Tuesday, March 30, 2004

New Hampshire In The 1950s

I received a “remember when?” e-mail from one of my friends the other day, and as I read it, it made me feel as if I’d just boarded a time machine for a trip back to the 1950s and early ‘60s.

It also made me feel older than dirt.

For example, one question asked if I remembered televisions that took five minutes to warm up. I remember them well, especially the night the Beatles first performed on the Ed Sullivan Show. I stood there screeching, “Hurry up!” at the TV while pounding on the top of it to make it warm up faster.

I also remember the TV at my friend Janet’s house. It had an indoor antenna sitting on top of it (something called “rabbit ears”), which her father had wrapped in tin foil because he said it made the reception better. If you ask me, all it did was make the TV look like some kind of square-headed space alien.

Another question on the list asked if I remembered when I would reach into a muddy gutter just to pick up a penny. Sure, but that was when a penny would buy a big chunk of bubble gum, a fat licorice stick or a jawbreaker. The other day, as I was coming out of a local pharmacy, I spotted two pennies lying next to each other in the parking lot. I walked right past them. At my age, the smallest thing that would entice me to bend down that far would be a dollar bill.

“Do you remember when your mother wore nylon stockings that came in two separate pieces?” the next question asked.

Never mind my mother, I remember wearing them myself! In fact, I spent most of my high-school years squirming from the discomfort of the metal hooks that held up the nylons digging into the backs of my legs as I sat through what seemed like endless hours of classes. To this day, I think I still have the outlines of those hooks embedded in my thighs.

My first pair of pantyhose was no thrill either. When I put them on, they were nice and snug and clung in all the right places. But by the end of the day, the crotch was hanging down to my knees and the stockings had so many wrinkles in them, I looked as if my legs were made of elephant skin. I never could figure out if I was supposed to wear my underwear over the pantyhose or underneath…or not wear any at all.

The next question on the list asked if I remembered when nobody owned a purebred dog. Well, I think some of the dogs in my neighborhood might have been purebreds, but none of us really knew what one looked like anyway, so they all were just mutts to us. And the only “papers” associated with dogs back then were the ones we spread all over the floor for housebreaking purposes.

“Do you remember when you could buy a double Popsicle for five cents?” the questions continued.

I immediately thought of Stuart’s Market, a tiny corner store in the back alley behind our old house in West Manchester. In the summer, my friends and I would head over there every day for a Popsicle.

Our favorite flavors were root beer and blue raspberry. The owner of the store actually had a metal strip nailed along the edge of the counter for the sole purpose of neatly breaking Popsicles in half. After we’d hand our nickels to him, he’d always ask, “Want your Popsicle cut in half?” We’d nod and he would take the Popsicle, line up the middle of it with the edge of the metal strip, then slam his hand down on the Popsicle and voila!…two perfect halves. I don’t remember him ever ruining one of our precious Popsicles. The man truly was a magician.

The next question asked if I remembered when gas-station attendants not only pumped gas but also washed windshields and handed out free trading stamps or gifts.

Remember it? One of those free gas-station gifts led to an extremely embarrassing incident back when I was 15. I was riding around town with my friend Dee one night when she happened to notice that a certain chain of gas stations was giving away decorative glasses with each fill-up. A big sign at one station advertised, “Collect all four different scenes!”

Well, Dee was determined to collect all four glasses…all in one night. Seeing that the sign didn’t specify a minimum amount of gas that constituted a “fill-up,” Dee drove from station to station and said, “Fill ‘er up!” just to get her free glass.

Her total at each station, with the exception of the first one, averaged about 10 cents. The nasty looks the attendants gave us made me want to dive into the back seat and hide on the floor. But hey, Dee succeeded in getting a complete set of the glasses, and they’re probably worth over a hundred dollars on eBay today.

At the end of the “remember when” list, it said, “Now didn’t it feel good to go back in time, even if just for a little while?”

Sure, it felt great. I became 40 years younger, then aged 40 years all within five minutes.

And now I have a sudden urge to stock up on Ben Gay and Metamucil.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

It’s a Matter of Taste

I’m not sure why, but the other day I found myself thinking about the different food combinations people enjoy and just how weird some of them are.

For example, one of my friends in college used to mix Pepsi with her coffee. She said it tasted great, but I always suspected it was the extra jolt of caffeine that she really liked. A few cups of that concoction and she zipped around like the Energizer Bunny all day…and all night. I don’t think the girl ever slept.

But her coffee wasn’t nearly as bad as my dad’s navy buddy’s. I’m not kidding, the guy used to pour catsup in his.

Back when I was a kid, my friend Janet’s father used to make his favorite sandwich for lunch nearly every day. He would toss a lump of raw ground beef into a bowl and mix it with chopped onions and mayonnaise, then spread it on bread and eat it just like that.

Unfortunately, every time I was over there while he was whipping up one of his famous sandwiches, he would offer to make one for me, too. I must have come up with at least 100 excuses why I couldn’t eat one (e.g. “I’ve given up meat for Lent” or “I have a painful gum disease that prevents me from chewing.”). The truth was that even if I had been stranded on a desert island for a month without a single morsel of food, I still wouldn’t have tried one of those sandwiches of his.

My husband also has a favorite sandwich that I can’t bear to watch him eat…fried pork liver with mayonnaise. I guess it’s because I can’t stand liver in any way, shape or form. I hated it so much when I was a kid, whenever I saw my mom cooking it, I would run out and beg my friends’ mothers to let me stay for dinner (with the exception of my friend Janet, the one whose dad made the raw-hamburger sandwiches, that is).

