Sipping wine with friends after class, I confess my dream: to one day – either from brain fever or a nasty spill – lose the filter that prevents me from acting on the inappropriate thoughts that flash in my mind throughout the day. I tell them that I want to become an anonymous vigilante, known only by the tag I leave behind in blood red spraypaint – Smackberry.
“Have you heard about the maniac running around the Loop?” they’ll ask each other, waiting in line at Starbucks.
“I know. I can’t believe they haven’t caught the guy.”
“I never thought I’d say this, but I just don’t feel safe anymore.”
Like a wild animal, I stalk my prey: harried, self-important office drones who can’t look up from their Blackberries long enough to realize that they’re blocking the entire staircase while people are trying desperately to get to their destinations. People who enter a revolving door but are too busy double-thumb texting to actually push the door, relying on others to carry their weight. Co-workers who come to strategic planning meetings and glance up every four minutes only to give the impression that they are actually paying attention to the discussion instead of scrolling through unimportant email after unimportant email.
My only weapons are my cheetah-like speed and a rolled up copy of Crain’s Chicago. Disguised by some sort of bandit mask – maybe I’m wearing roller skates or something, too, because I’m not a very fast runner – I sneak up on my victims and smack the Blackberries right out of their hands so that they fly high into the air and smash on the concrete.
I poke them in the chest with the magazine for emphasis and then run – or skate – away, as my victory cry carries off into the distance, “Smackberry!”
One day, they will fear my wrath.
I walk into the lobby of my office building and see a crowd of harried office drones who have gathered around the heating vents.
It appears a tiny and disoriented sparrow has flown into our lobby. I can hear feathers against metal as it tries to hide in the vents. A pile of notebooks, briefcases and Blackberries has amassed on the floor as people stop to help catch the bird.
A man on one side, a woman on the other, they approach the bird sound. The man very gently reaches his hand underneath the vent, then cups the other hand over it as he pulls out the scared, but noisy, bird. He holds the bird close against his stomach as he walks out and places it in the bushes outside.
He grabs his notebook, his briefcase and his Blackberry and walks to the elevators.
I get on the train behind a stylish yet harried 30-something woman who alternates between typing away on her laptop and dashing off quick emails on her Blackberry. A slightly disheveled 40-ish woman asks if the woman would mind moving her bag so she can sit down next to her. The woman obliges, and instantly returns to her work.
“You’re really fast. At that.”
She looks over, “I’m sorry?”
The woman mimes typing in the air, “That. You must do it a lot.”
She shifts in her seat and returns to her work.
“Oh, I’m sorry – I know I probably smell. It’s just, I’ve been really busy lately and didn’t have time to shower. I don’t usually let myself go like…”
The business woman is confused, “What? Oh, no. No. I… I was just leaning against the window. It’s fine.”
“I was running to make the train. Didn’t think I was going to catch it. The doors almost slammed right on me!”
She’s wearing a black sleeveless shirt that reveals a long thin bruise on her upper arm. I search for a thumbprint. She fans herself with a magazine, sets it down on her lap, then reaches back to lift her bottle-blond hair as if to pull it into a ponytail. Before she lets her hair drop, I can see the fine, damp strands stuck to her neck and beads of sweat dripping down.
She reaches into her purse and pulls out a Discman, fiddles with the cord for a moment, then starts listening to her music.
“It’s not too loud, is it?”
“Okay, good. I just got this CD player and I like to listen to it. It helps make the time go faster.”
The train conductor comes down our aisle. “Where you headed?”
“Oh. Oh no. Seven?”
She looks down at her purse, “I thought it was $5.65?”
“There’s a $2 fee if you buy the ticket on the train.”
She looks down into her purse again, but before she can look back up, the woman next to her hands her a $5 bill.
“What? Oh… are you sure?”
“Yes, please,” she smiles.
“Oh. Oh, bless your heart.”
She hands the woman her change and thanks her several more times. She puts her headphones back on as the other woman scrolls through her emails.
They’re safe for now. I’ll set the mask aside for the time being, as I have seen the good in their kind. But know that Smackberry is watching. Always watching.
I’m pretty sure I have a malicious virus on my computer. I don’t know a lot about computers, but I’m pretty sure it’s one of those Trojan horse viruses. Nothing’s really wrong with my computer, that I can tell, but I know my system was hacked because when I got my Netflix in the mail the other day, there was a copy of Year of the Dog in one of my red envelopes.
So it had to be a virus. I’m telling you right now, there’s no way I put that movie into my queue. So this hacker isn’t trying to steal my passwords or drain my bank account or hijack my email to send juvenile messages to all my business contacts. He’s just trying to gaslight me into thinking I actually paid to see Year of the Dog.
I want to do whatever I can to fight internet crime, so let this serve as a warning to you all: if you suddenly get Year of the Dog in your mailbox from Netflix – DO NOT OPEN IT! Just put the envelope in a plastic bag, scrub your hands thoroughly and call the FBI immediately.
