Laundry Day

IMG_20171115_085216If there is ever an Olympic event that requires one to pick dirty underwear up off of the floor with one’s toes and then toss it into a faraway laundry basket, I’m going to take all the gold medals.  I am the Michael Phelps of the “Too-Lazy-to-Bend-Over-and-Pick-Up-Dirty-Socks-a-cathalon.” Ten minutes ago, I made a bank shot off of the dresser from all the way out in the hallway.

The truth of the matter is that I hate doing laundry.  I know a lot of people aren’t fond of the job, but most of you probably aren’t sitting at your computer wearing swimsuit bottoms as underpants and a chopped up, obviously-unearthed –from-the-bag-of-dust-rags, commemorative “I Ate At Shoneys” t-shirt.

It’s not so much the actual washing of the laundry that kills me.  All I have to do is pick up the basket, carry it to the garage, dump the clothing into the gaping maw of the machine, feed it a convenient detergent filled pod, and start it up. I always feel good about myself at this point. “Look at me,” I think, “I accomplished getting the laundry started. I deserve a reward. I’m going to actually get it done this time!” Then off I go, working on other projects.

The same thing happened this week. The laundry had been piling up for a couple of weeks, and I had been assiduously avoiding it by shoving the baskets under my tall platform bed.  Unfortunately, that’s also where Stadler hides when she’s freaked out, and because the house has been covered with roofers for the last month, she’s been scared pretty frequently.  It only took about nine days for the under-the-bed laundry pile to reach critical mass, which caused the dog to burrow through it like a mole under a golf course. Discarded t-shirts, towels and underpants shot out behind poor Stadler as she fought her way into her hidey hole. I followed the T-shirt Trail, and found her happily perched atop what was left of Mount Laundry, grinning a big dog grin. Stadler doesn’t mind nesting in stinky things.  In fact, she seems to prefer it.

This week, as usual, I had enough good intentions to build a super highway straight to Hell, complete with off-ramps leading to the DMV and IKEA.  Plus, the idea of Jan Rankin’s expression if (and quite possibly when) I showed up to work in the top half of a prom dress, ancient boxer shorts, mismatched socks and combat boots was somewhat of a deterrent.

“I’ll just get this whole laundry problem sorted,” I thought, as I crawled under my bed to retrieve my now dog hair coated clothing.  It was grosser under there than I anticipated. Stadler had padded her nest with several toilet paper rolls (chewed), all the shoes I was missing, a cat toy that she stole from somewhere, and a whole bunch of rawhide dog treats.  She had also incorporated what appeared to be the squeaker from every toy I ever bought her, so my ingress was much more “musical” than I had anticipated.  The chorus of “honk honk squeal squeak” brought Stadler careening in from the yard.  She stuck her head under the bed, desperately concerned, and tried to claw her way in with me.  I yelled at her to get lost (there really wasn’t enough room for both of us), so she started tunneling in from the other side.  It didn’t take pokey nose too long to make it through. I really think she could have been of some use to those trapped, Chilean coal miners – but only if they all had squeakers.

For the next 45 minutes, I dug laundry and dog detritus out from under the bed, while Stadler (helpfully) brought stuff back.  Eventually, I locked her outside.  She let me know she was unhappy about her exile by scratching at the door and barking in short, distressed yips.  As I finally opened the door, carrying the first basket of dirty clothing, she shot me a terrible glare and immediately entered the bedroom and jumped on the bed.  I started the first load.  By the time I returned, Stadler had knocked over both of the other laundry baskets, and returned most of the stuff to her nest.  She popped her head out from under the bed as I walked through the door, triumphant. I could hear her tail beating a tattoo on the wood floor.

Once more into the breach, this time with zero trust remaining for my best dog and Filth Preservationist, Stadler, who had to go play in the yard.  I gathered everything up again and locked the baskets in the bathroom as a security measure.

They’re still there.

All in all, I managed to wash two loads of laundry and dry one before I got distracted by a book called “101 Oragami Animals.”  After about 9 hours of folding paper (which resulted in ½ of a swan), I remembered what I was supposed to be working on. “Whoopsy,” I thought. “Guess I’ll have to finish it tomorrow.”

That tomorrow never came.  Even though I had to navigate around the laundry baskets in the bathroom every time I needed to use the facilities, I remained steadfast.  I’m the Yo Yo Ma of procrastination.

I have clean clothes, but they’re currently entombed in my dryer, wrinkled like raisins.  I forgot that the worst part of doing laundry is folding everything and putting it away.   I’m using my dryer as a dresser.  Unfortunately, I’ve already gone through all the underpants.

At some point, I’m sure, I’ll finish this project. I know (intellectually) that it’s not that difficult to do laundry.  It’s not like I’m using a washboard and lye soap down by the creek.  I have to admit, though, that I’m now regarding this as a challenge: me vs. laundry — an epic cage match to the death.  “GET IN THE OCTOGON YOU DIRTY TANK TOPS!” I may wind up living inside an igloo made of pants.

