Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Family Visit and a Midyear Resolution

When you live in Los Angeles and family comes to visit, you take them to Disneyland – Disney World, if you live in Florida. Live in S.F. and get company, it's off to Golden Gate Park. There's no shortage of places to take visiting family and friends if you live in New York or Washington D.C., and of course, on St. Croix it was off to the beach. Of course, it was always beach day on St. Croix, but when folks came to visit you had company.

Mary, Ed, Tori, John
And here in New Orleans, when friends come to call, it's the French Quarter.

On almost any night, Bourbon Street is a loud, wandering party. A little obnoxious, more decadent than you can imagine, but always entertaining. So we spent some time there Friday night with Tori's aunt Mary and uncle Ed, who were visiting from Arizona with a group of friends.

The friends were in town for a wedding, so after Friday night's long stumble through the Quarter, we had them to ourselves Saturday, took them to see the  sculpture garden in City Park, and a tour through one of the city's many cemeteries. We've got cool cemeteries. This one features the biggest funerary  phallic symbol I've ever seen. The person so honored is a former New Orleans Police Commissioner. (We believe the draping at the top of the column is a 19th century condom.) There's always something to see in a cemetery. (In Oregon we lived about 200 feet from an old cemetery, which is where I got a lot of names for various characters in books over the years.)

Sunday they all went on a swamp tour, the same one that Max and I went on a year ago with his biology class. (That's Max, greeting a baby alligator on the tour.) So we stayed home Sunday and recovered from the first two days of the excursion. Monday Tori took them all over – around the Garden District, then off to a restored antebellum plantation.

But this isn't really about the tour itinerary. It's about family. When Tori's brother died this spring, we realized she was the only person left from that particular nuclear family. She was the sole survivor. And I haven't been as close to my seven sisters as I should have been, there's only been a couple I keep in semi-regular touch with. We decided we needed to make more of an effort to reinforce those bonds. So it was great that Ed and Mary came out.

We've been talking about a trip west next summer, if for no other reason than we are still paying monthly rent on a storage unit in Albany containing – well, it's hard to remember what a lot of it is. Kitchen stuff that we've of course replaced, clothes that won't fit, a couple of thousand books – but also lots of family photos and other mementos. I made the mistake of doing the math, how long we'd been storing it and what it has cost. Ouch. Time to And now we've got another reason to go. We have a specific invitation to come by the river, where Mary and Ed live, and spend a couple of days. And we've got other family all over the west, plus lots of our oldest friends. We are the farthest east contingent of both our families, except of course, for Millie and Ben in NYC, but we claim them as ours.

So we'll have plenty to do. I don't see how we can make it in less than three weeks and see only a fraction of the people we want to. But that's the plan.

We couldn't have had a better weekend than the one we just spent showing our new home to family. They're airborne right now, on their way back to Arizona. It was great to see them.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Almost Over

We take such simple things for granted. Flip a switch, and we're surprised if the light doesn't come on. Turn a faucet, we expect water to come out. Flush a toilet or open the drain on a sink, the liquid goes down, goes "away," and we rarely give a second thought to where it goes or how it gets there.

So the last two weeks have been educational, if nothing else. Really inconvenient, sometimes annoying, once very funny, but also educational. Go without running water for a day, or without sewage service for 15, and it reminds you how special such simple things are.

I know no one cares about this but me, Tori, Kate and Max, but I just have to say, this long plumbing nightmare is almost over. They've been fiddling around on the front lawn all day, had me flush a couple of times while they peered down the clean out, gave me a thumbs up. Now they're filling in the hole. And presumably, we're good to go.

This started Sept. 19, with jack-hammering. I didn't know then why they were doing it, and now that they're just about done, I still don't. Everything here worked fine before they started, and it seems to work exactly as fine now.

At least for now, I have renewed appreciation for those little things that make what we call "civilized" life possible. I hope I don't lose that, at least for a while.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Great Burgers at Five Guys, and Some Ketchup

Ever eaten at a Five Guys hamburgers? Best five dollar burger I've ever eaten.

One minor side benefit of this ongoing plumbing woe has been we've been eating out a lot. Pizza. Chinese. It's hard to wash dishes when you're aware that every drop that flows through the house ends up in a hole out in the front lawn.

Wednesday was Max's guitar lesson, and there was a Five Guys in the same strip mall, so at his urging, that's where we went. It was great. All they have on the menu is various burgers plus kosher hot dogs, and fries. HUGE quantities of very good fries. They figured out the one thing they were gonna do, and do it extremely well. If you haven't yet, give 'em a try some time.

I was standing at the counter waiting for my order, and beside me was a woman holding a baby and staring into the kitchen to see if her food was ready. She didn't notice the baby, who was I would say six to nine months old. While mom's attention was diverted he was reaching over, manipulating the ketchup dispenser and licking the ketchup off his fingers. It was hilarious. Maybe my laughter alerted her, or her maternal instincts kicked in, but she was horrified when she realized what was going on.

