Sunday, July 23, 2017

IS COUNT DRACULA MY LONG-LOST RELATIVE?



Ever since the day I was born, I have been nocturnal.  My mom used to tell me stories about how when I was a toddler, I would sleep all day and stay awake all night, so the pediatrician told her to “entertain” me all day and keep me awake, that way, I would get tired and sleep through the night. My poor mother did everything but hire clowns to entertain me, but the end result was she would collapse from exhaustion at 9 p.m., and I’d still be wide awake and raring to go.

Through the years, my “backward time-clock.” as the doctors called it, gave me a lot of problems. For one thing, I lived so close to my high school, I could see into the classrooms from my bedroom window, yet I was late nearly every morning because I couldn’t wake up. That was because I never managed to fall asleep until about 4 a.m.

The same problem occurred when I tried to work a 9-5 job. To me, 9:00 in the morning was the equivalent of trying to make a “normal” person get up for work at 2:00 a.m., so I ended up finding jobs where I could work the graveyard shift. It was the perfect shift for me – but the options were limited. I mean, I wasn’t about to find a job as a dental receptionist that started at midnight.

When I wasn’t working, I always stayed up all night. Usually, I would go to bed just in time to wake up my husband for work.

This might explain why we never had any kids.

Thankfully, the dawn of the home-computer age was my salvation. I now can stay at home and work in my pajamas at 2 a.m., if I want, and not have to worry about punching a time card or trying to conform to what others deem as normal hours.

“You were born on Halloween, right?” one of my friends said to me one day when I told her I’d gone to bed at 10 in the morning and slept until 5:00 in the afternoon.

“Yeah, I was born on Halloween, why?”

“Have you ever thought you might be…part vampire?”

I shook my head. “Nah, I like my steaks and burgers cooked well-done.”

“Well,” she said, “You might want to stay out of the sunlight, just in case. You could end up turning into a pile of ashes, just like the vampires do when they’re exposed to sunlight.”

I remember laughing at her warning, but last weekend something happened to make me seriously begin to consider the possibility that one of my long-lost relatives just might be Count Dracula.

I had gone out for my daily morning walk with my dogs, which I usually do around 8 a.m., before I go to bed.  I walk the same two-mile route every day, and it takes just under 30 minutes.

Well, on this particular day, it was really hot and humid, even at such an early hour, so I was eager to get the walk over with. But I happened to meet one of my neighbors, also out walking, so we stopped and talked for about 20 minutes. By the time I got home, I was hot and sweaty, and ready for a cold shower and a good day’s sleep.

I took my shower, and when I got out, I started to feel pains in my arms – as if they were being poked with lit cigarettes.  I examined my arms and was shocked to see they were covered with big red welts. I also noticed some welts popping out at the base of my neck. Within minutes, I was intensely itching, and the splotches were getting bigger and redder.

Thinking I had a rare case of something like jungle fever, I headed straight to a walk-in clinic (well, I did put on my clothes first).

There, a doctor with a very serious expression examined me and said, “Hmmm,” a lot.

Finally, he asked, “Do you get much sun?”

“No, I’m nocturnal. I’m usually outside only early in the mornings.”

“Just as I figured,” he said. “You have PMLE.”

My mind raced as I tried to think what PMLE might stand for. I decided it probably was a shortened version of the word “pimple.”  I frowned, thinking heck, I could have diagnosed that myself.

“You’re saying I have pimples?” I asked him.

He shook his head and smiled. “No, PMLE stands for polymorphous light eruption.”

I just stared blankly at him.

“You’ve become allergic to the sun,” he said. “Have you noticed the pattern of your urticaria?”

“My what?” I dumbly asked, silently wishing this guy would speak English.

“Your hives,” he said. “I can tell you exactly what you were wearing when you went outside – a short-sleeved shirt with a V-neck.”

He was right.

“Your hives are only where your skin was exposed to the sunlight,” he explained. “You don’t have them anywhere else.”

“So you’re telling me that every time I go out in the sun now for longer than 20 minutes, I’m going to break out in hives?”

“I’m afraid so,” he said, “until you desensitize your skin to sunlight, over time.”

I immediately thought about this sience-fiction movie I had seen about “mole people” when I was a kid. They had lived underground in the dark for years, until their skin was so pale and pasty looking, they resembled ghosts. They then decided to go above ground to see what it was like in the outside world – and they immediately were fried to death by the sun.

“You should wear sunscreen – the higher the SPF the better,” the doctor said. “And at first, you should cover every inch of your body in clothing when you go out.”

I pictured myself having to dress like a nun – or a beekeeper - just to go to the beach. I figure I’d probably die of heatstroke before I had the chance to break out in hives.

