Thursday, December 8, 2022

I THOUGHT CHRISTMAS ROPE LIGHTS WERE THE ANSWER TO MY PRAYERS

 

Last week, I finally gave in and dug out my cardboard chest of Christmas decorations.

Stacked right on top were two boxes of rope lights. When rope lights first came out years ago, I thought they were going to revolutionize Christmas decorating. I mean, lights sealed inside clear plastic tubes that could be bent and shaped without the risk of the lights popping out of their sockets and falling off? They sounded heaven-sent to me.

I have no idea why, but I picked the coldest, windiest night of the week to decorate. Armed with two 18-ft. lengths of rope lights, I started to wrap the front-porch railings. The lights were pliable and easy to wrap at first, but as the air grew colder, they got stiffer and decided they wanted to stand up straight, kind of like angry cobras in striking position.

After struggling to wind 36 feet of lights with my rapidly numbing fingers and making certain every loop around the railings was perfectly even, I plugged them in. Then, smiling, I stepped back to admire my handiwork. One whole rope lit up…but only half of the other one did. It made no sense to me because I’d plugged in both ropes before I’d lugged them outside, and both had been fine. 

 Frustrated, I tapped the rope that was half-lit, hoping it would pop back on, but nothing happened. I tapped harder. Still nothing. At that point, I wanted to grab the rope and shake it, but I would have had to unwrap it from the railing...and I wasn’t about to undo all of my painstakingly precise work.

I went inside and checked the box the lights had come in. The directions said, “Do NOT attempt to replace the bulbs!"

I continued reading until I came to, “If one bulb burns out, a section of 24 lights also will go out.”

I stared at the directions and wondered just how dumb the manufacturer had to be. I mean, why, on a strip of lights where the bulbs couldn’t be replaced because they were hermetically sealed inside a tube, would they be constructed so that an entire section of bulbs would be killed off when only one died? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to construct them so just one bulb at a time quietly would go to its demise, probably unnoticed, rather than make a big production out of it and take 23 of its buddies along with it, as if they all were members of some Christmas bulb suicide-cult?

“The remaining sections of lights still will operate,” the directions said, as if that was supposed to make me feel any better. Who still would want to hang up lights with a section of 24 bulbs totally dark and the rest of them shining brightly? Did the manufacturer think no one would notice?

So I went to the hardware store and bought a new string of rope lights to replace the half-dead one. Once again, I carefully wound it around the railing, and then plugged it in. I breathed a sigh of relief when all of the lights immediately glowed.

Suddenly, however, they began to flash in a way that made them look as if they were trying to race each other in a marathon. I grabbed the box.

“Contains one set of chase lights,” it read, stating that I could turn the little dial near the plug and make the lights chase each other faster or slower. I rolled my eyes. The older rope lights I’d previously wrapped around the other railing didn’t chase anything. They just sat there looking dull and boring in comparison.

I wanted those lights to chase something, too. So I returned to the hardware store and bought another box of the chase lights. Soon, my railings were dancing with moving lights. I smiled with satisfaction.

And then, thanks to the howling winds that night, my whole neighborhood suffered a power failure. I wondered if it might be an omen.

The box says the average life expectancy of these new rope lights is about 10,000 hours. The way I figure it, they should be good for another 133 Christmases… that is, if one of the little ringleader lights doesn’t decide to say “goodbye cruel world” and kick the bucket in the meantime.

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Sally Breslin is an award-winning syndicated columnist who has written regularly for newspapers and magazines all of her adult life. She is the author of several novels in a variety of genres, from humor and romance to science-fiction. Contact her at: sillysally@att.net

 


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Thursday, December 1, 2022

TOYS I BEGGED SANTA FOR WHEN I WAS A KID

 

This time of year makes me think back to when I was a kid, excitedly waiting for Santa to deliver what I hoped would be the equivalent of a small toy store. The period between Thanksgiving and Christmas seemed like 300 years to me, but that was nothing compared to Christmas Eve. That night had to be at least 1,000 hours long, and it all but guaranteed a bad case of insomnia.

I also think back to some of the toys that were on my annual Christmas list when I was young. These were the toys that I absolutely had to have…that I would have died without. In fact, if Santa hadn’t brought them, I probably would have found some way to get up to the North Pole just so I could picket the place and protest.

One standard that appeared on my list every year was Play-Doh. I loved Play-Doh. It smelled great, it came in bright colors (unlike drab old modeling clay), and after I made something with it, it hardened into a permanent work of art.

Unfortunately, that also was the problem with Play-Doh. It hardened when I didn’t want it to. Too many times I opened the can, fully prepared to create another masterpiece (like the nose-shaped ashtray with nostril holes for cigarette butts I made for my dad), only to discover a rock-hard, whitish-looking clump lying in there.

