It's not about the house.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

More or Less Bunk, Part VI: The Bloom is Off

Nobody guessed the song I named Rose after, which means I gotta fess up to it myself. So, fine.... 

It was Poison, okay? A sensitive, hair-band ballad by Brett “Rock of Love Bus” Michaels about how it feels to have your heart broke by a stripper – and you really gotta feel for the bastard, because who could’ve seen that coming? – by the name of “Every Rose Has Its Thorn.” The song's named that, I mean, not Brett's ex-stripper. I don’t know what the ex-stripper's called herself. Maybe Kandi Kane or Crystal Chandelier or something, but I'd take bets she didn't call herself Rose Thorn. Rose Thorn is a drag queen name, if anything. Anyway, the point is that the moniker called out to me because, like I said, the moss-colored Camry is my car now, so no matter how sweet she may be smelling, you know that she'll turn out to be a prick.

Since you people didn't guess it, though, and made me say the words "Brett Michaels" right out loud, then you’re not getting this wrap-up post in verse. Which is too bad, really. I’m quite good at it, as some of you know. But ah, well. We’ll find some other excuse for me to break out the rhyming dictionary soon enough, but in the meantime you’ll have to turn on your radios and settle for some other sad, sad cowboy song.

And so, without further ado: the conclusion!

When we were redoing our kitchen, there was much discussion about where the refrigerator ought to go. And when you picture this “discussion” (don't worry, I know you try to mentally picture everything I describe; it's okay, so long as you don't try to picture me writing it in my hooded sweatshirt and flannel pyjama bottoms with the newly-minted trap door where I caught them on a nail) just imagine me saying it should stay right where it was, Johnny saying it should go by the door, and then repeat, until I realize I don’t give a holy hoo where the refrigerator goes and I give in. I know we’re never going to build the damn breakfast nook he thinks he’s making room for, so why not throw him a refrigerator-bone?

It was a decision that had to be made, you see, because everybody said the fridge-plug ought to be on its own circuit. Hasn’t ever been before and nothing untoward happened, but this time we were determined to Do It Right. Don’t burn the house down, that's my motto. Not by mistake, anyway, before you have a chance to get the critters out. So Andy – who was doing the wiring for us because he got a DUI and lost his license and with it his job so he was trying to quit drinking and needed something to keep the devil from his idle hands – ran the dedicated circuit for the fridge-plug by the door. We didn't actually move it yet, though. The plan was for it to stay where it was until the rest of the room was finished, at which point Johnny would strip and varnish half the floor on one day, then move the fridge and do the other half the next.

Instead what happened was that Johnny did the whole floor in one day around the fridge, then decided he liked it right where it was. I actually fought with him about this for a while, until I remembered it was what I wanted in the first place. Sort of. I mean, I didn't want a three-foot square of unfinished old floor underneath it, or a dedicated-circuit outlet over by the door and not-one where the fridge actually is. But now everybody says the circuit thing doesn’t matter. I may be imagining it, but I’m starting to suspect that everybody’s full of shit.

So why am I telling you this story about my kitchen when I'm supposed to be wrapping up a six-parter about the car? Because I want to know if I'm the only one who smells a pattern...

See, when we got the New Car – sorry, when we got Rose – Johnny assumed we’d sell Chuck (TFT). He thought we could probably get $300 for him, which may not be much but it's hell of a lot more than nothing, yet I resisted. We’d just had Chuck inspected and insured, I reasoned, so he wouldn’t cost us anything for another year -- especially if we just let him sit idle in the driveway like a symbol of the white-trash status we've achieved. I know that seems more like something Johnny would argue for, I'm usually the one trying to get rid of his old crap, but it was very hard on me these past few months (or seven), having to be all kinds of Maudlin places and never knowing if I'd get there till I actually arrived. Since we still had him anyway, I wanted to keep Chuck (TFT) as a spare car, within reach for just a while, at least till my agita settled down.

I won that one. Pretty easily, too. I guess it was a bit of a hollow victory, considering Johnny’s Collyer-brother tendencies and how much I have always hated Chuck. But still, Johnny and I have been together thirteen years: anytime I get what I want without a struggle, I consider it a victory well won. Or at least I did, until I overheard Johnny on the telephone soon after, very clearly giving Chuck away. To Andy.

I'll wait here while you go ahead and scroll back up, make sure you’re remembering things right. Go ahead, it's okay, take your time...

Are you back? Did you find it? Where I said “Andy got a DUI and lost his license”? Yeah.

I started hooting and hollering over Johnny's shoulder, saying I was sorry, Andy, but we'd decided we were keeping The Fucking Truck! Johnny ran out of the room and hung up before Andy could hear what I said. At which point what I said was "What the fuck?"

Well, it turns out Johnny owes Andy money – which I knew about but totally forgot. Last year, when Johnny's brother died, Andy reached into his wallet and handed him $300 for the trip back home. We didn’t ask for it – in fact, as I remember, we didn’t even really need it in the first place – but sympathetic gestures at times like that can be hard, and Andy was just trying to show he cared. It’s shitty that we took this long to pay him back. There’s no excuse. We just forgot. Or I did. I think Johnny probably thought we didn’t have it. Which, I mean, we don’t. Not in the sense of random $300s just lying around waiting to be spoken for. But Andy’s a friend, we owe it to him, and so yes, the money’s there.

At first I wanted to cut Andy a check right then and there. But the agita was fading, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized (don't tell Johnny) that his plan made better sense. It would have been nice if he’d consulted me, but still. We don’t have piles of $300s lying around, and The New Car – ROSE! – has well begun to prove her mettle. Besides, it really is kind of dumb to keep a second car around for just-in-case. And what the hell ever gave me the idea that if good old reliable Rose was under the weather, punk-ass Chuck (TFT) would come through?

So we left a message for Andy saying it was up to him. I still don’t know why he’d want a car he’s not allowed to operate - he might actually prefer to get the cash – but if he wants Chuck (TFT), then he can have him.

Since it’s just me & Rose now, though, I’m determined to look after her and treat her right. According to the experts, she’s the best car I’ve ever owned, and if I want to keep her in fighting shape I’m going to have to do all the maintenance-y sorts of things I never do. Oil changes. Tune ups. Tire pressure kept at what the book says and not just some random number roughly corresponding to my age. And car washes.

Turns out car washes aren’t just cosmetic thrill rides, they’re important. Rose spent the first twelve years of her life in warm, dry places like Arizona, New Mexico, and California – places where she didn’t see a lot of salt and snow – and that's why she looks so good for her age. Now that she’s a New Englander, it would be a crying shame for her engine to stay in good shape while her body slowly fell apart around her (not that I'd know what that feels like or anything). So last week, before I even got her oil changed, I took her to the Super Shine.

Forgot about the radio antenna. Bent it 90 degrees at the base. Now I only get three stations, and it always looks like me & Rose are going really fast.

Still waiting to hear Andy’s decision about Chuck.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

More or Less Bunk, Part V: Any Other Name

...continued from the previous post... and also... spoiler alert... there just might be a contest at the end...

By New Year’s, the Camry's persistent anonymosity had crossed a line. Even my Lady – who to this day has still not made the full return from Crazy Town – kept asking if the New Car had a name. So on January 9, I bit the bullet: On the Pike, full steam ahead, radio on.

(What? We’re about to launch into a discussion of song lyrics, for crying out loud, and I’m not allowed to use a few shorthand clichés? Please. Moon! June! Spoon! Tune! Loon! So there! Don’t tell me what literary devices I can’t use. Nyeah!)

