Tuesday, December 27, 2005

'Tis the season to declutter

I received an e-mail the other day from 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, which is a business that specializes in helping people get rid of stuff they don’t want any more.

The e-mail described some of the things that people had kept for years and finally decided to part with, such as, among other things, a seven-year-old pregnancy test, prosthetic legs, 18,000 cans of expired sardines and a diffused bomb from World War II.

The e-mail then suggested that seeing that a lot of people make New Year’s resolutions to “declutter,” I probably would be doing the same, and that it might be fun if I wrote a column about some of my craziest junk and what had possessed me to keep it.

The e-mail definitely gave me food for thought. My first thought was that I hadn’t “decluttered” anything in about 20 years. In fact, opening closets or cupboards in my house requires the protection of a crash helmet, to prevent a concussion from low-flying objects.

Another thought was that if I wrote about all of my craziest junk, my column would end up being the length of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Sure, I know that there are a lot of things I really should toss out. In fact, 1-800-GOT-JUNK? probably would have a field day in my place. But the reason why I rarely part with my things is purely sentimental.

For example, there’s the dress I bought during my vacation in England back in 1968. It’s bright orange, has huge puffy sleeves, about 50 buttons down the front, and is so short, there is no possible way to sit in it without flashing someone. And even if I greased my body with lard, I couldn’t squeeze into that dress. So why do I keep it? Sentimentality.

And then there’s the set of Teflon-coated pots and pans I bought way back when I got engaged (and Teflon probably had just been invented). There was a company called Fingerhut back then that would send its products to you and, with no credit check, allow you to make really low time-payments. I think I made payments on those pots and pans for about four years.

So maybe there is hardly any Teflon left on them and they are so dented, they look as if I flung them off the top of Mount Washington. And maybe I haven’t used any of them in over 20 years because the flaking Teflon makes everything I cook look as if it’s been laced with black pepper. So why do I keep the pots and pans? Sentimentality.

Then in my bedroom closet, there’s a big box filled with all of the dance-recital costumes I wore back when I still was in grammar and took dance lessons. There’s my swan costume from Swan Lake, my Mexican Hat Dance costume, complete with a glow-in-the-dark satin sombrero; and my firefly costume with light-up wings. My tap shoes and a pair of castanets also are in the box.

Have I kept these costumes and tap shoes for 45 years because someday I think I might have a sudden urge to jump up and tap dance or wear a glow-in-the-dark satin sombrero on a shopping trip to the mall? No. It’s pure sentimentality.

The most clutter, however, is caused by my collection of videotapes. I have videotapes everywhere: in drawers, in boxes under the bed, in cabinets, behind the TV, on racks that hang over the doors, in Tupperware containers under the kitchen sink, and in paper bags and shoe boxes in closets.

Most of the tapes are so old and brittle I don’t dare put them into the VCR for fear they instantly will disintegrate. A lot of them contain TV shows and movies I recorded but never got around to watching, like the final episode of Cheers and the 1988 Miss America pageant.

The rest of the tapes contain hours of footage of my dogs doing exciting things like yawning or chewing on tennis balls, and endless hours of my failed attempts to capture something worthy of sending to America’s Funniest Home Videos.

So why do I keep all of the 4,756 videotapes? Because on one of them, which I forgot to mark, is the TV commercial I created years ago when I won the “Make Your Own TV Commercial” contest sponsored by Building 19.

Someday, when I have about 700 hours of free time, I will fast-forward through all of my videotapes and find that commercial, which is less than a minute long. Till then, not even one tape is going to leave my house…not until I locate my masterpiece.

But I can’t take all of the blame for the clutter. After all, I’m not the only one in the house who is sentimental. My husband still has the tooth he had extracted three months ago. And in his closet, he keeps a brick he took from Lincoln Street School, his alma mater, as it was being torn down. And although I’m not sure exactly where it is, somewhere in the house is an envelope that contains photos of his ex-girlfriends.

Now that I think about it, I just might give 1-800-GOT-JUNK? a call and tell them to come on over…to get rid of my husband’s stuff.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Resolutions for my better half

I stopped making New Year’s resolutions about five years ago after I broke resolutions number one and two (to lose weight and to finish writing my novel) 12 years in a row.

Now I prefer to put my efforts into compiling a list of New Year’s resolutions for my husband. Each year, he claims he can’t think of a single resolution he wants to make, so I feel it’s my wifely duty to help him out.

So far, the resolutions I’ve come up with for him for 2006 are as follows:

· When I have insomnia, I no longer will ask my wife to tell me about her day all over again, to help put me to sleep.

· At least once a week I will watch a TV movie that does not contain bloodshed, weapons of mass destruction, scantily clad women or car chases that involve crashing into fruit stands or sidewalk cafes.

· At least once a week I will watch a TV movie that contains love, romance, shopping, cute little children or puppies. And I will not roll my eyes and complain about getting a toothache from all of the “sweetness” while watching it.

· I will refrain from driving the 50-mile round trip to Pizza by George in Raymond every weekend to buy a 20-inch pizza and an 18-inch steak-and-cheese sub.

· And if I can’t refrain from buying the aforementioned 20-inch pizza and 18-inch sub, I will try not to moan about the stomachache I have or how I need a priest to administer the last rites, because I stuffed myself to the bursting point with 38 inches of food.

· I will learn that my red and black Mickey Mouse and Goofy necktie does not go with my tan checkered shirt. Also, that my “kiss my butt” tie tack that features a little silver man bending over and pointing to his rear end, which has the outline of a pair of red lips on it, is not appropriate for a business meeting.

· I will accept the fact that my wife is always late for everything so I no longer will nag her or try to rush her. I also will learn that when I do try to rush her, she inevitably will end up dropping things, ripping things, spilling things or poking her eye with the mascara brush and making us arrive even later.

· I will admit that arriving late for a movie and having to feel my way to my seat in total darkness and then accidentally sitting on someone’s lap is no reason to pop extra blood-pressure pills.

· I will try to refrain from spontaneously bursting into such songs as “I’m Just a Love Machine” when my wife is trying to concentrate on her e-mail.

· I no longer will whine for every new tool and gadget advertised on TV…even though I still really could use The Clapper because when I’m stretched out in my recliner and I want to read, I hate having to exert myself by sitting up to turn on the lamp behind me.

· I will stop getting upset every time my lottery ticket isn’t a winner, even though my dream of traveling all over the country in a private jet and sampling cheeseburgers from coast to coast still has not come true…and my gallbladder may not be able to handle it if I have to wait much longer.

· I will consider taking my slacks or jeans to a seamstress and having them hemmed when the legs are dragging on the ground…instead of compensating by pulling the waistband up to just below my nipples and wearing it that way.

· I will not beg my wife to make orange Jell-O for me unless I fully intend to eat it before it turns into a shriveled-up ball.

· I no longer will watch TV shows based solely on how attractive the lead female character is rather than on the plot.

· I will throw out all of my socks that no longer have toes or heels in them. Ditto for my underwear that looks as if it got caught in the crossfire during Bonnie and Clyde’s shootout.

· I no longer will wait until my wife’s on the phone to ask her a dozen questions about such things as where my toenail clippers are or on what channel the Xena, Warrior Princess, reruns are.

· And last, but not least, I promise that I will hire a housekeeper to do all of the housework for my wife…and that the housekeeper will look like Aunt Bea on the Andy Griffith Show, not be imported from Sweden and wearing a skimpy maid’s outfit.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Gift swap flop

I don’t know why, but I never seem to have very good luck when it comes to those Yankee gift swaps at Christmas time.

In a Yankee swap, everyone brings a wrapped gift and puts it on a table. Then each person picks a number out of a hat. The person who picks the number one, selects the first gift and opens it. The person who picks the number two, selects and opens the next gift and if he doesn’t like it, he can swap it for number one’s gift. So, if there are 20 people at the party, the person who picks the number 20 can swap his gift for any of the 19 gifts that were opened before his.

Number one, however, because he went first, when there were no other gifts for him to swap for, finally gets his chance to swap after number 20 is done. So what it basically all boils down to is that in order to really make out well at a Yankee swap, number one is the best number to pull. And number two is the worst.

I have pulled the number two at least 15 times at Yankee swaps. So every time I was fortunate enough to open a really nice gift, I knew I had a snowball’s chance in you-know-where of hanging onto it.

I remember the time I opened a pretty ceramic tea set, complete with an assortment of imported teas. I am a big tea-lover, so I clutched the tea set against my chest and then cast my fiercest “swap for this and die” look at everyone at the party. By the time number 15 stood up to unwrap her gift, I was feeling pretty confident that the tea set was going home with me. I even allowed myself to relax.

That’s when she revealed her gift…two crocheted covers that fit over toilet paper rolls. One was lavender and the other was pink, and both had big white crocheted flowers on them. Who’d ever brought the gift, generous soul that she was, even included the two rolls of toilet paper.

The woman’s eyes scanned the room as she searched for a gift that was better than the toilet paper...which was just about every other gift in the room. I leaned forward and crossed my arms over the tea set to conceal it.

“I think I’ll swap these for the tea set,” she said, smiling sweetly.

So thanks to her, I went home with some lovely decorated toilet paper.

At another Yankee swap, I opened $20 worth of lottery scratch tickets. I didn’t allow myself to get even remotely excited about them because I knew that they were going to be snatched away from me so fast, the breeze probably would mess my hair. I momentarily was tempted to whip out a coin from my purse and frantically scratch off the tickets before the next gift was opened, but I knew I’d probably be tossed out into the snow if I did.

Sure enough, those scratch tickets were swapped about 10 times before they at long last arrived in the paws of their final owner, the lucky person who’d drawn the number one. As soon as she knew the tickets were hers, she scratched them, and I’ll be darned if she didn’t win $100. The words I muttered under my breath when she did, could in no way have been associated with “Christmas cheer.”

My husband, on the other hand, often gets the coveted number-one ticket during the Yankee swaps. The problem is, he often trades for a gift that leaves me wondering what on earth he was thinking.

For example, he once traded a back pillow, complete with a built-in massager, for a joke book. Another time, he traded a restaurant gift-certificate for a tray that was supposed to rapidly thaw out meat (he didn’t know that our microwave can do that).

Another thing about Yankee swaps that is upsetting is when the gift you bring turns out to be the one that no one wants. There was one gift I brought that I thought was really cute and would be perfect for an office party, so I honestly was surprised when people couldn’t get rid of it fast enough.

