Monday, October 14, 2019


I hate to admit it, but I really miss the days of America Online’s chat rooms. When I got my first computer, I joined and belonged to a number of chat rooms – one for lovers of “golden oldies” music, one for romance-novel enthusiasts, another for fans of John Coulter (a very hunky male model), and another called “Authors’ Lounge,” for writers.

Now all of them are gone forever, and my computer feels empty without them, especially when I'm suffering from insomnia and could use a good late-night chat.

When I first was deciding which chat rooms to join, I, being a writer, thought Authors’ Lounge sounded the most intriguing, so I checked out the summary. 
It was described as a gathering place for authors (both beginners and professionals), publishers, editors, literary agents, journalists, poets, and writing instructors to share their ideas.  Encouraged, I entered the “room.”

Entering a chat room for the first time sort of felt like being in one of those old western movies, where you’re the stranger in town, walking into the local saloon and everyone stops what they’re doing to stare at you. But on a computer, at least I had the benefit of being somewhat anonymous, mainly because I, like everyone else, used a screen name, not a real name.

When I first entered the authors’ chat room, there were 19 people chatting, most of whom already seemed to know each other. They had catchy on-screen names like “Over-the-Hill-Lil,” “YoYoBozo,” “LilBoyBlu,” “DroopyDraws” and “Rubberduckie." They were in the midst of a heated discussion.

“It does TOO hurt to have an ingrown toenail removed,” one chatter was saying. “I can hardly walk!”

“Aw, you’re just a big sissy!” another wrote back. “I had three toenails removed on my right foot and was wearing my steel-toed work boots the next morning!”

“Hey, we’re not here to talk about your feet!” another chatter interrupted. “Is anyone here a Steinbeck fan?”

“Oh, shut up!” came the response. “Who cares about Steinbeck when my toe is swollen to the size of a banana?”

I sat silently following the conversation for several minutes, thinking I’d entered the wrong room.  No one seemed to be discussing writing, not in any definition of the word. 

Another new chatter popped into the room. “Hello,” he or she said. “I’m 17 and I write poetry.  My friends say I’m a real natural when it comes to writing.  Anyone here know where I can get my poems published?”

“Learn to write something else,” came one suggestion. “You’ll never get anywhere with poetry.”

“Only sissies write poetry,” said the same person who’d just called the toenail person a sissy.

“Yeah!  Learn to write true-crime stories,” someone else chimed in. “Nothing captures a reader’s attention like a decapitated human head rolling down a hill!”

“Eeeeeeeyuuuuuw!” came another response. “That’s gross!”

“But I enjoy writing poetry,” the young writer defended. “I write all about love!”

“Love??” another chatter shot back (and I swear this is an exact quote). “Love is nothing but a big pile of doggie doo-doo!”

Finally another chatter dared to ask, “Is anyone here REALLY a writer?”

“I wrote a biography about Princess Diana,” came one answer.

“And I currently have four novels on the bestseller list,” boasted another.

“Yeah, right, and I’m Stephen King’s twin sister!” said yet another. “I taught him everything he knows!”

“I can’t write and I hate reading,” another chatter wrote. “And I think all writers are really boring!”

“Then what the heck are you doing in this chat room?” came the immediate response.

“Looking for girls!” he answered. “Anyone here single and available?”

“Go to the ‘Looking for Romance’ chat room,” someone suggested.

“I just came from there,” he answered. “It’s full of other guys looking for girls!”

“My mother is single and available,” one chatter offered. “How old are you?”

“Sixteen,” he responded.

I’d seen just about enough.  Foolishly, I decided to jump in with, “I write a weekly humor column.  Anyone have any ideas for a topic I can write about this week?”

“Yeah, write about what it would be like to be decapitated,” said the aforementioned would-be ax-murderer. “Think of how funny it would be to run around looking for your head!”

“Dummy!” someone wrote back. “How could you look for anything if you didn’t have a head?”

“Write about that stupid woman on TV, Anna somebody, who married that wrinkled-up old multi-millionaire who was like 120 years old,” came another suggestion.

“She wasn’t stupid!” another argued. “HE was the stupid one!  All men are pigs!  As I said before, love is nothing but a big pile of doggie doo-doo!”

“Write about all the crazy people you find in chat rooms,” came one last suggestion.

Excellent idea.

Yep, I sure do miss those AOL chat rooms.

#   #   #


Monday, October 7, 2019


Lately my friends have been hinting that I seriously should think about getting a roommate to help alleviate my bleak financial situation.

A roommate? Only one? Heck, it would take turning my place into a boarding house to make even a slight dent in my current financial burden. You figure, in the past month alone, the oven in my gas range died,  the water in my well tested 10 times the allowable levels for arsenic, and my full-house generator system, which I really need because this area loses power if a hummingbird lands on a power line, flunked its annual inspection. Add to that the fact that my car has to be inspected this month and probably will end up needing what sounds like the inventory list from “Auto Parts R Us,” and I’m destined to be living in a tent by New Year’s Day.

