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!

No comments: