Tuesday, December 7, 2004

The (Not So) Perfect Gift

I started my Christmas shopping early this year so I wouldn’t find myself frantically rushing around at the last minute and buying things like a sequined halter-top for my 82-year-old aunt because it’s the only thing in her size left on the rack.

Unfortunately, even though I have set a personal record for early gift- buying this year, my Christmas shopping thus far has not been flawless…not by any means. It seems as if every year someone on my Christmas list asks for a gift that is either rare, discontinued, back-ordered or in such high demand, people are setting up tents and camping out in front of department stores, waiting for a shipment to arrive. Either that, or I order something that looks great in the catalog, but when it arrives, it doesn’t look anything like the photo.

Take, for example, the hand-tooled, monogrammed copper wastebasket I saw three weeks ago in a catalog that featured handcrafts from Cape Cod. The perfect gift, I thought, for our friend Gregory, who recently remodeled his office. So I ordered it, with the initial “G” on it. The wastebasket arrived two days ago in an old cardboard box that wasn’t even sealed. The flaps were folded in that over-and-under way that keeps them closed, but nothing was sealed.

The wastebasket looked as if the guy had downed a pitcher of martinis before he hand-tooled it. I held it up to show my husband. “What does this monogram look like to you?” I asked.

He studied it for a moment. “A crooked 6.”

The copper on the wastebasket also had been polished…in about 30 different directions. So many different swirls, lines, zigzags and spirals were covering it, it looked as if it had been attacked by an army of crazed Brillo pads.

“What’re all those dents along the bottom of it?” my husband asked.

I frowned. “They’re not dents. I think they are supposed to be some kind of decorative border.”

“Oh,” he said.

That did it. “I can’t give Gregory a gift that looks all scratched up and dented, and especially not with a crooked number six on it!” I whined.

“He’s only going to put trash in it,” my husband said, shrugging. “It’ll probably look crummy in no time flat anyway.”

“Then why don’t I just fill it with trash before I send to him and give him the complete effect right away!” I snapped.

When I asked my mother what she wanted for Christmas, she handed me an empty plastic bottle that previously had contained body lotion. She told me it had come in a “welcome to the hospital” kit she’d received when she’d been a patient. “I really love this lotion and the scent of it,” she said. “I’m sure if anyone can find some for me, you can.”

So I did an online computer search for the lotion. After 20 minutes of searching, I was thrilled to find a Web site where I could buy it. The only catch was that I had to order a case of 60 bottles and pay an extra $23 for shipping. Unless my mother wanted to fill the bathtub with the stuff and jump in, I figured she’d have to live to be 110 before she’d ever use that much lotion.

“Maybe if you just go to the hospital where your mother got the lotion and ask them to sell you a bottle or two of it, they will,” my husband said.

I wondered why I hadn’t thought of that.

The people at the hospital couldn’t have been nicer. They tore open a welcome kit and handed the lotion to me. A victorious smile spread across my face…until I noticed that the lotion was a different brand. I opened it and smelled it. The scent wasn’t even close to the one my mother loved. “It’s not the same,” I said, my disappointment obvious.

“That’s odd,” the hospital employee said. “That’s the lotion that comes in all of our kits. How long ago was your mother a patient here?”

“About seven years,” I said.

He gave me a look that made me feel as if I’d just asked him for something from Cleopatra’s original cosmetics collection.

So I guess if I want to make my mother happy this Christmas, I’m going to have to order a case of 60 bottles of lotion.

If you know of anyone who’d like to buy 58 bottles, just let me know.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Here, Birdie, Birdie

As I have mentioned on occasion in previous columns, I have been trying to attract cardinals to my bird feeder since Columbus first set foot on American soil. But alas, while other people rave about the “gorgeous red birds” at their feeders, I’ve never seen anything red at mine unless something was bleeding.

Originally, and I know I’m in the vast minority, I put up a feeder for the sole purpose of feeding squirrels. While most people spend years trying to think up new and diabolical ways to keep squirrels away from their feeders, I actually wanted to attract them to mine.

The reason why I decided to feed the squirrels was because I noticed a scrawny, emaciated-looking family of squirrels in my back yard one day. Their tails were scraggly, their ribs were showing, and they looked hungry enough to gnaw on just about anything edible, even moldy old bread.

While I’m sure I could have dug up some moldy old bread to feed them (my bread box has been known on occasion to contain enough mold to require harvesting), I instead went out and bought them an assortment of gourmet treats: shelled sunflower hearts, chopped peanuts, cracked corn, and walnuts.
I think I might have overdone it, however. Within a few weeks, those same anorexic-looking squirrels looked as if they should have been making appointments to have liposuction.

I was perfectly content to feed my squirrels and watch them frolic in my yard every morning …until my friend Carol told me about the cardinal in her back yard.

“You’re not going to believe what happened!” she said. “I had a beautiful cardinal at my feeder this morning. I wish you could have seen him…he was so red, so pretty! Anyway, a little while after I saw him, I walked down to the store for a couple things. For some reason, with the very last two dollars I had with me, I decided to splurge on two lottery scratch tickets. And guess what? I won $10,000! I’m convinced the cardinal brought me good luck!”

That did it. From that moment on, I was determined to lure a cardinal to my feeder. It didn’t matter that I didn’t have the slightest idea how to go about doing so. And I wasn’t even sure what a real, live cardinal actually looked like. As far as I knew, they existed only on Christmas cards.

“How do you think I can lure a cardinal to our feeder?” I asked my husband one night.

“Buy a bag of cardinal chow,” he said, not looking up from his magazine.

So I went to a feed store and bought everything that had a picture of a cardinal on the bag. I not only filled my feeder with the stuff, I spread it all over my yard for good measure.

The next morning, my yard looked like a cafeteria for birds. There were mourning doves, blue jays, crows, chickadees, and squirrels gathered in groups all over the lawn, as if they were attending some sort of wildlife convention. And when they weren’t stuffing their little feathered or fuzzy faces, they were making enough noise to wake the dead (a.k.a. my husband). Still, I put up with the ruckus because I was bound and determined to see a cardinal.

After doing everything short of putting on a cardinal costume and performing a mating dance, I still saw nothing red at my feeder. Needless to say, it was pretty discouraging. It even was more discouraging when a flock of pigeons began to fly in for breakfast every morning.

“What’s a bunch of old city pigeons doing out here in the middle of the country anyway?” I muttered to my husband after yet another cardinal-less day had passed.

“They probably saw our name on the top-ten list in the AAA dining guide for birds,” he said.

I gave him a dirty look, even though I knew the point he was trying to make was a valid one. I was spending way too much money on fancy bird food and treats. I knew I had to start cutting back before we became so broke, we’d have to eat the bird food ourselves to fend off starvation. As much as it pained me, I switched to inexpensive, generic birdseed.

A few days later, I was out in the yard when one of the neighbors called over to
me, “You had two bright red cardinals at your feeder this morning! They were SO gorgeous! I watched them for about 15 minutes!”

I glared at her. She had seen MY cardinals. And now she, like my friend Carol, would be the one who would have all the good luck.

All I can say is that if I ever find out that my neighbor won a bundle in the lottery, I’m going to demand a percentage…or at the very least, ask her to reimburse me for all of the money I spent on bird food.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

It Was One Of Those Days

A couple weeks ago I had “one of those days” that easily could have been the reason why Murphy invented his law.

First of all, at 10 o’clock in the morning, I, in my flannel pajamas and hair curlers, was eating cereal when company arrived from New York…three hours early. I had planned, after breakfast, to dust and vacuum so everything would be freshly sparkling for their arrival. Instead, my guests were able to doodle their names in the dust on my coffee table.

After the New York visitors left, the cable repairman arrived. “You have dogs!” he said in an accusing tone when I opened the door. All I could see was his nose, which was poking around the edge of the door frame. “Lock them up in a room or I’m not coming in!”

“But they’re outside in the yard,” I said.

“If you don’t lock them up, I’m leaving,” he said. “I have been terrified of dogs ever since…the incident.”

I was going to suggest that his particular line of work might not be suitable for someone who was so dog-aphobic, but I did as he asked and called my dogs inside, then locked them in the bedroom. I returned to the front door and opened it. The cable guy was hiding on the porch. “You can come in now,” I said.

“Are you sure it’s safe?” He didn’t move.

“The dogs are locked in the bedroom,” I assured him.

Once again, he allowed only his nose to peek around the corner. “Are you positive they can’t open the bedroom door?”

“My dogs aren’t even coordinated enough to walk down the stairs without tripping, so I’m pretty sure they can’t figure out how to turn a doorknob.”

The cable guy finally came inside and checked out the cable box, but the entire time, he kept casting wary glances at the bedroom door. He was beginning to make me feel as if I had two rabid, drooling werewolves locked in there. Heck, even after he left, I still didn’t dare let my dogs out of the bedroom, he’d made me so paranoid.

After dinner that night, I figured that I’d finally be able to sit back and relax. That’s when my husband, who was stretched out in his recliner, casually said, “I have this weird bruise on my stomach that I noticed today. Can you take a look at it?”

I shrugged, wondering what could be so weird about a bruise. “Sure.”

He lifted his shirt to reveal the Queen Mother of all bruises. It was dark purple, nearly black, and was larger than a dinner plate. The scariest part was that as I was looking at it, it continued to grow. I grabbed a ruler and measured it. It was nine inches across...and still growing.

A half-hour later, we walked into the hospital emergency room. The place was so mobbed, there wasn’t a single seat available anywhere. We were greeted by an irate man who loudly told us that he’d been waiting for over two hours, that no one cared if he dropped dead, and that the woman at the admitting desk was a real witch (actually, he used more colorful language than that, but I’m trying to keep this G-rated).

“I think I’m feeling fine now,” my husband whispered to me. “Let’s go home.”

The woman at the admitting desk interrupted and asked us to have a seat so she could get some information. After she found out why we were there, she said, “I’m bumping you up to the top of the list.”

At that point, Mr. Angry in the waiting room got even angrier and started kicking things (like doors and chairs, and perhaps even a shin or two) and shouting about discrimination and contacting the head of the state’s medical board.

“Uh, it’s okay,” my husband said nervously. “I’m in no hurry. Why don’t you take care of that guy first?”

“Oh, I’ll take care of him, all right,” the woman said. “Security is on its way to pay him a little visit.”

We were escorted into an examining room where my husband’s bruise became a tourist attraction, with several doctors, nurses and even some guy who looked like the custodian coming in to look at it. The general comment seemed to be, “Hmmmm.”

