Learning how not to blow oneself up and stay warm; critters like my house; doing laundry is a themed adventure; pet-ventures, “unique” neighbors and extricating oneself from the drunken advances of a friend of a friend.

— October 2001-November 2003

 

Frontier Woman

I felt like a modern-day pioneer last night as I built a fire in the fireplace (yea! It works!) and laid out the futon on the living room floor and camped out in front of it with the cats.

I have this really weird heater in my place that requires lighting a pilot. I shiveringly approached it a few times over the weekend, studied it, and then thought better of it because I feared I’d blow the place up.

The following day, I paid Gainesville Regional Utilities $45 to light the pilot.

When I got home from class, I heard the happy sound of flames roiling inside the heater.

Then I discovered that I have no idea how to adjust thermostat. This thing is so crusty and dusty, I can’t read anything on it. It’s almost as bad as my place in Fort Lauderdale where all the fuses (screw-in) were marked in French because my landlord was Swiss.

So, last night, I began turning this one knob, trying to determine if it was the thermostat.

Wrong!

The pilot grew dimmer and then shut off.

Nooooooooo….

I contemplated lighting it myself, but thought better of it and paid yet another $45 to re-light it. I would not do that again.

*************************************

Another of the “advantages” of living in an ancient house is that it becomes a haven for woodland creatures. Nothing beats the sheer terror of hearing – or smelling – something odd and not knowing what or where it is.

Still life at the Swamp

The Summer of The Rat

Don’t Open the Cupboard!

In the last couple of days, I’ll occasionally hear a little sound, like rapid flapping or movement, very faintly. It’s coming from my cabinet under the sink.

At first, I dismissed it as the way the wind was blowing on some paper, but I’m not so sure.

I am terrified to open the cabinet.

When I lived in Lauderdale, a fruit rat got into my laundry room, which was just off my kitchen.

I just remember looking through my kitchen window out to the laundry room and seeing that furry little thing looking at me from atop the water heater. And I would scream. And then cry.

Sean and I managed to herd it out the back door by turning on the dryer, where it was hiding behind.

I hope to hell this isn’t going to be a similar situation.

I Am a Chicken

When the rustling sound had not abated, I came up with a plan: block off the area around the cabinet. Open the door and try to capture whatever it is in a pan with a lid. And then release it outdoors.

As dubious as the idea was, I was willing to try it.

I summoned my friend, Greg, for moral support. Men theoretically like helping their female friends, right?

My problem is, most of my friends are journalists. This means the males do not have the gene that enables them to fix things or help you when there’s something scary in the cupboard. Most of the time, I’m the one loaning them a hammer or whatever.

Not surprisingly, Greg declined with a seemingly pragmatic excuse: what will my being there do that you can’t do yourself?

So, I postponed the idea until I could come up with a better plan.

Rat Patrol

Later that night, after going out with some friends, I called my sister. It’s like 10:30 p.m. Out of the corner of my eye, I see this thing with a tail run behind my kitchen trash can.

I became hysterical. God, it makes you feel so helpless to have something in your house.

I called Amy over at the bar and wailed, “I have a rat in my house!”

And, just like Amy, she said, “I’ll be right over.”

She brought reinforcements: Dave, Greg and Daniella. Greg apologized for not coming over earlier, as he saw me sobbing on the front porch when they got there. He hugged me and then proceeded inside and stomped and hollered, in an attempt to frighten the creature out of hiding.

This, of course, brought Ronnie, my next-door neighbor outside. He and his drunken buddy returned with fireplace tools.

The women waited outside while the men stomped around and acted macho.

Ronnie offered to bring over his shotgun, to which I politely declined.

When they realized they’d scared the rat/mouse into a corner, I went up to Winn-Dixie and got some feeding traps.

Everybody hung out on the porch and we did what any group of mature adults would do: broke out the liquor. We had an impromptu “rat party.” It was nice to feel moral support, regardless if there was a rodent in the kitchen.

Rodent Update

So, Monday night after returning from Ohio I knew I needed to figure out if el raton was still in my midst.

I knocked on Ronnie’s door and asked him to help me sweep through. He’s sort of a country boy from Gilchrist County and is forever borrowing my iron or tools (go figure), so I thought he could repay me.

He opened up the cabinets, while I cowered from a safe-ish distance. Under the sink, where I’d heard the majority of the activity, the poison tray was almost empty. Well, something had been eating it, and it wasn’t the cats.

It seemed to be all clear.

Yesterday, I still insisted on wearing shoes throughout the house and swept and bleach-watered the kitchen and bathroom floors and murphy’s oil-soaped the wood ones. I’ve become fastidious, which is not in my nature. Now, it’s a neurosis.

Today, John stopped by and bravely opened up the cabinet under the sink. I’m like, “Oh god, don’t!” thinking there would be a family of rats running out. But, nothing. I admired his bravery.

Shortly thereafter, my landlord sent over the pest control guy, who arrived bearing glue trays, which is the industry standard for rodent control. The critter is lured by a peanut scent and then gets stuck in there.

Of course, I have to pitch the damned tray, with a rodent still attached.

I Smell a Rat

Oh god.

I think the rat has died under my sink somewhere.

The last coupla days, I’ve been aware of this funky smell.

I opened the cabinet under the sink and there, in all of its dead and decomposing glory, was el raton, stuck in a glue tray.

I screamed and shut the cabinet door. I put on bigass gardening gloves, got plastic bags and put a bandana over my nose and mouth (hey, I used to smell dead bodies; I know what the pros do.) and proceeded to deal with the task at hand.

I threw a shelf liner over the tray/rat carcass and then shoved it into some plastic bags. I wiped out the bottom of the cabinet with straight Clorox and threw the whole mess away.

I snatched another glue tray from by the stove and stuck it under the sink, por si acaso.

Later, I saw one of the neighborhood vagrants start to approach my trash Dumpster. I warned him there was a dead rat in there.

“Oh, that’s no problem. I’m from the old school.”

Well, I also noticed he didn’t go scrounging around, either.

Homeless, Not Nameless

The homeless in Gainesville are unlike anywhere else I’ve been.

In Lauderdale, they stood on the sides of roads, hawking papers or standing there with little signs, begging.

Here, they make house calls.

For years, I have had a woman named Sharon who knocks on my door and asks for money. Up until lately, I would help her out.

There are the Dumpster-divers who dig through the trash. It’s always unnerving to go out to your car and see them in there. I always go for the disarming, “Hey, howya doin’?” approach. Or, “not much in there, today…”

And just now, I went out to get my mail. There was a gentleman on a bike, picking through the neighbor’s Dumpster.

“Hi, I’m Fred Williams. Can you help me out?”

Wow, a first and a last name.

Uh, sorry Fred, no.

Theme Laundry

So, I’ve decided Gainesville does not really have a “normal” Laundromat. During the last few months, I’ve discovered that these wash houses have themes.

there’s Apu’s Place, across from the university, run by a family of guys not unlike Apu on the “Simpsons.”

They run a very efficient, clean place, but they don’t stay open very late, which seems counterintuitive in a college town.

