What to Get For the Man Who Doesn’t Want Anything

Last Sunday was the G.P.’s (my Dad’s) 74th birthday.  Dad is the kind of guy who pretends he doesn’t want vast birthday bacchanalia, but is quite obviously hurt if there isn’t any.  He also is extremely tough to shop for because he has specific and expensive taste in the kinds of things that he likes/uses, but doesn’t bother to tell anyone exactly what he wants.  I asked him what gift he’d like for his birthday this year and he replied with, “I want your brother’s move to Germany to go smoothly.”  Unfortunately for me, I have zero control over international travel and shipping, so I had to come up with something else.

The Rev (my Mom), was absolutely no help.  She couldn’t think of anything to get him either.  On top of everything else, the Rev and I are still in the dog house for giving away Dad’s recently restored Weber grill when he was off at Folk Music Camp.  The idea was that we’d replace it as his birthday present, but we were too chicken to try due to the aforementioned specific/expensive taste.

I gave Mom until the last possible second (with regard to Amazon ordering) to come up with something we could both pitch in on, but she failed utterly.  I capitulated and bought my father an ornate guitar strap, a gift set of strange varieties of jams and jellies, and some temporary “tribal” tattoos – all gifts that screamed, “MEH!”  I am rather excited to see him don his new “Thug Life” tattoo, though.

Mom was on her own, but she wanted my nephews Avery (7) and Jovanni (11) to make their Grand G.P. birthday cards.  The ideal place to do this was at my house because of my somewhat ridiculous stash of art supplies.

And then I got the idea…

Instead of making -conserving-not-very-messy, birthday cards, I decided that we would make a book about the kids’ summer activities with their Grandpa.  My eyes lit with creative impetus – I saw skies filled with pies as I thought, “Why not?  I have chipboard! I have waxed thread and needles! I have an extra-long stapler. I HAVE AN AWL! What could go wrong?!?!”

The boys were delivered late Saturday morning.  It was a lot tougher to get two little kids to sit down and draw twelve pages worth of book material than I thought it would be.  Avery ran around my house, taking a complete inventory of my possessions singing. “Ab, you’ve got a lot of pens and tiny Star Wars tape, oh and you’ve got tons of kinds of paint, oh and you have some robots.”

I finally got Jovanni sat down at my long dining room table, explained the task at hand, and set him to work on his six drawings.  Avery was missing, but I pinpointed his location when he called out, “Hey Ab, looks like you’ve got some socks in here.”  I went into my bedroom, extracted him from my sock drawer, plopped him at the table and shoved a pencil into his hand.

“I guess you’ve got just about everything,” Avery informed me as he began to draw the turtle release he’d witnessed that morning.
I’m so broke that I had stolen a roll of paper towels from my mother the previous afternoon.  Robots make up for a lot, I guess.

began to mold them into a book.  After a couple more hours of designing, refining, printing, cussing and printing again, I finally had a proof.  Proud as a cat bringing home a decapitated rat, I made a special trip to show the product to my Mommy.  “Oh goodness,” she tearfully exclaimed.  “Be sure to make extra copies for….” here spewing out a virtual lexicon of people who would absolutely “die deaths too horrible to discuss” if they were cruelly denied a copy of the magnum opus entitled “Our Summer With Grandpa.”

I still hadn’t even designed a cover.

The next morning, I got started super early.  I’ll save you the gory details, but making hardcover children’s books isn’t easy – even if you have all the supplies.  I was additionally hampered by the fact that I was only about 90% sure about how books were made.  Turns out a 10% dose of what can only be called “wobbly guesswork” can really mess you up.

Seven hours later, I had three imperfect copies of the book, two fairly serious stab wounds, and a thoroughly kicked butt.  The house was a disaster of Biblical proportions.  I had gotten frustrated and flung my failures like an angry monkey (or a happy monkey, or a confused monkey –monkeys seem to default to flinging) all over everywhere.  Just cleaning it up took another hour and some pretty injudicious uses of my vacuum cleaner.

I still had to cook my father’s birthday feast.  So I did the sensible thing: I bought some beer and called in reinforcements.

The Rev showed up with the kids some minutes later.  They wrapped Dad’s presents (he not only got the book, but we framed some of the artwork as well) and I worked on grilling the food.

cake 1The birthday cake was easy.  Avery and Jovanni decided that since Grandpa loved doughnuts, they would make his cake out of them.  It worked, but only because if you shove enough candles into any pastry item it automatically becomes a birthday cake.

Finally, Dad arrived.  The kids were so excited to give him his presents that they could barely get through dinner.  The Rev forced them to eat their steak before setting them loose on the pile of loot.

They gave him the book first, which Mom forced him to read aloud. The kids gleefully interrupted him with anecdotes about every picture.

book 1book 2The last page of the story says, “We love our Grandpa very much.”  Dad was too tough to cry, but he did cough a wee bit on that one.

