Thursday, July 30, 2015

WE'VE HIGH-TECH'ED OURSELVES RIGHT OUT OF BIDNESS! (whatchoo gonna do when the wi-fi turns its back on you...?)

            Some days I think it would be better for everyone if I just stayed in bed.

            Here at Chateau Squatlo things operate on the thinnest of margins.  Even on good days, we're usually only about one hiccup away from dead in the water... and there are always hiccups. Yesterday's adventures in customer service are a great example.

            We employ a company called T-Mobile for our phone service.  My cell, my wife's cell, and our niece's cell phone all function through one service provider, and that's T-Mobile. When we were signing up for their cell phone service they talked us into bundling our home phones through the same contract, which meant our home phones would be wired through the same wi-fi router used to internet-ify the laptops.  Seemed like a more economical way to pay for the phones.  
             The problem with having your home phone wired through a router is pretty basic: when the internet goes down, for whatever reason, your home phones are inoperable, too.  But since we had working cell phones, we figured we could live with the occasional loss of service to our home phones.  

             For about the past three months we've had almost daily interruptions in our home phone service.  The phones will have a dial tone, but won't connect if you dial a number to place a call. If someone calls here during one of these outages, their call goes directly to voice mail and we never know a call has even been made... until someone calls us on a cell to tell us our home phones aren't working again.  Fixing this problem has required a reboot of the router, since it serves as our phone jack.

             Yesterday, the router wouldn't reboot to connect the home phones, despite at least twenty restarts.  So I called T-Mobile from my cell, got a customer service representative in New Mexico, and discussed the recent hail storm my buddy Mooner had written about from Santa Fe.  The guy on the phone said hail was common in New Mexico, and he blew off my friend Mooner's observation that it never hails there.  I started to dare him to call my good friend a fucking liar, but figured we should probably talk about the router issues instead.  The weather in The Land of Enchantment didn't seem as pressing.  He told me the router we had purchased was an obsolete piece of shit, and that his company no longer serviced or even carried such relics anymore.  In fact, if he agreed to send us a new router, free of charge, it would have no phone jacks on the back for our home phones, meaning we would have to get another phone service carrier for our home phones.  That's when he told me this:

            "If you want to switch your home phone service to another carrier, you can do so at no further cost to you from T-Mobile."

             No shit?  If I hire another company to provide phone service for our house, T-Mobile won't bill me for their service?  How kind of you folks!

              So they're sending us another, much improved router.  One that doesn't have phone jacks for our home phone system.  What that means, among other things, is that the phone number my lovely (and very dangerous at this moment) wife has had for the past twenty-seven years is no longer functional... and those two thousand business cards we just bought have the wrong number on them.  Heavy sigh...  I've asked T-Mobile to forward all of our calls made to the home number to my cell, which means I'll start getting lots of telemarketer calls on a phone I already despise.  I foresee a terrible accident in this phone's future... because I have a history of destroying cell phones that annoy me.

              The dead router also means that Cindy's computer and Sarah's computer are off-line until a new one arrives.  Not only that, but (and here's the real crisis) the Roku television's internet capabilities are inoperable, too.  That means Sarah can't sit in front of the wide screen and watch endless youtube videos of other people playing Minecraft.  Trust me when I tell you, this is a Def Com 4 crisis in her little world, and therefore, in ours as well.

              In the meantime, it's a new day, and it's already been rare.

              I got out of bed this morning, and after feeding the Krakens (my name for the cats in the morning), I decided to clean and refill their water fountain.  After refilling the fountain in the kitchen sink, I turned to carry it back to the office, not knowing that the power cord had wrapped itself firmly around the handle of the cabinet under the kitchen sink.  I proceeded to spill a gallon of cold water down my leg and onto the kitchen tile.  The cats thought it was hilarious...

              I'd go back to bed, but my cell phone keeps ringing...

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

TOO BAD CECIL THE LION WASN'T A REFUGEE CHILD (America's all about blessing the beasts...)

              Want to take a snapshot of modern America for posterity to examine at some point in the future? Today's social media shit-storm over the death of Cecil the Lion might be a great place to point history's camera...

              You can show the average American a news clip depicting the plight of refugees fleeing a conflict in some third world pisshole, and if you're lucky you might elicit a yawn.  Provide footage of a Palestinian child being pulled from the rubble of a building destroyed by a missile or bulldozer, and most Americans are even less concerned.  In fact, you can put the sad eyes of starving children into a fundraising commercial and have Americans diving for the remote control all over the nation.  But let those sad eyes belong to a mistreated animal in squalid conditions, then layer a mournful Sarah McLachlan song over the video, and you've got yourself a million dollar's worth of donations... and Kleenex tissues mopping up tears all over America.

              It's pretty obvious we care more about animals half a planet away from our world than we do about children in our own cities.  It's been estimated that Americans spend more on pet food and products than we spend on our own children.  The last study concluded that the average U.S. household spent $500 last year on pet products, totaling over $61 billion nationwide.  That's a lot of kibbles and chew toys and cat litter...

          And that's fine, really.  We do love our animals, and that's a good thing.  But is it rational for American social media to be upside down about the death of a beloved lion in Africa, when most Americans can't be bothered to learn the details of the dozens of fellow Americans who have been murdered since the last time they checked for a Cecil the Lion update?  There was probably a shooting death in the town you call home last night.  There were probably several of them in the past week or two, depending upon the size of your fair city. And I doubt many of us have bothered to look into the circumstances involved in any of those thousands of incidents, mainly because we have so little time for anything that doesn't directly involve us.

              With the exception of animals, of course.  We'll watch cute kitten videos half the day, then wonder why we can't get anything done at work.  We'll tune in for that human interest clip showing a surfing bulldog, or a water skiing squirrel.  And if someone somewhere has mistreated an animal, even one on another continent with whom we have no discernible connection whatsoever, we'll drop whatever we're doing and go into rant-mode on behalf of that creature... signing petitions, blasting the human scum who harmed the animal, making certain all of our friends are aware of the tragedy and are equally outraged.

               Too bad those millions of children starving to death or dying of easily preventable diseases don't have a spokesperson like ol' Cecil.  We might be able to help them, if that were the case.

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!" ???