At 1:30 that morning, we finally were headed back home. The verdict? That my husband was fine, didn’t need any treatment, and the bruise would fade in about a week or so. I guess the cause of the humongous, hideous thing forever will remain a mystery.

Maybe the two rabid werewolves in our bedroom had something to do with it.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

You Really Move Me

Back Article published Sep 21, 2004

A few years ago, I bought an “antique” coffee table which, because of its size, my husband refers to as “the ark.” The table is made of solid wood, measures four feet in length and three feet in width, has two big drawers and a cabinet under it and weighs about two tons. If we ever need an extra bed, we probably could toss a mattress on top of the coffee table and use it for the frame.

So last week, my husband was less than enthusiastic when I mentioned that I wanted to flip our reversible braided rug that’s in the living room.

“Doesn’t that mean we’ll have to move the ark?” he asked.

“It has wheels on it,” I said. “We can just push it out of the way, flip the rug over, and then push it back.”

It sounded simple enough. But then, nothing I do ever goes smoothly…and my rug-flipping idea was about to prove to be no exception.

“Empty everything out of the drawers first,” my husband said.

I had been hoping that emptying the ark wouldn’t be necessary. Those drawers contained six years’ worth of books, paperwork, CDs, floppy disks, magazines, newspapers, catalogs, videos and probably the body of the former owner.

I emptied everything out of the two huge drawers and stacked it on top of the table. “There! All set!” I said.

My husband rolled his eyes. “Put all that junk on the sofa or someplace else. The table is still going to weigh the same whether the junk is on top of it or inside it!”

He had a point.

So I stacked everything on the sofa, the TV and the stereo, all of which sat outside the borders of the rug and wouldn’t have to be moved. Then my husband grabbed one end of the table and I grabbed the other. He dragged it backward while I pushed it forward.

To the left of our front door is the doorway to our spare room. Somehow, my husband and I managed to wedge the table partway into that doorway. My end of the table was up against the front door, while my husband’s end was partially in the spare room. That meant that he had no way to get out of the room until we moved the table back onto the rug.

“Looks like you’ll have to flip the rug yourself,” my husband said from the other side of the coffee table. “I’m trapped in here.”

The rug, a heavy 8’x11’ monstrosity, refused to cooperate as I struggled to flip it. At one point, I actually was standing completely underneath it. I looked like a rug-covered Halloween ghost. “I can’t do this alone!” I cried, my voice muffled beneath the rug.

My husband sighed. “Let me try to climb over the table, then.” He managed to get one knee up onto the table, but when he tried to get the other one up there, he stopped dead. His body suddenly bent like a horseshoe.

“I think I just pulled something!” he said.

“Well, just stay where you are!” I ordered, as if he had any other choice. “I’ll handle the rug myself.” After several more attempts, the clean, unworn, unfaded underside of the rug finally emerged, facing upward. I was so happy, I wanted to break out the champagne. The rug, however, was off-center.

My husband, still hunched over, shouted directions: “A little to the left! No, no – a little to the right!” as I dragged the rug all over the living room. Finally, he said, “That’s close enough. Come on, let’s move this table back before my legs go completely numb!”

That’s when I discovered that I was better at pushing than I was at pulling. In fact, I couldn’t pull the ark at all. I tugged as hard as I could while my husband pushed and still, we couldn’t get it to move an inch. It turned out that the scatter rug in front of the door was bunched up underneath it. That’s when I made one of the dumbest statements I’ve ever made (and believe me, I’ve made plenty).

“Let’s see if we can lift it!”

I could tell by my husband’s expression that he was expecting to be in traction at any moment. Nevertheless, he said, “Okay, on the count of three, we’ll both lift!”

He started counting. I wasn’t concentrating, so I lifted my end on “two” instead of “three.” When he lifted his end, I dropped mine…right on my big toe. Even worse, two of the wheels fell off the table.

Actually, the table landed on the very tip of my toenail, but I screamed and danced as if it had crushed my entire foot. The attempted lift also proved to be my husband’s demise. The minute he tried, his back made sounds like corn popping.

If anyone passing by at that moment had heard all of the moaning and groaning coming from our house, they probably would have thought we were having a really hot time, not preparing to dial 911.

“So we can’t budge this table and I can’t climb over it,” my husband said. “What’ll we do now?”

“I’m going to call Tewy,” I said.

Tewy, our neighbor for over 30 years, had come to our rescue on more occasions than we even could begin to count. I went to the phone and dialed his number.

He came right over.

“What’s wrong with the front door?” he asked the moment he stepped in through the back one. When he spotted the table wedged up against the door and my husband hunched over and grasping his back, he figured it out pretty fast.

“I think I have both a double hernia and a slipped disk,” my husband said to him, groaning for effect. “I also think I’m going to be stuck in here forever. Just throw some food at me now and then, okay?”

Tewy laughed, shook his head, walked over, and with Herculean strength, lifted the coffee table. “Where do you want it?” he asked.

My husband and I looked incredulously at each other. Tewy proved what we already knew. We were weaklings, wimps. Even more embarrassing was the fact that Tewy’s a great-grandfather, not some young kid.

And now that everything is back in its place and the braided rug has been flipped, I am going to cover it with clear plastic and never let a shoe touch it again.

And then I’m going to ask Tewy to adopt us.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Getting Wrapped Up In Cable

It’s amazing how just one small change can cause a whole chain reaction of problems.

Such was the case last week when I went to my favorite video store for 99-cent Tuesday. Every Tuesday for ages, I had gone there to rent movies. At first, they were two for 99 cents, and then later, they changed to only one for 99 cents. Either way, the price still seemed like a real steal to me.

I parked my car, walked up to the video store and was just about to open the door when I noticed that the store was empty. By empty, I mean the place had been cleared out right down to the bare walls. The store had gone out of business. I just stood there, shocked.

On the way home, I checked out another video store. Their rental fee was $3.29 per movie, which, after years of getting nearly three for that price, seemed like a fortune to me. When I asked if they had any special discount days, the clerk gave me a strange look and said no.

As I headed home, I tried to think of a way I still could see my usual 15-20 videos per month without having to take out a second mortgage to pay for the rentals. That’s when I got the brainstorm to call our cable company and order a premium channel, like HBO.

“You still have an old cable box?” the cable company’s employee asked when I called. “That’s like having an 8-track tape player! You have to switch to digital cable in order to get HBO now. You’ll need a new box.”

She explained that I could come in and pick up the box, but if the account was in my husband’s name, I either would have to bring him with me or bring a permission note from him plus his driver’s license. I asked her why.

“Because the box is worth a few hundred dollars,” she said. “And for all we know, you could be his irate divorcee and run off with the box just to get him into trouble!”

I wanted to ask her how often irate divorcees had held their cable boxes hostage, but I kept silent.

So late Friday afternoon on Labor Day weekend, I dragged my husband to the cable office to pick up our new digital box. We signed up for two premium channels, HBO and Starz, and were given a huge box that made our old one look like a matchbox in comparison. It nearly was closing time when we got there, so the employee quickly gave us a rundown and instructions. From what we could tell, in addition to Starz and HBO, we’d also be getting about 6,000 new channels with this box. My husband’s eyes lit up like 100-watt bulbs.

We drove straight home and my husband dashed into the house to hook up his new toy. That’s when I heard him utter several words that led me to suspect he might not be entirely happy.

“There’s no power cord!” he said. “I can’t even plug it in! And it’s a long holiday weekend! What am I supposed to do now?”

I called the cable company’s 24-hour 800 number and explained the situation. The employee told me that there really wasn’t much I could do over the weekend other than track down one of the company’s repair trucks and ask the driver for a power cord. So like an idiot, I set off to try to find one.

I drove up and down streets and back roads for about 15 minutes, then suddenly, as if by some miracle, I spotted a cable truck parked in a driveway. I parked right next to it and ran up to the house and knocked on the door. There was no answer. The longer I stood on the doorstep and eyed the truck, however, the more I realized that it wasn’t the kind of truck that usually had supplies in it. It was more like a pickup truck, not a panel van. It also looked as if it had been parked there for a long time…like maybe since 1995.

I drove around for a while longer, then decided to give up before I ran out of gas. I actually was afraid to return home cordless, so I stopped at my neighbors’ house and asked them if they knew of anyone who worked for the cable company. They didn’t, but they suggested I call Radio Shack about a power cord.

“Radio Shack!” my husband said when I made the suggestion. “They won’t have anything like that. I checked out the box and it takes a very special cord, something you can’t get just anywhere!”

Despite what he thought, I figured I had nothing to lose and called Radio Shack. The employee asked me what type of cord the box took. At that point, my husband grabbed the phone and launched into a detailed description of male and female plugs and slot A and slot B joining together to form slot C. The employee finally said to just bring in the box and he’d check it out.

So we headed off to Radio Shack. During the entire drive, my husband muttered things like, “I shouldn’t have to pay for this! The cable company had better reimburse me or give me at least a free week of cable! And when I turn in the box in the future, I’m keeping the power cord!”

We finally arrived at Radio Shack. “Here’s $100,” my husband said, thrusting the money at me as I got out of the car. “I sure hope it’s enough!”

I lugged the box into the store. An employee immediately greeted me with, “You must be the one who just called!” He took a quick look at the box, said, “Uh huh,” and disappeared for a moment. He returned with a very ordinary looking power cord, stuck it into the machine and said, “There you go! That’ll be $2.99.”

I couldn’t help it. I burst out laughing.

I also couldn’t help mercilessly teasing my husband about his “very fancy, complicated, expensive one-of-a-kind” power cord all the way home.

When he finally hooked up everything, the TV came in beautifully…all except for HBO and Starz. As it turned out, something in our original old hookup (I forget the technical term) was too weak to unscramble such strong signals and had to be replaced.

You know, maybe paying $3.29 to rent a video isn’t so bad after all.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Riding The Roller Coasters At Canobie

Two weeks ago, after riding twice on the Yankee Cannonball roller coaster at Canobie Lake Park and discovering that all of my rickety old body parts still were intact, I decided to be brave and go on another coaster there, the Canobie Corkscrew.

The Corkscrew was a new addition since I’d last been to the park, so I wasn’t familiar with it or how it operated. Unlike most of the other rides, however, there was no long line of people waiting to board it on the night we were there. In retrospect, that probably should have been a warning to me.

