Thursday, January 30, 2014

I'M NOT SAVING ANY GAS MONEY BY SHOPPING ONLINE


For decades, I have been ordering stuff through the mail, and more recently, from online catalogs, and I’ve always had excellent results (with only a few exceptions). But lately, for some reason, I’ve had to send back everything I’ve ordered.

First of all, about two weeks ago, I ordered a pair of ice cleats, which basically were a couple rows of metal studs attached to criss-crossed wide rubber bands that stretch over shoes or boots. I was tired of taking my dogs for walks and ending up looking like a contender for a spot on the USA Olympic figure-skating team. And believe me, my triple toe loops weren’t at all graceful.

So I ordered the cleats in size L, which the advertisement said would fit women’s shoe sizes 9-11. I take a size nine.

The cleats arrived and I was excited to try them out, especially since the road that runs past my house had become so icy, it could have doubled as a bobsled track. I put on my boots and then tried to stretch the studded bands over them as my dogs, eager to go for our daily walk, stood and watched.

Never have I struggled so hard to pull on anything (except maybe those girdles I used to wear back in the 1960s).  I managed to stretch one of the bands from the tip of my toe almost all the way back to my heel, but the last inch was fighting against me. I pulled, I tugged, I called it unprintable names, but still it wouldn’t make it that last inch. Mustering all of my strength, I gave it one more mighty pull. It slipped out of my hand and acted just like a slingshot, flying halfway across the room and nearly hitting one of my dogs in the head.

Defeated, I sent back the cleats.

Then, I saw a half-price sale online for my favorite brand of bra, so I ordered two – one in beige and one in black. When the package arrived, I removed the first bra, the black one, which was fine. Then I removed the second one.

It was a flashy leopard print. It wasn’t even my brand. And it was huge.

No kidding, I could have worn the cup of that bra over my head, tied the straps under my chin, and used it as a helmet. I couldn’t help but wonder which unfortunate (and extremely well-endowed) woman was futilely awaiting her leopard-print bra.

So back to the post office I went.

On the same day I ordered the bra, I’d also ordered a joke gift for one of my friends, who’s in his 70s. It was a battery-operated grumpy old man, who moves and sings “Happy Birthday” while making rude bodily sounds. I figured it was fair payback for the stuffed reindeer that sang endless choruses of “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer,” he sent me last Christmas.

Well, the birthday doll arrived and although it sang and made rude noises just fine, it didn’t move. I whacked it in the head a couple times, but still it remained motionless. I even spent 10 minutes trying to pry open the battery compartment way down in the back of the old man’s pants, and finally changed the batteries. But still he refused to move.

The weight of the doll prevented me from sending it back because the shipping probably would have cost more than the doll itself.  So I’m hoping my friend won’t even realize it was supposed to move (unless he reads this, that is).

And recently I experienced yet another mail-order failure.

When I’m in bed during the cold winter months, my back always feels chilly, no matter how many blankets I pile on. The solution I finally found was to wear a men’s thermal top – one that comes down past my hips – over my pajama bottoms.  Before I found the perfect shirt, however, I experimented with several different brands. One was too short, one was too thin, one felt as rough as sandpaper against my skin, and one was too constricting under the armpits. Finally, I found the perfect top by Faded Glory. It was soft, really long, and had some “give” to it.  I slept comfortably and toasty in it.

So I decided to buy a couple more. The problem was, when I returned to the store where I’d bought it, the clerk I asked led me to the sweatshirts.

“No,” I said, shaking my head. “Thermal shirts – you know, the ones that have kind of a waffle pattern on them?” When she just stared at me, I added, “Long johns?”

“Haven’t seen anything like that by Faded Glory in over a year,” she finally said.

I searched in several other stores and found nothing. So last week, I checked on Ebay and found only one Faded Glory thermal shirt listed. It was navy blue and miraculously, in my size. So I wasted no time buying it before someone else snatched it up.

When I received the package and opened it, I was puzzled. Inside was a bright red thermal shirt – by Hanes. I sent an email to the seller and asked her what had happened to the Faded Glory shirt she’d advertised. She wrote back and said she didn’t know… (duh?). I was tempted to ask her if it had flapped its sleeves and flown away. She offered to refund my money, once she received the Hanes shirt back from me.

It cost me $4 for shipping, which she didn’t refund. The worst part is I still don’t have a new Faded Glory shirt. I’ve washed my old one about 100 times already, and it’s beginning to look more like cheesecloth than a thermal shirt.

But I think I may have figured out what happened to the shirt I ordered that mysteriously disappeared.

