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

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Racked With Gelt

Like many Jewish children, I wanted to celebrate Christmas when I was little -- strictly for the presents. While gifts were also a part of our family's Hanukkah tradition, they were doled out in what my younger self viewed as a parsimonious (I was a bright little fellow with a precocious vocabulary) fashion, only one per day. And I got stuff like: handkerchiefs. What seven-year-old carries a handkerchief, much less uses it for his snotty nose? That's what sniffling and, in a pinch, sleeves were for. My Christian friends received seemingly endless quantities of toys, games, bikes and motorized scooters, ski trips... goyim gift-getting overstuffed like a deli sandwich piled high with corned beef between two slices of irony. I wanted in.

I grew up in a reform (i.e., not so much "observant" as "nodding familiarity with") Jewish family, a sibling-free child of a Jewish mother and born-Christian-but-converted-to-Judaism-under-pressure-from-her-family father. When I entered elementary school our neighborhood had a substantial Jewish population. I recall at least a quarter of my classmates being Jewish; there were enough that most classes went into a holding pattern during the celebrations of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur since so many students were absent. I used to stay out for the first day of Rosh Hashanah but then plead to come in on the second since school was so much fun. Lots of arts and crafts, extended recess, no homework -- much more education-casual than the norm. But midway through 5th grade we moved, and within my new school district there was a mere handful of Jewish families. In a high school with over two thousand students there were, to the best of my knowledge, less than a dozen Jews. "Excused absences" for the Jewish holidays meant a frantic effort to catch up on missed assignments, make-up tests, and the need to answer the same questions from my classmates every year: "Where were you?" -- "What holiday is that?" -- "Why can't you eat?" -- "Where's your beanie?" A priest offered an invocation at my high school commencement, blessing all the graduates and their families "in the name of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ." Hmm, I hadn't met this Christ fellow.

As I've gotten older I've become even less observant. My religiosity is akin to Elizabeth Warren's take on her purported Native American heritage: "I grew up with these stories about my family and always assumed they were true." I haven't been to temple for many years and usually lose track of when the Jewish holidays come around each year. As I type this I know we're in the middle of Hanukkah but I'm not sure which night. As mentioned here, my wife and I are in a mixed marriage (she is level-headed and I am not), and neither of us did much in the way of introducing our son to either or, for that matter, any religion. My feelings about faith and organized religion are too complex to articulate here but I will say, even as someone who hasn't attended synagogue in a long time, I still identify with that part of my background. I don't trot out the "I'm Jewish! How dare you?!" card when convenient, but maintain sensitivity to the challenges of a life lived as part of a minority. While nearly everyone can come up with a hyphenate as part of their self-description (African-American; mentally-challenged; differently-abled), it dismays me when people who are clearly advocating from a position of privilege or their own self-interest adopt some fabricated minority status in order to claim oppression or discrimination against them or others in their class. "White Rights"; "The War on Christmas", and "Every Word Out Of Lena Dunham's Mouth Is Pure Genius" are examples; there is no more a war on Christmas today than there is peace in Iraq. And even within legitimate minority communities, there are those who seek to absolve themselves of any personal responsibility for their status or (in)actions through some other fractional distinction. It would be like me claiming I was "present-deprived" as a kid because of my "Christmas-negative" status.

But I digress (did I mention I'm also "attention-deficient"?). Besides the handkerchiefs, I also recall receiving Hanukkah gifts including:
  • The soundtrack to "My Fair Lady", that perennial children's favorite.
  • A subscription to Horizon, a hard-cover, rather high-brow arts magazine ostensibly ordered in my name but just so my mother could read it.
  • A remote-control car. Now, this sounds like *exactly* the kind of thing a young boy would be thrilled to get. This version, however, wasn't controlled by a radio remote but instead by a plastic bellows attached to a narrow tube running to the car; squeezing the bellows was supposed to change the car's direction. 1) It didn't. 2) The hose was only about three feet long, so I had to waddle along behind the car as it rolled aimlessly across the living room floor. 3) The batteries in the car lasted about 20 minutes and there were no replacement "C" batteries in the house, ever. I played with it for that brief period on one day and never again. (And yes, I recognize the "... and the portions are so small" contradiction here.)
  • A pretend medical kit, the kind with a plastic stethoscope, a blood pressure cuff where the needle would spin wildly just like when your grandfather was having a stroke, a fake thermometer that ended up getting stuck in all kind of places -- a true classic toddler toy. When my parents gave this to me I was twelve years old.
I'd like to believe I've grown up into a generous person -- not extravagant by any means, but not anywhere near as stingy or misdirected as my parents were when it comes to giving gifts. Certainly our family is quite fortunate in that there's nothing we need, and little we want. At this time of year, it seems more appropriate to be focused with what we can give to and do for others and not at all concerned with what we may receive.

There's really only one thing I ask: if someone could point me toward where I can get a decent corned beef sandwich up here in the middle of Maine... I mean, I've heard even Jesus grew up in a kosher household.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Give A Man Enough Trope

People say I'm stubborn but I refuse to believe that.

"Look after the pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves." Yes -- while you've got your head buried under the couch cushions looking for spare change, your ungrateful family will raid your wallet.

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? Alright... you'd be a lot easier to take with a couple of cold beers.

Everyone has at least one good book in them. Those diagnosed with pica may have six or seven lodged in there.

I expect to pass this way but once. However, my GPS is so goddam useless I might be back again to ask for directions.

My psychiatrist told me I was crazy. I said I wanted a second opinion -- he said that wasn't covered under Obamacare.

When I was little I knocked on my friend Billy's door and asked his mother if he could come out. She said, "Not until his grandparents are dead."

My wife was excited when I told her to expect great sex after dinner. She didn't even wait for dessert to be served before dashing over to the singles bar.

I'm not so much "hard of hearing" as I am "soft of listening".

Where words fail, music speaks. Where music fails is in any bar hosting a Karaoke Night.

I was just diagnosed as a pathological liar -- psych!

Success is a bastard with many fathers. Failure is an orphan, with no takers. But I'll think about it if you'll throw in the leather upgrade at that price.

Never say never. Personally, I prefer "No fucking way."

It is said, "Choose a job you love and you'll never have to work a day in your life." Then why do people have résumés?

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Let's Face It

My dear friend Charlotte is in the midst of an around-most-of-the-world trip: her itinerary includes stops in Europe, Asia, Australia, South America and maybe even Poughkeepsie. She is occasionally meeting up with family and friends in various locations but is largely seeing two-thirds of the world on her own. She maintains a lively travel blog and recently wrote of traveling inward -- spending time exploring solitude.

Charlotte describes herself as an extrovert, so consciously choosing to spend some portion of her time minimizing contact with other people and stimuli was challenging and ultimately rewarding. I, however, am quite the introvert. This might come as a surprise to those of you reading this who know me. Years ago I was part of a work team that completed personality assessments; we compared outcomes afterwards and when I said the test indicated I was an introvert most of the others expressed disbelief -- "You're always joking around!" "You're so outgoing!" But one very perceptive co-worker looked at me and offered the correct analysis: "You're an introvert posing as an extrovert." Truer words were never spoken, other than "Don't order the seafood platter at Denny's." If we've ever had a dialogue or been together in a group activity, you've no doubt noticed how remarkably red-faced I become the moment I open my mouth. It doesn't matter what I have to say -- something as simple as introducing myself will trigger a blush so profound that I'm frequently asked how I got so sunburned... in the middle of winter. It's embarrassing, making it self-perpetuating behavior -- I say something, which gets me red-faced; I'm aware I'm blushing, which makes me even redder. Sometimes in photos my face is blurry when others are in focus because my head is throwing off so much heat. Unlike Charlotte, I embrace being by myself. When I used to travel for business, my wife would complain being alone in the house drove her nuts. Carol recently enrolled in a class that takes her out of town for one long weekend each month. I miss her while she's gone, but I look forward to being on my own, with only the cats as my companions. They share my aversion to conversation and don't care if I leave the dirty dishes until the next day.

