Sunday, February 15, 2009

Snuggie: The Tough, Smart Blanket

The famous Snuggies ad begins with two rhyming couplets:

You want to feel warm when you’re feeling chilled
But you don’t want to raise your heating bill
Blankets are okay but they can slip and slide
And when you want to reach for something, your hands are trapped inside

It bugs me that the rest of the ad is just standard uninspired ad copy. I guess they didn’t realize Shel Silverstein's commission was so steep. But mine isn’t. I rhyme for free. So I rewrote the ad in rhyming verse, included all the original selling points and tightened up the meter (somewhat).

Snuggie: The Tough, Smart Blanket

You want to feel the warmth when you are feeling chilled
But you don’t want to raise that dreaded heating bill
Big blankets are a problem: they can slip and slide
If you reach for something your hands are trapped inside.

Now there’s the Snuggie-the blanket that has sleeves
Better than a cuddle buddy because it never leaves.
Snuggie keeps you toasty and gives freedom to your hand.
You can work your dear remote, smoke your contraband.

You can read a novel in total warmth and ease.
Eat your Ding Dong dinner if that is what you please.
Use your laptop. Search for porn. Snuggie’s good for that.
Remember when poor PeeWee had to hide it in his hat?

Snuggie is made of ultra soft luxurious thick fleece
Big sleeves let you move your arms and still hide your piece.
Snuggie lets your hands be free while you stay nice and warm.
You can lead a fulfilled life and never leave your dorm!

Snuggie comes in Super Large—one size that fits all.
Careful not to trip yourself when you heed the call.
You stay warm from head to toe—no more cold nose or feet
No more buying cats and dogs just for their body heat.

You can wash your Snuggie clean, it will last for years
So take it to that game and drink up all those beers
Take it camping and Snuggie underneath the moon
Keep one in your car where you may be living soon.

Snuggle with your baby; it’s just what you’ve been needing.
Remember: wear it backwards to accommodate breastfeeding.
Snuggie lets you get up and still stay as warm as toast.
At Halloween just add a ski mask-Boo! You are a ghost!

Snuggie's for everyone--adults and children, too.
Available in burgundy, sage and royal blue.
Now go about your business, stay warm and move with ease.
Snuggie is the perfect thing unless your job’s striptease.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

“Salad Cake”

A Suburban Adventure
revised:January 30,2009

The sign said, “”Salad Cake””. The outside pair of quotes distinguish the quote within the narrative, the inside pair being part of the sign and quite unnecessary, unless they referred to something that was neither cake nor salad. It was taped to a table at the fitness center. The placard behind the table said, “Try a whole new way of cooking. Healthy and delicious!” And although the placard shared the same neat and precise elementary school teacher handwriting as the ”Salad Cake” sign, there were no extraneous quotation marks to call into question the true meaning of ‘cooking’ or ‘delicious’.

A tray of “Salad Cake” samples sat on the table between a construction paper covered box with a slot neatly cut in the top and a pad of blank entry forms. “Win a Trip!” was printed neatly and enthusiastically on the box. There was no doubt of the authenticity of the sweepstakes offer.

An energetic, athletic boy-man bounced lightly on his toes waiting for passers-by to stop. Our fitness center was no ordinary gym but a home for all physical and spiritual aspirations and transformations. There were the requisite weights, stationary bikes and treadmills, but there was also a rock wall, three basketball courts, saunas, massage studios, an organic restaurant serving micro-biotic snacks and banana-kelp smoothies and a salon with edgy, androgynous beauticians whose washed out pallor belied a certain weariness from cutting one too many patron’s hair in the same longer-in the-front-shorter-in-the-back-so-it-frames-your-pretty-face-but-does-not-weigh-you-down style. Either that or they were tired from the long commute from Chapel Hill, the regional distribution center for edgy and androgynous. There were slate walls, indoor fountains and leather sofas to lounge upon in sweaty gym attire. The fitness center had standards, no quotation marks needed, and anyone allowed inside surely met their standards for earnestness.