I rushed up the ramp and jumped right into one of the seats on the Corkscrew. An attendant came by and pulled down a padded harness-like bar over my head and locked it into place. I thought I heard her mention something about removing my earrings, which were thick hoops with posts, but I figured I must have misunderstood. I mean, I honestly couldn’t think of one good reason why I’d have to take off my earrings just to ride on a roller coaster. If anything, I thought, the earrings would be a lot safer attached to my ears than they would if they were floating around loose in my pocket somewhere.

As the ride kicked into gear and the car began to make its way up the first hill, I looked down and for the first time, caught a glimpse of the rest of the track. I suddenly understood why it was called the Corkscrew. It made two twisting loops…steep, twisting, nose-diving loops. Believe me, if there’s anything that terrifies me, it’s being on a ride where I look up and see the ground instead of the sky.

Panicking, I shouted, “I’ve changed my mind! I want to get off!”

Everyone else on the ride, thinking I was joking, began to laugh. The trouble was, I was serious.

I honestly don’t remember much about the ride other than it really was rough…and painful. As the car slammed me from side to side, the padded harness that came down on both sides of my head whacked against my ears and drove my earring posts like rivets into my skin. Had the ride lasted any longer, I’d have been able to wear my earrings in my neck.

“No way did you go on that thing!” my husband said when I walked back over to the bench in Kiddie Land where he had planted himself for the evening. “I thought you hated rides that turn you upside down!”

“Still do,” I said, rubbing my earlobes. “In fact, even more now.”

My husband then mentioned that he was so hungry, his stomach thought his throat had been cut, so I told him to stay put and I’d go find some burgers. In the time it would have taken him, alias “Snail Man,” to walk to a concession stand, I could have ordered a three-course meal, eaten it and taken a nap.

I found a burger place on the other side of Kiddie Land and ordered three cheeseburgers, a small order of fries, and two small sodas. “That’ll be $21.50,” the employee said after he rang up my tray of food.

I just stared at him, my mouth falling open. “Are you serious?”

He nodded.

Thinking of my starving husband, I paid the man.

“These are like those burgers we used to get at the drive-in movies,” my husband said as he bit into one. “You know, the kind that used to sit in those foil bags under a light bulb all night and get all dried out and chewy. How much did they soak you for all of this anyway?”

“Twelve bucks,” I lied.

“Boy, they really saw you coming!”

We finished our food in a few gulps because we wanted to head over to the Dance Hall Theater, where a band that was advertised as looking and sounding exactly like the Beatles was going to be performing in ten minutes. One of my earliest childhood crushes, Bozo the Clown, also was supposed to be appearing somewhere in the park that night, but I figured I’d look for him later.

Musically, the Beatles impersonators were good, but they sounded more like a band playing Beatles’ songs rather than like the Beatles themselves. They also were so loud, my already abused ears began to hurt again.

Visually, the band members looked nothing like the Beatles…not in height nor weight, and especially not in the bad wigs a couple of them were wearing. The guy who was supposed to be George had Ringo’s nose, and the guy who was supposed to be Paul was wearing so much makeup, his eyebrows looked like black versions of McDonald’s golden arches, and his cheeks like two big red sunsets.

“I think the guy who’s portraying Paul also doubles as Bozo to save the park some money,” my husband whispered to me, making me dissolve into giggles and causing the woman in front of me to turn around and glare at me.

By the time the concert ended, my husband was ready to head home. “But I’ve been on only two rides!” I protested. “Let me go on just one more, okay?”

He nodded, found another bench and plopped down on it. I bolted off to the log flume ride. I stood and watched it for a few minutes so I could judge exactly where to sit so I wouldn’t be drowned when the log-car splashed into the water, then I headed up the ramp and waited in line.

The log-cars were in constant motion, so passengers had to board them by hopping into them as they floated past. There was no time to select a seat, so I just jumped in and sat down…right in a big puddle of cold water.

The feeling of icy water being absorbed into my underwear on a chilly night had a way of taking some of the joy out of the ride. And having more water splash into the car and soak my hair and the entire front of my jeans didn’t help much either. When I, my hair limp and soggy and my jeans drenched, walked back to my husband’s bench, he laughed and said, “Having fun, dear?”

“I think I’m ready to leave now,” I said, shivering.

By the time we got home, I was chilled to the bone, my ears were sore and my stomach was feeling the effects of that prime-rib-priced burger.

It was the most fun I’ve had in a long time. I can’t wait to go back again.

Tuesday, August 3, 2004

Up, Up And Away At Canobie Lake

My grandmother was a roller-coaster fanatic. In fact, she took me on my very first roller-coaster ride at Pine Island Park in Manchester when I was about eight years old. From that day on, I was hooked. So much so, I became an even bigger roller-coaster fanatic than my grandmother. And to this day, my dream is to visit Cedar Point amusement park in Ohio, which not only has 16 roller coasters, but reportedly also has the highest (420 feet) and fastest (120 mph) one in the known universe.

My husband, on the other hand, just looks at a roller coaster (even the ones in Kiddie Land) and turns the color of pea soup.

So it came as a pretty big shock last week when he asked me if I’d like to go to Canobie Lake Park and put an end to my years of suffering from roller-coaster withdrawal. Did I want to go? I slapped on a coat of lipstick and had my purse in my hand before he’d even finished asking the question.

During the drive to Canobie Lake, I acted and felt just like a little kid. “How much farther is it?” I kept asking my husband. “Are we almost there yet?”

After what seemed like ten hours (actually, is was 48.5 minutes), we finally pulled into the parking lot of the amusement park. The place was mobbed. “It’s a Monday night, for cryin’ out loud,” my husband said as he drove up and down each row, trying to find a parking spot. “It’s not supposed to be this crowded!”

“Well, maybe it’s crowded because everyone came here, just like us, thinking it wouldn’t be crowded!”

We finally parked the car and walked to the entrance. The admission price was $25 per person, but seeing we’d arrived after 5 p.m., it dropped to $16. We paid for our tickets, got our hands stamped and then entered the park.

Immediately, I was a kid again. I darted off, leaving my husband, who walks at a top speed of about one-eighth mile per hour, in the dust as I rushed from ride to ride, trying to decide which one I wanted to go on first. The park had added so many new ones since I’d last been there back in the early 1980s, I was awe-stricken.

“Well, you have fun,” my husband said between wheezes when he finally caught up with me. “I’m going to sit right here on this bench while you go on the rides. If you need me, this is where you’ll find me.”

I just stared at him. “You’re not going to go on even one ride?”

He shook his head. “Nope, my stomach can’t handle that stuff any more.”

“Not even the train or the Ferris wheel?” I asked, not really relishing the idea of having to be Sally Solo on all of the rides. “Those aren’t too vomitocious. Besides that, you didn’t pay $16 just to sit on a bench all night!”

Again, he shook his head. “Better get going. The place closes at ten.”

He didn’t have to tell me twice. I headed straight for the Yankee Cannonball, the big old wooden coaster that I’d missed so much over the years.

I arrived to find a line of people that rivaled the ones at Disney World. Determined, I took my place in line…and waited. Twenty minutes later, I still was waiting. By then, I’d made friends with the four boys from Michigan in front of me, and a lady and her daughter from Maine behind me.

One of the Michigan boys was wearing more necklaces than Mr. T, and told me how his jewelry had flown up and nearly knocked him unconscious when he’d gone on the Starblaster.

“It’s a ride that shoots you into the air just like you were in a rocket ship,” he explained. “Except you’re sitting in these chairs out in the open, with your feet dangling! One woman even lost her sandals during the blast! It was SO cool!”

Recalling that I was wearing a bra with stretch-straps, I made a mental note to chalk that ride off my to-do list.

Thirty-five minutes later, as I inched closer and closer to the coaster, my heart began to race and my hands felt clammy. What if, I wondered, my metabolism had changed since I last rode on a coaster and now I couldn’t stomach them? What if I ended up throwing up down the neck of the guy in front of me? Or what if I emerged with a severe case of whiplash because my over-the-hill neck bones had become too brittle?

By the time I took my seat in the last car of the Yankee Cannonball, I seriously was contemplating chickening out. “Fasten your seatbelts and then pull the bar down over you,” the attendant instructed. I fumbled with my seatbelt and couldn’t pull it far enough across my Titanic-sized hips to hook it. By then, everyone else already had fastened their belts and pulled down their bars. Not wanting to be a party pooper, I pulled down my bar. Two attendants then came by to check each one of us.

“Your seatbelt’s not fastened,” one of the attendants said to me, as if he were telling me something I didn’t already know. He leaned over and tried to adjust it. “I think it has a knot in it,” he said. He signaled to the guy at the controls, and everyone’s bars suddenly popped back up, giving him more room to work on unknotting my seatbelt. By then, I could hear impatient mutters from the other passengers. I wanted to slide down in my seat and disappear.

Finally, I was properly fastened and the ride was set to go. As the coaster inched up the first hill, I held my breath. The hill was a lot higher than I’d remembered it. In fact, it seemed to take forever to reach the top. I clenched the bar in anticipation of what was coming, and prayed that my neck wouldn’t snap like a twig and my lunch would stay where it belonged.

Whoosh! The rest of the ride was a blur of hills and curves and people screaming. By the time I realized that the ride had begun, it was over.

On shaky legs, I walked back to the bench where my husband was sitting. “You’ve been gone for ages!” he said. “How many rides have you been on?”

“One,” I said. “And I’m going to go on it again and really enjoy it this time…now that I know I can survive it!”

So I went on the coaster again, and the second ride was much better than the first. And after that, I got brave and rode on the park’s new corkscrew coaster…which turned out to be a big mistake.

I’ll tell you all about it next week.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

World's Smallest Frog; World's Biggest Stink

At the moment, I can’t stand the smell of myself and I’m really grumpy…and it’s all because of a frog.

It all started last year at this time when I was taking my daily walk and happened to notice a tiny dot hopping across the road in front of me. When I approached it, I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was the tiniest frog I’d ever seen. I’d seen little tree frogs before, but this frog made them look huge in comparison. Certain that I’d discovered some rare, mutant pygmy breed, I rushed home and called my mother.

“It probably was just some kind of a bug,” she said in a tone that suggested she thought I’d had too much sun. “I grew up in the country and never saw a frog that small.”

By the time I finished talking to her, she’d just about convinced me that the teeny frog I’d seen had been just a heat-induced hallucination. I decided to put the whole episode out of my mind and not think about the frog again. And I didn’t think about it…until two days ago.

