Saturday, April 22, 2017


The other day, one of my friends was complaining about how, since she got married, she has had to sacrifice watching a lot of her favorite TV programs.

"Last night, I wanted to watch a nice love story,” she said, “but my husband complained and whined so much about it, we ended up watching his choice - something about flesh-eating zombies getting their heads blown off. I nearly lost my lunch!” 

I definitely could empathize. My husband, rest his soul, wouldn’t watch anything unless it contained bloodshed, space aliens carrying weapons of mass destruction, motorcycles, scantily clad women, or car chases that involved crashing into no fewer than a dozen fruit stands or sidewalk cafes.

Now that I have the TV all to myself, I am watching programs my husband wouldn’t have watched even if he were being tortured. In fact, I have watched so many happily-ever-after love stories on the Hallmark Channel, I am honestly beginning to believe that a man and woman actually can meet, fall in love and get engaged before even sharing their first kiss.

Anyway, a week ago, on Friday night, I settled down with my cup of hot tea and prepared for a night of marathon love-story watching. About 15 minutes into the first movie, the TV picture froze.  Up popped a notice from DIRECTV, saying it was searching for my satellite connection.

Usually when I lose my satellite connection, it’s because there is a raging blizzard outside, or torrential rains that interfere with the transmission of the signal. But that night was clear. I shut off the TV, unplugged the receiver box, and then plugged it in again, which usually reboots it.

It worked. And for the next 20 minutes I was able to watch TV…until the picture froze once again. This went on all night, until I grew so frustrated, I wanted to use both the TV and the receiver box for target practice. I finally gave up and went to bed.

A couple hours later, I was awakened by the sound of two men carrying on a conversation in my living room. I sat upright, my eyes wide.

“I’ll do whatever you want,” one deep-voiced man was saying. “Just name it.”

Panic flooded through me. Who was in my living room? And what sinister plot were they discussing? But most of all, where were my dogs? Had the two men given them a snack of knockout meatballs?

Suddenly, a TV commercial for Geico Insurance blared through the living room.

I figured that unless my intruders had arrived with their own advertisers in tow, my TV was on.

Sure enough, the TV I had shut off before going to bed had somehow turned itself back on, all by itself. I unplugged it.

“If it turns back on now,” I muttered as I headed back to bed, “I’m calling an exorcist.”

The next morning, I contacted DIRECTV. The technician asked me several questions, remotely checked the receiver box from his end, and came to the conclusion the box needed to be replaced.

“How soon can you get here?” I asked. “I can’t go all weekend without any TV.”

“We’ll mail you a new one,” he said. “It should be there in 3-5 days.”

The thought of not being able to watch TV for that long instantly threw me into love-story withdrawal. But the worst news was yet to come.

“Do you record a lot of programs?” the tech asked me.

“Yeah, I have a lot of things I’ve recorded that I haven’t even watched yet – movies, local programming, TV episodes I missed from my favorite series.”

“Well, when you connect the new receiver box, you’ll lose everything you’ve recorded.”

I didn’t know which to be more upset about – the fact I’d be losing my nine precious episodes of “Outlander”…or the fact he’d said, “When you connect the box.”

“I have to connect the new box myself?” I asked, my voice sounding a few octaves higher than usual. “You’re not going to send someone – someone professional – over to do it?”

“It’s really simple,” he said. “Just call us and we’ll walk you through it.”

After our conversation ended, I dared to look behind my TV. Just as I’d feared, there were enough wires back there to hang myself with. I had visions of trying to install the new box, getting myself completely entangled and ending up lying helpless in a cocoon-like state on the floor until someone actually missed me enough to come check on me…that is, if all of the dust behind the TV didn’t choke me to death first.

The new receiver box arrived early Monday morning, after the longest weekend of my life. I removed it from the carton and stared at it as if it were contaminated with the Ebola virus. An instruction sheet was enclosed. Hesitantly, I picked it up and read it.

It actually didn’t sound too difficult, even for someone as technologically clueless as I am.

“You can do this!” I told myself, taking a deep breath. “Just put on your big-girl panties and give it your best shot!”

