Saturday, December 31st, 2016

I was downstairs the other night boxing up all the beer glasses that I’d put on display on a couple of shelves in the corner of the basement that I rather grandly refer to as the brewery, because the new kitten has the run of the house now and every ounce of him is dedicated to finding and climbing up to every shelf and knocking over all the stuff on them. If I’d left the glasses where they were, it would only be a matter of time before an otherwise peaceful evening with a book was literally shattered by the sound of a dozen or so beer glasses clattering against each other before they exploded across the concrete basement floor.

As I took each glass down off the shelf, I had to upend it over the sink to get the dessicated corpses of centipedes out of them. A few of the glasses held just one dead bug, but most of them held three or four. Why the bugs felt compelled to crawl into the glasses is a mystery, but now you know: If you have centipedes in your house and want to get rid of them, line up a row of twelve-ounce beer glasses on a shelf, then wait. The centipedes will dutifully climb into the glasses and expire of thirst. No insecticide needed.

centipedicide | 7:36 am CDT
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Monday, May 23rd, 2016

If America should decide to elect me to the presidency instead of Trump (I’m not saying it’s likely, but it’s not impossible), I promise to eliminate lawn mowers from every state in the Union. And leaf blowers. Especially leaf blowers. The mere possession of an operable leaf blower for anything other than display purposes would be a class A felony. Those things pack more evil than the atomic bomb, weaponized smallpox, solitary confinement, and Stalin all rolled together.

On my first day in office, I will create a Department of Yards and Lawns whose mandate will be: 1) round up all the lawn mowers, and 2) mow every lawn. The ultimate goal will be to free Americans everywhere from the drudgery of yard work, giving them more time to read their Facebook posts or whatever they consider fun. If they consider yard work fun, they will be given a lobotomy because that kind of mental illness just can’t be dealt with in a way that’s less drastic.

In the first weeks of my presidency, teams of DOY&L personnel would fan out across neighborhoods all across America, knocking on doors and offering tens of thousands of dollars to every household that gives up every lawn mower, leaf blower, weed eater, lawn edger, hedge clipper, in fact every implement of lawn care and yard work.

The DOY&L would use these tools (except for the leaf blowers, which would be packed onto container ships and sent to America’s worst enemies) when they come to your house once a week to cut your lawn. Every other day if you’re retired. Retired people seem to need to have their lawns look newly-mowed all the time. The DOY&L will also trim your shrubs and hedges and remove dead limbs from trees, throwing the branches into those awesome wood chippers that go MEOOWWW as they shoot sawdust into the back of a truck.

Gardens are cool. You can plant all the veggies you want.

department of lawns | 5:31 am CDT
Category: daily drivel, yard work
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Saturday, March 12th, 2016

I have a funny story, sort of.

I was eating breakfast day before yesterday. Sitting alone at the table, I heard My Darling B rouse herself from bed and make her way to the bathroom. I usually wake up long before she does, partly because it’s my nature, and partly because that way I can take a shower and be done in the bathroom before she gets up. I like to have the solitary quiet of the house to myself for a little while, too.

B was in the bathroom for only a couple minutes before I heard her muttering to herself, “Where is it? Dammit! Where is it?” Then she came out of the bathroom and started searching through the hall closet. “Where is it? Dammit!” I waited, probably a little too long, to decide whether she was angry or desperate. The tone in her voice might have gone either way, and I didn’t want to rush to help while she was angry. There are times when people just want to cuss at something stupid. I certainly don’t expect people to come rushing in every time I start cussing. Sometimes, I just want to vent.

But it quickly became apparent that B wasn’t just venting, she was distraught. It took a little too long for me to twig to that. And then I heard the sound of water spilling.

I shot out of my seat and trotted across the living room to the hall as quickly as I could get around all the furniture in my way. B was in the bathroom again, dancing through a spreading pool of water as she threw every towel in arm’s reach on the floor. The toilet was overflowing, and for whatever reason the water would not stop running.

