What Kind Of Tape

While picking up cat treats at the supermarket, I observed a couple contemplating the tape selection.
“You grab tape and I’ll get the dog food,” he said and turned to walk toward me. The woman in the pair asked, “What kind of tape do you want, Scotch brand or does it matter?” before noticing he’d turned. He continued walking away without answering, distracted by the delectable bags of Purina.
“Oh great. I ask you a question and you just walk away.” She said, and sighed as I passed.
We caught each other’s eye and I smiled. “Of course. He’s the only one with an opinion,” I remarked as I passed her.
And she immediately began to back up, “No! My opinion counts. I know that.”
Oh, honey. I was racing those barrels while your momma was still teaching you what a horsie was.
My kindest smile pushed onto my lips.
“No, no,” I replied. “I didn’t mean THAT! I meant that he’s the only one who cares about the tape brand. Just like my wife. I could care less about the tape brand – scotch, generic, whatever – but she has an opinion. Only 3M Blue tape, only gaffers tape, only matte finished clear Scotch tape.”
“Yes!” She exclaimed. “Oh yes! Exactly.”
We smiled at each other, and Stephanie said into my ear. “You know I’m right here. I heard everything you said.”
Ever since Covid scurried across the country, our grocery store trips send me in person and her in my headphones. Steph’s voice keeps me company as I work my way through the grocery store, asking her about things she wanted or whatever comes to mind.
“See you around.” I grinned at the woman and continued on my shopping journey.
“Nice to meet you.” She called as I turned into the perimeter aisle of the store.
“Everything you said.” Stephanie said again.
“I know. Did I say anything that wasn’t true?”
“Well,” I double-checked my basket against my list. “No worries then.”

When I was a young housewyfe, my first grocery shopping trip for the household was a disaster. I picked up all the regular necessities, beginning our condiment journey.
Don’t you have a condiment journey? Condiments that came to your home to invigorate your cooking and now sit going ever so slowly bad in your refrigerator door because you just know you’ll use them again someday? I mean maybe you only use that one to make that amazing Indian dish that you haven’t made in years but, why throw away good condiments?
Anyway, I picked up tuna, mayonnaise, blueberries, flour, milk, butter. All the things needed to make dinner and blueberry muffins and tuna sandwiches for lunch. Stocking the refrigerator and the pantry, I rejoiced in the usefulness of my efforts, the way that my visiting the grocery store freed Stephanie to work while I made our household go.
When Stephanie came home for lunch, she opened the refrigerator door and there, on the main shelf, sat the milk, mayo, and blueberries.
My pride radiated from me. I was going to be a terrific housewyfe, even if I couldn’t find a job yet.
And she said, “Miracle Whip?! You got Miracle Whip?!”
Well, shit. I’d done bad. I thought that’s what you got when you went to get mayonnaise. Miracle Whip equaled Mayonnaise.
Please don’t think less of me. I didn’t know from the stuff then. It wasn’t something I ate except mixed into tuna, and I didn’t care what type I ever got. The Miracle Whip had been on sale.
Stephanie quickly explained to me.
Miracle Whip = Salad Dressing.
Hellmans = Mayonnaise.
Also, only whole milk and Bumblebee albacore tuna fish and real butter.
The jar of Miracle Whip was dealt with somehow (I can’t remember after almost thirty years). Stephanie shopped with me the next time (I made her go with!), and we worked our way through the store so my knowledge of her preferences could grow into an understanding. From then on, Hellmans was our house mayo until we moved to North Carolina, when we changed to Dukes.

