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Synchronicitous Events #2

Today while at play rehearsal, the topic of actress Margot Kidder came up.   Our director, I learned, is friends with someone who is currently working with her on a film project.  Naturally, with the topic of Margot Kidder broached, we began discussing some of her history, such as her appearance in the Superman films of the `80s and her enjoyable appearances on the early `90s sitcom Boston Commons.  And, of course, the time she had an imbalance in her medication and wound up in someone’s Los Angeles back yard during a manic episode.  We all noted that we liked her.

Hours later, as I was walking into my house listening to episode 1515 of the podcast Never Not Funny on my phone, who should come up in their conversation but Margot Kidder, in reference to celebrities going a bit batty.

Oooo weeeee oooooooh.

 

UPDATE: 11/15/14

Was listening to the Film Vault podcast’s October 31 episode today and Margot Kidder came up there, too, in reference to the movie Maverick, in which she appears.  I’ve not thought of Margot Kidder in years and three references to her hit me in the space of three days, each from unrelated sources originating weeks apart.

 

Actual Conversations Heard at My House #4

SETTING:  My house, at around 4:15 a.m. after I’ve spent the past twenty minutes being repeatedly awakened by our cat D.J. who is loudly meowing to be let out, or be fed, or because it’s too pleasant and dry inside our warm, non-rain-soaked home.   He only pauses in his meowing to wait exactly the amount of time it takes for me to return to slumber before giving it another round.  Add to this Maya, our St. Bernard, who has awakened me twice already to go to the bathroom and has now chosen the cat’s latest squall volley to whine and loudly shake her ears to alert me a third potty requirement.

ME:  (RISING FROM BED, QUIETLY FURIOUS)  That is it.  I’m murdering everyone.

MY WIFE: (STILL HALF-ASLEEP)  Don’t murder me.  I’m on your side.

ME:  That’s right.  You are.  Okay.  I won’t murder you.

She now has no memory of saying this.

Synchronicitous Events

All right, dammit, I’m pulling the trigger on a new blog feature.

For years now I have been experiencing episodes of synchronicity (or at least high coincidence) on a near daily basis.  Often these revolve around the podcasts I listen to, and how certain topics will crop up on completely different shows, recorded by completely different people, weeks apart, often geographically distant from one another, yet get listened to by me within an hour of one another on the same day.  I’ve been meaning to start writing these down, because some of them have been pretty astounding to me.  I make no claim to knowing or even speculating what any of it means, though the déjà vu side effect of something changing in the Matrix does make a satisfying form of sense to me.  Instead, I will now set about to chronicle them when they happen so as to see if there is an overall larger pattern even if that pattern would suggest that I am nuts.  Or not.

Today’s Synchronicitous Event was entirely print-based…

Some background:  While working on finding some appropriate material to read for the fastly impending creative writing class I will be teaching at a local federal prison, I was perusing Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams’ posthumously released collection of writing The Salmon of Doubt.  In it, there is a brief essay describing a time in 1976 when Adams was waiting for a train and purchased a newspaper, a cup of coffee and a packet of cookies and sat down to enjoy them and do the crossword.  His items were laid out on the table before him.  Before he could open his cookies, though, a stranger across the table from him picked them up, opened them, ate one and replaced the packet on the table.  Adams didn’t know how to respond to this, so he picked up the cookies, took one of his own, ate it and returned the packet to the table.  He said they went back and forth like this through the entire pack of 8 cookies, each taking one after the other.  Only after the cookies were gone and the man had departed did Adams pick up his newspaper only to discover his original pack of cookies had been beneath it the whole time.  It’s a fantastic story, but it gets even better, for Adams used that very story as an anecdote in his 4th book in the Hitchhiker’s series, So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish.  In the book, his primary character Arthur Dent tells the story to his new girlfriend, Fenchurch.  My goal, having located the nonfiction version in the Salmon of Doubt, was to then go and locate it in So Long… in order to see the differences between the two in case that might be of any use to my students.  Before I could find one of my three copies of that book, though, I had to go take care of some bathroom business.

Whilst business was being taken care of, I perused my copy of Doctor Who Magazine, issue #475, in which there is an in-depth examination of the classic Tom Baker serial The Talons of Weng Chiang in their monthly The Fact of Fiction section.  The section goes back and forth between describing events in the story and providing DVD-style commentary and explanation of those events.  In the section about Part Two of the story, the article mentions that the Doctor, speaking to Professor Litefoot, makes a joke that his companion, Leela, is a savage who was found floating in a hatbox as an infant.  “A hatbox?” Litefoot responds.  The article’s commentary points out that this bit of dialog parallels a scene in Oscar Wilde’s play The Importance of Being Earnest in which “Ernest” explains to his potential mother-in-law how he had been found, as an infant, in a hand-bag in the cloakroom at Victoria Station.  “A hand-bag?” she then exclaims in response.

Cut to ten minutes later.  I have returned to my office, found my copy of So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, am looking for the story of the cookies, as told by Arthur, but in my searching I come upon another Arthur/Fenchurch scene on page 56.  (Douglas Adams typeset the Hitchhiker’s books himself and most editions will have this occur on page 56.)  In it, Fenchurch is starting to tel Arthur about her past and Arthur says he has a question for her.  She senses what that question will be in advance and offers to say it with him.

“Was I found…” she began.

“… in a handbag,” joined in Arthur.

“…in the Left Luggage office,” they said together.

“…at Fenchurch Street Station,” they finished.

“And the answer,” said Fenchurch, “is no.”

“Fine,” said Arthur.

“I was conceived there.”

“What?”

“I was con–“

“In the Left Luggage office?” hooted Arthur.

 

Clearly the Importance of Being Earnest is what they were both referencing, a fact I never realized was the case during any of the previous times I’d read the book because I had not read the play.  It had occurred to me to wonder why Arthur anticipated the circumstances enough to form the question, but I figured, rightly so it seems, that this was an English joke or reference that I just didn’t get.  That’s all fine and good, but the fact that this synchronous bit of literature fell into my lap minutes after reading the origin of the reference in Doctor Who Magazine is very odd and disconcerting to me, though mostly in a positive way.  I like to call such off-putting and hard to explain encounters as “bad craziness”–not meaning that I think I am crazy in a bad way, but that the situation is crazy and it’s bad that I can’t explain it.  Once I found the section of the book I was actually looking for, there was another allusion to her conception in the train station, which might have caused me to go back and recheck the previous story just to make sure I remembered things right.  Again, bad craziness.

As we lay in bed, about to go to sleep, I told the above story of bad craziness to my wife.  She, while trying not to smirk, said she thought it was a plot against me.  She said, furthermore, that she thought there was likely a conspiracy at play.  This light ridicule is, of course, a typical reaction of people when faced with those who’ve just felt their world’s kilter jarred.  And while I knew she was mostly kidding, it still annoyed the bejeezus out of me.

“I’m making no such claims,” I said.  “It’s just very odd that the reference happened so soon after I’d read its explanation.”

 

————–

Things to do:  Reread So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish.  It’s been many many years since I last did.

Things to do: Read the Importance of Being Earnest.  It’s high time I did. Might get a few more jokes.

 

The Talkin’, Horrible Greedy Jerk Holy Grail, Three aMEGOs, Extra-Accessories, Sit-on-it-Lever, Plastic 401K Blues

There’s a short story by Neil Gaiman called Chivalry. It tells the tale of Mrs. Whitaker, a pensioner in England who visits her local charity shop and finds the Holy Grail beneath a fur coat. She recognizes it for what it is, buys it and takes it home to put it on her mantelpiece. And the very next day she begins a series of negotiations for its release with none other than Sir Galaad.

It’s one of my all-time favorite short stories, not only for its magical realism, but also because most of us can kind of sympathize. When searching among the usual things found at yard-sales, junk shops and flea-markets, most of us dream of discovering items of incredible rarity and value. What usually goes unspoken in this is our hope that the current owner of the rare item in question is unaware of its value. We might not even know the value ourselves, but we all secretly hope the thing we buy for a song will turn out to be priceless, or at least with a price hundreds of times greater than the price on its little round sticker, and that we can later sell it for a fortune on eBay, or perhaps, dare we hope, Pawn Stars. In other words, we’re all horrible greedy jerks out to cheat others out of the fortune that rightfully belongs to them.

I made a few of my own horrible, greedy jerk Holy Grail finds at the local flea market recently. They included three vintage MEGO action figures from the 1970s, complete with all their original accessories as well as some… not-so-original accessories.

Now, for those not in the know, MEGO was a toy company in the 70s and early 80s that produced a number of toy lines of 8″ tall articulated “action dolls.”  These were inspired by the original G.I. Joe toy-line—famous for giving boys in the late 1960s blanket permission to play with dolls—MEGO toys came similarly dressed in cloth outfits, with plastic footwear, weapons and accessories. The most memorable toy lines from MEGO were of DC and Marvel super heroes, a few of which I had as a kid. MEGO also had licenses for Star Trek, Planet of the Apes, and Logan’s Run among other action genres.  The most memorable toy line MEGO turned down the opportunity to produce was Star Wars.  Instead, Kenner Toys made a billion dollars on Star Wars while MEGO expanded into several lines of not-so-action figures based on 1970s TV shows, such as like Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, the Dukes of Hazard, and The Waltons.   Not surprisingly, MEGO went under by 1983. But before they were gone for good, I had a handful of their toys as a kid and they were among my favorites. They also, in proper condition, with the right accessories, tend to be lucrative to sell.

While I used to dable, I’m not really a toy collector anymore; well, unless you count my extensive number of toy and model TARDISes from Doctor Who. These I continue to buy as ongoing restitution to my inner 4th Grader for having no access to Doctor Who toys as a kid. My wife, on the other hand, views them as evidence of a mental disorder, but I digress.

IMG_20140519_115304_192The flea market booth was run by a lady I’d put in her late 50s who didn’t look like the typical vintage toy retailer. And while she did not have any Doctor Who MEGOS—which did exist, by the way, but only in England—she did have two card tables filled with a wide variety of toys primarily from MEGO’s western line, such as Buffalo Bill, Davy Crocket, Wyatt Earp, etc. There were also toys of the Lone Ranger and Tonto, which were made by a competing MEGO knock-off company called Gabriel. All of the dolls were loose, which is collector-speak for toys out of their original packaging, which automatically makes them less valuable to collectors. However, each of the dolls seemed to be dressed in its original cloth outfit and came sealed in a zip-lock baggie to help contain their various accessories. Finding MEGOs with accessories in the wild is a pretty rare thing. Actually… examining them a bit closer, a few seemed to have some accessories included that were not original to the toys, or sometimes even the time period of the setting the characters were from. There were small automatic weapons included with some of the western characters. And a Ninja Turtle sword, I was pretty sure, too. The Lone Ranger,  for instance, a MEGO figure I owned as a child, came packaged with his blue outfit, removable mask, hat, red sash, gun belt, silver revolver, and a tiny black Glock 9 mm pistol small enough to stash in his boot. Okaaaay. His kemosabe Tonto seemed to have only his original items, with headband, gun-belt, revolver, and moccasins. Each of the figures had a bit of wear on them, with chips in the paint of their hair, or minor stains on their clothes, but nothing too bad. They looked as though they had been played with, but lovingly cared for otherwise. And these amazingly well-cared for toys were priced at only $10 each.

It was cool seeing the Lone Ranger again. My own vanished long ago—no doubt during one of my dad’s culling sessions, instituted after he’d told my sister and I to clean up the toys in the living room for the 18th time and then finally just bagged it all up and hauled it to Good Will while we were at school. Still, I was absolutely not going to buy any of these doys—even as an investment. Then a third toy caught my eye and made me smile: Fonzie from Happy Days.

