Let me start, Gentle Reader, by saying that I am perfectly cognizant of the fact that those disembodied voices coming from all types of electronic equipment are not tiny little people who dwell within.

That being said…

I’ve only interacted with one of those incorporeal entities that wasn’t thoroughly unpleasant.  Most make disgruntled workers look absolutely delightful.

I’ll start with the worst.

In the new cars at the dealership where I work, the tiny little assistant is flat out horrible, but only when I’m alone in the car.  Never with customers.  Maybe it’s like when your kids are around others, they are usually angels, and at home they make you wonder why you ever thought parenthood was a good idea.

In the book, I Am Charlotte Simmons, by Tom Wolf, some mean girls have made sarcasm into an art form.  There are levels.

Level one: What a pretty shirt.  Obviously, the shirt is ugly.

Level two: What an ugly shirt.  The shirt wearer, because you called the garment ugly, is led to believe that you are using sarcasm, and you like the shirt.

Level three: What a pretty shirt.  OMG! Where’s you get it?  I love it!  The shirt wearer is convinced the shirt is gorgeous and you might even have a new friend. 

A thoroughly nasty tactic employed by ugly people.

But, I have discovered that the audible computer interface installed in the cars I sell has raised the stakes and developed the soul-shattering Sarc four.

In the cars, I have only one request.  I have discovered a Sirius XM station, Eighties on Eight.  It’s exactly what you might think; eighties music.  One Saturday afternoon the guest DJ was singer and piner for Jesse’s Girl, Rick Springfield—I really like it.

How could that girl pick Jesse?

So, when I take a car to gas up or bring it from the back for a test drive, I like to listen to it.  But evidently, my audible “assistant” nemesis is not a fan of it.

I will put the audio on Sirius and in a perfectly clear voice, enunciating properly, say, “Eighties on eight”.

The response is invariably, “Excuse me?”  Then, this evil genius runs through her entire spiel, explaining, in laborious detail what she can do, and informing me how to ask for it, with detailed examples. 

That disembodied voice is no Kamala.

And there is no way I have figured out, TO SHUT HER UP!

I begin restating, then try to cancel her oh so helpful lecture by pushing buttons and screeching “End!  End!  Stop! Cancel!”, then begin shouting obscenities at her: “Now look here, you computer-generated, passive-aggressive…”.

The Kid has a Fiat.  It too has a computer interface.  This one has a built-in nav screen with spoken directions.  And she is a piece of work. 

Make one wrong turn, go right instead of left in a parking lot, take a known shortcut, and you get silence.  For a few seconds.  Then in the snottiest tone imaginable, she says, “Recalculating”.  Like you are the stupidest driver/human in history.

You may think you can’t hear eyes rolling, but you so can.

I thought the Target self-check and I were friends.  Then, yesterday I heard her say to a fellow shopper, “Thanks for stopping in! Have a great day!”

Fickle, thy name is the Target self-check disembodied voice

But then we arrive at my new cellphone.  After a very long, never-ending day recently, I was using the nav app—and made a wrong turn.  I tensed for the coming derision.

…And nothing.

She just calmly began giving me the new directions that would get me to my destination; sans snark and judgment.

It’s time for a kinder, gentler disembodied computer schoolmarm.

Thanks for your time.

Contact me at dm@bullcity.mom.

C/O Marston Junior High School:A Letter To My Younger Self

Dear, dear Debbie,

Even though it doesn’t feel like it, you are the same feisty, fearless girl that in Elizabeth City loved playing drums in the Simons’ garage, playing shortstop on your t-ball team, and being sassy to grownups.

You are the same child who, in Alabama enchanted your big brother’s friends with an uncanny ability to catch anything thrown to you and taught yourself to swim.  You are that little girl who was the pet of the neighborhood and considered it her due.

In Puerto Rico, you were so fierce and wild, you were almost feral.  You rode bikes like a hellion, swam in every available body of water, rode horses for hours with no one for company except for your pony.  The cliff that surrounded the base never scared, only fascinated you, climbing up and down the coral face that rose hundreds of feet over the Atlantic Ocean.