All of this is to say that Stephanie cares about certain brands and types of things, and I care about others, and generally we don’t clash about the ones the other prefers. For many, many years, we only bought Northern Quilted Toilet Paper, but not the deluxe kind because it’s too linty. Then, our whole world upended when we realized that Northern was owned by the Koch brothers somehow.
Political boycotts wove into my shopping life early. As a child, my mother eliminated everything Nestle from our shopping list to protest their promotion of baby formula in third world countries. I still feel guilty if I find the Nestle brand name on something I bought, even though the boycott ended in 1984.
So, the search began. Since we were switching it up, I thought maybe we could use something substantially cheaper, but with enough heft that we could also use the same roll to blow noses if necessary. Single-ply toilet paper was definitely not substantial enough and felt harsh against Steph’s bum. We settled on Angel Soft for a while, but, during the pandemic, all of the toilet paper disappeared. With this opportunity, we walked away from toilet paper almost altogether and finally installed the little in-toilet bidet we’d ordered years before. Soft, terry cloth rags took over the job of toilet paper for the most part. However, we do still use a little toilet paper for, you know, sticky situations. The store-brand recycled variety works well. Two-ply, of course, and that seems to be working for Steph. I do think she misses the Northern though.

As I think on it now, I was trained by my childhood to simultaneously care less and more about brands through my mother’s search for value. She trained me to look for the first generic labels, plain black writing on white backgrounds. While I happily ate cereal from a bag instead of a box, I rebelled against the generic Spaghettios.
They just aren’t the same.

The other thing that made me think differently about brands was the inevitable seepage of brand names into our grocery lists. Kleenex for tissue, for example, and in the south, Coke for soda. In fact, when I ventured across the state line from Arkansas into Missouri, I discovered that there was a debate about whether to call it “soda” or “pop.” Asked my habit, I admitted we called it “Coke” no matter what the brand or flavor.
That particular practice caused me no end of grief when I waitressed at a chain restaurant where they only served Pepsi products. “What would you like to drink?” I would ask.
“Oh, I’ll have a coke,” the patron would reply, continuing to read the menu.
As trained, I would continue the conversation. “We only have Pepsi. Is that all right?”
This practiced line always confused the patron who was expecting the traditional, “What kind of coke would you like?”
Sometimes they said yes. Most of the time, they clarified that they would like a 7-Up or Mountain Dew or Dr. Pepper.
Which reminds me of a story Steph likes to tell about visiting Texas for the first time. Going into a Dairy Queen to pick up a drink, she watched the woman in front of her turn to the small band of children to her side and ask, “What kind of coke you want? Dr. Pepper?”
“That’s when I knew we’d entered the South,” she’ll say as she giggles.
For the longest time, I couldn’t tell why she thought that was funny. Made perfect sense to me.

“Oh! I forgot the hot dogs,” I said as I turned back and hurried past the dog food aisle to the cold case. Nathan’s were on sale. Hebrew Nationals was our brand forever, but recently I began grabbing Nathan’s as well. Ballpark and others I grew up with are off the table. Buns were around the corner. I grabbed a bag of the store brand, but the potato buns are her preference but cheapest, squishiest white buns will serve since it can be hard to source the potato ones in hot dog form.

I don’t mind these small indulgences. They mean little to our overall life. When one of you has a preference for something, unless there’s a pressing financial need, I say, go ahead. Get the thing that they want. Or get the thing that you want. It’s not about giving your power to the other person. It’s about indulging their preference.
And that’s ok.
That’s the give and take of a normal relationship. That’s the “Hey, I got hot dogs for us for lunch one day this week” and having the other person know that you got the good hot dogs. That you got the real mayo and not “salad dressing.” That you got red grapes, not the green ones. Whatever the thing you take the time to ask “Do you have a preference” about. That’s what it is.

What kind of tape do you want?

Mommy-Doggy Time

Sitting in bed on Saturday morning, I look down at Mack, our seven-year-old blue heeler/chihuahua mix. He’s twisted into a “c” shape with all four feet in the air, head thrown back, snoring. We call this position “Dog of Pompeii.” I pet his belly, and my hand’s movement showers dog hair onto the sheets, blankets, pajamas. An unpleasant smell of doggy body odor rises with the disturbance.

There’s no avoiding it. It’s Mommy-Doggy Time.

A year after we rescued this little lovebug from the pound, the time for Mack’s first regular vet checkup arrived. Along with the necessary vaccinations, I needed advice about his belly. He’d licked it red and wouldn’t leave it alone. The vet took one look at him and asked when his last bath was.

I couldn’t remember. Our Mack-Mack-Dog-of-Love hates bathing, so I didn’t force him.

