Saturday, June 25, 2005

Houston We Had A Problem

Ok, here’s a travel tip for one and all…if you are supposed to catch a plane at 7:45 and your friend is picking you up to leave for the airport at 6:00 it is usually a bad idea to decide to start watering all the flowers in your backyard at 5:55.

This is an even worse idea when you aren’t 100% finished packing for the trip…

Thus began Eric and my vacation this year, a little journey I like to call “Houston, We Have A Problem.”

In any case, after I finally realized that Eric was pounding on the front door with all his might, I quickly let him in, threw the rest of my stuff in my suitcase, and we got started for the airport a mere 37 minutes behind schedule.

And, interestingly enough, after we found out our flight was delayed and we settled in for a long night of vodka-drinking and card playing, it only took about 37 minutes for the first offended bystander to move away from us.

Undaunted, we pressed on.

Then, when we finally got on the plane, I spent approximately 37 minutes explaining to Eric all the different way death by plane could occur.

Undaunted, he drank on.

In any case, once we were safely on the ground in Houston, we stayed with our friends Brett and Rhoda and their adorable cow, Esau. Interestingly, they kept referring to Esau as a dog but since we all know dogs must be able to be carried under one arm or stuffed in your purse, I can only conclude this near 100 pound beast must have been a cow. A friendly, really cute, well-trained cow but a cow none-the-less.

We had a great time with all of them…although some of you may pity Brett since he spent an unbelievable amount of time driving Eric and I around Houston. He even agreed to take us an hour away to the National Museum of Funeral History.

And believe it or not, there wasn’t a huge crowd at this museum…we didn’t have to stand in line or anything! We got right in and were immediately to peruse the GIFT SHOP which featured items like “Death Salsa” and “Chocolate Coffins” and T-Shirts that read “Any day above ground is a good day.”

You know, it’s a little challenging to discover a place that I find too tacky for words but this place definitely qualified…although that didn’t stop us from hysterically giggling as we pointed out typing in the different displays and taking a few photos of questionable taste.

NASA was the next stop in our little journey (from death to the moon in one day!) but we decided that we needed some liquid refreshment before going any further so we tried to find any place that sold vodka.

This, unbelievably, was a much more difficult task than one might imagine.

Eric and I kept pointing out little gas stations etc to Brett (I’m sure THAT wasn’t annoying at all) but none of them carried package liquor. You could buy individual cold cans of beer but no vodka, what’s that about? Even the skeevy little gas station in the hood that we stopped at only had beer.

It’s interesting to note that I didn’t even realize we were in the hood until I offered to walk from the gas station to the grocery store down the street and Brett suggested it would be safer to get in the car. Apparently any place with an unlicensed portable taco stand outside is a little “sketchy.”

The “safe” place we stopped at next had bars on the window…I have a feeling I wouldn’t survive long on my own in Houston.

In any case, once properly fortified, we headed on to NASA. The first thing we did there was take a tour of the astronaut training facility…actually, the first thing we did was get in line to take a tour. A line which was moving slower than a turtle on valium because everyone had to stop and have their picture taking before going on one of the tours. According to the signs, this was for security reasons.

Which made me decide that if the only thing standing between me and a terrorist attack is a cheesy picture of Eric, Brett and I in front of an even cheesier space background, I should pack up some survival gear and head for Montana because this country is DOOMED.

Then, they sold these security photos at the end of the tour for twenty bucks apiece…wouldn’t a terrorist just BUY his photo back if he wanted to be undetected?

Anyway, it is also interesting to note that Eric had an absolute fit about the wastefulness of this yet was the first to say “Hey, aren‘t we going to buy that?” at the end of the tour.

As far as the tour itself, there were three options: Red, White, or Blue. The Red and Blue lines were insanely long and required an hour to hour and a half wait. The White tour was ready for immediate boarding.

Probably because I could have done the White tour with my parents’ Suburban and a VCR--a little fact that I pointed out six or seven times while on the white tour (of course we weren’t waiting in some hour long line, we were on VACATION!).

The White Tour would probably have been more interesting during the week when they were actually training astronauts at the astronaut training facility. As it was we got to see a bunch of empty rooms and an empty swimming pool that was forty feet deep…which, of course, inspired me to try to incite the other tour members to join in a rousing game of Marco Polo.

Sadly, I had no takers.

Nor was I allowed to see, try-out, or sneak my way into an anti-gravity chamber.