After the “cake,” Dad decided it was time to head home.  As he walked out my front door, he looked back and said, “That book sure was somethin’.”

I sighed in relief.  That book nearly killed me.

Still, it was definitely better than a jam assortment.

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Christmas in July

Yesterday, I was once again next door at Edward Jones, but this time it wasn’t about the City’s water billing issues — rest easy those of you who view more than 900 words strung together as a personal affront.  Jan “Animal Magnet” Rankin is out recovering from surgery, and I was checking that Neighbor  Jenn had enough cat food to give our under-the-office cat Tuxie his daily ration of delicious wet glop.  If you’re worried about the poor cat, don’t.  Not only is he apparently coyote-proof, he’s also smart enough to really milk the intense “who’s supposed to feed the cat” confusion. Jenn said she was pretty sure he ate at least three times on Monday, and that he certainly didn’t mind at all.

While I was there, Keith Clark popped his head out of his office and asked me if I knew anybody famous.  Keith is one of the guys in charge of La Posada this year, and they’re looking for celebrities to be honorary parade captains who will ride on the bows of the highly decorated boats. I’m pretty sure Keith’s asking me if I knew anyone was evidence of desperation at its finest, since the only celebrities/people I know are my parents — although I’m sure the G.P. could be enticed to show up given perfect weather, toting his guitar and strumming his hit song “Sock of Ages,” no doubt.

No one wanted me to ask the G.P., though.  I guess Dad isn’t enough of a draw.

“Eva Longoria turned me down,” Keith reported, somewhat dejectedly.

“How many guys can say that, though?” quipped Jenn in response.

I helpfully started listing all the famous people I could think of who had been around these parts in the past few years – none of whom I knew personally, nor had any idea how to contact.  If Keith follows my advice, the best he’s going to get is an autographed picture of George Straight that looks like it was ordered from Teen Beat Magazine.  My hope is that old George’s face is surrounded by a heart, and that the autograph reads “To Keith, Love George.”  A girl can dream.

I really did want to help, though, and you should, too. It may seem like a small, local event, but our little Island boat parade (and all the events that surround it) routinely collects the most donations (cash and toys) in the Coastal Bend region for the Marines Toys for Tots Organization.  In 2017 alone they raised $20,000 in cash donations and 4400 toys and bikes for needy families.  The group responsible for the bacchanalia is the Padre Island Yacht Club, and they tend to be pretty low-key about how much good they do year after year — but the numbers are always there.  I’ve helped with the event in the past and I have to say it’s pretty gratifying to see the end result – huge trailers filled with toys heading out to kids who might otherwise have nothing for Christmas.

It makes you feel like Santa Claus, and that ain’t half bad.

Somebody better call Wille

willIEWANTEDI racked my brain trying to think of any celebrities that might be interested in showing up, but (as mentioned) I’m really the last person to ask.  I started throwing out a few Hail Marys just to avoid looking like a total idiot.  Saying, “Hey, what about the Spurs guys?” in total panic probably didn’t help.

“We’re already trying,” replied Keith, politely.

“Oh,” I stammered (I had thought that was a pretty novel idea), “…um…well, what about Willie?”  I was, of course, referring to ultra-famous Texan and my personal hero, Willie Nelson.

“Do you know how to get ahold of him?” asked Keith, cutting right to the crux of the issue.

I looked at Keith like he’d just sprouted tentacles, but seriously considered saying; “Yeah, let’s phone ol’ Nellie – that’s what us close, personal friends of his call him – right now” just to see what would happen.

I resisted the temptation to be a smartass (barely), and admitted that I had no earthly idea how to make contact.  Honestly, considering the way I live, I’m much more likely to successfully communicate with interstellar space travelers than with Willie Nelson – and even then the entire conversation would consist of me yelling at the visitors to “Get the hell off of my lawn!”

The conversation got me thinking, though.  Willie is such a good guy, and he does so many events for charity (not just in Texas, but across the nation) that maybe we should make him a kind of Bat Signal.  Some people would probably be offended by a ginormous pot leaf lighting up a darkened, cloudy sky, though.  If you’re one of them, bask content in the knowledge that you’re the reason we can’t have nice things like Willie Nelson and (probably) bonus Snoop Doggs.

Who do YOU know?

Since I’m useless in the capacity of celebrity procurer, I thought I would ask you gentle readers to help with La Posada — a truly worthy cause.  If you know how to get ahold of anybody famous that might like to lend their support to the event, Keith says please call him directly at (813) 900-0662.  He seems like he’s a little tired of getting shot down.

