It's not about the house.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

We Carry On

I don’t know if you would’ve heard or not, but my state recently lost its senior senator.

We’re not real big on term limits around here. Our Junior senator – well, I guess he’s Senior, now – has held that seat since 1985. The Lion we just lost has been there my whole life, plus seven years. I don’t know a world without him in it. Although I do distinctly remember a time – oh, this was probably in’92 – when, in a nonbinding referendum, the people of Massachusetts voiced resounding support for the idea of term limitations, while on the same day, on the same ballot, handily electing Teddy Kennedy for the sixth time. We went on to do it twice more after that, and would have kept on doing it forever if he hadn’t gone and died.

I don’t know who your Senator is, or how much you know about him, but one thing everybody here knows about old Teddy is: he did stuff. Not only in the Senate, although you’ve no doubt been hearing plenty about his record there these past few days. But also behind the scenes, on scales both grand and small. He single-handedly kept newspaper presses running, quietly forced companies to stay in town, and if you think we’d have a President Obama now without him, you’re confused. Even President Obama’s fully cognizant of that. And yet, if your grandmother was having trouble with her medicare, all you had to do was call his office. Ted would assign a staff person to cut through the red tape, and then he’d follow up with her, at random intervals, for years.

I’d venture to say everyone in this state is just a degree or two away from someone Teddy personally helped. A kid with cancer. A 9/11 widow. A serviceman or woman whom George Bush told to take the bus home from Indiana after a two-year tour in Iraq.

For me, my closest degree is Johnny.

Well, there was the time he came into the Friendly’s that my mom worked at in high school, and he tipped her $20 on a $7 check. But considering how old Teddy would have been at that point, and the reputation he had in his younger years, I’m going to assume his intentions were not exactly philanthropic there...

Anyway, Johnny never meant to move to America illegally in 1986 – in fact, he never meant to move to America at all. But the person he came here with on vacation (I hesitate to call this person “friend”) stole everything that Johnny had, including his ticket home, and disappeared. Four years later, Ted Kennedy pushed through an immigration bill that became known as the Green Card Lottery. It was supposed to disqualify countries that were sending lots of people over, but because Teddy was involved, Ireland didn’t end up on the list. Johnny put his name in, and two years after that, he got the call.

But there was a catch. You weren’t actually supposed to be here yet. A lot of people were getting the call, flying to their home countries for interviews, and then getting denied their visas because of their illegal residence and never let back in.

On a tip from someone, Johnny called Ted’s office. He told everything to the staffer that he talked to. Explained how he wound up here, said he had nothing in Ireland to go back to. She stayed on the phone with him for a half an hour asking questions, said she’d pass his information on, and told him to call back before he got on the plane. A few weeks later, when he called, she said “You’re all set, Mr. Conroy. When you get there, just make sure to tell them the whole truth like you told it to me.”

Johnny flew over. Watched other people have three or four interviews over a series of days and get denied. But when his turn came, his single interview took twenty minutes, and just like that his visa was approved. It only occurred to us now as we were hashing out the details of this story that, a couple years ago, when his green card was up for renewal and they rubber-stamped it without so much as glancing at the paperwork we spent a week and a half chasing down, that might have been because there’s probably still a Teddy Kennedy check-mark in Johnny’s file.

So if it weren’t for Ted, I wouldn’t have a husband. Johnny, though, if I know him like I think I do, would probably still have a wife. Some poor Irish girl would be listening to him snore, smelling his farts, eating his endless pots of lettuce-soup and wearing t-shirts redolent of his dirty socks. If it weren’t for Teddy Kennedy, goddamnit, I never would have bought the AssVac. I might still have a real job, with paid time off and non-poor-people health insurance even! But then, if it weren’t for Teddy Kennedy, I wouldn’t have an agent, either – or a romantic-farce of a life worth writing down.

For that, then – plus for all the other grander, civic reasons – when Johnny and I heard Ted would be waked at JFK we said we’d go. We changed our plans a few times as schedules got solidified, and then I dicked around (by which I mean: I worked diligently on my Project) a little longer than I meant to Friday morning. So it was almost noon before I emerged from my office and told Johnny I’d work out for half an hour, shower, and by 1:00 I hoped to be ready to hit the road.

“Where are we going?” he asked.

I swear, these days, that boy’s mind’s so full of holes I could toss beanbags through it and win a prize.

But by the time I was done working out, Johnny was showered and shaved, with his hair spit-combed and parted in the middle. By the time I was out of the shower, he’d polished his shoes, pressed his shirt and picked out his own tie. This, from a man who’d be late to his own funeral, and who has to be reminded (every single time) that Levi’s are not appropriate wedding attire. And despite the fact that we’d checked out the live feed from the library and determined people weren’t bothering to dress.

Now, my fancy-clothes options are sorely limited these days. I don’t have summer-weight blacks (although that investment, come to think of it, might not be such a terrible idea) and I don’t think the spaghetti-strapped blue velvet or the sleeveless hothouse-flower-print would have come across as suitably severe. So I convinced Johnny to wear Levi’s after all with his dress shoes and shirt and tie, and I wore black jeans with a grey long-sleeved shirt and brown Frye boots.

Hey, man. Teddy wouldn’t give a shit, so why should you?

We had a little to-do in the car regarding whether we should drive or take the T – we knew there were shuttle buses running, but we didn’t know how often, and since calling hours stopped at 3:00 we were already cutting it kind of close. But then the idiot light on the dash came on and we’d already passed the last gas station on the way, so public transport it would have to be. That’s all right, we told ourselves. Teddy would have wanted it that way.

So we paid $5 to park Chuck (TFT) at North Quincy station, and then $2 each to take the ride. The inbound train was just arriving so we took the stairs at a trot and made it just before they closed the doors. We flopped across from each other in the single seats at the end, and the conductor-lady came over the intercom.

Waa-waa-waa shuttle buses,” she said. “Waa-waa-waa one o'clock. Waa-waa inconvenience. Have a nice day.”


The only thing we could figure was that the shuttle buses must have stopped running for some reason, and if so then we’d just have to take a cab. When we got off the train, though, and before we left the station, we decided to ask three orange-pinnied employees we found loitering on the platform.

“Oh, yeah,” they said. “There’s a 2½ hour wait to get inside. The shuttles stopped running at 1:00 because they have to be done by 3:00. You could still go, if you wanted, but you’d never be able to get inside.”

I thanked them, silently, and crossed over to the outbound platform.

“Why are you crying?” my husband asked, incredulous.

“Because,” I sniffed, “I wanted to say goodbye. Because I wanted to thank him. And because they should have told us this before they took our money and let us get on the train – but who are we going to call up and complain to about it now?”

That last was, I’m not ashamed to say, a plaintive wail.

“Ah, shore,” Johnny said, putting his arm around me. “It’s just money, love. It's just nine dollars. It would’ve cost you that to see him, anyway, so now all it did was cost you that to not.

"Everybody pays respects in their own way," he went on, "and so did we. We fuck things up, my love, that’s what we do. Couldn’t organize a pissup in a brewery, we couldn’t. You and me, we’d fuck up a wet dream. Couldn’t score in a brothel with hundred-dollar-bills pinned to our collars. Useful as a fart in a windstorm. Worse than a nun with a bag of mickeys, what?"

