I couldn't help but laugh when my husband impatiently waved at me to move the car forward while saying, "Scroll up, honey."
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Recently, I was traveling with my parents in their new car when we hit a wide-open expanse of highway. My dad leaned back and said, "I think I'll let Tom drive for a while."
"Tom who?" I asked.
My mother translated for me: "Tom Cruise, of course."
It had a shattered windshield, two missing tires, a sagging front bumper, a cockeyed grille, a hood that was sprung up at an angle, and dings and dents all over the body.
Before he started the bidding, the auctioneer announced the car's year, make and model, and then read the owner's comments: "Please note—the radio does not work."
"Made in Indonesia—Not Dishwasher Safe."
My 50-something friend Nancy and I decided to introduce her mother to the magic of the Internet. Our first move was to access the popular "Ask Jeeves" site, and we told her it could answer any question she had.
Nancy's mother was very skeptical until Nancy said, "It's true, Mom. Think of something to ask it."
As I sat with fingers poised over the keyboard, Nancy's mother thought a minute, then responded, "How is Aunt Helen feeling?"
"Look, honey," said the wife to her husband. "He went to the same repair school as you."
I called the computer services office and explained, "My computer is down. The hard drive crashed."
"We can't just send people down on your say-so. How do you know that's the problem?"
"A student told me," I answered.
"We'll send someone over right away."
"Some are quite effective," my friend corrected me. "Last summer, my teenager spent a lot of time at the neighbors'. Whenever I wanted him home, I'd go out to our driveway and jostle his car."
I went to a florist, ordered a fruit basket filled with lemons and sent it to the dealer with this poem:
"When I drive my lemon, I'll be thinking of you.
Pretty soon, my attorney will too."
A short time later the dealer called and asked what color I'd like my new car to be.
Suddenly the conversation shifted, and the woman said, "Him? That's over." Then she added, "Can we talk about this later? It's rather personal, and I'm in a room full of people."
A pastor I know of uses a standard liturgy for funerals. To personalize each service, he enters a “find and replace” command into his word processor. The computer then finds the name of the deceased from the previous funeral and replaces it with the name of the deceased for the upcoming one.
Not long ago, the pastor told the computer to find the name “Mary” and replace it with “Edna.” The next morning, the funeral was going smoothly until the congregation intoned the Apostles’ Creed. “Jesus Christ,” they read from the preprinted program, “born of the Virgin Edna.”
Some New Yorkers were on a safari in the jungles of a little-explored faraway country when they were captured by cannibals.
"Oh, yes!" the chief of the tribe exclaimed. "We're going to put you all into big pots of water, cook you and eat you."
"You can't do that to me," the tour leader said. "I'm the editor of The New Yorker!"
"Well," he responded, "tonight you will be editor-in-chief!"
During a job interview, a client of my employment-search company voiced his concern about work-life balance.
"Spending time with my family is very important to me, and I'm just wondering how much overtime I can expect to put in," he asked. His prospective employer quickly put him at ease.
"Family should always come first," came the reply. "Of course, here we like our employees to think of us as family."
Because he's a chemist and I'm a personal trainer, my fiancé and I don't always agree about what eating healthy means. I prefer foods with less fat and fewer calories. He watches out for chemicals and additives. We were grocery shopping, and I asked him to go get some butter.
"Which kind," he asked, "cancer or heart attack?
The topic of the day at Army Airborne School was what you should do if your parachute malfunctions. We had just gotten to the part about reserve parachutes when another student raised his hand.
"If the main parachute malfunctions," he asked, "how long do we have to deploy the reserve?"
Looking the trooper square in the face, the instructor replied, "The rest of your life."
After my wife landed a coveted job offer from DHL, we went out of town to celebrate. While on our trip, she was contacted by the company's human resources department with an urgent request to complete and send back her tax forms.
"No problem," she said. "I'll FedEx them right over."
A: Two tax attorneys fighting over a penny.
A: Two tax attorneys fighting over a penny.
"I feel sorry for this soldier," joked my husband as he handed me a flier he'd found in our mailbox. It read:Lost Cat
Black and white
Answers to Nate
Belongs to a soldier
As I stripped off my sweatshirt at the breakfast table one warm morning, my T-shirt started to come off too.
My husband let out a low whistle. I took it as a compliment until he said, from behind his newspaper, "Can you believe the price of bananas?"
A man and his wife were taking an afternoon drive through the countryside. They had just had a big argument and were not talking to one another. Finally the husband decided to break the silence and say something sarcastic to his wife: “Look at all the cows and pigs in the pasture. Don’t they remind you of your relatives?”
The wife replied, “Yes, they do. They remind me of my in-laws.”
Teeing off on the 12th hole at a golf resort, we stopped to buy cold drinks from the young woman driving the beverage cart. As my buddy reached for his wallet, he said to her, "You're in great shape. You must work out a lot."
Flattered, she gave him a big smile. "Thank you."