My boys insisted that we stop at the table to try the cake. At first I resisted, fearing they would dramatically and emphatically demonstrate their dislike for the tiny sample once they had put it in their mouths. They would refuse to swallow it. They would stick out their tongues, full of half chewed cake and insist that I, or any passer by, scrape it off. I harbored my own fears of ”Salad Cake”. My mind had already topped “Salad Cake” with balsamic vinaigrette frosting.

I relented, realizing I had nothing planned for dinner that night. “This is SO good! Can I have some more?” My oldest took a second sample before I could stop him. He even offered seconds to his little brother who gladly accepted and wolfed it down. The boy-man explained that the cake had carrots, cabbage and zucchini in it. As the kids were devouring their third pieces I quickly grabbed the pad and started filling out the sweepstakes form which, conveniently for me, doubled as a contact information form. If I had the recipe for “Salad Cake” I would no longer have to claim that flavoring the hot dog water with a couple of leftover spinach leaves counted a serving of vegetables. I stuffed my entry form into the box.

A few weeks later the man on the phone began, “Hello, Mrs Cobanna? Are you sitting down?” I tell him that I had been but then I had to get up to answer the phone.

“Oh, well, grab a chair and sit down. You’re going to want to be sitting down for this. Did you find a chair?”


“So, you’re sitting down?”

“No I have to clean the stuff off the chair first.”
“Well, I’ll wait,” his words bounced lightly through the phone lines. He was proud of the news he had to share and I couldn't wait to hear it.

Perched on a bar stool, I told him, “Okay, I’m ready.”

“You’re sitting down?”


“Your feet are on the floor, right? Cuz’ I don’t want to be responsible for you falling down.”

“Yeah. Sure.” I lied, weary of the game.

“Well, okay! I’m so glad to tell you—you’ve won a free trip!”

“A trip. To where?”

“It’s your choice, Ramona. It’s up to you. 4 nights and three days in a place of your choosing.”

“Is this one of those deals where you pay for some cheap hotel in BF Texas and all I have to do is drive three days to get there and pay for all my meals and stuff? Cuz’ that’s not a free trip. That’s free accommodations. And that, my friend, is a rip off.”

“No, no, no, ma’am! Many of these places are within a day’s drive of your home. And these are national chain hotels.”

“Oh. Okay. So what’s the catch?”

“There is no catch.”

“Great, then.”

“I just need to verify your address so one of our representatives can deliver the voucher to you.”

“Can’t you just put it in the mail?”

“Oh no!” His words regained their bouncy luster. “Because while they are at your home, they’re going to cook dinner for you and your family. How’s that sound?”

I considered whether to go along or make up an unassailable excuse like that several members of my family had forgotten how to chew (true) thus at times choked on entire peanut butter jelly sandwiches they’d stuffed in their mouths (true) and were on strict diets of pre-digested carp smoothies (false). He broke through the lingering silence. “For dessert, there will be “Salad Cake”!”

“Great!” What I really meant was, “Shit! I’ll have to clean the kitchen for a stranger.”

“Okay, what night works for you?”

“I don’t know-any night, I guess.”

“Well, it looks like we have Friday night available. How’s that? You probably have plans. Let’s see…”

In the brief second it took him to survey the schedule for another open evening, I took stock of our humdrum lives in the rural suburbs of a not-so-urban town, where a round of Italian ices counted as international culture; where people were either dangerously excited when the new Chili’s restaurant opened or curiously disillusioned because they were hoping for a TGIFriday’s.

“Friday’s fine for us. But I hate to ruin someone else’s weekend by making them work on Friday night.”

“It’s fine,“ he reassured me. “I’ll send Sara.”

He explained a few details of the dinner: Sara would bring the food and cookware, prepare the food, serve us on our plates, “You do have plates and utensils, right? Just asking,” and clean up while we enjoyed the “Salad Cake”.

“What about the trip?”

“What trip?”

“The trip you said I won.”

“Oh. Yeah. She’ll bring you the voucher. Oh, and if you call to cancel please have another date in mind. Our representatives only get paid if they make you dinner.”

The rest of the week, I prepared for Sara’s invasion of our kitchen. I cleaned the crumbs from of the drawers, I scoured pans I hadn’t used in years since I totally forgot the part where he said she’d use her own cookware.I slid the Halloween decorations out of sight--it was February, after all. I swept and mopped the floor and dusted off the cafeteria lady action figure that served as my kitchen island centerpiece.

