Riding the Bull

And they wonder why I stress? The driver’s seat adjustment in our old truck is broken. Apparently no one thought to warn me. It’s the only vehicle left in the driveway and I have a doctor’s appointment. For stress, no less. As I’m driving up the street, whipping back to front to back to front, I realize the seat won’t lock into position. After a few vain attempts to secure it, I switch to survival mode, which requires nothing less than complete concentration, using the steering wheel both for steering and to maintain seat position. Too close, and my knees are in my face, my nose shmushed into the front window. Too far back and I’m driving with my big toes. I’m like a human accordion. I consider barefoot, with the thought that I’d have minimally better control. Maybe- if I was a monkey. Biggest challenge? Making a turn. Slowing down throws me forwards, but accelerating out of the turn hurls me backwards, pasted to the seat by centrifigal force. Unable to pull myself forwards with the still-turning wheel, I can’t reach the gas pedal. I’m practically in the backseat, neck, arms, legs- and toes- outstretched, the truck rapidly slowing to a crawl until I can lurch forwards, find the right balance, and finally step on the gas. Hanging on for dear life, hunched up against the dashboard, I look like a possessed woman, trying to make an escape in her pickup truck, going 40 mph…15 mph….40 mph…15 mph…



traffic at grocery store

I want to interview the people who rush to the grocery store the moment a weather event is forecasted. I have questions. I want to know things. Like- do you normally eat a loaf of bread, a gallon of milk and a dozen eggs in a 48-hour period? Because I’ve lived in Connecticut all my life, and only once was travel nearly impossible for two days. Two days. Actually, when I think about when they finally let us leave work, it was more like 36 hours.And it was an ICE storm. What is it about a pending storm that makes you need 18 rolls of toilet paper? The media hype must scare the shit out of you. Storm of the Century! Of the Millennium,even! (I guess they get to say that for a few decades into the millennium.) Of Potentially Historic Proportions! Deadly Hoarfrost- the End is Near! Abandon all hope- but buy lots of toilet paper.

Perhaps it’s a desperate, brave act of optimism.

This one was the Blizzard of 2015. Until it was downgraded. A blizzard for those of you along 395, but for everybody else, well, it snowed. In Connecticut. In January. What a surprise. (Not that I blame our mayors and governor for being prepared. The same people who complain it was overblown are the first to complain if they were unprepared. You kinda can’t win.) The National Weather Service named it “Juno”. They’ve taken to naming storms after Greek mythological characters, yet my first thought was- wasn’t that a movie about a single teenage mother? Not to be trumped, WFSB Channel 3 in Hartford named the storm “Colbie”. Seriously? You give a huge snowstorm a prep school kid’s name? Really, a blizzard with the added local flair of a New England nor’easter should have a much tougher name. Yukon Cornelius, perhaps?

By the time the snow begins and people are tucking in at home, the store shelves are bare. You’d think we’d stocked up our bomb shelters. Back when I was a kid and a nuclear wipeout was imminent (Yes, I hid under a school desk with my hands over my head, confident that my amazing hands and bomb-proof desk could ward off nukes) a lot of people built backyard bomb shelters. My parents went as far as having a salesman to the house with a terrifying slide show that graphically highlighted the End of Days- unless you had a safe place to wait out the years before it was safe to emerge and be reunited with other bomb shelterers. And zombies. I remember that in the pictures, the shelters were stocked with non-perishable canned goods. If there were any eggs or milk, they were powdered. Absolutely no bread. I’m fuzzy on the toilet details. I do remembering thinking it might be better to go in the first blast.

So if your power goes and you have an electric pump, unless you have a generator, the first things to go are the milk and eggs. Now it’s good that you have bread, at least until it goes stale. And there’s no real use for toilet paper, unless you had the foresight to fill up your tub with water for flushing. You quickly become one of the unwashed pariahs desperately seeking family and friends with power. (And the first thing you’ll do is charge your cell phone.) Your husband may think it’s a good idea to use a camping lantern for reading in bed. You know the kind with the little bag that just might blow up in your face? After a week of this, you get real whiny and unpleasant. And you just might hug the guy from Kansas City Light and Power who finally gives you your power back! I’m so glad we weren’t like this, but what a great coincidence that our kids bought us a generator the Christmas after Hurricane (Not. Technically, a Really Bad Storm) Sandy!

