Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Princess of CandyZonia

The only entertaining thing about spring cleaning is that I tend to find things that have been lying around forgotten for years.

Last week, I came across a manila envelope that contained a fairy tale I’d written back when I was about 14. I still can remember the day I wrote it. I’d just returned from my annual dental checkup …and the dentist had found 11 cavities. Had I just been given the death sentence, I couldn’t have felt more miserable.

So here is the story, just as I wrote it.


Once upon a time in a kingdom called CandyZonia, there lived a young princess named Caramel Almond Nougat Doublemint York (Princess C.A.N.D.Y. for short).

The unusual thing about the kingdom of CandyZonia was that the people who lived behind its great walls ate nothing but candy for breakfast, lunch and dinner. For breakfast, they ate big bowls of jelly beans instead of cereal. For lunch, they feasted on candy-bar sandwiches instead of ham and cheese or tuna. And for dinner, when most kids in other parts of the world were eating mashed potatoes, chicken and peas, the kids in CandyZonia were dining on fudge, marshmallow Peeps and green M&Ms.

Growing up, Princess Candy hadn’t minded eating only candy for every meal. In fact, she thought she had to be the luckiest girl on earth. There was no disgusting liver or broccoli to choke down, no threats from her mother, Queen Good ’n Plenty, to eat all of her Brussels sprouts or she’d have no dessert. Life was just one big dessert every day in CandyZonia.

But then one day, Princess Candy was invited by her father, King Raisinets, to accompany him on a trip to another kingdom called Healthytopia, many miles away.

Healthytopia was a shocking place for Princess Candy to see. All of the women there were thin with smooth skin, pink cheeks and pure white teeth. They drank juices squeezed from fruits and ate greens that sprouted from the ground. The men were muscular with flat stomachs and liked to lift things a lot, even when there seemed to be no reason to lift them.

Princess Candy stared at her reflection in the looking glass for a long time that night. Her face was as round as a plate, her skin was dotted with blemishes, and her teeth were full of holes. And her figure! Suddenly she realized why her father affectionately had nicknamed her “Princess Tootsie Rolls.” She did not look anything like the girls her age in Healthytopia…and this disturbed her.

“Father,” she said to the king, “do you think I am pretty?”

“Of course I do!” King Raisnets flashed a toothless smile at her and moved to slip his pudgy arm around her shoulder. “You are the loveliest young woman in the land. And one day soon, you will marry a prince who is as handsome as you are pretty.”

“You mean a prince who looks like the men in Healthytopia?” she asked.

“No, silly girl, one who looks like me!”

A month later, Princess Candy ran away to Healthytopia. There, she learned the ways of its people. She ate salads, apples and fresh fish. She worked hard toiling in the gardens and orchards. She made frequent visits to the village dentist, who miraculously filled the holes in her teeth and gave her a brilliant white smile. Her skin cleared and her cheeks glowed. Her figure slimmed and her rolls of fat disappeared. Soon, she looked just like all of the other lovely young women in Healthytopia.

“I am going to return to my kingdom now and teach my people how to live as your people live,” Princess Candy announced to the Healthytopians one day. “I shall miss all of you deeply, but I shall never forget you.”

Upon her return to CandyZonia, Princess Candy was not recognized by anyone there, not even her parents.

“What on earth have they done to you?” King Raisinets asked. “You look terrible! Were you held captive? Did they starve you? I shall go there and have all of them beheaded!”

“No, Father,” the princess said. “I have been learning the ways of the Healthytopians. And I intend to teach them to the people of our kingdom.”

“There is no time to discuss such nonsense right now,” the king said. “There is a prince here who eagerly has been awaiting your return. His intent is to make you his bride.”

Before Princess Candy could comment, a tall, dark-haired young man with deep brown eyes and brown velvet clothing entered the room. He approached her, made a sweeping bow, then took her hand into his and placed a kiss on the back of it.

The first thing Princess Candy noticed about the prince was his scent. It was absolutely heavenly. In fact, it made her mouth water.

“Allow me to introduce myself,” the prince said. “I am Prince Hershey. I wish for you to become my wife and return to Pennsylvania with me where together, we shall rule my kingdom and feast on mountains of delicious chocolate every day.”

Princess Candy accepted his proposal so fast, she surprised even herself. “To heck with the ways of the Healthytopians!” she shouted as she and the prince headed hand in hand out of the castle door. “Let them graze like cows! Long live chocolate!”

