Horribly True Tales from the Drunken Trucker

Often horribly true things happen to me. Often they are funny, but only in retrospect. These are but some of those tales.

Horribly True Redesign

I’ve had this WordPress version of my website for a couple of years now, and it’s gone through some alterations here and there.  At one point I’d had a theme that allowed me to conveniently organize my 40 plus Horribly True Tales in a manner that allowed for easy navigation.  You could see all of the HTT title displayed in one place, giving you a better idea of what they were about rather than having to scroll through page after page as if they were originally written as blog entries.

Recently, my sister-in-law and biggest Horribly True Fan of all time, Amber, requested I do a reading of one of the stories.  And when I went to try and find one I could barely make any sense of how to find the one I was looking for.  Not sure what happened, but somewhere along the way one of my redesigns inconveniently ditched the convenient all titles on display feature.

So I’ve added them all back on the main Horribly True Tales page.  There you’ll find  list of all of the tales in reverse chronological order.  (I’d love to have some sort of widget that would allow me to make them sortable, but so far my coding skills have not allowed this.)

Furthermore, let it be hereby noted that during a recent spelunking session into the depths of my hard drive, I found a handful of previously unpublished horribly true tales in draft form.  Most are in pretty good shape already, but did not see publication for various reasons.  I have also located a number of Horribly True Tale worthy stories I’d written for previous blogging efforts, some of which involve lost tales of our dogs, that I plan to publish as well.  And, as if that weren’t enough, there’s a horribly true Alaska tale or two to come as well.

SO keep your eyes on this space for all new/old horribly true material.

“The Talkin’ Forgotten ID, Spare Key, Short Term Parking, Tex-Mex Blues”

We try to get to Texas to see my sister on a semi-annual basis.  We don’t get to see her much beyond this.  So every year or two we hold a family reunion in Austin and my parents often drive over from Mississippi to join up.  We all love Austin.  It’s an outstandingly cool city (except in the summer, which is why we try to go in March when you can breathe).

Last week, the wife and I loaded up and headed for the airport, a nearly two hour drive away.  (I’m going to be vague here about the exact location of said airport, for reasons that will become apparent by the end.)  Somehow we’d managed to get a flight at 11:30a, which meant we didn’t have to be there until 10:30a instead of at the ass crack of dawn as our last several flights have required.  We left the house round 8:30, grabbed some breakfast on the drive, and scooted on down the interstate.  We knew we would be squeaking into the airport right around 10:30, the requisite hour before our flight.  As we were pulling off the interstate to head toward the airport itself, the wife gave a sudden intake of air and then uttered the words no one ever wants to hear before a long journey:

“Oh, no,” she said.

Her tone was grave.

“What?” I said.  “WHAT?!  WHAT IS IT!?” I then followed up, after seconds of her silence had passed.

“I don’t have my wallet.”

More silence.

“What?”

“I don’t have my wallet.  I left it at the house.  It’s in my other bag, on the kitchen counter.”

We went through the usual “Are ya sure?” business, but only halfheartedly because we both knew it was true.

“What are we going to do?” I said, continuing to drive like a madman for the airport.  My thought was that we had to get there quick and acquire 100 percent confirmation that a lack of the required government-issued photo ID was truly the deal-breaker we knew it would be–you know, on the off chance that we’d slipped into an alternate reality where it wasn’t.  The wife whipped out her phone and called our niece, K.T., who was watching the house.  The wife explained to K.T. that she (K.T.) would need to quickly leave work, rush home, grab the wife’s wallet and hit the road in our direction, probably to meet us to exchange it at some mid-point yet-to-be-determined.  She said “us,” but I was already revising that to “her,” as there was nothing stopping me from getting on the plane since I had my ID in my pocket where it always is.  (Tex Mex awaited, after all, and wasn’t going to eat itself.) We’d purchased the tickets directly from Delta, so one of them could be changed to a later flight–yet another reason to continue our trek to the airport.

Within a few minutes, we reached the airport and swung into the closer-to-the-check-in-desks 20 minute parking lot for what we thought would be a very short visit.  We explained our major error of the morning to the two nice ladies at the Delta check-in desk. We would not have been surprised if they’d laughed at us, but they were actually quite sympathetic.  The decision of what ID would be acceptable was not up to them, however, but instead up to the TSA down at security.

“You could try showing them your registration and insurance,” one of them said with a shrug.  “They might take that.”

The wife rushed back to the car for any proof of identity she could find there while I went ahead and checked our bags, both under my name.  The ladies were even kind enough to waive the second bag fee.  Soon the wife returned with a fistful of papers and we lugged our carry on down to TSA where the wife presented them with her car registration, her wildly expired proof-of-insurance paper, and her library card, none of which had a photo.  TSA’s response upon seeing these was, and I’m paraphrasing, “Yep.  That’ll do.”  And they escorted us right on through to the area with all the conveyor belts and x-ray machines, where we were asked for our shoes.

We went right through the rest of security with no problems, were soon on board the plane, and had left the ground behind on our way to our layover destination in Charlotte.  It was not until we were coming in for a landing in Charlotte that the wife looked across the aisle at me and said more words no one wants to hear in our situation:  “Do you remember where we left the car?”

I mouthed a very rude word beginning with an F as I realized we’d left our vehicle in 20 minute parking.  We were now well and truly EFFed.

We sat in silence as the plane taxiied to its gate, unsure of what if anything might be done to fix this EFFing.

“You should call them and see what we can do,” the wife said.

“Oh, no,” I said.  “I believe YOU should be the one to call them.”

She did.  The folks she spoke to told her that the car was still there in 20 minute parking, though they seemed a little surprised by this as vehicles left in the 20 minute parking lot for periods longer than the specified time limit were supposed to be towed.  Visions of huge tow fees, as well as expensive taxi-trips to impound yards that would more than likely be closed when we arrived, danced through my head.  The airport person fortunately assured us they usually only tow cars over to airport short-term parking, though they did also still charge the enormous tow fee.  At least we wouldn’t have to go off site.  The wife told them that if they could hold off on towing the car, we could probably get our niece to come move it.  Could they give us a couple of hours?  Or maybe six?  They generously said they’d give us til 10 p.m.

“How much are we going to have to pay K.T. to do this?” the wife asked.

“Mmmm… $200?” I said.  Felt like incentive enough to make a round trip four hour journey and essentially lose most of the day she would otherwise be paid to work at her job–assuming she could even get the time off.  I then wondered aloud how much the tow fee would be, as it potentially could have been cheaper to just let it be towed.  The wife did not know the fee, but said it also potentially could be far higher, which I decided was the safer bet when it came to airport tow fees.

Unfortunately, K.T. said there was no way she could get off work to race home, find our spare key and then take a four hour round trip journey.

“I’ll give you $300 if you leave right now,” the wife said.  No dice.  K.T. was seriously trapped at work, but said that when she got off work, she would indeed go home find the key and race to the airport.

Now, here’s the thing about the spare key to the car: I didn’t know precisely where it was located.  Oh, I had some ideas, sure, but couldn’t recall its location with the kind of certainty you might think wise.  You see, there used to be two spare keys to the wife’s car: one that had key fob buttons built into it, which lived in the copper catch-all dish atop my dresser, and a second master key that had a gray plastic body and no fob buttons which also lived in the same copper dish.  However, a few weeks back, when I went to find said spare key it was missing from the dish and only the master key remained there.  My memory at that point was of taking the master key out of the copper dish, announcing to the wife that it was now being put in a safe place, announcing where that safe place was to be located, then placing the key immediately in that safe place, and walkin’ away.  Only I now could not recall the location of the safe place.  It was very safe indeed.  I had fuzzy memories of a wooden box, perhaps like the one on the wife’s dresser, where she keeps spare change from foreign lands.  Or the wooden box within a wooden box within a wooden box also atop my dresser.  Or possibly the junk drawer in the kitchen.  Or maybe the cat’s butt.  But which cat?  I didn’t know.  So we texted all of these possible locations to K.T.

Hours later, after we’d arrived in Austin and were chilling with my sister and her family, K.T. phoned.  To our disbelieving ears, the spare key was to be found in none of the places we’d suggested.  I brainstormed more places, offering up the junk drawers in the laundry room; the copper dish on my dresser; a different wooden box; the drawers in the dressing table by the front door; the surface of the wife’s dresser; the dining room table that is perpetually covered in junk mail and teetering piles of paper; the various bowls containing assorted paperclips and junk on the shelves of the sun room; my underwear drawer; the other cat’s butt; and was K.T. truly certain she’d checked the junk drawer in the kitchen?  She swore she had torn all of these places apart, as well as others not mentioned, and the only keys she had found anywhere were ones to my car as well as a fob for a car we no longer own.  Apparently, our vehicle was to remain in 20 minute parking that night.  Which, from all indications, meant it would be towed come 10 p.m.  We could only pray the tow fee was less than $200.

The following morning, I hassled my wife until she called the airport again to learn to where our car had been towed and how much it was going to cost us.  It was a different person on shift, though, so she had to explain the level of dumbassery necessary to leave one’s car in 20 minute parking and fly away.  Eventually, she was told that her car remained in 20 minute parking.  If we could get someone to move it for us, the airport suggested, maybe we could avoid a towing.  The wife told them that getting it moved did not appear to be in the cards, we had just hoped for an update and maybe a bill total.  They said they’d see what they could do and might get back to us.  That was, naturally, the last we heard from them for the rest of the week.  And after hanging up, the wife announced it was also the last time she would be phoning anyone about the matter.  She was not going to let worrying about it ruin our vacation.  If they wanted to tow it, they could tow it and we’d just have to pay whatever they asked.  It wasn’t like they were going to blow it up, or something–they could only relocate it.  Whatever problems were created would be dealt with in the future, but that was for Future Us to be concerned about and Present Us should think of it no more til the end of the trip.  I had to grudgingly admit this made sense.  I didn’t like it, but it made sense.  So I stopped worrying about it, too.

The niece overnighted the wife’s wallet to her, so we could at least get home again and so she could have ID for margaritas.  Our vacation progressed and a fantastic time was had by all.  And the closest we came to dwelling on the matter were the multiple times we got to tell and retell the story as we met friends both old and new.  We laughed and laughed about how screwed we probably were, but how we were also not letting it get us down.

“I bet they just leave it in 20 minute parking,” my dad suggested.

“Yeah,” I said.  “They probably will.”

One week later, as we were coming in for a landing at our airport of original departure, I leaned over to the wife and said, “How bout I go deal with getting our luggage while you go find the car?”  She agreed.

Minutes later, I hadn’t even quite reached baggage claim when I got a text from her with the car’s location.  Just like Dad said, it was still very much parked in 20 minute parking.  I popped outside real quick to see her approaching the car, which was practically the only one in the 20 minute lot.  Then I saw her pull a thick stack of parking tickets from beneath its windshield wiper.

Turns out we owed $25 per day in parking fines, which is $17 a day more than if we’d parked in long term parking.  In total, though, there were only $125 worth of tickets, which is only $70 beyond what long term would have been.  Turns out we had a sympathetic airport staff on our side.

When the wife went to pay the tickets, the airport police officer said, “Yeah, we just got lazy with that one.”  He said that the airport police and the airport policy makers have a bit of a disagreement with how to handle 20 minute parking violators.  Policy is to tow them to short term and charge a healthy tow fee on top of the price of the short term parking day fee.  He thought this was overkill, though, so they just decided to leave the car where it was and ticket us.