The next day a different young woman was driving the cart. "Watch this," I whispered. I walked up to her and said, "Wow, you must work out a lot."
"Yeah," she replied. "You should try it."
Unfortunately, Windows had been in the midst of a delicate and crucial undertaking. The next morning, when I turned my computer back on, it informed me that a file had been corrupted and Windows would not load. This was followed by some mysterious lines of code, which I took to be my computer saying "Serves you right, careless pea brain" in its native tongue. More graciously, it offered to repair itself by using the Windows Setup CD.
I opened the special drawer where I keep CDs that I have no intention of ever using. There was an IKEA how-to CD, which featured young Swedes assembling kitchen cabinets with nothing but a sardine can key and untrammeled wholesomeness. Mostly, there were CDs of music that my friends are always burning for me, unbidden, because they think I'll enjoy them.
But no Windows CD. I was forced to call the computer company's Global Support Center. My call was answered by a woman in some unnamed, far-off land. I find it vexing to make small talk with someone when I don't know what continent they're standing on. Suppose I were to comment on the beautiful weather we've been having when there was a monsoon at the other end of the phone? So I got right to the point.
"My computer is telling me a file is corrupted and it wants to fix itself, but I don't have the Windows Setup CD."
"So you're having a problem with your Windows Setup CD." She had apparently been dozing and, having come to just as the sentence ended, was attempting to cover for her inattention. I recognized the technique from a thousand breakfast conversations.
"We took that rug in weeks ago. Should I call the cleaners?"
"No, thanks. I'm good."
It quickly became clear that the woman was not a computer technician. Her job was to serve as a gatekeeper, a human shield for the techs, who were off in the back room, or possibly another far-off continent, playing cards and burning CDs for their friends. Her sole duty, as far as I could tell, was to raise global stress levels.
To make me disappear, the woman gave me the phone number for Windows' creator, Microsoft. This is like giving someone the phone number for, I don't know, North America. Besides, the CD worked; I just didn't have it. No matter how many times I repeated my story, we came back to the same place. She was unflappable and resolutely polite.
When my voice hit a certain decibel, I was passed along, like a hot, irritable potato, to a technician.
"You don't have the Windows Setup CD, ma'am, because you don't need it," he explained cheerfully. "Windows came preinstalled on your computer!"
"But I do need it."
"Yes, but you don't have it."
We went on like this for a while. Finally, he offered to walk me through the use of a different CD, one that would erase my entire system. "Of course, you'd lose all your e-mail, your documents, your photos." It was like offering to drop a safe on my head to cure my headache. "You might be able to recover them, but it would be expensive." He sounded delighted. "And it's not covered by the warranty!" The safe began to seem like a good idea, provided it was full.
I hung up the phone and drove my computer to a small, friendly repair place I'd heard about. A smart, helpful man dug out a Windows CD and told me it wouldn't be a problem. An hour later, he called to let me know it was ready. I thanked him, and we chatted about the weather, which was the same outside my window as it was outside his.
There is a special room in hell where the flames are extra hot and you must sleep sitting straight up. The sign on the door says: Reserved for People Who Reclined Their Seatbacks the Entire Flight. Most of us understand the discomfort we are inflicting on the poor schmo behind us and try to limit our reclining for the lights-out portion of the flight. If everyone leans back together, in the manner of a synchronized, unattractively upholstered Esther Williams swim routine, then no one is unfairly crowded.I had a seatback diva in front of me last week. We were barely airborne, and there she was in my lap. Using my computer would now entail making a slit in my belly flab and inserting the front half of the keyboard inside me, so that the bottom row of letters were rendered inaccessible and I would have to make do without the words banana, vixen, balaclava and many other colorful favorites.
Defeated, I tried to watch the little TV mounted in the seatback in front of me. Alas, the screen was so close to my face that my eyes were crossing. Emeril had become a set of perfectly choreographed twin Emerils, which was one or possibly two more Emerils than I could handle. In desperation, I turned to my complimentary copy of the Sky Mall catalog and began to read. A mail-order company was selling "the Most Compact Washing Machine in the World," enabling, I don't know, Keebler elves to do laundry in their tree. "Tiki Head Tissue Box Dispenses Tissue Through the Nose!" another ad reported excitedly.
"Who would buy this?" I said to the man in the middle seat, but he was busy waving down a flight attendant. "Miss?" He was holding up his knees. "Is there room in the overhead bin for these?"
We hit a pocket of turbulence and Bloody Mary mix slopped onto the chinos of the man next to me. I pointed to the Most Compact Washing Machine in the World. "You need this," I said. The man did not smile. His expression was just like the Tiki Head with tissues up its nostrils, displeased and clearly embarrassed about the situation yet resolutely stoic.
More and more, you must board a plane like a general going to war. You must constantly defend your turf -- your wee, airless kingdom. The occupier of the next seat will make his move upon your armrest the moment your vigilance flags. You will return from the bathroom to find an elbow planted in the little vinyl peninsula where your people once roamed free.
