Tuesday, July 28, 2015

I THINK THAT I SHALL NEVER SEE A POEM AS LOVELY AS A TREE (yeah, tell that to the cracks in our masonry...)

               There's a saying you might have heard, and it goes like this: "The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is now."

               And that's a great sentiment.  Unless you're looking out at a thirty year-old tree whose root system is slowly but surely destroying your home.

               There's a huge white maple tree growing between our back porch and the tool shed, and it's been there since my wife purchased this house over 23 years ago.  This particular species of maple grows very rapidly, which is why they were favored by landscapers and home contractors back in the day. You could plant one of these in a bare yard, and by the time prospective homeowners came by for the first realty showing there would be a thriving tree for them to admire.

                About ten years ago I purchased two red maples for our front yard, and they're doing fine.  Three summers ago I transplanted four maple sprigs from our garden after that huge white maple in the back had deposited helicopter seeds into the mushroom dirt.  Those transplanted white maple seedlings are now the same size as the red maples I paid $100 each for a decade ago.  And they seem to grow several feet a day, lately.

               The reason I mention any of this is because that lovely tree in the backyard is destroying our home.  I've written previously about the problems we've had with our tile on the screened in back porch, how the grout constantly cracks and allows rainwater to seep into the backing boards and subflooring on the deck.  How we've had said tile replaced and regrouted three times on that six year old porch.  And how it's badly in need of repair again.  For the longest time I just assumed the back deck was constructed over an Indian burial ground or some other unlucky piece of suburban dirt.  Now I'm convinced that maple tree's root system is causing all of our problems.

               There are cracks in the mortar and brickwork of our home, and they seem to be getting worse in this stifling heat and humidity.  The mirror and vanity have pulled away from the wall in one of our bathrooms... the bathroom that faces that maple tree in the back yard.  My lovely and dangerous wife is beginning to make noises about cutting the tree down to prevent further damage, even though most tree people will tell you the root system will continue to grow for a long time after the tree has been removed.

                I don't want to cut down the big tree.  It's a great source of shade for the back yard. Holds about half a dozen of my bird feeders, too.  If it weren't back there, the yard would look barren and the temp on the back porch would soar from the direct sunlight.  I want to keep the tree... even if it's destroying the house.

                Actually, I want to win the Powerball drawing, sell what's left of our house to someone who will love looking out at that monster maple, while we move away to our log home in the mountains.

                So far my plan isn't showing any sign of progress.  The Powerball gods must be dyslexic, or just obtuse, because none of our numbers ever fall.

                Meanwhile, the porch is crumbling away and the walls are cracking apart.

                But it's a great tree...

Saturday, July 25, 2015

"I'VE BEEN FALSELY ACCUSED!" (is there anyone as self-righteous as a child who can prove her innocence?)

            It's been an interesting morning.  I took a bucket out to the garden and brought back it back full of squash, cukes, tomatoes, and a few peppers.  I get some primal satisfaction out of harvesting food I took the time to till, plant, and tend all summer... not just because it tastes a thousand times better than store bought processed food. There's just a sense of accomplishment achieved by growing something for the table (or freezer) you can't buy at Kroger.

            I made a second run to the garden to grab a couple quarts worth of Italian flat green beans, and was in the process of cleaning and cutting them up for the cook pot when Sarah (our nine year-old niece and permanent resident) came into the kitchen with a dire expression on her face.
            "Can you help me change my sheets?"

            Okay, I'll admit, the first thing I thought was that she'd had some sort of female disaster in the bed... we're kind of primed for her first period here at Chateau Squatlo, even though she's not yet ten... According to my lovely (and dangerous) wife, the kid's bio mom (my wife's batshit sister) had her first menstrual cycle at about this age. Wonderful... You have no idea how much I'm looking forward to yet another hormonal teenager to deal with. I almost killed my own daughter half a dozen times during those excitable years, and felt certain it would have been ruled justifiable, if anyone knew the kid at the time.  I could have just pointed to her behavior and said, "Your honor, I was just trying to make sure it didn't spawn!"  

             But Sarah wasn't upset over some sort of bodily excretion.  Her sheets were splotched with what can only be described as a gooey, black, tar-like substance.  Mascara? Semi-dried oil paints?  Roofing tar?  Jesus!  It was all over everything!  How can anyone suddenly discover something like this in one's bed and not have a clue as to its source?

             "I have no idea!" was her feeble defense.

             Right.  Someone dashed in here in the middle of the night, drizzled black sticky goop all over your sheets, and then got away in the dark?  Try selling that to the Sheriff when she gets home from her cardio kickboxing class, kid... God help you, if that's going to be your story.

             So I had her pull down everything from her closet shelves in search of the offending paints I was certain were the cause of the ruined sheets.  Nothing there.  

