Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Carousel Ballroom Memories

I was driving through Bedford the other day when I happened to pass the area where the Carousel Ballroom once stood. Instantly, a wave of nostalgia swept over me and I found myself thinking about all of the times I’d been to the ballroom in the past.

The first time I ever set foot in the Carousel was in the 1960s. There were a lot of rock concerts held there back then, especially during school-vacation weeks. For an allowance-busting $2.50, you could enjoy an afternoon of live music by such bands as the Outsiders, Question Mark and the Mysterians, the Barbarians, the Tidal Waves and the Spectras.

The dance floor there was really “cool,” not only because of all of the flashing colored lights in the ballroom, but also because the dance floor could hold about a zillion people, unlike those playing-card-sized dance floors that are so popular nowadays. The Carousel’s was big because it had been built specifically for ballroom dancing…and fox trots and polkas needed plenty of space.

When we were first married, my husband and I used to go to the Carousel every New Year’s Eve to ring in the new year while dancing to the “big bands.” I recall one New Year’s Eve in particular where my husband, looking dapper in his new green leisure suit and flowered shirt unbuttoned all the way to his navel, with his silver neck chains sparkling beneath the blinking lights, and I, in my black mini-dress, decided to unveil a new dance, “the hustle,” that we’d been practicing at home.

We were the center of attention as we executed each step, just the way John Travolta had in Saturday Night Fever…minus, that is, the pelvis-shattering splits. Heck, even if I’d have been able to do a split without injuring some vital body part, if I’d have tried it in that dress, I’d have been arrested.

But the event that brought me back to the Carousel the most often was bingo. I’ll never forget the first time my mother convinced me to go to a game with her. Naïve person that I was, I thought that bingo still involved simply covering a row of numbers either vertically, horizontally or diagonally…period.

Boy, was I ever wrong.

“If you can get bingo in 47 numbers or less,” the caller announced, “and your numbers form the outline of the state of Florida, with your free space landing on the spot where Tallahassee is located, you’ll win $3,000!”

And if that didn’t confuse me enough, another game called “shotgun” followed.

“Great,” I muttered to my mother. “I suppose my numbers have to form the shape of a 12-gauge?”

She laughed. “No, shotgun means the caller ‘fires’ numbers at you really fast, not bothering to give any letters, like ‘B’ or ‘N’.”

“Then how the heck am I supposed to know where to look for the numbers?”

“Oh, you’ll learn,” she said.

She was wrong. By the time I finally found the first number, the caller already was calling the tenth. Had I just randomly covered a bunch of numbers, I’d have had a better shot at winning.

Not surprisingly, in all my three years of weekly bingo games at the Carousel, I never won a single penny. My mother, on the other hand, won so many games, there were rumors that the other players were forming a lynch mob. Every time my mother shouted, “Bingo!” the looks that were cast in our direction could not, by any stretch of the imagination, be interpreted as congratulatory.

What I really enjoyed the most at the bingo games was watching the die-hard players, the ones who played 30 cards at a time, as easily as if they were playing only one card. Usually these players also brought an assortment of lucky charms with them. The first time I walked in and saw the tables loaded with stuffed animals, statues, dolls and religious artifacts, I nearly mistook the place for a flea market.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I was so desperate to win one night, I actually brought a lucky charm (well, at least I thought it was a lucky charm). It was a little troll doll with purple hair. By the end of the night, I’d yanked out every purple hair on its pointy little head and given it a decent burial in an empty soft-drink cup.

Yep, I sure did have some great times at the old Carousel Ballroom. And right next door to it stood the Bedford Grove drive-in theater and the indoor roller-skating rink, where I also had a lot of fun.

But that’s a whole other story.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Lead us not into temptation

A recent television report stated that every New Year’s Day, about 400 billion people make a resolution to lose weight and become more physically fit. The report went on to say that by the first day of February, all but 120 of those people will have broken that resolution.

Considering the fact that I have made a New Year’s resolution to lose weight every year for the past 35 years, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ll probably never be one of those 120 people.

Neither will my husband.

Without exaggerating, if there were an Olympic medal for the world’s speed record for breaking a diet, my husband would win enough gold to fill Fort Knox.

Ten minutes into a diet and he becomes obsessed with food.

“Don’t they show anything on TV but food commercials?” he always complains, flipping through channel after channel of endless plugs for Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and Dunkin’ Donuts. “Look at that! Another lousy food commercial!”

“But honey, that’s a commercial for bunion pads.”

“Yeah, and bunions remind me of corns, and corns remind me of corn chips, corn muffins and caramel corn!” he snaps.

For years, my husband and I lived under the misconception that because we were tempted by totally different foods, we’d be perfect candidates for the buddy-system way of dieting. I mean, my weakness is sweets while his is fried, fatty foods, so we figured it would be easy to steer each other away from temptation.

How naïve we were.

The first time I broiled a hamburger for him, he nearly needed CPR. “You call this a hamburger?” he asked, clearly aghast. “Where is the grease, the juice running onto the plate? If I wanted to eat hockey pucks, I’d become a goalie!”

His idea of the perfect burger would be one that if it were dropped into water, would create an oil slick to rival the one made by the Exxon Valdez.

He, however, is the only person I know who can open a bag of M&Ms and eat only three, then neatly fold the bag and set it aside for the next day. Hand me a bag of M&Ms and my name becomes “Hoover” as I suck down the entire contents in one shot. Still, I, unlike my husband, can eat only two or three potato chips and be completely satisfied.

So what usually ends up happening when we diet is we become so obsessed with each other’s food stashes, we end up throwing away our pride and lowering ourselves to bartering for food.

“I’ll do the dishes tonight if you give me four of your potato chips,” my husband will say.

“Dry the dishes and put them away and I’ll double it to eight chips,” I’ll answer.

“How about if I just swap you half of my Nestle’s Crunch bar for 10 of your chips?”

“It’s a deal!”

This week, gluttons for punishment that we are, my husband and I actually discussed starting yet another buddy-type diet in 2005.

“I’ll buy only the leanest cuts of meat and one of those George Foreman grills,” I said. “And I’ll make salads and brown rice to replace the French fries and mashed potatoes.”

“And we can have fresh fruits and unsweetened juices instead of sodas and candy,” he added.

We looked at each other and frowned. “I’m suddenly starving,” he said, leaping to his feet and grabbing his coat. “I’m going to Wendy’s.”

“Drop me off at the nearest bakery on your way,” I said, running after him.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

You light up my life

I was the last person on my side of the street to put up outdoor Christmas decorations this year.

For some reason, my neighbors all seemed in a hurry to decorate their places. I don’t know if it was because they were in unusually festive moods this season or if they just wanted to get the chore over and done with, but it seemed as if they jumped up from their Thanksgiving dinners, pumpkin pie still dangling from their lips, and ran outside to decorate.

By the day after Thanksgiving, my street looked like the Las Vegas strip. There were so many waving Santas, nodding reindeer, flashing icicles and blinking trees, I was afraid low-flying aircraft might mistake the street for a runway and come in for a landing

As I lay in bed each night that week, unable to sleep because of the combined whirring of all of my neighbors’ electric meters, I felt compelled to un-Scrooge my house and decorate…or at least attempt to. Past history had taught me that anything that’s electrical and I should not be in close proximity of each other. Sure, I’d made things light up while decorating in the past, but unfortunately, the things that ended up glowing in the dark had nothing to do with the Christmas decorations.

Last week, I finally gave in and dug out my cardboard chest of Christmas decorations. Stacked right on top were two boxes of rope lights. When rope lights first came out a few years ago, I thought they were going to revolutionize Christmas decorating. I mean, lights sealed inside clear plastic tubes that could be bent and shaped without the risk of the lights popping out of their sockets and falling off seemed heaven-sent to me.

I have no idea why, but I picked the coldest night of the week last week to decorate. Armed with two 18-ft. strings of rope lights, I started to wrap the front-porch railings. The lights were pliable and easy to wrap at first, but as they got colder, they got stiffer and wanted to stand up straight rather than curl around anything.

After winding 36 feet of lights, making certain that every loop around the railings was perfectly even, I plugged them in. One whole rope lit up. Only half of the other one did.

I rushed into the house. “Does it make sense that only half a rope of lights would light up?” I asked my husband.

He shook his head. “Usually if something’s wrong, the whole thing will go out, not just half of it. But then, with you, anything is possible.”

“But I plugged them in before I took them outside,” I said. “And they all worked fine in the house.”

“Maybe all of your jostling them loosened something,” he said. He stepped outside to check the lights. He jiggled the rope, snapped it a few times with his fingers and said, “Yep. Half of it is dead all right,” and went back into the house.

I checked the box the lights had come in. The directions said, “Do NOT attempt to replace the bulbs!” I continued reading until I came to, “If one bulb burns out, a section of 24 lights also will go out.”

I just stared at the directions and thought how dumb the manufacturer had to be. I mean, why, on a strip of lights where the bulbs can’t be replaced per penalty of death, would they be constructed so that an entire section of bulbs also will be killed off when only one bulb dies? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to construct them so that the one bulb would go to its demise quietly, practically unnoticed, rather than take 23 of its buddies with it as if they all were part of some sort of bulb suicide-cult?

“The remaining sections of lights still will operate,” the directions said, as if that was supposed to make me feel any better. Who still would want to hang a string of lights with a section of 24 bulbs totally dark and the rest of them shining brightly?

So I went to the hardware store and bought a new string of rope lights to replace the half-dead one. Once again, I carefully wound it around the railing, and then plugged it in. I breathed a sigh of relief when all of the lights immediately glowed. Suddenly, however, they began to flash in a way that made them look as if they were trying to race each other in a marathon.

I grabbed the box. “Contains one set of chase lights,” it read, stating that I could turn the little dial near the plug and make the lights chase each other faster or slower. I rolled my eyes. The older rope of lights I’d previously put up on the other railing didn’t chase anything. It just sat there looking very dull and boring. I wanted those lights to chase something, too.

So I returned to the hardware store and bought another box of the chase lights. Soon, my railings were dancing with moving lights. I smiled with satisfaction.

The box says that the average life expectancy of these new rope lights is about 10,000 hours. The way I figure it, they should be good for another 133 Christmases… if one of the little ringleader lights doesn’t decide to say “goodbye cruel world” in the meantime.

