Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Lawyers and Scientists: When Exactly Do They Leave Their IQs On A Bus?


At the end of last year I was contacted by a lawyer claiming that I had witnessed an accident in front of my house in which a client he was representing was involved.
"Do go on" I said.
"You don't remember it?"
"Not a crash, tinkle or swear word" I replied.
"I'll fax you your statement"

"Now do you remember?"
"Are you sure? It was a pretty bad accident."
"Yeah, judging by what the statement says it was, but I wasn't involved, we get lots of accidents on that particular corner and it was three and a half years ago. The statement looks like it was written by me and the signature looks like mine."
"I need you to come to court and say that."
"Why can't I just swear out an affadavit?"
"I need you in court. We'd transport you to Riverhead."
"Riverhead?" You are talking about me getting up at the crack of dawn and taking a whole day off work!"
"I don't expect it would take all day..."
"I work in Manhattan! Even if this thing only lasts until 11 am, once I've come back from Riverhead and waited for an off-peak train I will maybe get a couple of hours of work in before the end of the day. This is an all-day affair from where I sit."
"We'd reimburse you for your time."
"Oh all right. When is it happening?"

On Monday I get a frantic phone message on my machine. "Mr Stevie, we need are going to trial on the Tuesday after Labour Day" (now exactly 6 and a half days away and over four years from the incident I couldn't remember last year). I call the law firm and opine that it is very short notice and remind them that I can still only swear to the signature being mine. "Is that all?" an incredulous staffer asks. When I again say I don't see why this necessitates a trip to Riverhead, the staffer agrees but tells me that the lawyer is actually in Riverhead impanelling a jury and so will have to get back to me. The staffer claims letters have been sent to me throughout the year too. These have never arrived.

At what point do these people actually start to operate on the same terms as the real world? The one where if it is important to you that a letter be received and read that a follow-up phone call is made. I used to think lawyers were smarter than everyone else. Now I realize that they only have to shine twice in their carreers: during their law-school finals and when they take the bar exams. After that, the brain evapourates it seems. With that - lets go to the scientists, fresh from their dippy Pluto-deplanetisation.


From the Register today: To investigate the hypothesis [that religious experiences all involved a common part of the brain], researchers hooked 15 nuns up to MRI scanners and asked them to recount religious or mystical experiences they had had.
During the retelling, brain activity was monitored and found to increase in up to 12 regions of the brain, including areas normally associated with emotion and self-consciousness...
Lead researcher Dr Mario Beauregard told the Beeb: "Rather than there being one spot that relates to mystical experiences, we've found a number of brain regions are involved.

No, you incredibly dense tw*t, what you have found is that a number of regions of the brain are involved in talking about mystical experiences. You are still in the dark as to what happens during them, brain-wise.

Even Mr Brain could spot the hole in that theory.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Bermuda has its Triangle, our house has the Junction of Death.

I turned into my street yesterday evening, fresh from my painless commute on the LIRR (no unnecessary trips to Great Neck this time) to see flashing red lights in the distance.
"Here we go again" I said to myself. "I wonder if I can get into my own driveway this time".
Then I had a quick flashback to a year last March1 and thought "I wonder if the problem is in the driveway?"

The corner on which my house stands is part of what we call in England a staggered junction, like a cross-roads with one "arm" displaced laterally, and it has some sort of weird genius loci that twists space, distorts perceptions and deactivates the brains of people negotiating it. I sometimes refer to the corner occupied by Chateau Stevie as Dead Man's Corner because we get on average four or five nasty pile-ups there a year. This year we had been lucky in that we had seen no accidents. Until yesterday.

Ignoring the frantic hand signals and explicit language of the harried voluteer fireman trying to get traffic to turn left instead of trying to plough through the wreckage, I turned right into my drive (which was not, as it turned out, the venue for this event after all) and got out to survey the scene. From what I could see, one of the neighbours had been pulling out to make a left turn from the side road that runs along the east side of my property and had been T-boned by a Honda coming down the main stretch outside the front of the house. There were two passengers in each vehicle, but the bone-ee got the worse of the transaction and both the driver and her little girl ended up on stretchers going to the E.R. once they were cut out of what looked like a Ford Tarus.

I'll say this for Ford: They make a sturdy product in the Tarus. It took the firemen about ten minutes to remove the driver's-side door with the Jaws of Life and the Claw of Damage.

