Anna Tennis Posts


We all know the joke, and you can fill in your own punchline: it’s harder to ________ (vote, fish legally, join Girl Scouts) than it is to get an assault rifle in the United States. It’s funny because it’s so true.

Or at least it was funny until kids — so many kids — started getting killed. It’s February, at the time of this essay, and there have been seven school shootings in 2018 so far. In total, there have been seventeen firearms incidents in schools in the same timeframe, when you include suicides on school grounds, and the accidental discharge of a weapon in school. To teachers, parents, and kids, this means that every couple of days — three times a week — there is another incident where school is interrupted by gunfire.

Teachers and administrators are running drills in their classrooms as though we were in WWII England, listening for bomb raids. So, in addition to hearing news every few days of another firearms incident in schools, kids are reminded every couple of months that someone might come into their school and kill them and all of their friends.

Poo, of the Non-Winnie Variety

I’ve really grown a lot, since turning 40. Particularly in relationship to my willingness to talk about poop.

Let me back up. (Have you noticed how, when you lead with poo, everything that follows becomes a double-entendre?) Anyway. Up until my late 30s, it was a well-known and oft-ridiculed fact that all things concerning defecation made me wildly, morbidly uncomfortable. I knew it was a natural, essential, healthy bodily function. I also realized that everyone (including me, heaven forgive me) did it. But it was so disgusting, so private and feral and ghastly, that I could not acknowledge it in anyone else’s company.

I did a lot of very silly things to avoid mutual recognition of poop situations.

I famously repaired a toilet while pregnant to avoid calling anyone else into the vestibule, lest they deduce what might have caused the trouble in the first place. For five full years, I used a restroom in a gas station next door to the building in which I worked because the bathroom at my job was right next to the lunchroom, and that was monstrous. I have had entire business trips in which my body mysteriously began apparently absorbing my waste, rather than eliminating it, until I returned home, lest I be forced to do any pooping on an airplane, or, for the love of all that remains holy, in a stall next to a client. I have left a lover’s house and driven home and back again, under the ruse of requiring medicine I did not need, take or have in my possession to avoid any implication of my defecatory habits.

The Trouble with Al Franken

I’m sad about Al Franken. I’ve been reading some heartfelt responses to the situation, varying in timbre from sad and resolute to forgiving and freshly devoted to the new and improved Al Franken, the one who will likely emerge from a self-imposed ethics investigation much the way he entered it: somewhat marred, but essentially a good man in the eyes of those who always thought he was a good man, and a liberal blowhard to those who always thought he was a liberal blowhard. His reputation in the court of public opinion is bent, but not really broken. He can still look most of America in the eye. Compared to Louis C.K. and the rest of them — Woody Allen, Harvey Weinstein, Roy Moore — those roiling pots of sexual dysfunction and predation, Franken is a tepid pool.

I’ll be honest — I was sadder and more surprised by the allegations against the men in my own camp: the liberals and artists, the progressive advocates who had been using their bully pulpits and mordant wits to shame and denounce the current administration and all of its gorked trappings as archaic and hateful, relics of a time before we knew that all people are people, and that other religions are equally inexplicable and sacred to the people who they are inexplicable and sacred to. So shame on me for believing that my men would be different.

The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

I will do almost anything to avoid ironing. It’s the truth — I will. I don’t know what it is about ironing that is so abhorrent to me, but I will consider almost any other method of getting wrinkles out of my clothes.

Maybe it’s the ironing board. It’s all big and squeaky, and inexplicably hard to operate. Mine has not one, but two security features — you have to compress this metal … thing … while applying downward pressure on the legs to get it to close. Then, it catches on the second security contraption, which requires that you, maintaining aforementioned downward pressure, and compressing the first metal thing, also compress a second metal thing. It’s next to impossible. It’s actually easier to remove a Volvo 850 engine or a human heart. I know irons are hot and dangerous. But a double lock? There are nuclear silos with less integrity.

As an added feature, or possibly as evidence of the degradation of the ironing board over time, this security feature also activates while you are opening the ironing board, locking the board halfway open, approximately three feet off the ground. Three feet off the ground is too far below my natural waist for me to comfortably iron there, and slightly too high for me to iron at from a kneeling position (ask me how I know) so I must begin a reverse version of the closing the board/security catch deactivation process: I clench both metal doobobbies like I am falling off a cliff, and vigorously shake the whole thing up and down until the legs finally release, like a huge metal crane, and snap into ironing board, full-height position.