Then there were the exciting new things that I wanted to be the first on my block to own. The one I was the most eager to have was the first talking doll, Chatty Cathy. When you pulled a string on her back, she spoke 11 different phrases, such as “I love you,” “I hurt myself” and “Tell me a story,” in a perky, nasal-sounding little girl’s voice. When I opened the box on Christmas morning and saw Chatty Cathy lying in there in her crisp blue and white dress and blond pageboy hairstyle, I was so excited, I opened my mouth to scream and nothing came out.

From that day on, Chatty Cathy and I were inseparable. I pulled her string so many times, it frayed. And my parents got so sick of hearing the same 11 phrases over and over again, my dad threatened to tie Cathy’s string into one of his navy knots. 


Maybe my parents wished it on me, but much too soon, my constant string pulling wore out Cathy’s voice recording and she began to sound more like a slurry old drunk than a perky little girl. It was pretty creepy. 

And even creepier was the fact that from the very first time I pulled Cathy’s string, something about her voice sounded eerily familiar to me. Years later, I learned that the woman who had voiced Rocky the Flying Squirrel in the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon show, also had done the honors for the voice of Chatty Cathy. 

So essentially, poor Chatty Cathy sounded like a squirrel.

Another new-fangled toy I just had to have was an Etch-A-Sketch. Little did I know that learning how to draw anything other than squares on an Etch-A-Sketch practically required a degree in engineering.

For one thing, I couldn’t get it to make anything round. Every time I twisted the drawing knobs, I got squares. So I drew people with square faces, square mouths and square eyes. And because the Etch-A-Sketch made only one continuous line with no way to make spaces, every face I drew had to have glasses because the line always connected their eyeballs together.

The worst part was that when I finally did manage to create something I thought was art-worthy, I’d pick up the Etch-A-Sketch and rush to show my mother…and the picture would erase itself. I never quite got the hang of carrying the thing perfectly flat to preserve my masterpieces.
 
And I’ll never forget my first Mr. Potato Head. Back then, a real potato was required for the head. The kit came with hard-plastic hats, eyes, noses, mouths, mustaches, and even a pipe for Mr. Potato Head to smoke. And each piece had a nice sharp point on the end of it to jab into the potato (and too often, accidentally into one of my own body parts).

I gave my Mr. Potato Head a few really “cool” looks. In fact, I thought one of my creations was so cool, I decided to preserve it. So I carefully put Mr. Potato Head, fully decorated, back into his box in my toy chest...and then forgot all about him.

“What smells?” my mother, her nose wrinkled, asked one day as her eyes made a sweep of my room. She finally sniffed her way over to my toy chest and dug out the Mr. Potato Head box.

That’s when we discovered that Mr. Potato Head had become Mr. Rotten Potato Head.

Toys sure were a lot more fun back then.


#   #   #


Sally Breslin is an award-winning syndicated columnist who has written regularly for newspapers and magazines all of her adult life. She is the author of several novels in a variety of genres, from humor and romance to science-fiction. Contact her at: sillysally@att.net


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Wednesday, November 23, 2022

I CAN RELATE TO THE THANKSGIVING TURKEY THIS YEAR

 

Something happened a week ago that has me scratching my head (both literally and figuratively).

It all started when I headed to my dermatologist’s office for my annual skin exam. I wasn’t concerned because nothing had changed since my last exam. All of my spots, moles and bumps looked exactly the same way they'd looked a year ago.

Anyway, I’m a person who’s late for everything. I don’t care how well I plan things, I'm still never able to make it to any appointments on time. My mother and my husband, who were such sticklers for punctuality they always insisted upon arriving everywhere at least a half-hour early, used to complain that my habitual tardiness was the cause of most of their gray hairs.

So on the day of my appointment with the dermatologist, I actually left the house early. I was pretty proud of myself, especially since I’d gone to bed only four hours before I had to get up. But as I pulled out onto the only road that leads down the mountain from my house, I found myself directly behind two trucks. The first one was painting a new yellow line down the center of the road. The second truck had a guy clinging to the outside of it and placing orange cones next to the newly painted line. A sign on the back of the truck warned drivers not to pass because of the wet paint.

I never would have believed a vehicle could travel that slowly and still actually be moving. Ten minutes later, I’d gone exactly a half-mile…and was mentally shouting at the guys, “Have mercy and pull over and let everyone pass, will you?”  By then, I couldn’t even see the end of the line of cars that had formed behind me.

A mile later, the trucks finally did pull over…and I was able to travel the actual speed limit.

Alas, I arrived ten minutes late for my appointment…and with my “always late for everything” record still intact.