In the end, we came out ahead in a lot of ways.  I was almost glad that the niece hadn’t found the key, because that would have been $200 on top of the short term day fee, which probably would have meant we would have broken even with just having it towed.

As of this writing, the whereabouts of the spare keys remain unknown.

The Talkin’ New Mailin’ Address, Mailbox Full, Blues

Just got a letter from the U.S. Postal service, alerting us that our official postal mailing address is now the same as our physical address. We may start using it as our official mailing address for all mail correspondence and bills.

We are to never again, it said, use the old rural route and box number, never ever.

We are to update the DMV with the new address.

We are to update insurance policies with the new address.

We are to update our bank accounts with the new address.

We are to update our voter registration with the new address.

We are to update our Christmas card/Personal address lists with the new address. (I am making none of this up.)

We are to update our utilities with the new address.

Naturally, when I attempted to update our various utilities online, they, to a one, refused to accept the new address–at least, on the first try. Bank of America finally allowed me to force it in, but begged me not to. All others I tried gave me the finger.

And when I called the phone number for the local county contact in charge of assisting me with any concerns I might have, I got a message that said, with strain in its voice, “Mailbox full.”

Yeah.  This should go smoothly.

 

Copyright © 2015 Eric Fritzius

The Talkin’, Horrible Greedy Jerk Holy Grail, Three aMEGOs, Extra-Accessories, Sit-on-it-Lever, Plastic 401K Blues

There’s a short story by Neil Gaiman called Chivalry. It tells the tale of Mrs. Whitaker, a pensioner in England who visits her local charity shop and finds the Holy Grail beneath a fur coat. She recognizes it for what it is, buys it and takes it home to put it on her mantelpiece. And the very next day she begins a series of negotiations for its release with none other than Sir Galaad.

It’s one of my all-time favorite short stories, not only for its magical realism, but also because most of us can kind of sympathize. When searching among the usual things found at yard-sales, junk shops and flea-markets, most of us dream of discovering items of incredible rarity and value. What usually goes unspoken in this is our hope that the current owner of the rare item in question is unaware of its value. We might not even know the value ourselves, but we all secretly hope the thing we buy for a song will turn out to be priceless, or at least with a price hundreds of times greater than the price on its little round sticker, and that we can later sell it for a fortune on eBay, or perhaps, dare we hope, Pawn Stars. In other words, we’re all horrible greedy jerks out to cheat others out of the fortune that rightfully belongs to them.

I made a few of my own horrible, greedy jerk Holy Grail finds at the local flea market recently. They included three vintage MEGO action figures from the 1970s, complete with all their original accessories as well as some… not-so-original accessories.

Now, for those not in the know, MEGO was a toy company in the 70s and early 80s that produced a number of toy lines of 8″ tall articulated “action dolls.”  These were inspired by the original G.I. Joe toy-line—famous for giving boys in the late 1960s blanket permission to play with dolls—MEGO toys came similarly dressed in cloth outfits, with plastic footwear, weapons and accessories. The most memorable toy lines from MEGO were of DC and Marvel super heroes, a few of which I had as a kid. MEGO also had licenses for Star Trek, Planet of the Apes, and Logan’s Run among other action genres.  The most memorable toy line MEGO turned down the opportunity to produce was Star Wars.  Instead, Kenner Toys made a billion dollars on Star Wars while MEGO expanded into several lines of not-so-action figures based on 1970s TV shows, such as like Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, the Dukes of Hazard, and The Waltons.   Not surprisingly, MEGO went under by 1983. But before they were gone for good, I had a handful of their toys as a kid and they were among my favorites. They also, in proper condition, with the right accessories, tend to be lucrative to sell.

While I used to dable, I’m not really a toy collector anymore; well, unless you count my extensive number of toy and model TARDISes from Doctor Who. These I continue to buy as ongoing restitution to my inner 4th Grader for having no access to Doctor Who toys as a kid. My wife, on the other hand, views them as evidence of a mental disorder, but I digress.

IMG_20140519_115304_192The flea market booth was run by a lady I’d put in her late 50s who didn’t look like the typical vintage toy retailer. And while she did not have any Doctor Who MEGOS—which did exist, by the way, but only in England—she did have two card tables filled with a wide variety of toys primarily from MEGO’s western line, such as Buffalo Bill, Davy Crocket, Wyatt Earp, etc. There were also toys of the Lone Ranger and Tonto, which were made by a competing MEGO knock-off company called Gabriel. All of the dolls were loose, which is collector-speak for toys out of their original packaging, which automatically makes them less valuable to collectors. However, each of the dolls seemed to be dressed in its original cloth outfit and came sealed in a zip-lock baggie to help contain their various accessories. Finding MEGOs with accessories in the wild is a pretty rare thing. Actually… examining them a bit closer, a few seemed to have some accessories included that were not original to the toys, or sometimes even the time period of the setting the characters were from. There were small automatic weapons included with some of the western characters. And a Ninja Turtle sword, I was pretty sure, too. The Lone Ranger,  for instance, a MEGO figure I owned as a child, came packaged with his blue outfit, removable mask, hat, red sash, gun belt, silver revolver, and a tiny black Glock 9 mm pistol small enough to stash in his boot. Okaaaay. His kemosabe Tonto seemed to have only his original items, with headband, gun-belt, revolver, and moccasins. Each of the figures had a bit of wear on them, with chips in the paint of their hair, or minor stains on their clothes, but nothing too bad. They looked as though they had been played with, but lovingly cared for otherwise. And these amazingly well-cared for toys were priced at only $10 each.

It was cool seeing the Lone Ranger again. My own vanished long ago—no doubt during one of my dad’s culling sessions, instituted after he’d told my sister and I to clean up the toys in the living room for the 18th time and then finally just bagged it all up and hauled it to Good Will while we were at school. Still, I was absolutely not going to buy any of these doys—even as an investment. Then a third toy caught my eye and made me smile: Fonzie from Happy Days.

Some of you may not be old enough to remember the show Happy Days’ or its most memorable character Arthur Fonzerlli, a.k.a. Fonzie, a.k.a. the Fonz. Played by Henry Winkler, Fonzie was the coolest cat 1970s TV had to offer—cooler still than John Travolta’s Vinny Barbarino from Welcome Back Kotter. Fonzie was a greaser and semi-reformed motorcycle gang member who dispensed wisdom to the local high school kids. Fonzie was so cool that when he snapped his fingers girls would instantly flock to his side. He was so cool that juke boxes did his bidding with only a bump from his elbow. You’ve heard of the phrase “jump the shark”? It describes the moment in which a TV show starts to lose its creative footing and begins the downward slide toward cancellation. Well Fonzie originated that term by motorcycle jumping an actual shark in a water tank in the premiere episode of Happy Days 5th season in 1977. You might think that spelled the end for the show, but it actually lasted another six years beyond that! That’s the power of Fonzie’s coolness!

Among my first-grade peers, Fonzie was the MEGO figure to own. However, my dad evidently didn’t think I was cool enough to have a MEGO Fonzie, because all I ever got was MEGO Ralph Malph. (Similarly, I never had the Vinny Barbarino toy that Mattel made. I only rated Arnold Horshack. Thanks a LOT DAD!!!!) The MEGO Fonzie toy was the coolest. It was also one of the only MEGO figures with articulated hands, with fingers that could be folded back and a thumb that could be extended to make his trademark thumbs up “Ayyyyy!” stance. MEGO even made a version of the toy with a lever on his back that would fire one of his thumbs into “sit-on-it” position in under a quarter of a second.

The MEGO Fonzie at the flea-market was in remarkable shape for a 37-year-old toy. (You have no idea how painful that is to type.)  His articulated fingers were present and accounted for on his little plastic hands. He had both of his boots. He had his white t-shirt and his trademark leather jacket. He even had the “sit-on-it” lever. Now the Fonzie toy didn’t normally have accessories, but strangely this one did. It came packaged with a tiny machine gun.  “Eat lead, shark! Ayyyyyyy!”

I mentioned to the lady who ran the booth that I was pretty sure the machine gun wasn’t original to Fonzie, but I thought it was cool that he had it. She said, “Oh, I don’t know anything about them toys.” She then also admitted that she’d spiced a few of them up with new tiny weapons and accessories, but only because she had two shoeboxes full of plastic munitions without homes. She said the toys themselves had come from the estate of a guy who collected vintage toys and kept them in good shape. He was also possibly her nephew. He had also died tragically of a heart-attack at too young an age. His toys, the lady said, had been destined for the landfill until someone told her about them and his parents gladly gave them to her, scarcely believing anyone would want any of it. She was just hoping to sell them for $10 each.

My mind boggled at this, because $10 was a steal for almost any good-condition, clothed MEGO from the 70s, let alone ones that still had all their accessories. Perhaps sensing my boggle, the lady went on to note that while she herself knew nothing about “them toys,” an enterprising soul might purchase them and resell them on “that, um… that computer thing they got.”

“EBay?” I offered.

“Yeah. That’s the one,” she said with a nod.

I looked down to find myself suddenly holding a hook, a line and a sinker. However, I did not immediately pierce my own cheek with it and willingly leap into her boat. No, instead, I spent the next twenty minutes wandering around the flea market with my nose in my phone, looking up eBay prices and salivating. There was a Fonzie going for just under $80, and he didn’t even have boots. I found a Lone Ranger going in the $50 range, and a Tonto going for a bit less (racists!). Soon enough, I found myself back at the lady’s booth, handing her $30. She bagged up my toys and thanked me for my business. Then I took them home, lifted up the back of their tiny costume shirts and saw on their backs giant red letters reading: “Guess what, asshat, I’m a 2004 reissue!”

Yessir. Way back in ought four, some geniuses called Classic TV Toys bought the MEGO molds, and evidently the Gabriel molds, and began making new Happy Days and Lone Ranger toys for fun and profit. Sadly, today they’re all going for around $10 each on eBay.

It should be noted that the kindly lady at the flea market who probably scammed me never actually said these were original 1970s MEGO figures. In fact, she had repeatedly stressed that she didn’t know anything about them. And while I don’t know for certain that I was grifted, I pretty much did most of the heavy lifting for her. That’s how the really good cons tend to go. If it was a con, it was so skillfully executed that I don’t think I mind having been conned. It was almost an honor to have fallen for it.

Plus, I can’t be too mad. I mean, hey… I finally have MEGO Fonzie. And one with a machine gun.

Copyright © 2014 Eric Fritzius

The Talkin’, Bleeding Out the Yard, Snow Covered Meter, Pud Pipes’ Psychic Cornholing, Wade in the Water, Wade in the Water, Children, Fabulous Baker Brothers to the Rescue Blues (a Horribly Leaky True Tale)

This morning we were visited by a man from the water department.  The man knocked on the door at the crack of 10 a.m., stirring the dogs up and nearly making me spill my coffee on my PJs.  In fact, the wife and I were both still in our jammies, since she had the day off.  My PJs being the more street-worthy, I went to the door to see who it was and what he wanted.  After introductions, the man explained that he had come to read our water meter but couldn’t find it under the remains of the foot of snow that fell last week.  However, he continued, while he’d been walking along the driveway on his way to our front door to ask us about the location of said meter, he’d noticed that the water service line to our home was bleeding out into our side yard from, apparently, two separate locations.  He asked if we were aware of this?  We were not.  Or, at least, I wasn’t at first.  Then I flashed back to something I’d noticed a couple of days before.

