Category Archives: winter woes

Polar Bears.

[*formerly entitled: The Tail of Winter.]
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Boscov’s had chocolate.
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Upstairs, above the endless racks of merch ( likely special purchases from the south that didn’t sell ) three whole glass cases of it, at least a third of which: gluten free. I’d been craving since 3:30 pm, and this was the tail of winter, the flagellate, whipping us into a frenzy on the final frigid night of the year.
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Parking lot nearly empty, normally packed to the gills during the day and across the weekend, it was Thursday night, the cusp, and see above. I’d fought the craving for over four hours. At 8:02, time enough to get there before closing, the flush of rationale; hustling into the store with one other straggly woman, braving the ascending escalator, straight ahead I saw them: not confections — end of season sheet sets. My having just ordered a dog print flat and pillow shams from catalog for a resounding 93 bucks, these fleece for 19.99 tempted redemption. Grabbing a King of pale blue polar bears, I rounded the corner of packaged displays to the candy counter.
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She was stooped over the open rear of the fudge case, sweeping crumbs into a tray, when I called out. A short, ponytailed woman with a Latino accent and what would be a penchant for calling me “honey”, she had a cold.
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This, of course, was God. This was his reprimand for my weak, sniveling sin of the flesh. He would let me have the desires of my heart, but send leanness to my soul. I would eat a bag of chocolate, but be exposed to a virus likely potent enough to cause pneumonia and a reactivation of the chicken pox. I would get shingles, followed by post-herpetic neuralgia, and be in excruciating pain for the rest of my life.
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In reality, selecting thirteen pieces with sugar and two without, I’d pay for everything, take the elevator down to the first floor because of descending escalator PTSD and head home in the solitary dark.
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The cold. The God forsaken dripping nose. The two sugar free were packed in their own box; I could tear open the end, where she didn’t touch, and pull one almond bark out for the car.
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So as not to break the last, number six stainless wire of orthodontia, I went for the first bite with two molars, rear left. Coasting down Peach Street, I thought of every diabetic I’d ever known and how relatively grateful they’d be to be eating something shaped right that sort of felt recognizable under the teeth. Like some chocolate with your carnauba wax? Anyone?
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But, the total price was gnawing. $34. 95? for a box of chocolate? Not even Suzanne Somers charged that much for her cancer-safe creations.
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She’d said, albeit nasally, that the sugar free was 19.95, honey, and the regular 17.95. I’d always let mum do the math. And, money was no object to addiction. But, mum was gone now, for almost twenty years, leaving me quite adrift when it came to tallying up indulgences, let alone the flat out mortal variety.
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Pulling up to the curb, I crawled out, locking the driver door, and headed in. Dispensing with the bag would prevent transmission of the virus to the edibles within. Reaching the kitchen sink, I grabbed a plastic container and poured the bag’s contents into it. Even under the LED track lighting, this stuff was the shit; dry, faded, even the white peppermint bark lacking luster, I stared at thirty four dollars of specialty confection and felt nauseous. The girl who’d called me honey had ripped me off. At this price, there should have been twice as much candy.
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After one phone call to the Boscov’s operator and the courtesy desk, I was already out the door. I-79 was a bleak vista at this hour, but a straight shot back to the mall. I’d find a manager. No; I’d confront her, quietly. No; I’d get the courtesy desk, which “didn’t know anything about the candy, let me put you through to can —” No; I’d say nothing – just dump it out, onto the counter.
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Maybe the caffeine, theobromine, maltitol had created a synergy. Maybe the dark highway, and me alone on it. But, I began to follow a different train, one which took me deeply into the psyche of the candy woman. She had a family, at least some children. She made minimum wage, working the candy counter. She was a first generation immigrant,  and she was sick.
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Just ahead of the parking spot closest to the Boscov’s entrance, I’d resolved my intention; I would speak confidentially, my voice hushed. We’d be the only two who knew what had been done, and I’d tell no one else. She needed to feed her family. And, she could have the chocolate. The receipt had indicated 9.95 for two “seasonal” candy purchases; she’d falsely categorized my purchase, too. There was the 19.99, and a grand total of 34…….my lungs filled with the purest air, swelling my chest with a powerful self righteousness that could have been true goodness on a better day.
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Then, I spied them. Sitting on the front seat. The pale blue polar bears, dancing across their fleece sheets inside the plastic see through case with the PAID sticker on it. And, mum, faintly, speaking from the world beyond, calculating out loud again, rising vocal inflections reaching the slightly hysterical, and me, seated again at the corner of the kitchen table against the wall, feet over the heat vent as she “helped” me with my math word problems. Now, listen to me!!! Nine ninety five plus nineteen ninety nine for the seasonal sheet set equals: $34.95 !!!
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My foot was still on the brake pedal.
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Turning the key in the ignition, I thanked my own for saving me, as by fire, from public humiliation and full on, single mother first generation immigrant retaliation. Every scenario ever devised by my oppressively overactive imagination converged, in a flood of expulsion. Thrust back into the present, I flew down Interchange Road to the interstate, stuffing chocolate absolution into my gullet like a starving Biafran.
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The candy was disgusting.
I’d been whipped by addiction, for the last time.
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Boscov’s had nothing on epiphany.
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© 3/7/19 Ruth Ann Scanzillo.

Full Service!

 

Crossing traffic was difficult to impossible just beyond the I-90 Interchange on 97. Yet, though Country Fair’s prices were consistently 5c below the average at this juncture, the Kwik Fill directly across was prepared to compete – and, the sign said Full Service. Since my windshield wash hadn’t been spewing any fluid since the inspection, and I was heading north, this was a no brainer; Kwik Fill would get my business.

I pulled up next to the open pump. The service representative, bundled in jacket over hooded sweatshirt, was pumping gas for a vehicle on the opposite side, but tapped on my passenger side window. When I rolled it down, he asked me what gas grade I wanted. I told him I would also like him to check my windshield washer receptacle, as it may be blocked or leaking. He walked away, to complete the sale on the other side, and then returned, asking again if I wanted to fill the tank. I said yes, and popped the hood, feeling the pump nozzle enter my car’s gas receptacle.

By now, he had come around to the front of the car. Again, I declared that I wished to have the wash receptacle checked for leaks. He called out: “I can’t tell if there is fluid in the bottle. All I can see is the top of the bottle – it’s an entire bottle!” He seemed impatient.

I asked if the spouts might be blocked. He said that this was possible. And, he disappeared again – to serve another customer.

I looked back at the pump. The hose was draped across to my car, the nozzle inserted into my gas tank – but, the pump read 00.00

He came around again, to my passenger window, and asked if I’d like him to pour some fluid into the receptacle bottle, to test its contents. Good idea, I thought; I agreed.

While I watched him walk back to get what I thought would be a small amount of windshield wash, I saw him step across the draped pump hose. Calling out, I said: “Why does the pump read 00.00?!”  He looked at it. “Oh!” he said. And, stepping to the pump, he engaged the gasoline stream.

Then, he walked up to the open hood and poured fluid into the receptacle bottle. Three seconds later, a man in a truck being serviced called out: “It’s full!”

When I asked why the wash wasn’t reaching the windshield nozzles, he said it might be the motor. “Motor?!” I said, incredulous. Then, he said, “You’ll have to ask a service station. I’m not a mechanic!”

Walking past the passenger side of my car, he shoved a large, nearly full bottle of blue washer fluid through the window, and said briskly: ” Three seventeen, 2019 prices”. Then, he pulled it back out of the window, and disappeared.

I was momentarily confused. Was he telling me the grade of the fluid, like one would confirm lubricating oil? I stared straight ahead, blinking my eyes rapidly.

When the tank was filled, I handed him my debit card, declaring “Credit, please”. Again, he said: “3.17, for the wash”.

The bottle. The entire bottle. He was charging me for the whole bottle of washer fluid!

I said: “You’re charging me for the whole bottle?!” He said: “I have to! You said you wanted me to test the receptacle!”  I said: “You never told me you would charge me for an entire bottle to do that. I would not have done this to you.”

Again, I stared. Through my soiled windshield.

He came back with my debit card, and the receipt for the gas, and as he set the bottle on the seat I handed him my credit card. He said: “You’ll have to come in [to the store] for this; I can’t sell you a product out here, because you have to sign for it.”

