Friday, January 30, 2015

I DREAD MY ANNUAL CAR INSPECTION


 

Every January, I am forced to do something that inevitably costs me a lot of money… and money is something I rarely have after the Christmas holiday.

I have to have my car inspected.

I can’t count how many times in the past I’ve sat there holding my breath during an inspection as I awaited the verdict, feeling like a criminal about to be sentenced.

“Well,” the mechanic usually would say, “you’re going to need a new exhaust system, brakes, rotors and four new tires.  Oh, and when I had the car up on the lift and got a good look underneath it, I noticed that the only thing holding it together is rust.  Other than that, everything looks fine.”

This would force me to hand over my credit card, which already was begging for mercy after my weeks of non-stop Christmas shopping.

So two weeks ago I decided to get the painful ritual over with earlier than usual instead of waiting until the last day of the month. But first, I had to do something else I also dreaded.  I had to clean out my car.

I’m in the habit of taking my two Rottweilers with me wherever I go, so my car pretty much looks like a kennel on wheels. The seats that appear to be covered in luxurious, soft black fleece, actually are buried beneath two inches of dog fur. And the windows all have so many nose prints on them, they look as if they’re decorated with abstract patterns. To make matters worse, my car doesn’t exactly smell like roses in bloom.

So I gathered my cleaning products and set to work trying to make the vehicle look and smell better.

I soon learned that washing car windows in below-freezing weather results in instant icing. And if there’s one thing worse than nose prints on the car windows, it’s streaky, frozen nose prints.

I then attempted to vacuum up all of the fur. Within minutes, my vacuum cleaner started to make a noise that sounded like a jet plane about take off…and then it died. I took it apart and found a clog of dog fur about the size of a baseball in it.  The problem is, when my vacuum cleaner gets clogged, it overheats and shuts itself down for 20 minutes.  Impatient and freezing, I decided to pick up the fur with my bare hands.

Once again, the sub-freezing weather hindered my work. My fingers were so cold and stiff after 10 minutes, I couldn’t bend them to pick up any more fur.  Finally, I said, “The heck with it!  It’s good enough!” and quit cleaning. Then I grabbed a can of cinnamon-apple air freshener and sprayed the inside of the car with it until I swore I heard the car cough.  It, in my opinion, was ready for the inspection, come what may.

In the past, I’ve always gone to an area mechanic to have my car inspected. This involved sitting in a drafty waiting room about the size of a closet and reading such stimulating magazines as, “Auto Parts Monthly” or “1001 Designer Seat Covers.”

But this time, I went to Sears Automotive at the Steeplegate Mall.  I didn’t even have to make an appointment. I walked in and they took me right away.

“Feel free to shop around for an hour,” they told me. “We’ll call you when your car is ready, or if we have any questions.”

It felt wonderful to be in a nice warm mall on a cold day. I browsed through the stores, checked out all of the sales, and even enjoyed a cup of hot tea.

All too soon, my phone rang. I was certain when I answered it, I was going to hear, “Well, we’ve checked out your car and it needs $800 worth of parts plus a surgically implanted pacemaker to keep it running.”

“Your car is all set,” the voice told me. “It passed inspection.”

I was too shocked to speak. In the history of owning my car, I’d never once heard those words.

“Are you sure you called the right number?” I asked. “My car doesn’t need anything?”

“Well…actually, it does,” the voice said.

“Here it comes,” I thought, bracing myself to hear a list that sounded like the inventory sheet from Auto Parts R Us.

“It’s a little low on antifreeze.”

Breathing a sigh of relief, I told them to put some in for me.

When I returned to Sears to pick up my car, I was amazed at how small my bill was.  Never before had an inspection cost me so little.

Still, I didn’t end up saving any money.

That’s because while I was roaming through the mall as I waited for my car, I bought some new boots, a leather handbag, gloves, four DVDs, a sweater, a pair of earrings and some perfume.

But on the plus side, at least I didn’t have to sit in some drafty waiting room and read, “Torque Wrenches of Tomorrow.”
 
                                                                                    
                                                                                        #  #  #
 
 
AVAILABLE AT AMAZON.COM, BARNES & NOBLE, AND SMASHWORDS.COM
 

Friday, January 23, 2015

I'M BECOMING A COLD-WEATHER SISSY


I’m sitting here wearing long underwear, sweatpants, a sweatshirt, fuzzy slippers and woolen knee socks, and I’m wrapped in a fleece blanket. I’ve downed so many cups of hot tea, I think my throat is blistered. Yet I still feel chilly. I’m beginning to think that as I age, I am becoming more and more of a cold-weather sissy.