Some of you may not be old enough to remember the show Happy Days’ or its most memorable character Arthur Fonzerlli, a.k.a. Fonzie, a.k.a. the Fonz. Played by Henry Winkler, Fonzie was the coolest cat 1970s TV had to offer—cooler still than John Travolta’s Vinny Barbarino from Welcome Back Kotter. Fonzie was a greaser and semi-reformed motorcycle gang member who dispensed wisdom to the local high school kids. Fonzie was so cool that when he snapped his fingers girls would instantly flock to his side. He was so cool that juke boxes did his bidding with only a bump from his elbow. You’ve heard of the phrase “jump the shark”? It describes the moment in which a TV show starts to lose its creative footing and begins the downward slide toward cancellation. Well Fonzie originated that term by motorcycle jumping an actual shark in a water tank in the premiere episode of Happy Days 5th season in 1977. You might think that spelled the end for the show, but it actually lasted another six years beyond that! That’s the power of Fonzie’s coolness!

Among my first-grade peers, Fonzie was the MEGO figure to own. However, my dad evidently didn’t think I was cool enough to have a MEGO Fonzie, because all I ever got was MEGO Ralph Malph. (Similarly, I never had the Vinny Barbarino toy that Mattel made. I only rated Arnold Horshack. Thanks a LOT DAD!!!!) The MEGO Fonzie toy was the coolest. It was also one of the only MEGO figures with articulated hands, with fingers that could be folded back and a thumb that could be extended to make his trademark thumbs up “Ayyyyy!” stance. MEGO even made a version of the toy with a lever on his back that would fire one of his thumbs into “sit-on-it” position in under a quarter of a second.

The MEGO Fonzie at the flea-market was in remarkable shape for a 37-year-old toy. (You have no idea how painful that is to type.)  His articulated fingers were present and accounted for on his little plastic hands. He had both of his boots. He had his white t-shirt and his trademark leather jacket. He even had the “sit-on-it” lever. Now the Fonzie toy didn’t normally have accessories, but strangely this one did. It came packaged with a tiny machine gun.  “Eat lead, shark! Ayyyyyyy!”

I mentioned to the lady who ran the booth that I was pretty sure the machine gun wasn’t original to Fonzie, but I thought it was cool that he had it. She said, “Oh, I don’t know anything about them toys.” She then also admitted that she’d spiced a few of them up with new tiny weapons and accessories, but only because she had two shoeboxes full of plastic munitions without homes. She said the toys themselves had come from the estate of a guy who collected vintage toys and kept them in good shape. He was also possibly her nephew. He had also died tragically of a heart-attack at too young an age. His toys, the lady said, had been destined for the landfill until someone told her about them and his parents gladly gave them to her, scarcely believing anyone would want any of it. She was just hoping to sell them for $10 each.

My mind boggled at this, because $10 was a steal for almost any good-condition, clothed MEGO from the 70s, let alone ones that still had all their accessories. Perhaps sensing my boggle, the lady went on to note that while she herself knew nothing about “them toys,” an enterprising soul might purchase them and resell them on “that, um… that computer thing they got.”

“EBay?” I offered.

“Yeah. That’s the one,” she said with a nod.

I looked down to find myself suddenly holding a hook, a line and a sinker. However, I did not immediately pierce my own cheek with it and willingly leap into her boat. No, instead, I spent the next twenty minutes wandering around the flea market with my nose in my phone, looking up eBay prices and salivating. There was a Fonzie going for just under $80, and he didn’t even have boots. I found a Lone Ranger going in the $50 range, and a Tonto going for a bit less (racists!). Soon enough, I found myself back at the lady’s booth, handing her $30. She bagged up my toys and thanked me for my business. Then I took them home, lifted up the back of their tiny costume shirts and saw on their backs giant red letters reading: “Guess what, asshat, I’m a 2004 reissue!”

Yessir. Way back in ought four, some geniuses called Classic TV Toys bought the MEGO molds, and evidently the Gabriel molds, and began making new Happy Days and Lone Ranger toys for fun and profit. Sadly, today they’re all going for around $10 each on eBay.

It should be noted that the kindly lady at the flea market who probably scammed me never actually said these were original 1970s MEGO figures. In fact, she had repeatedly stressed that she didn’t know anything about them. And while I don’t know for certain that I was grifted, I pretty much did most of the heavy lifting for her. That’s how the really good cons tend to go. If it was a con, it was so skillfully executed that I don’t think I mind having been conned. It was almost an honor to have fallen for it.

Plus, I can’t be too mad. I mean, hey… I finally have MEGO Fonzie. And one with a machine gun.

Copyright © 2014 Eric Fritzius

The Talkin’ Penn Station, Train-Trippin’, “Ow My Coccyx!” Hungry Hungry Escalator Blues

My forthcoming children’s book will be titled: “The Hungry Hungry Escalator.”  It will be based on an incident that occurred to my in-laws and I as we tried to depart New York’s Penn Station recently.  We survived, but have been left bruised and sore, some more than others.

Let me back up.

Last week the wife (Ashley) and I went to New York City by train, on vacation with my in-laws (Ma, Pa, her sister Amber and brother-in-law J.P.)  We were to leave by train on Wednesday morning.  The train didn’t arrive until Wednesday afternoon, however.  That four hour delay, plus some more delays en route, put us off our arrival time by numerous hours.  Instead of arriving at 10 p.m. on Wednesday night, we instead arrived at 6:30 a.m. on Thursday morning, costing us a pre-paid night in our Chinatown-based hotel rooms.   Beyond that, we had a great time, ate great food, saw great shows (the new production of Les Misrables is fantastic–and that was just for the Val Jean understudy!!!), went to some very nice comic shops, and mostly learned how to ride the subway.  (We only accidentally went to Brooklyn once.)

We were scheduled to depart Sunday morning at 6:55 a.m. so we took the hotel’s car service to Penn Station, leaving at a little after 6.  We got there in plenty of time, then found coffee and breakfast–though just barely.  I tried to order six breakfast sandwiches from a Duncan Donuts whose cashier line did not speak much in the way of the Queen’s English.  The ordering process became an Abbot and Costello routine.

ME:  Yes, I’d like six #10s, please.

CASHIER:  Ten number sixes.

ME:  No.  Six of the number tens.

CASHIER:  Ten number sixes?

ME:  No.  The turkey sausage muffin.  I want six of them.  Please.

CASHIER: The number 10?

ME:  Yes.

CASHIER:  Ten number sixes.

ME:  No!

Repeat.

They were still assembling my six #10s when boarding was called for our train.  I escaped with a bag of sandwiches and two cups of piping hot coffee in a cardboard drink caddy, then joined the family as we headed for the escalator leading down to our train.

We passed the ticket lady at the top of the escalator, showed her our tickets and proceeded.  My brother-in-law, J.P., went first, followed by Ma, Pa, me, Ashley, and her sister Amber.  One of J.P.’s bags had a broken handle, which made keeping it balanced on top of his larger suitcase difficult.  It fell off on the trip down, but he was able to replace it.  However, as he reached the bottom of the escalator, the bag fell off again.  Ma, who was right behind him, saw it land on the steps in front of her.  She planned to step to one side of it on the escalator’s lower landing and push the bag out of the way with her own rolling bag.  Only because her bag was in front of her, she couldn’t exactly see where the landing began, misjudged the end of the escalator, caught her bag on his and then went crashing over the two bags as her legs were knocked from under her.  I looked down in time to see her fall.

“Ma just fell,” I said to Ashley, who was a couple steps above me.  I then had enough time to see Ma’s coffee as it splashed across the metal landing plate below before being knocked off of my own feet by Pa, who had been knocked off of his feet after crashing into Ma and the luggage, not to mention his own luggage in front of him, as we were carried toward the growing pile by the still-moving escalator.

Ma had fallen on the landing and Pa had fallen close behind her. I, however, was trapped at the point further up where the metal steps are still very much metal steps and have not yet shrunk beneath the landing plate.  My feet were trapped beneath Pa and the luggage, while my upper half was being gratered by the teethy metal steps.  Somehow I kept the coffee caddy level on the way down, which I guess shows my sense of priorities when it comes to life is always “Save the coffee!”  While the cups were still in their caddy, held in my left hand, that hand was being pushed toward my face by luggage from below while my right arm and back were shoving me toward them due to being pushed by the gratering steps from above.  I don’t count escalators as a phobia of mine, but I did watch the Doctor Who story “Seeds of Doom” a number of times as a child.  I still suppress shudders at the thought of the massive grinder the story’s villain attempted to feed the Doctor into via an automated conveyer system.   My situation at that moment felt reminiscent.

Ashley and Amber, meanwhile, had been a few steps above us, and saw the oncoming pileup.  Ashley began yanking luggage from the space between her and me and chucking it back up the escalator for Amber to catch, so that those of us in the pile wouldn’t be buried under it.  There had fortunately only been one lady above Ashley and Amber and she wisely fled back up the steps to get away from the building chaos pile.  Ashley also had the presence of mind to shout for someone to stop the escalator–only, in the moment, she couldn’t remember the word escalator so she instead shouted “Stop it!  Stop it!  Stop the… thing!”

I also was shouting, but wasn’t very coherent because I was staring at the business end of two scalding coffees being pushed closer to my face while simultaneously being pummeled by the toothy metal steps on the other side.  (My other arm, I soon realized, still safely clutched the bag of sandwiches.)  The extended handle of my rolling suitcase was being pummeled by the steps and it sounded as though it was being crushed.  This sent me into a panic because I figured my fingers would be next.  Ashley said I began screaming a mixture of “STOP IT!!!!!  STOP IT!!!!!” and “OWWWWWWW!” at the top of my lungs.

Below, J.P. was trying to hit the stop button, but it was covered by a plastic lid that was latched in such a way that simply lifting it wasn’t part of its design; it took him a bit to get it open and hit the button and the escalator came to a quick halt.

I managed to climb out of the luggage and get to my feet.  I had still not spilled the coffee, but was left shaken and cursing.  I looked down to see where Ma was at.  She was standing down on the concrete of the train platform, looking back up at me with wide eyes.

“Ma?  Are you all right?” I said.

“I don’t know,” she said.  Her expression made me wonder if she was more badly hurt than she looked. What I didn’t realize until she told me later was that Pa had pushed her free of the escalator and she’d been able to turn around to see me being grated by the steps.  She had been frightened for me because I was wearing my leather satchel around my torso and she could see the strap tightening.  This was because the steps were pushing it further beneath me, but to her it looked as if part of the strap might have been caught in the works and was in danger of strangling me.  My incoherent girly screams couldn’t have been helping matters.  Thinking about it now, though, had I not been wearing the satchel, I would have been closer to the teeth of the steps themselves and might have been more physically injured as opposed to mostly just pride-injured.  At no point did I feel like I was being choked in the moment, but Ma she was about to have Pa free me with his knife.

The ticket lady came down the now stationary steps and was very concerned for all of us.  She didn’t want us moving around until she could ask a few questions to assess the lawsuit potential–though she didn’t actually say that last part.  Ma said she felt like her hip, shoulder and arm were probably bruised, but she didn’t feel anything was broken. I shook myself out and said that I felt okay, too.  Pa, who over the course of the last year has undergone not only triple-bypass heart surgery, suffered a stroke, recovered from it, and had his carotid artery cleaned out, said he felt fine.

The ticket lady offered to help us fill out an accident report, but that would involve not being able to catch our train, which was about to leave.  Seeing that we were all pretty much intact as far as we could tell (not to mention having been given a once-over inspection by my physician wife), and how none of this had been Amtrak’s fault to begin with, we decided to just soldier on down the track.

We were all in a bit of shock for a while.  The situation, bad as it was, could have been worse.  Mostly, I felt stupid for not being more quick-thinking in the moment and winding up at the bottom of the luggage pile so swiftly, while Ashley, Amber and J.P. were busy actually saving the day.

After half an hour or so, we all ate our cold #10 breakfast sandwiches and drank our coffee.  I felt a little sore and may have lightly bruised my coccyx, but I eventually decided there wasn’t much wrong.  This, however, did not prevent me from exclaiming “Ow!  My coccyx!” every time I sat down for the rest of the trip.  And while my coccyx did actually hurt, mostly I just exclaimed it because it’s fun to say.