Everyone involved seemed to be responsive when they were loaded into the ambulances. I hope this is representative of their general health after this debacle. People go too fast along the main road and don't check carefully enough when emerging onto it. Some road users, oblivious to the supernatural properties of this junction and the malevolent demons infesting it try and help matters by doing things like:

  • Playing their sound systems so loudly that they couldn't possibly hear a horn being blown to warn of an obstruction or hazard
  • Yakking on their cell phones sans hands-free kit
  • Parking along the property line so as to obstruct the line of sight of other drivers (I generally intervene here and request they move their car ten yards around the corner. I generally get told to "Go f--- myself")
  • Stealth techniques such as running after dark with no lights or roller skating on the wrong side of the road while dressed from head to toe in black3

Not sure where I'm going with this, other than a general desire to stop having to watch people being cut out of cars, unfolded from motorcycles or scraped off the road. I once had a conversation with a police officer about the problem during the cleanup of a similar event. The officer opined that people just drove too fast, an oversimplication but essentially true. I said that they should put a radar-activated sign up to show people their speed. The officer replied that such things were hugely unpopular with the property owners. I told her that I was the property owner and would welcome the device since it would cut my phone bills considerably if it worked. I also offered to host a speed camera. I've heard nothing.

Oddly, no-one's airbags had deployed even though the ding in the Ford was indicative of a Honda impacting at roadway speeds.

Oh, and assuming everything happened as it appeared to from the vehicle positions, the Honda had right of way.

1: A little episode we like to call The Day We Tried To Go To Dinner With Friends We Hadn't Seen Since New Year's Eve After A Full Day At I-Con And Ended Up Instead Returning Home To Deal With The Tw*t Who Parked An Osamamobile In2 Our Front Lawn
2: Yes, in
3: That was the time we had a thirteen year old thrown almost over the fence. That kid got an instant lesson on the nature of momentum and against all odds lived to remember it

Monday, August 21, 2006

When The Going Gets Tough, I'm Usually Stuck Somewhere in the Middle


I found a praying mantis on the subway staircase on my way to work on Wednesday. I think these insects are pretty cool, if a tad on the agressive side (a teenytiny baby mantis I found in my barbecue at the start of the outdoor meat-singeing season, all of an inch long, was trying to box with me as I in turn tried to move it to a safer location) and the possibilities for insecticidal stomping of a bright, bilious green insect around four inches long on a black iron staircase were immediately apparent to Mr Brain so we went into conservation mode. I managed to get the mantis to climb on my copy of Analog Science Fiction and Fact (an entirely appropriate vehicle for a bug-eyed, er, bug) and lifted it clear of the subway, intending to deposit it safely on some potted shrubberies about six yards away. It hopped onto the floor and resolutely refused to countenance any further involuntary transportation. I was late for work and wary of picking it up since the Steviefingers are not getting any younger and it would be very easy to damage the poor bugger in the attempt to save it.

So it was that at about 9:20 am on Wednesday morning the citizens of Flatbush, Brooklyn were treated to the sight of an exasperated Stevie yelling "You just can't help some people!" at an insect and storming off. Once at work I discovered something I had not known at the time: the Praying Mantis is a protected species here and there are very stiff fines for killing them (asuming you are caught). I never knew they were rare. I see two to three a year around the Steviemanse.


The day everything that could go wrong, did. In spades. Starting with my keys hiding until about two minutes past the last possible moment I could leave and expect to get my usual striaght-to-Brooklyn train. Then my water bottle leaked into my briefcase and soaked the contents, mostly bills, payslips, bank statements and important mortgage documents but also an antique, or at any rate damned old1 copy of Strategy and Tactics magazine that had somehow, against all odds, escaped the Basement Flood of Biblical Drenching Fiasco two weeks ago. What is it with this August and water-related cock-ups? Then I found I only had a dollar in my wallet and so had to grub for change to pay for my morning coffee. Then I found Microsoft had rebooted my computer and lost my last-minute notes on a job I was doing at close of biz Thursday and lost a good hour trying to remember what my idea was in detail. The usual crap at work, so much so that I missed my train. My fortnightly Dungeons & Dragons manly high-stakes poker game had been scratched so I decided to go to Manhattan2 and use the opportunity to visit The Compleat Strategist, a nifty game store of some renown, and see if I could get some tray boxes for my vintage wargames. In the event of a flood these will offer a bit more resistance than a cardboard box or a manilla envelope methinks. A twenty minute subway ride and a fifteen minute walk across town the wrong way during rush hour and I discovered that the Strategist no longer opens after 6 pm on a Friday. It being 6:10 when I got there it was all a bit infuriating really. Home via a way-overcrowded train to discover another door ding on my car courtesy of some Osamamobile3-driving wuckfit. Magic.


