Friday, October 30, 2015

I LOOK AT BIRTHDAYS DIFFERENTLY NOW


As I sit here facing yet another Halloween birthday, I can’t help but think about how my attitude has changed over the years.

Back when I was a kid, birthdays were something I looked forward to with eager anticipation.  The cake and ice cream, gifts and party were only part of the excitement. The best part was getting older, so I wouldn’t have to be a kid any more.

Boy, was I ever clueless.

Now, birthdays cause me to have mixed emotions. First of all, I feel fortunate to have survived long enough to see another one. But then I feel unfortunate because it’s a grim reminder I’m officially older than dirt. I also know that another year older means my body is another year older, and like an old used car, probably will have some parts that will become outdated and need replacing, run more sluggishly or make weird noises.

When I was a kid and someone asked me my age, I’d always try to make myself sound older by saying something like, “I’m 10 and three-quarters” because it was closer to 11.  Now, when someone asks me how old I am, it takes me 20 minutes to remember. Then, when I do remember, I suffer from reality shock, because my brain still thinks I’m 30.

I was talking to one of my friends the other day about how I can’t believe that some of my former classmates not only are grandmothers, they’re also great-grandmothers.

“But times have changed,” my friend said. “Grandmothers and great-grandmothers nowadays are cool!  Do remember how our grandmothers used to look? They wore those long housedresses, thick cotton stockings and clompy lace-up shoes. Did you ever once see your grandmother wearing jeans and a T-shirt like we do?”

I tried to picture either one of my grandmothers wearing jeans and T-shirts, and I burst out laughing.  My friend had a point. This definitely is the era of non-grandmotherly-looking grandmothers.

Still, I’m not looking forward to getting another year older. First of all, there will be the usual arrival of birthday cards with old-age jokes on them. Last year, I received too many to count.

One said, “You know you’re getting old when half the stuff in your shopping cart says ‘for fast relief’ on it.” Another said, “You know you’re old when people call you at 8 p.m. and ask if they woke you.”

But one card I’m still trying to figure out said, “Birthdays are like cats. The more you have, the more your house stinks.”

I don’t think I want to know why.

When I was young, my birthday, because it’s on Halloween, involved an entire day of partying and stuffing myself with so many sweets, I could feel the cavities popping out in my teeth. You figure, there was the Halloween party at school, followed by my birthday party after school, followed by trick-or-treating at night. By the time I went to bed on my birthday, I’d eaten the equivalent of my body weight in cake and candy.

But when I reached adulthood, my birthday usually involved going out to lunch, coming home to hand out candy to trick-or-treaters, and then going to a Halloween dance or a costume party.

Now, I usually miss most of my birthday because I don’t crawl out of bed until the middle of the afternoon.

My favorite part of Halloween always has been seeing the trick-or-treaters and their creative costumes. Where I used to live, it was common to have 75 or more kids come to my door on Halloween night. But where I live now, I’ve had only two trick-or-treaters in six years. I thought there were two more – two kids in a very realistic deer costume – but it turned out to be an actual deer walking up my driveway.

The one thing I still look forward to on my birthday is my annual mountain of gifts from my two friends in New York. They love yard sales and flea markets, and go to over 100 per year. They know I enjoy selling things on eBay, so whenever they see something collectible they think I might be able to sell for a good profit, they buy it for me. By the time my birthday arrives, they’ve usually collected so many things to send to me, my poor UPS guy nearly needs a crane to help him lift them all.

It’s always exciting, though, to see the surprises they’ve sent – everything from a Grateful Dead cookie jar and a Queen Amidala necklace from Star Wars, to a Harry Potter pop-up book and a Betty Boop doll. Opening their gifts is like discovering buried treasure.

So this year, I have no idea what to expect on my birthday, other than the fact I’ll be a year older.

I can only hope I won’t get any more birthday surprises like the one four years ago – the 2011 Halloween snowstorm that dumped about two feet of snow and knocked out power everywhere.  I thought I saw a trick-or-treater dressed as the Abominable Snowman trudging up my driveway.

I think I’m better off never knowing what it actually was.
 