Now, you’re probably thinking this is going to be easy. You’re probably thinking that as soon as the first real-name, gender-appropriate song comes on the radio, I will be done. And you may have gotten that impression because it’s more or less exactly what I said. But it’s not true. I lied, okay? I cheat, all right? Seriously, after all these years, does that surprise you?

Hell. If old Alice (remember Alice?) didn’t tip you off to my full-of-it-ness, then what will? I mean, come on: the only way “Alice’s Restaurant” will ever be the first song you hear on the radio is if you turn the key at noontime on Thanksgiving -- and this wasn't anywhere near close to that. It was the spring, like I said, of 1990. The immediate options at my disposal were basically Greta Garbo, Ann Monroe, Dietrich or Dimaggio – and I already told you that my poo-brown Buick was a boy. A straight boy. (And please don’t go suggesting “Joe” in honor of the Yankee Clipper, because first of all, Yankee, hello! And secondly he was a Regal, not a pick-up truck, for heaven’s sake!). So I waited (and waded) through “Cherry Pie,” “Poison” and the Humpty Dance, until I made my way to the left end of the dial, where I got bored, heard “Alice,” and decided if it was good enough for Mr. Cooper it was good enough for me.

Same thing happened this time, too, except I’ve taken too long to get to this point in the story and have now forgotten all but one of the songs I heard and rejected on the Pike. That's still better than the last time: I don’t remember any of the songs from 1990 – I lied about them, too. And what I’m about to do now, you see, is cheat.

I played a little game on facebook – got people to turn on their radios and tell me what they heard, then combed through all those ideas for lady-names. I know some of you cheated – there’s just no way Patti Smith’s “Horses” was the first song on anybody’s random airwaves in 2010, even in England; plus I’m not sure if Pandora ought to count – but still. Even this was harder than it looks. I got sixteen suggestions (counting cheaters), and only managed to make two of them work.

So on the list that follows, only one of the four songs comes from that bullet-biting drive. Two come from facebook friend suggestions, and one I just made up. See if you can figure out which ones are which!


Bernice might have worked, if I hadn’t made a rule up on the spot that says namesakes can’t be bad guys unless they’re really, really bitchin’ antiheroes – like the Jackal, Superfly, or Leroy Brown. And I’m sorry, but some random redhead your boyfriend got caught snogging in the parking lot just doesn’t count.

Couldn’t be Abigail for two reasons: 1. I happen to care very deeply about a flesh-and-blood person named Abigail, so I wouldn’t feel right implementing the sort of verbal discipline that so often becomes necessary with a car, 2. Everybody knows Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time, and 3. (I lied again; so sue me) What is up with all these second-fiddle redheads, anyhow?

No way was I going to name her “Brandy.” A good wife she might be, but a fine girl this tea-green Camry is most definitely not.

And Sleepy Jean just sounded like a bad idea all around.

But then it happened.

Doo dee doo dooooo doo dee doo...

It's not a girl’s name as intended in the song, exactly, but it most certainly is one in real life. A trifle dusty, yes, but at least the Golden Girl it belonged to was my favorite Golden Girl. And the idea it expresses here is cynically appropriate, because no matter how sweet-smelling the New Car may be now, she is still my car...

And so you know she's gonna fuck me in the end.

Oh come on, people! You're not going to make me say it, are you? The name ought to be obvious enough by now, but if one of you kind folks out there can find it in your hearts to spare me from from having to say out loud the title of the song I named her for, I will write the final installment of this series in rhyming verse. Rhyming verse that incorporates your name -- and whatever other personal details about you that I know or am willing to make up -- in some patently witty and clever fashion.

Yes, Donna! It's a contest! An easy one, because it's been a while.

But no cheating. It's my blog. And I'm the only one who can get away with that.

Monday, January 25, 2010

More or Less Bunk, Part V: Everything’s Coming Up

continued from previous post...

Like I said very briefly last time, and then edited out because I felt it went too far over the Maudlin line, but now have to put back in because I can’t justify the New Car’s nameless month without it: the first few weeks I had her, I was in no mood for playing Radio Roulette, not even in noble pursuit of the Perfect New Car Name. Because you never know what might come screaming from the dashboard when you turn the dial (and no, my cars aren’t so old they still have dials; it's an expression! Work with me, people!), and I didn’t want to be unexpectedly exposed to any Maudlin Madeleines that might send me into sudden paroxysms of grief -- else I might's well go ahead and christen her “The Leader of the Pack.”

Look out! Look out! Look out! Look out!

So New Car and I spent our first few dozen days together listening to NPR and quietly feeling each other out. Getting to know one another, as it were. Getting to like her, getting to hope she liked me. And -- as these things have so often gone for me throughout my life -- I liked her fine, but she told me to cram it up my ass.

No, no, that isn’t fair. Blaming her for what happened would be like blaming that fabled snake for biting you when you were dumb enough to pick it up. Especially if you’re Destructo, so you probably squeezed it a little harder than you knew you should. And also maybe wanted to see what would happen if you put a teeny-tiny finger in its mouth...

See, the New Car has an alarm system, and it’s my first. Not only that, but the key-fob-thinger that's supposed to turn it on and off is broken. And I don’t mean dead-battery-broken, either (which would be bad enough, considering how long I take to get around to doing things); but I mean genuinely, honest-to-god broke. There is a spare one, but the spare one's broken, too. And now that I think about it, maybe the problem isn't actually in the fob-thingers but the receiver-thingy that you point it at... Ah well, I’ll put a pin in that idea for now, because it’s not germane.

The germ is that I have to unlock the door with the key. Which really oughtn't to be a big deal -- this is, after all, what I’ve always had to do in all my other, oldey-timey cars. But in a move I’m sure is informed by some sort of Mystical Eastern Logic that I’m too closed-minded or Western-centric to understand, it turns out that opening the door with the key that was, you know, made for it, is not enough to put the 86 on the alarm. Oh no. You then have to put the key in the ignition and start it up within so many seconds or the honk-honk-honking starts. Because it's not like the same damn key does both or anything, or like a thief who had the key would ever be in any kind of rush to start the car.

I did try leaving it unlocked (which is, oddly enough, also what I’ve always done in all my other oldy-timey cars) but the Very Centered Alarm System zens itself into action anyway. Honk! Honk!

So I very quickly got used to sliding in the driver’s seat and starting it, no matter what or how brief my intent, then getting out and going round the other side to fetch the dog leash off the floor in the back seat. I usually do twister-worthy contortions to shut it off and extricate the key, though, so as not to have to get out and go back around. I tried contorting to get it started, too, but not only did it fail to work, I also nearly wrenched my yatta-yatta.

We had more or less settled into this routine when I took her out to meet my Dad one afternoon, and my little Japanese Darling took the opportunity to show off a whole new trick. Let's say I don’t know when it was, exactly, but that the whole family was there -- eating lollipops, playing with puppy dogs and basking in the sun – and I volunteered to run out and get a few copies of that day’s paper because we happened to know there was going to be a really cheerful article in it about skittles and beer. I started the car, realized I'd left my wallet on the table, left her running while I ran inside to get it -- and when I did the little traitor locked me out! The damn New Car somehow locked its own damn doors without me in it, and my damn brother-in-law had to call damn AAA to let me damn back in.

Well, Brother-In-Law didn’t have to. I could’ve done it. Lord knows I’ve got enough experience with roadside service, I could probably have done it blindfolded with both hands tied behind my back. I probably have. I don’t remember. I tell you folks, the early ‘90s are a total blur...

Anyway, the AAA guy who came was really mean about it. Didn't make eye contact with anyone or say a single word. Even when the job was done he just got in his truck and drove away. It hasn't happened since, but now the New Car Door Opening Routine has expanded to include a spare key carried in my left pants-pocket, just in case. Oh, and me remembering not to tell AAA guys that "I do this sort of shit all the time." At least, not right up front when I haven't had a chance to put my cute on.