Anyway, it’s not that I’ve never considered getting a roommate to help me out, it’s just that I’m a bit nervous about sharing my home, my sanctuary, with a stranger. I mean, I have visions of some woman rummaging through my dresser drawer and borrowing my granny panties.

“It’s not like the old days, when people could lie about themselves,” one of my friends said, trying to reassure me. “Now, you can pay $25 and get a full background check on any potential roommate. If she’s been in prison for ax-murdering a former roommate, you’ll know all about it!”

I frowned at her. “Well, what if she has a squeaky-clean background record but has crummy taste in men? What if she brings home her new boyfriend, who’s a notorious gang member who’s just been released on parole?”

My friend rolled her eyes. “How old do you think your roommate is going to be anyway? Twenty? No woman our age would have a boyfriend who’s a gang member – not unless it’s the ‘Sons of Arthritis!’”

Still, even if I did manage to find a suitable roommate, I’m pretty sure the poor woman would be leaving skid marks running out of my place within two days, if not sooner.

For one thing, I don’t have a schedule of any type. I eat when I’m hungry. I sleep when I’m tired. If I’m not tired until five in the morning, then that’s when I go to bed. And then I’ll get up at 1:00 in the afternoon.  If I want to eat dinner at midnight, then that’s when I eat it. And if the preparation involves using a blender at high speed, then I use it. There is no one else here to disturb at that hour, so I don’t care. And I never turn the heat up higher than 67 degrees, even in sub-zero weather.  After all, fleece clothing was made for a reason.

My roommate also would have to learn to deal with my dogs. Eden likes other dogs but dislikes people, while Wynter likes people but wants to dismember other dogs. And not a night goes by when Wynter doesn’t decide that Eden is one of the dogs she wants to dismember.

Also, nothing is safe here if it lands on the floor. The floor is the dogs’ territory, and the second anything even touches it, they swoop in like vultures and grab it so fast, they create a breeze. So if, for example, my roommate were to drop her hairbrush, she wouldn’t even have time to bend halfway over to pick it up before it would be tucked away in one of my dogs’ beds.

To be honest, when it comes right down to it, I’m not foolish enough to believe I could find someone crazy enough to move in here anyway. I mean, I can just hear the conversation now...

“I can’t wait for you to move in!” I’d say to my roommate-to-be. “But there are just a few problems I probably should mention first. The oven in the gas range doesn’t work, so you’ll have to use either the microwave or a toaster-oven if you want to bake something. Oh, and don’t drink the tap water, brush your teeth with it or cook with it, because the filtration system needs a new part that I can’t afford, so the water is loaded with arsenic. And when you use the toilet in your bathroom, be sure to jiggle the handle after you flush, otherwise the water in the tank will continue to run all day. Lastly, if you want to use your cell phone, the only place around here where you’ll be able to get a signal is out in the middle of the main road. Just be really careful of  the oncoming cars.”

Call me a pessimist, but I’m beginning to think I’d have to pay someone to move in here with me, which kind of would defeat my whole purpose for getting a roommate in the first place.

So I guess it will have to continue to be just the dogs and me living here for a while. Maybe I should think about some fancy tricks I can teach Wynter and Eden – like tap dancing – so they can earn their keep and help me get everything repaired here.

My friend chuckled when I mentioned it to her. “Heck,” she said, “by the time you teach those two dogs of yours to do any tricks, you’ll probably be dead from eating half-baked chicken, drinking arsenic-laced tea, or slipping in a puddle of leaky-toilet water and cracking your head open on the edge of the bathtub!”

Now that I think about it, maybe a roommate with a boyfriend or two who’s on parole might not be so bad after all – especially if one of them is a decent handyman.

#   #  #


Monday, September 30, 2019


I was reading an article on the Internet the other day about a woman who fell while walking her dog, and as she was lying injured on the ground, the dog jumped on her and viciously attacked her.

Below the article, a professional dog-trainer (or so he claimed) had written several comments. He said that a well-trained dog would have nudged the fallen woman, licked her, or even pawed at her to try to make her respond and get up, never leaving her side. But an untrained dog would have run off to parts unknown and left her lying there to die...or, as this particular dog had done, take advantage of her vulnerable state and attack her...because it sensed she wouldn’t be able to defend herself.

After I read that, I cast curious glances at my two dogs – Wynter and Eden – a  Rottweiler and a boxer/lab mix. What, I wondered, would they do if I fell while walking them and I couldn’t get up?  Would they make any effort to help me or would they make a mad dash for the nearest burger joint? Or even worse, would they seize the opportunity to get even with me for every time I’ve scolded them or fed them economy-brand dog food, and tear my clothes to shreds?

