Category Archives: Land Down Under

Italian Fire Drill


photo Carrabba's

The birth of a new addiction is both exhilarating and frightening. I’d just come from my friends’ home in Melbourne where the seeds of obsession had been planted over the restaurant Carrabba’s. Even though I had just eaten there the day before, when I saw that beautiful sign looming over the interstate, I found my car steering itself toward the exit ramp. I tried to talk myself into Panera or the adjacent southwestern restaurant that looked promising but to no avail. I wanted pasta, and no red lights, divided highways or cleverly hidden entrances were going to stand in my way.

Minutes later a hostess showed me to my cozy booth for two, and I sat down against the advisement of my bladder that had started a countdown about 23 miles back.  I was determined to make it through the meal for reasons that are soon to be revealed, but when my server Farrah placed a glass of ice water on the table, internal containment facilities went ballistic at the thought of incoming liquids. With a sigh, I folded my napkin neatly and went in search of the ladies room.  After restoring balance to the force, I approached the sink where a mother stood making discoveries about her small child.

“And just how did you manage to get five rub-on tattoos today?  This goes against our agreement.”

“I did them myself.”

“Yourself?  Where was your Aunt Lisa when you were applying body art?”

“Asleep on the couch.”

The mom snorted in disapproval and looked at me.  “That’s my 36 year old sister for you. Can’t even watch a five year old.  Guess I’m back to looking for a babysitter.”

The little girl with the flowers and butterflies winding up her forearms tried to aid her family member. “I didn’t get bored, Mommy. I walked over to the neighbors’ house a couple of times while she was napping.”

“Excellent,” Mommy replied as a dark thundercloud settled over her brow. I guess the thought of her child strolling around the neighborhood unattended really put the skin art into perspective. I reentered the restaurant and made my way back to my booth. Or to at least what I thought was my booth. The two-seater now had two women occupying its vinyl and looking right at home with those menus.

Farrah shot out from the bar. “I’m so sorry, but they thought you had left, and they gave your seat away. We’re working on getting you another one right now.”

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is exactly why it’s so dangerous to be single. I can handle car repairs on my own and take care of burglars with a shotgun and a few shells, but when it comes to booth reservation, I’m completely at the mercy of the world. Without someone’s fanny parked on the seat munching on bread, the bus boys will pounce on utensils and have the wood wiped down in less time than it takes me to crank up the hand dryer. You’d think they had trained as a NASCAR pit crew before going into food service. And I have yet to find a solution to this problem. Leave my lovely winter coat as a flag on the territory?  Not unless I’m just into giving Wilson leather tips. Or worse yet, my purse?  I think having to replace my cell phone, driver’s license and ATM card would lessen the victory substantially. So what do I do?  I just smile and allow them to move me around the restaurant like a game piece on a Candy Land board.

Oh no!  They're pushing me to Peppermints Mentas!

Oh no! They’re pushing me to Peppermints Mentas!

The hostess joined us, apologized for the confusion and asked if I would accept a table instead. Not wanting to be difficult, I agreed. Moments after I had started warming my second seat of the evening, the manager approached me and was so effusive in his apologies that you would have thought they had swapped my baby at the hospital. I assured him that I was perfect and looking forward to the meal.

One thing I love about Carrabba’s is that they run an evening special in which you can get three courses for only $12. Considering that I’m a huge fan of both food and sales, this works beautifully for me. Just as I was starting to wonder about my appetizer, a server rounded the corner and plopped my plate in front of me while exclaiming, “Thank goodness!  I thought I’d never find you!”  Which caused amusement to bubble up for two reasons: one, her tone indicated that I had been moved into another zip code when I was approximately four and a half feet from my previous location (If I had leaned a bit to the right, I could have forked a shrimp from my original homestead), and two, her breathless manner suggested that we had been engaged in a rigorous kind of hide-and-seek and she had just now gotten the better of me.  I could picture it now.  I would dive under tables and in between the shoes of patrons while she chased me around corners, balancing my plate of zucchini fritters above her head. Thankfully, my loss resulted in my gain of fried delicacies.

These were worth losing the game.

These were worth losing the game.

The rest of the meal was fantastic, and I had enough for another repast at home the next day. Just as I was loading my bounty into a brown paper bag, a family party numbering around twenty showed up next to me, and other waitresses snatched the remaining chairs from my table, leaving me as an island unto myself. Time to go. I left Farrah a generous tip since the mix-up wasn’t her fault and set off into the night.

© 2013 – Traci Carver

Land Down Under – Part V of V


I awoke the next morning to an intruder entering my room. He used the stealth of a Ninja to creep up to my bedside, only inches from my face. I could feel his breath on my hair.

“Aunt Crazy . . .” I kept my eyes closed. If there’s one thing we Georgia girls know how to do, it’s play possum.

“Aunt Crazy . . .” I felt small hands pat my face and stroke my hair. “The sun is up. The clouds are up, Aunt Crazy. They’re high in the sky.”

Now, really. Do I seem like the kind of girl who gives a rat’s fanny about the whereabouts of elevated fog? I cracked one eye. “Sleeping, Tim.”

He patted some more, delivered a few more riveting weather reports, and then left for reinforcements. Moments later I heard the door reopen, followed by the telltale shuffle of Orion. The two congregated at the foot of the bed, Orion hassling and Tim giving orders.

