Interview with the Young Writer


            My youngest son S has been working on a novel for his 6th grade English class, since November was National Novel Writing Month. It’s really good. It’s an imaginative, post-apocalyptic, violent, fast-paced story about a band of brave warriors whose lives are constantly threatened by relentless, cunning and diabolical bad guys who pursue them 24/7. There are a lot of explosions, gun battles, sword battles and supernatural phenomena, and it actually has a plot.

            He didn’t like using the voice to text app on his computer, so every night he would dictate a few pages and I would dutifully type them. Before we started, he said I couldn’t talk or interrupt him, or ask “any weird questions like you always do.” It was to be solely his work, and I was just there to type silently. I was allowed to ask him to repeat himself if I’d missed something, or to clarify if I wasn’t sure what he said. Otherwise, I was to be seen and not heard.

            When we finally got to the end of November and the end of the story, I asked if it would be OK if I asked him a few questions about it. Grudgingly, he said yes, and here’s how what I’ll call “A Conversation to Nowhere” went:

Me:     Thanks for letting me ask you some questions.

S:         [suspiciously] I’m not changing anything, Mom.

Me:     I’m not asking you to. It’s really, really good. The questions are just to satisfy my own curiosity.

S:         OK.

Me:     The part where they ran inside the abandoned warehouse and the power went out, you said they saw Chainsaw and Penelope [not their real names in the story] fighting. How could they see them fighting if the lights were out and it was totally dark?

S:         Seriously?

Me:     It’s a reasonable question. You said the place was “plunged into darkness.”

S:         They could see a little.

Me:     Like was it one of those emergency lights like in stairways, or were they under a skylight?

S:         Um, I guess emergency lights.

Me:     I wasn’t sure why an abandoned warehouse would have the electricity hooked up anyway.

S:         It’s not real, Mom. No one would care about that except lawyers, like you. [I’m a recovering lawyer.]

Me:     Well, it didn’t change that I enjoyed the story – just sometimes those little loose ends stick in the back of my mind.

S:         Do not even think of asking me when they go to the toilet.

Me:     I hadn’t thought of that, but now that you mention it…

S:         No one cares, Mom! It’s NOT INTERESTING!

Me:     I’m joking, I’m joking! Do they ever go to the dentist?

S:         Ugh! That’s like asking if they ever go to the proctologist! That’s never going to be part of any story – EVER! Like Captain America would say to Thor, “Why are you late to this battle?” and Thor says, “Oh, I was having my anus checked.”

Me:     I didn’t say anything about anyone’s anus.

S:         You’re worrying about details that are so small and stupid.

Me:     I’m really not worrying. And I didn’t want to know about the proctologist.

S:         I know what you’re going to ask next. It’ll be like, “Oh, when do they eat? Do they go to Subway? Why don’t you have them go to Subway and sit around and talk about their feelings?”

Me:     I thought I was the one who was supposed to be asking the questions here.

S:         Go ahead. But only a couple more.

Me:     Do they ever go to the Sbarro at the food court at the mall?

S:         I’m leaving, Mom.

Me:     No! Don’t go – I’m just kidding. I’m sorry.

S:         Was that your last question?

Me:     No, but just a couple more. In the story, Malware [bad guy – not his real name] wears a cloak with a hood that covers his whole face. How does he see to attack all those people?

S:         Who gives a crap, Mom? You cannot tell me you possibly care about that. Obviously he can see – it doesn’t have to explain how. He just can.

Me:     OK, OK. Again, it was just one of those loose ends.

S:         You’re torturing me. Can I leave, or do you have any more stupid questions, like “Do they go to Wal-Mart?” or “What are their hobbies?” or “Oh, do they clean out the lint trap on their dryer?”

Me:     They have a dryer?

S:         Ugggggggghhhhhh! I’m out of here.

Me:     No, no! I get at least one more question.

S:         OK but that’s IT! Go ahead. [Melodramatic sigh.]

