Saturday, September 22, 2012

THERE WAS SOMETHING ABOUT THE HAT


My uncle has been doing some cleaning lately and has been giving me boxes of stuff he doesn’t want, telling me to sell it on eBay and get whatever I can for it. I never know what kind of treasures will be in the boxes, so I look forward to digging into them.

The last box he brought over contained everything from an old Civil Defense helmet to a clamping device that holds ice-skate blades solidly in place for sharpening. It must weigh close to 20 pounds.

And then there was the ladies’ hat from the 1920s.  It was made of straw and had satin flowers and silk leaves in clumps on it. It was shaped like an upside-down bowl and looked as if someone had sat on it. The leaves were riddled with tiny holes, and the brim, which had been sewn to flip up around the entire edge, had come unstitched, so it was up on one side and hanging down on the other.

“I think this should be tossed out,” I said to my husband. “The only person who would wear it would be someone in one of those zombie videos, where they wear these old flowered hats and dresses covered with dirt when they rise up out of the ground.”

“I think I’ve seen a hat something like it before…on a horse,” my husband said.

I don’t know why, but I decided to put the hat on eBay. I figured even if I got a dollar for it, it would be a dollar more than I previously had. I shoved the hat on a Styrofoam head and took some photos of it. It came out looking great in the photos…almost like brand new.

“Look at these pictures of the hat,” I said to my husband. “They look ten times better than the actual thing, for some reason.”

“Then you’d better be really honest when you write the description,” he said. “Be sure to mention the hat is so full of holes, it looks like someone used it for target practice.”

I wasn’t quite that blunt when I wrote the description for eBay. I said the hat was old and not in very good condition, and it might make a good hat for trick-or-treat. Throwing caution to the wind, I listed the opening bid at $2.

Two days later, the hat had been bid up to $21.

“Check for a label in it,” my husband said when I told him. “Maybe it’s by some famous Paris designer and we don’t know it!”I checked every inch of the hat and didn’t see any labels or markings on it at all….except for a couple mildew spots on the lining.

One potential bidder e-mailed me to ask, “ What size head will this beautiful hat fit?”

Beautiful hat?  Was she, I wondered, looking at the right auction?

It was impossible to get an accurate measurement because the hat was so lopsided, and the straw had become so stiff, it sounded as if would crack into pieces if I tried to manipulate it too much. So I measured my own head, then plunked the hat on top of it. It came down only as far as my hairline.

I wrote back and told the woman my head measured 23 inches and the hat came to only my hairline. She answered with, “Oh, that’s a shame. I also have a big head, so I guess the hat won’t fit me.”

“Some woman on eBay just told me I have a fat head” I huffed at my husband.

I received no sympathy whatsoever.

The hat finally sold for $76 to a man named Christofe in Paris, France.  I was pretty sure the guy hadn’t had an eye exam in a long, long time.

“I can’t do it,” I said to my husband. “I can’t take the man’s money. Maybe my description of the hat gained something in the translation from English to French, and he mistakenly thinks it’s wonderful.  Or maybe he didn’t even read the description because he can’t read English, and just looked at the photo, which makes the hat look a lot better than it really is!”

My husband shrugged. “Don’t worry about it. After all, when it comes to auctions, it’s ‘buyer beware.’ It’s not your fault if he can’t read English.”

“But remember the last time I sold something to a guy in France? He ended up giving me bad feedback on eBay.”

I finally decided to stop worrying and just wrap the hat and mail it.  I crumpled some tissue paper and shoved it inside the hat so it would keep its shape in the shipping box. Then I picked up the hat so I could wrap the outside of it with tissue paper. When I did, half of the flowers fell off. 

That did it.  The only thing I could do at that point, I concluded, was to write to the Frenchman, confess what had happened to the hat and offer him a refund.

“No, no!  I want!  I want!” he wrote back.

So the hat currently is on its way to France. By the time it arrives, I imagine it will have disintegrated into nothing but a pile of straw with some moth-eaten leaves sticking out of it.

If I’m smart, I’ll change my e-mail address before then.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

I'M TRYING TO REMEMBER "STEAMY"


 

A few weeks ago, I was looking through a box of paperwork in the basement and came across a romance novel I’d written over 20 years ago.  Back then, I didn’t have a computer or even a word processor, so it had been typed on a regular typewriter…all 500 pages of it.

