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.

The Talkin’, Crack-Brained, Gravy Incident of Ought Ought, Cast from the Tribe Blues

This year, 2019, marks the 20th Thanksgiving I’ve spent with my wife in the over 21 years we’ve been a couple.  In fact, the one Thanksgiving we didn’t share was when we were dating long-distance in 1998 and she sent me Thanksgiving in the mail—including a box of stuffing, a can of green beans, a can of gravy, a can of chicken to sub for turkey and a can of tuna for the cat.

Among the traditions my wife and I have at Thanksgiving time, one is the annual re-telling of a Horribly True incident which occurred during our very first Thanksgiving as a married couple.  I have previously shared a highly summarized version of the story in an early Horribly True Tale.  However, due to its very tragic and inexplicable nature, the story itself has evolved to become an oral tradition warning to future generations of humanity that some ideas are crack-brained and some people, while well-intentioned, are idiots. For many years I refrained from writing more about it simply to spare the feelings of certain parties involved (i.e. the crack-brained idiot).  However, I realized this year that the one and only time I met the idiot in question happened to be at that Thanksgiving and this person has not only since fallen completely out of our lives but is also someone whose name neither of us can remember.  This being the case, I figure I’m free to roll them anonymously and cheerfully under a bus by writing it down.

The horribly true incident in question occurred in Charlotte, NC, in the year 2000, our marriage newly minted nine months prior.  It was not only our first Thanksgiving as a married couple, but also our first ever to host, taking place in our very first apartment.  Some weeks prior, we put the word out among friends in the region and beyond that we were holding Thanksgiving at our place and anyone who didn’t mind the drive was welcome to come.  Our friends John and Ramona Underwood, who were closest in Newport News, VA, accepted.  Our friend and occasional Horribly True participant, Joe Evans, came up from Missisisppi.  And our friends James and Denise Martin drove in from Mobile, Alabama.  Being a hospitable kind of gal, the wife also invited fellow employees at her mall-retail place of employment.  One of these fellow employees, a young lady we shall call Judy Iscariot, chose to accept the invitation.

In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, I was sent on several trips to the grocery store for meal preparation.  I got a giant turkey, of course, as well as ingredients to make dressing, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, and other traditional Thanksgiving items.  Our guests were also bringing dishes, so it wasn’t on us to cook to cook it all.  However, one of the dishes that we were providing was the gravy.  Even though we’d stockpiled giant cans of chicken broth well in advance, when it came time to actually make the gravy we just didn’t seem to have enough at hand.  I was sent to the store multiple times for more broth, two of them on the day before Thanksgiving and then one on Thanksgiving Day itself.   I don’t even recall what the problem was, other than broth is often used in so many other Thanksgiving dishes that it kept getting commandeered for those and none saved for the gravy.  Despite this, a giant vat of gravy was eventually produced. 

The guests arrived and the Thanksgiving meal was served.  Having only a tiny breakfast nook of a dining table back then, we used it to put the food on so that everyone could file by buffet-style, taking their heaping plates on to the living room to eat while we watched an early tape of the first episode of the Patrick Warburton version of The Tick which James had “borrowed” from the TV station at which he worked.  We all stuffed ourselves stupid and blessed the cooks for their efforts.  Afterward, the men retired to the living room to watch traditional Thanksgiving “feetball” and the ladies all went to the kitchen to clean up.  (This was in the year 2000, remember, before the towers fell, back when such roles were still divided along gender lines.  This year, for instance, I cooked all of the Thanksgiving meal by myself and my wife and mother-in-law lounged around looking at their phones and watching football.  So, see, times have really changed.)  

Soon after the cleanup had finished, Judy Iscariot, who was the only guest not staying the night, excused herself to return to her own home, thanking us for inviting her.  We said things like, “Sure,” and “Any time,” and “Come back soon.”  Little did we know.

Hours passed, much digesting was accomplished and hunger began to stir again.  As they felt the need, folks began to filter to the kitchen one-by-one for traditional Thanksgiving leftovers sandwiches.  And during the process, certain phrases were uttered and then repeated among each of the guests.  Many formed inquiries such as “Where’s the gravy?” and “Has anybody seen the gravy?” and “Man, I’d kill a man for some gravy about now.”  Eventually, it was my wife’s turn at the leftovers and her turn to ask about gravy.  She was then seen searching high and low within the refrigerator on a quest to find whatever opaque margarine container had been used to store a fraction of the gravy vat we’d made.  On seeing this search, Ramona cautiously approached and in a small, hesitant voice said, “Um, there is no gravy.”

“Whuh?” the wife said, understanding each of Ramona’s words, just not how they related to one another.

“There’s no gravy,” Ramona repeated. 

“What do you mean there’s no gravy?” Ashley said.

There came a pause. 

“Judy… Judy poured it all out.”

Another pause.

“She poured it out?” Ashley said in disbelief.

“Yeah.  Down the garbage disposal,” Ramona said.  She then went on to describe how during the chaos of the kitchen cleanup, with everyone bumping into one another in the tiny space, trying to find where things should go, Ramona had turned to see Judy pouring the whole kettle of gravy down the drain of the kitchen sink.  Ramona had tried to stop her, but Judy insisted that it was fine to pour it all out because, as Ramona quoted, “Gravy… doesn’t… keep.”

Allow me to repeat: Gravy, she said, doesn’t keep.

We were utterly staggered by the revelation about the gravy’s demise.  We felt betrayed and bewildered all at once.  I mean, just think what kind of bassackward horror show of an upbringing Judy Iscariot must have endured in order to bring her to a mindset in which she truly believes gravy doesn’t keep?  A sad, dry, life devoid of moistened food, is the answer.  Probably throws out leftover stew after the first day.  Probably thinks you can’t resuscitate cold French fries and chucks them right in the bin.  Has never been known to ask for a doggie bag in a restaurant in her life.  That kind of sad. 

Well let me just tell you—and you can pass it on to future generations of your own families—gravy damn well does keep!  In fact, it gets better with age.  And when you’ve used it to the fullest extent of its gravy properties, it then can become the base-matter for turkey soup.  (And I refer you again to the previously mentioned Horribly True Tale, for which this story serves as a prequel, and which concerns the very same holiday and, indeed, bird.) 

After dabbing the tears from our eyes and finding our bearings once again, we had to go sit down for a while and spend some time contemplating Judy’s well-meaning treachery.  It nearly put us off our second Thanksgiving sandwiches—our dry, dry Thanksgiving sandwiches.  Judy Iscariot had sold us out.  She would forever more be cast from our tribe, banned from our village.  All future Thanksgiving invitations rescinded.  She could not come back any time, soon or otherwise.  And despite what we said to our gathered guests that prior to digging into the Thanksgiving meal, we were no longer thankful for Judy Iscariot.  Judy Iscariot was dead to us.  At best, she would become a cautionary tale that there are true dangers in the world and that some friendships come with too high a price.

And now, this warning has been passed on to you.

The Talkin’, Stuffed in a Winnebago, Can’t Catch No Silvers, Blueberries Out the Yin Yang, Bumping down the Frost Heaves, Grand Lodge Experience, All Gonna End in Tears, 20th Anniversary Horribly True Fan Blues

Over the 20 years I’ve been writing them, my Horribly True Tales output has tapered off quite a bit.  I’m sure this is mostly down to maturity allowing for better decision-making skills on my part, and the ability to purchase a better class of automobile, since most of the earliest stories seem to revolve around car trouble.  Despite their infrequency, the stories have still developed a small but faithful fan base with those who’ve found them through Facebook and my Horribly True website.  However, the audience has been extended beyond those avenues, largely due to the efforts of my sister-in-law, Amber.  Amber has been a fan of my tales since the late `90s, and has been known to share them with friends and co-workers, whenever there is need to spread a laugh or lighten a mood.  And because Amber’s husband Jim is career Army, she’s been subject to frequent moves with each new base assignment and has held half a dozen new jobs over the course of 15 years.  With each one she has spread my tales to new ears—often in the form of live in-office readings.  However, in the nigh on two decades that I’ve known Amber, she’s never actually appeared in one of the tales as a participant.  That is, until we took a two week family trip to Alaska in 2016.

The state of Alaska holds a special place in the lives of my wife and her family.  In the mid-`70s, they moved there from North Carolina, after her father found work as a mechanic helping construct the Alaska oil pipeline.  It’s where they spent the 25 years and where my wife and Amber grew up, living in different locales with varying degrees of electricity, plumbing, and access to paved roads.  It was a real Little House on the Prairie existence for much of that time.  Frankly, their stories of their real life adventures rival my meandering nonsense any day.  I think the reason they like my stories so much is simply because it affords them the opportunity to think things like, “Oh, you had some car trouble one time?  Yeah, that’s cute.  Ashley once hit a moose and her Ford Escort station wagon turned into a cloud of metal confetti, unrecognizable as having once been an automobile.  She was almost decapitated.  Oh, and another time, we had to barricade ourselves in our home-made log cabin because a bear was trying to break down the door and eat us.  But you keep telling your little stories.” 

