Recent Work By Erika Rae

It’s spring again and you’re feeling it, aren’t you? The return of the sexy. Just this morning you caught the Sun staring unabashedly at those long, lean recently loofahed legs and, although you may not want to admit it, you know he expects something in return. Go ahead and drop that strap.

A little lower.

That’s it.

That’s right, sexy came early this year and you feel it. Your skin is softening, your muscles are tenderizing and your fingers have made no less than five attempts this week to hijack your insightful political essay for HuffPo into a filthy, bodice-ripping anime for YouTube. Come back to the light, serious writer. Neither Gingrich nor Romney is among the sexy.

Unless one of them is wearing chaps and an Arnold mask. Oh, yeah.

You’ve heard the news by now. A group of Minnesotan astrogeeks with impressively large telescopes have called out astrologers everywhere by reporting that the stars have moved since the Babylonian concept of the zodiac was born. Thought you couldn’t help your Leo need to be adored by the masses? Guess what. You are actually supposed to prefer solitary walks by the beach and are just an ass.

Welcome to the MAE*.

 

Ophiuchus: Nov. 29 – Dec. 17
The newly resurrected Ophiuchus sign represents a man wrestling a serpent and shares traits with Imhotep, a 27th century BCE Egyptian doctor – not to be confused with Mummy Imhotep, the still-juicy High Priest of Osiris who terrorized Brendan Fraser to the transitioning squeals of prepubescent male audiences everywhere. Like Dr. Imhotep, Ophiuchus is a healer of men and a doctor of medicine or science. And, like him, you insatiably seek higher education and are perfectly comfortable being the only person in your continuing ed class sporting a set of trifocals and a wad of extra absorbency hanging low in your trunk. You are expected to achieve a high position in life, regardless of how long it takes. As an addendum, you will also spend a lifetime trying to pronounce your new sign, regardless of how long it takes.

Sagittarius: Dec. 17 – Jan. 20
The Sagittarius makes for the classic dot-bomb era entrepreneur. You’re adventurous, optimistic, and you love those trendy little hipster companies that encourage jogging breaks and offer 6 weeks of fully paid paternity leave. You also love the idea of learning. This is not to be confused with actually learning. Your biggest challenge this year is going to be putting down the latest Seth Godin book to actually write that white paper.

Capricorn: Jan. 20 – Feb. 16
If you’re a Capricorn, you don’t need a horoscope to tell you what to do. You’re already driven, motivated, and probably have a highly detailed Excel spreadsheet filled with the necessary steps to get from point A to points B, C, and subsequently, D. Your biggest challenge is refraining from judging everyone else around you for not having such a detailed life roadmap and from repeating the words, “Really? Really?” when confronted by the average non-Capricorn. As a matter of fact, the only star sign you fear is the new and improved Super-Scorpio (see below), who you suspect in Column T, Row 46 could throw a potential kink in your Grand Master Plan to Take Over the World by eating your heart directly out of your still-steaming thoracic cavity with a shrimp fork, should you cross them.

Aquarius: Feb. 16 – March 11
For those of you who come to this sign as former Pisceans, the Age of Aquarius has literally only just dawned. What you need to know in your new star sign: #1 – You are easy going and a fabulous networker; #2 – You are lazy and slothful by nature; and, #3 – Unlike the Broadway show Hair**, life is not a musical and you will need some extra motivation to spur yourself into action.*** The good news is that of all your non-Aquarian friends, you stand to have the highest connection count on LinkedIn if you choose to apply yourself. Good luck with that.

Pisces: March 11 – April 18
Al Gore’s migration from Aries (Active, Demanding, Determined, Effective, Ambitious) to Pisces (Depth, Imagination, Reactive, Indecisive) explains a lot about how he was able to invent the Internet.

Aries: April 18 – May 13
If TNB had a star sign, it would be Aries: adventurous and living for the writer’s dream.****  What you need to know if you are a newcomer to Aries: you are a doer and not just a talker. The flip side of that is that sometimes you dive in too quickly without thinking through the consequences. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Taurus: May 13 – June 21
Well, former Gemini, now you’re a Taurus. Big whoop. You’ve always known you’ve got at least two personalities in there, so you might as well take the bull by the horns. Also, now you’re the same star sign as Mark Zuckerberg. (queue Simpons-esque “ha-ha”)

Gemini: June 21 – July 20
Turns out David Hasselhoff is actually a Gemini. Who knew? What you choose to do with this knowledge is entirely in your hands.

Cancer: July 20 – Aug. 10
Thanks to that hard shell of yours, you-who-are-now-Cancers are well-equipped to deal with the change. Of course, you are now also are equipped with a set pincers, which means you’re going to have a hard time letting go of your former Leo-hood, where you were loved openly and without restraint by panties-throwing masses. You now have a choice: insist on being worshipped, or embrace your new sign and practice a little love and nurture for your inner circle of friends. No, the person in the mirror doesn’t count. It’s going to be tricky. You may want to seek counseling. And, if you were born before July 22 and hung on to your former sign into the MAE*, well, you are one hell of a Cancer. Go. Surround yourself with people you trust and be productive in your venture. *pinch*

Leo: Aug. 10 – Sept. 16
Yes, we adore you. Yes, you mean the world to us. No really, we mean it. Also, as a point of information, Kenny Rogers, who was once a Leo, remains a Leo post-MAE – which is kind of cool, since he genuinely looks like a Leo. Kenny Rogers, we salute you. No really, we mean it.

Virgo: Sept. 16 – Oct. 30
You need to spend less time on FaceBook. No, seriously.

Libra: Oct. 30 – Nov. 23
Hey, former Scorpio! Great news! Now that you’re a Libra…oh, who am I kidding? You don’t give a shit about your new Libra horoscope. Chances are, you’re not even reading this right now because you’re so pissed off that somebody would dare to change your sign. I could type the lyrics in their entirety from “When the Doves Cry” for this star sign because no former Scorpio will ever, ever read it. It will sit here in digital purgatory for generations to come, completely ignored. “Why do we scream at each other? This is what it sounds like…” There, there. Put down the axe.

