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

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Annoy, Matey!

I woke up in a perfectly fine mood the other day but the missus did not. Usually, I can work around that -- offer to make her coffee; take care of all the morning routines (cats, laundry, vacuuming), and even take my normally-outgoing personality and dial it down a notch. This time, nothing would turn her frown upside down, although she might have displayed a slight smirk when she gave me a dope-slap for getting in her way in the kitchen.

I knew I was in trouble when she flat-out said, "I don't find you funny today. Not one bit." This was after I asked her if she needed some ibuprofen. I hastily retreated to the living room and turned on the TV. After a few minutes I heard banging and clattering and a cry of "Oh, shit... shit-shit-SHIT!" coming from the bathroom. I jumped up and ran over, asking if everything was alright. Without even turning toward me she said, "I wasn't talking to you." Taking the hint, I returned to the couch and tried to figure out if I was now in the "Law" or "Order" half of the program.

We were meeting our son for brunch and started our drive in silence. As we entered the highway I turned on the radio, tuning to the jazz station. Eight bars in and Wife clicked the radio off. Taking the hint, I decided against scat-singing "A Night In Tunisia" and entertained myself by counting in 5/4 time in my head for the rest of the trip.

Son walked up just as I parked the car. His mother greeted him warmly, with hugs and kisses. "Ah, she's coming around," I thought. We entered the restaurant and were quickly seated. Perusing the menu, Wife asked, "What did I order here last time?" I said it had been the potato pancakes. "No, that wasn't it," and she asked Son if he recalled. "Um, I'm pretty sure you had the potato pancakes, with a side of corned beef hash," he replied. "Ah, yes!" she exclaimed. "That's right — you've got a good memory!" Taking the hint, I vowed to recall all the salient details of a prior event when asked versus offering a quick but incomplete answer to the question posed.

Our food arrived swiftly, piping hot and delicious. As we ate, we caught up with the week's events. Wife filled Son in on the details of an involved work story that I had already heard her recount several times during the week to various audiences, but listened attentively as she told the story again. Once she'd finished, I started to tell Son about an event at my job with numerous comedic elements to it; I got maybe ten seconds into my narrative when Wife got up from the table and said, "I've heard this already -- I'm going to the ladies' room." Taking the hint, I quickly wrapped up so she wouldn't be burdened with any tedium once she returned.

After brunch we dropped Son back at his place and drove home to kill a few hours before heading out for an afternoon engagement. Wife went into the bedroom, closing the door behind her. I poked my head in a few minutes later to find her stretched out on the bed and massaging her shoulder, which had been causing her some discomfort. I asked if she needed my help or if there was anything I could bring her. "No, I'll be right out." I left and closed the door behind me. An hour later, Wife emerged from the bedroom and asked why I had let her sleep so long. Taking the hint, I ordered a baby monitor so I can check remotely if she dozes during the day without prior notice and then gently awaken her.

We went to our friends' party later that day. They live in a crowded neighborhood with parking at a premium, so I told Wife I was planning to take the first parking space I could find. I found a stretch of street with a few open spots several blocks from their house. I offered to drop Wife off at our friends' place and then return to park the car, but she said she was fine with the walk if I wanted to leave the car there. We strolled over and had a lovely time at the party. After a few hours we were ready to go and started the walk back to the car. "How far IS it?" Wife inquired. "I thought it was closer than this." I pointed to the car, another block away. She sighed, so I suggested she stop and I'd go the rest of the way and come back to pick her up. "No, no, no... I'll just walk." Taking the hint, I vowed to always provide valet-style service in the future so Wife would not have to waste any additional effort on getting to or from the car and could always arrive and depart any gathering at her freshest.

We stopped to pick up a few groceries on the way home and decided to have a bite to eat from the store's expansive prepared foods section. We filled our plates with a variety of delicacies and found seats in the cafe. "What's that?" Wife asked me several times, pointing to some of the foods I had chosen. I'd tell her and then offer a taste of whatever it was. "No -- I have plenty of my own here." I finished my meal and commented on how tasty it had been. "You didn't save anything good for me?" Taking the hint, I decided to always fix an extra plate next time we go to a buffet-style setting, just in case Wife decides she wants to try something different.

