Monday, June 24, 2019


Every time I see video clips from one of those drive-through animal parks, where a giraffe usually is sticking its tongue through a gap in someone’s car window and is giving the driver a face washing, I can’t help but think back to the time my husband and I dared to venture to such a park.

I still clearly can recall  the summer we were discussing where we should go for our annual vacation.

“Remember that drive-through animal park we went to in Canada way back when we were first married?” my husband asked. “That was SO much fun! Maybe we could go there again!  It will be like a trip down Memory Lane.”

I honestly wondered if his memory already had taken a vacation.  Believe me, the words “so much fun” were not something I’d have used to describe our trip to the animal park in Canada...not even close.

First of all, we’d had the misfortune of visiting the park on one of the hottest days in July.  There we sat in our cramped VW Beetle with no air-conditioning and all of the windows (per strict park regulations) rolled up so tightly, we felt like a pair of canned sardines.

As we crawled along on the dusty road through the park, we read the signs announcing which animals were supposed to be in each area.  Eagerly, we craned our necks to see these magnificent beasts.  We saw nothing but grass and bushes…and more grass and bushes.  We began to suspect the park actually didn't have any animals—that they’d just put up the signs to make people think they did.

“Look!” my husband shouted, pointing. “There’s a big bird—maybe some rare type of African species — over there in that tree!”

I squinted up at the tree and frowned. “It’s only an old crow.”

Too soon, our car’s interior temperature began to reach the equivalent of a broiler oven’s.  I started to look like a “before” photo for an antiperspirant advertisement. 

“I’m opening the window,” I told my husband as a ball of sweat plopped off the tip of my nose and landed in my lap. “I’m going to pass out if I don’t!”

“No!” he shouted, slamming on the brakes. “All the signs say not to!  We could be attacked by wild animals!”

“Good!” I snapped. “At least we’ll finally get to see one!  I’m going to open the window only a crack.  It’s not as if I’m going to hang my head out of it the way our dog does, and yell, ‘Here, kitty, kitty!’ in the lions’ area!” 

I rolled down the window only about two inches, then put my face close to the opening and took a deep breath of what turned out to be scorching, dusty air.  I then heard what sounded like a thud on the car’s roof and suddenly, I couldn’t move my head.  “Help!” I cried.

My husband again slammed on the brakes. “What’s wrong?”

“Something’s grabbing the front of my hair!” I whined, struggling to free myself.

He glanced at the vehicle ahead of us. “I think it’s a baboon,” he whispered. “There was just a whole bunch of them on that car in front of us over there and they were going wild, tearing off the chrome, the antenna and the windshield wipers!” 

I began to panic. “Well, this one wants to tear off my hair!  I’m going to look like Yul Brynner!”

“Shhhh!” my husband said. “I don’t want anyone to know you opened the car window!  It could be a federal offense in Canada, for all we know!  We could end up in jail here…and we don’t even speak French!”        

“I’m about to be scalped, and all you care about is going to prison?!”  I snapped. 

At that moment, the baboon (or whatever it was) loosened its grip.  I quickly rolled up the window.  The top part of my hair was standing straight up in the air.

“That will teach you to obey the signs,” my husband preached. “You’re lucky it was only a baboon. It could have been a cougar sitting on top of the car and when you opened the window, it could have stuck its claws inside and shredded your forehead into confetti!”

I wanted to tell him to roll down his window and stick his tongue out there, just so I wouldn’t have to listen to him preach any more.

So, when years later, my husband suggested we revisit that same animal park to recapture our younger days and take a stroll (or drive) down Memory Lane, I lied and told him I’d heard that the park had been shut down years before, due to some horribly virulent animal-park plague. 

And then I prayed he wouldn’t go investigate the place online and find out it still was open.

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Monday, June 17, 2019


I was watching a talk show on TV the other day and it made me realize just how far behind I am in keeping up with all of the new terms and expressions in the English language.  You see, even though the guests on the show, a group of teenagers, were speaking English (at least I think they were), I barely understood a word they said.

One girl, for example, was angrily discussing her recent breakup with her boyfriend.  “He used to be so nice, telling  me all the time what a bomb I was, how bad I was and how fat I was, so why then, did he cheat on me with my best friend?” 

I just sat there, staring at the TV because the girl made no sense to me. I mean, she actually liked it when her boyfriend called her a fat, bad bomb? He sounded like a real creep to me.  Still, out of curiosity, I decided to check out the words online.