In the mid-90s, my wife left Alaska, traveling across the lower 48—in a different Ford Escort station wagon—all the way to Blue Mountain College in Mississippi, where she would finish up her undergraduate studies.  She never intended to be away from Alaska and her family for more than a couple of years.  However, two things got in the way of this: A) she decided to go on to medical school and there are no such schools to be found in Alaska; and B) she had the questionable fortune of meeting and marrying me.  The Alaska-return timeline wound up getting delayed by a couple of decades, most of it spent in our current locale of West Virginia.  And during those years, her family all moved to the lower 48. 

The state itself remains strong in the bloodstream of her family, though.  And if you’ve ever been there, you know perfectly well why, because your blood has probably picked up some of it too.  It’s one of the most gorgeous places on earth.   I find it stress-inducingly beautiful because I myself have experienced near panic attacks there in an area called Glacier View, which you can see while traveling along an area of the Glenn Highway.  The road runs along the Mantanuska River valley in which you can indeed view a glacier.  Hell, you could drive on down and lick it if you wanted.  The craggy lush mountains, capped with snow even in the middle of summer, are spectacular.  You want nothing more than to stop and stay a lifetime and absorb the beauty.  And the intense anxiety you feel gripping your soul is because you know you can’t stay, cause you have to motor on to catch a plane the next day. 

Beyond the beauty, one of the things that my wife’s family truly misses about Alaska are the blueberries.  In fact, if the word blueberry is mentioned in their presence—and I don’t recommend doing so—you may as well strap in, cause you’ve got a 10 minute lecture in store on the topic of how much better Alaska blueberries are compared to berries grown anywhere else.   I’ve seen them turn up their noses at homemade lower-48-blueberry-based treats on the grounds that it’s just a waste of their time.  Oh, sure, they might try a bite or two, but always with accompanying critical commentary.  “Well… that’s good and all,” they say in weighted tones that you can tell really mean, “Well, that’s a good try.” 

I thought they were all delusional until I finally got to try some Alaska blueberries for myself.  I found it to be a transformative experience.  In an instant, I went from “Yeah, yeah, yeah, we know, Alaaaaaska bluuuuueberrrrriiiiiies,” to “Holy shit!  Where have these been all my life?”

Alaska blueberries don’t grow on tall bushes, as they do in the lower-48.  Instead, they are found growing plentifully in very low bushes, often in mossy tundra areas.  And while they’re not large, this just seems to concentrate their spicy flavor in a way that other blueberries can only aspire to.  They make excellent jams and jellies.  My wife once traded a shipment of 24 jars of her apple butter for a similarly sized shipment of Alaska blueberry jam from her friend Laura.  As good as the wife’s apple butter is, we still got the better end of the deal and should probably have sent a second box of it to make up the difference. 

With the powerful draw of blueberries in mind, in 2014, for my mother-in-law’s birthday, my wife gave her a gift certificate good for one trip to Alaska to pick blueberries with her daughter.  It was basically an excuse to make a family trip back home, but blueberries would indeed be picked.  Ma finally cashed in the certificate in 2016, and plans began to form for the trip.  Amber and Jim wanted in on this too, so we all synchronized calendars and came up with August as the best time to go.  We rented a Winnebago in Anchorage—which is one of the best and cheapest ways to see the state—restaurants and hotels being as expensive as they are there.  Even with five of us crammed into it, the Winnebago only really felt crowded while we were on the road, because at stops we could always just step outside and extend our living space into the amazing scenery wherever we were. 

We spent two weeks driving wherever we liked in search of blueberries and/or salmon, whichever hopped in our baskets first. 

Now, there are three species of salmon regularly found in Alaska: pinks, silvers, and reds.  The red salmon, which are the best—particularly from the copper river—unfortunately spawn earlier in the season, so we would have none of them.  The pinks, which are the least palatable salmon, were spawning currently, but we didn’t want them.  Our best hope was to catch a few silver salmon.  They, it turned out, were pretty thin in the streams.  It was technically their spawning time, but all the fishermen we ran into said the silvers had either already passed through or were yet to arrive. 

The blueberries, however, were plentiful.  We found them throughout the trip—in boggy fields on the side of the highway near Denali, on remote hillsides just outside of Fairbanks, and out in a huge field near their old home territory of Salcha.  You couldn’t miss them.  We would venture out, the smell of alder in our noses, each of us keeping an eye out for bears, and pick until our grocery store sacks were near bursting with blueberries, raspberries, crow berries and more, which we took back to the camper, sorted, and vacuum-sealed.  And we only stopped picking when there was no more room in the freezer.  

During the trip, we stayed mostly in RV campgrounds where there was access to water and sewage hookups, not to mention regular showers.  We weren’t scared to stay in a pull off on the side of the road, or the driveway of a friend if need be.  Near the end of the first week of the trip, though, we got a look at some fancier digs.  We stopped near Delta Junction, to visit a a family friend who works at the Lodge at Black Rapids.  The lodge itself is nestled on low hill overlooking a stretch of panic-inducing gorgeous scenery, vast fields, rivers, more snow-capped mountains, the Delta River, the Black Rapids Glacier itself, and the historic 100-year-old Black Rapids Roadhouse. 

I was particularly taken with the lodge.  I’ve never spent any time in a lodge, I’d only seen them on TV.  But the Lodge at Black Rapids was what I’d always imagined one would be like.  It’s the kind of place that must have taken half a forest to build the timber structure and half a mountainside for the slate-shingled exterior.  It’s the sort of place where well-heeled outdoorsy folk fly in to stay, spending their days hunting, fishing, and rafting before ambling back for nights of sumptuous meals and drink at a giant rustic table, beneath hand-hewn beams before retiring to a comfy chair around the stacked stone fireplace for a snifter of bourbon, cigars, and some manly talk before bed.  I wanted to stay and get to know it a while—at least until I saw how much it would cost to do so.  I made a mental note, though, that one day I wanted to stay in a lodge just like it.

We motored on, traveling south to Valdez, on the southern coast, for the last few days of our trip.  It was lovely there, too, despite the fog and rain and the thousands upon thousands of super gross pink salmon piled up on every shoreline.  Most were still technically alive, but they had either already spawned or had failed to spawn, and were by then just pale, rotting, ghost fish who didn’t yet know they were dead.   Even in great health, pinks are the Spam of the salmon family, but even bears don’t want to eat ghost pinks.  No silvers could be found among their stinky ranks.  And after a day or two of waiting for their foretold arrival, we gave up and just bought frozen silver salmon from a local fishery, packed them into coolers and headed north on the first leg of our trek back to Anchorage.

Hours later, we turned west onto the Glenn Highway at at Glennallen.  And as we drove into the early evening, the glow of the sun reflecting off of the snowy whiteness of Mount Drum behind us, we started checking phones and atlases for likely stopping places for the night. 

On the map we spied a tremendous body of water called Lake Louise.  Gotta be fish there, we thought.  And while looking for lakeside campgrounds, what should I spy on the map but three magic words: Lake Louise Lodge.  Immediately, I was dazzled by visions of the Lodge at Black Rapids, of sitting around the stone hearth, watching the sun set at 11 p.m. through a two story window, a craft beer in hand and a belly full of fried sea creatures.  According to our phones, the Lake Louise Lodge was only $20 a night for RV parking!  My grand lodge experience was within reach!  Everyone else agreed as well, we should go forth and check it out.  The only downside to this plan was that the lodge was located 20 miles north of the Glenn highway itself.

Now 20 miles might not seem like much of a problem for those of us used to paved road conditions in the lower 48.  Roads in Alaska, much like the blueberries, are a different kind of creature.  Because temperatures often dip well below zero throughout the Alaskan winter, the ground expands and contracts as the upper layers of soil repeatedly freeze and thaw.  This creates frost heaves in the earth.  And when frost heaves occur beneath paved roads, those roads become quite lumpy.  It takes every day of the warmer months for the state to maintain the primary highways of Alaska.  Side roads, such as Lake Louise Road, don’t see as much attention. 

The frost heaves we encountered were so bad that we had to keep the Winnebago under 15 mph or it would have been rattled apart.  It took us 20 minutes to go only five miles, at which point we arrived at a pull off area beside a pristine little lake, which was across the road from an even larger and more pristine little lake.  (“Little lakes” in Alaska are what most of us just call “lakes,” while “big lakes,” like Louise, are what most of think of as “seas.”)  We pulled off, had a look around at the stunning scenery, and everyone in the vehicle declared that we’d found our place for the night.  

Everyone, that is, except me. 

As picturesque as our surroundings were, I didn’t want to stay at the pull off.  For one thing, there was a cluster of three up vehicles at the far end of the pull off, including a dark and possibly abandoned, pull-behind camper.  There was no activity around them.  But my fiction-writer’s mind began conjuring up images of a caravan filled with hungry Alaskan vampires who were just waiting for the sun to finally dip at midnight, at which point they would emerge to devour us.  It was a dumb image, I knew, but I couldn’t shake the shudder of dread whenever I looked at the dented up old camper.  If not vampires, there were at least a few cannibal serial killers in there.