After eating, we paid for our groceries and headed home. We changed into our comfy clothes and plopped in front of the TV. Knowing she'd had a stressful day, I encouraged Wife to switch to whatever program she wanted to watch. She took control of the remote and selected one of her favorite evening shows. Even though it was a rerun from a series I find intolerable, I watched along with her. After it ended she muted the set, looked at me, and said, "I'm sorry if I was kind of a bitch today. I just wasn't feeling myself." I asked if she was feeling better now and she answered in the affirmative. I leaned over to give her a hug and kiss, which she accepted warmly. Since it was now nearly bedtime, I looked at her with a smile and asked, "So, would you like to...?" and wiggled my eyebrows, Groucho-style. "Oh, GOD no!" she replied. "Are you kidding?"

I guess she can't take a hint.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Rage Against The Washing Machine

If you ever move next door to me and need some help with an around-the-home project, you’ll be better served by asking your neighbor on the other side. I am incompetent when it comes to tools and anything smacking of fix-it. Some folks quaintly refer to the husband's "honey-do" list; mine is a "honey, for God's sake please don't" list.

  • Carpentry? I’ll cut the boards too short and get splinters.
  • Plumbing? Have plenty of towels on hand to sop up the flowing water.
  • Car repair? Make sure you’ve got a bus schedule handy.
  • Painting? As long as you’re not fussy about color, coverage or completion – I’m your guy. But I hate to paint, so there's that.

Buying our home up at the lake last year has provided me with multiple opportunities to display my general contracting incompetence. We’ve had tons of projects to complete and I’ve done an exemplary job at none of them. A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, and I’m reaching for marginal. Most recently I attempted to repair our washing machine. SPOILER ALERT: there are puddles involved.

Our pipes froze and burst this winter. That’s another long story. Actually, it isn’t: our pipes froze and burst this winter -- The End. That led to damage in the water lines, the heat registers, the toilet, the kitchen sink and the washing machine. We had a plumber come in who handled the first four but for reasons unknown doesn’t *do* washing machine repair. He did, however, remove the lid to take a look-see and let me know the inlet valve was cracked. For those of you unfamiliar with washing machine construction, that’s the part into which you screw the hoses from the water supply. There are electrical connections so the machine knows if you’ve requested cold, hot or warm water for the wash. I went to the local appliance store in our small Maine town with the model and serial numbers for our washer, and the nice man behind the counter scrounged up the appropriately-sized replacement. I asked if I could arrange a service visit to get it installed… He laughed derisively and baited me by saying, “It’s an easy job! You can do it yourself!” Before I could contradict him he pulled up a diagram of our washer on his computer, one of those pictures with all the parts exploded (how apt) into three dimensions so you can see what goes where. He pointed out the valve and said I just needed to “angle it” to get the old one out and new one in. Two screws held it in place, and one of them was “blind”. This meant the screw was located on the underside of the valve assembly and it wasn’t visible while trying to put it in or take it out. (There's a joke to be made here about blind screwing but I'll pass at this time.)

Despite my better judgment, I let myself get carried away by his cajoling and, box tucked under my arm, headed home, prepared to successfully complete this simple install. By the time I got back (10 minutes later), my commitment had waned sufficiently that I no longer felt confident in my ability and told Carol I'd decided to “wait for another day” to attempt the job.

That day came six weeks later.

Fortified by a large breakfast, several cups of coffee and at least one shot of Maker’s Mark, I decided this was the time to tackle the task. I wrestled the washer out from its closet location far enough so I could squeeze in and line up behind the inlet valve. First screw out – no problem. “Blind” screw removal – big problem. Couldn’t see it, couldn’t reach it. Carol offered to give it a try.

