Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Knock Knock

The evening began like most others. I arrived home from work, let the dogs out to the back yard to do their business, then back inside to eat. I went upstairs to change into my favorite couch potato fleece pants -- the ones with reindeers wearing sweaters. While hanging my skirt in the closet, I saw all the other stuff hanging there--a mile of stuff, most of which I love, and most of which doesn't fit anymore. I remembered my favorite store was having a one day only, 40 per cent off dress sale and put my skirt back on. It was time to break routine and not sit on the couch eating all night, which is the reason most of my extensive wardrobe doesn't fit.

The new evening plan meant the need for a quick supper.  As I was standing in my blissfully quiet kitchen, dining in a rather unrefined manner on a freshly poured  bowl of cereal with orange juice, there was a knock on the front door. This really was going to be a different kind of night. In seven months, not once has anybody who was not already  expected knocked on the door.

The dogs immediately launched into protector mode, barking and running to the door. When I'm expecting someone, the dogs go into the kitchen behind the gate to prevent the battle charge.

Through the most hated feature of the front door I can't wait to replace I could see a figure. Thanks to the center glass panel, I knew my unexpected visitor could also see me, leaving no graceful way to not answer the door. Dang, I hate that freeking door. My vertically challenged visitor was wearing an orange parka with the hood up, and my first thought was that Kenny from South Park had come for a visit.

I opened the door and tried to calm the dogs. Meanwhile, the young face in the center of the orange hood says "Are you our new neighbor?" I said "I've been here since September ..." And he says, "I've never seen you before."

Then he turns his back to me, walks across the enclosed porch, opens the door, which the dogs immediately try to exit, and he leaves, while I'm stammering, "Don't let the dogs out."

Once outside, lookalike Kenny, whose name I don't know, takes a right, walks across the poop splattered front lawn (poop pick up tool broke), and climbs between the rails of my fence to my driveway where his two buddies are standing.

And I'm standing there wondering what the whole interaction was about. It was more of an abbreviated interrogation than an introduction. The best I can come up with is that maybe I'm the new neighborhood dare -- the house with the weird older lady, and the bigger boys dared lookalike Kenny to come into porch and knock on the door.

"New, solid front door with peephole" just launched itself to the top of the home "to do" list. Right behind "buy some dresses."

Monday, January 2, 2017

Still Procrastinating

It's been fewer than 48 hours since a conscious decision to return to dance classes and even fewer since seeing an email reminder that a group I used to dance with meets on Mondays at 3:15.

I was available on Monday and had every intention of attending. All the way up until I didn't.

The morning included exploring options for the day -- a drive to the beach to visit the ocean; shopping to use Kohl's cash earned on Christmas shopping; hunting for the six foot tall bookcase I decided last week that I need; putting the third coat of polyurethane on the floor in the kitchen nook (requiring a trip to buy more polyurethane); and of course, dance group.

If you know me very well you know I like the beach a lot, but not so much on the shopping, and usually overthink things until it's too late to do any of them. You can probably even guess what I did. 

Yup. It was my favorite multiple choice selection by default: None of the above.

After lunching on cheesy hot pepper ramen and disposing of the remnants in the sink, I flipped the switch for the disposal. There was a groaning sound and not much else. I peered into the hole in the sink and saw cheesy ramen noodles, a metal Christmas ornament hook, and the tiny face of Abraham Lincoln.

Lacking a handyperson in the inner circle of my life or even on the most remote periphery, it was obvious what needed to happen. 

A flashlight, rubber gloves, and utensils were located. Using a large spoon, noodles and other mystery muck were scooped out. A fork and the spoon were used to wrangle out the ornament hook and more mucky goo.  Deft work with a knife and fork loosened the penny, removed by a glove-clad hand. Further peering and flashlight shining revealed a second penny, also removed using the aforementioned utensils accompanied by a certain level of colorful cuss words. And now it felt too late for the beach option.

In a normal, child-free home, it might be a mystery how two pennies landed in the disposal. Not at my house.