I've spent a fair amount of my working life in roles where presentation was an essential part of the job -- corporate training consumes much of my resume, and other roles involved running demonstrations or leading meetings. I've always liked to believe I'm a good communicator and facilitator, reasonably articulate and can manage the flow and interplay among participants well. Perhaps that's because I am uniting them with their collective amazement at how red my face is, their curiosity at how much redder it can possibly get, and even a touch of fear regarding their proximity if my head were to spontaneously combust and explode.

Please don't confuse my introversion with being anti-social. I do tend to shy away from large functions and am not much at striking up conversations with people I don't know. But if I spy some familiar faces at a big party, or a stranger initiates a chat with me -- I can be very loquacious and occasionally entertaining. But I inevitably hit a point where the well runs dry and I go back to hugging the wallpaper, often leaving the function hours before its scheduled end. Once I was a participant in a week-long training class of a dozen employees, most of whom I hadn't met before our session began. I sat quietly during the first two days, speaking only when spoken to. At the start of Day Three, I made a conscious decision to be more outgoing and initiate some discussion during our group breakfast. I smiled broadly when I entered the room, offering a boisterous "Good morning!" to all, and began to recount some anecdote, using sweeping gestures and giving dramatic voice to the narrative. Everyone was entranced, keeping their eyes focused on me throughout my "performance". I concluded my tale, and shortly afterward one of the session leaders came over and asked if she could speak with me for a moment. She took me by the arm and led me away from the larger group. She smiled and kindly said, "You've got something hanging from your nose." I grabbed a napkin and swiped at my face -- dislodging a dried booger the size of a raisin. There wasn't another peep out of me for the rest of the week.

Since moving to the lake I've been fortunate enough to work from home, keeping in touch with co-workers via various electronic methods. On one project I've been working with a team that has a daily video check-in; our webcammed faces joining a row at the top of the screen as we log in. When I'm added to the display, I see a cozy warm halo surrounding my head. I'd say it's almost Christ-like if I weren't Jewish. I guess that makes it more nebbish-like.

One day I hope to find myself completely at ease, able to let go of whatever angst is buried deep within that contributes to my introversion and discomfort in the spotlight. However, I suspect the only time I'll ever be completely at peace will be when I die -- I'll make a milky-faced corpse when my brain is no longer wrestling with my anxieties.

Kind of ironic I've requested to be cremated.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

All Keyed Up

Like many of you, I learned to type using a QWERTY keyboard. Unlike many of you, I learned the skill of "typing" versus what is known today as "keyboarding". (Actually, today I think it's known as "thumb typing" a/k/a "early-onset carpal tunnel syndrome".) When composing a message on my phone, I like to use the "Swype" method, where I drag my finger over the letters and the built-in dictionary anticipates what I'm trying to spell and presciently inserts a vaguely similar word. (I was going to say it inserts a "homophone" but I don't think the sexual preference of words has any relevance here. Perhaps with the exception of "fabulous".)

My recollection behind the invention of the seemingly-random QWERTY display is it had to do with the frequency with which various letters are used -- most of the vowels and the oft-used consonants are concentrated toward the center of three rows so the powerful and flexible index and middle fingers can easily reach them. Outliers such as "Q", "Z" and "X" are relegated to the back-bench of the far side and lowest row where the pathetic ring and pinky fingers of the left hand flail weakly in search. (Of course, if you're left-handed then this isn't the case since you don't know how to spell anyway, what with being so "creative" and all, so the placement is irrelevant.) It's also said the deliberate separation of common letter combinations (such as "th" and "ie") was to prevent jams when closely-aligned keys were used one after the other in the old typesetting days. While these concerns lost relevance after electric typewriters, and later computer-based keyboarding, became the norm, this layout remains the standard. Even though some have proposed more intuitive arrangements, they have failed to gain acceptance and QWERTY remains ubiquitous. If you'd learned to type using, say, the Dvorak system but then had to confront a library catalog keyboard, you'd be flummoxed -- much like your first encounter with a Japanese toilet.

I learned how to type in high school, in a class that was part of the college prep curriculum and was offered along with a now-obsolete skill known as "notehand". This was a modified version of shorthand, made simpler by eliminating the requirement that you wear a skirt and cross your legs during its use. Using notehand would permit all of us university-bound seniors to take verbatim notes during lectures, capturing every word our professors pontificated for later review and test regurgitation and propelling us to graduate summa cum laude. (I personally discovered a less labor-intensive approach to note-taking, known as "skipping class".) My school taught touch-typing, where all ten fingers are involved in generating misspellings. However, many people make use of the "hunt and peck" method, relying primarily on use of the two index fingers to search out keys and strike them with enough force to punch holes in the onionskin (in the olden typewriter days) or cause unwanted repetition on the computer keyboard (resulting in phrases such as "go to hell motherrrfuckkkerrrrrrrrrr" ending up in your resignation email).

Strangely, over the years I've begun to use my own hybrid system -- I'm largely a touch-typist with my left hand while huntin' and peckin' with my right. This may be due to increasing discomfort from arthritis, or perhaps because I want to keep my right hand freer so I can quickly grab my sidearm as permitted by the Second Amendment. I saw a report on the news the other evening -- a restaurant in Louisiana offers a 10% discount on the check for patrons who bring their handguns inside. One of the customers interviewed said, "We've got to stand up for our rights." Yes, I'm sure our forefathers went to war to secure our independence so one day all citizens would have the freedom to eat collard greens with a Smith & Wesson strapped to their hips. Another point made during the story was that no one would be foolish enough to try and rob that restaurant, the implication being that criminals would fear being shot in the presence of so many weapons. Gee, don't we *all* fear being shot when weapons are brandished in public? I'm afraid that someone would try to rob the restaurant and half the diners would be killed in the crossfire. In a nod to "safety", the restaurant doesn't serve alcohol. I guess no one was concerned with the infringement of their Twenty-first Amendment right to impair their judgment with booze. If you feel compelled to carry a weapon everywhere you go in public, your judgment is already impaired and pounding back a Jack & Coke won't make much difference.

What do guns have to do with typing? I guess it was a stretch for me to try and connect the two topics. You might say it was a shot in the darkkkkkkkkk.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Utter Dish-may

(Last in a series of home appliance installation challenges...)

I mentioned in a recent post the joy (insert eye roll) a fairly simple dryer-maintenance project brought. Undaunted by that calamity, I gamely moved on to tackle the long-delayed installation of a new dishwasher.

Some background: the new dishwasher had been sitting in its original packaging, in our storage shed, since I bought it ONE YEAR AGO. The old dishwasher worked, technically -- I mean, the water ran and the arm spun around and it probably *would* have cleaned the dishes if the racks weren't completely rusted out. "Why didn't you just replace the racks?" you are asking me telepathically right now. Have you ever priced replacement dishwasher racks? Surprisingly, they can be nearly half the cost of a brand-new machine. Considering the dishwasher was well into its dotage, it made little sense to spend that much on replacement parts for something that would likely die a painful death right in the middle of our next Thanksgiving dinner. Last year I saw that Sears was having a great sale on appliances so I bought: a replacement for an oven that randomly re-set its temperature mid-bake (I didn't notice there were two small pieces of packing tape affixed to the heating element in the new unit, so the first time we turned on the oven the house filled with the smell of smoldering plastic and adhesive; I think we've gotten used to it by now since remnants of the tape are still welded to the bottom of the oven), a new under-the-counter microwave (I didn't really pay attention to the "how to measure for your new microwave" guide on the Sears website and purchased a unit large enough to defrost a 20-pound turkey; if you want to see what's happening on the stove top you have to step back from the microwave and crane your neck to one side to bring the burners and control panel into your line of sight), and... what was I talking about? Oh, yes -- and the dishwasher.

After making those purchases last year I thought I'd get all three appliances installed one upcoming weekend when our son Josh was going to visit. According to various videos I watched online, the oven should have taken twenty minutes and the microwave and dishwasher an hour or so each. A half-day's effort for a dramatically improved kitchen -- easy peasy. Josh and I started with the oven. That job was complicated by an awkward placement since there's an island directly across from the stove leaving a space barely wider than the open oven door. But we got that done and moved on to the microwave. I'll give credit to the directions for that one -- the manufacturer supplied a template to tape on the wall making it very clear where to drill holes and affix the necessary hardware for a snug installation. I had to drill a hole in the bottom of one cabinet to snake the power cord through and didn't have a large enough drill bit, so I utilized a carpentry technique I call "what the hell" to make multiple overlapping holes and trust that somewhere in there was enough clearance to push the plug through. The good news -- it resulted in a sufficiently sized opening. The bad news -- I ended up spewing particle board detritus all over the kitchen not once, not twice, but three times. [BTW - did you notice our error here? Why would we have put in the new oven before installing the new microwave above it? Because idiocy is a genetic trait from my side of the family.]

