Thursday, February 25, 2010

C'mon Boy!

Everyone has a dog story.  Books have been written about them, they've been featured in movies since the early days of cinema.  Most of them make you cry.

But our Scout was just a dog.  He wasn't particularly good at anything--he had no talents to speak of.  But he was with us all the time.  We brought him home from the pound in Omaha when he was about 6 months old.  He was a cheerful puppy, didn't nip, jump, or bark at the four young kids when we were meeting him for the first time, and he had a large splotch of paint on his ear.  A good match for our family.

He camped with us, traveled with us, romped wildly in the deep Nebraska snow, chased tennis balls, ate the kids' socks, and made the move with us back East, a full member of the family.

After we left the Marriott Marquis Hotel that we'd been living in for several weeks in Manhattan, we moved across the river to The Embassy Suites in New Jersey and lived there for several more weeks.  This new facility offered a lot more elbow room for our family of six with Scout and Mittens the cat.  We all appreciated the spaciousness of the two room suite, and though he had finally adjusted to the glass elevators at the Marriott, Scout seemed happier to bound up and down the stairs at The Embassy Suites when the kids would take him outside for his walks.

Like most hotels that cater to the business crowd, The Embassy hosted several conferences during each day.  Some held in large banquet-type rooms, others in smaller empty rooms that were adjacent to guest suites.  Frequently, during our stay, we'd pass by a meeting room that was filled with an attentive audience listening to a speaker standing at a podium or seated with several others at a head table.

Every room on the four floors had a door that opened to a balcony type corridor that overlooked the main courtyard.  On one particular afternoon I stood waiting at our door for the kids to return with Scout from one of his outdoor runs.  I saw them all on the opposite side of the courtyard parading single-file down the hallway: Justin leading Scout on his leash Olivia bringing up the rear.  What a sweet picture they created.

Unfortunately, Scout's most recent efforts to relieve himself outside on the grass proved unsuccessful, and just as they all passed an on-going meeting of approximately 30 senior-citizen women he felt an urge and made the very recognizable squat directly in front of their open doorway.  All the kids came to an abrupt stop, paralyzed.

"NO!" I hollered from across the entire courtyard, and Justin pulled on Scout's leash.  Too late.  One tidy, dry, round turd had been evacuated.  The kids, then aged 5, 7, 9 and 11, looked over to me in embarrassed horror!  I yelled across, "Get him out of there! NOW!!!!"

Justin pulled the leash harder, but poor constipated Scout firmly held his tell-tale stance and released several more as he was being dragged out of view of the meeting room.  Like little chocolate Easter eggs he deposited one after another, scooting and shooting, straining and releasing until he was comfortable.  I popped back into our room, and snatched several paper towels and dashed down the hallway to quickly remove the trail of evidence.  Somehow, the entire scene was more interesting to old ladies than the topic of their meeting.  They watched it all unfold.  I'd be very curious to read the Secretary's report of the minutes from that meeting.

Eventually we found a home and settled down in New Jersey.  We found a home in a suburban neighbourhood with only a partially fenced  postage stamp yard so Scout had to be kept on a line when he spent time outside.  Our street was quiet and safe, but the main streets just a few blocks away were busy thoroughfares.  You can't be a pedestrian in New Jersey.

Sunday was Dunkin' Doughnut day.  Stephen and Scout would walk down our neighbourhood street cross two blocks over and get a variety box full and bring them home.  We'd spend a lazy morning over coffee and doughnuts and Scout would stay close often getting a bite, a munchkin', or if someone wasn't paying attention, he'd steal an entire doughnut.  He was a big fan of the honey-glazed.  It was a nice Sunday morning routine.

And then there was the day Scout was discovered missing.  Panic!  The back door was found open and he was no where around.  He was no genius when it came to navigating traffic, and we feared the worst if he'd found his way to the busy streets.

The kids spread throughout the neighbourhood and called, whistled.  We got in the car and drove around to search for him, with no results.  What a helpless feeling of dread.  We reassured the kids that he was a good, sweet dog and someone surely had taken him inside their home and would call the number on his tag.

And sure enough, not much later the phone rang.  It was a friendly employee at Dunkin' Donuts on that treacherous corner of traffic just two blocks away.  We were all well known there; and now Scout had found his way, alone.  In the ten years we lived in that house, there were many occasions when Scout was discovered missing; we knew just where to find him every time; he just had a hankering for the honey-glazed doughnut.

