Wednesday, May 30, 2012

CAN YOU LIQUEFY A STEAK?


 I’m beginning to believe the saying, “Be careful what you wish for,” because a few weeks ago I happened to say I wished I could lose 20 pounds before summer...and it happened...suddenly.

An excruciating pain in my teeth and jaw led me to have some major, emergency dental surgery, which has left me unable to chew for three weeks now.  I’m so hungry for something that’s not the consistency of baby food, even road-kill is starting to look appetizing to me.

It doesn’t help that I’m lactose intolerant, because everything tasty that’s mushy enough for me to eat – milkshakes, pudding, ice cream, yogurt – is made with milk.  So my current diet consists of strained bananas, Cream of Rice cereal, broth, mashed potatoes and whipped butternut squash. 

When I was growing up, baby food had a lot of flavor because it contained salt, sugar, spices and other additives, which all are taboo nowadays.  Everything in today’s baby food is “all natural.”  That’s fine for people who want to raise healthy babies, but as an adult who has to eat the stuff, well, it tastes pretty much like wet sawdust to me.

Meanwhile, my husband is wolfing down cheeseburgers, pizza, steak sandwiches and pot roast.  I try not to look at him when he’s eating because I have the tendency to drool just like my dogs do when they watch him, but it’s pretty difficult to ignore him when he’s saying, “Mmmmm!  This is soooo good!” with every bite.  It makes me want to fling a spoonful of my strained bananas at him.

I was so desperate for meat the other night, I stuffed some leftover pot roast into the blender.  I was hoping it would come out the consistency of a milkshake, but it came out looking more like something you’d mortar bricks with.  The dogs loved it.

“Can you go to Manchester and pick up some of my favorite chicken-lemon-rice soup for me?” I asked my husband the other night. “I’m really, really craving it.”

“You can’t chew the chunks of chicken in it...or even the rice,” he said.

“I can blend it in the blender and make it smooth,” I said.

“I still don’t think you’ll be able to eat it,” he said. “And it’s a 35-mile round-trip to go get it, you know.”

I told him to never mind, but the more I thought about it, the more my craving became all-consuming.    As much as I hated to be seen in public looking as if I’d just gone five rounds with Mike Tyson, I decided to go get the soup myself.  My plan was to arrive when I knew the restaurant would be crowded with customers, then sneak over to the takeout counter, get my soup and leave. 

Usually, I go to the restaurant early, before the rush hour, and chat with the servers while my soup order is being prepared.  But I was in no mood to chat, or even to be seen, looking the way I looked.  In fact, I was afraid my swollen, baboon-like lips might frighten little children.

My plan worked fairly well. The restaurant was mobbed when I arrived, and the servers were too busy to notice me.  I ordered my soup, paid, grabbed the bag and had one foot out of the door when one of the servers approached me and said, “I’m so glad I caught you!  There’s a woman over here who’s a big fan of your column and she would love to meet you!”

Never have I wanted so desperately for a floor to open up and swallow me.

I ended up speaking to the woman while I covered my mouth with my hand.  She probably thought I had a phobia about germs or was trying to conceal garlic breath...or that I was just a weirdo.

The minute I got home, I rushed to the blender and poured the soup into it.  Then I blended it until I saw nothing but smooth creaminess.  Eagerly, I dug in.  The flavor was heavenly, but the consistency was pretty off-putting – kind of like eating shaving cream.  I’d obviously overdone the blending.

Last week, I returned to the oral surgeon, hoping to hear good news.  In fact, I already had a steak picked out for the celebration.

“Everything is still pretty tender and healing,” he said. “I think it will be at least another couple weeks before you can chew anything.”

“Can I finally eat a steak then?” I asked.

He shook his head. “That won’t be for about six months...if ever.”

Frustrated, I stopped at the store on the way home and stocked up on more strained bananas.  I figured it was the perfect food to go with my baboon lips anyway.