“If you go out in the sun and expose your skin for short amounts of time each day,” he continued, “you probably will be much less sensitive within a couple months.”

“But by then, it will be fall!” I said.

“Unfortunately, that’s one of the downsides of living in a state that has four seasons,” he said. “And next summer, you’ll have to start from scratch again.”

I thought the hives would disappear immediately, but they turned into a rash that hung around for the next five days. I realized, with a deep sense of relief, that the only reason why my face hadn’t broken out was because I’d been wearing a hat – and foundation makeup. So at least I was spared from having to wear a bag over my head for a week.

So now I have no choice other than to be nocturnal – that is, until the colder weather arrives, when wearing long sleeves and pants won’t cause me to self-combust.

In the meantime, I’m going to research my ancestry and see if there just might be a couple vampires hanging by their feet somewhere on my family tree.


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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW?



It seems as if ever since I hit age 65, much of my mail has contained ads for hearing aids. Every time I receive one, I smile and think of my late husband, who, after 10 years of my constant nagging, finally had his hearing tested and was fitted with two hearing aids.

The minute he wore the hearing aids for the first time, his eyes lit up and his mouth fell open. “Is this what everything is supposed to sound like?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “What does it sound like?”

“Gee, you don’t have to yell!” he said.

“I’m talking in my normal voice.”

“Your normal voice is that loud?”

“Yeah, it got that way from having to yell all the time so you could hear me!”

Things got only worse after that.

First of all, he used to keep the volume on the TV cranked up to over 30. Even the neighbors down the road could hear which shows we were watching. Once he got his hearing aids, however, he turned the volume down to about an eight. It was so low, I practically had to read lips just to watch my favorite programs.

And then he began hearing noises and sounds he’d never heard before.

“When are you going to get the dogs’ toenails clipped?” he complained one night. “All of the clicking when they walk across the floor is driving me crazy!”

Before then, the dogs could have worn tap shoes and danced the tango across the floor and he wouldn’t have heard a thing.

He also complained when I was cooking.

“Have you always done so much pot banging and clanging when you’re cooking?” he asked. “You sound like the drummer in a heavy-metal band! And do you have to keep slamming the refrigerator door?”

Unfortunately, I no longer could mutter something under my breath without him hearing me.

But the hearing aids also brought some unexpected perks. For one thing, he used to spend all day singing...loudly. He would choose a song the minute he woke up in the morning, and then sing that same song over and over again all day long. One day, in August, he sang about 400 choruses of “White Christmas.” Then a few days later, he sang, “Bringing in the Sheaves” – except his version was “Bringing in the Sheep.” I tried to correct him, but before he got the hearing aids, he couldn’t hear me anyway.

The morning after he got them, however, he woke up and started singing, some old Elvis tune, then stopped abruptly. I wondered if all of my wishing that he’d develop a prolonged case of laryngitis finally had come true.

“You know what?” he said to me. “I always thought I had a great singing voice, like the next Sinatra. But now that I can hear myself so loud and clear, my singing really irritates me!”

“Welcome to my world,” I said.

In the past, he also had the habit of tapping on things. When he sat in his recliner, he’d pick up the first thing he could reach on the end table – a coaster, the remote control – and without even realizing he was doing it, would start tapping it against the table. I began to feel as if I’d married Woody Woodpecker. He even would pick up his prescription bottles and shake them like maracas.

When I’d ask him to please stop, he’d look at me as if I were strange and say, “How can you possibly hear such light tapping? I’m sitting right here doing it and I can’t hear it.”

Well, the minute he started tapping when he was wearing his hearing aids for the first time, the look on his face was one of complete shock. “Does it always sound this loud?” he asked.

“No, sometimes it’s even louder,” I said. “Kind of like an automatic weapon.”

But the best part was he couldn’t snack the way he once did. Potato chips and corn chips always were his snacks of choice, but with the hearing aids, he could hear the crunching in stereo in his head, and it drowned out his TV shows. Even when he turned down the volume on his hearing aids, he still could hear the crunching. So he ate a lot fewer snacks. His blood, which was so high in cholesterol it could have been used as axle grease, thanked him for it.

He once even accused me of brushing my teeth too loudly.

“It’s a wonder you still have any enamel left on your teeth!” he said. “You sound like you’re scraping them with sandpaper!”

When he first got the hearing aids, the audiologist told him that when he took them out at night to be sure to keep them where our dogs couldn’t reach them, because to dogs, they were as alluring as rawhide treats.

Believe me, there were times when my husband complained about my being too loud that I was tempted to permanently hide his hearing aids while he slept at night.

