Prediction starts with a Pee


My horoscope didn’t say anything about stepping in pee this morning. Not even an oblique warning such as ‘Tread carefully, Virgo!’ or ‘Trouble underfoot!” There was no hint of the ‘golden opportunity in my path today,’ nor was I told I might ‘make a big splash.’


You have ZERO proof it was me.

It didn’t tell me that ‘Trouble will dog your steps today’ or remind me to ‘Put your best foot forward,’ or that ‘Someone unexpected may offer you a gift today.’

Give me one piddling reason why you think it was me.

It didn’t even tell me ‘You’re in for a surprise today.’ Urine…for a surprise. That would’ve worked. We humans can rationalize almost anything.

Sometimes I read my horoscope out of idle curiosity. It can be amusing. But as we’ve seen, it made absolutely no attempt to warn me that a dog was covertly doing her business on the small shag rug near my bed.

It did tell me that a little R & R was in order. A little rest and relaxation. This is something everyone needs from time to time; you don’t need a horoscope to tell you that. But it was nice to hear it, anyway, because I’ve been having that feeling for a while now- the hankering to get away, maybe visit my sister in Pennsylvania, and it was nice to hear someone, even a free horoscope app, validate that.

We all need a break, a little get-away, a bit of time to recharge our batteries. It’s hard to tell, sometimes, if we’re just a little tired or if we really need to get away. We humans don’t have a reliable ‘low battery’ signal. This is something that I feel should be addressed by science in the near future. We need some signal- something visible or audible, to let us know when we officially need to recharge our batteries.

Like my hearing aids, for example. When my hearing aids are running out of juice, they let me know. They go Boop.

It’s the low-battery tone that lets me know I have only a short time before the sound cuts out completely. Boop! Then I have to rummage around in my purse looking for that annoyingly small yet expensive cardboard packet of hearing aid batteries, Boop! And curse myself for not cleaning out all the rubbish- wrappers, receipts, pens, nickels, post-it notes with blog ideas, and breath mints, Boop! And if I’m not quick enough, there’s a little multi-note sequence, a downward crescendo, like when Pacman dies.

This battery is dead. Game over, deaf person!


The doorbell at work lets us know when its batteries run low, as well. It normally announces guests with a standard Ding-Dong, but after the continuous pressure of many fingers, the doorbell begins calling attention to its weakened condition. Ding, it will say, and then pause, as if drawing a breath. Dong.



We laugh. Listen to that crazy doorbell, the kids say. The doorbell continues to amuse. Ding dong, dong ding! It starts ringing when there is nobody at the door. Ding dong dong, dong ding, ding! After a few days of this, it does actually sound more and more frantic.

Of course, once we know it’s just a matter of the batteries being low, the insertion of two fresh AA’s is all it takes to put it right.

But isn’t it nice to officially know?

I was thinking of this stuff as I hopped around my bedroom with one pee-soaked foot. Hopping, and dripping, and swearing, like you do.  Realizing that I had indeed forgotten to buy hearing aid batteries the other day. And knowing that I had to be at work in about 20 minutes, and then swearing some more. Feeling just a bit frazzled, shall we say.

And I thought, perhaps I should go visit my sister for a bit. Boop! I haven’t taken any days off work for a long time, ding ding, have I? And I could easily hop over to work and show my boss my wet foot and my iPhone and she could read the little horoscope and I’m quite sure she’d agree, boop dong, ‘cause she takes stock in those star chart things even if I do not.

Because everyone needs to change their batteries once in a while.

Especially when they get wet.


Readers, how do you recharge your batteries? Have you got a lovely island get-away? (You do? Where is it?!) Or perhaps you just take a bath with lots of bubbles? What’s your sign? Have you ever stepped in pee? Did you see who did it? Was it that dog of mine?

I Screen, You Screen…


There’s something unusual about the newer homes that have sprung up in my neighborhood over the past few years. My neighbor Peony noticed it during one of our walks. It’s not just that the new houses are big. Some of them are monsters. They’re houses on steroids, houses that could easily gobble up my house and still have room for a garage or two.


This house is protected by Omnomnom Security.
Piss off or it’ll eat you.

