SIBLINGS

When I was little back in South Dakota, Mom was gone from our house for a couple days. I was outside playing when she got back, and when I went into the house to see her, she was sitting in a chair holding a baby.

“Meet your little sister,” Mom said.

I looked at the little bundle wrapped in a pink blanket. She had a chubby little face that went from a stern expression of deep concentration, as if she was trying to solve the Middle East crisis, to one of simple wide-eyed surprise as she wondered why she was suddenly sitting in warm applesauce. Her hands were barely even as big as my thumbs. As I marveled that people could come in such a tiny size, I gave Mom a helpful piece of advice.

Take her back,” I said.

My mom looked at me with disappointment painting her face. “You don’t like your little sister?”

I shrugged. “I already got two sisters, and they’re pretty much worthless,” I said. “I can’t see how this one’s going to be any better.” My oldest sister was downright mean, but I didn’t want to bring that up. Mom might think I was being petty. “Why don’t you take her back to the baby store and exchange her for a little brother.” I could use a little brother. Someone I could mentor, do guy things with and be mean to.

“I can’t do that,” Mom said.

“Don’t tell me you didn’t keep the receipt!” I gasped. That was Mom’s number one rule: always keep the receipt in case it doesn’t fit, and you have to return it.

“It’s not that,” Mom said in her trying-to-be-patient voice. She cuddled the little thing closer. “I just can’t return her.”

I watched her for a moment as she clutched that tiny person to her as if it were the world’s rarest gem. There was a connection between them that even a young naïve boy such as me could clearly see. A thought suddenly came to me that was beyond my few years of life. I knew what the problem was and why she couldn’t return it. Mom had gotten her from the Bargain Baby Bin! The place where they put the reduced-price babies they had trouble selling and the discontinued models. There had probably been a big red sign that read: ALL SALES FINAL, NO RETURNS OR EXCHANGES. I suspected that was where she had also gotten my other sisters, too. It explained their low quality. Mom was always hunting for bargains, but there are some things where you shouldn’t scrimp, and I would think children would definitely be one of them.

“Okay, okay, if you got to keep this one, I understand,” I said, disappointed but trying to be reasonable. “But can’t you just go back to the baby store and get me a little brother, too?”

Mom laughed. I thought she was laughing at her foolishness of not having thought of that herself, then she said. “Your father and I are not wealthy people, and baby brothers cost a lot of money. I’m afraid we can’t afford a baby brother for you.”

The disappointment crushed me, but I nodded. It made sense that boys would cost more than girls, and they must have blown a bundle already to get me. A baby of my high caliber had to have set them back a pretty penny.

A few years later, Mom brought home another baby. It was a boy and looked a lot like a little brother, but I always knew he wasn’t, because Mom had said we were poor and couldn’t afford one. It was kind of like going to the store to buy Miracle Whip, and when you see how expensive it is, you pick up some off-brand salad dressing instead. It looks like Miracle Whip and tastes a little like Miracle Whip, but you always know you’re not getting the real thing, but sometimes you have to make do when you’re poor. So it was with me and the boy baby; I made do.

I still have other siblings to offend, but I’ll save that for another time.

 FROM THE PEN OF JOEL JURRENS

 

In The Sticks – Murder comes to Cossack County when Deputy Lyle Hoffman finds the murdered and tortured body of a woman in a rural farmhouse. The investigation will lead him down a path filled with ruthless outlaw bikers, where friends become suspects and dark secrets are brought to light.

 

In The Lake – Playboy billionaire Dyslin Coakler and his porn star girlfriend are famous for their Friday night sex parties at their mansion on the north end of Burgess Lake. When a wealthy regular partygoer is found floating in the lake with a single stab wound, the suspects start popping up like cards from a gambler’s sleeve. Is the woman a victim of sex games that went too far? Or did a jealous girlfriend of one of the woman’s local boy toys seek revenge?

 

Almond People – What would you do for a miracle?