Learn from my mistake. Even though I knew there was no way – even in the drunkest of stupors – that I put that movie in my queue, I still for some regrettable reason decided to pop it into my DVD player. It was like the forbidden fruit.
I started watching it and at first everything seemed great. It had that Molly Shannon in it from Saturday Night Live – I always thought she was funny – and some other really good actors like John C. Reilly and Peter Sarsgaard and Laura Dern. Didn’t all three of them get nominated for Oscars? I feel pretty certain that they were all in Oscar nominated films, at some point. Maybe they didn’t win, but clearly they keep good company.
But then, about 10 minutes into the movie, Molly Shannon’s little beagle – who is the center of her universe – dies. I know some people are going to be like, SPOILER! Why didn’t you warn us!? And here’s why – I want to spoil this movie for everyone so that no one ever watches it. So you know what else happens? She gets another dog and that other dog is psychotic but not in a funny Turner & Hooch sort of way, more like in a Cujo sort of way. And at one point, this new dog mauls a crippled dog to death so it has to be euthanized. The end.
I stuck with this movie until the end, because I kept trying to see the good in it. Just when I was about to walk away, they would tease me with something that kind of resembled a plot, only to dash my hopes again. You kind of think that she’s going to get together with John C. Reilly, but then he turns out to be a hardcore hunter and she’s an animal activist. And then you think that maybe she’ll fall in love with Peter Saarsgard, but he’s playing some sort of a eunuch so that can’t work out.
I’m sure people are thinking, why didn’t you just leave when you had the chance? And I guess all I can say to that is don’t judge me until you’ve sat a mile in my pants. Anyway, I want to make sure that no one ever has to go through what I endured, so I decided to put together a helpful guide so that you can learn to recognize the warning signs.
Top Five Signs Your Netflix Account Has Been Hacked
1. There is a Molly Shannon movie in your queue
And more hips
Down, look down
Heel then step
Jesus to airplane spin
And whip spin
Turn on heel
And more hips
Q: How many bomb pops do you have to eat in two days before it seems disgusting?
A: You should say more than 12. Because anything 12 and under is totally acceptable.
Q: Do they still make the giant original sized bomb pops, or just these stupid baby sized “firecracker” pops?
A: I don’t know. Maybe you should check online.
Q: Why did they start putting jokes on the sticks?
A: To distract you from the fact that the popsicles are 1/3 the size they used to be.
Here are some of the clever riddles from my Popsicle Firecracker sticks. I’ll post the answers later.
1. If a gown is evening wear, what is a suit of armor?
2. When is a theatre clumsy?
3. Why did the bird go to the theatre? (Ed: What’s with all the theatre riddles?)
4. What is the most important thing you need when you go skateboarding?
ANSWERS (turn monitor upside down to read)
1. Silverware (lame!)
2. When the curtain falls.
3. She wanted to wait in the wings (I liked Asia’s answer better, except it was too dirty to be on a popsicle stick).
4. Your skateboard (I liked Sir’s answer better, because it was actually funny).
My god… has it already been a week since I returned from my up north adventure? I guess time flies when you’re trying desperately to develop a time machine so that you can go back to the halcyon days of sipping wine in a log cabin as you watch deer roam the woods, with the distant sound of loons calling from the lake.
The closest I’ve come to recreating that scene was yesterday when I shrieked as a feral cat ran out from under my car by the train station, and then I went home and accidentally drank milk that had turned.
Dee knew I meant business when I showed up at her doorstep wearing my rugged Chinese cowboy hat from Target. She also knew I meant business when I pulled out my $19.95 Zebco fishing rod and a box of Cheez-its to last us the five-hour drive.
We picked out a selection of wines while we waited for Dee’s friend Patty to arrive in her grocery-laden SUV.
“Is six bottles enough?”
“For four of us? Maybe for the first night…”
Fortunately, Dee-Dee’s boyfriend, Q, had packed another six bottles, as well as a case of beer. And lots of meat.
Le Road Trip
Culvers Butter Burger Baskets.
Le Bait Shop
Everyone said worms, but I said leeches. Trust me, I said. I’ll take a little bloodsucking over poo-oozing anyday. Worms are the worst.
I kind of wanted to buy a sweatshirt with a giant musky on it, but I didn’t. I will regret that decision for the rest of my life.
Patty bought a Leinenkugel’s bobber because perch like the taste of beer. Or they taste good with beer. It’s one or the other.
We did the initial sweep of the cabin to look for any renegade mice, then put away all the food and immediately headed into the boat to fish. Within minutes, we saw a bald eagle flying overhead, and I really wished I had a better zoom on my point and shoot.
Here you can see me looking very rugged in my Chinese cowboy hat from Target. And my camera thrown over my shoulder, at the ready in case I caught anything photo-worthy on my $19.95 Zebco fishing rod.
