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Birthday Surprise(s) Part 4

I walked in to find the wife reading a text message from her sister Amber.  She then hurried to her laptop and brought up Facebook.  “Ohhhh,” she said a moment later, in a sad tone.

Future family member

Future family member

“What?  What is it?” I asked, moving over to look.  On the screen was a picture of a St. Bernard sitting on a patch of bare dirt, a chain attached to the collar at her neck.  She looked a little dirty and thin, but was beautiful all the same.  The Facebook page was a collection of classified ad listings for the Fort Knox-area.  The dog in question was a 10-month-old full-blooded St. Bernard called “Darla” who was owned by a family whose financial circumstances had recently changed to the point that they had to leave their home and could no longer care for such a growing large dog. The pooch, we were told by Amber, was living with some relatives of the owners.  Inwardly, I cursed when I heard this, because I could see in that moment a terrifying possible future outcome, one which I had been fighting against for the past two years and hoped to continue doing so for years to come.

Let me back up.

For the past, say, 26 months now, the wife has wanted a St. Bernard.  She used to have one named Honeybee when she lived in Alaska and loved her dearly.  Unfortunately, Honey Bee died about a year after we began dating in 1998.  Since then, she has wanted another Saint and our existing dogs were acquired while trying to acquire St. Bernards.

Our little pound puppy

Our little pound puppy

In fact, it was a very similar photo of a very similar sad orphaned puppy that I saw staring at me from a computer screen back in 2008 just days before she came into our life as our dog Sadie.  Sadie was supposed to be a St. Bernard, but turned out to be a more likely candidate for a Great Pyrenees/Border Collie mix.  Our more recent dog, Moose, was also supposed to be a mix of St. Bernard and Leonberger, which would have made for a ginormous dog had this actually been true.  No one thought to tell him he needed to keep growing beyond the 45 pounds he’s managed in his four years of life, though, so mainly he’s just a brown dog.  During the past couple of years, though, the wife has continued to lobby for trying again to find a full blooded saint and this is a lobbying effort I have fought strongly against.

Two dogs, in my oft-stated opinion, was great—especially our two dogs, who are just wonderful, eager-to-please little beasties who only occasionally roll in fecal matter (which one of them has done TODAY!!!!).  However, it’s taken a long time and a lot of work to mold them into their near-feacalless-semi-perfection.  They mostly get along, hardly chase the cats at all, and it was a delicate dynamic I wasn’t interested in upsetting by introducing another dog.  Three dogs, I said, would be terrible, especially when two of them would be very large dogs.  We’d have to walk them in shifts.  (Heh, “we.”)  And forget just popping them in the car and heading to the beach to stay with Ashley’s parents and grandmother.  Two they can handle, but with three it gets crowded, and fast.  Plus, I said, what about the camping trips we’ve recently begun to take–especially the kayaking camping trips?  We can barely kayak with two dogs, let alone a third really giant, heavy dog.  It would have to have its own kayak or learn to swim.  There was also the matter of caring for, training, and providing post-midnight potty sessions for a new dog, most of the responsibility for which would fall upon my shoulders.  The wife would get to come home and have all the good times with few of the bad times.

However, as many selfish reasons as I was able to come up with, the major reason I saw came down to our existing two dogs and their temperament around other dogs: it’s been dicey.  Sadie either tries to herd them or growls at them and Moose, when he’s been around puppies in the past, tends to start drooling and snapping at them.  Adding a third would potentially be catastrophic.

With all that in mind, I was fully prepared to go back into my list of reasons a third dog was a woefully bad idea.  I didn’t want to look at the dog’s picture, I didn’t want to hear its sob story.  I just wanted to maintain our comfortable status quo.  (And plot revenge against Amber for this attack up on our household.)  However, there were two factors getting in my way:

1) My own stupid mouth, which betrayed me a year or so back after I had spotted an ad on the bulletin board at our vet’s office offering a free adult St. Bernard which could not be kept by its owner because it didn’t have enough space to roam, and then my mouth told that fact to my wife later, like that was a good idea somehow.  Her response, of course, was “Let’s go.”  And then I had to list all my reasons why we shouldn’t do that.  Could have just kept my damn lips zipped, but had to go blabbing something I knew would hurt her soul.  I still felt guilty at my own dumbass nature.

The second factor was that even then I could see tears welling up in Ashley’s eyes.  She wasn’t pouring them on for my benefit, but was genuinely moved at the plight of this dog (a dog the listing assured was sweet and great with children).  I could feel my resolve beginning to crumble.  I still believed all of the reasons I had in hand to be true—however, what was also true was that I loved this woman enough to endure the potential tragedy and turmoil of a new dog.

The first draft

The first draft

She looked to me to make the final decision, knowing full well what I was likely to say.  And in that moment, I thought, “What the hell—it’s her birthday.  She said she wanted something big.”  I said, yes.

The wife immediately called her sister, and they made arrangements for Amber to drive to where the dog was living to pick it up.  Ashley, in turn, waited until our guests for movie night had been fed, then hit the road for Kentucky to pick up her new pooch.

The next day, I finished up my painting on the horse project—which was starting to seem a bit less worthy of a birthday surprise when compared to a new St. Bernard.  Soon it was time to remove the horse decal and see what I had on my hands.  I was very hesitant, because there would be no going back, especially if I tore the decal.  And when I did slowly peel the decal away, I did indeed tear the shit out of it.  Still, what lay beneath—or rather, what didn’t—looked pretty good.  It was the silhouette of a horse in bare, weathered wood.  It wasn’t exactly… striking–at least not in the same way as the original piece I was inspired by.  But it was kind of cool.  Seeing it made me wish I had done a bit more painting around the edges, to help give the bare shape contrast.  Maybe it would need staining.

Not long after I did the reveal to myself, I got a text from the wife saying she was in the area and would be home within 20 minutes.  Soon enough, her Element pulled up and I got my first glimpse of the gigantic thing that was to be our new pooch.

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Birthday Surprise(s) Part 3

The Shop

The Shop

I could see the wife peering in the window of the door to my wood shop.  However, from her angle, and with the dimness of the shop’s interior, she could probably only see my basic shape and little detail of anything I was working on (wooden boards on a wooden floor).  Unfortunately, there was no way she hadn’t heard me drilling the screws into the supporting crossbeam of her birthday present as she made her way across the yard to the shop.

The wife knocked on the door.  I cursed, knowing I was busted, and went over to unlock the door and open it a few inches.

“Why did you lock the door?” she asked in a tone that suggested she was amazed not to find a meth-lab under construction within the shop’s interior.

“To keep you from coming in,” I said.

“What are you doing in there?” she said, trying to push the door open.  I held it firm.

“You don’t get to know that, yet,” I said.

She narrowed her eyes at me.  “I don’t?”

“Nope.”

“Are you working on a surprise?”

“Yep.”

“For my birthday?”

“Yep,” I said.  “Amber’s not the only one who gets to surprise you.”

The wife looked thoughtful, annoyed and pleased all at once.  She went back to the house without having a peek.  However, the fact that I was busted in mid-assembly on this birthday gift meant one major thing:  there was no backing out of this now; I was committed.  The wife now knew I was working on something—something that involved not only power tools but likely wood—and she would be expecting an end result as her surprise.  If I was truly going to see this thing through, I realized I had better make with buying a horse decal and quick.

That afternoon, I did a bit more searching online and finally found what appeared to be the perfect horse decal.  It was, again, a bit more expensive than you’d really care to pay for something you were just going to wind up peeling off and probably tearing to shreds in the process, but it matched my dimensions and the style I wanted.  And, if it worked, it would create an effect I would be hard-pressed to recreate by hand.  I ordered it.

The cat being out of the bag that I had a secret project in the shop, I didn’t even have to do any sneaking to work on it over the following days.  Not that there was much work to be done on it without the horse decal.  As for the wife, I didn’t think she would actually go out to the shop to have a look around, but I decided to make it annoying for her if she did.  In addition to keeping the shop locked at all times, I stationed tall items in all lines of sight from sweety-accessible windows.

While the wife was in the shower, a day or two later, her sister Amber told me that the wife had been grilling both her and Ma as to what I was making.

“Does she have any idea what it is?” I asked.

“No,” she said.

This kind of surprised me.  I had actually been shocked that the wife hadn’t immediately guessed what I was doing based on the sound of me drilling screws into wood to begin with.  Given the day she’d had to think on it, though, it struck me as amazing that she hadn’t put together the number of pretty obvious clues lying about, many of which I knew she had seen and/or heard.  Somehow she had not, though.

“She’ll figure it out,” I said.  “There’s no way she won’t.”

The sister and mom-in-law left on Sunday, October 27.

On Monday morning, before the wife left for work, she asked me if her surprise present would be ready by the time of her birthday, two days away.  I told her I hoped so, but that I was still waiting for part of it to arrive.  Her eyes gleamed evilly at this.

“What are you waiting on?”

“Something very important without which I can’t do the rest of it.”

“It’s something you’re building?”

“Yeeees.”

“Will I like it?”

“I hope you love it,” I said.

I could see her studying my face for any clues.  Then I saw her expression shift in a very dangerous way.  “I know what it is,” she said.

“You do?” I asked.

“Yeah.”

Now I studied her face and saw there was a degree of certainty to be found there.

“I’m astounded it’s taken you this long,” I said.  Still, I wasn’t going to give anything away without proof.

The wife seemed to think for a few more seconds, then said, “Do some friends of ours have one like this?”

Er.  This seemed odd.  Cause even though we are friends with the owners of the gallery in which the original inspiration for this gift was for sale, her phrasing somehow made me believe she was thinking of something else.  I didn’t know what, exactly, but it didn’t seem like what I was creating.

“Nope.  You don’t know it,” I said.  She declined to speculate further.

Later that day, the horse decal was delivered.  It came in three sheets–head, rear and tail.  The head portion, however, fit perfectly with the image I had in my noggin.  I followed the instructions to carefully apply it to the boards.  After that it was just a matter of starting the painting process.

I was determined to use some of the extra house paint we had stored in the shop, but the splatter paint effect I was able to get by dipping a brush into them and flicking it at my wooden canvas was not exactly the effect I had hoped for.  It was too drippy, chaotic and difficult to control.  Granted, I wanted that look as well, but I decided instead to use some of the 20 cans of spray paint we had to achieve a more controlled effect.  For the benefit of those of you who are not taggers, if you depress a spray paint nozzle ever-so-slightly it will spit out a spatter of paint as opposed to the standard spray.  With some practice, you can control the thickness of the spatters to a degree.  When applied from a sufficient distance, this gives a nice speckled effect.  I started with beige, dark blue, red, black and gray (including the last of a small can of Testors gunmetal gray primer I’ve had since college).  It started to look pretty good.  I gave it a few hours to dry and came back to do some more.  I was careful to wash all the paint off of my hands, and had worn my painting clothes so as not to cause any questions any noticed spatters would bring.

On Tuesday, while the wife had the day off, I went back out to the shop to work some more.  This time I added some gold spatters, though only sparingly.  I wanted something that would catch the light.  I didn’t have a lot of time, though, because we were having some of the cast of Dracula: A Rock Opera over to eat stew and watch bad vampire movies.  I eventually left things to dry and returned to the house.  And this was when my life changed.