Miracles are happening all over Calvin, Iowa. A strange cult known as The Almond People hands out magical blue necklaces, and within weeks the wearers of the talismans are healed of all their afflictions. The

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REINA

To say she was my dog wouldn’t be entirely accurate. She was my youngest daughter’s dog, but she went away to college, and afterward ended up in an apartment that didn’t allow dogs, and that’s when Reina became my dog.

After our last dog died, my wife and I decided we wouldn’t get another dog. That lasted until our youngest daughter—the animal lover who would later get a degree in animal science—asked for an Airedale puppy for a graduation present. We agreed and got a puppy that she named Reina. To this day I am not sure where she got the name.

We had two Airedale’s before Reina, and both of them were slightly larger than the standard twenty-three inches and forty-five pounds of a female Airedale. She would be a house dog so we wanted something standard size or smaller. Her father was standard-sized and her mother slightly smaller than standard. So their puppies should be the perfect size. We are geniuses. Reina ended up over the standard height for even a male and weighed over ninety pounds when fully grown, and nobody would have looked at her and said she was fat. So much for genetics and our intelligence.

She was the classic gentle giant. Even dogs the size of something she’d eat for breakfast picked on her. With small dogs she would even lay down so they wouldn’t have so much trouble getting to her, wouldn’t want to inconvenience a bully. All she wanted to do was be friends with everyone and everything. I never saw a bit of fight or viciousness in her.

We always said she should have been a farm dog. Reina loved the outdoors. I think the happiest times of her life were when my daughter and I took her for long walks in the woods. She checked out everything, frantically ranging out ahead of us with an unrestrained glee trying to jump a rabbit or bird, but always coming back to keep an eye on us and make sure we weren’t getting into trouble. Sometimes we’d spend a half hour afterwards picking and brushing the burs out of her curly coat, but it was worth it just to see the utter joy she had being outdoors. She loved winter, the colder the better. When my wife and I took our trip to Alaska, we decided Reina should have been a sled dog. She had the long legs and boundless energy required … and she loved the cold. I used to take her for four-mile walks in the country in subzero weather. Occasionally she would flop down in the snow and chew on the ice balls that had accumulated between the pads of her feet, but then she would be up again and ready to go. When we got back to the house she would always look at me as if to ask, “We have this wonderful weather and so much more world to explore, and you’re going to wimp out on me?” Sadly I was a mere human, and I was freezing my butt off.

If you get a dog, you can expect two things: They are going to become an important part of your life, and they are probably going to die before you. You don’t have to like it, but if you can’t accept it, don’t get a dog. It’s not like having children where you expect them to bury you. A dog’s life span is far shorter than ours. If you want your pet to outlive you, get a tortoise, a whale or a Sequoia.

Her constant panting was the first sign that something was wrong. I look back with some guilt that I should have realized sooner that all the panting wasn’t normal, but Reina loved the cold and had always had trouble with the heat. But she was panting even when it was cool, or when she was laying in air conditioning. Her energy began to drain, and at times we weren’t sure she would make it back home when we took her on walks. She had to stop frequently to rest and even when she walked, her steps were slow, strained and forced, and all the while there was the constant panting. She slept most of the time and stopped eating. I finally took her to the vet, and he discovered her heart had no rhythm to it. It wasn’t pumping blood efficiently. If she were a person they would have put in a pacemaker, but you don’t put pacemakers in Airedales that have already reached their average life expectancy. The vet said her organs were already starting to shut down from lack of a high enough blood flow. Her tongue was gray instead of pink, the whites of her eyes were turning yellow, and she had fluid building up in her abdomen. He advised me it would only get worse.

She didn’t seem to be in pain, so I took her home, and we tried to make her comfortable. The ironclad rule we’d always had about her only getting quality dogfood went out the window. We found she loved smoked turkey. She still slept most of the time. A couple times a day I would let her in our backyard for an hour or so. When she was healthy, she had run around the yard checking where the birds and rabbits had been and barking at the squirrel who would chatter at her from a tree branch. She didn’t have the strength to do that anymore. Now she simply lay on her belly, but she never slept outdoors. She had her head up like a furry black and tan Sphinx surveying her kingdom. How could one sleep in Paradise?

