The Talk of the Town

Gossip is a lot like a visit to your local Taco Bell: it sounds great in the moment and you gobble it up eagerly. But then you get that terrible feeling in the pit of your stomach and you know you’ve done something horribly wrong.

It’s almost impossible to avoid gossip no matter how hard you try. But every time you hear gossip, it’s like a moment of truth in your life and you are forced to make a decision: do you perpetuate whatever juicy tidbit has come your way or, do you let the words float off into space, never to be given a second thought?

I didn’t always make the right choice when gossip came my way. I used to listen with an attentive ear, anxious to hear something salacious about someone else. If I’m really honest, I think I was always hoping to hear something that would somehow make me feel better than someone else.

Did you hear that Diane bought cookies for the bake sale then took them out of the package and put them in her own container so no one would know?

Oh good, I’d think. I’m better than Diane because I baked homemade cookies.

Sheila only drives her kids halfway to school, then she makes them walk the rest of the way.

Yes! I’m way better than Sheila—I walk my daughter all the way to school.

I would pass on every bit of nonsense to someone else, trying desperately to convince myself that what I was saying was actually important.

Then I met the master of all gossip: The Talk of the Town. Every neighborhood has one. It’s the woman who is involved in everything. The woman who appears to be well-liked and somehow has friends in every social circle. It’s the woman who always seems to pop up whenever more than two people congregate with her devious eyes and her fake grin. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t notice any of this at first glance.

Being new to my neighborhood, The Talk of the Town was quick with a smile and an invitation to have coffee. If only I had known then that she had fangs hidden underneath that simpering smile.

But I was happy to have someone to talk to and talk she did. She told me about Sandy and how everyone hates her because she acts like she’s above everyone else even though Sandy sees a therapist and might be a little unstable. She told me that Becky’s marriage was falling apart because her husband is having an affair with a woman at his office. She told me to watch out for Lauren because she has a drinking problem.

I listened, horrified at what I was hearing. I felt bad for these women, not because I believed what I was being told, but because The Talk of the Town was even uttering these nasty things—true or not. This gossip was ugly. This gossip was mean.

After that day, I tried to avoid The Talk of the Town. But she just kept popping up. Like the day I was at the mall and ran into Sandy and Lauren. We were chit-chatting when The Talk of the Town walked up.

“Oh my goodness! Sandy and Lauren, I’m so happy to see you girls!” The Talk of the Town said over-enthusiastically as she hugged them both.

“Did you get the invitation to my dinner party?” Sandy asked.

“I did and I wouldn’t miss it for the world! You know how much I love you and your parties! And Lauren, my Mikey is looking forward to the sleepover at your house for your little Cooper’s birthday this weekend!”

I stood there listening to The Talk of the Town chat and laugh with her pals—the very women she told me were unstable and dangerous. I saw this woman with new eyes and I pondered for just a moment what she said about me when I wasn’t around.

The four of us parted ways and I left the mall with an ironic smile on my face. It was just as I had suspected—gossip wasn’t proof that I was a better person, it only made me feel hateful and ugly. And that’s not a feeling I like.

These days, I keep a safe distance from The Talk of the Town. Sometimes when I see her around town, I wonder if she ever gossips about me. Then I stop and think with a smile, If she is gossiping about me, I hope she makes it a really juicy story.

A Classic Tale of Suburban Horror: Frankendriveway

“Honey, the basement is flooded…again.”

Fewer phrases can quicken a homeowner’s pulse than the dreaded flooded basement. There’s the mopping, the tearing up of carpet, the obligatory swearing, and worst of all, the call to the plumber.

After administering what can only be described as a colonoscopy of our main sewer line, the plumber’s diagnosis was grim. “There’s a tree root in the pipes. We are going to have to dig up your driveway to get to it and repair it.” I asked the inevitable question, “How much?” The plumber took the next 20 minutes to measure, pace, smoke a cigarette, consult an magic eight ball and then checked his calculations on an abacus.

