Monday, September 17, 2007

My Neighbours Killed My Grass (Or Watched While Someone Else Did)

Another week, followed by another weekend. What fun.

On Saturday I discovered that the people who had dumped a tire at the side of my house while we were in Philadelphia, on my little grass verge, had also dumped something, probably antifreeze to judge by the empty cannister they left with the tire, and saved me the trouble of trimming about ten square feet of grass by the relatively straightforward and simple method of killing it. Perfect. I'd ask the neighbours if they saw anything, such as a license plate or maybe a landscaper's business name on the side of a truck, but it wouldn't be worth it because a) they never see anything on principle and 2) they were probably involved in the dumping. I am partly to blame that people don't realise the area isn't some abandoned industrial lot rather than the side of my residence because I don't cut that grass every week and it can get pretty horrible looking, and also the kerb is weed-infested and I don't weed-whack very often.

I used to. I stopped because my neighbours used to invite their entire clan over on a Sunday (my usual grass-cutting day) and they would park over the bits I needed to weed-whack. Then, certain individuals would empty out their ash-trays onto my property line before departing. Some of them would leave other stuff, like beer bottles in the grass, or cigarette packets, or, well, anything their little hearts felt was not appropriate for their cars any more. I was once power washing the fence with detergent and asked them to move their cars (so their paint wouldn't get marked by the splashback) and you'd think that I'd personally threatened to kill each and every firstborn male child in their clan. I can appreciate that it was inconvenient, moving the cars from my side of the road to the other side, forcing an arduous ten-second drive and an almost impossible three-point-turn onto people already exhausted from their trips from Queens. Wbeepers.

I'm seriously planning on putting a sign on my fence that reads : "Neighbors: Because of the amount of illegal dumping and property damage we've experienced over the last few months, I've been forced to position hidden security cameras to cover this area. Please be advised that my entire property line is now under surveillance 24 hours a day, and modify any behavior you don't want on the record accordingly. On the plus side, all acts of vandalism will now be refered to the police and footage of such acts posted to my website for maximum humiliation of the animals involved, so you can sleep easy in your beds."

That'd pay the buggers back for their years of harrasment.

Sunday I used to actually cut my own lawns (as opposed to the grass where people can see it) which had been left for far too long and choked the mower as a result. The day was brightened by the Stevieling and Mrs Stevie opening hostilities upon their return from church, and by my running over a hose and cutting a hole in it. It was, of course, the hose to the sprinkler that reaches the new bald spot in the side verges. I had set the mower to cut closer than usual and hadn't thought about the consequences of that on the other infrastructure.

Oh well. It gave me the chance to get out of the theater of war and go to Home Despot for a repair kit.

I like to use the sort of repair kit (yes, this hose-mowing has happened once or six times before) that comes as a plastic insert and two outer plastic clamshell clamps. The insert is oversize and difficult to fit without Stevie's Magic Method™: a kettle of boiling water.

I cut the hose with my Sears razor shears (a great tool which looks like a pair of heavy-duty pliers. One jaw is a plastic-faced anvil, the other a three-inch razor-sharp blade. These things are perfect for cutting hose with (even better than a lawn mower). Once I had a pair of good straight-cut ends to work with I undid the clamps enough to slide them over the hose ends, then I pushed the insert into the hose ends as far as I could. Picking one end to start with I then slowly heated the pipe with the boiled water, which softens the hose enough that it will swell and allow me to push the insert in more fully. The process was repeated until the insert was fully seated, and then I did the same with the other side of the joint. The last task was to slide up the clamps to the joint and tighten them. Job done, nobody scalded and most importantly, no fingers severed.

Speaking of hoses, earlier in the week I'd noticed that none of the sprinklers were working. I'd turned them off at the faucets during a rainy spell, but was sure I'd turned them back on again four days later.

And I had. It turned out that all four of the little battery operated inline sprinklers I was using had dead batteries in them. I've never seen that happen before, and batteries usually last a season and more. These were changed only a couple of months ago.

