Friday, October 29, 2010

                     Halloween, 1964

The weatherman said that the newly cool weekend temperatures were perfect for trick or treaters this Sunday. Wrong! Tricksters prefer a mild Halloween night so that mom doesn't force the issue of wearing a warm jacket or coat over the costume.

I used to battle to the death with my mother when she demanded that I cover up my tiered princess skirt--sewn by her--or my colorful gypsy garb--sewn by her--with a drab, everyday jacket. I, a cold-weather afficionada (even as a child, I seemed to have hot flashes), would pray for warm temps so I could be unfettered and let my inner princess shine. 

Have a great Halloween, old friends and new!! Don't cover those costumes with dull jackets and have fun. Thanks for reading this week---see you all on Monday.



Thursday, October 28, 2010

We're having a very warm stretch of days in the northeast but, last October, had an early snowfall that I am remembering today. Below, is the column I wrote about it. Note: There's a disparaging remark about Washington, DC and their inability to cope with snow. I think, after last winter, they'll be more prepared!

Snow Day

While puttering in my kitchen today, I glanced out the window and saw that it was snowing steadily. I announced this observation to the four walls in a tone that was worthy of having discovered the missing link in my refrigerator, explaining to the disinterested cats that it was much too early for snow. I gazed at it dreamily for a while with a stupid little smile upon my lips. 

Snow is an annoyance in so many practical ways. There’s shoveling to be done, driving becomes treacherous, and ice--snow’s evil cousin, is never far behind. But there’s something hypnotic and lovely about a snow fall. Today’s was particularly captivating because my petunias were still blooming by the mailbox and poetic ironies were everywhere.

When I was a little girl, there was no Doppler radar. The networks pulled someone off the street, slapped a pointer into his hand and told him to look out the window twice a day. While I am grateful for modern technology’s ability to provide warnings, there was something to be said for rising from bed, aware that the light peeking in between the blinds seemed strangely different and, discovering for oneself, that a blanket of snow had fallen softly and unheralded during the night.

Today the weatherman whip themselves and, by default, us into an absolute frenzy when any sort of inclement weather is expected. But snow is still an event. It’s always beautiful as it falls. It's so tangible…white stuff that actually drops from the sky, piling up, preventing us from doing things we normally do. We can and do control so much, that this is automatically refreshing. It forces us indoors to admire it from our window or pushes us outside with sleds and the primal urge to fling ourselves into it and kick around to make angels wings in the sparkling whiteness.

Charlie was arriving, on the day of our October snow, for a weekend at home and I was as proud of the snow as if I had created it. “Look, Charlie, snow!”  I said with actual smugness and deliberate condescension to his current residence of Washington, DC, a city that curls into the fetal position if so much as a flake hits the pavement. He ignored me but smiled at the flying flakes with the same  little smile I had worn earlier in the kitchen. In fact, the same smile was sprouting on the faces of many as they emerged from the train onto the snowy platform.

When I was a kid in Brooklyn, we had some impressive snow storms. Cars would be buried for days under huge mountains of white. Pedestrians would walk and children would play in the middle of usually busy streets normally reserved for cars and trucks. Snow brought freedom for the kids and occasionally for our mothers who sometimes would help build a snowman. The same little smile I have described would make its’ way to their lips as chores were delayed and cheeks grew pink with happy exertion. Even in the strictest classrooms of my youth, a child would never be scolded for being the first to notice and announce a snowfall—and, yet again, that exact smile would appear on the lips of some of the most rigid school teachers that the New York City Board of Ed had to offer.

On wintry mornings when my boys were little, I would rise before dawn so as to catch the earliest possible word that there would no school. Then, by my sons’ strict orders, I’d stumble into their still-dark bedrooms and whisper the magic words into warm little ears, “It’s a snow day!” I could feel their smiles in the dark as they went back to sleep, certain that the coming day held joys untold. Later they would gather in our woods with friends as I filled the air with curses as I struggled to get up my driveway or de-ice a frozen car door. The boys would scream with horrified laughter, my neighbors would cringe and think awful thoughts about New Yorkers and another snow day would be underway. The kids knew that later there would English muffin pizzas and hot cocoa for all.

Our October snow has melted, the weather is expected to be milder for the coming week but we’ve all had a taste of what lies ahead. It’s making me smile right now.





Wednesday, October 27, 2010

I can barely post today due to something on Regis And Kelly which I rarely watch but, since the bedroom clicker got lost, I was stuck on one channel while getting ready. 

The story was about an Australian man who has collected--I can barely type this--and kept 26 years worth of--give me strength--belly button lint. I had to type that in smaller letters lest I faint or keel over. Why would anyone collect such a thing? 

Before I had a chance to run screaming from the room, they showed it.  On camera. By this time, I was staggering to the phone to call for assistance but was able to revive myself once I was out of earshot of the television. Quite obviously, I am not comfortable with belly button lint (or spiders or the New York Yankees). I will now boycott the entire country of Australia (continent, or merely country...will someone finally clear this up!!!) as punishment.

