email from God

March 22, 2013

This morning I was cleaning spam from my inbox when I came across an email that made me stop and think.  The subject line had one word: God.  To my knowledge this is my first email from the All Mighty unless you count Bill Gates.  He sent me one about winning a trip to Disney World if I forwarded his message to as many friends as possible.  Microsoft has sent me a few things too and I’ve received fake emails from the IRS. It makes sense that our Creator is online, since He’s everywhere.  (Hopefully He’s in North Korea…He can take some time away from being ever present with me…and apply that extra time to North Korea and I’d be OK with it.)  Do you suppose He gets spam for Viagra or weight loss pills?

 So I looked over into the preview pane of my inbox and read the message.  It said, “I think you will enjoy the bible verse.  It really inspired me today.”  Here’s what it said: Col 3:23: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.” The message was perfectly timed because I was multitasking.  However, I was getting ready to stop and check Facebook.  Not sure that our Heavenly Father would want me to check in on social media during business hours.  So I ignored the impulse and made another sales call. 

For a minute I felt special.  God took the time to send an email solely to me.  This wasn’t a message that had been sent to a big email list.  It didn’t say at the bottom that I would be blessed if I forwarded the message to fifteen friends within two hours. (Good thing, because I don’t have fifteen friends, but He already knew that.)  The font used in the email was Times New Roman. How appropriate.  I liked the message so I kept it in my inbox…unopened.

My friends are spiritually diverse.  Some believe our path is predetermined by God, end of story.  I don’t know that I like that version.  It’s so confining.  To me that makes God more like a puppet master.  He’s the Jeff Dunham of the heavens.  Controlling us all like José Jalapeño on a Stick.  Adam, meet Eve…Eve…meet Adam and his friend … Peanut.   Life is a stage and we are merely players…with a hand up our… Come to think of it there is a hand up there, but it isn’t the creator’s.  It’s the I.R.S.

Others believe that life is just a series of random events.  So in the beginning there was an explosion and then a few million years later…after an extended warm humid spell…there was algae…that algae grew into something with a brain and opposable thumbs that invented the wheel and harnessed fire…fast forward to 2013 and we have evolved even more.  We’ve invented things like disposable towelettes soaked in antiseptic that kill 99% of all bacteria and algae.   Evolution was good in its day. We just don’t want anything evolving on the tile in our shower.

A couple of people I know think we were put on this planet by aliens.  They always site the same evidence as proof.  The building of the pyramids could not have been accomplished without the help of a space ship for guidance.  The other link they commonly refer to is the series of geoglyphs or Nazca lines etched into the floor of the Peruvian desert.  I think those are very cool and definitely took some skill, patience, and coordination.  You can tell they were created in a time when our opposable thumbs were used for more than controlling a joystick or typing on a smart phone, but I’m not sure they tell us we came from the final frontier.  We invite our alien friends to our Christmas party because they are great conversation starters.  Putting them in a small group with our Catholic and Jewish friends is fun.  We bottle the fireworks and use them on New Year’s Eve. 

Some of my friends have more of a hybrid approach to spirituality.  They believe life is free will intertwined with a path.  It sounds like lives are similar to Second City.  As if we are all God’s private improv troupe.  So every culture is a sketch in the main show.  When a society evolves into a truly unique culture they are spun off to headline on their own.  It’s a little like the way Wayne’s World was spun off SNL…except real.  Not sure what happened with the Inca’s.  Maybe they got a little too full of themselves and started writing to please only the idols.  That caused them to lose touch with the Main audience so they were canceled.  I’m ok with that theory on life provided our culture doesn’t sink to the lowest common denominator.  That seemed to be way improv acts devolved the show when I worked with them in the comedy clubs.  Based on the popularity of The Bachelor, The Kardashian’s, and NASCAR …we’re nearing the end of our run.  In the clubs, if you were nearing the end of your set the club manager would shine a flash light at your eyes from the back of the room.  It was very subtle to the crowd, but the performer saw it.  We called it, getting the light.  When you’re at the end of your set on earth God gives you a light too.  His is whiter and not so subtle.

 

 

Shine On, Spring Break!

March 10, 2013

Back in 1980, when I was studying at Ball State University, the two main spring break destinations were Ft. Lauderdale and Daytona Beach. College students from across Indiana would flock to the sunshine state for sun and fun. However, my love for the outdoors combined with a keen sense of adventure overrode this natural instinct to migrate south that year. Instead, my friend Bruce and I made plans for a fishing trip to the back hills of Kentucky and Tennessee on Dale Hollow Lake. We had all of the ingredients for a successful trip — gas money, a boat, enough tackle to stock a retail store, and a lifetime of fishing experience. Notice I didn’t mention anything about money for food? We didn’t have any. The lack of money, we reasoned, would not be an obstacle. We would eat like kings for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, on the bounty we pulled from the lake. What fish wouldn’t want to be caught by two blindly ambitious eighteen-year-olds? The lake was full of fish and the world was at our feet.

The Ford LTD Station Wagon was jammed to the gills with fishing tackle and camping gear yet scarcely contained enough food to fill the glove compartment. No problem! We set off from Indianapolis to lose ourselves on the water and tame this giant reservoir. Nearing the lake we noticed that the countryside was dominated by simple homes. Seemingly forgotten for decades, these cabins lacking in paint had rusted tin roofs and cluttered front porches. They conjured up thoughts of the movie Deliverance. For two boys from the suburbs it was a culture shock. Surely, we naively thought, every cabin had a still on the property! The idea of buying a jar of moonshine to drink in the evening as we ate our catch became the topic of discussion. We stopped at a small country store that had a wood plank floor covering half the space and dirt covering the rest. We wondered out loud where we could buy some moonshine. How much could that stuff cost? Let’s ask the guy at the counter! Cutting our nonexistent food budget was the only way to afford some. So that’s just what we did, opting to purchase only a bag of potatoes, peanut butter, jelly, and bread. The potatoes, we reasoned, could be baked, fried, or diced and wrapped in foil with the fish adding diversity to our diet. Oil and foil we brought from home. Wisdom and his close friend common sense were left at home.