The disappointment is still overwhelming.In any case, we also tried out a space shuttle landing simulator (Eric ended up going so far off course the machine told him he was in a place no man had ever been before. This, from the man giving me airplane advice!), went to the zoo, playing cards, hung out with Brett and Rhoda and generally had a great time. However, this is getting pretty long so I will just end by saying, we had a great time, we’re glad to be back, and we’re still concerned about the security standards in the US.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Not so Neighborly

You know, I have been so caught up in the trials and tribulations of my darling students this year, I had almost forgotten the sublime joy to be found in witnessing a little redneck squabble.
Luckily, though, a fine specimen of the redneck tribe has moved into the house behind mine and, I feel confident, will be providing much entertainment in the months to come.

My first evidence of this was this morning’s comedic episode.

I was out in my backyard, putting up a special anti-squirrel birdfeeder (a trickier task than I realized when I first began) when I heard the unmistakable rumblings of an imminent brawl.
“F*** this!” The woman screamed. “F*** this, and f*** you, and give me back my f***ing Visa. I know you f***ing stole it from my f***ing purse, you hear me, you f***ing thief?”

Since I live a few doors down and I had no trouble distinguishing every beautiful word, I’m pretty sure the f***ing thief heard her loud and clear. Unfortunately, I couldn’t hear his reply but I’m pretty sure it was equally as insulting since about thirty seconds later, a large amount of male clothing was flung out of the back door into the yard.

Clothing that, at the time of this writing, is still decorating their pitiful excuse for a lawn.

The clothing was followed by a furious man who stomped out the door and stormed over to his car (a decidedly un-redneck looking vehicle that I made a mental note to avoid in the future.)

In any case, as the guy was storming out, the woman came skipping around from the front of the house.

Yes, skipping.

Skipping and chanting “You’re not leaving without me!” in a little girl voice that was disturbing on a lot of levels.

If you are thinking that it sounds like the woman had been perhaps been imbibing an alcoholic beverage or two, I would have to say that you are one hundred percent correct. While I am never one to judge (ha ha), I would like to point out the following things that I found disturbing:

A. It was NINE-THIRTY in the morning. I mean, seriously! Who, other than a RAGING ALCOHOLIC is so drunk at NINE-THIRTY that they skip around the yard? (I considered leaning over my fence and sharing this little tidbit but my expertise at Conflict Mediation led me to believe it might have been counter-productive.)

B. The woman outweighs me by an easy fifty pounds yet had no trouble skipping around in Daisy Duke shorts that I couldn’t have gotten on my left leg. In addition, she was wearing a tank top that would have been snug on my five-year-old niece.

For those of you who remember the horrible years that I lived in Cincinnati, let me assure you, the sight was frighteningly reminiscent of the obese alcoholic who set my apartment building on fire and had to be dragged out bare-ass naked.

Anyway, the woman continued skipping around, blocking the man’s exit, at which point he threatened to call the police.

Which, of course, started the oh-so entertaining back and forth repartee that consisted of “You can’t call the police, I’m calling the police! No, I am! No, I am!”

I considered yelling “If you don’t shut up, I’M CALLING THE POLICE, YOU RIDICULOUS REDNECKS!” but again decided it would be counter-productive. After all, I didn’t want to give the two of them a common enemy upon whom to vent their drunken rage.

As the neighborhood expert in Conflict Mediation I, of course, also considered popping over the fence and offering my services but before I could react, the drunken woman pushed the old man out of the way, flung herself in the car, and locked him out.

Ahhh, sweet victory.

I honestly have no idea how long she stayed in the car because as soon as the man started beating on the window in a rage, my ridiculous animal woke up and his finely honed guard dog skills kicked in, which caused him to start barking at the top of his tiny little lungs.
This, of course, threw both the drunks a little off. The man actually jumped a foot and began looking all around for some vicious killer dog.

At which point, I was completely overcome by a bout of hysterical laughter. And since I doubted the rednecks were in the mood to appreciate humor at their own expense, I grabbed my little mongrel and fled to the house.

So, as I said, I don’t know who finally won the Battle of the Buick. All I know for sure is that the car is gone, the clothes are still in the yard, and this is probably not the last I’ll hear from these fabulous new neighbors.

