Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Resolutions for my better half

I stopped making New Year’s resolutions about five years ago after I broke resolutions number one and two (to lose weight and to finish writing my novel) 12 years in a row.

Now I prefer to put my efforts into compiling a list of New Year’s resolutions for my husband. Each year, he claims he can’t think of a single resolution he wants to make, so I feel it’s my wifely duty to help him out.

So far, the resolutions I’ve come up with for him for 2006 are as follows:

· When I have insomnia, I no longer will ask my wife to tell me about her day all over again, to help put me to sleep.

· At least once a week I will watch a TV movie that does not contain bloodshed, weapons of mass destruction, scantily clad women or car chases that involve crashing into fruit stands or sidewalk cafes.

· At least once a week I will watch a TV movie that contains love, romance, shopping, cute little children or puppies. And I will not roll my eyes and complain about getting a toothache from all of the “sweetness” while watching it.

· I will refrain from driving the 50-mile round trip to Pizza by George in Raymond every weekend to buy a 20-inch pizza and an 18-inch steak-and-cheese sub.

· And if I can’t refrain from buying the aforementioned 20-inch pizza and 18-inch sub, I will try not to moan about the stomachache I have or how I need a priest to administer the last rites, because I stuffed myself to the bursting point with 38 inches of food.

· I will learn that my red and black Mickey Mouse and Goofy necktie does not go with my tan checkered shirt. Also, that my “kiss my butt” tie tack that features a little silver man bending over and pointing to his rear end, which has the outline of a pair of red lips on it, is not appropriate for a business meeting.

· I will accept the fact that my wife is always late for everything so I no longer will nag her or try to rush her. I also will learn that when I do try to rush her, she inevitably will end up dropping things, ripping things, spilling things or poking her eye with the mascara brush and making us arrive even later.

· I will admit that arriving late for a movie and having to feel my way to my seat in total darkness and then accidentally sitting on someone’s lap is no reason to pop extra blood-pressure pills.

· I will try to refrain from spontaneously bursting into such songs as “I’m Just a Love Machine” when my wife is trying to concentrate on her e-mail.

· I no longer will whine for every new tool and gadget advertised on TV…even though I still really could use The Clapper because when I’m stretched out in my recliner and I want to read, I hate having to exert myself by sitting up to turn on the lamp behind me.

· I will stop getting upset every time my lottery ticket isn’t a winner, even though my dream of traveling all over the country in a private jet and sampling cheeseburgers from coast to coast still has not come true…and my gallbladder may not be able to handle it if I have to wait much longer.

· I will consider taking my slacks or jeans to a seamstress and having them hemmed when the legs are dragging on the ground…instead of compensating by pulling the waistband up to just below my nipples and wearing it that way.

· I will not beg my wife to make orange Jell-O for me unless I fully intend to eat it before it turns into a shriveled-up ball.

· I no longer will watch TV shows based solely on how attractive the lead female character is rather than on the plot.

· I will throw out all of my socks that no longer have toes or heels in them. Ditto for my underwear that looks as if it got caught in the crossfire during Bonnie and Clyde’s shootout.

· I no longer will wait until my wife’s on the phone to ask her a dozen questions about such things as where my toenail clippers are or on what channel the Xena, Warrior Princess, reruns are.

· And last, but not least, I promise that I will hire a housekeeper to do all of the housework for my wife…and that the housekeeper will look like Aunt Bea on the Andy Griffith Show, not be imported from Sweden and wearing a skimpy maid’s outfit.

Tuesday, December 6, 2005

Bring me a toy store

This time of year makes me think back to when I was a kid, excitedly waiting for Santa to deliver what I hoped would be the equivalent of a small toy store. The period between Thanksgiving and Christmas seemed like 300 years to me, but that was nothing compared to Christmas Eve. That night had to be at least 1,000 hours long, and it all but guaranteed a bad case of insomnia.

I also think back to some of the toys that were on my annual Christmas list when I was young. These were the toys that I absolutely had to have…that I would have died without. In fact, if Santa hadn’t brought them, I probably would have found some way to get up to the North Pole just so I could picket the place.

One standard that appeared on my list every year was Play-Doh. I loved Play-Doh. It smelled great, it came in bright colors (unlike drab old modeling clay), and after I made something with it, it hardened into a permanent work of art.

Unfortunately, that also was the problem with Play-Doh. It hardened when I didn’t want it to. Too many times I opened the can, fully prepared to create another masterpiece (like a nose-shaped ashtray with nostril holes for the cigarette butts for my dad), only to discover a hard whitish-looking clump lying in there.

Then there were the exciting new things that I wanted to be the first on my block to own. I remember my first flying saucer, when everyone else still had sleds. It was a big aluminum disk with handles, and it was supposed to skim over the snow and downhill like a bullet.

The problem with flying saucers was that unlike sleds, you couldn’t steer them. The first time I went sailing down the hill on one, not only was I spinning like an out-of-control top, I hit so many bumps and rocks, the saucer ended up looking as if someone had taken a sledgehammer to it. And believe me, a lumpy flying saucer not only was uncomfortable, it lost most of its “flying” power. By the end of the day, my saucer was so slow, kids who were sliding down the hill on flattened cardboard boxes were whizzing past me.

The gift I begged the most for was the first talking doll, Chatty Cathy. When you pulled a string on her back, she spoke 11 different phrases in a perky, nasal-sounding little girl’s voice. When I opened the box on Christmas morning and saw Chatty Cathy lying in there in her crisp blue and white dress and blond pageboy hairstyle, I was so excited, I opened my mouth to scream and nothing came out.

From that day on, Chatty Cathy and I were inseparable. I pulled her string so many times, it frayed. And my parents got so sick of hearing the same 11 phrases over and over again, my dad threatened to tie Cathy’s string into one of his navy knots.

Maybe my parents wished it on me, but much too soon, my constant string pulling wore out Cathy’s voice recording and she began to sound more like a slurry old drunk than a perky little girl. It was pretty creepy.

Another new-fangled toy I just had to have was an Etch-A-Sketch. Little did I know that learning how to draw anything other than a square on an Etch-A-Sketch practically required a degree in engineering.

For one thing, I couldn’t get it to make anything round. Every time I twisted the drawing knobs, I got squares. I drew people with square faces, square mouths and square eyes. And because the Etch-A-Sketch made only one continuous line with no way to make spaces, every face I drew had to have glasses because the line always connected the eyeballs together.

The worst part was that when I finally did manage to create something I thought was art-worthy, I’d pick up the Etch-A-Sketch and rush to show my mother …and the picture would erase itself. I never quite got the hang of carrying the thing perfectly flat to preserve my masterpieces.

One Christmas I asked for a microscope. I had a lot of fun looking through it at things like salt and sugar, and even a human hair. Then one day, I shoved a drop of tap water under the microscope. I saw a bunch of clear, tiny bug-like things having a pool party in it.

I vowed never to drink water again.

And I’ll never forget my first Mr. Potato Head. Back then, a real potato was required for the head. The kit came with hats, eyes, noses, mouths, mustaches, and even a pipe for Mr. Potato Head to smoke. And each piece had a nice sharp point on the end of it to jab into the potato (and occasionally, your finger).

I gave my Mr. Potato Head a few really “cool” looks. In fact, I thought one of my creations was so cool, I decided to preserve it. I carefully put Mr. Potato Head, fully decorated, back into his box...and then forgot all about him.

“What smells?” my mother, her nose wrinkled, asked one day as her eyes made a sweep of my room. She finally sniffed her way over to my toy chest and dug out the Mr. Potato Head box.

That’s when we discovered that Mr. Potato Head had become Mr. Rotten Potato Head.

Toys sure were a lot of fun back then.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The cold shoulder

Two weeks ago, I got out of bed on a chilly Saturday morning, padded out to the living room and turned up the thermostat to 68 degrees. I then waited for the familiar sound of the furnace kicking on.

Nothing happened.

I cranked up the thermostat to 80. Still nothing.

I opened my mouth to shout to my sleeping husband, but then changed my mind. First, I decided, I would try everything possible to get the furnace to pop on. If I failed, then, and only then, would I wake up Rip Van Breslin.

First I checked the oil tank. The gauge said it was half full. Then I checked the circuit breakers. They were fine. Finally, I hit the furnace’s reset button. Nothing happened. There was only one thing left to do…write two obituaries – one for the furnace and one for myself…for waking up my husband on a Saturday morning.

In a last-ditch effort, I called my cousin, the heating/refrigeration technician, and asked for advice. He ran through the list of everything I’d already done, then said there was one more thing I could try.

“You know those two screws on the motor that are holding the wires down? Well, sometimes you can jump-start the furnace if you take a pair of needle-nose pliers and touch the two screws with them at the same time.”

“Won’t I get a shock if I do that?” I asked.

“Yeah, but it will only be a mild one.”

I woke up my husband.

“Well, we’re not calling a repairman till Monday,” he said after he tried and failed to get the furnace to pop on. “They charge double, even triple on weekends. I’d rather wear a hat and long-johns around the house than pay all that extra money. Besides that, the furnace is practically new. It can’t be broken!”

“Well, I hate to say it,” I said, “but the blue tint on my lips and my teeth chattering like castanets are a pretty good indication that it just might be!”

So all weekend, I suffered with a frozen nose and a bloated bladder (from drinking 400 cups of hot tea to keep my body from stiffening up).

The repairman arrived on Monday afternoon and spent a lot of time fiddling with the furnace. At one point, he actually got it to pop on, only to have it pop off again. This continued until he finally got frustrated, muttered a few things under his breath and called for backup. Another repairman arrived within 15 minutes.

Together, the two of them stared at the furnace as if it were a UFO. “I think it’s the heat sensor,” one of them said. “And let’s change the nozzle, just to be safe.”

An hour later, the familiar sound of the furnace running filled the house, followed by the long-awaited blast of warm air. I removed my scarf and earmuffs.

“That should take care of it,” one of the repairmen said. “If not, be sure to give us a call.”

“How much do I owe you?” I asked, bracing myself for cardiac arrest.

He shrugged. “You’ll get a bill in the mail.”

I didn’t like the sound of that. Visions of them leisurely sipping coffee and taking extra time to add every little bolt and screw to my bill, filled my head. Christmas shopping, I decided, would have to be put on hold until that bill arrived.

A week later, I still hadn’t received the bill, so I got up that morning with every intention of calling the billing office and asking about my balance. First, however, I turned up the heat.