 
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Friday, October 23, 2015

THE MOUSE WAR CONTINTUES...



I was watching TV the other night when suddenly, both dogs jumped up, ran out to the kitchen and started growling at the refrigerator.

I had no clue why the refrigerator was upsetting them. I started wondering if maybe the chicken I’d bought earlier in the day had come back to life and was walking around and clucking inside, or something equally as bizarre.

I went out to the kitchen and noticed the dogs’ attention was riveted on the area underneath the refrigerator. So, brave soul that I was, I pulled it away from the wall. A tiny mouse scurried out and headed straight for the basement door, then squeezed underneath it and disappeared.

Not wanting to give the mouse any opportunity to return to the kitchen, I rolled up a towel and stuffed it into the gap under the basement door.  I then made a mental note to go to the hardware store the first thing in the morning and buy a mousetrap…preferably the non-kill variety.

An hour later, my dog Eden, with the shredded remnants of the rolled-up towel hanging out of her mouth, came trotting into the living room. I sensed it was going to be a very long night.

I wasn’t thrilled with the selection of non-kill mousetraps at the hardware store the next morning. There were dozens of things that poisoned, maimed, flattened, impaled and even exploded mice, but only one that didn’t cause pain or suffering. It was an opaque-black plastic tube with a pull-out door on one end.  The door balanced on two thin legs, which, when the mouse entered the trap, were supposed to collapse and cause the door to shut, trapping the mouse inside.

I brought the trap home, shoved some peanut butter into it, then set it on the basement floor.

Later that night, I checked the trap and noticed the door was shut. Something obviously had dared to crawl inside.

The problem was, because the trap was made of opaque black plastic, I couldn’t see what I’d caught. For all I knew, it was some hideous subterranean creature that, when I freed it, would leap up at my throat and tear out my jugular (OK, so maybe I’ve been watching too many science-fiction movies lately).

I carefully picked up the trap, stuffed it into a zip-close plastic bag and zipped it shut. Then I carried it out to the car and drove about a half-mile up the road to a snowmobile trail in the woods. I walked a short distance on the trail and came to a big, flat rock. That was the perfect spot, I decided, to release whatever was in the trap.

Carefully, I removed the trap from the bag and set it down on the rock. Then I opened the door on the end of it, stepped back and waited for my captive to emerge.  Nothing happened. I gave the trap a nudge with my foot.  Still, nothing. Finally, I gathered the courage to kneel down and peer inside, all the while fearing something would jump out and sink its teeth into my nostrils.

The trap was empty.

The peanut butter I’d put inside was gone, and there were mouse droppings in the trap – but no mouse – that is, unless it had figured out the secret of invisibility.

I drove home, muttering all the way and wondering how smart mice were. I mean, would the mouse now stay away from the trap because it knew it was a trap? Or would it go into it again, because it had figured out how to escape? 

I realized I had to find the old mousetraps, the clear acrylic ones I’d brought from my old house, so I actually could see into the trap if I caught something. Unfortunately, those traps were packed away somewhere in the basement…somewhere in one of the gazillion boxes and plastic tubs down in the spider-filled catacombs.

The thought of sharing my kitchen. or even worse, my bed, with a mouse, however, gave  me the incentive to enter spider territory and search.  I found dog collars in sizes that would fit everything from a Chihuahua to a St. Bernard. I found my old ballet costumes, which looked as if they’d been in the midst of a buffalo stampede. I found a pair of Lord of the Rings bookends featuring Gandalf and Bilbo. And, after 30 minutes of searching, I found one of the clear acrylic mousetraps. I had hoped to find at least two or three, just in case the mouse had relatives, but at that moment, I was happy to find even one.

I set up both the clear trap and the opaque one, then crossed my fingers and waited for the mouse to try again.

The next morning, I checked the traps. There was nothing in the clear one, but just like the day before, the door was closed on the opaque one. I picked up the trap and gently shook it. I didn’t hear or feel anything inside.

“Well, I’m not going to drive an empty trap back to the woods like I did yesterday,” I muttered.  Still, just to be safe, I took the trap out to the driveway to check it. I opened the door on it, once again expecting to see nothing inside. To my surprise, a tiny mouse came running out…and headed straight back toward my house.

