Sunday, October 30, 2011

STILL WAITING FOR TRICK-OR-TREATERS



As Halloween and trick-or-treating approach, I find myself wondering how to attract trick-or-treaters to our house. Since we moved into our new place two years ago, the closest thing we’ve had to an actual trick-or-treater was a stray cat...either that, or it was a very tiny child in a very realistic costume.

Living here has caused me to suffer from an extreme case of trick-or-treat withdrawal. Where we used to live, Halloween always was a much-anticipated event for me. One of our neighbors would set up a haunted house in his yard, which attracted kids from miles around. Then after they toured his haunted house, they’d go trick-or-treating on our street. It wasn’t uncommon for me to hand out candy to 80 or more trick-or-treaters.

When we moved into our new house in November of 2009, I asked one of the women in the neighborhood how many trick-or-treaters she’d had on Halloween.

“Oh, about 40,” she said.

It was about half the number I’d been accustomed to, but it still was good enough for me. I looked forward to experiencing my next Halloween in a new neighborhood.

Wanting the event to be special, I stocked up on full-sized candy bars. Then on Halloween night, I turned on all of the outside lights and waited for the trick-or-treaters to arrive. Three hours later, I was still waiting.

“I don’t understand it!” I said to my husband. “The lady on the next street said she had 40 trick-or-treaters last Halloween! What happened to them? Did they have a mass migration and all head south for the winter?”

He made no effort to conceal the “what planet are you from anyway?” look he gave me.

“Have you ever noticed that we live in the middle of the woods and have a 400-foot unlit, unpaved driveway?” he asked. “Or that our house isn’t visible from the road even when we have all of the outside lights on? Have you forgotten how many hunters drove up here last November, thinking our driveway was an old logging road where they could park their pickups?”

“Yeah, but surely word must have spread around here by now that there’s a house here with people living in it!” I said.

“I hate to say it, but the only living things you’re going to see around here tonight are our dogs...and maybe a skunk...and hopefully, not at the same time.”

This Halloween, I want to make certain the trick-or-treaters know we’re here because I’ve once again bought candy bars in anticipation of their arrival.

“I hope you bought my favorites – nothing with nuts,” my husband said. “Because you know we’re going to end up stuck with all of the candy bars again.”

“Think positive!” I said. “Besides that, you’re diabetic, so I don’t want see you anywhere within sniffing distance of that candy. I don’t need you to keel over from a Hershey-induced coma!”

I paused before adding, “Maybe I should line the driveway with lit jack-o-lanterns, or maybe plastic ones with battery-operated lights in them. That way, it will look more visitor-friendly and less like the path to the children-eating witch’s house in Hansel and Gretel.”

“Do you know how long those decorations would last our there?” he asked. “Why don’t you just hang a sign that says, “Here! Steal or smash these! No one will see you do it!”

“Well, what if I put up a sign at the end of the driveway that says, “Hey, kids! Get your full-sized candy bars here!”

“Sounds like something the witch in Hansel and Gretel would do to lure them into her stew pot!” he said. He looked thoughtful for a moment, then said, “Why don’t you take a lantern and a chair, sit at the end of the driveway, and give out the candy there?”

My mouth fell open. “All alone in the pitch dark? With my luck, I’d probably get mugged by a Kit-Kat addicted bear!”

So I honestly don’t know what to expect this Halloween. I’m hoping some brave soul actually will have the guts to hike up our dark, spooky driveway and dare to ring the doorbell.

In the meantime, I’m seriously considering renting a couple of those big 15-million candlepower searchlights, just to make sure the trick-or-treaters know we’re here.

Monday, October 24, 2011

BUSHKILL FALLS WAS A REAL KILLER


Every year when fall comes around, I can’t help thinking about the time my husband and I decided to spend a week in October at a resort in the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania.

For years, I had drooled over the magazine ads for the resorts in the Poconos, with their heart-shaped beds, heart-shaped bathtubs and fireplaces decorated with cherubs. So in 1975, I convinced my husband we should spend our vacation there.

The place where we stayed was run the way cruise ships were run back then. Meals were served at specific times, activities were scheduled at specific times, a photographer followed us around everywhere, and we had an activities director who gave us our itinerary every morning at breakfast. There even was a loudspeaker over each bed so he could make hourly announcements about what was going on so we wouldn’t miss anything.