Then, there’s the White Trash Laundry on 34th in the Kash ‘n Karry center, where the woman who runs the place has her hair dyed a different shade every time I visit, (I’m not kidding) while WWF blares on the TV.

Lately, I’ve been going to the Ghetto-mat, located, conveniently nearby and in the ghetto. Not a bad place, but the people who run it are stingy about fixing their machines, and I’ve given up. Still, I give kudos to Jamel, the homeless-looking guy who works there and wears a coat and ski cap regardless of the temperature. He gave me back $2.50 I’d lost in a machine, from his own pocket.

And, yesterday, I discovered the Ned Flanders Jesus-freak-o-mat. Not necessarily a bad place. A little south of town on 441, in a shopping center. But the guy who runs the place is so Ned Flanders! He had religious music pumping through the place and a Bible on the front table. And he wore a T-shirt that read, “red, white and crabs” on the back.

Somehow, the shirt seemed inappropriate for a man of God.

Nonetheless, my favorite go-to would have to be the Ghetto-mat. There are a ton of washers and dryers. Of course, the downside is that many of them do not work.

Despite his odd attire and overall shambling homeless look, I rather like Jamel, because he is very conscientious about his job. Rather than just putting up an “out of order” sign on the maimed machinery, he goes to the trouble of putting a piece of masking tape over the coin slot (since most of the patrons may not be able to read). And then he goes the extra mile: he puts little Post-It notes on the front, explaining the problem. And, might I add, he believes in using the exclamation point.

I surreptitiously jotted down some of his helpful notes today, while waiting for a load or two to finish.

To wit: “shook off foundation!”; “problem is with the door!”; “side motor smokes!”; “just stopped working!”; and “runs for a while and then stops!”

No Shotgun Tonight

So, Ronnie, my next-door neighbor, just knocked on my door and asked whether I’d been hearing noises underneath the house. Well, I do hear something running between the walls at times, but I just hope that it doesn’t come inside.

Well, Ronnie reported hearing this large *thing* running around under the house on his side at night. Our house is essentially one building, separated by individual entrances and quarters. He said he called the landlord, but he “was a dick” about it. So, Ronnie is taking matters into his own hands.

He said if I hear a “noise” tonight, it will be him shooting whatever it is.

I’m like, “oh, god…”

“Oh no, don’t worry; I’ll use my pellet gun. I ain’t gonna use my shotgun down there or it’ll sound like eye-rack.”

Plumbing Emergency

We must be in the midst of a Plumbing Emergency here at Swamp Manor.

At 6:30 am, two bigass plumbing trucks pull up. They look like ambulances ready to go into triage.

I’m like, “oh hell, I hope they don’t turn off the damned water.” And then, I think, what the hell are they doing here at this hour?

Two weeks ago, when they replaced my kitchen sink pipe, they were supposed to come around noon.

8:30 a.m., I’m in the shower and they’re pounding on the door. Mercifully, they didn’t have a key to get in.

So, just moments ago, they knock on my door to look at my bathroom floor and the pipes. Apparently, Ronnie has to have his piping replaced.

The house is old…built in the 1800s. The bathroom floor is sinking, so it’s not unlike being on the Titanic when you get out of the shower. Living here has improved my balance.

At 10:25 a.m., I overheard the good ol’ boys with their Cracker accents engaging in the most entertaining conversations outside my window.

“There’s nothing holding up this side of the house, Bubba.”

“There’s one column holding up a 10-foot section.”

“You wanna go in there and jump up and down?’

“Ah, no.”

I heard them talking about some body-builder kid with 23-inch arms and a 16-inch neck, but nothing in his ha-yed.

My favorite:

Cracker-boy 1: “Well, now, there are two meters here for the water, but one person’s paying for the hot water and the other is paying for the cold.”

Cracker-boy 2: “somebody’s gettin’ fucked.”

I hope I am not the one on the receiving end of that.

The Walls Can Talk

A few months later, Swamp Manor experienced yet another round of critter action.

This time, it sounded like a rat running around inside my bedroom walls. At times, I could have sworn it got inside.

For a few nights, the mad dashing and gnawing sounds went on for hours, beginning at the convenient hour of 3 am.

Last night, I was awakened by this loud noise. Jake even jumped when he heard it.

Unfortunately, he didn’t bother jumping off the bed to investigate like a good cat.

So, I lay as still as I could, trying to discern whether the sound was inside or in the walls. I still can’t tell.

I turned on lights and the radio, hoping to scare it into plain view.

Somehow, it’s less terrifying when you can see what you’re dealing with.

I’m operating on four hours’ sleep and feel like hell. I knocked on my neighbor’s door and asked him if he’d been hearing the ruckus; he said yes.

But…in his expert opinion, they’re squirrels. I hope so.

Nonetheless, it is really disturbing when they decide to have a pre-dawn dancehall rave each night.

I did a little research and found this bit of heartening advice about dealing with squirrels:

Where firearms are permitted, shooting is effective.

Don’t tell my neighbor.

******************************************

Well, I just had a Pest Control Expert come by and he was able to discern that the rat has not made it inside the house. What a relief.

However, it seems to have been making a home for itself underneath the floor of my bedroom closet. He said the gnawing from underneath would make it seem like it gotten in.

Oh, you have no idea.

I was running the ceiling fan at full bore last night just to drown out the sound. And I could *still* hear it.

Rat Babies!

Guess what I heard in my bedroom walls last night?

eeeeep! eeep! eeeep! eeep!eepeeepeeepeep!

*fast-paced running under the floorboards*

*Me, sighing deeply and hoping that they were rushing toward what the exterminator left as a treat the other day.*

Boo-Boo Kitty

Jake was my first cat. I never really thought about cats much until I was married and my then-husband had a cat named Max. About a year after I left, I adopted Jake.

A vet told me of this cat that was found inside of a car engine in the wintertime and part of his back was burned. I went to see the cat, in hopes of adopting him.

He was an ordinary black and gray tabby, but when they put him in my arms, he stayed. He didn’t wriggle around. He just lay there, contentedly. It was love.

For 18 years, we stayed together. He moved with me from Ohio to Florida. About a year after moving to Florida, I got him a companion, Fluff. Fluff was a wild, spirited cat with a strong personality. He was a domestic longhair, kind of orange and took to ruling the house and Jake.

Jake took it in stride. He remained a mama’s boy, sitting in my lap when I worked at the computer, and sleeping next to me. All of my pets end up with nicknames. Jake’s was Mr. Boo, or Boo-Boo Kitty.

In late 2003, I had to put Jake in the pet hospital because he had kidney disease.

That night, Fluff, in an act of solidarity, ate only half of the can of wet food that I put down. He was saving the rest for Jake. I thought it was incredibly sweet.

The following morning, I picked up Jake from the hospital, where he had a night of IV fluids and hourly reports on his behavior. I smiled when I saw that he “occasionally vocalized for attention,” or “ate well!” or, “very bright.”

I felt like a proud mother looking at her child’s report card.

I got to bring him home, but have to administer IV fluids to him every four hours for about five minutes at a time. He was pretty good; he lets me stick him with the needle (it’s in a skin fold) and he sits there patiently, as I pet him.

