Friday, April 25, 2008

Note to Dad: Just Send Cash!

One ordinary day, a year or so ago, I lifted the lid of my mailbox and pulled out, along with the normal barrage of junk-mail and bills, an issue of Good Housekeeping magazine.

I was puzzled. I often get my neighbors' mail (not to mention their pizzas) and thought it might belong to someone down the street, until I spotted my name on the address label. Was this some promotional copy sent out by those secret people who've been secretly counting the number of times I log on to The Food Network website for a recipe for yet one more dinner in the dinners I must come up with every night (until I arrive at the nursing home) for the rest of my life? Had I, in an attempt to win a free lobster dinner, plowing through one of those endless online surveys, inadvertently subscribed?

Somewhat embarrassed, holding it as detachedly as I would a bag of scooped cat litter or Barry Manilow's Greatest Hits, I brought the magazine inside and plopped it down on my kitchen counter. Already, staring up from amid my piles of bills, to-do lists, and my daughter's school papers, it screamed at me in lime-green, purple, and fuchsia, "Clutter Crisis? 15 Speedy Clean-up Tips!"

What was I suddenly doing with a copy of a magazine my mother -- or who my mother thought she was supposed to be -- might have ordered back in the early 1960s? Blandly I flipped through the pages of mostly advertising and left it there, next to the cat's bowl on the kitchen counter, refusing to place this magazine in my stack of Poets & Writers. (Nowhere on the cover did I see "Fourteen Ways to Salvage Your Sonnet" or "Five Iambic Pentameter Pick-Me-Ups.")

Every month after that, my new copy of Good Housekeeping arrived on the dot. I wondered how to stop it, waiting for the huge bill to also arrive sometime soon. It wasn't until the summer, several months later, that I finally learned that my father had bought a subscription for both me and my sister. I was sort of dumbfounded. Hadn't he noticed that as a kid I was a major tomboy? That the only clutter I wanted to control was the leaves and sticks inside my insects' pickle jar? Or maybe he had noticed that lately my mid-section was suffering from "Six Metabolism Mistakes."

Since it was a gift from Dad, I decided to give the magazine a chance. After all, here, everything, finally, was simple and easy. Everything was fast, no "mishap" that couldn't be fixed in three weeks tops. Here, everything, including "dodging diabetes," was bright and happy.... But the step-by-step advice was as "duh"-provoking as the instructions one might be given for the first day after a lobotomy. And how many exclamation marks could I stand? Plus, it was a little hard to get into "melting away those extra holiday pounds" while the polar ice cap was melting, or reading about Valerie's "battle with the bulge" while a real battle raged in Iraq....

Two years now and Good Housekeeping is still perkily arriving each month, with a different smiling celeb on the cover and the same glass-completely-full attitude. I do look at the recipes once in a while, and I've promoted the magazine from its job as a cat-vomit-catcher on the kitchen counter to a nicely padded surface where I write, so the coffee table isn't left with the impression of my pen. There on my coffee table, stained with coffee and wine, along with the black-and-gray remote, some random L.L. Bean catalogs, and a few books of poetry, the magazine is beginning to chill out, to finally "get comfortable with clutter."

Friday, April 4, 2008


It's a scene from Ben-Hur as I careen down Sixth Street in my invisible chariot, maneuver around the corner of Wilson, holding on tight to the reins of three leashes....

Walking three dogs at once, I know I'm a spectacle. And indeed, neighbors never fail to confirm this, calling their friendly greetings when they see me, euphemisms for what they're really thinking: "You've really got your hands full there!" (Translation: "You're out of your mind!") "Looks like they're walking you!" ("Get a grip on your life!") "All you need is a sled!" ("You look ridiculous!")

There are also the people in cars, some who just gawk as they drive past, others who smile and wave at me ("Look at that crazy dog-lady!") No hands free, my wave back to them is an awkward chicken-parody flapping of my elbow or a nearly imperceptible lifting of my finger.

Sometimes the herd and I are able to pass calmly enough for someone to ask the inevitable: "How did you happen to get so many dogs?" ("When did your disease first start?") But there's really no time to go into detail, nor do I wish to remind myself.... "A few too many trips to the shelter," I quip, and off I go again, jerked away down the sidewalk by my tangle of canines.

Still, I must admit, I manage amazingly well, and much of the time we are a smoothly synchronized team (only my brain knows for sure how I'm able to do it). But there are times when the dogs decide to assert their individuality, coming suddenly out of formation, for instance, when one of the neighborhood cats strolls sadistically by at the very moment we pass, or when we get within ten feet of the barking Three-Dog House. Then I'm a wacky traffic cop, my arms crossing this way and that, or an unwitting Houdini, cursing as I unwind the shackles of three leashes from my legs.

But when I've gotten us all back in order and on our way, I feel, depending on my mood, a certain serenity and satisfaction as my dogs and I pass at our regular time down our regular route, pausing en masse at the same tree as yesterday. I joke as usual with Barry the Landscaper or shout-chat as I've done for years with Mr. Davis on his front step.

In fact, I feel downright normal, until away I'm yanked again....

published in the Hometown Herald Winter 2004

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Cash Machine Conundrum

There was the time I asked for thirty dollars and out came three hundred. As my daughter laughed hysterically, I pulled up to my bank's drive-through and deposited the strange sum of $280, all in crisp twenties.

Then there was the time I erred in the opposite direction. Standing in line with a few items at the grocery store, I decided I could use a little cash that evening. So after the cashier rang up my things, and I slid my debit card through the machine, I answered the screen yes, I'd like cash, then entered the amount of ten dollars.

But when the cashier turned from the register with my receipt, there were no bills in her hand.

"I asked for cash -- I think," I said uncertainly. The cashier said nothing, completing her motion of handing me the receipt.

I wondered if she was hard of hearing. I wondered if my checking account could have somehow been empty. I wondered if my request for cash had never really happened....

Then I noticed that, pinched between her fingertips that held the receipt, hiding beneath the receipt, tiny and ridiculous and ashamed, was a dime.

Now I thought about this: What could the cashier have been thinking? What could I possibly want only ten cents for? It wasn't enough to buy a postage stamp. It wasn't even enough for a little green Martian guy from the gumball machine.

A line was forming behind me. Bravely, holding my shiny new dime, I said, "I'm sorry. I thought I'd asked for ten dollars."

I expected her to say something like, "Please try it again, ma'am." But instead, kindly trying to relieve my embarrassment (or knowing I'd only botch it if I tried it again), she said, "Oh, someone else did that the other day."

Well, at least I had company in this problem of lost decimal points. Seeing the line growing longer behind me, I decided not to pursue it. I also decided, driving past my bank's cash station on the way home, I'd better just skip the cash thing altogether.

At home, I dropped the dime into my daughter's money jar, a little something toward the tax on her next lip gloss.

published in the Hometown Herald Winter 2004