Good thing, since I will probably never get there in the first place. It's way too long a flight. Plus, once on the plane, I would be focusing on my memory of the lint---three colors, three jars--and, as a result, my xanax wouldn't work and I would be a wreck. Plus, once I arrived, some boxing kangaroos might try to punch me...so, all in all, Australia is now off limits.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


Yesterday, as I zipped onto the ramp leading to the highway that would take me home, I came face to face with a police officer who was standing in the middle of the road and pointedly staring into the cars as we passed him. I assume he was checking for seat belt usage but if anyone had been talking on a cell phone, they would have been snagged (it is illegal in this state to use anything but a hands-free device while driving) based on where the policeman was positioned--an illicit chatter would have had no time to ditch the phone before being seen. While relieved that I had my seatbelt on (I always do) and wasn't talking on my phone (I never do--anymore), I suddenly became angry that while I know I would have been ticketed for breaking rules, I was not commended for obeying them.

I have always been, for the most part, an obeyer of rules. I don't walk on the grass, talk in the theater (not even during the coming attractions) or pop a grape into my mouth before I've reached the check-out. The time has come to reward the virtuous as well as punish the guilty and next time a cop stares into my car, hoping to catch me doing something naughty, I am going to pull over, leap out and demand my "Atta girl!" for doing the right thing. 

I wonder whether he'll slam my head down on the hood before snapping on the cuffs....and, if I can depend on any of you for bail money...?


Monday, October 25, 2010

Cheap Retail Therapy


I think we can all agree that life can be very stressful. People have many different ways of coping with these daily stresses. Some have hot stones laid along their spines while they drool peacefully into a massage table. Others put on tiny shorts and determined expressions and run, explaining that their endorphins then pump more happy juice into their brains. I am not into rocks—neither heated nor cool. And I only run if someone, waving a machete, is chasing me. Or upon realization that if I am not prompt at the buffet, there will be no cake left. I have another method of alleviating stress and many of you share my approach: Retail therapy.

Allow me to explain. I will never be seen floating into an exclusive department store to thoughtfully finger a wisp of a scarf that costs a week’s salary. Nor will I be found in a trendy boutique choosing a handbag whose leather comes from the pampered tuchas of some exotic bovine. I am talking The "Dollar Store" approach here, folks…or the Christmas Tree Shop. And, if I’m feeling flush, I may hit Target where I’ve been known to cap off the day by visiting the cosmetics aisle and bringing home the one single item that has all the potential in the universe to completely change any woman’s life for the better for a very reasonable sum: the perfect lipstick (which, and this will surprise none who know me, I have yet to find).

But let’s return to my giddy orbit of cheap. A really good dollar store is a gift from the heavens. Where else can one load up a cart and achieve that heady retail rush for less than a twenty? And I’m talking things we all really need: a roll of twist ties for securing vines to a trellis, a pack of seasonally themed post-its or even some movie candy--the real deal-- in little boxes to be kept at the ready in case I suddenly find myself at a matinee. Or, how about a six pack of hand cleaner that may or may not contain lead and arsenic but for a buck, I’ll risk it. This is what I call stress relief, people.

From there, on to the Christmas Tree Shop to stock up on planters that look as if they were chiseled from the marble used to build the Coliseum but weigh only 12 ounces each. Or a clever snow globe that will display a family snapshot in its’ wavy surface. This is paradise, don’t you agree? And, allow me to remind you how little cash actually leaves my wallet. I’ll bet at least a few of you are either salivating slightly or need a cigarette about now. I told you this was good.

If  I’m still not properly soothed, it’s onward to Target, the final stop on the cheap train. Here I will buy a charming card to mail to my son in college. Or I might choose a pair of flip flops adorned with shiny wooden beads. Who knows--I might even find a set of melamine plates with a lovely autumn motif!  Big spender, right? Not even close.

But the best is yet to come. After I’ve pranced through house wares and pirouetted amongst the picture frames, it’s on to the mecca of cheap thrills---the lipstick aisle. Coral, mauve or nude? Frosted or matte? Plastic case or metal? Here, amidst the glosses and balms, resides the holy grail of stress relief. I always hope that I will choose one that will make me see Christina Applegate (or, at the very least, her grey-haired counterpart) smiling at me from the mirror. Unfortunately, more often that not, it’s someone who more closely resembles Kirk Douglas than Miss Applegate staring back, albeit with a luscious pout. Who cares?? I have achieved cheap retail nirvana!!!

So, life is simple.  I hardly ever peruse the expensive catalogs that make their way daily to my mailbox. I don’t need that Swarovski owl for my collection or imported Scottish cashmere to drape around my shoulders come winter’s chill. Give me some cheap plastic junk and a lipstick. After all, I am Kirk Douglas.