Last week, while walking into work, near a part of a car on the ground at the entrance to a parking lot, was a pile of coins. It's pretty common to find a couple pennies or dimes in the gutter or on the sidewalk, but this was significantly larger -- 61 pennies and a dime -- clearly the largest bounty of coins on the streets of Lowell so far. At the time, it felt like a gift from the universe.

I gathered up the coins, wondering if anyone passing by would think I was a reasonably well dressed street person, and also wishing I knew binary code for the series of ones and zeros making the message from the universe that certainly must be embedded in the pile. The coins were dumped in my bag.

After work, coins were fished out, many of which were stuck together. They were soaked in a bowl, and when the water was poured out, some pennies fell into the drain. I plucked out two, hoping that was all of them.

Today's issue indicated that clearly more then two pennies had landed in the drain, and perhaps my message from the universe was that maybe I shouldn't pick up every coin I come across, now the world was messing with me, and 71 cents definitely isn't enough for a plumber. 

But Yankee ingenuity, Finnish sisu, a fork, knife, and spoon prevailed. And the real mysteries remaining were how the hook got into the sink, and why I constantly procrastinate and bail on promises to myself.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

New Starts

Another New Year, another fresh start.

New day planner, new journal. Newly minted list of resolutions and goals still bearing a resemblance to those of years past, but I imagine as long as I live and breathe I'll want to travel more, write more, and manage my money better. At least I hope that's the case, so it's okay.

It's not always fun to review the year just finished and the wreckage of shattered hopes, unattained goals, and unmet resolutions, but looking back on 2016 provided a certain level of satisfaction.

Two major life goals met with success in 2016 after camping out on the list for a couple years too long. Finding a better job and buying a house prompted a liberating advancement up Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

The best part about resolving the not so tiny life issues of liveable income, retirement savings, and shelter is that there is now space in the cranium and on this year's list for slightly more extravagant, yet still important goals like "use at least one entire week of my vacation time on a trip to someplace more than 100 miles from home" and "return to dance class."

It also means I can stop uttering boring phrases like "no, I can't commit to a trip out of town in three weeks because I may need to look at houses / be closing on my house / be moving." So far, the hours no longer spent scouring real estate listings and visiting houses have been replaced with the satisfying act of settling into my recently acquired house. I fully plan to shift some of that time, attention, and budget allocation to travel. It's on this year's list of goals.

I'm liking the looks of this new year a lot already.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Tricked on Treats

Having just bought my house on August 31, I wasn't sure what to expect for my first Halloween in the new 'hood.

So far, it's been pretty quiet at my little bungalow, second to last house on the dead-end street. There are a couple kids I see frequently, but the noise they produce is usually limited to the sound of their bouncing basketball.

When I walk the dogs in the morning I see evidence of children nearby in the form of a school bus looping through the streets. Faced with the evidence (school bus, young basketball players), I figured I'd better be prepared for Trick or Treat.

The whole Halloween Trick or Treat thing amuses me. You know, the magic of that one night of the year when people suddenly encourage their kids to ask strangers for treats, after preaching "stranger danger" the prior 364 days. But I digress.

Afraid of being  labeled "THAT HOUSE" ... you know, the one with the cranky old lady who gives out crappy candy (like NECCO Wafers ... what is the deal with those?) ... or worse, no candy ... I  bought candy to distribute to the hordes of begging stranger children who would be banging on the door.

And I went big, with name brand candy that cost an arm,  a leg, and half the grocery budget. Seriously, it was more than $25 for stupid candy that is now the reason I'll be dining on 25-cent ramen daily for the next week. Because you know ... I didn't want the begging strangers to think I was cheap.

On Halloween, I rushed home from work,  fed the dogs, then took the one willing dog for a walk while the other dog lazed in the house. The largest plastic bowl was already filled to the brim, prepared the night before. Continuing the candy trend started at work with Candy Corn, Caramel Cremes and Twizzlers, it was candy for supper -- several tiny Milky Way and Snickers bars.