We'd had enough of home improvement after wrestling with those two tasks and moved on to beer consumption for the remainder of the day before Josh needed to head home. The dishwasher continued to sit in its packaging in the shed... silently judging me every time I walked past it, season after season. I couldn't motivate myself to get started with the job, and besides there were so many other projects to overwhelm us undertake around the house. We continued to wash our dishes by hand (#FirstWorldProblems). This past weekend, Josh was coming up for another visit and I asked for his able assistance to finally get it done, which he said he would gladly provide. After a relaxing family meal on Friday night, it was early to bed so we could get started first thing Saturday morning.

When Josh hadn't emerged from the guest room by noon I started to remove the old dishwasher myself. I'd actually replaced a dishwasher before, years ago, in our house in South Carolina. That task was complicated by the fact that we'd put in a tile countertop, adding a border that hung down over the top of the old appliance, and had also laid a hardwood floor that was higher than the original linoleum. That meant the dishwasher was boxed in top and bottom -- I couldn't chip away the tile and I couldn't remove the flooring. It was a long time ago but I'm fairly certain I just set my phaser on "stun" and evaporated the old appliance, leaving a nice, neat space for the new one.

But back to the task at hand: I struggled to get the old dishwasher out because of various non-code-compliant decisions the prior homeowner made during its original installation. Once I addressed the various hang-ups (and yes, I remembered to flip the breaker and turn off the water... shortly after I got started), I was able to free the old appliance. As it slid back away from its home under the counter, I saw an empty Milky Way wrapper on top of it... the little bite-sized ones you give out for Halloween. "How'd that get in there?" I wondered. I figured whoever installed the machine had been chomping on some candy and just lazily dropped the wrapper on top before sliding the dishwasher in place. But then I saw another wrapper, and another, and... then I saw a boatload of them behind the machine. Along with a small mountain of mouse turds. Looking like a collection of broken pencil leads, they were piled up along the back edge of the opening where there was a gap between the wall and floor, as well as where there was room around the hole through which the electrical wiring had been brought up from the crawlspace. By this time Josh had emerged from hibernation, so he helped me carefully bring the dishwasher outside so we could cart it to landfill. Then Carol and I tackled removal of the mouse droppings. That was a whole lot of fun. The final steps were to mop mop mop the area with disinfectant and Murphy's Oil Soap. I wanted to let that area dry out completely before proceeding, so that was the end of what we could accomplish on Saturday. Josh was going home that evening, thinning our ranks in the middle of the battle.

Sunday brought a new day but a few lingering turds. I carefully vacuumed out all the crevices (THAT bag was hermetically sealed before going into the trash) until I was satisfied the area was now waste-free, and then stuffed steel wool in the various crevasses (crevassi?). Finally it was time to get started with the new install. I opened the box and there it was, free at last -- a brand-new-yet-one-year-old Kenmore dishwasher. The sheet on top of the contents said to "carefully" open the dishwasher door and remove the installation instructions and assorted other parts. I put my hand on the door latch and pulled and... nothing happened. The door wouldn't open; nothing clicked or seemed to release. I tried again with the same result. I pulled harder -- it wouldn't budge. Carol tried to coax it open with no luck. I dialed the Sears "Installation Hotline" number and spoke with a very pleasant man who essentially told me to... yank on the door. I did -- it opened. I thanked him for his help and he kindly waited almost until I'd hung up the phone before laughing at me.

Now I had the installation booklet in hand and began to review the steps required. The twenty-six pages of steps required. Twenty-six pages to explain how to connect the water source, connect the drain hose, connect the electricity, roll it in place and level it up. Certainly all of these steps must be done in a certain prescribed manner, both for safety's sake as well as the efficient operation of the machine. But were TWENTY-SIX PAGES required to explain? Well, as I came to learn, this was because the author of the manual decided repetition was the key to success -- several steps were repeated, occasionally in a different order. This, along with illustrations that were meticulous but rendered largely out of context with the surrounding components, left me unable to get my bearings to find anything I was supposed to be handling.

Typically, a set of instructions goes like this:
(If "Yes", go to Step 4. If "No", go to Step 7.)
9. (optional)
10. Turn it on.

These instructions went like this:
8. Before beginning this task, complete Step 3.
9. (optional)
10. Step 9 isn't optional after all, so go back. Do not pass "Go"...

Among the first steps was a clear instruction to carefully lay the dishwasher on its back. Then you were supposed to hook up the drain hose and electrical wiring. However, there was no way in hell the drain hose or electrical wiring had enough play in them to reach their intended locations with the machine oriented that way. Sure enough, another ten pages in, the same steps were presented with the device pictured upright and rolled into the opening underneath the counter. Now, of course, the hose and wiring reached their proper points of connection. And now, of course, I was working in that small space underneath the machine where I could insert only three of five fingers, one hand at a time. The video I'd watched before getting started (which, as you may now realize, wasn't all that helpful) was entitled, "Installing a Dishwasher in an HOUR!!!" Christ Almighty - it took me nearly forty minutes just to get the water source connected to the machine, a step complicated by the existence of copper, not flexible, tubing coming from under the sink. There were two pieces of drain hose to connect together, one running from under the sink and the other from the machine -- but the end coming from the machine was tucked up along one side of the dishwasher (the sides now firmly encased in the cabinet space, since the instructions were to connect these two hoses after placing the machine in the opening) -- so I rolled it back out, found the end of the hose, brought it down underneath the dishwasher, and rolled everything back into place to hook the two sections together. The electrical cable was a direct-line, not a grounded plug, so that led to some awkward wire-twisting, capping and taping done in a tight space underneath the machine up against the side of the cabinet. The last step was to "locate brackets on top of dishwasher and secure dishwasher to countertop with two, #10 x 1/2" Phillips-head screws (included)." I had the two, #10 x 1/2" Phillips-head screws (included) ready, but where were the brackets? Oh, there they were -- located in the package of assorted parts provided for installation. If only the instructions had mentioned those brackets earlier on, say... before I'd connected the water, drain hose and electrical wiring. I disconnected everything, rolled the machine back out of the opening, slid the brackets into place on top of the dishwasher, rolled the machine back into the opening, reconnected the water, drain hose and electrical wiring (with the two functional fingers I now had remaining on each hand), and finally completed the installation (long after sunset). It's a good thing the brackets were there to secure the dishwasher in place because otherwise I would have thrown the fucking thing right out the kitchen door.

One small leak-tweak later and this bad boy was operational -- a mere one year and six hours after purchase. I told Carol this task marked my retirement from self-installation, no matter how "E-Z" the instructions say the job is going to be. From now on I'll gladly pay the additional fee for professional assistance; whatever the cost it will be well worth the time saved and frustration avoided. I can use my newfound freedom in pursuit of other interests.

Such as my latest hobby -- catching mice.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Adage Before Beauty

When someone talking to you says "long story short", it's already too late.

Know how I play "Words With Friends"? By cursing at them.

I'm not trying to lower my cholesterol so much as quell it.

My wife was away for the weekend. At least, that's what she told me.

There but for the grace of God go I. Plus there was a "Breaking Bad" marathon on TV.

It's said, "All politics is local." That's incorrect; it should be, "All politics are insulting to the electorate."

I've begun a new exercise regimen. So far, I'm exercising my right not to follow it.

When I was a young camper I was once thrown from a horse. Now when someone asks if I'll ever saddle up again I say, "Neigh."

Avoid trying anything labelled as "new & improved" since it is likely neither.

I roasted a chicken the other night. I hope it understood my zingers were offered in jest.

Any cocktail made with more than 4 ingredients (including ice) is just not worth the effort.

What do you get when you cross a duck with a hornet's nest? You get one pretty pissed-off duck, for starters.

I fell off a ladder and through the roof. Not surprisingly, I broke out in shingles.

A man is known by the company he keeps. Please go home now.

I beat the rap on a charge of home invasion by claiming I was participating in the new "sharing economy".

An injury is sooner forgotten than an insult. That's why I kicked you, jackass.

None of us is as smart as all of us. But I is much smarter than you is.

The night has a thousand eyes. "Mississippi" runs a close second.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

High and Dryer

I remember reading a statistic (or maybe it was a damned lie) that out of any list of 10 tasks only 2 will be accomplished within a reasonable time frame. Here was our task list for this past weekend (in no particular order):
  1. Clean out accumulated lint from dryer exhaust hose.
  2. Examine washing machine to seek source of persistent leak.
  3. Winterize the downstairs windows with plastic.
  4. Fix latch on upstairs patio door.
  5. Wash out cat boxes and refill with fresh litter.
  6. Fix leaky toilet tank.
  7. Prep hallway for painting.
  8. Get Carol's phone fixed.
  9. Finish painting deck and porch stairs.
  10. Remove detrius from lake shoreline.
That seems busy-but-achievable over a couple of days, doesn't it? We got through 1.5 of these endeavors.

Let's start with #8: Carol managed to jam the mini-USB charger plug upside-down into her phone. This of course begs the question why the receptacle isn't designed to accept the plug in either orientation. Apple has addressed this with their latest devices via the lightning connector -- which, of course, is not backwards-compatible with the flotilla of previously-purchased Apple products out there.

Anyway, it was apparent to the naked eye that the receiving end was mauled. Some folks like to tackle the fixing of home electronics themselves... yep, they sure do. Carol instead brought her phone to a local shop that was alleged to handle this kind of repair. The owner/tech guy wasn't there when she dropped it off, and the fellow watching the shop couldn't quote her a price but said he'd have the owner call her once he got in and could take a look. The owner called the next day to say the repair would be $120; Carol thought that was too pricey and declined, saying she'd come by to pick up the phone. We drove to the shop -- Other-Fellow was there and owner was away again. Carol asked for her phone and Other-Fellow handed it to her and then said she owed, despite no prior mention of it, a "$20 service charge" for examining the phone. I'll collapse the remainder of this story by reassuring you that the $20 is still in Carol's wallet.

That was our half-accomplished task (and I'm being generous in giving it that much value; the phone is still fucked up). On to the dryer...

Our house purchase last year included as-is appliances and among those were a very nice washer and a large-capacity dryer. Knowing how the house had been cared for by the previous owner we figured the dryer exhaust hose was likely clogged up with 17 years' worth of lint and cigarette ash. We could reach into the dryer exhaust port on the outside of the house and pull out handfuls of fluffy fabric. This would be a simple job -- remove, clean, replace. There are actually two hoses; one from the dryer to a joint that leads from the laundry room under the house, and then a second from the underside of that joint to the external exhaust housing. So I'd have to go through those steps twice - no big whoop.

Four hours later... The second hose, the one that I had to go into the crawl space to access, had been jammed into place without those pinchy-clips normally used to secure the hose at either end to the metal pipe. It was easy to remove but then impossible to get back in place, both because there were no clips to secure it and also because the two connections were up under the flooring and buried amidst insulation and wiring and spider webs. Carol drove to the local hardware store to get a pack of clips and also the tapered elbow needed to slip the end of the hose over, since one piece of pipe didn't have it (I have NO idea how the hose had remained in place; probably some of the cigarette by-product the previous owner had exhaled while smoking non-stop over a decade-plus of living in the house eventually worked its way down into those nooks and crannies and served as a tar-based adhesive). She also returned with a new section of hose: "Why don't we just start with a clean one?" Well, sure -- that made sense.

The new hose was aluminum but of a slightly different construction than the older one: rather than a metallic-sheet cover over a Slinky-style wire, this one had no wire and was just crimped into a sectioned pattern that allowed it to stretch. It was like it was made of a giant sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil that the World's Greatest Origami Artist had folded into an expandable tube. The problem -- as soon as I tried to attach it to the connectors, it started to tear just as you'd imagine a sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil would if you tried to use it as a dryer exhaust hose. We ended up ditching the brand-new hose after shredding it just beyond the point where the hardware store would take it back, and I continued to wrestle the original hose into place.

Oh, but I've left out an important part of the narrative here -- Carol had also brought back a new external exhaust port, the part you see on the outside of the house. This one had a plastic cage on the underside so critters couldn't crawl up into the hose to seek warmth and/or nesting materials. So now I had to chip away caulk to remove the old port and cut into the siding to make the new one fit flush. Then I had the previously-mentioned wrestling match under the house, conducted while I was in a half-crouched position for close to an hour, which did wonders for my arthritic back and knees. But after much swearing and a brief crying jag born of frustration mixed with joint pain, the under-house hose was again functional and properly vented to the outside.

All that was left to do was reattach the loose end of the laundry room hose to the dryer and slide the machine back into place. Unfortunately, the laundry room hose was also made from that foil-like construction. It was another struggle to get it reconnected, but Carol (God love her) managed to do so. We worked together to push the dryer into its corner of the laundry room - Mission Accomplished! (Why does that phrase seem to come back to bite everyone who uses it in the ass?) I looked behind the dryer to make sure the hose remained attached, which it had -- neatly crumpled in half like a folded-over sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil. We pulled everything back out and cut away the crumpled portion and reattached it and moved it back again... this time with greater success.

One entire task completed. OK, what's next on that list?...
  • "2. Examine washing machine to seek source of persistent leak."
I hope Sears is having a sale on appliances soon.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Ready, Willing and Scrabble

Our friends Jenny and Dean came for a visit this past weekend with their three-year-old son in tow. It had been awhile since we'd seen each other so we spent some enjoyable time catching up on what was new at homes and workplaces while downing a few too many glasses of wine during dinner.

The little guy was a bundle of energy and it was tiring just watching him in endless motion. When he qualifies for "Jeopardy" he'll be the champion as long as the final category is Parental Catchphrases and the clue is: "Because I said so..." With, of course, the correct response in the form of a question being, "WHY?"

Although evenings have gotten quite nippy up at the lake, I still built a bonfire one night for us to huddle around and roast marshmallows over. Dean had his guitar with him -- he'd been practicing since January and had mastered many familiar tunes. He strummed for a while and I complimented him on how well he plucked the opening riff from "Stairway To Heaven". He then pointed out he'd been playing "Wish You Were Here".

We played some ferocious rounds of Boggle while the youngster napped one afternoon. While Carol and I picked out words like "ATE", "EAT", TOE" and "TOES", Jenny and Dean identified connected strings of letters spelling "EQUILIBRIUM" and "PUSILLANIMOUS". Perhaps here I should mention they're both MIT grads. Dean and I argued over whether proper nouns were permitted, with Dean being in favor of them. He eventually wore me down and I conceded by saying, in all propriety, "Go fuck yourself." We then began a spirited game of Scrabble, with Jenny starting the game and her first two plays being "ZOO" and "MA". Granted, the "Z" was a valuable tile but suddenly that MIT education seemed a bit overpriced. We managed to cover a good deal of real estate on the board and I brought the game to a finish when I played my last letter. I'd served as score-keeper and announced that Jenny had defeated me by a single point. Dean then helpfully reminded us that the rules said the first to go out also receives credit for the points the other players are holding when play ends, meaning that I'd in fact surpassed Jenny's total. It was quite chivalrous of him to offer that correction and I immediately felt bad that I'd earlier buried his capo in the cat litter.

Sunday afternoon was brisk but clear and we all kayaked over to the small island in the middle of the lake. Dean had rowed crew during his university days and moved through the water so powerfully (with his son as passenger) he could likely have towed one of us behind him on water skis. Jenny took a somewhat meandering path toward our destination, favoring a starboard tack and occasionally doing a complet360° even while alternating her paddling on both sides of the boat. We eventually made it to shore and disembarked for a brief hike. When we returned to the kayaks, I jokingly told Jenny she could catch the ferry for the trip home. She looked quite relieved before realizing I was kidding.