It was a joke sculpture of an office worker seated at her desk, which had a computer on it. The computer was covered with cobwebs and the woman, wearing a skirt and blouse, had turned into a skeleton and was slumped over, face down on the desk. She also had cobwebs all over her. The caption on the sculpture said something like, “Spent too much time on the Internet.”

I sat there, anxiously waiting for the woman who’d selected my gift to open it. I just knew she was going to laugh and get a big kick out of it. I mean, she was an office worker who spent endless hours at the computer, so I figured she certainly would be able to relate. Well, the expression on her face when she finally did open my gift was comparable to that of someone who’d just found a cockroach in her sandwich.

“This is really ugly,” she said, holding the sculpture away from her, as if it were contaminated. She immediately traded it for something that cost about half of what I’d paid for the sculpture. All I can say is if I hadn’t drawn lousy number two again, I’d have traded for my own gift.

This year, however, I’m fully prepared for the Yankee gift swap. In fact, I already have my gift all wrapped and waiting.

It’s two crocheted toilet-paper covers in pink and lavender.

With my luck, my husband will trade his gift for them.

Tuesday, December 6, 2005

Bring me a toy store

This time of year makes me think back to when I was a kid, excitedly waiting for Santa to deliver what I hoped would be the equivalent of a small toy store. The period between Thanksgiving and Christmas seemed like 300 years to me, but that was nothing compared to Christmas Eve. That night had to be at least 1,000 hours long, and it all but guaranteed a bad case of insomnia.

I also think back to some of the toys that were on my annual Christmas list when I was young. These were the toys that I absolutely had to have…that I would have died without. In fact, if Santa hadn’t brought them, I probably would have found some way to get up to the North Pole just so I could picket the place.

One standard that appeared on my list every year was Play-Doh. I loved Play-Doh. It smelled great, it came in bright colors (unlike drab old modeling clay), and after I made something with it, it hardened into a permanent work of art.

Unfortunately, that also was the problem with Play-Doh. It hardened when I didn’t want it to. Too many times I opened the can, fully prepared to create another masterpiece (like a nose-shaped ashtray with nostril holes for the cigarette butts for my dad), only to discover a hard whitish-looking clump lying in there.

Then there were the exciting new things that I wanted to be the first on my block to own. I remember my first flying saucer, when everyone else still had sleds. It was a big aluminum disk with handles, and it was supposed to skim over the snow and downhill like a bullet.

The problem with flying saucers was that unlike sleds, you couldn’t steer them. The first time I went sailing down the hill on one, not only was I spinning like an out-of-control top, I hit so many bumps and rocks, the saucer ended up looking as if someone had taken a sledgehammer to it. And believe me, a lumpy flying saucer not only was uncomfortable, it lost most of its “flying” power. By the end of the day, my saucer was so slow, kids who were sliding down the hill on flattened cardboard boxes were whizzing past me.

The gift I begged the most for was the first talking doll, Chatty Cathy. When you pulled a string on her back, she spoke 11 different phrases in a perky, nasal-sounding little girl’s voice. When I opened the box on Christmas morning and saw Chatty Cathy lying in there in her crisp blue and white dress and blond pageboy hairstyle, I was so excited, I opened my mouth to scream and nothing came out.

From that day on, Chatty Cathy and I were inseparable. I pulled her string so many times, it frayed. And my parents got so sick of hearing the same 11 phrases over and over again, my dad threatened to tie Cathy’s string into one of his navy knots.

Maybe my parents wished it on me, but much too soon, my constant string pulling wore out Cathy’s voice recording and she began to sound more like a slurry old drunk than a perky little girl. It was pretty creepy.

Another new-fangled toy I just had to have was an Etch-A-Sketch. Little did I know that learning how to draw anything other than a square on an Etch-A-Sketch practically required a degree in engineering.

For one thing, I couldn’t get it to make anything round. Every time I twisted the drawing knobs, I got squares. I drew people with square faces, square mouths and square eyes. And because the Etch-A-Sketch made only one continuous line with no way to make spaces, every face I drew had to have glasses because the line always connected the eyeballs together.

The worst part was that when I finally did manage to create something I thought was art-worthy, I’d pick up the Etch-A-Sketch and rush to show my mother …and the picture would erase itself. I never quite got the hang of carrying the thing perfectly flat to preserve my masterpieces.

One Christmas I asked for a microscope. I had a lot of fun looking through it at things like salt and sugar, and even a human hair. Then one day, I shoved a drop of tap water under the microscope. I saw a bunch of clear, tiny bug-like things having a pool party in it.

I vowed never to drink water again.

And I’ll never forget my first Mr. Potato Head. Back then, a real potato was required for the head. The kit came with hats, eyes, noses, mouths, mustaches, and even a pipe for Mr. Potato Head to smoke. And each piece had a nice sharp point on the end of it to jab into the potato (and occasionally, your finger).

I gave my Mr. Potato Head a few really “cool” looks. In fact, I thought one of my creations was so cool, I decided to preserve it. I carefully put Mr. Potato Head, fully decorated, back into his box...and then forgot all about him.

“What smells?” my mother, her nose wrinkled, asked one day as her eyes made a sweep of my room. She finally sniffed her way over to my toy chest and dug out the Mr. Potato Head box.

That’s when we discovered that Mr. Potato Head had become Mr. Rotten Potato Head.

Toys sure were a lot of fun back then.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The cold shoulder

Two weeks ago, I got out of bed on a chilly Saturday morning, padded out to the living room and turned up the thermostat to 68 degrees. I then waited for the familiar sound of the furnace kicking on.

Nothing happened.

I cranked up the thermostat to 80. Still nothing.

I opened my mouth to shout to my sleeping husband, but then changed my mind. First, I decided, I would try everything possible to get the furnace to pop on. If I failed, then, and only then, would I wake up Rip Van Breslin.

First I checked the oil tank. The gauge said it was half full. Then I checked the circuit breakers. They were fine. Finally, I hit the furnace’s reset button. Nothing happened. There was only one thing left to do…write two obituaries – one for the furnace and one for myself…for waking up my husband on a Saturday morning.

In a last-ditch effort, I called my cousin, the heating/refrigeration technician, and asked for advice. He ran through the list of everything I’d already done, then said there was one more thing I could try.

“You know those two screws on the motor that are holding the wires down? Well, sometimes you can jump-start the furnace if you take a pair of needle-nose pliers and touch the two screws with them at the same time.”

“Won’t I get a shock if I do that?” I asked.

“Yeah, but it will only be a mild one.”

I woke up my husband.

“Well, we’re not calling a repairman till Monday,” he said after he tried and failed to get the furnace to pop on. “They charge double, even triple on weekends. I’d rather wear a hat and long-johns around the house than pay all that extra money. Besides that, the furnace is practically new. It can’t be broken!”

“Well, I hate to say it,” I said, “but the blue tint on my lips and my teeth chattering like castanets are a pretty good indication that it just might be!”

So all weekend, I suffered with a frozen nose and a bloated bladder (from drinking 400 cups of hot tea to keep my body from stiffening up).

The repairman arrived on Monday afternoon and spent a lot of time fiddling with the furnace. At one point, he actually got it to pop on, only to have it pop off again. This continued until he finally got frustrated, muttered a few things under his breath and called for backup. Another repairman arrived within 15 minutes.

Together, the two of them stared at the furnace as if it were a UFO. “I think it’s the heat sensor,” one of them said. “And let’s change the nozzle, just to be safe.”

An hour later, the familiar sound of the furnace running filled the house, followed by the long-awaited blast of warm air. I removed my scarf and earmuffs.

“That should take care of it,” one of the repairmen said. “If not, be sure to give us a call.”

“How much do I owe you?” I asked, bracing myself for cardiac arrest.

He shrugged. “You’ll get a bill in the mail.”

I didn’t like the sound of that. Visions of them leisurely sipping coffee and taking extra time to add every little bolt and screw to my bill, filled my head. Christmas shopping, I decided, would have to be put on hold until that bill arrived.

A week later, I still hadn’t received the bill, so I got up that morning with every intention of calling the billing office and asking about my balance. First, however, I turned up the heat.

The furnace made three loud booming sounds, coughed and died. The strong smell of oil began to fill the house. The furnace then struggled to pop on again and made a helicopter sound. I, picturing my house going airborne and landing somewhere in Munchkin Land, dashed to the furnace’s emergency shut-off switch and flipped it. Then I called the repairman.

I was put on hold for 45 minutes.

There have been only a few times in my life when I’ve been really angry, like the time I found out that my supposedly sick boyfriend actually had taken my best friend to a drive-in movie, but I honestly can say that after minute number 35 on hold, I was feeling just about that angry. In fact, I was so hot under the collar, I didn’t even need the dumb furnace.

The repairman arrived two hours later. This time, he decided it was a clogged fuel line. Maybe it was sediment from the bottom of the tank, he said. Or maybe it was a kink in the line. Or maybe it was air in the line. Or maybe it was a clump of jellified oil.

I was waiting for him to say that maybe a raccoon had crawled up into it and died, but he stopped talking and set to work clearing the line.

The furnace, knock on wood, has been purring like a kitten ever since.

And I’m still waiting for both repair bills. I have the sneaking suspicion I may be doing all of my Christmas shopping at the Dollar store this year.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Truly tasteless gifts

My mail carrier is a petite woman who probably has a huge hernia, thanks to all of the catalogs I receive every week. I still can’t help but wonder how on earth I ever got on the mailing lists for some of them.

For example, last week I received a catalog for horse breeders. Another one was full of fencing equipment (fencing as in dueling with swords). I can’t even begin to imagine why these catalogs were sent to me.

There was one catalog, however, that really intrigued me. In fact, it made me stop to wonder exactly what the guy (or woman) who orders the merchandise for it must be like. The words “wacky” and “eccentric” immediately came to mind…which probably explains why I received it.

The catalog, “Things You Never Knew Existed,” features gift items that I doubt anyone on anybody’s Christmas list ever would already have. So for the shopper who is looking for a gift for the “person who has everything,” I pretty much can guarantee that this catalog contains plenty of stuff that the person won’t have.