Sara was on time. As she stepped out of her car, I pushed the remaining knick knacks off the counter and into a drawer. She rang the bell holding her large box of food on one raised knee. We were struck by an overwhelming sense of Sara. She was beaten down from being on the losing end of life’s battles a few too many times. Her eyes were a washed out gray and the blue had drained to her sunken, dark sockets. She was listless, lifeless. That’s harsh and overstated. She was clinically depressed.

She and my husband made several runs to her car to retrieve all the food and cooking instruments needed for our feast.

“Did you bring “Salad Cake”?” my eight-year-old asked after she made her final run.

“No, I have to make it first. I’m fixing your dinner tonight. How does that sound?” She turned to me. “Where are your spoons?”

I pointed to the spoon drawer and my son, reluctant to ever let his words hurt anyone's feelings, darted up the stairs without answering the question.

She asked my husband and me to sit down and talk while she prepared the food. She opened the drawer and moved things back and forth looking for just the right spoon. Suddenly she gasped at something in the spoon drawer. She quickly grabbed a spoon and closed the drawer. I was pleased that she was impressed with my vast selection of wooden spoons.

She pulled out a small easel and put a preprinted tablet on it. She introduced herself and provided her history, “I’m Sara, I live in Chapel Hill.” She was a bit androgynous with her k.d. lang haircut but there was not an edge to be found. She was edgeless. “I used to work in a lab. I was a biologist but I got laid off and found this job. I’m going to ask you some questions.” She flipped back the first page of her tablet.

“Like a test.” I said helpfully.

“Yes. Like a test. But don’t be surprised if you get most of the answers wrong.”

It is not hyperbole to say that the chasm of charm separating biologist and sales rep had never seemed so vast as it did in that moment.

Sara said that her partner couldn’t believe how much better food tasted when prepared in the way she’d show us tonight. Her partner hated vegetables until her partner tasted them prepared in this new miraculous method. Her partner, she confided, was frugal, but even her partner thought the cost of the pans was money well spent.

Author’s Note: Sara referred to her partner as “her partner” exclusively throughout the night. I have no way of ascertaining her partner’s gender and for accuracy’s sake, will throughout the story refer to Sara’s partner as such, although were this not an absolutely accurate recount, I’d make up a gender neutral name for Sara’s partner, like Pat or Sid or Shawn. But in deference to Sara and her partner, for the remaining portion of this story I will refer to Sara’s partner as” Sara’s partner” or "her partner" and my husband, Danny, as “my partner.”

Sara used the biggest, shiniest, most powerful salad shooter ever seen to slice and dice carrots, cabbage and zucchini. She was a master at changing out the cutting barrels and pushing vegetables down the shoot to within millimeters of her own fingertips. I beleived her when she said that I couldn't do that and if I tried I'd cut the tips off my fingeres and bleed all over the zucchini.

“When you prepare vegetables for your family, Ramona, you put them in a pot of water and boil them for fifteen or twenty minutes. Correct?”

“Uh, no. I put maybe the frozen veggies and maybe a tablespoon of water in a glass bowl and cook them in the microwave for a couple of minutes.”

“But they, for example, your carrots,” she held up one her perfectly sliced carrot disks,” they’re mushy right?”

“No, I cook them as little time as possible.”


“So they can retain their nutrients.”

“How did you know that?” She wasn’t as much interested as frustrated. I was ruining her sales pitch. The mental image of my amputated finger tips in the zuchini casserole didn't help, either.

She was there to persuade me to buy pots and pans from the same company that brought the world the Salad Master, the original salad shooter. These pots and pans are made with 7 layers of aluminum including one layer of the same kind of aluminum from which jet engines are made. They--the pans, not the jets, allow food to cook without adding water, thus allowing the food to retain all its nutrients.

“My partner used to hate Brussels sprouts. Do either of you like Brussels sprouts?” My partner used an overdramatic grimace to indicate a hearty dislike of Brussels sprouts. I figured she knew the answer before she asked the question and didn’t respond. “My partner loved Brussels sprouts after I cooked them in this cookware system. Food tastes more like it does in its raw state.” It's fair to say that it's never a good marketing strategy to make this particular point using Brussels sprouts.