Now, just because I’m incompetent doesn’t mean I don’t have feelings or an easily-bruised male ego… I politely (not really) rejected her first few offers and continued to express my mounting frustration in language I’ll delicately describe as “colorful”. Finally I agreed to swap places with Carol and she folded much faster than I had – couldn’t see, couldn’t reach, etc. We agreed I’d make an appointment for a service tech to come out some other time we'd be at the lake and take care of it.

That futile effort wasted nearly all of our Saturday morning. (Well, in the interest of accuracy I should mention I'd been up since 6:00 whereas Carol wandered downstairs closer to 11:00.) We made the most of the rest of a very pleasant day together by running errands, planting flowers, drinking beer, bird-watching, drinking gin and tonics, making pizza, drinking wine, and starting a fire (outdoors and intentionally). We went to bed still laundry-deprived and one of us might have been slightly hung over.

I woke up Sunday morning before Carol and slipped downstairs (literally – I slipped down the stairs; luckily they’re carpeted) to make myself a badly-needed cup of coffee and enjoy the early-morning view of the lake. After a while I pulled out my tablet and found a video demonstrating the exact steps necessary to replace the inlet valve. It turns out the parts guy was correct about the “angle” but failed to mention there was a tube just to the right of the valve that should be removed to provide sufficient space to reach in and handle the blind screw and manipulate everything into place. I extracted the tube and -- Eureka! I was now able to exchange the old part for the new. I hooked up the electrical leads, replaced the tube, connected the hoses, put the top back on, wrestled the washer back into the closet and tested it out with a quick rinse cycle. Success! The machine worked AND I didn’t see any water leaking.

Carol came downstairs and was thrilled I’d been able to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. We washed one load of towels and declared we were satisfied with how the machine was operating.

After completing a few more errands, it was time for us to pack up and head back to Boston. I was about to get in the shower when Carol asked me if I needed “those two screws”. I thought she was referring to the ones that went with the washer top; I couldn’t find the originals but had two others in my toolbox and used them instead. I told her that and she replied, “OK… but aren’t these the screws for the inlet valve?” Oh… shit. In my giddiness at successfully getting the part angled in, I’d forgotten all about actually securing it.

After a brief but intense session of colorful language, I pulled out the washer, took off the lid, removed the tube, and tried to figure out how to get the blind screw in place. After 15 minutes and using every screwdriver and piece of cutlery at my disposal, I finally found something that gave me sufficient clearance to get my hand in to turn while keeping the screw aligned. As Carol said: “If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing three times.” Truer words were never more deeply resented.

As I started to push the washer back into the closet, I noticed something – a puddle of water on the floor. The parts guy had mentioned that the drain pump might also have suffered a crack from the freeze, but since we didn’t find any water underneath the machine when moving it out for the valve replacement I discounted that possibility (also because one of the two screws holding the kick panel in place, behind which the pump is located, was so badly stripped and rusted I couldn’t get it out).

There’s a video on YouTube showing what an “easy job” it is to replace the drain pump on a washing machine. You are welcome to search for it and if you agree we'll gladly provide you with overnight accommodations at the lake, some homemade pizza and up to two beers in return for your efforts. I’ll send directions after I hear from you. By the way, Carol likes to sleep in so please keep any “colorful language” while you work to a minimum.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Dog Gone

When I was age 7 or maybe 8 we got a new dog. I say “new” because we had dogs before but I don’t really remember them. I’ve seen pictures of myself as a toddler with two prior pups, one named “Chiefy” and the other named “Blackie”. Somewhere along the way I decided that one of those dogs had bitten me in the chestal area during some overly rambunctious play. At least, this is what I told the doctor when I got my tonsils removed at age 6. A physician came into my room to perform a pre-surgical exam and asked me about a mark on my chest, directly below my right nipple. I told him I’d been chomped by my dog when I was “little”, whereas what he was actually looking at was (and still is) a third nipple. I did not know at that young age that anyone could have more than the mandatory two, although even then I did have some sense that boy nipples were different from girl nipples.

