Monday, January 29, 2018

THE REASON WHY SLOT MACHINES ARE QUIETER NOWADAYS



I haven’t been to a casino in years. In fact, the last time I went, all of the slot machines still spewed coins into a tray. Now I’ve been told the machines give out receipts instead. To me, that seems much too…quiet.

I think I can understand, however, why the slot machines are more silent now. About 20 years ago, when my late husband and I went to Las Vegas, we quickly learned that the sound of coins pouring into the slot-machine trays was equivalent to the sound of ringing a dinner bell for a pack of hungry wolves. I actually was fascinated by the clever (a.k.a. devious) ways people tried to con me out of my winnings. In fact, I began to think I must have had the words “na├»ve tourist” tattooed across my forehead.

Take, for example, one afternoon when I was playing a slot machine in the hotel where we were staying. An elderly woman came and stood next to me and acted as if she had known me for years, telling me about her recent surgery, her poor health, and how she had no family to take care of her.

At first, I was polite, nodding and commenting as she spoke, but when she began to hug, rub and kiss my machine, I began to wonder if she had escaped from some nearby facility, if you know what I mean.

“I’m going to bring you good luck!” the woman explained, smiling. “I have the magic touch.” Again, she lovingly rubbed my machine. “You just wait and see!”

All I could think about at that moment was she was leaving smudges and lip prints all over the screen on my machine.

“It’s a con game,” a man who slipped into the seat next to mine said out of the corner of his mouth. “If you win, she’ll expect you to give her a few bucks because she brought you good luck. That’s how she makes her living.”

When the woman overheard what he was saying, her eyes shot daggers at him and she stormed off.

I didn’t try my luck again until much later that evening. Almost immediately, I won 80 quarters. As I sat there, enjoying the sound of the coins clinking into my tray, a man in a wheelchair suddenly appeared out of nowhere.

“Boy, you’re having some good luck, aren’t you?” he said, smiling.

I smiled back and nodded.

“I sure do wish I could have some luck, too,” he said, his expression sobering. “I lost my wallet with $400 in it today and now I don’t even have a place to stay tonight.”

“That’s terrible,” I said, with genuine sympathy.

“Think you could spare me a few dollars?” he asked. “Every little bit helps.”

At that moment, my husband, who’d been gambling a couple aisles away, joined us.

“This poor man lost his wallet with $400 in it,” I told him. “He needs a few dollars to get by.”

The cold, unsympathetic look my husband gave the man surprised me, until he  said, “Funny, when you came over and told me that same story a few minutes ago, you said your ‘lost’ wallet had only $250 in it.”

Never have I seen a man vanish so quickly.

I didn’t touch another slot machine until our last night in Las Vegas.  I found a machine I thought looked lucky (as if I could tell the difference) and sat down to play.  I’d played only two games before a blond woman who appeared to be in her 50s, came and sat next to me.

“You’re going to win on the tenth try,” she said matter-of-factly.

I rolled my eyes. By then, I’d had just about enough of these Las Vegas con-artists.

“And if by some miracle I do win,” I said to her, “I suppose you’ll expect me to give you some of the money?”

She smiled in amusement. “Why would I want you to do that?” She pulled a plastic bag filled with quarters from her purse. “I’m psychic. I can win my own money.”

She placed both palms on her machine and frowned. “This one won’t pay off big for another 25 tries. But the jackpot will be big enough to make it worth my while to stick with it.”

By then, I was convinced someone had hung an “Attention weirdos! Please come sit next to me!” sign on my back.

Still, curiosity made me stay right where I was and continue to play…just to prove the “psychic” wrong.

Believe it or not, on exactly my tenth try, I won 200 quarters. Even though I knew it was nothing more than a lucky coincidence, I felt as if I’d just stepped into the Twilight Zone.

The woman smiled smugly at me. “I still have 15 more tries before mine pays off,” she said.

Even if a parade of naked male models had come walking through the casino at that moment, I wouldn’t have taken my eyes off that woman’s machine (okay…maybe for just a couple seconds) because my curiosity was killing me.

Sure enough, on the 15th try, bells and whistles went off on her machine. She won $375.

I was speechless. I didn’t know whether to be frightened or impressed.

But unfortunately, as much as I would have loved to stay and see what happened next, the hour was growing very late.

“Well, I’d better be getting back up to my room,” I finally said to her. “My husband’s probably already asleep, and we have an early flight in the morning.”

“Oh, don’t leave yet,” the woman said. “Your machine is about to pay off again in a few more tries. It would be a shame to lose all of that money.”