Tuesday, December 7, 2004

The (Not So) Perfect Gift

I started my Christmas shopping early this year so I wouldn’t find myself frantically rushing around at the last minute and buying things like a sequined halter-top for my 82-year-old aunt because it’s the only thing in her size left on the rack.

Unfortunately, even though I have set a personal record for early gift- buying this year, my Christmas shopping thus far has not been flawless…not by any means. It seems as if every year someone on my Christmas list asks for a gift that is either rare, discontinued, back-ordered or in such high demand, people are setting up tents and camping out in front of department stores, waiting for a shipment to arrive. Either that, or I order something that looks great in the catalog, but when it arrives, it doesn’t look anything like the photo.

Take, for example, the hand-tooled, monogrammed copper wastebasket I saw three weeks ago in a catalog that featured handcrafts from Cape Cod. The perfect gift, I thought, for our friend Gregory, who recently remodeled his office. So I ordered it, with the initial “G” on it. The wastebasket arrived two days ago in an old cardboard box that wasn’t even sealed. The flaps were folded in that over-and-under way that keeps them closed, but nothing was sealed.

The wastebasket looked as if the guy had downed a pitcher of martinis before he hand-tooled it. I held it up to show my husband. “What does this monogram look like to you?” I asked.

He studied it for a moment. “A crooked 6.”

The copper on the wastebasket also had been polished…in about 30 different directions. So many different swirls, lines, zigzags and spirals were covering it, it looked as if it had been attacked by an army of crazed Brillo pads.

“What’re all those dents along the bottom of it?” my husband asked.

I frowned. “They’re not dents. I think they are supposed to be some kind of decorative border.”

“Oh,” he said.

That did it. “I can’t give Gregory a gift that looks all scratched up and dented, and especially not with a crooked number six on it!” I whined.

“He’s only going to put trash in it,” my husband said, shrugging. “It’ll probably look crummy in no time flat anyway.”

“Then why don’t I just fill it with trash before I send to him and give him the complete effect right away!” I snapped.

When I asked my mother what she wanted for Christmas, she handed me an empty plastic bottle that previously had contained body lotion. She told me it had come in a “welcome to the hospital” kit she’d received when she’d been a patient. “I really love this lotion and the scent of it,” she said. “I’m sure if anyone can find some for me, you can.”

So I did an online computer search for the lotion. After 20 minutes of searching, I was thrilled to find a Web site where I could buy it. The only catch was that I had to order a case of 60 bottles and pay an extra $23 for shipping. Unless my mother wanted to fill the bathtub with the stuff and jump in, I figured she’d have to live to be 110 before she’d ever use that much lotion.

“Maybe if you just go to the hospital where your mother got the lotion and ask them to sell you a bottle or two of it, they will,” my husband said.

I wondered why I hadn’t thought of that.

The people at the hospital couldn’t have been nicer. They tore open a welcome kit and handed the lotion to me. A victorious smile spread across my face…until I noticed that the lotion was a different brand. I opened it and smelled it. The scent wasn’t even close to the one my mother loved. “It’s not the same,” I said, my disappointment obvious.

“That’s odd,” the hospital employee said. “That’s the lotion that comes in all of our kits. How long ago was your mother a patient here?”

“About seven years,” I said.

He gave me a look that made me feel as if I’d just asked him for something from Cleopatra’s original cosmetics collection.

So I guess if I want to make my mother happy this Christmas, I’m going to have to order a case of 60 bottles of lotion.

If you know of anyone who’d like to buy 58 bottles, just let me know.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Here, Birdie, Birdie

As I have mentioned on occasion in previous columns, I have been trying to attract cardinals to my bird feeder since Columbus first set foot on American soil. But alas, while other people rave about the “gorgeous red birds” at their feeders, I’ve never seen anything red at mine unless something was bleeding.

Originally, and I know I’m in the vast minority, I put up a feeder for the sole purpose of feeding squirrels. While most people spend years trying to think up new and diabolical ways to keep squirrels away from their feeders, I actually wanted to attract them to mine.

The reason why I decided to feed the squirrels was because I noticed a scrawny, emaciated-looking family of squirrels in my back yard one day. Their tails were scraggly, their ribs were showing, and they looked hungry enough to gnaw on just about anything edible, even moldy old bread.

While I’m sure I could have dug up some moldy old bread to feed them (my bread box has been known on occasion to contain enough mold to require harvesting), I instead went out and bought them an assortment of gourmet treats: shelled sunflower hearts, chopped peanuts, cracked corn, and walnuts.
I think I might have overdone it, however. Within a few weeks, those same anorexic-looking squirrels looked as if they should have been making appointments to have liposuction.

I was perfectly content to feed my squirrels and watch them frolic in my yard every morning …until my friend Carol told me about the cardinal in her back yard.

“You’re not going to believe what happened!” she said. “I had a beautiful cardinal at my feeder this morning. I wish you could have seen him…he was so red, so pretty! Anyway, a little while after I saw him, I walked down to the store for a couple things. For some reason, with the very last two dollars I had with me, I decided to splurge on two lottery scratch tickets. And guess what? I won $10,000! I’m convinced the cardinal brought me good luck!”

That did it. From that moment on, I was determined to lure a cardinal to my feeder. It didn’t matter that I didn’t have the slightest idea how to go about doing so. And I wasn’t even sure what a real, live cardinal actually looked like. As far as I knew, they existed only on Christmas cards.

“How do you think I can lure a cardinal to our feeder?” I asked my husband one night.

“Buy a bag of cardinal chow,” he said, not looking up from his magazine.

So I went to a feed store and bought everything that had a picture of a cardinal on the bag. I not only filled my feeder with the stuff, I spread it all over my yard for good measure.

The next morning, my yard looked like a cafeteria for birds. There were mourning doves, blue jays, crows, chickadees, and squirrels gathered in groups all over the lawn, as if they were attending some sort of wildlife convention. And when they weren’t stuffing their little feathered or fuzzy faces, they were making enough noise to wake the dead (a.k.a. my husband). Still, I put up with the ruckus because I was bound and determined to see a cardinal.

After doing everything short of putting on a cardinal costume and performing a mating dance, I still saw nothing red at my feeder. Needless to say, it was pretty discouraging. It even was more discouraging when a flock of pigeons began to fly in for breakfast every morning.

“What’s a bunch of old city pigeons doing out here in the middle of the country anyway?” I muttered to my husband after yet another cardinal-less day had passed.

“They probably saw our name on the top-ten list in the AAA dining guide for birds,” he said.

I gave him a dirty look, even though I knew the point he was trying to make was a valid one. I was spending way too much money on fancy bird food and treats. I knew I had to start cutting back before we became so broke, we’d have to eat the bird food ourselves to fend off starvation. As much as it pained me, I switched to inexpensive, generic birdseed.

A few days later, I was out in the yard when one of the neighbors called over to
me, “You had two bright red cardinals at your feeder this morning! They were SO gorgeous! I watched them for about 15 minutes!”

I glared at her. She had seen MY cardinals. And now she, like my friend Carol, would be the one who would have all the good luck.

All I can say is that if I ever find out that my neighbor won a bundle in the lottery, I’m going to demand a percentage…or at the very least, ask her to reimburse me for all of the money I spent on bird food.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Howard, I Miss You

I know I’m probably not alone when I say this, but I really miss the bright orange roofs of the Howard Johnson restaurants whenever I travel.

Back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, the highlight of any of my journeys, especially after riding for hours on endless, boring stretches of highway, was seeing an orange roof up ahead. For one thing, it meant yummy ice cream (of which I became intimately acquainted with every flavor) scooped into fancy sugar cones, not those flimsy, run-of-the-mill, flat-bottomed cones.

It also meant chicken pot pie. For some reason, I became hooked on Howard Johnson’s chicken pot pie. If we stopped at a Howard Johnson’s three times in one day, I’d order chicken pot pie all three times. I never grew tired of it, even when the crust was a tad on the soggy side or the cubes of chicken were a bit rubbery.

But alas, over the years, those familiar orange-roofed buildings slowly began to disappear and fast-food joints popped up in their place. I guess busy motorists no longer wanted to waste precious time stopping to order a sit-down meal. They wanted places where the employees would be standing outside flinging food at them as they sped past at 65 miles per hour.

So all I have left now are memories of my favorite Howard Johnsons. I’ll never forget, for example, the night an elderly man was upset because the cook burned his grilled-cheese sandwich. The waitress, in her starched blue and orange uniform, apologized and took it back, but the second sandwich turned out to be even blacker than the first one.

“That does it!” the man shouted, pounding his fist on the table. “I demand to see Howard! And I’m not leaving here until I do!”

Everyone within earshot started to giggle. The poor waitress, not wanting to further upset the man, struggled to keep a straight face as she explained that Howard Johnson wasn’t on the premises. But the poor old man was adamant about speaking to Howard. In fact, he still was sitting there waiting for him when we left.

I also remember the Howard Johnson restaurant at the intersection of Route 3 and 28 Bypass in Hooksett. My husband always took me there when I whined about needing my pot-pie fix, so it became our second home. One night we walked into the place and it smelled as if something had died in there.

“What smells?” I wrinkled my nose and asked the waitress after we were seated. I secretly prayed it wasn’t the evening’s blue-plate special.

“Don’t worry, it’s not the food!” she said brightly. “The septic system is backed up!”

Somehow, that didn’t make us feel a whole lot better.

The Howard Johnson’s near the Queen City Bridge in Manchester also had a distinct odor…like bleach. That’s because it was attached to a motor inn that had an indoor heated pool that must have had a couple tons of chlorine dumped into it.

The only thing I didn’t like about the Howard Johnson restaurants that were located right off major highways was that they attracted buses. It seemed as if every time we pulled into one of the parking lots, a busload of tourists would be right on our bumper.

“Quick! Run!” my husband would shout, leaping out of the car and bolting toward the door so he could beat the crowd.

But by the time I’d gather my coat, my handbag, check my hair in the mirror and apply a fresh coat of lipstick, we inevitably would end up standing in line behind about 75 people, most of whom were engaged in a conversation that sounded something like this:

“Hey, Martha, do you want raspberry ice cream?”