Frog Circus

Dear Mrs. Harleminn,

I realize it’s been quite a long time since we spoke. I’m sorry I haven’t kept in touch, but there is a relatively good reason for that. See, I have a confession. In 1982, I placed that four-pound coffee can full of tiny, lifeless frogs, covered in a thin layer of grape jelly, on your porch.

If you’ll indulge it, I’d like to explain.

I’ll start at the beginning. Eddy Griffenbackher and I were going to create a frog circus, wherein frogs would do short, but elegant gymnastic routines. You undoubtedly remember Eddy — he was basically notorious. I have a lot of Eddy stories myself. One time Eddy convinced me to ball up the fresh tar they used to seal cracks in the asphalt and hurl it at the backs of passing cars. Never satisfied with mere mischief, Eddy upped the ante to offer me ten extra points if I could hit Officer Cramer, who was on duty at the time. (That’s how my mom met Officer Cramer, actually. He’s a really forgiving man, and that uniform was a lot more expensive than you’d imagine. My mom knows how to get a lot of stains out of a lot of things, but gooey tar and trooper uniform are unfortunately not in that impressive number, and she owns at least one trooper uniform to prove it.)

Two Boulders

Shortly after my daughter was born I watched the movie 127 Hours and had a totally revelatory experience. I’m probably not the only person to have a 127 Hours revelation — the movie is pretty impactful. In it, Aron Ralston, a lone-wolf mountaineer, is forced to cut off his own arm to save his life. It’s memorable, even if you’re not nursing a newborn.

At the time, I was profoundly sleep deprived in the way only new parents and cannery workers can be. I was probably legally crazy. Plus, it was before James Franco got busted attempting to hook up with high school girls. It actually was a time-delayed revelation — a kind of revelation landmine that I stepped on much later, when I reread an essay written by Albert Camus about Sisyphus — a Saturday Essay of sorts, I guess. (“Camus on Sisyphus” sounds like either the awesomest or absolute worst pro-wrestling matchup of all time.)

We all know the Sisyphus story, in part or in parcel, right? Sisyphus angers the Gods (he’s Greek) and they punish him by condemning him to an eternity spent laboriously pushing a gigantic boulder up a mountain.

Cats and Dogs

My old neighbor — we’ll call her Tonya — verbally abused her pets. It was like living next door to a David Lynch biopic of Joan Crawford.

One summer, I was digging a fire pit in my back yard. It was the middle of a nice, warm day, probably in June. Suddenly, over the fence that encloses my back yard, I heard a woman’s voice talking reasonably to what sounded, inferring from what she was saying, like a small child: “Autumn, remember what we talked about? You promised to play on this side of the yard, away from Callie’s sandbox. If you don’t do what you promised, we’ll have to go inside.” Huh. I must have neighbor kids. Cool. I kept digging my fire pit. Three feet in diameter? Four? I tabulated the number of edging stones I would need. The voice from over the fence started up again. “Autumn! You stay away from Callie’s sandbox, like we talked about!” I had hardly dumped my shovelful of dirt before she started up again, this time plaintively, “Autumn! You are ruining this for both of us! I said NO!” And not even five seconds later, crazy time. Full scream. “AUTUMN! Come back here right now! I told you to stay away from that fence! I TOLD YOU TO STAY!! AWAY!! FROM!!! THE!!! F#*KING!!! FENCE!!!” She was almost roaring now, she was screaming so hard.


The Large Hadron Collider, or, I Have Never Met Father John Misty, Irrespective of What This Essay Might Imply

I’ve had a rough couple of years. My dad got sick, then my husband got sick, and I became a lot more curious about the nature of being than I was before. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the Large Hadron Collider. In case you are not also wedged firmly between a rock and a firm location, devouring particle physics literature like a Kardashian hoarding Us Weekly, the Large Hadron Collider is the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator. It’s the largest single machine in existence, built in collaboration with more than 10,000 scientists and engineers from around the world.

Maybe I have felt, over the past two years or so, a little sympathetic to the lead electron at the nose of that high-speed electron beam, roaring around an accelerator ring at nearly light speed, every lap incrementally nudging closer to a head-on collision with an opposing electron beam, traveling at equal speed. But, less dramatically, I’ve been thinking more about what scientists have found.