In our adventures close to home and far away, Scout was usually our companion.  When we replaced the 1964 Rambler with a brand new Dodge Grand Caravan, Scout had his spot in the rear and would readily hop in whenever the back was open.

On a Saturday, we'd all taken a day trip to the historic Canal System in New Jersey that had been made into a recreation and trail area.  It was a great picnic spot and a good way to let Scout off his leash and throw his ball.  He'd tirelessly run full out to fetch the tennis ball and bring it back.  One toss landed in the Canal, however, and floated in a large area of duckweed.  To Scout, this floating expanse of green appeared to be an extension of the grassy bank and he ran hard to retrieve his ball.  But he sank.  Fast.  In an instant, he was gone.

Now this dog had very little experience with water.  We stood watching, dumbstruck. And after a moment, I wondered if I was going to have to go in to find him and pull him out.  After another moment, we approached the edge of the water concerned.  Where was he?  Startlingly, up burst Scout in a frenzy of sputtering water, flying duck weed, legs flailing, ears flopping.  We all burst into laughter.  He was gasping, snorting, slapping at the surface with his paws and we called and coaxed him over to the bank.

He pulled himself up the steep bank tearing into the soil with his strong claws and working his hind legs to hoist himself up.  Stephen reached down to his collar and gave some assistance, and just as all sopping wet dogs do when they're on firm ground, he shook.  Water and the attached duck weed was sent in a shower all around, and there Scout stood, dripping, heaving and snorting, completely bewildered.  But he had his ball.

Even our pal, Paul, was fond of Scout.  Well, not his shedding fur, or his alarming reactions to motorcycles, but generally they got along.  During a visit, Paul joined Stephen and Scout for the Sunday doughnut run.  They made the familiar trip down the street and  passed a hearse and the accompanying black Lincoln Town Cars parked in front of the Catholic Church at the end of our street.

When the three made the return trip, with a full box of delicious baked goods, Scout's knack for inappropriate timing once again took hold, and he squatted.  This time, just as the church doors opened, and the pall bearers, mourners, and grieving widow emerged from the funeral services and descended the steps down to the sidewalk.  There stood Stephen and Paul, helpless, while Scout unloaded a soft, steaming, fragrant, pile.  Prepared with nothing else, the fellows tore off the top of the doughnut box and used it dust-pan style to remove the offense from the sidewalk so the funeral party could pass.  Scout did not get a honey-glazed that day.

We think we figured out his problem with motorcycles, but we can only piece it together.  When he was still a puppy, Stephen was sitting on the couch, drinking a beer from the bottle.  When Stephen got up and crossed the room, Scout quietly got up and skirted the room watching Stephen's every move.  Stephen called attention to it and pointed toward Scout with the bottle and said, "What's wrong with you?" and poor Scout cowered.  Whenever a beer bottle was in hand, Scout was wary.

Later when he reacted so fiercely to motorcycles (you may have read about it in a previous blog entry.) we put together the pieces of the troubled puppy life that he escaped.  We figure that his first owner was a gruff, sloppy painter who had a mean nine-year old girl with long blond hair (he reacted badly to them, too.).  The painter was a mean drunk and probably clobbered Scout a few times with a beer bottle.  When it was time to booze it up for the weekend, our angry painter would hop on his Harley, and bring home a few cases tormenting the poor dog.  It makes perfect sense.

As Scout got older he slowed, but kept his good-natured spirit through most experiences.  Andrew spent a summer living at The Gazebo, an octagonal cottage in rural New Brunswick Canada, putting on siding and building a cold-water kitchen. Scout kept him company.  The floor of the cottage was concrete slab that had been given a coating of linseed oil intended to be a sealant.  The concrete didn't absorb the oil, but instead rendered it adhesive-like and damp.  Every time Scout laid down on the floor, he would stick.  When he stood, again, he left behind a light carpeting of dog hair, in a well defined dog shaped pattern.  A good dog, he never complained.

Scout kept us company for nearly 15 years.  He was the best dog we ever knew.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Ramblin' on.

In a few days, I'm about to embark on a cross-country trip West for a few weeks with Kathryn to attend my nephew Allyn's wedding.  

As I prepare, it calls to mind other trips I've taken over the years- some reckless, some well-planned, others risky, most every one a good memory. An especially memorable one was our family move in the early 90's from Omaha to New York City.......

