Wednesday, May 26, 2004

A Normally Crazy Day

One of the questions my readers most frequently ask me is, “Do all of the crazy things you write about REALLY happen or do you make them up?”

All I can say is that if they really knew me, they wouldn’t have to ask that question. You see, I’m pretty sure I was born with a big craziness magnet in my body. And believe me, over the years, that magnet has attracted some pretty weird stuff.

Take, for example, an incident that happened just last week that proved to me that my craziness magnet still has a lot of pull.

Several years ago, thanks to my column, a sweet lady named Dot, from Dunbarton, wrote to me. I answered her letter, and after that, she and I wrote to each other on a regular basis. Dot moved down to Florida four years ago, but we continued to correspond. Well, last week, I was surprised to receive a call from her. She said she was visiting her sister in Massachusetts and wanted to know if I’d like to go out to lunch on Tuesday.

So last Tuesday, Dot and I met at a popular restaurant in Bedford. One of the specials that day was Yankee pot roast, which is one of my favorites, so we both ordered it.

I’m the type of person who likes my food so hot it burns the skin off the roof of my mouth, so when my meal arrived without clouds of steam rising from it, I asked the server if she could heat it up for me. She smiled, said it was no problem and grabbed my plate. She also grabbed Dot’s (even though Dot thought her meal was fine the way it was) and disappeared into the kitchen.

A few minutes later, as Dot and I sat chatting and catching up on each other’s news, the restaurant’s fire alarms suddenly began to blare. Dot stopped talking in mid-sentence and we stared wide-eyed at each other, wondering what was going on.

“We’d like all of you to please leave in an orderly fashion through the front door,” a server announced to everyone in our room.

I honestly thought she was joking. “You’re serious?” I asked.

She nodded. “This isn’t a drill. This is real.”

“Can I take my drink?” one woman, who obviously wasn’t all that concerned about being turned into a giant ash, called out.

“No!” the server answered.

Dot and I filed out of the building along with the rest of the customers and the employees. Then all of us stood outside in the parking lot, like a big herd of cattle, not certain what we should do next. I happened to spot a customer who’d taken a huge club sandwich outside with him and was standing there, eating it. Another elderly man still had his napkin tucked into his collar and was holding a fork. I couldn’t help it…I started to giggle.

Still giggling, I said to Dot, more loudly than I’d intended, “Sure, I asked them to heat up my meal, but I didn’t mean this hot!”

Other people started to giggle, too.

A few minutes later, a fire engine rolled into the parking lot, but it went right past us and pulled up in front of a clothing store in the strip mall adjacent to the restaurant. Within 15 minutes, we were given the “all clear” to return to the restaurant.

Just as Dot and I were about to sit down at our table again, a server, carrying a dish of vegetables she’d just picked up from one of the tables, rushed past us and accidentally bumped into Dot. The dish went flying into the air and landed upside down on the floor, sending broccoli, carrots and summer squash rolling everywhere.

Dodging the server, who was on her knees, picking up vegetables, we finally took our seats. Dot looked at me, shook her head and said, laughing, “You know, I had a relatively peaceful, normal life until I went out with you today!”

At that point, one of the owners of the restaurant came over to chat with us. He explained that an employee in the clothing store next door had been using a steamer to de-wrinkle clothes, and the heat from the steamer accidentally had set off the fire alarms. “I just got here a few minutes ago and didn’t know what was going on,” he added. “So when I first saw everyone standing out in the parking lot, I thought, ‘Wow! What a huge lunch crowd! It must be a big banquet or a family reunion or something!’”

Dot and I finally were given freshly prepared, very hot pot-roast dinners, which we enjoyed. But by then, it nearly was three o’clock, so we were hungry enough to enjoy just about anything. Heck, I even would have settled for (heaven forbid) lukewarm pot roast.

As we ate, a server went to each table and handed $15 gift cards to everyone, to apologize for the inconvenience.

It was after 3:30 when Dot and I finally left the restaurant. “This sure has been a crazy day!” she said to me, just before we said our good-byes.

Crazy? It seemed pretty normal to me.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Better Off On Their Own

For some reason, my husband and I never have had much luck when it comes to “double dating” with other couples. As a result, we tend to go a lot of places alone. Somehow it just seems a lot easier that way.