To keep the dogs from getting too stressed during the upcoming commotion, Moose was attired in the Thunder Shirt and Pee Wee's Playhouse was running in the DVD player to distract them (still haven't bothered to order cable). The candy bowl was strategically located near the door. The deck /driveway light shone in all its brilliance and glory.

Tonight, there would be no fussing with the endless stream of moving boxes to unpack (and still more in storage). It was game time. I was focused. I was ready. I  was watching the clock.

The anticipation mounted. What would be the most popular costume? How many kids would show up? Would I run out of candy and have to hand out granola bars, apple sauce cups, and soy nuts in a panic?

It was thirty minutes before the first kid arrived ... a nondescript kid in a nondescript dark outfit of some sort, accompanied by a woman with a flashlight. I sprinted out to the deck clutching my gigantic bowl. That kid got six candies. If I didn't need that pricey Tupperware vessel, I might have handed the whole thing to him and called it a night.

It was another hour before the second kid arrived, a princess in a vibrant red, waist length wig. I noticed her when she was at the big house opposite mine. A guy who lives there talked with the adult accompanying her, put something in the  girl's candy-collecting plastic pumpkin, then got into a car and left. Just drove away while the princess, another younger kid in a wagon, and the adult male he seemed to know stood in front of his house.

Then the red-wigged princess darted across the street to my house, where she received a handful of candy before being scolded by the responsible adult, first for running across the street alone, and then for taking her wig off when she returned to the wagon. Then the adult dumps the candy into a sack in the wagon and tells the kid, "It's ALL mine."

By now, I'm bored out of my mind with the Halloween waiting game, so I'm standing in my doorway watching the street and hoping for more kids, because there is still roughly 100 pounds of candy I don't even like in that bowl. This was due to my brilliantly strategic move of buying high quantity bags of candy I wouldn't devour in advance. It seemed smart at the time.

As I'm staring out the door,  big daddy, still across the street, walks up the neighbor's driveway to the trash cans. I figure he's probably putting trash in the barrel. After too long of him standing there facing the house and barrels, I realize he's peeing, confirmed when he does the little hoppy step and hikes his pants back into place.  Meanwhile, the princess and the younger kid in the wagon are still on the sidewalk. In the dark. Alone. He returns to the kids and fumbles around in the wagon some more before they all walk up the street.

And that was it. No more kids. 14,000 pieces of candy and blow pops left in a bowl. Maybe it can be a head start on Christmas shopping.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Hand Surgery

I work in an 87,000 square foot store. There are between 75 and 100 mannequins under my area of control. The first week of the month, in addition to a lengthy list of projects, as many as 75 mannequins are scheduled to change outfits. That is another tale for another day.

If they are doing their jobs correctly as silent sales representatives, the mannequins inspire customers to spend money. Sometimes mannequins inspire a customer to want the clothes literally from the dummy’s back, because the items on the rack are not the customer’s size.

Some customers attempt to remove clothing from mannequins themselves, but ideally, they find an associate for help. Ideally, I will be in the store, not on a ladder eight feet in the air, and can quickly remove the item for the customer and redress the mannequin.

But retail is not always an ideal place.

Often, a nervous associate will attempt to dismember the form, which gets tricky. I know the feeling, because for a year I was a floor associate afraid to touch the mannequins, but sometimes required to do so.

For one thing, across the board, they’re breakable. For another, they’re all different -- some arms attach with magnets and pull off, others are a knob/slot configuration. Some lift up, others lift out. Some twist off at the torso. At least one is bound by the arms to a fixture with security tags to keep it from toppling over. Don’t even get me going on the legs and pant and shoe removal. The newer mannequins are glossy and slippery.

Things happen with the mannequins. Once, an unattended child grabbed a mannequin’s hand, and it came off. He threw it on the floor and screamed. And screamed. And screamed some more. His adults did not reprimand him for touching the mannequin.

The most common mishap occurs during dressing when an arm slides through a sleeve to the floor, fingers first. Like the time I changed a brand new mannequin into the second outfit of her brief time with us. Her slick, graceful arm slid through the Star Wars pajama sleeve and crashed straight into the tile floor. Oops. The Force was with me. The only damage was cracked finish on two fingers.

