Friday, February 26, 2016

MY NEW CARS ARE NEVER NEW


 

 

I guess this is the season when a lot of people buy new cars, because quite a few of my friends seem to be upgrading to 2016 vehicles.

“My new car is fantastic!” one friend gushed. “It has a built-in phone, GPS system, tracking, rear-view camera…”

I stopped listening before she said it also prepared her lunch and gave her a pedicure.

I’m not the type who gets excited about new cars – maybe because I’ve never actually owned anything other than used ones. To me, a car merely is something that transports me from point A to point B. I don't care what color it is or how many speakers the sound system has.  All I care about is that it runs and doesn't explode into flames when I turn it on.

Which probably explains why my current car is a 2004 that still plays CDs and doesn’t even have power locks. I still have to manually pull up the buttons on the doors when I want to unlock them.

Before I got this car, I was driving a 1991 compact that was so basic, it didn't have the word "power" associated with anything on it.  No power windows, no power brakes, no power steering.  In fact, it practically had no power at all.  If I turned on the air conditioner while the car was trying to climb a hill, kids on tricycles whizzed past me.

The last time my mechanic checked out that car, back in 2008, he said the only thing holding it together was rust.  The frame, the axle and the body itself all were so rotted away, he warned me to avoid driving over any large bumps because I'd end up sitting on the ground.  And as far as the car ever passing inspection again, well, let's just say I had more of a chance of winning the Miss Hawaiian Tropic bikini competition.

So reluctantly, I decided to go car shopping – for a “new” used car.

When I, in my 1991 compact, drove into the used-car lot, the employee who greeted me couldn’t conceal his amusement.

"People like you are bad for business," he said. "If everyone bought new cars only once every 15 or 20 years, we'd be in big trouble!"

“Well, I really like my car,” I said. “Do you have anything similar to it in a newer version?”

He shook his head. "Haven't seen anything like it in years."

He then added, still looking amused, “So, if you were to buy another car today – one that actually was made in the current century – how much would you be willing to pay for it?”

I thought about it for a few moments, even though I had no idea how much cars were selling for at the time, then blurted out what I thought was a pretty high figure, "$6,000." 

The look he gave me told me that for that price, I probably could buy a really fancy bicycle.

"Well, let me show you a car I think you'll like," he said.

He led me to a 2004 vehicle that not only looked really impressive with its shiny red exterior, he said it had power steering, power brakes and power windows – none of which my 1991 car had.  So I test-drove it.  It was the smoothest ride I'd ever had…that is, after I drove up onto a curbstone because I'd never used power steering before.

By the time I returned to the dealership, I was sold. I really wanted that car.

"It's only $11,500," the salesman said, as if he were telling me something good. 

I glared at him.  The man, I thought, obviously was a sadist who was deriving some sort of sick pleasure from tempting me with a car he knew I couldn’t afford…at least not until it aged at least another 10 years. 

“I guess I’ll just have to wait, then,” I said, disappointed. “That’s nearly twice my budget.”

He took down my name and phone number and said he’d call me if anything in my price range came in. So I drove my old clunker home.  I still had five months left before it had to be inspected anyway, I told myself, so I figured I could put off buying another car until then.

The car salesman called me the next day.  "Are you sure you don’t want the car you test-drove yesterday?" he asked.

Again, I thought he was being cruel. "Yes, I’m sure,” I said tightly. “It's a great car and I love it, but as I told you, I don't want to spend more than $6,000.  So there’s really no sense discussing it.”

"Oh, OK," he said, with what sounded like an overly dramatic sigh. "Then I guess I’ll just have to let you have the car for $6,000."

I honestly thought he was kidding.  He wasn't.

So that’s how, in 2008, I became the proud owner of a 2004 vehicle with 45,000 miles on it. 

And I’m still driving it eight years later. I call it the “dogmobile” now because there is so much fur in it, it looks as if it has mink seat-covers. And there aren’t any armrests in the back seat because my dogs stood on them so often, they finally broke them off.

