"I hear and I forget; I see and I remember; I write and I understand." - Chinese proverb

Friday, October 19, 2012


Some time ago I blogged about a troubling phenomenon known to my nearest and dearest as  The Forty Degree Thing. I was heartened to read the comments and discover that lots of other people also get the 40-Degree Thing (well, I guess “lots” would be overstating it but that’s only because not that many people subscribe to my blog.  Enough, let’s just say.  There was one comment.)  We also, in our family, have “Bob Zuppe Things” affectionately named after my uncle who, among other misadventures, once had to move with his wife into a hotel because he had temporarily ruined the bathroom in their condo by trying to fix his own plumbing.  He also showed up on the wrong day for his colonoscopy.  Anything we do with the best of intentions seems more often than not to turn into a "Bob Zuppe Thing."  Well, now we have a new Thing: the “Mingle The Change Thing."  The "Mingle The Change Thing" was born last week.

Every so often, it becomes necessary for someone to retrieve something from one of the lower built-in cupboards in my mother’s sitting room.  A game of Yatzee, a hammered aluminum tureen that was one of my parents’ wedding presents in 1946, old political newspaper clippings, and a set of permanent rollers that belonged to my grandmother are among the many treasures that live there, but usually we’re looking for a photo. These are in the cupboard with the boxes of old schoolwork and report cards my mother never threw out.  We are talking from kindergarten (1957 for my brother, 1961 for me) on up to 12th grade.  This stuff is pretty good for some amusement and great for nostalgia, but there was one bothersome year – 5th grade I think – when it seemed like every assignment I did was marked with a big bold underlined “F.D.” in red ink.  With exclamation points.  Like this:


Translation: FOLLOW DIRECTIONS!!!  I, of course, always thought I HAD followed directions and could never figure out where I’d gone wrong.  Really, I knew I wasn’t STUPID so what did the other kids know that I didn’t?  How come they knew how to F.D.???

Well, if it’s spelled out really well for me I can follow directions just fine.  Especially geographical directions (I am also good at mazes).   There is no ambiguity with these kind of directions (except it is occasionally a guessing game when someone tells you "it's the third right after the fourth stoplight -- or no, the fourth light after the third right...I think).   It's the ones that require mind-reading I trip up on.  One specific thing comes to mind.  It took place in 1991.

“What did you THINK I was telling you?  What did you THINK?” my friend Gregg was bemoaning; we had been on a week-long jaunt to Canada after I’d read all the Anne of Green Gables books and took it in my head that I wanted to see L.M. Montgomery’s (the author’s) house in Prince Edward Island.  I had weaseled Gregg into going with me.   To earn travel money we held a month’s worth of weekend tag sales set up on my parents’ screen porch, which no longer had screens, though it did have a roof, so we didn’t have to pack all the stuff up every time and set it up again.  Though we should have, since it rained every week, and just drying stuff off and cleaning up the water took more time than that would have.  We had the oddest stuff (well, I guess most tag sales do).  Gregg, who had worked the window displays at G. Fox, would swoop in at the last minute and do “merchandising;” while my contribution (which I thought very clever) was a big bag of hotel shower caps one of my aunt’s friends had given her and a sign “Free Shower Cap With Every Purchase.”  (People made sure they got theirs too.)   

The most successful sales were made by my brother, who horned in and sold my uncle’s old car for $75 (and then refused to give the money back when the buyer couldn’t get it through inspection and my brother KNEW this) and Gregg’s old set of encyclopedias with one volume missing.  The girl who bought it seemed like she had a head on her shoulders, too…anyway, I think we made $110 total.  Since our plan was to camp rather than stay in a hotel, we figured we were probably safe; also, we were taking my Dodge Omni, a sub-compact so good on gas I’d give my right big toe to have one nowadays.

It was not a trip without turmoil here and there.  I got terribly seasick on the six-hour ferry trip from Bar Harbor, Maine to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia.  Seasick and sunburned.  After driving the entire length of Nova Scotia (pretty fast since it took us awhile to realize we were now in the land of metric mph) to catch a second ferry across the Northumberland Strait to P.E.I. we were queued in the line for the last ferry of the night, when it looked like they weren’t going to let us on.  I mouthed “Pleeeeease?” and made praying motions til two beefy guys in orange jumpsuits took pity on us and motioned us forward, literally picking up the car and moving it with me in it when they didn’t quite like Gregg’s parking job.  And Gregg had carped so much about having to “drive, drive, drive on my vacation,” despite the fact that it was my car and I assured him I would gladly take over, that I had to lie and say “I’m sorry” when I was no such thing and I really wanted to shove the keys up his ass.

P.E.I. was beautiful, though, with its red cliffs and dazzling views of the water, sweet looking black and white cows and freshness in the air.  The camp site was cheap -- $12 a night, I think -- but buggy.  The tent, which I'd just bought but hadn't used yet, was a cinch to set up but unfortunately not long enough for either of us, so we had a choice of sleeping like pretzels or sticking our feet out the front flap.  We chose the latter, and yes, of course it rained.  But I did get to L.M. Montgomery's, clotted with other tourists as it was.