Scorpio, AKA “Super Scorpio”: Nov. 23-29
Yep, you read that right. Newcomers to this fine planet of ours have exactly one possible week to be born a Scorpio now. This means that everything you know and fear about Scorpios: the passion, the revenge, the murderous intent – shall now be compressed and concentrated exponentially for this highly evolved group. It’s like melding Milla Jovovich in Resident Evil with an açai berry. Founding CEOs who are born under this sign are to be feared, and possibly eventually incarcerated.

 

* Minnesota Astrogeek Era

** You know you want to sing it out. “Aq-uar-iuuus!”

*** Helpful hint: Try Red Bull

**** Otherwise known as the vocational version of the Slip N’ Slide.

 

This horoscope originally appeared in my brand-spanking-new magazine: SCREE Magazine (shameless plug). It’s been adapted for TNB.

 

I’ve Been Busy

By Erika Rae

Memoir

The other day as I was standing in front of the mirror plucking my eyebrows, I was hit hard with a thought: I don’t have time for this.

I leaned back and stared hard at my twin in the mirror.

“I see you, Gemini,” I told her. “But you’re not on the schedule. Sorry.”

I put down the tweezers and walked away.

Now, before you judge me, ladies, I do realize that I need to make time for myself. As the end of my thirties approaches faster than a train filled with Gideon Bibles on the way to the Branson hotel circuit, I acknowledge that if I want to look presentable, I have to make an effort. I must wash and dry my hair. I must change my jeans every so often. I must wax certain places. I must not make a habit of replacing sex with homemade baked goods. If you’re a guy reading this, I can liken it to the necessity of brushing your teeth before you go on a date and thank you so much for reading a full five paragraphs of this post.

The thing is, I don’t have any time. I know a lot of people complain about this. As far as I can tell, this characteristic appears to have been carried on by natural selection, and particularly by those who carry large amounts of German and Scotch-Irish stock, plus the DNA from one illusive yet profoundly legendary Cherokee. That is to say, “lack of time for anything” appears to be one hell of a dominant trait. And lest you think I’m writing this to complain, let me stop you right there. I love it. I love being busy and having something to work toward.

Here is a snippet from my daily schedule, which I write religiously at the dawn of each day:

12:50-1:00 – Clean lunch dishes.
1:00-1:05 – Change “Ashtray Babyhead’s”* diaper. (Multitask challenge: count his toes – he’s falling behind in math)
1:05-1:10 – Make soy latte
1:10-1:15 – Put Ashtray to bed for nap (Multitask challenge: Set 4-year old to work writing the letter “H”)
1:15-1:25 – catch up on essential emails
1:25-1:45 – ISP/Billing
1:45-2:15 – Write 500+ words on memoir
2:15-2:45 – Edits to resume for client
2:45-3:00 – Edits to one Scree article
3:00-3:15 – Check in with publishers for TNB features
3:15-3:30 – Fold laundry
3:30-3:35 – Scrub bathroom sinks (Multitask challenge: come up with topic for next chapter)
3:35-4:05 – Work on book trailer for Devangelical
4:05-4:10 – Refill latte

I would have started the schedule earlier in the day, but it basically can be reduced to teaching my second grader history, language arts and science (we do online charter school), making breakfast and showering. Sometimes in between those things, I get crazy assignments that I have to tuck in here and there. A few weeks ago, I had set up the TNB feature for Oriana Small, author of the porn memoir, Girlvert. Perhaps you saw a picture of a girl with her fist stuck in her mouth on the TNB Headline banner. Yeah, so she was my feature. You’ve always wondered what we TNB editors actually do around here, haven’t you?

Problem was, her excerpt didn’t come in a format that I could just paste into the highly sophisticated TNB interface we TNBers have come to know and love, so I had to type it in word for word. So there I am, in between feeding Goldfish to my two youngest while frantically tapping in eight glorious pages of:

I took the piss into my open mouth with a smile. It was totally ridiculous. I was thinking, Okay, done. Now I’ve tried piss and I can say with truth and conviction whenever someone asks me about it: It’s not that big of a deal.

Then to the kids who are now pulling on my sleeve: What’s that sweetie? You need some more orange juice? OK, here you go. Now where’s your Cookie Monster dolly? Mommy needs to get back to work.

It’s a crazy life. And no, I don’t always finish the task I set out to do in a set time frame – the point is that I pay SOME attention to it during that time period, and then revisit later. After the children go to bed. After the husband gets attention and the dog gets fed. Maybe I’ve plucked my eyebrows by then. Hard to say.

But the MAIN reason for my conspicuous absence as of late (other than the fact that I’m ghostwriting a memoir for somebody…oh, that) is that I’m starting a magazine.

SCREE!

I’m really excited about it, in case you couldn’t tell. I have two partners: the lovely and talented graphic artiste, Carissa Carter, and my tech guru of a husband, Scott. We’ve been working hard at it for months now. The concept is the celebration of the scramble on the way to summiting your venture. Scree is the name climbers use for the loose rocks and boulders you have to cross before you reach the top of a high peak. It’s immense and it’s challenging. Just like my magazine. Just like my life.

We’ve got some incredible features lined up, including some of TNB’s own.

Slade Ham talks about what it’s like to be pushing toward his goals as a professional comic.

Joe Daly spotlights the next big front man in rock n’ roll in the band Dom.

Brin-Jonathan Butler discusses his push uphill as he creates a documentary about world champion Cuban boxer Guillermo Rigondeaux.

Kimberly Wetherell talks about being on the brink of successfully producing her first feature film, Lullaby.

Rich Ferguson writes about what it’s like to push toward that ever-illusive goal of actually becoming an urban legend (as well as his poem under the same name).

Nick Belardes even makes a brief appearance dressed like a Russian cosmonaut, excuse me, Commanaut.

There are many others, too. We’ve got an interview with a trending robotics company. A steam-punk electric tandem bicycle inventor. A fashion designer. An award winning photographer. And more. All people working toward the common goal of hitting the top of whatever it is they’re aiming for.  In a way, it’s like reading about next year’s super heroes before they hit it huge and are on the front page of Wired or Rolling Stone.

