"...it's like Will Rogers, Jean Shepherd and some grumpy Jewish man all rolled into one."

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Moved To Tears

A few weeks ago on a Friday the high in Boston reached 99 degrees, the hottest day of the year so far (in fact, the hottest day of the 21st century to date in the Hub). What better day then could there possibly have been for us to move into our new apartment?

The moving crew arrived shortly before 8:00 am (only a balmy 89 at that time). We hired the same company that moved us from Boston to Cambridge four years ago; the high that day only reached 97 and we wanted to give this company a chance to top itself. Four strapping young men showed up, ranging from a mere 6’ to a towering 6’ 9”. One of the lads was from Ireland, and the other three from Lithuania. The tallest, a blond and muscular hunk named Darius (at least, that’s what it sounded like to us), spoke the least English (except for the guy from Ireland) and answered “Yes” to nearly every question Carol asked him: “Would you like a cold drink? -- Yes…” “How long have you been in this country? -- Yes…” “If I can get rid of my husband for a little while, will you have your way with me? -- Yes…” Shortly after his arrival, Carol sent me out to look for her high school diploma which she insisted was in the car and I was not to come back until I found it. Christ, I looked everywhere and no luck… I came back inside some time later and was sure she’d be mad at me, but she was smiling and didn’t seem to mind at all despite the obvious flush on her face from the heat that day. She’s such a doll!

The crew raced up and down two flights of stairs all morning long. I was impressed by their stamina (Carol agreed), so much so that I attempted one such sprint myself and spent the rest of the day hobbled and limping. Darius also had a bad knee (recovering from an ACL tear). Carol, being a physical therapist, graciously offered to examine him closely in another room and told me afterward that the injury hadn’t slowed him down one bit. Remarkable! I guess they have some excellent surgeons back in the “old country”.

After they packed all our belongings in the truck, it was time for a lunch break. Carol wanted these fellows to know how much she appreciated their efforts on this brutal day, so she suggested I go pick up lunch at a nearby Greek place. Even though it was just around the corner from our apartment, the walk there was challenging in the heat, plus I had to turn around and go back several times because Carol kept texting me to change their drink orders. Poor lads – I can only imagine how desperately they needed to slake their thirst that day.

After lunch we were ready to head to our new place and unload everything, so I told the crew, “It’s time for you to do it all over again, backwards!” Right at that moment, Carol must have choked on a bit of her meal since she started coughing and turned beet red. I hopped in the car and Carol prudently suggested she’d ride in the back of the truck along with Darius in order to make sure nothing shifted during the brief trip to our new apartment. There was some mid-day traffic as we drove into the tunnel leading us to the highway, and I lost sight of the truck among the surge of other vehicles.  I continued to drive to the new apartment and got there before the movers. I guess they must have hit another knot of traffic along the way, because it was a solid hour after my arrival before they showed up.

Our new place is smaller than the old one. While we’ve moved several pieces of furniture up to the lake, we still have a lot of of stuff and it was quite a puzzle figuring out what would go where. I looked around and complained, “This can’t possibly all fit in this tight space!” Carol and the crew got quite a chuckle from my outburst, with Carol replying, “Oh, you’d be surprised!” The crew found her response hilarious; I didn’t get the joke but laughed along good-naturedly.

Again, the crew hustled like mad men, bringing up boxes faster than we could direct where to put them. The new place has two small porches, front and back – those quickly turned into storage areas for the overflow. At one point, I was actually blocked off in the back porch with boxes stacked all around me and no way to reach the door back into the apartment. I called out to Carol for nearly 45 minutes to come rescue me, but I guess she couldn’t hear over the constant din of activity. It was actually the Irish lad who came along to let me out. I was quite frazzled by being trapped in the small space with no fresh air on such a hot day, yet he apparently found my experience amusing since he was laughing uproariously as he cleared a path back into the apartment.

Finally, some ten hours after getting started, all of our things were now in their new home. I’d planned to give the crew generous tips and had gone to the bank the day before to make sure I had enough cash on hand. However, Carol thoughtfully suggested that due to the conditions we should double the amount, so I went off in search of a bank which, since the neighborhood was largely unfamiliar to me, took quite a while. But I wasn’t worried since Carol had told me not to rush; she’d keep the boys occupied until I made it back. I returned some time later to find everyone obviously exhausted from the day’s vigorous activities. I handed out the tips, telling them they’d been worth every penny. Such a good-humored group of guys; they found that innocuous comment amusing as well! Carol was so appreciative of their hard work that she gave each fellow a lingering hug and warm kiss of thanks. She is just such an affectionate and caring person.