Here is just a sampling of some of the actual gifts and their descriptions as listed in the catalog:

1. Pipi,” the drinking, barking, puddle-making toy pup with hand-held controller. Leaves a puddle wherever he goes! ($20)

2. The Christmas Chicks CD. Hear the chickens as they join the “Fowlharmonic” Orchestra to sing such classics as Silent Night and the Little Drummer Boy, for 28 minutes of sheer “egg-citement!” ($10)

3. The world’s largest men’s underpants – size 100. Have a party to see how many people you can squeeze into them! Made of 100% cotton. Machine wash and dry (which might shrink them down to size 99). ($17)

4. Nose-hair trimmer in the shape of a finger. ($10)

5. Big Barf and Big Burp candy dispensers. Push down on the top and the dispenser makes a barfing (or burping) sound as your treats “gush” out. ($4 for a set of two)

6. A genuine acre of the floor of the Pacific Ocean. Own a piece of the ocean floor located midway between California and Hawaii, while supplies last. Comes complete with a deed, suitable for framing. ($20)



7. Money soap. This soap comes with a surprise tucked inside – cold cash! Once the soap wears down, your prize, tucked safely inside is guaranteed to be one of the following: a real $1, $5, $10, $20 or even a $50 bill! Great incentive to get children to wash their hands frequently. ($11)

8. Doggy Doo Christmas ornament. This little ornament is made of faux doggy doo and is decorated with a sprinkling of glittery snow and tied up nicely with a holiday ribbon. A great holiday reminder of man’s best friend! ($7)

9. The Butt/Face towel. This soft terrycloth bath towel has “BUTT” embroidered on one end and “FACE” on the other, which makes it easy to remember which end to use when you are drying yourself. ($17). Also available, the butt/face bar of soap ($5) to go with it.

10. “Shocking” TV remote control. Is someone at your house always hogging the remote control? Here’s a great way to get even. Just hand him this remote and then step back. Pushing the power button will give him a real jolt! ($7)

11. Set of eight self-sticking can labels. These labels, from Cousin Skeeter’s Backwoods Cookin’ Kitchen, fit over the labels on your real canned foods. Guaranteed to turn heads and stomachs! Labels include cream of cockroach soup, roadkill ravioli, possum stew, mashed maggots and more! ($6)

12. Magic bean plant. Just open the can, add a little water and sunlight, and watch the magic bean grow to reveal the secret message, “I love you,” right on the live plant itself. A real surprise for a loved one! ($10)

13. Genuine quarters with your choice of two heads or two tails. Finally, those “let’s flip a coin” decisions will land in your favor! ($8)

14. Remote-control talking dog collar. Just clip this small bone-shaped speaker on your dog’s collar, then operate the remote control and watch the reactions as your dog appears to actually be speaking one of six clever remarks and witty lines such as, “I’m a lover, not a biter!” ($19)

I could continue, but I think you get the idea (and I didn’t even mention the dozen or so items that make rude bodily sounds).

Would I ever actually buy something from this catalog? Never!

Okay, maybe…just maybe…I did order the lifelike animated turtle that crawls across the floor while singing, “Slow down, you move too fast.”

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

I'm late, I'm late

I have this terrible habit of being late for everything. This distresses both my mother and my husband, especially when they have medical appointments. They like to arrive so early, the receptionist usually is just hanging up her coat and turning on the lights.

“Why does it matter if you arrive late for a doctor’s appointment?” I once asked my husband. “You know you’re just going to end up sitting there with a bunch of germy people for an hour anyway.”

“I don’t care,” he said. “If my appointment’s at two o’clock, I want to be there at least by 1:45. That’s just the way I am.”

So the other day, when I promised my mother I’d take her to her 2:15 doctor’s appointment, she was quick to lecture me. “You promise you’ll be here a half-hour before my appointment? The last time we went, we got there 15 minutes late. I really hate that.”

“I’ll try. I really will.”

“Well, try hard,” she said. “I don’t want to be late again.”

I couldn’t blame my mother for being concerned. I hadn’t been on time for anything in years. And the one time that I actually did arrive on time, it was because I’d misunderstood what time to be there.

All I can say is that on the day of my mother’s appointment, I had every intention of picking her up early. I set my alarm and jumped right out of bed without even hitting the snooze alarm the usual three or four times.

And everything was moving along pretty smoothly…until I looked into the bathroom mirror.

“Ohmigod!” I shouted. “I’m hideous!”

You see, the day before, I’d had a doctor’s appointment (and arrived 15 minutes late) to have a couple small growths removed from the bridge of my nose. After the doctor attacked them with a laser, he’d asked, “Would you like me to get rid of those dark circles under your eyes, too? The laser will really help fade them.”

“Sure, why not?” I’d answered.

Which was how, on the day of my mother’s appointment, I ended up looking as if I’d gone a couple rounds with Mike Tyson. Not only was the skin below my eyes all red and puffy, it was covered with blisters.

I tore through the house, searching for sunglasses to conceal my hideousness. I couldn’t find any. Meanwhile, the minutes on the clock were ticking away. I finally decided that if I left the house right then, I’d have enough time to stop at the local pharmacy and buy some sunglasses.

I slapped on some makeup (which really hurt on top of all those blisters) and bolted out of the house. I rarely wear sunglasses, so my plan was to buy just a cheap pair to serve the purpose.

I rushed into the pharmacy. “Sunglasses!” I practically shouted at the clerk. She pointed to a rack facing the checkout counter.

As it turned out, the only sunglasses the store carried were by Foster Grant. I had the sneaking suspicion that the $5 bill I was clutching in my clammy little hand wasn’t going to cut it.

The worst part was that I had to look into the mirror on the display rack, bathed in fluorescent lighting, to try on the sunglasses. Believe me, I looked even scarier in that mirror than I did at home. Blisters with makeup plastered over them, I discovered too late, looked even worse than naked blisters. I grabbed the darkest glasses I could find. They were $12.99.

There was one woman in front of me at the checkout. I frantically glanced at my watch. I had 20 minutes to get to my mother’s house…15 miles away.

The woman was buying only one item – a can of baby formula. “Do you have a pen?” she asked the clerk. “I want to write a check.”

Perhaps it was just because I was in a hurry, but the clerk seemed to move in slow motion as she searched for a pen. And then the customer took so long to write out the check, I suspected she was doing it in calligraphy. I was tempted to leap in front of her, grab the check and write it out for her.

“I’ll need to see your license,” the clerk said to her.

The customer began to dig through her purse.

“I’m doomed,” I thought, rolling my eyes. “My mother is going to disown me, cut me out of her will, change the locks on her doors…”

“Next, please!” the clerk called out, snapping me back to reality. I tossed the sunglasses and a $20 bill at her.

“Oh, I’m out of register tape,” she said. “Hang on a minute while I get a new roll.”

I couldn’t help it. I started to giggle. “This can only happen to me,” I said to no one in particular.

The clerk, I have to admit, was the speediest I’ve ever seen at replacing a register tape. She then rang up the sunglasses, looked up at me and said, “Oh…do you want me to cut the tags off them so you can wear them now?”

She wasn’t doing a very good job at making me feel less hideous.

I, wearing the sunglasses, bolted out of the store, jumped into my car and headed for my mother’s. I was making pretty good time…until I hit construction in Hooksett and had to sit in traffic for 10 minutes. That did it. I officially was late…again. I figured that my mother would be so upset with me, she’d probably put me up for adoption.

I didn’t even dare look at my mother when she finally got into my car. I gripped the steering wheel and braced myself for the inevitable lecture in punctuality. Instead, she asked me why I was wearing such big, dark glasses…on a rainy day.

I took them off and turned to face her. She gasped, her expression resembling that of someone who’d just seen Frankenstein’s monster.

Funny, but she never mentioned a single word about my being late.

Tuesday, November 1, 2005

Good fences, good neighbors

Robert Frost once said that good fences make good neighbors (probably because he used to live in my old neighborhood). In the past, I might have been inclined to agree, but where I live now, I’m fortunate to have neighbors who are both quiet and helpful.

It wasn’t always that way, though. Over the years, I have had some real doozies for neighbors.

Back when I was a teenager, there was a woman who lived next door who not only was pretty, let’s just say that from the waist up, she made Dolly Parton look like a 12-year-old boy. This neighbor was in the habit of wearing a low-cut latex leotard and doing calisthenics out in her back yard.

Believe me, her jumping jacks were the reason why every man in my neighborhood had a flat nose…from pressing it against the windowpane. To this day, I still don’t know how many boys walked me home from school because they actually liked me…or because they wanted to see “Mrs. Bouncy” doing her exercises.

After I got married and moved out to the country, we had a neighbor who spoke only French. Even worse, she didn’t understand a word of English, so the only way I could communicate with her was to use charades.

One day, for example, I was in the middle of making a cake when I ran short of milk by a mere quarter of a cup. I went next door to see if the French woman could lend me some milk. She, of course, had no idea what I was talking about.

Desperate, I held up my fingers to simulate a cow’s udders and proceeded to “milk” them with my other hand, to show her that I needed milk. She nodded, disappeared into the kitchen…and returned with a pair of those big yellow Playtex rubber gloves.

This same woman also happened to have three little children whose main objective in life was to make the Guinness Book of World Records for unrelenting brattiness. Every time I looked out at my yard, there they were, tossing rocks at my shutters, hanging from my clothesline, or trying to skewer my cat on the end of a stick.

Their mother did try to discipline them…by shouting every French curse word in history (and even a few she probably invented) at them. I’ll never forget the day I asked my father, who spoke fluent French, “Dad, what do these French words mean?” and then proceeded to spew every word my neighbor had shouted at her kids.

My father’s mouth dropped open and his eyes widened to the size of saucers. “Where on earth did you learn words like that?” he asked.

I suddenly had the feeling that my neighbor probably hadn’t been shouting, “Please behave yourselves, my little darlings!” at her children.

After the French woman moved away, there seemed to be someone new moving in and out of that place every two years or so.

One night, at about midnight, there was a knock at my door. I thought nothing of opening the door at that hour back then (but believe me, I’d never do it now). Anyway, there on my doorstep stood a young woman about 20. She looked as if she’d been crying.

“I’m moving in next door,” she said, “and I locked myself out. Can I use your phone to call someone to bring me a key? It’s a local call.”

I let her in and directed her to the phone. Not wanting to appear nosey, I pretended to have something to do in another room so she could talk privately. Every night thereafter, she asked to use my phone because hers hadn’t been installed yet. And every night, I let her use it.

When my phone bill arrived a couple weeks later and I saw the 10 calls to California on it, to the tune of $115, I stormed next door.

“I fully intend to repay you for the calls,” the girl explained. “When I get my food stamps, I’ll give them to you.”