When she started moaning and groaning in her sleep, I knew she was in pain. Once when my wife let her outside to go to the bathroom, she stumbled and almost fell. At that point we realized what we were doing was for our benefit not hers. “Make an appointment with the vet,” my wife said, looking at me with watery eyes.

We took Reina to see my daughter one more time. Reina had started out as her dog after all. Our daughter said she had to work, and couldn’t go to the vet when I took Reina. We could have worked around her schedule, but I think she wanted her memories of Reina to be a healthy dog running through the woods filled with joy instead of one lying in a sterile vet’s office—it’s always tough when it’s your first dog. My wife wouldn’t go either. She said she just couldn’t take it, and I understood that. It would have been simpler for me to just drop Reina off at the vet’s and leave, but I couldn’t do that. A couple times in her life Reina had to stay at the vet’s overnight. Although she loved people, she hated to be left alone with strangers. To have them put her in a cage and listen to her barking for me as I left, would have killed a part of my soul I could never have gotten back. She was my dog after all, and I needed to be with her to the end.

I took her into the vet’s office, and as he gave her the shot, I petted her, scratched behind her ears the way she liked so much and assured her everything would be better in a little bit. She slowly laid her muzzle on her forepaws as if she was sleeping. The awful, incessant panting stopped, and she wasn’t in pain anymore. The vet offered to step out of the room so I could have a few minutes alone with her, but it wasn’t necessary. The limp black and tan body lying there was not Reina. It was just the shell that had held her. Reina was gone.

I went home and gathered up her beds, her toys—the Kong she loved to worry peanut butter out of—her leashes and collars, including the pink harness she hated wearing, and gave it to a lady we know who will put it to good use. My wife and I decided we are not going to get another dog. We’ve said it before, but this time I think we will stick to it. Next year we’ll both be fully retired. She wants to travel, and it isn’t fair to have to kennel a dog for long periods, and I think any dog would be a stepdown after Reina. She will be the last dog we will ever have. It’s a well-deserved honor.

For those of you who follow this blog, it’s been awhile since I’ve posted anything. If you came here expecting some humor and maybe a few laughs, I apologize. Maybe next time. My dog died, and it’s hard to be funny right now.

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DIETING TIPS

We have decided that we need to lose some weight, and when I say we I of course mean my wife. I get dragged along with the same enthusiasm the Japanese-Americans had when they jumped on the trains to go to the internment camps during World War Two. I think my wife looks fine, and I checked on-line, and I am at the exact weight I should be for a guy my height and age who eats everything he wants. I’m happy with my weight, but I’ll go along to humor her, and because I really don’t have a choice.

I’ve often said that losing weight is ninety per cent mental. You have to adjust your mind and fool your brain into believing you’re not dieting. It makes the whole thing less of a struggle. And it’s not that hard, because in my case anyway, the brain ain’t all that bright. I’ll share a few diet tips I’ve learned over the years to make that dummy brain believe you aren’t dieting.