Even if you don’t’ party with the rock stars, there are lots of ways you can assist, from volunteering to donating goods for the live and silent auctions.  In the past, La Posada has been able to auction off items like scooters, boats, hunting and fishing trips, tackle, karate lessons, sports tickets and vacation packages, but they accept anything – even your delicious homemade jam could help.  It’s easy to get started.  Just call Fred Edler at (713) 412-6402, and he’ll tell you everything you need to know – including how to register your boat (all sizes welcome – sailboats, too).

You can show your support this month by attending La Posada’s first event on July 27th at the Angry Marlin.  The cover charge will be either five dollars or a toy, all of which supports the event.

Even sharing this column on social media will help get the word out!  Let’s pull together and make 2018 the best year ever for La Posada!

In the meantime, I’ll be at home, trying to cobble together a Willie Signal out of a Maglite and painstakingly cut duct tape.  It will almost certainly only attract mosquitoes (and maybe extraterrestrials and Snoop Dogg), but it’s the best shot I’ve got.

Like I said, a girl can dream.

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Trouble at the Bill Mill

 

Note: if you’re not from Corpus Christi, this probably won’t be a super fun read.  Sorry.  Next week we will return to our regularly scheduled programming.

When I got my water bill in from the City of Corpus Christi in May, I immediately noticed something strange. The Balance Forward was $46.80, and the Current Charges were $102.61. Somehow, however, the Account Balance was $299.41.

“That don’t add up,” I thought.  It looked like I was being overcharged by exactly $150, which was curious because the same statement also listed a $150 payment.  I assumed that the payment simply hadn’t been applied to the total balance for some reason.  The math was easily checked because if you totaled the listed previous charges (not including the payment) with the current charges, you got a balance of $299.41.

I called the Water Department to report what I presumed was a simple bookkeeping error.

It took me five tries at different times of the day to get through.  I spent several hours listening to hold music that sounded like it came from a compilation album called “Melding Voices: Yoko Ono and Chalkboard Screeches.”  It was so bad that every time I put the phone on speaker, the dog ran outside.

Finally, I got through to an operator, who couldn’t understand what I was talking about because she was unable to see my physical bill.  Over the next few weeks, I suffered through more eons on hold, leaving messages for the billing department to call me back.  Finally, I decided to go to City Hall to address the issue in person, thinking that if I could just show my bill to a person, they would easily spot the error.

Put on your cup, son…

I don’t know how you feel about confrontation, but I’m not a fan.  I girded my loins the next morning (metaphorically) by applying a thick coat of cosmetics.  When a girl who doesn’t often wear makeup applies it with a trowel before heading out to deal an issue, this should be taken as an indicator that she means business.  At least that’s what I thought as I painted on my armor.  I also realized that telling someone to “gird your loins for battle” is the Medieval equivalent of “Put on your cup, son. We’re off to fight the Huns.”

Huns or no Huns, the next morning I found myself driving through a flood at 7:45 a.m., thinking my case was air tight. Look out City Hall!

After nearly three hours of talking with City representatives, no one could adequately explain to me why my bill didn’t add up.  At about 45 minutes in, I had identified myself as a reporter, so my case was escalated to the head of the Billing Department.  They provided me with seven months-worth of printed statements, and by employing my handy cell phone calculator, I was able to discern that the account balance on my June bill was correct.  I had to go through every bill and every payment  (which I correlated with my bank statement)  to verify this because three of the seven statements didn’t total correctly.

I tried to explain to the water wonks why it was important that bills add up, but they didn’t seem to think it was a big deal because (at the end of a very long day) the account balance wound up being correct.

Time Changes and Alternate Dimensions

The following week, Public Information Manager DeAnna McQueen contacted me, and submitted a list of my questions to Margaret Morin (Collection’s Manager for city utilities).  Morin explained the situation by stating that the current system is in “real time.” “It [bills not totaling correctly] is not considered an issue; however, we are currently working to simplify the statement,” Morin continued.

The system being in real time, however, still didn’t explain why the bills didn’t add up.  If a payment is available to be registered against a balance, it is also available to be reported.  It looked to me like the department was playing with numbers, and that made me nervous.

Also, the fact that someone in charge considered 43% of bills not adding up to be  a “non-issue” worried me.

However, I’m not a mathematician or an accountant.  I started looking for alternate realities wherein bills didn’t add up.  I searched for the water bills from 25 other cities, and in every single case, the previous balance plus current charges equaled the account balance.  Then I realized that I was being silly, and that maybe I should just ask someone who made a career dealing with financial stuff.  Luckily, that person was right next door.

Get yourself an abacus

Edward Jones Financial Services is the Moon’s neighbor, so last Wednesday I trotted over with my electric blue envelope full of bills and the City’s answers to ask financial advisor Keith Clark what he thought about the situation.

Keith has a much larger calculator than I do, and it’s not even on his phone.