Fluff, upon smelling the animal hospital on Jake, immediately turned into a terror. Fluff is deaf and is acutely tuned in to his sense of smell. He absolutely hates going to the vet. It all started one time when he got into a fight with the vet’s cat that was sitting on the check-in counter. He’d never fought with a cat before, and he locked eyes with this one and they hissed. He bit my arm as he leapt out of my arms and raced across the vet’s office, in pursuit of the vet’s cat. Of course, why a veterinary office would allow an animal to roam freely while the rest are caged up, made no sense.

When Jake returned, Fluff hissed and complained every time he saw him. This went on for about a day or so.

A few months later, after returning from a visit to Cincinnati for Christmas, I found Jake in a sorry state. He looked thin and was whining a lot.

I wasn’t in the door but two minutes, before I had him in the bedroom, administering fluids.

The year before, I came home to find that Fluff’s yellow fur was gray because he had spent the holidays lounging around in the ashes from the fireplace. As with this time, two minutes in the door, I had him in the tub, washing the soot out of his fur.

That night, I had to take Jake to the emergency vet. He was stumbling around all day, lying in the litter box and not eating or drinking. I was surprisingly unemotional about the whole thing: gotta get this taken care of. No time to freak out.

The upshot: after three hours, they say he’s in renal failure again and has anemia. They figure if they IV him with a concoction of fluids for a few days, he’ll get better. I hope. It is costing $500, which I had to borrow from my sister. (god-damn I hate being this broke)

I’m trying to be pragmatic…if this doesn’t do the trick, I will have to put him down. I hate that thought. But I hate the thought even more of watching him stumble around, unable to enjoy life. I mean, what’s the point.

Both of my parents died in a hospice, where the credo is no Herculean efforts are made to revive you. And that’s the way I am. I hate that shit where doctors are frantically trying to resuscitate someone, only to watch them die.

Getting Ready to Say Goodbye

Tears are running down my face as I write this….I am going to have to put Jake to sleep.

I was so good and brave and stoic until about an hour ago. Then, it just hit me like a steamroller.

I hate this because I feel like I’ve given up. But he won’t eat nor drink. I try to force feed him and it’s just a disaster. He tries to jump in the window, but can’t, so I put him up there. It’s so sad. He’s not my kitty anymore.

It’s also dredging up memories of when I had to make the decision to put my mom in hospice a few years ago. God, I hate this. I feel so weak and selfish, yet I can’t bear to watch him wobble around, unable to do anything for himself.

It’s Over

I had Jake put to sleep about a half hour ago.

God, I was a mess: crying the whole time, from the moment I walked in until I walked out.

I carried him in my arms, rather than place him in the carrier.

I played Gloria Estefan’s “Mi Tierra” CD on the way over. He used to love that CD. I know. It’s weird, but he used to come out and listen to her.

He went peacefully, of course.

Old Cat, New Tricks

After Jake died, Fluff became incredibly sweet.

He now sleeps in my lap when I’m at the computer. He waits for me at the front door when I come home. He doesn’t nip and bite me like he used to.

He is so clingy and adoring.

Maybe he was jealous of Jake.

Won’t Be Missing This

So, the people across the street have turned home renovation into a competitive sport. I swear, these guys don’t even fool around with Home Depot. They go for the Big Guns and have hired contractors to prune, roof, redecorate and do lord knows what else since they moved in two years ago. Lately, things have gotten feverish with the roar of circular saws throughout the day. I swear, I think they would have done better to gut the damned place and start anew. But, they love to renovate.

Adding to their domestic bliss is the arrival of the Yappy Dog to accompany the Big Serious Dog. BSD was first and quite fine on his own. But since YD got here this week, it’s become a real barkfest over there.

WOOOOFWOOOFFWOOOFWOOOF

wooofwoofwoofwoofwoofwoof

WOOFWOOFWOOFWOOF

woofwoofwoofwoofwoof

On and on. I hear The Lady of the House hollering at them to quiet down, but this only incites them to become more insistent.

Next door to these folks is the kid who practices his drumming every afternoon for an hour or more. It’s not too dreadful. The other day there was some bad electric guitar going on and I thought maybe I’d been transported back to Seattle in the ‘90s.

Ah, this afternoon, though, a new sound joined the fun: someone else down the street has a trumpet.

Jesus.

November 30, 2003 Rivalry Revelry

First off, I must report that it is officially cold. The temp dropped 50 degrees from Friday to Saturday. Suffice it to say, I have the heater going. Fortunately, it’s sposed to moderate by tomorrow. In the meanwhile, this sucks.

Last night was a lotta fun. It marked the last football game of the season (thank god) and Gainesville played host to the annual rivalry between the Gators and the FSU Seminoles. Amy and Rob were in town and at the game. My mission was to acquire a table at the Copper Monkey apres game.

The game was close and I kept madly checking the score (I have no TV) via ESPN.com. When there was a minute and 30 to go, I got in the car and headed over to the bar. Traffic was nonexistent. I had the radio on and…the ‘noles scored a touchdown in that time span, beating the Gators 38-34.

Everyone showed up and then some…it was a madhouse. But, it was fun to be in the mix. When it got to be too much, we headed over to The Top.

I was put in charge of Amy’s friend, Richard. The last time I met Richard, he was shitfaced drunk and depressed about the loss of his girlfriend.

This time, he was just shitfaced drunk. And turning his attention to me. He kept going on about my looks and how cool I am. The clincher was my vehicle: VW GTI. He has one too (mine’s a V-6, heh)

“We have to make out.”

Wha?

As we wandered back to my car, he was loud and embarrassing. Somewhere along the way, he picked up a plastic lawn chair. I happened to see it dangling from his arm.

“What are you doing with that?”

“It’s for you in case you want to sit down.”

“Richard, put it back.”

This went on for several blocks. I refused to let him put it in the car, so I think it’s now in someone’s yard.

We got to The Top and he insisted on kissing me…oh, all right…shut up…

Got to the bar and Claudia and a bunch of others were there. It was less crowded and much more enjoyable.

It was fun having Amy back in town.

I tried to avoid Richard as I made a quick exit…but he came chasing after me. Good grief.

Insisted on kissing me once more and I sent him packing.

Apparently, he passed out at the table shortly thereafter.

Oh, by the way: Richard’s profession: law enforcement officer. He’ll be working for the FBI early next year.

Frontier Woman

 

I felt like a modern-day pioneer last night as I built a fire in the fireplace (yea! It works!) and laid out the futon on the living room floor and camped out in front of it with the cats.

 

I have this really weird heater in my place that requires lighting a pilot. I shiveringly approached it a few times over the weekend, studied it, and then thought better of it because I feared I’d blow the place up.

 

The following day, I paid Gainesville Regional Utilities $45 to light the pilot.

 

When I got home from class, I heard the happy sound of flames roiling inside the heater.

 

Then I discovered that I have no idea how to adjust thermostat. This thing is so crusty and dusty, I can’t read anything on it. It’s almost as bad as my place in Fort Lauderdale where all the fuses (screw-in) were marked in French because my landlord was Swiss.

