Monday, July 31, 2006

Still Snakey

Although Tall Son came over to work on the siding problem this weekend, he distracted himself -- as he and I are both infamous for doing -- with another project.

My central a/c went out several years ago, and since my funds were low, I decided to use them to buy two window a/cs. And the central unit was old, old, and not worth throwing money at.

Tall Son, being in the construction industry, comes home with all sorts of interesting knowledge, tales, and just stuff.

One such item of stuff is a Trane a/c from a house being demo'd. The Trane was otherwise on the way to the landfill.

He was coached by an a/c guy on what to do to hook it up -- and we know we might have to call a pro to charge the freon -- but he gave it a try. But for the fact that his sautering on the copper piping didn't take, all seems to be well. However, the sun set and he had to stop work. Then come Sunday he wasn't feeling well, so all progress has stalled.

So now I have a not-quite-installed a/c unit, siding materials stacked up outside, and another little issue.

To try to drive the snake(s) out of my house, if indeed they are in my walls, I bought a BUNCH of mothballs. For starters, I spread them in a shallow cardboard box and put them in the storage room, which is adjacent to the laundry room, site of the snake sighting. I had also planned to have Tall Son lob mothballs all over my attic, just in case. Now I'm glad I didn't.

Even though the door between the storage room and the rest of the house is closed, the not-so-gentle aroma of mothballs wafts throughout my home. Standing outside the house I can smell the things.

Imagine brownies and mothballs.
Chicken and mothballs.
Rose-scented candle and mothballs.
Litter box and mothballs.

I hang some of my clothes in the laundry room to dry, and as I pulled my nightgown over my head last night, I acknowledged I might have to spend the night smelling like an acrid closet. But I slid between the sheets and pulled the blankets up to my neck, hoping a thermal blanket would be enough to keep my nose and the paradichlorobenzene apart.

I don't know the status of the snake(s), but I might be leaving soon.

My Afterlife

Following Meowkaat's lead, at least now I know what I have to look forward to...

The Dante's Inferno Test has banished you to the Third Level of Hell!
Here is how you matched up against all the levels:
Purgatory (Repenting Believers)Moderate
Level 1 - Limbo (Virtuous Non-Believers)Very High
Level 2 (Lustful)Low
Level 3 (Gluttonous)Very High
Level 4 (Prodigal and Avaricious)Very Low
Level 5 (Wrathful and Gloomy)Low
Level 6 - The City of Dis (Heretics)Very Low
Level 7 (Violent)Low
Level 8- the Malebolge (Fraudulent, Malicious, Panderers)Moderate
Level 9 - Cocytus (Treacherous)Low

Take the Dante's Inferno Hell Test

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Barbara Ehrenreich has a blog!

Via Dr. Bitch, I learned today that Barbara (Nickel and Dimed) Ehrenreich has a blog.

Once there, I discover that Ehrenreich's most recent post explores the high cost of being poor, a subject I was just discussing with Meowkaat by e-mail a few days ago. Ehrenreich writes:

A new study from the Brookings Institute documents the “ghetto tax,” or higher cost of living in low-income urban neighborhoods. It comes at you from every direction, from food prices to auto insurance. A few examples from this study, by Matt Fellowes, that covered 12 American cities:

Poor people are less likely to have bank accounts, which can be expensive for those with low balances, and so they tend to cash their pay checks at check-cashing businesses, which in the cities surveyed, charged $5 to $50 for a $500 check.
Nationwide, low-income car buyers, defined as people earning less than $30,000 a year, pay two percentage points more for a car loan than more affluent buyers.
Low-income drivers pay more for car insurance. In New York, Baltimore and Hartford, they pay an average $400 more a year to insure the exact same car and driver risk than wealthier drivers.
Poorer people pay an average of one percentage point more in mortgage interest.
They are more likely to buy their furniture and appliances through pricey rent-to-own businesses. In Wisconsin, the study reports, a $200 rent-to-own TV set can cost $700 with the interest included.
They are less likely to have access to large supermarkets and hence to rely on the far more expensive, and lower quality offerings, of small grocery and convenience stores.

I would be unfairly poormouthing (ha!) to describe myself as poor today, but I had a lot of rough years in the not-distant past, and I continue to pay the premium for my past inability to keep up.