Mama LA got the Vet Smackdown!

After a deworming treatment and an antibiotic shot, Dr. Randy sold me a bottle of special shampoo. “Give him a bath with this today and then once every other day until the redness disappears. After that, bathe him once a week with this shampoo to prevent this from happening again.”

He followed up the instructions with an especially stern “You can’t let your dog run your life” look.

My eyes fell in shame, and Mack caught them with his deep brown gaze of utter devotion. Could I betray those eyes?

Yes. If it meant a better life for him, I would do whatever it took.

Even if he hated me for it.

I straightened my shoulders, lifted my head and gave Dr. Randy a quick nod of acquiescence.

Mommy-Doggy Time began that afternoon.

I used to have a mostly white border collie mix named Cappy. On his daily wanderings, he’d sometimes find the delightful feces of a cow, random wild animal, or another dog. Headfirst dives were the preferred method of ecstatic communion. Coming home, eyes wild with joy and body exhausted from his revelry, the smell would hit my nose before I saw the smears down the sides of his neck and body. His doggy grin never drooped as I’d say, “Oh Cappy! Poopy-dookie!”

With this cue, his paws ran directly into the shower. After only a couple sessions of learning this command, Cappy got the idea. Poopy-dookie equaled Mommy-Doggy Time! And Mommy-Doggy Time happened in the shower. A delectable refreshment after the rollicking fun!

With all of the shit sprayed off of him by the handheld shower head, cheap shampoo worked into his thick fur. Little pets convinced him of my love as I scrubbed him clean.

After a final rinse, I’d turn off the shower and command, “Shake it, baby!” His fierce shaking would send the first layer of wetness into a fine spray of mist and dog hair on the walls of the shower. A quick sideways slip out of the enclosure and I grabbed his towel for a final rubbing to wring however much more water I could out of his fur. Once freed, “Mommy-Doggy Time” ended with a mad dash to roll across every piece of carpet in the house.

With this experience and knowing how much Mack loves the love, I was certain that I could get him on board with “Mommy-Doggy Time,” despite the fact that he hates water.

Oh yes. Mack hates water. I’ve never seen a dog who hates water so much. On rainy days, he’ll go to the door, asking to go outside. I open the door. It doesn’t even have to be actively raining! The water pooling on the deck stops him. His next steps propel him back into the house. “Mack!” I’ll say, trying to sound stern. “Go out and do your business.”

“No way,” his eyes flash as he gives me a look over his shoulder. “I don’t have to pee that bad.” And he’s back to his little nest of a bed by the fireplace.

This dog has a bladder of steel!

My only recourse to prevent a bladder infection is to grab the lead and an umbrella. He’ll go if I will go.

“How about a walk?” I say as I hold the lead aloft. He runs to me, forgetting all about the rain. Walks are his second favorite thing, the first being lying between Stephanie and me on the bed and getting luxurious belly rubs.

The lead clips onto his collar and I open the umbrella as we walk out the door together. He follows, but stays close to me to get the benefit of our protection. He knows I need to see him do both kinds of business, but the pooping usually requires a bit of a walk to make happen. On particularly rainy days, he squats before we even leave the yard.

Returning home, at the edge of our lawn, I remove his lead and he zips up the steps to our front door. “Shelter!” He scratches at the door. “Let me in!” And as soon as the door cracks open, he plunges into the dry house, shaking the moisture from his fur. Tossing me a quick doggy grin, he picks a choice resting spot and cuddles in to dry completely.

A year into regular “Mommy-Doggy Time” sessions, and this is how it goes.

First, like a master spy entrapping her prey, I discreetly close all possible avenues of escape. One of our old towels gets placed near the shower.

As he snoozes, I start the water and wait until it’s the warm side of lukewarm. I take off my clothes. He suspects nothing until…

I remove his collar.

His eyes widen. Moving quickly, I scoop all twenty-five pounds of him up into my arms. I begin to sing a jolly song (loosely based on the theme song to the Howdy Doody Show).

It’s Mommy-Doggy Time!
Let’s get all clean today!
It’s Mommy-Doggy Time!
We love getting clean together!