We’d been feeling virtuous because here it was, the middle of February, and we were out trudging through the slush in pursuit of better health while the rest of our community huddled unhealthily inside their homes. When the snow was deep, we’d walk in the street. We’d walk, and talk, and occasionally Peony would pull me aside as a car I didn’t hear crept up on us from behind.

“So, do you notice anything about these new homes?” Peony asked, after casually saving my life for the second time.

Hm. Huge sweeping driveways, lofty white columns, decorative urns big enough to hold the entire cast of Downton Abbey… um, people with way more money than me live in them?

They don’t have any screen doors.”

I looked to my left, where a gargantuan estate, Jabba the House, squatted toad-like amongst snow-covered shrubberies. Cobblestones shaped like jagged teeth led to the front entryway, the door a massive tongue carved from burnished oak and adorned with long black hinges that really belonged on a kitschy medieval restaurant. I looked to the right. Another behemoth, this one more modern in style, its huge door a blindingly white sentinel with eyes of leaded glass.

Great balls of pretentious fire, Peony was right! None of the newer homes had screen doors!

I grew up in a modest neighborhood in Chicago, where every house had a screen door, and where every child heard that familiar admonishment, “Stop slamming the door!” But there was something satisfying about running out of the house on those warm summer days, when school was out and long sunny hours of unsupervised play awaited. The slamming of the screen door was the exclamation point after a gleeful shout. It’s summer, we’re freeeee! And bang! goes the door.

(“Hey, what did I tell you about the damn door?!”)

Nowadays, you hear a sharp noise like that and your first instinct might be to duck. The world doesn’t seem the same as it did when I was a kid. My neighbors and I are fortunate to live in a relatively safe area but the crime list on the local police blotter does seem to grow longer each year, with more and more burglaries and even the occasional brazen daylight robbery.

So why wouldn’t the owners of a brand new house want a screen door? It’s not as though they couldn’t afford them. Most of these mega-houses have multiple fireplaces, two-car garages, and judging by the amount of inflatable Santas and light-up reindeer in evidence just a few months ago, a whole wing for storing holiday decorations. But no screen door. Are screen doors becoming passé, old fashioned, a quaint reminder of a bygone era? Or perhaps those beautiful front doors are just so lovely that it would be a criminal shame to hide them. Is it all due to curb appeal? Or might there be something more?

Screen doors are the buffer between you and the stranger with his finger on the doorbell. They allow you to speak to someone from behind a thin shield of mesh and metal. Screen doors are your home’s comment moderators, if you will, allowing potential conversation without immediate entry. The screen is a membrane through which fresh air and all it may blow your way is welcome to come by for a spell.

Homes with front doors open and screen doors in say, We feel safe, living amongst these neighbors. We can hear the children playing and know that all is well. We can see that new couple walk by- looks like she will have her baby soon. We can smell the magnolia-scented breeze and realize that it is almost spring.

In my childhood memories, all the houses had screen doors. And they were usually unlatched.

Today, the big fortress across the street looks formidable, impenetrable. I’m peering at it through my front window. I don’t have the front door open right now, are you crazy? Didn’t you read in the paper- a woman was stabbed when she wouldn’t give up the keys to her car. Happened right out in front of her house in broad daylight, just a few miles from here.

Maybe I’d better go check the back of the house.

Gotta make sure I locked the screen door.

Are the kids in?

Good Milk Hunting



Ever notice how guys can’t find anything in the fridge?

“Honey, are we out of milk?”

“It’s on the top shelf.”

“There’s no milk here, honey, better put it on the list.”

“No, we do have milk. It’s on the top shelf next to that Super-Tango-Mango-Ultra-Pro-Mega-Energy-100% Natural-Power-Burst with Whole-Grains-and-Vitamin B1, B6, and B12 Sports Juice you wanted.”

He looks up, down and all around. “No, we’re out of that, too.”

Men can’t find anything in the fridge. Now maybe you’re saying, “Hold on, there, happyzinny, I’m a guy and I’m offended. Just yesterday I found the tabasco sauce, and it had fallen way the hell back behind the lettuce.”

But of course I am not referring to you, dear reader. The fact that you have found my tiny little blog is proof enough that you possess good eyesight and grim determination. I am speaking only of the rest of mankind.

I used to wonder why guys had a hard time seeing a gallon of milk when it’s right there on the shelf. I came to the startling conclusion: Because it’s standing still.