The Talkin’, Bleeding Out the Yard, Snow Covered Meter, Pud Pipes’ Psychic Cornholing, Wade in the Water, Wade in the Water, Children, Fabulous Baker Brothers to the Rescue Blues (a Horribly Leaky True Tale)

This morning we were visited by a man from the water department.  The man knocked on the door at the crack of 10 a.m., stirring the dogs up and nearly making me spill my coffee on my PJs.  In fact, the wife and I were both still in our jammies, since she had the day off.  My PJs being the more street-worthy, I went to the door to see who it was and what he wanted.  After introductions, the man explained that he had come to read our water meter but couldn’t find it under the remains of the foot of snow that fell last week.  However, he continued, while he’d been walking along the driveway on his way to our front door to ask us about the location of said meter, he’d noticed that the water service line to our home was bleeding out into our side yard from, apparently, two separate locations.  He asked if we were aware of this?  We were not.  Or, at least, I wasn’t at first.  Then I flashed back to something I’d noticed a couple of days before.

I remembered that two days prior, while walking along the driveway myself, I had wondered why there were two huge bare patches in the thick layer of snow covering our sloped side yard.  They were bare patches that ran clear down to the property line, exposing a great tract of wet grass in the otherwise snow-packed yard.  It seemed to me to be caused by melt runoff from the snow on the driveway, as I could see water trickling in a sheet from near the top of the slope.  Seemed to be melting quite a bit, in fact, which was also odd given that it was 22 degrees outside.  But what did I know?  It made enough sense to me in the 3 seconds I devoted to thinking about it, so I just kept walking.

I had no sooner finished with that flashback, when I was hit by another one:  a memory of yesterday morning, when I went to make coffee only to find that the water pressure in the kitchen sink wasn’t quite what it normally is.  Ah, well.  These things sometimes take a while to warm up, my pre-coffee brain had informed me.  Shrug shrug shrug.

All of these are what you might call red flags.  Great, big, university-drill-field-flag-pole-sized red flags, draped down the side yard and bunched up in a wad in the sink.

“What’s going on?” the wife asked, as I returned inside and began racing to find some clothes.

“We’ve got burst pipes in the yard,” I growled.

“What?”

“That’s what the guy from the water department says.”

As I pulled on pants and boots, I told her about the bare patches.  She was not amused.

We both headed outside.  Sure enough, the bare spots I’d seen near the driveway were still there and water was coming up from the ground like a bubblin’ crude.  (Water, that is.  H2O.  The base of tea.)  The man from the water department explained that he’d been sent to investigate a leak after their sensors had flagged our particular hill as the source of a massive outpouring of water.

“What do we need to do?” I asked, quite panicked at the idea of the enormous bill we’d be receiving already and wanting to immediately stop it from climbing higher.

“Wellllllll,” the man said, taking far longer to say the word than necessary.  In fact everything he said after that was spoken at an infuriatingly glacial pace.  “When you get your water bill, see, what you’ll need to do is to call down to Peggy at the water department.  (Enormous pause)  You call Peggy and you let her know that you’d like to file a leakage claim for your water.  You won’t have to pay full price for it, cause it’s a leakage claim, but you’ll still have to pay some.  And, like I said, you’ll have to file a leakage claim…”

“No,” I said, interrupting, barely keeping my temper.  “What do WE NEED TO DO about the water pouring out of our yard right now?!”

“Ohhhhh,” he said.  “You probably need to cut the water off.”

If he’d been standing any closer, and if I was the kind of guy who went around punching people in the throat, he might very well have been punched in his.

“Yes,” I said, fingernails slipping one by one from my hold on the cliff’s edge of fury.  “But. What.  Do.  We.  Need.  To.  Do.  About.  Getting.  It.  Repaired?”  This was a first for us, having never experienced a pipe burst before, and I didn’t know if he needed call someone at the water department to send a team out to fix this, or if we were responsible for assembling our own team.  In retrospect, the answer really should have been obvious, but I’ve already provided evidence I don’t always notice the obvious.

“Wellllllll,” he said, “you’ll need to call a plumber.”  The man from the water department recommended Dave Davison (not his real name) who was “a real good plumber” and was actually a neighbor of ours, though not one we readily knew.  He also gave us the name of another plumber whom he said we should avoid at all costs.  In fact, he said that his department had received so many complaints about the man that it was now standard policy to just warn people not to use him.  As to cutting the water off in the interim, however, what we’d need to do was find the water meter.  Did we know, he asked, where it was?

“Yes.  It’s down on the corner of the yard,” I said pointing to the lower end of our acre, where it meets the driveway.  The meter was at the bottom of a 15 inch diameter pipe that was covered by a round mini-manhole of the same size, which was, at the moment, covered by at least half a foot of snow.

From his truck, the man from the water department fetched a shovel and a long white bar on a string, which turned out to be a metal detector.  I pointed him again to a six foot patch of snow, beneath which I knew the manhole to be located.   He walked over it, but his metal detector detected no metal except that of his shovel.

“Not finding anything,” he said.

“I think it’s further up here,” the wife said, pointing to a section of snow a few feet higher up the slope.

“No.  It’s in this area,” I said, circling my arm to indicate the original spot.  I couldn’t provide a specific location within my chosen section of ground, but knew it was within that part of the yard.  The man tried there again but still couldn’t find it.  So he began walking down the hill, further away from where the meter was located.  And, of course, he still wasn’t getting any hits.  Now I was well and truly pissed, but I knew I did not need to vent any anger at either of the two humans near me, no matter how annoyed I was that neither of them seemed to accept my estimation of where the meter was located.  Instead, I decided to vent my anger at the snow itself.

I stomped up the driveway in my crampon-wrapped boots and fetched my snow shovel, which I stomped back with, determined to find the meter myself.  I walked to the center of the area where I knew the meter was located and began chucking shovelfuls of snow with ferocity.  After a minute I’d uncovered nine or so small patches of yard.  My hope was to shotgun blast the area to catch the edge of the mini-manhole lid, rather than attempting a full on excavation.  My efforts, however, were not fruitful.

“I still remember it being up here,” the wife said.

“It’s not up there,” I said.  “I know.  I’m the one who has to mow over it.”

The man from the water department had continued on down the driveway, waving his metal detector bar over the narrowing patch of snow-covered grass along it, still finding nothing.  I was annoyed because his actions continued to call into question my knowledge of where my damn meter was located, but I decided to just let him go sick `cause A) I didn’t really want to deal with him anyway; and, B) because I wanted to be the one to uncover it, exactly where I’d been telling him it was, so I could quietly and passive-aggressively gloat about it.

“Do you want me to shovel?” the wife asked.

“No,” I said.  Shovel.  Shovel.  Shovel.  “I’m way too pissed off.”  Shovel.  Shovel.  Shovel.  “I need to do this.”

“How about dig some up here, then,” the wife said, pointing to her chosen area.  I knew for a fact that it wasn’t up there, but I’d demolished most of the manhole-sized chunks of snow from my area and still hadn’t found anything.  Hers had lots more snow, so I started shoveling further up the hill.  The man from the water department, meanwhile, had passed the midway point of the driveway and I could stand to keep quiet no more.

“Sir, I promise you, it is not down there,” I said.  “It is up here.”

The man agreed that it didn’t seem to be where he was looking, but he was operating on information from a guy who used to have the meter-reading route in our area and that guy had said it was on the driver’s side of the driveway if you were headed up it.

Yeah, it is, but it’s at the top of the driveway where our actual property begins, I angrily thought.  Shovel.  Shovel.  Shovel.

“How about let me dig,” the wife offered again.  Exhausted, I agreed.

The man returned with his metal detector and walked around with it in the area where the wife was digging.  It still wasn’t detecting anything.

“Hope it ain’t one of them aluminum lids,” he said.  “Was it silver?”

“No,” the wife said.  “It was kind of an iron color.”

He kept on detecting and she kept digging and the county’s water supply kept pouring out of the ground.

“I’m telling you it is not up there,” I said as calmly as I could manage.  “I know this.  I have to mow here.”  I then gestured, indicating the route I take along the edge of our yard, which runs me into the blackberry vines in the brush every time, but which is well above the meter that I don’t want to have to raise the blades of the mower to get over.   “This,” I said, still wildly gesturing to my route, “is above the meter.”

Perhaps sensing my slipping hold on sanity the wife moved to dig back in my chosen area, picking at the few patches of snow left there.  While she did, the man from the water department used his cell phone to reach the guy who used to have the meter route to ask him where the meter was again.  From the sound of it, the guy was telling him exactly where I’d already told him.

“Here it is, here it is!” the wife said.  The tip of the shovel had revealed the outer edge of a dark circle of metal, right at the edge of the brushline, just within the outer edge of the area I’d indicated.  I was too exhausted to grin in triumph.

The man from the water department read the meter, did some math, and announced that it had already poured over 109,000 gallons of water down the yard.  This made my knees weak.  He then showed us how to shut it off at the meter.  The wife and I decided that instead of immediately cutting off the water, we needed to return to the house and fill up our supply of water containers.  For all we knew, this would be a multi-day process to repair and we needed to have our ducks in a row.

“Wellllllll,” the man began again, slowly chewing over whatever else it was he wanted to say to us.  I turned and walked away, leaving the wife to listen.  I just couldn’t handle any more from him.  (And please note that I fully realize that my anger with him was essentially me being nutty, because he was a perfectly nice man and didn’t get snotty with us no matter how much reason he might have had to do so.  However, he was a perfectly nice man who was driving me nutty because he wouldn’t hurry up and get to the point of any of his sentences, increasing the amount of time our house had to bleed out.)

After the derecho storms of 2012, when our area was without power for a week, we learned that it’s always wise to have options when it comes to emergency survival gear.  We already owned a big blue 10 gallon water cube, left over from summers spent with an unreliable well, back in Princeton, so I grabbed that from the basement, along with a number of other water-dispensing containers in our apocalypse prep/camping supplies.  I started filling these, and then turned the process over to the wife, who had by then returned.  Soon every stew pot, soup kettle, canning boiler, tea pitcher and bathtub in the place was full of water.

I grabbed the yellow pages and began playing voicemail phone tag with our neighbor plumber first.  I eventually got through only to learn that he had over a month’s worth of jobs ahead of ours and would have to decline.  So I started at the top of the list of plumbers.  The first one listed also had a month of jobs ahead of us.  The second was the plumber we’d been warned against, so I skipped him.  The third, however, was that of a large regional plumbing company whose name I recognized and, for some reason, sent up warning signals in my head.

“Is there some reason I should have warning signals going off my head when I see the name Pud Pipes Plumbing?” (Again, not the real name, though it rhymes much the same.)

“I don’t know,” the wife said.

“I think we used them in Princeton and I think I remember not liking them,” I said.  I couldn’t quite recall the event in question, but they are one of the bigger plumbing outfits in the region, so I gave them a call.  Pud Pipes’ receptionist heard my plea and said she could have someone call me by 4p.  It wasn’t ideal, but at least it was a callback.

Having filled every possible container that could hold water, I went out and used a wrench to shut off the valve at the meter.

Pud Pipes called back before noon to get directions to the house and said they’d be there in 10 minutes.  It was around then that the wife then remembered something we’d been told by the previous owner of our house, which concerned the water service line.  Not long after we contracted on the house, there had been a similar pipe burst in the yard.  Our real estate agent, Jill, had told us that the homeowners, the Shaffers, were having it repaired, but not to be alarmed if we saw freshly dug dirt in the yard during our upcoming visit with the home inspector.  Weeks later, during the closing process on the house, Mr. Shaffer had told us that if we ever had any similar pipe problems we should be aware that he had constructed the house with a sheath pipe running underground from the basement to the edge of the driveway.  The service line was run within this pipe, so that if the line itself ever had to be replaced, the driveway and garage would not have to be dug up to do so.  The trouble was, it’s been two years since he told us this, so we’d forgotten the exact details.  We certainly HOPED the sheath pipe ran all the way to the yard, but maybe it only ran to the edge of the concrete garage floor?  We couldn’t recall.  So I phoned Mr. Shaffer to ask, but only got as far as the question when the Pud Pipes van pulled up, stirring the dogs into a slavering frenzy at the kitchen window.  I went outside to greet the plumbers while the wife tried to find a quiet place where she could talk to Mr. Shaffer.