             "Do you have any mascara?  Makeup?"
             "Yeah, but it's always in the bathroom, and I'm not allowed to play with it unless Cindy's here."
             "So what is this shit all over the sheets?" I asked, exasperated.
             Shoulder shrug, head shake, "I have no idea."

             I went back to the green beans in the kitchen. Put a couple of slices of bacon in the bottom of a pot, along with some beef broth and chopped onions, then went back to cleaning and cutting up the beans.  Trying to figure out mysteries is one of my favorite things, but not when they involve little people.  I'd rather try to fathom the origins of crop circles or Sasquatch sightings than decipher the obvious lies of a child.

              Suddenly, she was back in the kitchen, and the look on her face wasn't sad or worried or perplexed... it was triumphant.
              "Found it! Come see!  I told you it wasn't paint or makeup!"

               Sarah led me back to her bedroom and pointed at the portable Casio keyboard she's been practicing her piano pieces on, whenever she's bored with sitting at the actual piano in the living room.  The little black pegs that support the bottom of the keyboard were literally melting away, and one touch confirmed that they were indeed the source of the problem. I have no idea why six little black pegs under a Casio would suddenly decide to turn to mush, but there is was.  She'd been practicing the piano in her bed, happily plunking away at Scott Joplin's "The Entertainer" in various electronic voices, and the entire time the little feet under her keyboard had been melting all over her sheets.

               I think I've apologized fifty times already. Several heartfelt hugs, and at least a dozen "I should have believed you, kid!  I'm so sorry!"  

               She looked up at me and said, "I've been falsely accused!  I told you I didn't do it!"

               I've been forgiven, but I'm not sure I'll forgive myself for quite a while.

               Adults suck, sometimes.

Friday, July 24, 2015


             How long before someone says, "If only there had been more people with guns in the theater!" ???

Thursday, July 23, 2015


           I got up this morning oblivious to the fact that 35 different "friends" had already taken the time to leave Happy Birthday messages on my Facebook timeline... and it was only 7:00 AM.  All of those notifications posted to my email inbox had me panicking for a moment, until I opened one to see what was going on.  I don't get 35 emails in a week, much less overnight, so I assumed I had either pissed a slew of people off royally, or had slept through some catastrophic event everyone else already knew about.  Assuming the worst has served me well so far in life. I'm rarely disappointed.

            But it's a new day, and they tell me it's a new year.  Can't be any worse that yesterday. Or the past year, for that matter.  Yesterday was special, even by my sorry standards.

            Yesterday was the day I decided to get off my lazy butt and take care of some things my lovely (and dangerous) wife has asked me to do.  She's like that.  Every six or seven months she'll mention something, again, and hint that it sure would be nice if I'd only fix/paint/move whatever thing was keeping her awake at night. I looked out into our garage before she left for work and realized I hadn't washed her car like I'd promised last weekend.  Not only that, but the old refrigerator she's wanted hauled away for a couple of weeks was still cluttering things up.  I made up my mind to get (at least) that one thing done.


       I poured Frosted Flaky Chocolate Covered Sugar Bombs into a bowl for Sarah's breakfast, pulled the old pick up truck back to the garage, and loaded the defunct refrigerator into the back.  Before I closed the tailgate I remembered what had happened a couple of months ago when I took another old fridge (we used to get them free from my late mother-in-law's property management business) to the metal recycling place... One of the guys who works there had come over to the truck and said (and I quote): "Can't take it if it still has gas in the lines.  If you take it home, and (wink wink, nudge nudge) clip the line, you can bring it back and we'll pay you for it."
           The refrigerator in question probably didn't even have Freon in the lines, which was why it was in the fucking truck... But hey, whatever works for the dumpster sheriff is fine with me. I brought it back home, clipped the line, heard a faint hiss that lasted about two seconds, and hauled it back to the salvage yard. They gave me ten or twelve dollars for it, and I was a hero here at home because the old fridge was finally gone.  That was only a couple of months ago.

           Remembering that event is reason the rest of my day was messed up.  I looked at the fridge currently in the back of the truck, remembered that guy's admonition (and the wink wink, nudge nudge), and proceeded to clip the line.  As soon as Sarah was through slurping up the sugary colored milk from the bottom of her "Frozen" bowl, a morning ritual not for the squeamish, we hopped in and drove off toward the recycling center.  The same guy walked over to my truck, took one look at the fridge and said, "Can't take it if the line's been cut."

             Now, no one is ever going to accuse me of being overly patient.  I'm the white knuckled guy you see in traffic beating his head against the steering wheel because some texting (or masturbating) asshole has managed to sit at the green light long enough to make ME sit through another cycle of traffic signals.  I don't play well with others.  
              This was the same guy who had told me to cut the Freon line on the last refrigerator only six weeks ago.  Now he was telling me he couldn't take THIS fridge if the line was cut.

              "But... you told me a few weeks ago to cut the line..."
              "Yeah... that was before the rules were changed. Now we can't take 'em if you've cut the line.  Sorry.  You can try taking it to the landfill, but they won't take it, either."

