Tuesday, January 27, 2004

To Sleep, Perchance To Get Seasick

I was talking with a group of friends the other day and somehow, we got on the subject of sleeping habits. I guess it all started when I mentioned that I can’t sleep in a hot room, that it has to be cool. Then another friend said that she can’t sleep unless she wears thick socks to bed, even in the summer.

One of the other girls added, “I’ve heard that the average person changes positions at least 20 times each night while sleeping, but I swear, I fall asleep and wake up in the exact same position I fell asleep in. The blankets aren’t even wrinkled!”

“Aw, you must change position and don’t even realize it,” another girl said. “Unless you’re in a coma!”

“Or you had a couple martinis too many before bedtime!” another chimed in.

Later on that night, I found myself thinking about sleeping habits. Naturally, my husband’s were the first that came to mind.

Before I got married, I’d always anticipated how romantic it would be to sleep cuddled up to my husband every night. Well, I was in for a pretty rude awakening.

On our first night of cuddling, I discovered that my husband is the type of person who jumps and kicks just as he’s dozing off. It was like trying to sleep with one of the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes. And getting a knee rammed into my backside wasn’t exactly romantic.

Then, when he fell asleep, he started to breathe long, deep breaths. Before I knew it, his breathing was all I could concentrate on, and I unconsciously found myself lying there, trying to match each breath he took. When he breathed in, I breathed in. When he breathed out, I breathed out. Within a few minutes, I was feeling lightheaded and woozy.

“Wake up!” I snapped at him.

Groggy, he opened his eyes. “What’s the matter? Are you OK?”

“I can’t sleep! Stop breathing, will you?!”

Not only did he ignore my request, over time, his breathing grew even deeper. In fact, it got to the point where his entire body would rock back and forth with each breath. This made the mattress move. And when I was on that mattress, it made me move, too. Because of him, there were nights when I actually dreamed I was a passenger on a boat during a terrible storm, rocking back and forth, back and forth, until I woke up so queasy, I was tempted to get out of bed and pop some Dramamine.

Then there’s my favorite pillow, which I’ve had ever since I was in grammar school. I can’t sleep on any other pillow, so I’ve always made sure to take very good care of it. Well, when my husband lies down for a nap and I’m not lying next to him, he has a habit of hugging my pillow…to within an inch of its life.

My once oh-so-puffy pillow now resembles an hourglass…a really flat hourglass. To protect what’s left of the poor thing, I have to hide it the minute I get out of bed in the morning and then carry it back to bed with me when I’m ready to retire for the night. I make certain that it never stays on the bed where “Steamroller Breslin” can get his pillow-squishing paws on it.

I suppose I should be grateful that I’m not married to a snorer. My dad used to snore in a variety of octaves and decibels. There was one snore in particular that used to crack up my mom and me. Dad would inhale with a loud, bull-like snort. Then when he breathed out, his lips would make a perfect circle, like a donut, and out would come a really high-pitched “pooh…pooh…pooh.” It always was exactly three “poohs”…never two, never four.

One day, my dad was napping and launched into his famous snore. At the time, we’d just adopted a kitten, and the sound intrigued her. She jumped up next to my father and sat there, intently watching him. She focused on his O-shaped mouth, especially when the “pooh-pooh-pooh” sounds came out. All of a sudden, the kitten shoved her entire paw right into my dad’s mouth.

As Dad abruptly awoke, sputtering (and probably wondering why his mouth tasted like kitty litter), Mom and I dissolved into fits of laughter. We figured the kitten must have thought he was hiding a wounded animal in his mouth.

I hate to admit it, but I suppose I have a few strange sleeping habits of my own. For one thing, I always sleep in a fetal position, with my arms crossed over my chest and a hand resting on each shoulder. My husband calls it my “parachute jumping” position.

Then I have to be covered with a sheet or blanket at all times, even in the middle of the summer when it’s hot enough to melt asphalt. And I can’t sleep if the sheet isn’t tucked in at the foot of the bed. If it becomes untucked…instant insomnia.