The intent of the Large Hadron Collider is to investigate the structure of the atomic nucleus. (I copied that from the LHC website). But it’s been doing more than that. Like any scientific investigation of the unknown, it has the potential to change everything by altering our perception of the nature of stuff. If, for example, the LHC reveals that energy becomes matter in describable and predictable circumstances, or becomes matter by describable and predictable mechanisms, it would radically change how we see the universe. It’s literally an infinitesimally tiny change, but it would be a boundless change, philosophically.

Flackers and Kombucha

Anna Tennis Saturday EssayI’ve been eating pretty conscientiously lately. I have good reasons, so don’t get douchey. (Although, now that I think of it, when do people eat conscientiously for bad reasons? “Eff it. I’m gonna cut back on meat and sugar to really stick it to my mom. That’ll show her.”)

Some of the stuff has been pretty revelatory. For instance: spaghetti squash is better than pasta for pesto, in my opinion, and while pinto beans can still go straight to hell, cannellini beans are like little butter bombs full of protein and velvety goodness. I could drink olive oil, and 36 percent of my adipose tissue is actually guacamole. (My love handles are deeeeeeelicious.) Parsley is a vegetable and makes everything better, and although I respect you, vegetarians, grass-fed, farm-fresh ground beef is probably a good enough reason to at least seriously consider killing a cow. (Although, I’m not sure I could do that—they are really tall. Much taller than you’d think.) Kale chips are mouth-watering, Swiss chard wants to kiss your face (yes, with tongue) and don’t even get me started on what eggs can do. Don’t even.


Have you ever had “Flackers?” or “kombucha?” Both are very strange.

Pornography, or, “Worst First Dates”

Anna Tennis Saturday EssayIn 1999, my ex-husband gave me a computer. I was pretty glad to get it. I had mastered emailing, and was ready to move on to the really exciting things, like AOL and internet porn.

Let’s get this clear right away: I’m not a huge porn fan. My porn experience at that point was limited to the following:

1. A couple of magazines unearthed by a 13-year-old me, in ~1985 in my mom’s friend’s attic. They were evidently from the 1970s. My suspicion was based largely on the unusual prevalence of mustaches and floppy boobies. (Throw in a headshot of Spiro Agnew and my argument is airtight.) They were disturbingly graphic and unaltered. Sans digital enhancement, the naked people all looked like slabs of pork tenderloin. With mustaches and floppy boobies.

2. A porn movie a boyfriend rented to watch with me. Everyone seemed really, really angry in it. With the volume down, their sexing faces all looked like they were watching Newt Gingrich pole dance in assless chaps and an American flag tank top. (He has bootstraps tattooed on his inner thighs, by the way. Interesting tidbit.)

3. My parents’ copy of The Joy of Sex, which was hidden under some sweaters in my dad’s closet. Finding that book in that spot was the single best abstinence education any parent could possibly provide. The idea of my disgusting parents contorting their old disgusting bodies into those disgusting and inexplicable configurations was enough to keep me from so much as holding hands until I was 16 years old.

To the Battlements, Wherever and Whatever They Are

Anna Tennis Saturday EssayI think about September 11th a lot. More, lately.

I was working at Duluth’s now-defunct Ripsaw newspaper at the time, and we were confounded for the first hours. Do you remember the world in which an attack on U.S. shores was impossible? The idle impenetrability of the United States? We invaded. The world was our bully pulpit. But that day, the paradigm shifted as surely and as immediately as that of a new mother, who, in the second her child leaves her body finds her heart, her worst fears, vulnerable and exposed to the worst the world has to offer. You could almost hear it, the snap of collective consciousness as the reality became apparent, over the day. One hour at a time, our perceived security, the luxury of our superiority, rolled away like so many layers of fog.

My sister came and picked me up. We drove around, listening to the soundtrack from the Coen Brothers’ masterpiece, O Brother, Where Art Thou? and tuning in to the news for updates. We smoked a million American Spirit cigarettes. We felt scared.

Later, I stood on the balcony of my third-floor apartment, on the phone with my best friend. “We’re going to war,” he said.

“Definitely,” I replied.


Anna Tennis Saturday EssayAll names in this story have been changed, because this is the internet. But not because of you. You’re wonderful.