The Pud Pipes plumbers were a guy in his 50s and a guy in his late 20s, though the guy in his 20s seemed to be the senior member of the team.  I led them over to the yard to show them the bare patches that were no longer pouring water.  The wife soon joined us.  The younger guy looked at the bare patches and began shaking his head.

“You do realize this entire line is gonna have to be replaced, right?  You do realize that?” he said.  “This ain’t something we’re going to be able to just repair,” he added ominously.

“No, we didn’t realize that,” the wife said.  “But we have to have water.”

The younger man walked along the driveway, still shaking his head.  To see him, you would think that the yard not only had a busted pipe but also a venereal disease.  The older guy stood by us, trying to make small talk by saying our house was really nice.  The younger man then wanted to know where our utilities connected to the house.  We pointed.  Did we have underground electric?  We nodded.  There followed more grave head-shaking and the wringing of hands.  The Pud Pipes guys walked down near the meter to confer with one another.  The wife and I similarly conferred at the top of the drive.

I asked her what Mr. Shaffer had said about the pipe.  She said that she hadn’t been able to hear him very well, because of the dogs, but it sounded as if the sheath pipe only extended to the edge of the garage and not beneath the pavement to the edge of the yard.  She based this on possibly having heard him say say that they built it that way so the garage floor wouldn’t have to be torn up.

“Are you sure?” I asked, still hoping for an under pavement pipe miracle.

“No.  I’m not sure.  The dogs wouldn’t shut up.”

The guys from Pud Pipes finished their quiet meeting and then asked to see where the water connected to the house, so we took them to the basement and showed them the service line poking out of the larger sheath pipe.  The younger guy shook his head some more in a way that suggested our service line not only had a venereal disease and that it was communicable.  The younger guy returned to the van, muttering something about having to dig through the driveway.  I wanted to tell him that wouldn’t be necessary, but I didn’t know for sure.  So I called Mr. Shaffer back to confirm our confirmation.  Turns out, I was right.  The sheath pipe did extend beneath the driveway.  We were saved!  Or, at least, our driveway was saved!

The younger man had retreated to the van to make a phone call, so I told the older man about the sheath pipe running the full length beneath the garage and driveway.

“Oh, that’s good, that’s good,” the older man said.  He immediately went to the van and knocked on the driver’s side window.  The younger guy, annoyed at the interruption, paused his phone call and rolled down the window to, but didn’t seem especially happy when told the good news.

Now, what I didn’t realize, until shortly after this,  was that the younger plumber was something of a plumbing clairvoyant.  Yessir, this kid had apparently been birthed with the God-given ability to psychically foreknow the installation history of any pipe with which he came into proximity.  And I know this because when he finally emerged from the Pud Pipes’ van, some minutes later, he announced that the break in our service line was not beneath the obvious leak points in the yard, but was instead located somewhere within the sheath pipe itself.  Furthermore, whoever had done the installation of said service line through said sheath pipe–either during the previous repair job or, hell, when the original pipe had been fed through the foundation itself–had probably jammed it in there good and cracked it in the process.  Yessir.   It was definitely broken off in that sheath pipe, which meant it was doubtful that they could use the sheath pipe to replace the line at all.

“But, the leaks are under the yard,” I said, pointing to the two giant bare patches a few feet away.

“Yeah, it’s all broken up down there,” the kid said, waiving an arm, indicating the entire length of the line from the meter to the house.

“But… the sheath line is already there,” I said.  “The previous owner installed it for just this possibility.  I don’t see what the problem is.”

The two of them hemmed and hawed over this, the older man backing up the younger man’s assertions at every turn.  Yes, evidently it’s just devilishly hard to get a length of one inch diameter PVC pipe to fit through a length of four inch diameter PVC pipe.  They saw this sort of thing all the time, the older man added.  Why they’d had this one job this one time, in Princeton, that took a day of trying and they still couldn’t get it through.  Yep.  Bottom line, we were looking at around $3,800 to replace the whole line.

I stared at him for a long moment.  This was one of those situations where I really really wanted to be able to call horseshit on them, but only had a gut feeling to go on and enough sense to know that the consignment of smelly organic matter I was being handed looked and smelled a lot like the rectum of a horse.  However, I was talking to two ostensible plumbing experts, so what did I really know?

I asked them to excuse me, and went into the house to inform the wife.  She also thought it smelled rather ripe.  Being an intelligent lass, she also pointed out that if the service line truly was broken off within the sheath pipe, we’d have a basement full of water, because the only thing plugging up the interior end of the sheath pipe was a little bit of insulation and water always seeks the easiest path.  I agreed.  More egregious to me, however, was that these guys had speculated up a $3,800 bill based on a glance at the yard.  And why were they so deadset against using the sheath pipe–the one part of this whole thing that seemed a guarantee to make their job easier?

“If you don’t want them to do it, don’t let them do it.  There are other plumbers,” she said.  “We haven’t called them all.”

I didn’t want to have to call them all.  I wanted the plumbers I’d already called to be worth a damn, or at least not try to scam me to my face.  Alas, it appeared not.

At the wife’s suggestion, I went outside to inform the Pud Pipes guys that we were going to seek a couple more estimates before making any decision.  I’m pretty sure they knew we were going to tell them to move along, because they were both in the van with the engine running.  They seemed neither surprised nor disappointed.

(After they drove away, I remembered my previous negative experience with their company.  Back when we lived in Princeton, our hall toilet developed a leaky gasket beneath one of the bolts that held the tank to the bowl.  Trouble was, because the bolt was on the tub side of the toilet, it was incredibly difficult to get both a wrench-grip on the nut at the top of the bowl and another wrench-grip on the bolt head within the tank itself.  And if you got both, you couldn’t get an angle that gave you any kind of torque without slipping off one or the other.  Eventually I figured out that the bolt and nut were pretty much fused by corrosion, but it took two days of me trying to wedge in there and force them to turn to learn that.  “Call a plumber,” the wife said, after we’d had an unsuccessful crack at it together.  We reasoned that a plumber would likely have a special tool that would allow them to do separate stuck bolts, so I looked in the phone book and called the plumber with the biggest ad, Pud Pipes.  Turns out they did have a special tool for freeing stuck bolts.  It’s called a Saws-All, a tool I already owned.  They slid theirs in between the tank and the bowl and sawed the bolt in twain.  They then replaced the bolt and charged me $200.  TWO HUNDRED DOLLARS!!!!!!!  For that kind of cash I could have bought a second Saws-All to go with the ONE I ALREADY OWNED, which I could have used to do the job myself.  It’s completely my fault that I didn’t think of doing so, but perhaps I would have had more incentive to come up with such a solution if I’d realized Pud Pipes was going to charge a king’s ransom to do the job.)

Back inside, I scanned back down the list of plumbers in the phone book.  It was a short list of seven, two of which had already turned us down, another being Pud Pipes, and a fourth being the plumber we’d been warned against by the water department itself.  I really didn’t want to call any of the others, either, because after Pud Pipes I was just not in a mood to trust anyone.  I needed a solid, reputable plumber.   And that’s when it occurred to me who I needed to call.

“Jill!” I said.  “I’ll call Jill!”

Jill is Jill Allman, our realtor.  In addition to being a joy to work with on buying the house, she’d been very helpful in the two years since whenever we needed advice on home-improvement specialists.  Ironically, the previous day, Jill had emailed to ask if I’d be willing to write a review of her real-estate services on Zillow.com.  And I’d readily written a glowing one, which had mentioned her willingness to offer advice on non-asshat service-professionals.  Here I was returning to the well of good advice, already.

I phoned Jill and told her our problem and how Pud Pipes was no longer an option.  She immediately warned us not to choose the guy the water department had already warned us against.  A number of people had warned her, too.  (I don’t want to say the actual name of the plumbing service, but, if you need another rhyme, it will only take a Mennett.)  Jill’s suggestion was Baker Home Services, run by a guy named Robert Baker and his brother Steve.  They weren’t listed in the phone book, but she had the number.

Steve Baker answered when I called.  I told him Jill had recommended them gave him the short short version of our problem, concentrating on the leaks and the sheath pipe, leaving out Pud Pipes.  Knowing it might take a while for them to find time to come out, I added that we had plenty of water stored up inside, so we could survive.  Steve asked the kind of questions you’d hope to hear from a reputable plumber who was out to diagnose what was actually wrong with your pipes.  He also noted that because ours was an emergency situation, he and his brother could come out in about an hour.  He sounded friendly and concerned—two qualities I look for in a plumber.

“I like that guy!” I told the wife, after hanging up.  “I feel good about this already.”

True to their word, Robert and Steve drove up in their van in about an hour.  In person, Steve was as friendly and warm as he’d sounded on the phone.  Robert even moreso.  They both shook my hand and came across as very chill fellows meeting a friend of a friend for the first time, ready to help.

I showed them to our leaks, now just muddy grass patches.  The Baker brothers didn’t shake their heads in despair at the sight.  I then showed them to the basement and pointed to the service line in its sheath pipe, as well as its in-house shut-off valve.  They made no proclamations about sheath lines being plumbing death.  In fact, Robert noted that our one inch PVC service line was typically some of the strongest stuff on the market and unlikely to rupture unless it was somehow sheared off, or crushed, or broken at a joint.  And at the depth it was usually buried, freezing shouldn’t really be an issue unless there were extenuating circumstances.

Now here’s the cool bit:  rather than speculate wildly about our particular breaks, and rather than reaching into the depths of their colon to come up with an exorbitant dollar figure on how much the work on the as-yet-unofficially-diagnosed problem was going to cost, the Bakers instead said they would go out and dig up the line at the obvious leak sites and have a gander.  It was possible, they said, that the line could be repaired without a complete line replacement, but they wouldn’t know until they got a look at it.  Glory be!

For the next 45 minutes or so, the Fabulous Baker Brothers set about with shovels to dig the earth.  They started with the leak spot closest to the meter.  When they’d uncovered it, they came and asked me to close off the valve in our basement so that they could turn on the one at the meter to see what happened.  I did this and left them to it.  Within a few minutes, they began digging at the second leak spot.  A while later, they left to go buy some parts, came back, then left to buy a different part, because the one they had just bought wasn’t it.  No worries.

When they were finished, the Baker brothers asked me to come have a look.  The line, they said, had only been broken in one place, and had been caused by a cracked joint between sections of the PVC line.  They said that it looked as though the ground might have settled there, causing it to crack, but it was hard to say for sure.  They had replaced that section with a shorter length of flexible pipe that would be able to bend a bit if more settling occurred.  They wrapped it and the other exposed section in some flexible insulation.  They said that the previous repair to the pipe had also been insulated, but it was done using strips of a foam core insulation board, which water from the leak had run beneath until springing up at the lower spot in the yard, creating the appearance of a second leak.  This was proven by the fact that the water had been turned back on at the meter and there were no leaks from either section of pipe.   They’d also double-checked for unseen leaks by watching the meter for a while and seeing that it remained stable.  Nice.

Robert pointed out that having a line replacement at some point in the future probably wouldn’t hurt.  The repair they’d made would certainly last us a while, but we might eventually consider doing the whole line just to be sure.  While I was standing there, Steve measured the distance between the meter and the back wall of the garage just to see how much pipe would be required.  The job, Robert said, would probably run between $1,500 and $1,800.

“As opposed to the $3,800 Pud Pipes was going to charge me this morning?” I said.  I’d said nothing of their competitors until that moment.  They both laughed, but were not surprised.  They had a few Pud Pipes stories of their own–nothing criminal, just prohibitively expensive.  Then I told them the Saws-All story.

“Two hundred?!” Robert said.  “You could have bought a brand new toilet and and had it installed by us for less than $200.”