“Food doesn’t stick to the pans, either. No oil is needed.” As proof, she started cooking some chicken thighs, skin down, in a large jet pan. She tried to turn a thigh over with some tongs she found in the still amazing spoon drawer. “’It’s sticking,’ you’re probably telling yourself. Why is that?”

“Because it’s not done yet. It will release when it’s ready to be turned.”

“How did you know that?” If the effort had not been so overwhelming, she would have stamped her foot.

She tried a new tact. She pulled out one of my pans and held it next to hers. “Now if I told you that you could buy this pan made from jet engine aluminum that would allow you to cook more healthful meals for your family for $300 or another pan that could potentially poison your family for $100, which would you choose?”

As distasteful as the second choice was, the first choice was out of the question. My partner and I waited for the third choice.

Our blank stares and non-answers did not discourage her from continuing the sales pitch she had clearly prepared and perfected herself.“Obviously you care about your family so you’d choose the three hundred dollar pan. Well, don’t worry. This pan costs twice that much.” She stashed the semi-precious pan in a cooler secured with a combination lock she pulled out her apron pocket.

She flipped the tablet to a page with an image of a refrigerator. “You probably wouldn’t think twice about spending three thousand on a major kitchen appliance, right?”


“You probably don’t consider your pots and pans a major kitchen appliance. But you should.” She wheeled on one heel toward the stove and asked where the spatulas were kept. I directed her to the spoon drawer. The spoon drawer could just as easily be called the knife drawer, the spatula drawer, the take-out menu drawer. I figured it was the vastness of its holdings that kept amazing her, although by then her expression was more of a grim sigh than a enraptured gasp.

She said she had to start the “Salad Cake”.” Notice that I’m not preheating the oven. I’m going to cook it on the stove in this pan.” She said it with a flourish of a magician pulling the Dalia Lama out of a hat.

My partner and I were spellbound. We had seen her slice the carrots cabbage and zucchini into tiny slivers. But how could she turn a pile of unappealing vegetables into the moist, chocolaty cake the kids tasted at the fitness center? She had finally stumped me. And then she revealed the secret —a box of devil’s food cake mix. She mixed half the box with one egg and one egg yolk plus two cups of the slivered vegetables. She explained that the moisture from the vegetables would give the cake enough liquid to make a moist and chewy cake. She put the cover on the pan and put it on the oven to cook. “You can’t do that with jut any pan,” she said confidently.

We sat down to unseasoned, unsalted chicken thighs, cooked but cold carrots and green peas and dinner salad dressed with bottled balsamic vinaigrette. She cleaned up the kitchen while extolling the virtues of the Salad Shooter jet pans.

“How is it? Doesn’t it taste different? Can’t you taste the real flavor of the carrot and peas?”

We dishonestly agreed but our oldest son said, “Where’s the salt? This needs salt.”

Our youngest said “I ate my ‘no thank you bite’,” forgetting the requisite ‘no thank you’. “Where’s the cake?”

“It’s not ready yet.” I noticed that Sara fixed her gaze on something in the corner of the drawer as she opened the spoon drawer again. She quickly grabbed a dish towel and slammed it shut. “I tell you what," she addressed the boys,"let me talk to your parents awhile. We’ll let you know when the cake is ready.”

I cleared the kids’ plates off the table and sneaked a peek in the drawer. A plastic cockroach from my final sweep of the counter was splayed upside down on the forks. I decide to let her think the worst. At least then, she would leave with an anecdote.

The two hours we had been told that the meal and clean up would take had passed long before. It was getting close to nine o’clock on a Friday night and we hadn’t watched a moment of HGTV. We were clearly not buying the jet pans. Trying to salvage something positive about the evening, I reminded her, “Well, you made us dinner. So, now you’ll get paid.”

“Oh no. I get a commission only if I sell something.”

“That’s not what the guy on the phone said.”

“I don’t know anything about that. I get paid on commission. If you don’t buy anything, I don’t get paid.”

An extra beat of time passed.

“I’m very sorry. We’re not going to be able to help you out. I’m sorry we’ve wasted your time.”