But with luck, I’m hoping to still be driving it in 2025.


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Friday, February 19, 2016

WE USED SOME PRETTY BARBARIC PIERCING METHODS



 
A few of us girls got into a discussion on Facebook the other night, comparing which methods we’d used when we pierced our ears many years ago.

Back then, if you wanted the piercing done in a safe, sterile way, your only option was to have a doctor do it. There were no malls or shops that offered ear piercing. Most parents, however, weren’t keen on making appointments and paying doctors’ fees for something that wasn’t life-threatening, so we had to resort to more barbaric and creative (i.e. “dangerous”) ways to pierce our ears.

The most popular method at the time seemed to be the needle, thread, ice cube and bar of soap method. Basically, it involved convincing a friend to ram a sewing needle through your earlobe. The procedure was fairly simple: first use a pen to mark a dot (hopefully evenly) on each earlobe, then numb the earlobe with an ice cube, put a bar of soap behind the lobe and quickly stab a threaded needle through the dot. Remove the needle, leaving the thread in the newly made hole to keep it open, and then tie a knot in the thread to form a loop. Voila!  Pierced ears!

My mother had her ears pierced that way – by our neighbor. After I witnessed the procedure, there was no way I wanted to try it. Not that there were any screams of pain or gushing blood, but the dots on my mom’s ears hadn’t been drawn too accurately, so she spent the rest of her life wearing earrings that looked lopsided.  They weren’t too noticeable when she wore studs, but when she wore dangly earrings, one always hung down much lower than the other and made her look as if she had a crooked head.

But as luck would have it, when I was in high school, an invention that drastically changed piercing methods was introduced…sleepers. Sleepers were tiny torture devices  - 14K gold spring-loaded hoops. On one end of the hoop was a sharp point. On the other end was a hollow opening.  When placed on the earlobe, the hoop, because it was spring-loaded, would tightly dig into the flesh. The pointed end then would gradually work its way through the lobe until it eventually met the other end of the hoop, the hollow part, to form a complete circle. When it did, that meant the ear was pierced all the way through. The process, however, was a slow one. It could take over a week for the sleeper to work its way through.

When one of the girls at school showed me her pair of sleepers and told me where she’d bought them, I couldn’t wait to rush to the store and buy a pair for myself. I’d noticed that her earlobes were a little pinker and puffier than usual, but that didn’t bother me. That was because something happened that caused me to dismiss anything negative about ear piercing…I was invited to the prom. The thought of being able to buy some sparkly pierced earrings to match my gown excited me. Not only was I convinced the earrings would make me look more glamorous and fashionable, they also would prevent the pain and pinching I’d be forced to endure if I had to wear clip-on earrings all night. So, suddenly I actually was eager to add two more holes to my head.

I have to admit that after I bought the sleepers and was able to get a closer look at the sharp points on them, I was a little apprehensive about sticking them onto my earlobes. Still, all I had to do was think about how stunning I’d look at the prom, and I was inspired to proceed. I carefully measured each lobe, then marked dots on them. Taking a deep breath, I placed the first sleeper on the dot. To my relief, I didn’t feel a thing. I then positioned the second sleeper on my other earlobe. After that, all I had to do was wait.

By the third day, my earlobes were so tender, I had to lie flat on my back in bed. If I fell asleep and rolled over on my side, which put pressure on my ear, the throbbing pain immediately woke me up. With each sleepless night, I became more and more impatient for the sleepers to work their way through.


A couple days later, I was complaining to my friend Janet about how I felt like a human dartboard and didn’t know how much longer I could stand the discomfort of waiting for the sleepers to pierce through.

“Then why don’t you do something to speed them along?” Janet said matter-of-factly. “Squeeze the hoop together with a lot of pressure…like use pliers on it.”