In the meantime, if anyone knows how to liquefy a porterhouse steak, I’m open to suggestions.







Monday, May 21, 2012

THE QUERY IS WORSE THAN WRITING THE BOOK

A few weeks ago, I finally completed a project I started back in the year 2000...I wrote the last word on my humor book, for a grand total of 80,000 words.

As I typed “THE END” at the bottom of the page, I felt a sense of joy and relief...followed by a sense of dread.  That’s because I knew that writing the book was the easy part, and what was to follow was going to be nothing short of torture – the equivalent of spending time in a Medieval dungeon.  I’m talking about writing the all-important query.

A query is a one-page letter in which a writer must pitch his or her book to a literary agent or an editor.  In just a few short paragraphs, the work must be made to sound like the next Gone With the Wind or The Great Gatsby and entice the person reading it to write back with lightning speed and say, “Yes!  Send me your book!  I’m dying to read it!  It sounds like a literary masterpiece!” 

So I set to work on writing the query.  After about 150 hours of failed attempts, I came to the conclusion that humor, when summarized in only a paragraph or two, just doesn’t sound, well...funny. 

Each chapter in my book centers around the experiences I (back when I was a 12-year-old city slicker with severe arachnophobia) had during my summer vacation at a primitive cabin my parents purchased as their getaway from the noise and heat of the city.  The chapters include subjects such as battling the outhouse snake, discovering the local swimming hole, rafting down the river, and meeting some of the kids in the area.  Without my humorous comments and descriptions, however, all of my chapters sound pretty yawn inducing.

So I read a bunch of how-to articles about writing the perfect query letter.  “Don’t try to be cute or witty,” one article advised. “Make your query sound as professional as a job application.”

Well, that pretty much ruled out everything I’d planned to write.

“Do you think it’s OK to write that I took one look at the outhouse and was immediately stricken with a bad case of constipation?” I asked my husband as I sat struggling with my query.

“I don’t think so,” he said.

“How about that being with Conrad had the same effect on me as drinking syrup of ipecac?”

He shook his head. “You wouldn’t write that on a job application, would you?”

The only problem with writing a query letter on a computer screen is I don’t have the satisfaction of crumpling sheets of paper and tossing them into the trash.  Although, considering all of my failed attempts thus far, I’m probably saving an entire forest.

Another problem with writing query letters on the computer is that most agents and editors want queries sent via e-mail.  This leads to quicker rejections, sometimes within minutes.  I’m not certain if I’m prepared to be rejected and made to feel like the world’s biggest failure that swiftly.

The other day, I found a website called Absolutewrite.com, which has hundreds of forums about writing.  I happened to check out one that deals with receiving rejections to query letters.  Many of the rejected writers’ comments made me laugh out loud.

“I’m going to quit after I receive 200 rejections,” one author wrote.

“Me, too!” another replied. “That means I have only 189 more to go before I can shoot my book in the head!”

And yet another writer stated, “It’s Saturday morning and I just received two rejections via e-mail.  Apparently, editors come to work on Saturdays just to reject my novel!”

“I got my rejection at 5:00 in the morning,” a first-time author wrote. “You know that has to be before their morning coffee, when they’re so cranky, even War and Peace would sound like crap to them!”

“You think that’s bad,” came another comment, “I’m receiving rejections from agents I haven’t even sent queries to!”

So I have the feeling that trying to get my book published is going to be a long and emotional struggle. 

But at the rate I’m going, it probably will take me another 12 years just to write the query letter.



Monday, May 14, 2012

PLEASE, NO MORE RUFFLES!

A friend of mine, whose daughter is getting married in July, recently sent me an e-mail photo of the dresses the bridesmaids will be wearing – knee-length, strapless, sleek-looking, beige cocktail dresses.

“And each girl will carry a single white rose,” my friend added.

I studied the photo of the dresses and thought they looked so stylish, I actually could picture the bridesmaids wearing them again after the wedding.