On day one we awoke before light. Full of energy and peanut butter we set out to conquer the lake while discussing the idea of stopping mid-day on some island for a shore lunch consisting of fried fish and potatoes. Arriving back at the campsite that night, our growling stomachs announced to the campground that we hadn’t eaten a shore lunch. Not one fish had been caught. Nothing too small, nothing that got away, not one hint of any aquatic dweller…turtles included. We fished from sun up to sun down without even a hint of a fish. The weather was great though, and as slumber came we were confident that day two would be different. Both days two and three ended in much the same way. By the end of the third day we were over the potatoes and peanut butter. It was time to find the fish. So we lit the lantern, opened the lake map and pored over it looking for a solution. Midway through day five we started discussing Plan B.

Finding someone selling moonshine had met with much the same fate. Every night we drove around in the dark looking for a cabin that had a moonshine vibe. (As if there would be some sort of rusted arrow pointing at the roof from the sky above with a sign that read…Get Your Corn Liquor Here!) The process went like this: Bruce would pull up to a shanty, let me out, I would walk up as if I were selling vacuums door to door and coyly ask if they knew of anyone selling sour mash. Sour was the look they gave me, and the conversation was over with the slam of the door. It didn’t bother me. I didn’t know them. In retrospect it was great training for both comedy (tough crowd…said like Rodney Dangerfield) and sales. In fact all sales people should have to do that as a rite of passage; if you actually talk your way into buying a jar then you are immediately promoted to director of sales!

As we drove further into this wild goose chase we continued talking about our empty stomachs. Small farms dotted the hillside. Farms have chickens we reasoned. I knew how to butcher chickens. My grandmother raised them and we butchered them every year. If we could find a chicken coop I’d sneak up, grab a chicken, wring its neck, throw it in the trunk and we would eat like kings… if kings stole chickens. As we rounded a curve we came across a big pig laying at the edge of the road — just a random pig…on a random gravel road…in the middle of nowhere. Bruce stopped the car and for a moment the two of us pondered the idea of butchering that pig. With our fillet knives. Thankfully that ridiculous idea was dismissed — as if stealing someone’s chicken wasn’t ridiculous.

Just beyond the pig we spied a chicken coop on the side of a hill between a barn and farmhouse. Our plan called for Bruce to stay in the car with the motor running and the lights off. I would sneak off to do the deed. Wearing denim from head to toe I was dressed for this covert operation…or a bluegrass festival. All was quiet as I crept up the hillside in the shadows. Slowly I snuck closer while listening for the sound of roosting hens. As I reached the door to the coop I was giddy with the thought that we were about to pull this off. The building was as weathered as the shanty homes. The door to the chicken house was on the side that faced away from the farmhouse. As I slowly opened it the hinges creaked. The silence was broken. Their dog started barking. Dog! Yes the dog! The chickens rustled and clucked in surprise. I quickly shut the door. My adrenalin spiked. The dog sounded big and he was on a mission to protect the farm. His bark was like a shot from a starter’s pistol. The race was on and I was off with a dog somewhere behind me. With the slope of the hill beneath my feet I ran like the wind so fast that I nearly ran out from under my legs. Unfortunately, I didn’t see the fence that separated the pasture from the barn area. Running full stride through the darkness I hit the fence at waist height and in an instant was flipped and hung up on the opposite side of the fence on the barbed wire that was strung across the top. Both of my arms were extended out in either direction from my body as if I were strung up on a cross. The sleeves of my denim jacket were trapped in the barbs. I struggled to break free. The dog was barking somewhere behind me. Suddenly Bruce was at my side helping to free me. He was laughing nervously having seen me run straight into the fence. How could I not see it, he wondered? It was plain to him, as he sat there comfortably in the car with nothing chasing him except the thought of flame-grilled chicken. Struggling to my feet I stumbled my way into the passenger side of the car and we sped off into the darkness with the lights still off, laughing. I never saw the dog. I never touched a chicken. We never ate meat the entire trip.

Tom Sawyer and I

February 27, 2013

My daughter Grace is currently reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in Literature class.  Based on the way she groans about it, I’d say this book won’t make her recommended reading list.  To me it’s full of adventure, but I was raised in a different time.  When I was a kid, Words with Friends meant you were arguing, texting was done on a typewriter, and streaming images were only found on the surface of a creek.  By contrast, her days consist of homework done on a computer and a ballet life documented daily on instagram.  It’s easy to understand why there could be a disconnect.   So how about disconnecting all things digital and expanding your horizons?  Wow, I’m starting to sound like someone’s grandfather.  Wait!  I am a grandfather!  My driver’s license says I’m fifty-two, but I still feel like Tom Sawyer at heart.  To me there is no greater feeling of peace than kneeling on the bank of a creek listening to the sound of the water passing through stones, and tweets from…birds.  I am immediately transported back to my childhood via the water, back to a time when Tom Sawyer, Huck and I had a lot in common. 

 

My very first job was trapping.  In high school my friend Bruce and I caught mink, muskrat, and raccoon in the shadows of Lafayette Square Mall.  But one weekend the irresistible possibility that more fur lay waiting just beyond the confines of Indianapolis inspired us to pack a canoe and head down White River.  The plan was to float out of town on a trip that would carry us south to Green County, Indiana where my grandparents lived on a farm.  My grandfather was a fur buyer.  Our hope was that he would pick us up, buy our fur, and send us back to Indy with a pocket full of money.  It was a two-hour drive by car.  Canoeing there would take us…back in time. 

