Sunday, December 18, 2011

Keep it to yourself, sonny boy

My office-away-from-home is the Paradise Bakery and Cafe at Hamilton Town Center on the Noblesville/Fishers border. I can be found there several days a week, hopefully at that one four-top table with the handy plug in for my laptop, surrounded by various sorts of Shakespeare stuff -- currently Othello, Much Ado About Nothing and King Lear, but also a with a copy of Beowulf and another of The Canterbury Tales and sometimes I wonder if it wouldn't have been easier, when all was said and done, to have become a fortune-teller or a traveling hobo, both of which are occupations that strike me as being less likely to drown one in a sudden avalanche of books -- and lapping up a cup of coffee. So I'm sort of a regular and I see the same people there all the time, which isn't that surprising when it comes to the counter staff, but maybe a bit more so when it comes to the clientele, who are obviously people using the restaurant with its cozy and cheerful atmosphere as their own offices.

The two people who man the bakery counter where I order my sesame bagel are a couple of guys in their twenties who are always very polite and friendly and say, "Hi, nice to see you! How are you today?" Only the other day, one of them, the one with the glasses, made a misstep that embarrassed all three of us and reminded me of the many times when I have had to get the tire iron out of the trunk of my van to pry my foot out of my mouth.

Through the doors the other day, laden down with my giant purse, the laptop bag and a satchel full of books, happy to see that I was the only person in line, since I felt very certain that my shoulder was about to be dislocated. I staggered to the glass counter and set down the satchel at my feet with an "Ooof!" and looked up to find both men smiling at me in their how-can-I-help-you sort of way.

"Well, hello, young lady," the one with the glasses said jovially. "Sesame bagel? Cup of coffee?"

For some reason, his greeting took me aback and made me goggle at him slightly. Which I'm sure led to an attractive facial expression. It's just that I decided right then that there are times when someone my age can be addressed as "young lady," and those times, specifically, are times when I'm being spoken to by an elderly person. Because to them, I am a young lady.

But being addressed as "young lady" by a guy who obviously just graduated from high school - or more to the point, graduated from a bottle to a sippy cup -- within the past couple of years, well. It seemed cheeky and condescending, as if he was actually saying, "I am acknowledging the fact that you are two weeks older than dirt, but trying to assure you, through the medium of humor, that you look every day of your advanced years, plus a decade." And for me to reply, "I'd like a sesame bagel and a medium coffee, old gaffer," didn't have quite the same zing to it. Since, you know, Cary Grant.

It was awkward. I didn't really want it to be awkward because I don't think the young man was intentionally trying to be boorish in his behavior. But, you know, awkward nonetheless. The other guy sprang into action at the register, rang in my order and gave me my total; I handed over my debit card. The bold one with the glasses cleared his throat nervously and grabbed my bagel from the display case, turning his back to slice it and send it through the toaster. His very back seemed to be saying WhydidIsaythatWhydidIsaythatWHYDIDISAYTHAT?

"Would it help," the other young man whispered, returning my debit card to me, "if I told you that he's on a work release program from an institution for the socially inept?"

I laughed good-naturedly. "I'm sorry, I can't hear you. Because I am very, very old."

But Young Glasses wasn't done yet. "Can I carry your bags to a table for you?" he gabbled, turning around with a tray holding my toasted bagel and a mug.

I fixed him with a look, only slightly truculent. "Are you asking because you make a habit of helping ladies to their tables, or is this more a matter of you assisting the feeble octogenarians who come through the door?"

Then we all had a good chuckle and he manfully shouldered my laptop bag and satchel - I carried my purse and the tray with my bagel and coffee cup - and when he set everything down at the table I indicated, I resisted the urge to pinch his cheek and say, "Aren't you just the sweetest boy? I bet your mommy is very proud of you!"

Sunday, December 4, 2011

RED ALERT! (How to make your house presentable for unexpected guests)

My high-school friend Cathy had a very clever mother. Mrs. Watt designed a system for doing an inst-tidy on the house in the event of unexpected guests that she called the "red alert." If Mrs. Watt hung up the telephone right after saying, "Oh, it will just be so lovely to see all of you!" depending on the state of the household at that moment, her next words, addressed to the family were "RED ALERT!"

This was the signal for everyone to hastily drop whatever they were doing and go to whatever station in the house had been assigned to them and start cleaning like they'd just heard that Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and the Pope were coming over to discuss the defeat on communism. (Yes, this was the 1980s.) I don't remember specifically what Mrs. Watt had everyone do, but I was reminded of the red alert when I was reading a magazine article titled "How to Get Your House Ready for Guests." I won't name the magazine because I generally like it very much, but this particular article was just all kinds of bogus.