The battle for armrest dominance has grown ever more intense in the era of the laptop computer. The airplane seat -- designed to be a chair, and never very good at it -- has now been asked to perform double duty as an office. Soon people will be bringing fitness equipment and hobby craft aboard, and the company that makes the elfin washers will need to get started on looms and rowing machines.
Complex rules apply to the space beneath your seat, for it belongs, technically, to the person behind you. Not long ago, I was on a transcontinental flight when I was awakened by the woman behind me. "Excuse me?" She was holding a plastic juice cup. "Excuse me? This is coming in my section." I had put my empty cup under my seat and it had slid backward, crossing an imaginary line in the carpeting. She was peeved. Her eyes were squinty and her nostrils were flaring, as though about to dispense tissues through the nose.
People were staring, so I took the cup. Later that night, a pantyhosed foot made a stealth assault on the back of my right armrest. It was her: the Juice Cup Border Patrol.
"Excuse me?" I nudged the foot ungently. "This is coming in my section."
Several hours went by without incident. I was beginning to drift off, when I heard a driving, tinny noise: ch-ch, ch-ch, ch-ch, ch-ch ... The woman behind me had mobilized the most fearsome weapon in the modern airplane arsenal: the Overly Loud Headphones.
I waved my hot towel in surrender.
No! We thought it was quaint!
Here's how delusional we were. We had plumbing problems (of course), and in an effort to fix a leak, some plumbing guys were crawling around under our house. They emerged holding some yellowed, crumbling, rolled-up newspapers, which they'd found wrapped around our pipes, apparently as insulation. We carefully unwrapped one of the newspapers and found that it was a Miami Herald from 1927. It had a story in it about Charles Lindbergh.
So there we were, confronted with stark evidence that our pipes, in addition to leaking, were very old. It's like being aboard a boat in the middle of the Pacific and discovering that not only were you sinking, but also your hull was made entirely of Triscuits.
How did we react to this horrible news? We were thrilled! Charles Lindbergh! It was so charming! The plumbers were also very excited, but in their case it was because they knew we would be putting all their children through Harvard.
Our House Delusion Disease is very powerful. Usually, when you buy an old house, you hire professional house inspectors. These inspectors are very thorough: They spend a whole day crawling around the house, and then they give you a detailed, written report, which says "Do not buy this house, you idiot!"
Not in so many words, of course. The report breaks the house down by major defects, then sub-defects. The house, according to the report, consists entirely of defects. You read the report, but because you have OHDD, none of it actually penetrates your brain, even when the inspector goes out of his way to warn you about serious problems:
INSPECTOR: I want to show you something in the living room ...
YOU: Don't you love that room? It has such character! The molding!
INSPECTOR: About the molding -- I wanted you to see this. (The inspector takes a screwdriver and taps it against the molding. The molding disappears in a smokelike puff of wood particles. Then a large part of the wall itself collapses, leaving a gaping hole, through which can be seen, in the gloom, an exposed wire that periodically emits a shower of sparks, illuminating a dripping pipe covered with green slime. A rat darts by, pursued by what seems to be a boa constrictor.)
YOU: Ha ha! These quirky old houses! That can be repaired, right?
INSPECTOR: Well, I suppose it could, if you're willing to ...
YOU: I'm not worried about cosmetic problems, as long as the house is structurally sound. (You stamp your foot on the floor to emphasize this point. Your foot goes through the floor.)
INSPECTOR: Um, that's another thing. Your floor joists have been almost entirely eaten away.
YOU: (retracting your foot) Termites? No biggie! A lot of these old houses have termites! We can just have it treated by ...
INSPECTOR: Actually, it's beavers. They're building a dam in the basement.
INSPECTOR: I've never seen that before.
YOU: (recovering) Well, the kids have been wanting a pet!
At this point the inspector, who has dealt with OHDD before, gives up and edges out of the room, taking care not to put too much weight on any one part of the floor.
You, of course, buy the house. As a true OHDD victim, you would buy this house if it were on fire. Once it's yours, you begin calling what will become a never-ending parade of highly paid craftsmen, who will spend so much time at your house that eventually they will become a part of your family, and invite you to attend all their children's graduations from Harvard.
Taking my marching orders, the first thing I did was to exhale for the first time in three years, letting my belly settle back into its natural position draped over my belt. I then canceled my membership in the Tiramisu-of-the-Month club.
Gone, too, was the easy sympathy I doled out to my three-year-old daughter after she pulled the head off her Polly Pocket doll for the 12th time. "Now it's a Marie Antoinette doll," I told Quinn, knowing that tough love was the best love. Gone was my simple acquiescence when my wife, Jennifer, informed me we'd be watching the Melissa Gilbert retrospective on Lifetime Television.