I was walking my dog on a hiking trail that bordered a marsh when I suddenly caught a glimpse of what looked like two mini-frogs hopping along the edge of the trail. Quickly, I bent down and scooped up one of them into my hand.

I stood there a moment, afraid to unfold my fingers and see what I’d actually caught. I mean, I’d grabbed the tiny hopping whatever-it-was so fast, I didn’t really know what I was grabbing, so for all I knew, some hideous spider probably was preparing to sink its fangs into my palm.

Slowly, I opened my hand. There sat a tiny brown frog, no bigger than the fingernail on my pinky. “I’m going to take you home with me, little frog,” I said. “And after I show you to my husband so he can tell my mother that you really do exist, I’ll bring you back here and let you go. Deal?”

I gently closed my hand around the frog and continued to walk. I could feel it hopping around on my palm and trying to squeeze out between my fingers. I’m extremely ticklish, so I decided I’d better find something to carry the frog in before I dropped it.

Well, normally this particular trail is littered with at least a couple empty bottles or cans, but my luck, on this day it looked as if a squadron of maids had descended upon it just before I arrived.

I walked down to the marsh to see if perhaps a fisherman had left a container of some sort behind, but the area was spotless. That’s when I noticed a big lily pad floating near the shore. For some reason, I thought it might make a good cup.

With one hand holding my dog’s leash and the other still holding the frog, I picked up the slippery lily pad and tried to fold it into the shape of a cup or a cone. Finally, after a dozen failed attempts and a lot of praying that a staple gun suddenly would drop down from the sky, I managed to transform the lily pad into a crude pouch. Carefully, I emptied the frog into it, then clasped my hand over the top.

“Wait till you see what I have!” I said to my husband the minute I stepped into the house. “It’s the smallest frog in existence! Now my mother will believe me!”

I grabbed a clear plastic container and put the lily pad into it, then closed the lid. The lily pad, because I no longer was holding it in a death grip, slowly began to unfold. By then, my husband’s curiosity was piqued, so he came out to the kitchen, stood behind me and peered over my shoulder. Within a few seconds, the lily pad had fully opened.

“Wow!” my husband said. “That really IS a tiny frog! It’s so small, I can’t even see it!”

I stared at the naked lily pad. The frog wasn’t there. I figured it must have escaped way back at the marsh when I’d tried to transfer it from my hand into the makeshift pouch.

“Do you see him in there?” my husband, leaning closer to get a better look, asked.

“Of course not!” I snapped. “There’s nothing in there! Obviously the frog escaped!”

He gave me a condescending look. “Sure it did, sweetheart. Your little microscopic frog escaped. I understand.”

That did it. The next day, I headed back to the same area where I’d caught the frog. I was determined to find another one and prove to both my mother and my husband that I wasn’t seeing spots before my eyes. I realized that the odds of ever finding another frog were about a gazillion to one, but still, I had to try.

I was so busy looking down at the ground for frogs as I walked, I never saw the skunk…until it was too late. My dog and I had just crested a hill and there, sitting right in the middle of the trail on the other side, was a skunk. It took me a few seconds to realize what it actually was because I’d never expected to see a skunk out in broad daylight. This skunk, however, did not look very healthy.

I took a few steps backward and yanked on my dog’s leash. The skunk moved toward us. That’s when my dog decided to stop and bark at the uninvited guest. Everything happened so fast, I didn’t actually see it happen…but I sure smelled it.

My dog and I bolted back to the car, but when we arrived, I decided it might not be such a hot idea for us to get in and stink it up. So we stood outside and waited for a hiker or biker to come by. I figured that if one of them had a cell phone, I could call my husband and tell him to bring rubber gloves, paper towels and the bottle of “Skunk Off” I’d kept handy ever since the day my other dog became intimately acquainted with a skunk in our back yard.

Usually the area where I park my car is bustling with hikers and bikers, but on this day, there wasn’t a soul around. Finally, after what seemed like 10 hours (and 200 mosquito bites) later, a guy on a mountain bike came by.

“Do you have a cell phone?” I called out to him.

“Yeah,” he said, and kept on pedaling right past us. He probably wanted to get away from the stink.

I had no choice. I loaded the dog into the car and we headed home.

Now, an entire bottle of Skunk Off and endless hours of scrubbing later, my dog and I still bear the faint essence of “Eau de Skunk.” And the worst part is that after everything I went through, I still don’t have any proof whatsoever that my itty-bitty frogs exist.

“I think I have it all figured out,” my husband said to me this morning (after telling me that I still stink). “ We’ve been invaded by tiny aliens from another planet and they’ve disguised themselves as frogs. Their protector, a mean alien bodyguard, is disguised as a skunk, and the reason why he looks sick is because he can’t adjust to the earth’s atmosphere.”

Nobody likes a smart aleck.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

The Last Laugh - Battle of the Briquettes

The minute the temperature climbs above 60 degrees, the smell of charcoal-broiled food wafts through my neighborhood. I’m pretty sure that my husband and I are the only two people on our street who don’t own a grill, or even a hibachi. I have to admit that it’s all my fault, mainly because I don’t trust myself around anything that can self-combust and force me to use the “stop, drop and roll!” technique I learned back in school.

Every time I think about our friend, Henry, who squirted lighter fluid onto red-hot coals and ended up having to wear a toupee for the next three months, I whip out the electric frying pan.

It’s not as if I haven’t tried my hand at barbecuing. One of our neighbors once gave us his old grill, complete with a big sack of charcoal, when he purchased his new Deluxe Turbo-Flame gas-on-gas grill with a heavy-duty rotisserie big enough to roast an entire cow.

A few nights after we received the grill, I decided to surprise my husband by cooking up a batch of juicy cheeseburgers. He’d always said that burgers cooked outdoors on a charcoal grill were the best on Earth, so I knew he would be thrilled when I handed him a plate of burgers with telltale grill marks on them.

Getting the charcoal to light, however, was another story. I tried everything short of a flame-thrower to get the briquettes started, but they refused to catch. Two hundred matches later, when one briquette finally did light, I blew on it until my cheeks hurt and I felt lightheaded … and still the flame died.

I grew so frustrated, I took all of the charcoal out of the grill, lined the bottom with crumpled newspaper and stacked the charcoal back on top of it. Then I set the newspaper on fire. I also threw some dead maple leaves on top of the whole thing. I figured that maple tasted good on pancakes, so it might add a little zip to the burgers.

I’d never cooked on a grill before so the burgers turned out just a tad on the well-done side. Actually, they resembled hollowed-out lumps of coal topped with overcooked, brown rubbery cheese. Not wanting to hurt my feelings, my husband choked them down.

“Well, how were they?” I asked after he’d finished.

“They had a really … unique flavor,” he said, then added under his breath, “A flavor that I’m sure will linger with me for the next few days.”

After that night, I refused to use the grill again. In fact, I left it standing outside untouched for so long, the next time I lifted the lid on it, I found a big wasps’ nest inside. That did it. The grill mysteriously disappeared the next day.

To be honest, there actually is a plus side to not owning a grill. When we go to other people’s barbecues and stuff ourselves with their food, they don’t expect us to reciprocate with a barbecue at our place. But even if we did own a grill, I’m pretty sure no one would show up to eat our burgers anyway; not unless they wanted to risk developing an intestinal blockage.

Still, a few of the barbecues we’ve been to over the years haven’t exactly been gourmet fare. My husband once was handed a hot dog that had been burned so badly, it resembled a long cigar ash in a bun. And at another barbecue, I cut into a chicken breast that was so raw in the middle, I swear I heard it cluck.

Alas, no food ever was quite as bad or made my husband suffer as much as my maple-leaf burgers. Perhaps it’s because when I grabbed the handful of leaves to toss on top of the charcoal, I might — just might have — accidentally grabbed some poison-ivy leaves, too. NH

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Mowing The Lawn: What A Drag

I bought myself a new toy a few weeks ago…an electric lawnmower.

Up until my purchase, I’d been using an old-fashioned push-mower, which was about one step above cutting the grass with a sickle. Anything thicker than a blade of grass (such as a dandelion) required me to mow over it 30 or 40 times before the mower either finally cut it, or it became so flattened out, it didn’t have the strength to pop up again. Sometimes I got so fed up, I just bent over and yanked out all of the stubborn stuff by hand.

So last month, I finally decided to move out of the Stone Age and climb the next step on the ladder of lawnmower evolution. That step was an electric lawnmower. I figured that going from and old push-mower directly to a modern gas-powered mower would be such a drastic change for me, I’d probably end up accidentally de-whiskering the neighbor’s cat with it. So an electric mower seemed as if it would be easier to control.

The clerk at the store showed me a nice lightweight model. His sales pitch piqued my interest when he said I wouldn’t have to worry about gas, oil or spark plugs, the way I’d have to with a gas-powered mower. But when he demonstrated that all I’d have to do was plug in the mower and press a little bar on the handle to make it work, I was sold. Too often, I had seen my neighbors, red-faced and heavily perspiring, double over from hernia-induced pain after they’d yanked the pull-cords on their mowers three or four hundred times without succeeding in getting them started.

I bought the mower and a 100-foot extension cord, and then headed home to mow my lawn.

I loved the mower. It sliced through even the toughest weeds as easily as a hot knife through butter. It also sliced through part of the extension cord.

From the moment I tried my new mower, I developed an instant hatred for the extension cord. For one thing, 100 feet of thick, outdoor-type cord, felt as if it weighed about the same as a ship’s anchor. To keep the cord away from the mower, I tried slinging it over my shoulder, but it was so heavy, it made my knees buckle. So I had no choice other than to let it drag behind me.

Believe me, dragging a 100-foot cord behind you has its hazards. For one thing, the cord slides through every disgusting thing that’s in the yard or in the vicinity of the yard; from mud to doggy souvenirs and poison ivy. And when you turn around to mow in the opposite direction, the cord suddenly crosses in front of your ankles and makes you do some pretty fancy footwork...to avoid tripping and landing in the mud, doggy souvenirs and poison ivy.

Because of the cord, it took me longer to mow the lawn with the electric mower than it ever did with the push mower. I spent so much time untangling the cord from around trees, stumps, rocks, branches, the porch and my legs, I forgot why I was out in the yard. And whenever I tried to fling the cord out of my way, it inevitably landed in a bush or over a low-hanging branch. I think I even accidentally strangled a squirrel with it.