That last one made me laugh so hard I snorted. "Gross!" I said. "What would a nun be doing with a bag of mickeys?"

"My point exactly," he answered with a wink. "C’mere, we’ll hit the Irish Pub on the way home and raise a glass. I know you’re not supposed to be drinking these days, but if you can’t have one to send off Teddy Kennedy, sure you might as well be in the ground yourself.”

And so we did.

Thanks for my husband. Really, Ted. May you be in heaven forty years before the devil knows you’re dead.

At which point, if we're very lucky, we'll still be re-electing whichever poor sucker steps up to try to fill your noble shoes*

* Update, January 19, 2010: Um, if we're even a little lucky, no we won't.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Rest is Merely So-So

You know how, when you have a fight with your husband (or wife, or gender-neutral significant other, or dog or cat, or kid, or bestest friend), and you’re both kind of right but you’re both also kind of wrong, and neither of you want to admit that second part, the being-wrong part, so you get a little bit more shouty than either one of you intended, and surprisingly enough that does not resolve things, so you wind up in a big and angry-shouty stalemate, retreating to separate corners to lick your wounds, then coming out the next day to hug and say that really you love each other, but by that point you’re so tired of fighting that you just let the entire issue drop, and so it simmers, and then two months later you go through the whole song-and-dance again?

No? Well, maybe it’s just us, then...

Me & Johnny, we’re like a great big soup pot on a small gas stove. We heat up slowly, slowly, slowly, and – like any old proverbial pot – so long as we keep an eye on ourselves, we don't boil. Oh, we might threaten, but then one or the other of us will notice the disturbance, lift the lid, and give us a little stir. Sometimes, though, we get distracted. Sometimes all four of our hands are full. Sometimes, if we're being honest, one or the other of us of us might get it in our heads that we’re the only ones doing all the goddamn lift-and-stirring around here and so we pigheadedly might turn the burner up...

Once it’s reached a certain point, there’s nothing we can do. And we both know it. Over the years, we’ve gotten better at recognizing when this moment comes -- and have learned when it's time to don our fighting-aprons and have at it, rather than try in vain to stave off the inevitable for another miserable month. When it's over, there are always soup-stains on the kitchen walls, but at least the big old mess has doused the burner, and Johnny and I are happily reunited in the communal task of cleaning up and starting from mise en place once again.

And you wonder why we go through so much soup here at the AssVac.

The particular fight I'm about to describe is one Johnny and I had repeatedly when we first moved in together, but after a couple years we declared an unspoken truce. I don't know how that magic happened, it just did. If I knew, trust me, I would write a book called "How to Come to an Unspoken Truce With Your Husband (or Wife, or Gender-Neutral Significant-Other, or Dog or Cat, or Kid, or Bestest Friend)," and my agent and I would share a million bucks. But in the meantime...

Johnny thinks, see, that when a person vacuums, said person ought to move all the furniture so as to suck the accumulated detritus out of all the nooks and crannies. I think that’s a wonderful suggestion – and I would love to do it once or twice a year or so – but it seems like overkill to insist upon it every single time. And since the person wielding the Dirt Devil is usually me, then while Johnny mutely waves his arms and tries to tell me what to do, I tell him in no uncertain terms to cram it.

Fortunately, he’s got ten years on me, so he can’t hear me over the vacuum cleaner any more than I pretend to be able to hear him.

The truce we seem to have declared over this issue is as follows: I vacuum on a semi-regular basis (which is to say: I vacuum when the relative proportion of pet hair to actual food in a given meal approaches 50/50), and Johnny does it when he drops something behind the couch and gets grossed-out at what he finds. Or if we’re expecting company (which is to say: important company; Dr. One Friend and/or any member of my immediate family doesn’t count).

See? This happened spontaneously, and we haven’t fought about the vacuuming in years. Leaves us plenty of time and energy to fight about the more important things, like where in hell the ball of baling twine has got to.

(Answer: in the drawer with the bank statements. Naturally. Because it suddenly and spontaneously stopped making sense to keep it in the kitchen drawer with the scissors and the plastic bags where it has always been, forever, since the dawn of freaking time. It doesn’t fit there anymore, apparently. Although of course it does. But I’ll just put the lid back on that particular soup pot for right now…)

This past spring (and maybe winter, too, I can’t remember), we had a real problem in the AssVac with moths. The kind that eat your clothes. And we couldn’t figure out where they were coming from. I emptied out the sweater closet in the foyer (a word that makes it sound much more foo-foo than it is). I didn’t find anything, but I packed it full of mothballs anyway. This had the bonus effect of making our front hallway smell like an old-folks home, but didn’t do anything to stop the moths.

At Johnny’s insistence (by which I mean: he wouldn’t stop bitching about it and yet he wouldn’t do it, so I took the initiative in the interest of shutting him up), I emptied out the big basket full of blankets on the porch. I knew I wouldn’t find the moths out there, and I was right. So I drew the line at putting mothballs in the blankets despite Johnny’s bitch-sistence, because who wants to snuggle up on a cold winter’s night with an army blanket that smells like your great-aunt Gladys?

Johnny did find one of his old sweaters in the guest room that had been moth-destroyed, and that was tragic. But it was also odd, because we hadn’t seen any moths in the guest room – or the office, or the bathroom, or the dining room – and those are all the rooms adjacent to the one that it was in. He washed the sweater, dried it in the sun out on the lawn, and packed it up in mothballs. It’s useless now, unless one of us can learn to darn and come up with a complicated patchwork-plan to fix it with, but it was handmade for him 35 years ago by somebody who’s dead now, so he’s not about to toss it just because it looks like a piece of zombie wardrobe from the “Thriller” video.

I’d show you a picture, but neither of us can seem to remember where, exactly, we packed the poor old thing so carefully away.

And then some months went by...

We didn’t have any important company...

We got a dog...

We kept telling ourselves the dog was temporary...

I kept insisting I’d vacuum when the dog was gone..

But the dog stayed...

Finally, Johnny had a little bit of a fit. I don’t remember where I went that day -- to work, or something, or wherever -- but Johnny pulled out the Dirt Devil before I left, and when I came home five hours later he was still sucking. Only now he was sucking with the shop vac. The Dirt Devil just wasn’t powerful enough, he said, to erase all of our seasons of neglect.

It was hot, and he was understandably kind of cranky, so I just thanked him very kindly and slunk quietly past him to my office, where I stuck in my headphones and listened to the Chi-Lites in an attempt to drown the shop-vac noise and get to work.

Although, in all honesty, this might have been the week I was reading The Straight Dope instead of working, but whatever. The point is when Johnny tapped me on the shoulder and implored me to “Come out here and have a look,” there was an expression on his face I couldn’t cotton. I didn’t know if I might be in trouble, or if something terrible had happened to the dog, or if there was just an unbelievably cute squirrel-moment going on out in the yard. So I took the headphones off, and mutely followed.

Turns out, he wanted to show me this:

Remember how, a while ago, I said I was going to start telling about all the stuff we own and where it came from? Because we have only actually purchased two pieces of furniture in our entire house, and neither one of them were new, so every piece has an interesting story behind it? Well, this story’s pretty short, but it's germane to the one I’m in the middle of, so I have to tell it before I go any further...