I figured I could always blame the dogs.

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Monday, July 10, 2017

BINGO JUST WASN'T MY GAME



The other day I was visiting a friend who’d just come home from the hospital, and the only complaint she had about her upcoming period of recuperation was she wouldn’t be able to attend her favorite bingo game for a while.

“I love my bingo,” she said, frowning. “And I’m really lucky at it. How am I going to survive three whole weeks without it?”

Her words made me think back to the 1970s and the first time my mother, who, like my friend, also was an avid bingo player, convinced me to go to one of the weekly games with her.

Naïve person that I was, I thought bingo still involved a sheet of paper, a marker and simply covering a row of numbers either vertically, horizontally or diagonally.

Boy, was I ever wrong.

First of all, back then the bingo halls were using what they called bingo “boards” rather than cards. They were thick and hard and had these clear little doors you had to slide over each number as the number was called. The bingo boards stood stacked upright in wooden bingo boxes, so you could flip through a bunch of them quickly, sliding the little doors over the numbers as you went along.

Being new to the game, and also new to using the sliding doors, I purchased only five cards. My mother, on the other hand, purchased about three dozen.

The bingo caller took his position at the front of the hall and announced the first game, which sounded something like, “If you can get bingo in 47 numbers or less, and your numbers form the outline of the state of Florida, with your free space landing on the spot where Tallahassee is located, you’ll win $300!”

I sat there just staring blankly at him, while my mother said, “Ooh!  The Florida game!  I’m really lucky at this one!”

Not only did I have absolutely no clue what I was doing, some of the little doors on my bingo boards were either closing on their own when I flipped through them, or I couldn’t force them to close at all because they were stuck.

And if that didn’t confuse me enough, there was another game called “shotgun.”

“So what’s this shotgun game about?” I asked my mother. “Do my numbers have to form the shape of a 12-gauge?”

She laughed. “No, shotgun means the caller ‘fires’ numbers at you really fast, not bothering to give any letters, like ‘B’ or ‘N’.”

“Then how on earth am I supposed to know where to look for the numbers?”

“Oh, you’ll learn,” she said.

She was wrong. By the time I finally found and slid the little door over the first number, the caller already was calling the tenth. Had I just randomly covered a bunch of numbers, I’d have had a better shot at winning.

Even worse, with so many people quickly flipping through their bingo boards, it created such a breeze, my hair ended up looking as if it had just been struck by lightning.

Not surprisingly, in all of my two years of weekly bingo games with my mother, I never won a single penny. My mother, on the other hand, won so many games, there were rumors that the other players were forming a lynch mob.

Every time my mother shouted, “Bingo!” the looks that were cast in our direction could not, by any stretch of the imagination, be interpreted as, “Great job! Congratulations!” In fact, I could swear I actually heard growling.

What I really enjoyed the most at the bingo games was watching the die-hard players, the ones who played 30 cards at a time as easily as if they were playing only one. Usually these players also brought an assortment of lucky charms with them. The first time I walked in and saw the tables loaded with stuffed animals, statues, dolls and religious artifacts, I nearly mistook the place for a flea market.

I’m embarrassed to admit I became so desperate to win one night, I actually brought a lucky charm of my own (well, at least I’d thought it was a lucky charm until that night). It was a tiny troll doll with purple hair. By the end of the eighth game, I was so frustrated, I’d yanked out every purple hair on its pointy little head.

My mother finally grew tired of bingo and discovered, during a seniors’ bus trip one summer, Foxwoods Casino…and slot machines. Once again, she seemingly had the magic touch. All she had to do was look at a slot machine and it practically spewed coins at her.

So one autumn day, she convinced me to go with her to Foxwoods for a “fun” afternoon of slot playing.

And on that day, I actually learned the real secret of how to come home from Foxwoods with a small fortune.

Go there with a large fortune.


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Tuesday, July 4, 2017

DON'T BANKS GIVE OUT FREE TOASTERS ANY MORE?



I have two debit cards: one I use all the time, and one I use only on rare occasions – like when my dog tried to play tag with a porcupine and then needed $3,000 worth of surgery to remove all of the quills from her face.

A couple months ago, the debit card I frequently use got hacked by someone overseas who used it for a trip to the Bahamas – and five Domino’s pizzas. I had to be issued a new card with a new number, and then I spent countless hours changing the card number at every place that kept my card on file for automatic payments. It was an experience that was about as enjoyable as running naked through a field of poison ivy.

So last Sunday, when I stopped at an ATM and decided to finally use my rarely used debit card, I was less than pleased when “Denied -Unauthorized User” flashed on the screen. My first thought was, “Nooo!  Not this card, too!  I just got the other one straightened out! I don’t want to go through that again!”