I was surprised to learn that nowadays, “bad” actually means good.  And a bomb is something that’s flashy and exciting – really “dynamite” (I’ll bet a lot of Broadway stars whose plays were called box-office bombs are wishing the latest definition had applied to them instead).  I also discovered that the word isn’t “fat,” but “PHAT,” which stands for “pretty hot and tempting” (Oh great – now when people tell me I look fat (phat?), I’ll have to ask them to spell it before I get upset?).

Out of curiosity, I also happened to look up modern-day terms for kissing.  They included, among others, “sucking face,” “tonsil hockey,” and “swapping saliva.”

How romantic.

Back when I was a teen, the popular terms for kissing were “making out” and “necking” (I hate to even think of what they might mean nowadays).  I mean, look at what happened to the term my mother’s generation called kissing—“mugging!”  At exactly what point in time, I wonder, did something so romantic suddenly transform into something that could get you 5-10 in prison?  Can you just see some poor old guy bragging to his grandchildren, “Yep, when I was in my prime, I spent a lot of time mugging in the back seat of my car over at Massabesic Lake.  The ladies told me I was one of the best around!”

Even a lot of the words and expressions I used when I was a teenager already are obsolete.  When was the last time you heard someone say “groovy” or “far out?”  Refer to the police as “the fuzz?” Call a house a “pad?”  Describe wild colors or music as “psychedelic, or anything pleasurable as “neat-o?”  And I’m pretty sure the word “cool” is on life support right about now, too.

If I’m feeling behind the times, I just can imagine how my mother’s generation feels.  Back when she was young, a really special guy was called “the cat’s pajamas” (though I have NO idea why), and a pretty woman would elicit appreciative choruses of  “hubba, hubba, zing, zing!” from men.

Even job titles have changed over the years.  A secretary is an administrative assistant, a waitress is a food server, a stewardess is a flight attendant, a phone solicitor is a telemarketer, and a dog groomer is a fur-coiffure specialist (okay, so I made up that last one).

But I learned yet another new job title when I was in a department store the other day and asked the woman at the service desk if there might be a stock boy available to help me lift a 35-lb. bag of dog food into my cart.

She said, “No problem. I will page a merchandise replenisher to help you.”

What concerns me is that if the English language continues to change at the rate it has been, everything I’ve written in my old diaries might be grossly misconstrued when some future generation happens to find them lying among the ruins.

Take, for example, the word “boob.”  When I was growing up, it was used solely to describe a foolish person—someone who acted like a juvenile. So just imagine someone picking up my old diary and reading, “It seemed as if every time I turned around at the party last night, these two boobs – both husky with long hair – were staring me in the face!”

And “dogs” were a common term for feet. In fact, an old slogan for the “Hush Puppies” brand of shoes was, “They quiet your barking dogs.” One of my old diary excerpts reads: “My dogs are in so much pain right now I barely can stand on them!  That’s what I get for forcing them to walk around in spiked heels all day!”  Sounds like a pretty good case for the SPCA. 

But the worst thing I wrote in my old diaries was the expression, “fooling around.” Back then, it meant to hang out with someone.  Just about every weekend, I wrote something like, “Tonight I fooled around with George, his cousin Ken and their two girlfriends.” People who might read that in the future probably will think I was a real “floozy.”

Oh, actually they won’t...because that’s another expression that’s become obsolete.

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Monday, June 10, 2019


Now that the hot, humid season rapidly is approaching, all I can say is I am grateful for central air-conditioning. Not only does it cool off the entire house in minutes, it requires no yearly installation, the way the old window-models used to.  I still vividly remember the last time I went shopping for a window air-conditioner for my former house, and it turned out to be anything but a pleasant task.

For a few summers, the window air-conditioner we had back then had been sounding like a helicopter whenever it ran.  Oh, it still worked fine, but I kept having visions of it gasping its last breath in the middle of a sweltering heat wave, when every air-conditioner in New England would be sold out.

So late one afternoon, right after I heard the weather forecast for the upcoming week, predicting temperatures hot enough to melt the elastic on my underpants, I decided to go buy a new air-conditioner, just so we would have one handy when the old one finally decided to kick the bucket. 

Fearing a protest of “Oh, our current air-conditioner will probably outlive us both,” I didn’t mention anything about it to my husband.  I just headed to the nearest discount appliance-store. 

The clerk who assisted me was perspiring profusely, which I thought was pretty humorous, considering he was selling air conditioners.  In fact, as he spoke to me, I was so busy staring at the big drop of sweat hanging from the tip of his nose, I barely heard what he was saying. 

“I want the biggest air conditioner I can get,” I finally told him. “But I don’t want to have to re-wire anything in my house.”