 

So, last night, I began turning this one knob, trying to determine if it was the thermostat.

 

Wrong!

 

The pilot grew dimmer and then shut off.

 

Nooooooooo….

 

I contemplated lighting it myself, but thought better of it and paid yet another $45 to re-light it. I would not do that again.

*************************************

 

Another of the “advantages” of living in an ancient house is that it becomes a haven for woodland creatures. Nothing beats the sheer terror of hearing – or smelling – something odd and not knowing what or where it is.

 

The Summer of The Rat

Don’t Open the Cupboard!

 

In the last couple of days, I’ll occasionally hear a little sound, like rapid flapping or movement, very faintly. It’s coming from my cabinet under the sink.

 

At first, I dismissed it as the way the wind was blowing on some paper, but I’m not so sure.

 

I am terrified to open the cabinet.

 

When I lived in Lauderdale, a fruit rat got into my laundry room, which was just off my kitchen.

I just remember looking through my kitchen window out to the laundry room and seeing that furry little thing looking at me from atop the water heater. And I would scream. And then cry.

 

Sean and I managed to herd it out the back door by turning on the dryer, where it was hiding behind.

I hope to hell this isn’t going to be a similar situation.

 

I Am a Chicken

 

When the rustling sound had not abated, I came up with a plan: block off the area around the cabinet. Open the door and try to capture whatever it is in a pan with a lid. And then release it outdoors.

 

As dubious as the idea was, I was willing to try it.

 

I summoned my friend, Greg, for moral support. Men theoretically like helping their female friends, right?

 

My problem is, most of my friends are journalists. This means the males do not have the gene that enables them to fix things or help you when there’s something scary in the cupboard. Most of the time, I’m the one loaning them a hammer or whatever.

 

Not surprisingly, Greg declined with a seemingly pragmatic excuse: what will my being there do that you can’t do yourself?

 

So, I postponed the idea until I could come up with a better plan.

 

Rat Patrol

 

Later that night, after going out with some friends, I called my sister. It’s like 10:30 p.m. Out of the corner of my eye, I see this thing with a tail run behind my kitchen trash can.

 

I became hysterical. God, it makes you feel so helpless to have something in your house.

 

I called Amy over at the bar and wailed, “I have a rat in my house!”

 

And, just like Amy, she said, “I’ll be right over.”

 

She brought reinforcements: Dave, Greg and Daniella. Greg apologized for not coming over earlier, as he saw me sobbing on the front porch when they got there. He hugged me and then proceeded inside and stomped and hollered, in an attempt to frighten the creature out of hiding.

 

This, of course, brought Ronnie, my next-door neighbor outside. He and his drunken buddy returned with fireplace tools.

 

The women waited outside while the men stomped around and acted macho.

 

Ronnie offered to bring over his shotgun, to which I politely declined.

 

When they realized they’d scared the rat/mouse into a corner, I went up to Winn-Dixie and got some feeding traps.

 

Everybody hung out on the porch and we did what any group of mature adults would do: broke out the liquor. We had an impromptu “rat party.” It was nice to feel moral support, regardless if there was a rodent in the kitchen.

 

Rodent Update

 

So, Monday night after returning from Ohio I knew I needed to figure out if el raton was still in my midst.

 

I knocked on Ronnie’s door and asked him to help me sweep through. He’s sort of a country boy from Gilchrist County and is forever borrowing my iron or tools (go figure), so I thought he could repay me.

He opened up the cabinets, while I cowered from a safe-ish distance. Under the sink, where I’d heard the majority of the activity, the poison tray was almost empty. Well, something had been eating it, and it wasn’t the cats.

 

It seemed to be all clear.

 

Yesterday, I still insisted on wearing shoes throughout the house and swept and bleach-watered the kitchen and bathroom floors and murphy’s oil-soaped the wood ones. I’ve become fastidious, which is not in my nature. Now, it’s a neurosis.

 

Today, John stopped by and bravely opened up the cabinet under the sink. I’m like, “Oh god, don’t!” thinking there would be a family of rats running out. But, nothing. I admired his bravery.

 

Shortly thereafter, my landlord sent over the pest control guy, who arrived bearing glue trays, which is the industry standard for rodent control. The critter is lured by a peanut scent and then gets stuck in there.

 

Of course, I have to pitch the damned tray, with a rodent still attached.

 

I Smell a Rat

 

Oh god.

 

I think the rat has died under my sink somewhere.

 

The last coupla days, I’ve been aware of this funky smell.

 

 

I opened the cabinet under the sink and there, in all of its dead and decomposing glory, was el raton, stuck in a glue tray.

 

I screamed and shut the cabinet door. I put on bigass gardening gloves, got plastic bags and put a bandana over my nose and mouth (hey, I used to smell dead bodies; I know what the pros do.) and proceeded to deal with the task at hand.

 

I threw a shelf liner over the tray/rat carcass and then shoved it into some plastic bags. I wiped out the bottom of the cabinet with straight Clorox and threw the whole mess away.

 

I snatched another glue tray from by the stove and stuck it under the sink, por si acaso.

 

Later, I saw one of the neighborhood vagrants start to approach my trash Dumpster. I warned him there was a dead rat in there.

 

“Oh, that’s no problem. I’m from the old school.”

 

Well, I also noticed he didn’t go scrounging around, either.

Homeless, Not Nameless

 

The homeless in Gainesville are unlike anywhere else I’ve been.

 

In Lauderdale, they stood on the sides of roads, hawking papers or standing there with little signs, begging.

 

Here, they make house calls.

 

For years, I have had a woman named Sharon who knocks on my door and asks for money. Up until lately, I would help her out.

 

There are the Dumpster-divers who dig through the trash. It’s always unnerving to go out to your car and see them in there. I always go for the disarming, “Hey, howya doin’?” approach. Or, “not much in there, today…”

 

And just now, I went out to get my mail. There was a gentleman on a bike, picking through the neighbor’s Dumpster.

“Hi, I’m Fred Williams. Can you help me out?”

 

Wow, a first and a last name.

 

Uh, sorry Fred, no.

Theme Laundry

 

So, I’ve decided Gainesville does not really have a “normal” Laundromat. During the last few months, I’ve discovered that these wash houses have themes.

there’s Apu’s Place, across from the university, run by a family of guys not unlike Apu on the “Simpsons.”

They run a very efficient, clean place, but they don’t stay open very late, which seems counterintuitive in a college town.

 

Then, there’s the White Trash Laundry on 34th in the Kash ‘n Karry center, where the woman who runs the place has her hair dyed a different shade every time I visit, (I’m not kidding) while WWF blares on the TV.

 

Lately, I’ve been going to the Ghetto-mat, located, conveniently nearby and in the ghetto. Not a bad place, but the people who run it are stingy about fixing their machines, and I’ve given up. Still, I give kudos to Jamel, the homeless-looking guy who works there and wears a coat and ski cap regardless of the temperature. He gave me back $2.50 I’d lost in a machine, from his own pocket.

