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

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.