The clerk looked thoughtful for a moment. “I’d say 12,000 BTUs is as high as you should go, then.  That’ll take care of about 500 square feet.”

Sounded pretty good to me.  Besides that, I’d never liked shopping for anything mechanical so I just wanted to get it over with as rapidly and as painlessly as possible.  “Fine! I’ll take one of those,” I said.

“We don’t carry them here,” he said. “Our highest unit is 10,000 BTUs.”

He really made me wonder why he’d even mentioned a 12,000 unit if he didn’t sell them. I mean, if he first had recommended 10,000 BTUs, I wouldn’t have known the difference and he’d have made a quick sale.

I ended up going to several other appliance stores, none of which had the 12,000 BTUs model either – and by then, I had become obsessed with finding one. It was getting late, however, so I was forced to give up my search. I stopped at Walmart for some dog food before heading home.

To my amazement, Walmart had an entire room ( I think it once had been a small arcade) stacked with nothing but boxes upon boxes of fans and air-conditioners...5,000 BTUs, 10,000 BTUs, 12,000 BTUs and even 18,000 BTUs!  I felt as if I had just entered air-conditioning heaven.

I was all set to grab the 12,000 unit when I began to think how much frostier the 18,000 one would be.  I also began to wonder just how knowledgeable the guy at the other store had been about the size of the air-conditioner I should buy.  Wanting to get a second opinion, I headed to the service desk.

The two young women working there couldn’t answer my question, so they paged someone they thought might be able to.  He didn’t respond.  They paged another guy.  He responded, but knew nothing about air-conditioners.  They then tried to think of someone they could phone (at home) who could help.  They drew a blank.

“Well, I’m not leaving here without an air-conditioner,” I told them. “The only question is whether I should get the 12,000 unit or the 18,000.”

One of the girls then looked toward the checkout lines and spotted a customer – a rugged-looking, husky man she apparently knew. “He can help us!” she cried, rushing over to him.

She said a few words to the man and he immediately walked over and told me that the 18,000-BTUs unit would require re-wiring, but the 12,000 wouldn’t.  My decision had been made for me.  I thanked him and headed back to the air-conditioner room.

By then, an employee had wandered in.  He was a fragile-looking man who complained of having a sore arm. 

“Then I don’t suppose you can lift one of these air conditioners into the cart for me?” I was foolish enough to ask him.  His expression told me it probably would result in him collecting workmen’s compensation for a permanent disability if he did.

So once again, the aforementioned burly customer came to my rescue.  With a grunt, he hoisted the enormous box onto a shopping cart, waited for me to pay and then followed me out to my car, where he squeezed the box into my trunk. 

I smiled and hummed all the way home because I was pretty pleased with my purchase.  Unfortunately, my husband wasn’t...especially when I told him I wanted to store the air-conditioner out in the shed, and asked him to put it there for me.

“How do you expect me to lift it out of your car?” he asked, his hands on his hips as he frowned into the trunk.

“Well, the big burly guy who helped me didn’t seem to have any trouble with it,” I said.

“Then you should have brought him home with you,” my husband said. “I have a bad back, remember?”

“I’ll help you carry it into the shed,” I offered.

By then, it was nearly 9:30 and pitch dark outside.  Our storage shed was located behind our house, bordering our neighbor’s property to the left. 

“I’m going to back up the car all the way to the shed,” my husband said, “and then we can just dump the air conditioner in there.”

“But there are stumps and trees all over the place between here and there,” I protested.

“Then get a flashlight and direct me,” he said, obviously not valuing his life.

Fool that I was, I got the flashlight and started to direct him, waving the flashlight as if I were an airport employee on a runway.  The trouble was, as he backed up, I stood next to the car and faced the rear of it.  So when I yelled, “Left, left!” it actually was his right.  He backed right over a dead stump and a small fir tree.

“What kind of directions are you giving me?” he shouted from the car. “The next thing you know, you’ll have me backing right through the shed door!  And I think I’m tearing up part of the neighbor’s lawn!”

“It’s okay,” I said. “There are no lights on next door – he’s asleep!”

“No I’m not,” came our neighbor’s voice through the darkness.  I looked over to see him standing about five feet away from us. “What on earth are you doing out here?” he asked me.

“Trying to kill me!” my husband answered. “If not from directing me into a tree, then from the double hernia I’m going to get from lifting that monster of an air-conditioner she just bought!”

The neighbor (who, I might add, was much older than my husband) wandered over to the back of the car and sized up the situation. “Aw, that’s nothing,” he said with a wave of his hand. “I’ll put it in the shed for you.”  With that, he lifted the box out of the trunk and set it down inside the shed. He didn’t even so much as grunt as he did.