I just stared at her. “Food stamps? How can I pay a phone bill with food stamps?”

“The money you save on food, you can put toward the phone bill.”

She moved away only eight days later. Maybe it was because her landlord wouldn’t accept food stamps as payment for her rent.

Nowadays, our neighborhood is very quiet. In fact, the majority of the residents are couples with grown children.

It sure is boring.

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TURTLE UPDATE: For those of you who have been asking about whether I found a home for my snapping turtle, Snippy, the answer is yes! A reader, Edith Bailat, told me about a woman, Mary Doane, who runs a turtle rescue in Deerfield. I contacted Mary and she referred me to Chris Bogard in Epping, who specializes in rehabilitating snapping turtles to prepare them for release in the wild. Chris now is rehabilitating Snippy to “un-sissify” him and make him a big, mean, fearless snapper, so he can be set free in a pond next year. So I want to say “thank you” to everyone who helped Snippy find a new home! (I sure do miss the big lug, though!)

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Say cheese!

My cousin called me the other day and asked me if I could do her a favor and take her son’s senior yearbook photo for him.

“Photographers are SO expensive,” she said. “Luckily, the kids can submit their own photos, wearing whatever they want and posing however they want.”

I found myself feeling very envious of the kids of today. Back when I had my senior photo taken for the yearbook, there weren’t any such options. We were given appointments to show up at Rheault Studios on Elm Street in Manchester and were told, per penalty of death, to look neat and well groomed. And the boys had to wear jackets and ties.

I remember how stressed out I was the week before my appointment. I tried on every piece of clothing I owned, and even some of my mother’s. Nothing seemed right.

“How about this?” I asked my mother as I modeled a pink flowered blouse.

“Too busy,” she said. “A solid-colored sweater with a nice necklace is all you need. After all, the photo is going to be in black in white anyway.”

I hadn’t thought about that. No matter what color I wore for the photo, it was going to be black, white or some shade of gray in the photo. I finally chose a light blue sweater and a heart-shaped locket.

The day of my photo, I had to walk to Rheault’s Studio directly from school. I’d worked hard all day to keep my shoulder-length hair in a perfect flip. There had been endless trips to the ladies’ room, where I’d sprayed my hair until it was so stiff, if I’d fallen down a flight of stairs and landed on my head, I wouldn’t have hurt myself because my hair would have acted like a helmet.

On a normal day, I would have been wearing pink lipstick, rose blusher, green eye-shadow and eyeliner, but one of my friends told me that colorful makeup looked terrible in black-and-white photos. “You don’t want to look embalmed,” she said. “Go for the totally natural look instead.”

So there I was, walking across Granite Street Bridge, heading toward Elm Street and feeling less than confident with my stiff hair and colorless naked face, when something completely unexpected happened…it started to rain. By the time I reached Rheault’s, I looked as if I dunked my head in a bucket of lard.

I remember climbing a flight of stairs up to the studio and meeting two of my classmates who were coming down. They took one look at me and started to giggle. Needless to say, I was getting the feeling that my mother probably wasn’t going to be ordering a case of 8x10 enlargements of my senior photo to hand out to the relatives.

The studio was small and dark. The photographer, a man with a friendly voice and a smile to match, greeted me and then said, “Um, there’s a mirror over there if you want to comb your hair and freshen up a bit.”

I was afraid to look into that mirror. When I finally gathered the courage to open my eyes, I saw a stringy-haired, pale-faced girl in a rain-splotched sweater. Even worse, I realized that I’d forgotten to wear the heart-shaped locket. I looked positively drab.

“Great,” I muttered under my breath. “If I look this bad in living color, I can just imagine what I’m going to look like in black and white.”

I combed my hair. The teeth on the comb made a row of lines through my wet hair, especially on my bangs, which were drooping down to my eyebrows. No matter how hard I tried, I still ended up looking as if my hair had just been plowed in preparation for crop planting. I finally gave up and took a seat in front of the camera.

The photographer took a few serious, pensive shots of me and then said, “Now give me a big smile.”

I managed a tight-lipped smirk.

“No, I want to see some teeth!” he said.

“I don’t want to show my teeth,” I protested. “I never smile with them showing…because of the gap.”

“Don’t worry, I can touch up the gap,” he said. “No one will even know it’s there.”

My eyebrows rose. The thought of finally seeing a photo of myself smiling with even, gapless teeth was enough to make me forget about my limp hair. I flashed a toothy smile at the camera.

It seemed like years until I finally received the proofs of my photos. Anxiously, I opened the envelope. My mouth fell open in horror. The photos were hideous, horrible, even worse than I ever could have imagined. My eyes looked like two oysters on the half-shell, and my teeth as huge as a horse’s. My bangs had more ridges than Ruffles potato chips.

“You’re being silly,” my mother said when she looked at the proofs. “I think they came out really nice, especially this one right here.”

I studied the photo she’d selected. Out of all of the proofs, it was the best of the bunch. But that wasn’t saying much. I had wanted to be immortalized looking like Miss America in my yearbook, not like Seabiscuit.

The finished photo that went into the yearbook didn’t please me at all. For one thing, the gap in my teeth hadn’t been retouched, as the photographer had promised it would be, and I also looked as if I had one solid eyebrow running across my forehead.

Now that I think about it, maybe I shouldn’t have agreed to take my cousin’s son’s senior photo. I may not be able to suppress the urge to put him through the same torture I went through when I had my photo taken.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

If Memory Serves Me...

People often tell me that I must have a good memory because I can recall, in great detail, things that happened to me years and years ago.

To be honest, my “photographic memory” is due to the fact that I have kept a diary (I recently was informed that they now are called “journals”) every day since 1962. So whenever I need to jog my memory about a specific day in my life, I just grab one of my 43 diaries. I don’t suppose I’d remember that I ate Chef Boyardee ravioli for lunch on May 1, 1965 if I didn’t have the momentous event recorded in one of my diaries.

Anyway, there was a man on TV the other day who said he could remember events that occurred all the way back to when he still was in his mother’s womb. He described the music and voices he heard, and how he knew when his mother was having a restless night and tossing and turning.

I didn’t believe a word of it, but I found myself wondering what my earliest memory (without the aid of my diaries) was.

I guess one of my earliest memories dates back to when I was about two-and-a-half and had to be hospitalized for a week. I don’t remember the actual events that led up to my hospitalization…and to be honest, even after all these years and actually seeing my medical records, I still find the whole episode difficult to believe…but I do remember the hospital itself.

According to my mother, it all started when she and I were out in my grandmother’s field one afternoon and I bent over to pick a flower. When I did, a piece of timothy grass poked me in the eye. I whined, rubbed my eye hard, and that was the end of it.

Or so my mother thought.

About 10 days later, my eye began to look red and puffy. My mother examined it closely and saw something green sticking up out of the corner of it. She tugged on the green thing. It wouldn’t budge. My screams nearly broke the sound barrier. The next thing I knew, I was in the hospital.

The doctor’s theory was that a piece of the timothy grass, which kind of looks like wheat, had lodged in my tear duct or beneath a membrane in my eye when I’d rubbed it, and the damp, moist environment in there had caused it to sprout. The doctor said it would have to be surgically removed and I’d have to stay in the hospital for a few days.

Upon hearing the diagnosis, my mother said she nearly panicked. I suppose it must have been traumatic for her, learning that her child was a walking greenhouse. She probably had visions of my face covered in plant life with roots hanging out of my nostrils.

As I said, the part of all of this that I remember clearly is being in the hospital. I still can picture the big room I was in. It contained rows of metal-barred cribs with kids in them. The tops of the cribs had nets over them. I guess the nets were so we couldn’t escape. We all looked like a bunch of little zoo animals.

I also remember daily “playtime” at the hospital. A woman, pushing a cart loaded with stuffed animals, would stop at each crib and hand an animal to each of us. My crib always was the last one she reached. Just as I would start to play with the stuffed animal, the woman would come back and take it away, saying, “Sorry, dear, playtime is over!” I can remember stubbornly trying to hold onto the animal as she tugged on it. I wasn’t about to let her take MY toy without a fight.

And I remember having to feed myself. A cart with food on it would be rolled up to my crib and left there. I had to reach out through the bars and grab my meals. I ate with my hands and I ate fast because I was sure that the lady who handed out the stuffed animals was going to show up and try to snatch away my food, too. I usually ended up with more food in my ears and hair than in my mouth.

The thing I remember the most clearly about the hospital, though, was the morning a nurse took me into a room that contained a full-sized bathtub and gave me a bath. Halfway through my bath, another nurse, carrying a little boy, walked in and plunked him next to me in the water.

I had no idea what to make of that naked little boy. I knew he looked different than I did, but I couldn’t figure out why. I did a lot of staring. In fact, I stared so much, I made the nurses laugh.

My mother said that when I finally came home from the hospital, I was not the same happy, smiling kid she’d taken there. She said I glared at her and my father, communicated in grunts, and I ate like an animal, shoving food into my mouth with both fists, as if every bite might be my last. And I’d gone to the hospital all potty trained…and came home completely un-potty-trained.

Considering my dramatic personality change, I think my parents should have taken me back to the hospital for an x-ray of my brain. Heck, they may have found a cornstalk growing in there.

So I guess that’s my earliest memory. Although now that I think about it…there was that time back in the womb when I socked my twin sister because she was hogging all the room.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

A Halloween ghost story

Every year when the Halloween season rolls around, I think about Jimmy.

I met Jimmy late one October night just before my sixth birthday. I was in bed and was supposed to be sleeping, but actually I was hiding under the covers and shining a flashlight on a Casper the Friendly Ghost comic book.

I thought Casper was pretty cool because he was such a nice ghost. All of the other ghosts in the comics seemed to enjoy frightening people and making their hair stand up straight on end, their eyes bulge out of their sockets, and their tongues stick way out of their mouths (at least that’s the way they were drawn in the comic books). But Casper never tried to scare people. Casper always was a kind ghost.

Anyway, as I was looking at my comic book, I suddenly heard a noise in my room. It was like a soft thud and came from somewhere near my bedroom door. I held my breath. I heard it again.

Cautiously, I peered out from underneath the covers. I gasped. Standing there, to the left of my closed bedroom door, was a shadowy figure. It was tall, droopy-shouldered and was wearing a coat. Its hair was long and white. I opened my mouth to scream, but no sound came out.