My Lady bought this rug for herself, you see, from a shop on Charles Street in Beacon Hill. When she saw it in the window, there was another lady dickering in there over the price, but My Lady walked right in, offered what the tag said, and bought it right out from under rival-lady. When the shop-owner delivered it and laid it down in her bedroom, I was there, and I watched him literally pale when she said she planned to affix it to the floor with double-tape. He implored her not to do it, said it would degrade the quality of the rug, and he felt so bad and so strongly about the whole thing that she agreed. And then as soon as he was gone she had me on my hands and knees with the tape.

A few years later, she got new carpet in the rest of her apartment. The kind that, I don’t know what you call it, that goes almost wall to wall but stops just short so you can still see the hardwood around the edge? She got that and liked it so much that she decided to put the same stuff in her bedroom.

Now, My Lady is comfortable financially, but she’s not frivolous. In a different world, she might have taken this Persian rug back where she got it, reminded the owner that it had been in demand, and seen if he’d buy it back at a slight discount. But in a different world the back of it would not have been covered with five years of sticky-tape she’d promised to the guy she wouldn’t use. So in this world, what she did was give the rug to me.

When we brought it home and rolled it out, the original price tag was still on the back, and although in a different world I wouldn’t be so crass as to share such a detail, in this one it’s germane to the other story I’m about to pick back up, so I will tell you (if you promise not to go blabbing it around) that My Lady flat-out gave to us a rug she bought for sixteen hundred bucks.

What was she thinking!? Does she not know I am Destructo!?

It’s neat, though, isn’t it? With the camels and the tents and everything? And I suppose it’s some measure of comfort that the thing Johnny called me out to show me – the thing he discovered when he moved the yellow chair to vacuum under it for the first time in six where-the-hell-are-all-these-freaking-moths-coming-from months – kind of also resembles a camel.

A giant, Godzilla-in-the-Bedouin-camp kind of camel, but a little like a camel, nonetheless. Sort of.

We didn’t fight about it. We were both, I think, a bit ashamed. I sighed and hung my head and I apologized, although in retrospect I never actually said that he’d been right. He ran his hands through his hair and allowed as how it was not my fault, even while I watched him resign himself anew to the notion that as long as he lives with me (Destructo) he will never be able to have nice things. Then he threw a couple mothballs down, put the yellow chair back where it was, and that was that.

Don’t get me wrong, now, there was soup on the walls again the next week. But that was flung over something important. Something that really mattered to our relationship. Not anything as trivial as chores.

I mean, seriously, how many times can one girl be expected to sit through The Mummy movie? The Rock’s not even in that one, for heaven’s sake!

Tune in tomorrow to find out how we tried (and failed) to pay our respects to Teddy Kennedy, and how we wound up getting soup-stains in the car!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Now, More Than Ever

Oy, with the silence already!

Okay, here’s the deal:

My mom is sick. Has been for a while. Dad, too, but Dad’s probably going to be okay. We’re not sure yet about Mom. I haven’t said anything about it because I’m really not a parenthetical-hugs-from-internet-avatars kind of person. I hope that doesn’t make me sound like too much of a dick. I do love and appreciate you all, but if I’m going to write about this, I’m going to have to be honest. Which, for me, in case you haven’t noticed, means I’m going to have to add a touch of snark. And if we’re all hugging each other in the comment section, then I’ll be too shy to tell you things like when Mom wrinkled up her nose in the doctor’s office yesterday and said she thought somebody farted, I’m pretty sure that somebody was her.

And so we’re off.

That’s why I have a dog now, see, and why I’m off the booze. And also why I’ve been driving all over New England in a car that really wishes I’d stay home and watch some TV with my husband for a change.

Well, that’s not the only reason for that last bit…

Dr. One Friend’s birthday was August 16th (same day as Madonna’s, but a few years later, in case anybody out there’s keeping track) and she is my best friend in the whole entire world. If she hadn’t just so happened to have moved to Connecticut last summer, I’m not at all sure I’d be handling this one nearly as well as I have. (This is itself a relative consideration, obviously, but I hate to contemplate the sheer volume of snot I might have shed into my telephone receiver if Dr. One Friend lived in, say, Saskatchewan. I mean, to begin with I would have to spell Saskatchewan on a semi-regular basis, and just doing it those two times has thrown my words-per-minute typing average in the crapper.)

One Friend came up here for my birthday a couple weeks ago, and in the meantime One Dog came down with a touch of cancer in her bones. She looks like this now:

She’s not going to be okay, either, but she’s okay for now. All the pain that she was in went out with the bio-waste, and she’s back to chasing balls and squeak-toys with the best. We should all be so get-on-with-it reboundy. 

Oh, hell, since I seem to have decided to tell all the bad news, I might’s well toss in that Johnny’s got an ultrasound scheduled September 9th. Hopefully they’ll tell him it’s just gas. There. I think that’s everything. Now where was I?

There were Mom-related reasons why I couldn’t be in the Nutmeg State for One Friend’s actual birthday, but I packed up old Chuck (TFT) this past weekend. The plan was to head down there straight from work on Thursday and stop off to see Mom on Sunday on the way back home. But then Johnny made plans to go to the beach for the weekend so I had to bring the dog – my dog – Mom’s dog – the one with all four legs – to Connecticut with me, which meant I had to come home from work first to collect him. Not a big deal, really, because work is north and Connecticut is south, so home is more or less right on the way.

But then One Dog – the three-legged one – came down with a staph infection. She’s almost over it, now, thanks for asking, but at the time it didn’t sound like a good idea to visit Mom on the way home and risk passing it on, so me & Mom’s dog decided to go visit her on the way. This meant driving a half an hour south home to collect him, then a half an hour back along the same road to the Pike. Then an hour west. Then two hours south. In a car that, may I remind you, really really really wants to die. Speaking of which...

I’ve been obsessively checking my fluids lately (the ones in the car, that is; I am still off the drink for now, remember?). It seems the rightly superstitious thing to do. Before I take Chuck (TFT) any distance greater than, say, a dozen miles, I make sure the oil, antifreeze, transmission and power steering are all veritably bursting at the seams. This way, when he finally does give up the ghost, I can rest easy knowing I did everything I could, and that his demise can in no way be construed as my fault. Except in that I am Destructo, and everything I lay my hands on turns to ass.

For my 300-mile weekend, I figured I’d do my topping off when I came home to fetch the dog. But when I started Chuck (TFT) to go to work that morning, I couldn’t make him get his butt in gear. I mean, the shift lever stick handle thingmabobby moved all right, as did the little arrow on the dash, but nothing happened when I pressed the little footy thing that makes him go. Or, rather, the footy thing that’s supposed to make him go.

This is it, I thought. Old Chuck (TFT) has finally gone to the big junkyard in the sky. Guess I’m not going to Connecticut this weekend, after all. And I’ll have to figure out some other way to keep getting out to see Mom. But at least he didn’t crap out on the expressway. At least he didn’t put my life in jeopardy. At least he used his dying gasp to crawl me home. It’s a little bit sad, actually, when I think of it like that. Maybe I shouldn’t have been calling him (The Fucking Truck) behind his back for all this time…

But – wait a minute! Maybe my crocodile tears were just the fluid Chuck (TFT) was lacking! Because when I put him in neutral I felt something definite click over, and when I put him back in drive, he mushed!

