Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Sally Standing by the VCR

Last week, a beloved old family member passed away. It was our VCR. Before it died, however, it ate up two videotapes and spit them out in pieces. So what little life the machine still may have had in it, I probably finished off when I smacked it for chewing up my only copy of the Mary Tyler Moore and Rhoda reunion movie.

So I checked out the VCRs on Ebay and found a brand new one exactly like our dead one for under $50. Times sure have changed.

I still can remember back when VCRs were first widely introduced to the public for home use. I was excited, very excited.

“You mean to tell me,” I asked my husband, “that I could record my favorite singers or movie stars and play them over and over again?”

“Sure,” he said. “You could even run back the recordings in slow motion or freeze the tape whenever there is a close-up.” When he saw my eyes widen at the thought of all the TV hunks I could freeze, he quickly added, “Forget it. VCRs are way too expensive.”

I would have tried to tempt him by telling him that he could record the Super Bowl or the World Series and replay every exciting moment, but my husband is probably one of the few men on earth who would prefer to be doused with syrup and staked naked to an anthill rather than watch sports.

So I had to try a different approach. “I just thought of something funny,” I said, giggling. “You know how they show scantily clad girls running down the beach on TV all the time? Can you imagine how funny they’d look in slow motion bouncing up and down…over and over again?”

The next day, we were at Montgomery Ward, charging a VCR. It cost $799. We also bought a single blank tape for $15.98.

I am convinced that learning how to program a VCR is one of the major causes of divorce in this country. I still can clearly remember reading the instructions out loud to my husband as he tried to hook up that first VCR, and how, when nothing worked, he accused me of skipping over something important in my reading. As it turned out, he’d forgotten to plug in the machine.

But even to this day, with the more modern VCRs, it still takes about three years to learn how to set up everything correctly. And when you finally DO, odds are that a power failure will strike and undo it all.

Unfortunately, we live in a place where if a bird flies by the power lines and flaps its wings too hard, we lose power. This causes the VCR to stop showing the correct time and start flashing “12:00” over and over again. And believe me, nothing on earth is more annoying…except trying to reset the correct time afterwards.

Which is why a guy on TV the other night caught our attention. He was saying, “Are you annoyed when 12:00 keeps flashing on your VCR and you have to go through all the trouble of reprogramming it? Well, I have a simple solution, and I promise you’ll never see a flashing 12:00 again! The materials you’ll need are a piece of cardboard, scissors, a measuring tape and duct tape.”

My husband and I watched with interest as the guy explained, “First, take the measuring tape and measure the blinking 12:00. Then cut a piece of cardboard that exact size. Cover the 12:00 with the piece of cardboard and tape it securely with the duct tape. You’ll never see it flashing again!”

Nobody likes a smart aleck.

Eventually, when VCRs became less of a novelty and the prices dropped, we retired our old recorder to our bedroom and bought a new one for the living room.

That’s when I found a unique use for the old VCR. It was the type of machine that when you pushed the “eject” button, a platform popped up out of the top and you were supposed to slide a video into it. Well, when I was dieting and bragging to my husband about how much willpower I had, I discovered that the VCR was the perfect place to hide Hershey bars. Every night after dinner, I’d sneak into the bedroom, push the button on the VCR, and voila! Up would pop my secret stash.

It worked fine until I forgot to shut off the machine one night and the heat melted the chocolate.

We’ve had about eight VCRs since that first one from Montgomery Ward, mainly because we discovered it was cheaper to buy new ones rather than have the old ones repaired.

The other day, when I mentioned to one of our friends that I’d just bought a new VCR on Ebay for under $50, he said, “A VCR? Those are so old-hat! You need to get with the times and buy a DVD player.”

I don’t think so. Now that I’ve finally learned how to program a VCR, I’m not about to rush out and buy something new-fangled. Besides that, unlike videotapes, DVDs are round.

And Hershey bars are rectangular.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

My Washer Is Part Paper Shredder

Back Article published Feb 17, 2004

At the moment, I’m wearing a gray fleece shirt with white dots all over it. The dots didn’t come with the shirt, however. They are 5,000 pieces of lint.

I don’t know if it’s my washing machine or if I need to take a course called “Clothes Washing for Dummies,” but my laundry has been looking mighty strange lately. In fact, I’m at the point where I think going down to the river and beating my clothes against the rocks would make them look better than my washer does.

For one thing, when I bought this washer two years ago, I thought it was pretty strange that when I asked the clerk where the lint trap was, he said there was no such thing.

Every other washer I’ve owned, there always was a place where wayward lint would gather, and I’d clean it out regularly. But with this washer, the lint is going to places unknown. And that worries me. I know it’s just lurking in there somewhere, growing larger and larger until when I least expect it, it will explode all over my wash…when I’m washing dark colors, of course.

Another weird thing about this washer is that even on the most delicate cycle, it turns everything inside out. This totally mystifies my husband.

“How does it do that?” he asks every week, holding up his inside-out undershirts. “You think that maybe if we try turning the clothes inside out before they go into the washer, they’ll come out the right way?”