"Sorry," I told her, "this TV has been reserved for a special edition of 'Killing Cattle With Mike Ditka.' "
Part of the machosexual compact is to fulfill traditional male roles -- to be the rock, the decision-maker. So as commander-in-chief of our little tribe, I canceled our family trip to Hersheypark. "Machosexuals," I explained, "don't have chocolaty good times. We have adventures." But being a benevolent dictator, I presented an alternative.
"Who wants to go bareback rhino racing in Zimbabwe?" I asked.
Machosexuals are a patient lot, so when Jennifer said, "No, we're going to Hersheypark," I knew that perseverance was in order.
"Wanna take a steam bath in an active volcano in Indonesia?"
"Fly a MiG-29 at mach 3 over Moscow, going 60,000 feet straight up in the air at a 90-degree angle until the engine stalls and we tumble back to earth in a free fall, coming just ten feet off the ground before pulling up?"
"Kayak down Victoria Falls? Go skinny-dipping in the Arctic? Walk over to the mini-mart and eat five-day-old sushi?"
No, no and no.
"You don't like to have fun, do you?"
Click! Jennifer turned on the TV and raised the volume until Melissa Gilbert's voice drowned mine out.
Then, after much wrestling over the remote, we agreed that I should be kicked out of the house.
So off I stomped to the nearest watering hole to be with my fellow bulls. I was glad to see everyone had read the same memo as me. Gone were the cosmopolitans and chocolate martinis. In their place was only one choice: "Barkeep," I said, "gimme a Milwaukee's Best!" A cold, frothy one appeared before me.
There was backslapping, swearing and a quick debate on wearing helmets while motorcycling (everyone was against it). And we used the old bar food favorite, edamame beans, to throw at a poster of Brad Pitt.
After raising a glass to the machosexuals of yore -- Bogie, Duke Wayne, Attila the Hun -- we took out our knives and whittled some sticks before calling it a night. Back home, I snuck into the house to avoid Jennifer. We machosexuals pick our battles and in so doing know that tiptoeing is not the same as retreating.
In the living room I found Quinn crying over her headless doll as Jennifer struggled with duct tape.
I grabbed some glue, and Jennifer handed me the doll. I reattached the head as best I could. It slipped a bit before drying, giving it that cock-eyed, self-assured look that's so attractive in a plastic doll. Quinn climbed into my lap, and the three of us played with her Polly Pockets.
Who knew playing with dolls could be so much fun?
It all started simply enough. Soon after we moved to the country, my wife, Jennifer, decided that our backyard was sorely in need of some landscaping work.
"What's wrong with it?" I asked. "Look at how fat and sassy our grass is. I bet we have the fattest, sassiest lawn in the neighborhood."
That's when Jennifer let me in on a little secret. There is no grass on our lawn. Only fat, sassy poison ivy.
I pointed out that unlike everything else in the yard, the ivy was thriving and maybe we should go after something else, like that malingering rosebush.
"Why evict the one thing that actually wants to be here?" I reasoned.
Here's why: Jennifer doesn't like poison ivy. Something about the word poison makes her think it can't be good for you.
So we called in landscapers to get estimates. The first took one look at our lawn, then called his car dealer and ordered a BMW, the one that comes with a chauffeur. The second charged by the blade of grass. That's when I drove into town looking for one of those cheap illegal aliens the media insists is on every street corner in America.
"Are you an illegal alien?" I asked the first man I saw.
"No, I'm the mayor," he said.
"Are you an illegal alien?" I asked another.
"No, I'm your neighbor."
"Are you an illegal alien?"
"No, I'm your wife, you idiot," said Jennifer, shoving a rake in my hand and telling me to take care of things myself.
One of the problems with poison ivy is you can't simply grab it by the collar and toss it out like some drunk from a bar. You have to suit up for battle -- rubber gloves duct-taped to a long-sleeved shirt buttoned to your neck. Long pants with the cuffs duct-taped over your socks and work boots. A scarf wrapped tightly around neck and face, duct-taped to goggles and hat, completes the jackass look. Armed with pruner and weedkiller, I was no longer simply a homeowner unable to find an illegal alien to do the work he didn't want to do. I was, in fact, a Knight of the Backyard Realm.
Since I had no idea what poison ivy looked like, I kept my plan of attack simple: Anything remotely planty goes. Ferns? Gone! Hosta? Gone! Rosebush? Gone! Trees? Gone! Mailbox? Gone! I was Sherman marching on Atlanta, laying waste to anything in my path. What the weedkiller didn't get, I ripped out by hand. What I couldn't rip out, I ran over with my car.
"That's the Japanese maple!" screamed Jennifer.
"Now it's mulch," I said, grinning devilishly over the whirring engine of my '95 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme.
By the end of the day, I'd rid the yard of all the poison ivy save for one sorry little clump. Like the heads of the vanquished left on spikes outside medieval castle walls, it served as a warning to any of its kin that might dare to show their three shiny leaves around here.
