Archive for the ‘Suburbs’ Category

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.

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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.

 

 

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.

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.

Where the Wild Things Are

September 27, 2011

One evening recently I was working on my computer when Grace shrieked and in a panicked voice called for me to quickly come over and kill a bug.  The Phelps women hate bugs in the house.  Especially anything that might be a spider…I say might because two of the three Phelps women wear glasses.  If they aren’t wearing them at the time…anything including the cat looks like a spider.  Grace doesn’t wear glasses.  So when I got there and saw what it was…the term, “overreact much?” came to mind.  I could understand it if she was calling me to get rid of some rain forest freak of nature or a killer mantis from a 1960’s horror movie.  However this wasn’t a mutant 350 pound cricket with the voice of Barry White.  It was your standard half inch cricket, not rabid, carnivorous, or venomous.  Thanks to one of our killer cats this little guy was missing both hind legs.  So he couldn’t even kick to defend himself.  He was an emasculated cricket who was reduced to crawling around with his stubby front legs like a beetle.  None of that seemed to matter to my five foot seven inch, sure footed, dancer.  She wanted me to send him to the white light post haste.  I didn’t kill him.  I like the way they sing at night.  I picked him up and tossed him out in the back yard to sing for his supper.  If he was a millipede, different story,  I’d have smashed him in a…Tell Tale Heart…beat.

My grandmother was the Anne Oakley of Greene County.  She bought fur from the trappers, butchered chickens, processed deer, and yet she was scared to death of snakes.  Her mother chewed tobacco, dried it on the window ledge, and smoked it in a pipe.  So she wasn’t raised by softies, but the sight of a snake, even one the size of an earth worm, made her scream like a high maintenance debutante.  They must have sensed her fear because every summer at least one would end up sneaking in into her house.  She found them in her bath tub, curled around her sewing machine, and curled in the branches of an indoor tree like a baby boa.  I think they were trying to say, “Embrace us.  We will eat your mice.”  She never got their message, but she gave them one at the top of her lungs.  I’m sure her scream could be heard all the way in Brown County.  After she recovered from the initial shock she would flip them out the door and show them the business end of a garden hoe.  “Take that you no good varmint”, she’d say.  Then she’d fling it out in the field.  There were so many snakes on her farm the dead snake probably landed on one of the live one’s who were lining up to take his place.  When I was little I remember thinking, “Never tell her I don’t like liver and onions.  I could end up like the snake.”

Several nights after our cricket episode the Phelps women were sewing while watching some show about murder.  My wife loves those shows, Unsolved Mystery, Criminal Minds, Forensic Files.   She’s a walking encyclopedia of ways to kill your spouse.  Paul Simon sings that song, Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover.  Keely could kill me fifty different ways and have fifty more to use on the next husband.  Not only does she know ways to do me in, she can sew a tasteful burial cloak too.  It’s no wonder she got along so well with Grandma Mengele, the snake killer.  A stitch in time…kills nine.  So as they watched the latest episode of murder by numbers (while taking notes) they heard a high pitched whine.  It grew louder and louder until they saw one of our cats with a mouse in its mouth.  Keely opened the door to the screen porch.  The cat ran out and dropped the mouse.  Thinking the mouse was dead, she picked him up in a towel.  Carly looked at him, cried a little, and named it Mickey.  That mouse needs to thank they were wearing glasses that night.  Just then Mickey opened its eyes, leaped to the floor, and began scurrying around the porch.  Carly opened the door and it scampered off into the night only to trip over a legless cricket and break its neck…kidding…or am I? Mwa hahahah!

Spats, The Badminton of Arguments

September 22, 2011

My friend Mike had parents who were married for life.  I’m sure they loved each other, but sometimes they argued over silly little things that didn’t matter.  One minute you hear, “pass the pickles” the next thing you knew they would erupt into some disagreement.  Opinions would ricochet between the two like a tennis ball in the US Open.  They’d spin their position back and forth.  It wasn’t the kind of argument that wasn’t upsetting so we would watch like spectators and he would comment to me.   “My parents will go through life arguing about the same things,” he’d say while shaking his head. The topic was always something life changing, like wiping off the ketchup lid.  They would volley back and forth.   Neither would give any ground and nothing would be resolved.  The Ketchup bottle would be wiped off by the irritated party in an overly dramatic way.  Maybe a sarcastic comment would accompany it from the other side like, “I think we will all sleep better knowing the ketchup lid is clean.”   There would be silence for a minute or two.  Then his mom would look at Mike and say, “would your friend like more milk?”  Mike would say, “Mom you can ask him he’s sitting right next to me.”  I would say, “Yes thanks” and suddenly the Ketchup cloud had passed and the sun would shine again.  The condiment issue would be tabled for further discussion the next time they had hamburgers.