Then it was time to move from the island and your world was dismantled.  Your beloved horse, Coqui was sold.  Your big brother, who’d moved to Puerto Rico, was staying and would be left behind again.  Possessions were packed up and sent ahead to our new home here in San Diego.

But leaving was made easier after Jeremy Parrish, wasn’t it?

To this day I wonder what kind of anger and hurt drove him to what he did.  That awful scene; so cliched and petty yet so very devastating.

I don’t know if he had a plan the day he held your hand throughout the showing of The Apple Dumpling Gang at the base theater, but those ninety minutes were enough for you to cultivate a huge crush on him.  Even though it could only last for a few weeks, all you thought about was becoming his girlfriend.

Finally, in a quiet corner at the base pool, he asked you to “go with him”. 

Such a rush of happiness.  Even now I can still remember the feeling of our heart swelling with giddiness.  Of course, we said yes.

What he said in return changed your entire world.  “Debbie Ross, I wouldn’t go with you if you were the last girl on earth.”  And from nowhere the deserted dining area seemed to fill with every sixth and seventh-grader at Ramey school—all of them laughing.

To this day, I cringe when I think of those hurtful words.  And, more than forty years later I still don’t understand why he would do such a thing. 

But he did.

It kind of broke us though.  Our confidence, trust in the affection from others, and acceptance was immolated.  You began to suspect that most friendly gestures had ulterior motives.  And even though you haven’t been the object of such public cruelty since, you still wonder if your mere presence tries the patience of those around you.

You have a loving generous heart, and there are people who not only love you but relish being around you.  You are not tolerated, you’re enjoyed and appreciated.  There are people around you now, and there will be people throughout your life, that you bring great pleasure to.

Here’s the thing: in the final accounting, what other people think of you doesn’t really matter. 

You are absolutely enough.

All by yourself.

Debbie, who knows why people do the things they do?  Even now, I can’t tell you why I do half the things I do. 

Hold yourself to honorable standards always but honor yourself as well.  The world, as you have discovered can be a very hard place.

So, always be your own soft place to fall.

With so much love,


Thanks for your time.

Contact me at d@bullcity.mom.

Girl With A Phone

I’ve had a cellphone for four days now.

I haven’t taken it to bed, I don’t use it at the dinner table, and I’ve only dropped it (then accidentally kicked it) once. 

Everybody at work has been terrifically patient when, multiple times a day, I grab them and say, “Hey! How do you…?”, “Hey, where is…?”, “Hey, I need to know how to…”.

Honestly, it’s a miracle of humanity that they don’t run when they see me coming with my phone in my hand.

I’m keeping my landline and answering machine, though.  These days it’s a conversation piece.

The day I got my phone activated, my very first text was to my dad—it was his birthday.  It was a day of firsts for him, too.  It was the very first time he received a text and texted back.  My mom’s the big communicator; even written speech.

My very first photo was immediately emailed to The Kid.   

It was one of those summer camp signs they put up at busy intersections in the spring. 

This was a working farm.  You pay for your kid to go to camp there, and they get a “real-life farm experience”.  The Kid and I interpret this to mean you pay big bucks for your child to be turned into a tiny little farmhand.

They also have senior camps which cost plenty.  We picture them giving their mill ponies the day off and hooking Grampa into a harness and having him walk in circles all day.

It’s so hilarious to us that it’s become something of a meme in our house.

So, when these signs started showing up around my work, I knew this would be the first photo I’d take on my twenty-first-century version of a tin can and some string.

The Kid enjoyed it as much as I’d hoped.

Later, at work, trying to open the photo to email it, I took a photo of my keyboard and a moving motion picture of my keyboard, slowly panning up to my left eyebrow.

I’ve had fun choosing a ringtone (Queen’s Freddy Mercury singing, “Somebody” over and over again).  And a notification sound.  I chose music from Shakey Graves, a favorite singer of mine.  There’s only one catch; whenever our dog Crowley hears it, he loses his mind.  He runs over to me, barks at my phone, then runs around, continuing to bark in my general direction. 