Begin jiggly memory swiggles as seen on television for comedic subjective recollections....

Cue Narrator as camera pans a suburban Midwestern street featuring neighbourhood children on shiny bicycles or kicking a bright red ball.  Capture summertime trees in full bloom--birds chirping.  Zoom in on smiling woman placing tidy square boxes, matching suitcases, and cat-carrier into a gleaming white vintage sedan, while four young children file into the vehicle followed by romping yellow-Labrador dog.

Aside from the obvious stresses that moving creates from uprooting and starting fresh, I always enjoyed the adventure-- both as a kid and as an adult.  When I was growing up, my family moved seven times and I attended 7 different schools, including two high-schools.  In our adult lives, Stephen and I moved a few times as jobs changed and his education and career changed course.  When he got out of the Air Force in the 80's we had a home and were well settled assuming we'd remain in Omaha indefinitely, but the unexpected loss of his job in the 90's prompted a move from Omaha back to the east where he was starting a new job.

We were hard pressed to leave friends and our lifestyle in Omaha, but financially it was the only option since it was a particularly rough time in our lives then.  We had four young kids, and our youngest, Olivia, was pretty sick with a blood disease that required frequent hospitalizations.  This new job would offer everything we needed most, an income, very good health insurance accepting a pre-existing health condition, paid moving expenses, and the sale of our beloved but rundown home that had exhausted both our skill and finances for all its needed improvements.

Stephen had posted his resume on the internet, and was found by a consulting company based out of Washington D.C. that offered information technology consultants to big name corporations.  He accepted the position through e-mail and a phone calls. 

Having flown ahead of us, Stephen was settled in at The Marriott Marquis hotel in Times Square, Manhattan,  where he was already given a consulting assignment.  Justin, Andrew, Kathryn, Olivia, Scout the dog, Mittens the cat, a few suitcases and some other fragile belongings that we didn't trust to the moving company followed over the next several days in our four-door 1964 Rambler sedan.  Our travel budget was extremely tight having little cash, a small available balance on a credit card, and a small-chain gas card, so we packed in a sack of egg-salad sandwiches to keep us well fed along the road and each of the kids got some money for the trip to spend on their own.  Our adventure was about to begin!

Unfortunately, our departure day fulfilled the predictions for continued rain throughout the Midwest.  Mittens the cat had to forfeit his leash so it could be used to operate the windshield wipers.  For the duration of the rain, who ever sat in the front passenger seat was responsible for pulling the leash that was attached to the wipers, strung through the driver's side wing-window, and across the front of the dashboard. The wipers worked by a failing vacuum pump, so for each pass they had to be manually lifted across the windshield and would drop by their own weight.  It stopped raining when we got to close to Saint Louis, Missouri--approximately 450 miles later.

We traveled south-east through Kansas, St. Louis, and Kentucky so we could visit my sister's family in Tennessee where we planned to stay for a night or two. It was a familiar trip we'd made several times before without any problems.   This time, in Kentucky, we had a small one-- we simply ran out of gas.

Now, before I go on, I should mention that this Rambler was a fabulous car:

Cut to vintage film advertising for the AMC RAMBLER CLASSIC SEDAN automobile while narrator describes the attributes of such a fine vehicle. 

Our Rambler had four doors, a capacious trunk, (Stephen installed rear seat belts for each kid) a powerful V-8 engine that truly hummed, and a brand new brake job with four new 'budget' tires.  Except for a rear-end accident that happened a few month prior, the body was actually in very good shape; it was dull, but not rusted out anywhere except under the driver's floorboard which was only noticeable in torrential rain when water would enter from under the floor mat.  (The driver that hit the Rambler and crumpled its back-end didn't have insurance, so we got a body shop to bang out the worst of it, and make sure the trunk would close and lock.) Oh, and the fuel gauge didn't work.

So, I made a minor error in mileage/gas estimation based on the odometer reading.  We were doing fast high-way driving, and the engine just drank the gas as we hummed along.  So we sat on the side of the highway and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

We sat in the stultifying summertime Kentucky heat and humidity for about thirty minutes (no cell-phone in those days!) hoping a state trooper would soon stop, but instead a very nice non axe-murdering/rapist saw our distress and stopped.

Resume jiggly memory swiggles as camera pans the length of a brand new candy-apple red Dodge Ram Truck slowing down, merging onto the shoulder, and stopping in front of the disabled Rambler.  Cut to close-up shot of driver, as played by Robert De Niro, exiting vehicle and approaching the driver's door of the Rambler.

Our rescuer asked if we needed assistance, and I suggested we'd only run out of gas.  He promptly said he'd tow us to the next exit and produced a brand new tow strap, attached it, instructed me how to steer/brake, while being towed, and just like that we had a full tank and running engine at the nearest service station within 20 minutes!  Crisis averted.

(I still think it was Robert De Niro, actually.  He looked just like him--mole and all--had a mild accent--defined to neither New York or the South.  His truck appeared to be brand-new and expensive.  At the gas station, he made sure the engine started after the tank was filled giving advice to put a little gas on the carburetor to get it primed to start up again.  We shook hands, and he wished us good luck on our trip.  Thanks Bob!)

We made it to Tennessee without further incident, and visited for a few days, also without incident!  Back on the road again, we traveled as far as Pennsylvania, and took a hotel room.  I wanted to be fresh, well rested and ready for our anticipated arrival and meeting up with Stephen in New York City the following day.

But the next day, it was hot.  Very hot.  Traffic congestion increased and slowed as we got closer and closer to the city.  The temperature climbed outside, and as it got hotter outside the Rambler's gauge indicating the engine temperature began to rise--my growing indigestion matching it.

When we reached The Holland Tunnel, I barked at the kids to roll up the windows and lock their doors.  I suddenly felt very vulnerable with our Nebraska license plates, very old car, open windows, and full clam-shell car-top-carrier a beacon announcing to all New Yorkers that we were Nebraskan hayseeds ripe for the picking.

On the approach to The Holland Tunnel, we sat in bumper-to-bumper traffic, the car steadily overheating, as we inched along with windows closed.  I turned on the heat to pull some off off the engine, but it was too hot to bear; we had to open our windows, and I directed the vents to blow the heat down toward our feet.  Our poor Scout was panting heavily, but remained ever patient, and we noticed we'd stopped hearing Mitten's plaintive mews from his carry-box since we left the hotel room earlier that morning.

Cut to cartoon footage of heavy machinery/boilers/steam vents/ pressure valves/factory warning horns all at peak levels about to burst with gauges and indicator needles intensely vibrating at the highest measure of DANGER/RED zones!

In those days, the toll for the Holland Tunnel was three dollars.

Sound Ahooga Horn featuring cartoon face with bulging dollar-sign eyes shooting in and out.

I had just under two dollars left from our exhausted travel budget, and panicked when I saw the toll amount sign.  I asked the kids to fork over any money they had left from their spending allowances, which brought us just a few cents short.  I desperately ordered them to check the seat cushion cracks and under the floor mats for more and they miraculously generated enough coin to match the toll fee.

As we pulled up to the booth, I handed over a dollar bill and the remainder in coin and pennies.  The intensely dis-interested and bored toll-taker pointed with her open hand heaped with our offered coinage, to the dirty, cracked plastic sign that read: NO PENNIES.  I shrugged, and said, "I'm really sorry, it's all we have."  She looked at me, with my sweaty hair plastered to my face, peered in the car to see the panting dog, the four red-faced sweaty kids, then looked at the steam gently rising from the hood of the Rambler, and blankly said, "just go."

Music Cue:  From The Wonderful Wizard of Oz--Optimistic Voices--played as Dorothy and her friends head toward The Emerald City from the Poppy Field.   Camera widely pans the Rambler as traffic parts, the tunnel opens wide, wind blows cooling air through the vehicle and obvious relief takes over as we relax and anticipate the sights of New York City; our final destination.  Jane brightly re-grips the steering wheel with renewed energy.

We're gonna make it!  We sail under the Hudson River through the tunnel and emerge onto Canal Street where we're greeted by stopped-dead traffic.  Horns honking, city stinking, people sweating, cars at a stand-still, visible exhaust waves rising intensifying the heat.  I holler out my window to the pedestrian traffic, "Which way to Times Square?" and several people all point in the same direction.  We turned the corner, and go.

We travel slowly in city traffic, block by block, light by light.  The car is visibly, dangerously, overheating by now, and I see several  parking opportunities and choose a open lot facility near 36th and Broadway and pull in. 