They didn’t go so far as to say the Pud Pipes company did bad work, or anything; just that Pud Pipes tended to violently cornhole the wallets of customers who called them for home repair jobs, as opposed to the lower prices they had to bid in order to stay competitive for the new construction work they preferred.  I told them I wanted to take a picture of their handiwork and email it to Pud Pipes with the caption: “Here’s your complete service line replacement, assholes!”

I was imagining the bill for the work the Bakers had done would come to somewhere between $300 and $500.  These were plumbers, after all, and they had been working for around three hours.  Our bill came to $239 and change.  I nearly danced in the slushy driveway.  I told the Fabulous Baker brothers I would sing their praises on Facebook.

“Maybe we should get a Facebook page?” Steve asked his brother.  They then grinned at each other, as if knowing this wasn’t going to happen.  They said that they only rarely advertise, are not listed in any phone book, and have more work than they can handle from word of mouth alone.

We bear a great deal of guilt about the tremendous waste our leaky pipe and our lack of vigilance has caused.  This in a state which so recently had a major water supply tainted by a chemical spill, leaving 300,000 people out of water for weeks, with ongoing issues to the day of this writing.   Our guilt is such that we can’t bring ourselves to waste any of the water we stored in all our spare containers—containers which now take up most of our counter space in the kitchen.  Hopefully we can burn most of them off for cooking, laundry, toilet-flushing or dog watering.

As for the ultimate cost, the wife later gave me the short version of what the man from the water department had said after I’d fled for my sanity.  It seems that our water is usually charged at around $6 per thousand gallons.  We’d bled out over 109,000 gallons, making our potential bill somewhere in the $650 range.  The man from the water department told her, however, that if we filed for leakage, they’d knock it down to $1 per thousand gallons.  We normally pay $35 for our total bill.

Gonna be a big one next month either way.

Copyright © 2014 Eric Fritzius

Dear Bryan Fuller…

Just read the news about the potential PUSHING DAISIES Broadway musical.

As a huge Pushing Daisies fan, with many many friends who are as well, I think I may be the only one I know to say: I’m actually against this.

While on paper a Pushing Daisies musical seems like a great idea, IMO it is too drastic an alteration of the ideal format for the story it was telling and existed in, which is television or film. The show was born in that medium and did amazing things in it while it lasted. It also incorporated many elements of Broadway musicals along the way, which were used to make this little TV show about a bittersweet relationship between a piemaker and the reanimated dead girl that he loves, into something magical and unlike anything I’ve ever seen on TV.  ON T.V.

Could a stage version of the show exist? Sure.

Could it be amazing? Sure.

Would I want to see it? Sure.

Should I shut up and trust that you and your fellow creators know what you’re doing and have a master plan in place?  Quite possibly.  But I cannot do so without respectfully appealing to you to reconsider this Broadway plan in the short term.

I maintain that the stage will not be the ideal place for a fitting conclusion to your story–a conclusion or continuation that we the fans have wanted so badly since it went off the air. A translation to the stage, while gaining all the elements that make Broadway musicals so special on their own, will lose much of the visual and special effects elements that helped make that show beloved. Television acting and stage acting are different creatures. It’s closeup magic versus stage magic; David Blaine versus David Copperfield. Both are impressive, but for very different reasons.

As great as a PD musical could be, I will miss the twinkle in Ned’s eye, Chuck’s knowing smile, Emerson Cod’s world-weary sneer, Olive’s subtle longing, the conflicted expressions of Aunt Vivian, and the one-eyed steeliness of Aunt Lily. (And what about Digby?!)

Furthermore, an ending to Ned and Chuck’s (and Emerson and Olive, and Lily and Vivian’s) story needs to exist in a format that can be shelved alongside the TV box sets we’ve watched and rewatched and forced so many others to watch over the years. Give us something which can be enjoyed by the mass audience worldwide that fell in love with the show! Requiring that it be seen on Broadway, where it will have a limited run, for a limited amount of people–or, if successful, will start trading out cast members when they decide to move on to other roles, assuming all of the original cast will even commit to it–is FAR from the same thing as a final curtain TV movie. And, frankly, it isn’t fair to the thousands of fans who have kept the fires burning.

This is not to say that I believe a Pushing Daisies Broadway musical couldn’t be pretty damn astounding on its own merits. It certainly could. And I would actually be 100 percent behind it had the show been given a proper ending on television. By all means, do an adaptation then and give us a Broadway show. But please, Bryan Fuller, don’t give it to us in place of the ideal ending to your story just because it could be cool. Kickstarter this thing like Veronica Mars. Let the fans fund a movie, or Netflix or Amazon mini-series, (assuming rights could be secured). Bring back the cast. (Okay, you can recast the kids, or just pick up young Ned and Chuck’s story further along with the same actors, somehow.) Bring back Barry Sonnenfeld to direct it. Bring back Jim Dale to narrate it. Give us the ending that I know exists in your head. And do so in the same format in which it began: film.

Yours,

–eric

Kitty on a Milk Carton (Part 2)

On Sunday, after church, I went out to investigate the forest floor beneath the hickory tree we’d seen the vultures in, in case there was any gray fur left from a kitty meal.  I didn’t find any.  Meanwhile, the wife went down the hill to try and talk to neighbors.  They knew D.J. and had seen him around in the past, but not recently.  They agreed to keep an eye out and to check their outbuilding in case he’d snuck in there.

Throughout the afternoon, we kept waiting for him to just meander on in, but other than repeated “Fatty” misidentifications, we saw nothing.  It was to the point that Ashley couldn’t even be sure she’d seen him when leaving on Saturday morning.  She was afraid she’d just seen fatty trotting by the driveway.

“Oh, no,” I said.  “Fatty doesn’t trot.  He lumbers.  And it wouldn’t have been any other cat because it was running toward our house.”

At 4:50, Sunday afternoon, I was struck by the sudden feeling that D.J. was alive.  It was a warm and confident notion that said, he was not only alive but was on his way home.  In fact, it was so strong that I wrote it in my phone, as if speaking or writing it would make it real.  I then watched the back door, waiting to see his kitty face peering through it, or to hear his “wipewipewipewipewipewipe” trademark.  Nothing.

Sunday night, I posted a picture of D.J. to Facebook and asked my friends of a praying mind to say one for him.  A number of people responded that they would.

It was difficult to go to sleep for both of us.  We were both feeling down and with good reason; see, beyond Emmett’s brief disappearance from a few years ago, we’d had a previous experience with a cat disappearing, which did not end so well.

Avie Kitty

Avie Kitty

Our cat Avie was the second cat we had following the passing of my 17-year-old cat Winston.  (The first died of panleukopenia, and the less said about that the better–beyond the standard, “Get your kitten vaccinated!” advice.)  Avie was a sweet kitty, though vicious if you happened to be a baby rabbit.  We nicknamed her Kissy Kitty, because she tended to snuggle up on my wife’s chest and would kiss her sweaters.  We left Avie with our friend Scarlett while we took our dogs with us on vacation back in 2010.   When we returned, Scarlett informed us that Avie had escaped the house during the week and had not come back.  We shrugged this off, thinking she would eventually return, or that it wouldn’t be a problem to locate her.  None of our efforts proved fruitful.  We searched the neighborhood, put up posters all over, went door to door with flyers, and made daily trips to the Bluefield Humane Society for three months because we had a tip that one of their neighbors regularly caught local kitties in a live trap and hauled them in to kitty jail.  (We even called that neighbor, just to let them know we were on the lookout for a particular kitty, but they denied being the neighbor that did this.)  We had a few leads, but mostly these turned out to be the wrong cat.  We had fingers crossed that she might make it across town and turn up at the house someday, but if she ever did it was after we moved to Lewisburg.  We were broken-hearted for weeks, and could only console ourselves with the hopeful vision of Avie sitting on the lap of some little old lady, kissing her knitted shawl.  It still makes me sad to this day.

The coda to that story is that our friend Scarlett, from whose care Avie had escaped, is responsible for giving us D.J. and Emmett.  She’d picked them up as kittens from the humane society a couple months after Avie’s disappearance and her kids had named them Deja Vu and Emma.  Only they wouldn’t stop peeing in this one spot in her house, no matter what she did, so she said we could either take them or she was returning them to the humane society.  We, somewhat reluctantly agreed.  Emma turned out to be a boy, so we renamed her Emmett.  And since one of my Top 10 favorite movies is Silverado, I decided that if we had an Emmett, we needed a Jake, so that’s what I renamed Deja Vu.  The conversation in which we broke this news to Scarlett went something like this…

“We’re renaming Deja Vu to `Jake,'” I said.

“Oh, Jake, like in Twilight?” Scarlett said.

“No!  Not like Jake from Twilight,” I said, annoyed at all things Twilight.  “And the other one we’re renaming Emmett, cause it’s a boy.”

“Oh, Emmett, like in Twilight?”

Knowing that this would be a conversation we would probably have to keep having, we abandoned our Silverado theme and just renamed Deja Vu to D.J.

As we weepily lay in bed Sunday night, the wife said, “I guess we lost another kid.”

“Oh, I still think he could turn up,” I said.  “I keep waiting to hear him wiping at the glass.”

“Yeah.  Me too,” she said.

We talked more about the possibility that he was trapped somewhere, maybe in someone’s garage.  However the fact that it was now Sunday night and this hypothetical family had not returned from their hypothetical weekend trip to free him weighed on us.  If he wasn’t trapped in a garage, and if he wasn’t dead on his head, the other alternative was that he was alive but injured and couldn’t reach the house.  The fact that it was already 20 degrees outside and snowing didn’t help us in this line of thought.

I slept fitfully.  The wife barely slept at all.  Then what little sleep we were getting was broken by the sound of chainsaws at 8 a.m. Monday morning.

On Friday, some utility workers had been sawing trees and limbs along the power line path, just below our house and evidently they’d returned to finish the job.  It made me wonder if the sawing might be connected with DJ’s disappearance–if, perhaps, he’d been investigating some of the piles of sawed limbs and become trapped beneath them in a limbslide.  The men wrapped things up by 8:30, though, and no cat turned up.

I phoned the office of the veterinarian in proximity to us, but they’d not had any anonymous gray kittie’s dropped off.  Neither had our own vet.  We then tried to phone the humane society, also over the hill from us, but they were closed on Mondays.

We went our separate ways for errands, and met for lunch before heading home.  I was the first to arrive, hoping to find D.J. waiting at the front door.  He was not.  I called “Heeeeeere kittykittykittykittykittykitty” in the front of the house.  No cat rolled up.  I took the dogs inside and then stepped onto the back deck, where the cat also was not.  I gave it another “Heeeeeere kittykittykittykittykittykittykittykitty,” really putting some voice into it.  Screw the neighbors.  No kitty.

Looking down the brambly hillside behind our house, I decided I was going to head out into it to have a look around.  We know this is D.J.’s primary route to getting down into the rest of the neighborhood, so it made sense that he might be in there.  It would also allow me to investigate the piles of limbs the utility men had left.  I went back inside and began bundling up.  As I was doing so, the wife arrived home.  I told her of my plan, which she said was a good one.  I was then pulling on my gloves, headed for the back door, when I looked up and saw a kitty face peering over the top step.  I did a double take, not wanting to be fooled by “Fatty” for the 53rd time in as many days, but this was definitely a skinny kitty.  I then gawked as my brain sent several “Please Confirm!” messages to my eyes.  They confirmed.  I froze in place, refusing to take my eyes off of him for even an instant, as though he would run away or disappear if I did.  Then, in one breath, I said, “Holy shit!  It’s D.J., I swear to God it’s D.J., I am looking right at him, you have to come and see!”

She came over to see and he didn’t vanish.  We then both carefully moved toward the back door, slipping through its gap and not allowing the dogs to follow.  He didn’t run away, but he did seem strangely cautious, or even dazed.

DJ Kitty returned

DJ Kitty returned

“Let me see him,” the wife said, reaching down to pick him up.  She held him gingerly, as though he might be injured, but he made no pained cries.  He just looked like he was in shock to be home.

