Monday, April 30, 2018


Every time the weather warms up even a hair, most of my friends immediately start talking about going to the beach.

When I was a teen, my friend Alice, who had her driver’s license, and I hung out at the beach every chance we got.  But as I grew older, the seashore began to progressively lose its appeal to me.

It’s not that I don’t like the ocean or a cool sea breeze, especially on a hot summer day. It’s just that at times, it’s pretty difficult to find either one at New Hampshire’s public beaches.  The last time I went to Hampton, the beach was so crowded, it made Times Square on New Year’s Eve look like an intimate gathering.

I remember how my husband and I searched for an hour before we finally found a postage-stamp sized space on the sand and wedged our towels into it.  I sat down and began to rub sunscreen on my legs, which wasn’t easy, considering I had only about an inch of elbow room.  Suddenly, as I was applying the lotion, my leg went completely numb.

“Ohmigod!” I cried out. “I’ve lost all the feeling in my leg!”

“That’s MY leg you’re rubbing!” my husband said.

“Thank goodness!”  I breathed. “I thought I needed a shave.”

Eating also was a challenge on the crowded beach.  One time, just as I unwrapped a tuna sandwich, a bunch of kids came running by and kicked sand all over it. When I grumbled about it to the friend I was with, she laughed and said, “Well, now you have a genuine SAND-wich!”

Nobody likes a smart aleck.

Swimming never was my favorite pastime at Hampton Beach, either.  Let’s face it, the water there is so cold, anyone who stays in it for longer than five minutes runs the risk of having his or her body donated to a cryonics lab.  And the beach sand is so hot, only fire walkers can tolerate it.  I always feared that if I stuck my burning feet into the icy water, they’d crack and shatter into a million pieces.

I still have to laugh when the local meteorologists try to make the water sound inviting.  “It’s a scorching 105 degrees out there today, so head on over to Hampton Beach where the water temperature is a refreshing 42 degrees!”

To me, water cold enough to turn skin the color of a Smurf’s is “refreshing” only to polar bears.

But by far, the worst part of the beach is the smell of the salt marshes at low tide.  The first time my husband and I got a whiff of one, we didn’t know what it was.  We ended up casting accusing glances at a group of people standing near us.

“I’ll bet they went to one of those all-you-can-eat baked-bean suppers at the local church,” I whispered to my husband.

The one thing I always did enjoy about the beach, however, was the roller coaster at Salisbury Beach.  Every time we went to Hampton, we took a side trip to Salisbury, just up the road a few miles, for the sole purpose of riding the coaster there.  It was an old wooden monstrosity, so weather-beaten, it actually swayed and creaked whenever a strong breeze hit it.  Still, I loved it.

The part of the ride I enjoyed the most was when the coaster paused at the top of the first hill...just before it took the big plunge.  From that height, there was such an endless, breathtaking view of the ocean, I swear I once was able to see Queen Elizabeth waving at me from her balcony at Buckingham Palace.

So I was devastated to return to Salisbury one summer, only to discover the roller coaster was gone.  I was told it had been torn down to make room for a kiddies’ amusement park, but to this day, I still believe what really happened was the last nail holding the coaster together finally popped out one night and reduced it to a giant heap of rotting lumber.

For as long as I can remember, the one thing beaches always seem to have inspired is romance.  I can’t count how many contestants on those dating shows on TV have listed “long walks on the beach” as one of their biggest turn-ons.

I guess they’ve never strolled by a salt marsh during low tide.

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Monday, April 23, 2018


The recent passing of Barbara Bush made me recall the time I met her – and how if it were nowadays instead of back in the early ‘90s, I probably would have been arrested.

At the time, Mrs. Bush was campaigning for her husband’s re-election. I hadn’t heard about her impending arrival here in New Hampshire, so when the editor of the small newspaper where I was working as a correspondent at that time informed me she would be making a stop at a pizza parlor in Epsom, only five miles from my house, I suddenly had a burning desire to be at that pizza parlor and meet her.

Unfortunately, my editor never issued any press I.D. cards back then, mainly because the towns the newspaper covered were so small, everyone either knew everyone or was related to everyone, so there rarely was a need for press I.D.s.  But that meant I had no way of proving to Mrs. Bush’s security people that I was with the newspaper. And I was fairly certain the only way I’d be able to get anywhere within 20 feet of her was to be a part of the press corps.

So I did what any other half-crazed person in my shoes would have done – I made my own press I.D. card.  Mind you, hardly anyone had home computers back then, so I had to make the card by using a typewriter, a photocopy machine, a Polaroid photo, and some laminating material. 