But it’s not about fame. It’s about the struggle. The push to be the best. The things that drive a person to keep going and make it all the way to their dream. It’s epic. And it’s just a little bit in all of us.

The really cool part is that we’ve finished design on the hard copy and have held the first proof in our hands. It’s a magazine. It’s real. It’s a real magazine. We’ve been working on this for so long now and we’re finally on the brink of letting it go. The web site is close behind the scenes, but to the public it currently looks like this:

http://scree.co

So, yeah. I’ve been busy.

But man, it feels good.

 

 

* And, no. My toddler is not actually named Ashtray Babyhead, thank you very much, Rich Ferguson, for naming him to the TNB community. (Sweet Wittle Ashtway.)

 

My neighbor loves his chain saw. Every day during the summer and fall months at precisely 1:40, he fires it up and goes to town on his acre lot filled with trees. It’s like the rising and setting of the sun – you can set your watch to it. For the next couple of hours, he works his forest with short, sporadic, Turrets-like bursts.

Damn you, tree.

Damn you to hell, branch.

Eat shit and die, oh siskin of the lofty pine.

The fact that there are any trees left at all on his lot is a miracle in and of itself. I don’t know if it speaks more to the persistence of the forest or a sacrifice of function over form, but he has a ways to go. I have seen him at work, though, smoothly following through with his undercuts and back cuts. His technique is impressive. The remaining forest will not last long.

If the zombie apocalypse comes, he will be well equipped to deal with the impending doom. Zombies move slowly so he can afford to take his time with the short, sporadic burst method he has perfected so well. Also, if he slips up with his timing and accidentally gets bitten or infected by one and becomes a zombie himself, he has a chainsaw. With his well-honed plunge cut skills, he could quickly advance in the zombie ranks. He could be a zombie king.

But I’ll have trees.

 

About a year ago, during a visit to my mother’s house, I discovered a secret stash of videos so dark and hideous that upon first sight of them I nearly crumbled where I stood. I checked the stairwell. I was alone. Turning back to the small collection of tapes, I picked them up slowly, testing the weight of them in my hands. With my soul blazing like sterno, I locked the door to the basement. What I did next…what I did next.

Just me,

alone,

Sweatin’,

Supersweatin’…

to the Oldies.

You see, Richard and I have history. When I was little, my mother would flip on the television just in time to catch the opening. She wore her stretchiest pair of polyesters. I wore yellow legwarmers and a knock-off belted Units top. Together we grapevined our way to the left, cha-cha-cha’ed our way forward, and then rocked and tapped, rocked and tapped.

Sweatin’ to the Oldies, with Richard Simmons.

Glowing with a sheen as if we’d both recently been spritzed or possibly received microdermabrasion from one of those places in the mall, we paused for a straw-full of water from our pink and blue Walkman canteens as Richard told fat women how much he loved them, just as the Deal-a-Meal hotline would flash at the bottom of the screen.

Eventually, Mom would go upstairs. Pots and pans would clang and the fragrance of chicken thighs and Sizzlean would soon fill the air.

I would manually change the channel to Gilligan.

So, dear TNBers, on this our 5-year anniversary, I leave you with this brief reminder of less complicated days. Days before we worried about global warming, Chinese paint or how tacky it is to order merlot at a fancy restaurant. Days before we worried about how to comment and what to post. Days before…TNB.

Less complicated – yes. Half as classy – no.

Brad Listi, I thank you for your brainchild. This thing called TNB. It’s given me voice, it’s given me a community, and it’s given me a chance to exercise my writer’s ass off. If TNB were a famous celebrity, I dare say it would be Richard Simmons. It’s sassy, sharp and just a little androgynous.

So, to all of you TNBers out there who I adore (too many of you to list): Happy belated birthday. And like Richard Simmons’ endless supply of tank tops, this post has been bedazzled just for you.

I’m

connected to a dead man

on LinkedIn. In real life

I met him only once.

Talked to him on the phone thrice.

He was nice. He

was also old. 80, I think.

Drank coffee and

wore gray trousers. He smiled large

with nearly perfect teeth framed

in plastic pink.

If I disconnect from him, cut him free,

somewhere in the Great Beyond

(where he currently resides)

will he feel the sever of my

digital disloyalty?

Will he blur and spark

as he begins

to

f  a   d    e

an aged Cheshire

indentured to our memory

as in Kevin Brockmeier’s

The Brief History of the Dead?

And what if he has something to say

from the Great Beyond? “Sure,” you say,

“If he has something profound to say

from the grave, why would he choose LinkedIn to do it?”

Well, why wouldn’t he?

*snap*

Will he haunt my bedside, asking,

“Why

did you give up on me?

What –

What did our connection cost you?”

Will I stutter and clear my throat, mumbling

something about how my LinkedIn profile

is only for real people,

and will he stare

and tap his foot

and point his ghostly cursor to my outstanding invitation to

Kevin Bacon

who is clearly not the real

Kevin Bacon,

Independent Entertainment Professional,

but an equally faceless smirk-bearing entity

of superstar SizzleLean

allowing me

someday

to jump the queue

from 6 degrees to a mere

1?

I’m connected to dead man and

I do not know what

to do with

him.

 

So, things were looking good for Rapture 2011. We’ve had a few years now of horrible earthquakes, wars…the makings of the perfect antichrist in office (nothing personal, Mr. Obama). Family Radio’s Harold Camping had done his derndest to gather together a skittish flock for the purpose of mobilizing placards and billboards all over the world. People had been warned. Bank accounts had been budgeted to hit the end on May 21st. And when 6pm came and went without incident, well, let’s just say some people have been left bewildered. (I’m looking at you, Kirk Cameron.)

Left with nothing but the finale of American Idol to look forward to, many of us found ourselves obsessively going over the events of the past several weeks. What happened? What went wrong? Why the hell are we still here?

Aside from this entirely plausible explanation, here are a few reasons why the Rapture may have failed:


10) The flight suits required to transport millions of people got hung up in production.