After looking through my packet, Keith said, “I’ve lived over thirty places, and I’ve just never seen utility billing that you’d have to track with an abacus. They’re looking for 100% trust from the customer while lacking obvious transparency,” Keith continued.  “There’s no way to follow this, or track the payments across. “

Keith also noted that the lack of transparency calls the whole billing system into question.  “This leads to real concerns about the accuracy of measurement.  If the account balance is in real time, but the statement doesn’t add up, you question the means they use to measure and how that measurement is calibrated.”

Keith’s confirmation that bills should add up and that the City’s answers weren’t making sense renewed my spirt.

Once more into the breach

After speaking again with DeAnna McQueen, I was directed to Alma Iris Casas, the City’s Assistant Director of Finance.  I asked her the same questions, and this time I got some real answers.

It turns out that the new billing software that the City installed last year does report the account balance in “real time.”  However, the previous charges are “static,” which means that if you make a payment during a certain window of time, that payment will be reflected in the account balance but not listed as a debit against the previous charges.  In fact, that payment will not be listed on your bill at all because there’s no line item for a payment in the current charges listing.

In my case, the $150 payment was applied in April where it was not listed.  Then, in May, the deduction was listed and subtracted from the previous charges to make my previous balance $46.80, but that didn’t matter because the account balance was in “real time,” and the $150 had actually been deducted the in April. So my balance actually was $299.41.

Confusing?  I sure think so.  Essentially, you’re only supposed to pay attention to the balance, and not be concerned about how that number was derived.

Casas did, however, say (much to my gratification because it took around 20 hours and a meeting with a financial consultant to get there), “In the end, balance forward plus the new charges should equal the account balance, period.”

It turns out the Utility Office became aware of this “non- issue” back in February.  At that point, according to Casas they “submitted a ticket to be worked on by the developer. “  Casas was “not sure about the timeline to fix this, but we have escalated the issue with the developers and hope to have a resolution soon.”

Casas estimated that approximately 10% of residential customers, or 8,000 people might have been affected by this glitch.

Casas offered some help for consumers, “…if a customer feels that there was an error on their bill, and either they overpaid or underpaid, we encourage them to call 826-CITY (2489) and speak with one of our customer service representatives to address their issue.  I will stress that our call volume has been high and we have experienced longer than average wait times.  To help expedite the process, we advise our customers to use the following prompts when calling, so they can get faster service:

  • Call 826-CITY (2489)
  • Enter Option 3 for Utility Business Office
  • Enter Option 1 to leave a message – Messages will be answered within three business days.  With the high volume of calls we are experiencing right now, we can only guarantee the three business days turn around.  Once things settle down and we resume our normal call volume, we should be able to return the phone calls within the 24 hour range.”

“However,” Casas continued, “I need to stress that the balances owed for current charges are correct. The data that is coming from the billing database is correct.  The only thing that is wrong is that the totals do not add up on the paper bill.”

The City has been experiencing this high call volume because when the system switched over, November water bills weren’t generated.  Many people didn’t pay the bill they didn’t get, possibly contributing to the reported 17,000 delinquent accounts that caused the backlog in June.

This missing bill phenomenon was given on several occasions as an explanation of my problem.  I will say that in May, I paid the balance that I thought was due (because I added up the bill), and then got a PINK SLIP OF DOOM in June – at around the same time as everyone who didn’t pay their November bill got shut-off notices.  What an interesting “coincidence!”

The City maintains that the bills not adding up did not cause people to get their water shut off.  “The particular situation given [bills not totaling correctly] is not considered an error,” said Morin, “The shut-offs are the result of accounts being past due.”

Messy costs money

I’m far from being a financial whiz, and am (in fact) a chronic late-payer.  At the end of the day, what do I know? Maybe it’s enough that the bottom line is correct on your bills.  Maybe this isn’t a big deal at all.  Certainly it’s a difficult problem, since the City’s software developers have been working on a solution since February.  My question is why should different parts of the bill be in different “times?”  “Real time” isn’t more accurate if it generates bills that don’t add up and are difficult to track.

I’m sure the City chose to put the new system in place because it has advantages over the old, but since the transition in January they seem to be plagued with problems.  At one point customers were warned not to be alarmed if “billing statements have a new appearance, account number, arrival time, due date, or if they receive duplicate billing statements due to the software conversion.”

Even I can see that this is all really messy – and messy costs money.  I know.  I pay for sloppiness all the time.

The lesson here is a good one: check the math. “Look at your utility statement like your credit card statement. Ensure the accuracy, or you could wind up paying more than you owe,” concluded Keith Clark.

I couldn’t agree more.

 

 

 

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Silver Linings and Head Injuries

A couple of weeks ago, the Rev (my Mom) and the G.P. (Great Provider/Dad) decided to pull up stakes and take a Hawaiian vacation.  Because Bairs are infamous multi-askers, they decided to combine the trip with a family reunion and a grandkid retrieval mission.  It should be noted that Bairs are infamous at multi-tasking primarily because we tend to not do it very well.  We’re talking here about a family with the cumulative focus of a mentally deficient squirrel.  To picture what I’m talking about, imagine a whirring blender full of delicious rum, coconut milk, pineapple juice and triple sec — it’s that concoction, only the blender doesn’t have a lid on it.