They stayed through breakfast the next morning before heading back. After they left, Carol and I commented on how much we enjoyed their company... how much we enjoy ANY company since it's just the two of us up here. Well, of course there's the cats, but they aren't much for conversation or board games. We broke out Scrabble again later that evening and tried to entice one of the kitties to play with us; he chewed on his tiles and coughed up a hairball on the board. H-O-R-K is eleven points plus the double word value for going first - he's off to a strong start. If he wins I have to buy him a guitar.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Pitied Dates

Carol and I have a long-standing response we give to anyone who asks how we've managed to stay together through 30-plus years of marriage: "No one else would be willing to put up with us." While I've always thought Carol was a catch, and still do, I'm certain she's right about me since that's been the pattern ever since I first went on a "date".

In third grade I had a crush on Ginger Gerton. When Valentine's Day came around most kids' moms bought those inexpensive packs of punch-out cards with cartoon figures on them -- Bugs Bunny, Yogi Bear and Boo-Boo, maybe the Marvel Super Heroes. And while I had a fistful of those to pass out, I also had one I'd hand-made for my love Ginger. It was a cut-out heart with a pocket on the front of it, labeled "Sweets for the sweet" (I erased and penciled over where I'd initially printed "... for the sweat"), with a little hard candy tucked in the pocket. In our classroom there were folders underneath the blackboard with each student's name, and into those we placed our cards for one another.

Well, something in my relationship with Ginger went horribly awry and we ended up having a lover's spat on the playground after lunch on Our Special Day. After recess we came back and that's when we were allowed to retrieve our valentines from the folders and read through them. Much to my surprise, I hadn't gotten a card from my (formerly) beloved. I went over to her desk and asked if she'd gotten my artisan card. "Yes, but I threw it away!" she told me. I asked if she'd seen the candy in the pocket of hers and she said she hadn't -- "Good! 'Cause you're not 'sweet' at all!" It was a bitter break-up and I was so traumatized by the split that I forced my parents to move before the end of the school year to a new neighborhood so I didn't have to see her every day in class.

[Now, you know I didn't force my parents to move, but we did move during spring break that year. We moved frequently, for no other reason than my parents would get tired of whatever house we were living in and wanted something new. It wasn't necessarily bigger, or better, or cheaper -- it was just "different". And we always moved during spring break, which was just the pits -- there's nothing worse than being the "new kid" in class, and it's even more difficult when you are introduced to a hostile audience with just a handful of weeks left in the school year. The shunning that meets you as the newbie doesn't have enough time to wear off before the year ends and you're facing a summer without any real friends.]

In sixth grade I liked Karen Christensen and she seemed to like me. We sat next to each other a row apart and would often turn toward one another for chit-chat when we first came into class or if we had a break between subjects. Our standing joke was that we were a mixed couple -- I was Jewish and she was "Christian"-sen. Even back in that day -- late 60s -- some kids went on "dates", just the two of them to a movie or maybe bowling, but the only time Karen and I spent together outside of class was one Saturday afternoon at our school's annual fair. My mom dropped me off and after walking around for a few minutes I spied Karen and ran over to her. She was also excited to see me and we spent the rest of that blissful afternoon strolling hand-in-hand past the various booths. I had enough change in my pocket for about a dollar's worth of tickets, and I used two of them to buy Karen the enticing treat of a whole lemon pierced with a peppermint stick "straw" - you'd suck the lemon juice up through the candy and it tasted like lemonade, if your idea of lemonade was limited to "Country Time" powdered mix.

We came back to class the following Monday, with the school year winding down to a close later that week. We said we'd see each other over the summer and exchanged addresses and promised to write to each other "every day". After school ended I spent most of that first day composing a long letter (nearly an entire notebook page, double-spaced), talking about my feelings for her, asking what she was doing, and suggesting we could figure out a time and place to have our moms drop us off so we could spend more glorious time together. I walked that letter to the mailbox at the end of our street and dropped it in, full of hope and giddy with anticipation. I wrote again the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that, and... I never got any letters back from Karen. It made for a morose summer. That fall was the start of junior high school, and on that first day of seeing familiar faces after the break I didn't see Karen's anywhere - not in any classes, not in the hallways, not at assembly. None of my sixth grade compatriots had any idea what had happened to her -- no one seemed to live in her neighborhood so she hadn't been spied all summer. To this day I like to believe she spent the remainder of her pre-pubescent years with the love letters I sent her tucked under her pillow, quietly crying herself to sleep each night and pining for what could have been. Of course, when I say "pre-pubescent" I realize she probably blossomed into nearly-full womanhood that summer, while my voice still hadn't cracked (I was one of the few male first sopranos in the chorus in seventh and the first half of eighth grades), and she'd likely tossed my pathetic little-boy missives in the trash while she went on real dates with sixteen-year-olds.

I finally got over my feelings for Karen and got involved in the junior high social scene. We all know that's where it starts to get interesting -- we begin to experience urges and longings for intimacies that we are still too immature to act upon in an informed and cogent manner. I admit to being a pretty straight-laced pre-teen (and largely teenager, as well) -- didn't drink, didn't smoke, didn't sass the teachers. Most of my friends were cut from the same cloth, at least so far as I knew. Junior high introduced the idea of school dances -- you could go "stag" (for a quarter) or "drag" (double the price). Most kids went "stag" the first time or two and we were always shocked when two of our classmates came "drag" together. But eventually we all understood the advantage of "drag" attendance (oh, how naive we were... to come to a dance "drag" these days means something altogether different. Not that there's anything wrong with that.) and showed up with someone else in tow. I'm pretty certain the first time I asked a girl to go to one of these dances with me I still expected her to chip in her half of the fifty cents.

At some point I asked a girl named Tracey to go to an upcoming dance with me and she said yes. We spent a lovely evening together, holding hands and dancing and holding hands. I didn't make any moves -- and the chaperones quickly separated those couples who tried to suck face -- but we got along well enough and continued to go out for most of the rest of that school year. Movies, skating, group and duo activities. At one point we met up with a gaggle of just-teens and spent the day on a sailboat at an event sponsored by a youth group I belonged to. We swam in the bay after the boat anchored and had a great day. When we got back to shore, everyone went inside to change into dry clothes. At some point Tracey and I found each other in an upstairs room by ourselves and... I kissed her. (This was after, like, six months of dating. Talk about a case of arrested development.) Once, twice, but when I moved in the third time Tracey backed off, looking alarmed and shaking her head no. I was confused but respected her wish and turned away, knocking a tray full of change off a table. Not with my hands.

The last dance of the school year was shortly after that incident and I when I smilingly asked Tracey, "Do ya' wanna go to the dance?" I was stunned when she replied, "I don't think so." Confused, I didn't ask for any further explanation. I went "stag" and saw Tracey there. I asked her if she wanted to dance with me and she declined. Now my heart was broken into 3.1416 pieces (we were taking Geometry that year). In today's hyper-sexualized environment, it's hard to believe that something as fundamental as a mere kiss could be construed as going "too far", but there it was. Well, kiss + erection, so that might've had something to do with it.

High school was... high school. I had my first "serious" girlfriend, Gail, and we dated most of junior and senior years. We did NOT get drunk after prom or end up in a cheap motel, etc. We continued to see each other the summer before leaving for college and came to a mutual agreement (at her suggestion) that we were open to meeting new people at school. The tradition at our high school was for the seniors who had graduated the year before to come back for the Homecoming Dance in the fall. A fair number would attend -- hair longer (boys) or shorter (girls), most with the faint smell of beer or cigarettes or... what was that other sweet odor clinging to their clothes? -- and regale wide-eyed seniors with tales of collegiate debauchery. Love-lorn as always, I'd asked Gail if she'd be home that weekend and go to the dance with me -- she said yes! I was ecstatic. It was the first time I'd seen her since late summer and I imagined we were going to pick up right where we left off. She looked stunning, as always. We had a great evening catching up with friends and each other. We left the dance and I indicated I wanted the evening to continue (I now had a clearer sense of what to do with that erection) but Gail declined and said she wanted to go home. She wrote me a letter a week or so later telling me that she was dating a guy at school and she hoped we could remain friends. I believe she offered that olive branch because she needed a ride home from school over Christmas break and I leapt at the chance to provide it. I made the three-hour drive to her school, waited several more hours for her to return from class, waited several more hours for her to pack up her shit, and then made the drive home. I helped her bring her belongings inside and said hello to her parents. Her mom asked if I wanted to stay for dinner, to which Gail replied, "No, John has to go home." I didn't... but of course I did.

College was a struggle for me on a variety of levels, but those academic and social adjustments are another story altogether. I ended up coming home for the second semester, enrolling in the local community college. Lots of kids, even some really smart ones, went there in order to save money while getting most of their required courses out of the way and transferring to other, better schools to pursue their majors. A buddy from high school named Randy, who was a year ahead of me, was there and had dated Karen, a classmate of mine, during our senior year. His tale of romantic woe was much like mine and Gail's -- Karen had gone off and was seeing other people while Randy still pined for her. One day Randy told me Karen was coming home for the weekend and had agreed to go out with him -- but only if he found a date for her girlfriend from school who would be visiting. Well, there I was.

Randy picked up the girls that Saturday night and then swung by my house. I climbed in the backseat and met "Mary" (I'm putting her name in quotes because I really don't remember it, for reasons you'll soon learn). During the drive into town I chatted up Mary and was, I felt, at the top of my game. I joked with everyone and had them in stitches during the entire drive, my seat-mate included. We parked and headed into a local bar (drinking age was 18 then and I just barely qualified). The place was packed, with folks two- and three-deep at the bar as well as taking up nearly all the available space in the joint. Randy offered to get the first round and dove into the crowd. It took him nearly twenty minutes to come back gripping four beers, which we in our youthful ardor quaffed in about 30 seconds. I offered to go get the second round and Mary said she was going to find the ladies' room. It took another twenty minutes before I came back with brews in hand, finding Randy and Karen but not Mary. Karen said Mary hadn't returned from the ladies' room while I was gone and she was worried and was going to look for her. Karen waded off into the crowd and didn't return for a solid half-hour. She said she'd seen no sign of her friend. I said I'd work my way around to take a look, eating up another thirty minutes and still no sign of Mary. Randy went next, taking just as much time and with the same negative result. Karen said she'd try once again and was gone for what seemed even longer. When she came back she leaned over to Randy and spoke in his ear. They exchanged confidences for a few moments, then Karen turned to me and said, "Mary met some other guys and she said they would give her a ride home." So much for turning on the charm. We packed it in and headed for home. On the drive back, Karen was so kind and spent the time chatting me up -- how was school, was I working, who else had I seen, do you remember when...? It was very sweet of her. I found out later that Mary made it home in the wee hours, somewhat disheveled... and Karen told Randy that same night she just wanted to be friends.

I took a much more casual approach to dating for the remainder of my college and post-college years until I met Carol. There was one long-term relationship in there but no thoughts of marriage or deeper commitment, at least not from my perspective. Carol and I "met cute", as they say in the movies (she was a lifeguard, I was a camp counselor, and we met at after she'd fished one of my charges out of the pool). While we had our fits and starts along the way, we quickly came to the conclusion that we were meant for each other. That brings us back to today, with all those years in and many more on the horizon.

But we were at Home Depot the other day and Carol said she had to find the ladies' room... I held my breath until she came back.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Vodka Catatonic

Our cat Chloe has, like that parrot in the fabled Monty Python sketch, "ceased to be." With a bit of an assist from her loving owners...

As you may recall from this post, our cat Chloe had been experiencing... intestinal issues. We tried a conservative approach to treatment, first with antibiotics and then, when those had no discernible effect, a course of steroids. The steroids didn't help with the diarrhea either, but Chloe's slugging percentage rose nearly 100 points in a week.

The other morning I came downstairs and showered and after I completed my toilette I exited the bathroom and noticed a... distinct odor. I was fairly certain I wasn't the source since I'd just scrubbed up, so I strode over to the cat boxes to inspect. I found, outside of the receptacles, several pools of... Nah, I'm not even going to try to describe it, delicately or otherwise. It was clear that: A) the medication wasn't helping and B) it was only a matter of time before the cat bypassed the designated area altogether and decided to go wherever she wanted in the house, much like my great-aunt sometimes did.

Carol came downstairs as I was finishing clean-up. I apprised her of the situation and it didn't take us long to agree that Chloe's time was coming to an end. We called the vet to review and she was very understanding, offering only a mild suggestion that we perhaps would consider another round of antibiotics (to which we said "Nuh-uh"), and recognizing that the next most likely causes were really serious stuff like lymphoma or a cat with a "Jewish stomach" (as some of you may know: a miserable, incurable condition). We felt since Chloe was a cat who shied from human contact that our ability to administer any medications or manage her care would be almost impossible. Under those conditions, we felt making a quick move to prevent Chloe's further suffering was the best course of action. The vet agreed and then transferred us to the front desk to set up Chloe's "end of life" appointment for later that morning; "end of life" being a euphemism for "costly veterinary visit".

We managed to get Chloe into her carrier without too much difficulty. She wasn't happy about being confined and fortunately the vet's office was a short drive away. As soon as we walked in a staff member named Renee came out, knowing why we were there, and ushered us into an examination room so we could review the protocol.

Renee asked us to sign a form that Chloe hadn't bitten anyone in the past fifteen days. I discounted any injuries obtained from putting her in the carrier twice in the last two weeks and signed the form -- if she was rabid, she took that secret to her grave. Now the hard decision came -- credit or debit? Well, before that we needed to indicate whether we wanted to be present when the vet administered the lethal injection. I asked, "Do you mean present like in the room, or in the general vicinity?" She confirmed she meant the room, and after a bit of tearful consideration we decided not to observe. This cat derived no comfort from our proximity in all her years living under our roof, so why should we be visible in her final moments to further agitate her? We then had to decide among three options:
  1. Bring her home intact to bury her.
  2. Have her cremated and have the cremains returned to us.
  3. Have her cremated with nothing given back.
Carol and I actually had talked about this before heading over. We've had cats for years and this wasn't the first "end of life" pet situation in which we'd found ourselves. When we had Felix whacked... I mean our first cat who peacefully slipped the surly bonds of Earth came home in a "cadaver bag" which we then put in a shoe box to bury in the backyard. Josh and I picked a quiet spot underneath a corner pine tree and dug a hole. We plunged the shovel into the ground three or four times and then Carol called to us from inside the house: "Hey, what happened to the TV?" (We all grieve in our own way.) We'd managed to chop the coaxial cable in two. The repair visit from Comcast cost almost as much as the vet's fees for the euthanasia. The next time we were faced with that decision, with Felix's brother Oscar (who'd reached age 20), we told the vet, "Nah - you can keep him."

So, we went with Option 3. Renee took Chloe away in the carrier and was gone only a few minutes before returning it to us, with Chloe in the hands of the vet tech who would prepare her for the injection. We left, distressed and upset, and drove back to the house making little conversation. As we entered we were met by Sophie, the cat who had showed up along with Chloe on our doorstep all those years ago, poor little kitties abandoned by their previous owner. Sophie gave us a look that said, "I know what you did." At least, that's how we interpreted it. Then she went over to the food dish and chomped on some kibble but kept one wary eye on us the entire time she ate.

That evening we sipped a couple of stiff drinks and looked through our collection of cat photos, reminiscing about our dear Chloe and coming to grips with our decision to end her life. I know there are some folks reading this who would advocate for trying all available treatments, and maybe if it had been one of our other cats who are, how should I say, not mental, we might have considered a more valiant course of action. But we're at peace with our decision and feel we intervened before Chloe really started to suffer from whatever had caused our formerly chubby tabby to lose so much weight and struggle with her normally conscientious sanitary routine. I feel if Chloe were able to communicate with us from wherever she is now, she'd look at us with those big saucer eyes and say, "WHAT HAVE YOU SONS OF BITCHES DONE TO ME? FIRST YOU HAD ME KILLED AND THEN YOU HAD MET SET ON FIRE! YOU BASTARDS... I HOPE YOU ROT IN HELL!! I'M ON FIRE! OH MY GOD... I'M ON FIRE..."

Upon reflection, perhaps I can glean some of the rationale behind her mistrust of people. Rest in peace, our Little Fat Girl...

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

What Happens...

When a frog gets warts?

