Friday, January 29, 2016

Another Plan Is Shredded

Over the course of Thursday I was put upon by several "well wishers" getting hysterical over the weather situation, all urging me begin our trip on Thursday evening instead of Friday morning.

Naturally I ignored this unseemly panic, putting it down to colonial lack of fortitude and storm panic1. After a few hours of this I took a look at a few weather websites, just out of interest you understand, and decided that despite my natural tendency of being a center of calm in a maelstrom of panic perhaps I was erring on the side of stiff-upper-lippedness and that an early start would indeed be wise, given the Armageddon levels of snow, ice, sleet, frogs and boils predicted to land on our route south. I called Mrs Stevie and informed her of my decision.

"Thank god you've finally seen sense" she snapped.

So when I got home, naturally events took a turn for the truly naff. First I had to walk the Stevieling through starting the snowblower, resetting the breakers, shutting down the water supply and phoning the furnace repair guy when the heating decides to perform its yearly act of sepuku2.

Then I had to deal with that ruddy cabinet. Two of the clips that supported the collapsed shelf had sheared, leaving their mounting pins embedded in the little holes in the cabinet sides. These had to be dug out with a variety of sharp pointy things before I could begin repairs. The Stevieling had scored some new clips with which to repair the collapsed shelf. However, they had oversize pegs so I had to drill out the mounting holes in the cabinet. My drill's battery was, as always, flat, so I had to spend twenty minutes charging it before repairs could commence.

By the time I was done with that I needed a shower, and then I had to pack so it was about 9 pm before we were rolling. I was desperately trying to get some sleep, but Mrs Stevie kept up a barrage of questions until we reached New Jersey, when I snarled at her to stop. The deal was she would drive the first few hours and I would sleep, then we would trade off, but she was cheating.

And it was hell. We traded off in Virginia and I drove through North Carolina, at the far southern edge of which our halfway hotel was waiting for us. Sometime around 5:30 am I was only holding it together with the thought that I only had twenty more minutes of driving to do. Then I realized that I was reading the GPS display incorrectly and in fact there was an hour and twenty minutes to go. I admit morale slumped for a second, but I used all my inner reserves and pulled myself from the pit of desperation.

"Stop that moaning and sobbing!" snarled Mrs Stevie. "I'm trying to sleep! How can I do that if you keep howling "Why me?" every ten seconds?"

We reached the hotel3 around 7:30 am, and were able to get our room so we could sleep away the day. Fortunately there was no-one in it, so the threat of having to find somewhere else to slump until the 4 pm check-in time was abated. The news from New York by then was dire and we took shameful advantage of everyone's sympathy for our driving ordeal by snow.

Mrs Stevie was upset that our room was at the rear of the hotel (where we knew security Klieg Light illumination fallout and idling tractor-trailer noise could be intolerable during the night), but I reassured her that we'd be all right as the room faced away from the offending truck park. As we pulled the covers up to our chins a truck drove up the side road and executed an emergency stop, dumping the contents of the compressed air reservoir in a percussive explosion of sound. To judge by the noise the shifting load made he was hauling scrap bells and cymbals. I cringed and prepared for maximum rage venting but she was already fast asleep. I decided to follow suit.

Four hours left me awake but exhausted. I dared not sleep longer for fear of not being able to sleep that night, and then being dog-tired for the next leg of the drive. We got up and went out for lunch, then frittered away the day exploring Lumberton and its surroundings before turning in again.

We woke to find it was snowing. We checked out of the hotel and had a leisurely breakfast, and were on the road again by 10 am, rather later than we usually set out. By then the snow had stopped, leaving the place looking like it had been frosted lightly with sugar. So much for the Great Lumberton Blizzard of '16.

Light traffic meant that we made good time, arriving at our destination, Orlando, around 5:30 pm. There was the usual back and forth in which timeshare people attempt to get us to sign up for a sales presentation4 and we turn them down, and we were finally allowed to go to our villa, unpack and collapse into bed again.

Sunday dawned and we were woken by Mrs Stevie's cell phone. A call from her mother to inform us that her father had died.

My Father-in-Law had suffered an abrupt and severe dip into dementia some months ago. He lost much of his vocabulary and often did not recognize people he'd known for years. He wasn't violent, but he also wasn't the man who had been flabbergasted when I told him I intended to marry his daughter and hoped he'd give us his blessing. That man had left the theater a while back. Sometimes he'd be more lucid than others, but the truth is the road he was on was a cruel one with no good ending. I may be being callous here but I think he was lucky. He died peacefully in his sleep the day before his 86th birthday. He raised three children and had four grand children. I could wish for such a good end.

His will called for his body to be donated to medical science, and my Mother-in-Law had been expecting the event for some time so there was no need nor desire on her part for us to return to New York. So we didn't, which shocked my mother when I called her with the news. As I explained to her the roads wouldn't be clear for days (the road outside Chateau Stevie had yet to be plowed) and we weren't needed.

What I didn't say was that Mrs Stevie is the first-in-line go-to person for all such emergencies in that family, and that part of the purpose of driving to Florida was to give the other in-town sib, Bil-the-Elder, the chance to step up for a bit, which to his credit he did in a heartbeat. In truth I think his father's death hit Bil-the-Elder the hardest.

