Wednesday, April 27, 2011

I CAN'T COMPETE WITH GEORGE

I have had a love affair with pizza ever since grammar school, when my friend Carole invited me over for lunch and her mother made Chef Boyardee pizza, hot from the oven. From that first cheese-covered bite, I was hooked.

The first place where I bought pizza was called Expresso Pizza on Elm St. in Manchester, back when I was in the fifth grade. For less than $1, I could get a couple slices and a soft drink. And the slices were huge. Many of my weekly allowances were spent at that place.

I thought I was the world’s biggest pizza lover until I met my husband. On one of our first dates we went to a pizza restaurant in Concord and he ordered a large pizza, nearly 20 inches in diameter…all for himself. I had to order a separate small one.

I watched in awe as he devoured slice after slice, as if he were eating potato chips. Finally, when he had only two slices left, he slowed down.

“Looks like the pizza won this battle!” I said. “I didn’t think you could eat an entire large pizza by yourself!”

I got the feeling I shouldn’t have uttered those words because he immediately took them as a challenge, sat up straight, gave me a defiant look and choked down the last two pieces.

He was sick for the next two days.

About 10 years ago, I decided to try to make my own pizza. I bought everything I needed, from dough mix and sauce to pepperoni and two different cheeses. Then I set to work, kneading, rolling, tossing, chopping, stirring and baking. The end result was, well, surprisingly scrumptious.

My husband couldn’t rave enough as he downed half the pizza. I matched him slice for slice until the last piece. We tossed a coin for it.

After that, I became obsessed with making pizza. Each night, my husband would come home from work and ask, “What’s for dinner?”

“I’m making pizza!” I’d answer.

His whole face would light up. “Great! I can’t wait!”

Fast forward to a couple months and about 25 pizzas later. When my husband asked what was for dinner and I answered pizza, he got this look on his face that was similar to that of someone whose underwear was too tight.

“Um, burgers would be nice now and then,” he said. “Or maybe some chicken and potatoes.”

“But you love my pizza!” I’d answer. “And I put extra everything on yours, just the way you like it!”

I’d gotten into the habit of making two separate pizzas – one with all of my husband’s favorites on it, and one with all of mine. His had a layer of sauce, a layer of shredded cheddar cheese, mozzarella, a thick layer of ground beef, another layer of cheese buried beneath crumbled bacon and sliced ham, and as a finishing touch, a layer of sliced pepperoni covering the whole thing. It was a heart attack waiting to happen.

My pizza, however, had thinly sliced green peppers and onions, cheese, chopped fresh tomatoes, sliced mushrooms and just a sprinkling of cooked ground beef.

One night, I invited two of my female friends over for my homemade pizza. I made a special separate pizza for just my husband because I figured no one else would want a pizza that contained enough meat to feed a Bengal tiger. Then I made two more pizzas with lots of veggies for us girls.

I removed the pizzas from the oven, set them on the counter and sliced them, then went to the fridge to get the drinks. “Help yourselves while the pizza’s hot!” I shouted over my shoulder.

When I arrived at the table, I was horrified to see my two friends devouring my husband’s meat-and-grease-laden pizza. My husband, who’d just entered the room after coming out of the bathroom, stood frowning at the backs of their heads as he watched his meaty monstrosity rapidly disappearing.

“This is really good!” one of the girls said, wiping pepperoni grease from her chin. “I’m going to have another slice!”

“Me, too!” said the other.

I was afraid my husband might fling himself across the pan to protect what was left of his precious pizza


But a few years ago, something happened that put an abrupt end to my pizza-making days. My husband and I were in Raymond, shopping in Ben Franklin’s, when he mentioned he was hungry. “Let’s grab a bite at that pizza place I saw next door when we came in,” he said.

So we went to Pizza by George and had pizza. After just one bite, a blissful smile spread across my husband’s face and his eyes glazed over. An involuntary “Mmmmmm!” escaped from his lips. He was in love.

I hated to admit it, but even my best pizza couldn’t hold a candle to George’s. So now, whenever my husband craves pizza, he drives all the way to Raymond for it, about a 30-mile round trip. As a result, I’ve had to hang up my pizza-maker’s apron. It’s just not worth the effort to go through all of the trouble of making pizza just for myself.

