Black Balloons. Recycled Sundays.

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I’ve been thinking about the end of the line.  Not that my family is driving me any crazier than usual, just that I’ve been exposed to too many black balloons.  A visual oxymoron if there ever was one.

Over the last few years, numerous friends and acquaintances have hit the big 4 0, some the bigger 5 0.  They often receive salutations stating they are, “Over the Hill.”  I wonder.  When I’m forty, I will still have two-thirds of a mortgage to pay off, two children to raise through their teens and help with post-secondary education, and more than half my job to finish before retirement.  I thought “Over the hill” meant I could coast for a while!

I sincerely hope it doesn’t mean things go downhill from then on.  I’m already aware that there is little I can do to stop the onslaught of aging.  Every time my husband comes home from the barber, I am reminded of the ticking clock.  For some reason, sitting in the barber chair gives him more grey hair.

My memory isn’t what it used to be, but then it never was much to begin with.  Still, I used to forget people’s names eight to ten years after loosing contact with them.  This shrunk to four or five years, then two or three.  Before I knew it, I was forgetting the names of co-workers and neighbours in one season (winter counts as two seasons – early winter and I can’t believe it’s still here winter).  Now, after a long weekend, I have to look up my boss’s name on his door plate.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s character Sherlock Holmes believed the mind had a finite space for memory, (like a computer).  As the years pass, I seem to be downgrading to a smaller and smaller hard drive.  I can’t control whether my brain is on SAVE or DELETE.  SEARCH FOR FILES keeps coming up CONNECTION LOST.  Files are cluttered with junk I can’t erase, like the theme songs for The Flintstones, The Beverly Hillbillies, Gilligan’s Island, and Green Acres, none of which I’ve watched during my children’s lifetimes!  Important new information, on the other hand, such as my bank PIN number, the difference between RAM and ROM, and my children’s shoe size can not be stored for later retrieval.  I often feel that my brain is becoming as obsolete as the old PET computers, large, slow, and taking up space with very little inside.  Not at all what I expected would come age.

Some societies venerate the elderly for their experience and wisdom.  I’m a little relieved ours doesn’t since they might suspect I’m a fraud.  I’ll never be one of those senior citizens who can tell you what the weather was like a certain summer 30 years ago and the world events at the time.  By March, I can barely remember ever experiencing a summer.

Perhaps I have selective memory.  My husband thinks so.  I can remember exactly how many times he has thrown wet items into the bottom of the laundry hamper in spite of my requests.  I can remember how much money he had at the beginning of the week and what he was “supposed” to spend it on.  I can remember what he gave me for my last eighteen birthdays and whether he picked it out himself.  I can always remember how many days it took between his agreeing to do a house chore and its completion.

Still, I’m holding together a little better than my friend I will call Max.  He offered to drive the car around to the front of the plaza so that his wife would not have to carry her parcels through the parking lot.  He brought the children out to the van, loaded them up, and drove home, whereupon the oldest child asked, “Where’s Mom?”

After all is said and done, it is more important what people remember of me after I’ve crossed the final hill than whether I mastered my instant teller.  I hope they remember me with a smile.  Just to make sure, I’m looking for the perfect one-liner to leave ’em laughing.  What could be better than a joke for my final words?  An epitaph can be a perpetual one-liner, something like, “I’d rather be in Paris,” but it’s best said aloud.  One problem though.  What if some eager intern revives me and I have to do it all again?  I might not have a back-up joke.  Oh well, I can always claim I forgot.

Published 1992 in the Chronicle-Journal/Times-News.

    

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

A Silly Revolution: Easter Eggsodus. Recycled Sundays.

“My fellow Standard Eggs, Grade B, I have been accused of contaminating the carton because I was eggsposed to the Free Range life style,” stated Benedict.

“Justifiably so!” shouted Speckled. “You would create a scrambled society where these separated eggs are considered better-quality than us, the Standards, who make nutrition affordable for all.”

“Order, order!” eggsclaimed Small Fry, who had narrowly missed being labeled Grade C. “This eggsessive arguing will fracture us. We must not rumble so.”

“Eggsactly,” said Large, who had been mishandled. “I am boiling mad, ready to eggsplode.”