A couple weeks ago, when I heard that a full week of below-zero arctic weather was heading this way, I jumped into my car and made a beeline for the supermarket, where I bought enough food to feed a family of 16. That’s because I wanted to be prepared to hibernate. I also wanted the dogs to be prepared, so I risked herniating a disc by hoisting a 25-lb. bag of Dog Chow into my cart.

I think my sensitivity to the cold began when I was young. Back then, girls weren’t allowed to wear slacks or pants to school. The dress code strictly stated we had to wear dresses or skirts. We, however, were allowed to wear slacks underneath our dresses if we promptly removed them (the slacks, not the dresses) the minute we entered the school building.

Most of the time, especially once I was in junior high, I didn’t want to bother with the whole pants-underneath-the-dress thing (and besides that, I thought it looked ridiculous), so I walked to school with my legs clad in only nylon stockings.  By the time I arrived, I had no feeling from my hips to my ankles.

And then, in high school, there was a drill team called the Westettes, of which I was a member for all four years. We were a group of West High School girls who performed precision drills and high-kicking routines (kind of like a weak imitation of the famed Rockettes) during halftimes at football games. We also marched in parades. 

And we nearly froze to death.

I still can remember how I, clad in my short blue skirt, majorette-style boots, and thin white windbreaker (the standard Westette outfit), sat in those bleachers at football games in the middle of November and felt the wind blowing up my skirt…and wondered if anyone ever had died from frostbite of the butt.

And then there was our appearance in the annual Manchester winter carnival parade in January.  The chattering of my teeth always was so loud, I couldn’t hear the band music that was supposed to cue all of our routines.

Finally, when the Westettes were on the verge of having to change their name to the “Popsicle-ettes,” the school gave in and ordered pants for us.  Never was I so glad to wear something so ugly looking. The pants were made of blue polyester, with creases down the front and stirrups for the feet.  I have long legs, so I really had to stretch those pants to get the stirrups to reach my feet. As a result, I spent most of my Westette days suffering from a wedgie. But on the plus side, my posture became much straighter when I marched.

Anyway, during this most recent arctic blast, even though I intended to hibernate, I got restless and decided to take my usual daily two-mile walk.

“Dress in a lot of layers,” the guy on the TV news advised. “The wind chill out there is minus 28 degrees, and any exposed flesh can freeze within minutes.”

He then proceeded to show clips of soap bubbles freezing in mid-air and crashing to the ground, and a squirt gun shooting water that instantly turned into something that looked like a stalactite.

So I dressed in layers. In fact, I dressed in so many layers, it took me over 45 minutes to get ready for my walk. I dug out a hat, mittens, earmuffs, thermal leggings, fleece pants, wool knee socks, a scarf, a fleece-lined shirt, a coat with a hood, fur-lined boots and something my friend knitted for me for Christmas – wrist warmers. I looked like someone preparing to enter the Alaskan Iditarod.

The moment I stepped outside, the wind savagely attacked me.  My eyes began to water, blurring my vision. My nose started to drip. My cheeks felt as if they were being snapped with rubber bands. Even worse, the road was so icy, I was afraid I would slip and fall and become a permanent speed bump until spring.

Still, I was determined to walk my usual two miles.

There is one area of my road where the wind is always really brutal. It feels similar to entering a wind tunnel. Well, on that particular day, which was cold enough to freeze a penguin, when that wind hit me, I honestly thought I was going to freeze into a statue-like position. But at least I didn’t have to worry about my eyes and nose running any more, because by then, all of my bodily fluids had turned to ice.

Finally, about halfway through my walk, I started to warm up. In fact, I began to feel sweaty.  There was no place, however, beneath my 42 layers of clothing for the perspiration to escape. By the time I got back home, I was soaked. When I took off my hat, my hair looked as if it had been plastered to my head with bear grease.  And my armpits were telling me that my antiperspirant had waved the white flag of surrender about a half-hour before.

So I stripped off all my layers of clothing, which took me about 20 minutes, and took a shower

.The minute I stepped out of the hot, steamy shower, I felt chilled again.  I put on several fresh layers of clothing and cranked up the heat.

I think I’m beginning to understand why so many of my friends spend their winters in Florida.