My Sears account charges an interest rate of almost 29%. I am throwing every extra dollar I have at it and expect to pay it off by the end of 2007. Still...

Although I've been a Nationwide customer for 15 or more years, they have demoted me to their off-brand auto insurance based on my credit report. I do not qualify for a multi-policy discount (they carry my homeowner's insurance, too) and I pay a rather high rate for an old (96) vehicle with fairly minimal coverage. I should add that I've never had an accident or a moving violation (had a few burned-out lights, though) and I've never filed a claim. (In fairness to Nationwide, they're going to look at my account next month when it's up for renewal, but I'm not optimistic.)

And there are other stories from my past, not worth going into right now.

Except for being a day late on my Capital One Visa in February when my grandmother died and I lost track of the day of the month, I have not made a late payment to anyone in four years. In fact, I may be one of the few people around who enjoys paying my bills -- because I can. But today, barely in the middle class, I still "pay" dearly for having once been a poor chick.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

What Makes God Laugh?: Homeowner Edition, part one

It’s an old joke, and I find it more true every day. What makes God laugh? When people make plans.

I had plans for today.

Up early, get the mowing done* before the real heat kicks in. Shower and dig into the grading by noon.


My mower is old, at least 10 years and maybe more. (I’m thinking lawnmower years might be very similar to dog years.) Three or so years back, the gas suddenly started pouring out of the side. The mower doctor diagnosed it as dead carburetor. Eight weeks (really) and $160 later, the mower had a carburetor transplant and was back home.

So I pulled out the old guy this morning. He hadn’t had much use lately, but I had mowed the back yard last weekend and the front, small side, and back three weeks back (while patiently waiting for Neighbor Boy to do the rest, to no avail). I’ve had a lot of trouble starting the mower this year. Tall Son tried and he had no trouble, nor did Neighbor Guy, but I swear the cord would catch hard and whiplash my arm when I pulled it. So just getting the thing started was a trial. That done, however, I could mow along merrily until something made it stall out (tall grass, usually) or I chose to stop. Then there would be no starting it again for at least a half hour.

I managed to get the front, small side, and back mowed this morning, along with at least a tenth of the ginormous side. The mower had been making something of a clanging sound all morning, and smoke was wafting out the engine, so I was already trying on for size the idea that I’d probably have to buy a new one soon. (And yes, I did put more oil in the mower.) During one of my stall-imposed half-hour breaks, I researched prices at Sears, Home Depot, Lowe’s. So I was semi-emotionally prepared for what happened after I ran out of gas.

I filled the gas tank, stepped back, wiped my brow, and watched while the gas poured right back out the side of the mower. Deja vu all over again.

I really had other plans for that money.

Tall Son was building a building nearby and stopped for lunch. We caught up – hadn’t even had time to talk on the phone for over a week – and he agreed to stop by after work to unload the new mower I was about to go buy.

“It’ll cost you more, probably,” he said, “but get one with a Honda engine. Everything we use on the jobsite that has a Honda engine never needs anything but basic maintenance: oil changes, and so on. They never give us any trouble and they always start right up.”

Start right up. That sounds appealing.

One hour and $400 later (tax and extended warranty because darned if I’m dealing with a broken mower again any time soon), my new fire-engine-red Troy-Bilt-self-propelled-with-a-Honda-engine mower and I were home from Lowe's. This one, I'm pretty certain, is a female. Tall Son came by, got her out of the truck for me, put in the oil and gas, started her up.

She purrs. I swear.

So it’s not what I planned to spend my money or my day on, but at least I have Mower Security. Now I’m planning to get out there tomorrow morning before the tropical heat sets in and finish the ginormous side of the yard.

I’m hoping God’s not laughing too hard about right now.

*Neighbor boy and I have parted on amicable terms regarding the mowing situation. His family’s mower is simply not working properly. Going forward, I will do my own mowing.

What Makes God Laugh?: Homeowner Edition, part two

God wasn’t finished laughing today, not at me and not at Tall Son. I’m sure Tall Son had plans for next weekend. But he has new ones now.

It’s hard to get him to do maintenance (and finish projects) on my house, but he always comes through when it’s urgent, such as the time my water heater started leaking by the gallon.

So this afternoon I was sitting outside in the shade in my plastic replica Adirondack chair, waiting for Tall Son to come by and unload the new mower (see post immediately above).