It ran off with that beige bra I never received.
 
 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

I HAD A FUN DAY AT SEARS


 
 I spent the other day at Sears, and I unintentionally ended up making quite a few of the employees laugh.

The reason why I went there was because of a sale on vacuum cleaners. My own vacuum cleaner finally coughed its last cough after five years of sucking up fur balls the size of oranges. So when I saw the Sears flyer that showed a powerful vacuum cleaner that not only was specially made to tackle pet fur, but also was on sale for nearly $100 off, I hopped into my car and took off so fast, I left skid marks in the driveway.

I entered the store through the automotive department door and noticed a sign that said they did state inspections. It just so happened that my car needed to be inspected, so I asked the clerk if he might be able to squeeze it in.

“Sure!” he said. “Drive it right into the garage!”

I was happy to be able to get one of my least favorite tasks over and done with. Usually every January is spent with me making appointments for an inspection and then having to cancel them because of blizzards, ice storms or the Abominable Snowman blocking my driveway.

And the added bonus of this inspection was I could shop for my new vacuum cleaner while it was being done.

I drove my car into the garage and then asked one of the mechanics if while my car was up on the lift, he also could rotate my tires. I’d bought them at Sears back in June and the clerk had told me that in order to keep up my warranty, I should have them rotated every six months. So I figured it was just about time.

Then I was off to the vacuum-cleaner department. A smiling clerk assisted me, and I explained to him about my dog-fur problem and how my current vacuum of five years, a Sears Kenmore, just couldn’t fight the battle any more.

“I know what you mean,” he said. “My dog is shedding all over the house right now, too, which makes no sense at all in the middle of the winter, when you’d think he’d need it. I’ll bet you must spend a lot of time cleaning the filter in your vacuum cleaner.” 

“Filter?” I repeated.

His eyes grew wide. “You’ve had the vacuum cleaner for five years and never cleaned or replaced the filter?”

I shook my head. “No one ever told me about it!”

He laughed. “No wonder it’s not working any more!”

“Well, it must be a good brand if it kept running all these years with probably 20 pounds of fur clogging the filter,” I said.

So I bought a new vacuum cleaner. The clerk rang it up and said it would be at merchandise pick-up when I was ready to leave the store.

I still had some time to kill, so I browsed through the ladies’ clothing department, then ended up at the jewelry counter. Immediately, the case of sparkling diamond rings caught my eye.

“Can I help you find something?” a female clerk asked me.

I shook my head. “No thanks. I’m just drooling.”

She laughed. “Any one in particular you like?”

I pointed to a diamond ring that had so many sparkling carats, it could have been used in a lighthouse to signal ships.

“You have good taste,” she said. “That one is about $10,000.”

I ended up buying a ring on sale for $24 – a shiny silver-plated (over brass), glass-crystal stunner.

The automotive department called my cell phone about ten minutes later to tell me that my car was all set and had passed inspection, so I headed back over there.

“Did you rotate the tires, too?”  I asked, as I dug out my debit card.

The clerk chuckled. “Um, no. According to your odometer, since you bought the tires back in June, you’ve gone less than 500 miles. We recommend that you rotate them about every 5,000 miles.”

I not only was shocked, I was embarrassed. What kind of exciting life was I leading when I wasn’t even traveling 100 miles a month? At the rate I was going, I figured I wouldn’t need my tires rotated until about 2018.

I finally left the store and drove over to merchandise pick-up, which consisted of a small room and a machine, into which I scanned the bar code on my receipt. Within a few seconds, an employee wheeling a huge vacuum-cleaner box on a dolly, appeared.

As he followed me out to my car, I blurted out, without even pausing to think about what I was saying, “Gee, this is the first time I’ve ever bought something that I hope really sucks!”

The employee stared at me for a moment, then it dawned on him I’d bought a vacuum cleaner and he burst out laughing.

I left Sears with a newly inspected car, a new ring and a new vacuum cleaner. I considered it a productive day.

But I’m thinking that from now on whenever I decide to shop at Sears, I should go to the one in Bangor, Maine. Maybe then my mileage won’t look so pathetic.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

SNOW JUST ISN'T FUN ANY MORE!

 

I was thinking the other day, as I watched the snow falling and the wind blowing it everywhere, how my attitude about snow has changed over the years.

When I was a kid, snow was thrilling to me. Those frosty little flakes meant going sliding, building snowmen and snow forts, and the best part of all, having a day off from school. 