If you had told me five years ago that a life could be forever altered by a toddler’s stutter, I would have rolled my eyes deep enough to dislocate my optic nerve. Maybe that’s a little melodramatic. My point is, I wouldn’t have understood. Like so many things, there’s often a pretty good delta between experience and imagination. I know a little better now, because of my own experience, and while this isn’t the worst thing that ever happened to me, it actually did change my whole life. This one little thing. A stutter.

I remember how, a week before my second daughter, Lilly, was born, I was thinking about how, in the new Pooh movie, Piglet lost his stutter. I had a little internal dialogue about the ridiculous, reactionary nature of helicopter parents, so sensitive to anything that might hurt … someone … that we couldn’t even joke around anymore. They had probably driven the change in Piglet’s fluency. Except I didn’t know to use the phrase, “change in Piglet’s fluency,” yet.

Bug Ear

Anna Tennis Saturday EssayOne time, I got a bug stuck in my ear. Which is a funny coincidence, since I have always wanted to never have a bug in my ear.

It happened in early summer, and I was fast asleep. At some point around 4 a.m., I was awakened by the sound of a helicopter crash-landing inside my head. I, like all humans on the planet, have experienced bug fly-bys of my ears on many occasions. Bees, for example, seem to really like my ears. They enjoy repeatedly buzzing up behind me, like fat, airborne playground bullies, chasing me around the swingset. Their dumptrucky buzzing is a nice reminder that a bee is almost in my ear. I like to run around my yard, waving my hands around my head and saying, “You won’t even fit in there! And I’ll probably kill you if you try, which I really don’t want to do because you’re the future! You’re the future!” I bet this is pretty funny to my neighbors.

Generally, I dislike flying insects. It seems like they get an unfair advantage. They are already bitey and stingy and too-many-leggy and wearing chitinous exoskeletal armor over their loathsome, malevolent silhouettes. If any bug were as big as a person, we would all freak the fuck out, even if it had a lovely personality. It would take a lot of paradigm adjustment and acceptance, not to mention furniture and undergarment redesign. Twenty percent of all meditation would be to gain control of involuntary shuddering.

The Lie

Anna Tennis Saturday EssayThere is something about a Hardee’s buttermilk biscuit; you have to admit it. Even the ones that have been cooked for too long, left hot and dry under the culinary equivalent of a tanning lamp until they surpassed deep golden and arrived at dusky caramel, sitting puck-like on the stainless steel rack. You can eat them until your lips crack and curl, until your mouth puffs biscuit crumbs like sandstorms in a desert, they’re so tasty.

Regina simply could not resist them. Which was unfortunate, really, because she was already a big woman — more than six feet tall, and built to comfortably support her more than 200-pound weight. When she got hired as the morning biscuit baker it was a pretty good promotion, and one she had sorely wanted. But now she was alone with those biscuits every morning from 4:45 to 6 a.m., when Hardee’s opened, and a person could eat a lot of biscuits in that amount of time.

Regina came from Bartholomew, Kentucky originally, but she had moved to Lexington before her 18th birthday because she had her eye on the assistant manager position, and when one opened up in Lexington, she applied right away.

The Day I Jumped Out a Window

Anna Tennis Saturday EssayWhen I was 11, my best friend was Eddie Griffenbacher.* He lived with his grandma, for reasons he never detailed. (*No, it wasn’t. But even I don’t want to talk shit about someone. It’s not because I have class. Eddie would kick my ass.)

He was very, very, impressively naughty.

He came by this honestly: his grandmother was like a David Lynch character. She was short, round, and, I think, chronically intoxicated. She curmdugeoned around her house in a beige sweater-vest over a plaid shirt, khakis and fluffy white sneakers that resembled King’s Hawaiian rolls. Her hair was old-lady-did into fully-formed curl banks, but the back left corner of her head was all matted down and disarranged, like gray-hair crop circles amidst the otherwise puffy rows. She smoked endless Benson and Hedges cigarettes; they dangled eternally from her yellow fingers, the nails of which she kept painted the same bronzey-brown color for as long as I knew her. She was always drinking some ice-cubey alcohol cocktail from an amber-glass tumbler: between the yellow of her fingers, her nail polish, and the yellow tint of her glass, it seemed like everything around her was saturated completely with tar. Somehow, her entire microcosm had become the color of an old fly strip.