“Well, if you could host a dinner party and invite six couples over to hear my presentation, I would get a roasting pan free. Do you think you could do that?”

My partner passed a hand over the flavorless meal, and quickly answered, “We wouldn’t want to put anyone through all this. I mean, it’s a big time commitment and everyone we know is busier than we are.” Everyone we knew was watching Brother Bear 2, sharing a bag of microwave popcorn with their kids and calling it “Family Movie Night.”

She served the boys the “Salad Cake” They gobbled it down and asked for seconds. She dissented but I shrugged and allowed them one more piece knowing it was the most vegetables they had ever eaten in one day. It was the perfect time to call it a night.

But instead of boxing up her stuff, she wanted to show us one last thing. Sara put some water in one of her pots and two of mine and turned on three burners. We all watched the pots waiting for them to boil. She took one more stab at quizzing me. “I notice you don’t have any Teflon coated pans. Why is that?”

“Because Teflon leeches toxins into foods as it cooks.”

“How did you know that?” She impatiently tapped the spoon on the counter. Not much was said after that.

Finally she added a bit of baking soda to the water. “Taste this.” She offered each of us a spoon of the baking soda water from her jet pot. It was nasty. “Now taste this.” She gave us a spoonful of water from one of my pans. It was wretched-much worse than her pot of baking soda water. “You see, everything’s the same, except the pan. So what could make it taste so different?”

“Clearly, it’s the pan,” I said, “but couldn’t you have made the same point with-I don’t know-sugar?”

“I guess. I never thought of that.”

Finally she was done. She wiped her pans dry and stashed each one in its own terry cloth cover and filled her boxes and cooler. We asked her questions about her life. She had been a biologist with a pharmaceutical company and didn’t like the way the lab was run. Her complaints, she believed, got her fired. Next she found work at a children’s portrait studio, but that didn’t work out either because, let’s face it—that never works out for anyone trying to live a drug-free life. Finally she opened a holistic physical therapy clinic. She received training and certification online. I probably don't need to draw arrows linking 'physical therapy'with 'certification' and 'online' or add '??' and '!!!' in the margin to emphasize the tenuous nature of her accreditation.

She had two devoted customers, one being her partner, the other an attorney. She was selling pots and pans in her spare time until her clinic had a few more patients. But what she really wanted to do was be a P.E. teacher. “I loved my P.E. teachers in school. They understood me. They liked me. Most people, back then, didn’t like me.” My partner looked at me to gauge my reaction. I continued to watch her fold and unfold her dish towels until they fit just so in a box.

“What about the trip?” It had gone unmentioned. I wanted my four days and three nights in hot, sunny Cozumel.

“What trip? Oh! The trip. No one ever remembers that.” She ripped a single sheet off a pad of printed forms.

The trip limitations were printed on the front of the paper while the exclusions filled the back.

To take advantage of the free trip, winners had to travel at least three hours from their home, reserve a basic hotel room at least three months in advance, put down a one hundred dollars deposit and request the return of the deposit no later than one week after the trip. It was not a trip. It was a burden. No quotation marks needed.

I walked her to her car. I felt bad that she had gotten nothing out of her efforts. Then the cockroach flashed into my mind. We had given her something--no, nothing--just a story to tell her partner that she would ruin in the retelling. I helped her load her car. The bottom of the trunk was covered with a template showing how each box and cooler fit. She lingered at her car door trying to make the evening last a little longer. I wanted it to be over before “House Hunters” started. But I had something I could give her.

“I used to be a P.E. teacher. I think you should try it. I think you’d be great.”

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Dishwashing Deterrent

Author's Note: This is a short story I wrote many years ago. I found a paper copy and copied it onto my computer and began revising it.

“Sally! Do you really expect me to wear olive green socks with my navy blue suit?” Sally rushed back to the bedroom to find a pair of matching socks for her husband, Bob. She hurried back to the kitchen, but she was too late. The smoke detector alerted everyone that the bacon had burnt.

“Salllllly! Turn that damn thing off!” bellowed Bob.

Sally hustled to the hallway, climbed on a teetering barstool and reset the smoke detector. The seat swiveled as she climbed off the stool and her toe caught the unraveled hem of her floor length terry cloth robe . She regained her balance before she fell but her head slammed against the wall. Her Goody curlers pierced her scalp. She ran back to the kitchen to salvage some breakfast from the charred carnage.