Curious (and foolish) soul that I am, I decided to find out. So the next day, while the dogs were out playing in the yard and I was raking nearby, I figured it was the perfect time to try the “falling down” test.

With a dramatic gasp, so the dogs would hear me, I fell face-first onto the grass.

Well, actually, I didn’t really fall. It was more like I got down on my knees, first making sure there was no doggie “souvenirs” on the grass, and then I carefully stretched out on my stomach and rested my forehead on my folded arms so my nose wouldn’t stick into anything undesirable – like an anthill.

No sooner did I assume the position did I hear the sound of running paws heading toward me.

As I lay there unmoving, the thought crossed my mind that with two dogs weighing over 80 lbs. each coming straight for me, perhaps to pounce on my back, I just might end up making my fake test come true and not be able to get up again. In retrospect, I thought it might have made more sense to test only one dog at a time rather than to subject my aging, brittle bones to both of them at once.

Within seconds, I felt a cold, wet nose slide underneath my hair and then poke into my left ear. The nose quickly made its way down underneath my face and pushed up hard, trying to make me lift my head. Meanwhile, what felt like a heavy paw whacked me on my right shoulder.

I remained perfectly still, not reacting, even though it was a real challenge with all of the nuzzling and poking going on, especially since I’m really ticklish.

That’s when it happened. I don’t know which dog’s paw it was, but it slid up underneath the back of my shirt, got hooked on the elastic waistband of my sweatpants and then yanked them partway down, taking my underwear with them.

My first thought was that if a low-flying plane happened to  appear overhead at that moment, the pilot probably would mistake me for a dead plumber. My second thought was that I really needed to get the dogs’ nails clipped.

Before I was able reach down to pull up my pants and remedy the drafty southern-exposure situation, however, the cold, wet, dog nose returned…with a vengeance.

Believe me, that technique really worked. I was back up on my feet in a flash. The minute I moved, both dogs acted as if they’d just succeeded in resurrecting me from the dead. Wagging excitedly, they jumped all over me.

 I figured they had passed the obedience test. They hadn’t run off and left me to die and they hadn’t eaten me for lunch. That was good enough for me.

But if I ever really do fall and end up needing help, I don’t think I’ll be able to rely on my dogs to run and get it for me, the way Lassie used to whenever Timmy fell into the well. No, I think I’ll just have to make sure to carry my cell phone with me at all times.

 And maybe I also should think about buying some nose warmers for my dogs, just to be safe.

                                                  #   #   #


Monday, September 23, 2019


This is the time of year when companies start plotting clever and devious ways in which to make their toys and games appear so irresistible to the general public, parents will stampede to the stores and risk getting trampled just to be the first to buy them for their kids for Christmas.

I have learned the hard way that TV commercials, and even the boxes that toys come in, rarely are as exciting as they make them appear to be.

I remember one particular experience about eight years ago that proves my point.

One of the things my husband and I used to enjoy at amusement parks when we were younger was the shooting gallery.  Most of the galleries were set up like saloons, and all of the things in them, like the spittoons or the bottles lining the bar, had targets on them.  Every time we’d shoot one of the targets, a sound effect like a “ping” or a “crrrr-aaack” would be heard, or objects would move or pop up. Even the player piano would start to play when we hit its target.  And at the end of the game we’d receive a scorecard listing how many of the targets we’d actually hit. 

My husband and I played those games so often, we began to feel like reincarnations of Annie Oakley and Wild Bill Hickock.

I hadn’t thought about the shooting galleries for a long time...that is, until I was in a department store one day and saw a target-shooting game on sale.  The box it came in was huge and had colorful, artistic pictures of deer on it. I read the box and was pleased to discover it didn’t require a connection to an existing game-system of any kind.  This game, according to the box, was completely self-contained inside two plastic rifles.  Just aim them at the TV, it said, and the game would show up right on the screen.

On a whim, and thinking of all the fun my husband and I would have shooting at targets again (especially in the comfort of our own living room), I bought the game.

“Look what I bought!” I said to my husband the minute I got home. “It’s a target-shooting game!  We can have competitions, just like the good old days!”

He took the box and studied it.  “Looks pretty interesting,” he said. “There’s deer hunting, jug shooting, and even frog flipping.”

He opened the box and removed the two plastic guns – a bright green one and a bright orange pieces that required some assembly.  He then proceeded to assemble them.  Soon, I heard a lot of muttering and grumbling.

“Something wrong?” I asked.

“Can’t get the rifle butt to fit on the green one,” he said.  He banged it with the heel of his hand a few times and muttered some more.  Finally, he left the room and returned with a hammer.  I knew right then that the future of the game was in serious jeopardy.

I covered my eyes when he used the hammer to smack the rifle.  At any second I expected to hear the sound of splintering plastic, followed by a stream of colorful words.