A few days after that is when the seatbelt busted. I think I told you about this at the time, but for those of you who are new, or old, or drunk like me and don’t remember, here’s the germ: it got harder and harder for me to put it in but I just kept pushing, until finally I looked and saw there was some sort of foreign object stuck in there (and if I'd ever seen a thing like that before – even in the early ‘90s – I’d remember). Turns out I had managed to, inch by stupid, not-paying-attention inch, cram an entire napkin down inside. I crammed it back out with a bamboo skewer and it was no worse for the wear. But still.

New Car and I were certainly learning beautiful and new things about each other, that’s for sure.

I didn't name her Anna, did I? I'm not telling! Probably not, though! With my luck I wouldn't get the singing-dancing kind of Anna, I'd get the kind that ODs on sleeping pills or throws herself under a train! But I guess you'll have to wait till next time to find out...

Friday, January 22, 2010

More or Less Bunk, Part IV: The Road Has Been Too Long

Well, folks, we've upped the tally. Poor Dumb Kitty --

(a.k.a. Dodo; real name Wilson) 

-- is this close to losing a toe. Got out in a snowstorm, ripped a nail trying to pull open the door (door opens in; can't say he didn't come by that nickname honestly), and now it's... Well, let's just say "gross" and leave it at that. Doctor says if he had his druthers he'd just take the toe right now, but Dodo is 16 years old and there's a good chance he won't survive the anaesthetic, so we're trying to avoid that if we can. Maybe when there's a definite outcome I'll write the whole story, and maybe it will be hysterical, but in the meantime just add two droppers of amoxicillin to the seventeen-pill total I gave before. Johnny says all the boys in the house are sick and all the girls are healthy. I say that's because us girls aren't out carousing in the middle of the night and licking at ourselves. Not anymore.

And yet, I soldier on!

(continued from the previous post...)

So everyone agrees the new car's great. Runs great, gets great mileage, doesn't have any rust or dents (not yet, at least, but at this point in the story I've only had it for a week). My dad's doing a Don't-Worry-Be-Happy dance at how reliable it is, and both of my mechanics have turned cartwheels. Everything is good. The car is great.

But boring? Oh my god, I'm driving the equivalent of orthopedic shoes. They may be the best thing for your lumbar structure, but they sure as shit ain't gonna get you laid. This is the first time in my life I've actually memorized my license plate before I got towed or had to call one, because it's the only way I can find the damn thing in a parking lot. Toyota Camry, feh! And not only is it a freakin' Mom Car with no personality at all, it -- okay, "she" -- is also the same green color as every other car manufactured between 1995 and '99. If there's one thing that this car is not, it's me. So how the hell was I going to name it?

Okay, "her."

(I don't know how the hell the mechanic sexed her, but maybe it's like when Dirty Boy sexed baby chickens: maybe you just have to know the spot to squeeze. Hey, speaking of which, we haven't had a look at Dirty Boy in a while -- and doesn't this seem as good a time as any for a little pick-me-up?

...ah, that's better. Now where was I?)

I've always driven shitbox cars. I simply do. I've never been able to afford a decent one, for one thing, and for another I don't really see the point. Even if I had the money, why should I spend $400 a month on payments, when I could spend less than that on insurance for a year? I mean, yes, towards the end there Chuck (TFT) was costing us the equivalent of a car payment every couple months, but that's why we took him out back and put a bullet in him. Never let a stranger shoot your dog, I always say.

Actually, we didn't. But that story's slated for, like, two installments down the road. And I've never really had the stomach to pull my own trigger on anything, although I would have liked to plug Veronica. Oh my god, but did I hate that bitch.

Ooh, that reminds me: I'm supposed to be talking about names, here.

See, I try to name my cars after a song I hear on the radio the first time I turn them on. And I do mean radio-radio, no cheating -- it's not like any of 'em ever had a working tape deck or CD player, anyway -- but I do allow myself a little wiggle room. It has to be a real name-name, first of all. Calling my car "The Wanderer" or "The Mess Around" would be ridiculous.

Rule two is that the name has to match the sex. Can't go calling a boy car Roxanne or Maggie May, else you'll wind up having to fetch him home from Harvard Square at 3:00 every Saturday and Sunday morning.

My first car was a boy, though, and he was named for "Alice's Restaurant." I don't know why it came on the radio right then, considering my parents bought old Alice for me as a college graduation present, so it had to have been May or early June. But there you go. I decided it was fate. And I also decided it was perfectly acceptable for him to have a girl's name, because if Alice Cooper could pull it off and still scare the pee-pee out of mothers everywhere, then why not a '79 Buick Regal two-door in diaper-brown? And sure enough, in his brief life Alice did more than his share of pee-pee scaring -- especially that one night, racing to make it back to Harvard Square by midnight, doing 90 on the work-zone Pike between altogether-too-close suicide rails. But poor old Alice blew a head gasket eighteen months after I got him, and the mechanic said we had to put him down.

That's when Veronica came along. '81 Dodge Diplomat in black. Looked like a police car and acted like a pig. Went through alternators like a good old boy throwing beer cans out the window, and leaked power-steering fluid even after I replaced the entire steering mechanism piece by piece. Well, all right, I didn't do it. The mechanic did. First (and last) mechanic who ever tried to call me "Honey," too. Hated that fucking cunt. It was just a coincidence, but the longer I owned her the happier it made me she was named for a song with the lyric "You can call me anything you like, but my name is Veronica." As you can see, I called her all manner of other things besides her name.

She was still hanging in there just to spite me when my Grampy Jim died, and the whole extended family agreed I was the one most in need of his car. At least, that's the story that I came away with and I'm sticking to it; if there was any dissent in the ranks, I would really rather never know. 1980 Chevy Impala, four-door, sort of a faded yellow. Or she started out that color, anyway. I had her for about a year before I made a bad left turn and got her all bunged up. Totaled her, as a matter of fact -- shifted her whole front end an inch and a half to the left (although you should've seen the other guy) -- but for sentimental reasons my dad paid for the repair. Mostly. I was supposed to swing the paint job but I didn't, so for the rest of her life she had a black hood and a slate-blue front right side. Cecilia was her name, although in the eight years I drove her she never shook my confidence or broke my heart. Not until the day she finally and irretrievably gave up the ghost, and I literally chased after her on the flatbed wrecker down the middle of the street.

By this time Johnny and I were living together, so with Cecilia's passing we got our first "new" car from George. A grey Chevy Astro, '86 or something like that. I don't remember. It seemed so sexless and obscure after Cecilia, I never had the heart to learn its name. I don't know how long we had it, either, or even really how it came to die. Just that it had a bad distributor cap, so it used to leave me stranded when it rained.

Same with the next one. Not the cap, I mean: the anonymity. Some stupid, giant-ass, Ford E-150 souped-up pleasure van. George didn't find him for us, Johnny bought him from a friend, and I half-heartedly dubbed him Babe the Blue Ox 'cause he was. But I can't say I was sorry when he failed inspection one year later on account of you could see the asphalt whizzing by right through the floor.

Then came Francine, and I already told you about her. She wasn't named for a song so much as for Ms. Reed, the Very Fine Lady who sang (among countless other things) with Lyle Lovett and his Large Band. The first time I laid eyes on that old Caddy I just knew she was the kind of ride Ms. Reed deserves. Check it.

Right? She got me excited about naming cars again, Francine did. Then POW! and along came The Fucking Truck.

So that brings us right around back where we started. To me, waiting to hear what sort of propaganda my anonymous Japanese Lady might preach to me through the radio.  