Fool that I was, I actually thought her suggestion was a good one. I dug the pliers out of the catch-all drawer, gripped the left sleeper with them and then gave it a mighty squeeze. I heard a popping sound and then felt relief. The sleeper finally was through to the other side.

At that point, I thought Janet was a genius. So I used the pliers on my other ear.

“It worked!” I cried to her. “My ears are officially pierced! Come on, Let’s go shopping for earrings!”

By the next week, even though I’d diligently swabbed both earlobes with alcohol to keep them from getting infected, my left earlobe began to swell. It also felt hot and sore…very sore.

“Your ear looks painful,” my mother commented over breakfast one morning. “It’s really red and inflamed. I think it’s infected.”

I silently cursed myself for being so careless. Up until then, I’d been careful to keep my hair over my ears to hide any incriminating evidence.

I vigorously shook my head – an action that caused the pain to shoot from my earlobes up to my eyeballs. “No, my ears are fine, I assured her. They’re just healing.”

But when I began to look as if I had a piece of pepperoni for a left earlobe, I couldn’t deny it any longer. Something definitely was wrong. I couldn’t even touch my ear, never mind shove a different earring into it. But I was stubborn and determined. After all, there was the prom to consider. I’d already bought a pair of long rhinestone earrings and I was determined to wear them with my gown – infection or no infection.

What I remember most about my prom was the constant, painful throbbing of my left earlobe all night. Even worse, all of my friends at the prom hugged me when they greeted me. Every hug, especially when someone’s cheek or long hair rubbed against my bad ear, made me grit my teeth to keep from crying out.

It took ages for the ear to finally heal, but luckily, it did. To this day, I’m still grateful I didn’t end up looking like Van Gogh.

Nowadays, people who want their ears pierced don’t have to resort to such barbaric methods as the ones my friends and I used. No, they can walk into a store, get their earlobes shot with a piercing gun and be out of there, sporting a pair of shiny new gold studs, in only 10 minutes.

I can remember, back when I worked at the Mall of NH, the first time one of the shops actually offered ear piercing. The sign in the window made me burst out laughing. It said, “Ear Piercing While You Wait” (What was the alternative? Drop off your ears and pick them up later?).

Believe it or not, I actually found my old pair of sleepers in the back of my jewelry box the other day. I’m thinking that if they also work for nose piercing, I just might be able to get some good money for them on eBay.


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Saturday, February 13, 2016

I'M AFRAID TO FILE AN INSURANCE CLAIM!


 

 

No two words in the English language cause me more confusion or anxiety than “homeowner’s insurance.”

It wasn’t always that way.  Back when my husband and I lived a mobile home, we were covered by an amazing insurance company. Believe me, it’s a good thing we were, because the mobile home seemed to be cursed.  A tree fell through the roof, another tree crushed our newly erected fence, a pipe burst while we were away and formed a pond on our wall-to-wall carpeting, and we had a power surge that killed everything electronic – from the TV and stereo system to the computer.

And each time, we contacted the insurance company and they said, “Take some photos of the damages, get an estimate and submit it to us, and then we’ll send you a check.” And they did, within less than a week. Simple, no hassle.

Sadly, when we built our new house, we had to find another insurance company because the one we’d been using dealt strictly with mobile homes.

The first company I contacted seemed thrilled to have me as a potential new client. The woman asked me several questions, one of which was if I owned any dogs. I told her I had two rottweilers. 

She was silent for several seconds before she said, “Oh…I’m sorry.” Her tone instantly had transformed from warm and cheerful to so chilly, my ear nearly got frostbite. “Rottweilers are on our 10-most-vicious-dogs list. We can’t insure you.”

Up until then, I hadn’t been aware that such a dog list even existed.

So I called another company…and another. And each time, I received the same reaction. The minute I mentioned the rottweilers, the agents hung up so fast, I could feel the breeze through the phone.  . 

I decided not to waste any more time and just get right to the point when I called the next batch of prospective insurers.

“Look,” I said, the minute they answered the phone. “I have two rottweilers. Will you insure my property?”