Me:     After Leatherneck [also not his real name] dies [due to being impaled by a bad guy with a magic sword], why do they just leave him there in the street?

S:         Because they have to get away from the guy who killed him. They never go back there. And no one cleans up his blood off the street!

Me:     Leatherneck was a major character. Did they have a funeral for him?

S:         No!

Me:     No funeral?

S:         It’s an ACTION story! No one cares about the funeral or the food they serve after the funeral or where the bathroom is at the funeral home!

Me:     If I was Leatherneck’s mom, I would want him to have a decent funeral.

S:         Mom, your questions suck so much that it makes me want to jump off a bridge. We are DONE!

Me:     You could have Sbarro cater the funeral reception!

S:         Stop it, Mom! You’re crazy! [Stomps away in a huff.]
            Sure, it went nowhere, but in a way, it showed that I’ve succeeded as a parent: I am the voice in his head.

©NLWalsh, All rights reserved.

Brenda’s Dumpster

November 2013

I stopped mid-run today to photograph this decal I saw on a construction dumpster. It says, “In loving memory of Brenda Something.” It’s not something you see every day. I considered it for a moment, and my first thought was: a dumpster with a dead person’s name on it strongly suggests that the dead person’s body had, at some point, been IN the dumpster. More specifically, the corpse was disposed of in it. Maybe accidentally. Or maybe she was a victim of foul play, and someone clandestinely put her there in the middle of the night, under cover of darkness.

The dumpster decal idea, no matter how well-intentioned, is just too weird to succeed as a memorial. I didn’t have firsthand confirmation, but I was 99% sure Brenda was never in the dumpster, contrary to what I (and others with similarly honed logic) might infer. The dates on the decal indicate she died at age 52, which is genuinely tragic. She obviously had people who loved her, missed her and wanted to do something special in her memory, which is touching and reflects well on her life.

My guess is that Brenda was the founder or a beloved employee of the waste disposal company. Her co-workers must’ve cared a lot about her. She must have been a truly nice person. But still, I’ve never before seen a death announcement sticker on a dumpster  — or any other waste removal equipment — so to me, there will always be that very-low-probability but nagging thought that Name on Dumpster = Body Disposal in Dumpster, not to mention the possibility of pre-disposal murder and dismemberment.

I wonder about the meeting where they came up with the idea to make the Brenda decals. “What can we do to honor Brenda?” the meeting leader asks. Silence. Everyone looks around, but nobody speaks. More silence. Then a man in the back of the room stands up, but then shakes his head and sits back down. (Since it’s my fantasy meeting, I’m naming him Cleve. He’s 60-ish and skinny with a gray mustache. He’s dressed in worn jeans, a trucker hat, a faded plaid shirt with the sleeves rolled up, and big, slightly-brown-tinted eyeglasses.) The crowd urges Cleve to share his idea. He protests, but finally stands up again. In a twangy Southern accent, he says, “Um, we could have some nice stickers printed up with Brenda’s name on ’em, and stick ’em on our dumpsters.” No one replies, and no one else has any suggestions. They decide to give it a few days, to see if anyone comes up with something else — anything else. No one does, so the decals go to print.

I don’t mean to disparage or disrespect Brenda at all. I just think the whole thing raises strange questions, the answers to which don’t necessarily honor Brenda the way I think they meant to. The total lack of context invites wild speculation, which in my case is grotesquely, irredeemably, inappropriate-hysterical-laughter-while-kneeling-in-front-of-the-casket funny.

I’m sorry if this offends anyone. If you’re offended, I think you should ask yourself what Brenda would do. I bet Brenda had a good sense of humor. I bet she was the salt of the earth, had a sweet disposition, and would’ve laughed at the idea that someone thought her body had been in the dumpster. I bet she wouldn’t judge me like you’re doing now. If you’re still alive when I kick the bucket, you can get back at me by suggesting that my kids print up a bunch of memorial dumpster decals for me.