               So with tears in our eyes we drove off looking for another place to put the garbage.

               Unlike Arlo, I brought the fridge home, unloaded a confused child who kept asking me why we didn't leave the refrigerator with the greasy guy like I'd said we were going to do, and then decided to mow the lawn to release some of the tension in my neck.  I got about halfway through the job when the heavens opened up.  It rained like cow piss on a flat rock.  I came back into the house, took a shower, downed a Bloody Mary, and took a short nap.  When I got up it was still raining.
                That's when I bothered to look out through the kitchen window at the pickup truck. The one with the white refrigerator with the severed Freon line in the back.  The truck with the windows rolled down.  In the driving rain.


                 The fridge is still in the back of the truck. The landfill won't take it, because some idiot cut the Freon line.  No salvage yards will take it for the same reason.  It's now part of my vehicle, like a reverse hood ornament.  Some have suggested I turn it into a planter, or a pantry, or leave it on the side of the road in hopes some other idiot will steal it.  

                 I'll sleep on it a few weeks, and something will come to me.  At least my wife can't complain that it's still cluttering up the garage, right?

                 Happy Birthday to any of you cusp addled Leos out there.  Hope your day goes well!

Monday, July 20, 2015

RELAX, AMERICA! YOU HAVEN'T LOST "THE DONALD" YET... (reports of his demise are greatly exaggerated...)

              When Donald Trump finally stopped playing the part of dick tease and announced his candidacy for president, millions of us rolled our eyes and did a collective facepalm for our country.  The prospect of a shameless sociopathic egomaniac pandering before the cameras in a quest for the highest office in the land was nothing new to us... After all, we've watched Sarah Palin, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, and Michele Bachmann do the same thing in recent election cycles, and survived to tell the tale.  But there's something special about Donald Trump, and we knew this would be different. Painfully different.

              Trump is the sort of thundering jackass all of us tried to avoid when we were growing up.  He exemplifies the personality we were so often told was unbecoming: he's boastful, egocentric, and devoid of shame.  His ego won't allow him to admit an error, and he's vengeful as hell toward anyone who tries to point one out.  In short, The Donald is the kind of cartoonish buffoon one might have in mind for the villain in a sitcom pilot... a cross between the Frank Burns character from television's version of M.A.S.H. and Seinfeld's Mr. Peterman.  Clownish men who seemed oblivious to the fact that people were laughing at them, not with them.

               But Trump is nothing if not consistent.  Knowing that he'd eventually find a way to put both of his feet in his mouth at the same time, we couldn't turn away from the impending train wreck of his national campaign.  We watch Donald Trump with the same dread and anticipation we might feel when viewing those horrible "fail" videos, the ones where some idiot tries to ride a skateboard off of a steep barn roof onto a wagon full of pitchforks... you know it's going to end badly, and yet you really want the guy to get what's coming to him.

              So Trump has insulted Sen. John McCain's service as a POW in Vietnam, and everyone's shocked.  He raised hackles when he insulted Mexican immigrants.  He pissed off a lot of people when he suggested the President wasn't a legally born citizen of the United States by insisting we be shown Obama's long form birth certificate.  He's done and said so many inflammatory things that making a list of them would take up too much space.  In short, he's done everything he can to draw attention to himself, regardless of the consequences.  Any pub is good pub to sociopaths like Donald Trump, and he'll be damned before he'll apologize for insulting a guy who spent years in a tiger pit at the Hanoi Hilton.

               But don't think for a minute that this means Trump's candidacy is over.  Far from it.  He'll circle his wagons, lash out at those who dare to criticize his impolitic comments, and double down on the stupid. It's what he does best.  And sadly, a lot of Americans will smile and nod their heads with every public statement the guy makes.  He's a loud-mouthed racist, which means millions of his peers in the Republican base love every word of it.  He's got a fan club, despite his best efforts to annoy the piss out of everyone.

               So he'll soldier on, suffering the slings and arrows of media scrutiny, as if he's being persecuted for having the audacity to tell America the truth.  He'll play the victim, and do it well.  And in the end, when he's finally flamed out in a GOP debate, attacked from all sides by the more "reasonable" lunatics in the Republican clown car, he'll call a presser to announce his intentions to drop out of the race for the GOP nomination in favor of a run as America's Favorite Independent.  And he'll attract a lot of attention, and maybe even a few followers willing to vote for his ass.

               Because that's where we are in this country today.  Even our clowns can get votes.

               And while the traveling road show plays out across the country, the big money boys who buy and sell our elections sit back and smile. Their candidates aren't enduring the media spotlight, and no one is putting them under intense scrutiny for their own ridiculous policy positions.

               Trump will serve as the sideshow that distracts a bored America, and we'll end up letting another election cycle go by without any real examination of the candidates or their views on matters of import.

               It's reality TV on the grandest scale, and we can't turn away.