After a thorough examination by Dr. Ashley, we determined that D.J. was a little dirty, smelled of old dust, had a few superficial cuts, may or may not have had one of his back legs gnawed upon by something, but was for the most part fine.  We took him in the house and gave him canned cat food.  Then Ashley did another more thorough examination before announcing that she thought he was going to be all right.  He spent the rest of the day napping on our bed and seemed pleased to be inside.

We still have no idea where he was all this time, but our suspicion is that he was indeed injured.  His back leg, while not hurt enough to cause him to cry out, did show signs of having possibly been in the mouth of another creature and we wonder now if he might have been caught by one of our neighbor’s dogs down the hill.  He may have been hiding in a culvert the whole time.  Or he might truly have been trapped in a garage.  What matters most is that he was returned to us.  Our prayers were answered.

Kitty on a Milk Carton (Part 1)

D.J. Kitty

D.J. Kitty

We have two cats, a gray kitty named D.J. and fat lump of a sealpoint cat called Emmett. In fact, we call Emmett “Fatty Lumpkin” most of the time cause it just fits.  Emmett is very beautiful and very stupid.  D.J. is skinny, affectionate and intelligent.  He’s smart enough that he knows exactly which of our buttons to press to get what he wants.  Sometimes this makes him exasperating because getting us to do what he wants often involves waking us up in order to let him out.  He usually does this by knocking shit off of my bedside table, or clawing the window screens which, on our windows, are on the inside.  Lately, now that he’s learned the bedside table puts him in arms reach of me, he’s taken to clawing some unseen thing beneath our bed where I can’t reach him, which he will do until I get up to at least try to reach him.   For the most part, he doesn’t even have to burn this many calories, because our dog Sadie knows D.J. pisses me off through this behavior and, when the cat enters the room in the wee hours, will preemptively wake me up by whining to go potty in order to prevent me being upset with the cat for being awakened. It’s a symbiotic relationship that seems to work for everyone involved, because I’m never upset with the dogs for waking me; it’s the cats, who have a litterbox, that anger me through their interruptions to my slumber.  I say all that as further evidence that D.J. is quite intelligent, because often when I am awakened by the dog I will find him lurking just inside the door to our room, waiting to slip out with the dogs.  And I provide these examples of his intelligence because it illustrates the degree of fear my wife and I were filled with when D.J. turned up missing this past weekend.

The last time I had seen D.J. before his disappearance was sometime on Friday.  I don’t recall him coming in for dinner, but I was busy getting ready to go act in a play.  Didn’t see him when I returned and didn’t see him for breakfast on Saturday.  In the afternoon, still having seen no sign of the cat, I mentioned it to the wife.  “No, I saw him this morning,” she said.  She’d been on her way out to go do some early-morning charting at her clinic and had seen him running along the edge of the driveway in the direction of the house.  I’d not seen him, though.  It was not like him to miss breakfast.

Later, after he’d missed dinner and had still not turned up by the time we came home from the final night of my play, we began to be concerned.  I went to front and back doors calling, “Heeeeerekittykittykittykittykittykitty!” expecting to see him come running from the woodshed, or to eventually hear him wiping at the glass of the back door.  We call it wiping the glass, because that’s what he does.  Just stands up on his hind legs and wipes up and down the glass of the door with his front paws, creating little squeaky “wipewipewipewipewipe” sounds.  It’s one of his trademark moves.  We did not hear them that evening.  Instead, we had several bursts of hope followed by misery when we mistook Fatty for DJ as he lurked outside the back door, several minutes after one of us had put him out the front door.

After midnight, having no luck sleeping, I got up to walk out in the 30 degree weather to check the woodshop in case he’d managed to sneak inside there when I’d briefly gone out in the afternoon.  Nope.  I then walked out and checked his usual haunt of the woodshed, just to confirm that A) he wasn’t there, and B) he’d not been killed in some sort of woodpile avalanche.  He was not and had not.

We know D.J. to be a wide-ranging cat, having seen him all over the neighborhood, but he’s fixed, so the usual male “catting around” hasn’t really been a factor.  He’s also so smart that we know he can find his way back home from pretty much anywhere he’s wandered, so, to our way of thinking, if he had not come home something was wrong.

Back when we lived in Princeton, our other cat, “Fatty,” disappeared for a few days.  After the first two, we realized something was up and began to worry.  We figured he was either dead, trapped, or he’d managed to wander into an adjoining neighborhood and, being fairly stupid, got lost.  Our money, somehow, was on trapped, though.  This was over a three day holiday weekend, and we were imagining him wandering into a neighbor’s open garage on a Thursday only to be trapped when they departed, closing it behind them.  We’d even had a neighbor describe seeing him in the vicinity of another neighbor’s house–a neighbor she knew had left town in just such a manner.  We still don’t know for sure if this was the case, as I heard no mews when snooping around that neighbor’s yard.  But on the afternoon of the third day he turned up, a bit skinnier than when he’d left, but otherwise okay.

The wife and I hoped this would turn out to be D.J.’s fate, and not something more sinister.  We live on the edge of some woods, and allegedly pet-hungry coyotes have been known to roam the area.  That coupled with the 22–count `em, TWENTY TWO–gigantic vultures we saw roosting in a hickory tree behind our house on Saturday was enough to turn our thoughts dark.

( TO BE CONTINUED…)

Actual Conversations Heard in Actual K-Marts #3

SETTING:  Super K-Mart in Beckley, W.Va.  I have enter and approach the service desk clutching a bag containing a defective bubble gun in one hand and my receipt in the other.  This was a bubble gun I had purchased during a tour of multiple Beckley-based retail outlets the previous week, which I was hoping to use for the play I’m directing (“Fish Schticks” by Brett Hersey), which requires bubbles and lots of them.  As previously noted, the gun refused to fire.

CLERK–  Hello, sir.  May I help you?

ME–  (Setting the bag upon the counter)  Yes.  I bought this bubble gun here last week.  It doesn’t work even a little bit.

CLERK– (Looks down at my bag.  Allows a pregnant pause.)  Um, sir, this is from Magic Mart.

(I look down at the bag, from which I had pulled my receipt mere moments beforehand.  Both the bag and the receipt have Magic Mart logos prominently printed on their surfaces.)

ME–  Oh.  You are correct.  Sorry about that.

CLERK–  Oh, no problem.

(I then gather up my bag and my receipt and flee the building.)

I’ll take “Spayed `ers” other than James for $100, Alex.

Yep.  One week back, we took the dog in for a spayin’.  We chose to do this during a week that the wife otherwise had off from work.  (She had not requested a solid week off, but that’s what they gave her.  Doesn’t matter to her, she gets paid the same either way, but it was a nice and unexpected vacation.)  We did this because if anything were to go amiss with Maya’s recovery from the spayin’, the wife wanted to be home to monitor it.

Since the wife had so many days off, my mother-in-law decided to come up as well.  This is always a welcome event.  For one thing, I love my mother-in-law.  For another, she’s a spectacular cook and I’m guaranteed biscuits and gravy for at least one of the days she’s around.  (Which I then take pictures of and text them to my brother-in-law as proof that I’m her favorite.)  The other advantage to having Ma around is that she helps keep the wife occupied allowing me to otherwise get work done.   Since I work from home as a writer, I do have to actually spend some time doing that sort of thing.  But when the wife is off, I feel obligated to spend a good amount of time with her, too, and sometimes my work life doesn’t get the attention it needs.  So my deadlines were thankful Ma was in the house, too.

Maya’s surgery went well.  I went with the wife to pick her up the following morning.  We were waiting in the vet’s lobby when they brought her out.  Maya went right to the wife first.  After receiving a pet there, she turned, noticed me and I got to see her little doggy expression change from one of mere happiness to happiness double plus joy. 

During her recovery, she was a good deal more subdued than her usual self–which is to be expected, since her belly still hurts.  (“Mama paid money to have my belly cut open,” we frequently say, using our Maya voice.  We’re such idiots.)  Much of her initial recovery time was spent camped out on what we call the dog couch, which is to say our old couch that we never sit on and which the dogs get more use out of.  And while she had pain meds to help, I think she was still in pain, because she became very sensitive to the presence of the other dogs.  If Sadie, for instance, tried to hop up on the opposite end of the dog couch, Maya would sometimes yipe as if Sadie had jumped on her.  But we all saw that Sadie hadn’t come close to even touching Maya.  Perhaps Maya wanted to be in pain in private, because she soon retreated to our bedroom, or even our bedroom closet where she would bury herself behind the clothes hanging from the lower shelf.  Sometimes she would hide under the bed in my office.  Her appetite was also much lower than normal and she almost never finished her own food, let alone tried to steal the other dogs’ food.

Even now, a week later, Maya is still pretty subdued compared to her former boisterous puppy self.  She’s begun to play again, and chases Moose around, as well as the cats, but she’s not as needy as she was before the surgery.  Maybe it’s a hormone thing and this is the new default for Maya.  Can’t say I really mind, but it is a difference.

The other thing that has changed since the surgery (fingers crossed) is that we’ve had no more accidents.  Maya also seems far more willing to vocalize when we ask her if she needs to potty.  She’s even gone to the back door, clawed it and gave off a whine to let us know her intent, a few times.

This.  Is.  Awesome.

So far so good.  I’m not going to go so far as to say anything foolish, like, “Well, guess we finally got her potty trained,” cause if I did I’d probably find I’d been sitting in dog poo for the past two hours.

Days Since Last Accident = -1

Every time we think, “Oh, hey, it’s been a couple of weeks at least since Maya last had an accident.  I think she’s finally potty trained!” we’re swiftly proven incorrect.

This morning, upon rising at the behest of Maya who seemed to be indicating that she had to potty, I let her and the other dogs out and then set about to make breakfast.  Being as how it was still -3 degrees outside due to the polar vortex, I let them back in pretty quick, but gave them plenty of time to do their soon-to-be-frozen business.

Several minutes later, as I wrapped up the preparation of breakfast, grabbed my coffee and headed for the sofa, I spied a huge pile of poop by the back door.  I doubted greatly that this had been deposited before the wife left for work, so it must have happened while I was making breakfast.  The thing about me is, even though it’s entirely unappetizing to have to clean up dog shit before eating a freshly prepared breakfast, it’s even worse to just leave it there and eat that breakfast, knowing it’s there to be cleaned afterward.  So I had to clean it up, but not before shaming the dog for doing it in the first place.  While Maya has made great strides in keeping her waste within her until turned into the out-of-doors, she still hasn’t quite figured out a way to willfully alert us when she has to “go.”  Or, to mangle some terminology from Dune, to demonstrate pottysign. 

At night, she’s much better.  We’ve been keeping the dogs closed in our room, which keeps her from wandering elsewhere in the house to make a deposit.  Instead, she usually wakes up, stands and shakes her jowls violently.  When we hear this, we just get up and let her out and she’s never failed to “go.”  This is as close to achieving pottysign–to paraphrase a term from Dune– as she usually comes.  And it only happens at night.  During the day, when she has free run of the house, we basically have to notice her acting like she might have to potty, which is pretty subtle cause to the casual observer it appears exactly like her normal dog behavior.

Most of the time, we just notice her lingering by the front or back door, or peering out of a door adjacent window, and we just get up and let her out.  Occasionally, when we see her at the door and we ask her if she has to go potty, she’ll give us a satisfying whine in the affirmative.  But, again, it all requires we notice her doing that, cause damn if she’s gonna say a peep.

Toward the end of the day, having been let out for a solid 20 minutes not 15 minutes beforehand, I was in the kitchen making supper when I happened to glance toward the back door and saw another pile.  Two in one day, both while I was otherwise occupied in the kitchen, no effort made to alert me beyond staring out a window.  Maybe.

Actual Telephone Conversations Heard at My House #2

TAMMY– Thank you for calling LOCAL Animal Hospital, this is Tammy.

MY WIFE– Hi, Tammy.  My name is Ashley Fritzius and I’d like to call and schedule for our dog Maya to be spayed, probably some time this week, if you can.

TAMMY–  Oh, very well.  We can get that scheduled for you.  (LOOKS UP RECORDS)  How does…. next Thursday morning sound?