The biggest problem with diet food is it is not aesthetically appealing. Take celery for instance. Celery is so low in calories that you burn more calories eating and digesting it than it contains. It’s a minus calorie food! But your brain takes one look at it and says, “Hey, wait a minute. This is diet food!” It knows that because celery doesn’t even look like food. It looks like some kind of tiny flume you would send tiny logs down to get them to a tiny sawmill. And the color is disgusting. It is a sickly pale green color like something that comes out of your nose when you have a bad cold. To remedy that and give it more eye appeal, I fill the concave part of a stalk of celery with bright orange Cheez Whiz. The look is far more appealing, and my brain hardly realizes its eating diet food. Just that simple change in color allows me to easily scarf down ten or twelve stalks without my brain complaining. The weight should be falling off me.
Dessert is another problem when you’re dieting. Everyone likes that little sweet at the end of a meal to finish it off and cleanse the palate. The problem is, most desserts have calorie counts that are higher than the audience at a Willie Nelson concert in Colorado. You could eat a piece of fruit—okay I’m joking. Nobody eats fruit for dessert—or you could eat one of those commercial low-calorie desserts. My wife bought some high-fiber, low-calorie bars. I have to admit that even right out of the box, they are tastier than the box. But I have found a little trick that improves the flavor  tremendously. Take one and put it in the microwave for just ten to fifteen seconds. It will come out warm, soft, toasty and sweet smelling. Toss on a couple scoops of ice cream and some chocolate sauce, and your brain will think it’s some high-calorie, decadent dessert with far more calories than the measly ninety it says on the front of the box. Stupid brain.
There are other little tricks, such as pounding a steak down and stretching it out with a mallet. Your brain will think it’s a huge twenty-ounce sirloin instead of the skimpy sixteen ounce one you’re actually eating. Remember, it’s all about convincing your brain that you’re not on a diet. I’m thinking about doing a book with all these little diet tips, but first I need to run up town and get a new belt. My wife must have washed this one because it seems to be shrinking.

JOEL JURRENS AMAZON AUTHOR’S PAGE

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NUTSO PILLS

My wife talks to the TV. (And not in a way you can understand such as when your football team is on the three-yard line with their butts in the end zone, and the dufus coach calls an end sweep when any fool knows you need to pound it up the gut to gain a few yards and get some breathing room. So of course when the tailback gets buried in the end zone for a touchback, you scream at the TV, “WHAT WERE YOU THINKING, YOU MORON!!??” Because you know the coach is there at the game, right now in real time, and maybe he can’t hear you, but at least he can feel the love.) She talks to people on programs that are recorded. The other night on American Pickers, one of the hosts, Frank, bought a Texaco oil can for a hundred dollars. A graphic appeared on the screen:

Texaco oil can
Picked $100
Valued $300
+ $200

“Do you really think someone is going to pay you three hundred bucks for an old oil can?” my wife asks Frank in disbelief. Frank ignores her.
Now setting aside the first rule of antiquing: Old things are worth more than new things—except for people, this is on the History Channel, so the can must have some huge historical significance, such as it was one of the cans General George Armstrong Custer used to lubricate his horse before the Battle at the Little Big Horn. But even setting that aside, the show was recorded months ago, maybe years ago because it might have been a rerun. Currently Frank is off slamming down a Flame Thrower Grill Burger, cheese curds and a Jurassic Chomp Blizzard Treat at some Dairy Queen. He can’t hear her, and even if he could, he’s either sold the oil can for a huge profit or taken a bath on it and that’s why he’s eating at Dairy Queen instead of some snooty five-star restaurant, but my wife doesn’t care. Frank needs to know how stupid he is for paying that kind of money for an old oil can, and she’s going to tell him.
My wife talks to detective shows, too. “Don’t go in there by yourself!!” she will scream at the TV screen as the female investigator enters an abandoned warehouse where a homicidal manic with a machine gun, chainsaw and a Texaco oil can, that could leave a nasty welt if he threw it at her, is hiding. “Why would you do that, you idiot!!??”
“Because the writer wants to build tension,” I’ll say. “If she had backup with her, it wouldn’t be as dramatic and scary.”
Her head will snap around, and she’ll glare at me as if I’m the one who’s crazy.
My wife is not the only one in our household who acts strange sometimes. She often accuses me of talking to myself. It’s a ridiculous misconception she has developed over the years from the numerous times she has heard me carrying on a conversation with someone when I was the only one in the room. Normally I explain it as going over dialogue for a novel, and how I have to say it out loud to get the emphasis and speech pattern right, but normally I’m just talking to myself. Sometimes I’m the only one I can find who is smart enough, or dumb enough, to agree with me.
When we catch each other doing weird things, my wife and I have this running joke about how the other one needs Nutso Pills. If I ever find where I can order some, I hope they come in five-gallon buckets.
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THE IRS AND ME

