Wednesday, June 22, 2011

I'LL JUST KEEP MOVING FORWARD

I was talking to my uncle not long ago about his driver’s exam, the one the state requires people to take when they reach age 75. He said it was a snap, even when they made him back up between two lines.

I felt my stomach knot as I mentally calculated how long it would be before I’d have to take that test. The truth is, I’m not particularly good at backing up – either in a car or out of one.

“They didn’t make you parallel park, did they?” I almost was afraid to ask. I couldn’t parallel park a car even if the space had enough room for a motor home.

“No, no parallel parking,” he said. “Just driving where he directs you to go and then backing up.”

There was that “backing up” part again. If I were good at backing up, I wouldn’t have had to spend the past 38 years driving around parking lots until I found a parking spot with an empty one in front of it so I could drive through to the front spot and be facing forward…no backing up required. Sometimes it meant I had to walk a half-mile to a store, when I could have parked 10 feet from the door. But I probably have a great set of lungs now because of it.

“How about the written exam?” I asked my uncle. “They don’t make you answer all of those questions again about how many feet from a fire hydrant you should park or how fast you should drive during a blizzard, do they?”

“No, nothing written,” he said. “Just a road test.”

I breathed a sigh of relief. I used to be able to read stuff and memorize it in a snap. Now, I have trouble remembering my own phone number, never mind how many feet it takes the average car to come to a full stop when it’s going 35 m.p.h.

When we built our current house and I saw the width of the garage doors for the first time, I nearly broke out in a cold sweat. How, I wondered, was I going to aim my car to fit perfectly through that doorway without scraping the sides? Even worse, once I managed to get the car into the garage, would I be able to back it out without causing any structural damage to the building…or myself?

The first few times I backed my car out of the garage, I held my breath and prayed. But after a while, and an increasing number of successes, I became more and more relaxed. I even was able to use only one hand on the wheel instead of both hands clutching it in a death grip.

Maybe I was becoming too cocky, or maybe I was momentarily distracted, but last weekend as I was backing the car out of the garage, something puzzling happened.

First of all, I should explain that to the left of our garage is a small clearing. I always back out of the garage and into the clearing so my car can then head forward down the driveway. I would never be able to back it up the entire length of our 400-foot, curving driveway – not without causing the premature demise of several trees, and maybe a squirrel or two.

So last weekend, I backed out of the garage as usual and turned the wheel to the right so I could back into the clearing to the left of the driveway.

A frightening “sccrruunncchhh” sound made me slam on the brakes.

My husband, the man who usually has the volume on the TV cranked up to 40 because he can’t even hear the cars when he watches the Indianapolis 500, heard the noise. Before I could step out of my car to see what I’d done, he was out in the driveway.

“What did you do?” he asked.

I shrugged. “All I know is I heard a noise when I backed out of the garage.”

Old “Sherlock Holmes” checked out the telltale streaks of white paint on the front right side of my red car and then walked over to the garage to examine the scrapes and dent on the door frame and said, “Well, it’s obvious you turned the wheel before you were even all the way out of the garage! What would make you do something like that?”

Again I shrugged. “There was a killer bee in the car?”

He rubbed one of the many white streaks on my car. I sucked in my breath and prayed they would come off and not leave permanent scratches – permanent reminders of my temporary dumbness.

The white paint came off and revealed an undamaged car underneath. I allowed myself to exhale. “What about the dent in the garage’s door frame?” I asked.

“It’s barely noticeable,” he said. “If you don’t tell anyone it’s there, they won’t even notice it. And you can touch up the scrapes with some white paint.”

The next day, as I was heading out shopping, my husband called out to me, “Hey! Evel Knievel! Make sure you’re all the way out of the garage before you turn the wheel!”

The more I think about it, the more I think I should enjoy driving while I can. I’m pretty sure that when I hit 75 and have to be tested on backing up between two lines or (heaven forbid) two posts, the examiner will take the scissors to my license.

Friday, June 17, 2011

MY GREAT IDEA BIT THE DUST



I had a brainstorm the other night that I thought was the best idea I’ve ever had. In fact, I was convinced it was pure genius.