Plop! Into the shower, sliding the doors closed behind me to block his final lunge. With all hope of escape behind him, he freezes into position. His head faces the front right corner and he stands, his body rigid with rebellion as he refuses to look at me.

Water sprays from our handheld shower head, soaking his fur.

I am now the Betrayer, the Traitor, Bringer of All That is Evil.

I switch from singing to cooing, desperate for redemption. “What a good boy. Scrub-scrub Mack-Mack.”

The special shampoo pours into my hand and I suds him up. As we wait for the required ten minutes for the shampoo to do its job, I wash myself and make small talk.

“Oh, he’s my good Mack-Mack, good boy. We’re having Mommy-Doggy Time. Isn’t it fun? It’s our special time. What a good Mack boy.”

He stands still, staring out of the glass enclosure. What has happened to the good mommy? The one who takes him for walks and showers him with love instead of water? Who is this hell beast and why does she SING and COO while DROWNING HIM?!

Stephanie comes into the bathroom to pee, and he wills her to open the shower door. His little head droops when she wheels her walker back into the bedroom.

After my own cleansing, I rinse him off and slip out of the shower, closing the door behind me and grabbing his towel. As soon as I re-open the enclosure, he jumps out. The towel immediately drops over his entire body. He submits to drying until I pull the towel off his head. Then he takes off, his shaking progressing from nose to tail before he dives head first into the bedroom carpet. He bounds out of sight to continue his drying process on the hallway runner and finally the den’s large rug. Rolling onto his back, he’s off to the next location as he erases the lingering evidence of the shower.

I hear him singing his version of our shower song as he races around the house.

Fuck that shower time!
Mommy’s a rotten whore!
Oh, fuck that shower time!
I hate it very much!

I don’t know where that shitty little asswipe got that nasty mouth, but he’s so cute. I can’t stay mad. I know I deserve it.

Once his fur dries, I’ll call him. “Mack! Time to put your collar back on.”

I hear the scramble of paws across the floor and he’s there at my feet, wagging his tail as hard as he can in a perfect sit, ears perked, and eyes glancing back and forth between the collar in my hand and my face.

“Oh, my collar! I love my collar! Are you going to put it on me now, Mom?” Wag, wag! Once the collar is back on his neck, he sits up straighter and preens.

The redness on his belly went away entirely in just a few days, and it never returned. Along with the reduction in redness, his shedding decreased by almost 75%. I’m assuming this has something to do with the regular bathing and also that we stopped feeding him chicken in any form after a friend told me her vet said that quite often dogs can be allergic to chicken. Now, along with the monthly baths, he gets homemade wet dog food made from hamburger, rice and sweet potatoes. Stephanie even makes a special gravy.

He loves being our dog. Except for Mommy-Doggy Time.

Getting Figgy

The fig tree stood in the corner of my dining room, flopping its gangly branches against the wall.

I was 95% sure where the smell was coming from.

Despite my mother-in-law’s warning, Figgy needed to move outside.

A gift from a friend and her lovely wyfe as they moved out of Asheville after a short sojourn here, Figgy has had quite a journey for a tree. They kept her as a houseplant for several years in their home in the northeast. When they moved to North Carolina, she expanded in the humidity and heat to become a vibrant being. My friends insisted that they wanted her to remain where she was healthiest, and left her on our deck with a sweet goodbye and a miniature gnome as a guardian.

Figgy stands over six feet tall, with wide, long leaves like you see in those medieval paintings of Adam and Eve. I began researching how to care for fig trees the next day, not wanting to fail her or have to report to them that I’d killed their Figgy.

I’ve killed plants before, through lack of knowledge and luck. My green thumb turns black occasionally, and, well… Shit, a zucchini died on my watch. A zucchini. The weed squash.

But research could save Figgy!

All of the websites I found recommended putting Figgy in a sunny spot but warned me not to leave her outside all winter. At the woodshop where I worked, two fig trees resided on a sunny hillside all year round, and even produced the occasional fruit. Since she lives in a pot and early autumn remained pretty warm, I decided we would leave her outside for a while.