This theory is my own, and is unscientifically backed up by decades of unsubstantiated proof. (I don’t want anyone to think I’m just making up this crap.) Furthermore, I frequently watch those Discovery Channel shows, and I’m pretty sure a lot of sciency thinking has soaked in osmosis-like. Yeah, I said it.

Anyway, for the reason most men have difficulty seeing stationary milk, we need to go back to Pre-Historic Hunter/Gatherer times. Back then, men would grunt and grow lots of hair and chase after animals with sticks, and the women were…well, we were picking berries, weren’t we? Even then we wanted to eat healthier. (And with this, we were learning about ‘ripeness’ by distinguishing between subtle shades of crimson, garnet and fuchsia. This is still beyond the talents of most modern men, who refer to all three as ‘not blue.’ Which, incidentally, might explain why guys sometimes eat food which is ‘not ripe’ and end up feeling ‘not good.’)

Anyway, stay with me here, for the tribe to survive, the male hunters had to be constantly on the alert for movement, because movement meant predators, movement meant prey. Movement meant you’d get a nice dinner or you’d be a nice dinner. Those survival skills were honed for millions of years. Every fiber of a man’s being has evolved with an instinct for detecting even the slightest movement. And that is why most men cannot see the gallon of milk.

If the milk was moving, they’d be on it like a monkey on a banana.

So I thought of a little experiment to test my hypothesis. I went out and bought a ‘Lazy Susan’ device, a turntable that I put in the refrigerator. It starts spinning as soon as he opens the door. (It’s easy- you just hook up a Testosterone Sensor, $17.99, Home Depot, Black and Decker aisle.)

Long story short- Door opens, light goes on, food starts moving, guy starts shouting. “Honey! I see salami! I see green olives! Honey, there’s a tub of butter in here, a tub of butter! Honey, there’s 2% milk! All this food is zooming around, sliding into each other- it’s like the Hawks and the Redwings in there, honey!”

It’s been a great revelation. I put Lazy Susans all over the house- in the bathroom, in the living room, on tables, on shelves. He takes his vitamins every morning, now that he can see them. He always knows where his keys are. He feeds the fish… those poor, dizzy fish. But there’s one thing he still can’t see, and I don’t know if science will ever be able to explain it.

The thing is, I put a Lazy Susan on the floor where he drops his socks every night. That thing has been spinning for two weeks now. It’s starting to look like that structure from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It’s a mountain of socks spinning round and round like some smelly carousel from hell.

And still he says, “Honey, I can’t find any socks. Am I out of socks?”


HOT TIP! Sometimes, when you are helping guys find something stationary, and you don’t have a Lazy Susan device, it can be helpful to give them directions in a language they understand. Learn to speak a little ‘Man.’ I’m fluent in two dialects of Man: ‘Hockey’ and ‘WWII.’ For this situation, because the guy was in a stationary position, stooping in front of the open refrigerator, I would opt for the WWII dialect, ‘Bomber Pilot.’

“Eleven o’clock, O’Malley, eleven o’clock! The milk’s coming out of the sun at eleven o’clock! For God’s sake, look out!”

Instantly your fellow will find the milk!


No cows were squeezed during the making of this post.

The Bicycle Horn


Master Blogger and Seer of Smurfs Le Clown is suffering with a bad back. Hearing of his troubles reminded me of when my dad hurt his back, and all the fun we had at the hospital and rehab center…

The Bicycle Horn

There is nothing like a bicycle horn to rouse a person out of a deep sleep. As an adult who is nearing the age when the dreaded subscription offers from AARP Magazine start landing in my letterbox, I’ve been woken up by many sounds. I have heard barks, bangs, booms, and bawling babies, but nothing can compare with the vein-popping blast of the common metal bicycle horn.

I blame the people at my dad’s physical rehab center. They refused to give us one of those nurse call buttons when we left. We thought it would be funny when friends and relatives came to the house to visit. My dad could show them his nurse call button and everyone would crack up.

It won’t work at home! they would laugh.

It didn’t work at the rehab place either! we would howl back.

The button is attached to a cord that, in the rehab center, is medically designed to snake around the patient’s limbs and then hide under the sheets, just out of reach. When the device is finally retrieved and the button pressed, a signal is sent to a little light above the patient’s doorway.  The light glows red, which instantly alerts the medical staff that help is urgently requested within at least the next thirty or forty or fifty minutes.