It sounded logical, so I tried it. It didn’t work. The only explanation is that the washer hates me.

Take, for example, a few weeks ago. My mother and I went shopping and found some gorgeous chenille sweaters on sale. I bought one in light blue and she bought one in pale green. I wore the sweater and loved it. In fact, I loved it so much, I didn’t dare wash it. Finally, when I couldn’t wear it any longer unless I sprayed it with an entire bottle of Febreze, I closed my eyes, held my breath, and dropped it into the washer. I turned the dial to the “delicate” cycle and prayed.

In retrospect, I guess I probably should just have washed the sweater by hand, but I figured that wringing it out afterwards would be more damaging than putting it into the washer.

I figured wrong.

When I took the sweater out of the washer (and I am telling the absolute truth here) it looked as if it had been attacked with an ice pick. I immediately called my mother.

“Are you sure it wasn’t moths?” she asked. “Sometimes they will gnaw on clothes but the holes won’t show up until you do the laundry, and then everything falls apart.”

“My wool sweater was hanging right next to this one,” I said, “and that one’s fine.”

“Well, maybe your moths are just fussy eaters.”

But I knew that moths weren’t the cause of the holes. It was my killer washing- machine, El Diablo, which I was beginning to suspect was crossbred with a paper shredder.

So I took the sweater back to the store and asked the girl at the service desk what I’d done wrong and how I could have prevented the sweater from turning into something that looked like a giant fishing net. She didn’t offer any advice; she just gave me a refund.

Another thing I can’t figure out is why I currently own 10 pairs of green panties. They didn’t start out that way. They once were pretty pastel shades of pink, blue, yellow and lavender. Now they all are the same drab green color, kind of like army-issue underwear. Is it the washer? The water? Personally, I’d rather have it be the washer, because I don’t even want to think about what the water might be doing to my internal organs if it can do that to panties.

Aside from calling an exorcist or trading in my washer for another one, I guess there’s not much I can do to achieve laundry perfection. And I guess it really shouldn’t bother me that I’m covered with lint or have to wear green underwear, or that my husband gets dressed in the dark and often goes to work wearing his clothes inside out. At least everything is clean.

And believe it or not, having El Diablo for a washer actually does have a plus side. There’s this monogrammed red sweater with penguins and igloos on it that I received as a Christmas gift…and even though I haven’t worn it yet, I’m pretty sure it could use a good washing.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

My computer’s being held hostage

I like to think of myself as an easygoing person, someone who doesn't lose her temper too often. But in the past few weeks, I'm embarrassed to confess, I have lost my temper twice. And coincidentally, on both occasions, the target of my wrath was a store manager.

The first incident actually began last September and involved a large electronics store. One day, my laptop computer began to randomly shut off and then turn back on, as if it were possessed. Finally, it shut off and stayed off. No amount of coaxing, sweet-talking or threatening would make its little screen light up again.

So I returned the computer to the store where I'd bought it. It was sent off to be repaired free of charge under my service contract.

Well, the technicians who repaired my computer goofed up a few things in the process and ended up keeping it for six weeks. During the fourth week of those six weeks, my service contract expired.

That was in November, and I haven't seen my computer since. Why? Because it's being held hostage for $688.

The technicians insist that because my service contract has expired, I now have to pay for the repair. And I told them I don’t think it’s fair, so I’m not going to pay them a cent. I’ve tried to convince everyone from the custodian to the general manager at the store to take my side, but to no avail. In fact, I probably would have made better progress if I had spoken to the trash receptacle out in the foyer.

Meanwhile, as the stalemate drags on, my poor computer is collecting dust on a shelf somewhere, and I am forced to use an old computer that’s so slow, I can read War and Peace in the time it takes me to get online. Still, even though I am getting desperate, I refuse to give in and pay the $688. It’s the principle of the thing.

The second incident occurred just a few days ago when I decided to go shopping for Barbie dolls at an area toy store that is going out of business and selling everything at 20-40 percent off.

Well, any die-hard Barbie collector, which I have been for the past 40 years, knows that the condition of the box Barbie comes in is as important as the doll itself, so I spent quite a while searching for flawless boxes. No scratches, no creases, no dents. Perfect.

I finally brought my selections up to the register and carefully set them down on the counter. The clerk rang them up, then suddenly whipped out a thick, black permanent marker and scribbled out the bar codes on all of the boxes.

I gasped. "What are you doing?"

"We have to do this so people can't return the items," she said. "All sales are final."

"Well, I don't want them now," I said. "You've ruined the boxes."

"Too late," she said. "I already crossed out the bar codes, so you have to take them. No returns."

Upset, I immediately tracked down the manager, a young guy who listened expressionlessly to my complaint. Finally he said, "Look, people ask for discounts on damaged boxes all the time. You're already getting 20-percent off, so what's the difference?"