I think I may have to track down this George guy and have a little talk with him.

Monday, April 18, 2011

THE LONG AND SHORT OF AGING


I made a shocking discovery the other day. Somewhere, somehow, I’ve lost nearly two inches in height.

For as long as I can remember, I was always 5’7” and considered to be tall. In grade school, I towered over most of the boys, which made it difficult for me to find a dance partner whose head I couldn’t use for a chin rest.

And every time photos were taken of me with the kids in my junior-high class, I always seemed to be standing next to the tiniest guy there, Charlie Groleau (I always thought his last name was kind of ironic, considering his small stature), so I’d usually end up looking as if I should be living at the top of a beanstalk and shouting, “Fee fi fo fum!”

Dating also was difficult because most of the guys who asked me out were about 5’6” tall. I loved to wear high heels because I thought they made my chunky legs look longer and slimmer. Add to the fact that teased, beehive hairstyles were all the rage back then, and I ended up being about 6’1”.

My dad loved to tease me whenever I brought home a guy who was vertically challenged.

“Another one that you can eat peanuts off the top of his head!” Dad, right on cue, would joke after the guy had gone home.

I, however, failed to see the humor in the peanuts comment. Dad never changed the food to something else like French fries or Oreos. With him, it was always peanuts I could eat off the guy’s head.

Still, I wasn’t about to wear flat hair and flat shoes for any guy, not unless I wanted to show him just how chunky my legs really were or how fat my head was. Teased hair, after all, was a great camouflage for my oversized head because no one could tell how much actually was hair and how much was head.

When my friend Alice suggested I let her fix me up on a blind date with her fiance’s best friend, the first thing I asked was how tall he was. She answered with, “Oh, he’s sooooo cute! Dark hair, dark eyes, a great physique! And he’s such a nice guy, too!

“How tall is he?” I repeated.

“And he has a good job and a nice car, and he’s generous beyond words!”

“His height!” I shouted. “How tall is he?”

“Um, about 5’8”, give or take an inch.”

I rolled my eyes. Would I ever be able to wear my 3-inch heels on a date without feeling like Zita, Queen of the Amazons?

Luckily, the blind date turned out to be very casual, so I wore jeans and sneakers. And Alice turned out to be right. The guy was everything she’d said he was, and more. Less than a year later, I was out buying a wedding gown.

Even though I opted to wear only three-quarter-inch heels for the wedding, between my teased hair and the puffy wedding veil, I still was about two inches taller than my husband-to-be.

“I have an idea!” I told him a couple weeks before the wedding. “You can get some lifts to put in your shoes, and then we’ll be the same height!”

The look he gave me made me feel as if I’d just suggested something that qualified as grounds for a divorce before we even got married.
“You mean you want me to wear shoes with high heels on them so I’ll look like one of those flamenco dancers?” he asked.

“No, I’m talking about lifts,” I said. “They’re like thick, hard cushions you put inside your shoes to make you taller. No one can see them, so no one will even know you’re wearing them!”

So on our wedding day, my husband, wearing lifts in his rented shoes, walked down the aisle. He looked much taller, but the only problem was the lifts made his feet rise right out of his shoes by nearly two inches. So the backs of the shoes kept flopping because they had nothing to grab on to. As a result, they made clippity-clop noises whenever he walked. It sounded as if I were marrying a Clydesdale.

Our wedding photos, however, looked great.

But a funny thing happened after we got married. My husband shot up to over 5’10” within the first two years. Suddenly I could wear high heels and tease my hair and still look directly into his eyes. His explanation was he was just a late bloomer.

But now, over 40 years later, because I’m shrinking, he has close to five inches over me, which gives him a huge sense of satisfaction. In fact, just the other day he told me he still has the lifts he wore at our wedding and I could borrow them if I’d like.

And then he said he was going to go buy some peanuts.

Monday, April 11, 2011

NOT AFRAID OF THE DARK...MUCH

When my husband recently spent nearly a week in the hospital, I was forced to do something I’d never done before…stay alone in the house.