I’m going to jail—federal prison to be exact. I got a call from the IRS the other day. The very stern and serious guy on the phone said they had issued a warrant for my arrest for unpaid taxes, and officers were already on the way to arrest me. He said I needed to go buy a gift card then call a number and give them the information from the card to stop the officers from showing up at my front door. I certainly didn’t want to go to prison. I can’t imagine taking showers with other guys at my age. I’m pretty sure the Supreme Court would consider it cruel and unusual punishment for anyone to have to see me naked. I told the guy to hold on for a minute while I got a pencil and paper to write down the number to call, but he wouldn’t listen and just kept droning on about how rough federal prison is and how many years I would be locked up. I put down the phone and ran and got the pencil and paper, but when I got back, he had hung up. I didn’t know what to do, so I packed a suitcase and some cigarettes to trade so I wouldn’t have to be someone’s play toy in the pen. (I only brought a pack because thinking a play toy my age was worth even that much was more the result of an inflated ego than anything else.) Then I waited for the FBI to come and get me. They haven’t showed up yet, and I wish they would hurry because I have to pee.
A few days later the IRS called me again. This time it was a serious woman who informed me that they had mistakenly given me a tax return I wasn’t supposed to get, and if I would just call another number and give them my bank account information, they could straighten this all out, and they wouldn’t have to issue a warrant for my arrest. I tried to tell her that I hadn’t received a refund, and there were already officers coming to pick me up on the other warrant. I suggested they just have the same officers pick me up on both warrants instead of having to make two trips, and maybe they could save the government a couple bucks that way. She didn’t seem to be interested—this is why the federal budget is so bloated—in fact, she didn’t seem to even hear me, just like the first guy. I’ve come to the conclusion that it is some kind of affirmative action program where they hire the disabled for government jobs. It’s a good idea, but I really don’t think people with hearing disabilities should be making phone calls.
So I’m still here with my suitcase, waiting for the FBI or the US Marshall’s to show up and get me. I just had a nice young man with a foreign accent call me from Microsoft to let me know my computer has been hacked. I’ll need to run downstairs for a minute to give him access to my computer so he can fix the problem. I hope the officers don’t show up while I’m down there, because I still need to pee before they take me.

Joel Jurrens author’s page at Amazon

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GETTING OLD

I went to the movies the other night and was all excited because I got the seniors’ discount and only had to pay half-price for admission. (There is no surer sign of getting old than being thrilled rather than offended when a clerk offers you the seniors’ discount.) The seniors’ discount is actually a fair trade practice. The really old and decrepit farts dose off halfway through the show anyway and have to pay to see it a second time to find out how it ended. I’m thinking maybe tomorrow night I’ll go back and find out who the murderer is.

My fading memory is what I hate the most about getting old. It’s not the fact that I have to go downstairs three times before I remember what I needed to get out of the storeroom. It’s that it takes me the first two times just to remember it had anything to do with the storeroom. Usually I’ll stand in one place like a lost wildebeest that has been separated from the herd, glancing around and wondering why I’m down there. I’ll check the washing machine to see if there is anything in it my wife wants me to put in the clothes dryer. Then I’ll check the clothes dryer to see if I was supposed to take clothes out and fold them. I’ll check the furnace and the water heater then go back upstairs before I remember I was supposed to get something out of the storeroom. I’ll go back downstairs, and of course there still aren’t any clothes in the washer or dryer. It’s an endless cycle.
Just to prove how old I am, we recently bought one of those robot vacuums that cleans the floors and spreads dog poop all over the carpet while we’re gone. (See YouTube videos.) I named it Hazel–which really dates me. most people don’t know who Hazel was. It is one of those modern conveniences I would have laughed at wasting the money on just ten years ago when I was young enough to vacuum without feeling worn out the next day. Out dog hates it. She is positive it is the evil love child of her arch enemies the vacuum cleaner and the lawn mower. And it has to be possessed as it doesn’t even need a human attached to it to chase her around the house.
Since I’m getting older, I find myself talking to myself more now than I used to—probably because I keep forgetting there’s nobody around. I’ve always talked to myself. For years my wife would walk into a room and ask, “Who are you talking to?” I used to tell her I was going over dialogue for a book, and I had to say it out loud to get the rhythm and speech pattern right, but usually I was just talking to myself. Sometimes you need to tell the World something even if there is nobody there to hear it.
I sometimes think my wife talks to herself, but she doesn’t. I’ll be down in the family room, and I’ll hear her talking upstairs in the kitchen very animated for long periods of time, and not just mumbling but speaking loudly. About the time I’m getting ready to dig out my cell phone to see if I can get her some help. She’ll come down the stairs.

