#160 – The Dearly Departed

I received some bad news about my favorite old lady last night. When I answered a call from our friend, Tracy, the first thing she said was: “Grandma had a heart attack!” Strangely, before I could offer a word in consolation, she began ranting about her sister’s alleged ghost sighting. Grief hits everyone differently, I supposed.

Anyway, Tracy told me her sister, Maureen, not only believes in ghosts but insists she’s had numerous visitations in her dreams. Tracy herself remains on the fence regarding the paranormal, but as she complained: “Even if spirits are out there, I can’t imagine any of them desperate enough to haunt Maureen!” Though she strongly doubts a true apparition has ever called on Maureen, Tracy admitted she’s never been able to prove her sister wrong … “until now.”

As Tracy informed me, when she called her sister yesterday about Betsy’s heart attack, Maureen immediately claimed: “I knew grandma died, because her spirit came to me last night. I wanted to find out which way she was headed, but she told me she didn’t know. When I asked if she feared going to hell, she said what she always does: ‘The Devil? Fuck ’im!’ That’s how I knew it was really her.”

Tracy said this time she’s positive Maureen’s “full of shit.” She told her so too. In response, Maureen asked the same question I’d wanted to pose the moment I heard my friend express her certainty: “How do you know I didn’t see grandma’s ghost in my dream? As I recall, you weren’t there!”

Tracy kept her answer short and to the point: “I know, because she’s not dead! In fact, the doctor expects her to pull through.”

Like Tracy, I’m not sure I believe in ghosts. But as even her sister now agrees, it’s safe to say Betsy’s spirit hasn’t yet made an appearance. That’s perfectly okay though, with both Maureen and me!


A real ghost?  — Maybe yes, maybe no.  But certainly not Betsy’s!

#161 – Give Me Your Best Pitch

I find it hard to say no to people ringing my doorbell. If solicitors seem friendly and sincere, I invariably buy whatever they’re pitching, even if it’s the last thing I need or want. Take today, for instance.

When I found a young lady standing on my porch an hour ago, clipboard in hand, I initially mistook her for a purveyor of Girl Scout cookies. I purchase them every year, even though they’re no friend to my cholesterol level and I don’t particularly like them. Nonetheless, when the neighborhood kids ask me to buy the sugar laden treats, I always say “yes.”

The earnest and cheerful woman ringing my bell launched into a bubbly sales pitch the moment I opened the door. Five minutes later, I felt pretty sure she wasn’t selling Girl Scout cookies. What she was in fact peddling remained unclear. She’d mainly revealed that she didn’t believe in welfare, wanted to make a better life for herself and her daughter, and was supporting herself through nursing school. Of course, those facts alone had me mentally reaching for my checkbook.

I may be a sap unable to say “no,” but I’m an impatient sap. Accordingly, once I’d resigned myself to purchasing something, I grew anxious to conclude the transaction posthaste. Alas, the woman wouldn’t pause long enough for me to get a word in edgewise! I finally cut her off midsentence, shouting: “Great! I’ll be happy to help you; so what do I have to buy?”

The answer was a magazine subscription, at a discounted price no less! As the grateful woman informed me, she’d earn a commission which she could apply toward nursing school expenses.  

Please understand, I need another magazine subscription as much as I need prunes in my diet, which is to say not at all. As long as I had to buy something though, I figured the twenty or thirty bucks I expected to spend could at least net me a sports magazine suitable for bathroom reading.

Her brochure included several popular sports publications. They were all sold out, as were the entertainment periodicals, computing magazines, and every other item of remote interest. After scanning the short list of still-availables, I selected a home and garden journal. I wouldn’t be caught dead skimming an article on either subject, but I figured my wife might appreciate it.

The “discounted” price for my selection, including the woman’s commission, totaled $123. The cost seems excessive for something I neither want nor need, yet it’s thankfully a pittance compared to my record-setting expenditure. That honor fell to the vacuum cleaner I purchased a few years ago, from an equally friendly and sincere young man desperate to make his first sale — for the bargain price of $1,200.00! Who knows, we may even use the machine someday … if either of us ever decides to watch the five-hour instruction video or obtain the engineering degree required to operate the contraption.

Some of these worthy sports publications were included in my solicitor’s brochure, and all were sold out!