9) Father and Son had a last minute argument over what to serve at the Feast of the Lamb. (Jesus had been kind of hoping for chicken.)

8) It didn’t actually fail. Has anyone seen any Moonies lately?

7) My dead grandmother gave God a piece of her mind about this rapture tomfoolery and convinced Him to keep things going at least until her great grandchildren could graduate from college.

6) God was not exactly comfortable with having to syndicate FamilyRadio.com in heaven. Something to do with investors and image….

5) God got distracted playing Angry Birds. Forgot what day it was.

4) One overheard wayward pastor on telephone late one night desperately turned: “Fudge and Play – 21 /

Gay” into: “Judgment Day – 21 May” to his cross-armed, foot-tapping wife standing in the doorway.

3) Heh. There never was supposed to be a Rapture this year. What we all witnessed was simply an underhanded attempt at the right wing’s version of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act: Incentive to spend all or most of your money by May 21.

2) God took stock of the company he was about to be keeping for all eternity and had second thoughts.

1) As it turned out, there was actually somebody interested in finding out what happened with the American Idol Finale.*


*As it was Scotty McCreery who won, the Rapture will proceed as planned on the given raincheck date of October 21.

** Many thanks to Beanie Brady for your additional insights that went into this list.


It’s spring, and all of you sexy people out there know just what I mean when I say, mmm-mm. It’s time for the return of the sexy.

The sun is bouncing brightly off that freshly waxed chest in front of you where its owner is parked enjoying a delicious shot of wheatgrass. He’s working on his computer like he’s got a novel brewing. Or maybe he’s a writer for GQ. He’s just made eye contact with you as if to say candidly, “I see you watching me being sexy over here. I, too, acknowledge your sexy.”

Oh, yeah.

That’s right. It’s been a long, cold run up here in the mountains, and I am happy to report that spring is finally in the air. The birds are birding, the chipmunks are chipmunking; and the bees…are beeing sexy. Yesterday, I was at a giant garage sale for my kid’s school. Helping out because volunteering is sexy. I didn’t end up doing much, but I did walk away with a great deal on a purple and black corset, which just goes to show, economy is sexy, too.

A lot has happened this last year. Grandpa got married. He’s 90 and she’s 96, but neither of them are a day over sexy. Together they witnessed the rise and fall of the USSR, the coming of age of Barbie, and the invention of the chocolate chip cookie. Had a preacher man say some words over them without actually signing a marriage license so they could be sexy together without getting their families all riled up over mingling their bank accounts. Last I heard, they had moved back to their single rooms over at the independent living center. A little space is sexy, too—oh yeah.

It’s spring and it’s time to be sexy. Two weeks ago, Slade Ham, Megan DiLullo, Uche Ogbuji, Richard Cox and Sam Demaris came up to our house. It had snowed 8 inches of fresh powder, so it wasn’t very sexy. Even so, we laughed, told stories, ate donuts and drank a lot of very sexy whiskey. At one in the morning, we broke out the kickboxing gear and sparred in the living room. I got the wind just about knocked out of me by a well-placed punch to the side by Slade. Brought me to my knees it was so sexy. Even Scott just shook his head from behind the video camera and didn’t rush to my defense. Megan put on some headgear like she was going to jump in but was eventually pulled back to the sofa by a 90 proof magnet. Uche broke out into some def poetry while Sam called us a bunch of high schoolers. Richard played Tiffany. There is nothing sexy about Tiffany. Donuts are sexy, though. Especially if you’re a dude made out of fried bread. Oh, yeah.

But Spring is in the air now, and all of those kinks have been smoothed over. No excuse to not be sexy. Even Simon Smithson and Zara Potts and the rest of you living down under don’t have to stop being sexy even though it’s well into autumn now for you. Autumn is a sexy word for fall. You’re down there and we’re up here and we’re passing like two sexy ships in the night. Passing the baton of sexy.

Don’t worry, though. We’ll have enough sexy in the northern hemisphere to carry you over. Nathaniel Missildine in France. David S. Wills in China. Steve Sparshott and James Irwin in England. Irene Zion over in Belgium(?) and Judy Prince somewhere in between. We’re creating a mesh network of sexy and beaming it south. Down below the earth’s belt. Now that’s sexy.

That’s right, Spring is in the air and it’s time to be sexy so slip out of those shoes and curl your toes deep into some warm sand somewhere. Wear something that ends in an ‘ini’. Order something cold that comes in a pineapple or coconut shell because drinks that come in their own skin are sexy. You know it. But it’s spring, so don’t worry too much about having to try. In spring, just about everything is sexy. In spring, even Tiffany is sexy.

So, keep on keepin’ on, wheatgrass boy. You’ve got a spot of green in the corner of your mouth there.

There you go.

Oh, yeah.

Nothing gets the blood pumping for an ex-Evangelical better than a good old-fashioned End of the World prediction.

You’ve no doubt seen the billboards. The End of the World is scheduled for May 21, 2011. And if you’re having trouble believing that, you’d better check out the little gold seal in the corner that says “The Bible Guarantees It”, because everyone knows that a gold seal doesn’t lie.

My Jeep is in serious need of some attention.  And by that, I mean to say that it is at this point nearly camouflaged by the dirt road I take to get into town.  That I have not been mowed over by the driver of a Hummer thinking I am an attractive dirt mound is a miracle.  And still, perhaps there is time.

I have been actively trying to ignore its sad state, thinking that the minute I wash it, the snow storm of the century will swoop over the mountains and bury my efforts at cleanliness beneath piles of snow.  Or worse.  With my luck it’ll just be some pansy ass storm throwing cosmic spittle.

Nevertheless, earlier today I found myself feeling fidgety with the disapproving glances I was getting from the fine citizens of Boulder.  Not that these glances should mean anything to me.  Not two months ago I saw a man standing on the corner of North and Broadway dressed in nothing but an eggplant colored super hero cape and leather hot pants.  And still, I aim to please – something for which I have my mother to blame, no doubt.

Hence, I headed to the car wash.