The dog will be ecstatic.

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Roof! Roof!

Did I tell you guys that Harvey also ate my roof?  I spent the first couple of weeks after the hurricane walking around in a delicate delirium, the phrase, “I was lucky” on repeat, thinking my house had only lost a few shingles and the fence.  However, when the next big rain came, I noticed the ceilings bulging like inexpertly packed sausages. The dolorous hippopotamus that was Harvey got me good.

It took a couple of further weeks before we could get a hot date with the TWIA (Texas Windstorm Insurance Association) inspector. During that time the G.P. (Great Provider) began calling roofers.

The first rep to show up was a young lady named Ermine, who was stuffed so thoroughly into yoga pants that she was reminiscent of the aforementioned sausages.  She nimbly climbed onto my house and inspected the damage. Her verdict was (of course) that the entire roof would have to be replaced, as well as all the internal ceilings and possibly some of the walls. I was heartbroken.  Dad was skeptical. He refused to sign a contract that second, but said that her company could come and tarp the house to prevent more damage.  They never showed up.  A week later, I angrily mowed their sign, and vowed to never trust women named after fur.

Rain was coming when the second batch of roofers showed up.  No one called them. At this point, contractors were showing up like particularly predatory toadstools.  They tarped the house right then. We made an appointment to discuss options, and the new roofers showed up right on time.

We all sat at my dining table to hammer out a contract.  The roofers were assertive, but seemed to be knowledgeable and (at that point) had proven themselves far superior to other companies simply by showing up.  Mom decided on one of those new-fangled metal roofs (even though they were much more expensive), and I agreed after finding out that it could save me up to 40% per year on energy bills.  The Rev convinced Dad (who admitted he was curious), and he signed a contract right then and there.

That’s when the Play-Dough crap factory started churning out various stars and quarter moons of bullpuckey.  The contractor missed appointments to put on the new roof for over two weeks. Dad panicked because the job had to get done, and we’d evidently signed a contract with a disaster carpetbagger that had no intention of working.  My house looked like a hobo squat for nearly a month.  I was tempted to put on fingerless gloves and cook hot dogs over a trashcan fire just to complete the image. I am nothing if not theatrical.

When the crew finally showed, everyone was greatly relieved.  They made short work of the old shingles, and started to apply the white steel.

It looked awful.  There’s no nice way to put this: my roof looked nothing like the picture they’d shown us when they sold us the material. The metal they used looked like corrugated tin, with huge exposed hex nuts sticking out everywhere.  They furthered the image of “ancient bayou juke joint” by leaving a four inch lip hanging over the front of the house.

I text messaged our rep to tell her that the installation was incorrect, “Um, this is seriously wrong.  I’m not selling bathtub gin to alligator enthusiasts out on the Bayou.”

“What did you think it was going to look like?” she replied.

I then sent her 83 pictures of metal roofs.  The only picture in 800 Google image search results that even resembled my roof was a picture of a decrepit shed that was taken during the Dust Bowl. She said she’d be right over.

By the time she arrived, the G.P. had checked the job and found that, on top of the terrible aesthetics (think backwoods incest shanty), the workers had over-tightened the hex nuts and ruined the neoprene washers – insuring leaks.

“I knew they did it wrong.” asserted the G.P., “I’ve installed this crap on barns at least 20 times. You don’t use it on homes.”

A massive fight ensued, and work was stopped cold.  The company agreed that the installation was faulty, but wouldn’t provide either the correct material or any guarantee that the next crew would be able to install it. Up and down the ladder went my 73 year old father, endlessly arguing in two languages.

On Halloween night, I discovered that the metal roof was leaking. I sat underneath the swollen spars of my living room, wearing my Max from “Where the Wild Things Are” costume, fatalistically drinking mescal because it “went with the ulcer these [redacted] are giving me.”

Dad felt terrible. “I’m getting old, Ab,” he said, quietly. “I didn’t do my due diligence and get three separate bids. I should just quit.”

I knew just what he was doing. I’m guilty of this kind of thinking, too.

I hate it when I put a pillow in a pillowcase and the tag sticks out the open end. I have this set of pillows that, for some unknown reason, I just couldn’t ever get the tag inside.  I figured it was the same as never being able to put the fitted sheet on the right way the first time.  I left that tag sticking out, as evidence, punishing myself for generalized incompetence — just a little itchy bit of negativity.

Two weeks ago, I finally got angry at myself for allowing anxiety over absolutely nothing, and triumphantly tore the tags off those pillows. The next time I put the pillows in their cases, the stupid tags were STILL sticking out. I freaked out a little, and pulled the pillows out of the cases. There were originally tags on both ends of the pillows.  Some things are just two-taggers.  It doesn’t matter how you move, you’re damned no matter what.