#162 – Pardon Me!

There’s probably a lesson to be learned from today’s shopping fiasco. Yet, considering the improbability of a repeat performance, I won’t bother seeking it.

My wife typically accompanies me when I purchase clothes, but she prefers shopping on weekends. When I found myself in need of new dress slacks this morning, I decided to venture a solo expedition to the mall early this afternoon, rather than brave the crowds on Saturday with her. I wanted to finish as quickly as possible, so I picked the first department store in my path. Once there, I made several forays to the pants’ racks for suitable specimens, while leaving the jeans containing my wallet and keys in the changing room.

I eventually carried a stack of trousers back to my dressing room, opened the door, and found myself face to face with a skinny, twenty-something guy. More precisely, what I found myself face to face with was the fellow’s pecker. Inexplicably, he’d removed his underwear along with his pants.

The man looked up, shrieked, and berated me for barging into his changing room. That shouting, combined with an unobstructed view of a stranger’s dong dangling before my eyes, bedazzled me. I grew so flummoxed I promptly turned tail and fled the chamber. I searched all the other changing rooms for my clothes, even though I’d clearly registered my jeans sitting in plain sight on the bench behind “Mr. Pantsless.”

Shortly after, Mr. Pantsless emerged from the fitting room, this time fully dressed. He apologized profusely for mistakenly occupying my changing room and yelling at me. Then he headed off.

I didn’t quite buy his apology. As soon as he moved past, I rushed to my jeans and checked the pockets. My wallet and keys remained present and accounted for. But on closer inspection, I discovered that the hundred dollars in cash I’d stored in my wallet was missing! I ran after Mr. Pantsless to confront him, calling for security as I went.

He denied stealing anything. Calling me “crazy,” he indignantly demonstrated his innocence to the security guard by emptying his pockets and wallet. His wallet contained twenty dollars, and his pockets held only a set of keys. Without proof of theft, the security guard had no choice but to release him.

Once home, I called Sophia to tell her about my stolen money. She seemed uncharacteristically subdued at the news. When I concluded the tale, she sheepishly offered: “Richard, please don’t get mad at me. This morning, I realized I didn’t have any cash. I didn’t think you were going out today, so I ‘borrowed’ all the bills in your wallet. If you’ll just forgive me, tonight I’ll pay you back in full. I’ll also add interest, in the bedroom!”

I told Sophia I’d forgive her, as long as she followed through on her promises. She doesn’t know it yet, but the interest she’ll be paying in the boudoir tonight will be a lot higher than the legal rate.

#163 – Grading the Houseguest

Last night, our puppy hosted his first sleepover. Prometheus’ best friend, Mr. Tootles, honored us with his presence while his owners went camping. On the whole, I thought Tootles a decent enough houseguest, though my wife and dog may beg to differ.

I prefer to judge our guest’s performance from a macro perspective. Nobody died, and he didn’t destroy our furniture or chew any holes in the walls. Consequently, unlike my wife and dog, I’m willing to cut Tootles some slack for his more boorish behavior.

Even I have to admit he stretched the boundaries of the “mi casa, tu casa” philosophy initially embraced by our mutt, Prometheus. In typical fashion, no matter how many toys we directed his way, Tootles wanted whichever one Prometheus was enjoying. The constant snatching of bones and stuffed animals from our puppy’s mouth clearly began to grate on him. When Tootles yanked a plush rabbit from our boy’s jaws just as he was about to chew an ear off, Prometheus snapped. He chased the speedier Tootles all over our house, stopping only when exhaustion felled him.

Our visitor may not have stolen any toys from Sophia, but he found other ways to test her patience. When he escaped from sight for several minutes after dinner, she tracked him by following a trail of the moss which insulates her indoor plant. The trail ended on our Persian rug, where the Mrs. found Tootles contentedly swallowing his impromptu “dessert.” Later, while laying on Sophia’s lap as she watched television, our temporary boarder demonstrated the championship caliber farting for which he’d been named. Adding injury to insult, he also favored her with one of his odder habits: namely, when he carries a bone, he seems oblivious to the fact his mouth is occupied. Though I’m sure he meant to gently nuzzle Sophia’s cheek with his soft fuzzy head, he instead treated her skin to the gnawed-off, sharpened end of the object clenched between his jaws. It’s safe to say, the woman who guards her face against age lines like the mummy curator at the British museum didn’t appreciate the potentially scar-inducing scrape she suffered in the process.