After I’d finished my masterpiece, I stared critically at it.  The photo was crooked, the laminate had an air bubble under it, and I’d misspelled a word.  I could only pray that the person who was in charge of checking the press I.D.s the next day would be someone who desperately needed cataract surgery.

The next morning, which was one of the coldest mornings of the year, I, with my homemade I.D. clipped to my coat’s lapel, grabbed my camera and headed to Epsom.  When I pulled into the parking lot in the strip mall where the pizza parlor was located, I was greeted by a police officer who informed me the parking lot was full.

“But I’m with the press,” I told him, pointing to my badge. “I’m going to be late!”

The officer nodded and said, "Oh, OK, you can park right over there in the reserved area, then.”

Smiling smugly, I parked my car and headed toward the pizza parlor, which by then, was concealed behind a long line of people who also were hoping to catch a glimpse of the First Lady. The poor people looked half-frozen. Their cheeks and noses were red, and they were dancing little “get warm” dances to fend off frostbite.

Taking a deep breath, I boldly walked to the front of the line and up to the door.  A man in a black overcoat, white shirt and black tie was blocking it.  I opened my mouth to give him my well-rehearsed speech about how even though I was from a small-town newspaper, I still was as entitled to meet Mrs. Bush as someone from the Boston Herald when, to my shock, he glanced at my badge, nodded, and held open the door. “Members of the press have to stand over there on the left side of the restaurant,” he said.

So in the blink of an eye, there I was, stiffly standing in the midst of a group of very official-looking press people.  They were armed with notebooks, video cameras and regular cameras.  Some held microphones and kept glancing impatiently at their watches.

“Hi!” the young man next to me suddenly said, extending his hand. “I’m Bob (or whatever his name was) from CNN.”

“Sally Breslin,” I reciprocated, shaking his hand. “The Suncook-Hooksett Banner.”

Another voice from behind me also introduced himself. “I’m from a brand new cable network,” he said. “New England Cable News.  Tell me, do you think a network that shows only New England news 24 hours a day can make it?”

I shook my head. “Sounds too regional to catch on.” 

Goes to show you how much I knew.

I turned my attention to what was happening on the right half of the restaurant - the side that was off limits to us press people.  Two men, apparently the pizza parlor’s owner and an employee, were feverishly whipping up a pizza.  Another man, a clone of the guy wearing the white shirt and black tie at the front door, was carefully checking (sniffing, tasting) every ingredient the men were using. 

This pizza, I figured, was going to be for Mrs. Bush, and the guy doing all the sampling and testing was the equivalent of an old-fashioned food taster, the kind who used to taste the royal family’s food before each meal, just in case it was poisoned.  If the taster dropped dead, then the family knew they’d probably be wise to either skip dinner or order takeout.

The two pizza-makers were so nervous, their hands were shaking, which was understandable, considering some strange guy was breathing down their necks and grabbing their ingredients. They had a temporary break from the man’s constant scrutiny, however, when he suddenly was distracted by something even more heinous, more dangerous than any arsenic-riddled pizza ever could be: a little girl carrying a dainty bouquet of flowers.

“Let me check those,” the Man in Black said, grabbing the bouquet and rummaging through it until it looked as if it had been arranged by someone whose arms were in casts.

A very distinguished-looking woman then announced to the few people who were gathered on the right side of the pizza parlor (probably relatives of the pizza employees because no one from the line outside had been allowed inside yet), “Attention, please!  If any of you plan to give flowers or gifts to the First Lady, you MUST have them checked first - you cannot just hand them to her!”

I smiled to myself.  Here they were, worried about a little bouquet of flowers when they’d let me walk right in with my handmade I.D. and a camera case they’d never even checked!

Finally, after what seemed like years, an excited cry of “She’s here!  She’s here!” rang through the pizza parlor.  Everything happened in rapid motion after that.  In came Mrs. Bush, surrounded by her entourage.  She was wearing a lavender-blue coat and her ever-present string of pearls.  She smilingly accepted the bouquet that had just undergone a complete physical exam by the Man in Black.  Breaking my member-of-the-press orders, I boldly stepped over to the right side of the restaurant, stood in front of Mrs. Bush and snapped a couple photos.                                        

The First Lady then gave the shortest political speech I'd ever heard.  It boiled down to something like, “If you think my husband has been doing a good job as president, please vote to re-elect him.” 

Only a small group of the frozen people standing in line outside were allowed inside.  Mrs. Bush shook a few hands, offered a few greetings and hugged a baby or two.  Then the two very uneasy-looking pizza makers offered their bubbly, cheese-covered masterpiece to her.  She graciously thanked them, took one bite, said it was delicious, then daintily dabbed her mouth with a napkin, and with a wave, departed.