I lugged the manuscript upstairs and started to read it. Some of it was good. Some of it was hysterically funny…but not intentionally.

“I’m going to type this into my computer and then edit it,” I told my husband. “I’ve heard that steamy romances are selling like hotcakes right now, so I’m going to heat up this one.”

He rolled his eyes. “Maybe you should hire a ghostwriter…one who’s about 30.”

I glared at him. “I can handle it – I’m not so old I can’t remember what ‘steamy’ is…at least I don’t think I am.”

My high-school English teacher used to tell me that whenever I wrote fiction, to write it as if I were describing everything to a blind person. “Paint a picture with words!” he’d say.

Easier said than done, I soon discovered. When I’m writing something, I can see it clearly in my own mind, but the only way I can tell if the reader will be able to see it just as clearly is to actually test it on someone.   So I have been using my husband as my guinea pig.

For example, the other night, when I was working on the book, I said to him, “If I write, ‘He assumed an authoritative stance, his arms folded across his chest, his feet braced apart,’ what do you picture?”

My husband stood and assumed the exact position I had envisioned when I wrote it.

“How about, ‘His hand cupped the side of her face’?” I continued.

My husband put his hand against the side of his face…and then fluttered his eyelashes.  I really didn’t need the added effects.

“Great!” I said. “So far, so good.”

“You’re not going to write anything about doing cartwheels in the nude or anything like that, are you?” my husband asked. “That’s where I draw the line!”

The main character in my book is a handsome Native-American warrior, so I started to think about how eye-catching the cover would be with him pictured on it.

When Rosalind, the heroine in my book, which is set back in the 1600s, first sets eyes on the warrior, he is described as follows: “Rosalind’s gaze instantly was drawn to the younger of the two.  He wore snug leather breeches, nothing more. His muscular chest and taut, flat stomach glistened with a light film of perspiration. His chest was hairless and smooth, something she was not accustomed to seeing.  Her eyes rose.  His hair, well past his shoulders in length, was glossy and so black, it shone blue in the sunlight, and was held back with a strip of leather. Rosalind decided that his face, with its high cheekbones, strong chin and jaw, and large, dark eyes with their thick fringe of lashes, was one of the most handsome she had ever seen.”

Where, I wondered, would I ever find someone to match that description for my cover?  I mentioned it to one of my friends, a fellow writer, and he told me about a website that sells royalty-free stock photos on any subject imaginable.  He said they had thousands of photos on the site, so there was bound to be something I could use.  I looked up the website and under “search” entered: “Handsome, young Native-American males.”

The sample photos I received bore no resemblance whatsoever to the warrior in my book.  Most of the men had pot bellies, double chins, dozens of tattoos and looked as if they were at least in their mid-40s.

“Heck,” my husband said when I showed him the photos, “Even I look more like the guy in your book than these guys do!  Maybe you should just buy me a loincloth and have me pose for the cover!”

I frowned at him. “You’re Irish!  Our dog is more Native-American than you are!”

That same weekend, there just so happened to be a Native-American inter-tribal pow-wow being held right in my town. So I grabbed my camera and decided to go check it out.

“Don’t tell me you’re going to try to find some hunk over there and have him pose for your book!” my husband said. “The poor guy will think you’re one of those old ladies who chases young guys – what do they call them?  Bobcats?”

“You mean cougars?” I shook my head and sighed. “I don’t care what the guy thinks I am. If he looks like the Native-American in my book, I’m not going to leave until I get a photo of him!”

As it turned out, when I arrived at the pow-wow, hardly anyone was there.  There were two older men, who were dressed in Native-American garb and dancing, but that was about all.

So I’m beginning to think that by the time I figure out how to write this book, using my former English teacher’s rules, and then find a hunk who’s perfect for my cover, I will be too old to remember how to write a steamy love scene.

But that’s OK.  I still will have plenty of fun making my husband act out more of my descriptions. In fact, I already have some real doozies planned for him.

 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

PEANUT-BUTTER COOKIES & A COWARDLY COYOTE


CODY THE COWARDLY COYOTE
 

Trying to figure out Mother Nature is confusing, especially when you live where I live.

It all started three years ago when we moved to our current location. Our house sits in the middle of the woods – nearly eight acres of woods. About three-quarters of an acre is cleared and fenced in. The rest is trees…and more trees…and wildlife.