First of all, the piece laid out plans for what to do if you had two hours to prepare, one half-hour to prepare and fifteen minutes to prepare and one of the suggestion for the half-hour scenario was "Wipe down the kitchen cabinets."

Huh? So I should wipe down the kitchen cabinets to impress my guests, but ignore the skillet with cooked-on scrambled eggs soaking in the sink? If unexpected guests are coming over to my place and I've got a bare thirty minutes to prepare for their arrival, wiping down the fronts of my cabinets is about the last thing on my list, coming right before "Wax the mailbox" and "Paint the house."

There were a few other boneheaded instructions, one of them being "Change the sheets on the guest room bed." Now, listen to me. I've been keeping house since I was twenty-two years old, for five years as a single lady and twenty as a wife, and never once in all that time have I had an unanticipated overnight guest. I don't know: maybe word has gotten around about the comfort level of the mattress on that bed. But anyway, of all the overnight guests we've had, I knew about them enough in advance to change the sheets well before the two-hours-til-arrival stage. I might not wipe down the fronts of my kitchen cabinets more than a couple times a year, but I know what's what when it comes to having a freshly-sheeted bed ready for guests, and I bet you do too.

So I made my own list. Here it is:


If your house has that lived-in look ours invariably gets -- magazines and newspapers and books flung higgledy-piggledy on every available horizontal surface, a few dishes in the sink, crumbs on the counter, offensive globs of toothpaste clinging to the interior surface of the bathroom sinks, a light layer of dust, an empty toilet paper spindle on the holder -- here's my advice in one simple step:

1. Go to the shed out back and retrieve the can of gasoline you have stashed there - you can tell the fire chief later that it was meant for the lawn mower -- and after all family members and pets are safely out of your home, douse the downstairs in gas and set the place ablaze. When your inconsiderate guests arrive, they'll find you weeping and wringing your hands on the sidewalk in front of your residence, and be forced to take you to the Olive Garden for a sympathy meal. Because we all know that, unless your family consists of fourteen Navy Seals, there's no way the place is going to be presentable to guests who have the temerity to give you only fifteen minutes' notice of their arrival.

You can sort everything out with your insurance agent later, at a time when you're expecting no company.


1. Grab a laundry basket and tear through the house, picking up clutter and tossing it in. Don't forget your desk. Put the laundry basket in the laundry room and SHUT THE DOOR FIRMLY. Put a gun in the waistband of your pants at the small of your back so that you can sweetly threaten to shoot any non-immediate family member who tries to go in there. Dead guests tell no tales.

Dirty dishes in the sink? My advice is to obtain RIGHT NOW one of those Rubbermaid plastic dishpans. Use it to stack dirty dishes in. Carry it to the laundry room, put it on the washer or wherever. If you want to, cover it up with a dish towel. Shut the laundry room door.

2. Grab the duster - I have ones made of that lamb fluff because I think they work the best - and give it a spritz with Endust, which is a miracle product equaled only by the Swiffer line of housekeeping products. At a brisk pace, go through the downstairs and run that duster over all tables, the fireplace mantel, the piano, the bookshelves.

3. Light some scented candles. Because that's what they're for, after all: to remove your funky family smell. Did you think they were designed to create a homey ambiance in your home? Well, that too, but trust me: Yankee can cover up a multitude of stinkiness.

4. Fluff up the sofa cushions and throw pillows. Either neatly re-fold any sloppy-looking throw blankets or take them back to the laundry room and dump them in the basket.

5. Go to the classical music channel on your cable and turn on something erudite yet soothing. It will make you seem cultured and unflappable. Who would ever dream that the same woman who has Mozart or Debussy playing ebulliently through the speakers is the same woman who, mere moments before, was galloping around her house shrieking, "PICK UP THOSE SHOES RIGHT NOW OR YOU ARE DEAD!"

6. Go to the guest bathroom. Put out a fresh hand towel. Empty the wastebasket. Get that container of disinfectant wipes out and wipe down the toilet and the sink. Get out a Windex wipe and go over the mirror, any under-glass artwork on the walls and the faucets. The back of the toilet tank is a dust-magnet: wipe it down too. Note that when you have to do something fast, those containers of wipes are a fabulous thing to have on hand. Got a nice candle for the bathroom? Light it.