The ride home was calm and warm, listening to Chris De Burgh on Canadian stations and chasing glimpses of the Northern Lights.  We stopped again in Yarmouth and found a funky motel for the night, then hit the road running the next day.

The last toll booth before Connecticut was looming ahead and if we had two dollars between us it would have been a miracle.  Very frequently, when I travel, I arrive home broke as hell.  Flying by the seat of my pants, as it were.  (See "Houston, We Have A Problem" for a very good example.)  This was no exception.  "I'll tell you what we're going to do," Gregg said; "Separate all the Canadian money from the American money.  The coins."  In the dark of a car traveling 70 mph down the turnpike, I picked out "Loonies" -- Canadian quarters, so named because of their imprint of loons -- from the familiar George Washington quarters, John F. Kennedy dimes and who is it, Jefferson? nickels.

"And now mingle it," said Gregg.  Ohhhhh-kay.  I tossed the coins all back together into one pile on my lap.  "Wait wait wait wait ---" Gregg was saying.  "Don't throw it all back together!!"  "But you said MINGLE it," I protested.  "Yes," he said, "mingle the Canadian and American money together, enough for the toll.  I wanna get rid of the Canadian coins."  I thought for a minute.  "Why?" I asked, "they take Canadian money in America."  Gregg made a noise that sounded like he was in pain.  "NOT THE POINT," he said.  "I don't know why you can't just follow directions!  What did you THINK I was telling you??!!"

Fortunately we did get through the toll booth okay and sped toward home, stopping once in Worcester, Massachusetts at a deserted phone booth so I could call my father.   He had been taking care of Gregg's cats and I wanted to tell him to leave Gregg's key in the mail box because it was sure to be the middle of the night when we rolled into Connecticut.  Gregg kept the car running and yelled "Hurry up, this is the kind of place where people get murdered!!"  Anyway, we made it.

So the other day my neighbor Bonnie -- my very close neighbor, it's a two-family house -- called me in mid-afternoon and asked me to do her a favor.   Her husband Bill was working late and she wasn't sure what time she would get home, so could I go put her chicken in the oven at 325 degrees, or else they wouldn't eat until 9:00 P.M.  The chicken was in a big red casserole dish in her fridge, all ready to cook.  Naturally, a chicken dinner for me was in the deal.  I said "Of course, Bonnie," and let myself into her kitchen.  Sure enough, there was the chicken.  The casserole dish was very heavy, but I managed to carry it through the two doors and stuck it in my oven as directed.  Then I lay down on my bed to watch "Judge Judy" and wait for the crew next door to arrive.  The house smelled wonderful of whatever buttery herb concoction the chicken was sitting in, and I couldn't wait to eat it.

An hour or two later there was a knock on my door; there stood Bonnie wearing two large oven mitts. "You put it in YOUR oven?" she asked in an incredulous voice.  And before she even got the words out I understood.  She had not spelled it out precisely; "put it in THE oven," she had said.   It had simply seemed logical to put it in mine.  Bonnie carried the dish back to put in her own oven to finish cooking, bringing me a plate of delicious chicken and fixin's a little while later as promised.  Was I embarrassed?  Was I defensive?  No, not really.  I hadn't done the right thing BUT I hadn't exactly done the wrong thing either.

So I called Gregg and informed him that I had done a "Mingle The Change" thing.  I knew he would appreciate it, and he did.  He was not in the least surprised by it though.  In my mind's eye as I was relaying the incident all I could envision were huge letters:


The thing is, directions are often more trouble than they're worth.  Take the ones that come with your new gas grill or crib, for instance.  You know that no one fluent in the English language proofreads these.  You know you will have more "Screw A"s than you apparently need while you'll be sadly lacking in "Bolt C"s and you're going to have to improvise and hope the thing stays together. At least that's what happens to ME.   Really, need I say more???

P.S. Yes I do.  Need to say more.  Awhile back I had a morning doctor's appointment in a town about 20 miles away.  Coincidentally my friend Holly had an afternoon appointment in the same town.  I said "Why don't you come with me, we'll go for a bite of lunch in-between appointments?"  Sounded good to her, so off we went.  She patiently sat through my appointment.  After lunch I asked her where her appointment was.  She took out the card and gave me the address.

It sounded very unfamiliar, so I started cruising the streets near the hospital.  Nothing.  I kept turning around in bank parking lots and going over the territory again.  Holly started getting nervous and watching the clock on the dashboard.  "I know it's right NEAR here," she said.  FINALLY out of the corner of my eye I saw a small blue sign with the right number on it.  We pulled up.  "There's no parking lot here," I said, "I'm just gonna park next door [it was a lawyer or accountant or something's office] because we haven't got time to spare."  And then as we approached the building something about it looked familiar.

You guessed it.  Same building I'd had MY appointment in a couple of hours previously.  Only thing was we were  in the front this time, and I had previously parked in the back. where I'm used to parking.

"You fools," said my friend Edi when I told her the story.  I couldn't very well argue. 

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