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.