Sliding was my favorite snow-time activity, especially on my state-of-the-art flying saucer. The original flying saucers were made of aluminum and became dented beyond recognition after you hit just one bump with them. So I
upgraded to one made of red plastic with yellow trim. That thing zipped down hills so fast, all I saw was a blur whenever I used it – that is, when I actually had my eyes open. Most of the time when I was sailing down a hill, I’d clamp my eyes shut and pray that the saucer eventually would come to a stop before it slammed into a tree or ended up on top of the prone body of another human being.

It didn’t matter to me when I was young if it was 20 below zero outside with gale-force winds. I would bundle up in three layers of clothing, grab my flying saucer and head over to the steep hill in the field across from West High School. I didn’t consider my day a success unless I returned home hours later with my clothes soaked all the way through, my nose running like sap from a maple tree, and my cheeks the color of a slab of raw steak.

When I met my husband, I discovered that he enjoyed the snow, too – but from the warmth of his car.  His idea of fun during a snowstorm was to drive to an empty parking lot and do “donuts” with his VW Beetle.  And I, sitting next to him, was just as dumb as he was, squealing with delight every time the car spun around in circles. We were lucky we didn’t end up hanging upside down by our seatbelts.

As time passed, however, the daredevil in my husband began to wane. Fast forward to a snowstorm 30 years later, when I called him at work.

“Can you stop at the store on your way home and get some bread and milk?” I asked him. “We’re all out.”

“But it’s snowing out!” he protested. “I want to come straight home.”

“It’s only a light dusting. And it’s already stopping.”

“A light dusting can be very dangerous,” he said. “I’m taking my life in my hands by just driving home. I don’t want to have to stop anywhere, especially if I have to walk across a parking lot. I could slip and fall and break a hip!”

My daredevil had turned into a wuss.

I remember when my husband splurged and bought his first snow blower. It was the Hercules of snow blowers, huge and heavy, with big tank-like tracks underneath. You’d think he was preparing to clear the Kancamagus Highway instead of a driveway that was only two cars wide and a little over a car-length long.

Just dragging the snow blower out of the shed was enough to induce an instant hernia. As it turned out, neither my husband nor I had the energy to deal with the monstrosity, so I, because I had the stronger back, usually ended up shoveling.

One time, after I’d been shoveling for nearly an hour, thanks to a snow bank that rivaled Mount Everest behind my car, my neighbor, who’d just come home from work, called out to me, “Where’s your snow blower?”

“In the shed,” I answered. “It’s so big and bulky, it’s easier just to shovel.”

As if on cue, the front door of my house creaked open and my husband appeared.  He was dressed in so many layers of clothes, he looked as if he’d opened his closet and just put on everything in it.  A fuzzy woolen hat with earflaps that snapped under his chin completed his ensemble.  I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing.

Waddling back and forth with his legs stiff (because he couldn’t bend them under all of those clothes), he slowly moved toward me.  “Don’t do any more shoveling,” he said. “I’m going to use the snow blower and clear the rest of it.”

 “Fine with me,” I said, thinking it was about time someone actually was going to use that beast of a machine. “I’m cold and tired.”

My husband made his way out back to the shed, which took him about 10 minutes because he had to walk like a robot.  He poured some gas into the snow blower, then pushed it out to the walkway, which I’d already shoveled, and tried to start it.  He yanked on the starter cord a few times, but nothing happened, so he moved to position himself so he’d have better leverage.  When he tugged on the cord again, he lost his balance and began to fall over backwards…in slow motion.

I know it’s a terrible thing to say, but it was the funniest fall I have ever seen.  As he began to very slowly topple over, his arms made tiny circular motions, as if he were trying to fly.  He landed in a snow bank, flat on his back with his feet up in the air.

My neighbor and I, sympathetic souls that we were, burst out laughing.  When my poor husband made no move to get up, however, we became concerned. “Are you hurt?” we asked in unison.

“Just my pride,” he muttered, still lying motionless in the snow. “I don’t think I can get up. My clothes are too tight.”  

With some help from the neighbor and me, my husband finally managed to get back on his feet. He started the snow blower and cleaned up the rest of the driveway.  Then he groaned about his sacroiliac for the next week.

It pains me to admit it, but I’ve completely lost that feeling of breathless excitement that always overcame me when I was a kid and saw snow falling. Sadly, at some point over the years, snow ceased to be fun to me any more.  The thrill is gone, and I’d really love to get it back.

I’m thinking I should go buy myself another flying saucer.