MY WIFE– That will be great.  How much will it cost?

TAMMY–  How much does she weigh?

MY WIFE–  (LONG PAUSE)  You spay by the pound?

TAMMY– (ANGRY)  No, we don’t spay by the pound!

(Tammy then snippily told my wife that weight was a factor in the amount of anesthesia they would have to use and that we would have to pay for.  The wife plans to apologize after bringing the dog in tomorrow.)

Supercalifragilisticoprophagialidocious!

Cease Coprophagia Soft Chews.  Yessir.

Cease Coprophagia Soft Chews. Yessir.

Maya has taken to eating, um, well, poo poo.

I first suspected this when I smelled it on her breath as she jumped up to lick me on the face whilest I was sitting on the sofa.

“Ewww!  Get away!  You’ve been eating shit!” I screamed.

A few nights later, when letting Maya and Moose out to potty at 4 a.m., I spied Maya waiting patiently near Moose as he was taking a dump.  Then, from my vantage point inside the glass storm door of our front entrance, I saw Maya calmly walk over to where Moosie had made his deposit and just as calmly lower her head toward it, mouth open.  I flung open the door and hissed “NO!!!!!!!!” unintentionally waking everyone in the house in the process, but intentionally getting Maya to look up suddenly and guiltily and dash for the house before she could be christened a “bad dog.”

“What?  What is it?” the wife called sleepily from back in bed.

“Maya’s eating shit,” I whispered.

“What?”

“Maya.  Is.  Eating.  Shit,” I repeated.

“Oh, no.”

We then both had to hunker down in the covers and pull all limbs beneath, lest any stray dog licks from the edge of the bed send us flying to the shower in the wee hours.

Yesterday, while taking the dogs out for a walk, we were making our way across the yard toward the trail head, when I noticed Maya bending down for something in the grass.  As I watched, she gobbled up a few recently thawed links of poop, and then moved on toward a new pile, chewing all the while.  

“No!  No!  You don’t eat shit!   You DO NOT eat shit!” I screamed.   Maya heard me yelling and cowered in the grass in “bad dog” pose.  I realized I’d maybe over reacted a tad, and then tried to tell her she was a good dog.  But every time I spoke pleasantly, she would run toward me for petting, reassurance and, of course, slobbery dog kisses, which in turn made me scream “NO!” and run away, which caused her to cower again and start the cycle anew.

Perhaps we’re not feeding her enough, as coprophagia is a sign of underfeeding.

Days since last accident = 0

MAYA MIA (spoiler: she comes back)

Since our little incident in which Maya disappeared during a walk down the trail behind our house, a couple weeks back, I’ve been fairly careful when it comes to walking her sans leash.  For the first few days, I only walked her on a leash.  However, walking all of the dogs on leashes is a time-consuming business, because I either have to walk them in groups of one and two (taking twice as long), somehow convince the wife to join us (hasn’t happened yet, except for excursions to the state forest, where they run around without leashes anyway) or I would have to try and walk all three at once, (which just seems inadvisable on a number of fronts).   So I have returned to walking them down the trail without leashes just so everybody can get a good run in and I don’t have to mess around with multiple trips.  On these leashless jaunts, I have usually carried Maya’s leash, just-in-case, but have just kept an eye on her and if she strays too far I call her back.  Mostly she sticks close to me while the others wander afar.  It’s worked fine, so far.

Yesterday, after the dogs had been cooped up in the house all day, I finished up a bit of work and decided they deserved a walk.  I just caught a cold, so I bundled up, took them out to the edge of the wireless fence boundary and we all went through the motions of the polite fiction that I have some personal control over whether the barrier is “up” or not.  This amounts to me making the dogs all sit within a few feet of the flags, then they have to wait as I back up through the barrier, and, when I think they’ve waited long enough, I point to one of the flags and say “flag.”  Then they dash through and down the trail, leaving me to go fetch my walking stick from the wood shed.  I’m pretty sure that Sadie and Moose know full well that this is a bullshit ceremony, but they placate me cause they get to go on a walk.  Maya does not yet know that it’s bullshit, and she takes the barrier very seriously.

After fetching my stick, I started down the trail and saw the dogs were all up ahead of me.  Then, after looking down to check the ground for dog mines for a few seconds, I looked back up and saw Sadie disappearing into the weeds and brush off the right side of the trail.  There was no sign of Moose or Maya, though could hear doggy sounds in the weeds on either side of the trail.  After a few seconds I tried to call them all back, but they didn’t turn up.  I continued down the trail, then up the hill on the other side and around to the clearing.  No dogs.

For about ten minutes, I just waited in the clearing, calling Maya and clapping my hands–which, at our house, is the international audible signal that Pa wants dogs back in formation right now.  No dogs.

I started back down the trail toward the house, calling for Maya.  Mid-way back, Moosie showed up.  Then Sadie.  No Maya.

Having Sadie and Moose run off for lengths of time during our woods walks is no longer worrisome to me.  They’ve done it dozens of times and always come back, usually before I can make it back to the house.  I know they know their way home.  Maya, though, is still green to the woods.  And while she came back after running off before, I’m less confident in her not running afar and getting in a road somewhere.

At the time, my guess was that she had sniffed out a deer and was in pursuit.  This close to hunting season, they’re absolutely underfoot and it’s a rare day that passes that I don’t see at least three.  So I wasn’t initially worried that she had run off after one.

After making it all the way back to the yard with no Maya, though, I texted the wife just to let her know the situation, and then turned to walk back up the trail, calling and clapping some more.  No dog.

Fifteen minutes passed as I stood around on the trail, clapping and calling, Sadie and Moose running through the brush all around, making false hope Maya’s back sounds. I decided to go ahead and text the wife about the situation.  If prayer was needed, I’d rather she was involved as I suspect her connection is clearer.

I returned to the house, but saw no Maya.  I put the other dogs into the house and then hopped in the car.  Once again I made the trek down the highway and to one of the intersecting roads that Maya could have reached from the trail.  I drove up and down it, calling and clapping through my open window.  While I was driving, the wife called to get an update.  I explained my theory that Maya had run after a deer.  I’d passed five of them in a field during my drive along the road.  And as I looked out at that moment, I saw a flock of wild turkeys and added them to the pile of things Maya might be chasing.  Maybe she would bring one home.

On my way back to the house, I stopped at the humane society.  This time I went in and asked if anyone had seen a St. Bernard running by.  They hadn’t, but said they’d keep an eye out.

I motored on back to the house, feeling down.  I pulled into the driveway, hoping against hope that she would be waiting there, but she wasn’t.  Sadie and Moose were going nuts in stairwell window, but there was no sign of Maya to be had.  I climbed out of the car and, mostly on a just-in-case basis, clapped half-heartedly and called “Maya…”  I waited a few seconds, then turned to head toward the front door.  Then, from behind me, I heard a slight jingle of tags on a collar and turned to find Maya slinking up.  She looked concerned that she would be in terrible trouble, as if she expected me to scream at her.  I just smiled, patted her on the head, and said, “hey, sweet girl.  Where’ve you been?”  She brightened at this and wagged her way beside me into the house.

Days since last accident = 0

Thanksgiving (Part 2)

(Warning: If you’re weak of stomach, or just easily grossed out, this entry might not be for you.)

For Thanksgiving 2013, we held our actual holiday meal until Friday evening because most of us were traveling on Thanksgiving day itself and didn’t want Amber to do all the work.  Turkey was cooked, casseroles were baked, potatoes were mashed and cranberries sauced.  Finally it was time to eat and all dogs were forced out of doors save for Maya.  While the tighty-whitey contraception system had been working so far, we didn’t trust Bailey not to figure a way around them.  Despite Jim’s assurances that the old man couldn’t make the climb atop our dog, he’d demonstrated that the prospect of “gettin’ some” had made him rather spry, for we’d caught him succeeding in “taking the position” on more than one occasion.  Maya was secured in our bedroom behind a baby gate while the rest of us dined.  This resulted in quite a bit of loud St. Bernard singing on her part, though, so Ashley went and closed the door to the room as well.  This resulted in even louder St. Bernard howling as well as clawing of the door.  Finally, she took the dog downstairs and put her in the laundry room of Jim and Amber’s basement and closed that door.  The howling continued all the same, but it was a bit more muffled from that distance.

After the meal was completed, and I was well and truly stuffed, Amber took some leftovers downstairs to the spare fridge in the laundry room.  She returned quickly, ashen of face.

“Um, Maya made a mess down there and… and I’m not cleaning that up,” she said.

Now, the wife and I both heard this but, despite being the person who’d put the dog down there in the first place, she looked at me as if to say “your turn.”  I grunted and headed downstairs to see what horrors the dog had wrought.

Upon opening the laundry room door I was smacked in the face by the overwhelming stench of dog poo and dog pee.  Then I saw both and knew the true horror that awaited me.  I kind of wish I’d taken photos, because the degree of horror was pretty impressive.  On the floor directly in front of the laundry room door was a wide puddle of dog pee.  And, as she had done at our house when left in the garage, Maya had trod through the wide puddle of dog pee and had then wiped it all over the back side of the laundry room door, as well as pretty much the vicinity.  There were drying pee-prints everywhere.  Beyond the puddle was a section of industrial carpeting and about one foot onto its surface was the largest pile of dog shit I’ve ever seen.  Naturally, she’d trod through it a bit too, so there were big doggy poo-prints daubed around it, limited almost exclusively to carpeted surfaces.  I began to curse.

Twenty minutes later, I was still cursing and was still not finished cleaning up the mess.  I’d soaked up the pee, decontaminated the area with Clorox spray and had cleaned the back of the door.  I’d also removed the mountain of poop, which surprisingly only took one trip as I used a triple-ply collection of plastic grocery bags as a giant poo-bag.  However, when it came to cleaning the remaining poop that was smeared into the fibers of the thin carpet, I shuddered.  I knew I was probably going to have to hit it with a brush and foresaw getting it under my fingernails for certain unless I could find three layers of surgical gloves first.

Amber came to my rescue.  She has a magic spot-cleaning wet-vac device that you fill with cleaning solution, set atop a stain and press a button.  It does all the soaking, scrubbing and vacuuming of the remnants for you.  And if the stain isn’t completely gone, you can just press a button and do it all again.  So I spent the next half hour watching it as it cleaned and sometimes recleaned all the dog poo daubs remaining in the carpet.  I then emptied the spot-cleaner and politely cleaned up the device itself.  I was all prepared to call it done and go ask Amber to come inspect it when I noticed another spot of poo that I missed, as well as a previously cleaned spot that appeared not to have been cleaned so well and I had to get the machine back out again.  By the end of the cleaning process I’d been down there for over an hour.

I found Amber and my wife in the kitchen upstairs.

“You owe me SO big,” I told my wife.  Then I added, “In fact, you owe me a… well, we all know what it is that you owe me.”

“You really do,” Amber told her.  “I saw what he had to clean up.  You really, really do.”

The wife sighed and rolled her eyes, but what could she say with her sister backing me up on the prospect of wifely favors owed?

This, so far, has been the only positive thing about having a dog that refuses to be housebroken.

Thanksgiving (Part 1)

We had planned to hold Thanksgiving at our house this year, which would be a first for the new place, but it didn’t quite work out.  Our newlywed niece, K.T., was restricted from leaving the state of Kentucky by the rules and regs that her fresh-out-of-basic Army-recruit husband was bound by, so the rest of my wife’s local family decided to head to my sister-in-law Amber’s house in central KY.  And by `rest of the family,’ I include all our dogs as well.  It was a dog festival.

Amber and her husband Jim already have three dogs–an ancient and arthritic  black lab named Bailey, an enormous nearly two-year old bull mastiff named Thane, and a half-year-old beagle mix named Calamity Jane (C.J.).  K.T. also brought dogs, including C.J.’s male sibling Gunnar, and a boxer named Isis who was suffering from an unfortunate skin ailment, but was a beautiful and sweet dog despite it.  My mother-in-law was bringing her tiny dog Rascal (a.k.a. “P. Dabber”).  And we, of course, were bringing our three horse-monkeys one of which was in a raging heat.