Recently, a coworker was removing a shirt from a mannequin for a customer. As sometimes happens, the customer decided to “help.” This is rarely a good thing. Trust us, we know what we are doing, or will act like we do. And you’ll feel better if we break something instead of it being you.

When customers “help” things can be thrown off balance. Some one (like me) or some thing (like store property) gets hurt. In this instance, it was a misses mannequin arm that suffered the injury when the customer attempted to assist the associate. The arm fell. Fingers were severed. The mannequin’s, not the associates.

The good-hearted associate searched for glue to repair the damage so she wouldn’t have to tell me about it. Maybe she’s afraid of me. Graced with resting bitch face, even when I’m not mad and I’m just thinking or stressing out over 10,000 things that need to be done, I have the appearance of intensity or something less than bliss.

Anyway. No matter how many times we buy Krazy Glue, nobody ever knows where it is. Luckily, this particular week, the only known bottle of magical adhesive had been given to me a few days earlier and was safe in my custody. So safe, my co-worker couldn’t find it. When she told me what happened, she was as apologetic as if my fingers were broken instead of the mannequin’s.

The day after the incident, the arm, hand, and two detached fingers were laid across my desk. The recently acquired glue was nearby. I examined the manufactured limb. Hollowed out fingers. Hollowed out hand. Something like newspaper inside the opening where one finger snapped off. Inspiration struck.

 A clean napkin was on the shared desk I call home base, which I could tear and twist around a paper clip and insert into the hand and finger for reinforcement. I imagined the wire pin to be like real surgery on a real finger, which thankfully, I’ve never had.

The hardest part of the whole operation was finding a paper clip, because we use binder clips. I finally found one, cut off a piece, and wrapped it in a piece of the napkin. After checking the fit and trimming off some of the napkin, I separated the finger and hand a bit, brushed on some glue, and pressed them together for 30 seconds as noted in the directions, which yes, I do read. It worked, so I did it again to attach the second finger.

The hand, however, had lost three fingers, so feeling all Phryne Fisher from Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (my current Netflix obsession), I hunted for the third digit. It was on a sales fixture near the one where the temporarily one-armed mannequin resided.

There are times it pays to have been a broke-ass kid doing art projects on a deadline. In 20 minutes I developed a plan, found materials, located the missing finger, and restored all three fingers to the mannequin hand. It may not have needed the reinforcement of the pin and paper, but in my mind it helped.

The Dana Buchman secondary strikepoint mannequin now has three of the strongest fake fingers in the place. There are cracks along the break line, and someday, maybe I’ll have time to touch up the paint with one of the dozens of mannequin touch up kits in storage.

It was the first time I’d had a feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment at work in weeks. Possibly months, but I try not to dwell on it because it’s too depressing. Maybe I should go into business as a low-budget, traveling mannequin hand surgeon.

Sunday, January 31, 2016


The concept of “dressed” can fall into a broad range. Don’t believe me? Visit Walmart almost any time and you’ll see it all -- from threadbare pajamas to worn jeans and stained sweatshirts to fancy wedding guest attire and ball gowns. Check out People of Walmart ( for a real fashion show, although I bet many of the ensembles presented on the site were captured as people dashed in for snacks en route to a costume party.

I’ve known people who considered “dressed” to mean they had on one garment, say a pair of boxer shorts, making them not technically completely naked, and therefore “clothed.” Others I’ve known (my late grandmother comes to mind) wouldn’t consider themselves dressed unless donned head to toe in a coordinated, fully accessorized outfit and would never consider leaving the house in anything less.

My own concept of “dressed” falls into multiple niches, with very rational (to me, anyway) reasons to my potentially neurotic methodology.

In my former office life, work wardrobe items were subdivided into categories including but not limited to business portrait, client meeting, and all-day-in-the-office-while-clients-are-closed-for-holiday outfits. I didn’t want to be spotted in the office by a client looking like I thought it was clean out the garage day, and I generally tried to dress as if our biggest client would arrive at the office unannounced, which had, on occasion, really happened. For me, it was an image thing.