RIP Brenda – maybe we’ll meet on the high ground, out back, by the big dumpster in the sky.

©NLWalsh, All rights reserved.

To the Man at the Pool

August 14, 2012

Dear Man in the Swim Lane Next to Me Today:

         (1)  Your Speedo was too small. By at least 2 sizes.

         (2)  I got a good look at your Speedo while I was swimming, because I was thrown all around in the massive wake created when you – unlike anyone else there to swim laps – did a cannonball entry, and then got out and did a second one before you started to swim.

        (3)  Despite the posted rule, we all know that not everybody actually takes a shower before they get in the pool. However, for those wearing a half bottle of Polo cologne (like you), it’s imperative that you shower before you get in. Because you didn’t, every person in the pool had to ‘splain to their significant other tonight why they smelled like a lounge lizard.

        (4)  It’s OK to make “UNGH!” noises when you’re weight lifting or during a strenuous tennis match, but swimming is different. You’re not supposed to grunt loudly every time you turn your head to take a breath.

        (5)  It creeps out the other poolgoers when, after you finish swimming, you walk the perimeter of the pool deck for 15 minutes wearing only your teeny swimsuit & clunky dark leather sandals while stroking your own chest hair.

        (6) I bet the Chinese character on your gold chain means “Hirsute land mammal entirely lacking self-awareness.”


                                               One of the Human Flotsam Bobbing in Your Wake

©NLWalsh, All rights reserved.

A Visit to the Cable Company


After years of hard duty, our cable TV remotes had come to the end of their journey – the numbers had worn off the keypads, buttons no longer worked, & the outsides were held together with duct tape. I called our provider, Cox Cable (ostensibly my friend in the digital age) & asked them to send two new ones. The phone rep said, “We can’t send remotes through the mail in Northern Virginia.” I nicely asked why, did they contain toxic material or something. He laughed, as if I’d said something pathetically ignorant, and said no, that in our market we have to go in person to a Cox Store to get them, & the closest one to me was on Lee Highway in Fairfax.

            Ugh. While that’s only a few miles away, it might as well be on the moon. No offense to Fairfax, but that particular commercial strip is like one of the lowest circles of hell. It’s densely overbuilt with ugly retail that goes on for miles, no trees, and the route to get there is always dense, slow-moving traffic with about 100 traffic lights along the way. Bonus: the store is at a heinous 6-point intersection with lots of restrictions on which way you can turn from where, so you have to circle it & vector in, like the landing pattern for O’Hare. My GPS said it should take 18 minutes to get there. It took 49.

            So I was cheery when I finally walked into the store. There was a long line, which gave me plenty of time to take in the place: a big dingy white box with fluorescent lights that gave it the ambiance of Soviet Russia, a bunch of flat screens with Cox commercials loudly playing on a loop, two empty blue counters with scratched-up Lucite chairs, a pegboard wall with a sparse selection of electronic accessories for sale, four cash registers (one open), and a bunch of Cox Cable posters hung haphazardly on the walls. The woman in front of me in line was carrying an unhappy shrieking toddler. The person in front of her was a 95-year-old man.

            After 20 minutes, it was my turn. I stepped up to the register & politely told the lady I needed 2 new remotes. I gave her the old ones and my account number. She noted it in the computer, turned around, took 2 new ones out of a cabinet behind her, and handed them to me. It took less than 15 seconds. She said, “Thank you. Would you be interested in finding out about how we can save you more money by bundling & switching your phone & Internet service to Cox?” Now, I hate people who yell at airport ticket agents or are snotty to wait staff or act annoyed that they have to stand in line. But that day, after the royal-pain-in-the-arse journey there and the wait, the idea that I would voluntarily do anything to spend more time on this errand was insane.