Another problem was that the only outdoor electrical outlet at our house is on the opposite side of the house from the lawn, so I had to pull the cord around two corners to get it out to the back yard. And every time I pulled on it too hard, it unplugged. I walked back to that outlet so many times to plug in the cord again, I wore a path through the grass (at least that’s one place I won’t have to worry about mowing any more).

And maybe I have crazy bees in my area, but they actually seemed to be attracted to the humming noise the lawnmower made, because they kept buzzing around me as I mowed. Either that, or I knocked their nest out of a tree when I flung the cord into the branches.

I must confess, however, that my lawn looks better than it’s ever looked, and I owe it all to my new mower.

And if anyone wants to buy it, I’m selling it dirt cheap (along with a free 100-foot cord with about 200 nicks on it)…so I can save up for a battery powered one.

Tuesday, June 8, 2004

A Walk On The Wild Side

For the past 33 years, I have spent at least six hours a week walking on the cross-country and hiking trails throughout Bear Brook State Park in Allenstown. As a result, I’m fairly well acquainted with most of the park’s 10,000 acres.

Believe me, I’ve seen some pretty strange sights in the park during my walks, and have encountered a lot of interesting creatures…of both the four-legged and two-legged varieties.

Lately, however, it seems as if the wildlife in the park purposely is trying to rip my arms out of their sockets. You see, I usually walk with my dog, who weighs nearly 90 pounds, and she takes great pleasure in bolting after everything from squirrels to butterflies (and an occasional bicyclist)…while I am hanging onto her leash. As a result, my poor arms have been yanked so often, I now can touch my kneecaps without bending over.

At dusk one day last week, for example, a deer suddenly darted through a clearing about 50 yards ahead of us. My dog, wagging excitedly, thought it was another big dog and immediately charged after it. When she reached the end of her leash, the jolt was so hard, I felt my teeth rattle.

There also are quite a few pheasants lurking in the bushes in the park. Pheasants have a sinister habit of quietly hiding until you walk past them. Then, when you least expect it, they fly up out of the bushes and take off. Their wings make a sound that is comparable to that of a low-flying helicopter. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve nearly suffered from pheasant-induced cardiac arrest.

And, of course, my dog thinks she can leap high enough into the air to catch one of them…while I’m still hanging onto her leash.

Once, we also encountered two wild turkeys in a cornfield adjacent to the park. I honestly never knew that turkeys could fly, but I suppose when you startle them by screaming at the top of your lungs (heck, I’d never come face to face with a wild bird that big before, so they really startled me), the poor birds will do just about anything to get away from you.

I like to think of myself as somewhat of a wildlife expert by now, but to be honest, two things in the park recently have puzzled me. First of all, I came across a large pile of what looked like tan-colored, two-inch long, jelly beans. I knew that the pile was the calling card of some animal, but which one?

I immediately ruled out deer, horses and rabbits, and I was pretty sure a bear hadn’t done it…even though I had absolutely no clue what a bear’s calling card might look like. The more I thought about it, however, the more curious I became, so the next day, I brought my digital camera and took a photo of the “evidence.” Then I showed the photo to several hunters and even e-mailed it to a few of my friends.

The general consensus was that a moose was the culprit. “You be careful around the area where you found that pile!” one hunter warned me. “It’s the time of year when the females have their young, and believe me, you don’t want to mess with a protective mother moose!”

“If I ever come face to face with a moose,” I told him, “the moose won’t be the only one leaving its calling card in the woods!”

The other thing that has been puzzling me lately is beginning to make me think I’m hallucinating. On two separate occasions during the past week, when my dog and I were about a mile into the woods on one of the isolated trails in the park, we heard something rustling in the bushes.

When I turned to see what was lurking in there, I caught of glimpse of an animal that looked like a big black and white spotted guinea pig, about the size of a housecat, moving swiftly. The reason I thought it looked like a guinea pig is because it didn’t have a tail.

The next day, near the same spot, the black and white animal once again appeared, but this time it was with a rust-colored companion. I stepped closer to try to get a better look at them, but they bolted off into the deeper woods.

Did someone abandon a bunch of cats (without tails?) or pet rabbits (without long ears?) out there? Or are they perhaps some strange new hybrid species?

I may never know. But I do know that every time my dog spots them, she yanks so hard on her leash, my arms feel as if they’ve been stretched another inch or two. If this keeps up, pretty soon I’ll be tripping over my knuckles when I walk.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

A Normally Crazy Day

One of the questions my readers most frequently ask me is, “Do all of the crazy things you write about REALLY happen or do you make them up?”

All I can say is that if they really knew me, they wouldn’t have to ask that question. You see, I’m pretty sure I was born with a big craziness magnet in my body. And believe me, over the years, that magnet has attracted some pretty weird stuff.

Take, for example, an incident that happened just last week that proved to me that my craziness magnet still has a lot of pull.

Several years ago, thanks to my column, a sweet lady named Dot, from Dunbarton, wrote to me. I answered her letter, and after that, she and I wrote to each other on a regular basis. Dot moved down to Florida four years ago, but we continued to correspond. Well, last week, I was surprised to receive a call from her. She said she was visiting her sister in Massachusetts and wanted to know if I’d like to go out to lunch on Tuesday.

So last Tuesday, Dot and I met at a popular restaurant in Bedford. One of the specials that day was Yankee pot roast, which is one of my favorites, so we both ordered it.

I’m the type of person who likes my food so hot it burns the skin off the roof of my mouth, so when my meal arrived without clouds of steam rising from it, I asked the server if she could heat it up for me. She smiled, said it was no problem and grabbed my plate. She also grabbed Dot’s (even though Dot thought her meal was fine the way it was) and disappeared into the kitchen.

A few minutes later, as Dot and I sat chatting and catching up on each other’s news, the restaurant’s fire alarms suddenly began to blare. Dot stopped talking in mid-sentence and we stared wide-eyed at each other, wondering what was going on.

“We’d like all of you to please leave in an orderly fashion through the front door,” a server announced to everyone in our room.

I honestly thought she was joking. “You’re serious?” I asked.

She nodded. “This isn’t a drill. This is real.”

“Can I take my drink?” one woman, who obviously wasn’t all that concerned about being turned into a giant ash, called out.

“No!” the server answered.

Dot and I filed out of the building along with the rest of the customers and the employees. Then all of us stood outside in the parking lot, like a big herd of cattle, not certain what we should do next. I happened to spot a customer who’d taken a huge club sandwich outside with him and was standing there, eating it. Another elderly man still had his napkin tucked into his collar and was holding a fork. I couldn’t help it…I started to giggle.

Still giggling, I said to Dot, more loudly than I’d intended, “Sure, I asked them to heat up my meal, but I didn’t mean this hot!”

Other people started to giggle, too.

A few minutes later, a fire engine rolled into the parking lot, but it went right past us and pulled up in front of a clothing store in the strip mall adjacent to the restaurant. Within 15 minutes, we were given the “all clear” to return to the restaurant.

Just as Dot and I were about to sit down at our table again, a server, carrying a dish of vegetables she’d just picked up from one of the tables, rushed past us and accidentally bumped into Dot. The dish went flying into the air and landed upside down on the floor, sending broccoli, carrots and summer squash rolling everywhere.

Dodging the server, who was on her knees, picking up vegetables, we finally took our seats. Dot looked at me, shook her head and said, laughing, “You know, I had a relatively peaceful, normal life until I went out with you today!”

At that point, one of the owners of the restaurant came over to chat with us. He explained that an employee in the clothing store next door had been using a steamer to de-wrinkle clothes, and the heat from the steamer accidentally had set off the fire alarms. “I just got here a few minutes ago and didn’t know what was going on,” he added. “So when I first saw everyone standing out in the parking lot, I thought, ‘Wow! What a huge lunch crowd! It must be a big banquet or a family reunion or something!’”

Dot and I finally were given freshly prepared, very hot pot-roast dinners, which we enjoyed. But by then, it nearly was three o’clock, so we were hungry enough to enjoy just about anything. Heck, I even would have settled for (heaven forbid) lukewarm pot roast.

As we ate, a server went to each table and handed $15 gift cards to everyone, to apologize for the inconvenience.

It was after 3:30 when Dot and I finally left the restaurant. “This sure has been a crazy day!” she said to me, just before we said our good-byes.

Crazy? It seemed pretty normal to me.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Better Off On Their Own

For some reason, my husband and I never have had much luck when it comes to “double dating” with other couples. As a result, we tend to go a lot of places alone. Somehow it just seems a lot easier that way.

Take, for example, the night one of my husband’s old childhood buddies called to invite us to join him and his new girlfriend for dinner and a movie. We thought it sounded like fun, so we agreed.

The guy and his date arrived at our house at about six o’clock that Saturday night. After the introductions were made, the two of them sat on our sofa, stared lovingly into each other’s eyes, and then began to passionately kiss each other. My husband and I silently sat there, feeling extremely awkward, for the next 20 minutes as the couple, oblivious to anything other than their kissing, completely ignored us.

“Uh, can I get you anything?” I finally interrupted. “A drink? A snack?”

“A crowbar?” my husband added. “A bucket of water?”

They didn’t hear a word we said.

As it turned out, my husband and I were so hungry, the sound of our stomachs growling began to disturb our dog, so we left, went to a fast-food restaurant for burgers and came back…and the lip-locking duo never even realized we’d been gone.

Another time, we made plans to go to Old Orchard Beach on a Saturday night with a young married couple (I will call them “Todd” and “Julie”) who lived across the street from us. Todd told us to be ready at four o’clock sharp, so we arrived on their doorstep at 3:59. That’s when Julie informed us that Todd had decided to lie down for a nap at 3:30. She said he was so tired, she was going to let him sleep for a while.

So my husband and I sat there and waited…until Mr. Snoozy finally rolled out of bed at 5:00. Then he made us wait another 45 minutes while he shaved and showered and had his wife iron a shirt for him. If we’d have been smart, we’d have told them to just forget about it and gone off without them, but no, we were too polite (or too chicken) to open our mouths. And little did we know that the night was about to get even worse.

Just as the four of us finally were leaving, their telephone rang. “Let the answering machine pick it up,” Julie said, her hand on the doorknob.

The message, however, made her stop dead in her tracks. The caller was a sultry-voiced woman who identified herself as Lisa, saying she’d had a great time with Todd the night before and was wondering why he hadn’t called her.

“No wonder he’s so tired today,” my husband whispered to me out of the corner of his mouth.

Within seconds, we felt as if we had ringside seats at a World Wrestling Federation event. Todd and Julie launched into such a shouting match, birds out in their yard flew away in terror.