“Nah…I’m really not in the mood for raspberry. What other flavors do they have?”

“Chocolate…strawberry…vanilla…coffee…maple walnut…pistachio…”

(28 flavors later) “I guess I’ll have the butter pecan.”

“Do you want sprinkles on that?”

“What kind of sprinkles do they have?”

By then, my husband would be giving me looks that were scary enough to instantly melt Martha’s butter-pecan ice cream.

At one time, there were over a thousand Howard Johnson restaurants, most of them along the East Coast. Now there are only 10. Someone recently told me that there’s one in Springfield, Vermont.

Heck, that’s only an hour-and-a-half drive from here. The next time my husband asks me where I want to go out to eat, he’ll be in for a big surprise.

I can taste the chicken pot pie already.

Tuesday, November 9, 2004

If The Jeans Fit

I recently had so much trouble buying a new pair of jeans that fit me comfortably, I honestly began to think there was something wrong with my anatomy.

Years ago, buying jeans was simple. You’d walk into the store, find your size, and seeing that jeans came in only one style, if they fit, you bought them. And even if they didn’t fit exactly right, you still bought them. If they were too long, you’d wear them cuffed up. If you were a young kid, you’d wear them cuffed up twice, until you grew a couple more inches.

Well, when I walked into the jeans section of a department store a couple weeks ago, my first thought was that I should have brought an interpreter. The jeans were grouped by categories: baggy, relaxed fit, oxygen-required fit, boot cut, flare-leg, western fit, hip huggers, bell bottoms, low rise, high rise, and talk-in-a-higher-voice rise.

I was so confused, I did the only logical thing a woman in my situation could do…I grabbed the first pair of jeans I found in my size. They were black and “relaxed fit.” I figured that with a name like “relaxed,” they had to be comfortable. I tried them on, the way I usually try things on when I’m in a hurry; I stood in the aisle, held the jeans up against my waist and said, “Yeah, they’ll fit.”

When I got home, I modeled my new jeans for my husband. His expression was less than encouraging.

“They look like those old-fashioned riding pants women used to wear in John Wayne movies,” he said. “You know, the kind that balloon out at the hips and then are real tight from the knees down. And they’re too long - they’re all scrunched up around your ankles.”

I frowned at him. Riding jodhpurs were not exactly the look I’d been going for. And the last thing I needed was something that made my hips look “balloony.” I wasn’t about to be nicknamed “Hidenburg Hips Breslin.”

But even if the jeans had fit right, I probably wouldn’t have kept them anyway. I learned all too quickly that black jeans attract every lint ball and dog hair within a 10-mile radius. In just the five short minutes I wore them, I looked as if I’d spent the afternoon emptying the lint trap of the clothes dryer...directly onto my pants.

After giving the jeans a good brushing, I returned them to the store and got a refund. I decided it might be a good idea to actually try on the next pair before I bought them. I grabbed two pairs of hip huggers. I’m very high waisted, so I figured hip huggers would make me look as if I had a longer torso. I also figured they’d be perfect for me because the jeans would have plenty of hip to hug.

I tried on the first pair and stared at my reflection in the mirror. The jeans looked pretty good from the front. Then I turned around and looked over my shoulder at the back. Two inches of underwear showed above the jeans. I bent over. Four inches of underwear showed. All I can say is thank goodness I was wearing my “granny panties” or I’d have seen a sight in the mirror that might have blinded me for life. I tried to pull the jeans up higher, but only succeeded in giving myself a major wedgie.

Frustrated, I asked a sales clerk which jeans were the most similar to the ones everyone wore back in the 1960s. She said the classic fit, which made sense.

So I searched for a pair of the classic-fit jeans in my size and tried them on.
The minute I zipped and buttoned them, I breathed a sigh of relief. They fit exactly the way I wanted them to. The only problem was, when the jeans reached my shins, they abruptly ended. From mid-shin to my ankles, my legs were bare.

I walked out of the dressing room. “Where are the rest of the legs on these?” I asked the clerk.

“Those are cropped jeans,” she said. “They are all the rage right now.”

“Where? In flood plains?”

She wasn’t amused.

Finally, after I’d tried on so many jeans I was suffering from denim burn on my thighs, I bought a pair of medium-rise, boot-cut, stretch jeans. At least they covered most of my backside and my ankles, and when I bent over, they actually stretched to the full width of my hips without begging for mercy.

The other day, I was telling one of my friends about my shopping experience and she suggested, in a roundabout way, that perhaps I should forego the jeans and T-shirts and start dressing more appropriately for my age.

I’m not exactly sure what she meant, but I suspect it may involve support hose and polyester pants pulled all the way up to my bra.

Tuesday, November 2, 2004

How Sweet It Wasn't

I found an old book in my bookcase the other day. It was called, “How to Get Ahead With Your Boss,” and was published in 1960.

As I flipped through the pages, I couldn’t help but laugh at some of the advice the author gave. The one that struck me the funniest stated: “Did you have a good idea today? Did you do something right? If you did, it was largely because of your boss and his good management of you. Pass all of the credit onto him and he’ll be only too happy to share it with you. Do NOT try to hog it yourself! So start thinking of what you did today that you can credit to your boss tomorrow morning.”

The more I read the book, the more I was reminded of my first full-time office job, which, coincidentally, took place during the same decade in which the book had been written. Maybe if I had taken the book’s advice and buttered up my boss more, I would have lasted longer than four months at the place.

After high school, I attended a computer college. Computers were the size of gymnasiums back then and used punch cards, which basically were cards made of oak-tag that had a bunch of holes punched in them. The holes formed patterns that told the computer what to do. I had heard that computer programmers earned big bucks, like $10 per hour, which was a small fortune back then, so I took every programming course that was offered.

Fresh out of computer school, I landed a job at a large company that supplied wholesale groceries to stores. The company also had a state-of-the-art computer, which I was dying to get my paws on. The personnel manager told me that I wouldn’t be starting out as a programmer, however, but would work my way up to the position in a short time if I proved to be a good employee.

Well, my job turned out to be a punch-card reader. For eight hours every incredibly long, dragged-out day, I just sat there looking at the holes in the cards. I had to make certain that the girls who worked at the keypunch machines, which punched all of the holes, hadn’t made any mistakes. By the end of the first day, my eyes felt as if they’d been popped out of their sockets and rolled in salt, and then reinserted. The worst part was that I was earning less than $2 an hour.

Because my job was so boring, I was easily distracted. If someone sneezed, I was the first one to yell, “Bless you!” just so I could hear my own voice. And if I overheard any of the office girls talking, I’d stop what I was doing and eavesdrop on their conversation, just to break up the monotony.

My boss, however, felt that my hole-reading was beginning to suffer, so he did something he thought would improve my concentration…he banished me to a private room where he thought I wouldn’t have any distractions. Of all places, he banished me to the candy display room.

So there I sat, the biggest sweets-aholic since Willy Wonka, alone at a table in the middle of a room that was lined with shelves that displayed just about every brand of candy ever created. I stared at the boxes of Sugar Babies, red licorice and Junior Mints and wiped the drool from the corners of my mouth. I walked over to one of the shelves and inhaled the intoxicating scent of Hershey bars and Almond Joys. I couldn’t have been more distracted if Elvis Presley, wearing only a thong, had come strolling into the room.

It didn’t take long for the isolation of the candy room to begin to drive me crazy. I even began to hear the candy talking to me…“Come on, Sally, open one of our boxes and sneak a few candies, then put the box back. No one will know the difference. We’re only display boxes, so no one’s going to buy us anyway. Our candy is just going to rot and get wormy if someone doesn’t eat it!”

Thus began my life as a secret candy-snatcher. Staring at holes in cards all day wasn’t quite so bad when I had M&Ms and Hershey’s kisses to ease the pain. The only problem was, I soon began to gain some serious weight…and a few zits.

There also was the constant stress of knowing that at any time, there was the remote possibility that one of the salesmen might come into the room to show the candy to a prospective buyer and in the process, would pick up one of the boxes and discover it was empty. Then he’d turn to look at me, see a telltale smear of chocolate on my face and faster than I could say, “Nestle’s Crunch,” I’d be standing in the unemployment line.

After I had been at the job for three months and my clothes were so tight, they were beginning to cut off my circulation, I asked my boss when he thought I might be able to start programming.

“It won’t be much longer,” he said. “Just hang in there, okay?”

So I hung in there another month. Only two things kept me from screaming and tossing all of the punch cards out of the nearest window: the supply of free candy and the fact that I was going to be a $10-an-hour computer programmer in the very near future and never would have to stare at a bunch of holes again.

One Friday afternoon at work, after I’d just stuffed a Tootsie Roll into my mouth, the biggest bigwig at the company, “El Presidente,” came walking into my room. I swallowed the Tootsie Roll so fast, I nearly needed the Heimlich maneuver. Next to him stood a young, dark-haired man.

“We have decided to hire another computer programmer,” El Presidente said. He had my immediate attention.

“This is my son, Norm,” he continued. “He really wants the programming job, but doesn’t know a thing about computers. I was told that you know a lot about them, so I’m going to have you teach him how to program so I can put him in the position as soon as possible.”

I just stared incredulously at him. But back then, just as the book, “How to Get Ahead With Your Boss,” said, good employees didn’t contradict their bosses or their godlike wisdom, so I just nodded and forced a weak smile.

And later that afternoon, when the clock struck five and my day of hole-reading was over, I grabbed a family-sized bag of jelly beans, walked out of the front door…and never returned.

Believe it or not, I never so much as looked at a computer again until 30 years later. And now, for some reason, whenever I’m near one, I get a wicked craving for Milky Way bars and Snickers.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

It Was One Of Those Days

A couple weeks ago I had “one of those days” that easily could have been the reason why Murphy invented his law.

First of all, at 10 o’clock in the morning, I, in my flannel pajamas and hair curlers, was eating cereal when company arrived from New York…three hours early. I had planned, after breakfast, to dust and vacuum so everything would be freshly sparkling for their arrival. Instead, my guests were able to doodle their names in the dust on my coffee table.

After the New York visitors left, the cable repairman arrived. “You have dogs!” he said in an accusing tone when I opened the door. All I could see was his nose, which was poking around the edge of the door frame. “Lock them up in a room or I’m not coming in!”