As it turned out, the doctor also was running late, so I was able to sit in the waiting room for 15 minutes, followed by another 30 in the examining room – where I was instructed to take off all of my clothes, including my shoes and socks, and put on a gown. It wasn’t long before my feet actually turned blue, they were so cold, because, as everyone knows, examining rooms must follow a strict protocol not to allow the temperature in them to climb any higher than the interior temperature of an igloo.

During my wait, the assistant took down all of my information and then said, seemingly out of nowhere, “Just to let you know, the doctor will be examining the crack of your buttocks. There was a young woman here not long ago who had melanoma in the crack of hers, so it’s better to be safe than sorry.”

Um…okay.

The doctor finally rushed in and asked if I had any new concerns since my last visit.

I was tempted to say, “Yeah – I’m now concerned about my butt crack,” but instead I asked him if the hair I’d lost, mostly on the very top of my head, during Covid would grow back. He immediately examined my scalp.

“I do see significant thinning,” he said. “I think I should do a scalp biopsy,” He turned to the assistant and said, “I’ll punch that.”

Just as I was going to ask him if local anesthesia might be a less aggressive approach, he explained that a punch biopsy used an instrument similar to a paper punch to take a sample. He then mentioned he’d also seen a blue mole on my scalp and was going to biopsy that, too.

Blue mole? That was a new one to me. It also made me wonder if maybe I’d dozed off while using a blue permanent-marker and accidentally had dotted my head with it.

Hate to say it, but it wouldn’t have been the first time.

“And I’ll make a list of the blood tests I’d like you to have, concerning your hair loss,” the doctor added. “Alopecia can be caused by such conditions as thyroid cancer, or anemia caused by internal bleeding from cancer, or from a hormonal problem caused by ovarian cancer.”

The exam continued and I kept hearing, “This might look like an innocent mole, but cancer loves to disguise itself as innocent-looking growths, so you can’t be too cautious.”

Then there was the pale pink bump on my shin, “It could be nothing,” he said, “but I’m going to biopsy that, too.”

I was beginning to think the doctor considered everything to be cancer until he was able to prove otherwise. 

A few very long minutes later, after the doctor had examined every inch of my body from my scalp down to the soles of my feet, the assistant left and returned with a fistful of hypodermic needles and a bunch of little jars, which she began to label.

The numbing, carving, punching, scraping, cauterizing and stitching then began. I left there looking like the walking wounded – bandages on my head, chin, leg, chest, neck and in places I couldn’t even remember. I was embarrassed to walk across the parking lot because I was afraid people would think I'd just been mugged by a gang of thugs.

So I now can empathize with a Thanksgiving turkey, which also has to undergo a lot of carving, injecting and stitching during this time of year. 

The only difference is the bird is dead, while I’m still alive - all itchy and scabby and definitely not smelling like sage. 

STITCHING A TURKEY

I might smell like something else, however, as I’m not supposed to get my stitches wet…and I still have to wait another week before they can be removed.

#   #  



UPDATE:  Received all of the biopsy results and was relieved to learn everything was benign and nothing of concern. And the little pink bump on my leg – the one that required the deepest incision and the most stitches, and the doctor said would leave a scar – turned out to be a mosquito bite, which I probably got during the record-breaking warm spell we had just prior to my appointment.

I’m totally serious.

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Thursday, November 17, 2022

I REALLY MISS THOSE LEAVITT'S DEPARTMENT STORE CHRISTMAS PARTIES

 

 

Because I’m a germophobe who’s trying hard not to catch Covid, I won’t be attending any Christmas parties this year. Better to be safe than sorry, even though I’ve always loved holiday gatherings and usually had a great time at all of them.

If I had to recall the best, however, the annual Christmas parties at Leavitt’s Department Store, where I used to work, would top my list.

Every December, the store went all out and rented a big banquet room at the Chateau Restaurant in Manchester. It was a fancy affair, with the women wearing evening gowns and the men wearing their best suits and ties. The festivities featured a nice roast-beef dinner and free drinks, followed by dancing to a live band. Also, several of the employees would put on skits or entertain with singing and dancing.

One year, the entertainment director asked me to take part in one of the skits. An employee named Dan was going to portray Tiny Tim and sing his falsetto hit, “Tiptoe Through the Tulips.” The director wanted me to act like a crazed fan, screaming and carrying on from the sidelines. Then, after Dan finished singing, she wanted me run up and throw myself at him while launching into the song, “You’re Just too Good to be True.”

Unfortunately, when it comes to singing, I’ve always sounded like a cross between a bobcat with its foot caught in a bear-trap, and a bull moose searching for a mate. So I protested, telling the director I couldn’t sing, especially in front of a crowd of people.

“Oh, nobody cares!” she said with a wave of her hand. “It’s all just in good fun anyway!  You’ll do just fine!”