 

We attempted this trip was in a light blue plastic canoe that had been given to Bruce by a liquor distributer as a container for icing beers at a summer party we’d thrown.  (Yes we were under age.  Yes there was a cover charge.  Yes we made money.)  So my entrepreneurial skills were developing nicely, while my common sense…um…had a ways to go.  Let’s face it; the canoe was not designed to carry passengers who were setting out on an extended river trip, and we knew it. So we thought, in our pea brains, that we would only carry hunting necessities, dry clothes, food, and …well that’s it.  Our tent and sleeping bags stayed home along with any hope of a warm restful sleep during those cold November nights. At least we had enough brains to bring our coats…which were dotted with burn holes after the first night from sleeping right next to the fire because it was so freaking cold!  Amazingly, we persevered and began to accumulate a nice collection of raccoon pelts.  Floating by night we would shine the bank for the glowing eyes of raccoon using a light with a red lens.  Then in the dark, just before sunrise, we would make a lean-to from grape vines and leaves, build a fire, and shiver until mid-morning. 

 

On the morning of the third day we were awakened by the sound of an outboard motor.  Stumbling to our chilly feet, we were startled by a guy who looked like Grizzly Adams with an attitude — a bad attitude — and he was heading right for us.  He drove his flat bottom boat up on shore and with the motor still running hopped out with a shotgun pointed in our direction and accused us of stealing his fur.  Let’s just say at this point my knees were shaking for a reason other than low seasonal temperatures.  While our friends were spending Thanksgiving weekend with relatives, we chose the road less traveled.  Right now that road had detoured into the barrel of a 12 gage shotgun…cocked and loaded.  We offered him some soup.  He declined.  We offered him a shot of whiskey.  He declined.  We offered him the opportunity to look around our campsite to ease his worried mind.  He declined.  That was a good thing because we had incriminating evidence.  The evidence wasn’t his, but I’m not sure he was in the frame of mind to balance the facts.  He gave us an ultimatum.  If we weren’t off the river by the time he came back with reinforcements, our canoe would be shot full of holes and our asses would be kicked.  Thanks to a massive dose of adrenaline, I was no longer cold.  In fact I was the warmest I’d been since the beginning of the trip. 

Bruce and I must have channeled the ghost of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn because we stood up to this guy and his gun.  We didn’t freak out.  We didn’t challenge him to a dual.  In fact, we miraculously steered him away from the notion that shooting us was a good idea.  Outwardly we appeared calm and cool.  Inside I was filling my pants like a toddler.   As he shoved off from shore and headed back up stream we continued to stand tall.  Once he disappeared around the bend it was a different story.  Communicating telepathically, we packed and launched the canoe at a frantic pace. 

The last time that canoe moved that fast it was mounted to the roof of a car headed to our party.  Our paddles were stroking in a synchronized rhythm more perfectly than the Harvard rowing team.  From one bend to the next we navigated that river never pausing to look back.  About the time our arms were ready to fall off and float beside us we came upon two girls on horseback.  In a perfect world they would have been beautiful, amorous, and this story would have taken a twist commonly found in romance novels.  That was not the case.  Thankfully what the girls lacked in outward beauty, they made up for in compassion.  I climbed on the back of one of their horses, wrapped my arms tightly around the waist of this savior in plaid, and we rode like the wind back to her farmhouse.  Once safely inside I phoned a friend for help.  Long before iPhones with map apps, Garmin’s, or any other consumer GPS devices I explained my location.  My friend Steve agreed to meet us downstream at the next bridge.  I climbed back on the horse, held on to Annie Oakley, and we beat tracks back to Bruce who was keeping a nervous yet watchful eye up stream.  It took us the better part of an hour to paddle to the bridge where our trusted friend sat waiting in his 1973 Buick Riviera.  Not known for its canoe towing capabilities, on that day the Rivi worked like a seasoned Range Rover. Smelling a lot like campfire and a little like fear, we talked about our adventure the whole way back to town.

 

Later that year I wrote about it in English class.  At the bottom of my paper the teacher scrawled, “You certainly have a vivid imagination.”  Ha!  So Did Mark Twain.

Stuck In a Well With Moonshiners

February 25, 2013

In June we had our well pump replaced by the guys from J & L Well & Pump Service.  I’m pretty sure their relatives are Jim Tom, Tickle, and the boys from Moonshiners.  They dress like them, talk like them, and their dental programs seem to be more reactive than proactive.  The head of J & L’s crew is a… tooth challenged guy named Leon.  Leon is the “L” in J & L. He told me so with a thick southern Indiana drawl that rolled off his tongue and out of the hole between missing teeth. Leon called me Craig. (When you say Craig you should put heavy emphasis on the “ai” sound…Craiiiiig) 

If you’ve never seen Moonshiners the concept for this show is similar to several other Discover Channel reality shows that rely heavily on the personalities and extreme circumstances of the characters and their extreme profession.  If you’ve seen Deadliest Catch, Swamp People, Ax Men, or Bering Sea Gold you know what I’m talking about.  Who wouldn’t like a show about avoiding the cops while brewing illegal high octane sour mash whiskey in some random woods that is 50 miles south of indoor plumbing and 180 miles west of common sense?  I know of one…my daughter Grace.  She will tell you without hesitation that I have a problem. Southern accents, overalls, and moonshine are not her cup of…sweet tea.  Refusing to allow myself to be governed by the rants of a sixteen year old…I tune in.    My dad’s side of our family is from a small town named Acorn, Kentucky.  Acorn is in the heart of moonshining country down in a holler near Summerset.  Having been there I’ve witnessed firsthand our moonshining relatives in their native habitat.  Watching the show is a trip down memory lane.  To me it is an hour of mindless entertainment… combined with the possibility of connecting with a lost relative.