“I swear, it was just a wrong number!” Todd insisted.

“Don’t hand me that, you lying sleaze!” Julie screeched. “Sure, you were working late last night! HA!”

My husband and I would have crept out of their house and then bolted back home, but unfortunately, they were blocking the doorway. Then suddenly, in the middle of all of the yelling, Todd turned to us and said, “Come on, let’s get going or we’ll never get to the beach!”

We just stood and stared at him. “Um, I think we’ll take a rain check,” I said, forcing a weak smile.

“We’re still going and that’s all there is to it!” Todd snapped. “Now go get into the car!”

Like fools, my husband and I obediently climbed into the back seat of Todd’s car…and suffered through the longest ride of our lives. Todd stared straight ahead and drove without uttering a single word for the entire 80 miles, while Julie leaned against the passenger door, her arms folded, and sulked. And when we finally arrived at the beach, after what seemed like 100 years, Julie refused to walk on the same side of the street as Todd because she didn’t want to be anywhere near him.

Having my appendix removed would have been more fun.

And then there was the drive-in movie we went to with yet another couple. Twenty minutes into the first movie, the woman’s contact lens fell out, and she spent the next hour frantically searching for it...with the car’s overhead light on. My husband and I ducked down in the back seat because people in nearby cars kept glaring at us and loudly saying things like, “I wish those idiots would kill their lights!”

Just the other night, an old high-school friend of mine called to chat. “You haven’t even met my new husband!” she said. “The four of us will have to get together some night and go out to dinner.”

I’m pretty sure I’m going to have the flu that night.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Low-Carb Diet Nothing New

I was in the supermarket the other day and just about every conversation I overheard was about low-carbohydrate dieting. Counting calories seems to be a thing of the past. Now everyone is counting “carbs.”

I have to smile when people refer to this whole low-carbohydrate mania as a new fad. New? Heck, 30 years ago, I bought a copy of a then-popular diet book that basically allowed no carbohydrates at all, and decided to give it a try.

The whole concept of the diet was that if Eskimos could survive on nothing but whale blubber and no fresh vegetables and live to be 85 or older, then non-Eskimos also should be able to. And in a lot of fancy medical terms that most laymen couldn’t understand (yours truly included) the book explained that when the body is deprived of carbohydrates such as sugar, flour, grains and potatoes, it is forced to eat its own fat.

Well, anything that could eat up fat sounded fine to me.

I read the book from cover to cover and decided that the diet was a dream come true. The basic rule was that any food that contained zero carbohydrates could be eaten in unlimited amounts. Essentially, you could eat 10 pounds of a zero-carb food, if your stomach could hold that much, and still lose weight.

The list of zero-carbohydrate foods sounded pretty exciting…at first. They included just about every form of meat and poultry imaginable plus eggs, butter, heavy cream, mayonnaise, cheese and most seafood, including butter-soaked lobster. A small amount of lettuce, which could be drenched with Roquefort dressing, also was allowed, to break up the monotony of all the meat.

The first week, my daily menu consisted of a cheese omelet with bacon for breakfast, a grilled chicken breast or pork chops for lunch, and a big, thick steak and a small lettuce salad for dinner. For snacks, I munched on fried pork rinds, hard-boiled eggs, cold chicken legs or a handful of macadamia nuts.

The first week, I lost 10 pounds. The second week, I lost five. By the third week, I was ready to sneak into someone’s garden, dig up a potato and eat it raw. I also was dying for a slice of bread, even one that was fuzzy with mold.

The diet book recommended putting a slab of meat between two slices of cheese to simulate a sandwich, but that illusion didn’t work for me. I wanted bread. I wanted to smell and taste yeast.

The book did contain a recipe for “faux” bread for the truly desperate. It was made by whipping up a meringue from eggs, then swirling the meringue into shapes that resembled bulkie rolls, and baking them till they were of a sponge-like consistency. The rolls (and I use the term loosely) then supposedly could be used just like bread. I tried the recipe and eagerly bit into one of the rolls. It was like eating a deflated rubber balloon, only with less flavor.

I also began to crave desserts, so every night, I’d whip up a big bowl of heavy cream and flavor it with artificial sweetener and vanilla extract. There was nothing I could pile the whipped cream onto, however, other than a slab of meat, so I’d grab a spoon and sit down and eat the entire bowl of whipped cream. I actually could hear my arteries clogging.

Still, I continued to lose weight. I should have been encouraged and happy, but by then, I was too obsessed with carbohydrates to care. I craved them. I needed them. I had dreams about them. I even wrote a poem about them:

“I used to dream of fancy things
like Cadillacs and diamond rings,
but since my carb-free diet started,
my dreams of riches have departed.
In place of jewels and cashmere stoles,
I dream of sugared donut holes
and cupcakes floating past my bed
on clouds of homemade gingerbread.
I’d gladly trade a T-bone steak
for just one bite of chocolate cake.
Yes, pile some cookies on my plate,
I’m sick of trying to lose weight!
A brownie, please! Don’t make me beg.
I just can’t face another egg!”

Not surprisingly, I finally allowed temptation to get the better of me, and went on a carbohydrate binge that lasted for three days. I ate mashed potatoes topped with crumbled potato chips. I dumped chocolate pudding on top of chocolate ice cream and sprinkled it with chocolate chips. I ate half a loaf of bread slathered with peanut butter and marshmallow fluff.

And I ended up with such a stomach ache, I nearly had to call a priest to administer my last rites.

And worst of all, in less than a week, I gained back all of the weight I’d lost, and then some.

Funny, but even now, thirty years later, whenever I smell bacon and eggs cooking, I get a terrible craving for a baked potato wrapped in a loaf of bread.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Money for the Bunny

An innocent little Easter bunny caused me to inadvertently act like a young kid last Saturday, and as a result, I humiliated myself in public.

It all started a couple days beforehand, when I decided to run a few errands and pick up some groceries. Before I left the house, I took the cash out of my wallet and counted it to make sure I had enough to cover everything I had to do. There was $120.

On the way to run my errands, I decided to stop at my mother’s house to say hello. We chatted for a while, and then I decided I’d better get going. I fished through my purse for my lipstick so I could do a “touch up” before I left. That’s when I noticed that my wallet, which was wide open, had no money in the bill section!

“My $120 is gone!” I cried. “I must have left it on the table when I counted it at home. I could have sworn I put it back in my wallet!” My voice quickly turned into a whine. “Now I have to go all the way back home and get it!”

“Don’t be silly,” my mother said. “I’ll lend you the $120. Just give it back to me when you find your money.”

I accepted her offer, all the while hoping that my $120 would indeed be lying on the table when I got home and not at the bottom of a puddle somewhere out in the driveway, or even worse, blowing down the street. Visions of my $20 bills hanging from tree branches made me want to forget my errands and just make a beeline for home.

As it turned out, the money had been in my wallet all along. I’d accidentally shoved it into a different compartment.

That Saturday, my husband and I took our mothers out to dinner at a restaurant in Londonderry. The minute my mother climbed into the car, I returned her $120 (well, actually, she had to remind me about it first, and then had to pry it out of my clammy little hands…but she got her money back).

The four of us enjoyed a nice dinner, and then decided to browse in the restaurant’s large gift shop. I drooled at the candy (Sky Bars, jelly beans, Necco wafers, chocolate fudge), tried on a few sparkly rings, fiddled with a music box and read a bunch of greeting cards.

And then I spotted it, sitting all by itself on a shelf…the most adorable Easter bunny I’d ever seen. Actually, it was a large baby doll wearing a fuzzy, bright- yellow bunny costume with floppy ears. The baby’s porcelain face was incredibly realistic looking with chubby pink cheeks and huge blue eyes with long lashes. For me, an avid doll collector, it was love at first sight.

Without thinking, I grabbed the bunny doll and rushed over to my mother, who was at the register, paying for some candy.

“Mom!” I called out to her, more loudly and excitedly than I’d intended. “Look at this Easter bunny! Isn’t it the cutest thing you have ever seen? And it’s only $24.95! Boy, I sure would love to have it!”

After I said it, I realized just how much I sounded like a little kid in a department store, begging for a toy. Unfortunately, the employees at the register also realized it…and so did several customers, all of whom turned to smile at me.

“Aw, Mommy,” one of the employees teased my mother. “Aren’t you going to buy your little girl that bunny for Easter?”

My mother burst out laughing.

As I stood there, my face growing hot as I heard other people also start to laugh, a female customer approached me and eyed the bunny, which I still was holding in a death grip. “You going to buy that?” she asked me.

I glanced at my mother, who was chuckling and shaking her head. “No, I guess not,” I said, frowning.

“Good!” the woman said and immediately grabbed the bunny around the neck. “Then I’ll take it!”

I resisted for a moment, not loosening my grip. But the woman seemed more than ready to engage in a tug of war for it, so I finally relented and let go of my precious bunny doll. After all, I didn’t want to be responsible for its decapitation or its bunny ears being savagely ripped off and left lying in a yellow heap on the floor.

As my husband and I and our mothers walked back out to the car, my mother asked me, “Out of curiosity, why did you come show that bunny to me instead of to your husband?”

“Because I knew you had $120,” I said.

She couldn’t argue with that.

Tuesday, April 6, 2004

Rip Van Roofer

There comes a time in every homeowner’s life when the roof on his or her house needs to be replaced. Unfortunately, that realization should have hit me about four years ago when water stains first began to form on the bathroom ceiling.

At first, I just painted over them, but it didn’t take long for the stains to seep through again, all brown and ugly against the white paint. When it got to the point where I would lie back in the bathtub and make a game of guessing what shape each water stain on the ceiling most closely resembled (one of them looked just like a three-legged horse, and another like a cigar-smoking turtle), I knew the time finally had come to call a roofing company.

My husband and I decided to get a galvanized steel roof. The thought of no more shingles blowing off in the wind, no more snow piling up on the roof, and a warranty that neither of us would live long enough ever to see expire, appealed to us. The price, however, was another story.

“I can sell a bunch of stuff on eBay,” I said to my husband. “I figure if we sell all of your power tools, all of my jewelry and the TV, we can at least afford the down payment. By the way, do we really need two cars?”

So on March 13th, we met with a sales representative from a local home-exteriors company and signed our lives away. “If we order the materials tomorrow, they should be here in about three weeks,” the man told us. “Then there are several other homes ahead of yours. We’ll call you and let you know exactly when we’ll be over to do the work.”