Take, for example, the night one of my husband’s old childhood buddies called to invite us to join him and his new girlfriend for dinner and a movie. We thought it sounded like fun, so we agreed.

The guy and his date arrived at our house at about six o’clock that Saturday night. After the introductions were made, the two of them sat on our sofa, stared lovingly into each other’s eyes, and then began to passionately kiss each other. My husband and I silently sat there, feeling extremely awkward, for the next 20 minutes as the couple, oblivious to anything other than their kissing, completely ignored us.

“Uh, can I get you anything?” I finally interrupted. “A drink? A snack?”

“A crowbar?” my husband added. “A bucket of water?”

They didn’t hear a word we said.

As it turned out, my husband and I were so hungry, the sound of our stomachs growling began to disturb our dog, so we left, went to a fast-food restaurant for burgers and came back…and the lip-locking duo never even realized we’d been gone.

Another time, we made plans to go to Old Orchard Beach on a Saturday night with a young married couple (I will call them “Todd” and “Julie”) who lived across the street from us. Todd told us to be ready at four o’clock sharp, so we arrived on their doorstep at 3:59. That’s when Julie informed us that Todd had decided to lie down for a nap at 3:30. She said he was so tired, she was going to let him sleep for a while.

So my husband and I sat there and waited…until Mr. Snoozy finally rolled out of bed at 5:00. Then he made us wait another 45 minutes while he shaved and showered and had his wife iron a shirt for him. If we’d have been smart, we’d have told them to just forget about it and gone off without them, but no, we were too polite (or too chicken) to open our mouths. And little did we know that the night was about to get even worse.

Just as the four of us finally were leaving, their telephone rang. “Let the answering machine pick it up,” Julie said, her hand on the doorknob.

The message, however, made her stop dead in her tracks. The caller was a sultry-voiced woman who identified herself as Lisa, saying she’d had a great time with Todd the night before and was wondering why he hadn’t called her.

“No wonder he’s so tired today,” my husband whispered to me out of the corner of his mouth.

Within seconds, we felt as if we had ringside seats at a World Wrestling Federation event. Todd and Julie launched into such a shouting match, birds out in their yard flew away in terror.

“I swear, it was just a wrong number!” Todd insisted.

“Don’t hand me that, you lying sleaze!” Julie screeched. “Sure, you were working late last night! HA!”

My husband and I would have crept out of their house and then bolted back home, but unfortunately, they were blocking the doorway. Then suddenly, in the middle of all of the yelling, Todd turned to us and said, “Come on, let’s get going or we’ll never get to the beach!”

We just stood and stared at him. “Um, I think we’ll take a rain check,” I said, forcing a weak smile.

“We’re still going and that’s all there is to it!” Todd snapped. “Now go get into the car!”

Like fools, my husband and I obediently climbed into the back seat of Todd’s car…and suffered through the longest ride of our lives. Todd stared straight ahead and drove without uttering a single word for the entire 80 miles, while Julie leaned against the passenger door, her arms folded, and sulked. And when we finally arrived at the beach, after what seemed like 100 years, Julie refused to walk on the same side of the street as Todd because she didn’t want to be anywhere near him.

Having my appendix removed would have been more fun.

And then there was the drive-in movie we went to with yet another couple. Twenty minutes into the first movie, the woman’s contact lens fell out, and she spent the next hour frantically searching for it...with the car’s overhead light on. My husband and I ducked down in the back seat because people in nearby cars kept glaring at us and loudly saying things like, “I wish those idiots would kill their lights!”

Just the other night, an old high-school friend of mine called to chat. “You haven’t even met my new husband!” she said. “The four of us will have to get together some night and go out to dinner.”

I’m pretty sure I’m going to have the flu that night.

Tuesday, May 4, 2004

Sally's Adventures In Baby-Sitting

There was a movie on TV not long ago called “Adventures in Babysitting.” Everything short of a nuclear explosion happened to the poor babysitter in the movie. I wouldn’t even have trusted the girl with my goldfish.