I decided I would not put myself in a holding pattern while Mrs Stevie and the Stevieling got their collective act together and instead opted to zoom around in a blistering blaze of efficiency to get ahead of the game. Approximately two minutes into this bold and daring scheme I encountered a flood in the basement. The surround of the north-east basement window was drenched when I went to open it in order to pump out Mr Wet-Vac and the window well was dripping ominously. I immediately used the whizzo stopcock I installed during the Sprinkler Installation and Stopcock Replacement Plumbing Debacle of Inconvenience (ibid) to deactivate all for'ard sprinklers and deployed a reserve stock of useful swear words I keep around for such occasions.

My dehumidifier isn't as dryingey as those deployed by the insurance company in the aftermath of the Basement Flood of Biblical Drenching Fiasco (aka Domestic Flood Xaviera4) but will do the job with one caveat - the tank leaks when it is about three-quarters full. On those days I can't empty it every three hours or so it doesn't so much dry up the floods as move them around the basement. But mighty Poseidon was discounting the prodigous capabilities of Mr Brain this day. I grabbed a lid of a very large tupperware bin (the bin itself was nowhere to be seen so the lid clearly fell under the provisions of the Stevie-Mrs Stevie Strategic Crap Limitation Talks5 of last week and was up for grabs) and stood the dehumidifier in it. The idea, against all expectations to the contrary, worked like a charm. The lid became a shallow tray and confined the leaks nicely. Thus in a mere 72 hours the basement would dry out. Again.

I grabbed all my shirts and almost made it to the door but the swear words I had deployed upon discovering Domestic Flood Yolanda had roused the rest of the household so I was not able to steal a march on the day, but rather fell behind schedule while buying breakfast for the voracious eating machine that is my family. Actually, I don't mind this usually. There is a point just after her first cup but before she has made significant inroads on her second that my darling wife is quite approachable and chatty. If the waiter at IHOP had served the carrafe before taking our orders as is the usual case all would have gone a lot more smoothly. Still, we managed at first. Then, Mrs Stevie burned her mouth on a crepe and downed two cups of espresso caliente in quick succession and everything went downhill from then on in. The Stevieling and I tried to cheer her up on the drive home with a few rousing verses of our work-in-progress, Ten Million Green Bottles Hanging On The Wall, but during a minor dispute between us over the exact count of bottles left (the Stevieling tends to wander a bit mentally during the refrain) she had one of her 'turns' and we narrowly avoided colliding with a landscaper's truck as she playfully clawed at my eyes. Children really shouldn't have to hear language like that either, but in my defense the sight of the screaming Landscaper looming ten feet from my windshield was a little disconcerting and Mrs Stevie wasn't helping matters. Thank God for seatbelts. Six more inches and I'd have to dress like a pirate.


I had Sunday to myself. Mrs Stevie took the Stevieling and a friend to Manhattan to see a show which meant I was free to do all the things one does when the better half isn't around: Licking everything in the 'fridge, playing 'Underwear Model' with the china cabinet mirror and a hamper of fresh laundry, all the usual stuff. I was expecting her back at nine, which gave me plenty of time to get the honey off the couch, remove the rare collector's edition videotapes from the VCR and return them to their secure storage facility under the stairs, and clean the exploded pizza out of the microwave. At ten I got a call to say that they were still in Manhattan because the car park staff had lost the key to the Mrs Steviemobile. They had somehow started it and deactivated the column lock (I'm not asking how) but Mrs Stevie rightly felt that starting out on a Manhattan to Deer Park journey without a key was fraught with possibilities of the most unpleasant sort. She felt that the management should call in a locksmith and provide a replacement key tootsweet. The hour being late and Mrs Stevie having had a couple of Lattés, it was a foregone conclusion who's view would prevail. It took so long that the car park management bought them all dinner and they also refunded the cost of parking in addition to replacing the key. Mrs Stevie couldn't really complain at that, which was a shame because that meant she had a reservoir of unused agression to work off. I locked myself into the downstairs bedroom to be on the safe side.