While the main part of my house is concrete block with a brick front, the laundry room section, and now the newly-enclosed-once-upon-a-time-carport-now-turned-storage-room, is frame, sheathed in what is commonly known as T1-11. The back wall and the 2-foot side are original construction, 30 years old and rotten at the corner. Replacing this siding is on Tall Son’s to-do list.

This afternoon it moved up. Way up.

I was enjoying the breeze in the shade, thinking about how I might convince Tall Son to replace that siding and help me paint the house, when a two-foot snake started doing a vertical snake dance right next to that rotten corner. And I knew what was about to happen even as I willed it not to, not to, not to.

Like a piece of spaghetti slurped into a ten-year-old’s mouth, that snake zipped right into the hole in my house.

I will let you ponder that a moment.

I live in this house. And so, it seems, does at least one snake.

I am putting the best possible spin on this. First, I’m almost certain it was a black snake, which means that it’s not what I want for a roommate, but it isn’t going to kill me – or Molly. Second, like the discovery of a cheating spouse, there’s a good chance I’ve not caught the snake’s first time in my house. It’s probably been living there a while and hasn’t caused me any grief. It seemed to know exactly what it wanted to do, where it wanted to go. Third, it probably is living right there where it went in, in between the drywall and the rotted siding, although I keep thinking about whether it might be slithering all the way to the attic…

No. I simply will not go there.

I’m in emergency mode. I’ve moved the litter box out of the storage room and closed the cat door that leads to the storage room. I’ve closed the door between the laundry room and storage room. I’m playing a radio in the storage room in an effort to keep it out of the storage room and therefore the rest of the house, because I’ve heard snakes don’t like loud noises. I’m doing my laundry as fast as I can, catching it all up, and then I’m going nowhere near that room again until next weekend when Tall Son plans to pull down the siding, evict the snake family, and replace the siding.

And oh how I hope God is not reading my words and laughing.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

One thing I'm buying and one thing I'm not

First, the not: grocery...

Everything is sold in supersize bulk, I suppose for those who don't have time to get to Costco biannually. I love me some popcorn, but even I don't need $40 worth at a pop.

Then, thumbs up for Pandora --

Custom "radio" on my PC. Why didn't someone tell me about this sooner? Really? They play songs based on your love of certain artists or songs. You can set up multiple "stations." They even boot songs ya don't like. What could be better? No Phil Collins, ever!


(Note: the "buying" is metaphoric in the case of Pandora. It's free.)

On a hand-lettered sign


Yeah, it took me a moment, too.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Like Shakespeare, only not eloquent...

Via The Fat Lady Sings, something the English teachers in the crowd will find unsurprising, and everyone should find hilarious. Number 6 has a knowing quality the rest seem to lack...

Every year, English teachers from across the country can submit their collections of actual analogies and metaphors found in high school essays. These excerpts are published each year to the amusement of teachers across the country. Here are last year's winners.....

1. Her face was a perfect oval, like a circle that had its two sides gently compressed by a Thigh Master.

2. His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances like underpants in a dryer without Cling Free.

3. He spoke with the wisdom that can only come from experience, like a guy who went blind because he looked at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the country speaking at high schools about the dangers of looking at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it.

4. She grew on him like she was a colony of E. Coli, and he was room-temperature Canadian beef.

5. She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes just before it throws up.

6. Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.

7. He was as tall as a six-foot, three-inch tree.

8. The revelation that his marriage of 30 years had disintegrated because of his wife's infidelity came as a rude shock, like a surcharge at a formerly surcharge-free ATM machine.

9. The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn't.

10. McBride fell 12 stories, hitting the pavement like a Hefty bag filled with vegetable soup.

11. From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie, surreal quality, like when you're on vacation in another city and Jeopardy comes on at 7:00 p.m. instead of 7:30.

12. Her hair glistened in the rain like a nose hair after a sneeze.

13. The hailstones leaped from the pavement, just like maggots when you fry them in hot grease.

14. Long separated by cruel fate, the star-crossed lovers raced across the grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having left Cleveland at 6:36 p.m. traveling at 55 mph, the other from Topeka at 4:19 p.m. at a speed of 35 mph. (Must have just left Math class)

15. They lived in a typical suburban neighborhood with picket fences that resembled Nancy Kerrigan's teeth.

16. John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met.

17. He fell for her like his heart was a mob informant, and she was the East River.

18. Even in his last years, Granddad had a mind like a steel trap, only one that had been left out so long, it had rusted shut.

