Arborvitae in the Wild

In 2013, Janelle and I were driving the 14 hours or so to Montgomery, Alabama, Janelle said, “look at all the wild arborvitae!” We drove in silence for about 45 minutes, then out of the blue, she sang out at the top of her lungs, “ARBORVITAES IN THE WIIIIIIIIILD!!!!” I told her it was an amazing imitation of Eddie Murphy imitating James Brown.

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Light bulb triage

Ahh yes. Lightbulb triage. I’ll get to that in a minute. There seems to be a heated discussion over light bulbs. (no pun intended) (really!) Or, at least over the word lightbulb. Should it be a compound word? Should it be two words. I never wondered or even cared until I decided to write this post. I looked it up on my favorite search engine, and every other post said something different, leading to my decision: every time I write it I will change it up.

So, light bulb triage is a term that I made up to explain the following mindset, and series of actions: A lightbulb burns out, and you have no backups, so you take a bulb from somewhere else in the house, a bulb that you consider the least important. Now, you still have one burned out bulb, but it is in a room that you don’t use too often. Since you keep forgetting to buy them at the store, Continue reading “Light bulb triage”

The Amish Trip: Part 3 – The Amish Tea Party

NCI_iced_teaA non-fiction short story from the collection Don’t Take My Word for It by Matthew Bennett

I will begin this by saying that we were the only guests in a five-suite bed and breakfast, otherwise I don’t believe the incident would have gone down as it did. During the initial tour earlier that day, our hostess (Mary Lee, the owner) opened up the refrigerator and showed me the top shelf, with all the cans of soda. She told us to help ourselves to the soda. We were also informed that we could use the refrigerator to store whatever we needed. “Plenty of room,” she said.

I liked the ambiance of the B&B. When I booked the room, the phone call was much more pleasant than booking a hotel room. Very homey. For example, check in is from 3pm to 6pm, but the owner asked us if we could definitely make it between 4 and 6pm. The specific time line was requested because Mary Lee was taking her Amish neighbor to the doctor (earlier) and had a local community ice cream social (later). Upon our arrival, after our tour, she left us with her phone number and said if we needed anything we could call, and that she would be home around 9:30. She was precisely fifteen minutes late. I won’t forget.

About 9:40 pm after watching the fastest sunset I have ever seen, Janelle and I headed into the house. I headed for a soda from the fridge, and asked if she would like one.

“I’d rather have some of the iced tea,” she said.

“Um…the lady didn’t say we could have any of the tea, she only mentioned the soda.” I am sometimes embarrassed to step beyond the boundaries, especially if the boundaries were set by a sweet lady who runs a bed and breakfast, and sets cookies on the counter for me all day long. I suggested that we make some hot tea, which was provided for us at the coffee station, and put ice in it, as that was also offered to us.

“Well, I think I’m just gonna grab some from the refrigerator,” I was informed.

I sat my laptop on the table and prepared to do a little bit of writing, when I heard her cry for help.

“What?” I said, because that’s what I almost always say (even when I understand the questions perfectly. This may be something to explore in a later essay. It may be a habit to simply holler “What?” to every question asked of me, but there are times when I suspect that I am buying time to come up with an answer).

“Just help!” she requested more forcefully this time. I looked up to see Janelle running to the sink, holding the glass jug of iced tea, a small drinking glass underneath it, with tea pouring non-stop out of the pouring mechanism, overflowing in the cup, leaving a trail of tea all the way to the sink.

Years ago, I would have thought that such a scene would be out the the ordinary. That was before I met Janelle, though. She has a tendency to be the anomaly in the most normal situation than can be imagined. In Douglas Adam’s Book “The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul”, Adams tells us about the fictional character Dirk Gently. A scene described in the book has Gently buying a couch for his upstairs apartment. The moving company gets the couch stuck in the hallway/stairs, and after a long time of attempting to get it un-stuck, they give up and leave it where it is. Gently calls in a team of physicists and mathematicians to help him figure out how to get the couch into his apartment, and after a time of calculations, they determine that it is physically impossible to get the couch into the position that it is currently in, unless the apartment building was constructed around the couch.

Since I met Janelle, Adams fiction has literally become an everyday reality for me. If there is something to get stuck on, she will get stuck on it, and in an almost impossible way. If there is nothing to get stuck on, she will still get stuck on it. This soars high above an average level of clumsiness, into Heisenburgesque uncertainties.  A few months ago she walked past a baby stroller while holding a Bungee cord from our car trunk, and caught the stroller. In a fraction of a fraction of a second, the strap was caught inside the stroller in such a manner that I had to disassemble the baby stroller in order to remove the Bungee.

So I was not surprised at all by the leaking tea, the stuck nozzle, or the cry for my assistance. I was however, slightly embarrassed since I felt as if we were stealing tea from the B&B, and the less we had to do to cover our tracks, the better. With Janelle, though, it’s not so easy. I took the tea jug away from her and held it on its side so that the tea was no longer pouring forth. As she started cleaning her tracks, I began to examine the spout apparatus to see if I could understand and repair the damage. I was standing at the sink trying to figure out how the rubber piece is supposed to fit back inside the plastic piece in a way that would not only allow the tea to stay inside the jar, but also hide the evidence that an iced tea swindle had occurred. And I wondered to myself, “What time is it?”