I took the four timers into the house and removed the batteries. My first thought was that some water may have leaked into the battery compartments and shorted out the terminals (it's happened) but the batteries were all dry. Once I fitted new batteries, three of the four came back to life as expected, but the fourth just made a high-pitched electronic whistling noise. This was curious because as far as I know there are no audio components inside the timers.

Fortunately, I keep an extra timer on hand for things like this and was able to replace the whistling unit. These timers are fairly good for the money (about 25-30 bux, depending on where I buy them) and typically last for years although I've had one disintegrate after only a season and two broke down after only two seasons.

When I say "disintegrate" I mean that literally. The timers are small, drum-like affairs with a dial and a rotary switch on the top, an inlet and exhaust port on the sides, opposite to each other, and an unscrewable base-plate for getting at the battery. There are no other features. One loads a battery, presses the only button and is greeted by a green flashing LED. One then selects a time corresponding to the nearest hour and presses the button. More green flashing. One then selects the sprinkler start time and presses the button. The LED flashes red, or on newer units, blue, indicating one should select the frequency of watering desired in hours and press the button. Then one gets some more green flashing and sets the duration of the watering period, presses the button and one is off! Simple. Easy to remember.

But remember, these things also spend their time exposed to the elements. They get heated up in the sun, then abruptly cooled when they open their internal valves to do some watering (typically at the hottest time of the day). They get the full value of the sun's ultra-violet rays, always a bugbear for plastics of any kind, which weaken and become brittle as a result. It is because of this, and also because the spring terminals for the battery are under pressure which is transmitted from the (screwed on) baseplete to the (glued on) faceplate that one of my new timers suddenly and unexpectedly ejected its faceplate one day.

I know what you're thinking: But you are handy with tools and enjoy a challenge like this. Why didn't you just fix it and throw it back into use, Stevie?

Well, I would have done just that, but the two little wires that connect the battery to the electronics were pulled from their sockets and I don't know which way round they are supposed to be reconnected. I can just plug them in, but the sockets aren't polarised or called out with paint or anything, so I've been waiting for a unit to go belly-up so I can dissect it and find out what's what.

Which is why I'm not too unhappy this sprinkler timer went south after a mere ten years or so in service. A touch of the razor saw and the sprinkler will soon yield all its secrets to me.

Why did all the batteries go dead together? I don't know. Maybe running the timed valve mechanism without water in it caused the motors to overload.

While I was out getting the repair kit I thought I'd also check into replacing the swimming pool filter with a diatomaceous earth one. The pool has been out of use since the Stevieling poisoned it and I haven't been able to get rid of a slight milkiness that is the result of stuff too fine for the filter cartridge to screen out. This was tested by allowing the pool to settle for a week, at which time it became crystal clear but had a filthy floor, then running the Pool Robot of Extreme Uselessness, which soon had the pool water looking a bit cloudy.

It also jammed up the filter, since I had added to the pool about three doses (way too much) of the magic blue juice of dirt aggregation, a compound that causes microscopic dirt particles to clump together. They clumped enough to hgum up the filter, and a lot of the fine stuff was finally filtered out, but the last of is just won't screen.

I did some research and discovered that sand filters and diatomaceous earth filters, although a lot more involved piping-wise and a lot heavier (of course) can screen out crap ten times smaller than filter cartridges can. This looked promising, so I nipped over to the local pool'n'chemical place and talked it over with one of their managers. I thought that it being the end of the season there might be a considerable reduction in price on these "start of season" type items.

We talked about the various issues, and finally cut to the chase. The manager said that the diatomaceous earth version of the rig would cost about 550 bux all told, and the sand version would cost about 330. I have long schooled my face to remain impassive during opening negotiations so that I can maintain the upper hand in bargaining without looking cheap and blowing the deal. It took all my skill, but my facial muscles bore no trace, of that I am certain, of my inner reaction to this somewhat higher than expected infrastructure cost. I think I might have left the place with my dignity intact had I not involuntarily screamed "How much?" at the top of my lungs.

I sat on the sofa that evening and contemplated the weekend as I watched one of the Inspector Lindley mysteries on PBS. Not much achieved, it was true, but I consoled myself that it would soon be a new week and I could at least return to work.

Once the show was done Mrs Stevie told me to stop crying and go to bed.

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