However, the even more potent image that I couldn’t shake was my memory of the Lodge at Black Rapids and the Grand Lodge Experience that was surely to be had at the Lake Louise Lodge.  I could practically taste it and now the plate was being yanked away from me.  Everyone else was content with the stupid gorgeous lakes by the vampire pulloff, but I kept imagining how much better it would be at a lodge by a huge honking lake bigger than 200 pristine pull off ponds.  Sure, we wouldn’t be staying in rooms there, but we could certainly use the amenities such a place offered.  Jim and the others could go fishing, I could sit on the deck and enjoy the lakeside atmosphere. 

“I kind of want to check out Lake Louise Lodge,” I said with what I hoped was confidence.  “I mean, that’s where we were already heading, right?” I added.  I had them on this point.  The lodge was, after all, the entire reason we had taken Lake Louise Road in the first place.

Tragically, no one fought me on this.  Not even a little bit.  Maybe it was because I’d been a mostly silent-partner passenger for the entire trip so far, always game to do whatever everyone else wanted to do simply because they all knew the state better than I did, and knew what would be fun to do or see.  I could tell from their expressions that they didn’t agree with my proposed course for the evening, but they grudgingly climbed back into the Winnebago.  I took the wheel and we motored on north…   

*Ba duM BUM…  BA Dum bum*

…up and down the lumpy, frost-heave rutted road…  

*Ba duM BUM…  BA Dum bum*

…at 15 mph…  

*Ba duM BUM…  BA Dum bum*

… like driving over a twenty mile stretch of railroad track crossings…

*Ba duM BUM…  BA Dum bum*

And the soundtrack to this forced-march into idiocy, beyond the road, were the pained groans of the stressed metal of the Winnebago’s frame, as it was called upon to maneuver the heaves at odd angles from both ends.  Underlying the groans, however, was a bed of thick, seething silence of the kind that can only be achieved when four Winnebago passengers are completely not on board with the fifth one’s plan, yet also don’t feel like they can say anything without pissing off the easy-to-irritate guy who had rented the Winnebago in the first place. 

*Ba duM BUM…  BA Dum bum*

*seethe seethe seethe* 

Very quickly into this asinine crawl, the realization of just what a HORRIBLE mistake I had made washed over me.  Not only was it a horrible mistake, but I was forcing my loved ones to participate in my horrible mistake.  And because of this, it would not matter how good the Yelp rating was for Lake Louise Lodge or how good the fishing may or may not be there.  This was going to end in tears.  The only way I could envision this situation turning out in anything approaching my favor was if the Lake Louise Lodge turned out to be some kind of five star restaurant/resort combo and, in honor of the great effort we had made to get there, they would just comp us all room and board for two nights, with free massages, our own fishing Sherpa to guide us to their super-secret fishing hole—stocked with nothing but silver salmon and halibut they’d had flown in from the ocean—and, oh, what the hell, let’s throw in a perfect clear view of Mt. McKinley, a once-in-a-lifetime display of northern lights in August, and a free house concert by Stevie Ray Vaughan.  (Yeah, that’s right.  He came back from the dead for us in this fantasy, and that’s not even the least believable part of it.)

Far more likely, I thought, was that we would spend an hour getting to the Lake Louise Lodge, it would suck grizzly balls, and everyone’s vacation would be ruined because of me. 

 Unfortunately, as doomed as I felt, I could also see no good way to back down from my stupid senseless quest.  By then we were over 45 minutes into the horrible mistake and I felt we were too invested to turn back.  Plus, I knew there was no way I could get that behemoth of a Winnebago turned around on a two lane road—frost heaves or no. 

*Ba duM BUM…  BA Dum bum*

An hour of painful silence and gut churning road-conditions later, we at last arrived at the Lake Louise Lodge.  And it was… nice enough, I guess.  I mean, I wouldn’t tell anyone NOT to go there, but it was… okayish.  It was certainly no Black Rapids Lodge by any stretch.  It looked pretty much like a big log cabin that was kind of near a lake.  The property itself, though, looked less like a manicured resort destination and more like the cluttered back yard of somebody who lives way way out in the country, who had maybe been doing some home renovations for the last couple of months, hadn’t gotten around to cleaning up all the building supplies, and who isn’t expecting visitors.  It had a kind of in-progress, patched together feel to it—which can actually be said of most structures in rural Alaska.  (In the lodge’s defense, the really good view of the place is from the lake itself, which you can see on their website, and it’s lovely.  That’s not the view we had.)

We stared at the lodge with a mix of expressions from empty to underwhelmed to angry, no one saying much of anything.  After more silence, Jim went inside to arrange our stay while the ladies bolted from the Winnebago and gathered themselves into a lady huddle.  I was left at the wheel to think about what I’d done.  Clearly no one liked the Lake Louise Lodge.  I didn’t like it either, but I still didn’t see a good way out of the situation. I thought, Well, we invested a long and painful hour getting’ here, so I guess we have to at least give these grizzly balls a lick.  

Jim returned and led us to the RV campsite.  There was a reason it was only $20 a night, because it was located behind a long outbuilding that both blocked all view of the lake and which housed a diesel generator.  Which was running.  And noisily belching diesel fumes from a vent aimed directly into the RV site.  And, as far as we knew, it would be doing so for the rest of the night. 

I backed the Winnebago into the RV site and Jim and I began trying to get the thing leveled out and the popouts popped.  Meanwhile, the ladies continued to converse outside.  I could see resigned and disappointed expressions among them.  Then my wife walked away, by herself, into a stand of short trees.  That wasn’t good. 

Seeing no way to avoid it, I went outside to go check on her.  Before I could follow, Ma came over and said something to me, but I couldn’t understand her over the noise of the generator. 

“What?” I shouted.

“I said, `Is this place… as nice… as you’d hoped?!’” she shouted back.

“It’s… It’s all right.  I guess,” I said.  “Maybe we can finally catch some fish?” I added lamely.

The truth, though, was that I hated the Lake Louise Lodge.  I even hadn’t set foot in the place, but already I knew with certainty that this was never going to be the grand lodge experience I had hoped for.  There would be no craft beer or fried sea creatures.  We’d be lucky to get a warm Shasta and a tube of Pringles.  There was no chance of anyone having a good time.  Everybody was disappointed and/or furious with me.  No, this night was going to be miserable on all fronts.

And then, over the intestinal roar of the generator, I somehow heard Amber tell Jim that she felt a headache coming on from the fumes.  And then I distinctly heard her say, “I don’t think I can stay here.”  And with those words—those magic words—I suddenly saw the exit from my horrible mistake.  After all, if Amber’s health was being affected by the fumes, we clearly could not stay there even a moment longer.  Before I could say anything, though, Ma leaned close to me and shouted, “You need to go talk to Ashley!”   She pointed into the stand of young pines where I could just make out my wife.  She had her back to me as I approached, but I could see her wiping at her eyes.  They were red and streaked with smeared mascara when she turned to look at me.  

“We were at such a beautiful place at that pull off,” she said.  “This is terrible.”

“Yeah.  It is,” I said.  “We should go.”

Her eyes brightened at this.  It was like she was expecting protest and resistance from me—I cannot begin to fathom why—but, instead, she found a willing accomplice in a new plan to abandon the old plan.

We couldn’t get the Winnebago packed up fast enough.  The popouts were yanked back in and Jim was barely aboard, with a refunded $20 in his pocket, when we pulled out with the wife at the wheel.  Nice as it might be under different circumstances, we fled the Lake Louise Lodge as fast as we could.  Which, turns out, wasn’t very fast at all.   

*Ba duM BUM…  BA Dum bum*

*Ba duM BUM…  BA Dum bum*

During our 40 minute trek back to the pristine pulloff, I sat in the passenger seat and just felt awful about it all.  My stupid, selfish, romantic dream of lodge-life almost resulted in a night of misery for my family.  I couldn’t keep the tears back.  The wife reached over and took my hand. 

“It’s okay,” she said.  “It’s okay.”

Later, back at the pristine pulloff, we feasted upon the single pink salmon we’d caught a few days before.  It was super gross, but we washed it down with some of Ma’s fresh Alaska blueberry cobbler.  And the vampires who emerged from the abandoned camper to attack us at midnight weren’t even all that hard to kill.

EPILOGUE

Days later, back home in West Virginia, I realized that this was the first time Amber got to play a pivotal role in one of my Horribly True Tales herself.  For all her work promoting them, I guess in some twisted way this story is my gift to her. It seems a poor repayment for all her work somehow—and especially in light of a horribly-true-related gift she gave to me earlier in our Alaska journey. 

It was during the first week of our trip, as we were camped out in the driveway of a family friend in North Pole, that Amber told me the tale of one of her horribly true tale readings from a few years back.  It was done at a hospice, where she and others had gathered at the bed of a dying friend.  After days of sitting vigil and mourning the impending loss, the mood among them had indeed grown dark.  That was when Amber took out her phone, fired up my website, and began reading horribly true tales.  She said everyone laughed until they cried and that the stories were just the thing to help give them some light in the face of tragedy. 

This is not only the greatest compliment my horribly true tales have been paid, it is the greatest compliment any of my writing has been paid.  I will forever be grateful that my stories were put to such use.  And to Amber for telling me.   