Carefully, step-by-step, I followed the instructions. I hooked up the new box to the TV. I programmed the new remote control. I then reprogrammed my other two TVs with the code number provided – because all three were controlled by the same receiver. I also called the toll-free phone number to have the new box activated.

Then I held my breath and tested my handiwork.  To my relief (and total amazement), all three TVs worked flawlessly. I was so proud of myself, I wanted to nominate myself for an award.

I still was smiling with satisfaction when I went to bed that night.

The next morning, my bank contacted me, saying they had put a hold on my debit card because of a suspicious “recharging fee” of $10.99 charged to my account.

“Oh, that must be my activation fee from DIRECTV,” I said, unconcerned. “I had to activate a new receiver box yesterday. So it’s fine. You can lift the hold on my account.”

“I don’t think it’s from DIRECTV,” the bank representative said. “It’s from a telecommunications company. I think you should double check with DIRECTV, just to be safe, before I lift the hold.”

I figured DIRECTV was a telecommunications company, so I still wasn’t concerned. But solely for the sake of pacifying the bank employee, I called them.

“I don’t think we charge for activating a box,” the employee said. “But I’ll check.”

About five minutes later, she returned. “I’m still not sure. But if you’d like, I’ll credit your account for $10.99.”

“No,” I said, “I’ll gladly pay the fee, if there is one. I just need to know if you’re the ones who charged it to my account. My bank seems to think I’ve been hacked.”

“I’m really not sure,” she said. “But I’ll be happy to credit your account the $10.99.”

I gave up and called the bank again.

“DIRECTV isn’t sure if they charged me the $10.99,” I told the representative. “But seeing that the charge popped up right after I activated my new receiver, I’d say it’s a legitimate charge. So you can release the hold on my account, okay?”

“I wouldn’t advise it,” she said. “I seriously would suggest canceling this card and getting a new one.”

The thought of having to notify all of the places that deduct monthly bill payments from my debit account made me want to go drink a tall glass of iced tea laced with hemlock.

“No, I’ll take my chances,” I said.

“If it’s a hack, it will require a lot of paperwork and time before you get your money back,” the bank representative said, stubbornly not giving up. “This $10.99 charge could be just a test to see if your card number is valid.”

I groaned. So even though I was certain the suspicious charge in question was nothing more than a DIRECTV fee, I told her to cancel my card. Then I headed to the local branch of my bank to get a new one.

“Wow! They have been busy!” the employee who handled the transaction said as he eyed his computer screen.

“They?” I repeated.

“The hackers – from Denmark,” he said, turning the screen toward me so I could see it. There were attempted charges on my card for everything from a trip to the Bahamas to Domino’s Pizza. All of them, thanks to the bank representative I’d spoken with on the phone, had been denied. She had been right about the $10.99 not coming from DIRECTV. If she hadn’t stood her ground and convinced me to cancel my card, I probably would have been forced to live in a tent within a few months.

So now I have a brand new TV receiver and a brand new debit card.

If my husband still were here, he’d be pleased – not because I actually hooked up a new receiver box all by myself, but because the debit-card fiasco and having to change all of my online accounts to the new card number is taking up so much of my time, he’d be able to watch the entire marathon of “The Walking Dead” undisturbed.

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Thursday, April 13, 2017


Some of my Facebook friends and I were having a discussion about ticks the other day. For one thing, we were saying how we used to play in fields or in the woods when we were kids and never once even saw a tick. Nowadays if we tried that, we’d probably end up covered with so many ticks, we’d be plucking them out of our skin for the next 10 years.

“I don’t know where they all suddenly came from,” one of my friends wrote, “but I sure as heck wish they’d go back to wherever it was!”

“Global warming,” another one said. “That’s what brought them here.”

“No, they hitched a ride here from Connecticut, where they were plentiful, and then they started breeding like wildfire,” yet another said.

As the conversation progressed, I found myself wishing I could return to a time when I was able to go for a walk in the woods and not have to come home and immediately strip down and search for ticks hiding out in my body folds…especially since my body has more folds than an accordion.

Anyway, the Facebook conversation reminded me of another conversation I’d had not long ago with one of my friends. She’d called on a hot summer day to excitedly tell me about Keith, the new man in her life.

