Dear *sshole Neighbor

Congratulations! You discovered my tipping point.
Congratulations! You discovered my tipping point.

Dear Asshole Neighbor,

I’m in a bit of a funk. I know you don’t care, but I’m telling you anyway. After the letter I received from city public works today, I thought we should get better acquainted.

I got laryngitis right in time for my college reunion, so I got to stand around drinking seltzer, smiling and nodding like an idiot, while everyone else had the time of their lives. Then I got much, much worse.

I was dismally ill through the entirety of my family’s big awesome vacation to Hawaii, including one memorable day at the Kaiser Permanente clinic there, because that’s fun. I enjoyed reading last September’s Better Homes and Gardens cover to cover as well as a thoughtful booklet about advance health care directives. That was such an informative way to squander a day in paradise.

I flew home and was sick some more. A month later, despite giving up coffee, alcohol, talking, sleeping, and–especially today–joy, I’m still sick.

A couple of hours ago, I had another visit with my doctor. He assures me that I will probably be feeling better by the end of July…which will be right after a big family trip across country to visit my mother. Here’s hoping the recovery comes before my husband abandons his hacking, sleepless wife.

No big deal, right? Just a pesky virus. Things could obviously be much worse.

Did I mention that my big, fabulous book deal just disintegrated? No?

Well. My big, fabulous book deal just disintegrated. Maybe it’s for the best, you may be thinking. After all, the publisher had a penchant for the playful caveman font. Still.

Add to this the fact that my best friend is apparently breaking up with me…via email. Ouch.

But instead of crying in a heap about my broken heart and broken dreams, or going to bed in order to finally, actually, maybe start feeling better, I have been copyediting and photo editing and cleaning out the closets, taking small people to the eye doctor and dentist and piano lessons, and grocery shopping and saying goodbye to friends who are moving 3,000 miles away, and labeling every goddamn pair of my kids’ underpants with a Sharpie for camp.

Imagine my surprise then, when I was reminded–after living in this house for almost eleven years–that I happened to forget to bring my garbage cans in. Once. I left them out there for one day.

AND YOU TOOK A PICTURE AND SENT IT TO THE GODDAMN CITY so they would start harassing me.


Have you nothing better to do?

I’m sorry you were so overwhelmed by the incredible monstrosity of my tidy row of bins that you were completely unable to walk over and knock on the door like a reasonable human being and were instead forced to take a photo and print it out and mail it to the goddamn city.

Guess what? I’m going to sneak over there today to cough on your mail. And maybe lick your door knob.



How my mom killed Santa

©2013 Beret Olsen
©2013 Beret Olsen

When I was little, I went to Prairie Market with my mother to do the month’s shopping. Prairie Market hawked groceries at a grossly reduced rate, leaving everything in shipping cartons in an unheated warehouse. Since it predated the days of ubiquitous scanners, we dug cans of soup out of the crates, and wrote the price on each one using a red wax pencil. I got to ride around on a platform hand truck instead of in a janky cart.

In a weird, frugal way, it was awesome.

On one fateful shopping trip, however, I looked up from my can-labeling extravaganza to see my mother sneaking Christmas candy into our pile of supplies. This might not seem like a big deal to you. Keep in mind that–except for a pack of Trident gum in the kitchen cupboard–we never had candy in the house. I came unhinged. I made a huge scene. Demanding to eat it then and there, I fussed and begged and whined until my beleaguered mother thrust a small, foil-wrapped Santa at me, allowing me one single bite.

She wrapped the chocolate back up neatly and paid for it with the rest of our haul.

Then…weeks later…

On a cold and jolly winter’s morning, I reached into my stocking and pulled out a half-eaten Santa.


I immediately marched over to inform my siblings, two of whom offered feeble explanations; the last looked away, likely stifling a guffaw. What was this, I wondered? Could they not handle the truth? I squinted at them–perhaps with a bit of pity–not realizing the absurdity of the situation: a six-year-old unveiling life’s truth to a room full of teenagers.


Cut to this year.

At around 10:30 pm on Christmas Eve, I was crouched on the floor beside the bed, reading my godforsaken, depressing book by headlamp, trying to stay awake without disturbing the spouse.

Must. Stay. Awake.

I know. That was pathetic, given the hour. It’s not like I had to make it through midnight mass or anything. But, after two weeks of insomnia and holiday hullabaloo, I was really ready to hit the hay.

Trouble was, one of my kids was on the couch in front of the stockings, holding some sort of vigil. Whenever I thought she must have dozed off, I would tiptoe to the top of the stairs and look down, only to witness her stirring, waiting, watching.

I was torn. Don’t my kids know who plays Santa, anyway? Wasn’t that the reason for her vigil, to have real proof beyond past year’s mistakes and discrepancies, such as:

How come this present is wrapped in paper we have in our office closet?

Why is my friend’s Santa so much more generous?


Why didn’t Santa bring what I really wanted:  an iPhone?

If I just bailed and went to bed, I’d be fresh for the morning. I could stick some gifts in the stockings after sunup, right? It’s the same stash, either way.

Suddenly, I felt an overwhelming sense of empathy for my mother, the Santa-killer. I was by far the youngest of four kids. She had been willing herself awake for eighteen Christmas Eves so that some imaginary person could take the credit for all of her thoughtful work. That woman was done.


I’ve only been at it half as long. I can’t yet bail in good conscience.

Ho, *#^%(!), ho.