I started to drive on to work, and then had one of my infrequent sensible ideas. Perhaps, I thought, it would be best if I did not head straight for the on ramp. Perhaps Chuck (TFT) died in front of the house for a reason, and perhaps it would be wise of me to have a look. I had to go to the bank on the corner anyway – to get a roll of quarters, for the parking meters, because it was a thousand degrees outside, and even if it meant a fiery death on the expressway there was no way I was walking into work.

So I pulled into the parking lot, put Chuck (TFT) in park – but left him running, because you’re supposed to check transmission fluid with the engine running; I’m not such a big dumb girl I don’t know that – popped the hood and gave his old dipstick a wipe.

I know what y’all are thinking, but I’m not making a dipstick joke; my life is very serious these days, and I have had to put away such lowbrow childish things and endeavor to comport myself with dignity and class. 

So I gave the old dipstick a quick in-’n’-out and a little lick, and... nothin’.

What? It was a Yukon Cornelius joke! Yukon Cornelius!

Gawd! You people are sick.

Anyway, it seemed that somehow, in the three days since I’d last been out to Worcester, Chuck had gone and drank up every drop.

Except for, well, it’s marginally possible I didn’t check my fluids the last time I went to Worcester. In fact, it’s a little bit possible I was exaggerating up there when I said I’d been checking them every time. It’s entirely possible that by “every time” what I really meant was “every time I thought about it, and felt like it, and happened to have the stuff on hand to fill it up. Because what’s the sense of checking your fluids, anyway, when there’s nothing you can do about it if they come up short? It isn’t like they sell that crap at every gas station, supermarket, and corner store after all.”

But this time I did happen to have the proper stuff on hand (which, in retrospect, I suppose means I had it on hand for all those weeks that I was letting it run dry, but who cares and shut up anyway). I even knew which forgotten corner the funnel had squirreled itself into, so I didn’t have to spill the viscous liquid all over the engine and drive down the street billowing smoke as it burned off like I usually do. I poured in the entire Vicks-44-looking quart from the brand-new black bottle, and then another half-quart from a blue bottle I found under the backseat. I don’t know how much fluid a transmission takes when empty, but I figured a quart and a half ought to at least get me to work (or, if it wouldn’t, then for that matter three full quarts probably wouldn’t, either). When I got there I could check it again and, if necessary, pop into one of those allegedly well-stocked corner stores. You’re supposed to check the transmission with a hot engine, anyway. I’m not such a big dumb girl I don’t know that.

I found a meter right away, and veritably bounded from the car feeling free and easy in the knowledge that I had an entire roll of quarters in my bag. No fishing around in the glove compartment, no being fooled by the fistful of nickels that seems to have taken up permanent residence in my left front pocket, no buying a $2 banana at 7-11 just for the sake of the $3 in change.

Oh, crap. 7-11. The transmission fluid. Right.

I caught the door before it closed behind me, tossed my bag on the driver’s seat, leaned in and started up the engine. I popped the hood and then, because it was on the street-side and I didn’t want to run the risk of having it avulsed, I went back and closed the driver-door. It turned out I did need more transmission fluid – maybe about a half a quart – but I decided not to do it now because I was running late. I’d pick it up at 7-11 after work and add it then. As long as I had checked it hot and running, I could put it in there cold and still. I’m not such a big dumb girl I don’t know that. For now, though, I’d just close the hood, shut off the car, feed the meter, and be on my way.

Unless, that is, I am exactly such a big dumb girl that I closed the locked door with the engine running and my quarter-laden bag on the front seat.

The concierge at My Lady’s building gave me quarters. My Lady let me use her telephone. And the AAA dispatcher moved me and my running vehicle to the front of the line. Twenty minutes later, I was in. Guy never even asked to see my card. I did make sure to tell him how it happened, how I was checking all of my fluids and all. Because I didn’t want him to think, you know, I was some kind of big dumb girl.

Chuck (TFT) made it. All the way. Back home for the dog, to Oxford to see Mom, to Dr. One Friend’s in New Haven, and back home. Even to Worcester and back again on Monday for that appointment where Mom lit one and blamed the doctor. Chuck deserves the little break he’s going to get next week – which I’ll explain when I haven’t already been rambling on for almost 2000 words – but before he goes on blocks I think I’ll take him in to get his oil changed. He’s earned it.

And for the rest of you, the moral of the story is: I wish there was a AAA for people. Someone who, no matter what goes wrong or what dumb-ass thing you do, will come to where you are and make it right. Someone who, if it’s gone so far that they can’t fix it, will scoop you up and hand-deliver you to somebody who can.

There’s not, of course. All you can really do when things start breaking down is keep your fluids topped and muddle forward – if that means making fart jokes while prognoses are handed down, then so it is. Fart jokes are not a solution. Fart jokes are not going to make it right. But if you’re a certain kind of person they might keep you from crapping out on the expressway, and at certain times not crapping out can be a person’s most important job.

I’m not such a big dumb girl I don’t know that.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Jump Off the Roof, Maggie!

I am a tangled mess of ire and frustration.

I am all the insects in the cold black dirt after some spyglass-holding shithead lifts the rock. Earwigs, earthworms, writhing grubs and pillbugs, all turned over on their backs with their wee little extremities waving mutely in the air. That's me.

I am a saucepan, too full of something starchy, boiling over on the stove you just scrubbed clean. I’m the cat who didn’t see you coming. I am a thundercloud, unsatisfied with water droplets, flinging hail.

I’m the suitcase you had to sit on to zip closed, straining as it's bumped up a seemingly endless flight of stairs. I am a still-wet load of laundry, tangled in a solid mass by a drawstring liberated from your favorite pyjamas. I’m the fork, somehow loosed from its compartment, jammed against the left-hand runner of the silver drawer.

I’m the one wheel on the grocery cart that doesn’t turn. The dam against the river. Drunk in jail.

I am a weak, metaphoric blend of Alanis Morissette (don’t you think?), Leonard Cohen (I have tried, in my way), and (some say) Bette Midler.

Oh, fuck it.

I am not a poet.

I’m a you-know-what.

And I am hot. 

Not a chick-a-wow-wow kind of hot. More like a there-would-be-sweat-dripping-in-my-cleavage-if-I-had-cleavage-but-I-don't-because-it's-too-hot-for-a-bra-so-instead-the-sweat-is-just-sort-of-pooling-in-my-belly-button kind of hot. 


Sunday, August 16, 2009

An Impression of Pleasure

I've been taking myself a sort of mental vacation lately, in case you haven't noticed. It’s not something I planned on, but I seem to have got myself caught in the eye of a mediocre storm: an unexpected slight downturn in family crises, coinciding with an opportunity to take a brief break from writing (although I really ought to have been soldiering on); while a lack of funds for actual, physical escapism led me to noodling around on the web – until I stumbled upon Cecil Adams’s The Straight Dope on line.

For those of you who don't know The Straight Dope, you should. Cecil has been answering questions for the masses for 36 years – his motto is “Fighting ignorance since 1973 (it's taking longer than we thought).” People from all over write in to ask him about everything, and he and his crack team of assistants and accomplices do actual research (you remember research, right? With books and libraries, articles and phone calls, sometimes even actual experiments and everything?) and then they write up in-depth, thoughtful answers that are always a little snarky, often a wee bit arrogant, and never dull.

