The Prize Patrol

It started innocently enough.  I got a fat envelope in the mail sometime in November from Publishers Clearing House so I opened it.  What the heck I thought, I’ll just fill out the entry form and forget it.  Once I waded through all the promotions and found the correct stamps to put on the form which wasn’t easy, I entered.  I stuck it in the mail the next day and that was that.  Or so I thought.  This is not your Publishers Clearing House of old.  A few days later it started.

It started with one email:  Stephanie!  Just One More Step To Complete!   Really?  I thought my entry was complete. So I opened the email and looked at the four pages of promotions. You don’t get to submit your entry until you’ve gone through all four pages. In tiny print it says a purchase does not enhance your chances of winning.  That’s good I thought.  I’m done.  All I have to do is wait until February 23 to see if I win anything.  I did not know how PCH in today’s world works.  I was about to find out.

That one email turned into two a day, then three and then four.  They are marketing geniuses at PHC.  The more I opened them and went through their promotions and their searches, the more tokens I accumulated and the more chances I had to win.  Then I got in deeper and deeper, once you’ve gotten all these tokens, you can’t quit now!  I know they have a tiny room at PHC where they’ve locked in psychologists and sprinkled in a few con men or women to figure out how to prey on the vulnerable shlubs who actually open their emails.

I complained to my husband about how every single day I had just One More Step to Complete! or I was in danger of losing it all.  I dreaded going to my email, I was depressed.  Why wouldn’t they leave me alone?  Tom said I was an idiot and how could I have fallen for this in the first place?  “Just stop” he said.  He added “I have as much chance of winning as you do and I haven’t entered.”  Did he realize what he was saying?  I had hundreds of thousands of tokens, how could I just stop?!  What if I won?  My brother-in-law told me to just unsubscribe.

“You didn’t actually buy anything did you?” he asked?  “Of course not!” I replied indiginantly.  “I’m not a complete moron.” But PCH has that covered too.  If you reach the end of their offers without buying anything they start feeding on your guilt. It’s like the homeless guy with the on the street corner with the sign  “Homeless vet desperate to feed his family, will do anything.  God Bless.”  I think they hired a few of them to lock in the room with the psychologists and con artists.

“Stephanie, your cart is empty.  Won’t you please reconsider.  Just one purchase could get you to super VIP status.”  Really?  Super VIP status?  That’s got to be good, right?   I couldn’t wait until February 23.  I wanted the emails to stop!

Here I am in my car cleaning the dashboard with the very clever dust block I bought.  I even got another one thrown in for free so we have one for each car.  Then I got a magazine subscription to a magazine I was thinking about subscribing to anyway.  The last thing I bought and I can hardly wait until it gets here is a mesh laundry bag to put your dirty tennis shoes in.  Now here’s the genius part.  It has straps on the back to hang on your dryer door so you don’t have to send the shoes through the dryer.  Really clever!

The big day came.  The PCH email said the truck was on it’s way, you could follow it like you can follow when a package will arrive.  Would it stop in Portland?  the email said.  Geez, you just never know.  I stayed home.  A friend called and I told her if I hung up on her it was because The Prize Patrol was at my front door.  “What?” she laughed.

No one knocked at my door that day.  Deep down I knew that and was relieved that I wouldn’t be thrown into a higher tax bracket and that now those emails would finally stop.

Several days later the emails have not stopped.  Now they are awarding prizes through March 3.  Don’t Lose Out!  You are now a VIP as you’ve been so loyal.

Huge Prize Guaranteed For Award!
Trouble viewing this email? | Please add us to your Contacts
Info You Need — Prizes You Want
Act Now, Stephanie!
We’re Guaranteed To Deliver The
$4,978,632.OO SuperPrize
To A March 3rd Winner!
Take The Final Step!
Stephanie, take the final step for TWO Entries to win from this notice, ACT NOW!
This Itinerary can be used if you are selected as the March 3rd Winner
Coordinate with Katu-tv to provide coverage for winning moment
Stop at Chevron to fill up the Prize Patrol van in preparation for prize delivery
Pick up flowers from Happy Baskets in Portland
Drive to Serleth residence  to deliver the “Big Check” should you win!
Stephanie Serleth, take the FINAL STEP! Enter promptly, and a $4,978,632.OO SuperPrize could be in your hands before you know it!

Now that you can see we’d know where to go if you’re selected as the winner this March 3rd from PCH Gwy. No. 76OO & PCH Gwy. No. 7667, nothing should be stopping you from acting now to secure TWO Entries to win.