So I made the mistake of allowing her to convince me to be in the skit. Every night for a week before the big Christmas party, I practiced singing my song for hours in my bedroom, until I thought I didn’t sound half-bad. I ate, breathed and slept “You’re Just too Good to be True.”

The night of the party, the moment my date and I arrived, the director rushed over to us and told me to go talk with the band about playing the music to accompany my solo.

“Do you know the song ‘You’re Just too Good to be True’?” I asked one of the band members who was leaning against a piano. “I have to sing it during the entertainment portion tonight.”

“Yeah,” he said. “What key?”

Key?  Heck, the only key I was familiar with was the one that unlocked my front door.

I still have no idea why, but I blurted out, “Key of G.”

The guy looked wide-eyed at me. “You sure?”

I nodded, too embarrassed to tell him I didn’t know a thing about music.

As it turned out, the key of G was so low, when I began to sing my song, I practically had to reach down to my toes for the notes. If the party guests had closed their eyes, they’d have sworn some big, burly man – like a Sumo wrestler – was singing. Even Dan, the guy portraying Tiny Tim, looked shocked when I began serenading him in my baritone voice.

When I returned to the table where my date was seated, waiting for me, I could tell he was struggling to find something complimentary to say about my performance. His comment finally was, “Gee, I’ve never heard that song sung quite so…low…before.”

THE NIGHT OF LEAVITT'S 
PARTY - 1969

I still have no clue which key my voice really is, but I’m pretty sure I can rule out the key of G.

The last Christmas party I attended, about three or four years ago, pre-pandemic, was a calm and quiet one at a relative's house.  No one drank too much or tried to do the hoochie-koochie dance on the coffee table. No one was obnoxious or flirted with someone else’s date. No one sang 50 choruses of “The 12 Days of Christmas” while trying to remember whether there were 10 or 11 drummers drumming.

Yep, all was calm...and it was pretty boring.

I should have serenaded them with my stirring rendition of "You're Just too Good to be True."

 

#   #   #

Sally Breslin is an award-winning syndicated humor columnist who has written regularly for newspapers and magazines all of her adult life. She is the author of several novels in a variety of genres, from humor and romance to science-fiction. Contact her at: sillysally@att.net

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Wednesday, November 9, 2022

MY MOTHER GAVE BIRTH TO THE ORIGINAL "SWAMP THING"

 

 

A couple weeks ago I had a “meet and greet,” as they referred to it, with the ophthalmologist who will be doing my cataract surgery at the end of March in 2023.

I instantly liked the woman – bubbly, personable and sociable – and she allowed me as much time as I needed to discuss all of my questions about the surgery. The previous doctor I’d seen had rushed me so much, he actually told me to walk down the hall with him as he headed to his next patient, so he could finish answering my questions. I had to run to keep up with him.

Anyway, during this meet and greet, the surgeon asked me if I’d ever had eye surgery before. I told her I had, when I was two-and-a-half years old. Then I told her she probably wouldn’t believe any of the details. 

I could tell I’d piqued her interest as she leaned closer and asked, “Why? What happened?”

The funny thing is, even though I was very young when I had the surgery, I still remember a lot about it, as if it happened only a year ago. So I related all of it to my new ophthalmologist, even though I figured she’d end up thinking I desperately needed a long vacation, alone on a remote island somewhere…far away from any other humans.

According to my mother, the saga of my childhood eye surgery began when she and I were out in my grandmother’s field one summer afternoon and I bent over to pick a flower. When I did, a piece of timothy grass poked me in the eye. I whined, rubbed my eye hard, and that was the end of it.

Or so my mother thought. 

TIMOTHY GRASS

A couple weeks later, my eye began to look red and puffy.  My mother examined it closely and saw something green sticking up out of the corner of it. She found the tweezers and used them to tug on the green thing. It wouldn’t budge. She tugged again, harder, and said the eye started to bleed. She gasped and panicked, which caused me to scream loudly enough to break the sound barrier.  The next thing I knew, I was in the hospital.

The doctor’s theory was that a piece of the timothy grass, which kind of looks like wheat, had lodged in my tear duct when I’d rubbed it, and the damp, moist environment in there had caused it to sprout.  The doctor said it would have to be surgically removed and I’d have to stay in the hospital for a few days.

Upon hearing the diagnosis, my mother said she felt woozy and thought she might faint. I suppose it must have been traumatic for her, learning that her child was a walking greenhouse. She probably had visions of my face covered in plant-life with roots hanging out of my nostrils.

I clearly can remember being in that hospital. I still can picture the big room I was in. It contained rows of metal-barred cribs with kids in them.  The tops of the cribs had nets over them. I guess the nets were so we couldn’t escape. We all looked like a bunch of little zoo animals.