A cheerful lot attendant, all smiles, approached the car with a paper ticket in his outstretched hand obviously expecting the exchange of car keys and ticket, but he stopped short when he spied Scout, panting heavily and slightly foaming at the mouth from near dehydration.  His welcoming smile quickly faded and he said I could not leave the dog with the car.  I explained to him that we'd be right back, we'd leave all the windows wide open, he was on a leash attached to the inside of the vehicle posing no danger;  he was just a good, but very hot dog!  I reached down to the passenger side floor board to retrieve the cat box while the kids gave Scout some water, and saw poor our poor Mittens.  His flat body, eyes closed, his tongue sticking out, and all four feet splayed out wide.  My stomach lurched.  I'd killed our cat by turning on the heat to pull it off the overheating engine and sending it down to the floor right where his travel box was. I immediately felt the crushing guilt of murder by heat exhaustion. 

Quickly deciding it was not a matter to deal with right then, and certainly not wanting any of the kids to see,  I shut the door, and we walked to the hotel asking the lot attendant the right direction to Times Square.

We five chained hands, and walked the width of the sidewalk and within just a block or two, came upon a crew with a film camera taking footage of the bustling pedestrian traffic.  How exciting!  We'd only been in New York City a few short minutes and we were already experiencing the sights, sounds, excitement of activity on the street!  As we approached the squatting cameraman, something came over me.  Perhaps it was whimsical relief and exuberance at having made it this far but not quite knowing what was still ahead, I broke grips with the kids' hands, pulled them forward and close and with wide arms and beaming face stood in front of the camera man, looked directly at the lens, and exclaimed, "HELLOOO, WE'RE FROM OMAHA, NEBRASKA!!"

The cameraman took his face off the eyepiece, bent his head around the camera, looked at me, scowled, returned to his eyepiece, while his crewman with monotone repetition stated, "Keep filming, keep filming, keep filming." and sharply gestured to me that we pass and continue on our way.  We did.

We reached the Marriott Marquis, inquired at the front desk for Stephen's room, and proceeded up the glass-front elevator to the 34th floor. We were hot, tired, sweaty, stressed, road-weary, thirsty, and we all looked it in the highest degree.

Switch to slow motion: imitating the scene from Reservoir Dogs in view of a long hotel corridor,  five Chrysostoms walking abreast.

We knocked on the hotel room door, but Stephen wasn't there!  My heart sank.  Now what?  We waited just a few moments when he emerged from the hallway, carrying his lunch in a paper sack--at long last, we were all re-united! We sum up the excitement of day's events; car trouble, dog trouble, money trouble, (I whispered to him about the cat trouble.) and we settle the kids into the air-conditioned hotel room giving them full mini-bar privileges, while Stephen and I return to the Rambler.

I tell Stephen how I killed the cat, and we'll have to find a vet or something to properly dispose of him.  At the car, we find Scout to be resting comfortably on the length of the back seat and we retrieve him on his leash and collect the cat box.  But wait!  There's movement!  Mittens is ALIVE!!  Oh joy!  I didn't kill the cat, I only nearly killed him! 

Stephen drove us back to the hotel, emptied our luggage from the clam-shell car-top carrier and then strapped it onto the trunk so the car would fit down the ramp to the underground garage beneath the hotel.  He handed the keys to the attendant giving our room number, and we wouldn't see the car again while we lived in Manhattan.  (When we retrieved the car weeks later, the parking fees were far more than the car was even worth.).

We wanted Scout to relieve himself in every way possible before taking him to the room, but the city proved too distracting for him, so we went up the glass elevator without result.  Good Scout, sweet, simple-minded Scout; a true Nebraskan dog.  The only stairs he had ever experienced were in our home in Omaha.  He'd never been in bodies of water, bustling city streets, lobbies, corridors, elevators jammed with impatient people.  He was a good , mild-mannered family dog, and he went willingly into the elevator, sat when we told him to as the elevator filled with hotel guests and their luggage. The Marriott Marquis has an open lobby to the 49th floor, and the glass sided elevators look out on it as they go up and down. Scout was fine until we began to ascend and the floor outside the elevator dropped away.  His eyes widened, his paws and toes outstretched, claws gripped the carpet.  He did NOT like this experience whatsoever.  His blood pressure got so high, he had a slight nose-bleed--this was one stressed dog. Shortly, the elevator doors opened letting some people out and others in.  We continued upward.  Again the car stopped, but Scout saw his opportunity, and bolted.  He would not come back into the elevator.  We let it go without us and pushed the button for another car.  When an empty one stopped Stephen pulled Scout's leash, coaxing and encouraging him to join us.  He refused.  Stephen pulled his collar firmly, commandingly.  Scout let out a quiet, low, sad growl.  No, he just won't do it.