With the thought of imminent suds, I began to get happy.  Already, I imagined myself within a gleaming capsule which would miraculously be cleaned inside and out at a discounted rate upon purchase of a full tank of gas.

But I was getting ahead of myself.

To which car wash to go?  To whom did I want to donate my dirt?  It occurred to me then that I really didn’t want to go to a normal, run of the mill car wash.  Wasn’t that just throwing money away?  What ever happened to those kids standing on corners with posters advertising a car wash for a donation?  I could clean my car – and give to a charity – at the same time!

The Free Car Wash was the fund raising activity of choice of my church Youth Group in my teen years.  Our leader, whom I’ll call Richard and whose muscle car outshone the sun in brilliance, adored them.  He’d call special planning meetings before the big day, during which we’d be assigned things like hoses, sponges and towels.  At the end of the meeting, we’d have a totally rad prayer huddle where Richard would ask God for help with our fundraising and that our teens would “be a light unto the world” with the way we washed cars.  Also, if He wouldn’t mind directing a couple of Porsches our way, “that’d be cool, too.”

Since I felt that my bubble lettering ability surpassed  that of the average teen, I volunteered for poster duty.  The night before the big event would be spent tongue-out-of-mouth hovering over the marker-strewn kitchen table while I came up with clever slogans – slogans such as “Clean Up Your Life…with Jesus!” and “Honk…if You Love Jesus!.”  We weren’t just there to wash cars and wish people a good day, after all.  Oh, no.  We were there to help spread the good news about Jesus – one harried driver at a time.

The car wash to help raise money for our mission trip to Mexico was by far the most memorable for me.  We had arrived via the church bus to a local Wendy’s with which we had made prior arrangements only to be told by the store manager that she had never heard of us.  No matter.  Since the car wash was part fund raiser and part witnessing opportunity, we knew what to we needed to do.

While Richard was inside arguing with the manager armed with nothing but a single with cheese and a frosty, we proceeded with our plan in order to do a little early advertising.  Determinedly, several amongst us were chosen on the basis of marketability and were dispatched to the two closest street corners.  Since I had made the posters, I went along to supervise.

The response was overwhelming.  There were three of us on my corner.  As cars would pass, we would throw our sign high up in the air, yelling and screaming as loud as we could.  One of the girls I was with could do a wicked human beat box, which she would let loose at any car that happened to have a window rolled down.  With her over-sized T-shirt cinched at the waist with a 5-inch belt and her tremendous wall o’ bangs, she looked like she had walked straight off MTV, and I think several people slowed way down just to check.  As we had the “Clean Up Your Life…with Jesus!” poster, I was pretty pleased with myself for getting quite a few honks for Jesus, even though people were not implicitly instructed to do so.

After about an hour spent in that manner, I left the sign in the other girls’ keep and walked back over to the Wendy’s to see how things were going. Boy, were they going.

When I arrived on the scene, the place was in chaos.  Thanks to our signs, there was a parking lot full of filthy cars and impatient drivers awaiting our attention. As I watched, Richard broke free from the Wendy’s, a thumbs up on one hand, a plastic spoon in the other.  With one deft movement, he ripped off the shirt which had been required for negotiation and proceeded to uncoil the awaiting hoses.  A cheer escaped from the teens still waiting inside the bus in a supernova of teen spirit, beautiful in all of its sweaty, awkward brilliance.

Despite a shaky beginning, it turned into a perfect day.  Or rather, it would have been perfect had a couple of teens not been deemed missing for over an hour after lunchtime only to be discovered Frenching behind the Taco Bell next door.  But otherwise, all went according to plan and we ended up making almost $600 for our efforts.  And while God never did supply those Porsches, He did throw in a fiery red Transam at one point, which nearly unhinged Richard, rendering him completely useless for a full half hour.

I never did make it to a car wash today.  As it is the middle of February, I suppose I should not be too surprised that there were no eager bands of teens out there with sponges and signs.  And even though I have become a rather lax church attendee in my adult years, I would have to say that given the opportunity, I would honk at any bubble-printed sign out there just on the off chance of getting to hear a sampling of that human beat box.  As for the Jeep, well, I’ll clean up my life another day.


Dear Herman Miller:

I am writing to ask if you would please send me one of your Embody chairs. For free.

Before I proceed, I want to assure you that I realize that the Embody chair is a work of high art and should not be granted to just anybody. With a price tag of $1100-$1600 there can be no question in anyone’s mind that Bill Stumpf’s last design was created for a distinct class of the seated elite. That Backfit frame that adjusts so perfectly to the Pixel-Matrix Support pads could only have been hatched by an ergonomic genius. And with seven different possible adjustments, every conceivable curve and contour of the back is cradled by attentive efficiency, leaving only the soul jonesing for more and left to cry out for the fulfillment of productivity. Well worth the money…I don’t have.

With the success of the uber-popular Aeron chair hatched in the 90s, you have by now no doubt had hundreds of thousands of clients at Herman Miller. I read recently that the Aeron chair itself boasts over 50,000 clients. The fact alone that you can refer to one who sits in a Herman Miller chair as a “client” speaks volumes – as if the person is being served by an accountant or possibly a psychologist. I imagine that a client of the Embody chair doesn’t even need a psychologist, as the chair itself is a psychologist. Have studies been done on this? Do clients of the Embody chair need less psychological help? Does the Embody chair pay for itself in a matter of only a few spared sessions of therapy?

I realize that I am asking for a lot. I am not a particularly lucky person or habitual prizewinner, nor am I accustomed to receiving free things, unless you count coffee or socks. Perhaps you do not care to know about such things, but I do feel it is important to be honest with you if we are going to start off on the right foot. The socks were from an over-zealous store clerk who then wanted, in exchange, my phone number. He was clearly a college boy who did not realize that I was at least 10 years his senior and, by the way, married. His mistake was giving me the socks first and then asking for my number. By the time I set him right it was too late to ask for the socks back. He was brave through his inflamed acne-scarred cheeks and even stammered that, if I wanted, we could still go get coffee (his treat) after he got off work “as friends”. The socks were of the water-wicking wool variety. And comfortable.