Hot and tired, and feeling pretty damn good about myself, I unraveled the four rolls of duct tape that had adhered to my body and stepped out of my sweat-soaked clothes, 27 pounds lighter than when I entered them. The shrieks of horror from my 78-year-old neighbor spying my near-naked body startled me so, that I tripped down a small embankment -- only to be saved by the soft, pillowy embrace of the remaining clump of poison ivy.
As I bathed in calamine lotion, Jennifer figured out that all my tireless work had reduced our home's value by a third. So she hired one of the landscapers to return the yard to its previous state of disrepair. We went with the guy who charged by the blade of grass. With no lawn left, how expensive could it be?
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To save us money and expedite the dismissal of customer-care representatives, our express automated-speech response system is now available. To use this system, press 1. To speak to a customer-care representative, call the Peterson County unemployment office. To hear these options again, hang up and call back.
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I have set all this aside, however, because I recently got a gift certificate for a local spa and have cajoled my friend Wendy into coming with me for a massage. We are now standing in the room known to ordinary (non-cleansing) people as a locker room. The sign on the door says "Women's Dressing." As though we are salads. Across the hall is the Water Closet. This spa has tried hard to be tony and European, right down to the medical background forms, which request that we "tick" boxes, rather than check them.
The locker room is pristine, and smells like no locker room I've ever been in. The smell turns out to be the lockers themselves: They're lined with cedar. "Check, I mean tick, this out," I tell Wendy. "In case moths attack while we're off getting our massages."
A beautiful young attendant arrives to show us how to operate the locks on the lockers. Then she leaves to get us bathrobes and towels.
Wendy looks stressed. "Do we have to tip her for this? I hate these places. I don't know how to behave. What do I tip? Do I take everything off? Do I leave on my underwear?" Wendy is going to need a second massage to relieve the stress that's accumulated while being here for the first one.
We are told to wait for our masseuses in the lounge. It's a gorgeous, perfect lounge with expensive cheeses and orchids and pitchers of lemon water. We pour ourselves some water and finish our medical forms. Wendy is reading aloud: "Are you pregnant? Ha! No, I just look like it!"
A different beautiful young attendant comes into the lounge to refill the water pitcher and clear away the empty glasses. She glances briefly at the flabby, wrinkly things on the sofa, as if giving thought to how she might clear those away too.
At last our masseuses arrive to take us to the treatment rooms. I watch Wendy disappear down the hallway, her voice trailing off: "I left my underwear on. Was that bad? I wasn't sure..."
My masseur, Leo, tells me to "disrobe to my level of comfort" and get under the sheet on the massage table. Then he leaves the room. I notice that a small pink flower is lying on the sheet at the head of the massage table, as though the last person was a shrub. The massage table is outfitted at one end with a small, heavily padded toilet seat. When he returns, Leo tells me to put my face inside the toilet seat, which he calls a "face cradle."
Leo says he'll be "opening up my muscles" and "getting blood into the area." This doesn't sound relaxing. It sounds like the tiger scene in Gladiator. I bury my face in the toilet and pray for leniency.
Eventually I relax. Things are going swell. Then Leo asks me if I want the "complimentary parafango treatment." There are so many things I need to learn before I can answer this question.
"Fango means volcanic," Leo adds, bringing me no closer to a decision.
"Oh," I say. "In what language?"
He doesn't answer. He must think I'm testing him. For the next few minutes, Leo gives me the complimentary silent treatment. This is fine with me. In my experience, conversations in which one party has her head in the toilet bowl are always trying.
I find Wendy waiting for me in the lounge. She got the parafango treatment on her feet. "And how was that?" I ask her.
"Really relaxing," she says in a strangled voice that I have heard her use only once before, when raccoons got into the compost. "Can we go now?" Wendy gets up and moves toward the door very fast, faster than you would expect for someone whose feet have been dipped in molten magma.
Perfectly Paired Puns
As Valentine's Day approached, I tried to think of an unusual gift for my husband. When I discovered that his favorite red-plaid pants had a broken zipper, I thought I had the "perfect Valentine." I had the pants repaired, and gift-wrapped them. On the package I put a huge red heart on which I printed: "My Heart Pants for You." I was the surprised one, however, when I saw the same heart taped to our formerly empty, but now overflowing, wood box. On it he had written: "Wood You Be My Valentine?"
-- Contributed by Mary Lou Pittman
A Little Nuts About Love
Driving through Southern California, I stopped at a roadside stand that sold fruit, vegetables and crafts. As I went to pay, I noticed the young woman behind the counter was painting a sign. "Why the new sign?" I asked. "My boyfriend didn't approve of the old one," she said. When I glanced at what hung above the counter, I understood. It declared: "Local Honey Dates Nuts"
-- Contributed by Theodore Bologna
Check Out a Romance
I met my husband while I was working in a science library. He came in every week to read the latest journals and eventually decided to take out the librarian instead of the books. After a year and a half of dating, he showed up at the library and started rummaging through my desk. I asked what he was looking for, but he didn't answer. Finally he unearthed one of the rubber stamps I used to identify reference books. "Since I couldn't find the right engagement ring," he said, "this will have to do," and he firmly stamped my hand. Across my knuckles, in capital letters, it read "NOT FOR CIRCULATION."