“You are a devil,” hissed Benedict. “In the past, have we not suffered under the eggsclusionists who would not accept brown eggs as the equal to white? Did we not learn to see the foolishness of our eggclusivity? I say to you, look upon the Free Range Eggs with an open shell. They are not contaminated by the unregulated intake of insect life during gestation as rumored. Instead, they are free to eggsplore a variety of proteins. Would you not like the freedom to eggsperienced diversity and eggsercise?”

“Eggsorbitant!” eggshorted Slightly Cracked. “The eggsemplary hen that gestated me consumed high levels of protein, antibiotics, hormones, and chemicals that I cannot eggspress. This controlled, monitored lifestyle produced eggscellence… us!”

Ten cheers rose and the carton jiggled with eggscitement.

“I must eggstoll the eggshileration of free movement,” steamed Benedict in eggsasperation. “To not have our mother hens boxed six in a cage! Would it not warm your yolk to be Free at last! Free –”

“Falling,” said Large with as he eggspelled the deviant. A loud crack punctuated the eggsecution. “I had no choice but to eggsterminate this egghead,” he deadpanned.

“Drat,” said a loud human voice. “One of the eggs is broken. Anyone for an omelet?

Published first in 1993 in the Chronicle-Journal/Times-News.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

What Would You Do For the Last Easter Candy? – Recycled Sundays

To me, Easter has always meant hidden treasure. As a child, I was a candy connoisseur, marking my calendar with red circles for Halloween, Easter, Valentines Day, and Christmas – the sugar holidays. Still, I found secular Easter celebrations rather odd.

I’d always wondered what it would be like to have Easter with green grass and living baby chicks and lambs instead of no plastic blue Robin’s eggs and cardboard cut-outs of newborn animals. It seemed strange to celebrate the rebirth of nature when everything was gray and partly frozen. So sweet a holiday during the month of mud.

Our American neighbours search for edible treasures in their gardens and backyards and British children think nothing of finding their eggs below flowering bushes. Anything hidden outside in northern Ontario has to be found within the hour lest rain, or possibly snow, turn chocolate eggs into chocolate syrup.

My mother and her brother grew up on a farm in the Maritimes. After finding the hen’s eggs in the morning, they would go back to bed with hot cocoa while their mother coloured the eggs with natural dyes and hid them around the house. The children would find them and stage a competition as to who could eat the most. I’m not sure what’s worse, making a child sick on candy or sick on hen’s eggs. Perhaps the real lure was the chance to go back to bed after chores with a cup of cocoa, listening to their mother sneak about the little home.

My mother, her mother and her brother – abt 1928

My mother believed the more cups of sugar in a recipe, the better. I suspect she circled the sugar holidays as well. She certainly never skimped at Easter when I was a child.

When I was candy hunting age, my brother and sister were teenagers. That solved the problem of the oldest child finding all the treats before the youngest. I got the whole enchilada. This was one time I wasn’t sad to be without a close sibling.

I remember being impressed that the Easter rabbit could manage so well. Each year as I became better at finding treats, he became better at hiding them. He also grew as I grew, putting them in higher places.

As exciting as it was to find the Easter treats it was even more fun not to find them. Nothing brought on a shriek of glee better than discovering a stray candy after I thought I had eaten my last icing coated egg. Perhaps I would open the sugar bowl, preparing to smother my overly sweet Captain Crunch with an additional 2 teaspoons of refined white sweetener. Snuggled in the crystal would be a clutch of candied eggs. What better way to start the day than with sugar bonus?

Even better were Easter treats in plain view that had escaped notice. I’d be watching television, yearning for just one more hollow chocolate egg to jam over my fingers like a ring and munch as it melted over my knuckles. My eyes scanned the room during the commercial break, hoping, refusing to believe it was over. I paused to look at the stairway to the star.

My grandfather had presented each of his children with a handmade wooden staircase about a foot and a half long with a moon behind. There was a separate wooden star with a little platform hung above the staircase. My mother was Catholic, so the steps held statues of saints. On the top step rested the Madonna and on the star, of course, was Jesus. I remember the thrill of realizing that a little chocolate rabbit was perched devoutly at the protective feet of Mary. I snatched the candy creature can blew the dust off the wrapper.