 

And, yesterday, I discovered the Ned Flanders Jesus-freak-o-mat. Not necessarily a bad place. A little south of town on 441, in a shopping center. But the guy who runs the place is so Ned Flanders! He had religious music pumping through the place and a Bible on the front table. And he wore a T-shirt that read, “red, white and crabs” on the back.

 

Somehow, the shirt seemed inappropriate for a man of God.

 

Nonetheless, my favorite go-to would have to be the Ghetto-mat. There are a ton of washers and dryers. Of course, the downside is that many of them do not work.

 

Despite his odd attire and overall shambling homeless look, I rather like Jamel, because he is very conscientious about his job. Rather than just putting up an “out of order” sign on the maimed machinery, he goes to the trouble of putting a piece of masking tape over the coin slot (since most of the patrons may not be able to read). And then he goes the extra mile: he puts little Post-It notes on the front, explaining the problem. And, might I add, he believes in using the exclamation point.

 

I surreptitiously jotted down some of his helpful notes today, while waiting for a load or two to finish.

 

To wit: “shook off foundation!”; “problem is with the door!”; “side motor smokes!”; “just stopped working!”; and “runs for a while and then stops!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

No Shotgun Tonight

 

So, Ronnie, my next-door neighbor, just knocked on my door and asked whether I’d been hearing noises underneath the house. Well, I do hear something running between the walls at times, but I just hope that it doesn’t come inside.

 

Well, Ronnie reported hearing this large *thing* running around under the house on his side at night. Our house is essentially one building, separated by individual entrances and quarters. He said he called the landlord, but he “was a dick” about it. So, Ronnie is taking matters into his own hands.

 

He said if I hear a “noise” tonight, it will be him shooting whatever it is.

 

I’m like, “oh, god…”

 

“Oh no, don’t worry; I’ll use my pellet gun. I ain’t gonna use my shotgun down there or it’ll sound like eye-rack.”

 

Plumbing Emergency

 

We must be in the midst of a Plumbing Emergency here at Swamp Manor.

 

At 6:30 am, two bigass plumbing trucks pull up. They look like ambulances ready to go into triage.

I’m like, “oh hell, I hope they don’t turn off the damned water.” And then, I think, what the hell are they doing here at this hour?

 

Two weeks ago, when they replaced my kitchen sink pipe, they were supposed to come around noon.

8:30 a.m., I’m in the shower and they’re pounding on the door. Mercifully, they didn’t have a key to get in.

 

So, just moments ago, they knock on my door to look at my bathroom floor and the pipes. Apparently, Ronnie has to have his piping replaced.

The house is old…built in the 1800s. The bathroom floor is sinking, so it’s not unlike being on the Titanic when you get out of the shower. Living here has improved my balance.

 

 

At 10:25 a.m., I overheard the good ol’ boys with their Cracker accents engaging in the most entertaining conversations outside my window.

“There’s nothing holding up this side of the house, Bubba.”

“There’s one column holding up a 10-foot section.”

“You wanna go in there and jump up and down?’

“Ah, no.”

 

I heard them talking about some body-builder kid with 23-inch arms and a 16-inch neck, but nothing in his ha-yed.

 

My favorite:

Cracker-boy 1: “Well, now, there are two meters here for the water, but one person’s paying for the hot water and the other is paying for the cold.”

Cracker-boy 2: “somebody’s gettin’ fucked.”

 

I hope I am not the one on the receiving end of that.

 

 

The Walls Can Talk

A few months later, Swamp Manor experienced yet another round of critter action.

This time, it sounded like a rat running around inside my bedroom walls. At times, I could have sworn it got inside.

 

For a few nights, the mad dashing and gnawing sounds went on for hours, beginning at the convenient hour of 3 am.

 

Last night, I was awakened by this loud noise. Jake even jumped when he heard it.

Unfortunately, he didn’t bother jumping off the bed to investigate like a good cat.

 

So, I lay as still as I could, trying to discern whether the sound was inside or in the walls. I still can’t tell.

I turned on lights and the radio, hoping to scare it into plain view.

Somehow, it’s less terrifying when you can see what you’re dealing with.

 

 

I’m operating on four hours’ sleep and feel like hell. I knocked on my neighbor’s door and asked him if he’d been hearing the ruckus; he said yes.

 

But…in his expert opinion, they’re squirrels. I hope so.

 

Nonetheless, it is really disturbing when they decide to have a pre-dawn dancehall rave each night.

 

I did a little research and found this bit of heartening advice about dealing with squirrels:

Where firearms are permitted, shooting is effective.

 

Don’t tell my neighbor.

******************************************

Well, I just had a Pest Control Expert come by and he was able to discern that the rat has not made it inside the house. What a relief.

 

However, it seems to have been making a home for itself underneath the floor of my bedroom closet. He said the gnawing from underneath would make it seem like it gotten in.

Oh, you have no idea.

I was running the ceiling fan at full bore last night just to drown out the sound. And I could *still* hear it.

 

Rat Babies!

Guess what I heard in my bedroom walls last night?

 

eeeeep! eeep! eeeep! eeep!eepeeepeeepeep!

 

*fast-paced running under the floorboards*

 

*Me, sighing deeply and hoping that they were rushing toward what the exterminator left as a treat the other day.*

 

 

Boo-Boo Kitty

 

Jake was my first cat. I never really thought about cats much until I was married and my then-husband had a cat named Max. About a year after I left, I adopted Jake.

 

A vet told me of this cat that was found inside of a car engine in the wintertime and part of his back was burned. I went to see the cat, in hopes of adopting him.

 

He was an ordinary black and gray tabby, but when they put him in my arms, he stayed. He didn’t wriggle around. He just lay there, contentedly. It was love.

 

For 18 years, we stayed together. He moved with me from Ohio to Florida. About a year after moving to Florida, I got him a companion, Fluff. Fluff was a wild, spirited cat with a strong personality. He was a domestic longhair, kind of orange and took to ruling the house and Jake.

 

Jake took it in stride. He remained a mama’s boy, sitting in my lap when I worked at the computer, and sleeping next to me. All of my pets end up with nicknames. Jake’s was Mr. Boo, or Boo-Boo Kitty.

In late 2003, I had to put Jake in the pet hospital because he had kidney disease.

That night, Fluff, in an act of solidarity, ate only half of the can of wet food that I put down. He was saving the rest for Jake. I thought it was incredibly sweet.

 

The following morning, I picked up Jake from the hospital, where he had a night of IV fluids and hourly reports on his behavior. I smiled when I saw that he “occasionally vocalized for attention,” or “ate well!” or, “very bright.”

I felt like a proud mother looking at her child’s report card.

 

I got to bring him home, but have to administer IV fluids to him every four hours for about five minutes at a time. He was pretty good; he lets me stick him with the needle (it’s in a skin fold) and he sits there patiently, as I pet him.

 

Fluff, upon smelling the animal hospital on Jake, immediately turned into a terror. Fluff is deaf and is acutely tuned in to his sense of smell. He absolutely hates going to the vet. It all started one time when he got into a fight with the vet’s cat that was sitting on the check-in counter. He’d never fought with a cat before, and he locked eyes with this one and they hissed. He bit my arm as he leapt out of my arms and raced across the vet’s office, in pursuit of the vet’s cat. Of course, why a veterinary office would allow an animal to roam freely while the rest are caged up, made no sense.

