Thursday, July 24, 2008

Returning Happiness At Chateau Stevie

There was cake.

I got home around 7 pm, with the weather clouding over and the humidity hovering somewhere between "unbearable" and "intolerable". My feet were cooking nicely and all I could think of was hopping in a shower to cool off prior to consuming the repast The Stevieling had promised to make for me. The house was in darkness, and I thought it possible that once again LIPA1 had made bad atmospheric conditions immeasurably worse by arranging a power cut so none of the fans in the house would work.

I trudged, sweat-drenched, into the front room and made for the kitchen, there to dump my briefcase before dashing to the lavatory to relieve my bladder, much swollen due to the two pints of water I had consumed in order to stave off dehydration on my commute home.

"SUPRISE!" screamed a choir of sonic assassins comprising of the ringleader and master of ambushes, Mrs Stevie, the until-now dear to my heart Stevieling, The MrsStevieDad and MrsStevieMom, Bil the Elder and his partner in crime, Ms Bil the Elder. I let out a manly shriek, incidentally breaking two crystal wine glasses at the back of the crap storage closet that masquerades as our china cabinet, leapt the customary two feet in the air and span round to face my ambushers. Everyone laughed. Once my heart had returned to what I understand is called "sinus rhythm"and ceased trying to make it's own cowardly escape by way of my rib cage I joined in. A merry jape indeed and not only was my urgent need for the toilet completely forgotten, it was now unnecessary. Thank Azathoth I was wearing dark trousers.

We repaired to the gazebo in the garden, a sort of frame tent with anti-mosquito netting walls, where Mrs Stevie had set up a table and would server a meal of barbecued steak, asparagus, spuds, corn on the cob and I don't know what-all else. It was delicious, and only slightly marred by the heavens opening and delivering several gallons of wet into the ground on which everything stood.

I should explain about the Gazebo. We used to have a very elaborate one with fancy details in the steel corner pieces. We placed it on an area of grass under some shade trees2. It was great fun to use for dining at night, and The Stevieling used it to study in most nights. Unfortunately, it caught a strong wind during the early fall and hung itself over our back yard fence, badly bending a couple of the struts. I repaired them and we used it again the next year. That year I was less dilligent about removing the large picnic table from it after use each day and that killed all the grass that formed the floor. Then the tent part ripped and last year I didn't bother with the thing. This year, Mrs Stevie wanted a new one, so I re-sodded the grass area on the site (my plan to deck the area having foundered on the rocks of financial reality) and we acquired and erected a new gazebo on the site. The grass did well, and we opened the whole affair for business on July 4th, when we had a barbecue.

It rained all day.

I had planned for this contingency by adding a twenty-foot by ten-foot tent to the construction, but the land slopes downward at Gazebo point and some lightweight bogs and swamps formed in there. I didn't know since I was galley-slave for the day and didn't get to sit down until the late afternoon. Then we had a July 6th barbecue and the weather did the same. Two days of trampling, dark and wet, in which it wasn't possible to remove the table and let in some light, has pretty much killed the new grass. It is all very tiresome.

Anyway, we all had a very nice dinner and things weren't too bad until an impromptu monsoon chose to visit us. In no time at all we had to abandon Gazebo and return to the stifling environs of Chateau Stevie, where Mrs Stevie announced she had coffeeand cake waiting. I let everyone bolt, but I had to move the table out because the ground was so soft now it would actually start sinking into the lawn if I didn't, so I got much soaked before I could seek refuge from the rain. It was pitch dark by now, but fortunately the lightning playing around the sky provided enough illumination for me to finish the task. I reflected that at least I was finally getting the shower I so desperately wanted and needeed.

I joined the others and attempted to lighten the mood with some music. This was a mistake, and things began an inexorable slide into fiasco and recrimination from that point.

On Saturday I had come into the house in the afternoon to discover that someone had turned on the stereo, and that it had been cooking itself for hours. The glass door to the stack was hot to the touch and there was no where for the heat to go since the ambient temperature was Swelter Factor 9 and had been all day. I let out a yelp and grabbed the X103 remote I use to control the various appliances in that room, and cut the power. This was also a mistake, because I wasn't aware that Mrs Stevie had been listening to a book on disc and had paused the CD player rather than stopping it.

For those who have never seen the inside of a rack-mount CD player, I will explain. Our unit, a JVC player of 1987 vintage, has a single play drawer and a six-disc magazine. The magazine has six slots containing slides which hold the discs. The single play drawer also has a slide, though you could be forgiven for not knowing that since it looks like part of the drawer when it's open.

