Wednesday, October 18, 2017


 I was watching a women’s gymnastics competition on TV the other day and was awed by the pretzel-like positions into which they managed to contort their lithe little bodies.  Unfortunately, the longer I watched the competition, the more I was reminded of every gym class I was forced to endure back at good old West High.

I can’t even begin to put into words how much I dreaded those mandatory gym classes in high school.  For one thing, we had to wear regulation gym suits that would have made even Cher look like Jackie Gleason.  The suits were solid blue, all one piece, with bloomer-type shorts attached, and snaps all the way down the front.  All of my classmates’ suits were so baggy, they could have fit two people in them, but mine was so snug, every time I exhaled, all the snaps popped open. It’s no wonder my nickname soon became “The Flasher.”

To make matters worse, there wasn’t anything I was able to do even remotely well in gym class. I nearly gave myself a migraine trying to learn how to do a headstand.  I never understood why it was so important to our gym teacher for us to learn how to do headstands anyway. I mean, if humans were meant to stand on their heads, they would have been born with wide, flat skulls (and in my case, a less heavy bottom).  Fear also prevented me from doing a headstand.  The thought of my neck crushing like an accordion beneath all of my weight absolutely terrified me.

Rope climbing also was something I never mastered.  There were two thick ropes hanging from the ceiling in the gym. One of them was smooth, for the boys, and the other one had big knots all the way up, for the girls. The knots were supposed to give us something to grasp so we could climb the rope more easily.

Oh sure, as if some puny knots were going to help me hoist my chunky body up anything! I struggled for weeks to make it past even the second knot.

I didn’t do any better on the physical fitness tests.  On one test, we received points for the number of push-ups, sit-ups and chin-ups we could do. It didn’t take long for me to realize that trying to do any exercise with an “up” in it was next to impossible for someone who had trouble just getting “up” out of bed every morning. For this reason, I earned a consistent “D” in gym class.

Team sports were even worse.  When the weather was nice, the gym teacher would herd all of us over to the field across the street to play softball.  For reasons I still can’t fathom, she usually assigned me to first base.  Even if I had been holding a laundry basket and a butterfly net, I still wouldn’t have been able to catch a ball.  I also had a phobia about being conked on the head and knocked unconscious by a hard-hit pitch, so whenever the ball came toward me, I ducked and threw my arms over my head.  Soon, the teacher realized there was another position I was much better suited for…on the bench.

I did, however, excel at one thing in gym class…falling. I fell off the balance beam. I fell off the monkey bars. I fell off the dumb rope with the knots in it.

To this day, I still believe our gym-suit bloomers are what kept us girls from getting severely injured in gym class.  We could have jumped off the roof wearing those things and they’d have puffed up with air and gently floated us to the ground. Except for mine, that is.  My snaps would have burst open, the air would have escaped, and I would have plummeted to my death.

At least I wouldn’t have had to suffer through any more gym classes.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2017


When I was in junior high, I used to spend my summer days sitting out on the front steps of the tenement building where I lived. There, with a well-sharpened pencil, I would scribble my masterpieces (my novels-in-progress) on notebook paper, usually a chapter per day.  And at the end of each day, a group of neighborhood kids would gather to eagerly listen as I read my latest installment to them.  I loved to write, and even more, I loved to see my audience’s reaction when I read my creations out loud.

The other night, I was searching for something in one of my old file cabinets when I came across several of my aforementioned junior-high novels.  One in particular, “Babies in Black” (I “borrowed” the title  from Baby’s in Black, which was a popular Beatles song at that time), was written when I was older, nearly 15.  Curious, I sat down and read it from cover to cover.

I haven’t laughed that hard in a long time.

The novel centered around the lives of three beautiful women in their early 20s: Shelly, Sue and Sybil.  They were best friends, inseparable, and each had an incredibly handsome, wealthy boyfriend.  Unfortunately, these wealthy boyfriends, on their way to meet Shelly, Sue and Sybil for a triple date one night, were killed in a terrible car crash.  The girls vowed to wear nothing but black from then on, as a tribute to the memory of their lost loves (and as a way for me to justify the title, “Babies in Black”).

I thought it might be fun to print an excerpt from this book exactly as I wrote it back in the 1960s - corny dialogue, bad grammar, bad spelling and all.

OK, now to set up the scene:  One year has passed since the deaths of the boyfriends of our three heroines, Shelly, Sue and Sybil.  The girls decide to ease the pain of the anniversary of the tragedy by taking a “fun” trip to London (the “hip” place to be back in the early ‘60s).  There, they meet three seemingly nice, leather-clad, English chaps named Steve, Dave and Mack, who invite them out on dates. 

Unbeknownst to the girls, however, these “nice” guys actually are part of a notorious British motorcycle gang!

The chapter begins as Sue, on the back of Steve Blackwell’s motorcycle, is the first of the three girls to arrive at an ominous-looking beach called “Black Cove.”  She still is blissfully unaware that Steve not only is a member of a motorcycle gang, he’s also (insert a shocked gasp here) their leader!  (Remember, I am printing this exactly as I wrote it at age 14-and-a-half.  No editing!).


After a long cold ride that seemed to take hours, Sue and Steve finally arrived at a rocky deserted seacoast area. “Well, here we are,” Steve said as he helped Sue off the back of his motorcycle.