It all began when I was mowing the back lawn. I use the terms “mowing” and “lawn” loosely because it was more like cutting up a big pile of dirt interspersed with tall clumps of something that resembled grass but acted more like rubberized wire.

Even Lawrence of Arabia never saw as much dust as my lawnmower kicked up that afternoon (I’m still flossing dirt from between my teeth). Add to the fact that I also pulled two ticks off my pant leg, and I was not exactly in a pleasant mood when I came inside.

“The dogs have been digging holes to China all over the yard again!” I grumbled as I breezed past my husband, who was watching TV. I left a cloud of dust in my wake. “I wouldn’t be surprised if they dug up some egg rolls and chow mein one of these days! I’ll never have a nice lawn back there! Never!”

Without removing his gaze from the TV, my husband calmly said, “Well, I guess you’ll just have to get rid of the dogs, then…unless you’re in the mood for egg rolls.”

The man was no help at all.

“I was thinking of maybe putting a patio out back,” I said. “I could have just a small strip of grass around the edges of it – just enough for the dogs to do their duties. I’d be able to mow it in a snap and never have to worry about the yard being a mud pit or the Dust Bowl again.”

The look my husband gave me told me he thought I’d sucked too much dust up my nose while mowing and it had infiltrated my brain. “Please don’t tell me you’re thinking about mixing up a big batch of concrete and spreading it all over the yard,” he said.

Actually, that’s exactly what I’d been thinking. The only problem was I knew I probably couldn’t even lift a bag of concrete, never mind mix it with anything.

A few nights later, I was working at my computer and decided to search for suggestions about how to stop dogs from digging. The most common solution seemed to be to provide a private sandbox for the dogs, then bury treats in it to keep them digging only in that one area and not all over the yard.

I thought it sounded like a pretty dumb idea. I mean, I was trying to break the dogs of their digging habit, not teach them that if they dig holes they’ll find treats.

Suddenly, I happened to spot an advertisement on the dog-digging page that made my eyes widen. It said: “Are your pets ruining your lawn? Do they dig it up? Urinate on it and turn it brown? Are insects thriving in the grass and hitching rides into your house on your pets? Are you tired of mowing, watering and fertilizing? Then our synthetic pet-grass is for you!”

Synthetic pet-grass? I’d never heard of it. But I was intrigued. I continued to read all about it.

The pet grass, according to the information, was supposed to be very realistic-looking fake grass that’s odor proof, stain proof, bug proof, chew proof and dig proof. It also features built-in drainage, can be hosed down to clean it, doesn’t fade and never needs watering, mowing or fertilizing. The photos showed houses that had synthetic pet-grass lawns, and they were…well, spectacular looking.

I was sold. I printed out a copy of the information, then rushed out to the living room to show it to my husband. “Look at this!” I shouted, thrusting the ad under his nose. “Isn’t it amazing? It’s the answer to my prayers!”

For once, he actually tore his eyes away from the TV screen long enough to look at what I was showing him. I studied his expression as he read the information. He looked genuinely impressed.

“That does seem like the answer to all of our problems,” he finally said. “It really looks real, too. And it would actually save us a lot of money in the long run.”

“So you think I should contact the company?” I asked.

He nodded. “I think it would be a good idea.”

I could hardly wait until the next morning to call the pet-grass people.

“I completely understand your problems,” the sales representative said to me when I finally called. “And believe me, our synthetic grass can solve all of them. We just finished a place up in Maine where the dogs had severely damaged the yard. So we installed the synthetic turf on all 12,000 square feet of it. The people are thrilled to death now because their property looks beautiful.”

He took down all of my information and said he’d get back to me with an estimate.

As I waited, I looked out the window and saw the dogs happily digging up the lawn and flinging dirt at each other. My first impulse was to run out there and yell at them, but then I thought, “What the heck? Let them have their fun! Soon, there will be a beautiful, bug-free lawn out there that they won’t be able to kill! That’ll fix ‘em!”

The next morning I received an e-mail from the pet-grass company. The estimate for the job was $24,000. I swear my heart actually stopped beating.

When I told my husband the price, he let out a low whistle and said, “Those people up in Maine he mentioned must have been related to the Rockefellers! You figure, their yard is three times the size of ours.”