“The Talkin’ Baby Bunny Burrito Blues”

I’m embarrassed to say it, but my wife and I have been harboring murderers in our house for several years now.  Three vicious killers, in fact.  Three slavering, fanged destroyers of life who enjoy nothing better than to wolf down baby bunnies as fast as they can get them.  We call these killers, the dogs.  And while we are horrified that this is their hobby, we are usually powerless to stop it.  Yes, if bunny chomping were a team sport, the score would be bunnies 0—dogs in the double digits.  To make things worse, the dogs often have co-conspirators in this carnage in the form of the cats.

One evening, from my office upstairs, I heard the high-pitched anguished cry of an animal downstairs.  I recognized it as the chirpy squeak of a baby bunny.  The doors were all closed, which meant that one of the cats had brought the bunny in through their kitty door.  They’re fond of doing this, but I don’t know why they bother.  In 100 percent of cases so far, the dogs have immediately taken the baby bunnies from the cats and then cheerfully devoured them.  Now don’t get me wrong, we try our best to stop it when this happens.  We scream “Leave it!  Leave it!  Leave it!” followed by “Drop it!  Drop it!  Drop it!” followed by “Eww, gyyahhhh, noooooo!  Just… just take it outside!  Outside!!!”   It’s the worst episode of Planet Earth you’ve ever seen.

Hearing the squeak downstairs, I cursed at the inevitable devouring that was about to befall the squeaker, but I went out to see what I could do.  From the landing, I could look down into the living room where I saw the squeaking bunny sitting all by itself in the middle of the floor near the dining room table.  The cat had allowed it to escape so he could play with it, but didn’t seem to be in a hurry to do so.  The bunny didn’t seem to be injured, and took the opportunity to run away, scurrying across the floor and then behind our entertainment center.  Unfortunately, it was spotted by our middle-child dog Moose, who had also heard its cry and come runnin’ in to find it.  He dashed behind the entertainment center after it.

What Moose failed to notice, though, but which I could see from my perch above the living room, was that the rabbit was no longer behind the entertainment center.  It had instead dodged beneath a low cabinet and changed direction, because I then saw it run along the baseboard of the back wall, past the closed back door, and then disappear behind the arm of a piece of furniture we call “the dog couch.”  (We call it “the dog couch” because it’s a ratty old sofa, primarily used by the dogs, and not to be confused with the “good sofa” which we reserve for ourselves and also often the dogs.)

I sighed and trudged downstairs to begin the no doubt futile process of trying to catch this stinking rabbit.

I crept in the direction of the dog couch, trying not to draw Moose’s attention to the bunny’s hiding place.  Moose was still behind the entertainment center looking for it, though, and had been joined there by our other two dog-children to form a bunny search party.  Meanwhile, our other cat, a remarkably dumb animal we call Fatty Lumpkin, had gone over to the couch to investigate the bunny.  As Fatty started to peek around the edge of the couch, the bunny suddenly popped out from that very corner.  This startled Fatty, who nearly broke a hip trying to flee the room.  His flight, in turn, startled the bunny, who ducked back behind the couch.

I walked over and opened the back door, creating an escape route for the bunny.  I then slipped over to the dog couch itself and began rattling the Venetian blinds which hung down beside the arm in the bunny’s hiding spot.  Sure enough, he popped back out and began hopping toward the open door.  And then he completely avoided safety and escape by hopping right past it.  In fact, the bunny was moving toward the dogs, who were all three still behind the TV looking for him.  I was pretty sure I was about to witness natural selection in action.  However, the bunny then changed direction again and scurried along the front edge of the “good” couch.  From there he hopped all the way over to the still closed front door at the front corner of the room.

As calmly as I could, I moved toward him, pausing only to pick up the soft green rag carpet we keep near the door, which I hoped to use as a makeshift net. Before I could get any closer, though, the bunny bolted along the side wall and I was forced to fling it early.  It flew and landed, not directly on the bunny but in his path at the base of that wall.  And the bunny dove beneath it.  I then stooped over and gently wrapped the carpet into a tube, creating a makeshift bunny burrito, which I then carried outside, closing the front door behind me.

I waited a few seconds, praying that the dogs had not noticed any of that.  Or, if they had noticed, that they would then not also notice that the back door was still wide open and run around the outside of the house.  Hearing no thundering canine approach, I deposited our guest onto the patio.  The bunny looked a little dazed as he peered around.  Then he wiggled his whiskers and hopped off into the night without so much as a thank you.  I watched him go, content in the knowledge that we’d finally scored one for the bunnies.

And back inside, the vicious bunny killers continued searching for him behind the TV for several more minutes.

“The Talkin’ Screaming Fire Detector, Step-Ladder Haulin’, High-Pitched Beep, 9 Volt Blues”

Our smoke/carbon monoxide detector had been alerting us for three days that its battery is low. It started just with a high-pitched single beep, but we could never tell which of the two detectors in the room was doing it at first, the one by the front door or the one on the upstairs landing ceiling. We used an umbrella to press the downstairs detector’s test button. It’s the fancier unit and, in addition to blaring its alarm multiple times, also shouted “FIRE! FIRE! FIRE!” and “CARBON MONOXIDE DETECTED!” I then hauled our step-ladder upstairs to press the button on the less-fancy one. It beeped just fine. Our mystery remained.

The next night, the downstairs detector began blaring a single shrill beep and shouting “LOW BATTERY DETECTED!” It started this at 10 o’clock at night as we were settling into bed. I decided I was too tired to haul my butt upstairs to retrieve both a new 9 volt and the step-ladder I’d left up there. So we lived with it for the night. It only interrupted sleep on a semi-hourly basis.

The next night I marched upstairs for both the new 9v and the step-ladder only to find that the last 9v in the pack had no charge when touched to my tongue. (You gotta touch it to your tongue. It’s a 9 volt, after all!) So we lived through another night punctuated by *BEEEP* “LOW BATTERY DETECTED!”

Today I went to the store and purchased a new pack of 9 volts. I chose the two pack rather than the cheaper four pack because the only thing that uses them in the house are the smoke detectors and this will make twice we’ve had to change them in the past five years. No use letting another $10 worth of batteries die in the pack.

I returned home, climbed the step-ladder already positioned beneath the detector, removed said detector from the ceiling, and discovered that it actually took three AA batteries the whole time.

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.

Who Watches the Watchmen? Clearly not me.

We got new phones in May of 2015, trading up to a Samsung Galaxy S4 for me and a Kyocera Brigadier for the wife.   (Yes, I know that the Galaxy S6 had just come out, but it was a mess of chrome coated plastic that I just couldn’t handle, so I went with the much more aesthetically pleasing, and cheap, S4.)

That day, over a year ago, I placed a call to eSecuritel, our phone insurer, to get the new phones added to our policy.  This is a company, mind you, that once allowed me to go quite a number of months without phone insurance because, when I phoned to have the credit card number for our account’s automatic payments, they replaced the number only for my wife’s old phone and not for mine.  I learned of this only after they sent me a fairly sternly worded letter three months later, warning that I would be cut off if I didn’t supply them with a valid credit card number with which my bill could be automatically paid.  I phoned and alerted them that I had, in fact, supplied them with just such a valid number and that they had, in fact, applied it to my wife’s half of the bill, but were apparently operating at one quarter ass power when updating mine.  (I did not use those exact words, but gave them the polite version.)  I paid my balance and supplied them, yet again, with the valid credit card number and thought we were good.  Then, more months later, when I had an actual claim to make on my old phone, I called them up to learn that I’d still been cruising without insurance for months because they had not actually replaced the credit card number for auto pay in the first place.  They would not even entertain any claims on my phone until I paid them the amount of money I would have already paid them had they done their jobs to begin with.  And, after doing so, they then denied me my claim.

This should all have been an early warning sign I was doing business with a shitfer company.

Like I said, though, we got new phones in May of 2015 and I called eSecuritel to arrange for the new phones to be added to the account and, also importantly, for the old phones to be removed from said account.  The eSecuritel rep said they would need device ID numbers and a proof of purchase for both of our phones before they could replace them in the account.  Their tone suggested this was a major inconvenience for them, instead of it actually being an inconvenience for me, the guy who had to scan all that stuff in.  But scan it I did and I emailed the scan to the email address they provided, along with typed out versions of the specific information they’d requested, pulled from said document: including contact info, account info, and a note that these new phones were to replace the ones in our account already.

I really should have done some followup.

Recently, my phone’s camera developed some sort of flaw with the lens–either a microscopic scratch on the exterior of the lens or something my ancient eyes cannot detect beneath the glass itself, which causes a fuzzy dot to appear in all photos taken with it.  I was hoping to see what could be done about this in terms of a replacement.   I tried to log into my account on eSecuritel’s website, but my username and password didn’t work.  I tried other passwords and even attempted their password reset, but it didn’t seem to want to do anything I was requesting.  I decided to phone them, but first searched my email for any previous correspondence.  I found the note from June of `15 with the bill of sale and all the numbers.  There was no followup response from them letting me know they’d actually done anything though.  So I looked up our last credit card statement because I wanted proof positive that I was paying them money.  We were, but for only one phone.

I called the number on their site.  This led to a phone tree that allowed me to type in my phone number and zip code, told me they would be recording the call for quality purposes, then said, “We cannot connect your call at this time.  Try again later” and hung up.  Did it twice.