Less attractive were the unwrapped treasures, forgotten in the spider plant, blossoming with their own mixture of dust and pet hair, or the now deformed Easter treat squashed between the couch cushion among lost pennies and leaking ballpoint pens. It was a tough call, but most could be rescued with a good washing.

There were treats that permanently escaped my clutches. They were claimed by Nervy and Nipper. These were not sailors who boarded at our house. Rather they were noisy, wiry, stubborn, territorial Chihuahuas. What was theirs, was theirs. They had no qualms about taking on grown men or well muscled German shepherds who behaved inappropriately. I have better luck wrestling a living rabbit away from the protection of the Madonna than getting any Easter candy away from the dogs. Not that I wanted after it had been batted about, partly chewed, and buried in the dog’s bed.

I did have some limits.

First published in the Chronicle-Journal/Times-News, Sunday, April 11, 1993.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

 

Insomnia is the Real Monster in the Bedroom. Recycled Sundays.

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The world’s population can be divided into two groups, the problem sleepers and the probably asleep. As a charter member of the former, I have always envied the latter group.

Part of my problem is conditioning from childhood and part, I suspect, is that I am an owl. People have trouble falling asleep for a variety of reasons. My major block is that everyone in the house must be asleep before I can begin to relax. There’s no point in getting ready for bed if anyone in the family still up. My owl hearing fine-tunes to their every movement. My owl vision sees every glimmer as a spotlight. My owl sense reacts to every movement. Come morning, I have the personality of a predator.

As my children enter the teen years, they stay up later and later. I look forward to setting a new pounds per inch record on eye bags. When I lie awake, the hours tick by. It is mesmerizing how loud and varied the sounds from an electric clock are at 2 AM. I take about an hour and half to fall asleep in my own bed, with the house quiet, the lights off, and everyone asleep. You can imagine how well I cope with strange beds. Add an hour for sleeping in a hotel, two for a tent, and three for someone else’s house.

My husband is developing the Dagwood style of napping. He will insist that he’s just, “resting”. No need to go to bed. Before I can muster a comeback, he’s snoring.

I should have suspected we were opposites when he told me about his teenage hiking tour of Greece and Italy. Unable to afford hotels, he slept on park benches, in farmers’ fields, and, this truly boggles the mind, on the tiny green islands between traffic lanes. Apparently the possibility of being mugged by a gang, dumped on by a cow, or turned into pavement pizza by a wild driver never disturbed his sleep. It would’ve disturbed mind. Everything does.

Between the time my head hits the pillow and I actually enter the delicious state of R. E. M., I solve the ecology problem, overpopulation, errant youth, the deficit, rampant crime, and my inability to diet. Unfortunately, sleep erases these brilliant ideas and by morning I have no notion of what I spent the hours deciding.

Perhaps children are quick sleepers because they leave the heavy decisions to grown-ups. I never envy a child, except when I see them being carried through a noisy mall, sound asleep.

To be fair, losing the ability to stay awake can cause problems too. In 1957 The Everly Brothers sang about the special problem of two chronic sleepers. Little Susie and her date dozed off in the movies. She realized her parents would not believe that the ushers didn’t notice the large lumps in the back row.

I chuckled when I see chronic sleepers waking up on a plane or a bus. They immediately check to see if anyone is staring. I smiled the grin of someone who has seen them at their most vulnerable (I saw you with your mouth slack, bobbing like an empty headed doll. And, you don’t know if anyone has robbed you while you snorted your way past four cities.) It is an image I comfort myself with when I am tossing and turning.

Some places trigger chronic sleepers better than pills. Church seems to be a stimulus (or lack of stimulus). It must be the warm, safe feeling. It can’t be the chairs. I sometimes suspect it’s the sounds.

Automobiles are worse. The white noise and the rocking motion would stop my squalling babies when nothing else worked. Sleep can still be a blessing when we are on a long, family trip. I’m awake, but at least the kids will doze after time.