You can go in the hallway and look for someone and tap your foot impatiently, but the only people you will see are other patients, who have crawled or wheeled themselves out to check if their own red lights are working; and people wearing the wrong color smock. There are throngs of people, hoards of people, all wearing the wrong color smock. You could be squirting blood from every orifice, but if the people are wearing blue or yellow or orange, they cannot help you. Even if you say something crazy like, Hey, my 86-year-old dad has to go to the bathroom, but he needs help because his fractured vertebra is hurting him, there’s really nothing they can do. If you pester them long enough, they may reluctantly offer a clue:

Maroon. You need to find someone wearing maroon.

But the maroon smocks belong to the little nurse’s aides and the little nurse’s aides are all hiding in the closet where they keep the supplies. They scatter like mice when the door is opened. If you have good reflexes you can grab one of them, and with a bit of pleading, they’ll help you. But don’t even think about trying to sneak her home after rehab, because nurse’s aides only thrive when allowed to huddle in little groups, and, once home, your little nurse’s aide will find your supply closet and burrow into it and eventually all you will find is a pile of fragile bones shrouded in red. And that’s no help to anyone.

Anyway, after a month of fear, pain, and dignity-shredding experiences at the rehab center (some of which was called physical therapy), my dad came home. He came home without either a nurse’s call button or a nurse’s aide. A friend suggested we get a bell, one of those domelike bells that you see in nice hotels- the kind that perches on the front desk like a silver boob and makes a chiming sound when you hit it. If my dad wanted something in the middle of the night, he could tap the little bell, and call me with a gentle Ding! It would be pleasant, almost like being awakened by a fairy.

We settled for a bicycle horn, that being the closest thing we could find in the garage. The horn was curvy and gleaming, a thing of beauty. From the black rubber squeezy bulb at the bottom sprouted a smooth, silver tube, which curled around itself and flared open, flower-like, at the other end. I tied the horn to my dad’s walker, pushed the walker within arm’s reach, and hugged my dad goodnight.

Now give me a toot if you need anything, I said.

     I will.

The next thing I remember, my face was pressed against the ceiling as I was blasted from my bed by a cacophony of sound- HONKA! HONKA! HONKA!  I hit the ground running. My brain was a blur, the only thought able to penetrate the insistent, frantic honking was that there was trouble at the farm! The goose was on fire, HONKA! HONKA! HONKA!  Wake up, must save the goose! It never entered my mind that we lived in the city, that we weren’t farmers, and that the closest thing we had to a goose was the box of chicken nuggets in the freezer. I ricocheted toward the source of the awful noise, pinballed off the hallway mirror, and arrived at my father’s room having made contact with the floor only twice.

     I wasn’t sure you heard me, he said.

I refilled his bowl of gumdrops. He took a green one and sank back under layers of cozy fleece.

     That’s a nice horn, he said mintily.

I lay down, trying to breathe in one nostril and exhale out the other, the way yogis do, willing my heartbeat to slow. When I was fairly sure I wasn’t going to die, I crawled back to my room, where I spent the remainder of the night staring up at the ceiling. Trying to decide the best way to kill the bicycle horn. I came up with 37.

It was a long, slow recovery for my dad. It took him many months to claw and scratch and honk his way back to living independently. But our experience with his recovery is not unique. In fact, it’s representative of the health care issues faced by the elderly and infirm in our country. Thousands of people reside in rehab centers or nursing homes, encumbered with red lights that don’t work, surrounded by a rainbow of smocks, none of them the right color. These places are notoriously understaffed. My best friend’s daughter, who recently graduated from nursing school, reports that at times she was responsible for twenty patients on her shift. Rehabs and nursing homes will become more crowded as the majority of baby boomers enter their seventies and eighties, and it’s very likely the staffing situation will only get worse.

So I didn’t destroy the bicycle horn after all. In fact, I may go out and buy a few more, before it’s too late.

Here are SIX HOT TIPS!  to keep in mind should you find yourself an inmate- er, patient at one of these hell holes of health:

HOT TIP #1. Do bring a bicycle horn if you can find one. Not only will it ensure prompt attention from the nursing staff on that floor and the floors immediately above and below, but it is a well-known fact that squeezing the rubber bulb on the end of a bicycle horn is an excellent and musical way to exercise weak or arthritic fingers!