I remembered that two days prior, while walking along the driveway myself, I had wondered why there were two huge bare patches in the thick layer of snow covering our sloped side yard.  They were bare patches that ran clear down to the property line, exposing a great tract of wet grass in the otherwise snow-packed yard.  It seemed to me to be caused by melt runoff from the snow on the driveway, as I could see water trickling in a sheet from near the top of the slope.  Seemed to be melting quite a bit, in fact, which was also odd given that it was 22 degrees outside.  But what did I know?  It made enough sense to me in the 3 seconds I devoted to thinking about it, so I just kept walking.

I had no sooner finished with that flashback, when I was hit by another one:  a memory of yesterday morning, when I went to make coffee only to find that the water pressure in the kitchen sink wasn’t quite what it normally is.  Ah, well.  These things sometimes take a while to warm up, my pre-coffee brain had informed me.  Shrug shrug shrug.

All of these are what you might call red flags.  Great, big, university-drill-field-flag-pole-sized red flags, draped down the side yard and bunched up in a wad in the sink.

“What’s going on?” the wife asked, as I returned inside and began racing to find some clothes.

“We’ve got burst pipes in the yard,” I growled.

“What?”

“That’s what the guy from the water department says.”

As I pulled on pants and boots, I told her about the bare patches.  She was not amused.

We both headed outside.  Sure enough, the bare spots I’d seen near the driveway were still there and water was coming up from the ground like a bubblin’ crude.  (Water, that is.  H2O.  The base of tea.)  The man from the water department explained that he’d been sent to investigate a leak after their sensors had flagged our particular hill as the source of a massive outpouring of water.

“What do we need to do?” I asked, quite panicked at the idea of the enormous bill we’d be receiving already and wanting to immediately stop it from climbing higher.

“Wellllllll,” the man said, taking far longer to say the word than necessary.  In fact everything he said after that was spoken at an infuriatingly glacial pace.  “When you get your water bill, see, what you’ll need to do is to call down to Peggy at the water department.  (Enormous pause)  You call Peggy and you let her know that you’d like to file a leakage claim for your water.  You won’t have to pay full price for it, cause it’s a leakage claim, but you’ll still have to pay some.  And, like I said, you’ll have to file a leakage claim…”

“No,” I said, interrupting, barely keeping my temper.  “What do WE NEED TO DO about the water pouring out of our yard right now?!”

“Ohhhhh,” he said.  “You probably need to cut the water off.”

If he’d been standing any closer, and if I was the kind of guy who went around punching people in the throat, he might very well have been punched in his.

“Yes,” I said, fingernails slipping one by one from my hold on the cliff’s edge of fury.  “But. What.  Do.  We.  Need.  To.  Do.  About.  Getting.  It.  Repaired?”  This was a first for us, having never experienced a pipe burst before, and I didn’t know if he needed call someone at the water department to send a team out to fix this, or if we were responsible for assembling our own team.  In retrospect, the answer really should have been obvious, but I’ve already provided evidence I don’t always notice the obvious.

“Wellllllll,” he said, “you’ll need to call a plumber.”  The man from the water department recommended Dave Davison (not his real name) who was “a real good plumber” and was actually a neighbor of ours, though not one we readily knew.  He also gave us the name of another plumber whom he said we should avoid at all costs.  In fact, he said that his department had received so many complaints about the man that it was now standard policy to just warn people not to use him.  As to cutting the water off in the interim, however, what we’d need to do was find the water meter.  Did we know, he asked, where it was?

“Yes.  It’s down on the corner of the yard,” I said pointing to the lower end of our acre, where it meets the driveway.  The meter was at the bottom of a 15 inch diameter pipe that was covered by a round mini-manhole of the same size, which was, at the moment, covered by at least half a foot of snow.

From his truck, the man from the water department fetched a shovel and a long white bar on a string, which turned out to be a metal detector.  I pointed him again to a six foot patch of snow, beneath which I knew the manhole to be located.   He walked over it, but his metal detector detected no metal except that of his shovel.

“Not finding anything,” he said.

“I think it’s further up here,” the wife said, pointing to a section of snow a few feet higher up the slope.

“No.  It’s in this area,” I said, circling my arm to indicate the original spot.  I couldn’t provide a specific location within my chosen section of ground, but knew it was within that part of the yard.  The man tried there again but still couldn’t find it.  So he began walking down the hill, further away from where the meter was located.  And, of course, he still wasn’t getting any hits.  Now I was well and truly pissed, but I knew I did not need to vent any anger at either of the two humans near me, no matter how annoyed I was that neither of them seemed to accept my estimation of where the meter was located.  Instead, I decided to vent my anger at the snow itself.

I stomped up the driveway in my crampon-wrapped boots and fetched my snow shovel, which I stomped back with, determined to find the meter myself.  I walked to the center of the area where I knew the meter was located and began chucking shovelfuls of snow with ferocity.  After a minute I’d uncovered nine or so small patches of yard.  My hope was to shotgun blast the area to catch the edge of the mini-manhole lid, rather than attempting a full on excavation.  My efforts, however, were not fruitful.

“I still remember it being up here,” the wife said.

“It’s not up there,” I said.  “I know.  I’m the one who has to mow over it.”

The man from the water department had continued on down the driveway, waving his metal detector bar over the narrowing patch of snow-covered grass along it, still finding nothing.  I was annoyed because his actions continued to call into question my knowledge of where my damn meter was located, but I decided to just let him go sick `cause A) I didn’t really want to deal with him anyway; and, B) because I wanted to be the one to uncover it, exactly where I’d been telling him it was, so I could quietly and passive-aggressively gloat about it.

“Do you want me to shovel?” the wife asked.

“No,” I said.  Shovel.  Shovel.  Shovel.  “I’m way too pissed off.”  Shovel.  Shovel.  Shovel.  “I need to do this.”

“How about dig some up here, then,” the wife said, pointing to her chosen area.  I knew for a fact that it wasn’t up there, but I’d demolished most of the manhole-sized chunks of snow from my area and still hadn’t found anything.  Hers had lots more snow, so I started shoveling further up the hill.  The man from the water department, meanwhile, had passed the midway point of the driveway and I could stand to keep quiet no more.

“Sir, I promise you, it is not down there,” I said.  “It is up here.”

The man agreed that it didn’t seem to be where he was looking, but he was operating on information from a guy who used to have the meter-reading route in our area and that guy had said it was on the driver’s side of the driveway if you were headed up it.

Yeah, it is, but it’s at the top of the driveway where our actual property begins, I angrily thought.  Shovel.  Shovel.  Shovel.

“How about let me dig,” the wife offered again.  Exhausted, I agreed.

The man returned with his metal detector and walked around with it in the area where the wife was digging.  It still wasn’t detecting anything.

“Hope it ain’t one of them aluminum lids,” he said.  “Was it silver?”

“No,” the wife said.  “It was kind of an iron color.”

He kept on detecting and she kept digging and the county’s water supply kept pouring out of the ground.

“I’m telling you it is not up there,” I said as calmly as I could manage.  “I know this.  I have to mow here.”  I then gestured, indicating the route I take along the edge of our yard, which runs me into the blackberry vines in the brush every time, but which is well above the meter that I don’t want to have to raise the blades of the mower to get over.   “This,” I said, still wildly gesturing to my route, “is above the meter.”

Perhaps sensing my slipping hold on sanity the wife moved to dig back in my chosen area, picking at the few patches of snow left there.  While she did, the man from the water department used his cell phone to reach the guy who used to have the meter route to ask him where the meter was again.  From the sound of it, the guy was telling him exactly where I’d already told him.

“Here it is, here it is!” the wife said.  The tip of the shovel had revealed the outer edge of a dark circle of metal, right at the edge of the brushline, just within the outer edge of the area I’d indicated.  I was too exhausted to grin in triumph.

The man from the water department read the meter, did some math, and announced that it had already poured over 109,000 gallons of water down the yard.  This made my knees weak.  He then showed us how to shut it off at the meter.  The wife and I decided that instead of immediately cutting off the water, we needed to return to the house and fill up our supply of water containers.  For all we knew, this would be a multi-day process to repair and we needed to have our ducks in a row.

“Wellllllll,” the man began again, slowly chewing over whatever else it was he wanted to say to us.  I turned and walked away, leaving the wife to listen.  I just couldn’t handle any more from him.  (And please note that I fully realize that my anger with him was essentially me being nutty, because he was a perfectly nice man and didn’t get snotty with us no matter how much reason he might have had to do so.  However, he was a perfectly nice man who was driving me nutty because he wouldn’t hurry up and get to the point of any of his sentences, increasing the amount of time our house had to bleed out.)

After the derecho storms of 2012, when our area was without power for a week, we learned that it’s always wise to have options when it comes to emergency survival gear.  We already owned a big blue 10 gallon water cube, left over from summers spent with an unreliable well, back in Princeton, so I grabbed that from the basement, along with a number of other water-dispensing containers in our apocalypse prep/camping supplies.  I started filling these, and then turned the process over to the wife, who had by then returned.  Soon every stew pot, soup kettle, canning boiler, tea pitcher and bathtub in the place was full of water.

I grabbed the yellow pages and began playing voicemail phone tag with our neighbor plumber first.  I eventually got through only to learn that he had over a month’s worth of jobs ahead of ours and would have to decline.  So I started at the top of the list of plumbers.  The first one listed also had a month of jobs ahead of us.  The second was the plumber we’d been warned against, so I skipped him.  The third, however, was that of a large regional plumbing company whose name I recognized and, for some reason, sent up warning signals in my head.

“Is there some reason I should have warning signals going off my head when I see the name Pud Pipes Plumbing?” (Again, not the real name, though it rhymes much the same.)

“I don’t know,” the wife said.

“I think we used them in Princeton and I think I remember not liking them,” I said.  I couldn’t quite recall the event in question, but they are one of the bigger plumbing outfits in the region, so I gave them a call.  Pud Pipes’ receptionist heard my plea and said she could have someone call me by 4p.  It wasn’t ideal, but at least it was a callback.

Having filled every possible container that could hold water, I went out and used a wrench to shut off the valve at the meter.

Pud Pipes called back before noon to get directions to the house and said they’d be there in 10 minutes.  It was around then that the wife then remembered something we’d been told by the previous owner of our house, which concerned the water service line.  Not long after we contracted on the house, there had been a similar pipe burst in the yard.  Our real estate agent, Jill, had told us that the homeowners, the Shaffers, were having it repaired, but not to be alarmed if we saw freshly dug dirt in the yard during our upcoming visit with the home inspector.  Weeks later, during the closing process on the house, Mr. Shaffer had told us that if we ever had any similar pipe problems we should be aware that he had constructed the house with a sheath pipe running underground from the basement to the edge of the driveway.  The service line was run within this pipe, so that if the line itself ever had to be replaced, the driveway and garage would not have to be dug up to do so.  The trouble was, it’s been two years since he told us this, so we’d forgotten the exact details.  We certainly HOPED the sheath pipe ran all the way to the yard, but maybe it only ran to the edge of the concrete garage floor?  We couldn’t recall.  So I phoned Mr. Shaffer to ask, but only got as far as the question when the Pud Pipes van pulled up, stirring the dogs into a slavering frenzy at the kitchen window.  I went outside to greet the plumbers while the wife tried to find a quiet place where she could talk to Mr. Shaffer.