Not like my sister, who was infamous for falling asleep instantaneously in anything that moved. She would fall asleep in buses, cars, trains, boats, and even taxis. When the buckle up sign went off on a plane, she had approximately 20 seconds to recline her seat before she faded out.

On her first date with her husband, she nearly fell asleep on the way to the theater. She has missed every drive in the country my family went on. I think that’s why she liked the Zipper and The Wild Mouse at the fair. It was the only time in her life she was still awake when a ride ended.

Instead of doctors spending fortunes treating sleep disturbances, they should just drive their patients around the block a few times. If that doesn’t work, they could sing a few hymns and launch into a sermon. Of course, in my house, everyone else better be asleep first.

Click on the cover for more info or to buy the book.

Published Sunday, July 22, 1990 in the Chronicle-Journal/Times-News.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

 

Late Winter Lottery Hopes. Recycled Sundays.

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I wonder if lottery ticket sales increase in late winter? I know I scan the list of winning digits with more than my usual desperation when the “Where the heck is spring?” blah’s set in. Did they pass a bill in the Senate when I wasn’t looking to add an extra week to winter every year until the entire population of Canada is insane with cabin fever? Those potential million-dollar numbers take on an extra gleam in March.

As I stumble over my ice pocked driveway, trying not to lose control and slide under my vehicle, I imagine walking barefoot over sundrenched beaches. I’d spend my winnings on a luxury liner cruise. Imagine sailing through the waves without the aid of an icebreaker in the lead.

Perhaps my sinking despair, while running the gauntlet of brain bashing roof icicles and ankle busting lumps of brown highway grit, explains my vehemence toward Clearing House Sweepstake envelopes. I snort resentfully at the suggestion to follow the “simple” instructions on how to enter. They go something like this.

Stick the “before February 15” silver circle on the back of the mailing envelope if you are mailing before this date unless you have received this during the month that begins with the letter M or ends with an R. If not stick the “before March 1” golden sticker on the front of the envelope. Paste the coin sticker on the coin voucher. If you are over 60 years of age, paste the golden years square on the order form, but only if you are ordering. If you are ordering more than six magazines, use the bonus page and paste the subscriptions in order of price.

Among the 6000 stickers enclosed, find the hidden picture of a car and stick it upside down on the left corner of the automobile entry form, unless you would prefer a van, in which case stick it to the bottom of your foot and dance the Old Soft Shoe. Do not confuse this sticker page with the information sheets on 42 other prizes.

Scratch off seven out of nine of the silver boxes, three out of four of the gold, and two out of six of the gray, unless your birthday is on an even number date, in which case reverse these instructions. Be sure not to scratch more than two in a row from left to right and three in a row from top to bottom except for the first and last rows, which may be doubled unless you scratch off a “stop here.” Use your left hand only.

Punch out the red dot if you are ordering. Punch out the red and yellow dots if you are ordering on a 14 day trial basis. Punch out the yellow and green dots if you are ordering more than four magazines. Punch out the purple if you are not ordering but would like to remain on our mailing list. Punch out the black if you live North of North Bay, unless your name rhymes with cat or gun. Punch out your boss if he or she is not paying you enough to afford any magazine subscriptions.

By the time I have punched, ripped, and licked, and stuck my way through their simple instructions, I feel they owe me a prize. Then I have to mail my entry. I struggle over ice coated snowbanks and through frozen puddles that give way and drop me into wet pits deep enough to entomb pharaohs. I spur myself on by chanting, “I am on the final list of winning numbers.” I have yet to pick up my convertible or take my Caribbean cruise, but I sure have a great selection of magazines. I wonder if the lottery store is open?

Published first in 1990 in the Chronicle-Journal/Times-News.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

The Perfect Child’s Room. Recycled Sundays.

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In the pre-designer days, my sister and I shared a “make-do” bedroom that was also partitioned for my brother. It didn’t measure up to the brass beds and white bed spreads in the catalog.

When I got my own room, I was allowed to redecorate. An adolescent with a paintbrush is a dangerous thing, but I merely stained my nails blue and added pattern to the linoleum. The cracks still showed through the paint, since I hadn’t known about patching. Because I measured the window without considering gathers, the curtains barely met in the middle. I overcompensated for my disappointment by smothering the room in rock and roll posters. The tacks Swiss-cheesed  the walls.