Sue rubbed her back as she attempted to straighten her legs out.  She moaned. “God, I feel like I’m permanently bowlegged!”

“You’ll get over it,” Steve said, slipping his arm around her shoulder.

“That was some ride!” Sue commented. “Not only was I scared half to death, you guys drive on the wrong side of the road here!”  She eyed her surroundings a little uneasily. “So what do we do now?”

“There’s a party on the beach down around the bend,” Steve said. “We’ll leave the bike up here and hike over the rocks.”

Sue’s eyes displayed doubt. “Shouldn’t we wait for Shelly and Sybil and your friends to get here?”

“Nah, they’ll catch up!” Steve took her hand and led her over the jagged rocks.  He held her hand tightly, guiding her just as a perfect English gentleman would.  Soon, laughter and loud music could be heard above the crash of the waves.  The ocean breeze was cold and made Sue shiver from head to foot.

“Hey, Steve!” a voice called out as he and Sue approached. “You’re late!”

Steve laughed and pulled Sue over to the crowd of approximately 50 people, mostly males, sitting on raggedy blankets on the shore and drinking beer.  Small fires dotted the beach, probably for warmth, Sue thought, shivering again.  After all, this group didn’t exactly look like the marshmallow roasting type.

“Have a seat!” Steve said to Sue, gesturing toward one of the blankets as he grabbed a beer.  Sue sat stiffly on the blanket and eyed her surroundings.  Most of the guys there were long-haired and real filthy looking. Barely ten girls were present, and they, in their skin-tight hot pants and leather go-go boots were far from being visions of purity.  Guitar music was furnished by a guy who looked like he hadn’t seen a bar of soap in months. To Sue, the entire scene was…well, pretty grotty (note: British slang for “grotesque”). Sounds of sinister laughter and beer bottles crashing against the rocks made her even more tense and jittery.

Steve noticed her discomfort. “Hey, loosen up, bird!” he said, reaching to rub the back of her neck. “I’ve seen corpses that looked more relaxed than you do.”

His words were like a knife sticking in Sue’s back.  “Corpses!” she screeched at him, leaping to her feet. “Don’t you DARE talk to me about corpses!  You don’t KNOW what I’ve been through this past year, or why I still wear black!  And what kind of jerk are you to bring a girl to a crummy place like this on a first date anyway?!”

Steve didn’t answer her.  His gaze suddenly was concentrated on the other end of the beach where a line of much cleaner looking guys, all in pure white T-shirts, now stood blocking it.  A sickening silence fell over the entire area.  Sue couldn’t help but notice that these guys in white were carrying weapons – everything from baseball bats to knives “Who are they?” she asked in a hushed voice.

Steve did not remove his eyes from the newcomers.  “We call them the Sissy Boys,” he answered quietly, scowling. “They’re the do-gooders, always trying to get rid of the likes of us.  They think we’re nothing but slime, the scum of the earth.  We usually stay out of each other’s way, but when we do happen to come face to face, it’s war, explosive - like a keg of gunpowder meeting a lighted match.  Problem is, right now we’re on their beach, their turf.”

Sue’s eyes widened in fear. “Then why on earth are you here?  Why don’t you just go to another beach?”

“Because we like this beach,” Steve said. “Now, listen, there’s apt to be some trouble here tonight – big trouble, bloodshed. You head back to where we left the bike, OK?  If I live through this rumble I’ll meet you up there later.”  He squeezed Sue’s hand and his huge blue eyes met hers for a brief moment, then he grabbed a broken beer bottle and disappeared into the darkness.

Sue stood silently and watched him for a moment before heading back up the rocky path.  She knew she HAD to find Shelly and Sybil, and fast!  She had a very bad feeling about this battle with the Sissy Boys.  A very bad feeling.


Did Steve and his buddies win the fight against the Sissy Boys?  Or were Shelly, Sue and Sybil left “widowed” once again and forced to hitchhike back to London and stock up on even more black clothing?  

Believe me, for the sake of my reputation as a writer, it’s better if the world never knows. (But just how tough can a gang called the “Sissy Boys” be anyway?).

#   #   #

Wednesday, October 4, 2017


The other night, I happened to come across a rerun of an old TV show called, “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” The show was about a bunch of junior-high kids who gathered around a campfire in the woods once a week at midnight (I guess their parents weren’t into the whole curfew thing) and told scary stories.  Each week, the kids would try to outdo each other with a new tale of terror.

Watching the show made me think back to my own junior-high days when my friends and I used to do the same thing…sort of.  The only difference was we lived in the middle of the city where there were no woods or campfires, so we had to tell our scary stories while gathered around the furnace in the basement of the tenement building where I lived.  We also did our storytelling closer to 7 p.m. than midnight.

One of our favorite scary storytelling methods was based on a game called “Pass the Guts.”  To play this game, everyone (except the storyteller) wore blindfolds and sat in a straight line.  Then, as the storyteller wove his tale, he would pass “props” down the line to emphasize his point.  The rule was that each blindfolded person had to thoroughly feel each prop or be eliminated from the game.

The goal of the storyteller was to make sure his props were so gross and disgusting, everyone would be eliminated before the end of the story.

I’ll never forget the night it was my turn to be the storyteller. For years, my mother referred to it as the night I ruined a week’s worth of perfectly good groceries (when, according to her, there were starving children in China who never would have shown such blatant disrespect for food).