Friday, October 22, 2010

The Wedding

It’s begun. Young people in my older son’s social network have started getting married. This year’s wedding season kicked off in June and ended, with a bang, last night at the Ethan Allen Inn. It’s been a  delight to be included in these festivities at which I sit like a content matron—fingers entwined with my husband’s, smiling  as murmured vows and happy kisses are exchanged
Yesterday’s wedding, held on a picture-perfect day, united the lives of two sweet young people and, for a few festive hours, a roomful of very happy friends. It’s been a while since this group has convened for an occasion of pure celebration. There have been parties and gatherings but this involved pretty clothes, uncomfortable shoes and frantic last minute trips to CVS for pantyhose—surefire signs that something special was in the offing. Later, as I saw my friends streaming into the church, I reminded myself that, every once in a while, life gives you a chance to put away your daily worries and just be joyful.  
Behind the scenes at every wedding, however, exists the inevitable stress of planning. It’s a given—as certain as the fact that Seth will leap, cursing, from the car and run back into the house to remove the last bit of cat hair from his dark suit pants. But the moment  arrives when the cat hair has been sticky-rollered away, people are seated, the chaos is over and all becomes quiet. The music swells and the smiling guests crane to catch the first view of the bride, always lovely, always shy. It’s my favorite moment of the day.
Of course, the party follows. The news yesterday was that yours truly could be found on the dance floor throughout the evening. For many couples there is one member who loves to dance and one who pretends they don’t want to but secretly longs to cast off the shackles of their inhibitions and do the electric slide without a care. That’s me. I typically sit, tapping a toe and fingering the stem of my water goblet, as people push back their chairs and flock to the polished floor.  Seth sits loyally by, knowing not to ask-- for the thousandth time, poor bastard-- if I would like to dance.
What made yesterday’s wedding extra special was that I was surrounded by real friends. People I trust enough in front of whom to bust a move. It didn’t hurt that I also had a drink or two. Or  three. 
I rarely drink. I prefer to save my calories for dessert but Jack Daniels and I teamed up early in the evening specifically so I would have the courage to strut what little stuff I have left, saving my greatest bursts of energy for the familiar songs.
 I was sufficiently loosened up  to almost come to blows with a stranger who, I suspect, had also been socializing with Jack Daniels and  announced, as the first notes of “Sweet Caroline” blared from the speakers, that Neil Diamond hailed from Boston. Unable to allow this outrageous misconception—Neil Diamond is considered a national treasure in his hometown of Brooklyn, NY— to go unchecked, I slurred a few words at him about how Neil and I come from the same neighborhood but he would not back down. It was only out of respect for the parents of the newlyweds that I didn’t pummel him into submission right there on the dance floor. He doesn’t know how lucky he was that I am such a lady.
The effects of the alcohol remained with me well past the dancing phase of the evening and I have a fuzzy memory of shouting “Yankees suck!” into the doorway of the hotel bar which was crowded with a misguided group known as Yankee fans watching a game. I had the good sense to immediately dash out into the parking lot where Seth was waiting in the get-away car.
There are a few more weddings already on the docket for next year’s season but this, being the first, was probably the sweetest. As parents, we smile wistfully at the next generation’s optimism and excitement, remembering our own youthful passages as we congratulate them on theirs. Kids, may your lives be like your weddings—rich with smiles, friends, hugs, music and envelopes full of money.
     

Thursday, October 21, 2010

I receive an enormous amount of junk email. I'm sure most of you do, too. I have come to believe that if one clicks into a site in order to "unsubscribe" to a regularly offending sender, it is technically interpreted as encouragement. Not only do they not unsubscribe you but they send even more. 
I use the example of my constant receipt of emails offering to keep me current on the whereabouts of the Harlem Globetrotters, introduce me to female Asian singles in my area and extend the size of my....well, you get the idea. But, of all of these, the most persistent offender is the "Slow Cooker News." This bit of mind-numbing spam counsels its readers on what to hurl into a crock pot at the crack of dawn in order to enjoy an inviting meal upon returning home after a long day. I tried to unsubscribe to this as well as the others but now receive an exponentially increased amount of emails a day from all of them. The only solution, I fear, is to just give in and start using my crock pot while watching webcasts of the Harlem Globetrotters with my new Asian bride and my giant.....well, you get the idea.



Wednesday, October 20, 2010

My morning ritual is very simple: Sit on edge of bed and look confused for several minutes. Next, become extremely disgruntled if it's sunny because we need the rain. Become equally disgruntled if it's rainy because sunshine is cheerful. Then, stagger about--usually in circles--for a few minutes before groping my way into the kitchen where I slap the coffee maker around until it begins to gurgle and drip. Next stop--hall bathroom where I turn on the faucet to a small trickle so Buzzy and Fritzi, who are waiting patiently, can drink from their "watering hole", the bathroom sink.

I think the cats may be British. I believe this because they line up, very politely--one behind the other--to drink from the faucet. Studies have shown that, in Great Britain, it only takes two people waiting for something to form a "queue." In the United States, it takes seven (and a lot more in NYC, especially among middle-aged women hoping to get good seats at a taping of The View--now, there's a bunch of savage bitches).
If I were at the box office waiting to purchase a ticket to Smuckers Stars on Ice ( no, I'm not kidding...wanna make something of it??) or, at Costco to return a twelve-pack of  "magic-eye" night lights, with one other person who stood directly behind me, I'd be pretty certain that he or she was a deranged killer....or, now that I've seen this study, British. 

By this time my very orderly cats have quenched their thirst and lined up--like the Brits I suspect they are--at their bowl for some crunchies. I am now trying to do the daily crossword without glasses, marveling that Hoda hasn't yet hit Cathy Lee with a bat and happily anticipating the first of four back-to-back episodes of Cash Cab. The cats, dispersed from their queue, have begun their important day's activities: napping and snacking. 
I think I'll head out and stand directly behind the next person I see. If I tell them I'm British ("like my cats"), especially with this Brooklyn accent, I'm sure they'll be fine with it.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Charlie's been home from school for a few days and while I have tried not to let him out of my sight, he's managed to find a successful hiding spot because, despite my efforts (bloodhounds, sonar--the usual), he's nowhere to be found. Below, I have posted a column written soon after our nest first became empty. Now, back to the search for Charlie--I think I hear something up on the roof....