“What’s that smell? Did you burn breakfast? Again? Forget it! I’m going to work. Where are my keys?” Bob never missed a chance to cast Sally’s mistakes in the worst light possible.

Sally scrambled about searching for her husband’s keys while he inventoried his blood pressure pills. ”Sally! Did you call in my blood pressure medicine refill yet?” Her meek “No,” filled the house.

“I guess I’ll have to do it myself. Who left my keys out here on the counter? Sally! You’re not taking care of me!” Bob left without saying good-bye. Sally theorized years ago that Bob had taken a secret oath to never use the words “good” and “Sally” in the same sentence.

Sally faithfully followed Bob to the front door. She was just about to walk him to his restored ’68 Corvette when her daughter stopped her.

“Mom!” Reagan wailed. “You’re not going outside like that, are you? Last time you did, the neighbors though we’d found an extra-terrestrial. Puh-leeze! I’ll just die if you go outside like that.”

Sally stood between the storm door and the entry door, watching Bob leave but listening to Reagan and Damien.

“Get up, Damien! Mom’s doing it again—scaring the neighborhood pets.”

“Oh, God. You know, Reagan, I bet she could turn dolphins into man-hating beasts.”

“Maybe we should go to the orphanage after school and tell the kids how lucky they are.”

Sally immediately turned her complete attention back to her husband. She waved good-bye as Bob picked the morning paper off the driveway and tossed it toward the house. Sally misjudged the errant throw and the paper slipped through her hands and smacked her in the face. She couldn’t tell for sure through the smoky glass of the car window, but she thought she saw Bob’s first smile of the day.

She returned to the kitchen just as her kids were entering. She offered to make them a new breakfast. They rebuffed her, contending that a package of Ding Dongs and a Red Bull would be more nutritious.

After the kids left, Sally tore through the paper. She hoped her letter to “Ask Joyce” would be printed in that morning’s Claremont Herald. It had been six weeks and she had already received the Mannheim Steamroller CD she ordered the day she sent the letter.

Sally found the Life section and sifted through article on refinishing antiques, caring for toenails and cooking the perfect cabbage rolls until she found the advice column.

The first letter was from a small town teenage girl who had had a baby and was raising it in her bedroom without her parent’s knowledge. She was starting to feel guilty—should she tell her parents? Sally knew Joyce’s answer without reading it. In the next letter a truck driver was complaining about all the small cars on the road that wouldn’t pull over when an eighteen wheeler barreled up behind them. Didn’t everyone realize that truck drivers were hopped up on bennies and had impaired reaction time? He had started an organization to publicize the dangers: Drugged Drivers Against Slow Mothers. The third letter was strangely familiar. With a sudden sting at the base of her neck, Sally saw herself in print.

Dear Joyce:
Help! My husband doesn’t respect me. He doesn’t even know I exist. He treats me like his personal slave in the morning and like his whipping boy at night. He complains about my housework and my cooking. He never hears a word I say. Once when he didn’t like the way I waxed the hall closet floor, he said, “What have you been doing all day?” I told him I was filming a pornographic movie starring me and twenty runaway boys. He said he prayed they didn’t mind yellow wax build up. I’m not sure that he was talking about the floors. Please, Joyce, you’ve got to help me---Trapped

Dear Trapped:
Respect his need for quiet time when he gets home—stop nagging. Perhaps with all your time alone you can read some books about your husband’s interests and hobbies. Once you develop and interest in something he values, your usual boring conversation should perk up.

Sally sat at the kitchen table in a daze. She had imagined Joyce being sympathetic to her problems. She had even planned a menu (warm couscous salad with chicken and a lime-cilantro vinaigrette, citrus fruit salad and key lime pie) for the luncheon Joyce would insist was necessary in order to get to the root of Sally’s problems. Afterward, Joyce would tell her readers that the luncheon had cured her slight but annoying case of scurvy and she and Sally would become fast friends.