This morning I was the only one able to walk in a straight line. The thespians of the household were akin to the chorus line of "Night of the Living Dead".

I made up for my superiority awareness-wise by boarding the wrong train that evening. I decided, having missed my mandatory lunch at lunchtime due to a printer problem, that I would leave a tad early and repeat my attempt to visit The Compleat Strategist. This time I was successful in the visit but unsuccessful in the purchasing of tray-boxes since they apparently don't make 'em any more. Damn 'they'. Anyhoo, I ended up back at Penn Station just in time to board the 6:22 to Ronkonkoma, which was leaving from track 16 that night. Now I used to take that train quite often when I worked in Manhattan, and it always left from track 15 so it was probably stupid of me to allow Mr Brain to go into 'sleep' mode just as I got to the platform, especially since track 16 and track 15 are actually just different sides of the same platform. I think you probably see where this is going. Would that I had, since I inadvertantly wandered onto the 6:20 to Port Washington, a disaster of indescribable proportions for reasons I will now relate.

The Long Island Rail Road is, as I have often said, much like one of those old peace signs, a sort of crowsfoot. The back 'claw is the line from Penn to Jamaica and the three toes represent the South Shore (Babylon), The Ronkonkoma and the North Shore (Port Jefferson) lines. The situation is complicated inasmuch as the Ronkonkoma and Port Jeff lines share trackage as far as Hicksville and there are branches at Jamaica for Far Rockaway and Mineola5 for Oyster Bay but we can usually ignore them for clarity. But there is a branch so evil, so insidious in its construction that those not forced to ride it never speak of it. It is the Branche Thatte Shoulde Notte Bee. I speak, of course, of the Port Washington Branch.

The designers of this line felt that since everyone had plumped for a common interchange at Jamaica they should do the obvious thing and route to avoid it at all costs. The only station it shares with the other lines is Woodside, which lies a stones throw6 from the tunnel7 exit. Once I became cognisant of the problem (two nanoseconds after the train lurched into motion) I formulated a plan to disembark at Woodside, return to Penn either by LIRR train or, failing that, the subway and re-attempt to commute from that point. This plan survived contact with the LIRR for about 5 seconds (not bad really) when it was announced that the first stop was to be Great Neck. At this point Mr Brain suddenly flooded my mind with an experience I had long blotted out of my concious memory, that of a previous error of this very type, and of an interminable wait in Gambrel-Roofed™ Great Neck for a train going West with nothing to do but watch the poison ivy grow and avoid the occasional walking dead. I immediately called Mrs Stevie to tell her I would be late home. Mrs Stevie, who was tired but irritable after a long day dealing with difficult people on too little sleep suggested she should pick me up and I (knowing what was good for my health) said that would be wonderful. And so we rendezvoused, and I drove her as far as my own car while she explained just how bad her day had been, which put mine in perspective.

Great Neck isn't a bad town really, it just suffers from having a road system designed by someone who learned urban planning by playing Sim City. Most of the rich people who live on Long Island have homes in this part of the island as well as the Hamptons, and if one were in a celebrity spotting mode one might expect to cop a clandestine shot of Billy Joel or Rod Stewart while searching for exactly the right sort of restaurant (Great Neck appears to have three specialist restaurants per capita). Unfortunately, during my wait I only saw their gardeners, although it has been said that I am about as observant as a brick under most circumstances so I may have been reading a menu as Robin Wiliams strolled by and never noticed.

1: 25 years old to the month to be precise.
2: If I miss the 6:04 I either have to change at Jamaica or go to Penn Station via subway. Since the Jamaica trains I change to start at Penn and are usually full to bursting by the time they get to Queens, this is usually a no-brainer
3: What I've been calling SUVs for the last 5 years. Why is it that the bigger the car, the smaller the brain?
4: Yes, I have decided to use the same scheme as we use for hurricanes, on account of I'm having a mean time between indoor innundations of approximately three minutes twenty-two seconds this year. Our family crest now features a dolphin rampant surrounded by a wreath of mildew.
5: Not as one might think a brand of treadle-operated player spinnet pianos but the former home of Waterloo Games and the current home of Willis Hobbies and Dover Publications, all important at one time or another in the Stevie canon.
6: Literally on some restless nights when passions rise high. A sojourn here is not to be countenanced after rush hour subsides.
7: The one under the East River. Keep up!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

I Miss SPI, Avalon Hill et al

Until I came to the USA I was a rabid consumer of board games and wargames, especially the products of Simulations Publications International, Avalon Hill and Task Force Games. In those days there was a hard core of gamers who didn't find the idea of a few pages of complex rules daunting and I had a lot of fun buggering about in the trenches of France in 1917, the plains of Russia in '43, the open bled of Arrakis in 10,000 someodd and Rome during Augustus Ceasar's reign.