Our Time

When people learn that both my boys are grown and on their own, many respond with some version of “Now it’s your time.” I always smile and nod, pretending to understand and agree but, truth be told, I have no earthly idea what to make of that statement. Our time? Our time to sit in front of the TV with canned soup and re-runs of The King of Queens—‘cause that’s what we’ve been doing a lot of lately.

Perhaps they mean that, since we have spent many years doing what the kids needed, it’s time to focus on things we enjoy.Well, we enjoy being with the kids. And we enjoyed watching soccer games in the rain and baseball in the wilting heat and sitting up, in the recliner, until we heard the tell-tale scrape of the garage door as they arrived home at all hours of the night. 

We recently took a road trip to Mystic Seaport in an attempt to explore this business of “our time.” It was a lovely day and Mystic was a-buzz. We wound our way from the main drag to some quaint side streets and noticed that there were two categories of people there--young families with young children and the retirees.We fit into neither group and became further unsettled as to our rightful and current place in this world. I became additionally confused when an elderly gentleman called to his wife from across a parking lot, “Honey, I can’t find the kids!” “See,” I said sadly to Seth, “they’re looking for their kids, too…” My husband’s response: “He said keys, not kids, you crazy broad.” Okay, he didn’t actually call me a crazy broad but it made me laugh when I wrote it.
    
After Mystic, we decided to continue this exploratory mission and hit Mohegan Sun. We immediately felt like teenagers once we arrived. Not because we were having a fabulous carefree experience in the dark, smoke-saturated casinos but because we were about forty years younger than the rest of the crowd. It definitely wasn’t “our time” in there.
    
I actually do, technically, understand what “our time” is supposed to be. I just haven’t been able to fully embrace it. I am lucky enough to enjoy my husband’s company very much but, honestly, what is the point of having kids if they leave you one day? So, we’ve tried an avant-garde approach. We have, with the cooperation of our sons, decided to include them. As a result, we’ve been socializing with them on a very different level. Meeting them places for dinner, speaking in hushed tones in museums, picking up concert tickets and spending the hours before the show exploring the city as four friends instead of two dominant leaders who make the decisions (I’m talking about the kids, here) and two helpless subordinates (yep, that’s us). This foursome also visits places from my childhood in Brooklyn and the early days of our marriage and we’ve found that the boys really do appreciate visiting the past through a funny story and a good laugh. One of the differences between now and then, however, is that they now hold my hand at busy intersections so I don’t run in front of cars.

My husband and I make a point of doing things as a twosome, of course-- a bit wistful that the boys aren’t with us but it’s getting easier. We have discovered the peace and pleasure of a drive up to Lake Waramaug with a quiet lunch along the way or a matinee on a Saturday afternoon.  Then we race home to call the boys and tell them about the movie. We are lucky that the kids tolerate this abject refusal to separate but have no doubt that occasionally they shake their heads and ask each other “Where did we go wrong?”

You can make anything you wish out of this “our time” thing. Some parents turn their kids’ rooms into home gyms or offices the minute they leave. Some prefer to lie on their children’s beds in the fetal position and hold forgotten teddy bears to their cheeks for hours at a time. It’s all okay. “Our time” is surprisingly flexible and forgiving. So, next time you see two young men running down the center of the road being chased by a woman holding a teddy bear to her cheek, just give a wave and move on---it’s “our time.”

Monday, October 18, 2010

This weekend I realized that the "regular visitors" to my garden--observed during the warmer months--have been absent for a bit, indicating that either hibernation has begun or they are spending lots of time at Costco, stocking up for the winter. Here is a column that appeared last spring as a result of the ongoing rivalry between me and well, you'll see....
The Thrill of the Game

Defiance
The scene of the crime:  My front steps.

The perpetrators:  A family of groundhogs.
The victims:  My petunias, morning glories and lilies.
Earlier  that  day: I stand, in the warmth of the afternoon, admiring my flowers. Finally my morning glories are budding up. Soon I will enjoy a much anticipated summer sight—the brilliant blue of my favorite flowers, the sun shining through their petals, lifting my spirits on even the dreariest  of  days. I lean down to caress a bud, promising to return in less than an hour to spray them with pest repellant to keep away the predators.
Forty-five minutes later: I re-emerge. In hand, a  spray bottle containing enough liquid stink to disgust a herd of deer plus a ground-assault of voracious rodents but WHAT DO I FIND?????? They have beaten me to it. Every last morning glory bud is clipped off, their stems waving sadly in the hot breeze, my every hope for a heavenly blue bloom dashed to hell. My petunias and lilies have also been decimated. I stand on the top step, shake my fist at the disinterested heavens and howl my frustration, “DAMN YOU, PORK CHOP!!  DAMN YOU!!!”
Pork Chop, you see, is the patriarch of the groundhog family that has dug a condo under my front steps. He has fathered more than one generation of fuzzy brown babies who fan out across my yard to nibble my grass and try to outsmart me every summer. They have been very quiet lately and I thought they had moved on to another yard but the evidence—my mutilated flowers, proves only that they have managed to outsmart me yet again.
A few years ago, I realized that Pork Chop, along with his slutty common-law wife French Toast, had begun excavating a home for themselves when I stepped out  one morning and was nearly thrown onto the grass by the rocking of the newly unanchored front  steps. I bellowed for Seth who came running  and, together, we declared war on Pork Chop and French Toast, vowing to rid our yard of them at any cost. When Seth realized, however, that successful eviction meant being a little bit mean to them, all plans were aborted. Seth is secretly an animal lover in extremis and, I am learning, prefers the company of four-leggeds to those with only two. He wouldn’t even help me put used cat litter (a solution offered by a neighbor)into their hole because they might not like that.
On some level, I totally get this. They have a right to be here too. And they are cute. Plus, we’re  from the city so, therefore, react very strongly when spotting wildlife. My sons are grown-up galoots but if I shout “I see a bunny!!!” they come tearing over and we all cluster by the widow to admire Mr. Hoppy until he gets bored with our besotted comments on his soft fur and fluffy tail.
Years ago, on a college visit with Charlie, I observed some big tough young men in muscle shirts go insane over a chipmunk. As I suspected, when asked where they were from, the answer was Brooklyn.  It can’t be helped, we’re starved for nature in the city. All we see from our windows there are take-out delivery men relieving themselves on our front steps. I wish I were kidding.
So, it’s become a battle of wills and strategy between Pork Chop and me. While I regret the loss of my flowers, they will grow back and I will simply try harder to get the better of him and his voracious family. Between the groundhogs, deer and moles, I am not sure why I plant anything. It may be the thrill of the battle. Round One goes to you, Pork Chop and I salute you. But don’t get too comfortable. I’m smarter than I look.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Aha!!!