Take The Final Step!
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Tell me that you too fell for PCH.  Lesson learned.

One More For the Dingy Dock


“Swing like you’re out of control.”  Those words came from my golf instructor. Not the words I was expecting to hear and who hears those words anyway from a golf instructor?  He said I had a good swing it just needed to be faster.  We were invited to Palm Desert for a few days and I couldn’t wait to try that out. Let me just say I need to practice that some more as most of my shots went out of control along with the swing.

From Palm Desert it wasn’t a very long drive to Balboa Island to see a very good friend. Ann Marie and I had driven from Minnesota to California in my blue 1967 Mustang when we graduated from college.  We both had teaching jobs in Anaheim, CA in the same school.  We discovered Balboa Island and rented a house there, which wasn’t a bad commute to Anaheim.

There were some cute guys living in a house right down the street from us, one of whom Ann Marie was very interested in. Suddenly I didn’t see much of her. But what about Dick, her college boyfriend,  still in Minnesota? Everyone knew Ann Marie and Dick were going to get married and everyone loved Dick, especially mom and dad.  Ann Marie’s sister Sheila came out to visit and on meeting John, the new guy, she became very alarmed.  This would just not do!  She rushed back to Minnesota and told Dick he’d better get out to CA ASAP as Ann Marie seemed to be quite enamored with the intruder down the street from her.

Then came that fateful day. I was doing dishes or something and looking out of our window.  Ann Marie was down the block at John’s.  Who do I think I see walking down the street with a suitcase in his hand?  It couldn’t be could it?  But it was!  I called her in a panic and said “Ann Marie, get home now, Dick is walking toward our house with a suitcase in his hand!”    She ran out of John’s house and caught Dick before he got to our house.  Later we heard that John and his roommates had pulled all the shades and locked all the doors.  Dick was a big guy.

Ann Marie broke up with Dick and after she and John had been dating awhile she was expecting

Where are the fish

an engagement ring for Christmas.  She dragged John back to Minnesota for Christmas so her parents could share the joy of her engagement.  John was a California guy and the prospect of a cold Christmas in Minnesota didn’t thrill him.  Ann Marie’s parents had still not gotten over her breakup with Dick but they were trying.  Under the tree on Christmas day there was a large box from John for Ann Marie.  “Surely,” Ann Marie thought, “it’s one of those boxes that has smaller boxes inside.  How romantic!”  What was inside of this box?  No small boxes, no ring.  It was a wetsuit.  She wanted to burst into tears but couldn’t in front of her parents.  She had to act happy and doing that when she just wanted to kill him was really hard.  John was so proud of himself for picking out the perfect gift.  He was a sailor, a boater, a deep sea fisherman after all and had just given his girlfriend the perfect gift.  Shortly after that John was given an ultimatium. ” We get married or I’m out of here.”

John and Ann Marie were married for 48 years and John just passed away.  He had an incredibly

“Always room for one more Dingy at the Dingy Dock”

dry sense of humor, he was a great  story teller, loved an argument and also to manage his kid’s careers much to their dismay.  We all loved his sayings.  He had a lot but my favorite and everyone’s favorite was:  “There’s always room for one more at the dingy dock.”  You could take that several ways but we’re sure John is now parked at the dingy dock in the sky and we will all miss him and his witticisms very much.


Their daughter and our daughter are the same age and happen to live in the same county in the Bay Area.  They have become friends.  I call that a happy ending.




A Used Pair of Shoes

They were actually nice shoes.  I don’t know what he’s complaining about.  Our son gave me a very nice Nespresso machine which froths my milk for coffee beautifully for Christmas. I love frothed milk in my coffee and I had an old, very loud froth machine which took forever and sometimes didn’t even froth the milk at all.  But because he spent so much money on that Nespresso, Max decided his dad could use a pair of his old shoes which he explained he only wore once so they were just like brand new.  I thought that was a great solution.  Probably not Tom’s style but his style could use a change.  This could be a whole new Tom.

Tell me what you think of the shoes and if you received something used for Christmas!



All was quiet for two weeks after the disastrous dinner party and then…

It may have been the top hat and tails or maybe the car full of new shoes purchased with their first month’s rent plus security deposit or the idea that Joan wasn’t moving to Japan after all and was planning to live in the basement that stopped the couple from moving in.  So Joan stayed in her flat and rented out her extra bedroom.

Tom is my guest editor for this story as I was not present for it.