“Don’t be scared.” A young-sounding voice came from the shadowy figure. “I’m Jimmy. What’s your name?”

I was certain that my eyes were bulging, just like the people’s in the comic books. “S-Sally,” I managed to squeak.

Jimmy didn’t move from his spot. In fact, Jimmy didn’t move at all. “I’m a ghost,” he said. “I’ve been a ghost for 100 years.”

At that point, I was pretty sure I wet my bed. So many things were running through my mind. Was he a good ghost like Casper or one of those mean ghosts? Was my hair standing up straight on end? And what did his face look like? Was he a cute ghost or a really ugly one with huge fangs and glowing eyes? The streetlight just outside my bedroom window cast some light on him, but not enough for me to see his face.

“Wh-what are you doing here in my room?” I asked.

“Well, you were born on Halloween and you like Casper,” he said. “That makes you the perfect person for a ghost to visit.”

His voice sounded friendly enough. In fact, he sounded just like my cousin Eddie, who was one of my best buddies. Still, until I could see Jimmy’s face, I wasn’t about to trust him. For all I knew, a Wolfman-like monster was hiding underneath that coat and long white hair.

“How come you don’t move?” I asked him, though I didn’t really want him to come any closer.

“Oh, I’ll be moving in just a few seconds.”

Sure enough, he suddenly looked as if he were floating sideways – kind of like a flag in a soft breeze. I noticed that he had no feet.

“How did you get to be a ghost?” I asked.

“It happened on Halloween. I went out trick-or-treating and I got bags and bags of candy. Then I came home and sat up all night eating it, even though my parents warned me not to. The next thing I knew, I was a ghost.”

I didn’t like the sound of that. My parents frequently had warned me not to eat too much Halloween candy. I’d thought it was because I’d end up with a bellyache or maybe a toothache…not end up being a ghost. As much as I thought Casper was cool, I was in no hurry to become Casperella.

“Can I see your face?” I asked Jimmy.

“I don’t have one,” he said. “You should be getting to sleep now anyway or you won’t be able to get up for school in the morning. Oh…if you get a Hershey bar when you go out trick-or-treating, save it for me, okay? I’ve been craving one for 100 years.”

Before I could say anything else, the door to my bedroom creaked open and Jimmy was gone.

“Who on earth are you talking to?” My mother’s half-asleep voice came from my doorway.

In a frantic rush of words, I told her all about my encounter with Jimmy, the ghost.

She flipped on the bedroom light, looked around, and laughed. “Look, Sally, here’s your ghost!” She pointed to the clothes peg on the back of my bedroom door, where she’d hung my gray flannel coat and a white kerchief earlier that day.

“See? It looks like long white hair and a body with no feet!”

“But he moved!” I protested.

As if on cue, the furnace popped on, and through the grate, which was right near the door, a blast of hot air hit the clothes. They began to sway to the right.

“And I talked to him, and he talked back to me!”

“Honey, I’ll bet you were looking at your Casper comic books again and you fell asleep, or were nearly asleep, with ghosts on your mind. You were dreaming! Nothing about Jimmy was real.”

Mom’s explanation made sense…but still, I refused to believe that Jimmy didn’t exist. And when I went out trick-or-treating a few days later and got a Hershey bar, I saved it for him, just in case he came back.

And that year, I didn’t stuff myself to the usual bursting point with Halloween candy the way I’d always done in the past.

I was too scared I’d end up like Jimmy.

Tuesday, October 4, 2005

'Tis the season

I was talking to my neighbor the other day and telling him that I have seen more deer this year during my walks in the woods than in all of the past 30 years combined.

“I think the big construction projects in Hooksett, where they’re clearing out all the trees, has something to do with it,” I told him. “It’s pushing the animals in our direction.”

My neighbor, an avid hunter, shook his head. “I’ll bet you anything that you won’t see any more deer now till at least January. It’s hunting season, and the deer know it. They’ll make themselves scarce.”

I pictured the deer gathered around a calendar nailed to a tree in the woods and saying, “Yep, Bambi, it’s hunting season all right. Come on, we’d better get the heck out of here.”

“Is it really hunting season already?” I asked.

My neighbor nodded. “Bow and arrow. Then in late October it’s muzzleloaders, and finally regular firearms. If you’re going out walking in the woods, you’d better wear orange, just to be safe. You don’t want to end up with an arrow in your butt.”

I groaned. Every year at this time, I have to don my Great Pumpkin outfit, which consists of so much fluorescent orange, I swear that people all the way up in Quebec can see me.

Even worse, I also have to deck out my dogs in orange. I bought orange vests, orange neckerchiefs, and even orange collars for them, just to be safe. If I could hook up flashing lights that spell out “DOG” and hang those on their backs, I’d probably do that, too. That’s because a couple times during past hunting seasons, hunters have warned me that my dogs look too much like deer from a distance.

I remember when I used to bring a cassette player with me on my daily hikes and blast rock-music tapes so hunters would hear me approaching and not mistake me for a deer. I’d thought it was a pretty good idea…until I mentioned it to my husband.

“You go around making all that noise in the woods?” he asked. “It’s a wonder the hunters don’t shoot you for scaring all the deer away!”

“That probably would explain why I thought I heard a bush cursing at me one afternoon.”

The thing I like about deer hunters is that they wear bright orange, too, so I usually can spot them from a distance and not be startled by them. Bird hunters, on the other hand, in their camouflage outfits, blend right in with the scenery and become invisible. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been out hiking and walked by a tree trunk that suddenly said hello to me. The first time it happened, I nearly needed a defibrillator.

Over the years, however, I have learned how to tell when hunters are around so I can keep an eye out for them. First of all, there will be pickup trucks parked along the edge of the woods. You can just about guarantee that for each one of those trucks, there will be at least one weapon-toting person roaming around.

And then there is the toilet paper. During hunting season, clumps of it seem to magically appear in the woods along the hiking trails. I’ve never actually witnessed how the toilet paper got there (and I pray I never will), but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t due to the animals being on a sudden personal-hygiene kick.

Of course, when there’s snow on the ground, it’s a snap to tell where the hunters are because their footprints are a dead giveaway. I don’t know if this is a proven scientific fact or not, but I have noticed, from years of studying hunters’ footprints in the snow, that most of them walk with their right foot turned outward.

I don’t know which is weirder…the fact that they walk with their right foot turned out…or the fact that I even noticed.

So as much as we hate to, my dogs and I will be wearing our bright orange ensembles for the next couple of months. That way, we should be able to make it through another hunting season without getting shot full of holes.

That is, unless we startle one of the hunters while he’s actually using some of that toilet paper.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

I've got the turtle blues

I have a little problem – actually, make that a big one – that I need help solving.

It all began exactly a year ago when I was walking down Podunk Road in Allenstown. About nine-tenths of Podunk Road is dirt, surrounded by thick woods.

While I was walking, I spotted a big crow standing in the middle of the road up ahead and pecking at something. When the crow caught sight of my dog and me, it took off. I thought nothing of it until I got closer to the spot where the crow had been and saw what it had been pecking at. It was a tiny snapping-turtle hatchling, not much bigger than a quarter.

I studied the stiff, unmoving turtle, which had a pretty mangled-looking hind leg, and assumed it was dead. I picked it up and was going to put it in the bushes on the side of the road, but for some reason, I popped it into my jacket pocket instead.

When I got home, I removed the turtle from my pocket and thought I saw it move just slightly. Quickly, I put some water, small stones and flat rock into a plastic container and then set the turtle down on the rock. I decided to call the poor little critter “Snippy.”

“Why do you have a dead turtle in a bowl of water?” My husband, peering into the container, asked.

“I thought I saw him move,” I said.

“Move? Rigor mortis already has set in!”

Despite my husband’s remarks, I decided to leave Snippy in the container overnight. If he still was lying in the same spot in the morning, I would give him a decent burial.

The next morning, when I approached Snippy’s container, his little head popped up and he stared at me. I didn’t know whether to be ecstatic or scared. I mean, I’d never played mother to a snapping turtle before, never mind an injured one, so I didn’t have the slightest clue what to do. I rushed to the Internet to look up information.

After I waded through all of the Web sites that listed recipes for snapping-turtle soup, a real delicacy (according to the info) in many areas, I found the information I was looking for. It said to offer such tempting treats as cooked chicken, shrimp, mealworms, beef and tiny bits of fruit and vegetables on the tip of a toothpick to the turtle.

Everything I offered Snippy, he voraciously attacked and gulped down…except the fruit and vegetables. He turned his little nose up at every piece I tried. The turtle obviously was a carnivore…and my husband’s clone.

Through the winter, Snippy thrived. His injured leg healed, but he dragged it behind him when he walked and seemed to have trouble swimming. He also grew into a very chubby turtle. I bought him a five-gallon aquarium, which he promptly outgrew. I bought him a 10-gallon aquarium, which he also outgrew. I looked up more information on the Internet. “Snappers can grow to weigh 65 lbs.” one site said. “Turtle owners should build fenced-in ponds in their back yards to provide proper housing.”

Somehow, I couldn’t picture myself, spade in hand, digging a pond in my back yard.

I hate to say it, but the more I babied Snippy, the less he acted like the vicious finger-biting turtle he was meant to be. He liked to be held. He liked to have his shell rubbed. He also liked to sit in his aquarium and watch everything that was going on around him. The minute I’d reach for his bag of shrimp, he’d instantly spot it and would do a little head-bobbing turtle dance in anticipation of mealtime.

The truth was, I was raising a wimp.

A few weeks ago, I finally decided to consult a reptile expert and ask what I should do with Snippy. “Can I let him loose in a pond, even though he’s totally domesticated now?” I asked her. “My plan all along has been to nurse him back to health, get him strong and then set him free, but I’m not sure if he can make it on his own or not.”

“Oh, he’ll adapt just fine,” she assured me. “Snappers are very hardy creatures. And now’s the time to set him free before winter sets in.”

So that next Monday, I, with a heavy heart, put Snippy into a cardboard box and hiked up to Hayes Marsh, which is about three-quarters of a mile off Podunk Road, where I’d originally found him. I figured that his family had to be in that marsh, mainly because it was the only body of water in the area.

When the marsh finally came into view, I made myself feel less depressed by envisioning Snippy happily swimming off into the sunset, free at last.