I’m beginning to get the sinking feeling I’m going to lose this war.
 
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Friday, October 16, 2015

MAYBE IT'S TIME FOR ME TO GET A ROOMMATE?


 
I’ve noticed lately that more and more of my friends are asking me if I’ve ever considered getting a roommate. It makes me wonder if they’re concerned about my ability to take care of my house, my dogs or myself.

To be honest, anyone who’d be foolish enough to move in with me probably would end up running away screaming in about two days. That’s because I do weird things like repair fences at 3:00 in the morning, or bake cookies at midnight…after I finish eating my dinner at 11.

But the other night I did something so crazy, I found myself wishing I did have a roommate around – preferably a combination handyman/electrician/plumber with muscles like the Incredible Hulk.

It all started when I was in the laundry room and saw some mouse droppings in front of the washer. Instantly I panicked, mainly because of an incident that occurred years ago where I used to live. I still refer to it as the Great Mouse Invasion.

Back then, the mice were getting in through a small gap around the pipes under the kitchen sink. No matter how many times I tried to seal the gap, the mice still found a way to squeeze through it. So I bought some non-lethal mousetraps – little plastic tubes with a swinging door on one end that could be pushed inward, but not outward. Once a mouse crawled inside, it couldn’t get back out.

Within 10 minutes of setting up two traps with enticing blobs of peanut butter inside, I caught a mouse in each one – cute little field mice with huge dark eyes. They weren’t the disgusting, filth-encrusted vermin I’d anticipated. No, these mice were clean, with bright white chests and tiny pale-pink feet.

I affectionately dubbed them Mickey and Minnie, then drove them about two miles up the road and let them loose in the woods.

By the end of that night, however, I’d caught about 12 more mice. I was so tired and grumpy from transporting their furry little butts to the woods so many times, I stopped thinking they were cute. I also stopped giving them endearing names like Mickey and Minnie, and switched to monikers like Rat Face and Cat Chow.

So when I saw evidence of mice in the laundry room the other night, I was understandably upset…because the last thing I wanted was a repeat of the Great Mouse Invasion. I decided I’d better move the washer and dryer away from the wall and investigate.

Well, my washer and dryer are in this cubbyhole kind of area that just fits them, with only about an inch to spare on either side.

I pulled the dryer away from the back wall. It moved forward fairly easily, but I remembered there was some kind of vent hose on the back of it, which I didn’t want to yank out. So I paused to check it. The only way I could look behind the dryer was to stand on a chair and peer over the top.

That’s when I saw a couple things that disturbed me – the vent hose already was stretched nearly to its limit, and there was a gap in the floor all around it. Even worse, in the corner was a pile of lint and fibers that suspiciously resembled a nest.

I directed my attention to the washer, thinking if I could move it farther out of the cubbyhole than the dryer, I could gain access from that side.

I soon discovered that the washer weighed about as much as a small car. I grunted so much, barely moving it an inch, the dogs came running into the room, probably to see if a wild pig somehow had found its way inside.

It took me about 15 minutes to pull out the washer the full distance the hoses behind it would allow. Unfortunately, it wasn’t far enough to get it past the side wall. So I was stuck with a washer and dryer only an inch apart, with walls nearly touching the outer sides of them. I had to accept the fact that the only way I was going to get behind the dryer was to climb over the top of it.

The common-sense portion of my brain (which I use infrequently) told me that even if I did somehow manage to climb over the dryer and get behind it, I might end up stuck there, unable to climb back out.  So I shoved my cell phone into the back pocket of my sweatpants – just in case I needed to call for help. I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be using the phone, though, even if I did get hopelessly wedged behind the dryer. I didn’t want anyone to see me in my holey old sweatpants and baggy sweatshirt. Even worse, I wasn’t wearing any makeup and my hair was pulled into a knot on top of my head.  I figured starving to death behind the dryer probably would be preferable to suffering through years of humiliation.

Before I made the climb, I gathered some steel-wool pads, duct tape, a dustpan and brush, and a footstool.  I’d once read that if you have gaps around any pipes or vents, to stuff steel wool into them and then put duct tape over it, because mice can’t chew through steel wool.