The Pud Pipes plumbers were a guy in his 50s and a guy in his late 20s, though the guy in his 20s seemed to be the senior member of the team.  I led them over to the yard to show them the bare patches that were no longer pouring water.  The wife soon joined us.  The younger guy looked at the bare patches and began shaking his head.

“You do realize this entire line is gonna have to be replaced, right?  You do realize that?” he said.  “This ain’t something we’re going to be able to just repair,” he added ominously.

“No, we didn’t realize that,” the wife said.  “But we have to have water.”

The younger man walked along the driveway, still shaking his head.  To see him, you would think that the yard not only had a busted pipe but also a venereal disease.  The older guy stood by us, trying to make small talk by saying our house was really nice.  The younger man then wanted to know where our utilities connected to the house.  We pointed.  Did we have underground electric?  We nodded.  There followed more grave head-shaking and the wringing of hands.  The Pud Pipes guys walked down near the meter to confer with one another.  The wife and I similarly conferred at the top of the drive.

I asked her what Mr. Shaffer had said about the pipe.  She said that she hadn’t been able to hear him very well, because of the dogs, but it sounded as if the sheath pipe only extended to the edge of the garage and not beneath the pavement to the edge of the yard.  She based this on possibly having heard him say say that they built it that way so the garage floor wouldn’t have to be torn up.

“Are you sure?” I asked, still hoping for an under pavement pipe miracle.

“No.  I’m not sure.  The dogs wouldn’t shut up.”

The guys from Pud Pipes finished their quiet meeting and then asked to see where the water connected to the house, so we took them to the basement and showed them the service line poking out of the larger sheath pipe.  The younger guy shook his head some more in a way that suggested our service line not only had a venereal disease and that it was communicable.  The younger guy returned to the van, muttering something about having to dig through the driveway.  I wanted to tell him that wouldn’t be necessary, but I didn’t know for sure.  So I called Mr. Shaffer back to confirm our confirmation.  Turns out, I was right.  The sheath pipe did extend beneath the driveway.  We were saved!  Or, at least, our driveway was saved!

The younger man had retreated to the van to make a phone call, so I told the older man about the sheath pipe running the full length beneath the garage and driveway.

“Oh, that’s good, that’s good,” the older man said.  He immediately went to the van and knocked on the driver’s side window.  The younger guy, annoyed at the interruption, paused his phone call and rolled down the window to, but didn’t seem especially happy when told the good news.

Now, what I didn’t realize, until shortly after this,  was that the younger plumber was something of a plumbing clairvoyant.  Yessir, this kid had apparently been birthed with the God-given ability to psychically foreknow the installation history of any pipe with which he came into proximity.  And I know this because when he finally emerged from the Pud Pipes’ van, some minutes later, he announced that the break in our service line was not beneath the obvious leak points in the yard, but was instead located somewhere within the sheath pipe itself.  Furthermore, whoever had done the installation of said service line through said sheath pipe–either during the previous repair job or, hell, when the original pipe had been fed through the foundation itself–had probably jammed it in there good and cracked it in the process.  Yessir.   It was definitely broken off in that sheath pipe, which meant it was doubtful that they could use the sheath pipe to replace the line at all.

“But, the leaks are under the yard,” I said, pointing to the two giant bare patches a few feet away.

“Yeah, it’s all broken up down there,” the kid said, waiving an arm, indicating the entire length of the line from the meter to the house.

“But… the sheath line is already there,” I said.  “The previous owner installed it for just this possibility.  I don’t see what the problem is.”

The two of them hemmed and hawed over this, the older man backing up the younger man’s assertions at every turn.  Yes, evidently it’s just devilishly hard to get a length of one inch diameter PVC pipe to fit through a length of four inch diameter PVC pipe.  They saw this sort of thing all the time, the older man added.  Why they’d had this one job this one time, in Princeton, that took a day of trying and they still couldn’t get it through.  Yep.  Bottom line, we were looking at around $3,800 to replace the whole line.

I stared at him for a long moment.  This was one of those situations where I really really wanted to be able to call horseshit on them, but only had a gut feeling to go on and enough sense to know that the consignment of smelly organic matter I was being handed looked and smelled a lot like the rectum of a horse.  However, I was talking to two ostensible plumbing experts, so what did I really know?

I asked them to excuse me, and went into the house to inform the wife.  She also thought it smelled rather ripe.  Being an intelligent lass, she also pointed out that if the service line truly was broken off within the sheath pipe, we’d have a basement full of water, because the only thing plugging up the interior end of the sheath pipe was a little bit of insulation and water always seeks the easiest path.  I agreed.  More egregious to me, however, was that these guys had speculated up a $3,800 bill based on a glance at the yard.  And why were they so deadset against using the sheath pipe–the one part of this whole thing that seemed a guarantee to make their job easier?

“If you don’t want them to do it, don’t let them do it.  There are other plumbers,” she said.  “We haven’t called them all.”

I didn’t want to have to call them all.  I wanted the plumbers I’d already called to be worth a damn, or at least not try to scam me to my face.  Alas, it appeared not.

At the wife’s suggestion, I went outside to inform the Pud Pipes guys that we were going to seek a couple more estimates before making any decision.  I’m pretty sure they knew we were going to tell them to move along, because they were both in the van with the engine running.  They seemed neither surprised nor disappointed.

(After they drove away, I remembered my previous negative experience with their company.  Back when we lived in Princeton, our hall toilet developed a leaky gasket beneath one of the bolts that held the tank to the bowl.  Trouble was, because the bolt was on the tub side of the toilet, it was incredibly difficult to get both a wrench-grip on the nut at the top of the bowl and another wrench-grip on the bolt head within the tank itself.  And if you got both, you couldn’t get an angle that gave you any kind of torque without slipping off one or the other.  Eventually I figured out that the bolt and nut were pretty much fused by corrosion, but it took two days of me trying to wedge in there and force them to turn to learn that.  “Call a plumber,” the wife said, after we’d had an unsuccessful crack at it together.  We reasoned that a plumber would likely have a special tool that would allow them to do separate stuck bolts, so I looked in the phone book and called the plumber with the biggest ad, Pud Pipes.  Turns out they did have a special tool for freeing stuck bolts.  It’s called a Saws-All, a tool I already owned.  They slid theirs in between the tank and the bowl and sawed the bolt in twain.  They then replaced the bolt and charged me $200.  TWO HUNDRED DOLLARS!!!!!!!  For that kind of cash I could have bought a second Saws-All to go with the ONE I ALREADY OWNED, which I could have used to do the job myself.  It’s completely my fault that I didn’t think of doing so, but perhaps I would have had more incentive to come up with such a solution if I’d realized Pud Pipes was going to charge a king’s ransom to do the job.)

Back inside, I scanned back down the list of plumbers in the phone book.  It was a short list of seven, two of which had already turned us down, another being Pud Pipes, and a fourth being the plumber we’d been warned against by the water department itself.  I really didn’t want to call any of the others, either, because after Pud Pipes I was just not in a mood to trust anyone.  I needed a solid, reputable plumber.   And that’s when it occurred to me who I needed to call.

“Jill!” I said.  “I’ll call Jill!”

Jill is Jill Allman, our realtor.  In addition to being a joy to work with on buying the house, she’d been very helpful in the two years since whenever we needed advice on home-improvement specialists.  Ironically, the previous day, Jill had emailed to ask if I’d be willing to write a review of her real-estate services on Zillow.com.  And I’d readily written a glowing one, which had mentioned her willingness to offer advice on non-asshat service-professionals.  Here I was returning to the well of good advice, already.

I phoned Jill and told her our problem and how Pud Pipes was no longer an option.  She immediately warned us not to choose the guy the water department had already warned us against.  A number of people had warned her, too.  (I don’t want to say the actual name of the plumbing service, but, if you need another rhyme, it will only take a Mennett.)  Jill’s suggestion was Baker Home Services, run by a guy named Robert Baker and his brother Steve.  They weren’t listed in the phone book, but she had the number.

Steve Baker answered when I called.  I told him Jill had recommended them gave him the short short version of our problem, concentrating on the leaks and the sheath pipe, leaving out Pud Pipes.  Knowing it might take a while for them to find time to come out, I added that we had plenty of water stored up inside, so we could survive.  Steve asked the kind of questions you’d hope to hear from a reputable plumber who was out to diagnose what was actually wrong with your pipes.  He also noted that because ours was an emergency situation, he and his brother could come out in about an hour.  He sounded friendly and concerned—two qualities I look for in a plumber.

“I like that guy!” I told the wife, after hanging up.  “I feel good about this already.”

True to their word, Robert and Steve drove up in their van in about an hour.  In person, Steve was as friendly and warm as he’d sounded on the phone.  Robert even moreso.  They both shook my hand and came across as very chill fellows meeting a friend of a friend for the first time, ready to help.

I showed them to our leaks, now just muddy grass patches.  The Baker brothers didn’t shake their heads in despair at the sight.  I then showed them to the basement and pointed to the service line in its sheath pipe, as well as its in-house shut-off valve.  They made no proclamations about sheath lines being plumbing death.  In fact, Robert noted that our one inch PVC service line was typically some of the strongest stuff on the market and unlikely to rupture unless it was somehow sheared off, or crushed, or broken at a joint.  And at the depth it was usually buried, freezing shouldn’t really be an issue unless there were extenuating circumstances.

Now here’s the cool bit:  rather than speculate wildly about our particular breaks, and rather than reaching into the depths of their colon to come up with an exorbitant dollar figure on how much the work on the as-yet-unofficially-diagnosed problem was going to cost, the Bakers instead said they would go out and dig up the line at the obvious leak sites and have a gander.  It was possible, they said, that the line could be repaired without a complete line replacement, but they wouldn’t know until they got a look at it.  Glory be!

For the next 45 minutes or so, the Fabulous Baker Brothers set about with shovels to dig the earth.  They started with the leak spot closest to the meter.  When they’d uncovered it, they came and asked me to close off the valve in our basement so that they could turn on the one at the meter to see what happened.  I did this and left them to it.  Within a few minutes, they began digging at the second leak spot.  A while later, they left to go buy some parts, came back, then left to buy a different part, because the one they had just bought wasn’t it.  No worries.

When they were finished, the Baker brothers asked me to come have a look.  The line, they said, had only been broken in one place, and had been caused by a cracked joint between sections of the PVC line.  They said that it looked as though the ground might have settled there, causing it to crack, but it was hard to say for sure.  They had replaced that section with a shorter length of flexible pipe that would be able to bend a bit if more settling occurred.  They wrapped it and the other exposed section in some flexible insulation.  They said that the previous repair to the pipe had also been insulated, but it was done using strips of a foam core insulation board, which water from the leak had run beneath until springing up at the lower spot in the yard, creating the appearance of a second leak.  This was proven by the fact that the water had been turned back on at the meter and there were no leaks from either section of pipe.   They’d also double-checked for unseen leaks by watching the meter for a while and seeing that it remained stable.  Nice.

Robert pointed out that having a line replacement at some point in the future probably wouldn’t hurt.  The repair they’d made would certainly last us a while, but we might eventually consider doing the whole line just to be sure.  While I was standing there, Steve measured the distance between the meter and the back wall of the garage just to see how much pipe would be required.  The job, Robert said, would probably run between $1,500 and $1,800.