I searched around online some more and found another number, but this gave the same result.  I finally found a third number online, on one of those sites designed to provide numbers that would connect you with a human being when phoning monolithic utilities.  And, true to the goal, I reached a real human being, all right.  They, however, worked for Asurion–a completely different cell insurance provider. Because Asurion works with Verizon, though, they were able to look up my account, and were extremely nice about it.  I was not listed as one of Asurion’s customers, though.

“Yeah, about that,” I began, before explaining who I was really trying to reach.  They expressed sympathy for my plight, and that they could not do anything to help me.  Before I hung up, I asked them what they charged per month, because I suspected I would be needing a new insurance provider.  She said they’d be happy to have me and that they were actually in an enrollment period now (something I’d already noted in an earlier email from Verizon proper). We wished each other a happy evening and departed as friends.

I tried eSecuritel’s number again and this time was able to get through.  It sounded like I’d reached someone in a work-from-home situation instead of a call center, but he was friendly enough.  Unfortunately, he couldn’t find any evidence that I was a customer.

“That’s probably because you guys didn’t actually set up our service.”

Sure enough, and despite all instructions to the contrary, eSecuritel had only set up insurance for my wife’s Kyocera Brigadier–a phone model that is both water proof, shock resistant, and armed with an indestructible screen, a phone therefore in need of insurance the least.  My Samsung has been whistling in the uninsured wind for over a year.  I would have known this if I’d been paying attention to the amount they had been charging us. But that’s the whole reason for setting up automatic payments in the first place–so I DON’T HAVE TO PAY ATTENTION!!!

The phone rep helpfully offered to set up insurance for it, but I politely stopped him.  I explained that a company that has failed to have me as a customer on multiple occasions, despite my best efforts to help them do so, is not one I wish to continue doing business with.  I asked him to please cancel our account.

“Sir, you do realize this will mean your wife’s phone will not be insured,” he said.

“Yes.  And I am 100 percent okay with that,” I told him.

The eSecuritel rep, offered no further argument.  After some typing, he said that he’d officially disconnected us, had refunded $4 of the month paid for so far, and that we’d be receiving no further charges from them.  (I fully expect we’ll be charged for four phones from here after, instead, but that’s just the pessimist in me.)

I immediately set up insurance through Asurion, via Verizon’s site.

“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.

Having reached the city in which the airport is located, we were just pulling off the interstate at the airport exit when 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.”

Her tone was grave.

“What?” I said.  Several frustrating seconds of silence passed.  “WHAT?!  WHAT IS IT!?”

“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 business of “Are ya sure?” but only halfheartedly because we both knew it to be true.  Her wallet was not with us.

“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 had to be–you know, on the off chance that we’d slipped into an alternate reality where 9/11 had not happened and we could still fly freely, sans ID, like it was still the `70s or something?  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-way-point-yet-to-be-determined.  The wife said “us,” but I was already mentally revising that to “her,” as there was nothing stopping me and my ID, which I’d managed to bring, from getting on the plane.  (I know, it sounds terribly selfish of me, but Tex Mex awaited and it wasn’t going to eat itself.)  We’d purchased the tickets directly from Delta, so we knew one of them could be changed to a later flight if need be–which was yet another reason to continue our trek to the airport.

A few minutes later, we reached the airport and swung into the closer-to-the-check-in-desks 20 minute parking lot and dashed for the Delta line.  We explained our major error of the morning to the two nice ladies at the Delta check-in desk. We were prepared for them to laugh at us, and would have gladly taken the ridicule.  Instead, they were sweet and sympathetic, as nice ladies often are.  However, they pointed out that the decision of what ID would be considered acceptable was not up to them 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.  “TSA 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 both of our bags under my name.  The ladies were even kind enough to waive the second bag fee, given the circumstances.  Soon the wife returned with a fistful of papers from the glove box and we lugged our carry on down to TSA.  There 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 took a gander at this pile of half-expired crap, sniffed a couple of times, and said the paraphrased equivalent of “Yep, that’ll do.”  And they escorted us right on through to the security area, with all the conveyor belts and x-ray machines, where we were asked for our shoes.

We were stunned and amazed.

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.  And 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.  And we sat in silence as the plane taxied to its gate, unsure of what, if anything, might be done to fix this grand and sandy EFFing we were about to receive.

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

“Oh, no,” I said, allowing a very pregnant pause.  “I believe YOU should be the one to call them.”

So she did.

The folks the wife 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 might be, as it could potentially have been cheaper to just let it be towed.  The wife did not know the fee, but pointed out that it also potentially could cost far more, 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 make the 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 like to have when it came to your spare key.  For 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 the location of that safe place, and then placing the key immediately in that location.  Only now, weeks later, I 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 top of the wife’s dresser in which she keeps spare change from foreign lands.  Or maybe the wooden box within a wooden box within a wooden box that also lived atop my dresser.  Or possibly it was just the wooden structure of the junk drawer in the kitchen.  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 other junk drawers, the copper dish on my dresser, a different wooden box, the drawers in the antique dressing table by the front door that we don’t know what else to do with but store random crap within, 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, and my underwear drawer.  And, we asked, was K.T. truly truly certain she’d actually checked the junk drawer in the kitchen?  I mean, thoroughly?  She swore she had torn all of those 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.  From all indications, this 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 and guilted my wife until she called the airport again to learn to where our car had been towed and ask much it was going to cost us.  It was a different person on shift, though, so she had to explain to this new soul the level of dumbassery we had achieved by leaving our car in 20 minute parking and then flying several hundred miles away.  Eventually, she was told that despite previous promises to have the car towed, it was still in 20 minute parking.  Again, they said, if we could get someone to come move it for us,  maybe—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 an estimated bill total.  They said they’d see what they could do about that and might get back to us.

Naturally, that was the last we heard from them for the rest of the week.  And, after hanging up with them, the wife announced it would be the last time she would be phoning anyone about the matter.  She was not going to let worrying about the car ruin our vacation.  If the airport wanted to tow it, they could tow it and we’d just have to deal with it later and pay whatever they asked.  It wasn’t like they were going to put it in a car crusher or blow it up, or something—they could only relocate it.  This was all just a problem for Future Us to be concerned about and Present Us, at least her half, would be thinking no more of it til the end of the trip.  I had to grudgingly admit this made a lot of sense.  I didn’t like it, but it made sense.  So I stopped worrying about it, too.

In the meantime, K.T. 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 encountered family and friends both old and new.  We laughed and laughed about how screwed we probably were, but also about 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, and still cheaper than paying K.T. $200 to move the car.  And the reason for this lack of towing came down to having 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.  The airport police thought this was overkill, though, so they usually just left the cars where they were and gave them daily tickets–which they probably saw more money from anyway.

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

The Talkin’ I Am Just An Ordinary Guy, Burnin’ Down The House, Blues Part II: Still Burnin’ After All These Years (a frighteningly familiar churnin’ burnin’ Horribly True Tale)

In a Horribly True Tale I penned nearly ten years ago, I mused that perhaps I shouldn’t be allowed to be a home owner due to the occasional lapses in attention to detail I suffer from when it comes to major home appliances.  Said lapses have previously included: leaving for work with a turkey carcass on the stove in the cast iron Dutch oven with the burner beneath it set to medium; and, in a separate incident, turning the wrong burner of the same stove onto high so that all of its heat was applied to a plastic spatula rather than to the tea kettle for which I’d intended it.  However, all previous warning signs to the contrary, I am now a home owner and have been for well over two years without any major incidents.  Oh, sure, we’ve had to make it a family policy that all tea kettles in the house must come equipped with lids that not only howl and whistle, but which also automatically close and cannot be left ajar, preventing me from burning up any more of them due to inattention.  But that’s hardly anything to get excited about, right?  Right?

Today seemed an average day.  I woke, saw the wife off to work, made coffee, ate breakfast, walked our two dogs, annoyed our two cats, assembled a podcast, wrestled with the uploading of the podcast, discovered it was my treacherous firewall causing the FTP clog, fixed that, publicized the upload and then ate some lunch.  I noted while digging in the refrigerator at lunch that we had an awful lot of raw green beans left over from our recent venture into the realm of summer time home-delivery of organic veggies.  One bag of them had already gone bad, but we still had a giant plastic container that I’d spent the better part of an hour filling with beans I’d snapped myself which soon would go bad if they weren’t cooked.  Wouldn’t hurt to make them for supper, I reasoned.

Around 2:30 I decided to head to the gym and to the grocery store.  I was about to leave when my progress was interrupted by a 20 minute phone call from our insurance company.  After taking care of that, I left the dogs and cats in the house and drove across town to the gym.  There I had a semi-vigorous workout for 35 minutes or so, checked the bulletin board on the way out for any new cool happenings about town, ran into our friend Tarek in the parking lot and talked to him for a couple of minutes before leisurely driving over a few blocks to Kroger.  There I strolled into the building through the exterior set of automatic doors, chose a shopping cart and then went through the interior set of automatic doors and began shopping for more produce.  Something tickled in my mind at that thought, but I put it aside as I’d found some Asian pears that looked tasty, followed shortly by some avocados.  A minute later, I was swinging my cart back toward the vegetables proper when my eyes fixed upon a bin of green beans and the tickling in my mind transformed into a shudder of horror.