I set everything, including the footstool, on top of the left side of the dryer. Then I stood on a chair, climbed up onto the right side of the dryer and knelt down. 

I peered over the back, the highest part of the dryer, where the control knobs were located, and mentally calculated the distance to the floor. I felt as if I were on top of Mount Everest. I finally moved to climb over the control panel. As I did, I heard something fall to the floor between the two machines. It was my cell phone. I also suddenly couldn’t move. That’s when I noticed the tie-string on my sweatpants was caught on one of the knobs. By then, I was pretty sure the mice were pointing at me and laughing.

I untangled myself and dropped behind the dryer.  Then I reached over the top and grabbed all of my supplies.  I swept, I stuffed, I taped, I called the mice colorful, unprintable names.  When I was satisfied with my handiwork, I picked up the footstool from the top of the dryer, set it down on the floor and stood on it.

The stool was much lower than the chair, so I had to stretch my leg a greater distance to get it up over the back of the dryer. At one point, I began to understand how it felt to be a turkey wishbone…during the actual wish-making process.

Finally, I was sitting back on top of the dryer.  I smiled with satisfaction, pleased with myself.  I’d solved the problem on my own – no help needed. The gap around the vent was sealed, I’d removed the nest, and best of all, I hadn’t crushed my spleen or impaled a kidney in the process.

That’s when I realized that the footstool still was on the floor behind the dryer.

I’m thinking I might place a “roommate wanted” ad in the newspaper next week.


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Saturday, October 10, 2015

I DON'T THINK I'LL EVER BE ON LIVE RADIO AGAIN!



A few years ago, I was a regular guest on WJYY Radio, where I interpreted callers’ dreams live on the air on the Kevin Hilley morning wake-up show. It was fun but stressful, mainly because having to interpret dreams on the spur of the moment without having time to organize some witty or intelligent retort, was a real challenge.

When Kevin left WJYY and moved on to other stations, my radio stint ended, but he often still had me as a guest on his shows, via a telephone link. Eventually, however, the invitations stopped coming.

So I recently was surprised when Kevin sent me a message through Facebook and said he was working at a radio station in Missouri and was wondering if I might be interested in doing a guest spot on his show and interpreting dreams again, live, by phone.


 My first impulse was to go into hiding. That’s because the last time I was a guest on a radio show, again by phone, it turned out to be such a disaster, I vowed never to go near a radio again – not even the portable one in my closet.

Even though the incident happened years ago, I still remember it as if it were yesterday.


Back then, the invitation had come from a radio station in New Jersey, and I’d enthusiastically agreed to do the show. The radio host, who seemed pleased with my response, said he would call me at 7:30 sharp on the morning of my guest spot, and we’d set up the phone link. He assured me I would sound as if I were right there with him in the studio instead of many miles away in my own house. 

Well, the last time I’d actually crawled out of bed before noon was to go vote in the Carter/Reagan election, so just to be safe, I decided to stay up all night the night before, rather than chance sleeping so soundly I wouldn’t hear my alarm clock or the phone ringing.
Back in the 1990s

It was the longest night of my life.  By 5 a.m., I was singing show tunes to keep myself from dozing off.   I watched a TV infomercial about a do-it-yourself facelift that involved some kind of invisible tape you stick under your double chin and then yank up behind your ears.  I was so groggy by then, I actually ordered the stuff for $39.95. 

If I were a coffee drinker, I would have brewed a gallon or two, but seeing I’m not, I downed an entire pot of tea instead, hoping to get at least a small jolt of caffeine and clear a few cobwebs from my brain.  

Finally, at precisely 7:30 a.m., the phone rang. The host of the radio show, sounding very professional but rushed, said, “After the news, I’ll introduce you, then you’ll take your first call, live. Are you ready?”  The word “yes” barely had escaped from my lips before he put me on hold and left me hanging there, clinging to a silent phone.

Long minutes passed, and I began to wonder if perhaps I had been disconnected. Even worse, the pot of tea was beginning to kick in, and I don’t mean caffeine-wise. I frantically eyed the distance to the bathroom, then thought against making a dash for it as I imagined the radio host introducing me and hearing nothing but the sound of flushing.