One of the activities listed on the morning itinerary was a trip to “breathtaking Bushkill Falls.” It was such a beautiful fall day, we signed up for it. When we arrived at the designated meeting spot to leave for the trip, however, our activities director informed us that he would lead all of us to Bushkill Falls in his car, but we had to provide our own transportation.

“What kind of field trip is that?” I said to my husband. “You’d think a place like this would have a van or a bus or something!”

Luckily, we had driven to Pennsylvania, so we had our car with us, but judging from all of the muttering and complaining we heard, most of the other guests didn’t have even so much as a bicycle. That’s when Bill, a young guy with bushy red hair, asked if we had a car – and if we did, could he and his wife ride with us? He said they were newlyweds who’d flown in from New York and then had taken the shuttle from the airport to the resort, so they didn’t have a vehicle.

The fact that Bill’s wife, Tina, looked as if she’d just stepped off the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition might have had something to with my husband’s quick response of, “Sure! Just follow us to the car! We’ll be glad to give you a ride!”

It seemed to take forever for our convoy of cars to arrive at Bushkill Falls. We thought we’d pull into the parking lot and the falls would be right there, facing us. But as it turned out, the falls were at the end of a trail through the woods – a long, hilly, winding trail.

Unfortunately, Tina had worn high-heeled shoes that were anything but hiker friendly. As we walked along, every time I turned around, she was down on the ground in the leaves.

Bill wasn’t much help. “What are you doing down there?” he asked her after about the sixth time she’d tripped and fallen.

“I’m looking at the foliage!” she snapped. “It’s all on the ground anyway!”

She was right. Our “breathtaking” foliage hike turned out to be nothing but acres of bare trees. When we finally came to one tree that still had a few bright orange leaves on it, we jokingly gathered around it and “oohed.”

Tina, however, wasn’t amused. She had leaves sticking out of her hair, mud on her jeans and dead grass all over her sweater. She looked like a scarecrow.

“I’m dying of thirst,” my husband said after we’d hiked for about a half-hour. A few steps later, we came to a narrow stream that flowed into a small pool.

“Water!” he said, making a dash for the pool.

“Don’t you dare drink that!” I shouted at him. “You’ll probably get some kind of creepy bacterial infection or dysentery, and I’m not about to spend our romantic vacation sitting around alone while you’re in the bathroom!”

He looked thoughtful for a moment, then knelt down at the edge of the pool, cupped his hands, thrust them into the water and drank it as if he were a camel storing up for a two-month caravan through the Sahara.

We finally came to a huge waterfall with a wooden footbridge in front of it.

“Walk out to the middle of the bridge, one couple at a time,” a male voice came from behind a tree, “then stop.”

The voice belonged to the resort’s photographer, who’d obviously been part of the convoy to the falls. He had an annoying habit of popping up when and where we least expected him. I was afraid to scratch any of my body parts or adjust my underwear, for fear he’d leap out of the bushes and immortalize me on film.

My husband and I walked out to the middle of the bridge, stopped, and posed for a photo. Tina and Bill then did the same.

“Now can we leave?” Tina asked, groaning. “My butt is killing me, I’ve fallen on it so much today!”

Bill cast her a distinctly fiendish smile. “I’ll give you a massage when we get back to our room.”

When we finally made our way back out to the parking lot, our mouths collectively fell open. There was no one was there. Thanks to Tina and her high heels causing us to fall way behind on the hike, we had been abandoned.

“Do any of you remember the way back to the hotel?” my husband asked as we climbed into the car.

We simultaneously shook our heads. Unfortunately, GPS systems in cars were still considered science fiction back then. And the map my husband and I had used during our initial drive to Pennsylvania was sitting on the desk back in our room.

“Don’t worry, I’m sure we’ll find it,” Bill said. “We can always stop and ask for directions.”

Being lost in an area that was all woods, however, didn’t exactly give us an abundance of direction-providing souls to choose from. The only living things we saw were squirrels, and I was pretty sure they couldn’t tell us much. It took us nearly three hours to find our way back to the resort.

By then, we had missed a good portion of the “Back to the ‘50s” party, one of our scheduled activities in the hotel’s nightclub.

Not that it mattered anyway. My husband spent most of the night in the bathroom.

Friday, October 14, 2011

I'M TOO SLOW FOR MY NEW MOWER

I decided to splurge a couple weeks ago and buy myself a battery-operated lawnmower. I probably should have been looking for a snowblower instead, especially this late in the mowing season, but the mower was sold out all summer, so this was my only chance to get one.