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Birthday Surprise(s) Part 2

blog-dsla2First up, I needed wood, and old wood at that.  The original print looked as though it were painted on old fencing with lots of character and weathering to it.  Fortunately, our house, when we purchased it nigh on two years back, came with not only a wood shop but a wood shed as well.  The wood shop is an outbuilding that is kind of wasted on me, as I’m by no means a wood worker and own very few of the power tools necessary for the cause.  Our home’s previous owner, however, was a woodworker and built the shop to spec for all of his carpentry needs.  It’s basically a long one room structure, on a cement block foundation, lined with peg board and with a rough wooden floor.  In the summer, it can be cooled with a window air conditioner.  In the winter, it can

The Shop

The Shop

be heated via wood stove.  We mostly use it for the storage of tools, paint and gardening supplies, though I have a desk out there to occasionally go and write.  The wood shed is a different outbuilding that is, as its name suggests, a shed filled with split wood.  This is less useful because the only wood-burning heater on the property is the wood stove in the shop.  We have a fireplace in the house, but its currently set up for gas logs.  However, the wood shed does allow us room to store mowers and there was also a small supply of 2×4 lumber that had been weathering nicely for years.  Bingo.

I hauled the selection of lumber into the wood shop and laid it on the floor.  I tried to arrange it side by side in

The Woodshed

The woodshed (it’s hidden behind the trees)

as eye-pleasing a fashion.  After several rearrangings, I was satisfied that it looked good.  My next step was to flip it all over and try to secure it together with smaller, thinner lengths of wood, barn-door style.  I already had a supply of self-piloting wood screws.  What I didn’t have was a drill with batteries that were charged.  After several hours on the charger, neither battery for our Black & Decker Firestorm drill gave up much power.  Great.  They were dead.  Which meant more delay in the assembly of the present.  It was looking like my emergency backup jewelry would be needed.  Still, I ordered new batteries and hoped for the best, deciding that their not inconsiderable cost could be counted toward the total value of the present.

A few days later, Monday, October 21, my mother-in-law arrived for her visit.

On Tuesday, while the wife was out running errands, I shared with her my potential horse-painting on wood surprise project and gave her the backstory on its origin.  I still wasn’t sure how I was going to paint the horse part of it, but had a few ideas.  Ma said she thought it sounded nice.  She also let me in on a birthday secret, which was that my sister-in-law from Kentucky would be sneaking into town to surprise the wife on Wednesday.  This, I knew, would be a great surprise and was more incentive for me to pull the trigger on my surprise so that I was not left out of the surprise game.  This meant finalizing the plan for the horse.

The idea I had for doing it was to purchase a large horse silhouette wall decal which I would (hopefully) be able to affix to the boards I would (hopefully) soon be securing together.  I then planned to splatter paint the whole thing, allowing the splatters of paint to create a reverse silhouette so that the horse silhouette would appear as just bare, weathered wood against a Jackson Pollock backdrop.  I did a bit of research on such decals, but most of them were either not what I wanted or were a lot more expensive than I’d hoped.

On Wednesday my drill batteries arrived.  The wife did not seem suspicious.  Nor was she suspicious when someone knocked on the front door at 9:00 that night.  In fact, she thought it was me home early from my play’s dress rehearsal, `til she opened the door and saw some woman standing there in the darkness.  It took her a few seconds to see through the gloom that it was her sister, Amber.

On Thursday, October 25, while ostensibly outside hauling lawn furniture to the basement for the winter, I snuck out to the wood shed.   I figured the wife would be distracted by her mother and her sister and wouldn’t know I was gone until I’d had a chance to try out my new drill batteries, which had been charging all night.  Sure enough, the drill sunk a self-piloting screw through the thinner bit of wood on the back of my weathered boards and with great efficiency.  I tried another.  It also worked great.  Soon the whole upper cross beam was affixed to the boards.  I was so happy that I did the lower beam, too.  Then, as I was starting the first screw in the diagonal cross beam, I felt a disturbance in the force.  Somewhere nearby I was missed.  Every psychic fiber of my being cried out that I should put down the drill and return to the house, for a one woman search party would soon be sent out.  Alas, I ignored this in favor of finishing the cross beam.  A couple of minutes later, I was just about to drill the last screw when I heard the shop’s door knob rattle and looked up to see the wife trying to peer in through the window in the door.

NEXT

 

Birthday Surprise(s) Part 1

blog-dsla2As I’ve chronicled in the past, across several blogging platforms, my wife loves nothing more than for me to try and surprise her for her birthday and for her to guess what it is I’m getting her.  Loooooves it.  Can’t get enough of it.  Lives for it, really.  It’s the only good reason to have birthdays.  Or Christmases.  Or anniversaries.

The way this almost always goes down is that she’ll pester me for hints for days on end until I finally give her the most perfectly hand-crafted hint, one designed to in no way convey actual information about the gift at hand while at the same time being completely valid as a hint about said present.  Then, with the hint still hanging in the air there next to my self-respect, she dashes both by pulling the answer out of the ether and then announcing that she knows what it is.  Almost always, in these cases, I am able to tell from her tone and facial expression that, yes, she does indeed know.  I then have to tell her to go ahead and say it, which she does, and then she gets to watch my expression as it transitions from one of hope that she’s gonna get it wrong for once to one of dammit, she got it right again.  This, for her, is fun.  And it’s happened time and time again, and I’ve only been able to keep gifts a secret on a scant few occasions.

Over the course of our marriage, though, our major annual celebrations have dwindled somewhat to the point that we don’t really do anything huge for one another, even at Christmas.  Sure, I might find something crafty off of Etsy that I know she’ll like.  Or she’ll get me something Doctor Who related.  But mainly if there’s something out there we want, we usually just go get it and don’t have to wait for a big celebration to ask for it as a gift.  This has greatly cut down on the amount of gift-guessing on her part, which is the major downside as far as she sees it.

This year was different.  For her birthday in October, I knew I had to come up with something good because she had given me a massively cool and very expensive gift for my birthday in September in the form of a leather satchel.  I’d been searching for just such a satchel at the time she picked this one out, as I was trying to find a replacement for my decade-old Magic Bag (a.k.a. the CompUSA laptop bag which I won as a runner-up prize in an online sweepstakes I’d evidently entered in 2002 and which has served me well since, save for the daylight I could see pouring in the fabric around the reinforced strap rings).  I’d figured that if the Magic Bag had to be replaced I may as well replace it with something cooler and had begun looking at leather bags.  The thing is, I’m terribly picky about the requirements such a bag would have to have–being as it would have to live up to the reputation and utility of the Magic Bag.  I’d finally found something I liked and showed it to the wife.  She balked at the price of $140, which I had to admit was a bit more than I usually spend for personal luggage.  Then she proceeded to go online to Etsy and find a bag that cost four times as much and was four times cooler.   This she purchased for me for mine day of birth.  I didn’t even have to try and guess what it was.

After the bag had arrived and I’d had a few days to bask in its glory (it is quite possibly the coolest thing I own) she let it be known that I’d better have big plans for her birthday, cause I now owed her.

Er.

Um.

Hmm.

I pondered this for some time.  It was going to be difficult to come up with something anywhere near as cool as that bag.  My first impulse was to schedule some sort of vacation destination–which I’ve had good luck with in the past.  However, I was already contracted to act in two upcoming plays at the local theatre and would have very little time unaccounted for in that department, not to mention the freelance writing gigs I was also contracted to complete in a timely fashion.  This sucked, because the wife had managed to get several days off in a row during the week of her birthday, but I was acting in Dracula: A Rock Opera during that time and couldn’t get away.  Thankfully, my mother-in-law, who I adore, agreed to come up and spend that week with us, so I didn’t have to feel guilty about it.  I still had to come up with a gift, though, and the days in which I could put it together were rapidly decreasing in number.

Now, ladies, I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but most guys in long-term relationships have a gift in their back pocket that they know they can rely upon to get them out of the dog house if need be, or which they can use in case of emergency for big-event gifts such as the one I was facing.  (In fact, I have one friend who, I am told, has a secret stash of pre-purchased gifts that he knows his wife will love and which he raids as needed to keep things on an even keel.  And if you happen to be married to one of my friends, wouldn’t you like to know if it’s you?)  I too have had a gift in my back pocket for some time, but it’s one that was going to take some effort to achieve.  The wife and I, whilst driving down town a year or so ago, spotted in the window of a gallery a beautiful piece of country-chic art that the wife was really taken with.  It appeared to be a series of narrow, aged boards, around an inch and a half thick and probably four feet in length, fastened together and with bits of old posters still adhered to some of them, as though these boards had once been a part of a fence on a busy thoroughfare which was a popular place for people to adhere notices to.  Painted onto these boards was the silhouette of the neck, head and front feet of a horse.  The paint appeared to be very thick, but some of the layers of it had chipped away and been repainted over, leaving wonderful textures to it.  The wife loved it.  The thing is, though, once we got a close look at it, her admiration turned to disappointment as we realized that it was not boards at all, but instead a print on canvas wrapped around a 1.5 inch thick frame.  This meant it was light-weight as well as beautiful, but also fake as anything.  Sure, the texture of the horse had been incorporated into the texture of the print, but it just lipstick on a hog at that point.  She no longer wanted it, particularly after we saw the $480 price tag on it.

My back-pocket gift was the idea of recreating this work of art–not copying it exactly, but approximating it with my own touches added to it.  I even had some old lumber around in our woodshed, just a gathering age and looking appropriate to the task.  The major difficulty would be the horse, since I’m not a good enough artist to paint one on my own that would look at all good.  However, I thought I might be able to trace one on from some sort of projection of a horse, assuming I could find a projector.  The real question was whether or not I needed to pull the trigger on such a project given the short amount of time I had.

While the wife was at work, I drove down to the gallery and had another gander at the original.  It still looked impressive and expensive.  And while the cost could be justified by the amount she’d spent on my bag, I knew she would never be happy with a print picture of wood when the real thing was within grasp.  Feeling guilty for potentially stealing the intellectual property idea for my proposed gift, though, I went ahead and purchased some copper jewelry from the same gallery.  It would serve as either a bonus gift or an emergency backup gift should my artistic project not pan out.  At that point in mid-October, though, I had time on my side since the wife’s birthday was not until October 30.  But there were a few other things I would need should I decide to pull the trigger on the project.

NEXT

 

Mountain Bounty

“Mountain Bounty”

By Eric Fritzius

Based on a sculpture installation by Eddie Booze

 

Tallahassee the Bounty HunterSaint Augustine the Bounty Hunter had never set foot in the state of Florida, though he had seen its lights during his descent through the pre-dawn atmosphere.  His name was not actually Saint Augustine, which was a local phrase selected by his ship’s translation system to approximate his name. He would not realize this for some hours.

The energy signature of the prison transport had drawn him to this blue, backwoods planet and to the eastern coastline of one of its northern continents. His pursuit had been a close one by galactic standards, but the escaped prisoners still had a long enough lead to hide and shore up defenses.  He hoped he could recapture them quickly. The two Bocaratons aboard—with their blade-like claws, scaly hides and vicious temperaments—might prove a threat to local inhabitants. The three Portsaintlucys, being considerably smaller, were less so, but they made up for their stature with equal parts camouflage and cunning. Lastly there was the Verobeach, the android mastermind behind the prisonbreak. Hers was a mind that would have given hunter legend Littledeerkey pause.

Mid-way along the coast, the energy signature led inland. Saint Augustine descended to follow, his ship’s stealth systems assuming the appearance of a `73 Dodge Dart hubcap. Some distance west, in the light of dawn, he came to a land of rolling green mountains which bore signs of the passing of a great storm. There were fallen trees and damaged structures over a considerable distance. Locals could be seen cleaning debris and sawing trees, while wires were reconnected to poles. What had happened here?