Anyway, back to where this started -- my dad came home with a cuddly brown mutt and told me I could decide what to call him. This stumped me. A few days went by and my dad built a house for the new pup, and I was supposed to write his name on a small sign we’d hang over the entrance. As the house neared completion my dad kept asking if I’d decided yet; I kept saying, “Soon, Dad! I’m still thinkin’ about it!” Finally he was ready to attach the signage and it was time for the big reveal. I said, “I’m going to call him… ‘Buttons’!” Which was the name of another dog three houses up the street. That’s the best I could do under pressure. As you can imagine, having two dogs living so close with the same name created some confusion. We’d call out for “Buttons! Buttons!!” and neither dog would respond. They were likely lying next to each other under a shady tree; when they heard us yell they'd just look at each other and ruefully shake their heads.

Buttons was a great dog, a real dog dog. Nothing flashy about him, not high strung, was happy no matter what. He didn't chew up Mom’s shoes or Dad’s slippers or any of my toys. He was house-broken (when my dad told me we were going to “house-train” the dog, I thought that meant we were preparing Buttons to move someplace else, like into his own apartment, and I burst into tears). Back in that day (several decades ago) people were more relaxed about pets, dogs especially, than they are now. There was no such thing as a “dog park”, and “leash laws” were feebly enforced. Most families who had dogs in our suburban tract let them run freely. The dogs knew where they lived and came around to their own domiciles for meals, grooming, sleeping (but not baths – turn on the hose with just the thought of giving your dog a bath and he’d take off out of the yard and down the street as if a truck full of squirrels had just overturned on the highway). Sometimes Buttons would have what I call a “bachelor weekend” – he wouldn’t come home for two or three nights, and then all of a sudden he’d show up, sauntering into the yard like he’d just been around the corner. He’d have a big drink of water, maybe something to eat, and then he’d sleep it off for several days. I’d ride my bike into the far reaches of our development and kids who I’d never seen before would come running out of their front yards to scream, “It’s Buttons! Hi, Buttons! Remember me, boy?” I didn’t know these kids, but they all knew my dog. How did they learn his name? Maybe he could talk! So why didn’t he talk at home? I guess it was because he didn’t need to.

Buttons lasted all the way into the start of my college years. One evening my dad called and in the course of the conversation told me he’d taken Buttons to the vet, who had discovered a stomach tumor. “Now, don’t tell your mother – I don’t want to upset her.” I got the feeling that, had I been diagnosed with a serious illness at some point, my mother would have said, “Now, don’t tell the dog – I don’t want to upset him.” A few weeks later my folks had Buttons put to sleep. A few dog-less years went by and all of a sudden my parents had a new dog, a little shitty dog. I believe his name was “Little Shitty Dog”. He would growl and yip and snap whenever I came to visit. My parents adored him, and I imagine after my visits they’d say, “Now, that wasn’t so bad, was it? At least you don’t have to see John every day.”

Several years later my mom died (I’m not sure who told the dog about that), and the mutt (OK, his name was “Dusty”) continued to be my dad’s close companion. Dad helped Carol and me buy our first house, and Dad and Dusty moved in with us. Dad would walk Dusty once or twice a day, but he’d also let him out to roam the community on his own. One day, Dusty didn’t come back. Several days went by and still no sign of him. We drove all around the neighborhood, calling his name; checked with the pound – no luck. We eventually came to accept that Dusty was gone for good. My theory was that the dog, who was prone to seizures, had an episode while out for a jaunt, collapsed somewhere in the woods and didn’t recover. My dad, however, had his own theory: “Someone had their eye on him and took him!” Yes, I’m sure one of our neighbors was just waiting for an opportunity to snatch up an ill-tempered fur-mop with serious health issues who would snap at them without provocation.

My dad re-married and moved to Florida. After he left, we got a new dog; her name was Jingles. We picked her out at the pound and she was overjoyed to move in with us. She was a bundle of energy and we did NOT let her roam the neighborhood unattended. She was either on a run in the backyard or on a leash as we walked her. Well, that's not entirely true... she would come inside but if someone was at the door and we weren't paying attention - ZOOM!! She'd be out the door in a flash, running as if a truck full of squirrels had just overturned on the highway. We'd hurriedly scramble outside, calling and searching for her, usually fruitlessly. She'd normally come back of her own accord after a few hours.