“You should move this tree inside,” my mother-in-law pronounced on her first visit. “It shouldn’t be in this much sun.”

All of the research I’d done on the internet said the opposite. I smiled and thanked her for her advice, planning to ignore it for the rest of Figgy’s life.

In the bright sunlight after being inside for much of her existence, Figgy’s leaves began to bleach and dry out. When the first one fell, I panicked. She was right! I was going to kill Figgy!

I started searching for a place in the house to put her. The dining room held the only space big enough to fit. In a corner next to an eastern facing window, the light filtered in through the branches of the maple outside. Ugh. Way too dark. But she’d lived inside for most, if not all, of her life thus far.

With a mixture of lifting and pulling (and our cleaning lady’s help), the fig shifted to her new home for the winter. I gazed at the few leaves untouched by the white and hoped for the best.

They all fell off.

I kept watering her. She couldn’t die. My friends trusted me to keep Figgy alive.

A tiny touch of green at the tip of each branch encouraged me.

Slowly, as fall progressed, leaves reappeared. Small at first, and then growing with abandon.

Figgy lived!

My mother-in-law complimented my good sense on the new addition to the dining room.

Over the winter, we took in a fellow and his cats for a few months while he got back on his feet. The large blank canvas of dirt at the base of the fig tree was too much to resist, and those cats used it as a litter box.

However, who loves the smell of cat pee? At first, we thought it was just the cats having cat wars and marking the room. We sprayed the space down with a natural smell-absorbing spray which had worked on everything up to this point, but no. Cat piss forever.

Meanwhile, Figgy thrived, unfurling gorgeous, large leaves. Her green branches flailed into the middle of the room. I turned her to brace them upright against the wall. She grew even more unruly.

I cannot explain this away, Figgy! You are a sick, sick girl!

She continued to stink, even after the other cats left.

When the weather warmed to the point we were beyond frost, I knew what I had to do.

Steph suggested using a piece of cardboard to protect the floor as I slid the planter outside, so I pulled the plant onto a flattened box. Figgy rode the cardboard while I grunted and wheezed. She settled just outside our main door on the deck. Again, I spun her around and supported her branches against the house so as not to slump out into the pathway of the deck.

My mother-in-law visited for Sunday dinner. “I don’t think this tree will survive outside. It’s getting too much sun.”

I flinched.

Of course she still disapproved, and thought she was right because the tree had thrived all winter. However, everywhere I researched, people said the same thing. The tree needed to go into a sunny space. Its limbs had turned weak and leggy from reaching for light.

“The leaves fell off because it was fall,” I replied. “Or because it had been moved. Everywhere I look, they say to put fig trees into a sunny spot. The dining room isn’t sunny.”

“Ok,” she said, in that way that says “At least I warned you” and “You’ll be so sad when the tree dies.” And then she dropped the subject.

Or so I thought.

Over the next week, the leaves began to turn white and dry, dropping to the deck one by one. Leggy branches drooped into the doorway. Kitchen twine bound them closer, but now they sagged in a big clump of branches and leaves.

Little green tips of the branches promised life, and some of the leaves appeared untouched. With each big rain, her kitty perfume washed away a little more.

Each Sunday dinner brought a new tactic from the gardening maven mother-in-law. Last week, the tree wasn’t happy outside. Figgy told her.

Figgy! You traitor!

Leaves continued to drop. What if she was right? What if I killed Figgy with this desperate move to rid myself of the lingering eau de nasty cat?

And then….

As I returned from my morning walks with Mack, I noticed more and more new leaves forming little umbrellas at the tips of the branches.

Figgy lives!

Here is what I suspect will happen: the old leaves will all fall off. Over the course of the summer, more new leaves will burst from the branches with a dark green fervor, large enough for me to pose as Eve in the garden (and I’m more of a Venus of Willendorf type than the lithe Eve medieval painters portrayed). A judicious pruning will strengthen her limbs. The summer rains and a scrub of the exposed areas of the pot will remove the last gasp of the cat spray.

At the end of September, Figgy will return to her place in the house, refreshed and ready for her long winter’s nap.

That’ll teach me.