In a rocky bowl valley, just west of a small town, the trail of the energy signature ended. The transport lay crashed and abandoned, its controls smashed. Sensors showed six sets of prints leading out of the valley, in the direction of the town. On foot, Saint Augustine chose to first follow the three-toed tracks of the Bocaratons. This was a challenge, for they doubled back on their own tracks twice and even took to the trees, but the full-spectrum sensors of his hunter suit kept Saint Augustine on the trail and led him toward the town.

On the primary street of the town itself, Saint Augustine began to wonder if the translation systems of his helmet’s display were faulty. The signs above the first three buildings he saw indicated businesses that sold nourishment and friends, then the edge of harmony, then instantaneous serenity. Curious. Further east, a shop claimed to sell the totality of beauty. Many of the other businesses seemed to revolve around green valley-thorns. Saint Augustine first assumed the thorns were local currency until he noticed that there was a company on the next block dedicated to baking them. Oddly, another shop claimed to sell stardust — though why anyone would want the stuff he couldn’t guess.


He flushed one of the Bocaratons at mid-day. It had been hiding in a tree in front of a building the name of which translated to Commodores (1977) Vintage Items. The creature snarled and leapt onto the building itself, its claws carrying it up the brick toward the roof. Saint Augustine swung and fired his net cannon in one fluid motion. The Bocaraton was nearly swift enough to escape with only an entangled foot, but the accompanying stun charge and resulting fall to the ground stilled it. Saint Augustine clamped a restraining cuff around its neck before wrapping it in the net.

“Was that the last of the green ones?” said a voice. The speaker was a local seated at a small table in front of the Enthusiastic Legume. The man’s reddish hair was thin and he wore lenses near his eyes. Before him was a cup of dark liquid with a strong heat signature. “Got another of `em chained up in my tool shed, if you want him. Nasty sucker. Oh, and we caught two or three of the little shape-shifter fellows, too — though it’s kind of hard to tell with them.”

Saint Augustine was astonished. His helmet translator croaked: “You captured the other Bocaraton? And the Portsaintlucys?”

“Not sure about the names,” the man said. “We got a bunch of  `em chained up in there, though.”

“But… how?”

“Son, this isn’t our state’s first time on the dance floor with monsters from space,” the man said. “Why, in the last 50 years, we’ve had Enthmoms turn up in Point Pleasant, a Xorbant in Flatwoods, a minor invasion of Yergs up near Wheeling and enough Men in Black to fill a tractor trailer.  And those are just the ones that made the papers.” The man took a sip of his dark liquid. “We get home-grown weird, too. We’ve fought off African lions, Bigfeet, and Andy Dick, to name a few.” He pointed at the Bocaraton. “Kind of unfortunate for your friends that we just had what felt like a hurricane. They came rampaging through town when most of us were still holding axes, saws and shovels from the cleanup.  We whupped `em good.” The man set down his cup. “You see, West Virginians may not agree on everything. We may have a great many problems that we argue about. But I like to think that when it comes to pulling together to do the right thing, or get through an ordeal, or defend ourselves from toothy aliens, you’ll find us prepared for about anything. Now,” the man added, “you ready to take these things off our hands?”

Still carrying the Bocaraton, Saint Augustine followed the man to his home nearby where his tool shed was indeed found to contain an assortment of the wanted prisoners. The Portsaintlucys had shifted to match other items in the shed, but Saint Augustine sorted out the replica lawn ornaments from the real ones and attached linked restraining cuffs to each. Saint Augustine led the string of them back to the primary street and on toward the bowl valley. The man — who had introduced himself as Lair-E — accompanied to see them off. He only laughed a little after Saint Augustine introduced himself.

As the group topped the first hill, near James’s Vehicle-Based Eatery, there came the thrum of engines from the direction of the bowl valley. Moments later, Saint Augustine ship rose into the air — its stealth field masking it as a large boulder.

“Oh, schnargle!” Saint Augustine said. The Verobeach! It had to be her. His ship’s security should have been impossible to crack, but the Verobeach wasn’t known as the artificial dodger for nothing. Why hadn’t he gone after her first?

The boulder ship rose into the sky until its atmospheric engines kicked on in a burst of light, carrying it out of sight and into the black. They stood in silence for a long time. Then Lair-E cleared his throat.

“On occasion, we’ve also been known to take in strangers,” he said. “And, when it comes to strangers, I guess it don’t get much stranger than you folks.”

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

The Talkin’ Christmas Cracker Dog, Cheap New Oven, Erma Bombeck Blues

On our way out of town for Christmas with the in-laws, we stopped to buy a stove and nearly had to kill our dog.

Let me back up.

We’ve been in the market for a new stove since nearly the day we moved into the new house. It’s not that our existing stove is malfunctioning entirely, but it is very ugly and about 20 years old and has burners that are a bit cockeyed. The oven itself only about half works and pretty much ruined our wildly expensive-to-make holiday cheesecake. This, and a very cheap deal we found on a new GE stove at Sears, prompted us to finally commit to a new stove as a family Christmas gift to ourselves.

The particular stove we found was a floor model that had been marked down $300 for closeout before we arrived, but which a floor manager told us was actually $300 cheaper than the listed cheap price because it was overdue to be marked down yet again. We wanted to measure our existing space to make sure it would fit, so the manager gave us a markdown guarantee slip, said he wouldn’t make the markdown until Friday and told us they would open again at 7 a.m. on that day. The wife, who worked for years as a retail manager, asked if he would get a commission. He said he was salaried, but recommended we see one of his sales people called Pam, who he said would be there on Friday. Super.

On Friday morning at 7 a.m., we left the house with a car packed for our road trip to the in-laws, including Sadie dog, who snoozed on her pillow in the back of the Element. Our plan was to hit the mall, buy the stove, arrange for delivery the following week, hit Biscuit World and then hit the road.

We parked in the lot outside of Sears. Before I had even unfastened my seatbelt, the wife opened her door and had started to get out when I saw Sadie barrel between the front bucket seats from the back of the car and make a break for the semi-blocked door.

“Watchoutwatchoutwatchoutwatchout!” I screamed. The wife, not realizing which side of her Sadie was coming from, turned the wrong way and let the dog slip out behind her.  I lunged to grab for a dog leg, but my seatbelt caught me and Sadie was out the door and free. This was one of my worst nightmares as far as the dog was concerned. If she gets loose at the house, it’s no big deal. We’re out in the woods, what’s she really gonna hurt? In an open parking lot, with plenty of space to run away from us and other vehicles driving around, it’s another matter.

We tried to stay calm, in the hope we could get her back in the car with little fuss. Sadie knew better, though, and was off to the races in her usual game of keepaway from us.  She went full on cracker dog, dashing through the parking lot, gleefully grinning as we chased her to and fro.  This went on for some minutes. Making matters worse, the weather–which, back at the house, had been a little cool but nothing a hoody couldn’t handle–suddenly turned misty, rainy and very cold.

The wife then had the idea of busting out the Pupperonis in an effort to lure her back, since Sadie cannot resist their siren call.  This effort had very mixed results, though.  We tore off bits of Pupperoni and dropped them on the ground to lure Sadie into grabbing range, but she was far faster than we were and snatched them up and vanished before we could even lunge.

After a close call when we nearly were able to grab her tail, I said, “Toss one in between us,” hoping this would let at least one of us have a chance to get her. The coconut *KLONK* sound our heads made as they collided when we both lunged at the same time was no doubt comical. Even we had to laugh, through the pain.

All further attempts at Pupperoni luring were futile. Sadie didn’t care and, furthermore, decided to run very far away from us to head off temptation.

“Dammit, Sadie, you get back here!” I screamed.

“She’d not going to come to you screaming,” the wife hissed at me.

Other early morning shoppers arrived, some of whom saw us bonk heads. Sadie noticed them and rushed toward them, barking furiously.

“No, Sadie, NO! You stop that RIGHT NOW!” the wife screamed.

Mostly the arriving customers ignored her. One little old man, however, asked, “Is it going to bite me?” as Sadie followed him toward the mall, practically snarling.

“No, she’s harmless. Just loud,” we shouted, as she continued to chase him at slow speed.  Great, now we were menacing the elderly.

Sadie thwarted us at every turn, running close and then dashing away, loving every second of it.  What a great game! 

Determined to outsmart her, we decided to use the geography to our advantage, moving ourselves closer to the mall so that we at least had the exterior wall to serve as a corral.  For a second, we almost had her cornered in some shrubbery, but she zipped between us and was gone again. The shrubs were near one of Sears’ lesser entrances, however, and this gave the wife an idea.

As with most mall store exterior entrances, Sears had a glass box breezeway with two sets of double doors to go through.  The wife opened the outer set and gestured for Sadie to go in. The dog started to, then paused, thought about it, and was gone again. 

“Come on,” I said in what I hoped was a cheerful tone, stepping through the doors myself. The wife followed and we closed the outer doors behind us.  No doubt fearing she was about to be left, Sadie ran over and nosed at the door until we opened it for her.  In she went and was trapped.  I pulled the leash from my pocket, managed to keep from strangling the dog with it and we returned her to the car and went back in for our oven.

Our adventure of annoyance, however, was only just beginning.

Just as we were hoping, the oven we had been looking at was still on the floor and, true to the floor manager’s word, had not been marked down. After a few minutes of final discussion, we started to look around for a salesperson. After a short search, we found the lone salesperson for Appliances. At first glance, she appeared to be busy helping two other customers, so my wife stood by to wait her turn while I continued to browse around. However, from what I could soon hear of the saleslady’s conversation with the man and wife customers, she wasn’t so much helping them with any sales or product-related business as having a long chat with them. Her tone and manner suggested she was familiar with the couple, possibly even friends with them. And from what I gathered over the course of the five minutes that followed, the gentleman customer had recently taken a job driving a school bus, for the saleslady was telling him horror stories of a time when she had done so as well.

“They told me `you just have to feel for the road,'” she said, regarding driving in thick snow, up treacherous, narrow, one-lane mountain roads.

Her anecdote continued as minutes crawled by and I knew that as annoyed as I was starting to get listening to it from afar, my wife was probably about to snatch someone bald-headed from her position within eyesight of the storyteller. I went over to help feel her pain and add to our collective waiting presence. Didn’t help. While the saleslady did in fact glance in our direction and could see that we were waiting to be helped, she went right on with her story, perhaps as though we had heard a snip of what she was saying and were interested enough to come join the audience.

Now, I’m not saying her story wasn’t interesting and I understand the need for a salesperson to be personable with customers in a department full of large ticket items she would presumably earn a commission in the sale thereof. However, to spend the amount of time she was spending on a non-sales related conversation while other potential customers were standing impatiently nearby was inappropriate to say the least.

Seeing no end in sight, we left the aisle and went to look for another salesperson who might like our business. At 7:30 in the morning, even on After Christmas Black Friday, though, they seemed thin on the ground. So we took our little price slip to the Lawn & Garden dept and tried to seek help there. Lawn & Garden, who had what appeared to be four employees on hand, literally sitting in chairs, said they were forbidden from checking out materials from the appliance side. They suggested we return to Appliances and wait for the saleslady. This we did, resuming our place in line at storytelling central.

The saleslady looked up at us momentarily, but again didn’t pause her narrative concerning the kind of guard-railless roads she’d had to maneuver her child-loaded bus along. In what world does it make any sense for her to be spending this much time ignoring customers? I thought perhaps she was just passing the time waiting for some vital piece of information to be delivered regarding a pending sale with the couple at hand. Nope. Dude had a bag and a receipt already. Even if he hadn’t, though, she could have at least told us what the situation was.