“Where’s the plunger?” B cried desperately. “I can’t find it!”

I should have pushed her out of the way and shut the water off at that point, but I wasn’t thinking entirely rationally, just reacting. I bolted from the room and ran downstairs where I knew I could find another plunger, grabbed it, and ran back upstairs with it. B was still standing over the toilet helplessly. I handed her the plunger; she gave the toilet a single plunge that unblocked it, and the water stopped flowing over the lip of the bowl onto the floor.

After that it was just a matter of sopping up the water off the bathroom floor, or so I thought. I gathered up the sodden towels, throwing them into the tub one by one, then wringing as much of the water out of the last one as possible before throwing it back into the puddle on the floor. On my hands and knees, I mopped up the water around the toilet when my eyes fell on the heating grate in the wall.

The bathroom was updated just before we moved in. It was either a do-it-yourself job by the owner, or it was done by a low-bid handyman. Cheap wainscoting wrapped around two walls, covered in a single coat of thin white paint. The heating grate had once been a more durable fixture, replaced by a diffuser made of stamped metal that they’d never fixed to the floor or wall. It rattled when the heat came on, and when I bumped it while cleaning, it skittered away from the hole left in the wall. The ductwork inside the hole ended in a jagged stump, and I could see into the basement through the hole.

I paused with the sopping wet towel in my hands and looked down into the hole. “I wonder how much water ran down there?” I said aloud. It was a rhetorical question, but B was standing just behind me, looking over my shoulder. “Probably a lot,” she said.

I knew just the spot in the basement where the water would have fallen: The hole was in a corner between two bookshelves that were stacked full of our most prized books. Luckily, most of the water ran down the wall to pool on the floor, where a cheap rug from Shopko was soaking most of it up.

But then I noticed a slow drip from a tiny hole I’d made to screw a lamp into the finished ceiling. A very slow drip, but still significant. The hole was about three feet from the wall. If the water made it as far as that hole, there might be more water up there. I found a hand drill on my hobby bench, just an arm’s length away, fitted it with a bit and drilled an experimental hole. Water ran steadily from the hole when I pulled the drill bit out. Not good. I drilled another hole about an inch to one side. More steadily running water. I put a bucket under the streaming water, then went to find a bigger drill bit.

Using a quarter-inch bit, I enlarged the first two holes. Water streamed as steadily from them as it would from an open faucet. I drilled a third hole another inch away but no more. The streams were as wide apart as the bucket would catch. When the stream slowed to a drip, there was about a gallon of water in the bucket.

And thus ended our most recent plumbing adventure, which has morphed into a post-disaster cleanup. I have to get my head up above the finished ceiling to see how much damage was done, for instance, and if I find that it’s all ruined, I’ll have to tear it out before it gets moldy. Then I’ll have to fix that heating grate so it won’t be an open drain to the basement. The fun starts today! And how’s your weekend?

plunging water | 9:13 am CDT
Category: adventures in plumbing, Our Humble O'Bode
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Monday, January 25th, 2016

No weekend would be complete without a home improvement project, and no home improvement project would be complete until there was blood.

The spigot in the kitchen sink has been dripping for weeks. Okay, more like months, but it was a drip we could put up with when it started because it would drip for a little while, then stop. Then it would drip for a while longer, but it would still stop. Then we would have to jiggle the handle to get it to stop. And then finally, about a week ago, it wouldn’t stop dripping no matter what we did to it.

And it didn’t just drip from the end of the spigot. Somewhere in the innards of the valve, water leaked out the back and down through the bottom. I had to put a bucket in the cabinet under the sink to catch it. When you have buckets in your house to catch falling water, it’s time for a home improvement project.

So yesterday morning, after I’d had my coffee, I drove to the local Menard’s to save big money on a kitchen faucet. There is a long, long aisle for kitchen faucets, but they were arranged so that the most expensive were at one end and the cheapest were at the other end. I went to the other end. They had a pretty good replacement for our kitchen faucet that wasn’t the cheapest plastic spigot ever made.