“Dad, you caught them. You saved it from being a lot worse. No one else could have done what you did, or would have.” I told him.

“At least I’ll be dead before we have to put another roof on the house,” he said.  “All the lessons I’ve learned will be lost.”

“I learned stuff, too, Dad.” I replied, perhaps a little bitterly. I did read a 28 page manual entitled “Installing C-F Panels,” and now know altogether too much about various types of roofing screws.

He patted my hand.  He had read the same boring instructions.

We threw in the towel before the property was totally decimated and let them shingle the roof.  My house doesn’t look like it’s a pastel pink paint job away from being a Juarez crack house any more, but my side yard is piled with rejected metal.  The roofers were supposed to reclaim it yesterday. I’m not too worried about it, though. Pick-up trucks are already making slow, predatory circles around my block.  That problem, at least, will take care of itself.

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Negative, Ghost Rider

Dear Motorcycle Guy with the Fantastically Loud Pipes Who Keeps Riding Past My House In the Wee Hours of the Morning,

Sir: I am unsure why you chose to spend thousands of dollars on modifications to make your motorcycle sound louder than fog horns, jet engines, or the Rev when someone adheres a bunch of “Honk if You’re Horny” stickers to her bumper.  The fact, however, is that you have done so – and very successfully.  I’m not sure if you can fully remove the baffles from an exhaust system, but (if not) yours must be so drilled that they resemble Swiss cheese. Also, I’m not sure how you adapted, shaped and attached that Sherman tank cannon to the rear of your bike, but it sure sounds (at 3:28 a.m.) like you managed.  And, even though your motorcycle, at this point, must look like the demon spawn of an ill-fated romance between a vehicle from Dr. Seuss’s Who Ville and a machine from Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, it certainly is loud.

Before I address the topic of “why everyone in the free world is pissed off at you,” please know that I understand that “loud pipes save lives.”  By saying that perhaps you could tone it down a bit, I’m not trying to say “DIE MOTORCYCLE RIDER DIE!” Your case is extreme.  What you’ve done is the equivalent of putting a 1988 Honda Civic on monster truck tires.  You’re guilty of overkill.  Honestly, your bike is so noisy that if a fellow driver was trying to locate you, they’d have to use the Doppler Effect to find the vector.  It can’t be safe for someone to try to do that kind of math, on a crappy phone calculator, while driving.   We shouldn’t all have to store slide rules in the glove compartment next to the tire checker thingy just because you’ve decided that being deafening is “super cool.”

But let me tell you why I am currently furious.

You, sir, have been cruising through my neighborhood in the middle of the night for several weeks – always late, but never at predictable hours.  The noise from your bike awakens me and my big black dog, Stadler, who feels the need to vocalize her distress with an extended howl.   “Woooooooooooooooroooooowoooooooorrrrooooooooooooh!” says Stadler, joining every other neighborhood dog in a choral rendition of “Doggy Alert System in the Key of Air Raid Siren.”  The house shakes like I live next to an elevated train, rattling Grandma’s bone china in the kitchen.  After you finally pass, Stadler turns around three times and goes right back to sleep.  I, however, wind up awake for the rest of the night, carefully wrapping dishes like I’m moving to Taiwan.

Last night the situation got astronomically worse.

It began much as most of our other interactions have: house shaking like it’s a vibrating bed at a HoJo’s on quarter beer night, dog singing the ballad of doom, etc.  This time, however, my burglar alarm went off.

At only 75 decibels (for which the city requires a permit), it took me a minute to hear the blaring alert over the roar of your bike.  When I finally figured out what was going on, I spun immediately into self-defense mode. I hit the panic button by my bed, and jammed a wedge underneath the bedroom door to keep out the bad guys.  By the time cops arrived, I had forced open my street facing bedroom window, removed the screen, and was attempting to chuck a highly reluctant Labrador out into the front yard – a process that was vastly complicated by my refusal to slacken my grip on my trusty baseball bat.

“Can you come let us in, ma’am?” yelled the friendly officer on my front stoop.

I released my struggling dog and stuck my head out the open window.  “Um no…because there might be robbers in the house. Can you check and make sure no one got in the back?”

His radio rumbled.  “My partner says the gate is locked.  Do you have a key?”

“Yeah, but it’s on the counter in the kitchen which is probably where the robbers are.”

“Ma’am, I don’t think there are any robbers,” the officer replied, clearly almost at the end of his patience.

“The fence is really easy to climb over,” I responded

Exasperated, my new friend stomped off around the side of the house. When he returned, he gave the dog (who now had to be restrained from climbing out the window) a pat on her head and said, “Ok, the other officer has climbed over your fence.  There’s no one back there.  Can you please turn off your alarm? You’re causing a disturbance.”