He and my mother-in-law did call us as we sat at dinner on Tuesday evening, to find out how to spell 'Czechoslovakia' - which was a bit odd given that they have access to a computer with just as much ease as I did at that time. We gave them the answer, which was required for The Mrs Steviedad's death certificate, after firing up our portable hotspot and doing a Google search5 because of my many accomplishments, the spelling of Czechoslovakia was not counted among them6. Apparently, Mrs Stevie's grandmother had been born in Hungary, like her Grandfather, but a change in national borders had moved her into a much more perplexingly spelled homeland (that no longer exists because of another re-arranging of map borders).

And so the vacation we have been looking forward to for almost a year has been nobbled by bad weather causing us to have to drive through the night, leaving us hobbling about half dead from lack of sleep for days afterward, and the expected, long-overdue, humane yet ill-timed passing of my Father-in-Law, which has naturally left Mrs Stevie feeling both sad at her loss, conflicted over the mercy the death has been for her father (and, by extension, everyone who had feelings for him), and guilt-ridden over her not being there when it happened. Her grieving will be a long process. Mine was short and unexpectedly intense, occurring while Mrs Stevie was taking communion.

We had decided to visit the church for the morning service after she got the news on Sunday. Though I don't have any belief in God or an afterlife, I'm not an evangelical atheist and Mrs Stevie is devout and needed the comfort the service and speaking to a pastor would bring. I normally only attend church at Christmas, for the carol singing. Naturally, I do not take communion.

It was as everyone else was involved in the ritual and looking the other way I was suddenly overcome with a profound sadness, and began crying silently. It was a surprise. My Father-in-Law and I haven't really done much deep bonding since I married his daughter; indeed, we developed a healthy disrespect for each other (for much the same reasons it turns out). Luckily I was able to pull myself together before any Lutherans noticed and attempted "fellowshipping".

And so the holiday began, with me agreeing to two days in Universal Studios in exchange for no other theme parking at all. Monday and Tuesday were forecast to be the only warm, rain-free days before Friday so that's when we went.

Mrs Stevie was anxious to show me the Hogwartz Express ride that links the two Harry Potter themed parts of the parks, but to do that we had to buy a so-called "park-hopper" ticket for me (Mrs Stevie already had a one year pass with some time left on it that would work for her). These are attractively priced at slightly less than a Lear Jet, and so it came to pass that on Monday I was led sobbing, clutching a smouldering wallet and wailing "Why me?" into Universal Studios, Mrs Stevie Alone knows what sub-title, and we made our way to Diagon Alley, which I hadn't seen on account of it not being built the last time I could be persuaded to set foot in a Universal theme park.

I have to say that Universal had finally got the bit between their teeth with the Harry Potter thing, realizing that what Potter-Heads want is not a bunch of roller-coasters dressed up as dragons or griffins and given some daft Harry Potteresque name. No, what these fans want is the opportunity to buy Harry Potter themed memorabilia.

Now in the first Harry Potter themed attraction, Hogsmeade village, there is the admittedly jaw-droppingly accurate rendition of Hogwatrz, which houses a fine simulator ride that allows the riders to feel like they are riding along with the Quiddich-crazed broom-mounted actors. It is, when all is said and done, not bad at all, even for someone who has never read the books and had to be forced to go to the films7. The stuff inside to stop those on the hours-long lines from going mad and rioting is of an excellently high quality too. A credit to the engineers and artists involved.

There is, however, a serious lack of expensive theme-bling purchasing places, the market being mostly served by "Olivander's Wand Shoppe", which attempts to make up the difference by selling resin cast wands for about 50 bux8. You can find Hogwartz shirts, ties, scarves and hats in the Gifte Shoppe that terminates the ride inside Hogwartz9, but that's about it really.

But in Diagon Alley all this has been redressed with not only another Olivander's Wand Shoppe and the inevitable post-Gringotts Bank ride gift shoppe, but also a shoppe that sells everything from the Gift Shoppes attached to the rides and caps and gowns for each of the Hogwatrz Houses and hats of the sort sported by the various teachers that have graced the place. Here we start seeing the proper amount of cosplay leverage being applied.

Another innovation, retrofitted rather half-heartedly to Hogsmeade after being included in the newer Diagon Alley, is the interactive shoppe windowe displayes activated by waving specially-fitted wands in a variety of magical-seeming and Potteresque ways. Each such display is indicated by a brass plaque in the sidewalk containing the particular gesture and "magic" phrase to be uttered in order to make whatever it is do whatever it does. A window display can be made to glisten with lights, rain can be made to fall outside the public conveniences, and so forth. Some of the ideas were quite clever. Some not so much.

We had lunch in "The Leaky Cauldron" in which the food was not very outrageously priced and was of a gratifyingly high quality. Should I ever be back in that park again, I'll be lunching in The Leaky Cauldron and if you are in the park you should too. The food was all of a distinctly English feel - Bangers and Mash, Steak and Lamb stew with Guinness, a huge ploughman's platter. I had the bangers and mash and apart from the fact that it came with a helping of disturbingly healthy steamed vegetables it tasted authentic to me.

After lunch we partook of a number of rides, including the simulator thing built into Gringotts Bank, which was okay, waited in vain for the dragon perched on the bank's roof to breathe fire and went home groaning about ankles and backache.