19. Shots rang out, as shots are wont to do.

20. The plan was simple, like my brother-in-law Phil. But unlike Phil, this plan just might work.

21. The young fighter had a hungry look, the kind you get from not eating for a while.

22. He was as lame as a duck. Not the metaphorical lame duck, either, but a real duck that was actually lame, maybe from stepping on a land mine or something.

23. The ballerina rose gracefully en pointe and extended one slender leg behind her, like a dog at a fire hydrant.

24. It was an American tradition, like fathers chasing kids around with power tools.

25. He was deeply in love. When she spoke, he thought he heard bells, as if she were a garbage truck backing up.

Miss Bitty Sends Her Regrets

Dear Alanna,

I’m afraid I won’t be able to have lunch with you this Friday. Thanks to Mr. Gordon’s rule that each student must write 6000 words in our classes, I am barely able to breathe under the weight of half a ton of lovely white paper covered with sometimes incomprehensible squiggles.

I was so looking forward to it. Let’s not even try next week…last Friday before the last week of class.

I must devote part of my Friday to grading. Either I’ll get a lot of work done this weekend, or I’ll be in desperate condition next week. Tall Son had promised to come over this weekend and clean up some of the personal physical mess he left behind when he moved out and to finish – finally!—the work on the storage room so I can call the county building inspector for approval then slide all the shelves back against the walls. (I have a path open so he – it’ll be a he of course – can look at the quality of the construction.) Of course, if Tall Son follows through on his promise (always 50/50 odds, since he so often has to work Saturdays and even Sundays and there’s a new girlfriend – again – or, as far as I know she’s still around...), I’ll be distracted, wanting to direct him to this undone task or that one. I don’t want to be a nag, but this work was his only “rent” when he lived with me, and he’s behind on the rent AND no longer living with me. Ah, me.

Then there’s the kid across the street. You may well hear of a murder this weekend in my county, but if I can get a jury of working-woman homeowners I’ll be acquitted without fuss. It takes a lot to rile me up, but I think he’s accomplished it. He has only mowed my lawn once ALL SUMMER. The drought kept it from getting too out of hand in the early part of the season. When I returned from the Long Drive, he mowed. Since then it’s been one excuse after the other; he has promised to mow on a date certain each of the past three weekends. Here’s the thing, though: he doesn’t HAVE to mow my lawn. I would do it. But he keeps coming over and telling me he’s going to. Promising. Nine days ago when he promised to cut it on the Sunday just passed, I told him he had to let me know if he couldn’t because I needed to plan if I had to do it. (I only mow in the mornings due to the heat, and I’m not home that many mornings…). He promised, promised, promised it would get cut this past Sunday. I fumed all day waiting for him. Around 6 he showed up…said he’d planned to cut it that very evening when it was cooler, but now that a storm was brewing, he couldn’t do it. He promised to do it Monday eve. Of course when I came home Monday (after dark, after his family had put out the lights for the night), the lawn was not mowed. Might I add three things here? First, I looked at the Doppler on the weather channel after he left on Sunday. There was no rain in sight…just clouds. Second, he is mowing WITH A RIDING MOWER! A snowman could handle the job at two in the afternoon and still not melt away if he did it on a riding mower. Finally, young K works for a landscaper during the week! What, pray tell, does he do for the landscaper that he gets to avoid the frickin’ heat all day? At this point I don’t think I CAN mow because, except for the front and back which I did mow once since his last pass at it, the grass is too high. But if he doesn’t come through for me by Friday morning, I’m getting out there to do it. And I’ll have white-hot nuclear anger to power the mower.

So that’s why I can’t do lunch Friday.

Shall we aim for Friday, August 4?


Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Slice of life

Administrator down the hall recently took on a new, 50-ish assistant. Administrator tells Assistant she’d like to take her to meet Dr. H. As they walk past my office:

Assistant: Do you think I should put on some lipstick first?
Administrator (drolly): Well, I don’t think he’s planning to date you…

That would be me

I saw this quiz up at Shakespeare's Sister.

So I took it.

I guess I passed.

(But I don't know how to make it look right...!?)