            Knowing she was only doing her job, I replied, “No thanks – but if they’d like to send me some info I’d be happy to look at it.” Then I had to ask. “I know you don’t make the rules, but why couldn’t Cox just mail the new remotes, or have a service truck couldn’t just drop them off when they have a call near me? I’m not trying to give you a hard time, but why did this have to be done in person?” (In hindsight, I was naïve to expect there’d be a comprehensible or remotely satisfactory answer.)

            She looked at me with great pity, like I’d said something really stupid, cocked her head, smiled & said, “Well, mailing them would be so …” & made a face that suggested extreme ickiness. “If we mailed them, you wouldn’t get to come here & have face-to-face interaction & see what we have to offer. We want you to enjoy the in-store experience.”

            O.M.G. Seriously? In other words, “It’s one of the only opportunities we have to hold you hostage in person”? The in-store experience is a precious gift they’re bestowing on me? Who are their marketing people who came up with that load of utter poo – lobotomized donkeys?

            It took all the self-control I could muster not to twirl around, with my arms outstretched, like Maria on the mountaintop in The Sound of Music, and sing, “Of course you’re RIGHT! I’m SO FREAKIN’ HAPPY! This has been the BEST DAY OF MY LIFE! However could I have missed ALL THIS???”

            Then I would have rubbed my body against the flat screens and rolled all over the dirty gray carpet moaning with pleasure, after which I would have kissed the cashier and everyone in line full on the mouth, then exited the store screaming, “! I LOVE COX CABLE! I HAVE NEVER FELT SUCH RAPTURE BEFORE! THANK YOU, THANK YOU! A MILLION TIMES, THANK YOU! I’LL BE BACK TOMORROW, and EVERY DAMN DAY AFTER THAT! YOU COMPLETE ME!! DOES ANYONE HAVE A CIGARETTE?”

            I’m almost looking forward to the next time we need a new remote.

©NLWalsh, All rights reserved.


September 20, 2013

        I am SO pissed after going to yoga this morning. (By the way, I’m not making up any of this.) First, there’s a substitute teacher — named Petal or Zephyr or Seafoam or something like that — who asks everyone as they enter if they have any physical limitations that she should be aware of. I tell her no, and even though I’m one of only 3 people in there under age 65, she returns to me twice to ask if I’m sure there’s no problems with me.

        I’m directly in front of her when class starts, and she eyes me during the early stretches and says, “You’re air energy, aren’t you? You’re very airy and all over the place.” Since all I’ve done is walk into class and answer a few questions, I’m perplexed and a little put off by this. I’m “airy”? WTF is that supposed to mean?

        The class (a BEGINNER class) continues, and she keeps asking, “Who hasn’t done [name of obscure pose, e.g., Mangled Pelican 1]?” Every time, I’m the only one who raises my hand, and every time, she frowns and says pointedly, “Really? You haven’t?” and makes a note of it on her class list.

        Then, even though there are numerous signs telling people to turn off their cell phones, 15 minutes into class, some woman’s phone starts ringing, and her ring tone is the loud angry barking dog! And she doesn’t turn it off! She answers it and yells, “NO! I’m in yoga class! NO! I told you not to call now! I’m in class! NO! I can’t now! Let’s talk later! OK, talk to you later! NO! My class is NOW! OK, BYE!” Five minutes go by, and IT STARTS BARKING AGAIN. Only then does she turn it off.

        Class progresses, but I can’t really get into a zen place because every 5 minutes, as the instructor walks around, she’ll leans down next to my ear with a distracting and annoying comments, like, “How are we doing here?” “Remember to breathe now,” “May I assist you to get that pose right?” and “You just need to let go of that tension!”

       Finally we lie on our backs to start meditation. The guy in front of me quickly reaches a higher plane of relaxation, and lets loose a series of dense, horrible clouds of flatulence that sear the eyes, nostrils and lungs of everyone in the entire building.