The next day we attempted to ride the Despicable Me ride. This ride either has hours-long lines or is broken every time we have been in it's vicinity, but today we were goo to go with "only" a forty minute wait. Yazoo!

I should point out that the Despicable Me movies are a guilty pleasure for me. I love them. They are for me what Marks Brothers movies are for others. Visual candy of an irresistible type.

Within forty minutes we were standing next to the doors to the ride. Then came a twenty minute improvised quiz given by the attendants, which largely fell flat on account of the audience being about 90% Brazilians. Since there was no bilingual English/Portuguese presentation provided, this, while merely horrible for us English speakers must have edged into intolerable. I pondered aloud; "I think the ride is broken".

"The ride is broken" came the announcement. "Go away, come back later".

Naturally this produced the most incandescent rage in Mrs Stevie who demanded to know why we should get on line and queue for hours again. She was immediately offered express passes allowing us to cut the lines, but her rage was not abated, even after we rode The Mummy (an excellent ride by the way) with no wait at all. We wandered over to The Simpsons simulator ride (ex-Back To The Future, same motions but different 3D movie playing as they happen) but were told it was down all day for maintenance.

Flames shot out of Mrs Stevie's ears at this news.

I stood well back, then hustled her to the Hogwatrz Quidditch Nonsense, which for a mercy was not only working, it had no lines whatsoever. A ride on that calmed her frazzled nerves and soothed her temper and I suggested we get lunch, which we did in The Three Broomsticks, the other Harry Potter themed restaurant. And the food was not bad at all, though not as stellar as we'd had in The Leaky Cauldron the day before. This restaurant had food more tailored toward an American palette albeit with an overriding "English" feel. Spare ribs and chicken with chips rather than bangers and mash.

We wandered out and rode the train back to Diagon Alley and watched the children having fun. We strolled into the Olivander's Wand ten minute participation theater thingy, in which children get to re-enact the wand-buying process from the first Harry Potter movie aided by actors and special effects. If you have kids or have had them, you'll get this thing. If not, not so much. We were in there with only one other family, so the boy and girl got to do the magic wand waving and were the stars of a small show. Mrs Stevie was smiling sadly at the end, and I realized once we were out of there that we were both intensely missing the young Stevieling, who lived for this sort of manufactured magical experience and brought a massive buy-in with her.

Mrs Stevie was looking about with such a lost expression on her face that nothing would do but that I march her into the gown store to get properly attired and thence to Olivanders to acquire a Shoppe Dysplae Actyvatione Wande. There we selected a suitable model from the bewildering collection of differently shaped wands.

And so it was that I got to walk around aimlessly watching the properly robed Mrs Stevie behave like a big kid, waving her wand at various books and scrolls and posters and I don't know what-all else, bringing thunder and rain or a disconcerting blast of frigid air here, animating a large poster depicting a skeleton or making the quidditch ball set levitate there. Brass frogs were made to spit water, fairytale books were made to open and reveal telescoping 3D tableaux, and a bunch of singing shrunken heads were magically silenced. My legs hurt as they always do when I have to walk slowly or stand about for long periods10 but for once it was worth it to see Mrs Stevie enjoying herself without recourse to lethally strong coffee.

And to top it off the dragon perched on the roof of the bank was breathing fire very impressively every five minutes or so.

And I have to say that the set dressing involved in the Harry Potter parts of the park is of exceptional quality. They've gone all-out to make it as believable as it could be, given that the premise is so darn silly. Dumbledore lectures people in line, the newspapers on the walls can be read and the pictures in them are animated. The paintings on the wall all address the people in line and argue with each other, and although that trick is Old Hat - I first saw this sort of thing in the Disney Haunted House ride - it is all very convincing.

I was completely worn out by the time we decided to try and ride that Despicable Me thing again, and the line for the train back to the other park was long and involved long flights of stairs. Luckily, one of the staff saw us and, probably taken in by Mrs Stevie's costumed elegance and smiling face11 and perhaps by my moans of distress, offered to move us up to the platform in the lift provided for people with strollers, wheelchairs or scooters12. This was good on two levels. A) No stairs and 2) We jumped about two hundred people in line.

So a word about the Hogwartz Express. You board it on the Despicable Me/Men-in-Black/Simpsons side at Kings Cross station, and a Pepper's Ghost arrangement means that as you step under an arch you seem to pass through a brick wall just as they did in one of those movies. The trick here is to play to the crowds and mug for the people who can actually see the magic happening. My favorite way of wowing the crowd is to walk backwards, giving a jaunty wave. The cries of amazement from the onlookers are a nice reward for one's theatricality, and help mask the cries of alarm of those children one steps on because one can't see them.

The ride itself is a rather fine mock-up of an old Great Western 'Castle Class' locomotive Hogwartz Castle and some corridor coaches. The passengers are boarded eight to a compartment and when the train sets out a very convincing series of scenes is shown through the window of London and the Hogwartz environs while the frosted glass between the corridor and the passengers is used to show a shadow show telling a story involving Harry, Ron and Hermione. You get a different show depending on which direction you are traveling. It is all rather clever.