“We’re here this morning with Sally Breslin, the Dream Lady,” the host’s voice suddenly came booming back over the line. “I have Kristie from Hoboken on the line.  OK, Kristie, tell Sally your dream.”

A tiny, Munchkin-sized voice nervously began reciting a dream about getting buried in a pit of colored balls at McDonald’s Playland. I had the phone pressed so tightly against my ear, it was beginning to create a suction, yet I still had to struggle to hear the young girl.

Just then, I heard a big truck, its engine roaring, screech to a halt in front of my house.  I held my breath.  It was my scheduled heating-oil delivery!  The minute the guy started to fill the tank, my two dogs, who had been peacefully sleeping on the rug, began to bark so hysterically, you’d think that Jack the Ripper, carrying an armload of live cats, had just burst through the front door.

Normally, I just would have shouted at the dogs to lie down and be quiet, but that really didn’t seem appropriate on live radio, so I bit my lip and silently prayed they would stop. When they did, I had to ask poor Kristie in New Jersey to repeat her dream about McDonald’s.  She did, and to my relief, I finally managed to hear the whole thing. Just as I was beginning to deliver what I hoped would be my dazzling interpretation, the oil guy came pounding on my door to give me the bill.

Never have I heard such vicious growling and snarling (and that was from me, not the dogs).

The next thing I knew, the radio station went to a commercial and a lady’s voice came on the line. “After this next dream,” she politely told me, “we’re going to tape the calls for the rest of the show.  Then we can edit them before playing them, if necessary. You have a choice of which dream you want to interpret next.  I have four people on hold right now:  Mary, whose dream is about biting off someone’s ear; Wendy, who keeps dreaming that her dead husband is flying a plane; Fred, who dreamed he killed his mother; and Sherry, who has been having a recurring dream about rabbits and carrots.”

“I’ll take the one about biting off the ear,” I said. I then jokingly added,  “Oh, and I’m really sorry about my dogs barking.  I think after this, I’ll take them for a long walk in the woods and pretend they are Hansel and Gretel and leave them out there!”

I didn’t know it at the time, but I was back on the air when I said that…and everyone heard it.  Not only was I certain I’d never be invited back on the show, I also was pretty certain I’d be receiving a call from the SPCA.

So I think if Kevin values his job and his radio career, he probably would be wise to just forget his recent invitation to me to be a guest on his show.              


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Friday, October 2, 2015

IF I SMELL FUNNY, BLAME MY DOG!


 
It’s getting to the point where I’m afraid to let my dogs out into the yard after dark, because when I open the door to let them in again, I never know what I’m going to find on the steps.

Ever since Willow tangled with not one, but two different porcupines within two weeks’ time, and cost me over $4,000 for “de-quilling” at the vet’s, my yard has begun to look like a fortress.

To reinforce my chain-link fence, I have purchased chicken wire, plastic fencing on spikes, zip ties, and everything short of razor wire, and I still can’t keep the wild varmints out…or Willow, a.k.a. “Houdini,” in.

A couple weekends ago, I let out the dogs at about 11 p.m. and could hear them running around in the yard and playing with this big rubber ball they have. And believe me, I’m all in favor of anything that might tire them out, so I left them out there for about a half-hour.

When I called them in, only Eden, my new dog, came. Her eyes were wide and she seemed really excited about something. She kept running up to the door and then turning around and running back down onto the ground. Her actions reminded me of that old TV program, “Lassie,” when Lassie the collie would go get help for her buddy, Timmy, who seemed to get into trouble and need rescuing every week. Lassie would run up to people, bark, and then turn and run toward wherever Timmy was, and people would follow her.

So I jokingly said to Eden, “You want me to follow you? Has Timmy fallen into the well again?”

I, in my nightgown and slippers, decided that maybe, just maybe, Eden really did want me to follow her. So I grabbed a flashlight and let her lead the way. She led me to the far corner of the yard. As I followed her, I could smell something – a horrible stench that got stronger with every step, until my eyes started to burn and water.