Not one of them said yes. By then, I was so frustrated, I seriously was tempted to say I had two toy poodles.

“But if you conceal information from the insurance company and then you have a fire or something and the claims guy comes over and sees two rottweilers standing there, he can cancel your policy right on the spot,” one of my friends pointed out.

“I can always say I’m just dog-sitting for someone,” I muttered.

Finally, one company came up with a compromise. They said they would insure my house and property, but not my dogs. In other words, if one of my dogs decided to gnaw her way through a couple walls in the house, run loose and de-pants someone or make fricassee out of the neighbor’s chickens, I was on my own. Still, it was a risk I was willing to take.

I paid the yearly premium and breathed a sigh of relief. Our new house finally was insured! It had taken me three months and about 50 phone calls, but for the first time, I felt as if I finally could relax and not have to worry about every little breeze or raindrop turning into a hurricane or a monsoon and destroying my uninsured property.   The only thing I had to worry about was keeping my dogs in line.

Six months later, the insurance company called and said they’d decided to drop me and would refund the remaining portion of my premium.  Before I even could ask why, the agent thanked me and hung up. I never was told why I’d been dumped. I suspected they’d watched the movie, “The Omen,” and witnessed the rottweilers turning people into human jerky. But that shouldn’t have concerned them. After all, my dogs weren’t even included in my insurance coverage.

So once again, I had to hunt for an insurance company. Luckily, someone told me about one that supposedly had no problem with insuring pit bulls, so I figured my rotties just might have a chance.

Sure enough, not only was the company more than happy to insure my house and the dogs, their rates were lower and also included a smaller deductible and better coverage. I truly believed everything had worked out for the best.

So for six years now, I have faithfully paid my annual $655 premium, feeling confident that if anything ever happened to my house or belongings, I’d be fully covered and quickly reimbursed, just like with my previous mobile-home insurance.

One night a couple weeks ago, however, that feeling of confidence totally vanished.

I was watching TV when suddenly, I heard the wind howling outside. It grew louder and louder, sounding like a freight train heading straight toward the house. Then came a crash.

I knew from past experience that anything crashing, especially on my own property, never was a good thing. After several minutes of hesitation, I took a deep breath and slowly creaked open the back door. The only tree close to the house – a tall oak that holds my bird feeder – had snapped. And a big part of it was lying on my chain-link fence, which no longer resembled a fence. It was a heap of tangled, twisted wire with bent pipes sticking up out of it. I groaned. Not only did I need that fence to keep out the coyotes and other creatures in the Wild Kingdom where I live, I needed it to keep my dogs – the savage, drooling, beasts – in the yard.


The next morning, I called my insurance company, described what had happened, and asked about filing a claim. I wasn’t feeling any stress because I was certain they’d swiftly handle all of my problems.

The agent didn’t immediately respond. Finally, he said, “Well…I don’t want to discourage you, but let me give you some advice. If you file a claim for something as minor as this, it will void your non-claim bonus of $189, which then will be added to your premium from now on. And in the future, if something really bad happens, like a house fire, and you have to file another claim, the company will see that you already have a claim on record and probably will cancel your policy.”

I nearly was too stunned to speak as I tried to digest what he was saying.

“You mean,” I said, “if I file this claim, my premium will go up and even though I keep paying the higher price for the next 20 years, you still can cancel my insurance if I ever try to file another claim?”

“Basically, yes,” he said.

“Then essentially, what you’re saying is I’m allowed to file only one claim, so I’d better make sure when I do, it’s a really good one – like the Queen Mother of all claims?”

He didn’t respond. He didn’t have to. He’d made his point – too clearly.

I hung up, upset. What good was having an insurance company, I wondered, if I was afraid to use it?  And the worst part was this company was one of the popular ones, always advertising on TV and making it look as if filing a claim with them was a pleasurable experience - all hearts, flowers and ice-cream cones.

