Monday, March 26, 2018

FINALLY, I'M GETTING SOME NEIGHBORS




Up until last year, my nearest neighbor lived a half-mile down the road. But things changed a few months ago when some big contractor bought up all the land on my road and began putting up new houses so fast, I suspected helicopters were dropping them ready-built onto the lots.

Just the other day, I saw two men with measuring equipment sectioning off the land directly facing my house, which means another house probably is going to pop up there overnight in the near future.

I’m not certain yet how I feel about the prospect of finally having a close neighbor after living here for nine years without any.

I’m thinking I should be happy because at least now, if I fall in my driveway during a blizzard, someone actually might see me lying there and help me get up before I end up buried underneath three feet of snow and am not discovered until the spring thaw. But on the other hand, having a close neighbor also will mean I no longer will be able to run out to my mailbox while I’m still wearing my pajamas and hair curlers. I’ll actually have to get dressed, comb my hair, and maybe even slap on a bit of makeup so I won’t irreversibly traumatize anyone.

The reason why my husband (rest his soul) and I moved out here to the middle of the woods in the first place was because at the time, we were living in a mobile-home park, where every move we made was watched. The minute we stepped outside, we could see the neighbors’ slats on their window blinds open wider so they could get a better look at us. Whenever I tried to do something out in the yard, such as paint the steps, within only a few minutes, people would pop up seemingly out of thin air to  “advise” me how to do it.  If I cleaned out the storage shed, everyone in a two-block radius would come over, stick their heads inside and ask me what I was doing. Then they would point to something like a rake or snow shovel and say, “If you’re going to toss that out, I’ll take it.”

So moving out to the boonies was a complete change. I mean, suddenly, if I wanted to, I could go outside and run naked through the lawn sprinkler and the only living things that would see me were of the four-legged (or more) variety.

I hate to admit it, but I think we moved out of the mobile-home park just in time. That's because while we were living there, my husband and I realized we actually were slowly becoming just like all of those snoopy neighbors who drove us crazy.

I still remember the time when two women, one of whom had just divorced her husband, moved into the mobile home next to ours. One Labor Day weekend, there was no sign of the women all weekend, even though their cars were parked in the driveway and their kitchen window was open.  My husband was convinced they had met with foul play.

“It’s the ex-husband,” he said, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. “I’ll bet he was upset about the divorce and came back for revenge!”

Whenever my husband talked like that, I usually just rolled my eyes and allowed him to spout his Sherlock Holmes theories. But when two more days passed with still no sign of the two women next door, I began to wonder if he might be onto something.

Around dusk that night, my husband was peeking out the window (yet again) when he suddenly called out to me in a hushed, frantic voice, “Someone is breaking into the place next door!  And he’s using pliers!”

By the time I ran to the nearest window to take a look, the man was entering the neighbors' front door.

“He’s probably the one who killed them,” my husband said. “And now he’s going back in there to rob the place!  You watch, in a few minutes, he’ll be coming out carrying a bag full of stuff!”

I cast him a “yeah, sure” look, but still, I stood there and watched for a few minutes.  Just as I was about to leave the window, I was shocked to see the guy come out onto the steps and set down a green trash bag, then dart back inside.

“I’ll bet that bag is full of jewelry, silverware and laptops,” my husband said, opening the blinds so he could get a better look.

“Don’t do that!” I snapped. “If he knows you’re watching him, he might come over here to silence us!”

My husband considered my words for a moment, then said, “Well I’m going to let Shadow out, then!  She’ll make him think twice about coming over here!” 

Our poor old rottweiler took a few steps outside, stretched out on the grass and took a nap. The crook could have stolen a sofa and she wouldn’t have noticed.

Within a few minutes, the thief brought out another trash bag. This one was white and smaller.

 “I’ve seen enough,” my husband said. “I think we’d better call the police before he ransacks the entire house.”