I got a very special rush from opening the box of a new game and punching the counters. Lots and lots of counters. The typical count for an SPI game was 200 counters. Some games had as few as a couple of dozen. Didn't matter. The anticipation of the new game and how it would play with my steady group of co-players was a special pleasure that I haven't felt for a very long time, on account of how it is bloody near impossible to scare up players for anything these days. No-one wants to put in the effort any more.

Favourites that lie sitting on my bookshelves include

  • Diplomacy - The people I have persuaded to try this can't separate game play from real life and end up not speaking to each other afterwards. Baffling
  • Civilisation - Almost plays itself but can I get people to play? Can I buggery
  • Circus Maximus - Ben Hur on your tabletop. This little beauty was so popular when it was produced that I had to allow players to book future games but now?
  • Machiavelli - some call this a Diplomacy variant. Another screamingly popular number in 1981, no-one now wants to try it out
  • Star Fleet Battles - Star Trek on a paper map. This game was the most popular board game at the Lanchester Polytechnic Game Society for two years. I know because they used my copy for the first four months or so. Now, the arithmetic is too hard for people
  • Dune - a wonderful game of intrigue and underhanded backstabbing that no-one plays any more
  • Kingmaker - the ultimate in easy-to-learn fun games. Needless to say, no-one will try it out here
  • Imperial Governors - a six-player game set around the Med in the late bronze/early iron age that pits half a dozen kingdoms against each other in a light-hearted framework. So poular that at Games Day 80 both the Saturday and Sunday participation games with the designer were booked solid within 15 minutes of the doors opening. Dead easy to play. But isn't the subject about history? History is boring
Games lying in my basement due to my certain knowledge of not having a snowball's chance in hell of getting an opponent to play include
  • Star Soldier - a great tactical game of squad-vs-squad in the far future. The rulebook is 25 pages long. Nuff said
  • Starforce Alpha Centuri - Tactical starship combat on a 3D map. 3D? Too hard
  • Outreach - strategic level game of galactic exploration and civilisation building. Takes several hours to play so...
  • Global War - WWII in a box. World War What?
  • Submarine - Fabulous simulation of WWII submarine actions. Who would want to waste time on that? No-one apparently
  • Triplanetary - nice little vector-driven space thing playable with some chinagraph pencils in about an hour or so. Vectors? Isn't that math?
  • About a dozen simulation games encompassing everything from sea battles between the American colonial forces and the British Royal Navy to proposed actions in the Fulda Gap in the 1990's. Too 'army'
Azathoth, the only games I can scare up are very rare games of Risk these days. Everyone is too busy playing World of Warcraft on their PCs it seems.

I dunno why things have got to the state they are. Gaming people complain constantly about the high-cost and lack of "realism" in the hugely popular Games Workshop figure-based games yet cannot be persuaded to try anything else. Trying to explain that even though there are 8 pages of rules that the case-based system means you can learn them as you play cuts no ice with the new crop of wunderkinder. No attention span.

Some have blamed the advent of Role-Playing games for the death of the board game market. Role-playing games are fun but take up as much if not more time as any of the evening-length board games and often offer much less bang for the buck, experience-wise. I've probably spent as much if not more on Call of Cthulhu (a role playing agme I started running in 1981) than on all my other Avalon Hill, SPI and TFG games combined, and getting a game of that started involves me personally in much more work than any of those other games. Besides, we also played Call of Cthulhu, Traveller and Villains and Vigillantes in the same group that played Junta, Dune and Star Fleet Battles.

There's a product that allows two people to play an SPI type game over the web but a big part of the experience for me is the face-to-face nature of the games themselves. The out of game chat (something that can ruin a Role Playing session) is part of why I did it.

It's dead annoying.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

If You Can't Stand The Heat, Don't Flood The House Then Get The Insurance Company To Call These Guys

The HDE's finally declared la Maison Stevie to be moisture free this morning and switched off their fans and dehumidifiers prior to removing them. I immediately opened all the windows and the back door and was pinned to the screendoor as a swash of superheated air burst from the kitchen, followed by a cooling mistral as the house resyncronized it's internal weather system with that outside.