As if those issues weren’t irksome enough, Tootles reserved his worst indignity for the deep of the night. Sophia had insisted he sleep on our bed, where his four-legged host now spends evenings uncrated. At two a.m., she awoke to the unmistakable sound of a dog vomiting. She opened her eyes to the sight of Tootles regurgitating a mixture of kibble slurry and undigested moss clumps, partly atop our puppy’s hindquarters, and partly over an adjoining swath of the comforter directly beneath her chin.

I didn’t learn about the accident until this morning. The moment Sophia told me that not one, but two, canines would be roaming free atop our bed, I’d volunteered to camp out on the couch in the media room … where I’d enjoyed seven hours of uninterrupted rest.

Mr. Tootles and a bone

#164 – Junior Achievement

Junior Achievement apparently has come a long way since I was a youth. As I learned today, the teaching tools now utilized by the hands-on entrepreneurial program for kids include interactive curricula, classroom instruction on a host of business-related subjects, and sophisticated computer simulations. It seems a worthy program, and one which I would’ve appreciated as a high school student.

I hadn’t realized Junior Achievement still exists until a high school freshman in my neighborhood informed me. In August, when Ken told me his school offered the program and he was considering it, I gave him the cautionary tale of my own misadventures.

I joined Junior Achievement in ninth grade. The local businessman leading our group explained how companies throughout the land made millions, and that someday we could too. Encouraging us, he said we’d simply need a good product, a good business plan, and determination.

Unfortunately, no titans of industry numbered among the economically-challenged souls comprising my Junior Achievement group. After a couple of meetings brainstorming the ideal business plan, the moneymaker our fertile young minds selected consisted of a roadside emergency flashlight for automobiles. This “invention,” which all of us expected to patent, employed an actual headlight encased in a rubber shell. Attached to it was a twelve-foot split wire which connected directly to a car’s battery, like jumper cables.

Our product looked even less dazzling when manufactured than on paper. Not only did it prove bulky and awkward to connect, but it also suffered from two inherent drawbacks. First, if a vehicle broke down on an unlit road, the driver wouldn’t have enough light to affix our emergency lamp to the car battery — unless he used a separate flashlight. And if the car’s problem involved a dead battery, our emergency lamp wouldn’t work at all. So, safe to say, we junior achievers and our product offered no threat to Thomas Edison’s legacy.

Despite their limitations, when our emergency lights drew ready for market, all of us intrepid salespersons set off through our home neighborhoods with fire in our bellies. I, like the others, naively expected the products to practically sell themselves. But after a few days of slamming doors and “thanks, but no thanks,” I began to suspect that the “Life Lamp” would not furnish my ticket to early retirement. In the end, I sold exactly three units (to my father, mother and brother), thereby earning the dubious distinction of our Junior Achievement cell’s poorest achiever.

The story made quite an impression on my young listener. After hearing it, Ken decided to forego Junior Achievement, and he also spread the word to his friends so that they too could avoid an awful experience. As I learned today, the school’s freshman class has seen its lowest Junior Achievement turnout in years.

I received news of the membership decline from a sponsor of the program who’d learned of my input to Ken. The unhappy fellow informed me of my profound impact just before telling me about the fabulous changes made to the Junior Achievement system since I’d participated.

Junior Achievement – A truly worthwhile program, as I learned today

#165 – Showers of Discontent

My brother and his wife have finally completed their expansive home renovation, except for a few punchlist items. They’ve even hosted their first houseguests already: Ellen’s parents. Yesterday, her folks departed after a single overnight visit. They’d intended to stay two weeks.

My sister-in-law’s 76-year-old mother and 80-year-old father arrived from Florida on Saturday for a holiday visit. Frank’s been dreading their appearance since the moment his wife told him they were coming. Why? Because he’s convinced his father-in-law hates him. If true, it’s probably because Mr. Bloomberg once caught Frank mocking him. My brother constantly ribs Ellen about her father, describing him as “one of the two most boring people currently gracing the face of the planet,” and “so cheap he even bought his toupee on sale, at Wal-Mart!”