I wondered why she didn’t just keep quiet and win the money for herself. Still, I wasn’t about to pass up the opportunity to add a few more quarters to my bucket. On the sixth try, I won another $80.

It took everything I had to finally tear myself away from that machine and the “psychic.” In fact, I wanted to hang around with her until dawn, going from machine to machine until I had so much money, I’d have to hire an armored truck to bring my winnings home.

When I went back up to my hotel room, I excitedly related the story of the psychic woman to my husband as I showed him my winnings.

He shook his head and sighed. “You’re SO gullible,” he said. “If she really is psychic, why would she be wasting her time on the quarter machines? Don’t you think she’d be playing the $5 or, at the very least, the $1 machines? Or how about high-stakes poker?”

“Well, it’s a shame you don’t believe in her,” I said, “because she said if you wanted to come downstairs and take my place, she’d help you win a bundle.”

He was gone before I could tell him I was only kidding.

Funny, but when we later went to Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut, we weren’t disturbed, not even once, by anyone. It was nothing like we’d experienced in Las Vegas.

To be honest, I kind of missed all of the weirdos.



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Sunday, January 14, 2018

2018 HAS BEEN A REAL POWER STRUGGLE SO FAR




The first week of 2018 was so cold, one of the weathermen said the only place colder than New Hampshire was Siberia.

Believe me, being the second coldest place in the world was not an honor I was thrilled about. Not only did my car battery raise the white flag of surrender and then cough and drop dead, the first Thursday of the month, a snowstorm with winds strong enough to knock over an elephant blew in.

I had prepared for the storm in advance, however. I bought enough groceries to feed a baseball team. I also heaped my shopping cart with enough dog food and treats to nourish a pack of hungry wolves. When I saw the other customers in the store flinging candles and battery-operated lanterns into their shopping carts, I smiled smugly. I didn’t need to buy any of those things, I told myself. No, my house was equipped with an automatic generator system that kicked on and kept everything running smoothly whenever there was a power failure. During the five years I’d had it, it flawlessly had carried me through 15 power failures, some as long as four days. So I was confident I didn’t have to concern myself with buying any alternate heat or lighting sources

The day of the storm was brutal. The snow was coming down so hard I couldn’t see anything but a solid sheet of white when I looked outside, and the wind was whipping the snow into drifts that were as high as my windows. By that evening, the winds had increased to the point where they sounded like freight trains barreling toward my house.

I was calm and cozy, however, curled up on the sofa and watching TV, a cup of hot tea by my side. Suddenly, the lights flickered. Past experience had taught me that flickering was never a good thing…that it nearly always led to one big final flicker followed by complete darkness, usually for at least 24 hours.

Sure enough, as if on cue, the lights flickered one more time and then went out. The house was thrust into total blackness.

Still, I wasn’t worried. I knew that within a few seconds, the generator would roar into action and the lights, TV and heat all would pop right back on.

Well, I waited a few seconds and heard the generator make a sound that resembled that of a cat trying to hack up a fur ball. After that, there was only silence…and continued darkness. Five minutes later, I was forced to admit the truth – the generator was dead.

I panicked. I absolutely panicked. The wind chill outside was something like 35 degrees below zero and there I was, without any heat. Even worse, the storm already had dumped 14 inches of snow and I wasn’t plowed out, so no one could come to my rescue.  I was trapped. Visions of my stiff body being found looking like a giant blue Popsicle in the morning, after all of the water pipes in the house had burst open and flooded out the place, flashed through my mind.

I have three cordless phones in my house, and all three operate from one base… powered by electricity. So they were useless. My cell phone gets reception only if I climb the oak tree at the end of my driveway and hang by my heels from the fifth branch...and that’s during clear weather. But in my office I have an old-fashioned landline plugged into the wall. It was my only hope for reaching the outside world.

I inched my way through the darkness and over to the kitchen drawer, then felt around until I located my powerful little flashlight. I then headed into my office. There, I used the old phone, which I’d bought back when Neil Armstrong first set foot on the moon, and called my friend Nancy to see if her husband, Paul, might be able to give me some advice.

The second I heard Paul come to the phone, I blurted out, “Yes, I have a full tank of propane – 500 gallons,” before he could ask me the inevitable.

He suggested that I go outside, open the door on the front of the generator and look for either a manual-start switch or a reset button. He then asked if I'd be able to stay on the phone with him while I did that.
  
“Not unless I can find a 200-foot line for this phone’s wall jack,” I muttered.