When Jake returned, Fluff hissed and complained every time he saw him. This went on for about a day or so.

 

A few months later, after returning from a visit to Cincinnati for Christmas, I found Jake in a sorry state. He looked thin and was whining a lot.

I wasn’t in the door but two minutes, before I had him in the bedroom, administering fluids.

 

The year before, I came home to find that Fluff’s yellow fur was gray because he had spent the holidays lounging around in the ashes from the fireplace. As with this time, two minutes in the door, I had him in the tub, washing the soot out of his fur.

 

That night, I had to take Jake to the emergency vet. He was stumbling around all day, lying in the litter box and not eating or drinking. I was surprisingly unemotional about the whole thing: gotta get this taken care of. No time to freak out.

 

The upshot: after three hours, they say he’s in renal failure again and has anemia. They figure if they IV him with a concoction of fluids for a few days, he’ll get better. I hope. It is costing $500, which I had to borrow from my sister. (god-damn I hate being this broke)

 

I’m trying to be pragmatic…if this doesn’t do the trick, I will have to put him down. I hate that thought. But I hate the thought even more of watching him stumble around, unable to enjoy life. I mean, what’s the point.

 

Both of my parents died in a hospice, where the credo is no Herculean efforts are made to revive you. And that’s the way I am. I hate that shit where doctors are frantically trying to resuscitate someone, only to watch them die.

 

Getting Ready to Say Goodbye

 

Tears are running down my face as I write this….I am going to have to put Jake to sleep.

 

I was so good and brave and stoic until about an hour ago. Then, it just hit me like a steamroller.

 

I hate this because I feel like I’ve given up. But he won’t eat nor drink. I try to force feed him and it’s just a disaster. He tries to jump in the window, but can’t, so I put him up there. It’s so sad. He’s not my kitty anymore.

 

It’s also dredging up memories of when I had to make the decision to put my mom in hospice a few years ago. God, I hate this. I feel so weak and selfish, yet I can’t bear to watch him wobble around, unable to do anything for himself.

 

It’s Over

 

I had Jake put to sleep about a half hour ago.

 

God, I was a mess: crying the whole time, from the moment I walked in until I walked out.

 

I carried him in my arms, rather than place him in the carrier.

 

I played Gloria Estefan’s “Mi Tierra” CD on the way over. He used to love that CD. I know. It’s weird, but he used to come out and listen to her.

 

He went peacefully, of course.

 

Old Cat, New Tricks

 

After Jake died, Fluff became incredibly sweet.

 

He now sleeps in my lap when I’m at the computer. He waits for me at the front door when I come home. He doesn’t nip and bite me like he used to.

He is so clingy and adoring.

 

Maybe he was jealous of Jake.

 

 

 

 

Won’t Be Missing This

 

So, the people across the street have turned home renovation into a competitive sport. I swear, these guys don’t even fool around with Home Depot. They go for the Big Guns and have hired contractors to prune, roof, redecorate and do lord knows what else since they moved in two years ago. Lately, things have gotten feverish with the roar of circular saws throughout the day. I swear, I think they would have done better to gut the damned place and start anew. But, they love to renovate.

 

Adding to their domestic bliss is the arrival of the Yappy Dog to accompany the Big Serious Dog. BSD was first and quite fine on his own. But since YD got here this week, it’s become a real barkfest over there.

WOOOOFWOOOFFWOOOFWOOOF

wooofwoofwoofwoofwoofwoof

WOOFWOOFWOOFWOOF

woofwoofwoofwoofwoof

 

On and on. I hear The Lady of the House hollering at them to quiet down, but this only incites them to become more insistent.

 

 

Next door to these folks is the kid who practices his drumming every afternoon for an hour or more. It’s not too dreadful. The other day there was some bad electric guitar going on and I thought maybe I’d been transported back to Seattle in the ‘90s.

 

Ah, this afternoon, though, a new sound joined the fun: someone else down the street has a trumpet.

 

Jesus.

 

November 30, 2003 Rivalry Revelry

 

First off, I must report that it is officially cold. The temp dropped 50 degrees from Friday to Saturday. Suffice it to say, I have the heater going. Fortunately, it’s sposed to moderate by tomorrow. In the meanwhile, this sucks.

 

Last night was a lotta fun. It marked the last football game of the season (thank god) and Gainesville played host to the annual rivalry between the Gators and the FSU Seminoles. Amy and Rob were in town and at the game. My mission was to acquire a table at the Copper Monkey apres game.

 

The game was close and I kept madly checking the score (I have no TV) via ESPN.com. When there was a minute and 30 to go, I got in the car and headed over to the bar. Traffic was nonexistent. I had the radio on and…the ‘noles scored a touchdown in that time span, beating the Gators 38-34.

 

Everyone showed up and then some…it was a madhouse. But, it was fun to be in the mix. When it got to be too much, we headed over to The Top.

 

I was put in charge of Amy’s friend, Richard. The last time I met Richard, he was shitfaced drunk and depressed about the loss of his girlfriend.

 

This time, he was just shitfaced drunk. And turning his attention to me. He kept going on about my looks and how cool I am. The clincher was my vehicle: VW GTI. He has one too (mine’s a V-6, heh)

“We have to make out.”

 

Wha?

 

As we wandered back to my car, he was loud and embarrassing. Somewhere along the way, he picked up a plastic lawn chair. I happened to see it dangling from his arm.

 

“What are you doing with that?”

“It’s for you in case you want to sit down.”

“Richard, put it back.”

 

This went on for several blocks. I refused to let him put it in the car, so I think it’s now in someone’s yard.

 

We got to The Top and he insisted on kissing me…oh, all right…shut up…

 

Got to the bar and Claudia and a bunch of others were there. It was less crowded and much more enjoyable.

It was fun having Amy back in town.

I tried to avoid Richard as I made a quick exit…but he came chasing after me. Good grief.

Insisted on kissing me once more and I sent him packing.

Apparently, he passed out at the table shortly thereafter.

 

Oh, by the way: Richard’s profession: law enforcement officer. He’ll be working for the FBI early next year.

 

 

sorry for the cliched title, but it’s the best I can come up with, given my state of mind.

I guess I am going through the five phases of grief.

Over my car. It is a Volkswagen GTI, V6. The first car I have gotten speeding tickets in. (two)

The denial has been building for a while. I have been nursing this relationship for years, knowing it would eventually end, but not really certain when. In a vague sense, I figured it would be another year. The car has been paid for since I bought it brand new in 2001. I was leaving my Big Person’s Job to start grad school and needed something that wouldn’t kill me with repairs.

Save for oil changes and normal stuff, the car treated me well for the first few years. Weird stuff happened, like the plastic lifters for the electric windows collapsed, shattering the glass inside the door. Mercifully, it was under warranty.

After moving to Way South Texas in 2004, things started going wrong. I remember spending the better part of my first full summer here, at the repair shop. The check engine light kept coming on. The mechanics seemed to diagnose the problem and I was good to go. Until it came on again. And again.