And we got to ride the Despicable Me 3D ride, which was working and was fun13 and is recommended to anyone who enjoys the movies. Like everything else in both the parks, the ride is too short for the wait normally involved, but that is now the norm. Only you can tell if any theme park experience is worth however long the lines are. I draw the line14 at an hour.


That was our theme park quota for this visit. It was all gravy from then on, with much lazing around and some quality kissy-face predicted on account of all the robe and wand buying that had gone before. What could go wrong?

The Stevieling called two days later to tell me the furnace had shut down.

I told her to deploy a small electric heater and to call our go-to guy. Who didn't respond to several calls, so we looked up other options. One of those did respond and said they'd send someone around at three.

At two thirty, the Stevieling called to say she'd blown a breaker by running the heater on the same ciruit as the microwave, then making some sort of melty-cheesy thing. I never was clear on the details, but decided after three or four minutes of confusing cell phone mediated back-and-forth that the recipe involved was non-germane and did the dja-dja-dja-dja-dja Grimace Chant and the Wavy Hand Jive of Let's Forget This Bit And Move On. Naturally, although I had walked her through the process of resetting the breakers before I left, I had to do it all over again over the phone because she was so nervous she had forgotten everything we spoke about.

At three the furnace repair guy showed up and I got a call so he could explain his theory, which was "the pilot light has gone out and I'll charge 149 bux to relight it".

I said "Fine, but you should know that this furnace has had this problem many times before, and every time the pilot has shut down because of a failed thermocouple".

He opined that it might be the case, but he felt that the wind might have just blown out the pilot.

I said "Fine. But in the last twelve years this furnace has had eight thermocouple failures. I'm told by the guys that have serviced the furnace that this particular model is known for eating thermocouples. This was not mentioned by the people who sold it to me of course. So, for my own peace of mind would you please fit a new thermocouple before you re-light the pilot?"

He waffled for a bit, made some comment about the position of the pilot and thermocouple and agreed to add a new thermocouple to the bill, which he'd have to call home for the cost to install. He then pointed out that there might be more things hiding behind a failed thermocouple that could not be detected until the thermocouple had been replaced. I told him I understood that, mentally preparing myself for job escalation and bill inflation

Long story short he replaced the thermocouple, everything started working, and I was another 400 bux light in the purse. I got this news as we drove to dinner, which was marred for some fellow diners by the toxic stench coming off my credit card and the litany of class two Words of Power I occasionally snarled to no-one in particular.

And tomorrow we drive home. What new ambushes does life have in store for us?

  1. The ailment that causes people to run to the supermarket and buy up all the toilet paper upon being informed that rain is expected
  2. Which, as it happens, was Thursday morning around 8 am
  3. In Lumberton, North Carolina
  4. These are actually getting annoying. It used to be "Are you interested in Theme Park tickets?" and we'd say "No" and that was that. Now they won't give us the parking pass until the power sell has been attempted. Only when I said "I'm sorry ma'am, but we've had about five hours sleep in the last thirty six and my temper isn't what it might be as a result" that we were given the vital document and allowed to go on our way
  5. We not having had the perspicacity to carry a Websters Dictionary with us at all times
  6. Curiously, I now find I can spell Czechoslovakia with relative ease, but have forgotten how to operate a slide rule. This Means Something
  7. What Mrs Stevie calls a "sour-faced curmudgeon"
  8. Which isn't bad if you are a Harry Potter cosplayer I suppose. Serious money changes hands in the Star Trek cosplay hobby
  9. All rides in Universal Studios exit through a gift shop
  10. The front of my thighs go numb, but first they hurt like hell. This started in the late 80s. I've had tests, but no diagnosis
  11. And the fact we are obviously seniors by our matching silver hair
  12. The electric sort
  13. Though not as much fun as it would have been eight hours earlier
  14. Ahahahahaha!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Delays and Disasters

So today is my last day of work before taking a "restful" vacation with Mrs Stevie in Florida, and events are already conspiring to make of this a classic trip.

We will be making the trip over two days, starting on Friday. Mrs Stevie wants to get to our mid-trip hotel sometime around 11 am apparently. I surmise this from her statement on Tuesday: "I want to be on the road by 5 am".

Mrs Stevie takes vacation transit issues seriously and always has us moving to a chorus of owl hoots and bat squeaks. Even if the trip is from our timeshare to some "attraction", a trip which can be no more than about an hour in almost every case and is usually on the order of ten to twenty minutes, we must be moving before dawn. There is no reasoning with the woman on this. One can only flatly refuse or place impossible conditions on one's acceptance of the start time.

"I'll do it provided you have packed before midnight Thursday" I said, choosing the latter stratagem.

Mrs Stevie opened her mouth to say "all right" but I cut in: "Because in all the years we've been together, not once have you scheduled me for an early rise without then crashing around the domicile until 2 am packing. I can't get any sleep while you are doing this. If you do it this time I'm staying in bed until I feel like travelling."

Of course she agreed, and of course she will renege on the deal and get bad tempered when I am moving at less than Startled Jack Rabbit speed two hours after she has finished packing.

"I'll drive the first leg" she offered, which means I'll be tired and forced to suffer her infuriating foot-on-the-gas, foot-off-the-gas driving that has me nauseous in about five minutes and screaming "For the love of bleep use the bleeping cruise control!" shortly thereafter. She will be snotty after this "incomprehensible" behavior and end up demanding that I drive if I don't like the way she does it.