My husband, however, tosses and turns so much, the blankets and the top sheet usually end up in a heap on the floor by morning.

And people wonder why I have bags the size of knapsacks underneath my eyes…

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Lord of the Colds

My husband had a day off last week, so the night before, I decided to sweet talk him into taking me to see the latest “Lord of the Rings” movie the next day.

Convincing him, however, wasn’t all that easy. For one thing, meteorologists were predicting a day so cold, just five minutes outside was supposed to turn everyone into giant Popsicles.

“Can’t we just wait till the movie comes out on video?” my husband asked. “The way they rush things nowadays, it’ll be in the video stores by next week.”

“But this is the kind of movie, a real epic, that HAS to be seen on a big screen,” I said. I didn’t mention, however, that seeing a 15-foot close-up of Viggo Mortensen’s baby-blue eyes (Viggo plays a king in the movie) was one of the main reasons why I wanted the “big screen” experience.

My husband finally agreed to take me to see the movie…a noontime matinee, for $6.

The next day, just as we turned into the parking lot of the movie theater, I decided I’d better make a confession, to ease the blow. “By the way,” I said as casually as possible, “the movie is three hours and 35 minutes long.”

My words nearly caused us to rear-end the car in front of us. “Three hours and 35 minutes!” my husband’s panic-filled voice repeated. “I won’t be able to move if I have to sit for that long without being able to put my feet up or stretch my legs! Rigor mortis will set in! And I’ll definitely need a bathroom break! Is there an intermission? Or will I miss a major part of the movie?”

“I’m sure there’s an intermission,” I lied.

There weren’t very many people in the theater, probably 30 at the most. My husband and I settled into our seats near the back of the theater just as the previews of coming attractions popped on.

As I sat there, I realized why most of the people in the theater weren’t at work. They were sick. There was so much coughing, sneezing and nose-blowing going on, the place sounded like a refuge for wild geese. I didn’t dare take a deep breath, for fear of sucking in thousands of germs.

The movie finally started and I tried to find a comfy position for the next three hours and thirty-five minutes. That’s when I got very (and I do mean very) upset. Just to the right of the center of the film was a big black line, running from the top of the screen all the way down to the bottom. And when the long-awaited first close-up of Viggo Mortensen appeared, the line dissected his face. He looked as if he’d been attacked by a slasher who’d dipped his weapon in black paint.

“Look at that line!” I said to my husband. “That’s terrible!”

“Shhhhh!” he said. “Just ignore it.”

“ I can’t ignore it!” I protested. “It’s too distracting! And it’s totally ruining my big-screen experience!”

To my annoyance, the line remained, and if that weren’t bad enough, a second line suddenly appeared on the other side of the screen. Now I had two to distract me. I spent so much time staring at those lines and giving them the evil eye, I missed the first half-hour of the movie.

And although the previews had been so loud, people out in the parking lot probably could have heard them, the volume on the movie was so low, I had to strain to hear what the characters were saying. One character in particular, a creepy little creature named Gollum, who talked in a growly whisper that made him sound as if he’d stuffed his mouth full of cotton, could have been a mime for all I knew. And I couldn’t read his lips, because he didn’t have any.

A couple sat directly behind us (even though there were empty seats everywhere) and the woman had a cold. I knew she had a cold because she kept sniffling and saying, “God, I wish I could get rid of this darned cold!”

Apparently someone must have told her that garlic helps ease cold symptoms, because she smelled as if she’d eaten Italian spaghetti, a pizza and a loaf of garlic bread for lunch, and then, just for good measure, had stuffed two cloves of garlic into her bra.

Her cold obviously made her breathe through her mouth, because puffs of garlic-filled air kept hitting me in the back of the head throughout the entire movie. By the time the movie was over, I had no curl left back there. My hair had completely wilted.

My husband and I walked stiff-legged, from hours of sitting, out into 350-below-zero weather and climbed into our ice-cold van. As I sat there, my teeth chattering so hard, they sounded like castanets, my husband said, “That first preview they showed looked really good. We’ll have to go see that movie when it comes out.”