I first realized that’s what she was doing when a guy came to our door introducing himself as Joan’s tenant and asking if he could hang out at our house because Joan was on a rampage. He didn’t rent for much longer.  The next renter was a young woman named Victoria who was attending College of Marin.  She was also pregnant.


Victoria’s room is where the small windows on top are.

Not long after Victoria moved in, Stevie was flying and I had the kids, so I invited a friend, Uncle Smoky, and his two dogs to dinner. Uncle Smoky richly deserved that moniker as he loved smoky links and it was a name he was proud to have.  I took the kids to the grocery store with me.  Returning home we passed a paramedic truck coming out of our street.  I didn’t think anything of it until we pulled into our driveway and there was a police car in Joan’s driveway.  She was handcuffed and the officer was talking to her.  Joan was in another world doing her ballet stretches using the police car as a barre.  The kids watched in awe as the officer pushed Joan’s head down as she climbed into the back seat.

Uncle Smoky arrived, we played with the dogs and had dinner. As we were cleaning up, the phone rang.  It was Victoria.  She was calling from Marin General Hospital and needed a ride home.  She explained that Joan had pushed her down, she had called 911 and the paramedics and police had shown up.  She was in the paramedic van we had seen on our return from the grocery store.  The kids were worried about Victoria and the baby so went with me to pick her up.  On the way I asked them not to mention the baby suggesting they let Victoria tell us what happened.

Naturally, as soon as Victoria got in the car Max asked “Is the baby ok?”

That got Victoria started with the story.  She said that Joan was in a manic phase and Victoria called Joan’s doctor.  That infuriated Joan who yelled at Victoria and pushed her causing her to fall down.  Worried about the baby and concerned that Joan wouldn’t stop, she called 911.  The paramedics took her to the hospital to be checked out.  The baby was unharmed.

When we pulled into the driveway and Victoria got out of the car, she looked up and saw Joan outside the house hosing the walkway.    I took Victoria into our house where she was greeted by Uncle Smoky’s dogs jumping around her.  I left her with Smoky and went up to “talk” with Joan.

“She’s not welcome in my house!” Joan yelled

“You have no right to go into her room, much less shove her!” I yelled.  “She’s staying at our house tonight but she has every right to the room she rented and you need to stay out of it!”

As I left, I turned and there was Joan hosing down a telephone book.  I assumed it was open to the page with the doctor’s number.  I turned away to go back to my house.

“Tell her I fed her cat!” Joan yelled

As I walked down the walkway the door to the lower flat opened and a man whispered to me

“Can I ask you a question?”

“Of course.  What do you want to know?”  I asked as I walked to meet him at his partially open front door.  His girlfriend was standing in the room behind him amongst the boxes from their move-in that afternoon.

“Does this happen often?”  he asked.

“All the time.  Every tenant has been driven out by her craziness.  If I were you, I’d stop payment on the checks you’ve written to her and move out immediately.”

“Should be easy”  he said as he turned and waved to the still fully packed boxes filling the apartment.

When I got back to my house Victoria was gone.  Smoky said she went out the back door.  Then we heard a siren.  It was the police.  Victoria had gone to her room while Joan and I were yelling and found that Joan had thrown her things out onto the deck so she called 911 again.  The police hauled Joan off to jail where she was held for 72 hours before being released.

By the time Joan was released three days later both Victoria and the tenants in the lower flat were gone leaving Joan free to rent to new tenants.  Shortly thereafter three young women moved into the lower unit.  All seemed well for a week or so until I came home from work one afternoon, pulled into the driveway that faced Joan’s house and couldn’t believe what I was seeing.  There was Joan, crawling along the ledge that surrounded the now enclosed corner room of the lower apartment.

“What are you doing?” I yelled

“I got locked out.” She replied

“Locked out of what?! Their apartment?  You have no right to go into their apartment! “ She ignored me, climbed down from the ledge and stalked away.

That night I heard noises from next door and went outside a couple of times to see what was going on but there was nothing unusual to see.  Then I heard the distinctive sound of a police car rumbling up the street (we lived at the end of a one lane street that was very quiet except when garbage trucks or police cars made their way up to our driveway.)

I ran outside to see what was happening and saw the policemen inspecting the house with flashlights as the house was completely dark.

“What’s going on?”  I asked one of the policemen.

“We’ve had a complaint from the tenants about the landlady” he replied.

Joan was hiding in the basement where she had shut off the main power switch.

The police eventually found her and hauled her off for another 72 hour hold.