“As opposed to the $3,800 Pud Pipes was going to charge me this morning?” I said.  I’d said nothing of their competitors until that moment.  They both laughed, but were not surprised.  They had a few Pud Pipes stories of their own–nothing criminal, just prohibitively expensive.  Then I told them the Saws-All story.

“Two hundred?!” Robert said.  “You could have bought a brand new toilet and and had it installed by us for less than $200.”

They didn’t go so far as to say the Pud Pipes company did bad work, or anything; just that Pud Pipes tended to violently cornhole the wallets of customers who called them for home repair jobs, as opposed to the lower prices they had to bid in order to stay competitive for the new construction work they preferred.  I told them I wanted to take a picture of their handiwork and email it to Pud Pipes with the caption: “Here’s your complete service line replacement, assholes!”

I was imagining the bill for the work the Bakers had done would come to somewhere between $300 and $500.  These were plumbers, after all, and they had been working for around three hours.  Our bill came to $239 and change.  I nearly danced in the slushy driveway.  I told the Fabulous Baker brothers I would sing their praises on Facebook.

“Maybe we should get a Facebook page?” Steve asked his brother.  They then grinned at each other, as if knowing this wasn’t going to happen.  They said that they only rarely advertise, are not listed in any phone book, and have more work than they can handle from word of mouth alone.

We bear a great deal of guilt about the tremendous waste our leaky pipe and our lack of vigilance has caused.  This in a state which so recently had a major water supply tainted by a chemical spill, leaving 300,000 people out of water for weeks, with ongoing issues to the day of this writing.   Our guilt is such that we can’t bring ourselves to waste any of the water we stored in all our spare containers—containers which now take up most of our counter space in the kitchen.  Hopefully we can burn most of them off for cooking, laundry, toilet-flushing or dog watering.

As for the ultimate cost, the wife later gave me the short version of what the man from the water department had said after I’d fled for my sanity.  It seems that our water is usually charged at around $6 per thousand gallons.  We’d bled out over 109,000 gallons, making our potential bill somewhere in the $650 range.  The man from the water department told her, however, that if we filed for leakage, they’d knock it down to $1 per thousand gallons.  We normally pay $35 for our total bill.

Gonna be a big one next month either way.

Copyright © 2014 Eric Fritzius

The Talkin’, Chokin’ Prison Sangin’, My Christmas Miracle Blues

This past Sunday was the day of my church’s cantata.  Our choir director, Jeff, had chosen a high-energy cantata called God Coming Down, which was co-written by Travis Cottrell.  It was gorgeous music, sometimes bordering on rock and dangerously danceable in places–at least for a Baptist church.  I was asked to lend my tones as the narrator for the whole shebang and as the soloist on one of the quieter pieces called O Bless the Lord.  We had been rehearsing this cantata since early October and despite getting snowed out for one rehearsal, we were ready to go on Sunday.  I was also honored that Jeff had asked me to sing O Bless the Lord during the Sunday morning service as a preview to the evening’s performance.   It went pretty good, too, if I do say so myself.  I’d spent the whole morning avoiding things that would gum up one’s voice, such as not eating any cheese and not drinking any caffeine that might dry me out.  I wanted my vocal cords properly moistened and warmed up for both morning and evening performances, cause the message of the song deserved it and I wanted to sound good in delivering it.

Let me back up a second.

The very first solo I ever sang at this church was in a Christmas cantata, round about the year 2002 or so–which was, basically, when I joined the church choir.  Our choir director at the time assigned me two fairly short lines in one song and I managed to choke on the second of those lines in both performances we gave.  The first, and most memorable of the performance chokings, was at the Alderson Federal Women’s Prison, 20 miles away in Alderson, WV.   Now, there’s a chance you’ve heard of this place because of its most famous inmate of recent years, one Martha Stewart; however, Martha was still a few years away from her stay there.  Our church choir of 2002 was invited to come and sing our cantata for the ladies of the prison and they, in turn, would sing some Christmas music for us.   I was a bit nervous, having not sung a solo publicly since participating in one of those wretched high school show choir medley shows, featuring snippets of over-baked songs from the `50s, a show I was forcibly drafted into participating in because my third-string drama class didn’t have a play to do instead and they needed to give me a grade for doing something.  (This was in the dark days before the TV show Glee, when such show choirs were not cool at all.)

When it came time for me to sing my first line at the prison, I sang it clearly and, I thought, pretty well.  What I wasn’t prepared for was the response this well-sung line–well sung by a male, no less–would get from the ladies of the prison, for they gave off whoops and hollers and began applauding like I was Usher.  When it came time to sing my next line, though, I was seized by nerves and my voice warbled like a pubescent Peter Brady.  It killed all cred I had just built with the ladies in the audience.  There was almost an audible sound of disappointment.  Two days later, with that memory still fixed in my head, I did the exact same thing in front of our congregation at church, only without the whoops and hollers in between.  It’s that memory that I’ve tried to live down in all future church performances.

These days, I’m old hat at singing in church and have even turned my singing talents back to the stage, with several professional productions at the Greenbrier Valley Theatre, some of which have been musicals, one of which was an opera.  I tend not to choke when it comes to singing.

This past Sunday night, at 7 p.m., the cantata service began.  Instead of being in the choir loft with the rest of the choir, Jeff had asked me to start my narration from the back of the sanctuary, where I could walk down the aisle in darkness, creating an effect.  I’d even memorized that particular narration, since I wouldn’t have any light to see my words by (though the words were, thankfully, printed on the overhead projected image of the cantata DVD just for backup).  The cantata started, I said my words flawlessly and headed up into the loft to join the choir for the first song.  I didn’t think I felt nervous, but I must have been for my mouth had gone very dry.  I had some water there in the choir-loft, though, so it would just be a matter of finding time to sneak some.  Didn’t find any after the first song, because I had to step down to narrate again and then step right back up to start singing with the choir almost immediately.  The second number was a gospel-themed title song, God Coming Down.  It’s probably the most challenging song of the whole cantata because it’s very fast and with a lot of ad-libbing on the part of the soloist, but with lots of business for the choir as well.  Think big black gospel choir (only one of which was actually black, and that wasn’t the soloist) and you have a decent picture.  The song builds to a huge ending that is designed to leave the audience cheering.  And we followed that design, because they were indeed cheering.  The song doesn’t actually end there, though.  After the audience has clapped a bit, the music is supposed to start back with a reprise of the chorus–only even faster than before and with the lyrics starting almost immediately.

This is where I made my mistake.

I tried to sneak some water during the applause, knowing I had another narration to do shortly.  So I brought my water bottle up, thinking the sound guys were going to let the applause go for a bit before starting the reprise.  I was wrong.  They let the DVD run on for its 4 second pause, enough time for me to get water into my mouth, then the drum beats kicked in and the choir started singing.  In my haste to swallow and start singing again, I inhaled a little bit of water.  And suddenly, my vocal cords seized up I couldn’t sing anymore.

I tried to put a game face on and continued mouthing the words to the song, but every time I tried to sing any of them the sounds came out sounding more like Gollum, from Lord of the Rings, than me.  My high range was shot, my low range was shot and the middle range area was really really clunky.  I tried to cough the water out, but this seemed to make things sound worse somehow.  Then the song was over and it was time to go narrate again.  It sounded awful, though I managed to get all the words out more-or-less.  Great, now I couldn’t sing or speak and my solo was a mere four songs away.

Throughout the next three pieces, I continued to try and clear my throat, occasionally sipping more water to try and remove whatever crud was on the vocal cords, or just sooth them from the punishment they had endured.  Didn’t seem to be helping.  I then tried to relax and just mouth the words, saving what little voice I had.  When I gave it a few test notes, though, it still sounded terrible.  I couldn’t even sing falsetto to hit the higher notes, cause that sounded worse than full voice.

My speaking voice cleared up a little bit, but it was certainly not what I’d call good and my ability to match the energy of Travis Cottrell’s intent was waning.

How was I going to get through my solo?  It was going to be a train wreck and there was not much I could do about it.  Was it possible to somehow communicate with Jeff using sign language that I wasn’t going to be able to sing?  Or was it wise to just go up to him before my song and tell him that?  Could he pinch hit for me?

I did the narration for the song right before mine, a duet, half of which was sung by my friend Brian and the other by a lady named Jane.  I knew they would knock it out of the park and it was one of my favorite moments of the whole cantata.   I couldn’t even enjoy it, though, because every note brought me closer to the disaster that would be my song.  Half the crowd had heard me sing it that morning.  They knew what it was supposed to sound like and I was not about to deliver that.

I began praying–which I should have been doing all along–and just asking God to clear my voice.  I figured there was no easy way out of this mess, so I was going to have to try my best and croak it on out, hoping that at least the message of the lyrics would be heard even if they weren’t pretty.  And the notes remained very ugly indeed during the choir parts of Brian and Jane’s song.  My favorite tenor note in the entire cantata was in there, too, and I couldn’t hit it at all.

When the song ended, I walked down the steps of the choir loft and toward the stage.  My  mind was spinning.  Should I say something beforehand?  Should I explain that I’d choked on water during what was practically a spit-take in Johnny’s song?  Should I warn the audience that they were about to hear something that was going to sound like Clarence “Frogman” Carter’s younger less-talented brother “Tadpole” Clem, after being punched in the throat?  Should I apologize?  Or, should I see how it turned out, and apologize only if it was the horror show I suspected it was going to be?   Or, and here’s a thought, should I just have faith?

As I stepped onto the stage, Brian was there holding the microphone for me.  As he passed it to me, I whispered, “Pray for me,” and gave him as serious an expression as I could.  He nodded and said “Will do.”

I read the long narration before my song.  My speaking voice sounded about 70 percent of good to my ears.  I was, oddly, not nervous at all about singing in front of so many people.  I was nervous that the mechanics of it would work at all and that was more then enough nervousness to deal with.

The music began to play and the moment arrived…  “O Bethlehem,” I began.  And it worked!  The voice was working!  “So small and weak,” I continued in, essentially, the same note range.  The voice worked.  “Open your arms.  Receive your king.  Redemption cries.  Salvation breathes.  O, bless the Lord.”  My voice was working for all of it.  I would certainly not call it 100 percent, but it was passable–it was passable!  In my head, I thanked God and continued on through my first verse.  The voice worked.

Once the chorus began, though, the notes became higher and I could feel my control breaking down again.  Fortunately, the choir also sang on the chorus, so I just lowered the microphone and let them do the heavy-lifting as I tried to sing along.  I could feel and hear, though, that what I was doing wasn’t working.  The higher range was still very very sketchy, but at least I wasn’t on mic singing those sketchy notes.  I just mouthed the words until the next verse began, which dropped me back into the passable range.  From what I could tell in the moment, and what I was able to confirm once I returned to the choir loft, any notes above or below the range of those sung in the verses of my song did not work well coming out of my mouth.  All the notes of my verses–the ones the audience could hear me singing solo–worked.  It was like my voice was temporarily damaged in such a way that I was still able to sing my song.  And if this is any sort of evidence of a miracle–which I contend it is, cause that’s what it felt like–it means that I was assigned a song that fit the exact range I would need to have in the moments of the verses, while everything else was problematic at best. Whatever the case, I praised god in mind and song.