I already had a battery-operated mower, but it was so heavy, it was like pushing a cow on wheels. I found out why when my uncle took it home with him to overhaul it a few months ago.

“Did you know that your lawnmower has three batteries in it?” he asked when he brought it back. “They’re the kind they use in snowmobiles.”

That probably would explain why every time I used it, it left ruts in the lawn that looked like army trenches.

When the store called me last week to tell me my new mower had arrived and I could pick it up at any time, I flew over there. I envisioned it all nicely assembled with the battery charged and ready to go.

Boy, what a dreamer.

The mower came in a big box...and in pieces. I got home, opened up the hatchback of my car and tried to slide out the box. The only thing I felt slide was my sacroiliac. That’s when I noticed the shipping weight on the box said 110 pounds.

I ran into the house and asked my husband if he could help me get the box out of the car.

“Is it heavy?” he wanted to know.

I was afraid he’d ask me that. “Um, a little over 100 pounds.”

“A hundred pounds!” he let out a low whistle. “You know I’ve been having a lot of pain in my (insert any body part here). So I don’t know if I can be much help.”

Still, he tried, and together, grunting in harmony, we managed to get the huge box out of the car. Then he immediately went back into the house to lie down and moan in various octaves for the rest of the afternoon.

I, on the other hand, decided to assemble the mower. I’d never assembled a mower before, but as long as the directions had illustrations, which they did, I was pretty sure I could wing it.

I slid the handle into the appropriate slots on the mower and lined up the holes. I then was supposed to secure them in place with two orange plastic screw-in thingies that looked like butterflies. I screwed in the first one with no problem. I screwed in the second one and it was crooked, which made the handle lopsided. So I unscrewed it and tried it again. Still crooked. So I left it that way. My left hip has always been higher than my right one anyway, so I figured the lopsided handle probably would work in my favor.

Then I had to lift the battery, which looked like a car battery with a handle and a bunch of lights on it, and slide it into the special compartment on the mower. I grabbed the handle and tried to hoist the battery into its proper place. It felt as if someone had nailed it to the garage floor. That’s because, unbeknownst to me at the time, it weighed over 35 pounds. When I tried a second time to lift it, my back made noises that sounded like corn popping.

The battery had to be charged for 14 hours, according to the instructions. So I let it charge overnight. The next day, I was ready to try out my new mower.

Using it was a dream. It was easy to push and it cut through the grass (a.k.a. weeds and hay) like a hot knife through butter. I was moving right along until about square foot number 5,000 of the 8,000 square feet of lawn in our yard. That’s when the battery decided to cough and die.

That’s also when I understood what all of the lights on the battery meant. The little green ones had changed to yellow and then to red before the mower’s premature death.

I grabbed the instruction booklet. It said the battery was good for about an hour and 15 minutes before it had to be recharged. I’d been mowing for an hour and 12.

“I need at least a two-hour battery,” I whined to husband when I came back into the house. “The mower died when I still had 45 minutes of mowing left to go!”

“Maybe you should try running when you mow,” he said. “You might gain some extra time that way.”

I frowned at him. “Have you ever tried running while pushing a 110-pound mower? You don’t see me wearing a cape and a big ‘S’ on my chest, do you?”

“Then buy a second battery and have it charged and ready. When the first one poops out, just pop in the second one and you’ll be good to go!”

The man actually had come up with a brilliant idea for a change. I rushed to the phone, called the store and asked if they could get me another battery for the mower. The guy asked for the mower’s model number, then said he’d check.

“Yep! We can get it for you,” he said when he returned to the phone. He paused for moment, then said, mostly to himself, “Wow!”

Call me a pessimist, but I was pretty sure his next words were going to cause me to need a defibrillator.

“It’s $175,” he said.

“But the whole mower cost only $299!” I said.

“Well, then maybe you’d be better off just buying another mower. At least you’ll always have a backup handy.”

I told him I’d have to think about it. And I did.

I came to the conclusion it would be cheaper to hire an Olympic track runner to train me how to move really, really fast when I mow.

Monday, October 10, 2011

I'LL BE CAREFUL WHAT I WISH FOR

There is an old saying that says be careful what you wish for because it might come true. I always thought it was a pretty dumb saying because I figured I’d never wish for anything I didn’t want to come true.

Well, I don’t think the saying is dumb any more...especially since my husband got his hearing aids last week.