You didn't think I could do it, did you? But I did. Nearly 1500 words with absolutely no plot-development at all! That's got to be some sort of record, don't you think?

To be continued...

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

More or Less Bunk, Part III: Days of Wine

Waaay back in 2008, Dr. One Friend's folks said they would buy her a new car. As in, like, new-new. Brandy-new. It was a combination PhD-getting, 40-turning, New England-living Christmas present, but she had to do it by herself. All they were offering to do was write the check -- to her, not to the dealer -- she'd have to do all the rest on her own. As a result, she'd been sort of dragging her feet for quite some time.

First, she thought about it. This process took six months.

Then, she decided she wanted an Audi TTS convertible. Vroom-vroom! That lasted, oh, about another month or so -- until she realized she wasn't going to get anywhere near $25,000 on trade-in for her 1996 Toyota Camry.

Finally, probably sometime late last spring, she got all earnest. She did research, she test-drove, she comparison-shopped, and she narrowed it down to a few realistic choices.

June came and went...

And then July...

By August she knew what she wanted -- Subaru Forester, definitely. But should it be red? Or orange?

September came...


Red! Definitely red!

Most of November...

Then, when I thought Chuck (TFT) was dead-dead-dead, she called me.

"This is going to be very awkward," she began. "Just let me say it:

"You know I've been planning to trade in the Camry all along. I'll get less for it than I would if I sold it, but I don't feel like dealing with the hassle. It's old, it needs brakes, and I don't have the patience to negotiate with some nitpicky Craigslist asshole."

Patience has never been high on Dr. One Friend's long list of admirable attributes.

"Now," she continued. "I decided back in August that, if you want it, I would sell it to you for the price they offered me on trade-in. Don't answer now. I've been quoted anywhere from $500 to $1500 for it, and I know that $1500 is twice what you guys usually spend. Think about it, let me settle on a dealership and get a firmer price, then if you're interested I'll bring it up and you can have George take a look at it -- make sure, too, that he can fix Toyotas. Because like I said, it's old, and I know it's needed brake shoes for a while."

I thought about it. The process took about six minutes.

"The only reason I hesitate," I said, "is that I am going to bitch about the car. Maybe not today, and maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of its life. I'm going to name it, and hate it, and make fun of it on my blog, and I wouldn't want any of that to affect our friendship. I won't be mad at you for any of it -- trust me, I'm more than used to driving shitbox cars -- but I wouldn't want you to feel defensive and put-upon every time you hear me stamp my feet and say 'That fucking car!'"

She may live 150 miles from me, but when I stamp my feet I stamp 'em loud. Fortunately, put-uponitude is also low on Dr. One Friend's personality profile.

"I would never have even thought about that, Erin," she said. "Jeez, don't be ridiculous!"

And two weeks later it was done. The price got firmed up at $1100, George looked at it and said it was the best car we've ever had. Dr. One Friend picked up her red Forester, drove the Camry here for me and took the train back down.

I got it insured and registered, but was late getting it inspected because Something Maudlin happened. When I finally took it in -- to the same garage I buy my gas from, and the same mechanic who had just done Chuck (TFT) the week before -- I swear to god I saw him do a cartwheel.

"Where did you get this car!?" he said, practically giggling. "Even just pulling it in to the station, I can tell it's tight. It's like brand-new! You'll get another 100,000 miles out of her, easily!"

So I guess that seals it: the New Car is a her. Which at least narrows down the choices for a name...

You probably think this story's finished, don't you? Ah, have we not met at all over the years? To be continued!

Oh! I Almost Forgot!

My Significant Dragon sold for $31! Thanks to all who bid on it, and to whoever won!

That means three whole weeks I have to go without mentioning anything maudlin. Hm...

No! Wait! That's not the deal! You can't fool me! I'm just not allowed to talk about that maudlin topic. All the other bullshit nights in this suck city are fair game.

Clock starts now.

If It's Brown...

All right, screw it. I've tried for two days to write about Johnny being in the hospital, but the fact is nothing funny happened. I would just like to state for the record, though: I said I'd drive him. 

At 2:00 on Tuesday morning, when I got up to have a pee and Johnny said “I t’ink ye have to call an ambulance. I t'ink maybe me appendix burst,” I did not – as some would have it – tell him to fuck off and go back to sleep. I did not. What I did do is think really quickly (or as quickly as I could, with sleepy pee-brain) that our Massachusetts-mandated, poor-people insurance probably doesn’t pay for the ambulance ride if it turns out to not be an emergency. Even sleepy pee-brains know an ambulance can cost upwards of a thousand dollars, and we haven’t got a pot these days to piss in as it is. So I wanted to be reasonably certain Johnny was actually facing death before I called. He was. I didn't. He survived. The end.

Christ, it’s just raining goddamn current-events clichés around here these days, isn’t it? First I'm refinancing my sub-prime mortgage to avoid foreclosure, then weighing my husband’s life against my health care plan. What’s next? An unexpected Senate race in my backyard that somehow goes all flop-bottom and flushes the future health and well-being of our state, our country and possibly several far-flung corners of the world into the crapper?

Oh, wait.



C'mon, folks! This sand is nice and warm! And soft and quiet! Let's all bury our heads in it for a while!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Last Day!

There's only one day left for you and all your friends -- and facebook friends, and enemies, and random people who hear you talk to yourself on the street -- to slug it out over who gets to own this lovely dragon! Bid on it here!

Current high bid $11.50! Plus $5 shipping!
Come on, people, it's for the children!  

It comes with a backstory about a certain gentleman's-C-student which is complete and utter bullshit, but I wrote it, so it's bound to be worth something someday. Of course, you don't get the rights to the story -- in fact, you don't even have to buy the twee dragon thing to read it. You can read it here and will be able to for probably ever. But think about it: someday your grandchild will be on Antiques Roadshow, and that gray-ponytail guy (who will apparently still be alive as some sort of Mars-Attacks, head-in-a-jar atrocity) will say: “the figurine itself is worthless, but because of the Erin Ellia provenance ... EIGHT BILLION DOLLARS!” Which by then will be the equivalent of about a buck and a half. But that plus George Clooney’s head in a jar still ought to buy you a cup of coffee, right? Besides, don't you want to hold this precious little moonbeam in your hand?

I bet it'd hurt like hell if you chucked it just right.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

When's that Chinese New Year Thing, Again?

So... I had to take Johnny to the emergency room yesterday.

He'll be fine. Needed a few days of IV antibiotics, is all, because his body wasn't responding to the oral (and you can all just get your wee minds out of the gutter now, you pigs!).

I'm off to Boston Medical Center in a moment (née Boston City Hospital, a.k.a. St. Elsewhere), to hang out all afternoon waiting for the doctor, see if maybe they're going to spring him out tonight. If they decide to keep him, I'll probably come home and drink seventy-twelve IPAs, and if they send him home I probably ought to stick close by his side (you know, try to be all wifey-wife and shit) -- so either way it looks like I won't be delivering the next New Car installment today like I promised.

Oh well.

My new New Year's Resolution -- effective immediately -- is to never, never, never announce my blog-intentions in advance again.

Friday, January 15, 2010

More or Less Bunk, Part II: Among the Thorns

Continued from previous post.

Here’s how Johnny and I usually find our next car:

“Hello, George? We’re ready for our next car.”

Actually, that’s not entirely the truth. Because George is our mechanic as well as one of our best friends, he usually knows we need a new car before we do. So the truth is, this is how Johnny and I usually find our next car:

“Hello, Johnny? I’ve lined up your next car.”

The last time that happened, we got Francine. A cherry-sweet, wine-red, 1990 (this was in 2003) Cadillac Sedan DeVille, with a V-8, 4.5 liter engine. She was mint in every way except a little bit of tearing in her wine-leather interior, and a whole lot of nothing in the brakes. We got her for $300, George taught her how to stop for another three or so, and we were off.