The minute I got home, I called one of my bank’s branches that is open on Sundays and asked why I suddenly was unauthorized to use my own debit card.

“I’m really sorry, but I can’t help you,” the employee said. “Your account has been locked, and I can’t access it. You should call the 1-800 number on the back of your card.”

So I hung up and called the 1-800 number…or should I say I tried to call it. My phone suddenly had no dial tone. The words, “on hold.” flashed on my phone’s screen.

I immediately suspected the bank accidentally had left me on hold and that’s why I wasn’t able to get a dial tone. The only problem was I couldn’t call the bank to tell them they’d left me on hold…because I had no dial tone.

I have one of those cheap, disposable cell phones I carry with me in case of an emergency, otherwise I’m not much of a cell-phone user. For one thing, where I live, out in the middle of nowhere, I have to climb a tree and then hang by my ankles before I can get cell-phone reception, so my house is equipped with only old-fashioned land lines.

But having no other choice, I grabbed my cell phone and headed outside, thinking all the while that every second I wasted could mean someone in Bora Bora was using my debit card to buy a side of beef for his annual family barbecue.

I walked to the top of a hill where my phone finally was able to get a signal and called the 1-800 number on the back of my debit card. I figured I would deal with the dial-tone situation in my house later on. At that moment, getting my debit card straightened out had to take priority.

I was put on hold for 22 minutes. By then, the mosquitoes had just about drained me of all my blood, and the sun had fried my skin the equivalent of beef jerky.

When a human voice finally answered, I was so excited, I practically danced a jig …that is, until the employee crisply told me I had to physically go to my nearest bank to find out anything about my debit card.

By then, I had wasted most of a perfectly good day doing nothing but dealing with banks.

I got into my car and headed toward the nearest bank branch that was open on Sunday. The customer-service representative greeted me cheerfully and asked how she could help me.

I frowned at her. “I’ve been denied access to my debit card and I think it’s probably been hacked. I’ve spent the last two hours trying to find out if I’m right.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry!” she said. “Have a seat and let me find out what is going on.”

I sat and watched her stare at her computer screen for several long seconds. Suddenly, an expression that could be described only as a look of, “Uh, oh! This is not good!” crossed her face.

She laughed nervously and said, “It appears that when your other debit card was hacked a couple months ago and the bank put a freeze on it, they accidentally froze this card, too.”

“Fine,” I said. “Then just unfreeze it and I’ll be on my way.”

The “uh, oh!” look on her face grew deeper. “I can’t unfreeze it,” she said. “I will have to issue you a new card and a new number.”

I couldn’t hide the fact that her words really had upset me. Well, actually, by that point, I didn’t even try to hide it.

Her smile was weak, at best. “But the good news is I can make up a new card for you right now, with no waiting.”

“Great,” I muttered in a monotone.

“I feel SO bad about this,” the employee said, “and I really want to make it up to you. I mean, I know what an inconvenience all of this must be, especially on a long holiday weekend. Tell you what – we’re having a big July 4th giveaway here, with raffles and prizes. Officially it doesn’t start until tomorrow, but let me get go get you a prize - something nice to make up for all of this.” 

She disappeared out back, while I sat there thinking of what my prize might be. I recalled the days back when banks used to give out toasters or portable radios to people who opened accounts.

“I can always use a new toaster,” I said to myself, suddenly feeling a little less upset about the whole debit-card fiasco.

The employee returned, a bright smile on her face.

“Here you go,” she said, handing me two emery-board fingernail files with the bank’s logo on them. “And again, I do apologize for the inconvenience.”

I stared at the two emery boards and suppressed the urge to burst out laughing. Instead, I said, not even realizing it was loud enough for her to hear, “Gee, too bad these aren’t sharper – I’d use one to slit my throat!”

She gave me a deer-in-the-headlights kind of look that caused me to laugh out loud. She honestly looked relieved when I did.

So I headed home with my brand new debit card and my two new emery boards. And when I entered my kitchen, I gave the evil eye to my 10-year-old toaster I’d been certain was going to be replaced with a shiny new one.

I would have called the bank’s main office to complain…but I didn’t get my dial tone back until the next afternoon. It turned out to be a flaw with the phone lines due to a bad thunderstorm in some other town, not because the bank had left me on hold, as I’d originally thought.

Actually, it’s too bad it turned out not to be the bank’s fault. Otherwise, I might have been able to get another reward or prize for the inconvenience – something really special, like a purse-sized pack of tissues.

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CLICK HERE ===> https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/384106