For a moment, I seriously considered dialing 911.  “Are you SURE he used pliers to get into the house?” I asked.

“Pretty sure,” he said. “I’m not wearing my glasses.”

Without his glasses, my husband couldn’t tell the difference between a crowbar and a plastic ruler.  “I don’t think I’ll call the police quite yet,” I said.

“Then maybe you should go outside and get our newspaper out of the box,” he said. “While you’re out there, discreetly look at the license-plate number on the guy’s van and memorize it! I’d do it, but I have a crummy memory.”

I couldn’t argue with that. So like a fool, I went outside. There I was, reaching into our newspaper box while craning my neck sideways to look at the van’s license-plate number, which wasn’t easy to see at dusk.  When I came back into the house, I immediately wrote down the number.

“What was the make and model of the van?” my husband asked me. “I can’t really tell from here.”

“How should I know?  I was too busy trying to ‘discreetly’ look at the license plate!”

“But the plates could be stolen and belong to another vehicle,” he said. “So the make and model are VERY important!”

Before I could open my mouth to inform him I couldn’t tell the difference between a Rolls Royce and a Toyota anyway, my husband had his nose in the blinds again. “Look!” he whispered. “He’s coming back out!”

I peered out just in time to see the suspected crook/murderer/serial killer emptying something into the green trash bag he’d previously set down.  It was a big tray of kitty litter.

I burst out laughing. “He’s taking care of their housecats!  You nearly had me call the cops because of some dirty kitty litter?  What kind of crime would that be?  Grand-theft poop?”

For some reason, my husband (a.k.a. Sherlock) failed to share my amusement.

Sure enough, the two women, carrying suitcases, returned the next afternoon, safe and sound. 

So the more I think about it, the more I think that maybe the fact I’m finally about to get some neighbors around here might be a good thing after all, especially if they’re rowdy.

That way, I can save money on my electric bill by shutting off the TV and just watching them whenever I need some entertainment.


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Monday, March 19, 2018

SOME SUPERSTITIONS HAVE CURSED ME




I like to think I’m not a superstitious person, but the truth is, I really am.

There are some superstitions that don’t bother me, such as Friday the 13th. If it truly were a day of bad luck, then everyone on the planet would have a crummy day, which seems highly unlikely to me. In fact, I know a lot of people who consider 13 to be their lucky number.

But for those who do fear Friday the 13th, be aware that if the first day of a month falls on a Sunday, there will be a Friday the 13th during that month. So this year, April and July will be the designated “unlucky” ones.

I’ve also never been concerned about walking under a ladder – unless there’s a guy perched on top of it and he’s holding a bucket of paint. Picturing him losing his balance and dousing me with a heavy coating of “sunshine yellow” usually is enough to make me walk around a ladder.

And I can remember back when I was in grammar school and one of the kids told me about, “step on a crack and break your mother’s back.”  I was horrified. As I walked home from school that day, I looked down at every crack on the sidewalk, being very careful not to step on any. Alas, my big foot finally landed on a crack and I burst out crying, thinking I’d arrive home to find my mother lying immobile and in pain on the floor, all because I’d stepped on a crack. Fortunately, my mom was just fine, so that immediately dispelled that superstition.

But there are three superstitions that always have made me feel ill at ease.

First, there’s the superstition that if a black cat crosses your path, you’ll have bad luck. Well, years ago, one of my neighbors owned a black cat and it crossed my path nearly every time I left the house.  It got to the point where whenever I saw that darned cat coming toward me, I’d either run (or drive) in the other direction to avoid having it walk directly in front of me.

“If the cat has even a few white hairs on it, then it’s not considered a true black cat and doesn’t cause bad luck,” one of my friends informed me. “Have you ever checked under its chin or on its chest? If it has any white hairs, that’s where they’ll most likely be.”