In the past, every time he’d say, “Huh?” when I asked him something, I’d wish he could hear me better. And every time I had to repeat something a dozen times, I’d once again wish he could hear me better.

Well, now that he finally is able to hear me better, all I can say is having my wish granted isn’t exactly what I thought it would be.

The minute my husband put in his hearing aids for the first time last week, his eyes lit up and his mouth fell open. “Is this what everything is supposed to sound like?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “What does it sound like?”

“Jeez! You don’t have to yell!” he said.

“I’m talking in my normal voice.”

“Your normal voice is that loud?”

“Yeah, it got that way from having to yell all the time so you could hear me!”

Things only got worse after that.

First of all, he used to keep the volume on the TV cranked up to over 30. Even the neighbors could hear which shows we were watching. Now, with his hearing aids, he’s turned the volume down to about 10. It’s so low, I have to read lips just to watch my favorite programs.

And he’s hearing noises and sounds he’s never heard before.

“When are you going to get the dogs’ toenails clipped?” he complained the other night. “All of the clicking when they walk across the floor is driving me crazy!”

Before this, the dogs could have worn tap shoes and danced the La Bamba across the floor and he wouldn’t have heard a thing.

He also complains when I’m cooking.

“Have you always done so much pot banging and clanging when you’re cooking? You sound like the drummer in a heavy-metal band! And do you have to keep slamming the refrigerator door?”

Unfortunately, now when I mutter something under my breath, he actually can hear me.

But the hearing aids also have brought some unexpected perks. For one thing, he used to spend all day singing...loudly. He would choose a song the minute he got up in the morning, and then sing that same darned song all day long. A couple weeks ago, he sang “White Christmas” all day. Then a few days later, he sang “Bringing in the Sheaves” – except his version was “Bringing in the Sheep.” I tried to correct him, but he couldn’t hear me anyway.

The morning after he got his hearing aids, he got up and started singing, “Sugar, Sugar,” then stopped abruptly. I wondered if all of my wishing that he’d get a prolonged case of laryngitis finally had come true.

“You know what?” he said to me. “I always thought I had a great singing voice, like the next Sinatra. But now that I can hear myself so loud and clear, my singing really irritates me!”

“Welcome to my world,” I said.

In the past, he also had the habit of tapping on things. When he sat in his recliner, he’d pick up the first thing he could reach on the end table – a coaster, his prescription bottle, the remote control – and without even realizing he was doing it, would start tapping it against the table. I began to feel as if I’d married Woody Woodpecker.

When I’d tell him to stop before he drove me completely insane, he’d look at me as if I were weird and say, “How can you possibly hear such light tapping? I’m sitting right here doing it and I can’t hear it.”

Well, the minute he started tapping when he was wearing his hearing aids for the first time, the look on his face was one of complete shock. “Does it always sound this loud?” he asked.

“No, sometimes it’s even louder,” I said. “Kind of like an automatic weapon.”

But the best part is he can’t snack the way he once did. Potato chips and Cheetos always were his snacks of choice. Now, he hears the crunching in stereo in his head, and it drowns out his TV shows. Even when he turns down the volume on his hearing aids, he still can hear the crunching. So he’s been eating a lot fewer snacks. His blood, which is so high in cholesterol, it could be used as axle grease, is thanking him for it.

I’m learning that getting used to living with a man who now can hear after 10 years of not hearing, is really a challenge. I have to constantly remind myself to speak softer, not slam any doors, walk quietly and not bang the pots or pans when I cook. The other night, he even accused me of brushing my teeth too loudly.

“It’s a wonder you still have any enamel left on your teeth!” he said. “You sound like you’re scraping them with sandpaper!”

I feel as if I should wrap myself in head-to-toe foam rubber to muffle any sounds.

When he got the hearing aids, the audiologist told him that when he takes them out at night to be sure to keep them where our dogs can’t reach them, because to dogs, they’re as alluring as smoked piggy ears.

So if I ever get fed up with my husband nagging me that I’m too noisy, his hearing aids just might mysteriously disappear for a while.

I can always blame the dogs.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

NO INVITATIONS, NO TOOTHACHES

I have the bad habit of thinking that if I ignore something it will go away. The trouble is, I can’t remember even one time when that theory has worked, especially when it comes to bills and any plumbing problem that causes water to spew anywhere.

The weekend before last, I woke up feeling as if someone had crept into my bedroom during the night and stabbed my bottom right molar with an ice pick. The minute I opened my mouth – and believe me, I open my mouth a lot – and the air hit that tooth, I made a sound that was so high-pitched, the dogs started howling.