There are ensembles for “going out,” separated by level of casualness based on the target establishment, and different, fancier (often vintage) clothes for benefits and galas. I don’t like wearing conservative work clothes or plain pumps out to a club, so immediate after-work plans require attire be stepped up or down accordingly to match the plans. Or a quick dash home to change.

It probably sounds a little complicated. Maybe, but it works for me. And like I said, there are reasons. The whole office wardrobe thing was inspired by an early career mishap involving an ad campaign and critical bit of information that never trickled down to me, primarily that the three person IRA department of which I was a member would be featured in a newspaper ad.

The day of the photo shoot of which I was woefully uninformed, instead of my usual mostly-conservative banker suit, I arrived at work in a casual skirt, oversized sweater, and scarf. The art director arrived, declared my scarf made me look like a bank robber, and made me remove it, eliminating the element that tied the outfit together. Not a great fashion day for me. Worse, was the four month stretch where the three-quarter page ad featuring the three of us was plastered all over the paper, with me looking like a slouch.

Nowadays, a retail work environment has me moving between office, sales floor, and dusty stockroom all day long, with multiple trips up ladders. Current work clothing is a mind-numbing array of monotonous dust colored, androgynous khakis and neutral sweaters, peppered with the occasional pair of tweedy, dust camouflaging dress pants. It’s practical. It’s hideous. I avoid going anywhere directly from work and hope I don’t see anybody I know in the store. It’s a self-image thing.

If I’m sick and at home for any duration, it’s generally pajamas all day. If I’m sick and you show up at my house unannounced, I’m probably going to be pissed because, even if they are cute, I don’t care to entertain in my pajamas.

Again, there was a situation. It was during a stretch of unemployment, while married to a man who wanted a stay-at-home wife (which it turned out I wasn’t good at). It was one in the afternoon, and I lounged around in baggy red plaid flannel PJ bottoms and a red waffle-weave thermal top with no undergarments because these were, as the husband of the time called them, my “sleeping clothes.” I wasn’t going out and I didn’t expect anyone, so it seemed fine.

That was the day the president of the photography club of which I was treasurer stopped by on his lunch hour to deliver dues another member had given him. I nearly died of embarrassment when I made the mistake of answering the door. Not a proud fashion moment. It inspired the change in philosophy concerning “at home wear.”

Housebound with a cold, the concept of “dressed” is based on how awful I feel. One recent day, while in bed literally all day, was definitely a pajama day. Beside never feeling human again, my other big fear was that a friend would stop by with soup or something equally thoughtful and I’d die of mortification coming downstairs all pale and sickly, swathed in fleece PJs and the purple fluffy robe that makes me feel like Barney the dinosaur.

Another day with the same cold, still feeling lousy but somewhat less so, “dressed” meant changing from snowflake printed fleece pajama bottoms into solid black fleece athletic pants, which are essentially exactly the same, except I know that one came from the sleepwear department and the other from active wear. The cotton tee shirt knit pajama top was exchanged for a printed tee shirt knit “shirt,” topped with a fleece vee neck, and I was “dressed.” Sort of. I mean, I wouldn’t actually leave the house like this. That would require a change into “ohmigod, my luck I’ll run into someone I know, I better look like I at least tried” jeans, sweater, and makeup. And wouldn’t you know it, while I was the only one home, campaign workers came ringing the doorbell which I answered, dressed like a scrub in my fleece “outfit.”

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Sneak Attack

I fall pray to the sneak attack. I once had office coworkers who discovered I can be a little jumpy. They would approach my cubicle as silently as ninjas when I was thinking, writing, and/or had my earbuds installed blasting music. All they had to do was utter a word or make a sound and I would literally jump up from my seat. Sometimes it happened in the kitchen as I was engrossed in making a pot of coffee. It seemed like a game to them, but it was so easy it probably wasn’t even even fun for them once the novelty wore off.