-- Contributed by Ruth E. Chodrow
Sweet Nothings (.com)
My boyfriend and I met online and we'd been dating for over a year. I introduced Hans to my uncle, who was fascinated by the fact that we met over the Internet. He asked Hans what kind of line he had used to pick me up. Ever the geek, Hans naively replied, "I just used a regular 56K modem."
-- Contributed by Anne McConnell
The lingerie store where my aunt works was crowded with shoppers selecting Valentine's Day gifts for their wives. A young businessman came to the register with a lacy black negligee. My aunt noticed that the next customer, an elderly farmer, was holding a long flannel nightgown and kept glancing at the younger man's sexier choice. When it was his turn, the farmer placed the nightgown on the counter. "Would you have anything in black flannel?" He asked.
-- Contributed by Christine A. Pandolfo
9 to 5 Love
My husband, a certified public accountant, works 15-hour days for the first few months of the year. In spite of his hectic schedule, he took time out to order me flowers for Valentine's Day. While pondering what sweet endearment to write on the card, he obviously began thinking of the many hours of work still ahead of him. His note read: "Roses are red, violets are blue. If I weren't thinking of you, I'd probably be through."
-- Contributed by Cindy Wolf
Mower Than a Greeting Card
My friend Mark and I work in a lawn-mower-parts warehouse. Somehow Mark got the idea that his wife did not want a card on Valentine's Day, but when he spoke to her on the phone he discovered she was expecting one. Not having time to buy a card on his way home, Mark was in a quandary. Then he looked at the lawn-mower trade magazines scattered around the office -- and got an idea. Using scissors and glue, he created a card with pictures of mowers, next to which he wrote: "I lawn for you mower and mower each day." Mark's wife loved it. The card immediately graced their refrigerator door.
-- Contributed by Gene Hyde
About a year had passed since my amicable divorce, and I decided it was time to start dating again. Unsure how to begin, I thought I'd scan the personals column of my local newspaper. I came across three men who seemed like they'd be promising candidates. A couple of days later, I was checking my answering machine and discovered a message from my ex-husband. "I was over visiting the kids yesterday," he said. "While I was there I happened to notice you had circled some ads in the paper. Don't bother calling the guy in the second column. I can tell you right now it won't work out. That guy is me."
-- Contributed by Pat Patel
Making the Grade
My high-school English teacher was well known for being a fair, but hard, grader. One day I received a B minus on a theme paper. In hopes of bettering my grade and in the spirit of the valentine season, I sent her an extravagant heart-shaped box of chocolates with the pre-printed inscription: "BE MINE." The following day, I received in return a valentine from the teacher. It read: "Thank you, but it's still BE MINE-US."
-- Contributed by Brad Wilcox
Read All About It
Every Valentine's Day our campus newspaper has a section for student messages. Last year my roommate surprised his girlfriend with roses and dinner at a fancy restaurant. When they returned from their date, she leafed through the paper to see if he had written a note to her. Near the bottom of one page she found: "Bonnie -- What are you looking here for? Aren't dinner and flowers enough? Love, Scott."
-- Contributed by Richard B. Blackwell
Devoted and Determined
During World War II my parents had planned a romantic Valentine's Day wedding. Suddenly my father, then stationed at Camp Edwards in Massachusetts, received orders to prepare to ship out, and all leaves were canceled. Being a young man in love, he went AWOL. He and my mother were married four days earlier than originally planned and he returned to base to an angry sergeant. After hearing the explanation, the sergeant understandingly replied, "Okay, okay!" Then, as an afterthought: "But don't let it happen again!"
-- Contributed by Sandra L. Caron
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The first to leave was our friend Laurie. "Kisser-hugger," whispered Ed. "No problem there." Her friend Jim was trickier. We'd met him only once, and though I had a dim memory of him as a hugger, I couldn't say for sure what kind. There's full-body frontal, lip/cheek, cheek/cheek, and there's combo. I stepped closer to Jim, imagining a panel of judges off to the side and a team of commentators speaking in hushed tones. "It looks like they're getting ready for a single-side, lateral cheek press with shoulder clasp. That's got a difficulty factor of 5. Let's see how Roach does. In the past she's had trouble with her finish." I pictured them wincing quietly. "That's going to be tough to recover from."
Other cultures have managed to agree upon a national protocol for greetings and farewells, and they simply get on with it. The French kiss each other twice, perhaps because no one else will. The Dutch at some point trumped the French with a triple cheek buss. The English, my people, will step closer and raise their arms to your shoulders while simultaneously leaning away, imparting a vague impression of affection while at the time suggesting it's quite possible they find your kind repellent.