The second chorus I did again off mic, resting my voice because I knew the third verse was supposed to be as piano as it gets, leading to the forte final chorus.  The voice worked in the much quieter tones, too.  It sounded a little smokey, but was respectable.  In the final chorus, I was so grateful to have gotten through it all that I just dropped the mic to my side and gave it my all to sing the chorus.  It was not great, but it was also not amplified.

On my way back to my seat, Brian gave me a thumbs up and I mouthed “thank you,” back.  After the cantata had ended, I told Brian about my choking spit-take and the damage it had wrought.  He explained that he’d heard me sound a bit off in my narration and realized something bad was happening with my voice.  When he’d returned to the choir loft after my request for prayer, he’d rallied the other tenors near him to join, so I had at least three people praying for me.

“I’m calling it a Christmas miracle,” I said.

 

Copyright © 1997-2013 Eric Fritzius

The Talkin’ Milk & Cheese Vs. the TSA Blues (an Air-Travel Horribly True Tale)


Just got back from visiting my sister in Austin.

In addition to eating like an asshole, as is my Austin tradition, I also had the traditional visit to Austin Books & Comics, my favorite comic shop in the whole wide world. If you can think of a graphic novel or comic book trade paperback collection, chances are quite high that Austin Books & Comics will have multiple copies of it in stock. They also have a huge supply of statues, toys and figurines to keep your inner geek happy for decades.

While there I happened to spy a set of vinyl figurines cast in the shape of cartoonist Evan Dorkin’s most famous creation Milk & Cheese. For those unfamiliar with Milk & Cheese, they’re dairy products gone bad, known for their hatred of most things that aren’t alcohol, mindless violence or the late TV show A Current Affair. (They once engaged in a successful two man war on drugs because they were tired of the anti-drug commercials interrupting their viewing of A Current Affair.) I love the characters and own every one of their comics, most of which are #1 issues. I also have both the flat illustrated Milk & Cheese refrigerator magnet set, but also the now rare three dimensional porcelain magnet produced by Graffiti Designs in the late 1990s. (Oooooh, ahhhhh.) Until that moment, though, I’d only seen pictures of the Milk & Cheese figures, as they were produced several years ago and in limited supply. Another reason I’d never seen them in person is because they cost around $70 at the minimum when they were first released and I was still smarting over the cost of the porcelain fridge magnet. Because of this, I had no idea how huge the figures are. The photos I’d seen didn’t really give any sense of scale, so I’d assumed that Milk was probably smaller than the typical smallish carton of milk and Cheese a smallish wedge of cheddar. The figures were easily twice the size I had expected, though. They came packaged in a huge foot and a half long box decorated with Milk & Cheese comic strips. The display of the figs in the shop listed them for the usual $70, so I still wasn’t going to bite. However, on further exploration into the toy section of the store, I saw that they had a endcap display of them that had the sets listed for $30 each. I figured they must be a former display model, or something had to be wrong with them to be at that low a price. But when I asked a clerk he said that the figs were dairy products reduced for quick sale because the store had bought too many sets. So I bought a set for $30.

Cheese and Milk, of Milk & Cheese fameAnd they’re completely awesome!

Inside their box, Milk & Cheese are nestled securely inside a bagged, plastic vacuform insert along with their weapon accessories: a plastic broken gin bottle, a large plastic hammer, and a plastic stick with a plastic nail through it. I left everything in its place, didn’t even crack the seal on the plastic bag and put it all back in the box. For a bit I considered shipping the box to myself in WV, saving me the trouble of packing such an enormous item in my check luggage. I also considered collapsing the box and packing the figs loose within my clothing. Then I changed my mind and instead packed the full box into my carry on gym bag since it was light enough that it wouldn’t be a hassle.

On Saturday, we headed to the airport, checked our check bag and proceeded thorough the TSA security line. We did the whole remove all metal and run your carry on through the x-ray machine bit. I made it through the security screening before the bags and was able to look back at the x-ray display screens while I put on my shoes. On the screen was what looked like my satchel, at least from the snake nest of media cables I could see. I was sure this would take them a few moments to suss out. But it was actually the gym bag that they’d paused the conveyor belt to examine in depth. The tech stared at the x-ray. Then stared some more. Finally, he called one of the TSA officers over and said something to her before starting the belt again. My bags came rolling out.

“Whose bag is this?” the TSA lady asked pointing to the satchel.

“That’s mine,” I said.

“This is your bag?” she asked.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Sir, do you have any glass products packed in here?”

“Not that I’m aware of,” I said.

Then the TSA agent seemed to look at the satchel for a moment, perhaps listening to someone speaking to her in an earpiece, for she then said, “No, this isn’t the bag.” She slid the satchel to me in its plastic tray. Then she pulled the tray containing my gym bag close and said, “Whose bag is this?”

“That’s mine,” I said again.

“This is your bag?” she asked again.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Sir, do you have any glass products packed in here?”

“Not that I’m aware of,” I said again. Did I, though? We had been to a Penzeys Spice store and had loaded up on little glass jars of curry powder and peppercorns and what not. But I’d definitely packed those in the check bag.

“You don’t have any glass products?” she asked again, now with suspicion.

Had I stuttered?

“Not that I’m aware of,” I repeated.

Another pause and perhaps another listen to a voice in an earpiece.

“Sir, do you have any figurines in here?”

Figurines? Ohhhhh!

“Yes,” I said. “Yes, there are two.”

“May I search the bag?”

“Go right ahead.”

The TSA lady unzipped my gym bag and there at the top was the long Milk & Cheese box. She removed it from the bag, nosed around in the clothing that had surrounded it, found nothing made of glass, figurine or otherwise, and then began the process of opening the Milk & Cheese box itself.

“Um, technically I guess there is kind of a bottle in there,” I said. “But it’s a fake plastic gin bottle,” I added. I didn’t mention that the fake plastic gin bottle was sculpted to appear broken, nor did I mention the fake plastic stick with the fake plastic nail through it, nor that their accessories were supposed to represent weapons. By then she had the box open and had pulled out the plastic bag-covered vacuform insert with Cheese and Milk (that’s the order they’re packed in) staring up at her baring expressions of malice on their little Dorkiny faces, their hands clinched in fists of dairy fury. The TSA lady blinked down at them for a few seconds as though what she was seeing didn’t compute. At least they’re not flipping her off like my Milk & Cheese magnet, I thought. Then she smiled and said, “Oh, it’s a game!”

“Actually it’s–   Uh, yes, it’s a game,” I said.

She took the insert over to the x-ray tech to show him “the game.”   He seemed to approve, or at least not deny. She then repackaged my toys and zipped up the bag, after which I gathered my possessions and made my way over to where my wife was standing, shaking her head.

“Apparently Milk & Cheese caused some problems with the TSA,” I said.

“Naturally,” the wife said.

 

Copyright © 2012 Eric Fritzius

The Talkin’ Selling the House, Gates of Hell, Poo Tank Maintenance, Humiliations and General Grossness, Big Ol’ Grin of Satisfaction, Bad Dog Blues (a truly horrifying Horribly True Tale)

One of the most humiliating experiences I can imagine is to take a huge dump in the front yard and then invite someone over to have a look at it. It’s just not something that is ever done. Even more humiliating and nonsensical, though, would be to then ask them to dispose of it for you. As unbelievable a scenario as this is, it’s exactly what I did this week, only several thousand times worse. For this week, you see, was the week we had the septic tank emptied.  Yessir.

We’re about to move, you see, and, as part of our process of readying our house to hit the market, we’ve been going down the list of home improvement projects we’ve intended to accomplish for four years and getting to some of the ones left there. So we finally had the automatic garage door opener on my side of the garage replaced, redid the hall bathroom, regrouted part of the tub surround in the master bath tub, etc.  And, as we went down the list, some items were moved further down it in priority—such as actually replacing the tub in the hall bathroom, which we avoided by rationalizing that we didn’t know what kind of tub the new owners might want there, so why not let them do it?  Other items were added to the list out of the blue.

“We should call someone to come clean out the septic tank,” the wife said over breakfast. I’d already been thinking about that, oddly enough—not because of breakfast but because a cleaning of the poo tank was probably due. According to the paperwork we’d received with the house, the last time it had been emptied was a few months before we bought the place. So you figure once every 3-5 years being the norm for emptying a poo tank (though some argue against emptying it at all), it was about time. The thing is, I’ve never lived in a place with a septic system before and we were kind of mystified as to where the tank itself was located, and had no idea where its lid could be found.  We deduced it was in the front yard somewhere, because that was the direction our poo pipe ran from beneath our house, but we were not at all sure where the tank was buried. Our front yard has a lot of trees, so it seemed like it would have to be located in between some of them, but the trees were spaced fairly close together. If you were going to bury a 1000 gallon tank, it would have to be somewhere between the trees, we reasoned.

We’d had cause to speak with the health department, a few months previous, as we’d been trying to determine when our well had originally been dug.  While I had them on the line, I’d asked if they had records of the septic tank’s installation and, hopefully, location. They faxed over two diagrams, one for the proposed tank and drainage field location and one for the inspected tank and drainage field location.  They showed two different locations for the tank, but I figured the inspected one was the correct one.  It put the tank somewhere outside my office window, with the drainage field further down into the yard. I didn’t do any digging to check, but figured that would be where I’d have to direct any poo removal specialists when that day came.

And now it had.

The poo removal specialists arrived around midday and were soon awash in the oh-so-vicious snarls of my two dogs Sadie and Moose (collectively known as Sadiemoose). While the dogs barked and slavered from behind glass, I went out to meet the poo removal specialists carrying with me the aforementioned poo tank diagram.

“Has it been backing up on you at all?” Terrance the poo tank man asked.

“No, not at all,” I said. “We just want to get it cleared before we sell it.”

Terrance and his poo tank assistant, Matthew, then poked the ground with a pointy metal pole for a while, making their way from the center of the yard over to the area in front of my office window that I’d suggested was where they start.  The poking of the lawn continued, with occasional thunks as the pole struck either concrete or rock. Several minutes passed this way with no real consensus as to where digging should commence. Finally, Terrance took something plastic and orange from his pocket and handed it to me.

“Could you go inside and flush this twice?” he said. I looked at the plastic device.  It was about the size of a flattened golf ball, but had a slot along one side within which I could see a small metal disc, about the size of a thick watch battery.  It turned out to be a tracking device.  I figured he must have a whole box of them back in the truck and that they must be cheap if you could go flushing them willy nilly.  By “flush this twice” I knew he meant, flush the tracker down, then flush the toilet again to send it on through.  This I did and when I came back Terrance produced what looked like a metal detector handle minus the pole and detector disc. He aimed it at the ground until he found where it seemed to be the loudest, which was beside one of the four pine trees planted in front of our house, this one just outside my office window. They stabbed the pole down once more and struck something solid.

Digging began, hampered a bit by the limbs of the tree.

“That tree’s in a bad location,” Terrance said. His point was that with the tree was as close to the tank as it seemed to be, eventually there would be root problems. They might not make it through the concrete tank, but they could certainly bore into the septic pipe leading into the tank and gum up the works—that is, if they hadn’t already. He recommended the tree be taken out.

Within 20 minutes a foot and a half deep pit was dug out and the upper surface of a section of the concrete poo tank exposed. There was a rectangular concrete plug in the top of the tank with a rebar hook embedded in it. They looped some chain through that and lifted the whole thing off.  And there before us were exposed the gates of hell itself.