And she and Prince Hershey lived very happily (plumply and toothlessly) ever after.


Monday, March 20, 2006

The Dream House

I truly believe there’s not a person on earth who hasn’t fantasized about what his or her dream house would be like. My husband is no exception.

Actually, he’s always had some fairly modest “musts” for his dream house: a finished basement, a big walk-up attic, a wrap-around front porch with a rocking chair on it, and a three-stall garage with a mother-in-law apartment upstairs. Of course, our current residence has none of the above.

A few years ago there was a company called Key-Loc about three miles from our house. We were aware that Key-Loc specialized in the construction of manufactured homes (pre-fab, as they were called back then), but we never really paid much attention to the place…until the day the company erected a model home on its lot.

The house, a three-story mansion with three dormers, a balcony and a terrace, seemed to appear overnight, as if some fairy godmother had waved her magic wand and “poofed” it into existence. I’ll never forget the day my husband first spotted it.

“It’s my dream house!” he exclaimed, acting as if someone had constructed the house especially for him. “We’ll definitely have to go tour it this weekend!”

Touring the model home turned out to be a big mistake. The interior had been exquisitely decorated by a professional designer. There even was a grand piano in the living room. The place was breathtaking.

My husband’s eyes lit up like 100-watt bulbs the minute we stepped inside. He immediately pointed to the ornate staircase that rose from the center of the living room and said, “We can get a big, 8-foot Christmas tree and put it right there by the stairs! And look! There’s even a fireplace where we can hang Christmas stockings!” He acted as if we’d just signed the papers on the place.

He ran through the house as if he were a kid on an Easter egg hunt. “I’d put a secret panel right here,” he said, waving his arms in the direction of a wall in the wide hallway upstairs. “It would lead to a hidden room that’s totally soundproof and has thick steel walls, like a bank vault!”

“Why?” I asked. “Are you planning to hide out from the law?”

Before I’d even finished asking the question, he disappeared into the master bathroom where he “oohed“ at all of the gold-plated fixtures and the private vanity with a mirror that was long enough to allow the entire Brady Bunch to comb their hair at the same time.

When my husband reached the third floor, he suddenly let out a pain-filled cry. I bolted up the stairs to see what was wrong. There he stood, breathing heavily and clutching his chest.

“Are you okay?” I asked, concerned. “Your cheeks are all flushed. Maybe you shouldn’t have taken the stairs so fast?”

“Look around you!” he said, leaning against the wall for support. “I think I’ve just died and gone to heaven!”

It was the biggest attic I had ever seen. Ballroom dancing could have been held in this attic. Four bedrooms could have fit into this attic. The Jolly Green Giant could have stood upright in this attic. No doubt about it, it was the king of all attics.

“Just think of my model train collection!” my husband said, his pupils enlarging as his eyes made a sweep of the massive space. “Not only could I store all of it up here, I could set up my trains and have a workspace for building a layout for them, too!”

It took me 20 minutes to drag him back downstairs. On the second floor, we passed a room that had been decorated as an exercise room, complete with weights, an exercise bicycle and a treadmill.

“Hey, neat!” I said. “Just think, if you had this room, you could look like Arnold Schwarzenegger in no time!”

He frowned. “I’d convert it into a den with a big-screen TV.”

Armed with floor plans and brochures, we headed home. My husband studied every inch of the paperwork. He sketched floor plans and arranged imaginary furniture in the imaginary rooms. He even had me go back to the model home and take photos of every room in it. No doubt about it. He was obsessed.

We returned to the house several times during the next few weeks. My husband would race through each room and point and say things like, “A nice big, mahogany desk should fit perfectly right there…and a bookcase will look great against that wall.”

That did it. Somebody had to burst his little fantasy bubble. Unfortunately, that somebody had to be me.

“Uh, honey…” I began as we were standing in his imaginary future den. “I hate to be too realistic here, but this house, by the time you buy a big enough piece of land to put it on and have a foundation dug and an artesian well and a septic system put in – not to mention your three-stall garage – it will run you over $500,000. Don’t you think you’re getting just a little too excited over something we can’t afford…ever?”

“I’m going to win the lottery,” he said firmly. “It’s fate. This house will be ours someday. I can feel it in my bones. It was made just for us.”