Getting out of the car, I moved deliberately. The sun was bright. The air was crisp, slightly warmer than it had been for much of the winter. Following him toward the store cubicle, I took my good old time. Walking with a slight strut, head high, I felt emboldened by every woman who had ever walked the earth.

Entering the cubicle, I submitted my card for payment. Another customer stepped in, behind him. When the transaction was complete, I stopped.

“Sir, this is a Full Service station. I expected that you would take a small amount of the fluid used to squeegee windshields to test my receptacle.  Why didn’t you squeegee my windshield?”

His eyes were a piercing blue, deeply set. Round face, bulbous features. His speech was rapid, aggressive.

“Ma’am, do you see how many cars going in and out of here? I’m alone here. I’m doing the best I can!”

“I’m sure you are. But, this being a Full Service station, you should have cleaned my windshield. Instead, you billed me for an entire bottle of windshield washer fluid. ” And, backing out toward the exit: “Sir, I worked in the service industry for five years, and I would never have done to you what you did to me, today.”

I was out the door. Heading back to my car, I looked at the woman stopped behind mine, and shook my head in warning toward her. Just a small service provided to my ilk, a woman in a world of men out to make a buck.

There is an 800 number on the Kwik Fill receipt. Just above it, the following question appears:

“How Are We Doing?”

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© 3/1/19   Ruth Ann Scanzillo.

littlebarefeetblog.com

 

 

 

 

 

How To Grieve During The Holidays — and, Keep Your Sense of Humor.

R.A.UglySadFace

I used to have a wicked sense of humor.

Meaning: at school, R.A. was the funniest girl in class.

Of course, this was in that archaic phase of history formerly known as “junior high”. And, maybe the cusp of sophomore year. But, details don’t matter. Once life kicked into high gear, the end began.

Yes. Somewhere between the first side impact car accident and the onset of the migraines, something started to chip away at the old edge of wit. Perhaps the newest pain medication, intended to act on serotonin receptors. Whatever. Once I got to college, a secular state university, all my energy was required just to function semi socially and remain a virgin. Well, technically, anyway. While still a sitting infant I’d plopped down, on top of a phallus sized, lead painted steel truck from my elder brother’s collection, and broken my hymen.

But, yeah. Directly proportionate to the degree of accepted responsibilities, any vestige of humor pretty much konked out, was a burgeoning skill as a tedious bore. Add to that a vocal cord surgery, in ’98. Losing my hallmark guffaw was the icing on that cake; I was the most profoundly unfunny person in the world, and couldn’t even laugh about it.

By way of outcome, or perhaps some damage to the central amygdala, across the multiple decades hence there emerged one topic about which I could speak as a veritable Rhodes scholar: grief.

It’s true. If any girl knew anything about sobbing her way through a workshop on teaching the gifted, it was I. Even attending a lecture presented for local women and hearing Nelson Mandela’s absolution on letting your light shine, I cried like a blubbering baby.  As for the dark of pre-menstrual night, and that old familiar fetal position, there would be me, screaming into the pillow like nobody’s mama.

Interestingly, grief being directly the result of loss, I seemed to have cornered the market on losing loved ones. Whether grandparents, parents, relatives, or significant others, I had spent more on funeral arrangements in the course of the gift giving budget than anything else. Add to that far too many failed attempts at intimate relationship and you had Doctor Ruth, minus the short legs and the cheery grin.

Now, as self appointed spokeswoman for the wisdom of aging, I come to you on the better side of post menopause with a seasoned appreciation for synthesis. Perhaps the out of pocket orthodontia to cure tempo-mandibular joint dysfunction gets the prize, because the migraines have significantly ceased and, with them, the need for brain chemistry altering medication. If there is anything to be gleaned from it all I now offer the following: grieving — with a sense of humor.

Herewith a list of tips. (And, no. Mind altering substance ingestion is not required.)

1.) CATASTROPHE.

As we all know, the state of the planet and the world upon it hanging on for dear life, we don’t have to look very far to find the latest disaster during the holidays. In fact, sudden horrific events seem to emerge out of nowhere just as the malls open for business. And, even if we’ve had to say goodbye to the one person we were sure would be holding our hand when we croaked, there is nothing quite like a tsunami on the Pacific rim to jolt us back into relative reality.