At any rate, I do not frequently come across free things nor am I a woman of means. I am a writer, as well as a struggling entrepreneur. When I’m not blogging about what it was like to grow up so religious that I wasn’t even allowed to use a Speak N’ Spell because it contained the word “spell” and talked like the devil, I help run a rural ISP in the mountains west of Boulder from a bulky mess of a chair I purchased over 12 years ago from Office Max. Even as I sit here now, the chair wheezes and swivels habitually to the left toward my bookcase whereupon I am subject repeatedly to the temptation of literary escapism. That I can finish this letter at all in the face of such partisanship is a small miracle.

Even so, in 2008 – in the face of distraction from my left leaning chair – I co-founded a web-based social lending company, which ended up being named as one of Colorado’s most innovative companies in the same year. This was fantastic and would have been upgraded to positively thrilling had we actually been funded as a result of the honor. Unfortunately, I and my co-founders needed to eat so the company is currently treading water. I am not saying that possession of a Herman Miller Embody Chair, or possibly an extra in carbon balance fabric with an aluminum base on a graphite frame for one of my co-founders, would help the company get back in the race, but I am not saying the opposite would be true, either.

Of course, I would never ask for something for nothing, Herman Miller, and I realize that with a free Embody chair would come grave responsibility. I assure you, I am an avid user of several social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, and would vow to regularly broadcast praises about the Embody chair while simultaneously typing from the comfort of one. Also, I would commit to end every blog post on TheNervousBreakdown.com and elsewhere with the tag, “This post was written from the blissful comfort of a Herman Miller Embody Chair and is certifiably 100% ergonomically correct.” In addition, my memoir about growing up Evangelical is due out from Emergency Press within the next 12 months, in which I will also happily make an endorsement of comfort.

Herman (may I call you Herman?), I realize it is not your policy to send out a free chair(s) to every person who asks for one (or two). In this case, however, I would like to offer that this could be a mutually beneficial exchange with potential for a lasting and, dare I say, passionate relationship. In other words, I will happily play Anaïs Nin to your Henry, er, Herman Miller.

If you will have me, that is.

 

Warmly (Not to be confused with the warmth that comes from constantly overcorrecting to the right),

– Erika Rae

 

 

PS – Should you decide me a worthy recipient, I will gladly cover shipping charges. Please email me at erae [at] thenervousbreakdown [dot] com or find shipping instructions in a subsequent post entitled, “Dear FedEx”.

 

 

A few weeks ago, I was leaving our little mountain post office when the postmistress herself came flying out of the building at me like Smaug after a Baggins.

“If you’re not going to check your mail for a box key, I’m not going to bother putting it in. I was trying to be thoughtful. I was trying to be nice. But if you’re going to just run off with it, I am NOT going to do it anymore.”

Our postmistress has a frizzled crown of shoulder-length grayscale hair on her head, wears artsy hippy attire and generally looks as if she has been plucked from a medieval mob scene. That is to say that she resembles a librarian. In my experience, all librarians–beautiful or plain–can be easily imagined in Renaissance festival attire and sucking on a turkey leg. If she had produced a rotten turnip to throw at me in that moment, I would not have been the least bit surprised. Unlike a librarian, however, she bears the additional countenance of one who could be packing heat. Had she produced a 9mm Beretta, for example, I would have been equally stoic.

I blinked twice, looked down at my fistful of mail, gave it a shake, and sure enough, a little orange key fell to the pavement.

She shook her head hotly and smoldered her way back into her position of public maintainer of peace and of parcels.

And actually, had she flashed a gun at me, it would not have been the first time for me. As a matter of fact, I have seen down the muzzle of a gun no less than five times in my life. I have been:

  1. Detained outside of a car on the side of a dead-dog-strewn highway in Mexico;
  2. Threatened through a site not to take a step closer to a barbed wire fence patrolled by a tower guard at the East German border;
  3. Awakened to find a gun pointing carelessly at me through the backseat window of a car at a checkpoint entering a still-red Hungary;
  4. Ordered at point blank range to leave a protest in Hong Kong by a mainland Chinese soldier; and,
  5. Startled while doing some target practice to find a man had set up a .50 caliber canon on a tripod directly behind me and my instructor, and was preparing to blast a hole in the side of the mountain in front of us, from about six feet above our heads. Apparently we were in his way.

A few months ago, I walked into a gas station after having filled up my Jeep Cherokee to ask for change for a $5 bill. Simple request.

May I have five ones, please?

The man working the counter was old. I mean, really old. If I have to guess, I would put him somewhere around 97. It is possible he once knew someone who voted against Lincoln. His hair was pulled straight back over his shiny scalp and butch waxed into neat little comb stripes. I could see that he had been tall once, but his shoulders were in a losing battle with gravity. His nostrils and ears looked as if someone had ripped out something electronic that used to reside in there, and left the uncapped wires to the elements, a good 30 years ago.

He didn’t answer me at first, so I repeated my request a little louder. A little more chipper. Irene Zion is always talking about how the elderly and infirm like pets and happy people. I smiled broadly. Cocked my head to one side like a Spaniel.

He didn’t look at me directly at first. When a noise so low and guttural began bubbling and churning in my ears, I thought at first that a faulty air system was trying to kick on somewhere on the other side of the parabolic lighting. He held out a large, gnarled hand at me, edemic and spotted like a giraffe.

“Now, look here,” he said after removing the phlegm from his throat which had nearly initiated an emergency visit from the HVAC folks, “if I give you change, then I have to give every young whippersnapper who waltzes in here change. I’d be doling out change all the livelong day.”

A wheeze ripped through his rusty windpipe like a Sawzall and rearranged the mangled wiring hanging out of his nose.

“No, no,” I smiled even broader this time, imagining Irene and her passel of puppies, “I’m a customer. I just spent $45 on gas out at the tank.”

He began sputtering like a whistle-less kettle and shuffling his feet until a fellow customer saved all of us with his wallet.

“Here. This guy’s not gonna budge anytime before his next Metamucil break.”