Now that my wife and I have been together for nearly a quarter of a century (I said it that way because it seems longer than if I’d said twenty-five years)I understand what Mike’s parents were doing…aside from entertaining us.  Keely and I are a couple, but we are also individuals.  We may both be working together for the common good.  We love each other, our family, and our goals.  We just have different ways of daily living.  We both take our pants off one leg at a time.  However it’s what we do with the pants that can become the irritant.  I’ll give you an example; one of us reads the mail, shreds the junk, and files the other stuff.  The other places their mail in random piles around the family room.  Those piles grow and spread out incorporating magazines, textbooks, school papers, and other collateral in much the same way a glacier moves and collects things in its path.  The next thing I know our family’s counter top space has been covered in sprawl.  I’ll make a couple of attempts to rein in the debris field, but it’s like trying to contain an avalanche with a privacy fence.  The conglomerate takes over and there is no stopping it.  Keely knows where everything is regardless of the visual created by the filing system.  If I try to undo her system and she needs to find something…we have a ketchup lid conflict.  The flip side, if her system encroaches on the last bastion of open space on the counter I force a ketchup lid incident.  The jagged vibes I feel when I look at piles are equal to the ones that fly from her shoulders once I’ve uncorked the situation.   I understand.  I go there too.   I have to say that once she’s fueled by irritation she moves to dismantle the offending areas with speed and precision that would make Martha Stewart’s head spin.  It’s impressive to watch.  She multitasks.  While her hands are, filing, shredding, moving, and wiping.  Her lips are uttering things about me being anal, and my life insurance policy needing to be increased, and yet there is love in her heart.  Of course I don’t feel that love initially. I stay out of her way.  I learned early on to resist the urge to make sarcastic remarks or offer advice on clutter prevention.  I just let the magic happen while hiding the knives.  After the dust has settled and the flowers and card are received there is a feeling of harmony both visually and emotionally. 

The next day the mail comes, we get a magazine from her PA organization, a sale flyer from Kohl’s, and a coupon from Jiffy Lube.  Suddenly, subtly, there is a little bit of gooey ketchup forming on the lid again.

 

 

 

Speaking in Code

February 9, 2010

We have a sump pump in our basement.  It’s a round concrete hole that’s about two feet in diameter and two feet deep.  Foundation water drains into the pit and is pumped away from the house.  My friend had one when we were kids.  During sleepovers we would pee in it and then turn on the pump to pump that water out of the house.  That way we wouldn’t have to go upstairs to the bathroom which would tip his parents off to the fact that we were still awake at three AM.  We probably didn’t really have to go to the bathroom.  I’m sure it was the lure of peeing in a hole in the basement that drove the necessity…boys!

There is no good way to dress up the pit.  You can’t drain it, paint it, and add fish because they would get sucked out every time the pump kicks on.  It would be cool to have a tiny water garden, but that would clog the pump which would be very bad.  It’s just a round cement hole in the basement that catches foundation water.  Ours also catches discharge from the water softener.  In the winter that softener discharge is the only thing going on in the pit because any foundation water is frozen or non existent. 

Six years ago we did some renovation work to our home and our plumber, ARS, changed the flow of that discharge.  It used to go into our septic tank.  Now it runs through a pipe that drains into a storm sewer out at the street.  It enters storm drain underground because of winter freezing.  As we all know, freezing plus pipes equals headache. 