“There! It’s on!” he said. “And believe me, it will never come off again!”

The next step was inserting all of the batteries – about a case of them in various sizes.  Finally, the game was ready to play.

I grabbed the orange rifle and my husband took the green one.

“Calibrate your rifle,” the message on the TV screen said. “Hit the target on the upper left.”

My husband shot at the target and missed.  He tried again – but the rifle wouldn’t shoot.

“Pump the rifle to shoot another round,” the screen said.

He gave me a look that told me he wasn’t particularly pleased. “We have to pump these rifles after every shot?” he asked. “That’s going to be a real pain.”

“Move back and try again!” the screen said.

He took a few steps back and shot.  Again, the screen told him the calibration hadn’t been successful and to move back a few more feet and try again.

By the time he finally succeeded in calibrating the gun, he’d moved back so many times, he practically was standing in the neighbors’ living room.

A deer-hunting game then popped up on the screen.  “Shoot only the bucks,” the instructions said. “If you shoot a doe, the game is over.”

A forest scene appeared, complete with several deer with only their rear-ends visible.

“Which ones are the bucks?” I asked my husband.

“Probably the ones with the smallest rear-ends,” he answered, chuckling.

In a flash, the deer lifted their heads from the bushes and we saw antlers.  We took three shots each...and hit nothing.

“Game over,” the screen said. 

My husband and I stared at each other, dumbfounded. Neither one of us had hit a doe, so we were confused.

“I took only three shots!” my husband said. “Is that all we get?”

“If it is,” I said, “then this game must be for people with really short attention spans.”

We tried again.  Sure enough, we each took three shots and the game was over. 

My husband frowned. “Let’s try a different game.”  He switched over to the jug-shooting game.  The screen told him he once again had to calibrate his rifle, which meant he’d have to go through the whole stepping-back routine all over again.

That did it. He set down the gun and said, “This game really stinks.  I think you should take it back to the store and get a refund.”

“And how do you intend to fit the guns back into the box so I can return them?” I asked. “You have to take them apart to do that, and you hammered the butt onto the green one and said it was on there for life!”

He grabbed the rifle and tried to remove the butt.  Short of shoving a stick of dynamite into it, there was no way the thing was going to budge.

Since that day, the game has lived in its new home down in the basement, and probably will spend the rest of its days down there, collecting cobwebs with all of the other has-been toys that had exciting-looking boxes or advertising and turned out to be real duds.

And to any parents who get duped into buying similar toys for their kids this holiday season, my basement has some extra storage space you can rent...while you wait for the toys to someday become valuable collectors' items.

#   #   #


Tuesday, September 17, 2019


My last gas range, a Magic Chef, lasted over 25 years. The only problem with it was it had pilot lights. I can’t even remember how many times I woke up to the smell of gas because one of the pilot lights had gone out overnight. It got to the point where I was afraid to scuff my slippers against the rug, for fear I’d create static electricity and end up blowing my house (and myself) somewhere into the stratosphere.

Even worse, the pilot light in the oven, not the ones on the burners, was the one that always seemed to go out – maybe because it was at floor-level and my flabby legs created a big draft whenever I walked past it. But it was located way in the back of the broiler drawer, so whenever I had to relight it, I had to lie on my stomach on the floor and stick my head all the way into the broiler. If I’d have happened  to die while in that position, I’m pretty sure my death would have been ruled self-inflicted.

So when my current house was built, back in 2009, I vowed to get a gas range that didn’t have pilot lights. I was pleased to find a Frigidaire appliance package that included a stove, refrigerator, dishwasher, and a washer and dryer, all for only $2,000.  I remembered Frigidaire when I was growing up, and it seemed to be a reliable brand. My grandmother had the same refrigerator for about 30 years and it was by Frigidaire. In fact, she never called it a refrigerator, she'd always say things like, “Go get some milk out of the Frigidaire.”

So I bought the appliance package, fairly confident that all of the appliances probably would outlive me.

Well, all I can say is Frigidaire must hate me. First, the dishwasher died and I had to invest in a new one. But the gas range (a.k.a. Satan's appliance from Hell) has been nothing but cursed ever since the day after the warranty expired. First of all, two of the knobs snapped right off their stems, and when I tried to order new ones, I learned they weren't being made any more. So I had to tape them back on with duct tape - not exactly a chic kitchen look.

And twice now I’ve had to replace the oven igniter, which is the electric gizmo that ignites the gas flame. And each time it needed to be replaced, I ended up $200 poorer...mostly for the labor.

A couple weeks ago, I turned on the oven and waited for it to reach the proper temperature so I could shove a pan of cookies into it.  About five minutes later, I heard a loud “POOF” that made me jump. I looked at the stove, and through the glass door I saw a wall of flames shoot from one side of the oven to the other.  After that, however, it seemed fine, so I baked my cookies with no problem.