To swap out the faucet, I had to dismount the garbage disposal, then twist myself into a pretzel to climb into the cabinet and wedge my head between the back of the sink and the wall, so all the yoga I’ve been doing finally came in handy.

Taking out old, leaky plumbing is just about the grossest thing a grown man will ever have to do. The joints are all crusted over with minerals, mold and corrosion, and when it’s above your head like this one was, all that crap runs down your hands and arms into your armpits, thanks to the leak. Changing diapers isn’t this bad. At least baby poop stays in the diaper. Well, most of the time it does.

Then there’s the blood. The gods of home improvement require a blood offering, else the repair won’t hold. I usually try to keep it to skinned knuckles, but for this job I guess the gods wanted more, so I sliced the end of my thumb open with a screwdriver. The pain was blinding and the blood ran in rivers, so this repair should last for decades.

there will be blood | 7:00 am CDT
Category: adventures in plumbing, Our Humble O'Bode, yoga
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Tuesday, December 22nd, 2015

We’ve had a mouse problem for a long time. When Bonkers The Cat was around and was still full of piss and vinegar, he did his part to keep the mouse population under control. Boo would play with the mice that Bonkers chased out of the corners, but I don’t think she ever went looking for mice and hasn’t lifted a finger (or toe, whatever) to catch any since the Bonkers left the scene more than a year ago.

So the mice have had free run of the place for months, and have staked their claim to every part of the house that they can colonize. Most recently, their efforts to take over the house have reached as far as the kitchen, where they are now into the many drawers under the kitchen counter, for reasons that are a little hard to explain. They were in the space under the sink before, because that’s where the kitchen trash can is and they could filch all sorts of goodies from it, but now they’re not satisfied with just grabbing the food and going.

It seems that now they’re wandering around in the drawers where My Darling B keeps the various implements of kitchen magic, and it causes her no small amount of distress when she reaches for a knife or a skewer and finds those disgusting little calling cards that mice leave behind wherever they go. She’s had to clean out two of the drawers at least twice in the past six months, and last night we took everything out of all the drawers so I could set out traps and start the chore of running every single one of the magical kitchen implements through the dishwasher to give them a two-hour-long power wash followed by twenty minutes of intense sterilizing heat.

Now I have to figure out how to mouse-proof as much of the kitchen as possible, as well as how to delete the mice. I’ve already got traps under the sink and I set out traps in the drawers overnight, but no luck so far. I think I can block off easy access to the space under the sink, but mice can be determined little buggers so I’ll have to keep setting traps for the foreseeable future.

As for long-term measures to rid our little red house of the infestation, I’ve proposed getting a more dedicated mouser to patrol the darkest corners. I swear I heard B say no to that proposal before, but when I brought it up last night she said that she thought I was opposed to getting another cat. I suppose I might have and don’t remember it, but if so, I don’t know why. If we’re going to have furry animals padding around the house, a kitten or two sounds better than allowing the mice to take over.

How Boo will react to the introduction of a kitten or two is more or less a foregone conclusion. She’s not whatever the cat equivalent of a people-person is. I think she tolerated Bonkers only because he was already established as the house cat when we adopted her as a kitten. When he eventuallyl grew so old and feeble that he couldn’t hold her back if she wanted to swat him off the top of the hill, she didn’t even bother pretending to tolerate him after that. Any other cat who wanders near our door gets hissed at, and she prowls back and forth growling with her puffed-up tail in the air for a half-hour afterwards. She’s not going to take it lightly if we introduce some young whipper-snapper to the house.