I think I’ll wait for the video.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

I Resolve To Come Up With Some Easier-To-Keep Resolutions

Every year, I vow never to make another New Year’s resolution, mainly because I haven’t made one yet that I’ve actually been able to keep.

Yet every time January 1st rolls around, I find myself with pen and paper in hand, composing still another list that ends up being used as a placemat (so that all of the greasy junk food I’m pigging out on while watching TV and ignoring my 45th annual “lose weight” resolution, won’t leave stains on my coffee table).

I think the problem with my previous resolutions was that I set my sights too high and made them too difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. So this year when I wrote my annual list, I was determined to make my resolutions 100-precent achievable.

Every year since 1972, I have resolved to write a novel. And every year, I have written exactly one paragraph…except for 1999, when I outdid myself and actually wrote three. So the way I figure it, my novel will be finished when I am 102 years old.

This year, however, for the first time, writing a novel is not on my list of resolutions. Instead, I’ve changed it to something more realistic, like writing a story for a major magazine. Or even more realistic, getting published in a daily newspaper (even if I have to buy a classified ad).

And I’m not even going to bother with a “try not to be late” resolution in 2004 because I know it’s absolutely impossible for me to achieve, no matter how hard I try. In fact, I’m pretty sure I have some genetic defect that prevents me from arriving on time for anything.

It’s no fun being late all the time. When I go to a wedding, for example, I’m always stuck sitting in the very last pew in the church, so I can’t see or hear much of anything. One time, I sat through a First Communion service without even knowing the difference…although I did think the bride looked a bit young.

Also because of my chronic lateness, I always get the dried-up crumbs or cold, soggy remnants at buffets and potluck suppers. By the time I show up, the food’s grown such a crop of bacteria, the dishes practically can walk out to the sink and jump in by themselves.

And on more than one occasion, I have arrived so late for a movie, I’ve had to feel my way through the dark theater, only to accidentally plunk down on someone’s lap. And believe me, that fake butter they squirt all over popcorn can leave some pretty nasty stains on the seat of your pants.

Every year, I also vow to be a better housekeeper. The list usually includes everything from cleaning out closets to painting the bathroom ceiling. Well, my closets are still so stuffed with junk, I have to wear a helmet and practice the old “duck and cover!” drill whenever I open the doors, or risk being knocked unconscious from the fallout. And I did buy the paint for the bathroom ceiling…and have kept it sitting around for so long, it looks like a white rubber ball in the bottom of the can.

So this year, my housekeeping resolution is to run the feather duster over one piece of furniture per day. It’s not going to be easy, but I’ll give it my best shot.

I’ve also made a resolution to learn a new word every week. This week, the word is “vomit-tocious,” as in, “The rutabaga and cow-tongue stew was utterly vomit-tocious.”

Finally, there is my annual dieting resolution. If I actually lost every pound I’ve vowed to lose in my resolutions, I would be about 4,800 pounds lighter.

I recently read that if you cut out only 100 calories per day, you will lose 10 pounds by the end of the year. That still sounds a little too difficult for me, so I am going to try it on a more achievable level and eat 10 fewer calories per day and lose one pound by the end of the year. I figure that the food that’s stuck in my teeth after a meal equals about 10 calories, so the resolution shouldn’t be too hard to keep.

And at that rate, I will reach my ideal weight when I am 102…about the same time I finish my novel.

Tuesday, January 6, 2004

The Ghosts of Christmases Past

A publisher friend of mine, who was working on a “past, present and future” article about Christmas on Elm Street in Manchester, called me a few weeks ago to pick my brain.

Unfortunately, when he thought of “Christmas Past,” I was the first person who came to mind…which only served to reaffirm my suspicions that I truly am older than dirt.

Still, it was fun to verbally escort him on a trip down Memory Lane, back to the Decembers of the 1950s and early ‘60s.

