Saturday, February 23, 2019


I recently heard that the once-popular TV show, “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” which stopped airing back in 2012, will be returning with new episodes in 2020.

The show, which aired for nine years, was hosted by carpenter and former model, Ty Pennington, and featured home makeovers and renovations free of charge for families that were undergoing some type of hardship at the time.

Hearing about the impending resurrection of the show made me recall an incident that happened back in 2008. At the time, my husband and I had been in the process of building our dream house. Unfortunately, thanks to a dishonest contractor and a lot of hidden expenses, our dream house  quickly turned into a giant nightmare. After a year, we found ourselves with only a half-built house and no money.

One night in late 2008, my cousin, Barb, called me. The tone of her voice immediately told me she was excited about something.

"I know how discouraged you've been about the house you're building," she said, "so I just did something I think might be the answer to all of your problems!"

"The only thing that would solve all of my problems," I muttered, "would be some guy who can finish building the house in less than a month…and for under 100 bucks!"

"Actually, that's kind of what I’m talking about…only better!" Barb said. "If things go as I hope they will, your house can be finished in only one week…and for free!"

She had my full attention.

"You know that TV show, ‘Extreme Makeover?’" she asked. "The one where they build someone a house in only one week, and while they're building it, they send the homeowners away on a nice vacation? Then when the owners come back, their brand new house is revealed?"

"Sure, I watch that show all the time. What about it?"

"Well, I filled out the online application for you and e-mailed it to them!  They could be calling you at any minute…even as we speak!"

"How did you fill out all of the information?" I asked. "You don't even know the address of my future house."

"All they wanted was your name, e-mail address and phone number," she said. "Oh, and a photo of you. I didn’t have a recent one, so can you upload one to them as soon as possible?"

"They want a photo of me?” I asked, thinking that was strange. “Wouldn't they rather have a photo of the property or the half-built house, so they’ll know what they have to deal with?"

"No, they only asked for one of you for now.  I'll give you the screen name and password I came up with for you so you can get into the website and upload your photo, OK?"

If it meant getting my house finished in only a week, especially free of charge, I was willing to send them anything they wanted, including one of my kidneys.

“So," Barb continued, "the screen name I picked for you is ‘Disaster2008,’ because that's the first thing that came to mind when I thought about all of the stress you’ve been going through with your house."

"That seems appropriate," I said.

"Now go send your photo right away," she said. "I have a really good feeling about this! I think it's going to be your miracle, the answer to your prayers!"

I thanked her, hung up and made a beeline for my computer. I then found the website address she'd given me and typed in the screen name, “Disaster 2008,” and the password.  Sure enough, there was my information, and a note saying it already had been submitted to the producers!

As I studied the website more closely, however, I suddenly burst out laughing. 

Instead of signing me up for “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” she'd signed me up for just plain “Extreme Makeover,” a TV show where cosmetic surgeons completely reconstructed and transformed people from blah "befores" to gorgeous "afters," using every means imaginable: liposuction, tummy-tucks, facelifts, both dental and breast implants, etc. They also put the participants through an intense exercise and nutritional program with a personal trainer who had all the personality of an army drill-sergeant.  In essence, the “lucky” participants spent a few weeks being sliced, stitched and routinely tortured.

I then realized why the show had requested my photo! They wanted to see how much work I needed!  I laughed even harder when I thought of the “Disaster 2008” screen name Barb had chosen for me!

I called her back and jokingly said, "Thanks a lot, Barb!  You accidentally signed me up for free plastic surgery instead of a free house! And even worse, you called me a disaster!" 

At first, she sounded really embarrassed and upset, but then she couldn’t help but crack up laughing. "Well, look on the bright side," she finally said, "if they choose you for the show, you may not get your house built, but you'll look so great, you won't even care!" 

Out of curiosity, I later checked out the “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” website to see what that show’s application was like. It was about 20 pages long and wanted to know everything from the name of my first-born child to how much I’d paid in income taxes since Nixon was in office.  If I’d decided to fill out that application, the TV show would have known more about me than my own husband did.

I think the tummy-tuck might have been easier.

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Saturday, February 16, 2019


One of my friends recently had her gallbladder removed.  She was in and out of the hospital in the time it took me to eat my lunch. And even more amazing, she didn’t have to be carved up like a Thanksgiving turkey or require a team of professional seamstresses to stitch her back together.  The surgeon made just a tiny hole and sucked out the gallbladder right through it (well maybe it was just a tad more complicated than that).  Anyway, she was back at work in less than a week.