HOT TIP #2.  A color-coded chart will help you keep track of the many smocks and scrubs you will come into contact with. Ask friends or family members to bring you some paper and a package of markers- but make sure the markers include off-shades such as puke green, leaky-catheter yellow, and dried blood maroon.

HOT TIP #3. Use the paper and markers to make a colorful list of all the TV channels at the rehab center because the numbers will not be the same as they are at home. You can also create medication charts and decorative notes such as this:


Throw the note onto the ugly linoleum as far as you can- surely someone will be intrigued enough to pick up such a brightly worded piece of paper!

HOT TIP #4. Display a photo of your pet, the cuter the better. Even the stoic therapist from Finland will ooh and ahh over little Fluffy. In a short amount of time you will cease to be known as “The Bad Back in Bed B,” and will be affectionately referred to as “Fluffy’s Mommy” or “Fluffy’s Daddy.” The staff will stop in during their daily rounds to check in on Fluffy’s latest exploits, during which time you can casually mention that you haven’t received any food and it’s been twelve hours already.

HOT TIP # 5. Make friends with the other patients, particularly the stranger whose room you are now sharing. He has been there longer than you and can be a fountain of information- telling you where to find the birdcage or aquarium (every rehab center has one!) when the ventriloquist is supposed to come (so you can be sure you are indisposed,) and why you should absolutely, positively steer clear of the scrambled eggs.

HOT TIP #6. Try not to hurt your back. Seriously.


Even the doctors will stop by to ask about Fluffy!

I Can’t Hear You, I Have a Bagel in My Ear


My boss brought in bagels last Friday as a special treat.

I almost didn’t get one.

“But I told everyone about it,” my boss said. “I shouted it in the hallway.”

I don’t know how I could have missed it. The shout in the hallway, followed by the sound of a dozen co-workers as they stampeded past my room and descended in a frenzy upon the boss’ office. Maybe you’ve seen that Discovery Channel show When Sharks Attack. It’s kind of like that. Twelve otherwise lovely and polite women will rip into cake or brownies or bagels like sharks on a puppy. Once my co-workers scent bakery goods, it’s just too late.


By the time I found out about the treats in the office, the mad horde had departed. The only evidence of the recent carnage was a few crumbs on the floor, a few dabs of cream cheese on the wall, and one twisty, misshapen bagel half hidden behind a basket.

Which of course I ripped into like a shark on a puppy.

“But I told everyone,” my boss repeated. “I shouted it down the hallway.”

Yeah, well I didn’t hear it. When you’re hearing impaired, one of the side-effects is that you don’t hear so well. Sometimes you miss things. Sometimes you don’t hear the phone. Sometimes you don’t hear the doorbell. Sometimes you go to see a new widely praised movie about our 16th president and you miss maybe 70% of the dialogue. And sometimes you end up with the weird looking bagel.

Being hard of hearing sucks. I got my hearing aids at the ripe old age of twenty and I’ve been annoyed ever since. For anyone doing the math, that’s a long time ago. There are much worse problems in life, I know. But try watching real-time news with the sound down and the closed-captioning on.

I remember Obama had just become president for the first time, and the talking heads were discussing the news of the day. As the pundits excitedly debated the impact of this momentous inauguration, I watched in silence as tiny letters, white on a black band, scrolled across the bottom of the screen. Like many people, I rely on closed captioning when watching TV. For deaf, hearing impaired, and people trying to improve their English, closed captioning can be incredibly helpful. When it’s done well.

A picture of Obama taking the oath of office flashed up on the screen. His right hand was held aloft, and his mouth began opening and closing as he repeated the famous words. “I DO SOLEMNLY SWEAR,” began the captioning, “THAT I WILL FAITHFULLY EGGS A CUTE THE OFFICE OF PRESIDENT…” Uh, oh, I thought. It’s happening again. “…PROTECT AND DEAF END THE CON STITCH CHEW SHUN OF THE UNITED STATES.”

The camera cut back to the slick and smiling commentators, who were chatting away, blissfully unaware that beneath them, their pithy sound bites were being mangled into mush. One of the fellows looked sincerely into the camera lens, took a deep breath, and according to the captioning, offered these portentous words.