So, at 10:00 at night in the pitch dark during a blizzard, there I was, dressed like someone who was about the scale Mount Everest, venturing out past the end of my house to the edge of the woods, to check out my generator, which I knew absolutely nothing about.

I soon discovered that my shin-high boots were no match for the knee-deep snow as I trudged through the drifts toward my destination. When I finally reached the generator, all I saw was a snow mound that resembled an igloo.

I didn’t want to have to walk back to the other end of the property to the garage to get a shovel, so using only my gloved hands, I started removing the snow from the generator, all the while, holding the flashlight in my mouth (and praying my lips wouldn't permanently freeze to it). I also was hoping that maybe the generator hadn’t started because it was buried in the snow and was being smothered, so when I uncovered it, it would be able to breathe again and would start right up.

After I cleared the generator and all of its vents, I opened the door on the front. The door was so cold, it snapped right off in my hand. 

“That can’t be good,” I mumbled, frowning at it.

The first thing I saw inside was a hornets’ nest. I was pretty sure the little buggers had to be frozen stiff at that point, so I pulled out the nest and tossed it into the snow. Then I checked the panel on the generator. The only thing visible was an on/off switch that looked like a circuit breaker. I flipped it. Nothing happened. I flipped it a couple more times…with the same results.

I made my way back into the house and called Paul to tell him about my lack of success.

“I sure wish I could get over to your house to help you out,” he said.

“Well, unless you’re driving a Mack truck with a big plow on the front, there’s no way you’re even going to get into my driveway,” I said.

“Then try checking your circuit-breaker panel in the house,” he said. “There might be something there that will reset the generator.”

I hung up and checked the breaker panel. I saw about 20 switches, none of which I dared to flip. They all looked alike and all were facing in the same direction. There wasn’t even one that appeared to be different from the others or stood out as being the “flip me!” switch.

“I’m NOT going to try to deal with this on my own any more,” I finally decided. “I’m going to call the local fire department and have them tell me exactly what to do. I’m sure they must know a lot about generator systems and circuit breakers.”

So I called the fire department’s non-emergency number and got a recording telling me to call 911. I wasn’t that desperate…at least not yet. I then called the police department’s non-emergency number and got another recording. Desperate, I called the 211 number I’d seen advertised on TV for people who had no heat.  Again, another recording. I began to wonder if the human race had become extinct because everyone had frozen to death. I tried calling one more person, my jack-of-all-trades neighbor two houses away, who has a snowmobile. I knew he, if anyone, could make it through the snow and over to my house to help me out.

His phone rang about 10 times. No one answered, not even a recording.

Frustrated, I called Paul again and told him it was my farewell phone call because I was pretty sure I was going to freeze to death in another three or four hours.

“Did the generator come with a manual when it was installed?” he asked, not yet giving up, as I already had. “It must have a troubleshooting section in it somewhere.”

“Yeah – but I doubt I can find it in the dark.” I said, sighing. Normally, I would have looked up the instructions online, but I had no devices available that could get me online.  So I hung up and dug out the box of manuals in my office cabinet. I then closed the office door (so my dogs wouldn’t come in and disturb me), sat on the floor, held the flashlight in my teeth, and searched through the paperwork.

I found manuals for everything from my TV and microwave to my ceiling fans and smoke detectors. Fifteen minutes later, I still hadn’t found any information about the generator (but I did find the warranty for my mattress). I was contemplating going back outside and giving the generator a swift kick when Paul called back, wondering how I was doing.

“I can’t find the manual, no one is answering my calls, I’m snowed in and my house is about to form stalactites on the ceiling,” I whined. “I’m doomed.”

Just then, I realized I had answered his call on my cordless phone that had been lying next to the other phone in my office.

“Wait a minute!” I said, puzzled. “I’m talking to you on my cordless phone!  How is that possible without any power?”

“Where are you?” Paul asked.

“In my very dark office.”

“Is the door closed?”

“Yeah, why?”

“Open it.”

I opened my office door and saw the lights on out in the living room. I burst out laughing.

“The power’s back on, I take it?” I heard Paul’s voice ask.

Once again, my “duh!” factor had reared its ugly head.

The power failure had lasted a grand total of about 90 minutes. I had panicked for absolutely nothing.

Two days later the authorized technician for my generator arrived.

“There’s nothing wrong with it,” he announced after putting it through its paces. “It was just too cold out for it to kick in. The next time that happens, flip it to manual and then it should start. When it does, flip it back to automatic. That will take care of it.”

“And just where is all of this stuff I’m supposed to flip located?” I asked.