Had I been smart, it might have dawned on me that flames shooting across the inside of an oven couldn’t be a good thing  – especially if I had been reaching into it at the time. I had visions of my arm never having hair...or skin...on it again.

Still, the other night, I put a pan of cookies into the oven and set the timer for 14 minutes. There was no loud “poof” sound and no flamethrower impression when I cranked the oven up to 400 degrees, so I relaxed a bit.

Fourteen minutes later, I opened the oven and discovered it was cold – and my cookies still were balls of raw dough.

I called a repairman the next day.

“Sounds like you need a new igniter,” he said. “It’ll run you about $250.”

I’d heard it twice before, so I shouldn’t have been surprised.

“I’ll get back to you,” I said.

The truth was, I was furious. My range obviously was a lemon, and I wasn’t about to spend any more money on yet another igniter that would last only two years, if that. I’d already spent more money repairing the stove than it originally had cost me. I was through wasting my time and money on that crummy oven, I decided. I was going to save up for a brand new stove – and not one by Frigidaire.  Frigidaire had let me down. Frigidaire officially was on my you-know-what list.

So I bought a toaster oven for $29.95. The box said it could broil, bake and toast, so I figured it could do everything I needed. The only problem was the box turned out to be about three times larger than the actual oven inside. Once I unpacked it, I was surprised to see it was about the size of a lunchbox. In retrospect, I guess I should have splurged on the $59 model. Still, I decided the cheaper one would suffice.

I can bake exactly three cookies at a time in it. They come out fine – golden and crisp. My recipe makes two dozen, so baking the entire batch of cookies takes me most of the night. And my casserole dish is about 1/2 inch too big to fit into the toaster oven. So I’ll have to find another dish that does fit – probably from Barbie’s Dream House collection.

Meanwhile, if nothing else, the cold, dead oven in my range will make a great place to hide stuff – like the huge jar of pennies I’m trying to fill so I eventually can buy a new stove.

#   #   #


Monday, September 9, 2019


I have lived in my current house for 10 years now and never have been up in the attic.

In my defense, however, I have several good reasons why.

First and foremost, the only access to the attic is what is called a “hatch” in the the middle of my bedroom closet. There are no stairs or a pull-down ladder, only the hatch, which has such a small opening, I would have to grease
my entire body with butter just to squeeze myself up through it.  

Even though I’ve never ventured into the attic, I do know a few things about it.  I know it has an electric light in it. I found this out by accident when I noticed that my closet had two light switches in it. One turned on the light in the closet. The other turned on... nothing...or at least I thought it didn’t.

But I was lying in bed my first night in the house and noticed a very dim light coming from underneath the closet door. Thinking someone had broken into the house and was using a flashlight to see if I might have a diamond necklace stuffed into one of my shoe boxes, I grabbed the lamp (to use as a weapon) on the nightstand and crept toward the closet. With one hand holding the lamp above my head so I could smash it over an intruder’s head if necessary, I grabbed the door handle with my other hand and flung open the door. The dim light turned out to be coming down through the gaps around the attic’s hatch-door in the ceiling.

I also learned the attic had a smoke detector in it...mainly because it kept randomly blaring at all hours of the day and night. I’m not talking about that annoying “low battery” chirping, I’m talking about full-out blaring, as if the attic were engulfed in flames. The first time, I called the fire department.  They lugged in their own ladder, climbed up there, changed the battery in the detector and assured me there was no fire.

“How do you expect me, a woman of an ‘advanced’ age, to keep changing that battery myself?” I asked them

They shrugged, as if to say, “Hey lady, that’s your problem.”

The second time the detector in the attic went off, only a few days later, I wasn’t home, so a jogger who happened to hear the blaring called the fire department. Luckily, I arrived home only seconds before they were about to chop down my front door. Once again, nothing seemed amiss.

Fast forward to four false alarms later. The fire department finally removed the detector from the attic and handed it to me.

“This detector obviously is faulty,” the fireman said. “You don’t really need one up there anyway. By the time the smoke from a house fire would rise high enough to reach that detector, you’d already be dead.”

At least the blaring finally stopped.

One day, my uncle, out of curiosity, grabbed a step-ladder, stood on the very top of it and hoisted himself up into the attic so he could explore it. When he climbed back down, he informed me there was nothing up there because it had no floor – and he’d had to carefully walk from beam to beam.

“Good thing I have good balance,” he said. “Otherwise you might have seen me come falling through the ceiling!”

His words served only to give me yet another good reason never to go up there.

But I’ve been having so many problems with my basement, my attic is beginning to seem more appealing to me – as a possible future storage area. 