After welcoming her parents, Ellen gave them the grand tour. They seemed impressed. Ellen’s mother, Nancy, especially gushed over the guest bedroom and bath. At Ellen’s insistence, their home’s new visitor lavatory features the same amenities as the master bath, including a shower with a traditional sprayer mounted above head level and four adjustable body jets affixed to the same wall at waist and chest levels. A separate knob activates the four body jets.

Nancy tested out the shower Saturday night and loved it. More importantly, she extolled its virtues to her husband: “Manny, you must try the body jets; they’re better than a massage!”

Manny showered upon awakening Sunday morning. He operated only the head sprayer at first. Then, recalling his wife’s recommendation, he decided to give the body jets a whirl. He faced the wall and turned the knob the same degree as the other, assuming the water would expel at a like temperature to the head sprayer. It didn’t. Unexpectedly, four bursts of ice cold water assailed him. Compounding the problem, he’d neglected to customize the directions of the body jets as his wife had done. The frigid blast from a lower jet consequently nailed him in his aged gonads, causing him to double over in pain. The angle of his tilt unfortunately exposed his noggin to the powerful stream of the head sprayer, from which the water regulator had been removed. As a result, the liquid pounding his toupee pried it clear off his skull. That’s when Manny discovered an item to add to Frank’s punchlist. While shifting in agony, he stepped on the drain grate – which hadn’t been properly screwed down – and dislodged it. Still clutching his aching nuts, he watched his toupee sluice down the newly uncovered hole.

By the time Frank extricated it with a plumber’s snake, the hairpiece resembled in his words “a raccoon run over by a Semi.” Manny spent the entire breakfast bemoaning the cost of a replacement. Unwisely (in Ellen’s eyes), Frank picked the wrong moment to voice one of his sarcastic comebacks. After handing his father-in-law a twenty dollar bill, he exclaimed: “Here Manny. Get yourself a new toupee on me, and keep the change!”

In response, Manny tersely informed his wife he wouldn’t spend another night in “this deathtrap” and moved them to a hotel for the duration of their New Jersey trip. Of course, the penny pincher booked them into a Super 8, not the Hilton. He also kept Frank’s twenty.

An affordable place to stay … for those watching their pennies

#166 – Fearful Behavior

Our Yorkie Shih-Tzu mix, Prometheus, displays a curious combination of bravery and cowardice, both of which are usually unwarranted. For example, he doesn’t hesitate to chase animals that outweigh him twentyfold. I’ve even seen him try to run down deer in the woods behind our house. Any one of the mammals he harasses could squash him like a bug, yet he’s clearly convinced himself he’s king of his territory.

The things which set him a shiver seem equally odd. From the day we brought him home, we’ve witnessed his fear of certain noises. He practically soils himself at the sound of thunder, even when he’s securely sheltered. Likewise, he can’t stand the pulsing from the subwoofer when I crank up the volume on a DVD.

It’s not easy discerning whether Prometheus is scared of something or anxious to attack it. In both cases, he barks. Only his accompanying behavior differentiates his “let me at ’em” from his “hide me.” Specifically, when he’s afraid, he flees to his nearest safety zone.

Due to the events of the past two nights, while my wife’s been away on business, I’ve added a new item to our dog’s “scared poopless” list: the flying squirrel. I’m not saying the same miniscule canine who’ll chase down a Rottweiler turns to jelly at the sight of a gliding rodent. As far as I know, Prometheus has never seen one. He’s heard them in action though.

As our exterminator’s wildlife removal expert informed me this morning, an indeterminable number of the beasties have infiltrated our attic. He said they probably glided onto our roof from the nearest pine tree and gnawed their way inside, intending to use our humble abode for their winter retreat. Thankfully, the problem’s fixable. For a mere $2,000.00, the expert will install special flashing around the entire roofline and set exclusion traps to allow our trespassers exit but not reentry.

Less thankfully, the company’s busy season has arrived and the expert can’t schedule our job until the first week of December. That means I can expect every night until then to progress like the past two. Sudden barking in my ear will awaken me from a dead sleep. In the brief lulls between subsequent bouts, I’ll notice the unmistakable sound of scratching and scuttling within the wall behind our bed. And I’ll know Prometheus is afraid, not excited, because he’ll bolt to his nearest safety zone.