But alas, my vision turned out to be a far cry from reality. I set Snippy down on the shore and he immediately backed away from the water, terrified. I picked him up and put him into the water. Panicking, he began to thrash, his chubby legs flailing wildly. He continued to thrash, remaining in the same spot and getting nowhere, until I couldn’t bear it any longer. I yanked him out of the water and set him back on the shore. At that point, a dragonfly flew over his head and he actually cringed, trying to tuck himself into his shell (which snapping turtles, unlike other turtles, can’t do). I finally had to admit that Snippy probably wasn’t such a hot candidate for making it on his own in the wild.

I brought him back home.

And here he still remains, perfectly content in his too-small aquarium, eating like a horse…and growing bigger by the hour.

The bottom line is that Snippy needs a place where he can have lots of room, be safe and well cared for, and be accepted for the big wimp that he is. If anyone can help or offer any suggestions, please e-mail me at sillysally@att.net.

That is, unless you’re thinking about whipping up a batch of turtle soup.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Arabian Nights

Last Saturday night, my husband and I finally realized we are old. Why? Because we’d gone out to dinner at four o’clock in the afternoon and by seven o’clock, we already were in our pajamas and settled in for the evening.

“Remember when our Saturday nights used to start at eight?” I asked him. “We’d be out dancing till one in the morning.”

My husband groaned. “I could never do that now. By one o’clock, I’ll already have been in bed for three hours.” He looked thoughtful for a moment and then added, “We sure had some good times, though. Remember Al Sirat?”

I smiled. Al Sirat was an Arabian-style nightclub located in the China Dragon Restaurant in Hooksett. The first time we went there was back in the early ‘70s, when my friend Sandi invited us.

“Gorgeous Harry Moy Junior runs the place!” she excitedly told me.

For years, Sandi had drooled over Harry Moy Junior, whose dad was a friend of her dad. She never, however, referred to the guy as just plain “Harry.” The word “gorgeous” always preceded his full name. To be honest, I wasn’t as enthusiastic about going to this new Al Sirat nightclub as I was about finally catching a glimpse of Gorgeous Harry Moy Junior.

So, on a Saturday night, my husband and I, along with Sandi and her husband, headed over to Al Sirat. The moment we entered, we were awed. We instantly were transported into a world of harem girls and sheiks. The perimeter of the huge nightclub was lined with ornately draped, Arabian-style tents that had huge, tasseled velvet cushions for seating on the floor. Rich velvets, silks, gold brocade and gauze were everywhere. There also were traditional tables and chairs. The club’s lamps all looked as if genies might be lurking in them.

My husband’s eyes were riveted on the navels of the attractive harem girls who were serving drinks, while Sandi’s eyes frantically darted back and forth. I suddenly felt an elbow jab my ribs. “There he is!” Sandi whispered to me. “Gorgeous Harry Moy Junior!”

I followed the direction of her eyes and spotted the living, breathing epitome of tall, dark and handsome. Not only that, he was wearing a tuxedo. The man looked as if he’d stepped off the cover of GQ Magazine. When he smiled, his teeth were so white, I nearly needed sunglasses to ward off the glare.


“This place is unbelievable!” Sandi’s husband said to her.

“Uh huh,” she said, her eyes still riveted on her longtime crush.

“I guess we should go take a seat,” he added.

“Uh huh,” Sandi said, not moving.

“Oh, look!” her husband teased, “Here comes a completely naked woman!”

“Uh huh,” Sandi said.

“Where?! Where?!” My husband asked.

We were seated in one of the tents right near the stage. The “band” actually was just one 40-something guy with a synthesizer that, with the push of a few buttons, sounded like several different instruments, including a small orchestra.

Right after our drinks were served by a shapely harem girl, the lights dimmed and a spotlight directed our attention to the center of the dance floor.

To our amazement, a beautiful, exotic-looking, dark-haired belly dancer with a stomach so flat, she barely had any belly to dance with, magically appeared. I thought she’d popped up from a trap door in the floor, but my husband insisted she’d dropped down from the ceiling.

My husband couldn’t wipe the smile off his face as he watched the dancer gyrate. “I am really liking this place,” he said. “We’ll have to come back here…often!”

After the dancer finished her routine, the musician onstage launched into a romantic love song. We couldn’t help but notice that as he sang, he kept staring directly at us.

“I’m getting uncomfortable,” Sandi whispered to me. “He keeps staring at me!”

I’d thought he might have been staring at me, but Sandi was model-pretty, so I figured she probably was right. As the singer began his next song, “You’re Just Too Good to be True,” another man took over at the synthesizer. This allowed the singer to grab the microphone and roam. He headed straight for our tent.

“Oh, no! He’s coming to serenade me!” Sandi whispered. “I’m going to die of embarrassment!”

“But at least you’ll have Gorgeous Harry Moy Junior’s attention!” I whispered back.

The singer then proceeded to sing the entire love song…directly to my husband.

Never in my life have I had more trouble trying to keep a straight face. And never in my life have I ever seen a more panicked expression than my husband’s. To make matters worse, the singer must have extended the song by at least 30 choruses.

We did go back to Al Sirat a couple more times after that, but the place became so popular and so crowded, with hours-long waiting lines to get in, it lost a lot of the magic we’d felt on that first night.

Besides that, they hired a new singer.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Back to School Cool

I happened to be stopped at a red light in front of a high school the other day just as the students were heading home for the day. I couldn’t help but notice that just about every one of them was carrying a backpack.

The only people who carried backpacks back when I was in high school were hikers. We were forced to lug all of our books in our arms, which involved a lot of juggling and strategic balancing. That’s why most of us girls tried to find guys who would carry our books home for us. If that meant flirting with the school’s biggest nerd, then we shamelessly did it, all for the preservation of our dainty, feminine arms.

As I continued to sit at the red light, I also noticed that the backpack-carrying kids, both male and female, were wearing shorts.

I couldn’t help but think back to my first day of high school and how happy I would have been if I could have worn shorts…which, considering that they were on the school’s “forbidden apparel, per penalty of death” list, would have resulted in my immediate expulsion.

I still vividly recall the outfit I wore on my first day of high school. Even though the temperature was about 80 degrees in the shade, there I stood in my red-and-green-plaid woolen skirt, green cable-knit sweater, green knee socks and black loafers. And for a finishing touch, I wore a silver neck-chain that had a replica of a covered bridge hanging from it (it was a souvenir gift from Vermont).

By eleven o’clock that morning, I nearly needed CPR for heat prostration.

There seemed to be standard fashion rules back in those days. You never wore white shoes or white pants after Labor Day, and back-to-school clothes had to be warm. That meant that if you were a female, you wore a lot of wool. And if you were a male, you wore corduroy. So many guys wore corduroy pants the first week of school, all of the swishing noises they made when they walked through the hallways made the place sound like a wind tunnel.

My problem was that wool made me itch worse than if I’d taken a naked swan dive into a pile of poison ivy. In fact, back when I was in kindergarten and wore a wool sweater to school one day, I developed such an itchy rash from it, the school nurse sent me home because she thought I had the measles…and I wasn’t about to argue with anyone who insisted that I take a day off from school.

But in high school, because wool skirts were all the rage, I bit the bullet and wore them anyway. After all, most of the girls were wearing stylish plaid wraparound wool skirts that fastened in the front with a big brass safety pin, and I didn’t want to deprive myself of wearing something so chic just because it made me want to claw off several layers of skin. Besides that, I discovered that if I wore two or three slips underneath the skirts, I could keep the itch down to a tolerable level.

Needless to say, I spent a lot of class-time sitting in sweat-soaked underwear.

“Gee, I didn’t expect it to be so hot in September,” my mom said on my first day of high school (back before global warming, when Septembers usually were pretty chilly). “Why don’t you wear that pretty cotton flowered dress you wore to Douglas’s wedding?”

“Cotton? Flowers?” I was appalled at the mere suggestion. “It’s practically fall! Everyone will be wearing wool.”

“You’ll sweat, sitting in wool all day,” my mother said. “You want to end up with diaper rash, like babies get?”

I didn’t care about diaper rash. My new back-to-school wardrobe consisted of wool skirts and matching sweaters, and I fully intended to show them off…even at the risk of self-combusting.

I’m pretty sure that the reason why the back-to-school clothes nowadays feature shorts and lightweight gauze tops is because in the past (back when most school clothes looked as if they’d been made for kids in Siberia) the students ended up being too hot, itchy and lumpy to concentrate on their schoolwork.

Tuesday, September 6, 2005

In search of Room 212

My husband spent most of last week as a patient at Concord Hospital…and I spent most of it getting lost.

Concord Hospital used to be a pretty simple place to get into. You’d drive up to the visitors’ parking lot, walk up to the automatic doors near the cafeteria, enter the lobby, come face to face with the elevators and push either the “up” or “down” button. Simple.

The night that my husband was admitted to the hospital, however, I discovered that Concord Hospital, as I knew it, no longer exists. The hospital grounds look as if they were in the direct path of a giant meteor.

As I pulled into what used to be the emergency-room parking lot, all I saw was a crater the size of Rhode Island. “Drop off Patients Here,” a sign said.

“Am I supposed to dump you into that hole?” I asked my husband.

He shrugged. “Maybe it’s their way of drumming up more business for the emergency room.”

I backed out and drove to the “new” main entrance, then left my husband in the car and ran into the lobby. I was pleased to see a woman sitting at the information desk. “How do I get to Admitting from here?” I asked.

She stared at me as if I’d just asked her the final question on Jeopardy. “Um, I think it’s up in the emergency room,” she finally said.

“I was just there. The parking lot is a giant hole.”

“You have to park on the roof of the garage,” she said. “Next to the helicopter landing-pad.”

It was my turn to stare. It was bad enough that my poor husband had to be admitted to the hospital, but to be flattened by a helicopter before he even got out of the car would be, well, downright tragic.

“I know that all of this construction is an inconvenience,” the woman said, “but when it’s done, this hospital will be much bigger and better able to serve its patients.”

There was only one patient on my mind at that moment. I went back out to the car and drove up to the crater formerly known as the emergency room and parked where the woman had instructed. Then my poor husband and I walked the 12 miles to the building. Fifteen minutes later, he was settled in his room on the second floor. It took me a half-hour to find my way back to the car.

The next day, my mother and I headed up to the hospital to visit him. We followed the signs that said “Visitor Parking” and were stopped by a hospital guard. “Sorry, the lot is full,” he said.

My mother and I looked past him and spotted at least six empty parking spaces. “I’m just dropping off my mother,” I lied.