“My basement is always damp and smells like mildew, even with two dehumidifiers running constantly,” I told one of my friends the other night. “I’m thinking that a nice dry attic might be a much better place to store my stuff. All it needs is a floor and some stairs going up there.”

“Does the attic have full-sized windows?” he asked.

“No, no windows at all. Only a hatch-door in the floor.”

He burst out laughing. “Then how do you suppose they’re going to get big sheets of plywood up there to make a floor, if your only access is a small hatch?”

I frowned at him. “In small pieces?”

I must confess, however, that having no access into the attic actually gives me a small sense of comfort, especially lately.  That’s because for the past few weeks I have been hearing noises up there.  The noises are not the pitter-patter of little feet, such as if squirrels or mice were scampering around. No, these sound like a 200-lb. man wearing combat boots stomping on the beams. Even my dogs look up at the ceiling and growl. 

It makes me wonder how whatever is up there got up there in the first place, especially if it’s as big as it sounds.

Still, seeing there are no pull-down steps or a ladder leading up to the attic, it means that whatever is up there has no way of climbing down into my closet either.

Unless it’s really, really tall. 

Or it comes crashing through the ceiling.

Maybe I should call the fire department again.

#   #   #


Monday, September 2, 2019


You won’t believe what happened to me the other night.  On the other hand, if you’re a regular reader of this column, you probably will!  

I was on my way home from a friend’s house when I remembered I had to stop at a certain department store to return an item I’d bought a few days before that turned out to be damaged. Even though my bladder was protesting by then (and I absolutely hate public restrooms), I figured the errand would take only a few minutes, and then I could head home to use my own clean and non-odoriferous bathroom.

I parked the car and practically bolted into the store. To my relief, there was no line at the service desk...but the employee was on the phone. The look on her face told me she was confused about something.  She finally spotted another employee walking by and called out to her.

“Can you take this call?” she asked her. “This customer has a heavy accent and I can’t understand a word he’s saying. You’re a lot better at deciphering accents.”

The other employee grabbed the phone, listened carefully, then put the man on hold and started to giggle. “I think he wants to return some underpants he’s already worn!” she said.

“Eeeeeyuuw!” the first employee said. “I hope I’m not the one who has to touch them when he brings them back!”

“Well, just hope the customer before him is returning spaghetti tongs!” the other employee said, giggling even harder.

The two employees finally decided to turn the call over to the poor woman who worked in the men’s clothing (and underwear) department.  I then asked if I could swap the broken item I was returning for a new one.  They nodded and told me to just go run and get one and bring it back.

I quickly found the item and was heading back to the service desk in record time, when I came up with the brilliant idea of buying some reflector tape to stick on my walking shoes. With the days rapidly getting shorter, my daily walks sometimes are extending into darkness, and I thought it might be a good idea to make myself more visible to traffic.

I searched for the tape, but couldn’t find any, so I finally asked a clerk in the sporting-goods area.  He looked about 28, strongly built with short-cropped hair. To my surprise, he asked me for what reason I wanted reflector tape.  When I explained, his eyes narrowed.

“You walk after dark?” he repeated in a tone that made me feel as if I were committing some sort of a crime.

“Well, not if I can help it,” I said. “But sometimes I don’t even manage to get out of the house until dusk.”

“What if a car pulled up behind you and a guy jumped out and grabbed you from behind?” he asked.

“I’d use my pepper spray on him!” I said. “I always carry it with me on my walks.”

“Pepper spray? Ha!” He tilted back his head and laughed. “You could use a whole can of that stuff on me and it wouldn’t bother me a bit!  I’m so used to eating jalapeno peppers, I’m immune to pepper spray…and so are a lot of other guys!”

Before I could comment, he continued, “I’ll teach you how to protect yourself in just three easy steps.”  He bent down and pointed to my leg below the knee. “See this shin bone?  That’s a really hard bone.  When you kick a guy in the crotch, you use that part of your leg, not your knee or your foot!”

As I stood there, wondering how on earth I could angle my shin bone to connect with a guy’s crotch, he said, “And when you kick the creep, he’ll double over like this.”  He grasped his groin and bent over. “That’s when you come up under his chin with an uppercut!” 

He snapped his head back, as if he’d just been hit under the chin, then added, “Now, see how his stomach will be pushed out when his head is back like this?  That’s when you ball up your fist and sock him as hard as you can in the gut!  I guarantee you, that guy won’t be getting up to bother you again!”

For the first time in my life, I was speechless.

“And let me tell you,” he added, “if you carry a roll of quarters in your hand, you’ll have even more of an impact when you hit him!  Sure, you might bruise your knuckles, but that’s a lot better than what he might do to you.”

When I remained wide-eyed and silent, he said knowingly, “I can tell you’re thinking that you could never hit a guy hard enough to cause any real damage.  Well, all you have to do is think of every mean, rotten thing men have ever done to you, and then channel all of that anger and hostility into your fists.  You’ll be surprised how fierce a blow you can deliver when it’s backed with adrenaline!”