We exchanged bills and I was on my way, pushing past the crowd of people crammed into the Boulder Conoco, apparently all waiting to magically multiply their single bills at the expense of the elderly.

I don’t think I look like a threat. When I look in the mirror, I don’t see a street rat holding a proverbial can of graffiti. I often wear black, but usually accompanied by something in the color scale. I smile. I make small talk. I have no visible tattoos. I have been known to karaoke. I’ve even tried to look intimidating. Take, for example, the time I dressed up Emo in order to attempt to avoid jury duty. (FAIL.) I am decidedly un-metal.

So, I guess I’m in the throes of self-realization here. I’m gazing at my own navel and what I’m finding isn’t pretty. For one thing, it has the telltale scar of a past attempt at being a badass, or “badlass” as my daughter once erroneously-and-yet-appropriately put it after watching Aeon Flux. I took the stainless ring out at some point during pregnancy when it looked as if it could be used as a controlling device poking out from underneath my shirt. As if someone could clamp a leash onto it and lead me out to pasture.

But also, I’m realizing that despite my numerous attempts at a persona of personal strength, I still come off to the average Joe as a bit of a doormat. A non-event. The perfect person to whom to refuse a simple dollar bill exchange and over whom to attempt to shoot a tank. Also, I do annoying things like making sure that I have no prepositions at the end of my phrases.

But there’s something else, too. (No, look deeper. Past the lint.) And that is the fact that I don’t actually feel like a doormat. Like, when the old guy at the gas station told me he wouldn’t make change for me, I was already composing the letter in my head to his manager, along with a scathing review for the local paper, as well as this very post. That is to say, I’m not as nice as I apparently look. I am occasionally vindictive.

I don’t know what to do with this knowledge yet, but I feel I could quite possibly be a dangerous individual. I should not be trusted. If I were a man, I should be out right now perusing the sales lots for a very large truck. I should be practicing my Boris Karloff look in front of the mirror. I should practice my cussing. I should go out and take names. I should become a kung fu master. I should acquire a suicide bracelet. I should tattoo my neck.

I should become a postmistress.

“omg. this girl is a wack-a-doo.”

-The Denver Post


Finally. Somebody has noticed my pumpkin. A major newspaper has mocked my belief that the picture on this pumpkin looks like Jesus.

I have sent pictures of the white pumpkin with the natural growth markings that look like a figure to quite a few media outlets now, with nary a word.


When I was a teenager, I believed I had a special gift. I imagined I could sense the forces of good and evil.

For me, unseen spirits were everywhere: behind the sofa, hiding in corners, perching in rafters, standing at the foot of my bed. Some were good, some were evil. I could feel them watching me. When they went past me, they made my skin ripple into defense mode, shooting my hairs into attention as if they were spiny quills that could function as armor. One of Fear’s cruelest jokes.

Anyhow, angels and demons filled my adolescence, thanks in large part to my radical Youth Group. Based on ancient biblical text, a full one-third of the angels were thrown to this planet from the spiritual dimension after a little disagreement between Lucifer and God. Not knowing the starting number of angels makes it a little tricky to estimate at what count this puts the planetary-based demonic forces, but I imagine they’ve got a fairly hefty camp down here. In the church of my youth, for example, we were well aware of demonic influence in our daily lives. Temptation could occur – and did – nearly every minute of the day.

Wish you had her car * think about sex * don’t be the first to say you’re sorry * you are better than her * wish you had her boyfriend * tell your boss you’re working * watch PG-13 * think about sex with your boss * buy a lotto ticket * (sex) * speed * tell the officer you weren’t * say damn * think about sex with the officer * tell her she doesn’t look fat.

I’m telling you, every damn minute.

If my feelings back then were any indication of reality, of course, that would mean that each person has a demon around them pretty much constantly. Perhaps they are extraordinarily zippy and go from person to person at a rapid rate, but if what we as a congregation felt was any gauge, it stands to reason that each person must have at least one demon next to them at all times. Taking into account that demons probably enjoy other activities from time to time (coffee breaks, bone fire dancing, volleyball, etc.), then it is also reasonable to assume that they rotate around a bit.

For the sake of factoring in a life for the demon, let’s just say that the demon spends on average 50% of his or her existence on matters of human temptation. At nearly 7 billion people on this planet, it is reasonable to assume 2 demons per person for full coverage, making the total demonic headcount somewhere around 14 billion. This does not, of course, factor in any Hell-bound demons—which may or may not be counted in the one-third evicted from Heaven’s gates after aforementioned power struggle—nor does it factor in the exclusion (or inclusion, for that matter) of any sort of union type benefits.

So, at 14 billion demons, the one thing I could count on was that there were 28 billion angels. Which brings to light an obvious problem: The Bible never said how many of those angels resided on planet earth.

Think about it, God threw 14 billion (or thereabouts) demons to the earth, but how many angels do you see in the Bible? There’s the chorus that sings when Jesus is born. There’s the one who wrestles with Jacob. A couple show up in the town of Sodom once and nearly get gang raped. One delivers some sort of news to Mary once. Aside from a few other mentions, that’s about it.

So, what was I supposed to believe? Sure, there could be two angels for every demon here on earth, but there is certainly no guarantee of this. Do half reside down here to match the demonic forces while the other half live heaven-side where they can attend regular choir practice and be on hand for spontaneous profound trumpet blowing? Do some of them simply have summer homes here, but their main residence is up on high?

To make things even more problematic as a teenager, I knew that if I wanted the help of an angel, I had to ask for it. And I don’t mean a general “protect me today” type prayer, oh no. It had to be specific. Please go with me today to the corner of 15th and Pearl and protect me from anybody who may wish harm on me or my wallet and who also happens to be wearing leather chaps and a ballet tutu.