After marriage, my husband and I rented a home. When we had eaten enough macaroni and cheese to save the down payment for a house, I began a quilt for my seven-year-old daughter. Each of the 20 one foot squares  had a detailed fabric painting. There was a tartanned Scottish lassie, a wooden  clogged Norwegian milkmaid, and a demure Chinese girl holding a Pekingese dog. So much for my battle against stereotyping!

We worked on our new home before moving in. I rolled the rose-mauve semigloss over the scuffed (and patched) yellow paint in what was to be my daughter’s bedroom. This time I wore gloves and used a floor tarp.

I bought a three-dimensional wall-hanging of Victorian misses, matching curtains and yards of material to edge the quilt. The white furniture had brass handles graced by roses. I was giddy with pride. My little girl’s room was not only pretty and feminine but a unique demonstration of her mother’s devotion.

I bought my four-year-old son Care Bear curtains and a bedspread. In the name of equality, I made a wall hanging of Bedtime Bear inscribed with embroidery that read, “Sweet Dreams”.

My son was ecstatic. My daughter stood in the doorway of her brother’s room and stated, “I sure hope mine is Care Bears too.”

My heart seized. Hastily, I drew her aside.

“Yours is very special. I finished the quilt I’ve been working on for months. (Get that? Months!) Everything is in shades of your favorite color.”

She nodded doubtfully. I threw open her bedroom door. “Ta da!”

“I like the Care Bears better,” she wailed and burst into tears.

Stab me through the chest with a garden fork! After a talk with her father (I could hear his pleading tone through the door), she thanked me. Over time, she stained the quilts with markers, juice and glue. A visiting hamster chewed it. Each mark was a drop of acid in my soul. Finally I asked the dreaded question. “If you could have any bedroom you want it, what would it look like?”

“Well, I do like my bedroom, (she had grown in diplomacy), but if I couldn’t have this one, I would love a bedroom with My Little Pony curtains, a big unicorn wall hanging, and a pink lace bedspread.”

Fourteen minutes of shopping could have given her a dream come true. Why hadn’t I asked her in the first place? I realized I had created a bedroom I would’ve loved as a child. Major embarrassment. Parenting books and classes hadn’t helped. The tartanned lassie smirked. I’m one of those mothers.

My daughter learned to appreciate her room as she grew, and has forgotten her initial reaction, but I haven’t. Whenever I become ambitious for her, I stop and remember. Am my stitching together future she wants, or something I thought I missed? The quilt is my reminder.

November 18, 1990.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Snappsy the Alligator by Julie Falatko. Illustrated by Tim Miller. Book review. 

This is one of those books where the protagonist argues with the narrator. On the cover we see a picture of the alligator holding this book and saying that he did not asked to be in it. The narrator is at odds with  Snappsy all the way through. He describes everything Snappsy does and narrates inner dialogue and emotion for the alligator. This is hugely inaccurate.  At one point the narrator says the alligator is looking for victims when he’s really off to the grocery store. They argue back-and-forth until Snappsy hangs a sign on his door that reads “no narrators allowed.”

The narrator continues and Snappsy he feel so pressured to make his life more interesting that he plans a party. It is going well until the narrator, who turns out to be a hen, shows up with sandwiches. The guests eat and dance and have a good time, including Snappsy until the narrator/chicken announces, “We were really looking forward to Snappsy throwing parties like this every week.” To which the alligator responses, “Hey!”

I think many children will find the beginning of the story confusing. The exchange back-and-forth between the absent narrator and the alligator is tricky. There’s also no explanation for why it is a chicken who suddenly shows up in the story. Some of the humour is a little sophisticated for children so I would recommend this book for ages eight and up.

The pictures are cartoonish. Snappsy walks on his hind legs, lives in a house and behaves like a human being. There is no explanation for why he wears a fez on his head at home.

I am sure children who get this humour will enjoy Snappsy sparring verbally with the chicken.

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Other books where the character interacts with the narrator, writer, or illustrator.

Click on the covers for more information or to buy the book.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

     

    

When Did We Have This for Supper? Recycled Sundays.