I honestly found myself scanning the racks, expecting the crew from one of those hidden-camera TV shows to leap out.

“Now,” the clerk said, “show me what you’ve learned.”

I hesitated, wondering if he really wanted me to sock him in the gut...or worse.

Fool that I was, I went through the steps, simulating the kicks and punches he’d just taught me, while he reacted as if he really were being hit, for effect.  Customers began to pause and stare, thinking I was assaulting an employee.  Before someone from security came rushing over and slapped the cuffs on me, I decided I’d better stop.

“Can you PLEASE show me where the reflector tape is?” I practically begged him, as my bladder cruelly reminded me that all of the kicking and bending I’d just done probably hadn’t been such a wise idea under the circumstances. “I’m really in a rush!”

“Only if you promise me you won’t walk after dark any more,” he said. “And if you do, that you’ll remember everything I just taught you.”

I would have promised him I’d walk on hot coals at that point, just to get my tape and get out of there.  Finally, he led me to it.  I grabbed two rolls and dashed back to the service desk.

“Sorry I took so long,” I said to the employee. “But Rambo in sporting goods insisted upon giving me a lesson in self-defense.”

She rolled her eyes and groaned. “Oh, God, he’s at it again!  You’ll have to excuse him. He just got out of the military and is having trouble adjusting to civilian life.”

By the time I got back out to the car, 30 minutes had passed. I happened to glance at myself in the rearview mirror and was embarrassed to see that my hair was sticking up in about five different directions. I looked as if I’d just gone a couple rounds with Hulk Hogan.

Unfortunately, about halfway home, I realized I had no choice but to stop at a public restroom – the only one being in a gas station where two guys who looked as if they’d just stepped out of a 1970s’ gang movie were hanging out.

Any other time, I’d have kept on driving right by, praying that I’d make it home in time. But not on this night.

Nope. I stopped at the gas station. All I had to do was remember the advice I’d just learned and channel my anger toward men to give myself an adrenaline rush of strength and courage. The first guy who popped into my head was George, the jerk who’d stood me up for my senior prom. I could feel my anger rapidly building and my shin bone transforming into a lethal, crotch-crushing weapon.

Luckily, neither that night nor any night since then, have I found the need to try out any of my newly acquired self-defense techniques. It’s a good thing, because I’m still trying to figure out how I’d manage to get my shin bone to make contact with  a guy’s crotch (unless he was standing with his legs spread wide apart).

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Monday, August 26, 2019


I don’t know why, but I’ve been having trouble falling asleep lately. Up until now, my problem always has been waking up, not nodding off. I mean, I used to fall asleep even before both of my feet actually made it onto the bed. 
Not any more.
I’m beginning to think the five or six cups of black tea I drink every night between dinner and bedtime might have something to do with it.
 For some reason, the minute I stretch out in bed now, things I normally wouldn’t think about suddenly pop into my head. The other night, for example, I spent 30 minutes trying to remember the lyrics to the “Laverne and Shirley” theme song. After that, I challenged myself to name every teacher I’d had from kindergarten through grade 12. Before long, my eyeballs were bugging out of my head, I was so wide awake.
Desperate, I searched online for natural remedies for sleep deprivation. I found a website where fellow insomniacs were sharing pointers.
“What finally makes you fall asleep?” one person asked.
“My alarm going off,” someone joked. “Believe me, the minute I hear it buzzing in the morning, I suddenly can sleep like a log.”
Another suggestion said, “Close your eyes and breathe slowly and deeply. Count every breath and concentrate on it. You’ll feel so relaxed, you’ll be asleep in no time.”
So I gave it a try. But for some reason, the more I concentrated on my breathing, the faster I started to breathe, until I ended up puffing like someone about to give birth. I also could hear my heart pounding like a bass drum in my ears.
“Put on headphones or earbuds and listen to soft music until you doze off,” came yet another suggestion.
I remembered an old cassette tape I’d recorded years ago with soft “mood” music on it, so being too lazy to use a more modern device and create anything new, I dug out the tape, along with my trusty old hand-held cassette player, and took them to bed with me.
By the fifth song, I actually was beginning to feel relaxed and drowsy. Just as I was about to doze off, however, the soft songs ended abruptly and the remaining music on the tape kicked in.
The Guns N’ Roses song, “Welcome to the Jungle,” which begins with a scream loud enough to shatter glass, blasted into my ears. Never have I come so close to needing CPR.
I guess the obvious thing to do would be to give up all of the tea I drink before bedtime and see if that helps. Still, I have been drinking tea every night for ages, so I can’t figure out why it suddenly would bother me. Maybe all of the caffeine has been accumulating in my body all these years and now has transformed my blood into a constant, giant jolt,
I don’t care. I’m just not ready to give up my tea or switch to caffeine-free (ugh!), even if it means I’ll have to suffer through another sleepless night and spend the next day walking around resembling an extra from “The Walking Dead."
On the plus side, I recently read that if you put cold, used teabags on your eyes, they can do wonders for reducing the puffiness and dark circles associated with…insomnia.
How ironic.