I will not go into detail as to what the gates of hell look like in this case, but I will say that the gates were quite FULL. To the brim even. I will also not describe the smell, which you already have a pretty good idea about I’m sure. What I will say is that having four years-worth of one’s leavings exposed to strangers is a very embarrassing experience even if it is the job of said strangers to see such leavings on a regular basis. I wanted to apologize and issue denials and run away all at the same time. But there was just no denying what we were all looking at and smelling, nor was there any denying exactly who had produced a goodly portion of it.

“Looks like we got here just in time,” Terrance said. Then he and his poo tank assistant went back to their poo truck and soon poo hoses were hooked up and stretched across the yard and into the gates of hell. The powerful poo pumps on the poo truck soon began to make quick work of their 1000 gallons worth of burden. And Terrance stood by with a giant poo rake to help the process along. He seemed pretty skilled with that rake, and was able to use it to retrieve his orange radio tracker, which he tossed to Matthew, who put it in a pocket.  And with that I suppressed a shudder at the realization of how many poo tanks that thing had probably seen in the past and how little cleaning it was likely to have had before being handed to me earlier.

“I been doin this a couple days,” Terrance later said with a grin. “Thirty five years, actually,” he added.

“What’s the strangest thing you’ve pulled out of one of these?” I asked.

“A dead body,” he said. Then he grinned again and said “Not really.” But he did say that when he was first starting out, about the same age as Matthew, he was working on pumping out the septic tank of a man and wife whose septic system had become clogged. The man of the house asked him what had been causing the clog and young Terrance told him “Condoms.”

“What?” the man said.

“Condoms. You know, rubbers?”

The man of the house said that this was not possible. He and his wife didn’t use condoms.

“Well, maybe it’s from house guests,” young Terrance reportedly had offered.

No. This wasn’t likely either.

“Well, maybe it was the people who owned the place before you,” Terrance said.

And at this the man of the house said, “I built the house.”  The man then excused himself, went inside and there shortly followed a great deal of angry shouting between the happy couple.  Terrance’s boss came running up at the sound of the screaming argument from within the house and asked Terrance what he’d said to cause it. Terrance told him. “Boy, don’t you ever tell the customer what’s in the tank!” the boss said.

I laughed at this story, but within mere minutes we were to discover something of a different brand of disturbing within my own poo tank. As the level of substance decreased in the tank, a PVC pipe with a T joint on the end was exposed. This is the end of the pipe that ran from our plumbing beneath the house. Unfortunately, as the level finally reached the bottom of the tank, we could see a second section of T-capped pipe lying in the muck at an odd angle, its other end very much broken.

“Ohhhhh,” Terrance said when he saw it. “If that’s what I think it is then you’re in for a world of shit.”

“What?” I said.

Terrance asked for a flashlight, then got down on hands and knees and lowered his head into the gates of hell for a look around, specifically toward the easterly end of the tank which extended several feet beneath the ground. When he came back up he looked grim. It seems that the piece of broken pipe was supposed to reside in the other end of the tank, as it was a part of the system that connected to the drainage field. The way a septic tank works is that everything enters the tank where solids sink and paper and sludge float. The solids are digested by microbes from the monthly Rid-X treatments we send down. The liquids are able to bleed off into the drainage field, which are a series of pipes running down into the yard that allows for natural filtration of the water. According to Terrance, though, the broken pipe was preventing this system from working naturally and it had all just been building up in the tank itself.

I shook my head in annoyance at this, but was not entirely surprised. After all, it’s not like anything around here is ever going to be simple or go to plan. No, it’s going to take three times as long, cost three times as much and drive me nigh unto madness before the end of it. At least this time, though, I had two guys who were willing to return, venture into the gates of hell and fix our poo pipes. We’d be able to include their work in our packet of Cool Things We Did to Make the House a More Attractive Purchase folder for prospective buyers.

The poo tank assistant fished the broken pipe out of the poo tank with the poo rake and then dumped it in the yard. Terrance then picked it up and used it as a visual aid to explain the work that would need to be done, including replacing that thin chunk of pipe with much thicker modern PVC that wouldn’t break. The work would involve a lot of digging—including possibly digging up the offending and dangerous tree, if we liked—to expose the other lid to the poo tank where the bulk of the work would need to be done. Until the work was done, the septic system would be inoperative, or at the very least inefficient, and would just fill up to the gates of hell once again. It would take a while, but far sooner than if the drainage field was operational.

I agreed to it and soon the men were plugging the poo tank with its concrete lid again and winding their poo hoses back onto their poo truck, promising to return at the crack of dawn the following day.  They left.

I went back in the house and was greeted by our dogs, who were very interested in getting outside to potty and explore and see what smells these strangers had left behind. Oh, you’ll smell some smells, I thought. I opened the back door and out they ran.

After several minutes, I began to wonder why the dogs had not returned to the back door. They’re usually only good for a couple of squirts in the yard and then they’re back wanting to be let in. Oh, they’re probably around front checking out the smelly hole in the ground, I reasoned. So I stepped out onto the front porch where I could see them over by the hole. I clapped my hands to call them and they came running. Moose trotted up the steps first, happy to see his “pa” as always. Then Sadie rounded the edge of the porch, a huge smile on her doggy face, and I was afforded a horrifying sight nearly as bad as the gates of hell earlier. Sadie’s neck and shoulders were coated in something black. To the untrained eye, it might have appeared to be very black mud. But to my trained eye and nose, I knew it to be raw sewage.

Where did she… ? How did she…? What the f…?!

And even as I watched, she gave me my answer by dashing back to the poo tank pit where I witnessed her bend over and roll gleefully onto the sewage-coated piece of broken pipe that was still laying in the grass above the pit.

“LEAVE IT!!!!” I screamed. “YOU! LEAVE! IT!!!”

Sadie looked up through a haze of filth and flashed a big ol’ grin of satisfaction. This was by far the greatest and best stinky thing she’d ever found to roll in and she was in stank heaven.

Cursing, I threw open the front door and yelled at Moose to get in the house.  Then I snatched up my phone and texted “YOUR DAUGHTER JUST ROLLED IN SEWAGE!!!” to my wife. Then I then began preparations to give that damn dog the queen mother of all baths.

But which bathroom to use?  Normally we bath the dogs in the big tub in the master bathroom. But we’d not yet sealed the new grout we’d freshly put in the master bath tub surround. I could bath her in the hall bathtub, but did I really want to chance this dog shaking wet sewage all over the freshly painted walls? Onto the good towels? I finally opted for the bathroom with the most room and the most tile and went with the master.

Sadie, of course, knows that we don’t dress in normal clothes for bath time, and she never comes to a bath willingly.  So we’ve learned that if we want to bathe her without so much hassle, we have to dress as per normal, calmly walk up and lift her 80 pound butt, carry her to the tub and only then  strip down to skivvies.  However, picking her up now meant coming into contact with sewage and I didn’t really have any normal clothes I wanted to sacrifice.  So I put on my painting shorts and a t-shirt I didn’t care about.  This didn’t fool Sadie.  One look at me and she went into red-alert mode, dropping her front down to the deck and giving me a warning woof.  And any move I made toward her sent her skittering away.  I opened the back door and ordered her into the house, determined to get her into closed quarters where her running range was limited.  This was very dangerous, I knew, because there was carpet in the house and she was just as likely to decide to roll on it in her flight from me as anything.  But I was able to corner her on the parquet floor of the kitchen and eventually reason with her until she let her guard down enough for me to slip my arms under her chest and lift her.

I held my breath as I carried Sadie back toward our bedroom, but half way there I had to take a breath. Oh, it was awful. I felt my throat tighten, suppressing a gag. You never consider when you use the bathroom that you’ll ever see, let alone touch that waste again, but here I was carrying a dog coated in it.  And I was quite certain that if I dwelled on that fact long enough, I would indeed throw up.  Instead, I tried to put it all out of my mind and just concentrate on putting feet in front of the other all the way to the bathroom.

I lowered Sadie into the tub and set about spraying her off with the shower hose. I avoided her head, though, because that’s usually the trigger that makes her shake and the longer we could avoid that the better for the surrounding room. Pulling the shower curtain as far closed as I could, I then sprayed it off too then growled loudly at her when she did shake. Dots of dark water struck the shower surround and dripped down. Ewww.  Unfortunately, in my haste to get things ready I neglected to actually bring doggie shampoo into the bathroom. What I had brought was doggie conditioner. I couldn’t leave her there to go look for any shampoo, either, or she’d be out of the tub and dripping diluted sewage around the house for sure. So I grabbed the next best thing, a bottle of Head & Shoulders, and started pouring it on her. I gave the bath extra attention to detail and spent a lot of time scrubbing her face, neck and shoulders. Then I rinsed her off and, since I’d brought it in, poured on some conditioner. Finally, I took a sniff of her neck to see if the sewage was gone.  It took my nose a few seconds to process it, but it seemed like the smell was gone. I gave her some extra rinsing to make sure, then toweled her off with three different towels—all of which were popped into a hot washing machine before the dog could finish her triumphant post-shower victory prance around the house.

This accomplished, I cleaned up the bathroom, washed all the sewage drops away and then had a shower myself using the same H&S technique as with Sadie. After I too was dry, I grabbed one of our industrial strength contractor’s trash bags and went outside to deal with the poo pipe. I managed to get it into the bag without actually touching it, then sealed it inside the trash can.

It took a few hours before I risked letting Sadie out again and even then I watched her every move and called her back every time she tried to head around to the front of the house. I had dispatched the pipe, but who knew what sort of drippings she could sniff out and roll in. I only hoped the following day’s adventure would prove fruitful and far less disgusting.

I slept very poorly. I kept having mini panic attacks that once the septic guys dug up the other side of the tank they would find something even more horribly and expensively wrong. What if the reason the pipe had broken within the tank was because that whole end of the tank had collapsed? That would suck.

At the ass crack of dawn, I finally arose to await the arrival of Terrance and his assistant. They’d said they would roll in around 7:30. I made extra coffee in case they needed some and commenced to wait. While I did, it began to snow. We’d had nary a flake since mid-November, which I’ve attributed to the fact that I’d had my snow tires installed in mid-November. But down the flakes were coming now. I wondered if it would mean a halt to the project for the day.

Around 8:30, Terrance and his assistant arrived driving a different truck from the previous day. This one was a smaller and with a flat black metal bed in the back upon which was mounted a bright and shiny new portajohn pump. Hitched to the back of the truck, though, was a long trailer on which was secured a medium sized backhoe. Terrance unloaded it and soon its treads were rolling up my driveway and then across the yard to the septic dig site.

As they set up, I told Terrance the story of Sadie rolling on the pipe. They agreed it was an awful experience, but I know it was far from the worst septic-based thing that had happened to them, so I doubted if they felt any actual sympathy.

With a bit of digging from the backhoe’s scoop, a new hole was opened a few feet to the right from the previous one. Some fine tune digging with a hand shovel later and the tank’s other lid was exposed. This time they hooked the chain for it across the backhoe’s shovel and lifted it off. Inside was a deep dark and relatively empty space, save for some liquid in the bottom. Terrance borrowed my flashlight again and poked his head into the tank to have a look around. He explained that he needed to see which direction the pipe leading out to the drainage field was headed. The interior portion of that pipe was the broken one that Sadie had rolled on, which is why he had to look inside the tank to see where it had been connected before the break. It seemed to be at the southern end of the tank, so that’s where they next began to dig to expose the pipe leading into the yard. As expected, this pipe was also broken and partially collapsed. He said this was likely due to the whole tank settling at some point and sheering off the pipe on the outside, which led to the breaking of the interior part of the pipe as well. It probably still worked to some degree, but not at prime efficiency.

