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.