Thursday, September 23, 2010

I'LL TAKE THE PYTHON

I was reading an article in the paper the other day about this year’s Spooky World attractions in Litchfield, and one of them is a house in which each room features a common phobia. One room, for example, has a snake theme, while another has spiders.

I love amusement parks and haunted houses, but when I read the part about the spiders, all I can say is you wouldn’t catch me near that place even if it were the only shelter from a hurricane.

The funny thing is, my mother always was terrified of snakes, but spiders didn’t bother her at all. I, on the other hand, if given the choice between spiders and snakes, would prefer to see a python sitting in my living room.

I think my fear began when I was young and stayed overnight at my aunt’s house during summer vacation. She lived out in the country in a brick house that had ivy growing up the sides of it. The night was really hot and I was having trouble sleeping, so she opened my bedroom window. The window had no screen, and the ivy climbed right up into it.

When I woke up the next morning, the room was filled with bugs that had decided to visit during the night – most noticeably spiders crawling across the ceiling directly over the bed. I think the people in the next town heard me screaming.

I’ve come a long way since then, however. When I was a kid, even a spider the size of the head of a pin would send me running for shelter. Now I can tolerate one the size of a nail head without hyperventilating.

During our first year of marriage, my husband was my big, brave spider-killer – my knight in shining armor…my Sir Smacks-A-Lot. It didn’t matter if the spider was the size of a tarantula, he would either smack it with his bare hand or use nothing more than a tissue to catch it with, as I watched in awe. That’s because I wouldn’t have touched a spider even if I were wearing hockey gloves.

But over the years, my husband grew wimpier and wimpier when it came to protecting me from the 8-legged invaders. The worst part was he blamed me for his increasing wimpiness. He said my arachnophobia had rubbed off on him and made him fear spiders, too.

So whenever there is a spider in the house nowadays, we are like two frightened children, cowering in the corner and praying one of the dogs will spot the hideous creature and pounce on it.

The other night, I went out to the kitchen and sitting right there on the wall like some kind of decoration, was a big spider – a spider on steroids. If there were a dating service for spiders, this one would end up getting his money refunded, because no female spider in her right mind would be attracted to anything so creepy looking. He was the ugliest spider I’d ever seen – a dark tan color with long, thick legs and a fat head. I bolted back into the living room.

“You didn’t kill it?” my husband asked.

“I’m not going anywhere near that thing!” I said, climbing onto the sofa and tucking my legs underneath me to protect them.

“Well, I’m not going to be able to sleep tonight now, knowing that it could be crawling into bed with us,” he said as he shuddered for effect.

His ploy worked. He knew I’d rather do battle with the spider while it was still in the kitchen than wake up and find it lying next to me on my pillow. I approached the kitchen so cautiously, you’d think it had been sprinkled with anthrax powder.

I made my way to the cabinet underneath the kitchen sink and took out my trusty can of Raid.

“Don’t get any of that on the walls!” my husband called out to me from the safety of his recliner. “It might stain the paint!”

“Well, what do you want me to do? Just spray it in the general vicinity? Will ‘essence of Raid’ kill him or just really tick him off?”

As I inched my way toward the spider, he started to move…fast. I sprayed the can directly at him. He fell off the wall and onto the floor and continued to run. Brave soul that I am, I ran in the opposite direction.

I haven’t seen any sign of the spider since, but I have a strong, gut feeling he’s still alive. That’s because I checked every inch of the kitchen and found no curled-up spider corpse lying anywhere about.

So if I’m awakened some morning by the sound of a tiny Raid-induced cough right next to my head on the pillow, I’m not going to open my eyes.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

BURGLARS BEWARE!

When I was taking a walk around the neighborhood at dusk the other night, a man who lives on the next street over greeted me and then added, “Not to scare you or anything, but we were burglarized the other night.”

Scare me? Why on earth would he think that telling me about a burglar lurking somewhere in the neighborhood when it was nearly dark out and I still had to walk past a quarter-mile of nothing but thick woods to get back home would scare me?

I’m pretty sure I actually broke a few Olympic speed records getting back home.

A couple years ago, the house right next to our property (our house hadn’t been built yet) also was burglarized…and that house had an alarm system. The thieves took everything but the wallpaper.

