and reads a beautiful, eloquent tribute to Ma. It is by far the best essay and reading of the program. But Ma is no idiot and afterward, she asks to see Laura’s essay. When she looks it over, she sees that this what Laura actually wrote:

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 I found this kind of chilling. Laura faked the whole reading! She even pretended to read from the paper. That is a master bullshitter there. With talents like that, she should be an international spy. Or an innkeeper.

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Ma makes Laura go show Miss Beatle the real essay, but Miss Beatle is fine with the situation. Miss Beatle was probably thinking, yeah, it’s kind of concerning how that little girl defrauded a room full of people, but whatever, I’m off the clock and it’s moonshine thirty! Whoo!”

So, in conclusion, I cried, I rolled my eyes, and I was frightened by the schoolchildren. This is the best episode yet.

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