Consequently, I had angels and demons on my mind a lot. I was in tune with them. I felt them. Being from a church born in the Holiness Movement and a close cousin to the Assembly of God, I was pretty sure I knew that angels were all protestant Holy Rollers. When my parents took me to the Notre Dame Cathedral in France, my skin got all jittery when I was surrounded by Catholic demons. Later, at the Hill of Cumorah in upstate New York, an educational pilgrimage to see what the Mormons were up to, I felt the dark cloud of oppression weighing upon me. On the trip to Manitou Springs, CO, passing by a porto-fountain outside a New Age bookshop with Yanni playing over the loudspeakers, my very soul nearly shuddered to ash.

I began to educate myself. I read books like Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness in which angels and demons battled over control of the Illuminati’s lair, an unlikely small town in the middle of the US of A. I watched television shows like Michael Landon’s Highway to Heaven and Touched By an Angel. I learned that angels don’t always have wings, sometimes wore lipstick and even occasionally fall in love.

But even so, with all of my knowledge and premonitions, I wanted a sign that what I was feeling was, in fact, real. I spent hours on my knees by my bed at night begging God for just a peek.

Please God, I’m going to open my eyes now. And when I do, please let me see an angel. It doesn’t have to be a long look because I think I might wet myself, but I really need to know that you’ve got me covered here. Ready…go.

And nothing ever happened.

OK, God. If you won’t show me an angel, then give me some other sign. I don’t know, maybe a quick look at my dead grandmother or something. No wait, that sounds freaky. How about just a flicker. A flicker of an angel in my room and I’ll leave you alone on this topic for the rest of my life. Deal? Ok, ready….

When that didn’t work, I attempted to find signs in inanimate objects. You know the kind I mean: the Mother Mary on tortillas, Cheetos that look like Jesus on the cross (Cheesus!), paintings that weep blood…things of that nature.

And still, nothing ever happened.

Until now.

All of my questioning and a lifetime of doubts has been put to rest by this one glimpse into the spiritual realm.

Without further ado, I present to you:

Jesus on my pumpkin.

I have received my sign.

(And just to clarify, his face is in the upper left corner – in profile. It is NOT the weird tramp looking guy in center under the hat.)

So why now? Why when my faith has dipped to an all-time low and I’m nothing but a starving writer has Jesus decided to appear to me on a gourd? I don’t know. But I suspect that the question has something to do with the answer.

For more information, please watch this informative video of me and my pumpkin.

 

…and when you’re done with that, please go to eBay and bless a starving writer.

eBay – Jesus Pumpkin

 

(Want more to the story? The Denver Post just gave me quite the endorsement.)


Dang Llama

By Erika Rae

Memoir

I passed a llama on the road today. I was in my Jeep and it was in the back of a pick-up truck. It all happened in a moment: it looked at me, I looked at it. We made eye contact.

***

It startled me at first to see a face up there, hovering Cheshire-like over the cab. Ears bent back stiffly in the wind; fuzzy, cleft granny lips.

The sides of the pick-up had been built up with plywood to form a stall of sorts. It was tall, but not so high that the llama couldn’t see out the top, riding around like it was peeking out of a sunroof in a limo. Beneath him, Snoop Dogg was sloshing around in a hot, nekkid lady and llama soup.

When I was a child, my grandfather brought us back a llama carpet from a trip he took to Peru. In the center of this wall-sized masterpiece was a design inlaid to resemble the animal from which it hailed. The perimeter was bordered in alternating brown and ivory diamonds, which gave way to long tufts of shag at the ends. My parents saw fit to hang it in the den, behind the ping pong table as a sound dampening backdrop. In the middle of summer when I was taking a break from building log cabins out of fallen branches or digging up arrowheads from the red, Oklahoma dirt, I would sneak into the den in the cool dark and bury my hands and face in the carpet. It was plush and soft like a ridiculously shaggy rabbit. For several minutes, I would pretend that I had actually rotated 90 degrees and was lying down on the floor with it, pressing my thighs stomach ears into the thick fur.

We pronounced it the Spanish way, although none of us spoke Spanish. Yama. Not Llama. As in, como se…. I don’t have much of an explanation for this other than the fact that my family has always had an above average interest in languages. My mother, for example, spent some time before I was born in Iran engaged to an Iranian man. She may not have come home with a wedding ring, but she did manage to bring back his pronunciation of the word “hummus”. To this day, she will ask me if I would like some “chch-hoomoose” with my carrots.

My grandfather was a straight laced man who believed Jesus’ return was imminent and that figs were a divine fruit. He was an engineer by trade and designed several of the dams in California back in the day. At some point in the 50s, he built a small bungalow style house on U Street in Sacramento for my grandmother and painted it pink. When I was little they shopped at Trader Joe’s and ate baked white fish sprinkled with kelp five out of seven days of the week. The fence around their yard was thickly draped in concord grapes, which he pressed once a year and bottled under the attic stairwell. Not for the purpose of making wine, mind you, but as grape juice. Pieces of masking tape displayed the original bottling dates on each.

Once when my grandfather came for a visit to our house, I was setting the table for a meal and dropped a fork on the floor. “Dang,” I said. I was about 12 years old, awkward with hairy arms and legs and a big, squishy nose. As a prepubescent primate growing up in the turquoise studded Bible belt of Oklahoma, it did not occur to me to say anything harsher than that. “Dang” worked, and it was accessible. Everyone else I knew said it. It was innocuous. My grandfather did not agree.

“What is that language coming our of your mouth?” He demanded to know from across the room, where he sat reading the newspaper on the sofa. He was wearing his gray three-piece Sunday suit and had his hair slicked back neatly with a comb. “Don’t ever let me hear you say that again. Foul language from a young lady. I’m going to have a talk with your mother.”

For a man who lived in a house the color of Pepto Bismol, he didn’t have a very pronounced sense of humor.

I like to imagine him carrying the huge llama carpet back to us from Chile, fur exploding through the rolls and dipping down to occasionally scrape the street. Pushing it back up again to a proper cylindrical state. Folding back down over his shoulder. Suitcase in the other hand. Grandma walking helplessly three feet behind him, fretting over missing their airplane home.

I wonder if he swore.

Dang yama.

***

I passed a llama on the road today. I was in my Jeep and it was in the back of a pick-up truck. It all happened in a moment: it looked at me, I looked at it. We made eye contact.