“Over there, Orion. Go over there and sniff her.”

At that moment, I almost cracked. Orion considers me to be a scratch and sniff guest, and on a previous visit, he had broken into my bedroom during the wee hours just to sate his olfactory addiction by nearly hoovering me right off the bed. I’m not kidding. He has the suction power to rival any of those $1700 vacuum cleaners that salesmen take door to door, demonstrating how they can pick up an ottoman using only an attachment. I finally had to position myself in the dead center of the mattress, and even then, he’d stick that pointy snout of his as far over as possible and try to suck me right over the edge. Thankfully, Orion was unmotivated for the current assignment, and Tim hasn’t made the connection between obedience and dog treats or else there would have been Kibbles and Bits littered across the bedspread.

The dog shuffled out, and I heard Tim sigh. It was almost enough to generate some compassion for him except that I’m always fresh out of that commodity by midnight, and a new batch doesn’t roll off the line until 9am. I felt his head press against my shoulder as he spoke to my elbow. “Why don’t you wake up?”

As if a person in a coma could still be sleeping at this point. No, this was not about shut-eye any longer. This was a battle of wills. After a few more pats, he left the room and I checked my phone. 6:51. The Gestapo strikes again. I waited a full ten minutes before leaving the bedroom, just to rob him of the satisfaction. I flopped on the couch, and he was on me like wet on water.

“Are you going to make me some eggs?” At least he doesn’t beat around the bush.

“What did your mom say about eggs last night?”

“Aww, man.” He propped an elbow on my thigh. “Well, what can you make me? Waffles?”

At this moment I realized my lot in life. Some people give off vibes. Some people exude neediness and make others want to help them . . . right up until they strangle them. Others have an aura that screams “Bully!” so that the theme song from Rocky III kicks in every time they enter a room. And some people radiate gloom and doom so that fifteen minutes in their presence makes you revaluate your theory that life is really worth living.

Me? I give off a “I’m here to serve the little people of the planet, so please, how may I assist you, tiny dictator?” vibe. Hungry? Let me whip you up some eggs. Bored? Allow me to play Disney Princess Yahtzee with you in spite of the fact that those dice with decapitated princess heads really creep me out. Need someone to wipe you after a number two? My pleasure.

The question is where is the off switch? I successfully terrify my high school students; they leave my room trembling on the first day of school, and they would never dream of asking me to clean up after them. Besides, they’re old enough to pick their own noses and use their shirttails as a Kleenex. But somehow, I’ve become an easy mark for the smaller humans. For some bizarre reason, they perceive me as . . . nice. What a train wreck.

I heard Alli’s footsteps on the stairs, and she appeared in visor and tennis shoes. “Ready to walk?”

“Sure,” I said, now off the hook for waffle duty.

“Did you sleep ok?”

I looked at the little fellow next to me rearranging the items on the coffee table. “Sure. I slept just fine.”

© 2012 – Traci Carver

Land Down Under – Part IV of V


My last evening in residence, Alli and I cooked supper together.  I was making homemade pesto sauce with a food processor, and Alli was obliterating a block of parmesan with a salad shooter.  The noise level rivaled that of a construction site, and we carried on a conversation by way of periodic shouts over our shoulders.  Shortly after the jack hammering subsided, Chris entered the door with Tim, who immediately demanded an explanation.

“Hey!  What’re you still doing here?”  You’ve got to admire a person with the subtlety of a rabid rhino.

“Been missing me, huh?  I thought I’d stay until tomorrow morning.”

“Ok,” he said, charging into the living room to create mini tornadoes for his siblings.

Supper with my friends is an event that mirrors a beloved, family TV series.  Mom and Dad occupy the head and foot of the table, while the children sit like model citizens and participate in the conversation.  Chris and Alli have always adhered to a militant type of parenting that has yielded three confident offspring that adults actually enjoy being around.  Spooky.  I got to watch a clip of this in action since Tim is still in the boot camp phase.

“Hey, Mommy!  Listen to this song!”  Tim began a repetition of vocal expressions accompanied by frenzied see saw choreography.  I turned to take a bite, and when I glanced over, the seat next to me was vacant.

“Oww,” a tiny voice wobbled up from the floor.  One of his left flank movements had gotten away from him and deposited him on the carpet.

Alli covered her face with her napkin to keep from laughing outright, but Chris assumed a deadpan expression and said, “Tim is often the victim of spontaneous acts of gravity.”  He put the little fellow back in his seat and told him to knock off the horseplay at the table.

After he was excused, Tim raced around the living room with a speed that would have drawn a congratulatory meep-meep from the Road Runner.  Occasionally, he blew back into the room to impart a fascinating tidbit to Alli, and the velocity he employed as he rounded the table made my long hair take flight in his jet stream.  Alli caught him on what she dubbed a “boomerang trip” and started the little guy on his nightly ritual.

As he was blasting out of the room for pajamas, he looked over his shoulder and called, “Aunt Crazy, would you make me eggs in the morning?”

I looked down at my shirt to see if it said Waffle House across the front.

“Tim!” No other words of encouragement were necessary from his mother.  He left the room high-stepping like a Clydesdale and giggling.

© 2012 – Traci Carver