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Photo by Isaac Mao

I went through a stage of picky housekeeping. All of our books, computer games, phonograph records, floppy disks, lists, cassette tapes, and spices were put into alphabetical order. Photo albums, negatives, and warranties were chronological. Housework was scheduled by the week.

The older I get, the farther I get from these organized days. I chuckled at suspense movies when detectives searched through people’s bureau drawers for clues. They find telephone bills, correspondents and incriminating lists. In my house, none of this stuff is in drawers. It’s all on the kitchen table.

I sometimes think the table is magnetized to paper. Children’s schoolwork, unanswered letters, coupons, advertisements, clippings, bills, pleas for donations, and magazines accumulate in leaning towers that would put Pisa to shame. When it reaches the point when we can no longer fit four dinner plates around the junk, I enlist my family’s help. After an enormous flurry of activity, 5% is tacked onto bulletin boards, 20% is thrown on the living room coffee table or in the bathroom magazine rack, and 50% is moved to the hutch. Cleaning off the hutch is an all day job.

I’ve become quite blasé about housework. Three cats, two kids, and one husband have weaned me off any need for an orderly household. I learned that I was usually the only one disturbed by the chaos. So now the mess has to attain crisis level before I discard my own plans and assume the attack position.

I have the same lack of energy toward keeping the refrigerator free of alien growths. I suspect the actual value of Tupperware is to properly age leftovers for the compost heap. Two prominent questions are, “When did we have this for supper?” and “Does anyone know what this is?”

The living room curtains are a variation on this theme. It only took 45 months of hating the drapes that were installed by the previous owners and innumerable snags and tears by the cats before I reacted. Knowing I needed strong motivation to refinish the water damaged window frame and redecorate, I cut the shears up for a Halloween decoration and threw the drapes into the trash. A stark window stimulates action.

In previous winters, we had covered the interior window with plastic to insulate us from the cold. The two sided sticky tape left a residue behind as difficult to remove as gum from a child’s hair. Despite numerous chemical forays, which probably left me with permanent lung damage, the guck remained. I realized stripping the wood down would be a serious undertaking. I was not that motivated.

I patched the damaged wood, painted a heavy stain over the mess and varathaned it to a gleaming gloss. I felt like a goldfish in an aquarium during the work. There’s nothing like an enormous bare window to make us creep around in the dark. I suspect the neighbors learned more about us than they desired.

A surprise bonus from the exposed natural light was the plentiful blooming of my violets in early winter. Now see, if I’d been quick and capable, I might’ve missed that lovely surprise.

May 5, 1991.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

What’s That Smell? Recycled Sundays.

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David Suzuki once said that research indicates females have a higher developed sense of smell than men. I could have told you that. Most wives could have told you that.

Take Patty for example. She came home to a smell of gasoline in her house. Since she couldn’t track down the source, she phoned the fire department for advice. They said they would to come right over. She carefully explained that it was not an emergency. Nevertheless, two trucks, lights flashing and sirens wailing, roared up to her house. (It must have been a slow day at the fire hall.) The firefighters (all male) searched the entire building, top to bottom, inside and out while she stood in the shivering cold. Not one of them could locate the smell. In fact, not one of them could even smell it. The next day she learned that gasoline had been spilled in her driveway, soaked into the ground and wound up in the sump pump. That’s what she had smelled.

My husband and I often play the What’s That Smell? game. It goes something like this.

Me: “What’s that smell?”

Him: “What smell?”

Me: “That strange smell.”

Him: “What strange smell?”

Me: “Can’t you smell it? Over here. I think.”

Him: “No. I don’t smell anything.”

Me: “What do you mean, you don’t smell anything? It reeks!”

Him: “What reeks?”

Me: “Over here!”

Him: “I don’t smell anything.”

We played a continual version of What’s That Smell? Last autumn. I first noticed it when we switched to daylight saving time. It was a chilly morning. I woke, switched on the lights and turned on the furnace. A few minutes later, I asked, “What’s that smell?” The game followed the usual format. I left for work later in the day still unable to identify the mystery odor.

The smell worsened as the week progressed. Some days it was faint. Other days it seems slightly smoky. I decided there was something wrong with the heater system and telephoned a furnace expert. He arrived the next day.