I will typically not be posting on weekends but I remembered why Fritzi was plugged in (see previous post)!!  She wasn't feeling well and we put a heating pad in her little basket to keep her warm. The note was to remind us to unplug the heading pad, not her, before any of us left the house.  Whew.

Thanks to all my readers...see you on Monday!!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Fritzi
I just found a note that I had written to myself in my desk drawer.  It’s scrawled on a post-it in my own hand but it’s what it says that scares me.  Written in familiar black sharpie are the simple but inexplicably odd words:  Unplug Fritzi. 

Fritzi is my cat.  Why on earth why was she plugged in?  How was she plugged in?  When I last gave her an affectionate chin-scratching, there was no evidence of electrical cords, chargers or power ports.  And, perhaps, most unsettling is the question of why I would want to unplug her? 
I called Seth.  He had no idea why anyone would want to unplug Fritzi, either.  But, he’d managed to find his way to work this morning and that, in itself--judging by his own levels of scattered thinking--is a triumph.  We agreed to pursue the matter of Fritzi and her connection to the power grid later.
My memory is not what it once was.  Those of you who have seen me standing in the middle of a shopping aisle, eyes narrowed, turning slowly in a full circle should know that I am simply trying to remember what it was I came for.  Write a list, you say? I did but it’s on the kitchen table.  I have always been forgetful.  Though the situation has--lately--been aggravated by the newly mis-firing synapses of advancing age, I was a forgetful younger person as well. 
I have purchased the usual paraphernalia.   Dry erase boards, magnetically attached to the fridge, provide suspicious code that I cannot interpret just a few hours after scrawling it. I watch colorful post-its drift to the floor, their adhesive exhausted by the sheer number of days they’ve been expected to cling to the computer monitor--the chicken scratch upon them meaningless and indecipherable.   I email myself important dates and switch my wedding ring from my left hand to my right to jog my memory.  These methods are reasonably effective but still find me coming up short.
Like the truly senile, however, I can rocket back in crystal clarity to the spring day that Mrs. Price brought in a chartreuse caterpillar on a leaf in kindergarten or the color (and taste) of the orange icing on a cake my mother baked when I was barely tall enough to reach the bowl on the counter. 
I have read that memory issues might be related to hormonal fluctuations but I can’t remember where I read that. If anyone has any ideas about why Fritzi may have been plugged in, please let me know.



Wednesday, October 13, 2010

...I was so lonesome today that I happily talked to all the many pre-election pollsters who called the house. I trashed Richard Blumenthal and Linda McMahon. I crapped all over both candidates for Connecticut governor and cheerfully gave Barack Obama a report card heavy with failing grades. I also told them that I was 28 years old and of Native American lineage. I hope some more call tomorrow.  

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Stove

My husband is an unreasonable maniac. He simply hates it when I set our stove on fire. Especially since this is the second time I’ve done it. The first was on the eve, literally, of our first Thanksgiving here in town. The cranberry sauce had boiled over and the sugary residue combusted (who knew?). The flames were as high as the ceiling but the firemen came quickly and all was well. Somehow, we managed to pull off a holiday meal despite the hoopla of the previous evening.
    
So, sixteen years later, I did it again. There was less damage and smoke and we were able to contain the flames ourselves but after my normally calm husband bellowed at me, arms waving like a windmill, for several minutes, we realized that the stove had been damaged beyond repair. Goodbye old stove. Don’t let the door hit you in the tuchas on the way out.
    
And, hello new stove! Hello sleek stainless steel, double ovens, warming burner, griddle-friendly, convection capability. Hello funny little touch pads that light up and make chirping sounds. Hello fabulous pies, cakes and cookies browned evenly by  circulating air. Welcome back pizza and pancakes and scones—oh my.
     