I just stood there, staring at the door and wondering, “Is that it? Is that all there is?”

“Are you coming?” The Man in Black interrupted my thoughts. “The bus is leaving.”  I looked around to discover that all of the press people had disappeared.

Before I could answer, he explained, “The press bus.  Aren’t you part of the press corps covering all of Mrs. Bush’s stops in the state today?”

I’d be lying if I said a part of me didn’t want to hop on that bus and spend the day having a free tour of the state and experiencing who-knows-what kind of adventures. But I figured I’d already "pressed" my luck (pun intended) far enough.

I shook my head and said. “No, I think I’ll just stay right here.  There’s a large pizza with only one bite missing just sitting over there, and I think it has my name on it.”

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Tuesday, April 17, 2018


Last night, I spent a couple hours sorting through a chest of collectible action figures I purchased nearly 10 years ago for $5 each at Family Dollar. They were from James Cameron’s very popular movie, “Avatar,” and currently are worth between $20-$100 each, depending on the particular character.

To date, “Avatar” has grossed close to $3 billion, which made me think about another James Cameron movie back in 1997 that grossed “only” $2.2 billion … ”Titanic.”  I had to chuckle as I recalled just how difficult it had been for me to see that movie.

“Titanic” had been playing for nearly three months and I still hadn’t seen it. But it wasn’t for lack of trying. Let’s just say my husband wasn’t exactly thrilled about accompanying me.

“I’m not about to sit in a crowded theater for over three hours, just to watch some movie where I already know the entire plot,” he complained when I first asked him to take me.

“You know the entire plot?” I asked.

“Yeah. The ship sinks.”

“But the whole movie’s not just about the ship sinking,” I argued.  “It’s also a beautiful love story!”

His expression immediately told me I’d just blown any chance I might have had to convince him to go. If I’d have been smart, I would have told him the Titanic’s passengers included a gang of cutthroat pirates, a werewolf and a convention of striptease dancers, all floating in an ocean full of man-eating prehistoric monsters.

Tired of my constant nagging, my husband finally gave in and took me to see the movie on his day off, which fell in the middle of the week. We figured the crowd wouldn’t be too bad on a weekday.

We’d figured wrong. There wasn’t even one parking spot available in the gigantic parking lot when we arrived.  And even after we drove around the lot for 10 minutes, there still weren’t any available.

“Aw, gee,” my husband said with feigned disappointment. “The movie must be sold out. We’ll have to try again some other time.”

But I never was able to convince him to try again, not even after the movie was nominated for 14 Academy Awards and won best picture of the year. Having no recourse, I finally decided to go to a matinee by myself. By then, all of my friends already had seen the movie, so I pretty much was on my own. Unfortunately, I chose a day during school-vacation week, and there was a long line waiting to buy tickets.

“I’ve seen this movie three times already!” a teenage girl in front of me was telling her friends. “And I still can’t help it. Every time Leonardo DiCaprio has a close-up on the screen, I scream my lungs out! He’s such a hunk!”

“Me, too!” her friend added. “Last time, I screamed so much, my throat hurt for two days afterwards!”

I left the theater and went back home.

A week later, I returned to try again. By then, I was so determined to see the movie, nothing short of four flat tires was going to stop me.

It was a Tuesday, and the movie started at noon. The parking lot was nearly empty, there was no line to buy tickets, and when I entered theater number four and took my seat, to my delight, only three other people were in there.  Even better, they looked way too old to be screaming over Leonardo DiCaprio.

And so there I sat, for the next three-and-a-half hours, desperately wishing I hadn’t gulped down two cups of tea before heading to the theater.

It took about two hours for the Titanic to finally hit the iceberg. And just as it was only inches away from doing so, with all of the ship’s crew members running around and frantically shouting, “We’re going to hit an iceberg!” the screen went completely black.

I sat there, in nearly total darkness, wondering if it was intermission – and if I had time to bolt to the restroom. But no theater lights popped on, and the word “intermission” didn’t flash across the screen. So I just waited…and waited.

The movie returned just as the Titanic was sideswiping the iceberg. I was glad I hadn’t left my seat (although my bladder wasn’t) or I would have missed the most important part of the film.

Everyone had warned me in advance the movie was a real tearjerker, so I sat there holding a wad of tissues, prepared for the worst. When the movie ended, I felt as if I had a lump the size of a baseball in my throat, but I didn’t cry…mainly because I wasn’t wearing waterproof mascara, and I didn’t want to look like a raccoon when I left the theater, especially since I had to run some errands on the way home.