The furnace made three loud booming sounds, coughed and died. The strong smell of oil began to fill the house. The furnace then struggled to pop on again and made a helicopter sound. I, picturing my house going airborne and landing somewhere in Munchkin Land, dashed to the furnace’s emergency shut-off switch and flipped it. Then I called the repairman.

I was put on hold for 45 minutes.

There have been only a few times in my life when I’ve been really angry, like the time I found out that my supposedly sick boyfriend actually had taken my best friend to a drive-in movie, but I honestly can say that after minute number 35 on hold, I was feeling just about that angry. In fact, I was so hot under the collar, I didn’t even need the dumb furnace.

The repairman arrived two hours later. This time, he decided it was a clogged fuel line. Maybe it was sediment from the bottom of the tank, he said. Or maybe it was a kink in the line. Or maybe it was air in the line. Or maybe it was a clump of jellified oil.

I was waiting for him to say that maybe a raccoon had crawled up into it and died, but he stopped talking and set to work clearing the line.

The furnace, knock on wood, has been purring like a kitten ever since.

And I’m still waiting for both repair bills. I have the sneaking suspicion I may be doing all of my Christmas shopping at the Dollar store this year.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Truly tasteless gifts

My mail carrier is a petite woman who probably has a huge hernia, thanks to all of the catalogs I receive every week. I still can’t help but wonder how on earth I ever got on the mailing lists for some of them.

For example, last week I received a catalog for horse breeders. Another one was full of fencing equipment (fencing as in dueling with swords). I can’t even begin to imagine why these catalogs were sent to me.

There was one catalog, however, that really intrigued me. In fact, it made me stop to wonder exactly what the guy (or woman) who orders the merchandise for it must be like. The words “wacky” and “eccentric” immediately came to mind…which probably explains why I received it.

The catalog, “Things You Never Knew Existed,” features gift items that I doubt anyone on anybody’s Christmas list ever would already have. So for the shopper who is looking for a gift for the “person who has everything,” I pretty much can guarantee that this catalog contains plenty of stuff that the person won’t have.

Here is just a sampling of some of the actual gifts and their descriptions as listed in the catalog:

1. Pipi,” the drinking, barking, puddle-making toy pup with hand-held controller. Leaves a puddle wherever he goes! ($20)

2. The Christmas Chicks CD. Hear the chickens as they join the “Fowlharmonic” Orchestra to sing such classics as Silent Night and the Little Drummer Boy, for 28 minutes of sheer “egg-citement!” ($10)

3. The world’s largest men’s underpants – size 100. Have a party to see how many people you can squeeze into them! Made of 100% cotton. Machine wash and dry (which might shrink them down to size 99). ($17)

4. Nose-hair trimmer in the shape of a finger. ($10)

5. Big Barf and Big Burp candy dispensers. Push down on the top and the dispenser makes a barfing (or burping) sound as your treats “gush” out. ($4 for a set of two)

6. A genuine acre of the floor of the Pacific Ocean. Own a piece of the ocean floor located midway between California and Hawaii, while supplies last. Comes complete with a deed, suitable for framing. ($20)

7. Money soap. This soap comes with a surprise tucked inside – cold cash! Once the soap wears down, your prize, tucked safely inside is guaranteed to be one of the following: a real $1, $5, $10, $20 or even a $50 bill! Great incentive to get children to wash their hands frequently. ($11)

8. Doggy Doo Christmas ornament. This little ornament is made of faux doggy doo and is decorated with a sprinkling of glittery snow and tied up nicely with a holiday ribbon. A great holiday reminder of man’s best friend! ($7)

9. The Butt/Face towel. This soft terrycloth bath towel has “BUTT” embroidered on one end and “FACE” on the other, which makes it easy to remember which end to use when you are drying yourself. ($17). Also available, the butt/face bar of soap ($5) to go with it.

10. “Shocking” TV remote control. Is someone at your house always hogging the remote control? Here’s a great way to get even. Just hand him this remote and then step back. Pushing the power button will give him a real jolt! ($7)

11. Set of eight self-sticking can labels. These labels, from Cousin Skeeter’s Backwoods Cookin’ Kitchen, fit over the labels on your real canned foods. Guaranteed to turn heads and stomachs! Labels include cream of cockroach soup, roadkill ravioli, possum stew, mashed maggots and more! ($6)

12. Magic bean plant. Just open the can, add a little water and sunlight, and watch the magic bean grow to reveal the secret message, “I love you,” right on the live plant itself. A real surprise for a loved one! ($10)

13. Genuine quarters with your choice of two heads or two tails. Finally, those “let’s flip a coin” decisions will land in your favor! ($8)

14. Remote-control talking dog collar. Just clip this small bone-shaped speaker on your dog’s collar, then operate the remote control and watch the reactions as your dog appears to actually be speaking one of six clever remarks and witty lines such as, “I’m a lover, not a biter!” ($19)

I could continue, but I think you get the idea (and I didn’t even mention the dozen or so items that make rude bodily sounds).

Would I ever actually buy something from this catalog? Never!

Okay, maybe…just maybe…I did order the lifelike animated turtle that crawls across the floor while singing, “Slow down, you move too fast.”

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

I'm late, I'm late

I have this terrible habit of being late for everything. This distresses both my mother and my husband, especially when they have medical appointments. They like to arrive so early, the receptionist usually is just hanging up her coat and turning on the lights.

“Why does it matter if you arrive late for a doctor’s appointment?” I once asked my husband. “You know you’re just going to end up sitting there with a bunch of germy people for an hour anyway.”

“I don’t care,” he said. “If my appointment’s at two o’clock, I want to be there at least by 1:45. That’s just the way I am.”

So the other day, when I promised my mother I’d take her to her 2:15 doctor’s appointment, she was quick to lecture me. “You promise you’ll be here a half-hour before my appointment? The last time we went, we got there 15 minutes late. I really hate that.”

“I’ll try. I really will.”

“Well, try hard,” she said. “I don’t want to be late again.”

I couldn’t blame my mother for being concerned. I hadn’t been on time for anything in years. And the one time that I actually did arrive on time, it was because I’d misunderstood what time to be there.

All I can say is that on the day of my mother’s appointment, I had every intention of picking her up early. I set my alarm and jumped right out of bed without even hitting the snooze alarm the usual three or four times.

And everything was moving along pretty smoothly…until I looked into the bathroom mirror.

“Ohmigod!” I shouted. “I’m hideous!”

You see, the day before, I’d had a doctor’s appointment (and arrived 15 minutes late) to have a couple small growths removed from the bridge of my nose. After the doctor attacked them with a laser, he’d asked, “Would you like me to get rid of those dark circles under your eyes, too? The laser will really help fade them.”

“Sure, why not?” I’d answered.

Which was how, on the day of my mother’s appointment, I ended up looking as if I’d gone a couple rounds with Mike Tyson. Not only was the skin below my eyes all red and puffy, it was covered with blisters.

I tore through the house, searching for sunglasses to conceal my hideousness. I couldn’t find any. Meanwhile, the minutes on the clock were ticking away. I finally decided that if I left the house right then, I’d have enough time to stop at the local pharmacy and buy some sunglasses.

I slapped on some makeup (which really hurt on top of all those blisters) and bolted out of the house. I rarely wear sunglasses, so my plan was to buy just a cheap pair to serve the purpose.

I rushed into the pharmacy. “Sunglasses!” I practically shouted at the clerk. She pointed to a rack facing the checkout counter.

As it turned out, the only sunglasses the store carried were by Foster Grant. I had the sneaking suspicion that the $5 bill I was clutching in my clammy little hand wasn’t going to cut it.

The worst part was that I had to look into the mirror on the display rack, bathed in fluorescent lighting, to try on the sunglasses. Believe me, I looked even scarier in that mirror than I did at home. Blisters with makeup plastered over them, I discovered too late, looked even worse than naked blisters. I grabbed the darkest glasses I could find. They were $12.99.

There was one woman in front of me at the checkout. I frantically glanced at my watch. I had 20 minutes to get to my mother’s house…15 miles away.

The woman was buying only one item – a can of baby formula. “Do you have a pen?” she asked the clerk. “I want to write a check.”

Perhaps it was just because I was in a hurry, but the clerk seemed to move in slow motion as she searched for a pen. And then the customer took so long to write out the check, I suspected she was doing it in calligraphy. I was tempted to leap in front of her, grab the check and write it out for her.

“I’ll need to see your license,” the clerk said to her.

The customer began to dig through her purse.

“I’m doomed,” I thought, rolling my eyes. “My mother is going to disown me, cut me out of her will, change the locks on her doors…”

“Next, please!” the clerk called out, snapping me back to reality. I tossed the sunglasses and a $20 bill at her.

“Oh, I’m out of register tape,” she said. “Hang on a minute while I get a new roll.”

I couldn’t help it. I started to giggle. “This can only happen to me,” I said to no one in particular.

The clerk, I have to admit, was the speediest I’ve ever seen at replacing a register tape. She then rang up the sunglasses, looked up at me and said, “Oh…do you want me to cut the tags off them so you can wear them now?”

She wasn’t doing a very good job at making me feel less hideous.

I, wearing the sunglasses, bolted out of the store, jumped into my car and headed for my mother’s. I was making pretty good time…until I hit construction in Hooksett and had to sit in traffic for 10 minutes. That did it. I officially was late…again. I figured that my mother would be so upset with me, she’d probably put me up for adoption.

I didn’t even dare look at my mother when she finally got into my car. I gripped the steering wheel and braced myself for the inevitable lecture in punctuality. Instead, she asked me why I was wearing such big, dark glasses…on a rainy day.

I took them off and turned to face her. She gasped, her expression resembling that of someone who’d just seen Frankenstein’s monster.

Funny, but she never mentioned a single word about my being late.

Tuesday, November 1, 2005

Good fences, good neighbors

Robert Frost once said that good fences make good neighbors (probably because he used to live in my old neighborhood). In the past, I might have been inclined to agree, but where I live now, I’m fortunate to have neighbors who are both quiet and helpful.

It wasn’t always that way, though. Over the years, I have had some real doozies for neighbors.

Back when I was a teenager, there was a woman who lived next door who not only was pretty, let’s just say that from the waist up, she made Dolly Parton look like a 12-year-old boy. This neighbor was in the habit of wearing a low-cut latex leotard and doing calisthenics out in her back yard.

Believe me, her jumping jacks were the reason why every man in my neighborhood had a flat nose…from pressing it against the windowpane. To this day, I still don’t know how many boys walked me home from school because they actually liked me…or because they wanted to see “Mrs. Bouncy” doing her exercises.

