So that happened…


I am planning a heist.

I uncovered valuables at lunch yesterday, valuables that are kept unguarded in my very home. My husband George has more than 900 points on his Subway card.

George and I appreciate a little Subway at lunchtime on Saturdays. The branch we visit sits right across Northwest Boulevard from the Chipotle where we eat dinner about three days a week. Our house has no kitchen at all.

Well, it does, but you’ll find a lot of cobwebs there. And pop tarts.

How lucky for us all that Columbus is the fast food capital of the world!

Two weeks ago we stopped by our favorite Subway location, and a new guy was working. Our new favorite Subway guy. Sure, we love Ben, the Cavs fan who looks like Brad Paisley. But this new guy, he made subs that looked like the advertisements. Delicious, filling subs overflowing with meat and vegetables, toasted perfectly. Big. 

And then, like a dream, he vanished. We haven’t seen him since. George lunches at Subway sometimes on weekdays, but since the dream Sandwich Artist hasn’t returned, I’d lost interest until I realized how many points George’s lunchtime visits had accrued. Yesterday I overheard the cashier remark with amazement about George’s collection of Subway points. How exciting!

“Did we just get lunch for free, then?” I inquired.

“No,” he answered. “I just paid cash.”

I was confused. What was the purpose of collecting enough Subway points to make a cashier gasp – and of denying me my beloved beans and rice – if not to save money on toasted cold cut sandwiches?

“I just like collecting them,” George explained.

It’s like he’s George Clooney in Up in the Air, hoarding those frequent flier miles: “Let’s just say I have a number in mind.”

“But you have so many,” I said, dismayed.

“Yeah, we could probably eat free for a month!” he said excitedly. “But I’d rather collect more.” He said this as if it were in any way sensible.

It was like the time he and our son Riley began collecting Star Wars cans. 

Back around the time George Lucas was ruining memories from my childhood by releasing the craptastic Episodes 1 – 3, Pepsi began issuing collectible cans with character faces on them. I alone put away more than enough Diet Pepsi to quickly seize Queen Amidala and C3PO, but what then? How were we to gather the coveted Jar Jar, Darth Maul or Chancellor Valorum – and why do I let people who care live in my house? Surely we’re not going to start buying Pepsi and Mountain Dew just to fill out this collection of empty cans, right?

Correct. Instead, both my boys rummaged through gas station trash cans to bring home the precious, discarded Mountain Dew and Pepsi cans that would complete their set, which still sits proudly in our basement. Well, some people are proud of it.

We won’t even talk about how I’d have to empty my pockets daily while they searched for missing states to fulfill their quarter collection. How, exactly, was I supposed to pay for the pop to satisfy their can collection if they kept taking all my quarters?

 But here’s the difference between this Subway point collection and those others: I want something out of it.

 Sure, sure. I love my chicken burritos, but let’s be clear: my favorite flavor is free.

 Plus, I can’t eat meat on Fridays and meatless Chipotle is just bean dip.

 No, obviously I must steal George’s Subway card and fill my belly with free processed meat deliciousness.

All I need now is a tiny Chinese acrobat, a bomb specialist, and Brad Pitt.

Oh, and I also need a plan to get that Subway card.

So that happened…



Last night George ran past Pierce Field, the big park less than a block from our house where we spent hundreds of hours over the years watching and coaching baseball. A high school JV game was finishing up. Someone got a little teary with nostalgia. It wasn’t me.

It’s true that, although our little slugger Riley is now a college freshman, we still find ourselves drawn to that diamond. Seeing the kids out again this spring in their still-clean uniforms stirs something sentimental in George.

It reminded me of that entire season that Riley neglected to bring home his baseball socks for laundering, wearing the same nasty pair again and again until they ran off on their own to raise an army of filthy boy clothes dedicated to evil.

George assistant coached with his friends Bill and Dan for little league in spring, a summer league at Ohio State, and a fall travel team. For years on end, about 11 boys and their families committed to seeing each other basically every single day from spring thaw to winter’s first snow. Luckily, they’re all very nice – or at least entirely tolerable – people.

Except this one dad who drove us insane year after year.

But aside from that guy, we became a unit.

I can’t define for sure their opinion of me. They’re tolerant, anyway.

I accidentally took the entire team to a mildly inappropriate film on one occasion (that their parents know of), and I never once volunteered to work the concession stand. That second thing, friends, is the mark of a bad baseball parent.