Le Next Day
The next morning, I quickly swapped out my $19.95 Zebco pole out for one of Dee’s father’s expensive open bail rods, because only babies use closed bail rods or whatever they’re called.
And that’s when the magic started. It was walleye central all weekend long. I could have opened up Jenny’s Walleye and Driftwood Craft Shack if only we hadn’t been releasing them all. What’s that? BAM! Walleye. Nibble nibble? Lame. I know a sunfish when I feel one. Something’s running with it? BAM! Walleye. That’s right. This one’s 12”. Eatin’ size. Didn’t even see me underneath my rugged hat, did you? Don’t worry… I’d never hurt you. But go tell your momma there’s a new sheriff in town, and her name is Jenny the Walleye Master! Yeah, that’s right. Just do it. She’ll know what I mean.
Unlike most of my up north trips with Dee-Dee, my life was only in danger once, shortly after this photo was taken, not because a bear jumped out of the woods and attacked me, thinking my pale, squishy arms were fresh tuna, but because the wind picked up and Dee tricked me into taking the heavy, slow kayak versus the sleek, aerodynamic one she was in. I tried to get across the lake by paddling in a zigzag pattern, parallel to the shoreline, but later remembered that that’s the technique for freeing yourself from an undertow when you’re swimming.
The only technique to get across a lake when the wind is blowing 30 mph in your face is to keep yelling, “Dee! Oh my god! My arms are killing me! What’s that muscle right behind your elbow? Because mine feels like it’s going to rip right out of my arm. Dee! I want you to know how much your friendship means to me. Tell your kids about me someday.. dee? I’m just gonna rest here for a minute… just one minute…”
But somehow, my hat gave me the strength to push through the pain and make it back to shore, where a cooler full of beer was waiting for me on the pier.
Here is where I would tell you all about the awesome time we had in the paddleboat, but it took every ounce of strength for all four of us to lift it and carry it five feet out of the boathouse, so we decided it would not be advisable to try to carry it the remaining 40 feet down a narrow staircase to the pier. We need to adopt teen-boys next time.
Le Board Games
The only thing that took up more room in the car than the wine was the mass quantity of board games we brought with us.
• Apples to Apples
Every hour or so, Patty would plead with us to play Risk, at which point we would all groan, “Ugh. That game takes forEVER! No, I don’t want to watch you take over Estonia. Can’t we play something faster?”
We started out playing Cranium, which is the best because you get to play with clay. Patty and Q were partners so Dee and I teamed up. The true test of friendship is when you’re on the Pictionary-like part of Cranium, and one friend is drawing something that is so obvious, but the other friend keeps saying:
“Eggs. Bacon and eggs. A bed. Sleeping. Mattress. Dreaming of eggs and bacon. Eggs and bacon on the mattress. Eggs and bacon under the bed. Eggs and bacon on top of the bed. Sleeping on eggs and bacon.”
“OH MY GOD JENNY! FOR CHRISSAKE IT’S BREAKFAST IN BED!”
“Ohh… yeah. Now I get it. That’s good.”
But then moments later, that same friend will draw two lines and six dots and the other friend will correctly guess “double breasted suit” before 20 grains of sand have left the egg timer.
The next night, we decided to try out the Apples to Apples game that Q brought. He had only played it once before, but swore to us that it was HILARIOUS fun, just as the box cover promised. I was waiting to prove him wrong, but it was every bit as HILARIOUS as guaranteed. Now all we can talk about is how much we want to play Apples to Apples. You should play it, because it’s HILARIOUS!
But don’t just take my word for it, ask the Interwebs:
After great quantities of wine and an intense round of Apples to Apples, this commercial, followed by the word, dingleberry will cause grown women to weep uncontrollably.
Le Call of Le Wild
Patty and I learned where the phrase, “Like a moth to a flame” comes from, when we both forgot to flip off the lights above our beds while we played Apples to Apples into the wee hours of the morning, only to return to find our pillows covered in mayflies and gnats and aardvarks.
Le Circle de Life
On our last morning at the cabin, Q and I woke up early to get in one last round of fishing. Once again, we ruled the water and reeled in walleye after walleye, followed by a huge rock bass that Q landed. As it got close to 9am, we decided to toss our remaining worms to the panfish and head back to shore. We were motoring back to the pier when I reached down to catch the worm container from flipping into the water, and my rugged Chinese cowboy hat from Target flew off my head and spun high in the air. I cut the motor and watched my hat land in the lake, drifting further and further away.
“Don’t you want to go back, Jen? It’s still floating. We can get it.”
“No. I think this is the way it’s supposed to happen. We took from this lake all weekend long. I think it’s time we gave back. Plus it was only $12.99 from Target and kind of started to make my scalp burn.”
Somewhere, out there, I just know there’s a giant walleye swimming around with my hat on. Or a family of otters that got tangled in the neck tie and nearly drowned. Either way, nature is a beautiful thing that must be respected.