After I got married and moved out to the country, we had a neighbor who spoke only French. Even worse, she didn’t understand a word of English, so the only way I could communicate with her was to use charades.

One day, for example, I was in the middle of making a cake when I ran short of milk by a mere quarter of a cup. I went next door to see if the French woman could lend me some milk. She, of course, had no idea what I was talking about.

Desperate, I held up my fingers to simulate a cow’s udders and proceeded to “milk” them with my other hand, to show her that I needed milk. She nodded, disappeared into the kitchen…and returned with a pair of those big yellow Playtex rubber gloves.

This same woman also happened to have three little children whose main objective in life was to make the Guinness Book of World Records for unrelenting brattiness. Every time I looked out at my yard, there they were, tossing rocks at my shutters, hanging from my clothesline, or trying to skewer my cat on the end of a stick.

Their mother did try to discipline them…by shouting every French curse word in history (and even a few she probably invented) at them. I’ll never forget the day I asked my father, who spoke fluent French, “Dad, what do these French words mean?” and then proceeded to spew every word my neighbor had shouted at her kids.

My father’s mouth dropped open and his eyes widened to the size of saucers. “Where on earth did you learn words like that?” he asked.

I suddenly had the feeling that my neighbor probably hadn’t been shouting, “Please behave yourselves, my little darlings!” at her children.

After the French woman moved away, there seemed to be someone new moving in and out of that place every two years or so.

One night, at about midnight, there was a knock at my door. I thought nothing of opening the door at that hour back then (but believe me, I’d never do it now). Anyway, there on my doorstep stood a young woman about 20. She looked as if she’d been crying.

“I’m moving in next door,” she said, “and I locked myself out. Can I use your phone to call someone to bring me a key? It’s a local call.”

I let her in and directed her to the phone. Not wanting to appear nosey, I pretended to have something to do in another room so she could talk privately. Every night thereafter, she asked to use my phone because hers hadn’t been installed yet. And every night, I let her use it.

When my phone bill arrived a couple weeks later and I saw the 10 calls to California on it, to the tune of $115, I stormed next door.

“I fully intend to repay you for the calls,” the girl explained. “When I get my food stamps, I’ll give them to you.”

I just stared at her. “Food stamps? How can I pay a phone bill with food stamps?”

“The money you save on food, you can put toward the phone bill.”

She moved away only eight days later. Maybe it was because her landlord wouldn’t accept food stamps as payment for her rent.

Nowadays, our neighborhood is very quiet. In fact, the majority of the residents are couples with grown children.

It sure is boring.


TURTLE UPDATE: For those of you who have been asking about whether I found a home for my snapping turtle, Snippy, the answer is yes! A reader, Edith Bailat, told me about a woman, Mary Doane, who runs a turtle rescue in Deerfield. I contacted Mary and she referred me to Chris Bogard in Epping, who specializes in rehabilitating snapping turtles to prepare them for release in the wild. Chris now is rehabilitating Snippy to “un-sissify” him and make him a big, mean, fearless snapper, so he can be set free in a pond next year. So I want to say “thank you” to everyone who helped Snippy find a new home! (I sure do miss the big lug, though!)

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Say cheese!

My cousin called me the other day and asked me if I could do her a favor and take her son’s senior yearbook photo for him.

“Photographers are SO expensive,” she said. “Luckily, the kids can submit their own photos, wearing whatever they want and posing however they want.”

I found myself feeling very envious of the kids of today. Back when I had my senior photo taken for the yearbook, there weren’t any such options. We were given appointments to show up at Rheault Studios on Elm Street in Manchester and were told, per penalty of death, to look neat and well groomed. And the boys had to wear jackets and ties.

I remember how stressed out I was the week before my appointment. I tried on every piece of clothing I owned, and even some of my mother’s. Nothing seemed right.

“How about this?” I asked my mother as I modeled a pink flowered blouse.

“Too busy,” she said. “A solid-colored sweater with a nice necklace is all you need. After all, the photo is going to be in black in white anyway.”

I hadn’t thought about that. No matter what color I wore for the photo, it was going to be black, white or some shade of gray in the photo. I finally chose a light blue sweater and a heart-shaped locket.

The day of my photo, I had to walk to Rheault’s Studio directly from school. I’d worked hard all day to keep my shoulder-length hair in a perfect flip. There had been endless trips to the ladies’ room, where I’d sprayed my hair until it was so stiff, if I’d fallen down a flight of stairs and landed on my head, I wouldn’t have hurt myself because my hair would have acted like a helmet.

On a normal day, I would have been wearing pink lipstick, rose blusher, green eye-shadow and eyeliner, but one of my friends told me that colorful makeup looked terrible in black-and-white photos. “You don’t want to look embalmed,” she said. “Go for the totally natural look instead.”

So there I was, walking across Granite Street Bridge, heading toward Elm Street and feeling less than confident with my stiff hair and colorless naked face, when something completely unexpected happened…it started to rain. By the time I reached Rheault’s, I looked as if I dunked my head in a bucket of lard.

I remember climbing a flight of stairs up to the studio and meeting two of my classmates who were coming down. They took one look at me and started to giggle. Needless to say, I was getting the feeling that my mother probably wasn’t going to be ordering a case of 8x10 enlargements of my senior photo to hand out to the relatives.

The studio was small and dark. The photographer, a man with a friendly voice and a smile to match, greeted me and then said, “Um, there’s a mirror over there if you want to comb your hair and freshen up a bit.”

I was afraid to look into that mirror. When I finally gathered the courage to open my eyes, I saw a stringy-haired, pale-faced girl in a rain-splotched sweater. Even worse, I realized that I’d forgotten to wear the heart-shaped locket. I looked positively drab.

“Great,” I muttered under my breath. “If I look this bad in living color, I can just imagine what I’m going to look like in black and white.”

I combed my hair. The teeth on the comb made a row of lines through my wet hair, especially on my bangs, which were drooping down to my eyebrows. No matter how hard I tried, I still ended up looking as if my hair had just been plowed in preparation for crop planting. I finally gave up and took a seat in front of the camera.

The photographer took a few serious, pensive shots of me and then said, “Now give me a big smile.”

I managed a tight-lipped smirk.

“No, I want to see some teeth!” he said.

“I don’t want to show my teeth,” I protested. “I never smile with them showing…because of the gap.”

“Don’t worry, I can touch up the gap,” he said. “No one will even know it’s there.”

My eyebrows rose. The thought of finally seeing a photo of myself smiling with even, gapless teeth was enough to make me forget about my limp hair. I flashed a toothy smile at the camera.

It seemed like years until I finally received the proofs of my photos. Anxiously, I opened the envelope. My mouth fell open in horror. The photos were hideous, horrible, even worse than I ever could have imagined. My eyes looked like two oysters on the half-shell, and my teeth as huge as a horse’s. My bangs had more ridges than Ruffles potato chips.

“You’re being silly,” my mother said when she looked at the proofs. “I think they came out really nice, especially this one right here.”

I studied the photo she’d selected. Out of all of the proofs, it was the best of the bunch. But that wasn’t saying much. I had wanted to be immortalized looking like Miss America in my yearbook, not like Seabiscuit.

The finished photo that went into the yearbook didn’t please me at all. For one thing, the gap in my teeth hadn’t been retouched, as the photographer had promised it would be, and I also looked as if I had one solid eyebrow running across my forehead.

Now that I think about it, maybe I shouldn’t have agreed to take my cousin’s son’s senior photo. I may not be able to suppress the urge to put him through the same torture I went through when I had my photo taken.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

If Memory Serves Me...

People often tell me that I must have a good memory because I can recall, in great detail, things that happened to me years and years ago.

To be honest, my “photographic memory” is due to the fact that I have kept a diary (I recently was informed that they now are called “journals”) every day since 1962. So whenever I need to jog my memory about a specific day in my life, I just grab one of my 43 diaries. I don’t suppose I’d remember that I ate Chef Boyardee ravioli for lunch on May 1, 1965 if I didn’t have the momentous event recorded in one of my diaries.

Anyway, there was a man on TV the other day who said he could remember events that occurred all the way back to when he still was in his mother’s womb. He described the music and voices he heard, and how he knew when his mother was having a restless night and tossing and turning.

I didn’t believe a word of it, but I found myself wondering what my earliest memory (without the aid of my diaries) was.

I guess one of my earliest memories dates back to when I was about two-and-a-half and had to be hospitalized for a week. I don’t remember the actual events that led up to my hospitalization…and to be honest, even after all these years and actually seeing my medical records, I still find the whole episode difficult to believe…but I do remember the hospital itself.

According to my mother, it all started when she and I were out in my grandmother’s field one afternoon and I bent over to pick a flower. When I did, a piece of timothy grass poked me in the eye. I whined, rubbed my eye hard, and that was the end of it.

Or so my mother thought.

About 10 days later, my eye began to look red and puffy. My mother examined it closely and saw something green sticking up out of the corner of it. She tugged on the green thing. It wouldn’t budge. My screams nearly broke the sound barrier. The next thing I knew, I was in the hospital.

The doctor’s theory was that a piece of the timothy grass, which kind of looks like wheat, had lodged in my tear duct or beneath a membrane in my eye when I’d rubbed it, and the damp, moist environment in there had caused it to sprout. The doctor said it would have to be surgically removed and I’d have to stay in the hospital for a few days.

Upon hearing the diagnosis, my mother said she nearly panicked. I suppose it must have been traumatic for her, learning that her child was a walking greenhouse. She probably had visions of my face covered in plant life with roots hanging out of my nostrils.

As I said, the part of all of this that I remember clearly is being in the hospital. I still can picture the big room I was in. It contained rows of metal-barred cribs with kids in them. The tops of the cribs had nets over them. I guess the nets were so we couldn’t escape. We all looked like a bunch of little zoo animals.

I also remember daily “playtime” at the hospital. A woman, pushing a cart loaded with stuffed animals, would stop at each crib and hand an animal to each of us. My crib always was the last one she reached. Just as I would start to play with the stuffed animal, the woman would come back and take it away, saying, “Sorry, dear, playtime is over!” I can remember stubbornly trying to hold onto the animal as she tugged on it. I wasn’t about to let her take MY toy without a fight.

And I remember having to feed myself. A cart with food on it would be rolled up to my crib and left there. I had to reach out through the bars and grab my meals. I ate with my hands and I ate fast because I was sure that the lady who handed out the stuffed animals was going to show up and try to snatch away my food, too. I usually ended up with more food in my ears and hair than in my mouth.