Guess he’s not a Shakey fan.

Yesterday I was showing a young man and his family a pre-owned car.  I mentioned CarFax and the father asked how to get one.  I told him that he could retrieve it online and all he needed was the VIN (vehicle identification number).  It can be found on the bottom of the driver’s side windshield.

I walked over and began writing on the pad I always carry around.

The twenty-four-year-old son walked up.  “Oh, you’re writing it down?  I took a picture of it, but that works too.”

It had never even occurred to me to photograph it.

The best thing about the new phone so far?

The absolute shock of my friends when they get a text from me out of the blue.  The texts go something like, “Guess who got a cellphone?”  Lots of OMG!’s and No Way!’s in return texts.  But one friend observed that since I was the last human in the galaxy without one, it wasn’t that a hard guess. The resigned perplexity about me never owning one has been replaced by the gob smackery of my finally acquiring a cellphone. 

It almost makes up for the blistering shame of being a giant technological sellout. 

Thanks for your time.

Contact me at d@bullcity.mom.

Dance Party In The AM

I may have mentioned, Gentle Reader, that I am not a morning person.  

 My feelings are that the early hours of the day are a plot against humanity, in an attempt to turn us all into either docile cattle, ripe for the slaughter, or alternatively, into perky, happy cheerleader types–the kind of human that at zero five-thirty is so happy and friendly that, before your first coffee of the day you’d joyfully run them over with a giant Tonka truck.

Pre-job, my body clock runs closer to a burned-out 1950s Vegas lounge singer.  For me, early to bed is 2 AM. Early to rise is before 11.

So, according to Benjie Franklin, I’ll never be healthy, wealthy, or wise.

Sounds about right.

In that ridiculously early vein, imagine my abject terror when I discovered my start time, three agonizing days a week is 9:00–in the morning (!?!).  And we have a staff meeting every Saturday morning at the spine-chilling hour of 8:30.

*In lieu of flowers I ask that a fund be set up in my name supplying me hourly with the biggest, espresso-iest Starbucks they make.

You’ll then find me in the restroom; you don’t buy Starbucks, you rent it.

I’m not sure about my sleeping habits as a baby, but even in elementary school I was not a morning person, and never got better.  Is there honestly a better feeling than those stolen moments all snuggly and warm, wrapped in blankets and pushing pause on your day for a smidge?

I’d hide from the world for so long, eventually Mom would send in my dad, who had a patented tactic that was 100% successful, every time.

In one parentally peeved, military-trained move, he’d yank my bedspread, blanket, and top sheet off my formally cozy bed, and speak sternly to me.  It takes no time to wake up when one is laying, blanket-less, on a rapidly cooling mattress.

When I’ve had to rise early, it always involved complicated math, “If I don’t eat breakfast, I can sleep another eleven point sixteen minutes…if I wear slip-on shoes, I’ve got forty-five seconds.”

Math is not snuggly.

In college, I was still living at home.  One morning, there was no maternal/paternal team to get my petulant butt out of bed.  Dad was at work, and Mom had left for an all-day shopping trip with her best friend.

They had strongly cautioned me that there would be no wake-up service—I would be on my own.

So, I went to bed, secure in the knowledge that as an adult, I was fully capable of getting myself to my first class on time.  Class started at 9:30.

I walked in at 10:43.

As you can imagine, Gentle Reader, adjusting my schedule to my new job has been something of a trial.

Last week, on my way in to work early (!?!), a passing encounter colored the entire day.

At a light, I was dancing-ish along to the radio playing “You dropped a bomb on me” by the Gap Band when Diana Ross came on and began informing listeners, “I’m coming out”.  Giddy with lack of sleep, I continued dancing, and began to sing along.

There was a white pickup truck stopped next to me.  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw it move up a few feet.  I glanced over.

There was the driver, dancing and singing, “I’m coming out”! 

Until the light changed, we had a dance party better than American Bandstand and Soul Train combined.  It was a serendipitous feeling of pure delight that brightened my entire day.

Me: in a station wagon, dancing, badly.  You: in a white pickup, dancing and making me smile for hours.