“We’re going on a romantic picnic this weekend,” she said. “He knows a spot way off the beaten path where there is a beautiful meadow with a pond in the middle of it, and a big shade tree near the shore.”

“Sounds nice,” I said. “Hey, you can do what we used to do when we were kids that was so much fun. Lie back on the blanket and look up at the clouds and make pictures of out of them! You can learn a lot about your new boyfriend that way. I mean, if a cloud looks like the shape of two balloons to you, but it looks like a bra to him, well, he could be a pervert!”

“Blanket?” she repeated, ignoring the rest of my words of wisdom. “Are you kidding? Ticks would be crawling all over it within minutes. I’m bringing lawn chairs. And I’m going to wear long pants tucked into my socks, long sleeves and a wide-brimmed hat, just to be doubly safe. I’ve heard that ticks can climb up trees, sense when a warm body is nearby and then drop onto your head as you pass by.”

That was a new one to me. Still, as I envisioned hundreds of little paratrooper ticks skydiving out of the big shade tree and landing on her hat, I found myself thinking that her picnic was beginning to sound somewhat less than romantic.

“So what are you going to bring to eat?” I asked. “A picnic basket stuffed with fried chicken and potato salad?”

“Fried chicken and potato salad!” Her habit of repeating my words was beginning to make me feel as if I were talking to a parrot. “All that cholesterol? I want to win Keith’s heart, not clog it! Besides that, poultry and mayonnaise don’t travel all that well in hot weather, and I sure as heck don’t want to give him food poisoning.”

I giggled. “Yeah, imagine how you’d feel if the two of you started kissing and he suddenly pulled away, grasped his stomach and threw up! You’d wonder if it was due to your bad food or bad kissing!”

My friend didn’t laugh. “Actually,” she said, “I was thinking of bringing something like rye crackers, hard cheese and fresh fruit. Oh, and a nice red wine. That should be safe enough.”

“That sounds fine for appetizers,” I said. “But what’s your main course?”

“You have no concept of what a romantic picnic is all about, do you?” she asked.

The last picnic I’d been on was back in 1970, and it was with my parents, so it was pretty safe to say it wasn’t romantic. Still, I’d never pictured a romantic picnic to involve sitting in lawn chairs while wearing three layers of clothes and nibbling on dry crackers. I mean, picnics never were depicted that way in romance novels or movies.

I decided to tease her. “So, are you going to go skinny dipping in the pond?”

Again, her tone was serious. “No, there are supposed to be ducks in it, so if we swam in there, we’d probably end up with a bad rash.”

“A duck rash?” I asked, thinking she was joking. “From what? An allergy to feathers?”

“No, it’s from this parasite they carry. It’s called shizzy-something. It burrows into your skin when you swim. Haven’t you ever heard of swimmer’s itch?”

“Yeah, but I thought that was from sitting around too long in a wet bathing suit.”

“Anyway,” she continued, “I can hardly wait for this picnic. I mean, Keith was the one who suggested it. Isn’t that just the utmost in romance?”

“Uh, run it by me again…exactly what’s going to be so romantic about this picnic?”

“Boy, you really are clueless, aren’t you! What can be more romantic than just the two of us, alone in a meadow, sitting next to a duck-filled pond and feeding cheese, crackers and fruit to each other?” She paused for a moment. “Do you think the fruit will attract bees? I’m pretty sure Keith said he’s allergic to them.”

Visions of her boyfriend, puffed up like a balloon and scratching duck pimples as he whispered sweet nothings into her ear, immediately popped into my head. I stifled a laugh.

“Well, have a great time,” I said. “Call me and let me know how it went. And don’t go getting any mosquito bites in painful places now!”

“Mosquito bites!” Parrot Woman once again repeated my words. “Thanks for reminding me! I almost forgot to buy repellent! I don’t want to end up with the West Nile virus.”

Listening to my friend rattle off diseases as if she were a medical encyclopedia made me realize two things: (1). she probably was a hypochondriac and (2). picnics obviously weren’t what they used to be.

Personally, I think she would have been a lot happier if she’d have had her picnic under a big beach umbrella on a slab of concrete next to a swimming pool loaded with chlorine…with a guy who was a doctor.

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