I also remember daily “playtime” at the hospital.  A woman, pushing a cart loaded with stuffed animals, would stop at each crib and hand an animal to each of us. My crib always was the last one she reached. Just as I would start to play with the stuffed animal, the woman would come back and take it away, saying, “Sorry, dear, playtime is over!” I can remember stubbornly trying to hold onto the animal as she tugged on it.  I wasn’t about to let her take MY toy without a fight.

And I remember having to feed myself. A cart with food on it would be rolled up to my crib and left there. I had to reach out through the bars and grab my meals. I ate with my hands and I ate fast because I was sure that the lady who handed out the stuffed animals was going to show up and try to snatch away my food, too. I usually ended up with more food in my ears and hair than in my mouth.

The thing I remember the most clearly about the hospital, though, was the morning a nurse took me into a room that contained a full-sized bathtub and gave me a bath. Halfway through my bath, another nurse, carrying a little boy, walked in and plunked him next to me in the water.

I had no idea what to make of that naked little boy. I knew he looked different than I did, but I couldn’t figure out why. I did a lot of staring.  In fact, I stared so much, I made the nurses laugh.

My mother said that when I finally came home from the hospital a week later, I was not the same happy, smiling kid she’d taken there. She said I glared at her and my father, communicated in grunts, and I ate like an animal, shoving food into my mouth with both fists, as if every bite might be my last. And I’d gone to the hospital all potty trained…and came home completely un-potty-trained.

Considering my dramatic personality change, I think my parents should have taken me back to the hospital for an x-ray of my brain. Heck, they might have found a cornstalk growing in there.

SWAMP THING
After I finished telling the ophthalmologist my story, she just sat there, staring at me. I was prepared to hear, “That’s one really creative tall tale,” as I usually did, after I told people how I probably could have given the “Swamp Thing” a run for its money if the plant in my eye had continued to grow.     

To my surprise, the ophthalmologist said, “That’s fascinating. You know, it’s extremely rare but not impossible for foreign bodies to enter the tear-sac and lacrimal duct…and I suppose it actually would be the perfect damp environment for a seed to sprout.” She then asked me exactly what timothy grass was.

As I was leaving, she thanked me for a very memorable and entertaining visit.

I’m hoping, however, that my cataract surgery will be neither entertaining nor memorable. So I’ll be extra careful between now and then not to get anything else in my eye, like when I’m decorating my home this Christmas season.

I mean, I wouldn’t want to show up with a Balsam fir sprouting out of my body.

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Sally Breslin is an award-winning syndicated columnist who has written regularly for newspapers and magazines all of her adult life. She is the author of several novels in a variety of genres, from humor and romance to science-fiction. Contact her at: sillysally@att.net

 


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Wednesday, November 2, 2022

BIRTHDAYS JUST AREN'T AS EXCITING WHEN YOU'RE OLD

 


Yesterday was my birthday and to be honest, birthdays just aren’t as much fun as they used to be when I was younger. For one thing, most of my gifts and cards poked fun at my advancing age…for which I really didn’t want or need any reminders.

There were the cards that said things like, “I was going to send you a funny card, but at your age, I was afraid you’d pee yourself," or “Aren’t you glad we were young and crazy before cell phones and the Internet, so there was no evidence?”

And then there were the usual corny jokes about the only men in my life being Ben-Gay, Arthur-itis and Charley Horse.

Okay, so maybe those are the only men in my life, but don't rub it in (I'm talking to you, Ben-Gay!).

I also received a few gag gifts. One was a statue of an elderly woman with everything on her body pointing south. She had one hand on her hip and her body wiggled back and forth (kind of like those old-fashioned hula-dancer statues people used to put on their car dashboards). On the base, it said, “Still hot!  But it comes in flashes.”  

Another gift was a box that said “Senior Survival Kit” on the lid. It contained a tube of denture adhesive, a magnifying glass, antacid tablets, aspirin, wrinkle cream, laxative, hemorrhoid ointment and a pair of socks that had “left” and “right” printed on them.

At my age, it seemed more like a practical gift than a gag.

One of my friends gave me a book that listed information about the year I was born.  The average cost of a house back then was $7,450. Gas was 17 cents per gallon, a postage stamp was three cents, a loaf of bread was 14 cents, and a new car was about $1,400. Truman was the president and the 45-rpm record was just invented. Argyle socks were the latest fashion trend. Believe me, I felt like a fossil after reading that.

I have to confess, however, that when it comes to my age, I’m still in denial. I live in jeans, dye my hair and wear it long, and still dare to do things like ride on roller coasters and go zip-lining. But reality has a way of reminding me I’m not 30 any more…especially when it comes to my mail.