But the minute I stepped into the house and my husband asked me if I’d enjoyed the movie, I burst into tears.

“It was wonderful!” I choked between sobs. “I definitely want to see it again, and I really think you should come with me this time. I guarantee you’ll like it.”

He frowned at me and shook his head. “Like it? If your reaction is any indication, all I’ll end up doing is getting depressed.  And believe me, if I want to get depressed, all I have to do is go to work!”

“Gee, that’s too bad,” I said, wiping my eyes. “You won’t be able to see the part where these four sexy-looking women on the ship get all of their clothes ripped off by a giant wave.”

“I’ll go warm up the car,” he said.

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Monday, April 9, 2018


I’m Eastern Orthodox, so my Easter was celebrated yesterday, the 8th of April. And just like every year, I found myself thinking about the unusual gift my Aunt Terry gave me for Easter back when I was only 10…a box that contained two live baby chicks.

What was unusual about them was they were color-dyed. One was bright pink and the other was bright green. I don’t think the procedure is done much, if at all, any more, but back then, in honor of Easter, chicks often were dyed bright colors while they still were embryos, by a procedure that involved injecting the dye into their shells.

Anyway, my aunt paid us a surprise visit with the two chicks for me, which she said were both females. I fell in love with them the minute I touched their fluffy little bodies and heard their enthusiastic peeping. My parents, however, cast my aunt evil glances that told me they were not even close to sharing my enthusiasm. For one thing, we lived in a small, four-room apartment in the middle of the city – not exactly an ideal place to raise chickens.

But my parents eventually gave in and let me keep the chicks, probably because they figured that if they turned out to be like all of the turtles, hamsters and guinea pigs I’d had in the past, their days pretty much were numbered.

I named my new pets Henny and Penny and kept them in a cardboard box near the furnace grate in my bedroom, to keep them warm. In just two days, Henny, the pink chick, died. Not only was I heartbroken, Penny also clearly was devastated to lose her bunkmate.

So I became Penny’s best friend and surrogate mother. She followed me everywhere around the house, peeping loudly as she ran to keep up with me (and, to my mother’s dismay, leaving a trail of droppings wherever she went).

Penny also sometimes acted like a cat, rubbing up against my legs whenever I was standing still.

I soon learned she preferred human food to her chicken feed. I was sitting on the sofa one day, watching TV while eating a bowl of Franco-American spaghetti. I had my legs stretched out in front of me, when Penny came running up them and onto my lap. She then attacked my bowl of spaghetti in the same fashion a robin would attack earthworms. From then on, I always shared my spaghetti with her.

All too soon, however, Penny began to lose her “cute baby chick” status and matured into a slender, elegant-looking chicken. White feathers replaced her green fuzz, although the feathers still had green tips on them, which gave her a unique look, as far as chickens went.

“Penny can’t stay in your room any longer,” my father finally said to me one day. “She’s not only getting too big, she’s smelling up the whole apartment. I’ve fixed up a pen for her down in the basement. She’ll have a lot more room to roam around down there.”

“The basement!” I was appalled. “That’s like sending her to the dungeon!”

“Well, it’s either that, or she’ll have to go to a farm somewhere,” my dad said. “I don’t have to tell you that an apartment in the city is not a good place to raise her.”

So Penny moved down to the basement.  I didn’t want her to feel lonely or abandoned, so I spent a lot of time down there with her.

Then came the fateful morning that changed everything.

Everyone was sound asleep, and the sun was just beginning to rise, when suddenly, echoing up through all of the furnace grates came a loud, “ERR-ER-ERR-ER-ERR” sound.

I sat up in bed, my eyes wide.

“What on earth?” I heard my father mutter in the next room.

Again, and this time even louder, “ERR-ER-ERR-ER-ERR!”

I could hear the couple who lived in the apartment directly above us shouting, “What the (insert any four-letter word here) was that?!”

My father, half-asleep and in his robe, appeared in the doorway of my room.

“Guess what?” he said, frowning. “Penny is a ‘he,’ not a ‘she.’”

“So?” I asked, too much of a city slicker to understand what difference it made.

“Penny’s a rooster!” he explained. “And roosters crow at sunrise every morning and wake up everyone. I hate to say it, but Penny has to go.”

“Nooo!” I cried. “I don’t want her…him…to leave! Can’t we take him to the vet’s for an operation to keep him quiet? Can’t they remove his crower?”

“It’s time for Penny to be outside in the fresh air, out in the country with other chickens,” Dad said gently.

So the next day we drove Penny to my dad’s friend Matty’s place out in the middle of nowhere. Matty already had a bunch of other chickens running around in his big yard.