My ire grew hotter. Adding to this, I was still pissed off about the dog and knew things wouldn’t be pretty if I got into it with the saleslady. But I also didn’t want to raise hell with someone who could potentially derail our $600 savings. (Plus, if anyone was going to show their ass, I knew it should be the wife, who is always cool and scalpel sharp when in such confrontations.) Passive-aggressive soul that I am, I returned to the Lawn & Garden desk.

“Excuse me, but is there anyone else in Appliances that can help us?” I asked.

“No, I’m sorry,” Lawn & Garden said. “Is there no one over there?”

“No, the saleslady’s over there, but is telling some other customers a very long story that doesn’t involve Sears.”

“Well, what did she say to you?”

“Nothing. She’s not paying us any attention and we’ve been standing right in front of her for ten minutes,” I said.

Lawn & Garden phoned a manager. The Appliances lady was still telling her story when the manager arrived, more minutes later. We didn’t mention the trouble to the manager, but directed her to the stove we wanted. We gave her our little price-drop slip and explained we were told to ask for Pam.

“Pam’s not here yet,” the manager said. Ah, good. At least Pam wasn’t the storyteller.

The manager efficiently led us to a register and began ringing up our sale. A little way into the process, there came a question about whether or not we needed a power cable for our new stove. We were pretty sure we did, but the manager said she needed to go over and ask “Erma Bombeck” to be sure. She walked across the aisle, interrupted the ongoing narrative and asked.

“Oh, yeah, they’ll need a cable,” we heard Erma say. “Tell them I’ll be right over to help them in just a second.”

I would like to note that this last sentence was uttered nearly a full eight minutes after the manager became involved, making this nearly half an hour into our quick in-out visit. At this point, we were determined that if anyone was going to get a commission on our sale, it would NOT be Erma. The manager seemed to feel the same, for she called back, “No, I’ve got it.”

After our delivery day was arranged and our transaction completed, Pam arrived.

“Oh, I wish you’d gotten here earlier,” the manager told her. She then explained to Pam that we’d been asking for her. Then, with a gleam in her eye, the manager told Pam to void out our completed sale and ring us up again, allowing Pam to get the commission. As determined to get out as we had been, we told them, yes, please, do ring us up under Pam’s name, cause we wanted there to be no change that Erma would get the commission by default, being the only salesperson on duty. Turns out the manager had rung up our sale under her own name. While she was explaining this to us, Erma stepped over. Everyone got silent for a second, which I guess must have made Erma suspicious, because she began looking over Pam’s shoulder as she went back through the process of ringing us up. The manager saw this and told Erma point blank that Pam was taking care of us. Erma continued to lurk, though, even after the manager left the area. While she was lurking, a male customer walked up to Erma and asked her if someone was supposed to be at the register in Sporting Goods, because he had something to check out and no one was there. I didn’t hear what Erma told him, but I suspect it was something along the lines of “I’ll be with you in a minute,” because she didn’t move an inch and he continued to stand there and wait while she continued to lurk.

“I’m taking care of them,” Pam told her firmly. Erma still didn’t move, so Pam added, “They asked for me.”

“Oh,” Erma said in a put-off tone. At last she turned to help her customer.

By the time we had received our receipt and were on our way out, Erma was back to chatting with someone else. I had to suppress the urge to give her the bird. 

Should have just sicced the dog on her. 

The Talkin’ Mystery Poo, Ghost Pirate Plastic Footsteps of Doom Blues (a Home Improvement Horribly True Tale)

At 3 a.m., Monday morning, I was awakened by a whimper from our dog Sadie. It was the usual whimper she gives off when she has to “go potty” and isn’t going to be able to go back to sleep until she does. I waited and tried to snooze, hoping I was wrong.

Moments later, my peace was disturbed again, this time by a cold dog nose thrust into my face from the side of the bed, followed by another plaintive whimper.

“Whadayuwant?” I said.

*whine*

“Youhavtagopotty?”

*WHINE!*

I got up, put on my robe and slippers and went out to water the dog. Our cat, Avie, heard us and got up to see what we were doing—cause damn if the dog gets to go outside and she doesn’t. Turned out she was hungry, so I fed her and gave Sadie a dog cookie to keep her quiet and then tried to get everyone back to bed before this hour-of-the-wolf trek turned into a fit of insomnia for me.

About half an hour later I was lying in bed still pretty much awake, but I could feel myself drifting toward slumber. Then I heard something that caused my eyes to pop open and my ears to perk up. Elsewhere in the house, I heard the distinctive sound of plastic sheeting being disturbed. In fact, it sounded exactly like two footsteps being taken across plastic sheeting. Now, the plastic sheeting part was explainable because we still had a couple of sheets of plastic drop-cloth on the floor of the living room, left over from our weekend painting project.  The real trouble with hearing two footsteps on plastic sheeting is that my wife was asleep in bed beside me, the cat was asleep on my chest and the dog was snoring away on her giant pillow by the bed. The only other pet in the house was a fish. This meant that I’d either dreamed I’d heard footsteps on the plastic or something or someone else had made them.

Er.

I slid out of the covers and retrieved my brainin’ stick from beside the bed. At no point did it strike me as wise to wake my wife, even though I was potentially about to do battle with another human being. I went to the bedroom door and debated the merits of turning on the hall light. On the one hand, it might expose a prowler prowling in the hall; on the other, it would also blind me. Instead, I crept into the hall, through the dark and made it to the foyer. There, I reached around the corner into the living room, where the sheeting was located. Keeping the wall between me and the hanging lamp, I flipped on the light switch. There was no movement to be heard so I peeked around the corner. No one was there.

Great, so if there was a prowler, they A) were elsewhere in the house, and B) now knew I was looking for them and exactly where I was. The fortunate part of this, though, was that because of the painting project we had enough furniture scattered in obvious walkways that if they tried to escape or run to attack me they would be unable to keep from running into it, alerting me to their location. I heard nothing.

I moved through the living room and into the kitchen. No one was there.

I checked the garage door. Still locked.

I circled back into the den where I checked the back door, also locked, and returned to the foyer, where prowlers still weren’t visibly prowling and where the front door was similarly locked. Then, after searching all the other obvious places for a couple of minutes, I decided to file the whole thing away as misheard leaf noise from a deer outside, otherwise I’d never be able to return to sleep.

Around 7, I woke to find the wife up and about, readying for work.

“I heard an odd noise at 3:30,” I said.  I then told her about the plastic footsteps.

“Huh,” she said in a tone that suggested I’d provided a clue to a mystery she was working on. “Well, there is an odd poo in the hallway. Maybe we have a mouse.”

A mouse, I thought. Yeah, that made sense. It was getting close to winter, the time for all good mice to try and get indoors. Only when I finally got a look at the odd poo in question, I saw that it was far too large a poo to have come from the ass of an average mouse. No, this was a poo of a different creature and the wife and I both began to audibly hope we didn’t have a rat on our hands. The wife didn’t think there was any way for a rat to get into the house, but I pointed out it would have been easy enough for it to get into the garage on one of the many days we’d left the door open, and from there it was only a matter of sneaking in the interior door when we weren’t looking. She didn’t like this theory. We didn’t need any more troublesome furry creatures in our lives. We already had two.

“All right, kitty,” I told Avie, who was already engaged in her daily ritual of knocking important things off the table for the dog to chew up. “Time to step up to the plate.”

A little after breakfast, the cat and dog tired of their games and thankfully both went to sleep. So I crept out of the den and toward the office to check email.

As I entered our freshly-painted hallway, I spied, seated in the middle of the hallway, the creator of the aforementioned poo and knew that it had also definitely been the source of the noise on the plastic sheeting.

It was not a rat.

It was not a mouse.

It was, instead, a frog.

When I saw it, I laughed out loud, then caught myself, lest I wake the animals and cause a frog-stomping stampede. I scooped him into a coffee cup and then deposited him in the flower bed out back, near a gap where he could hide under the deck and bed down for the winter.

Yep, a frog hopping through the living room could conceivably have made two leaps across the plastic at about the rate footsteps would take. Still not sure how a frog got into the house.

Maybe the rats let him in.

 

Copyright © 2008 Eric Fritzius

The Talkin’ Quests for Rings that Would Give Tolkien the Willies Blues (a Funny Dog Poop Story)

While talking to my sister on the phone, one night, I happened to look down and see my dog Sadie chewing on something silver. On closer inspection, it was one part of the wife’s wedding set: the engagement ring part, i.e. the diamond-encrusted valuable part. I snatched it off the floor before Sadie could devour it. I then saw that the other part of the set was perched on the edge of the coffee table, right at Sadie-mouth-level.

Aw, crap, I thought. Here we go.

Now that Sadie has grown larger, we’re finding we have to police new territory to keep her from eating things we would rather her not eat. She’s mostly given up on chewing up our shoes, which is good, but still finds socks, fabric softener sheets, snotty tissue paper and the contents of cat boxes to be tasty treats. My fear was that if she had decided metal rings were great to eat, we’d be in trouble, because the wife is forever taking her rings off.

I brought the wedding set to the wife and told her what had nearly happened. We laughed and joked about how it would have been unfortunate to have to wait around for Sadie to crap them out and the wife put them on her hand and said she’d be more careful in the future.

The following morning, a Saturday, shortly after breakfast, the wife announced she couldn’t find her wedding set. She swore she’d put them on that morning, having taken them off before bed the night before because they didn’t fit well and she suspected the msg-laden Chinese food we’d eaten the night before might be the culprit behind her swelling finger. But now the rings were definitely not on said finger, so a searchin’ we did go.

The logical place for them to be was in the kitchen, where the wife had cleaned the fish’s bowl earlier that morning. Not there.

We tried the messy breakfast nook table, piled high with papers in need of sorting. Nada.

We tried the coffee table, which was equally piled with papers and mail, but it wasn’t there either.

Bedside table–nope.

My office desk–nah.

Bathrooms–noperino.

The kitchen again–still not there.

The tables again–nerrrrrr.

After nearly half an hour of searching, we both stopped and stared at the dog. She looked innocent enough, but who could really tell?

“You don’t think…” the wife began.

“Maybe,” I said. I then proposed a scenario. During the previous night, we had been awakened by the sound of the wife’s alarm clock falling to the floor, having been pulled off of the bedside table by Sadie who had become tangled in its cord as she slept. My thought was that the wife’s rings had also been on the table and could have been pulled off by the clock and potentially gobbled up later at Sadie’s leisure. This theory spat in the face of the wife’s claim that she remembered putting them on again in the morning, but it wasn’t beyond reason that she was mistaken in this memory. We dashed to the bedroom to check again, but found no rings on the floor nor under the bed.

With no other obvious location for the rings, we began to monitor Sadie’s “big potty” sessions and poke through them with sticks to check for rings. We knew it was probably too soon for them to have made it through her system, but we had to check to be sure. It turned out to be a lot of work, too, cause that dog is a dogpoop manufacturing plant running at peak efficiency. The following day we were starting to run out of sticks and I began to regret having recently hurled all the ones from the yard into the woods.

Monday evening, at dinner time, the wife and I sat down to have a meal and took our places on the sofa as usual. (Hey, we can’t exactly eat at the breakfast nook table with it being glutted with papers, and all.) As I was reaching out to shuffle some mail out of the way so I’d have a place to set my drink, I heard a metallic clink and from between two pieces of mail slid the wife’s rings. I gasped, snatched them up and passed them over to her.

“Where were they?” she asked.