After all, it’s one of the few places were I could comfortably wear my old Westette skirt outdoors in the middle of January.

                                                                       #  #  #
 


AVAILABLE AT AMAZON.COM, BARNES & NOBLE, AND SMASHWORDS.COM

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday, January 16, 2015

MY NEW YEAR'S EVES DEFINITELY HAVE CHANGED


 
I rang in the New Year very quietly this year.

At midnight, I was wrapped in a blanket and curled up on the sofa, a cup of hot tea by my side. I watched the ball drop in Times Square (was it my imagination or did the ball seem a lot smaller this year?). I then shouted, “Happy New Year!” to no one in particular, which drew the attention of my two dogs.

Believe me, the traditional “midnight kiss” really loses something when the giver has a furry face and Alpo breath.

I couldn’t help but think just how different my New Year’s Eves of yesteryear were. For one thing, when I was single, I absolutely had to have a date for December 31. I didn’t care if the guy was 93 years old and didn’t speak a word of English, I refused to sit home alone on such an important night.

This, of course, resulted in some really interesting New Year’s Eves.

One of my first big New Year’s Eve dates was an evening of dining and dancing at a popular Manchester restaurant. Before the big night, I spent days shopping for just the right dress for the occasion. I must have tried on 200 dresses before I finally found the perfect one at Pariseau’s. It was silver and white with black lace trim. By the time I also bought the accessories – a purse, earrings, shoes – I’d spent about a week’s salary. But I figured it was worth every penny.

It turned out to be the most boring night of my life. First of all, my date invited his parents and his married sister and her husband to join us. They didn’t drink. They didn’t dance. They didn’t talk (unless you count grunts and monosyllabic responses). They also all were chain-smokers – and back then, smoking was allowed in most public places. In every photo taken of me that night, I look like a genie, arising from a cloud of smoke.

Right after dinner, both my date and his father dozed off at the table. Even worse, unbeknownst to us, while we were partying (and I use the term very loosely), there was a blizzard raging outside.

At 12:01, after a quick “Happy New Year!” and an even quicker kiss from my date, his father yawned and said, “Can we please go home now?” 

So I, in my dainty, open-toed silver high-heels, headed outside with my date and his family, who suddenly sprang to life, kind of like horses when they pick up speed as they head back to the barn…and I promptly sank up to my shins in five inches of fresh snow.  I still haven’t regained the full feeling in some of my toes.

The next year, a college jock invited me to a big semi-formal New Year’s Eve dance. Once again, I went shopping for the perfect dress and accessories. I suppose I could have worn the same ensemble I’d worn the year before, but I didn’t want to be reminded of that night. Besides that, it probably still reeked of smoke.

This time, I bought a low-cut black chiffon dress with a rhinestone belt; black high heels with rhinestone bows, and dangly rhinestone earrings. And once again, I blew my budget. But I was determined to look stunning for my big date.

The day before the dance, the college jock called to tell me he’d changed his mind about going, and instead had decided to meet a bunch of his buddies at some bar in Boston and get really drunk.

“I know you don’t like to drink,” he said, “so you’d probably limit me to only a couple drinks. Sorry, but I really want to get loaded tomorrow night.”

So there I was, dateless, all because I wasn’t a lush.

“Don’t worry,” my friend Moe said when I whined about it to her, “You can come with my husband and me to this big dance party in the Lakes Region. I promise we’ll find a date for you, too.”

I had nothing to lose at that point, so I agreed.

She and her husband picked me up the next night. They were alone.

“I’m not going stag!” I protested as I searched their back seat for my invisible date.

“No, he’s going to meet us there,” Moe assured me.

As it turned out, my date was a member of the band playing at the party that night. He spent all night onstage, and I spent all night sitting with Moe and her husband. I referred to the guy as my phantom date because I didn’t get to talk to him until the party was over. Even during his breaks, he rushed off to the dressing room to freshen up. To be honest, I wasn’t even sure which guy he was. There were five of them onstage, and Moe had waved her hand in his general direction and said, “That’s him, on guitar.”  She never explained which guitar – rhythm, bass or lead.

For years, I suspected she’d just picked him out at random to make me feel better, and the guy never even had a clue about our so-called date.

Even worse, the party was country-western themed, so my chiffon and rhinestones made me look conspicuously out of place in a sea of denim and plaid.