I was left in charge of Fort Corpus Christi due to being the familial black sheep, and because I’m the idiot who said “Hey, let’s get a bunch of big stupid dogs! It’ll be RAD!”  Maybe because of the Bair family’s notorious inability to stay focused, the Rev (who always claims to be a Bair only by marriage – a total lie, we converted her 20 years ago) gave me  a written  task list to accomplish while they were away. Here is her note (mostly):

  • Guard all the houses and property.
  • Get the mail (Mom thought that this would make it look to burglars like they were home. I think it probably looked to burglars like they had someone getting their mail ((or like they had the influenza)) since not a single car moved the entire week.)
  • Water all plants
  • Walk both dogs twice a day
  • Take the dogs to the vet
  • DO NOT DRINK ALL OUR BOOZE
  • DO NOT FURTHER GARFFITI MY VACUUM CLEANER OR OTHER APPLIANCES

Walking the dogs took two hours every morning, even though we only walked about five miles.  This was because the pups engaged in a sport I named “Competitive Urination” wherein the dog who peed on the other dog’s pee last was the winner.  Rowlf is the current world champion of this sport due to constant “recharges” achieved through the vast slurping of puddles.

Since the walk took so much time, I decided to clean out my parents’ mailbox at the end of each morning’s gambit.  The canine contingent never wanted to go to Mom’s because it meant walkus interruptus (technical term), which is evidently the puppy equivalent of dental surgery. I wound up having to drag 170 pounds of dog down my parents’ street, yelling the entire time.  I didn’t check Nextdoor for an entire week for fear I would be listed as a horrible pet abuser for publically fighting with my dumb dogs.

In any case (and probably not coincidentally), on the morning of the big vet visit, I got into my parents’ house, dealt with the mail, and watered all the plants.  The dogs helpfully slept, lying sprawled across the cool slate tiles.  When I was finished with my chores, I cheerfully called, “Hey you guys, are you ready to GO?!?”

They are always ready to go.

I attached a bouncing Stadler to one side of the two headed leash, and bent down, grabbing Rowlfie’s collar to hook him up as well – an operation that had gone relatively smoothly on approximately twelve million prior occasions.  This time, though, Rowlfie jerked away, pulling me down with a rapid tug, and causing me brain myself on a walnut buffet.

I awoke a few seconds later, flat on the floor  with a concerned Rowlfie standing on my chest.  Stadler had pushed her way out the front door and was cavorting around the front yard in the pure joy that is doggie freedom, leash dragging behind her.

I sat up, grabbed my head, and immediately started cussing.  After corralling the escapee, I put an ice pack on my head and sat on the Rev’s green floral couch feeling distinctly sorry for myself.  Then I hooked the now docile (jerks) dogs up, and walked the rest of the way home in the million degree heat   “I’m glad you have to get your shots today, Rowlfie.  You deserve it,” I muttered bitterly as I trudged along.

Our very kind veterinarian was concerned that I had been beaten up due to the egg-sized black knot on my forehead peeping out from behind my bangs.  He tried not to laugh when I explained what had happed.  I did say, “The dogs beat me up,” right as the pups were grinning at me with apparent slavish devotion. Maybe my timing was a little off.

We got through the appointment (everyone is just fine, thank you) and headed back to the homestead.  I crawled into my bed with two ice packs (one for the front, one for the back) which I resourcefully tied onto my head with a pair of old pantyhose.

Then I got a text from the Rev:

“Limited WiFi here.  Dad unhappy about using up our data. Can’t get fast internet unless we pay $20 a day.  No maid service, but they will bring fresh linens if you call the concierge who will give you a time share spiel.  Our toilet leaks and the bathtub backs up.  Julene’s broiler doesn’t work, but we can use a gas grill five blocks from our place.  Jess got an eye infection, now on antibiotic drops and much better. Snorkeling is good. Island is quiet. Very little noticeable volcanic activity, although the sulpheric fumes will make your eyes water.  Tourism is down 70%.  Perfect time to visit! Wish you were here!”

“I think I prefer my concussion,” I texted in return, telling her about how her dog knocked me out.

I think the lesson here might be: no matter how bad of a day you’re having at home, somebody-somewhere is having a worse day on vacation.  I don’t know about you, but I find that fact rather comforting.

Maybe it’s just the concussion.

20180422_082111

The “Twidiots” short for “twin idiots.”