Thursday, March 3, 2005

Wildlife in the Walls

Wildlife in the Walls…Part 2
While some of you have been busy mocking my pain, greeting my critter conundrum with a cacophony of catcalls and caustic comments—not to mention a plethora of pitiful pictures—others have been kind enough in express sympathy for my situation and inquire about all the ways I’ve been battling the burrowing beast.
This update is for you.
To be honest, dealing with the monster has not been easy.  Especially since I spent the weekend making one of the classic blunders.  Yes, once again I decided to do research on the Internet.  This is not something that ever turns out well.  The Internet is not, surprisingly enough, filled with stories of how the sweet cuddly raccoon inadvertently found its way into the wall and then, once it realized its mistake, wandered out again.
The Internet is filled with information like “can grow up to 30 pounds” or “distantly related to BEARS” or “vicious when cornered” or my personal favorite “common rabies-carrier.”
Then I came upon an article from August 2006 in USA Today that was titled (I swear this is true!):
Psycho Killer Raccoons Terrorize Olympia
That’s when I decided to stop researching on the Internet…largely due to the fact that it is difficult to do research on the Internet while imagining psycho killer raccoons lurking in my walls, waiting to pounce on me in my sleep and rip out my throat.
Do you get the feeling that I didn’t get an incredible amount of sleep this weekend?  Well, you’re right.  I didn’t.
Which is annoying because I usually have no trouble sleeping.  I usually sleep like a freaking baby. I sleep like the dead.  I can sleep through thunderstorms, tornado warnings, phone calls… I can even sleep through small dogs barking and whining and burying things in my bed.
But I can’t sleep through the sounds – real or imaginary—of raccoons in the walls.
And you know what else?
I don’t handle sleep deprivation well…a fact well evidenced by my recent trip to Ace Hardware to buy spackle.  See, when I was in mid search for the rotten raccoons, I noticed that there was a hole in the drywall above the fireplace.  And since this is the same wall where the raccoon first made its presence known, I thought I should close it up before it forced its way into the main part of my home (how the raccoon was going to squeeze its 30 pound body through a dime-sized hole is unclear, even to me, but that didn’t stop me from working up a pretty good panic about it).  So off I went to Ace Hardware and some spackle.
Except in my exhaustion, I couldn’t remember the word spackle.  So I went to the front checkout, said I had a hole in the wall and then started a full blown game of charades in which I acted out my version of spackling.
It was pretty impressive, let me assure you.
The clerk, oddly unimpressed, raised her eyebrows and said “Spackle?”  in that voice most people save for retarded children.
“Spackle!”  I agreed.
And suddenly, inexplicably fell in love with the word spackle and began repeating it over and over.  Different tones, different inflections, even a few different accents.  In fact, I had just started rhyming it with other words—I’d really like to tackle the spackle—when the clerk said “AISLE ONE!”  like I was some sort of dangerous lunatic.
Unfazed, I went over, grabbed the spackle (so fast I could hear the wrapper crackle!) and returned to the cash register.
At this point I kind of started to realize how weird this poor woman probably thought I was and I decided to explain.  I meant to say something like “Please excuse my strange behavior but I’m really tired.  In addition, I’ve been under a great deal of strain because a wild raccoon has dug its way into my walls and is now possibly living in the attic.”
Instead, I looked the woman dead in the eye and said “I have a raccoon.”
That’s it.
Just “I have a raccoon.”
Like I had it in my purse or something….which is probably why she said “OK, then.” And practically threw my bag of spackle at me before hurrying to the other end of the store.
In any case, I went home, tackled the spackle then set about trying to convince the raccoon that my home is not a wild life refuge.
How does one do this, you might ask?  Well, I could have gotten the exterminator guy back in here with his traps but I didn’t want to do that because:
A.                 The guy actually suggested I stick my hand in a wild raccoon hole
B.                 They kill the poor thing and that messes up my karma.
C.                 They charge something like $400 for 3 days of traps WHETHER THEY CATCH THE DAMN THING OR NOT.
Call me cheap, but I thought I’d see if I could handle this by myself.  So, I tried to figure out where the monster has made its home and then basically flooded the area with light and sound.  So, I have spent the past few days with every light in the house on, the patio light shining on the hole, the radio playing at full volume while I beat a broom handle on the walls and the attic door and all the vents and the hole itself.
I don’t know how the raccoon felt but I can assure you that there are a few small dogs who wish they lived somewhere else.
It is interesting to note that when I mentioned my little adventures around the raccoon hole at work this week my friend and colleague Denise Fischer said (and this IS a direct quote):  “You should pee on it.”
Like I’m going to go outside and urinate all over the yard.  THEY ARREST PEOPLE FOR THAT, DENISE!
Anyway, in the midst of all this, I realized that unless I actually saw the raccoon leave, I would have no way of knowing for sure if I had scared the little monster off.  So in a flash of brilliance I decided to cover the hole with plastic.  If the plastic got ripped through, I would know the rotten little monster was still running in and out of the house.  If it remained intact, I'd know I was safe.  However that little chore isn't as easy as it sounds because every time I heard so much as a leaf blow across the sidewalk, I freaked out and jumped about a foot in the air, preparing to fend off a psycho killer raccoon attack.
And you know what I realized when I finished?
Nothing says class like duct tape.
Anyway, the long and the short of it is that even without resorting to indecent exposure and public urination, it looks as if the beast has left.  The plastic has been undisturbed and today my handyman came over, ripped out all the old siding and insulation, and actually found the nest.
And you know what he said?  “Wow, was it big!”  Convincing me that I not only had a psycho killer raccoon living in the walls but it was some sort of mutant freak hulk sized raccoon to boot.
I’m lucky to be alive.
Anyway, the handyman is now sealing every possible crevice in the building and I should be raccoon free from this point on.