Cross-cultural goodbyes are especially trying. I once met a French Canadian author in an airport and spent a pleasant hour chatting with him. When his flight was called, we stood up to say goodbye. I went for a peck, but because he had turned his head in preparation for a double-cheek press, my mouth collided with the side of his nose. We rushed to make corrections, but it was like trying to steady a plummeting jetliner. The embrace spiraled out of control and crashed to the floor. Black smoke billowing from the departures hall for days.
Cross-generational hugs are also tricky, as I learned with Laurie's mother the other night. A kiss or hug might seem inappropriate, but a handshake might be taken as standoffish.
"Let her make the first move," whispered Ed.
I worried that she might be plotting the same thing. Ed acknowledged that that was a problem, in that we'd both be awkwardly standing there. "High noon in a Clint Eastwood movie" was how he put it.
So I made the first move. I flipped my poncho over one shoulder and removed the cigar. I was going for a cheek/cheek. Though people refer to this as a kiss, it is technically an embrace. It is physically impossible to kiss someone else's cheek while he or she is kissing yours, unless you have highly elastic, protuberant lips. Orangutans can manage the simultaneous cheek kiss, but have the good sense not to bother.
The rest of the table had stood up and begun gathering their coats. We were toward the back of the pack. A man with whom I hadn't exchanged a word was drawing near.
"Hug," Ed whispered urgently. "If you're at the end of the line, and everyone in front of you has been doing the hug, you have no choice. You have to go to the hug."
So I hugged the man, perhaps a bit too exuberantly. He extracted himself as quickly as he could without actually pushing me away. The judges shook their heads sadly.
I can't tell you how happy I was to get home, where the people I love come and go without any of this fuss, unless one of us is heading off for, say, a year in Tripoli. "See ya!" "Bye!" It's so wonderfully simple.
"I don't hate ants," Ed will insist. "I just want them to live in their own houses. I don't go barging into their homes uninvited, do I?" Ed would have you believe that it's a matter of etiquette, of shoddy ant manners, and that if we'd gotten to know the ants, come to think of them as our friends, he'd be happy to have them over. Six-thirty, then? Great! Will the soldiers be coming or just the workers?
I tell him to ignore them, because they'll be gone when the rain ends and their homes stop flooding. I care about drowning ants because once I left my cousin's Ant Farm outside when it rained, and the farmers all died. I guess I'm still working through the guilt. Whatever the reason, I think of our kitchen as a port in the storm, an ant refugee camp, providing crumbs and shelter in time of need.
Ed just wants to slay them. And there are products on the market to help him do this. They tend to come in two categories. The first appeals to the man who loves a good battle, especially one where the enemy is unarmed and the size of Wheatena. These products have names like Maxforce and the aggressive if ungrammatical Real Kill.
Ed knows better than to try to get UN approval for this sort of thing. He knows I believe in a humane, organic approach. I once got Ed to stop killing the spiders in our bedroom by telling him the spiders eat the ants. Of course, this isn't true. Unlike humans, spiders are no good at what my mother used to call "drawing ants." They do not leave wet Popsicle sticks on windowsills or open honey jars out on counters. Ed bought my theory, but only for a while. I'd come into the room and see him on his hands and knees in the corner, inspecting the webs. "If I don't see ants by Friday, you're in trouble, my friend."
Pesticide companies understand the husband-wife ant dynamic. Many have a separate line that emphasizes the nontoxic quality of the products, which is quite a bold marketing move for what is essentially a weapon of mass destruction.
One company tries to make ant death seem like a holiday in France. They have a product called Ant Café, so that rather than picturing the little guys gasping and writhing, you picture them sipping bowls of café au lait, smoking Gitanes and leafing through Le Figaro, which is hard to do at the same time unless, like the ant, you have six hands.
The last spray bottle Ed brought home was a brand called Safer's. He read to me from the label, pausing now and again to make ant pâté on the counter. "It combines bait with borax," he said, as though this made any kind of sense, as though helping them have whiter whites had always been the idea. "Fresh Mint Odor, honey!"
I've never encountered this kind of fresh mint odor. Imagine smelling some mint that's growing on the lawn of a petrochemical plant. It's that kind of fresh mint odor. When Ed wasn't looking, the Safer's went away on a holiday in France.
For a long time, Ed didn't say much about the ants and I thought he'd made his peace with them. Then I found some of those little ant cups that leak brown, sticky, evil stuff and do not match our decor. He thought I'd like this idea, because no spraying and dying-on-the-countertops was involved. "They take the poison home and die there!" Ed said cheerfully.
I did not like the idea and I said so. So we had a little argument about the ant cups. Things may have gotten a tiny bit out of hand. I may have threatened to get some "jerk cups" and put them out in the places Ed goes to feed. A door slammed at some point. The ants watched for a while, and then fled for their lives. We haven't seen them since.
Alas, this is what the stores are selling. Today's popular clothing chains appeal strictly to teenagers, who can be counted upon to change their tastes every 30 days, as the latest Cosmo Girl or Teen Vogue arrives in the mail. Customers like me cannot possibly afford new clothing more than once a decade, owing to the financial strain of paying for teenage children's rapidly shifting fashion needs. So no one bothers to make clothing for us.