We are still unpacking; it’s been a busy few weeks since the move and Carol has had to work more late nights than usual and comes home exhausted. Funnily enough, I saw Darius in the neighborhood several days after the move and mentioned that coincidence to Carol. She told me she was treating him for his ACL injury but, since he didn’t have insurance in this country, had to sneak him in to her department after hours for massage and other touch therapies. She said he was responding very well but treatment would need to continue indefinitely. That woman is a saint, isn’t she? Brings tears to my eyes...

Monday, August 19, 2013

Advice Squad

[I'm a fan of newspaper/magazine (now online) advice columns, mostly because I am incredulous at both the Qs and As. Here are some recent (actual) requests for advice, the advice given by the "professionals", and how I would have advised these idiots folks. My responses in Italian… er, italics.]

DEAR AMY: I recently received a thank-you note for a wedding gift. However, the bride thanked me for a piece of china, and I gave her a tureen! Should I try to correct this? -- Confused

DEAR CONFUSED: Yes. The mix-up might have occurred at the store (if these were registry items), or the bride might have made a simple mistake and would have thanked someone else for the tureen. Let her know.

DEAR 19TH-CENTURY RESIDENT: What the fuck is a "tureen"? Who would need such a thing in today's world? Have you ever heard of a “microwave”? That would have been an awesome gift. Or a gift card to Applebee’s so this bride could go out to dinner and not have to wash a goddam tureen afterwards.
DEAR ABBY: I am 39 and have been at my job for 15 years. I don't enjoy it and haven't since day one. The work is stressful and doesn't bring me one single ounce of gratification.

I have always wanted to be an elementary school teacher, but now I'm afraid that ship has sailed. I'm currently back in college for business (my job helps to pay my tuition) and feel like I'm not being fair to myself. I don't like finance, and I was never good at math. I get paid well and am well-invested in my retirement plan, but I'm miserable every minute I must sit in my little cubicle. I consider it my jail cell.

I need advice on where to take my career because I'm not getting any younger. Or is it too late? -- OVER THE HILL IN NEW JERSEY

DEAR O.T.H.: You are not incarcerated, and you are only as trapped as you choose to make yourself. Most colleges have career counseling services, and you should avail yourself of them.

If teaching children is your heart's desire, you will have to take the time to prepare for it, know ahead of time what opportunities are available and what the compensation is. Make it your business to find out before making any drastic changes. You'll be glad you did.

DEAR W.T.F: Why in the hell would you want to become an elementary school teacher? Do you have any children of your own? If so, you know the answer to my previous question. (P.S. – If you’re no good at math, then how do you know you’re well-invested in your 401k?)
Dear Carolyn:
When my husband and I were dating (we did not live together before marriage) we loved being around each other so much that what we DID was less important than the fact that we were together. I think I actually remember saying, "I don't mind if you watch SportsCenter! Just so long as I'm with you."

Now that we're about two years into our marriage, I am bored with just sitting around. I sit all day at work, and the last thing I want to do when I get home is plant my butt on the couch. Also I think it's really unhealthy.

When I let him enjoy his screen time while I do constructive things around the house, or go out on my own, he is hurt that "I don't want to spend time with him." Do I need to redefine "quality time" to match his understanding? Or is it reasonable to make that time valuable for the both of us?
-- TV Is Not Romantic

How much of "I sit all day at work" have you explained? Does he know you're all for the together time, just not all the TV?

Ideally, you'll both give a little on the other's understanding of quality time. Maybe you can manage a couple of couch nights if you find a great series to follow, and maybe that will soften him to your doing your "constructive things" on others, and the mutual good will will fuel interest in going out once or twice a week.

If you can think of it roughly in thirds, his way/your way/separate ways, then you might both be able to find more satisfaction in your marriage without changing a whole lot. It all starts, though, with communicating and not judging.

.. and acknowledging that your "I love SportsCenter as long as I'm with you!" declaration was a bait-and-switch -- a crime of passion, though, not premeditation.

You have cable, don't you? There's porn on cable. Watch some porn together. That should lead to some "healthy" activities.

Also, I also hear "Breaking Bad" is a good show, but I've been too busy watching porn to catch up with it.
Dear Margo: I've been married to my husband for eight years, and we have a lot of laughs, good sex and a happy life overall. The only thing he would like to add to our marriage is an occasional sexual threesome. I've replied that we can use this fantasy, but to actually do it would not work for me.