While I’m not looking forward to the auditory assaults I’ll endure the next couple of weeks, I see those irritants as the least of my bedtime worries. My true dread stems from Prometheus’ safety zone itself: draped snugly atop my head, with his ass pressed against my face, from the moment he hears a hint of fearsome scurrying until daybreak.

The terrifying flying squirrel

#167 – Northern Exposure

There’s an old expression: no good deed goes unpunished. As my friend Ned informed me today, he and his wife have become firm believers in the principle — thanks to the figurative spanking they expect to receive courtesy of their Thanksgiving visitor.

A month ago, Ned and Suzie attended the wedding of his coworker’s daughter. By chance, the single guest at their table who didn’t work for Ned’s company sat beside Suzie. An American living in Toronto, the sociable fellow chatted with her for much of the evening. 

During their discussions, the topic of Thanksgiving arose. “Roy” mentioned his lack of plans for the holiday. He said he had no close family to speak of and knew no one else in Canada who celebrated our Thanksgiving. Generously, Suzie invited him to spend the holiday at their house in Maine. She even pressed him to stay the night there, rather than at some impersonal hotel. At her urging, Ned handed over his business card so Roy could get back to them.

At the gala’s end, Ned went ballistic. He wanted to know what’d possessed his wife to open their home to a complete stranger on Thanksgiving. “When did you become Mother Theresa?!!” he added.

Suzie offered her standard response to what she considers Ned’s testosterone-fueled rants: “You need to check your balls at the door!” Moving on, she assured him there’s no need to worry: “First, I doubt he’ll come. He can’t be so desperate for company he’d fly across the border to spend Thanksgiving with people he met just once. And even if he does show up, there’s room at the table for one more, and having him stay overnight won’t kill us.”

After two weeks without word from Canada, Ned began to relax. Yesterday, however, he received an e-mail from Roy. Here’s the meat of the message:

I’d be delighted to spend the holiday with the two of you and your families! Fortunately, I managed to secure last minute air travel from Toronto to Portland. My flight arrives at 5:00 p.m. on Thursday. Hopefully, it’s not too much trouble for you to pick me up at the airport. My return flight is 11:00 a.m. on Monday, and I trust you can drive me back to the airport too.

Ned and Suzie don’t live close to the Portland airport. Indeed, Ned’ll have to leave the house at four in order to arrive at the airport by five. Coincidentally, he and his wife had set four o’clock as their Thanksgiving dinner’s starting time. Should the turkey and fixings fail to appear on the table at the appointed hour, the couple’s invited family members will not be pleased; and they won’t prove shy in venting their displeasure either.

Now Suzie’s the one freaking out, and not solely because of the anticipated Thanksgiving dinner delay. She’d intended to complete all her Christmas shopping on Friday and Saturday. She’d also made plans for a girls’ day out on Sunday. But with their overnight guest planning a weekend stay, all those plans are kaput.

Ned let Suzie bitch and moan about the situation for a while before offering recognizable words of advice: “Like you always tell me, you need to check your balls at the door!”

Roy’s flight from Toronto – due into Portland at 4:50 tomorrow, if on time.

#168 – Child Psychology

Last night’s incident made me remember why I don’t want children of my own. After five minutes at my friend Jimmy’s house, I even considered rescheduling the vasectomy appointment I’d canceled in September.

Jimmy has a two-year-old daughter, Lacey. Like most parents I’ve observed, my pal and his wife consider their child a certifiable genius. According to them, not only does their future mensa member talk in full sentences, but she also understands the spelling of many words. I won’t debate the accuracy of either assertion, but true or not, Lacey’s alleged abilities have prompted drastic evasive action. Her parents no longer voice or spell out in their entirety words which usually lead to whining or even worse. Instead, they voice only the first and last few letters. For instance, “ice cream” becomes “i.e.a.m.,” and “diaper” translates to “d.p.e.r.” Jimmy had told me their code works like a charm. Last night’s events, however, will likely force him to reevaluate that opinion.

Understandably, the couple has reserved their most important abbreviations for matters which typically induce tantrums. These days, the term guaranteed to launch the most frenzied outburst is “medicine.” I’m not sure which medicine or the reason why the tyke needs it. What I do know is, Lacey welcomes her daily dose about as warmly as a southern Republican appreciates a same-sex wedding.