With five male dogs in the house, at least two of which were packing fully functional junk, the wife and I knew this was going to be absolute chaos for us.  The two of us would have to be vigilant in order to keep Maya and her dog-cooter intact.  And, as we saw moments after we arrived, Thane and Bailey were definitely interested in her dog-cooter.  I had honestly been worried about Thane, as he’s huge, powerful and intimidating to behold.  However, Bailey seemed to be the one more readily interested in Maya, and Thane seemed to defer to him and continued to do so the entire weekend.  Jim assured us that Bailey was so old and infirm of joints, though, that it would be impossible for him to “make the climb up Mount Maya” as it were.  He said we would have no worries.  Perhaps not, we thought, but we had a backup plan and it involved tighty-whities.

Cujo in Hanes

Cujo in Hanes

Tighty-whitey briefs, you see, had been our solution back at the house to keep Maya’s in-heat status from leaving our floors a, to put it indelicately, Jackson Pollock blood-spatter painting.  We basically took pairs of Hanes medium briefs, cut holes for the tail, and then added panty-liners in the proper place to help insure a lack of “spotting” as it were.  The tighty-whities worked great and had the added bonus of being remarkably funny to see on the dog.  I mean, what isn’t funnier than a big ol’ St. Bernard wearing a pair of Hanes Y-fronts with a tail through the back?   I can tell you what’s NOT funny about it, though: having to take the damn things off every five minutes to let this dog go potty, not to mention the ordeal of putting these soiled-by-degrees dog-panties back on the dog afterward, that’s what.  We brought ten pairs with us to Amber’s house and enough panty-liners to last a month.  We kept Maya clad in them at all times, which worked to both block any escaping fluids, but also prevented intrusions by dog wieners.  Of course, we didn’t trust this method of contraception 100 percent, so we still kept an eye on her and, more to the point, Bailey–who had by then become lothario #1 in the household and was constantly on the make.

The other major chaos-inducing factor that EVERYBODY was trying to keep an eye out for was any doggy incursions into our Thanksgiving food.  There was, you see, something of an incident last year.

Thanksgiving 2012 was tasty, delicious and plentiful.  My wife, her mom and her sister spent a couple of days prepping for it, with all of our family’s Thanksgiving favorites in ample supply.  There were two turkeys, multiple cheesecakes, green bean and sweet potato casseroles, and the whole nine yards.  The meal was fantastic and the Thanksgiving sandwiches that followed the next day were the stuff of legend.  Unfortunately, I had to return home early because of rehearsals for a play.  Fortunately, that meant I missed out on what happened next.  See, the wife and her family spent much of the past 40 years in the state of Alaska.  As such, they have certain habits ingrained in them that we in most of the lower-48 just don’t–such as their penchant for using the out-of-doors as a refrigerator.   Took me a while to come to terms with this, because I still think keeping food outside where wandering animals and bugs can get into it is gross.  They, however, point out that when the temps are below 35 degrees at the sunniest part of the day and the actual refrigerator is packed to the bust-line with other food, it makes sense, so all the Thanksgiving leftovers were left-over on the patio table on Jim and Amber’s back deck.  On the afternoon of day two, after several people had munched on Thanksgiving sandwiches and I had departed, my mother-in-law started to get a bit peckish and went to the deck table to find some grub.  She couldn’t find any  turkey, there, so she went to look in the fridge inside.  Nope, no turkey there either.  She asked about it and was assured that the turkey was on the table, because several people had been into it throughout the morning.  Nope.  Neither the turkey that had been half-consumed at Thanksgiving, nor the whole second turkey were to be found.  Eventually it was noticed that there was a white plastic platter located at the far edge of the deck.  It had been one of the platters on which the turkey had been kept.  It was absolutely spotless with nary a bit of turkey grease to be found on it.  Quickly it was realized what had happened.  The dogs had eaten both turkeys.  And they’d left no evidence behind that turkey’s had even existed.  Every scrap of meat, skin, fat, and bone had vanished.  Subsequently, it was discovered that at least one of them had also consumed a whole cheesecake.

Some hours later,  the dogs began violently defecating and some of the previously missing evidence began to see light.  The seven hour car trip from KY to WV, as my wife can assure you, was a nightmare of dog-moaning from sore stomachs, bursts of liquified feces, and sudden poomergency stops on the side of I-64.

For this year, it was decided that all food that was to be left in the “outdoor” fridge was to be placed on top of a high cabinet.  An auxiliary refrigerator in the basement  helped out in freeing valuable space in the upstairs fridge, too.  However, Thanksgiving 2013 would prove to involve pretty much the same level of feces as 2012.  This time, unfortunately, I didn’t miss out on it.

(TO BE CONTINUED…)

Actual Telephone Conversations One Half of Which Could be Heard on the Trail Through the Woods Behind Our House Yesterday Afternoon #1.

One of our friends is a lady named Belinda who we’ve known since shortly after we originally moved to West Virginia in 2001.  She’s a nice lady who loves our dogs and they love her right back.  Once in a while, she’ll give us a call and suggest we take the dogs for a walk somewhere.  Belinda usually gets to walk Moose, who is easy to control.  For these, we often head to the state forest in Hart’s Run, where there’s a nice two mile stretch of dirt road with no car and little foot traffic.  We can let the dogs off their leashes for most of it and they have a blast running through the woods.

Unfortunately, our vet put the kibosh on the park, at least for the time being.  We’ve still not received any vet records or proof of breeding from Maya’s former owners.  (We don’t really care about the proof of breeding, but vet records would have been nice.)  We’ve contacted them and they say the records are boxed up somewhere from their move.  But they did let us know that she’d had none of her major shots.  So in we went to get those from the vet.  One of them is her parvo booster, which comes in multiple parts.  Until she’s received at least two of them, the vet said she’s not allowed to hang out in places that strange dogs might frequent–which included the state park.

When Belinda most recently called to suggest a walk, I told her the park was out but suggested we could walk the trail through the woods behind our house.  It’s not terribly long, unless you take the less-beaten path that runs along a lumber-truck trail and down a very steep hill.  But it’s a decent walk and the dogs don’t have to be leashed.

The trail winds from our house, down a gentle slope and then up a slightly less gentle slope before winding around to a large clearing where the former owner of our house has deer stands set up.  We had not yet reached the top of the not-so-gentle slope before all the dogs vanished into the brush.  I figured they’d be waiting in the clearing, but there were no dogs to be found there.  So I clapped for them and called.  After a bit, Moosie appeared.  I wasn’t worried about Sadie, who had probably just gone off to find some deer shit to roll in.  I was more concerned, however, about Maya, who was new to the woods and possibly didn’t know her way home.  I called and called and clapped some more, but no other dogs turned up.

Belinda and I started back for the house, which is what I usually do when Sadie doesn’t show up.  She usually heads to the clearing, finds me missing and then come storming down the trail after me.  And, not long back down the trail, this is what she did, her neck covered in deer shit.  (“Why don’t they learn?  Why don’t they listen?”)  Still no Maya.

I stood mid way down the trail and called and clapped some more.  No dog.

We then decided to return to the house, in case she’d wound her way back there–another old Sadie trick.   Nope.

I then decided that what I really wanted to do was get in the car and head over to McIlhenny Lane, which runs in proximity to the wooded area the trail runs through.  It was not inconceivable that Maya could have made it over there, attracted by the turkey farm or just chasing a deer.  I asked Belinda if she could walk back to the clearing and wait for Maya there.

There were no St. Bernards on McIlhenny.  While over there, I stopped at the Shriner’s lodge to peer down into the valley beyond it, which is the other side of the hill that the logging trail runs up and along the ridge, and beyond which is the clearing and our trail.  No dog.

On the way back home, I took a quick detour over to the humane society’s headquarters, which is just over the hill, about half a mile from our house.  Great big field to be found there, which Maya could have made it to with no troubles.  There were people around, but I called and called all the same.

“You lose something,” a guy with a shaved head asked.

“Yeah, a St. Bernard,” I said.  “We live just over the hill and she’s gone missing.”

He said that she might have been attracted to some goats that were penned up in one of the next lots over.  Oh, goats,I thought.  So that’s why I’ve heard “bahhhing” on occasion.  As I looked in the direction of the goats, I saw what looked like Maya’s tail sticking up above the weeds.

“Oh, wait, there she…” I started.  Then realized I was seeing several tails swishing in the weeds and that the tails were attached to at least four deer who were probably running away from me and my clapping.  At least they didn’t seem to be chased by a St. Bernard.

Belinda called my cell phone and said she had an appointment to get to.  I drove back, depressed that I’d managed to lose the dog and wondering what I would say to Ashley.  I decided to call her, if for no other reason than to get someone else praying.  She didn’t answer and I didn’t leave a message.

Back at the house, I said bye to Belinda, who was distraught at having to leave me in the lurch.  I then grabbed my walking stick and headed back down the trail, just calling Maya’s name.  I’d only just reached the slightly less gentle slope when the phone rang.

*RINGTONE*

(I see it’s the wife and answer.)

ME– Hello?

THE WIFE– I saw that you called a few minutes ago?

ME– Yeah. Um. I’ve lost Maya.

THE WIFE– What?!

ME– Belinda and I were walking the dogs on the trail and then they all vanished in different directions. I figured they would just be at the clearing, but when I got there only Moosie and Sadie came when I called them. I’ve searched and searched and called and I can’t… Oh, wait. Nevermind. Here she is.

THE WIFE– What?!

ME– She’s back. We’re good.

Mid way through my sentence, Maya just wandered up, having come down the trail headed for home.  And just like that my emergency situation vanished.  I then got to return to the house with all the dogs, one of whom was immediately put in the shower for some deer shit scrubbing.

NEXT: THANKSGIVING

Birthday Surprise(s) Part 9

I made me some art

I made me some art

Meanwhile, I progressed on finishing up the wife’s OTHER birthday present, the horse painting.  It looked even more painterly after I purchased some gloss black wood stain and a set of tiny brushes with which to apply it.  I laid the whole thing flat on my work bench, in the wood shop, and proceeded to fill in all the shapes of the horse’s mane and then outlining the entire silhouette before switching to a larger brush to fill in the middle.  It looked pretty darn good.  Especially because I was able to layer this stain to give it depth in places, making the foreground leg darker than the background leg, etc.  Took a day or so of this before it was time to show it off to the wife.  She loved it, but suggested that after I’d finished staining it, I should hit it with some sandpaper to scuff it up a bit.   Sounded like a plan.

I finally brought it into the house and leaned it against a wall.  Took us a bit to figure out where it would look best, and where we had wallspace for it.  We finally settled on a wall by the closet under the stairs, which had previously held an owl painting framed with barn-wood.  With some loops screwed into the back of it and some industrial wall hooks secured to the wall, we hung that bad boy up and it looked great.  The wife insisted I sign it, which I did.  Then she did a double take when she saw “Fritz `13” inked in stain at the bottom right.  “Fritz” is how I used to sign anything arty and has been since my days in middle school, back when I wanted nothing more than to be a newspaper cartoonist.   That the last time I used that signature probably read “Fritz `92” tells you something about how long it’s been since I created much physical art.

Me art on display

Me art on display

Over the days after the painting had been in the house, the wood it was constructed from began to dry out–most of it having spent years relatively exposed to the elements in the wood shed–and it began to shrink.  This caused the gaps between some of the boards to widen a bit, but in a pleasing way.

Maya, soon became accustomed to her collar, to the point that we were willing to leave her outside on it when we had to leave the house.  Which was handy, cause if we left her inside she would just pee, poop or bleed on something.

This seems a good place to end the Birthday Surprise storyline.  All of our characters are established, all of our surprises are revealed and/or installed upon the walls of our home.  However, the story continues, for we haven’t even tackled Thanksgiving, nor have I told the tale of last year’s particularly memorable Thanksgiving festivities.  That’s on the way soon.  But first, let’s tackle a Maya related story of the day this enormous dog disappeared.

NEXT

 

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