"He's never had ketchup before," she said, wiping his fingers. "Well," I replied, "it looks like he's a convert."

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Unexpected Lake Brings Laughs

I hate to keep coming back to this, because I suspect it's boring if you're not actually living through it, but the work on the plumbing continues. And yesterday was pretty funny.

A different crew came to work Tuesday morning. They had to divert the water main, ever so slightly, so that the Public Works crew can come back and attach our house and the neighbor's to the sewer. (Even though it fit just fine before they started fixing it.)

We were without water while they worked. It was really interesting, I spent a lot of time outside watching. You don't really think about where the water comes from or where it goes. You just take it for granted. It was a rare chance to really look at it, to gain some appreciation for something we rarely even think about.

It was also fun because they expanded the work area into our neighbor's yard. He's an asshole. I don't mind saying that. In two years the only time he's spoken to us has been to complain about  how we don't edge properly. Seriously. So it was nice to see a big swath of trench and mud in his pristine yard. I know that's petty of me. I don't care.

Lake Unexpected.
At about 5 p.m., right on schedule, they were finished. They started filling the hole and started re-pressurizing the system.

And, as could be predicted, the main blew. It was a small geyser, quickly filling the trench and spilling out. It wasn't the part they'd just replaced, but the older line adjoining the new stretch. Right in the middle of the neighbor's yard. His six-year-old son came out and was jumping up and down with excitement. It was something. There was a whole new lake. At least is was fresh water instead of sewage.

So the water stayed off. They got back in the hole and started digging in the waning light. Then the sun set and they were working by the light of a couple of flashlights. I have a set of flood lights we got from Tori's brother's house I brought out and set up for them, because they were never going to get done in the dark. And I really wanted the water back on.

And eventually, maybe four hours later, they were done. Both lawn, ours and the neighbor's were a mess. This morning it looked like a bomb had gone off. But they're back, cleaning up, and soon this part will be finished. Then Public Works can come back and finish the job and our two-week nightmare will be over.

I hope. Because I really need a shower.

Monday, September 29, 2014

No Progress, and Everyone's Pissed Off

It's midday Monday, and there's no progress. Front yard is still dug up, back yard is even more dug up. There was a guy here for a while working in the back, he's gone and I'm not sure where. No sign of anything in front, although I was told some people were out looking at it briefly early this morning.

And the few people I have talked to have been very pissed off. The Saints played last night, and New Orleans loves its Saints. And they looked awful. Oh lord, it was a dreadful, dreadful pigskin performance Sunday night. I can't think of a time  I've seen the Saints play worse.

We've been hearing all summer about how good the Saints would be this year. The road to the Super Bowl leads through New Orleans, they've been saying. Even when they got off to an 0-2 start, then limped to a win over Minnesota, people kept saying, "They have too much talent to ..." To what? Stink up the field in Dallas? Because that's what they did.

It might be time to say, "Maybe they're just not very good. Maybe this year the Saints are a bad team. Wherever the road to the Super Bowl is, it sure doesn't go through New Orleans."

Based on last night, the Saints will be lucky to sniff the playoffs.

And the guy who was here, briefly, was really angry because he said when the Saints lose, it hurts his business. I'm not sure how. Seems like if a sewer gets clogged, you want it cleaned out regardless of how the team played. Maybe when they lose – and play so bad doing it – people don't party as much and put less pressure on the sewage system. Or maybe when they lose, there's less tendency to flush inappropriate objects. I don't know.

All I now is, this is getting old.  I would like to take a guilt-free shower.

Friday, September 26, 2014

See, THIS is why I'm glad I rent

Last Friday, TLAPDay, I was surprised when a Public Works crew came out and started digging a hole in the front lawn, in the median strip between the sidewalk and the street. They jack-hammered up the sidewalk, got out a backhoe and exposed the lines running from our house and the obnoxious neighbor's house. Then they strung up some caution tape and went away.

I had been surprised because there was nothing wrong with our sewerage. Everything has worked fine since the day we moved in. Apparently there had been some kind of problem in a house across the street, but ours was fine.

I have written about sewer problems before. I don't like them, naturally. Well, who would? But they're never easy to live with while they're going on, and they always become much more complicated than you thought they would be.

They came back Monday, made the hole bigger. I asked them toward the end of the day how it was going. They said they'd made a mistake, but figured out what it was and now they were on it. Then they left. Tuesday they came back, made the hole bigger. Late in the day (2:30) they said they had run a camera down the line and found some more broken pipes so they'd had to fix them.

Wednesday they came back, tore a chunk out of the street, so there was now a trench from about three feet out into the street, four feet wide, extending back about four of five feet past the sidewalk. Big piles of dirt everywhere. Felt a little like a set for a play about World War I.