When you and the other guy blink at the same time?

When someone says "I could care less" and then actually does?

When your sneakers make noise?

When you tell someone they are "as beautiful as the day is long" during the Winter Solstice?

When you trip and fall ass over teakettle at a Starbucks?

When you find out the person you accused of telling a "bald-faced lie" has alopecia?

When you wake up in the hospital and find out living really isn't that easy with eyes closed?

When your face gets stuck that way, and everyone says you look great?

When you become the "Big Cheese" but you're lactose-intolerant?

When you dump Xanax in a lake? (Answer: You reduce surface tension.)

When the forecast calls for a 50% chance of rain? Does that mean it's equally as likely that we'll be invaded by aliens on that day?

When a fish drops out of school?

When you try to paddle someone else's canoe?

When you get excited your wife mentions she'd like a three-way, and then you realize she's talking about a light bulb?

When you are dyslexic and ask for persimmon to go to the bathroom?

When you remember where you put your car keys but forget where you wanted to go?

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Cat-Shit Crazy

After we moved up to the lake house, my wife decided to take on the primary responsibility for cat care. This was no cavalier decision; as you may recall, we've got five of the buggers living with us and each one gives us paws... er, pause to reconsider why we ever decided to become "crazy cat people" in the first place.

Anyway, I have suddenly been absolved of responsibility for a variety of tasks that took up a fair amount of my time each day -- supplying food and drink, combing through litter boxes, and most significantly the elbow grease required for puke-stain removal. I don't think any of our cats leave "deposits" more than the average cat does, but when you annualize those singular occurrences and multiply them times five, barely a week day hour went by that I wasn't huddled over a hardwood floor/carpet/couch/bedspread without a damp paper towel and bottles of Carbona and Febreze in hand(s).

When Carol told me she felt I'd been saddled with the responsibility long enough and she was going to take it on, I first thanked her and then asked if she was embracing this task out of a tremendous sense of guilt due to some deep, dark secret she was keeping from me. She paused and thought for a moment and then assured me that wasn't the case.

Of course, now that this was Carol's project, it was going to handled Carol's way. This meant:
  • Carol made her own litter boxes (out of large storage bins -- based on a recommendation she read on the internet).
  • We were now using a new, plant-based litter (commercially available, but can be cheaply substituted for by purchasing a markedly-similar brand of animal feed at a farm supply store -- based on a recommendation she read on the internet).
  • She was reconsidering whether the cats were eating the "right kind of food". When I pointed out that we'd managed to maintain the oldest members of our current brood in good health for the last 13 years and the eldest of our two original cats to age 20 on the same cuisine, she told me she would discuss diet with the veterinarian -- having read some recommendations on the internet.
  • Rather than taking our grand-cat Miles (he is our son's cat but we've had legal custody of him for the last 5 years), who is the one long-hair in our coven and requires the occasional "lion cut", to a professional groomer, she purchased an electric pet-hair clipper and decided to handle the trim herself.  She felt confident in her ability to do this after watching the vet buzz one quick swipe off Miles's butt and then followed it up by viewing a number of YouTube cat-clipping videos on the internet. She bought the clipper from Amazon.com, which I understand is also on the internet.
But please don't think I'm trying to sound ungrateful, or I'm second-guessing any of Carol's decisions. She felt if we were more vigilant in our grooming practices, the cats would ingest less hair and therefore produce less hairballs. That made sense. She felt if they were fed more easily-digested food, they would produce less waste product (both fore and aft). That also made sense. She felt if we took a more holistic approach to cat ownership, it would result in a happier household for all of us. That made no fucking sense at all.

To wit -- the feline-focused lifestyle was almost immediately put to the test when our cat Chloe developed a case of explosive diarrhea. I'm talking nuclear here; it was like a fire hose of liquid cat shit being sprayed on any previously dry and not-a-litter-box surface.
  • Now, a brief aside about this particular cat: Chloe was a stray who showed up at our door (along with her sister Sophie) 13 years ago. We coaxed the two of them inside, which took a few days, and once we did they were promptly transported to the vet for shots and spaying. Chloe, we quickly discovered, was a sociopath. Other than those occasions where we've had to chase her around the house to get her in a carrier for some reason, we have literally not put a hand on her -- because she won't let us. She gets along fine with the other cats, and is absolutely devoted to her sister, but she'll have nothing to do with human beings whatsoever. If you've ever been to visit us and have seen the cats, you've never laid eyes on this one. Sophie was also initially quite skittish and didn't like to be handled, but over the years she decided we posed no threat and became a very affectionate kitty who happily cuddles next to us on the couch or bed and enjoys being petted and brushed. Chloe, on the other hand, will be stretched out in front of an open door, laying in the warming sunshine, eyes closed and purring contentedly -- and then if one of us approaches her general vicinity, her eyes pop open and ZWING! she flies out of the room. My point here is that if any of the other cats had been afflicted with the runs, our affection for them would lead to grave concern and a relentless pursuit for a cure so they could be returned to their prior healthy and loving state. But Chloe -- not quite as much.
Chloe had apparently been suffering this malady for a few weeks, but we never saw which of the cats was leaving the trail of slurry behind them. Once we moved up to the lake, we finally caught Chloe mid-spray one evening (you know when you were a kid and your dad was watering the lawn, and you'd be inside behind a window and he'd spray the hose at you full-force and it made that pounding sound against the side of the house? That's what Chloe's affliction sounded like.) and promptly made an appointment to have her checked out.

The vet was a charming woman and quite thorough and obviously a "cat person". Chloe was hyperventilating through the entire exam but stayed still and didn't hiss or sink her teeth or claws into the vet (which she's done to both of us in the past. And by "the past", I mean in the fifteen minutes before leaving the house when we had to catch her to get her in the carrier.). The vet made some observations and recommended blood work and x-rays as long as we already had Chloe in the office. Sure, sure - it's only money, right? We wanted a conclusive diagnosis, regardless of treatment options. We left with a traumatized cat, a vial of antibiotics, and a bill for $300.

The vet called the next day with results of the tests -- of course, they were all IN-conclusive. It could be this, or that, or that, or that or that or possibly that... I think she laid out the diagnoses in order from least- to most-expensive to treat. At some point, the words "biopsy" and "exploratory surgery" were introduced into the conversation and Carol clearly stated, "We are NOT interested in anything invasive." They agreed on next steps and we were now ordering a probiotic dietary supplement (I think John Stamos endorses it) to help counter the effects of the antibiotic. And maybe we would consider a course of steroids. A few minutes later the vet called back to say, "Oh, and I don't think I mentioned before -- it could also be THIS..." which I believe would require the most costly course of treatment of all, combining surgery, chemo, prescription diet, aromatherapy and recovery time at a clinic in Baden-Baden. We reiterated our preference for starting with small steps.

Anyway, Chloe is several days into the moderate course of treatment and while she's still crapping up a storm, at least she's doing it within the confines of the storage bin cat boxes (each is big enough to hold the entire transcript of the O.J. Simpson trial). She seems a touch less jumpy around us; perhaps she now realizes just how much we care about her well-being and some of her icy reserve is beginning to melt. Or maybe she's just zonked from the pills. Through it all -- Carol has taken the lead in pill-administering, litter-cleaning, poop-pickup and carpet shampooing. The other day I wanted to express how much I admired her dedication during this crisis and so walked over to offer some affectionate words of encouragement and a loving caress. She saw me coming and ZWING! she flew out of the room.

I wonder if what Chloe has is contagious? I hope not, since we've already ruled out anything invasive.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Truck You

Apologies for my recent silence in blogdom -- we moved. Correction: we are still in the process of moving. Although we have physically relocated from one domicile to another, it will likely be months before we are finished unpacking, or rearranging, or feeling exhausted.