“But they’re outside in the yard,” I said.

“If you don’t lock them up, I’m leaving,” he said. “I have been terrified of dogs ever since…the incident.”

I was going to suggest that his particular line of work might not be suitable for someone who was so dog-aphobic, but I did as he asked and called my dogs inside, then locked them in the bedroom. I returned to the front door and opened it. The cable guy was hiding on the porch. “You can come in now,” I said.

“Are you sure it’s safe?” He didn’t move.

“The dogs are locked in the bedroom,” I assured him.

Once again, he allowed only his nose to peek around the corner. “Are you positive they can’t open the bedroom door?”

“My dogs aren’t even coordinated enough to walk down the stairs without tripping, so I’m pretty sure they can’t figure out how to turn a doorknob.”

The cable guy finally came inside and checked out the cable box, but the entire time, he kept casting wary glances at the bedroom door. He was beginning to make me feel as if I had two rabid, drooling werewolves locked in there. Heck, even after he left, I still didn’t dare let my dogs out of the bedroom, he’d made me so paranoid.

After dinner that night, I figured that I’d finally be able to sit back and relax. That’s when my husband, who was stretched out in his recliner, casually said, “I have this weird bruise on my stomach that I noticed today. Can you take a look at it?”

I shrugged, wondering what could be so weird about a bruise. “Sure.”

He lifted his shirt to reveal the Queen Mother of all bruises. It was dark purple, nearly black, and was larger than a dinner plate. The scariest part was that as I was looking at it, it continued to grow. I grabbed a ruler and measured it. It was nine inches across...and still growing.

A half-hour later, we walked into the hospital emergency room. The place was so mobbed, there wasn’t a single seat available anywhere. We were greeted by an irate man who loudly told us that he’d been waiting for over two hours, that no one cared if he dropped dead, and that the woman at the admitting desk was a real witch (actually, he used more colorful language than that, but I’m trying to keep this G-rated).

“I think I’m feeling fine now,” my husband whispered to me. “Let’s go home.”

The woman at the admitting desk interrupted and asked us to have a seat so she could get some information. After she found out why we were there, she said, “I’m bumping you up to the top of the list.”

At that point, Mr. Angry in the waiting room got even angrier and started kicking things (like doors and chairs, and perhaps even a shin or two) and shouting about discrimination and contacting the head of the state’s medical board.

“Uh, it’s okay,” my husband said nervously. “I’m in no hurry. Why don’t you take care of that guy first?”

“Oh, I’ll take care of him, all right,” the woman said. “Security is on its way to pay him a little visit.”

We were escorted into an examining room where my husband’s bruise became a tourist attraction, with several doctors, nurses and even some guy who looked like the custodian coming in to look at it. The general comment seemed to be, “Hmmmm.”

At 1:30 that morning, we finally were headed back home. The verdict? That my husband was fine, didn’t need any treatment, and the bruise would fade in about a week or so. I guess the cause of the humongous, hideous thing forever will remain a mystery.

Maybe the two rabid werewolves in our bedroom had something to do with it.

Tuesday, October 5, 2004

Humor Writing 101

Before I started writing my own humor column over 10 years ago, I studied, with rapt interest, the styles of other humor writers. I wanted to see if there might be some common thread or a specific writing technique that made them funny…and then I wanted to steal it and use it myself.

Well, it has taken years of research and the agony of laughter-induced stomach pains, but I think I’ve finally figured out five basic writing techniques that most humor writers share.

First of all, there is what I call the “Double As” technique, where the word “as” is used twice in a sentence: “He was as hungry as a toothless man in an apple orchard.” “She was as dumb as Lois Lane never figuring out that Clark Kent was Superman.”

Then there is the “so” technique that Johnny Carson was famous for: “It was SO hot out, chickens were lining up in front of Kentucky Fried Chicken and begging to be plucked!” “His hair was SO greasy, head lice were seen bobsledding down the part in it.”

Another popular technique is to write a serious-sounding sentence, but to make it humorous by adding a comment in parenthesis: “The secret to my quick weight-loss is that I drank 10 glasses of water every day (and then my bladder fell out).” “Our son, who always was in trouble in his younger days, is now in the medical profession (as a cadaver).”

The most popular technique, I have discovered, is exaggeration. I haven’t found a humor writer yet who doesn’t exaggerate, though some really go hog wild with it, while others incorporate it more subtly.

Using the exaggeration technique, humor writers have written about squadrons of hawk-sized mosquitoes wearing army helmets and flying in V-formation, preparing to attack, and about houses so large, the occupants had to hire a taxi just to go to the bathroom. And humorist Dave Barry wrote that his baby daughter had so much gas one night, if he hadn’t been holding her firmly at the time of one especially loud, bloomer-inflating blast, she would have propelled herself, missile style, right through the ceiling.

Then there is the opposite of exaggeration, which is the “understatement” or “shrinking” technique. This technique describes things as much smaller and less significant than they actually are: “A puddle of spit was bigger than the lake where we rented our summer cabin.” “The guy who painted our house charged by the hour and used a brush that had only two hairs on it.”

There are other techniques, but these five definitely seem to be the most popular.

I’ve noticed that titles are pretty important, too. Granted, the titles of most newspaper columns are written by the editors, but humor writers who are submitting articles to magazines or even books to publishers, should be able to let the editors know, just by the title alone, that what they are about to read is humorous (or is supposed to be).

For example, “My Handyman is Clumsy” might be funnier as, “Meet Thumbless Joe, my Handyman.” Or, “I Hate Housework” could become, “My Roommate is a Giant Dust Ball.”

So now I will attempt to use all five of the aforementioned techniques in one paragraph:

“It was raining so hard the night we went to the restaurant, Carnival Cruise Lines pulled up next to us in the parking lot. We were greeted by our waitress, Lyla, who was so voluptuous, she looked as if she were smuggling two bowling balls underneath her uniform. We were seated at a table that was no bigger than a deck of cards and it was so close to the table behind us, when I reached up to scratch my head, I scratched the guy’s head behind me and panicked, thinking I’d suddenly gone bald. Everything on the menu looked delicious (especially the blob of gravy stuck on the front and the smear of mashed potatoes on the back). We finally ordered the chicken dinner. When our food arrived, not only was it as cold as a snowman’s butt, the portion was so small, it looked as if a hummingbird had died on the plate. After our meal, which we downed in 1.5 seconds, we ordered dessert. My chocolate cake was so sweet, my teeth continued to ache even after I took them out for the night.”

Okay, so maybe all five techniques don’t work very well when you clump them together instead of spreading them out here and there, but I think you get the idea.

And now I am going to head off to my dental appointment…or should I say, “My Afternoon with Attila the Driller.”

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Big Brother Is Watching

I read an article the other day that made me think twice about ever dashing outside in my nightgown and curlers to empty the trash again.

The article said that technology is so advanced nowadays, a satellite that’s a gazillion miles away can zoom in on any object with such accuracy, it actually can photograph a pimple on someone’s nose.

Needless to say, the thought that a satellite might be zooming in on my zits (or heaven only knows what else) is not very comforting.

The article made me think about all of the crazy things I’ve done outdoors over the years when I thought I was alone, and how the government probably has collected a huge file on me entitled, “The Biggest Klutz in New Hampshire,” complete with hours of videotape.

The other day, for example, while everyone in my neighborhood was at work, I decided to mow the lawn. I finished the lawn out back and started working on the side lawn. As I was backing up with the lawnmower, I tripped over a stump, stumbled backward and landed, my legs up in the air, in (and I am totally serious here) my neighbor’s rowboat. Despite the fact that I bruised a part of my anatomy that I knew would make sitting very uncomfortable for a few days, I started to giggle.

“Thank goodness no one was around to see this!” I said out loud, thinking how dumb I must have looked with my feet sticking up out of a boat.

Now, however, I can’t help wondering if a satellite captured my every move and a bunch of scientific guys were sitting around, eating popcorn and busting a gut over my fall.

Sunday, I decided to take my dogs for a hike in the woods. Just before I left the house, I downed a tall glass of iced tea.

“Now why did I do that?” I said to my husband. “I’ll probably get halfway through my hike and have to go to the bathroom!”

He shrugged and said, “So, just go behind a tree in the woods.”

Leave it to a male to make a statement like that. Men just don’t seem to realize that anatomically, women were not created in a way that makes “going” behind a tree a simple matter, the way it is for them. We women have to contort into muscle-cramp-inducing positions that defy gravity as we battle to keep our balance…and still, we inevitably end up with soggy shoes and socks.

“Oh, sure,” I said to my husband. “Go behind a tree and have satellites zoom in on me because they think they’ve discovered a huge new moon? I’d rather have my bladder burst!”

The poor man had no idea what I was talking about.

Before, whenever I took hikes in the woods, I always worried about hunters dressed in camouflage secretly watching me, so I made sure not to scratch, pick or adjust anything on my body. But when hunting season ended, I always felt as if I could relax a bit. Now, I’ll never be able to relax, not while knowing that a satellite could be zooming in for a close-up of everything from my gray roots to my bra bulge.

I finally told my husband about the article and how true it is that Big Brother is always watching us, no matter where we are. At first, he laughed, but later, he appeared to be deep in thought.

“I’d hate to think of all the things I could have been photographed doing,” he finally said. “I mean, how many times have I fallen off the porch?”

“The front one or back one?” I asked.

Actually, I was thinking about an even more embarrassing incident of his – one that would make my rowboat episode seem tame in comparison. It happened one night when he was sound asleep and I heard strange noises outside. Panicking, I woke him by shouting, “There’s a prowler out in the yard!”

Not even opening his eyes, he jumped out of bed and grabbed, of all things, his ornamental Japanese sword, and dashed out into the yard. At the time, the neighbors had one of those motion-detector floodlights, which immediately popped on and bathed him in bright light. I’ll never forget the sight of him standing out there clad in nothing but his Fruit of the Looms and holding a sword over his head.

“Oops!” I said between giggles. “I forgot about the neighbor’s floodlight. I guess if there had been a prowler out there, it would have popped on for him, too, eh?”

My poor husband was so upset and embarrassed when he finally was fully awake, he barely spoke to me.