Recently I heard the pump kicked on and continue to run.  The water was filling the pit from the softener, but wasn’t discharging out of the pit.  It was just spinning like a little whirl pool as the water level continued to rise.  I realized the basement was going to flood if I didn’t start bailing.  Yipes!  So it was like the Disney cartoon where Mickey Mouse is in a mad dash to fill buckets and bail.  He creates an army of brooms to help, then loses control of the brooms and…you know the story…a story written on acid apparently.  I didn’t have an army of brooms or acid.  It was just me, adrenalin, and two buckets.  The discharge pipe just outside our home had frozen.  Apparently the pipe wasn’t buried below the frost line.  So I took a heating pad and a blanket out side and laid it where the pipe exits the house….after the mad bailing episode.  Several days later the pipe was thawed.  However the morning after the bailing exercise I called our builder and explained the dilemma to an answering machine.  The office manager called me back and was less than helpful.  I reminded her that we had recommended their work to others and I knew we had given them new business.  If she wanted to continue that good will she would help to resolve the issue.  She reluctantly agreed.  Then I call a commercial construction friend who told me that there is no building code that requires discharge water be piped away from the house below the frost line.  I said, “We don’t live in Florida, we live in Indiana.”  He agreed with my assessment and made a derogatory comment about the people in charge of building codes.

Two weeks later our builder showed up with an ARS customer service rep.  He used the building code as a shield.  I said, “There are two ways to do a job, just good enough to get by, and great.  I didn’t pay you to just get by.  He shrugged.  I looked at our builder’s rep.  She said to the ARS guy, “What would you do if this was your home?”  He shrugged and said, “I wouldn’t buy a home with a septic tank.”  He talked with an inflection that led be to believe he smoked way too much pot in high school.  She said, “Well they are on septic, so what would you do?”  He thought for a long time and said, “Probably drain it with a soft hose out into the yard.”  That was his solution!  Use a garden hose that we would run though the basement window!  I can’t believe it didn’t incorporate duct tape and bailing wire.  Is that code?…maybe in West Virginia.

It’s been two weeks.  The company’s line is, “We built this to code”.  My position, “This code represents poor workmanship” Their counter, “Our work is up to code” My response, “It may be code for the word sucks”.  Their motto should be, “ARS, when it comes to plumbing…we’ll drain you!”

The BMV and Me

February 6, 2010

It was a rainy, cold afternoon in mid November 2009.  I was driving north on I-65 headed back to the office after meeting with a few clients in downtown Indianapolis.  A gold Saturn zipped past me at about 70 miles per hour.  Not super sonic, but he caught my attention.  That part of the interstate makes a sweeping 90 degree bank as it changes direction from west to north heading away from downtown.  As Mr Saturn pulled three car lengths in front of me he made a spastic, hard left maneuver.  He over corrected that with a hard right, then hard left again,  causing him to lose control and smack the inside concrete retaining wall head on.  That totally caught my attention!  I don’t know if he was texting, or fighting with himself.  I am sure there wasn’t a bee in his car because it was winter, but it was that kind of evasive move inside the vehicle.  His car went air born then landed perpendicular to my line of travel like a bad NASCAR wreck causing me to take evasive action.  He continued his series of crazy corrections then slowly limped to the shoulder of the interstate and stopped.  Miraculously no one was collected in the accident.  The angels were looking over me.  However the collision caused his car to jettison parts which flew right into mine.  Hub caps, headlight assembly, fender parts, all hit my driver side as if I were a magnet.   I pulled to the side of the interstate and called 911, then ran back to see if he was OK.  He had no idea who I was, why I was there, or that the state police were on the way.  There were so many cars whizzing past.  I still couldn’t believe no one was hit.  Eventually we swapped insurance info, spoke with the state police, and witnessed another spinout caused by someone freaking out when they saw the cop.  He spun a 180 and nearly ran over, The Man, while coming to rest facing on coming traffic in the slow lane.  Miraculously, no one drilled him either.  Plenty of drivers quickly switched lanes to avoid tragedy.  At that point the cop adopted that cynical, “Idiots” look on his face.  I’m sure he would rather be hiding in the median, near a bridge, with a radar gun, collecting revenue.  Instead he had to deal with bad drivers while standing in the mist!  “Why did I bother to press my uniform today,” he thought to himself in a stern voice.  (They always talk in a stern voice…with cop hair!)

