Authors: Kathleen Bacus
“Good God! I should’ve known it was you!”
I started at the familiar and unwelcome tones of a certain fish-and-fowl officer. You know. The one who was placed on this
earth to be a major irritant to me. My very own life-sized hemorrhoid that no amount of cooling gel or soothing pads could
I pulled myself to a sitting position, wincing at the pain in my shoulder and the sogginess on my butt. “You almost ran me
over, you—you speed freak!” I lashed out, the terror of the evening fueling my response. That and my wet hiney and lovely
new water moccasins. I felt myself being hauled up out of the ditch with a sincere lack of gentleness.
“Run you over? Run you over? Hell, you were in the middle of the gawd-damned road in the middle of the gawd-damned night!”
Far from the soothing, sympathetic, reassuring tones I needed, my rescuer’s voice was harsh and accusatory. “Tressa Jayne
Turner, you could be the poster child for the slogan
Humpf. Clearly, this big, dumb oaf had missed Oprah’s series on Sensitive Men and the Women Who Love Them.
NEW YORK CITY
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Copyright © 2006 by Kathleen Cecile Bacus
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To my mother, Betty,
for passing along the newspaper clipping
that started it all. Thanks, Mom!
To my eldest son, Nick,
and the triplets, Katie, Erick and Ashley,
for enduring way too many soup and salad nights
and micro-meals, and where the Chinese Buffet
became “home-cooked.” Thanks for hanging in
there with me, guys. You’re the greatest!
And finally, to Glynna,
who never let me give up.
You’re next, woman!
“Know what you call five blondes at the bottom of the ocean? An air pocket.”
My lip curled. Despite the distorted cutting in and out of the Dairee Freeze intercom, I’d know that voice anywhere. “You
know why Indians didn’t scalp brunettes? The hair from a buffalo’s butt was more manageable. May I take your order, please?”
“I was going to order some buffalo wings, but you’ve spoiled the moment. How about a chicken basket with onion rings?”
“With mouthwash on the side, I hope. Anything to drink?”
“A strawberry shake sounds good.”
“That’ll be five seventy-four. Please pull ahead.”
I waited for the vehicle to move up, annoyed that this particular customer always seemed to know when I was working the drive-through.
He pulled his candy apple red, four-by-four Chevy pickup truck alongside the narrow window.
“You still workin’ here, Calamity?” he asked. “Gotta be a record.” He did an exaggerated head slap. “Oh, that’s right. Your
uncle owns the place. You have job security.” He shoved a five and a one in my direction. “Keep the change,” he said with
“Gee, thanks, Mr. Ranger, sir,” I remarked. “Not working today? No reports of rabid skunks in the yard, snakes in the birdhouse,
or bats in the bedroom? No varmints to relocate? No mating pelicans to spy on? Hey, somebody nailed a squirrel over at Second
and Arthur. The tail was still moving. You might check that out.”
Rick Townsend worked for the state Division of Natural Resources, enforcing fish and game laws. Three years ahead of me in
school, “Ranger Rick” as I liked to call him, was, and still is, best buddy to my brother, Craig. And he was, and still is,
a mega-irritant to me. Good-looking enough to be on magazine covers—and we’re not talking
Field and Stream
here, ladies—Rick Townsend was still single and always looking. He had been known to step out with my archrival from my high
school days, Annette Felders, a snobby brunette with drill team thighs and perfect hair, hence my brunette joke.
“No roadkill for me today, brat, but thanks for the tip. I plan to do some water-skiing later on. I’d ask you to join us,
but, well, with you working two jobs...” He stuck his hands out, palms up, in a what-can-you-do? pose.
I grabbed his shake and passed it out the window to him, my fingers tightening around the cup, much as they ached to stiffen
around his big, tanned, arrogant neck. The plastic lid popped off and the contents of the cup erupted over the sides and down
I thrust the mess at him. “Now see what you’ve done!”
“Me? What did I do?”
“You provoked me, that’s what.” I grabbed his chicken basket and dumped it in a sack. “You always provoke me.”
“That’s ‘cause you’re so much fun to watch get all riled up, Tressa,” he had the audacity to admit.
I shoved his sack of food at him. “Will there be anything else,
“I asked, ticked at him but furious with myself for rising to his bait.
“Some ketchup would be nice. Oh, and one more thing. Did you hear about the blonde who sold her car so she would have gas
I grabbed a handful of ketchup packets and baseballed them out the drive-up window. Unfortunately, Ranger Rick had moved on.
“One of these days I’m going to get the best of that Neanderthal,” I said to no one in particular. I was going to have to
spend yet another day slaving away at two jobs in order to pay the bills, while Joe Cool would be spending the afternoon on
the lake, enjoying early June’s unseasonably warm weather. “He’s been a thorn in my side for more years than I care to count.