“What time is it,” I said again, this time aloud.

“Quarter to ten,” Janelle answered.

“What time is she supposed to be back?” I whispered.


“Wonderful.” I used some rather fast Zen, shoved the rubber piece inside the plastic piece as hard as I could, and I felt the positive contact as it snapped into place. Handing the jar to Janelle, I began cleaning the sink. Not ten seconds after the jar was back in the refrigerator and the washcloth was folded and back where I got it from, the front door opened and the owner walked in.

Every parent is able to sense that their children have been misbehaving. The posture the kids take when they are trying to look innocent; the gears spinning in their little heads trying to figure out if the parent knows that “something is up”; casually glancing around the room looking for any signs that might be a testament of their mischief.

I haven’t felt like an eight-year-old since my time in college. But we looked guilty as hell. I was trying to look innocent. And the gears were spinning in my head. And I glanced around the room, looking for the evidence.

I don’t really know if we weren’t supposed to drink the tea. Nothing was said. We had another nice little chat with our hostess, and then she went off to bed. And the whole time, there was my lovely fiancée, standing there with a glass of iced tea in her hand.

We went downstairs into the sitting room to hang out for a little bit, laughing at all that had just occurred. I asked Janelle if I could have a sip of tea in payment for all my assistance and hard labor.

“You can have the rest of it,” she said, indicating her nearly full glass. “It’s not very good at all.”

The Amish Trip: Part 2 – Where we saw a ghost

400px-Amish_Buggie_signA non-fiction short story from the collection Don’t Take My Word for It by Matthew Bennett

After getting settled into the bed and breakfast, we drove into town to get some genuine Amish cooking. We both ended up getting veal Parmesan, which didn’t seem very Amish at all. My side dishes were applesauce and cottage cheese. The only thing that made this seem like anything but a regular diner is that the food was a bit worse, and the waitress actually seemed to be rushing us out of the place. I shouldn’t neglect to mention that the staff was either Amish or dressed Amishly enough that I wouldn’t know the difference. Fortunately, we stayed, or we wouldn’t have seen the ghost.

Both of us try to stay abreast of current events, and we both read quite a bit. This really helps us keep our relationship vital, especially because our reading habits only intersect by about ten percent. I had been reading the book “The Theory of Almost Everything” by Robert Oerter, as another jaunt into the land of quantum physics. We talked about the book over our side dishes, which came about 37 seconds after we ordered our dinner (the first sign that we were being rushed in and out).

I was just getting to the good part, about the ant on roller skates in a bowl (yes, Theory explains physics in a way that even I can understand – highly recommended reading) when one of our bowls, and a saucer, on the table, moved toward us about four inches.

I asked Janelle if that just happened. She replied that if I meant did that bowl just move by itself, then yes, she thought that it did in fact just happen.

“I see,” I said.

Now, when a man is feeling all smart because he is currently discussing quantum physics with a beautiful woman who is interested in the conversation, he would (as I did) think that there must be some rational explanation for the moving dinnerware. The first thing that I did is check to see if the tablecloth was wet. It was not. Secondly, I tried to recreate the phenomenon myself. I placed the bowl and saucer back into their original position and watched them for about ten seconds. They did not move. I bumped the table. Nothing.

I finally took the actions of an impatient scientist, and practiced some bad science. I tried to move the bowl with my hand. There was so much friction from the tablecloth that I couldn’t slide the bowl without the tablecloth itself moving as well. Not the easy glide, as I had expected. As absurd as an Amish Restaurant séance setup sounded, I looked under the table for invisible thread, magnets, or anything else that might have assisted in the illusion. But there was nothing.

When I want to sound open-minded, I will tell people that although I’ve never seen a ghost, and although I think that most ghost stories are a cry for attention, (or overly sensitive people who have one unexplained noise in their house and decide that since they can’t explain it, their house must be haunted by “Great Uncle Joe, because he always tripped going down the stairs”) I also believe that there are too many stories out there for all of them to be fabricated cries for attention. I tell people that I believe there must be something to some of the stories. In reality, after a two year stint as a paranormal investigator, I really began to think that ALL of the stories are fabricated, and then passed along. People  have such a strong desire to touch the unknown that they will say almost anything to relay the “experience” to their peers, and this desire also strikes such a chord in their own minds that they convince themselves that their stories are true. I have found to be the case, time and time again, and most strongly in paranormal investigators.

I don’t know how I lasted two years with people who carried around books describing all the different “types” of ghosts. I do remember our group leader explaining the types to us before one our investigations. Most strongly, I remember that demons were considered a type of ghost. After explaining some of the qualities of a demon she said, “If you think that you are in the presence of a demon, don’t talk to it, don’t do anything. You come and get me!” Apparently she was the only one among our group who was qualified to deal with a demon.