?? Which Creature Of The Sea Are You??

By the way, this is not the first time I've been called fascinating.

Monday, July 17, 2006

The only good thing about a payroll error is the correction of the payroll error

Summer pay is a mystery to me. Well, my pay is always a mystery, really. The deductions seem to shift from payperiod to payperiod. I get paid on contract, so "hours worked" is really irrelevant. The hard worker and the inefficient worker, both of whom might put in an insane number of hours, get paid the same as the slacker or the more efficient worker who put in fewer hours. But "they" assign a number of hours worked and pay us on that basis.

Summer pay is stranger even than regular pay because I don't know how they decide to slice up my contract. I get paid hourly, but I don't work hourly. So I got my first paycheck almost two weeks ago. It wasn't for a full two weeks, as I knew, and it was disappointingly smaller than I expected, but what the heck? I get the whole loaf of bread in the end anyway.

Today I got an e-mail advising me (all of us faculty) that our hours had been miscalculated last pay period and they owe me another $352.03 net.

Which is ok with me.

Tales from the Third Life

I once had another life.

Perhaps you’re stunned that I haven't always been Bitty of the Back Porch, English instructor extraordinaire and blogger imperfect.

In fact, I once had many lives. I'm on, I would say, my fifth life, probably in a liminal stage between fifth and sixth.

This is a tale from my third life, the life of the lonely, unloved wife.

The background: I was checking out some favorite but recently unvisited blogs, working backwards from recent posts to where I left off, and I checked in on Meowkaat at I will then, be a toad.

There she told an absorbing tale of loneliness in the Early Internet Era, which reminded me of my own pre-internet era loneliness story.

And this is more or less how I told it in her comments. While her story is better than mine, and perhaps hers should be read before mine, they both seem to have the same moral.

Although I’m not entirely sure what that is.

I wrote:

[Meowkaat’s story] made me think about so many things, including loneliness and once-obsessions that are no more. In an oddball way, it reminded me of the era when I was a refunder (collected labels, boxtops, etc. to send in for refunds...totally prohibitive in the year of the 39 cent stamp). I also lived at the very ends of the earth without transportation. (My then-husband would sometimes "loan" me "his" car.) Anyway, I refunded to scrounge up a little spending money, and I got quite good at it. The highlight of my week -- no kidding -- came when I got to go to the dump. I'd stand at the edge of the rubbish and pick out Stouffer's boxes, tuna cans -- cereal boxes were ALWAYS a gold mine. It was like plucking money from the ground, a real feat for a penniless stay-at-home mother.

There was a dump-tender. I was about 25. He was 40-50-ish. He'd save Sunday newspapers for me, for the coupons. He was friendly.

I was naive.

We had what I thought were friendly conversations, about as sexually charged as a paper towel.

Then one day he said something inappropriate -- I forget exactly what -- as he fumbled with my breast. I will never forget THAT.

I got in my car, drove away, and never looked back.

I was embarrassed by my own naïveté; because I looked at our "relationship" one way -- friendship -- I couldn't see that by saving the coupons for me he thought he was offering, um, tat for tit, so to speak.

But as I read [Meowkaat’s] story, I wondered if the Mod [see M’s story] was bored and/or lonely at work, just as I (when I wasn't feeling utterly embarrassed about the situation) wondered if the lecherous dump-tender wasn't bored and/or lonely.

I don't think I've ever told this story before.

I have a few other tales from the third life, too, although it's the second life that's the doozy. Maybe I'll share those another day.

Dipping in a toe

I've been blogging for almost a year, although anyone with eyes will see that I haven't blogged much lately.

Truth is, I've been in quite a funk. Probably clinically depressed. Probably need to quit procrastinating and go see a doctor. This runs in my family: my grandmother, my mother, my you see who's missing from that chain of evidence?

I tell you this not for sympathy, etc. Just explaining.

I don't know if the world situation is getting worse (though I think it is) or if the warranty on my ability to cope with it has expired. Then, trying to sit down to write has actually filled me with dread lately. Anyway, who wants to know the inner workings of my brain? Most days even I don't want to.

In the end, though, I'm like so many others.

I hope that someone does.

So there you are. Some of what's working in my brain. Thanks to all the people who have stopped by or e-mailed and made little (or big) encouraging noises to coax me out of the darkness.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006