Two weeks later, I was awakened at about eight in the morning by my dogs’ frenzied barking. I have always been a night owl, which means that I usually go to bed at about five in the morning and sleep till at least noon. This particular morning was no exception. I was in no mood to be barked awake at eight o’clock.

“Quiet!” I yelled at the dogs. They immediately settled down. Just in case they decided to bark again, I reached into the drawer of my nightstand and dug out my earplugs, which I keep handy to block out my husband’s snoring. They are good for up to 29 decibels (even though my husband’s snoring is about 35). I stuffed the earplugs into my ears and within five minutes, I was peacefully asleep.

I crawled out of bed at about 12:30 and walked into the bathroom. The bathroom has a skylight in the middle of it, so I usually look up to see what the weather is like. As I stood there in my pajamas, yawning and scratching assorted body parts, I glanced up and saw a man standing near the skylight!

That’s when I heard footsteps on the roof. I vaguely recalled having heard something up there while I was in bed, but with the earplugs, the sounds were pretty muffled. There are always squirrels running across our roof anyway, so I’d just figured the critters had gained a few pounds.

I panicked. There are three skylights in our house: two in the living room and one in the bathroom. I suddenly felt as if I were the star of a peepshow.

My husband uses our tiny bedroom closet, so I keep my clothes in the larger bathroom closet. Frantically, I reached into it, blindly grabbed some clothes and dashed back into the bedroom to get dressed. Under the circumstances, I didn’t think taking a shower or a bath beneath the skylight would be such a hot idea…not unless I wanted to make the guys on the roof fall off from laughing so hard.

After I got dressed, slapped on some makeup and ran a comb through my hair, I finally went outside to see what was going on. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Half of our new roof already had been installed! Either these guys were really quiet workers, or I unknowingly had been in a coma.

When I emerged, the three men stopped to stare at me, their mouths hanging open. “You’ve been home all this time?” one of them asked in a way that made me suspect he was worried about what I might have overheard.

“Yeah, but I was sound asleep,” I assured him.

Their mouths fell open even wider. “You slept through us putting a roof on your house?” another one asked.

“It sure looks that way,” I said, eyeing their work. “Had I known you were coming, I would have set my alarm clock. But you’re…um…about four weeks early.”

“Turns out we didn’t have to order the materials after all,” another explained.

I smiled, thinking how shocked my husband would be when he came home that night and saw the new roof on our place.

The roofers said they probably could get everything done that day, but if not, they’d definitely finish it up the next morning. By the end of their workday, they’d completed about 75 percent of the roof, which I thought was pretty impressive.

When my husband got home, about a half-hour after the workers had left, he wasn’t nearly as shocked about the roof as he was about me sleeping through its construction (this, from a man who snores right through thunderstorms that are so loud, they make the windows rattle?).

Well, as it turned out, the roofers didn’t finish the roof the next day, nor the next, nor even the day after that. Why not? Because the moment they said, “We’ll be back,” the skies opened up and exploded with so much rain, I swear I saw animals lining up in pairs.

And which part of the roof didn’t they finish? The part over the bathroom ceiling…which now has an added assortment of huge new stains. I’m really going to miss the one shaped like a headless scarecrow.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

New Hampshire In The 1950s

I received a “remember when?” e-mail from one of my friends the other day, and as I read it, it made me feel as if I’d just boarded a time machine for a trip back to the 1950s and early ‘60s.

It also made me feel older than dirt.

For example, one question asked if I remembered televisions that took five minutes to warm up. I remember them well, especially the night the Beatles first performed on the Ed Sullivan Show. I stood there screeching, “Hurry up!” at the TV while pounding on the top of it to make it warm up faster.

I also remember the TV at my friend Janet’s house. It had an indoor antenna sitting on top of it (something called “rabbit ears”), which her father had wrapped in tin foil because he said it made the reception better. If you ask me, all it did was make the TV look like some kind of square-headed space alien.

Another question on the list asked if I remembered when I would reach into a muddy gutter just to pick up a penny. Sure, but that was when a penny would buy a big chunk of bubble gum, a fat licorice stick or a jawbreaker. The other day, as I was coming out of a local pharmacy, I spotted two pennies lying next to each other in the parking lot. I walked right past them. At my age, the smallest thing that would entice me to bend down that far would be a dollar bill.

“Do you remember when your mother wore nylon stockings that came in two separate pieces?” the next question asked.

Never mind my mother, I remember wearing them myself! In fact, I spent most of my high-school years squirming from the discomfort of the metal hooks that held up the nylons digging into the backs of my legs as I sat through what seemed like endless hours of classes. To this day, I think I still have the outlines of those hooks embedded in my thighs.

My first pair of pantyhose was no thrill either. When I put them on, they were nice and snug and clung in all the right places. But by the end of the day, the crotch was hanging down to my knees and the stockings had so many wrinkles in them, I looked as if my legs were made of elephant skin. I never could figure out if I was supposed to wear my underwear over the pantyhose or underneath…or not wear any at all.

The next question on the list asked if I remembered when nobody owned a purebred dog. Well, I think some of the dogs in my neighborhood might have been purebreds, but none of us really knew what one looked like anyway, so they all were just mutts to us. And the only “papers” associated with dogs back then were the ones we spread all over the floor for housebreaking purposes.

“Do you remember when you could buy a double Popsicle for five cents?” the questions continued.

I immediately thought of Stuart’s Market, a tiny corner store in the back alley behind our old house in West Manchester. In the summer, my friends and I would head over there every day for a Popsicle.

Our favorite flavors were root beer and blue raspberry. The owner of the store actually had a metal strip nailed along the edge of the counter for the sole purpose of neatly breaking Popsicles in half. After we’d hand our nickels to him, he’d always ask, “Want your Popsicle cut in half?” We’d nod and he would take the Popsicle, line up the middle of it with the edge of the metal strip, then slam his hand down on the Popsicle and voila!…two perfect halves. I don’t remember him ever ruining one of our precious Popsicles. The man truly was a magician.

The next question asked if I remembered when gas-station attendants not only pumped gas but also washed windshields and handed out free trading stamps or gifts.

Remember it? One of those free gas-station gifts led to an extremely embarrassing incident back when I was 15. I was riding around town with my friend Dee one night when she happened to notice that a certain chain of gas stations was giving away decorative glasses with each fill-up. A big sign at one station advertised, “Collect all four different scenes!”

Well, Dee was determined to collect all four glasses…all in one night. Seeing that the sign didn’t specify a minimum amount of gas that constituted a “fill-up,” Dee drove from station to station and said, “Fill ‘er up!” just to get her free glass.

Her total at each station, with the exception of the first one, averaged about 10 cents. The nasty looks the attendants gave us made me want to dive into the back seat and hide on the floor. But hey, Dee succeeded in getting a complete set of the glasses, and they’re probably worth over a hundred dollars on eBay today.

At the end of the “remember when” list, it said, “Now didn’t it feel good to go back in time, even if just for a little while?”

Sure, it felt great. I became 40 years younger, then aged 40 years all within five minutes.

And now I have a sudden urge to stock up on Ben Gay and Metamucil.

Tuesday, March 2, 2004

The Best Medicine

I subscribe to several Internet health newsletters. A couple weeks ago, one of them, from a Doctor Weil, stated that the average child laughs approximately 400 times a day, while the average adult laughs only 25. He recommended that adults also should try to laugh 400 times daily because laughter does something to the immune system that promotes better health.

When I read the article to my husband, his eyebrows rose. “If I laughed 400 times a day,” he said, “I’d be fired from my job. Not only that, people probably would think I’d been nipping from a flask hidden in my desk drawer or something.”

“Well, I think we at least should try,” I said. “It sounds like a fun way to get healthier.”

Believe me, we soon learned that laughing 400 times a day is no easy task. We even made a contest of it, telling jokes and funny stories to each other. Then when one of us laughed, the other would say, “That’s 22! Only 378 more to go!”

But alas, my biggest one-day laugh total turned out to be only 55. And even that many made my stomach hurt. Actually, I’m not even sure what constitutes a full laugh anyway. I mean, are you supposed to count each “ha” separately? Or is one laugh considered to be from the first “ha” to the last one in a cluster?

Personally, I think kids who laugh 400 times a day must eat way too much sugar or something.

I did manage to have a few unexpected laughs recently, though, which added to my daily total. The strangest thing, however, is that everyone who made me laugh was being completely serious and not even trying to be funny at the time.

First of all, last month there was a reality show on TV called, “My Big, Fat, Obnoxious FiancĂ©,” where a young woman was promised a million dollars if she could convince her family to attend her wedding to one of the sloppiest and most obnoxious men around. I got hooked on the show and watched it faithfully.

Well, I was at the service desk in a department store one night, and for some reason the clerk was taking what seemed like hours to process my paperwork. I looked impatiently at my watch and without realizing it, said out loud, “Gee, I hope I make it home in time to see ‘My Big, Fat, Obnoxious FiancĂ©!’”

The clerk obviously had never heard of the show because he stopped what he was doing, looked up at me, frowned and said, “Well, if he’s that bad, why on earth did you get engaged to him in the first place?”

I burst out laughing.

Even my husband unintentionally made me laugh. While I was out shopping last Sunday, he stayed home, supposedly to do some chores. When I returned, I found him lounging in his recliner, right where I’d left him.

“Did you cut that piece of molding for the bathroom?” I asked him.


“Did you put the wheel back on our trash barrel?”


“Did you…?”

He stopped me in mid-question and said, looking depressed, “If you must know, I didn’t do anything but sit here like a big lump all day. Let’s face it, you’re married to a pet rock!”

Even though I knew he was serious, I couldn’t help but laugh. And when I did, he realized what he’d said and he started laughing, too.

Then I went with my mother for her regular physical exam. The doctor didn’t make her undress, but while she was lying on the examining table, he asked her to pull her slacks down to her knees so he could press here and there on her stomach.

When he was through, he said, “Okay, everything seems fine. I guess that’ll do it for today.”

My mother sat up, looked at the doctor and asked, “Can I pull up my slacks?”

Without even glancing up from what he was writing on her chart, he said very calmly, “Well, I think it might be a good idea before you go outside.”

Mom and I both burst out laughing.

Still, I haven’t even come close to my target of 400 laughs per day. In order to make my quota, I may just have to take drastic measures…like stand naked in front of a full-length mirror or watch wedding videos of my relatives doing the chicken dance.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Sally Standing by the VCR

Last week, a beloved old family member passed away. It was our VCR. Before it died, however, it ate up two videotapes and spit them out in pieces. So what little life the machine still may have had in it, I probably finished off when I smacked it for chewing up my only copy of the Mary Tyler Moore and Rhoda reunion movie.