One of the first things I did when we moved was put up a bird feeder.  I hung it on a tree on the other side of the fence, not in the yard, mainly because I didn’t want my dogs to have access to it.  Squirrels and blue jays showed up almost immediately and wiped out everything in the feeder within minutes. After that, I also started sprinkling birdseed on the ground around the feeder, so more birds would have the chance to eat.

That’s when the turkeys arrived, followed by these two huge black birds with heads the size of baseballs, five-foot wingspans, and big black beaks that curved downward. I wasn’t certain what they were, but they scared away every other creature when they arrived. They obviously were the bullies of the bird kingdom.

My three turkeys soon became 16.  My four squirrels multiplied to 13.  And the two big, mean black birds…fortunately remained at only two.  And all of them showed up daily without fail.

The one thing I was afraid might appear at the feeder was a bear, especially since we live adjacent to “Bear” Brook State Park.  But in three years, I haven’t seen any signs of a bear, which is fine with me.

Anyway, a few weeks ago, I bought a two-pound package of peanut-butter cookies, one of my husband’s favorites, on sale.  He wasn’t too fond of the particular brand I bought, so I threw a handful of the cookies over the fence for the squirrels, figuring at least they would enjoy them. 

When I later looked out the window, I saw what I thought was a big German shepherd eating the cookies. I said to my husband, “Someone’s dog is loose – and it’s eating my squirrels’ cookies!”

He looked out the window. “That’s not a dog.  It’s a big coyote!”

The only coyote I’d ever seen had been crossing the highway in Epsom one day. It was scrawny and mangy looking and had short legs. This coyote was tall and big-boned, with rust colored fur and a pure white chest. He looked as if he’d just been groomed for the cover of Coyote Monthly magazine.  He also seemed to have a passion for peanut-butter cookies.

I thought that if I didn’t put out any more cookies and just stuck with sunflower seeds and birdseed, the coyote wouldn’t return, but he did…every morning thereafter.

“That’s because coyotes eat squirrels and turkeys,” my husband said. “And you’re feeding a couple dozen squirrels and turkeys every day – it’s like a gourmet cafeteria for coyotes out there!”

But my husband was wrong. This coyote, I soon learned, was terrified of squirrels and turkeys. All they had to do was take one step toward him and he, his tail between his legs, would bolt for cover in the bushes. He also was afraid of the big black birds. The minute they flew overhead, he’d vanish. I nicknamed him Cody the Cowardly Coyote.

A few days ago, I found of a loaf of old raisin bread in the cupboard, so I broke it into bite-sized pieces and tossed it over the fence. About 10 minutes later, the turkeys came running…and so did Cody. I stood at the kitchen window, watching and wondering what was going to happen next.

To my disbelief, Cody and the turkeys, standing right next to each other, all ate their share of the raisin bread.

“That’s definite proof that Cody is a big wimp!” I said to my husband. “Even the turkeys aren’t afraid of him. And what red-blooded carnivore would rather eat stale raisin-bread than a turkey dinner?”

“Raisin bread?” my husband repeated. “I hate to say it, but I think you just killed Cody. Canines can’t eat raisins – they’re toxic to them.”

Concerned, I asked my dogs’ vet if I’d just inadvertently committed coyote-cide. “Good question,” she said. “I don’t know much about coyotes. I know dogs can’t handle raisins, but coyotes can eat just about anything.”

I didn’t see Cody after that, so I was pretty certain the raisins had done him in.

Yesterday morning I was out at the feeder, pouring birdseed into it and on the ground around it. I also tossed in a few more of the leftover peanut butter cookies as treats for the squirrels. When I turned around to head back into the house, I came face to face with Cody, standing about 20 feet from me and just staring at me.  I silently prayed he wasn’t picturing me smothered in gravy. Knowing how skittish he was, I spoke to him, thinking my voice would scare him away. It didn’t.

I slowly backed away until I reached the open gate to the yard, then backed into the yard and slammed the gate. Cody strolled over to the feeder, ate all of the peanut-butter cookies and then lifted his leg and urinated all over the birdseed on the ground, as if to say, “Take that!” to the squirrels and turkeys.

That did it. From now on, the Breslin Wildlife Cafeteria is officially closed for business. The only animal I’m going to be feeding is my husband.

I sure hope he likes sunflower seeds, cracked corn and stale bread.