All my mouldings have come off the walls on account of the glue being superheated and dessicated and the mouldings themselves changing dimensions as any hint of moisture was torn from their molecular lattice. My latest copy of Asimov's Magazine has delaminated into individual pages since the inside temperature long ago exceeded the melting point of the binding glue. On the plus side, no mould.

It is quite novel now to turn on the cold tap and actually get cold water from it. For the last four days the pipes have been so warm the water needed to run for several seconds before it was cool. Even the drinking water faucet was compromised since the filter cylinder represents a hefty thermal reservoir. Pouring water over ice often resulted in icy shrapnel exploding from the glass and the simple act of taking medications required laboratory grade safety glasses. I almost miss the howling gale produced by the fans that meant anything lighter than your average DVD had to be anchored down with a DVD or be blown all over the house a-la tumbleweed.

All that remains to be done before we get in the builders is to clean up all the cacti and cattle skulls dotting the living room.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Boiling My Bottom at La Chateau Stevie

So, the insurance compay sent round some house disaster recovery specialists who poked the walls, celings and floors with a thing that looked like a cattle prod and swept them with a thing that looked like a stud-finder and declared that everything was dry as a bone. Then they remembered to switch their sensors on, repeated the process and declared that everything was wringing wet.
"No kiddng?" sezzeye.
So the expert house dryers deployed four huge "high grain refridgerant" deumidifiers and four hurricane strength portable wind machines and left saying "keep them turned on and the windows closed until we call again later next week".

Well, it's been two days and I've noticed the following side effects of this plan:

  1. no-one can hear what anyone else is saying even if they are shrieking so hard their Starbuck's Extra-large Mug O'Triple Espresso is sloshing everywhere
  2. It is 97 degrees F outside. It is 102 inside
  3. My skin is so dry I'm starting to look like Joan Rivers
  4. The gale force wind howling into the downstairs bathroom causes the toilet paper to self-deploy all over the bathroom unless you jam the roll with a broomhandle
The upstairs bathroom turned out to have two layers of sheet rock per wall, being constructed "Gennaro fashion1". The house drying experts (HDEs) demanded the right to pull down one layer. I said they could do what they had to since the rest of the bathroom was such a write-off. The floor tiles all came off the plywood subfloor, which delaminated and is now like a big springy wooden book. The commode has come adrift from its seal on the floor, and some of that seal broke away and ended up in the downstairs bathroom. This is now an ex-bathroom.

Just when I thought things had reached rock bottom, my UPS2 suddenly reconfigured itself into an IPS3 and began powering my computer down unexpectedly.

Life sucks.


On Friday evening, as I was driving to my bi-monthly Dungeons and Dragons manly high stakes poker game, I was listening to "In The Court of the Crimson King", the first King Crimson album and a perenial favourite of mine. As the band hit the jam in the middle of "21st Century Schizoid Man" I looked out of the side window of my car and noticed that the pink clouds and blue sky mimicked, to my mind exactly, the pink of the face and the blue of the background from the inside cover art of the album and a feeling of rightness, of something completed settled over me. Funny thing, life.

You take the flint nodule in your hands and examine it carefully. You turn it just so and strike it with the deer antler you shaped specially for the task, and a flake of glasslike rock shears off and lands in the grass a few inches away. You pick it up very carefully, minding your fingers and give it the once over. It is good, but not great, destined to be a skinning knife, but when you look back at the surface the shard came from, you can see that the next flake will be a perfect arrowhead.

There are two great satisfactions in life: one comes from things you do with your own hands and brain, the other from things that are. Your lover's face as she/he lies asleep. Your lover's reaction to your touch.

Life is good.

1: See Mother's Day Job, posted ages ago.
2: Uninterrupable Power Supply
3: Interrupting Power Supply

Thursday, August 03, 2006

It's Always Darkest Before LIPA Fixes The Bloody Transmission Lines

The house is still wringing wet, as my sense of smell informed me when I entered it last night at around 7:15pm. Mrs Stevie and I decided we would eat out after setting up various fans and a dehumidifier, putting another load of washed clothes in the dryer and moving a shovelful of soaked ones from the laundry room floor to the washing machine and setting everything in motion.When we returned at about 8:45pm the house was in darkness. A quick check proved that yes, LIPA1 had decided to get in on the Plumbing Fiasco of Mildewing by preventing us running any sort of heat and damp mitigating appliances.

