Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The Agony of the Feet

Even though the temperatures lately have been hot enough to turn streets into rivers of molten lava, I have been clomping around in thick, black leather ankle-high shoes. Why? Because it’s not easy to look good in sandals when you have bunions the size of jawbreakers.

So the other night when I took off my shoes and had to pour the perspiration out of them, I decided that bunions or not, I was going to buy some sandals. I didn’t want just any sandal, however. I wanted one with a wedge heel and a wide sling-back strap.

And what I didn’t want was any sandal that had a strip going between my toes. I have learned from experience that any person whose feet are extremely ticklish never should wear anything that rubs up and down between the toes.

I began my search for the perfect sandal by leafing through my four-foot stack of mail-order catalogs. Finally, after about two hours, I spotted the sandal I’d been looking for. It had a wedge heel with rope wrapped around it, a strap around the heel, and was made of my favorite material - denim. I rushed to my computer and found the catalog’s Web site so I could place an order.

I filled in all of the pertinent information and then pressed “submit.”

“Sorry,” a message in red popped up on the computer screen. “That item has been discontinued.”

“Noooooo!” I whined. “You can’t do this to me!”

Desperate, I decided to do a sandal search on the Internet. The computer found 709,000 of them. I looked at sandals for the next three hours, until my eyes began to feel as if I’d taken them out and rolled them in rock salt. Let’s just say that if I’d been looking for sandals in hideous colors with long strips of leather winding all the way up to the knees, I would have been in luck.

I also would have looked like Xena, Warrior Princess…with bunions.

So the other night I decided to go sandal shopping. In the first store, every sandal had a strip between the toes or a loop that went around the big toe. Those toe loops were so small, I couldn’t have wedged my big toe into one of them even if I’d slathered it with axle grease first.

In the second store, the sandals either laced up to the knee or looked as if the soles were made of recycled tractor-trailer tires. In the third store, I tried on a dainty sandal that had two thin strips of leather running diagonally across the foot. My bunion popped out from between the two strips. It looked as if it had been lassoed.

By the time I reached the fourth store, it was 8:45 and the store was closing at 9:00. By then, I really didn’t care because I was certain I wouldn’t see any sandals I liked anyway.

The minute I set foot inside, however, I felt as if I’d just entered sandal heaven. Not only did the store have racks and racks of wedge-heeled sandals, the majority of them were on sale.

I tried on a pair of black and white wedges. They had adjustable Velcro-lined straps around the toes and heel. I loved the adjustable feature because I could loosen the straps to fit around my bunions. I was carrying the sandals to the checkout counter when I happened to spot a sale table. A tan suede sandal caught my eye. I found my size and tried it on. It fit perfectly and was so comfortable, I decided to buy it on the spot. The best part was that it had been $22.99 and was marked down to $9.99.

There was a problem, however. Only one sandal was in the shoebox. The left one was among the missing. I checked every sandal on the table. I looked at my watch. The store was closing in three minutes. Panicking, I asked the sales clerk to help me.

I have to give her credit. She worked so hard searching for that sandal, you’d think it was lined with $100 bills. She searched underneath counters. She opened dozens of shoeboxes. She crawled on her hands and knees to peek under the shoe racks. She even went out back to see if it might have been tossed into what she referred to as the mismatched shoe pile.

She then enlisted the aid of another clerk, who didn’t seem quite as intent on finding the sandal, especially since the store officially had already closed for the night.

“I have no idea what happened to the sandal,” the first clerk finally said to me, her tone indicating defeat. “I mean, where could it have gone?”

“A shoplifter with two left feet?” I answered.

She just stared at me.

I ended up buying just the black and white Velcro-strap sandals.

At least my bunions finally will get some air.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Just give me a buzz

I answered the phone the other night and thought the caller was being attacked by a swarm of killer bees.

“Can you BUZZZZZ hear me? BUZZZZ,” was all I could make out.

“There’s something wrong with your phone!” I shouted into the receiver. “Call me back!”