The thing I remember the most clearly about the hospital, though, was the morning a nurse took me into a room that contained a full-sized bathtub and gave me a bath. Halfway through my bath, another nurse, carrying a little boy, walked in and plunked him next to me in the water.

I had no idea what to make of that naked little boy. I knew he looked different than I did, but I couldn’t figure out why. I did a lot of staring. In fact, I stared so much, I made the nurses laugh.

My mother said that when I finally came home from the hospital, I was not the same happy, smiling kid she’d taken there. She said I glared at her and my father, communicated in grunts, and I ate like an animal, shoving food into my mouth with both fists, as if every bite might be my last. And I’d gone to the hospital all potty trained…and came home completely un-potty-trained.

Considering my dramatic personality change, I think my parents should have taken me back to the hospital for an x-ray of my brain. Heck, they may have found a cornstalk growing in there.

So I guess that’s my earliest memory. Although now that I think about it…there was that time back in the womb when I socked my twin sister because she was hogging all the room.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

A Halloween ghost story

Every year when the Halloween season rolls around, I think about Jimmy.

I met Jimmy late one October night just before my sixth birthday. I was in bed and was supposed to be sleeping, but actually I was hiding under the covers and shining a flashlight on a Casper the Friendly Ghost comic book.

I thought Casper was pretty cool because he was such a nice ghost. All of the other ghosts in the comics seemed to enjoy frightening people and making their hair stand up straight on end, their eyes bulge out of their sockets, and their tongues stick way out of their mouths (at least that’s the way they were drawn in the comic books). But Casper never tried to scare people. Casper always was a kind ghost.

Anyway, as I was looking at my comic book, I suddenly heard a noise in my room. It was like a soft thud and came from somewhere near my bedroom door. I held my breath. I heard it again.

Cautiously, I peered out from underneath the covers. I gasped. Standing there, to the left of my closed bedroom door, was a shadowy figure. It was tall, droopy-shouldered and was wearing a coat. Its hair was long and white. I opened my mouth to scream, but no sound came out.

“Don’t be scared.” A young-sounding voice came from the shadowy figure. “I’m Jimmy. What’s your name?”

I was certain that my eyes were bulging, just like the people’s in the comic books. “S-Sally,” I managed to squeak.

Jimmy didn’t move from his spot. In fact, Jimmy didn’t move at all. “I’m a ghost,” he said. “I’ve been a ghost for 100 years.”

At that point, I was pretty sure I wet my bed. So many things were running through my mind. Was he a good ghost like Casper or one of those mean ghosts? Was my hair standing up straight on end? And what did his face look like? Was he a cute ghost or a really ugly one with huge fangs and glowing eyes? The streetlight just outside my bedroom window cast some light on him, but not enough for me to see his face.

“Wh-what are you doing here in my room?” I asked.

“Well, you were born on Halloween and you like Casper,” he said. “That makes you the perfect person for a ghost to visit.”

His voice sounded friendly enough. In fact, he sounded just like my cousin Eddie, who was one of my best buddies. Still, until I could see Jimmy’s face, I wasn’t about to trust him. For all I knew, a Wolfman-like monster was hiding underneath that coat and long white hair.

“How come you don’t move?” I asked him, though I didn’t really want him to come any closer.

“Oh, I’ll be moving in just a few seconds.”

Sure enough, he suddenly looked as if he were floating sideways – kind of like a flag in a soft breeze. I noticed that he had no feet.

“How did you get to be a ghost?” I asked.

“It happened on Halloween. I went out trick-or-treating and I got bags and bags of candy. Then I came home and sat up all night eating it, even though my parents warned me not to. The next thing I knew, I was a ghost.”

I didn’t like the sound of that. My parents frequently had warned me not to eat too much Halloween candy. I’d thought it was because I’d end up with a bellyache or maybe a toothache…not end up being a ghost. As much as I thought Casper was cool, I was in no hurry to become Casperella.

“Can I see your face?” I asked Jimmy.

“I don’t have one,” he said. “You should be getting to sleep now anyway or you won’t be able to get up for school in the morning. Oh…if you get a Hershey bar when you go out trick-or-treating, save it for me, okay? I’ve been craving one for 100 years.”

Before I could say anything else, the door to my bedroom creaked open and Jimmy was gone.

“Who on earth are you talking to?” My mother’s half-asleep voice came from my doorway.

In a frantic rush of words, I told her all about my encounter with Jimmy, the ghost.

She flipped on the bedroom light, looked around, and laughed. “Look, Sally, here’s your ghost!” She pointed to the clothes peg on the back of my bedroom door, where she’d hung my gray flannel coat and a white kerchief earlier that day.

“See? It looks like long white hair and a body with no feet!”

“But he moved!” I protested.

As if on cue, the furnace popped on, and through the grate, which was right near the door, a blast of hot air hit the clothes. They began to sway to the right.

“And I talked to him, and he talked back to me!”

“Honey, I’ll bet you were looking at your Casper comic books again and you fell asleep, or were nearly asleep, with ghosts on your mind. You were dreaming! Nothing about Jimmy was real.”

Mom’s explanation made sense…but still, I refused to believe that Jimmy didn’t exist. And when I went out trick-or-treating a few days later and got a Hershey bar, I saved it for him, just in case he came back.

And that year, I didn’t stuff myself to the usual bursting point with Halloween candy the way I’d always done in the past.

I was too scared I’d end up like Jimmy.

Tuesday, October 4, 2005

'Tis the season

I was talking to my neighbor the other day and telling him that I have seen more deer this year during my walks in the woods than in all of the past 30 years combined.

“I think the big construction projects in Hooksett, where they’re clearing out all the trees, has something to do with it,” I told him. “It’s pushing the animals in our direction.”

My neighbor, an avid hunter, shook his head. “I’ll bet you anything that you won’t see any more deer now till at least January. It’s hunting season, and the deer know it. They’ll make themselves scarce.”

I pictured the deer gathered around a calendar nailed to a tree in the woods and saying, “Yep, Bambi, it’s hunting season all right. Come on, we’d better get the heck out of here.”

“Is it really hunting season already?” I asked.

My neighbor nodded. “Bow and arrow. Then in late October it’s muzzleloaders, and finally regular firearms. If you’re going out walking in the woods, you’d better wear orange, just to be safe. You don’t want to end up with an arrow in your butt.”

I groaned. Every year at this time, I have to don my Great Pumpkin outfit, which consists of so much fluorescent orange, I swear that people all the way up in Quebec can see me.

Even worse, I also have to deck out my dogs in orange. I bought orange vests, orange neckerchiefs, and even orange collars for them, just to be safe. If I could hook up flashing lights that spell out “DOG” and hang those on their backs, I’d probably do that, too. That’s because a couple times during past hunting seasons, hunters have warned me that my dogs look too much like deer from a distance.

I remember when I used to bring a cassette player with me on my daily hikes and blast rock-music tapes so hunters would hear me approaching and not mistake me for a deer. I’d thought it was a pretty good idea…until I mentioned it to my husband.

“You go around making all that noise in the woods?” he asked. “It’s a wonder the hunters don’t shoot you for scaring all the deer away!”

“That probably would explain why I thought I heard a bush cursing at me one afternoon.”

The thing I like about deer hunters is that they wear bright orange, too, so I usually can spot them from a distance and not be startled by them. Bird hunters, on the other hand, in their camouflage outfits, blend right in with the scenery and become invisible. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been out hiking and walked by a tree trunk that suddenly said hello to me. The first time it happened, I nearly needed a defibrillator.

Over the years, however, I have learned how to tell when hunters are around so I can keep an eye out for them. First of all, there will be pickup trucks parked along the edge of the woods. You can just about guarantee that for each one of those trucks, there will be at least one weapon-toting person roaming around.

And then there is the toilet paper. During hunting season, clumps of it seem to magically appear in the woods along the hiking trails. I’ve never actually witnessed how the toilet paper got there (and I pray I never will), but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t due to the animals being on a sudden personal-hygiene kick.

Of course, when there’s snow on the ground, it’s a snap to tell where the hunters are because their footprints are a dead giveaway. I don’t know if this is a proven scientific fact or not, but I have noticed, from years of studying hunters’ footprints in the snow, that most of them walk with their right foot turned outward.

I don’t know which is weirder…the fact that they walk with their right foot turned out…or the fact that I even noticed.

So as much as we hate to, my dogs and I will be wearing our bright orange ensembles for the next couple of months. That way, we should be able to make it through another hunting season without getting shot full of holes.

That is, unless we startle one of the hunters while he’s actually using some of that toilet paper.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

I've got the turtle blues

I have a little problem – actually, make that a big one – that I need help solving.

It all began exactly a year ago when I was walking down Podunk Road in Allenstown. About nine-tenths of Podunk Road is dirt, surrounded by thick woods.

While I was walking, I spotted a big crow standing in the middle of the road up ahead and pecking at something. When the crow caught sight of my dog and me, it took off. I thought nothing of it until I got closer to the spot where the crow had been and saw what it had been pecking at. It was a tiny snapping-turtle hatchling, not much bigger than a quarter.

I studied the stiff, unmoving turtle, which had a pretty mangled-looking hind leg, and assumed it was dead. I picked it up and was going to put it in the bushes on the side of the road, but for some reason, I popped it into my jacket pocket instead.

When I got home, I removed the turtle from my pocket and thought I saw it move just slightly. Quickly, I put some water, small stones and flat rock into a plastic container and then set the turtle down on the rock. I decided to call the poor little critter “Snippy.”

“Why do you have a dead turtle in a bowl of water?” My husband, peering into the container, asked.

“I thought I saw him move,” I said.

“Move? Rigor mortis already has set in!”

Despite my husband’s remarks, I decided to leave Snippy in the container overnight. If he still was lying in the same spot in the morning, I would give him a decent burial.

The next morning, when I approached Snippy’s container, his little head popped up and he stared at me. I didn’t know whether to be ecstatic or scared. I mean, I’d never played mother to a snapping turtle before, never mind an injured one, so I didn’t have the slightest clue what to do. I rushed to the Internet to look up information.

After I waded through all of the Web sites that listed recipes for snapping-turtle soup, a real delicacy (according to the info) in many areas, I found the information I was looking for. It said to offer such tempting treats as cooked chicken, shrimp, mealworms, beef and tiny bits of fruit and vegetables on the tip of a toothpick to the turtle.

Everything I offered Snippy, he voraciously attacked and gulped down…except the fruit and vegetables. He turned his little nose up at every piece I tried. The turtle obviously was a carnivore…and my husband’s clone.