“What’s that smell?” I asked him.

“What smell?” he replied.

He left after thoroughly checking the system. There was nothing wrong and he couldn’t smell of thing. He decided it was probably dust in the piping.

As time passed I narrowed the smell down to the living room. I decided there must be something stuck in one of the vents. After I vacuumed them out, however, the smell remained. I despaired of ever locating the source.

One morning as I sat quietly reading the newspaper, I heard a thump on a living room end table. Since the cats were all in the kitchen with me, I went to investigate. There sat a gently smoldering green blob. I picked it up and instantly recognized the scent. It seems some little person (I assume this was a trickster fairy since both my children emphatically deny responsibility) had hidden a soft plastic toy monster on top of the lamp’s bulb. Every morning when I turned on the tri-light, the plastic would heat up and start to smell. If the light was low, the scent was weak. If I turned the light on high, the fire smoldered and smelled stronger. The lampshade hid the melting toy from my sight.

I think my husband is tired of playing the smell game. He does the shopping and although I environmentally disapprove of air fresheners, he’s been smuggling them in. It isn’t going to make any difference though. With two kids and three cats there always mysterious organic and inorganic odor makers. In fact, when my son was helping clean the family room, I noticed something.

“What’s that smell?” I asked him.

“What smell?” he responded.

I looked at his bewildered expression.

“Nevermind, son,” I said. “I’ll ask your sister.”

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Can You Invent This Please? Recycled Sundays.

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Photo by Shane McGraw

Don’t you think the rate of useless inventions has outstripped the useful? When was the last time you really needed a skinny musician doll wavered when you placed it in front of a stereo speaker? Can you believe people are still buying lava lamps and fuzzy dice? I really think we would have a solution to the garbage problem if we just banned novelty shops. But, perhaps I am just bitter. There are too many things I need that haven’t been invented yet.

I need water-resistant pen and paper for writing in the shower because as soon as I get out, I’ve forgotten what I meant to do. How about a bathroom door that won’t open until the child has washed his hands? Or an alarm that rings when a child tries to leave the building without making his bed. Both my daughter and I could use a tiny colander for sterilizing pierced earring studs. Perhaps then we wouldn’t spend so many hours on our hands and knees playing find the microscopic piece. How about self composting toys to avoid overloading the landfill sites in my kids’ rooms? Bedrooms should be designed with slanting floors so that balls and toys with wheels all roll safely to one end.

Wouldn’t we all benefit from twist tops that didn’t require the wearing of oven mitts to prevent the need for stitches? How about childproof bottles that parents didn’t have to ask the kids to open? Or travel shampoo bottles that did not leak all over the contents of your luggage?

Let’s have some serious government grants to perfect a lie detector admissible in court. Imagine the money we’d save on lawyers and court costs as well as incarcerating innocents. There would be a lot fewer crimes if the guilty were proven guilty and sent directly to jail instead of allowed to pass, “go.”

How about suspended animation booths for hospital emergency waiting rooms? We wouldn’t get served any quicker but at least the time would past without every second seeming like an eternity.

Someone without children obviously invented Daylight Saving Time and then decided to begin it before summer vacation. That way the kids could be absolutely wrung out from lack of sleep while coping with the emotional ups and downs of the end of school.

A genuinely nasty person invented high top runners, with laces, for small boys. He probably also designed handheld (meaning small enough to be easily misplaced) video games with alarms that sound at three in the morning.

An inventor who wasn’t making his quota must’ve come up with the useless instructions I find in my bathroom. A phrase on the suctioned bathmat reads, “This side down.” No kidding. Could you imagine someone sticking the suction cups to the bottom of their feet and hopping around the tub? Obviously, he did.

How about a bottle of round, orange vitamins? Inside is a white paper square stuffed with absorbent cotton. On it is printed, “Do not eat this.” If people are that stupid hadn’t they better right this warning on paper plates, Styrofoam cups, swizzle sticks, straws and plastic wrap? Or maybe someone should invent edible substitutes for all these things. Of course that would put the person who writes warnings out of work.

December 9, 1990.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages