Friday, May 27, 2016

TO ME, "SWIMSUIT" IS A 4-LETTER WORD


My friend Pauline called the other day and mentioned that her doctor had recommended she try aquatic therapy for her bad back.

“It sounds like a good idea,” she said. “But I haven’t worn a bathing suit in years.”

After I hung up, I started thinking about the last time I’d worn a swimsuit.

I don’t remember exactly when it was, but I do remember the swimsuit – a hot-pink one-piece with a modest neckline, short skirt, and a built-in bra that was so stiff and pointy, I probably could have speared fish with it.  I also remember the year I bought it, because it was the summer of the first moon landing.

I wore that same swimsuit every summer for years, until the hot pink faded into more of an off-white with scattered pink spots. Also, the straps stretched out until the neckline drooped down to somewhere around my navel.                            
The pink swimsuit after it started to fade

But I never bought another swimsuit after that.

I think it was because by the time the pink one wore out, I was in my 30s and at that “in-between” stage…somewhere between wearing a sexy bikini and something that resembled my grandmother’s couch cover.

I actually did attempt to shop for a new swimsuit, mostly by looking through catalogs. But none of the photos enticed me to buy anything.

For one thing, several catalogs contained only bikinis. The styles were, for lack of a better description…eye opening.  One bikini looked as if it had been made from two buttons and a Doritos corn chip.  Another one, in silver metallic, looked like two strips of duct tape.  And I barely could believe my eyes when I read, “dry clean only” in some of the descriptions!

The depressing part was the catalog models made each and every creation look absolutely stunning. I began to suspect they weren’t actually real women, but genetically altered clones.  I mean, what human woman doesn’t have even one visible body hair, mole, scar, stretch mark, pimple, dimple or freckle?  And how many women can lie flat on their backs and still have breasts that defy gravity? 

I also wondered why I, a woman whose thighs stick together in hot weather and create so much suction, I nearly need the jaws of life to pry them apart, had been sent a bikini catalog? I concluded it was part of some evil scheme to taunt me. I mean, even my rottweiler would look better in a bikini than I would.   

But then I received a swimsuit catalog that was the polar opposite of the bikini ones.  The women who graced its pages, to my relief, didn’t resemble flawless mannequins. They had midriff bulge and saddlebags, and the only things they were wearing that looked smaller than a size 10 were their sandals.   

So what kind of swimsuits were these more realistic-looking women modeling?  In a word…hideous. Most of the styles looked as if they’d been made from about 20 yards of 1950s drapery material. One swimsuit in particular caught my eye because its level of hideousness surpassed the rest. It was dark blue with huge light-blue and bright orange flowers splashed all over it. The neckline was high and cut square across, and the waistline was puffed out in a bubble effect, to conceal any bulges or muffin tops.  At the hips was a skirt that flared out like a square-dancing skirt, with a rippled hem.  

My first thought was I’d be afraid to get a suit like that wet because when all of that material soaked up water, the weight of it probably would drag me down to the bottom of the briny deep. The good news, however, was the colors were so flashy, if I ever went missing while swimming, astronauts orbiting the earth would be able to spot me. 

Another swimsuit in the catalog all but guaranteed to make the wearer end up swallowing half the ocean. The top went all the way up to the neck, where the only place where cleavage might be able to pop out was in the area of the Adam's apple.  The waist was wrapped in layers of material, kind of like a mummy, and the skirt went down to the knees. On the plus side, women wearing it would save a lot of money on sunscreen because hardly any skin would be exposed. And when the swimsuit wasn’t being worn, it could be propped up on a pole and used as a beach umbrella that would provide shade for about five people. 

The different catalogs made me wonder just what kind of message the manufacturers were trying to send.  To me, they seemed to be saying that if a woman has a perfect body, she should flaunt it in as little material as legally possible. But if she doesn’t look like a fitness model, she should wrap herself in something that resembles a Hawaiian tablecloth. 