Sally never imagined that Joyce would take Bob’s side. She could feel her life quickly turning against her—just as her body had done years before. She rested her double chin on her thick neck. She surveyed the sagging rolls of fat that called her body “home.” She knew she should been repulsed, but somehow it pleased Sally. Her abundance of flesh and fat was the only thing Bob seemed to notice.

Sally pushed herself away from the table. She put on her favorite apron; the one that said “I came. I saw. I took a Valium” and began clearing the breakfast dishes. She picked up the burnt bacon and eggs and absently ate the charred mess. She began loading the dishwasher. Of all the monotonous jobs around the house, she hated dishwasher loading the most. Sally did not bother scraping off the dried flecks of meatloaf and brown gravy gripping the Corningware, she just randomly stuck the plates, cups glasses and pans anywhere they fit. Bob often complained that she wasted a lot of space and that he could get a lot more in if she just reorganized a little.

Bob often complained about her housework. He was particularly critical of her bathroom cleaning. No matter how hard she tried, she just could not get all the soap cum off the shower tiles. She had considered mixing bleach and ammonia in her cleaning bucket, locking herself in the bathroom and dying in one last tile cleaning frenzy. But Sally figured her family would think she had made a stupid mistake and never give her credit for her suicide.

* * *

Sally switched on the Hotpoint. She turned on the kitchen radio. It was time for her favorite local call-in talk show. The host was being particularly abusive that day; she’d have to call. She set up the ironing board, filled the Mary Proctor with distilled water and dragged the ironing board from the utility room to the kitchen, put herself on automatic pilot and concentrated on the scratchy voices on the radio.

The topic of the day was political current events. Sally was disappointed. She preferred the days when callers discussed personal tragedies like when a mother caught her boss in bed with her daughter. Although she had been somewhat dismayed by the poor choices made by her boss and daughter and her complicity in the latter, she was seeking counsel regarding the fact that seeing them there, her boss with his slacks at his ankle and her daughter wearing nothing but her Bojangles’ headgear, had been a turn on.

Sally continued starching pillowcases, creasing jeans and scorching Bob’s good shirts while opinionated callers railed about the liberal media elite, gay marriage and San Francisco. The host, Allan White, brutally attacked any caller that dared to question his conservative point of view. “Commie faggot!” he’d scream. “They wasted a perfectly good butthole when they put teeth in your mouth!” Every time Allan hung up on a caller, Sally imagined the call-ending click and buzz piercing her own ear drum.

By the time Sally had begun the handkerchiefs, the second segment of Allan’s show had started. He had been joined by a local psychiatrist who had had written a book, Revenge Without Risk—How to Get Even Without Getting Caught. Callers were invited to phone in with personal problems. Sally dialed the radio’s number repeatedly until she got through to the station.

“W-H-A-T radio. What would you like to talk about?”

“That’s personal!” Sally reacted defensively to the bored, anonymous voice on the other end of the line.

“Well, lady, you’re about to tell fifty thousand listeners, so what what’s one more?”

“Uh, I want to talk about my husband. He never pays attention to me.” Sally couldn’t be sure, but she thought she hear the voice drone quietly, “Bah, blah, blah.”

“Okay, you’ll be caller number 5, but make it good, please. We’ve had way too many housewives bitching about their husbands this week.”

Sally listened to the radio with the phone pressed tightly to her ear. They psychiatrist was a woman, extremely sympathetic; just what Sally had been waiting for. Caller Number Four rambled about her neighbor who let crabgrass grow in the cracks of his driveway. The weeds were infesting her Bermuda which was otherwise pristine. The psychiatrist suggested posting a notice on Craig’s List for an estate sale at the offending neighbor’s house. She also suggested both neighbors schedule appointments at her clinic’s nearest suburban outlet. Finally, Caller Four hung up. Sally felt the sweat in her armpits drip down her upper arms.

“Caller number Five, you’re on the air. Could you please turn down your radio?”

“It’s down.”

“Ma’am, I can still hear it. Go turn it off, would you?”

Sally reached over to turn the volume down. It was the first time she noticed that she had left the iron burning a hole in Bob’s favorite monogrammed handkerchief.


“Okay, so what’s you’re problem?”

“Uh, well, yesterday was my birthday and I thought maybe my husband was planning a surprise for me---“

“What a nice man!”

