Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Carousel Ballroom Memories

I was driving through Bedford the other day when I happened to pass the area where the Carousel Ballroom once stood. Instantly, a wave of nostalgia swept over me and I found myself thinking about all of the times I’d been to the ballroom in the past.

The first time I ever set foot in the Carousel was in the 1960s. There were a lot of rock concerts held there back then, especially during school-vacation weeks. For an allowance-busting $2.50, you could enjoy an afternoon of live music by such bands as the Outsiders, Question Mark and the Mysterians, the Barbarians, the Tidal Waves and the Spectras.

The dance floor there was really “cool,” not only because of all of the flashing colored lights in the ballroom, but also because the dance floor could hold about a zillion people, unlike those playing-card-sized dance floors that are so popular nowadays. The Carousel’s was big because it had been built specifically for ballroom dancing…and fox trots and polkas needed plenty of space.

When we were first married, my husband and I used to go to the Carousel every New Year’s Eve to ring in the new year while dancing to the “big bands.” I recall one New Year’s Eve in particular where my husband, looking dapper in his new green leisure suit and flowered shirt unbuttoned all the way to his navel, with his silver neck chains sparkling beneath the blinking lights, and I, in my black mini-dress, decided to unveil a new dance, “the hustle,” that we’d been practicing at home.

We were the center of attention as we executed each step, just the way John Travolta had in Saturday Night Fever…minus, that is, the pelvis-shattering splits. Heck, even if I’d have been able to do a split without injuring some vital body part, if I’d have tried it in that dress, I’d have been arrested.

But the event that brought me back to the Carousel the most often was bingo. I’ll never forget the first time my mother convinced me to go to a game with her. Naïve person that I was, I thought that bingo still involved simply covering a row of numbers either vertically, horizontally or diagonally…period.

Boy, was I ever wrong.

“If you can get bingo in 47 numbers or less,” the caller announced, “and your numbers form the outline of the state of Florida, with your free space landing on the spot where Tallahassee is located, you’ll win $3,000!”

And if that didn’t confuse me enough, another game called “shotgun” followed.

“Great,” I muttered to my mother. “I suppose my numbers have to form the shape of a 12-gauge?”

She laughed. “No, shotgun means the caller ‘fires’ numbers at you really fast, not bothering to give any letters, like ‘B’ or ‘N’.”

“Then how the heck am I supposed to know where to look for the numbers?”

“Oh, you’ll learn,” she said.

She was wrong. By the time I finally found the first number, the caller already was calling the tenth. Had I just randomly covered a bunch of numbers, I’d have had a better shot at winning.

Not surprisingly, in all my three years of weekly bingo games at the Carousel, I never won a single penny. My mother, on the other hand, won so many games, there were rumors that the other players were forming a lynch mob. Every time my mother shouted, “Bingo!” the looks that were cast in our direction could not, by any stretch of the imagination, be interpreted as congratulatory.

What I really enjoyed the most at the bingo games was watching the die-hard players, the ones who played 30 cards at a time, as easily as if they were playing only one card. Usually these players also brought an assortment of lucky charms with them. The first time I walked in and saw the tables loaded with stuffed animals, statues, dolls and religious artifacts, I nearly mistook the place for a flea market.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I was so desperate to win one night, I actually brought a lucky charm (well, at least I thought it was a lucky charm). It was a little troll doll with purple hair. By the end of the night, I’d yanked out every purple hair on its pointy little head and given it a decent burial in an empty soft-drink cup.

Yep, I sure did have some great times at the old Carousel Ballroom. And right next door to it stood the Bedford Grove drive-in theater and the indoor roller-skating rink, where I also had a lot of fun.

But that’s a whole other story.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Lead us not into temptation

A recent television report stated that every New Year’s Day, about 400 billion people make a resolution to lose weight and become more physically fit. The report went on to say that by the first day of February, all but 120 of those people will have broken that resolution.

Considering the fact that I have made a New Year’s resolution to lose weight every year for the past 35 years, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ll probably never be one of those 120 people.

Neither will my husband.

Without exaggerating, if there were an Olympic medal for the world’s speed record for breaking a diet, my husband would win enough gold to fill Fort Knox.

Ten minutes into a diet and he becomes obsessed with food.

“Don’t they show anything on TV but food commercials?” he always complains, flipping through channel after channel of endless plugs for Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and Dunkin’ Donuts. “Look at that! Another lousy food commercial!”

“But honey, that’s a commercial for bunion pads.”

“Yeah, and bunions remind me of corns, and corns remind me of corn chips, corn muffins and caramel corn!” he snaps.