Last week, the two of us went to a business convention. In past years, there was always a big party scene in the evenings, and my husband, being by himself, always met lots of people and danced, drank and flirted until all hours of the night, and always told me about how much fun he had.

This year, while at the airport, I was helping him look through his briefcase and came upon a box of condoms. I asked him what he was thinking, and he said, "Well, if you have them, you probably won't need them." I was very upset at the time, and I'm finding that one week later, I'm still upset. I know my husband has forgotten all about the incident. What should I do? — Annoyed

Dear Ann: Keep saying no. And you might pose this question to your husband: Did he pack an umbrella, as well, to make sure it didn't rain? His answer was quite lame, but the desire for a threesome is obviously still on his wish list.

The wild card, however, is you — as the third. As long as you don't want it, it can't happen. Do not let him make you feel square or stodgy about your decision. I'm sure some people, somewhere, are perfectly happy with threesomes, but for this to work, everyone has to be willing.

Tell him ix-nay on the three-way and that the discussion is closed. — Margo, decisively

Dear Prude: Tell your husband you've reconsidered and are finally in on the idea of a threesome. Then bring home another dude to join in. Problem solved.
A good friend invited me and a few other very close friends to a dinner party, where she said she would cook dinner for us.            
We were all quite excited until the day of the dinner party, when she sent us a text asking one of us to pick up something from a nearby restaurant. She asked us to order a large list of entrees and side dishes, and said we could split it up later (meaning...she did not order the food herself, but wanted one of us to do it).         
Obviously this is quite rude, but I do not know how to bring this up to her, as she does not see why this is a big deal since we're all close friends anyway.

What is a big deal here is that your friend pulled a bait-and-switch. She pretended to invite you and other friends to dinner, only to reveal that what she really planned was to have you cater a dinner at her house.    
Miss Manners is a great believer in the sacredness of dinner invitations which, once accepted, should not be cancelled under circumstances less than dire. But in this case, you all mistakenly accepted a different invitation from the one now offered, and would be justified in declining. 

Why didn't you all just spit in the takeout containers and then make an excuse to leave before dinner was served?
DEAR E. JEAN: I can’t even be in the same room with my girlfriend without getting an erection. These past two years with her have been the best of my life. She’s tall, beautiful (on a scale of one to 10, she’s a 12, on a bad day), experienced, intelligent, and wealthy; she drives a fast car; and she makes my guy friends envious. My female friends are intimidated, and when she and I are in bed, I feel like a rock star.

We’re totally loyal to each other, I could never fall out of love with her, and I want us to spend the rest of our lives together, but there’s one catch: I’m a less-than-bottom-level banker with no money and the worst apartment in New York. She’s almost too refined, too funny, too intelligent, too established. Plus, there’s this: I’m 26, and she’s 51.

I’m constantly beaten up by my female friends, who say I should break up with her and date girls my age. That would be like going from Cristal to moonshine. However, children aren’t possible, we wouldn’t be able to grow old together, and these are becoming awkward undercurrents in our all-star relationship. So what the heck do I do? Let the good times roll? Or face that stupid thing called “reality”?
—Happiest Guy in NYC

MR. HAPPY, YOU KNAVE: Yes, hour by hour, week by week, yellow crow’s-feet will creep around the fading eyes and make them horrible. The hair will lose its brightness, the mouth will droop, as the mouths of old people do. There will be the wrinkled throat, the blue-veined hands, and the twisted body—and this, my man, is what’s in store for you as you crawl toward 50.

As for your young gal of 51? She’s obviously a member of the Genetic Marvels Corporation: Miss Julie Christie, President; Miss Tina Turner, Vice President; Miss Rita Moreno, Chief Information Officer; Miss Jane Fonda, Head of Product Development; and Miss Raquel Welch, Director of HR (the Marvels all shot past 70 at about 220 miles per hour). Going on the evidence presented in your letter, I can almost guarantee that at 75 or 80 your girl will still be just sexy as hell. After that, it gets a little chancy. Your jowls may droop, and you’ll have to consider surgery.

In other words, let the good times roll, my dear fellow! (And, yes, that was Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray I was riffing on in the opening paragraph.)

MR. DUMB, SICK BASTARD: You’re “riffing” your mother, aren’t you? That’s perverse.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Exhaust-ing Weekend

[I’ll get off the lake house updates soon enough – although perhaps not soon enough for you, dear reader.]

This past weekend we made an impromptu trip up to Maine since my wife’s oldest brother Emmett (who, in an amazing coincidence, is also my oldest brother-in-law) and his wife Kathleen had some time off and wanted to come see the new house and help out with any remaining projects. Hmm… yes, we could think of a few small tasks with which they could assist...