We had a few catastrophes over the years. There was that game George was nearly tossed for his sass mouth, for example.

And the time Riley took a pitch to the hand, breaking his finger. I had to restrain my oldest sister from rushing the field to aid her suffering nephew.

She did blow kisses to my pre-teen hitter, sitting in the dugout, though. I kid you not. Whether or not Riley was kidded is another matter.

We earned a handful of championships over the years to offset the traumas, though, and shared a lot of sun block, bug spray, and juice boxes. And thanks to Kyle’s mom Beth, we always knew the inning, score, and whereabouts of the next game.

It often felt like there would always be a next game, as little league turned into middle school turned into high school. Riley even umped for a few summers.

George really misses it. How can I tell? Because he just bought wiffle balls and bats for our nieces, ages 4 and 7, who’ll come for a visit this summer. No doubt he’ll have them set up with uniforms, cleats and gloves by the time they actually get here in July. “Vivian’s a lefty!” you can hear him exclaim from time to time.

I miss it, too. But to be honest, this whole meandering down memory lane has done more to fill me with dread over the potentially filthy situation with Riley’s socks than anything.

So that happened…

Dad’s Gadgets

I was in Radio Shack recently. I didn’t know they were still in business, actually. I was looking for a digital audio recorder for my brother, and I’d been underwhelmed by Target’s offerings. As a general rule, if I can’t find what I want at Target, I go without. I’m not what you’d call a strong shopper. But on this day I remembered my dad’s old haunt Radio Shack and figured they would likely have the wares I needed.

And amid their low-priced, knock off brand electronics I did, indeed, find a recorder that fit the bill. But that walk down brightly lit aisles brought me more than just an adequate gift for my brother; it brought one particular memory rushing loudly to my brain.

Dad, who loved Radio Shack almost as much as any local Catholic church or that donut shop in downtown Tiffin, frequently picked up bargain bin gadgets. On one shopping adventure he nabbed two items he felt would help him notice when the phone rang.

Dad wore two hearing aids and rarely heard the phone, even with the bell turned all the way up. Late in his life he took to randomly picking up the receiver to see if anyone was there. That’s how you’d get in touch with him: let the phone ring 40 or 50 times in the hopes that he’d be meandering past his end table and decide to chance it. How he expected to hear the conversation on the odd occasion that someone happened to be on the line was a mystery. His concern was how to know it was ringing.

One night, while I was still living at home and working at a nearby restaurant, I’d gone to bed somewhat early. Dad wasn’t home – he’d gone to Toledo to visit my sister.

In the pitch black I was shocked from slumber by the loudest ringing ever heard outside the tower at the Notre Dame cathedral.


I bolted upright, which made me a tad dizzy as I woozily grappled with what had just happened.


You know, because the phone rings every few seconds until someone answers. I hadn’t yet pieced it together in my sleep addled brain, but by that second ring I realized it must be the phone, or some phone-like monster nearby. There were no extensions upstairs, so I tore clumsily out of my bed in an attempt to make it to the first floor before that insane sound returned.

I fumbled down the dark hall, nearly fell headlong down the stairs, and hit the landing just as the phone rang again.

I fell over completely at that point, fairly certain I was simply having a seizure. Maybe there was no ringing at all. Maybe something was eating through my brain.

In the pitch black of the living room, the ear splitting bell was accompanied by a rapid fire flashing light.

He’d purchased – without mentioning it to me – not only an enormous, wall mounted speaker to attach to his phone, but also a large strobe light.  

By the time I recovered enough to answer the damn thing, it had stopped ringing.

So that happened…

Presidential Visit

by Hope Madden

My company’s new president spent all last week in the Columbus office. Her agenda included one-on-one meetings with each of us. Nice, eh?

This kind of information makes you look at your office with new eyes, though. What impression was that Zombieland poster going to make? Or the shrine to Springsteen? Or the other shrine to Duran Duran? What would she think of Raoul, my life sized cardboard zombie stand up?

I decided it wouldn’t matter, though, as long as her first impression was an accurate reflection of me.

Then I remembered the last time I was introduced to a new corporate authority figure.

My editor Linda, an incredibly dear and sweet woman who worries a great deal about what I might say at any moment, brought our new Editor in Chief Paul down to my office to meet me a few  years ago. She clearly was a little anxious about the introduction, which made her a bit giddy and that got her to chatting nervously until she was dizzyingly out of control.