So I sat out on my front steps one day and lured the cat over to me by waving some fried chicken at it. Then, as the cat nibbled on the chicken, I took a good look at its chest and saw three distinct white hairs standing out against the black. I breathed a sigh of relief. The cat wasn’t a genuine black cat after all, so I was safe!  I never avoided the animal again after that, even though I did realize there was the remote possibility those three white hairs might have fallen out at some point and transformed him back into a bad-luck cat.

There also was the superstition about spilled salt causing bad luck. But in this case, the bad luck supposedly could be prevented if you immediately threw a pinch of the spilled salt over your left shoulder to, according to legend, blind the invisible devil waiting there behind you.

Well, over the years, I spilled enough salt to fill a shaker the size of a trash barrel. And every time I spilled it, I’d toss a pinch of it over not one, but both of my shoulders, just to be doubly safe. I mean, how was I supposed to be certain about which side of my back the invisible devil might be lurking?

The problem was, I once spilled the salt in a restaurant and flung a pinch of it over both shoulders. I wasn’t aware that at that precise moment, the waitress was right behind me, bending over to put my drink on the table. Unless she actually was the devil in disguise, I’m pretty sure I nearly blinded the wrong entity.

But the superstition that actually has brought me ongoing bad luck and has been the bane of my existence for years is the one with the longest bad-luck curse…breaking a mirror.  Any poor person who has the misfortune of breaking a mirror is doomed to face seven long years of torture.

The whole mirror superstition is based on the ancient belief that your reflection in the mirror actually is your captured soul. Break the mirror and basically, you wreck your soul, which, also according to ancient beliefs, then takes seven years to renew itself. Thus, seven years of bad luck follow…until your damaged soul is whole again.

I’ll never forget the first time I broke a mirror. I still was in high school and had signed up for a co-ed judo class at the YMCA. As I was rushing to get ready for the class one evening, I quickly grabbed my small mirror from my purse so I could check my makeup. The next thing I knew, the mirror was lying on the floor and I was picking up the pieces.

During the class that night, the judo instructor taught us the basic moves of throwing and falling. Throwing involved using your hip to catch your opponent off balance, and then tossing him over it and onto the floor. Falling involved protecting yourself (if you were the unfortunate one being thrown) by using your arm, from your wrist to your elbow, as your designated landing zone.

There usually were at least two other females in the class, but that night, I was the only non-male who showed up. So I was paired with a guy (a.k.a. the Incredible Hulk), to practice our throwing and falling techniques.

Not only couldn’t I lift the guy an inch to throw him, and nearly herniated a few disks in the process, when it was his turn to do the throwing and he flung me over his hip, I went airborne…and landed with all of my weight on my right big toe. I think people out on the street heard it crack.

I learned the true definition of the word “humiliation” that night when I had to sit, still wearing my judo outfit, in the emergency room at Sacred Heart Hospital. Even worse, the doctor turned out to be comedian.

“Hey, Kung Fu!” he greeted me, shaking his head and chuckling. “How did you break your toe?”

I wasn’t amused.

Thanks to the broken mirror, my luck got only worse after that.  The toe didn’t heal correctly and needed surgery, so I had to learn how to manipulate crutches on the 10,000 stairs in my high school because nothing was handicapped accessible back then. Also, while I still was recovering, I happened to witness a crime and was subpoenaed to testify in court…on the day of my mid-term exams.

After seven years of suffering with bad luck at every turn, the day arrived when I realized that I, at long last, finally would be free of the curse. My seven-year sentence was over! I was so excited, I nearly broke out the champagne as I counted down the minutes.

And the very next week, I broke another mirror.

If only I had known back then that there actually were antidotes to remove the seven-year curse, such as burying the broken pieces of the mirror outside beneath a full moon, or pulverizing the pieces into a powder so they never could reflect anything again, maybe I wouldn’t have needed a second surgery on my toe or had to hobble around on crutches once again. This inevitably caused me to lose my first full-time job as a Girl Friday – an errand “runner” - in a big office building.

On second thought, maybe that wasn’t such bad luck after all.