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Watch Out

Every summer my brother’s two increasingly large children Avery (7) and Jovanni (11) come to visit us. It’s always a challenge to keep them occupied with things other than iPads, X-boxes, and pretty much every evolution of video games known to man. Our solution involves trying to plan fun (outdoor) activities for them every day. Last summer, we decided to take the kids to Schlitterbahn.

Getting my whole family into one car is a hell of a production. The Rev is a consummate over-packer who insists that, “a cast iron skillet is nearly always useful” no matter what the destination. She also manages to never-ever carry the box that has the cast iron skillets in it. This trip to ‘Bahn was no exception. After several hours of stuffing boxes with what I referred to as “an impressive assortment of useless crap,” we crammed the trunk full of all the extra chairs (Schlitterbahn has copious seating), snack foods, drinks, sunscreen, bug screen, pool toys, beach towels (so big they could successfully dry the population of El Paso), cast iron skillets, spare toilet paper, and giant jars of peanut butter which had somehow escaped being jammed into enormous blue plastic tubs during the original onslaught. It should be noted that I was already running on fumes patience-wise.

I literally chased the family out of the house — having to hunt down escaped dogs twice because we are (as a unit) incapable of closing a door the entire way – and finally managed to herd them into the car. I backed out of the driveway, made it to the first stop sign, and promptly had to make a u-turn because two people (I’m not naming names, but one of whom was an adult) forgot to poop.

We finally got to the waterpark, and although I was loaded to the point that I resembled the Beverly Hillbillies truck during their great migration to “Cal-i-forn-I-EEE”, I eventually got my family seated at a picnic table underneath a shady palapa. “See, Mom,” I crowed, “SEATS! Seats everywhere!”

“You never know!” sang the Rev, cheerily.

I might have whanged Mom with a skillet, if extricating one from the pyramid of junk had been possible without renting large equipment and hiring an excavation crew.

“Mom! I did know! You knew! We’re been here before!” I cried, unstrapping five folding chairs from across my back. The Rev just hummed smugly and began the equivalent of an archeological dig for sunscreen. After about five hours, we finally got the kids gooped to Mom’s satisfaction (Jo Jo claimed to have grown 4 inches in the meantime). We headed out on the Lazy River, grown people yelling at the little people to “Be careful! BALANCE! STOP MESSIN’ AROUND ON THAT THING!”

Every single adult immediately capsized. The kids were fine.

Eventually, we all got tired of floating in circles. We decided to make lunch while lying on the strange conveyer belt, sprawled bloated and white like fish carcasses on a seagull buffet. “Want lunch?” yelled Mom at the kids. “Yes,” called always-hungry Avery as he popped out of the chute like an axle greased otter.

After they ate, the children seemed content to play in the shallow pool by our little beach. I decided that I would watch them by sitting in the water with my back against a concrete wall, reading a pulp fiction novel in the sun. Mom and Dad were crashed, snoring in the park-provided lawn chairs (ours were still folded up by our pile of junk). After a little while, Avery approached me yelling, “Look what I found, Ab!” He was waving a cheapie digital watch in the air like he’d just won the lottery.

“That’s nice Avie,” I said. “Go put it on the table. We’ll turn it in when we leave.” He put the watch by our stuff and plunged back into the water.

You guys, I truly meant to turn that watch in. I did. But that day the entire Island lost power, and Schlitterbahn had to close early. Getting the kids out of that pool sooner than they anticipated was like prying a revolver out of someone’s cold, dead hands – except with much more crying. I completely forgot about the watch.

The next day, my house started beeping about every six hours. I searched endlessly for the source of the noise. It wasn’t the smoke detector. It wasn’t my broken dishwasher. It wasn’t anything in the garage, or carbon monoxide… and the beeping never stopped.

I decided there was probably a bomb somewhere, took comfort in the fact that I was pretty sure I wasn’t the one who built it, said my prayers and got used to the noise.
Then one morning (months later), I was cleaning out my day pack for a big hiking trip and I FOUND THE WATCH. Avery had snuck it into my bag when I wasn’t looking, and then blithely returned home to Hawaii. As I pulled it from the recesses of my pack, it chirped cheerfully at me – probably reminding me to take my heart medication.

I was furious. For months I had been riding a wave of low-level-probable-bomb-threat anxiety, and here was the source. I vowed to send Avery the watch for Christmas. “He did this,” I thought. “Let it be his problem.” Plus, I figured it would really irritate my brother.

I took the watch out to my car to be sure that I wouldn’t forget. Then I promptly forgot about it again. To this day, it’s lost somewhere in Boris, but still invariably makes its presence known anytime I give someone a ride. My explanation always begins with, “It’s a long story…”

If I ever find the demon thing, I’m chucking it over the fence at Schlitterbahn. Like Poe’s tell-tale heart, I’ll bet I still hear the beeping, every six hours, even in my dreams.