The next day, I called a fence company to get an estimate for the repairs. The guy came right over, measured the fence, poked at it, and then scratched his chin and said, “Hmm,” a lot as he scribbled notes on a pad of paper. He said he would get back to me with the estimate. He did mention I’d need three new sections of fence and some new pipe. He also said I should remove the tree before it caused any more damage.

But due to the snowstorms over the next few days, the tree has remained on my fence.

No matter how much the clean-up and repairs end up costing me, I’ve decided to forget about filing a claim. No, I’m going to save what I assume will be my one and only claim for something bigger and much more important, like a giant sinkhole swallowing the house, or a meteor crushing it into a pile of kindling.

I recently read that my insurance company has $98 billion in assets.

Gee, I can’t imagine why.


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Friday, February 5, 2016

I CAN RELATE TO THAT TV SHOW, "MY CRAZY EX!"






I’ve been watching this reality show on TV called, “My Crazy Ex,” where people describe their most bizarre dates and partners, and the crazy things they’ve done. On the show I just recently watched, a clean-cut young man discussed how he’d chauffeured his new girlfriend around town one night so she could run into a few stores and do some quick shopping. He later found out (when he got arrested!) she’d actually been robbing the stores at gunpoint and he unknowingly had been driving the getaway car.

Too often, the show makes me recall some of the crazy dates I suffered through during my younger days. While they weren’t quite as bad as the ones featured on the TV program, I’m pretty sure they still would quality for a prominent place in the “Bad Dates Hall of Fame.”

One such date, for example, involved a guy named Bill. He was tall, good-looking, and managed a store in downtown Manchester. He always wore a business suit and tie and looked as if he’d just stepped off the cover of GQ magazine.  I was 20 at the time and was a regular customer in his store. We always ended up chatting and sharing interesting conversations when I shopped there, and before long, I began to develop a crush on him. One day, he surprised me by asking me out.

“I want to treat you to the best steak dinner you’ve ever had,” he said.

Flattered and secretly thrilled, I accepted the invitation.

Believe me, never in my wildest imagination could I have guessed what kind of date it would turn out to be.

When the big day arrived, I spent hours getting ready. I must have tried on 10 different dresses, rejected all of them, and then tried them on again. About 30 minutes before Bill was due to pick me up, I finally selected a short black dress (“short” was all the rage back then) and black high heels.  My mom even let me borrow her real gold earrings, because most of the earrings I owned had been bought at Woolworth’s and were in various stages of tarnish.

Bill arrived right on time. When I opened the door, I just stared at him. He was wearing a plaid short-sleeved shirt and khaki shorts. I’d never seen him in anything other than a business suit, and frankly, I hadn’t expected to see him wearing anything else – especially not on our big dinner date.

During the drive to dinner, Bill was relaxed and sociable. We never lacked for conversation, so my case of first-date jitters rapidly began to wane.

“OK, I’m dying to know,” I finally said to him, “where are we going for this so-called fantastic steak dinner of yours?”  I’d thought of every upscale restaurant in the Manchester area…and realized we weren’t heading in the direction of any of them.

He smiled slyly. “It’s a surprise.”

He drove away from the city and toward Auburn, on a wooded road that ran along Lake Massabesic.  Finally, he pulled into a small clearing and parked the car.

“Here we are!” he said.

Puzzled, I looked around. I saw woods and more woods. There wasn’t a restaurant within miles – not unless the squirrels and chipmunks were running it.

It was a summer night, so it still was light out, but that didn’t make me feel any less uneasy. I mean, some guy I’d never dated before had just driven me out to the woods after promising me the best steak dinner I’d ever had. Unless he knew of a secret herd of wild cattle grazing in the woods, I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to be eating a steak. Feeling panicky, I mentally calculated which part of his body I was going to kick first with my spiked high-heels.

Bill noticed my stricken expression and laughed, clearly amused.