“No, wait. So, anyway yesterday, when he came home from work, he sent me out to get some cigarettes and his suit at the cleaners. I just knew that was his way of getting me out of the house while he set up my surprise. I was so excited that I forgot to go to the cleaners. When I got home he and the kids were gone. I thought, ‘Wow, this is even more elaborate than I thought.’ I got all dressed up waited for my big surprise. Well, my big surprise was that they had gone out to eat without me because I’d taken so long to get his cigarettes. No one remembered my birthday at all. And then he griped at me for an hour for forgetting the dry cleaning.”

“So why do you need revenge? It seems to me, and this is not just my opinion but everyone in the studio, that you are lucky to be married to this marvelous man.”

“Uh, what?”

This man you want to hurt, this role model for your kids, you just said that you thought he was going to throw you a surprise party.”

“Right?” Sally laid her head down on the kitchen table; the burden of being perpetually misunderstood weakened her.

“Well, any man whose wife could even imagine throwing hera surprise party is a good, good man, indeed. Thanks, caller and congratulations on finding such a god.”

Sally heard the click and hung up the phone. She turned up the radio just in time to hear the hot and guest suggesting that Bob was the one who should seek revenge on such an ungrateful wife. Sally found the Hershey’s chocolate bar she had hidden in the sponge drawer. She gave up on the ironing; it was almost time for “The Thelma Robertson Show”.
* * *

Sally switched on the TV. She sat on the couch feeling more intimate with her chocolate than she had with Bob in years. She wondered what to fix for dinner. He decided on meatloaf. Once, Damien had almost complimented her on her special ground beef pie. He said, “This meatloaf is great, Mom.” Sally’s involuntary false modesty reflex took control, “Oh, it’s not that great.” Damien brought her back to earth,” You’re right, but it’s better than your usual gruel.” Sally’s face stung red with embarrassment from the harsh memory; she realized, for the first time, the cruelty of her son’s words. She turned her attention back to her chocolate bar and the television.

Thelma’s guest was a nationally famous psychologist/nutritionist/televangelist who was in town promoting his new book, The Trouble with Problems. Two days earlier Sally had waited in line for hours to get an autographed copy of his book. Several people had cut in front of her; when she complained the author had admonished her, “Hey, lady, take a back seat with all that hostility.”

Sally watched as a telephone number flashed on the screen and Thelma urged callers to call in with questions for her guest. Sally the number by heart. Luck was finally with her—she got a ring on the thirteenth try.

“W-A-A-H TV. What would you like to discuss on the air?”

“My life.”

“Well, keep it short. You’ll be the last caller-it must be your lucky day. Turn down the sound on your TV and be ready.”

Sally tightened her grip on the phone. She had never had the coveted last caller spot before.

“This is the last call of the day---Caller, you’re on the air.”

“Uh, hello.”

“Hello, Caller. You’re on the air with our guest, author Dr. Dalton Dryden.”

“Uh, hi, um,” she stammered, “I’m very nervous.”

“Don’t be. You’re among friend here, right, Doctor? Just be yourself but get on with it. We’re down to our last 30 seconds.”

“I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I have no energy, no appetite-but I eat all the time. I feel sleepy all day but when I go to bed, I can’t sleep. I cry at any little thing. I’m extremely irritable. I used to be such a contented person.”

Dr. Dryden sounded agitated, “I run into housewives complaining of these symptoms everywhere I go. I’ll bet you’re a stay-at-home-mom with school age children.”

“Yes, yes, I am.”

“Well, lady, I think you’re a fraud.”


“I think you’re faking psychosis to avoid your responsibilities. You’re wasting my time. There are people out there with real problems. Good luck and good bye. Oh yeah, lady—this is me, just playing a hunch—lose weight.”

Sally snapped. She snapped in half what was left of her Hershey’s bar, she snapped off the TV. She stared at the silver square fading to nothing on the green screen.

Suddenly the dishwasher’s final hiss shook her from her catatonic state. She knew what she had to do. As she unloaded the pots and pans, the first smile of the day stretched her lips. She thought of the poetic justice of her final act. She thought of the headline in the next day’s paper:
Suicide Note Clinging to Refrigerator on Care Bear Magnet