Being grounded, however, was a small price to pay for winning the coveted “Pass the Guts” crown. I wanted my props to make even the most die-hard horror fans in our group quiver in their Keds.

In my tale, I began by describing a man-eating zombie whose eyeballs fell out, then I passed down the “eyeballs” (black olives) to my blindfolded listeners.  When I described the zombie as having a problem with worms crawling all over him and living in his rotted flesh, I passed down both cooked spaghetti and rice.

And, in a sinister move to make everyone quit the game so I could win the title of “the grossest of the gross,” I described the zombie tearing out and then feasting on a guy’s innards…then I passed down a container of calves’  liver. Of course, my reason for using the liver was twofold. By sneaking it out of the fridge, it also prevented me from having to choke down another one of my mother’s famous “eat it because you need your iron” gag-inducing liver dinners.

The only drawback of playing “Pass the Guts” indoors was cleaning up all of the food that ended up on the floor, the walls and the ceiling after everyone screamed and flung it.  For days after my turn as the storyteller, whenever the furnace kicked on, the smell of rotting liver wafted up from the basement and through all the vents in the apartments.

And speaking of storytelling, it’s funny how some of the most popular horror stories I heard back when I was a kid (and believed were the absolute truth) still are circulating today.  Now, however, they are called urban legends.

I remember one story about a woman who wore her hair in an elaborate beehive hairstyle. Apparently, she ran out of hairspray one day, so in a pinch, she used a mixture of sugar and water (an early form of starch) to keep her hair stiff.  According to the story, the sugar attracted a swarm of bees that built a REAL beehive in her hair and then stung her to death.

Over the years, storytellers have substituted everything from black-widow spiders to rattlesnakes for the bees, but the end result is always the same: the poor lady with the stiff, sugar-coated hair suffers an agonizingly painful death.

One of the most popular stories I remember from back when I was a kid was the one about the teenage couple who went parking on a dark, wooded road late one night.  As the story went, the guy and girl were doing some serious making out in the car and listening to the radio when they suddenly heard a special news bulletin about a mass-murderer who had just escaped from prison.  The murderer was described as a giant of a man who had a very prominent feature…a hook for one hand.

Well, the girl in the car immediately panicked, said she was frightened and begged her boyfriend to take her home. He, raging hormone-factory that he was, told her not to be silly, that the murderer probably was already halfway to the Mexican border by then.

But the girl, feeling more and more uneasy in the silent darkness, insisted that they leave right then. Frustrated and muttering under his breath, the guy started the car and stomped on the accelerator.

When he pulled the car up to the curb in front of the girl’s house, she jumped out and then let out a blood-curdling scream.  There, hanging on the car’s door handle, was a bloody hook!

For years, that story gave me the shivers, mainly because I believed it was based on absolute fact.  So not long ago, when the 11-year-old grandson of one of my friends asked me if I knew any good scary stories, I eagerly related my tale of the hook-handed murderer.  The boy listened intently to my every word, but not once did he appear to be even remotely frightened.

When I finally delivered the shocking final line about the bloody hook on the car’s door handle, I eagerly awaited his inevitable gasp of horror.

Instead, he just calmly sat there and shook his head. “I don’t believe a word of it,” he said. “I mean, the murderer never would have been trying to open the car door with his hook.  He would have used his good hand. And why did the hook have blood on it? Was it supposed to have been torn out of his arm? Hooks don’t attach that way!”

The trouble with kids nowadays is they think too much.

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Wednesday, September 27, 2017


I grew up watching soap operas (now called daytime dramas), mainly because my mother was hooked on one called Search for Tomorrow. Back in the 1950s, she, wearing her crisp cotton housedress and apron, would drop whatever she was doing and rush to sit in front of the TV the minute her favorite soap opera popped on.

In those days, Search for Tomorrow’s heroine, Joanne, a middle-class housewife who also wore crisp cotton housedresses (and her hair in a bun), did a lot of crying into lace-edged hankies as the ever-present organ music played in the background.

And what made poor Joanne so upset? It usually was her wayward daughter, Patty, who did such unforgivable things as flunk math at school or stay out 20 minutes past her curfew.

“That Patty is such a brat!” my mother, shaking her head in disgust, would say after each show. “If I were Joanne, I would ship her off to boarding school!”

I’m pretty sure there were other reasons for Joanne’s daily flood of tears. For one thing, she and her husband were forced to sleep in twin beds (thanks to the strict television censorship back then), which probably would be enough to depress anyone.

I really enjoyed watching soap operas back in the 1950s and ‘60s because the characters had normal lives and normal everyday problems to which just about everyone could relate. But over the years, the soaps evolved so much, they soon bore no resemblance whatsoever to any life that could be considered even remotely normal.

If Search for Tomorrow were to premiere today, Joanne would have a name like “Skylark” and be a former CIA agent with three ex-husbands, two current lovers (one of whom is half her age and used to date her daughter), and six children, each fathered by a different mystery man - at least one of whom is an alien from another planet.

Joanne’s wayward daughter Patty probably would be a neurosurgeon named Rasputina, who has multiple personalities and a child who hates her so much, she runs off to live with a cult leader she met online and ends up in a remote cabin in some town with a made-up soap-opera name like “Evergreenville.” Soap operas, after all, are famous for naming towns after trees and adding “ville” to the end of them.