This time I wrote a letter to the courts requesting that she be held and treated as we were sure she was bipolar.  Naturally, she was released after the 72 hours were up and the tenants and my pleas for treatment ignored.

Shortly thereafter as we were afraid we wouldn’t be able to live next door to Joan, a miracle occurred.  Joan’s house went up for sale.  She couldn’t keep up her house payments and had to sell the house.  It may be cruel to be happy about someone else’s misfortune, but we were ecstatic!

After her house sold, that wasn’t the last of Joan.  She came back a few months later for the large iron gates she claimed were hers.  As she wrestled with one of the gates, it came undone and fell on top of her.  I ran outside when I heard all the commotion.  The gate was too heavy to lift off of Joan, so I called 911.  As the fire department arrived, one of the men looked down and said:

“Oh, it’s you Joan.”

The Dinner Party

Another in the series of Joan!

Joan came running out of her house as I was getting into my car.  “Hi neighbor, I’m having a dinner party and I want you all to come!  I am going to Japan to teach dance and I’ve rented my house.  I want you to meet the new tenants.”  Could this really be happening?  Maybe this time she was really going?  “They’re a really nice couple, you have to meet them!”

“Ok, I said, when is this party?”  “Tonight, 6:00.  I’ll see you then!”

I didn’t call Tom, I didn’t want to hear his ranting.  He got home around 6pm and I’d just tell him then.  I was headed to Joan’s with Katie and Max when Tom got home.  “Where are you going?” he demanded.  “Joan invited us to a dinner party, she said she’s moving to Japan and has rented her place.  She wants us to meet the new tenants.”

“I don’t for a minute believe she’s going anywhere” he sputtered.    He reluctantly agreed and we headed up the driveway to a once glorious home, now as faded as Joan’s old wedding dress.  Nothing but weeds surrounded the place.

We reached the door which was open and there was a young couple standing outside on the small deck.  We exchanged greetings.

“You must be the new tenants” I said.

“Yes, I’m David and this is Janet.”  David was medium height, sandy colored hair, dressed conservatively in kakis and a blue striped shirt.  His blue eyes were anxious.  Janet looked more relaxed, blond shoulder-length hair, dressed nicely in white Capri’s and a pink summer sweater.  Her smile was friendly.

“I’m Stevie, my husband Tom, Katie and Max.”

“Where’s Joan?” asked Tom.

“I don’t know, there doesn’t seem to be anyone here, although the door was wide open when we arrived, just before you got here,” said Janet.

We all walked inside, Max gripping my hand, and Katie, Tom’s

The tiny kitchen was directly to the right, uninviting.  There were no groceries on the counter and no signs of dinner preparation.  Janet opened a drawer to find silverware in a dirty silverware container.  I wandered into the house where the dining table had nothing on it at all.  No chairs around the table, it looked unused.  I walked back into the kitchen where Tom was asking David and Janet if they’d put a deposit on the rental.

“Yes, I gave her a check for $3000 yesterday” said David, looking a little sick.

“Stop payment on it as soon as you get home” said Tom.  “She is not leaving.”  He told them the stories of what we’d been through with her since we moved in.  “There are no chairs around the dining table and the table is not set” I said.  Everyone went to look at the empty table.

As if on cue, we heard loud cabaret music, the bedroom door burst open and out tap-danced Joan in a top hat and tails, white gloves and fishnet stockings.  With her high heeled dancing shoes and a cane held in both hands, she swung it wildly side to side and then overhead.  She had her hair done in curls which were escaping from the hat framing her chubby face.  Eyebrows painted on in high arches, blue eyeshadow, black eyeliner and false eyelashes accentuated her bright, dancing eyes.  She tapped across the room in front of her stunned audience, not believing what we were seeing.

This picture is not actually Joan but as close as I could find to her outfit!

“Hi everyone!  Did you like my number?”  Joan was grinning from ear to ear, clearly excited about her dramatic entrance and our stunned silence.

“Hi neighbor!  Did you meet my new tenants?  They don’t know that I’m not moving just yet; I’m going to live downstairs in the storage room for a while until I’m ready to go to Japan!”

David and Janet looked horrified and Tom and I exchanged glances.

“We met them Joan; I thought you were having a dinner party” Tom said.

“I am! I am!” she exclaimed as she ran to the kitchen.  “Where’s my chicken?  I know I had chicken!”  She looked in the refrigerator, on the counter, on top of shelves and no chicken.

“It must be in the car!” she exclaimed.  “Neighbor!” she said to me, “come help me look for my chicken in the car.  It must be in there!”