Still wearing my typical Ripley-goes-into-hyperbaric-sleep version of pajamas (tank top and underpants), with one officer at my front door, one at my back, the home security company on the phone, my alarm blaring, and a group of curious neighbors starting to pile up in my front yard, I stomped through my house to my security panel, deactivated the alarm, and figured out what triggered the whole incident.

It was a glass break alarm on a window in the back of my house.

Due to the excessive yelling, singing, underpants dancing, stomping, cussing and general caterwauling that is common at my place, I keep the sensors on the alarm set to their least sensitive level. I learned this the hard way, setting off the siren so many times in the early days that the local birds learned to mimic the sound. Your stupid bike was so loud that it rattled the glass in my windows hard enough that my desensitized system thought I was about to get murdered.

I tried to explain what had happened to the police officers, but I could tell they didn’t believe that a motorcycle could be so cacophonous.  I turned to my gaggle of gawking neighbors for support, and every last one of them chimed in with something along the lines of, “oh yeah, that Harley douche drives by here in the middle of the night at least once a week …” and “yeah, that guy’s a total jerk.”  The cops shook their heads as they mounted their quiet motorcycles.

“Well,” said one officer, “at least you can hear him coming.”

“And then some,” I replied.

So, sir now that you know the vast amount of annoyance you cause other people, perhaps you’ll spend some of what must be a U.S. Military scale motorcycle modifications budget on an inexpensive, quiet car for night time travel.  I sincerely doubt you will.  So, in the meantime,  if a screaming, furious, half-crazed woman wearing only a tank top and Oscar the Grouch underpants charges across her front lawn at 2:17 a.m. and hurls a bat at you, you may take some comfort in how richly you deserve it.

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Dog Eat Dog

I love this time of year. As I sit at my little writing desk, my windows are thrown wide, curtains gently drifting on the breeze. Sweltering summer has finally snapped. Stadler and I are now able to go on ridiculously long morning dog jogs, covering miles and miles, breathing in the cool air, swelling with the joy of it.

It is impossible to exaggerate how happy I was the first day our morning exercise required that I wear a jacket.  I pulled my tomato red zip up hoodie off of the rack on my backdoor (where it had languished, unused since April) and bounced a little bit out of sheer exultation  as I jammed my arms into the too-big sleeves.  Out to the garage, I skipped to retrieve Gertrude (my bike), strapped on my helmet (knocking twice to make sure it was still worked), leashed up Stadler and off we went.

There is something about the way sunlight falls in October that always astounds and inspires me, and that morning was a prime example of the phenomenon.  As the angle of the sun changes, common things are lit from the bottom so that even boring old tree bark glows like it’s ignited from within. The great branches of the wonderful twisted Texas trees reach like dancers, dramatic under a perfect spotlight.  And all of that is nothing compared to the glorious sea.

That morning, Old Salty was particularly lovely.  There was no wind, and the great flat platter lapped up all the bright golden light, diffusing it back into the world, liquid platinum.  I breathed deep of this, trying to memorize the morning.  I looked down at my big Black Lab trotting alongside me, and she smiled up at me.  If you ever forget your love of nature, your dog will happily remind you.  Everything was right and good with the world.  My worries ran far ahead of us, driven away by hound and happiness.

If there’s one thing I should have learned after years of being a horror movie aficionado and terrifying myself into weeks of sleeplessness with Stephen King novels, it’s this: any time the world is being unreasonably beautiful and your happiness is non-negotiable, QUIT IT, because that’s exactly when the rabid St. Bernard is going to try to eat its way through your windshield. Unfortunately, this lesson is very easy to forget when you’re busy pretending to be an even drippier Walt Whitman, distractedly composing heroically alliterative sonnets about bees.

The attack happened in a flash – a large black dog charged us, demonic teeth bared, ready to grab Stadler by the base of her spine and shake her to death.  He was on us before we  had time to stop, and almost had her locked in his huge jaws as we skidded to a wheel-burning halt. Stadler, an omega female, has absolutely no capacity for understanding violence.  Dad swears that he once watched her get chased across the driveway by an irritated cockroach.  She constantly tries to get other animals to be her friends, to the extent that last week I caught her attempting to sneak an entire bowl of

notafighter

Not a fighter…

food out her doggie door, probably in order to bribe our yard squirrels into hanging out with her. Her response to another dog attempting to chew through her spine was to turn around, with a gigantic grin plastered on her face, as if to say, “Well, hey there feller!  LET’S BE BESTIES FOREVER AND EVER!” His ravening maws would have indicated to a smarter dog that he was not about to head to the mall to pick out half-heart dog tags that they could both wear at an upcoming pajama party, but Stadler is deliriously friendly and has a staunchly positive approach to most things, including moving cars, random clouds, and opossums.