Times sure have changed.  I can remember when any major surgery required so much time in the hospital, instead of just packing an overnight bag, you practically had to file a change of address with the post office.  The good part, however, was that your health insurance covered every penny of your stay.  If you still felt too weak to go home after 10 days, you could stay another 10 days to recuperate.  No problem.

I guess the reason why insurance companies are in such a big rush to get patients in and out of the hospital nowadays is because in the past, too many people abused their services and even became “professional patients.”  For example, I can remember one woman I worked with back in the 1960s.  Her annual summer vacation was a week-long stay in the hospital for different ailments she would fabricate, simply because she enjoyed the pampering…and the free TV, meals and room service.

She certainly couldn’t do that nowadays.  Insurance companies are pushing so hard for brief hospital stays, it’s only a matter of time before patients will come out of anesthesia and be wheeled directly to the nearest hospital exit, where an Uber driver will be waiting to zoom them straight back home.

Something happened at a pharmacy the other day that further convinced me that long hospital stays are a thing of the past.  I was standing at the checkout counter when a young woman holding a tiny baby wrapped in a pink blanket walked up next to me.

“Ooh, what an adorable baby!” the clerk gushed.  “How old is she?”

The woman glanced at her watch.  “Five hours.”

My jaw and the clerk’s both dropped at the same time.  I noticed that the woman still was wearing a hospital wrist-band.

Heck, back when my mother gave birth to me, she was in the hospital for over a week, and was off her feet for another month.  Can you imagine if she’d have needed a C-section?  By the time the doctors released her from the hospital, I probably would have been old enough to drive her home.

I’ve had two major operations in my lifetime - both abdominal - one in 1970 and the other in 1987, and it still amazes me how much the procedures changed just during the years between my first operation and my second. 

In 1970, I was admitted to the hospital two days prior to my surgery to undergo all of the necessary pre-op tests and preparation.  I even was given something to make me sleep soundly the night before the surgery to guarantee I’d be well-rested for the Big Event.

Seventeen years later, it was a whole different story.

“Your surgery will be at 8 a.m. on Monday,” the surgeon told me as I sat in his office. “So arrive at the hospital at 6 that morning.”

My eyes widened. “You mean I’ll just rush in, jump into a johnny and have my operation?”

“Basically,” he said. “We’ve found that most patients get a better night’s sleep at home in their own beds the night before.”  He then quickly drew a lopsided stick-figure on a piece of paper and showed it to me.  “Speaking of the night before, on Sunday night I want you to shave your body from here to here.”  He drew arrows on the stick-figure as he spoke.  The trouble was, his artwork was so crude, I couldn’t tell whether he wanted me to shave my navel or my armpits.

He also wrote down the name of a strong laxative he wanted me to pick up at the pharmacy. “Drink a whole bottle of this the day before your surgery,” he said. “It will leave you all nice and clean inside.”

Well, the day before my surgery I was so nervous, I would have been better off trying to shave myself with a buzz saw.  By the time I was through, I had so many cuts on my body, I looked as if I’d just run naked through a razor-blade  factory. 

And the stress caused me to completely forget to drink the bottle of laxative…until I’d already crawled into bed for the night.  Needless to say, I didn’t get a wink of sleep because I was sprinting to the bathroom every 10 minutes.  I arrived at the hospital looking as if I should just walk directly down to the morgue and be measured for a toe tag.

If things were that rushed 13 years ago, I can just imagine what they’re like nowadays.  I have visions of a string of patients lying head to toe on a long conveyor belt that goes directly into the operating room.  Pinned onto each patient’s johnny is a sign that says, “gallbladder,” “appendix,” “prostate,” etc., so the surgeons won’t have to waste precious moments reading charts.

Actually, I guess “quickie” operations may not be such a bad thing after all.  In the future, a person’s appointment calendar probably will look something like this:  Monday, 8 a.m. - business meeting; 11:30 a.m. -  lunch with Susan;  12:30 p.m. - double hernia operation; 5:00 p.m. - line-dancing class.

At least the insurance companies will be happy.

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Tuesday, February 5, 2019


Many things have changed over the years, but the one thing that seems to have been disappearing at an alarming rate is the little corner store.