Actually, I’m not that concerned about having our stuff stolen because we really don’t have anything thieves would be interested in. My three jewelry boxes contain about $100 worth of jewelry, most of which is tarnished. I bought our TV on sale for only $499. My computer is so old, the company doesn’t even make parts for it any more. And the loose-change jar into which my husband used to empty his pockets every night, contains nothing but cobwebs since he retired.

I must confess, however, that I’ve always been terrified of discovering some criminal roaming through my house. This fear caused me to get some pretty strange looks last year when I went shopping for a new bedroom set.

“Here we have a lovely solid maple four-poster bed,” the sales clerk said, smiling proudly.

Had he offered me a bed made entirely of poison-tipped arrows, I couldn’t have looked more appalled. “No!” I practically shouted. “Nothing with posts or slats…or anything else I can be tied to!”

The expression on his face told me he thought I needed a long vacation somewhere far away from civilization.

“It’s just that in every horror movie I’ve seen where some maniac breaks into a house,” I explained, “the people who live there always end up getting tied to the bed. So I want a bed I can’t be tied to.”

The clerk led me to a sleigh bed. The headboard was one solid slab of curved wood with no posts. I wasn’t particularly fond of the style…or the price, but I bought it. Since then, I’ve been able to sleep a little less fearfully.

But thanks to a movie I saw years ago, I may never be able to sleep in total peace.

In the movie, a woman awakened at about 3 in the morning and had to go to the bathroom. When she came back to bed and climbed in, in total darkness, little did she know that while she was in the bathroom, a killer had broken into her bedroom, slipped underneath the covers and was waiting for her.

Ever since I saw that movie, I turn on just about every light in the house when I get up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Then when I come back to bed, I make absolutely certain that the body lying there belongs to my husband and not some fiendish killer clone.

I do feel some measure of safety, however, knowing that anyone who breaks into our house will have to face two very large rottweilers. Granted, one of the dogs would shower the thug with sloppy wet kisses. But the other would de-pants him and then shred everything all the way up to his eyebrows. Any potential burglar will have to find out the hard way which dog is which.

And speaking of the dogs, our insurance company strongly recommended that we hang “Caution, Guard Dog on Duty” signs on our property rather than just the standard “Beware of the Dog,” because the guard-dog signs are supposed to be much more effective at keeping undesirables at bay.

I really didn’t want to hang any signs, but I figured if I didn’t and the dogs ended up de-pantsing someone, I could be sued, and then the insurance company would say, “Sorry! We told you to post those signs and you didn’t! Now we’re not paying!”

So I bought the guard-dog signs and hung them, even though I was pretty sure they not only would discourage burglars from paying a visit, they also would discourage just about everyone else from coming within 100 yards of our place.

A few days after I hung the signs, I received a call from a woman who said she was a tax assessor for the town.

“Now that your house is 100-percent completed,” she said, “we need to assess it at its full value. We went over there the other day and were going to take some outside measurements, but we noticed the sign about the guard dog and decided not to chance it.”

Bless my insurance company.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

THE LORD OF THE RINGS

When my husband proposed to me 39 years ago, he didn't even have a ring for me. I guess he figured he wouldn't risk spending any money until he was absolutely certain I'd say yes.

After I agreed to marry him, we headed straight to a jewelry store in the Bedford Mall. As I was excitedly looking at all of the diamonds, I couldn’t help but notice that my husband-to-be was staring at something in a nearby jewelry case. When I held up my hand, sporting a diamond the size of a doorknob and asked him what he thought of it, he didn't even glance at it. He just mumbled, "Yeah, that's nice" and continued to stare into the other case.

Finally, I asked him what was so interesting.

"Those wedding bands right there," he said, pointing at two really wide, really thick gold bands. They looked as if they’d been hacked off a piece of brass pipe. "Aren't they fantastic?"

"Fantastic" wasn't exactly the word I'd have used to describe the rings. I critically eyed the two chunks of gold and wanted to tell him I preferred dainty rings, not something that looked as if it should be holding a dinner napkin, but I held my tongue. "They're really nice," I said, though not at all convincingly.

"Well, I love them!" he practically gushed. "They're so different, so solid looking, not some wimpy little bands like most of them are. I think we should get them."