Chuck (TFT) came from George as well, but in a different manner. This time, while I was still happily tooling around in Francine, Johnny arranged without my knowledge to purchase George’s own old minivan for $600. I was annoyed, to say the least. Not because of the money – although in retrospect I can’t believe he cost the same as Dear Francine – and not because it was a stupid minivan (George has twins; we don’t). Not even because he’d done it behind my back – a boy does, after all, like to pretend he has some say in things once in a while – but because we didn’t need two cars with just (ahem) a single driver. Johnny countered this by swearing he would get behind the wheel.

And he did, too.

Came a day not too long after, see, when Francine needed repairs that would cost more than she was worth, even with George doing them and getting parts at cost. He gently advised us to put her down, but he agreed to go ahead and perform heroic measures because he knew I loved her so. He had her for more than a week, spending precious after-work hours tending to her wounds with Johnny as his hand-me-that-wrench assistant. It was touch and go there for a while. But he has magic hands, does our friend George, and with his patience and dedication she pulled through. At long last one evening he stepped back, declared her cured, and – with characteristic, fanfare-less humility – ducked into the head to wash her innards off his hands. At which point Johnny mustered his courage, took the initiative ... and drove poor old Francine right off the lift into the wall of the garage.

Good night, Francine. Hello, Fucking Truck.

(Oh, man, you should hear George tell the story. He was actually speechless when he brought them home, but with a twelve-pack of Heineken I greased him up: “There I was,” he says, “I’d already washed the grease off and was taking a piss, so I had my dick in my hands when I heard this horrible kruuunncchh from the garage. I turned around when I heard it and pissed all over the floor! I said to myself ‘Nah. He didn’t.’ But then I thought: 'This is John we're talking about' [George has never said ‘Johnny’ in his life], so I knew he did. Just knew it. I opened the bathroom door to check he was all right, and he was. Just sitting in the driver's seat, looking stunned. I said ‘You ignorant motherfucker,’ closed the door, and left him there. Went back in to finish pissing -- in the toilet this time -- and to wash my nasty hands. Took my time about it, too. Ignorant motherfucker...”

We paid him anyway, of course. He didn’t want to take it, I insisted. And Johnny was so embarrassed about the whole thing that this is the first time I’ve ever told that tale to anyone, except for maybe I told Dr. One Friend.)

But this go-round, I didn’t want to do that. I mean, don’t get me wrong: I would love to drive the Fucking Truck into the side of a garage – I’d just like to get some say in the backup plan.

But it was unfortunate timing, coming in the middle of the freak snow-season we had last fall and everything. George works for a city garage, see, so he’s on the clock more or less 24 hours a day when the snow falls – and since nobody expects it to start falling in October, their plow-and-salt machines weren’t even ready for the season, so they had to work 48 hours a day to get them there. He knew the Fucking Truck was dead, he’d been fixing it every two weeks or so all summer, but he also knew that we were poor and so he thought we weren’t looking. When we called him to announce we were, he said he didn’t happen to know of any Francine-y types lying around, and until the weather cleared he wouldn’t have time to so much as make a phone call on our behalf.

But I couldn’t wait. Without getting into myriad maudlin details again, I was back and forth to Worcester lots those days, several times a week by then and rising. And every single time I did it in the Fucking Truck, it gave me agita. I got to the point where I was only begging Chuck (TFT) to get me there, and gave him carte blanche to break down on the way home. But bless his heart, except for that one time when the muffler fell off, he just kept right on (barely) hanging in.

Until, like some kind of miracle – just as I’d taken to skimming the windshields of every used-car lot I drove by, looking for something that read “Not safe in the rain! Radio broken! Air bubble in the gas tank! Leaks everything! $600!” – the magic phone call came.

And not from George...

To be continued. But in the meantime, why not tell your friends to go read (and, if they should feel so moved, comment about) the silly story I wrote about a (not) candy dragon? Or read it and bid on the dragon here? Only four days left until it's gone! The dragon, that is. Not the story. The story will go on and on and on and on and on -- not altogether unlike this one!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

More or Less Bunk, Part I: I Beg Your Pardon

Yes, yes. The more astute among you may have already gleaned that I intend for this to be another multi-part series. It won't go on for two months, though, I swear to god. And I might just see fit to interrupt myself if something happens in our lives that I deem worth writing. Like for example if Johnny's diverticulitis develops into full-blown peritonitis and while we're at his Urgent Care appointment the dog rips his stitches and bleeds all over the house and winds up with an infected foot so that Nursie Me has to tend to two very sick and sad-looking patients who will both be just fine in a week or so, but who for now are taking a grand total of seventeen pills at nine different intervals throughout the day. 

If anything like that happens, I'll let you know.

Now then, shall we begin?

All right, let's see if I can bring you up to date: the last time I mentioned anything concrete about a motor-vehicle in my possession, I believe I said that Chuck (TFT) was dead-dead-dead. This isn’t true. I thought he was demised because he up and spewed every last drop of transmission fluid all over the nice parking-garage floor. And, since I’d been waiting for the transmission to crap out on us for months – years, even – I chalked it up to the at-long-last-real-Big-One-Elizabeth, and took the bus.

Turned out to be a bad axle. I don’t know how an axle connects to the transmission to result in pink goo all over the ground, but George said it had something to do with temperature. He fixed it for around $150, and Chuck (TFT) was as good as new. Well, not new, but as good as — eh, you know what? He’s a Plymouth. He probably was just about as good as new.

But by that point I’d resolved myself to his ex-ness, and I had mixed feelings about him being fixed. See, we thought all along we were too poor to get a new car. The plan was that when Chuck (TFT) shat the bed (or the parking-garage, as it were), that would be it. We would join the indigent ranks of the great un-wheeled. But as I rode the bus for the few weeks before Chuck was miraculously revived, I realized that wheel-less-ness was not an option.

It takes twice as long to get anywhere on the bus, and I still had a Project to finish in my already-sparse spare time! Plus we had 50-pound bags of dog food to buy, for crying out loud! And not-as-big-bags-but-lots-more-of-them cat litter! We had mothers in the hospital to see! Dog parks to go to! Vet appointments to keep! And once in a while Johnny even had to go to work! Not to mention that a round-trip to New Haven on the train costs $90, and for my sanity I have to do that once a month! A year’s worth of that expense alone would more than pay for a replacement – even if you subtract out the cost of gas!

(Oh, and for you shrubby-types who might be out there: I want you to know that I did look into ZipCar. In fact, I got right up to the final stage of signing up, and I justified the monthly expense by telling myself I’d use it to take the Beast to the dog park twice a week. But at the last minute I read that you can’t bring pets in ZipCars without carriers – and something tells me any crate that holds a Great Dane/Black Lab cross ain’t fittin’ in the back seat of no pansy-ass Prius. Dad suggested I could put him in the back seat anyway, and just clean it out before I brought it back. As if! I’ve never cleaned the inside of my own car; I'll be damned if I’m detailing a freaking rental twice a week.)

So I’d gotten used to the idea of getting ... something ... when lo and behold Chuck (TFT) was suddenly, miraculously, back on his bald and permanently-misaligned feet. And then I found myself resenting the 150 bucks it cost to fix him. And the other 50 it cost in September. And the $100 in July. And the $90 battery we bought in June…

I may have all those numbers and dates slightly off -- y’all are free to peruse my archives and call me on them if you wish -- but the point is that we could’ve bought a new car (at least the kind of shitbox “new-to-us” car that we buy) with the amount of money we’d sunk into Chuck (TFT) in the last six months alone. Dammit! No more spending money on The Fucking Truck, then! We'd keep him for as long as he was running, but we needed to find the old bastard a suitable heir before he tried again to abdicate his throne.