It appears that cool spring water is important in the brewing process.  Wait a minute!  We are on a well…we have cool spring water pouring from our taps. My mind began to wander…after all…the Acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree! 

Then it all changed.

Saturday morning I kissed the Phelps women good bye.  Grace went off to ballet class and my wife left for a day of work in the ER. (Treating people like Jim Tom and Tickle)  I had a date with our apple trees.  Winter is the time of year to prune apple trees.  Pruning improves apple growth in the summer.  While I’m in the midst of pruning I’m usually inspired to have a talk with God about life, love, and all things good.  As I was pruning nature called so I went back into the house.  I went to the faucet.  Not one drop of cool spring water came from the tap. Our neighborhood is prone to power outages.  I glanced at the clock. It was working…that could only mean one thing.  Something was up with our well…again!  I naively thought that once the pump was fixed in June we would have another twenty plus years of cool clean goodness pouring from each faucet.  Wrong!

I called Leon the pump guy aka Jim Tom.  With assistants who mirrored the cast from Moonshiners in tow he showed up and began to diagnose the problem…He turned on the faucet.  ”Hell it looks like you ain’t got NO water.”  Then he hooked up a meter and did some electrical voodoo on the pump wires.   It seemed that our current problem was lectrical in nature. “Dat ware (wire) dat run from da foundation to da pump …done gone bad.”  In no time they transformed part of our yard and front porch into a mud bog and found the problem wasn’t the ware it was the pump.  Luckily the pump had a two year warranty.  There was one slight problem…Moonshiners don’t honor warranties.  Showing them the receipt seemed to me to be the logical step.  The problem, Moonshiners aren’t logical.  They argued, they pondered, they strategized, and they argued some more.  Eventually I had to forcefully point out that I paid them $2300.00 in June to do the job right and they needed to make good on that work.  Day three without water had become a pain.  We showered away from home.  Grace went to a friend’s house, I went to the gym, and my wife was in the ER taking sponge baths with patients…ok not really.  I can tell you she wasn’t taking sponge baths with me because…we had no water.  Days without water at my house had a limiting effect on “sponge baths”…if you know what I mean.  As if I didn’t have enough incentive to get the water hooked up before…I certainly did now. 

Later that afternoon they came to the door to talk payment again…which had grown to $1250.  My friend, neighbor, and attorney happened to drive by as we debated the reality of this payment.  I pointed to the car and said, “There goes my attorney.  I’d hate to have to get him involved.” Jim Tom turned to the crew of two and motioned. They started packing up.  The dead pump lay lifelessly next to one of the mud piles that surrounded our well.  Frustrated I went inside to call other well companies to get their opinion on pump warranties.

As I was on the phone the moonshiners took off with my new pump …and my old pump! I called the police.  I called my attorney.  I called the moonshiners to negotiate.  Then I called out to God asking what had happened to the peace, love, and good will we discussed Saturday morning as I stood cradled in the braches of my apple trees! 

This was beyond ridiculous!  I’d begun drawing water for flushing from the nearby crik (creek).  We had jugs of water for cooking and drinking.  Without running water our lifestyle had begun to transform into that of an Appalachian shanty dweller.  Suddenly whittling and playing the banjo by candle light had a strange appeal. Oh my god I was becoming one of them! 

Then Jim Tom and the boys came back with a new attitude and a new pump.  My wife, armed with a double barrel shotgun and a fresh wad of chewing tobacco had a different opinion of how this would play out.  She stood on the porch and hollered at them to git (get) their sorry asses off our land…then she spit and took aim…ok that didn’t happen.  Here is the truth.  They broke something in the well shaft while installing the new pump and left us at the end of the day without water.  I fired them and called in the cavalry…aka Hamilton Brothers, Inc.  They arrived the next day as I was making rabbit stew and sloppin the pigs…ok not really…I had plenty of slop, but no pigs…I’d fired them the night before.  The new guys tossed out a flurry of sarcastically tinged rhetorical questions about the moonshiner’s quality of workmanship. Then they got to work.  After four hours of work with high pressure tools and hydraulic wenches they came to the door with news.  The well had been rendered useless, by Jim Tom and the boys.  We had two choices; drill a new well for $6,000.00 or hook up to city water for what turned out to be $3900.00.  I was beyond pissed. 

Later that day as I was sitting at my dining room table discussing the process of hooking up to city water with my wife and our licensed and bonded contractor (that’s important) when Jim Tom called back.  He wanted to let me know that they’d be taking me to court to collect the money I owed for the new pump and the work they’d done.  He also wanted me to know that firing them had voided the warranty on that pump. At that point my calm disposition left the building.  I said, “Listen to me you toothles hill jack, if you call our house one more time I’m going to grab that pump, take it to your house, and shove it up your ass in front of your fat greasy haired wife.”  Then I hung up and looked over at my wife and the contractor and said, “I’m sorry, where were we?”  He didn’t bat an eye.  

Jim Tom called back.  I let it roll to voicemail.  Then Carly called from Chicago.  She’d been mugged by four teenagers.  She wasn’t hurt but, she was shaken and crying.  Suddenly everything that had just happened was put into perspective.  This episode with Jim Tom and our Moonshiners needed to become water under the bridge.  There were more important things in life that needed my attention.