Two months later on January 5th I received this threatening letter from the Indiana BMV stating that I was in an accident (No kidding) and if I didn’t provide proof of insurance & financial responsibility my license would be suspended.  I scanned it in…

Ahhh our government at it’s finest!  Two months after the accident they jump into action. Wow, they’re on it!  I had to fax the form to my insurance company, they took the time to fill it out and fax it back.  Apparently the proof of insurance we provide when plating the vehicle each year isn’t good enough.  The fact that this case was closed and I wasn’t at fault wasn’t good enough.  The fact that I gave proof of insurance to the state policeman wasn’t good enough either.  As my granddad use to say with a southern accent, “Ain’t they some distrustful sons a bitches!”  Is this exercise designed to keep state employees busy?  My insurance company complied and I sent the completed paper work back to the BMV…because I had no choice.  This week I received another letter from them.  It had the same look as the previous official letter which made my butt pucker.  I thought, “Now what?”….  I love the title, Notice of Suspension Cancellation.   They were letting me know my license won’t be suspended for something I didn’t do.  How back handedly nice of them!  Well here’s my notice to you, Indiana BMV – Kiss my ass!

The Boys of Fall

September 26, 2009

About 6 years ago I was raking leaves in the fall when a pack of boys Carly’s age came walking down the street tossing a football.  I heard my mom’s voice, “Please play touch. No one needs to get hurt.”  The truth is any time a group of boys get together someone may get hurt.  It has nothing to do with sports.  If there are five boys in a room full of feathers one of them could end up with a quill sticking out of his eye.  We played touch if the game was up near the house where parents could see.  We always played with three rules.  Defense had a five apple rush and no blitzes.  The offense couldn’t use running plays.  Running plays led to an endless string of touchdowns which took all of the challenge and fun out of the game.  A five apple rush is this; you have to count out loud, one apple, two apple, three apple, four apple, five apple, before you rush the quarterback.  It made up for no blocking.  Those are really universal rules for any sand lot game, any where in the country.  The count may change from apples to Mississippi’s, but everything else is the same.

Playing football in a house full of ballerinas just doesn’t happen.  My girls love to watch it, but that is where it ends.  I felt the need to get grass stained and sweaty.  When they made it to our yard I said, “Are you done playing or going to play?”  They said, “Waiting on some other guys before we play.”  I really wanted to play. I went straight for the justification. I can rake these leaves Monday evening. So I said,” Come get me if you need another player.”  One of them said, “Mr Phelps, you’re funny”.  I said, “Seriously, come get me if you need another guy.”  They never showed.  The following week there were even more of them walking down the street with football in hand.  Again I was raking.  Again I felt the tugging of childhood. So I threw out the offer…again.  They stopped, “Seriously?”  I said, “Yeah!  I wouldn’t offer if I was kidding.”  “OK Mr. Phelps we’ll call you before we play”. They agreed just because they are nice.  I had just finished raking when my wife came outside saying, “Some boys from the neighborhood want to know if you can come down and play football?”  She thought it was cute.  I thought it was cool.  I’ve known them since they were in preschool.  Now they were old enough I didn’t have to worry about hurting anyone.  On my way out the door she said, “Honey, please don’t play tackle.”  It had come full circle. 

Our neighborhood has a creek that runs along one border.  The homes that line that creek have perfect back yards for football.  I walked down there wearing a T-shirt about ballet, jeans, and tennis shoes.  I wasn’t even thinking about it.  That’s what I was wearing to rake leaves.  They were all dressed in NFL jerseys and athletic shorts.  I could tell by the looks it was like showing up wearing black socks and dress shoes.  Half the kids were from our neighborhood and the other half were school friends who rode their bikes or were dropped off by parents.  I think our neighborhood kids were embarrassed.   “Ballet shirt?  Jeans?”  Wisdom taught me that at this stage of my life, Russian Pointe shoes at $85.00 a pop, are a better investment than a Polamalu jersey.  I was picked last.  Truth be told I was picked at all because they felt sorry for me.  The dad who lived there came out and tried to convince me not to play.  He was permanently on the “Physically unable to perform” list.  Said another way, he was too old to play.   He wanted me to be too.  He tried to talk the kids into making me the all time quarterback so I wouldn’t get hurt.  I knew him.  I like him.  I said, “Bill I’m not ready for the wrinkle ranch.  I came down here to have fun.”  He mumbled, “Make sure you guys play touch,” and went back inside.  I had a blast.  Mr Ballerina shirt could still play ball.  They saw me as something more than a stale dad.  I came home dirty, wet with sweat, the knees ripped out of my jeans, and the feeling of youth in my heart.  It sounds funny, but I was happy to be accepted.  I hadn’t been one of the guys, since college.  Carly thought it was funny.  They talked about it on the way to school Monday.  “Your dad can play!”  From that point forward I was on the list.  Friday night we went to the high school football games and every Sunday the phone rang.  My wife would answer, smile, and say, “The boys want to know if you can play.”  For the last five years we played.  This year it ended.  Most of them have responsibilities that come with getting older.   Others went in a less productive direction.  For a while I was given a second chance at childhood, another opportunity to be one of the boys.  It was cool.