So I got back behind the wheel of rickety old Chuck (TFT), albeit trepidatiously, while Johnny put the word out among our faithful Car Guy friends that we were in need of... something. Something big enough to hold the dog and me and Johnny, plus maybe a cooler and a case of beer. Something available right now. Something neither too swish nor too Jed Clampett.

And preferably something close to free.

To be continued! 
Aw, go on, you know you love it.
Fine, then, shall I tell you about Johnny's colon?
Then suck it up.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Lookit Me!

I know I said I'd tell you about the New Car -- and I will, tomorrow -- but today I have exciting news!

Do you like this wee ceramic dragon?

Do you want to read a totally-made-up-by-me story about why he is Significant?

You do?


Go here, then!

And if the story makes you laugh (which why wouldn't it, really? I mean, it was totally-made-up-by-me, after all), then you can go here and buy the dragon!

Or, well, you know: bid on it. There's no guarantee you're going to win. After all, I'm sure there are countless billionaires out there who would like to support 826 National by purchasing a ceramic dragon figurine which will surely someday be pricelessly collectible as the very earliest piece of Erin Griffen Ellia-related memorabilia.

Unless, that is, the dreaded Gnome shows up on eBay with all my mysteriously-missing Underpants...

Ooh, ooh, and? If you're a tweeter, or a blogger, or a facebooker? Would you be so kind as to spread the word? Let's see if we can't get the dragon to sell for hundreds of dollars! I got the assignment the day my mother died, for heaven's sake! And it's a literacy-related charity, to boot! So pass it on!

Do it for Su!

(How about this: for every ten dollars it sells for, I promise not to play the "my mom died" card in this space for one week. No more crying at your desks, people! Come on!)

Monday, January 11, 2010

Hey! Cross Your Fingers and Toes!

Some Monday Morning thoughts, in no particular order:

1. When you go away for two days and come home to find a dry, hard sponge beside the sink and no dirty dishes in it, that's a good sign your husband hasn't eaten since you left.

2. Except he raved about the t-bone steak you left him, so what gives?

3. What he has most definitely not done, though, is smoke in the house. Or, as far as I can smell, the porch.

4. And what he has done is this:

Shoveled a path around the yard so the Dog can have a pee without getting his bandaged foot wet. Ain't he a dear? Maybe I should put in a supply of t-bone steaks.

5. Oh! Speaking of which! The vet called! The Dog-parts got the All Clear! Not a drop of cancer, anywhere!

6. I officially named the New Car yesterday, and will at long last tell the tale of how she came to be ours in this Very Special Space on Wednesday.

7. The New England Patriots ought to be lined up against a wall and shot -- as Johnny would say -- with balls of their own shite. That includes Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, but does not include Wes Welker or Brandon Meriweather. It almost did not include Kevin Faulk, but then he caught the suck. One shite-ball for #33. See if you can hang on to that one.

8. And last, but far from least: Ahem.

Today is The Day.

Please to be repeating after me:

O elvis who art King,
Lift up my spirits
Fill my heart with song
Love me tender
Protect me from those who would do me harm
And keep my blue suede shoes
Forever from impurity


Saturday, January 9, 2010

Dateline: New Haven

You folks know I love my husband, yes? For richer, poorer, sickness, health, and all that jazz? So you understand that, when I say I have to kill him, it’s roughly 98% hyperbole? And that, if he should happen to "disappear" in the near future, I never said anything of the sort.

His New Year’s resolution was to give up smoking, see. And, in what I think will stand as the biggest understatement of the week-old decade: it isn’t going well.

Scene: AssVac kitchen, about a week before Quitting Day.

Me: So, um, Honey? If you should happen to fail in this attempt—

Johnny (determined): I won’t.

Me: Okay. Good! But I’m just saying: if you do… will you at least promise not to smoke in the house anymore?

Johnny: grumble mumble piss moan

Me: What?

Johnny: Fine. Okay. Doesn’t matter, ‘cause I’m not going to fail.

Actual time it took Johnny to break his resolution, not counting the time he was asleep: Five hours.

Scene: everywhere, every day since:

Me (raising nose in air and following acrid odor to its little Irish source): Honey? Why are you smoking? And in the house?


Scene: Dr. One Friend’s house, this weekend.

Me: I’m so glad I came down here this weekend, Dr. One Friend. Otherwise I might have to kill my husband.

Dr. One Friend: Let’s order pizza!

He is trying. Very trying. And he did finally agree not to smoke in the house. He does it on the porch now – the enclosed porch – but at least that’s something. Baby little Irish steps, I always say.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Old Christmas

The following is actually a first draft of something I planned to tweak a lot (as in, you know, actually finish) when I got home from work this afternoon. But instead of getting home from work this afternoon, I spent six hours in psych emergency getting my Lady re-admitted to the loony bin. Yeesh. And here I thought this shit was over with for now. I tell you what: y'alls had better pray out loud the damn dog don't have cancer.

Oh yeah, that was not a joke: the dog might have skin cancer. Let's hear it for 2010 so far!


Day two is a bit too early to reneg on my posting-every-other-day New Year's resolution, though -- so here it is, in all its rough-hewn glory. Think of it as a little glimpse, for all you budding me-scholars out there, into the inner sanctum of my "writing process" (for which read, as My Lady said today: "what happens when you take colace").

And now, if you'll excuse me, I gots to get some potato chips to go with this champagne... 

.             . 

I had a sort of epiphany this year about the tree...

Actually, this year, I didn't plan on having one at all. I know you're probably getting tired of hearing about it, but Mom died three weeks before Christmas, and at first my heart just wasn't in it. Forget it, I thought. With no children to disappoint, why even bother? But the big-hearted kid I'm married to insisted.

He said we had to. He said it wouldn't be right. He said Mom wouldn't like to hear we didn't have one -- and especially not if I blamed it on her. So I gave in. A little bit out of survivor's guilt, but mostly to avoid the first post-funereal marital scrap.

It didn't work, of course. We were fighting before we pulled in to the lot. But that was only because I said he could chose where we bought it (seeing as how I didn't want a damn tree in the first place, what did it matter) and he said he didn't care -- but then, as soon as I turned left to go to the place I like that always has the super-best trees in the world, he went and muttered something about how he really liked the folks who ran the garden center up the road.

"Well, why couldn't you have just said that in the first place?" I hollered as I drove 360 degrees around the rotary and back over the bridge. "I swear to god, you're such a girl sometimes!"

And we were off.

We sat in the parking lot, fighting in the car for so long that we set the alarm off when we finally got out (oh yeah, the new car has an alarm. Seriously, I've got to tell you about the new car one of these days. And also name it.). Then I sulked around the edges of the lot and let him choose the tree. It was late in the season and there weren't many left, but he managed to find one I would deem particularly ass. I would, that is, if I gave a shit. But I didn't. If the big girlie I married was going to insist we have a goddamn tree this year, it made sense that it should be Charlie-Browny. So yes, Virginia, we can have the too-small one with the big, wing-like tumor of a branch sticking weirdly out the side. That's great. I love it. But next year we're going to the place I want to go.

Well, needless to say, by the time we got it home and put it up, the fight was over and it wasn't all that Charlie-Browny after all. Or tiny, either.

That's it now, you understand. After it was up for three weeks and I took the decorations off it yesterday. So as you can see, I may have been a bit irrational in my seething disparagement of it on the lot. But I do usually get one a little bigger, a bit wider around -- in that same corner, it usually extends out past the doorjamb. That's irrational also, I realize, but what do you want me to say? When it comes to Christmas shit, I'm usually a giant girlie too.