For years, my husband and I lived under the misconception that because we were tempted by totally different foods, we’d be perfect candidates for the buddy-system way of dieting. I mean, my weakness is sweets while his is fried, fatty foods, so we figured it would be easy to steer each other away from temptation.

How naïve we were.

The first time I broiled a hamburger for him, he nearly needed CPR. “You call this a hamburger?” he asked, clearly aghast. “Where is the grease, the juice running onto the plate? If I wanted to eat hockey pucks, I’d become a goalie!”

His idea of the perfect burger would be one that if it were dropped into water, would create an oil slick to rival the one made by the Exxon Valdez.

He, however, is the only person I know who can open a bag of M&Ms and eat only three, then neatly fold the bag and set it aside for the next day. Hand me a bag of M&Ms and my name becomes “Hoover” as I suck down the entire contents in one shot. Still, I, unlike my husband, can eat only two or three potato chips and be completely satisfied.

So what usually ends up happening when we diet is we become so obsessed with each other’s food stashes, we end up throwing away our pride and lowering ourselves to bartering for food.

“I’ll do the dishes tonight if you give me four of your potato chips,” my husband will say.

“Dry the dishes and put them away and I’ll double it to eight chips,” I’ll answer.

“How about if I just swap you half of my Nestle’s Crunch bar for 10 of your chips?”

“It’s a deal!”

This week, gluttons for punishment that we are, my husband and I actually discussed starting yet another buddy-type diet in 2005.

“I’ll buy only the leanest cuts of meat and one of those George Foreman grills,” I said. “And I’ll make salads and brown rice to replace the French fries and mashed potatoes.”

“And we can have fresh fruits and unsweetened juices instead of sodas and candy,” he added.

We looked at each other and frowned. “I’m suddenly starving,” he said, leaping to his feet and grabbing his coat. “I’m going to Wendy’s.”

“Drop me off at the nearest bakery on your way,” I said, running after him.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

You light up my life

I was the last person on my side of the street to put up outdoor Christmas decorations this year.

For some reason, my neighbors all seemed in a hurry to decorate their places. I don’t know if it was because they were in unusually festive moods this season or if they just wanted to get the chore over and done with, but it seemed as if they jumped up from their Thanksgiving dinners, pumpkin pie still dangling from their lips, and ran outside to decorate.

By the day after Thanksgiving, my street looked like the Las Vegas strip. There were so many waving Santas, nodding reindeer, flashing icicles and blinking trees, I was afraid low-flying aircraft might mistake the street for a runway and come in for a landing

As I lay in bed each night that week, unable to sleep because of the combined whirring of all of my neighbors’ electric meters, I felt compelled to un-Scrooge my house and decorate…or at least attempt to. Past history had taught me that anything that’s electrical and I should not be in close proximity of each other. Sure, I’d made things light up while decorating in the past, but unfortunately, the things that ended up glowing in the dark had nothing to do with the Christmas decorations.

Last week, I finally gave in and dug out my cardboard chest of Christmas decorations. Stacked right on top were two boxes of rope lights. When rope lights first came out a few years ago, I thought they were going to revolutionize Christmas decorating. I mean, lights sealed inside clear plastic tubes that could be bent and shaped without the risk of the lights popping out of their sockets and falling off seemed heaven-sent to me.

I have no idea why, but I picked the coldest night of the week last week to decorate. Armed with two 18-ft. strings of rope lights, I started to wrap the front-porch railings. The lights were pliable and easy to wrap at first, but as they got colder, they got stiffer and wanted to stand up straight rather than curl around anything.

After winding 36 feet of lights, making certain that every loop around the railings was perfectly even, I plugged them in. One whole rope lit up. Only half of the other one did.

I rushed into the house. “Does it make sense that only half a rope of lights would light up?” I asked my husband.

He shook his head. “Usually if something’s wrong, the whole thing will go out, not just half of it. But then, with you, anything is possible.”

“But I plugged them in before I took them outside,” I said. “And they all worked fine in the house.”

“Maybe all of your jostling them loosened something,” he said. He stepped outside to check the lights. He jiggled the rope, snapped it a few times with his fingers and said, “Yep. Half of it is dead all right,” and went back into the house.

I checked the box the lights had come in. The directions said, “Do NOT attempt to replace the bulbs!” I continued reading until I came to, “If one bulb burns out, a section of 24 lights also will go out.”

I just stared at the directions and thought how dumb the manufacturer had to be. I mean, why, on a strip of lights where the bulbs can’t be replaced per penalty of death, would they be constructed so that an entire section of bulbs also will be killed off when only one bulb dies? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to construct them so that the one bulb would go to its demise quietly, practically unnoticed, rather than take 23 of its buddies with it as if they all were part of some sort of bulb suicide-cult?