I will never forget the day Key-Loc went out of business. Suddenly, everything was gone and the factory was silent and empty. But worst of all, the display house was taken down. When my husband drove by and saw his dream house being disassembled, he nearly flung himself across the front steps in protest. He was so devastated, I had to talk him out of wearing a black armband. For months afterwards, he stared longingly at the pictures and brochures of the house and cursed the state lottery.

Just the other day, he came home from work all excited. “Have you seen the fantastic model home they have on display at Epoch Homes on Route 106? We have to go check it out this weekend!”

Here we go again.

Wednesday, March 8, 2006

Most embarrassing moments

I was watching a TV show the other night where some friends were having a few drinks in a bar and after they’d “had a few,” began to discuss their most embarrassing moments.

One couple confessed that they’d once forgotten to hang up the phone and inadvertently had allowed the person on the other end of the line to hear everything going on (and I DO mean everything) in the room. Another guy admitted to singing a sappy love song and crying on videotape and then sending it to a former girlfriend…who allowed everyone, including her new boyfriend, to watch it.

Naturally, the show made me think about my own most embarrassing moments, which probably could fill a book the size of “War and Peace.” Way back when I was single and dating, just about every date involved something I did that made me want to crawl under a table and hide.

For example, there was the date who was waiting for me at the bottom of the stairs, and when I, wearing new high-heeled shoes, started to walk down them, I slipped, fell, and slid all the way down on my back, landing right at his feet…with my dress hiked up nearly to my ribs.

And then here was the time I was invited to play tennis, which I’d never played before, and I accidentally sent the tennis racquet flying like a missile at my date and nearly gave him an ear-ectomy.

There also were plenty of embarrassing moments that didn’t involve dates, such as the time I once was a presenter at an awards banquet. I’d forgotten to bring my reading glasses, so when I opened the envelope and announced, “And the winner is…” I couldn’t read a single word on the card. Dead silence fell over the audience as everyone stared wide-eyed at me and waited to hear the name of the winner, while I stood there smiling feebly and praying that someone with good eyes would come to my rescue.

Another time, my friend and I auditioned for a variety show by performing a modern-jazz dance we’d spent weeks choreographing ourselves. “Great! You’re in!” the director shouted up at us from his seat in the crowded auditorium. “But you, on the right, please do something about your bouncing body parts. They’re very distracting!”

I have to confess, however, that one of my most embarrassing moments happened very recently. In fact, I still get red just thinking about it.

For a year, I’d been taking care of a baby snapping turtle I’d found injured along the side of a hiking trail. The turtle, which I named Snippy, grew to be a big turtle, too big for me to keep, so a few months ago, I contacted a woman who specializes in rehabilitating turtles so they can be released back into the wild, and she said she would take him.

The day before I was supposed to deliver Snippy to the woman, I lifted him out of his aquarium and gasped. It looked as if his innards were hanging out from beneath his shell. I flew to the phone and called my veterinarian, who referred me to another doctor, a reptile specialist. In a panic, I dialed his number. He said it sounded as if Snippy had a serious condition called an intestinal prolapse, and to bring him right in.

When I, carrying a big snapping turtle, walked into the veterinarian’s waiting room, I heard people chuckle. There they were, surrounded by cute little dogs and fluffy kittens – and there I was, carrying a turtle that I’d haphazardly wrapped in a long length of dripping wet, paper towels (the vet had told me to be sure to keep the innards moist).

Finally, after what seemed like years, Snippy and I were escorted into the examining room. The vet carefully unwrapped the turtle, flipped him over on his back and just stared at him.

As I nervously awaited the verdict, the vet, biting at his bottom lip, said, “Um, Sally…those aren’t his intestines…that’s his…well, let’s just say he’s a male turtle…very male.”

My face felt as if it might burst into flames. The vet took one look at my embarrassed expression and couldn’t hold back his laughter any longer. “Have you thought about calling “Play-Turtle’ magazine?” he teased. “Or maybe a turtle escort service?”

As it turned out, poor Snippy’s situation wasn’t normal and he needed a couple stitches to prevent him from becoming an unintentional habitual “flasher.” It cost me over $100.

I’m happy to report that he now is doing just fine and is thriving in his new home.

The problem with living in a small town, however, is that if you tell someone an embarrassing story, which I did about Snippy, word spreads like wildfire. Now, at least twice a week, someone will come up to me, smile and say, “So-and-so told me to ask you about your turtle story!”

I have the feeling that, unlike my many other embarrassing moments, I’m never going to live this one down.