I honestly thought I’d be brave. When we were first married, my husband used to go away for a week or two at a time for job training, and I had no problem with it. That, however, was because our neighbors lived so close, I could hear them brushing their teeth at night.

At our new house, however, our neighbors are all so far away, if they were outside shooting off a cannon, I still wouldn’t hear them.

I soon realized just how dark and scary living out in the middle of the woods can be…and just how much my imagination can run wild.

The first night, I got home from the hospital at about 10. The automatic garage door opened and I drove into the garage. Then I hit the remote control and watched, in my rearview mirror, the door slowly close behind me.

Instead of feeling safe, I suddenly felt terrified. What, I wondered, would have stopped someone or something really creepy from crawling under the door just before it closed? Who or what might be lurking in the garage, just waiting for me to get out of the car?

It didn’t even dawn on me that if something had tried to slither underneath the door, the door’s anti-crushing sensor would have automatically opened it again. No, I was too busy imagining some drooling, wild-eyed murderer hiding behind the trash barrel.

So I stayed in the car and frantically searched for a weapon. The only thing I found was a dog leash. I thought maybe I could use it as a whip…or a noose.

And then it happened. The light that automatically pops on whenever the garage door opens, popped off. I was sitting in total darkness. I knew the only way I’d be able to light my way into the house would be to open the garage door again, but I didn’t want to risk opening it to an awaiting axe murderer. I thought about turning on the car’s headlights, walking over to the light switch on the garage wall and turning on the overhead light, then turning off the headlights.

“Oh, just be brave and make a dash for the door!” I told myself. “Stop being such a big chicken!”

I finally opened the car door, which made the interior light in the car pop on, so I was able to see a little of the garage. Every shadow in there seemed to be moving. Clutching my weapon (a.k.a. the dog’s leash), I eased out of the car and walked a few steps away from it. Then I extended my leg and used it to shove the car door shut, which threw me into instant darkness.

I felt my way up the two steps to the side door of the house, frantically searched for the keyhole, unlocked the door and bolted inside. I slammed the door shut and leaned against it, breathing a sigh of relief.

Almost immediately I realized I’d left my handbag out in the car. At that point, even if it had a roll of $100 bills and a winning lottery ticket stuffed into it, I wouldn’t have gone back out to the garage to get it. I was inside the house, safe and sound, and planned to stay there.

But, I suddenly wondered, was I really safe?

Something I’d heard on TV a few days before instantly sprang to mind. A police officer had said if you own a dog that usually greets you at the door but you come home some night and the dog doesn’t greet you, you should turn around and head right back outside because it could mean a burglar has silenced the dog and is hiding inside.

Well, I have two dogs and neither one greeted me, which was strange. Usually, the minute I set foot in the door, I am attacked by two furry bodies that smother me with sloppy kisses (no, one of them isn’t my husband).

I had left a light on in the living room, so I peeked around the corner of the kitchen doorway and saw both dogs lying on the rug. I stifled a gasp. They were so still! Had they, I wondered, been fed drug-laced meatballs by some crook who, at that very moment, was rifling through my underwear drawer?

I carefully made my way through the kitchen and into the living room, flipping on every light switch I came to as I did. When I reached the living room, both dogs looked up at me as if to say, “Oh? You finally decided to come home?” Then they both yawned and fell back to sleep.

I felt somewhat reassured that their ho-hum attitude meant there was no burglar hiding underneath my bed. So I headed down to the bedroom to change into my comfy sweatpants.

All I can say is living in a house that has 15 doors can be pretty scary when you’re all alone at night. Every time I passed a door, I had the eerie feeling someone or something was standing behind it and was going to jump out and grab me. Unfortunately I had to pass six doors just to get to the closet…and my sweatpants.

The good thing about having a walk-in closet is I can fit tons of stuff in it. The bad thing about having one is it easily could hide a small army of thugs. I grasped the closet door’s handle and hesitated. Was something other than my ratty old clothing and boxes of junk waiting for me on the other side? Something breathing, perhaps?