 “Don’t worry,” he said. “I didn’t bring you out here for evil purposes. I promised you a great steak dinner, and I never break my promises!”

He then got out of the car and opened the back door, where he retrieved a brown paper bag and a blanket. He held them up so I could see them.

“I stopped at my favorite butcher’s shop and bought two of his best T-bone steaks,” he said, smiling. “There’s a makeshift stone fireplace down this path here. I’m going to cook up the steaks, and then we can sit on the blanket and eat them while looking out at the lake.  No restaurant can give us that kind of atmosphere!”

He seemed genuinely excited about his plan. I, on the other hand, wondered if I had enough strength to shove a guy of his size into the lake. It turned out, I realized, he wasn’t some pervert – he was just incredibly cheap. I also realized I probably wasn’t the first girl he’d brought to this “special” spot of his.

Still, like a fool, I, high heels and all, walked down the trail with him. My pantyhose ended up covered with snags and runs, and every leaf, twig and mosquito I passed seemed to stick to my hairspray. Fortunately, the trail wasn’t very long or very far from the main road.

The view of the lake was as nice as Bill had described, but I’d have preferred to be seeing it while wearing jeans, a tee shirt and hiking boots…and about a gallon of mosquito repellent.

As I sat on the blanket, trying to discreetly swat at bugs and also cover my knees with my short dress, Bill set to work gathering twigs and small branches for a fire. Once the fire was blazing, he found two thin, straight branches about three feet long, then took a pocket knife out of his shorts pocket and whittled the branches into pointed sticks. He slid a slab of raw steak onto each one, then held them over the flames.

“Perfect!” he finally said about 10 minutes later, smiling with satisfaction at his culinary creation. He handed me one of the branches with the steak on it. “Time to dig in! I guarantee you’ll love it!”

Feeling totally ridiculous, I sat there, eating steak on a stick. No salt, no pepper, not a thing to go with it…not even anything to drink. Just steak on a stick. Even worse, he didn’t remember to bring any napkins. The grease stains never came out of my dress.

By the time we finished eating, the sun was starting to slowly make its descent. The scene was beautiful, picture-perfect. But the last place I wanted to be after dark was in the woods with Bill.

“Well, that was really good,” I said, rising to my feet and brushing off my dress (with my greasy hands). “But I do think we should get going now. I don’t want to be out here in the dark.” Before Bill could answer, I quickly added, “Every nocturnal animal that’s a carnivore probably will be rushing over here, searching for steak!”

He frowned at me, which indicated he wasn’t pleased. And the fact he wasn’t pleased made me nervous. I thought maybe I should bend down and pick up my steak stick, just in case I needed to use it for a weapon and shishkebob him with it.

“So what have you got planned for dessert?” I asked, attempting to sound lighthearted. “A trip to one of those farms where you pick your own strawberries?”

His frown deepened. “You didn’t really enjoy your dinner, did you?” 

I decided to answer truthfully. “Well, it definitely wasn’t what I’d expected. I mean, I thought we’d be going to a nice restaurant…not a caveman’s cookout.”

“Sorry,” he said. “I’m the type who likes to do the unexpected.”

“Well, you definitely succeeded.”

So he put out the fire, rolled up the blanket and we left. Never was I so glad to get back home…unscathed.

A week later, Bill called to invite me out for another steak dinner.

“This time, it will be at a restaurant,” he said, chuckling. “How does Six Acres sound?”

Back then, Six Acres was a very popular and classy restaurant. Even stars like Frank Sinatra, Jr. ate there when in town. It was on the outskirts of the city, in a wooded area near yet another lake – Crystal Lake. I was beginning to think Bill was part duck.

So he and I went to Six Acres and had a wonderful time dining and dancing. And after that night, I no longer considered him to be a cheapskate. In my eyes, he definitely had redeemed himself.

But a couple days later, one of Bill’s employees tipped me off about why Bill was so fond of places that were far off the beaten path.

His wife was less likely to find him there.

 

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