Now that I think about it, I hope one of the satellites did catch him on tape. Maybe I can cut a deal with the government and buy a few dozen copies of it. Never can tell when something like that just might come in handy.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

You Really Move Me

Back Article published Sep 21, 2004


A few years ago, I bought an “antique” coffee table which, because of its size, my husband refers to as “the ark.” The table is made of solid wood, measures four feet in length and three feet in width, has two big drawers and a cabinet under it and weighs about two tons. If we ever need an extra bed, we probably could toss a mattress on top of the coffee table and use it for the frame.

So last week, my husband was less than enthusiastic when I mentioned that I wanted to flip our reversible braided rug that’s in the living room.

“Doesn’t that mean we’ll have to move the ark?” he asked.

“It has wheels on it,” I said. “We can just push it out of the way, flip the rug over, and then push it back.”

It sounded simple enough. But then, nothing I do ever goes smoothly…and my rug-flipping idea was about to prove to be no exception.

“Empty everything out of the drawers first,” my husband said.

I had been hoping that emptying the ark wouldn’t be necessary. Those drawers contained six years’ worth of books, paperwork, CDs, floppy disks, magazines, newspapers, catalogs, videos and probably the body of the former owner.

I emptied everything out of the two huge drawers and stacked it on top of the table. “There! All set!” I said.

My husband rolled his eyes. “Put all that junk on the sofa or someplace else. The table is still going to weigh the same whether the junk is on top of it or inside it!”

He had a point.

So I stacked everything on the sofa, the TV and the stereo, all of which sat outside the borders of the rug and wouldn’t have to be moved. Then my husband grabbed one end of the table and I grabbed the other. He dragged it backward while I pushed it forward.

To the left of our front door is the doorway to our spare room. Somehow, my husband and I managed to wedge the table partway into that doorway. My end of the table was up against the front door, while my husband’s end was partially in the spare room. That meant that he had no way to get out of the room until we moved the table back onto the rug.

“Looks like you’ll have to flip the rug yourself,” my husband said from the other side of the coffee table. “I’m trapped in here.”

The rug, a heavy 8’x11’ monstrosity, refused to cooperate as I struggled to flip it. At one point, I actually was standing completely underneath it. I looked like a rug-covered Halloween ghost. “I can’t do this alone!” I cried, my voice muffled beneath the rug.

My husband sighed. “Let me try to climb over the table, then.” He managed to get one knee up onto the table, but when he tried to get the other one up there, he stopped dead. His body suddenly bent like a horseshoe.

“I think I just pulled something!” he said.

“Well, just stay where you are!” I ordered, as if he had any other choice. “I’ll handle the rug myself.” After several more attempts, the clean, unworn, unfaded underside of the rug finally emerged, facing upward. I was so happy, I wanted to break out the champagne. The rug, however, was off-center.

My husband, still hunched over, shouted directions: “A little to the left! No, no – a little to the right!” as I dragged the rug all over the living room. Finally, he said, “That’s close enough. Come on, let’s move this table back before my legs go completely numb!”

That’s when I discovered that I was better at pushing than I was at pulling. In fact, I couldn’t pull the ark at all. I tugged as hard as I could while my husband pushed and still, we couldn’t get it to move an inch. It turned out that the scatter rug in front of the door was bunched up underneath it. That’s when I made one of the dumbest statements I’ve ever made (and believe me, I’ve made plenty).

“Let’s see if we can lift it!”

I could tell by my husband’s expression that he was expecting to be in traction at any moment. Nevertheless, he said, “Okay, on the count of three, we’ll both lift!”

He started counting. I wasn’t concentrating, so I lifted my end on “two” instead of “three.” When he lifted his end, I dropped mine…right on my big toe. Even worse, two of the wheels fell off the table.

Actually, the table landed on the very tip of my toenail, but I screamed and danced as if it had crushed my entire foot. The attempted lift also proved to be my husband’s demise. The minute he tried, his back made sounds like corn popping.

If anyone passing by at that moment had heard all of the moaning and groaning coming from our house, they probably would have thought we were having a really hot time, not preparing to dial 911.

“So we can’t budge this table and I can’t climb over it,” my husband said. “What’ll we do now?”

“I’m going to call Tewy,” I said.

Tewy, our neighbor for over 30 years, had come to our rescue on more occasions than we even could begin to count. I went to the phone and dialed his number.

He came right over.

“What’s wrong with the front door?” he asked the moment he stepped in through the back one. When he spotted the table wedged up against the door and my husband hunched over and grasping his back, he figured it out pretty fast.

“I think I have both a double hernia and a slipped disk,” my husband said to him, groaning for effect. “I also think I’m going to be stuck in here forever. Just throw some food at me now and then, okay?”

Tewy laughed, shook his head, walked over, and with Herculean strength, lifted the coffee table. “Where do you want it?” he asked.

My husband and I looked incredulously at each other. Tewy proved what we already knew. We were weaklings, wimps. Even more embarrassing was the fact that Tewy’s a great-grandfather, not some young kid.

And now that everything is back in its place and the braided rug has been flipped, I am going to cover it with clear plastic and never let a shoe touch it again.

And then I’m going to ask Tewy to adopt us.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Getting Wrapped Up In Cable

It’s amazing how just one small change can cause a whole chain reaction of problems.

Such was the case last week when I went to my favorite video store for 99-cent Tuesday. Every Tuesday for ages, I had gone there to rent movies. At first, they were two for 99 cents, and then later, they changed to only one for 99 cents. Either way, the price still seemed like a real steal to me.

I parked my car, walked up to the video store and was just about to open the door when I noticed that the store was empty. By empty, I mean the place had been cleared out right down to the bare walls. The store had gone out of business. I just stood there, shocked.

On the way home, I checked out another video store. Their rental fee was $3.29 per movie, which, after years of getting nearly three for that price, seemed like a fortune to me. When I asked if they had any special discount days, the clerk gave me a strange look and said no.

As I headed home, I tried to think of a way I still could see my usual 15-20 videos per month without having to take out a second mortgage to pay for the rentals. That’s when I got the brainstorm to call our cable company and order a premium channel, like HBO.

“You still have an old cable box?” the cable company’s employee asked when I called. “That’s like having an 8-track tape player! You have to switch to digital cable in order to get HBO now. You’ll need a new box.”

She explained that I could come in and pick up the box, but if the account was in my husband’s name, I either would have to bring him with me or bring a permission note from him plus his driver’s license. I asked her why.

“Because the box is worth a few hundred dollars,” she said. “And for all we know, you could be his irate divorcee and run off with the box just to get him into trouble!”

I wanted to ask her how often irate divorcees had held their cable boxes hostage, but I kept silent.

So late Friday afternoon on Labor Day weekend, I dragged my husband to the cable office to pick up our new digital box. We signed up for two premium channels, HBO and Starz, and were given a huge box that made our old one look like a matchbox in comparison. It nearly was closing time when we got there, so the employee quickly gave us a rundown and instructions. From what we could tell, in addition to Starz and HBO, we’d also be getting about 6,000 new channels with this box. My husband’s eyes lit up like 100-watt bulbs.

We drove straight home and my husband dashed into the house to hook up his new toy. That’s when I heard him utter several words that led me to suspect he might not be entirely happy.

“There’s no power cord!” he said. “I can’t even plug it in! And it’s a long holiday weekend! What am I supposed to do now?”

I called the cable company’s 24-hour 800 number and explained the situation. The employee told me that there really wasn’t much I could do over the weekend other than track down one of the company’s repair trucks and ask the driver for a power cord. So like an idiot, I set off to try to find one.

I drove up and down streets and back roads for about 15 minutes, then suddenly, as if by some miracle, I spotted a cable truck parked in a driveway. I parked right next to it and ran up to the house and knocked on the door. There was no answer. The longer I stood on the doorstep and eyed the truck, however, the more I realized that it wasn’t the kind of truck that usually had supplies in it. It was more like a pickup truck, not a panel van. It also looked as if it had been parked there for a long time…like maybe since 1995.

I drove around for a while longer, then decided to give up before I ran out of gas. I actually was afraid to return home cordless, so I stopped at my neighbors’ house and asked them if they knew of anyone who worked for the cable company. They didn’t, but they suggested I call Radio Shack about a power cord.

“Radio Shack!” my husband said when I made the suggestion. “They won’t have anything like that. I checked out the box and it takes a very special cord, something you can’t get just anywhere!”

Despite what he thought, I figured I had nothing to lose and called Radio Shack. The employee asked me what type of cord the box took. At that point, my husband grabbed the phone and launched into a detailed description of male and female plugs and slot A and slot B joining together to form slot C. The employee finally said to just bring in the box and he’d check it out.

So we headed off to Radio Shack. During the entire drive, my husband muttered things like, “I shouldn’t have to pay for this! The cable company had better reimburse me or give me at least a free week of cable! And when I turn in the box in the future, I’m keeping the power cord!”

We finally arrived at Radio Shack. “Here’s $100,” my husband said, thrusting the money at me as I got out of the car. “I sure hope it’s enough!”

I lugged the box into the store. An employee immediately greeted me with, “You must be the one who just called!” He took a quick look at the box, said, “Uh huh,” and disappeared for a moment. He returned with a very ordinary looking power cord, stuck it into the machine and said, “There you go! That’ll be $2.99.”

I couldn’t help it. I burst out laughing.

I also couldn’t help mercilessly teasing my husband about his “very fancy, complicated, expensive one-of-a-kind” power cord all the way home.

When he finally hooked up everything, the TV came in beautifully…all except for HBO and Starz. As it turned out, something in our original old hookup (I forget the technical term) was too weak to unscramble such strong signals and had to be replaced.

You know, maybe paying $3.29 to rent a video isn’t so bad after all.

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Photographing The Physically Fit

In July, I landed a magazine assignment to write about and photograph the fitness course at Bear Brook State Park.

The course is over a mile long and located deep in the woods adjacent to the public beach at the park. It has 20 exercise stations, each one with a sign showing a stick figure demonstrating the exercise that should be done at that particular station. If done in the proper sequence, the exercises are supposed to provide a proper warm-up, workout and cool-down. Some of the stations even have equipment, such as pull-up bars, slant boards, a balance beam and monkey bars.