You know, now that I think about it, spending New Year’s Eve curled up on the sofa and getting an Alpo-breath midnight kiss probably was better than a lot of my other New Year’s Eves.

And it certainly was a lot cheaper.

 
                                                                                    #  #  #  # 


                                                     

ANAILABLE AT AMAZON.COM, BARNES & NOBLE, AND SMASHWORDS.COM

Friday, January 9, 2015

I ENJOY GOING TO THE POST OFFICE


I keep hearing that the post offices are losing business due to the Internet. People are sending cards online, paying bills online and sending emails instead of handwritten letters. All of this means people are buying fewer stamps.

I don’t know about other people, but I would miss the post offices if they weren’t around. Over the years, I have had a lot of interesting experiences at post offices and even have made new friends there.

I remember when my husband and I first moved to town and I went to the local post office. It was a warm day in December and I was wearing what only can be described as an ugly Christmas sweater. It was bright red and green with pine trees on it. Standing in front of the trees was a big moose with a Christmas wreath around its neck and ornaments hanging from its huge antlers, which spread across my entire chest.

When I walked in, the two male clerks immediately stared wide-eyed at the sweater.  It was so hideous, it probably destroyed their corneas. I could tell that the clerk who waited on me was struggling to say something complimentary about my attire.

Suddenly, he smiled and blurted out, “Nice antlers!”

The moment he uttered the words, the other clerk burst out laughing and said, “That didn’t come out sounding right!”

Never have I seen a guy turn so red.

From that day on, whenever I went to the post office and that particular clerk was working, the other clerks would tease him by greeting me with, “Hi, Moose!  How are you today?”

Other people in line probably thought they were being rude to me, but they didn’t know about our private joke.

Then, because I’m a terrible procrastinator, I developed the bad habit of rushing into the post office two minutes before closing every day, often with five or six packages to mail (I sell things on eBay). If I were one of the clerks, I probably would have wanted to jump over the counter and wring my neck, but instead, every time I came running in, they’d laugh and say, “Sally’s here! Must be time for us to go home! Lock the doors!”

I wasn’t the only last-minute customer, however. Another woman usually came dashing in after I did. The clerks nicknamed us the “last-minuters” or the “late twins.”  Well, that woman and I ended up talking and joking, and discovered we had more in common than just being late getting to the post office. We now are good friends.

A couple weeks ago, I headed to the post office earlier in the day than usual because I knew it was going to be crowded. I wasn’t wrong. The line nearly was out the door.

As I stood there, struggling to hold an oversized package that weighed about as much as a small child, the woman behind me said in a sympathetic tone, “Here, let me hold that for you. You need a rest. I lift things all day at work, so it’s second nature to me.”

I have to admit I felt kind of strange just standing there while she held the package for me – especially since I towered over her.  Still, I had to admit my back was grateful to her.

That particular day, everyone in line was female, except for one male. He finally made it to the counter and was told he had to fill out a form for his package. The clerk said to leave the package there and then bring the form back after he filled in the information. Meanwhile, she helped another customer.

The man was fast, completing the form in record time. He then stepped back up to the counter and handed the form to the clerk.

We women exchanged smirks and winks behind his back, as if we all were thinking the same thing…we were going to embarrass the poor guy.

“Hey, you stepped out of line!” one female customer shouted at him, her tone stern. “That means you have to go back to the end of the line again.”

“She’s right!” the rest of us chimed in. “It’s only fair!”

He turned to look at us and his eyes were as wide as saucers as he stared at the seemingly endless line. “B-but…” he began, obviously flustered.

We all started laughing. He rolled his eyes and groaned.

“You’re the only guy in here, so you should’ve known we’d have to pick on you!” another woman said.

And then there was the time a woman came in to pick up a parcel that contained five pounds of imported fine chocolates she’d ordered. She opened the box right there and offered them to everyone in the post office. They were the best, most decadent chocolates I’ve ever tasted.

Nope, you just can’t have experiences like that online.

That’s why I make certain I always have a good supply of postage stamps on hand so I can mail bills, thank-you notes and cards...and keep the post office in business. 

That’s also why I donated my moose sweater to Goodwill.
 
                                                                                        #   #   #
 
 
AVAILABLE AT AMAZON.COM, SMASHWORDS.COM, AND BARNES & NOBLE
 

Friday, January 2, 2015

MERRY "CRUNCH"-MAS!