As it turned out, every call I received that night sounded the same. I had to face the fact that either there had been a huge sale on cheap phones and all of my friends had rushed out to buy one…or there was something wrong with my phone.

Although I tried to deny the inevitable, I finally was forced to do something that I knew would end up making me pop half a bottle of Tylenol for a tension headache: I called my telephone repair service.

The recorded voice that answered wasn’t the robot-like automated one I’d expected. In fact, the woman sounded as if she had spent a few years on one of those 1-900 hotlines that teenaged boys like to call when their parents aren’t home.

“Do I understand correctly that you need a repair?” the recorded voice asked me. “Please answer yes or no.”

The buzzing on my line suddenly became so loud, I could make out only every third or fourth word she said. I decided to answer yes to everything, just to be safe.

“I’m sorry,” the voice kept saying. “I didn’t quite understand you.”

Finally, after five frustrating minutes, the voice was so confused, it transferred me to an actual human. “I hear a buzz on your line,” the woman, intuitive person that she was, said. “Is it on all of your phones?” When I said yes, she added, “Have you tested everything inside?”

“Yes, all of my phones are buzzing,” I repeated.

“No, I mean have you unplugged everything? Answering machines, computers, adaptors, all of your phones? If you do that, then plug them back in one at a time, you can find out which one might be causing the buzzing.”

“No,” I muttered. “I haven’t done that.”

“And after that,” she said, “take a working phone outside to the phone box and plug it in there to see if you can hear the buzzing outside, too.”

“Do I really have to?” I asked.

“No, but if we send out a repairman and the problem isn’t ours, it will cost you close to $100 just for the service charge.”

“I’ll go check everything right now!” I said.

I headed into the bedroom where we have two phones and an answering machine. My husband, who was home sick with a bad chest cold, was peacefully taking a nap. “You have to get up,” I said. “This is an emergency. I have to crawl behind the bed right now!”

He sat up and squinted at me. I could tell by his expression that he was trying to figure out what type of emergency possibly could be lurking behind our bed. “Mice?” he asked.

I unplugged everything associated with the phones and even a few things that weren’t, like my husband’s digital alarm-clock and the bedroom TV. By the time I was through, only one phone still was hooked up. I picked up the receiver. The killer bees had transformed into the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I unplugged that phone and plugged in another. It was worse. I sighed in defeat.

“Where is the phone box outside?” I asked my husband.

He shrugged. “Probably up on the telephone pole somewhere.”

Visions of myself dangling by the seat of my pants from a telephone pole made me think that it might be worth my while just to fork over the $100 for the repairman. Still, I grabbed a phone and headed outside.

The phone box turned out to be sticking up out of the ground. It had a little door on it that was screwed shut. I ran back into the house, grabbed a screwdriver, then knelt down in what I was certain was a big nest of starving ticks and began to work on the screw, which, by the looks of it, probably hadn’t been unscrewed since Bell invented the telephone.

As I struggled, it started to rain…really hard. Finally, I opened the door on the box and plugged in the phone. I heard nothing. No buzz, no dial tone. Nothing. By the time I re-screwed the screw, my underwear had absorbed two pounds of water.

I called back the telephone company. The woman told me that I couldn’t possibly have no dial tone outside but still have one inside.

By then, the buzzing was driving me crazy. “Send a repairman!” I shouted over the noise. “I don’t care if I have to pay!”

“Will someone be home between the hours of 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. tomorrow in case they have to come inside?” she asked.

“That’s 10 hours! I can’t guarantee that someone will be here for 10 hours! Just check everything outside, okay?”

The next morning, the phone rang and woke me. It was the repairman. “Your phone’s all set!” he said. “The problem was in the line from the street.”

His voice was crisp, loud and very clear. I heaved a sigh of relief.

Five minutes later, the phone rang again. “Hello!” the voice said. “How would you like to reduce your mortgage payment by up to 15 percent?”

Where are the killer bees when you need them?

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Eyes on the Prize

There was a woman on TV the other day who said her full-time job was entering contests and winning fabulous prizes. She then proceeded to show off her cars, boat, stacks of money and big-screen TV, all of which she said she’d won during the past year.