Through the winter, Snippy thrived. His injured leg healed, but he dragged it behind him when he walked and seemed to have trouble swimming. He also grew into a very chubby turtle. I bought him a five-gallon aquarium, which he promptly outgrew. I bought him a 10-gallon aquarium, which he also outgrew. I looked up more information on the Internet. “Snappers can grow to weigh 65 lbs.” one site said. “Turtle owners should build fenced-in ponds in their back yards to provide proper housing.”

Somehow, I couldn’t picture myself, spade in hand, digging a pond in my back yard.

I hate to say it, but the more I babied Snippy, the less he acted like the vicious finger-biting turtle he was meant to be. He liked to be held. He liked to have his shell rubbed. He also liked to sit in his aquarium and watch everything that was going on around him. The minute I’d reach for his bag of shrimp, he’d instantly spot it and would do a little head-bobbing turtle dance in anticipation of mealtime.

The truth was, I was raising a wimp.

A few weeks ago, I finally decided to consult a reptile expert and ask what I should do with Snippy. “Can I let him loose in a pond, even though he’s totally domesticated now?” I asked her. “My plan all along has been to nurse him back to health, get him strong and then set him free, but I’m not sure if he can make it on his own or not.”

“Oh, he’ll adapt just fine,” she assured me. “Snappers are very hardy creatures. And now’s the time to set him free before winter sets in.”

So that next Monday, I, with a heavy heart, put Snippy into a cardboard box and hiked up to Hayes Marsh, which is about three-quarters of a mile off Podunk Road, where I’d originally found him. I figured that his family had to be in that marsh, mainly because it was the only body of water in the area.

When the marsh finally came into view, I made myself feel less depressed by envisioning Snippy happily swimming off into the sunset, free at last.

But alas, my vision turned out to be a far cry from reality. I set Snippy down on the shore and he immediately backed away from the water, terrified. I picked him up and put him into the water. Panicking, he began to thrash, his chubby legs flailing wildly. He continued to thrash, remaining in the same spot and getting nowhere, until I couldn’t bear it any longer. I yanked him out of the water and set him back on the shore. At that point, a dragonfly flew over his head and he actually cringed, trying to tuck himself into his shell (which snapping turtles, unlike other turtles, can’t do). I finally had to admit that Snippy probably wasn’t such a hot candidate for making it on his own in the wild.

I brought him back home.

And here he still remains, perfectly content in his too-small aquarium, eating like a horse…and growing bigger by the hour.

The bottom line is that Snippy needs a place where he can have lots of room, be safe and well cared for, and be accepted for the big wimp that he is. If anyone can help or offer any suggestions, please e-mail me at sillysally@att.net.

That is, unless you’re thinking about whipping up a batch of turtle soup.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Arabian Nights

Last Saturday night, my husband and I finally realized we are old. Why? Because we’d gone out to dinner at four o’clock in the afternoon and by seven o’clock, we already were in our pajamas and settled in for the evening.

“Remember when our Saturday nights used to start at eight?” I asked him. “We’d be out dancing till one in the morning.”

My husband groaned. “I could never do that now. By one o’clock, I’ll already have been in bed for three hours.” He looked thoughtful for a moment and then added, “We sure had some good times, though. Remember Al Sirat?”

I smiled. Al Sirat was an Arabian-style nightclub located in the China Dragon Restaurant in Hooksett. The first time we went there was back in the early ‘70s, when my friend Sandi invited us.

“Gorgeous Harry Moy Junior runs the place!” she excitedly told me.

For years, Sandi had drooled over Harry Moy Junior, whose dad was a friend of her dad. She never, however, referred to the guy as just plain “Harry.” The word “gorgeous” always preceded his full name. To be honest, I wasn’t as enthusiastic about going to this new Al Sirat nightclub as I was about finally catching a glimpse of Gorgeous Harry Moy Junior.

So, on a Saturday night, my husband and I, along with Sandi and her husband, headed over to Al Sirat. The moment we entered, we were awed. We instantly were transported into a world of harem girls and sheiks. The perimeter of the huge nightclub was lined with ornately draped, Arabian-style tents that had huge, tasseled velvet cushions for seating on the floor. Rich velvets, silks, gold brocade and gauze were everywhere. There also were traditional tables and chairs. The club’s lamps all looked as if genies might be lurking in them.

My husband’s eyes were riveted on the navels of the attractive harem girls who were serving drinks, while Sandi’s eyes frantically darted back and forth. I suddenly felt an elbow jab my ribs. “There he is!” Sandi whispered to me. “Gorgeous Harry Moy Junior!”

I followed the direction of her eyes and spotted the living, breathing epitome of tall, dark and handsome. Not only that, he was wearing a tuxedo. The man looked as if he’d stepped off the cover of GQ Magazine. When he smiled, his teeth were so white, I nearly needed sunglasses to ward off the glare.

“This place is unbelievable!” Sandi’s husband said to her.

“Uh huh,” she said, her eyes still riveted on her longtime crush.

“I guess we should go take a seat,” he added.

“Uh huh,” Sandi said, not moving.

“Oh, look!” her husband teased, “Here comes a completely naked woman!”

“Uh huh,” Sandi said.

“Where?! Where?!” My husband asked.

We were seated in one of the tents right near the stage. The “band” actually was just one 40-something guy with a synthesizer that, with the push of a few buttons, sounded like several different instruments, including a small orchestra.

Right after our drinks were served by a shapely harem girl, the lights dimmed and a spotlight directed our attention to the center of the dance floor.

To our amazement, a beautiful, exotic-looking, dark-haired belly dancer with a stomach so flat, she barely had any belly to dance with, magically appeared. I thought she’d popped up from a trap door in the floor, but my husband insisted she’d dropped down from the ceiling.

My husband couldn’t wipe the smile off his face as he watched the dancer gyrate. “I am really liking this place,” he said. “We’ll have to come back here…often!”

After the dancer finished her routine, the musician onstage launched into a romantic love song. We couldn’t help but notice that as he sang, he kept staring directly at us.

“I’m getting uncomfortable,” Sandi whispered to me. “He keeps staring at me!”

I’d thought he might have been staring at me, but Sandi was model-pretty, so I figured she probably was right. As the singer began his next song, “You’re Just Too Good to be True,” another man took over at the synthesizer. This allowed the singer to grab the microphone and roam. He headed straight for our tent.

“Oh, no! He’s coming to serenade me!” Sandi whispered. “I’m going to die of embarrassment!”

“But at least you’ll have Gorgeous Harry Moy Junior’s attention!” I whispered back.

The singer then proceeded to sing the entire love song…directly to my husband.

Never in my life have I had more trouble trying to keep a straight face. And never in my life have I ever seen a more panicked expression than my husband’s. To make matters worse, the singer must have extended the song by at least 30 choruses.

We did go back to Al Sirat a couple more times after that, but the place became so popular and so crowded, with hours-long waiting lines to get in, it lost a lot of the magic we’d felt on that first night.

Besides that, they hired a new singer.

Tuesday, September 6, 2005

In search of Room 212

My husband spent most of last week as a patient at Concord Hospital…and I spent most of it getting lost.

Concord Hospital used to be a pretty simple place to get into. You’d drive up to the visitors’ parking lot, walk up to the automatic doors near the cafeteria, enter the lobby, come face to face with the elevators and push either the “up” or “down” button. Simple.

The night that my husband was admitted to the hospital, however, I discovered that Concord Hospital, as I knew it, no longer exists. The hospital grounds look as if they were in the direct path of a giant meteor.

As I pulled into what used to be the emergency-room parking lot, all I saw was a crater the size of Rhode Island. “Drop off Patients Here,” a sign said.

“Am I supposed to dump you into that hole?” I asked my husband.

He shrugged. “Maybe it’s their way of drumming up more business for the emergency room.”

I backed out and drove to the “new” main entrance, then left my husband in the car and ran into the lobby. I was pleased to see a woman sitting at the information desk. “How do I get to Admitting from here?” I asked.

She stared at me as if I’d just asked her the final question on Jeopardy. “Um, I think it’s up in the emergency room,” she finally said.

“I was just there. The parking lot is a giant hole.”

“You have to park on the roof of the garage,” she said. “Next to the helicopter landing-pad.”

It was my turn to stare. It was bad enough that my poor husband had to be admitted to the hospital, but to be flattened by a helicopter before he even got out of the car would be, well, downright tragic.

“I know that all of this construction is an inconvenience,” the woman said, “but when it’s done, this hospital will be much bigger and better able to serve its patients.”

There was only one patient on my mind at that moment. I went back out to the car and drove up to the crater formerly known as the emergency room and parked where the woman had instructed. Then my poor husband and I walked the 12 miles to the building. Fifteen minutes later, he was settled in his room on the second floor. It took me a half-hour to find my way back to the car.

The next day, my mother and I headed up to the hospital to visit him. We followed the signs that said “Visitor Parking” and were stopped by a hospital guard. “Sorry, the lot is full,” he said.

My mother and I looked past him and spotted at least six empty parking spaces. “I’m just dropping off my mother,” I lied.

“Okay, go ahead then,” he said, stepping aside to let us pass.

I parked in one of the empty spots and my mother and I entered the lobby. An elderly man wearing a smock cheerfully greeted us. “Good afternoon! Where are you headed?”

“Room 212,” I said.

“Well,” he said, looking thoughtful, “if you walk to the end of this hallway and take elevator B up to the first floor, then take a right, switch over to elevator C, take another right, then a left and go straight down the hallway, that should get you there.”

He lost me after the word, “elevator.” I nodded, smiled, and Mom and I were off to search for room 212.

Five minutes later, we were standing in front of two doors that said, “Authorized Personnel Only.” There were no other doors around.

“I think we took a left when we should have taken a right,” my mother said.

By the time we found my husband’s room, it was time to head back home. My mother and I were hungry, thirsty and had blisters on our feet.

“How do we get back to the main lobby?” I asked one of the nurses when Mom and I were ready to leave.

“Hmmm, let me think,” she said. “I never go out that way.”

That was not a good sign.

She recited a lot of “lefts” and “rights” and then mentioned that the lobby was on the ground floor. That was the only thing I remembered when Mom and I entered the elevator. I looked at the buttons. There was a “G” and a “GR.” I pressed the “G” for ground.

The doors of the elevator opened and my mother and I stepped out into the dark depths of the hospital. The hallway looked creepy enough to be the setting for one of those horror movies like, “Dr. Hacker and the River of Blood.”

“Ohmigod!” my mother said. “I think we’re in the morgue!”