When I was young, growing up on Manchester’s West Side, there were four corner stores in my neighborhood (and I’m probably going to murder the spelling of their names here):  Stewart’s, Patsas’, Henschel’s and Fritzies.

The closest to my house was Stewart’s.  It was on a corner in a back alley and was so small, a full-grown man probably could have stood in the middle of the store, stretched out his arms and touched both walls.  But it had the staples everyone needed back then: bread, milk, cigarettes, candy, Popsicles and Table Talk pies.

The guy who ran the store installed a metal edge along the counter, which he used for breaking Popsicles in half.  He’d line up the center of the Popsicle along the metal strip and with one well-aimed whack of his hand, would perfectly dissect it.

My favorite flavor was blue raspberry. That was the Popsicle that turned everyone’s lips and tongues bright blue.  I always thought that walking around with a blue tongue all day was well worth the price of a nickel.  In fact, I’m pretty sure Stewart was able to retire on just the six million Popsicles he sold to us kids over the years.

And then there were the Table Talk pies.  The store carried both the large size and the snack size. My favorite was lemon.  My mom’s favorite, however, was strawberry-rhubarb, not exactly most kids’ first choice.  So whenever she sent me to Stewart’s to buy a big pie for dessert, I’d usually tell her he’d run out of the strawberry rhubarb…and then I’d bring home a lemon one instead.

Henschel’s was the most ancient-looking of the stores in the neighborhood.  It had a flight of rickety wooden stairs going into it, and the floors inside were so uneven, the only way you could walk straight in there was if you had one leg shorter than the other.

But the store had a really good assortment of penny candy, and that was all that mattered to me.  Most of my childhood years were spent buying penny candy (and my dentist can attest to that).  In fact, you might say I was a penny-candy connoisseur. 

That’s why I spent so much time walking to Fritzies, which was the farthest away from my house. The penny-candy selection there was so vast, I used to hyperventilate just walking through the doorway.

A large glass case trimmed with wood seemed to stretch endlessly across the store, and it was filled with every morsel a penny-candy lover could ever hope for: Tootise Rolls, Tootsie Roll pops, Mary Janes, fireballs, Squirrel Nut Chews, licorice, spearmint leaves, candy buttons on strips of white paper, tiny wax
bottles filled with flavored syrup; wax lips, teeth and mustaches; candy cigarettes, strawberry BB bats, nonpareils, malted-milk balls, tiny marshmallow-filled ice-cream cones, Pixy Stix straws and so much more.

(Excuse me, I have to pause for a second here to wipe the drool from the corners of my mouth).

Choosing which five candies to buy with my nickel sometimes took me over 25 minutes. I’m pretty sure that the clerk, after hearing me say, “Give me one of those,” followed by, “No, on second thought, make it one of these,” 150 times, wanted to beat me with one of the licorice whips.

And even then, when I left the store I’d still be wondering if maybe I should have bought the Bazooka bubble gum instead of the jawbreaker, or the orange slice instead of the spearmint leaf.

Patsas’ was the largest of the convenience stores.  It took up a whole corner.  For some reason, my friends and I used to buy our nickel candy bars there rather than at any of the other stores.

My favorite nickel bars were Sky Bars and Charleston Chews.  My friend Janet loved Hershey Bars.

That is, until the fateful day we walked out of Patsas’ and eagerly tore into our candy bars…and Janet’s was covered with worms.

She flung that candy bar so far, I think it broke the world’s distance record for flying objects.  Her accompanying screams made people across the street turn and stare at us as if we were being mugged.

 But there were no expiration dates on products back then, so that candy bar, for all we knew, could have been sitting on the shelf since Patsas first opened his market back in the Stone Age.

There also was a large supermarket in the neighborhood, First National Store, which abbreviated its name across the front, “FINAST”.

I still remember getting the word “finest” wrong on my spelling test at school because I’d thought “finast” was the store’s description of its products (the “finast” around) rather than an acronym.

Moving out to the country, however, put a major crimp in my ability to find a store on nearly every corner for my daily dose of candy.

That is, until one day…when a convenience store, complete with a large candy-counter, seemed to magically pop up out of the woods in the middle of nowhere, barely a three-minute walk from my house.

I still have a sneaking suspicion my dentist built it.

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