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Monday, March 12, 2018

A VISIT BACK TO THE 1970S



It’s funny what interesting old shows and programs you can find stored somewhere in the archives online.

 Not long ago I came across a reality show from 2005 called, “The ‘70s House,” that featured a group of eight young men and women, most of them barely in their 20s, who had to live together in a house that represented the lifestyle of the 1970s. They had to eat, talk, dress and act exactly the way people did back in that decade. Every time one of them broke the rules by using “modern” words or devices, he or she would be evicted from the house. The last person remaining in the house would be awarded an assortment of expensive prizes, including a new car.

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

“Look at this phone!” one of them exclaimed as the group first entered the 1970s house. “It’s attached to the wall and has a… cord… on it!” The group gathered to stare at the relic, which also had, heaven forbid, 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 MP3 players, your iPods, your laptops and all of your recent cosmetics and hair products,” she said. “None of those things 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, staring at it as if it just had been beamed down from another planet.

My thoughts immediately turned toward my own stereo, which has not only a radio and a turntable, but also a cassette player.

The contestants really laughed when they were given a crash course in the dialogue of the 1970s and were told they had to begin using words and expressions such as “groovy,” “flower power,” “outta sight,” “can you dig it?” and “far out!”

But what cracked them up the most was the clothing of the 1970s, which the show provided for them and insisted they wear, in keeping with the theme of the show and its rules.

“This polyester stuff 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, mainly because my late husband once had worn similar outfits – complete with a jade-green polyester jacket from his leisure suit.

I stopped laughing, however, when the girls emerged from the bedroom and one of them was wearing a wildly flowered mini-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 green shag-carpeting that looked exactly like the one we used to have in our living room.  
YOURS TRULY, CIRCA 1971

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

Ironically, not long ago, one of my friends and I had just 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.

I was 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 in their platform shoes with all of the grace of a herd of elephants…drunken elephants.

“God, did we used to look that ridiculous when we did the Hustle?” I asked myself out loud.

The contestants then were told 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 (actually, fondue has made a comeback since that show was made over 13 years ago).

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

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

The episode ended with one of the contestants being evicted because he and another contestant were overheard discussing Botox, a procedure that virtually was unheard of back in the 1970s.

To be honest, I can’t wait to watch more episodes of the show online because it brings back so many fond memories from my own past.

I just hope I won’t end up spotting a clone of my current living-room set on there.


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Sunday, March 4, 2018

DIAPER? WHAT DIAPER?




The other night I watched a movie called “Adventures in Babysitting” on TV.  Everything short of a nuclear explosion happened to the poor babysitter in the movie. I wouldn’t even have trusted that girl with my goldfish.


I guess I shouldn’t pass judgment, however. Back when I was 15, my entire summer was spent babysitting. In fact, I baby-sat for four different families on my street.

It didn’t matter that I’d had no previous experience taking care of kids or changing diapers. I figured I could learn as I went along. Not only did I know nothing about how to handle a baby or a toddler, I had the weakest stomach on earth when it came to things like spit-up or the other smelly stuff that babies do. Still, I was desperate for some spending money, and the people in my neighborhood obviously were desperate for a babysitter, so I booked as many jobs as I could.

Fortunately, most of the kids I took care of were in the 3-4 age range and already were potty trained, so I didn’t have to deal with diapering any of them. But then a new family moved into the neighborhood and asked me if I would take care of their two little boys two nights a week. They offered me $1.50 per hour, which was a small fortune back in those days. So it was an offer I couldn’t refuse, especially since I was eager to buy the latest Beatles’ LP.

I’ll never forget the first night I took care of Billy, who was four (going on 30), and his little brother, Gregg, who was only 15 months. Things went pretty smoothly…at first.

“Greggy stinks,” Billy, who was drawing a picture of something that resembled the Eiffel Tower, said after I had been there about 45 minutes.