“Okay, go ahead then,” he said, stepping aside to let us pass.

I parked in one of the empty spots and my mother and I entered the lobby. An elderly man wearing a smock cheerfully greeted us. “Good afternoon! Where are you headed?”

“Room 212,” I said.

“Well,” he said, looking thoughtful, “if you walk to the end of this hallway and take elevator B up to the first floor, then take a right, switch over to elevator C, take another right, then a left and go straight down the hallway, that should get you there.”

He lost me after the word, “elevator.” I nodded, smiled, and Mom and I were off to search for room 212.

Five minutes later, we were standing in front of two doors that said, “Authorized Personnel Only.” There were no other doors around.

“I think we took a left when we should have taken a right,” my mother said.

By the time we found my husband’s room, it was time to head back home. My mother and I were hungry, thirsty and had blisters on our feet.

“How do we get back to the main lobby?” I asked one of the nurses when Mom and I were ready to leave.

“Hmmm, let me think,” she said. “I never go out that way.”

That was not a good sign.

She recited a lot of “lefts” and “rights” and then mentioned that the lobby was on the ground floor. That was the only thing I remembered when Mom and I entered the elevator. I looked at the buttons. There was a “G” and a “GR.” I pressed the “G” for ground.

The doors of the elevator opened and my mother and I stepped out into the dark depths of the hospital. The hallway looked creepy enough to be the setting for one of those horror movies like, “Dr. Hacker and the River of Blood.”

“Ohmigod!” my mother said. “I think we’re in the morgue!”

We nearly trampled each other in our haste to get back onto the elevator. That’s when I figured out that I should have pushed the “GR” button.

My husband called me from the hospital later that night and said, “Remember, the minute I get discharged, I want you to rush right over here and get me. I don’t want to be stuck in here one minute longer than necessary!”

I laughed. “Then I’d better start heading over there to pick you up as soon as I hang up, because it’ll take me a week to find you.”

“Never mind,” he said. “I’ll call a cab.”

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Beauty is in the eyes of ...

A couple weeks ago, I happened to see a TV news report about a popular Web site called BeautifulPeople. The reporter explained that it’s a site where beautiful men and women go to meet other beautiful men and women.

I watched in disbelief as the reporter explained that in order to become a member of the BeautifulPeople site, you must submit a photo of yourself for judging. Members of the opposite sex who already have been accepted into the BeautifulPeople family then vote on whether or not to accept you. The voting lasts for three days, at which point, applicants will receive either a “Congratulations! You are accepted!” e-mail or a “Sorry, you’re not attractive enough,” e-mail.

The voters, after studying an applicant’s photo and bio, check off one of the following: “Yes! Definitely!”, “Hmm, yes, OK”, “Hmm, not really” or “No! Not at all!” During the voting process, applicants can see a running total of their votes and how well (or lousy) they are doing.

The TV reporter, an attractive blonde, decided to submit her own photo to BeautifulPeople to see what would happen. She went to a photographer and had several professional shots taken, then carefully studied them until she selected what she felt was the perfect photo. She also thought long and hard about something clever and intriguing to write in her bio. Finally, she submitted everything to BeautifulPeople…and waited.

She frequently checked her status during the voting period and seemed less than pleased to discover that she’d amassed a stack of “No! Not at all!” votes and not even one “Yes, definitely!” And at the end of the three days, she received the dreaded “Sorry, you’re not attractive enough” letter.

Curiosity led me to check out the Web site. The home page stated that out of over 36,000 applicants, only 5,500 had been accepted.

“Boy, are they ever fussy!” I said to my husband. “Everyone on here must look like Tom Cruise or Julia Roberts!”

I checked out the members’ photos. I did see quite a few drop-dead gorgeous women and hunky guys. I also saw a lot of not-so-gorgeous, bikini-clad women who looked as if they’d been to a big sale at Silicone City…and a bunch of bare-chested, not-so-handsome guys whose bodies resembled Arnold Schwarzenegger’s.

I began to read some of the things the members had written about themselves. “There HAS to be more to life than being really, really good-looking,” one man wrote.

Another, a curvy young woman, said, “Unlike some of the people on here, who submitted photos that have been retouched or air-brushed, I am a hundred percent natural…except for my crummy breast implants.”

“This stuff would make a great column,” I said to my husband. “In fact, I think I’ll be brave like that TV reporter and submit one of my photos! It should be good for a laugh!”

“You’re too old,” he said, kind soul that he is.

“I wouldn’t submit a current photo, silly! I’d dig up one that was taken back when I was 25 or so. Maybe even one that shows some cleavage!”

“Yeah, at least back then, you still had cleavage.”

The man was no help at all.

Finding an old photo of myself that could pass for a modern-day one, however, was no easy task. In most of my old photos, my hair was teased so high, it looked as if birds were nesting in it. I finally settled on a serious-looking headshot.

I submitted the photo for judging and listed my age as 25 and my occupation as an aerobics instructor. I figured that seeing that none of my body was showing in the photo, I could get away with lying about the aerobics part.

I think I broke the site’s record for the fastest accumulation of “No! Not at all!” votes. One of the guys who voted against me wrote to tell me that my photo was so serious, it looked like a mug shot. Another wrote and asked me, “What’s it worth to you if I give you a ‘yes’ vote?” And then there was the 57-year-old yacht-owner (or so his profile said) who wanted my phone number. The man obviously was in desperate need of an optometrist.

All I can say is that if you feel even the slightest bit attractive before you submit a photo to BeautifulPeople, you will feel as if you should be wearing a bag over your head by the time the voting is over. I ended up receiving the “sorry” e-mail.

“Why don’t you try submitting one of MY photos from 30 years ago?” my husband said jokingly. “I’ll bet mine would get a lot more votes than yours did.”

I might take him up on that bet, just so I can make him eat his words…that is, if I can find a photo of him where he’s not wearing a polyester leisure suit.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Computer facelift

There’s a show on TV called “10 Years Younger,” where a person is put into a soundproof glass box on a busy downtown sidewalk and the show’s host then asks passersby how old they think the person in the box is.

“Twenty-five!” someone will say.

“The woman in the box can’t hear you,” the host will point out.

“She can’t? Well, then, she looks 50! Talk about sun-damaged skin. She looks like an armadillo!”

The show then proceeds to spend a week transforming old Armadillo Face into something so ravishing, the next time she goes back into the box for public scrutiny, people guess she’s in junior high.

One of the magical tools they use on the show is some relatively new procedure called Thermage. Thermage, according to the show, is a facelift, but without any cutting, bruising or stitching. It uses radiofrequency to lift and tighten skin, renew facial contours and produce new collagen. Just one treatment keeps working for about six months, and then the results last for two to three years.

From the moment I saw the first woman on “10 Years Younger” emerge from her Thermage treatment looking as if she’d just taken a swan dive into the Fountain of Youth, I thought, “Quick! Get me some of that stuff!”

Every time I look in the mirror lately, I see another part of my face sagging. Not only have I officially entered the jowl generation, people keep telling me I look “drawn” (which basically translates into “jowly”).

So a couple weeks ago, I searched the Internet to find out who, if anyone, in New Hampshire performed Thermage. I found only one doctor. I rushed to dial his number before another jowl popped out.

The woman who answered the phone couldn’t have been nicer. She raved about the procedure and its results, then asked if I wanted to schedule a consultation with the doctor. I made the appointment for the middle of September. She recommended that I check out the doctor’s Web site for further information and for directions to the clinic.

I hung up the phone and smiled…until I checked out the Web site and read, “Thermage treatments begin at $2,500 for a small area.”

My heart stopped. Na├»ve person that I am, I’d expected the treatment to cost a couple hundred dollars. And what did they consider a small area? An eyebrow? A dimple? Half a frown line?

I canceled my consultation.

A few days later, I went to turn on my laptop computer and nothing happened. I checked the plug. It was plugged in. I checked the battery. It was properly inserted. The computer, however, was deader than dead.

Luckily, the computer still was under warranty, so I figured I’d just have it repaired and use my backup computer, another laptop, in the meantime. I dug out the other computer and turned it on. I couldn’t click on anything. The cursor just sat there, mocking me. I turned off the computer and turned it on again. It didn’t help.

So I had two dead computers…and no more backups.

I spent three hours on the phone with a computer technician who had me do everything but call an exorcist. Still nothing.

“Want me to find a priest and have him administer the last rites?” I joked.

“No, ma’am,” the technician said seriously. The man had all the personality of a cantaloupe.

“Do you use the laptop on your lap?” he asked.

“Well, yes…that’s why it’s called a laptop, isn’t it?”

“No, ma’am. It’s called a notebook now. You can ruin a laptop computer if you use it on your lap because it can’t get proper ventilation. You should use it on a table.”

“But doesn’t that defeat the whole purpose of having a laptop?”

“Notebook,” he corrected.

Finally, he admitted defeat and told me to bring in both computers for repair.

“Ten days to two weeks,” the technician at the store said when I asked him how long I would be computerless.

My eyes widened. “I can’t go without a computer for that long! I need it for work! I need it for…everything!”

“We have a nice little notebook computer on sale this week,” he said. “It’s a real steal.”

Before I knew what was happening, I was buying a computer. Sure, it was on sale, but after I added the service contract and all of the accessories, I was over $1,000 poorer.

For what I spent on that dumb computer, I could have had half a Thermage treatment…at least one jowl lifted. Now, I am doomed to look like a basset hound.

But at least I’ll eventually end up with three working computers…and I can use them to go to the Thermage Web site so I can mutter at all of the “before” and “after” photos of women who have had the procedure done.

Tuesday, August 2, 2005

Soap Opera Evolution

I never thought the day would come when I wouldn’t be watching any soap operas at all on TV, but it finally has arrived…and my friends are shocked.

I grew up watching soap operas, mainly because my mother was hooked on one called, “Search for Tomorrow.” Back in the 1950s, my mother, wearing her crisp cotton housedress, would drop whatever she was doing and rush to sit in front of the TV the minute her favorite soap opera popped on.

Back then, Search for Tomorrow’s heroine, Joanne, a middle-class housewife who also wore crisp cotton housedresses (and her hair in a bun), did a lot of crying into lace-edged hankies as the ever-present organ music played in the background.

And what made poor Joanne so upset? Her wayward daughter, Patty, who did such unforgivable things as flunk math at school or stay out 20 minutes past her curfew.

“That Patty is such a brat!” my mother, shaking her head in disgust, would say after each show. “If I were Joanne, I would send her straight to reform school!”

I’m pretty sure there were other reasons for Joanne’s daily flood of tears. For one thing, she and her husband were forced to sleep in twin beds (thanks to the strict television censorship back then), which would be enough to depress anyone.

I really enjoyed watching soap operas back in the 1950s and ‘60s because the characters had normal lives and normal everyday problems to which just about everyone could relate. But over the years, the soaps evolved so much, they soon bore no resemblance whatsoever to any life that could be considered even remotely normal.

If Search for Tomorrow were to premiere today, Joanne would have a name like “Skye” and be a former CIA agent with five ex-husbands, two lovers (one of whom is half her age and used to date her daughter), and six children, each fathered by a different mysterious man, at least one of whom is an alien from another planet.

Joanne’s wayward daughter Patty probably would be a neurosurgeon who has multiple personalities and a child who hates her so much, he runs off to join a cult in one of those countries with a made-up soap opera name like “Schmutopia.”

Years ago, if you missed an episode or two of a soap opera, it was no big deal. That’s because back then, a day in the life of a soap-opera character lasted about 114 days in real life. If you tuned in to an episode in July and then didn’t watch the show again till Christmas, you still could pick up the plot pretty much where you’d left off.

Nowadays, however, soap-opera story lines move so swiftly, if a character has a baby (adopts a baby, steals a baby, finds a long-lost baby) on Monday, it’s a safe bet that the baby will be shaving by Friday.

I realize that today’s soap operas are supposed to reflect the changing times, but I can’t help but wonder how many of us really live in a town where every available bachelor looks like a male model and is either a doctor, lawyer, police officer or a detective?

Frankly, over the years, the more I watched soap operas, the more annoyed I became at certain things about them. For example, the characters’ lack of morning breath. I don’t know anyone who can wake up out of a dead sleep in the morning and roll over and talk nose to nose with his sweetie without making her eyes water. And miraculously, the sweetie always awakens in full makeup without a smudge or smear anywhere, and her hair looks as if she just stepped out of a beauty salon. The woman must sleep sitting up.

Another thing that always annoyed me were the characters’ long-lost children who always seemed to pop up during the program’s ratings slumps. These children ranged in age from less than one year to over 30, depending on what the main character needed at the time. Whenever a long-lost child was going to be added to the plot, a typical conversation would go something like this:

“Why, Dr. Kennard, I had no idea you had a 25-year-old son!”

“Neither did I, Delilah, until his mother, a woman I met while I had amnesia after a train wreck, sent me a letter last week and told me about him. I can’t wait for you to meet him. After all, you’re both about the same age and I know how lonely you’ve been since your husband died tragically in that volcano eruption. Perhaps it’s fate.”

But I guess the real reason why I finally gave up watching soap operas is because they interfered with my computer time. Now, instead of being glued to the TV at certain times every day, I can give my full attention to my computer…and join in chat-room conversations with normal, everyday people like “3HeadedMama” and “RazorEater.”

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Confessions of a Pedal Pusher

One of our friends recently bought a new bicycle that cost him a “mere” $1,200. I wouldn’t pay that much for a bicycle even if Brad Pitt were strapped to it and did all of the pedaling for me (well…maybe).

I honestly can’t understand why bicycles are so expensive nowadays, especially since they are nothing but stripped down, lightweight versions of their former selves. Back when I was a kid, bikes were solidly built and weren’t likely to be blown over by a strong gust of wind.

My first bike was a shiny blue Schwinn with upright handlebars (fashionably decorated with colorful plastic streamers and a flowered basket). It also had fat balloon tires, foot brakes and a wide, thickly padded seat.

I rode that bike everywhere, even up steep hills. Sure, it was a struggle, especially when I neared the top of the hill and had to stand on the pedals and use my full weight to force them to make each revolution. Grunting like an old sow seemed to help me get there, though.

The first new-fangled bike I ever owned was a five-speed that my husband bought for me as a surprise one summer.

I didn’t want to hurt his feelings, but there wasn’t much I liked about that bike. For one thing, the seat was so small, it completely disappeared when I sat on it. Even worse was the embarrassing position I had to assume whenever I rode it. I don’t know too many women who are secure enough to enjoy riding with their rear-ends sticking up in the air and their breasts resting on the handlebars.

The first time I went soaring downhill on the bike, I tried to slow down by lightly applying pressure on the foot brakes, as I’d always done on my old bike. Unfortunately, this bike didn’t have foot brakes, so the pedals just went around backwards…and I continued to pick up speed.

As I whooshed past the scenery, everything became a blur. Visions of my legs sticking up out of a ditch at the bottom of the hill somewhere, a twisted bicycle wrapped around them, made me panic. I squeezed both handbrakes as hard as I could…and nearly wound up toothless.

Shifting gears also was something I never got the hang of. Too often I found myself pedaling furiously and going absolutely nowhere. Other times, I felt as if I were trying to tow a tractor-trailer. There seemed to be no happy medium.

The more I rode the bike, the more I longed for a thick, padded seat and handlebars that didn’t look like a ram’s horns. I also wanted a bike with fenders so on rainy days, I wouldn’t end up with a muddy stripe down my back that made me look like a giant skunk.

My dad, innovative soul that he was, decided to build a bike for me that he figured would be the answer to all of my problems. He took an old bike frame, welded a platform onto the bottom of it, and then set a car battery on the platform. The battery was used to power a small motor that turned the wheels and eliminated the need for pedals, which he removed.

To start the bike, Dad installed a doorbell button on the right handlebar. With one simple press of the button, I was zooming off at a whiplash-inducing speed of five miles per hour. The only problem with the bike was that it weighed a ton – a fact that I became acutely aware of when I was about a mile from home one night and the battery died, so I had to push the bike all the way back home.

“I’m not riding another bike until I get one like the one I had when I was a kid,” I finally told my husband one day. “Forget the 10-speeds. I want zero-speeds…and foot brakes.”

“But what about the bike trails around here, like the ones at Bear Brook?” he asked. “They are hilly and bumpy and curvy. They are made for mountain bikes, which is what you really should get. You’d never make it even 20 feet on one of those trails if you had an old-fashioned balloon-tire bike! Haven’t you ever seen those guys on their mountain bikes on TV, flying up over hills and bumps and soaring through the air?”

“I don’t want to fly up over hills and bumps,” I said, briefly imagining how the landing, especially on one of those hard, skinny seats, would feel. “Anyway, I can always just ride my bike along the side of the highway.”

He frowned at me. “Somehow that doesn’t make me feel a whole lot better.”

I finally sold my 5-speed bike. And I haven’t owned another bike since.

My knees, my back, and every bicyclist at Bear Brook State Park should be very grateful.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

The 1970's Were Tough

There is a new show on TV that is both hilarious and painful for me to watch. It’s called “The ‘70s House.”

This reality show features a group of eight young men and women, most of them barely in their 20s, who must live together in a house that represents the lifestyle of the 1970s. They have to eat, talk, dress and act exactly the way people did back in that decade. Every time one of them breaks the rules, he or she will be evicted from the house. The last person remaining will win an assortment of expensive prizes, including a new car.

I don’t think I realized just how tough we had it back in the 1970s until I saw the reactions of the contestants on the show.

“Look at this phone!” one of them exclaimed. “It’s attached to the wall and has a… cord… on it!” The group gathered to stare at the relic, which also had a rotary dial.

“No microwave?” another one asked, his eyes scanning the kitchen.

But their faces really paled when one of the show’s hosts announced that they had to hand over all of their modern-day items. “I want your cell phones, your CD players, your iPods, your laptop computers and your name-brand cosmetics and hair products,” she said. “None of those were around in the ‘70s.”

If she had told the group that all of them were about to undergo appendectomies without anesthesia, they couldn’t have looked more stricken.

“And now for a tour of the house,” the host said.

As she led the contestants through rooms of flowered wallpaper and shag carpeting, their eyes widened in disbelief, especially when the host pointed out the state-of-the-art stereo system that included a record turntable and an 8-track tape player.

“I’ve never seen an 8-track before,” one of the girls, visibly awed, said.

My eyes immediately darted toward my own stereo, which had a Bay City Rollers tape still sticking out of the 8-track player.

The contestants also laughed when they were given a crash course in the language of the 1970s and were told that they had to begin using words such as “groovy,” “flower power,” “outta sight” and “far out.”

But what cracked them up the most was the clothing of the 1970s, which the show provided for them and insisted that they wear.

“This polyester isn’t very comfortable,” one guy said, wincing as he tried to adjust the crotch of his pants, which clung to him like a second skin.

When I saw the guys standing there in their hideous plaid polyester bell-bottoms, matching vests and Frankenstein-like platform shoes, I dissolved into laughter.

My husband frowned at me. “I had a pair of pants just like those green and blue ones!”

“Now that you mention it, didn’t they go with your green leisure-suit jacket?” I laughed even harder.

I stopped laughing, however, when the girls emerged from the bedroom and one of them was wearing a wildly flowered sack-dress that practically was a clone of one of my favorite dresses back in the ‘70s. Even worse, the girls were standing on some ugly carpeting that looked exactly like the one we still have in our living room.

“Now, I’m going to teach all of you how to do a popular 1970s’ dance called the Hustle!” the host said brightly.

Ironically, just the other day my husband and I had been talking about the “good old days” when we used to go out dancing and do a pretty mean Hustle, and how over the years, we’d completely forgotten how to do the dance.

We were offered a refresher course as the contestants on TV lined up in their polyester finery and attempted to learn the Hustle. Awkwardly they flapped their arms and clomped around with all of the grace of a herd of elephants…drunken elephants.

“Did we look that ridiculous when we used to do the Hustle?” my husband finally asked me.

“Lord, I hope not.”

Half of the show’s contestants, because they’d won an earlier basketball challenge, were told that they were going to be treated to a special meal that was really popular back in the 1970s…fondue. They seemed less than thrilled, mainly because most of them had no clue what fondue was.

As one of the guys popped a speared melted-cheese-covered cube of bread into his mouth, he made a face that usually would be reserved for smelling a stink bomb.

“This tastes more like fon-don’t!” he muttered.

The show ended with one of the contestants being evicted because he mentioned that he wanted to get Botox, a procedure that was unheard of back in the 1970s.

To be honest, I can’t wait to see next week’s show. I’m pretty sure I’ll end up spotting a clone of my current living-room set on there.