Within half an hour, Terrance and his assistant had dug out around the pipe, sawed through it below the break, installed a new section of thick PVC pipe that ran from within the tank, through the tank wall and connected to the drainage field pipe. We were now back in business.

“Wait about two weeks then pour a whole box of Rid-X down the toilet,” Terrance advised. Then he added, “You still want that tree pulled up?” I explained that the wife did not want the tree removed up at all, but had agreed to it on the grounds that within a couple of months this would no longer be our house and we would not have to be concerned with whether there was a tree imbalance in front of it. Terrance’s assistant hooked their chain around the middle of the tree, the other end to the backhoe and with a smooth application of reverse they pulled it right out of the ground, roots and all. Then it was just a matter of recovering both sides of the freshly repaired tank and smoothing the mud back down in a mostly level fashion. It doesn’t look too bad. Not nearly as bad as the wife expected. The tree itself I sawed all the limbs from and will shortly carve it up for firewood with my chainsaw. I’ll plant grass over the place where it had grown and hopefully by the time the place sells we’ll have something of a yard over there again.

And the next time anyone opens the gates of hell to see my leavings, I won’t have to be there to see it.

 

Copyright © 2012 Eric Fritzius

The Talkin Sweet Merciful Turd on a Shingle Blues

Another home improvement project horribly true tale has been thrust upon me.  However, I just don’t have the energy to follow this rabbit down the hole and attempt to chronicle it. The last such chase did not end nearly as dramatically as I imagine anyone would have wanted.  Instead, you guys can make up your own awful adventure based on the photo below.

Optionally, here are some elements you may choose to incorporate:

  1. There was an incident with a botched front door deadbolt installation for which I was in no way responsible–though I would have, in all likelihood, botched it just as badly had I been there to assist;

  2. the purchase of a replacement door was subsequently required;

  3. we’ve never done a door installation of this magnitude before;

  4. turns out you can’t just replace a steel front door without replacing the jamb and everything, so we’d have to buy a pre-hung door and remove the old one to put it in;

  5. also turns out no one in our area sells a pre-hung steel door set big enough to fit our doorway that doesn’t also look like sparkly wet crap;

  6. a two hour road trip to another town to fetch one that didn’t look like sparkly wet crap was then required;

  7. upon return with the door, it was discovered that the screws for attaching said new door were apparently made of Chinese pot-metal and were of SPECTACULARLY SHITTY QUALITY, for two of them sheered off during installation;

  8. the decorative window in the door was installed improperly at the factory and is, in fact, not precisely parallel to the paneling below it by around an 8th of an inch, a fact that we did not discover until the door was well and truly in place;

  9. said door was manufactured by the Masonite Corporation, who I invite, along with the National Fenestration Rating Council that certified the door, to eat a bag of dicks;

  10. the deadbolt, once installed, turned out to be equally shitty to the quality of the screws and its mechanism did not stand up to even the slightest of pressure in turning the deadbolt, which resulted in a bent and no doubt Chinese pot-metal shaft within it, as well as its subsequent removal and return to the local retailer;

  11. a new, more expensive deadbolt was purchased;

  12. said new deadbolt was returned due to the fact that its purchaser (me) managed to get one with the wrong finish to match the door handle;

  13. said new new deadbolt with the correct finish had to then be returned because its purchaser (me, again) managed to buy one with a keyhole on each side rather than one with a keyhole on the outside and a turning latch on the inside;

  14. the returns clerk at our local Lowes failed to disagree with me when I pointed out to her that clearly I was a moron;

  15. the molding that had previously surrounded the old door is now null and void because the new door jamb does not sit as far in as the old one did, so a gap revealing the drywall beneath is clearly visible on three sides of the door;

  16. as of this writing the door is still not fully reinstalled, though it is at least secured in place and has multiple locks present.

 

Copyright © 2011 Eric Fritzius

The Talkin’ I’ll have a Bloody Mary with a Twist of Skunk Blues (a Stanky Horribly True Tale)

This past weekend, I was enjoying some Saturday evening TV with the glow of a beer still about me when our dogs began barking oddly at the back door. Through the glass of the door, I could see one of our cats, D.J. Kitty, sitting on the deck railing.  Then the dogs paused in their barking to sniff at the bottom of the door. Immediately, they began whining loudly to get out. I had no clue what was going on, but I got up and opened the door and they nearly turned an ankle trying to get off the back deck and run into the night. Only after they were gone did I take a good breath and picked up the strong odor of skunk.

“Ohhhh shit!” I said.

I could just imagine those dogs, who love to chase after little critters like squirrels and cats, running headlong into a skunk and finding themselves with a face full of spray. It would be horrible and I would have to spend the rest of the knight scrubbing them. Moose is smaller, granted, but his fur is very thick. And Sadie, while thinner of fur has more of it, and fluffy.

The dogs had already run around the corner of the house and were presumably in the driveway. Frantically I began shouting for them to come back while also clapping my hands as loudly as I could. The clapping part is their signal that Pa Means Business and Shits Are Gonna Break Bad if They Don’t Head Back This Very Second. True to their training, they listened and came running back.

“Get in the house!”

Moose ran right in, but Sadie paused at the edge of the yard.

“GET IN THE HOUSE!!!” I shouted. She whined and cast a glance toward the back corner our home’s exterior, as though weighing how much trouble she would be willing to incur by running that way to check for skunks.

“GET! IN! THE! EFFING! HOUSE!!!!!” I screamed. Only I didn’t scream “Effing.” My neighbors must adore me. Reluctantly, Sadie went in the house and I slammed the door after us, crisis averted.

Standing at my firmly shut back door, it was astounding to me how strong the skunk funk already was inside the house. The door had been open for less than 30 seconds, but it smelled an awful lot like skunk. It was so strong, in fact, that I wondered just how close to the house the skunk had been for it to smell so powerful. I could at least count my blessings, though, that the skunk hadn’t managed to spray one of the dogs or the…

…cats.

oh shit.

I looked over at D.J. Kitty, who was munching food from his bowl atop a table in the kitchen. With fear and trepidation did I move over to the table. Double that and you’ll have my feelings about the prospect of leaning over to carefully sniff the cat.

Back when I worked for a public library, I once had to check in a book that had been steeped in what we believe was horse urine. And upon first sniffing that book, I realized to my horror that what I’d thought was merely mud was actually the bladder-based waste-product of a living creature. This is much the same gut reaction that hit me as I sniffed the cat. He didn’t smell exactly like skunk spray, but the cat was definitely covered in some sort of powerful, revolting, animal by-product concentrate. Again, it not exactly skunky, but in the ballpark. I couldn’t think of what else it could be and the skunk in the area was too much of a coincidence for it not to be skunk funk. My best guess was that the skunk odor we’re all familiar with is actually a combination of skunk-funk-concentrate and air.

D.J. hopped down from the table and our dogs took an immediate interest in sniffing him. I knew my nose wasn’t off. He was doused in something awful.

Somehow I had the presence of mind to go and shut the bedroom door. It would be hellish to have to sleep in a room that smelled of skunk and I knew my wife, with her acute sense of smell, would not be able to handle it. I then stripped off my shirt and went to catch the cat, who I hauled to the hall bathroom tub.

An episode of Mythbusters backed up the home remedy of a bath in tomato juice to cut skunk spray, but I didn’t have any at hand. So, instead, I soaked the cat in vet-shampoo and scrubbed him for ten minutes. After rinsing him off, I found he was definitely still stinky, but maybe a bit less so. He was also wet and cranky.

I texted the wife to warn her about the skunk. When she came home, she immediately wrinkled her nose upon walking into the house. I don’t think she was very happy about it, but it wasn’t as if I had let the cat in KNOWING he was coated in skunk spray, so she couldn’t really complain.

“He smells a little better now,” I offered.

The wife suggested we put the cat back outside regardless. He was way too rank to stay in the already stinky house.

“I know it’s probably a long shot,” she began, “but did you happen to close the bedroom door?”

“Yes, I did,” I said, proud of my forethought. She was equally delighted.

The bedroom had indeed remained blissfully free of skunk smell and we kept it closed off and the dogs locked inside of it throughout the night. Eventually, the dogs had to make stinky of their own and whined to go out at 5 in the morning. Upon entering the hallway with them, I was hit with the still potent smell of skunk. Waking up on my return to bed, the wife suggested we turn off the heat and open some windows in the rest of the house. Sure, it was a bit chilly outside, but we’d be pretty snug in the closed off bedroom. And by morning, the house nearly smelled normal. The cat, however, did not.

From the store, I purchased two of the biggest cans of tomato juice they had and took them home, prepared to give D.J. a proper tomato bath. One of the many troubles with giving a cat a tomato juice bath is that despite it being the standard suggestion for skunk spray remedy, no one ever tells you exactly how to accomplish it. Do I fill the bathtub with tomato juice? Do I pour it on his head? Do I need a wire bristle brush? Does he have to soak in it for half an hour? Should I heat it first? I didn’t know. I decided to go with a soak/pour combo to cover bases and I decided to do this in the kitchen sink. I’m not sure why I thought it would be easier than the bathtub, but it was a mistake all around.

Before seizing the cat, I mixed two different kinds of shampoo with half a giant can of tomato juice and stirred it up. (Mythbusters also said soap was good.) Then I put the stopper in the sink drain, put the cat in the sink, rinsed him with the sink’s spray hose and then held him with one hand while pouring the mixture over his back and head with the other. I began massaging it over him, trying to get the cat good and coated, but the soap mixed in was making him slippery. Thinking that he wasn’t coated enough, I then tried to pour the rest of the can of tomato juice over him, but I couldn’t get a good grip on the sides of the can with only one hand and had to awkwardly pull the can over by gripping its top edge, before tipping it over using my forearm and chest, and then pouring it onto the cat.

D.J. Kitty was not having a good time of it, but he didn’t squall too much and didn’t claw me. (Clawing me is what he saves for when I’m actively trying to feed him in the morning.) What he did do, though, was one of those patented Kitty-Full-Body-Shakes, sending blobs of soapy tomato goo flying in all directions. Quickly I realized my error of doing this in the kitchen. I also realized that the puny spray pressure of our sink hose would not be enough to cut the tomato mixture in any sort of ideal time period. Those thoughts, combined with the fact that D.J. suddenly decided he’d had enough and had begun clawing at the edges of the sink to escape, which became a two-hand job to prevent, made me certain that we needed to finish this bath in the bathtub.

I didn’t have a spare hand to grab for a towel, so I just pulled D.J. to my chest,  keeping his claws away from my body, and ran with him to the hall bathroom, blobs of tomato falling to the carpet in a trail behind us.

The bathroom rinsing seemed far less traumatic for him, if no less messy. By the time we were done, it looked like a cat had exploded in there, from the cat-slung smears of tomato-soaked cat hair sticking to the sides of the tub. And while the tomato juice bath had cut the stench quite a bit, it had not taken it all, particularly around his face. I could have done another soak on him, but it wasn’t so bad that he really needed it. Let him keep a stank head for a few days, I thought. Maybe that would teach him a valuable lesson about which woodland animals he’s supposed to be hassling.

 

Copyright © 2011 Eric Fritzius

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