I cannot sleep in cars at the best of times. I could not sleep in a parked car in a dark parking garage having been up for thirty six hours straight after the Great East Coast Power Cut of Whenever-It-Was. Why she thinks I will welcome the chance to try as the rising sun slants directly into my eyes while she is engaged in stress testing the accelerator cable linkages during the Southern State Parkway Grand Prix is beyond me.


I arrived home last night (Wednesday) to find her madly perusing weather websites while the weather channel blasted out from the TV. I knew from my Weather App that there was a snow storm forecast to be moving North on Friday. Naturally. This was not an unexpected turn of events, for I can tell when Evil Spirits have begun to interfere in the doings of man, at least, when they are interfering in the doings of this one.

"I'm thinking we should start our trip on Thursday night" she said avoiding eye contact.

"Absolutely not!" I responded.

I had no intention of driving through the night after a hard day at work dealing with the insane stuff people dream up as urgent requests despite having been reminded several times in writing that I am going on vacation and not to wait to give me their complex, error-prone stuff but to let me have it while there is a chance I can actually get it done and working as they want1.

"But there's snow predicted for Friday" she wailed.

"Friday evening. We'll be long gone before then" I said.

"Friday evening in New York!" she riposted. "We'll be driving through falling snow in Washington DC!"

I should explain, lest the fiendishness of this ploy is lost on the reader. Mrs Stevie was trying to raise the spectre of 1996, when we were trapped for three days in the snow-bound capitol and nearly went mad from being forced into each other's company. She was looking for me to scream and agree to her idiot Start Driving Last Week plan in knee-jerk reaction to the trauma that other experience induced in us both. Sadly for her I am made of sterner stuff.

"Nope. We will drive as planned and hope for the best. I don't care if glaciers are calving icebergs into the Potomac. I am as firm as the Rock of Gibralter on this. Have you started packing yet?"

That last bit was the deflector shield against further improvisational travel planning, as I knew she had not. I decided to shut down the discussion by asking if she had actually cleaned all the crap out of her bus yet. She uses the thing like a shed-on-wheels and until the piles of whatever had been moved out we couldn't move our luggage in.

"Yes" she snapped to that and that was the last I heard about driving through the night. Triumphant in my having triumphed, I wandered into the kitchen.

"Stop that screaming" snapped Mrs Stevie. "The Stevieling discovered that one of the little plastic wotsits that keeps the shelves in place had disintegrated. She was afraid the shelf would collapse and so unloaded all the mugs, cups, plates, saucers, bowls, commemorative soup tureens, anvils, sash-weights and stirrup-cups onto the stove-top. And every other available flat surface. I call it very responsible of her."

I deliver what the women of the house are pleased to call "the rant" about once a month on the lack of accumen displayed by people who load kitchen cupboards with heavy crap with no thought to the consequences despite the events of family history specifically pertaining to the inevitable outcome of such behavior. We actually had a cabinet tear itself from the wall and disintergrate messily some years ago because of the sheer number of jars of liquified foodstuffs placed therein, heaviest stuff to the front of course2.

Despite this, I still find heavy crap stocked at the outside edge of a shelf instead of snugged up to the wall3 and three times more stuff in any cupboard than it can safely support. Most of the cupboards are so full of crap no-one knows what the hell is at the back anyway, and so that stuff is more properly thought of archival weight than, say, tinned potatoes with a sell-by date somewhere in the middle of the Clinton administration.

In the bedrooms the technique is to cram drawers full of clothes until they won't close, then cram more stuff in them, then push them closed while ramming the clothes down "so they'll fit". The clever part is then acting surprised when the bottom of the drawer explodes out of its frame. This usually ends up locking up that drawer and the one below it. In the past I've had to remove all the undamaged drawers above an awe-inspiringly overpacked one so I can remove the debris a bit at a time, eventually excise the sqaure frame of wood left over so I can dismantle it and make it into a drawer again.

In the Basement of Crap we see a different variation on the technique. Here we may find many examples of cardboard boxes stacked one upon another with nil regard for the contents of each nor the admittedly staggering load-bearing properties of cheap corrugated cardboard. Thus a box of anvils and anchors will be at the top of a five box stack, and the now collapsed-flat box of treasured heirloom glass Christmas tree ornaments inhertited from a Great Grandmother at the bottom.

So I decamped for Home Despot to see if I could find some replacement shelf clips. I wandered around the place to no good effect while the PA announced at regular intervals that they were closing soon. I found hinges and door knobs and drawer slide hardware but no shelf clips. Nor did I find any Home Despot staff to help me shorten my search. I don't know why I bother with our local Home Despot anyway, since it almost never has everything I'll need to do a specific job. If I need a broom they will have broom heads but no handles. If I need to replace a piece of plumbing they will have everything but one component absolutely essential for the job at hand. Half the time the aisles I need to use are blocked off with concertina gates so stock can be ruined by careful use of a forklift anyway.