Before I arrived at their house this morning, Melinda asked Jimmy in code to run an errand. He complained, but like any dutiful husband, he also agreed. I volunteered to accompany him to the pharmacy, where he purchased the latest issue of “People” magazine. Frankly, I couldn’t understand why Melinda would send her husband out simply to buy a magazine. Nor could I fathom why she’d need to abbreviate that request. When asked, Jimmy couldn’t answer the first question. He did explain the second though, telling me his child prodigy reads magazines, with her favorite being “People.” In order to prevent major whining, Melinda refers to the publication by the generic “m.i.n.e.”

We found mother and daughter in the kitchen on our return from the store. Jimmy handed the shopping bag to his wife, whose brief glance inside yielded a puzzled expression. Obviously, she hadn’t expected a periodical, and the unanticipated sight so surprised her she forgot to speak in code: “Why’d you get me ‘People?’ I sent you out for Lacey’s medicine!”

I’m not sure which impressed me most: Lacey’s ensuing shrieks of “People! I want People!” at mere mention of the publication; or the immensity of her nuclear tantrum following Melinda’s utterance of the dreaded “medicine.” I certainly didn’t stick around to decide. I silently excused myself the moment the genius’s parents began arguing over their belated realization … that their codes for “magazine” and “medicine” were the same.

              subscription.people.com                                       thecyn.com

Magazines and Medicine – Other than a few shared letters, they don’t have much in common.

#169 – Unhappy Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving at the in-laws’ house yesterday proceeded exactly as expected, which is to say: “not well.” The Mrs. insists I should jump for joy merely because, for once, none of her family members clamored to disown me. I may’ve been thinking I should be so lucky, but I diplomatically limited my response to: “Small consolation for ruining one of my favorite holidays.”

Fact was the day began badly and went downhill from there. I’d decided to contribute my most beloved Thanksgiving side dish, string bean casserole, to the family repast. I’d followed the classic recipe almost to a tee, with the exception of the main ingredient. Though the Gambinos cook their vegetables almost beyond recognition, they refuse to eat anything but fresh greens. So I substituted fresh string beans for the canned ones specified in the recipe. A fatal mistake, it turned out. As I learned, if a chef uses fresh beans, he needs to add extra water to the mix. Otherwise, he ends up with a congealed undercooked mess, like I did.

Disappointingly, the Italian family I’d married into cared nothing for the loss of a holiday mainstay from the menu. Sophia’s parents didn’t seem any more unhappy to see me empty-handed than they normally do when I arrive.

The only aspect of Thanksgiving I love as much as the food is football. Knowing the Gambino living room sports a 55-inch LED flat screen, I’d looked forward to camping out on their couch for the afternoon taking in the NFL contests. Instead, I arrived to find cable news airing. The closest I came to seeing a gridiron slugfest was footage of violence erupting during a Thanksgiving Day parade.

Bereft of football, I had nothing positive to anticipate than dinner itself. At the least, I knew my very favorite dishes, turkey and stuffing, would make their appearance. I’d begged Sophia to ensure that the Italian cornucopia included those holiday mainstays, and I’d overheard a conversation with her mother confirming their addition to the menu at my request. Once I had my fill of good ole’ turkey and stuffing, I knew I’d walk away content.

When we sat down to dinner, the women piled the table with a veritable bounty. But every dish I spotted seemed Italian: an antipasto platter; severely overcooked asparagus in olive oil and garlic; marinated fennel and olives; and lasagna. Fearing my mother-in-law had reneged on her promise, I testily blurted: “Where’s the turkey and stuffing?”

My mother-in-law looked at me like I had a penis spouting from my forehead. Pointing to two separate platters, she replied: “They’re right there.” She proceeded to name the dish containing unidentified meat swimming in a red sauce, served on a bed of linguini: “turkey cacciatore.” And the second plate, featuring baked bell peppers filled with a mixture of chopped eggplant, zucchini, leaks, garlic, ham, and grated Parmesan cheese? Why, “stuffed peppers” of course … “just like you wanted,” Maria added.

refinedchef.com italiantraditionalfood.com                                                                       

Two traditional Thanksgiving delicacies?