At that point, I completely lost my mind. Hulk-like rage ballooned inside my chest, erupting from my mouth, as I leaned directly into the face of the advancing Baron Von Snarlington, looked into his furious stare and roared: “GET AWAY FROM HER YOU BAD, BAD DOG!!!”  His eyes crossed in confusion.  Evidently, this had never happened during previous crazed attacks.  His tiny, vicious brain stalled as he processed the new threat.

“BACK OFF NOW!” I screamed directly into his nostrils.  This time, he retreated – staying far enough away that I couldn’t tear him in half  – which is what I intended if he went for Stadler again. We walked away slowly, as I kept a fierce eye on him.  He barked a couple of times, but you could tell his heart wasn’t in it. Defeat is never fun.

I’ve read that the guy who developed the popular Alpha Theory of wolf society has spent the last 30 years trying to debunk his own preliminary findings.  It turns out that the wolves he initially thought were alpha males and females were just protective parents.  I thought, as we continued our slow retreat, (being conscientiously “not prey” on my part, and tail wagging affability on that of my confused canine) that if that dog had come after my human kid, I wouldn’t have given him a chance at all – I would have smashed him

Tycho_Brahe_nose

Tycho Brahe lost his nose in a duel, leaving him fewer chances to lose it due to Syphilis.

into a fence.  Then, rage subsiding, I thought about how utterly lucky I was to still have a nose.  I really dig Tycho Brahe, but a strap-on nose would definitely not improve my dating options.  I started trying to think of better ways to protect myself and my super approachable, fluffy footstool of a dog.

I used to be more proactive about self-defense.  Once, after watching a weekend-long Netflix marathon of “Law and Order SVU” (noting what happened to almost every single woman in New York City of {ahem} a certain age) I convinced myself that there were rapists lined up outside every window, patiently awaiting their turn like they were in line at the DMV.  I started carrying pepper spray on my key chain.  That lasted until the day I dropped my keys and accidentally maced my own foot.  It was highly unpleasant, and resulted in a massive rash that I refused to explain.  I’m pretty sure my mother thought I’d been impregnated by aliens podiatrists, but was too polite to say anything about it.

Later, I told the G.P. the harrowing tale of the attack. “Snarlbergers,” Dad sneered. “The vicious bastards attack Rowlfie through the fence every time we walk down Rich Man’s Alley. One of em’ must’ve gotten loose. That’s why I walk with my Dog Thunkin’ Stick. Carry your pepper spray. You know better than to put your face in a mean dog’s mouth, by the way.”

I couldn’t bear to tell him what happened last time I packed the pepper.

The next morning, I placed my trusty claw hammer in Gertrude’s woven wicker basket.  One cannot totally ignore one’s Stephen King, no matter how pleasant the weather.

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Mending Fences

 

Did I mention that Harvey ate my fence?  Well, not ALL my fence, but about 80 feet of it blew over during the storm, the great winds cracking the 4×4’s at their concrete footings.  My solution to this problem was to prop the old fence with some boards I had leftover in the garage from various bouts of  fatherly destruction.  As you might guess, this wasn’t really a fix.  It thwarted Stadler (my “special” black Lab could honestly be confused for at least a few days by a simple piece of rope strung at chest level).  The neighbor’s toddler, however, was a serious problem. He snuck through the small hole left where the fence didn’t quite rejoin itself, playing with the dog and staring deeply into my dangerous pond – terrifying his poor father.  I was pretty scared myself.  I couldn’t bear it if something injured a child on my property, and the G.P. (my Dad, who has a predilection for pessimistic prediction) decided that financial ruin was imminent. He and Neighbor Ben struck up a deal wherein Dad would buy the building supplies and Ben (an engineer) would do the fence construction.

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IMG_20171018_091336

Toddler death prevention. The only person it’s fooling is Stadler. Dad said, on the subject of tricking small children, “Shit, you kids could get up on the roof when you were two.”

“Best deal I ever made,” opined the G.P., grinning like a sly fox.

Dad had just spent about a week rebuilding his own fence and knew that digging post holes by hand through dense clay soil is the kind of Sisyphean Hell-torture which should be reserved for people who brag about deliberately wrecking grocery shopping for others.  It was so bad that he had to construct a scraper to remove the heavy, sticky clay after each mighty chop.  “It took me a week and cost me three inches off my waistline,” crowed my father, after finishing the job.  He did not, however, want to do it twice.

Dad decided that we needed to do our part.  Thursday morning, bright and early he arrived at my house – with no warning and a chainsaw – and insisted that we were going to “haul that damned fence out of there.”

I began basting myself with bug spray, and asked Dad if he wanted some.  “No,” he replied, “Bugs don’t bite me any more – especially if I stand near you.”