I can remember when the mail-order catalogs I received were from places like Victoria’s Secret, Frederick’s of Hollywood and The Beauty Boutique. Now they come from places that sell hearing aids, back braces, life insurance, liver-spot remover and motorized wheelchairs. I can wake up feeling young and vibrant in the morning, but after reading my mail, I feel as if should be picking out my headstone.

On the bright side, I guess I at least don’t have that “little old lady” voice yet. I was on the phone with a customer-service guy the other day and he happened to mention he'd just turned 28. I told him I had underwear older than him and he laughed and said, “Yeah, right! I can tell by your voice you’re only about 35.”

I wanted to adopt him.

 

#   #   #


Sally Breslin is an award-winning syndicated columnist who has written regularly for newspapers and magazines all of her adult life. She is the author of several novels in a variety of genres, from humor and romance to science-fiction. Contact her at: sillysally@att.net


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Thursday, October 27, 2022

THE DEALERSHIP OR THE INDEPENDENT MECHANIC? IT'S ALL A MATTER OF TRUST.

 

I love New Hampshire, but sometimes I think sadists invented the rules here.

For example, property-tax bills in my town are sent twice a year. The first one is due in June, which is okay, but the second one is due in December. And who wants to receive a bill for thousands of dollars during the Christmas-shopping season?

It’s a wonder the bills don’t say something like,  “Dear Resident…you owe us $5,220 for your half-year property taxes. Payment must be received by December 7th or you will be charged a late fee, compounded daily. Have a very merry Christmas, and I hope your friends and relatives enjoy your gifts to them from the Dollar Store!”

Same with auto inspections, which are due annually during your birthday month – and my birthday is this month.

So I took my car to the dealership for an inspection a week ago. For a change, I wasn’t expecting to hear any bad news. Why not? Because my car had been there for an engine job just four months prior, and I’ve traveled only 300 miles since then. In fact, since my last inspection a year ago, I’ve racked up a grand total of barely 1,200 miles.

I suppose you could say I don’t exactly have a thrilling or very active social life.

Anyway, at the aforementioned visit four months ago, I contracted Covid, so I felt a bit uneasy as I drove back to the dealer’s – the scene of the crime – for this inspection. But I figured I’d be in and out of there with my new inspection sticker in about 20 minutes, so armed with my mask and a bottle of hand sanitizer, I’d be safe enough.

As I handed my car key to the guy at the desk, I asked him, “By the way…did any of your employees have Covid the last time I was here four months ago?”

“Oh, yeah,” he said with a chuckle. “We all took turns.”

I was tempted to thank him for sharing, but instead I joked, “Well, I caught it while I was here, so I figure you owe me now. So don’t find anything wrong with my car, okay? 

“Okay, we’ll try,” he said. 

I took a seat in the tiny waiting room and waited. And waited some more…and then waited even more. I didn’t have to be Einstein to figure out the inspection probably wasn’t going to be the “breeze” I’d anticipated it would be.

Sure enough, the guy at the desk finally came in to talk to me. He was holding some paperwork and frowning…neither of which translated into, “You’re all set! Your new sticker is on your car and we’ll see you next October!”  


Nope. He said he was sorry but I needed engine mounts and bushings, and the total would be “roughly” $850 and the job would take at least six hours. In the meantime, he said they had no choice but to fail my inspection. That meant if I didn’t get the car repaired by the end of the month, I’d have only a 10-day grace period before I would be driving a vehicle with an expired sticker on the windshield…which most police officers have a knack for spotting from a distance of about five miles away.

As I drove home, a million thoughts raced through my mind, like which bank in my area might be the easiest to rob so I could afford to get my car repaired. I immediately nixed that idea, however. I mean, I walked into the local post office the other day and was wearing a baseball cap, sunglasses and a face mask, and the clerk looked up at me and said, “Oh, hi, Sally!” 

So I’m obviously easily recognizable by some body part other than my face.

The more I thought about the inspection, however, the more it gave me a feeling of “something just doesn’t seem right.”  I’d just had an engine job done there, so wouldn’t they have noticed the worn-out engine mounts then? I’m no mechanic by any means, but it did make me wonder.

If a doctor had told me I needed to have my spleen removed, even though I hadn't suffered any symptoms at all, I’d be sure to see another doctor for a second opinion before I agreed to go under the knife. So I decided that’s exactly what I was going to do with my car – take it to an independent mechanic, not another dealer. If he confirmed that I did need the parts I’d been told I needed, then fine, at least I’d know for certain that my car had deserved to flunk the inspection. And if it did need the work, then maybe the mechanic at least could do it more cheaply than the dealership.

One of my friends recommended her mechanic – someone she said was reliable, trustworthy and reasonably priced. Sounded good to me. So I called him and set up an appointment for the following Monday morning. I was honest and told him everything that had happened at the dealership. I didn’t leave out a thing…although after I hung up, I wondered if maybe I should have told him only to inspect my car, and then see what he might come up with on his own.