We were only at the 26th floor, so we took to the stairwell.  He can handle stairs and steps!   We began our way, but the stairs all had open risers which Scout's little brain just could not comprehend, so he refused that option as well.  Stephen was forced to carry that fool dog up each remaining flight to our floor.

When we were all finally together again in the cool comfort of the hotel room, we enjoyed the sights of Times Square from high above the city. The cat curled up, happily re-hydrated, the dog safely on firm ground, the kids wide-eyed with anticipation of the weeks and adventures ahead full of pop and goodies from the mini-bar.

I'm sure the kids all have their own jiggly memory swiggles of this adventurous trip featuring a calm, beaming, generous mother with good hair, and sweet voice.  But they can tell their own version.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Behind closed doors.

Paul started it.

He told another story about his dad, Dwight, to illustrate his dad's subtle humor. There's no laugh-out-loud,  knee-slapping, guffawing, corn-ball humor with the Hoff family.  It's a quieter, laying-in-wait, tap you on your shoulder when your back is turned, get you when you least expect it sort of amusement.  Once you've fallen victim, you'll know, but you don't shout it to the world, and-- unlike our family-- they don't ridicule, point, and laugh once you've fallen prey.

Paul told us about the time Dwight filled his bathroom medicine cabinet with marbles.  This kind of humor takes patience for the reward of a laugh; an unknown victim would eventually be revealed.

I found this highly amusing, and couldn't wait to implement it.  We got to work; Stephen drilled a hole in the top of the middle section of our three paneled wall mounted medicine cabinet, and we poured about 30 marbles into the closed cabinet from the top.  Testing it, we had one of the kids open the cabinet door but to our disappointment nothing happened.  There weren't enough marbles filling the space to cause a cascade and the few marbles that were sitting on the shelf sat like beady little eyes watching the reaction of our failure.  Dejected, we knocked at a few of them and down they rained into the porcelain sink below.

The racket it created was loud, jarring and dangerous!  Several marbles broke sending slivers of glass shards all over the tiled counter-top.  This was not working, and clearly wouldn't have a fun outcome if the hail of marbles came down on someone's head, or worse, sent broken glass into someone's eye.

We re-evaluated the process, and considered other options:

ping-pong balls?  Too big.
Super Balls?  Too big, too bouncy.
Cotton Balls?  Too soft, no surprise element.
We decided that gumballs would be just as colorful as glass marbles, equally surprising, and far less dangerous.  Our intended victim was the nosy Parker house guest who secretly opens the medicine cabinet to see what family secrets are revealed from the pill bottle labels and unguents.  We've all had one or been one.

Off to the candy store.  We purchased three bags of 50 gumballs, installed them in the cabinet, and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Over the months, with the cabinet prepared and full, we had several house guests and two Solstice parties with well over 20 guests and no one ever opened the cabinet.  How 'bout that?  We determined that this was actually a test of character of the company we keep.

A.  Do you open the cabinet?
B.  What do you do if you're caught opening the cabinet by unleashing a hail-storm of gumballs?

It wasn't until several years later when we learned how some people handle it.

After my mother died, our family started running the Bed and Breakfast my folks had been operating together for nearly 20 years.  Early in the B&B season we had friends of my folks stay with us who'd been visiting Cleveland Place and The Bay of Fundy for years.  We were pretty well acquainted, and thought that they would be good subjects for the Gumball Prank and set up the medicine cabinet in the guest bathroom with 300 hundred brightly colored balls.

This was no easy task.  Cleveland Place is nearly 100 years old, and the oak medicine cabinet is built into the lath and plaster bathroom wall making it impossible to drill any holes.  We had to form a sort of false cardboard door to funnel the gumballs in, close the real door, and then slide the cardboard out from underneath.  After several failed attempts, and chasing countless escaped balls, we eventually got them all in.  We welcomed our guests, Dan and Betsy, and invited them to make themselves comfortable in room #2 and enjoy their full private bath just a few steps down the hall.