We already had plans to attend a concert on Friday night (Todd Rundgren, and if you say “Todd WHO?” then please just stop reading this blog or having anything to do with me at all), so once the show was over we hopped in the car and got on our way. We were on the road starting around 10:30pm and made it to the house around 1:15am. It was a wonderful drive, except for the: a) surprising amount of traffic, b) blinding band of rainstorms, c) exhaustion, d) brightly glowing “LOW TIRE PRESSURE WARNING! BLOWOUT IMMINENT! GET OUT OF THE CAR AND WALK!” warning light that came on about 30 miles into the drive (which, of course, we ignored) and e) heavy fog that descended upon us just as we got off the Maine Turnpike and onto the back roads. We experienced the entire range of foggishness – “light mist”, “slight squint required”, “hazy recollection”, “where the fuck is the road?” Despite the obscured view, we managed to make it to the house unscathed.

Since we didn’t get into bed until close to 2am, I slept in the next morning until nearly 6:30. I then drove to the nearest gas station to check the tire pressure, and the passenger-side front tire was as underinflated as a balloon animal assembled by a clown with emphysema. [If that turn of phrase didn’t amuse you, feel free to insert your choice of breast or penis metaphor here.] The obvious choice would have been to put the spare on, but considering that would have made us (homonym alert!) four-for-four re: different tires on each corner of the car, I decided to have a complete new set installed -- peace of mind for the many trips we’re planning to make up north in the months to come.

One hour and $550 dollars later, I left with a new set of wheels filled with nitrogen. Why nitrogen? Apparently, it’s an inert gas and therefore superior to the normal “air” used to inflate tires. While any experience I’ve had with gas could hardly be labeled as “inert”, I decided it was preferable to the usual inflationary process because, and this is very important, the shop didn’t charge me anything extra for it. The only drawback from this decision was my fault – I’m no chemist, so I confused nitrogen with helium and thought it would be fun to suck some of the gas out from the tire through the valve. However, rather than amusing myself and others by speaking in a high, squeaky voice I instead experienced “the bends”.

Coming back from the tire expedition, I found Emmett and Kathleen at the house. Their six-hour drive from Westchester County had taken a mere nine hours spread over two days due to massive traffic fleeing from New York State on Friday afternoon. They were very complimentary about the new place and despite the exhausting trip still seemed eager to assist with the list of projects for which we sought their help. Before getting underway, I offered coffee and all said yes. Two hours later I had masterfully brewed two out of three cups of java due to my meticulous process and because I kept knocking over one of the mugs. I pride myself on my coffee-brewing technique, using only single-cup pour-over unbleached filters filled with Indonesian coffee beans shit by civet cats, harvested by teenage virgins, roasted by members of the Friar’s Club, crushed by defeat, and transported to this country using technologies not yet invented to maintain freshness. Em and Kathleen were so impressed with my brew that they insisted that I get them coffee from Cumberland Farms for the remainder of their stay.

I forget what we accomplished Saturday afternoon because there was a lot of beer involved.

Sunday morning I slept in until 6:45; it’s nothing but lazy mornings for me at the lake! After returning from Cumberland Farms with inferior coffee for certain fusspots, we decided the first task for the day would be to paint the living/dining room. The existing color was a blue-green that could only be described as “Southwest Algae”; we’d instead selected a color called “Cream Puff” because we were hungry at the time we bought the paint. Emmett took command and assured us with a crew of four we’d knock out the job in an hour. I asked how long it would take with a crew of three since I hate to paint – hate it hate it hate it. I did, however, tape off much of the trim since I wanted to be a “team player”. However, using duct tape was perhaps not my best choice for the task. While those three painted, I cut the grass and reduced the number of rocks I ran over this time to a mere seven.

The painting took a bit longer than estimated, but only by a factor of 6. Once done the rooms looked fantastic. However, the longer-than-expected painting effort meant we hadn’t gotten to the other tasks for which Emmett’s expertise was required. He and Kathleen graciously agreed to stay an extra day to help out. I was more than happy to ditch work on Monday; regrettably, Carol had to return home that night since she had a full patient load the next day. We cleaned up from our respective chores and headed out for dinner at a favorite spot that put Carol close to the highway for her drive back to Boston. After our meal, Carol headed home and the three of us went back to the lake.

I forget what we accomplished Sunday evening because there was a lot of Irish Mist and Maker’s Mark involved.