“Right there,” I said, pointing to the exact place where Sadie had nearly devoured them two nights before. Neither of us can figure out how we missed them in our multiple searches, unless we each just assumed that they wouldn’t have been left there in that spot in the first place because the wife said she would never leave them there again.

We asked the dog’s forgiveness for suspecting her. After a Pupperoni or two, she granted it.

 

Copyright © 2008 Eric Fritzius

The Talkin’ Mole Hole, Dish Network Herpatologist, Ringing a Neck Blues (a Snakey Horribly True Tale)

Shortly after we moved into our new house, near Princeton, W.Va., the Dish Network guy came by to install his product.  While he was running wires from the inconveniently placed dish behind our house, to the house, he suggested that our flower beds might have something of a snake infestation due to the number of holes he’d noticed in them.

“I prefer to think of them as mole holes,” I replied.

“Yeah, probably mole holes,” he corrected.

I thought about this for a moment. “Incidentally,” I began, “if there were to be snakes about, what sort of snakes might they be in this area?”

“Oh, you know, the usual. Green snakes, copperheads, rattlesnakes…”

“Ah,” I said.

“The rattlesnakes will let you know where they are,” Dish guy said. “It’s the copperheads you have to worry about. They’ll bite you just to laugh at you.”

“Ah,” I said. “And what do they look like?”

“Well, they’re copper colored. Real similar in color to all these leaves,” and then he pointed to the great heap of leaves our home’s previous owners did not see fit to rake from the flower beds back when it was cold enough that you wouldn’t have to worry about deadly poisonous serpents lurking in them. Then he added, “Which is where they like to hide.”

“Ah,” I said.

And where do you think our dog Sadie likes to poop the most? Yes, sir, the flower beds. Even more horrifying, the flower beds pretty much surround the entire back deck portion of the house.

Have I mentioned that my wife Ashley is deathly afraid of snakes? Oh, she’s deathly afraid all right.  Sure, under controlled conditions, such as a snake in a cage or a known non-venomous pet snake held by someone else, several feet away, she’s okay with them; it’s the unidentified snakes in the wild she’s none too thrilled with. This is understandable, really, as she grew up in Alaska where they don’t have any snakes. She therefore has no idea of the usual snake etiquette the rest of us take for granted (or, at least, the rest of us who grew up in snake-infested south Mississippi) and would actually prefer fighting a bear.

Back in the fall, having just finished planting some new perennials in the flowerbed by the garage, Ashley called me over to see her work. Just as I arrived, she stooped down to move the garden hose and then yelped and jumped back.

“There’s a snake!”

Sure enough, slithering along the seam where the flowerbed meets the house was a small grayish snake with a white band around his neck. I didn’t know what kind it was, but it was not a copperhead and not a rattlesnake and was kind of cute, so I reached down to see if I could grab the tip of its tail.

“Don’t pick it up!” Ashley screamed.

Huh, I thought. That hadn’t occurred to me. Probably a good idea. I pulled my hand back and a moment later, the snake slithered around the corner of the house and then down behind the drain pipe and out of sight beneath the low boardwalk leading to the back deck.

“Oh, no!” Ashley said. “He canNOT live under there!”

“I don’t see that we have a choice in the matter,” I said. “We can’t exactly get him out.” Well, we could, but it would require destroying the boardwalk to do so. “I tried to catch him, but you said not to,” I added.

“I didn’t tell you not to catch him. I said `don’t pick it up.’ “

“And I didn’t,” I said.  “Besides, he’s harmless. He’s probably just some sort of little garden snake.”

The wife was less than thrilled by this assumption. “I should have sprayed him in the face with the hose and when he was distracted I could have killed him,” she said.

“And then we’ll look him up online and it will say: Little gray snake with a ring around his neck—harmless, friend to all human beings, will give you five dollars, very bad luck to kill.’

“I’ll show him bad luck.”

We left the matter there, but I could tell our little snaky friend did not leave Ashley’s thoughts. In fact, I took no small pleasure in playing snaky pranks on her throughout the rest of the day.

While loading up the last twigs from what had been an enormous pile of sticks I’ve been assembling over the past few months, composed entirely of ones I pulled from the yard, I spotted a large earthworm wiggling on the pavement.

“Oh, look, a snake,” I said calmly. Ashley looked, yelped again and clutched at her heart, Fred Sanford-style. Then she hit me really hard in the shoulder. I had to admit, I deserved it, but it didn’t stop me from continuing to play with fate.

Later, after she had wondered aloud whether or not the snake could get into our garage, I pointed out that it would actually have little difficulty getting into the house, what with the back screen door being cracked open like it was, and all. I was out of reach for that one, but I know she wanted to belt me again. I assured her that snakes don’t like people and avoid them at all costs, so they’d not be real likely to want to get into the house.

Just to further ease her mind, I went and looked up our snaky friend by his description. I’m pretty sure it was a ring-necked snake. If so, the snake we saw was not far from being an adult, at less than a foot in length.

“And he’s not poisonous,” I said.

“Venomous,” she corrected. “Venomous.”

 

Copyright © 1997-2008 Eric Fritzius

The Talkin’ No Distant Networks, Phoning up India, Won’t be a Problem, Fighting with The Man, DIRECTV SUCKS ASS, Pooping an Angry Monkey Blues (a cautionary Horribly True Tale)

Back in early December, I was flipping through TV channels one night, decided to see what was on NBC and discovered that NBC was no longer there. Neither were FOX or CBS, though, oddly, ABC was still present. We have, or rather had, or rather will have again (though I’m getting ahead of myself) DISH NETWORK.

“Oh, you didn’t know about the lawsuit?” my wife Ashley said.

“What Lawsuit?” I said.

She explained that there had been a lawsuit against DISH NETWORK by television stations that were fed up with them giving away distant networks (i.e. network satellite feeds from stations in New York, Chicago or the West Coast in place of local network affiliates). DISH NETWORK was, according to the plaintiffs, just giving those distant networks away to anybody who asked for them regardless of whether or not those people were capable of receiving local affiliate broadcast signals. DISH lost the case, so they had to take all the Distant Networks away from their customers, (except for ABC, apparently, which I was still receiving just fine).

Now, I understand and even sympathize with the affiliates’ case. They were being deprived of potential advertising dollars by viewers in their coverage area watching satellite feeds of stations from New York City instead of theirs. (In DISH NETWORK’s defense, many of these same affiliate stations, including the ones in my area, still haven’t bothered to comply with the Federal mandates from 2001 stating that they have to be capable of providing their signals to such satellite television services as DISH NETWORK or DIRECTV, thus ending that problem.) And I would be happy to watch their signals but for the fact that I cannot receive them on my TV despite my house being on one of the highest points in our immediate area. Not a one.

Naturally I was pissed. I don’t watch much network TV anyway, save Fox on Sunday nights and Lost on ABC, (which, again, might not have been a problem since I still had ABC), but when I want to watch some networks I don’t want to have any problems.

I went online to research the matter. I found many news articles explaining the situation. These articles almost always ended by saying that while DISH NETWORK was in the doghouse with the Feds, DIRECTV was not liable in the lawsuit, as they had always played nice with their distant network gifting. The articles, to a one, went on to say that DIRECTV was now offering those distant networks to new customers with wild abandon in an attempt to steal customers from DISH. DISH too had its own publicity campaign, suggesting we sign up with American Distant Networks, a service that could provide the networks through our existing dish, for a dollar more per channel than DISH was charging. I began to weigh my options.

Let me just say up front, until that point I had been 97 percent happy with DISH NETWORK. We had a little problem with them near the beginning, which, not coincidentally, also involved issues with our distant networks being removed after three months of service. However, after our local installation representatives phoned them up and threatened to set us up with a DIRECTV system, DISH gave back all but ABC. Since then, we’d had very few problems. We even were able to get ABC back—with a vengeance apparently—after requesting it from them multiple times. We liked the service, we liked the remote, we liked it all. The only thing that could have improved it for me was a DVR, but DISH NETWORK was only giving those away free to new subscribers and would make me pay out the nose for one should I wish to upgrade. Even without the distant networks (ABC excepted), I didn’t really want to switch to anyone else. That is, until a coworker passed me an offer from DIRECTV that seemed too good to pass up.

The offer was for a free installation of a DIRECTV system, plus a free DVR upgrade plus a free portable DVD player, a $50 sign on rebate spread across our first few bills (which my coworker would receive as well for referring us) and a $100 rebate to cover the cost of the DVR. Seemed like a good deal, particularly since DIRECTV’s website made it clear that they were handing out distant networks like party favors. So I phoned them up to get some information and make sure I could get the distant networks. The rep I spoke with assured me that there would be no problem getting the networks. According to her computer, they weren’t available in my area at all so this was a non-issue. She even offered to throw in three months of Showtime if I signed up right then. So I did. Before signing up, though, I stressed to her that I was only interested in joining DIRECT if I could definitely have the distant networks. I didn’t want to have everything installed and then be told it wasn’t a done deal. Nope, I could have them, she said. It wouldn’t be a problem. I told them to come install everything in late December.

I phoned DISH NETWORK up to tell them when to cut us off. Their phone-rep, sensing an emergency, quickly transferred me off to Crisis Customer Control, where a bright and cheery representative tried to talk me down from the ledge. She assured me that DIRECTV could, in no way, make any promises concerning distant networks as it was out of their hands in the first place. She looked up my area in her computer and said that the only distant network I was actually eligible for was Fox. (I then pointed out to her that I was technically still receiving ABC despite the court order saying I should not be, but she agreed to keep quiet about that.) I explained that I’d already signed up for DIRECTV, so it was too late. The rep asked me to wait on disconnecting from DISH until I’d had time to test out DIRECTV, and, hopefully, change my mind. She even gave me a free month of DISH service to accommodate this.

Over Christmas, I went to my sister-in-law’s house where she had a DISH NETWORK DVR. It was a thing of beauty, very smooth and quick and handy in form and function. Seeing it made me feel a little guilty for leaving DISH, but I tried to put such thoughts from my head.

Late December came and DIRECTV sent out a rep to install the system. He showed me how to use it and it was pretty impressive stuff. This system had two coax cables running to it, allowing its DVR to record one channel while we watched another. Or, to record two channels while we watched something else already stored in the DVR. You could also set it to record shows up to two weeks prior to broadcast, record an entire season’s worth of shows or search by Title, Keyword, Subject, etc.  It was supposed to be a multi-tasking entertainment wonder.

While the guy was there, I asked him about the distant networks and he put me on the phone with a DIRECTV rep who told me that they would have to put in a waiver request for me, which might take 45 days.

“Um, but my trial period with you guys only lasts seven days,” I said. “After that I’m locked into a contract.” The phone-rep assured me it would not be a problem because the networks weren’t available in my area. He was completely certain the request would go right through. Happened all the time.

After the installation guy left, I began playing with my new toy. It worked pretty good.

Mostly pretty good.

Mostly.

In function, the DIRECTV DVR worked much the same as a DISH NETWORK DVR, only inconveniently slower. Between the time I pressed a button on the remote to activate one of the DVR’s higher functions, such as the guide menu or the programs recorded listing, five seconds might pass before it actually did anything on screen. And unlike the DISH remote, which you could pretty much aim anywhere in the room and still use, the DIRECTV remote had to be aimed directly at the center of the DVR’s all-seeing blue eye or nothing would happen. Of course, you wouldn’t necessarily know something wasn’t happening until you waited five seconds. Also, unlike with DISH, the DIRECTV system wouldn’t allow us to alter the channel guide to show us only the channels we were able to receive. Their guide book said we could, and we followed the instructions to make it do this, but it didn’t work. Only after we called DIRECTV and asked them about it did they mention that they had a bug in their software that wouldn’t allow this and if we only wanted to show the channels we were subscribed to we would have to set up a favorites list in which we deleted all but the channels we wanted to show. Thanks a heap, guys.