For me, there's a bit of an ethical puzzle to this gag.  If I was a family-friend guest in a home that is run as a professional lodging establishment and I saw the little door in the wall with the wee brass plate above the latch that read private please, I probably wouldn't open the door, assuming it was for the supplies or operations of the facility.

However, if I was a paying lodger and unfamiliar with the hosts I'd be concerned with what might be behind the mirrored cabinet that faces directly in front of the bathtub.  After all, I've seen the 20/20 episodes on television that exposes creeps who use small video cameras watching the innocent  in their most private moments. So, I'd probably peek inside the door to confirm that it simply contains travel sized shampoos and cotton swabs.

To their credit, neither Dan or Betsy ever opened the cabinet door.  Over the years, we've become good friends and they've returned to Cleveland Place several times and have been our hosts at their home in Massachusetts.  We eventually revealed the test that they unknowingly passed and they have since fallen victim to the gag in their own home.  For a simpler version we used a cardboard Morton Salt container that was emptied of salt, the bottom cut out, filled with gumballs and secretly stashed in the kitchen cupboard when their backs were turned.  Eventually, when it was time to fill the salt shaker, the prank was exposed. 

As the busy B&B season came in full swing, we left the medicine cabinet as is, and actually forgot about its contents.  Unfortunately, we were reminded very late one night after checking in guests.  Kathryn and I were sitting in the den downstairs and heard the tell tale rattle of 300 hundred gumballs raining down on the wooden floor above our heads.  Alarmed and startled at first, then quickly realizing the scene above, Kathryn and I were forced to leave the house as we were convulsed with laughter imagining the dazed guest, fresh from her bath, standing wrapped in her white Cleveland Place terry-cloth bathrobe in a pool of bright, shiny, primary- colored confectioneries.

The next morning at breakfast, nothing was mentioned by the guests (or by us) about the incident.  When they'd left for the day, I went to the bathroom to refresh towels, swab the toilet, and assume the daily duties of running a B&B, and found several of the gumballs stashed about--a few in a basket, others in a soap dish, some that rolled to far corners.  Most remained in the cabinet (though I'm curious how she got them back in the cabinet since several were crushed flat apparently from her shutting the door on them).  The couple stayed 5 days.  No one ever said a word about it.  Was she embarrassed?  Annoyed?  Amused?  We'll never know.  I was tempted to use a few gumballs as garnish on their pancakes one morning to make mention, but chose to let it be.  I wonder if they kept a few as a souvenir.  So:

A. She opened posted private cabinet door.
B. She never said a word about it.

Odd?  I think so.  Curious, most definitely.  But more, I wonder if she's told on herself.

Over the years, Dwight's little prank has made quite a few rounds in Alma village-- Cleveland Place has even fallen reverse victim to it on several occasions--but our rule is, you can't gumball someone until you have been gumballed, and like Dwight, you never let on that it was you who you set up the prank.

Patience.  All it takes is patience.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The weakest Links

In Omaha, we lived in the neighborhood called Spring Lake and our house was across the street from Spring Lake Park which was home to one of eight municipal golf courses throughout the city. Not being golfers, and knowing very little about the game, we didn't take advantage of the 9-hole course until one spring day when we found a complete set of men's golf clubs complete with a bag at a garage sale for ten dollars.  Neither of us had ever swung a club before, but this was a bargain!  Sold!

When we got it home, we opened all the pockets, pouches, zippers and compartments and emptied its contents to find it to be a complete outfit with woods, irons, tees, a variety of balls, a putter, and a new green fly swatter.

Stephen took out the flyswatter and set it aside.

"Oh, wait."  I stopped him.  "The flyswatter is for the 9th hole interlude when you're playing an 18 hole course." I said dismissively while quickly making up a story on the spot.

He paused and looked at me.  "HUH?"

I explained that I'd seen my dad play a dozen times with Norton Company guys, and the fellows always have flyswatters in their bags for the 9th hole--the half way point in the game.  They take out the flyswatters and swat each other on the fanny while they take a beer or scotch break. "It's some silly ritual that goes way back to Scotland-- like paddling at rush week in fraternities."  Stephen put the flyswatter back in the golf bag, obviously and rightfully skeptical.