A burr under my saddle. A pain in the—”
“Tressa, please, we have customers,” Aunt Regina shushed me.
“Neck. I was going to say
She nodded. “Of course you were, Tressa. Of course you were. Don’t you think you’d better get going? What time do you have
to be at Bargain City?”
“My shift starts at two today,” I answered, taking off my navy blue apron and handing it over to my aunt. “I’ll have to go
home and shower the deep fat fry smell off me, or Toby in sporting goods will be tailing me all night.”
I work at a discount chain store in the electronics department. No, I didn’t volunteer for electronics; it was the only opening
available when I was looking for a job. As I frequently was. I figured I could bluff my way through, although I still have
difficulty programming my VCR, don’t know hip-hop from bebop, and am clueless when it comes to the latest popular video game
systems. Still, with all those TVs in my department, I kept current on all the soaps, solved society’s problems with
and applauded Judge Judy’s kick-butt justice. I could then receive free therapy with Dr. Phil after watching the aforementioned
shows. Oh, and I got paid for it in the bargain. I’d say here my momma didn’t raise no dummies, but the jury’s still out on
that one, I guess.
I jumped into my car, a 1987 white Plymouth Reliant four-door. Hey, it’s all I can afford! I started it up, and cursed when
I saw the gas gauge. The needle was below a quarter of a tank, and I put ten bucks worth in the other day. My little beater
was going through petrol like my grandma went through Poligrip. I sniffed and frowned when I caught a whiff of gas (the car
kind, not the onion ring kind). Just what I needed a repair bill for a car that was on its last tires anyway. I wheeled out
of the parking lot and checked my watch. Just enough time to run home, feed the critters, shower and change before heading
back out for another exciting eight-hour shift at Bargain City.
I thought about Ranger Rick and the latest in his never-ending repertoire of dumb blonde jokes. I’d heard ‘em all. “Hey, Calamity,
didja hear about the blonde who took her new scarf back to the store because it was too tight?” Or, “She was so blonde that
she got excited because she finished a jigsaw puzzle in six months and the box said ‘two to four years.’” And, “Did you hear
about the blonde who called to report a fire at her home? ‘Just tell us how to get there, ma’am,’ the dispatcher said. ‘Duh,’
replied the blonde. ‘Big red truck.’” Ha, ha, ha.
Hey. My name is Tressa Jayne Turner, but in the small, rural Iowa hamlet I call home, I’m more often referred to as Calamity
Jayne. Nice, huh? Okay. Level with me. You’ve already made some assumptions about me based solely on that rather unflattering
nickname alone, haven’t you? It’s all right. Lots of folks who know me (all right, all right, and maybe some who don’t) call
me Calamity. I first started hearing that particular pet name when I was a wee, not-so-bonny lass with chronic skinned knees
and chipped teeth. Since we’re being honest with each other here, I must also confess I did my part to reinforce the undignified
label, if not to earn it outright. It likely saw its beginnings way back in kindergarten when I took a bite out of my teacher’s
fake apple. Or possibly when I ran off and left my five-year-old sister in the rest-room at the neighborhood park while chasing
down “Little Peter” Patterson when he copped onto my baseball glove. Now that I think about it, poor “Little Peter” was never
able to shake his nickname either. Hmm. Oh, in case you’re wondering, my sister wasn’t traumatized or anything. She was able
to speak quite normally again in a month’s time and had kicked that bed-wetting habit altogether by the next summer.
As an adolescent, and later, as a teenager, I learned to use my notoriety to achieve maximum favorable results. Translated,
that meant minimum parental expectations. Which suited me just dandy at the time. Sandwiched between an all-state athlete
big brother and a younger sister who really could be a rocket scientist (and look like a super-model doing it), mediocrity
seemed the perfect place to hide.
Having a regularly assigned place at the low end of the curve is no big deal to a young girl whose only interest in school
is the extracurricular activities it presents and where academics are just a minor inconvenience. However, as a grown woman
nearing four-and-twenty, bearing the stigma of the “Calamity” label had become rather tiresome. So what if I’ve had more jobs
since high school graduation than Bill Clinton has had lady friends, or Oprah has different-sized wardrobes? So what if I
occasionally drive away from the service station with the gas pump nozzle still in my car and my giant sipper cup on the roof?
“So what if I still haven’t decided what I want to be when I grow up?”
I didn’t realize I’d spoken out loud until I heard snickers from the car in the lane next to me and caught the amused looks
of its two pimply-faced occupants. I resisted the urge to flip them the bird, made a right hand turn and headed north out
I pushed my blonde, in need of fresh highlighting, hair away from my face and sighed. What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t
I find my—what was the word?