When we reached the fence, Eden stopped and stared through the chain links. I looked where she was looking, and saw Willow, lying on the ground and pawing at her eyes

My first thought was, “How the heck did she get out of the yard?”

My second thought was, “Well, she didn’t tangle with a porcupine this time…she tangled with a skunk! Should I be relieved?”

My longtime friend in Scotland, Pam, once told me they don’t have skunks over there (lucky people) so she was wondering if I could describe their odor to her. She said she was imagining skunks smelled something like a septic tank.

That made me think long and hard about exactly how to describe a skunk’s stink. I’ve pretty much concluded it defies description.  But to give her a vague idea, I told her to think of the smelliest armpit she’s ever smelled – and then multiply that odor by 100.

So I opened the gate and went over to Willow, whose face was soaked with skunk spray. I led her back into the yard and used the garden hose to flush out her eyes. Then, I tried to remember where I’d put what I’ve always referred to as the miracle in a bottle – Skunk-Off by Thornell (there are other products using the same name, but Thornell is, in my opinion, the king).  Skunk-Off comes in a bottle that’s about the size of a bottle of hand lotion. You squirt some of it onto a cloth and wipe the dog, yourself or your clothes with it, and it immediately eliminates all traces of skunk odor – permanently. One small bottle is good for about four skunk attacks. And, unlike other products, it can be used around the eyes and on mucus membranes.

The problem was, even though I knew I’d bought some Skunk-Off to keep on hand in case of emergencies, it had been packed away in one of the 40 trunks in the basement when we’d moved into the new house.  The thought of rummaging through all of those trunks made me want to fling myself down the basement stairs, but I tried to remain calm. Having no alternative, I began my search.

Only 10 minutes later, I found the treasure I was searching for. Clutching the bottle as if it were a roll of 100-dollar bills, I bolted up the stairs, grabbed some paper towels and headed outside to de-stink Willow. The stuff worked amazingly, to my relief. The instructions said to allow the dog to air-dry outside before letting it back into the house.  So I left Willow outside. But first, I, with flashlight in hand, examined the entire perimeter of the fence. I found an area where a hole had been dug under it, and figured that’s where Willow had escaped. So I stuck some wire fencing into the ground to block the hole.

Then I went back into the house…and washed myself with the Skunk-Off.

About 15 minutes later, Eden, who was in the house with me, ran to the back door and whined, clearly agitated.  I figured she just wanted to go outside to play, but I didn’t want her anywhere near Willow until I was certain she wasn’t smelly any more.

But Eden was insistent, even coming up to me and barking.

Finally, I flipped on both of the outside lights, opened the back door and looked out. To my horror, there was Willow, once again on the other side of the fence, this time in an area closer to the house. About five feet away from her was a skunk – a huge, nearly all-white monster of a skunk.

“No!” I shouted at Willow. “Don’t move!”

Willow briefly glanced at me, then bolted after the skunk.

At that point, I was so frustrated, I was ready to drink the bottle of Skunk-Off, hoping it would cause my swift and merciful death.

The next day, I was running late to go to a Labor Day party, mainly because I’d spent half the night tending to Willow. I backed my car out of the garage and noticed something lying on the front walkway.

It was a dead skunk…a badly mangled dead skunk. And it wasn’t the big white one I’d seen with Willow. It was a small black-and-white one.

That’s when I realized it must have been the first skunk Willow had encountered when she’d escaped. The big white one I’d seen her with apparently was the second.

 I had no choice but to leave the skunk lying there.

When I got home after dark that night, all I can say is the only thing worse than the odor of a skunk is the odor of a dead skunk that’s been lying out in the hot sun all day.  So even though it was dark out, I grabbed a shovel, scooped up the corpse, carried it out to the woods, dug a hole and buried it. All the while, I had the distinct feeling the big white skunk was watching me and saying, “You murdered my brother! Wait until the gang hears about this! Revenge will be ours!”

So until I can afford to have the entire yard filled with concrete and then sink prison-like bars into it, I’m going to have to keep a close watch on Willow “Houdini” Breslin.

With my luck, she’ll escape again and bring home the only remaining living timber rattlesnake in the state.
 

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