When a disc is inserted in the unit and the drawer closed (or magazine inserted) the disc simply sits in the slide and the slide sits where it was put. When the "play" button is pressed, an elevator is positioned behind the slide, either one of the magazine slots or the single-play drawer, and a hook extends and withdraws the slide (with its disc load) inside the elevator. Once the slide is inside the elevator, the whole assembly descends to the transport mechanism, which spins up the disc and contains the laser transcription head.

It is all very interesting to see and always induces colly-wobbles of no mean magnitude in your humble scribe when he contemplates the shear number of micro-switches, elaborate gear trains and electric servo motors needed to pull it all off. Not only is there the obvious motor/reduction gear/rack and pinion affair necessary to just open and close the drawer, there is another to pull out the slides and a motor/reduction gear/spiral rack and pinion arrangement needed to drive the elevator. That doesn't include the simple solenoid that ejects the magazine, which only has about four moving parts and is therefore a model of mechanical brevity where this CD player is concerned.

Back to the party.

When I powered up the CD player, the display showed gibberish. It said it was playing a disk, but that there was no playable surface under the head (it said it in different terms, but I'm an old hand at interpreting Hi-Fi displays and translating to real world conditions and I'll spare you the blow-by-blow account of the display, which would require several diagrams copyrighted by JVC and yet more of this interminable drool). I ejected the single play tray, which wouldn't eject at first, then coughed up the disc Mrs Stevie had paused so many days ago, which had a gratifying amount of filth on it, being a public library disc. I loaded In Reel Time, a fake live album by Fairport Convention that is always popular, turned the volume way down and pressed play. I was rewarded by the sound of a fast spinning motor and no music to speak of.

Five minutes of fiddling did nothing but persuade me that the CD player was now hors de combat and drive my temper a little south of bad. Mrs Stevie denied all knowledge of course, then fessed up to pausing her disc "to take a phone call" on Saturday. I slipped into being lightly livid. It is one of my bugbears that the women in my house treat our technology as both indispensable and indestructible. They treat it like it was Lego or Playmobil and look completely surprised when these delicate precision instruments respond by falling apart. Mrs Stevie would have none of it though. She wanted to serve the cake and was not going to put up with any nonsense just because the CD player wasn't working. I loaded the disc into the DVD player and grumpily went to do the candle thing.

Though I wasn't in the mood for cake any more, I was considerably cheered when Mrs Stevie unboxed it only to find that the icing had sloughed off the cake and formed a puddle around the base. This was a temperature-related infrastructure failure that anyone could understand. The cake now sported upon its upper surface a sort of Dali-esque message of felicitous wishes me-ward, distorted beyond anyone's ability to extract the original sentiment, bare sponge-cake sides and a stylish crater of buttery goodness gluing it all to the box it came in. To this, Mrs Stevie added two or three handfulls of decorative candles, which she lit. The heat from these was so intense I was forced to improvise a Red Adair-like shield from aluminum foil and the lid of the cake box in order to blow them out in the time-honoured tradition of spreading one's respiratory infections to all who wish one well. Even so I lost a half-inch of hair (already in short supply) and both eyebrows to the blaze before it was extinguished.

At the height of the recriminations my sister called to gloat that she was still almost three years younger than me. Apparently, this is a source of yearly amazement to her. I conveyed my traditional wish that her house wastepipe be struck by lightning while she was bathing and she hung up so my mum and dad could have a turn. I don't remember the details of their call other than that they still loved me and would continue to do so no matter what I did. I thanked them for that and they went back to whatever they do when they are out of sight of sane people.

Eventually everyone went home and left me to wonder how I was going to resurrect a dead stereo. I'm not sure, what with the preponderance of mp3-based music currently fooling those who either don't care about music quality or who can't hear it no matter how Hi the Fi, that affordable rack-mount CD players are still available. I got blindsided by the overnight disappearance of the LP in 19874 so I take nothing for granted any more.

But there was cake.

  1. The Long Island Power Authority, the source of electricity for the poor bastards who live under their evil dominion
  2. One of which was the incorrigible niusance that I half cut down two episodes or so ago
  3. A way of using your house wiring as a control network for your lights, radio, anything that plusg in. I can operate a number of living room things from a single wireless remote control
  4. Which is why we bought the CD player in the first place - you literally couldn't buy an LP any more in Deer Park or its neighbouring towns. I went out to get a record and ended up having to buy a CD player. It took weeks to get over the shock

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