We nearly trampled each other in our haste to get back onto the elevator. That’s when I figured out that I should have pushed the “GR” button.

My husband called me from the hospital later that night and said, “Remember, the minute I get discharged, I want you to rush right over here and get me. I don’t want to be stuck in here one minute longer than necessary!”

I laughed. “Then I’d better start heading over there to pick you up as soon as I hang up, because it’ll take me a week to find you.”

“Never mind,” he said. “I’ll call a cab.”

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Computer facelift

There’s a show on TV called “10 Years Younger,” where a person is put into a soundproof glass box on a busy downtown sidewalk and the show’s host then asks passersby how old they think the person in the box is.

“Twenty-five!” someone will say.

“The woman in the box can’t hear you,” the host will point out.

“She can’t? Well, then, she looks 50! Talk about sun-damaged skin. She looks like an armadillo!”

The show then proceeds to spend a week transforming old Armadillo Face into something so ravishing, the next time she goes back into the box for public scrutiny, people guess she’s in junior high.

One of the magical tools they use on the show is some relatively new procedure called Thermage. Thermage, according to the show, is a facelift, but without any cutting, bruising or stitching. It uses radiofrequency to lift and tighten skin, renew facial contours and produce new collagen. Just one treatment keeps working for about six months, and then the results last for two to three years.

From the moment I saw the first woman on “10 Years Younger” emerge from her Thermage treatment looking as if she’d just taken a swan dive into the Fountain of Youth, I thought, “Quick! Get me some of that stuff!”

Every time I look in the mirror lately, I see another part of my face sagging. Not only have I officially entered the jowl generation, people keep telling me I look “drawn” (which basically translates into “jowly”).

So a couple weeks ago, I searched the Internet to find out who, if anyone, in New Hampshire performed Thermage. I found only one doctor. I rushed to dial his number before another jowl popped out.

The woman who answered the phone couldn’t have been nicer. She raved about the procedure and its results, then asked if I wanted to schedule a consultation with the doctor. I made the appointment for the middle of September. She recommended that I check out the doctor’s Web site for further information and for directions to the clinic.

I hung up the phone and smiled…until I checked out the Web site and read, “Thermage treatments begin at $2,500 for a small area.”

My heart stopped. Na├»ve person that I am, I’d expected the treatment to cost a couple hundred dollars. And what did they consider a small area? An eyebrow? A dimple? Half a frown line?

I canceled my consultation.

A few days later, I went to turn on my laptop computer and nothing happened. I checked the plug. It was plugged in. I checked the battery. It was properly inserted. The computer, however, was deader than dead.

Luckily, the computer still was under warranty, so I figured I’d just have it repaired and use my backup computer, another laptop, in the meantime. I dug out the other computer and turned it on. I couldn’t click on anything. The cursor just sat there, mocking me. I turned off the computer and turned it on again. It didn’t help.

So I had two dead computers…and no more backups.

I spent three hours on the phone with a computer technician who had me do everything but call an exorcist. Still nothing.

“Want me to find a priest and have him administer the last rites?” I joked.

“No, ma’am,” the technician said seriously. The man had all the personality of a cantaloupe.

“Do you use the laptop on your lap?” he asked.

“Well, yes…that’s why it’s called a laptop, isn’t it?”

“No, ma’am. It’s called a notebook now. You can ruin a laptop computer if you use it on your lap because it can’t get proper ventilation. You should use it on a table.”

“But doesn’t that defeat the whole purpose of having a laptop?”

“Notebook,” he corrected.

Finally, he admitted defeat and told me to bring in both computers for repair.

“Ten days to two weeks,” the technician at the store said when I asked him how long I would be computerless.

My eyes widened. “I can’t go without a computer for that long! I need it for work! I need it for…everything!”

“We have a nice little notebook computer on sale this week,” he said. “It’s a real steal.”

Before I knew what was happening, I was buying a computer. Sure, it was on sale, but after I added the service contract and all of the accessories, I was over $1,000 poorer.

For what I spent on that dumb computer, I could have had half a Thermage treatment…at least one jowl lifted. Now, I am doomed to look like a basset hound.

But at least I’ll eventually end up with three working computers…and I can use them to go to the Thermage Web site so I can mutter at all of the “before” and “after” photos of women who have had the procedure done.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Confessions of a Pedal Pusher

One of our friends recently bought a new bicycle that cost him a “mere” $1,200. I wouldn’t pay that much for a bicycle even if Brad Pitt were strapped to it and did all of the pedaling for me (well…maybe).

I honestly can’t understand why bicycles are so expensive nowadays, especially since they are nothing but stripped down, lightweight versions of their former selves. Back when I was a kid, bikes were solidly built and weren’t likely to be blown over by a strong gust of wind.

My first bike was a shiny blue Schwinn with upright handlebars (fashionably decorated with colorful plastic streamers and a flowered basket). It also had fat balloon tires, foot brakes and a wide, thickly padded seat.

I rode that bike everywhere, even up steep hills. Sure, it was a struggle, especially when I neared the top of the hill and had to stand on the pedals and use my full weight to force them to make each revolution. Grunting like an old sow seemed to help me get there, though.

The first new-fangled bike I ever owned was a five-speed that my husband bought for me as a surprise one summer.

I didn’t want to hurt his feelings, but there wasn’t much I liked about that bike. For one thing, the seat was so small, it completely disappeared when I sat on it. Even worse was the embarrassing position I had to assume whenever I rode it. I don’t know too many women who are secure enough to enjoy riding with their rear-ends sticking up in the air and their breasts resting on the handlebars.

The first time I went soaring downhill on the bike, I tried to slow down by lightly applying pressure on the foot brakes, as I’d always done on my old bike. Unfortunately, this bike didn’t have foot brakes, so the pedals just went around backwards…and I continued to pick up speed.

As I whooshed past the scenery, everything became a blur. Visions of my legs sticking up out of a ditch at the bottom of the hill somewhere, a twisted bicycle wrapped around them, made me panic. I squeezed both handbrakes as hard as I could…and nearly wound up toothless.

Shifting gears also was something I never got the hang of. Too often I found myself pedaling furiously and going absolutely nowhere. Other times, I felt as if I were trying to tow a tractor-trailer. There seemed to be no happy medium.

The more I rode the bike, the more I longed for a thick, padded seat and handlebars that didn’t look like a ram’s horns. I also wanted a bike with fenders so on rainy days, I wouldn’t end up with a muddy stripe down my back that made me look like a giant skunk.

My dad, innovative soul that he was, decided to build a bike for me that he figured would be the answer to all of my problems. He took an old bike frame, welded a platform onto the bottom of it, and then set a car battery on the platform. The battery was used to power a small motor that turned the wheels and eliminated the need for pedals, which he removed.

To start the bike, Dad installed a doorbell button on the right handlebar. With one simple press of the button, I was zooming off at a whiplash-inducing speed of five miles per hour. The only problem with the bike was that it weighed a ton – a fact that I became acutely aware of when I was about a mile from home one night and the battery died, so I had to push the bike all the way back home.

“I’m not riding another bike until I get one like the one I had when I was a kid,” I finally told my husband one day. “Forget the 10-speeds. I want zero-speeds…and foot brakes.”

“But what about the bike trails around here, like the ones at Bear Brook?” he asked. “They are hilly and bumpy and curvy. They are made for mountain bikes, which is what you really should get. You’d never make it even 20 feet on one of those trails if you had an old-fashioned balloon-tire bike! Haven’t you ever seen those guys on their mountain bikes on TV, flying up over hills and bumps and soaring through the air?”

“I don’t want to fly up over hills and bumps,” I said, briefly imagining how the landing, especially on one of those hard, skinny seats, would feel. “Anyway, I can always just ride my bike along the side of the highway.”

He frowned at me. “Somehow that doesn’t make me feel a whole lot better.”

I finally sold my 5-speed bike. And I haven’t owned another bike since.

My knees, my back, and every bicyclist at Bear Brook State Park should be very grateful.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

The 1970's Were Tough

There is a new show on TV that is both hilarious and painful for me to watch. It’s called “The ‘70s House.”

This reality show features a group of eight young men and women, most of them barely in their 20s, who must live together in a house that represents the lifestyle of the 1970s. They have to eat, talk, dress and act exactly the way people did back in that decade. Every time one of them breaks the rules, he or she will be evicted from the house. The last person remaining will win an assortment of expensive prizes, including a new car.

I don’t think I realized just how tough we had it back in the 1970s until I saw the reactions of the contestants on the show.

“Look at this phone!” one of them exclaimed. “It’s attached to the wall and has a… cord… on it!” The group gathered to stare at the relic, which also had a rotary dial.

“No microwave?” another one asked, his eyes scanning the kitchen.

But their faces really paled when one of the show’s hosts announced that they had to hand over all of their modern-day items. “I want your cell phones, your CD players, your iPods, your laptop computers and your name-brand cosmetics and hair products,” she said. “None of those were around in the ‘70s.”

If she had told the group that all of them were about to undergo appendectomies without anesthesia, they couldn’t have looked more stricken.

“And now for a tour of the house,” the host said.

As she led the contestants through rooms of flowered wallpaper and shag carpeting, their eyes widened in disbelief, especially when the host pointed out the state-of-the-art stereo system that included a record turntable and an 8-track tape player.

“I’ve never seen an 8-track before,” one of the girls, visibly awed, said.

My eyes immediately darted toward my own stereo, which had a Bay City Rollers tape still sticking out of the 8-track player.

The contestants also laughed when they were given a crash course in the language of the 1970s and were told that they had to begin using words such as “groovy,” “flower power,” “outta sight” and “far out.”

But what cracked them up the most was the clothing of the 1970s, which the show provided for them and insisted that they wear.

“This polyester isn’t very comfortable,” one guy said, wincing as he tried to adjust the crotch of his pants, which clung to him like a second skin.

When I saw the guys standing there in their hideous plaid polyester bell-bottoms, matching vests and Frankenstein-like platform shoes, I dissolved into laughter.

My husband frowned at me. “I had a pair of pants just like those green and blue ones!”

“Now that you mention it, didn’t they go with your green leisure-suit jacket?” I laughed even harder.

I stopped laughing, however, when the girls emerged from the bedroom and one of them was wearing a wildly flowered sack-dress that practically was a clone of one of my favorite dresses back in the ‘70s. Even worse, the girls were standing on some ugly carpeting that looked exactly like the one we still have in our living room.

“Now, I’m going to teach all of you how to do a popular 1970s’ dance called the Hustle!” the host said brightly.