NoMalignedShirtThis bizarre nonsense, this utter drivel, could mean only one thing– the monkeys had taken over the keyboards again.

You may have seen, while watching TV, a little credit at the end of a show, which reads Closed Captioning by Katie, or Closed Captioning by Brian. That’s Brian as in, “Hi I’m Brian, I’m an Aquarius. I like working with the deaf, eating bananas whole, and throwing my feces at people.” The infinite number of monkeys who worked an infinite number of years typing out the Complete Works of William Shakespeare have evidently finished their monumental task and are now working in the Department of Closed Captioning. In other words, Bobo and his friends are loose and they are messing with our minds.

I can see it clearly, like a scene out of Planet of the Apes: the crazed monkeys breaking into the steno room, wreaking monkey mayhem. Then one of them spots a stenography keyboard. He claps his hands and shrieks with glee. Soon all the monkeys have settled down at little desks and are busily typing closed captions with their toes while picking the nits out of their co-workers’ fur. There is no other excuse for the insane ramblings that unfurl across the bottom of my television, the bizarre strings of words that have no correspondence to what is actually happening on the screen. It has to be monkeys because surely the FCC wouldn’t intentionally allow such low standards of information broadcasting to go out to the deaf community, some of whom can still be seen wandering around tram stations searching for maligned shirts to rescue.

I’m thinking about contacting the FCC to complain. Perhaps they aren’t aware of the extent of the problem. But part of me is afraid that any written complaint will be followed up by strange midnight phone calls. The sounds on the other end of the line will be high-pitched and staccato, ooh-ooh, aah-ahh, ee-ee-ee! I’ll find half-eaten bananas in my mailbox, or worse, and long black monkey hairs in my teacups. No, I think I’m better off staying silent on this one. There are bigger problems in the world. My words would probably fall on deaf ears anyway.

Now you’ve probably never thought about the very real possibility that you might wear hearing aids some day. That’s why I thought I’d just slip all this in your ear now, as a kind of early warning, free of charge.

And maybe you will never experience a decline in your hearing. (Lucky person!) But someday, if you’re 70 or 80 and you answer the question, “Do you want fries with that?” with, “Yes, it’s a quarter after two,” then either you will have gotten a bit daffy OR you are becoming hearing impaired. (You could be both, I suppose, but that’s even sadder. Let’s not go there.)

Anyway, in the future, when you’re sitting in the audiologist’s waiting room, waiting for the receptionist to call your name (which you won’t hear,) you’ll reach back into the dingy recesses of your mind. You’ll vaguely recall reading a post by some woman- didn’t she write something about hearing loss? And bagels? And monkeys? And sharks?

Then you’ll get distracted by the pretty fishies in the fish tank and all other thoughts will be gone. Bloop!

Speaking of fish, here’s a pole-

Thanks for reading!


(Happy because I can turn the sound down when the idiots are talking!)





Where’s my piss-off cake?
Happy Birthday to Le Clown

Sad lil poem


One is the day that he met her,

 Ten is the day that he died.

Just time to count each little finger,

And rock her to sleep once or twice.

Perhaps she could feel his heart beating

Through the thin cotton cloth of his hospital gown.

We try to hold on to what’s precious,

But the world never stops spinning ’round.






“Why do all Americans talking about socks?”

My friend Halina peered at me over the edge of her ever-present coffee cup, her green eyes almost obscured by the rising steam.

“Oh. Um…do we?” I asked, thinking hard and stalling for time.

“Yes. My husband and I, we hearing this everywhere.”

The English language torments my friend Halina on a daily basis with its bizarre spellings and irregular tenses. Richard Lederer, who has written about the pummeling English receives from native and non-native speakers alike, reminds us that English is the language in which your nose can run and your feet can smell. It is also the language in which one can say, with a perfectly straight face, that something is a little big or pretty ugly or really fake.

Our idioms, our common turns of phrase, are Halina’s toughest adversaries. If something is not at all difficult, we say it’s ‘as easy as pie.’ But why pie? Why not easy as a jelly doughnut? Or easy as a piece of bread? Or paper? Or fish? We also say that something simple is ‘a piece of cake,’ although there were a few weeks when Halina mistakenly called it ‘a pizza cake’ and I couldn’t bear to correct her. But idioms almost never make sense when you think about them. Just ask anyone who’s been outside when it’s raining cats and dogs.