Joan and I walked down to her old Honda Hatchback.  I could see a pile of boxes through the dirty back window.  Joan opened the front door, no chicken.  She came back to the trunk to open it.  I got another shock as her trunk was full of shoes, there were shoes everywhere.  Open shoe boxes strewn all over.

Like the picture only in the trunk of her car!

“Do you like my new shoes neighbor?  I got them all today at Macy’s and Nordstrom’s!  I was there for hours!  “Nice Joan” I said.  The trunk did not hold any chicken.

“David’s deposit is in Joan’s car” I told Tom.  “Her car is full of new shoes strewn all over the place.”

Meanwhile Joan rushed back into the house, looked behind the kitchen door for her chicken which wasn’t there.  She saw 5 year old Max standing there.  “You!” she said, “You took my chicken!”  Max’s lip quivered and he burst into tears.

“That’s it!” yelled Tom “We’re out of here, you’re crazy!”  We grabbed the kids and couldn’t get out of there fast enough.  “You haven’t had any dinner! Joan yelled.  “We don’t want any!” Tom yelled back.  David and Janet followed us out and we never saw them again.

A few hours later there was a knock on our door.  There stood Joan with a plate of chicken.


So if you think you have ever attended a bad dinner party, just remember, it could be worse!  I would love to hear about your worst experience with a dinner party.



Joan’s Junkyard

It was the horn that did it.  It had been going on for about two weeks.  I knew Joan had rounded the corner onto Olive Ave when I heard the honking.  We lived at the very end of the block over a tiny bridge but you could hear it the minute she started down the street.  It was as if she was alerting the entire neighborhood that JOAN HAD RETURNED.

It brought back memories of a very interesting dog we had when we lived in Chicago.  We got him when he was 5 years old, for protection, as we lived in a sketchy neighborhood.  He actually had papers and his name was “Sir Pottamus, Lord of Bartairs.”  Pot for short.    Our brownstone backed up to an alley and when we’d go out back to walk, Pot would look left and howl, then right and howl.  He wanted everyone to know he was out.  Sort of like Joan.

We had lived in our house for less than a month and been working on it nonstop.  Tom and I didn’t even have a bedroom.  We kept moving from one room to the next trying to figure out where we wanted our bedroom.  We had torn out the orange shag carpet in the kitchen and a friend and I were faux painting the plywood floor underneath.  Our appliances had not yet been installed.  It was time for a break and that horn supplied the perfect excuse.  We picked Twain Harte, up in the mountains towards Yosemite, and had packed up the car and the kids when Joan appeared.  She came out onto her Juliette balcony and said

“Hi neighbor, where’re you going?”

“Twain Harte, why?”  Tom said.

“Oh, that’s good.  You deserve a break.  How long will you be gone?”  Joan asked.

“A week, maybe less, why?”  Tom asked again.

“Have fun, don’t worry about a thing here, I’ll watch your house!”  And she disappeared.

As we pulled away, Tom and I gave each other worried looks.  “Well, that made me feel so much better, Joan is going to look after the house while we’re away.”  I said.

Twain Harte is a wonderful place and perfect for kids.  We had a great week and forgot all about Joan, the fact we were carrying two mortgages and our wreck of a house.  A week later we pulled into the driveway we shared with Joan, exhausted but renewed. Then we walked up the steps, along the sidewalk to get to the front door and stopped.

We had a long covered entryway leading to the front door.  It was full of discarded furniture.  A fiberboard cabinet, table, chairs, a desk and even a toilet.  On one side of the house was a narrow deck that was in great disrepair and had no railings.  On it was an old couch and a stove!  We were in shock.  Joan came out onto her Juliette deck at that moment.

“Welcome home neighbor!  You have such a big house I knew you could use some furniture!  I hired that same guy from the biker bar, the  Peso, who took the pictures of me in my wedding dress and he emptied my storage room and moved it over to your house.  I know you’ll put it to good use.  You can thank me later!”  Joan seemed especially excited.

“We don’t want your old furniture!” Tom yelled.  “Get it out of here!”

“That’s no problem neighbor, just get rid of what you don’t want!”  With that she disappeared .






Joan’s house is on the left in this picture, our house below.  Too close.  The long expanse on our house once had an old deck that had to be removed.  That is where Joan deposited the stove and couch.  You can see her Juliette deck on the front upper part of her house.

We knew we had a problem.  Could we actually live here with Joan as our neighbor?  What would she do next?  Would there be more to come?  Yes as it turned out, a lot more!

Stay tuned for the next Joan story.