 

 

Stuck In a Well With Moonshiners

February 23, 2013

In June we had our well pump replaced by the guys from J & L Well & Pump Service.  I’m pretty sure their relatives are Jim Tom, Tickle, and the boys from Moonshiners.  They dress like them, talk like them, and their dental programs seem to be more reactive than proactive.  The head of J & L’s crew is a… tooth challenged guy named Leon.  Leon is the “L” in J & L. He told me so with a thick southern Indiana drawl that rolled off his tongue and out of the hole between missing teeth. Leon called me Craig. (When you say Craig you should put heavy emphasis on the “ai” sound…Craiiiiig) 

If you’ve never seen Moonshiners the concept for this show is similar to several other Discover Channel reality shows that rely heavily on the personalities and extreme circumstances of the characters and their extreme profession.  If you’ve seen Deadliest Catch, Swamp People, Ax Men, or Bering Sea Gold you know what I’m talking about.  Who wouldn’t like a show about avoiding the cops while brewing illegal high octane sour mash whiskey in some random woods that is 50 miles south of indoor plumbing and 180 miles west of common sense?  I know of one…my daughter Grace.  She will tell you without hesitation that I have a problem. Southern accents, overalls, and moonshine are not her cup of…sweet tea.  Refusing to allow myself to be governed by the rants of a sixteen year old…I tune in.    My dad’s side of our family is from a small town named Acorn, Kentucky.  Acorn is in the heart of moonshining country down in a holler near Summerset.  Having been there I’ve witnessed firsthand our moonshining relatives in their native habitat.  Watching the show is a trip down memory lane.  To me it is an hour of mindless entertainment… combined with the possibility of connecting with a lost relative.

It appears that cool spring water is important in the brewing process.  Wait a minute!  We are on a well…we have cool spring water pouring from our taps. My mind began to wander…after all…the Acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree! 

Then it all changed.

Saturday morning I kissed the Phelps women good bye.  Grace went off to ballet class and my wife left for a day of work in the ER. (Treating people like Jim Tom and Tickle)  I had a date with our apple trees.  Winter is the time of year to prune apple trees.  Pruning improves apple growth in the summer.  While I’m in the midst of pruning I’m usually inspired to have a talk with God about life, love, and all things good.  As I was pruning nature called so I went back into the house.  I went to the faucet.  Not one drop of cool spring water came from the tap. Our neighborhood is prone to power outages.  I glanced at the clock. It was working…that could only mean one thing.  Something was up with our well…again!  I naively thought that once the pump was fixed in June we would have another twenty plus years of cool clean goodness pouring from each faucet.  Wrong!

I called Leon the pump guy aka Jim Tom.  With assistants who mirrored the cast from Moonshiners in tow he showed up and began to diagnose the problem…He turned on the faucet.  ”Hell it looks like you ain’t got NO water.”  Then he hooked up a meter and did some electrical voodoo on the pump wires.   It seemed that our current problem was lectrical in nature. “Dat ware (wire) dat run from da foundation to da pump …done gone bad.”  In no time they transformed part of our yard and front porch into a mud bog and found the problem wasn’t the ware it was the pump.  Luckily the pump had a two year warranty.  There was one slight problem…Moonshiners don’t honor warranties.  Showing them the receipt seemed to me to be the logical step.  The problem, Moonshiners aren’t logical.  They argued, they pondered, they strategized, and they argued some more.  Eventually I had to forcefully point out that I paid them $2300.00 in June to do the job right and they needed to make good on that work.  Day three without water had become a pain.  We showered away from home.  Grace went to a friend’s house, I went to the gym, and my wife was in the ER taking sponge baths with patients…ok not really.  I can tell you she wasn’t taking sponge baths with me because…we had no water.  Days without water at my house had a limiting effect on “sponge baths”…if you know what I mean.  As if I didn’t have enough incentive to get the water hooked up before…I certainly did now. 

Later that afternoon they came to the door to talk payment again…which had grown to $1250.  My friend, neighbor, and attorney happened to drive by as we debated the reality of this payment.  I pointed to the car and said, “There goes my attorney.  I’d hate to have to get him involved.” Jim Tom turned to the crew of two and motioned. They started packing up.  The dead pump lay lifelessly next to one of the mud piles that surrounded our well.  Frustrated I went inside to call other well companies to get their opinion on pump warranties.

As I was on the phone the moonshiners took off with my new pump …and my old pump! I called the police.  I called my attorney.  I called the moonshiners to negotiate.  Then I called out to God asking what had happened to the peace, love, and good will we discussed Saturday morning as I stood cradled in the braches of my apple trees! 

This was beyond ridiculous!  I’d begun drawing water for flushing from the nearby crik (creek).  We had jugs of water for cooking and drinking.  Without running water our lifestyle had begun to transform into that of an Appalachian shanty dweller.  Suddenly whittling and playing the banjo by candle light had a strange appeal. Oh my god I was becoming one of them! 

Then Jim Tom and the boys came back with a new attitude and a new pump.  My wife, armed with a double barrel shotgun and a fresh wad of chewing tobacco had a different opinion of how this would play out.  She stood on the porch and hollered at them to git (get) their sorry asses off our land…then she spit and took aim…ok that didn’t happen.  Here is the truth.  They broke something in the well shaft while installing the new pump and left us at the end of the day without water.  I fired them and called in the cavalry…aka Hamilton Brothers, Inc.  They arrived the next day as I was making rabbit stew and sloppin the pigs…ok not really…I had plenty of slop, but no pigs…I’d fired them the night before.  The new guys tossed out a flurry of sarcastically tinged rhetorical questions about the moonshiner’s quality of workmanship. Then they got to work.  After four hours of work with high pressure tools and hydraulic wenches they came to the door with news.  The well had been rendered useless, by Jim Tom and the boys.  We had two choices; drill a new well for $6,000.00 or hook up to city water for what turned out to be $3900.00.  I was beyond pissed. 

Later that day as I was sitting at my dining room table discussing the process of hooking up to city water with my wife and our licensed and bonded contractor (that’s important) when Jim Tom called back.  He wanted to let me know that they’d be taking me to court to collect the money I owed for the new pump and the work they’d done.  He also wanted me to know that firing them had voided the warranty on that pump. At that point my calm disposition left the building.  I said, “Listen to me you fucking hill jack, if you call our house one more time I’m going to grab that pump, take it to your house, and shove it up your ass in front of your fat toothless wife.”  Then I hung up and looked over at my wife and the contractor and said, “I’m sorry, where were we?”  He didn’t bat an eye.  