My wife: So what do you think?

Me: About what?

My wife (giving a disgusted snort.): I just spent a half-hour explaining where we should go for vacation this year, and you weren’t even listening. It’s just like you to block me out when you’re watching TV.

I think I have a crazy person living in my house. I’m just not sure which one of us it is. Now excuse me, I have to run downstairs and get something. I think it has something to do with the washing machine.
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MY NON-NAPOLEAN COMPLEX

There are two sets of qualities that make a good leader. One is to be tall with wavy hair, and the other is to be short with an attitude. The latter is called a Napoleon Complex, e.g. Valdimir Putin, Joseph Stalin, Hugo Chavez, Daffy Duck, Yosemite Sam and of course Napoleon. I’m of average height with very little attitude and hair that will never be mistaken for a wig, only because nobody would ever believe someone would be stupid enough to spend money on a wig that looks that bad.
When I worked in law enforcement I was the sergeant of the department. The reason I was the sergeant had nothing to do with my leadership abilities. I simply had the highest score on the sergeant’s test—that I had the highest score made me firmly believe law enforcement personnel were paid from the neck down.
It doesn’t take much leadership skills to be a sergeant in an ultra-small department. Normally I was the only deputy working at night so there wasn’t anyone to boss around. Occasionally on a slow night when I was feeling overly arrogant, I would become drunk with the puissance of my position and give myself absurd orders just to flaunt my power. But by nature I have an aversion to authority, and I would ignore the orders. (I was convinced my sergeant was an incompetent Bozo with no leadership abilities whatsoever. I mean come on, have you seen that hair? I was convinced he had attained his position by ingratiating himself to the boss in some degrading bootlicking manner rather than being rewarded on any kind of merit or ability). I was definitely a trouble maker, and several times I threatened to suspend myself for my insubordination, but not having the height—or lack of it—to be a true leader, I never followed through on my threats. I guess in the long run I’m fortunate that I’m a poor leader or I never would have made it to retirement.
Growing up most of my friends were poor leaders. They were neither tall nor short, and we all had bad hair. General George Patton is credited with saying: “Lead, follow or get out of the way.” We had trouble just getting out of the way. Whenever we got together, we milled around with none of us willing to take charge, and all of us waiting for someone else to generate incentive.
Friend One: So, what do you guys want to do?
Me: Maybe we could go for a hike?
Friend Two: Where are you going to take us?
Me: I’m not taking us anywhere. I was just asking a question.
Friend One: I’m allergic to poison ivy so don’t lead us through any of that, or I’ll break out, and it won’t go away for weeks.
Me: I’m not leading us anywhere. I just sugg—
Friend Two: Well, I’m allergic to bees. So if you take us by any bees and I get stung, I could die.
Me: I’m not taking you anywhere. I—
Friend One: If he dies, his parents will sue you.
Friend Two (nodding): Probably. I take out the garbage every night after supper. If I die they would have to hire someone to do it. I’m sure they’d at least want the money to pay someone.
Me (shouting): We’re not going for a hike! And I’m sure not taking you if we do!
Friend One: It’s the sign of a poor leader to shout at people.
Friend Two: What do you expect with that hair?
We stand milling around for a while in a tense silence.
Friend One: So, what do you guys want to do?

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