Well. Not never. Even Cecil can't make the concept of dew point interesting. But he makes up for it with an exhaustive list of things that have been retrieved from people's bungholes.

Questions tackled range from the urban mythic (can you really blow out your eyeball when you sneeze?*) to the secretly mystic (what's up with the Rosicrucians?), from the historical (was Boston really once buried in molasses?) to the insane (can playing the bongos make you piss blood?). He tackles the minute (what’s up with the God particle?), the mundane (does toast really land butter side down?), the seemingly easy (are there really jackalopes?), and the Really Big Ones (who killed Jesus? who's richer, Bill Gates or Scrooge McDuck?).

So although I’ve spent the last week or so determined to finally finish those last 1500 words of My Big Project, or to write a blog post – one that is, I promise, not about the dog – or to do something, anything, around this freaking house (seriously, if I showed you the state of my bathroom right now you'd throw up), I have instead slid into my office chair, grazed my eyes across a column titled “Will masturbation shrink the penis?,” and surfaced four hours later to eat peanut butter straight out of the jar.

Sometimes, to be honest, I already know the answer (why do we mount horses on the left?**) sometimes I don’t know but I can guess (I haven't read the penis column yet, but I'm betting that if masturbation shrank it there wouldn't be any left), and sometimes I don't care (“25 or 6 to 4” could be the long-sought alchemical ratio and still I wouldn’t give a golden shit. Chicago sucks), but I read them anyway. Hundreds of them. For a week, now.

The sad part is Johnny actually thinks I’m working. There are no sidebars or ads on the Cecil pages once you scroll down past the headline, so to a person who does not use a computer – which is Johnny – it looks pretty much like any other screen filled up with words. Like, say, those 1500 I’m supposed to be perfecting. Which, coincidentally enough, happen to be a sort of happily-ever-after about him. So he’s been tiptoeing around me all this week, saying excuse me, not interrupting, making me meals and offering me cups of tea, while I sit slack-jawed reading about whether there was a real Typhoid Mary, chupacabras, or subliminal erotica in Walt Disney cartoons.***

I keep telling myself I’ll get to the end and quit, which is how I’ve managed to convince myself it’s not a problem. I mean, try telling a junkie he’ll be all set just as soon as he’s junked up all the junk. He can’t, and he might even die trying, so he’s screwed. Me? I’ve just got a temporary jones – with the added benefit that there will never really be an end, because Cecil and his minions are still cranking columns out. But once I’ve finished bingeing on the past there’ll be just one tiny little new one doled out to me each morning, no matter how desperately I might beg. Perhaps they’ll even serve it in a little Dixie cup…

The problem with this theory is that the finish line keeps moving. The first page of archives said there were 20 pages of past columns, but when I got to page 19 there were suddenly 20 more. Thinking about it rationally, I suppose makes sense. I don’t, after all, have to go ask Unca Cecil to figure out that a column a week for thirty-six years equals a heck of a lot. But I just looked it up, so as to know what I’m up against. There are 57 pages of column titles – 50 titles to a page. And at that point, like I said, I’d read 19.

My name is Erin, and apparently I have a problem.

Jolted from my stupor by this horse of a revelation, I took a dazed walk around the proverbial block and found myself staring in the windows at Slate magazine, where I saw a frantic-looking cartoon man running on a cartoon hamster wheel, typing desperately into his cartoon blackberry above the headline “Why You Can’t Stop Googling.”

Ha, I thought. Google, schmoogle (a Yiddishism, according to Cecil). I look up what I need to look up, and then I walk away. Not only can I stop Googling, but I do stop Googling, several if not dozens of times a day. Feeling smug, I didn’t bother to read the article before I wandered back over to Cecil and tied off another vein.

Three days later, I surfaced again. This time I was in search of a globe-map because I had to see for myself that Mecca in fact lies Northeast from New York like Cecil says (huh. Northeast from my house, too. Whaddaya know?). Since that blew my mind a little bit, and I was out and about anyway, I decided to wander back over to Slate and see what all those teeming millions found so gosh-dang irresistible about Google, after all.

The article turned out to be about some old rat experiments. I’m sure you’ve heard of them. We all have. The ones where they put an electrode in the wee rodent’s hypothalamic pleasure center and he keeps pressing the lever to shock himself over and over and over and over at the expense of everything else till he keels over? Well, if I’m understanding it correctly – and, after all this Cecil work, I damn well better be – it says the researchers recently discovered that all those years ago they accidentally stuck the electrode probes not in the pleasure center of Nicodemus’s poor brain, but in his learning center. Those rats were not depraved Dionysian hedonists, they were frustrated Apollonian scholars!

And I’m a rat-brained junkie.

Who invented Hell? Do fish fart? How did dinosaurs have sex? According to Unca Cecil, Jesuits believe that one can never learn too much. I don’t know if Ignatius Loyola had the internet in mind (or an electrode in his brain) when he decided that, but he was right. After all, if I’d quit The Straight Dope yesterday like I was going to, I'd never have learned that “realistically, the average number of spiders swallowed at night per person per lifetime is probably less than one.”

I think Brother Loyola would join me in saying: Phew. 

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go find out if tin foil helmets really do provide adequate protection against mind control rays…

*The answers to the questions quoted in this paragraph are, in order, as follows: Um, no. Not a hell of a lot, apparently. Yes, mostly. Surprisingly, yes. I don’t know; it has to do with quantum physics, so I skipped it. Yes, but not for the reasons that you think. Yes! Blame everybody you can think of, but it doesn’t matter. Scrooge McDuck.

** Just so there’s a standard. Of course not; der. It’s telling time – 3:34 or 3:45 – which is even dumber than all the theories because nobody would ever say that.

***Yes. No. Yes!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

In the Weeds

Between the ceaseless showers of spring (and, so far, summer) in Massachusetts, and the ministrations of mean Mama Mockingbird in the yard, Johnny's garden got a bit away from him this year. Although I really shouldn't say "this year." The truth is, for one reason or another, Johnny's garden always manages to get away. Every June the two of them start out on the earnest road to productivity together, and yet somehow around the first of every August I come home to find the cheeky little bugger pressed up against the back wall of the house, or crouched behind the woodpile, or perched atop the flat part of the roof, giggling and overgrown with weeds.

Which is why I'm so careful to specify that it is "Johnny's garden." I may not pull weeds, either, but at least I make that fact clear right up front. The truth is there's never been any love lost between myself and the plant kingdom -- I used to poke holes in my mother's houseplants with my thumbnail, and I once wrote an angry screed comparing hydrangeas to Hummel figurines -- so the extent of my back-and-forth with cellulose each summer is to maybe, one or two times, mow the lawn. I decided long ago that Johnny was free to delude himself into pretending there would be a garden at the AssVac, but I would not be suckered into the charade, no matter how big a shop of horrors it becomes.

This year, though, it really is much worse. Because of the rain, and of a certain Mocking Hen that isn't me.

Now, as much as I profess to hate the garden, I do love when it produces. We never get much -- which may have to do with the dearth of sunlight in the yard, the poor drainage in our dead-level quarter-acre, or the fact that, well, those poor plants have got a lot of competition. But still. For two or three weeks a year I can decide what's for dinner each night based on what's almost ripe enough that afternoon. If I want a sandwich, I can go pick a tomato. And that's nice.