With a pen and notebook in one hand, and my camera in the other, I set out on a hot, humid day to walk the length of the course and take notes for my article. At first, I was determined to follow the instructions on the signs and actually do the exercises, but I quickly changed my mind when all of the grunting and noises I made while trying to do them began to attract wild animals that thought they were mating calls.

The magazine editor had suggested that I take photos of physically-fit-looking people using the course, but I didn’t see a soul out there. I even hung around the course for over an hour, waiting, but aside from a squirrel and 11,000 mosquitoes and deer flies, I saw no other forms of life. Finally, I headed down to the public beach to try to recruit some fit-looking people to pose for me.

Optimistic person that I was, I thought it was going to be a snap.

I walked the length of the beach three times. I saw plenty of beer bellies and cellulite. I saw pale, scrawny guys with bony knees. I saw two very pregnant women. I saw people waving with arms that looked as if they had flesh-colored bat wings attached to them. I wanted Arnold Schwarzenegger and Suzanne Somers. Unfortunately, the majority of the people there resembled…me.

Then I spotted, on the grass adjacent to the beach, a group of people who appeared to be in their early 20s, playing badminton. I rushed over to them.

“Excuse me,” I said to one of the players, a young man with strong-looking arms and a flat stomach. He smiled and took a step toward me. “Would you like to pose for some physical-fitness photos for a magazine?”

He just stood there, continuing to smile. I repeated my question. Still, he didn’t respond. Finally, one of his pals asked him something…in a language I didn’t recognize. The guy shrugged and answered him in the same language. No one in the group spoke English (either that, or they just wanted to get rid of me).

Sighing, I walked off. That’s when I spotted a shapely woman in a bikini and a long-haired, Fabio sort of guy approaching a picnic table. I made a beeline toward them, explained what I was doing and asked if they’d like to pose for some photos for a magazine.

Their first response was to burst out laughing. When they finally stopped, they fired a bunch of questions at me: “Where is this fitness course? How come we’ve never heard of it? Will we be on the cover of the magazine? How do we know you’re legitimate? Do you have any identification? Will we have the final say on which photos you use?”

Twenty minutes of questions later, the guy asked, “And how much will we get paid for doing this?”

“Um…nothing,” I answered.

“Bye,” they said in unison.

Defeated, I plunked down on the stone wall that lined the beach and sulked. About 15 minutes later, I happened to glance toward the parking lot and spotted, off in the distance, two very fit-looking guys unloading bicycles from a bike rack on a car. Both of them were wearing snug, form-fitting bicycle shorts and tops. I dashed over to them before they could get away.

Gasping for breath, I pointed at the woods behind them, where the fitness course was located, and blurted out, “Would you two guys like to go into the woods with me and pose for some pictures?”

They jumped onto their bikes and took off so fast, they left skid marks.

Two hours passed before I finally convinced a woman, her teenaged daughter and her daughter’s friend to be my victims. They couldn’t have been nicer or more accommodating as they followed me along the winding trail through the woods. I made them dangle from monkey bars, lie on the ground and do push-ups, and balance on vertical posts near a swamp where the bugs thought we’d just rung the dinner bell.

At the end of the photo shoot, I thanked my three models over and over again, and told them to be sure to look for themselves in the magazine. Then I headed straight for the nearest pharmacy, had the photos developed, wrote the article and sent off everything to the magazine editor.

“Loved the article,” the editor wrote back, “but with the bright sunlight filtering through the trees in the photos, everyone looks spotted and blotchy. Can you take some new shots, preferably on an overcast day or using a fill flash?”

I’m still waiting for Arnold Schwarzenegger to return my call.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Sally Seeking Redemption

I was searching for something in one of the kitchen cabinets the other night when I came across a jar that was stuffed with prize tickets from an arcade called Joe’s Playland at Salisbury Beach.

I sat down and counted the tickets. There were 5,581 of them. Immediately, visions of all the great prizes I could redeem them for ran through my mind.

I was in high school when I first started saving prize tickets from the Midway Arcade and Joe’s Playland. Back then, 500 tickets could be redeemed for a nice prize, like a portable radio or a microscope. But I wanted to save for something even bigger and better, like a portable TV or a stereo. So I never redeemed any of my tickets. Then, I guess I just forgot about them.

I won most of my tickets playing skeeball. Later, I graduated to a rather primitive poker-game machine. The object of the game was to roll five balls into holes that had pictures of cards on them to determine the poker hand. Usually, I was pretty lucky, but one day, I couldn’t win a hand no matter how hard I tried. Determined, I kept stuffing money into the machine.

“Uh, how long have you been playing with only four balls?” I heard a voice behind me ask. I turned around to see one of the arcade’s attendants standing there. He checked the machine and found the fifth ball stuck up inside. I was so embarrassed for being too dumb to realize it, my face nearly burst into flames.

Fortunately, the guy took pity on me and let me play a bunch of games at no
charge to make up for my stupidity and his crummy machine. I won about 200 tickets that day alone.

Later, the arcade installed real slot machines, which paid off in prize tokens that could be redeemed for tickets. I played those for hours, mainly because they required no skill whatsoever and therefore, spared me from any further humiliation.

The other night, as I was sitting at the kitchen table and carefully stacking my tickets, my husband walked in and asked what I was doing.

“I have 5,581 tickets from Joe’s Playland at Salisbury Beach!” I said. “Do you think we can take a ride there this week so I can turn them in for a prize?”

“I don’t think Joe’s Playland is even in business any more,” he said.

The man sure knew how to burst my bubble.

So last Tuesday, we headed to Salisbury Beach to find out. During the entire ride, all I could think about was what I wanted to get for my prize tickets. “I think I’m going to get a DVD player,” I finally said to my husband. “Everyone has one and I want one, too.”

“If that old arcade is still there,” he said, “the prizes probably are so old, you’ll be able to redeem your tickets for a nice butter churn…or a manual typewriter!”

I laughed, but to be honest, he was worrying me. If Joe’s Playland had indeed gone to that big arcade in the sky, then I had spent over 40 years collecting tickets for absolutely nothing.

We finally turned onto the main drag through Salisbury Beach. My heart sank. The place looked like a ghost town. Gone were the amusements, the acres of game booths and even the landmark Surf Club and its huge ballroom. In their place were empty lots. Never had I been able to see so much of the ocean from the street.

But there, near a small pizza joint and a discount souvenir shop stood Joe’s Playland, its doors open and its colorful lights beckoning from inside. I allowed myself to exhale.

We found a parking spot directly in front of the arcade and I bolted inside, heading straight for the prize counter. By the time my husband caught up with me, I was smiling with satisfaction. “There it is,” I said, pointing to a really sharp-looking DVD player in a case behind the counter. “There’s my prize!”

A young employee approached and asked if he could help us with anything. “Yes!” I said as I dug into my purse and pulled out the big wad of tickets. “How many tickets is that DVD player?”

“It’s 28,000,” he said.

My husband, sympathetic soul that he was, burst out laughing.

Did I cash in my tickets for a prize I could afford, like a crock-pot or a salad-bowl set? No, I was too upset. I brought the tickets back home and stuffed them into the jar where I’d found them.

I figure if I keep them long enough, they’ll become antiques and I can sell them on Ebay.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Riding The Roller Coasters At Canobie

Two weeks ago, after riding twice on the Yankee Cannonball roller coaster at Canobie Lake Park and discovering that all of my rickety old body parts still were intact, I decided to be brave and go on another coaster there, the Canobie Corkscrew.

The Corkscrew was a new addition since I’d last been to the park, so I wasn’t familiar with it or how it operated. Unlike most of the other rides, however, there was no long line of people waiting to board it on the night we were there. In retrospect, that probably should have been a warning to me.

I rushed up the ramp and jumped right into one of the seats on the Corkscrew. An attendant came by and pulled down a padded harness-like bar over my head and locked it into place. I thought I heard her mention something about removing my earrings, which were thick hoops with posts, but I figured I must have misunderstood. I mean, I honestly couldn’t think of one good reason why I’d have to take off my earrings just to ride on a roller coaster. If anything, I thought, the earrings would be a lot safer attached to my ears than they would if they were floating around loose in my pocket somewhere.

As the ride kicked into gear and the car began to make its way up the first hill, I looked down and for the first time, caught a glimpse of the rest of the track. I suddenly understood why it was called the Corkscrew. It made two twisting loops…steep, twisting, nose-diving loops. Believe me, if there’s anything that terrifies me, it’s being on a ride where I look up and see the ground instead of the sky.

Panicking, I shouted, “I’ve changed my mind! I want to get off!”

Everyone else on the ride, thinking I was joking, began to laugh. The trouble was, I was serious.

I honestly don’t remember much about the ride other than it really was rough…and painful. As the car slammed me from side to side, the padded harness that came down on both sides of my head whacked against my ears and drove my earring posts like rivets into my skin. Had the ride lasted any longer, I’d have been able to wear my earrings in my neck.

“No way did you go on that thing!” my husband said when I walked back over to the bench in Kiddie Land where he had planted himself for the evening. “I thought you hated rides that turn you upside down!”

“Still do,” I said, rubbing my earlobes. “In fact, even more now.”

My husband then mentioned that he was so hungry, his stomach thought his throat had been cut, so I told him to stay put and I’d go find some burgers. In the time it would have taken him, alias “Snail Man,” to walk to a concession stand, I could have ordered a three-course meal, eaten it and taken a nap.

I found a burger place on the other side of Kiddie Land and ordered three cheeseburgers, a small order of fries, and two small sodas. “That’ll be $21.50,” the employee said after he rang up my tray of food.

I just stared at him, my mouth falling open. “Are you serious?”

He nodded.

Thinking of my starving husband, I paid the man.

“These are like those burgers we used to get at the drive-in movies,” my husband said as he bit into one. “You know, the kind that used to sit in those foil bags under a light bulb all night and get all dried out and chewy. How much did they soak you for all of this anyway?”

“Twelve bucks,” I lied.

“Boy, they really saw you coming!”

We finished our food in a few gulps because we wanted to head over to the Dance Hall Theater, where a band that was advertised as looking and sounding exactly like the Beatles was going to be performing in ten minutes. One of my earliest childhood crushes, Bozo the Clown, also was supposed to be appearing somewhere in the park that night, but I figured I’d look for him later.