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Gone to the Dogs

It is known amongst my family that the G.P. (Great Provider, my Dad) has a Pacific Coast Highway sized streak of wanderlust running through him.  Age hasn’t really shut that down, so a few times a year Pops takes off to folk music festivals or Mexico or just wherever he wants to go.  The Rev is inured to this behavior after over forty years of marriage so she treats his absences as an opportunity to “deep clean the house” (read: throw out all of Dad’s prized ancient telephone cords, dead batteries and ancient flip flops).

We have, as a family, long ago mortgaged our lives in the service of various and sundry canines.  Right now, we have two big dogs.  Stadler is my intellectually challenged, hydrophobic, possibly defective Black Lab.  Rowlfie is my parents’ chocolate brown, shovel-headed, gator-mouthed, former street cur who knocked over my dumpster one Thanksgiving devouring our turkey carcass bones and all.  Rowlf  forcibly adopted my family a couple of years ago by refusing to leave my driveway until I let him in the house.  Yes, I lost a Mexican stand-off to a dog.  Rub it in.

Dad stole Rowlf from me a month later, and he went to live with my parents.  The dog adores the G.P. so much that it’s almost sickening, and tends to get sullen every time he sees Pops packing his big travelin’ backpack.  I do my best to keep him happy at my house, but he mostly just takes a toy out of the toy box and hides under my tall bed, lamenting the loss of my father.

This time, however, things are a bit different.

The Rev and I both work on Wednesdays.  It’s Island Moon deadline day for me, and Mom has to be at her church in Alice for about the same length of time.  Since I’m the one who put her foot down and insisted that Rowlfie was our dog, I’m left in charge.  The Rev drops him off early in the morning on her way to shepherding her flock, and I’m supposed to figure out what to do with him after that.

Here’s the problem: Rowlf is a known fence eater – literally.  He’s a big dog, with vast, powerful jaws and an uncanny knack for locating loose fence boards.  If left alone and bored for more than a few hours, he might either pull the fence apart (if he can) or chew a hole in it to get out and go on walk-about.  Rowlf always comes home, but it’s scary having him out on the streets, even though he survived them for years.

When Rowlf is at my house, there’s the added Stadler complication.  While Rowlf is a toughie, poor Stadler is a total wimp with the cumulative survival skills of a terrified lemming.  Most of the time, she’s seemed to think that Rowlf’s escapes were the work of dark magic, and resisted all compulsion to join him,  immediately running to tattle to the nearest human.  There is no guarantee that this behavior will continue, though.  Stadler is gradually getting much smarter — which is a real inconvenience.

Frustrated, I called Jan to beg her to allow both dogs in the Moon offices.  Rowlfie is about the nicest guy in the world, but he looks like a big ol’ brawler.  Plus, three dogs (Lizzy is our Moon doggie and goes everywhere with Jan and Dale) is just an awful lot of canine.

“Just bring them,” Jan “Dog Lover” Rankin replied unhesitatingly.  “If you don’t, you’ll just worry about them all day.”

And so, for the last few Tuesday afternoons and Wednesdays, we’ve had around 200 pounds of dog running around the office.  The pack spends most of their time sleeping on the floor, taking up as much real estate as possible with their great dog sprawls.  Jan and I spend most of the day tripping over them.  I get mad about it (they really can take up much less space if they choose to).  Jan apologizes to the pups.

When folks come in through the doors trying to do legitimate business, they’re greeted by a swirling eddy of furry dog bodies with Lizzy providing musical accompaniment, baying like she’s found a treat, the fox, and Jimmy Hoffa.  This gives most people some pause as I yell for the big kids, Jan yells for Lizzy to shut it, and Dale happily calls, “That’s just our Dog Pack, come on in.”  Poor Moon Columnist, Dotson Lewis, has a ridiculous canine fan club.  They surround him lovingly like happy sharks until everyone gets a pat on the head.

The best thing about having three dogs in the office is that finally every office has a canine companion.  Rowlf transfers his adoration to Dale when he’s at work, and insists on sleeping next to Dale’s feet to “guard him” against all interlopers.  I think Dale’s a little flattered.  It’s tough for guys to resist Rowlf.  He is a very masculine dog.

Despite the niceness of triple occupation, everyone is always glad when the G.P. returns from his travels, especially Lizzy.  She’s used to being an only dog and takes the foreign invasion personally.  Yesterday, she disappeared for a little while.  After a frantic search, Jan finally found her stowed away in the UPS truck. It took some cajoling to get her to come back into the building.  I gave Liz a biscuit by way of apology.  I felt her pain.  Sometimes, I want to run away, too.

Doggers

I call them the “twidiots” which is short for Twin Idiots.

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Help! My Dog is Defective!