This is a dangerous situation. Expose a middle-aged woman to nothing but miniskirts and abbreviated tops for long enough, and she's bound to cave. One day, when her self-esteem is dangerously high and the dressing room lights dangerously low, she'll try on something designed for her daughter and say to herself, "Oh, why not?" If she happens to be shopping with her children, the answer to this question will be provided for her. But middle-aged husbands offer no such reality check. They live in a candyland of denial and residual carnality. They still, bless them, like to see a little flesh.
My husband recently made me try on a bikini. A bikini is not so much a garment as a cloth-based reminder that your parts have been migrating all these years. My waist, I realized that day in the dressing room, has completely disappeared beneath my rib cage, which now rests directly on my hips. I'm exhibiting continental drift in reverse. The buttocks, too, have overrun their boundaries, infringing on territory that rightly belongs to the thighs. I have encouraged my thighs to do something about this -- restraining order, guard dog -- but they have not. Your thighs are rarely there for you.
"Cute!" says Ed dementedly. "Turn around."
"You turn around first."
Ed does not understand what all women my age understand. The mature lady's buttock does not wish to come out and take a bow. Designers of mature ladies' swimwear know this. They've built little curtains into their designs, enabling the sagging buttock to keep hidden, and/or cast votes in privacy. God help me, I've entered the Age of Skirted Swimwear. This is the age right after Accessorizing with Reading Glasses and a few years before Can't Name Anyone on the Radio.
Even the knees are in on the betrayal. I recently saw a tabloid photograph of a 40-something Demi Moore with her knees circled in red, highlighting the fact that they were disappearing under the shifting shoals of her thighs. Ha-ha, I said to myself. Just deserts for having a face and breasts (and a boyfriend) that look 25. Then I looked at my own knees, which I plan never to do again.
The foot is more or less the one body part that time leaves alone. Well into your 70s, you can wear whatever style shoes you feel like wearing. Positioned, as they are, at the bottom of the heap, gravity is not an issue. Or so I thought. Shortly after the swimsuit debacle, I tried on a pair of pointy-toed black pumps, the sort that actresses on "Sex and the City" were wearing for 30 days back in spring.
"How do those work for you?" the salesgirl asked. I told her they were pinching me, and not in an appreciative, you-look-just-like-that-gal-on- "Sex and the City" way.
"You know," she said brightly, "your feet flatten as you age."
I went to find Ed, and I told him about my flattening instep. He smiled and put his arm around me. That still fits, and for this I'm happy.
- Old accountants never die, they just lose their balance.
- Old musicians never die, they just get played out.
- Old lawyers never die, they just lose their appeal.
- Old daredevils never die, they just get discouraged.
- Walt Disney didn't die. He's in suspended animation.Live and Learn Psychiatry students were in their Emotional Extremes class. "Let's set some parameters," the professor said. "What's the opposite of joy?" he asked one student. "Sadness," he replied. "The opposite of depression?" he asked another student. "Elation," he replied. "The opposite of woe?" the prof asked a young woman from Texas. The Texan replied, "Sir, I believe that would be giddyup." Man's Best Friend A poodle and a collie were walking down the street. The poodle turned to the collie and complained, "My life is a mess. My owner is mean, my girlfriend is having an affair with a German shepherd, and I'm nervous as a cat." "Why don't you go see a psychiatrist?" asked the collie. "I can't," replied the poodle. "I'm not allowed on the couch." Q: Why are dogs such bad dancers? A: They have two left feet. Next Time, Let's Stay in a Hotel Two campers are hiking in the woods when one is bitten on the rear end by a rattlesnake. "I'll go into town for a doctor," the other says. He runs ten miles to a small town and finds the only doctor delivering a baby. "I can't leave," the doctor says. "But here's what to do. Take a knife, cut a little X where the bite is, suck out the poison and spit it on the ground." The guy runs back to his friend, who is in agony. "What did the doctor say?" the victim cries. "He says you're gonna die." Did you hear about the weekly poker game with Vasco da Gama, Christopher Columbus, Leif Eriksson and Francisco Pizarro? They can never seem to beat the Straights of Magellan. —Pun American Newsletter Six guys are playing poker. After losing $500 on one hand, Smith clutches his chest and topples over, dead at the table. To decide who's going to tell his wife, his buddies draw straws. Anderson picks the short one. "Break it to her gently," they all urge. "Leave it to me," he says. When Smith's wife comes to the door, Anderson says, "Your husband just lost $500 playing cards." "How much?" the wife yells, eyes blazing. "Tell him to drop dead!" What's Black and White and ... A penguin walks into a bar, goes to the counter, and asks the bartender, "Have you seen my brother?" The bartender says, "I don't know. What does he look like?" A pair of cows were talking in the field. One says, "Have you heard about the mad cow disease that's going around?" "Yeah," the other cow says. "Makes me glad I'm a penguin."