After two years of spending the night in condemned hospitals, ancient cemeteries, and world’s-most-haunted-libraries, watching people walking around with digital recorders, night vision and heat-sensing cameras, and all other manner of ghost-finding tools, it strikes me as ironic that the most paranormal experience of my life happened in broad daylight, in a crowded Amish restaurant, during a discussion of quantum physics, and within a few inches of a bowl of delicious applesauce.

When we got back to the Bed and Breakfast, we watched the sunset from the front porch. I have never seen a sunset so fast. It seemed to take less than a minute, which seemed to add the the spooky atmosphere. I relayed to Janelle that this is how most horror movies start. Small town, middle of nowhere, a little diner a the beginning of the movie with an ambiguous odd moment. All of this lent to the fun but creepy ambiance of the journey.

I know it’s not nearly as exciting as Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze in a phantasmic encounter in wet clay, but at least it was real.

The Amish Trip: Part 1 – Fireflies

A non-fiction short story from the collection Don’t Take My Word for It by Matthew Bennett

In May 2012 while Janelle was planning her summer around a weekly commute to IUP to take classes for her doctorate, she asked me if I would like to go on a writing trip. Somewhere in the middle of nowhere, with no distractions, she said. We had been talking more and more about writing, and doing less and less of it. The new house project, the new wildly unkempt yard, and the myriad other responsibilities in all of our various endeavors had been taking up so much time that neither of us were working toward our goals.

So it was decided. The first week in July, during IUP’s break between summer classes, we would go. The planning was left to me, and I knew that if we went into the middle of the woods in a cabin somewhere the distractions would be immeasurable. Spiders, bears, poison ivy, and all that the simple life entails would not free us up to write. So I went with Plan B. Amish country. Sugarcreek, Ohio. And the adventure began.


Our first stop was IUP. Monday was the last day of classes, and we were booked in Millersburg, OH Tuesday through Friday. (Incidentally, the distance between Indiana, Pennsylvania and Millersburg, Ohio is 175 miles – the same distance as the Journey from Millersburg back to our house in Erie, PA. I looked up the distance again from Erie back to Indiana, in hopes that I would be able to write that our path created an equilateral triangle. Alas, you the reader will have to settle for an isosceles.) (Also incidentally, my iPhone Mapquest app was unable to find the B&B in Millersburg, to any degree of accuracy. This led to it’s deletion off my iPhone. Life if confusing enough without scrambling up my phone with apps that are useless, but neat.)

But I must continue, because this section is about fireflies.

After Janelle got out of class at 4pm, we met at the library to get a couple hours of work done before we left for Ohio. We argued a little bit, got angry, made up, and then worked. We do this all the time, although I must admit that it is difficult to accomplish in the library. We planned on working from 4-8, but at around 6, some medical students at a nearby table ordered a pizza, and the amazing smell precipitated our hasty departure to walk somewhere and get food and drink. As our typical walks go, we argued a little bit, got angry, made up, and then kept walking. It’s almost a comforting pattern. Almost.

We had rented an apartment very close to the IUP campus so that she didn’t have to drive everyday. Across from the apartment was a memorial park/cemetery.  After eating, and drinking a few beers and margaritas, we walked towards the apartment, but stopped in the park. The sun was just going down, and the park was immersed in shadow.

It is no big secret that Janelle loves fireflies. She is a highly educated woman, most likely smarter than me (though she has the grace to never compare – to me this proves that I’m right, she’s smarter), but when dusk comes in mid-summer, and the fireflies start to light up, she turns into a six-year-old girl, one burst of adrenalin shy of jumping up and down and clapping her hands.

“How do fireflies work?” she asked me, as we watched their glowing antics in the park. In and of itself, the question seemed innocent enough. However, I suspect that she looks to me for guidance, not because she thinks I have the answer, but because she knows that I will Google EVERYTHING, immediately upon being asked, if I don’t know the answer. I am a walking research tool. Plus, I found the odd phrasing adorable: of a firefly as if it were an object. Fireflies – how do they work?

So I read to her the facts of life, as they relate to photuris lucicrescens. Fireflies, it seems, glow specifically in order to mate. The male will fly around showing off his glowing butt to the females on the ground (who are unable to fly as far). When a female sees a male that she likes, she glows back in a similar pattern to that male, and he flies down, touches her antennae, and if he likes her, they go at it. (This whole scene is not at all unlike some dance clubs that I have been to, and very close to the mating rituals of humans.) One site in particular stated that an “eager female firefly” would produce a longer series of flashes, instead of just a simple flash from the ground.

Janelle and I first talked about how cool it was that the beetles could produce chemical light. Bioluminescence, it’s called. As I read about the mating habits however, our discourse transformed beyond academic. She began criticizing the tactics of some of the males, and making fun of them, and also pointing out the females, and which ones were more eager to have a mate. I began to have the feeling that we were spectators at the metaphorical dance club, and that everything we were saying was just like a couple at that club gossiping about the happenings. This was anthropomorphication on a grand scale.

It was quite enlightening for me to see that for the two of us, it wouldn’t matter if we were watching a group of people, or a group of insects, we were still the peanut gallery, the critical observers.