What I’ve neglected to mention until this point in the narrative is that earlier in the day—more precisely, between the time I had decided to go to the gym and the time the insurance company had phoned—I’d put all of the green beans from the plastic container into the largest of our butt-ass expensive Pampered Chef pots (the very ones my wife had hosted a Pampered Chef party in order to get a high enough discount on them to justify their expense) and put them on the stove where I planned for them to simmer to perfection while I was out on errands.  However, after giving them only a few minutes on the burner’s #2 setting, I’d gone back and turned the dial up to high so the beans would start to boil and get a head start on the cooking process.  My plan had been to turn them back down to simmer after they hit a boil.  And even as I’d turned the knob to high, I had thought to myself that I should be very careful to remember that I’d turned the beans to HIGH, because it would be a horrible tragedy if I were to run off to the gym with the beans on high and burned down the house as a result.  Then the phone had rung and 20 minutes of retirement talk and Simple IRA explanation ensued, after which I had practically bolted from the house leaving all the animals trapped inside behind me.  All of this flashed through my mind over the course of one second, there in the vegetable aisle of Kroger.

Abandoning my shopping cart where it stood, I hurled the peaches and avocadoes in the direction of their displays, already shifting my ass into proper hauling gear as I headed toward the automatic doors.  I then nearly slammed into said doors, which failed to automatically open for me and played a loud klaxon alarm as punishment for my attempt to egress through them.  Apparently once you got into Kroger, you could not get out via that door.

“OH, GODDAMMIT!” I screamed across the produce section.  I didn’t have time to argue with the doors, though.  I ran between the nearby service desk and the checkout lanes and then through the other set of automatic doors Kroger has deemed as their preferred exit.

In the parking lot, as I ran toward my car, I was already trying to determine the probability that my house and pets were now in flames.  I’d only been gone for around 45 minutes, so I thought it unlikely that the house had ignited yet.  Granted, many house fires start in mere seconds, but the one on the stove was at least contained within an expensive and high-quality stew pot, lid secured atop it, situated beneath a stainless steel oven hood.  There had probably been enough time for the broth and water to have cooked off, leaving only the moisture in the beans to prevent actual combustion.  If I could get home as quickly as possible, I might only have a smoky house and freaked out pets to deal with.

The problem with exiting the parking lot of Kroger in Princeton, WV, is that while there are three exits for the lot none of them are ideal for a quick departure.  The easternmost exit is probably the least used and therefore the quickest, but it isn’t so much an exit as a connection to the speed-bump strewn shopping center next door.  It also puts you at the furthest distance from the road leading to the highway I needed to take in order to get home, which was to the southwest.  The most direct route to the highway, the westernmost exit, was no good either, though, because it always has heavy traffic pouring by it from the north and south, but with really shitty sight lines, making it extremely difficult to turn left there.  I opted instead to take the northernmost exit, which has just as much traffic as the western exit, but with better sight lines and the notable advantage of having a chicken lane.  Unfortunately, it’s also the exit that every slow-of-ass human being tries to use and they always turn left.  Sure enough, as I arrived at that exit there were already two vehicles ahead of me, intent on turning left but unwilling to actually go when given clear opportunities to do so.

A momentary digression on the topic of going:  I’ve been a licensed driver for over 23 years now and in that time I have come to the conclusion that ours would be a far better world if all drivers of all vehicle-equipped nations could find it in their hearts to simply go.  This is not to say there is not a time and place for caution behind the wheel, but, for the vast majority of any driver’s time, going is the policy preferable to me, especially when I’m the guy behind the person who isn’t going or am otherwise in a circumstance where I am forced to rely upon them to go in order that I may also go.  I fully realize that there are plenty of allegedly valid reasons as to why people do not go as they should, such as red lights, or the desire not to violate posted speed limits, or two lanes of busy cross traffic at 4 o’clock on a Friday afternoon.  These excuses matter not one whit to me when it comes to my desire for other drivers to go.  And regardless of whether or not the driver in question can go, I make my feelings known by screaming the word “GO!!!!” at full volume from the safety of the interior of my vehicle.  It is the single word that I have screamed the most during my lifetime and it is my behavior to do so on any given average day.  So imagine, if you will, the rending of vocal cords that occurred as I sat behind the two cars at this northernmost Kroger entrance/exit, with my house and pets going up in smoke in my imagination.

After nearly a minute of impotent screaming, the front car was able to escape from the parking lot, leaving behind the small, primer-colored pickup truck in front of me driven by a young woman whose aspect in her rear view mirror suggested her to be maybe 20 years old.  Her passenger in the truck cab looked to be another similarly aged girl.  In the bed of the truck was a teenaged boy wearing a ball-cap and looking mighty dissatisfied with his lot in life.  This driver also refused to go.  However, she not only refused to go in the long intervals of heavy traffic during which she could not go, but also during the two or three occasions when there were large enough gaps in the traffic in which she conceivably could have gone had she but the skill to do so.  At least three minutes passed during which my mental image of my pets aflame because of this girl blocking my path caused my blood pressure to spike.  I slammed my fists on the steering wheel and wailed “GOOOOOOO!!!!”  Then, around the start of the fourth minute, both lanes of traffic magically cleared and the girl had no remaining obstacles to her path forward for a nearly a quarter mile in each directionAnd yet there she sat, her head swiveling back and forth, regarding both of the clear lanes of non-traffic, her foot firmly on the brake.  Never mind that her situational luck would not hold for very long and soon traffic signals would turn green and hellish road congestion would again be unleashed upon the land, she remained stationary as though she fully expected Doc Brown and the DeLorean to slam through the space-time continuum and cut her off.  I laid on my horn, causing the kid in the back to jump, and again screamed “GOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!”  The girl stomped the gas, then immediately stomped the brakes, causing the kid in the back to first fall forward and then suddenly backward, smacking his head into the back of the truck cab.  He looked pissed, but didn’t actively climb out to come beat me about the face and neck, nor did he even make eye contact with me.  He just rubbed his head while the driver moved forward not even an inch.  I don’t know if she was trying to punish me for daring to impugn her driving ability or if she just couldn’t get it into first gear, but by the time she was able to move again the traffic flow had resumed before us and it was another half minute before enough of a gap opened up for her to escape—though not long enough for me to.  A minute later, I caught a break and I floored it all the way to the westernmost traffic light where I managed to turn left in a narrow and perhaps unadvisable window of space.  I then sped toward the next traffic light that led onto highway 460, but was forced to stop a good 200 yards from it when I saw the enormous line of cars that were waiting to turn left onto the highway there.  I screamed and raged and pounded the steering wheel some more, all because I’ve found myself in similar lines at that light before and knew that it would be at least a ten minute wait to get out.  People in huge lines at that like traditionally do not go, and drag ass in moving at all, allowing the light to cycle back to red before anyone can move more than two car lengths forward.  The right-turn lane, however, was practically wide open and had a green arrow.  I roared past the slow asses, turned right and then tore down the highway in search of the first police median turnaround I could find.  There weren’t any, so it was a good two miles before I reached the next intersection where I was able to whip a U-turn and floor it back the way I’d come.  The light near Kroger was kind to me, this time, and I zoomed perpendicular to the line of non-going slow-asses there who I’m pretty sure hadn’t moved an inch since I’d passed them a minute earlier

Down the highway I roared, easily doing 70 in a 55.  My plan, if pulled over for speeding, was to inform the officer that he was welcome to give me as many tickets for speeding and reckless endangerment as he liked, but he was going to have to give them to me in the driveway of my potentially burning house because I wasn’t going to hang around.

The next four traffic lights were not kind.  In fact, the first of them contained a stalled vehicle that was blocking one of the lanes—MY LANE!!!—further gumming up traffic.  The color red, more commie slow-asses and Grampy Patrol members bedeviled me on my way through the next three lights, after which I finally arrived at the road leading to my neighborhood.  I traversed its mile-long, serpentine length at breakneck speed, the lack of smoke above the trees providing me some hope.

As I reached my driveway, the house appeared intact and I could see no smoke through the windows.  As I exited the car, however, I could definitely smell something odd in the air.  I bounded around the back of the house and threw open the back door.  Flames did not explode into my face, Backdraft style.  And while the interior of my house was definitely smoky, it was not exactly floor-to-ceiling smoky.

Our youngest dog, Moose, was running through the kitchen looking very concerned.  From the front dining room of the house I heard our other dog Sadie barking.  Then they both whipped past me and out into fresh air.

I turned off the burner of the stove, the stench of charred beans coming from the pot atop the burner.  The cooking surface around the pot was covered in a ring of brackish colored crust.  There were scorched-on spill stains along the sides of the Pampered Chef pot, made when the liquid contents had boiled over. Its clear glass lid was tinted brown and sounded as if it were on the verge of exploding from the heat coursing through its metal frame.  Through its now tinted surface I could see that the pot no longer contained any liquid and the formerly impressive pile of beans within were now basically a thin layer of charcoal around an inch in height from the bottom of the pot.