“Behind the door on the front of the generator.”

I shook my head. “The only thing behind that door was a hornets’ nest...oh, and some kind of on/off switch.”

He nodded. “And behind that front panel is another panel.”

How was I supposed to know my generator had a secret panel hidden behind the front panel? Who designed the machine anyway? A smuggler?

The technician did a bunch of stuff to the generator like change the oil and the filter and re-gap the spark plugs…all for a mere $225. Now I’m supposedly all set for the next power failure.

So the first week of January, I spent at total of $375 for a new car battery and maintenance on my generator, all because of the darned weather.

At least I now will be able to keep my New Year’s resolution to lose 20 pounds. That's because once my current stash of groceries runs out, I’ll have no money left in the monthly budget to buy any more food.

I’ll probably end up having to beg my dogs for some of their Kibbles ‘n Bits.

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Saturday, January 6, 2018

GIVING "THE FINGER" TO THE NEW YEAR




So far, 2018 has been a real test of my patience and endurance. I’m beginning to think my New Year’s resolution should have been, “Take a survival course.”

First of all, right around Christmas, I was taking off my pullover sweater and a hangnail on my middle finger got caught in it and was torn off. I didn’t think much about it, other than it hurt a little and bled a bit.

But that night, my finger kept me awake. It felt hot. It throbbed. Lightning-bolt pains shot down it all the way into my palm. I finally fell asleep for about two hours, and then was abruptly awakened by even worse pain in my finger. Defeated, I got up. What I saw shocked me. My finger had swollen to twice its size and resembled a red sausage. I also couldn’t bend it at all. Still, I figured if I soaked it, it would be fine.

At the same time, the weather in my area was breaking records for being some of the most frigid since the extinction of the dinosaurs. The wind chills were 25 below zero and the authorities were advising people to stay indoors and not even venture outside because breathing the air probably would turn their lungs into Ben & Jerry’s next flavor of the month.

By the fourth day of suffering with my fat, throbbing finger, I didn’t care if the weather outside was the second coming of the Ice Age. I wanted to go to a walk-in clinic and have a doctor take a look at my hand. The fact that I’d earlier made the mistake of checking online to see what I could do for the finger and happened to come across a video of a guy whose finger looked better than mine being told it probably would have to be amputated because he’d waited too long to see a doctor, definitely didn’t help ease my mind.

So, at 6 p.m. that night, I put on my makeup and my warm clothes and decided to go to the clinic. I got into my car, which was parked in the garage, shoved the key into the ignition and turned it.

Nothing happened.

I tried starting the car again. It didn’t even so much as cough.

Muttering, I slammed back into the house and called AAA.  After being on hold for 45 minutes, a human finally answered.

“Where are you located?” the woman asked me.

“New Hampshire,” I said.

“No, I mean are you stranded on the side of the road somewhere?”

“No, I’m home.”

“Oh,” she said. “Then we can’t come help you. We aren’t doing any driveway calls right now during this weather. We have to tend to the people who are stranded out in the elements first. You will have to call back at another time.”

I understood that someone shivering in a dead car in the middle of a parking lot after the building had closed for the night was more important than someone who was sitting in a warm house and drinking hot tea, but still, there was my rapidly swelling finger to consider. So I called my friend Nancy, who lives 10 minutes away, and told her about my situation.

“We’ll be right over,” she said, referring to her husband Paul and herself.

They had intended to jump-start my car, but unfortunately, I’d parked nose-in, with the front of my car against the back wall of the garage, so there was no way to get another car next to it to jump it. Luckily, Paul also had brought a charger with him, so he hooked it up to my car’s battery.

“How old is this battery?” he asked me.

I had to think for a moment. “I’m pretty sure I remember buying it right after Obama’s inauguration.”

He frowned. “I think it’s time for a new one. This one probably won’t even hold a charge and you’ll get stranded if you drive it somewhere. Then you’ll be even worse off.”

“Well, I guess I won’t be going to the clinic tonight, then,” I said, sighing. I held up my middle finger to show them how swollen it was, not thinking that it might have been misinterpreted as a rude gesture. Fortunately, the finger’s appearance pretty much spoke for itself. 


Nancy gasped and cringed. “Come on, get into our car.”

By the time we arrived in the city, however, the clinic was closed, and I didn’t think my problem was severe enough to warrant a trip to the emergency room, even though the guy I’d seen online who was being told he might lose his finger kept popping into my mind.  I asked Paul and Nancy if they could just take me to the supermarket so I could stock up on food and first-aid supplies. I had read online about several home remedies for my finger, and I intended to try them all.