        As the farting subsides, the teacher, who’s still walking the perimeter, gently places a soft, glasses-case-sized beanbag over my closed eyes. She actually has good intentions, but doesn’t realize there’s a big tear in it, and all the little birdseedlike stuffins start to pour out onto my eyes and face. I sit up suddenly and throw off the beanbag, but the pile of seeds already on me then flow down into my shirt, through my sports bra, down the waistband of my yoga pants, and into my underwear. I am sweaty, so the seeds stick like glue to my skin.

    Class ends, and as I’m leaving the room, the instructor tells me she thinks I have a lot of potential if I keep practicing, and to have a terrific day.  

        I am itchy, uncomfortable, stressed, angry and think about murder all the way home. Nama-freakin’-ste.

©NLWalsh, All rights reserved.

A Letter from The Tooth Fairy

I wrote the first version of this for my oldest son, L, who got a huge kick out of it. Four years later, I revised and expanded on it for his younger brother, S. I hope they’ll pass it down to their children and establish a twisted, beloved family tradition.


March 13, 2009

Dear S,

        I’m writing to introduce myself – I’m The Tooth Fairy.  Congratulations on losing your first tooth.  I hear you’re a really nice, good kid, so I’m looking forward to working with you.  Let’s get a few things straight right off the bat.

        1. Never try to stay up and wait for me. I only come in when I’m sure you’re asleep.  Also, don’t even think about trying to catch me. I can fly faster than you’ll ever run.  If you wake up and try to grab me while I’m in your room, I’ll kick your butt. If you try to chase me, you’ll be sorry. One kid from New Jersey chased me as far as his kitchen, but when he got there I beaned him with the toaster. And no photos! If you try to take a photo of me, I will char your blankie in the toaster.

         2. I usually give kids $1.00 per chicklet (that’s my nickname for a tooth that’s fallen out). You get $6.00 this time, because this is your first one and you’re almost 6 years old — I’m nice like that for special occasions.  Always place the tooth under your pillow or in your little plastic tooth holder. I’ll know when to come by to pick it up and drop off the dough.  Don’t ask how I know when to show up – it’s complicated, and involves top secret stuff like magic, spying and a sophisticated communications network.

         3. I’ll take the tooth with me unless you leave me a note saying you want to keep it for yourself and why. As long as your reasons are legit, I’m cool with that. I’ve left this first chicklet for you, because your first one is a special souvenir. But after this, they belong to me unless you leave that note, OK? (By the way, tell your mom she’s wrong – I don’t use them to tile my tiny bathroom. It’s nobody’s beeswax what I do with them, anyway.)

         4. If you accidentally swallow or misplace a chicklet, or if it falls down the drain or gets eaten by an alligator or something, please remain calm. DON’T FREAK OUT.  It’s OK – I’ll understand. Just leave me a note under your pillow explaining what happened. Be sure you sign the note, which I will retain for my records.

        5. Don’t try to trick me. I’m the ultimate tooth expert and I cannot be fooled. I’ll know if you try to use the same tooth twice, or if you try to dupe me by putting a fake tooth or an animal tooth under your pillow.  A few years ago, a kid from Florida got greedy and put a set of those plastic vampire teeth with fangs under his pillow, hoping I’d leave him $32.00.  Guess what happened to him?  That’s right – I went straight to the kitchen, got the toaster, and beaned him with it while he was sleeping. And I only gave him 10 cents for each chicklet after that.

         I know I seem grouchy, but I’m actually really nice. I’m just cranky because I never get enough sleep. I’m up all night most nights flying around bringing money to kids like you. But I love it. What can I say – to me it’s more than a job, it’s my life.

        Enjoy being 5 years old for just a few more days. Keep brushing and flossing your teeth every day (I mean it – there’s nothing nastier than a gnarly, rotted-out chomper), and keep working hard in school. Be nice to your brother and mind your mom and dad and we’ll get along just fine. Like I said, I’m happy to be working with a great kid like you.

        See you next tooth! (Get it? I said “next tooth” instead of “next time” – that’s my kind of humor! I slay myself!)

                                                                            — The Tooth Fairy

©NLWalsh, All rights reserved.