I couldn’t hide my disappointment. My perfect idea, my perfect solution, cost more than the national debt of Liechtenstein. I sent an e-mail response to the sales representative and told him I’d get back to him when I won the lottery or had my novel published and sold the movie rights to it.

Meanwhile, on the bright side, I guess if the dogs finally do dig down to China and bring back some egg rolls and chow mein, at least I’ll be able to save some money on grocery bills.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

SOME THINGS DEFY EXPLANATION

I’ve always been told there is a logical or scientific explanation for everything, but sometimes things happen that defy explanation.

Take the other day, for example. It was dusk and I was taking a quick walk down my road. I was alone because it was really humid out and just too hot for my dogs to be out walking.

About a half-mile from my house, I spotted something sitting on the guardrail along the right side of the road. It resembled a large, long-haired cat, but its fur was all puffed up. It reminded me of the way birds puff up their feathers in the winter when they’re cold. Hanging down over the railing was a long, fluffy tail.

As I walked closer to the area where the cat was perched with its back to me, the animal didn’t move, which seemed unusual. Most cats, or any other animals in my neighborhood, bolt into the woods the minute they see anything coming their way.

This cat on steroids, however, just sat there. When I moved to the other side of the road to distance myself from it, it turned its head and stared at me. I debated whether I should go back the way I’d come or continue to move ahead, even though I had a terrible feeling this cat creature was going to leap at me and attach itself to my jugular vein at any second.

I moved forward and the animal just continued to stare. And when I was a good distance away and turned to look back at it, it was still sitting on the railing.

The next afternoon, I took another walk, this time with my dog, Willow. As we walked toward the guardrail, I wondered if the puffy cat would be there again. I didn’t see anything on the rail, but Willow spotted something that looked like a big pile of twigs lying in the road

For some reason, Willow really wanted that pile of twigs. When I was close enough to see what the pile was, I was shocked to discover it was the skeleton of an animal. It was old, brown and decomposed, as if the animal had died ages ago. I didn’t get near enough to really examine it, so it could have been anything from a porcupine to an extraterrestrial, but I did notice the remains of what looked like a fluffy tail lying there.

When I got home and told my husband about it, he said, “I’ll bet the animal you saw on the guardrail yesterday actually was the reincarnation of that skeleton, and it was returning to the scene of its death!”

The look on his face clearly told me he was pulling my leg.

“Then where has the skeleton been hiding all of this time and how did it get out into the middle of the road?” I asked.

“The reincarnated cat must have dragged it out there because he was ticked off that no one ever gave him a decent burial!”

His teasing about the cat made me think back to something that happened one night back when we were first married – something we vowed never to tell anyone.

We were coming home from a drive-in movie late one Saturday night, and were on a dark, country road in Allenstown. Suddenly, what looked like a woman in a white flowing gown appeared from behind the trees and began to cross the road. There was something really weird about her (other than the fact she was out roaming around at midnight in what looked like her nightgown)…she wasn’t walking, she was floating!

I blinked and she was gone. That’s when I told myself I must have dozed off for a second, because no way had I actually seen a floating woman crossing the road. I decided not to breathe a word of it to my husband because I was pretty sure he’d be on the phone in a flash, telling the men in the white coats to come haul me away.

I’d been too preoccupied with the floating woman to realize my husband had slammed on the brakes and stopped the car in the middle of the road. I looked over at him to ask him what was wrong. He was staring wide-eyed at the road, a look of shocked disbelief on his face.

“Did you…um…just see…um…” he stammered, his eyes still fixed on the road.

I took a deep breath and decided to blurt out what I’d seen, even at the risk of being hauled off to a padded cell. “A footless woman in a white gown?”

His head snapped in my direction. “You saw her, too?”

I didn’t know whether to be relieved that I wasn’t hallucinating, or terrified that some floating woman was lurking nearby. “Let’s get out of here,” I said. “Fast!”

When we got home, we vowed never to speak of the incident to anyone, mainly because we didn’t want people to think…well, who knows what people would have thought!

I did, however, in a moment of weakness a few years later, happen to mention it to one of my friends.