I recommend finding the channel which covers the latest world news, and scrolling til we find something geographic. There is a surreal comfort in gaping at massive destruction, particularly if we find ourselves a.) reasonably clothed; b.) sufficiently nourished, and c.) able to adjust the internal temperature of the room to our liking. Allowing ourselves to sit quietly and attune, as the warm surge of relief that none of what we are witnessing is actually happening in any remote proximity, can resemble momentary bliss. It can also gently nudge our better angels to remind us that we could count our blessings.

2.) CHARITY.

Speaking of taking a tally, even if we retired way too early to collect enough to pull us out of a declining demographic, sending twenty bucks to help victimized children does wonders for the dopamine. Contributing to these, as well as those who manage to survive catastrophe, is the most guilt free (and, grief releasing) pleasure on earth. We can do so joyfully, with absolutely no concern for subliminal self righteousness, which can lead to self loathing which, in turn, can frequently cause us to dial a friend and vent. Venting on friends, during the holidays, is the perfect way to get crossed off the last party list that held out hope for the most wretched among us.

But, be cautious; if we do send money, be sure that we have decided with certainty that we hate holiday parties. Sometimes the cascade of cause and effect is too powerful to quell and actually accepting that the phone won’t chime an invitation, at all, must be adequately addressed and confronted with a mature resignation.

3.) GORGING.

Everybody drowns their sorrows in consumables. I suspect that appetite is triggered by a gaping sense of loss.

That said, congratulating ourselves for being sufficiently devastated, we can set about the table before us with any number of syrupy, savory, and textured delectables knowing that – now that we are utterly alone in the world – we don’t have to share them with anybody.

However, keeping various protein sources at arm’s reach is strongly suggested. Every twenty minutes, as the eyelids begin to flutter, stuffing a block of cheese into the face will cut that glycemic rise, effectively preventing ten minutes of sudden coma. During grief, every ten minutes missed is ten minutes lost. And, we all know that the objective is to indulge, for as long as we can remain coherent and capable of sudden wailing and gnashing of teeth. Keeping a glucose monitor handy is also prudent.

4.) PUBLIC DISPLAYS.

Five days ago, I had to endure the excruciating extraction of my entire self from an environment into which I had voluntarily placed myself for twenty months. Granted, the psychic abuse of living in suspended disbelief, instead of squarely facing that hope for a future of committed mutual trust was likely a serious joke, had been preferable for a remarkably protracted period of time. Denial is the pablum of the pathetic.

Since then, to my personal chagrin, I have dissolved into tears in two, distinct Post Office service lines. Completely uncontrollable sniffling and face wiping, with the back of a fading red glove. And, this year, I cannot even blame a single hormone for the rush; all mine are externally introduced, on call or in the stickered ziploc.

The woman with the most empathic reaction actually allowed me back into my queue, after a failed attempt to help another customer carry her packaged burden to her car. The man in the next line who spoke the most encouraging words to me was none other than the service department manager at the car dealership where I’d purchased my Pontiac, with the lemon engine, whose six or seven gaskets had been replaced and for which I had successfully sued GM for five grand.

No. We truly cannot make these things up. Reality really is stranger than fiction. For this cause, I highly recommend that the grieving take it to the streets. Cry, out loud, whenever and wherever we go. Displaying raw, authentic emotion will spur the most outrageous outpouring of human altruism most never knew they possessed, including being reminded that crying is good because it detoxifies the body. A room full of weeping people could ensue. This would provoke entire gaggles of clasping hugs, grinding all commerce to a dead halt and shutting down the economy. Cars would remain parked, people choosing to walk, arm in arm, forsaking their petty materialisms and inviting one another in for a hot meal and some group singing around the piano, revolutionizing society for an entire generation.

So, throw back your head. Squeeze your wet eyelids til they squint out the last tear. Tomorrow will never come. Instead, you will wake up from your sleep, when your body is finally done resting, and your today will be waiting right where you left off.

Isn’t it funny how that works?

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© 11/27/18  Ruth Ann Scanzillo. Thank you for respecting the author, whose story it is and whose name appears above this line.  Try not to laugh.

littlebarefeetblog.com