We check in on our loved ones. Everybody safe? My son confessed to running out at the last minute to buy- ketchup. Huh? Apparently they are planning to make meat loaf to pass the endless hours stuck at home. My husband bought the fixings for homemade bread. Movies, board games, popcorn, puzzles! Whatever your preference for  surviving this extensive hibernation, be safe, and stay off the roads. Oh, wait. They roads are open and we’re free! Just in the nick of time. I only have 17-and-a-half rolls of paper left.

By the Hair on My Chinny Chin Chin

“When are you gonna write about chin hair?” asked my best friend of 50-plus years. “I have these white ones…”

It occurred to me that we’d come a long way from wondering if we were ever going to grow boobs. Back when we were kids we had this secret, giant rock, where we’d go to discuss life’s biggest questions. “Mr. Barbieri having sex? Your parents? Mine?!” We’d just learned the details and were screaming with laughter as we pictured the adults in our lives in that ridiculous position. Including our handsome, ex-Marine 6th-grade teacher. We decided that French kissing was disgusting, something only oversexed French people would do, in berets, smoking Gauloises while licking each other’s tongues.

Boob growth, of course, was the Big Topic. We were still in T-shirts, but some of our more mature classmates were bragging about their brand new bras. I asked my mother if I could get a few training bras. She laughed. “For what?”

I sighed and looked down at my totally flat chest. I secretly hoped that the bras trained them to grow. I was devastated when, during gym class, my best friend proudly whispered to me that she was wearing a bra. I changed my clothes in a locked bathroom stall, humiliated. I arrived home in desperate tears. My father took pity on me and encouraged my mother to get me a bra. Not one to accept defeat easily, she established strong parameters. The children’s department of Nyden’s, the specialty department store where I regularly got my Scout uniforms. Not exactly where actual grown women bought their bras. And a personal fitting by the formidable saleswoman with the tape measure. I cringed, but it was that, or t-shirts forever.

The saleswoman took on look at my chest and sneered. She had enough chest for three or more women, and made it clear I came up wanting. But a sale is a sale, so she measured. “Arms up in the air!” She brought the tape measure around my back and stopped at my nipples. I shuddered. She grinned. “Extra small!” she pronounced loudly enough to turn heads in the Men’s Department.

An extra-small consisted of tiny shoulder straps to hold up what were not so much cups as pieces of a stretchy fabric-also tiny- that would ideally expand to hold up the budding breasts. Mine did not expand. In fact, it puckered. The saleswoman snapped the back of the bra and offered the possibility that I might one day grow into it. She didn’t seem optimistic.

But I had a real bra. At 13, life doesn’t get much better.

Fast forward several decades, and our conversations have taken a decided shift. When did my arms get too short to read fine print? Why does it seem people aren’t talking loudly enough anymore? What the hell is body hair doing in places it doesn’t belong? When did colonoscopy prep become an acceptable conversation topic?

Colonoscopies, prostate exams, Botox and face lifts, rotator cuff surgery, hip and shoulder replacements.

We seem to be rusting.

My sister tells of the first time she spotted a chin hair. The sun caught it just right, glistening in the light. She remembers it as being several inches long, but I think she exaggerated. Unfortunately, she was driving at the time of her discovery. She began desperately trying to pluck it out, only to have it repeatedly slip through her fingers. She weaved in traffic. Yanked the steering wheel in one hand and the stubborn hair in the other. Somehow both survived long enough for her to get to a store to purchase tweezers and dispatch the invader. The tweezers turned out to be the first of many anti errant-body-hair products, from creams to waxes to lasers. One friend of mine finally gave up and started shaving daily after all her efforts didn’t prevent a 5 o’clock shadow.

The aging human body is a never-ending treasure trove of surprises. The shock that you feel the first time you bend down to pick something up and make “that” noise as you stand up. Your first inclination is to look around you to see when your mother came into the room, only to realize that was you. Your noise. And just the first of many new noises you will make as time passes. Or the lack of recognition of your own self when you walk by a mirror. When did an alien put on my skin? It doesn’t fit like it used to! You challenge yourself in the mirror, pulling up your cheeks to wipe out the mouth lines that make you look like Charlie McCarthy while sucking in that extra tummy spillover and throwing back your shoulders to pull up the boobs. Unfortunately it’s hard to maintain these adjustments for very long- like, say, walking around in Target- without raising concerns about your sanity.