Uh-oh—what’s this?! Hello, demon stove that suddenly starts beeping twenty minutes after it’s delivered and hello again to the delivery men who must return and are instructed to remove the new stove immediately. Old Stove, all is forgiven, but I am told you have already been sent to wherever old stoves go these days. Hello nine days with no stove at all, eating weird things from the microwave and ordering take-out with enough sodium to sink a ship or, at the very least, give it puffy eyes followed by a massive stroke.
    
Hello polite phone calls to a locally owned appliance store (whose name I cannot mention but call me because I’d love to tell you). Hello to having no idea when a new stove will fill the void in my kitchen because not once is a phone call returned. Hello non-existent customer service and having to drive to terrible, no-good store and be publically cranky when I am told by the disinterested salesman that there will be no stove in my future for another week. Hello public tantrum followed by sudden announcement that a new stove is available after all and will be coming the next day. Hello suspicion and distrust.
    
Hello second (or was it?) new demon stove that starts acting erratically the very first day. Hello to anger and frustration and more phone calls and still more abominable customer service. Hello stove shutting down or starting up randomly and taunting me daily. Hello, sledge hammer in garage…no, forget that. No sledgehammer. No, no, no.
    
Hello having the awful, horrible store wash their hands of my plight. Hello phone calls to the manufacturer where I speak to no less than three billion people until my ears bleed from the Muzak being played to test who really had the mettle to remain on hold and not become a serial killer later that afternoon.
    
Hello, service man who decided that there was nothing wrong with the stove because it was clever enough to behave itself throughout the 17-minute window during which he lounged in my kitchen. Hello to still more phone calls and mounting disgust. Hello thoughts of joining a heavily-armed and isolated extremist cult because, at this point, it seems like a sensible thing to do.
    
Hello, finally, to yet another stove and to abject mistrust of an appliance. Hello to fear that the third stove won’t work correctly and that Rod Serling will pop out of my pantry, smoking a cigarette, and make reference to the stove-killing force field that apparently surrounds my body.

But wait! Hello stove that works beautifully. Hello to relief, happiness and cookies that are evenly browned on both bottom and top. Hello, hello, hello!

So, the saga of the stove is over.  This one has been in my kitchen for three weeks and amiably does its job every day. Its stainless steel façade glows reciprocally as I massage its ceramic top with Soft Scrub. The memory of the turmoil fades as we bond with each gentle stroke of my non-abrasive scrubbie. My dishwasher has been acting up lately…….wish me luck.



Monday, October 11, 2010

...Find the largest man you can (this may require a flight to Los Angeles or wherever it is that Shaquille O’Neal is playing these days) and ask him to hold out his hand and spread his fingers apart as wide as possible. 
This is smaller than the size of the spider that was on the collar of my robe last night. Thank God I was not yet wearing the robe because I would currently be on life support  at Danbury Hospital. I couldn’t scream because it might have startled the spider enough to make him jump onto my face so I spoke to sleeping Seth through a clenched jaw, my nose an inch from his, informing him that there was a spider (larger than Shaquille O’Neal's hand) that needed to be taught a lesson. He rose--without ever waking--and took care of business, returning to bed with another spider-shaped notch on the belt of his bathrobe. He's done this before.
And,there was a pale yellow spider on the bathroom blinds this morning. Luckily,Seth was home and today's intruder has gone--I hope--to a place where creatures with eight legs are treated with God's benign love.
There is nothing funny abut a spider. With the eight leg thing going on, how could there be? This alone relegates them to supporting roles in horror movies and nursery rhymes.It's getting chilly outside so they are coming in to seek warmth and they seem to love me.This indicates very poor judgement on their part because I do not return their affection. And,most significantly,I employ a hit man in a red fleece robe who,while he takes no pleasure in killing, knows upon which side his bagel is buttered.There will be more deaths.

Friday, October 8, 2010

...How often does one post on a blog?  There are many differing opinions and I am buffeted between my opinionated children who love to tell their creaking, ancient mother what to do in the only arena (technology) in which they can best me--sorry, boys--and what I have read on the web.  My other valued advisor, my brother-in-law Jon, has advised me to be wary of blog burnout which makes sense since Seth tells me that I appear to be typing in my sleep 

So, I think, on average, I will post 3-4 times a week and greatly appreciate the support and feedback I have already received from readers. Thank you all for popping in and taking a moment to read what I write.  You are valuable assets in my bid at world domination and I won't forget it.

I am including another archived column (immediately below) from my local paper and, with huge affection, bid you farewell until Monday.  Have a grand weekend!


Clutter Patrol

I have attempted to write a shopping list with a tire gauge for the last time. Has anyone else grabbed for a pen and come away with everything from a rectal thermometer to a cake tester instead of a functional writing implement?  Am I the only one with not one but several junk drawers crammed with ancient tubes of crazy glue and seed packets from the Paleozoic era?  If so, you are like me—a creative genius motivated to excel by surrounding herself with clutter.  Just kidding…you’re a mess.  The line forms to the right.
    
Now that the house is occupied only by two adults (admittedly of questionable maturity levels) and several cats in various stages of hairball distress, the time has come to conquer the clutter.  I used to fear that I was a borderline hoarder until I started watching Clean House where, not only did I learn that I want to be Neicie Nash when I grow up, but that people have far worse issues than I. I forced my husband to watch an episode so he would finally stop tucking flyers from junk removal companies under my pillow and he was silenced by what he saw.  While this could have bought me several more months of accumulating empty shopping bags and old TV guides, I decided to take action before I ended up on the Discovery Channel.
    