This morning, Thursday, I arose early after a disturbed sleep. I had woken up around 2:30 am with what to others might feel like an anxiety attack but which I know of old is the opening chords of Pancreatitis Symphony of Agony, Opus 1, Number 13 on your songsheets. No worries, I would just go on a liquid diet for a couple of days and forestall the screaming, thrashing around and begging for death's sweet embrace5 these attacks always induce. Of course, the prospect of the resulting bladder chaos while attempting an epic transit of Interstate 95 was not lost on me, but needs must when the anti-holidaymaking demons have crapped in your shoes.

So I was tired and not at all in the mood to hear Mrs Stevie's jaunty "The Ronkonkoma line LIRR service is suspended" as I made my way toward the shower. Yes, once again one of the IQ Brigade had parked his or her car on the tracks and learned that they were still in use even though just a minute or two before there was no train in sight.

Naturally this had happened in the single track section, and naturally this had meant not allowing trains through the wreckage field until every police officer on duty had had a look. Trains had been lollygagging around waiting for a gap to be made in the twisted remains of the car and for everyone to please get out of the way since 6:40 am, around the time I was running "Stevie Among The Cavewomen6" in Mr Brain to help offset the prospect of driving through a blizzard with pancreatitis and Mrs Stevie both giving me what-for.

Mrs Stevie kicked The Stevieling out of bed with instructions to drive me to, and I quote, "anywhere you need to go", before decamping for her own place of work with the usual salvo of slammed doors. The temptation to order the young woman to take me to JFK and a waiting flight to Tahiti was momentarily overwhelming, but I told her I'd drive to Babylon and sent her back to bed. The poor thing had been up half the night texting, after all.

I drove to Babylon, to the small pay-to-park carpark I found a while back, grabbed my trusty Altoids Tin O' Quarters from the well of junk under the dashboard and made my way to the computerised ticket generation machine, where I found an SUV marked for the Babylon Town Parking Enforcement Militia, with two crew crouching inside. They were parked so as to be looking directly at the machine, obviously hoping people would assume they were there in the event of a problem with the machine, but I surmised they were on a mission much more sinister.

The process is as follows. You park your car in a yellow numbered stall. If the number is unmarked or has a red number, you won't be able to buy a ticket for it. Some assume this means Free Parking, leap into the air, click their heels and cry "Yazoo! One in the win column" before sprinting for their train, some quarter mile or so away.

A sad mistake.

For those spaces are reserved for others, those too exalted to require payment for their parking needs. Red spaces are for firemen (I believe). Unmarked spaces are for people on town business or permit holders or whomever. Just not for the likes of me.

So, once at the machine you must remember the number of the stall you parked in, optionally sprinting back to your car to find out what it is. I recommend taking a photo with your phone so this scenario is not repeated several times. Then, you punch in the number using the machine's keypad and, when prompted, feed the machine quarters until you've paid for your anticipated stay, judging this by the listed costs and the displayed amount the machine thinks you've deposited.

Naturally the height of the machine and the position of the rising sun are all arranged to make this more difficult than it strictly needs to be. If you've done everything right the machine gives you a paper receipt which may be produced and waved indignantly when you are dunned for parking violation fines.

Now I believe that the machine rats-out those who use it, broadcasting the space number to waiting Babylon Town Enforcement Drones, so that they might, for example, mosey over and check all the stickers on your windshield say what they are supposed to say. Many an innocent driver, pushed for time and caught between working to feed and house a bunch of shelf-overloading ingrates or taking a day off to attend to piffling New York State law requirements like vehicle inspections, has returned home in the late evening to find a piece of expensive paper slid under his windshield wiper.

Well those two will be on a hiding to nowhere since everything is in order on the fabulous Steviemobile, down to the now-useless parking permit issued by the Town of Babylon but no good for this car park in the Town of Babylon. To them I say: get a real job, one you can tell your neighbors about without them slashing your tyres while you watch TV at night.

And so it was that I got to ride to work on a clean train with clean, unripped seats, which ran on wheels approximating roundness in shape, on an elevated track safe from the incomprehensible parking habits of morons.

  1. As opposed to the way they said it should in their dimwit user request
  2. Where the laws of physics can work their best
  3. The Mrs Stevie Method of Shelf Loading makes the shelf or cupboard a crowbar with which to tear out the screws holding it to the wall. Moving heavy crap in toward the wall reduces the so-called moment arm involved dramatically, changing the dominant Destructo Forces from tensile, pulling forces into shear forces attempting to snap the screws off laterally4. It is the difference between undoing the wheel nuts on your car using only your fingers, and doing so by using a tyre-iron, standing on the end and bouncing up and down while chanting the magic wheel nut-losening words
  4. Which may be accomplished by simply using enough heavy crap to do the job
  5. Not joking here. This is about as painful as I can imagine anything being; anything that leaves you capable of explaining matters to anyone within hearing range anyway
  6. A sleazy story of time travel, with much nudity and gratuitous goings-on out of sight of Mrs Stevie

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Another Tedious Year Begins Tediously

So I decided to take a few days off around Xmas and New Year.

Not like I would have done in my youth in the UK, where it would have been a from-the-day-before-Xmas-eve-through-a-couple-of-days-after-New-Year's-Day affair1 of drinking and driving and trying to get snogged by a disappointingly short list of candidates2, but I was looking forward to kicking back and maybe doing some lazy board-gaming with some pals while my Carpal Tunnel issues played an accompaniment on my radial nerves.