Thank you.

Thanks for your time.

Contact me at d@bullcity.mom.

Well, That’s Stupid

Some big news concerning the Matthews Family Band.

I have what the tech-savvy youth call a side gig.  While writing is my primary passion and vocation, not all writers make Stephen King, Danielle Steel money.  My financial remuneration for scribbling is more along the lines of grocery list writers and bathroom stall philosophers.

A girl gotta make some bank somehow, Gentle Reader.

So, I assessed my skill set.  And, what I may (no may about it) do better than writing, is talking.  I’m also naturally friendly and someone who can talk to anyone.  Except for Tammy Faye Baker; she and Jim had a kids’ show that I loved when I was little.  I met her years ago and humiliated myself by sobbing. 

And Henry Winkler, the classically trained actor best known for his role as the uber-cool Fonz on Happy Days.  When I met him, I lost the power of coherent speech.  Did you know one can actually make that cartoon, “hummina-hummina” sound when overwhelmed?

Anyway, those talents mean I’m a pretty good salesperson. 

I got a job with a car dealership here in town.  After a week of video classes, and two days of getting to drive every fully loaded model (insanely fun), I actually start attempting to sell cars tomorrow.

Telling you, Gentle Reader, where I’m working would be hugely unethical, so I won’t.  But, I answer each and every note sent to my contact email—just saying.

A famous car dealer from California; Cal Worthington and his dog Spot.

I’ve had a few surprises concerning this new venture.

Contrary to the cliché, I’ve not met any sleazy, slippery dudes out to sell you a lemon, and steal your wives and daughters.  They’ve all been genuinely nice to me.  And not a sharkskin suit among them.

Brand-new cars come off the truck with just enough gas to get them to a parking spot.  Which makes sense, you don’t want a bunch of full gas tanks collected onto a big truck for a long trip on the highway.  Your friendly neighborhood salesperson gasses them up at a local gas station. In the past few days, I’ve filled up seven or eight shiny new vehicles.

And not every salesperson has an office, or a desk out in the showroom.

There is a whole room full of cubicles for the newbies and such.  I’ve taken to calling it the bullpen.  In the bullpen, there are also a couple of people who schedule service appointments.

The other day I was at my desk when I heard one of the schedulers talking about locksmiths and tow trucks.  When he hung up, he said to me, “I may have offended him.”

It seems the poor guy had locked his wallet in the glove compartment and then lost his car keys.  My co-worker informed him that locking his wallet in the glove box was a bad idea. 

“Do you think that might have made him angry?”

I replied, “I’m sure as soon as he realized he couldn’t get to his wallet, he knew putting it there was a dumb idea.  So, yeah, I think you offended him.”

I know that’s true, because Petey thinks it’s hilarious to tell me that I shouldn’t have done whatever action it was that was so dumb it re-sunk the Titanic.

It’s infuriating.

Also infuriating.

So, when someone around you has done something feeble-minded that has resulted in anything from a minor inconvenience to a full-on disaster, don’t tell them that.  I promise you, they already know.

Instead, nurture, comfort, and commiserate.  It may not be as funny, but it will be met with gratitude and affection.  And nobody will be tempted to punch you in the nose.

Thanks for your time.

Contact me at d@bullcity.mom.

April Love

I tell folks that Petey was my first love.

But that’s not true.

His name was Lancelot.

My parents bought him for me the April I turned 16.  He cost $500.

He was a 1971 Dodge Dart Swinger.  It was love at first sight.  He was white with a green faux leather top.  He had the kind of windows where when you rolled down both front and back, there was no center bar so the whole side of the car was open.

It was a kinda-convertible.

Is it just me, or do these girls look a little, “Red Rum”?

He didn’t have an AC, but there was a vent with a little door next to the brake.  I could slip off my left shoe, and while barreling down the road, use my toes, turn the latch, and open the little door smooth as silk.

In 1981, my best friend Kitty and I saw the movie, Excalibur. It was wonderful and we loved it; the cast includes Dame Helen Mirren, as Morgan Le Fey and Sir Patrick Stewart.  If you haven’t seen it, do so with all due haste, Gentle Reader.