 

Monday, January 6, 2014

THE GHOSTS OF CHRISTMAS PARTIES PAST


 
I attended several Christmas parties this year and had a great time at each one. But as I sat there enjoying myself, I couldn’t help but think back to some of the not-so-great holiday parties I’d suffered through in my past.

I can remember a Christmas party way back when I was in the sixth grade. I wore a new lacy white dress for the occasion, and accessorized it with my favorite charm bracelet.

This guy, Harvey, asked me to dance a jitterbug. As he grasped my hand and started to spin me around on the dance floor, my charm bracelet accidentally sliced his wrist. The next thing I knew, my white lacy dress was covered with red splotches, and Harvey was staring at me as if I were Lizzie Borden, with a hatchet tucked in my underwear.

In later years, it seemed that whenever a guy I was dating invited me to a Christmas party, it was guaranteed to be a disaster.

For example, there was one party a date took me to that was given by a recently divorced woman. Strangely, all of the guests were male. When my date and I arrived, the hostess frowned at him and said, “I thought you’d be coming alone,” then cast me a look so cold, I felt frost forming on my bangs.

Even worse, every room in her house was decorated with so much mistletoe, the place looked like a greenhouse. There was no safe place for me to stand without feeling like fresh road-kill surrounded by vultures. I pretty much figured out that this woman wanted to celebrate her divorce in a big way – and it didn’t include any other females. I think that was the shortest length of time I ever spent at a party – 12 minutes.

Another date invited me to a Christmas party at his friend’s house. Unfortunately, we were the only people who showed up. I felt bad for the guy because he’d laid out a fancy buffet that could have fed 25 people. To make matters worse, his date stood him up, so he spent the entire night whining and drinking to drown his sorrows. My date, “Mr. Excitement,” fell asleep on the sofa.

When I worked at Leavitt’s Department Store, the annual Christmas parties were fantastic. I mean, the store went all out and rented a big banquet room at the Chateau Restaurant. It was a fancy affair, with the women wearing evening gowns. The festivities featured a nice roast-beef dinner and drinks followed by dancing to a live band. Also, several of the employees would put on skits or entertain with singing and dancing.

One year, I was asked to be in one of the skits. An employee named Dan was going to portray Tiny Tim and sing his hit, “Tiptoe Through the Tulips.” The program director wanted me to act like a crazed fan, screaming and carrying on from the sidelines. Then, after Dan finished singing, she wanted me run up and throw myself at him while launching into the song, “You’re Just too Good to be True.”

Unfortunately, when it came to singing, I sounded like a cross between a foghorn and a bull moose searching for a mate. I protested, telling the program director I couldn’t sing.

“Oh, nobody cares!” she said with a wave of her hand. “It’s all just in fun anyway!  You’ll do just fine!”

So I made the mistake of allowing her to convince me to do the skit. Every night for a week before the big Christmas party, I practiced singing my song for hours, until I thought I didn’t sound half-bad.  I ate, breathed and slept “You’re Just too Good to be True.”

The night of the party, the director told me to go over to the band and discuss the music for my song with them.

“Do you know the song, ‘You’re Just too Good to be True’?” I asked one of the guitarists. “I have to sing it during the entertainment portion tonight.”

“Yeah,” he said. “What key?”

Key?  Heck, the only key I was familiar with was the one that unlocked my front door.

I still have no idea why, but I blurted out, “Key of G.”

The guy looked wide-eyed at me. “You sure?”

I nodded, too embarrassed to tell him I didn’t know a thing about music.

As it turned out, the key of G was so low, when I began to sing my solo, I practically had to reach down to my toes for the notes. If the party guests had closed their eyes, they’d have sworn some big, burly man – like a Sumo wrestler – was singing the song. Even Dan, the guy portraying Tiny Tim, looked shocked when I began serenading him in my baritone voice.

I still have no clue which key my voice really is, but I’m pretty sure I can rule out the key of G.

And then there was the year I went to a family Christmas party, and my cousin, who had the flu, sat next to me. She had such a high fever, I actually could feel the heat radiating from her body, kind of like a human space-heater. When I suggested that she probably should go home to bed, she protested, saying her young son had been looking forward to the party for ages.

Three days later, I got sick. My cousin obviously had given me the gift that kept on giving.

But the parties I went to this year were nice and calm. No one drank too much or tried to do the hoochie-koochie dance on the coffee table. No one was obnoxious or flirted with someone else’s date. No one sang 50 choruses of “The 12 Days of Christmas” while trying to remember whether there were 10 or 11 drummers drumming.

Yep, all was calm, and I really enjoyed myself.

I must be getting old.