“It comes to $4975,” he said while avoiding making eye contact with me (which makes sense, since my eye was doing that twitching thing it tends to do under duress). Now, the way I see it, when the plumber tells you the broken pipe is in fact under the driveway, necessitating the digging up of said driveway to the tune of $5000, you have two choices: kill the plumber and bury him in a shallow grave, or, laugh hysterically. I chose the latter (which ironically still seemed to scare him).

Between fits of laughter, a near-piddling, and the start of my Grey Goose and cranberry IV drip, I called my husband to break the news to him. “Well, if it has to be done, it has to be done.” My husband’s coolness under pressure is, surprisingly, one of his most annoying qualities.

“They are going to dig up the driveway!” I bellowed.

“Are you worried about the landscaping? It can all be fixed,” he tried to pacify me.

“Landscaping?! That’s the least of my worries. What if they dig up an old Indian burial ground? Which, of course, will most decidedly end with a poltergeist issue. Or worse, what if they find a pet ‘semetary’?! Do you know how many fish I have flushed in four years? That’s probably what’s causing all the plumbing issues. That’s all I need: a dozen zombie goldfish sloshing up the stairs to seek revenge on my lackluster fishbowl cleanings!”

“Zombie goldfish?” he asked.

“Yes! And remember that shaggy-looking beta that always stared at me with his one good eye?”

“You mean Daisy?” he said.

“Yeah, that’s him! You know he’s going to lead the zombie goldfish attack or become a poltergeist.”

“I don’t even know what a ‘poltergeist’ is,” my husband’s patience was wearing thin.

“Do you know that 18% of marriages fail because one spouse lacks a working knowledge of horror movies of the 1980s?” My husband is a numbers guy so I think my clever use of statistics will sway him.

“I have to go now, honey. Do not annoy the plumbers while they are working.”

Ten minutes later I’m down by the driveway asking the plumbers what I feel to be very valid questions. “Can’t this procedure be done laparoscopically? You know, a small incision, robotic arms, ultrasound? Come on, I have cable and high-speed internet! We are living in a rapidly advancing world!” Needless to say, that guy did not appreciate my vision of the future of plumbing.

Epilogue
Frankendriveway is healing well, no worse for wear other than a giant, concrete scar. And happily, no ancient burial grounds were uncovered.

There are more hilarious stories in my new book, More Tales from Suburbia: Yes, It Gets Even Crazier! Get yours today on Amazon—print and ebook versions available. Also, check out my first book, Tales from Suburbia: You Don’t Have to be Crazy to Live Here, But it Helps. Also available on Amazon.

The Elf on the Shelf, Part 2

Just when I thought it was safe to relax and enjoy Christmastime, my daughter comes home from school and asks, “Mommy, why don’t we have an Elf on the Shelf?”

I choke on my cocoa and look at her in disbelief. I have done everything to keep her sheltered from that homely creature but it has been all for naught. I dislodge a miniature marshmallow from my nose and poise myself to answer her question.

I decide to try and play dumb. “What’s an Elf on the Shelf, dear?”

“It’s an Elf that sits on your shelf, Mommy.”

I take a minute to appreciate the sheer sarcasm of her statement, then I get right back on the Elf offensive.

“Oh, one of those? Well, we don’t have a lot of shelves, so I don’t think an elf would be comfortable in our house.” Yes, limited shelf space, she’ll buy that.

“It doesn’t have to be on a shelf; it can sit anywhere. My teacher told us all about the Elf on the Shelf,” she says brightly.

So it is the teacher that is smuggling Elf information to my daughter. I was such a fool to think my fortress was secure. I never let my daughter watch the Elf on the Shelf movie, I distracted her so she wouldn’t see the Elf in the store, but all the while the evil had already infiltrated…at the most unlikely source. Well played, Elf.

“So why don’t we have one, Mommy?”

Why don’t we have one? First, he’s creepy. Second, I can’t handle the commitment. That thing is supposed to get moved around everyday. With my luck, I’d forget for a few days and my daughter would start to worry and I would have to make up a story about how the Elf obviously got ahold of Mommy’s Xanax and is just taking an extended, yet well-deserved, holiday nap.

The pressure is getting to me, my thoughts are a jumble. I. Must. Focus. No, I won’t be outsmarted by a semi-plush, non-posable Elf with freakishly long limbs. I rally and come up with a brilliant countermove.