In early January, I received a postcard from DIRECTV listing the responses to my waiver requests. I was rather surprised it came so quickly. However, of the five networks listed, only FOX and PBS granted my request. I phoned up DIRECTV and told them I was unhappy. After explaining the situation and my ire, the phone-rep (who I’m pretty sure was in Jaipur) transferred me to DIRECTV’s version of the Crisis Customer Control department, where I waited 10 minutes on hold before getting to explain the situation and ire to a new phone-rep.

The new rep looked over her screen, made appropriate “Hmms” and “huhs” and then said, “This says you were denied for the HD channels. But you don’t have an HDTV, right?”

Only then did I notice the large “HD” in the phrase “HD Broadcast Network Waiver Request Results From DIRECTV.”

“No, I don’t,” I said.

“Why would they ask for HD waivers?” she said. “We don’t even offer HD service with a DVR.”

Mystery thick in the air, she agreed to go ahead and put in an analog signal waiver request and assured me that the reason the channels were denied at all was due to their being HD channels and my lacking an HDTV. Once my channels were granted, they would immediately appear and I’d probably receive a card about it a day or two later.

Before hanging up, just for their records, I once again explained the whole reason for moving to DIRECTV and about the monkey-defecating fury which would erupt from deep within my twisted, blackened, Simpsons-deprived bowels should I be denied my channels. Again, the phone-rep assured me there wouldn’t be a problem. I had, her tone suggested, a far better chance of being devoured by zombie guinea pigs than of not receiving the distant networks. She added that if for some reason—worst-case-scenario only, mind you—I wasn’t able to get the distant networks, I could then speak with one of their customer care reps and all would be made right. What exactly this entailed wasn’t spelled out.

A day or so later—January 10, 2007, to be precise—I received another bit of mail from DIRECTV. This time is was my coupon good for the free portable DVD player I was to receive as a signing bonus. All I had to do was fill out the form, include a copy of my first bill with it and mail it in. At the very bottom of the form, in fine print, it stated that my filled-out form and first bill must be received with a post-mark no later than December 31, 2006. Since it was now January 10, 2007, it seemed unlikely that DIRECTV had even mailed the coupon before December 31. Within my bowels, the monkey began to stir.

I phoned DIRECTV, explained the situation three times to the first Indian man I talked to and he still didn’t seem to grasp the problem. So he transferred me to Crisis Customer Control again, where I waited on hold for 15 minutes before being told by the Crisis Rep to ignore the date and send it in anyway. “They’re just using an old form,” she said. Sick of dealing with them, I hung up and did not reiterate my concerns about the distant networks. I did, however notice that it was nearly time to pay my first bill. I went online to DIRECTV’s site, set up automatic payments, activated it and went ahead and told it to pay my first bill with a one time debit card payment. And since I’d paid my bill with DIRECTV, I figured it was finally time to shed myself of DISH NETWORK.

I phoned DISH up, spoke to another Indian man who listened to my request to sever service and then transferred me again to Crisis Customer Control. The CCC rep tried gamely to talk me down from the ledge; that is, until I told her, “The dish is lying in the yard. It is no longer attached to my house. The equipment is in a box.” This dashed all of her hopes and she agreed to stop service and told me that I owed them nothing.

Days passed and the February 7 resumption date for this season of Lost was swiftly approaching. The bowel-monkey began to pace and I began to frequently check the network channels for signs of activity. Only PBS contained a signal, but I already knew that as I’d begun checking all the network channels after we’d received the HD waiver card.

On February 2, mere seconds before I needed to leave the house to go to work, the mail came with a new postcard from DIRECTV announcing the waiver request results. This time they weren’t for HD networks. However, once again I was denied everything except FOX and PBS. Oddly, the monkey hardly moved at all. I just went to work and was even in a good mood for the whole day, the delicious thought of getting to tear into DIRECTV when I got home keeping me warm and toasty despite the bitter winter cold.

When I got home, I showed Ashley the card. She gleefully offered to call them for me, as she also likes nothing better than releasing some good, old-fashioned righteous indignation upon those who deserve it. She’s far better at it than me, but I declined her offer all the same, for the bowel-monkey was again becoming agitated. He became even moreso when I went to my TV and discovered that despite the postcard’s claim that I was now able to receive FOX, both distant FOX channels listed in the onscreen guide were still unavailable.

After dinner, I phoned up DIRECTV. I knew I was now far past the end of my so-called trial period and that they would raise a stink about this and try to charge me massive fees for allegedly breaking my contract with them. Frankly, though, I was of the opinion that they had broken their contract with me. Not only that, but they had wasted my time and money and I wasn’t going to stand for it. Regardless, I was determined to remain calm and collected, with the bowel-monkey held at bay until such a time as I needed him. What I heard upon being connected to DIRECTV’s phone system, though, sent the monkey bouncing off the walls of my colon in an apoplectic fit of rage. The phone system, upon determining who I was, told me that I owed them $89 for service thus far. Apparently the automatic payments I’d set up and the first debited payment I had made had not taken. Sonofa…

I told the Indian man I first spoke to that I was interested in being transferred to the Very Unhappy Customer Department, (i.e. Crisis Customer Control).

“Oh, ha, ha, hah,” the man said. “I’m very sorry you are unhappy, sir. How may I be of assistance?”

“No, really,” I said. “This is going to need to go to your customer care folks.”

“Ha, ha, hah,” the man said again. “Very sorry. How may I be of assistance, sir?”

Fine. Waste some more of my time. That’ll help you.

So I very politely and calmly explained the situation to the Indian man, the multiple times his company had assured me of the miniscule chances of my not getting distant networks, the card I had just received denying them, and my wish that they come and take their dish off of my house, haul away the DVR and depart my life. I wanted a refund of all monies paid for the equipment, save for our monthly service fees, which I thought was only fair to pay them, despite the fact that they apparently didn’t want my money as the payments I’d already attempted to make hadn’t taken. I wanted to hear nothing more from them ever again.

The Indian man asked if I minded being put on hold while he transferred me to Crisis Customer Control. Not at all.

The phone-minion in Crisis Customer Control was also very nice. She listened to my tale of woe, which I gave in far greater detail than to the Indian man, including the bit about how I was unhappy with the glacier-like slowness of the DVR and the bit about the previous and inexplicable HD network denial.

“You don’t even offer HD service with a DVR,” I said, parroting what a previous DIRECTV minion had told me.

“Oh, no, sir. We do offer HD service with DVRs. In fact, if you would like to upgrade to an HD DVR we can accommodate–”

“I don’t own an HD television, so there is no need to even discuss anything having to do with high definition at this point.”

The phone-minion apologized. She then apologized for my not having received the networks as I’d wished and offered to put in another waiver for them. This new waiver, she said, would take up to 60 days for completion.

“I’m sorry, but I no longer have any confidence in DIRECTV’s ability to secure distant networks for me. What I wish is to cancel my account.”

The phone-minion offered, instead, to put my account on pause, no monthly fees required, while they made their 60 day attempt to get my distant networks. No, I calmly said, this was also not something I was interested in. I wasn’t going to wait 60 days to learn anything more. I was, in fact, going to sign up again with their competition, DISH NETWORK, despite the fact that I know they can’t give me distant networks at all. What I wanted was to end my DIRECTV service entirely. I wanted their dish removed from my back deck, the DVR boxed up and carried away, I wanted the $99 I’d spent on the DVR refunded, and I wished to do business with them never again.

I expected to have a fight on my hands, but Phone-Minion said that if this was really what I wanted she could cancel our account. She explained that they didn’t send people out to collect the equipment, but she could send out a postage paid Recovery Kit. Fine. She also said they couldn’t refund my $99 directly, but that I was still eligible for the rebate I was already supposed to receive for it and would only have to fill out paperwork and send it in. Fine, again. We even agreed upon a date when our service would stop, thus giving me time to sign back up with DISH NETWORK.

This all seemed too easy, though. I had been expecting a fight, but the phone-minion was being remarkably helpful. Then she put me on hold to check something about the rebate and when she returned she said that everything was in order and that they would soon send out my final bill which would additionally contain a $250 early contract termination charge. With that, my previous calmness vanished and a large angry bowel-monkey ripped its way out of my ass and began tearing through the house shrieking at the top of its lungs. I, in turn, began shrieking at the phone-minion.

“Uh, no!” I said. “A $250 fee is entirely unacceptable and I want that removed from our bill right now!!!”

The phone-minion disagreed, saying that we were the ones violating the contract and would thus have to pay the fee. I loudly countered that I believed, in fact, it was DIRECTV who were violating the contract, as they had been the ones who assured me we could receive the distant networks, a condition I had told them was contingent before I’d signed up with them in the first place, and they had repeatedly continued such assurances since. The phone minion remained admirably calm, much as someone who is accustomed to being screamed at regularly might be.

“Well, sir, you’re going to have to file a written dispute if you wish to contest the fee.”

The monkey crashed into our china cabinet. Fortunately, we don’t own any china, so only our curios and knicknacks were jostled. The monkey followed up with a fistful of poop aimed at the DVR. I, however, wasn’t so sure how to handle the situation. I’d spelled out my argument to them in triplicate already, but knew they weren’t prepared to back down from their fees. It seemed to me that I could either keep yelling and disputing things and telling the story again and again, but was that really going to accomplish anything? So I told the phone-minion to hold on and turned to my goodly wife for advice.

“They say we have to dispute this in writing.”

“Let me talk to them,” Ashley said.

Brilliant!

I very nearly told the phone-minion, “Aw, shit! Now you’ve done it! HAH! You only THOUGHT you were talking to the bad cop!”

I passed my wife the phone, tagged out of the ring and then the bowel-monkey and I sat down to watch the show.

Having worked as a retail manager in the past, Ashley knows the one cardinal rule of retail customer service: no matter who you’re talking to, they always have a superior officer. (A fact I should have thought of, as I used to work in a call center, myself.) So Ashley let the phone-minion rattle on again about how we would have to dispute our claim in writing, and how many weeks it would take for DIRECTV to respond. When the girl was finished, Ashley calmly said, “No, I don’t think so. I’d like to speak to your manager.”

The minion was taken aback. “Well, he’s just going to tell you the same thing I did,” she said.

“That’s okay. I’d like to speak to your manager.”

The minion put Ashley on hold to go fetch a manager. Over the next few minutes, the minion came back on the line two or three times to let Ashley know she was still fetching the manager. Eventually, a manager came on the line.

“What was your name again?” Ashley asked him. He gave it to her. She wrote it down. And then Ashley calmly and methodically began to take him apart verbally.

I could only hear Ashley’s side of the conversation—though if I’d had any sense at all I would have snatched up the other phone in the room and listened in. All dialogue that follows, therefore, is taken from Ash’s first hand report and from what I could deduce from her half of the conversation. The thing you have to know about Ashley is that the madder she gets about something the calmer and more logical she becomes until she’s just this precision laser, slicing smoothly through any argument presented to her that she deems is wrong. As a guy who’s been on the other end of it many times, I can tell you it’s infuriating.