And those boobs? Contrary to what the saleswoman thought, I finally did grow me a pair. Not as substantial as hers, but good enough. And it seems like I’ve come full circle, because the best thing in the world right now would be a good training bra. Same objective: holding up budding, well, budded breasts. Except with commercial-grade fabric. Maybe something in titanium?

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

These excerpts are from the journal of the Miss Edna’s daughter. (Note to my husband and siblings: any resemblance to people you may or may not be related is purely coincidental.)

Today is the first day of our summer vacation at the lake- my husband and I, our kids, elderly sisters Vera and Edna. We take separate vehicles- my husband, Vera and the dog in the truck, towing the boat. Edna and I in the convertible, top down. The kids wisely opt to travel separately in our daughter’s Jeep. Before we leave, I hand Edna a scarf and sunscreen. She tosses them dismissively into the back seat, snorting that she always tans. By the time we arrive at the lake she is a cooked lobster, enhanced by blistering, cracked lips. Our first stop is the local ER, where she tells everyone it is all my fault for driving with the top down.

At the cabin, the sisters share a room. Twin beds, one shared dresser. They bicker over who gets which drawers. Edna discovers the light over her bed is out and requests an immediate replacement. My husband points out that it’s four in the afternoon and suggests unpacking first, promising a replacement by dark. Vera, meanwhile, is distressed by a lack of hangers on her side of the closet. I send in our extras, but based on her hissing exhalation, I infer they are insufficient in number and go off in search of more.

Ten minutes later, as hubby is hauling in suitcases and groceries, Edna intercepts him and reminds him about the light bulb. He glowers at me. I remind him I’m on an Emergency Hanger Mission.

Edna is almost a month into being smoke-free. As a substitute, she “smokes” a straw. Continuously. She continues to follow my husband around, smoking her straw and pestering him about the light bulb.  I go off to find the manager and explain the hanger situation. She works with seniors. She quickly loads me up with supplies. I head back to the cabin and deliver about forty hangers to Vera, who observes that she doesn’t need “that many”.

I head off to the kitchen to put away the groceries. Not for the first time, I lament that the tiny kitchen lies in the path to Vera and Edna’s bedroom. It is too narrow for two people to pass, yet has an uncanny ability to attract wandering seniors. Vera shuffles into the tiny space and stops.

“Did you need something?” I asked.

“No, no, I don’t want to be a fuss.” She doesn’t move, just looks around. I sigh and try to work around her while she figures out what she came for. The dog joins us and Vera accommodatingly begins to pet her. I decide to go unpack my suitcase. My husband stomps past, light bulb in hand, trailed by a triumphant Edna puffing away on her straw.

Day 2

Vera can’t find her purple pantsuit; Edna her white sweatshirt. They are both tearing apart their room. Edna is insulted when Vera looks under her- Edna’s- pillow. Vera explains that she didn’t mean to imply anything- she just thought that the pillow looked too high. Edna snorts and takes a long, hard drag on her straw. I assure them we will find the missing clothing. After searching every nook and cranny with a flashlight the pantsuit turns up in the bottom drawer, Edna’s drawer. Although it is clear that Vera put in there herself by accident, she acts as if her suspicions of thievery are confirmed.

We do not find the white sweatshirt until much later, when Edna finds that it is at home where she left it.

Day 3

To accommodate the needs and wants of our diverse age group, we establish a 10/10 rule. Kids can’t make noise near the cabin after 10PM, when the sisters are asleep.  The sisters can’t have conversation outside the kids’ window until after 10AM. Kids working out fine. Sisters, not so much. Constant attempts to initiate a conversation with me. A whispered response or head nod, instead of serving as a broad hint, causes one of them to shout: “WHAT? I can’t hear you!”

“I know. I’m whispering.”
“The kids are still asleep.”
“What, again?”

Day 4

The ladies are certain someone tried to break into their room during the night to kidnap them, or worse. I suspect one thing and am sure of another.

I suspect my husband may have hired someone. I am sure that if anyone was dumb enough to kidnap them, they would pay us handsomely to take them back.

Day 5

We let Vera cook the bacon because she’s been mad for days that “no matter what I do, it’s wrong”. Edna complains that the bacon is burnt. Vera asks my husband one time too many if he’s going to eat the bacon that she went to all the trouble to make. He suddenly remembers a need to drive into town. For the day.