“Something wrong?” my husband asked when I shoved my English muffin into the blender so I wouldn’t have to chew it.

“No, I’m fine,” I said, smiling through gritted teeth and winking at him. Actually, it wasn’t a real wink. I was just trying to ease the pain shooting up from my tooth into my right eyeball.

To be honest, the toothache really didn’t surprise me. It seems that whenever there is a special event coming up, I get an abscessed tooth. It’s as if my teeth have radar, and the minute I start planning for some big event, they say, “Aha! Let’s give her an infection she’ll never forget and completely ruin her good time!”

At my aunt and uncle’s 50th wedding anniversary party, I was nursing a botched root canal that had me popping antibiotics and painkillers. My face was so puffy it could have been used as a mold for Cabbage Patch Kids dolls.

And two nights before my husband and I were to leave for Las Vegas for our 25th wedding anniversary getaway, I cracked a top molar on a petrified almond and ended up having to slurp soup all week instead of partaking in all of the tempting buffets.

So last week, all I had to do was mention I was going shopping for something to wear to my uncle’s upcoming 80th birthday bash, and my tooth decided to start shooting electrical jolts up into my brain.

I was determined not to undergo another root canal, however. Last count, I’d had eleven of them, most of which were done without the benefit of my tooth being numb. One dentist told me the reason why Novocain has such little effect on me is because my nerves aren’t where they should be. That would explain why I usually end up with a numb nose or tongue, but a perfectly un-numb tooth. When I repeated the information about my misplaced nerves to my husband, he said it only further supported his longstanding theory that I came to Earth from another planet.

So when I woke up with a toothache last week, I decided I’d just put it out of my mind and it would go away. I didn’t want to attend my uncle’s party if I looked like a chipmunk smuggling a winter’s supply of nuts in its mouth, so I wasn’t about to tempt fate and stir up any trouble with a root canal.

By the third day, I had sucked all of the contents out of a tube of Anbesol toothache gel. Even eating only broth didn’t help ease the pain because broth that’s not hot tastes like sweat-sock water. But when I heated the broth and the hot liquid hit my tooth, I had to smother my face in a pillow so my husband wouldn’t hear me yelping.

“Go to the dentist!” he finally said when he caught me biting down on a stick so I wouldn’t cry out in pain.

“It’s too expensive!” I said. “And I don’t want to have to suffer through a root canal when it’s so close to the party.”

“You’re already suffering,” he just had to point out. “Why wait until it gets worse?”

“Because this suffering is free. The root canal suffering will cost over $1,000, so it’s a lot more painful. Besides that, the toothache will go away, I’m just giving it time.”

“Fine, it’s your mouth,” he said. He was silent for a moment, then smiled wickedly and said, “Hey, you want to go out for some ice cream? My treat!”

The man is a sadist.

I took the hint. The next day I called the dentist. When the receptionist answered, I chickened out and hung up. A jolt of pain shot up to my eyebrows. I picked up the phone and called back. An appointment was made for the next afternoon.

That night, I pretty much acted like a condemned prisoner about to face the electric chair. I’d have eaten the traditional last meal, but my choice would have been a thick steak followed by a hot-fudge sundae, both of which would have had me begging to have my head dunked in a vat of Anbesol afterwards.

So the next afternoon, I headed to the dentist’s office, fully prepared for a couple hours of un-numbed torture and a charge on my credit card that inevitably would drop my credit rating by a couple hundred points.

The dental assistant x-rayed the tooth from Hell just before the dentist entered the room. He studied the X-ray, then picked up one of his many evil-looking dental instruments and poked my tooth with it.

“Is this where it hurts?” he asked.

The fact that he nearly had to scrape me off the ceiling was a pretty good indication.

“Everything looks fine with the tooth,” he said, “but the gum is receding right there and part of the root is exposed. It’s very sensitive to heat, cold and air. I recommend using Sensodyne toothpaste twice a day. It should make it feel much better in a couple weeks.”

I sat there and just stared at him. No drilling down to my toes? No having to take nausea-inducing antibiotics? No dental procedure that would cost so much I’d have to fish the dumpsters for aluminum cans so I could cash them in for food?

The tube of Sensodyne toothpaste cost me about $5. Within two days of using it, the pain began to fade.

And I figure that as long as no one ever invites me to another special event or party again for as long as I live, I should be spared from having any more toothaches.