As seen from my and the bowel-monkey’s vantage point, Ashley launched into the story, emphasizing to the manager the various times when DIRECTV had expressed to us that we were in no danger of not receiving our distant networks. She even invited him to take a look at the call records within our account and count the number of times I had expressed concern that a situation exactly like the one we now found ourselves in would occur. The manager’s counter argument, from what I could tell, consisted of repeatedly saying that we were violating our contract with them. Ash pointed out again that it was our contention that DIRECTV was in violation of our original agreement, to which the manager then responded that, no, we were the ones in violation. After a couple rounds of this, during which I began to sense Ash’s own monkey straining to break free, the manager varied things up a bit by adding that DIRECTV had never made any promises in writing to us regarding the distant networks. They had no control over whether they were granted, or not, so there should have been no expectation on our part that we would receive them.

“Okay, so we may not have received such a guarantee spelled out on a stone tablet,” Ashley snapped, “but that doesn’t mean we weren’t repeatedly assured that we’d be able to get the channels!” At this point, I felt I ought to warn the poor man that it’s bad enough when you get her in cold, calculating, steely anger mode, but if you’ve managed to drive her through into hot, calculating, firey rage, you’re pretty much in trouble.

The manager tried to ignore what she said and returned to his contract violation argument, but Ashley wasn’t letting him get away with it. She told him in no uncertain terms that it was our belief that DIRECTV had intentionally told us what we wanted to hear on the subject of distant networks in order to get us to sign up for their service, knowing full well that by the time we heard anything definite we would be under the terms of that service. This, in her estimation, constituted extremely poor business practices, perhaps even criminally so.

“Well, you are getting FOX,” the man countered, as though this somehow made up for losing the big three.

“Uh, no, we’re not,” Ashley said.

“Yeah, you are,” the manager said.

“NO. WE. ARE. NOT,” Ashley said. While that exchange was going on, the bowel-monkey tossed me the remote and I changed the channel to one of the two listed FOX stations. I scrolled back and forth between the two of them, showcasing the “Channel Not Purchased” message displayed on both. Ashley read the displayed message for the manager’s benefit. He seemed at a loss for words about this.

“You can tell him we are getting PBS,” I said, “but we’ve been getting that for weeks.”

Ashley told him. The manager then became wildly preoccupied offering to connect our FOX for us right then and there.

“No,” Ashley said. “We don’t want you to connect FOX for us. FOX is beside the point. What we want you to do is to disconnect us entirely and waive the $250 fee. And if you’re not prepared to do that, then I need to speak to your manager.”

The manager whimpered something and put her on hold to go fetch his boss. Ashley waited on hold for several minutes, the former manager occasionally popping back on to let her know he was still waiting on his boss. Eventually, he returned to say that his boss was tied up at the moment, but, given our circumstances, had given him authorization to waive the fees. He explained that the $250 charge was automatically going to be placed on our final bill by their computer system and there was no way they could change that. However, his boss had authorized him to give us a confirmation code that, which we can phone up DIRECTV and give to them once we receive our final bill. Allegedly they will then credit us the $250 and be shed of them forever. Or so he said. Ashley wrote everything down, made sure to note the man’s name again for his benefit, thanked him for his effort and hung up.

The monkey and I applauded.

Since last Friday, the wife and I, as well as our various smelly lower primates, have been riding pretty high on our victory over The Man. Unfortunately, my deep-seated paranoia has led me to investigate the matter further and what I’ve dug up causes me concern that our ordeal may not be over.

One doesn’t have to Google very far to find a plethora of consumer complaint sites which seem to indicate that our “victory” is rather unprecedented in the grand scheming of all things DIRECTV. There are people out there with horror stories that make ours pale in comparison; people who have allegedly had their credit bludgeoned, some of whom claim to have never been a customer of DIRECTV in the first place, or people who claim that after complaining bitterly to manager after manager concerning the wrongs against them, they were eventually told “DIRECTV is not responsible for the lies told by our employees. Basically, a lot of people in need of bowel-gorillas. We’ll see.

In the meantime, we’ve signed back up for DISH NETWORK. I meekly called them up to register as a new customer, but since I’d only cancelled my account a week before they said they could just reactivate it for me with no strings attached. Mighty nice of `em. I then asked to upgrade to their version of the DVR, which I decided to lease rather than buy. This meant an 18 month commitment, which considering we’ve been with them since 2001 and also considering we’ve got 18 months left in Ash’s residency, didn’t seem like such a bad deal. Plus there were some sign on rebates and such that helped bring our monthly bill to a reasonable level. We’re still paying more for them than we have would for DIRECTV, but let me assure you, to me it would be well worth it only for the DVR.

On Tuesday, they sent a guy out to install it and we found immediately that the DISH NETWORK DVR is a sleek creature of beauty and speed. I’m still learning the ins and outs of it, but it’s already won over my wife, who hated the DIRECTV DVR with what became an abiding passion. The DISH system has the added advantage of a remote that’s set up much like our old DISH remote—not to mention it does what you tell it to do when you tell it to do it and without any lip and does so no matter where in the room you point it. (There are actually some features of the DIRECTV DVR that I think could stand to be incorporated into the DISH one, such as the four colorful modular-function buttons, but frankly I’ll take speed over elegance in this case.)

We’re even going to try and pick up some distant networks through an outfit called All American Direct, which has already said we’re eligible for FOX. My guess is that they too won’t be able to get us the other distant networks either, but I’ve already put in my waiver request. The guy who installed the system said the local stations are now supposed to be available on DISH by 2008. In the meantime, he said he had no problem getting all of his own networks through American Direct. Of course, we’ve heard that before, but the bottom line is, this time we’re not putting any stock in it. If it happens, great. If not, we’ll somehow survive with online Lost webisodes.

So, is the moral of this story DISH NETWORK good, DIRECTV bad? Well, DIRECTV is certainly bad, but I somehow doubt I’d have to look very hard to find similar horror stories about DISH. They’re very similar companies, after all and it stands to reason that they’ve engaged in similar business practices to try and stay ahead of the other guy. At this point, though, I prefer not to do such research. I prefer to hold onto the potential illusion that they’re a swell bunch of folks who always have my back. That’s how they’ve successfully portrayed themselves to us over the course of our five plus years of service with them. If they’re not good, they’re doing a darn good job of disguising it for us. Your mileage may vary.

EPILOGUE 1

If you recall from the DirecTV saga in February, we told DirecTV off, assuring them that we had no intentions of remaining with their service, nor of paying their $258 cancellation fee, due to the fact that they mislead us on numerous occasions by, essentially, promising us that we could have distant networks when it turned out we couldn’t. At that point, after nearly 40 minutes of holding and waiting and speaking to managers and then the manager of the managers and then requesting to speak to the manager of the manager of the managers, the 2nd manager of managers we were talking to finally relented and said he’d been authorized to give us a confirmation number that would allow us to get out of paying the cancellation fee. The trick, he explained, was that we had to wait for our final bill to arrive with the $258 fee on it, then phone them up with the number and they would credit us the $258.

Three weeks back, we received said bill, phoned DirecTV up and completely expected them to tell us the guy we’d spoken with before had been talking out of his ass. (There are lots of examples of this very sort of thing floating about the net.) They did not, however. Instead, after nearly 20 minutes of waiting on hold between their phone rep in India and the Crisis Customer Counselor he’d rolled our particular ball of dung to, the CCCounselor came on the line and told us our account had been sent to their credit-claims department and it should no longer be a problem for us. We’d heard that before too, so our skepticism remained strong.

We’ve now received a notice from DirecTV saying that they had credited our account $275 and we owed them nothing. In fact, because they’d only billed us $258.68 for the cancellation fee in the first place, we have a $16.32 credit with them, which means they now owe us money. They owe us an apology too, but I think we’ll get the $16.32 sooner.

EPILOGUE 2

I received another piece of mail from the evil and ass-sucking DirecTV; this, after having been assured by a previous piece of mail that I was finally finished with them for good.

This new bit of mail contained a note that read:

Dear Mr. Fritzius,

We regret that you recently cancelled your DIRECTV service. We hope you enjoyed the diverse programming DIRECTV offers and that you consider DIRECTV in the future for your home entertaining needs.

Our records indicate that we have sent you a final bill for $258.68, but have not yet received payment. It is important that we receive payment in full in order to clear your account. Please be aware that you may be billed additional charges if the commitment term was not completed. If there is an unresolved issue you would like to discuss, or to make an immediate payment, please contact our customer service department and a customer service representative will be happy to help you.

The note went on to list the many convenient ways I could send money to them and ended with a sentence reading, “If you have already made the payment, please disregard this letter,” and was signed by a manager in their collections department.

I immediately phoned DirecTV up and asked them what, if anything, their computers claimed I still owed them. The operator I spoke with (who did not sound as though she were located in Delhi, though she did sound very guarded, as if ready for a fight—indicating that my account has likely been flagged as “problem customer”), said that her computer showed that I owed them nothing and that I actually had $16.32 in credit.

Now, I hope that this note from the collections department was something automatically generated and sent out, perhaps around the same time that the previous note was sent. My suspicion, however, is that I’m looking at the opening volleys in a war between DirecTV’s collections department and their credit claims department. If so, I’m the poor asshole caught in the crossfire.

While I had Miss Phone Rep on the line, I did inquire as to whether or not DirecTV would actually be paying me the $16.32 they say they owe me, or if I should just forget it? She said that as I am no longer technically a customer, and therefore cannot receive credit on my next bill, they would be issuing me a check within the next 4 to 6 weeks.

We’ll see.

EPILOGUE 3

It’s been over two months since my last bit of dealing with the vile and ass-sucking entity known as DirecTV. It’s been blissful. In fact, I continue to have nothing but high praise for Dish Network, despite the fact that I am still without distant networks, except for Fox. If I must be without distant networks, I’d much rather be without them with Dish Network than with the sphincter remora that is DirecTV. But I digress…

Last I heard from them, they still owed me $16.32, the difference between the amount they originally said we owed them for our early disconnection and the amount they eventually wound up crediting us in order to cover the original claim against us.

In the intervening days, we’ve faithfully received a bill each month displaying that credit of $16.32.

Today, we finally received a check in the mail for the amount of $16.32. I will, of course, be cashing it and hoping against hope that it is the final piece of mail, junk or otherwise, I ever receive from that company.

I’m an optimistic soul, no?

 

Copyright © 2006 Eric Fritzius

The Talkin’ Mount Childless Wonder, Mama’s Little baby Loves Ziggurats, Emergency Baby-Sitting the Borg Blues

After a particularly harsh day at my “liberry” workplace, I began complaining to my wife Ashley about the limited parenting skills of some of our patrons and how many were perfectly willing to allow their children to run wild and destructive throughout public places.  It’s not a new complaint from me, I’m afraid, and I must admit that it was made from my safe and comfy perch atop Mount Childless Wonder.  Evidently, the gods of irony were paying attention, however and decided to give me a little taste of how parenthood might play out.

The following Friday, I wasn’t scheduled to go in to work at all, so I was tidying up a few things around Chez Fritzius when the phone rang. It was our friend Beth from med-school. Beth said that her husband Will’s father had been rushed to a regional hospital with chest pains and it looked as if he was having more heart issues. The man’s been in and out of the hospital for such heart issues throughout the past year, but it was looking pretty serious this time. Beth and Will were going to head over. Could we babysit?

Now when I heard this, I immediately said “Sure,” cause it’s Beth doing the asking, plus Ash and I really love her baby, Ashley Nicole, (here on to be referred to as The Baby, so as not to get too confusing with namesake issues). I also figured that she’d be bringing The Baby over sometime that evening when my Ashley was around to know what to do with her.