To this day, I still think the reason why people smother liver with fried onions is because onions are the only things strong enough to kill the yucky taste of the liver.

And speaking of killing the taste of things, a few summers ago, my husband, my mother and I were invited to a barbecue. The burgers, which were at least two inches thick, looked juicy and delicious as they sizzled on the grill.

Just as we were about to bite into our burgers, the hostess proudly announced, “These are my secret-recipe burgers. I won’t tell you what’s in them, but everyone back in Canada raves about them, so I know you’ll love them, too!”

After the first bite, my mom and I were pretty sure that the secret ingredient was birdseed. No kidding, we were picking seeds out of our teeth for the rest of the day. I think I recognized fennel and sesame seeds, but as far as trying to identify the other seeds, I had no clue. Whatever they were, they made the burgers taste just like licorice.

I spotted my husband, the self-proclaimed burger connoisseur, trying to look nonchalant, his hands holding his barely touched burger behind his back as he inched his way toward the nearest trashcan. Then all the way home, he whined about how the hostess had ruined perfectly good meat.

When my cousin in Connecticut was a kid, he loved to munch on raw celery stuffed with chunky peanut butter. I never developed a taste for that combination. To me, peanut butter belonged with something sweet, like jelly or marshmallow fluff. And celery belonged with, well, other vegetable stuff.

My friend Nancy used to snack on raw lemons sprinkled with salt, and my friend Sue’s favorite after-school snack was a big raw onion, which she’d eat like an apple, washed down with a glass of milk. Needless to say, she didn’t have to worry about the boys at school trying to steal kisses from her.

And then there was my aunt’s favorite snack of uncooked bacon dipped in mustard. Frankly, I think she would have made a good match for my friend Janet’s dad.

Some people’s unusual food combinations are not so bad, though. My mother, for example, puts salt instead of sugar on her hot cereal. My husband slathers butter on his peanut-butter sandwiches. Our friend in Vermont likes to pour maple syrup over pepperoni pizza because the pepperoni acts like little cups and neatly holds the syrup (well, OK, maybe that one IS a bit off the wall).

Fortunately, I eat pretty ordinary stuff, nothing that could be considered weird or unusual.

Unless you count the chocolate-covered sweet pickles.

Tuesday, March 2, 2004

The Best Medicine

I subscribe to several Internet health newsletters. A couple weeks ago, one of them, from a Doctor Weil, stated that the average child laughs approximately 400 times a day, while the average adult laughs only 25. He recommended that adults also should try to laugh 400 times daily because laughter does something to the immune system that promotes better health.

When I read the article to my husband, his eyebrows rose. “If I laughed 400 times a day,” he said, “I’d be fired from my job. Not only that, people probably would think I’d been nipping from a flask hidden in my desk drawer or something.”

“Well, I think we at least should try,” I said. “It sounds like a fun way to get healthier.”

Believe me, we soon learned that laughing 400 times a day is no easy task. We even made a contest of it, telling jokes and funny stories to each other. Then when one of us laughed, the other would say, “That’s 22! Only 378 more to go!”

But alas, my biggest one-day laugh total turned out to be only 55. And even that many made my stomach hurt. Actually, I’m not even sure what constitutes a full laugh anyway. I mean, are you supposed to count each “ha” separately? Or is one laugh considered to be from the first “ha” to the last one in a cluster?

Personally, I think kids who laugh 400 times a day must eat way too much sugar or something.

I did manage to have a few unexpected laughs recently, though, which added to my daily total. The strangest thing, however, is that everyone who made me laugh was being completely serious and not even trying to be funny at the time.

First of all, last month there was a reality show on TV called, “My Big, Fat, Obnoxious FiancĂ©,” where a young woman was promised a million dollars if she could convince her family to attend her wedding to one of the sloppiest and most obnoxious men around. I got hooked on the show and watched it faithfully.

Well, I was at the service desk in a department store one night, and for some reason the clerk was taking what seemed like hours to process my paperwork. I looked impatiently at my watch and without realizing it, said out loud, “Gee, I hope I make it home in time to see ‘My Big, Fat, Obnoxious FiancĂ©!’”

The clerk obviously had never heard of the show because he stopped what he was doing, looked up at me, frowned and said, “Well, if he’s that bad, why on earth did you get engaged to him in the first place?”

I burst out laughing.

Even my husband unintentionally made me laugh. While I was out shopping last Sunday, he stayed home, supposedly to do some chores. When I returned, I found him lounging in his recliner, right where I’d left him.

“Did you cut that piece of molding for the bathroom?” I asked him.

“Nope.”

“Did you put the wheel back on our trash barrel?”

“Nope.”

“Did you…?”

He stopped me in mid-question and said, looking depressed, “If you must know, I didn’t do anything but sit here like a big lump all day. Let’s face it, you’re married to a pet rock!”

Even though I knew he was serious, I couldn’t help but laugh. And when I did, he realized what he’d said and he started laughing, too.

Then I went with my mother for her regular physical exam. The doctor didn’t make her undress, but while she was lying on the examining table, he asked her to pull her slacks down to her knees so he could press here and there on her stomach.

When he was through, he said, “Okay, everything seems fine. I guess that’ll do it for today.”

My mother sat up, looked at the doctor and asked, “Can I pull up my slacks?”

Without even glancing up from what he was writing on her chart, he said very calmly, “Well, I think it might be a good idea before you go outside.”

Mom and I both burst out laughing.

Still, I haven’t even come close to my target of 400 laughs per day. In order to make my quota, I may just have to take drastic measures…like stand naked in front of a full-length mirror or watch wedding videos of my relatives doing the chicken dance.