But not this year.

This year, there is finally more than one tomato on the vine, but they all remain a steadfast (I wanted to say stubborn, but I'm trying not to anthropomorphize them) shade of green. The little bastards.

Last week we had one zucchini and one yellow squash. The week before that -- if I'm remembering correctly -- there was a handful of green beans. And yesterday there would have been a cucumber...

No. In fact, there was a cucumber. I know because I was there when Johnny picked it. He was standing hip-deep in the weeds, found a cucumber, and tossed it out onto the grass to collect later. It was a weird cucumber, but it was a cucumber nonetheless. It looked a little like a crookneck squash. A really big, cucumber-colored crookneck squash. Like a regular cucumber, but with a skinny, crooky neck tacked on the end.

You know?

Maybe not. Maybe you all have perfect Martha Stewart gardens and have never seen such a crook-necked abomination, so maybe you can't picture what I mean. If so, please rest assured that I'm not trying to be difficult. I'd love to show you a photo, but I can't. Because, well, while it was lying there on the grass, waiting with crook-necked patience for Johnny to crawl out of the weeds and pick it up, something large and black and goofbally flashed by:

And then this happened:

My mother's dog ate my husband's cucumber. There's something inherently wrong with that idea. And it's not just the fact he's been releasing 90-pound-dog farts every twenty minutes since then, either.

That was 48 hours ago, so don't worry about the beast, he's doing fine. He's not rolling around in gaseous agony. That's glee. As for the AssVac's other beast, well, at least he had a sugar-induced coma from the friendly next-door-neighbor's homemade and hand-delivered cream slices to console him.

And today, we'll buy cucumbers at the store.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

This Can't Be Belgium

Just for funs, and because yesterday was such a downer, and because I'm still not allowed to have a drink*, I thought I'd tell you a little story that's been kicking around my brain that I couldn't manage to shoehorn into The Project. Mostly because the story takes place in Belgium and since I made a "Don't Like Mondays" joke in the title yesterday, I wanted to make an "If This Is Tuesday" joke in it today

*(That's not a forever-thing, don't worry. Your dear correspondent hasn't gone completely round the bend. It's just a for-now-for-mostly situation, to help her live up to her New Resolve. Because no matter how few beers she has -- and let's face it, most nights Liz Taylor has had fewer husbands -- she's a carbo-swilling, grease-mongering whore the whole next day.)

I thought I'd tell you that story, that is, but then Destructo had a little accident.

I went to do something stupid that I shouldn't have been doing, and knocked over my mug of iced coffee. I've taken to using the regular mug, see, because the travel mug has developed a dribble-drip beneath the hole you drink from. Every time I take a sip, a little drop runs down the side, and I end up with a map of Hawaii on my shirt. A map of Africa on my pants is so much better.

(For the record: I know I said I was a fattie, but that's not the real size of my thigh in relation to my foot. I took that picture myself, shot from the waist. It's called perspective, people. Look it up.)

Anyway, it wasn't the oilpan sludge from yesterday that I knocked over, either. It was the good stuff!

Made fresh this morning! An entire half-a-pot's worth!

And it got everywhere...

I'd like credit for the fact that the camera wasn't the first thing I grabbed after it happened -- as evidenced by the green towel on the floor. No, the first thing I grabbed was this whatever-you-call-it that shoots beams out into the universe and makes it so that all of you can read my secret thoughts:

Also? Someday, some jackass will pay a lot of money for this notebook, mark my words...

Incidentally, that notebook was only there on the trunk to get coffee spilled on it because I forgot to bring the damn thing with me to work today. So I spent the whole commute forcing myself not to have ideas. I had a few anyway, but they were mostly about RVs and bookstores. Not the kind of thing I have to write down to recall.

(For those of you who are inclined towards that sort of thing, the first three notes on that open page are from a conversation I had the other night with Johnny. The first is what I thought I heard him say, the second is what he really said, the third is an expression I'd never heard him use before and am determined to employ somehow if I have to start a noisecore band to do it. The fourth is just me, rambling. You can ignore it.)

I don't know how I got the Cafe DuMonde on the wall...

Wow. It really did get on the wall, didn't it? I didn't think it looked that bad in real life. I keep having to scroll this page up and down to reassure myself it isn't really on my monitor.

Because, oh yes, it did get on the monitor...

You see that silly cartoon on the screen? That's why this happened. I read about it in the New York Times (silly NYT)and decided to watch it, but I wanted to listen to it on the headphones that Dr. One Friend gave me for my birthday, so Johnny wouldn't wander in to see what I was watching when I'm supposed to be in here doing work. (What? This is work. Oh yes, trust me, it is.)

But I'm new at this feeling-around-behind-the-monitor-to-find-the-headphone-plug-hole thing, so I, well...

They're all right. My birthday was ten days ago. You don't think they've been in a cup of coffee yet?

It also got all over, let's see...

My girlie screwdriver! Which doesn't even belong in my office! Johnny borrowed it one day (oh yes he did, don't let him tell you different), and he refused to put it back in my bedside table drawer where it belongs, because he says that's a silly place to keep a screwdriver. To which my answer is: Yes, but you knew where to find it, didn't you? And would you have had to borrow it if you knew where to find yours?

Hang on a second. Let me go put Girlie Screwdriver away...

Okay, I'm back.

It got on the fan that keeps me cool while I work up a mercurial sweat...

...actually it got all over that poor fan, but this picture didn't come out so well:

It got on my printer...

Which for some reason, in that photograph, looks like a toilet.

And of course it got on the linoleum...

...but who cares about that diaper-looking bilge?

It did not, thankfully, get on the dog...

...although he wants to know if he can be of any assistance cleaning up?

Sorry. I couldn't manage to take any pictures of the dog in which he didn't come out looking like an escapee from Dr. Moreau.



And especially?

He's cute, I tell ya, but he isn't small.

Thankfully, the little gift Dad sent along for Johnny's working great!

Monday, August 3, 2009

I Don't Like 'Em, I Tell You!

5:30ish a.m. Dreamed I finally had a real-life job again, one with regular hours and a regular paycheck, paid vacations and a real health plan and everything. Only I was supposed to start on Monday and today was Wednesday, and I hadn't shown my face there for a single minute yet because Something Really Bad happened and I had to go out of town. I was pretty sure my new boss would be nice and understanding and forgive me, what with the Really Bad Thing happening and all, until...

5:40 Woke with a start when I realized I hadn't even CALLED to say I wasn't coming!!! I lay in bed for a full five minutes, riding the electric bull that was my heart and trying to remember if I was really the sort of employee who wouldn't call (no), whether I even had a real job or not (no), whether Something Really Bad had really happened (well, yes, but not the Same Bad Thing as in the dream), and what dawning day this might actually be (Monday, although that took longer than the rest to figure out).

6:00 the time my alarm was set for. Yes, ladies and germs, despite all the Bad Things going on around here, I am actually sleeping again these days, so I'm letting myself sleep in a little bit. (Plus, among myriad Bad Things, there is this: my Project is Very Nearly Through! You know, my "Project"? The one I've been waking up early to work on since I was in my 30s?) But if there's one thing I hate more than rolling over to find an earwig on my pillow, it is rolling over to see only twenty minutes before the alarm goes off, no matter when it's set for. Although that last bit isn't true at all: pillow-earwigs are much worse. But still. Two hours early = good. Two hours late = even better! Twenty minutes early and I know what I should do is get up while I'm still bright-eyed, but what I do do is roll over and re-enter REM sleep just in time to hit the snooze for a half an hour so I can be groggy all day.