Reluctantly, I tried on the band. It came all the way up to my knuckle. I could barely bend my finger. Even worse, it was so thick, I couldn't close my fingers. "Where would I fit the engagement ring?" I asked. "The band is so wide, it takes up my whole finger! "

My husband smiled. "If we get these rings, you won't need an engagement ring. This will be all the ring you'll ever need!"

That was an understatement. It was all the ring about 10 people would ever need. If it were melted down, I figured it could make rings for an entire neighborhood. Not only that, when I wore it, there certainly would be no doubt in anyone's mind that I was married. The ring probably could be spotted by passengers in planes flying overhead.

Before I could utter an opinion, my husband, grinning with satisfaction, bought the wedding bands…and no engagement ring.

Within a year after getting married and having the pleasure of wearing my chunky wedding band 24 hours a day, my ring finger was peeling so much, I felt like an iguana. The problem was that no air was able to get underneath the thick gold, so my skin constantly was damp and raw. Before my finger rotted off, I decided I’d better have a heart-to-heart talk with my husband.

"I was wondering if maybe I could trade in this band for a more dainty wedding-ring set?" I dared to ask. "I honestly can't wear it any more. It's really uncomfortable and my finger is always raw."

Had I told him I was running off to the Bahamas with the plumber, he couldn't have looked more shocked. "But if you buy another wedding band," he said, "it won't be official!"

I had no idea what he was talking about.

"We put these rings on each other's hands at the altar," he explained. "That made them official wedding bands. Before that, they were just plain bands. Any rings we buy now won't be official!"

"I don't care about being official!" I said. "I care about comfort. I haven't been able to close my fingers since our wedding day! Admit it – you're not comfortable wearing yours, either."

He hesitated for a few moments then said, "Well, no, I'm not comfortable, but I'm willing to suffer because of what the ring stands for!"

Just what I needed – a ring martyr. "Even if it gives you a bad case of athlete's finger?" I asked.

He rolled his eyes and shook his head, so I decided to drop the subject.

A few months later, I was in Montgomery Ward and just happened to pass through their fine jewelry department. There, I spotted a beautiful diamond solitaire ring with a matching band that had a row of tiny diamonds across the front. I instantly was in love.

Coincidentally, about that same time there was an ad in the paper about some company in search of gold and silver that was coming to one of the local hotels and was willing to pay big cash for unwanted jewelry. I rushed right over there.

I walked out with three times the money my husband originally had paid for the band…and then I headed straight to Montgomery Ward.

Funny, but my husband never mentioned the new rings when I started wearing them, and he continued to wear his band until his finger nearly developed gangrene. Finally, for his birthday one year, I decided to be brave and bought him a much thinner band with the Irish Claddagh symbol (his favorite symbol) on it. He actually looked relieved when he opened it.

"Well, it's really nice…so I'll wear it," he said, "even though it’s not an 'official' wedding band. But unlike you, I’m never going to part with my original ring because it has a lot of sentimental value."

He put the original band into a box in his drawer and never wore it again. With all of the gold it contained, I was surprised he didn’t store it at Fort Knox.

Last week, I brought some old, worn-out silver coins from the 1960s to Concord Coin and came home with $685. The owner of the shop told me he also was paying the highest prices around for gold.

When my husband saw my wad of cash, he went to his dresser drawer and took out his precious original wedding band. "Maybe we should find out how much we can get for this," he said.

So much for sentiment.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

10 DAYS OF LIVING IN TERROR

Our newly adopted dog, Raven, has been undergoing heartworm treatment, a long and painful process that is similar to chemotherapy. Luckily, she has seemed to breeze through it with no ill effects, remaining cheerful and energetic through it all.

Two weeks ago, however, things changed. Raven started to growl…a lot.

It seemed as if everything bothered her. She growled at our other dog. She growled at the wind. She growled at my husband when he entered the room. She beat up her teddy bear and then growled at that, too. And when she saw her own reflection in the curio cabinet, she attacked it. For some reason, I was spared. Whenever I came near her, the growling stopped.

“I think she may be in pain,” I said to my husband. “She’s really grouchy. I’m going to take her to the vet’s, just to be safe. I mean, she could have a heartworm carcass lodged in her brain or something.”