Jim Tom called back.  I let it roll to voicemail.  Then Carly called from Chicago.  She’d been mugged by four teenagers.  She wasn’t hurt but, she was shaken and crying.  Suddenly everything that had just happened was put into perspective.  This episode with Jim Tom and our Moonshiners needed to become water under the bridge.  There were more important things in life that needed my attention.

 

 

Wrapped Up In Cookie Dough

October 10, 2012

When our oldest was in Girl Scouts my wife was the “Cookie Chair Person”.  That meant we warehoused cookies while the girls….er ummm their parents took the cookie sheet into work and danced the dosido to get their coworkers to buy a box of Dosidos, or Thin Mints or…Our phone rang night and day as Girl Scout parents called needing more.  My wife put a message on our voice mail mentioning the cookies.  My friends would all call and leave lewd comments about the cookies.  As the sale was wrapping up I was a little cukoo about the cookies.  So I changed the voice mail to say, “If you are calling about Girl Scout Cookies, my wife isn’t here.  She took the money and went on a vacation to Florida.  She’ll catch you when she gets back.”  Well one of the mom’s…one who was wound too tight…turned us in to the cookie police.  We were investigated and when it was determined that my story was half baked…we were cleared, but asked to turn in our apron and not return as a cookie chairperson again.

I still buy the cookies because I want to help the girls.  I also buy popcorn from the Boy Scouts and when the band kid comes around I shell out ten dollars for the scented candle with a scent only a great aunt could love.  That’s because her olfactory nerves were burned out by years of lavender perfume abuse.  I’ve bought cookie dough and then wondered what the heck I’m going to do with a ten pound cask of macadamia nut/white chocolate cookie dough…feed it to the birds in the winter?  One year I bought Chanukah wrapping paper to use at Christmas….just because.

So when our youngest, Grace, had an opportunity to go to France as a foreign exchange student I braced myself for “the Fund Raiser” speech.  Then a friend told me about Crowd Funding.  There are websites dedicated to helping you raise money for things like…an educational trip to France without schlepping peanut brittle.  I think we all realize that the company rolling in the dough when it comes to Girl Scout Cookies is the bakery not the girl scouts.  So why not cut out the middleman?    If we really want our money to go to good use…donate the 10 bucks we would spend on a pumpkin spice candle…straight to the kid with the cause…that way at the end of the day…the cause ends up with a lot more money.  It sounded like a great idea so we are doing that for Grace and her opportunity to be a foreign exchange student in France.  Here’s a link if you’d like to donate.   http://www.gofundme.com/1b20zg

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The Faucet Episode

October 29, 2011

I like doing home improvements (drip, drip, drip) I embrace the challenges and I gain satisfaction from a job well done.  I also understand my limitations.  So if it’s a repair I haven’t done before, there will be some type of… learning curve.  Before I start one of those projects I make sure my girls aren’t around because odds are good that at some point in the heat of the learning curve… the words that roll off my tongue …are four letters and commonly shouted by every football coach and fourth grade boy in the Western Hemisphere.  The girls would chastise me more than they already do…they think they are steering the ship. (drip, drip, drip).   I’ve noticed that the more challenging improvements in our home seem to come in groups rather than being spread out over time.  Lately they have all involved plumbing.  (drip, drip, drip) The tough ones are deceiving.  They appear to be simple half hour jobs and yet somehow they are magically transformed into an odyssey that requires an attitude adjustment, two hours of YouTube instructional videos, a part that is on back order, and schematics designed by engineers…for engineers. (drip, drip, drip)  I think I just realized that maybe I don’t understand my limitations.  However I’m not talking about installing a new furnace, or rewiring our house.  The latest task was…wait for it…fixing a dripping faucet in the girl’s bathroom.  Seriously, now that you know the repair, would you expect the fix to take…two UPS shipments, and seventeen days?  It’s important to highlight the fact that even though it appears I’m in denial about my capabilities…I didn’t discontinue the model of our faucet, I didn’t decide to only label the schematics in Chinese, Latin, and Mayan, or take the replacement parts off retailer’s shelves…I did however turn off the hot water in that bathroom until the parts arrived because the drip became a small stream after the third time I partially took the faucet apart (see learning curve for details).  So every day it wasn’t fixed…there was more of a sense of urgency to do so.

Several years ago we remodeled our home.  Our bathrooms were rebuilt from the studs…by studs.  I say that because they did a great job.  I draw the line at totally rebuilding a room because frankly that kind of construction project takes a lot of knowledge, resources, and time.  Time that I need to devote to working so that I can pay for the stinking upgrade!  I’d love to do a project like that, but I’d also love to keep my marriage, keep my job, keep my sanity, and the list goes on. 

So the new faucets were all higher end Brizo Faucets by Delta which look like this.  They’re nice…when they aren’t dripping.

 

 

They come with a lifetime warranty.  Our model was discontinued sometime between installation and malfunction.  So Delta replaced the bad parts for free.  That makes the repair inexpensive, but we had to wait for them to fill, ship, and deliver the order, which takes about ten days.  Thanks to technology upgrades in plumbing you don’t simply replace a washer to stop a leak.  The top of the handle slides off revealing a set screw, unscrew the set screw to take off the handle.  That leaves the inverted bell shaped thingy (in the schematic it’s called a 鐘形片) I had to unscrew the bell from the base.  That reveals a cartridge that is held in place by another part that screws…since I didn’t do this installation I didn’t know the bell had been cemented to the base with clear calk.  So my attempt at unscrewing had me a little… screwed.  The bell wouldn’t budge so I was stuck, and puzzled.  Could the schematic be wrong?  I was forced to regroup.  After two trips to Economy Plumbing for advice, a pair of vice grips, and some choice words, I was able to separate the base from…my life which revealed the cartridge.  Under the cartridge was a spring and a rubber ball like thing.  Thanks to my first UPS shipment I could replace the spring, ball, and cartridge.  Then I screwed everything back in place, slid on the handle, set screw, cap, and…presto change, no drip.  I get to undo it again in ten days when the new bell comes in.  At least now I know what I’m doing. 