Years ago, if you missed an episode or two of a soap opera, it was no big deal. That’s because back then, a day in the life of a soap-opera character lasted about 95 days in real life. If you tuned in to an episode in July and then didn’t watch the show again until Christmas, you still could pick up the plot pretty much where you’d left off.

Nowadays, however, soap-opera story lines move so swiftly, if a character has a baby (adopts a baby, steals a baby, finds an abandoned baby) on Monday, it’s a safe bet the baby will be shaving by Friday.

I realize that modern soap operas are supposed to reflect the changing times, but I can’t help but wonder how many of us actually live in a town where every available bachelor looks like a male model and is either a doctor, lawyer, police officer or a detective?

Frankly, over the years, the more I watched soap operas, the more annoyed I became with certain things about them. For example, the characters’ lack of morning breath. I don’t know anyone who can wake up out of a dead sleep in the morning and roll over and talk nose to nose with his sweetie without making her eyes water. And miraculously, the sweetie always awakens in full makeup, complete with false eyelashes, and her hair looking as if she just stepped out of a beauty salon. The woman must sleep sitting up. If I ever wore false eyelashes to bed, no doubt they would fall off during the night and stick to me somewhere else, like under my nose, and I’d wake up looking like Hitler.

Another thing that always annoyed me was the characters’ unknown children who always seemed to pop up during the program’s ratings slumps. These children ranged in age from less than one year to over 30, depending on what the main character needed at the time. Whenever a long-lost child was going to be added to the plot, a typical conversation would go something like this:

“Why, Dr. Hunkyman, I’ve been working for you for three years now, and I had no idea you had a 25-year-old son!”

“Neither did I, Delilah, until his mother, a woman I met way back when I was suffering from amnesia after a train wreck in Mapleville, texted me last week and told me about him. I can’t wait for you to meet him. After all, you’re both about the same age and I know how lonely you’ve been since your husband died tragically in that volcano eruption in Tobongo. Perhaps this is fate.”

Alas, when my favorite soap opera, All my Children, got canceled after I’d faithfully been watching it for about 112 years, I was so crushed, I vowed never to watch another soap again, and switched over to reality talk-shows like Jerry Springer and Maury Povich. The other day on Maury’s show, a young woman was having five guys take paternity tests so she could determine which one had fathered her baby.

Sounds like a good soap-opera plot to me.

#   #   #


Sunday, September 17, 2017


When I got my newest dog, Wynter, a young Rottweiler, from the NH SPCA a few months ago, the questionnaire that came with her, filled out by her previous owner, was more than impressive. In fact, the answers to all of the questions made her sound like the reincarnation of Lassie…a regular angel with fur.

According to the questionnaire, the dog could do everything but cook my breakfast. It said she was housebroken, didn’t bark unnecessarily, had been through obedience training, knew all of the basic commands (e.g. “heel,” “stay” and “leave it”), and loved to ride in cars and be walked on a leash. It also said that while out on her walks, she didn’t pay attention to anyone or anything else – she just merrily walked along and minded her own business.

I couldn’t believe my good fortune, finding not only a fully trained well-behaved dog, but also one that was the specific breed I was searching for. It had to be fate, I told myself.

Well, all I can say is if Wynter’s previous owner were Pinnochio, whose nose grew whenever he told a lie, her nose would be the size of a giant redwood.  Nothing she wrote on that questionnaire was the truth, with the exception of Wynter being a dog…and a Rottweiler.

Even worse, Wynter has a severe case of ADD. She simply will not pay attention. Whenever I try to train her, she looks up at the ceiling, over at the walls, down at the floor – everywhere but at me. If I were trying to teach the kitchen table how to lie down, I’d have the same response. No, actually, I think the kitchen table probably would do better.

It took months, along with infinite patience, but I managed to teach Wynter how to sit, lie down, give her paw, and go potty outside instead of on the living-room rug. However, the word “stay” is not in her realm of comprehension, and I doubt it ever will be. In fact, in retrospect, I should have named her Velcro, because I can’t make a move without her clinging to me. Even when I go to the bathroom, she whines outside the door. So the only way she'll ever "stay" anywhere is if I'm standing right next to her.

But the one area where I have not been able to make even the slightest bit of progress is teaching Wynter how to walk on a leash. So far, taking her for a walk has been like playing Russian roulette – because I never know when I’m about to die.

For one thing, she chases cars.  The minute she sees a car in the distance, she freezes in place, lowers her head, stares at the oncoming car and growls. When the car gets closer to us, she lunges, barking and snarling at it. I have to hold on to the leash with all my strength to prevent her from getting loose and becoming a hood ornament. And twice in the past six months, my knees have become intimately acquainted with the asphalt on my road, thanks to Wynter.

If people walk or jog by us, she shows only mild interest, but add a dog to one of those people and she becomes Psycho Dog, ready to kill, with even more of the aforementioned lunging and growling. If a squirrel or chipmunk runs in front of us, however, Wynter couldn’t care less.

Which has convinced me the dog is, well…very weird.

I love to go for long walks, especially with a dog by my side to keep me company. But Wynter has forced me to take my walks at strange hours, like 5:30 in the morning or 9:00 at night, when there is very little traffic or very few people out walking their dogs in my neighborhood. I’m beginning to forget what humans look like.