"The difference is that those people who asked for discounts knew in advance that the boxes were damaged!" I said. "I, however, was under the impression that I was buying a perfect item. Why don't you mark the sales slips instead of the boxes? That's what Ames did when it went out of business and it worked fine for them! Or maybe you should warn people in advance that you are going to scribble all over their purchases!"

He shrugged. "We have to do what the holding company tells us." With that, he turned his back toward me and started talking to someone else.

I wanted to ask him how he’d like it if he went into a clothing store and spent an hour trying on pants until he found the perfect pair. Then, when he went up to the checkout counter to pay for them, the cashier took out a permanent marker and drew a big smiley face on the seat and told him he still had to buy them!

But I held my tongue.

So now I am the proud owner of three Barbie dolls with scribbled-on boxes. And any day now, I expect to receive a ransom note for my computer.

Forget easygoing. I can feel myself rapidly transforming into a crabby old lady.

Tuesday, February 3, 2004

I Want To Hold Your Handkerchief

I was cleaning the closet in the spare room the other day, not because I had a sudden urge to do housework (which, in my case, will never happen unless scientists invent a mind-altering “urge-to-do-housework” drug), but because I needed a place to store my latest Christmas gifts. Cleaning the closet is an annual tradition because I have to get rid of some of the old stuff before I can cram in the new stuff.

So there I was, digging into the dark and mysterious depths of the unknown, pulling out empty Christmas boxes, bags of bubble wrap, assorted Barbie dolls, 5-lb. wrist-weights and a heating pad (to use after you wear the 5-lb. wrist-weights), when I found, hidden in a box way back in the corner, a treasure that I hadn’t seen in 40 years.

It was my old Beatles scrapbook.

I grabbed it, then sat down on the edge of the bed and took a trip into the past, page by page. The scrapbook was in terrible shape; loose pages, very yellowed and torn, with pieces of dried-up cellophane tape falling out of it like confetti.

On the first page was a drawing I had done of George Harrison, my favorite Beatle and the love of my life, back when I was 14. The drawing made him look as if he’d been the victim of a terrible accident. His nose was off-center, one eye was higher and a lot smaller than the other, and his teeth looked like a picket fence. The famous Beatle haircut didn’t look too bad, though. Not only had I personally signed my masterpiece, I had entitled it, “My Future Husband.”

I cringed when I looked at the next 10 pages. I had GLUED about 100 original Beatles trading cards onto them. And if that hadn’t been enough to destroy them, I’d written comments in ink on each one, like; “Is that a Booger up in Ringo’s Nose?” or “I Love George’s Tight Pants!”

I remembered how many five-cent packs of bubble gum I’d had to buy to get those trading cards, and how many soda bottles I’d had to collect and cash in for the nickel refund just so I could buy more cards.

Out of curiosity, I set down the scrapbook for a moment and went to my computer to see how much my Beatles cards would be worth today if I had kept them in mint condition.

You know, psychologists say it’s healthy to have a good cry now and then. Well, let’s just say that after I looked up the value of the cards, I was feeling exceptionally healthy. And when I saw that the wrappers from the packs were worth even more than the cards (who on earth kept the wrappers?), I felt even healthier.

The scrapbook also contained dozens of newspaper and magazine clippings…old, falling-apart, mildewed clippings, mostly about George. In one photo, he was wearing an old-fashioned swimsuit, a one-piece striped thing that covered him from the neck to the knees, with snaps down the front. Funny, but I’d never realized before what skinny legs and knobby knees George had. In fact, in most of the clippings, he looked as if he weighed about 135 lbs., soaking wet. He’d looked so much more rugged and muscular to me when I was 14.

In the scrapbook, I even found my original ticket from the State Theater in Manchester for the premiere of the Beatles’ first movie, A Hard Day’s Night. The ticket was large and blue, with the Beatles’ photos on it, along with the date and the name of the movie theater. In magic marker, I had written across it, “Fab movie!”

I groaned. I was tempted to look up the value of that ticket, just to see what it would be worth if I hadn’t destroyed it, but I figured I’d already shed enough tears to boost my health for one day.

My scrapbook abruptly ended with several clippings about George’s marriage to British model, Patti Boyd. In their wedding photo, Patti was wearing a mini dress, white stockings and a big fur coat. In various shades of ink, I had drawn a mustache and warts on Patti’s face, a bushy tail hanging out from underneath her fur coat, and big squiggly varicose veins on her white legs (which were even skinnier and knobbier than George’s).

I closed the scrapbook and smiled. The time had come, I decided, to toss out the musty old thing. But just as I was about to stuff it into the trash bag, I came up with a crazy idea. Just for the heck of it, I’d try putting it up for bid on Ebay. Would anyone want to bid on something that was so old, if they sneezed on it, it would disintegrate into powder? Would anyone want to bid on memorabilia that I and my faithful marking pens had turned into nothing but a collection of graffiti? I was about to find out.

The winning bid was $35.

All I can say is that in the future, if I see that scrapbook being resold on Ebay for about $500, you can bet I’m going to be one of the healthiest people around.