Monday morning and you already know the routine – off to Cumberland Farms for three big coffees (do the math) and then it was time to install a new bathroom exhaust fan. I’d removed the existing fan for a variety of reasons; foremost among them was that the previous owner had dealt with an annoying rattle by sticking a Q-tip into the inner workings, and also that the fan was a literal vortex, sucking up cigarette smoke -- the entire workings were covered with a layer of nicotine so thick that any further description offered here would be beyond disgusting. After removing the old fan I’d covered up the hole in the ceiling by stapling a piece of cardboard across it. When Emmett pulled down the improvised cover to take a look at the opening, he was quickly covered by a blizzard of insulation that came spilling out from the rafters. He was not amused.

After wrestling with the new fixture, we (meaning Emmett) were “thisclose” to completing the installation, needing only to connect the wiring. While I shouldn’t have been surprised, considering how smoothly all the other house projects have gone, we discovered the cable was about six inches too short to allow it to be connected to the wiring in the fan. Time for a trip to the hardware store (Trip #147 in the two months since we closed on the house). “And bring back more coffee!” Kathleen requested. We jumped in Emmett’s van and zipped over to pick up the additional wire and the coffees. If only we’d remembered to bring our wallets with us. I drove back to the house to retrieve them and returned to the hardware store. I looked for Emmett in the electrical aisle – not there. I realized that the next most logical place to find him would be at the other end of the store – the gun counter. Y’see, in Maine they sell guns and ammo pretty much everywhere. Emmett was deep in conversation with the clerk about the array of guns, shotguns and rifles (to my untrained, pacifist eyes it appeared they carried every model of handgun known to man). Emmett pointed out the sniper’s rifle on display… now, if you were a sniper wouldn’t you be issued a rifle at the time of certification? And if you lost or misplaced yours, would you go to Ace Hardware for a replacement? Emmett bought some ammunition that he said was unavailable to him back home in NY (he is a responsible gun-owner, as much as it pains my pacifist, gun-fearing heart to utter such a phrase) – special bullets that would explode upon impact with their target. In the interest of public safety, I should include Emmett’s address here in case you are a criminal and were thinking of staging a home invasion at his place – I will strongly discourage you from doing so, especially after his most recent purchase. I mentioned to Emmett that, during Trip #103, I’d seen an elderly couple (in their 80s) buying $300 worth of ammo. The husband looked to be the older and more frail of the two; the wife pulled out her credit card to pay for the purchase and when she went to sign the sales slip, her hand shook so much that I wanted to put a maraca in it and sign up for tango lessons. I would also strongly advise that you not plan to invade this couple’s home, since there is no way in HELL to predict where their shots might be aimed. I would in fact just flat out advise against even walking down their street.

We came home with the wire and finished up the installation. Fan and light worked like a charm – success! Estimated time to install: 1 hour. Actual time to install: 6 weeks (from when I’d removed the old fixture) and 3 hours (2:45 to put it up and :15 to buy coffee).

While we were struggling with this task, Kathleen calmly and efficiently managed to: trim a hedge, assemble a table, sort the recycling and knit an afghan – all while texting with her two daughters practically non-stop to thwart their (daughters’) attempt to burn down the house in their parents’ absence.

Final project – put the dock in the water. The house came with a two-piece “roll-a-dock”, only one section of which actually has wheels on it. That was easily placed in the lake. The other section is just a big ol’ slab of aluminum. You know how light aluminum is – think foil, or beer cans. This section of dock must have weighed 300 pounds. Emmett can dead-lift 305 pounds (coincidentally, if I tried to lift 305 pounds I’d also be dead), but it was still quite a struggle to get the section up off the ground and align it with the wheeled section. 90 minutes and 2 fingers (mine) later, we had the dock assembled. Monday was a spectacular day – bright blue skies, temperature in the low 80s, the whole lake spread out in front of us – so of course we loaded up the van and hit the road. I needed to get back to Boston and didn’t want to get caught up in rush-hour traffic, and Emmett and Kathleen planned to continue on to Lake George to meet up with friends and field more frantic texts from their daughters regarding other imminent household disasters.

All in all, a very productive weekend and Carol and I are quite indebted to E & K for all their help. Of course, as tirelessly as we worked, with limited time available, it was inevitable that there would be a little friction among us on occasion. Emmett implemented a very effective way to deal with any vitriol directed his way – he’d shake that box of ammo and immediately the disturbance was quelled. Carol and I had a few tense moments between us but got past them quickly. At times like this, I remember the old adage re: “Count to 10 before you respond to anything in anger.” That’s good advice, although after installing the dock I hope it will be just as effective if I can only count to 8.