I had been trying to ignore the smell for a good 20 minutes, to avoid having to deal with a dirty diaper, but it was getting to the point where I was ready to open a window and stick Gregg’s bottom half out there, just to air him out.

Finally, I knew I had no choice other than to face the inevitable. “OK, where are the diapers?” I asked Billy.

He led me to a changing table where a stack of cloth diapers and a container of safety pins with yellow plastic ducks’ heads on them awaited. There were no Pampers back then, just flat, square cloth diapers.

I managed, while holding my breath, to remove the offending diaper and toss it onto the floor. Then I quickly grabbed a clean diaper and tried to figure out how to fold it.

Billy, who was watching my every move, said, “You have to wash his bottom before you put on that diaper.”

There were no wet-wipes back in those days, either, so I found a facecloth and used that.

I then went back to trying to fold the darned diaper. When I finally put it on Gregg, it came up to his armpits, and the bottom was wide open, like a skirt.

Billy dissolved into giggles. “That’s not how you do it!” he said, as if I hadn’t already figured that much out for myself. “Want me to fold it?”

I handed the diaper to him and he made a neat triangle out of it, then showed me where to put the pins. I carefully took the folded diaper from him and was about to try to slide it underneath Gregg, when I realized that sliding it might ruin the folds and mess up things. So I grabbed Gregg, stood him up on the changing table, and said, “OK, kid, spread your legs,” and diapered him while he was standing up.

Again, Billy cracked up laughing. When he finally stopped, he said, “You forgot the powder.”

Even if someone had told me there was a nugget of pure gold in that diaper, I wasn’t about to take it off and start all over again from scratch. “Gregg can live without powder this one time,” I said. “Now what do I do with this dirty diaper?” I frowned at the smelly heap on the floor.

“I’ll show you,” Billy said. I followed him into the bathroom, where he pointed at the toilet. “You hold the diaper real tight and put it in there and then flush to get rid of all of the stinkies. Then you put it in the yellow pail right there.”

I stared at him as if had just grown a second head. “You want me to stick the diaper in the toilet…uh, potty?”

He nodded. “But don’t let go of it.”

I didn’t know whether the kid was pulling my leg or not, but I had no other source of information handy, so I had to trust him. I went out to the kitchen and searched through the drawers until I found a set of spaghetti tongs, then used them to pick up the offending diaper.

I brought the diaper into the bathroom, and still holding it with the tongs, stuck it into the toilet and flushed. The toilet sucked the diaper right out of the tongs and it disappeared…except for about two inches of cloth sticking up out of the hole. I was smart enough to know that the next flush would result in a burst of water that would rival Old Faithful’s.

“You have to reach down and get it!” Billy practically had his head in the toilet as he searched for the diaper.

I tried to grab it with the tongs, but they couldn’t clamp on tightly enough, especially since the diaper now was saturated with about five pounds of toilet water.

“Use your hand!” Billy urged.

I cast him a glance that told him I’d rather tie a rib-roast around my neck and leap into a pen of starving wolves than ever stick my hand into that toilet. The diaper stayed right where it was.

By the time their parents arrived back home, both boys were peacefully asleep…and the diaper still was stuck in the toilet. I graciously accepted my money…and then bolted home so fast, I’m pretty sure I broke an Olympic speed record. Still, I had the sinking feeling Billy would squeal on me the minutes he woke up and tell his parents all of the sordid details about how the diaper got stuck in the toilet. Then they would make me return what they’d paid me…or worse.

I also prayed no one would have a craving for spaghetti and end up using the spaghetti tongs I’d dunked into the toilet.

So no one was more shocked than I was when Billy and Gregg’s mom called me three days later and asked me to baby-sit again, especially since I’d seen a plumber’s truck parked in front of their house the morning after I’d baby-sat. In fact, when I first heard her voice on the phone, I was terrified she was calling to demand reimbursement.

I later found out that Billy had told her he’d never had more fun with a babysitter.


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