During the next five days, I divided my time between soaking my finger and sitting with the phone glued to my ear, waiting on hold for AAA. Among the things I soaked my finger in were Epsom salts, warm black tea, apple-cider vinegar and hydrogen peroxide (separately, not mixed together). Fortunately, one of them worked and the pain and swelling began to subside. I just wish I knew which one it actually was, in case I ever need to treat an infected finger (or maybe even a toe) again.

On the sixth day, I finally got brave enough to remove Paul’s battery charger and try to start my car. It still was completely dead. The only thing my battery could have used at that point was a tombstone.

So I called AAA yet again and said I would like to use their battery replacement service.

“Oh, they are done replacing batteries for the day,” the woman said. “Call back at 7 tomorrow morning.”

“Well, seeing I’m already on the phone with you right now,” I said, “can’t you just put me down for a new battery and have them come over tomorrow? I honestly don’t feel like being on hold again. I'm pretty sure I can repeat every one of your advertisements from memory by now.”

“Sorry. You’ll have to call back.”

By the next morning, let’s just say I wasn’t in the best of moods. As I sat there on hold yet again, waiting for AAA to answer, I rehearsed what I was going to say to them – and none of it was pleasant.  Twenty minutes later, I still was on hold, envisioning sticking pins into some really painful places on voodoo dolls representing all of the AAA employees.

When someone finally answered, another 15 minutes later, a thought suddenly crossed my mind. I would try using humor to get somewhere instead of sounding grouchy or irritated. After all, grouchy and irritated hadn’t worked up to that point.

“Hi!” I said to the employee who answered. “I’ve been calling since last Thursday because my car won’t start, and they keep telling me I don’t take priority because I’m safely at home. Well, I’m actually not safe at all. I’m trapped in here with two very large dogs that have now run out of food…and they keep staring at me as if they are picturing me smothered in gravy. Frankly, I’m really getting nervous.”

She burst out laughing. “Well, then,” she said, “we’d better get someone over there fast, before your dogs get any hungrier, so you can go buy them some food!”

To my shock, the service technician showed up 45 minutes later.

“Yep, you need a new battery,” he said after testing it. “Let me get one out of my truck for you.”

When he returned empty-handed, I knew I was in trouble.

“Sorry, we’re all out of the size you need,” he said. “It’s been really crazy during this arctic blast. Batteries are selling as fast as we can stock them.”

He then decided to try to jump-start my car. He attached some kind of portable gadget to the battery, then told me to turn the key. I did, and the engine turned over and finally roared to life, as if it had been given CPR. I nearly broke out the champagne.

“But don’t shut off the car,” the technician warned me, “not until you are somewhere where you can get a battery, because I can’t guarantee it will start up again if you turn off the engine.”

He left and I went inside and began calling places like Sears and Walmart to see if they had a battery to fit my car.  Five stores later, I still hadn’t found one. Meanwhile, my car was constantly running and sucking up gas like a blotter.

Frustrated, I called the dealership where I’d originally bought my car and was told that if I came right over, they’d hold a battery for me.

I headed straight to the dealership and finally got a precious new battery, which set me back $150. By then, however, I probably would have paid $500 for one, out of sheer desperation.

That night, I was feeling much more at ease. My finger was nearly back to normal and my car had a nice new battery. The only problem that remained was the weather. Not only was it still cold enough to freeze a polar bear, a blizzard was hitting the area hard – with howling winds that sounded like a convoy of freight trains barreling toward the house.

Unfortunately, those howling winds just happened to knock out the power to my entire neighborhood. I really wasn’t concerned because a few years ago I’d invested in an automatic full-house generator system that kicks in whenever the power goes out and keeps everything running smoothly. Since purchasing it back in 2013, it flawlessly has carried me through 15 power failures, some as long as four days (I live in an area where if a hummingbird lands on a power line, I lose power).

This time, however, the generator didn’t automatically pop on. I waited to hear its familiar roar…and then I waited some more.  It took a few minutes for me to realize that the generator, just like my car, wasn’t going to start, and I was stuck sitting in complete darkness, totally unprepared. I didn’t have candles or lanterns or anything else I needed to cope with losing power because I hadn’t concerned myself with any of those things since getting the generator system.

Immediately, I panicked, thinking my water pipes were going to freeze and even worse, I was going to freeze, which, I calculated, probably would be in about a half-hour, considering the brutal storm and the temperatures outside.

I’ll tell you the rest of the story next week.



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