I’d never been to his garage before, and the online directions were vague, at best. The photo of the place online didn’t show a sign or any nearby buildings, either, so I knew I’d have to search a bit for it...on a busy road where the speed limit is 45 mph - which means the traffic usually does about 55. Even my friend who’d recommended the mechanic couldn’t tell me the exact location – only the general vicinity.

As I drove there on Monday morning, it began to pour so hard out, I could swear I saw animals lining up in pairs. Just what I needed when I was searching for a phantom garage. I made certain to let all of the other cars go ahead of me so no one would be riding my bumper as I searched.

Naturally, as luck would have it, the moment I reached the “general vicinity” of the place, a car zoomed up behind me as if it were competing in the Indianapolis 500. Wanting to ditch the car, I turned into the next parking lot I saw.

By then, I had only five minutes to get to my appointment, so I ran into the building that was in the lot I’d pulled into. It was a warehouse, where guys were loading steel beams onto huge dollies. I asked the first guy I came to if he knew where the garage was. He said no. I asked a second guy, who shook his head. I then wandered into an office, where a guy at a desk also had no clue about the garage's location, but he grabbed his phone and searched for me. He then said, “Well, it’s supposed to be around here somewhere.”

I’d already figured out that much on my own.

At that moment, another employee entered the office. The guy at the desk asked him if he knew where the garage was. He didn't (no big surprise there), then also took his phone out of his pocket and searched. Suddenly, he started laughing and led me over to the window in the office. 

Pointing, he said, “See that building right next door? That’s it.”

I left there thinking the guys who worked in that warehouse must pay really close attention to their jobs…and nothing else.

Anyway, I finally made it to the garage, gave the keys to the mechanic, and then sat in the waiting area and read a Cosmo magazine. I have to admit I wasn’t in the greatest of moods by then. I was soaked from the rain, chilled, and muttering under my breath that my car hated me and I should pull a “Thelma and Louise” and drive it over a cliff.

Twenty minutes passed and the mechanic came into the waiting area and said, “You’re all set.” His expression, however, told me nothing. I was thinking he’d missed his true calling as a poker player.

I felt like “dead woman walking” as I followed him out to the desk and waited to hear the laundry list of things my car needed – already knowing I wouldn't be able to afford any of them.

“That’ll be $39 for your new sticker,” he said to me.

“And then what?” I asked.

“Then nothing,” he said with a shrug. “Your car is fine – couldn’t find anything wrong with it. In fact, for its age [18 years] it’s in great shape.”

My eyes felt as wide as an owl’s and my mouth fell open. “You’re serious? My car is fine?”

He nodded. “And yes, I thoroughly checked everything the dealer said was wrong with it and saw no reason at all for it to fail the inspection.”

I honestly had to give the guy a lot of credit. He easily could have made some fast money by saying, “Yeah, you do need all of the work the dealership said you did, but I can do it for only $500,” and then tell me to drop off the car for the alleged six-hour job and not do any work on it. I would have been easy prey because I wouldn't have known the difference.

So I now have him as my new mechanic.

And I also have my new sticker, good until October of 2023.

And I won’t have to eat Ramen noodles for the next two months.

So I think my birthday just might turn out to be a good one this year. 

Maybe.


#   #   #


Sally Breslin is an award-winning syndicated columnist who has written regularly for newspapers and magazines all of her adult life. She is the author of several novels in a variety of genres, from humor and romance to science-fiction. Contact her at: sillysally@att.net

 

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Thursday, October 20, 2022

'TIS THE SEASON OF HAUNTED HOUSES!

 


One of my favorite things at amusement parks is any ride that involves something haunted – a haunted house, cave, mine, castle, mansion, funhouse, etc. – it doesn’t matter which, as long as it has a good “scare” quality.

My late husband, however, was not the type of person who made an ideal partner on such rides. 

I remember our date at Salisbury Beach one night, where we went on a “haunted” ride called Witch's Castle, or something like that. We sat in a car that moved along a winding track through pitch-darkness. Now and then, a cutout figure of a ghost or monster would pop up and slide out toward us, or lights would flash. But the fake spider-webs (long threads hanging down that brushed against our faces as we passed through them) scared me more than anything else.

I screamed, frantically brushing at them, thinking they were real webs built by a colony of giant spiders that had made their way into the dark, dank old building and were breeding by the thousands in there.

A few seconds later, I felt something like fingers walking up the back of neck and then grasping me from behind. Again, I screamed.

By the time we got out of there, I was a wreck. 

“That was really scary!” I gasped to the couple we’d gone with, my friend Judy and her husband, who’d been in the car ahead of ours on the ride.

“Yeah, those spider-web things in my face made me jump!” Judy said.