King Arthur was handsome, kingly, and dignified.

Does he look like a 1971 Dodge Dart Swinger?

But Lancelot.

Chiseled cheekbones and jawline, dark curly hair, and eyes of sapphire blue.  Kitty and I fell in love.  We became obsessed in the way that only teenage girls can be.  And somehow, my dreamy ride was christened “Lancelot”.

My little brother stenciled the name on the back bumper. 

Two things; at the time, there was no “click it or ticket” law.  And, Lancelot had bench seats in the front.  I’m sure you know where I’m going here.

Because although the car usually contained only Kitty and me, there were times when every possible inch of seat was full of friends, with more kids sitting on laps.  In this Jenga-like manner, I could fit a total of eleven people in the car. 

One of the first “death-defying” adventures we had happened on the way home from school.  The car was about ¾ full, the music was on full blast, and we were flying down the road. 

On Halstead Blvd, there was a railroad crossing without lights or gate.  We saw the train coming, but being a neophyte driver, I didn’t yet have the experience to judge the distance and speed very well.  Nowadays I would just wait for the train.


But I was a dumb kid, with a car full of dumb kids.  And as such, we were foolhardy and immortal.  So, I sped up.  We crossed, it seemed, with inches to spare.  Every one of us was screaming bloody murder.  After the crossing, I pulled over to catch my breath from our brush with the Grim Reaper.

In all truth, it probably wasn’t that close of a call, but again, a car full of dumb kids full of drama and imagination.

I loved Lancelot with every bit of me.  That car was my freedom and my sanctuary.

But, I was also careless with him.

Before my dad let me pull the car out of the driveway the first time, I was trained to change a tire, check the fluids, and add oil.

Unfortunately, I never bothered to perform this maintenance.  You’d think the first time I ran it without oil for so long the engine seized up and my dad had to replace it, I would learn.

You would be very wrong.

I can still see my dad, the day the second engine seized and expired.

He was standing next to Lancelot, whispering, “Never, ever let this happen again.” What really made an impression and kind of scared me though, was the way he was gently banging his head against the garage wall.

Thanks for your time.

Contact me at d@bullcity.mom.

Face Plant

I feel seen.

From the time I learned to walk until I graduated from high school, I sported at least one, two, and sometimes even more skinned knees.

What say you, Gentle Reader?  That a person with the usual number of knees can have no more than two?

I’m afraid, my friend, that you would be wrong.

As I write this column, I have five separate and distinct areas of knee skinnage.  Three on one knee, and two on the other.  And even though my right knee only has two abrasions, one of them is 2 ½ by 1 ½ inches (literally, I just broke out my tape measure).

Three and a quarter square inches may not be a lot when measuring Grandfather Mountain or the dunes at Jockey’s Ridge, but when it’s a completely raw and weeping patch on the body’s largest joint, let me assure you, Gentle Reader, it is positively, painfully elephantine.

But shockingly, I am not the only wounded member of the Matthews Family Band this week.  In the last seven days, every two-legged member has been injured.

Even worse, the assailants were the four-legged family members; our pooch Crowley, and The Kid’s dog, Bella.

The first, and most grievously injured of us was Petey.

He had recently changed his dog-walking route.  He switched from an older, quieter neighborhood, to a newer, busier, more populated one (we live kind of in-between both areas).  I walk both, so am familiar with the new neighborhood and its inhabitants, the human and the canine.

I know which homes have dogs and how they react to our pooch walking past their territory.  But I didn’t even think to give him the 411, because he has much more upper body strength, and he’s way better at not falling down than me.

The other night he came in after a walk, sat down, and asked, “Is my head bleeding?”

Uh oh.  Crowley had taken off running.  Petey had put the brake on the leash, but the momentum of our 118-pound pup sent him you-know-what over teacups.

The back of his head wasn’t bleeding but had a goose egg.  His eyebrow was cut and bleeding.  And he’d hurt his thumb.  I took one look at it and knew it was broken.