Musically, the Beatles impersonators were good, but they sounded more like a band playing Beatles’ songs rather than like the Beatles themselves. They also were so loud, my already abused ears began to hurt again.

Visually, the band members looked nothing like the Beatles…not in height nor weight, and especially not in the bad wigs a couple of them were wearing. The guy who was supposed to be George had Ringo’s nose, and the guy who was supposed to be Paul was wearing so much makeup, his eyebrows looked like black versions of McDonald’s golden arches, and his cheeks like two big red sunsets.

“I think the guy who’s portraying Paul also doubles as Bozo to save the park some money,” my husband whispered to me, making me dissolve into giggles and causing the woman in front of me to turn around and glare at me.

By the time the concert ended, my husband was ready to head home. “But I’ve been on only two rides!” I protested. “Let me go on just one more, okay?”

He nodded, found another bench and plopped down on it. I bolted off to the log flume ride. I stood and watched it for a few minutes so I could judge exactly where to sit so I wouldn’t be drowned when the log-car splashed into the water, then I headed up the ramp and waited in line.

The log-cars were in constant motion, so passengers had to board them by hopping into them as they floated past. There was no time to select a seat, so I just jumped in and sat down…right in a big puddle of cold water.

The feeling of icy water being absorbed into my underwear on a chilly night had a way of taking some of the joy out of the ride. And having more water splash into the car and soak my hair and the entire front of my jeans didn’t help much either. When I, my hair limp and soggy and my jeans drenched, walked back to my husband’s bench, he laughed and said, “Having fun, dear?”

“I think I’m ready to leave now,” I said, shivering.

By the time we got home, I was chilled to the bone, my ears were sore and my stomach was feeling the effects of that prime-rib-priced burger.

It was the most fun I’ve had in a long time. I can’t wait to go back again.

Tuesday, August 3, 2004

Up, Up And Away At Canobie Lake

My grandmother was a roller-coaster fanatic. In fact, she took me on my very first roller-coaster ride at Pine Island Park in Manchester when I was about eight years old. From that day on, I was hooked. So much so, I became an even bigger roller-coaster fanatic than my grandmother. And to this day, my dream is to visit Cedar Point amusement park in Ohio, which not only has 16 roller coasters, but reportedly also has the highest (420 feet) and fastest (120 mph) one in the known universe.

My husband, on the other hand, just looks at a roller coaster (even the ones in Kiddie Land) and turns the color of pea soup.

So it came as a pretty big shock last week when he asked me if I’d like to go to Canobie Lake Park and put an end to my years of suffering from roller-coaster withdrawal. Did I want to go? I slapped on a coat of lipstick and had my purse in my hand before he’d even finished asking the question.

During the drive to Canobie Lake, I acted and felt just like a little kid. “How much farther is it?” I kept asking my husband. “Are we almost there yet?”

After what seemed like ten hours (actually, is was 48.5 minutes), we finally pulled into the parking lot of the amusement park. The place was mobbed. “It’s a Monday night, for cryin’ out loud,” my husband said as he drove up and down each row, trying to find a parking spot. “It’s not supposed to be this crowded!”

“Well, maybe it’s crowded because everyone came here, just like us, thinking it wouldn’t be crowded!”

We finally parked the car and walked to the entrance. The admission price was $25 per person, but seeing we’d arrived after 5 p.m., it dropped to $16. We paid for our tickets, got our hands stamped and then entered the park.

Immediately, I was a kid again. I darted off, leaving my husband, who walks at a top speed of about one-eighth mile per hour, in the dust as I rushed from ride to ride, trying to decide which one I wanted to go on first. The park had added so many new ones since I’d last been there back in the early 1980s, I was awe-stricken.

“Well, you have fun,” my husband said between wheezes when he finally caught up with me. “I’m going to sit right here on this bench while you go on the rides. If you need me, this is where you’ll find me.”

I just stared at him. “You’re not going to go on even one ride?”

He shook his head. “Nope, my stomach can’t handle that stuff any more.”

“Not even the train or the Ferris wheel?” I asked, not really relishing the idea of having to be Sally Solo on all of the rides. “Those aren’t too vomitocious. Besides that, you didn’t pay $16 just to sit on a bench all night!”

Again, he shook his head. “Better get going. The place closes at ten.”

He didn’t have to tell me twice. I headed straight for the Yankee Cannonball, the big old wooden coaster that I’d missed so much over the years.

I arrived to find a line of people that rivaled the ones at Disney World. Determined, I took my place in line…and waited. Twenty minutes later, I still was waiting. By then, I’d made friends with the four boys from Michigan in front of me, and a lady and her daughter from Maine behind me.

One of the Michigan boys was wearing more necklaces than Mr. T, and told me how his jewelry had flown up and nearly knocked him unconscious when he’d gone on the Starblaster.

“It’s a ride that shoots you into the air just like you were in a rocket ship,” he explained. “Except you’re sitting in these chairs out in the open, with your feet dangling! One woman even lost her sandals during the blast! It was SO cool!”

Recalling that I was wearing a bra with stretch-straps, I made a mental note to chalk that ride off my to-do list.

Thirty-five minutes later, as I inched closer and closer to the coaster, my heart began to race and my hands felt clammy. What if, I wondered, my metabolism had changed since I last rode on a coaster and now I couldn’t stomach them? What if I ended up throwing up down the neck of the guy in front of me? Or what if I emerged with a severe case of whiplash because my over-the-hill neck bones had become too brittle?

By the time I took my seat in the last car of the Yankee Cannonball, I seriously was contemplating chickening out. “Fasten your seatbelts and then pull the bar down over you,” the attendant instructed. I fumbled with my seatbelt and couldn’t pull it far enough across my Titanic-sized hips to hook it. By then, everyone else already had fastened their belts and pulled down their bars. Not wanting to be a party pooper, I pulled down my bar. Two attendants then came by to check each one of us.

“Your seatbelt’s not fastened,” one of the attendants said to me, as if he were telling me something I didn’t already know. He leaned over and tried to adjust it. “I think it has a knot in it,” he said. He signaled to the guy at the controls, and everyone’s bars suddenly popped back up, giving him more room to work on unknotting my seatbelt. By then, I could hear impatient mutters from the other passengers. I wanted to slide down in my seat and disappear.

Finally, I was properly fastened and the ride was set to go. As the coaster inched up the first hill, I held my breath. The hill was a lot higher than I’d remembered it. In fact, it seemed to take forever to reach the top. I clenched the bar in anticipation of what was coming, and prayed that my neck wouldn’t snap like a twig and my lunch would stay where it belonged.

Whoosh! The rest of the ride was a blur of hills and curves and people screaming. By the time I realized that the ride had begun, it was over.

On shaky legs, I walked back to the bench where my husband was sitting. “You’ve been gone for ages!” he said. “How many rides have you been on?”

“One,” I said. “And I’m going to go on it again and really enjoy it this time…now that I know I can survive it!”

So I went on the coaster again, and the second ride was much better than the first. And after that, I got brave and rode on the park’s new corkscrew coaster…which turned out to be a big mistake.

I’ll tell you all about it next week.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Concord's Market Days Induce Sally To Buy 'Necessities'

Every summer for the past 30 years, Concord has held its Old-Fashioned Bargain Days festival, a three-day event also known as Market Days, on Main Street. The street is closed to traffic in the downtown area, and booths, concessions, sidewalk-sale tables and racks, rides for the kiddies and displays are set up.

And every year for as long as I can remember, the Market Days celebration has been held on the hottest days of the summer. I can recall one year in particular when it must have been 100 degrees in the shade. The chocolates and fudge in the candy booths rapidly turned into hot-fudge sauce, and the frozen treats from the ice-cream vendors became drinks in cones before they even reached the people’s mouths.

Fortunately, this year’s Market Days fell on much cooler days, so I decided I’d head to Concord and see if I could find any bargains.

The minute I parked my car and set one foot on the ground, the sky turned black and exploded into such a downpour, I found myself wishing I’d brought an umbrella…or oars.

When the monsoon finally let up, I walked up to Main Street. I was expecting to see the vendors and store clerks wringing out their merchandise or using blow-dryers on it, but obviously past experience had taught them to set up their tables under tents or awnings, so everything, for the most part, still was dry.

On a large stage at the end of the street, a guy with a guitar was singing a Neil Diamond song. He had good voice and really seemed to be enthusiastic about performing, but there wasn’t a soul standing there watching him. Still, he announced his next song, gave its history and even cracked a few jokes, as if he were performing for hundreds. I had to admire the poor guy.

I really enjoyed walking right down the middle of Main Street without having to worry about being turned into a pedestrian pancake. As I walked, however, I began to realize that this street was the worst place on earth for someone who was trying to lose weight (e.g. me) to be. I passed by booths selling cotton candy, ice cream, French fries, cookies the size of dinner plates, homemade bread, buffalo burgers, pizza, sausage, kielbasa, nachos, hot dogs, Chinese and Indian food and even food for dogs (I was so hungry by then, even that appealed to me). By the time I’d gone two blocks, I was salivating worse than my rottweiler at feeding time.

What I really enjoyed the most was watching what people were buying. I could tell that they didn’t really want or need a lot of the stuff they’d purchased, but I guess the sale prices just were too tempting to resist. For example, one woman of ample proportions was holding up a floral dress that looked as if it had been made for a Barbie doll.

“Isn’t this dress just darling?” she called out to her friend, who was looking at a display of earrings nearby. “And it’s half price! Think I should buy it to wear to the anniversary party?”

Her friend’s expression clearly revealed that she thought that if by some miracle, the woman did manage to squeeze into that dress, it would take the jaws of life to extricate her from it, yet she replied, “Half price! You’d be a fool to pass up a bargain like that!”

At another tent, a boy was trying on a pair of brand-name sneakers that were marked down to an unbelievably low price. “How do they feel?” his mother asked.

“They’re way too big” the boy answered. “My feet come right out of them when I walk, even with the laces tied tight.”

“Well, I’m not passing them up at that price,” the mother said. “You’ll grow into them.”

I figured that by the time the kid was about 30, he might be able to wear them…if his feet grew to be about the size of Paul Bunyan’s.