Each time I worked on that drip I had to clean everything out from under the cabinet. That way I could get under the sink to bang my head and wrench my neck.  I didn’t realize the cabinet had accumulated so much stuff.  There were two hair dryers (two?) A curling iron, a flattening iron(?)…why the curling iron if you need a flattening iron?…two rags, tampons, pads, sponges (the cleaning variety), toilet cleaner, Clorox wipes, half of a fresh water clam shell, fifteen swear words, some of my thinning hair, and several hours of lost productivity.  The last three are relatively new additions.

Grandparent’s Day

October 20, 2011

When I hear the name grandpa I have this visual in my mind and my face isn’t on it.  Don’t get me wrong I love being one.  I look forward to seeing the twins every week, but the title seems surreal.  I keep feeling like… a dad.  There is this age connotation that comes with the title, Grandpa, and I can’t seem to get past it.  Carly will say something like, “Girls, look at Grandpa”, and I turn around expecting my dad to be standing in the door.  Then I realize she’s talking about me and it’s…just …out of body.  There are certain titles that I’m good with like, Uncle Greg…I’ve worn that hat for eighteen years and I dig it.  Mr. Phelps is a little formal, but I can connect the dots on the right day.  Sir….that one strikes at the core of my internal struggle between young at heart and the fact that my high school graduating class just celebrated our THIRTY year reunion. 

On the other hand Keely has thoroughly embraced the title Grandma.  She found out on her fiftieth birthday.  She had been half a century for about half a day when she took the call from the home office.   By the next day she’d digested the news (with the help of soft food and tea:-)).  She picked up the knitting needles, reading glasses, and her Martha Washington cap, and began making blankets and sweaters.  Our house looks like a third world sweat shop with all of the yarn, patterns and needle point.  She even bought extra car seats so we’d have a set.  The girls will be a year old at the end of the month.   I think she’s knitting them a birthday cake.  She answers to Grandma…she is Grandma. 

Every Thursday and Friday evening at our house is Grandparent’s Day.  Alexis works evenings so the twins come over to magically transform our home from the teen lounge into camp run-a-muck.  We put up the barricades so they are confined to the family room where they drag, paw, pull, and chew everything they can get their soggy paws on.  Really at eleven months the only thing that separates baby humans from puppies is the fact that puppies are faster at learning where to poop.  They both chew everything.  When the twins first started pulling themselves up they were teething on our glass top tables, the frame of the tables, DVD boxes, shoes.  If you turn your back on them, they switch from chewing on toys to eating cat food and drinking from the watering bowl.  I saw it before with our kids, but our baby is fifteen now.  We haven’t covered the sockets or locked the cabinets for fourteen years.  They are also really good at showing us how inferior we are at mopping floors.  We can wash our floors three times a week and it doesn’t seem to matter.  The girls come over, crawl around for ten minutes, and their knees and socks look like they’ve been visiting the Clampett’s dirt floor cabin.  I should strap sponges to their knees so they can mop while they crawl.

I pick them up at day care each Thursday.  The first thing I had to master, aside from telling them apart, was juggling.  One baby is easy to manage.  I did that all the time.  When you carry one you still have a hand free for keys, a door knob, car seat straps…you get the picture.  Two is a whole different ball game.  The first time I picked them up it was raining.  I had two babies in my arms, their backpack, car keys in my pocket, rain on my head, and a locked car.  Nice!  And I thought Sales as challenging!  When I got to the car I found it easiest to hold them like squirming footballs together in one arm so I could unlock the door.  I really didn’t care what the passing motorists thought.  Years of hearing my coach yell “Don’t drop that football Phelps!” suddenly came rushing back.  You don’t want to be the guy who drops a baby in the day care parking lot.  The next challenge was strapping one in the car seat without the other one escaping.  If I put her down by my feet she’d immediately get wet in the puddle, crawl under the car like a turtle, and try to eat gravel…maybe if I stick her in my shirt like a kangaroo baby I can manage this!  Then we pick up Grace, take her to ballet, change diapers…theirs…not mine… and return home to the magical land of barricades, yarn, and soft food.  Thankfully the soft food isn’t for me either …yet.

 

 

A Sign of the Times?

October 8, 2011

Early Wednesday morning as I headed to the Monon I saw a sign that read, “Who Stole Jesus?”  This was not a spiritual sign that comes to you in a moment of clarity.  It was a real sign in a real yard.    The sign was the same style and size as the “Home For Sale” variety.  It was professionally printed not written in marker.  My first thought was, “I didn’t know he was stolen!”  Was this THE Jesus Christ, son of God, or was he someone else… probably Hispanic… who happened to be given a powerful name?  If it wasn’t the beginning of October I would immediately think someone hijacked a nativity scene.  However we are in the midst of Indian summer and people are just gearing up for Halloween.  Give it another week before stores start pushing JC’s B-day and decorations start to sprout.  This appeared to be a message targeted to the people who frequent the intersection of Meridian Street and Kessler.  Were they trying to reach the governor?  Other people with money?   I’ve since seen several more of the signs around town.  So they are trying to get the word out.  I’m not sure why they are being so subtle about it.  This seems to be a big deal, given the stature of the guy who was nabbed.