Ironically, just the other day my husband and I had been talking about the “good old days” when we used to go out dancing and do a pretty mean Hustle, and how over the years, we’d completely forgotten how to do the dance.

We were offered a refresher course as the contestants on TV lined up in their polyester finery and attempted to learn the Hustle. Awkwardly they flapped their arms and clomped around with all of the grace of a herd of elephants…drunken elephants.

“Did we look that ridiculous when we used to do the Hustle?” my husband finally asked me.

“Lord, I hope not.”

Half of the show’s contestants, because they’d won an earlier basketball challenge, were told that they were going to be treated to a special meal that was really popular back in the 1970s…fondue. They seemed less than thrilled, mainly because most of them had no clue what fondue was.

As one of the guys popped a speared melted-cheese-covered cube of bread into his mouth, he made a face that usually would be reserved for smelling a stink bomb.

“This tastes more like fon-don’t!” he muttered.

The show ended with one of the contestants being evicted because he mentioned that he wanted to get Botox, a procedure that was unheard of back in the 1970s.

To be honest, I can’t wait to see next week’s show. I’m pretty sure I’ll end up spotting a clone of my current living-room set on there.

Thursday, July 7, 2005

Curse of the physically fit

While at the mall the other day, I noticed a T-shirt that had, “Eat Right and Exercise…Die Anyway,” printed across the front of it. I was tempted to buy it.

The shirt was a painful reminder that this is the time of year when winter flab no longer can be hidden beneath a bulky sweater or a down parka. For this reason, it’s also is the time of year when most people rush to get into shape.

But this year I’m not going to be one of those rushers.

When it comes to trying to get a shapely well-toned body for summer, past experience has taught me that no matter how noble my intentions are, I’m cursed.

Take, for example, back in the 1960s, when I joined Lillian Powell’s Figure Salon, the first salon of its kind in the Manchester area.

My one-year membership fee entitled me to unlimited use of the salon’s state-of-the-art equipment, which featured such torture devices as vibrating-belt machines and mechanized wooden rollers that acted like giant rolling pins to flatten flab.

On my first visit to the salon, an overly enthusiastic, leotard-clad employee who looked as if she hadn’t eaten a solid meal in about four months, took my measurements. She held the measuring tape so loosely, the numbers she jotted down easily could have been mistaken for Moby Dick’s. She then put me through my paces.

I learned an important lesson on that first night: never gulp down a burger, fries and a big glass of milk just prior to getting strapped into a vibrating machine. The employee hitched the belt around my hips, turned on the machine and walked off. For 20 minutes, I stood there, shaking worse than someone standing near the epicenter of an earthquake, until she finally remembered me. By then, I felt as if the milk in my stomach had turned into a giant clump of butter.

The wooden rollers also were less than comfortable. The machine was about hip-high with horizontal rows of rollers going up the front and down the back of it. I was instructed to drape my body over the top and then let the rollers roll away my midriff bulge.

The entire time I was bent over the machine, I was acutely aware that my least flattering and most jiggly side was sticking up in the air and greeting everyone who entered the salon.

When my measurements were taken a week later, the employee pulled the tape so tightly, she nearly cut off my circulation. Naturally, my measurements came out much smaller than the ones she’d taken the week before.

“Oooh!” she practically squealed. “You’ve lost a total of 10 inches! Keep up the good work!”

I had every intention of keeping it up, but two nights later, Lillian Powell’s Figure Salon skipped town with all of the members’ money. I was so distraught, I turned to a hot-fudge sundae for comfort.

Not long after that, I decided to enroll in a modern-dance class. I figured that not only would I learn how to do some fancy footwork, I’d get a good workout at the same time.

Once again, I was wrong.

The dance instructor, a barefooted young woman with straight black hair that nearly was as long as her long black skirt, was more into “interpretive” dance. In fact, I spent more time sitting cross-legged on the floor and “meditating” about dancing than actually dancing.

Finally, during the third lesson she said, “I want all of you to stand up now and pirouette around the entire perimeter of the room.” She demonstrated several concise turns.

Eager to finally be moving and burning a few calories, I began to rapidly pirouette around the room. Within seconds, I felt so lightheaded, I had to lean against the wall before I keeled over.

“You’re not spotting!” the instructor shouted at me.

I cast her a blank look. I definitely was seeing spots, if that was what she meant.

“Spotting!” she repeated. “You have to pick a spot on the wall and then focus on it every time you turn. That way, you won’t get dizzy.”

“Now you tell me,” I muttered to all three of her.

Finally, a fitness center opened that seemed tailor-made for me. It featured something new called passive exercise machines. The brochure said that all you had to do was lie on them and they would do all of your exercising for you. I thought I had died and gone to heaven.

My first day there, I stretched out on one of the machines and to my delight, it methodically began to lift my legs, up and down, up and down. Soon, I was so relaxed, I fell asleep.

I actually looked forward to working out on those machines every week, even though I never lost a single pound. But even if I had, it wouldn’t have mattered anyway because the place went out of business a couple months later.

So when a friend of mine called me the other day to tell me she’d just joined a women’s fitness center called Curves and wanted to know if I’d like to join, too, I said, “Unless you want Curves to immediately go out of business, you won’t let me set foot near the place!”

The poor woman had no idea what I was talking about.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The Agony of the Feet

Even though the temperatures lately have been hot enough to turn streets into rivers of molten lava, I have been clomping around in thick, black leather ankle-high shoes. Why? Because it’s not easy to look good in sandals when you have bunions the size of jawbreakers.

So the other night when I took off my shoes and had to pour the perspiration out of them, I decided that bunions or not, I was going to buy some sandals. I didn’t want just any sandal, however. I wanted one with a wedge heel and a wide sling-back strap.

And what I didn’t want was any sandal that had a strip going between my toes. I have learned from experience that any person whose feet are extremely ticklish never should wear anything that rubs up and down between the toes.

I began my search for the perfect sandal by leafing through my four-foot stack of mail-order catalogs. Finally, after about two hours, I spotted the sandal I’d been looking for. It had a wedge heel with rope wrapped around it, a strap around the heel, and was made of my favorite material - denim. I rushed to my computer and found the catalog’s Web site so I could place an order.

I filled in all of the pertinent information and then pressed “submit.”

“Sorry,” a message in red popped up on the computer screen. “That item has been discontinued.”

“Noooooo!” I whined. “You can’t do this to me!”

Desperate, I decided to do a sandal search on the Internet. The computer found 709,000 of them. I looked at sandals for the next three hours, until my eyes began to feel as if I’d taken them out and rolled them in rock salt. Let’s just say that if I’d been looking for sandals in hideous colors with long strips of leather winding all the way up to the knees, I would have been in luck.

I also would have looked like Xena, Warrior Princess…with bunions.

So the other night I decided to go sandal shopping. In the first store, every sandal had a strip between the toes or a loop that went around the big toe. Those toe loops were so small, I couldn’t have wedged my big toe into one of them even if I’d slathered it with axle grease first.

In the second store, the sandals either laced up to the knee or looked as if the soles were made of recycled tractor-trailer tires. In the third store, I tried on a dainty sandal that had two thin strips of leather running diagonally across the foot. My bunion popped out from between the two strips. It looked as if it had been lassoed.

By the time I reached the fourth store, it was 8:45 and the store was closing at 9:00. By then, I really didn’t care because I was certain I wouldn’t see any sandals I liked anyway.

The minute I set foot inside, however, I felt as if I’d just entered sandal heaven. Not only did the store have racks and racks of wedge-heeled sandals, the majority of them were on sale.

I tried on a pair of black and white wedges. They had adjustable Velcro-lined straps around the toes and heel. I loved the adjustable feature because I could loosen the straps to fit around my bunions. I was carrying the sandals to the checkout counter when I happened to spot a sale table. A tan suede sandal caught my eye. I found my size and tried it on. It fit perfectly and was so comfortable, I decided to buy it on the spot. The best part was that it had been $22.99 and was marked down to $9.99.

There was a problem, however. Only one sandal was in the shoebox. The left one was among the missing. I checked every sandal on the table. I looked at my watch. The store was closing in three minutes. Panicking, I asked the sales clerk to help me.

I have to give her credit. She worked so hard searching for that sandal, you’d think it was lined with $100 bills. She searched underneath counters. She opened dozens of shoeboxes. She crawled on her hands and knees to peek under the shoe racks. She even went out back to see if it might have been tossed into what she referred to as the mismatched shoe pile.

She then enlisted the aid of another clerk, who didn’t seem quite as intent on finding the sandal, especially since the store officially had already closed for the night.

“I have no idea what happened to the sandal,” the first clerk finally said to me, her tone indicating defeat. “I mean, where could it have gone?”

“A shoplifter with two left feet?” I answered.

She just stared at me.

I ended up buying just the black and white Velcro-strap sandals.

At least my bunions finally will get some air.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Just give me a buzz

I answered the phone the other night and thought the caller was being attacked by a swarm of killer bees.

“Can you BUZZZZZ hear me? BUZZZZ,” was all I could make out.

“There’s something wrong with your phone!” I shouted into the receiver. “Call me back!”

As it turned out, every call I received that night sounded the same. I had to face the fact that either there had been a huge sale on cheap phones and all of my friends had rushed out to buy one…or there was something wrong with my phone.

Although I tried to deny the inevitable, I finally was forced to do something that I knew would end up making me pop half a bottle of Tylenol for a tension headache: I called my telephone repair service.

The recorded voice that answered wasn’t the robot-like automated one I’d expected. In fact, the woman sounded as if she had spent a few years on one of those 1-900 hotlines that teenaged boys like to call when their parents aren’t home.

“Do I understand correctly that you need a repair?” the recorded voice asked me. “Please answer yes or no.”

The buzzing on my line suddenly became so loud, I could make out only every third or fourth word she said. I decided to answer yes to everything, just to be safe.

“I’m sorry,” the voice kept saying. “I didn’t quite understand you.”

Finally, after five frustrating minutes, the voice was so confused, it transferred me to an actual human. “I hear a buzz on your line,” the woman, intuitive person that she was, said. “Is it on all of your phones?” When I said yes, she added, “Have you tested everything inside?”

“Yes, all of my phones are buzzing,” I repeated.

“No, I mean have you unplugged everything? Answering machines, computers, adaptors, all of your phones? If you do that, then plug them back in one at a time, you can find out which one might be causing the buzzing.”

“No,” I muttered. “I haven’t done that.”

“And after that,” she said, “take a working phone outside to the phone box and plug it in there to see if you can hear the buzzing outside, too.”