I let him stomp off into the back, while I raced into the garage to get the mower. I knew he was intending to make piles, and I wanted to get the grass trimmed before he started building his pyramids of debris.  About half an hour later, I joined him in the backyard.  The G.P. (Great Provider) had cut the fence into smaller segments, which I could just boost up on to the top of my head, balancing the weight.  I trudged across the minefield of doggy engineered, ankle breaking holes, through the side gate, depositing the often fire ant covered, splintered boards into neat piles beside the drainage ditch. The G.P. kept cutting…and cutting… and cutting… When he ran out of fence, he started on the trees.  I hauled endlessly, only stopping once for a sip of water.  Finally, we got it all piled fairly neatly. I was sweat soaked, covered in sticky sap and ant bitten within an inch of my life, but intact.  All that was left of the side fence were the 4×4’s that were unbroken by the storm – with around 200 pounds of concrete at the base of each.  Neighbor Ben had said that he would remove those – and we were more than willing to let him.

That night, Neighbor Ben set to – hacking at the remaining posts for five hours, somehow removing them and adding them to the wreckage heaps.  It seemed like real progress was being made.

The next day, I was baking my Dad a “Thank you for fixing my fence”strawberry rhubarb pie, when he showed up with a camera tripod and a laser site to plot the new construction.  I was trying to make filling when he started bellowing from the backyard for me to “get my ass out there and save him about a thousand miles of walking.” I pulled the boiling mass of strawberries and rhubarb off the stove, ran to the bedroom to put on jeans and closed toed shoes, and sped outside.  My father was waiting, impatiently, holding a long stick.  “Go down to that end and find the red dot with the stick,” Dad ordered.

There was no red dot.

“Hold the stick STRAIGHT UP AND DOWN,” Dad yelled, furious.  I tried, but the ground wasn’t level, and I was also trying to find the stupid, pale, tiny, often nonexistent red dot on the lower part of the shaft and lost focus.  The G.P. stormed to the truck and got me a gigantic level, giving me one more thing to look at that wasn’t the dastardly dot.

In total rage, Dad stormed over and grabbed the stick from my hands.  “Where the hell is the dot?” he roared.

“It’s on your heart,” I said – finding it at last.

The G.P. looked down at the wrong side of his chest. “NO IT’S NOT.”

“Dad, it looks like a sniper is about to kill you.  It’s RIGHT THERE!”

Dad and I are famous for horrific, screaming Mexican stand-offs. We both have bad tempers and neither one of us will walk away. Usually, we fight about “how to build a thing that came with directions that no one has read.”  The inevitable conclusion is that the Rev shows up, grabs the instructions (which are being used at that point as a “thing to wave wildly while screaming”), and flips them over so they’re the right way up.  “Oh,” we both sigh, mollified, and go back to building. Dad once thought that he and I should start a business assembling furniture for people.  Mom laughed so hard that she snorted coffee out her nose and had to go take a nap.

This time, Mom showed up with a bag of onions, assessed the situation and immediately took refuge in my house.  Ultimately, (and after much yelling) Dad sited the devil dot on the far side start point and happily drew his line. I went back into the house, poured myself and my mother glasses of white wine, and went back to my pie filling – totally forgetting to put in the very important tapioca thickener.

A few hours later, I served my father strawberry rhubarb soup.  He took the leftovers home and ate every last bite.  Some fences are more easily mended than others.

 

 

 

 

 

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Grocery Store Detente

“I’m not a shopper.” I actually just checked over my shoulder as I wrote that line, checking if big brother was standing behind ready to bash in my brains for not doing my part to bolster the economy. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to subvert capitalism with my personal Wal-Mart boycott: I just hate crowds and lines and cannot understand why anyone would ever put a florescent light fixture above a dressing room. Some people, however, regard bargain shopping as the modern day equivalent of hunting and gathering. They return, triumphant, from Best Buy celebrating the purchase of a $1.99 eight pack of AA batteries like they had killed a wildebeest barehanded and can now feed the entire village. I’m sometimes shocked that we don’t see more battery packaging mounted above fireplaces to encourage the retelling of the “Tale of That Time We Got the Cheap Batteries.”

My shopping phobia has existed for quite a while. As noted, I refuse to go to Wal-Mart, not because of their corporate stance on socio-political issues, but because I once went on a Saturday morning and got trapped between two families who simultaneously decided to have intimate and highly personal arguments at either end of the sheet aisle.  It was like an impassable naval blockade by the Spanish Armada. I was trapped for 45 insufferable minutes.  I tried not to draw fire by pretending to be fascinated by a pack of 250 thread count white cotton sheets.  If you have no experience in this matter, let me assure you: there isn’t much information to hold your interest on typical sheet packaging. It was a very long 45 minutes.

After that, I simply refused to go to Wal-Mart ever again. In retaliation, I became an Amazon Prime customer and started ordering everything online. The grocery store was still a problem, but my local HEB is generally friendly and efficient. They actually open additional lanes when the lines are long, a concept Wal-Mart can’t seem to wrap its hive mind around.  Then there was The Incident.

I found out that you can’t just go to HEB any old time you want and expect to shop efficiently and anonymously the way I figure out everything: trial and total error.  My haphazard whenever-I-had-time-for-it grocery shopping came to an end the day that I got stuck in the cocktail wiener aisle between not one but two warring factions (mounted on a total of 4 mobility scooters) having perhaps the most heated argument in grocery store history over which brand of mini-franks was the best.   I lasted three minutes before I abandoned my cart and climbed up on the lowest shelf, skirting the edges of the battle as though I was hanging on to a sheer cliff face trying to avoid a fall into an endless chasm.  I tried to say, “Excuse me” to get them to move, but all it got me was 4 narrow glares and greatly increased hostility. This reaction prevented me from suggesting a mobility scooter joust to decide the issue for reasons of personal preservation.

It’s not just that I constantly get trapped in the most ludicrous positions in the history of shopping.  That’s bad enough, but I also get preyed upon by every single lonely stranger. I’m a magnet for people who want to spend vast amounts of time talking about the individual foibles of each of their 18 cats.

“Mr. Pickles has white paws, but he doesn’t like pickles at all! Imagine that!”

That really happened.

Another time, a lady started talking to me about the origins of the name “Granny Smith” when I was innocently trying to pick out an apple. She got all the way through “Galas” before I pretended that I had a family emergency and bailed, leaving my half full cart in the produce aisle. I then started wearing headphones so big that they looked like a Star Wars hairstyle as a deterrent.

It didn’t work.

The very first time I tried, some dude with a tear drop tattoo under his eye tapped me on the shoulder to ask me “what I was jamming to.” Once again, I politely lied, trying to think of an artist he would have absolutely no interest in. “Lana Del Rey?” I ventured, hesitantly.

“Oh, she’s good!” he said.

“I HAVE TO USE THE TOILET,” I yelled, bravely running away, once again leaving sans groceries.

The situation was becoming serious. I was purchasing most of my food from Stripes. There is definitely a limit to the amount of gas station egg salad sandwiches you can eat without getting salmonella, ebola, or genital herpes, and I was approaching the trifecta. Something had to be done.

That’s when I came up with the brilliant idea to Google the grocery store to figure out a time when no one was there.  It turns out that it’s right at 6 a.m. when they open.  I decided to test my hypothesis, setting my alarm for 5:51 the next morning.

At 5:56 (snooze button), I rolled out of bed, jammed a baseball cap on my head, and left, still wearing my jammie bottoms with the little pink hearts on them.  I grabbed a cup of coffee, and got to the store right as they were moving the security pallets of water away from the doors.

There was almost no one there.

It was beautiful. I essentially had the entire run of the store, and (as a bonus) the few other shoppers who did turn out were either in coma from working long night shifts, or super cranky people who couldn’t sleep and figured they might as well get the groceries done.  There is a wonderful wariness amongst early morning shoppers, a sort-of unfriendly détente that occurs because of the absolute surety of mutual annihilation should anyone put a toe out of line.  6 a.m. is definitely when those on the Dark Side of the Force shop.  I love it.

As I loaded my items onto the conveyor belt, the bleary eyed cashier looked at me, trying to pick my customer type.  I’m pretty sure that, given my attire, she was leaning towards “meth head” but was confused because my purchases were entirely of the vegetable and Greek yogurt variety.  “Why are you out this early?” she asked, nonchalantly.

“Because the only people here are night shift zombies, the terminally organized, and cool old people who ‘did all their sleeping during the Truman administration.’  This is my tribe.” I replied, happy because I was finally going to make it home with a cart full of fresh produce.

“That’ll be $117.35,” she replied, staring at me like I was a blue chimpanzee lazily sipping yerba mate in the window of a Starbucks.

It was still cheaper than ebola.  Barely.

 

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Fasted and Furious

platoDo you ever feel like your body and your brain are two entirely separate entities that spend most of their time violently cage fighting over whether or not to ingest vast quantities of French fries and margaritas?  I do. I sometimes think I might be the ultimate example of the mind/body dichotomy, going as far to personify them with  separate and distinct voices.

My mind sounds like a calm, rational and very tired college professor who has spent the last 1,000 years trying to explain astrophysics to unruly, disinterested Business majors.  “Why do we have to learn this stuff, teach? It’s not like we live in a galaxy.” My body, on the other hand, sounds like the giant from Jack the Beanstalk: “I GRIND YOUR BONES TO BAKE MY BREAD.” I spend many  hours listening to the fractious arguments of the warring factions:

Body: Want nachos.

Brain: You can’t have nachos because they contain very little nutritive value.  You’re on a 1300 calorie a day diet that requires a very specific ratio of macronutrients. If you ate the nachos, you would thwart our goals.

Body: WANT NACHOS

Brain: (exasperated) You may not have nachos. Nachos will make you fat. You can have some cucumber slices and plain Greek yogurt.