Times sure have changed.

About forty years ago, when I frequently was asked to be a bridesmaid, I swear the designers of bridesmaids’ dresses were in competition to see who could come up with the most hideous style – one that could make even the slimmest bridesmaid look like Moby Dick’s twin sister.

Every time I arrived at a bridal salon on the bride’s “let’s pick out a dress for my bridesmaids” day, I pretty much knew what was going happen.  She was guaranteed to choose the ugliest and most expensive gown in the store and then say to us, so we wouldn’t feel so bad about spending a month’s salary on it, “And after the wedding, you can have the gown cut to knee length and wear it again!”

All I can say is aside from a party hosted by the Ringling Brothers, there was no place on earth I would have worn any of those bridesmaids gowns again.
To make matters even worse, back then, unlike today, bridesmaids also were expected to wear headpieces to match their gowns.

If I had to pick the most hideous gown I ever was forced to wear, it really would be difficult...because all of them were so terrible.  But one in particular does come to mind.  It was for my friend Linda’s wedding back in the mid-1970s.

When Linda asked me to be one of her four bridesmaids, she told me she’d already picked out “the most beautiful gown imaginable” for us to wear.  So I was eager to see the unveiling of this masterpiece.

The night we gathered at the bridal salon, I found myself feeling optimistic that, for the first time, I wasn’t going to want to run away screaming when I saw my gown.

Linda’s smile was so wide, I was afraid she might pull a facial muscle as the saleslady, carrying the gown, made her grand entrance into the room.

“Here it is, girls!” Linda said. “Isn’t it fantastic?”

At first, I thought the gown had to be a joke.  I even glanced around the room, positive I’d discover a camera recording our reactions.  The gown looked as if it had been stolen from the movie set of “Gone With the Wind.”  The skirt was so big, I was pretty sure if I jumped off a cliff while wearing it, I’d float gently to the ground.  And it was covered with layers – and more layers – of yellow ruffles.  I rolled my eyes, thinking the only things the dress was missing to complete the look were a big flowered hat and a parasol.

“Isn’t it gorgeous?” Linda fairly gushed. “And it comes with a beautiful matching parasol and hat!  You’re all going to look like sexy southern belles!”

I wanted to shout at her,  “But we’re New England Yankees!  Have mercy on us, will you?”  Instead, I smiled tightly and kept silent.

When I studied my reflection in the mirror during the gown-fitting appointment a few weeks later, I was too embarrassed to come out of the dressing room.  I looked like a giant cupcake decorated with yellow frosting.  The gown also added so many inches to my already abundant figure, I was pretty sure if Shamu at Sea World could see me in it, he’d develop an instant crush on me. 

One of my friends, who’d accompanied me to the fitting, burst out laughing when I finally gathered the courage to emerge from the dressing room.

“Don’t ride a bike while wearing that gown!” she managed to say between guffaws. “People might think you’re a runaway float from Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade!”

  The only thing I was grateful for was that Linda didn’t make us wear ruffled pantaloons underneath the gowns.

A wide-brimmed hat made of white straw and decorated with a band of yellow roses and yellow velvet ribbons hanging down the back, along with a parasol layered with the same yellow ruffles as the gown’s, completed the ensemble.  When I saw myself for the first time in the entire outfit, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.  I looked just like Little Bo Peep.

As the moment approached when we bridesmaids were to walk down the aisle, I suppressed the urge to run and hide – mainly because there was nowhere I could hide in a dress that big.  I couldn’t even fit through the restroom door.

To this day, I still think some of the wedding crashers who were spotted at the reception actually sneaked in underneath our bridesmaids’ gowns and we didn’t even know it.

And after the wedding, I must confess I did use the gown again – as a cover for my husband’s Volkswagen Beetle.


Monday, May 7, 2012

PENGUIN FEET WEREN'T HAPPY FEET

 Lately, after I take my daily walk, my feet hurt...on the tops of them.