Lately, it’s happened with customers. I’ll be walking through the store, focused on what I just discovered needs doing but can’t write on the notepad in my hand because for the fifth time that day I’ve mislaid my pen. As I’m rushing through the store, silently mouthing “Clearance signs, Brand X accessory rails, holiday tower crowns,” a customer appears in my path asking where the socks are located. Startled, I jump. Then they feel bad for startling me. I direct them to the appropriate sock area, already having forgotten what I was retrieving from the stockroom.

At least once a year, I succumb to the sneak attack of a cold, flu, or some other annoying and disgusting ailment. It usually happens out of the blue around a major holiday or scheduled vacation day. I don’t even have to know anybody who is ill. I’ll be minding my own business, busily working on the last workday before said holiday or day off, and suddenly receive an unwelcome visit by a runny nose, sneezing, and general feeling of crappiness. 

On a regular work day I could use some of the many hours of accumulated sick time to my credit. But I can’t exactly call into work and ask to switch my holiday or vacation day to a sick day.

This week, I had a two day work week, with Monday, Thursday, and Friday designated as paid time off. I didn’t even know I had PTO until the approach to Black Friday and the busiest time of the retail year with all hands on deck and no vacation requests.

Unlike the many office jobs of my past where vacation time was bestowed upon the weary worker after a full year of full-time servitude, apparently my PTO was granted when I was changed to full-time status in June. Maybe it’s the retail industry’s way of atoning for wages that are less than half what I used to earn. In any event, the PTO didn’t print on my pay stubs for six full months so I never knew I had it.

Come January and the last month of our fiscal year, my 60.67 hours of time off was scheduled. It resulted in glorious long weekends all month long and freed up weekdays for skiing, which was nice, but paid time off in the summer at the beach would have been even nicer. Live and learn.

So anyway. To recap: last workday of a two-day workweek on the cusp of a four day weekend. Sniffles, sneezing, chills, feeling like death on toast.

Arrived home from work two hours late (was trying to cram five days work into two), ate supper, visited my neighborhood location of America’s second largest pharmacy chain for over the counter cold medicines. And mixed nuts, because they were on sale. Drank fizzy vitamin drink. Cancelled ski plans for Thursday morning. Tucked into bed with two mutts and a book, and after barely a chapter, enjoyed a lovely shot of the “The nighttime, sniffling, sneezing, coughing, aching, fever, best sleep with a cold medicine.” Fell asleep, wedged between two snoring fur balls.

Ten hours later, I awoke to my paid day off and dragged myself out of bed to feed and let the dogs out. After returning to bed for several hours, I arose again to drink a fizzy vitamin drink and let the dogs out. Feeling as weak and limp as an overcooked noodle, it was a clumsy retreat back upstairs to bed. Several hours later, I tried the out of bed thing again, came perilously close to fainting, and bolted to the couch. After dining on scrambled eggs prepared by Mom, I encamped on the couch for two hours with a pillow and quilt, mindlessly staring at TV before returning to the bed which now felt more like a prison than a tranquil refuge.

On Friday, thirty-six hours after first taking to bed, I felt human again. Reborn and revived, I showered, dressed, and engaged in normal adult activities like drinking coffee and participating in conversations with other adults. I plowed through the 200-plus new emails accumulated since Tuesday evening. I resisted heading out to ski, because, after all, I’d been barely alive a day earlier, and why push it?

By early evening, emboldened by a feeling something akin to aliveness, I went out with a friend to a bar. And then to another bar with a band. And dancing. It wasn’t a late night, and I was home shortly after midnight and back in bed.

Saturday morning began with the usual activities of feeding the dogs, drinking coffee, reading the newspaper and Facebook newsfeed, and suddenly, I was sniffling again. And sneezing. And chilly, except where it felt like my face was on fire. It felt like Wednesday all over again, and it stunk, because now my Saturday was ruined. There would be no winter festival for me. No dinner with a friend. No anything fun because I felt awful again. Back to bed it was. Felled by another sneak attack.