Going Out in Public

No matter what you call it;  the facilities, the john, the throne, the biffy, the loo,  the water closet;  that porcelain plumbing fixture is a necessary part of modern life.  We take it so much for granted that we don’t realize until we get out in public just how important it is.  I don’t think I’m the only one who’s had some pretty unhappy experiences away from the comforts of home.

First comes the urge, then the hunt, then desperation.  Depending on where you are, and how and why you’re traveling, finding a restroom can get pretty hectic. Public buildings, hotel lobbies and parks can usually be counted on, although there’ve been times when I’ve had to resort to some creative thinking to find relief.   Running through restaurants, shops and bars,  shoving chairs, tables and customers aside, is frowned on, even if you do make a token purchase on your way out.

A car trip in the country will sometimes turn up a handy clump of bushes or a small stand of trees.   If you happen to be in desert country, not so handy.  No one wants to sit on a cactus.  And it’s right about here that we women can work up a real resentment toward the male of the species.  It’s so unfair.

Some years ago, while living in the Panama Canal Zone, several other leaders and I took a large troop of middle school Girl Scouts out jungle camping.  The first thing the girls learned was how to dig, use and fill in a jungle latrine.  It’s a quick, easy solution to the problem, needing only a suitable clearing,  reasonable privacy, your own T.P.  and,  Oh, yes, a shovel. I’ve often wondered if any of those girls ever had need of that skill in later life.

Traveling in foreign countries often brings up a whole new set of problems.  Going in public markets in Mexico, for example.  In an emergency, they do offer some privacy and a fixture that usually functions.  There will be a little old man sitting at the entrance, carefully doling out sheets of paper, 2 or 3 at a time,  never more. You pay a few pesos,  wondering at the flimsy quality, and  proceed inside.  The used paper is deposited in a basket next to the toilet, never inside, even in the private homes.  They don’t trust their plumbing any more than we do.

My husband and I were wandering through the Acapulco Princess Hotel once, admiring the murals in that first class establishment,  when I excused myself to use one of their first class rest rooms.  It was lovely in all respects and I confidently stepped into a stall, closed the bar lock and  did my thing.

The bar lock wouldn’t open.  I tried repeatedly and was finally able to see where a tiny screw had come loose and jiggled out of place. Having nothing in my purse that would dislodge it,  I grew increasingly frustrated until at last a maid came into the room.  My fractured Spanglish wasn’t good enough to get my message through to her;  she kept telling me to just open the door,  Senora, and I kept telling her  “no se function.”  She finally left, no doubt shaking her head over the loca Gringa who didn’t have sense enough to unlock a door.  So what did I do?  Well,  I ducked  under the door,  muttering to myself, “ there are restrooms in my own country where I’d never do this.”  The room was spotlessly clean.

On a car trip through El Salvador we stopped overnight at a tidy little pension in the capitol, San Salvador. Their dining room was spacious and bright with windows all along one side having a view of the nearest volcano.  The other side of the dining room was lined with toilet stalls.  Nice looking stalls, but for the fact that the doors were all skimpy enough to give the casual diner a view of the occupant from the knees down.  It was hard not to let your eyes stray while trying to enjoy your carne asada.  Fortunately we had a private bathroom in our room.

Ever since the ceramic army of ancient warriors was unearthed in Xian, China, I dreamed of a trip to see what to me must be the eighth wonder of the world.  Aside from the prohibitive expense,  I realized I’d never be able to cope after hearing stories of toilets in China being basically holes in the floor.  How do you say “Get me up off this thing”  in Chinese?

It seemed to me that  between my age and lack of agility I’d do a lot of prancing around with crossed legs before getting safely back to  real toilets as I knew them.  My daughter informed me just recently that nothing has changed there yet except in the tourist hotels in the larger cities.  Apparently the Chinese look at our porcelain toilets as being unsanitary.

Other oddities I’ve found in restrooms on other trips;  drain holes in the center of slightly sloping tile floors in Australia and New Zealand. I wondered if the fact that water swirls in the opposite direction as it drains Down Under creates a greater centrifugal force,  thereby threatening to  suck you in as you step out of the shower and get too close.  Rather nerve-wracking.

And I loved the fact that the shiny chrome plumbing pipes  are on the outside of the walls above the fixtures  in some European countries,  creating instant decor.  They remind me of free form sculptures.  They could have  little plaques attached with titles like “Plumbers’ Nightmare Number One”  or   “ Stabile In Chrome Number Two .”