Dateline: Monday 5:30 a.m.  I was awakened by fairly serious seismic activity at the end of my bed.  Alarmed, I peeled back my sleep mask and in the dim, pre-dawn light, witnessed Stadler (my intellectually challenged, hydrophobic Black Lab) bouncing up and down on the mattress like it was a trampoline.  She would plant her four feet and leap four vertical feet straight into the air as though she were a dog-in-a-box with a spring that had recently been compressed by Thor.

Evidently (and contrary to all logic and cat observation), it’s tougher to land on four feet than it is on two.  Stadler managed to get three solid hops in before she lost all coordination and everything went catawampus — which resulted in my getting hit full steam with the equivalent of an eight-pound fluffy bag filled with elbows, slobber and miscellaneous forks.

“OW!!! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” I bellowed as I attempted to extricate myself from the mess that is my beloved canine.  Stadler licked my cheek and snuggled in deeper, jabbing me in several soft spots with even more pokey bits as she relaxed and rolled onto her back for a belly scratch.

This behavior is not abnormal, although I’d never seen her take the acrobat routine quite this far. I think it’s maybe time to accept the fact that my dog is a weirdo.

For years, I read Charles Schulz’s classic comic, and thought that he was making up the concept of Snoopy carrying around his empty food bowl.  After all, at one point in the series Snoopy flies a WWII fighter plane. Clearly, Schulz at least occasionally took some poetic license. Color me wrong, however, because my dog pulls a Snoopy almost every day.  If I don’t fill her bowl fast enough, she carries it over to me and drops it, very deliberately choosing a place that will be the most noisome.  For instance, if I’m sitting on the couch, she won’t let it go on the cushy rug at my feet.  Instead, she’ll aim for the tile behind my back to create a resounding “THWWOOOOMMMMMMPPPP” which never fails to startle me.  This is her idea of a “funny joke.”

Since Stadler was mostly raised from puppyhood by Hot Fat (our family’s cat), she has also developed some feline tendencies, especially regarding food.  About two weeks ago, I was sleeping soundly, sprawled like a starfish across my queen-sized bed.  I think of my feet as independent temperature control systems, and use my sheets accordingly.  I must have been hot, because not only were my tootsies sticking out, but one was actually hanging over the edge of the bed.  Since childhood, I have suffered from dramatically terrible nightmares due to the fact that the G.P. (my Dad) would haul me out of bed almost every Friday night so that we could watch B-Grade horror movies together.  I got pretty scared of the monsters, but couldn’t rely on Mom to protect me because she’d kill the fun if I told her where I was getting ideas about gigantic alligators that would eat me in the bathtub.  So, I developed a complicated system of monster deterrents, the most basic of which was that if you hang any part of your anatomy over the side of the bed, monsters will grab it, suck you under the bed, and devour you.

So, bearing this in mind, imagine how I felt when Stadler woke me from a three-o’clock- coma-like slumber by giving my left foot one long, loving, sloppy lick. I think I flipped three times in the air (watch out Olympic high divers) before I landed beside my bed, square on my butt.  As I leapt into a fighting stance (no evil gigantic space bunnies are taking me without a brawl) and caught the breath that had been knocked out of me, I noticed my dog (bouncing on her toenails)  waiting for me to follow her.

Thinking that my loyal friend most certainly had some under -the-bed-dwelling monster intel, I slowly got to my feet and followed her wagging tail into the kitchen – right to her food bowl.  She was upset because she could see the bottom in one tiny spot.  I shook the bowl to equally distribute the food and hobbled back to my room.

There are other quirks as well.  For instance, the entire back seat of my car is filled with dog toys because every time we go anywhere, Stadler thinks she has to bring something to play with, just in case.  Then said squeaky bone gets left in the car when we get home.  About once a week, the dog becomes distraught because the toy box inside our house is empty, and I have to clean everything out of the car before she’ll settle down.

She also buries ice cubes and then gets really upset when she tries to dig them up.

I’m pretty sure she’s sneaking food to the yard squirrels again.

She once tried to befriend an opossum and ran to my Mom to try to get her to resuscitate it.  When they got back to the scene, the opossum was alive and hissing.  Now Stadler thinks opossums are made of terrifying magic and won’t get anywhere near them.

Oh, and let’s talk about magic.  Stadler is always very concerned by the detachable thumb trick.

This week, after the trampoline incident, I figured out that the vast majority of my bruises are dog related.  I used to get black and blue just by walking  into things, but dogs do provide quite a bit more companionship than coffee tables, so I guess I’m a little better off.  Plus, how can you not love a creature who was bred over thousands of generations to get her tiny black Lab brain to think: “THING! THING FALL FROM SKY!! THING FALL FROM SKY, FRIEND!  I’LL GET IT!  I’LL GO GET IT FOR YOU AND NOT NOT  NOT BITE IT. NO BITING BECAUSE LOVE.”  I’ll say this for her:  she always knows where to find a tennis ball.

Maybe she’s not defective after all.

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