Luckily, I don’t care all that much about hurting Boo’s feelings because the way I see it, she’s falling down on the job. There are mice to be caught and the only cat on the premesis is totally unmotivated about catching them. More than a dereliction of duty, that seems like a betrayal of her species. And if Boo’s feelings get hurt, well, I’m not even her person. She comes to me when she wants to show somebody how she can claw the rug by the front door into a big jumbled ball, but when she wants to sit in a lap for hours, she goes to My Darling B, the woman who picked her out at the shelter and brought her to our home.

overrun | 7:00 am CDT
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Tuesday, October 27th, 2015

On a beautiful day like today, nothing makes me quite as happy as realizing, as l stroll through the neighborhood and run out of fingers counting the number of people who are raking leaves, that I am never going to do that. I was going to add, not until they make it illegal, but when that day comes, I’m just going to pay the fine.

Raking the leaves off your lawn makes no sense in so many ways, the first and most obvious being that everybody I saw raking leaves today wore a look of absolute misery on their faces, as if they would rather be doing literally anything else, like picking fleas off their neighbors or sucking sewer water through a hose, than raking leaves. Another way it makes no sense is that every one of those lawn care fanatics will spend a small fortune next spring spreading fertilizer on their lawns, which is what the leaves on my lawn will compost into by the time I have to get the mower out of the shed for the first cut of the year.

Fertile | 9:51 am CDT
Category: daily drivel, yard work
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Saturday, August 29th, 2015

I went to the laundry basket with dripping hands and started pawing through it.

“What are you looking for?” B asked.

“Hand towel,” I answered, pulling out what I thought was a hand towel.

“Don’t use that,” she admonished me. “That’s a rag. Just look at how dirty it is.” She held up a neatly folded hand towel. “We’ll put this one out, because we’re having guests tonight.”

I held out my hand for the towel.

“You can’t use it now,” she said with a verbal eye-roll. “I’ll put it out before the guests arrive, so it’s clean. You can use that dirty thing now.”

It’s like we speak two completely different languages sometimes.

hand towel | 10:45 am CDT
Category: daily drivel, housekeeping, My Darling B, Our Humble O'Bode
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Saturday, June 20th, 2015

I pruned one of the lilac bushes in the back yard two weeks ago but I didn’t do anything with the branches I pruned off the bush because I didn’t have the time then. They’ve been sitting in the back yard for two weeks until today when I finally ran them through the wood chipper. Is it procrastination if I put it off until I had time to do it? I wonder.

What I really went out in the yard to do today was prune another one of the lilac bushes, but I knew that I should take care of those other branches first or I’d have an even bigger pile of branches in the yard reminding me what a slacker I am, so I got the wood chipper out of the shed, cranked it up and tried running the first branch through it. The chipper’s got a pair of blades on a spinning plate that chews up any stick you shove in there. Normally it’ll chip branches as fast as I can feed them in, but this time the stick went in and stopped against the plate. I leaned into it a bit but it still wouldn’t go, so I leaned against it with nearly all my weight. Nothing. Not one single wood chip came out of the chute.

I took the chipper apart to see if I could figure out what the matter was. The problem turned out to be pretty simple: The blades were dull as a butter knife. Really, most butter knives that I’ve used were sharper than those blades were. They weren’t just blunt, they were obtuse. The branches weren’t getting chipped because the worst those blades could do was slap them in a rather limp-wristed way. So I had to break out the tools to unscrew the blades, which always results in skinned knuckles, and then take them downstairs to grind them on a wheel until they were sharp again. At least that part’s fun. Lots of noise and sparks. After they were sharp again, I took them back outside, screwed them back in place and put the chipper back together. Twenty minutes after I wheeled the wood chipper out of the shed, I was finally getting around to chipping some wood. Hally-fucken-looyah.

As I started chipping the pile of branches from the lilac bush, My Darling B happened by with a couple baskets filled with leaves, twigs and dried-out raspberry canes and asked me to mulch those, too. I said sure, leave them here, I’ll take care of them, because what else was I going to say?

It was a lot warmer outside than I thought it was when I first started. My shirt was drenched in sweat by the time I finished chipping and mulching and otherwise demolishing the pile of branches, twigs and leaves that were heaped up around me. I’d been standing outside in the heat and sun for about an hour and a half, which is more standing than I normally ever do at any time during a typical day, so I thought it might be a good idea to hydrate. I went inside where it was cool, filled a big glass with cold water and sucked it down while I flipped through messages on Twitter. Nothing like reading public texts from the general public to make me feel better about my boring life.