Anyway, they seemed to be satisfied, because Thursday they started putting stuff back in the hole. By the end of the workday (2:30) it was all covered up. They still had to patch the street and lay a couple of new sections of sidewalk, but the hole was gone.

So about 4:30, I throw a load of laundry in and start making dinner. A short time later I turned to go down the hall and there's water flowing out of both bathrooms (which are right next to each other. Go figure) and down the hall. Spilling from both toilets and up in the tub.

That's about when Tori got home from work. We mopped and scrubbed and the house reeks of bleach. And of course it's not fixed yet and we can't use the bathrooms. Public Works came back last night and tried to flush the clean-out plug, but it didn't work. So they came back this morning as early as they could and they're digging it all up again. The problem may be, they said, that the four-inch sewer line that comes down to the street from the house is too low. If they can't tie it into the six-inch line with a high enough drop, it'll be up to me (my landlord) to raise it all up.

Crew working on the sewer Friday.
But after working all morning, they now tell us there's blockage, and it's on our end of the line. Somewhere between the house and the sewer there's a clog. And that's on me (and my landlord.) Not them.

"So the fact that this happened right when you did all this work on the line is just a coincidence?" I asked the supervisor? "Yep," he said.

Well, it's possible. There's a reason they have the word coincidence in the dictionary, I guess. Still ...

So now our landlord has to get a plumber out here to flush out the line from the knock out at the back of the house. Lawrence is pretty good about that, so I'm hopeful this won't go on too much longer.

Because if we  don't have the bathrooms working by the time Tori gets home from work, we're going to a motel tonight. 'Cuz DAMN I need a shower.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Odds and Ends

Kids say the Darndest Things

We were at the mall, looking at displays of women's clothing.

Max: God, it looks like Dad was the fashion designer.

Kate: Oh, it's not that bad.

As it happened, I was wearing one of my more – shall we say flamboyant? – Hawaiian shirts. It worked, too. No salespeople crowded up to pester us.

A little while later, in front of another display:

Kate: Suddenly, I remember what I hate most about clothes shopping.

Me: The clothes?

Talk Like a Pirate Day

Another holiday has come and gone. It was a good one, very busy. Lot of phone interviews with radio stations across the U.S. and Australia. For me the day started as I ran out early, dressed in pirate finery of course, to Krispy Kreme to pillage a dozen doughnuts.

Mark and I used to do them sitting in his living room. He had two extensions, so we'd sit in his living room for about a day and a half, taking calls from all over the world, one year 80 in a 30-hour period. Now, of course, most of the interviews are solo, either him or me, which allows us to double our range.

Afterward, Tori and I decided to take a break and went out for dinner to a place that was supposed to have great ribs. It was a bar, Moby's. Didn't look like much from the outside. We parked around back and, as we walked to the door, Tori noticed a rat scampering along the fence. Hmmm. Well, he was outside. That's something. He was on the fence, not actually on the bar's property. And he was half the size of the cane rats we used to see on the island.

Inside it was – a bar. Long and narrow. A few tables. A bunch of people standing around the bar and in groups at the side talking loudly. It was one of those places where the acoustics magnified everything and we could barely hear each other over the clatter and din. (Clatter & Din? A noisy legal team? A bad folk duo?)

So the ambiance was far from ideal. But the ribs?

The ribs were magnificent. We decided to split a whole rack instead of ordering our own plates. A good thing. I could have eaten a whole rack, don't get me wrong, but it would have been a very bad idea. A very, very bad idea.

So you can't judge a book by its cover, a pirate by the cut of his jib, or a rib joint by anything other than the ribs.

On Television

You know those ads for a satellite TV service touting all the football games you can watch? You can become "the world's most powerful fan," or some similar BS.

Well, judging from those ads, the worlds most powerful fans are the world's biggest jerks. They don't mind destroying property or tearing up the neighborhood or just generally behaving like asses.

Please, save me from the world's most powerful fan.

Speaking of TV

Tori and I were at Best Buy drooling over the TVs. You have to understand that we got our TV for $25 at a garage sale. It's fine. Works great and I can see everything I want to see. But these TVs at the store were amazing, especially the big, curved screen set. We stood in front of it in awe of the clarity and the almost vertigo-inducing sharpness. As another scene came on, this one from a network TV show, I could actually see the actress had a little acne on her forehead.

"Whoah!" Tori said. "People are going to have to get better looking."

The set cost $8,000, so we won't be adding it to our living room any time soon.

Although, there was that great game yesterday, Broncos at Seahawks, that seesawed back and forth, had me on my feet shouting, went down to the wire, with an unbelievable finish by Manning, then an even better coup de grace by Wilson and cousin Marshawn. (I'll explain that another time.) When it was over, I was spent. Didn't even bother watching the Sunday night game, which is rare for me.

Imagine how overwrought I'd have been watching on that big, curved set. Probably better for my health that I stick with the garage sale TV.