In fact, my first epiphany ten years ago was brought about by just that girlitude. I used to always put it up the day after Thanksgiving, see. Couldn't wait to digest my pumpkin pie and haul out the boxes (of which there were more and more every year) of Christmas crap. Johnny's tradition, however, is to take it down on Twelfth Night -- which I've always called King's Day and he knows as Old Christmas, so I'm compromising (see? I can) -- and after dismantling a couple seven-week-old tinderboxes, I decided that putting it off fourteen days or so was a minor sacrifice, compared to having old Tannenbaum spontaneously combusticate  my living room.

This year's epiphany -- which I remembered as I tucked them away -- was that, on a small(er) tree, I didn't have to hang up everything. After the poor blue spruce (or whatever) sat naked as a Na'Vi* for the best part of a week and I finally worked up the nerve to fetch the box, I realized that the best way I could have a tree this year and still honor the memory of Mom, was to hang only the ornaments that meant something. To her, to me, or just to Johnny -- who, god bless his girlie heart, was with her when she went, and sang her out.

So I hung the wee glass pool balls that she gave me when I used to be a shark.

But I left the black one in the box.

I hung the ones made out of wax -- a Jesus, an angel, and this heart:

Mom had them for decades, they've been mine for about one. 
I don't know how they've survived in Destructo's attic.

I hung the plastic apples...

Because you have to hang an apple on your tree. 
It's like a law.

...even the fuzzy one.

But why is it fuzzy? Is it supposed to be mold? 
And why is one leaf fuzzy but the other one is not? 
These are Christmas mysteries we'll never solve.

I hung the funny little Santa-mouse.

I have no idea where he came from or what his story is, 
but he gets special dispensation for his wrong-way candy-cane 
because he's just so oh-my-goodness cute.

I hung the baby Jesuses in wee beds that we made together out of empty walnut shells, back when we were too poor to buy ornaments.

The actual baby was really just a head made out of salt-and-flour dough. He got moldy and disintegrated sometime in the eighties, and ever since they've just been little tiny beds with memories.

I didn't so much hang the worse-for-wear, dead-looking bird, so much as I wired him into place.

 Also the mushroom in the upper right-hand corner. 
I meant to take a picture of it by itself, but I forgot.

I hung the pipe-cleaner snowman that Mrs. Fisher made for me when I was two. Mrs. Fisher lived across the street from us in Mom & Dad's first apartment. She made one of these for each of us Ellia babies.

And yes, I know that snowmen aren't orange. 
What's your point?

And of course I hung the paper Ginger Guy I cut-and-pasted by myself in nursery school.

When I wanted to fix him up a bit a few years later, 
give him cleaner edges and what-not, 
Mom said I would have to do it over her dead body... 

But you know what? 
I think I'll leave him as he is.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

We'll Take a Cup o' Kindness Yet

I didn’t actually drink all that much on New Year’s Eve, considering. We were unexpectedly at a friend’s house, and I don’t think I had four beers in four hours. I don’t know how that sounds to you, but for me it’s an hors d’ouevre.* A liquid snack, if you will. A little sip to tide me over till the sit-down meal begins...

*As of today, I’m calling ollie ollie oxen free on the spelling of hors deuorve. I can’t spell it, no matter how many times I try, and I’m sick to death of looking it up. My Microsoft Word thesaurus doesn’t recognize it, but suggests that I try “horsy oeuvre” instead – which is certainly funny, but even I know it’s not right. So from now on I’m leaving it in whatever wrong-ass incarnation my typey fingers can come up with, and I’ll put an asterisk or a [sic] or something, for newcomers and any random Frenchmen who happen to wander by. So they all won’t simply give me up for dumb. Except I really don’t care about the random Frenchmen. Who asked them to spell things so vowel-wonky, anyway? Lingua franca my fat white mongrel ass...

Anyway, back to New Year’s Eve. God, I don’t even know if I can pull a story out of this one, but it is a new year after all, and it’s time to get back on the freaking horse. Every other day from now on, come what may.


Johnny and I have not been New-Year’s-Eve-ing people for a while. I believe I’ve rung the past few in by myself, in fact, and more likely than not on the throne: I probably just got up to pee and – oh, hey, Happy New Year, toilet paper, my old friend!

This year, though, was different. I realize you all might not be aware of this, because you know how I do like to be discreet about my private life, but last year SUCKED, I couldn’t WAIT for it to end, and I wanted to WITNESS the damn thing counted down. I wanted to be here at the stroke of midnight to burn the sage, cleanse the house of evil spirits by throwing open all the doors, and tell 2009 not to let them hit it on the ass on the way out.

The plan was that I would stop on the way home from work to get the sage, then I would have a nap to ensure I'd be able to see midnight (I may have been determined as all get out, but the physical does have a bitchy way of interfering, after all). At around six we’d head over to the Smyth’s house to deliver the crumpet bread that Johnny made for the kids’ New Year’s Day breakfast, then we’d come home and get shitty and give the past twelve months a decent, blood-soaked, bollocks-to-ya Irish Wake.

Except it was snowing and I was in a hurry and so I completely forgot about the sage. And the crumpet bread-dough wasn’t rising as fast as it usually does. And I decided to have a few beers in the afternoon in lieu of my midnight-guaranteeing forty winks...

We called the Smyth’s to say we would be late. Then called back to say we’d be later, and did they mind if we brought the dog? That second phone call went unanswered, but we figured what the hell. If they weren’t home, it didn’t matter if we brought the dog, and if they were, well, we knew for certain that the kids wanted to meet him – and who could possibly say no to those kids? Besides, we were hand-delivering not just the crumpet bread we’d promised, but a whole passel of home-baked yum – two kinds of Irish bread, two crumpet breads, and blueberry pie. They were hardly going to tell us to leave the dog in the car when we showed up with all that! And anyway, we were only going to stay for twenty minutes. Half an hour, tops.

“Hang on,” said Johnny once we were all in the car. “Pop the trunk while I run back in and grab the dog bed.”

Yeah, okay. Because, I mean, the physical must interfere for black dogs, too, right? And half an hour is a long time to stand up...

Needless to say the poocher was a huge hit, not only with the kids but with the grown-up Smyths and neighbor-ladies, too. One of them kept wondering how he’d get along with her pet named, I don’t remember, “Cinnamon” or something, and I assumed it was a dog until she showed a picture of what I swear to god was Morris from the Fancy Feast commercials. I assured her the two of them wouldn’t get along at all. Charlie’s been here for six months and he still chews ferociously on his rawhide bone whenever Dodo Boy Cat wanders by. Sister, the wiser of the two by far, mostly just stays in the master bedroom, being mad.

Anyway, before I knew it the clock said it was 10:30, then 11:00, and then twenty-five minutes to twelve. I really did want to be home to throw wide the gates and let loose the hounds of hell, but suddenly it was 11:55 and Gerry was explaining to Johnny how much easier it would be if we just stayed. Jennifer, though, took one look at my war-torn face and said “Go. Go now. You’ll make it,” while helping gather up all our stuff, right up to and including the Dog.

Johnny tried to pull the old “You’re drunk, we’re staying” routine – which is fair enough in real life, and usually spot on. But it’s extra-super-double-plus annoying when the “you” in question is the only one of “we” that drives a car. Try being the lifetime designated-driver to an Irishman, whose poison of choice is Bud, and who (perhaps these three facts are related?) has more than a few friends who’ve done dumb things on the road. See if you don’t want to spit in his dilated eye when he insists that four beers in four hours is too much.