Raven’s regular vet wasn’t available that day, so another vet examined her.

“Raven’s been really grouchy,” I told her. “She’s suddenly growling and lunging at everything that moves.”

The vet’s eyes widened. “She was a stray, you say?” The minute I nodded, she backed up a few inches and started to put on rubber gloves. “You know, it’s possible she might have rabies!”

Rabies! Stephen King’s frothing killer dog, “Cujo,” whose hobby was dismembering people, immediately came to mind. I was afraid to move. “But she’s fine with me,” I said. “She doesn’t growl at me.”

“Not yet!” the vet said, comforting soul that she was. “When she was a stray, she could have been attacked by a rabid animal, and even though you’ve had her vaccinated, it may have been too late. She’ll keep getting worse and then be dead within 10 days. Then, you and your husband will have to undergo a series of really painful rabies shots.”

Before I could even open my mouth, which actually was already hanging open, she added, “If she gets worse, we’ll want to test her for rabies.”

“Can’t you do it now?” I asked.

“We’d have to remove her brain to do it,” she answered.

And I’d thought human tests were bad? I promised myself I’d never complain about a colonoscopy again.

“But she has no signs of hydrophobia,” I said, remembering that hydrophobia was another name for rabies because dogs with rabies get swollen throats that make them shy away from drinking water.

“Hydrophobia?” the vet repeated. “I don’t know – I’ll have to look that up.”

She decided to draw some blood to test Raven for anything other than rabies. Trying to jab an already grouchy dog, however, proved to be a big mistake. Cujo seemed like a pet hamster compared to Raven. Within seconds, the vet and the technician were backing out the door.

The next thing I knew, a muzzle was being tossed at me. “Please put this on her,” the technician said.

I held up the muzzle, took one look at the growling dog and wondered how many fingers I’d lose in process. Not only that, I wasn’t sure I even wanted to get near any mouth that contained potentially infectious rabies saliva. But I finally gathered the courage to give it a try. To my relief, Raven didn’t protest when I muzzled her.

After the blood was drawn, the vet gave her a shot of rimadyl and an antibiotic, just in case she was having pain or inflammation somewhere, then told me to take her home, watch her every move, and wash my hands frequently. She also told me that if Raven did have rabies, death would come pretty rapidly.

“To her or to us?” I had to ask.

As I drove home with Raven in the back seat, I kept wondering if at any minute she was going to latch onto the back of my neck and tear off a chunk. The 10-minute drive seemed to take an hour.

The minute I got home, I put Raven in the laundry room and used a baby gate to block the doorway. Then I told my husband what the vet had said. He cast me a look of sheer disbelief.

“And they sent you home with her?” he asked, “Aren’t they supposed to quarantine her or hold her for observation or something? What if she gets loose?”

“I don’t know, I’m new at this rabies thing!” I said. “We’ll just have to make sure she doesn’t get loose!”

Later that day, I knew I had to take Raven out of the laundry room and bring her outside to do her duty. When I told my husband I was going out to the yard with her, he gasped, “You’re actually going to release the Kraken?”

I couldn’t help it, I laughed. He was referring to a movie we’d recently seen, “Clash of the Titans,” where Hades, the ruler of the Underworld, had created a hideous, drooling, vicious beast called the Kraken. Whenever someone in the movie got the gods ticked off, they’d shout, “Release the Kraken!” and it would tear off someone’s head.

For the rest of the week, my husband and I walked around on tiptoes. We also studied every move Raven made. If she yawned, we thought it was because her mouth was swelling. If she drooled, we thought she was foaming at the mouth. We were so paranoid, whenever she slept, we kept checking her breathing to make sure she still was among the living. We also washed our hands about 950,000 times.

But Raven didn’t get worse, she got better. In fact, by the end of 10 days, she was romping and playing with her ball and not growling any more. And when the regular vet came back, she contacted me and said she thought Raven’s problem might be that she was hormonal, mainly because she’d been in heat twice in the past three months, which wasn’t normal. So Raven is now scheduled to be spayed on Sept. 16. I would have had the surgery done back in May when we first adopted her, but the heartworm treatment had to be completed first.

So basically, Raven just had a really bad case of PMS.

My husband said he completely understands how that could be confused with rabies.