“Was there a swamp nearby?” she asked.

I gave her a puzzled look. “I think so, why?”

“Simple!” she said. “Your apparition was swamp gas! It bubbles up and forms a kind of steam or mist that can look like all sorts of shapes. Was the woman kind of see-through looking rather than solid?”

I nodded.

“Then that’s what it was, nothing but swamp gas!”

I felt a lot better, a lot saner, after talking to her, even though I’d never even heard of swamp gas before.

Now that I think about it, that puffy cat I saw on the guardrail the other day was sitting right above a stream that crosses under the road.

Maybe he was nothing but stream gas.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

HE'LL BE SWIMMING ALONE

One of the most painful days of my year happened last week, and it was all because I wanted to help my husband.

You see, he’s unable to exercise, due to his bad knees and back, so his doctor suggested he might benefit from swimming because it puts no pressure on the joints, yet burns calories and provides an aerobic workout for the heart.

“A lot of the hotels in the area will let you use their indoor pools for a small hourly fee,” the doctor said. “Or you can join the YMCA. You really should check into it.”

When my husband got home from the doctor’s office, I could tell he wasn’t too enthused about the swimming idea. “I haven’t gone swimming in so many years, I don’t even know if I can still float. I might sink like a rock and drown!”

Before I could comment, he added, “And you know me, I don’t like to go anywhere alone. I need moral support at all times.” The look he gave me clearly told me he was hoping I’d volunteer to go with him.

“Well, I suppose I could go with you and watch you while you swim,” I said. “And keep you company.”

He shook his head. “I want your company in the water with me, not sitting on the edge watching me.”

The man is a sadist.

I’d just read an article about the cut-off ages for different clothing, which immediately popped into my mind. It said women over 47 should never wear bikinis, and women in their 60s shouldn’t wear bathing suits at all.

I remember wondering if that meant women in their 60s should swim fully clothed…or naked. I also remember feeling highly insulted. I’m sure no one would complain if Cher, who’s in her 60s, showed up in a bikini, or if Sophia Loren wore a bathing suit.

I, unfortunately, am neither Cher nor Sophia Loren.

Not wanting to be the cause of my husband’s demise due to a lack of exercise, I rummaged through the closet until I found my most recent swimsuit, which I’d purchased back when gas was 88 cents per gallon. It was a one-piece made of a shiny black material with thin straps and a glittery rainbow design diagonally across one hip. The built-in bra was so pointy, if I swam in the ocean while wearing it, I could spear enough fish to feed a family of four.

So, with the thought in the back of my mind that women in their 60s shouldn’t wear swimsuits, I defiantly headed to the mall to check out the merchandise.

I knew that bikinis had become tinier and tinier over the years, but I actually was rendered speechless when I saw some of them. One suit looked like two bottle caps and a Dorito. Even if I were 20 and nothing on my body was heading south, I’d never dare wear something like that. One sneeze and I’d be arrested for indecent exposure.

I found a rack of more modest-looking suits and tried to picture myself in each one. I’d recently read that a high-cut leg on a swimsuit would elongate the legs and make them look slimmer. Unfortunately, a high-cut leg also exposes the saddlebags on the thighs instead of holding them in – and my saddlebags look like two Bigfoot tires.

Still, I wasn’t ready to settle for the dreaded skirt to camouflage my saddlebags. I don’t know what it is about skirts on swimsuits, but the designers always describe them as “flirty” when they actually look more like “reserve me a room in the retirement home.”

I learned something while looking at swimsuits. There are one-piece suits that can camouflage tummy bulges, lift sagging breasts, slim the waist and make a flat butt look round, but there is nothing to make legs look better. So even if I found a suit that made me look like a Playboy centerfold from the tops of my thighs up to my chin, there still would be two legs with spider veins, saggy knees and “cankles” (fat calves that droop down and cover the ankles) sticking out from under it.

I came home empty handed. In fact, to spare myself weeks of nightmares, I never even tried on a swimsuit. When I told my husband why, he said, “Well, I have a solution. Just get one of those old-fashioned swimsuits from the 1800s, with the long bloomers down past the knees.”

I really hope he’ll enjoy going swimming by himself.