After I’d opened all the windows and doors in the house, it occurred to me that the one thing missing from all this was the blare of our smoke detector in the hallway immediately outside our bedroom.  There was smoke in our bedroom, which would have had to have wafted past the detector on the way into the room, so I didn’t know what the detector’s excuse was for remaining silent.  I poked its test button with a stick and it flared to life, spewing high pitched alarm beeps and then shouting “FIRE!  FIRE!” followed by “WARNING!  CARBON MONOXIDE DETECTED!”  Turns out, this is just what it always does when the test button is pressed.  Otherwise, this Kidde Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detector appeared to be very late to the party.

The dogs watched as I hauled the pot of bean-char outside and set it on a patch of dirt.  They looked more than a little worried, so I told them they were good dogs, gave them dog hugs and apologized profusely for leaving them in the house with a burning pot of beans.  After giving the pot an hour to cool, I dumped the remains of the beans into the compost bin and washed out the pot.  The interior bottom of it had lost much of its nonstick surface and is likely ruined.  As pricey as the pot was, I’d rather buy a new one than a new house.

By the time the wife arrived home, several hours later, I’d put candles out in all the rooms and tried to make the place smell as good as it could under the circumstances.  She, to say the least, was not happy about the beans or her Pampered Chef pot.  Mostly, though, she was glad that the house and its residents were all okay.  We joked to the dogs for the rest of the evening about how their Pa had tried to kill them and, likely, would again in the future.

Even with all the windows open, it took two days for most of the smoke smell to dissipate and now, several days later, we still get a whiff of it when opening up closets and cabinets that had since remained closed.  The ghost of burned beans past.

 

 

Copyright © 2010 Eric Fritzius

The Talkin’ I Can’t Get into Things Without My Magic Keys of Satisfaction Blues (a horribly yet magically true tale)

I’ve had my Subaru Forester since February and have enjoyed it quite a bit—particularly its allowing-me-to-traverse-my-icy-hilly-blind-curve-filled-neighborhood-in-the-winter feature that my previous vehicle did not possess. It’s a nice roomy car that can haul lots of stuff, such as heavy, enormous dogs and is plenty comfy. It also came factory-equipped with an Oh Shit-handle above the driver’s side door, which is an innovation that gives me far more comfort than any unseen airbag ever could.  One of the only drawbacks to my ownership of it, though, is that until recently I have only had one key for it.

When we purchased this previously-driven vehicle in February, we were given two key fobs and one actual key. We were told at the time that the previous owners of the car had not returned both of the keys, but were assured by our salesman—let’s call him Stan—that he would be in touch with the previous owners soon and they would return the second key within a very short period of time. Having two keys for our vehicles is pretty important in my family, as I’m married to a kind and wonderful lady who has been known on more than one occasion to lock herself out of her own vehicle. The two key fobs would certainly help in unlocking the car in such a time of need, but the wife doesn’t even carry her own fob, let alone be willing to carry mine. Hell, I only started carrying mine after a series of embarrassing incidents involving the Subaru’s tendency to blast the horn in alarm whenever the door is unlocked using the actual key alone. There is a way to tell it to stop doing that, but you have to tell it every single time and I can never remember the steps, so I just carry the fob.

Jump ahead to late April. We happened to be driving by the dealership, which prompted the wife to inquire if her key had ever arrived. It had not, so we stopped and I went in to ask Stan about it. I had to reintroduce myself and explain the lack of a second key thing. At the time, though, he was in the middle of a sale and asked if I could call him back about it some other time. He said was sure he had it somewhere.

Jump ahead to June. I never heard from Stan, nor did I call him back as requested, mostly because I sensed that there was no way he actually had my other key and that getting a new one would be the equivalent in difficulty to going on a magical quest akin to the Lord of the Rings.  Eventually, though, the topic of the key came up again when I had to borrow the wife’s car to haul a larger amount of stuff than my car could handle and we again had to trade keys. I decided it was time to get this key quest straightened out.

I returned to the dealership one afternoon, found Stan, reintroduced myself and told him I was still in need of the second key. He wasn’t in the middle of a sale this time, but another salesperson had commandeered his office for a sale of their own, so he couldn’t get to his desk, where he assured me the key was located.  He asked if I could return later in the day.

“Well, either today or tomorrow,” I offered.

It was at this point that Stan should have piped up to alert me to the fact that the following day was his day off and that he would not be there. Stan, however, is a salesman and therefore sends off salesguy vibes.  They reminded me of the vibes I used to detect from a particularly weaselly ad sales guy I once used to work with in my radio days, whose nickname was, in fact, The Weasel. This is not to say that I think Stan is necessarily a weasel (NOD), but like many of his erminey ilk he defaults to behavior designed not to mess up a potential sale, such as never telling people things they might not want to hear like I’m going to be gone on my day off.  Clearly, he preferred to instead have me return two days later pissed off.  Come to think of it, that’s pretty weaselly behavior, so let’s put another checkmark on the Weasel Chart for Stan.

So, after returning on his day off to find Stan absent and his even more openly weasel-like fellow salesman unwilling to help me for fear of screwing up something Stan might conceivably have in the works, I returned again two days later. I was determined that while I would not be openly hostile, I would also do nothing to disguise my annoyance with everyone involved.

Through the window, I could see that Stan saw me coming and perhaps even noted my expression, for he immediately put down his slice of pizza and ran to riffle in his desk drawers before I could even open the door.  Spouting apologies for not having begun this search weeks before, he began pulling fistfuls of key fobs out of the desk in his search, looked in all the drawers, looked in his filing cabinet, and made more nervous small talk. Failing to find any Subaru keys, he apologized again and then disappeared into the depths of this particular building of the dealership complex for a full ten minutes, leaving me to watch his more weaselly-looking fellow sales guy slink around in an attempt to look busy.

Eventually Stan returned to announce that he’d spoken with someone with technical skills and they were even then printing instructions on how to program a “new one” for me.  These modern car keys sounded complicated.

Soon enough, another fellow came out, instructions in hand and he and Stan followed me out to my car. At the technician’s request, I handed him my keys and he had a seat behind my steering wheel. He was there for under a minute when he emerged, holding up my keys by the fob with one hand and a second fob in the other. The second fob was our extra fob that my wife had left in the car while driving it days before.

“Does this one work?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said.

“And yours works?” he asked, dangling my keys from their fob.

“Yeah.”

“Then why do you need another one?”

Inwardly I smiled.

“I don’t,” I said. “We already have two key fobs. What we don’t have are two actual keys.”

The technician looked confused for a moment. “You don’t have two keys?” he asked.

“Nope,” I said. “That’s why I’ve been coming in here for the past several days asking for a second key.”

Wow that was a massively satisfying thing to be able to say. In fact, it was worth all the hassle so far just to be able to say it in a perfectly pitched tone of calm, polite, righteous indignation.

The technician turned a cold eye in Stan’s direction then stalked off toward the building, wadding up his instruction pages and pitching them at the nearest trash can upon entry. Stan looked rather embarrassed, standing there in the illumination from my blazing self-satisfaction.

“I feel like a huge idiot,” he said.

I said not a word to dissuade him of this notion.

Stan leaped into action to right his wrong. He piled into a golf cart and asked me to follow him down to another of the buildings in the complex. I was then led on a merry chase from building to building, eventually just joining Stan in the golf cart to save time. At each stop, Stan was treated to having employee after employee explain that he was in the wrong department and would need to go talk to so and so over in such and such other department. Half an hour later I was still waiting for a key, but was at least standing in line in the correct department with the correct employee, who had only moments before sent Stan on yet another trek to locate a blank key for him to cut.

Again, the magical quest would have been easier.  Turned out, though, mine was not yet completed.

Upon Stan’s return with the blank, he announced that he was going to head back up to his own building, since I didn’t really need him there for the rest of the process. At first I was tempted to explain to him that I’d already invested far more of my afternoon—nay, my MONTH—in this little venture, all of which was due to his inability to follow up on assurances he’d made to us four months prior, and that until I had a working key in my hand he was just going to have to suck it up and waste some of his time, in addition to wasting mine. I almost said that. However, I’d long since decided that I didn’t really like Stan very much, nor did I care to listen to any more of his uncomfortable attempts at small talk, which I sensed would almost certainly soon turn to sports, a topic in which I’m not only uninterested but also illiterate.  I told him to begone and he vanished in a puff of weasel-tinged brimstone.

The guy with the key-cutter soon produced a replica key for me, but explained that it wouldn’t actually work with my car until they cast a few spells on the magic chip embedded in it.  The wizard for this was located in one of the previous departments we’d visited, back up the hill.  I climbed into my car and tested this new key in the ignition.  As was foretold, only my original key would start my vehicle.

I made the journey back up the hill to what I believed to be the wizard’s lair, only to be told that the wizard in question, who actually worked next door, had been sent on a side-quest and would be back in a sec. They advised me to go wait in the sun by the wizard’s mystical garage bay. So I waited. And I waited. After ten minutes and half a sunburn, I went back inside to inquire if the wizard had been alerted to my presence.

“He’ll be back in just a minute, sir,” the man there said.

I returned to the garage to find that the sorcerer’s apprentice had appeared and was working on another car. He asked who I was waiting for. I told him the wizard’s name.

“Jimmy,” I said.

The apprentice nodded, but said that the Wizard Jimmy’s quest had involved taking a vehicle to one of the dealership’s other branches. He would, the apprentice assured me, be back. I did the math in my head, though, and knew that the branch in question was a good ten miles away. What choice did I have, though? I waited.