Here in our own country,  I had an interesting experience not too long ago in a picturesque little beach town near here.  We were in a picturesque little restaurant in a picturesque old Victorian home.  Lunch was lovely and the iced tea was delicious, too delicious, in fact.  After gulping down the second glassful, I went off in search of the facilities.  The tiny restroom was a tad too picturesque,  the toilet so low it might as well have been on the floor,  Chinese style.  No grab bars, no way to summon help.  If my sister-in-law hadn’t finally shown up to see where I was,  I’d still be sitting there.  So much for picturesque.   Give me modern metal stalls, loose screws and all.

Over the years I’ve come up with a few words of wisdom.  If you plan to leave home, skip that second cup of coffee, under no circumstance take a diuretic ahead of time, no matter what your doctor says, and carry your own T.P.   Oh, and it wouldn’t hurt to tote along a trenching shovel too, just in case.

You never know when you’ll be going out in public.


How Much Butter?

It’s November. The harvest is in, the trees are bare and the nights are nippy. It’s time to start planning the annual Thanksgiving feast, that yearly pleasure. Once again there is so much to be thankful for.

You pore over your recipes, trying to remember everyone’s favorite foods. You make out your shopping list and wonder just how much butter will be enough for all those yummy dishes? How many pounds of butter should you buy? And don’t forget the cream, how many pints of cream will you need?  It would never do to run out of either of those vital ingredients.

You check your guest list. Hmmmm, looks like the usual 15 to 20 hungry celebrants. Your own family of four or five, several grandparents, some aunts and uncles and what always seems like hordes of children. Your drinkin’ Uncle Charlie doesn’t really count, he prefers to enjoy a liquid feast, well seasoned with malt, grapes or hops. Everyone else has their special requests, all rich and satisfying. Anticipation runs high.

A traditional Thanksgiving dinner begins with a round of toasts and heartfelt thank yous. Uncle Charlie is big on toasts, he loves drinking toasts and his thank yous are always heartfelt. Everyone waits eagerly for the noble bird, a glistening, burnished  turkey, to be carried proudly to the table, wafting a wonderful aroma of onions and spices through the house. In most homes, when it comes to choosing a turkey, it seems the bigger the better. You slather it with generous amounts of butter, followed by hours of basting with more butter to give it that  appetizing appeal and delectable smell.

Next comes the dressing or the stuffing, your choice of words. Do you stuff the bird or bake it separately? Whichever you do is fine as long as you use plenty of butter. Some methods call for ½ to ¾ pounds of butter in which to simmer the onions and celery to soften before adding the other ingredients. There have to be mashed potatoes of course, made with a large dollop of butter and rich cream, finished off with another big dollop of butter oozing across the top and running  down the sides. Gravy is a must, made with rich pan juices full of melted butter.

Healthy is not a word one would ever use when referring to a holiday meal. I recall giving my solemn promise that nothing combining the words “leafy” and “green” would ever appear on my holiday tables. We do love our veggies but what do we do to them?  Yams are caramelized in butter, peas creamed, the same with onions. Green beans are buried under french-fried onions, cream and butter, brussels sprouts thinly sliced and sauteed in butter, corn scalloped, with cream and butter added to a few crumbs. The list goes on. Save the tofu and the spinach for next week, or next month please.

Hot buttery croissants are a must, with a ½ lb. chunk of butter sitting at each end of the table for spreading. Cranberries are almost perfect as they are, neither cream nor butter spoiling their crimson tartness, just lots of sugar, but that’s another story.

By now Uncle Charlie is well into his own feast, contentedly reaching for the decanter for the third or fourth time.

Just when everyone is beginning to feel more stuffed than the turkey, the table is cleared and the desserts appear. Pie after pie, buttery crusts, creamy fillings, all covered with  mountains of whipped cream, Himalayas of whipped cream, veritable Grand Tetons of whipped cream. So what do we do?  We eat pie, sighing and groaning and loving it all.

We think back to the Pilgrims and our Native Americans; surely this was not what they intended. They may not have used butter, but they definitely left us a legacy in how to celebrate.

Our feast is almost ended. Coffee and brandy are brought out and Uncle Charlie cheerfully joins in on the brandies, shuddering slightly at the mention of black coffee.

The thoughtful hostess should probably toss a handful

Of Tums or Rolaids in with the after-dinner mints and give everyone a soft pillow for a nap. Even the children have calmed down and Uncle Charlie has slipped gently under the table, snoring quietly. Another Thanksgiving feast is over and the family is content.