I glared at the woman. You see, back in the 1970s, probably before this woman even was born, I also tried to make a career out of entering contests.

It all began when I purchased a book that supposedly divulged all of the secrets to entering contests and actually winning something. I read the book from cover to cover about 10 times and memorized nearly every word. And I must confess, I really did learn a lot from that book.

For example, contest entry blanks must be filled out exactly as listed in the rules. If the rules say to hand print your name and address and you type them, you’re disqualified. If they instruct you to send a postcard and you send a piece of paper in an envelope, you’re disqualified. And if the mailing address says Boston, MA and you write out the word Massachusetts on your entry, you’re disqualified. All of this nit-picking fussiness, according to the book, is to narrow down the number of eligible entries.

The book also said to send a few entries each week during the entire run of the contest. That way, you would have more of a chance of getting an entry into each separate mailbag instead of having them all wind up in just one.

As visions of winning mountains of money and a fleet of shiny new cars filled my head, I drove to the local pharmacy and purchased a stack of magazines, some envelopes (the business-sized ones, which the book said are pulled out of the stacks of entries more often because they are bigger), 3x5-inch index cards and a variety of ink pens in different colors. Then I headed to the post office to buy a roll of stamps.

I was ready.

I flipped through the magazines and found quite a few sweepstakes that offered exciting prizes such as cars, money, exotic trips and home-entertainment centers. I carefully cut out the rules for each contest and then numbered them according to their entry deadlines. Finally, I began to write out my entries.

The first time I received a registered letter from a place called the National Judging Institute in New York, I nearly needed CPR. “You are a winner in the Benson & Hedges 100’s Sweepstakes,” the letter stated. “Please fill out the enclosed affidavit and return it to us to claim your prize.”

My hands trembled as I filled out the form and then rushed to the post office to mail it. That night, when I told my husband that he’d probably soon be driving around town in a brand new 1975 Cadillac, he no longer thought my obsession with contests was (quote), “a big waste of time and money because nobody ever really wins those things.”

A few weeks later, I received another letter from the National Judging Institute informing me of my prize.

To my disbelief, I’d won 100 bags of marbles.

I felt the blood rush to my face as I stood there gripping the letter and wondering what kind of a dumb prize that was…and how on earth I was going to delicately break the news to my husband that he was going to have to keep driving around in his Gremlin.

That’s when I happened to read the rest of the letter. It said that I could opt for a $200 cash prize in place of the marbles. It wasn’t a car but heck, $200 was a lot of money back in 1975. I was tickled pink.

My contest obsession officially had begun.

Over the next few months, however, no matter how hard I tried, I never was able to win the grand prize in any of the contests I entered. Third prize was about the highest I ever reached.

Some of my prizes included: a backgammon set from Realemon, a travel book from L&M, a bath set from Jovan, $50 in groceries from Palmolive, a Disney GAF Viewmaster from Hostess, a rainforest umbrella from S.C. Johnson, $100 worth of jewelry from WFEA Radio and a set of hourglass-shaped Tab glasses from Coca-Cola.

I also won official Chris Evert and Jimmy Connors autographed tennis racquets, but seeing that I knew nothing about tennis and had no clue who Chris and Jimmy were, I sold the racquets for $5 at a yard sale. And then I won a year’s supply of hot-dogs…instead of the trip for six to Disney World.

I stopped entering contests when the postage rates went up, but a few years ago, I found the how-to-win-contests book in my desk drawer, reread it and decided to try my luck once again. This time, however, I selected only one contest (the one with the biggest grand prize) and concentrated on entering and winning that one. I figured that sending all of my entries to only one contest instead of spreading them out over several would give me better odds of winning. I spent over $35 in postage, but I knew it was going to be worth it in the end.

I actually did end up winning a prize for my efforts. It was (and I am totally serious here) an exciting package of Shamu the Killer Whale stationery.

I think I left it in the back seat of my husband’s Gremlin when it was towed to the junkyard.