(And if anyone out there agrees with him, I’m sorry, but I’m not going to talk about how much I weigh, or how long it's been since I had an empty stomach. It’s a sensitive subject at the moment – and either or both may or may not be directly related to my tolerance (and recent need) for beers – so you’ll just have to trust me. I was fine.)

Now, wouldn't it be fun to hear how we sped home through reveling crowds and screamed into our driveway just in time? It would be, but it isn't true. None of it. I drove like an old lady (no sense tweaking fate), the streets were dead and cold (seriously, where was everybody?), we didn’t make it on time (more on this later), and we don’t even have a driveway anymore (okay, we do, but Chuck (TFT) is in it -- ooh, remind me to finally tell that story soon -- and it’s cordoned off with this green plastic sort of mesh, so that Charlie can Tigger around the yard to his bouncy-bouncy heart’s content. And anyway, I couldn’t scream into it on the way home even if it was clear and empty, because it’s roughly a 340-degree turn. I’d have to be Luke Duke to pull it off. When I do park there, I either make a cautious three-point about-face, or else drive past and back very slowly in – more Miss Daisy than Luke Duke. Except Miss Daisy didn’t drive, so I guess that makes me Morgan Freeman and Johnny is Miss Daisy. Which is the best place I can think of to end this wee diversion, how ‘bout you?)

So, no. The stroke of midnight found us sitting at the red light by the medical supply store. Johnny was bursting for a pee, the dog was whining, exhausted from all those hours of fun with the kids, and I was hoping against fervent hope that evil spirits could be roused and convinced to vacate the premises at 12:04.

I don’t know if they can or not – I suppose only time will tell – but I sure tried. I rolled up, very soberly, to the curb outside the AssVac and bounded out of the car into the house. Not bothering to pull the front door shut behind me, I dashed through to throw open the back. The dog thought this was all great fun and went bounding out into the blue-moonlight while I fumbled with the little metal prop-it-open thingy on the screen-door’s pneumatic hinge. He barked and barked and barked – ostensibly at nothing whatsoever, but the possibility that he was bidding good riddance to evil spirits convinced me to prop up a couple windows for good measure, storms and all. Before I did, though, I had the presence of mind to make sure the cats were safely shut up in the master bedroom --


I hope the evil spirits aren’t in there...

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Ooh, I Forgot!

You might should like to see the inspiration behind the title of the fifteen-part series about my schmortage?

It comes from a poem by a 19th-century American poet named Will Carleton. It is waaay past old enough to be protected by copyright, so I present it here in its entirety with a 99.44% Ivory-pure conscience...

So, without further ado...

[The Tramp’s Story]

by: William McKendree Carleton

If experience has gold in it (as discerning folks agree),
Then there’s quite a little fortune stowed away somewhere in me,
And I deal it out regardless of a regular stated price,
In rough-done-up prize package of common-sense advice;
The people they can take it, or run round it, as they please;
But the best thing they’ll find in it is some words like unto these:

Worm or beetle—drought or tempest—on a farmer’s land may fall;
But for first-class ruination, trust a mortgage ’gainst them all.

On my weddin’-day my father touched me kindly on the arm,
And handed me the papers for an eighty acre farm,
With the stock an’ tools an’ buildin’s for an independent start;
Saying, “Here’s a wedding present from my muscle and my heart;
And, except the admonitions you have taken from my tongue,
And the reasonable lickin’s that you had when you was young,
And your food and clothes and schoolin’ (not so much as I could wish,
For I had a number eatin’ from a some’at scanty dish),
And the honest love you caprtured when you first sat on my knee,
This is all I have to give you—so expect no more from me.”

People’d said I couldn’t marry the sweet girl I tried to court,
Till we smilingly submitted a minority report;
Then they laid their theories over, with a quickness queer to see,
And said they knew we’d marry, but we never could agree;
But we did not frame and hang up all the neighbors had to say,
But ran our little heaven in our own peculiar way;
We started off quite jolly, wondrous full of health and cheer,
And a general understanding that the road was pretty clear.

So we lived and toiled and prepared; and the little family party
That came on from heaven to visit us were bright, and hale, and hearty;
And today we might ha’ been there, had I only just have known
How to lay my road down solid, and let well enough alone.
But I done commenced a-kicking in the traces, I confess;
There was too much land that joined me that I didn’t yet possess.
When once he gets land-hungry, strange how ravenous one can be!
‘Twasn’t long before I wanted all the ground that I could see.

So I bought another eighty (not foreboding any harm),
And for that and some down-money put a mortgage on my farm.
Then I bought another forty—fired some cash to fix up new—
And to buy a covered carriage, and of course the mortgage grew.
Now my wife was square against this, ‘tis but right that you should know
(Though I’m very far from saying that I think it’s always so):
But she went in hearty with me, working hard from day to day.
For we knew that life was business, now we had that debt to pay.

We worked through spring and winter—through summer and through fall—
But that mortgage worked the hardest and the steadiest of all;
It worked on nights and Sundays—it worked each holiday—
It settled down among us and it never went away.
Whatever we kept from it seemed a’most as bad as theft;
It watched us every minute, and it ruled us right and left.
The rust and blight were with us sometimes, and sometimes not;
The dark-browed, scowling mortgage was forever on the spot.
The weevil and the cut-worm, they went as well as came;
The mortgage staid forever, eating hearty all the same.
It nailed up every window—stood guard at every door—
And happiness and sunshine made their home with us no more.

Till with failing crops and sickness we got stalled upon the grade,
And there came a dark day on us when the interest wasn’t paid;
And there came a sharp foreclosure, and I kind o’ lost my hold,
And grew weary and discouraged, and the farm was cheaply sold.
The children left and scattered when they hardly yet were grown;
My wife she pined an’ perished, an’ I found myself alone.
What she died of was “a mystery,” an’ the doctors never knew;
But I knew she died of mortgage—just as well’s I wanted to.
If to trace a hidden sorrow were within the doctor’s art,
They’d ha’ found a mortgage lying on that woman’s broken heart.

Two different kinds of people the devil most assails:
One is the man who conquers—the other he who fails.
But still I think the last kind are soonest to give up,
And to hide their sorry faces behind the shameful cup;
Like some old king or other, whose name I’ve somehow lost.
They straightway tear their eyes out, just when they need ‘em most.
When once I had discovered that the debt I could not pay,
I tried to liquidate it in a rather common way:
I used to meet in private a fellow-financier,
And we would drink ourselves worth ten thousand dollars clear;
As easy a way to prosper as ever has been found;
But one’s a heap sight poorer when he gets back to the ground.
Of course I ought to ha’ braced up, an’ worked on all the same;
I ain’t a-tryin’ to shirk out, or cover up from blame;
But still I think men often, it safely may be said,
Are driven to temptations in place of being led;
And if that tyrant mortgage hadn’t cracked its whip at me,
I shouldn’t have constituted the ruin that you see.
For though I’ve never stolen or defaulted, please to know,
Yet, socially considered, I am pretty middlin’ low.

I am helpless an’ forsaken—I am childless an’ alone;
I haven’t a single dollar that it’s fair to call my own;
My old age knows no comfort, my heart is scant o’ cheer,
The children they run from me as soon as I come near.
The women shrink and tremble—their alms are fear-bestowed—
The dogs howl curses at me, and hunt me down the road.
My home is where night finds me; my friends are few and cold;
Oh, little is there in this world for one who’s poor and old!
But I’m wealthy in experience, all put up in good advice,
To take or not to take it—with no difference in the price;
You may have it, an’ thrive on it, or run round it, as you please,
But I generally give it wrapped in some such words as these:

Worm or beetle—drought or tempest—on a farmer’s land may fall;
But for first-class ruination, trust a mortgage ’gainst them all.