7. If you can manage it, run the vacuum in the living room and entry way if you have carpet. If you have "hardwoods," as the House Hunters so often say, get out your Swiffer dust mop, attach one of those cling-sheet thingies to it and go over the floors fast.

8. Don't forget yourself. Take a look at your hair, your top, the state of your makeup. Do whatever you can do as quickly as you can do it.

9. Because it bears repeating: DO NOT LET ANYONE IN THE LAUNDRY ROOM.

Naturally, all this will go faster if you have family members to pitch in and help, but I have proved that these things can be accomplished by one woman in one half hour, and I even managed to look moderately sane when the doorbell rang.


1. Do everything on the above list, except at a slightly slower pace.

2. If you haven't made your bed, go make it. Unless your bedroom is upstairs, in which case, keep everyone on the first floor.

3. Here's a new thing I just learned: Keep some of these cute little hors d'oeuvres from Nancy's on hand in the freezer. They are delish and so easy: Just pop them on a baking sheet and put them in the oven. I try to have a couple of bottles of white wine available ( always Barefoot, always chardonnay or Moscato ) for my drinking friends and some two-liter bottles of Sprite and Sprite Zero for the teetotalers. That always seems a little classier than plunking a can of Coke down on a coaster beside a visitor. You will look like some kind of Martha Stewart whiz-kid, and it won't be any trouble at all.

4. Still don't let anyone in that laundry room. Keep that gun ready.

Why I have a splitting headache

I woke up in the middle of the night last night and couldn't go back to sleep because that's just what I do, and a maddening thing it is. Getting up in the small hours does afford me the opportunity to see some really quality television programming -- who doesn't enjoy a gripping infomercial touting the many benefits of wearing that new permutation (emphasis on the mutation) of the Snuggie, the Forever Lazy. The primo advantage of wearing the Forever Lazy, a garment which appears to have been manufactured by Satan's minions in the lower realms of hell, is that it features a drop seat. To, you know, allow you to stay warm and cozy and un-pee-soaked. This attribute is spoken of in glowing terms in that commercial I linked to above. Lucky us!

That commercial itself is freakish and awkward and only funny if you can quickly put yourself in an ironic frame of mind. The most awful scene, in my jaded view, is the one where the three couples are having a tailgate party, drinking beers and passing around the snacks, every last one of them attired in the Forever Lazy. I just have to say right here that if my husband ever made a triumphant appearance from the front seat of our van dressed in one of first question wouldn't be "Who's lookin' awesome?" but "I wonder if the Forever Lazy is flame retardant?" But not to worry. My husband wouldn't wear one of those things, even if it came in the combined colors of Notre Dame, the Bengals and the Reds.

The second as-seen-on-TV item I saw wasn't clothing-related, thank the holy saints and angels, but instead a piece of jewelry. It is called the Titanic Coal Necklace, and the commercial made me goggle at the television screen in horror, all my irony leaking out of my toes and into my furry slippers.

"Commemorate the legacy of Titanic's tragic voyage with the 100th Anniversary Collector's Edition Necklace," the ad burbles. I sat there numbly thinking, Legacy? You mean the legacy of all those people drowning and/or freezing in the North Atlantic? The legacy where there weren't enough lifeboats, so the people in steerage were locked in to face their doom? Fun! I'd like four! Where's the phone number and my credit card!

So this necklace is apparently crafted out of actual coal retrieved from the murky ocean floor, encased in "ocean blue glass." "When you wear the 100th Anniversary Collection Necklace, you're preserving and commemorating the memory of Titanic." Scrumptious!

The fact that this necklace is made of that ocean-blue glass makes me very suspicious that the makers, the R.M.S. Titanic Inc. have been curled up in front of the television with some popcorn and a box of tissues, undoubtedly frocked out in their Forever Lazies, watching that execrable movie starring Leonardo di Caprio and Kate Winslet as the passionate and soggy lovers, instead of reading the real history of the ship. That movie featured a huge, heart-shaped sapphire and diamond necklace that Kate's abusive fiance was going to give her as a wedding gift and Jack, Leonardo's character, drew an erotic sketch of a saucy Rose (Winslet), reclining on a chaise and wearing nothing but that piece of jewelry, her Forever Lazy lying crumpled on the floor at Jack's feet. It was fiction. FICTION.

All this brings me to my weary question, my thought processes addled by lack of sleep: Why would anyone buy a Forever Lazy and would that person actually use that back flap? And why would anyone want to wear a necklace commemorating an underwater mausoleum?

These are the existential things I ask myself in the middle of the night, bringing on an ennui that can only be cured by breakfast at Bob Evans.