The heat here is unlike anywhere else I’ve lived. I think this took a toll on the vehicle’s delicate German engineering. (never thought I’d describe German engineering as delicate, but that’s what it is)
The handle for the glove box came off. Interior moulding came off the door handles. My leather seat, cracked and split from the heat and sun.

And then came the “Little Miss Sunshine” phase (which it hasn’t outgrown). I discovered that the car’s alarm system would start up if I got in the car and didn’t fire up the ignition within 45 seconds. It was exactly like that scene in the movie where the VW bus’ horn begins honking at will, incessantly.

Whenever I had passengers, I would tell them to hurry up and get in so I could start the engine or there would be trouble.

That wasn’t all. The sunroof opens at will. No idea why. The keyless entry (which was a big selling point for me) stopped working and then began working again. It was baffling.

Last fall, while driving a group of students to Austin for a conference, it grew warmer and warmer inside the vehicle. We discerned that the a/c had crapped out. Luckily, it was October and a front was coming through, so it wasn’t too bad.

In March, knowing I needed to drive another carload of students to Kerrville for another conference, I sucked it up and had the a/c fixed. By the time they were done, I was $873 in the hole. Ow.

The anger came last month when, after going in for what I thought was to be an oil change. Seems the gasket cover and some hose were broken and $524 later, it was fixed.

I knew that I would be needing to get another vehicle, eventually. Hell, this thing only has less than 75,000 miles on it. I really wanted to drive it for twice that much mileage. I guess this was the bargaining stage.

On Sunday and Monday, depression began. I was on my way back from the beach and I noticed the check engine light was on again. This was it. I took it to Auto Zone and the diagnosis was something about a faulty air combination valve.

WTF?

If it was something normal like transmission or brakes or a clutch (it still has the original), I would be understanding. But this weird stuff is wearing on me. The car’s adorable-ness was shallow. It was becoming a nuisance, an embarrassment.

I cried for a bit on Monday, realizing that a new car and, more importantly, monthly payments were in my immediate future. I was not ready for this part yet. I wanted to do this on my terms, not the car’s.

But I can’t put up with the hassle any longer.

Acceptance came on Tuesday when, after researching vehicles I can afford, I found something I could love. I went for a test drive. It doesn’t feel as solid as my VW and the steering wheel feels less sturdy, but the visibility is remarkable and it looks sporty enough so I don’t feel like a soccer mom. And, I can get it with a manual transmission, which is a must in my book.

Today, Wednesday, I found my current car’s title. I don’t know how much I’ll get for it, given the check engine light and the upholstery issues. But I am hopeful it will be enough for a decent down payment and affordable monthly payments.

Tomorrow, I return to the dealership to make my bid. I won’t be driving it off the lot just yet, because they don’t have the one I want. But I will be getting it, and hopefully, a number of years without headache-y maintenance.

I was born with really dark, almost black hair. It would lighten in the summer from being outside and then return to its native state in the winter. One summer, spent swimming in the pool, my hair was almost white from the chlorine.

And I was at peace about my hair color until my mid-20s, when I decided to jazz it up a little with highlights.

I went to Mitchell’s, one of the swankest salons in Cincinnati and had this bubbly stylist named Cheryl work her magic. This consisted of me putting on a plastic shower cap with holes in it. She’d take a crochet hook and pull out strands of hair. Then, she’d cover the naked hair with a bleach/color solution, while I made “blonde thoughts” as she put it.

After about 20-30 minutes, the cap mercifully was pulled off and the hair washed and dried and, voila, I was a new person.

Most men cannot appreciate the mentality that goes into changing one’s hair color. Most guys I know get it cut wherever and then let nature take its course.

For women, especially brown-eyed brunettes like me, we become viewed as Ordinary. The ones who get second looks are ones with striking shades of red or blonde. Brunettes are in the background, like camouflage for the rest of the world to stand out against.

The trouble with coloring one’s hair is once it grows out, you get those telltale roots. Then, the internal debate begins: do I grow it out or get it highlighted again?
For about four years, the latter argument always won.

Then, when I was 28 or so, I stopped coloring it.

That lasted about a year. I was about to turn (gasp) 30 and thought the dark hair made me look older. I immediately went back to the old salon…

…except this time, we moved up to a harder drug in the world of hair color: foils.

Foils are, exactly that, pieces of foil that are placed on small sections of hair where color is applied and kept separate from the other strands. This is done over and over until you end up looking like you could contact Mars with your head.

The dork factor is about equal, when considering the cap versus foils, but foils have a better street cred: models and actresses and the beautiful people use them. Caps are for rookies.

This ritual would be repeated every three months or so (the general rule is six weeks, but I can’t afford that, so I deal with roots).

For the most part, everything went pretty well until I moved to Way South Texas where many colorists were unfamiliar with Caucasian hair. They would look me over, mix up a concoction, foil and color me up and I would alternately look like their idea of Jennifer Aniston or Charlize Theron.

I was generally too polite to correct them and smiled wanly afterward and lied, “It looks great. Thanks” And I would pay and give a 20 percent tip.

This went on for a while. Then about a year or so ago, on a visit home, my sister looked at me and hissed, “Your hair is too light. It’s yellow.” I agreed.

So, I went to a salon in a lower-end department store whose name rhymes with Lenny, and asked the stylist how I should best combat this crazy yellow hair. Her solution: covering it all with a really dark, Cruella de Ville-style dye. She said it would eventually fade and look like my real color.

OMG. It was too dark. I felt like I’d entered the Three Bears of Haircolor and Just Right was nowhere to be found.

I washed and washed the dark dye with Prell, trying to speed up the part where I would look like me again.

I walked into my classroom the following Monday and heard gasps. Of course, I had to give them the Reader’s Digest version of the tale so they wouldn’t think I was going through a Goth phase.

Mercifully, in time, the hair color returned to something like normal.

And all was well until right before spring break this year.

I felt like my roots were getting dark and I wanted a change. I went back to a salon that had done my color a couple of times previously. The usual person couldn’t do it, so someone else offered. Desperate, I agreed.

The bad part is, the person who’d done my color before couldn’t remember me or the formula, but sort of winged it. This colorist was simply following the other person’s instructions. I’d been confused with someone else.

An hour and a half later, as I sat before the mirror with wet hair, I could already see my hair was too light. But I paid and went home and got ready for that day’s lecture.

A couple of hours later, as I was getting ready to leave for campus, I looked at myself in the mirror and my hair looked almost white. This would simply not do. I called the salon and asked if the colorist could add a toner (by now, I was an old hand at their code-talk). She could. So, I raced to the salon, she did her thing and it was sort of better. At least I could walk into class without giving them a shock.

But as the weeks passed, and when I saw myself in photos, I was taken aback. My hair was yellow.

I endured this for a few more weeks and yesterday, after getting paid for the month, I marched into a new salon and talked to the colorist. I noted she had a northern accent. She asked me where I was from originally and I said Ohio. She’s from Michigan.

She noted that there was no depth of color in my hair and that it was basically the same color as my skin. She added that there are a lot of colorists in this part of Texas who haven’t had a lot of experience working with different types of hair. I was glad she understood the difference.