Fortunately, this planned period of creative inactivity and light to moderate medical distress was interrupted and replaced by something infinitely more tedious when one of the downstairs bathroom walls showed signs of shedding a huge section of tiles. The new grout cracked, and when I finally couldn't pretend not to notice it any more and gave the tiles a poke, a three foot on a side square of tiles moved back and forth so as to suggest a prime development space had become available for an ambitious young patch of mildew looking to expand rapidly in an area of low competition for resources. "How lucky for me" I thought and spent Xmas deciding what to do3. Then Mrs Stevie noticed and announced that Something Must Be Done Immediately (Idiot).

So I started by numbering the tiles with a sharpie so I'd know how they used to be arranged.

I've been in the position of having to re-use removed infrastructure before and know well that no matter how well the old parts are cleaned up and made as good as new as can be managed4 they never regain their "universal fit" qualities but instead form a fiendish jigsaw that resists going back together even if the parts are placed exactly as they came off - because some of what is going on involves flat sides becoming tapered requiring ingenious 3D assembly techniques and a large vocabulary of exotic language.

I refer my readers5 to the nonsense I had to go through one Martin Luther King Day when the previous evening's howling gale had torn off the siding from the house and strewn it about the lawns before dumping damp snow on it and then freezing it all into one 30 ft by 15 ft diorama for a description of the process when ad-lib techniques must be used. Suffice to say it is not a process to be adopted voluntarily.

Once I had a 6 tile by 6 tile square marked out archaeologist-style (the size determined by scientific poking to see when the wall stopped moving about and behaved like a wall again) I used Mr Dremel tool fitted with a special attachment and a carbide bit to clean out the cracked grout so I could prise out the tiles.

I broke the bit.

So I departed in a cloud of Class Two Words of Power to Home Despot and bought two new bits, which showed me just how expensive carbide tool bits can be when I scanned them at the self-serve checkout. Fortunately no children were harmed by my surprised vocal reaction to the price demanded, though I had to defend myself against a trumped-up charge of shattering a box of light bulbs placed some ten feet away from the checkout and my tinnitus started acting up again. I returned to Chateau Stevie triumphant, credit card smoking, and changed out the broken bit for one of the new ones and started in on the grout again.

I broke the bit.

So I fitted the Dremel with the third bit and that one lasted until the end of the job. Mrs Stevie demanded to know why I was crying as I worked and I explained the cost that had been exacted on my wallet due to premature bit failure. Fortunately I was already half deaf from the tinnitus and the earsplitting shriek of the Dremel tool in the confined space otherwise Mrs Stevie's surprised vocal reaction would have done serious damage to my hearing.

As it was all that happened was that another row of tiles loosened up on a different wall. By then I was too overcome with emotion to invest any more at this foul turn of luck. Mrs Stevie grabbed the receipt for the bits and departed vowing to replace the defective parts6. Tool working (and working well I should say), Mrs Stevie snarling at someone else; the day was beginning to look up. In quite a short while, all things considered, I had all the grout that was going to yield to the Dremel out from between the tiles and was able to carefully prise one gently out from the matrix for examination.

Three dozen tiles cascaded into the bottom of the bath, mixing themselves face-down quite thoroughly in a manner not unlike casino card dealers use in games of poker. It is a genuine miracle none of the bloody things broke. My guess is all the shrieking had driven off the evil spirits infesting the tilework. Either that, or Entropy was as taken by surprise as I was by the debacle and forgot to have a say in things.

That made three pieces of luck that day: a) No breakages, 2) I had evaded the usual Brain ambush and numbered the tiles before they perpetrated their mutinous dash from the tyranny of vertical imprisonment and þ) Mrs Stevie was so busy giving some poor innocent at Home Despot what for that she was out of theater and in no position to offer her usual hurtful commentary on the sudden out-of-plan excursion events had taken. Result.

So I carted the tiles downstairs and cleaned off the remnants of the old glue and at least three different types of grout - one of which seemed to be made from concrete and guano and had the hardness of diamond - using my table sanding machine. Of course, my shop vac was upstairs because I had used it to suck up all the non-tile debris as I worked, and the thought of wrestling the damned thing back downstairs again to use for dust collection duties and then back upstairs for more debris containment as project Glue The Tiles Back On The Wall Again progressed was so unutterably repugnant that I decided the hell with it and simply donned a respirator mask and cleaned up the tiles in an atmosphere of finely ground dust.

It added a frisson of danger to the whole affair, as both the furnace and water heater were still active and I had no idea if one or more of the components of the fine dust now hanging everywhere would prove to be essentially long chain unsaturated hydrocarbons like flour or sugar or coal. If this were the case, the moment the thermostat7 tripped and the burners ignited I would be carried from this earthly domain in a bright flash, the sound of a thousand heavenly whale-sized tubas and more thermal expansion than would normally be judged to be a good idea in a confined basement. I idly wondered if I would notice, or would consciousness flee instantly as Mr Brain was dashed into soup and sprayed hither and yon and serve the bugger right if you ask me.

I might have pursued these cerebral pontifications on matters of celestial philosophy and stuff to the point of achieving True Enlightenment had I not fed my thumb into the sanding machine and achived a new record for the number of Class Four Words of Power shouted into a full-face respirator in a single minute instead. Still, one must take the victories life offers I suppose.