“Thanks. I’ll be over with her in an hour or so,” Beth said. There was a bit more to it than that, of course, involving calls made to my Ashley to let her know what was on the way, but that’s the gist. Ashley alerted me to the fact that she wasn’t getting off from work til close to 5, so this meant it would be me and the baby all by ourselves for most of the day. Actually, she eased me into this revelation by first scaring the hell out of me.

ASHLEY: So you think you’ll be okay with her for the afternoon?

ME: Sure.

ASHLEY: What about when I’m on call tonight?

ME: Do what? You’re on call tonight?

ASHLEY: Yeah.

ME: You’re shitting me.

ASHLEY: Nope.

ME: I knew you were on call on Sunday night, but not tonight.

ASHLEY: I had to trade.

ME: You’re shitting me.

ASHLEY: Nope.

(Long pause.)

ME: You’re shitting me?

ASHLEY: Yeah.

Suddenly four and a half hours with the kid didn’t seem so bad.

To make matters worse, this was Beth’s first time to be apart from her kid for more than a couple of hours since they left the hospital nine months ago. Now, here she was leaving her kid in the care of a terrified sweathog in a stuffy, vaguely cat-hair infested house. But as they brought The Baby in, she gave me a huge grin and laughed and I somehow felt a little better about what I’d gotten myself into.

Beth and Will hauled in a foldable crib that transformed into a changing table, an activity saucer, a car seat, a stroller and bags and bags of toys, diapers, food, water, bottles, etc. Then Beth began rattling off instructions at me as to feeding times, proper Enfamil mixing ratios, how often the baby could have fruit-juice, nap schedules, Orajel application times, mood swings and a host of other informational tidbits that I failed to write down in their entirety. It was all just a blur. And within minutes, they’d departed, leaving me standing in my kitchen holding this 19 pound human, with whom I was not entirely sure what to do.

So, The Baby and I sat around on the couch for a bit, her smiling and laughing at me while I said things to her like, “Who’s a pretty girl?” and “I’m gonna get your piggies!” and “I have no clue what to do with you at all,” in soothing babytalk. After a while, this got old for me, so I looked around for something else to do. I spied her Baby Einstein baby-seat activity saucer–a big two-tiered, doughnut-shaped contraption the upper surface of which is lined with toys and various noise and light-making devices to entertain the baby as she sits in the middle of the doughnut and can rotate 360 degrees to reach all the stuff. So I stuck her in that. It seemed to work okay, as she happily began banging the crap out of all the toys in front of her, laughing away.

Baby happy, I tried to go to the kitchen for something to drink. The Baby immediately freaked out and began screaming at the top of her lungs. I dashed back and she got quiet and happy again. I took a step toward the kitchen and more screaming began. Step back and happy smiles. I then saw that so as long as I was within both eyesight and close proximity to The Baby, she remained happy. And I remained thirsty. This, of course, only lasted a few minutes, before she decided she’d had enough of the saucer and no amount of proximity or happy baby talk would calm her down. So I had to lift her out of it and sit on the couch while holding her to keep her quiet.

I then tried to find something on television that would be age appropriate. Instead of something good, though, I found the Doodlebops, perhaps the gayest kids’ show ever. (And when I say “gayest” I don’t mean it in a “Right Wing, All Homosexuals are Evil and Therefore so is this Show” kind of way. Cause, that’s not my perspective. I meant “gayest” in more of a “Violent Prison Rape in a Cell Block Designed by Rejects from the Set & Costuming Department of Cirque Du Soleil, with a 1960’s-Yellow-Submarine-Fab-Clown Fetish, and Cojo gets to watch,” kind of way. Go look at their website and tell me I’m wrong.)

After 10 minutes of that unwatchable crap, which The Baby wisely paid no attention to whatsoever, I was forced to change the channel to Star Trek: The Next Generation. It was in the middle of Best of Both Worlds Part I. Sweet! Now that’s some Borg action for your ass!

The Baby only let me watch a few minutes of this, though, before she began getting restless and started warming up her voice for another good bout of screaming. So I jumped up and walked around the house with her. I walked into the kitchen with her. I walked back into the living room with her. I walked her to the window to look out at the lack of hillbillies working on the house. I walked her back to the kitchen and got myself something to drink, which is what I remembered I’d wanted a while ago. Eventually, she began to get heavy, so I walked her back to the couch and bounced her on my knee singing “Mama’s Little Baby Loves Shortnin’ Bread,” only I don’t know any lyrics beyond the chorus so I began making some up involving Mama’s Little Baby’s Love of Ziggurats. (I have no idea where this came from, but apparently mama’s little baby really enjoyed Babylonian terraced pyramids.)

This singing and bouncing only worked for a few minutes before the baby decided she wasn’t having any more of it and began to kick and cry again. That’s when I realized what I was dealing with, here: this Baby was a Borg. Sure, I could get through her defenses for a bit, but soon she would adapt and her shields would return to full strength and she’d once again begin carving me up with her vicious sonic beams. I would have to continuously come up with new and more creative material if I was to stay ahead of the destruciton.

Then it hit me: a bottle! Beth had said something about the baby perhaps needing a bottle this afternoon. So I stuck her back in the saucer and ran to the kitchen to prepare one. Beth had already thoughtfull filled empty bottles with distilled water, so all I had to do was scoop in some carefully measured Enfamil while the baby raged. One dash back to the living room, one baby scooped out of the saucer and onto the couch, one bottle crammed in baby’s mouth and I had silence once more. For ten whole minutes. Then she finished the bottle and it was time for more squalling.

Pretty soon, the phone rang. It was Ashley calling to see how I was doing.

“When will you be home?” I whined.

“Not til 4:30 or 5. Why? Is everything okay?”

I told her about my Borg theory. She didn’t buy it.

“Just put her down on a blanket on the floor with her toys. I’ve seen her do it at Beth’s all the time. She’ll play there for hours.”

More screaming as I ran for a blanket, more as I spread it on our floor and dumped her bag of toys on it. She shut up for all of five seconds as I put her on the blanket, then opened up with more. So I began picking up her toys and giving them voices, entertaining her with a clumsy puppet show. It worked pretty well. She even seemed to like it when I made Eeyore scream in pain as she bit into his head. By the time this wore off, Data and Worf had rescued Captain Picard from the Borg vessel and I was wishing someone would rescue me.

Then a miraculous thing happened. When the Baby began screaming again, I didn’t know what else to do other than pick her up and rock her gently back and forth. After only a couple minutes, her screams turned to cries and then groans and then burbles and finally to little snores as she dropped off to sleep. I continued rocking until I was sure she was out, then I carefully put her on a big pillow and retreated to the kitchen where I quietly—oh, so quietly—lurked.

After 5, Ashley came home to relieve me of baby duty, though not of baby doody, as we soon came to discover. Fortunately, I’d gone through Beth’s Diaper Changing Boot Camp with this kid months ago, so even a spectacularly poopy diaper was nothing to fear.

Our weekend with The Baby, however, proceeded much as it had during the first four hours. We’d entertain the Baby, she’d get fed up with whatever we were doing and start to scream. Then we’d come up with new tricks or retry old tricks, they’d work for a bit, then fail. Or we’d discover that she was really crying because she was hungry/tired/teething/poopy/etc., we would apply fixes to said issues, they’d work for a bit, then fail again. Eventually The Baby would cry herself to sleep and we’d get an hour or so of peace during which we’d walk very very slowly and make no noise at all, terrified of waking The Baby.

I was worried about having to be up all night with this routine, for as I knew well in advance I’d be the guy to have to get up and deal with it all because my wife wants me to see just how much brutal, tiring work having a baby actually is—all so I’ll think twice next time I go cavalierly trying to impregnate her. Fortunately, though, The Baby slept through the first and second nights with only minor incidents of a midnight feeding or diaper switchout to speak of. She even slept right through a massive thunderstorm Saturday night, which was more than I could say for myself.

Bravely, we decided to take her out to lunch with us on Saturday. This involved putting her in her car-seat for the trip, which first involved figuring out how to install said car seat into my wife’s Element. Installing Baby into the seat was only slightly less difficult and involved me accidentally pinching her leg while trying to buckle the straps across her. I didn’t realize I’d done it until the Baby unleashed a scream of pain that rattled my very soul. We unbuckled her quickly and saw a small bruise already forming on her thigh.

“Aw, hell, Beth’s going to kill me,” I said. “Maybe she won’t notice.”

“She’ll notice.”

At the Mexican restaurant, The Baby feasted mightily on Mexican rice and demanded more after every spoon. But she remained well behaved so long as we were shoveling in the food. Afterward, we bravely took her with us to Wal-Mart where we had one of the most pleasant Saturday Wally World experiences ever. See usually when we’re dumb enough to head to Wal-Mart on a Saturday, we have an awful time of it because on Saturday THE WHOLE DAMN WORLD comes to Wal-Mart and it is glutted with people slowly—ever so slowly—shopping for whatever’s cheapest and least healthy, usually with 8 kids in tow. After struggling our way out of said glut, we swear and swear and swear we’ll never set foot in Wal-Mart on a Saturday again. Then a couple weeks go by and we’re back there like fools. This time, though, Wally World was only about a third as full as it usually is and we had our ambassador to The World seated in the child seat of our shopping cart. Ashley had attached a small stuffed toy on a cord to The Baby’s wrist and, as we strolled down the aisles, the Baby would flap it back and forth happily, beaming smiles at any and all who met her gaze. Our journey was accompanied by calls of “What a cute baby!” and “Oh, look at that baby!” and “Beautiful baby.” And we too beamed, like proud unofficial aunt and uncle.

At one point, we ran into some people we know from church. They did double and triple takes as they saw what we had in our cart, tried to do the math in their head as to when or if one of us had been pregnant at any point in the last 9 months, then cautiously said, “Is that…. um… your…?”

“Nope, she’s a friend’s.”

They looked relieved.

As blessedly well-behaved as The Baby was in Wal-Mart, she turned on the screaming again as soon as we got home. By Sunday afternoon, that act had worn very very thin and we were ready for Beth to take her away from us. When Beth phoned to let us know she was on her way, we asked about the whole screaming bit.

“Oh, just set her on the blanket with some toys and she’ll get over it after a few minutes.”

“That’s just it,” we said. “She doesn’t. She’ll scream at the top of her lungs for five minutes, stop and play for one and then return to screaming for five.”

“Just let her go,” Beth said. “She’s got to learn.”

So we did. We let her go.  And go she did. For a solid hour that kid screamed and raged and shook her little fists at us. And the longer we let her go the more furious she became. She was so angry that it became comical and we soon found ourselves stiffling laughter. Still, we were afraid that she was becoming so upset that she’d throw up.  Logic imposed itself on us and we decided that Beth shouldn’t have to see a distraught kid when she arrived, so we picked the Baby up and tried to give her a bottle. She remained viciously pissed off at us for twenty minutes, despite our efforts. I tell ya, that kid’s going to be a force to be reckoned with.

When Beth arrived, she’d no sooner walked through the door than she said, “All right, who hurt my baby?”

“You told her?!” I said to my wife in as an accusing a tone as I could come up with.

“No.  I told you she’d know.”

Beth attended to The Baby’s bruised leg, gave it a smooch and admitted that she’d done as much herself by accident.

After The Baby and Beth had gathered up the mountain of baby supplies and departed, we sat in our house and enjoyed the silence. Eventually, we had to leave the house again, but when we returned home the place seemed a bit more empty than we remembered it.

How do I feel about my first taste of parenthood? It’s an acquired taste. Kinda salty and bitter in places, but with some good nougaty parts in there too. I think I could learn to like it.

 

 

Copyright © 2006 Eric Fritzius