I have to confess I have an addiction that rears its ugly head every holiday season. I’m hooked on Christmas candy.

When I was a kid, I loved something called ribbon candy, which was hard candy flattened into thin ribbons with razor-sharp edges that could amputate your tongue if you weren't careful. But as I got older, I switched to regular hard Christmas candies that come in a can.
 
The problem with hard candy and me, however, is I’ve always been in the habit of crunching it instead of allowing it to slowly dissolve in my mouth.  My mother spent just about every Christmas season shouting at me to stop crunching or I’d end up with no teeth by the time I was 16.  And I after I got married, my husband took over the anti-crunching nagging.

This year, the week before Christmas, I spotted cans of my favorite Christmas candy, “Washburn’s Old-Fashioned Hard Candy – since 1856,” in the local Family Dollar Store. I bought three cans.

The rest of that week, I savored the flavors – cherry, orange, lime, peppermint, spearmint, clove, lemon, grape, cinnamon and a few flavors I couldn’t identify. I even behaved myself, allowing the candies to slowly dissolve in my mouth.

But alas, one night I lost control and crunched. The minute I did, I knew I was in trouble.

I ran to the bathroom to look into the mirror. One of my bottom teeth, right in front, looked as if it had been struck by lightning and splintered. 

“Oh nooooo!” I groaned. “I’m going to have to go through Christmas looking like an upside-down version of the guy on the cover of Mad Magazine!”

Even worse, when the air hit my tooth, the sharp, stabbing pain made my eyes water. The next morning, I called my dentist. The only available appointment was in three days.

Those three days turned out to be the longest of my life.  And to add to the torture, the whole time I was suffering I kept hearing my mother’s voice (and my husband’s) saying from somewhere up above, “That’s what you get for crunching the candy! We told you not to! Now aren’t you sorry you didn’t listen to us?”

I stayed in the house until the morning of my dental appointment, mainly because I was too embarrassed to go out in public while looking like an extra from the movie, “Deliverance.”

Finally, my appointment arrived.  I expected the worst – a root canal, a crown, a post, a 14K-gold inlay with diamond accents – a second mortgage on my house. But the dentist was able to make the tooth look as good as new without much effort. Even better, I didn’t have to sell any of my body parts to pay for it.

“You broke the tooth really close to the nerve,” she said, “so it might be sensitive for a day or two. But if it turns into a bad toothache or there is any swelling, call me right away.”

I prayed I wouldn’t need to call her because I was pretty sure no dentist on earth, other than Dr. Scrooge, would appreciate being disturbed on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. I was afraid she might retaliate by putting a hex on me that would cause all of my teeth to ache and throb…and then fall out.

The dentist hadn’t been kidding about the tooth being sensitive. After I brushed my teeth that night and rinsed my mouth with cold water, I made some moves that would have qualified me to be a finalist on the TV program, “So You Think You Can Dance?”

Still, I’d been invited to a party on Christmas Eve, and I was determined to go. But the night before, my tooth reminded me it still was there – and that it was a distant relative of the Marquis de Sade. I spent hours tossing and turning in bed, unable to sleep. Desperate, I finally got up and searched through the bathroom cabinet for something to take the edge off the pain. I found a bottle of some painkillers called darvo-something-or-other I’d been given the year before when I’d had oral surgery – but I hadn’t taken any. The expiration date still was a few months away, so I popped two of the pills.

I woke up at 6:30 the next evening.  Needless to say, I didn’t make it to the party. Even worse, I was so drowsy, I went back to bed right after I had something to eat and drink…and slept through most of Christmas Day.

So when people ask me how my Christmas was and I say, “I don’t remember,” they give me a knowing smile, as if they’re thinking I dipped one too many cups into the bowl of eggnog.

But my tooth feels great now.

The day after Christmas, I headed over to Family Dollar for the half-price sale on holiday items. When I passed by the shelf of Washburn’s Old-Fashioned Hard Christmas Candy, I swear I heard a little voice calling out to me, “Pssst! Sally!  Buy me!  I’m your favorite candy, and I’m half-price!  Stock up on me now, for the rest of the year – it’s your only chance! I’m about to disappear again for 11 months!”

Before I knew it, I was flinging cans of candy into my basket.

And as I did, I was certain both my mother and husband were rolling over in their urns.

                                                                     #  #  #


AVAILABLE AT AMAZON.COM, SMASHWORDS.COM, AND BARNES & NOBLE