“You know, honey, Santa Claus only sends an Elf on the Shelf to children who are real discipline cases; the kids who are so wild that they are on the verge of being put on the Naughty List. It’s a kind of reprogramming, if you will, to coerce the children into making better choices. This kind of psychological approach has been banned in most European countries because it was deemed inhumane. But of course here it’s still allowed. Elves and red dye 40. When will our country learn?” I shake my head disdainfully for effect.

My daughter just looks at me in utter confusion then asks, “So all the kids who have an Elf on the Shelf are naughty?”

“Yes and Santa sends in the Elf on the Shelf to get a good indication of exactly how much coal he is going to need to fill all the naughty boys’ and girls’ stockings on Christmas Eve.” Take that, Elf on the Shelf.

I can see the wheels turning in my daughter’s head as she tries to process all this. “But Addie has an Elf on the Shelf. Is she naughty?”

Addie is my daughter’s best friend and the sweetest child I have ever met. It’s at exactly this point that I am absolutely riddled with guilt. But I have never been a person that exhibits good judgment especially when in the middle of a battle of wits with an inanimate Elf.

“Probably. But I’m sure she will start being good and get back onto the Nice List,” I say reassuringly and hope this is the end of this discussion.

“What do you think she did?” Of course it’s not over; she is her mother’s daughter and she is not going to let this go.

“Hard to tell. It might be mail fraud or possibly shoplifting. Look, the point is, the Elf can rehabilitate even the rottenest of kids, so Addie will be fine, okay?” I really couldn’t have dug myself any deeper if I had shovel.

Fortunately, my daughter is perfectly satisfied at this point and the holidays can resume being joyful in our house. I walk into the kitchen and say under my breath, “Damn Elf.”

My daughter pops around the corner and says, “You know Mommy, if you don’t stop saying bad words, Santa might send an Elf on the Shelf to you!”

Touché.

The Party of the Year

“Are you going to the annual Mulberry Trails Christmas party?” my neighbor asked me casually over the fence.

Mulberry Trails is the quiet little suburb I call home and, apparently, the focus of an upcoming party. My heart beat a little quicker at the prospect of attending an actual party but then reality set in.

“Oh uh, no. I usually don’t get invited to parties. It’s no big deal, just my lot in life. I also wear a size ten shoe and my butt makes it impossible for me to pull off the whole skinny jean thing so I’m pretty much used to life being unfair,” I said while trying to laugh off the awkwardness.

“No, this party is for all the women of Mulberry Trails. Everyone gets an invitation. I’ll see you there,” she said and walked away.

I mumbled some kind of goodbye as I pondered the information that still hovered before me. A party. In my neighborhood. For everyone.

I have always been about 87% sure that I am someone so certainly I would be getting an invitation. I quickly ran into the house to check my email for any inconspicuous evites I might have missed. I scrolled through my mail and found my bank statement and the elementary school lunch menu. My bank account was on the plus side and the school was serving baked potatoes the next day—my daughter’s favorite. The day just kept getting better and better.

I decided to check my spam folder, just in case. I scrolled through 346 emails all advertising some kind of weight loss. It started to give me a complex. Sure, I’ve had my struggles with skinny jeans but I wouldn’t say I have a problem. I never knew spam could be so judgemental. I vowed right then and there to never read anything in my spam folder again. My ego can’t take it.

Maybe my invitation got stuck in the mailbox! I thought as I simultaneously started sprinting down the street. I opened up my mailbox and searched every square inch, of which there are only ten. I felt along the corners for any signs of a lonely party invite just waiting to be found. Nothing.

By that time it was almost three o’clock so I decided to hang out and wait for the mailman. Three o’clock on the nose, he pulled up.

“Hi Ted.”

“Hi, Mrs. Haas! How are you doing today?” he said jauntily as he began sorting the mail.

“Got anything…special for me today?” I asked hopefully.

“You mean from that certain store you and your husband are so fond of ordering from?” he said nonchalantly.

“Ok, Ted. First, ew. And second, isn’t there some kind of mail recipient/mail carrier confidentiality clause that I can enact here?” I said.