Having cleaned the tiles of what detritus I could and having distributed it in a fine layer over everything in the basement including a pile of freshly laundered, er, laundry, I returned to the bathroom in order to assess the state of the wall and see why the glue had failed in the first place. It seemed that the glue, an adhesive undoubtedly made of chemicals banned these days either because of the frightful danger they pose to humans merely by coming under observation, or because of the protected and/or extinct nature of the animals ground up to make them, had simply stopped being glue.

The wall was also not suitable by today's standards as a bathroom wall either, in that it was ordinary gypsum board and not backer board, nor had it been treated in any way to make it resistant to damp. It was, however, completely undamaged, with only a tiny colony of mould starting which I exterminated with bleach. I reasoned that the wall had served for about fifty years as it was so it would make it for another year (the bathroom is scheduled for complete replacement) and I would simply use more modern glue known to cause cancer in rats in California. Which is what I did, my not being in California nor caring overmuch about the health of rats.

Combing on the glue into the almost square but not quite patch of wall (a couple of tiles had bravely clung on when the rest had moulted) was challenging for Mr Back, who wasn't slow in telling me about that, but eventually I had about twice as much glue on the wall as was called for. Well, it was the first time I'd ever done this. You think you can do better, turn up the next time the wall collapses. Then I started fitting the tiles back into place.

As I said before, I wasn't so naive as to think that the small bits of cement-like grout I couldn't shift from the edges of some of the tiles wouldn't have an effect on the business out of all proportion with the amounts of material involved, and if I could have got the stuff to shift I would have but needs must when one's luck is blowing from the septic tank vent so I took the precaution of working from the outside of each line of tile in to the center, and was rewarded with having to spring each final pair into place as I had expected. I was delighted that the vertical spacing was preserved, so that the last row of tiles actually fit without my having to pull off all the lower courses again and get glue all over everything, which is par for the course.

True, there were a couple of places where the tile went back very slightly crooked but the way things were there was no room to use the spacers I had bought to impose linear order to things. These are little plastic crosses that one places in any of a number of clever ways to keep tiles looking neat as you lay them. The problem here was that a) there was still some traces of old grout where the plastic needed to seat and 2) these tiles were so old they had moulded in spacers. You don't see these any more, but it used to be that some tile brands had little nubs on two of their four sides so that they self-regulated their spacing. These had become apparent when I started in with Mr Table Sander and were a major cause of everything now being harder than strictly called for.

I stuck sheets of polythene over the tiles and took a shower and joined Mrs Stevie for some well-earned New Year's Eve snacks. Time was, we'd have had about 8 people in to share these but as time has gone on the couples we used to invite have less time and less inclination to spend it with us. A shame, but there you go. I used to enjoy those New Year's Eve parties and the New Year's Day brunch after. Mrs Stevie was getting sick anyway. The Stevieling had a party to go to so it was just us. We sat and bickered while we binge-watched some Netflix show or other8 and ate cheeses of all nations but mostly America and nibbled on salty pepperoni and drank wine. This resulted in me getting a ferocious dehydration hangover, so the evening wasn't a total loss.

I used part of the evening to re-string the bag of the kite The Stevieling had given me using purple paracord originally intended as improvised Japanese-style wardrobe for Mrs Stevie but re-purposed for anything else but that after I had shared the idea with her and we'd had a frank exchange of views on the subject of string bondage lingerie.

New Year's Day dawned and I grouted the wall (again) and dealt with that other line of loose tiles dislodged by acoustic shock using a technique known as "the bodge job". It's still holding so job done. The Stevieling demanded I get the shower back in commission as I was working,. She sounded just like her mother, which brought a tear to my eye. She distracted me just enough for me to run the frantically spinning carbide blade of the grout remover over the back of my hand. The resulting Medical Grade Words of Power - deployed in to cauterize the wound before the blood could get in the grout and discolor it - drove her from the room and removed the need for tedious explanations. One in the win column, there.

I stuck up more plastic to keep water out of everything and retired to the sofa to drink Southern Comfort and play Nintendo, which is what I should have been doing for two days already.

  1. I once attended a week-long party in this period in which the party-goers simply moved to the next house on the itinerary and went home briefly to wash and change sometime in each afternoon when no-one was looking. Come to think of it, one event from that is worth a Tales From Someone Else's Misspent Youth post, so watch this space
  2. Over the years I learned to save my eardrums by careful observation of my intended target before suggesting some light to moderate germ-swapping, but my judgement was often badly impaired by the spirituality of the season and generous applications of rum in my late teens and I spent more than one Xmas Holiday suffering damage like unto that incurred by attending a Hawkwind concert
  3. These things must not be rushed
  4. A process experience shows starts well but gradually becomes subject to lower and lower standards as the utter tedium of the job starts to eat into the old brain
  5. Both of them
  6. It is easy to overwork Dremel wheelpoints, to give them their correct name, but I've been using the tool for nearly 30 years and am aware of its limitations and the best practices when using it. Not only that, I had read and understood the instructions for once
  7. Or whatever the device that does the same job in the water heater is called
  8. Honestly can't remember which ones. We'd already done Broadchurch Mk2 and River and abandoned Haven in disgust so it wasn't any of them