I have to admit I didn’t know he’d come back.  You’d think that would have made the nightly news.  Our local stations are all so hungry to scoop a story I’m surprised we haven’t heard something like, “Breaking news from the west side!  This just into our news room…JC is back and he’s been spotted in Indianapolis!”  Not the case though.  Somehow they missed this and the subsequent story about him being stolen.  They were probably too focused on the Colts 0-4 start…or the possible renaming of Georgia Street

It’s interesting that he opted to return in the Midwest rather than the Middle East.  It is pretty here this time of year though.  Maybe he wanted to do Brown County before heading over to Jerusalem.  You know…take in the fall foliage, buy some apple butter, baptize a few people, and then go overseas after Thanksgiving.  He kind of missed our holiday the first time around.  It’s festive, it celebrates all the right things, and the parade is nice too.  I’m sure he was interested in taking in a Colts game, but with Payton out for the year…not so much.

This is a mayoral election year in Indianapolis.  There is only a month to go in race.  You’d think Melina Kennedy would have jumped at the chance for a photo op.  She could use a little divine intervention.  Surly the Mayor’s office would have countered with something of their own…but no? 

How does one steal him anyway?  You’d think he’s be surrounded by a few people.  Did someone sneak through the masses and slip a roofie into his glass of wine?  Boy you are really throwing caution to the wind when you decide to steal a guy like that.  Talk about Hell to pay.  I doubt you have the big picture in mind.  I mean this isn’t the Lindbergh baby.  This is pretty high up there on the crime chart.  What’s the motive?  What’s the ransom?  Who would be targeted for paying it?  Probably the Vatican.   How messy would that be?  One minute you’re sitting around an apartment getting high with two guys like Seth Rogen.  One of them makes the comment about how cool it would be to have more money than God.  Then someone suggests kidnapping JC.  You know because playing the lottery has poor odds and these days with the bad economy so does finding a job.  So they bumble into pulling it off.  They ask for ransom…something like gold, frankincense, myrrh…and three tickets to Montana.  They hide in…Rocky Ripple to wait for the drop.  The next thing they know they’ve got the Knights Templar on their tail and some church in Indianapolis has joined the search by posting signs all over the north side. 

Wow and I thought my life was complicated.

 

Hog Tied On The Monon

October 7, 2011

Shortly after several attacks occurred on the Monon the Mayor’s office said they would step up police patrols.  The trail winds its way from Downtown Indy, through bad parts of town, into artsy parts, through woods, and over rivers, before leaving the metro area to the north.  The trail then runs north into neighboring towns both exclusive, and Middle America.  I use that trail every morning at 6:30 AM.  I start at 62nd street in Broad Ripple and travel over the river and through the woods to 86th street, then back again.  I start behind the McDonalds.  The only crime on that part of the trail, the McDonalds drive through is always busy.  I can hear the speakers from where I’m getting ready.  “My name is Alisha.  Can I interest you in a caramel apple parfait?” All of the patrols in the world can’t prevent people from committing battery on their heart by eating dessert for breakfast.   Once I pulled away from the assault on my senses I saw some lame attempts at patrolling the trail.  Someone forgot to tell the mayor that patrolling any trail means stepping foot on it…and moving to and fro.  It doesn’t mean sitting in the patrol car next to the trail in the heart of Broad Ripple, one block from the McD’s, your breakfast parfait store (not kidding).  I would suggest the use of a bike unless you are enjoying a breakfast parfait while patrolling the trail.  That won’t work unless you are patrolling on a recumbent bike.  Then by all means eat, text, bring a pillow, and nap after the sugar rush subsides.   Honestly are you trying to catch criminals or zzz’s if you are patrolling a trail by sitting in a parked car next to the trail?  I saw the shape of most of those patrolmen.  Occasionally one of them would get out of the car and lean against the hood.  He was leaning for a reason.  He was out of breath from getting out of the car.  I think they were pulled from desk jobs to patrol the trail.  Those guys weren’t going to be chasing anyone on foot.  I also saw a police woman driving her patrol car down the multi-purpose trail.  I really don’t think that’s what the planners had in mind when they coined the phrase multi-purpose trail.  I don’t blame the officers for any of this halfhearted presence.  I think the leaders of the police force were against patrolling the trail.  It falls under the jurisdiction of Indy Parks.  They probably wanted park rangers out there and lost that battle.  One morning while leaving the trail I saw an officer getting ready to patrol on a bike.  I kneeled and bowed in worship his normalcy.  He said he was the only officer from the West district who was qualified to patrol on a bike.  Is anyone else wondering what it takes to become qualified?  Do they have to start with training wheels then pass a riding test?  Can I watch the test?

In Carmel they patrol the Monon on Segway’s.  I’m not sure which is worse.  Patrolling in a parked car or cruising the trail like a mall cop.  I wish I was sitting in the meeting when the budget for Segway’s was approved.  They should have gotten Disney to sponsor them because those cops look goofy.  Talk about an emasculating mode of transportation.  I suppose tricycles weren’t practical?  Is it just about using police presence to thwart crime?  If so then walk it.  In the meantime have a hand full of officers join a fitness program so they can become “certified” to patrol on a real bike. 

So as I’m heading over the first bridge headed north bound and away from the parked police presence I see a woman walking her dog near the other end of the bridge. She’s in the north bound lane.  Her German Shepard was across the trail on the outside edge of the south bound lane.  He was on a retractable leash.  I slowed and called out to the woman.  She didn’t hear me.  I tried again to no avail.  So I slowed to a crawl.  The dog faked right and cut left like a Pro Bowl wide receiver.  He darted around me and tied my legs together with his leash then darted back to his owner.  My rollerblades flew out from under me.  My legs were tied together like a steer in a rodeo.  I grabbed the bridge rail to prevent flipping on my head.  My leg was bleeding.  The leash was embedded in my ankle.  I’d been mugged by a mutt, robbed…of my dignity.  There is nothing police presence could have done to prevent that.  Especially if he had to put down his McMuffin and actually get out of the car.


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