“Oh, don’t worry. I see nothing, I know nothing,” he said in a tone that told me he knows that I know that he knows.

“Good. You don’t happen to have an invitation in there for me, do you?”

“An invitation for what?” he asked as he finished filling the last mailbox.

“It’s for a Christmas party,” I said cheerfully.

“Oh, you mean the Women of Mulberry Trails Annual Christmas Party?” he said. “No, I delivered those invitations a month ago. You didn’t get an invitation? Everyone is invited to that party.”

It was like a knife to the heart. Even my old pal, Ted, was in the know about this party.

“I’m beginning to think there is another definition of ‘everyone’ that I’m not privy to, Ted,” I said as I walked away.

The next day I got a text from another neighbor that read: “I lost my invitation. What time is the party tonight?”

I texted her back: “I don’t know what time the party is. I wasn’t invited.”

She sent me a text with two emojis: a little sad face and a unicorn.

I texted: “Why the unicorn?”

She texted: “Unicorns always make me happy and if I wasn’t invited to the ‘Everyone is Invited’ Christmas party I would need something to cheer me up!”

I texted her back with a robot emoji, the tap-dancing twins emoji, and a shoe emoji. Because screw her, that’s why.

I spent the day in an existential funk. Flashbacks to college philosophy flooded my mind as I began to ponder my own existence: Am I someone? And if I am, in fact, someone, wouldn’t that garner me a position in the category of everyone? Who am I? Am I? Cogito ergo sum. I think therefore I am. Wait, who said that? Socrates? No, he’s the guy who drank a hemlock mojito. I can’t remember who said it. Hell, I can’t remember what I had for breakfast. Wait. Did I eat breakfast? It’s almost lunch time. I better make a sandwich. Or should I just eat cookie dough?

Leave it to my stomach to ruin a perfectly good philosophical rant.

After a quick lunch break, I decided to prove that I am someone through science. Science has never been a strength of mine so I Googled some science stuff and learned that we are made up of oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus (whatever that means). I hypothesized that if we are all made of the same things then we are all technically someone and therefore should all be included in the subcategory of everyone. I jotted down some scientific calculations that looked more like a grocery list and realized I’m worse at science than I had previously suspected. In an attempt to sharpen my science skills, I spent the afternoon watching season three of The Big Bang Theory. A lot of laughs, but no real scientific break throughs and I didn’t get laundry done either. Great, now my family will have no clean underwear for tomorrow. Thanks a lot, Mulberry Trails Everyone’s Invited Annual Christmas Party.

As the time of the party drew nearer, I got dressed up and even put on some make up. My husband looked up as I walked down the stairs.

“So you finally got your invitation?” he said brightly.

“No, not exactly.”

“Honey, we both know how it ended the last time you showed up at a party you weren’t invited to. That police officer was quite clear that the next time it happened there would be a psychiatric hold and a lot of mandatory testing for you,” he warned, speaking of the very incident we vowed never to speak of.

“I’m well aware of the perimeters of the law…now. That’s why I intend to stay clear of their bushes and not peek through any windows…like last time,” I said contritely.

“What do you plan on doing then?” my husband asked with obvious concern.

“It’s Christmastime, who can resist a caroler?” I said, thinking of the brilliant idea just as I said it.

I ran out the front door before he could dissuade me.

As I walked down the street, the party house glowed before me. It looked so warm and inviting. I stood there for a moment hoping that someone I knew would walk by, see me all dressed up, singing Christmas carols and invite me in.

I started with “Jingle Bells” because everyone loves “Jingle Bells.” I then switched gears and performed a moving, if not slightly off-key, version of “O Come All Ye Faithful” (okay, if I’m being completely honest, it probably sounded more like tuning hour at the accordion factory, but my heart was in it). My finale was “Baby it’s Cold Outside” which really made me wish someone was listening because I sang the heck out of both parts of that song.

But no one was listening.

I finally admitted defeat and walked home. As I climbed up the stairs, I felt the tears come, hot and stinging my cheeks. I secretly wished I was just emotional about my rendition of “O Come All Ye Faithful,” but I knew better. I sniffed as I walked passed my daughter’s room.