I started in the kitchen.  Sitting at the table with a glass of ice water and a portable phone in case I needed the police, I pulled out a drawer and began sorting.  After a few exhausting minutes,  I had no choice but to take a break to call everyone in my address book, watch Dr. Phil, register on Facebook, check the battery in my carbon monoxide detector, give the cats flea treatments and review all my past mistakes from birth to the day before yesterday.  Then it was lunchtime.
    
It took another few days to work out a somewhat organized system. When Seth came home on the day I’d begun, he was so grateful to see progress that he was happy to eat three bananas for dinner so as not to compromise my momentum.  I made piles of receipts, filled baggies with rubber bands, erasers and old tokens from the batting cage.  I tossed out forgotten pocket combs, broken nail clippers, old batteries and multiples of take-out menus.  I combined photos in envelopes (without stopping to pore over each one) and found a bucket for loose change which I later rolled and counted only to discover that I was $112.38 richer.  I stacked pads of post-its, chucked pens that didn’t write and pitched chargers for phones I no longer own. I did, however, keep the pencil sharpener in the shape of a nose.  I’d been looking for that everywhere.

Motivated by the grateful weeping of my genuinely thrilled husband, I then hit the closets in our bedroom and am happy to report that I located Jimmy Hoffa.  I said goodbye to winter jackets that haven’t fit for decades and packed up old belts, bags and enough single gloves for an army of Michael Jackson impersonators (too soon for MJ jokes?  I think not).  I also found a stuffed doggie sewn for me by my grandmother when I was three years old and had no choice but to sit on the floor, surrounded by the debris of my life and sob for about a half hour.  It was very cathartic.

By the time the closet debacle was complete, I had several huge garbage bags divided into appropriate categories and the stuffed dog was enjoying a sunny spot on my bed.  Seth was delirious with joy.  He favors the spartan decorating style of a prison cell and foolishly thought that I finally shared this viewpoint.  I had to snap him back into reality by menacing him with several sets of chopsticks still wearing their festive wrappers.

Never will my home be a show place.  It will always look as if a quirky family lives within its’ walls.  Books lean and tilt on jam-packed shelves. CDs and DVDs fight for space in the den and the boys’ old games still occupy the cabinets because God forbid they come home hoping to play Battleship and I have just thrown it out.  My drawers and closets will eventually fill-up again and my home will indicate the presence of life in all its’ disorganized glory.  As for Jimmy Hoffa, he was so happy to get out of here that he didn’t even say goodbye.     










Thursday, October 7, 2010

.....I am a slow mover. Ask anyone who knows me…first thing they’ll say—“Yep, that Susan is a slow mover.” My natural gait is one of leisure. I like to take my time. Except when I’m driving. Then, the rules are relatively simple:  Get out of my way.
The car is a great equalizer. We’re nothing more than a head and shoulders to our fellow drivers (if we’re lucky, that is: my 90 year old aunt--yes,still driving--is just a pair of tiny claws on the wheel). Agility and grace exist only in our vehicular dexterity. I, the slow mover, can keep up with the best of them by simply putting a wee bit more pressure on a pedal and, depending on my mood, can maneuver around you as you hesitate to make your left turn.
And I enjoy driving very much. There is no better spot than in my car to think, belt out a song, enjoy a good cry or polish off a bag of Peanut m&ms without anyone being the wiser. Long distance driving has never bothered me either—we’ve driven down to Mississippi to visit Elvis’ birthplace, to Minnesota to marvel at the ore-laden orange waters of  Lake Superior and to Florida to eat Mickey waffles but things have changed on America’s highways and I want to know why.
Isn’t the left-lane still only for passing? Or, obviously, for driving like a bat out of hell? Is this no longer taught in driver’s ed programs? Or by the father who sits beside his eager teenager anxious to drive to the mall alone? I was taught this. Weren’t you?
Northeastern highways these days are clogged horribly, partially due to Thule-heavy SUVs--weighed down by magnetic ribbons and prominently positioned GPS monitors--that happily drive the speed limit—or below—in the left lane. They tootle along, bottle-necking blocks of cars driven by apoplectic, hormone-crazed dragons with small bladders who wish only to pass so they can get home to watch Cash Cab. Hmmm….could that only be me? I doubt it. Although the size of your bladder and your television preferences may vary, there must be others frustrated by this new epidemic of left-lane driving. Tell me what you think.


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Category B

I had a terrible nightmare last night. I dreamt that my big break on Broadway was just a few hours away and I had done absolutely nothing to prepare for it.  As it went, I had been given ample time to learn my lines as well as become acquainted with the musical score but, instead, had chosen to do nothing.  My subconscious didn’t retain which show it was but I think it involved people dressed up as cats and singing—how ridiculous is that??  On the eve of my debut as the leading lady in a Broadway show, I phoned the producer pretending to have a terrible case of laryngitis, telling him to give my role to my understudy.  I remember thinking how one twist of fate whose glory originally appeared to be mine, was really meant for another. Ironic and crushing—never a good combo, even in a dream.

Of course we all have nightmares. Some involve horrific losses and fears (Category A nightmare). Others (Category B) are less extreme but can still be very traumatic, placing you back in high school with neither your pants nor your homework. Haven’t we all dreamt some version of that one? As last night’s  dream unfolded, I was placed in the familiar and sickening dream-position of being totally unprepared for something important. I believe this particular Category B nightmare was a direct result of watching too many episodes of Glee in a row (consider yourselves warned, DVR users) and playing on-line Scrabble when I should have been doing laundry.