I’ve read  that more gall bladder surgeries occur on the day after Thanksgiving than any other day of the year. Can this be a coincidence? Or is it a warning?

Oh, and how much butter and cream were actually used?  I lost count way back there with the mashed potatoes. Let’s just say a whole lot.  We wouldn’t have it any other way.

Auntie Jo Dodges an Intervention

Auntie Jo strolled toward the mall, accompanied by her oldest, dearest friend. They’d just polished off a lovely luncheon at the DELIGHTFUL DOWNTOWN DINER. This week’s special was deep-fried Peanut Butter-Jelly Sandwiches with Curly-Fries and they’d enjoyed them along with a nicely chilled Pinot Grigio. Since they were both watching their weight, they’d skipped dessert and settled for a second glass of wine.

Now they strolled along, reminiscing about old times and giggling like school girls. Auntie Jo was so caught up in her story about Miss “Fish-Face” Foster, their 4th grade math teacher with her unfortunate resemblance to a flounder, that she almost walked past a vaguely familiar face.

Catching herself just in time, she exclaimed to her friend, “Why, it’s my new next door neighbor! You must meet her!” The new neighbor smiled rather timidly. She and Auntie Jo had chatted briefly at their mailboxes that very morning. At least Auntie Jo had chatted, pausing for breath every now and then, just long enough for the new neighbor to manage a quick smile and a nod.

“How nice to run into you,” cried Auntie Jo. “You must meet my friend, my dearest, oldest friend …“ There was a pause – “My dearest, oldest friend … “ Her mind went blank. She turned to her friend, stammering “And th-this is my new neighbor …” Once again her mind blanked out. She stood stock still, totally speechless. How dreadfully embarrassing! Auntie Jo was mortified. Fortunately the ladies were already clasping hands and smiling at one another. Auntie Jo could do nothing but stare at the sidewalk, wishing it would open up and swallow her, red face and all.

She glanced up just in time to see a taxi approaching. Ignoring the honking cars whizzing past, she hailed it, grabbed her friend’s hand, leaped out into the traffic and shoved both of them inside. She waved a hasty good-bye to her neighbor, who was left standing at the curb, gaping. Too rattled to remember her own address, she weakly flapped a hand at her friend who managed to give the befuddled driver the directions.

That evening Auntie Jo relived the humiliating scene over and over. What was happening to her? Why? Thinking back over recent weeks she realized she’d been getting more and more forgetful. Forgetting or misunderstanding appointments, showing up a day early or a day late for important events, misplacing items, mixing up the simplest things, where would it end?

Was it just yesterday that she had poured a healthy glug of vanilla into the pot of chili she had bubbling away on the stove? She’d meant to use red wine. And how puzzled her doctor had looked a few days ago when she began asking questions about a root canal, thinking she was at the dentist.

She was aware that words and phrases she’d been accustomed to using no longer came easily to mind, like referring to her computer as a confuser or the blue spruce tree in her yard as a BlueTooth. And she’d definitely not had her eyes defrosted, although she’d had them dilated any number of times. She’d laughed everything off, but not this, not her best friend’s name. Her many little slips no longer seemed funny at all.

Was it any wonder her children had begun darting little glances at her, raising their eyebrows to one another when they thought she wasn’t looking? How could she ever tell them what had happened to her this afternoon? HORRORS! What if they felt compelled to stage an intervention!!  What would happen to her? What would they decide to do?

The idea of an intervention was too frightening. However, not one to brood for long, Auntie Jo tried to think constructively. What to do? What to do? And she had it! A reverse intervention! She’d throw a big family party, every detail planned carefully. She’d show them all how capable she still was!  What could possibly go wrong?

A nasty little voice popped up in the back of her mind, reminding her sarcastically, “Probably Everything,” but she chose to ignore it, her mind firmly made up. She’d start making plans and lists the first thing in the morning. Intervention indeed! HAH!!

With that settled , she toddled off to bed. Now if she could only remember those names…really, her oldest, dearest friend, her next door neighbor, how ridiculous! Once again she began to fret. Finally, after hours of tossing and turning, she drifted off to sleep.

At 2:00 o’clock in the morning Auntie Jo’s eyes suddenly flew open and she popped straight up in bed.

“Wilma!” she cried. “Wanda!”

But which one was which?