So I decided it might be to my benefit to look into hiring a professional to train Wynter how to calmly walk on a leash. I emailed several, telling them I would prefer them to come here, mainly because Wynter hates riding in the car (another thing her previous owner lied about). Apparently Wynter was allowed to sit in the front seat when riding, but I make her stay in the back seat. This results in barking, whining and carrying on because she’s unhappy in the back. I used to enjoy listening to music while driving. Now, the music is drowned out by a chorus of "Arrrr-ooohs!" in various octaves.

Most of the dog trainers who replied to my email wanted an average of $90 per hour to train Wynter. Knowing how severe her ADD is, I figured leash training probably will take a minimum of about 150 hours…and require me to mortgage my house. So I searched for some other options.

First, I bought what’s called a Gentle Leader leash, which has a piece that wraps around the dog’s nose. The description said dogs always follow their noses, so pulling on the Gentle Leader would pull the dog’s nose away from oncoming vehicles or anything else that was distracting.

It sounded good, in theory. But when I tried it out on Wynter, she made it blatantly clear that her nose wanted to follow passing cars – and no nose-aiming device was going to prevent it. When I yanked her nose away from the cars, she defiantly yanked it right back.

“Bring a pocket full of treats on your walk,” one dog-obedience website advised. “Then distract your dog with treats when a car or person approaches.”

So I tried it. All I can say is even if I’d been wearing a shirt made entirely out of pork chops, I couldn’t have distracted Wynter once she zoned in on an oncoming vehicle.

“Get a shock collar and zap your dog whenever it starts to chase a car,” another website said. “The dog will get the message pretty quickly.”

I knew I didn’t want to electrocute my dog, so that wasn’t an option, but I did find a remote-control collar that used a high-pitched sound and vibration (like a cell phone set on “vibrate”) to distract the dog. I thought it might be a good idea to buy it and try it, especially since it was only $23 – probably about $10,000 cheaper than hiring a trainer.

When the collar arrived, I was eager to charge it and then try it out on Wynter. It had settings on it that went from 0-100 in intensity. Not knowing where to set it for Wynter, I decided to test it out on myself first. The vibration didn’t hurt at all, even on the highest setting, so I kept it set on 100. Then I tried out the sound option on the collar. It sounded like a cross between a police siren and a bad female opera-singer.

I put the collar on Wynter, grabbed the remote control, and we left for our test walk. Within seconds, a pickup truck came heading toward us. Wynter immediately stopped walking, stood in her usual spread-legged stance, lowered her head and growled as she focused all of her attention on the approaching truck. I pressed the vibrate button on the remote and said, “No!” in a firm tone. She jumped, momentarily startled by the buzzing. Then she went right back to focusing on the vehicle. The second time I pressed the button, she turned and gave me a “press it again and die!” look, then completely ignored it. The “sound” button had even less of an effect.

By the time the truck went past us, Wynter was in her usual form – leaping, growling and barking at it, as if she were protecting me from Godzilla…on wheels.

Two cars later, after trying the collar again both times and getting the same lack of results, I finally gave up and headed home.

So now my walks with Wynter are limited to walking her up and down my 410-foot driveway. It’s boring, but it’s exercise, especially if we walk the length of it 12 or 13 times a day. And most important of all, it’s safe...unless UPS decides to bring me a package.

Meanwhile, I have a $23 vibrating collar just sitting here.

 I think I might track down Wynter’s former owner, the one who filled out her questionnaire, and make her wear it.

#  #  #

Monday, September 11, 2017


I’m the first to admit I tend to procrastinate when it comes to making appointments for things like eye exams or dental check-ups. For one thing, I hate having my eyes dilated. I also don’t like anyone digging between my teeth. Every time the dental hygienist comes at me with the explorer, which is the instrument that looks like a metal pick, I have visions of my fillings being popped out of my teeth. Considering the fact they cost me the equivalent of a new car, the thought of losing any of them frightens me.

I still can remember when my husband had to nag me to go get my eyes checked.

"My eyes are fine," I assured him, choosing to ignore the fact that my nose usually ended up covered with newsprint whenever I tried to read the paper because I had to hold it so close to my face.

I finally gave in, however, and headed to the optometrist’s office. 

"I hope I do well on this exam," I told the doctor as I sat in the examining chair. "I have to get my driver's license renewed this month and I don't want to flunk the eye test."

She told me to read the smallest line I could comfortably see on the eye chart.  I read all of the letters correctly except one.  It was a D.  I took a wild guess and called it an O.

"You missed it by one letter," the doctor said. "You're going to need distance glasses to pass your driver's test."

"Noooo!" I protested. "Let me try again!"

She shook her head and laughed. "You strike me as someone who has a good memory. You've probably already memorized that line. So I'm switching to a numbers chart."

I managed to make it all the way through the appropriate line of numbers. I was ready to break out the champagne…until the doctor burst my bubble.

"You squinted through the whole thing," she said. "You looked as if you were staring into direct sunlight!  That's cheating. Now read it without squinting."

I couldn't even see the wall, never mind the chart.

After she finished the exam, I heard only two things – "bifocals" and "dilate your pupils."  Neither one sounded very appealing.

"I'm going to put some drops into your eyes to dilate your pupils so I can take a closer look," the doctor said. "Then I'll have you sit out in the waiting room for a few minutes to allow the drops to work. I'll give you some dark glasses to wear so the light won't hurt your eyes."

She administered the drops and then said, "Whoa! You really dilated fast…and big! I think you need only about one-third of a drop!"

I glanced at my eyes in the mirror as I left the room.  I looked like an owl.

And if things weren't already bad enough, the dilated exam later revealed the start of a cataract in my right eye.

"It's really, really tiny," the doctor assured me when she saw the look of panic on my face. "And your vision is still 20/20 with glasses, so it's nothing to worry about. It may never grow any larger."

I wanted to believe her, but already I was envisioning the King Kong of all cataracts bulging out of my eyeball within a few days.

While I was waiting for my new bifocals to be made, I decided to take advantage of a lingerie sale in a store next door.  My pupils still were so dilated, not only was I seeing three of everything, every lightbulb seemed like 10,000 watts.  So I put on the dark glasses and felt my way over to the store.

"Buy one bra, get the second for half-price," the sign said.  Or at least that's what I thought it said.  I practically had to lie on top of it to read it, everything was so fuzzy.

After looking through a rack of bras, I realized that seeing triple had its disadvantages.  I didn't know whether I was looking at D cups or DDD cups. I finally had to ask the sales clerk for help.

When I explained to her why I couldn't see the tags, she laughed and said, "Been there, done that!"

"How long does this torture usually last?" I asked.

"Oh, only about an hour…or two."

That was an hour or two too long to suit me. My head was starting to hurt and the triple vision was making me feel queasy.  I was afraid I might have to grab one of the DDD bras and throw up in one of the cups.

To my disappointment, my eyes didn’t return to normal for over six hours. After hour number two had passed, I decided to call my husband to come drive me home – and to bring someone with him to drive my car. There was no way I was going to get behind the wheel while seeing three lines in the middle of the road, or six headlights on each oncoming car.

So recently, when I went for an eye exam, I was prepared. I made a note to tell the optometrist to use only a small amount of the dilating drops. I brought dark glasses with me that were so large and dark, they covered half my face and made me look like the Lone Ranger when I wore them. I also made the appointment early in the day so I could take more time to allow the effects of everything to wear off.

To my surprise, my preparations turned out to be unnecessary.

“We have a new state-of-the-art camera that takes pictures of the back of your eye,” the technician informed me. “You won’t need to have your eyes dilated.”

I breezed through the exam with no problem – and no triple vision afterwards. It was great.

Now, if someone will invent a way for teeth to be cleaned without having to dig at them, I’ll be one very happy lady.

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Wednesday, September 6, 2017


Every Tuesday night, I eagerly look forward to watching “America’s Got Talent” on TV. I enjoy living vicariously through the contestants on the show…particularly those who have been blessed with beautiful singing voices.

Ever since I was very young, when the only song I knew at the time was “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” I have longed to be a singer. The only problem was whenever I attempted to belt out a tune, my neighbors thought their outdoor cats were being tortured.

I blame my mother for my lack of dulcet tones whenever I sing, because I inherited her voice. She never denied that she probably was the world’s worst singer. In fact, she used to say she could sing an entire song and not hit even one note correctly. And back when she was in grade school and the class had to sing during events such as Christmas pageants, her teachers would tell her to lip-sync and just pretend to be singing.

When I was growing up, my mother often used her singing as a form of punishment.

“Time for bed now,” she would say to me.

“But I’m not tired!” I’d whine. “I don’t want to go to bed!”

“If you don’t go to bed right now, I’ll sing to you,” she’d threaten.

At that point, I would do a running swan-dive into my bed.

I must confess, however, I’ve always been in denial about my own singing ability (or lack thereof) and actually convinced myself I was destined to be the next Streisand. The truth is, if I were facing a firing squad and they told me if I sang for them and pleased them, I’d be granted a stay of execution, the moment I opened my mouth and released the first note, they would shoot me full of holes just to shut me up.

And I’m pretty sure it would be considered self-defense.

Still, I grew up dreaming about becoming a famous singer. When I was sixteen, I even saved up for a guitar, learned how to play a few chords and then formed a three-girl band called The Triple Gears. Whenever we gathered in my basement to rehearse, my parents would receive phone calls from concerned neighbors asking if someone in our house needed help.

Needless to say, The Triple Gears never were asked to entertain anywhere.

I did study ballet for 10 years and discovered I was a fairly talented dancer. I even performed in the local production of Swan Lake. So when a talent show with excellent prizes was holding auditions in town, I announced to my parents that I wanted to go try out for it.

“That’s great!” my mother said, looking pleased. “Have you decided which dance you’re going to do?”

I frowned at her. “Dance? I’m going to sing!”

Her expression clearly told me she thought I was suffering from severe delusions.

Luckily, I wasn’t brave enough to try out for the talent show alone, so I asked my friend, Dee, who happened to be an excellent singer, to come with me. We ended up singing a Beatles song together, and her voice drowned out my flat one, so we actually made it into the talent show. When I came home and excitedly announced the good news to my parents, they honestly thought I was joking.

“Were the judges…elderly?” my mother asked.

“And hearing impaired?” my dad added.

“No! Dee and I honestly sounded great!”

“Dee sang with you?” my mom asked.

I nodded.

“Oh, then that explains it,” my parents said in unison.

Dee and I had fun participating in the talent show, but we didn’t win. We didn’t even place in the top ten. In retrospect, I think if I had just moved my lips and let Dee do all of the singing, we might have had a fighting chance.

Nowadays, the only time I sing is when I’m in the car. I crank up the radio and sing with gusto to my favorite songs.

And when I hear myself, I’m still convinced I could be the next Streisand.

I just wish that when I take my two dogs for a ride with me, they’d stop whining and pawing at their ears when I sing.

It can be very distracting.

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Tuesday, August 29, 2017


I honestly can’t remember ever making it through the entire six months between dental cleanings without having some reason to go see the dentist.  The moment I hit the two-or-three-month mark, my teeth apparently begin to suffer from dentist withdrawal and inevitably will do something sinister like grow an abscess the size of a tomato, crack in half or spew out a filling, just to force me to return to the House of Pain ahead of schedule.

Such was the case one night last week. I was, of all things, flossing (not munching on something like jelly beans or caramels) when I heard a “clunk” in the bathroom sink. It was a filling.  Needless to say, as my eyes shot daggers at that filling, lying there and taunting me, all I could think about was it meant I would be forced to eat Ramen noodles for dinner every night for the next year or so, because I have no dental insurance.

The next morning, although it tortured me to do so, I called my dentist’s office and made an appointment.

I hate to admit it, but I actually miss my old dentist, Attila the Driller. Ever since he sold the practice, I haven’t been able to keep track of the dentists who have come and gone. I’m surprised the office doesn’t have revolving doors – or a conveyor belt with dentists sitting on it.

So when I showed up for my appointment a couple days ago, I had no idea which dentist would appear. I was hoping it would be the one I’d had during my last visit because he had inflicted a lower degree of pain on me than most. But as luck would have it, a totally new guy entered the room.

The first thing I thought was, “Great – another one I’ll have to train,” because I have specific things I like and don’t like when I’m in the dental chair. For one thing, I don’t like what I feel are unnecessary x-rays. I mean, one night I sat down and calculated just how many dental x-rays I’ve had over the years. I lost count at 500. I figure that by now, I should be able to get a job standing at the top of a lighthouse and guiding ships at sea in the dark of night…with just the glow from my head.

Anyway, this new dentist took one look at the hole in my tooth (a front bottom tooth) where the filling had fallen out, and the first words out of his mouth were, “Let’s get an x-ray.”

I groaned. “Can’t you just fill it?”

“I want to know what I’m dealing with first,” he said. He then explained he had the latest state-of-the-art digital x-ray equipment that practically was radiation-free.

So, reluctantly I allowed the tooth to be x-rayed. The new fancy equipment allowed me to see the tooth on a screen right before me. My tooth came out looking like the underground tunnel system in one of those ant-farms the toy stores used to sell when I was a kid.

“Hmmm,” the dentist said, which, from experience, I’ve learned is never a good sign. “It appears you had a lot of hidden decay underneath the filling that fell out and it’s now decayed all the way into the pulp of the tooth. In fact, you’re also forming an abscess at the root.”

He then began to list all of the procedures and paraphernalia I would need to salvage the tooth. It sounded like a supply list from “Dental Parts R Us.” The final total was about the equivalent of a down-payment on a brand new Corvette.

“I’m going to do something called the cold-tooth test on your other bottom teeth,” the dentist then said.

I’d never heard of such a test before, but I immediately didn’t like the sound of it.

“It involves putting a freezing-cold substance on one tooth at a time,” he explained. “When you feel the pain in the nerve, I want you to raise your left hand. When the pain ceases, I want you to lower your hand.”

His explanation did nothing to make the test sound any better. I think the words “pain” and “nerve” might have had something to do with it.

Sure enough, he pressed something that felt like an ice cube against the first tooth.

“Arrggh!” I cried and jumped as the nerve in my tooth viciously stabbed me in protest.

“I said to raise your left hand,” he tersely reminded me.

I raised it.

“Now lower it when the pain goes away,” he said, removing the “freeze” from the tooth.

I lowered my hand.

He then did the same thing to the next tooth…and the next.  Each time he did, I shouted, “Arrggh!” And each time, he scolded me and reminded me to raise my hand.

By the fifth tooth, I was ready to raise my hand…somewhere directly between his eyeballs.

“Your last name wouldn’t happen to be Grey, would it?” I finally asked him.

The dental assistant burst out laughing.

The dentist, however, just sat there, looking puzzled. “You mean like in Grey’s Anatomy?” he asked.

The assistant laughed even harder.

“No,” I said. “Like in the book, Fifty Shades of Grey, where the main character is a sadist who enjoys torturing women!”

“Oh,” he said, his expression serious. “I guess I may have to read it, then.”

When the cold-tooth torture test finally ended, I asked the dentist when he could do the work on my tooth.

“I don’t do root canals,” he said, shaking his head. “I have an endodontist who does them for me.”

I knew from experience that just saying the word “endodontist” out loud added another $500 to my bill. After all, the guy was a specialist.

“I don’t have dental insurance,” I said. “I can’t afford all of this.”

“Well,” the dentist said, “your only other option is to have the tooth extracted and then get a partial denture."

“And how much is that?” I asked.

“Only about $2,000."

I didn't know which planet he hailed from, but in my world, the word “only” is reserved to be used in front of amounts like $10 or $25, not $2,000.

So I haven’t made the appointment yet to have my tooth repaired.

I jokingly said to one of my friends, “I don’t know how I’m ever going to get the money I need to fix my tooth. I guess I’ll just have to go stand out on some street corner and try to sell my body.”

“Ha!” her husband, who was eavesdropping on our conversation, blurted out. “That wouldn't work! You’d be the one who'd have to pay the guys!”

He doesn’t know just how close he came to also needing dental work.

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Tuesday, August 22, 2017


Not a summer passes when friends don’t invite me to come stay overnight with them while they are camping somewhere in New Hampshire.

“It’s so peaceful to fall asleep listening to the crickets chirping every night,” my friend Jean told me.

I think some of my city friends forget I live out in the wilderness. Not only do crickets chirp at night in my back yard, coyotes howl incessantly and there’s this really loud whippoorwill that sings for hours right outside my bedroom window. I keep hoping it will develop a bad case of laryngitis, but so far, no such luck.

So trying to use the sounds of nature as a means in which to entice me to go camping just isn’t going to work.

Back when I was a newlywed, my husband also used to try to convince me to go camping. He constantly talked about wanting to sleep outside under the stars.  He’d done it while stationed in Colorado when he was in the military and he couldn’t stop raving about it.

“You could see a zillion more stars in the sky at night in Colorado than you ever could see here!” he gushed. “It was incredible! It was like actually being close to heaven!”

Incredible or not, he wasn’t about to get me to sleep outside underneath any stars, especially not after having recently watched the Peter Fonda movie, Race With the Devil. 

 In the movie, two couples unknowingly set up camp right near the isolated meeting place of a satanic cult that was in the process of slicing and dicing people for sacrificial purposes.  When the cult happened to spot the campers on their turf, the chase was on.  And let me tell you, those cult members were a really nasty bunch.

“Stuff like that happens only in the movies, not in New Hampshire!” my husband said. “Believe me, you’d love camping!”

He was talking about camping in a tent. When I was a kid, I spent summers at my family’s camp, which basically was a small cabin in the middle of the woods. It had no indoor plumbing or electricity, but at least it had windows and doors that locked, and beds with actual mattresses on them. I really wasn’t eager to sleep in a tent – something a strong wind could launch into orbit, or a bear could pick up with its teeth.

As luck would have it, two of our friends (I will call them “Jane” and “John” to spare myself the risk of having to retain an attorney) bought a fairly large two-room tent back in the 1970s and set it up for the summer at a campground along a river only about 15 miles from where we were living at the time.

“We insist that you come spend the 4th of July weekend with us!” Jane called to invite us. “We’ll have a great time barbecuing, swimming, playing cards and sitting by the campfire and roasting marshmallows.”

My husband practically did cartwheels when I told him about the invitation.  I, on the other hand, was secretly praying a meteor would land on John and Jane’s tent (not while they were in it, of course) and immediately put an end to the whole camping idea.

Still, never let it be said I wasn’t willing to try something at least once…especially if it meant putting an end to my husband’s constant nagging at me to go. 

As we headed toward the campground that next weekend, my husband was as excited as a kid at Christmas.  “I’m not going to sleep in their tent,” he said. “I’m going sleep outside, under the stars!  There’s no point in camping out if you can’t look up at the stars.”

I couldn’t help but think of that old joke about what it means if you wake up in the middle of the night while camping and see stars above your head. 

It means someone stole your tent.

Due to the holiday weekend, the campground where John and Jane were set up was so crowded, when the guy at the next campsite bent over, I was sitting close enough to read the tag on his underwear. 

By six o’clock, I was so hungry, my stomach was making noises that sounded as if I’d swallowed a live bear.

Finally, John lit the campfire – a regular old-fashioned campfire, not a grill – for what he promised was going to be a fabulous hot-dog and marshmallow roast.  I was so famished, I had to resist grabbing a hot-dog from the package and eating it raw.

Just as the blaze began to crackle, the skies opened up and dumped down so much rain, it drowned the campfire.  And by the time we rushed around gathering everything to bring back into the tent, we all looked as if we’d taken swan dives into the river.

It was bad enough having to sit wet, hungry and shivering with three other people in a tent, but John and Jane’s dog, Buster, a big collie, also was in there with us.  And believe me, he didn’t exactly smell fresh.

Even worse, the thunder that accompanied the rainstorm made Buster go crazy. He ran around in circles inside the tent and barked endlessly.  And even after the thunder stopped, he continued to bark.  In fact, an hour later, he still was barking.

Campers began to come over to the tent to politely ask us to keep the dog quiet.

After another half-hour of Buster’s incessant barking, the campers stopped being polite. In fact, they looked as if they were about to form a lynch mob. I seriously began to fear we were going to meet the same fate as the campers in the Race With the Devil movie (spoiler alert: they all ended up being murdered by the cult members).

The campground manager finally paid a visit to our tent. “I’m going to have to ask you to leave if you can’t keep the dog quiet,” he said. “I have had numerous complaints.  And I do have to consider the welfare of the other campers, especially those who have young children who are trying to sleep.”

Let’s just say that John, who was getting irritated by then, wasn’t exactly cordial in his response to the manager’s request…and the four of us ended up being “escorted” from the campground.

I felt like kissing the dog.

After that, John and Jane sold their tent and never went camping again.  And my husband stopped mentioning sleeping out under the stars.

But just in case he ever did, I was prepared. I bought some great self-adhesive, glow-in-the-dark stars I could stick up on the bedroom ceiling.

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