Over the next several months we'd visited the Spring Lake course several times with Stephen's set of clubs.   The green fee was only three dollars if you didn't rent an electric golf cart, so it was an inexpensive pastime for us, close to home, and such a pleasant way to spend an afternoon or early evening outside.  Eventually, we purchased a used ladies set in iridescent aqua green at a different garage sale for me, and I found a pair of fabulous ladies white patent-leather golf saddle shoes with one saddle in red and the other in blue.  They cost a dollar at the thrift store and I loved them.  They were fun, shiny, vivacious, my size, and, most importantly, my price. When I wore them on the green I felt like I was wearing Dorothy's ruby slippers.  Finally, we were both completely outfitted, and we started to enjoy playing regularly with the challenge of a 33 par game at Spring Lake and improving our game!

Stephen's boss, Ken,  heard that he was learning and playing the sport and invited him out to his club in West Omaha to spend a Saturday on his 18 hole private course.  Stephen accepted, and I reminded him about the fly-swatter--and stressed that you didn't want to be the LAST one to take out your swatter at the 9th hole, since then YOU would be the one everyone else got to swat!  Stephen was still skeptical, but left it in his bag.

Before the weekend tee time arrived, I called Ken at work and explained what I had told Stephen about my flyswatter gag, and asked Ken to play along at the 9th hole, asking Ken to be the first to whip out a flyswatter and start 'a-swatting'!  Surely, if Stephen saw his BOSS doing this silly ritual, my story would be validated, and Stephen would become part of the knowing few.

I wish the outcome had become fodder for a very amusing story of hilarity to be shared for years to come over beers at the club-room bar. Unfortunately, like other tests of character among people who have encountered us, Ken failed this one, and revealed to Stephen that it was just a gag long before their golf game even started.

Later, that summer, we'd been invited to visit my sister's family in Tennessee.  Unlike us, their entire clan is sports oriented, gifted, and superior in skill, but for once we now shared a common interest with our newly developing golf talents.  We'd been improving on the links, and we had all our own equipment so we brought them along for this visit.  Finally, a common bond between the husbands, and an opportunity for 'girl-time' out on the course.

My sister and her husband were members of The Country Club, complete with privileges to the outdoor swimming pool, club room, restaurant, and 18 hole golf course.  During our visit, we'd planned an afternoon of golf for the ladies and sitting poolside with beer for the fellows while all our kids splashed and played.

Judy got a golf cart (more luxury!) and we approached the first tee.  Judy wore a light-weight sporty golf short-set with the appropriate golf-themed logo on the shirt and coordinating soft-leather, sneaker-like, golf shoes.  Since the average July temperature in central Tennessee is 90 degrees with stultifying humidity, it was an appropriate wardrobe both for the weather and the country-club environment.  Suddenly, my flashy patent-leather, pointy-toed, golf shoes turned from magical empowering ruby slippers to two remnants from a vaudeville wardrobe chest, and my feet became heavy and clown-like causing me to self-consciously trip on the cleats at the first green creating a short rent in the turf.  Judy scolded me reminding me that they were the members there.  My madras thrift-store golfing "skort" suddenly changed from how I'd thought of it -- light-weight summer sportswear -- to a scratchy woolen kilt, fit for winter in the Scottish Highlands, sitting heavy on my hips in all its patches and gaudiness.  I looked at Judy then looked down at myself seeing what she saw, and it was just then that I realized that I was probably an embarrassment for her. 

Well, I'll show her.  I set up my ball, chose an arbitrary club from my faded plaid golf bag with its cracked leather straps and sent that first ball soaring down the par 4 green and sunk the ball in three.  She was impressed, and said as much out loud!  I was going to be okay, after all.

But my game steadily declined from there.  I was self-conscious, Judy was impatient. I was hot and sweaty, while Judy became more and more terse as my strokes increased, my balls went wayward, and other club members closed in on our slowing progress.  Having only played 9 holes before, by the time we were at the 18th hole I was exhausted, dehydrated, and humiliated.  Soon after the 11th hole, Judy played the remainder of the game in awkward silence and stopped keeping score.  When we finally finished what felt like torture right down to the last stroke at the 18th hole, she returned the cart, folded the score card into a very small square and pocketed it, and we joined the gang poolside.  Stephen stood to greet us, and saw my hot, sweaty, dejected face and Judy's obvious disappointment.  We didn't even get to shower.

I guess to some degree we all fail tests of character at some point in our lives. That was the last game of golf I've ever played.