I guess I shouldn’t pass judgment, however. Back when I was 15, my entire summer was spent babysitting. In fact, I baby-sat for four different families on my street.

All I can say is those poor people really must have been hard up for a baby sitter.

For one thing, because I had no brothers or sisters, I’d never had any experience taking care of kids or changing diapers. Not only did I know nothing about how to handle a baby, I had the weakest stomach on earth when it came to things like spit-up or the other smelly stuff that babies do. Still, I was desperate for some spending money, and the people in my neighborhood were desperate for a baby sitter, so I booked as many jobs as I could get.

I’ll never forget the first diaper I changed. I was taking care of two brothers at the time. Billy was four, going on 30, and his little brother, Greg, was almost two. Things went pretty smoothly…at first.

“Greggy stinks,” Billy, who was drawing a picture of something that resembled the Eiffel Tower, said after I had been there about 45 minutes.

I had been trying to ignore the smell for a good 20 minutes, to avoid having to deal with a dirty diaper, but it was getting to the point where I was ready to open a window and stick Greg’s bottom half out there, just to air him out.

Finally, I knew I had no choice other than to deal with the inevitable. “OK, where are the diapers?”

Billy led me to a changing table where a stack of cloth diapers and a container of safety pins with yellow plastic duck heads on them awaited. There were no Pampers back then, just flat, square cloth diapers.

I managed, while holding my breath, to remove the offending diaper and toss it onto the floor. Then I quickly grabbed a clean diaper and tried to figure out how to fold it. When I put it on Greg, it came up to his armpits, and the bottom was wide open, like a skirt.

Billy, who had been watching my every move, dissolved into giggles. “That’s not how you do it!” he said, as if I hadn’t already figured that much out for myself. “Want me to fold it?”

I handed the diaper to him and he made a neat triangle out of it, then showed me where to put the pins. I carefully took the folded diaper from him and was about to try to slide it underneath Greg, when I realized that sliding might ruin the folds and mess up things. So I grabbed Greg, stood him up on the changing table, and said, “OK, kid, spread your legs,” and diapered him while he was standing up.

Again, Billy cracked up laughing. When he finally stopped, he said, “You forgot the powder.”

Even if someone had told me there was a nugget of pure gold in that diaper, I wasn’t about to take it off. “Greg can live without powder this one time,” I said. “Now what do I do with this dirty diaper?” I frowned at the smelly heap on the floor.

“I’ll show you,” Billy said. I followed him into the bathroom, where he pointed at the toilet. “You hold the diaper real tight and put it in there and then flush to get rid of all the stinkies. Then you put it in the yellow pail right there.”

I stared at him as if had just grown a second head. “You want me to stick the diaper in the toilet…uh, potty?”

He nodded.

I didn’t know whether the kid was pulling my leg or not, but I had no other source of information handy, so I had to trust him. I went out to the kitchen and searched through the drawers until I found a set of spaghetti tongs, then used them to pick up the offending diaper.

I brought the diaper into the bathroom, and still holding it with the tongs, stuck it into the toilet and flushed. The toilet sucked the diaper right out of the tongs and it disappeared…except for about two inches of cloth sticking out of the hole. I was smart enough to know that the next flush would result in a burst of water that would rival Old Faithful’s.

“You have to reach down and get it!” Billy practically had his head in the toilet as he searched for the diaper.

I tried to grab it with the tongs, but they couldn’t clamp on tightly enough, especially since the diaper now was saturated with about five pounds of toilet water.

“Use your hand!” Billy urged.

I cast him a glance that told him I rather would tie a roast around my neck and leap into a pen of hungry pit bulls than ever stick my hand into that toilet. The diaper stayed right where it was.

By the time their mother arrived back home, both boys were peacefully asleep…and the diaper still was stuck in the toilet. I graciously accepted my money…and then bolted home so fast, I’m pretty sure I broke an Olympic speed record.

No one was more shocked than I was when Billy and Greg’s mom called me three days later and asked me to baby-sit again, especially since I had seen a plumber’s truck parked in front of the house the morning after I’d baby-sat. In fact, when I first heard her voice on the phone, I was terrified she was calling to demand reimbursement.

I later found out that Billy had told her he’d never had more fun with a baby sitter.