. Why did I move from one job to the next with no direction, no goals, no clue? My folks had insisted I take college courses
at the area community college upon graduation. Two years and five changes in my course of study later, they threw up their
hands and declared I was on my own until I knew what the devil I wanted to do with my life. At twenty, that didn’t seem like
such a big deal. Take a year off, find yourself,
as the military slogan went Be all that you can be. A stint in the military occurred to me until I saw the shoes they had
As the years went by and I was no closer to my destiny (the
show topic two weeks ago), desperation set in. I lost more jobs than Jim Carrey did baby teeth; due, I know, to my dissatisfaction
with the life I wasn’t carving out for myself. With each job lost, the hated “Calamity” label was reinforced.
At Pammy’s Pet Parlour I was let go after I released the sheriff’s prized Doberman, Deputy Dawg, to his soon-to-be-ex-wife,
Debbie. How was I to know they were embroiled in a bitter custody battle over an ill-mannered mutt with a skin condition and
Then there was the unpleasant incident at the tape factory. Let me tell you, Triple-M makes top-of-the-line adhesive. They
were peeling me off that wall for hours.
The job at the local newspaper, now that was my absolute, all-time favorite. I was the crime beat reporter. My finger was
on the pulse of the community, and I loved it. Okay, so I really picked up traffic court depositions and wrote obituaries.
To this day I don’t see how I could be faulted for switching those obit photos. I still maintain Miss Deanie Duncan looked
a lot more like a Theodore (Stubby) P. Burkholder than Stubby P. Burkholder did.
I pulled into the gravel driveway of my humble abode. Okay, here’s the really sad part. No, I don’t still live with my parents.
Give me a break. I live
to them. In a mobile home. My grandmother lived there until her health mandated she move in with her son and daughter-in-law,
my pa and ma. Two years ago we swapped, her two bedroom double-wide for my room. I pay rent. Almost every month, real regular-like.
I grew up on a modest acreage in a three-bedroom, split-level house. My father has worked at the same phone company for almost
thirty years, although his employer has changed names five times in the last ten. My mother is a certified public accountant
and does bookkeeping and taxes for a living. And no sirree, I
thought of following in their career footsteps—although I did think it would be cool to climb telephone poles with those spiky
boots. However, since they use cherry pickers exclusively now, or so my father advises, I say where’s the fun in that?
My golden retrievers, Butch and Sundance, were on me before I took two steps out of the car, one of the hazards of working
at a fast food joint. They sniffed me and I ruffled their coats, wishing I had some fries to toss at them.
“How’re you boys doin’? You been chasin’ Gramma’s cat again?” Butch and Sundance detested my grandmother’s cat, Hermione.
I know. Gag me. Gramma’s as stubborn as they come. It took three falls and several broken bones before she finally admitted
she needed someone close by all the time. My mother has a home-based office, so it works out well for both of them. I admire
my mother. It takes a very disciplined person to conduct business under her own roof, especially with a cranky old lady around.
I’d probably spend way too much time with my head in the fridge. Or the oven.
Butch and Sundance shadowed me down to the feed lot. I unlocked the gate and tromped to the small barn where I feed my brood.
I have three horses. Okay, so one of them belongs to my mother. My mother rode horses before she could walk. She ran the barrels
in her youth and was pretty darned good at it. Well, actually her horse did most of the running. I inherited Mom’s love of
horses, if not her math aptitude. My mother owns Queen of Hearts, a leggy sorrel quarter horse with a nifty white blaze. Mom’s
first horse was Royal Flush. I held to family tradition. My horses are Black Jack, or Jack for short, a stocky, black, half-quarter
and half-Morgan; and Joker, a goofy, but lovable Appaloosa-quarter.
I filled the feed boxes with grain and whistled through my fingers. Within seconds, the thud of hooves against solid earth
was definitive proof that my little herd was hankering for grub. I stepped back and held the barn door open. The horses moved
to their stalls and began to eat. I often wonder if my offspring will be this easy to train.
I moseyed from stall to stall and gave each of the horses a bit of individual attention. Generally, I leave them alone when
they are eating. Horses are like people in that respect—they don’t like to be bothered when they are dining (please take note
if your vocation happens to be telemarketing). I was running late, so I cut my fawning short and, instead, grabbed the pitchfork
and filled the wheelbarrow with manure, vowing to load the wheelbarrow contents into the spreader the next day. Once the grain
was gobbled, I shooed my beasties out of the barn, shut the door, and made my way to the trailer, my optimistic hounds still
on my tail. Once at the front porch, I dumped some Mighty Mutt in their bowls, refilled their water and hurried to the shower.
Fifteen minutes later, dressed in the requisite khaki slacks and white tee, and couldn’t-resist white wedgie heels, I headed