6:30 Decided to make a whole 12-cup pot of coffee, half for now and half to put in the fridge and drink iced later.

9:00 Realized I forgot to shut the coffeemaker off. My extra half-a-pot for icing now looks and smells like something that was overdue for draining out of Chuck (TFT).

9:30 Having worked-out diligently as per my New Resolve -- which was arrived at because one of my loved ones might have a need for one of my internal organs in a couple months* and I learned recently that they don't harvest pre-owned guts from living fatties -- I discovered that, on Day Three of New Resolve, I've actually gained a half a pound.

*(yes, this is related to the Something Bad that happened; and no, I'm not going to tell you what)

9:45 Had to change t-shirts three times because the first two smelled like feet. Understand, now, why Johnny insists on washing his socks in hot water.

10:00 House phone rang when I was halfway out the door. I didn't answer it, but I stood and listened to my Lady (#2, not the one with the Evil Cat) tell my answering machine that the results of the biopsy are in, she has stage 1 breast cancer, and she asked the Doctor for a full report on what to expect if she does nothing about it. So there's that.

10:00 The apple I grabbed for breakfast on my way out the door (see above, re: New Resolve) is not only brown in the middle but I'm pretty sure I ate a worm. Correction: half a worm.

10:20 Having debated for the whole four hours I've been awake whether I should walk the mile to the T in 85-degree sort-of heat and 77% no-shit humidity, or drive Chuck (TFT) all the way into town, I decide to walk. Because the $4 I would have to feed a meter is all I have to last me until Thursday, and also because (see above again, re: Stupid New Resolve.)

10:45 Having walked the mile and sweated through my (at least not foot-smelling) t-shirt, I remembered -- when the automatic turnstyle failed to let me through -- that I lent my pre-paid T card to Johnny last week and never got it back. How much is T-fare without one? Why, coincidentally, it's $2. Each way.

1:00 p.m. When I see My Lady #2 (not the one with the boob-tumor, but the one with the Evil Cat) she tells me there are men weatherproofing the windows in her house and maybe it would be best if I just didn't work for her this week. Yay! In exchange, she says, she won't pay me for taking care of Evil Cat when she goes to the Vineyard in September. Boo.

3:00 Home again. Thanks to my New Resolve, I can't even have a teeny tiny itsy bitsy little drink. So instead I am relaxing with a nice cold cup o' three-hours-on-the-burner sludge.

Found this dude on the floor a couple days ago
and was waiting for the perfect moment to deploy him.
Are we all agreement that it's now?

Sunday, August 2, 2009

This Wheel's On Fire

I have a Lady and my Lady has a cat.

When my Lady goes away, it is my job to feed her cat.

Said cat is, shall we say, unpleasant.

She’s not horrid-little-bitch bad, but she’s close. She loves her mama and wishes the rest of the world would squeak twice and die. It’s not her fault. She spent her first we-don’t-know-how-many years of life locked up in a bathroom, fending for herself, living on whatever bugs or rodents she could catch, and maybe – maybe – the occasional tossed-in can of tunafish. Landing in my Lady’s house was like being airlifted out of Auschwitz and dropped off in Xanadu. She knows she lucked out like a Brangelina orphan, and she’s not risking letting anybody in to harsh her mellow.

Generally she won’t get after you if you don’t bother her first, but sometimes she gets it in her head that she’s a cop – by which I mean she decides you’ve got an attitude even when all you did was walk past her being of a species not her own. (Although that’s not exactly fair: she’d probably hate you if you were her species, too.) And god help you when you have to put her in the carrier to take her to the vet because your Lady gets so nervous trying to do it that she shakes and frets and makes things exponentially worse, so you put on three sweaters and two pairs of gloves even in the dead of summer and still wind up bleeding after all. And the screaming! I never heard a veterinarian yell like that! He came out white as a sheet, saying “I’ve never said this before in my life, but I would declaw that … animal.” I could tell he’d changed up at the last minute from “declaw that bitch,” and probably really wanted to say “put that bitch down” -- and not in the "to scamper on the floor" way, either.

But I digress.

When my Lady goes away, it is my job not only to feed the cat, but also to spend time and visit with the cat so she doesn’t get over-lonely pining for my Lady. As if. Lady pays me well for this – embarrassingly well, in fact – but sometimes I feel bad taking the money. All that happens when I go there is I feed the cat, she wolfs it down, then crouches glaring at me for a half an hour while I read a book or take inventory of my toes, then she retires to the bedroom to turn her back on me and have a wash, trying to scrape my hateful existence from her consciousness. I’m supposed to try to play with her while I’m there. I’ve taken to tossing a ball in her general direction while I leave.

Generally, my Lady tries to plan her trips so I don’t have to do this on the weekend, but this time was unavoidable. She was invited to visit a dear friend of her late husband, a friend who’s still of working age (which my Lady and most of her regular acquaintances are well beyond), so Saturday night it had to be.

And yes, you heard that correctly. My Lady was going away for just one night. But this kitty just so happens to have seizures sometimes, so even for an absence of 24 hours, my Lady sleeps better if I check in. And part of what my Lady pays me for that isn’t cat-related, is to ensure she sleeps well – because if she doesn’t then her medications fail, and we all end up in psych emergency.

Well, not all of us. The last time it happened she didn’t even have the cat.

So on Thursday – the last time I saw her – my Lady asked if I would mind, since it was the weekend anyway and I would therefore be driving in, would I mind picking up a few bags of Kitty Litter for her? The Very Special Recycled Pine Shavings Kitty Litter that she gets at Whole Foods, which is just up the road from her, but it’s still awfully far to walk with two 10-pound bags of Very Special Recycled Pine Shavings Kitty Litter?

Yes, my Lady, I can do that. In fact, I’m very happy to be able to do that for you. Seeing as how you pay me ridiculous amounts of money to spend time with a critter that ignores me, I am over the moon at having found a manner in which to be actually useful. I will do it on my way in, on Saturday.

But then Something Really Bad happened, and I forgot.

Something Really Bad happened, and I had to go to Worcester, and since I was worried that Chuck (TFT) might not make the trip and back, I packed a bag and called my sister (who happens to live in Worcester) to tell her that if Chuck (TFT) broke down, I might just have to spend the night with her. I almost forgot to go to my Lady’s house to feed and visit with the Evil Critter on my hurried way out of town, but then remembered. And got there to discover that my Lady left a note:

“Since you have Chuck,” she wrote (she doesn’t know about the (TFT)), “will you please bring this blanket home and wash it?”

This is not an unusual request. My washing machine is bigger than my Lady’s, so a few times a year she asks me to do this sort of thing for her. But since Something Really Bad had happened and I wasn’t thinking clearly, what popped into my mind was: “How does My Lady even know I have the—”

Oh, shit. Very Special Recycled Pine Shavings Kitty Litter.