“Mommy? How was the party?” she asked sleepily.

I wiped my sleeve across my eyes and sat on her bed.

“Oh, I didn’t go to that party.”

“They didn’t invite you,” she said matter-of-factly.

“No, but it’s okay. It’s no big deal. They probably just forgot,” I said.

“It happens to you a lot, Mommy,” she said sadly as she looked up at me.

“Yeah, but that just means I’m good at it now. I’m a pro!” I said and tried to laugh.

“Then why are you crying?” she said sounding more like my mother than my daughter.

“Okay, it hurts a bit,” I admitted.

“I know. Remember when I didn’t get invited to that birthday party everyone else was invited to,” she said wisely.

There it was again—everyone, that exclusive group my daughter and I just can’t seem to infiltrate.

“It never feels good to be left out, but you know what? Nothing hones a sharp wit and biting sarcasm quite like good old fashioned exclusion,” I said, this time with a real laugh.

“Oh good! I have something to look forward to!” she said and hugged me.

I hugged her tightly and thought, Yeah, we have a lot to look forward to.

My Second Book

As a famous author, I am recognized by literally tens of people who already knew me. The fame is so relentless I can’t even walk through my own house without hearing the chants of adoring fans like, “Hey Mommy, what’s for breakfast?” and “Honey, I think the dog threw up behind the chair again.” I’m not complaining—it’s simply the price I pay for my celebrity status.
Another question I get asked a lot is, “When is your second book coming out? Last year it was out by Christmas and it was my super hilarious one-stop shopping for the holidays. I bought one for everyone on my list, including the creepy lady across the street who wears a cloak and walks her cat on a leash.”
The good news: my second book will be out this spring! I will keep you all posted as it comes together but rest assured, it is coming and it’s even funnier than the first book (I know, because I wrote it). The bad news: you will need a new gift idea for everyone on your Christmas list. How about the giving the gift of hugs? Just don’t attempt to hug the cloak-wearing lady who walks her cat on a leash—I hear she bites.

 

Of course, if you haven’t purchased my first book, let’s put that on the top of your holiday to-do list. In fact, head over to Amazon right now and order or download a copy! Tales from Suburbia: You Don’t Have to be Crazy to Live Here, But it Helps by Brandi Haas.

Elf on the Shelf

I had a nightmare about one of those little Elf on the Shelf toys last night. It seemed one had gotten into our house and kept trying to attack my daughter so I attempted to drown it in the dog’s water dish–it wouldn’t die. I then wrestled it to the ground and tried to reason with it–it wouldn’t listen. Finally, I had to dismember it’s stuffed body parts and scatter them William Wallace-style across the living room. There was also a penguin riding a tricycle in a Richard Nixon mask. I’m not sure how that last part fits in, but I wanted to be thorough in my retelling of this dream.

I think I am still recovering from all of the Elf on the Shelf antics from last year. One cannot nonchalantly enter the realm of Pinterest with hopes of finding a recipe for figgy pudding and a stiff holiday toddy without being inundated by the images of that Elf compromising himself in all kinds of shenanigans.

I have never seen a picture of that Elf on an actual shelf, but I have seen pictures of him playing in a box of cereal–oh, you cheeky Elf! I’ve seen him spill a box of crayons–what a scamp! And of course there’s the time he drank all the vodka, shaved the dog and blamed the neighbors then threw up all over the stairs. Yeah, this Elf is a rascal!

As I understand it, the Elf is designed to be a mystical presence that keeps kids in line during the holiday season with the looming threat that this Elf reports back to Santa. But how can he accurately report children’s misbehavior if he himself is constantly misbehaving? It certainly calls into question Santa’s standards and training practices. When I was a kid, Santa knew what I was doing every minute of every day simply with his Santa magic, now he has outsourced a good portion of his job to poorly-trained elves whose misdeeds end up plastered all over the internet.

That is why this holiday season I will be marketing: “The Elf on the Shelf That Watches Your Other Elf on the Shelf and Tries to Curb His Poor Decision-Making.” Clearly, the name is a work in progress, but the idea is solid. This Elf will come with a choice of three facial expressions: a motherly smirk, a disapproving frown, or the dreaded mom scowl. He will also come with prerecorded tried and true mommy phrases like, “Do you need a time out?” and “I’m counting to three!” and the mother classic of all time, “That’s it!” This Elf will keep that mischievous little other Elf out of your good china this year and spare that glorious new gravy boat your grandmother gave you.