Then it was back outside to start pruning branches off one of the lilac bushes in the front yard — the thing I went into the yard to do in the first place! I cut about a half-dozen thickly-leafed branches, dragged them to the back yard and cut each branch up into bits that would easily fit into the chipper. The directions that came with the chipper tell me that I’m not supposed to stick branches into it that are much more than a half-inch thick, but I’ve successfully chipped branches twice that big. I figure if I can get it into the chute, which is about an inch and a quarter wide, then it’s fair game. I chipped just about all but the thickest butt-ends of the branches I trimmed off the lilac bush, and finished just in time to beat the downpour that soaked My Darling B as she was hurrying to plant her sweet potatoes.

chip off the old block | 6:25 pm CDT
Category: Our Humble O'Bode, yard work
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Monday, April 20th, 2015

The lawn mower didn’t start when I pulled the trigger on it yesterday. The blades were very hard to turn by hand, so I thought that maybe the bearings on the motor could use a touch of oil, and that meant I would have to take the engine cover off. I had wanted to do that last year, because somewhere under that engine cover there was a mouse generator. Every time I used the lawn mower last summer, mice would erupt from the openings where the handle connected to the deck. Sometimes they would run up the handle straight at me. I would finally get to see what a mouse generator looked like. Well, I’ve seen one now and I never want to see one again.

There’s a lot of room under the engine cover. The motor itself is about the size of a soup can. I thought it would be a lot bigger. All of the deck space that wasn’t taken up by the motor was filled with bits of trash, fur, lots of mouse turds and two mummified mice. Yuck. And it was all glued in there somehow. I don’t even want to know what glued it all together. None of it fell out by simply upending the lawn mower. I had to dig it out with a stick, then use the shop vac to get it all out of the cracks and crevices. When I was done, I washed my hands in scalding water, twice.

mummy | 7:38 am CDT
Category: Life & Death, yard work | Tags:
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Saturday, April 18th, 2015

Phrases about working in the garden that sound normal when My Darling B says them but sound dirty when I say them:

  • pruning the sage
  • plowing the potato bed
  • weeding the patch
  • sowing the sweet peas
  • is that a dibble in your pocket?
is that a dibble in your pocket? | 11:06 am CDT
Category: garden, random idiocy, yard work
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Friday, April 17th, 2015

Well, I thought I was ready to do a little yard work today, but I didn’t realize how literally true that would turn out to be. A little was all I could handle after blobbing out on the recliner all winter.

My Darling B wanted the leaves from the front yard to turn them into mulch for her garden, so I thought I’d be a gent and rake them up for her. Turns out raking is hard work. I don’t know how other people make it look so easy. I was popping a sweat in five minutes, but kept at it for another fifteen before I had to take a break to catch my breath and drink a tall glass of cold water. Then I went back out to collect all the leaves I’d raked into a bushel basket and transfer them to the back yard. That was about all I was good for today. Got the leaves from almost half the front yard raked up. Also got a blister on my thumb. Boo-hoo.

blister | 3:15 pm CDT
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Wednesday, December 31st, 2014

Re-hung a door in the basement. This didn’t end well when I tried it once before. It didn’t end entirely well this time, either.

I know, in theory, how to hang a door. I don’t have much in the way of practical experience, though. If I’d kept track of the number of doors I’ve hung, I could probably count them on both hands.

And, as it turns out, the hinge at the top of door I was trying to hang is not attached the way it should be, so the door hangs just cockeyed enough that it grinds against the jamb opposite the hinges when I close it. I’ll have to take the door down again, remove the top hinge, rev up the router and grind down the spot where the hinge goes, so it won’t stick the way it does now.

But not today. Today, I hung the door. I’m done.

hanging offense | 2:16 pm CDT
Category: carpentry, housekeeping, Our Humble O'Bode
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