You see, I’d broken my thumb last year almost exactly the same way—although no dog, just me and my adversarial relationship with gravity.  I’d tripped over my own feet.  When I fell, I landed on my thumb.

I made him promise that if his thumb got worse, we’d go to urgent care. 

It did.

X-rays showed the thumb was broken, and a cat scan showed evidence of brain, but no concussion.

Next up was yours truly. 

A couple of dogs got my silly boy all excited.  He didn’t take off but did these little hops he does when worked up, his legs got tangled with mine, and I went down over him and landed on both knees—hence, the skinnage.

Then tonight, The Kid came over for dinner with a couple of sore knees and a painful ankle.  Bella and Bella’s best dog friend Addie had gotten extra playful, and my child got clotheslined. 

See how close the Matthews Family Band is?  Next time we have a group bonding experience I’d like for it to be less hurty and more amusement park-ey.

If you’re still wondering why I said I feel seen, it because after more than fifty years of shingling multiple Band-Aids to cover a skinned knee, they’ve finally started making one adhesive bandage so big that it covers the whole thing. 

I think I’ll stock up.

Thanks for your time.

Contact me at d@bullcity.mom.

A Jersey Shower Part 2

In family lore, it’s referred to as, “The Trip From Hell”.

But that’s not true.

New Jersey was a blast.  Our troubles didn’t start until we got on the road to come home.  More accurately it should be referred to as, “The Voyage Into Hell”.

And we didn’t even get a boat ride with a three-headed puppy.

The morning after the shower, we prepared to leave.  We were leaving with enough baby supplies and equipment shower gifts to open a home for wayward infants.

Our first stop was my Aunt Polly and Uncle Bill’s house.  Aunt Polly made us fresh scallops.  They were delicious and we all overindulged.

After lunch, we hit the road.

We stopped for road snacks and soda.  We put the soda into the cooler we had brought with us.  

When we were about halfway home, we stopped for dinner at a restaurant in Alexandria VA. 

As we ate, Mom started slowing down and got an odd look on her face.

“You guys stay here and finish up, I’m going outside, I think I need some air and to stretch my legs.”  Petey gave her the car keys, and she went out.

Petey and I continued eating, finished dinner, and I probably had dessert; I was eating for two, you know. 

We went outside and found Mom.

She was bent over, one hand hanging onto the side of our car, downloading her dinner and the lunch of scallops like she was trying to win a contest.  From the state of the blacktop around her, it wasn’t her first time, either.

She tried to stand up but was shaking so bad, Petey had to help her into the back seat while I ran into the restaurant to get her some ginger ale some damp paper towels.  As a nurse, Petey must have sensed something, because he emptied the cooler and sat it next to her, “just in case”.

We got on the road again, and since we were almost exactly halfway home, we decided to make a run for it.

Everything was okay for about forty-five minutes or so, then I started to feel funny. 

It was the weirdest thing.  I couldn’t describe how I was feeling then, and couldn’t begin to describe it now.  I just felt wrong; weirdly, weirdly wrong.  As we rode south on 95, I tried to figure this feeling out.

And all of a sudden, I was hanging over the highway guard rail, downloading like a champ.  The rest of the ride was a symphony of mom downloading in the back into that just in case cooler and me screaming for Petey to pull over.  After each highway download, I’d shake so hard he’d help me back into the car.

At one point I was in a truck stop bathroom trying to clean myself off, my cute little maternity outfit speckled with food I’d eaten in kindergarten.  Petey was outside trying to clean out mom’s cooler.

He told me later that as many sick people as he’d seen, he never heard the noises I was making.  He likened it to a Japanese movie monster.

Once home, he helped me change my clothes and took me to the hospital.  I needed fluids for The gestating Kid.  The doctor treating me prescribed nausea meds for Mom, and for Petey too, “just in case”.

Turns out, poor old Petey was as sick as Mom and I.  He’d just been holding it together to get us home. 

That stowaway we’d brought along?

It was the scourge of cruise ships and college dorms—norovirus. 

Our final shower gift.

Thanks for your time.

Contact me at d@bullcity.mom.