At that very moment, the phone rang. I nearly jumped out of my skin. It was my husband, calling to see if I’d made it home safely.

“I’m fine,” I said, in a voice that was slightly higher pitched than usual. “Um, by the way, you know that gun you use for skeet shooting? Is it loaded?”

“My shotgun?” he asked. “No, why?”

“Oh, just curious, that’s all. By the way, where do you keep it?”

“In the walk-in closet.”

I rolled my eyes and muttered something incoherent under my breath.

I did manage to survive the nights alone while my husband was in the hospital. All I had to do was turn on every light in the house, sit with a rottweiler on each side of me and a Ginsu knife in my lap, and not go to bed until the sun came up.

Simple.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

ARCHAEOLOGISTS WILL FIND MY SNEAKERS

I admire people who love to grow things and can turn their yards into replicas of the Botanical Gardens. I however, am stuck facing another spring with my yard resembling the La Brea Tar Pits.

Never has so much mud collected in one spot. Walking out there in anything less than knee-high boots all but guarantees you’ll have your shoes sucked right off your feet. I swear there are at least two pairs of my sneakers buried somewhere in the subterranean depths of the yard, never to be seen again during my lifetime. In the distant future, archaeologists will unearth my sneakers and display them in a museum.

It’s not that I haven’t tried to grow a lush green lawn. Last year alone, I purchased enough grass seed to cover Fenway Park. Then I spent countless hours raking the yard, leveling it and ridding it of rocks and debris so I could seed it.

The only problem was I didn’t know how to water it.

For most people, watering the lawn is a simple thing. They attach one end of a hose to an outdoor faucet and the other end to a sprinkler of some sort and voila!, the lawn gets watered. Unfortunately, in my case it’s not quite that simple.

Because the water in our well tested so high for arsenic I could have made lemonade with it and used it as a lethal weapon, we had to have a complicated water filtration system installed in our basement. It has something to do with osmosis and uses a product called Pot Perm, and makes a washing-machine kind of noise when it’s doing its thing. It also has to be regularly checked by a professional water person to keep it in top condition.

The last time the water person came over he happened to mention that whenever I water the lawn I should bypass the filtration system so as not to abuse it.

“All you have to do,” he said, “is turn this, flip this and shut that.”

It looked easy when he did it, but the minute he left the house, I completely forgot what to flip and what to turn. All I ended up doing was shutting off the water completely. So I decided to quit fiddling with the filtrations system and just wait for the rain to water my grass seed.

I waited a long time. The end result, after three weeks or so, was about 30 small clumps of grass spread out over the entire yard. The clumps were green for about a week, then they shriveled up, turned brown and died a slow and agonizingly painful death.

I tried again, using Kentucky bluegrass seed. I figured if anything would give me a long, lush lawn, that would be it.

Once again I got clumps, only these were longer and stragglier. They looked like big green fright wigs sprinkled all over the ground.

This year, however, my problems are much worse. Not only is there no grass at all, the yard is sinking. A wide trench suddenly appeared and caused the fence gate to go lopsided and pop open. I now have a bungee cord holding it in place. The trench then snaked its way over to the back porch and swallowed two of the legs, causing everything to tilt to the right. Only people who have one leg shorter than the other will be comfortable standing on our porch.

But because of the all the snow we had this winter, which eventually melted into 10,000 gallons of water, the yard now has transformed into 2,000 square feet of mud. And this is no ordinary mud. It’s mud that’s possessed by evil spirits.

I swear that the minute my dogs set one paw out there, the demon mud flings itself onto them, savagely clinging to every bit of fur on their bodies as it cackles maniacally. It also entices them to dig deep holes in it and fling it all over the side of the house.

When I open the door to let the dogs back inside, only their eyes are visible. The rest of their body parts are covered with mud. And their noses have such big clumps on them, they look like clown noses.

I spent the better part of last week trying to remember what the real color of my floors is.

Still, I’m not about to attempt to fill the trench, rake the mud or plant grass seed again. No, I’m throwing in the towel, raising the white flag, admitting defeat.

Besides that, I figure I can make a small fortune renting out the yard for monster truck mud-bog races.