Later, same day:

Vera pets the dogs whenever she’s sitting at the kitchen table. That, plus the occasional miss when she’s eating are sufficient incentive for the dogs to permanently park themselves along the same narrow pathway the sisters like to occupy. Attempting to explain the cause and effect process is unsuccessful. Vera thinks the dogs should know better.

Did I mention their headgear? When forced to ride in the open convertible (the other option being to not come), they have come up with distinctive head coverings. Vera has her plastic, fold-up rain hat in a plastic sleeve, the kind that banks used to give away as promotions in like, the 50s. Edna buys herself a fur-trimmed red and black plaid trapper hat, complete with price tag, since she plans to return it at the end of the trip. She thinks it’s hysterically funny and kept poking the back of my seat to get me to turn around and admire it. “What do you think?” she asks. What I think is- James Bond’s ejector button. What I say is noncommital.

From the front seat, with the wind blowing and the hats flapping, it sounds as if we’re being followed by kites.

One Afternoon That Lasted a Week

Our last day, we decide to head over to the boardwalk for some Mexican food. Our kids promptly hop in the Jeep and take off in the opposite direction.

It’s a hot, sunny July day, 90 degrees and no breeze. The top is down. (New Englanders have to take their convertible weather when they can get it.) The ladies eye the car with mutually arched brows. It takes several trips in and out of the cabin before they’re satisfied with the amount of items they might need for a possible sudden frost.

It takes them twenty minutes to get into the car. It  takes them two seconds to start complaining about how windy it is.

I turn around to assess the situation. Vera has already donned a sweater and is fanning out the folds of her rain hat. Edna has on a pink Red Sox hat, with her hoodie pulled tightly over the cap, swollen lips pursed. They are huddled and shivering.

“Is the air conditioning on?”  Vera yells into the wind. “There’s an awful draft.”

My husband sighs and raises the windows.

“No, it’s not on. Is that better?” Silence.  Only the sound of flapping hats.

“Do you want me to put the top up?”

“Well, I don’t know,” replies Vera, “how are you doing, Edna?”, trying to draw support. Ever contrary, Edna opines that she’s just fine and immediately ceases shivering.

“Oh. Well, maybe it would be better…” Vera’s voice fades off.

“You want it up or not?!”

“Put it up,” I say. “Concede.” We had traveled one mile. We pull over and put the top up. Thirty seconds later: “Can you put your window further up? It’s blowing in my eyes.” He raises it three quarters up.

Thirty seconds later: “Could you put it up more?” He closes it. “Well, I didn’t mean you had to close it.”

Meanwhile Edna is maintaining a non-stop conversation with herself. “Do you think a baby born by Caesarian section can live if the mother dies during the operation? Probably not. Or it depends when she dies. I didn’t mind the window down, but then, I like to be agreeable.”

Vera hisses. It’s a very long ride. When we finally arrive we do the elaborate ritual again, backwards, twenty minutes to get out of the car. Vera is sure she left her pocketbook behind  but it turns out Edna has it.  “I was just helping you, dear,” she says sweetly. Hiss, replies Vera.

They walk slowly up the street. Edna stops for a straw break. Vera points out a parking space that is at least two cars closer than ours. My husband and I speed up and try to lose them, but they show up anyway.

Vera opens the menu- at the Mexican restaurant- and reads it intently before asking, “Do they have anything to eat here that’s not Western?”

Edna pipes up. “Do they have any food here that won’t burn my lips?”

I suggest she avoid the jalapenos. She grabs a chip and spoons salsa on it. Takes a bit and spits out the chip. “Like that,” I observed. She promptly takes another one.

Meanwhile Vera observes that the music is too loud. Me, I don’t think it’s loud enough. I can still hear Vera and Edna.

We plan to skip dessert, since Vera is both a diabetic and a chocaholic. Edna orders the Death by Chocolate.

Several hours later, the meal is finally over, except for Edna, who’s nursing her dessert, raving about its deliciousness and offering bites to everyone. I suggest they when they finish they start the twenty-mile walk to the car while my husband and I scoot down the boardwalk to grab a t-shirt for a neighbor.

We bolt out the door and race down the street.

They are right behind us. Apparently they can move fast when inspired.

Next year we’re staying home and re-reading this to remind ourselves why.