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Monday, August 19, 2019


A police officer on a talk show the other day was asked about the most common excuses drivers give him when they are pulled over for speeding.

The three most common, according to the officer, were: 1. “I really have to go to the bathroom,” 2. “If I’m late for work again, I’ll get fired,” and 3. “I’m feeling sick.” Coming in at a distant fourth was, “I think my speedometer isn't working right.”

Personally, I thought all four were pretty valid excuses. I mean, I vividly can recall more than one occasion when my husband and I were served “mystery meat” at a restaurant and drove home pretty fast, just so we could fight for the bathroom.

The officer on TV also said that a person’s attitude can mean the difference between getting a ticket or just a warning. For example, a driver who comes out with something like, “I wasn’t speeding, you idiot!  When was the last time you had your eyes examined?” might just as well be saying, “Okay, slap the cuffs on me and strip-search me!”

I think a person’s facial expression also has a lot to do with it. My late husband was the sweetest guy on earth, but people always told him he looked mean. That could be the reason why he once received a ticket for driving below the speed limit, which was something I’d never even heard of before.  But the policeman informed him that slow drivers were just as much of a danger on the road as speeders.

I, on the other hand, have been stopped three times and never received a ticket (allow me to pause here to knock on wood).  The first time, only a week after I got my driver’s license, I was speeding because I was late for my part-time job (a.k.a. excuse number two). The state trooper who pulled me over read the name on my license and asked, “Are you related to Lou?”

I nodded. “He’s my dad.”

“He’s a good friend of mine,” the trooper said. “I stop by to see him at work all the time.”

“Oh...” I frowned. “You’re not going to tell him about this, are you?”

The trooper looked thoughtful for a moment, then said, “No, I’m going to let you tell him. And you can bet I’ll be checking with him to see if you did.”

I didn’t get a ticket, mainly because he must have figured that confessing my “crime” to my father would be punishment enough.

The second time I was pulled over was years later, when I did what was referred to as a “California stop,” though I have no clue why it's called that, considering I live in New Hampshire. Anyway, I paused, but didn’t come to a full stop at a stop sign. And when I did it, I was unaware that a police car was directly behind me. Its lights immediately came flashing on.

After the officer checked my license and registration, he told me to step out of the car. I hadn’t expected him to say that, so I became really nervous, wondering why. 

“Follow me,” he ordered, the minute my feet touched the pavement.

He led me back to the corner of the road and halted. Slowly, he pointed to each letter on the stop sign.

“S-T-O-P,” he said as he pointed. “What does that spell?”

“Stop,” I squeaked, feeling the color rush to my cheeks.

“Good!” he said. “Then maybe next time you’ll actually do it!”

He then dismissed me...without giving me a ticket.

The third time I was stopped, I was positive I hadn’t broken any driving laws, so I had no idea why I was being pulled over. I’d just recently bought my car and it still had temporary plates on it.

A good-looking state trooper approached, flashed a bright smile at me and said, “I noticed your plates will be expiring in two days. Do you have your permanent plates yet?”

It just so happened I’d received them in the mail that very morning and they were lying on the front seat.

“Yes, I just received them.” I pointed to them. “They’ll be on in plenty of time.”

“Need any help with them?” he asked.

“Thank you, but my husband will do it for me when I get home.”

“’re married?” he backed away from the car. “Have a nice day.”

But I still have to chuckle whenever I think about another time my poor husband was pulled over. We were stopped behind another car at a red light early one night when he happened to notice that the car behind us was a police car.  Fear and paranoia immediately set in.

“God, I hope my muffler’s not dragging or my back tires aren’t bald,” he said.

“Or there’s not at arm hanging out of your trunk!” I joked.

When the car in front of us started to move, my husband, still intently eyeing the police car in his rear-view mirror, automatically followed it. Little did he know that the guy in front of us had grown impatient waiting for the green light and had decided to just go through the red one.

The officer pulled both cars over.

“Tell him you weren’t paying attention because I’m really sick,” I frantically whispered to my husband (unaware back then that it was excuse number three) as the officer walked toward our car.

“I’m sorry, officer,” my husband rolled down the window and blurted out to him. “But my wife is really sick.”

“What’s wrong with her?” he asked, bending down to look over at me.

I crossed my fingers, hoping that my husband, who was the world’s worst liar, would come up with something really serious, maybe even highly contagious, like the bubonic plague.

“Uh...she has PMS.”

He got a ticket.

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