“I’ll take good care of him,” Matty assured me. But behind my back, I overheard him whisper to my father, “He’s a nice fat one. He’ll make good eating!”

For days afterwards, I was totally miserable. I also had nightmares about Penny lying headless and roasted on a platter on Matty’s dining-room table. I was so upset, I even vowed never to eat Franco-American spaghetti again.

That’s when Dad received a phone call from Matty.

“What kind of weird rooster did you bring me?” Matty asked him. “He thinks he’s a cat!  He rubs up against my legs and cuddles against me.  And when I’m out in the yard, he follows me everywhere!  I can’t kill him – he’s too much of a pet!”

So Penny had a stay of execution. In fact, he lived a long and happy life with Matty and his family, and I visited him several times over the years.

But still, every year, even to this day, whenever Easter rolls around – or I see a can of spaghetti (or drive by a KFC)…I always think about my little green chick and all of the great times we shared.

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Tuesday, April 3, 2018


The other day I read an article about a college professor whose way of getting to know his new students at the beginning of the semester was to ask them to write down what they felt would be the most stressful situation in which they could imagine themselves ever becoming involved.

Most of them came up with fairly standard stress-inducers, such as being pulled over by the police, getting caught cheating on their significant others, or having their credit cards denied when attempting to make an important purchase.

Their answers made me seriously think about what types of situations most people might consider to be even more stressful than those.  Within minutes, I managed to come up with at least a dozen different scenarios.  Here are a few of them:

·   The temperature is 102 degrees. You suddenly find yourself trapped between floors in an elevator that contains two guys who have just jogged five miles and do not believe in using deodorant. The music blaring through the elevator speakers is, “It’s a Small World”…on a repeat loop that is stuck playing it over and over again.

·     You receive a gift card to a new ice-cream shop that features an all-you-can-eat ice-cream buffet.  After you carefully construct a giant sundae with six different flavors of ice cream, you take just one bite and develop an agonizing toothache with pain that shoots all the way up to your eyeballs.

·    For three years, you faithfully play the same lottery numbers every week without winning a thing.  On the day you finally decide to change your luck and play different numbers, your old numbers come up as the winners, with a jackpot of  $100 million.

·     You spend all day perfecting your famous ham, potato and cheese casserole to bring to your church’s holiday potluck supper. All of your hard work pays off because your casserole is a big hit, with the guests going for second helpings. On the way home, you turn on the car radio and hear that Oinky brand ham, which you used in the casserole, is involved in an emergency recall because it contains a virulent, highly toxic bacteria. 

·     You’re driving home from a late-night appointment when your car breaks down in an unfamiliar neighborhood. You look around and happen to see some graffiti spray-painted on the side of a vacant building…“This is the Demon Executioners’ private turf!  Trespassers will be dismembered!”

·      You wait all year for the annual half-price sale at Harry’s House of Meat and stock your basement freezer with 50 lbs. of chops, roasts and steaks. Unbeknownst to you, the freezer coughs and dies that same night, and you have no clue about it until a week later, when you go down to the basement to retrieve the perfect roast for your in-laws, who are arriving from Florida to spend the weekend.  The minute you open the freezer, the smell of rotted meat gets sucked up through the vents and permeates your house, making it smell like a giant septic tank.

·      A co-worker sets you up on a blind date with a guy she says is in show business.  He turns out to be a sideshow attraction named “Shaggy Sherman,” the world’s hairiest man.

·     They say everyone has a double – an exact look-alike. You discover that yours happens to be someone who’s on the FBI’s 10 most-wanted list.

·     You can’t stand your boss.  He’s grouchy, demanding and unappreciative. Fed up, you secretly look for another job and are thrilled when a large company hires you for a prestigious position with a salary to match.
       Cackling to yourself, you sit down and compose a letter of resignation – not an email or a text message – a real letter, for dramatic effect, to send to your boss. In it, you call him such endearing terms as “egotistical pond scum.” Two hours after you mail the letter, the new company calls to tell you they’re sorry but the person whose position you were supposed to fill has decided not to retire for another year. And 10 minutes after that, your boss calls you into his office to apologize for the way he’s treated you in the past and offers you a promotion with a hefty raise.
      You later are arrested for tampering with the U.S. mail when a police officer finds you with your head stuck in the corner mailbox.

So, if I were one of the professor’s students and had to write down what my own personal most-stressful situation would be?  I’m not sure, but I think it would involve being trapped in a small room with my two very hyper and gaseous dogs, no Hershey’s chocolate, no phone and no bathroom…right after I’ve just had two or three cups of coffee.

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