So I haven’t purchased a new swimsuit in over 45 years. I guess my problem is I’m still waiting for another swimsuit catalog; one that’s for women whose body parts are heading toward Florida instead of saluting Canada…one that’s for women whose butts can be found somewhere down around the backs of their knees.  

My perfect swimsuit would be classy but simple. It also would lift the bust and rear-end, flatten the stomach, lengthen the legs and conceal cellulite and varicose veins.

I don’t think I’m asking for too much.

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Friday, May 20, 2016

I GATHERED THE COURAGE TO VISIT MY PAST



 I have been experiencing two things lately that could prove to be a dangerous combination. First of all, I’ve been feeling overly nostalgic, especially about my school years. And secondly, I’ve been feeling gutsy.

So a couple weeks ago, when I started thinking about the summer camp I wrote about in my book, “There’s a Tick in my Underwear,” the gutsiness kicked in… and I decided I was going to go back there and visit the current residents, even though I had no clue who they were.

My parents bought the camp – a two-room hunting cabin on a deserted dirt road that ran along a river – back in the late 1950s.  It became our favorite “escape from the city” getaway until they sold it in the early 1970s. The place had no running water, indoor plumbing or electricity.  Behind the camp was a narrow, winding path that led down to a wooden storage-shed and to the building I dreaded to set foot in…the outhouse. Just the sight of its weathered boards and lopsided doorway, which lacked a door, was enough to instantly induce a terminal case of constipation.

A few years after my parents sold the property, they were informed that the people who bought the camp had torn it down and built a house in its place, so I knew I wouldn’t be seeing the camp again. But I was hoping there still would be a few familiar landmarks I could recognize on the property, such as the outdoor fieldstone barbecue/fireplace one of my uncles built back in 1960.

My uncle was a perfectionist, and his penchant for perfection had become obvious during the construction of the barbecue. He’d made my poor dad spend countless hours searching for perfectly shaped rocks for the perfectly shaped barbecue.

“Too round! Too flat! Too bumpy!” my uncle would snap as he examined and then flung aside each rock my dad, sweaty and dirty from his dawn-until-dusk rock hunting, handed to him. Then came the day my uncle rejected a rock because he claimed it needed more moss on it to match the other rocks. That was when my dad finally lost his temper.

“The (insert any curse word here) rock is going to be burning in a fire!” Dad shouted. “Why the heck does it need moss on it?”

When my uncle went home that night, my father hastily mixed up some cement, grabbed a bunch of rocks and slapped them onto the barbecue. A half-hour later, he tossed down the trowel and said, “There! It’s finally done!”

Anyway, two Saturdays ago, my dogs and I headed to the camp. During the ride, I kept trying to compose what I would to say to the people who lived there so they wouldn’t think I’d just escaped from some maximum-security institution and was trying to gain access to their property so I could hide out from the authorities.

The night before, I’d managed to dig out some old black-and-white photos of my family at the camp, so I could bring them with me as proof I’d once spent my summers there. However, I was only 12 in the photos, and considering the fact I might have aged just a teeny bit in the 50-plus years since they’d been taken, I figured they probably weren’t going to help much to confirm my identity. So I also brought a copy of my book as a peace offering, hoping it might soften up the owners so they’d allow me to roam around their property.

I tried to imagine who was living in the house. A young couple with young children? A retired couple? A reclusive Grizzly Adams type?  Squirrels?

When I turned on to the former dusty old road to the camp, I was surprised to see a wide, paved road lined with mansions that looked as if each one housed a Rockefeller.  There also were several new side roads running off the main road, where only thick woods previously had been.

Finally, I came to my family’s former property. I parked the car on the side of the road and got out. The house where the camp once had stood was very modest looking, especially when compared to all of the fancy places surrounding it. 

 I walked up the driveway and noticed that the outdoor barbecue still was there, but the top half (the half my dad had built!) had crumbled, and the rocks were lying on the ground around it.

The outhouse was gone, but the old storage shed still was there. It looked as if a good sneeze would knock it down, and it was patched with plastic tarps.


I made my way to the front door, all the while rehearsing what I was going to say to the total strangers who lived in the house. There was no sign of life anywhere as I knocked on the door.  A dog barked from inside and I could see its nose in the window. But no other noses appeared.

I looked across the road and saw a man who was about to mow his lawn, so I walked over. I explained who I was and asked him who lived in the house that used to be the camp. He told me it belonged to an elderly woman who lived there alone.

“Her car’s not in the driveway, so she must be out,” he added.

Needless to say, I was disappointed. I told him how much I’d enjoyed my summers on that property – with the exception of the outhouse, that is.

“I just tore that down for her about four years ago!” he said, laughing.

I truly was amazed the outhouse had remained standing for that long, considering how rotted and full of holes – not including the main one in the seat – it had been, even 50 years ago.

“I think I’ll walk around and take some photos for my scrapbook,” I said. “So don’t call the police on me!”

I could tell he probably wouldn’t have cared even if I had told him I was going to smash a window, climb into the house and loot it. All he seemed interested in was getting his lawn mowed…and getting me out of his hair. So I thanked him and returned to the former camp to search for more of the landmarks I remembered – the beautiful white birch tree, the big rock in the middle of the river where I used to stretch out and sunbathe, and the river itself, where I’d done everything from rafting to battling killer leeches.

The birch tree was gone and the “raging river” looked more like a stream.

Funny how everything seemed so much bigger and more exciting when I was kid.

I left there wishing I’d been able to meet and chat with the woman who’d been living on our former property for years.

And I hate to say it, but I’m still feeling overly nostalgic and gutsy. All I have to do now is decide which piece of my past I’m going to explore next.

I just hope I won’t end up needing someone to bail me out of jail.

                                                     
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This historical-romance trilogy by Arianna Eastland follows the story of Rosalind Chandler, a 20-year-old woman in 1600’s New England, who is engaged to the wealthy and arrogant son of the town’s magistrate.  She doesn’t love her fiancĂ©, but he has threatened to collect on her family’s unpaid debt and confiscate their home and lands if she refuses to wed him. Rosalind, however, finds herself strongly attracted to another man – a handsome and mysterious Native American – a “savage” in the eyes of her family.  The more she sees of him, the more she desires him. She is forced to decide whether to follow her heart and attempt to find the happiness and passion she seeks, or become the dutiful wife of a man she detests, solely to save her family.



 







Friday, May 13, 2016

FINALLY, A YARD SALE (VERY) CLOSE TO HOME


 

The Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, some of the families who live on my road in Allenstown are planning to hold a neighborhood yard sale, where shoppers can drive from house to house and browse. I have been invited to participate in the sale, “if I have anything I want to sell.”

Anything I want to sell?  Believe me, I have so much stuff, I could supply every house on my road with items if they run short. 

I not only like the idea of being able to get rid of a lot of my clutter, I also like the fact I won’t have to load up my car or drive anywhere to do so.  Being able to set up tables right in my own driveway and yard will be a lot easier than what I’ve had to do in the past when I rented table spaces at flea markets.

I can remember arriving at one of the flea markets, which was held in a park, and opening the trunk of my car to unload my boxes of items. Within seconds, even though the flea market wasn’t scheduled to begin for another hour, people suddenly appeared from all directions and came charging toward me like a herd of stampeding cattle. They then began to fish through the boxes, even while they still were in the trunk.

“How much is this?” one woman asked, holding up the lug wrench for my spare tire.

“That’s not for sale!” I said, eyeing another woman who methodically was flinging stuff out of the boxes and onto the ground as she searched through them.

When I finally managed to set up my tables and get everything laid out in what I felt was an eye-catching display, it took only 10 minutes for all of it to be manhandled, knocked over and unfolded, until it looked as if I’d set up my tables by flying overhead in a airplane and dropping the items onto them.

And then there were the people who were hoping for big bargains.

“How much do you want for this toy robot?” a woman with a little boy about 8 asked me.

I told her it was from "Star Wars" and highly collectible. “I won’t take anything less than $15 for it. It’s worth at least $40,” I said.

“Will you take $3.50?” she asked.

I suppressed the urge to roll my eyes. When I once again repeated I wouldn’t take less than $15, she turned to the little boy and said tightly, “Well, Adam, you won’t be getting the robot. This lady isn’t flexible like the other people here are.”

Upset about not getting the toy, the kid suddenly transformed into Damien, the devil’s spawn from the movie “The Omen.”  Tiny horns sprouted out of his forehead, and his eyes narrowed into tiny yellow slits.  He ran over to one of my tables and began grabbing the items and spiking them like footballs onto the grass.

“Now, Adam,” the mother said calmly, “you pick up those things and put them back on the table. Then we’ll go buy you that helicopter you wanted at the first table we went to.”

As I stared at one of my dolls lying in the grass, her satin dress wet from the dew and her hair looking as if she’d spent the night in a blender, I thought the only thing the kid’s mother should be buying for him was a pair of handcuffs.

Another problem with the flea markets and yard sales held at parks was the lack of restrooms – unless you counted the bushes. Sellers had to develop bladders of steel or risk getting poison ivy on some very sensitive body parts. So being able to sell my stuff in my own driveway, only a few feet from a bathroom, definitely will be a bonus.

The only problem I’m facing with this upcoming block-long yard sale is deciding which items to part with and how much to ask for them. I want to make as much money as possible, but I also want to keep my prices reasonable enough for people to afford. Some items, however, are more difficult to price than others.

Take what happened the other night, for example. I was watching TV and saw a consumer report about items in your house that surprisingly might be worth a small fortune. One of the examples given – a VHS tape of the original “Star Wars” movie – was worth, according to the “expert,” approximately $2,000 – even more, if the package never had been opened.

I gasped out loud. I had that tape, still factory sealed!  I rushed down to the cold, damp basement, then stood and stared at the 75 giant plastic tubs stacked down there. In one of those tubs was the “Star Wars” tape, the key to my fortune. The only problem was, I had no clue whatsoever which tub.

Four hours later, I found the tape in tub number 72. By then, I was so cold, I couldn’t feel my fingers, and I was so damp, my jeans were beginning to sprout mushrooms. Clasping the precious tape in my blue fingers, I rushed upstairs to list it on Ebay so I could reap my reward as soon as possible. That’s when I noticed that other people had auctioned off the same tape the week before…and the average winning bid was only $12.  I couldn’t believe I’d just spent four hours turning myself into a human Popsicle for only $12. The guy on TV, I decided, (as I called him a bunch of unprintable names) must have been talking about some form of currency other than U.S. dollars, like 2,000 yen.

So if I decide to sell that tape at the upcoming yard sale, I’m wondering what price I should put on it – closer to $12 or to $2,000?  I mean, there’s a slight difference between the two; kind of like the difference between buying a burger…or a whole cow.

I’m not greedy. I’ll settle for enough to buy a filet mignon.

 
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Friday, May 6, 2016

SPRINGTIME ALWAYS WAS CARNIVAL TIME




 

This time of year always brings to mind my favorite event back when I was a teenager:  the annual carnival that came to Manchester every spring and set up next to the JFK Coliseum. 

My friend Janet and I faithfully went to that carnival on a Friday night every year.  We would walk from my house all the way to the JFK, which was about a 45-minute walk, just to spend our hard-earned babysitting money on rides, junk food and games that were nearly impossible to win.  If we didn’t come home penniless and nauseated, then we didn’t consider the night a success.

My favorite carnival treat was a caramel apple, and my favorite ride was the Octopus, which was a ride with eight “arms” that went up and down, with seats that spun around on the end of each arm. 

One night, I ate one too many caramel apples before climbing onto the Octopus.  Unfortunately, Janet and I were the only ones on it, so the bored-looking attendant decided to be generous and give us an extra-long ride. The more the ride went up and down, the more the caramel apples in my stomach also went up and down. They felt like miniature cannonballs rolling around inside.

“Let me off!”  I screamed at the attendant every time my twirling car swooped past him.  Apparently he interpreted my screaming as “I’m having fun!” rather than, “I’m going to barf!” because he let the ride go on for at least another 20 revolutions.

I never ate another caramel apple again.

As Janet and I stood near the Octopus afterwards, our faces green and the scenery still spinning, two really cute guys walked by us.  One of them had blond hair and was wearing a light-tan suede jacket. The other was dark-haired and clad mostly in denim.

“Wow, look at those two cool guys!” Janet said, embarrassingly loud enough for the guys to hear.  They turned around, stared at us for a second, smiled, and then walked over. 

“Want to ride on the Octopus?” the blond guy asked. “Our treat.”

At that point, I would have preferred to have been dropped naked from a helicopter hovering over a field of thorn bushes, but I managed to smile and say, “Sure!”

Masochists that we were, Janet and I boarded the ride with them. I sat with the blond guy, and all I can say is he was lucky the ride didn’t go even one more revolution, because his tan suede jacket would have been covered with caramel apples.

Janet and I also always enjoyed playing the games at the carnival.  We managed to win a few small prizes, my most exciting being an 8”x10” mirror with a picture of the Bee Gees etched into it.  One year, however, a new game appeared, and the prizes were huge: TV sets, radios, stereos, fancy cameras.  We immediately were interested.

“The game starts at 25 cents, the carnival guy told us. “All you have to do is toss a ring around one of these pegs. On the back of each peg is a number.  That’s what makes tossing your ring such a challenge.  You can’t tell what number you’re aiming for.  When your numbers total up to 25 points or more, you win your choice of prizes.  But…if one of your rings lands on a peg with a black star on the back, you lose all of your points.”

To give us an example, he let Janet toss a ring.  It easily circled one of the pegs.  The guy, who was standing behind the pegs, stooped to read the back, then excitedly said, “24! If you were really playing, you’d need only one more point to win your choice of any prize here!”

Janet and I were hooked.  Imagine, I naively thought as I eagerly dug into my change purse, coming home with my own TV!  No longer would I have to beg my parents to let me watch “Gilligan’s Island” when they wanted to watch some boring old TV show like “Lawrence Welk.”

We handed our quarters to the guy and threw our rings.  Mine landed on 19 and Janet’s on 20.  “Now, if you want to continue, it’s 50 cents,” the guy told us.  Janet and I were confident our next shots easily would add up to the much-desired 25 points or more, so we turned over our money.

Janet’s ring landed on a 2, and mine on a 1.  “Now it goes up to $1,” the guy informed us.  Janet and I hesitated.  A dollar was a lot of money back then. Still, that TV set sure was a beauty.  We dug out our dollars.

To make a long story short, we both ended up hitting the dreaded black star just before our totals reached 25. 

I narrowed my eyes at the guy. “I want to actually see that black star!” I demanded. “In fact, I want to see the backs of all of the pegs! How do we know you were telling us the truth when you told us what was on them?”

He shook his head. “No unauthorized personnel allowed back here. You just run along now, OK?” 

“I want my TV!” I protested. “You’re a cheat!”

When passersby began to turn and stare, he reached under the counter and pulled out a couple teddy bears and handed one to each of us. “Here,” he said in a hushed voice. “Take these and leave.” 

Only because he was big and mean looking with a lot of tattoos did we leave. But he’d ruined our night. We didn’t have any money left to spend on our favorite treats or any other games.

We never saw that peg game at the carnival again.  Janet and I liked to think it was because some customer who was a professional wrestler with an anger management problem had played it and got really ticked off at the guy…and then he’d shown him exactly what he could do with his pegs.

I really do miss those spring-carnival days – the ice cream and fudge, the Octopus and the ferris wheel, the games and the cute guys.

But most of all, I miss that deluxe black-and-white  portable TV, which I’m still positive I won.


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