So, since I was on my way to Worcester to deal with Something Really Bad and didn’t want to take the time to go to Whole Foods and back right then – but also didn’t think they would be open at the hour I’d be popping in to get hissed at the next morning – I stopped and bought the cat litter as soon as I left my Lady’s house. It would still be in the car the next day; I’d drop it off then. Unless I had to spend the night in Worcester. Knock on wood.

Well, as it turned out, I didn’t have to spend the night in Worcester. I got all the way out there safely. And almost all the way home.

I was in Roxbury when it happened. I thought I was surrounded by invisible Harley Davidsons until I realized those growling sounds were coming from me, and the accelerator didn't work. I’ve been expecting the transmission to blow for a while now; it’s the reason I was nervous to go to Worcester in the first place. It’s the reason I haven’t bothered to fix the rack & pinion. Hell, it’s the reason we debated getting Chuck (TFT) a new battery a month ago – until we remembered that Really Bad Things happen all the time these days, and we really ought to keep him limping while we can.

But still, I’ve been girding for the transmission, so when I called AAA for the fourth time in a month – $89/year: Best. Investment. Ever. – I told them that’s what I thought it was. This is not the first time I’ve done this. When the battery died, I said I thought it might be the transmission. Well, hell! I can diagnose an alternator, a timing belt, a water pump, an exhaust manifold, a master cylinder, and pretty much any part of the steering mechanism – but I’ve never blown a transmission before. I don’t have any idea what happens when one finally goes. And I’m starting to feel a bit like Fred Sanford, clutching my chest by the side of the road and calling for Elizabeth.

Anyway, I told the AAA dispatch on Saturday I thought it must be the transmission, but when the tow guy came I added a caveat, I was afraid he’d start it for some reason, and I didn’t want him to think I hadn’t heard the noise. So I said: “It’s really loud, like it’s exhaust or something, but I’m pretty sure it must be the transmission.” Because, you know, I didn’t want him to think I was dumb or anything.

Tow guy took one look and said “Yeah. Your muffler fell off.”

And you know what? He was right.

Which is why I didn’t make a peep when he spent the whole 12-mile ride to my house telling me about stupid things he’s been called in to fix that men have done, and ending every story with “From a girl that would be one thing – but a man?”

(Yes, Mister AAA Guy, we girls sure are stupid. And allll those stupid-men stories you have are just anomalies. But I’m just going to sit here and giggle like a stupid girl because really, what leg have I got to stand on?)

When we got to the AssVac, after I debriefed Johnny on the Really Bad Thing in Worcester, I checked the bus schedule for the next morning because – even though I was sure My Lady would understand and forgive me – now I really couldn’t afford to skip my “visit” with the Evil Beast. Plus, she was coming home expecting that I would have brought her—


Two 10-lb bags of Very Special Recycled Pine Shavings Kitty Litter.

Plus one clean-and-dried queen-sized comforter.

On the bus.

I meditated on this dilemma while I unpacked the overnight bag I hadn’t needed after all. How much of it could I carry? And which one was needed more? I knew she had other blankets in the house, but wasn’t sure she could get at them. I didn’t know if she had cat litter, but was sure she usually had two or three in reserve. If it were me, I’d just let the cat go an extra day without a box change. But then, I never get close enough to get a whiff.

By the time I zipped up the overnight bag and carried it to the bedroom closet to put away, I still hadn’t decided what to do. And then it hit me:

Two 10-lb bags of Very Special Recycled Pine Shavings Kitty Litter! Plus one queen-sized comforter! In the carry-on! I can roll it there! I don’t have to carry anything! She’ll never know!

(It’s very important to me, if I go to extremes like this to accommodate the folks I love, that they don’t know. But I can yawp it out into the series of tubes all I like because my Lady does not own a computer – so you-all can know how selfless and wonderful I am, while she still sleeps her little yellow sleep and avoids any threat of psych emergency.)

So I washed and dried the blanket, folded it, and put it in the case the night before. Double-checked the bus schedule in the morning, got dressed, and when it was time to go I went out to Chuck (TFT) to tuck the bags of kitty litter in.

It wouldn’t close.

It would almost close. If I forced it, it might have closed. But I could just see me bumping it along and the zipper breaking open – and then what would I put my knickers in the next time Something Really Bad happened and I had to go to Worcester? So I didn’t close it. I let it have the four-inch-gap it wanted, and I bumped it down the street with my Lady’s cat litter and blanket hanging out the top.

Oh no, I’m not homeless or anything! Or crazy! I just ride the bus with cat litter and blankets spilling from my carry-on! Just, you know, in case Something Really Bad happens! Also, when I try to lift it up into the bus, I fall over backwards from the weight of it!

The muffler is fixed now. St. George came by (again) and slew the dragon for us (again) for fifty dollars and a couple beers.

But one of these days, something really bad is going to happen.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Destructo Strikes Again!

All I did was try to close the fucking thing, I swear to god!

See, the front door of the AssVac swells when wet (that's sWells, not sMells, but thanks for reminding me about the basement). And when I say "wet," I mean "when the humidity in the air rises above, say, 60%." So from pretty much March through October, the only way to get it open from the outside is to pound on the top corner with a fist. This always makes me feel like an angry villager -- like I ought to have a torch in the other hand and an air of ignorant self-righteousness (something which is, fortunately, not hard for me to cultivate). To get it open from the inside you have to kick the bottom corner hard enough to make it kickback a half an inch, and then hang on it from the top to pull it down. This always makes me feel like an idiot. And to get it closed from either side you have to give it a good slam.

We've been disagreeing about how to deal with this problem since we first moved in. Johnny wants to take off the door and shave it down, which is all well and good except for the fact that winter will come, eventually, and then we'll have a crack around our front door even bigger than the one that we have now...

I think what we should do is wait until it shrinks back down, then take it off and oil-paint all the edges so it can't absorb the moisture anymore. Actually, I don't just think this: I looked it up. Johnny knows more about his trade than anybody living, but the fact is it never does dry out in Ireland, so it's understandable he wouldn't know.

The compromise that we've come up with, therefore, is to wait for it to shrink, forget about it for four months until spring comes and it swells back up again, and then have the whole fight over from the start.

Okay, disagreement. Have the whole disagreement over from the start.

(We have a similar disagreement regarding the fact that the entire porch is not-so-slowly sinking: he wants to dig holes and pour cement, I want to just jack it up and shove cinder blocks in there for now. And by "for now" I mean 2004. Meanwhile the porch is looking more and more like a smile and pretty soon I fear a window pane will just spontaneously shatter. Also, there's no small possibility that this could be a contributing factor in the Case of the Unopenable Door, because it means the jamb's off-level by several degrees, but oh well.)

We've been merrily-alonging in this manner for five years, but this summer is different. This summer (if you can even call it summer) has been spectacularly wet. This summer has been squashy, boggy, moisture-sodden damp. There are mushrooms growing in the lawn and on the tree bark. There are earwigs in the house. It's been so wet that there are no mosquitoes -- and don't ask me to explain how that one works. Seriously, I'm starting to wonder if somebody took a cosmic spatula and flipped the country over when we weren't looking. I mean, does anybody know if it's been sunny in Seattle this year?

All of which is to say it it's not my fault I broke it. It was so swollen that my normal door-slam didn't do the trick. It didn't close, and when I doubled back to give it a quick tug, the handle simply came off in my hand. Not my fault. The house's fault, really. Or the weather's. Or Johnny's, somehow.

But not mine.