“That’s just plain weird!” my husband said when I complained. “Don’t people’s feet usually hurt on the bottoms?”

“Maybe,” I said, “but most people’s feet aren’t as flat as mine.”

I wasn’t exaggerating.  When it comes to arches, my feet have no clue what they are.  If I leave a barefooted footprint anywhere, it looks like a Frisbee with toes sticking out of it.

A few years ago, I had some professional orthotics made to give my feet a lift, and paid so much for them, I wasn’t certain whether I should wear them or display them in a museum.  Unfortunately, they vanished when we moved three years ago.  Somewhere, in one of the 300 boxes crammed with stuff in the basement, the orthotics are hiding and chuckling to themselves, “We won’t have to ever be near anyone’s sweaty old feet again!  This is great!”

Seeing that my current running shoes have about 100,000 miles on them, which I figured wasn’t helping, I was excited when I saw an area store’s advertisement for a big sale on all of its big-name running shoes, including Nike, Asics, New Balance and many more – all 40 to 60 percent off.  The sale was for only one day, however.

“I’m off to buy a new pair of shoes,” I said to my husband last Saturday as I rushed past him and headed for the door. “And they’re going to have super-duper support in them so the tops of my feet won’t hurt any more.”

The shoe department in the store looked as if a wild bachelor party had been held there before I arrived.  Shoes, socks, tissue paper and boxes were everywhere – on the floor, upside down on the shelves, and piled on the seats where people try on shoes. 

I found a nice-looking silver and blue pair of running shoes in my size in the women’s section.  They were marked down from $79 to $54.  I grabbed them, then sat down and tried them on.  They fell off my feet.

“My feet are shrinking!” I said out loud.  I secretly hoped it meant everything else on my body was about to follow suit and shrink, too.

A clerk, a young guy who happened to be standing within earshot while attempting to put some boxes back in order, smiled at me and said, “Those are men’s.”

“But I got them in the women’s section!” I said.

“That’s no surprise,” he said, shaking his head.  “It was such a madhouse here all morning, we’ve even been finding shoes in housewares!”

I tried on at least a dozen different styles of running shoes.  One pair pinched my big toe.  Another had a seam that dug into the side of my foot.  And yet another, from the feel of it, all but guaranteed an instant quarter-sized blister on my heel. 

Finally, I found a pair that actually felt comfortable.  But when I looked at the shoes on my feet, my toes looked as if they were pointing toward each other instead of straight ahead.  I took a few steps.  No doubt about it – I had penguin feet.

I approached the aforementioned clerk and asked him, “Do you think my toes are really pointing inward in these, or is it just the curved pattern on the shoes creating that illusion?”

He stared at my feet. “Good question.  Well, let me ask you this...do your toes actually feel like they’re physically turning in?”

I honestly couldn’t tell.  I shrugged.

“Then don’t look down at them,” he said. “Look straight ahead and walk for me.”

I lifted my head and walked a few feet while he watched.

“Well, they look fine to me,” he said, “...that is, if you don’t mind walking with your left foot on top of your right one all the time!”  He chuckled.

I frowned at him.  Sighing, I took off the penguin shoes and continued my search.  After what seemed like two more hours of trying to wedge my feet into a variety of torturous styles, I finally found a shoe that not only was comfortable, it provided solid support.  The problem was, it was $90, on sale.  Still, at that point, I was so tired, I didn’t care how much the shoe cost, even if it meant I had to sign over my house to the store.

“Do you know where the other shoe is that matches this one?” I held up the shoe I’d just tried on so the clerk could see it. “There was only one in the box.”

He searched...and searched some more, but never found the missing shoe.  I figured it probably was dangling from a rack of bras somewhere in the lingerie department.

All I ended up buying was a pair of jeans that have a special built-in tummy flattener and butt-lifter.

They may not help my feet when I take my walks...but at least I’ll look a lot shapelier while I’m suffering.