One day after she'd dashed out yet again a woman came to the front door, holding on to Jingles for dear life. "Is this your dog?" she asked. We affirmed it was and thanked her for returning our baby. However, this was not an altruistic act on her part -- "Your dog killed my cat!" she wailed. We were shocked, as was this woman when she saw our two cats, Oscar and Felix, saunter into view in the living room. "You have CATS?" We apologized profusely and resisted the temptation to ask her if she was sure it had been our dog (a neighbor later told us he'd witnessed a different dog harassing her kitty). We offered to replace her cat or compensate her in some way, which she declined. The matter didn't go any further than her one visit.

About a year later circumstances led to our decision to move to South Carolina. The logistics of that move are too complicated to recount here; the relevant issue is that we needed to move into an apartment and couldn't find one that would allow us to bring both the cats and the dog. From the perspective of hindsight, we should have just moved in with all the pets and asked for forgiveness rather than permission... but instead we chose to keep the cats with us and looked for someone to adopt Jingles. That was another hair-raising tale; suffice it to say we found her a loving home and she was very happy with her new owners.

After a year in the apartment we bought a house and got back to the business of having it overrun with animals. We went from two cats to four and got a new dog, named Rosie. She was a black lab, again from the pound, and was another beautifully-tempered, sweet-as-can-be pup. She loved loved loved the cats, who in return despised her and attacked her relentlessly. Undaunted, she continued her quixotic pursuit of their friendship.

We had Rosie for about ten years when the set of circumstances that led to our move to Boston began to coalesce. By that time, Josh had graduated from high school and started community college, and he decided to remain behind in South Carolina. He made arrangements with a buddy to live with him in a house owned by the buddy's dad, and it was fine with them for Josh to bring Rosie along as the third roommate. That meant Carol and I needed to find an apartment that was cool with cats, which was not a problem as long as we claimed to own only "two". We'd had a little turnover in the rotation over the years but were back up to four-strong in the feline count, so we said, "Yep! Two cats, that's all we've got. Two. Only two. A-one, a-two." I came up to start my new job a few months before Carol joined me, so she had the honor of packing the car for the drive to Boston and trying to herd those cats into carriers. She still has a scar on her left shoulder from where our dear little Chloe clawed into her in a desperate bid for freedom. But once they got to Boston the cats loved our loft apartment, with all sorts of nooks and crannies and hiding places to explore.

One evening, six months after completing the move, the phone rang. It was Josh calling from down South, to tell us how much he missed us and he was thinking about moving to Boston to be closer -- "Would that be OK with you?" With tears in our eyes we said of course. While there wasn't much room in our apartment, we'd figure out some kind of temporary arrangement until he could get settled. Once we'd agreed to his request he then casually mentioned he'd been canned from his job and oh by the way wasn't going to school any more either. Hmm -- well, again: that's another story entirely. The immediate concern was what would we do with Rosie? Our two-cat-limit Boston apartment had a very strict no-dogs-allowed policy, which we'd agreed to in writing when we signed the lease. Once more, we found ourselves jumping through hoops to find a new home for a dog. We felt badly the first time with Jingles; we were miserable over going through it again with Rosie. Fortunately, she ended up with a very nice woman who had another lab named Lucy, and she and Rosie became thick as thieves.

You may be aware of our current situation -- we managed to get the kid out of the house for good, but our cat count is now up to five (in a touch of irony, Cat #5 is Josh's -- Miles has been staying with us "temporarily" for the last five years. We call him our grandcat.). We have friends with dogs and let them slobber all over us. We gladly offer to dog-sit. We stop and talk with strangers on the street who are walking their dogs and swap ear- and belly-scratches (with the dogs, not the strangers) for sniffs and licks (by the dogs, not the strangers). We miss not having one of our own any longer... but considering our track record perhaps it would be best for any new canines to be placed with another, more deeply-rooted, adoptive family. And of course we have our fine feline friends to keep us busy at home.

Anyone want a cat?