We decided to pick up the Stevieling and deal with the issue of whether to get a motel room or tough it out. Mrs Stevie called LIPA and spent a pleasant 25 minutes in their Humanless Problem Reporting Bot of Uselessness. They said it would all be fixed "by 10:30 or 11:30". I took that to mean 12 to 1am and we decided to tough it out, first of all in the swimming pool and then in the coolest room in the house. No sooner did I pull the solar cover off the pool but I got a call from LIPA's jaunty Robot of Glad Tidings.
"We understand that your power is now on. If this is true, press 1. If this is not true, press 2." I peered at the keyboard by the light of a Coleman lamp and pressed "2".
"We now understand that your power has not been restored. We appologise for the delay in service". And that was the last I heard from the stupid buggers.

Mrs Stevie and the Stevieling decided to turn in, but I couldn't take the heat inside. I opened every window and the back door to try and get a breeze in, but the air was dead still (of course). I was about to kip down on the sofa when it occured to me that we could all be murdered in our beds by some fiend cutting through the screen door. The answer was obvious. I would sleep in Mrs Stevie's outdoor recliner direclty in front of the door and block access to my loved ones using my body. In deference to Mrs Stevie's views on impromptu naturism2 I donned clean underpants before exiting the house and spent 3½ hours trying to sleep under the stars. I almost had the trick down pat when the power finally came back on, around 3:30am. I quickly decamped to the front bedroom with the others and set the small airconditioner on "Preserve Fresh Meat". Thus do I arrive at work refreshed and rested after the hottest night of this year so far. Well, if you can call 3 hours of sleep "rested", which I can't.

When LIPA was formed to replace LILCO3 it was on the grounds that LILCO was screwing up and overcharging. First order of business was to give the outgoing CEO a $48 million payoff for all his good work. Next was to screw around with the service calling, formerly so easy it almost worked itself, and make it "more efficient" (br reducing the incidence of actual service calls made). Third order of business was to raise the electricity rates significantly. So much for LILCO's overcharging. Fourth order of business was to replace the humans in the call center, who had the singular advantage of being able to write down the F*&^%ing street where the problem was with an automated one that "figures the problem out" from the home phone number you supply around 5 minutes into the voyage of discovery when you call the bleeding thing. Christ! This is supposed to be the most cosmopolitan town, in the most cosmopolitan country in the world. They can't even get a simple job like ensuring the power infrastructure can cope with expected and predicted demand in the summer. In reality, most NY utilities (such as Con-Ed, LIPA, Keyspan4 and the Long Island Rail Road to name but four) couldn't organise a decent piss-up in a brewery or get you laid in a cat-house. This city never sleeps? It's been comatose for so long someone should pull the plug and put it out of its misery.

1: Long Island Power Authority
2: See the hose incident from Monday
3: Long Island Lighting Company.
4: The Gas service that took over that part of LILCO's operation.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

When I'm Wrung Dry, I'll Stop Awhile And Think Of You

Yesterday, in the deep, dark, early morning of 3:30 am or thereabouts, I awoke to the sound of pouring water, and thought sleepily that there was nothing nicer than the sound of torrential rain when one is snug and cosy inside. The weather has been building to intolerable levels of heat and humidity in New York and a good thunderstorm was exactly what the doctor ordered for a cooler, saner week.

Then the thought came that the water sounded as though it was pooling somewhere close by, to a depth of not less than a few inches judging by the sound. Moreover, it sounded as though it was coming from the direction of the bathroom rather than from over my shoulder (the direction of "outside" at that moment). I began to suspect my wife had left the bathroom window open and that the rain was being blown inside the house, and so I got up and made my way to the hallway where the sound of the water was much louder and nearer and the hall lights didn't work. An ugly suspicion formed in Mr Brain.