Body: BUT WANT NACHOS AND MARGARITAS

Brain: (applying to universality) You are not alone. Everyone wants nachos and margaritas. Unfortunately, we cannot feast every day. Here, try some dietary fiber.

Body: (chewing) STILL WANT NACHOS AND BOOZE.

Brain: (angry) YOU MAY NOT HAVE NACHOS AND BOOZE. SHUT UP OR I WILL MAKE YOU GO JOGGING.

Body: (pouting) Hate Brain. Nachos good.  Booze good.  Brain stupid.  Bad Brain.

Usually, Brain is the victor, but Hurricane Harvey caused me a vast amount of stress and exhaustion. Somewhere along the line, Brain turned on the auto-pilot and lit out for Fiji.  Body happily took over, and threw a month long frat party — avoiding exercise and eating like a starving hog that woke up in a grain bin.  After several weeks of ingesting only comfort food, (macaroni and cheese, beer, and family sized boxes of Cheese-Its) Brain returned, slightly jet lagged, to a scene of physical disaster that included a blazing case of “puppy gut*.” Body was marched unceremoniously to the digital scale. In one month, I had gained about 12 pounds. Brain berated Body: “UNACCEPTABLE! I leave you in charge to deal with other pressing matters (Fiji), and you have the unmitigated audacity to cram dump truck loads of trash into your face hole!?!”

“Food good,” replied Body, unrepentantly (and a little smugly, if we’re being honest), insisting that extra fat is like an insurance policy “in case the zombies come,” rather than an unattractive health hazard.  Some anthropomorphized entities are just impossible to reason with.

In any case, the 12 extra pounds had to go.  The possibility of not fitting into any of my pants was simply too dire to ignore. In response, I decided to go on a 48 hour fast.  I’m sure most of you don’t deliberately abstain from eating very often.  Body has a point when it says that “food (is) good.” However, research suggests that periodic sustained fasts can have some pretty substantial health benefits.  For me, low carb/high fat dieting tends to be an effective way to rapidly take off excess weight. It takes about 48 hours of fasting for my body to enter ketosis – a nice jump start for a process that can otherwise take around two weeks.

I began my fast Sunday night at 7:34 p.m.  The first 18 hours passed quickly, mainly because I slept through 8 of them.  Body was a little upset, but I kept myself occupied with exercise and repairs around the house.  I drank tons of water and tea to simulate fullness, tricking Body into complacency.  I was laser-focused on  tasks.

At around hour 24, however, things changed. Body began issuing small rumbles of discontent, as if to say, “Been quiet. Body was good. Give food.” Brain issued calming ticks and tuts, deep breaths were taken, and the fast continued.

Three hours later,  I settled into my ultra-squishy sleep kingdom and prepared to sally forth to dream land.  For some reason, my bed felt uncomfortable. My pillows were like a rock garden underneath my head, and my house was broiling.  I tossed and I turned, trying to find a comfortable position for almost two hours, with Body complaining first petulantly then desperately, and Brain attempting rational responses.

“BODY STARVE. BODY DIE. FEED. FEED.FEED.”

“Body will not starve and die,” replied Brain. “Body has months of starvation before body dies. Body has enough fat to hibernate for two seasons. Body is fine.”

“BODY NEED FOOD.”

“No.”

“FEEEEED ME.”

“No.”

“FOOD FOOD FOOD FOOD FOOD FOOD FOOD FOOD FOOD FOOD FOOD FOOD…”

“Stop it. You’re making my head hurt.”

“GOOD! FOOD FOOD FOOD FOOD FOOD FOOD…”

This continued until 6 a.m. when both combatants were so exhausted that sweet sleep was finally able to find purchase.  At 9:39 a.m. the G.P. rang my doorbell to discuss my destroyed privacy fence. I stomped to the front door, and flung it wide. Dad looked surprised at my abnormal disarray. “What’s wrong with you,” he asked, eyeballing me speculatively.

Before I could even think, I gasped the word “FOOD.” Quickly, I covered my gaffe with, “Nothing’s wrong.  I’m just on a fast.”

“Oh,” the G.P. replied, foolishly ignoring the “f” word, and launching into a tirade about what needed to be done in terms of fence fixes.

I listened attentively, while Body sculpted Bugs Bunny style mental images of my father as a turkey leg — which even Brain admitted was pretty funny.

As the final day of my fast drug on, Body became increasingly quiet.  I entered a state of calm coolness that was very relaxing and Zen.  That ended at hour 47 when FOOD was on the horizon.  Body clamored, and Brain got right on board the eating train, helpfully recalling every recipe I’d ever read.  I made it the whole 2 days by the skin of my teeth, and broke my fast at 7:36 p.m. with a 3-egg omelet and a salad of mixed greens.

Delicious! Hunger really is the best seasoning.

*Puppy gut is a condition where, when you lie on your side, your excess stomach bulges to the extent that it feels like a 12 week old puppy is curled up next to you.

 

 

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