“The remaining sections of lights still will operate,” the directions said, as if that was supposed to make me feel any better. Who still would want to hang a string of lights with a section of 24 bulbs totally dark and the rest of them shining brightly?

So I went to the hardware store and bought a new string of rope lights to replace the half-dead one. Once again, I carefully wound it around the railing, and then plugged it in. I breathed a sigh of relief when all of the lights immediately glowed. Suddenly, however, they began to flash in a way that made them look as if they were trying to race each other in a marathon.

I grabbed the box. “Contains one set of chase lights,” it read, stating that I could turn the little dial near the plug and make the lights chase each other faster or slower. I rolled my eyes. The older rope of lights I’d previously put up on the other railing didn’t chase anything. It just sat there looking very dull and boring. I wanted those lights to chase something, too.

So I returned to the hardware store and bought another box of the chase lights. Soon, my railings were dancing with moving lights. I smiled with satisfaction.

The box says that the average life expectancy of these new rope lights is about 10,000 hours. The way I figure it, they should be good for another 133 Christmases… if one of the little ringleader lights doesn’t decide to say “goodbye cruel world” in the meantime.

Tuesday, December 7, 2004

The (Not So) Perfect Gift

I started my Christmas shopping early this year so I wouldn’t find myself frantically rushing around at the last minute and buying things like a sequined halter-top for my 82-year-old aunt because it’s the only thing in her size left on the rack.

Unfortunately, even though I have set a personal record for early gift- buying this year, my Christmas shopping thus far has not been flawless…not by any means. It seems as if every year someone on my Christmas list asks for a gift that is either rare, discontinued, back-ordered or in such high demand, people are setting up tents and camping out in front of department stores, waiting for a shipment to arrive. Either that, or I order something that looks great in the catalog, but when it arrives, it doesn’t look anything like the photo.

Take, for example, the hand-tooled, monogrammed copper wastebasket I saw three weeks ago in a catalog that featured handcrafts from Cape Cod. The perfect gift, I thought, for our friend Gregory, who recently remodeled his office. So I ordered it, with the initial “G” on it. The wastebasket arrived two days ago in an old cardboard box that wasn’t even sealed. The flaps were folded in that over-and-under way that keeps them closed, but nothing was sealed.

The wastebasket looked as if the guy had downed a pitcher of martinis before he hand-tooled it. I held it up to show my husband. “What does this monogram look like to you?” I asked.

He studied it for a moment. “A crooked 6.”

The copper on the wastebasket also had been polished…in about 30 different directions. So many different swirls, lines, zigzags and spirals were covering it, it looked as if it had been attacked by an army of crazed Brillo pads.

“What’re all those dents along the bottom of it?” my husband asked.

I frowned. “They’re not dents. I think they are supposed to be some kind of decorative border.”

“Oh,” he said.

That did it. “I can’t give Gregory a gift that looks all scratched up and dented, and especially not with a crooked number six on it!” I whined.

“He’s only going to put trash in it,” my husband said, shrugging. “It’ll probably look crummy in no time flat anyway.”

“Then why don’t I just fill it with trash before I send to him and give him the complete effect right away!” I snapped.

When I asked my mother what she wanted for Christmas, she handed me an empty plastic bottle that previously had contained body lotion. She told me it had come in a “welcome to the hospital” kit she’d received when she’d been a patient. “I really love this lotion and the scent of it,” she said. “I’m sure if anyone can find some for me, you can.”

So I did an online computer search for the lotion. After 20 minutes of searching, I was thrilled to find a Web site where I could buy it. The only catch was that I had to order a case of 60 bottles and pay an extra $23 for shipping. Unless my mother wanted to fill the bathtub with the stuff and jump in, I figured she’d have to live to be 110 before she’d ever use that much lotion.

“Maybe if you just go to the hospital where your mother got the lotion and ask them to sell you a bottle or two of it, they will,” my husband said.

I wondered why I hadn’t thought of that.

The people at the hospital couldn’t have been nicer. They tore open a welcome kit and handed the lotion to me. A victorious smile spread across my face…until I noticed that the lotion was a different brand. I opened it and smelled it. The scent wasn’t even close to the one my mother loved. “It’s not the same,” I said, my disappointment obvious.

“That’s odd,” the hospital employee said. “That’s the lotion that comes in all of our kits. How long ago was your mother a patient here?”

“About seven years,” I said.

He gave me a look that made me feel as if I’d just asked him for something from Cleopatra’s original cosmetics collection.

So I guess if I want to make my mother happy this Christmas, I’m going to have to order a case of 60 bottles of lotion.

If you know of anyone who’d like to buy 58 bottles, just let me know.