“And what about the hand on the back of your neck?" I added. "How did they do that anyway? Have someone run up behind us on the track?”

Judy and her husband just stared blankly at me.

“What hand on your neck are you talking about?” she asked. "I didn't feel anything like that."

That’s when my husband started laughing. “That was my hand you felt," he said. "I thought I’d add a little more excitement to the ride." 

Even worse was when we went through the haunted mansion at Funtown USA in Maine. Back then, employees in scary costumes would hide in dark corners or behind doors and jump out at unsuspecting visitors, which induced a lot of screaming.

As my husband and I were walking through the eerie place, he happened to catch a glimpse of one of the costumed characters up ahead, moving into position behind a panel so he could scare us.

My husband spotted an open space near him and whispered to me, “You move on ahead and I’ll meet up with you in a second.”

Before I could ask him why, he disappeared.

I didn’t want to walk around the next corner alone, but I figured I didn’t want to stand in one spot either, so I rushed forward. Just as I was about to reach the spot where the creepy-looking employee was going to jump out in front of me, my husband crept up next to him and shouted, “BOO!”

The poor guy nearly needed CPR.

HAUNTED MANSION

My husband dissolved into laughter while I wished I could have dissolved into thin air, I was so embarrassed. Luckily, the employee had a good sense of humor, or I might have been bailing my husband out of the local jail.

But the best haunted house we ever went through was the one held every Halloween in Bow, New Hampshire. In fact, we were so impressed after our first visit, we vowed it would become one of our annual Halloween rituals. Not only was it worth every penny of the admission fee, the proceeds also went to the Bow Rescue Squad, which was a worthy cause. 

Someone’s large basement in a house located on a quiet road in Bow was transformed into a true haunted house, guaranteed to scare the stuffing out of anyone who dared to enter. They even posted a sign warning visitors who had heart problems to enter at their own risk.

I thought the sign was a joke, a publicity stunt…but believe me, it wasn’t.

The line of people usually extended six abreast the length of the long driveway, but there never was any boredom while waiting to get inside. Costumed characters would creep up behind unsuspecting guests waiting in line and scare them. There also was entertainment, such as a platform set up outside where a screaming guy repeatedly would be led to the guillotine and get his head chopped off. The head then would land with a thud in a basket below. It was a great special effect.

Each year, the house had a different theme, from “Mad Doctor” to “Zombie Butcher.”

As my husband and I walked through each room, I clung to him as if I were made of Saran Wrap. I still can picture the butcher’s room where only half a woman was lying on a table covered with bloody entrails, as the butcher used a hatchet and a saw on her and she screamed in terror. Blood splattered everywhere as he worked.

In another room, the walls were covered with a psychedelic wallpaper and contained some scary-looking dolls. Everyone was so busy staring at the creepy dolls, expecting one of them to jump up and attack, we never noticed when the wallpaper began to come to life!  Characters dressed and painted in the exact pattern of the wallpaper, so they were completely camouflaged, suddenly leapt out at us. I can honestly say I came very close to needing a change of underwear at that point. Even my husband, the jokester, jumped a few inches 

It was fun to watch the people as they exited the basement. Some were laughing, others were shaking and in tears, and a few women even looked as if they might actually need to be revived by the members of the rescue squad.

Yep, it was a great place.

When an announcement was made that the haunted house was going to be discontinued, my husband and I were heartbroken. Just like that, our annual Halloween tradition was gone, cruelly snatched away from us. We felt as if we’d lost a good friend. 

Right about that same time, a place called Spooky World debuted. It was advertised as the best haunted adventure anywhere, with makeup, sets and costumes designed by Hollywood professionals.

My husband and I were excited and our expectations were high as we drove nearly two hours to Worcester, Mass., where Spooky World first was located. We even were hoping the crew of such movies as “The Exorcist” might have worked on the project.

After the long drive to Spooky World, we then had to wait in line for over three hours to get in, on one of the coldest October nights in years. I had no feeling in my fingers or face for two days afterwards.

Was it worth it? All I can say is sorry, “Hollywood professionals,” you didn’t even come close to Bow, New Hampshire’s haunted house.

Every Halloween, I still reminisce about our annual excursion to Bow, and remember how my heart would pound like crazy every time I walked through that haunted house. I sure do miss those days.

If the house were to make a comeback now and I went to visit it again, I honestly would expect my husband’s ghost to pop out at me from that psychedelic wallpaper.

After all, the place just wouldn’t be the same if I went in there without him (and I think he'd really be in his glory, scaring people).

#   #   #

Sally Breslin is an award-winning syndicated columnist who has written regularly for newspapers and magazines all of her adult life. She is the author of several novels in a variety of genres, from humor and romance to science-fiction. Contact her at: sillysally@att.net


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