I’m also working on a prototype for “The Elf on the Shelf’s Older Brother.” This one will ridicule the younger Elf on the Shelf mercilessly while punching him in the face with his own fist. It’s a bit more extreme, for those families with elves (and children) who are seriously close to getting nothing but coal (or jail time) for Christmas. For those families where behavior is a moderate concern, there will be a “Passive-Aggressive Elf on the Shelf.” This Elf will watch the other Elf with a judgmental, superior air and utter phrases like, “Well, if that’s what makes you happy.”

My goal is to make this holiday season a cheerful one, devoid of any Elf misconduct while still properly frightening the children of the world with that little Elf face perched on a shelf near you.

To My Child’s Teacher

As the days of summer slowly came to a close, I realized the day I had been dreading was upon me—the first day of kindergarten. It’s not that I have anything against school; I love school and I know my daughter will love it too. And while I know that school is the beginning of independence and a new adventure for my daughter, I also know it is an end. It is the end of carefree days with just my daughter and me. She will now have an entire life away from me. How will she get by without me? How will I get by without her? I feel sad and worried and excited all at once. I don’t know who her teacher will be but I do know there are so many things I need to tell her before she meets my daughter. I need to write it all down, everything this teacher will need to know about my sweet little girl.

Dear Kindergarten Teacher,

Hello. My daughter will be one of the many students in your class this year. I thought you might find it helpful if I jot down a few things about her. As you can see, I have laminated it for your convenience.

First thing you must know is that she is a very sensitive child. She cried for a week when we bought our new car because she felt so bad for the old car. She has over fifty stuffed animals, all of which were orphans until she adopted them. She calls them her brothers and sisters. She agonizes over which one to take outside to play because she wants to make sure they all get a turn.

She doesn’t know how to button her pants. She tries so hard but she still hasn’t got it. I blame myself; we should have worked on it this summer, but we just ran out of time. She won’t ask you for help with them, she gets too embarrassed, so maybe you could just give her pants a quick check every now and then, just to make sure she’s buttoned up.

She’s not a good eater, especially at lunch. I’m so worried that she’s going to be hungry. If it looks like her lunch is mostly Goldfish crackers, it’s because it is. She loves those things and I know she will eat them. But now I’m worried she won’t be able to get her lunch open by herself. Oh, why did I insist on helping her so much?

She likes to climb really high on the monkey bars. She thinks I just stand there watching and cheering, but I am actually spotting her, ready to catch her if she falls. It’s hard work, trying to look casual while I’m terrified she’s going to fall and break something important.

She loves books. Her favorite book is Dr. Seuss’ McElligot’s Pool, especially if you read it with a British accent. She actual loves anything read with a British accent.

She is a people-pleaser and a rule-follower. You never need to raise your voice with her, a stern look can reduce her to tears. And please help her to understand that even good kids get in a little trouble now and then.

She loves to laugh and learn and sing and play. She loves to dance and is excited to make new friends. She loves being outside and running, give her an open field, and she will run until she collapses.

She will idolize you from the moment she meets you. Please use this power for good. Please be patient. Please have a kind smile and a big heart. Please be a good storyteller and have a cheerful laugh.

But most of all, please be aware that you now spend more waking hours with my child than I do. You are shaping her and will have a profound effect on her life. Please be the person I can trust with such a monumental task.

Respectfully,
Brandi Haas

Hi Readers! Thanks for stopping by and reading my story! I hope you and your children have a smooth transition as they start school! And remember: You’re going to have some free time on your hands with the kiddos back in school, so be sure to order my book to give yourself a good laugh each day! Tales from Suburbia: You Don’t Have to be Crazy to Live Here, But it Helps by Brandi Haas, available on Amazon (link is in the right column of this page) in print and ebook versions, on Barnes and Noble (link is in the right column of this page) as an ebook, and also available on Kobo Books.