Seth, who has dutifully listened to my nightmares for many years, sat on the edge of the bed with his coffee taking in all the details as well as what I later discovered to be a twirled nest of morning hair that would have made a weaker man unable to focus. He cleared his throat and rendered his analysis: “This is clearly a case of your ego clashing with your common sense!” Wow. That was a surprisingly rational response and I stared back at Sigmund Freud wearing his Stewie from “Family Guy” t-shirt and thanked him for this possible glimpse into my psyche. 
     
Ego? Common sense? I have never really been known to possess too much of either ingredient but the dream certainly did seem to be a manifestation of conflict. Who would blow such a great chance to star on Broadway? Why, in the name of Stephen Sondheim, hadn’t I prepared properly? As the day progressed and the dream stuck with me, I tried—as is my habit—to weave it into some sort of terrifying parable to use to control my sons’ behavior (my most sacred goal).  I also decided to take the more coherent components of this dream to heart.
Maybe I should try to break into musical theater. But it’s way too late to play the ingénue. I’d have to settle for roles like singing prison matron or acerbic dowager. Or maybe I should try to prepare for things that are coming down the pike. Of course the future is a mystery (other than the Mets blowing all early season advantages and ending up in the toilet again—Mets jab # 8 in a series for those keeping count) but there are things upon which I should focus—like my own future as an empty nester and what to do with myself on a daily basis other than pine for my absent children and construct booby-traps around the house for Seth. 
I will continue thinking about all this for a while.  I remember many of my dreams, often taking them to heart because I do believe our subconscious has much to tell us (especially in the one where I tried to kill Justin Beiber). If we pay attention, we might just learn a thing or two. I intend to spend the remainder of the afternoon brushing up on the lyrics of “Sunrise Sunset” and trying to wean myself off on-line Scrabble. That’s enough for one day.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Pillow

My grandmother brought some interesting stuff across the ocean. Arriving from Hungary in New York City in 1916 and, apparently unfamiliar with the concept of packing light, she brought many things from her old home to her new. One thing that made the trip is still in daily use by me today—the down in my pillow. 
    
Hungarian down, like other things Hungarian—our tempers, good complexions (except in my case, thanks for nothing, DNA) and our ability to follow you into a revolving door yet, somehow, come out first—is very famous. The down must have been considered precious even then because it made its way across the ocean, safely packed inside my grandmother’s  steamer  trunk. This trunk, by the way, was built to last. It looks like something from a movie with its huge domed lid and exaggerated hardware. I could use it when I travel but pirates would think I was hiding my doubloons in it and this might cause a stir.
    
Down can have a very long life if treated properly. Until several years ago, I would make the trip back to my old neighborhood of Boro Park in Brooklyn and hand over my pillow, drool stains and all, to a stooped gentleman who would remove the down from its case, put it into some sort of magical machine, sterilize it and return it to me in a fresh ticking. I have slept on that down since I was old enough to sleep on a pillow. It knows more about me than any living human, having faithfully absorbed my pre-sleep thoughts from tiny-hood to today. I have a hard time sleeping on anything else. God help poor Seth if I come to bed and find that he has mistakenly fallen asleep on it. I will pull it out from under his head and laugh cruelly as he blinks in confusion. It’s my pillow, get off.
    
Pillows matter. Without the proper pillow, a bad night is confirmed. Hence, upon arriving at a hotel recently in Washington DC, I eyed the pillows on my bed suspiciously. Artfully arranged in a white pile of fluffiness, I knew that their style would outweigh their sleepability.  I had forgotten, in my haste, to bring my pillow along and had little choice but to try each one before making my selection.  One was too firm, others too soft, too small or too square…none were right and as a result, I was not good company at breakfast.
    
 I usually remember to bring my old friend with me. It gets all dressed up in the pillowcase I keep just for such occasions so that it can feel proud when it meets the other pillows and not be embarrassed in the elevator.  If we stay for a few nights, I always fear that the maid will either mock it or, depending on her ability to discern fine Hungarian down, steal it. After all, I have known this pillow longer than my husband or children.
    
Once, I left it in a hotel and only realized it was missing when I got sleepy in the car.  It was all I could do not to call the local police and demand that the hotel be put in lockdown. Instead, I called the front desk to alert them, describing it in detail (“it’s delightful and fluffy and soft and lovely”) lest it be mistaken for a pillow of lesser importance.  Indeed, they located jt and it was waiting for us, sealed--heartlessly-- in a plastic bag. And it only took us four hours out of our way.
    
 I realize that nothing lasts forever. The man with the magical down sterilizing machine has disappeared like so much else from a bygone era. The day I say goodbye to that pillow will be a sad one. Its contents started out on the tummy of a white goose from the Carpathian Mountains in rural Hungary and traveled across a turbulent ocean in the trunk of a dark-eyed 16 year old girl who had no idea what awaited her in  America. It eventually cushioned the dreams of her granddaughter who has held fast to not only the physical comfort it has provided but the intangible comfort of continuity, family and the determination to survive a trip from the old world to the new. Lofty concepts for just a pillow, I know…..but it’s not just any pillow.  It’s seen the world.