So I checked out the VCRs on Ebay and found a brand new one exactly like our dead one for under $50. Times sure have changed.

I still can remember back when VCRs were first widely introduced to the public for home use. I was excited, very excited.

“You mean to tell me,” I asked my husband, “that I could record my favorite singers or movie stars and play them over and over again?”

“Sure,” he said. “You could even run back the recordings in slow motion or freeze the tape whenever there is a close-up.” When he saw my eyes widen at the thought of all the TV hunks I could freeze, he quickly added, “Forget it. VCRs are way too expensive.”

I would have tried to tempt him by telling him that he could record the Super Bowl or the World Series and replay every exciting moment, but my husband is probably one of the few men on earth who would prefer to be doused with syrup and staked naked to an anthill rather than watch sports.

So I had to try a different approach. “I just thought of something funny,” I said, giggling. “You know how they show scantily clad girls running down the beach on TV all the time? Can you imagine how funny they’d look in slow motion bouncing up and down…over and over again?”

The next day, we were at Montgomery Ward, charging a VCR. It cost $799. We also bought a single blank tape for $15.98.

I am convinced that learning how to program a VCR is one of the major causes of divorce in this country. I still can clearly remember reading the instructions out loud to my husband as he tried to hook up that first VCR, and how, when nothing worked, he accused me of skipping over something important in my reading. As it turned out, he’d forgotten to plug in the machine.

But even to this day, with the more modern VCRs, it still takes about three years to learn how to set up everything correctly. And when you finally DO, odds are that a power failure will strike and undo it all.

Unfortunately, we live in a place where if a bird flies by the power lines and flaps its wings too hard, we lose power. This causes the VCR to stop showing the correct time and start flashing “12:00” over and over again. And believe me, nothing on earth is more annoying…except trying to reset the correct time afterwards.

Which is why a guy on TV the other night caught our attention. He was saying, “Are you annoyed when 12:00 keeps flashing on your VCR and you have to go through all the trouble of reprogramming it? Well, I have a simple solution, and I promise you’ll never see a flashing 12:00 again! The materials you’ll need are a piece of cardboard, scissors, a measuring tape and duct tape.”

My husband and I watched with interest as the guy explained, “First, take the measuring tape and measure the blinking 12:00. Then cut a piece of cardboard that exact size. Cover the 12:00 with the piece of cardboard and tape it securely with the duct tape. You’ll never see it flashing again!”

Nobody likes a smart aleck.

Eventually, when VCRs became less of a novelty and the prices dropped, we retired our old recorder to our bedroom and bought a new one for the living room.

That’s when I found a unique use for the old VCR. It was the type of machine that when you pushed the “eject” button, a platform popped up out of the top and you were supposed to slide a video into it. Well, when I was dieting and bragging to my husband about how much willpower I had, I discovered that the VCR was the perfect place to hide Hershey bars. Every night after dinner, I’d sneak into the bedroom, push the button on the VCR, and voila! Up would pop my secret stash.

It worked fine until I forgot to shut off the machine one night and the heat melted the chocolate.

We’ve had about eight VCRs since that first one from Montgomery Ward, mainly because we discovered it was cheaper to buy new ones rather than have the old ones repaired.

The other day, when I mentioned to one of our friends that I’d just bought a new VCR on Ebay for under $50, he said, “A VCR? Those are so old-hat! You need to get with the times and buy a DVD player.”

I don’t think so. Now that I’ve finally learned how to program a VCR, I’m not about to rush out and buy something new-fangled. Besides that, unlike videotapes, DVDs are round.

And Hershey bars are rectangular.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

My Washer Is Part Paper Shredder

Back Article published Feb 17, 2004

At the moment, I’m wearing a gray fleece shirt with white dots all over it. The dots didn’t come with the shirt, however. They are 5,000 pieces of lint.

I don’t know if it’s my washing machine or if I need to take a course called “Clothes Washing for Dummies,” but my laundry has been looking mighty strange lately. In fact, I’m at the point where I think going down to the river and beating my clothes against the rocks would make them look better than my washer does.

For one thing, when I bought this washer two years ago, I thought it was pretty strange that when I asked the clerk where the lint trap was, he said there was no such thing.

Every other washer I’ve owned, there always was a place where wayward lint would gather, and I’d clean it out regularly. But with this washer, the lint is going to places unknown. And that worries me. I know it’s just lurking in there somewhere, growing larger and larger until when I least expect it, it will explode all over my wash…when I’m washing dark colors, of course.

Another weird thing about this washer is that even on the most delicate cycle, it turns everything inside out. This totally mystifies my husband.

“How does it do that?” he asks every week, holding up his inside-out undershirts. “You think that maybe if we try turning the clothes inside out before they go into the washer, they’ll come out the right way?”

It sounded logical, so I tried it. It didn’t work. The only explanation is that the washer hates me.

Take, for example, a few weeks ago. My mother and I went shopping and found some gorgeous chenille sweaters on sale. I bought one in light blue and she bought one in pale green. I wore the sweater and loved it. In fact, I loved it so much, I didn’t dare wash it. Finally, when I couldn’t wear it any longer unless I sprayed it with an entire bottle of Febreze, I closed my eyes, held my breath, and dropped it into the washer. I turned the dial to the “delicate” cycle and prayed.

In retrospect, I guess I probably should just have washed the sweater by hand, but I figured that wringing it out afterwards would be more damaging than putting it into the washer.

I figured wrong.

When I took the sweater out of the washer (and I am telling the absolute truth here) it looked as if it had been attacked with an ice pick. I immediately called my mother.

“Are you sure it wasn’t moths?” she asked. “Sometimes they will gnaw on clothes but the holes won’t show up until you do the laundry, and then everything falls apart.”

“My wool sweater was hanging right next to this one,” I said, “and that one’s fine.”

“Well, maybe your moths are just fussy eaters.”

But I knew that moths weren’t the cause of the holes. It was my killer washing- machine, El Diablo, which I was beginning to suspect was crossbred with a paper shredder.

So I took the sweater back to the store and asked the girl at the service desk what I’d done wrong and how I could have prevented the sweater from turning into something that looked like a giant fishing net. She didn’t offer any advice; she just gave me a refund.

Another thing I can’t figure out is why I currently own 10 pairs of green panties. They didn’t start out that way. They once were pretty pastel shades of pink, blue, yellow and lavender. Now they all are the same drab green color, kind of like army-issue underwear. Is it the washer? The water? Personally, I’d rather have it be the washer, because I don’t even want to think about what the water might be doing to my internal organs if it can do that to panties.

Aside from calling an exorcist or trading in my washer for another one, I guess there’s not much I can do to achieve laundry perfection. And I guess it really shouldn’t bother me that I’m covered with lint or have to wear green underwear, or that my husband gets dressed in the dark and often goes to work wearing his clothes inside out. At least everything is clean.

And believe it or not, having El Diablo for a washer actually does have a plus side. There’s this monogrammed red sweater with penguins and igloos on it that I received as a Christmas gift…and even though I haven’t worn it yet, I’m pretty sure it could use a good washing.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

My computer’s being held hostage

I like to think of myself as an easygoing person, someone who doesn't lose her temper too often. But in the past few weeks, I'm embarrassed to confess, I have lost my temper twice. And coincidentally, on both occasions, the target of my wrath was a store manager.

The first incident actually began last September and involved a large electronics store. One day, my laptop computer began to randomly shut off and then turn back on, as if it were possessed. Finally, it shut off and stayed off. No amount of coaxing, sweet-talking or threatening would make its little screen light up again.

So I returned the computer to the store where I'd bought it. It was sent off to be repaired free of charge under my service contract.

Well, the technicians who repaired my computer goofed up a few things in the process and ended up keeping it for six weeks. During the fourth week of those six weeks, my service contract expired.

That was in November, and I haven't seen my computer since. Why? Because it's being held hostage for $688.

The technicians insist that because my service contract has expired, I now have to pay for the repair. And I told them I don’t think it’s fair, so I’m not going to pay them a cent. I’ve tried to convince everyone from the custodian to the general manager at the store to take my side, but to no avail. In fact, I probably would have made better progress if I had spoken to the trash receptacle out in the foyer.

Meanwhile, as the stalemate drags on, my poor computer is collecting dust on a shelf somewhere, and I am forced to use an old computer that’s so slow, I can read War and Peace in the time it takes me to get online. Still, even though I am getting desperate, I refuse to give in and pay the $688. It’s the principle of the thing.

The second incident occurred just a few days ago when I decided to go shopping for Barbie dolls at an area toy store that is going out of business and selling everything at 20-40 percent off.

Well, any die-hard Barbie collector, which I have been for the past 40 years, knows that the condition of the box Barbie comes in is as important as the doll itself, so I spent quite a while searching for flawless boxes. No scratches, no creases, no dents. Perfect.

I finally brought my selections up to the register and carefully set them down on the counter. The clerk rang them up, then suddenly whipped out a thick, black permanent marker and scribbled out the bar codes on all of the boxes.

I gasped. "What are you doing?"

"We have to do this so people can't return the items," she said. "All sales are final."

"Well, I don't want them now," I said. "You've ruined the boxes."

"Too late," she said. "I already crossed out the bar codes, so you have to take them. No returns."

Upset, I immediately tracked down the manager, a young guy who listened expressionlessly to my complaint. Finally he said, "Look, people ask for discounts on damaged boxes all the time. You're already getting 20-percent off, so what's the difference?"

"The difference is that those people who asked for discounts knew in advance that the boxes were damaged!" I said. "I, however, was under the impression that I was buying a perfect item. Why don't you mark the sales slips instead of the boxes? That's what Ames did when it went out of business and it worked fine for them! Or maybe you should warn people in advance that you are going to scribble all over their purchases!"

He shrugged. "We have to do what the holding company tells us." With that, he turned his back toward me and started talking to someone else.

I wanted to ask him how he’d like it if he went into a clothing store and spent an hour trying on pants until he found the perfect pair. Then, when he went up to the checkout counter to pay for them, the cashier took out a permanent marker and drew a big smiley face on the seat and told him he still had to buy them!

But I held my tongue.

So now I am the proud owner of three Barbie dolls with scribbled-on boxes. And any day now, I expect to receive a ransom note for my computer.

Forget easygoing. I can feel myself rapidly transforming into a crabby old lady.