football

Movers & Shakers

September 25, 2009

Call me judgmental, but nothing says “white trash movers” like the bed of a pick up truck piled to the sky with family items.  I’m not talking about moving a TV or a washer and dryer.  You know the look, a mountain of possessions pieced together a bad game of Jenga and held in place with 900 feet of rope effectively cocooning the items in place until they hit a big bump.  They always have one or two chairs precariously balanced on the side defying gravity with other possessions nested in the seat. There is a bike, stroller, or a car seat sitting on the top effectively crowning pile.  Since Houdini didn’t tie the knot that holds everything in place you see that random bark-o-lounger on the side of the road.  I always wonder who was behind the truck when it was jettisoned from the pile.  What kind if evasive action did they have to take?  One minute your singing a little Dave Matthews, “Place them in a box until a quieter time…lights down you up and…crap!  A chair!”  Screeeeech!

I thought my days of needing to phone a friend with a truck were long gone.  Then my wife went to grad school.  She spent the first semester living forty-five minutes from campus with my mom.  As school progressed it became obvious that she needed to live closer.  She broke it to me slowly one night on the phone.  “I’m moving to Ft Wayne.  Check your schedule and let me know what weekend works best for you, the sooner the better.”  OK I may be paraphrasing it a little.  So last weekend with the help of a friend and his truck I moved my 49 year old wife in with two, twenty something class mates.  She’s the house mom.  They have a girl pad…which sounds wrong now that I say it out loud.  They are actually really nice.

I was looking at the move with a mild case of dread because it was the two men and a truck method of moving.  My friend wasn’t that thrilled either because…he’s the guy with the truck.  He owed me some favors so…at eight AM Sunday morning he pulled up ready for a fun day of Sanford & Son.  Our list of items was small and included one head board, one foot board, a queen sized mattress and box spring, and an old oak dresser that we used for Halloween costume storage.  The dresser came with the house my wife bought before we met.  Both the house and the dresser were…um…fixer uppers.  There were actually two dressers that matched.  Together the dressers were worth slightly less than the house.  OK that’s a little strong.  The house was worth much more unless the dressers were full of clothes.  Then it was a tie.  We sold the house 17 years ago and kept the dressers if that tells you anything.  The bed is nice.

The mattress and box spring were wider than the bed of the truck so they were placed at a slight angle.  The dresser was placed on top, facing drawers up. The bright side, we didn’t have pots and pans bungeed to the side of the dresser.  Everything was secured in place with ratchet straps, because we are advanced white trash.  When you have ratchet straps you have security.  I thought about creating the illusion that we’d tied everything down with a garden hose, but that idea was vetoed.  We checked and rechecked the straps, dresser, and bed…all checked out.  We headed up I-69 for Ft Wayne.  My wife was behind us in her little red Yaris  hauling the smaller items and a bike on a bike rack.  She looked trendy we looked…the part.  Somewhere between Anderson and the north Muncie exit, mid conversation, the dresser flew out of the back of the truck at 70 mph.  I had no idea.  I was a passenger.  I had no rear view mirror.  I was the one talking.  My friend broke it to me with all of the subtly of a shot gun blast.  The cars and semi behind us took evasive action.   Thankfully no one was hurt and nothing was damaged….except the dresser which exploded on impact.  So did my bowels.  I became the idiot you see running after loose furniture on the side of the interstate.  The next time you pass a chair or a dresser on the side of the road and you wonder who the hell does something that stupid.  You’re looking at him.  We should have used rope and duct tape.

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