“Do I really have to?” I asked.

“No, but if we send out a repairman and the problem isn’t ours, it will cost you close to $100 just for the service charge.”

“I’ll go check everything right now!” I said.

I headed into the bedroom where we have two phones and an answering machine. My husband, who was home sick with a bad chest cold, was peacefully taking a nap. “You have to get up,” I said. “This is an emergency. I have to crawl behind the bed right now!”

He sat up and squinted at me. I could tell by his expression that he was trying to figure out what type of emergency possibly could be lurking behind our bed. “Mice?” he asked.

I unplugged everything associated with the phones and even a few things that weren’t, like my husband’s digital alarm-clock and the bedroom TV. By the time I was through, only one phone still was hooked up. I picked up the receiver. The killer bees had transformed into the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I unplugged that phone and plugged in another. It was worse. I sighed in defeat.

“Where is the phone box outside?” I asked my husband.

He shrugged. “Probably up on the telephone pole somewhere.”

Visions of myself dangling by the seat of my pants from a telephone pole made me think that it might be worth my while just to fork over the $100 for the repairman. Still, I grabbed a phone and headed outside.

The phone box turned out to be sticking up out of the ground. It had a little door on it that was screwed shut. I ran back into the house, grabbed a screwdriver, then knelt down in what I was certain was a big nest of starving ticks and began to work on the screw, which, by the looks of it, probably hadn’t been unscrewed since Bell invented the telephone.

As I struggled, it started to rain…really hard. Finally, I opened the door on the box and plugged in the phone. I heard nothing. No buzz, no dial tone. Nothing. By the time I re-screwed the screw, my underwear had absorbed two pounds of water.

I called back the telephone company. The woman told me that I couldn’t possibly have no dial tone outside but still have one inside.

By then, the buzzing was driving me crazy. “Send a repairman!” I shouted over the noise. “I don’t care if I have to pay!”

“Will someone be home between the hours of 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. tomorrow in case they have to come inside?” she asked.

“That’s 10 hours! I can’t guarantee that someone will be here for 10 hours! Just check everything outside, okay?”

The next morning, the phone rang and woke me. It was the repairman. “Your phone’s all set!” he said. “The problem was in the line from the street.”

His voice was crisp, loud and very clear. I heaved a sigh of relief.

Five minutes later, the phone rang again. “Hello!” the voice said. “How would you like to reduce your mortgage payment by up to 15 percent?”

Where are the killer bees when you need them?

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Eyes on the Prize

There was a woman on TV the other day who said her full-time job was entering contests and winning fabulous prizes. She then proceeded to show off her cars, boat, stacks of money and big-screen TV, all of which she said she’d won during the past year.

I glared at the woman. You see, back in the 1970s, probably before this woman even was born, I also tried to make a career out of entering contests.

It all began when I purchased a book that supposedly divulged all of the secrets to entering contests and actually winning something. I read the book from cover to cover about 10 times and memorized nearly every word. And I must confess, I really did learn a lot from that book.

For example, contest entry blanks must be filled out exactly as listed in the rules. If the rules say to hand print your name and address and you type them, you’re disqualified. If they instruct you to send a postcard and you send a piece of paper in an envelope, you’re disqualified. And if the mailing address says Boston, MA and you write out the word Massachusetts on your entry, you’re disqualified. All of this nit-picking fussiness, according to the book, is to narrow down the number of eligible entries.

The book also said to send a few entries each week during the entire run of the contest. That way, you would have more of a chance of getting an entry into each separate mailbag instead of having them all wind up in just one.

As visions of winning mountains of money and a fleet of shiny new cars filled my head, I drove to the local pharmacy and purchased a stack of magazines, some envelopes (the business-sized ones, which the book said are pulled out of the stacks of entries more often because they are bigger), 3x5-inch index cards and a variety of ink pens in different colors. Then I headed to the post office to buy a roll of stamps.

I was ready.

I flipped through the magazines and found quite a few sweepstakes that offered exciting prizes such as cars, money, exotic trips and home-entertainment centers. I carefully cut out the rules for each contest and then numbered them according to their entry deadlines. Finally, I began to write out my entries.

The first time I received a registered letter from a place called the National Judging Institute in New York, I nearly needed CPR. “You are a winner in the Benson & Hedges 100’s Sweepstakes,” the letter stated. “Please fill out the enclosed affidavit and return it to us to claim your prize.”

My hands trembled as I filled out the form and then rushed to the post office to mail it. That night, when I told my husband that he’d probably soon be driving around town in a brand new 1975 Cadillac, he no longer thought my obsession with contests was (quote), “a big waste of time and money because nobody ever really wins those things.”

A few weeks later, I received another letter from the National Judging Institute informing me of my prize.

To my disbelief, I’d won 100 bags of marbles.

I felt the blood rush to my face as I stood there gripping the letter and wondering what kind of a dumb prize that was…and how on earth I was going to delicately break the news to my husband that he was going to have to keep driving around in his Gremlin.

That’s when I happened to read the rest of the letter. It said that I could opt for a $200 cash prize in place of the marbles. It wasn’t a car but heck, $200 was a lot of money back in 1975. I was tickled pink.

My contest obsession officially had begun.

Over the next few months, however, no matter how hard I tried, I never was able to win the grand prize in any of the contests I entered. Third prize was about the highest I ever reached.

Some of my prizes included: a backgammon set from Realemon, a travel book from L&M, a bath set from Jovan, $50 in groceries from Palmolive, a Disney GAF Viewmaster from Hostess, a rainforest umbrella from S.C. Johnson, $100 worth of jewelry from WFEA Radio and a set of hourglass-shaped Tab glasses from Coca-Cola.

I also won official Chris Evert and Jimmy Connors autographed tennis racquets, but seeing that I knew nothing about tennis and had no clue who Chris and Jimmy were, I sold the racquets for $5 at a yard sale. And then I won a year’s supply of hot-dogs…instead of the trip for six to Disney World.

I stopped entering contests when the postage rates went up, but a few years ago, I found the how-to-win-contests book in my desk drawer, reread it and decided to try my luck once again. This time, however, I selected only one contest (the one with the biggest grand prize) and concentrated on entering and winning that one. I figured that sending all of my entries to only one contest instead of spreading them out over several would give me better odds of winning. I spent over $35 in postage, but I knew it was going to be worth it in the end.

I actually did end up winning a prize for my efforts. It was (and I am totally serious here) an exciting package of Shamu the Killer Whale stationery.

I think I left it in the back seat of my husband’s Gremlin when it was towed to the junkyard.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Stockings vs. Pantyhose. The war of the ages.

I received an e-mail the other day that supposedly was a test to determine whether or not I’m older than dirt. One of the questions it asked was, “Are you old enough to remember when your mother used to wear two separate nylon stockings?”

Heck, never mind my mother. I used to wear two separate nylon stockings myself. That, I suspected, made me even older than “older than dirt.”

My years in high school were extremely painful, thanks to those nylon stockings. Back then, there were only three ways of holding them up. There was the girdle, which took two hours to squeeze into each morning, and that was only if you greased your hips with butter first

Then there was the garter belt, but back then it wasn’t the lacy little thing that’s so popular nowadays. No, these garter belts were made of plain white turbo-elastic about four inches wide. Four long elastic bands with metal hooks on the ends dangled from the belt.

Believe me, those metal hooks were no fun to sit on during six hours of classes. And not a day passed when one of the hooks didn’t manage to twist sideways and dig into my thighs. There was no discreet way to adjust them, because reaching up under my skirt in the middle of class just might have attracted a bit of attention, so more often than not, I sat and suffered in silence. I think I still have hook scars on the backs of my legs.

The third way to hold up the stockings was to buy the brand that had built-in elastic around the tops. These stayed up pretty well when you first put them on in the morning, but as the day progressed they would start to relax, stretch out and slide down. As a result, a lot of girls in my freshman class walked around looking as if they had saggy knees and wrinkly ankles.

I guess in an era when my school’s dress code enforced the “skirts must be long enough to touch the floor when you are kneeling” rule, not a whole lot of our stockings showed anyway, so it really didn’t matter how ugly they were. But little did we know that the worst thing that could ever happen to the girdle and garter-belt generation was about to occur…the invention of the mini skirt.

The tops of the stockings back then always were a few shades darker than the rest of the stocking, and combined with the metal hooks holding them up, they looked anything but fashionable hanging out from underneath those short skirts. Even worse was the white long-legged girdle showing at least two inches from beneath the skirt. From a distance, we looked as if we had bandages wrapped around our thighs.

I can remember the first time I wore a mini-skirt and tried to climb into my father’s car. I’m pretty sure that most of my neighbors immediately were stricken blind by the sight.

Fortunately, manufacturers realized that something had to be done about the ugly stocking situation, especially since the mini-skirt fad really was catching on. The solution was a product called pantyhose.

I’ll never forget the first day I heard about pantyhose. I was working at Leavitt’s Department Store in Manchester at the time and the clerk in the lingerie department was very excited. “They’re like ballet tights!” she said, holding up a package of pantyhose. “Only they’re sheer, like nylons! No more hooks!”

I was intrigued, even though at $4.98 they were a pretty big extravagance for someone who was making only $1.50 an hour. But to save myself from further girdle humiliation in my mini-skirts, I doled out my hard-earned money for some of the new-fangled stockings.

And I put a huge run in them just trying to tug them up over my hips.

I wasn’t a big fan of pantyhose at first. The crotch on them never seemed to pull up high enough to be comfortable on me, and I also never knew whether to wear them over or under my underwear. Wearing nylon pantyhose over nylon underwear didn’t work because it made them as slippery as ice. And wearing them underneath my underwear didn’t work either, not with the crotch hanging down to my knees.

Then one day as I was walking through the main aisle at Leavitt’s, one of the employees, an older man who usually worked in the men’s department, was standing in the lingerie department and pointing to a display on the counter.

“Look, Sally!” he shouted. “They must have made these especially for you!”

I moved to take a closer look. The label on the package said, “Fat Fannie Pantyhose.” At that moment, I wanted to wrap them around the guy’s neck and strangle him with them.

Even if those pantyhose had been a perfect fit, I wouldn’t have bought them, just because of their name. And as it turned out, I don’t think many women did buy them, probably for the same reason, because the product wasn’t around for very long.

Since then, I have bought and worn all sorts of pantyhose – fishnet, patterned, textured, opaque, sheer to the waist, control top, support, silky and energizing.

And I still haven’t found a pair that fits me right.

I’m thinking that maybe Fat Fannie should start making them again.