You may recall we went through this exercise just a year ago -- moving from a beloved, expansive apartment to a despised and cramped one. External forces were at play; Mercury was in retrograde; our chakras were in need of extensive cleansing and we were never happy in the new place. Fast-forward one year and we decided rather than renew our lease for an apartment we hated, or go through the ordeal of finding another one, it would be less stressful to make a permanent move to our lake house. Of course, we'd spent the last year furnishing the house since it was going to be a weekend/vacation retreat for the next five or so years, allowing us time to gradually make the transition to full-time lakeside living once we retired and had comfortably disposed of extraneous personal effects. Instead, we now had two bedroom suites, two dining room tables, two couches, etc. The only area in which there wasn't any overlap was the cats -- we didn't maintain a separate brood of kitties at the lake in addition to our five back in the city. However, that now presented its own set of considerations. As much as we love our cats (and we love them very, very... well, we're certainly fond of them), it was always one of the unspoken pleasures of our weekend visits that we weren't responsible for the cat routines: feeding, grooming, litter, shedding, hairballs and other forms of gak-ery. Now our charming retreat would be filled with boxes, heirloom possessions, and more cats than some people see in a lifetime.

On the plus side, we'd be cutting our living expenses roughly in half. Therefore, it made perfect sense for Carol to quit her job so we could also reduce our household income by the same factor. That decision is a whole 'nother story and while likely more entertaining than what you're reading now, we'll recount it at a later date. So, we were faced with consolidating two houses full of stuff into one, packing and moving everything that survived the cut up to the lake by ourselves (since the combination of last year's house purchase, apartment move, and this year's reduction in income meant nothing in the budget for professional movers), and replacing a just-the-two-of-us lifestyle focus with a herd-of-cats one.

Rather than recount the move in detail, I'll just share a few of the highlights:

  • The rental truck was brand-new and therefore exceptionally clean, and with careful packing held nearly 80% of everything we needed to move.
  • If something was difficult to get into the apartment when we moved in, it was just as difficult to extract when we moved out.
  • Scheduling a yard sale for the day before the move was not our best idea, particularly since most of the big-ticket items failed to sell and therefore one of us (that would be me) was saddled with multiple trips to Goodwill to make "donations" as we tried to finish packing.
  • Offering beer and pizza in exchange for friends' help in loading the truck was an effective strategy, although it may have resulted in some questionable "what-goes-where" decisions.
  • The ability to back up using only side-view mirrors is a skill they don't teach in Driver's Ed and really should.
  • It's easier to get a cat into a carrier than you might think. As long as you don't mind having bits of flesh stripped from your body via scratching or biting. Now do that five times.
  • Cats are sensitive animals and also experience stress, which they display through the afore-mentioned scratching and biting along with howling, screeching, shedding, and -- in one memorable display -- shitting in their carrier 20 minutes into a 3-hour drive.
Since we couldn't get everything in the truck, we went through the process all over again two days later -- putting the rest of our goods into a covered trailer that was large enough for 90% of what we had left. We've filled our rented storage locker to the gills and still have boxes boxes boxes everywhere in the house. I haven't seen Carol since Thursday and fear she may be trapped behind a wall of kitchen accessories. It's been a stressful few weeks but we're not complaining -- not when we take a break for a cold drink or a meal and sit out on the deck to enjoy the view of our lovely, placid lake with a big beautiful island smack in the middle of it. We settle into our chairs, try to identify the birds that flit by, and watch billowing clouds roll across a seemingly endless sky.

And then scrape the hairballs from the bottom of our feet.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Storm (Door) Chasers

As you may already know, home improvement projects and I get along like Rush Limbaugh and anyone with a lick of common sense. Nevertheless, I keep taking them on and they keep challenging me back.

We were up at the lake last weekend and stopped at Home Depot to pick up a variety of items, including a storm door so we could leave the back door open and let those lovely lake breezes blow all the way through the house. As with everything you go to purchase at a “big box” store, there aren’t just a few options to choose from; there are dozens of choices to confound you. Storm doors fall right in-line – I’d say there were between 15-20 distinct models (excluding various sizes and colors) with varying arrays of features. With assistance from an exceedingly pleasant employee, we narrowed down our semi-finalists to 3 different doors.

[Quick aside: Almost to a fault, we’ve found retail employees up in Maine to be painfully patient and helpful. Having lived in several large metropolitan areas over the years, we’ve become accustomed to and almost expect some degree of resentfulness/confrontation/disinterest from a fair percentage of those making a living in the service trades, but when dealing with Mainers we’ve been knocked off-balance by their kind and genuine approach to dealing with the public.]

[Aside to the above aside: We needed the services of a plumber over the winter and, while the work was quite competently done, it took a long time to make the arrangements to get the repairs underway and almost as long afterwards to get the office to provide an invoice. Everything was handled over the phone or via email, and I mailed house keys for the plumber's use. When we finally returned to our home post-repairs I drove over to the plumber’s place of business to retrieve my keys, meeting him in-person for the first time. We had a pleasant conversation and I mentioned that I’d like to pay for the services rendered but hadn’t yet received a bill from his office manager/wife Cindy. He said, “Oh, don’t worry – we’ll get it to ya’ soon enough. Cindy’s been on screech all winter long.” I nodded my head in agreement but had no idea what it meant to be “on screech” -- ? She’d spent the winter huddled in a Snuggie, watching reruns of “Saved By The Bell”? Had stopped taking her Xanax? Was committed to intense owl-watching? Fast-forward to this past weekend and Carol ended up calling Cindy about an unrelated matter and had the presence of mind to ask for clarification: “on screech” is a Maine-ism for “full-out busy”. Linguistic mystery solved!]

So, picking up where I left off... We narrowed it down to 3 different doors, finally selecting one that had a half-screen that slid out of view and was in the middle of the price range. Our very helpful employee immediately offered to grab a dolly cart, pull and load the door on it, and walk it to the front of the store for checkout. What a guy! We paid for our purchases; I rolled the door outside; Carol went to get the car, and yet another unnaturally-helpful employee came out to tie the door up on the luggage rack for the trip home.

The next morning I woke up early and decided to get started on the installation before it got too hot outside (temps were going to be in the high 80s). I carefully opened the door-sized cardboard box to reveal the contents and there I saw – the wrong door. It was a full-screen model with a replaceable full-glass insert (vs. the nifty hidden half-screen door we'd chosen). I taped the box back together, tied it up on the luggage rack, and made the 20-mile trip back to Home Depot. I ended up dealing with the same “helpful” employee who’d sold us the door; he was apologetic, selected the correct door, and with a little prompting from me offered an additional discount to compensate for the inconvenience. Checkout; load up; drive back home again.

Now, instead of an early-morning start it was approaching high noon. I started over again, carefully opening the box so I didn’t damage its contents. I began to read the directions and was confounded almost immediately. The first step was to attach a long “z-bar” that had the door's hinges as its integral part. The directions said to place the z-bar in an orientation that would line up the bottom hole in the top-most hinge with a pre-drilled hole in the frame and then insert a screw. I managed to do that (aren’t you proud of me?) and was now instructed to insert seven more screws to secure all the hinges to the door. But – where were the other seven holes? Only that first one was pre-existing and the instructions said nothing about prepping for the others (later steps were explicit about making center punches and drilling pilot holes before inserting the screws). I puzzled over this for a good 10-15 minutes before appealing to a higher authority – the missus. Carol came out to take a look and was as befuddled as I. She’s got a master’s degree, so… It wasn’t just me. I ended up looking at a video online and that’s when I finally discovered the hinge screws were “self-tapping”. In case you don’t know, that means no pilot holes need to be drilled; just start a-screwin’ and they'll work their way through the sheet metal.

Well, fer Crissakes – why didn’t they just SAY this in the directions? And why weren’t ALL the screws required for this installation self-tapping? I’m sure there’s a reason for this that my contracting or engineering friends can validate but don’t confuse me with the facts here.

With minimal mis-steps the installation continued apace… well, I should say at a pace leading to its completion a mere five hours after I started (the second time). Miraculously, the door was square in the frame; it swung closed and latched nearly every time; the cool hidden screen worked like it was supposed to; I was only suffering mildly from heat stroke, and I had only a few random parts left over. We’ll have to wait for the first rain to make sure it’s watertight but so far, so good. One of the selling points of this model was its “oops-proof” guarantee – any parts damaged during installation would be replaced free of charge. The downside of this model is that the half-screen scrolls down to the level of the door handle, so I fear someone is going to try to push on the “door” and instead punch a palm through the irreplaceable screen section.

Once that happens you’ll hear me “on screech” -- all the way from the Maine interior.