Back then, most families had only one car, if that, so people usually hopped on a Manchester Transit bus whenever they wanted to go downtown. My mother and I would get off the bus at City Hall. Then, when we were ready to head back home, we’d catch another one in front of Thom McCan’s shoe store across the street.

Personally, I think Thom McCan’s business boomed because of the bus stop there. I mean, there was nothing better to do while waiting for a bus than to stare at all of the shoes displayed in the store’s windows. And sooner or later, one of those pairs of shoes was bound to jump out and say, “Buy me!” Not only that, when the weather was too cold to stand outside very long without risking losing a limb to frostbite, people would duck into the store and pretend to be shopping just to warm up. Guilt, however, from habitually mooching the store’s heat, eventually forced the majority of them to actually buy something.

At Christmastime, there were bell-ringers on most of the street corners, their collection plates and buckets overflowing with donations. And Salvation Army musicians played Christmas carols, even when the temperature outside was so cold, it’s a wonder their lips didn’t permanently freeze to their trumpets.

What I remember most about Christmastime on Elm St. was the day after Thanksgiving, when the Christmas lights made their debut for the season. My parents and I always made a special trip downtown on that night for the sole purpose of doing our annual “oohing” and “aahing.”

But the lights back then really were “ooh”-and-“aah” worthy. There were hundreds of strings of multi-colored lights wrapped in greenery and strung from one side of the street to the other, all the way down the entire length of the downtown area. And at the Hanover St. intersection there was the biggest light display of all, a huge twinkling Christmas chandelier.

Throughout the Christmas season, men on tall ladders constantly could be seen replacing bulbs on the Christmas lights, because back then, when one light on a string burned out, the rest of the lights on that string died with it. I admired the courage of those guys, balancing up there the way they did, playing Christmas-light Russian roulette while cars and buses zoomed by on both sides, threatening to de-ladder them at any moment.

My publisher friend asked me which store downtown was my favorite when I was a kid. It definitely was the toy store (Toy City?) that was next to the State Theater. That’s where I bought all of my Barbie dolls and the 7 million outfits that went with them. That’s also where 95 percent of my allowances ended up. The other five percent went toward either a cherry Coke and a grilled cheese sandwich, or a cup of hot chocolate at the Puritan Tea Room.

There also was a joke shop that reaped the benefits of my weekly allowance when I wasn’t spending it at the toy store. For some reason, I had a penchant for buying things like foaming sugar, rubber chocolates, plastic ice cubes, itching powder, fake vomit and anything else I could diabolically spring on my unsuspecting parents.

“Elm Street was magical,” I told my friend. “The lights, the crowds of people, the window displays with animated Christmas figures, the Santa Clauses in the stores… it was just like the New England Christmases you see in movies.”

“Are you sure you’re not just remembering everything more magically than it actually was?” he asked.

I assured him that I wasn’t.

The first Santa my mom took me downtown to see was one in Grant’s basement. His straggly beard was made of thin cotton, and he must have had an entire container of red rouge smeared on his cheeks. The moment I caught sight of him I started to scream, and I never stopped until I was back out on the sidewalk. Mom said my mouth looked bigger than the Grand Canyon, which unfortunately was immortalized in a black-and-white shot taken with our trusty Brownie box-camera.

The second time I went to see that same Santa, I didn’t scream. Gathering my courage, I managed to squeak out a request for a baby sister and was very upset when I didn’t find one underneath my tree on Christmas morning. So I still didn’t like the guy very much.

My dad always took me shopping right before Christmas so we could pick out gifts together for my mother. I remember the pretty flowered dishes we bought for her at Moreau’s Hardware, the wristwatch at Scott’s Jewelry, the blue sweater at Pariseau’s and the set of kitten knickknacks at Woolworth’s. And after shopping, Dad liked to go to Verani’s Restaurant, where we would sip hot cocoa with lots of real whipped cream on top, and play the song “Volare” on the little chrome jukeboxes that were at each table.

Am I, as my friend suggested, remembering things more magically than they actually were? I don’t think so…but if I am, I’m pretty sure I’d prefer not to know about it!