I stepped into the pitch dark bathroom and was greeted by a refreshing cascade of lukewarm water rushing in great torrents from the drop ceiling and pooling to about three inches on the bathroom floor. I ran upstairs. Sure enough the carpets were soaked and when I entered the bathroom there I could hear the sound of high-pressure water spraying from under the sink. I opened the vanity and was greeted by a facefull of water. Having discerned the location of the leak I ran down to the basement (now a delightful wading pool for children of all ages) and shut off the water supply. I couldn't budge the local shut off valves (or risers) under the sink as they had frozen solid sometime in the late Permian so went in search of the valves to isolate the upstairs water supply from the downstairs one, only to find that Mrs Stevie had walled off the access to the service corridor behind the laundry room with a formidable wall o'crap. I managed to relocate that and waded to the control valves. The handwheels were positioned for maximum challenge in amongst pipework remeniscent of a Mousetrap Game and wouldn't budge. I went back for Mr Stilson's pipe wrench and finally managed to shut off the upstairs water supply so I could turn the downstairs one back on again and begin manning the pumps.

Deciding that the job was a little much for my trusty Shop Vac (normally the first line of water removal ops) I deployed Mr Submersible Pump. Normally, I pump out the Shop Vac using this and run a hose out to the King Crimson Maple at the property's southeast corner, so I opened the basement window and pulled on the hose, which obliged me by refusing to enter the basement any further than about five feet.

Heaving a sigh and a few swear words I de-alarmed the house and went into the garden with a flashlight to uproot the hose, which had become bedded in the lawn over the last few weeks. When I entered the house I ran into Mrs Stevie who became agitated over my state of dress. Thus I was forced to suspend vital getting-the-water-outside-the-house ops to defend my decision not to pause to don clothing for an EVA into my own well-fenced back garden at 3:45 am (well before dawn).
"You can't walk around the yard in the nude!" she yelled.
"I have other priorities than finding appropriate digging up a hosepipe in the pitch dark attire!" I wittily responded.
"What about the neighbours?" She snarled.
"The neighbours have a perfectly good yard of their own should they wish to partake in the new fad of midnight togs-off garden appliance rearrangement. That being said, if they wish to stroll around mine au naturel they are welcome provided they agree to help drain the basement of the floodwaters" I responded and went below to do just that.

I won't go into tedious detail of how much valuable and irreplaceable (largely paper-based) stuff was lost despite being placed on shelves high off the floor (who knew the water would come from above and run latterally for several feet before descending?). I won't detail the part where I went into the laundry room, badly overcrowded with clothing no-one wears any more and the subject of many Stevierants on the value of walling up closets so we can't get to them with stuff we don't need, only to have an overloaded shelf full of towels with a nice display of shirts hung underneath (now soaking wet and ten times their dry weight) tear out of the wall and nearly crush me. I won't detail the bit where I poked the ceiling light fixture of the downstairs bathroom with a finger and it shattered, slashing my hand quite nastily and releasing another ten gallons of water to the floor. I won't even detail the part where it got bad.

I took the day off work and after grabbing an hour's sleep started to clear up the damage at 7 am. I ran flying leads to the laundry room so I could run the washer and dryer, since the electricity supply was still tripping the GFI (I suspect a light fitting was full of water). I still didn't know exactly what had blown upstairs1, so ran to home depot and bought a new faucet and flexible couplings, which I installed with much cursing only to find the bloody tap leaked so I had to pull it out and replace it again. At 4:30 I had managed to get the upstairs water turned back on and was busy clearing out the detritus from the downstairs tub so it could be brought back into action. This was when Mrs Stevie rang to tell me that we were going to have to meet the park-and-ride for the Stevieling's gala performance at 6, but that her brother was due chez moi at 5 and that I should "finish getting ready". It was 4:30 and I had just discovered that the tub wasn't draining due to a pre-flood problem no-one had thought to mention (I do not use this tub; it ia a "girls only" one reserved for Mrs Stevie and the Stevieling). Since she was interrupting vital plunger operations I had less diplomacy in me than Hezbolla and I snarled "Who's getting ready? What in God's name do you think I've been doing all day?" into my cell phone and she hung up. After that it was the matter of 15 minutes to nip upstairs, make three trips to what was left of the laundry room with wet towels used to mop the floor by Mrs Stevie and left there for me to find, pick up as much of the remains of the vanity as I could (chipboard does not handle soaking well) and get a shower before everyone started arriving home.

I reckon I've got Frank Lloyd Wright beat. His water fell oustide the house. Mine washed through it. I dub Chateau Stevie "Fallinghotwater".

1: Turns out the flexible coupling for the hot water supply had burst. Thus, not only shall I be paying for the water, but also for the gas needed to heat it. Doubtless it has also taken 5 years off the life of the water heater too.