Tuesday, March 1, 2005

WIldlife in the Walls

So, as many of you know, I have been battling the woodland creatures that have decided to make their home in my home.  I initially thought they were in the chimney but after hysterical investigation (not at all helped by the mongrel hounds) I realized the chimney was vermin free.  The vermin, you see, were actually in the walls.
Which gave me horrible images of that stupid yet disturbing movie The People Under The Stairs with the bizarre incestuous brother and sister and all the kids trapped in the walls.
In any case, I thought I had finally gotten rid of the evil beasts a week or so ago when I had all the siding ripped off one side of the house and completely replaced.
I had, you see, misunderstood the tenacity and inherent malevolence of the woodland fiends.
See, yesterday morning I heard them scrabbling about on the other side of the fireplace…chittering and chattering to each other, scratching on the wall and otherwise freaking me and the mongrels out.
Though in a noble effort to keep the house from becoming a paradise for parasites and other pernicious pests, Peek ran across the room and began clawing at the wall, barking and otherwise threatening the creatures.
The creatures were not, unfortunately, impressed.  In fact, I’m pretty sure I could hear them in the wall, laughing and taunting us without mercy.
And then, when I took a quick look outside to see if I could figure out what was going on, I noticed a huge hole in the side of my house.
Like almost 10 inches high and 4 inches across with insulation and other housing materials hanging out.
Like some horrible wild animal had clawed its way inside.
So, I grabbed my flashlight, went outside, peered inside then reached in the hole and---
Yah, right.  I stuck my hand in the hole.  I reached inside a wild animal’s lair and started fishing around.  That’s what I did.  Then I drove down to East St. Louis, stripped naked and began walking around screaming racial slurs. 
You know me, I just like to live on the edge.
However, it is interesting to note that last night when the vermin removal specialist arrived and looked at the hole, that’s exactly what he asked.  “Did you try reaching inside?”  He asked.
“No,” I replied.  “I was going to but I didn’t want to put down my crack pipe.”
At which point he made a lot of observations that I would like to categorize as HIGHLY DISTURBING.  For example:
1.      I’m not sure what it is but it’s definitely big.
2.      Look at those claw marks!
3.      Wow, that’s really gotta be big.
4.      I’ve just never seen anything like it.
5.      It could be a raccoon or a possum but it has to be a big one.
6.      Seems like there’s gotta be more than one in there…maybe a mama and some babies.
7.      Boy, I hope it’s not a mama raccoon; they sure are mean when they’re protecting their babies.
8.      I mean, we are talking about a BIG animal here.
Which is when I pretty much begged him to stop talking.
The most disturbing thing he said was that although he’s sure he can trap the beast, due to state laws about dealing with dangerous animals, he can’t come back with traps until Monday.
Yes, he actually said the words DANGEROUS ANIMALS.
A phrase I’m pretty sure he regretted almost immediately since I started saying things like “Are you trying to make me cry here?  Because I have no trouble crying, if that’s what you’re after.”
Judging by the fervency of his apology, that’s not what he was after.
He did come in and investigate the fireplace and the rest of the house to make sure there was no access for the animals but if I were you people, I would plan on hysterical phone calls and long winded complaints from me for the rest of the weekend.
Be afraid.