She also noted, to my delight, that I have no gray, so fixing this would be easy. She added lowlights, which is a shade close to the natural color and a few highlights (but not yellow). Two hours later, I looked like me again.

I know this is probably sort of narcissistic, but people judge you on your looks. And I always cringed when people referred to me as a blonde. I am a brunette and proud of it.

last week

this week

Last night I met up with a few of my staffers at this bar in downtown McAllen called The Vintage Room. The drawing card was that, as Kevin put it, the World’s Coolest Bartender works there.

This guy blows flames and all kinds of cool tricks.

I’m afraid of fire, but I was game as long as I didn’t have to touch it.

I got there around 9:20 and Kevin was already there talking to this guy behind the bar. He said his name is Lucky. I doubt that’s a real name, but I played along.

Blue margaritas were free to the ladies on Thursday nights. Me and tequila don’t really get along, but I couldn’t say no to free. And, surprisingly, it wasn’t too bad. I just knew enough to stop at two, lest I’d be regurgitating blue drinks later.

Soon after, Daniel and Santa showed up.

Lucky looked to be the kind of guy who gets bored if he has to stand still for long. He has this slyly mischievous look on his face most of the time. Throughout the evening, he fiddled with dabbing bits of alcohol into patterns with his fingers and then he’d set it afire. Mind you, the bar is made of wood.

Miraculously, the bar did not catch fire. Bored with that, he’d upturn shot glasses and fill the bottom of the well with alcohol and set it afire. He experimented with putting a ring of salt around the perimeter, creating a sort of fire-free DMZ.

Once, he put a little chunk of ice in the well and poured alcohol over it. The blue flames spilled over the sides of the glass. I wondered aloud if the glass would break. He quickly extinguished the fire, realizing that the ice and the fire could create an explosion of glass. I felt slightly smart.

I noticed some napkins strategically stuffed in the top of an empty rum (I think) bottle. He lit the end of the napkins and then took a sip of alcohol and blew.

A ball of fire blew up.

Whoa.

Later, when there were more of us around the bar, he blew fireball after fireball. He was like an alcohol-induced Puff the Magic Dragon.

Then, he dipped his fingertips in alcohol and set them afire. Yow. And then he set his hand afire.

It was quite a spectacle.

The best pyrotechnics I’d seen prior to this were in Key West at sundown, when all of these crazy showmen come out and urge cats to leap through hoops of fire or the guy who ate fiery swords. All of that was outdoors.

Inside, this stuff seemed more dangerous.

I think Lucky’s wild side comes out when he’s in front of a group. Ten bucks says he’s a full-on Leo. He says he doesn’t practice this stuff at home. And he didn’t grow up on the wild side: he went to Sharyland High School, hardly the stuff of deprivation or neglect.

When he grew bored of playing with fire, he played little mental puzzle games with us. He placed four straws in the formation of a football goal. He directed Kevin to move one straw to make a goal, or two straws to make a formation.

Then, he placed a dollar bill on the bar and upturned an empty Miller Lite bottle. Without touching the bottle, he urged Kevin to remove the dollar bill.

I won’t divulge the secrets to these games, and I’m sure there were dozens more after I left. Common sense and the fear of getting drunk on blue margaritas urged me out of there at a fairly early hour. Which is something I doubt Lucky would do.

so, you might be wondering how my class did without watching television for five days. i am three-fourths of the way through grading the papers and have been amused and occasionally saddened by the results.

but first, i offer my conclusion: i think it is extraordinarily difficult to do away with something that is part of your normal routine, while you are in your normal routine.

for instance, when i’m on vacation or out of town, i spend far less time doing certain things i’d have done at home, simply because i’m not at home. so, i give my class two thumbs up for at least attempting this.

well, i did have at least one person who apparently flouted the request and simply watched tv, with no explanation of why he chose not to give it up. maybe he misunderstood or was being a rebel. i was not amused.

a lot of them love reality shows and a couple complained they didn’t know what to wear because they couldn’t turn on tv to hear about the weather report.

one guy admitted he had to give up watching porn. (extra credit for honesty!)

the majority of people reported that they struggled with the assignment and made it for most of the days.

a lot of people slept. or spent time with their families or significant others. a few took up reading books. a lot of them finished schoolwork or went shopping.

a couple of people cried. i felt horrible about that.

the majority of them admitted to watching too much television and that this exercise afforded them a rare peek into their lifestyles and made them aware of how they spend their time.

part of our immersion in pop culture is that we will throw out obscure references to tv shows, songs and movies and see who gets it. it’s sort of like having a cultural radar that can find people who “get” you.

and for me, it’s very true. if i have to explain my goofy, offhand point to someone, it kills the fun of making the reference in the first place.

a couple of weeks ago, one of my staffers accidentally turned his google buzz update into a chat with another friend. i read it, bemused by the randomness of it. later, i found out they were quoting lines from “billy madison.” sorry, haven’t seen that one enough to have caught on that they were having a cultural slingfest.

he later explained that he and his best friend “own” three of the top 10 stupidest conversations of all time.

and i got his joke.

hell, i go around quoting “national lampoon’s vacation” : “this is YOUR car…” and “Davenport!…yes, Mr. Ed….where is Mr. Griswold’s sports wagon?….i don’t know sir.”

or bridget jones’ diary, “here is the man we like to call Mr…(tits pervert, tits pervert)….uh, Fitzherbert, because…that’s his name!”

and this sort of silliness can be found on people’s status updates on facebook or twitter.

sometimes, i will notice the odd post and google the phrase, wondering where it came from. and i am bothered, somehow, because the person has kind of ripped off the phrase without attributing it.

maybe i’m being overly fussy because of being a journalist. i believe people should attribute where they find things or at least admit that they found it somewhere.

what’s most bothersome, though, is can’t we have an original thought? are we so concerned about looking foolish that it is simpler to take someone else’s words and just….steal them?

reverse psychology

Posted: 02/23/2010 in Uncategorized

I was talking to some of my students about how they’re doing on this nutty quest and found that most of them are doing OK, despite the inconvenience of not doing something they normally do.

One girl noted that she really wanted to watch the Olympics on Sunday night, but decided to read about it via Twitter. How novel.

Others have been reading more.

There are some, however, who normally don’t watch much TV and have found that this experiment was having the opposite effect. As Josh put it, when he’s told not to do something, it makes him want to do it more.

I know the feeling.

Last night was a big challenge as I have the only weeknight off from teaching at the gym. That means from 4 pm, when I get home from school, until I go to bed, is left unstructured.

So, I graded papers. I swept the floors. Played with the cats. Read blogs and gossip online. Leafed through magazines. And reacquainted myself with one of my favorite radio stations, WOXY. I listened to “vintage” WOXY, which meant hearing Blondie, the Ramones and The Clash. It was a fun trip down memory lane and, having the house to myself, afforded me the opportunity to dance around the kitchen whilst doing dishes.

It was a pleasant enough evening, but I felt like I was overcompensating — like doing too much when being quiet and still would have been enough. This is a strange feeling, but it will pass.