We thanked him at least a dozen times before we headed back into the house.

How long did the air-conditioner remain out in the shed? About two years. That was when my mother and I finally decided to carry it into the house and set it up in the kitchen window while my husband was at work.

But that’s a whole other story.

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Monday, June 3, 2019


   I hail from a long line of talented seamstresses.  My mother magically transformed piles of sequins, satin and lace into my ballet costumes when I was young, and when I got my first office job, she made me an entire wardrobe of skirts, blouses and blazers.   My aunt sewed everything from winter coats to formal dresses for her family, and my grandmother had the fastest crochet hook in New England. No kidding, if I said to her, "Grandma, I'd really like red scarf," she would have the scarf already crocheted before I even finished uttering the word "scarf."

   That is why it embarrasses me to admit I can’t sew a stitch.  In fact, over the years, my motto has been, “If I can’t glue it, I can’t do it.”

   It’s not that I haven’t given sewing and needlework in every form my best shot.  In fact, I was in grammar school when my grandmother first tried to teach me how to crochet.

 “We’ll start with a simple chain stitch,” she said, carefully guiding me through each step.  I ended up creating a long "rope" that resembled something that could have earned a Boy-Scouts' badge in knot-tying.

   Undaunted, my grandmother went on to try to teach me how to knit a scarf instead.  I dropped so many stitches, the end result looked as if it had been blasted with buckshot...or attacked by a gang of hungry moths.

   Things only got worse when I entered junior high, where sewing was a mandatory subject.  The first half of the school year, the female students were required to attend sewing class and make an apron, a tote bag, an embroidered dish-towel and a potholder to use in cooking class, which was held the second half of the school year.

   I knew I was in trouble the first day I set foot in the class.  The sewing machines looked as if they were at least a hundred years old.  The home-economics teacher sat down at one of the machines and said, “This is a treadle machine. You operate it by pumping your foot on this platform to make the needle go up and down.”

   I soon learned that getting a smooth, non-jerky rhythm going on those sewing machines wasn’t as easy as the teacher made it look.  There were times when the muscles in my calf would cramp up so badly from all of the foot pumping, I’d end up with a row of stitches that resembled Morse code.

   I came to dread the three little words the teacher repeatedly uttered whenever she checked my pathetically crooked seams…“Rip it out!”  In fact, I used my stitch ripper so often, the tip finally broke off.

  All of that “ripping out” also had a negative effect on the attractive lavender linen I’d so carefully selected for my tote bag.  Two weeks into the class, it began to look like cheesecloth. I was afraid that if it had to undergo one more command of  "rip it out!" it would disintegrate into a pile of fibers.

  My friend Janet did little to ease my feelings of inadequacy.  Not only did she breeze though all of the required sewing projects with barely a rip-out, she had enough time left to also turn out several extra-credit projects: a broomstick skirt, a blouse, a vest and even a semi-formal dress for the school dance.

  Meanwhile, I still was struggling to make my tote bag.  

“ I’ll never finish this!” I complained to the teacher when she told me to rip out yet another seam that looked as if someone who'd just played 12 straight games of beer pong had sewn. “Can’t I put this aside for now and try something else?  Please?”

   The teacher rolled her eyes. “The next project is your apron. It has a bib, a gathered waist, rickrack trim, and straps that will button into buttonholes you will have to make yourself, by hand.  Do you honestly think you are ready to handle something like that when you are having so much trouble making a simple drawstring bag?”

   Before I could stop myself, I blurted out, “Well, if you didn’t have these rickety old sewing machines that came over here with Christopher Columbus, I just might be able to!”

   I flunked sewing class.

   My mother ended up making my apron for me, but solely to spare me the further humiliation of being the only apron-less girl in cooking class.

   I have managed to keep my embarrassing failure a secret all of these years, though there have been a few clues that might have led people to suspect the truth.  My neighbor, for example, once noticed that it took me over an hour to sew a button on my blouse.  That’s because I somehow kept managing to sew both sides of the blouse together on the downstroke through the button.  Once, I also tried to taper a pair of my slacks without even turning them inside out.  I just stitched all the way down the outside of the pant legs.  By the time I was
through, they looked like riding jodhpurs.

   So now when it comes to complicated clothing alterations – which, for me, is anything more difficult than sewing a button on something – I do the wise thing…I take the clothes to a professional tailor. 

   And just in case a clothing emergency pops up, like a fallen hem, I keep a fresh tube of fabric glue handy.

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