Eventually, the Wizard Jimmy did appear.  The skin of his arms, baked dark by the blazing sun above, was marked with black and arcane symbols no doubt denoting his elevated status among his wizardy brethren.  He was also the least weaselly person I’d met the entire day. I found him instantly likable even beyond the fact that he held the power to set me free from my now hour plus trial.

The Wizard Jimmy asked what wish he could grant me. I gave him both my magic key and my somewhat less magic key.  He then asked me to search my heart to determine whether I truly only desired two keys, or if perhaps I might one day want more.  For once his arcane arts were applied to them, no more keys could ever be produced. I told him I was true of heart in my desire for only the two.  The Wizard Jimmy then produced a flat brown creature—his familiar, I’m sure—and inserted my keys into its orifices. It squeaked as he massaged the rows of scales upon its back. A few moments later, he removed my keys from it and passed them into my grateful hands with a hearty, “There you go, big guy.”

I climbed into my vehicle and found that both of the keys worked as promised. I waved to the wizard and then sped from the parking lot, not even bothering to return to the office of the wizard’s supervisor for fear he would present me with a bill for all their sorcery and this would be a situation in which I would be unable to restrain myself from calling down furious wrath upon one and all. So far, they haven’t called to tell me otherwise, though one of their minions did leave a message asking if my experience was satisfactory. I have yet to phone her back.

 

Copyright © 2010 Eric Fritzius

The Talkin’ Fun With Chase Bank Blues

We love Chase Bank. Sure, they’re a multinational conglomerate that’s probably directly or indirectly responsible for much of the world’s misery and pain, but they’ve been fairly kind to us. More accurately, they’ve been fairly kind to us as compared with other such thieving, conniving, misery-spreading credit card organizations which shall remain nameless. (*COUGH*COUGH*SHITIBANK*COUGH*)

We’ve had a Chase Platinum Mastercard for a couple of years now. (“Ooooooh, ahhhhhh!”)  I’m sure Chase wanted us to see it as some kind of status symbol when they offered it, but I’m pretty sure anyone who hasn’t recently declared bankruptcy probably has one of these in their couch cushions somewhere. When we lived in Charlotte, back before we were poor college students and had a decent income, we used to pay all of our bills with the card, then pay it off, on time, every month just to cheese off Chase.  As revenge, they upped our credit limit in the hope we’d start spending more frivolously.

That all sounds pretty swell, but the thing we really like about Chase Bank is not that they gave us the Chase Platinum Mastercard but that they continue trying to give us more and more Chase Platinum Mastercards despite the fact that we already have one.  It’s now gotten to the point that nearly one out of five calls to our house is a Chase representative offering us a great deal on a Platinum Mastercard from them. I’ve heard Ashley repeatedly explain to Chase’s tele-minions that we don’t need their card because we have one already and how can they not already know this since they’re the company that gave it to us in the first place. They usually scratch their heads and resolve that we’re lying to them because they keep calling back.

Today it was my turn.

*RING*

ME:  Hello.

TELE-MINION:  Hello, my name is Barbara. May I please speak with Ashley Fritzuuii… Fruitziiuce… Frizzutiuezs…?

 ME:  Fritzius?

 TELE-MINION:  Yes.

 ME:  I’m sorry, Barbara, but she’s not here right now.

 TELE-MINION:  Very well, sir. I’ll call back another time.

ME:  May I ask what this is regarding?

 TELE-MINION:  I’m with Chase Bank.

 ME:  Ah. Would this be a credit card offer?

 TELE-MINION: (Cautiously)  Why, yes. It is.

 ME:  Ah. Would this be a credit card offer for a Chase Platinum Mastercard?

 TELE-MINION:  (Surprised)  Why, yes. It is.

 ME:  (Adopting best John Cleese circa Holy Grail French accent)  We already got one. Is ver’ nice’a!

After Barbara the tele-minion stopped laughing (which just goes to show even evil minions get Python references) she was able to look in the case history of our call-center telemarketing file and see that the last several calls to us were met with wild claims of our already having the card.  Didn’t seem to matter because, as Barbara explained, all previous tele-minions had checked the Attempt Later box on their call-center screens, passing our hot potato on to the next rube. Barbara promised to check the Already Got One box instead, so our hot potato should cease to be an issue.  (This is not the first time we’ve been told this, I might add.)

Being a devious soul, though, it seems to me that this series of calls demonstrates a flaw in the tele-minion/potential customer relationship.  That flaw is: They can’t really know if I’m lying.  Sure, I haven’t lied to them yet, but that hasn’t done me any good at all. They still call back despite my truthful proclamations that I cannot use what they’re offering because I already have it.

And in this we find a new fun way to play with the minds of the various other multinational, misery-spewing conglomerates of the world. I think it should become my personal policy that whenever a tele-minion of any sort phones I should just tell them I already have whatever it is they’re trying to sell and that I’m really steamed about all the calls I keep getting about it and now wish to cancel my order or service. Of course, they won’t be able to find an order to cancel or an account to close or a history of either, leaving me plenty of room to get royally angry about their incompetence. They’ll have to get their supervisor on the line who won’t be able to figure anything out any better.  He’ll call his superior in (who, as middle management, traditionally has even less idea what’s going on than the folks on the floor–I know, I used to work for Onstar.)  He’ll call the tech-department, who also won’t be able to figure out what’s going on and may be more likely to know that I’m lying, but no one believes the techies anyway so it won’t matter.  Eventually, they’ll have no choice but to offer me lots of money for my all my trouble. Then a few days later, they’ll be calling again to start the vicious circle once again.

I have way too much time on my hands, don’t I?

Copyright © 2009 Eric Fritzius

 

The Talkin’ Actual Fantasy Telephone Conversations Not Actually Heard in My House Blues (a Horribly Untrue Tale)

*RING*

ME— Hello?

(Silence)

ME— Hello?

(*SILENCE*)
(*CLICK*)

MICHAEL— Hello?

(*SILENCE*)

ME— Helloooo?

MICHAEL— Hello. Mr. Fritz…  Fritzi…. Frietz…. Fritsieus?

ME— Yes?

MICHAEL— Hi, my name is Michael and I work for the State Troopers’ Association. As you may know, our fall fund drive is approaching and it’s very import that we…

ME— (Rudely interrupting) Here’s where I have to stop you, Michael. See, I’ve already had this conversation with about four of you guys in the past four months and I can already tell you exactly how this is going to go down.

MICHAEL— Sir, I…

ME— No, no. Let me finish, Michael. Cause I’m pretty good at this. See, Michael, had I allowed this call to continue, uninterrupted, what would have happened is as follows: You would have continued speaking, going into a long-winded spiel about how the Troopers’ Association needs money and is in the process of gearing up for their annual fund drive and were hoping to find people willing to donate funds to that drive. However, Michael, you would have delivered this appeal in such a rapid-fire burst of speech that I would not have been able to get a word in edgewise without rudely interrupting you.  In order not to seem rude, I would then have allowed you blow on for nearly a minute until you came to the end of the massive paragraph printed on the card in front of you. At that point, you would have issued an inquiry such as, “Can we count on you for $50?” or “How much can we count on you for?”  You might even use a bold statement such as “I can put you down for $50.”  Whichever you used, the goal of your endgame, as we both know, would be to get me to part with as much money as possible, with continued negotiations downward should I not wish to give the full $50. At this point, Michael, you would have at last paused to allow me to speak, an opportunity I would then take in order to make the point I would have preferred to have made far earlier; which is this: beyond the repeated annoying phone calls, I have nothing against the Troopers’ Association, nor many of the other organizations who call seeking my money; I do, however, have a hard and fast rule in my household, which is that I accept absolutely no telephone solicitation of any kind. The only exception to this rule is if that solicitation is coming directly from representatives of my telephone company, my long-distance service or a competing long-distance service, and these are only entertained if those companies are actively looking to save me money over my present services. Even then, it’s really really dicey.  To date, not one of them has succeeded.

MICHAEL— Sir, I can assure you that I’m not soli…

ME— At that point in our hypothetical conversation, Michael, you would have rudely interrupted me to assure me that you were not actually soliciting money over the telephone at all, and what you had only intended to do was to offer to send me material in the mail which I might look over and then make a donation of an amount of my choosing, say $50. You would then have further assured me, as your brethren have many times before, that this was in no way telephone solicitation. I would then have been forced to read to you the definition of solicitation out of my handy American Heritage Dictionary; which is, Michael: 1) To seek to obtain by persuasion, entreaty, or formal application; or 2) To petition persistently. Both of these would have fit our particular conversation like chipped beef gravy on a biscuit.

MICHAEL— But, sir, I…

ME— And it is at that point in our conversation, Michael, that you would either have attempted a second dash against the defensive barriers of the definition of solicitation, or—more likely—hung up the phone without another word, or—even more likely—hung up the phone while uttering the word “asshole” slightly over your breath. (Pause) So, Michael… Why don’t we save ourselves some time, here, and you can just go ahead and pick one of those options now.

MICHAEL— (*CLICK*)

ME— Click indeed, Michael. Click, indeed.

Copyright © 2009 Eric Fritzius