Something on one of the tables of toys and games struck me funny. Among the items on display were bags of plastic “play” money that looked exactly like real coins in color, shape and size. I picked up the bag of play pennies and read the tag…100 for $3.99. Heck, it would be cheaper just to let the kids play with real money.

And then there was a booth selling giant inflatable baseball bats that seemed to attract kids who’d majored in the art of whining. Each time I passed by, at least two kids were standing there, whining for a bat until their parents finally gave in and bought them one just to shut them up. Then the kids ran up and down the street and whacked each other (and a few other people, by accident) with them.

I’m proud to say that all of the bargain prices didn’t tempt me into making frivolous purchases or buying anything I didn’t really need. I came home with six Lord of the Rings bookmarks, a bag of assorted polished stones, a package of Polaroid instant film that expired back in January, a pen that contains clear, colorless ink, but magically writes in blue, and a pair of socks with unicorns on them.

Now those are what I call necessities.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

What Not To Wear

There's a TV show called "What Not to Wear" that I really get a kick out of watching. Perhaps it's because I can empathize with the poor schleps who get unmercifully taunted every week by Stacy and Clinton, the show's fashion experts.

Stacy and Clinton scope out a person who dresses in a style that most people would classify as "comfortable" and then secretly videotape that person in the most unflattering positions imaginable: bending over, getting out of the car, yawning and stretching, adjusting underwear. Even a fashion model would look less than stunning in those situations.

Finally, Clinton and Stacy ambush the unsuspecting victim and show her (or, on occasion, "him") the embarrassing video. Just as the person is on the verge of suing them for invasion of privacy, they make amends by handing her/him a complimentary credit card worth $5000 toward the purchase an entire new wardrobe.

The catch is that the person's current wardrobe must be tossed out, and Stacy and Clinton have to oversee the purchase of the new one (in New York City, no less) just to make certain that the person doesn't rush out and buy 150 pairs of sweat pants.

When I first started watching the show, I thought it might be fun to get $5,000 worth of clothes for nothing other than a bit of national humiliation and a few close-ups of my cellulite, but after several weeks of observing Stacy and Clinton in action, I changed my mind. The two of them are, well...pretty brutal.

"Did you get dragged behind a stagecoach while wearing that outfit?" Clinton asks as he critically eyes one of the victim's baggy sweater and pants.

“Tell your great-grandmother she can have her sweater back!" Stacy adds. She and Clinton share a wicked cackle.

They then proceed to snatch the clothes from the victim and toss them into a trash barrel, which just happens to be sitting in the middle of their living room.

"But my dying aunt gave me that skirt on her deathbed," the victim protests as they crumple a plaid, woolen skirt and heave it, as if it were a basketball, into the trash can.

"Well, too bad your dying aunt didn't have better taste in clothes!" Clinton, who is wearing a purple flowered shirt, snaps.

The whole thing is pretty intimidating, but what I find the most intimidating is Stacy and Clinton's obsession with legs.

"Why are you hiding your legs in pants?" they ask all of the women. "Would it kill you to wear a skirt now and then and show the world that you actually have ankles and calves?"

Whenever they say that, which is just about every week (except when their victim is a guy) I think of my mother-in-law, who keeps reminding me that she hasn't seen me in a skirt since Amelia Earhart last boarded a plane.

Okay, so maybe I haven't worn a skirt or a dress since gasoline was 59 cents a gallon. But there are several good reasons for my anti-skirt attitude.

First of all, my legs have all the shapeliness of two telephone poles. My ankles are so thick, my lifetime goal has been to be able to wear an ankle bracelet without having to add four extra inches of links to it. I've received only two "nice legs" compliments in the past 20 years, and one of them was from a farmer who was at least 85 years old and probably had spent too much time staring at cows.

I also hate shaving my legs, so I do it as infrequently as possible. At my age, it's a safety precaution anyway. I can't tell you how many "saggy" body parts I've accidentally nicked with the razor while bending over in the shower to shave my legs.

And then there are these creepy things called spider veins. I guess they call them that because they supposedly resemble little purple spiders on your legs. But on my legs, the spiders look as if they've also built webs...and caught flies in them.

And I have a deep scar on my knee from back in my grammar-school days, when I was swinging on a swing on the school playground and Michael St. Pierre decided to sneak up behind me and yank me off by my feet, just as I was way up in the air.

I suppose that really thick, opaque black stockings might solve most of my problems. At least they would hide the leg hair, the veins and the scars. They wouldn't, however, turn my tree-trunks into long, shapely legs or allow me to finally wear an ankle bracelet.

Still, I haven't worn a skirt for so long, I'm not even sure which length is "in" right now. Knee length? Mid-calf length? "I see London, I see France" length?

To heck with Stacy and Clinton, even if they ARE fashion experts. Give me the 150 pairs of sweat pants.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

World's Smallest Frog; World's Biggest Stink

At the moment, I can’t stand the smell of myself and I’m really grumpy…and it’s all because of a frog.

It all started last year at this time when I was taking my daily walk and happened to notice a tiny dot hopping across the road in front of me. When I approached it, I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was the tiniest frog I’d ever seen. I’d seen little tree frogs before, but this frog made them look huge in comparison. Certain that I’d discovered some rare, mutant pygmy breed, I rushed home and called my mother.

“It probably was just some kind of a bug,” she said in a tone that suggested she thought I’d had too much sun. “I grew up in the country and never saw a frog that small.”

By the time I finished talking to her, she’d just about convinced me that the teeny frog I’d seen had been just a heat-induced hallucination. I decided to put the whole episode out of my mind and not think about the frog again. And I didn’t think about it…until two days ago.

I was walking my dog on a hiking trail that bordered a marsh when I suddenly caught a glimpse of what looked like two mini-frogs hopping along the edge of the trail. Quickly, I bent down and scooped up one of them into my hand.

I stood there a moment, afraid to unfold my fingers and see what I’d actually caught. I mean, I’d grabbed the tiny hopping whatever-it-was so fast, I didn’t really know what I was grabbing, so for all I knew, some hideous spider probably was preparing to sink its fangs into my palm.

Slowly, I opened my hand. There sat a tiny brown frog, no bigger than the fingernail on my pinky. “I’m going to take you home with me, little frog,” I said. “And after I show you to my husband so he can tell my mother that you really do exist, I’ll bring you back here and let you go. Deal?”

I gently closed my hand around the frog and continued to walk. I could feel it hopping around on my palm and trying to squeeze out between my fingers. I’m extremely ticklish, so I decided I’d better find something to carry the frog in before I dropped it.

Well, normally this particular trail is littered with at least a couple empty bottles or cans, but my luck, on this day it looked as if a squadron of maids had descended upon it just before I arrived.

I walked down to the marsh to see if perhaps a fisherman had left a container of some sort behind, but the area was spotless. That’s when I noticed a big lily pad floating near the shore. For some reason, I thought it might make a good cup.

With one hand holding my dog’s leash and the other still holding the frog, I picked up the slippery lily pad and tried to fold it into the shape of a cup or a cone. Finally, after a dozen failed attempts and a lot of praying that a staple gun suddenly would drop down from the sky, I managed to transform the lily pad into a crude pouch. Carefully, I emptied the frog into it, then clasped my hand over the top.

“Wait till you see what I have!” I said to my husband the minute I stepped into the house. “It’s the smallest frog in existence! Now my mother will believe me!”

I grabbed a clear plastic container and put the lily pad into it, then closed the lid. The lily pad, because I no longer was holding it in a death grip, slowly began to unfold. By then, my husband’s curiosity was piqued, so he came out to the kitchen, stood behind me and peered over my shoulder. Within a few seconds, the lily pad had fully opened.

“Wow!” my husband said. “That really IS a tiny frog! It’s so small, I can’t even see it!”

I stared at the naked lily pad. The frog wasn’t there. I figured it must have escaped way back at the marsh when I’d tried to transfer it from my hand into the makeshift pouch.

“Do you see him in there?” my husband, leaning closer to get a better look, asked.

“Of course not!” I snapped. “There’s nothing in there! Obviously the frog escaped!”

He gave me a condescending look. “Sure it did, sweetheart. Your little microscopic frog escaped. I understand.”

That did it. The next day, I headed back to the same area where I’d caught the frog. I was determined to find another one and prove to both my mother and my husband that I wasn’t seeing spots before my eyes. I realized that the odds of ever finding another frog were about a gazillion to one, but still, I had to try.

I was so busy looking down at the ground for frogs as I walked, I never saw the skunk…until it was too late. My dog and I had just crested a hill and there, sitting right in the middle of the trail on the other side, was a skunk. It took me a few seconds to realize what it actually was because I’d never expected to see a skunk out in broad daylight. This skunk, however, did not look very healthy.

I took a few steps backward and yanked on my dog’s leash. The skunk moved toward us. That’s when my dog decided to stop and bark at the uninvited guest. Everything happened so fast, I didn’t actually see it happen…but I sure smelled it.

My dog and I bolted back to the car, but when we arrived, I decided it might not be such a hot idea for us to get in and stink it up. So we stood outside and waited for a hiker or biker to come by. I figured that if one of them had a cell phone, I could call my husband and tell him to bring rubber gloves, paper towels and the bottle of “Skunk Off” I’d kept handy ever since the day my other dog became intimately acquainted with a skunk in our back yard.

Usually the area where I park my car is bustling with hikers and bikers, but on this day, there wasn’t a soul around. Finally, after what seemed like 10 hours (and 200 mosquito bites) later, a guy on a mountain bike came by.

“Do you have a cell phone?” I called out to him.

“Yeah,” he said, and kept on pedaling right past us. He probably wanted to get away from the stink.

I had no choice. I loaded the dog into the car and we headed home.

Now, an entire bottle of Skunk Off and endless hours of scrubbing later, my dog and I still bear the faint essence of “Eau de Skunk.” And the worst part is that after everything I went through, I still don’t have any proof whatsoever that my itty-bitty frogs exist.

“I think I have it all figured out,” my husband said to me this morning (after telling me that I still stink). “ We’ve been invaded by tiny aliens from another planet and they’ve disguised themselves as frogs. Their protector, a mean alien bodyguard, is disguised as a skunk, and the reason why he looks sick is because he can’t adjust to the earth’s atmosphere.”

Nobody likes a smart aleck.