Linda: This is Hope.

Paul: Good to meet you.

Linda:  She’s a twin!  Her sister’s name is Joy! Hope and Joy!

Me (thinking): Good God.

Linda: They were born near Christmas! Her sister is a little person!

Me (thinking): It sounds like Joy’s a midget. He probably has a circus act in his head right now: giant and midget twins.

Paul: Smiles politely. Shifts uncomfortably.

Me: It’s great to finally meet you. I hope you have a good visit.

Linda: Yep, she’s our local anarchist.

Me (thinking): WHAT??!!!

Paul: Clearly uncomfortable.

Linda: Yep, she sure hates President Bush.

Paul flees.

So, about as well as it could have gone, right?

Anyway, I decided to switch my nameplate with that of a colleague who’s out on maternity leave and just meet the new president in her office. Problem solved. Except that now she thinks my kids are Asian.

So that happened…

My sister Joy needed to go to Europe. She hadn’t been to Europe in 6 years. Six whole years! I’ve been to Canada.

Anyway, she needed me to babysit while she was away. The trick was, because Ruby was already in school, I had to go to them. They couldn’t come to me. So, I agreed and off I headed to the wilds of Vermont.

Joy and her family live inside the woods. I mean, Vermont is heavily wooded – it is our nation’s most heavily wooded state, in fact. But inside that wooded state, she lives inside the woods.

I have a pathological terror of the woods, did I mention that? I keep it at bay so that I can see my sweet Vermonsters Ruby and Vivian. Oh, and of course Joy and her husband Jeff. They’re very important. It’s not like I assume they moved to Vermont specifically to get away from me or anything.

And I have even been alone with the kids before, but never for an extended visit. I was a little freaked.

As I arrived, Joy let me know that a couple of albino peacocks had escaped from a peacock farm a short distance around the lake out in back of their house. How sad, I thought, but I had missed the point.

“Have you ever heard the sound a peacock makes?”

I had not.

“They sound like a child screaming.”

Now I understood. At any time – likely very late in the evening – I might glimpse a white wraith in the woods and hear the sound of a crying child. That would certainly not unsettle me in my condition of constantly stifled panic.

Well, those wraiths never did appear. We had a couple of bumps, though.

I think our only continuing problem had to do with the girls’ preoccupation with princesses. I can get behind lots of things, but I cannot pretend to be a princess. Footman, servant, giant, troll, villain of any kind – but not a princess. You can’t come right out and say that to a 7-year-old and 4-year-old, though. Not if you love them and hope to keep their love.

“What will your princess name be?” Ruby asked.


Vivian grimaced. “That’s a bad princess name.”

“How about Shimmering Pearl? You could be Shimmering Pearl,” Ruby tried to lure me.


They grew so exasperated with my ugly princess name that they relented and we played hide and seek. My plan worked beautifully.

Eventually, the girls convinced me, finally, to take them on “The Trail.” It was a walking path through the forest that surrounded what they considered a neighborhood. It was deep woods stuff as far as I was concerned – once in, all you could see in any direction was trees.

I didn’t want to impart any of my tree terror on the week ones, and Ruby – a Brownie – guaranteed me she could find our way home. And she’s much smarter than I am, so I believed her and in we went.

You know what I never realized, in that I would never set foot in the woods for any other reason than to please my sweet Vermonsters? The woods suck. Not just in the unrelenting terror, but in the general sense. We saw lots of assorted woodsy whatnot, but the bugs were insane. Insane! Does everyone know this and still go in?

The Vermonsters drew my attention to a bewildering variety of colorful mushrooms. We saw birds and rodents and had a generally lovely time until I heard the sounds I felt sure, even if subconsciously, I would hear in this isolated place: the slap of running feet accomapnied by heavy breathing. Someone was running.

It was a man.

He was running toward us.

The cherubic bunnies rattled onabout tree fairies, mousies and mushrooms while silently the panic rose in my throat.

I could see him out of the corner of my eye. A shaker sweater, jeans and boat shoes. In retrospect, I feel sure he was a lost tourist hoping I was a local who could direct him. I’ll never know, though, because long before he could ask for directions I’d already tucked one girl under each arm and football carried my nieces in a  dead out spring out of the woods.

Princess games suck, but they are so much safer.