When her real estate agent told her he was going to stop by one evening, Halina almost went through the roof. “Why he is going to stop buy?” she demanded, tearfully. “We want to sell!” There followed a string of rapid, high-pitched Polish involving a coalition of consonants that the English language has never dared to combine.

Though I’m not the most skilled or knowledgeable defender of our Mother Tongue, I like giving it a go. I explained what “stop by” means. “He just wants to pay you a short visit.”

“Pay me a…” My friend clamped her head tightly between her hands, as if to relieve a severe migraine. “English make me nervous,” she moaned.

Polish is a sensible language, Halina says. The Polish consonants are dependable, and the vowels behave themselves. There is only one word for each object. In Polish you say what you mean. You can sit with your friends and speak Polish and never, ever get a headache.

Our informal Conversational English class began a few years ago, the day Halina asked, “Please, can you explain ‘Piss off’ to me?” She pronounced it ‘peese.’

We were in a hallway teeming with children at the time. “Well, it’s colloquial slang,” I whispered. “Piss can actually be used several different ways…”

“Oh, English!” she muttered, turning it into another swear word.

Once she had the basic definition down, she practiced her tenses. “Yesterday my husband, he peesed me off,” she whispered. “Today, he peeses me off. And tomorrow,” she pointed to the future, which seemed to be located further down the hall, “tomorrow, he will peese me off.”

(I’ve heard her on the phone with him. He probably will peese her off.)

Anyway, at the end of the week Halina skipped out of work armed with English a little more colorful than usual. I pitied those who might find themselves on the receiving end of her new linguistic ammunition- the lady at Starbucks who habitually refuses to understand Halina’s simple request for coffee, perhaps? The guy at the bakery who runs out of kolatchkes? Might any random pedestrian or clothes shopper get hit by the Peese bomb? In two days there could be any number of casualties!


But on Monday morning, she trudged in like the walking wounded. As if cats and dogs had rained all over her parade.

Dzien dobry!” I said cheerfully, using up about half my Polish and mispronouncing it badly in the process.

Halina swatted my greeting aside like the insect it was. She leaned against the doorframe, and ran a perfectly manicured hand through her short blond hair. “You remember on Friday, we were talking Peese?” she whispered.


“Like Peese, Peesing, Peesed?”

Like most people I am drawn toward tales of carnage with an equal mix of curiosity and dread. “What happened?”

It seems that Halina and her husband went to a party over the weekend. The American hosts seemed very friendly until suddenly, without any provocation, the woman walked up and asked Halina if she wanted a Piss-Off Cake. Halina was shocked and offended, wondering if she had unknowingly overstepped some cultural boundary, broken some American taboo. She and her husband left the party, wrapping themselves in their coats and secure in the knowledge that, as Europeans, they would never do that sort of thing to guests at a party.

And now she wanted me to explain the Piss-Off Cake. This was my chance to heal the rift between our two countries.


“I think,” I said, trying to sound diplomatically neutral, “I think, from all you’ve said, I think the woman was maybe trying to offer you a pieceofcake. A piece. Like a slice.”

“A peese like a slice?”

“Yeah, we don’t have Piss-Off Cakes,” I assured her.

“Peese of cake, not peese off cake. It sound same to me!” she wailed. She stumbled down the hall in search of coffee, mumbling about cake and parties and ruined opportunities.

That’s the other thing that Halina finds difficult- vowel sounds that are not found in Polish are almost impossible for her to differentiate between. “Piss-off” and “piece of” sound alike to her just as two Polish words she speaks aloud may sound alike to me. Which brings us back to the socks.

Why do all Americans always talking about socks?

“Sex?” I asked. “Maybe Americans are always talking about sex?”

No, Halina was quite sure the word was socks, not sex. She offered some examples. You know, the baseball player socks, and the football team socks, the weather socks…

(Ohhh! Yes it does. Especially when it’s coming down in bockets!)

I called down the hall to where my friend was still muttering about cakes and parties. “Hey, Halina! English socks, huh?”

She turned with a battle-weary laugh. “Yes! English definitely socks!”

Well, maybe sometimes it does.

But it’s sure better than a Piss-Off Cake.


P.S. Check out Twindaddy’s look at the idiom ‘the bee’s knees’ here. His post is the cat’s pajamas!